Nov 28, 2014

My Spice Rack

One fine day, I chanced upon a set of identical spice bottles in a thrift shop. They were made of glass, had clean white caps and had no labels -- three features which got me giddy. Glass is clean, non-reactive and ageless -- I mean they don’t fade or warp like plastic. All they need is tender handling and frequent washing. The white caps go with the white-coated rack that I already have in the house. And the absence of labels meant I could DIY labels myself.

After a minute of haggling (Filipinas excel here), I got the whole bunch -- which have been languishing in the thrift shop for months anyway -- for just 80 pesos. Can you even believe that? And off they are now in my home for some little makeover.

spice bottles
First, I soaked the bottles in soapy water, scrubbed the white caps to restore them to their squeaky-clean whiteness, thoroughly dried them and wiped them to a sparkling finish.

I bought some retail spices and herbs -- both the common and not-so-common ones. These nifty little packs do not cost much, just under 20 pesos apiece -- each would nearly fill a spice bottle. Tip: Make sure, when you’re buying herbs, that you check the expiration dates and that you pinch the packs to see if they have not hardened yet. As you can see, I have here the basic ones -- curry, cumin, black pepper, garlic powder, annato seed powder (achuete), turmeric, paprika, cayenne and something called barbecue spice which is a blend of 5 spices.

bottled spice
I then put my latent DIY/crafting skills to use and made these simple label stickers made of pink sticker paper and ordinary ballpen. By the way, I was known since my elementary days as the one with the pretty face handwriting. I used to go home late after school as I had to wait for some of my writing-lazy classmates to finish photocopying my notebook. (This gets me into thinking about taking calligraphy sometime, and that lovely chalkboard art thing that I keep admiring over at Pinterest.)

bottled spices
Here is a close-up of a few of the labels I did.

bottles of spices
And so here is my simple spice rack, looking pretty, homely, colorful and… yet sparse. I want to add more, but one at a time. I hope to put them into good use and use them before they go bad. I certainly don't want them to be just for show and I don't want to go overboard in this, hehe.

Seriously though, spices are dense repositories of nutrients and antioxidants, not to mention amazing powerhouses of flavor and aroma.

In the next few weeks I will be traveling the world -- just right here in my kitchen actually. I promised my husband to cook for him the Indian fish recipe Fish Moilee and the British-Indian specialty Chicken Tikka Masala, among others.

I hope you’ll stay posted!

Other reads you might want:
Advices on Spices
Good use for spices -- Marinades

Nov 26, 2014

Why I Take Turmeric Daily

I have been taking a few herbal supplements daily for a couple of months now. No, I do not spend a lot in supplements. I research for companies that sell quality yet low-cost dried, powdered herbs such as garlic, graviola (guyabano), mangosteen and turmeric and then take a different herb each month. (By the way, you will not find good prices among MLM/Networking supplement businesses as their prices have to be jacked up in order to fund the ludicrously high compensation packages for their members, particularly the uplines.)

Turmeric powder in capsule form is one herb I take daily. I tried taking turmeric tea but I cannot keep the habit daily as the taste is not really something I relish. Besides, turmeric tea drinking stains the teeth a funny yellow. And so I decided to take turmeric powder in capsule form. This is not an extract but rather whole turmeric roots that are pulverized and dessicated. Whole foods are much safer than extracts, experts say.

The active ingredient in turmeric is the polyphenolic antioxidant curcumin which has been found to compare favorably with no less than 14 standard drugs. Turmeric gives the following drugs a run for their money:

Cholesterol medication (Lipitor/Atorvastatin)
A study conducted in 2008 and published in the journal Drugs in R&D documented that a standardized preparation of curcuminoids source from turmeric performed as well as the drug Atorvastatin in terms of managing endothelial dsyfunction which underlies the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Furthermore, curcuminoids also reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in type 2 diabetic patients.

Steroid medications (Corticosteroids)
A 2003 study published in Cancer Letters showed curcumin as comparable to the drug dexamethasone in the management of lung ischemia. Curcumin also compared favorably to steroids in the clinical management of an inflammatory eye disease called chronic anterior uveitis. This was the finding of a 2009 study which was published in the journal Phytotherapy Research.

Antidepressants (Prozac/Fluoxetine and Imipramine)
The journal Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica published the findings of a 2011 study which showed curcumin as comparing favorably to two antidepressant drugs in terms of reducing depressive behavior in animal models.

