Thursday, December 18, 2008

Of vegan cupcakes and teen prisoners

So yesterday a bunch of coworkers from my real job and I went to visit the kids at CRADLE, or Center for Restorative Activities, Development, and Learning Experiences at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan. CRADLE sounds like a nice warm place you'd want to come home too, right? CRADLE is essentially a prison for teen criminals. I hesitate to use the word "criminals" -- they aren't rapists, or drug lords, or murderers. Actually, I didn't really get to ask them what they did to deserve living in CRADLE. I suppose they snatched purses and cellphones while sniffing glue... Perhaps the occasional Jets vs. Sharks rumble...

This was an official company social responsibility / employee volunteer visit. Ten of us sponsored a Christmas lunch for the 37 "children in conflict with the law". By children I reckon they're 14 to +20 years old. The usual diet of these kids are rice and vegetables, maybe the occasional fish. We (my company) sponsored adobo (definitely not vegan - pork and chicken stewed in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, pepper, and bay leaf), juice, and fruits (apple and orange). ACE International, the NGO that asked us to join them, provided the rice. My baking company / I provided the vegan cupcakes, because what's a Christmas without cupcakes, right? And surely these kids don't get cupcakes in prison...

I didn't really grasp the reality of our visit until we saw prison buses that look a lot like this one parked outside. I pictured the movie Con Air and thanked God that my first visit to a prison was at a kids' prison (well, prison's prison right? It's harder for the kids I'm sure).

Seriously, they were so HAPPY that we visited. No one visits them, not even their family. They were completely normal people who just so happened to live in prison. Some of them helped us carry our things in. A bunch of them were setting up drums and an electric guitar (!! they get crap food everyday but they have an electric guitar?). There was a freaking karaoke machine in the room. How Filipino it is, right? You'll always see a karaoke machine anywhere and everywhere in the Philippines -- even in prison.

This little guy isn't a criminal unless you consider being cute and makulit / playful a crime. His name is Michael Jordan (typical Filipino name) and he's the kid of the prison cook. What kind of prison allows the cook to bring in his kid to hang with the "prisoners"?

Apparently it's illegal to take photos of the kids with their full faces seen (back heads or profile are okay). But they were so smitten that we brought cameras and wanted us to take their pictures. I told one of the administrators there that I'd either delete the pictures after or put black bars on their faces. So disclaimer, now they look like real criminals with the bars on their eyes but seriously, they were like younger brothers you never had.

All my coworkers stayed in the back hanging around during the actual meal. One of the boys (let's call him Boy from now on) asked me to sit with him and his friends and I thought it rude to say no. So while they had their adobo and cupcakes I had my baon of beans and togue or bean sprouts (I know, typical hippie food -- I've been eating a lot of sugar and I needed something healthy) . Of course Boy was curious about my food. I think my exact words were, "Hindi ako kumakain ng karne dahil ayokong may mamamatay para sa pagkain ko," which roughly translates to "I don't eat meat because I don't want anyone to die for my food." Well they immediately got it and didn't ask me anymore questions.

(getting lunch and praying before eating)

Boy looked like he was about 16 or 17 years old. He had a boyish smile and seemed pretty sincere. I had an interesting time conversing with Boy. He told me that they were all grateful for us to bring them food and spend time with them. He admits that no one really visits them regularly; he hails from Antipolo which is at the northern tip of Metro Manila and his family has pretty much forgotten about him (!). He's been in CRADLE for 3 years now, the longest among the boys. He misses normal life and his family. Life in CRADLE is mind-numbingly boring. They don't do anything because there's nothing to live for. Some of them have done their time but are stuck there because of bureaucratic red tape -- arghhh, typical government!

(boy band)
It's hard to see them as criminals because their crimes were founded on poverty. These guys were dirt poor, brought up in an overpopulated country that didn't care about them. Their parents were dirt poor and so were their parents' parents. I'm not trying to excuse their crimes, but how can you call them criminals when the only way they could feed themselves is by stealing? I know, stealing is wrong... But who's to blame for their dire circumstance? Poverty begets criminals, and 1/3 of the Philippines is poor.

