Thursday, May 27, 2010

To-Die-For Dinnerware!

I found these by a circuitous route:  watching Everyday Italian, searching for Giada's ($100!) salt cellar, and accidentally finding recommendations for CB2.  I nearly died of happiness.

First of all, I'm a graduate student, so money is tight.  (Seriously.  Our wages are so low that we are eligible for food stamps even though we are teaching college students.)  This website has plates that cost as little as $2.  And they're beautifully simple:  they follow a more modern, almost Japanese style of simplicity and clean lines above everything, in order to better showcase the food.  Lemongrass Thai Bistro in Macon, Georgia uses these, and although the very large ones are a bit heavy, they're hard to break but look as though they broke the bank.

Look at these!  Matching.  White.  Elegant.  Modern.  The food automatically looks gourmet.  They photograph beautifully.   They make the food pop without any effort whatsoever.

Check out the gorgeous contrast of the green and white, the stacked triangular rounded serving plates, the perfectly sized little square plates just right for soy sauce, and the softly contrasting rounded serving bowls.  Look below, at the way the curves on the fruit and cheese course accentuate the angles of the other plates and bring out the swells of the pears and the grapes. See how unnecessary anything but simplicity is?  To be frank, these photos are more cluttered than they need to be to be beautiful.  Naturally, I understand they had to showcase as many products as possible, though.

Just look at the wine glasses.  Unadorned, they don't take away from the beauty of the wine but glint seductively in the white light like sunlight ricocheting off of icicles.  And further below, the perfect combination for a summer party, especially for us girls:  colorful, elegant, and so much fun!  The blue is utterly gorgeous, tropical, and perfect for a Mediterranean Greek theme.  They make me want to dress up in a sexy white blouse and throw on my turquoise and gold jewelry.  They make me want to laugh and plan parties and have friends over to enjoy the beauty of summer, food, and a swimming pool.  They also make me want to recreate amazing Thai food.  Seriously.  I found an Asian market (with very unfriendly staff) that sold Thai basil, Thai chili peppers, and cheap bunches of cilantro, and this is going to be fun.

Just imagine!  Barely any piece is over $9.95.  The little appetizer spoon plates are $0.95.  The  white square 6.5" dessert plate is $1.95.  A small square bowl is $2.95.  What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So, Is Raw Food Insane?

What would it take to learn to love a raw food lifestyle?

Granted, this isn't a new thought.  I've been puzzling over this since finding Natalia Rose's Detox 4 Women in Barnes & Noble about thirteen months ago.  It's a truly fascinating lifestyle, incorporating everything from food to food sources to compassion to supporting local organic farmers and, occasionally, to fanaticism.  But what is it all about?  And, more importantly, can I do it?

I truly love to cook.  Veganism was a stretch, but thankfully I tried it just as I was starting work at an amazing Thai bistro, which opened up hundreds of possibilities.  But--raw food?  I couldn't imagine denying myself the joy of being in the kitchen; like a cute little housewife, I happily slave over dinner, chopping up mirepoix for soup, kneading bread, inventing new marinades, and reading recipe books for fun.

Natalia Rose caught my interest about a year ago, and since then, I keep drifting back to this intriguing possibility of living on raw food.  It's not as extreme as it sounds; prehistoric man didn't have a microwave and even meat was originally eaten raw.  No other species feels the need to cook its food.  Why should we?

Are there any raw foods you're completely in love with?  Mine was (and is) guacamole.  It's not that hard to eat more vegetables and fruits if you adore them and then slowly expand--and I will guarantee that there is much more to the vegetable and fruit arena than you can even guess.  Look up daikons, for example--it's a fruit that looks like a huge, spiky boulder all ready for the catapult!  Just look at the picture above--edible flowers?  They're delicious, velvety, and oh-so-pretty!  Rose petals on salad are delicately unbelievable.  Grated beets are an earthy, magenta nirvana, ripe tomatoes smell and taste like heaven, and avocado halves sprinkled with lime juice and sea salt are almost (almost!) better than ice cream sprinkled with seven million dollars.  Spanish gazpacho (without the breadcrumbs, of course) is like an internal air conditioner on 95-degree Georgia afternoons.  Walnut oil and lemon juice make a mesclun salad cry with joy.  Cold Thai coconut curry soup is decadence flavored with cilantro.

