Friday, October 30, 2009

The Gastro Gnome on the Road

I'm venturing out of my gnome-home and taking my superfoods with me.

For those of you based in Victoria or South Australia, come visit me in action at three fantastic events over the next month:

This coming Sunday, November 1, I'll be representing Living Raw Magazine at World Vegan Day at the Abbotsford Convent. I'll also have Raw Life! chocolate bars for sale, made with love (and raw cacao!) by the amazing Paulina. Some of my favorite local raw/vegan enterprises will be there too - Loving Earth, le cru, the Melbourne Raw Food Meet-up Group, Helena's Living Foods, Vegan Revolution, Radical Grocery and more. Oh and make sure you stop by Thoran's Raw Lounge. It's all happening!

The following weekend, November 6-9, I'll be at the Entheogenesis Australis Conference in Swanpool, Victoria. This is a group very close to my heart, and the weekend is guaranteed to be paradigm-shifting. In fact it was at this very conference two years ago that I first discovered the magic of raw and living foods, thanks to Sufiyo, Luke and Stil. There will be an incredibly talented range of speakers and workshops all focused around different ideas of evolving consciousness and the human relationship with plants.

Gastro Gnome Superfoods will be sharing a market stall with the talented artistic folks from Izwoz. There will be lots of cacao consumed, so please excuse us in advance for extreme silliness. Better yet, try some superfood yummies and join in the joy. I've got five fabulous flavours on their way, all packed with super natural goodness: Honey Lucuma Apricot, Green Cacao, Maca Cacao Crunch, Orange Goji Mesquite, and Cacao Spice.

The last weekend in November Gastro Gnome Superfoods will make another appearance at the Circuitree Reconnect Festival in Robertstown, South Australia. Granted, it's in the middle of nowhere, but hey, so is Burning Man! And these guys put on a great party. Not to mention some booty-groovin' music, including an appearance by Bleep (Jayson!).

See ya out there in the universe!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Spring Delights, and the Brilliance of the English Language

Isn't it funny how many idioms in the English language have something to do with food? I suppose this linguistic phenomenon exists because food is such a central aspect of our lives. Not only do we, as animals, need to eat frequently to obtain the nutrients that we require for survival, but we, as humans, need to assign value to our foodstuffs and apply our creativity to nature's produce. So here and there, food words have crept into our daily speak. People, objects and events are "worth their salt," "sweet as honey," or "the spice of life." An unpleasant experience "leaves a bitter taste," and gossip girls "share the juicy details." We've got projects "on the back burner," and, hopefully, clients "eating out the palm of our hands."

It's with the utmost appreciation of the possibility for irony that the quirks of the English language provide that I venture to share with you "what's cooking" in my raw kitchen.

First of Spring Asparagus with Pink Pasta and Pesto

When the first asparagus of spring appeared at the farmer's market, I nearly did a dance of joy right there among the roaming chickens and beautiful hippie children. What I actually did was snatch up a bunch of the slender stalks and danced a mental jig. I brought the beautiful babies home and did absolutely nothing to them - they were just too perfect and sweet and crunchy to adulterate in any way. I took some inspiration from Raw Chef Russell James' gorgeous Purple Pasta and topped them with some zucchini fettucine dyed with beetroot juice and a great big mound of ad-hoc pesto, consisting of just about everything green I could find in my garden mixed with walnuts, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, himalayan salt and nutritional yeast. The dish was not only beautiful, but also really fresh and comforting at the same time, and pretty easy to whip up.

Primavera Celebration

Also known as This is Totally Not Lasagne. I have a real problem with calling this raw dish lasagne, even though clearly some the inspiration comes from the baked pasta classic. But come on, what do layers of zucchini, fresh tomatoes, living marinara, nut cheeze, and vibrant pesto have to with the stodgy casserole? I don't want to serve this dish and have my guests expect lasagne, and I don't want you to anticipate any similarity except in structure. This is a rich raw dish, but it's a celebration of fresh spring vegetables, not layers of starchy noodles and cheese and meat cooked into oblivion (no offense to lasagne - I used to love you). I made this dish because juicy, local tomatoes are finally back, as are the first of spring's local zucchinis. And because I had brazil nut pulp left over from making the most creamy, amazing nut mylk to pour over my grawnola.

Middle Eastern Salad

Sometimes the best inventions just kind of happen. Yesterday was one of the first long, warm, sunny afternoons, the kind that really feel like summer. After taking the dogs to the park, I just really felt like bright, sunny Mediterranean flavors, and this dish seemed to create itself from there. The base is chopped beetroot leaves, but I've added almost as much fresh coriander (cilantro), lots of chopped tomato and cucumber, some grated beetroot, fresh spring onions, and a fantastic mix of ground brazil nuts with cumin, coriander, turmeric and tamari, all dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. The garnish is the eggplant bacon recipe from Matthew Kenney's book Everyday Raw. I could eat this all summer long.

