Quick and Dirty Product Review: Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Squares

The scenario: Whole Foods was closing in six minutes, and I had to Supermarket Sweep the joint. Somehow, in the flurry of frantically emptying of the aisles of their vegan wares, a box of Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Squares landed in my shopping cart.

In case you aren’t tapped into the vegan hivemind of the internet, everyone has been abuzz about these little crispy, carby, salty wonders. And I get it (sort of): it’s like the good people at Earth Balance sit around and think about all of the junky comforts that they ate as kids (spoiler alert: processed cheese is usually involved), and now they have decided to veganize it.

Who knew you could box and sell crack at health food stores?

So these crackers! They aren’t bad, but they don’t blow me away. To begin with, I am at least 80% sure that they taste nothing like Cheez-Its, cheddar, or anything that originated in a cow’s udder (although, of note, my staunchly omnivorous boyfriend reports that they taste “like Cheez-Its, but…better?”). That isn’t necessarily the worst thing: I think most delicious vegan eats stand on their own, and are better not compared to their animal-based counterparts. But that brings me to my next point: they’re sort of bland. I am a big fan of snacking (particularly at my desk, as I frantically attempt to perform twelve tasks simultaneously), and I am concerned that these crackers wouldn’t have what it takes to sate me during those midday eating-my-feelings binges. But I’m also, y’know, no longer a kindergartner who takes her cheesy crackers with a slug of apple drink, so my palate is probably not the intended audience for this particular product.

Nevertheless, all criticisms aside, neither I nor my dude half can stop popping these as we stream episode upon episode of Breaking Bad–there is definitely an addictive quality about them that is difficult to pinpoint.

The verdict: these are worth trying, especially if you have a child, or a childlike palate, or a childlike sense of wonder about the ever-expanding universe of vegan goods.

Vegan Alchemy: Crème Fraîche Edition!

Aw yeah! Crème fraîche!

Berries, creme, agave, good lawd.

 

I say it so enthusiastically (I’m basically shouting “crème fraîche!!!” to no one in particular, at 5:00am, much to the confusion of my dog), but until adulthood, I didn’t actually know what it was.

It’s hard to talk about my food roots without acknowledging my formative years as a member of relatively low socioeconomic status.  We were entrenched in what I now refer to as the “generic cereal” class strata, characterized by those industrial-sized bags of puffed sugar that somehow managed to contain at least six phases of corn in a single package, and also never tasted as good as the cereal they ripped off (probably because name-brand cereals had cooler mascots hocking their corn-derived black-holes-of-nutritional-sustenance).

To put it another way: Velveeta, the processed cheese food, was my Loch Ness Monster: an elusive thing of beauty that I longed only to possess, but that was, tragically, reserved solely for special occasions and company.

So, no.  I didn’t know what crème fraîche was as a kid.

In fact, it only recently came to my attention that dairy-based crème fraîche is ridiculously easy to make: heavy cream, a little buttermilk, let it sit around for 12 hours, and that is it.  How is this the food of rich people?  Shouldn’t rich people food be really labor-intensive (for your live-in servant), and not the natural result of, essentially, forgetting to refrigerate your dairy for a few hours?

But I digress.  My point is, maybe I haven’t had crème fraîche before.  But that won’t stop me from veganizing it.

After finding out how easy it was to make nonvegan crème fraîche, I thought: usually, vegan buttermilk substitute is made by whisking soymilk with apple cider vinegar; and coconut cream works the same as heavy cream in a lot of capacities; so, why wouldn’t I be able to combine and ferment these foods to produce similar results?

Naturally, I consulted Spice, Food Genius Extraordinaire, who gave me some tips (among other things, she recommended that I use unrefined coconut oil, which is structurally similar to butterfat. I happily obliged, because I would never argue with the addition of more fat to a recipe).

It’s hard to call what follows a recipe, because there is basically nothing to it: you whirl a couple ingredients in a blender, pour it in a jar, ta-da.  But I’m going to give you all a little instruction anyway, because 1. It’s so easy, I want to inspire you to make it for yourself; and 2. We dairy-eschewers love fancy fermented foods as much as anyone, right?  Right.  So! You’ll need:

So clearly, this is going to be a low-fat condiment.

So clearly, this is going to be a low-fat condiment.

1 can of coconut milk (or about 1 ½ cups)

½ cup unrefined coconut oil [mine was a scant ½ cup because, initially, I was bashful about using that much oil—but you have no reason to be bashful. Embrace that delicious fat!)

2 tablespoons of soymilk

1 capful (a teaspoon? Ish?) apple cider vinegar

1 capsule of vegan probiotic [not pictured, because that came later.]  (Sidenote! My probiotic is actually human origin, so I’m sure some will argue that it isn’t vegan, but whatever: humans can consent and the inert ingredients are vegan.  That’s good enough for me.)

