The Iceberg in Monterey County’s field of greens

Iceberg Lettuce

Head of Iceberg lettuce growing in the field

A few months after immigrating to the U.S. with my mother and younger sister, I had my first job — and it included cutting into plenty of iceberg lettuce heads.

I was 16 years old and my job was a waitress at a chain of family style restaurants in Portland, Maine. Part of my work was to do simple food preparation, and to restock the salad bar.

The kitchen manager showed me how she wanted the Iceberg prepared… “Cut it this way, and include the core — people like to eat that” she said.

The iceberg lettuce was what you started with, the base of what you piled everything else on to, at the restaurant’s salad bar.

Because it was 1979, the salad bar consisted of potato “salad”, macaroni “salad”, 3-bean “salad” and other items like sliced beets (from the can), tomatoes, croutons, crackers, eggs and a variety of dressing.  It is nothing like what you would see today at buffet restaurant salad bars, where there are always more than one lettuce option — and at least some spinach leaves!

At 16, I didn’t give much thought to where the Icebergs (or really any vegetables) were grown.  But I’m pretty sure the Iceberg lettuce I was cutting into — especially since it was the start of winter in Maine — likely came from the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, California.

Field of Greens

I’ve lived in a few places in the U.S. (and Germany) since we left Maine many years ago, and now live in Monterey County.

Besides the beautiful coast of central California, a prominent feature of the landscape here are the farm fields.

Salinas Valley Fields web

Monterey County is an agricultural powerhouse and the only county in the United States with more than $1 Billion in annual vegetable sales.

As you can imagine, growing this much of anything means this place is enveloped in farm fields.

Field of Greens 2

There are farm fields next to schools, near shopping centers, neighborhoods, and on both sides of Highway 101 heading south of the county, if you are driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

There are also farm fields surprisingly close to the ocean, where expanses of sandy soil — some of which were once wetland areas — were turned into farm fields.

Sand Dunes across field of iceberg Lettuce

The most valuable crops grown here are lettuce leaves (for bag salads or packages of mix greens) and lettuce heads.

Lettuce grows well in sandy soil, and cool, mild weather…and yes, indeed, we have lots of sandy soil, and very mild weather here, perfect conditions to grow lettuce.

Although the potential of the land in this area as fertile farmland was discovered in the 1860’s, commercial farming did not take off until the expansion of the Southern Pacific railroad lines.

Starting in 1875, Chinese laborers who came with the railroad expansion worked to drain lakes and swamps in the valley, creating 500 acres of arable farmland in and around Salinas.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge (under management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).  To get to the refuge, you have to drive on a dirt road that ends at the refuge parking lot, facing the Pacific Ocean.

Both sides of the dirt road have farm fields.  Since I’m always curious about what grows in farm fields, I pulled over to take a look…

Field of iceberg Lettuce 2

The fields were filled with rows upon rows of Iceberg lettuce.  I didn’t think people still ate Icebergs, especially now that there are so many more salad greens available in the market.

When my daughter was young, I opted to buy romaine or other types of lettuce after I learned that icebergs were composed mostly of water, and had the least amount of vitamins compared to other lettuce varieties.

Truck with boxes of produce

Truck loaded with boxes of lettuce

But it turns out that Americans still love their Icebergs!

Through writing this post, I learned that of the 35 pounds of lettuce that a typical American eats per year, most of it (about 22 pounds) is the Iceberg variety.

A press release from Salinas based produce company Tanimura and Antle had these interesting Iceberg lettuce facts:

  • The Iceberg was also called “crisphead lettuce” because of its ability to stay fresher longer than leaf lettuces
  • The name “Iceberg” comes from the way the lettuce was packed and transported on ice, making the heads look like icebergs.
  • Records indicate that the first carlot shipment of Iceberg was made in 1919 and took 21 days to reach New York from California.
  •  By 1931, 20,000 railcars were shipped annually. In 1950, over 11.5 million crates of Iceberg was grown, packed and shipped in Monterey County, California
  • California produces approximately 72% of the Iceberg lettuce grown in the U.S, and the Iceberg variety accounts for 70% of the lettuce raised in California
  • Depending on the time of year Iceberg is planted, it takes anywhere from 70 to 130 days from planting to harvest.

So…although the Iceberg’s popularity is dropping, it is still more popular than the Romaine type lettuce (a favorite for those who like “Caesar” salads — like my daughter) and other salad greens.

