Robert Harland in a Foreign Land

From the TV Series “A Grain of Sand” Winner of Five International awards.

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Praise the Lard

Yes, I’m out of the closet and have to confess. I cook with lard.

For years lard has been considered a silent killer, but today its really bad public image is being questioned.

In the last few decades we’ve been taught to fear lard so much that you could be forgiven for thinking that eating it was the leading cause of death. But many scientific minds are now re-thinking lard.

Home-made lard - definitely the best

Home-made lard – definitely the best

Some believe the advice we’ve been getting for so long has been wrong. We’re told to eat as little fat as possible, but American science journalist Gary Taubes quotes US government figures showing that nearly half the fat in lard is monounsaturated and this lowers our bad cholesterol and raises our good cholesterol.

“If you replace the carbohydrates in your diet with an equal quantity of lard, it will actually reduce your risk of having a heart attack,” claims Taubes.

Lard - easy to make your own

Lard – easy to make your own

This is good news because food cooked in lard is a lot tastier than food cooked in vegetable fats or oils. My British ancestors had no trouble recognizing its virtues. So central was it to our diet that the room where we stored our food, the larder, was named after it.

Our grannies, who mostly cooked with lard, knew that its great strength was that it coaxed out the flavors of foods.

With its high smoking point and unobtrusive taste, Lard was the ideal fat for roasting, so our grannies roasted potatoes in it. Today, many cooks are starting to use goose and duck fat. This is sold in fancy jars at great expense. But many of the same cooks will not consider lard. Perhaps because the packaging is not sophisticated enough.

And then there’s the name. Lard is hardly romantic. So, what about re-branding it? Pig butter might be a good start.

In Britain, consumption of lard has dropped from 55 grams a week to a mere five, but it’s on the increase. Although lard is readily available in UK supermarkets, it’s highly processed, often hydrogenated and treated with bleaching and deodorizing agents.

It’s not sold in Philippine supermarkets and, in any case the best lard is home-made. I’ve been making my own for several years by rendering pig fat.

This is an easy process. Buy a load of pig fat from a butcher. Cut it into one inch squares, put a quarter of an inch of water in a heavy pan – this stops burning – place the fat in the water and put the pan in a hot oven. After two hours you can pour pure pig fat into a bowl. You can freeze it and it’ll keep for a long time.

Some eminent chefs such as Scotsman Jeremy Lee of London’s Quo Vadis restaurant are great fans of lard especially for roasting potatoes and in pastry. “Lard is up there with goose and duck fat – it’s a very sophisticated ingredient,” Lee says.

Lard was once the fat of choice in many countries. Sadly, its use went into steep decline when it was branded as a health hazard by nutritionists and doctors.

The jury is still out, but it seems lard is enjoying something of a revival.

On a personal note, my very active mother, who was brought up on lard-cooked food and who still occasionally uses it, will celebrate her 92nd birthday in February. And to mark the occasion, perhaps she’ll be celebrating with a tasty full English breakfast cooked in lard.

Christmas treat for Rizal Elementary pupils

About 30 Rizal Elementary School pupils – recipients of the Negros Occidental Garden Club’s ‘Full Meal’ program – had a special treat on Monday when the club hosted a Christmas party complete with a blow-out lunch, games, dancing and gifts.

Garden Club member Celia Ferrer with some of the 'Full Meal' recipients

Garden Club member Celia Ferrer with some of the ‘Full Meal’ recipients

The ‘Full Meal’ program, launched in September, aims to supply at least one full meal a day for  undernourished school children in Bacolod. These are children classified by the Department of Education as ‘severely wasted’.

This very young Santa led the dancing

This very young Santa led the dancing

“It was very heart-warming to see these children get well and truly into the Christmas spirit and have fun,” said incoming club president Lourdes Mercado.

“What better way to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary than bringing some Christmas cheer to the less fortunate in our society. I would like to thank all club members who extended their support for this project and donated not only their time, but also gifts for the children.”

Speaking at the party, school principal May Bautista said the children were really happy.

“For many children, this will be their only Christmas treat this year and we are most grateful to the garden club for sharing their time and resources at this special time of the year,” she added.

Garden Club members with some of the Rizal Elementary School pupils

Garden Club members with some of the Rizal Elementary School pupils

The Garden Club was founded 50 years ago to promote, encourage, foster and cultivate interest in garden floriculture and community beautification. The club also supports numerous charitable projects including the Philippines Mental Health Association and Gawad Kalinga.

Texting can wait

We see them everyday in their cars, trucks, taxis and even some half-wits on motorbikes. What are they doing? Why texting of course!

I learnt the hard way about using a cellphone while driving. I was searching for my ringing phone while driving in Atlanta. Suddenly I mounted a pavement and just managed to stop in time right in front of a rather large brick wall.