Coffee cup optional.

Coffee cup optional.

Directions:

1. Mix together your soymilk and ACV and allow to curdle.

You didn't need to know what curdled soymilk looked like, did you?  Oh well, you're getting it anyway.

You didn’t need to know what curdled soymilk looked like, did you? Oh well, you’re getting it anyway.

2. Next, give your coconut milk a whiz in the blender and, while running, add the unrefined coconut oil.  Make sure it is emulsified.

That's what she said.

Just shove it in there. It’ll fit.

3. While the blender continues to run, add the soymilk mixture.

4.  This is where the original recipe ended: I poured the emulsion into a jar, covered, put a Barry White album on repeat, and left those friendly bacteria to reproduce.

Pouring like a champ!

But then.

Around hour twenty, I was annoyed. According to various people on the internet, dairy-based crème fraîche takes about 12 hours to reach desired consistency.  My vegan version had an additional 8 hours, and it had neither thickened enough, nor developed the pleasant fermented tang that I expected.  It was bubbling a little, which I took as a good indicator of bacterial multiplication, but I was still a little perplexed: why wasn’t my nondairy version performing? I bet that nonvegan crème fraîche didn’t even listen to Barry White.

Can't get enough of your love, baby.

Can’t get enough of your love, baby.

Finally, I remembered—around the time that I was finishing my morning pot of coffee–that borderline-zealot coconut oil proponents are always touting its antimicrobial properties.  So, the coconut oil, essential for its contribution of butterfat-like structure, was likely to blame! (My hypothesis is that, although the apple cider vinegar contributed good bacteria to the recipe, but there probably wasn’t enough to overcome the antimicrobial property of the coconut oil.) I had a lightbulb moment: why not add some probiotic strains?  It would function like a starter for the fermentation process. Thus came Step 5:

5.  Empty a capsule of vegan probiotic  into your crème, and stir until you’re reasonably confident that it has been incorporated.

After I added the probiotic capsule, I closed the jar and left my apartment for about twelve hours.  When I got home that night, it looked like this:

I really want to put that in my mouth.  (Inappropriate!)

And I was like, I really want to put that in my mouth. (Inappropriate!)

It had a nice, sharp tang reminiscent of sour cream!  Even the coconut-y notes present in the original emulsion were mostly gone (maybe just present enough to lend a little backbone to the crème), but the fatty richness remained assertive.  Success!

All told, my crème fraîche had approximately 32 hours to ferment, but I suspect that the majority of that was achieved in the twelve or so hours after I added the probiotic capsule.  In my completely unscientific opinion, I think that if you add the capsule at the beginning of the process, it will ferment at about the same rate as dairy-based crème fraîche–or about twelve hours.  But I would recommend just keeping an eye on it, and moving your jar to the fridge when it gets to be about the consistency of whipped cream.  After twelve more hours (or so) of refrigeration, you’ll have this incredible, peak-having substance on which you can put everything ever:

Hey, baby!

Magic!

Disclaimer: This probably does not taste just like dairy-based crème fraîche (after all, the ingredients you start with are completely different) but I wholeheartedly endorse pairing it with berries and a drizzle of agave (pictured above), and am so excited to stir it into soups/top roasted vegetables with it/ad infinitum.  Make this so you can join me in my fancy-fermented-food enthusiasm!

Quick & Dirty Product Review: Kombucha Dog

I didn’t used to like kombucha. My issue was less with the flavor, which in my estimation was comparable to pickle juice (full disclosure: I fucking love pickles), but rather the eerie reverence with which its virtues are extolled. Have you ever spoken with a kombucha enthusiast? They try to get you on that bottle like an infant formula ad, proselytizing its health benefits more persistently than those canvassers permanently posted outside of health food stores who try to get you to pledge monthly donations (these people, incidentally, are largely responsible for the dwindling balance in my checking account. DAMN YOU, OVERGROWN CONSCIENCE). If kombucha praise were to be taken at face value, I (and everyone else who happens to imbibe) would basically be immortal by now.

But I don’t buy into the hype that accompanies kombucha. I acknowledge that it has probiotic cultures (hey, Jamie Lee Curtis can’t have all the fun), is fairly low-calorie, and contains a bevy of antioxidants. Compared to other aqueous solutions that I regularly attempt to hydrate with (note: not usually water), it is probably better than a soy latte. And, in the case of Kombucha Dog, it is one of the best beverages on Earth (back off, Snapple lady, your empire is built upon lies).

