May 24, 2015

Rambutan -- what's with this hairy tropical fruit?


Rambutan is one of the more common tropical fruits around and one that Westerners would find exotic. What it lacks in visual appeal it makes up for by the charming, mildly sweet and tangy flavor of its white, jelly-like flesh. All hairy and spindly and red, rambutan is not one fruit you would easily fall in love with at first sight, but one which would beguile you at first bite.

My family used to have a couple of prolific rambutan trees and I remember my big family of 8 siblings plus some extended family feasting on a mound of rambutan fruits every day or so. We used to try so hard not to mind the annoying swarm of black, harmless ants that for some reason are so enamored with rambutan fruits. Those pesky "sulom" as we call them would crawl all over the fruits and reach our arms and necks, but eat delicious rambutan we still did, black ants notwithstanding.

Rambutan is Nephelium laapaceum, that pinkish to reddish spherical fruit covered with a sparse matting of spindly, hairy extensions. The term rambutan comes from the Indonesian root word rambut which means hair. It is mainly a tropical fruit, native to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Rambutan may not be as potent an antioxidant as Acai berry or pomegranate but it offers a little of most everything that is good -- natural sugars, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Here’s a shortlist of the health benefits rambutan fruit offers.
Traditional medicine.
Rambutan is traditionally used in Malaysia and Indonesia to treat various illnesses, including the lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

  • Rambutan leaves are made into poultices and applied on the temples to relieve headaches.
  • Rambutan leaves can be mixed with water, mashed into a paste and its extract squeezed out to give an excellent hair tonic and hair grower.
  • The bark is made into a decoction and is used to treat oral thrush or candidiasis.
  • Frequent eating of rambutan fruit is believed to kill parasites in the intestines.
  • In Indonesia, rambutan fruit has long been used to treat dysentery.
Has anti-obesity potentials
The journal Carbohydrate Research published a study which showed that an extract from rambutan hulls is able to inhibit fatty acid synthase which is an enzyme responsible for the synthesis of fatty acids. What this could mean is that rambutan hull extract may yet prove to be the elusive anti-obesity medication.

It contains the antioxidant Gallic acid which scavenges for free radicals, preventing them from causing oxidation and inflammation in the body.

Good source of nutrients

  • Rambutan is a significant source of calcium which, along with phosphorus, is important for bone and dental development.
  • It is also a good source of potassium which is important for blood pressure management.
  • It is a good source of magnesium, a mineral which is involved in over 300 metabolic pathways.
  • It is an excellent source of iron which promotes oxygenation of the blood.
  • Has moderate amounts of copper which is necessary for the generation of both red and white blood cells.
  • Is a source of manganese which is responsible for activating various body enzymes.
I hope you’d have more respect for the humble and not so pleasant-looking rambutan. It does pack flavor and nutrition beneath all that hairy queerness.


May 22, 2015

Puso or rice cooked in a pouch made of woven coconut leaves -- why it rocks

puso or rice cooked in a pouch made of woven coconut leaves
Puso is one of the curiosities here in the Philippines. It is a single serving of rice cooked inside a pouch made of woven coconut leaves. It is a handy-dandy rice-on-the-go that we buy whenever we are on the road -- and we were mostly on the road the past 2 weeks.

You see we try our best to visit our parents (on both sides, or, my parents and my in-laws, that is) at least once a year. We do it despite the arduously long road and boat trips and the horrendously high fare rates because our parents are growing old and we too, are not getting any younger and we know we should deliberately and purposely find time for them.

If you find yourself on the road soon, and with no other recourse except to eat while on board a ship, or worse, stranded on some out-of-the-way nooks because of a flat tire or whatever, I highly recommend you bring puso with you, along with some food. Here are some good reasons for patronizing this traditional cooked rice commodity.

Puso is handy.
I could kiss whoever it was that first thought of making puso. Why, it’s a single serving of rice that is so nifty and handy. It comes with a sling for easy handling and a compact, tightly packed and natural packaging that is perfect on-the-go. It’s really the best rice package for travel, camping and eating out on some beaches.

It’s lightweight and not messy. Simply make a slit across the coconut leaf pouch and you’ll have hot and fragrant rice. The coconut leaves also keep the rice warm much longer. It’s easy to reheat too -- just steam it or leave it on top of newly cooked rice.