While we were packing up to leave, Boy approaches me and asks if I could come visit on December 23. Aw man, my heart broke for him! I told him I wish I could, but I can't. I told him I'd get in touch with CRADLE's / ACE's administrators to see if we can visit again. He shrugged it off, but I'm sure he felt bad. He said it was his birthday on the 23rd (and no one visits). :(

Man, some Christmas they'll be having on the 25th, huh?


Me bringing 10 dozen mini cupcakes to CRADLE wouldn't have been possible without my dear Christmas elves. They loved piping the frosting and sprinkling the sprinkles on the cupcakes while I was busy frantically baking other goods for my clients. Fina, Honey, Emy, and Marivic, thanks so much!

I leave you with this photo of some of the CRADLE boys (with some of my coworkers). How deceivingly content they look, no?

One more thing -- we couldn't give these guys straws for their juice. Could be used as a stabbing device, you think? So they can have drums but not juice straws?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas hysterics + Lazy French Onion Chickpeas

Christmas is fast approaching and the orders keep on coming in. I'm up to my ears in baking and while I sincerely enjoy hand-mixing cake batter and piping frosting on cupcakes, the work's starting to take a toll on me. Frankly I haven't really cooked a meal since World Vegan Day lunch and dinner as baking takes up a lot of my time. I have been known to spend Friday nights baking until Saturday morning, and sleeping throughout my Saturday out of sheer exhaustion. But hey! I'm not complaining. I'm getting vegan baked goods into the hands of the masses. And while I spent 10 hours yesterday baking I'm still pumped to bake some more this week. Sigh, I really must love this night and weekend job...

In case you were curious... this is what I baked yesterday and what I'll be baking tonight, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night (!):
  • 4 coffee cakes
  • 2 2-layer cakes
  • 3 brownies
  • 6 dozen cookies
  • 20 dozen cupcakes
To be fair, one of the brownies was a Christmas gift and so was 1 dozen cookies. The cupcakes are minis but I swear, they're more difficult to make than regular ones! And, 10 dozen of the cupcakes are for an outreach I'm participating in on Wednesday. A bunch of my co-workers (from my real job) and I are hosting a Christmas lunch at CRADLE, this prison / rehab center for juvenile delinquents (a more PC term is "children in conflict with the law"). The lunch itself is not vegan, hence my contribution of vegan cupcakes. I'm excited for this activity and I hope the kids will take a liking to my cupcakes.

Good Lord, sometimes I wish I had magic elves to do my bidding. It's a good thing I did my Christmas shopping in Hong Kong when Cebu Pacific decided to torture travelers, because I seriously have NO time to do anything except bake and go to my real job.

So where was I? Oh yeah, the cooking. Last night I found myself in a kitchen full of baked goods (for sale) with NOTHING to eat for dinner. I was too lazy to chop up som
e tomatoes and peel some garlic. Cooking a simple dinner was a nice break from the crazy baking. Since I was pooped out I decided to make a super easy, super fast, big-on-flavor dish that I christened Lazy French Onion Chickpeas.

Hah. Remove "lazy" from the title and the dish sounds so classy, no? The dish could probably be served in a posh restaurant as appetizer with bruchetta and a glass of white wine. I call it "French onion" because I took inspiration from the ubiquitous French onion soup. With the chickpea-onion ratio at practically 1:1, this dish is for the onion lover who is not afraid of the aftermath of potent onion-y goodness.

This recipe (finally! an actual recipe with actual proportions!) is enough for 4 people, or for 2 dinners and 2 lunches for the next day (some of us still pack lunch for work...).

Lazy French Onion Chickpeas
1 glug of olive oil (fine, if you want to get technical, about 2 tbsp.)
4 onions, chopped into half moons

a palm-ful of dried thyme (1-2 tsp.)
3 cans of chickpeas (454 grams or 15 oz), drained and rinsed well
salt and black pepper to taste
a splash of water (2-4 tbsp.)