I suppose because it is a  mild tasting lettuce (not bitter), and stays fresh longer than other varieties, it is understandable why it is still a favorite for many salad eaters.

Field of Greens 1

You never have to tell my grandson Gabriel to eat his salad — he is known in the family as the salad lover.  He is only 8, but as long as I can remember, he will usually ask for a second serving of salad, which made me think that my grandsons’ had palates from another planet.

Do you still eat Iceberg lettuce?  If not, what type of lettuce typically makes it to your lunch plate or dinner table?


NOTE: This post is part of learning about, and understanding the soil where I live (2015 is the International Year of Soils — designated by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) See this post from for more information.  I’m also learning more about what remains of the wetlands in the area, as I read that 90% of the area’s wetlands were drained for commercial farming purposes.

Related: If you would rather grow than buy your lettuce, visit the University of Illinois “Watch your Garden Grow” website for tips about growing lettuce, best varieties for your region, and recipes.

Radio report at NPR on food waste and “Landfill of Lettuce” (What happens to salad past its prime)

Monterey, melons and more…

Did you know that Monterey County is the only county in the United States with more than $1 billion — yes, that is BILLION — in annual vegetable sales?  Wow!

Monterey County Fields

Monterey County, California farm field, near the Hwy 1 freeway. Photo

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent Census of Agriculture for the category of vegetables, potatoes and melons, the top five counties were:

  • Monterey County, California
  • Fresno County, California
  • Yuma County, Arizona
  • Palm Beach County, Florida
  • Kern County, California

Summer and Globe Squash Monterey County

Monterey County grew almost twice the sales value of the next largest county, Fresno… and produced almost 9% of total U.S. value of vegetable production.  Another, wow….and it is true that the Salinas Valley is the salad bowl capital of the U.S. (and the world?).
Monterey county artichokes
Most of what I see driving around Monterey County and neighboring counties are a whole lot salad green fields, and a lot of strawberry farms.  Not so much melons or potato fields.  This billion dollar number must mean mostly salad greens and artichokes, since strawberries are under another category for berries and tree nuts — an even bigger agriculture industry in California.
Textured MelonsIt is nearing summer time, and I am thinking of cherries and melons and luscious fruits to enjoy this summer, and places to take our grandchildren like “U-Pick” types of farms.    The melons pictured on this post are the Casaba melons, which originated from Kasaba, Turkey, and are in the “winter melon” group that includes honey dew melons.  “Winter” meaning they are hardy melons, since these melons are actually available in summer and fall.
Casaba Melons
I looked at the California Agricultural Tourism Directory website, clicked on the “U-Pick” category, and was surprised to find out there was only one listed for Monterey (The Farm – in the Salinas Valley). Surely there are more U-Pick farms in Monterey County? If you know of others, please comment.  Thank you!

Which cutting board is best, wood or plastic?

Ever wonder which cutting board is safest — traditional wood boards, those new bamboo cutting boards, plastic, or even glass boards?

Jeff’s freshly baked breads ready to slice, on top of bamboo cutting board

For the answer, check out this article from Ask Umbra (Green Living Questions) at…  Excerpt:

In fact, this question of bacteria helps answer your question about plastic vs. wood. Plastic gained favor for a while because it is non-porous and dishwasher-safe, two qualities that made it seem like a healthier, cleaner choice. But it seems this was just another PR coup by the plastics industry.

According to research, including a study at the UC-Davis Food Safety Laboratory, wood wins the bacteria battle.

While bacteria such as salmonella and listeria are easy to clean off brand-new plastic boards, these boards become, say the researchers, “impossible to clean and disinfect manually” once damaged by knives. In other words, the sneaky little bacteria hide out in the cracks and crevices. Wood cutting boards provide a home for bacteria too, but only for a short time, and the little critters actually scoot down under the surface and die.

Click here to read the full article…

Related Links:

UC Davis Research: Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards

Rodale’s This or That? Wooden vs. Plastic Cutting Boards

Rest in Peace Marion Cunningham

Marion Cunningham, cook, author, and advocate for home cooking, died on Wednesday, at the age of 90.

For many years, Marion Cunningham wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times, and contributed articles to Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Gourmet magazines.  She lived in Walnut Creek, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I remember reading some of her articles in the Contra Costa Times, or articles about her when we lived in the Bay Area.

Until I heard about her death, I didn’t know that she was already 50 years old when she started her career path towards the cooking world.  She was proof that it is never too late to take up a new career, when you are doing something you love.

