Lump Sum

The first time I heard the term “lumpia,” I thought it was a quirky insult. As in, “yo mama’s so lumpia…” and fill in the blank. The real insult is that lumpia aren’t well known throughout the US to begin with. Culinary trendsetters keep proclaiming that Filipino food will be the next big craze, year after year, but I just haven’t seen it take hold as promised. While you can’t walk a full city block without passing at least one pizza parlor or sushi bar, you’d be lucky to stumble across a single Filipino restaurant in an entire metropolitan area.

What gives? Why aren’t kids begging their parents for sizzling platters as a Friday night treat? Where are all the long-simmered stews and punchy, vinegar-spiked sauces? So many of the classic staples share Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, and even American influences, so why don’t they translate the same way overseas?

Lumpia should be considered the gateway dish, an easy introduction to this true melting pot of flavors. Like common spring rolls or egg rolls, the concept itself is highly flexible. Fillings can be either sweet or savory, bundled together in thin wheat wrappers, and served either fresh or deep-fried. Let’s be real though: The best, and most popular sort are fried to crispy, golden-brown perfection, and dunked into a sour, salty, and savory dip of vinegar and soy sauce.

This particular recipe comes from Chef Reina Montenegro of Nick’s Kitchen, one of the very few vegan Filipino eateries I know of, boasting two locations in San Francisco proper. Traditionally, the most popular sort of lumpia combines vegetables like bean sprouts, string beans, and carrots with cheap cuts of meat, but you’d never miss the animal addition here. Mushroom powder makes up for the umami essence in spades, and honestly, any filling would be delicious once anointed with bubbling hot oil.

Take a bite while the rolls are still steaming hot, caramelized exteriors instantly shattering upon impact, and you’ll immediately understand the appeal. You can eat with your hands, call it a snack or a meal, and easily convince picky children to eat a rainbow of vegetables.

If this is your first introduction to Filipino cuisine, welcome to the party. Next up should be Chef Reina’s famous, unbelievably eggless tofu sissig silog for breakfast,… If I could ever needle that secret formula out of her. You work on those lumpia, and I’ll work on that subsequent recipe.

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Respect Your Elders

Stay healthy. Take care. Be well.⁣

These common refrains are easier said than done right now, and naturally, everyone’s looking for that magic bullet to protect themselves against illness. As with life, it’s about how the little things add up, rather than one big thing that will make all the difference. Elderberries offer an easy first step towards a stronger immune system, critical even when not facing a global pandemic. Studies have shown promising results in protection against bacterial and viral infections, reducing the symptoms and duration of a cold, easing symptoms of allergies, and that’s to say nothing of their impressive antioxidant and vitamin A load.⁣

Both the flowers and berries have a long tradition of culinary and folk medicinal uses going back thousands of years. In fact, Hippocrates (often called the father of medicine) referred to the elderberry as a “medicine chest,” thanks to the seemingly endless benefits and applications. The stem, bark, leaves, flowers, berries, and root extracts of the plant have all been instrumental in historical recipes, dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt.



There’s is a catch, of course. Raw, fresh, or dried, elderberries are not exactly a treat to eat. They’re rather tart at best, bitter and astringent at worst; not something you’d want to snack on out of hand, like blueberries. Of course, they have more than twice the natural antioxidant capacity of their blue brethren, but need a bit of help in the flavor department. Sambucol Black Elderberry Gummies take care of that shortcoming by concentrating that nutritional potency into soft, bite-sized chews, sweetened only with pure cane sugar. Pectin, rather than gelatin, gives them their plant-based bounce, to the delight of children and adults alike. Make no mistake, these aren’t candy, but potent supplements wrapped up in a highly appealing package.

Enticing right out of the bottle, gleaming like faceted purple gems, it’s not a struggle to get your daily dose. However, they also offer ample opportunities for some healthy experimentation.

Thumbprint cookies, typically crowned with a dollop of humble fruit preserves get a superfood upgrade thanks to Sambucol. Softening into a jammy nugget within the gentle slope of a hearty oat and almond butter base, you might forget that such tasty treats are actually powerful immunity boosters.

Comfort food and health food don’t need to be mutually exclusive when armed with naturally delicious nourishment. Consider these simple morsels your secret weapon against the midday slump, and well beyond.

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Taste the Rainbow with Popit!

Chia pudding is a perennial staple around here, appearing on the menu as breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and desserts alike. For a quick fix full of fiber, protein, and brain-boosting omega-3’s, the tiny seed just can’t be beat. Of course, plain old vanilla does get dull after so many big bowlfuls. That’s where a bit of meal planning wisdom comes in, with a bit of help from our friends at Popit!

