I have released four recipe books so far:

The Best of the Sunny Raw Kitchen
The Best of Raw Freedom Community
Delightfully Raw and
Deliciously Raw

These feature some of the most delectable creations to have come out of my raw kitchen and will appeal to anyone interested in a healthier diet, regardless of their level of knowledge and experience. From easy one-step everyday fare to more elaborate and involved gourmet dishes and layered cakes, they offer something for everyone and every occasion. Incredibly tasty smoothies, creamy and comforting warm soups, sexy salads, delicious nut cheezes, satisfying entrees and scrumptious guilt-free desserts...

Healthy food never tasted so good!

To learn more about my recipe books, click here!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Raw Feasting at Better Life Cuisine

While we were staying near L.A. one afternoon Renata, our host, had to do a short trip to Santa Monica. The town is home to not one but four raw restaurants, including Matt Amsden's Euphoria Loves Rawvolution and Juliano's Planet RAW, so we decided to hop along.

One of the things I've learned over the past few years is that if I don't resonate energetically with a chef I usually don't really enjoy their food either. And so while both of these are mega famous, instead we opted to check out the less known Better Life Cuisine which had gotten rave reviews from Heathy on her blog. Amazingly the restaurant is located only a block away from Juliano's on Broadway Street, which we thought provides good balance as both places are dramatically different; the latter is more 'high end' whereas the former is small, cozy and unpretentious - in other words, more up our alley. ;-)

We were warmly greeted by the waiter, who explained to us that the man who started Better Life Cuisine has spent about 20 years working at different raw restaurants. The place is therefore the culmination of what he has learned works and doesn't work, and his expertise really does show. The menu was quite varied, the portions very generous and the prices more than reasonable; basically what most foodies usually look for when eating out.

Our super friendly waiter recommended the Curry Wrap and we followed his advice. I swear it was absolutely ginormous; the biggest wrap I've ever seen, raw or cooked! When I commented to him on the size he apologetically explained that they are actually smaller than usual; a new person is making the veggie wrappers and they don't turn out quite as big. Eeek!

They were generously filled with mixed greens, alfalfa sprouts, sunflower, green tomato, grilled onions, cucumbers, curry sauce, 3 croquettes and house dressing. The combination of flavors was to LIVE for! The spicing was just right with a touch of acidity and sweetness. Mmmmmmm all around!

Don was particularly drawn to the Lasagna which we were told was a popular choice. I wasn't very enthusiastic at first as we had raw lasagna at a different resto not so long ago, but my doubts vanished as soon as I saw it appear on our table.

The presentation was very lovely; the plate decorated with basil chiffonade and their signature parmesan made from almonds, turmeric and salt. The lasagna itself was slightly different than any other I've enjoyed in the past. While there were the common layers of thinly sliced zucchini, marinara sauce, ricotta cheese and mushrooms, it also contained dehydrated 'grilled onion', and was topped with a thin slab of 'mozzarella cheese'. The texture of the latter was surprisingly like its dairy counterpart. I was certain that it was made with Irish moss but I was told that nope, only cashews. Wow! The assembled dish was delicious and well balanced.

We were offered a choice of salads as a side and went with the Egg Salad. It looked uncannily like the SAD version, thanks to their ingenious use of strips of young coconut meat to imitate cooked egg white. The flavor and texture however were not as impressive; a little too much celery I thought and not enough coconut. Like everything else at Better Life though, the portion was very generous.

While we waited for our food to arrive I checked out the packaged products that they had to offer. Their Kale Nachos looked absolutely awesome! They were oozing with cheeze and fooled you into thinking that they had been cooked.

We're not used to eating 'solid food' for lunch so our better judgment told us that we should skip dessert, but their sweet display looked sooooo tantalizing! *sigh* We succumbed and ordered a piece of Banana Coconut Cheesecake. It came beautifully presented with a chocolate sauce drizzle, was light and utterly yummy.

We also indulged with a piece of Pumpkin Pie, which we were told is a hugely popular item. Heathy had also raved about it in her post (I actually got this next photo from her blog as my shot didn't turn out nearly as good.) What a beauty, eh?

We chose to have it served with a Vanilla Sauce and oh my, was it ever scrumptious! My mom never made pumpkin pie, so it isn't really part of my culinary repertoire. However Don used to be a big fan and he confirmed that they managed to capture the essence of this traditional favorite extremely well. I would have gladly had a second piece if it wasn't that I was already about ready to burst from eating so much food!

