Monthly Archives

September 2011

Health and Nutrition

Human Protein Needs – What I Learned in School

Recently I attended a weekend “Science of Raw Foods” course and learned a great many things, including what our protein needs actually are, and if vegans/vegetarians/raw foodies have anything to worry about when it comes to this hot topic. The class is taught at the Living Light school by Rick and Karin Dina, who are two super-cool, very likeable educators who can make the nitty gritty of nutrition fun and engaging – that, or I’m a big nerd. 
[source: Fran of Simply Mindful]

Q: Where’s Allysia?
A: Pretending she’s some crazy Godzilla in the back.
(A: Definitely a big nerd.)

First up: if you want to catch up with my Living Light adventures up until now, just check out the links below.

Initially I was hesitant about this class, thinking it would just be a remix of stuff I already knew about nutrition.  I figured it would just be all that basic fluffy stuff, like “raw food has more enzymes, woo hoo”.  Boy was I wrong!  This course might have only been two days, but the topics were in-depth, presented in a fresh way, and by professionals instead of some enthusiastic hippie people.

Don’t get me wrong – I love enthusiastic hippie people.  But sometimes when you’re learning things like science, you want a really grounded and well-founded approach.

(Okay, I think Rick and Karin might have just a pinch of hippie in them.  I mean, they’re raw foodists.  And his hair is long.  But combined with all the science knowledge, that just makes them balanced, right?)

Though we discussed everything from B12 to longevity, I wanted to zero in on our protein discussion, since I found it rather illuminating.  I know all veggie folk have heard the “where do you get your protein” bit ad nauseum, but they really took that question to the next level, and I’d like to share what I learned.  Since the protein discussion was a good couple hours in length, this blog post will inevitably be paraphrased, and I want to encourage you to check Rick and Karin out if you can, because their class was one of the highlights of my schooling.

A Brief Tour of Protein’s History

So, protein.  Namely, our protein needs.  Let’s go back to the beginning.

Well, not to the very beginning (that’ll get too metaphysical), but to visit two dudes named Osborne and Mendel, who, way back in 1911, did a big study on amino acids and rats.  What they found is that rats got all sick and withered away when they were only fed corn or wheat protein, but survived and even grew faster when fed milk protein.  From that, they determined that wheat and corn didn’t have enough lysine or tryptophan (two amino acids) for the rats. [1]

You know the whole “complete” and “incomplete” protein thing?  That concept has origins in this study.  Animal protein was deemed “complete” since it contained the full spectrum of amino acids.

As time went on, we learned how many amino acids there are (20), and we learned from the previous research that 10 of them were essential to rats.  But what about human protein needs?  Did we require all 10 of those amino acids to live, too?
Finding the Essential Amino Acids
During wartime in the 1940’s, a huge study began, this time with humans as the subjects.  The people in the study were given a special diet which removed just one amino acid at a time, and the results were then observed.  If the subjects got irritable, weak, experienced extreme fatigue or other symptoms of deficiency, the researchers would know if a particular amino acid was essential to humans.

As it turned out, removing 8 out of 10 amino acids caused a failure to thrive in adults, while removing the other two didn’t seem to have any effect at all (arginine and histidine).  Thus it was determined that 8 amino acids were essential for humans.

Taking this even further, research was done into just how much of each amino acid we need.  Rats, for example, did not get enough lysine or tryptophan from corn, but what about humans?  
Is Vegetable Protein Sufficient?
Let’s look at lysine.  Dr. Rose, the author of the study [2], suggested we should get 1.6 grams of lysine per 3000 calories, which was almost double what he deemed sufficient to allow for a padded safety margin.  For an adult man, the USRDA only suggests we need 0.9 grams per 3000 calories.  So how much lysine does corn have?

The answer is: 4.8 grams per 3000 calories.

Okay, so we can get more than enough lysine from corn, but what about tryptophan?  Again, let’s look at how much Dr. Rose found to be adequate and then some, which is 0.5 grams per 3000 calories.  The RDA says we only need 0.2 grams.  So again, does corn deliver?

Yup – it’s got 0.8 grams of tryptophan per 3000 calories.

In fact, for all of the 8 essential amino acids, corn contains more than enough of the recommended amount.  That means that a person eating a diet of nothing but corn would meet their protein needs.  They might be missing out on some other things, but on the subject of protein, they’d get an A+.

So what about other plant foods?  Grains did very well, and eating nothing but a food like wheat, buckwheat or millet would be enough to easily meet all of our protein needs.  Legumes also performed excellent, as we might expect since they’re well-known for being high in protein.  Even vegetables (especially leafy greens) were found to contain enough protein to meet our needs.

The only plant foods that are low in protein are, not surprisingly, fruits.  Happily, I know no one who subsists solely on fruits (please don’t become a fruitarian).
Concluding Thoughts

For many years, the medical community has known that plant-based protein can meet the needs of growing children, adults, pregnant women and elderly folks.  The American Dietetic Association (and the Canadian one, among many others) have long since concurred on this, making it virtually unanimous across the board.

While cereal grains (rice, corn and wheat) might not be high in lysine, they’re high enough to meet our protein needs.  So as long as you aren’t starving or a fruitarian, getting enough of the 8 essential amino acids, and the whole debacle of “complete” and “incomplete” protein, appears to simply be a non-issue.

References:
1. Thomas Osborne and Lafayette Mendel, the growth of rats upon diets of isolated food substances, 1916, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A. [pdf]
2. W.C. Rose, Amino acid requirements of man, 1955, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois [pdf]
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Associate Chef and Instructor Training at Living Light, Week 2

Whew!  I just accomplished my second and final week of Associate Chef and Instructor Training, and it certainly flew by in a crazy whirlwind of great food, student demos and shenanigans.  During the entirety of my training here, the food’s been getting better…and better…and better, and I’m kind of sad now that the food part is over.  Of course, I still have one week to go, though it’s a week in the classroom instead of the kitchen.
If you want to catch up with what I’ve learned up until this point, just check out the links below.
Associate Chef and Instructor Training, Week 2

I’m gonna walk you through more of the great dishes we learned how to make during my training – I’m so excited to make these meals in my own kitchen, and play, and create more recipes.  I’m so fueled up that hopefully it will compensate for my lack of MoFo preparation.

