Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Favorite Mistake

I did a major detox last week and was also really diligent about eating lots of vegetables and salads and abstaining from caffeine, dairy, alcohol, etc. etc. I was feeling pretty great; my skin was clear and I was sky high from my regular workouts. Then I got some news. The cupcakes were coming! And not just any cupcakes.

If you haven't already heard about them, Georgetown Cupcake is rolling in notariety and dough (well, pastry flour) for their gems of sugary goodness. Oprah put them on her list of favorite things, the White House has served them, and TLC produced a show called DC Cupcakes, which follows the two owners, Sophie and Katherine, on their quest to bring gourmet cupcakes to the masses. On any given day at their Georgetown and Bethesda shops you will find a line of customers that extends around the block, sometimes with an hour-long wait time. Luckily, one of my co-workers had a connection and, better yet, was bringing the cupcakes to us!

So you can imagine where this is going. I had an indiscretion. I made a mistake...and one of my favorites to date. I jumped off the health junkie wagon and had me a little taste of heaven. And I mean little. I sampled slivers of the coconut, red velvet and key lime cakes. And I had to go back for the 1/4 lime cupcake that was left. It would have been too sad to throw it out, right? Yum. Yum. Yum.

Of course, the sugar, eggs, and cream cheese caught up with me quickly (headache!) but I got to see what all the hype was about. And they were worth trying; I highly recommend them. Now if only they could make a vegan cupcake. Hmmmm......

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In the Raw, Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with the Live Food Chef. In part I we discussed how he got interested in raw foods and what led him to pursue it not only as a way of life but as a career as well. Here he explains the benefits of a raw foods diet and his experience at the 105 Degrees Academy.

How do you feel on a a raw foods food plan in comparison to other ways you've eaten? Any noticeable changes? How long have you been going raw?

Until now, I hadn't really ever eaten according to any specific meal plan, so naturally eating raw has been very different for me. Given the history of my past food consumption, I can say that I do feel much better about the criteria that I have designed for determining what I will or will not eat. It feels good to be able to have some guidelines in place so that it makes my choices easier too. Its sort of a form of elimination. I can say that when it comes to decisions that one is forced to make on a daily basis, i.e. what foods to consume, I am glad that I am no longer overburdened by an unnecessary pad load of choices (most of them completely unappealing anyway). There is a certain sense of elitism associated with the choice as well. Not necessarily a feeling of supremacy towards others, but a liberation from bombardment by products. I feel that I've gained an attitude that claims myself too good to contaminate my system with corn syrup-laden and chemically conglomorated food stuffs.

From a physicality standpoint, the changes that I've noticed in regards to heightened energy and general mental sharpness have been affable as well. Eating nutrient dense foods as opposed to just dense foods seems to free up some of the energy that the body was using for digestion and processing. Its an interesting concept and one that has eluded me until recently; you don't have to be and probably shouldn't be tired after you eat! Food should be used as a source of energy, not just as a source of sustenance.

How was your experience in Oklahoma with the raw foods culinary program? Could you describe a typical day in the program?

The raw foods program that I enrolled in was the Fundamentals of Living Cuisine Certification program at the 105 degrees academy in Oklahoma City. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for me. The program is designed and modeled after other classic culinary arts programs and intended for individuals seeking the opportunity to learn from experienced raw food chefs in a real kitchen environment. As it is designed for the aspiring culinary professional, class days were full and typically ran from 9am-3pm. Each day included a mix of lecture and hands-on learning.

A typical day in the program included demonstrations by the instructor and subsequent execution by the students. There was often opportunity for the students to experiment with flavors and develop their own ideas for implementation into their recipes. Most days we would prepare one dish in the morning so that we could eat what we made for lunch (sometimes great, but often times enlighteningly distasteful). Often times we would sit down for lunch in the cafe so that if your efforts for that day were less than palatable, you could order from the restaurants menu which was always good. We would prepare another dish in the afternoon so that we would have something to take home for dinner. The program was designed to first teach basic skills and then culminate with each student planning and presenting a three course meal of their own. Knife skills, recipe-building, and presentation were all emphasized throughout the curriculum.