Unlike a lot of other kombuchas, which taste like the above-mentioned pickle juice, raspberry Kombucha Dog is sweet on the tongue, then tart, with a light, pleasantly fermented flavor throughout. It’s glass-bottled and fizzy, so drinking one is almost as satisfying as popping open a Mexicoke–and because there is less sugar than there is in Mexicoke, you don’t experience a bloodsugar plummet that makes you feel like a corpse an hour later (downside: your pancreas might get a little bored. Better take a glucose tablet. Party!). I had raspberry Kombucha Dog with bacon-flavored kale chips, and it was a delicious, albeit almost shamefully hippie-esque, gustatory experience.

About the hippie-esque gustatory experience: I know that kombucha is not strictly a vegan product. But I can’t help but suspect that my kombucha habit is a byproduct of having been vegan for over a decade; you eat a plant-based diet long enough and eventually you develop a palate for weird hippie foods. (It’s science.)

But if there is one thing I like more than delicious fermented beverages, it’s pups.

Pug Life.

Did you peep that label? I want to kiss that little guy’s face until he’s like, “Jeez, lady! I need space. You’re smothering me.” And the labels are more than just adorable: if you go to their website, you can adopt that smush-faced little man, or another equally photogenic sweetheart in need of a good home.

I got this wonder elixir at Rainbow Acres in Marina Del Rey, but it’s also available at Erewhon, Locali, and a number of other veggie-friendly establishments in L.A. Check it out!

www.kombuchadog.com

Duty Now for the Future (Or, CHIPOTLE HAS TOFU! YAY!)

The first time I made the pilgrimage to a Chipotle (this was circa 2005; they were not as omnipresent as they are today), I looked at the mound of guacamole being heaped upon my forearm-sized burrito, gasped aloud, and asked, “Is this the promised land?”

But now Chipotle has even surpassed my initial impression, because they have added another vegan protein option to the menu.

Yay!

Yay!

You may feel you are experiencing déjà vu as you read this.  Hasn’t Chipotle offered faux meat in the past?  Yep.  Your memory doesn’t deceive you: it was a seasoned Gardein, and it made a fine taco.  But this option was never actually featured on the menu, so those not tapped in to the vegan hivemind didn’t know it existed.  After a few short months, it was pulled entirely due to “lack of interest.” (Otherwise known as: “No one ordered this secret menu item that we never actually told anyone about.”) I will always remember that summer of (Gardein-)lovin’ fondly.  It was beautiful, but it was never meant to be.

This time, the protein is a braised tofu that Chipotle is calling “sofritas.” (I’m guessing this is some derivation of sofrito? Silly honkeys and their misguided attempts at appropriation.)  And it is on the signage in the restaurant, so consumers are actually aware of its existence.

It’s currently being tested in a handful of San Francisco bay area locations, and as fate would have it, one of these locations is practically adjacent to my office. I had my gentleman procure some for us while I was working on Saturday in the hope that it would dull the pain that accompanies being an empty office because it’s Saturday.

It did!  The only pain I felt after lunch was a gluttony-induced stomachache. The tofu is extra-firm and cooked in a tangy, semi-spicy sauce.  Imagine if barbacoa and a block of tofu had a lovechild: barbacoa called tofu (okay, actually he texted, and it was at 1:00am) to “hang out.” He poured a couple glasses of red wine, put on an Otis Redding record, and, well…you can imagine the results—or taste them firsthand, if you happen to be in the bay area.

I had a generous portion of the tofu on tacos with black beans, fajita vegetables, salsa (“Uh, the spicy one,” is typically how I distinguish it) and guac.  Other than a serious oozing problem (this is not a dish I would advise shoveling into your mouth as you handle important documents), I have no complaints. I ate two of the three tacos, and then almost died from a combination of gluttony and pure happiness.

Side-effects include needing way more napkins than you have at your disposal.

Side-effects include needing way more napkins than you have at your disposal.

The mister, on the other hand, had his tofu served in a burrito. This burrito easily weighed more than the dumbbells I use when I do bicep curls: it was Man-vs.-Food, seriously-do-I-get-a-plaque-for-finishing-this sized, and I’m proud to say that my svelte gentleman took it down.

Look at the scale of this beast.

Look at the scale of this beast.

The only real drawback to this option is that, since we now have a vegan “meat,” guacamole costs extra.  But come on: it’s like twelve ounces of guac. It’s worth the $1.50.

While he was buying the food, my fiancé asked the Chipotle employee how the tofu was selling (I think to gauge the regularity with which we will have to buy it in order to ensure its permanent presence on the menu; three times a day?  Five?).  She responded, “Oh, great!  It tastes just like meat!”  Sigh.  Nevertheless, I hereby pledge to eat as much Chipotle as necessary to keep this option alive and well.  It’s a big commitment, but I’ll do it for our future. And for all of you.