Blood Thinners (Aspirin)
A 1986 in vitro (in test tubes) and ex vivo (using tissues) study showed curcumin as comparable to aspirin in terms of blood thinning activity.

Anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, aspirin, sulindac, naproxen, phenylbutazone, diclofenac, indomethacin, celecoxib and tamoxifen)
The journal Oncogene published a 2004 study which showed curcumin and resveratrol as having anti-inflammatory activities that are comparable to those of standard anti-inflammatory drugs.

Chemotherapy drug (Oxaliplatin)
The International Journal of Cancer published a 2007 study which documented the anti-proliferative activity of curcumin in colorectal cell line as being comparable to that of oxiplatin.

Diabetes drug (Metformin)
Published in the journal Biochemistry and Biophysical Research Community was a 2009 study which showed that curcumin increased glucose uptake by cells (thus lowering sugar levels circulating in the bloodstream) and suppressing glucose production in the liver. A striking finding was that curcumin was found to be 500 to 100,000 times more powerful than metformin in decreasing sugar levels by way of activating AMPK and Acetyl CoA-carboxylase.

So back to the question: Why do I take turmeric daily? Because turmeric performs the functions of several drugs minus the risks of side effects associated with synthetic drugs . Turmeric lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, calms inflammation, thins the blood, prevents depression and fights cancer. What's more, it is abundant and cheap here in my country. As for the fear of overdosage, a capsule of turmeric powder a day is certainly far less than what the average Indian national consumes in a day in the form of curried dishes.

But hey, don't take my word for it. Here are my references:

For dosage, precautions and possible drug interactions, read this article from the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Other articles that might interest you:
7 Questions Dietary Supplement Manufacturers Must Answer
My Thoughts on MLM/Multi-level Marketing Schemes

Nov 24, 2014

Basil Benefits

fresh basil leaves
The basil that we know -- either in the form of fresh basil leaves or dried basil powder -- comes from the plant scientifically known as Ocimum basilicum which belongs to the mint family of herbs. Basil has a sweet and minty taste that has a lovely fragrance. It goes well with meats, cheese, eggs, tomatoes and many vegetables.

Origin of Basil
Basil finds its roots in India and Persia as it thrives well in the hot and dry conditions of the tropics. Lately I have even been seeing basil leaves being regularly sold in my city’s farmers’ market. The United States and Egypt are the world’s top cultivators of this wonderful herb.

Basil in Different Countries
Basil appears to have a universal appeal as evidenced by the fact that nearly all regions of the world -- Mediterranean, European, Asian and American -- have adopted this aromatic herb into their respective cuisines.

  • The Italians are probably the most ardent lovers of basil, sneaking in the herb in nearly all their dishes.
  • The Hindus also adore basil so much so that every home in India keeps a pot of basil.
  • The Romans highly value basil to the extent that they have made the herb a symbol of love and fertility.
  • The Thais are yet another basil-loving people. Thai cusine makes frequent and liberal use of basil.

Health Benefits of Basil
Basil fans would be delighted to know that this spice also happens to be superior in nutrition.
  • Antioxidant. Basil scores high in terms of antioxidant content and thus combats free radical damage which is the primary culprit in degenerative diseases and cancer.
  • Antibacterial. The essential oil of basil has shown antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus (common skin bacteria), Enterococcus and Pseudomonas (which attack the colon).
  • Protects against radiation. Two prominent flavonoids in basil -- orientin and vicenin -- have been found to protect cells against radiation-induced damage. This is especially needful in our gadget-crazy world.
  • Rich in beta-carotene. Basil may be bright green in color but it surprisingly has high amounts of the antioxidant beta-carotene which protects the linings of the blood vessels from free radical damage which causes a host of cardiovascular problems.
  • Treats digestive problems. In many cultures, tea made of basil leaves is traditionally used to treat common digestive ailments such as flatulence, indigestion, stomach cramps and constipation.
  • Nutritionally dense. Basil is classified as a good source of Vitamins C and K and the minerals iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Of course it also has lots of fiber.
  • Aromatherapeutic. The essential oil of basil has calming powers and is commonly used in aromatherapy to soothe stress away.

Some basil usage tips:
  • Use half a teaspoon of ground basil leaves for every 4 servings of food. You can gradually increase the proportion as you get the hang of its taste.
  • You can dry basil leaves in the shade, crush them in a mortar and then keep in a nifty glass bottle.
  • Basil goes especially well with tomato-based dishes such as pastas.
  • Crumbling basil leaves over baked fish or chicken will impart a lovely flavor and fragrance.

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