Death by Chocolate

All she wanted was to taste the chocolate.

All these years she was strongly warned against having chocolates. It’s not that she’ll have pimples or she’ll get fat when she eats them. It is more morbid than that. Her parents said that she is allergic to it. Deathly allergic to it. The last time she tasted chocolate was when she was 5 years old. And that was more than 30 years ago.

But chocolate is irresistible.

Everybody likes chocolates. In fact it is the most popular dessert in the world. Perhaps many will consider it as God’s gift to men. Some pundits would even say that the food Eve fell for was chocolate that was in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As you probably know, chocolates are made from cacao. Interestingly the Latin name for cacao tree is Theobroma cacao which means “food of the gods.” Theo is god, and broma is food.

Why does eating chocolate so irresistible?

According to scientific facts, chocolates contains several chemicals that can affect our mood. Especially dark chocolates. Caffeine and theobromine are among those substances, which can make us more alert and gives us energy. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “pick-me-up” effect from the caffeine in your morning brew.

Chocolates also contains Anandamide that helps stimulate and open synapses in our brain that allow “feel good” waves to transmit more easily. A similar chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC can have the same effect. THC is from marijuana. And you wonder why you can’t resist your craving for chocolates?

Furthermore, both serotonin and endorphins, neurotransmitters or chemicals in our brains, are released when we eat chocolates, and in turn, this brings on a sense of well-being. Just so you know, exercise also can release those endorphins, that can give you a euphoric mood after a work-out. Many call it as the “runner’s high.”

Lastly, Phenylethylamine is a chemical that our brain releases when we fall in love. It also acts as an anti-depressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in our brain. And guess what? Chocolates contains Phenylethylamine.

So go ahead, give chocolates to your loved one. Send chocolates to the one you want to date. Give chocolates on Valentine’s. I know flowers are nice, but can they release Phenylethylamine? Eating the flowers is not suggested.

Chocolate production is a multi-million dollar business. Ghirardelli, Godiva, Lindt, Cadbury and Hershey, to name a few, are big-name companies that are successful in this trade. Though I am still biased to the Filipino Choc-nut.

Besides chocolate bars and candies, there are also several chocolate-flavored desserts. Like cakes, ice cream, mousse, cookies, shakes, drinks, and whatever you can think of. There’s even chocolate-flavored cigarettes! That’s evil.

Then there’s different confectionaries that are called “Death by Chocolate.” I’m not talking about the chocolate-flavored cigarettes, though that is an apt name for that. “Death by Chocolate” is an idiomatic term they use to describe various desserts that feature chocolate.

Death by chocolate IIIBack to our patient, as I stated in the beginning, all she really wanted was to taste chocolate again. So she took a bite of a chocolate cookie. And she liked it! She took another bite, and another. The chocolate tasted so good, she finished the whole cookie.

Not too long after, she felt that her body was getting numb. She got alarmed, she took Benadryl. Four of them. But the symptoms did not get any better. She then started having some shortness of breath. Soon her tongue and lips swelled up. Then she cannot swallow or breathe anymore.

Finally she was brought to the Emergency Room. She was immediately intubated to establish an airway and then was hooked up to a mechanical ventilator. That’s how she ended up in our ICU.

All because of chocolate.

For two days she was on life support. Her blood pressure also dropped to dangerously low levels. These were all due to severe allergic reaction.

But she improved. With intense supportive care and mechanical ventilation, plus IV fluids, steroids and anti-histamines, and some tincture of time, she got better.

On the third day, she was weaned off the ventilator, and was discharged out of the ICU. I then warned her, that in no instance ever, that she should taste chocolates again.

Death by Chocolate? Almost.

(*photo from here)

Pinoy Transplant Visits the CIA

Yes, you read the title right. Take note of the “CIA” sign at the door, on the photo below.

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But it is not Central Intelligence of America. It is rather the Culinary Institute of America.

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CIA is a premier culinary school, and boast to be the best in the world. An institution specializing in culinary, baking and pastry arts. It’s main campus is located in Hyde Park in New York, which is the one we visited.

The school campus is nestled in a beautiful location near the Hudson River, with surrounding views that is conducive for learning and artistic inspiration.

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Touring the CIA campus is a gratifying experience in itself as you see the beautiful and clean premises and also take a glimpse of the students honing their crafts.

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Just watch out for crossing chefs.

