Episode 48: Grace and The Spiritual Side of Eating

“Grace” by Eric Enstrom
There’s this old story about a hunter who found himself cornered by a hungry lion in a forest. Desperate to stay alive, he fell on his knees and, hoping the lion would leave him alone, yelled, “Oh God, please make this lion into a Christian!” The lion then stopped, fell on its knees, and said, “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these your gifts…”
Grace, as a recap, is a type of prayer or saying before and after meals. This is a tradition taught at home and practiced by oneself or with others, especially among the predominantly Catholic Filipinos. It is both a spiritual and social custom that uses food to bond with others.
Saying grace is one of the most well-known practices of Christianity. Then again, major religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism also have prayers for meals. Humanists and other secular groups also say some form of pre-meal saying. (“Itadakimasu,” anyone?) No matter what belief system it is, saying grace is important.
Eating is a spiritual activity, and grace embodies this spirituality. When we say grace, we show gratitude for the provision of food. We offer our gratitude to a higher power (Yahweh, Allah, Brahma, or other deities) or authority (the people who provided the food, for the non-believers) for giving us something that keeps our bodies alive.
When we say grace, we also ask for God’s blessing to sanctify our food. This is another spiritual aspect of eating, where we ask God for His blessings through the nourishment we will get from what we eat. We also acknowledge that the food we are having is, in itself, God’s blessing.
Most belief systems regard grace as the acknowledgement of human dominion over the earth. This means we thank God for giving us the right and ability to sacrifice the lives of other creatures for our benefit. We basically proclaim and show gratitude for being at the top of the food chain.
This also means acknowledging the sacrifice of others for the sake of sustenance. We express our gratitude to the rice grains steaming in our rice cookers, the vegetables on our plate, and the animals killed and cooked to become the dishes served to us. We recognize that the plant or animal has given its life for us, and it will return to the earth to to the same for others.
We also express our gratitude to the people involved in the procurement of food. We recognize the work of the butchers who killed these animals, the ones who harvest the plants, the vendors, the delivery men, the chefs and the servers, even our parents and loved ones who are part of the reason we’re having food to eat in the first place.
Saying grace gives eating a spiritual aspect, in which we give thanks for the food we eat, and for the sustenance given to us. It goes without saying that we also offer our prayers for the time we spend on eating, be it with others as a form of bonding, or for ourselves as a time of rest.  Most of all, we say grace to acknowledge, give thanks and praise to God for making all of this possible.
Bless this meal, oh Lord, and while I’m at it, I thank You and all the lives involved in feeding me.

Episode 47: The Joys of Steaming, and then some

No thanks to my circumstances, I’m expected to watch what I eat. It’s actually a good thing that I can’t eat out often, which means I have to either buy cooked food or cook stuff myself. Even then I have to choose what to eat – less salt, less fat, little to no preservatives, and so on.
In my pursuit to stay healthy (or at least look like one), I started working on what I believe to be one of the simplest cooking methods of all: steaming.
Steaming is healthy for those looking to reduce their fat intake. Steaming cooks the food gently (which means it doesn’t get overcooked or burnt), and it retains nutrients. It’s easy to do, and it keeps food moist and fresh. I also notice that excess water and fat are drained from meat while steaming.
Steaming is cooking your food with steam, or that’s what I thought. It turns out to be a complex process: you have to keep the nutrients locked in, along with the flavor and juices. The steam you use matters. You have to choose your garnishes and flavorings well. Even where you cook it, whether over rice, broth, or water, makes a difference. The food itself – chicken, fish, or vegetables being the healthiest choices – plays a big factor too.
There are a lot of recipes for steamed food in books and the Internet, but some of them require cooking other stuff over a stove, which is fine, I guess. But I was aiming for a pure steaming recipe, which seemed to be hard to come by. Hence, I tried to make a mix-and-match of sorts on my own.
My first brush with steamed food was a variation of steamed chicken.  First, I made a marinade of 1 ½ cup of soy sauce, ground pepper, and ten pieces of calamansi. It’s actually the standard marinade I use on fried tilapia. I marinated a chicken breast on the mixture for about one hour, or so I intended, because it ended up sitting in the ref for six hours, which was just around dinner time.
I let the chicken dry and drip off the excess juice before cooking it over steamed rice. Steamed rice and chicken in one go!
The end result was strangely satisfying. The chicken was not as salty as I thought it would be. The meat was a bit dry and flaky but evenly cooked. It had a sweet-sour-salty aftertaste in it.
I used the same combination for steamed tilapia, which turned out better than the chicken.
On my second try with steamed chicken, I added chopped chili peppers and julienned ginger in the marinade. The chicken ended with a tangy taste with a hint of spiciness. Much better, I say. I did the same with tilapia, with similarly good results.
My third shot involved vegetables. I marinated a chicken breast, wrapped it in foil, added a bit of the marinade, and steamed it along with a few slices of broccoli, potatoes, and carrots. The chicken went well and even infused a bit of the vegetables’ taste. The vegetables, well… I guess I should have steamed them outside the foil.
My most recent mix involved ten slices of calamansi, an orange, julienned ginger, and chili peppers. I let a chicken breast sit on it in the ref for an hour (which ended up as six), and steamed it while wrapped in foil as usual. By the way, I eliminated the soy sauce from the marinade since I thought using soy sauce often is bad for me.
This by far is the best I’ve gone with steamed food. The chicken was juicy, soft and tender, with a hint of citrusy sweet-sour-spicy. I saved up some of the chicken’s juice and drenched my steamed rice with it. The whole meal screamed “steamed chicken goodness” all over.
Apart from cooking, whenever I have leftover takeout food, I steam it over rice to keep it warm and moist. I also steam eggs, tuna flakes, and even roasted food like lechon. Eccentric, isn’t it?
While I’m at it, I’d like to brew a few more variations of my marinade before switching to a new steaming style, like rubbing spices on the meat, steaming it in a broth (what kind of broth, I’m not even sure), or testing my marinades on pork and seafood. If I intend to stay healthy, I should start with what I eat. That’s why I took up steaming. I’m sure there are a lot more ways for me to learn in that aspect.

