Needless to say my vegan, raw food diet has gone out the window pretty quickly here in Paris. Good riddance, I say; especially when there is butter like this to be had. (and fleur de sel, and foie gras, and croissants as ethereal as angels wings.)
Knowing my fondness for food oddities, a dear friend of mine who originally hails from Iowa – where the cult worship of corn might be considered to border on devotion – occasionally presents me with some archaic grain or obscure spice or the culinary equivalent of an abacus. Few surprises, however, are as eagerly received as a bag of dried corn. What exactly is dried corn, you might ask. I, too, once wondered the same thing because it sounds like something Pa Ingalls would have hitched his horses to the wagon for and picked up at Oleson’s Mercantile. Drying, I’ve since learned, was once the preferred way to preserve a fresh, sweet crop like corn. It’s harvested just as it’s about to mature and then air-dried. The result, once reconstituted, has a sweet, nutty, caramelized flavor with a pleasantly chewy texture. It’s also incredibly versatile: creamed corn, corn pudding, corn chowder, baked corn supreme, anyone? I gravitate toward stewed because you can keep it light – and vegan – letting the flavor of the corn take focus instead of the butter and cream called for in other recipes Plus, as good as it is for dinner, it’s strangely even better at breakfast: warmed in a little soy milk on a cold winter’s morning it’s Iowa’s corny answer to oatmeal.
Fat-free, cholesterol-free, vegan-friendly, nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and kosher-certified, I’m officially obsessed with these 50-calorie bags of freeze-dried FruitziO from Crispy Green. A sophisticated freeze-drying process wicks the water out of fresh fruit, leaving behind a fruity essence sealed in a light and crispy chip that’s as addictive as narcotics. If you’ve never tried crispy mangoes, be warned – you have no idea what you’re missing. My only gripe is that they’re not organic. Still, next time I’m stuck flying coach I’m stuffing my bag full of crispy kiwi. And cantaloupe. And Asian pear.
I’ll admit that the idea of making my own milk seemed a bit, um, radical to me at first. A little too off-the-grid, angry-vegan perhaps? Yet I’ve been trying to wean myself off consuming so much soy – and finding a brand of store-bought almond milk that doesn’t leave me totally cold has proved fruitless. Enter the Vitamix: a recent gift, and one of those magic machines that changes your life as soon as you allow it. Dump in two cups of water, one cup of raw nuts, one pitted date, give it a whirl and voila: fresh, organic almond milk. Or mylk. Okay, maybe it’s just a little trickier than that. You need to soak the almonds overnight to get the bitterness out of the skins. And for a smoother texture, you’ll need to strain the puree through a sieve or nut milk bag. With the awesome horsepower of the Vitamix doing all the grunt work, however, it’s a minimal effort enterprise. It’s also got me thinking about all the different flavors of mustache I could experiment with, like cashew, hemp, and coconut.
BlueFire Grill is by far one of highlights at La Costa. Under the assured hand of Chef de Cuisine, Greg Frey, the casually upmarket restaurant serves a more modern take on locally inspired cuisine – emphasizing seafood and seasonality. Baja Ceviche is a standout, mixing halibut, stone crab, and persian cucumber in a carrot and citrus reduction. So, too, is the Fritto Misto, enlivened with a togarashi-flecked crust and smoked garlic remoulade. Pacific Chinook Salmon is as you’d expect: crisp-skinned and perfectly cooked. The addition of cauliflower sauce and a winter squash gratin turn the dish into the SoCal equivalent of comfort food – as perfect for a chilly January night as a favorite cashmere sweater. (Special diets are surprisingly well-served, too: almost half the menu is either vegan or vegetarian while nearly everything can be prepared gluten-free.) Dessert doesn’t disappoint either. A chocolate caramel creme fraiche tart is decadent and rich, while two scoops of blackberry Cabernet sorbet make for a refreshing end to the meal – as well as a clean finish on the palate.