I'll have to take some pictures of the brilliant salad I've been addicted to for the past few days--short julienned carrots, chopped vine-ripe blazing red tomatoes, sweet yellow raw corn off the cob, half a chopped Vidalia onion--that's one thing Georgia gave me I can't live without!--minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, a dash of cumin, some walnut oil, and a heaping chopped handful of basil, Italian flat-leaf-parsley, and dill, all of it drizzled with a whole seriously juicy, tangy lime.  The color combination of red/orange/yellow mixed with the green herbs is to die for, and since the flavors haven't been blended by heat, it's like exploding vegetable fireworks in your mouth.  With lime.

But when I first started looking at raw food, it looked gross, tasteless, and terrifying.  Not to mention seriously expensive.  I wasn't about to sell my stove on a whim that might easily not last for three weeks so I could afford all this extra mechanical stuff.  And if you're like me, and you get distracted very easily in the kitchen, a nice, sensible,  French woman's approach isn't going to help you if you suddenly learn to make baguettes, rolls, multigrain bread, sesame bread, Laugenbroetchen, croissants, ciabatta, foccacia, and God knows what else because you cannot stop experimenting.  (And ravioli, which fell apart in the pot and made squishy doughy soup!  Ew.)

Natalia Rose wrote books directed specifically at the magic of fruits and vegetables.  For the first time, there wasn't anything for me to zero in on but the main message.  It's a bit hard to read her books and miss the overall point:  that you have got to make fruits and vegetables the mainstay of your diet or you are doomed into a Hell made of fat, candida, and gyms.  I like her.

So what would it take, according to her, to start being healthy?

1.  Willpower.  Clearly.  I could live without chocolate, but multigrain bread and pasta are my lovers--and she recommends staying away from grains.
2.  A juicer.  Dear God.  Breville juicers are murderously expensive.
3.  A blender.  Like a $400-$500 VitaMix.  AAAH.
4.  A trampoline/rebounder.  Over $100.
5.  A messload of organic juicing produce.
6.  Seriously expensive condiments and spices.  Stevia.  Nama Shoyu.  Raw almond butter.  Raw honey.
7.  Wild organic seafood.  (And I was doing so well as a vegan.)
8.  Raw cheddar-style goat cheese.  (Not so sure about this one.  I like Parmesan and mozzarella, but not cheddar.)
9.  Young coconuts
10.  Vegetables.  Fruit.  Pasta sauce.  And a whole lotta lemons and avocados.
11.  Colonic/enema procedures, oh, my.

But, see, however scary and expensive (!) this list was, my interest was suddenly caught.  I wanted to be slim and slender and lean and gorgeous without trying (much).  I wanted to have better skin and feel happy all the time.  I wanted the perfect, magical, awesome life experience that she promises, that most raw food devotees promise.

Guess what?

Done slowly, it's addictive.

I started with a few more salads each week, and some fruit each morning.  I won't say I felt any kind of physical high or anything, but avocados and tomatoes are heaven.  Eventually, I found a $55 juicier at Target, and annexed my boyfriend's blender.  Then he and I went away to work at a summer nerd camp, and all the vegan food they had was usually the extensive salad bar, because they murdered all their vegetables with way too much heat and butter.  Then we rented a new apartment and I got to stock my own kitchen with all the stuff I wanted for the first time ever.  It was Georgia and blazing hot--salads look waaaaaaay better than 400-degree lasagna.

I won't say I'm a raw foodist.  I resent labeling myself, because I'll want to rebel against it anyway and it'll make other people equate me with every crazy person claiming that label, too.  But with the advent of summer, craving raw food has become a normal state of being.  I've stuck mostly to fruits, vegetables, and tea, although I do go through weeks of fanatically trying to make a perfect croissant.  But I feel nauseated when I eat chips or fries; I can actually feel the grease sliding through the pores on my face, and it's horrid.  Pay attention to what you're eating, really zero in on it, and you can't miss your body's reactions.

