Sinigang for Dinner

My favorite food growing up was a Filipino dish called sinigang. It’s a dish that is very close to my heart.

Okay, so what is it? It’s a soup that consists of meat, vegetables, light broth and, specifically the one I grew up with, a sour component. In this case it’s tamarind.

There is something so tribal and comforting about gathering around together to share a meal. For me this was the one meal that we all gathered around and shared. Except for my dad, it was a bit too exotic for his Midwestern palette.

Whenever I make sinigang it always reminds me of my mother, who brought this dish with her from the Philippines. She taught me how to make it when I was very young, and to this day it remains one of my go-to comfort meals. I hope to one day  pass it on to my children.

Obviously so they can involuntarily think of me whenever they have it.

IMG_2091

The great thing about sinigang is its versatility. You can make it with any number of vegetables and different types of meat. My favorite is a variety called sinigang na baka, meaning it’s made with beef. It’s also great because it’s a relatively healthy dish, packing plenty of veggies into your meal.

Ingredients

I should warn you, I don’t really measure things out, so just add as much as you think will fit in your slow cooker or soup pot or serve the number of people actually willing to try this out.

Meat

I like to use beef short ribs, but I’ve used stew beef as well or even both! But I find ribs give the broth the most flavor. For one regular size crock pot (meaning not tiny, but not one of those huge ones) I got about 1.5 lbs of short ribs.

IMG_2078

Veggies

My favorite part of sinigang. For this batch I used what I had in my fridge, but there are so many possibilities for the vegetables you can use. Here I used one long thin pepper (to give it some kick!), pechay (baby bok choy), one large fresh tomato, 1/2 a large white onion, 3 garlic cloves, and I decided to throw some broccoli in last minute as well.

Also, in traditional Filipino recipes it is customary to include small taro roots, called “gabi” in Tagalog, also called eddo roots in the grocery store. In the interest of keeping this as low carb as possible I omitted the gabi, but if you don’t plan on eating it with rice it is delicious and little different.

Some of the vegetables you might want to include. I also like to include spinach, broccoli, and string beans.

Some of the vegetables you might want to include. I also like to include spinach, Chinese eggplant, broccoli and string beans.

Soup base and flavorings

Most Filipinos that I know (my mom included) really like to use beef bouillon cubes to flavor the dish. I have to admit it is reallllly good that way, but I’m watching my sodium intake so I used reduced sodium beef stock because I’m already using a packaged soup base. The soup base can be found in the Asian store, my favorite is Knorr brand but Mama Sita brand has a tamarind seasoning mix that’s also pretty good. I’ll update this when I figure out how to make the tamarind soup base from scratch. It’s my next project!

You can usually find Knorr Tamarind base in any Asian or international grocery store.

You can usually find Knorr Tamarind base in any Asian or international grocery store.

Also, since the pepper I chose wasn’t spicy enough for me I added some red pepper flakes. Really spicy and really sour are my favorite ways to serve this dish!

Note: By using more veggies, substituting vegetable broth for the beef broth, and substituting lemon juice for the tamarind base you can also make it vegetarian-friendly. FYI the tamarind base by Knorr contains shrimp powder, so it’s not vegetarian. It’ll taste a little different but I’ve tried it myself and it’s pretty good!

Directions

Dice your half-onion, don’t be too worried about making everything pretty, this isn’t a pretty dish.

Also dice up your garlic cloves nice and tiny.

Brown your ribs on the stove in a little olive oil. I didn’t do it this particular time, but you can throw your onions and garlic in with your ribs while they brown to give the meat a bit more flavor.

Put them in your crock pot, cover with as much of the tamarind base packet as you like. I used 1/3 of the packet at this point because it’s easier to add more than try to take it out!

Add your onions, garlic, and long skinny pepper. If you like things really spicy you can go ahead and add your red pepper flakes now since the longer they’re in there the more spicy your soup gets. If you decide you want to use the taro root, add it now. It needs to be cooked a long time so it gets soft enough to be edible.

IMG_2085

Add 2 cups of the beef broth, then add enough water to cover the meat.

Cover your crock pot and set on low for ~4 hours. I tried doing it for 6 hours once but the meat ended up so tough I had cut the time down. My pot might just run hotter than some of the others.

When you have about 30 minutes left go ahead and cut your tomato into big chunks and add to the pot. At this point make sure to taste your broth and add additional salt, tamarind seasoning, or beef broth if it’s a little bland. You could even sneak a little beef bouillon in if you like, I won’t tell anyone.

