Recipe: Pinakbet (Ilocano)

When I was younger, I can’t see myself using a stainless steel stacked food carrier.  From where I was, the lowly workers used them for lunch and I thought using one would make me look like them.  I’m really loving my stainless steel tiffin food carrier.  It carries a lot of food and occupies little horizontal space.  I’ve been using it for two weeks now and it’s not un-cool at all!  You know what’s not cool?  Thinking lowly of manual workers.

Anyway, Francis is at Angeles City, Pampanga from yesterday up to Saturday so I’m having lunch by myself.  Huhuhu.  It’s getting kind of lonely eating alone, but I promised him I will eat, so here I am.

For today’s lunch, I had pinakbet – a vegetable dish from Northern Philippines.  It is traditionally made with an array of local vegetables, bagoong (fermented fish paste) and some fried or roasted pig or fish.  When I stopped eating animals, I thought I will never get to recreate this quintessential Ilocano dish but today I proved to myself that I’m so wrong.  (Yes, Francis’ mom still makes the best vegan pinakbet but mine is totally different.)

Here the ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 handful of sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 handful of ampalaya (bitter gourd), the small variety (not the long ones)
  • 1 bunch okra, cut in half
  • 1 cup small, round eggplant, stalk and top part removed then partially cut horizontally and vertically to form a cross (do not cut all the way)
  • 3 green siling panigang
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 sheet nori, torn
  • 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup water

The procedure:

  1. Mix together everything in a pot, the first ingredient on the bottom and the last ingredient on top.  Cover.
  2. Cook over low heat for about 30-45 minutes until everything is overcooked and mushy.
  3. Enjoy!

It’s so incredible how the simple addition of the nori sheet changed the whole dish.  It tastes so fishy it feels like a crime.  But it’s vegan, promise!

Pinakbet is a very forgiving dish.  Papa said you only need bagoong, ampalaya and tomatoes to make pinakbet, so don’t fret if you’re missing something.

Also, it’s meant to be overcooked and mushy.  Yeah, you kill the enzymes… but it’s pinakbet.

Tara, kain!


The Delicious World of Compassion: VegFest Pilipinas 2017

November is a great month.  Francis turned twenty-five, reducing our age gap to four years.  It’s National Reading Month, and I’m probably the luckiest librarian in the Philippines right now, since no other than THE Vice President of the Philippines, Ma’am Leni Robredo, was our celebrity reader at the Library Hub.  It’s also apparently vegan month, and that’s why VegFest happened.

Yes, VegFest.  Vegan Festival.  Because the world is going vegan.

Francis and I were so excited to join the gathering for veganism, which ran last November 18-19 at Eastwood, Libis, Quezon City and last November 25-26 at the Lucky China Town Mall in Manila.  We joined the first day at Eastwood and we had a blast.

This is the view from the entrance.  When we arrived at around 9:30 a.m. (I know right? VegFest would officially start at 10 a.m.), some merchants weren’t open yet but there were already lots of people.

We came all the way from Nueva Ecija – which was a five-hour drive – and by the time we arrived we were really hungry.  And for the first time since 2012, I wasn’t worried about not having anything to eat.  Francis bought me this tofu sisig on a bed of red rice from Green Light Veg.  He had the curry.  Admittedly, we felt that the food needed a little more seasoning, and he commented my curry was better.  But we figured it must be pegged as healthy, so who’s complaining?  We had rice for breakfast, what a pleasant way to start the day!

I also bought eight jars of Jack’s Produce vegan sardines from the next stall, Lokalitea.  😍

For dessert, we headed straight to SuperScoops!  I was really excited to have my first vegan ice cream – courtesy of my vegan brother Joey who unfortunately couldn’t be with us – and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

I had the matcha (my favorite) and Francis had coffee (his favorite).  Look at him.  We were both very satisfied.

