Monday, December 24, 2012

I'm Dreaming of a Raw Christmas

In the summer when the weather was hot and produce was plentiful, I couldn't imagine what it might be like to be raw in winter, especially during the winter holidays.

However, while produce varieties aren't the most plentiful in this season, tips for raw holiday feasting are.

Check out this free gift - sign up with your email address and receive  12 different PDF file gifts for tips and recipes for the holidays.

To help get into the holiday spirit, I attended Chef Areeya Marie's Raw Prep Class at the Go Raw Cafe.

Chef Areeya

On the menu was Ree's Spiced Holiday Nog Milk, Herbed Root Vegetable Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette, Country Cornbread Stuffing Rollups, Rosemary Crusted Sweet "Neats" on a bed of Savory Greens, and for dessert, Spiced Pear Crisp with Mango Fig Drizzle.

It was delicious, and as always, Ree's class was fun and informative.  Her Rosemary Crusted Sweet "Neats" inspired me to try to make some holiday "sham" for our holiday meal.

Right now I'm marinating pieces of young Thai coconut meat in a mixture of organic shoyu, maple syrup, ground clove, ground allspice, ground dried onion, ground dried garlic, smoked paprika, sea salt, mustard powder, a drop of liquid smoke,and a smidgen of marjoram and thyme.  I'm hoping that after marinating and dehydrating, the flavors will resemble ham.  We'll call it "sham."  Of course, I realize that the maple syrup is not raw and the liquid smoke is probably not optimal, but at least it isn't cured pig with nitrates!

Here are some links to some recipes and ideas we might try.  Later I'll return and report on how it went.

Raw Wassail

Raw Figgy Pudding

Or perhaps this raw Christmas pudding

I've already commented on this delicious Persimmon Nog

Maybe some Gingerbread Cookies

Walnut Pate


Raw Snowman

Raw Triple Layer Cake 

Excalibur Presents A Healthy Holiday Menu


What a terrific day!  We made a raw Christmas pudding by putting together a mashup of two recipes from the links we posted above.  We used dried fruit without sulfates, and it was mostly raw except for some agave nectar, which can be replaced with dates for those who wish to be 100% raw.

Raw Vegan Christmas Pudding

1 cup hazelnuts, soaked 8 hours and rinsed
1 cup walnuts, soaked 8 hours and rinsed
1/2 cup pecans, soaked 8 hours and rinsed
12 deglet noor dates
4 kalamata string figs
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
5 dried pineapple rings
1/2 cup dried montmorency cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots
juice and zest of two oranges
juice and zest of one lemon
3/4 cup almond pulp
1/2 cup mesquite powder
1/4 cup lucuma powder
1 tsp vanilla bean powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix the nuts and fruit in a large bowl.  Place about 1/3 to 1/2 of the mixture in a food processor, (whatever your machine can handle,) and process until finely chopped.  Repeat with the rest of the mixture.  For added texture, reserve about 1/3 of the chopped mixture to stir back in at the end.  Stir into the remaining 2/3 of the chopped mixture the orange and lemon juice and zest and the dry ingredients, and process again in batches until the mixture starts to bind and form a ball in the machine.  If it doesn't bind, add small amounts of  orange juice, processing until it does.  Return it to the large  bowl and stir in the almond pulp and the reserved chopped fruit and nuts.  At this point the mixture should be approximately the texture of cookie dough.

Form the dough into small cakes using ramekins or cupcake tins.  I used silicone cupcake liners, which worked very well.  Place on a dehydrator screen and dehydrate at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours, or until the cakes begin to shrink away from the sides of the molds.  It smells divine as it's drying!  This made 14 little cakes.

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups macadamia or cashew nuts, soaked 8 hours and rinsed
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla powder
juice and zest of one lemon
1-2 cups water as needed  (if you aren't a 100% raw purist, you could consider adding a bit of dark rum to the water for flavor)

Blend the first 4 ingredients in a high speed blender.  Add just enough water to get it going.  After the mixture is smooth and creamy, continue adding water and blending until it is the thickness you like.

A note about mac nuts vs. cashews:  I think that cashews would be better for this recipe, however in our family some members are allergic to cashews.  I think cashews make a lighter, more velvety topping with a buttery flavor.   