Sorry We Party.

I recently went back to school, like Billy Madison.  Not like Billy Madison in the sense that I’m fighting five year olds for their snack-paks, but like him in the sense that I’m about ten years older than other students and regularly suppress the urge to pinch their youthful faces and scream, “Stay here!  Stay as long as you can!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CHERISH IT.”

(Unlike them, and seemingly half of my professors, I have held an adult job.)

Basically: school (or at least my school—shout out to UC Berkeley, GO BEARS!!!, et cetera) is a time-sucking vortex, and the void remaining where my time once was is now filled with books and learning and producing papers in a flurry of caffeine and confusion. Whereas my Friday nights of yesteryear used to at least vaguely resemble raging parties (raging, one-lady parties with Prince records and bloody marys and nail painting), they now look like this:

Astutely notes that reading this book on a Friday night is my sadness threshold.

Astutely notes that reading this book on a Friday night is my sadness threshold.

It’s pretty bleak.

But I have to bring the party somewhere.  You can’t just hold party in.  It’s bad for your kidneys.

So this Friday evening, I brought the party to my wok and deep-fried hearts of palm in pure love (in stores it’s sometimes packaged as “canola oil”).

Hi I love you.

Hi I love you.

It was like Woodstock, but with more calories and more people you probably wouldn’t mind seeing naked (um, nevermind).

Since this post is being written in posteriority, the recipe that follows is an Unsolved-Mysteries-esque dramatization of true events.

Step 1: Clutter your counter with ingredients.  You will need:

Hearts of palm, cornstarch, soymilk, flax meal, panko, and ranch (because you always need ranch, duh).

Hearts of palm, cornstarch, soymilk, flax meal, panko, and ranch (because you always need ranch).

Step 2: Turn your stove to medium/medium-high heat and add an inch of oil.

Step 3: Whisk together some soymilk (or, you know, whatever unsweetened nondairy beverage you have) and flax meal*.  I haven’t a clue what the proportions are, except that it’s more milk than flax, but just do it (a ½ cup of milk and a couple tablespoons of flax meal ought to work).  Whisk with conviction; you’ll want it to thicken a bit, as this will function as an egg wash.

Step 4: Make like Henry Ford (minus that whole “being profoundly racist” thing) and create an assembly line.  First, you’re going to log-roll the heart of palm in a thin coat of cornstarch. Tap off any excess.  Second, you’re going to dip it in your flax/soymilk wash.  Finally, you’re going to roll it around in crunchy, wondrous panko—and then you’re going to deep fry it.**

Dip in each bowl from left to right.  (Pretend that there is something in that middle bowl, like in Hook.)

Dip in each bowl from left to right. (Pretend that there is something in that middle bowl, like in Hook.)

Step 5: Gently drop your battered heart of palm into your wok and then repeat with those remaining.  I wouldn’t fry any more than four at a time for the sake of quality control.  After they have been saturated in hot oil (mmm) for a couple minutes, flip with a pair of tongs.  When they’re uniformly golden brown, transfer to a plate with a napkin on top to drain.

Step 6: Nomnomnom.  I served these like I would mozzarella sticks–with vegan ranch and marinara (duh).  But I bet aioli, or a sriracha mayo, or really anything else that is normally paired with fried things would be a good bet.

 

Andrew WK-level party.

Andrew WK-level party.

* It has recently been brought to my attention that Bob’s Red Mill is evil/not a friend to our adorably furry counterparts (I mean, not furries.  Well. Maybe them, too?).  I didn’t realize this when I purchased these products, but I hereby dis-endorse them.  Now moving on.

** You don’t know how to deep fry things?  What are you, a health food enthusiast (a communist)?  I don’t trust you.

To ensure that your oil is the proper temperature, dip the handle of a wooden spoon into it.  If bubbles form around it slowly and lazily rise to the surface, raise the temperature or give it an extra minute or two to heat up.  If they’re frenetically forming and bouncing off of your handle, then your wooden spoon is beginning to fry.  Resist the urge to eat it, and turn the heat down.  When bubbles form and rise to the surface of the oil at a brisk but comfortable pace, you’re golden (and soon those beautiful hearts of palm will be, too!)

 

 

Drink Your Vegetables (And Your Vodka).

Sometimes, you just need a drink.

Now.  Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that when I say “you”, I mean “me”, and when I say “need”, it’s akin to a pre-teenager “need”ing to wed Justin Bieber.

So basically, “you” (I) never “need” a drink.  But doesn’t it sound refreshing?

It is not my intention to extol the virtues of functional alcoholism to the Internet masses (I’d like to think that results speak for themselves).  Rather, it is to express that lately, I have found myself in a near-perpetual state of needing bloody marys.