In this Asian-themed meal, we made Teriyaki Veggies (Stirred, not Fried), which tasted great – actually, I almost preferred them to fried veggies for how fresh they tasted.  The vegetables were marinated, which softened them, leaving a crisp-tender bite.  And you’d never know the thick Teriyaki sauce we used was raw.

Possibly my favorite thing on this plate is the pineapple skewer, which was also marinated and then warmed – I definitely ate more of it than pictured.  But I’m not telling how much more.

Raw pizza!  Each pizza was all little and cute, about 6 inches in diameter, and we had a variety of toppings, along with a choice of pesto or tomato sauce.  I opted for pesto since it’s so delicious, and also because fresh basil is hard to get in Saskatchewan.

Minestrone soup, served warm and full of chunky veggie goodness, was lovely and sweet.  Most of the raw soups I eat are smooth and pureed, so it was nice having something a little different.  The flavors were nostalgic, kind of like canned tomato soup, but, you know, better for you.

Here’s a spinach-mushroom quiche served with a red pepper remoulade, and it was delectable.  I especially loved the crust, which was very close to a traditional wheat crust in both flavor and texture.  And it was coconut-free!  Logan will be thrilled about that.  Once I’m back in my own kitchen, this crust is bound to make a reappearance on the blog.

Kale coleslaw, woo hoo!  This dish isn’t necessarily everyone’s idea of a good time, but it has lots of flavor, what with the full-bodied miso vinaigrette and capers and stuff.  Plus, I taught the class how to make this, so now it’s all sentimental.

This veggie burger spread had a ton of different components – mustard, ketchup, mayo, burgers, toppings, and onion rings – and was straight-up comfort food.  No one would suspect the ketchup and mayo of being made from raw, whole ingredients.  The mustard differed from the typical bright yellow stuff in that it wasn’t as neon and it was spicy, but was still an excellent condiment in its own right.

These were some damn good veggie burgers, pridefully standing on their own virtue, not trying to be like meat.  They had some chunky veggie pieces and seeds, making them a textural wonderland.

Whoa, onion rings!  Upon tasting one, my first impression was, “what the hell, these don’t taste like onion rings at all, they lack the characteristic deep-fried crunch”.  But then before I knew it, they all disappeared from my plate.  So while these might not have been an exact replica of onion rings, they made for a really addictive and low-fat snack.

There’s a fiesta on this plate, you’d better believe it.  With enchiladas served with avocado creme de fraiche and hot sauce, alongside a heap of fresh avocado salsa and some Mexican-seasoned rice, this might have been my favorite meal of all.  Maybe.  It’s a close call.

I must admit, I’d never had dolmas until the day I took this photograph, which is kind of unfortunate because look how cute they are! Needless to say, I don’t know what they’re supposed to taste like, but I do know that our version, made with softened zucchini “rice” dressed with seasonings and fresh herbs, was yumtastic.  The grape leaves were marinated in a tangy mixture involving some orange juice, and were tender and flavorful.  And the leaves have such a great texture – hearty and a little chewy and dare I say meaty.

I tucked away some dolmas to take home for supper, along with some crackers and raw zucchini hummus (holy crap that was good), and a simple greek salad with almond feta.

Alas, the end of the training meant the departure of some friends, like Acco and Sheli.  Acco’s blog is in Japanese, but it’s so cute and I love it all the same.  They’re both great chefs and great people, and I’ll miss them both dearly.  Ahh well, just gives me another reason to go do some world travelling, to Osaka and Jerusalem!

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Jenny Cornbleet, raw author and instructor extrordinaire.  She taught us about teaching and is just such a positive, encouraging lady.  Plus, look how little she is!  The first time I found myself standing beside her at the smoothie bar, it was a little startling, and kind of made me feel like a giant.  I giggled.  On the other side of me is Gina Hudson, another instructor who was so super friendly and a blast to work with.

And, the best for last.  This was our prize for completing the two weeks.  I would do it over and over again, just for some more of this chocolate mousse pie.  Heaven.
With today being my last day off in Fort Bragg, I must attend to some last-minute adventures.  I’ll catch you all next week, before I hop a plane and return to my hometown, and to Logan, and to my music.  Returning will be bittersweet, but for now, I’ve got my eyes focused on the intense week of classwork that lies before me.

Fare thee well!

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Associate Chef and Instructor Training at Living Light

Hey all!

I’m super excited about sharing the adventures of my Associate Chef and Instructor Training here at Living Light.  It’s a two-week program and I’m only halfway through it, but we’ve made (and created!) some pretty spectacular food, and I’m pretty damn amazed at how much we’ve learned in such a short span of time.

If you want to catch a look at what I’ve learned up until this point, just check out the links below.

Associate Chef and Instructor Training
Associate Chef and Instructor Training, Week 2

Food We Learned to Make

We learned how to make some things that I’m really quite happy about.  First and foremost are these super-cute Vietnamese fresh rolls, or spring rolls, or whatever you want to call ’em.  I’m just so happy that I can work with rice paper now, without making ugly little blobby rolls.  We also used cabbage (pictured center) which was a little trickier to work with, but hey, now I know you don’t need to boil the crap out of cabbage leaves to make them pliable.

I always get happy about candy-making.  Because…yum.  These were soft and ooey-gooey, like caramel, and probably among the tastiest raw truffles I’ve ever made.