But dining and tasting their food creation is another whole experience of its own. And that’s what we did.

The CIA New York Campus operates four public restaurants. If you don’t mind to be a “guinea pig” of these budding chefs, because in a sense their creation is part of their training and test, and your satisfaction could be a part of their grade. But I’m pretty sure these students are under the watchful eye of certified master chefs.

We dined at Bocuse Restaurant, which serves traditional French Restaurant. If there’s a restaurant there that serves traditional Filipino food, that’s where I’ll go, but there’s none.

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I was not disappointed. From the ambience, the service, the presentation and the food were all excellent. The food I ate there, is one of the best food I ever tasted. I have been to fancy restaurants before, but the appetizer, entrée and desert I had in CIA was a league of its own. An absolute gastronomic delight!

Whoever prepared my food, he or she definitely passed with flying colors, in my humble opinion.

By the way, their wine list is exhaustive as well. But since I dont’ drink wine or any alcoholic drink for that matter, for personal and health reasons, so I did not have any.

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One unique policy they have in their restaurants is that they don’t accept monetary tips from customers, as part of their student’s education is to provide outstanding service even without tips. To this I tip my hat.

From the CIA campus,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*I did not receive any commission for the above post. However if CIA would like to give me a free dinner next time I visit, I will definitely accept it.)

(**Photos taken with an iPhone)

Farm Dining

Since we moved in Iowa several years ago, we have dined in different restaurants here in metro Des Moines area. From formal to casual, from fancy to rustic, from pricey to low-cost, and from long-sit-down meal to on-the-run fast food. This also encompassed several international cuisines, like American, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Laotian, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, Indian, Greek, Ecuadorian, and Lebanese.

We also enjoy Filipino cuisine here, but it is not in a restaurant. It is my wife’s home cooking.

But when you’re in Iowa, I believe there’s a restaurant that embodies this state’s culture. The restaurant is the Iowa Machine Shed.

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The ambience is farm-themed, and the dining experience is relaxed, warm and family oriented. The establishment prides itself as a restaurant that honors the American farmer.

Outside the restaurant are some old farming equipments that adds to its distinctive appeal.

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my son on the tractor

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old gasoline pump

They even have a complimentary tractor ride that takes you around the neighborhood of the restaurant, and let you catch a glimpse of the “Living History Farm*” next door, that the restaurant supports.

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tractor ride

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Since the state of Iowa is the number one producer of pork and corn in the US, and probably the whole world, so it is not surprising these are what greets you at the door.

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Inside the place, they have a small store that you can browse through while you wait to be seated.

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The dining area, the tables and chairs, gives you a feel of a farmer’s kitchen or even a barn.

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The waiters and waitresses are in their denim overalls, that I wonder if they are dressed to harvest the corn and milk the cow, as well as to serve us our food.

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Even the silverware and glassware are uniquely farm-like: sturdy and rustic. Here’s what my son did to the glass, knives and the water pitcher. Good balancing act!

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I know that the most important part of the restaurant is the menu and the food it offers. Of course this restaurant serves lots of bacon and pork chops. But I assure you, they offer more than pork chops and corn on the cob.

I don’t have any photos of the food they serve on this post, for I intentionally left them out for you to come and visit, and personally see and try them for yourselves.

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Lastly, when you dine here, appreciate all the farmers and all the people and their efforts that brought food to your table. And besides there is a sign near the counter that says, “complaining to the cook will be hazardous to your health.”

From Iowa,

Pinoytransplant.

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(*Living History Farm is an outdoor museum in Iowa that tells the story of how Iowans transformed the fertile prairies of the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world.)

(**This is not a paid post. But on second thought, maybe they should give me a free meal on our next visit. Just wishful thinking.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

Pakbet is a traditional Ilocano dish, from the northern part of the Philippines. The word pinakbet or pakbet, came from “pinakebbet,” which means shriveled. The dish uses vegetables like sitaw (string beans), ampalaya (bitter melon), eggplant, okra, and kalabasa (squash), sauteed in bagoong (condiment made from fermented fish).

During our last visit in Ilocos, we had pakbet, but in a pizza! Still tasted like the classic Ilocano recipe, albeit with an Italian twist.