Bloody marys! The unsung heroic beverage of brunch.   While mimosas have their place—usually preceding a Sunday afternoon nap—bloody marys can be enthusiastically consumed at every hour (except business hours.  Or so I hear).  They’re savory, spicy, and, best of all, contain vodka—an essential nutrient that sometimes eludes those of us with day jobs. (Seriously though, I drink bloody marys for dinner sometimes.  You can’t argue with multiple servings of vegetables as your evening meal.  It’s health food.)

You probably wonder what this has to do with veganism.  You are probably thinking, “Yes, Sugar, I already knew you were a lush.  Clearly, all of your posts were penned [typed] in a state of mild inebriation.  Why would I care that you decided to start adding tomato juice to your liquor?”  But dear, loyal readers (all two of you): I have perfected the vegan bloody mary, and it tastes like some unprecedented genius [i.e., me] pureed a delicious gazpacho and spiked it with booze.  And making a vegan mary is no small feat, given that Worcestershire–key in omnivorous marys–is an impermissible ingredient.  So, without further hesitation, here it is: my perfect vegan mary.

To get down like the vegetable-loving lush you are, you will need:

Tito's, Tapatio, fancy salt, white pepper, V8, and lemon (I like meyers).

After amassing your ingredients, the first question you need to ask yourself is: Do I want to salt the rim of my glass, like a fancypants mixologist?  (The answer to this question is yes). To do so, you 1. Rub a lemon wedge along the rim of the glass; then 2. Invert your cup into a shallow container of salt and move it around to ensure even distribution.

You’ve been so patient.  Let’s make the actual beverage.

1. Coat the inside of your glass with Tapatio (You could experiment with other hot sauces here, but it’s my suspicion that Sriracha would be too sweet and Tabasco would be too vinegar-y.  Besides, how can you say no to a man in a sombrero?).

(Also! Traditionally, vegan/bloody marys are made in a highball glass; if you’re using one, you would still coat the inside of your cup with the hot sauce.  I just used a martini glass because I like to pretend that I have class.)

2. Add a dash (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of white pepper, a pinch of salt, and ice.

3.  Pour your delicious, delicious vodka into that cup for about 1.5 seconds.  Or use a shot glass to measure, if you want to be like that bartender you hate because (s)he makes weak drinks (do you not want to be tipped, people?)  P.S. Tito’s is Barnivore-approved and delightful.  And cheap!

4. Add V8*, another squeeze of lemon, and give it a stir.

5. It’s ready for your binge-drinking pleasure!  I recommend garnishing with a celery stalk or carrot stick, if available.  Right now, I need to go grocery shopping, so.

*If you are reticent to use V8, I understand.  But: 1. I think V8 is delicious; and 2. It adds complexity (and sodium) that might be absent if we were using an organic vegetable juice.  Still.  I’ll try to get a little more creative in the future, okay?

Salad! It’s Worthy of Exclamation Points.

It’s a new year, and with it comes a litany of self-improvement pledges most of us don’t intend to keep: get organized; finally learn French; lose weight; take up beer enemas; et cetera.

But really, among all of those things, weight loss is the resolution most frequently pronounced, and (often) the most easily forgotten.  It’s easy to see why: people, resolutions are fleeting. Pie is eternal.

/ Would never abandon you. /"

Nevertheless, at this time of year, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to present you with healthier-side-of-junk options.  Because despite my Vegenaise addiction, my love of combining baked goods with cookie dough (peanut butter cookie dough brownies, y’all), and my tendency to drink more beer than water (my metabolism wishes I was kidding), I love salads.

Salads.  They seem so boring.  I literally just yawned after thinking too long about iceberg lettuce.  But contrary to the uninteresting incarnations of salad one usually conceives, salads have capacity for whimsy; they’re like the cupcakes of entrees (stay with me).  Think about cupcakes: there are s’more cupcakes; fluffernutter cupcakes; s’more fluffernutter cupcakes (for the catatonically stoned); peanut butter and jelly cupcakes; banana split cupcakes; creamsicle cupcakes; cupcakes paired with wine (okay, a quick detour into Chubby Town: banana cake/peanut buttercream/shaved chocolate paired with Beaujolais.  Prepare to have your mind blown).

(Sorry about that Bubba-Gump-esque diatribe about cupcakes; I’m done, I promise.)

