Saturday, August 14, 2010

day 5 raw: How Much Raw Is Enough? A Synopsis.

My apologies for not posting this yesterday... But here is my word on day 5:

So, yesterday was my last day of the raw food experiment. I felt great! No more nausea, not as much sneezing, and I noticed something I'd heard can happen when you go raw: my complexion was looking really smooth and my eyes appeared brighter and clearer. Also, my cooked-food cravings were not as prominent. I did have a craving for strawberries, though, and in the early evening, I ate almost a whole package of them.

As for other changes, I know that often, people lose weight on the raw food diet, and so I'm sure some of you are wondering if that happened to me. Well, I'm sorry to report that I haven't weighed myself and I don't plan to do it any time soon. (I will say, though, that I do "feel" lighter.) There are a few reasons for this. First, I don't think 5 days is long enough to be able to accurately measure such a thing, what with the normal fluctuations that occur in one's body. Second, I mean to write about a lifestyle, not a weight loss plan. Raw foodism may be used for healthy weight loss, of course, but it's so much more than that. I think that often, weight loss is secondary to other necessary changes that occur, and trust me, weight loss will happen if it needs to. So, if you're looking to lose weight through raw foodism, just be patient and trust your body to do its work! Finally, I do not feel that weight is a sufficient measure of health and beauty, as there are so many factors that go into determining health (and well, beauty is subjective!).

I should also mention, again, that I'm not a medical doctor or nutritionist. These are simply my personal opinions, based on observations of myself and others and what I have read throughout the years that I've been vegan.

Onto some of what I made yesterday!

So, I'm really liking smoothies for breakfast. I think I might hang onto this custom. Smoothies are, hands down, one of my most treasured meals.

cheers! in my backyard
I've even begun to incorporate greens into my smoothies, something I haven't been able to successfully do until now (and by today, I mean post-raw food experiment!). In fact, this morning I made a smoothie consisting of 2 handfuls of kale + 2 bananas + 1/3 grapefruit + 2 handfuls of frozen mixed berries + 2 handfuls of frozen mango. A super healthy smoothie and I didn't even need agave for it!

Also of note, yesterday I took out my raw nori and made some delicious sushi out of long carrot shavings, spinach leaves, cucumber strips, and avocado slices. To finish, I sprinkled (non raw) sesame seeds on top and used tamari as dipping sauce. The results were really aesthetically pleasing to me. Oh! And I discovered that raw nori is high in iron, too!

A sharp knife is really helpful in such endeavors.
As you roll it, you have to really bunch the veggies up toward you. To "seal" it, I improvised by mixing a little water and avocado into a paste-like consistency, then applied it to the edge with my fingers before pressing to seal. This was instead of the rice and water mixture that I usually use to seal my sushi rolls.
To garnish: I placed the sushi on two spinach leaves and put some of the cucumber stripes and carrot shavings off to the side. For me, making sushi is like embarking on an arts and crafts project. I take my aethetics seriously. ;)
I have to say, it tasted great, too.

In my reflections of the past 5 days, I've formed the following, mostly tentative opinions:

1. More often than not, I think I prefer the taste of simple raw foods, like smoothies and salads, rather than more complicated meals like "lemon caper pasta with nut cheese and sprouted raw bread." But let there be no mistake: I do appreciate the aesthetics and extreme creativity that goes into the latter culinary sensations, and I do love me some raw, vegan cheesecake and ice cream (quite possibly more than non-raw vegan cheesecake and ice cream!).

2. I think the reason I didn't feel like going raw was a huge adjustment for me is because I'm already vegan (and have been for a long time). I eat a a decent amount of fruits and veggies as part of my normal routine. It's just that I also eat other things in addition to that - like Daiya cheese, sauteed spinach, french fries, Thai food, and Ezekiel breads, for instance - some of which are healthy, some of which are decidedly not.

