Thursday, 17 August 2017

Eat for Life: Naturally maintaining my gut

We often are more reactive than proactive and we tend to want miracle cures.  I decided to change my diet from being reactive to proactive and one of the major changes is the diligent inclusion of turmeric and ginger, roselle probiotics and virgin coconut oil in my diet.  This combination provides a wealth of health benefits but in a proactive measure, one of the main ones that I want is the care and maintenance for my gut.  I have done a lot of research on this and will continue to follow developments from both the medical world as well as the alternative holistic therapies.
Our gut is the biggest immune organ in our body with the main function of processing our food and removing toxins.  It is basically our digestive tract.  Over the last few years, more and more information has been disseminated regarding a condition called leaky gut.  A leaky gut causes allergens and toxins as well as bacteria and viruses to enter out bloodstream leading to many illnesses including infections to other organs like the brain, heart, kidney and others, allergies and autoimmune.  The symptoms are many and is often misdiagnosed resulting in our medical treatment addressing the symptoms but not the condition.   Some of the symptoms are:

  1.  allergies
  2. infections to various organs and within the body
  3. body aches and pains
  4. bloating
  5. cramps

The symptoms and manifestation of the problem is common enough that the treatment is often for the symptom and not addressing the underlying issue.

Some of the causes are:

  1. age
  2. gluten
  3. antibiotics
  4. food additives
  5. carcinogens

How to avoid a leaky gut?  Easy but can be difficult to do for some: take care of your gut and prevent the lining from breaking down or having holes.  Basically, one needs to take care of what one consumes.  A healthy gut has good digestive tract walls and good bacteria.  As we age, our body will breakdown and need repairing so similar to having a car, one needs to do maintenance.  Some repairs here and there, replacing what is worn down, etc.

In my proactive mode, I have added 3 items which not only is good for my gut health but also contains other health benefits:

  1. Bentong ginger and turmeric with black pepper
  2. Roselle probiotics
  3. Extra virgin coconut oil

These 3 items promotes the repair work, addressing the symptoms with its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti inflammation properties and then continues to promote the health of my gut with the probiotics and "cleaning" activities.  They are simple to add to my daily diet and doesn't require major changes to my routine and readily available.  I am a firm believer that if we cannot make something a normal thing to do, it will be hard to remain diligent and sustain it as a normal course in our life.  Whilst some of this are available in pill forms, a few factors make it less desirable:

  • I do not know what is added during the process to convert it from natural state to pill or capsule
  • The cost is higher than the natural state
  • While it may be convenient, over a period of time, I will become bored and lazy to pop the pills and ultimately, just stop doing it
  • There is no fun in pill popping - there is no enjoyment in consuming it and it becomes a to-do task as opposed to something I do normally

My focus has always been on organic and local so that it is easily available and affordable.  After all, if it is expensive that it is out of reach to the masses.  As with everything you consume, do find out about the source of what you consume and that it is natural, organically grown without hormones as well as additives-free and this includes preservatives, sugar, colouring.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Go organic and go local

Over the last few days I have been involved in many discussions regarding GMO vs non-GMO, organic vs non-organic, local vs imported.  The underlying grievance was the cost issue.  So I thought I will lay down my take on it.
GMO vs non-GMO
GMO food inherently contains carcinogens at the cell level so if is just about impossible to get rid of it.  The purpose of GMO was to alter the natural state of the produce at a cellular level so that it can contain pesticides to enable the plant to produce more and or standardised product.  This is great for commercialising a produce as you can have high yield at a lower cost. The major GMO produce are corn and soy and more will probably be added in the future.  These two items appear in many forms,  For corn, some of the items are  fresh corn, frozen corn kernels, corn oil, corn syrup, corn flour, and breakfast cereal.   Another item often forgotten is animal feed as many use corn which are GMO so the toxins gets transferred from the feed to the animal and to us such as in chicken, beef and fish and shellfish and also in milk.  For soy, some of the items are soya bean oil, soya sauce, soy milk and soy flour. The pesticides are carcinogens and though Big Businesses claim that it is safe, there are many non-industry sponsored studies that show otherwise including the proliferation of a new disease called Autoimmune.   Good for business but bad for people.

Organic vs non-organic
Organic produce is produced without using any chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.  The soil has also got to be toxic chemical contaminant free.  Hydrophonic method is not necessarily organic.  For non-organic, anything goes.  Organic farming is also more labor-intensive.  For my definition I also include avoidance of plant hormones.

Local vs Imported
For some reason, many are ignorant and automatically assume that if something is imported then it is good.  Not necessarily so.  Imported costs more as there is transportation costs, handling costs and other related costs.  So the higher price doesn't mean that it is of better quality.  It goes back to knowing your source.

What it boils down to is: "Do you want to pay now or pay later?".  So, if you think that choosing organic, non-GMO and local is more expensive or not of high quality, do be sure to add up the costs properly.  The other hidden costs are medical bills, transport costs (for treatment and related services required), pharmaceutical bills (bear in mind that sometimes you will be prescribed a few drugs as the first is for your condition and the others to treat the effects of the first drug), future higher food costs (as then you can only eat foods that meet the criteria for your condition), loss of work days, lower quality of life and other costs.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The bountiful God's Crown (Mahkota Dewa) Fruit