Anyway.  Much in the way that delicious cupcake combinations draw on inspiration from other dishes, salads can be interesting, a culinary delight in a bowl.  For example:

The Pizza Salad!  The pizza salad is not quite the comforting, carbohydrate-coma-inducing experience that actual pizza is.  It is, however, delicious.  Consider the veggies you like on pizza: spinach, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, red peppers, olives, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, fennel…(okay that’s enough).  Throw your choice toppings on a bed of romaine, toss with a little tomato-basil vinaigrette, tofu ricotta or grated soy cheese, and croutons (or toasted bread.  Pizza needs crust), and top with a dribble of vegan ranch and red pepper flakes (for an authentic pizza experience).

Kind of like this?

The Stir-Fried Salad!  Similar to a chicken-sesame salad, except, you know, sans chicken carcass, consider the elements of stir-fry: teriyaki tofu, snow peas, green onions, bok choy, broccoli, shaved carrot, cabbage, almonds, water chestnuts, and ginger-y dressing (for an easy one, combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, ground ginger, agave, and sesame oil).  Put it on a bed of greens, and voila! (Is my salad-pushing beginning to remind you of the Slap Chop guy?  I’m sorry.  I assure you that I have neither a coke problem nor a tendency to beat sex industry workers.  As far as I know).

The Chicken Dijon Salad!   I’m not a huge proponent of mock meats, but I support the use of TJ’s Chick’n Strips (or Gardein) in this recipe (if you’re opposed, marinated tofu would make a fine substitute).  Sautee the strips in garlic and serve on a bed of butter lettuce with tomato, thinly sliced shallots, blanched green beans, and heirloom tomato.  Make a Dijon vinaigrette by whisking together Dijon mustard, olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, agave, tarragon, salt, and white pepper.

Indian Curry Salad! When you go to an Indian restaurant, what do you order (besides samosas and IPA)?  If you have a soul, the answer is probably chana masala and aloo palak.  Toss chickpeas with boiled potatoes, and finely chopped tomatoes and onions.  Make a tangy, creamy dressing with vegenaise, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, salt, cumin, garam masala, and coriander (for heat, add some cayenne).  Serve this creamy dream on a bed of spinach (bonus if it’s warm and causes the spinach to wilt a little).

Maybe these aren’t the 40-calorie salads prescribed by sadistic weight-loss programs, but they are the sorts of salads that you actually enjoy.  And in the end, isn’t enjoying a dish full of vegetable goodness more fulfilling than losing five vanity pounds?

(Narcissists: please don’t answer that question.)

Some Like it Raw, Day 3: A Near-Death Experience

I drank kombucha today. This sounds like a prosaic report to make, since hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Americans drink kombucha every day. Having now tasted it, this abundance of kombucha drinkers sounds like a worrying social problem —situated somewhere between poverty and girls who insist on wearing Uggs.

I never drank kombucha prior to today because it is entrenched in my psyche as a byproduct of new age spirituality, and I avoid new age spirituality the same way I avoid weeping sores. Stores that sell crystals, men who speak at length about their mastery of tantra, middle-aged women with dyed black hair and tattooed eyeliner named Raven: in my mind, they all perfectly represent new age, and they make me uncomfortable. I bet they drink kombucha.

It wasn’t hate at first sip: initially, I thought, “Oh my! A beverage concocted to taste like pickle juice. Delightful!” I didn’t even mind when stray chunks of ginger slipped into my mouth, or that the pungent flavor caused me to spasmodically shudder with every swallow.

So I guess my sudden turn on kombucha is my fault, because it resulted from incompetence: I inhaled it. You would think, at age 26, I would be capable of controlling my ingestion mechanisms. But no. I inhaled it. And let me tell you: inhaling that vinegar drink made my nose burn, and my eyes water, and my lungs quiver, and my life flash before me–which ended with the epitaph: “Here lies Crystal. She accidentally drowned in kombucha, less than twenty-four hours before being reunited with her lifelong love, the mashed potato.” Cruel fate!

There is little else to add about my diet today; it’s hard to feel inspired to comment when all I ate were salads. How much can one say about lettuce, anyway? “It’s crunchy” “It’s fibrous” “It’s stupid and no one likes it” (take that, lettuce!).

So the detox is over, and if my tummy weren’t full of raw collard green (used in place of tortilla in a wrap; this technique is only recommended if you share the same digestive system as cattle), I would run to my fridge and undo any potential benefits I may have reaped from this cleanse. I probably wouldn’t do a detox like this again, mostly because I feel more –toxed than de-. Abrupt diet changes are generally inadvisable, and I’ve realized that if I want to amend my habits (which I grudgingly admit may not be the worst idea; the secretaries at my work incessantly remind me that my vending machine habit will someday catch up with my ass), it would probably be better in smaller doses.

Like carrots in carrot cake.

<3

Some Like it Raw, Day Two: Lettuce Rock

I began my morning with another chocolate shake.  I am not even upset that it restored my previously eradicated food baby; after all, food babies are the reason that the good lord (or some merciful fashion designer) invented fluffy skirts.

