Friday, May 14, 2010

Election Mess

By mess, I am not referring to the trash in the streets as a result of this strictly Third World election style, although that would constitute one whole blog, I am referring to mess in the military sense.

Wikipedia (ok, so its not the worlds best source, but its pretty interesting to read) says:
"A mess (also called a messdeck aboard ships) is the place where military personnel socialise, eat, and (in some cases) live. In some societies this military usage has extended to other disciplined services eateries such as civilian fire fighting and police forces. The root of "mess" is the Old French "mes," portion of food, drawn from the Latin verb "mittere," meaning "to send" or "to put," the original sense being "a course of a meal put on the table." This sense of "mess," which appeared in English in the 13th century, was often used for cooked or liquid dishes in particular, as in the "mess of pottage" (porridge or soup) for which Esau in Genesis traded his birthright. By the 15th century, a group of people who ate together was also known as a "mess", and it is this sense that persists in the "mess halls" of the modern military."

I refer to the military sense, because aside from all the battle allusions spouted by our dear candidates, the first thing one learns as a candidate is that your campaign team runs on its stomach and feeding your volunteers is a paramount consideration. Thus, campaign headquarters are or ought to be equipped with kitchens for the daily feeding of volunteers who will be at your HQ in increasing increments of time until E-Day,  er election day, that is.

In the alternative, other candidates contract out the feeding of their volunteers to outside kitchens. thus, we saw that McDonald's began promoting their big orders specials, just for election year.

The care and feeding of constituents is also the reason why the houses of old-time politicos especially in the provinces had the long tables and immense kitchens that were called to duty at all hours.

When the Spaniards began colonization, the Philippines was a society that relied on a mix of blood succession and merit. There was social mobility and general equality between genders. In the course of organizing, the colonizers assigned the cabezas based on existing leadership. So the ruling rajahs also became the political heads under the new foreign rule.

However, prior to Spanish rule, local leaders were expected not only to lead their nations, they were also expected to provide for them. This is because many of the nations or communities were family or clan based groups and were lead by a father or mother figure. Somehow, the idea of providing for their constituents carried over to the next form of government under the colonizers.

While we may have transitioned into a democracy, our people still expect politicians to provide for them, the way a father or clan leader would provide for his family. This kind of thinking is often disastrous when taken literally, so you have political leaders raiding public coffers to provide their constituents with free burial, baptism sponsorships, medicines, food, etc.

Many of the local politicians in the 17th and in the early part of the 19th century had houses that provided for constant feeding. Huge vats and ladles still seen in antique stores were used to make lugaw (a cheap form of rice porrige). Long solid narra tables was where most meetings would take place. Kitchens would have extensions for wood burning brick stoves and ovens that could handle large amounts of food at any given time.

Now that the election results are nearly all in, we can soon see which politicians did not fail the expectations to feed their volunteers. This is usually an accurate assesment of a winner.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day Pancakes

Everyone, it seems in on a health kick. This makes me wonder why it is I still keep baking these sugar rich food, but I'll stop the day people stop eating them. At any rate, I do get pangs of conscience and so lately, I've been incorporating more whole wheat as a substitute for regular flour. So I tried them first on the one thing you can't do wrong. Pancakes.

I tested a couple of recipes first but had to greatly modify them as they were really very watery and resulted in lumpy and thin pancakes. So I had to make my own.

If served with low glycemic coconut syrup, this makes for a low sugar (not zero sugar though) breakfast treat.

1 c + 2T whole wheat flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 T granulated sugar
1 c milk (I use reconstituted powdered skim milk)
1 egg
1 t vanilla
2 T oil (use any oil you want, though I must warn that olive may not be well suited for this as its flavor may clash with the vanilla)
oil or butter for your pan

Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, eggs, vanilla and oil together. Combine with dry ingredients and mix until most lumps disappear.

Pour a ladle full of mix onto a lightly greased pan and fry until bubbles form and burst. Flip over and cook the other side.

Your first pancake will probably stick a little. But keep at it. By the time you flip it, your pan will have enough oil to resist the subsequent mixtures.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Baon Bread

After a few more tries with basic bread which needs to be consumed right away, I've had to set my sights on the fact that the kids will be heading back to school in June. I would need a softer, more sandwhich-y type bread for the kids (actually just one kid na lang who is in grade school).

This bread is more typical. It has sugar in it so it produces a brown crust. The milk also softens the texture while making it still firm enough to hold sandwhich fillings. The picture at the bottom of the page is by Salvador Dali. My camera cable is missing and I can't download my pics yet. Sigh. The smell of this bread though, is the most comforting thing in the world. Oh, ok, maybe next to cinnamon.

3 c All purpose flour or 2 c all purpose plus 1 c bread flour
1 t instant weast
1 t salt
1/8 c sugar
1 c warm milk
2 T butter
warm water (if necessary)

Mix dry ingredients together. I usually use a sifter then, a wire whisk to make sure that all the dry ingredients are evenly distributed. Add the wet ingredients. Add water a little at a time if the mixture is too dry, until you get desired consistency. Make sure that the ingredients incorporate. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, not sticky enough, add more water.

Pour dough on a flat, floured surface and knead for about ten mintues. Take special notice of the dough's transformation as you do so.

