Hazy days are here again. Actually, they’ve been here for a few weeks now. According to news reports, we can expect the haze to remain an unwelcome visitor to Singapore till November – Yuck!
Sadly, this has become an annually expected “normal season” in Singapore. Songs and jokes have recently been made about the haze and have aired over local radio and on Facebook. Such are the signs of people in Singapore coming to terms with, or helplessly accepting, the regularity of such conditions even as authorities continue working to mitigate the situation.
What causes it? The slash-and-burn clearing of vast amounts of forests for palm oil in parts of neighbouring Indonesia is largely responsible. While this has gone on for many years, we started noticing it in Singapore about 15 years ago. This was probably due to the increasing scale of slashing-and-burning in proportion with the lucrativeness of the palm oil industry . And it seems to get worse each year. It’s become so bad these last few years that it’s no longer about clouded visibility. When you can smell and taste the haze that shrouds Singapore, feel it coat over your skin, office and home appliances, there’s really nothing normal about this season at all.
A few days ago, I was in our warehouse catching up on the latest on my iPhone: which Very Important Indonesian Person said that insensitive, arrogant, ridiculous and what-not thing, and what concerned and stern replies our own Very Important Singaporean Persons gave. I’ll not go into that discussion in this entry. While it’d be entertaining to get our opinions and moral-high-ground juices going, it’ll not be helpful. It’s essentially Indonesia’s problem to deal with, the slashing-and-burning happening on sovereign Indonesian soil. But there are also suspicions that at least one Singaporean-owned or Singapore-listed company may be involved in such appalling activities. Indonesia has promised justice. Singapore is cooperating. Keeping proper focus is important here.
My gaze, which had left my iPhone and was fixed on the smogginess outside while I wished for our usual nice views back, returned and refocussed on the numerous pallets of fresh produce and other food products we were preparing to load into our 40-foot containers to deliver to a client’s vessel.
What caught my eye was the produce. There was a nice variety of fruits and vegetables. And it got me thinking about how eating some of those fruits and vegetables we were about to ship out would be something positive we could do for ourselves especially at this time.
There were Blueberries. Well known for being packed with antioxidants (the same kinds that make wine good for cardiovascular health, by the way), blueberries also contain vitamins C, which is an essential nutrient for health, and K, which our bodies need for complete synthesis of the proteins required for blood coagulation and to bind calcium to our bones. The blueberries we had that day were richly-coloured, round and plump, so delicious-looking, and oh-so sweet. Ok, I popped a couple of them into my mouth but hey, you have to know your product and ensure its quality, right?
There were Red Raspberries. In the universe of whole foods, raspberries have one of the highest proportions of dietary fibre per total weight – that’s the good stuff. They’re also rich in vitamin C and manganese, which is important for sustaining health, development, metabolism, and as an antioxident. And if all that wasn’t enough goodness, raspberries have extremely low sugar content and no starch. What a bonus!
There were beautiful, sexy-red, condensation-sweating Strawberries. Strawberries are power-packed with vitamin C, and like raspberries, are a good source of manganese. Eating strawberries has been linked to decreasing risks of cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Lab studies have shown that the phytochemicals found in strawberries have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. There are also suggestions that strawberries can lower cholesterol levels and decrease the spike in both blood sugar and blood cholesterol after high-sugar and high-fat meals. Sure sounds like the perfect fruit to have at dessert!
There were sweet, juicy Pineapples. Because they contain an enzyme called bromelain, pineapples help with protein digestion. Now I know why when I had dinner at a churrascaria – a feast-orgy of Brazillian-style BBQ meats – the waiters routinely brought grilled pineapples to the tables to slice and serve. Good digestion ensures our bodies absorb maximum nutrition from the food we eat to help us stay strong and healthy. In addition, pineapples themselves are an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C.
There was Cabbage. The common, humble cabbage is great for hydration – throat relief! – due to its high water content. Cabbages contain vitamin C and folate, which both chlildren and adults need to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anaemia. Another great thing about cabbage: it’s a cheap vegetable to buy and is easily available, making it something that can be eaten on a regular basis.
There was Celery. Another great source of hydration for relief and refreshment. Celery contains good amounts of potassium, which is an important nutrient for the function of living cells and for normal nerve transmissions. Many people use celery in weight-loss diets because it provides low-calorie dietary fibre. I personally like the taste and crunch of raw celery, and it’s also great when used in soups and stews.
There were Carrots. Carrots are naturally sweet and good-tasting because they contain sucrose, fructose and glucose. They are packed with beta-carotene which our bodies metabolise into vitamin A, a nutrient that is important for growth and development, good vision, and the maintenance of our immune system.
There were Lemons. A great source of vitamin C, lemons are an alkalising fruit known to counteract acidity in the body and help maintain overall balance and well-being. Lemons have high citric acid content which is good for aiding metabolism.
There was Beetroot. Beets are actually pretty sweet and one of my personal salad favourites. They are an excellent source of folate and manganese, and also have claims of containing antioxidents. I know some people dislike the “earthy” taste of beets, but I find that the sweetness overpowers the earthiness, and the final taste is refreshing and yummy. There are those who like juicing beets to extract maximum nutrition and if so, the suggestion is to also blend the beet leaves because they contain iron, calcium and beta-carotene.
And there were Cucumbers. Cool, refreshing, crunchy and hydrating – they’re nearly 95% water – cucumbers are a great complement or garnish for many dishes. And they contain a good amount of vitamin K too.
Life must go on and there’s really no point letting the haze spoil all the fun. So, using some of the produce that we supplied our client, here’s my suggestion for a healthy haze-busting meal you can easily prepare at home for your family or that special someone:
Quartered strawberries tossed with finely chopped corriander and mint leaves, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, add a light grating of lemon zest, and finish with a light sprinkling of freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.
Shredded cabbage, chunky-diced beetroot, sliced cucumber, chopped-up hard-boiled egg, tossed together in a salad, seasoned with a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, topped off with a-meat-of your-choice (for me, generous slices of medium roasted lamb loin, pink and juicy in the middle), and a baked potato buried in sour-cream and chopped chives on the side.
Freshly blended pineapple-celery-carrot juice, with a quick squeeze of lemon for a light tangy kick, and a lemon-wedge to decorate the rim of the glass.
Into a bowl of ice cream, gelato or sorbet of your favourite flavour, toss quartered strawberries, halved raspberries, and whole blueberries. Finish off by grating lemon zest over the bowl, and add a leaf or two of mint for a fanciful flourish. I’d go with plain vanilla ice cream personally, for a smooth sweet-milk-tarty combination of flavours, soft-creamy-slightly-crunchy texture, and a clean, vivid contrast of colours.
And since it’s hazy out, it’s the best excuse to stay in after the meal, put on some sexy mood music or a cool movie, or spend time talking with each other about anything (just not the weather), and enjoy a long romantic night with someone you love.
Stay healthy everyone, and enjoy eating healthy too!