Heat a saucepan on the stove. Add in the olive oil. When hot, throw in the onions and stir until caramelized, about 5-10 minutes. Add in the thyme and the chickpeas, and stir until the chickpeas are heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper -- I am a black pepper fan and am known to sprinkle generous amounts on my food. When the pan looks pretty dry, add in the water to help scrape up the good bits stuck on the pan, and to help the chickpeas absorb the onion's awesomeness. You should be done in about 5 minutes (after adding the water).

You know how French onion soup always has cheese on top? Well, if you want that cheesy flavor but don't want to torture the cows (or the carabaos, goats, sheep, or whatever
animal was abused for its reproductive secretion), may I suggest a copious sprinkling of nutritional yeast. I didn't take a photograph of the dish with the nooch because, well, it wasn't pretty.

Enjoy! Serve this dish with a side of vegetables, or on top of a salad, or with pasta, and/or with crusty bread. You can blitz this in your food processor to make a nice sandwich filling / spread -- leave it chunky. My co-vegan-brother-in-arms ate this with rice, I hope he enjoyed it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dealing with airline stupidity: Cebu Pacific likes to screw over their travelers and PAL serves crap vegan food

Before I babble about food, can I just rant, again? If you recall my last post I was whining about how traveling can be so complicated. Well, Cebu Pacific will never cease to complicate the lives of travelers. This airline looks as us travelers as commodities, mere objects that can be easily replaced or easily maltreated. Their cheap promos never fail to get us to be repeat customers, never mind how horrifyingly disrespectful and condescending they are. And, they can get away with it! Because we Filipinos are too shy for confrontation! We think we're inferior to The Man! Cebu Pacific's bribe of a free round trip ticket to whatever country they fly to, usable within a year, doesn't help either. A lot of Filipinos who travel are OFWs and would kill for a free ticket.

Why the rant? I was set to come back to Manila last Monday, flight at 11am. I arrive at the airport and line up for check-in at 9:30. As usual the check-in lines to the Cebu Pacific desks are the only ones that are crowded with people. Probably too cheap to buy those barricade things for orderly lines. A Cebu Pacific guy asks some of the customers if they're willing to shift their flight to the 7:30pm one as there were "too many passengers". Almost all said no. We had our schedules to follow. I was set to go boxing in the afternoon followed by hours of baking.

For 30 minutes I didn't move my position in the line. By 10:20am I was second in line, but then we (me with 15-20 other people) were told that we couldn't board the plane, because the plane was already full, because they were overbooked. Yes folks. Cebu Pacific books flights by 10% over maximum seating, then at the last minute screws over the customers who just so happen to be last in line. "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do. It's not our fault," says one of the clerks. Apparently it's the "booking agent"'s fault. And, "it's the first time it has happened." Bullshit talaga. I've heard stories of Cebu Pac's cruelty (Marketman rants splendidly here and here). They'll screw you over then bribe you with free tickets.

Oh yeah, so I was forced to take the 7:30pm flight. But they didn't accept early check-ins so I had to leave my luggage at their storage area and shell out HK$55. And HK$200 for 2 train tickets, to and from the city. The only good thing that came out of this was I finished my Christmas shopping and got my hands on New Moon. I think I spent more on shopping (for other people!) than on how much those free tickets are worth...


This wasn't the first time an airline pissed me off. Back in May I flew PAL (Philippine Airlines) to and from Singapore. I made it a point to contact PAL beforehand and let them know that I needed vegan food (by the way, apparently you can't make a food request on their customer service email, you have to call their hotline, which is busy 98% of the time. Best to go through a travel agent). On my flight to Singapore the 3 other people in my group were bumped up to business class for free because economy was overbooked. I got stuck in economy because of my special food request. Which turned out to not be very special.

PAL, why oh why do you choose to torture people who don't want to torture animals? Why can't you offer better veg options? Ladies and gentlemen, I was served overboiled tasteless vegetables (the green beans were practically the same shade as the pumpkin) with rice. They weren't even salted. Seriously, that's all I had. And a dish of fruit. They gave me a "salad" of leaves and tomatoes, WITH NO DRESSING. And, they gave me margarine that had milk products. THE ONLY FLAVORING I HAD WAS SALT, and I had to add this on my own. It was not a good meal. My return trip was a lot better though -- I had pasta with tomato sauce and black eyed peas (meal was better probably because the food came from Singapore).

