Originally meant as a repository of sort for published manuscripts and articles, but reading amazing food blogs lately, I was encouraged to include topics on food and gardening and share other topics of interests to other women like me, who love to garden, fine foods and good cooking.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Quest for Bittermelons

When I feel like I am consuming too much of too rich foods, my body would crave for ampalaya (bittermelon), thinking this bitter veggie is some kind of a detoxifying agent that would rid the system of stored grease. I love this bitter veggie thinly sliced then sauteed in lots of tomatoes with cubed pork and shrimps, which we call "lagat apalya" in Pampango. A simpler version of this, "guisang apalya", is sauteed in tomatoes and then lightly beaten eggs are added to it. On special occasions, we would prepare "relyenong apalya", which is blanched whole bittermelons, seeds removed and then stuffed with cooked pork mince, coated in light batter then shallow fried. Served sliced with tomato ketchup and steaming white rice.

Too bad, the bittermelons I planted last summer did not do well, struggling to even sustain their leaves. Needless to say, not a single fruit was produced this year. Now, I am hoping against hope that they would survive the cold this winter in the hothouse so I've been trying to keep them alive by keeping them watered and protected as best as I could from the cold.

Bitter melons can be bought thinly sliced, vacuum packed and frozen in an Asian store in Petone (a 35-minute drive from our place). But no thanks, because frozen veggies turn very soggy when cooked, not to mention watery, and therefore, have lost most of their nutrients and taste.

So when a friend mentioned that ampalaya are on sale at a flea market in Lower Hutt every Saturday, I eagerly looked forward to visiting that place. The Riverside Market in Lower Hutt is quite far from where we live, so we have to have another purpose for going to that place. We had the opportunity last Saturday, when another friend from Porirua, invited us over for her housewarming party.

It was the first time I had been to the Riverside Market in Lower Hutt where all sorts of freshly-harvested fruits and veggies were on sale. Veggies were in green and yellow plastic crates loaded from big trucks. Vendors were mostly Chinese market gardeners, selling their produce. Noticeably, a lot of buyers were Asians, some were Maoris, a few Pakehas and the rest were Pacific Islanders.

Looking around, I was amazed at the sizes and shapes of fresh greens on sale--familiar veggies and ones that I only know by name through books and magazine. I have never seen white radishes so biggg, each one weighed at least two to two and a half kilos! Or potatoes as big as an infants head! There were the more common veggies like cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, squash in different varieties, watercress, spinach, carrots, big pechays they call "pak choys" here, chinese cabbages (ones we call pechay Baguio back home), and just any other leafy greens you may want to find.

BUT not a single bittermelon in sight!

Wandering around a bit disappointed for not finding bittermelons, my face lightened up seeing freshly-cut lemon grass being sold by a Chinese gardener! Just recently, I bought a jar of lemon grass in a jar but was not so pleased with the preserved herb. I have actually given up hope of finding fresh lemon grass here, and now! I did not have second thoughts about buying a bunch--five roots with a few leaves in them--for two dollars!

Last summer we harvested sweet corn from our garden, and since then have been thinking of "Guisang Sale Manok", a chicken soup my mother would always cook when there were freshly-harvested corn. But then I was not confident about using the lemon grass in a jar, so I did not bother. Then too, I found sayote, which they call chocos here. Most of the days now are wet and cold, so what could be more comforting than steaming chicken tinola?

I took advantage of that trip to go and visit a new store that sells Asian foodstuff. I felt a bit sad to find a bag of rice labeled "Thai Jasmine Rice" and below it in open and close parenthesis, Milagrosa, mabango, clearly, a Philippine rice variety, that is now being exported by Thailand to other countries. Back then, our neighboring ASEAN countries learned how to properly cultivate and propagate rice from us through oour Rice Research Institute. Now they have become self-sufficient and are even producing export quality rice while we are now importing low-quality rice from them.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Zucchini, Courgette or Marrow?

Until recently, I did not know the difference between a marrow, a zucchini or a courgette. David pointed out that all three come from the same plant (summer squash of the cucurbit family) and are given names depending on their stages of growth. They can either be yellow or green and generally have similar shape to a ridged cucumber. The word zucchini comes from the Italian zucchino, meaning a small squash or immature marrow. Courgette, on the other hand, is French term for zucchini. The term squash comes from the Indian skutasquash meaning "green thing eaten green."

These days, commercial growers have standardized their terminology relating to courgettes, zucchinis and marrows:

Courgettes are the baby fruit of several types of marrow, harvested when they are 14 x 4 cm long, the size of a cigar.

Zucchinis are the fruits of the same plant harvested when they are 15 to 20 cm long.

Marrows are the semi-mature fruits which have reached full size.

We grew the yellow zucchini this year and were blessed with a good harvest. The first few zucchinis we picked were nice and tender, with blemish free skin and bright yellow color. They had a light and delicate flavor and are best steamed and served with other veggies as side dish. Once, we overlooked an overgrown zucchini probably because it was shaded by the plant's huge leaves. David suggested that we leave it and see what would happen.
A couple weeks later, it grew big and fat measuring 15 inches long. It was a marrow. A few days later, we harvested it with the intent to bake it. Unfortunately, we lost the recipe passed on to him by his sister, so we had to do some research for ways to cook marrows. We found several from the net but settled with this recipe from "The Cook's Garden". The procedure was altered to simplify it.


