The Joe Calpin Gourmet Raw Picnic Project – Very Romantic!

Romance these days is so rare. On the one hand we have a slowly-desexualizing culture emerging and on the other hand, recourse to romantic opportunities are so limited due to our bulging, vein-popping work schedules, work goals work achievements and work, work, work. Some people even feel strange and disoriented when you pay them a compliment let alone pull out a solitary, blushing rose to gift them with.

Whether you’re gay or straight, I believe in the male-female polarity relationship as being one of balance and harmony. For the sake of not generalizing, I will speak from my own straight perspective. Thus: a man must be a man and a woman must be a woman. For me, it simply means that I love it when my man protects me, when he loves and adores me, when he makes good decisions that guide us well and when he lovingly tells me to get over my shit. I in turn, love serving him, supporting him, bringing more awareness to his strengths (I suck at this – I am very critical and complaining at times) and surrendering to him.

For those of you that know me and my man will think this is a bit of an, um… ideal. And yes, it is – to a certain extent. BUT, we are constantly in practice of these principles. For me, it is difficult to let go of decision-making. Now don’t get me wrong. Decision-making is not primarily of the masculine but I find that I bulldoze my decisions and choices onto my man at times and what it does is makes his voice smaller, his participation less. I believe, a man leads and a woman follows. That is my feminine strength – to surrender. But as a beautiful, spiritually energized man once said, a woman will only surrender when she feels led by the unabiding love of a conscious man. So here we are, I’m learning to surrender and he’s learning to lead.

What does this have to do with Joe Calpin? I mean who is Joe Calpin in the first place?! Joe Calpin is a very romantic man who called me up a few weeks ago and asked me to put together a gourmet raw food picnic for his beloved’s birthday. I hadn’t met Joe before and only met his girlfriend, Carolyn once, at one of my raw food workshops. She tried the macadamia nut pâté and fell in love.

I was deeply touched by Joe’s words and energy through his emails. He pulled out all the stops for Carolyn; patiently went through all my menu ideas with me and showed absolute enthusiasm all the way through. As you can imagine, this ignited my own creative juices, opened up my heart a whole lot and led me to dedicate myself to Joe and Carolyn’s birthday picnic. I love occasional doses of well-thought out romance (but too much makes me nauseous). Diamonds and pearls mean very little compared to a creative and honest gesture from the heart.

The week I worked on Joe and Carolyn’s picnic, I sourced and bought a good picnic basket, some good quality food containers, a cake tin, and some glass jars for drinks. Conceiving a menu was a little tricky because some of the ingredients used in raw food acts as a binder or soldifier so it energy-draining heat like we have in Taipei, I had to pay attention to what could handle being in the basket and what needed a cooler box.

As I was working on the food, I thought it would be a great idea to add some love quotes near the description of each dish as I cook with love and respect and pray that people feel that through my food. It was more importantly, a way for Carolyn to see how Joe honours her. I told him the idea and kind of expected him to say, “Now that’s taking things too far!” but instead, in true Joe Calpin style, of which I was slowly becoming accustomed to, he said, “Haha! Love quotes are perfectly fine :D”

Here’s the final elements:

P1020360

I sun-cooked Rooibos (Red Bush) tea for about 10 hours then blended with cashews, dates and apricots, adding a bit of ice once Joe arrived to pick up.

P1020361

A hint of the love quote at the back of the jar

The flavours and textures on this canape are wild and sublime. This is the original dish that Carolyn fell in love with.

P1020351

P1020357

Neatly packed into solid food containers, they made their way into the picnic basket.

P1020363

Some Shakespeare with your pate?

Next we have the haute couture of raw food dishes: Raw Lasagne. This dish alone takes about 1 week of prep, if I make my own sundried tomatoes. Now that I make my own tomatoes, every single store-bought type kills the joy in any dish. You can’t help but taste the flatness and the preservatives in it.

Usually, when you say raw lasagne, people have no idea about the complement and quality of flavours inside this dish. I would go so far as to say that it is better than cooked lasagne any day.