Texting while driving. Is it worth it?

Texting while driving. Is it worth it?

If anyone had been walking along at that time, they would be have been toast. Total damage for me was $50 for a new tire. A small price to pay. I have never used a cellphone while driving again.

Because text messaging combines visual, cognitive and manual aspects, it is one of the biggest distractions that a driver can encounter.

Texting can wait

Texting can wait

One US report found that those who were texting were 23 times more at risk than those who weren’t. The report added that receiving and sending text messages can distract a driver’s eyes for an average time of 4.6 seconds at a time.

We are so attached – maybe I should say addicted – to our cellphones, that we feel the need to respond to text messages immediately. But for what? Most messages can wait.

Texting can wait

Texting can wait

I had a close shave, and I was lucky. Alas, others have not been so fortunate.

Recently in England, Mary Rutherford, a 68-year-old grandmother was killed while sitting in the back of a car when it was hit head-on by a Renault Clio driven by 20 year-old Nikita Ainley.

Ainley, who worked for a supermarket in the north of England, was in the process of writing out a text about a night out when the fatal crash occurred.

Ainley was arrested and sent for trail. She denied she’d been texting at the time of the crash, but police proved beyond reasonable doubt that she had indeed been texting.

She was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to three and a half years in a young offenders’ institution. She was banned from the road for five years and ordered to take an extended driving test if she wants to drive again.

The judge told her: “No message is so urgent that it requires someone to lose their life as a result of it. That, I’m afraid, is what you did on this occasion. It was your thoughtless use of a BlackBerry phone that has brought about a completely unnecessary death.”

Any intelligent person knows that texting while driving is dangerous, but the practice seems to be on the increase around the world. So much so that lawmakers in many countries are making moves to crack down on this dangerous habit by the doubling or trebling of fines.

Police, however, say even if texting while driving might be illegal, it’s hard to enforce. A pity that commonsense on the part of so many drivers does not prevail.

Santa Visits Bata

Christmas came early for 51 children from Brgy. Bata in Bacolod City on Saturday thanks to the Rotary Cub of Bacolod Marapara which hosted its annual Pamaskua Sa Bata gift-giving party.

Santa with children from the Villa Gracia Day Care Center, Rotarians, Rotoractors and St. Scholastica Student Council representatives

Santa with children from the Villa Gracia Day Care Center, Rotarians, Rotoractors and St. Scholastica Student Council representatives

Children from the club’s adopted Villa Gracia Day Care Center joined in the fun and games at the party which was held at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club.

Highlight of the morning was a visit by Santa, who took time out from his busy schedule to give each child a gift. Another special guest was Capt. Shakey’s, who posed for pictures and led the children in the Gangnam style of dancing.

A special appearance of Capt. Shakey's at the Marapara Rotary annual Pamaskua Sa Bata gift-giving party

A special appearance of Capt. Shakey’s at the Marapara Rotary annual Pamaskua Sa Bata gift-giving party

This was followed by lunch and then time for some fun and games.

One little boy didn’t seem too happy at meeting Santa

One little boy didn’t seem too happy at meeting Santa

In addition to sponsorship from individual club members and friends, the party was supported by Shakey’s, McDonald’s and Louise Restaurant at Marapara.

Said Club president Mike Bantug: “This is the sixth year we’ve hosted a Christmas party for the less fortunate children in our adopted barangay.

“Thanks to our generous sponsors, club members, Rotoractors, St. Scholastica Student Council representatives and, of course, to Santa and Capt. Shakey’s, the children had a terrific time.”

Mary Ann Fernandez, a teacher at the Villa Gracia Day Care Center, said the party was a beautiful occasion and the children were very happy. She expressed her appreciation to the club and all who helped make the affair so enjoyable.

The Rotary Club of Bacolod Marapara undertakes many community activities each year including medical missions for indigent patients who might not otherwise have the chance of seeing a doctor.
It’s main fund-raising event is the annual ‘Rotary-Golf for a Cause’ tournament held at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club.

2013 Garden Club Officers Inducted

The newly-elected officers and directors of the Negros Occidental Garden Club were inducted into office at the club’s Christmas party at the Pavillon Hotel in Bacolod City on Monday. The inducting officer and guest speaker was the Hon. Cynthia Villar, former representative for the Lone District of Las Piñas City.

The 2013 Negros Occidental Garden Club board (l-r) Tessie Aplaon, special projects; Lita Cruz, special events; Luisa Javellana, media support; Jane Lizares, 2nd assistant secretary; Emma Lipa, 1st assistant secretary; Zenaida Guzon, secretary; Daphne Javelosa, 2nd assistant treasurer; Ilde Guerrero 1st assistant treasurer; Carissa Maalat, 1st vice president; Hon. Cynthia Villar, inducting officer; Lourdes Mercado, president; Gigi Flores, 2nd vice president; Celia Ferrer, treasurer; Necena Ong, auditor; Viol Caram, PIO.