Episode 46: Much ado about Jollibee’s Ultimate Burger Steak

“Glorified Salisbury steak” was how one of my coworkers described the Ultimate Burger Steak, Jollibee’s latest offering, as they went out for dinner the other night. The others at work have also tried this combo meal, and they thought it was good and worth every peso.

I’ve never seen the commercials for the Ultimate Burger Steak, but hearing about it piqued my interest. By this time, though, I have shunned fastfood and shifted to food cooked through healthier methods. Okay, so I still eat pork and beef from time to time, but not in a fastfood setting. But I digress.

My curiosity got the better of me, so that night after work, I drove to a nearby Jollibee branch, and ordered an Ultimate Burger Steak for dinner.

Fifteen hungry minutes later, my Ultimate Burger Steak arrived, freshly cooked. Just as I thought, it looked like a Salisbury steak.

By the way, did you know that the Salisbury steak was once prescribed for weight loss?

Dr. James Henry Salisbury introduced the Salisbury steak – ground beef flavored with onion and seasoning – in 1888. It was eaten three times a day along with water as part of a low-carbohydrate diet. That’s because Salisbury believed beef helps prevent many physical ailments. He added that humans should eat more meat to stay healthy.

Nowadays Salisbury steak is not exactly considered as health food, but it’s popular in the US (served with gravy, mashed potatoes, or noodles), Japan (widely used in boxed lunches), UK, Hawaii, and Russia. After all, it’s cheap but filling, served hot as a complete meal.

But back to the Ultimate Burger Steak. It’s basically a Champ (1/3 pound) patty on a bed of French fries, and served with rice and a fried egg. It somehow reminded me of the Hawaiian loco moco, which is, as I found out after a quick refresher course, essentially the same thing.

My notion of Salisbury steak being a low-carb meal got Rider Kick-ed into oblivion, thanks to the fries and rice combo. But the patty? It was excellent. The patty was juicy, well-seasoned and bursting with flavor. The gravy was tasty, and the egg (not salted) and fries mellowed it down, creating a balanced mix of flavors.

For a moment, I got worried whether eating heavy stuff like this would be bad for me. After all, I’m on the lookout for food with too much sodium and preservatives. Gout and hypertension, remember? All that flew off the window as I finished my burger steak.

In the end, I broke my oath to avoid fastfood and ate at Jollibee, sacrificing my gas allowance and kidneys in the process. I regret nothing, though. Call it a glorified Salisbury steak all you want, but the Ultimate Burger Steak was worth trying. It was simple but satisfying and delicious. Maybe I’ll have one once in a while, whenever I feel like taking a break from healthy food.

Now that I think about it, I wonder how a Salisbury steak tastes like when steamed.