Our family gathered in our eldest son’s house in Los Angeles this past week to celebrate a significant birthday of the paterfamilias. (That would be me.)
Where to eat? The question was especially vivid because our son and his fiancée have no dining table in the short-sale house they acquired recently. Its restoration, in progress, would be worthy of a public TV series, but we’ll put that aside.
So many wonderful restaurants in Los Angeles, yet so many people in our gene pool that lean vegetarian. Even our middle son, Brian, a towering, fit fellow who coaches the UC San Diego rugby team, is a vegetarian, for goodness’ sake.
Ever considerate, the birthday boy opted for Café Gratitude, a vegan restaurant within walking distance of my son’s place. Perhaps I could glean useful information for the non-vegan readers of “Field to Fork.” That wouldn’t happen at Morton’s, the famous steakhouse where a wedge of iceberg lettuce drenched in a creamy dressing, or a baked potato the size of a football, are the closest things to produce.
Café Gratitude is a school of transformation disguised as a restaurant, says its website. “We serve only the best food on the planet in its most natural and delicious forms. Our business practice is founded in the transformative power of love and acknowledgement.”
With eight locations, its message must be appealing.
Well, did I get transformed? Sort of.
Vegans eschew meat, dairy products, eggs, and fish — anything derived from animals. It’s vegetarianism taken a step further, to my layman’s eyes. I understand that honey, produced by bees, might not make the acceptable list! Raw is valued, and at Café Gratitude much of the menu is indeed raw. The cooking that is done is not at high temperatures.
Our offspring have often said that meals should begin with dessert, and I believe this column is an occasion to do just that, because the desserts were the highlight in my eyes. Who would have thought that you could make a delicious “cheesecake” without cheese? Diane’s cheesecake, from a recipe that won a blue ribbon at the Ohio State Fair years ago, sets a high standard. (Those Ohioans know their cheescakes.)
A lemon cashew cheesecake, vegan style, relies on soaked raw cashews, almond milk and coconut butter to create a creamy, flavorful texture that absolutely works. We passed six vegan desserts — some featuring chocolate, others in the cheesecake mode — and we all gave thumbs up.
However, they’re quite intricate, use a lot of products that aren’t at all from local fields, so you won’t find a recipe here. Visit their Café Gratitude website, http://www.cafegratitude.com, to order a cookbook.
Entrees were a mixed bag. My raw enchilada was no match for the enchiladas I had in Todos Santos several years back, with a stuffing that included dried fruit and used their local queso. Raw mini-pizzas? Not for me.
But I’m now on a slippery slope into a restaurant review, which is not my purpose. I just want to extract approaches to our local produce that are beyond our traditional methods of preparation. That’s right – something new! This is, after all, California.
Where vegan as I experienced it intersects wonderfully with our abundant local produce is in the area of appetizers and side dishes.
On a related note, in September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the results of a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Given the proliferation of farmers markets, widespread product innovations like salad in a bag, and all the media attention, surely Americans are eating more fruits and vegetables, right?
Well, no. Americans haven’t budged in 10 years on that score. We as a people eat about half the produce we should.
One of my students at UCD gave a presentation on vegetarianism this spring — he’s from India — and his logic and passion were so compelling, two students in the class told me a week later than they’d become vegetarians.
I love the cliché, “It’s all good.” Our country doesn’t have a national cuisine. People routinely eat Chinese, sushi, pizza, Mediterranean salads and hot dogs in the same week. Throw vegan in the mix one night a week and you’re just more American than you were before.
— Dan Kennedy, a Davis resident, has a long history with the bounty of gardens and small farms. Reach him at [email protected].
Here’s a raw offering from Café Gratitude that capitalizes on the stellar produce available in Davis right now. You might go easy on the cayenne pepper and chopped ginger at first.
Grate or dice 4 cups of raw carrot, celery, radish, zucchini and fennel bulb. Or the recipe encourages substitution with the likes of cauliflower and celery root.
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro with stems
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons Nama Shoyu (an unpasteurized soy sauce)*
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
*The Café venerates creativity, so ordinary soy sauce would be in the spirit of things if it’s what you have.
Putting it together:
Pour the marinade over the grated vegetables, mix and marinate for at least one hour.
Peppery Avocado Caesar Dressing
There’s no finer time for greens in Yolo County than spring. Many adults prefer salad as a meal, but a vinaigrette doesn’t create enough satisfaction. Here’s a salad dressing that’s fuller; it’s best suited to romaine or other more substantial types of lettuce. Perhaps add the black pepper in stages, tasting along the way until you hit the right level.
1 cup avocado
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Putting it together:
Run it all through a blender until smooth and creamy.