(New) The Basics' Peanut Butter

Obviously, merienda.
Hello internet world! We interrupt this silence to talk about peanut butter.

If you are like me, you often choose not to peanut butter at all versus compromising by eating hotel breakfast peanut butter of the choke-hazard variety (insert memories of Jif). In fact, I prefer the goopy Lily's variety (complete with libreng baso) to those thick, tasteless conglomerate ones. I wish hotels and restaurants serve Lily's, at least.

But anyway, we are now stocking The Basics' Original Muscovado Peanut Butter. We've gotten samples of nut butters over the years, but most of them use palm oil and white sugar, or are made of imported nuts. This jar is pretty much how we would make peanut butter, if we were to make it ourselves (thankfully someone else is concentrating on that, it's not easy).

It's so yummy that around 3/4 of the jar was eaten off the spoon, and not on bread or anything.


Holiday Schedule for 2014

Folks of the internet, behold our holiday schedule! We are quite busy filling orders, and listening to frazzled shoppers unload and freak out about not meeting their gifting deadlines. We say take a break as well, and relax. Don't try to go to all of the parties, and sip a cup of tea beside your beautiful Christmas tree, will you?


(Supplier Visit) Silk Workshop

Bombyx mori at work.

Recently we visited the silk center in Negros Occidental where we source our silk cocoons for facial grooming. It is run by a Japanese lady who also makes marvelous natural dyes and silk products. We are actually looking to carry their wonderful shawls at the shop.They are truly some of the best we've seen so far.

Apparently our climate is perfect for silk production, because we don't need greenhouses to keep the worms warm. The government has been trying to encourage sericulture as an alternative to conventional crop production, and in some places, the people are starting to grow it instead of marijuana (whether that is a good or bad thing, is up to you...).

The silk worms are fed mulberry (Morus alba) leaves. They then spin a cocoon, which is unraveled in hot water and spun into fibers. The pre-unravelled cocoon is what you use for your face, FYI. Here are a few more pictures:

Worm close-up.
Mulberry or Morus alba leaf. The mulberry tree grows super vigorously, almost like a large weed.
Must not let ants eat the worms.


(New) A Ritual Special Project, Mainly Involving Butter

After more than a year of silence on here, we would like to use this blog to introduce the first of our special projects. We have decided to use some of our resources to "incubate" (though we do shudder to use the word for non-egg-related contexts) the development of artisanal, high-quality products suitable for our shelves, and for all shelves clamoring for such things.

We wish to do this by supporting a team of farmers, small producers, and chefs who are happy to develop things from very basic beginnings.We've been around and seen the potential of our land and its produce, but it's gonna take more than our collective efforts as a company.

Our first such project is loosely called "The Butter Project", which we are doing together with chef Jordy Navarra of Black Sheep. The goal is to produce a local butter from pastured (grass-fed) bovines, without artificial colorants and preservatives, beyond food-processor-DIY standards, and something to replace the margarine plaguing our fair islands. Eventually, we hope.

Jordy at a farm together with an actual, partially-black sheep.

Jordy is a talented young man who has put massive effort into bringing Filipino produce into a contemporary dining setting. Black Sheep's signature dish, the Bahay Kubo, actually showcases all the vegetables from the song "Bahay Kubo", which actually gives a rollcall of humble, diversified Filipino garden-farm species. He also bravely serves things that are quite risky because of local diner perception. We applaud him for that, and for many things.

Two prototype butters, for tasting.
Furthermore, his restaurant uses massive amounts of butter (he was one of  those who was really interested during our first butter production runs), so he knows what a good butter tastes like, acts like, behaves like. Last month, we embarked on our first trip with Jordy to Negros Oriental to see the milking process, pasturing process, separation process, and all other processes necessary to get butter.

And the results with one visit were astounding (wait til the coming weeks for even more progress!). After a few days, there was already a secret trick or two developed by Jordy, who donned lab equipment and went where no ordinary person could go (into the dairy lab). His getup and the off-limits nature of the operation left us no choice but to dub the operation "Breaking Butter". Obviously, no meth synthesis was involved. The experience and education was very encouraging for the people running the dairy as well, who were stuck on the confounding question of "Why does ritual want us to make weird-tasting butter?".

A butter tasting at the dairy processing plant. Everyone's first taste of cultured butter.
Tomorrow, we are unveiling the raw cow's milk butter, aged butter (which tastes of a blue-veined cheese), and raw carabao milk butter at Yummy Eats 2014. Come by for a free sample. Remember, these are works in progress. But we feel the quality is getting closer to some of the nicest European butters. Your support will help push us further along to creating the most perfect butter a tropical island can produce.


(New) Wild Cassia, Cinnamomum from Southern Forests

Cassia isn't called "bastard cinnamon" for nothing. It's something that everyone has probably been consuming without knowing it. Many of the cinnamon flavorings that we buy locally are actually cassia of the Cinnamomum burmannii variety, as opposed to Cinnamomum verum, "true" cinnamon, which is much more gently flavored, and, when bought in quill form, close up are like delicate layers of a croissant. If you have purchased cassia in place of cinnamon, they would be sometimes steamed and bent to resemble a large and ungraceful quill. Harvested, they are actually a large piece of bark. It is gnarly and thick and breaks into fragrant shards.

The world of cinnamon is fragmented indeed, with many varieties and names causing a lot of confusion and mixing up in the commercial arena.

Called kalingag or kaningag and used medicinally by locals, the spice was one of the first few that the Spanish took interest in to make their conquest of the islands-- how shall we put it-- feasible. Early accounts from Miguel Lopez de Legazpi illustrate this point with a sense of urgency:

Cinnamon is the only product of the islands which can be made profitable to the Spaniards, until they can secure control of the gold mines, and have them worked.

Much as in the time of Legazpi, bastard cinnamon is most common in the Mindanao area, although we have run across it in Mindoro and Negros. We get ours from a development project in Sultan Kudarat.

It has a very distinct anise note, and is slightly camphorous. It is definitely more pungent and rough than Ceylon cinnamon (you can score some of that from Assad in quills). It marries well with star anise. In fact, it is a main ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder, and can be used in oriental noodle broths and pork recipes. It also figures prominently in a lot of Indian spice powder mixes, if you want to do this, toast it over a pan and grind it in a mortar and pestle or an old coffee grinder (it is pretty tough, so exercise caution here).

Desserts can also benefit from the strength of cassia. Use the pieces of bark to infuse any milk or cream that you will use, heating it and leaving it to absorb the flavor.

If you want to take it as a medicinal beverage, you take a piece of cassia bark and boil it in hot water as locals do to treat high blood pressure and diabetes. Taking too much can limit blood coagulation, but unless you're taking heaps daily, it shouldn't be a problem.

As with  many things at the shop, experimental people have a lot to gain from trying this out. Many people can't get it so fresh that the menthol components are still present. So good on you for living in the Philippines!