With such a grand name, Mahkota Dewa (God's Crown) is traditionally used in many ways.  It's botanical name is Phaleria Macrocarpa.  At the farm, our 4 years old tree stands about 2 meters.  I haven't trimmed it since I propagated it from
seed and it is now fruiting in abundance so I will wait a little while before I prune it a bit.  Watching its growth, I would say it is a slow grower in height but that doesn't mean the same for the fruiting.  It starts fruiting in about 1 year.  The fruit is a dark red color when it ripens and it is at this stage that I harvest.
The outer skin of the fruit is slightly waxy and the flesh is fibrous and white in color.  For the first 3 years, I only fertilised it about once every six months so there wasn't much fruits produced.  However in the last year, I fertilised it quarterly and I see a marked difference in the quantity of the fruit.  I use organic, farm-produced fertiliser since I wanted to ensure as best as I can that it is free from toxins and chemicals as ultimately, I plan to use it as a health "supplement".
I use the fruit to produce my tea.  It contains alkaloid, flavonoid, polyphenol and antioxidants making it rich in benefits in traditional preventive and curative therapy.  I drink the tea at least once a week as part of my detoxification regime with its alkaloid content.  It helps to cleanse the liver, kidneys and digestive system.  It is also antiviral and antibacterial which helps strengthen my immune system.  Sometime I drink more times depending on how I feel.
Amongst its other uses in traditional therapy are:

  1. To help lower the blood sugar for diabetics due to its saponin content
  2. To cleanse the blood due to its flavonoid content
  3. To improve the body's metabolism due to its flavonoid content
  4. To reduce cholesterol due to its flavonoid content
  5. As an alternative tutor and cancer therapy from its antioxidants and alkaloids
  6. To reduce the fats in the blood due to its flavonoid content
A noted point is pregnant women and post-natal women shouldn't consume this.

I checked around for dried Mahkota Dewa fruit and the price ranges from RM 50-60 per 100 gm.  As I cannot verify that it is organically produced nor using the method that least introduces contaminants, I decided to make my own.  I produce the tea by first harvesting mature fruits, slicing and dehydrating them.  Traditionally, it is sun-dried but I prefer to dehydrate so as not to introduce contaminants.  Once dried, it can be stored
for many months - at least 3 months - though I tend to prepare mine at regular intervals.
I use a claypot to are my tea, about 10gm per litre of water.  I bring it to a boil and allow it to cool in the claypot before drinking it.  It looks like regular tea and the taste is slightly bitter (like when you are too strong tea) with fruity undertones.  To make it more bland, you can always add more water to dilute it but I find that it is not necessary.
With all the benefits and the taste, I find it easy to add it to my regular drinks list.  In case you wonder what is on my regular drinks list, they are misai  kucing tea, soursop leaves tea, Bentong ginger and turmeric drink, Roselle (tea and drink) as well as variations of calamansi drinks (with lemongrass or bunga telling).  With this variety, I am never bored but I feel that it makes going organic and natural brings lots of benefits to my health maintenance.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Bedroom must-have plant: Mother-in-law plant or Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

As part of natural therapy and incorporating simple ideas into our daily lives, I began to look for plants that improves our environment.  For me, hands-down, this is the plant to have in every bedroom and not just one, tiny plant but several if you have the room.  The Sansevieria trifasciata has 2 main varieties that most of us are familiar with: the one with the yellow stripe along the leave outer edge is also known as the Mother-in-law plant and the one without the stripe is knows as the Snake plant.  Both have geometric patterns that look like scales all over the leave except for the edges.

This plant is very easy to care for as it requires minimal sunlight as well as can withstand long periods without watering.  What this means is if you place the plant near a window that gets minimal sunlight, you are set.  If you place it in a space that receives no sunlight, just let it sunbathe once in a while.  If you are one of those who always forget to water the plants, this plant can tolerate weeks of not watering.  so, when you remember, you water it.  I know of no other plant that is so resilient and easy to care for.

For barely caring for this plant, you reap tremendous benefits.  It is one of the best natural air purifiers and has had numerous studies done including by NASA which has ranked it as the top plant for air purifying as it purifies over 100 different toxins including formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and nitrogen oxide.   The main source of xylene is the automotive exhaust and various solvents.  It is also released in petroleum processing such as refineries.  So, if you have an office at a refinery, you should have this plant in your office.  You can read more on the toxicology report published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).  Formaldehyde is also commonly emitted from furnishings such as wood or plywood furniture, carpets as well as from automotive combustions.    A more detailed report on emissions can be found in an article from the U.S. National Institute of Health as well as other regulatory bodies.  Formaldehyde affects your respiratory system and is also classified as a carcinogen.  With new furniture, it may emit for several months.  So, if you just move into a new home, an easy way to detoxify the air is by having this plant throughout your house.  Formaldehyde can also be emitted from candle burning, incense burning and cooking - activities which seem harmless.  You can research more into the other toxins but you can be assured, there is nothing good about them.  Just by having this plant in your home or office space, you can improve your air quality substantially and it is a painless method that requires very little effort on your part but delivers tremendous benefits.

Unlike most other plants which use oxygen at night, this plant releases oxygen.  So while your body is doing its repair work while you sleep at night, you are also getting "oxygen therapy".  The leaves are not toxic so the plant is safe around children and pets unlike the money plant, which has toxic leaves.

As a result, over the last month, I have been seriously cultivating the plant and placing it all over my home, especially in the bedrooms.  I also place it in the bathrooms.  This is one plant that I think is wonderful as a air purifies and providing additional oxygen at night whilst requiring very little effort on the owners part.  I can think of no reason not to have this plant in our homes.  Can you?

SHL Edible Products: Going forward

It has been over 10 years since I embark on my organic agriculture journey and over the years, I have planted over 100 types of plants and trees, researched and experimented the use and benefits and processing some of them to form products, a step beyond its natural form.  As I move to the future, I have made moves to streamline our produce and plants.

I have a keen interest in making food as medicine and to make it as a normal part of our daily diet with the ultimate aim at preventing diseases and illnesses whilst at the same time having therapeutic values. This is a way to adjust our diets without making it a chore and working through natural healing which takes time.  I am not a medical practitioner nor do I presume to be an expert.  However, I do consume what I produce and it is a tenet of the farm that we do not sell edibles that we do not eat ourselves.  What I produce for my own consumption is what we in turn productize.