Marion Cunningham’s book, Good Eating

We own a few cookbooks, and among them is Marion Cunningham’s Good Eating, which is actually two books in one (The Breakfast Book and The Supper Book).  I’ve used it more often than our other cookbooks.  The recipes are solid, and most are simple, no-fuss to make, meaning they are also kid-friendly.

Some of our cookbooks (Jeff likes to cook!)

The recipe (and LolaKo post) Best Buttermilk Pancakes Ever, is adapted from her recipe.  I’ve also made other pancakes — buckwheat,cornmeal — and waffles, using recipes from The Breakfast Book.

When my grandson Jun (an enthusiastic pancake eater) was home sick from school and I was looking after him, I decided to try another of Marion Cunningham’s pancake recipe.  I settled on Lemon Pancakes, since we had lemons and cottage cheese on hand.

Jun sat at the kitchen counter, and watched.  It was different from our “usual” pancakes — both in the process of making it, and in appearance.

I slipped the first pancake on a plate, swirled syrup on top, and presented it to Jun, who was about 6 years old at the time.  He took a bite, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, smiled, and uttered, “ummmmm…Lola!”.

You can imagine how happy I was at his reaction — and he got better rather quickly too!

I don’t normally make these pancakes as cottage cheese is not an item we keep on hand.  But…it is tasty, and well worth making if you want to make a special treat for your enthusiastic pancake eaters…even if they are not sick.

In honor of Marion Cunningham, here is her recipe.

From The Breakfast Book –  Lemon Pancakes

These pancakes make you sit up and take notice.  Serve them with fresh raspberries or raspberry syrup and you will have a summer morning special.

  • 3 eggs (separated)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Separate the eggs and beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.  In another bowl, stir together the egg yolks, flour, cottage cheese, butter, sugar, salt, and lemon zest until well mixed (I use the rotary egg beater I used for beating the egg whites).

With a large spoon or a spatula, fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.  Gently stir until there are no yellow or white streaks.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Grease lightly and spoon out about 3 large tablespoons of batter for each pancake.  Cook slowly for about 1 1/2 minutes, then turn the pancake over and cook about 30 seconds.  Keep the pancakes warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.

Related Links:

San Francisco Chronicle SF Gate article, with Marion Cunningham’s recipe for raised waffles.

New York Times article on Marion Cunningham’s death, with her recipe for coffee cake

Lola Jane’s Best Buttermilk Pancakes Ever

Purple yam or corn and cheese ice cream…anyone?

Have you eaten Filipino style ice cream?  If not, you are missing out on some of the best tasting and most interesting ice cream available to us, right here in the Bay Area!

Magnolia Brand “UBE” Ice Cream, from

When we lived in San Francisco years ago, Mitchell’s Ice Cream on San Jose Avenue (at Guererro and the corner of 29th Street) was the “go to” place for tropical ice cream.

These days, it is still the “go to” tropical ice cream place in SF.  It is quite unusual to see a business with over 1000 Yelp reviews, let alone one with over 2,000 reviews. As of this post date,  Mitchell’s Ice Cream has 2,230 reviews (“in English” out of a total of 2,235 reviews).   And they rate consistently 4.5 out of 5 Yelp stars!  Their tropical ice cream menu consist of:

  • Avocado
  • Buko (baby coconut)
  • Coconut Pineapple
  • Ginger (available November through February only)
  • Green Tea
  • Halo-Halo (buko, langka, ube, pineapple, mongo & sweet beans)
  • Langka (also known as jackfruit, a relative of the fig)
  • Lucuma (a tropical fruit native to Peru)
  • Macapuno (sweet coconut)
  • Mango
  • Tropical Four (banana, guava, mango & pineapple)
  • Ube (purple yam)

They note on their website that the most of the fruit imported for their tropical ice cream line is from the Philippines.

My grandsons like the purple, Filipino ube (pronounced “ou-beh”) — the purple yam ice cream, as well as the coconut or macapuno flavors, made from sweetened young coconut meat.

My grandsons Jun and Gabriel love ube ice cream (and licking frosting off beaters, after their Lola makes cake)!

Mais Queso Ice Cream by Magnolia Foods. Photo from

And my favorite?  It is the uniquely Filipino, ice cream combination of corn and cheese!  Yes indeed, corn and cheese was my favorite as a little kid, and it still is among my favorite ice cream concoctions now that I am a Lola (grandmother) of two beautiful boys.