For the past few months I’ve been gravitating away from meat. (And sugar. And dairy, too, for that matter.) Perhaps it’s a result of my various experiments in food: juice cleanses, gluten-free, chia seeds – even a brief dabbling in colonic therapy. But that’s beside the point. What matters is that I’m feeling more energetic – and stronger – than I have in a long time; so naturally, save a few extracurricular burgers, I’ve embraced it. A resource that’s recently become a bit of a touchstone for me is Mimi Kirk’s Live Raw, a review copy of which landed unexpectedly – and most fortuitously – on my desk last month. At 70, Kirk was voted PETA’s sexiest vegetarian over 50, which makes her living proof that eating well is good for you both inside and out. Her book is sprinkled with must-have advice on detoxifying (so gravity won’t get you down), as well as what you need to eat to properly feed your body every day – and why. Emphasizing the roles that attitude and mindset play in the way we all look and feel, Kirk stresses that even though the end result might be the same, the difference between “dieting” and “getting healthier” is tremendous. Live Raw includes tips for your looks, your attitude, and your health, but just as important, it includes delicious raw food recipes – a phrase I never thought I’d utter with a straight face – that anyone can integrate into a busy life; and even the most refined of palates can appreciate: stuffed portobello mushrooms with basil pesto, pomodoro lasagna, lemony cheesecake, and – my favorite – banana pudding. An engaging, one-of-a-kind guide, I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who’s flirting with raw food or simply interested in exploring veganism. Beyond its practical applications, Live Raw also makes for fascinating reading.
There’s a threshold you cross on day three, as the cleanse part of the experience lives up to the promise inherent in its name. Yesterday I couldn’t imagine doing this for more than three days, yet today – despite the intestinal discomfort that comes from three days of spinach, celery, lemon, parsley, beet, carrot, chard, kale, green apple, ginger, and cucumber juices – I almost wish I had signed up for five or even seven days worth of juice because I feel pretty awesome, inhabiting a space somewhere between delirium and euphoria. What’s even stranger is that my food cravings have mostly fallen by the theoretical wayside. I’m like a bromeliad, content to subsist on what the breeze brings. I received an email this morning from Organic Avenue as I have every morning. It begins with an affirmation. For two days I’ve mocked it as hackneyed pap as I downed my shot of chlorophyll, but today I read it with clear eyes: I am Happy, I am Joyous, I am Free. If somebody crossed my field of vision with a basket of warm bread I’d probably tackle them for it, but other than that, yes, I am happy and just a little bit free of the obsessive behavior I continually find myself battling when it comes to food. That alone is cause for celebration.
There’s a certain puritanical joy that comes from feeling hunger. We are so often full, or worse, overstuffed, that it takes more than a minute to wrap your mind around the conceit that perhaps the obverse of that state can be equally pleasurable. It also takes some serious convincing for the body to get on board with the reality of that bit of philosophical musing. Your calorie consumption is substantially reduced on a cleanse. So, too, is your fat and protein intake. For any reasonably active person that translates into an almost constant state of hunger. For example: last night I went to bed hungry; this morning I woke up hungry. It’s only work or being engaged in a hive of activity that distracts your mind from the constant “eat something” signal your body relays to your brain. (Writing this has suddenly turned into torture: I’m basically taking a time-out from my hunger distraction to remind myself that I’m really quite hungry.) Earlier today, when I was conveniently distracted and Zen-like about all this, I can truthfully say that I felt a distinct lightness of mind, as though my brain was hovering detached from my body, relishing the control. Coupled with a buoyant spring in my step, it felt like my whole being was enjoying this purge on some cellular level. Now that I’ve been reminded of my hunger, it’s all I can think about. I know that’s part of the process of this cleanse: listening to your body, recognizing your hunger, living with – not ignoring – it. But I don’t think I’ve evolved quite that far. Yet.
Like the beginning of a new diet or exercise regimen – or good adventure story – the first day of my Organic Avenue LOVE Deep cleanse is imbued with hope. LOVE is an acronym for Live Organic Vegan Experience and you can just feel the healthy goodness to come, right? Over the next three days I’ll be consuming 113 ounces of fresh-pressed vegetable juice daily and nothing else, save water. If that sounds difficult, well, it is. I did a three-day Cooler Cleanse a few months back and it proved to be a challenging test of mind over matter. I never posted about it because frankly I wasn’t sure I’d actually see it through to completion and the shame of public failure was too much for a virgin cleanser to shoulder. However, this time I’ve opted to go public and live blog my way through the experience – even though LOVE Deep looks to be substantially more hardcore than my previous cleanse. Oh well, here we go. First up: a breakfast shot of alfalfa grass chlorophyll.