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Forget tagines – go raw in Marrakech

23 Jan

raw street food - marrkech style

Morocco might be famous for tagines, couscous and pigeon briouats and I was fully prepared to deviate from raw on my recent trip to Marrakech but I was over the moon to find a magical treasure trove of raw delights.

Surrounding snake charmers, witch doctors, African drummers, dancers, story tellers, fortune tellers and hawkers selling shoes, bags and souvenirs; mountains of delectable dates and nuts and cart after cart of freshly squeezed orange juice line the main square of Jemaa El-fnaa. And within the souk a busy fresh produce market selling predominantly home grown organic fruits and vegies offered me everything else I needed to be 100% raw, should I have been so inclined…

fresh orange juice??

raw nuts, figs, raisins, prunes and dates galore

produce markets give rich raw pickings

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796* raw foodists in Czech Republic

25 Sep

Fried cheese is the closest thing to raw food in Czech Republic

I was in beautiful Prague for work last week, which sounds exciting but sadly I had just the one opportunity to leave the office, eat out and test a typical Czech restaurant menu for ‘raw food’. The menu at this particular beer-based ‘restaurant’ was more of a manual of ‘how to eat meat with meat with beer and a side plate of meaty meat’.  

From pig knees to venison goulash, foie gras, duck liver terrine and steak tartare, and every other cut, animal, cooking variation, body part and flavour option accounted for, I was tempted to leave an alkaline diet leaflet and list of meat-related diseases on the table.

But – it was a wonderful thing to see that even a cursory attempt had been made to cater for the vegetarians among us.  However, the only vegie options were fried cheese, fried Camembert cheese, omelette and a depressed risotto, hence a raw food option was a total no go and I began to realise that a raw foodist in Czech Republic would more likely be found performing in a travelling freak show than an average eatery.

Expecting absolutely nothing, on researching ‘raw food in Czech Republic’, I was pleasantly surprised to find the statistic on raw-food-health.net that 1.5% of Czech people are considered vegetarian.  * Imagining the proportion of vegetarians who could be considered ‘raw’ to be a mere 0.5% – that leaves the potential figure of raw foodies at 786 people out of a population of 10.5 million.

Raw food health.net refers to the 2008, “Vegetarianism in America” study published by the Vegetarian Times Magazine, that puts the number of U.S. adult vegetarians at 7.3 million, or 3.2 percent of the population.

In England, vegetarianism got a huge boost from the mad cow scare. According to a 2006 Mintel survey, 6 percent of the population, or 3.6 million people, are vegetarians, and 10 percent eat no red meat. This likely makes the UK the european country with the largest proportion of its population that is vegetarian.

Across the rest of Europe, statistics are less positive:

Austria: 243,000 – 3%
Belgium: 204,000 – 2%
Croatia: 166,500 – 3.7%
Czech Republic: 153,000 – 1.5%
Denmark: 81,000 – 1.5%
France: >1,200,000 – >2%
The Netherlands: 700,900 – 4.3%
Norway: 92,000 – 2%
Poland: >386,000 – >1%
Portugal: 30,000 – 0.3%

Surprisingly, Czech Republic does not have the lowest stat in Europe, which leads me to think that there are a lot fried cheese fans out there. I did try it, but can’t say I recommend it as a lifestyle choice and frankly, I’d rather eat the pig knee too.

By the way, Happy World Vegetarian Day for Oct 1.

Wall St Journal: Raw-Food Movement Pushes Deeper Into New York City

8 Aug

image of Rawvolution co-owner Janabai Amsden in the East Village by Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal

I’ve seen a huge rise in hits on my blog in the last six months so am therefore well aware of the raw food revolution’s rise in momentum worldwide. Sumathi Reddy writes this great piece about the very wave of raw food love washing across the US in the Wall St Journal on Monday 1 August 2011.

There will be no oven when Rawvolution opens Monday in the East Village. No stove, either.

“Nobody gets burned here,” said Janabai Amsden, who founded the Santa Monica-based restaurant with her husband. “We try not to ever make anything over 110 degrees.”

Rawvolution is one of a small group of restaurants that once catered to a niche population: the raw food community. But such restaurants and juice bars—which often also sell raw food and juice cleanse packages—increasingly find themselves gaining the attention of a more mainstream crowd.

