Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ode To Tomatoes

And Also To Tomatillos:

This morning I found this beautiful gift in the garden, somehow left from last summer's harvest.

By the time you read this, it has been planted.

Ode To Tomatoes by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
a tomato,
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue salt cellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign magesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it's time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer, the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery colour
and cool completeness.

With such a mild winter, the tomatoes have continued to grow, slowly and quietly. Somehow they have found nourishment on their withered vines.....the ones I forgot to pull out last fall.....and now they offer their sweet, ripe goodness.

Today, in this house, and completely out of season in most places, we celebrate the rich goodness of the tomato
...and the promise of the tomatillo.

Salad for lunch!

Oda al Tomate, in Spanish, here

Thanks, Richard Banks, for posting this poem on Facebook in response to my tomato bruschetta photo. I might not have noticed the tomatillo in the garden, so well hidden but badly placed for growing, if I had not been thinking of the sweet sensuality of Neruda's words on all things tomato.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Learning and Inspiration

I am finding that as well as a learning curve in raw food preparation there are other, more profound, shifts.

My sense of time is altered, and it noticeably affects other parts of my life. Raw food preparation is different than the buy, prep, cook, eat, clean up time line for eating cooked food. With raw food, sometimes the preparation begins days ahead, with soaking and sprouting. Dehydrating can take a couple of days if one wants to keep the enzymes intact. When a lunch or dinner item calls for some aspects to be pre-made, one must have thought that out previously. One slips more into The Long Now way of thinking about time. The granola I make takes me about a week of soaking sprouting and dehydrating many separate items before it is complete. Not a lot of time every day, but the process does sit on the dash board of consciousness with a check list of items to be added. This calls for a broader view, like a slower heart beat, to the day and to the week, and to the season.

With cooked food the question is always what is the best way to cook this? what temperature? what else needs to be cooked with it?
With raw food, the question is always How can I bring more LIFE to this food? Will soaking or sprouting or chopping bring out the life in it? Can I keep the dehydrating temperature low enough to ensure that its enzymes are still intact? Can I melt the cacao butter slowly enough so that the temperature is not raised too high? These are gentle questions. There is time and encouragement to breathe, and to think, while preparing raw food.

I'm thinking about learning and inspiration. A great example has just shown itself. I began to make a bruschetta from a recipe, and somehow, between the trip to the panty and answering the phone, I find myself making the mixture not from the recipe, but from the list of ingredients that appears on the bottle of organic bruchetta we bought at the farmer's market.
I think of the people at the Mt. Olive stand at the farmer's market in Ojai. Their farm is in Paso Robles.

I am inspired by what they are doing and by how they are combining their families (three families), their passion, their faith and their hard work to make the land into an abundant paradise. Everything is organic and everything at their stand is made in the farm kitchen from their organic produce.

If you stop by the stand, you are invited to taste everything from little wooden sticks that they dip into their sample jars then hand to you. How to choose? Everything is fresh, organic, raw and delicious.
They tell us about their farm and answer questions about their worm beds which is how they create great soil for their plants and trees.
The first treats we bought were dehydrated persimmon slices, persimmon leather and persimmon/walnut bars.
Theses were delicious. We had never tasted fuyu persimmon before. The next week we caught the end of the persimmon season and bought a basket full of persimmons. We were Inspired.

I lined the persimmons up near the window sill, more to look at them than anything.

Then I made our own leather, dried slices and a walnut persimmon bar that we liked better than the Mt. Olive Farm bar...without sugar the bar was sweet enough for us! The next week there were no more persimmons at the market.

For some reason, the only photo I took of the walnut bar was as it was going in to the dehydrator, ( I doesn't look as good as it tasted at this point in its life). Laer it was cut it into bars. How exciting it is to discover a new fruit.

We planted a persimmon tree in the front yard. We learned that the best one would be a pollination constant, non astringent fuyu.

We tasted our first persimmon on a little sample stick on January 10 and by February 20th we were planting our own tree. We were inspired and we brought that inspiration into our lives. Learning happened.

A few years ago, my friend Yaanna told me about a book she was reading. She told me that when British soldiers were getting ricketsand scurvey at sea, Ligurian sailors were eating the food their wives had sent with them and the sailors were returning home healthy. Questions about food preservation in the days before refrigeration and canning burst into mind.