All the products are based on what we grow at the farm as it is important for me that the source materials are as clean as possible from toxic chemicals either from the ground or what is used during its growth and processing.  I have streamlined our  products to those that I find is easiest to consume and with loads of benefits

Bentong ginger and turmeric
Ginger and turmeric are well-known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties as well as for the benefits for reducing cholesterol, improving the immune system and digestive system.  Our concentrate also includes black pepper to further aid in the absorption of curcumin into the body.  This combination aids in the healing of many inflammatory based illnesses like gout, many forms of arthritis, and muscle pains.  It also has anti-cancer properties especially for the digestive system as studies found that it kills the heliotrope bacteria which is found to support activation of cancer cells in the digestive system.
There are many ways to consume our concentrate:
  • Dilute with water – either hot or cold to make a drink that can also be sweetened
  • Use in your cooking to add flavor

Blue Pea Flower (Bunga Telang Biru)
This flower can be used as a natural food coloring and is a must if you want to create authentic nai kerabu – using blue coloring is just not authentic or good for you.  The flowers are dehydrated and it can be stored in a cool, dry area or in the refrigerator for longer term storage.
Like many colored natural food, this flower is rich in antioxidants.  Another property that it naturally has is as an anti-depressant.  It can be used to create a blue-colored drink and when mixed with calamansi juice, turns purple and can serve as a relaxing drink after a stressful day.
In traditiinal or alternative therapy, it used:
  • To Improve eyesight and eye strain
  • As a blood cleanser
  • To detoxify
  • To relieve stress
It is a great source for vitamin A and C.  The main acids in this fruit is citric acid and ascorbic acid.  Using cold-pressed pure juice, I have created the following
  • Pure calamansi juice which can be turned into a drink on its own by diluting or used in flavouring cooking
  • Pure calamasi juice with lemongrass which brings the benefits of lemongrass as well as a refreshing flavour
  • Pure calamasi juice with blue pea flower (bunga telang) which adds more antioxidant properties

Cat’s whiskers (Misai Kucing)
Our dehydrated Misai Kucing tea is made from the leaves and flowers and can be turned into a drink by steeping in just-boiled water for at least 5 minutes.  It can be served hot or cold.  The many health benefits that have been reported include :
  • It has properties that enables it to be used to regulate the blood sugar hence is used as an alternative treatment for diabetes
  • This herb inhibits blood platelet from sticking together and has powerful hemolytics that can lower blood pressure thus making it an alternative treatment for high blood pressure as well as for reducing cholestrol, which is often used in traditional medicine.
  • This herb has the ability to clean toxins within the blood hence it is also used in traditional herbal medicine in the process of detoxification and in removing metabolic waste within the body.  This in turn makes it a useful addition to weight loss efforts.
  • It also has diuretic properties making it beneficial in the treatment of kidney stones and for flushing the kidney and urinary tract.  It helps to flush out the uric acid as well as block the production of uric acid.  This in turn also helps other conditions such as gout and inflammation of joints due to high uric acid levels in the body

Another health property of this herb is its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory hence its use in the herbal treatment for athritis and rheumatism

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Only in the last decade or so that this much maligned oil has been proven to be good for you.  It has strong antiviral and antibacterial properties as well as being rich in lauric acids.  Amongst its benefits are:
  •  Improving the immune system
  • Improving the brain cells regeneration 

It is often used in alternative therapies such as:
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Viral infection including flus and colds

It can be consumed on its own or incorporated into you cooking and even in flavoring coffees.

Gingertorch (Bunga Kantan)
Gingertorch is a popular addition to flavor dishes especially laksa, asam pedas and various other local Malaysian dishes and a must-have for many in nasi kerabu.  

Sometimes it is hard to find and when fresh, doesn’t last long.  So I decided to produce dehydrated ginger torch flower which can be stored in the cupboards or for longer storage, in the refrigerator so that it is on-hand when you want it.

It has antioxidant properties.  In traditional or alternative therapy, it is used:

  • as a blood cleanser
  • to increase mother's milk during post-natal
  • to reduce body smell

A popular herbal spice which can be used to make a tea or in cooking which has been dehydrated to make a dried lemongrass flakes which can be stored in a cool, dry area or the refrigerator for longer term storage.  To make a tea, just steep in just-boiled water and serve hot or cold, sweetened or not.  It has high antioxidant , antiviral and antibacterial properties.  In alternative therapies, it is used for:
  • Digestive system problems
  • Treatment of certain types of cancers
  • High blood pressure
  • Rheumatism

Roselle is rich in vitamins A and C and is good for the immune system.  Amongst its properties is it is anti-oxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.  Based on a study by Purdue University, it is high in calcium, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin C and iron.  It is also caffeine-free hence it can be made as an after-dinner tea for those who cannot consume caffeine after late afternoon or they have a hard time sleeping.  It has anti-hypertensive properties so it is also good for people with hypertension of high blood pressure.
We have 3 different types of products:
  •   Roselle concentrate which also contains the calyces
  •  Roselle tea concentrate which is made from the leaves
  • Dehydrated Roselle tea which you can make a drink by steeping in just-boiled or hot water and sweeten to taste if desired.

The concentrates need to be stored refrigerated and can last at least 3 months.  It can be used in cooking to make jelly or in dishes that you want to have a sour flavor addition like assam pedas and singgang. 

The tea leaves should be stored in a cool dry place, just as you would store any other tea.  The drinks help chemotherapy patients as it helps to flush out the toxins from the body as well as helps to improve the immune system. It is a good alternative drink especially for children.  It has often to likened to Ribena.