“Our clientele has definitely changed a lot,” said Sarma Melngailis, chief executive officer of One Lucky Duck and co-founder of Pure Food and Wine, a raw-food, vegan restaurant that was among the first in New York. “Certainly more and more people know about it and people are getting in to juice cleanses and that kind of thing.”

Raw food is defined as food that is uncooked and unprocessed and is usually vegan. Most practitioners and restaurants define uncooked as prepared at less than 118 degrees. Dehydrators are used to make bread. Juice is usually made with a hydraulic juice presser. Advocates believe that such food methods preserve more nutrients and enzymes than more traditional methods.

Rawvolution will be a smaller version of the California outpost, with a grab-and-go menu. And of course there will be juices, like a “green juice” of cucumber, celery, parsley, ginger lemon and kale.

Natural-juice cafes are becoming especially prolific, popping up everywhere from the Bronx to Prospect Heights in Brooklyn.

Denise Mari, founder of Organic Avenue, which has four stores in Manhattan and one in the Hamptons, said its juices have soared in popularity and probably make up more in sales than its menu of raw food. The company is in the process of opening four more stores in the fall.

The company also has a variety of cleansing programs. And it’s not just celebrities that are slurping them up.

“There’s such a thirst for the juice,” said Ms. Mari. “I think it’s like just everyone who needs to be healthier is getting turned on to drink a green juice.”

Some nutritionists warn that a strictly raw-food and juice diet is not entirely healthy.

Lisa Sasson, a clinical assistant professor at the New York University Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, said the premise that raw food contains more enzymes is faulty because our bodies make enzymes that break food down. Also, she said getting all the food groups you need on such a diet can lead to deficiencies in iron, calcium, Vitamin D and B12.

“Unless people are very conscientious they can have some deficiencies with the raw-food diet,” she said. “It is a very difficult diet.”

As for green juices, Ms. Sasson said there’s nothing wrong with having one for breakfast or as a snack. But she said there is no research that supports the idea that juice cleanses clean the colon.

But advocates tout the benefits of the diet, which they say makes people feel more energetic and healthier.

“I like eating raw because it makes you feel like you’re really investing in your body and you’re taking care of it,” said Dana Levy, a Manhattan artist who began eating raw about two and a half years ago but has taken breaks.

“It made me feel like I went from riding a bike to driving a Ferrari,” she said of when she first started eating raw. “My body was just so focused and I felt very energized.”

Raw-food restaurants are still mostly centered in the East Village, though there are exceptions, such as Rockin’ Raw in Williamsburg, which opened two years ago and whose coffee is even made from a cold press (coffee grinds are put into a cheese cloth with water and sit out in the sun).

Doug Green, owner of the East Village’s Liquiteria, said that when he opened in 1996 he served both raw food and juices but found there was little appetite for the food. So he switched gears and focused on the juices. He estimates that sales have been growing about 20% a year.

Have to comment on Dog Green’s name…Could it be more apt? Did he make it up? Should I change my name to Susie Sprout?

“Today this generation of Baby Boomers and younger are just changing the meat and potatoes for the juice and the kale salad,” he said. “We have everybody from sanitation workers coming every morning to police officers to hedge-fund and private-equity guys.”

Mr. Green said the restaurant intends to launch a new menu next year and will return to its roots with a raw-food section. “Basically what we’re relaunching is what we had in 1996 but we’re launching it in 2012,” he said.

Mr. Green said he now expects consumers to have more of an appetite.

Raw Thai street food

25 Jul

pawpaw, cucumber, pineapples and just about everything else in a raw street food vendor's cart

It’s easy to be raw on the streets of Bangkok. Mashed against and tangled between walls and curbs of both the tiniest windiest alleyways and the most overwhelming motorways are its many raw street food vendors.

If you can turn your head away from the deep frying chicken, tripe, insects and fish balls, amongst the other unidentifiable goodies, the wide variety of tenderly prepared fruits and vegetables is a delicious temptation for the most hardcore carnivores among us.

Please excuse the layout of the pics – I haven’t mastered it!

Diary of a fasting hypocrite

11 Jul

Oh yum. Bentonite clay, pysillium, lemon juice and water - 6 times a day...

