A lot of things have been running around in my mind this week, so it has been hard to narrow it down to something that was intelligible. We were asked an interesting question at the market last week. A woman asked, "Is everything here in your section organic?" When I answered that it was, she asked, "How do you know that?" At first I didn't understand her question, but then I understood that she was asking how does anyone know that what they are getting and paying a higher dollar for is of any different quality than the lower priced product.
This is an interesting question. When we first brought Darius home from the hospital after his 30 day stay there, he was in a very weakened state. I prayed to know what to do to help him, and I was inspired to feed him "mild" foods. Not knowing what that meant, I had to think about it and pray a little more. I did some research and found the following scripture: "And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy" (Doctrine and Covenants 42:43). My mind conceived this to be foods that could digest easily so that his body could use its vital energies to help him heal.
I remembered a book I had read many years before, Fit for Life, where the authors explain this concept. I was grateful I had learned this though I had not implemented it to any great degree at that time. Foods that are easy to digest are fruits and vegetables primarily, especially juices of them. Darius' wife and I were now on a mission to get as many "mild" foods into him as we could. We purchased 25 pound bags of carrots, pounds and pounds of spinach and celery, and trays and trays of wheat grass. As we poured these elixirs in him, we were relieved to see his strength returning. It was truly a miracle!
We decided that as we purchased these "mild" foods as well as the other foods he would be eating, we should buy the ones as chemical free as possible so as not to tax his digestive system even more. This meant buying organic. So how would we know what was organic?
We had long grown our own vegetables and fruits in a chemical free manner using compost and mulch to build up the soil. We had hand-picked off the insects that occasionally came around for their daily munchies. To produce the quantity Darius needed though, vegetables would need to be purchased, so we had to rely on the vendors at the health food stores in the area.
We have learned that organically grown food is different than certified organic. Which one is better? There is a trust factor, certainly. For me, I visit the farms of those who claim to be growing organic but do not as yet have certification. Because I have grown food this way for many years, I know what I am looking for. It is not just the absence of poisons that makes it organic; it is the soil that makes it organic as far as I am concerned (assuming the farmer has the aversion to poisons that I have).
What I have come to learn is that organically grown food really does taste better. I think one of the reasons that so many people don't think they like a plant based diet is because the thought of eating all those gross tasting (i.e. chemical tasting) things is pretty disgusting. Even before this happened to Darius, I had started buying only organically grown lettuce as I found the chemical taste of conventional lettuce to be very off-putting. Now that I only eat plant foods, I am very sensitive to that chemical taste. I feel that fruits and vegetables that are grown properly (i.e. with soil that is highly developed with organic matter) have a sweet well-rounded rich flavor with no chemical aftertaste at all.
2 examples: one of our customers got a spinach salad from us last week where we provided a pear to slice over it to go with the candied pecans and raspberry vinaigrette. She e-mailed to say it was the best pear she had ever had, and could she please have some more. I don't think we have the best pears available; I think she had just never had an organic pear.
On the reverse side, another customer told me that she has a friend dying from cancer. When our customer suggested she change her diet to a plant-based diet to relieve some the stress a conventional diet was putting on her, the other lady said she would rather die than eat only that "stuff" -- and she will! That lady has never sat down to a whole day of plant-based goodies, now has she? We often remark at our house how blessed we are to have all these wonderful things to eat.
So this brings us full circle back to our beast boxes. You knew I would get around to them, didn't you? As we strive to come up with menus and foods that inspire our customers to eat a more plant-based diet, we want folks to know that these foods really are good. There really is not a sacrifice involved in eating this way. We may have to develop our palettes to appreciate some things we aren't used to, but time will give us that. If God intended us to eat a plant based diet (you know Adam and Eve were raw vegans, right?), He would not have wanted it to be a negative experience. Of course, our addictions to our former way of eating color our appreciation of the foods that we were really intended to eat.