Return dough to an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in size. This takes between 60 to 90 minutes depending on hot the day is. The hotter the temp, the faster the rise.

Shape the loaf and let it rise again until you get the desired size, but no more than one hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 mintues or until tapping the bottom of the loaf results in a hollow sound and when the bread springs back into shape if you press a finger also on the underside of the loaf.

This bread may be kept frozen for about one to two weeks then thawed before use.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Odds and Ends

I found that I have been baking more often now, grabbing a couple of hours after work or in between writing assignments and photo shoots and court hearings. There is nothing like putting ingredients together and watching people devour what you have made, happily asking for more. Its almost as satisfying as hearing a "Not guilty" verdict.

Of course, there are failures too. The puto that was made with malagkit rice and not regular rice flour tasted like a cross between kutsinta and steamed coconut milk. The kids ate them anyway. Thankfully, they haven't developed gourmet tastes yet. Or that time I ended up misreading the label and using cornstarch instead of flour for my blitz torte. My son actually asked me to repeat that because he liked it so. He claims he likes the regular torte just as much, though. Maybe he's just saying that to make me feel better.

Then there are the web discoveries. Unlike our grandmothers' time when recipes were traded or learned painstakingly, the net has made sharing so much easier. Of course, every recipe you grab off the internet must first be tested, no different from when you try out the ones I post here. Lola also had to strive for authenticity. Thus, her dinugguan had to have very precise ingredients lest her guests think that she had taken too many liberties with the pork blood. Her tulingan had to be more Batangas than the Batanguenos, so she kept kamias trees in the backyard for that real fruity sour taste you can't get from vinegar.

We have it a bit easier in an era of globalization with certain foods acquiring a universal appeal and adjustable for local our household tastes. However, in general, I have found that recipes I discover on the web are pretty good except for slight adjustments for climate and temperature, bread dough rises faster in Manila, for instance than it would in San Fransisco.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bread Winner

I baked bread yesterday and I must admit that the smugness that makers of this home-made stuff is contagious. Most of my adult baking experience of late has largely been in avoidance of making bread. For some reason I always remember it as too much of a hassle when I was asked to bake bread as a teenager.

But as an adult, there is something satisfying with kneading dough with your hands-- its an almost hypnotic effect. Tony Perez would call it going into an alpha state or altered state of consciousness. I also think that it makes me feel like I am part of a tradition as old as agriculture itself.

The modern practise of breadmaking is credited to the Egyptians who turned the wheat berries into a paste and baked it so that it would keep for several days. The accidental application of yeast led to the raised bread forms common today. But until yeast was isolated as a separate substance in 1000 BC, the manner of reproducing leavened bread was by keeping a piece of the leavened dough of the previous loaf and adding it to the subsequent one. This method is still used today and is known as the sour dough method.

Bread was introduced during the Spanish colonial period to a largely rice consuming indigenous population in the Philippines. Though wheat is not cultivated here, flour is a steady and constantly available imported commodity.

Today, I baked a basic bread using only flour, yeast, salt, warm water and good old fashioned elbow grease. And it shocks me to no end that making my own basic bread cost me less than fifteen pesos. In subsequent posts I will be making more complex breads using additional ingredients like milk or honey or different flours like whole grain, corn flour, etc.

Happy baking.

Basic Bread
This recipe is for a light colored, plain bread that goes great with salted butter or jam. It is heavy for an afternoon meryenda, but diegests easily.

3 c All purpose flour
2 t yeast
2 t salt
1 and 1/8 cup warm water

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until the dough forms. If the mixture does not stick, adjust water by adding more. If the mixture is too sticky and clings to your fingers, add more flour.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for ten minutes and feel the dough acquire a silken consistent texture. Then form the dough into a ball, place it in a very lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with a towel. Let the dough rise for about 90 minutes. It should double in size.

Punch down the dough and knead again lightly. Return to bowl and let it rise again for 90 minutes.

When the dough has risen again, punch down the down, knead lightly and shape into a loaf. Score the top of the bread by making long cuts on the length of the bread using asharp knife. Place the loaf on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Allow it to rise a third time for about thirty minutes. Bake in pre-heated oven for 35-45 minutes.

The bread should have a thick crust and soft interior. Note that this bread's crust shall not darken not due to the absence of sugar. It is the sugar in the bread that caramelizes into a brown crust.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Slow Coooker Died

My slow cooker died. It was a new one. Brown outs are the direct cause. The indirect cause is the state of affairs of Philippine Energy.

This will  be my only directly political statement on this blog for these elections.

Two things come to mind when I blog about Philippine food and culture -- the lack of its availability to many of my countrymen and the outrageous price of the fuels we need to cook it. And so I have one request to the politicians who claim they know all the solutions to our problems:


It difficult to enjoy your food when you know so many of our countrymen are starving. Its difficult to cook when cheap fuel is not made available for you to source your food and cook it. It is impossible to cook when you can't afford many ingredients and it is all you can do to keep up with the cost of living.

I am not going to vote for someone who has stolen from government coffers. I will not vote for someone who can barely find his left foot and therefore cannot be expected to find solutions for hunger and energy issues. I will vote for someone who proposes solutions for agricultural workers and all their concerns. I will vote for someone who makes food security and energy self-sufficiency part of his platform.

That being said, I'm going to make bread today. Recipe will be up tomorrow after I've tested it.