Then, we joined the talk we signed up for, Zero Waste Life with Bea Crisostomo of Ritual.  It was the most inspiring talk I’ve heard, honestly.  Far long before we met, Francis had considered himself an environmentalist, and dreams of living off-grid with as little carbon footprint.  The talk gave us ideas about our own living and the food business we’re planning to put up.

Then, we met Astig Vegan, my vegan heroine RG Enriquez.  I can’t even describe my happiness.

I wouldn’t miss this chance for a photo op.

Honestly, we didn’t sign up for her demo, but we were already there and I reallllly wanted to see her.  She made her veganized kaldereta – a spicy Filipino stew originally made of beef, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes.  It was so delicious!

(A week later, Francis would make his grandmother’s kaldereta for our date – sans the no beef cubes – and sorry, RG!  His was better.  Is it because of the love?)

Then, we had Indulge’s pizzas for lunch.  Francis is the cheese-person between us, so he was really looking forward to this moment.

We also had corned beet burgers but I forgot the merchant.  Unfortunately, we agreed the burger was too bland for our tastebuds.  Do vegan people have a problem with seasoning?  Hahaha.

I got chia seeds from The Vegan Grocer for Joey and a hoodie from Treeshirts for myself.  And also this box of peanut butter cookie goodness from Earth Desserts.  (Sorry for forgetting to take a photo of the actual cookies – I totally forgot – but I swear they’re delicious.)

The only negative thing I can say is I found the venue too upper class.  Miss Bea Crisostomo’s inspiring message resonates in my head right now: we have to roll this out to the masa or else the majority of the people will think that veganism is just “kaartehan” (caprice?) of the privileged, English-speaking crowd.  Because it’s not, but the masa should see that.  We should not alienate them.

All in all, VegFest was really a wonderful experience.  We got to see fellow vegans, learn new things about the causes we are passionate about, eat yummy food, be inspired, and most of all see for ourselves the fact that we’re not alone, because that’s how we feel sometimes.  In fact, wr will be going to the next VegFests again until eternity.  Would we still be going together?  Sana.  Forever.

Recipe: Slow-cooked Tangway (Taro Stalks) in Spicy Coconut Milk

My love affair with laing started with the Star Cinema movie Kailangan Kita.  I was so in love with the movie that laing became my favorite food in the world, Bicol became my dream residence, and I considered myself an uragon (slang for feisty).  In college, we had this activity for a course called “Suroy-suroy, Lalolalorar, at Vochok” where we showcased the culture of the sixteen regions of the Philippines, and I swear I was a fixture of Region V, eating their dried taro leaves stewed in coconut milk.  When I became vegan and first stumbled upon Astig Vegan, her version of laing was the first (and I think the only) recipe I’ve tried.

Now, I’m not really good at copying recipes.  I’m just a regular visual learner.  That may be the reason for my five years’ worth of unsuccessful laing cookery.

Luckily, I saw a segment on a livelihood program that featured Bicol.  In it, they demo-ed how to cook pinangat – another taro dish that is apparently the same as laing except that the leaves used are fresh.  And when I made it, voila!  It’s like I was transported back to my Kailangan Kita-watching childhood.

I swear: it’s the best thing I’ve ever made.  (Pa-humble naman ng konti, siyempre.)

Being a sweet tooth, I love how the chili perfectly complements the natural sweetness of the coconut milk.  The taro stalks – which I just recently learned is called tangway – are so succulent.  My brother, who I’ve already featured in an earlier post, said it’s napakasarap (so delicious).  You’d definitely need LOTS of brown rice.  And a longer workout the next day.

Here it is.  I hope you’d love it as much as I do.

