May 31, 2014

Cardboard Shadow Box Project

My creativity is mostly prompted by necessity. With no spare finances to purchase shadow boxes to encase some dried herbs I wanted to display, I resorted to making my own. My medium of choice was what I had plenty of: cardboard and brown paper.

First, I cut and glued cardboard pieces together to form small rectangular box frames and wrapped them with brown paper to cover the seams. For the window panes of the boxes, I used clear hard plastic cut out from product packaging that I had stored, thanks to my packrat foresight.

Cardboard Shadow Box

Then I prepared the backing for the shadow boxes. I printed out the names of the herbs and mounted them on tiny pieces of cardboard to serve as nameplates. Then I punched two holes in the middle of the backing, strung twine through, and tied down (with a nice ribbon knot) a bunch of the dried herbs I wanted to showcase.

Cardboard Shadow Box

Cardboard Shadow Box

The final assembly was just a matter of gluing the backing to the shadow box frame, and gluing the finished box to the main frame that I prepared also with cardboard and brown paper. Add a twine hanger to the back, and there it is – all natural, very lightweight, and entirely handmade.

Cardboard Shadow Box - back

Cardboard Shadow Box for showcasing dried herbs

I took these pictures a few days ago, but I made the shadow box back in 2002 (which is why there are no step-by-step build photos). The herbs look old and droopy now but the presentation is still good.

May 26, 2014

How to Slice Pineapple Into Chunks

Pineapple season is here, and the “fruit,” which is actually a mass of berries growing along the bromeliad’s stalk, is once again popular in all grocery produce sections. It’s time to talk about how to slice them.

Born and raised in the Philippines (the top pineapple producing country in the world), I grew up with little appreciation for any kind of fruit juice other than pineapple. I also learned how to peel and cut pineapples without wasting any of the sweet and juicy flesh.

I’ve seen two convenient ways to prepare pineapples. One is to use a pineapple corer/slicer that cuts into the pineapple with a rotating blade and leaves the core and the skin behind. Another is to pare off the skin thick enough to include the “eyes” leaving a clean flesh for slicing. Both ways are quick and easy but wasteful because a lot of the delectable flesh is discarded in the process.

Here’s how I was taught to prepare a whole fresh pineapple into bite-size chunks without being wasteful [quick tip: wear plastic gloves to protect your hands from the acidic juices of the pineapple]:

Del Monte Pineapple

1. Slice the top off.  [Consider planting this top in your garden. It will take a couple of years before you can harvest your own one pineapple from it, which will most likely not be as big nor as sweet as what you could get from the grocery, but it’s always cool to say you grew your own!] Slice the bottom off too.

Pineapple - slice the top off.

2. Cut away the skin just thin enough to expose the flesh. Parts of the “eyes” should still be on the fruit. You can skin the pineapple in a spiral or horizontally – I prefer to skin vertically.

Pineapple - cut away the skin.

3. Following the spiral pattern of the eyes, cut along the sides of the eyes to take them out. You can run the knife with one long spiral cut on one side of the eyes, from the top of the pineapple to the bottom, then a matching spiral cut on the other side of the eyes to scoop out the whole length. I usually work with two to three eyes at a time.   

Pineapple - take the eyes out.

Pineapple - take the eyes out.

4. Quarter the pineapple lengthwise and cut out the tough core. [Some folks who are into juicing don’t discard the core.]

Pineapple - quarter.

Pineapple - slice off the core.

5. Halve each quarter lengthwise. Cut into bite-size pieces and enjoy!

Pineapple - slice lengthwise.

Pineapple - cut to bite-size pieces.

I enjoy my fresh pineapple chunks as is, with some salt or sugar, to flavor water, or as an ingredient of our breakfast smoothie. How do you enjoy yours? 

May 19, 2014

Breakfast Smoothie For Two

Our new massage therapist introduced us to the concept of taking raw fruits and vegetables first thing in the morning. While she was actually telling us about juicing, Mike and I decided that we would rather go with blending (aka smoothies). Juicing reduces the fruits and vegetables into liquid form, hastening absorption by the digestive system; blending chops and grinds the whole food, letting you consume the beneficial fiber of the fruits and vegetables.

After I did more research on the benefits and process of juicing and blending, I became more convinced that I prefer smoothies over juice. Besides, juicers are costly and harder to clean compared to blenders.

Our therapist suggested only three ingredients for the breakfast mix: carrots, cucumbers, and beets. She said that by taking these, first thing in the morning, we will not only become healthier but also feel better.

Because my research opened my eyes to this healthy sipping of plant nutrients, I thought: why not add what we’ve always known to be nutritious too, like celery, lettuce, spinach, ginger, and parsley? To neutralize the earthy taste of the beet root, I added strawberries, grapes, and banana. Nuts would be a great source of protein, so I threw in some chopped almonds. Then I read about the omega-3 and antioxidant properties of flaxseed, so I ground some and added that to our mix.

Breakfast Smoothie Ingredients

Breakfast Smoothie before blending

Sometimes I would vary the combination – oranges instead of strawberries, apple instead of banana. Sometimes the liquid would be no-sugar grape or apple juice, sometimes plain water. Most times I would add an infusion that we drink throughout the day: filtered water with slices of lemon, cucumber, and ginger (this one I learned from a friend who has been taking the infusion to keep her weight down).

