My encounter with a (not so scary) California snake

Backyard snake Monterey County CA 1

I’m sure my intense fear of snakes stems from an  encounter with a huge snake when I was around 5 years old.

We lived near a rice field in the province of Bulacan (Luzon island in the Philippines).

While I was in the outhouse (an outdoor bathroom) by myself, the snake crept inside through the gap between the bamboo door and the dirt floor.

I froze in fear, and then let out the loudest scream I could summon.  Shortly after, I heard my mother running towards me and then right outside the outhouse door.

I was too frightened to move and unhinge the door, so my mother had to break the door to get to me — and not so easy to do as she was in the late stage of being pregnant with my brother.

Perhaps because of my screaming, or maybe it was really interested or following something else, the snake was gone by the time my mother got through the door.

Rice Fields and mountain background

Rice fields in the Philippines, coconut trees and mountain backdrop. Photo

Since venomous sakes — including the Philippine spitting cobra, one of the most venomous snakes in the world — often hunt for rodents in rice fields near where we lived, a group of neighbors, with their machetes firmly in hand, formed a line at the rice fields behind the outhouse to look for the snake.  I can’t remember if they caught it.


Many decades later…I am (understandably!) still afraid of snakes.  I am not fearful of spiders, or bees or most bugs really…but when I think of snakes and sharks...the feeling of fear is immediate.

And it turns out that even people without a conscious fear of snakes are wired to react fearfully to snakes because snakes were among the earliest threats and predators to human beings.

A few days ago, my 9-year-old grandson Jun found a 2 1/2 foot long snake skin in the backyard.  Fascinated, he was holding it stretched above his head when he came over to show me his find.

And this morning, as I was coming from the driveway, here is what I encountered…

Pacific Gopher Snake in Monterey County

I now know that snakes are important to our instead of running away and screaming, I grabbed my camera and took a photo (thank you zoom lens) so I could learn more about this snake living near our home.

Pacific Gopher Snake range in California

A visit to the California Herps website’s picture gallery made it easy to identify the snake.

It is a Pacific Gopher snake and harmless to human beings.  It is found in a wide range in the state of California, as shown in red shade on the map at left.

Because gopher snakes are sometimes mistaken for more dangerous rattlesnakes, they are killed unnecessarily.

The California Herps website notes:

It is easy to avoid this mistake by learning to tell the difference between the two families of snakes as shown in these signs.

Unless you have experience handling venomous snakes, you should never handle a snake unless you are absolutely sure that it is not dangerous.

rattlesnake vs gopher snakeHere are some interesting snake facts:


map of world distribution of snakes

map of world distribution of sea snakes and land snakes via Wikipedia

  • Snakes are found in every continent except Antarctica (see Life is short, but snakes are long blog post on the most widespread snakes in the world)
  • Most snake bites occur in agricultural and tropical regions
  • There are 3,000 known species of snakes — of which, only 15% are considered as dangerous to people.
  • Most snake related deaths occur in South Asia, with India reporting the most deaths of any country (this would make sense though, as India is the most populous country in South Asia).
  • Worldwide, snake bites are most common during the summer when people are outdoors and when snakes are most active

In the USA from the

  • There are more casualties in the United States due to car accidents (37,594), lightning strikes (54), and dog attacks (21) each year than from venomous snakebites (5).
  • Approximately 7,000-8,000 people are envenomated each year in the United States but there is only an average of 5 casualties
  • In Texas alone, there were more casualties in 2005 from drowning (308), firearms/hunting (79), and venomous arthropods (16) than venomous snakebites.

In California

  •– a guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California is a super website with loads of information, pictures and useful links.  Visit the page on what kind of reptiles and amphibians might live near your home and how to encourage them to stay there, by clicking here.

I am less fearful of snakes since I learned that most snakes are NOT dangerous to humans, and that most snake bites to humans are caused by snakes that are NOT venomous.

Remember though, unless you are a snake expert,  it is best to leave lots of room between you and any snake you may encounter…and don’t kill snakes!

Further reading and resources:

Related post about animals (and endangered animals) from Lola Jane (click on photo to link to article)

Sierran Tree Frog profilePost about the Sierran Tree Frog (photo by Lola Jane)

…It is comforting to know the little frogs survive in our backyard, despite the large presence of big business agriculture in our county (Monterey is the only county in the United States with more than 1 BILLION in annual vegetable sales).