The British sailors just had limes from the tropics to keep them from scurvy and rickets. The Ligurians had a whole culture of good food. I spent two years getting up every day and wondering, in this season, what can I make that would last on a long journey? I imagined Liguria, the kitchens, their cookwear, the utensils.....I never read the book, but this inspiration, this wondering, led me into fermenting vegetables in all kinds of ways, making cheeses and non alcaholic fermented drinks, preserving food in oil, preserving by dehydrating, sauces in bottles (small necks topped with oil or wax, then corked).

I still haven't read the book. I don't even remember the name. The inspiration leading to all those imaginings created a learning environment that went far beyond where any recipe could take me. I had a whole Ligurian village in my head that I could stop in at any house to see what was cooking, to hear stories of the day and find out when the ships were coming home. This acted like a file folder for information I would glean in the rest of my day and store there. From this, food inventions would appear.

We are working our way through the Mt. Olive line and enjoying every treasured bottle we bring home.
Here is the bruschetta I've made from enjoying theirs. Before I was eating raw food, I thought of bruchettas as roughly chopped mix to put on bread. Now that we don't have bread to soak up the tomato juice, I'm happy to have this version, where I use half dehydrated tomatoes. Mine is made from colourful heritage tomatoes, four colours here, each with a different flavour. ( Organic Brandywine, Yellow pineapple, Green Zebra Heritage tomatoes and Organic Roma tomatoes ( to make the fourth colour). Mine is quite different, but the inspiration?

I'll take the inspiration given, (Thank You Mt. Olive friends), and I'll taste, imagine and learn.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Banana Ice Cream

Sooner or later that question simmers, behind it, a little nagging voice arises and it is saying louder and louder: I WANT ICE CREAM!
Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients in commercial ice cream? Frightening!

Better yet, have you ever heard of One Ingredient Ice Cream? 
That one delicious ingredient is Musa sapienta. It contains vitamin A, vitamin B6, Vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin G. It contains potassium, calcium, phosphorous and selenium. It reduces blood pressure. It has been used to treat cataracts, for stomach ulcers, and contains pectin which inhibits colon cancer.*
Where do you find Musa sapienta, especially if you don't speak Latin? (Bad joke, no one speaks Latin). It's common name is banana and it makes WONDERFUL ice cream. Cut bananas into chunks and freeze. Then they are ready to use either in smoothies, or alone as a base for ice cream. One can add half a vanilla pod or fruit or cacao powder. Chopped nuts, dates or raisins would be good. Chocolate sauce if feeling a little decadent or lime zest, chipoltle pepper (just a little), cinnamon, kiwi, star fruit......almost endless in possibilities with almost instant gratification, as long as you have those banana pieces frozen. When that voice begins to nag, take out some banana pieces, whirl in the vitamix and put in a bowl. Best if you assemble all add-ons first so it doesn't melt.
I freeze the pieces, not touching, on a teflex sheet sitting on a cookie tray that fits inside the freezer. I put a smaller teflex sheet or a paper towel on top, let the pieces freeze then transfer them to a sealed container which I keep in the freezer. (yes, I once froze a banana with its skin on and then felt really retarded when it proved difficult to remove the skin.) Mashing the banana and freezing it in ice cube trays also works. One never needs to throw out over-ripe bananas. Just freeze them at their finest moment and enjoy later.

*Information about the banana from Natural News .

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Birthday Cake

I made a birthday cake for my honey. It was OK, but not fabulous, so I'm not posting even a bit of a recipe. Following some of the recipes in RAW was probably the first time I've ever more or less followed a recipe. I usually get an idea, google for a recipe, look at four or five different ones then go create my own.

This time, I used a recipe from a cookbook that was created by someone I've looked up to for awhile. Now I see we obviously have different tastes, particularly when it comes to sugar. I made the bottom crust according to instructions, tasted it, then took only one quarter of the mixture and added a whole new batch of ground walnuts to it. It was still a little too sweet! Then a layer of strawberries....not much can go wrong there. The pink layer has raspberries and a little piece of beet to create more colour, and the top layer is chocolate. Both layers have cacao butter in them. Each layer called for half a cup of agave nectar but I put less than a quarter of a cup and still it was sweet. The chocolate sauce on top was just agave and cacao powder. That does not qualify as a sauce.

Sometimes we don't learn what we think we are going to learn, but still we learn big lessons.
I made the mistake of deciding to make this cake with a time pressure for a celebration so there was no chance to properly think it through and re-create the recipe in a way that would make sense to me. Nothing in the recipe said it was an ice cream cake, but there was nothing in the ingredients to make the cake set other than freezing it. It was supposed to be a mousse cake. Irish moss, a tiny bit of ground flax, agar agar.....any of these of these would have created some body in the mousse layers. Using this recipe as it is, without the freezer this would not have been a cake. It would have had no form at all and no separation of layers.

