I had this strange hunger Sunday, a hollow hunger that my morning greens smoothie and hearty lunchtime salad of kale, seaweed and avocado couldn’t quite get at.
I felt it deep in my bones. I needed a blast of protein. And not this raw protein business of hemp seeds and bee pollen that I’d been relying on for more than 40 days. This sort of hunger begged for the real, decidedly un-raw deal.
And so it came to pass that I finally “broke raw” this past weekend. A hard boiled egg and a few slices of savory chicken ended my uncooked streak. I nibbled them with glee and felt wholly satiated, and not a smidge guilty. Truth be told, the end actually came with my indulgence in a wee cup of coffee the morning before.
I woke bleary-eyed to the hated piles of laundry I’d put off all week. As I lugged them down to the laundromat with dread, the corner coffee shop beckoned — a comforting, caffeinated distraction. And I surrendered. A lovely reunion, that first sip.
Still, beyond those transgressions, it’s been all-raw for me since the official end to our 30 days. And I use the word “transgressions” loosely. As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been approaching each day, each meal as it comes. I’m not playing by any set of rules. I’m just eating as it makes sense to me, thinking about how what I put in my mouth now will feel in my body tomorrow. And funny thing, as I’ve been doing that I’ve been chugging along on raw anyhow. (Though full disclosure, there’ve been ample amounts of red wine involved, too).
So I continue along. Aside from that one cup, I haven’t felt pulled to coffee the mornings since. I’m going to try to hold to that as long as I can (if only for admittedly vain reasons: my sister swears my skin looks better without all that drying caffeine). I’m aiming for as high a raw diet as practical. But I can also say that when I meet a friend for lunch later today, there’s a good chance there’ll be some grilled salmon on my salad plate. (Mmm...grilled salmon).
It should be easy enough. For now. The real challenge comes in a few weeks, when I’ll be visiting family in Poland. Forget that the elders feel personally affronted if you decline even a morsel of their food. But there’s not too much of a raw selection on their traditional meat-and-potatoes menu. The only thing I know of that the Poles do raw is cow’s milk.
Yesterday's paper carried essays from the three of us explaining what we plan to do, post-raw. Here's what I wrote. Be sure to check back on the blog in two weeks, and then in a month, to see how we're doing.
There's a perception that this month of going raw has been about deprivation, that a celebration of burgers and fries awaited at the end. But for me, that would be beside the point of going raw in the first place. And it's not at all how I've been looking at this challenge.
I wanted to give raw food a go to quiet the frenetic pace I had found myself in -- eating on the run, chewing on sugary sweets, slapping meals together without much thought. I felt tired and burned out, and I hoped a living-foods lifestyle would be the pick-me-up I needed.
None of us came to raw to tackle a major health problem, as a lot of people suffering from chronic illness or obesity do. And that's where you'll hear a lot of the stories of staggering transformations, of people vibing big-time on raw.
Still, it's fair to say I saw my own tangible shifts. Did I find the raw bliss I envisioned? No. Do I feel better, lighter and more alert? Without question. I no longer rely on a java jolt to wake me in the mornings, and I don't have the afternoon slumps that drew me to the office coffeepot for another cup. I've learned there's a lot more variety and pleasure in eating raw than I expected. And I've found a balance that keeps me energized enough to sweat through my evening spinning classes.
Am I going 100 percent raw? I don't see that in my permanent future. But I see it for today, tomorrow and probably next week. I figure, I'm in a raw groove and feeling good, so I might as well stick with it until I decide it's not working for me. Why fix what ain't broke?
Still, rigid rules aren't my bag. So I'm certain I'll find my way to the coffeepot and an order of grilled salmon soon enough. I enjoy those things too much to swear off them for life.
But for now, I'm keeping as high a raw diet as is practical in the daily grind and seeing where it takes me.
People have been asking me what's on the menu for my breakfast tomorrow, the first official meal outside the confines of this raw experiment.
Answer: Probably a greens-and-fruit smoothie.
You can read more in tomorrow's paper about what exactly the three of us plan to do, post-raw. But I'll just say this much. I wasn't looking at this challenge as, well a challenge. It wasn't an experiment of deprivation with the reward dangling at the end of 30 days to pig out. In fact, it didn't feel very depriving at all. I came to this month of raw out of curiosity, and to see if I could dust off some good health habits that had fallen to the wayside. I had a slow, frustrating start. But standing on this side of 30 days, I'd say mission accomplished.
One of the coolest things about this process, though, has been the response. I've heard from a good number of people who've said reading along has made them reflect on their own dietary choices, and think a little harder about what they're putting into their mouths and onto the table for their families. It doesn't have to be a question of 100 percent raw or nothing. Cutting back on sugar and packaged foods, putting out more fresh fruits and vegetables, scaling back on caffeine. Even my mother, come to find out, has been inspired to make green smoothies her breakfast and lunch staple. (We'll set aside the fact she has some strange combinations. Romaine lettuce, fruit and...red bell peppers?)