Now for some absolutely gorgeous raw lasagna.  Using zucchini noodles, we layered on “cheese”, marinara, marinated mushrooms and wilted and chopped spinach, and then stuck it in the dehydrator for a while, where magic happened.  The filling became gooier, the cheese on the top developed a cooked texture, and it was very warm and pleasant to eat.  The taste was incredibly hearty and creamy, and I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to anyone, even picky people.

Another treat that I would eagerly serve to everyone I know were these adorable little lemon tartlets.

Think of everything you would want in a lemon pie – a buttery crust, a soft but jellied interior, and a sweet-tart taste – this pie delivered on all of the above.  The texture of the lemon filling was spot-on, and dare I say the flavor was better than the original pie it was modeled after.  It would be sheer perfection with a dollop of a cashew whipped cream.

Come on.  You can’t tell me that you wouldn’t eat the crap out of that.  Next holiday meal, I’m whipping this pie out of my bag of tricks.

Lunches, and More Food We Made

Lunch might just be my favorite time ever – but I already knew that before coming to this school.  At lunch, we always get to enjoy a huge salad bar with a vast array of condiments, as well as food made previously in class.

This plate features “not-tuna” pate, as well as some crunchy nori snacks (pictured right) that were so addicting and disappeared at the speed of light.  Making them was as simple as spreading a small piece of nori with some pate, folding it up, and dehydrating it until crunchy.  They’d be perfect for travel!

A big salad for lunch is nothing to be sad about at this school – with tons of options like seasoned nuts and seeds, avocado, ‘kraut, olives, and all kinds of veggie goodies, lunch here is neither boring or unsatisfying.  Plus, you can always go back for seconds!

This is a rather chaotic picture, but the noodles were super gourmet – linguini with a white truffle sauce.  Oh yeah.  Logan would have absolutely hated this because of the mushroom flavors, but since I’m a mushroom lover, I found the taste to be quite gorgeous, earthy and clear.  It tasted like something you’d get at a fancy restaurant.

And this plate…ahh, this plate.  Brunch day was a glorious day, and we helped make all of the yummy food pictured here.  The triangular goodie is a scone made with kamut, next to a buckwheat granola bar, and a cute round almond mila muffin.  It looks like I enjoyed these treats with some ketchup and mustard, but I swear it was strawberry jam and “butter”.  And of course, everything was made with whole, all-natural and organic ingredients.

This is all stuff I’d love to make for people upon returning home – especially the scones and jam.  Despite using whole grains instead of flour, they still had a tender, breadlike interior, and I appreciated that they weren’t nearly as dense as a nut-based treat would be.

Recipe Creations

This week, our teams had to collaborate on an appetizer recipe and a dessert recipe – a definite step up from the soup/dressing creations of last week.  I wholeheartedly love concocting recipes, so this is the fun part of class for me.  Alas, my recipes weren’t randomly selected this week, but it was still fun to help the team with theirs!

Pictured here is an appetizer from each team.  Aren’t they pretty?  Ours was the “tuna” and avocado roll pictured on the right, and the flavors were spot-on, almost eerily so.  

And of course, we received a copy of everyone’s appetizer recipes, as well as beautiful pictures of them!  In this segment, we spent some time working with a nice camera and a photo station, and learning little tips and tricks for making food photos come out great (read: must have attention to detail!).

Here’s a photo of all the desserts we created.  Dessert posed difficulties for many of us – for our group, the ones in charge of Nanaimo bars (bottom left), our main challenge was assembling it AND troubleshooting AND slicing it AND doing more troubleshooting all in the span of an hour.

They might have come out a little homely, and the recipe still needs work, but we did a good job in spite of the time constraints.  What we found is that the taste of the bars were great, but they’d need time in the fridge to hang out and set, and it’s just not a recipe that can be fully executed in an hour.  Oh well, experiencing difficulties during recipe development often leads to even more insight and knowledge than getting it right without much effort.

Catered Dinner

On Friday, we catered our first dinner!

We set up the tables all pretty-like, and I learned how to fold napkins like cute little fans.  And while I was excited to help prepare food for the event, I was even more excited about getting to eat a 4-course meal, something I’ve never experienced.  Saskatchewan, you see, is a land full of farmers and people who pile up their plate and eat quickly, not a place where you typically eat slow meals and “courses”.  That’s practically a foreign concept where I’m from.

The canape, or appetizer, was “Golden Flax Shards and Almond Pesto Torte”.  Um, yum.  The torte was rich and cheesy and made a great dip for the light and crunchy crackers.  I loved the addition of the lively minced red bell peppers and capers.

For the starter, we enjoyed “Avocado, English Cucumber and Pepper Confetti atop Chilled Gazpacho Soup”.  A wordy title, perhaps, but this was hands-down the best gazpacho I’ve ever eaten.  I don’t know how someone could eat a bowl of this and then say “meh”.  Happily, I have the recipe and I fully intend to remake it at home.

Another thing that I’m very ready to make at home is the lovely “Classic Caesar Salad tossed with Creamy Caesar Dressing finished with Herb Croutons”.  I know you’re thinking, “Salad as a main dish?  Really?”  But this is no ordinary Caesar.  This is the best Caesar known to the universe.  It’s not your typical white dressing – it’s better.  It’s so flavorful and not nearly as heavy as a typical Caesar salad.  The herb croutons are very lovely, and superior to any bread-based crouton I’ve made – and they’re just made from almond pulp, flax meal and some seasonings.

I was the leader of the Caesar Salad production, which meant keeping preparation time to a minimum, and making sure all the flavors were a-ok.  It also meant a lot of math, since we made such a huge quantity, but the process went very smoothly, and the end result made it all worthwhile.

Who could forget dessert?  We greatly enjoyed “Vanilla Ice Cream, Brownie Crumble and Mocha Glaze”.  The ice cream was fantastic – I could have eaten an entire bowl of the stuff.  I practically licked my plate clean.