Traveling vegans, I highly encourage that you make your food requests as detailed as possible. Tell them what you can and can't have. And, if they screw you over, complain! We don't want these things to happen to others. Complain, but be respectful :)

After my bad experience with PAL, I sent them an email:

Hi, I'd like to give you some feedback on the vegetarian food I was served for my flight with your airlines on PR 505 and PR 504.

I have to say, I was very disappointed with the food during my PR 505 flight last Friday night. I had vegetables with rice, a dish of fruit, a side salad with a slice of lemon, and a dinner roll with margarine. The vegetables were overcooked and had no taste -- they were merely boiled / steamed to the point that the colors of the broccoli and string bean were almost the same as that of the kalabasa. These had no flavor whatsoever and had to be dressed with salt and pepper. The salad's only dressing was a slice of lemon. The roll was okay, and the fruits were nice, but the margarine had dairy in it. I reported this to the stewardess / purser and she was very gracious and apologetic. She handled the situation well and even gave me some more fruit.

The food on PR504 on Monday afternoon was a lot better, I'm happy to say. The spaghetti with tomato sauce and black eyed peas was delicious. The margarine was a different brand that didn't have an ingredients list so I could not make sure if this contained milk.

I hope that your future non-dairy, non-vegetarian meals will be similar to that of PR504 and never of PR505. As an airline that caters to an international consumer base, this is an important feature to work on as not everyone eats meat, seafood, dairy, and egg. I hope PAL improves on this. Thank you."

And their reply:

Dear Ms. Gonzales,

We acknowledge receipt of your email and attachment below.

Please allow us to convey, at the outset, our sincere regrets and apologies, on behalf of Philippine Airlines, for whatever inconveniences you may have felt as a result of your reported experience.

A request for feedback from the offices concerned is now underway to look into the circumstances surrounding your complaint. We will correspond with you as soon as we have the results of our investigation. We would appreciate your patience in awaiting our reply.

Thank you,
Customer Relations"

2 months later, they email me back:

Dear Ms. Gonzalez,

This is further to our acknowledgment email regarding flight PR505/23MAY08, from Manila to Singapore. Thank you for your patience in awaiting our reply. On behalf of Philippine Airlines, please allow us to convey our sincerest regrets for the disappointment caused you.

We took note of your feedback regarding the overcooked and tasteless vegetarian meal that was served to you. You will appreciate to know that we had since brought your concerns to the attention of our Assistant Vice President for Inflight Planning and Standards for the appropriate corrective action. You can be assured of the preferential attention.

Ms. Gonzalez
, we, at Philippine Airlines, recognize the importance of your feedback for a more effective delivery of service. We have always believed that passenger feedback serves as an important tool for us to gauge what our customers expect from us. Please be assured, therefore, of our unwavering efforts to always try to meet these expectations. We hope to be of service to you again on board one of our flights, soon."

And I replied:

Thanks so much for sending an update on the food, I really appreciate it. I'm very patriotic and I want PAL to be world class and friendly to all people with different tastes (food and non-food alike). I think it's important that an airline adapt to current trends, especially since this reflects its ability to be hospitable to everyone. One customer's bad experience with your service can discourage a lot of people from trying your service out! I think the statistic is that one person will share with people his or her bad experience with a product / service +90% of the time.

I sincerely hope that the quality of non-dairy, non-egg vegetarian food (aka "vegan" food) improves because I would really like to continue to patronize PAL. If you need suggestions on how to improve your menu or what have you, please don't hesitate to ask me. Not only am I vegan, I love to cook and bake vegan food.

Thank you."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Last minute baking and whining before Hong Kong

It's almost 1am and I have yet to pack my suitcase for my 3-day break in HK. Just finished making 2 coffee cakes (1 of them includes a mango cashew coffee cake, in case you were wondering) and 1 banana split brownies and am dead tired! And yet, instead of finishing up my chores I'm here blogging and whining about having to pack... And trying to upload baking porn on Facebook but all of a sudden Facebook decided to get smart and load so slow...

