Eating the Void: On Making a Raw Café Gratitude Chocolate Hazelnut Pie

I have a small collection of odd cookbooks that have, for the most part, gone unused which is probably a good thing. One that’s collected dust for years is I Am Grateful: Recipes and Lifestyle of Café Gratitude. Friends who have been to this oh-so-California restaurant say that’s it’s good while simultaneously a parody of itself. As the intro to the cookbook notes,

The Café Gratitude menu gives you the opportunity to start practicing saying something new and affirming about yourself by simply placing your order. All of the items on our menu have self affirming names like “I am adoring,” “I am loved,” or “I am fulfilled,” which is how we encourage customers to order what they want. Then when the servers bring them their food and drinks, they place them down saying, “You are loved,” or “You are fulfilled”!

Many of the recipes involve hours of dehydrating and the sourcing of more exotic and precious ingredients than Louis XVI ever had access to before the resentful mobs ended his banquets.

The appearance of one of those exotic ingredients (some friends joke gifted me with a package of Irish moss, Chondrus crispus, from the oh-so-San Francisco Rainbow Market) allowed me to make one of the desserts in the I Am Grateful cookbook, the “I Am Bliss” raw vegan chocolate hazelnut pie.

Picking up the remaining ingredients for I Am Bliss proved both expensive and challenging. Naturally, I went to our new oh-so-Los Angeles Erewhan market, which just had a well publicized incident involving a dominatrix leading her client through the store with a dog leash:

Take that San Francisco! But I digress–back to I Am Bliss. In addition to the Irish moss, I needed $1,000 in nuts and lecithin, an ingredient that proved elusive even in the fanciest health food store in the city (they had it in capsule form but I didn’t want to spend $30 on one pie). I took to Google to come up with an alternative and substituted guar gum. I never found any coconut butter and just used coconut flakes ground up in a food processor.

The baking or, rather, non-baking of the pie was quick if tedious. If you’d like to attempt it yourself here’s the compete recipe. To summarize, you grind up nuts with the aforementioned exotic ingredients and some cocoa powder and agave syrup (a.k.a. sugar!) and pour the goop into the crust made out of nuts and dates. The guar gum solidified the filling instantly. Then you make “I Am the Top living meringue” out of more Irish moss, soaked cashews and coconut flakes.

The results? It tasted the way a health food store smells, like some vague mixture of old carob from the bulk bins and seaweed chips. I have a nostalgia for 70s California health food store ambiance so I kinda liked it. Kelly tasted it and made a face. I gifted some vegan friends a slice which both they and their pet parrot rejected.

I will say that I’m happy that the raw food trend seems to have faded in recent years, though of course there’s always an equally silly food trend to take its place such as that all meat diet. The raw diet, the all meat diet, and all their extreme cousins are varying ways of negating the very material act of eating. It reminds me of Slavoj Zizek’s rap about caffeine free diet coke,

We drink Coke – or any drink – for two reasons: for its thirst-quenching or nutritional value, and for its taste. In the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, nutritional value is suspended and the caffeine, as the key ingredient of its taste, is also taken away – all that remains is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. Is it not true that in this sense, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we almost literally ‘drink nothing in the guise of something’? . . . Lacan emphasized how in anorexia, the subject does not simply ‘eat nothing’ – rather, she or he actively wants to eat the Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of desire.

My I Am Bliss pie might better be called I Am the Void.

To be clear I think that we all can benefit from a portion of our diet being raw vegetables. But we also have to acknowledge that our digestives systems have evolved over thousands of years to cooking food. Indeed, there are many foods that don’t release their nutrition unless they are cooked.

In addition to this culinary nihilism, the proprietors of Café Gratitude mix into the recipes what Mark Fisher called “business ontology,” that ever present drive to explain every aspect of our lives in the language of business. A pull quote next the the I Am Bliss recipe enjoins me to “Consider that a leader always apologizes first and takes 100% responsibility. Where in your life can you take the lead?” It turns out that the owners of Café Gratitude call it a “a school of transformation disguised as a cafe” and have, allegedly, forced employees to attend culty Landmark Forum seminars.

During the pandemic I watched several acquaintances go from this new agey/business ontological/wellness world into a deep and dark Qanon hole and they weren’t alone. The phenomenon got dubbed “pastel Qanon.” It revealed the regressive, victim blaming, fat shaming ideology at the heart of some of the groovy wellness/health food world turned out to be not so groovy after all.

Not that there’s a direct pipeline from the I Am Bliss raw vegan chocolate hazelnut pie and believing that a satanic pedophile ring run the world. In fact, the dehydrated crackers in the cookbook are good enough that I’ll keep it around if just for a taste of California culture that’s easier to enjoy than being led around Erewhon on the end of a leash.

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10 Comments

  1. I’m wondering if there is a typo in your essay today, as I am hard put to believe that even where you live that the ingredients for this pie cost a thousand dollars?!… Other than that I found your review to be quite charming, although as someone unfond of “vegan raw food” and allergic to hazelnuts I am unlikely to try making it myself. I’m also wondering what it was like to work with the Irish moss, as all I have ever seen is a sort of dried seaweed that looks rather like tree lichen… did it somehow dissolve into the mixture, or did you soak it and then blend it in, or strain it out… just curious…

    • I’m kidding about the $1,000, however all those nuts, guar gum and coconut flakes added up. The Irish moss was strange stuff. You had to wash the salt water off of it and soak it overnight. Then grind it up with some water in the food processor to make a thick goop. Then you add that to the pie mixture. Honestly, I think the guar gum did most of the work.