What I Learned

Of course, making food wasn’t the only thing we did all week.  We also learned the basics of teaching classes, how to present a food demo, and everything in between the two.

Honestly, one of the most important things I learned this week was more in the self-revelation category.  I love creating food, such as making old favorites vegan-style, healthifying desserts, and coming up with new ideas.  What I don’t love is spending all day in the kitchen.  This means you will never see me run a restaurant or work in a commercial kitchen, no matter how nice the kitchen or how fancy the restaurant.

And while the catering experience was very valuable and I’m eager to make food for people I know, I will never be a caterer, for the very same reason I don’t want to work in a restaurant.

When it comes down to it, I’m a cerebral gal.  For me, time in the kitchen needs to be balanced with brainy things like research, writing and developing ideas.  So what you can expect from me in the future is more of what I’m already doing – I plan on taking this blog to the next level, using the skills I’m learning here in school to create lots of awesome food, especially kooky healthy food.  And I want to share it all with you guys!

And oh, I’ve got lots of plans up my sleeve for the next few months. 🙂  I’m participating in MoFo again this year (gulp!), with no theme at all – way I figure, I’ll be arriving home just as MoFo starts, and I need to spend some quality time with Logan, and my band, all of whom I dearly miss.

So ta ta for now as they say, and I’ll catch y’all later on in the week.  And until next time, enjoy lots of beautiful food. 🙂

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10 Easy Vegan Meal Ideas

Today I wanted to interrupt the flow of my schooling posts to offer 10 easy vegan meal ideas made with few ingredients and minimal effort.  Since I’m living away from home for a month, and I have access to a kitchen (happily!), I don’t have any spices or seasonings or any of that good stuff like I do in my kitchen back home.  Obviously I’m not about to go buy a big stock of pantry staples, so my meals have been very simple, made from only a handful of ingredients, most of them garden-fresh.

Oh, and I have no measuring tools, so everything is done “wing-it” style.  Woo hoo!

First of all, let’s look at the few pantry items I did purchase, which should last me the month:

Must-have Mains:

-Bread (frozen because I go through it so slow)
-Almond butter
-Brown rice (from Vida Vegan Con)
-Noodles
-Nori (seaweed for sushi)
-Almonds
-Sunflower seeds

Condiments:

-Tamari/soy sauce
-Rice vinegar
-Asian chili sauce
-Hummus
-Miso
-Ketchup
-Sweetener
-Kimchi (Korean sauerkraut)
-Olive oil
-Celtic sea salt

It’s fairly clear that my ingredients have some semblance of a theme – I stuck to simple Asian seasonings (tamari, miso, rice vinegar, etc) because it would be impossible to obtain enough seasonings to make Mexican food one day, Indian the next, and so on.  So I picked Asian and rolled with it.

Ketchup doesn’t really fit the theme, but I love the stuff so I got it anyway.  And I have all of the ingredients to make up some veggie burgers, which ketchup shall go nicely with.  Also potatoes.  Ketchup and potatoes are BFF.

I also want to mention that while my kitchen is not stocked, it does have a few handy appliances – namely, a stove and a cheap blender.  So if you have those two things, then you’ll be good to go.

Now with all that in mind, along with some fresh goodies from the farmers market (and vegan sausages…I wanted a treat), here are some easy meals I threw together.

#1: Sausage and Avocado Sandwiches

What do you do when you have bread, vegan sausage and perfectly ripe avocados?  Make toasted sandwiches, of course.  Hummus and ketchup found their way into this, and it was quite heavenly.  It would have been nice with mustard, but there’s no way I could get through a whole jar of it in a month.  
#2: Vegetable Broth

Veggie broth is so, so easy to make from scratch, but I always forget that.  When you’re low on ingredients, it’s as easy as buying onions, carrots, celery and herbs from the farmers market, roughly chopping them and throwing them in a pot with water to cover.  After letting it simmer a good hour, strain the veggie goodness and chuck the pulp, or compost it if you’re cool.  Then salt it up to your taste!

Mmm, I could drink this stuff straight-up, but it was also good with some kimchi stirred in.  So much more nutritious than bouillon cubes, and so much more nourishing.

#3: Sausage Soup

When you have vegan sausage and vegetable broth in your kitchen, the natural thing to do is to pair the two.  I made a single-serving portion by frying up some sausage, softening some kale (more on that below), and heating up some of that awesome broth.

#4: Veggie Soup, Kale Salad and Bread with Hummus

A meal fit for kings and queens!  With all of that extra broth, I whipped up a batch of soup which used random veggies like sweet potato, broccoli and red bell pepper, along with some red lentils to add yumminess and thicken the broth.  Of course I had to toss some sausage in there, too!  And over on the right hand side of the plate is kimchi, hanging out and adding a nice tangy bite when I wanted it.

#5: Miso Soup, Kale Salad and More Hummus

I like having miso in the fridge, because I like drinking it as soup and also using it as a condiment for other things, since it has such a nice sweet-salty flavor.  And some more hummus bread, this time with fresh tomato slices – I could eat that by itself!

For the kale salad, it’s really as simple as shredding some kale and tossing it with some salt, lemon juice, a pinch of sweetener and some avocado.  What made it amazing for me was the addition of the Asian chili sauce that I purchased (and will never get through in a month, despite my efforts).  Get your hands in there and massage it so that the leaves soften and it gets all delicious.  I could eat kale salad every day, for real.

#6: Swiss Chard

Kale’s not the only green in my life, however.  How can I resist a gorgeous, organic, full-bodied bundle of swiss chard?  After eating some heavier food samples during the day in school, all I really wanted was a big bowl of something green and this hit the spot.  Sauteed with garlic, I completed the dish with some lemon juice and a pinch of salt and sweetener.

