Amber Poupore was one the most exceptional employees I had at Inn Season Cafe, wanting to learn everything about the restaurant business. She started as a dishwasher and viewed it as the beginning of a learning process. She was a natural and soon had mastered every possible job in the restaurant, never shying away from the tough ones like washing dishes, scrubbing odd surfaces and taking care of customers. Even after I sold the restaurant, she assisted me with classes I taught at Whole Foods while she continued to work part time at the cafe. Eventually she became a certified Rudolph Steiner Waldorf teacher at the Detroit Waldorf School.
Since then, in addition to managing the dining room of Inn Season Cafe, she also studied the benefits of raw foods with David Wolfe, Regeneration Raw with Andrea McNinch and numerous other raw food related programs. When I received the call that she had purchased the former Tasi Juice Bar in Royal Oak, I sensed the same confidence and spirit of working with the community she always had.
Within a few short weeks, the Cacao Tree Cafe took shape and blossomed under her direction. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, the beautiful, delicious and healing food has become the talk of the town. The Cacao Tree, with their offerings of vegan, raw and living food, complements the nearby Inn Season Cafe’s cuisine.
Chefs Hitoko and Zack create beautiful and delicious confections, savory snacks and life-enhancing entrees. The raw falafels, burritos, tacos and stir fries are full of flavor, vital nutritional energy and also very fulfilling.
This is the beginning of something special. A New Year is here and the place to celebrate is the Cacao Tree Cafe!
Every day I enter the kitchen, my temple of food, and prepare meals for the family. I prepare dishes from scratch inspired by fresh produce from the local farmers market. It is a daily meditation which I find energizes me and stimulates my creativity. I am often reminded of the samsara wheel in Eastern philosophies, which signifies the endless cycles of life and death, birth and rebirth that are at the core of living on the planet. The small part I play at the farmers market, in my garden and at the helm of my stove are all part of an earthly process of regeneration which helps me experience vitality and growth.
Opportunities arise throughout the year to celebrate. Some of the biggest challenges a vegetarian host faces is developing a menu which will satisfy everyone–the carnivores and vegetarians alike. Generally speaking, vegetarians are very easy to please. They tend to be so food-deprived at parties, that when they attend an event where they can trust everything that is served, they are grateful beyond measure. Sometimes carnivorous attendees who are new to my cooking decide they aren’t going to like anything. I often hear cracks like “we stopped at McDonald’s on the way over” or “guess my diet will begin tonight.” I’m proud to say, I never hear those cracks on the return visits!
With every event, I begin to “meditate” on the menu as soon as I know a party is imminent. This past Christmas dinner is a perfect example to use in understanding my type of planning. Because of the type of celebration it was, I looked to “tradition.” In cooking, this translates into looking at where the dish came from and understanding what the original cook(s) intent was. Over the years, this historical vision became a passion for provenance and a journey to discover vegetarian traditions in every culture I came in touch with. The obvious Greek influence which came primarily through my grandmother and my aunt Irene, who were both excellent cooks, gave me a taste for the Mediterranean palate. In my late teens and early twenties, I had the good fortune to visit and spend time in India, where I learned to cook dishes with ancient stories and also where every ingredient was connected to a healthy result. All of this influences my menu decisions. Even life changing events can play a part in menu planning. My father passed away shortly before Christmas this year. For me, he was a partner in celebration, always engaging and enjoying family gatherings. I wanted to prepare a few things he would have enjoyed.
Once my menu and schedule for preparation is set, I prepare a shopping list to ensure I am not sending someone out for ingredients constantly, and then the cooking begins. I began with the bread baking. I made two different batches and proofed them together. The first was a four grain loaf with oats, cracked wheat, quinoa and millet. The second was a Tuscan baguette with home harvested fennel and corn meal which I sliced and used for a canapé base.
The next preparation was Eggplant bharta canapé. A traditional Indian fire-roasted eggplant dip to which I added chilles, red amaranth leaves and lime. I served it on the sliced Tuscan baguette discs.
The centerpiece entrée was an Eggplant and Zucchini Parmesan with Cavolo Nero (Lacinato Kale) and an almond ricotta. I made it the previous morning to allow the flavors to meld and make cooking dinner on Christmas day a simple affair.
The other entrée was Asparagus Strudel and was baked just before serving. Ten layers of phyllo dough were coated with a red pepper oil and maple syrup mixture and enveloped around fresh asparagus with a caramelized shallot and cashew nut puree. I served it with roasted red pepper sauce.
On the side, I made some choices that would balance the meal through flavor, texture and visual appeal.
Muli Kofta, traditional Indian gram flour cakes made with grated daikon radish and greens. Garnished with bundi and sweet pepper relish.
Organic Rigatoni pasta salad with pistachio-lacinato pesto.
Swiss Chard horta, Cretan boiled greens with extra virgin olive oil and lemon dressing.
Fresh tomato salad drizzled with balsamic reduction (see first picture).