Big batch advanced prep is a big part of the appeal for chia pudding. Mix it up en masse, chill, and enjoy as desired for a full week. Cool and creamy, it’s an ideal healthy treat to eat on the fly, straight out of the fridge or on the go. By breaking it down into separate, single-serving containers, you get that same convenience with the flexibility to infuse each sweet spoonful with completely different flavors. While the effortless base starts the same, the end results are uniquely delicious.

The Popit! Baby Food Storage Set is ideal for making a full rainbow of bold chia puddings to suit every mood. Each BPA-free container holds 3 ounces with a patented lid and hollow silicone seal system to lock in freshness and prevent leakage. These are just the right size for a light snack or healthy treat, anywhere, anytime. The most difficult decision here will be deciding which one to eat first!

Starting with some bakery inspiration, Red Velvet gets its alluring hue from pureed beets, but tastes only of buttery cake with a touch of cocoa. Lightly sweetened yogurt swirls throughout to take the place of more sugary icing. Pitaya Princess Cake paints the Swedish pastry with a shock of bright pink pitaya puree. Nutty almond extract gives it a marzipan-like quality, paying homage to the traditional decor. Carrot Cake takes shape with naturally sweet carrot puree, warm spices, and chewy raisins mingling throughout the mix.

Moving on to more fruity flavors, Orange Zinger is guaranteed to wake you up with energetic, zesty orange zest, spicy crystallized ginger, and a dash of sunny yellow turmeric. Lemon Drop is another option made for citrus lovers, keeping it simple with fresh zest and a tangy, creamy vanilla yogurt. Banana-Nut will sooth any cravings for quick bread or muffins, with mashed banana and sticky peanut butter blended in, crowned by even more crunchy toasted nuts. Don’t forget the pinch of salt that really makes it sparkle.

Painted with the cool color spectrum and offering some cold comfort, my personal favorite, Mint Chip is like a spoonable milkshake without the sugar rush. Crunchy cacao nibs add textural contrast to this minty treat, although you could always go for chocolate chips or chunks instead. Blue Moon uses alluring butterfly pea tea for a naturally brilliant hue, with blueberries to add substance beyond mere style. Everyone’s favorite purple tuber, Ube makes an appearance alongside toasted coconut flakes, tasting like a little tropical getaway in a jar.

Taking a more decadent turn for the final three, I’ve got a whole Latte Love for the combination of instant coffee AND whole ground coffee for a serious midday perk. When I’m really craving dessert, this pudding-based Devil’s Food provides a sinless way to get my fix, with a serious dose of cocoa and rich chocolate curls on top. Finally, dark as night, with a mysterious allure, Black Sesame offers a uniquely nutty, lightly gingered flavor that’s sure to satisfy the more adventurous eater.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking comfort in consistency. If you fall in love with one flavor and want to make the whole batch to follow suit, simply multiply those ingredients by 12 and of course, omit the other optional additions.

What will be your top chia pudding pick?

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Bite Me

In times of extreme stress or trauma, regression is a real concern. Young children run for cover under previously discarded blankies, while dogs can forget their training when nature calls indoors. Training wheels snap back onto bikes, lessons once mastered must be retaught. After so many steps forward, it’s time to take a few back. That very same impulse drives otherwise reasonable adults to abandon all pretense of balance and seek solace in the comforting foods embedded into happy childhood memories. Attracted to the nostalgia as much as the taste, there’s no way of knowing just what will bubble up from bygone days.

Here’s an unexpected flashback from elementary school. Miniature chocolate chip muffins, you know the ones, beckoned in neat little plastic packages at the end of the hot lunch line. Truly unfrosted cupcakes, each sweet, squishy morsel seemed to melt away effortlessly, dissolving into a sticky morass of artificial buttery crumbs and waxy chocolate. My parents would have never condoned such nutritionally void treats, but when I could trade for such treasures, there was no stopping me.

Comforting in their simplicity, reassuringly easy to both make and eat, it’s the kind of junk food I might normally rail against. Just eat a slice of cake, or have yourself a proper bran muffin! This wishy-washy excuse for some rational middle ground is just a way to feel better about eating dessert for breakfast. Relative to the austere bowl of oatmeal in the morning, they’re loaded with sugar and white flour, and you know what? That’s exactly what we all need sometimes.

Regression is not permanent. Like so many other things in life, the urge to crawl inward, revert to the safety of nostalgia, is outside of our control. We’re all doing the best we can to survive; be kind to your inner child, plan to grow up another day. A little bite of indulgence certainly wouldn’t hurt right about now.