The 2013 Negros Occidental Garden Club board (l-r) Tessie Aplaon, special projects; Lita Cruz, special events; Luisa Javellana, media support; Jane Lizares, 2nd assistant secretary; Emma Lipa, 1st assistant secretary; Zenaida Guzon, secretary; Daphne Javelosa, 2nd assistant treasurer; Ilde Guerrero 1st assistant treasurer; Carissa Maalat, 1st vice president; Hon. Cynthia Villar, inducting officer; Lourdes Mercado, president; Gigi Flores, 2nd vice president; Celia Ferrer, treasurer; Necena Ong, auditor; Viol Caram, PIO.

In her acceptance speech, incoming president Lourdes Mercado said her priorities will include the 2013 Garden Show, which she hopes will be the best ever, as well as expanding the club’s successful ‘Full Meal’ programme for undernourished school children.

“The club will also continue its long tradition of public service by offering to assist with beautification projects and we will also be looking at mounting several fund-raising events,”  she added.

Garden Club 2013 president Lourdes Mercado with guest speaker and inducting officer the Hon. Cynthia Villar,

Garden Club 2013 president Lourdes Mercado with guest speaker and inducting officer the Hon. Cynthia Villar,

During the party, the club made donations to the Philippine Mental Health Association and to Gawad Kalinga for a new housing unit; the fifth house the club has donated.

In praise of the Sausage McMuffin

As a chef, I really shouldn’t be singing the praises of a fast food, but the Sausage McMuffin with Egg is such a tasty bite I feel compelled to single it out as one of the better offerings you’ll find in any fast food joint.

I did ask McDonald’s PR people for some information about this product, but they declined to comment. Can’t think why.

Sausage McMuffin with Egg

Sausage McMuffin with Egg

I was first introduced to this delicious nibble in Hong Kong. Very sensibly, McDo in the former British Crown Colony offers it throughout the day whereas here in the Philippines (and in most countries around the world) it is only served at breakfast time.

Now, I have to ask ‘is that wise?’

McDo is undergoing something of a shake-up after posting its first monthly sales drop in nine years earlier this month, amid a loss of customers to rival chains such as Burger King. McDonald’s global same-store sales fell 2.2 per cent in October.

But, as Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper put it “Don’t expect McDonald’s to rest on its burgers.”

The paper goes on to say that the disappointing sales have led the fast food giant to begin testing new menu items, including three new varieties of its prized Quarter Pounders. It’s also getting ready to launch a new McMuffin made with egg whites.

My contention is that if the Sausage McMuffin with Egg – and other McDo breakfast sandwiches – were offered throughout the day, they’d have many more customers. Believe it or not McDo, there are some customers who simply don’t want a burger and fries.

There’d be me for a start. I rarely get the chance to enjoy one as I have a hearty breakfast at home and I’m not hungry by the time they stop serving them at 10:30am.

I have put this to McDo several times, but their lack of a response would indicate they don’t agree.

For the uninitiated here’s what you get when you a buy a Sausage McMuffin with Egg. It consists of a muffin with a savory sausage (I guess it’s pork) plus a slice of cheese and a fried egg with a hard yolk. It weighs in at around 164 grams. In all some 450 calories. In Bacolod it’s a modest Php75.

Interestingly, McDo calls it an English muffin. I’m English and I’ve never seen an English muffin in England.

I’m not alone in my admiration for this tasty morsel. One American food blogger, Dave, author of Dave’s Cupboard, says the McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches like the Sausage McMuffin with Egg are brilliant – and delicious.

So come on McDo, what about serving these scrumptious breakfast items all day? Who knows, it might even make a difference to your bottom line.

Belen contest set

The 2012 Bacolod Cultural Foundation’s (BCF) Belen contest, designed to find the best interpretation of the nativity on display in Bacolod churches, will take place on December 26, 2012.

The 2011 wining Belen at the Sr. Sta. Nina Chaplaincy, Helvetia Heights, Bacolod City

The 2011 wining Belen at the Sr. Sta. Nina Chaplaincy, Helvetia Heights, Bacolod City

Belen is a Spanish word for the nativity scene commonly constructed during Christmas. Over the years, the Belen has been presented in many different ways. It’s the centerpiece of Christmas decorations in most Filipino homes.

This will be the 21st year the BCF has run the competition which aims to promote the art of Belen- making and to restore the religious significance of the Belen as a symbol of Christmas.