I’m typing this up on day nine of my fast. It’s my last day so please excuse the potential lack of lucidity. I knew it was time to break when a woman eating her fermented cabbage salad changed tables to avoid my obsessive stares.

Day 1
Mood: excited
healing crises (physical symptoms of detoxing) – none
sleep: 8 hours
weight: am – 67kgs, pm – 67kgs
food cravings: none

Day 2
Mood: low to ok
healing crises: 5 hours of intense nausea
sleep: none – went to the toilet every 20mins
weight: am – 66kgs, pm – 68kgs
cravings: none

Day 3
Mood: variable –irritable, paranoid yet somehow sociable
healing crises: rash on neck and upper arm (lasted 24 hrs)
sleep: 4 hours – went to the toilet every hour
weight: am – 66kgs, pm – 68kgs
cravings: raw beetroot and walnut salad with tahini dressing (recipe to follow)

Day 4
Mood: up in the morning, down in the evening, productive
healing crises: sty in left eye (for 2 hours only), nausea
sleep: 3 hours – went to the toilet every hour
weight: am – 65kgs, pm – 67kgs
cravings: none

Day 5
Mood: good but tired
healing crises: twinges in gall bladder
sleep: 6 hours
weight: am – 65kgs, pm – 67kgs
cravings: raw beetroot and walnut salad with tahini dressing – AGAIN

yoga once a day until the last few days when I felt too weak. It really helps release the toxins from the muscles.

Day 6
Mood: weak but able to do yoga which helped enormously
healing crises: twinges in gall bladder
sleep: 6 hours
weight: am – 64kgs, pm – 66kgs
cravings: chunky piece of mature cheddar cheese on a proper warm French fresh baguette, black rice and squid from El Piratas

Day 7
Mood: totally and utterly spaced out/blissful – unbelievable 1.5hr massage exacerbated it
healing crises: vagueness in the extreme
sleep: 8 hours
weight: am – 64kgs, pm – 66kgs
cravings: none

Day 8
Mood: weak but content
healing crises: stomach cramps
sleep: 6 hours
weight: am – 63kgs, pm – 65kgs
cravings: fermented cabbage salad

Day 9
Today I feel happy and healthy but really weak, which is to be expected. My final weight is 63kgs and I’m not at all hungry however I do crave anything with texture. My first meal will be something The Spa calls rejuvalax salad – a raw cabbage salad fermented using acidophilus. It sounds horrendous but I guarantee you it is DELICIOUS and my body can do with all the probiotics it can get.

The detox doesn’t end here though. The next few days are crucial to ease my body back into eating and digesting normally. Usually I fly home the same day or morning after I break the fast but this time I am staying a luxurious 3 days extra. I’ll be eating 99% raw – perhaps having some wild red thai rice at some point.
I also have to say that the people you meet here also make the fasting process a special experience. You meet people here from all walks of life; Russian Vogue editors, lawyers, teachers, tea traders, bankers, models, diplomats, soldiers, to New York cabbies.  Thank you to Damian, Marianne, Andrew, Andrew, Howie, Nikky, Ally, and Sarah – you’re all fabulous. And as always – San Bao and Gila make it a magical time of rich spiritual learnings.

Fasting for the fast lane

8 Jul

I look forward to my coconut water every morning as if it was chocolate...And then it rewards me by keeping me hydrated all day long.

I’m back in Thailand at Spa Samui detox ‘spa’ and 7 days into my fifth annual fast.  Spa Samui is by no means glamorous but it is by far, for me anyway, the most effective and most relaxing (thanks to Thai culture), reasonably priced detox spa I can find.  It also has, as they describe, a world famous raw food restaurant, which is probably not world famous but it is certainly sensational.  

I tried detoxing in an ayurvedic ‘clinic’ in India last year and while it was interesting, I didn’t feel remotely as ‘clean’ as I do when I leave here and the effect didn’t last half as long.  Fasting is a controversial idea in allopathic medicine but as I’ve written previously it is not only practiced by the major religions (Hindu, Jewish, Muslim) as a route to higher spiritual awareness, it as an opportunity for the body to stop digesting for a moment and give our overworked organs a chance to process the backlog of toxins and heal for the next 50 weeks of food.

Prior to beginning the fast I did a pre-fast. This is essential and more than 2 weeks is ideal but 2 days is ok.  The ultimate aim of the pre-fast is to alkalise before fasting to prepare your body for the onslaught of toxins released.  We’re given a litmus paper to test ourselves before starting.