P1020342

Layers of zucchini, walnut meat, macadamia cheese, tomato sauce, basil pesto and marinated wilted spinach rock the socks off this dish

P1020338

Serving for one

P1020358

Looks very similar to cooked lasagne

P1020365

The love quote for lasagne

The components of the lasagne are as follows:

P1020304

Organic, Ceylon Spinach – this spinach has such an interesting, stretchy texture

P1020320

Top left: walnut meat with miso, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, tamari, etc
Top right: Ceylon spinach marinated with oregano and olive oil
Bottom left: Basil pesto, Middle: Tomato sauce and Bottom Right: Zucchini lasagne sheets

The walnut meat tastes like real meat with the addition of miso, tamari and sundried tomatoes. Since this is a really expensive dish to make, I tried my best to substitute ingredients to lower the cost. Thus, I used pumpkin seeds to make the pesto and it turned out great. Try it, just add more olive oil since it will be a bit drier.

P1020326

macadamia cheese with yellow pepper is really such a strong player in this dish

That tomato sauce is one one of best and richest tomato sauces I have ever tasted. Simply made with sundried tomatoes, raw tomatoes, dates and garlic, this thing is a thing of beauty.

Finally, Joe and I decided to make Carolyn a raw chocolate mint cake.

P1020368

Joe’s personal quote: “May our love always be marked by the deepest care intimately tied to both word and deed.”

P1020346

No romantic rendezvous would be complete without raw chocolate truffles

P1020380

I added some complimentary raw sunflower seed crackers

P1020381

Final little feminine touch: a wonderful natural skin care product company called Emba and run by my friend, Emily McKee, decided to add their luscious, earthy skin care products as part of a free gift bag

P1020383

Soft, gentle, organic and additive-free

P1020382

Carolyn is a lucky girl!

P1020384

Joe, on his way to meet his Beloved in the park:-)

DSC08383

Carolyn, absolutely beaming with delight:-)

DSC08385

Cheers to romance!

Thank you Joe, for bringing this wonderful project to me. I had a great time doing it. Here’s to many more years for you and Carolyn!

Juicy Summer Fruit leather

P1020400

Mango-Banana-Goji, Mango-Banana-Chili, Mango-Banana-Sesame Fruit Leathers

 Summer’s here! The exclamation mark belies the utter tiredness one feels from the hot and humid weather we are all feeling at the moment. Ah, but Summer still brings so much joy with it! Gorgeous mountain hikes, swimming in icy cold, high mountain river streams and chilled white wine in beautiful city parks at dusk.

Every Summer my memory takes me back to my childhood, my mother’s lush, jungle-like garden which held me captive in its beauty throughout my life, the milk ice lollies she would make which we sucked in the shade of a tree with the family dog panting heavily next to me, the endless games we played, getting blackjacks all over our clothes, mulberry stains on our shorts and grazed knees and elbows from digging around in the valley behind our house. One of my favourite things was dried fruit leather, sour tangy, sweet and delicious!

When I found some amazing recipes for raw fruit leathers online, I knew I had to make them. And, considering what gorgeous fruit we get in Taiwan, I knew they would be gorgeously delicious!

P1010356

Mango-Banana-Goji Fruit Leather

These leathers have no additives or preservatives in them.

P1020386

Raspberry, Basil-Infused Fruit Leather

For any berries, I use only organic varieties.

P1020387

Face-scrunching sour fun!

The raspberry, basil-infused leather has a delightful similarity to sour worms 😀 Your kids will never know that they are sucking on nothing but pure fruit!

P1020391

These leathers can be stored for up to one year in a cool, dark space. If left in the sun, they could discolour.

P1020408

Somehow, mango and chili just seemed to be a natural combination.

P1020411

I think the combination of fruits with locally-familiar and widely used ingredients in food and medicine, like goji, sesame and chili (not medicine but food) marries well.

P1020412

Even though it’s dried, the leather smells fragrant

P1020415

Everything should have chili in it!

P1020416

Goji is used in Chinese medicine and is said to improve circulation and strengthen the bones. There is a lot more information out there about Goji. Read up:)

P1020418

Sesame adds a nutty flavour and great texture to the leather

P1020423

Peach and Rose Fruit leather

Right now, peaches in Taiwan are plentiful, affordable and sun-burstingly delicious! This was my favourite one to make since working with dried flowers in food is just so…special!

P1020424

The soft sweet fragrance of dried roses filled the house for a few hours:-)

P1020425

Peach Lavender fruit leather has such a beautiful perfume, so strong and beautiful. With lavender, a little goes a long way.