But now it’s 11:15 a.m. and I’m feeling a bit peckish.  I think I’ll eat…

???

A giant bowl of mustard.

Oddly enough, this baby-food-esque puree not only looks like mustard; it has a fermented, vinegary flavor that is reminiscent of mustard.  But it isn’t mustard.  It purportedly does not even contain mustard (I remain skeptical).  It’s corn chowder, “slightly spicy with cilantro and cayenne”, but I do not taste spicy.  Well, unless you count the overwhelming flavor of fermentation that causes a numbing sensation with every bite. Hm.  Every day brings new knowledge: paresthesia inducement is a property I had never previously attributed to corn.

11:36 a.m.: Why am I still eating this?  It’s like baby food for a less discerning palate.  I guess it’s mostly because I miss the gooey foods that I consumed with reckless abandon just 48 short hours ago.  Like burrito fillings.  And cake batter.

The first time I ever went to a raw restaurant, it was with an omnivore.  He ordered lasagna, and winced when a cold plate of raw squash was brought to him.  “But there aren’t any noodles!” he pouted.  “And it’s like…cold.”  “Yeah dude,” I responded, filled with smug faux wisdom.  “It’s raw, what did you expect?  All raw food is like salads.  Like, creatively constructed salads, you know?”

But in retrospect, I was wrong.  Sometimes, a fermented bowl of puree is placed before you, and it is perfectly reasonable to pout about it.

12:45: kale salad time!  This is the most normal-looking dish in the detox plan thus far: kale, tomatoes, sprouted wild rice, pickled cabbage, mung beans, and pureed avocado moonlighting as creamy dressing (it’s as brilliant as it sounds).  Despite a tinge of fermentation, the flavors are well married.  The kale is hearty without being indigestible, and I chomp it with gusto.  It’s like my teeth were never semi-retired (they’re the Michael Jordan of the digestive process!).  I do have an inclination to pour an ocean’s worth of salt on top of this salad, but I refrain: besides (presumably) being against detox rules, over-salting falls under the purview of “bad habits from which I am taking a break”.  But seriously.  It needs salt.

All of these fermented foods has left me wondering if Leaf Cuisine is trying to get me drunk (if so: that’s nice of them).  After considering Leaf’s potentially nefarious plot to intoxicate strangers versus the raw food agenda, I realize that this is probably a way to circumvent cooking.  Now I’m even more confused.  Did a group of raw vegans convene and conclude, “Hey, we’ll just use this here bacteria to break down these here molecules, and then we won’t need concentrated heat application!”  Because molecular breakdown is molecular breakdown, you know?  And isn’t avoidance of molecular breakdown like, the thesis of raw foodism?

Eh.  I’m sure they have their reasons.  I just wish it were kept away from my precious, precious kale.

Since food is permissible today, I’m not quite as overwhelmed with the urge to throw it all away and become a fast food bandit.  But this junk food deprivation is beginning to cause hallucinations: the letters “t-a-c-o” hover before me when I close my eyes; the aroma of apple pie haunts my senses; I begin to experience phantom cookie dough syndrome, which is sort of like phantom limb pain, but more delicious.

Anyway.  It’s 5:30 p.m., and my condition quickly deteriorates to a debilitating nausea: I feel like I’m going to vomit mulch.  In the back of my mind, a voice gently reminds me: Taco Bell would never forsake me this way.

I get home, feign wellness long enough cuddle my dog, and proceed to lay in the fetal position for twenty minutes. I pop a Tums.  Tums aren’t part of the detox deal, but feeling awful because my body doesn’t know how to process salads isn’t, either.  My digestive rebellion subsides.

Time for another salad.

The Caesar salad (romaine, “crawtons”, tomatoes and Caesar dressing) settles my stomach a little more, presumably because it contains fat.  It also contains the aforementioned crawtons, a substance of truly incomprehensible composition.  It tastes like TVP chunks that have been partially rehydrated: salty, spongy—meaty? I have no idea how to describe them, but my dog enjoyed them.  Of course, she also eats fertilizer.

Who, me?

Day Two is over and I am 66.666666666666…% of the way through this all-too-fibrous experiment. I’m ready to designate waffles as a raw food group (I mean, pizza can be categorized a vegetable! With sufficient lobbyist muscle, anything is possible) and cry chlorophyll tears.  But I’ll persist!

Waffles 2012!

Tomorrow:  Installment 3 of 3 (Otherwise known as salvation.)