3. Given point #2, I don't plan to abstain from cooked foods, at least not now. There are many, many days when I eat raw for 2/3 of my meals, simply because it's what I feel like my body needs (I say "what my body needs," but it's more like "what I'm in the mood for," which I think is the same thing for me).

4. It's a crying shame that certain raw foods, like nuts, are more expensive than their cooked/roasted counterparts. This is backwards!

5. Strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and kale are perfect, amazing foods that I could probably eat every day for the rest of my life and not get bored with them. Mangoes and avocados are close seconds.

6. I, personally, have to be careful not to eat too many nuts. I believe that this contributed to me feeling "off" on day 4 (and why I had a gag-reflex reaction every time I looked at the photos I'd taken of the more nut-laden meals I'd eaten lately!). In fact, if I were to go 100% raw, I think I'd feel better on a lower fat raw lifestyle, as I think this is more fat than I can tolerate without feeling nauseous/getting stomach sick. Something close to 80:10:10. This was similar to how I ate when I experimented with the Eat to Live lifestyle, and as I said, I remember feeling pretty great while doing that.

7. During this 5 day experiment, certain raw food dishes tasted almost *too* vibrant for me! On certain days (namely days 4 and 5), I felt like fruits and leafy greens were mainly what I could tolerate, but things like tomatoes and culinary concoctions like fancy casseroles were too much taste for me. I find this strange and wonder if it was simply my body's way of saying, "hey, no more nuts!" Anyone else experience something like this?

8. Overall, I think I'm more of an ethical-enviro-politico-vegan than a health vegan. This presents a bit of an internal conflict for me, as everything is interconnected, and one cannot truly be an "ethical" vegan without caring about the rest of the reasons for veganism (e.g. keeping as healthy as I can leads to less doctor visits, which contributes less to the rise of health care costs). Don't get me wrong - I care immensely about health. But a) I don't necessarily feel the need to be as absolutely healthy as I can, b) I think that "health" encompasses body and mind, and there are certain cultural elements of my life that I'd miss severely if I went completely raw, and c) while I do "believe" in raw foodism, I am still thinking about what "raw foodism" means - e.g., must one be "100%" raw to achieve the benefits? Or does the maximum value lie somewhere closer to, say, 75%? I don't know! Also, what does "raw foodism" mean for me versus someone else? I do think that people vary in terms of needs.

Unrelated #9: One of my roommates is growing his own kombucha! I'm fascinated by this. It looks like an ear in a jar! (I'm not knocking it - I love kombucha.)

I hope you've enjoyed peering into my raw food experiment. Please leave comments or send emails if you have any thoughts to share!


Friday, August 13, 2010

days 3 & 4 raw: Eat Your (Raw Vegan) Desserts

I didn't have time to post yesterday, so this post will be two-in-one.

Yesterday, "Day 3" of this raw food experiment:

For starters, I woke up feeling pretty normal - no cold-like symptoms, although I did sneeze more than usual throughout the day. For breakfast, I ate plain fruit and later made a banana-blueberry-mango smoothie with maca powder and agave nectar. This time I increased the amount of fruit per the amount of maca, and the result was flavor success. My boyfriend enjoyed it, as well (but, then, he enjoys most foods).

Good Mood Foods' "Veggie Casserole"

Later, I tried another one of Good Mood Food brand's delectable, pre-made raw meals: the veggie casserole, which was nearly as amazing at the veggie-nut nuggets (damn, those nuggets are just impossible to top). If you're curious, the casserole contained the following: cashews, brazil nuts, zuchinni, almonds, sundried tomatoes, onions, flax seeds, garlic, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, raisins, extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, parsley, lemons, sea salt, Braggs Liquid Aminos, chili pepper, basil, mustard seeds, and apple cidar vinegar. Again, very delicious - surprisingly so! As I said in day 2's post, I didn't think it was possible for raw food to be so satisfying and tasty, but now I stand corrected.

