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.

Olive Harvest 2021

One of the principle reasons to keep blogging long after social media and Google’s search algorithms deemed the end of blogs is that Root Simple functions as a garden diary. Towards that end let me note my second Frantoio olive harvest on Tuesday September 7, 2021. I harvested just shy of 3 pounds of olives from our parkway olive tree. I’m guessing I lost at least 9 pounds to olive fruit fly damage. I moved up the harvest this year to prevent losing all the olives to the damned fly. We’ll see if harvesting this soon changes the quality of the final product but I read that commercial growers harvest at this early stage.

Following UC Davis’ recipe for Sicilian cured olives I mixed up a brine consisting of:

8 cups water
3/4 cup pickling salt
1 cup vinegar

This was more than enough brine to cover my 3 pounds of olives, which filled one 64 oz mason jar and a half filed 32 oz mason jar. As of today, small bubbles have formed. Two years ago when I brined olives I replaced the brine about every month as the brine got dark. It took 7 months in the brine to get edible (and delicious) olives.

To cut down on olive fruit fly damage, I use a McPhail-type trap baited with Torula yeast tablets to reduce the fruit fly population. I use two tablets and replace them once a month. I definitely capture quite a few olive fruit flies and I think the trap gets me more usable olives but, lacking a control, I can’t be sure.

UC Davis recommends the traps combined with a late season application of kaolin clay when the fruit flies begin to lay eggs in the fruit. They also recommend replacing the bait every two weeks from April to November. This all takes careful observation–I only see the flies in the trap and the damage to the fruit is a bunch of very tiny holes that are hard to see at first. As the larvae develop the damage becomes obvious.

Harvesting and processing olives is one of the more labor intensive gardening tasks around our compound but how cool is it to have a chore the people have been doing for at least 6,000 years?

San Pedro Cactus Blooms

Happy Labor Day from our San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi). A friend gave us a large piece that we planted sometime before the pandemic. This morning it decided to put out at least 12 flowers all at once.

When I woke up at 6:30 a.m. a cloud of bees was working the nectar and pollen. Around 9 a.m. some figeater beetles (Cotinis mutabilis) showed up. Figeater beetles like cactus fruit so I’m guessing they were attracted to the smell.

The green parts of the plant contain mescaline which is used in Andean traditional medicine. It also makes an edible and (non-psychedelic) fruit. The plant is easily confused with the more common Peruvian torch cactus (Echinopsis peruviana).

Weekend Linkages: Pyramids, Strange Houses and F-ing Gourds

Orange free peaches, painted by Elsie E. Lower, 1910. Via @pomological.

A stepped pyramid in the desert

Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from?

People are still taking that horse medication

That time someone tried to set up a Vietnam war theme park (a podcast)

Strangest Zillow listing ever

The Diapers.com Guy Wants to Build a Utopian Megalopolis

F-ing gourd season

Can We Live Without Twitter?