My conclusions? If I lived nearby and felt like having someone else prepare food for me (always such a special treat!) Better Life Cuisine would totally be one of my favorite raw hang outs!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Delightfully Raw near L.A.

As I was mentioning in a previous post, I would have loved to go to a date farm before heading further west, but we decided it would be best not to double back, saving our energy for the task at hand: make it in one piece to the other side of L.A. The mere thought of having to drive through such a jam-packed and super-populated area worried me for a good chunk of last year's trip. While I still wasn't overjoyed at the prospect, this time around it didn't seem as big of a challenge. I must admit that I'd carefully studied the map beforehand and chosen a route that would take us along the northern edge of the city thereby avoiding most of the crush. And of course, we were also careful to get out of there way before 2:30 pm and the dreaded rush hour.

Our precautions bore fruit and we made it effortlessly to Agoura Hills, a few miles north west of L.A. Yay! Before going to our new hosts' home we got off at Las Virgenes Road and stopped at Juan Bautista de Anza Park in order to enjoy a walk. We climbed up a steep hillside from which we were able to admire the nearby hills of Malibu Creek Park. It was so lovely to see such lushness after the last few weeks spent in the desert!

The hilltop was crowned by majestic old oak trees.

We then continued down onto a path for a short while. On the way back it offered a view of the hill we were just on.

In Rural Paradise
It's really interesting to see how differently this chapter of our travels in the US is unfolding compared to last winter's adventures. We had started off then with no real itinerary which gradually shaped up as we received invitations from various states. This time we have been mostly staying with people that we did meet during our Sunny Raw Kitchen Tour but hadn't had a chance to connect with quite long enough. Bringing things to completion, I guess. And while it hasn't been in the cards to get together with some of these past connections, new ones have blossomed. It is such a good reminder that Life is a constant ebb and flow, and to appreciate how truly magical it is when your path crosses that of another human being; as though everything has conspired for you to meet under these exact circumstances.

About a month ago or so I received an email from a woman named Renata inviting us to do a presentation at her local health food store near L.A. Since she and her husband live nearby they offered us to stay at their home in a charming equestrian community. We were going to be driving right by the location on the way to Santa Barbara so it couldn't have been more perfect!

Renata and Ken own a beautiful rustic house on an acreage with several fruit trees. It was almost hard to believe that we were so close to the mega city! They are also caretaking a variety of animal friends: dogs, horses, sheep, ducks, a lama, oh and even a crow that likes to hang out on the roof and demand his chunk of raw cheese every day. lol

Whenever possible we all went walking around the hills behind their property caravan style in order to give some of the furry members of our respective families a little exercise. Between Mogens and Sundancer the horses and their two sweet Weimaraners, Miss Dede Mason and Merlindogs, Renata and Kenny certainly had their hands full!

On our first walk we were blessed with lovely puffy white clouds - apparently a rare treat in the nearly always blue sky. We were also told that the hills stay green only for a short while before turning yellow under the blazing rays of the sun.

We paused at the hilltop to admire the view and to allow the horses to munch to their hearts' content...


... or at least try to! Renata had to tug Mogens away as he would have gladly stayed there all day! hehe

The view as we circled back towards their home.

I love this next photo of all six of them!

Saturday Markets
We got up bright and early in order to go to the Saturday Farmer's Market in Calabasas. This is where Ken and Renata get most of their organic fresh produce. 

We stopped by a man's stand who sells beautiful fresh mushrooms. 

The largest Portobellos I've ever seen!

Between them, the dogs and the horses, their household goes through a LOT of produce. You should see what they feed their four legged friends; fresh greens and veggies, chia seeds, traced minerals and raw eggs and raw meat for the pooches. If I was to come back on earth as an animal I'd like them to be my slaves! hehe 

They always get so much stuff that Kenny has to haul their loot around on a little buggie!

Somehow they managed to fit all these greens into their solar fridge, which is no small accomplishment!

Later on that day we went to a new market/health food store called Maddy's. It has only been open a few months but has hosted a number of speakers from the raw community, including David Wolfe. I gave a short talk and demoed my Spinach Almond Soup and Super Choconana Shake recipes. It was a challenge to focus and find my rhythm with people constantly moving around in the periphery, not to mention that I felt like an alien with a microphone sticking in front of my face. ;-)

Among those who attended were Robert and Heather. Robert got a wake up call to start taking better care of himself a few years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer. We arranged to get together a couple of days later so that we could connect some more and discuss his project of opening a wellness center.