The snakegrass tea is produced by dehydrating mature leaves and crushed to form loose tea leaves.  It is prepared by steeping in just-boiled water for at least 5 minutes.  In traditional and alternative therapies it is used to treat:
  •  Certain types of cancer such as lymphatic, ovarian, breast and prostate cancer
  •  Kidney disease
  •  Improving the immune system
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Lowering blood pressure

We created soursop tea by dehydrating it mature leaves and crushing them.  It is prepared into a drink just like any normal herbal tea, using just-boiled water and allowed to steep for at least 5 minutes.
Based on research by USDA:
  •  It is an excellent source of vitamin C
  • Has a high fiber content which can prevent constipation
  • Contains half the potassium in bananas which can help prevent leg cramps
  • Its high magnesium content can help prevent water retention especially for women who experience this in PMS.
  • Good source of thiamin, the B vitamin needed for aerobic energy production, the process where oxygen is used to convert sugar into usable energy 
  • Loaded with the trace material copper which is essential for healthy bones.  It also helps boost the effectiveness of vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of calcium.
  • A good source of niacin which studies have shown to have significant benefits on levels of HDL, the good cholesterol
  • Good source of folate which is a mineral that is recommended to prevent deficiencies during pregnancy for pregnant women.
  • Good source of iron, an essential element in the body producing healthy red blood cells
  •  Rich in riboflavin where studies have shown can help prevent migraines.

With the iron and vitamin K, it promotes red blood cells production hence it is good for anemic but not for people with DVT and similar “rich blood” illnesses.  It is rich in antioxidants and is often used as either complementary or alternative treatment of certain types of cancer.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Our ancestors are clever: Coconuts beyond coconut milk

I remember when I was very small - and we won't say how many years ago, hahaha - in the kampong, my grandmother and aunty would gather very matured coconuts where the outer husk was brown, peel them, grate them and squeeze the coconut milk from them and start the process of cooking the
oil over wood fire.  It would take hours to cook the coconut milk until what was left was the oil and the brownish black solid clumps.  My parents would tell me stories of how when they were kids, the highlight of this process was getting to eat these coconut clumps with rice and how tasty it was.
Coconut oil was the staple oil and without them knowing the science behind this, this is virgin coconut oil which is good for them and now being touted for all the benefits.

Used to be that almost everyone in the villages would grow coconut trees and many produced their own oil.  Over the decades, some researchers and Big Businesses made coconut oil into the villain saying how it was bad for you because of the high fat content.  Bg Businesses were out to promote their own oils from corn and soya bean as examples.  Then GMO came into play and more corn and soya bean could be produced  albeit with chemical content and this made it cheaper (although you pay extra because it was imported and so-called branded) so our markets were flooded with it.  It was touted as being healthy for you and easily available.  Coconut oil began to die.

Fortunately, there were good researchers who did further research when they saw that people who relied on coconut oil didn't get heart attacks, lower brain diseases and were healthy.  This lead to the differentiation of fats and the discovery that coconut fats were medium-chain triglycerides or fatty acids (MCFA) and does not contain any trans fats.  Some medical researchers also found that coconut oil is not glucose-based but it converts to ketones which is easily used by the brain to rebuild or repair brain cells.  It was found that it could prevent or even cure, in some cases, Alzheimer's and reverse some effects of other brain nerve diseases.  No wonder my great grandmother had a good memory with no major diseases and we think she was at least over 90 (hard to say as those days there were no birth certificates).  Being the energy source is non-glucose base, it also doesn't provide food for cancer cells.  This makes it a good oil for some cancer patients as not only does it not promote cancer cells, it also provides immunity building benefits which is especially good for those undergoing chemotherapy.

The coconut water from young coconuts is a traditional way of cooling fevers as well as used for detoxification of the body system.  With our hot and humid climate, drinking fresh coconut water is a
healthy option and it tastes good.  The flesh from the coconut has a high fiber content as well as vitamin C, E. B1, B3, B5 and B6 as well as iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.  So guess what, those curry dishes that grandma used to make with coconut oil for sautéing the spices and condiments and then adding the coconut milk and then fish, chicken or beef was good for you.  So for guilt-free healthy curries, go back to the way that our ancestors made them.  Of course, be sure the protein you add is also good or as good as you can get them.  So when you think of it, most of our traditional dishes are healthy if we revert to how it was done then and going local is the best option.

In the old days, they didn't have freezers so producing coconut oil using cold-pressed permaculture method wasn't an option.  Nowadays, this is possible so you no longer have to stand over a fire for hours to make your own coconut oil.  The trade-off is it now takes days as you have to freeze, defrost, freeze and defrost before you can get to the straining part to produce the oil.  Needless to say, the uses of the oil produced is not only for cooking tasty dishes but also used in healthcare, skin care and hair care and makes a good oil base for for herbal infusions as well as in natural soap making.

From producing coconut milk, you get the so-called coconut flesh "waste".  To me, this is just another product.  In the olden days, you use this to feed the chickens and
without them knowing the science behind it, this is actually a super food for chickens as it contains antiviral, antibacterial, as well as other properties which keeps the chickens healthy without the need for all those antibiotic shots that are used nowadays.  It also promotes egg production.  See, our ancestors are clever.  In the autoimmune protocol diet as well as gluten-free diet, this grated flesh can also be processed into flour making coconut flour.  Just dry it and mill it and you get an alternative flour.

So do as our ancestors do, plant coconut trees :)
A related article to this is >>

Monday, 29 May 2017

Our ancestors are clever: Beyond raw tapioca to Starch and flour

We plant 2 varieties of tapioca or cassava (ubi kayu) at the farm: Ubi kayu pulut and Ubi kayu merah.  This articles focusses on ubi kayu pulut.  I have heard stories of how this particular variety was planted during the Japanese occupation of the then Malaya and was the replacement for rice as all the rice was confiscated by the Japanese for their consumption.  This particular variety is soft and melts in your mouth.  It doesn't take long to cook it and cooks in less then 15 minutes when steamed and I find that it is best steamed as it has that fluffy texture.  Sometimes when we harvest I get tubers that are big wishing at 5-6 kg thus not popular among our customers as it is too big.  Some are scared to buy it thinking that it is probably hard like the root.  So we often end up with consuming it ourselves and since it is so big, we also share with the chickens and dogs.