I don’t see my favorite Filipino ice cream flavor on Mitchell’s current menu. However, it is easy enough to find at most Asian/Filipino stores.

A popular Filipino brand is  “Magnolia” by Ramar Foods.  Magnolia brand ice cream is made here in the U.S, at Ramar’s Pittsburg, California headquarters.  Magnolia’s ice cream fruits are also sourced from the Philippines, for the most authentic flavors.

Ramar’s Magnolia Ice Cream line features 16 flavors, including a “halo-halo” flavor (see previous post) and my all time favorite, corn and cheese — though they call it the Spanish  “mais queso”.

I know it sounds weird — well perhaps not so weird if you are of a Filipino background — but corn and cheese ice cream is really tasty.

The corn pieces give the creamy ice cream added unique texture and flavors…and combined with slightly tart, orange-colored cheese bits…well, you will just have to trust me and try it.

But, I do understand if that sounds truly too strange for you to venture into the land of tropical ice cream.  So instead, you might just try:

  • Avocado ice cream — avocados have long been eaten as a “sweet” in the Philippines, as in avocado icicles, or ice pops, or the iced-avocado, sugar and milk snacks of our childhood.  And now, I am seeing avocado cheesecake recipes in magazines!  So finally, it seems…..Americans are trying avocado beyond its role as a vegetable, in guacamole or as ingredients for a salad and sandwich.
  • The mango, jackfruit or coconut flavors (like buko or macapuno)
  • The delicious ube — or purple yam.  Thanks to this purple yam, you will see a good share of Filipino snack foods in shades of purple .  Ube is used not only in ice cream, but also sold as a preserve (nothing like purple yam jams!) and stuffed in breads and added to many Filipino rice-based desserts.
  • And if you can’t decide and want to be adventurous, try the “halo-halo” ice cream, which translates to “mix-mix” or “to mix”, and where many ingredients are thrown in the ice cream mix (again, see prior post on halo-halo).

Growing up in the Philippines, I remember buying ice cream from the sorbetes man, scooped fresh, from his colorful push cart.

Jingling bells signaled the arrival of the sorbetes man on our street, and we would pop outside to let him know we would like to buy, and dash back inside to get our money, and favorite drinking glass, bowl, or cup, to contain the ice cream.

I can’t remember if there were even ice cream “cones” sold by sorbetes man back then, only that we would buy whatever scoop quantity we wanted and he would scoop it directly into our chosen containers.

Back inside and spoon in hand, we worked fast to eat our quickly melting ice cream.  Fresh ice cream from your favorite mamang sorbetero — the ice cream man — has to be one of the best snacks to eat on a warm, Philippine afternoon.

We did not know it, but back then, this was a very “green” method of getting a snack or treat, no waste of plastic packaging or paper trash to deal with.

Hmmm…I do wonder….can one still buy ice cream this way in the Philippines?

Related: Lola Jane’s Filipino food posts:

  • Burgers…and Bangus?  Why the bangus fish is often thought of as a Philippine national symbol
  • About ginamos & tuyo…and can you bring in your luggage when traveling to the US
  • About Sinangag, and how much I missed rice while in boot camp in the US Air Force
  • Use of Banana Leaves in Filipino food
  • The Ube, and why Filipinos love purple food!

Halo-Halo: Saveur’s Recipe Comix

Is Filipino food going mainstream, finally?  The March, 2012 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine featured a recipe for the quintessential Filipino national dish, the chicken adobo (also noted by Local Nomad).

And earlier this week, Saveur Magazine’s website featured this halo-halo cartoon recipe (as they note, proof that a recipe does not have to be just words on paper).

Halo-Halo translates to “mix-mix” and is a much-loved, icy, Filipino treat, perfect for the hot Philippine climate, especially in the mid-afternoon.  It is also delicious as a dessert.

The artist for this recipe comix is Toronto-based Michael Deforge.

Halo-Halo is available at Goldilocks and other Filipino restaurants in the Bay Area.

In the Monterey Bay, Lola’s Kusina — not THIS Lola — on 265 Reservation Rd, in Marina (831)384-2600 is a good place to get your halo-halo fix.  My grandsons enjoy their halo-halo topped with their ube (purple yam) ice cream.

For a step-by-step (from scratch) halo-halo recipe, please visit Jun Belen’s blog,  Jun Belen is a Philippine-born, San Francisco-based professional food and cookbook photographer.         I have been a fan since learning about Jun’s Saveur-nominated blog — a collection of his Filipino recipes with narratives, and his absolutely beautiful photographs.