Raw food, despite the initial assumptions, turns out to be far more delicious and gratifying than anything I could pick up at a fast-food restaurant.

Next goal:  begin juicing regularly!  (Note:  if you don't have a composter or another use for the fiber, don't throw it down the sink!  My complex's maintenance men left me a nice little note asking me to stop putting strange food down the drain.)

Raw Kitty Cat Food

I've got to say, it's much, much easier to make somebody else be healthy than to do it yourself.   Still, I've got to say that it's pretty darn inspiring.

The boyfriend and I brought Simon home on the 17th of February, 2010.  He was a 1-2-year-old shelter kitty, and so cuddly and sleepy we thought he was either really old, really sick, or just really stupid.  His litterbox smelled so bad that the boyfriend actually vomited when I was gone and he had to clean it.  He wasn't on terrible food--it was organic dry food, and the first ingredient was actual chicken, not chicken meal or corn.  Still, nobody needs that kind of a wakeup alarm clock smell emanating speedily from the bathroom.  Seriously, if we didn't have a two-bathroom apartment, we'd have showered at school.  It was condemned.

Through Natalia Rose's blog, I found Wild Kitty Cat Food kits.  The trial was cheap with free shipping, so I finally gave in and decided to give it a go.

It arrived in two to three days--amazing.  The teensy bag goes with 1 pound of ground meat, preferably more high-fat than lean chicken or turkey.  You let the bag of dehydrated mixture rehydrate with six ounces of water, and then you mix in the raw meat, ignoring the kitty at your feet who feels instinctively that food will happen if he meows loudly enough.  You get some cheap aluminum 4-oz muffin pans, cover them with plastic, and fill each cup with a heaping scoop of kitty food mixture.  Shove it into the freezer for longer safekeeping, and when frozen, put each kitty muffin into a separate bag so you can thaw each one overnight.  Give kitty half in the morning and half in the evening.  I am telling you, Simon's personality exploded.

Suddenly, from being a lazy little slugabed cat rug, Simon began waking us up in the mornings (okay, that part isn't so cute) and started rocketing around the apartment.  He began to play with his kitty toys.  He actually finished all the food in his dish with gusto.   He still cuddles, and he still snuggles like a furry little bundle of love,  but suddenly he's acting like a young cat instead of a veteran four times his age.  And the litterbox smell was totally gone.  That sold us right away.

He's got much less goop in his eyes.  He's awake and active.  We had to come up with creative ideas for calming him down in the mornings--tying a knee sock around his haunches, by the way, unfocused him so much that he walked into a doorframe and then acted like his bum was glued to the ground.  Good to try if your kitty is insane.  Simon is a bright bundle of joyous cat who loves us so much that he camps out by the front door for hours until we return.  I love that cat so much that I don't even feel murderous when he paws me awake at 6 a.m.

Wild Kitty Cat Food isn't cheap, especially if you factor in the meat you have to buy to round it out.  The premade dinners are even more expensive.  But Simon's worth it.  The shelter we got him from had an employee who had her raw-food kitty for twenty-seven years.  And vet bills apparently are really few and far between, and since they're not eating so much filler, cats are sleeker.  I know this may sound odd, but obesity among cats is an enormous American pet problem.  And all you have to do to figure out why is to look at the food labels:  corn, wheat, bone meal, chicken meal, etc.  Cats aren't meant to eat corn or the rendered, dried, ground guts, skin, and bones of slaughtered animals (that's what the word 'meal' means).  That won't sustain them, and their bodies just can't use that junk.  Their sharp little carnivore teeth need real, raw meat and bones to chomp on.

By the way, did you know that in order to be able to use the label "full and balanced diet", an array of tested cats only have to survive for six months eating that food?  They don't have to be healthier, or healthy at all.  They just have to be alive.  It's like making humans live on nothing but chips, which you can do temporarily, but never for the long haul.  This paper may be a student's paper, but it's exceedingly well-researched and Harvard Law School doesn't let you publish your paper on its website unless it's met with approval.  If you feed your pet anything like Purina, Iams, or Science Diet, check it out.  It never hurts to know what you're buying.

So check out the kits.  Seriously, if you love your cat, he or she deserves nothing less.