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(*Entry for WordPress photo challenge prompt)

Cornick, Balut, and Butong Pakwan

We Filipinos have some odd foods. The “adidas” or chicken feet, the bagoong or fermented fish, and the infamous balut or duck’s embryo, to name a few. Outside the Philippines, these foods can be met with much disdain with the mere mention of them. If you don’t believe me, just let a foreigner sniff the bagoong and watch their expression as their face crumpled like a paper.

During the recent International Food Festival held at downtown Des Moines, where one can sample foods from different booths from different cultures and nationalities, the Filipino association had its own stall. One of the served food is billed as “chocolate soup” among other Pinoy foods. People were interested to try the “chocolate” dish until they learned that it was dinuguan or pork blood stew, and that made some of them blush.

However we have other peculiar Pinoy foods that are less detestable to the non-Filipino people. In fact, these certain foods can even be palatable and downright appealing even to the uninitiated. The puto (rice cake), the pastillas (milk candies), and the lumpia (egg rolls), are examples of these.

When we invite our non-Filipino friends for a gathering, they were always hoping that my wife will serve her home-made lumpia, which is the best in town. (Of course I am biased!) They really crave for the lumpia, that I think they’re more excited to see the lumpia than seeing us.

During our last visit to the Philippines, we brought back here some more unique Filipino foods – cornick (fried corn) and butong pakwan (watermelon seeds).

We were in Vigan to visit family for the holidays and we bought several bags of the original Ilocos cornick to take home. It is quite ironic that we brought more corn products here to Iowa from somewhere else, when Iowa is already overflowing with corn. If you don’t know it yet, Iowa is the number one producer of corn in the US, and perhaps the whole world. Maybe I should start my own cornick business here.

When we pass through Pampanga, we were invited by my wife’s family friend. We were served a very delicious homecook Kapamapangan meal of “pindang damulag” (“tocino-like” carabao meat), Pampangueno’s version of daing na bangus (fried milkfish), and fresh carabao’s milk. Besides the sumptuous lunch, we were also given several packs of “Paning’s Butong Pakwan,” which is their family business.

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my cornick from Ilocos and butong pakwan from Pampanga

When we came back here in Iowa, we had some non-Filipino friends came over in our house. We offered the cornick for them to sample. Even though we are in the midst of the sea of cornfields, they have not tasted this kind of corn snack. It was a hit, as they liked its garlicky taste.

Then we brought out the butong pakwan for them to taste as well. But before we can even show them how to eat it, somebody already took a handful and directly munch it. “Hmmmm chewy!” was her comment.

Fighting not to laugh so not to embarrass her, I politely demonstrated how we eat the butong pakwan, by cracking it open and getting out the pulp. She looked at me with a grin and discreetly spewed out the chewed seeds.

Perhaps next time I’ll serve the balut and show them how it is eaten. But I should dim all the lights in the house first. The less they see what they are nibbling the better. Isn’t that the reason why balut is sold at night and eaten in the dark?

Anak ng Kamote (Son of Sweet Potato)

“Go home and plant kamote!” Maybe you have heard that declaration before. Or perhaps it was even you who have been the recipient of that demeaning statement. When I was in high school, after a game of basketball or volleyball, we jokingly said that expression to the team who lost. It just simply means that they will be more productive in planting the said root crop than doing something else.

We have also use the term “kamote” and “nangamote” when we failed or struggled in a test or exam. (You don’t want to get the “kalabasa” award either.) Kamote is used to refer to someone as dumb or poor in something. You certainly do not want to be called “anak ka ng kamote” too!

I am not sure what was the reason why we use “kamote” as a degrading term. Though “sweet potato” which is the English of kamote does not sound derogatory at all. In fact being called “sweet potato” seems an endearing expression, like being called “sweet pea,” or “sugar,” or “honey.” But it does not strike as endearing at all to be called “kamote.”

The other day, a Filipino who owns a large farmland here in Iowa gave us a bagful of kamote, which they organically grow in their farm. I confess that I am not a real fan of kamote also, even back in the Philippines, though I like the “talbos ng kamote” or sweet potato leaves. But after several years that I have not eaten kamote, I did missed it, and found it refreshing to taste the kamote once again.

our nilagang kamote

This morning, I ate nilagang (boiled) kamote and pan de sal (another Filipino gave us home-baked pan de sal) with hot cocoa for breakfast. How authentically Pinoy can your breakfast get than that? However, in reality many Filipino dismissed the kamote as fitting only for the poorest of the poor. The affluent will not be caught eating the humble kamote. It is not good for their image.