#7: Sushi

I couldn’t buy all that nori and then not make sushi.  In fact, sushi was what I was craving as soon as I arrived in Fort Bragg, and was the first thing I made.  I filled my first batch with brown rice and veggies, and this second batch was made with sprouts and shredded kale.  Dunked in a little tamari and with a side of ginger, it made a yummy meal the first time, second time, and third time.  I have about 1 more batch worth of nori left – maybe I’ll make it happen this weekend.

#8: Stir-Fry

I love me a stir-fry, and I made sure I had all the ingredients for a good Asian sauce – almond butter, tamari, lemon juice, sweetener, garlic and chili sauce – and lots of veggies to go on top.  And noodles, of course.  There’s even some tofu cubes in there, which were just marinated and then tossed with all of the veggies in the fry pan.  What makes it beautiful is the sunflower sprouts, which I found at the farmers market.  P.S. The farmers market here rocks.

#9: Pesto Pasta

Pesto!  Seriously, pesto!  Finding nice basil in Saskatchewan is a mission in itself, but here in California, it’s everywhere and it’s cheap.  So I had to make pesto.  And it’s really as simple as blending a bunch of basil with olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice.  With fresh heirloom tomatoes served with the pasta, it was a perfect supper.

#10 – Pesto Toast

I had a bunch of leftover pesto, so I decided to use it like a condiment and enjoyed it on toast.  This was breakfast one morning, and was totally satisfying.  The school feeds us hearty smoothies every morning, but that day I just felt like something extra.

All the meals I mentioned are so easy that you can make them with a bare fridge and no measuring spoons.  As long as you have a fairly good idea of what tastes good and what doesn’t (be careful when adding fresh garlic to pesto, for example), this is all pretty foolproof.

Toward the end of the month, I plan on doing another post like this, since there are many more simple meals in my future.

What simple meals can you whip up from your head, with minimal effort?

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Essentials of Raw Food – Team Awesome!

Meet Team Awesome, conqueror of plants…
Pictured on the left is myself, looking way less enthused than the rest of the team because I’m just that badass, next to Fran of Simply Mindful who talked me down when the soup-making got tough, and Acco of Lovege who was the team artiste, and then Sheli on the right, whose tahini dressing we wield in this picture.

Team Awesome represents the four corners of the world – myself as a Canadian, Fran as an American, Acco from Japan and Sheli from Israel.  We gotz it covered.  And all week we created amazing food together.

For the full scoop on my schooling at Living Light, check out the links below:

The Essentials of Raw Food, Part 2

Such as this raw apple torte, all gooey and splendid.  Acco dished us out some huge pieces (thank you Acco!), that we eagerly devoured.  And the teachers, kind as they are, let us take as much home as we wanted.  

We churned up two great sauces for zucchini pasta, a pesto and a marinara…

…We made dehydrated wraps out of vegetables for burritos as mentioned on the first Essentials of Raw Food post…

…But perhaps most exciting was when we each had to come up with our own recipes, and then try to bring them to life as a group.  We made Sheli’s Creamy Tahini Dressing and collaborated on ideas to make sure it came out delicious.  Well, I’d say Team Awesome had a big success.

I want cute dressing bottles like that for home!  And of course, I am no longer the only weirdo who takes pictures of food – I learned that at the Vida Vegan Con!

After conquering a dressing, it was time to conquer a soup.  My soup recipe happened to be the one selected (gulp!), but luckily Team Awesome came to the rescue and had a bunch of great ideas to make my soup vision a reality.

It was a Curried Zucchini and Apple Soup, with a broth that was at once thin but not watery – it held together and had grip, but was not creamy.  We had to dish out enough samples for everyone in the classroom to try – believe me, after tasting 6 soup samples in a row, I was already full!

The entire class came up with awesome soups – there wasn’t a single sample that I had to choke back.  And we all had completely different styles, too – there was everything from refreshing cucumber soups to creamy carrot soups, from spicy to sweet.  
And on the last day of Essentials, we got to nosh on this as celebration…

Hell yeah.  Nothing says celebration like (vegan) cheesecake!  

Look at all of those beauties!  The best part is these cheesecakes are made out of whole, natural ingredients like nuts and seeds – no cream cheese ever gets involved.  And they’re certainly calorie-dense like their cooked counterpart, but at least it’s from from whole fat in nuts, and not processed crap.  And I’m learning how to make desserts like this, how cool is that?

Over the weekend we enjoyed Science of Raw Food Nutrition classes, which I’ll be sure to talk about early next week.  I loved every minute of it, and I have a huge desire to take more of the science classes in the future.  Loved it!  I have such a happy brain now after the oodles fun information.  More details shall follow, but for now I must retreat for some R&R before another full week.

Peace!

food and product reviews

The Essentials of Raw Food at Living Light, Part One

After the fast-paced fun of last weekend, it was time to get down to business and learn the essentials of raw food.  For those of you who haven’t been following my adventures, it all started with an introductory class called “FUNdamentals of Raw Food“, as well as a day spent learning crucial knife skills.  These classes happen in the small town of Fort Bragg, California, at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute.

During the Essentials of Raw Food, we’ve been in teams practicing recipes, playing with various equipment, learning things like how to select, ripen and store produce, as well as how to balance flavors and create recipes of our own.  That’s the short of it – there is so, so much more that goes on in just a week, and my head’s about ready to explode from all of the information I’ve been packing into it.  In a good way.

For the full scoop on my schooling at Living Light, check out the links below:

The Essentials of Raw Food, Part 1

Luncheon Time!

On most days, we’ve enjoyed huge, luxurious and healthy feasts for lunch, served buffet-style, and often using recipes we’ve made in class.

This was a Mexican-style spread, with a tossed salad (using our own dressing!), obligatory sprouts, beautiful homemade wraps made with zucchini, bell pepper and avocado, as well as fresh salsa and a huge bowl of guacamole, which is totally hiding from the camera, but I assure you it was beautiful.