Quinoa Sprouts

Not too much to explain here! It turns out that quinoa is incredibly easy to sprout. I followed a really basic method - soaked the grains overnight, then left them suspended in a fine-mesh collander for a couple of days, rinsing twice daily. By the third day they had these lovely tails and I stored them in the refrigerator, where they kept for about a week (I'd eaten them all by then). I ate them in just about every salad I had during this time, and they were delicious.


This is perhaps my best discovery in ages. A head of cabbage costs less than AUD$4, and it makes two big jars of sauerkraut that last for ages. It takes about ten minutes to make, and all it requires is salt and caraway seeds. Furthermore, it's fantastic for encouraging healthy bacteria to flourish in the gut and really improves the ecology of the body. My inspiration came from watching Donna Gates on the Renegade Health Show - though I haven't tried her method yet. The technique I used here is simple: finely chop a head of cabbage, massage in two tablespoons of himalayan salt and one teaspoon of caraway seeds until the cabbage releases a great deal of moisture (about 2 minutes), and then pack it all tightly into jars. I then left it to ferment for about a week, after which I stored the living sauerkraut in the refrigerator. Jayson says it tastes like the real thing, and he's half Aussie German! Oh yeah, it's pink because I added in a little bit of purple cabbage that I had left over, and it colored the whole batch. Amazing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

le cru: Creating a Better Way

This article appears in Issue 3 Winter 2009 of Living Raw Magazine, on sale now at select stockists and online.

In opening le cru, Melbourne's first raw restaurant, Carolyn Trewin's inspiration didn't come from the exploding raw scene in Australia.

When I pointed out that the interest in raw foods in our corner of the world has grown astronomically over the past few years, she did agree that perhaps the timing of her restaurant’s birth was auspicious. But she’s not the type of person to be motivated by trends. Rather, she follows her subconscious instincts on her quest to create a healthier society.

At the heart of the le cru project is Carolyn’s belief that vibrant health is achievable, but not through the channels that mainstream western medicine have provided us. She is a questioner; she wants to know why doctors receive one semester of nutrition at best while every supermarket in Australia contains multiple aisles of refined, heated products and carbonated water that induce ill health. “There’s got to be a better way,” she states emphatically.

I know she’s right, because I’m sitting in the middle of it. The restaurant, the physical manifestation of Carolyn's vision, occupies a beautiful space. It is lovingly furnished with warm wooden chairs and tables, tapestries and metal objects that create an opulent eastern vibe. Everything seems to have been carefully selected to create an aura of calm, a peaceful oasis from the dizzying Melbourne dining scene. Yet there’s a buzz in the air that reminds me that I’m in a restaurant, and I’m excited. I peruse a menu full of dishes that not only sound appealing, but are created out of nourishing, plant-based, living ingredients. I want to try everything.

But it’s only 10:30 a.m., so I forgo the rest of the menu (for now) for chef Nush’s offering of tiramisu and a cup of lukewarm brazil nut milk coffee and retreat with Carolyn to her upstairs office. As I settle myself into a deep armchair, pondering how to simultaneously take notes and enjoy my generous gourmet breakfast, Carolyn transitions from the flurry of morning preparations – getting change, taking bookings, cleaning, consulting with the kitchen – into a more pensive mode. She’s flipping through the first issue of Living Raw curiously.

“Training tips for raw vegans,” she muses aloud. “Why doesn’t it say anything about humility?” Carolyn’s question about vegan morality disarms me, as a vegan inclination is often taken for granted among raw enthusiasts. Turns out, she’s become more than a little wary of the term. In fact she wonders why some vegans flaunt their veganism like it’s a medal of honour.

“I dislike the word ‘vegan’,” Carolyn laments, describing a run in with a couple of haughty customers who short changed their account, another who complained that her budget had been blown, and yet another who trashed the restaurant with incorrect facts on an online message board. It’s a common problem for a young restaurant – attracting a clientele that understands what the establishment is about and embraces it joyfully. The difficulty for le cru is even more pronounced because there is a certain eagerness among the vegan and raw populations to adopt the place as their own, yet expectations for what a raw vegan restaurant ought to be vary widely.