And if you have a favorite Bay Area halo-halo spot, please comment and share.

Do you think one day, Filipino food will be as common — and as readily available — as Chinese or Thai food here in the U.S.?

Blog Birthday

This month — and March 6th to be specific–  marks’s 1st year anniversary.

Blog is my garden

So one year later, blogging is still fun.  I have learned much more about topics important to me, and met new friends through the blog.   Highlights for the first year:

Ginamos and Bananas - Photo by Karlhans

A story I posted called “Luggage with a special kind of stinky”, about my mother’s mishap bringing fermented fish (ginamos) from the Philippines to San Francisco turned out to be popular.

And at the same time, it was helpful to those wondering if they can bring dried fish (and ginamos) from the Philippines to the United States…

A story about old school  ironing “Hot iron for your undies” connected a person from France who rented his flat from the same family — and the “Oma” (grandmother) who took such great care of my then baby daughter, Dominique — when we were stationed near the town of Dudeldorf, Germany.

The funny part for me….are people landing on the blog by typing the words lola+undies, who, I imagine, may be very, very disappointed when they find out “Lola” means grandmother in Tagalog (Filipino), not some hottie “Lola” from a European country.  And that the article is about the uber sexy topic of…. IRONING!  Ha, serves them right.

The most popular search term bringing people to this blog last year has been….very oddly….the term “walis ting ting”.  This is all because I mentioned Filipino ting-ting and tambo brooms in an article about how products got their names, including the Procter and Gamble product, the Swiffer!

Though this year, the terms “plastic problem Philippines” and Philippine eagle and Philippine national symbols are quickly catching up.

And though this is not a food blog, I do love cooking for my grandchildren, so I include favorite recipes, now and then.

Two food related posts often visited are:

Whole egg leche flan with coconut milk.…turns out I was not the only person wondering if I really have to separate all those egg yolk and egg whites to make flan!

A story about “Banana leaves and sweets” on suman and puto, after my grandson Jun-Jun bit into a banana leaf and asked if he could eat it.

My penchant for charts and graphs (something I carry over from my past work presenting accident statistics) continues, but this time covering conservation, and human development topics.  I created a new category “Lola’s Pies” for this collection.

As of today, I’ve posted 125 articles, some short, some long.  For me, a blog is about exploring topics I feel are important and having my own little place — in this big but more connected world of ours — to collect, contain and share information important to me, and in the process (I hope) interesting and helpful for others too!

My goals the 2nd year:

As always, thank you for visiting!

San Francisco Arboretum

Best Buttermilk Pancakes Ever

Since my earlier post was food related, and with the holiday season here, I thought it would be a good time to post my pancake recipe (and really, so I don’t lose the recipe).

It is simple and easy to make — a requirement for a busy Lola — and super delicious.  Here it is…

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk (more if needed to thin batter)
  • 1 cup flour (you can use 1/2 wheat and 1/2 white flour too or add a bit of cornmeal for more texture)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg.  Blend in buttermilk.  Add the remaining 4 ingredients and mix just until batter is smooth — do not over mix.  Blend in vanilla and melted butter.  Adjust if needed with more buttermilk for thinner pancakes.

I like to use a cast iron griddle — we have had this one since living in Germany, and pretty much use it just for making pancakes.

Serve with maple syrup or your favorite syrup — another favorite of ours is olallieberry syrup.

The pancakes are so good, they really don’t need extra butter, but by all means serve with butter if you like more butter with your pancakes.

Note: This recipe is just enough for my two grandsons, so if you have a big family, double the recipe (and as grandsons get bigger, I may have to make 2 batches anyway — boys can eat a LOT of pancakes!).

Taste tested more times than I can remember by grandsons — and expert pancake eaters — Jun-Jun and Gabriel.

And though technically this is not Filipino food, I’m also including it in my Filipino food category, since I have a feeling all lolas (grandmothers)  — no matter their background or nationality — love to make great pancakes for their grandchildren.

I hope you enjoy this pancake recipe as much as we do. Let me know…

Related: From Marion Cunningham’sThe Breakfast Book –  Special and uber delicious Lemon Pancakes

Book: Artichoke Boy

~ We will add this book to our Favorites Page ~

We live in an area perfect for growing artichokes…so pretty much, if we drive to go anywhere, especially on the way to Tae Kwon Do practice, we see fields with rows upon rows of artichokes.