There was also a secondary table of condiments, with a variety of things like pizza flax crackers, pickled onions, saurkraut, seasoned seeds, hot sauce, and a bunch of toppings like nooch (nutritional yeast), salt and pepper.

Here’s my plate, the finished product – a burrito with all the fixins on an aforementioned wrap, which was very flexible and even rolled nicely.  I was especially proud because we made them in class!  In the back is the Mexican “rice”, which we also made in class, and it uses cabbage as the rice base.  Doesn’t it look charming? The flavors were spot-on, and though I really enjoyed it, the burrito was easily the star of this lunch’s show.

This plate is a variety of different salads, which doesn’t sound too exciting – until you tasted the caesar pictured on the bottom.  Holy crap was this good.  I overheard hearing one of the students say, “I don’t usually go back for seconds of salad!”  Happily, I have the recipe.  There were even cute little croutons that had the perfect crunchy, bready texture.

Another big pile of various salads, this was a very aesthetically pleasing meal that also happened to be full of flavor.  I loved the soup so much that I went home and made it for supper!  It was just your typical garden blend raw soup, but the flavors were so perfectly balanced.  A+.

The Lady Behind It All

If you’ve heard anything about raw food, you’ve probably heard Cherie Soria’s name dropped.  This lady has been there since the beginning, back when people thought vegans were crazy hippies munching on grass.  The majority of all famous and esteemed raw chefs have studied under her tutelage – and doesn’t she look great there, hanging out with all of that beautiful food?

Which brings me to another point.  I have never been to a more beautiful kitchen than the one at Living Light. There’s no grease, no heavy odors.  You walk in and you see life.  Sprout jars are everywhere and fresh food is abundant – and every single person is happy to be there!  Who wouldn’t be, right?  If I had a giant fridge full of beautiful veggies, I would be smiling a lot, too.

Cherie is pretty much my ultimate role model, not only because she is a wonderful person, but damn I want to look that good when I’m 65!  And not only do I want to look good, I want to feel good, and have a limber body, and have an abundance of energy.  I want to live long and be able to enjoy my time here without the burden of various ailments.  And it’s all within my control!  (As long as I go easy on the beer and vegan donuts, of course.)

Tomorrow I’ll return with a second recap of The Essentials class, with pictures of Team Awesome and our beautiful, healthy creations.  And now I’m off for a full day of nutrition 101!

food and product reviews

Knife Skills 101 at Living Light Center

Ahh, knife skillz!  I don’t haz them.

Or at least, I didn’t have them until I was shown what knife to use, how to hold it, how to stand properly, how to slice, dice, mince, julienne and some fancy-sounding things too.

For the full scoop on my Living Light schooling, check out the links:

Knife Skills 101

The great thing about this class was how each demo, instructed very clearly and thoughtfully, was followed by good ol’ hands on practice.  Not only is playing with food super fun, but that’s how I learn best.  Currently I move sloooooooow, but that’s so I don’t accidentally sever a finger with my new super-sharp knife.  Which is another very important thing we learned – knife safety.  Because I value my fingers for their ability to type, hold a pen, and play piano.

Playing with carrots is fun!  Aside from being super-proud of my newfound mincing skills, I happen to love the look of those little squares (diamonds?) on the left side.  Aren’t they adorable?

Bell peppers are serious business, that’s fo sho.  Peeling them is a delicate process (read: I do not yet have the finesse), but leaves you with nice, soft bell pepper slices, almost like what you would get if you roasted them.  And my “tomato roses” are a little homely (can you at least tell they’re roses?), but peeling a soft tomato with a paring knife is an adventure in itself.

Isn’t my apron the best?  Courtesy the lovely Panda With Cookie, scored at the VVC.  My cool hat thing is also pretty bling.

Yay, look at the cute little mushroom radishes!  Just seeing this picture again makes me all happy and stuff.  Let it be known that I did not make the leek thing – the teacher (mad skillz) did that one.

And some more mad skillz I can’t take any credit for.  See the lovely red onion lotus flower on the left side?  Yeah, mine was mangled beyond all recognition.  He was way too ashamed to be shown.

The day involved a good mix of practical stuff and pretty stuff.  Far as I’m concerned, you need a bit of both. Food is beautiful and we eat with our eyes – nothing like a great garnish to elevate a simple meal to epic proportions of awesome.

Pros:

-Hands on!  As I mentioned earlier, the demos were directly followed by playing with food to apply the knowledge we had learned, which really seals the deal in my brain.

-I am no longer a complete knife idiot – always a plus.  And my fingers should be safe from destruction.

-No waste.  This school is great about turning our edible knife experiments into lovely meals (or juice!), as well as composting whatever else is inedible.  I love that.  It’s made me a lot more conscious about honoring the food I’m eating, and the people who helped get it to my plate, by not wasting it.

-Fast paced!  Whew.  This class never got boring and was a ton of fun as a result.  Be prepared to work!

Cons:

I racked my brain for a few minutes to find a con and came up with nothing.  Nada.  I am a better person for having attended this class, period.  Both me and food now have a much happier relationship.

What I Took Away:

Well, I took away pretty much everything I’ve said.  I’m much more confident wielding a knife since I know how to be safe with it.  Maybe more importantly, I’ve learned about knife sharpening, which should be done on a fairly regular basis, depending on how much you use it.  But that’s a whole other subject that we could, and should, talk about in depth at a later point.

But for now, TTFN as they sometimes say, and I’ll see you next time with pictures of the food my team has been creating this week.

food and product reviews

FUNdamentals of Raw Food

Hello all!

This weekend I was busy getting schooled at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, learning the basics of raw food preparation, munchin’ an crunchin’ on some samples, and sharpening up my knife skills (still quite dull, FYI).    The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of activity, and I wholly expect it to continue at this pace for the next couple of weeks.