Slow-cooked Tangway in Spicy Coconut Milk (Serves 4-6)


  • 3/4 kg fresh tangway, cut into two-inch pieces
  • 1 cup fresh kakang gata (coconut milk, first press) + 1 cup gata, second press
  • 1 head Taiwan garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh ginger, chopped
  • 4 red chilies (or depending on your tolerance and preference)
  • 2 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper


  1. In a blender, blitz together the coconut milk (first press), garlic, onion, ginger, two chilies, sea salt and ground black pepper until smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture into a deep pot.
  3. Toss in the tangway and the remaining chiliand pour in the remaining coconut milk.
  4. Cook uncovered over medium heat until it simmers, then turn the heat to the lowest setting and cover.  DO NOT STIR.  Not even once.
  5. Let cook for 1-1/2 hours.
  6. Enjoy hot with rice.

Delicious.  I’m so excited for everybody to try it.

Tell me if you do and how you like it, okay?



P.S. I think the same should work for dried taro leaves to make laing.  I could also use the same mixture for ginataang gulay.  I’d try one of these days and I’d tell you when I’m successful.

Cat post

Mama found our kitten Kutingting dead outside our gate this morning.  Ants were already eating her eyes and nose, and she was already cold and hard.  But when I cleaned her up and embraced her and showed her to her mom, I swear she became warm and soft.  I’m really sad.

Kutingting was the third kitten who lived with us and died.  I’m beginning to think there are evil people lurking around the neighborhood waiting for cats to poison.  I’m beginning to believe humans are evil.  Why kill an innocent animal?  I would always reprimand Kutingting for going out of our yard.  I was afraid they would kill her.  And now she’s gone.  Humans are bad.

My dear Kutingting, we love you and you know that, right?  Thank you for making us all happy.  We’ll take of your mom from now on.

Boho Beautiful Pilates Challenge 2 & the Mystery of the Bent Legs

In the past weeks, I’ve been raving over the workout videos of Boho Beautiful, the lovechild of vegans and yogis(?) Mark and Juliana, on Youtube.  I’m in love with Juliana’s perfect form in the workouts, and she makes everything seem easy.  I’m especially jealous of her straight legs.  I’m, after all, Little Miss Bent Knees.

My sole fitness goal before I turn 30 is to be flexible.  Before my return to the Catholic Church in December 2014 – this is an important fact so you may understand my misery learning that the Church discourages the practice of yoga among the faithful – I was already into Eastern spirituality.  I was more into Buddhism because of my vegetarianism, but I found yoga to be beneficial to me in many levels.  I only studied through Youtube and books though; there are no yoga studios where I come from.  Because I can’t understand how to properly breathe and what finding your center means, I used yoga purely as physical exercise.  But I stopped, frustrated that my bent knee swan dives were so ugly.

Then, I found Boho Beautiful on Youtube.  (I’m still unwilling to disclose why.)  The videos I selected were the pilates workouts – since yoga is sadly a no-no – and the first I did was challenge number two.

This is me on October 12, before I first did the workout.  And it was sooooo hard I was screaming and shaking halfway through the workout.

One of the most frustrating things was my knees were bent all throughout the laying down exercises.  I did a quick research and discovered that it is because of my tight hamstrings.

Now, I’m not always inflexible.  Up until first year high school, I was quite the contortionist.  Haha.  I can easily wrap my legs over my shoulders.  (I’d love to demo but I can’t do it now.)  In PE class, I can easily have my forehead on the floor while doing a hamstring stretch.  But one day, I was asked out loud by a male classmate if I was still a virgin.  The twelve-year-old probinsiyana from a small elementary school in Occidental Mindoro was horrified.  Apparently for him, virginity is judged by how widely a girl can spread her legs.  Dumb, but I didn’t know that.  Since then, I stopped doing contortions and stretches.  I guess that’s the main reason my hamstrings tightened.

Moving on – because we all have to move on at some point – I found this routine from another yoga practitioner, Yoga with Adrienne, exactly for loosening the hamstrings.  (I’m still unable to reconcile my physical fitness needs with the views of the Church.)  After completing the workout once, I could reach my toes without bending my knees.  Awesome.