Now I have found a solution for these big tubers as well as excess tubers: to turn them into tapioca starch and flour.  After researching and experimenting, I found that it is not difficult to make them.  I choose this variety because you end up with pristine white starch and flour - no bleaching, refining,  etc. needs to be done to make it white.  It would be a shame to contaminate organically grown tubers with chemicals to produce starch and flour.  What I end-up with is organic, gluten-free starch and flour that can be used in many ways.  Growing up, I remember my grandmother, great-grandmother and mother producing traditional dishes with tapioca both savoury and sweet.  In doing my research, I find it interesting in how it has been maligned as a prohibited food for diabetics in favour of the other Big Business commercial crops but it turns out that studies done in people with a high content of their diet being tapioca has negligible to low occurrence of diabetes.  It is now classified as a low glycemic index food.

First, you rinse off all the soil from the outer skin.  The tubers are coated with 2 levels of skin: (1) the brown grainy texture layer that you see and (2) the pink on the outside and white on the inside layer.  Both layers need to be removed to reveal the white-fleshed tuber.  I cut them into big chunks so that I can handle them easier when I grate them.  I just use a hand grater and grate them using the same size that I use for parmesan cheese.  Being a "soft" tuber, it is easy to grate them as they slide easily over the grater.

Once you have the grated tapioca in a bowl - you can use plastic, metal or
glass bowls - I will add enough water to cover the grated tapioca.  Be sure you use a large enough bowl to allow room for swishing the tapioca in the water without spilling.  I let it sit in water for about 10 minutes and then I swish the mixture or using a spoon stir them rapidly for a couple of minutes.  You will find that the water has turned chalky white.  Place the mixture in a cloth strainer and strain the liquid.  Be sure to squeeze the mixture well to get as much of the liquid out of it.  I tend to use a piece of muslin cloth which I will wring to squeeze all the liquid out of the mixture.

The end result is a chalky liquid and grainy, semi-dry lumpy solids solids.  The chalky liquid will produce the tapioca starch or in Malay tepung kanji ubi kayu  and the grainy solid will produce the tapioca flour or cassava flour or in Malay, tepung ubi kayu.  Place the grainy solids in a cool, dry area overnight covered with a cloth to prevent unwanted "visitors" or contaminants from entering.

Leave the chalky liquid in a container for a couple of hours and you will see that it has separated into two: a yellowish liquid on top and a white sludge at the bottom.  Pour away the liquid and retain the sludge which is actually the tapioca starch.  Let the starch dry overnight by leaving it in the container in a cool, dry area covered with a cloth.  The next day, you will find that whatever liquid was left in the starch will be at the top - remove this and you will find that the starch has hardened.  It is now ready for use.
You can break it up by raking with a fork and place in a container for storage.  I tend to keep it in the refrigerator as it does not have any preservative or additives.  I am not sure how long it lasts as I tend to use it all up within a short period of time.  The starch produced is a great binding agent so I use it when I make fish balls, prawn balls, squid cakes and meatballs and I do not have to worry when I serve it that anyone with allergies to gluten or nuts or grains cannot eat them.  Another great use for it is as a thickening agent to thicken sauces and gravy.  Unlike corn starch which is most probably made from GMO-corn, I do not have to worry about chemical contaminants using tapioca starch.

Using ubi kayu pulut, the solids that you obtained after straining is almost ready-to-use flour.  You can just run it through a grinder or food processor and you will get a fine flour.  For most of our local sweet dishes, you do not have to further process it.  As this variety is not fibrous, it really works well when just using it as is to make bingka ubi kayu (tapioca pie), lepat ubi kayu, and many other dishes. For people who have to be on gluten-free, nut-free or grain-free diets due to health and/or allergy reasons, this flour  and the starch flour is the flour of choice as it contains no gluten, not from grain nor it it from nuts or seeds.  It is also for people on autoimmune protocol diet.  The flour is high in carbohydrates, good dietary fiber and vitamin C, low in fat, sugar and micronutrients so is a good replacement flour for people who are diabetic and with high blood pressure.

Another of our locally-grown plant that serves as food in multiple ways which is easy to grow and can be added to you ground-based garden (it doesn't do so well in pots).

Monday, 8 May 2017

EVCO (Extra Virgin Coconut Oil) - My wonder oil

Over the last year, I have been carrying out research as well as experiments on producing and consuming this wonderful oil - EVCO.  We live in a country that coconut trees can flourish and it can be planted organically without much effort.  When I first started the farm, I planted several trees and over the years, I have continued to add more trees.  There are so many varieties of coconut trees so I just basically split it into 2 groups:  (1) for cooking and producing oil and (2) for consuming fresh.  Naturally, I choose pandan coconut for consuming fresh due to its sweetness and nice pandan aroma.
For cooking and producing oil, I choose varieties that producing good yield of coconut milk and that has high "oil" content when mature.

In this article, I will focus on the production of EVCO.  The trees that I chose for this purpose takes an average of 5 years before it starts fruiting.  These trees are not tampered with to induce fruit production nor do we use any pesticides or herbicides at the farm.  From flowering, it takes about 9 months for the fruit to mature to the level I desire.  I continue to plant more trees over the years to increase the future yield since I realised how great EVCO is.  We are planning to continue to add more trees as we refine our farm operations.  As it is, we have to work hard to keep up with our demand so at the moment, we do not offer it to retail outlets but sell it directly.