Reminding me of something another customer said in her response to our beast box survey: "We have really enjoyed trying new food. It has opened up a new world of fun possibilities. I guess the biggest thing is to realize that while the raw versions are very good they are not going to really have the taste or texture of the real thing."
Ha! the "real thing" is really only our perception of what it should taste like. For example, we have a red pepper, onion, and mushroom fajita as one of our foods this week. Who is to say what a fajita is supposed to be? If all you knew is the one you get in the beast box this week, you would be content. If you, however, expect it to taste and feel like the one at the cocina, you will probably be disappointed. It's not that you won't like this one; it is just that your brain is expecting it to be something else.
Perhaps we should not call the foods by names by which other foods are called. Perhaps we should think of all new names for them so there are no pre-conceived notions. We'll work on that. Using familiar names helps us know what we are getting into.
My biggest problem with this is the raw vegan breads. To call them breads at all is an atrocity. I baked yeast breads for 30 years before entering this lifestyle, and I cannot wrap my brain around this cracker thing being called a bread. Nor can I accept that this cracker thing is anything like the little orange crackers I ate a box of every week of my life before adapting healthier habits. My solution? I don't eat raw vegan bread very often. I don't need it or want it. I don't dislike them, I just can't get my brain to accept them as bread. When I need a vehicle to hold my avocado mayo and tomato slices, I can eat them and enjoy them immensely. Just don't call them bread... they are tomato holders!
Well, I didn't think all the things running around in my head were in any way related to one another, but I got every one of them into the same discussion. Well, kind of. The reader is probably totally lost and gave up paragraphs ago. On to a more sensible subject: this week's menu.
As mentioned previously, we are making a mushroom / red pepper / onion "fajita". The "tortilla" is an actual corn chip in a circular shape dehydrated until it is hard. We have to dry them to that extent so that they do not degrade. Because there are absolutely no preservatives in them, molds will find them if there is any moisture there to help them survive. If you'd like a more pliable fajita wrapper, you will find the filling itself will soften it up a little bit so that it can be folded around it. We are also including a cup of cashew sour cream to add to your little sandwiches. Can anyone think of a better name for this than "fajita"?
Next, we have a cup of what we call queso dulce. I don't remember how we came upon this, but we loved it from the first day we invented it. We love it as a dip for celery, apples, and mixed into fruit salads. Are you noting a pattern here? Celery is not a food we would eat a lot except that we come up with all these delicious ways to eat it. Now we eat it by the bunch. Often for dinner we'll clean up 2 bunches for the 6 of us and devour it with our dip of choice. It is extremely satisfying and easy on the digestive system. So nearly every week, you'll find some kind of celery dip in the beast itself, and a bunch of celery in the veggie add-on.
Also, every week, there's usually a "pasta" type dish. Here again, squash might make a poor substitute for an actual pasta dish, but I think of it as a wonderful vegetable dish especially considering all the many toppings we've come up with to put on it. One of our favorites is this one: mac n cheese. The cheese is in a separate cup to add to your "noodles" when you are ready to eat. Both products hold up better that way. The "cheddar" is a cashew based cheese sauce with red pepper and cilantro. We think it is delicious. We've included some of Lil's down home greens to have along side or mix right into the squash noodles. Lillian Butler is a woman we met in New York. She runs a restaurant in Harlem called Raw Soul. She has done a wonderful work helping the poor black community there overcome some of the cultural choices that were ruining their health. These greens reflect her southern roots.
Our soup and salad choice this week is not entirely congruent: Asian soup and Italian salad, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Miso soup is very satisfying. I am not a big fan of raw mushrooms, but I like how they taste in miso. Miso is not actually a raw food since it is made from cooked beans, but because it is cultured, it is considered live. Isn't that interesting?
The Caesar salad is also one of my favorites. It took us awhile to come up with satisfactory substitutes for the SAD diet counterparts, but we love this dressing which uses miso for both flavoring and saltiness. I'm anxious to see how you like the crouton we've provided, and don't forget to sprinkle on the dulse. Dulse is another sea vegetable. Some people really had an aversion to the surf n turf last week because it had seaweed in it, but we are hoping we can convert you over to the raw side where these foods are an important part of a nourshing diet.