Well, I guess I should have planned better. I didn't even get to withdraw money and convert them into dollars for the trip. Everything's been a whirlwind, what with the whole brouhaha over Twilight (watched the movie yesterday, currently reading the novel now; yeah Luisa I jumped on the bandwagon, so sue me) and my current obsession with Mario Puzo (the author). I had to run to the baking supply store today after work to get some travel-friendly cake boxes for a coffee cake and brownies which are traveling all the way to India! No I'm not going to India (I wish), but an Indian guy ordered from me and will bring them to India to show PETA there that yeah, it's so freaking easy to be vegan here, you can get vegan cake and cupcakes so easily. How cool is that?! My creations are going to India even before I go.

I got carried away fixing labels for my cakes and decided to make veg-friendly Christmas tags to be attached to orders meant for Christmas giveaways. this is why I haven't started packing!! Freaking Christmas tags that are currently not important! And I have to get ready to leave the country tomorrow!

I'm off to a mini-vacation that's been giving me a lot of heart ache. Back in May my older brother Martin convinces me to buy Cebu Pacific "zero peso" tickets to HK for the November 29-December 1 long weekend, and I tell him I didn't want to take a vacation leave from work. I'm thinking, great, I'll spend P4,000 / $80, no big deal. Then it turns out to be P7,700 / $154 -- sneaky sneaky Cebu Pacific! Then last week I find out that the return ticket was for a Tuesday, not a Monday, which meant I'd have to take Tuesday off (Monday's a holiday). I couldn't take a leave for Tuesday because originally I had to prepare for a launch for Wednesday. So I had to return my return flight ticket and book another flight for Monday arrival in Manila, and I had to pay a whopping P7,000 / $140 for that one goddamn ticket. Kill me now with all the expenses. I'm spending all this money and I haven't even left for Hong Kong yet! The other night Martin convinces me to take a day trip to Macau and watch Cirque du Soleil -- another P4,000 for the boat and P2,000 for the Cirque tickets.

I'm never going traveling without my parents again.

Hope you guys enjoy the long weekend. I hope I do too...

Oh and here's the kicker. The launch was moved to January. I could've taken that Tuesday off after all, and saved P7,000.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A present, baking mania, and cookie porn

I'm the kind of person who loooves getting kitchen things for presents. Seriously. You can get me mixing bowls for Christmas and I'd love them. One of my aunts / titas got me a y-peeler for my birthday -- a peeler! I love it because it's so much easier to use than a conventional peeler.

My other aunt, who has been under a spell since I baked her a box of cupcakes, got me a microplane. I've been eying this baby for quite some time but didn't have the heart to drop P850 / $17 on one. It's nice when you've got family that knows what you want for your birthday.

I love this microplane, seriously. I get twice more zest per lemon than I do with a conventional zester. And there isn't that danger of accidentally zesting your own skin. And, you don't have to chop up the zest to get 'em nice and tiny so they get evenly distributed in the batter. I tested this baby on a batch of lemony cupcakes I made for an order and I am a convert.

And speaking of cupcakes...

So PETA has been a regular client so far, and they ordered 2 boxes of cupcakes for Appetite Magazine, a local food magazine. PETA has a food and health section in Appetite which is so nice because you don't often get to see veganism being promoted in mainstream media these days. And oh man I've been in such a craze baking all weekend, and this is one of the boxes of cupcakes they gave Appetite. Behold: banana split chocolate cupcakes with banocolate buttercream and lemony cupcakes with lemon buttercream. Let's all pray that they like 'em...

banana split chocolate cupcakes with banocolate buttercream

I've also been trying to shoot more food photographs. I find that cookies (and muffin tops) are hard to take photos of, because they're just blobs of brown batter. Cupcakes shine on their own because of the pretty frosting, and so do cakes as well. But cookies... They need to be prettified with props and they take awhile to shine. Poor cookies... They're not the prettiest girls on the block. On the left are banana oat muffin tops, on the right, peanut butter oat cookies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

World Vegan Day / Lazy Saturday Part 2: Lentils with onions and fennel seed

Back when I was an omni I was a huge fan of the cooking shows on the Lifestyle Network, particularly (*gasp*) 30 Minute Meals. For the record, I liked Rachel Ray back when she was a plain Jane with her short hair and mommy clothes and she had her homey kitchen (I'm still in love with her Smeg refrigerator and Chambers stove), not when fame got into her head and she launched her own magazine and started endorsing Nabisco and Burger King (sell out...).