Then, sometime after dinner, I had a really strong craving for kale. I wanted kale, lots and lots of it. I've actually had kale cravings before, believe it or not, but this was different somehow. It was stronger, more specific. (I think that my normal kale cravings are often just cravings for the tahini-vegenaise dressing I use in my favorite kale salad recipe.) So, I had a few bowls of fresh kale topped with some carrot shavings and flax seed oil. No vinegar this time, because I didn't want to cover that kale taste too much.

My body said kale, I said okay.

I'm interpreting this kale craving to mean that I must need more greens while eating raw. Way back when, I tried out the dietary advice from Joel Fuhrman's Eat To Live, which called for - at minimum - an entire pound of raw veggies, daily, most of which were supposed to be greens. Yeah, I know that sounds like a lot, but I felt really good while doing it.

Raw foodism has a lot of similarities to the Eat To Live philosophy, I've noticed, although I don't know of any source that says, outright, that one ought to eat this quantity of greens while being raw. Whether or not it works for everyone, I've decided that it does for me, and so tomorrow (which will be my 5th and final day), I'm going to aim for greatly increasing the amount of greens. My refrigerator is already stocked with a massive amount of green spinach and the remainder of the kale.

Finally, since I keep bringing up maca, here's a photo of the brand I'm using: 

Maca was reportedly used by Incan warriors to provide stamina and prevent fatigue.

Okay! Onto today, "Day 4" of raw:

There's a lot to say about today. First off, I had to get up earlier than usual today, so my sleeping is a bit off. I woke up feeling normal (other than not having slept enough). Still had more sneezy/nose-type symptoms than usual, although I'm not sure if this is because of detoxing or me having allergies. Most notably, today I felt pretty nauseous all day AND I finally started having "cooked-food cravings." (I really can't believe it took 4 days for me to miss cooked food!) I'm also craving soda, which is really odd for me, and I even considered stopping by a local vegan restaurant just to buy a homemade gingerale. To be fair, it's normal for me to feel nauseous and crave certain foods around "this particular time," but my current symptoms are far more intense than usual.

Speaking of intense, I tend to have a pretty good sense of smell (or perhaps I simply pay a lot of attention to scents) but today my olfactory bulb is burning ever so brightly! This could very well be why I feel so nauseous and why I'm craving cooked foods, as cooked foods are typically more bland (yes, really - I didn't believe it at first, but now I can get why raw food veterans call cooked food tasteless!). Perhaps my sense of smell is so intense because, lo and behold, my sinuses may be detoxing. Ah, it all comes full circle after all. Though, the soda thing remains a mystery to me.

Onto what I ate today... For starters, I ate (no, devoured) one of my tried-and-true favorites: Earth Cafe's "find your thrill on blueberry hill" raw vegan cheesecake. You might not love the long name, but the cake is to-die-for, whether you're vegan or not, raw or not. What I especially like about this cheesecake (aside from it being amazingly healthy and vegan) is that it's not overly sweet. Instead, it's lightly sweet with a nice, tangy zing to it. And it has a wonderfully creamy, smooth texture. I swear I don't get any money for saying this!

Remember those chick peas I was soaking? Well, they've been waiting for me to eat them, so today I tossed them in a salad and had my first experience crunching on raw chick peas. Not bad. I think I could grow to prefer them over the cooked variety.

Today I snacked on a lot of fruit (that CSA watermelon was amazing). Then I decided to try something I have been curious about for a long time: Rawk-n-Roll Cuisine's kale chips in the Kaletaliano (pizza-flavored) variety. (I know. Vegan and raw food companies just won't stop with the puns...) My first bite was questionable, but after that, I was sold. They really do taste like pizza. Kind of reminiscent of the pizza-flavored Goldfish crackers, though way more pungent. 