The average shelf life of properly stored EVCO is 18 months and we are continuously producing them in batches.  We use cold-pressed permaculture method to produce our EVCO.  This ensures that we produce quality EVCO.  The main difference between EVCO and VCO is the use of fresh coconut to produce the coconut milk and no artificial heat is used in the process.  Living in a tropical country, the day's heat is sufficient in the process.  The use of copra (dried coconut) is often used in VCO and we do not do this because we do not want to introduce any contaminants that can occur during the drying process.  There are many ways to make EVCO which you can easily find the method in books and e-publications.  In purchasing EVCO, it is important to ensure that is has not been refined, produced using heat that causes hydrogenation or have any chemical added during the process for whatever reason.  It is currently a hot item so be aware so that you get what you think you paid for.  As always, know your source.

The beauty of EVCO is it is not hydrogenated oil and contains no trans-fat.  It is also unrefined.  Yes, it contains saturated fats but the good kind - the medium-chain triglycerides also known as MCFA (Medium Chain Fatty Acids).  MCFA are easy to digest and processed by the liver to produce energy and do not easily get stored by the body as fat - a plus for me as I do not want to store more body fats.  It has a high lauric acid contain and a good amount of choline.  There are many documented benefits of EVCO with the main ones of interest for me being:
  1. good for the immune system with its anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties and acts as a natural antibiotic
  2. good for the brain health and preventing diseases like Alzheimers - something important as we age
  3. good for the heart.
  4. stomach cancer prevention as it is know to kill helicobacter pylori bacteria which increases the risk of stomach cancer.  Moreover, because the energy source is the ketones as opposed to glucose, cancer cells are not able to access it.
I take 1 additional tablespoon as soon as I feel a flu coming on as so far, it has worked well for me.  I am a believer in preventing the flu is better than taking loads of antibiotics.  The main difference being with EVCO, I build my immune system to fight the virus versus taking antibiotics which does damage to me by killing the good as well as the bad organisms and especially upsetting my digestive system balance.

On a daily basis, I consume at least 1 tablespoon of EVCO and I found that there are many ways of consuming it.  Part of the fun of eating it as food for medicine as opposed to medicine for food is to be able to enjoy it.  Whilst some people take it by consuming 1-2 tablespoon as if you a taking medicine, that has little appeal to me and takes the enjoyment out of it.  To me, doing it this way tends to lead to boredom which leads to it being a chore and people tend to stop doing it.  I add it to my diet as normal food consumption.  There are so many ways but some of the ways that I incorporate it into my daily living is:
  1. Adding it to my morning coffee turning it to a tasty, coconut latte.
  2. Adding it to my beaten eggs when I make omelettes adding flavour to the eggs.
  3. Mixing with calamansi, herbs, sea salt and black pepper to make a rich flavour salad dressing
  4. Drizzling on cooked rice while it is hot giving it a coconut flavour.
  5. Brushing it on a piece of bread and placing it on a hot pan or grill to toast it
  6. Adding to vegetable dishes either for a stir-fry or even after the vegetable is cooked like tossing cooked french beans with it.
  7. Brushing it on the bread when making garlic bread
  8. Drizzling it over fresh tomatoes and season with sea salt and other herbs
  9. Tossing cooked pasta with it
  10. Adding it to pancake mix when making pancakes
For my son, I add about 10 drops to his milk so he can drink and enjoy his milk without the feeling of eating medicine.  I feel this is an important component in supporting his immune system to prevent flus and colds.

Apart from consuming it, I also use it in my hair care and skin care.  I pour about the size of the 10 cents coin in my palm and work it through my scalp and hair to prevent dry scalp and hair.  I do this at least twice a week and this keeps my hair manageable (I have coarse and curly hair which can get tangled up so this keeps it tangle-free).  For my skin, I produced indian borage infused EVCO which I apply to my skin to moisturise and prevent dry skin.  I even use this infusion on my face at least a couple of times a week to keep it moisturised and improve the condition of my skin - my wrinkle prevention regime.  In this aspect, I do not worry about any chemicals being contained in my skin care.  For a mosquito repellant when I am going to areas that have lots of mosquitoes, I use EVCO infused with citronella - no funny chemicals required.

I look forward to continuing to learn more about the benefits of EVCO and its application.  I look forward to trying out different infusions for EVCO.  I hope I will have time to get into natural soap making as I think EVCO will provide for a great ingredient in producing natural soap.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

SHL Development: Planning for 2018 and the future

After almost 8 years of developing the farm, both from the physical development to the product development, and after numerous experiments and tests from produce and products to marketing them, 2018 will bring some major changes to how we do things.  It is the fine-tuning of what we have been doing and also changes to how I want to spend my time.  One of the aspects that I love of what I do now is being able to produce nutrients-rich products.  The idea of enjoying tasty drinks that delivers nutrients that my body needs so that it becomes a natural part of my life is something that I want to promote to everyone.  Consuming natural food as opposed to processed and chemical enhanced food is something that I advocate.  Consuming natural food also doesn't mean that you need a lot of time to prepare for the food nor does it mean expensive - often people forget to add the cost of medical services, supplements to their diet, etc.

In streamlining our end-products from the farm would be, we will have basically four types:
  1. SHL natural drink concentrates and teas
  2. Fruits and selected vegetables
  3. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (EVCO)  
  4. Fish
SHL Natural drink concentrates and teas
Over the last two years, we have market tested several varieties of drinks and teas based on what we grow at the farm.  Based on our finding as well as on what I love due to its taste and benefits, the selection was made.  The underlying principle is that it has to be organically-grown and provides nutrients and therapeutic benefits.  All our concentrate drinks are unsweetened and the choice to sweeten or not is left to the consumer.  The concentrates that we will produce are:
  1. Bentong Ginger and Turmeric
  2. Roselle concentrate
  3. Roselle probiotics concentrate
  4. Cold-pressed calamansi juice
  5. Cold-pressed calamansi juice with lemongrass
  6. Cold-pressed calamansi juice with blue sweet pea flower extract
The dried teas that we will produce are:
  1. Misai Kuching Tea
  2. Soursop Leaves Tea
  3. Roselle Leaves Tea
We will also produce other products in this category based on special bulk request.