But this post isn't about her, it's about my love for really quick suppers, especially when there's a occasion to celebrate. For my World Vegan Day dinner I decided that a quick lentil stew, or lentejas, would be both satisfyingly good and easy to prepare. Actually, this lentil stew is the epitome of lazy cooking, seriously. You just dump stuff into the pot, let it sit for 20-30 minutes, then you've got a lovely meal.

I am really loving fennel seed right now. I bought it because I wanted to try Susan's Veggeroni and fennel seed really gave the pepperoni that zing. It is an amazing spice! According to this site it is part of the parsley family and has an anise-like flavor that is not pungent. Fun trivia: fennel seed got its name for the Greek word for "marathon", because the famous battle at Marathon against the Persians in 490 BC was fought on a field of Fennel.

And, just like our friend, black salt, fennel seed has therapeutic properties. It can stimulate one's appetite, ease digestion, reduce intestinal spasms, and treat urinary infections. Nursing mothers can eat this spice to stimulate the flow of breast milk, and it can regulate menstruation and relieve PMS. With its antiseptic volatile oils, it is a good remedy for arthritis and gout. Did I mention that it can cure asthma, bronchitis, colic, crohn's disease, food poisoning and motion sickness?!

Anyway, enough with the medical lesson and on with the food.

Lentils with onions and fennel seed
Pour a glug of oil into a pot on medium heat. Toss in the fennel seeds (I used about 2-3 tsp) and dried chili flakes and let pop for a few seconds. Add in some sliced onion (I don't fuss around with chopping these, just slice them into half-rings; I love onion so use as many heads as you like) and fry until transparent and brown-ish. Add in some smashed garlic and toss around for a minte.

Add in your dried lentils (these should have been picked over and slightly rinsed; I used 1 cup) and cook until they look toasty. Throw in some sliced tomatoes (no need to remove the seeds and pulp; just rough chop them. I used 4 egg tomatoes) and water (2 1/2 cups). When the mixture starts to look bubbly, lower the heat to low and slightly cover.

Simmer for 20-30 minutes, depending on how you like your lentils -- with a bite or slightly mushy. Halfway through, open the lid and check it out -- if it looks a bit dry, add another 1/2 cup of water. You don't want soup though, the water should absorb all the fennel goodness but not end up more in quantity than the lentils. Add salt only at the end, and feel free to add more chili.

This stew is fantastic on rice and vegetables. The fennel really gives it a smoky savory flavor. Onions are there for the caramelization and sweetness.

So, in summary: oil + fennel + chili + onions + garlic + lentils + tomatoes + water + salt.

Happy World Vegan Day everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

World Vegan Day / Lazy Saturday Part 1: Tequila-spiked barbecued tofu with grilled onions and tomatoes

November 1: November 1 2008 was my first time to celebrate World Vegan Day as a vegan. I spent the weekend out of the concrete jungle and closer to nature. Well, I spent the weekend in a beach house but we never even ventured out to the beach. We mostly just slept, ate, played pusoy dos, read, and watched the 4th season of The Office.

When you're not facebooking or blogging because there's no internet (or phone line for that matter), you can't help but become more domestic. With an 8-6 job and a cupcake-baking (mid)night job, I sometimes forget how enjoyable it feels to cook something that was meant to be eaten by me and my family. When you're in a place where skyscrapers don't exist, the air does not smell of car fumes, the ocean is a 10 minute walk away, and there are palm trees in your garden, you can't help but bring out the ol' Weber grill and do some outdoor cooking.

World Vegan Day Menu
Tequila-spiked barbecued tofu
Grilled onio
ns and tomatoes
Sauteed talbos ng sayote / chayote tendrils

Lentils with onions and fennel seed
Ensaladang talong / grilled eggplant salad

Tequila-spiked calamansi juice

We brought over a bottle of tequila, left over from my birthday feast; my brothers and I planned to drink all Saturday night, but whaddaya know... something in the cool provincial air made us go to bed at 9:30 and watch The Office on my mac. The tequila did not go to waste, I found good use for it in the kitchen.

