Raw Vegan Food: Beyond the Salad!

So I’ve been trying to change my eating habits. Yes…I still eat meat, just less of it and no processed meats. That means I’ve put down, for now at least, Beloved Bacon and Awesome Chorizo sausage. I’m in discovery mode where beans (all of them) are concerned, and different, delicious ways to prepare them. I’ve made lentils and brown rice with portobello mushrooms and green peppers cooked with fresh herbs in coconut milk. I’ve made a wicked white bean mash which comes together so nicely with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, shallots, lemon juice and fresh parsley. I’ve made a sugar free vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, virgin olive oil, dried Italian herb mix and fresh garlic with a pinch of salt. I don’t like my salads naked. I hate them naked. And I’m on the look out for different and interesting and of course delicious ways to cook, prepare and eat the rainbow.

So when I saw an article in one of the dailies speaking about the benefits of raw foods, I took note. I also took a picture of the section where it listed some places here on the Rock where one could explore this not-quite-yet-mainstream food niche.

Zoom in for a list of Raw Food Eateries in Jamaica

Imagine my glee when I googled a couple of these restaurants and found that they actually had an online presence that was current! Business places in Jamaica need to understand that without a current, valid on line presence they are possibly missing out on so many opportunities. It is a pleasure when a customer or potential customer can click and get location, opening hours, product listings, menus, prices and consumer feedback.

Side note: Last November I had to visit York, England for school. I invested quite a few hours researching on line where to to eat and drink in York (’cause my middle name is PLAN and because food is as important as school, right?) and complied a list complete with directions from my B&B, walking time, and the dish that I would eat at each location. I also knew what it would cost me. And so I, travelling as a single woman, first time visitor to York had a blast pub crawling, eating some awesomely delish food and sampling the local ales. 

And so I looked up a couple of the places mentioned in the article and was intrigued by what I read about “Mi Hungry“.  Their website described each dish and clearly stated cost. I mentioned it to a colleague of mine who is also trying to clean up her eating habits and she confirmed that she had eaten their food and recommended a couple of things to me. See why it’s good to chat and share and live out loud?

So today, I invited Miss World to accompany me there to have lunch after we shopped for groceries. She has quite an evolved palette and has a natural (inherited!) knack for blending and combining flavours so I knew she would be game and a worthy companion on this little adventure into the world of Raw Food.

So we reach on to Mi Hungry. It occupies a small corner in The Market Place, to the rear of the complex, but there are a few tables for whose who want to eat there.

Inside Mi Hungry

I knew exactly what we were going to try: the burger and the pizza. I know there are vegan purists who resent comparisons of their food to more traditional fare. People get upset at “tofu roast” and ” meatless curried chicken” and “turkey bacon”. Calm down. More of us eat pizza and burger than not, and if your food is that good and that good for you, then you should want to share and what better way to share than to relate it to the familiar. So I ordered our selections with confidence: one half Pleaza and one Nyam burger to be shared between us. Here’s how Mi Hungry describes them:

Pleaza (Pizza): A savory crust of seeds and grains crisply dehydrated and covered with our not-cheese made from sunflower seeds, and topped with chopped onions, pineapple, tomatoes, sweet pepper, lettuce, olives, and hot pepper if you want.

Nyam Burger: Not-cheese burger, within 2 tasty buns made from walnuts, filled with our signature house tomato sauce, onion rings, tomato, lettuce, sweet pepper.

Here’s how the pizza looked:

Fresh toppings, thin crispy crust, a decent enough portion for 2 of us. It was beautiful, almost a work of art and you got the sense that someone took the time to layer and construct this by hand. The veggies were chopped up small, very neat…not at all junky and coarse. I’m happy to report that the taste was equally good. There was enough salt, a cheesy taste and enough pepper that supported an almost perfect blending of the flavours of these fresh toppings. The onion did not overpower anything, Praise Jah. The pineapple hovered underneath it all lending a delicate sweetness and her distinctive flavour that blended oh so well with the fresh tomato and sweet peppers. It was delicious.