And so with the boys already familiar with artichokes, it was fun for them to read a book about an artichoke boy and his artichoke-loving family.

The artichokes show up in the pages as ears, eyeballs, hair, knees, and there is even an artichoke bath and an artichoke bed.

But of course, being 4 and 6-year-old boys, the favorite artichoke boy picture page was the when artichoke boy was at the beach — and showed a little of his artichoke derriere.

Seems boys this age laugh out loudly at anything having to do with derrieres, or as they call it, but-buts.

The book is the first written and illustrated by artist Scott Mickelson.  Published by Boyds Mills Press.

Scott is a member of the San Francisco based alternative rock/folk band, Fat Opie,

Nicest Nickname EVER

Our family has a tradition of nicknames…hardly anyone is called by their “given” name.

I have several nicknames for my grandsons too.

Last night, when I told 6-year old Jun I was going to call him something other than his usual nickname, he replied, ” I will call you something else now too, Lola”.

I said….oh….really Jun?  What will you call me?  And he said…… “Beautiful!'”.

His four-year old brother, Gabriel, not to be outdone, said,  “I will call you Beautiful too Lola….and I will call Opa (Grandpa) Beautiful….and I will call Tucker (our dog) Beautiful, and I will call Jun-Jun Beautiful too!

I’m sure Jun — and Gabriel — will forget my new nickname by today, but for the moment….how truly sweet, and the nicest nickname ever from a grandson.

Kate McGeown of BBC News wrote a great article on why Filipinos have unique nicknames — view the next post “Playful” Filipino Names” for more information.

What are nice or fun nicknames you have given to someone — — or given to you?

Beautiful California Central Coast Sunset 2011

Potato ABC’s

Product Ingredients lists: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Sunflower Cottonseed, Soybean and/or Canola), Yellow Corn Flour, Sea Salt, Dextrose, Methycellulose, Onion, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Natural Flavoring

I saw this potato product in the frozen aisle section.  I know…most of us are busy and look for convenient foods, but Potato ABC’s really?

Some may think…this is brilliant!  Gets kids to eat their potatoes and learn their alphabet too!

As for me….I think this is ridiculous.

Is it really necessary to take the humble and delicious potato and turn them into ABC’s?

After all, most homes with children already have ABC bath toys, ABC puzzles, ABC books….

In the process of looking up the ingredients “Methycellulose” and “Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate”, I found an excellent website called

They have a food rating system based on the product ingredients (you can even look up products based on the UPC Code).  Especially helpful for those with food allergies.

Interested in how these ABC Tater Tots rate?  Click on to the website link here.

A simple way we prepare potatoes in our home is to chop in quarters or wedge shapes, toss in olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and parmesan cheese.  Roast in the oven….EASY.

And no methycellulose or sodium acid pyrophoshate needed.  Our grandchildren love roasted sweet potatoes too…same method, just leave out oregano and cheese, or bake, mash like regular potatoes.

Banana Leaves and Sweets

My six year old grandson, Jun, and I were eating cassava cake at a local Filipino restaurant.  He asked what was underneath…and could he eat it? I told him it was a banana leaf and no, you don’t eat it.  He pulled off the leaf strips, smelled it…and then bit into it.  “Hmmmmm….” he said quizzically.

I thought of other foods where banana leaves are used, and how much banana leaves are a part of island and Filipino cooking — and my childhood food memories.

Banana Plant with Fruit – the entire leaf (huge!) is harvested, rib removed and cut into squares for Suman or smaller as a container for Puto

In the Philippines, snack foods are wrapped in banana leaves, used as a bottom, or to contain sweets prior to baking or steaming…sort of like cupcake paper or cupcake foils.  The difference is that the banana leaves impart a flavor when cooked.. so it is really a part of the recipe.

Puto and suman are popular sweet treats that use banana leaves.  As with many recipes, there are regional variations, and in the central Visayas, muffin-shaped putos are made from fermented rice flour.

Contained in Banana Leaf, Filipino “Puto” sold at the Palenke (Market)

When we were little, suman was a snack treat we often ate.  It is typically made from sticky rice half-cooked with  coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed to finish the cooking process.

During Christmas, suman was served with rich and dark hot chocolate drinks, using freshly ground cacao beans.   We would peel the banana leaf off the suman, and if freshly steamed, take in the aroma — before dunking it in our chocolate drinks.

Filipino Suman – Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk wrapped in banana leaves and steamed

Like puto, suman has many varieties depending on family and region, and can also be made from grated cassava root — one of my favorite type of suman.