P1020432

Peach-Lavender Fruit Leather

P1020437

This is in my product list and will be sold as part of larger gift baskets. Stay tuned.

Rooibos-Apricot Flurry

Growing up in South Africa, Rooibos (Red Bush) tea was something that was always around the house. My sister drank it religiously from childhood up till now and probably beyond. I always preferred Lipton with milk and two sugars. I found the flavour of Rooibos to be bland and unsatisfying – even when I added milk and sugar.

Now that I’m in Taipei, I have noticed over the course of the past few years what a trendy drink Rooibos has become and how exorbitantly expensive to boot. The packaging and description on the boxes almost make me laugh out loud. It’s like seeing your funny tomboy cousin from the countryside in a dress for the first time. Weird.

I guess us humans have a tendency to glorify nutrition these these, to espouse each food’s incredible life-saving, super-hero powers. This intellectualization of food has numbed our taste buds to a certain degree. Computers are to the mind what nutrition-obsession is to the stomach.

I still want my food to taste great. Heck, I want it to taste gorgeous. I want to feel in my mouth, what my toes feel when they step on soft, sun-kissed grass – excitement and joy, connection and contentment.

The Rooibos-Apricot Flurry I tried out, does just that. You can’t have early Summer without apricots and iced flurries.

rooibos apricots dates cashews (9)

Here’s Ani Phyo’s Recipe:

2 Rooibos teabags in 2.5 cups of filtered water. Leave this in a sunny spot for 8 hours for a sun-cooked tea. I would add 4 teabags for a real kick of taste flavour as I didn’t feel it so much with 2 bags. If you don’t care for raw tea, boil your water and steep as usual for a few minutes then let it cool down to room temperature – or put it in the fridge. You damn city people and your crazy schedules.

Then pour the tea into a blender along with:

  • 1/4 cup of dates
  • 1/2 cup of dried apricots or 1 cup of fresh ones
  • 1/2 cup of cashews (which have been pre-soaked for 8 hours)

Blend until smooth. Add ice then blend again. Drink immediately and watch your toes curl. Ah, Summer….

Mood-Buster Spring Salad

Yesterday I had a few folks around the house, waving some cameras about while I put some ingredients that i got from the market into one believable dish. They were random things that aren’t easy to find in Taiwan – jicama, fresh fennel, fresh figs, watermelon radish and beets.

Shopping in the market with cameras following was weird but at the same time I was glad to be able to show people where all the best produce could be found. I didn’t have time to think about what I would prepare at home and didn’t take the producer too seriously when he said he wanted me to experiment and show viewers that experimenting with food is ok and that it doesn’t always turn out something wonderful but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the creating process. I thought I would be able to handle it easily but when we got home much, much later, I was stumped. My first instinct was to do a salad because we are enjoying salads almost in this rather hot weather and they’re so easy to put together. My boyfriend quickly changed that by saying that a salad was what everyone would expect when thinking about raw food. Do something different.

So, I made this:

jicama, beets with mint, basil and chili, macadamia nut pate, fresh fennel slice and fresh figs

jicama, beets with mint, basil and chili, macadamia nut pate, fresh fennel slice and fresh figs

I sweaty and nervous and worried that it wouldn’t taste good but what the hell, it was a second attempt as the first attempt at making jicama wraps had failed. The sun was going down and we had to get all the best shooting done while it was still light. Everyone tasted it and enjoyed it. I was surprised since the producer, director and assistant were Taiwanese and 9/10 times Taiwanese don’t like beets at all and raw food is not known here on any great level. Their smiles and enthusiasm was enough to know that I broke the Taiwan code!

With the leftover ingredients, I made this sassy salad:

jicama fennel, figs, watermelon radish zucchini mint basil chilioil balsamic, lemon salt

With the combination of tastes, colours and textures, the heat of the dressing, this salad is nothing short of a mood-buster (if like me, on rainy, heavy, humid days, your mood needs busting).

Recipe:

greens of your choice

half a zucchini, cut in 4, lengthways, then julienned

watermelon radish (the bright pink in the picture), sliced, then julienned

orange, skinned and segmented,

jicama, sliced then julienned,

fresh fennel bulb julienned

fresh figs, quartered, the cubed

handful of basil and mint, some sprigs of fresh rosemary

Combine, then dress with an emulsion of olive oil, dash of chili oil, balsamic vinegar, squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt and some water (taste as you go and whatever is out of balance, add more of that)

Enjoy!