Some Like it Raw, Day One: No Chewing Allowed

Every morning, I stand before my mirror, facing profile, and assess how many months pregnant I look (no paternity tests needed: Food, you are the father).  This morning, my guess is about eight weeks (which is to say, my food-baby bump would only be visible to those thoroughly acquainted with my torso).  Since I’m going on a liquid fast for the day, I anticipate it will shrink over the next 24 hours.  At least, it had better, or I will contact Groupon and self-righteously demand a refund.

So.  First on the prescribed detox menu is the Got Greens drink, which is a blend of celery, spinach, kale and cucumber juices.  Those are some of my favorite green foods!  It doesn’t sound disgusting, despite resemblng Slimer’s ectoplasmic residue in Ghostbusters. And I am delighted to report that, indeed, it is not disgusting!  It tastes like water flavored with essences of celery and grass, which is actually better than it sounds when you know you have no other options.

Meals for the day. In the world of food porn, this is a fetish.

20% through this green concoction, and my stomach is beginning to feel like I swallowed a bottle of multivitamins without food.  I don’t think it comprehends today’s objective.

Two hours later.  I have only drunk about 80% of my juice.  HOW MANY OUNCES WERE HIDING IN THAT CUP?

Two hours and ten minutes later (around 11:00 a.m.): I’m finished!  But now that I have no edibles to put in my mouth, I sort of miss it.  Oh well; I did just drink my weight in kale juice. That’s more than most accomplish in an average morning.

An hour has passed.  It is noon, and I am ravenous.  I have an urge to go on a rampage, wherein I crawl through every Del Taco drive-thru window in a six-mile radius and demand they surrender all of their French fries to me.  But instead, I walk to my office kitchen and retrieve my Veggie Combo juice (carrot, celery, beet, and kale) from the refrigerator.  My boss saunters in and inquires what the hell I am drinking (he’s British, so when he swears at me it’s charming).  I tell him about my dietary plan, which elicits an eyeroll.  He decides that I am actually drinking blood.  Evidently, blood tastes very strongly of beets.

The drink isn’t bad (I like beets just as well as the next kid who grew up watching Doug), but it could definitely benefit from some vegan Worcestershire sauce.  And a celery stalk.  And vodka.

Anyway, I down it…in about an hour and a half, which is significantly rapider than the previous beverage.  Despite my increasing ability to power-chug juices, I feel about as sluggish as I would on any other day that I skip my morning espresso-chased-with-Diet Dr. Pepper-followed-by-green-tea.

It’s now 3:00 p.m., and I am growing certain that I am slowly wasting away from starvation, so I turn to the beverage I have been dreading most: Druids [sic?] Detox, which contains burdock root, lemon, apple, ginger, agave and cayenne.  Most of the ingredients sound palatable; cayenne is a bit questionable, and burdock root—I don’t have any preconceived notions about that, actually.  Apparently, burdock is a biennial thistle that moth larvae like to eat, and it has numerous medicinal applications. Hm.  I wonder if that’s the ingredient that lends a woodsy odor to my drink.

I take a tentative swallow.  It is not delicious.  My stomach growls.  I hold my breath and take another sip: consumed in this way, it tastes like lemonade with a curious afterburn.  Not bad!

I finish it, and in record time (twenty minutes!), but I can’t help but suspect that druids had strange tastebuds, or lacked olfactory bulbs (perhaps that anatomical feature evolved later, or was bestowed upon the human race by Stonehenge aliens).  Or maybe druids were just starving and ate everything.  (I can relate.)

As my work day comes to a close, I don’t think I can definitively declare that I’m more alert and energetic, or that my mood has been elevated, as a result of raw food alchemy.  But I will say this: it is a miracle that I have gone this long without eating and have not yet experienced the urge to strangle someone.

I get home and manage to clean my kitchen for ten whole minutes (this is practically a record) before tearing into my final drink of the day: Chocolate High Fiber Smoothie (cacao, banana, nut mylk—P.S.: they made me spell it that way—chia seeds, and dates).  Every time I considered throwing a Hail Mary today, I remembered that I got to have a chocolate milkshake for dinner, and I was sated.  It was worth the wait: wondrous, chocolate-banana sludge. I devoured it thusly:

Step 1: Vanna White that shiz.

Step 2: Chug with the enthusiasm of a hazed sorority rush.

Step 3: I'm a lady.

Day One of this detox is over (therefore, I am 33.333333333333333333…% on my way to Thanksgiving feasting!).  My boss thinks I’m a vampire, I’ve considered robbing multiple Del Tacos of their French fries, and I had a milkshake for dinner.

Not bad, all things considered.  But I wonder if I’m going to sleepwalk to my refrigerator in the middle of the night to ravage a burrito.  Only time will tell!

Tomorrow: Installment 2 of 3 (now with solid foods!).