Fruits and selected vegetables
Over the years, we have planted many types - over 40 types - and I have learnt a lot from it.  We will streamline this down to the following:
  1. Cabbage
  2. Kailan
  3. Choy sum (sawi)
  4. Spinach
  5. Long green beans
  6. French beans
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Pumpkin
  9. Mini cucumbers
  10. Corn
This will provide for a selection from leafy, to crunchy to fleshy and my favourites.  The area that we will use for planting them will also be streamlined.  We will also plant other vegetables but this will be in smaller quantity and mainly additional types of vegetables for my family.

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
For me, this is oil of choice from its numerous benefits to it creamy, nutty taste.  The coconut trees that we have planted years ago started to fruit last year and as it matures will provide us with the base ingredients although it will not be like the large, plantations.  We plan to start adding coconut trees, selecting the variety so that we can have good harvests of coconut in the years ahead.  We use permaculture cold-pressed method which is time-consuming but produces the purest form of the coconut oil.  The production of EVCO has some down-time so it works well in scheduling our task and activities.

For 2018, we are targeting producing 50 bottles a month.  By commercial standards, this is not much but we aim at ensuring quality production and become the regular supplier to our existing customers and gain new customers due to the quality and taste of our EVCO.  On the personal side, this is something that I can see myself doing as I age as it doesn't involve much physical activity but more on patience and attention to detail.

This year, our fish pond is undergoing a major renovation, to allow us to better manage our fish operations as well as providing for better environment for our fish.  We are building walls all along the pond which is shaped like a flowing river as well as sectioning it.  Experts has indicated that we can have at least 500,000 fishes at any one time but I highly doubt that is what we will do in 2018.  However, it does leave us with substantial growth capacity.  What is important for me is that we produce quality, "sweet" tasting fish without the nasty door often associated with fresh water fish. Over the years we have experimented with different feed, water conditions, pond maintenance and fish rearing practice and we have learnt a lot.  To date, we have received no complaints on our fish and many are surprised at the taste.  We do not introduce any waste products such as carcasses and chicken innards as feed to the fish and we will continue this policy.  I eat my fish and I certainly do not like muddy-taste, smelly fish.  I also like to choose the method of cooking from steaming to frying to roasting so the taste of fish is important.
By middle of this year, we will re-start our fish operations which means the earliest harvest will be in 2018.  The farm dogs play a role in our fish operations as they catch the monitor lizard (biawak) and the river otters (mermerang) which can cause substantial loss of the fish population.  The investment put in to build a wall around the property has also helped to reduce the invasion of the river otters.  We are working on minimising external dependence on feed.  Keeping the water flow optimum is important as with the in-flow of water, comes natural food in the form of small river fish and shrimps, which would provide the proteins.  At the same time, we feed them "greens".  Our choice of feed and constant water flow has definitely made an impact on the quality and taste of the fishes.

MyOrganic Certification
We are currently undergoing certification and hope to have the certification by 2018.  This will definitely be an achievement for us as well as a validation of our practice.

Fertilisers and Pest Control
We will continue to produce our fertilisers and pest control products which we use at the farm.  It will be made available for sale on request.  For me, it is important that I continue to have truly organic fertilisers that have not had the source materials be contaminated by chemical pesticides or herbicides.  It also serves as a way for me to recycle my organic wastes and I look forward to the addition of goat manure as an ingredient in my fertilisers.

Sales and marketing
I have always believed in selling directly to my customers but the toll of doing market every Sunday whilst still producing is getting harder.  As such, we will probably cease to do Sunday morning market in 2018 but focus more on "order selling".  I know it will probably be tough in the beginning as I build a customer list but the plan is to provide delivery to the customer door-step and delivery charges will be subject to minimum order and area of delivery.  We will set-up 2 days where we will do the delivery

I love hosting events and having people visit the farm so this is one area that we will still continue to do.  In shaa Allah, we will have an Open Farm Day focussing on selected plants and products in support of having your own garden as well as our fresh farm produce, and also Durian Fest where you can come and buy "original" durians and eat at the farm or bring it home and whatever other fruits and vegetables we have available for sale at that time.  A new event that I am thinking of doing a "Restaurant Pop-Up Day" to coincide with our fish harvest featuring our fish and vegetables and fruits, and drinks from the farm with a limited number of seats.    I love challenges and I think this "Restaurant Pop-Up" event will be one.

So, all in all, although 2018 is many months away, I am sure that time will seem to fly by.  However, having devised a plan and direction, it will help in us working our way through the rest of 2017.  Being agriculture-based, things need time to grow and produce many things need to be planned months or even years ahead :)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Jambu Madu: What I didn't know

Our beautiful Malaysian weather enables us to grow and produce lots of fruits and vegetables. Another of the fruits that is rich with benefits is the Jambu Madu.  I always felt that there was more to jambu madu (scientific name:  Syzygium samarangense) or the English name : Rose Apple, which is indigenous to the Malay Peninsula so I decided to research this fruit.  Lo and behold, it has many benefits.  At the farm, we have 2 trees which produces fruit in abundance about 3 times a year.  Hence I also wanted to know what to do with them and also how to get the most out of it.  Being a fruit with high water content, growing it organically is important to ensure it is not contaminated internally.

