I used to run what I called a “lemonade revolution” as part of my sandwich and salad-slinging job at The Red Oak Café. In reality, I ran a lemonade and smoothie stand on Friday afternoons at the local farmers market to promote the newly opened café. Curly-haired Sean was a regular supporter, even when my smoothie ingredients accidentally crossed paths with a hazelnut syrup and went horribly awry.
Sean gave me a whole container of farm-fresh salsa and my first shot of wheat grass. He was like the hippy big brother I never had. He even introduced me into a new world of foodies in Pittsburgh, the real purists: the raw foods group! The next gathering was a Sunday afternoon potluck and raw chocolate tasting event at a recently launched raw chocolatier’s enclaves. This posed a very unique question: how to make a no-bake “cake?”
This was not my first raw foods experience. I had cut my teeth [on raw veggies wrapped in dried seaweed] at Arnold’s Way, which somehow survives in the ‘burbs near my parents realm (if you don’t cook it, they will come [and keep you in business]?). A friend had told me about this super vegetarian cafe, so I gave it a whirl.
While dining, the eccentric and enthusiastic owner advertised a FREE BREAKFAST CLINIC!!! to explore the benefits of the raw lifestyle. I had the time, so I arrived early on Saturday morning. I was the only one to arrive early on Saturday morning. I was the onlyone to arrive at all; it was just Arnold and me.
Arnold gave me charts showing the transitions to a raw diet. As a health-conscious vegetarian at the time (I emphasize “at the time”), I wasn’t the disastrous conversion case that Arnold sought to win for the raw team. I was already in the “advanced health” section according to the rawist continuum. Arnold was preaching to the choir. I already believed that diet could make epic changes in a person’s health, so Arnold chose a new topic to probe.
“Are your parents vegetarians?”
“Oh no!” It was laughable to conceive of my parents revoking years of meat and potatoes for a hearty serving of tofu. “My father raises beef cattle.”
“Oh,” Arnold said, taken aback, “ohhh.” Here was a worthy vein to exploit, ahem…explore. “And have you ever had to help with his cows?”
“Yes,” I said as a matter of fact.
“And did you ever name one of the cows?” Arnold inquired with an escalating tone of significance.
“Yes,” I said as a matter of fact, seeing where this was headed.
“What did you name the cow?” his eyes wide and penetrating, his lean in my direction.
“Sweetie.” Admittedly, it was not the most creative animal name I have ever given, but in this moment, I knew it would really clinch the zealot across the table from me.
Arnold went for the big [non-murdering, animal loving] kill, the question that garners gasps from the jury, the your-honor-I-rest-the-case motion. His imagination spun with visions of me sobbing before his forgiving feet, “And what happened to Sweetie?”
“I don’t know. I probably ate her.” There, are you happy? Is that what you wanted? Should I shed big crocodile tears, enter a wooden, pardoning wardrobe and confess my omnivorous ways? NOT HAPPENING, TOO BAD! Even then, my vegetarian decision had nothing to do with animal rights nor would I be guilt tripped into a diet that does not allow me to drink tea.
“Not even tea, Arnold?”
“Imagine yourself on a beach, on a hot day. Your friend asks if you want something to drink. You say, ‘yes, I would.’ So your friend goes to the boardwalk and returns with two cups. As she approaches, about to hand you a cup of piping-hot tea, she trips on a clump of sand [how stupid is my friend?] and the piping-hot tea springs from the cup, and the little droplets of burning liquid come raining on your already sun-warmed body. How do you feel about that?”
Well, for one, I’m wondering which of my friends would be stupid enough to fetch hot tea to quench our beach thirsts. “I am feeling burned and upset because I am still thirsty.”
“Well, imagine how your insides feel when you drink hot tea.”
Arnold failed to dislodge my heartstrings, but I was sold on his banana whips, a concoction, strikingly similar to soft-serve ice cream, made by putting a frozen banana through an expensive food processor. The next time I visited my meat and potatoes parents, I put in a visit to ol’ Arnold, my breakfast buddy.
“One banana whip with carob please.”
“They’re all natural. Non-dairy. Everything here is raw. All vegan.”
Seriously? I had spent two hours, one-on-one with this man, on a Saturday morning, discussing the wonders of raw foods, a mere two months earlier, and here he was selling me on this diet as if I had never heard of it.
“Oh but he deals with hundreds of customers,” you might object? Probably the same one hundred customers keeping him in business, but more than that, how many dreaded Quelcyshad he met? I would think I would have a chance to stick out just a smidgeon.
That was my first raw experience, and Sean had me agreeing to a second.
I knew that rawists had contrived several delectable dessert options, but my kitchen was just not as equipped as Arnold’s Way. I didn’t have a food processor or the time to sprout and grind nuts into semblances of pies and pastries, but I had an open mind, dried fruit, almonds, peanut butter, mint leaves and a thematic vision.
The resulting raw TREEat shone in all its wintry glory on the buffet table, which did indeed tout other artfully prepared dishes. As far as the chocolatier’s contribution- let’s just say that cookies ‘n cream flavored raw chocolate would be my offering for celestial pavement rather than gold. At some point in my life, I’d like to see the title of “chocolatier” behind my name: Quelcy T. Kogel, Chocolatier.
Of course, the informative presentation by one of the members managed to corrupt most of my ingredients. Nuts are never just nuts. Nut butters are not to be trusted unless specifically listed as “raw” and even then carcinogens could be lurking under the confines of shady governmental approvals.
Nonetheless, there were no branches remaining on my tree, but there were compliments given to my little arbor effort. Sometimes the best creative eruptions come when there’s no boiling allowed below the surface.