Going Raw

Sometimes, it’s just good to try something new.  Our something new was, at the urging of our friend Kristie, Jan and I attended a raw foods class.  Our friend said that eating the food at a previous class had given her so much energy, that we just had to try it.  Since part of our blogging journey has been about trying new things, we couldn’t exactly say no.  Besides, we didn’t know anything about the raw food diet, so it was time to learn.

The class was held in the home of the instructor, Chef Naomi Hendrix, who recently worked together with another local business to open Revive Café, an organic raw vegan restaurant in downtown Fresno.  We began the class with introductions, and I started by getting things out in the open: we were here at the recommendation of our friend (who was beaming at us from across the table), and I would describe both me and Jan as being on the opposite end of the raw—cooked foods spectrum.  We had, after all, just cooked over 30 pounds of corned beef the week before.  But, I explained, we enjoyed trying new things, and we wanted to learn (and taste) as much as we could.

Naomi and her co-host, Rio, explained their own journey to becoming raw foodists, explaining that it wasn’t their mission to push this type of diet on anyone, only educate and tell their own story of the health benefits they’d achieved.  For a raw foods diet, no ingredients are heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit, any higher and the food begins losing its nutrients.  Foods are all plant-based, meaning fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  Overall, raw foodists avoid all processed foods, though some eat dairy products, keeping in mind that means unpasteurized milks and cheeses.

To begin the dinner, I wasn’t off to the best start with my first sip of Kefir water, which is a drink made from grains, providing beneficial bacteria (think probiotics), and similar to kombucha, which I have also tried but not favored.  But the people that swear by these drinks do agree that they’re an acquired taste, so I just left if at that.

Appetizers and Kefir water

For appetizers we had a basil parsley cashew pesto, in which we dipped carrots and cauliflower pieces.  While we snacked, Naomi used her VitaMix (an essential tool for raw foodists) to blend cashews, lemon juice, water, apple cider vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, and dill to create raw dill ranch dip.  I was surprised by the flavor, and might have thought it a “regular” ranch dip if I hadn’t known the ingredients.

As Naomi began preparing our main entrée, I began to take a closer look around.  I hadn’t noticed it right away, but the kitchen, custom-designed by Naomi and Rio, did not contain a stove top, oven, or microwave.  It also contained two side-by-side refrigerator/freezers.  Also present were the three essential tools for raw foodists: Cuisinart food processor, VitaMix blender, and Excalibur dehydrator (a dehydrator designed for raw foodists since the heat setting could be specifically set not to go above a desired temperature).

Naomi shows us the collard leaves

I asked a lot of questions.  What do you do when you travel? They take a lot of food with them, and take along their VitaMix or Bullet mini-blender.  What do your pets eat? The cat eats special raw cat food containing meat and purchased from Whole Foods, and the parrot eats cooked eggs (heated on a portable hot plate), and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Does the raw food diet include alcohol? No.

Enough questions from me, it was time for the main course: Caribbean tacos.  The taco shells were collard greens and they were topped with a pâté made of sunflower seeds, carrots, olive oil, lime juice, salt, cumin, taco seasoning, chili flakes, and water, all combined in the Cuisinart (I was starting to see why they couldn’t live without their turbo blenders and food processors.)  The pâté was topped with a pineapple-mint salsa, shredded cabbage, and the dill ranch dip.  The food was bright, and the flavors were crisp (see photo at the top of this post).  I was pleasantly surprised.

When it came time for dessert, Naomi used pecans, macadamia nuts, vanilla, and maple syrup to make a graham-cracker-like crust.  After pressing the crust into the pie pan, Naomi showed us how to whack the coconut in the right place in order get out the milk and the meat.  The pie was filled with the key lime filling, which contained lime juice, coconut milk, coconut oil, more maple syrup, and, to my surprise, avocados.  The pie was chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  Luckily, there was a demonstration-version pie, and a pie that Naomi had made in advance of our class, and we didn’t have to wait long for a slice of pie.

The texture of the pie was smooth, and the combination of the filling and the crust delicious.  While I enjoyed trying all the dishes on the menu, the pie was my favorite, and something I could see myself making at home.  After all the raw food, Jan and I were stuffed—both with food and information.

When the meal was over, Rio brought out the Green-Winged Macaw, Buzzy, to greet all the guests
Buzzy enjoys his dinner

I was happy we went to the class, and I was pleasantly surprised by the food, as it was tastier than I expected.  Then again, I had left my mind open with few expectations or assumptions prior to attending the class.  What filled that was a new knowledge and appreciation for a different way of eating.  I thanked both Naomi and Rio for being such great hosts and providing an open environment where everyone was free to ask questions.  Even though Jan and I won’t be converting into raw foodists, we were able to learn from what they do, and who knows, maybe we’ll even incorporate some of their ideas in our own preparation of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

I take a cooking class and get drunk on olive oil

I haven’t taken a cooking class since Home Ec, so when a group of my girl friends decided to host a get-together at the Whole Foods demonstration kitchen, I was excited.

The evening’s theme was Spanish tapas, and our chef Hillori explained that tapas were small bites eaten in bars and were traditionally made on large platters and served with toothpicks. Establishments used the honor system; at the end of the night, you’d bring up your pile of toothpicks to be counted so that you could pay for what you ate.

Luckily, we had no such system tonight to keep track of the amount we ate, otherwise my toothpick pile might have looked more like a mountain by the end of the evening!

We started by making prosciutto, manchego and fig tartines. We combined butter with fig preserves and spread over small pieces of baguette. Then, we topped those with prosciutto (can also use Serrano ham) and pieces of manchego cheese (a hard cheese that Hillori cleverly sliced with a vegetable peeler). Once plated, the tartines were drizzled with olive oil and topped with salt and pepper.

We then made a few things to accompany some of the later dishes: almond and parsley salsa verde, and lemon and garlic aioli. We made piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese and served them with the salsa verde, then garlic shrimp with sherry and fresh parsley. Lastly, we sampled spicy chorizo served with the aioli for dipping.

I felt like I was on the set of a cooking show from the Food Network, except this time, I could ask the chef a question and get an answer right away, it was great. I kept leaning forward in my seat to get a better look at the food preparation, forgetting about the ceiling mirror that offered a better view.

Everything was rich and delicious, and I love that the class forced me to step outside my comfort zone and try things I normally wouldn’t. I used ingredients that I would never think to buy, or use. And I found several uses for the parsley that’s growing rampant in the garden right now.

On all the dishes, olive oil was used in abundance, something that bothered me at first, but I told myself to go with it. When in Spain… right? Besides, the liquor license for the demonstration room was still in the works, so we couldn’t yet sip on Spanish wine while we did our cooking. By the end of the night, I was so stuffed with the flavors of Spain, I felt like I had drank a bottle of wine myself.

The girls and I made a date with Hillori for another class focusing on making quick and easy desserts, and my sweet tooth can’t wait.