For dinner, friends and I took a trip to Mooi, a gourmet, organic, raw food restaurant in Echo Park. This was a special treat, as I'd been drooling over their photos for weeks. And let me say, an appetizer, an entree, and two desserts later, and I learned that it is possible to get that "full stomach" feeling on raw foods. I warn you, though, it's not something I'd recommend aiming for!  

But more importantly, let me tell you about Mooi. The decor is fabulously Alice-in-Wonderland-esque, complete with eclectic furniture and accents; our table had exaggeratedly-high-backed, pink chairs and the menus are glued inside Dr. Seuss books. Adorable. For starters, we had the jalepeno peppers with smoked paprika nut cheese and eggplant bacon. They were every bit as delicious as they sound, and I don't know how they got the eggplant to taste like bacon, but they managed. Quarrygirl has a much better photo of them on her blog.

the jalapenos
For their entrees, my friends both ordered the enchiladas in tomatillo sauce with walnut refried beans and vegetables, while I ordered the lemon caper tomato pasta with garlic bread. I vastly preferred my friends' meal to mine and will totally consider ordering what they got next time I go to Mooi. My pasta was kelp noodles, which I was determined to try and like tonight, but...alas. It's such a shame, because I was really hoping to like them! I should say, however, that the sauce, vegetables, and seasoning on my pasta were all delightful. I loved the delicately sliced and folded zucchini. In fact, I've decided that I much prefer eating moistened/soaked zucchini over cooked zucchini. Also, the "garlic bread" was good - it tasted like baked bread, somehow, yet denser. The butter on top strangely tasted a lot like butter, too.

Lemon caper tomato pasta w/garlic bread
Choosing which desserts to get was a serious matter. Finally, my friends settled on the chunky monkey ice cream and blueberry cheesecake. I got the blueberry cheesecake ice cream and snickers pie. ALL of these were delicious, but the ice creams were especially impressive. Chunky monkey has cacao, banana, and peanutbutter in a sort of vanilla-ish base. The peanutbutter was actually, I think, sunflower butter, but the taste of peanutbutter dominated this flavor (which I appreciated). The blueberry cheesecake ice cream was a dream. It tasted like...well, blueberry cheesecake, but without all the cholesterol, lactose, acid, et cetera. Not surprisingly, we devoured our ice cream before I even remembered to take my camera out. Mooi, you get a "10" when it comes to raw, vegan ice creams.

Mooi's snickers pie
As for the cakes, my friends' blueberry cheesecake was good, but it paled in comparison to Earth Cafe's. My snickers pie was really flavorful, but much too rich and sweet for me. I'm not one for rich, sweet, decadent desserts (I never liked chocolate fudge type cakes and I usually prefer hummus to cake anyway). Definitely overloaded on dessert today. Felt a bit sick after dinner but feeling mostly better now.

Mooi's blueberry cheesecake

That's about all I have to say for now. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I finish out my 5-day raw food experiment! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

day 2 raw: CSAs, Superfoods, & Prepackaged Thrills

Doing well. Here's my recap of the day:

After a fitful sleep, I woke up this morning with a sore throat and some congestion. I felt better within a few hours. Some say there is a "detox" period in which symptoms like this can occur before you begin to feel the positive effects of a raw lifestyle. However, I'm more inclined to believe that my congestion was simply due to the Los Angeles air quality, as I tend to wake up feeling like this not infrequently.

Also of note, I don't feel deprived. Before starting this experiment, I was worried that I'd go about my day feeling weak and go to bed feeling hungry. To my surprise and relief, this isn't at all what it's felt like for me so far. I've been getting hungry more frequently but, in fact, my hunger has been less intense than before this experiment. And I definitely feel like I'm getting enough calories. As usual, I'm not counting anything - calories, grams of protein, milligrams of this or that - I simply eat a variety of foods, and eat according to how my body feels. (It is my personal belief that for most people, that is the healthiest way to eat!)