When you have about 20 minutes left add your baby bok choy, string beans, broccoli or other veggies. If you are using spinach I suggest adding it last around the 10 minute mark so it doesn’t disintegrate.

Voila! You’ve made yourself a Filipino dinner. For our Paleo and grain-free friends if you add enough veggies you don’t need to eat this with rice. Since being diagnosed with diabetes I limit my rice intake so I frequently enjoy this dish without the rice.

For those of you who want to try this the traditional way serve with -my favorite- Jasmine white rice. You could even try this with brown rice, which happens to be my boyfriend’s favorite rice.

What’s your favorite dish from your childhood?

Obesity as a disease?

Here’s a link to NPR!

IMG_0734

My grandparents’ cat is huge.

I don’t have medical training or  any concrete scientific knowledge to have an opinion on this one way or another. I just know what it’s like to be overweight and to have to struggle every single day to stop being that way. Some reasons are mental and emotional, some physical (insulin resistance sucks). All in all it ends the same thing.

Being overweight is a very public battle, whether we admit it or not.

I’m mostly just writing this because I’m really saddened by what people have had to say on the issue. I’m not commenting on whether or not it should be labeled a disease, just on the reactions to the news that I’ve seen.

Yes, it makes me feel bad when people say that fat people are just lazy and don’t care about what they do with their bodies. Unless you have personally been overweight and teased and harassed – even by your own family – then I don’t think you should be so quick to judge. Sometimes getting up in the morning is enough of a challenge. Maybe, if you’re like my father, you have a family to feed and two jobs to work on top of mounting debts and stresses. Having a rock hard bod isn’t exactly on the top of that list. Should it be? Good health should always be a goal, I’m not arguing with anyone on that. But is it a crime that life sometimes gets in the way?

One popular fitness blogger I followed said that she thinks it’s “ridiculous” that obesity is a disease and she doesn’t want people feeling like they are the victim and they can blame being obese on being a disease.

But on the flip-side, does that mean they can be shamed and blamed because they “allowed” themselves to get in such a condition? Is it so ridiculous? (Or ridic! as she puts it)

Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. I do know that she has as much education as I do, a bachelor’s in a science field, but has probably never been overweight a day in her life. She is not a doctor, nurse, dietician, exercise physiologist, therapist, etc. Do I think labeling obesity as a disease is going to let obese people off the hook? Of course not. I don’t personally know any obese person who hasn’t felt shame at some point about it, or doesn’t realize their health is at risk. Do I think people are going to cry victim? Again, I don’t know, but I do know there will be people who will forever be victims in their own mind, whether they’re obese or not, it’s a mindset.

To say obese people are so lazy and just lack the willpower to change so they’ll find any way to shift blame is ridiculous and incredibly hurtful. Being obese is not healthy, but many thin people also make poor decisions about their diet or exercise. And it is not as though it is extremely easy to overhaul your lifestyle, and the current culture of shame and harassment does nothing to help, but rather make overweight people retreat further. It’s very emotional to be fat, it’s not as easy as “get off your ass and stop eating burgers”.

Do you know what it’s like to not feel like you deserve to enjoy your life, go out and do things because people will judge your weight? To fear that your weight will negatively impact a job or school interview, or that if you go shopping you won’t be able to find clothes that fit and you actually like. If you’ve never struggled with your weight, then no, probably not.

Yes, many of these things are not realistic. No, I don’t think anyone really cares what I eat or where I go, but to deny that sense of being self-conscious just because it isn’t logical isn’t fair. It’s my experience, and it’s the truth. Then there’s the “well if you’re so unhappy go lose weight!” argument. Yes, of course! We must all strive for the best health we can have, any way we can. I will never disagree with you on that. You should take responsibility for your health, whatever that means to you. Weight isn’t always going to be the best indicator of health.

But weight loss is a highly personal and multifaceted issue you can’t just tell someone to go lose weight. Some people genuinely do not know where to begin. Some people live in food-deserts or cannot afford fresh meats, fresh produce. Maybe they can’t get away from their jobs, maybe childcare or transportation is an issue. What seems like an easy, maybe even mundane task to you could be an immense challenge to someone else.

Yes, where there is a will there is a way. But have you ever been in a situation where you’ve come up against so many roadblocks that you lose the will to continue?

Instead of continuously blaming the individual why not try to address the reasons why so many are currently overweight? Write to congresspeople, go out and get involved with the ADA or other organizations who provide free education workshops to the public. Get involved in causes that demand better access to mental healthcare, or affordable produce and healthy food for our children.