Melbourne has a trend towards vegetarian restaurants that offer large portions at cheap prices but le cru is more on the casual fine dining end of the scale. Dishes are moderately portioned, and prices reflect organic ingredients and the labour intensive preparations that gourmet raw food entails. Furthermore, not all dishes are vegan as the restaurant uses honey in many recipes, which has caused a stir among some potential customers. But le cru stands by their decision to include honey, citing its health benefits and noting that all of the restaurants at which Carolyn and Nush trained in America (including Pure Food and Wine, Quintessence, and Café Gratitude) also use honey. They strive to keep their prices accessible despite demanding the very best organic and local ingredients.

Le cru certainly strives to be all embracing, and sees itself as a space to include everybody. They’re not about labelling people or lifestlyle; rather, the intention is to create a space for healing that brings wellness to the community. For these reasons, they deliberately reject the “vegan” moniker and opt for the all-inclusive “plant-based” title instead. It’s a viewpoint that focuses on the bounty of nourishing ingredients available rather than defining itself by what it excludes – a rather uplifting and liberating way of thinking about a high-raw lifestyle.

Carolyn is sure that embracing such a positive mode of thinking is the basis of health, happiness and success. She draws upon lessons learned from a background in psychology in asserting that the brain is our most powerful tool, and keeping this tool in working order requires clean fuel: “A clean body leads to a clean brain, which provides clear answers.”

This is the basic idea around which Carolyn bases her detox and nutrition programs, and what led her to explore a raw foods path in the first place. It’s a story that began with her initial diagnosis of breast cancer in 1994 and has been a complete journey since.

A recurring tumor in 1998 followed by extremely painful metastatic cancer in her ribs led her to “have a chat with her higher being.” At that point she had two young adopted daughters who had already lost their first mother, and Carolyn couldn’t see any reason that they ought to lose a second. “I had a job to do,” she explains earnestly, “and I hadn’t completed it.” From this experience she learned that she had to take not only her health, but her life, her very existence, into her own hands.

Since then she’s adamantly insisted against the contemporary inclination to hand over one’s entire being to a doctor. She doesn’t understand why the modern medical profession effectively hands out death sentences, and encourages people to instead decide for themselves whether or not they feel as though they will live or die.

In working with others on healing and detoxification, Carolyn strives to provide another mental picture – the option of choosing life. She has helped several people clear themselves of cancer, and another to lose 30 kilograms and rid himself of diabetes. Her technique? Detoxification through alkaline water, foods and green smoothies, for a start.

She teaches her clients to remove the acidity from their bodies, thereby changing their physical terrain to make it unsupportive of disease. She derides the fact that western doctors are provided with one semester of nutrition at most, yet at the same time echoes the disclaimer that spouts from the lips of so many raw food educators that she’s not a doctor. She doesn’t want her clients placing their lives in her hands any more than they’d sign themselves over to a doctor. Rather, she insists that each person’s health is up to him or herself, and what she strives to offer is education and support for each journey.

For local Melbournians seeking such support, le cru’s Tuesday night programs offer a great starting point. In May they offered a series of detoxification and nutrition classes, and in June followed up with a number of workshops focusing on raw food preparation. They have also hosted evenings featuring Scott Fry’s Loving Earth chocolate, Jemma Gawned’s Naked mineral makeup, organic food and wine matching, authors and other local enterprises that they see as being in line with their principles. Setting aside Tuesday evenings to focus on education and community support is telling about the intentions of the le cru team.

One of these intentions is, of course, to share a passion for food. That passion is embodied in the bundle of energy, creativity, generosity and hard work that is chef Nush. In my interactions with her, I’ve gotten the impression that she is so obviously meant to be a chef. She has a way of owning the kitchen, which I’ve rarely seen her leave unless it’s to check on her customers to make sure they’re enjoying their meal, or to offer a little nourishing treat to hungry visitors.

Carolyn has clearly passed on a nurturing instinct to her daughter, through it’s fascinating to see how differently they express it. With Nush, that innate quality that makes a chef a chef shines through constantly. An appreciation for good food can be traced to her childhood, when she and Carolyn would cook together. But as Carolyn says, this was simply family bonding – she had no idea that she was grooming a young chef. Yet clearly something about food – and even more, about her mother’s experiences with raw food – sparked her attention. She trained in the culinary arts and worked as a pastry chef before embarking on raw food preparation skills. She went to New York to study with Dr. David Jubb, then travelled around the US with Carolyn observing the way that different raw restaurants operate.

The resulting restaurant is a true collaboration between mother and daughter. While Carolyn manages the front of house, accounts and events, Nush’s domain is the kitchen. Carolyn tells me that Nush spends at least twelve hours a day in the kitchen; my impression that she rarely leaves turns out be grounded in reality. Carolyn and Nush work on menu development together, creating daily specials and updating menus to reflect seasonality and ongoing inspiration. They’ve recently added warming soups, dehydrator-heated items, and heartier dishes such as an apple crumble and an essene bread to reflect the desires of customers through the winter months. They constantly seek out opportunities to further their knowledge and spark their creativity, such as working with chef Felix Schoener during his recent visit to Australia.