Another highlight of today: Much to my excitement, our CSA box arrived! I couldn't wait to tear it open and discover what was inside. It reminded me a bit of when I was in grade school, and the much-anticipated book club books would arrive (what was that book club called? Scholastic Books or something?). This week, we received a melon, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grapes, cucumber, basil, squash, and cauliflower. I think I saw a recipe for some kind of raw cauliflower spread, which I intend to make soon.


As for what I ate today... I didn't have much time for breakfast, nor was I particularly hungry (which is normal for me), so breakfast was a banana. Then I had my first *totally* raw meal: cashew cheese with veggie slices and salad. Later, I made a fruit smoothie, and then had veggie-nut nuggets for dinner (more on those further below). Still snacking on fresh fruit and raw granola when I get little bursts of hunger in between meals. It's still working.

Speaking of the cashew cheese, I've decided I'm going to call it "cashew spread," because it really doesn't resemble the same consistency and texture that vegan cheeses do. It's much more like a spread, in my opinion. I added a chopped jalapeno pepper (which proved to be a tad too much spice), minced garlic, sea salt, Bragg's Liquid Aminos, and onion powder (a little bit of onion powder goes a long way - too long, in my case today!). Dipping English cucumber and red bell pepper slices in it worked well. Not bad. Not thrilling, but not bad. I think there's potential for me to be thrilled by cashew spread, but it's going to take some ingredient experimentation on my part.

I've been interested in incorporating some of the raw "superfoods" into my smoothie experiments, so yesterday I bought Maca powder at my local natural foods store. Maca powder is of Incan origin, and is purported to provide energy and stamina. Of note, Maca powder doesn't taste great to me. Next time, I'll be sure to add more berries to blend the taste.

For dinner, I was in a rush, so I stopped to get some pre-packaged raw food at one of the local natural food restaurants (ah, the beauty of living in LA!). I winced a bit at the price, but ultimately opted for some Good Mood Foods brand breaded spicy nuggets with sweet and sour dipping sauce. And let me tell you, THOSE were absolutely, completely THRILLINGLY delicious. I was amazed. Also, they pack a LOT of stuff into 4 little nuggets. As usual, I was worried at first that this wouldn't be enough food for a "meal," but I did feel full afterward. Again, it wasn't that filled-stomach kind of full that I'm used to, but more of a..."hmm, oddly, I think I could probably stop eating now and be fine...yep, weird! I *am* full" kind.

Those were some good nuggets.

Monday, August 9, 2010

day 1 raw: The Feeling of "Full" & A New Curiosity

So, yesterday I wasn't sure when I'd start, but then I thought, why not now? I ended last night with Yogi brand "detox" tea (which technically isn't "raw" because obviously I had to brew it) and a snack of 100% raw, store-bought granola mix, and began today with a mostly-raw smoothie (images and ingredients below).

Notably, I've already had a dream about (vegan) deep-dish pizza, which is totally bizarre because a) I haven't actually tried the deep-dish variety of vegan pizza yet, and b) I'm not completely disallowing myself from having non-raw foods during this five-day jaunt!

Speaking of non-raw foods and such, does anyone know the impact of boiling water on the phytochemicals in tea leaves? I'm not "giving up" tea during this experiment, but I would be interested to know if there are better ways of extracting the benefits from the leaves. I've thought about cold-pressing my coffee beans and tea leaves. I'd be interested to hear of others' experiences with that method.

Onto my morning smoothie ingredients:

-fresh, organic strawberries (I've read that strawberries are one of the worst when it comes to pesticide residue, so I always buy them organic)
-frozen, chopped banana
-frozen mango pieces, thawed in a bowl of warm water for easier blending
-1 TB flaxseed
-blue agave nectar
-vanilla soy milk <--not raw

(Mostly) Raw Smoothie Ingredients (Blue agave nectar not pictured.)

Viola. Delicious smoothie.