What is your favorite recipe?

I really like kale salad as it is a go-to meal for me and something that I feel is easy to prepare and extremely delicious too.

Kale Salad with Miso Dressing

Serves 2-4 people as a main dish

For the salad:
1 head of curly leaf kale rinsed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil (first cold pressed)
Salt and pepper (be liberal)

Pull the leaves of the kale from the ribs and shred it finely with chef's knife. Place chopped kale in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add olive oil and lemon juice and massage into kale with your hands (important to use hands to integrate ingredients into greens - salt will open pores of the greens and allow flavors to penetrate). Massage thoroughly until kale has wilted. Set aside.

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp of sweet white miso
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 c sesame seeds (soaked)
1/4 c raw cashews (soaked)
1 thai chili (optional)
1 Tbsp agave
1 Tbsp nama shoyo
spring water (sufficient enough to thin to desired consistancy)

Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth and transfer to bowl. Incorporate into salad and mix well. I often like to add some sesame sticks for crunch and other vegetables such as carrot sticks or julienned peppers or snowpea shoots for color and contrast.

For more information about Greg's journey and his raw foods business, check out his website, The Live Food Chef.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the Raw, Part I

Not too long ago I got to catch up with my friend Greg, a.k.a. the Live Food Chef. He recently got back from 105 Degrees Academy, a raw food culinary school based in Oklahoma, and I wanted to learn what piqued his interest in this program and how he got on the road to raw. Here's part one of my interview with him.

When did your interest in raw food begin? What prompted you to explore and pursue it?

I feel that it is difficult to distinguish when exactly the raw food journey began, because in some ways, it feels like a culmination or a final destination that I have unconsciously been seeking since the time that I began to prepare my own meals. More accurately and less ambiguously though, I guess that I first started to explore raw food last year in the fall. Previously, I had always found employment as a line cook in traditional restaurant kitchens. I put in alot of time on the various stations in the kitchen, favoring to work on the saute side. I really enjoyed having all of my burners fired up and heating my pans to the perfect temperature. I honed some real skills over the heat and enjoyed being succesful at feeding large numbers of customers on a busy Saturday night. I liked the science behind it and the relationships that developed with the other cooks. It felt good, but ultimately, I couldn't see the future in it.

My discontent with that type of work was always somewhat apparent and I felt that I needed to get out of the kitchen heat and try a different path. I worked for the summer as an archaeologist until the work ran out and I was forced to make a decision regarding which direction I would go next. After some introspective time, I concluded that perhaps my discontent in the kitchen did not stem directly from the fact that I didn't enjoy preparing food. In fact, quite the opposite was true. I spent alot of my free time in my own kitchen preparing meals working with different flavors. I knew I could feel fulfilled by creating beautiful and delicious meals for others; I was discontented simply because of the stresses that I thought to be inherent in a kitchen environment (i.e. heat , grease , noisy equipment , shouting chefs).

I had been eating more conciously for a couple of years previously. I tried vegetarinism for a couple months (not fully committed), but was more focused on organic and local foods. All the while I was becoming increasingly aware of the dark side of where most food in this country was coming from and how it was being produced. (I think that Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer may have been the last book that I read before going 100% vegan). I realized that the path commercially-produced and processed food takes to get to the plate prohibits it from being truly nourishing, even if it is prepared with love. I wanted to be a part of the good food movement. I began to think that if I found the right kitchen that was making the food I wanted to make, then I could be happy. I began to search for opportunities. Through my research, I found some restaurants that were on the page that I was looking to be on.

What had your eating habits been prior and how did they evolve to a raw diet?

Prior to raw foods I had been raised, like a majority of individuals in this country, on a traditional american diet. It's funny to think back on the comfort foods of my childhood and wonder how in the world my food choice evolved to where it is today. To name a few, egg on toast (cut into squares), fish sticks (Mrs. Paul's of course), grilled cheese (with velveeta orange only, please), macaroni and cheese (kraft powdered packet), hotdogs, bacon (four or five pieces microwaved was a typical breakfast before going to school), chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, Ellios pizza, and bagel bites (the only thing I ate in 1996), were among my favorites. Needless to say, vegetables had less than a starring role in any of my go-to meals.