So, this post is not so much about cake, or eaven about food. It's about putting ones trust in oneself and not in other people, however much press or experience they've had. It's about understanding that their "product" might not be useful or helpful or even healthy for you. I was disappointed, then surprised and finally happy to find that I have my own strong aesthetic with raw food cooking. So I learned something good after all.
After a month and a half of drinking green smoothies and eating healthy food,  I felt heavy and unhappy after eating a slice of this. It was fairly delicious, but I'm interested in finding ways to create celebration dishes that both work as delicious food and don't add unnecessarily to the calorie load.
I'm going to be thinking about this and eventually I'll come up with a nice, raw, light raspberry/chocolate mousse.
This was just one step along the path, and it involved finding confidence in my own ability to create what I need.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WuBe Bars raw banana energy bars

If I gave instructions that followed my path to making these bars it would begin: Plant several kinds of bananas. Nourish them.
When the bunch has matured, cut it down. While waiting for the bananas to ripen off the plant, one can make a salad or banana flower curry from the flower that hangs below the banana bunch. You can make a hair rinse, Bali style, from the rising sap of the fresh cut banana plant.
I know, I know, you just want a quick and delicious raw snack! Well, here it is, and it IS quick and delicious.
For those of you with banana plants, I've tried this with Brazilian bananas (light and strawberry tasting) as well as the regular Cavandish variety.
For this bar, the Cavandish is better. More meaty and chewy when dehydrated. Yes, the recipe begins with dehydrated bananas, so you can buy a package (Cavandish is the commercial variety you will find in stores) or dehydrate a few bananas at 105 degrees if you have a dehydrator.
This photo is of a bunch of the little thumb sized Brazilian bananas we harvested recently. Our plants are buffeted by the western winds from the Pacific and the Eastern wind from the desert so the skin looks quite scruffy but this does not affect the interior. Commercial bananas are bagged on the "tree" as they grow so they look cosmetically nicer. (It's not really a tree. The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant). They take time to ripen and do so in seemingly random patterns. The word banana comes from the Arabic banan which means "finger".
The bananas are peeled, cut and arranged on teflex sheets to go into the dehydrator.
I didn't dehydrate these as hard and chewy as I could have.
For these sorts of jobs I put on my favourite music or podcast or downloaded TV show. The fastest way I've found to make the pieces small is to snip them with scissors. (It's also an opportunity for a meditation in action).

Now! I should have given these ingredients at the beginning:
Goji berries, soaked, patted dry, and chopped
raw macadamia nuts
angel hair coconut (nice long, wide pieces give more texture)
hemp seeds
cacao butter (sometimes called white chocolate)
add some coconut butter too, if you like

Amounts? Think about creating a balance with the banana pieces. It's hard to go wrong. Add warm (not hot) water to the goji berries. While they are soaking chop the nuts and add them to the bananas. Add the coconut angel's hairs(can't you just see a coconut angel with long coconut strand hair?), hemp seeds and coconut butter if you are adding a little. (The reason for adding more cacao butter than coconut butter is that the cacao butter has a higher melting point and so will hold the mixture together better at room temperature). It also tastes delicious. By the time you've finished chopping and adding everything else except the cacao butter the goji berries will be ready. (You can also soak them for several hours). Pat the goji berries somewhat dry, chop and add them to the mix. Stir well. The goji berries will give the mix a golden glow. As I stir I wonder if they would make a good dye for thin silk. I am also reminded to plant some as the leaves of goji are good in green smoothies.

I'm curious to know your decisions about creating balance with these ingredients.

Looking at the size of your batch, choose a pot to gently melt the cacao butter which will also hold all of the ingredients as you stir the cacao butter into everything, coating each piece. The cacao butter will both flavour the mixture and hold it together. Also choose a container to put the mixture in. It should fit in a spot in your freezer or refrigerator. Spread a thin layer of coconut butter on the inside of the pan or glass container so it will be ready when you have stirred in the cacao butter.
GENTLY heat. This will go slowly but you don't want it so hot it sizzles your raw ingredients. Cutting the cacao butter into pieces before you melt it will make this part a little faster and easier.