Miss World declared the Pleaza her favourite. And while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I will most certainly get the Nyam Burger again! The “buns” were chewy and savoury and the inclusions fresh, delicious, cheesy and neatly bound together with their tomato sauce. Throughout both the Pleaza and and Nyam Burger, there was a very faint hint of fresh lime juice. Yum!  Note: nothing is cooked and no flour or sugar are added.

The owner is the chef, a quiet, slender Rasta man, who was reluctant to chat, but very pleasant and gracious when I insisted on complimenting him in person. He makes the magic happen behind this mesh enclosed space.

The floor manager, another Rasta man, was very engaging. I didn’t give him a chance, really. I asked him if his diet consisted of raw foods only. He quickly replied: “No way! Mi love my ital stew…cook down!” So I, emboldened by his declaration took faas, and asked him if he ate meat. “NO!” he said. “Mi stop eat dat from di 60s.” He shared that he didn’t eat fish and when I enquired of his blood pressure and cholesterol he shrugged and said: “Dem nuh mussi fine.”
We washed this down with deliciously cold, natural, sweet coconut water. Everything cost us JD1150.00 (approx USD 10.00). We left full and satisfied, not stuffed and heavy, and 3 hours later we’re not yet hungry. I understand that a body full of nutrients rather than calories will feel fuller longer.
Listen y’all, I have no plans at this time for going vegan or even raw food vegan. What I am is an unapologetic lover of good food…all good food. I derive pleasure from food. Seriously. These raw food offerings were delicious and I will have them again. Raw vegan fare is way more than a salad. Sure, I will continue to be more deliberate about what I put into my mouth and I will schedule indulgent experiences from time to time. Food fi nyam!

Who says low-carb has to be boring?

So on a Sunday, I really throw down, in my kitchen. I plan my menu days in advance.  Then round about noon I turn the radio dial to Fame 95 (retro…what else?!), fill a glass with ice cubes, add some rum and COOK!  On any given Sunday I pull from the following items: braised ox-tails, baked chicken, curried shrimp, pot roasts of beef or pork, rice and peas, sitr fried veg, mac and cheese, fried rice, chow mein, baked plantains, garden salad…

But I’ve decided to go low-carb  for a while, to reset my body and mind, so…sigh…gotta find a way to keep the fun in Sundays.  So instead of rum, we do water.  Yup.  Water and a lot of ice.  And I still blast my retro tunes.  And here’s what today’s fare looked like:

I call it “Smothered Chicken with Steamed Veggies”.

The steamed veggies are simply broccoli and cauliflower steamed with garlic, parsley and basil and finished with butter (salted of course).  Yum!

Here’s the main event:

4 chicken breasts
1 onion
2 stalks celery
1 cup coarsely cut button mushrooms
1 medium tomato
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Flatten the chicken breasts.  Wash with lime juice and season with salt, pepper, jerk-flavoured hot sauce, soya sauce and let marinate overnight.

Heat 2 tbsp veg oil in a non-stick frying pan and quickly sear the chicken on both sides.  It should be just brown and the entire browning process should not take more than 3 min all told.

Remove from frying pan and place the pieces of chicken a flat baking sheet and allow to rest.

Chop all seasonings (onion, celery, tomato, garlic and sweet pepper) and add to the same pan you used to brown the chicken.  Saute for 2 min.  Add the mushooms and a pinch of salt and stir for another minute.

Turn on your broiler.

Spoon equal amounts of this mixture on to each piece of chicken breast already on the baking sheet.

Sprinkle equal amounts of cheese over the dressed chicken pieces and  place the dressed and cheesed chicken breasts on the baking sheet under the broiler.

Broil for approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and just turning brown.

Remove and let rest for 3 minutes.

Serve hot with veggies.