I'll try to write about the "sham" tomorrow. . .

Update on the "sham:"

It did look and taste like ham.  I added dried powdered beet to the marinade, which tinted it pink.  Brushing it with cold-pressed roasted sesame oil at the end of drying gave it a sheen and added to the "meaty" flavor .  Unfortunately, the texture wasn't right.  It turned out more like the texture of chewy baked lasagna noodles than ham, (you know, the ones on the edges of the pan after they get a bit dried out.)  Perhaps with trial and error it will be possible to produce and acceptable "sham."  Or maybe we'll call it hamish.  Because it is rather ham-ish.

The Christmas pudding recipe, on the other hand, is a keeper,  Not only was it good, but it's a bit better each day.

2nd update on the "hamish:"

Yesterday, my husband made "hamish sammiches" by putting the marinated coconut on Ezekiel bread with mustard.  It was good, although it would have been better on raw bread.  I asked him if I should make it again, and he said yes, definitely.  Next time, I'll start sprouting seeds and grain for raw bread when starting the coconut marinade.  That way, by the time we have leftover hamish, we'll have fresh raw bread.

When making hamish, I'll pay closer attention to the texture of each coconut in the beginning of the process.  In young Thai coconuts, the texture of the meat varies in each fruit, and you never know what will be inside before you open it.  My current theory is that the thicker, firmer coconut meat should be reserved for making milk or cream, and the thinner, softer meat makes more tender hamish. 

I am under the impression that many of the more seasoned raw foodists don't bother with trying to make fruits and vegetables taste like meats and cheeses.  They mostly consume green juices, smoothies, salads, raw soups, and occasionally raw nori sheets and maybe some almond butter.  We eat a lot of that too, but we are still in transition.  I don't want my family to feel as if they are missing anything.  We like the flavors and textures of meats and cheeses, we just don't like the consequences of eating them.  Perhaps, gradually, as time goes by, we will eat fewer raw desserts, raw "uncheeses," "hamish," etc.  For now, we enjoy them.

Many thanks to Chef Areeya for the tips and inspiration to make raw food appealing and accessible for everyone. 

Raw Food Express

In a previous post I observed that there are three raw vegan restaurants in Las Vegas.  There are actually four, and I'd like to do a writeup of each of them, starting with a recent visit to the Raw Food Express.

The first time we visited the Raw Food Express, it was strictly for convenience.  One of my children had a medical appointment that ended at 5:00 p.m., and the other had a dance rehearsal that started at 6:00  We didn't have time to go home to eat in between.  Fortunately, Raw Food Express was minutes away from the dance studio.  I called my husband and asked if he could meet us there for dinner.

Upon arrival we were expecting something like every other cafe we have visited, but there were some important differences.

Raw Food Express

The main difference is the way the food is presented.  I had explored the website to look at the menu before we left the house, and as a result I was anticipating typical menu ordering upon arrival.  However, this is not quite the way it works.  If you pop in on the spur of the moment you can select your food from the deli case, which is refreshed throughout the day.  Clients who prefer to order from the menu may call in their orders in the morning at (702) 992-0499 in order to pick up their food for lunch or dinner.

Chef Xavier

Another difference is Chef Xavier Dillard, who is the grandson of the owner of the restaurant.  Warm, gentle, kind, and passionate about raw food, Chef Xavier takes the time to explain the concept, and serves samples of the food to try before you make your selection.  By the time you are finished eating, it almost seems as if you have been a guest in a private home.  More than a chef, he is also a good host.

The food:  the flavors are very similar to the raw food that we eat at home.  Our palates are adjusted to raw food, and so to us the fresh flavors of deliciously combined raw fruits and vegetables speak for themselves. I'd love to know if newcomers to raw food have the same reaction.  My experience was that the fresh flavors exploded in my mouth and it made me feel renewed and energized within minutes of eating it.

The first time we went to Raw Food Express we were in a bit of a rush, so we didn't have time for sampling.  The four of us shared the spicy red bell pepper hummus, the crispy corn confetti salad, the mac "chicken" salad wraps,  and the apple sauce with cinnamon.  It was tasty and satisfying.