Once the mixture has been completely coated in cacao butter, turn the mixture into the oiled container. Use a spice bottle as a tamper to compact everything into a block. When you have a well compacted, flat surfaced block, cover with a clean kitchen towel or a loose lid and put it in the freezer or refrigerator. When it has set a little (it doesn't need to be frozen hard) bring it back out and cut into squares or bar shapes.
Enjoy! Your bar will be better tasting and cheaper than the energy bars you buy. No cook, raw living food goodness.

When artist Alex Gorlizki saw a photo of these he said "I'm sure these are downloadable if I just press the right keys while licking the mouse.."

I hope you check out Alex's work while munching your WuBe bars.
Bananas contain considerable amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium. This is why they are particularly good in energy bars. Replenish your electrolytes!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saffron Coconut Kefir.....A Valentine delight.

In the past, Valentine's Day would have been a time to bring out the champagne. Now, with our raw food life, we bring out the coconut kefir but still, the Spirit of Valentine's inspired something a little more lively.
Saffron Kefir.
This was especially fun because the little crocus flowers are poking up all over the garden. I always wonder about the crocus that grows the delicate strands of saffron. Humans have loved this herb for more than 4,000 years. There are frescoes in the palace of Knossos of Minoan Crete of the saffron harvest.
I "wake up" the saffron threads in a little Japanese pot used for toasting all kinds of seeds and nuts. I like that one puts what one wants to toast in the centre hole, then pours it out through the hole in the handle. I don't want to toast the saffron, just warm and wake it.

I peer into the hole and enjoy the scent of the saffron.
Waking the saffron does not change how it looks.
Put the saffron in the bottom of the champagne flutes (we might as well use them, as usual, for celebrations).
Et VoilĂ !
Happy St. Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Art Chips (Eating little Paintings)

A theme begins to emerge. I learn something and go through several iterations and the food evolves. Yesterday I realized I was eating little paintings. I've been making flax chips for awhile, always adding different spices or vegetables on top. I spread the mixture out on a teflex sheet, add toppings (or not) and put trays in the dehydrator. When the flax sheet is dry on top I turn it over, letting the dry side sit directly on the rack. When this side is somewhat drier, I cut the sheet into cracker or chip sized pieces. The patterned side is still upside down. When the chips are completely crisp, they are left to cool to room temperature then put in an airtight tin. I was busy and hadn't really looked at the chips until it was time to eat them.
What interesting compositions some of them had!

These little abstract paintings with their vegetable brush strokes........alright, by now you've probably realized that I'm an artist who cooks, not a trained cook or chef.

There was a time when I heartily wished that I could just take a pill and have the day's nourishment taken care of. I would have LOVED green smoothies. I just wanted to make art, not cook or even take time to eat. Art was my nourishment then.

Sometimes the events of a single afternoon can change one's path forever. Our landlords were a sweet old Ukrainian couple. They had terraced gardens in their yard but one day they invited us to their large food garden which was a couple of miles from the house.

We were amazed to find so many different vegetables growing in one space. In the center of the garden was a gorgeous cherry tree, giving ample shade for a picnic.

Sensing that we were clueless about gardening, we were given a jar of cherries that had been marinating in vodka since the summer before, a blanket, and a place in the shade of the tree.

We were soon cheerfully drunk on the perfect summer's afternoon, in the shade with the most amazing cherries I had ever tasted. I began to see the garden and food in a completely different way.

One act of kindness, or teaching by example, can change everything.

Now where was I? Oh yes, eating little paintings.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Essene Bread (non gluten grains)

I make Essene bread in the dehydrator using non gluten grains. Soak Buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, millet (all or some) in water over night. Drain, rinse and cover. Rinse two or three times a day until the grains are sprouted. (Depending on the room temperature, this can take two or three days).

Grind in a food processor or Vitamix.

For this bread, I added some soaked barhi dates and a little salt, nothing else. Leave out some of the sprouts to add in later for texture, if you like a more rustica looking and feeling Essene bread.
Turn out the dough on a teflex sheet and form into shape.
I also wanted it to have a sourdough flavour so I dehydrated it first at 105 degrees F for the afternoon, then at 100 degrees F overnight, turning it back up to 105 in the morning. Imagine hot desert winds several thousand years ago.

You can see part of a date near the center of the bread. Dates are rough cut throughout. The sourdough taste is subtle. The whole grains in the bread give it a crunch but the center, like all Essene breads, is soft. Delicious with raw butter.

It was interesting to see that after all of the green smoothies and other raw food we were not so enamored with bread as we used to be, even if it was low temperature dehydrated, living Essene bread.
Some was put in the bread box and promptly forgotten about. The crackers, made a little thicker, are a great base for an open faced sandwich or bruschetta.