I like the fibrous texture of cassava suman, and sweetened with sugar and coconut milk…it is so delicious!  Sometimes chocolate is swirled into the mix prior to wrapping in banana leaves, or the center is filled with sweetened ground peanuts.

I also remember eating suman wrapped in palm leaf, but mostly the ones our family made were wrapped in banana leaves. So, essentially the word suman is a generic name for an assortment of tube or rectangle shaped, leaf-wrapped, steamed food (typically sweet or served with sweet dipping sauce).

During past trips to the Philippines, it seems there was always someone (kind and sweet)—like our Nanay Lucing or our Auntie Terling— who made batches of suman for us.  We enjoyed the treats while there, and then a fresh batch was made right before our departure to the U.S. to take with us.   Sadly, our Nanay Lucing has passed away, and though our Auntie Terling still seems young and beautiful to me,  I have to accept that she is nearing her mid-seventies and is not as energetic as before.

At our last trip, my sister and I purchased our Suman at the market from these women.

Wrapped in Banana Leaves, Suman and Puto for Sale at the Market

It occurs to me that it is now OUR turn to keep alive food traditions that we enjoyed from our childhood.  So…I better make sure my sisters and I know how to make suman if I want to keep this tradition for grandsons Jun and Gabriel.

My cousin Ate Violeta and her daughter Jady stayed with us during their visit to California.  Ate Violeta is an excellent cook and showed us how to make biko — another popular coconut milk and sticky rice treat.

Jun and Gabriel loved eating Ate Violeta’s Biko and it did not last long in our household …even the extra batch we put in the freezer “for later” soon vanished.

Biko is often what Jun will choose when we get a snack at the Filipino restaurant after his Tae Kwon Do lessons (though lately he has looked for Cassava Cake and has also been enjoying Ginataan – sweet potato, bananas, jackfruit, tapioca and rice balls stewed in coconut milk).

Well…with all this good banana leaf memories…I will definitely make Suman (and hot chocolate) a holiday tradition for the boys.  And though I don’t have the ease of lopping off fresh banana leaves from my backyard, I have no excuses really.  It is pretty easy to get banana leaves in the U.S. —- the leaf sheets are sold frozen at most Asian markets.

Frozen Banana Leaves — squares or rounds — are sold at most Asian Stores or Filipino Stores in the San Francisco Bay Area

And hopefully Jun and Gabriel will have pleasant memories associated with banana leaves…just like their Lola.

Please do comment and tell us your banana leaf memories, or favorite food wrapped in banana leaves.

Note:  Banana leaves are available at most Asian Markets — in the frozen food aisles — and is almost always available (also frozen) at Filipino Markets and mini stores.

Lola Jane’s Filipino Food related posts:

Gray Belt

4 year old Gabriel, white belt at Tae Kwon Do class


My grandsons (four-year-old Gabriel and six-year-old Jun-Jun) take Tae Kwon Do lessons, a Korean form of martial arts.

Gabriel just started —- he is a White Belt.

Jun started with Tae Kwon Do at age 5 and recently passed his Purple Belt promotion test.

6 Year Old Jun - Purple Belt



I guess the whole belt thing must be on their minds because when they saw Opa (Grandpa) with a gray robe and matching belt in the early morning, both said, “Opa!  You’re a Gray Belt!”

I don’t think the Gray Belt is  officially sanctioned by the World Tae Kwon Do Federation just yet.




Did you know that Tae Kwon Do is the national sport of South Korea?  It is also considered the most popular martial arts based on the number of practitioners world-wide (estimated at over 70 million in 190 countries),  and has been an Olympic event since 2000.

More information on Tae Kwon Do can be found by clicking on this link to Wikipidia.

Besides Taekwondo, there is only one other martial arts sport in the Olympics…can you guess what it is?  The answer…

No, I did not eat THAT Blackberry


The article from my post about how product names are derived (Name that mop…) also discussed how the smart phone name Blackberry came about  — and yes, again, Lola’s favorite technology device.

At the time the Blackberry was developed, the focus was on email so the first names had words like Mega-Mail, Pro-Mail, etc.  The concept overwhelmed people so the branding firm went towards names that calm people down….like vacations and natural things, which then led to fruits.  Eventually the name Blackberry was chosen as it was associated with a good color and apparently, “B” words are a reliable sound.

I wonder too if in the back of their minds, the success of the “Apple” brand influenced this use of a fruit name for the brand.

