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!).

Some Like it Raw: The Preamble

I’m not exactly what one would consider health-conscious: I could spend my days floating on a lazy river filled with melted Earth Balance, devouring cookies faster than the Cookie Monster and slathering aioli on everything, including exposed areas on my body, and be quite satisfied (and my skin would be so supple!).

This is not to say that I am not health aware; I have a basic understanding of health principles, and when forced, I’m capable of eating salads and otherwise competently monitoring my nutrition.  But most of the time, I’m a “takes her multivitamins with a swig of beer”-type girl.

My awareness of basic nutritional tenets makes me wary of cleansing diets. It’s just a fancy title for a crash diet; you only lose water weight (and that is what Diurex is for—well, that and peeing the color of Windex, which is an excellent conversation starter in the ladies’ room); and cleanse-diet shillers often utilize marketing terms that make my skin crawl, like “detox” and “probiotic”.

It’s all so GOOP, you know?  This is the sort of approach people take in an attempt to emulate Gwenyth Paltrow.  I don’t hate Ms. Paltrow (she’s a convincing actress in the right part, and has surprisingly extensive knowledge of good hip-hop), but I don’t aspire to her waify build.  She looks great, but I could stop eating entirely and never attain her BMI.  Plus, who would want to give up eating?  There is a lot of [vegan]pizza in this world, and I’ve devoted my life to ensuring that it all finds a proper home.  In my tummy.

So many pizzas, so little time.

Also, if Sir Mix-a-Lot is to be believed, a little jiggle can be a good thing.  And when it comes to muffin top, everyone knows that the top is the best part of the muffin, anyway.  Right?  Right.  I’m comfortable with the amount of fat on my body (usually), and even when I’m not, no one wants to hear the petite girl whine about her genetically regrettable birthing hips. So I generally shy away from weight loss regimens of any kind, but especially ones that prohibit me from eating cookies.

Somehow, I’ve still duped myself into purchasing a “detox” cleanse from Leaf Organics (I’m blaming Groupon).  It’s a three-day dietary program consisting of raw juices and raw salads, and touts the ability to “cleanse, detox, lose weight, increase alertness and mood”.  Its promises have the familiar ring of overpriced skin serums at Sephora (tighten pores!  eliminate wrinkles! attract Ryan Gosling!), and I do not expect it to fulfill all of them.  But having been to Leaf in the past, I know that it is possible eat worse things than their salads for three days (I have, for example, been on the Taco Bell diet before, and the results weren’t pretty).

Still, willfully adopting this regimen is out of character for a number of reasons, some of which are outlined above, and not least of which is that chewing is one of my favorite activities–and Day One of the cleanse is all-liquid.  I’ve considered liquid diets before, but I’m usually idly wondering about the feasibility of subsisting entirely on pumpkin spice lattes and multivitamins, or deriving all of my nutrients from beer.  Speaking of: no beer (or wine, or scotch, or other adult beverage) is permissible for the duration of the diet.  My liver is going to be so bored for the next three days.

But I have resolved to go through with this: I want take a break from my questionable dietary habits.  I’m curious how I would feel if I did not consume fried foods on a regular basis.  And if nothing else, I will devour fat-soaked carbohydrates on Thanksgiving with cataclysmic delight.

Goodbye, miracle emulsion.

Hello, fridge full of nonalcoholic liquids.

So! Coming tomorrow: Installment 1 of 3.

The Blue Dog Cafe: Inebriety, Pet Obesity, Mediocrity (But Still…Pretty All Right.)

So, how long have you been vegan? is often asked of me.

The most accurate answer I can give to this question is, “Oh, since high school, so I guess about…[count on fingers]…nine years.  Nine years?  Jesus.  Nine years.”

But the most honest answer to this question is: “Too fucking long.  Really.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love being vegan.  I love what I cook, I love what I bake, I love that I can look upon fields of grazing cattle and squeal at their cuteness and anthropomorphize them and never have to think, “Hey, I eat you.” I also love that I can maintain a healthy weight while eating (vegan) pizza with (vegan) ranch dressing at least twice a week.  The perks of a vegan diet vastly outweigh the detriments, and even though it has been too fucking long, really, since a devilled egg (or a similarly cholesterol-laden food item) has crossed my lips, I don’t look back on any of these herbivorous years with regret.

Part of being a vegan old-timer is that I remember how things were, and reminiscing about that is liable to invoke “back in my day” speeches not unlike those your metaphorical grandfather would tell you about walking shoeless in the snow whilst defying natural law (really, grandpa, I know I was four years old but I wasn’t stupid enough to completely disregard Newtonian physics).  And let me tell you: back in my day, soy cheese was scarce, and it was rock-hard and crumbly, and it tasted like the plastic in which it was packaged.  Vegenaise was a twinkle in a food scientist’s eye.  Soymilk tasted like soy (ever thought about blending a block of silken with water and then using it to douse your cereal?  No, because that sounds disgusting? Well.  That’s what it tasted like).