1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tb butter
250 g minced pork
60 g mushrooms, chopped
1 tb chopped thyme
50 g soft breadcrumbs
fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 small egg
2 tb butter, melted

Slice the marrow down the middle (lengthways) and use a teaspoon to dig out the seeds.

Saute onion in butter, then add mince pork and mushrooms. Cook until browned. Add remaining ingredients except for the melted buter. Mix thoroughly.

Pre-heat overn at 190 degrees. Spread remaining butter on a tin foil. Pack the stuffing into the marrow, then wrap it with the foil. Bake. Small marrow will need 45 minutes. A larger one will need 1 1/2 hours. Slice and serve the stuffed marrow with Neopolitan sauce.


250 g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp cooking oil
1 tsp chopped basil or parsley

Heat oil in pan. Saute garlic, then add the tomatoes. Add basil or parsley and serve.
This sauce is also great with spaghetti and topped with grated cheese.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Mutant Apples

Picked from JR's Orchard where I worked as apple packer this season, were these strange looking fruits. When the supervisor showed them to me, I asked her if I could have one. To my delight, she said that I could have all of them after showing them to everybody. So I took them home with me and took some photos to show to you. Looking more like small cacao pods than apples, these are mutants of the variety, Breaburn. Isn't it amazing how nature works and decides to just alter the look of some things for reasons beyond our understanding?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Filifest 2006 A Celebration of Filipino Culture

Wellington, New Zealand--Filipinos in the Wellington region and the South Wairarapa area, gathered together at The Little Theatre in Lower Hutt, to celebrate the 2nd Filipino Festival (Filifest 2006) laat April 1, 2006.

Organized by the Wellington International Filipino Society (WIFS) headed by Ms Nilda Campbel, Ms Anita Mansell and Ms May Young, the annual event presented different regions of the Philippine islands, through songs and dances.

Choreographed by Ms Gina Reid, (adapting the choreography of Dr Paz Cielo Angeles-Belmonte), the Filifest showcased young Filipino New Zealanders’ talents in singing and dancing..

Highlights of the evening were dances from various Philippine regions, grouped into four: the Igorot Suite (Kayabang, Pinanyuan, Sayap and Bumayah); the Maria Clara Suite (Scarf Dance and Estudyantina); the Muslim Suite (Silong sa Ganding and Asik); and the Rural Suite (Subli, Binasuan, Sayaw sa Bangko, Sakuting, Maglalatik, Itik-itik, and Tinikling).

Awed at seeing such amazing talents in the young performers, the Honorable Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, Minister for the Community and Volunteer Sector of New Zealand, advised the New Zealand Filipinos, especially the younger generation to “…hold on to your culture, learn your language and your dances…”

Equally impressive was Master of Ceremony, Bless Sutherland from Christchurch, who delighted the audience with her hosting savvy and trivia about the history of each song and dance presented.

Well-applauded number was the “Binasuhan sa Bangko”, a combination of “Sayaw Sa Bangko”, a dance native to the the barrio of Pangapisan, Lingayen, Pangasinan, which demands skills from its performers who must dance on top of a bench roughly six inches wide, and “Binasuan”, a colorful and lively dance from Bayambang, Pangasinan, which shows off the balancing skills of the dancers gracefully maneuvering glasses half-filled with rice wine.


For more photos of the Filifest, visit:

Monday, May 08, 2006

Green Tomato Chutney

We have yet to experience the first morning frost this year. although, temperatures have gone down to single digits. This means, winter is just a breath away and so, it's time to thank summer plants for a good harvest and do some clearing in the garden. Sad eggplants and stakes used for the runner beans had to be plucked out, kamote and jerusalem artichokes dug up for any tubers, and the remaining tomatoes still hanging on (mostly green) had to be picked and the wilting vines cut up for the compost heap.

A good problem again just came up--what to do with still green tomatoes. I suppose, I could just put them on a basket and wait for them to ripen. But no, there is a chance they would just rot and not ripen. I searched for ways to use green tomatoes and found lots of recipes. I was intrigued with the "Green Tomato Chutney" as I have never tried it. So I weighed, measured, chopped ingredients and turned on the stove.

From Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne's book, "The Cook's Garden", here's how to make use of green tomatoes.


1 kg green tomatoes
1kg cooking apples
500 g brown sugar
500 g onions
250 g raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tb salt
600 ml vinegar

Quarter the tomatoes and remove the hard cores. Peel, core and quarter the apples (I find grating the apples better so you eliminate coring). Peel the onions Chop all these ingredients finely. Place in a preserving pan and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 1-2 hours until the chutney is thick and well cooked. Stir occasionally, Pour into clean, sterilized jars.
Like our own achara (pickled green papapaya), this is a nice accompaniment for anything fried, and a great substitute for ketchup.