Most of you are probably enjoying the national holiday today (Canada and US!), and I’ve seen lots of awesome September Long food posts floating around – alas, I’m sipping some green tea and preparing for a full day of action.  Before I do that, I wanted to share some pictures and opinions on my first class of the weekend.

For the full scoop on my Living Light schooling, check out the links:

FUNdamentals of Raw Food

FUNdamentals of Raw Food

This is a one-day introductory course to edumacate the complete beginner, or anyone, really.  Subjects that are touched on include soaking and sprouting, how to grow wheatgrass, making milks and cheeses, and crunchy goodies like crackers and granola, as well as soups, sauces and dressings.

The topics are presented demo-style, with a rotating staff of instructors showing you what’s what.  Your watching, waiting and drooling over food is rewarded with cute little samples and a luxurious lunch feast.  All of the yummy goodies that were made in class have recipes take home with you, so you can begin playing in the kitchen immediately.

First up, some pizza flax crackers with herbed cashew cheese.  The crackers really do have that pizza taste, and a nice crunch thanks to the flaxseed.  The cheese was delicious as you might expect – lightly fermented and tangy, but smooth and rich.

Here’s a three-in-one affair: almond milk, a buckwheat granola bar, and a chocolate brownie.  The almond milk was somehow way better than the variety I make at home, despite it only being three ingredients (almonds, water, sweetener) – I suspect they add a little less water than I do, creating a more creamy finished product.  The granola bar was good – a little crunchy for my personal taste, but would be highly enjoyable crumbled as cereal.  And a brownie – can’t go wrong with those.  It was rich and walnut-based, but not overpoweringly sweet like brownies tend to be.

More dessert – yay!  A carrot kuchen, though I don’t even know what kuchen means so we’ll just call this raw carrot cake.  The frosting was to live for – very light and airy and gently sweetened.  This was the healthiest carrot cake I’ve ever eaten, and it was definitely a different eating experience than the cake-y version (the raw version had more texture and bite) – still delicious in it’s own right, and judging from the ingredient list, fairly inexpensive to make since it’s not nut-based.

Here’s my lovely lunch, which basically looks like a chaotic pile of vegetables, but I swear there’s order in there.  Everything atop the romaine leaf was eaten as a wrap – same goes for the nori sheet.  The veggies in the back were just a chaotic pile of salad.

The DIY-style salad bar would leave no person hungry.  In addition to the heaps of greens and veggies, they offered avocado slices and pecan pate, seasoned nuts and seeds, a bowl of olives and a couple dressings to choose from (both delicious!) – for our class, there was a creamy tomato basil dressing, and a dijon dressing.

Pros:

-This class was a great demystifier – I’m not nearly as afraid of playing with things like sprouting and fermenting.

-Fast-paced and comprehensive.  These guys pack in a LOT of information into the day, making it feel very full.

-It’s taught by a wide variety of chefs, all from different places in the world (from Montreal to Japan), bringing along their own unique experiences and expertise.

-SAMPLES!  Come on, samples.  I can’t watch people make food and then not eat it – that’s part of the whole learning experience.

Cons:

-This class really did feel like an introduction for what’s to come, instead of a standalone class.  It basically felt like a birds-eye view of everything, with more details and hands-on stuff in the later segments.  And I’m a doer!  When I see people making food, I want to get right into it myself.  This isn’t a con, per se – but I wouldn’t prefer this class in isolation, just because of the kind of person I am.

-Lots of sitting!  Apparently I’m not so good at sitting still for more than an hour.  Luckily, they had several breaks and encouraged us to walk around, which I happily obliged to.

What I Took Away:

-Sprouting isn’t scary!  It’s all about just trying it, playing, and getting a feel for it yourself.

-Fermenting isn’t scary, either!  And it doesn’t have to be stinky.  All it takes is patience, and very little effort.

-While fancy tools aren’t a must, it’s worth investing in good equipment to make your kitchen life happier.  Start with a good knife and build slowly from there, as your budget allows.

-High-speed blenders (Vitamix and Blendtec) are beautiful, beautiful machines.

-The best dehydrator you can buy is under $200, and is so versatile – you can do everything from making crackers and goodies to preserving summer’s harvest.

-As a time-saving tip, wash all your produce intended for juicing when you get home from the grocery store, and then store them into separate bags – one for Monday, one for Tuesday, etc.  This makes morning juicing a really easy, quick experience so you’ll actually do it.

-I want to grow wheatgrass – and I don’t even LIKE wheatgrass!

So with all that said, I’ll see you folks tomorrow with some pictures and thoughts on the knife skills class.  Have an awesome holiday!

travel and restaurants

Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Portland, Part 4

I have one more Portland post up my sleeve, before I’m fully immersed in my culinary training here in Fort Bragg – and you’d better believe I’m excited.  Let it be known that I love making food, and eating food.  And I’m going to get better at both.  Hell yeah.

So despite how entranced Logan and I were with the whole food cart scene, we did actually manage to get out to some real restaurants, too.  And a doughnut shop.

1. Laughing Planet Cafe

Laughing Planet was our very first Portland food stop, entirely because of its proximity to our hostel.  Hungry from a long day of bus and train rides, we eagerly stepped inside, where a menu of burritos, bowls and beers greeted us with much glee.  And we gleefully greeted them back!

The menu had some good lookin’ vegan options, and most of it could be easily veganized by getting rid of the cheese, or subbing it with Daiya.  Yup, they had Daiya – and vegan sour cream!

Of course, we went with burritos, because burritos are nature’s perfect food.  I got the Grilled Veggies burrito, but ix-nayed the cheese (obviously) and added sour “cream” and guacamole instead.  Even after adding that delicious, fat-laden goodness, the (huge!) burrito only cost me $6.50!  Hello, America.  Need I mention the cheap beer?