Tequila-spiked barbecued tofu with grilled onions and tomatoes
I can't really give a recipe out here because I just mixed things in willy-nilly.

Essentially, in a bowl, mix in some chopped garlic, 1/4 c. freshly squeezed calamansi juice (or citrus juice of choice), about 1/2 c. of soy sauce, 1/2-1/4 c. canned pineapple-orange juice, and 1/4 c. of tequila. Mix everything together with a spoon, and taste. If it's too sweet, add more soy sauce. Too salty, more juice. Too alcoholic, a combination of soy sauce and juice. After adjusting, add a splash of oil. In that, dunk in some well pressed chunks of tofu, and let marinate for as long as possible. I marinaded mine for about 15 minutes.

Stick the marinaded tofu into barbecue sticks (make sure to soak the sticks in water so they don't burn) and place them on a platter and spoon the marinade over. With the bowl of extra marinade, add in some sliced onions -- sliced into rounds, don't break them up! After this, slice some egg tomatoes into halves, and remove the seeds and the pulp; set those aside.

Place the tofu on a well-oiled and heated grill, preferably on an angle so you get nice grill marks. Spoon marinade over the tofu. After 5 or 10 minutes, flip the tofu over. Spoon some more marinade. After 5 minutes, transfer the tofu to a plate.

Carefully lay the onions on the grill, spoon some marinade over, and let cook for about 5 minutes. Carefully flip over (use tongs) and spoon more marinade. Cook until brown / black / crisp around the edges, and transfer to a plate.

While the onions are cooking, you should have added the tomato halves into the marinade and let sit for about 5-10 minutes. After the onions have cooked, place the tomatoes on the grill, cut side down. Spoon marinade on top. Flip after 10 minutes, and spoon more marinade on top. Cook for 5 minutes, and transfer to the tofu plate.

Pour the leftover marinade into a saucepan and simmer. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp. of flour or cornstarch and 2 tbsp. of water. Add this flour / cornstarch mixture into the marinade, and stir until it gets thick. Voila, instant barbecue sauce!

It probably took me 30-45 minutes to prep, cook, and serve the food. Don't you just love the fact that "undercooked" tofu won't kill you while undercooked animal flesh will? Meanwhile, the dead animal (for my omni family) took ages for the blood and rawness to cook out...

Kinda related to World Vegan Day / Lazy Saturday: I found Diet for a New America at a secondhand bookstore last week, for only P110 (US$2.30)! And it looked as new as any other book. I've been reading it regularly and it is just so riveting. It's a perfect read for a perfect World Vegan Day. I love that it presents well-researched evidence that the animal cruelty industries don't give a sh*t about us consumers; they're are out to make us fat and diabetic and give us heart disease and cancer, while torturing animals in style.

More on World Vegan Day Dinner in my next post...

Friday, October 31, 2008

In the end...: Vegan MoFo #23

This is my last blog for Vegan MoFo. I can't believe it's been over a month! It's been a pleasure and a challenge to blog every weekday about food. I'm glad I pulled through and I hope my blog won't look so empty and sorry anymore.

I recall my first mofo entry like it was only yesterday...

And I thought it would be only fitting that I end MoFo with the same theme of carrot-y goodness...

Apparently I'm not the only one crazy about carrot cake. My coworker and friend Pet has ordered carrot cake cupcakes twice, and this time she ordered a carrot cake. Now that I've been baking cakes more often, I'm getting the hang of decorating them. Lessons from mofoing: don't fear cakes, cakes love to be baked and frosted!

(carrot cake smothered in a walnut-studded cinnamon buttercream)

MoFoing has been such a learning experience for me. Before October my blog had about 5 measly entries in a span of 8 months. I hope I'll continue blogging and churn out 1 entry at least every week.