Roasted Pumpkin, Chipotle-marinated Mushroom and raw Caramelized Onion Salad

roasted pum[pkin raw caramelized onion chipotle-marinated mushroom spinach green bean cumin garlic

A few years ago, I read that book,Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads and to be honest, I found it completely unmemorable. Also, I usually find salads to be the last thing I would order off a menu unless I was subconsciously trying to deal with the guilt of having previously consumed something unhealthy. I think this is called “purgatory”.  Don’t look away. I know you do it, too.

Now I try to find pleasure out of salads and include one in every day of the week. Even if I don’t always get there, it’s habit I’m working on. I think my problem with salads is that I usually feel even more deprived AFTER eating one than before, like I’m missing out on a real meal. I think eating like this fosters more anxiety about food and drives us, ironically more in the direction of unhealthy food. The body needs to feel satisfied and grounded and I don’t feel that way after munching on some sparse leaves and seeds from a bowl.

The salad above has everything I need to feel like I’ve eaten a meal – the bulkiness of roasted pumpkin, the heartiness of tenderstem broccoli (it’s really tiring chewing on those stalks), the earthy smokiness and spiciness of raw chipotle-marinated mushrooms (can one ever eat any dish without at least a little heat???), the sweet, rich delicacy of raw caramelized onion and the decadence of good, creamy gorgonzola. Throw in my new, favourite salad dressing of chunky garlic and cumin and you won’t even have space for dessert. Gorgeousness. Really.

You may have noticed that the last three salads have had gorgonzola in them. In a way, part of the salad recipes came about because we received a block of gorgonzola as a gift from family in the US. It felt really special because it was just this single block of cheese. It wasn’t one gift among many as is usually the case so the sense of wowness around it, made me think twice as hard about what to do with it. We are a dairy-free household but we are not anally-retentive about it. We still maintain our playfulness and humour about food. So if I’m going to feed us dairy-based cheese, I may as well make sure it is complemented by a lot of fresh vegetables.

Ok, here’s the recipe as far as I can remember and I’m not sure about measurements:

Prep: use your mushroom of choice, slice them up and marinate with olive oil, salt and chipotle.

1. Hack a pumpkin open, scoop out the innards and rub generous amounts of olive oil inside the cavity and the skin. Sprinkle with your favourite salt and black pepper. Roast it.

2. Rinse and shave your tenderstem broccoli – just the stems so they are easier to chew and digest. Cruciferous veggies gets lots of bugs stuck in them so make a bath of warm, salty water and leave em in there for about 10 – 15 minutes. Don’t pour the water out with the veggies still in the bowl. Lift the veggies away from the water. Then rinse. All the residue will remain at the bottom of the bowl. Wrap in a tea towel and press gently. or swing the tea towel around in the air and the water will separate really quickly. Do make sure you have secured either end with an elastic band or something.

Place the tenderstems in a salad bowl along with cleaned spinach leaves. Pour half of the salad dressing over the leaves and broccoli and gently mix. Over mixing will wilt the leaves and leave them lacklustre.

Add the mushrooms.

Dressing:

  • Finely crush 3 cloves of garlic and put it in a bowl
  • Two tablespoons of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp of freshly-crushed black pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt depending on how large your salad is.
  • 1/4 tsp powdered cumin and a few sprinkles of whole cumin for texture and bursts of cuminy-goodness

This dressing was inspired by one of my many searches which revealed Cuban chef, Marciel E.Presilla

By now the roasted pumpkin should be cooked and cooled, cut into cubes and gently move them around the bowl of salad dressing then pick them out and place them in the salad bowl with broccoli and spinach. I don’t like touching the pumpkin too much or they will not maintain their shape.

Next add your gorgonzola and the remaining dressing. Finally, top with raw caramelized onion.

Here’s how:

Finely julienne a medium-sized purple onion. Mix with about two tablespoons of honey/ maple syrup or whatever sweetener you choose, add two tablespoons of olive oil then dehydrate for a few hours until they get softer. You can store these in the freezer and just warm in the dehydrator whenever you need the. Alternatively , just bake them in the oven.