We met at Robert and his beautiful little girl, Bella, at his workplace in Calabasas.

He then took us to lunch in his humvee to Follow Your Heart, a market and cafe that is known for being the home of the famous Vegenaise.

In Renata's Sunny Kitchen
One of the things I most enjoy about playing in other people's kitchens is that it gives me an opportunity to discover new ways of preparing food and to experiment with new ingredients and products. Renata and Ken have been working on their diet for a long time and they are both super knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition, so we got to learn a great deal alongside them. Yay!

For instance they turned us onto two awesome lines of superfood/green powders that they highly trust and use: Dr. Bob Marshall's Quantum Greens Mix and Mitchell May's Pure Synergy. We're generally not big on supplements but we had to admit that these products sound outstanding!

They like to start their day off with a fresh juice made in their Norwalk Juicer which they've had for nearly 20 years. After all that time it's still going strong! One morning Kenny explained to me the ingenious two-step process it uses to extract juice: first the veggies and fruits are pulverized into a pulp and falls into a cloth filter bag. He then carefully folds the bags in three and places them on a platform where a powerful hydraulic press squeezes the juice out of them.

Wow, cool stuff!

Another big morning staple for them is Chia Pudding. Renata occasionally makes it with almond milk, but most of the time she just mixes the chia seeds with water either the night before or in the morning, along with gogi berries, hunza raisins, sometimes mulberries, mesquite, maca and EnviroMin (essential trace minerals and phyto-minerals). Just before serving she then adds some fresh fruit (usually berries or grated apple) and occasionally a handful of pumpkin seeds for crunch. 

A breakfast of champion indeed!

Renata likes being creative in the kitchen, but she confided that she's just as happy munching on a piece of fruit or some soaked then dehydrated nuts that she always keeps a supply of in the freezer. One of their favorite dinners consist of a huge green salad and a warm bowl of miso soup made with green onion and seaweed. When I heard that I thought we just HAD to make them our version of miso soup - also a big staple of ours. We usually like to turn it into a full meal, throwing in all sorts of finely chopped or sliced veggies. (You can find the recipe here!) Mmmmmm... So delicious and comforting! Renata so fell in love with it that we had it twice in the few days that we stayed with them.

While Don, Renata and I prepared dinner, we sometimes got to enjoy the special treat of listening to Kenny playing the piano. He is one of those super gifted musicians who can hear a song a few times and then be able to play it by ear. I can't tell you how much of a pleasure it was to uncook while he magically weaved together melodies! It also goes without saying that the food tasted the more delicious for it!

Some nights we dined simply on Don's yummy soup concoctions and a gigantic salad with greens, avocado and thinly sliced fennel, but we also whipped up a few gourmet meals.

Another favorite of ours: Veggies in Ginger Marinade which we served on zucchini and daikon noodles. As a general rule we prefer to be conservative when it comes to spices, but somehow I lost track of the pepper flakes and the dish turned out quite hot. Poor Renata could only manage to eat a few bites! Boo hoo. It was still yummy nevertheless.

They had never tried raw pizza so we had to remedy that! We opted for a slight variation on my Fennel & Spinach Pizza, using a mixture of arugula and spinach, fresh maitake instead of portobellos, adding a slice of tomato, and substituting the Pine Nut Parmesan with Cafe Gratitude's Brazil Nut variation.

Hemp Burgers from my new Delightfully Raw book on a dehydrated cracker, served with lettuce, tomato and sprouts and a side of Watercress Salad.

As you may have guessed, we gave their dehydrator a little work out during our stay to make the Zucchini Pizza Crusts and the Burgers. Renata and Ken were planning to go out of town soon after our departure so we decided to whip up a few things that we could all take on the road with us: Onion Bread and Nori Snacks. As is always the case with dehydration, the most time consuming part is the spreading and shaping of the mixtures, but many hands did make the work a lot lighter!

We also tossed together a batch of Chad Sarno's Corn Chips which I discovered earlier on our trip. You can't really see it in the photo but whatever Renata applied herself to was especially perfect!