Lebanese Salad

Zucchini Pasta Alfredo

The second time we ate there, my husband and I arrived without the children so that we could focus solely on the food.  We each had a Lebanese Salad, shared an order of the Zucchini Pasta Alfredo, and topped it off with the Chocolate and Vanilla Peanut Butter Balls, washing it down with alkalized water and Chef Xavier's delicious "The Works" Smoothie.  The alkalized water was offered free of charge with the meal.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls, Vanilla Peanut Butter Balls

During both visits, our meals were delicious and affordable, and Chef Xavier was a pleasure to meet.  We walked in hungry, and walked out feeling quite full and happy.

Chef Xavier offers something called "The Smoothie Program." so that his clients can order fresh smoothies to take home in larger quantities.  He created his delicious signature smoothie, "The Works" as a way to introduce fresh vegetables into his own diet. He says about the smoothie program, "To maximize the benefits you have to do something on a consistent basis.  So people would come in here every day or every other day, drinking a smoothie."

Now he offers 32 oz. size containers that people take home with them.  They can put it in the refrigerator, and drink a glass first thing in the morning before breakfast.  It contains cinnamon and avocado, which helps control the blood sugar and helps prevent cravings between meals.  Drink two a day, with meals or between meals, for optimal nutritional benefits, and to help reduce intake of empty calories.  Eventually, after drinking a smoothie twice daily on a consistent basis, the palate will adapt to the flavors of the healthier foods, reducing cravings for sub-optimal "junk" foods.  He says, "Keep doing that on a consistent basis, your palate is going to change.  You won't want to eat the same foods."

He has several smoothie clients who are athletes, some professional and some aspiring to become professional.  The antioxidants in the smoothies help eliminate lactic acid in the muscle tissues.   

We are very lucky to have the Raw Food Express in our community as an alternative to unhealthy fast food.   We'll be visiting again soon. Go on in, meet Chef Xavier, and try the food for yourself! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dark Chocolate Pudding with an Extra Helping of Love

The other day I made raw vegan banana pudding for  my children by blending bananas, dates, and chia seeds.  One of my kids protested, "I want REAL pudding!"  He was referring to the stuff that comes in the little plastic cups and has next to ZERO nutrition.  I had to laugh.

So here is my challenge:  To come up with something that is nutrient dense, with no processed sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or unhealthy fats, that my children will LOVE.

The little guy who wasn't enamored by the banana experiment is at home sick today, and chocolate pudding is one of his favorite foods.  So how can I make it super healthy and good for fighting winter viruses?  I went to work making a pudding with natural healing properties and terrific chocolate pudding flavor. 

Recently I read that papaya is good for fighting colds.  Manuka honey, while not vegan, is said to be effective both internally and externally against both viruses and bacterial infections. I began with two of the main ingredients for a popular recipe for raw chocolate mousse and improvised from there.

Raw Dark Chocolate Pudding with an Extra Helping of Love

2 medium avocado, pitted and peel removed
1/2 to 1 whole medium papaya, peeled and seeds removed.  (reserve seeds for salad dressing - delicious!)
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsps cocoa powder, (raw cacao powder is better if you have it)
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1 1/2 tbsp raw manuka honey (substitute pitted dates to taste if you don't use honey)
2 tsp xyletol
1 tsp ground vanilla bean
1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
(note:  keep chia seeds at the ready in case your mixture doesn't turn out thick enough, and a date or two in case you want it sweeter.)

Process all ingredients in a food processor until glossy and silky.  I had chia seeds on hand in case the mixture was too soupy, but they weren't needed.  Taste and adjust.  You don't want to taste the papaya - just sweet chocolateyness.  For this reason, you might want to start with half the papaya, taste, and continue to add more as desired.  Also, I think it's best to not use too much manuka honey - it has a strong flavor that will compete with the chocolate.  If this isn't sweet enough for your liking, and you don't wish to increase the xyletol, try adding a pitted date or two.

Note:  This makes 4 generous servings.  We found that the combination of papaya and avocado does NOT keep well.  It's delicious when it's freshly made, but the next day the leftovers tasted a bit. . . odd.  So make this one up right before you intend to eat it.

The verdict?  The little guy loved it and said thank you.  The other one reminded me to write this one down - it's a keeper!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Few Dinner Recipes

Here are a few of my go-to dinner recipes that seem to be working well lately.