There are things you can do to be more productive than type nasty comments on the internet about how all the obese people just lack the willpower to do something about it. Would it be so wrong to try to make doing something about it easier?

I don’t know if obesity is a disease in its own right or a symptom of other things such as thyroid conditions, depression, insulin resistance, or a myriad of other issues. But to be honest, I don’t really care. If the AMA says obesity is a disease now, then let’s treat it accordingly. I think it could have some positive impacts. Maybe the food industry will finally be forced to make the changes to their process and products to help our overweight population. Perhaps we’ll see less patient-blame and a new generation of doctors will learn to treat obesity as the grave health concern it is, not just a lack of motivation or a flaw in character. Maybe an obese patient who is looking for assistance will have better access to proper nutrition education from a registered dietician, help from a personal trainer, or at least something better than what they have now.

Some say that it’ll just lead to a rise in medications being pushed instead of weight loss “the natural way”. Another way to cop out of taking care of yourself. Here’s the thing, if you’ve been overweight your entire life maybe some assistance isn’t necessarily evil. It’s been shown that children who are overweight are likely remain that way through adulthood.

And I’m sure many will tell you themselves that the longer they were overweight the more difficult it is to maintain any amount of weight loss. So sure, if they can come up with something that (with proper nutrition and activity, like my Metformin) will help you achieve or maintain your optimal health, who the hell am I to demonize that?

My hope for the future is that this results in a net positive effect for our national health. Also, that people would just be a little nicer to one another. Get to know someone, encourage them, inspire them, be the support that they may desperately need. It doesn’t need to be us vs. them, fit vs. fat. It can be good health for everyone, with a let’s work together attitude.

Rc

Sometimes It Sucks, But That’s Okay

I draw my own starfish so I don't have to credit anyone. I'm lazy. And very nervous about respecting copyrights.

I draw my own starfish so I don’t have to credit anyone. I’m lazy and very nervous about respecting copyrights.

Sometimes diabetes makes me feel like shit. Not just physically, but emotionally, because the full weight of having this disease can add to an already teetering and very heavy pile of stress you have to cart around in your everyday life.

Bills? Let’s add several hundred more dollars to that.

Errands? Job? Chores? Other things in your day? Let’s add 6-10 BG checks, diligent meal planning, insulin dosing, pill organizing, and general fussing with insurance and doctors to that.

Let’s add guilt, stress, fear, anger, and sadness specifically about your health, to an already overtaxed camel lugging around your other emotional baggage.

I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life, but let’s go ahead and pile on more.

Tonight, let’s add a side of guilt to the main dish of stress. The issue: money. I have this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach because I feel like an immense burden to my family and my S.O. This disease is so expensive to cover, I’m averaging about $150/month on just diabetes supplies. Not including copays, lab fees and miscellaneous other fees that seem to sneak up on you. And I want to start pump therapy so this is going to increase. I rely on my father’s health insurance and financial assistance to fund keeping me alive. In addition to this I need money for school. Lots of it…like tens of thousands of dollars. (Hello Sallie Mae….)

I desperately want to work, but no one wants to hire me seasonally and I can’t work during grad school. Or at least the program director highly discourages it. But I might need to risk it. I feel like in some ways I deserve the struggle.

I know, intellectually, I can’t allow myself to be bitter and angry…with myself. I think, maybe if I did something differently I wouldn’t need insulin, I wouldn’t need to be hemorrhaging money from my family and my own savings account just to live.

It’s the classic Type 2 on insulin guilt trip.

I would never say that to another struggling Type 2, because again, intellectually, I know this is false. Diabetes will progress the way it progresses, and your body needs what it needs. It’s not a character flaw, it says nothing about your intelligence or ability to take care of yourself, it’s just the nature of the beast to evolve your treatment plan as the beast evolves.

Let this beast give you a shot.

Personally, I think it’s okay to feel bad sometimes. I don’t mean I encourage feeling awful, I think you need to keep yourself positive for the most part, so you don’t fall into a long bout of sad. But I think it’s acceptable, and you shouldn’t feel bad about feeling bad. The best thing to do is acknowledge it while keeping in mind, guilt and shame do nothing for you. Except maybe give you a stress ulcer, but I’m assuming that’s counterproductive.

Feeling guilty about being Type 2 won’t make it go away, feeling ashamed that you need to be on insulin doesn’t make your pancreas secrete more.

It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, but for the most part, try to let yourself be happy and live your life. You deserve it.