Our "chip and dip" feature this week is more familiar: vegan corn chips (made from corn and flax and seasonings) and salsa fresca. We think this tastes great with a sliced avocado and maybe some olives if you are so inclined.
You have probably noticed we don't eat a lot of grains even if they are sprouted. One exception to this is tabbouleh. It is made from quinoa which is an ancient grain; the indigenous people of Bolivia have been cultivating "the rice if the Incas" for over 5000 years. Quinoa is superior to other grains because it is a complete protein, containing 8 essential amino acids. It is actually a seed, not a grain, and is gluten free. When cooked, the grain itself is soft and delicate, but the germ is crunchy, creating a delicious combination of flavour and texture.
What we've prepared for you this week is a mixture of sprouted quinoa, cucumber, tomato, and onion in a lime vinaigrette. We would suggest you use it as a salad topping over some sliced lettuce. We are also including some cumin flatbread (which again, is not really very bready) to have with it.
Since we have 3 breads this week, we only have one snack, so we made it a rich one: something we call Greek dates. These are dates stuffed with a baklava type filling of almonds, walnuts, and honey. They are very tasty, but don't try to eat them all in one sitting. A half one a day will probably be very satisfying. One of our customers slices them into her salads, but we haven't tried that yet. Sounds intriguing.
We're having my favorite dessert this week: apple crisp. I've always been a fan, but I like this raw vegan version far better than the SAD version. We make a base from raisins, dates, pecans, coconut, and spices. Then we spicily sauce up some apples with more raisins and dates. It is topped by more of the crunchy topping and some maple cream made from cashews and maple syrup.
The development of this recipe took many months as I experimented with different combinations until I got it where I wanted it. I could eat it every day if it weren't such an involved recipe. You can count on it being in the beast box on a monthly basis.
(Which reminds me, Darius wanted a survey question wondering how often you would like certain items in the beast. Are there some things you'd like every week or every other week? Or would you prefer lots of different things? We are changing our catalog to only list about 15 items that will be available weekly. Hopefully they are items you like! We will also have extra of items being offered in each beast box for people to purchase ala carte if they don't want the whole beast. We are hoping this model will work for everyone.)
Our other dessert is the skinny mint (pictured above) so called because it won't make you fat like its SAD counterpart! The downfall of these is that they must be kept frozen or they disintegrate. We are working on that aspect of it and will hopefully come up with a different recipe, but it is so tasty, that we can't wait for the final draft before enjoying them. They are made from almond flour, raw cacao, maple syrup and sugar and coconut oil along with vanilla and peppermint extracts.
Our recipe this week is for a soup we love love love, but it is seasonal and difficult to hold so we can't put it in the beast. We thought about giving you the ingredients and letting you blend it up when you are ready to eat it. One time we put it in thermoses when we were going on a trip, and it exploded all over the van when we opened it to eat it. It was still good, but we were eating it and smelling it in our van for a long time!
2 cups cauliflower
2 - 3 cups water
1/2 cup cashews or pine nuts
2 T lemon juice
sea salt to taste
Put everything in high speed blender and blend til thick and smooth. Serve at room temp.
I almost forgot to post survey results (5 means really, really good, and 1 is stinky):
4.0 sprouted garbanzo bean hummus
3.8 olive cheese spread
5.0 pad Thai
3.7 surf n turf
3.3 savory kale salad
3.1 spicy broccoli cheese soup
4.4 spinach salad
4.7 pita chips
3.8 Alicia crackers
3.3 zucchini chips
5.1 crunch meister
4.6 chocolate cheesecake
3.8 panna cotta
Everyone seems to like menu suggestions. Since our goal is for everything to be a 5 (or better), obviously some of these choices were not up there on everyone's list although none of them "failed" miserably. Rating them for us helps us to know which things you will like more than others. So thanks to those who took the time to let us know what they liked. We like it all!