In the following days, I persevered.  I was screaming (voicelessly because I workout at 4 am) during the workouts.  Once I found myself crying.  Despite that, though, I found myself looking forward to waking up to do the routine.  I skipped only twice, on the third and fourth days because I was ready to give up but I the mantra “no pain no gain” kept me going.  Even during the convivence, I didn’t miss my workout.  And because I was getting more energetic, I also added the standing ab exercises, which I also found on Youtube years ago, and some arm exercises.

Then, on November 2, I took this.

I also found that I don’t shake as much now and I sweat more.  Instead of the workouts feeling like a routine, they are getting harder every day.  I could feel the burn and stretch in every movement.  So this is what my former gym instructor meant when he said, “Feel it.”  In addition, I was pleasantly surprised that I can keep my legs straight for most of the workouts.

I gained weight, too, but that doesn’t frustrate me anymore.  I’m happier because the clothes fit better now.  The leggings I wore in the second photo was a size too small so I don’t wear it, but now it doesn’t suffocate my thighs anymore and no more muffin top as well.

So… how did this happen?

The answer must be this: persistence.  You may not be able to do it right the first time, the second time, or the hundredth time, but if you persist, persevere, if you push yourself, one day everything will fall in its proper place: just like the story of the pilot Alex Rodriguez who surpassed his naturally talented classmates through his perseverance and hardwork.  Yes, it’s going to really hurt, but the hardwork will pay off.

I still have lots of room for improvement, and I don’t see myself stopping yet.  You see, the ultimate goal is to be able to project a positive image of veganism to my immediate community, so nobody would say vegans are weak.  But I’m planning to take it one step at a time, and enjoy every step.  I’m not giving myself a deadline.  I’m not forcing myself to look like Miranda Kerr by the summer of 2018.  All I want is to see myself improve bit by bit.

And I’m planning to make that happen without paying gym membership.  😂

My Brother Turned Vegan

I’ve been trying to contain my happiness these past few weeks.  My brother Joey has turned vegan!  I don’t want to look really happy because Sherry Argov said so but inside I’m jumping and dancing with happiness.

This is him working hard for his milk.  For his soy milk, that is.

I have no idea what happened, but I’ll try my best to write the narrative.

Among the four of us Castillo kids, Joey, 25, has always been the fitness enthusiast.  (Needless to say, we three ladies are lazy.)  He’s the reason we have dumbells around the house.  He also cycles.  He limits his white rice and junk food, and counts his macros.  But back then he didn’t yet believe that being vegan could be healthy.  I was, after all, his only image of vegetarianism (and later on veganism).  In fact, he used to hate me for refusing to cook animals for them.

Then, in early October, I reposted this poster by Gary L. Francione on my Facebook timeline:

On the comments, he asked if fruit diet was okay.  I said yes and dismissed it.  I really didn’t give it any second thought.  After all, I’ve been vegetarian since 2012 (and vegan since December 2016) but I haven’t had any progress with my family.

The next week, I learned he was only eating fruits and fresh vegetables.  He was literally sick.  He can’t move, he had colds.  But he didn’t touch meat.  When I saw him before they went to Cebu, I commented on his glowing complexion.  He said, “Seven days vegan diet, baby!”

I was overjoyed, but I tried not to show it.  I thought he would go back to eating animals soon, and his weeklong vegan “diet” was just out of cutiosity or a challenge.  But when I saw him again this All Saints’ Day holidays, he was cooking his own ginisang munggo (which is so delicious).  He was really lean!  And he called himself a “vegan.”

Apparently, he had been following vegan athletes online, which made him consider and try veganism.  In particular, there was this hilarious guy called Infinite Waters who made veganism fun and easy.  I don’t know him but man, I love him already.

He’s also feeding the ex-stray cats now residing at home.  A few months ago, he wouldn’t even if I bribes him.  He also cannot stand the thought that our pig, Piggy Oink, will be killed for the Christmas Party our parents are organizing.  Huhuhu.