I suppose part of this can be explained because I cut my teeth on veganism in the Inland Empire, where vegan options are rarer (although: Baker’s continues to be an IE-exclusive phenomenon.  And I’m calling Baker’s a phenomenon because it is phenomenal: salty-to-the-point-of-hypertension TVP tacos, and fries, and from a drive-thru?  Be still, my heart!),

(No, don’t really do that, heart; I’ll do some cardio soon, I promise.)

So, when I first made the vegan conversion as a gastronomically clueless 17-year-old, my newfound vegan diet consisted of…bread.  Sometimes the bread was spread with barbecue sauce, since it was the one condiment I trusted.  After several weeks of severe fatigue, Clif bars were added to my dietary regimen (don’t ask me where, oh, fruit and vegetables were at that time; that much common sense eluded me).

And forget about restaurants.  Vegan options were usually limited to French fries and iceberg lettuce “salads” without dressing.  I was probably vegan for two full years before I ever saw a specifically vegan item on an omnivorous restaurant menu, and regardless of what that item was, I ordered it (it’s just a giant mushroom? Mushrooms are fungus and that is gross? Fuck it, it’s vegan!). Which brings me to the topic at hand: Blue Dog Café.

 

Blue Dog Café is sort of a gastropub.  They have burgers, a couple of non-burger sandwiches, a lackluster vegan menu, and beer. I say that it’s “sort of a gastropub” because really, calling a burgers-and-beer joint a gastropub feels inaccurate; there is nothing gastronomically innovative about pairing greasy finger foods with beer.

Anyway, they have a lot of beer.  And it’s well selected.  Their beer list consists largely of brews that cause you to exclaim, “Hey, they have _____!  That’s my jam!”  (Well, maybe you don’t exclaim “that’s my jam”, because you are not a dorky white girl with a seven-year lag on colloquial trends.  But you know what I mean).  They have Old Rasputin on tap.  They have Raging Bitch in the bottle.  They have a plethora of other beers that I have never tried, because I am a creature of habit and Flying Dog Brewing Company is a rare sight in a bar, or a restaurant, or an establishment that is not my apartment.

Just like me.

Basically: you do not go to Blue Dog for the food.

Actually, that isn’t true: an omnivore probably would.  Having been accompanied by a meat-eater to this joint, it’s clear that Blue Dog makes some crazy-decadent, likely-exceeding-1,500 calories-per-entrée burgers.  But for us vegans, beer is the main draw.  Because Blue Dog’s vegan options are reminiscent of vegan fare of yesteryear: the “vegan special” amounts to a hummus sandwich.  It’s pretty tasty: toasted multigrain bread, a generous spread of silky hummus, tomatoes, fresh basil, and (sometimes) avocado.  But—it’s a hummus sandwich.  On the scale of culinary creativity, it ranks somewhere between a Subway Veggie Delite and, I don’t know—something that I would actually be excited to eat.

Ooh yeah, give it to me, baby.

They also have a vegan chili I have yet to try, and some of the most glorious fries in the Valley (hand cut; fried in peanut oil; oh my god), and if you’re into commingling the foods on your plate, they offer chili fries.

Here's a close up of them fries.

I believe there is a “spa” salad, but since I’ve never been inclined to pair rabbit food with my beer, I’ve only given it a cursory “Oh hi we’re both vegan so it’s nice to make your acquaintance” glance.

I hope this review does not seem excessively critical.  I am delighted that there are establishments in the Valley that have explicitly vegan, non-sketchy (oh, hello, questionable meat at every Thai vegan place ever) options, and beer, and my dog is welcomed.

 

Translation: Fur babies welcomed.

Did I forget to mention that tidbit?  It isn’t called Blue Dog for no reason: pictures of pups adorn the walls, which provokes a litany of squeals every time I enter.  And they allow dogs to chill on the patio while their owners get appropriately soused, which means that on nice days, my spoiled fur baby can accompany me on my descent into afternoon alcoholism while I feed her inadvisable quantities of fries (I sometimes feel like the unfit parent of an obese child on a daytime talk show who rationalizes overfeeding their offspring with the proclamation that “THEY’RE HUNGRY!”).

Like mother...

...like daughter.

There is little else to add to my review of this place (the music is okay, sometimes: on a good day they play Otis Redding, but it more than likely will be circa-Blue Album Weezer–not the worst auditory fate but I’ve been over Blue Album since Rivers stopped being bone-able; the servers range from being genuinely nice to oddly unfriendly; the clientele ranges from cool-ish to “I am silently judging you”).  I did manage to embarrass myself in front of some actor the last time I went: the actor, who is moderately famous, but whose name I don’t know–essentially Katherine Heigl with a penis–walked directly into a drunken impromptu photoshoot of me and my dog, in which my pup refused to reciprocate my affections (bitch!).

Luckily, all of my dignity had been (blessedly) exhausted long before this occurrence.

So anyway, if you have a dog, and/or you emphatically appreciate hummus and/or beer, and/or you are irrationally excited by lukewarm actor sightings, Blue Dog Cafe is worth going to.   If not: eh.  At least you won’t be there to call me out on contributing to my dog’s weight problem.

She's just big boned.