Leatherback-turtle-found-dead-off-leyteAbout the Giant Pacific Leatherback Turtle and the connection between Indonesia / the Philippines and Monterey Bay, California)

Photo by Austin Don Perez for Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula, via post by Iloed.C at


Philippine-Eagle-Close-up-photo1On the critically endangered and magnificent Philippine eagle (Photograph by Klaus Nigge –  ...the Philippine Eagle, pithecophaga jefferyi – and referred to as “haring ibon” or king bird.  It is among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world.  In 1995, it was designated as the national bird as well as an official  symbol of the Philippines.

Shark-photo-Sean-Van-SommeranPost about Sharks!

The photo is of a 4,000 lb shark tagged in Santa Cruz, California and caught by accident in the Sea of Cortez area, Mexico.  Photo Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, contributed by Sean VanSommeran.

Also see comparison of shark attacks vs. lightning fatalities on the US Coast

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”
— Baba Dioum

Champurrado to Champorado: origin of a favorite Filipino breakfast

In the Philippines, champorado is a chocolate, riced-based porridge typically eaten for breakfast.  In Mexico, champurrado is a chocolate-based drink (made with masa — lime treated corn dough, or corn flour) also served for breakfast.

champorado Filipino style

Champorado is typically eaten at breakfast but can also be served for dessert

The common ingredient is chocolate — but which version came first?

The answer is the Mexican champurrado, as the cacao trees (source of chocolate) grown in the Philippines originally came from Mexico.  And the connection, of course, is that Mexico and the Philippines were colonies of Spain.

Some of the most popular fruits and plants common in the Philippines —  avocados, pineapples, cashews, guyabano — are native to Latin American countries and arrived in the Philippines via the galleon ships from Mexico during the colonial era.  Rice and fruits like the carambola (star fruit) and mangoes were transported from the Philippines to Mexico.

Champorado is a breakfast favorite of my oldest grandson, Jun.  Because there is a lot of stirring involved, he knows it is a special request breakfast and that his Lola has to wake up a little earlier to have it ready before school time.

As with many Filipino sweets, making champorado requires just a handful of ingredients.  Philippine chocolate tablets are the traditional ingredient, but we use cocoa powder in our version.


Philippine Champorado ingriedients w

  • 1 cup of sticky rice – usually marked “Sweet Rice” sourced mainly from Thailand, or the Philippine brands marked “Malagkit”
  • Water & Milk – start with 4 and 1/2 cups of water to cook the rice into a porridge (I add a cup of low-fat milk to the mixture when the porridge is almost done, and depending on the consistency you like, you can add more milk and water)
  • Unsweetened Cocoa Powder – use from 1/2 cup or add more to your liking.  We keep a container of Trader Joe’s brand on hand, sourced from Columbia.
  • Brown sugar can be added during the porridge cooking process or served with the bowl of champorado.

Rinse, then cook the rice with the water over low heat, then gradually add the cocoa powder to make the porridge.  I add the milk and brown sugar when the rice softens and is almost cooked.  Watch over and stir the mixture often.  The champorado is done when the rice is mushy and cooked through.

In the Philippines, champorado is sometimes eaten with salted dried fish (tuyo), as Filipinos love mixing salty and sweet flavors.

For more about chocolate, see Most Craved Food post here, or click on the photo below.

Cacao Photo Group

Cacao tree growing next to a house in the Philippines, bottom photo are cacao seeds drying, and cacao seeds for sale at the market, Central Philippines. Photos

And a little on the early history of chocolate in the Philippines, said to be introduced by missionaries from Mexico in the late 1600’s.  Excerpt from the book “The Philippine Islands”, published in 1898…

The trees are usually planted in gardens near the house, and the chocolate-paste is made at home. A small quantity of the bean is sent annually to Spain; and there is a chocolate factory in Manila for the benefit of those that do not care to trouble themselves with either the growth of the fruit or the preparation of the kernel. The oil of the cocoa is used also for lighting the houses and streets.

It is impossible to find better chocolate than that made by the friars of the Philippines. Special pains are taken with the cacao tree, which is planted in the orchards and gardens of the monasteries, and in the manufacture of the paste and in the making of the beverage.

At Mexican eateries, champurrado is sold as a beverage and often paired with tamales — so, except for the chocolate, completely different from Philippine style champorado.

Cafe Y Champurrado sign Mexican Restaurant

White King brand instant champorado web

White King brand instant champorado mix

Do you make homemade champorado or champurrado?

Or have you bought the instant type Filipino champorado mix at your local Filipino store (like the type pictured at left by White King)?  And if so, was the taste comparable to homemade champorado?

What are your favorite Filipino chocolate related memories?

Related: “Food of the Gods” – more on elixirs of kakaw, also known as chocolatl from the blog In the Company of Plants and Rocks.