Photo from Tom Curtis,

So…it also reminded me of a time when (then 3 year old) grandson Gabriel was being impatient with Lola.

On an errand trip, Gabriel and I took a snack bag of delicious blackberries with us, and promptly ate it all.

Upon arriving at our destination, I was fumbling around for my Blackberry device — — —and I think taking a bit too long to look (well at least as far as Gabriel was concerned!).

Gabriel wanting OUT of his car seat said, “What are you doing Lola?”  I responded “looking for my Blackberry Gabriel”, to which he said, “You ate it already Lola!”.  I just had to laugh —- goodness I hope I wasn’t THAT hungry!

UPDATE TO POST October, 2014 — Wow, how quickly technology changes, and most of us know about the quick demise of Blackberry over the last few years.  I’ve moved on to HTC phones (first the EVO with the 3D photos / video capability, which was a lot of fun for the grandchildren, and now have the nice and big HTC One).  I did really enjoy my Blackberry, and now will have to be happy with real blackberries to eat!

I will keep this post on my blog though, as a reminder of the sweet and amusing comments from my little grandsons.

Palates from another planet

When it comes to my 4 and 6 year old grandsons’ food preferences and their palates,  I sometimes suspect they are from another planet.  I’m kidding of course, but would most kids like and eat a dinner comprised of fish sauteed with capers and garlic, wilted spinach and couscous?

Kid Favorite? Fish with capers & garlic, spinach on couscous – Yums!?

When I made this, 6 year old Jun took a bite, closed his eyes and stated, THIS IS SOOOOO GOOD, Lola!  Ummmmm, ummmmm!  Well, as you can imagine, hearing this and seeing the expression on his face —- makes any cook, especially this Lola, so HAPPY.  It was as if the taste was so terrific that he had to close his eyes to take it all in.

Mind you, Jun is not the expressive type (not yet anyway), so for him to have this reaction was great.  Gabriel followed suit with thumbs up, and Lola was a happy cook.

And the funny thing is that this is one of the easiest meals I make, uses only two pans –and the last thing you would think a 4 and 6 year old would love.   Come on, what is easier than making couscous—5 minutes and surprisingly high in fiber by the way— and quicker than cooking fish and spinach (I use the same pan to cook the fish and wilt the spinach).

Prior to Jun and Gabriel visiting my sister over the Christmas holidays, she called to ask if there are any special foods she should get for them.  I asked their Grandpa (whom they call Opa)—and he said, “not that I can think of, and oh tell her, whatever you think kids would NOT like, they like”.  This is true!

Photo of Bok Choy from Luigi Diamanti, www.freedigital

Often, kids hate vegetables — they don’t.

Months ago my neighbor gave me a big bag of broccoli — oh no I thought, how am I ever going to cook all this?  Well, Jun and Gabriel practically fought over the broccoli.  When we make asparagus — it is more! more!

And another odd one, Bok Choy…they just LOVE this vegetable, especially in the pot sticker soup we make, or when in the Filipino sour soup dish called sinigang.

When Gabriel is in a salad mood, be ready to refill his plate and expect him to say “more salad please Lola!”  The other night Gabriel proclaimed – “more veggies please Opa!” (it was a leftover saute of cabbage, green beans and carrots).

These guys love eating fruits. Bananas, kiwis, clementines, melons, and especially mangoes and pineapples…to the point that the fruit acids have made their mouth red and itchy (especially with eating too much fresh pineapple!).

Here are Lola’s shopping bags after coming back from the store with not one but TWO pineapples.

Of course they love their candy, ice cream, cookies and all the other goodies we all like, but in general, they are not fussy eaters at all.

Maybe it is a phase (a long phase) and the next time I make this fish dish or offer up a plate of asparagus they turn their heads and exclaim BLLCCCCHHH!  Well, at least then I will know for certain they are children from THIS home planet of ours after all…

But for now, Lola is quite happy to cook and shop for veggies and fruits for these good little eaters.

Jun and Gabs cleaning up frosting after Lola Jane makes cake.

Taste Like Chicken!

One of the more common sayings we hear about describing food flavor is “This taste like chicken”.  And now I know this starts from an early age.

Four year old Gabriel was eating some shrimp that was in his soup yesterday, and after  biting into it said, “taste like chicken Lola!”  What? How about it taste like shrimp? (We do eat  lot of chicken…)

Taste Like Chicken









Picture from by Carlos Portowe