As I grew older and began to cook for myself, I frequently made chicken in various applications (entirely unaware of how screwed the poultry industry was and is) . . . taco taco, burrito burrito, quesadilla, cheesesteak. When I went to college, I took a job as a dish washer in a classical French restaurant. This opportunity opened my eyes to a whole new world of food and flavors that set me on a path of culinary experimentation that was only in its infancy.

The more restaurants that I worked in, the more the range of dishes that I could make greatly widened. I loved food and the opportunity it created for me to showcase my ability. I would eat anything without much regard for how it got to me. The only criteria that I established for the food that I created and ate was taste. It was always easy to eat the food that I was working around all day and night and my diet subsquently changed with the restaurants that employed me. A sampling, with nothing off limits: cassoulet, calimari, cappicola, corn beef , cubans, club sandwiches and eggs, potatoes, and bacon slathered in ketchup on a plain white toasted English muffin with white square celophaned cheese packets for a Sunday morning brunch service on the saute station.

Pizzas were always easy when tending the wood burning oven; oysters too and clams, both top and little neck (perhaps my first experience with eating raw food regularly). Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp horseradish mayonaise, barbeque pulled pork carolina style either north or south, vinegar or mustard. I guess that truely anything that I could wrap up in a tortilla and seal with pepperjack cheese became the normal choice while running ragged back and forth between walk-in coolers.

With all of that being said, I suppose that out of that mindset and mentality of considering taste as effective criteria for food choice, my bend towards "real food" naturally illicited itself forth out of the mess of convenient garbage. I can accurately say that my diet has currently become completely consistant of whole, un-commercially-processed plant-based foods...not always raw, but usually so. A sampling of my current cravings in consideration of the staples primarily include kale salad (in various styles usually containing miso), green smoothies (also forever variable but usually with homemade almond or other nut milk), sprouted buckwheat granola (also contained within a flavored nut milk matrix), anything fresh from Cali's garden ... cucumber, onion, potato, mellon, swiss chard, pepper, and tomatoes in any variety (purple cherokee and green zebra are best), and coconut ice cream (any flavor).

Stay tuned for In the Raw, Part II where Greg shares his experience at the 105 Degrees Academy and a raw recipe!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Back in the Saddle

There's no hiding the fact that I've been away from the blogosphere as of late...ok, it's been a long while. And I've missed it! The last month has been filled with twists and turns (all fun and all good!) and I'm glad to be back into the swing of things. Well...almost. Here's an update on what I'd been up to, sans blog.

In mid-July, I got to attend a vegan macrobiotic cooking intensive program with Christina Pirello, chef and host of Christina Cooks. I met up with 15 other health nuts for a weekend of lectures on chinese medicine and the energetics of food, cooking demonstrations, yummy meals, and a Top Chef-like experience where we broke up into groups and were challenged to make four recipes (from scratch) in two hours. Amazing time and fun people!

The fruits (well, mostly veggies) of our labor...
Check out this dessert recipe - pictured above.

I got to meet vegan elite athlete Brendan Brazier. YUM-MY.

I ran a 6.2 mile military style mud race (complete with six obstacles) with my friend Ed. I was worried about the heat that day and the fact that my training had run its course (ie I wasn't doing much of it) but Ed pulled me through.

I got to see my best friend get married.

And learned an indian dance in an hour to perform at the reception; and danced the night away.

I moved out of the suburbs and into a nice little nest in the city. We were too tired to document this adventure with photos. :) But our move did mean that we had to say goodbye to Laila (whose daddy, Heath's roommate, was moving out of the city). :(

And I turned the big 3-0!

Vegan Pie from Mom

I got lots of vegan and health-nut goodies, including a gift certificate to Whole Foods and a fabulous Make Juice Not War t-shirt from the lovely Olivia (she is the best gift giver. Ever.).

Vegan Pancakes from Heath

Stay tuned for new posts, including an interview with a raw foods "cook", the scoop on dumping toxic cosmetics and beauty products, and the regular reads - macro Monday and T2C!

Back on the health junkie horse with a kick-ass green juice.