Ultimately the message that le cru sends out is that there is an alternative to sickness, and that is vibrant well-being. There is an alternative to food-as-commodity, and that is food as physical and spiritual nourishment. There is an alternative to business as either large commercial enterprise or struggling independent endeavours and that is a community created through a supportive network of like-minded people.

By embracing ideals of gratitude and generosity and placing them at the heart of le cru’s operations, Carolyn, Nush and the rest of the team embody the “better sharing and caring way” that they envision.

le cru restaurant
137 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, VIC 3206

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cosmic Carrot Lemon Cheesecake with Red Raspberry Sauce

I’ve got a bit of a bakery habit. While I rarely feel any pull to actually buy one of the gorgeous cakes – I know that despite their lovely appearances, they’re made of low-energy, dead food products like white flour, sugar and butter – I really love to ogle them. I admire the artistry that is patisserie. In fact I know that many of the master bakers out there, while they may differ with me on matters of diet, hold the same core philosophy close to their hearts: namely, using the best quality ingredients and preparing their little delicacies with the utmost attention to detail. Ultimately, it comes back to that old hang-up of mine: integrity.

Look, I’m not trying to argue the merits of pastry. No matter if your baker is using the finest flour and organic butter imported from France. That croissant is still nutritionally dead. Despite its beauty, it’s not doing anything to make you a glowing diva radiating an aura of earthly energy. I’m just giving credit where credit is due: to the creativity and artistry of the patissiere.

My latest addiction is a little cake shop on Little Collins Street in Melbourne. They make the most delicate, gorgeously petit cakes – miniature versions of French classics with contemporary twists. One that I’ve really admired lately is the “cosmopolitan:” a layer of carrot cake, a layer of cheesecake, and a topping of raspberry jam. I just had to have a go at rawifying it.
I’ll be the first to admit that mine didn’t come out nearly as pretty as the delicacies on display at Le Petit Gateaux. Then again, I haven’t been disciplined under the exacting eye of a French patissiere! So I’ll give myself a break in terms of design, and suffice it to say that the flavors are HOT. Sweet, spicy carrot cake, given a depth of flavour with the additional superfood boost of mesquite meal, layered with lemony cashew cheesecake and tied together with the sweet-tart, lip smacking sensuality of raspberry-honey sauce. This is a super-powered cake. Carrots, coconut, mesquite, cashews, lemons (from my lemon tree!), dates, berries, honey – this cake is seriously nutritious. Yup, my cake packs more vitamins than most people’s so called “healthy” meals, but don’t eat it for that reason. Eat it because it’s delicious, it makes you feel great, and because there’s absolutely no reason that every single bite you put into your mouth shouldn’t satisfy on every level.

Cosmic Carrot Lemon Cheesecake with Red Raspberry Sauce


1 cup dried coconut
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup dates
pinch himalayan salt

Carrot Cake Layer

3 1/3 cups finely grated carrot
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups medjoool dates (pitted)
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut
2/3 cup mesquite meal
1 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Cheesecake Layer

2 cups cashews
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 small vanilla bean
water, as needed

Raspberry Sauce

2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted
2 Tbsp honey, softened

For the crust: Grind macadamias and coconut in food processor. Add dates. Press into the bottom of a cake pan.

For the carrot cake layer: Squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the shredded carrots. Grind the sunflower seeds to a powder in the food processor. Add dates and process to combine. Add shredded coconut, mesquite meal, nutmeg and cinnamon, and pulse a few times. Add carrots and process until combined, leaving some texture.

Press half (or all, of you prefer 2 layers) of the carrot cake mixture on top of the crust, and place the cake in the freezer to set a bit while preparing the next layer.

For the lemon cheesecake layer: If honey and coconut oil are firm, melt over a double boiler. Combine cashews, lemon juice, melted honey and coconut oil and vanilla bean in food processor or high powered blender and whir until smooth, adding water slowly as needed (up to 1/2 cup).

Smooth half of the cheesecake mixture over the carrot cake layer. Place in freezer for 10 minutes to solidify, then top with the remaining carrot cake mixture. Again, freeze to solidify, then top with remaining cheesecake mixture.

Will keep frozen for a few weeks, about 1 week in the refrigerator.

Make sauce just before serving: Soften honey over a double boiler, then combine with raspberries and mash with a fork. Drizzle over each serving of cake.
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