  2. It says unscented coconut butter—I’m wondering if this wasn’t in the beauty aisle of the health food store? So odd. Thanks for this write-up—it reminded me a lot of my vegetarian years in the early 2010s. I miss that era a lot and the Café Gratitude reminded me that I used to listen to Rich Roll a lot back then and he mentioned them sometimes (haven’t listened in years) but I had forgotten how the health and wellness industry was very into their woo. But, I just might dig out some of my vegetarian and vegan cookbooks once again!

  3. With homeless ness then conspiracy theorists all around, now that Ms. Caitlyn didn’t win, I keep think of escaping California;

    I know people have gone to the Rockies or to Texas, but that seems making things much worst, over there is where all this is bread and butter.

    So I keep looking thru Google maps, and other maps like who voted for whom last Presidential 2020 election, and more and more,

    I am thinking either Clallam county or Jefferson county in the tip of the Olympic peninsula. Democratic, but not too bleeing heart. Still some pioneer spirit left.

    Lots of lavender farms too, I don’t get it, I mean sure lavender smells good and maybe even good for your health, but can one really just grow

    lavender?

    I betcha they like pies up there, here’s hoping I win the Mega and/or Powerball, tonite or Friday. LOL!

    I might just have to shave and boil a branch or two of a San Pedro cactus. But I really wanna just run a small Koi fish farm and get everyone into it, if no one buys then

    maybe open a restaurant specializing in Koi fish, it is just fancy carp after all.

    Yup, the Salish sea here i come!

    • Oh, here’s something interesting, during my Google mapping, i stumbled upon this dude,

      Celtic Construction

      “We design and build French timber frame,
      jointed mortise and tenon structures. Established on Vashon Island, on Washington’s Puget Sound, since 1984 by craftman Frederic Brillant, we design and build houses and barns, all with the trademark Douglas Fir, secured with structural black locus pegs. Our designs are unique.

      Celtic Construction practices the craft which consist of creating a layout of the critical lines of each structural bent, to be laid out on a floor, using a chalk line.

      Through a process of levelling and scribing members in place, the joinery for an entire bent is laid out. The system is fast and very competitive for the modern market. It facilitate the use of out-of-square and naturally curvy timbers. The system allows greater rapidity in erection on site and more precise alignments.”

      ___________________

      I thought only the Japanese were left doing timber framing; eveyones gone stick framing and post/beam framing.

  4. “Not that there’s a direct pipeline from the I Am Bliss raw vegan chocolate hazelnut pie and believing that a satanic pedophile ring run the world.” Ha! There were a few gold medal caliber sentences in this one. 🙂

    Many, many years ago I was gifted a raw “cookbook.” They knew I was vegan and so assumed I wanted to eat totally batshit crazy stuff, I guess. The book had a recipe for pizza that described itself like this. We call it a pizza because is is a round base with stuff on top. It was ground nuts with bean sprouts and peppers on it. It was NOT a pizza. I don’t know who they think they’re kidding. Just call it something else. There were also so-called beet burgers that was shredded carrots and beets served on a lettuce leaf. I donated the book pretty much directly after that.

    My god sister likes to do what I call Kooky Pseudo Health Baking. Again, she knows I am vegan and so assumes I want to make truly crazy raw dishes that contain no grains, no refined sugar, no added fat, no….a lot of stuff. Of course, they’re usually loaded with like seven avocados and a cup of agave. So….not health food, no matter how many no-this, no-that involved. They’re usually pretty yummy though, I mean, given enough avocados and agave. 😉 I actually enjoy a raw crust, it turns out, made from ground nuts and dates.

    Lastly, and not raw, but it came to mind, I went to restaurant in Arizona once that sold what they called a Sonoran Hot Dog. It was a roasted carrot on a bun. I had a pretty deep eye roll over that one.

    Touching on the second to last paragraph, I just read an interesting article in VegNews about the shameful health-obsessive, fat-shaming historical foundation of the vegetarian/vegan movements.

    Good post, Erik. Have a good one.

    • You too BLD and thanks for your comment! You’re so right to call out the terrible fat shaming aspect of the “wellness” world. And your comment reminded me of a passage in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Vineland,

      “Prairie worked at the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple, which a little smugly offered the most wholesome, not to mention the slowest, fast food in the region, a classic example of the California pizza concept at its most misguided. Zoyd was both a certified pizzamaniac and a cheapskate, but not once had he ever hustled Prairie for one nepotistic slice of the Bodhi Dharma product. Its sauce was all but crunchy with fistfuls of herbs only marginally Italian and more appropriate in a cough remedy, the rennetless cheese reminded customers variously of bottled hollandaise or joint compound, and the options were all vegetables rigorously organic, whose high water content saturated, long before it baked through, a stone-ground twelve-grain crust with the lightness and digestibility of a manhole cover.”

  5. Pingback: Thomas Pynchon on Pizza | Root Simple

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