MoFo lessons learned:
  1. It's best that you include photographs in your posts for a more interesting read. You don't need a schmancy SLR camera to get awesome photos.
  2. You don't need high-tech editing software to make your photos look more smashing than they already are. Picasa is user friendly.
  3. Picasa is not mac friendly.
  4. Blogspot is not mac friendly.
  5. Bring your camera everywhere (even if it's to get street food and buko juice from just around the corner); you never know when the perfect opportunity comes to photograph food.
  6. Pictures of baked goods (such as 90 cupcakes, 60 cupcakes, 1 cake, or 3 cakes) is always a crowd pleaser.
  7. Have your companion animals stay with you when you're cooking or baking. Cooking and baking won't feel so much like chores anymore.
Til next MoFo!

(Lucky pooped out from all the baking)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Veg options at Cafe Mediterranean: Vegan MoFo #22

Apart from believing that I'm born in the wrong decade (I listen to lolo / grandpa jazz and 60's bossa nova more than contemporary music) I'm almost convinced that I'm born in the wrong country. Hey, don't get me wrong, I love the Philippines, I want to live here forever and ever and never move. But if I had to choose a place to live apart from my country, I'd have to go with the Mediterranean. Frankly I'm not an expert on Mediterranean anything; I do know that it has a lot of history, lovely weather year round, and fantastic food that is healthy, delicious, and not meat centered. I wouldn't mind living penniless in the Mediterranean, if only for its food.

Cafe Mediterranean has been on my list of favorite restaurants ever since it opened its doors in Manila. I love that it isn't mainstream "western" food; by mainstream, I mean it's not Italian. I used to be really into Italian food, but pasta and pizza can get tiring. I know there's more to Italian cuisine than pasta and pizza, but man, the Italian restaurants out here pretty much brainwash us into thinking that Italy = pasta and pizza, and nothing else.

Cafe Mediterranean is refreshing in that it has a lot to offer: gyros, rice plates, couscous plates, pizza, some pasta, and other sandwiches. And, it isn't out to kill you. I believe this was one of the restaurants that started offering South Beach diet options (i.e. low carb / high protein) in Manila; and yes, I confess, I was once on South Beach and this was why I loved Cafe Mediterranean. The restaurant does not shun vegetables and wholewheat like the plague; you can easily order green beans provencal together with your protein of choice (plant or dead animal) without being laughed at by the server. And, true to its Mediterranean cuisine form, it offers a lot of vegan friendly options!

Last Sunday was the first time I ate at Cafe Mediterranean as a vegan and I was confident I would find something good and satisfying to eat that was not a bowl of leaves and vinegar. Manila vegans (are you
out there?), we are so blessed to have this restaurant serve actual plant protein that is not tofu!

From the appetizer menu one could order some wholewheat pita with hummus, tabbouleh, and marinated olives. I believe you can order cucumber sticks instead of the bread. Sorry, no picture of the appetizer, I'm sure you know how hummus looks like; if not, check my birthday post. I can honestly say... I make better tasting hummus. :) They skimped on the spices. They skimped on the parsley for the tabbouleh too.

The place actually has 2 vegan soup options -- roasted vegetable soup and lentil soup -- just ask the server to remove the croutons and serve the side bread without butter. There is a salad section full of hearty choices that are not just leaves and tomatoes, with the option of removing the animal protein that comes with it.

On my part, I ordered the lentil soup, which was nice and filling (please disregard the buttered bread). I have tried their cumin-spiced roasted vegetable soup in the past and I like this immensely too. I also ordered the couscous salad with roasted red peppers and chickpeas. I usually don't like restaurant salads because they always only serve leaves, but this salad was non-conformist and was really good. The peppers were sweet and smoky while the couscous and chickpeas were creamy. It was a toothsome salad.

As for the main entree, we have the falafel. This must be the only restaurant in Manila that offers falafels. Usually prepared with garlic mayonnaise, you can ask your server to substitute it with hummus. The falafels were a deep dark brown, crunchy on the outside, moist and tender in the inside. I have yet to perfect the art of falafel making.

Falafels lovingly wrapped in wholewheat pita with thinly sliced onions, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and hummus... It was a good meal.

Cafe Mediterranean
Corte delas Palmas,
Alabang Town Center
Commerce Ave, Alabang

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