Meanwhile, Logan ate the Che Guevara (pictured left).  Amongst the seasoned beans and rice, it contained bbq sauce and plantains – can’t really go wrong with that.  The burritos were huge and messy, but luckily each table came with some very important instructions:

So basically, Laughing Planet Cafe was a perfect first date, promising many more delicious meals to come, and lots of cheap beer.  We still had to get to know each other a little better, but I had a good feeling about this handsome city called Portland.

2. Portobello

We couldn’t come to Portland and miss out on the opportunity to visit Portobello, an upscale vegan dining experience.  My fine dining experiences in general have been very limited; mostly I’ve carried an idea in my mind of small portions, dim lighting and a hefty bill.  And if that’s what was in store, so be it – you just can’t pass up fancy vegan dining.

…Or beer.  But you knew that was coming.  Not pictured is me sipping champagne, just to feel extra fancy.  I don’t think I’ve ever had champagne before this – that’s how deep my love of beer runs.  But foregoing beer was worth it for the bubbly!  And to make our wait even more enjoyable, we munched on these cute appetizers:

Meet the Cashew Cheese Stuffed Sweety-Peps, a perfect blend of sweet, sour, spicy and smooth.  If I could think up any more words starting with ‘s’ to describe these, then I would.  Super.  Stellar.  Satisfying.

After enjoying our appetizer, we were ready for a meal.  Logan ordered the Arrabiata pizza, and it was the incarnation of beauty itself.  The menu described this pizza as “chili-fennel seed marinara, cherry peppers, cashew cream, and vegan sausage” – doesn’t that sound incredible?  The portion was huge, shattering my main concern about fine dining – I knew our bellies would indeed be full by the end of this meal.

After eating a slice or two, the waiter came by and asked how everything tasted.  Logan exclaimed with gusto, “this is the best pizza I’ve ever had!”  It was that good.  The crust was perfect – thin and crisp with some softness in the middle, and you just can’t go wrong with vegan sausage and Daiya.  Though the menu offered pizza topped with their homemade cashew cheese, Logan opted out because he is a complete Daiya devotee.

I ordered the small size of their Spicy Eggplant Ravioli, because how often does a vegan get to eat fresh, homemade ravioli?  It’s way too much of a pain to make at home, so getting it at a restaurant is a real treat.  As you can imagine, it was incredible – though not very spicy, so I think even a spice wimp could enjoy this.  When it arrived, the portion did seem small indeed, but I’m glad I chose that size because I had a very full belly afterward!  And it was very important we save room for dessert…

Vegan tiramisu.  Delicious, rum-soaked spongy cake layered with a light, creamy whip.  It was perfection.  Logan and I were exploding afterward but it was so, so worth it.

For the amount of food that we ate, and for the excellent quality of that food, the price was very fair, and not nearly as expensive as I was originally anticipating.  Whether or not you’re vegan, Portobello is a great place to go – if it was in my town (oh, how I wish!), I would feel comfortable taking most anyone there, since the food speaks so well for itself, and does a great job telling the world that vegan food can be gourmet, fresh and inventive, without being weird.

And now I’m all emo because it’ll be a long time before I get to enjoy Portobello again.  Band, if you’re reading this, we need to do a west-coast tour ASAP.

3. Hungry Tiger Too

When Logan and I first walked inside after recently completing our vegan strip mall adventures, I immediately saw the holy grail of all whiteboard messages:

First off: vegan corndogs?  For realz?  The deal was truly sealed when I learned that a pint of beer could be had for a mere $1.  It was like a dream come true.  The last couple of days had shown me cheap beer o’plenty, but this took the animal-friendly cake.

While we sipped our cheap beer, we started flipping through the 3-page vegan menu, which sadly isn’t online, so you’ll just have to visit in person.  Check out that drink menu – $2 cans and bottles?  Whoa!  We must’ve died and gone to beer heaven!

It wasn’t just beer heaven we were experiencing, either – with so many delicious sounding choices on their menu (All-day breakfast?  Score!), it took us a good 20 minutes before deciding what to munch on.  Ahh, choices, I had forgotten what you felt like.

We ended up getting an order of Tofuffalo Wings (come on, say tofuffalo out loud, you know you want to), which was deep-fried tofu goodness in a barbeque sauce, served with some vegan ranch.

In addition to the Tofuffalo, we shared a small portion of their Greek Tofu Scramble, which was a giant plate remniscent of Smitty’s, but vegan, and way more colorful.  Like so many places in Portland, the portions were very generous and were cheap as hell.  Our entire bill – beer, corndogs and food – only ended up costing us $20.  I could live in this restaurant.  Again I say to my band: west coast tour.  Pronto.

4. Voodoo Doughnuts

Voodoo Donuts might as well be world-famous, what with their crazy donut selection and offerings like Diablos Rex and Maple Blazer Blunt (both of which we got, by the way).  It definitely seemed world-famous when we got there – there was a lineup way out the door!  But Logan and I were determined to score us some vegan doughnuts, so we waited patiently in the hot 30-degree sun to claim our prize.

Hello, prize.  We decided to get a box of 6 donuts, so we had plenty for snacking and for breakfast.  Aren’t they awesome-looking?  The best of the bunch, in my opinion, was the Portland Cream, described as “Raised yeast doughnut filled with Bavarian cream with chocolate on the top and two eyeballs” – I’m sure you can find it in the picture.  In addition to the Diablos Rex (top left) and Maple Blazer Blunt (top right), we also got the classic Voodoo Doll (complete with pretzel stake, bottom left), an orange-flavored one which I can’t find the name of (Update: It’s called the Orangutan – thanks, Logan!), and a classic glazed doughnut, buried underneath all of the madness.

Oh Portland, now that you’ve been gone from my life for five days, I miss you like crazy.  Where else in the world could such amazing vegan food be found on virtually every corner?  You have stolen a piece of my heart, dear city.

Okay TCK, let’s get on this.  Step 1: achieve fame.  Step 2: tour the west coast.  Step 3: Eat.