I gave up a few things such as coffee over a month ago and cut back dramatically on everything else (although I do confess to having scrambled eggs on toast the morning before flying…last meal…hypocrite…).  I drank lots of green smoothies (chlorella, baby spinach leaves, alfalfa sprouts, coconut water, a fruit) for 2 weeks, ordered the raw menu on my thai airways flight and arrived relatively healthy and actually felt really perky, clear headed and energetic.

Our fasting schedule is hectic.

7am first detox drink (pysillium husk, lemon juice, bentonite clay, water)
7.30 am meditation
8.30  supplements – 3 chompers (12 herbs combined to stimulate release of ‘mucoid plaque’ and 3 generic herbal supplements for basic vitamins)
9-10am self administered colema
10am detox drink
11.30 supplements
1pm detox drink
2.30pm supplements
4pm detox drink
4.30-5.30 colema
7pm final detox drink
8.30pm final supplements
9pm probiotics

We are allowed tonnes of water of course and other additional drinks.  These include:

A clear broth of boiled vegetables.
I add cayenne pepper for some flavour.  The broth gently gives our organs much needed minerals and vitamins to help the detox process.

Coconut water is also allowed
As I’ve also written previously, nature’s Gatorade is essential for adding the electrolytes that will carry the water molecules throughout our bodies and keep us hydrated.  They literally fall from the trees around us so are particularly delicious and fresh.

Liver flush/Green shake
The liver flush recipe will follow in a separate post but the green shake is made of garlic, coconut oil, olive oil, lemon juice and anything green juiced juiced for the chlorophyll.

Add in a massage, a steam bath, body scrub, tongue scraping, a walk along the beach, a swim and yoga and it can be a very full day!  Interestingly I attempting partaking in all at fast pace in my first days on arrival, but it didn’t take long for London pace to detox from my system. Now I try one or two activities a day.  I’ve been writing a diary of my fasting experience and will post it soon.

Raw Food at The Hay Festival?

28 May
the epicentre of the second hand book world

the epicentre of the second hand book world

I’ve just spent the long weekend at The Hay Festival a ten day international book fest set in Hay-on-Wye in the Welsh Brecons. With some thirty major bookshops it has been famous as the world’s largest secondhand and antiquarian book centre since 1961. While there are some perfectly reasonable pubs and cafes around town, (I ate the best beef wellington of my life at the Old Black Lion), none of them serve raw food other than the lettuce leaves in the prawn cocktail I saw on a fellow diner’s table.

While the town is about nothing but books, the festival is really a series of lectures and discussion by and with recently published authors from a range of backgrounds covering a range of subjects. This year, amongst other published celebrities, economic and political commentators and literary greats I managed to see foody legends Jay Rayner and Heston Blumenthal but just missed out on Monty Don speaking about his new book Fork to Fork.  

But what do people eat at a literary festival?

fresh strawberries from a farm around the corner

fresh strawberries from a farm around the corner

Other than the delicious, organic and locally grown punnets of raspberries, blueberries, cherries and strawberries, I noticed that my bookish fellows queued around the block for sheep’s milk icecream, venison burgers, crisps, cider, pimms, ploughman’s cheese boards, and the fudge. I have to say it did look tasty and I was impressed that it was at least all local produce, but it was absolutely and utterly – not raw. 

So it seems the tastebuds of Hay Festival bookworms do not veer towards to raw food. 

The suprising news, even to me, is that I resisted all of it except for the Burnt Sugar fudge, which after a bag full, gave me such a sugar high that I didn’t get to sleep until 2am.  Thankfully, the next day I managed to find a fresh salad stall and stocked up on an onion and carrot salad, lettuce leaves and seasoned cucumber. Combined with my bag of apples, the berries as above, and my nakd bars, I was happy.

The festival was interesting, frustrating, thought-provoking, exciting, comforting and inspiring.  My brain feels stretched beyond recognition and besides my fudge feast and a brief encounter with a dried up piece of cod, I was for once, an under-control raw foodist…

from the Guardian: Day of the lentil burhgers: Ghent goes veggie to lose weight and save planet

15 May

Prior to spending the weekend in the beautiful Flemish town of Ghent, my understanding of a Belgian menu extended the short distance from moules and frites to chocolate. And so I traipsed to Belgium fully armed with raw fruit balls, raw spinach pesto, a pineapple(??), and ingredients for a raw mango salsa. It was a complete waste of time and bag-carrying energy.   