The fact of the matter is, kamote is far more valuable than what we Filipinos think. It is indeed a very healthy and versatile food. And it is not just “kabag” (gas) that you can get from it, as notoriously known. Kamote is very nutritious. It has no cholesterol, low in fat, high in fiber, has calcium, good carbohydrates, carotene, potassium, Vitamin C, and many more nutrients. Some herbalists claim that kamote can be used for a number of ailments – from headaches to diarrhea. Though I cannot vouch for those as a physician, but I can say for sure that kamote is a cure for the hungry stomach.

Kamote, especially the colored ones, has phytochemicals that can fight cancer. The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have endorsed the sweet potato for its health benefits and disease-fighting capabilities.

Most Filipinos cannot last a day without eating white rice. But do you know that the lowly kamote is far more nutritious and healthy than white rice? That should change our scornful attitude towards this oft maligned food.

So how did my day go, that I started with eating kamote for breakfast? It went fine. I did not do poorly at all. Far from being termed “nangamote.”

How about the notion that kamote can cause you to pass a lot of gas? That idea is full of air (Sorry, pun intended). And even if it is, just let it rip! Anak ng kamote!

Of Monkeys and Men

Last week, I saw a patient in the hospital that our group was following for consult. Though it was my first time to see the patient, she had been in the hospital for almost a month already. A little longer more and they could have named the room to her.

Our patient was morbidly obese and had constant difficulty breathing. She was on 10 liters of oxygen continuously, and supposed to wear a CPAP at night for her sleep apnea, though she hates it and not compliant with it. She also had decompensated congestive heart failure, poorly controlled diabetes, and unrelenting seizures. We were unable to discharge her home due to her persistent poor condition.

When I entered the patient’s room, she was having breakfast: heaps of bacon strips (I believe it was more than 10 strips), a large serving of scrambled egg, four heavily buttered toast, a good size donut, and 2 small cartons of milk. My jaw dropped in disbelief! How could we allow this in a patient who was already having serious problems, and in the hospital at that?

I was tempted to yank the tray away from her. And I did, but just to examine her. She was obviously annoyed that I interrupted her breakfast, or should I say suicidal meal.

There was a recent research in the UK that found that about 75% of hospital food has more saturated fat than Big Mac, and 60% of hospital dinners have dangerously high salt levels. It is a fact that our hospital food is so unhealthy, that patients might be safer to be at home than to be in the hospital.

I worked in a hospital before in New York city that has a fast food chain in their cafeteria. It was ironic that you can find both McDonald’s and the cardiac cath lab in the same floor of the hospital. So you can eat your fat greasy burger and if you happen to suffer a heart attack, they can just wheel you straight down the hall into the cath lab for your angioplasty.

There was a study conducted more than three decades ago that was funded by the National Institute of Health, about feeding a fatty diet, like the regular hospital food, to a group of rhesus monkeys. The monkeys probably had a blast with all the banana milkshake and crispy bacon instead of their normal diet of bananas and occasional insects. After 16 months of eating the fatty foods, one of the monkeys had a first heart attack.

As the study continued, eleven more monkeys had suffered similar heart attacks. This study clearly demonstrated the relation of diet and heart disease. So the take home message from this study for you is if you get hospitalized, don’t stay more than 16 months in the hospital, or it will kill you. Huh?

Back to my patient, after seeing her breakfast tray, I quickly reminded her that she was not doing herself a favor by continuing to eat all these high fat foods. Just looking at it gave me a chest pain. However after I walked out of her room and changed her diet to a heart healthy one, I was called by the nurse later on, that the patient simply refused to follow my diet order. She just wanted to eat what she wants to eat.

I felt displeased initially, but more saddened afterwards for my patient. She is not an isolated case. Her attitude is the same as the pervading attitude of our society today. We are inundated with advertisement of foods that are rich in fats and sugar, people indulging on the “good life,” and yet our commercials show models with thin and beautiful figures. Somehow there is a great disconnect here.

For the health professionals, we practice salvage medicine, where we kind of put a band-aid in a hole on a dam that is about to explode. Somehow advising people to eat the right food and live healthy to prevent diseases becomes secondary. Besides we can always prescribe Lipitor for their high cholesterol and give them insulin injection for their diabetes. It is good for the business and for the pharmaceutical companies, right?