He seems really happy and into it, not for fitness but for the animals.  Aside from that he’s also feeding the ex-stray cats now residing with us.  And he’s not planning on going back to eating dead animals.

Ate is just sooooo happy. 😍

Francis’ 25th + Salad, Pasta and Cake Recipes

I’m on a celebratory mode.  Francis finally turns 25!  Haaay.  The pains of being the older woman.  But after twenty-three days of waiting, our age gap is now down to four years again.  I’m probably happier than him right now.

Unfortunately for him, November 2 isn’t a holiday this year, so we both have to show up at work.  I took on the dutiful girlfriend role to make a simple birthday lunch.  (He was on emo-mode last night after his mom joked of cooking instant noodles.)  Thinking of the menu was hard since we are still on our week-long detox after eating a total of twenty four cups of white rice last weekend at the convivence.  I decided to just stick to the basics: a green salad, our one-pot pasta, and a chocolate cake.

 I thought we won’t have guests but our officemates from the Division Office came.  I was afraid we won’t have enough but God is good.  Everybody was able to eat and they – at least they said – the lunch was delicious.

Honestly, I’m starting to get confident with my cooking.  My brother Joey joked I can cook better now because I put in effort and love since Francis would be eating.  Hahaha.  Maybe.  I’m just happy that I got to cook for him.  It’s his first birthday with me.

Throughout the meal they were asking me about the recipes.  I’m so happy I got to inspire them to make healthier food.  Indeed, it’s not hard to prepare vegan food at all.  Here are the recipes:

Basic Green Salad

For the salad (I just used anything available in the pantry; you can absolutely use anything):

  • Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Green olives, sliced
  • Cucumber, sliced and deseeded
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced

For the dressing:

  • 3 parts olive oil (or any oil)
  • 2 parts red wine vinegar (or any acid)
  • 1 part minced garlic (or any add-on of your choice)
  • Salt and pepper

Combine in a jar with lid and shake vigorously to emulsify.  Douse on the salad just before serving.

One-pot Penne in Tomato Sauce

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup eggplants, diced
  • 1 14-oz can sliced button mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olives
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups water
  • 500 g penne, or any pasta of choice
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • Italian seasoning
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Chili flakes (optional)


  1. In a pot, heat oil and garlic at the same time.  This is called cold sauteeing.
  2. Add in eggplants and cook for about a minute.  Add in mushrooms and olives and cook for another minute.  Stir in tomato paste.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add water into the pot and let boil until vigorous.  Add in pasta and cook until al dente.  Penne took about 12 minutes.
  4. Halfway through the cooking time of the pasta, add in the tomato sauce.  Reduce heat to medium.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  5. With about two minutes left, stir in Italian seasoning, nutritional yeast and chili flakes, if using.
  6. Remove from heat and serve warm.

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

For the cake:

  • 2 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup raw turbinado sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp coffee granules
  • 2 1/4 cup soymilk
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Shavings of dairy-free chocolate


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two 9-in round cake tins with parchment.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together.  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients.  Do not combine until the oven reaches the right temperature.
  3. When the oven reaches 350, stir the dry and wet ingredients until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Quickly pour into the lined cake tins and bake immediately for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from tins and cool completely before frosting.
  4. In a bowl, stir in peanut butter and powdered sugar together, adding a little soymilk at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  5. Carefully place one of the cakes on a cake plate.  Put half the frosting and spread evenly just until the edges.  Very carefully put the second cake on top.  Put the remaining frosting on top and spread evenly.  Decorate with shaved chocolate.

So, there go three very simple and quick dishes you can make any day.  All vegan and all healthy.  Enjoy!

P.S. It’s my best girl Jena’s birthday yesterday, November 1, and tomorrow will be my favorite boss’.  Isn’t November the best month ever!  Happy birthday to all you celebrators!