To add a sweet finish to the meal, Sara baked my vegan Pecan Tart recipe (She never cooked before last year, when I had to leave her to help take care of my father.). The tarts were delicious with the right amount of sweetness and without the fatty finish. When the meal was over, everyone relaxed, shared gifts and spent the evening in a state of joyful satiation—as my father would have liked.
Few culinary ingredients evoke more passion or have the sensual complexity of vanilla. In its direct, pure state, it is like heavenly ambrosia. More often, it is the secret ingredient which compliments other spices and flavors, putting the final balancing touch to a dessert, pastry or the occasional savory dish.
Most of us have experienced vanilla through extract, a process that produces vanilla flavor through a medium of alcohol or glycerin. The cheaper varieties are not even real vanilla, but a synthetic flavoring called vanillin. When purchasing vanilla extract, I suggest making sure it is made from pure vanilla beans.
The modern culinary revolution in America has increased awareness of long treasured, and often rare, culinary staples. One of indispensable products used in high-end cuisine are vanilla beans, or more botanically correct: vanilla pods. Not long ago I was contacted by a long-time friend living in South India who now lived on a farm and was growing Ayurvedic herbs as a livelihood. He was also growing vanilla and wanted to know if I was interested in his crop. When I asked whether the vanilla was organic, he described his product:
“I sun dry them, so they are organic sun dried vanilla pods. Or beans as most people call them. Vanilla is from the orchid family and the bean is actually a seed pod. You have to sun dry them and keep them wrapped in cotton and a wool blanket in a wooden box at night so they ferment. This fermentation brings out the aroma. Some big producers probably use some type of hot air blower in a warehouse to dry them.”
I agreed to purchase his crop and am now selling these wonderful heavenly pods. If you are interested, please contact me at email@example.com.
Once you get the vanilla, my friend offers further suggestions:
“You can make an extraction out of some also with alcohol, I have heard that even Stoli vodka works. A friend of mines’ wife also told me she put some with the flour she bakes with for three weeks and it worked good. I am sure you know about putting it with sugar, coffee, etc. Cut length wise and keep in glass jar with sugar for three weeks.”
I usually prep the pods by cutting a slit lengthwise and scraping out the black vanilla paste to add to recipes. I save the scraped pods and add them to jars of organic sugar, Grand Marnier or other infusible product. After 2 to 3 weeks, the infused product is as strong as vanilla extract. It makes the expense of the pods economical compared to the price of a good quality extract.
Sprocket was rescued from a bike shop in Birmingham, Michigan. The owner was leaving the business and could not take her with him. She came to live with my parents and settled into a senior lifestyle in Royal Oak. In 2004, the three of them moved to San Diego into a house on a beautiful palm tree-lined boulevard with a terraced lot overlooking a canyon. Sprocket thoroughly enjoyed her lifestyle, touring the gardens, sunning on the patio and watching the profusion of birds my father beckoned with multiple feeders. Indoors, she played with toys and alternately slept with both my mother and father. She had a temper and, after a fury of batting string around, would often need to cool down before resuming play. As was her practice in the bike shop, whenever anyone entered the house, she would trot to the door in her bow-legged fashion to greet them. During this time, Sprocket became especially close with my father and would speak to him with well timed meows. Intuitively, they would know what each other wanted, only needing to exchange a glance or at most a specific meow for each activity.
This winter, my parents and Sprocket moved to a senior housing apartment. While Sprocket no longer had a patio or gardens, she had a veranda to sun on with fluttering hummingbirds and an abundance of yellow Finches. My father was experiencing anemia which created periods of weakness after which Sprocket became like an appendage. She was a constant companion following his ups and downs, often more subtle than we could outwardly perceive. A couple of months ago my father entered the hospital for ten days. My mother’s neuropathy also started to act up in her legs and Sprocket slept on them. She could sense the need to heal that specific area and was a great comfort to her. Soon after, we realized she had stopped eating and was getting weak. As it turned out, she became jaundiced and I began tube feeding her. In her illness, she had lost her normal feistiness, but reserved her energy to become a warm and loving companion. Moving in with me, she quickly adapted to a new schedule and never put up a fuss with tube feeding and subcutaneous fluid IVs. Daily, Sprocket and I would visit my father in the rehab home and she would stretch, preen and embrace my father with great affection as she stayed on his bed. Often, I would put Sprocket on speakerphone and she immediately started to purr when my father spoke through the speaker. For over a month they were on a parallel healing path and she became a social personality at the rehab home, with visits from patients and caregivers alike. Sadly, she was too ill to continue, and last week, while my father was in the hospital for some tests, she could not hold on any longer. She left us with fond memories and confirmation that, in many ways, animals are our equals.
When it comes to sensitivity, spirit of life and loving devotion, animal friends are absolutely on par with what we expect from anyone, human or otherwise. Mistreatment of animals either by treating them as chattel or by the barbarism of factory farming is a symptom of a lack of compassion, which subsequently creates an ignorance of values in life. Animal friends help us understand the beautiful simplicity of love and devotion as well as teach us how effective touch healing can be. Often, it seems we have unnaturally lost much of this in human culture. Animal companionship can help us progress to a more natural state where peace, love and cognizance once again can become predominate in life.