All these little steps that people have told me they're making can add up to big changes. I fully believe that.
Last weekend, I finally had a chance to watch an advance review copy of "Raw for 30 Days", the documentary film that, in part, inspired our experiment. (None of us, however, came into this trying to treat a major health issue). The movie's new title is "Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days" and it's set to premiere at the Newport International Film Festival in Rhode Island in June. It's a provocative film and worthwhile viewing for anyone exploring the connection between food and illness. Hopefully it'll spark an important conversation about the way we look at health and medicine in this country.
So am I going 100 percent raw? I won't answer that right now. But the question is, if I do, do you think my editors will let me change my byline to Courant Raw Staff Writer?
One of my main sticking points with raw has been this air of rigidity that swirls in certain circles. Even if you think you're doing a heckuva job eating 100 % raw, there's someone eager to point out that well, actually, those almonds you're eating aren't really raw, and you should be careful about how much fruit you're eating, and you shouldn't be drinking water with your meals, or eating fruit with your salad, and it sounds like you're getting too much salt -- no, not enough - no, too much salt in your diet.
It can be paralyzing, this constant correcting. My first two weeks I had this sense that no matter how thoughtfully I went about my food choices, I somehow was still doing raw wrong. When you get these bits of discouragement coming at you from different directions, you just want to throw your hands up at the impossibility of it all. I can understand the enthusiasm people might have to share what's worked for them, but it can be counterproductive in what should be the real goal : to encourage people on the path to making healthier choices and give them reason to keep going. Otherwise, it just becomes about being able to wear the "100% raw" label. And who exactly is keeping score?
Which is why our celebration dinner at Pure Food and Wine in New York on Sunday was so refreshing. Forget the fact that the meal, from appetizer to dessert, was absolutely delicious, with each innovative dish presented like a little piece of artwork. But there was no sense of raw vs. cooked judgment around the dinner tables. About 14 or so people, all at their own levels of commitment to raw foods, came along with our raw coach, Glen.
I particularly liked something that Frank Giglio said. A local raw food chef with an inspiring story, he just came back from a 10-month apprenticeship at The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona and is training for a 100-mile endurance run this summer. (That's not a typo. 100 miles. Non-stop. Fueled by raw foods. Really).
There are so many raw food gurus out there, he said, each with a different take. He suggested people not get so caught up in all their various "rules", but to take in all the information and try things on for size. What fits, keep. What doesn't, toss. Trust your intuition. He told a great story that bordered on parable about his friend, a vegan-raw foodist who lives out in the wild somewhere. She had been weak and underweight, and started having recurrent dreams about eggs -- not part of a vegan diet. When she woke one morning to find a chicken had laid an egg on her bed, she figured it was as clear a sign as any. Veganism aside, she started adding raw eggs to her smoothies. Sure enough, her strength and energy came back.
My intuition tells me pretty strongly that I can skip that raw egg idea entirely. But now I'm wondering what to make of the weird dream that I had last night. I'll tell you if anything strange shows up on my bed tomorrow morning.
If you can't stand the heat...
...sneaking a peek in the kitchen at Pure Food and Wine.
I had these asparagus and avocado nori rolls for an appetizer. (No, not sushi!) The rice, I'm told, is made from a jicama base.
My main dish, a flavorful saag paneer with "rice."
The flourless chocolate cake that Cindy and I had. She declared it "the best dessert I've ever had."
Four weeks ago today, the three of us were getting set to dive into this uncooked lifestyle, not at all knowing what to expect. Would we be cranky and hungry? Would we take to it with raw abandon? Would Cindy and Eric still be my friends at the end of week one?
We know the answers to some of those questions. But it ain't over yet. We still have a few days left. Still, our trio is celebrating the end of this monthlong experiment tonight, dining with our raw coach Glen Colello at Pure Food and Wine, considered one of the top raw gourmet restaurants in New York. It should be a great time. The menu is so enticing, with such creative-sounding dishes. I can't wait to check it all out, and raise a glass (of young coconut water) to toast my raw compadres.
...because who doesn't love pictures of (unusual) foodstuffs?
As I mentioned, I brought back raw snacks that I picked up in New York last weekend to sample with Eric and Cindy. Some were bigger hits than others.
Raweos cookies? An obvious crowd pleaser. Soft and chewy, sweet and chocolatey? You can't go wrong. (Er, except for that $8 price tag. And that just gets you nine teensy morsels).
The essene bread ($6 for a small box) and cashew cheese ($7.50 for a tiny knob) were tougher sells. Made from dehydrated sprouted grains and vegetables, the "bread" is really more of a crispy cracker. I liked it okay, though it definitely goes better with a dip or spread. The others weren't so impressed, rendering it about as dry and flavorless as cardboard.