More food posts from

Shopping For Rice

Years ago, shopping for rice in the U.S. was pretty straightforward, as there was not much to choose from.  Usually, you had a pick of Calrose — the stickier sort we think of when eating Japanese food — Thai Jasmine, or Texas Long Grain.

That is no longer the case, and rice, in an array of choices — sold in 25 lb or 50 lb sacks — are now sold at most Asian markets or Filipino stores.  The photo below is from the rice section aisle at the Filipino chain supermarket, Seafood City.

Seattle location of Filipino supermarket chain Seafood City

So far, Seafood City has 19 locations in California, 4 in Nevada and a new store in the Seattle Area.

The original Seafood City was established over 20 years ago with the opening of its first store in San Diego.

They bill themselves as a “home away from home” for Filipinos and Asians in the United States.

The larger stores also have Filipino restaurants or tropical bakeries and dessert shops nearby, or within the strip mall area of the supermarket.

The Seafood City Supermarket I visited in Milipitas, California has well known, Philippine-based restaurants such as Goldilocks, Max’s of Manila and Chow King.

There were also Filipino cafes, a Valerio’s Tropical Bakery (famous here in the San Francisco Bay area for their Pandesal and “merienda” or snack items) and a Filipino Desserts Plus, which is new to Northern California (they have 3 stores in the San Diego area).

If you are looking to buy rice and are not near an Asian or Filipino supermarket, your mainstream type grocery store will still have several options (and sizes) available.  Just look in the Asian / Mexican Food or Ethnic Food aisle, and you will usually see a variety of rice to choose from — the photo below from the chain store, Save Mart.

rice is located in the Mexican & Asian food aisle at chain store Save Mart

Rice is also sold in bulk at markets like Whole Foods, along side other grains.

rice sold in bulk, via dispensers at Whole Foods Market

The rice choices locally include California “sushi” rice, brown California basmati rice, jasmine rice, sweet brown, and white arborio rice.

rice sold in bulk, via dispensers at Whole Foods Market

The rice we buy for our family here in the U.S. is usually the Milagrosa or Thai Jasmine type — fairly easy to find at local stores, and even available in 25 or 50 pound sacks at most Costco stores.

Shopping for Rice at a Western Style, Philippine Grocery Store

It is interesting to see the opening of new supermarkets in California, targeted to the ever-growing Filipino and Asian-American population here.

At the same time, there are American or Western Style malls and grocery stores opening up in far-flung provinces and places in the Philippines.

It is just part of modern migration trends and much more diverse, global communities living….well, everywhere!

In the Philippines, these new, Western style grocery stores — even outside major metropolitan areas — also serve  the needs of foreigners and Filipino-Americans retiring and/or deciding to move and live in the Philippines, and perhaps looking for the same, familiar, grocery stores from years living in the U.S. or abroad.

While in the Philippines, we went shopping for rice that our Mother might like, similar to the Thai Jasmine variety, sold here in the U.S.   A new Western style mall about an hour and a half drive from our Mother’s home, had just opened, and we went to check it out. There was a new grocery store inside the mall, and we were able to buy pretty much anything we needed and things you would find as a “staple” here in the U.S.

In particular, we were happy to find yogurt, and a nice selection of cheese, which was not so common just a few years ago, and non-existent there when we were growing up.

Rice Varieties and Pricing at a Western Style, Philippine Grocery Store

However, the rice varieties at this new grocery store —  though also sold in large sacks — were limited to Dinorado, Well-Milled, Sinandomeng or Whole Grain.

Dinorado is a popular, traditional aromatic variety of rice.  Sometimes, unscrupulous sellers will pass off lower quality rice as higher quality, and more expensive varieties like Dinorado.

Hopefully, that is not the case with these sacks of rice sold at the new and shiny grocery store.

We will check it out again during our next trip to see if they have more rice choices.  We also heard a new mall has opened just minutes away from our Mother’s place…so perhaps we do not need to drive far to get those U.S. style pantry basics.

Photo Source: IRRI

For more about rice — a staple food for more than 3 billion people who eat it every day — visit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) website, here, or click on the bowl of rice photo.

Also, more rice articles are available in the “Rice, Rice and more Rice” Category.

Top 9 rice exporters and year 2012 rice supply

Rice Fields in the Philippines, ready for planting

The Philippines is home to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a non-profit, independent research and training organization.

According to the IRRI, the Philippines is the 8th top producer of rice in the world, and also the top rice importer.

China is the world’s biggest producer of rice and is largely self-sufficient (at 130 tonnes a year), while Thailand is the world’s top exporter of rice.