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Bar None

As the antiquated adage goes, when it rains, it pours. When in drought-stricken California however, what falls from the sky is not a deluge of precipitation, but of citrus. Yes, you heard me right: Fruit is showering the city streets at this very moment, heavy with juice and blown asunder by the most gentle gusts of wind. Every variety you can imagine, from the average lemon and lime to more exotic mandarins, yuzu, pomelo, even Buddha’s hand litter the pavement. Dash out for a quick walk around the neighborhood, eyes to the ground, and you can take care of your vitamin C needs without spending a dime.

Urban foraging has kept my fruit bin full of these tart, tangy, sour, and sometimes sweet gems. Oranges are real treasures, eaten straight out of hand, sometimes before even returning home, but the most plunder is the venerated Meyer lemon. Popularized by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, it’s no surprise that this particular specimen that’s come to represent so much of California cuisine now thrives up and down the coast, and is especially concentrated so close to home.

Thus, lemons have been on the menu at every turn lately, when alternative acids and groceries in general are scarce. Large pitchers of lemonade sit chilled, at the ready as the days grow warmer, threatening to skip right over spring and straight into the summer season. Fine flecks of zest sparkle in simple vinaigrettes, lavished over everything from greens to grains. Jars of marmalade use up every scrap of peel, preserving the harvest for countless slabs of toast to come.

For dessert, of course, you can do no better than homemade lemon bars.

Luscious, silken curd dazzles like a semi-sold bite of sunshine atop a buttery, pleasantly sandy shortbread crust. Tender and yielding, each square trembles gently in the hand, melting the instant it hits the tongue. Avowed lemon-lovers and fair weather friends alike can agree that a properly baked lemon bar can even surpass the appeal of a beguiling chocolate cake.

Finished with a flurry of powdered sugar, this classic, unassailable treat suits every occasion, every season, every craving, as far as I’m concerned. Even if lemons aren’t literally falling into your lap, do yourself the kindness of splurging on a generous surplus. Trust me, you’ll find a way to use them up without any difficulty, especially with this sweet serving suggestion on deck.

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See-Food

Cooking during quarantine has forced me to get a bit more creative than usual for my daily sustenance. All those years of looking for unconventional substitutes is paying off, in ways I could never expect.

No more tomato paste? Well you’re in luck, because I just found a few packets of ketchup in my bag! Bottle of soy sauce ran dry? There’s miso for that!

It’s also done wonders to clean out my stock of specialty goods, the rare, random oddities that caught my eye while shopping, but seemed too precious to simply consume without fanfare.

So, as supplies dwindle and lines to enter grocery stores continue to wrap around the building and down the block, this day seems like just the special occasion to dig in. The time has finally come to thaw out the strange, slippery, bouncy jumbo prawns to make something great.

What does one make with chewy konjac-based seafood and a limited pantry? Luck was on my side, as I had just the idea waiting in the wings. Simultaneously cleaning out my digital pantry, this was a concept I had outlined ages ago, saved away in the “to-make” folder, and promptly forgotten about. Though I didn’t have the anticipated crowd of party revelers to impress, when my long-forgotten formula for meatless shrimp toast finally came to fruition, it was no less magnificent to behold.

Hatosi (蝦多士 in Cantonese) literally translates to “shrimp toast,” a beloved party bite or snack enjoyed as a savory happy hour staple, and beyond. Traditionally made with crisp sandwich bread cradling a layer of shrimp puree flavored with ginger, garlic, and scallion, it’s coated in sesame seeds before being deep-fried. Briny, umami, with just the right amount of salty-greasy satisfaction, such a foolproof preparation could appeal even to seafood haters.

Nothing against the conventional approach, but I’m not about to pull out a bubbling vat of oil for this party of one, so I baked mine instead. Healthier, easier, and more economical, since I can keep my reserves of oil full for another day.

While shortages remain a very real fact of life across the globe, I realize that this recipe is pie in the sky for the large majority of readers, no matter how bottomless your food stockpile. Even on a good day, it’s a kind of crazy amalgamation of quirky ingredients. All we can do is work with what we’ve got, and right now, this is what’s keeping me cooking. Rather than offer up alternatives that won’t even come close to the intended effect, I want you to read this with optimism, as a promise of more to come. Save it for better days, keep growing your “to-make” folder, and keep dreaming of unrestricted abundance. Sometime soon, I hope we can all raise a triangle together, and literally toast to good health for all.

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