I had high hopes for the cheese. But the truth is, cheese is cheese. There's no recreating it. This one was made from cashews and a probiotic called acidophilus. It left a sour aftertaste, and, sadly, the remainder ended up in the trash can.
Early on, the three of us bemoaned the lack of a cereal crunch in our diets. There are plenty of raw granola recipes around, but my issue with them is they tend to be heavy on the nuts.
The folks over at Living Intentions got wind and sent us some samples of their soon-to-be-released granolas, made from sprouted buckwheat, sunflower and flax seeds and coconut, dried fruits and protein powders. We sampled two kinds -- hemp & greens and cacao & agave. I had to shoo my (non-raw) colleagues' paws away from the cacao flavor, in particular. But I'll be snacking on both once they hit the stores.
One last morsel for you to chew on. Our trio finally made it out for lunch together this week at Alchemy, an organic raw and vegan restaurant just a few minutes from the office. We noshed on great salads and smoothies (I had a tasty almond milk and chai concoction, and a hummus dip that was as close to the real thing that I've tasted).
Once we were happily stuffed, co-owner John Zito brought out a plate of raw confections and melt-in-your-mouth chocolates. So rich and delicious, all you needed was a bite (or two) to satiate your sweet tooth.
Having Eric and Cindy along on this raw adventure has made the experience a whole lot easier. Diving in solo might have felt way too isolating and overwhelming. There's something to be said for having people to commiserate and compare notes with, in person and on a daily basis.
I've also had the benefit of a third raw compatriot. My sister. She's dabbled in raw, but never went the distance and figured this was as good a time as any to take the plunge. The two of us are total health food dorks to begin with. We visit health food stores like fashion mavens do couture boutiques. We once snuck out of a family wedding reception to visit the tiny natural foods store next door, strolling the aisles with glee, palming bags of flax seeds like they were precious jewels. (Our family was none the wiser, too preoccupied with the Chicken Dance to notice).
So during this month of raw, she and I have had a good support system in each other. And I totally recommend recruiting a raw buddy if you're seriously going to try this. We've chattered on the phone and by e-mail daily, analyzing issues that come up, trading status reports and recipes. (This literally just in from her, by e-mail: can i also just say? i LOVE my new breakfast concoction of chopped watermelon, sprinkled with coconut and cacao nibs.)
So when I visited her in New York last weekend, it was a given we'd go on a raw food excursion. If you're living raw, hers is probably one of the best neighborhoods in the country to do it in. From shops, gourmet restaurants and juice joints, there are easily a dozen live foods resources within an 8-block radius of her. Here in Connecticut we've got places like Alchemy in Hartford and Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe in West Haven. But it's far from the hub my sister enjoys. If she doesn't feel like messing around in the kitchen, she can easily stop into the takeaway cafe at one of the top raw food resturants in the country, Pure Food and Wine, or head down to Quintessence or Caravan of Dreams. She's totally a little raw spoiled brat.
We started with a great dinner Saturday night a Candle 79, a gourmet organic vegan restaurant. It was such a relief not to have "the raw talk" with a waitress, or surrender to a puny house salad. Candle isn't fully raw, but they've got enough items on menu to make it a breeze. So, we sipped on young coconut water and shared our plates of avocado-tomato tartare, seaweed salad and and live zucchini enchiladas, made with cashew cheese and chipotle tomato sauce.
For dessert, we split an amazing live pineapple-cherry parfait with nut granola and raw coconut ice cream. It was all totally satisfying. But watching the staff trot out hot, savory dishes to nearby diners -- well, it was the first time I really craved a hot bite of comfort food.
We spent the next day whipping up our own breakfast smoothies, and later headed up to Bonobo's for a live foods lunch. We had actually only intended on peeking inside since we were passing through the neighborhood. But the sight of the colorful salad bar selections convinced us to pull up a chair and order a combination platter of various marinaded, seasoned vegetable salads.
We capped off the raw adventure by heading back down to two East Village shops: High Vibe and Live Live. I stocked up on snacks of essene bread (made from dehydrated sprouted grains and vegetable), cashew cheese and a raw version of Oreo cookies to share with Cindy and Eric. And my sister shelled out $14 for a package of raw tortillas. Cha-ching, indeed.
There's been a lot of talk about green smoothies on this blog. It's been a staple breakfast for all three of us, and I know for me, it'll continue to be after these 30 days. A little kale and celery, a little frozen fruit and bee pollen? That's a little glass of heaven, right there.
But people have been skeptical about our sludgey-looking drinks. They can't taste all that good, can they? We decided to let them find out for themselves, and see how the green smoothie fares under the scrutiny of the Courant newsroom. Here's a video of our taste test.