Ghent may not have a raw-specialist restaurant but it does have three times as many vegetarian restaurants per capita than London and has just declared that every restaurant will go vegetarian every Thursday from now on. Now that’s groundbreaking for us vegetable lovers!

In the meat loving, chocolate and cheese eating moules and frites capital of the world, is the world's first no-meat-thursday town

In the meat loving, chocolate and cheese eating moules and frites capital of the world, is the world's first no-meat-on-thursdays town

The Guardian picked up the story.  Here’s an extract:
The city council says it is the first town in Europe and probably the western world to try to make the entire place vegetarian for a day every week. Tom Balthazar, the Labour party councillor pushing the scheme, said: “There’s nothing compulsory. We just want to be a city that promotes sustainable and healthy living.”

Every restaurant in the city is to guarantee a vegetarian dish on the menu, with some going fully vegetarian every Thursday. From September, the city’s schools are to make a meat-free meal the “default” option every Thursday, although parents can insist on meat for their children. At least one hospital wants to join in.

A small, dreamy city of spires, bicycles, and canals, prospering since the Middle Ages, Ghent may be on to something. It appears to be tapping into a zeitgeist awareness of the cost to human health and the environment of intensive meat and dairy farming. Other towns in and the Netherlands are making inquiries; there has even been one from Canada.

Read the full article here.

Raw Travel Snacks: Raw Fruit Balls

11 May

Travelling raw can be tough and knowing the limitations of Eurostar, I made a few snacks to fill the five of us on our way to Belgium.  Thankfully these raw fruit balls satisfied all of us on the 2 hr journey, including my potentially toughest critic, 1yr old, 2-toothed Hunter.  Phew.

Fruity raw fruit balls are an ideal raw travel snack

Fruity raw fruit balls are an ideal raw travel snack

The ingredients
1 big grated carrot
2 grated apples
8 dried apricots
8 pitted medjool dates
½ cup of raw oats
½ cup of raw cacao
1 tbspn honey
Dessicated coconut

How to make it
Place all ingredients into a blender and blend.
You’ll see it gets a bit sticky but keep going and add date syrup or a dash of coconut water if you feel it really needs it. 
If it’s too mushy, add more oats but only a few.
Mould the mixture into 10p sized balls and roll in dessicated coconut.

Raw Food on Eurostar

11 May

Compared to carbon-greedy airlines, Eurostar has always struck me as a relatively progressive and eco-friendly brand. So when my friends and I booked our trip to Belgium I was sure they would have healthy food for both someone like me who can easily dabble in cooked food if they have to and someone much nicer who eats raw food 100% of the time.

Fruit salad on the Eurostar

Fruit salad on the Eurostar

If you travel Business Premier or Leisure select you have lots of options however you will need to give notice: 12 hours for vegetarian meals, 24 hours for children’s meals and 36 hours notice for kosher, halal, vegan, diabetic, low fat, low salt and gluten free meals. When I rang the dedicated phone number (01777 77 78 78) and asked about raw food meals this is what happened:

RFH*: Hi, Do you have a raw fruit and vegetable option?
E*: Yes, we offer vegetarian.
RFH: Is that cooked?
E: Yes.
RFH: I’d prefer a meal of fruit and vegetables that is uncooked. Do you offer that?
E: Yes. You can have the vegetarian meal uncooked.
RFH: Will that be raw fruit and vegetables?
E: I’ll check.
Time passes
E: Hello. We cannot do a raw fruit and vegetables option, but you can bring your own.
RH: Thank you.

I wonder what an uncooked vegetarian meal looked like in her mind – raw pasta and tomatoes?? No thanks. 

While no raw fruit and vegetable option is officially available on Eurostar, here is the link to the standard class menu, which offers the raw options ranging from a fruit salad, garden salad, various fruit pieces, to a dried fruit and nut mix.

Needless to say I took their advice and brought my own.

*’RFH’ is me, the raw food hypocrite, and ‘E’ is Eurostar call centre.