My Slowly-Increasing Derriere…

…is a cause for concern. Clothes are fitting me a bit too snugly and I find myself playing with my fat rolls around my hips when my mind wanders. Although it has proven to be a pretty soothing past time, the thought arises: I have rolls of fat that I can fondle. Wow.

I blame it on this goddamn city. So many wonderful eating options, restaurants popping up like acne on a pimply kid’s face and no dearth of willing hands serving you sloppy, cheesy gorgeous tacos, amazing stir-fried goodies, or late-night fried meat buns. Taipei has rightly won CNN’s Asia’s most sinful cities award for gluttony. All tongue in cheek, yeah…don’t want anybody getting their knickers in a knot, but it’s TRUE! Especially, if you live in the city. We get fat.

Now back to those tacos…it’s right up there with pasta, pizza, burgers, soda – all the junk I really don’t like anyway. You know? The kind of food that inspires you to think of your stomach as a separate character from you? “My stomach, my boyfriend and I are going out for dinner tonight so we can’t join you for that peaceful protest. Good luck with…nomnomnom…”.

It all started and ended with the tacos. On my first trip to the States two years ago, my boyfriend and his family were practically salivating when describing the food trucks in Austin, Texas that sold really incredible tacos. I was all meh, show me the raw food cafes and vegan options.

But then, I tasted my first soft fish taco and died. There were no adjectives, no exclamations, no dramatic finales, I tasted it and simply died. I tried an ahi tuna (seared to perfection and like a slab of it, not the piddly tendrils you get in Taipei) with a sour cream so thick you could paddle around in, the freshest cilantro and a gorgeous zesty salsa. The flavour balance was incredible, the textures, the colours and the simplicity of it all blew me away. Clearly, we are doing something wrong in South Africa not to have had this experience. For the rest of that trip, we turned into tacos whores, gobbling them down as often as we could. We were all still thin at that stage.

Fast forward to Taipei where upon our return, I walked around the city, mumbling, “taco…taco….taco” without finding any. Finally, we heard about a place called Macho Tacos. We were utterly excited to have some a taco joint but then we suffered the misfortune of actually eating one of their tacos. I will not waste any more space on Macho Tacos. Consider yourselves warned.

We slowly recovered from our cravings as many more delightful culinary adventures beckoned. But then we heard about Juanita’s. A good indication of the Western standard of a restaurant is when all the expats share information about it, post food pics and post links to the restaurant. Juanita’s was scoring top grades for good quality guacamole, thick sour cream and delicious fillings. But by now my taco obsession had reduced into a passing interest. I went to check out Juanita’s anyway and wasn’t that impressed with it. It was leaps and bounds better than Macho Tacos but then so would be, damp stale bread.

Juanita’s has a great menu but a sloppy serving line where the fillings reach your taco like random insects that splat violently to death against your window screen while driving down an endless highway at a high speed. They were stingy on the sour cream and also thinned it out, double disappointment but… the tacos were tasty.

The Mexican joint that finally turned me on in a way fast/junk food hadn’t turned me on in Taipei before was, Dos Chinos. Situated near the bustling mess of Tonghua Street, Dos Chino is easy to miss. I think the only reason we went in there is because we couldn’t get to our first choice restaurant since we were stuck in peak-hour traffic! We sat inside the restaurant which shouldn’t really be called a restaurant, more like a stand with doors, chairs and tables or a shack that’s been cleaned up, I don’t know…it is tiny. We got there ordered pulled pork and a spicy beef and were completely impressed with how delicious their tacos were. The two guys working behind the counter look exhausted and that’s because they are turning out a large amount of really excellent tacos to a growing number of adoring fans. Generous servings of guac, luscious lashings of sour cream and we were hoovering them down.

So, this brings me to the point of this post: my derriere. I can’t go on eating these tacos or soon my stomach, my derriere and I will be writing stage plays for three. Dos Chinos has set the bar high but ultimately, health should come first.

I figured I would give raw tacos a bash and satiate myself thus.

Heuvo-less Rancheros with Red Enchilada Saouce and Pico De Gallo

Ani Phyo’s Heuvo-less Rancheros with Red Enchilada sauce and Pico De Gallo

Amen. This taco has allowed the three of us (my derriere, stomach and I) to reach ceasefire: Raw corn tortilla with heuvo-less rancheros with red enchilada sauce.

Here’s the recipe:

To make the raw corn tortilla, blend 1.5 cups of corn kernels with 1/2 cup of flax meal, 3 tbls olive oil and about 3/4 cups of filtered water. I would add salt as the tortilla I made, turned out a bit sweet because the corn was sweet.

Once blended, place 1/4 cup rounds on your teflex sheets and dehydrate for 5 – 6 hours at 104 degrees farenheit. Please follow this guide. No short cuts. I took a shortcut and raised the temp so my tortilla came out too dry at the edges. Flip it over after 5 hours then dry th other side for another 5 hours.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, just take your lazy ass to a bakery and buy some already-cooked tortilla:-)

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Delicious!

Next we work on the filling.

Marinated onion

Finely chop 1/2 a white onion and marinate it in 1 tbls of olive oil and 1 tbls of liquid amino. let it sit for about 10 minutes.

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Pumpkin seeds, tumeric and paprika

The filling is a combination of a pâté called Love-The-Chicks Pâté and tomatoes, onion and bell pepper. The original recipe asked for:

2 cups almonds (I used pumpkin seeds – much cheaper)

1 cup sunflower seeds (I Ieft this out)

1/2 tsp salt

2 teaspoons tumeric powder ( for colour)

1 cup of water (I used 1/2)

Blend everything together and you should get this:

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Next, drain the marinade from the onions, add them; some finely-chopped yellow bell pepper (1/2 cup) and tomato (1 de-seeded).

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Mix well.

On to the red enchilada sauce:

2 cups seeded roma tomatoes

2 tbls extra virgin olive oil

1 tbls lime juice

1 tsp minced garlic

1/4 to 1/2 serrano chili or jalapeno, seeded, diced

1 tbls fresh, chopped cilantro

2 tbls chopped onion

a few drops of liquid smoke if you have this (I don’t)

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Blend. Taste. Die.

The last step is making the pico de gallo. I must admit, that b this point I was tired and wanted out of the kitchen so I chopped tomatoes, cilantro, added salt and called it quits. But here’s the recipe anyway:

2 cups diced roma tomato

1/4 finely chopped white onion

jalapeno to taste

1 tbls fresh lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/ tsp salt

mix everything together.

layer your taco with the pate, then enchilada sauce and finally the pico de gallo.

For an exciting additional filling, grill some tofu in lime and cilantro.

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Layer the taco with tofu, enchilada sauce and pico de gallo.

Hmmmm….yummy good!

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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Serving for one

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Looks very similar to cooked lasagne

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The love quote for lasagne

The components of the lasagne are as follows:

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

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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.

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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.

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

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No romantic rendezvous would be complete without raw chocolate truffles

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I added some complimentary raw sunflower seed crackers

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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

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Soft, gentle, organic and additive-free

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Carolyn is a lucky girl!

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

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Carolyn, absolutely beaming with delight:-)

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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!