In our society we are conditioned and deemed it acceptable to crack the chest open to do the coronary bypass surgery for a heart disease, or whack out or staple a part of the stomach for gastric bypass procedure to help patient lose weight as mainstream medical practice. Yet telling patients to adhere to a lifestyle change like converting to a vegetarian or vegan diet to reverse their disease, is considered too extreme and radical.

About the monkey studies again, part of the study was switching back their diet to low-fat diet, perhaps back to their normal food of bananas and other fruits. I am not sure if the monkeys protested, as they got used to the hamburger, fries and milkshakes. But what it showed is that with the healthy low-fat diet, there was a regression of the cholesterol build-up (atherosclerosis) in their arteries – proving that fatty diet can cause the disease and switching to a healthy diet will reverse the disease.

We know we can do something for atherosclerosis or hardened arteries. But can we do something for hardened attitudes?

Now, if I could also curb my cravings for a Whopper…….

(*photo from here)

Scented Memories

I was jogging in our neighborhood one day when I passed by a house under construction. I caught a waft of  trimmed wood, and the scent suddenly transported me back in time, somewhere in my childhood, when my father gave me a gift of wooden chess set. Isn’t it  interesting that inhaling a certain odor can evoke very specific memories, even though how remote those memories are?

For me smelling a citrusy fragrance will remind me of this girl that I had a crush on in college, as she wore a perfume or cologne that smells like lemon. Or maybe it was just their laundry detergent. Or maybe it was her lemon-scented Eskinol. Whatever it was, it is forever locked in my mind.

Then when I smell formalin, this brings me back to my medical school days with those “aromatic” cadavers at the UST Anatomy hall. The grueling long study periods up to the wee hours of the morning. The difficult exams that made me sweat like rain drops. By the way, the smell of “xerox” paper reminds me also of those days where my classmates and I will hang out in Dapitan photocopying handouts, notes, and leaked out old test questions (patok daw!).

When I sniff pine scent, this brings back happy childhood memories when my family went to Baguio. Where we stayed near the Teacher’s Camp. Strolled down Session Road. Visited Burnham Park. And enjoyed the spectacular view at Mines View Park, while also watching some natives perform the Igorot dance.

Mines View Park, Baguio

The link between smell and memory is not just a whiff of your imagination. There is really a scientific and medical reason for it. The center in our brain for the sense of smell is in the olfactory bulb which is near to a part of our central nervous system called the hippocampus. Hippocampus means the “seahorse” due to its the curled up shape, located deep in our brain. Neuroscientists have learned that the hippocampus is important when it comes to processing new memories. In fact, in people who have damage to this area of the brain can have trouble remembering what happened to them.

Some politicians we know, have problems remembering where they came from and what they promised before they got elected, so it must be a “hippocampus” thing. But then again it may be that something else is wrong with their brain. Sorry, I got sidetracked.

Few days ago, when I called my wife that I was about to come home, she did not answer the phone right away. On my third call, she finally answered and I learned that she was outside the house, near the back door of the garage, cooking “tuyo” (dried fish). You see we try hard not to cook dried fish inside the house as it will surely stink our place. Or if we do cook it inside, we make sure all the windows are open and we have scented candles lighted up to neutralize the smell, or else our non-Filipino visitors will think that we have a dead rat trapped in the ceiling.

Anyway, as soon as I heard my wife said that she was cooking tuyo, I swear I began to smell the peculiar scent of dried fish. And I was in my office still! Did the scent travelled through the phone lines? Could it be that the sound signals were transformed into olfactory signals through the phone towers? Or maybe it was all olfactory hallucination or what is medically termed as phantosmia.

Whatever the reason was, I really thought I was smelling dried fish, even though it was plainly not there. Maybe it was my memories of home, the one in Manila where I grew up, where I spent many fond years with my family, with home-cooking like “ginisang munggo” and the proverbial tuyo, awakened the sensation that I felt I detected that notable “fragrant” scent. Even if it was all in my mind. And for one nostalgic moment, I was home.

Time to go home now. To my present home with my wife and kids here in Iowa, where new sweet-smelling memories are being formed. And I know I will relive these moments again…..someday. I hope my hippocampus stay intact.

It is also time now to really sniff and taste that dried fish that my wife lovingly cooked, even if she has to do it outside our house.

(*image from here)