I most often consumed it raw, sometimes with a dip, and especially on hot days as I find that it has a cooling effect for me.  It has a water content ratio similar to the watermelon.
Based on various research studies, this fruit is found to have several benefits such as :

  1. the ability to detoxify the liver
  2. lower cholesterol
  3. protect against diabetes
  4. improve immune system
  5. prevent certain types of cancer ( early research indicates it helps prevents prostate and breast cancer)
  6. eliminate fungal and bacterial infections
  7. improves digestive system.
It is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.  I guess as more studies are done, there are bound to be more benefits.

The best time to pick them is when they have turned red and feels very firm.  At this point, the fruit is sweet and crispy such that when you bite into it, it is almost like biting into a juicy apple.  As with many tropical fruits, it doesn't have a long shelf life.  When purchasing them, check to see if they have been sprayed with preservatives.  An easy way is to ask when the fruit was delivered to the stand.  If it has been more than 2 days, chances are it has been sprayed with chemical preservatives and best to clean the fruit properly to remove the preservatives.

Having a high water content makes it a great option for people who juice, delivering lots of vitamin A and C.  Most often, it is consumed raw, with or without a dip.  With the short shelf life, I had to figure out what else I can do with them.  Apart from consuming them raw, I turned them into "ice cream", mixing it with Roselle or Bunga Telang for taste as well as adding other nutrients to a tasty, hot day, snack.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Open Farm Day 14 Apr 2017 - Post Mortem

At the end of every event we have, I will always hold a team meeting where we discuss the feedback from visitors and how the event went.  There were a few differences that we had this year compared with last year's event, most of it due to feedback from our visitors last year.  I find getting feedback is very important and our team meetings are useful to help us in improving.
Our first visitors for the day, also a regular customer at
our Sunday morning market stall
Our visitors visiting the farm.  At one of the sections.

Our food sales area.
Feedback 1 2016: Too bad you didn't have any food for sale
This year, we had a small menu consisting of chicken or fish with rice and a kerabu, durian ice cream, roselle and jambu madu ice cream, a section of drinks all based on our produce from our farm - soursop leaf tea, roselle juice drink, lemongrass and calamansi drink, roselle tea, calamansi and blue pea flower drink, and our only unsweetened drink - missy kucing tea.  We do not use white sugar in our drinks.  We also had 2 types of jellies: roselle jelly and jambu madu and blue pea flower jelly.

Our produce and products sales area
Feedback 2 2016: Difficult to see plants for sale and need to be labelled with variety and price clearly.
This year, we placed the plants for sale on racks and floor in one section, all clearly labelled with plant name and price.  Although we still had a couple of people wanting to take plants from my greenhouse especially the plants that I was doing my research on :).

Feedback 3 2016: Difficult to find the place as there wasn't any signages
We placed a sign indicating the farm name at the junction on the main road as well as at the farm gate.  I had also updated the "Pictorial Guide to Suria Helang Lui Farm" with the latest photos and posted on the event page which many found useful this year.

Feedback 1 2017: "How come the chicken wasn't soft?".
We had one person that complained "How come the chicken wasn't soft?".  As we had indicated prior to the event, the chicken was from our farm, organically reared "kampung" chicken which meant that it was organically reared, free from GMO feed, hormones and antibiotics, and free range.  These chickens are not like your hormone-chicken which are reared to be soft and fluffy.  The meat will be firm.  Judging by how the rest of the visitors that had it ate, it was not an issue that we will worry about.

One of the groups that I took around the
farm for a tour.  Really enjoyed the discussion
Feedback 2 2017: This farm is small.  How come you invite so many people?"
This to me is an interesting feedback from one person.  I have always indicated that I have a small farm of 2.5acres or slightly more than 1 hectare.  This is an event when I open to public for those interested in seeing what we do.  At any one point in time, there was around 50 people at the farm, which is not that many.  Visitors came and went throughout the whole morning and early afternoon.

Feedback 3 2017: The drink is sour, I don't like it.  I want a different one.
The same person who complained about the chicken complained about the soursop tea.  Maybe she didn't realise but soursop has a slightly sour taste - just the name should give an indication.  She just returned the half-consumed drink and took another one without paying for the second.  That's ok, we know we will encounter should people.  Maybe she thought that she was coming to farm that she can treat us farmers with this arrogant attitude which she wouldn't at an eatery in KL.

Feedback 4 2017: How come you don't have proper sitting areas for people to eat?
Enjoyed seeing this family enjoy the day out at the farm
with their children,  They found a spot they liked.
Again, this is a complaint from the same person.  We had indicated that what we prepared was packed lunch and people can choose to picnic anywhere on the farm.  We had a few tables situated in different areas where people can sit as well chair for people to sit.  She and her group finally sat in one area near the barbecue pit and pond to eat. Our other visitors had no problem and found places to enjoy their meal.

Feedback 5 2017: Why is your food ready so late?
I got this feedback at 9.45am.  We were preparing packed lunch so I wasn't expected a visitor to be irritated that it wasn't ready this early.  We had the food out at 10.15am so I guess we could call this a brunch.  Next time we have it, I will have to decide whether we will do brunch or lunch and repeat the announcement of the food a few times.

Feedback 6 2017: "I come so far, so you must get me what I want"
Not sure how we have to respond to this.  I had announced what we have for sale and available.

All in all, I consider the event went well as we had many positive responses from our visitors and they enjoyed the morning out at the farm, discussing issues they had with their gardens, seeing the animals and enjoying the food and drinks as well as the opportunity to buy farm-fresh organically grown fruits and vegetables as well as organic products.  Many also liked that they were able to see for themselves where the produce and products came from.

To the many that asked what is the next event?  The next one, inshaaAllah, will be the Durian Fest which will be organised around July 2017, in a different way from previous years based from the feedback and lessons we learnt from the previous years.