These are ready in a surprisingly short time and are sooooo tasty and crunchy! THE best rendition of raw corn chips I've tried so far!

Sprouted Corn Chips
By Chad Sarno
Posted here

Makes 4-5 trays

1 c golden flax soaked 10-12 hours
1 c almonds soaked 10-12 hours
3 c fresh corn kernels shucked off cob
1 c yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 T onion powder
2 T dried oregano
1 ½ T Celtic sea salt
1 T cumin seed ground

In food processor, process all ingredients in batches for optimum texture.

First blend the soaked flax until as smooth as possible, place in mixing bowl and set aside.

Proceed by processing the soaked seeds or nuts until finely pulsed consistency. Continue by also blending the corn and peppers until finely minced along with dried herbs, spices and salt.

Hand mix all ingredients well thoroughly.

On dehydrator teflex sheets, spread cracker batter evenly about ¼ inch thick. Score with rubber spatula to desired size and dehydrate at 110 degrees for 12-14 hours. Half way through I recommend flipping the crackers for a more thorough drying process.

Store in sealed container for storage.

Carmella's Notes:
 ~ I use frozen and thawed corn and ground cumin instead of seeds.

~ Depending on how much water you soaked your flax seeds in, you may need to add more for easier processing and spreading.

Before our arrival Renata had made a couple of recipes from my Delightfully Raw book that she thought turned out very well in spite of her following them to the T. (I was told something virtually unheard of in her case!) Yippee! I take that as a super compliment! So she was excited to try a bunch more, particularly desserts. Together we tackled my Strawberry Shortcake to take to her son-in-law's birthday party.

Andrew's mom put the finishing touch and drizzled Strawberry Sauce on each piece under Renata's watchful eyes.

Didn't she do a great job?

For many of Andrew's friends it was their first exposure to raw foods and some were quite skeptical (to say the least) when they heard what the cake was made of. In spite of that it turned out to be a big hit! Yay! Actually one of the fellows, Chris, came to me later and asked if I had any of my books with me. I can proudly say that mine is the first 'cookbook' that he has acquired. Isn't that totally cool?

One night Renata whipped up her Famous Brownies which are to live for! (Sorry, no recipe just yet but I'll post it as soon as I can!)

We served them warmed up in the D and topped with my Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Creams, Heathy's Chocolate Sauce and some crushed up walnuts.

One of my all time fave desserts!

There were heaps of fresh blueberries around the house so we also made a delicious dessert consisting of a variation of the Frangipane in Matthew Kenney's Everyday Raw Desserts as the crust, topped with the filling from my Blueberry Dream Pie. Heavenly!

Almond Blueberry Cups

Serves 6

Almond Crust
Adapted from a recipe by Matthew Kenney in Everyday Raw Desserts

2 cups almond pulp (left over from making almond milk)
1 tbs vanilla powder
1/4 cup Irish moss paste*
1/4 cup tocotrienals
1/4 cup honey
2 to 4 tbs maple syrup, to taste
1 tbs vanilla extract
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients by hand in a bowl.

*To make Irish moss paste, blend 1/2 cup packed soaked Irish moss with 1 cup water in the high power blender until smooth.

Blueberry Filling
.90 oz (250 g) soaked Irish moss
1/4 cup + 2 tbs raw agave nectar or honey
3 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs water

Blend until smooth in high speed blender. Then add:

2 cups blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch sea salt

Blend again until smooth. Add:

1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 tbs lecithin powder

Resume blending until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

At this point, I strongly recommend doing a small test to make sure the consistency is right.

Pour 1/2 cup or so of the filling into a bowl and let set in the fridge for 20 minutes. Take it out and cut into it with a knife. If the knife comes out clean and the mixture is firm, the consistency is right. Just add the test portion back to the blender and process briefly. If it's too wet, place test portion back in the blender and add 2 tbs coconut oil. Process until smooth. You could re-test the mixture if you wish but it's probably going to be fine.

Once you're happy with your filling, transfer the mixture to a large bowl and fold in 3 cups of fresh blueberries.

- Place some of the Almond Crust mixture in 6 small bowls and pat down lightly.

- Top with Blueberry Filling.

- Allow to chill in the fridge for several hours before serving.

And this wraps up our fabulous time in Agoura Hills with Renata, Ken and their animal friends. We feel so very blessed with the beautiful and generous people that The Mystery is putting on our path!