For lunch, I stuck with a tried-and-true salad. Ingredients were:
-baby greens
-chopped red bell pepper (organic, as I've also read that pesticides cling well to red pepper)
-onion sprouts
-chopped fennel
-shaved carrot
-1/2 sliced avocado
-dressed with: flaxseed oil, balsalmic vinegar, fresh ground black pepper, & himalayan sea salt

Always loved flaxseed oil, by the way. It's like the butter of oils, but waaaay healthier. 

This afternoon, I began the process of making raw hummus and raw cashew cheese by stopping by my local bulk bin store and buying raw, dry garbanzo beans and raw cashews. To prep the raw cashews, I followed a recipe in a cookbook: blend 2 cups of cashews and 1 cup water in a food processor until very creamy. Cover tightly and store for 6 hours in a warm, dry spot. The cashews are currently ready to be made into nut cheese, which I will do tomorrow. The garbanzo beans must soak in a jar of water in the fridge for 48 hours before I can do anything further with them. 

While I'm waiting to use my raw, high-protein sources, I am opting to use non-raw, high-protein sources. So, for dinner tonight, I put canned (non-raw) black beans in an Ezekiel tortilla, spread with (non-raw) tahini and stuffed with fresh veggies. Another salad, this time a side.

In between meals, I snacked on organic lemon-ginger-echinacea juice (not sure if it's raw, to tell the truth), store-bought raw granola, fresh fruit, and broccoli dipped in (non-raw) tahini. 

Okay, so three things I learned today:

1. I get full on raw food, but it's a different kind of full. It's a less dense, less long-lasting full. My blogger friend at Simply Vegan told me that she experienced this sensation, too. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. My first impulse was disappointment because I thought that my short-lived satiety meant that I was hungry again and would therefore have to go through the hassle of preparing more food. However, now that I look back on my day, I think that perhaps this is actually a good thing - it means I won't be bothered by that fuzzy, sleepy feeling I sometimes get after a good, big meal, and it probably means that my metabolism is healthy. I don't know. I'm not a medical doctor or nutritionist, so take my words with a grain of...salt.

2. Okay, so I guess this isn't something "new," but as with any lifestyle change, one must plan ahead in order to thrive. Hence, I began the process of soaking beans and nuts. This is something that most veteran raw foodies do on a regular basis, but something I didn't realize until I was in the thick of this raw food experiment, despite my preparatory research.

3. I've been a vegan for five years now, which has forced me to learn a LOT about where my food comes from, what's in it, etc. However, there is still SO MUCH to learn! That was one of my motivators to challenging myself to do this, to learn even more about cooking, food, and health. I have so many questions about how some of my favorite foods are prepared, whether or not they are raw, how to make them myself... One such example is balsalmic vinegar, which is a condimental (yes, not a word) staple of my diet. It's not something I've ever really stopped to think about before, and I could make some educated guesses, but I don't know exactly how balsalmic vinegar is formed. More research to do. 

Salad from lunch
Tortilla and salad from dinner

Other than the short-lived fullness, I haven't noticed any physical or mental changes. I'm feeling a little impatient about it - I want to experience the raw food magic I've heard so much about! My rational side knows, of course, that it's only Day 1 of my self-inflicted challenge, and so any changes are probably a ways off. One thing's for sure: I'm still glad I'm doing this!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

raw food challenge

I've decided to embark upon a five-day, raw food challenge. I've read that there are tons of health benefits associated with eating raw foods, not to mention a decreased need for sleep/increased energy. I haven't quite decided when I'll officially begin, and also, I'm not sure I'll go "100%" raw when I do.

For now, I am sort of phasing into it. Stay tuned for updates. I'm pretty psyched about this - I'm really curious to experience how it feels.

Tonight I made a *mostly* raw meal: baby greens topped w/chopped tomato and avocado. Dressed with balsalmic vinegar, cold-pressed olive oil, pink sea salt, and cracked black pepper. Sides of broccoli and tahini.