The contest is open to all parish churches in the city. Judging will focus three categories – the most symbolic, most artistic and most innovative. There will be a P5,000 prize for each category. Letters of request for participation have been distributed to parishes. For inquires please contact Bacolod Cultural Foundation director Angelina Echaus at the Sea Breeze Hotel on 433 7073.

Share the road

My first  bike ride was 57 years ago along Newtown Road in my home town of Southampton on England’s south coast. I can still recall the excitement I felt when I finally managed to stay upright for at least 100 yards.

Since then I’ve had many bikes and I have ridden thousands of miles. I still ride, though it’s a tad dangerous here with pot holes in the roads and so many drivers who simply don’t seem to notice us.

Cyclists in many countries are terrorizing roads and pavements

Cyclists in many countries are terrorizing roads and pavements

A lot of cyclists in Negros proudly display stickers in their car windows demanding that motorists ‘Share the road’. Unfortunately, many of the same cyclists are not prepared to play their part.

All too often one can see cyclists on major highways riding two, three and sometimes four abreast all chatting and not minding other road users.

Cycling on the pavement poses a danger to pedestrians, especially to senior citizens.

Cycling on the pavement poses a danger to pedestrians, especially to senior citizens.

Not only is this dangerous for the riders, it’s behavior not worthy of a responsible cyclist.

Around the world, cyclists are getting a bad name. Many seem to think the road – and often the side walks as well – are for their exclusive use. And look out anyone silly enough these days to think that a pavement is meant for pedestrians.

There are endless stories in many countries – my own included – of what is described as a thuggish minority of cyclists terrorizing roads and pavements and causing numerous accidents especially those involving senior citizens.

Share the road - there's room for everyone

Share the road – there’s room for everyone

Such riders have been dubbed ‘Lycra louts’ because they all tend to wear Lycra clothing and their behavior is ‘loutish’.

According to Kate Hoey, a former British Sports Minister, cyclists – not car drivers – are the real menace on Britain’s roads, claiming they are accountable for poor road safety and aggressive behavior. She describes Lycra louts as selfish, rude, law-breaking and infuriatingly smug.

Her views are based on a survey which reveals among other things that 50 per cent of cyclists in London ignore red lights.

The anti-social behavior of these cyclists has reached a point where many British politicians are now calling for laws to curb the behavior of cyclists who put lives at risk.

Fortunately, we haven’t reached that point in Negros, but I would urge all cyclists here to be a little more considerate, especially on major highways. And they should always remember that their mantra of ‘share the road’  works both ways.

Marapara Rotary marks 20 years of medical missions

A team of 34 volunteer doctors and nurses from Riverside and the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital and a dentist from the Philippines Dental Association held a medical mission on Sunday at the Sacred Heart Shrine in Brgy. Calumangan, Bago City.

The mission, organized by the Rotary Club of Bacolod Marapara, was led by club member, Dr. Renier Gerochi. It was held in memory of past club president, the late Mariano Lim, through a family foundation chaired by Mrs Lina Lim. Mr. Lim had been a major donor to the club’s medical programs.

Some 300 barangay members and their children availed themselves of medical checks and dental work including adult and pedia consultations, EKG tests and BP and FBS tests. Supporting the medical team were club members plus members of the Rotoract Club of Bacolod Marapara and barangay health workers.

Marapara Rotary member and dentist, Dr. Selwyn Lloyd Baloyo looking after a patient

Marapara Rotary member and dentist, Dr. Selwyn Lloyd Baloyo looking after a patientMarapara Rotary member and dentist, Dr. Selwyn Lloyd Baloyo looking after a patient

The medical team included Dr. Yogendra Agrahari from Nepal, who is currently undertaking additional studies in Bacolod. ECG-EKG services were provided by Provincial Board Member Dr. Melvin Ibanez, a former member of Marapara Rotary. The club also gave out free medicines.

Nepalese doctor Yogendra Agrahari checks a young boy

Nepalese doctor Yogendra Agrahari checks a young boy

“This is the 20th year our club has been holding medical missions. We know how crucially important they are to the less fortunate members of our society and we were again pleased to be of service to the people of Brgy. Calumangan,” said club president Mike Bantug.

Dr. Michelle Gahaton from Riverside Hospital attending to a patient

Dr. Michelle Gahaton from Riverside Hospital attending to a patient

“We are most grateful for the strong support and dedication shown by the medical team, the Rotoractors and other volunteers who gave up their Sunday to be of service,” he added.

Club director Fidel Henares handing out free medicines to barangay members

Club director Fidel Henares handing out free medicines to barangay members

Apart from medical missions, the club undertakes many other community activities each year.  It’s main fund-raising event is the annual ‘Rotary-Golf for a Cause’ tournament held at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club in Bata, Bacolod.