Chart source: The Economist

Since Thailand is a top exporter of rice, I wondered if the devastating floods we heard about in Thailand last year will impact rice supplies in 2012.

The Economist magazine ran an article about this topic (How serious will the impact of the Thai floods be on Asian tables) and it turns out  2011 was an excellent year for rice crops overall, and for other rice producing countries.

Although drought conditions in Arkansas — America’s main grower of rice — will affect US rice exports, bumper crops in Pakistan and India should help with any rice shortfalls from Thailand and the U.S.

The top 9 exporters of rice in 2010-2011 (if the chart included in this post does not load) are:

  1. Thailand
  2. Vietnam
  3. India
  4. United States
  5. Pakistan
  6. Burma
  7. Cambodia
  8. Uruguay
  9. Brazil

See more of Lola Jane’s rice related posts (and more rice field pictures) here.

Philippines, Indonesia…and Rice

This is an update to my blog post titled “Why does the Philippines have to import rice to feed its people” (March 2011).

There is something just very basic and comforting about being able to produce enough of a staple food…like rice…to feed the population.

A 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated the Philippines was the largest importer of rice in the world.

Several months ago there were rumors about a 2011 rice shortage in the Philippines (which government officials blamed on rice traders trying to manipulate market prices).

It seems the Philippines is producing more rice, but still not enough for the population, and so continues to import rice.

An ABS CBN news article featured an interview with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.  What I found interesting in the article is Mr. Alcala’s “revelation” that Indonesia has overtaken the Philippines as the top rice importer in the world.

“Indonesia has imported 1.5 million metric tons, tayo at 860. One-third nalang ang inorder natin kaysa sa inimport natin last year.” (Indonesia has imported 1.5 million metric tons, and we are at 860.  We have ordered only 1/3 compared to last year’s import).

So is it just me…but did they miss the obvious here?

  • Indonesia’s population, according to the World Bank data is about 230 million.
  • The Philippine’s population according to the latest UN data is at 93.6 million.

Though there is an improvement, there really is no bragging rights here just because Indonesia imports more rice.  If you look at the ratio of the population to what is being imported, the Philippines STILL imports more rice to feed its people compared to Indonesia.  It is  just less this year, so that in itself is the improvement.

The report states that “Alcala is confident the Philippines will soon be self-sufficient in rice, and may even be able to export rice in 2 years’ time”.

Newly Planted Rice Fields - Philippines

If you are in the rice industry, I would be interested in your thoughts on this prediction, and the self-sufficiency path for rice in the Philippines.

Thank you. ~Lola Jane

Why does the Philippines have to import rice to feed its people?

Articled updated on September 22, 2014 with recent USDA data on world rice trade.

Rice photo by

A big portion of the earth’s population survives on rice.

Years ago, someone told me that the Philippines does not produce enough rice to feed its people.  I wondered if this was still true, did some research, and indeed, this remains true today.

It is interesting that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is located in the Philippines.  Sixty percent of the rice grown on the planet today come from seeds developed through IRRI.  One would think that as this respected research organization is in the Philippines, the Philippines would eventually produce enough rice to feed its people.

But it is a complex issue, and in fact, the Philippines is currently the largest importer of rice in the world, importing around 1.8 million tons of rice in 2008 (Source: United States Department of Agriculture).

According to the IRRI, there are three main factors which explain why the Philippines imports rice:

  • Land area: The Philippines has around 300,000 square kilometers, of which around 43,000 square kilometers of harvested area are used for rice production.
    As most of the country is very mountainous and consists of many small islands, suitable land is limited to expand rice production into without affecting wetlands, forests, or areas producing other crops. Urban areas also continue to expand rapidly.
  • Population growth: The Philippine population is estimated at 97 million (IRRI Data and UN Data from 2010 lists 93.6 million). Its annual growth rate of around 2% – among the world’s highest – means that just to keep pace with growing demand the country would have to increase rice production and yield at rates rarely seen in history.
  • Infrastructure: Irrigation infrastructure is not used and maintained as efficiently as it could be, thus reducing productivity potential. Transport infrastructure, particularly good-quality roads, is lacking in the Philippines, which affects the transport of rice and hinders the rice trade.

The IRRI continues work to help Filipino farmers raise rice harvest yields, which at this time, is more than Indian or Thailand rice fields, but still under those produced by Chinese and Vietnamese rice farmers.

Almost Ready to Harvest, Rice Field in the Philippines.  Photo

As of 2014, the Philippines still import rice, and it has actually increased as of September, 2014, per chart below from the US Department of Agriculture data (USDA).