Now…who says low-carb has to be boring? 😀

My take on New Year Resolutions

So 2012 is upon us.  I love the idea of a New Year.  I use the opportunity to review the year past and anticipate the year coming.  And yes, I make New Year’s resolutions.  I also make New Year wishes.  I have never gotten everything that I have wished for, neither have I ever kept all my resolutions.  But I have over the years kept some of my resolutions and gotten some of what I have wished for.
I didn’t even need to wait until the end of 2011 to conclude that, all in all, it was a pretty good year for me!  I saw my children mature and do well in school.  I have a passion for teaching, and despite sending my resumes hither thither and yon, I ended up, almost overnight it seemed, teaching for a term at an institution that I hadn’t applied to!  That was a fun and fulfilling experience.  I did pretty well on my nine to five too, hitting pretty much all my targets and seeing my team execute (almost!) flawlessly. And last but certainly not least, I finally ditched some major emotional baggage.  I forgave myself for some wrong moves that I had made in the past and in so doing, freed myself to give and receive forgiveness. I thank God for who I am.
So in starting 2012, I have a few wishes.  Not going to articulate them here…might jinx them!  My resolutions are not dramatic, but significant to me and as I progress, I will add to them and modify them as necessary.  That’s low stress resolution making for you, and I highly recommend it. 
I’ve decided to revert to a low-carb lifestyle.  I know a lot of people get very nervous when they hear low- carb, but I’ve done it before and every single thing about my health improved.  So here we go again.  I will end up losing weight, controlling hormone balances, stabilizing my moods and improving overall well-being.  So far, so good- all seven days of 2012!
I’ve also resolved to review my blessings at the end of each day.  How this became a resolution is a story in and of itself.  Let me back up and start at the beginning of this one.  I had remarked aloud that I was going to start a low-carb diet.  Marcelle, my colleague on the other side of the divide in our workspace, chimed in that she was planning to do likewise.  We began sharing our carb-loving weaknesses, and I confessed that besides rice (oh blessed glorious any kind of rice!) I was fond of munching on salty, crunchy snacks late at night in bed.  She suggested that I replace that habit with an herbal tea habit!  Now I am not a tea drinker, but the way Marcelle suggested it totally intrigued me.  She suggested that I make a ritual of it: get a nice kettle, special mug and create a ceremony of sorts.  I thought: why not? So I went looking for caffeine-free, herbal teas and found a great item!  It’s a sampler box of fruity, herbal teas…great for a beginner like me who has no idea of what she likes.  I started and reported back gleefully to Marcelle.  It really is a very soothing and calming thing, this tea making a drinking last thing at night.  My ex-husband used to enjoy a cup of tea before bed, and used to beg me to make it for him.  I did not. Too much of a production, I thought at the time.  Now I know.  I told Marcelle the irony of the tea making and a few days later, she came to my desk and said: “Let’s talk”.  That was kinda unusual based on our normal type of interaction. I nonetheless replied in surprise: “Sure!  Why not!”  She asked me if I had ever read “Love Languages”.  I replied in the affirmative and said that It is a must read for all people, especially those planning to marry.  Had I read it before I got married, I may still have been married today.  The book teaches you how to understand your spouse and how to make yourself understood.  Great book and I highly recommend it.  That lead to me recommending a related book also written by Gary Chapman: “The Five Languages of Apology”.  That book showed me that I needed to forgive myself and taught me how to.  My colleague seemed genuinely interested in my story of self-forgiveness and she also seemed happy for me.  We concluded our talk and we went our separate ways.
A few days later, Marcelle came to my desk again and said that she had a gift for me if I would accept.  She showed me a book where each day had a tiny space allotted for listing the things that I am grateful for.  She explained that she figured it would be a great addition to my tea ritual.  I slowly saw the sense of what she was recommending. There’s a line in one of my favourite movies, “The Matrix” that speaks about how we as human beings “define ourselves by our misery”.  So true!  I warmed to the idea of ending each day focusing on all that was good in my life.  So this past Thursday, I added articulating my gratitude to my tea ritual at the end of each day.  My children are now in on the tea drinking ritual and the gratitude giving.  To be honest, I had hoped for this to be my thing. But how can I exclude them from something that gives us another opportunity to bond and will hopefully create for them a tradition that they will carry on as they move forward with their own lives?
So there you have it: eating differently, deliberately winding down each night and giving thanks at the end of each day. Like I said, my resolutions this year are not dramatic and I will add and alter as necessary throughout 2012. I think I’m off to a pretty good start.