Infused Water with Lemon Cucumber Ginger

Every morning, for the past 35 days, Mike and I have been having this smoothie for our first breakfast. To make the mixture refreshingly cool, I sometimes use frozen carrots, grapes, and strawberries, then throw in a couple of ice cubes. Some folks suggest frozen bananas or mixed berries.

Breakfast Smoothie before and after blending

Fruit and Vegetable Breakfast Smoothie for Two

So far, Mike and I appreciate the sipping of raw fruits and vegetables in the morning. It gives us a nice kickstart to our day. And with it, we’re already assured of ingesting at least two of the required number of servings per day. That’s certainly better than the “whenever” we were used to.

Here’s a quick list of what I include in one tall mug of our breakfast smoothie:
  • 5-7 sticks baby carrots (could be frozen)
  • 3-4 slices cucumber
  • 2 medium stalks celery
  • 2 thin slices ginger (more than that and the ginger taste dominates)
  • 1 thin slice beet root (makes the smoothie red)
  • 1 grab-full mixed greens (spinach, chard, lettuce, arugula, frisee, radicchio)
  • 1 small bunch parsley
  • 1 medium to large strawberry
  • 5-7 medium grapes (frozen is cool)
  • ½ ripe banana
  • 1 tablespoon crushed almonds
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • Ice cubes after blending
Other ingredients to try soon:
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • romaine
  • cantaloupe
  • mango
  • avocado
  • walnuts
  • cashews
  • chia seeds
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • blackberries
Why don't you try it? Then tell me how it goes.

May 15, 2014

Speed Bumps in the Highway of Life

While purging our paper files, I found a printout of my son’s LiveJournal entry for July 2002. Because it’s still a few days after Mother’s Day, I decided to share this mother-son exchange. It’s rather weird that today I am quoting that blog that quotes one of my defunct Suite101 Inspiration/Motivation articles that quotes my son. Nonetheless, just a few thoughts for when we hit those minor setbacks in our lives. 

Date: 2002-07-19 22:01
Subject: speed bumps
Security: Public

A while back, I wrote my mother some e-mail about dealing with her carpal tunnel syndrome. For the unaware, CTS is the painful degradation of the delicate muscle-bone mechanisms that we call our hands. She wrote an article about it recently, and I'd like to share it here.


Screencap of Suite101 Inspiration/Motivation back in 2002
Welcome page of Suite101 Inspiration/Motivation 2002

Speed Bumps in the Highway of Life
By Ruby Bayan

Sometimes we want to believe we're immortal, or at the very least, immune to the frailties of human existence. Cancer happens to other people. Accidents happen to neighbors. Casualties fall on friends of friends. These gosh-awful things don't happen to us... until they do.

When I started calling myself a writer, I took all the precautions I knew, so that I wouldn't have to suffer what they call the "writer's syndrome" or CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome). I had an ergonomic chair, keyboard, and mouse. I was conscious of my posture, and took breaks from typing as often as I could.

It didn't occur to me that CTS would sneak up on me not from the keyboard but from packing and unpacking shelves of books and pieces of furniture from one house to another. My workouts didn't prepare my hands and arms enough for the torture I was going to subject them to when we relocated. As soon as I finished re-assembling and re-stocking our bookshelves, my hands literally died. CTS had set in.

I couldn't believe I had no strength at all to open a jar of peanut butter. A plastic bag of groceries felt heavier than a ton of bricks. Moving furniture -- out of the question. Typing sent tiny electric shocks through my fingers. Numb and painful hands woke me up in the middle of the night. I couldn't believe it. I felt miserable.

I told my folks about what had happened to me -- we had moved to a beautiful new home but in my excitement, I lost my hands. They all told me to take it easy, and to give my hands a rest. My son, ever fluent, and thinking otherwise, gave me the most powerful advice and encouragement I received:

"Hi, Mom. The source of CTS is the overexertion of the muscles through the wrist-joint mechanism. With the right amount of stretching and massaging, you can slowly counteract the damage, and realign the muscles within your wrist. It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of exercise, but I'm sure you can manage it. You always were the more diligent of the two of us.

"And what's this I hear about your not being able to move stuff around? I can understand not being able to do heavy lifting, but I do hope you're still keeping a moderately active metabolism. Fight the sedentary lifestyle -- there are people decades older than you and me who are still going strong because they just won't let it get them down.

"Be confident about your abilities. You were a mountaineer once. Don't just look back at it wistfully as an aspect of your past that you went through and moved on from. You're still that same person. You just haven't used the hardware in the same fashion in a while.

"I'm sure you can find the focus. Look back at all you've accomplished, and remember that you managed far more than the average individual because you felt like you could, and you went ahead and did it. Yes, acknowledge your limitations, but that doesn't mean you should just take it easy and take things for granted. It's all in the mindset, right?

"If you believe you can, then you won't take minor setbacks like momentary fatigue and muscular distress as if they were permanent roadblocks stopping you from walking down your old roads. Just think of them as speed bumps. You need to compensate for them, but darned if you're going to let them stop you, right?"

Ah, yes. My son gave me the gift of a bright and optimistic perspective: speed bumps in the highway of life. That's what this is. Just like all the other obstacles I have faced, I shall cope, I shall compensate. Then gain momentum once more, and cruise, and continue to enjoy the journey.


An uplifting postscript to Mom's article: her CTS is gone. Her hands have returned to full functionality, and she's doing great. If you'd like to get to know the true renaissance woman I call mother, mentor, friend and role model, visit her website