Note: 1,600 Thousand Metric Tons — the amount listed for 2014 / 2015 on the table below — equal 3,527,360 lbs.  The average Filipino eats about 271 lbs of rice per year (123 kg), among the highest in the world, according to the IRRI.

World Rice Trade by Thousand Metric Tons

Philippines still import rice as of Sept 2014

More rice related articles are under “Rice, Rice & More Rice” category under the parent topic, The Philippines.

And if you like this post and want to see more Philippine related post from, please subscribe to Lola Jane’s blog (input form on home page) or click here… 

Among’s most popular Philippine related post are about

So… were you surprised that the Philippines imports a lot rice, despite seeing rice fields pretty much WHEREVER you travel in the Philippines?

Please comment…I would like to know what you think.

Where’s the Rice?

So this rice field topic made me think about rice in general.  I don’t know anyone —at least not yet — who does not like rice.

The first time I remember that I actually missed eating rice was during Air Force training boot camp in San Antonio, Texas.  Because of the stress of boot camp, I think it was not until after a week when I thought, wow, I have not eaten rice all week!  Up to that point, and having lived in the Philippines all my life –and even after moving to the U.S., we ate rice EVERYDAY.  Sometimes for breakfast (there is a Filipino simple breakfast staple of Sinangag, leftover rice fried with garlic), and most definitely rice is served during lunch and dinner.

There are probably many hundreds of varieties of rice in the world.  I know there are red varieties, brown, purple, long, short, sticky types for deserts, but at that time, all I wanted was a plate of warm, pure white, fluffy rice.  Somehow meals did not seem complete without rice.

Eventually the chow hall did serve up rice—the parboiled, reconstituted type that we normally do not eat.  But for the moment I was so happy, ahhhh, RICE! And I felt ready to run and do whatever we had to do that day.

Having lived in the US for a long time now, we eat a variety of foods.  But still, I cannot go a week without eating rice —actually make that just a few days without rice.

Not quite sure how to make Filipino style garlic fried rice?  Here is a great website with a step by step recipe for cooking sinangag: Photo below courtesy of

Sinangag – Filipino Breakfast Staple of Garlic Fried Rice

If you are accustomed to regularly eating rice, please comment and tell us about a time and your experience when you did NOT eat rice….

champorado Filipino style

Champorado – chocolate rice porridge

And check out Lola Jane’s Filipino Food posts:

Philippine Rice Fields

Rice fields are beautiful.  Fertile, green for the most part, lush.  No wonder green is one of my favorite colors.

When I go back home to the Philippines I love to take pictures of rice fields.

Rice Fields, background of coconut trees and the mountains

I remember trying to plant rice when I was younger, and stepping into the muddy rice fields.  You have to have strong leg muscles to plant rice the traditional  way —- it is very hard work.   I would go with my aunt who we fondly called Nanay Lucing, when she brought food to feed the crew of rice planters.

I ended up making an early exit and being pulled back on top of a carabao (water buffalo) when  leaches started  to feed on my little legs.

Thankfully, that was my first and last time participating in planting rice.  The mud was fine, but the leaches…not so much.

water buffallo kalabaw or carabao late 1800s

No, this is not me…it is an old photo of a kalabaw or carabao (water buffalo) found in the book “The Philippine Islands” from the Gutenberg website by Ramon Reyes Lala. It was published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company.  I would have been about the same size though…

There is a well-known Philippine folk song on planting rice and the lyrics go something like this:

Magtanim ay ‘di biro
Maghapong nakayuko
‘Di man lang makatayo
‘Di man lang makaupo.

The English version:

Planting rice is never fun,
Bending over ’til the set of sun.
Cannot sit, cannot stand,
Plant the seedlings all by hand.

And a literal translation:

Planting rice is not a joke
Just bending all day long
You can’t even stand up
You can’t even sit down.

There are famous rice terraces in the Philippines.  The Banaue rice terraces are over 2,000 years old, created mostly by hand on a mountainside, around 5,000 ft in elevation.  More information on the Banaue Rice terraces can be found on

Banaue Rice Terraces panaorama

Here is a lovely quote about rice fields from another old book about the Philippines, published in 1890…

Rice Field quote by John ForemanAnd I agree!  Rice fields are beautiful…what do you think?

NOTE: More rice related articles can be accessed by visiting the “Rice, Rice & More Rice” category under the parent topic, The Philippines. 

Category includes articles on why the Philippines have to import rice to feed its people, and a rice post popular on Pinterest, with photos of sinangag — the traditional breakfast of garlic fried rice.