The first one is for an asparagus soup.  It was inspired by this recipe.  It's fast, simple, filling, and serves 4.  

Asparagus Soup

2 bunches of asparagus
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, soaked and rinsed
juice of one lemon
3 stalks celery
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt, more to taste
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
sprinkle white pepper

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard for compost.  Slice off the tips and marinate them in about half the lemon juice.  Place the remaining ingredients in a high speed  blender and blend until smooth, adding just enough water to get the blender going. Season to taste.

I've also made this with a young Thai coconut, and have added seasonings like thyme and marjoram.  In the future we'll try it with walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

Russell James offers a delicious recipe for Broccoli in Hoisini Sauce with Parsnip Rice.  It's absolutely delicious, simple, light, and required no adjustments.  I'll definitely make this one again and again.  The broccoli shrinks down quite a bit in the dehydrator.  Next, time, I'd like to experiment with increasing the broccoli marinade and increasing the time in the dehydrator, so that the meal can be made in the morning before starting the work day.

Next we have Susan Powers at Rawmazing, and her Brussels Sprouts with Figs.  The only change I made to this one was to omit the figs because they aren't easy to find right now, and I added a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a little extra flavor.  If you make this one, quarter the Brussels sprouts unless they are really tiny.  This way the dehydrator will penetrate and wilt them all the way through, making them easier to eat.  Or, experiment with a longer drying time.  Next time, I'd like to see how this dish is with chopped persimmons or pomegranate seeds instead of the figs.

Another one from Rawmazing:  Sprouted Red Lentils with Curry Sauce and Kale.  This one was also delicious.  We omitted the crushed cashew topping and used brown lentils instead of red.  This is another one I plan to make again and again.  This one can be whipped up in minutes, especially if some of the people who will share the meal with you also help.  No dehydrator is needed.

And finally, Cauliflower Cheese.  This one can be started in the morning and finished right before serving.  We used macadamia nuts instead of cashews.  Place your nuts in water in the morning, and wash and trim the cauliflower, leaving it in the marinade during the day.  Right before serving, whip up the sauce in the blender, stir the cauliflower.  If you want it warm, place it in the dehydrator for an hour or two before serving.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Raw Food In Winter

Two of the local farms we were visiting every Saturday have closed for the winter. The change of season has brought changes in what we eat.

Living a raw food lifestyle in winter may seem like a bit of a challenge at first. Brandi Rollins includes some strategies for eating raw food in winter in her book, Confessions Of An East Coast Raw Vegan.   Some of those strategies include eating more hardy greens like collards and kale, and investing in a freezer to store the fruits of summer and fall to use over the winter months.

At this time there are plenty of delicious persimmons in the markets.  One of the most delicious treats we enjoyed over Thanksgiving was this Persimmon Nog by Kristina of Rawfully Organic.
It really is every bit as delicious as Kristina describes.

Here's our adaptation:

The meat and water of 4 young Thai Coconuts
4 ripe, soft persimmons
20 fresh pitted dates
1 tsp ground vanilla
1 tablespoon of cinammon
2 tsp nutmeg with extra for garnish

Soak the dates in the coconut water for two hours in the refrigerator. Remove the leaves and stem from the persimmon. No need to remove the seeds. Combine the dates in coconut water with the coconut flesh, persimmons, dates, cinnamon, clove and vanilla in a high speed blender until smooth and creamy.  Pour into glasses and garnish with an extra sprinkle of nutmeg.  Serves four generously.  Note:  If you use twice the persimmons, it will taste a lot like pumpkin nog.

Over Thanksgiving we had family visiting, and enjoyed a wonderful holiday together.  I made a combination of raw and cooked Thanksgiving classics.  One of the things that I used to find difficult about Thanksgiving was working all day to prepare a huge meal for my family, resulting in a huge mess in the kitchen an hour after the meal, uncomfortably full family members and lots of leftovers.  A strategy that seemed to work better this year was to spread the dishes out over the week.  Instead of one huge meal we enjoyed some delicious, light, raw versions of seasonal Thanksgiving classics served over several days.  So, for example, I made a raw version of the classic green bean casserole  several days before Thanksgiving and a raw pumpkin pie the Tuesday before.  On Thanksgiving day, I had intended to serve a beautiful raw cranberry dessert thanks to a recipe by Chef Areeya at the Go Raw Cafe, but we were so full from the raw-and-cooked feast including a delicious raw dressing that we didn't eat it until the following day. 