It is fragrant.
There must be something about the woven coconut leaf pouch that imparts a naturally fragrant aroma on the rice. It’s akin to the aroma of pandan which is a favorite rice add-on here in the Philippines. Try eating freshly-cooked puso and you will understand how much more aromatic it is than ordinary rice that’s cooked in a pot.

Puso is healthful.
I think buying steamy hot rice packed in flimsy cellophane or plastic bags or styrofoam bags is downright toxic. Sadly, it’s the norm in most Filipino roadside and bus stop eateries. Heat releases toxic chemicals from plastic products and so it would be wise to just buy puso instead. Who knows? Coconut leaves might even impart nutrients and antioxidants to the rice.

Puso is indigenous.
Age-old traditions such as the making of puso -- especially if they prove themselves to be healthful, frugal and smart -- need to be revived, supported and promoted, in my opinion. I would be saddened if the puso industry would go extinct soon. I would be sad in behalf of all the coconut leaf weavers and the puso-makers and traders. I hope I could learn to make puso in my lifetime. It’s a charming traditional rice cooking method that I just have to learn.

This blog post may be all about the humble puso but I hope you would see the big difference this classic Filipino rice cooking method makes. 

Have you eaten steaming hot puso before? Did you like it?

May 19, 2015

Tribute to my Mama


I thank God for my mom. She is a smart, beautiful and very hardworking woman who has a lot of common sense and more importantly, a sound and solid soul. All my life, she has been working from home because she chose to. She has a degree in accountancy and was the fastest typist and stenographer in the office and was actually one of her boss’ favorites but early on in her marriage, she quit her office job and stayed home when one of my younger brothers came down with amoebiasis.

Right from our home, I had seen her build a small retail store into a buzzling community wholesale store. When we became Baptists and my mom read from the Bible the evils of alcohol and smoking, she stopped selling liquor and cigarettes even if it meant losing her customers. Her store eventually closed down. She then transitioned and found a more lucrative business in the form a lumber yard which was a lot less labor-intensive than running a store.

She has also been managing a sugarcane farm which has helped to bring income to sustain our gigantic family of 8. When my dad gave his life to become a pastor, my mom again gave up her lumber yard and started a school instead. Her academy is now known to be churning out fast and early readers in our town. Her Christian academy is now offering up to grade 8 level of education and is now housed in two buildings. At the present, she is intent on preparing for senior high school. And she’s already 61 -- normally not a time for starting anew and making transitions -- but then my Mom is beyond normal.

I am constantly amazed at just how much my mom has accomplished in life. She is an astute businesswoman, a fair employer, a passionate teacher, a dutiful pastor’s wife, an excellent homemaker, an ever-present mom and just, simply an interesting woman.
Through it all, my mom has always been a constant presence in our home. 

She cooks well and fast. She sews by hand and by machine. She maintains a vegetable and flower garden and recently, a vermi-composting farm. She visits with my Dad. She teaches in Sunday School. It is still a wonder to me how she juggles her many responsibilities.

When I come to think about it, the kind of women I grew up admiring and looking up to are robust, lively, dutiful and hardworking women like my mom. She didn’t obsess about her looks, she rarely puts on makeup, yet I know she can show up at schooI events and outshine everyone. She does not own a set of jewelry and she disdains painting her nails, yet she’s beautiful in her nonchalant way.

I know she is a very intelligent woman (she was class salutatorian in high school) and I know she could have easily used her wits to climb up the corporate ladder, yet she chose to stay at home so she can take care of us. Back before working at home was thought of as hip, Mama was a pioneer and trailblazer in that field. Through the years she managed to carve a fulfilling niche at home, and successfully at that. We know her income was almost equal to that of my Dad who worked as a civil engineer at a state-owned power corporation.

Until now, I consider women of substance those who can strike a balance between work and home, those who can achieve their dreams without necessarily neglecting relationships, those who are a whiz both at home and in their career. I hope I’ll be like Mama, but I feel I lag so far behind. It sure is empowering to have as a peg your own mom, to look up to her with admiration and respect, to feel inspired to come close to what she has been and done.

This is my way of saying Happy Mothers’ Day to Mama, and my own way of greeting all my mom readers a Happy Mothers’ Day as well. May I become like my Mama. If I could become her, that would be the time I would want my daughter to become like me.

How has your Mama impacted your own life? I hope you’d step out and share, as a way to honor your mom this month.

If you enjoyed this, you'd also love this blog post on my mom being a social entrepreneur.
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