At this time, we are no longer fasting on Fridays.  It was practical and beneficial at first, since we were picking up most of our weekly produce on Saturday mornings.  It was making me feel good.    However, after a while, I began to observe myself going off-track on Friday evenings and afternoons, ravenously devouring non-beneficial foods.  Then the farms closed for the winter, and we stopped picking up our massive weekly haul of produce. 

Perhaps we may go back to Friday fasting in the summer after the farms have reopened, but for now, our strategy is a little different.  Each day, we are striving to consume sufficient beneficial foods.  This includes at minimum three cups of leafy greens, three cups of brassica or cruciferous vegetables, and three cups of brightly colored fruits, vegetables or berries.  In addition, we include a small daily handful of nuts or seeds, a coconut or an avocado and occasional sea vegetables.  

We try to avoid eating later in the evening, and try to finish eating the last meal of the day by 6:30 P.M.  This can be a challenge when there are so many gatherings in the evenings where food is served.  There are also times when we are so busy in the late afternoons and early evenings that it seems like it might be a good idea to put off dinner until later.  Gradually I am starting to adjust to the idea that as the daylight begins to fade, it's time to begin to prepare to settle in for the evening, giving our bodies and our digestive systems time to rest.

One trick I'm learning is to prep the foods for all of the day's meals in the morning.  My husband preps his food in the evening for his lunch the next day.  Then I check the fridge to see if we need anything, and run out to the store for the next day's bunch of kale or fresh lemons.  I place the next day's nuts in water to soak.  The following morning, after making breakfast, it makes sense to prep the foods for lunch and dinner.  This way, it's like prepping one meal instead of three, and there is only one main kitchen cleanup for the day.  Another benefit to this strategy is that at any time during the day if we find ourselves suddenly hungry, there is already prepped food on hand, and no need to grab convenience or fast food.  Of course this is the ideal strategy and there are days when it doesn't work out this way.

Despite beginning the raw food lifestyle in May of this year, and despite being between 75% and 100% raw for weeks at a time, we are still in transition.  There are times when some family members still crave foods that are not raw vegan or at all healthy.  There are times at parties, events and special occasions when we decide to "go with the flow" and eat foods we would not normally eat.  One raw food blogger says that if a raw foodist is experiencing cooked food cravings and is healthy and well nourished, then they are probably not really craving the cooked foods but is feeling nostalgic for the happy memories from eating the cooked foods.  I have experienced some truth in this.  It seems like nearly every time I succumb to the desire to eat something that I used to think was "amazing," despite it being high in sugar, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, salt, unhealthy fats, gluten, casein, nitrites, etc., I immediately begin to feel as ill from eating the food as I felt before we switched to this lifestyle.  The good news is that as we learn new techniques and prepare new recipes, we are laying down layers upon layers of new memories, and soon the cravings for old foods will be replaced by cravings for the new foods.

A year ago it was pretty common for us to stop at the snack bar at Costco and buy a hot dog for every member of the family, washing it down with soda.  A few weeks ago, my husband and I went shopping at Costco, and I told him I REALLY wanted to stop for a hot dog.  Shortly afterward, I was experiencing nausea and mild gastric discomfort.  These days, when I occasionally eat some of the less-beneficial foods that used  to be standard before cleaning up my diet, I pay attention to the sensations in my body.  Sometimes I experience body aches, headache, fatigue, mental fog, and gastrointestinal discomfort.  I pay attention to these feelings and learn from them.  Perhaps the most effective way to reduce cravings for less beneficial food, besides eating a nutrient rich diet of clean raw foods, is to eat less-beneficial foods and pay the price.

Our tiny garden, if you can call it that, is doing far better now in December than it was in the summer, with some robust arugula, a thriving dill, a few Swiss chard, a broccoli and a Brussels sprouts plant.  One tomato plant is bravely hanging on, with a small green tomato that seems to be taking forever to ripen.  I'm beginning to think that gardening in the Mojave Desert might be possible after all.

Next time, I'll post some of the go-to dinner recipes I've been relying on recently.