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Sept 27, 2000

Rah-Rah-RAW! An Ashland woman shares the joys of uncooked food

By ELAINE BEEBE LAPRIORE 
The Register-Guard

VICTORIA BOUTENKO credits raw food with great things.

The Russian native lost 80 pounds; her heart arrhythmia and her suicidal tendencies vanished. She says eating raw food cured her son's diabetes and her daughter's asthma.

Her husband, Igor, had arthritis, thyroid ailments and high blood pressure. "Now his pulse is 47. Like yogi," she says.

raw food

At a raw foods dinner to introduce her course, Victoria Boutenko prepared Un-pizza and gazpacho.

Photos: THOMAS BOYD / The Register-Guard

"That's what raw food does to us - it cleans our brains and our hearts! It does!" she declares, wide-eyed, as if this fact still amazes and delights her after 6 1/2 years of raw fooding.

Boutenko, of Ashland, tells this story to a north Eugene conference room full of diners: 39 people - three-quarters of them female - from Eugene, Corvallis and Portland. The curious and converted have gathered for an introductory raw food dinner and presentation. Lean physiques, flowing garments and receptive outlooks prevail.

As they enjoy the soup course, Boutenko describes how, after tedious months of eating salads, she developed other recipes using raw foods - from borscht to unpizza to unchocolate cake.

With a Web site, a loyal following and a cookbook at the publishers, the Boutenkos travel the Northwest, teaching courses in raw food preparation.

By foregoing the fleeting pleasures of cooked food, Boutenko has found a greater happiness and the need to spread the word.

"I don't teach, I share," she tells the diners. "I don't think people need more information. I think people need love, and I will share my love with you," she says with a smile.

"Because cooked foods are addictive!" she repeats evangelically, to an affirmative chorus of mmm-hmms. (Mouths are occupied with gazpacho.)

 

A BRANCH OF veganism, the raw foods movement is based on the belief that humans were meant to eat food as nature proffers it, emphasizing such "living foods" as freshly sprouted nuts, grains and seeds.

It all began with the woman who brought us wheatgrass, Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian immigrant who in 1958 opened the Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston. Wigmore died in a fire at the institute in 1994, but her living foods doctrine has spread worldwide.

Raw foodists believe that enzymes are the life force of foods. Eating foods raw transfers that life force, while cooking food kills it.

What does science say?

"That kind of thing's really hard to study," says Sonja Connor, a research dietician at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. "There's no science that says we should eat raw foods. ... It's personal choice."

However, Connor notes, "You can actually meet nutritional needs eating that way.

"One thing that is an advantage is there are no empty calories. ... It can be nutritionally adequate, if people eat a broad range of foods. It can also be nutritionally inadequate, if they don't."

Connor rattles off the average American calorie breakdown.

 

kitchen scene

Living Foods practitioner Victoria Boutenko ladles gazpacho at a dinner where she discussed raw food preparation and lifestyle.

"Thirty-four to 40 percent from fat, 20 percent from sugar, up to 5 percent from alcohol. ... So we rely on 35 percent of our calories to give us all of our vitamins and minerals. That makes eating whole foods look pretty good, raw or not."

Would a raw food diet endanger anyone?

"I think people who are generally chronically under the care of a physician should get advice, but most people know that," Connor says.

"I think people who are immune-compromised would not want to do this. ... People with AIDS have gotten into trouble with molds," she says, eating organic foods that contain no preservatives.

"I don't know about people with malabsorption. ... People with a shortened bowel might get a lot of diarrhea."

Enough science. Back to dinner.

 

BOUTENKO'S ORIGINAL menu had included borscht, her raw adaptation of the Russian favorite. But that morning at the farm stand, 50-cents-a-pound heirloom tomatoes spoke to her.

Thus, gazpacho - heaps of glorious red and yellow tomatoes whirled in the Boutenkos' Super Total Nutrition Center Whole Food Machine, the Cadillac of juicers.

"Smell," she orders. It is pungent with herbs, sharp with raw garlic, mouth-watering and complex.

"Raw-8," she calls it. The soup is not unlike canned V-8 juice, but it is thinner and foamier, with the occasional floating avocado chunk and a garlic kick that lasts till the morning after.

The main course follows: Un-pizza. A chewy, dark brown, crackerlike crust has been topped with a thick, herb-flecked nut paste and garnished with thin tomato slices.

The overall impression is nutty, well-seasoned and, above all, filling.

The pizza is served with a kale and tomato salad of surprising lightness, thanks to marinating the kale in olive oil, cider vinegar and Nama Shoyu, an unpasteurized soy sauce.

As the diners chew, Boutenko discusses raw foods as a community-builder. The previous weekend, she had hosted 125 raw foodists in Ashland, some of whom are in this room.

"Does everybody know Chad?" Boutenko asks.

"Hi, Chad," a few people call.

In a cream-colored tunic and pants with matching head wrap, Chad Sarno is hard to miss. He's a staff chef at the four-person Living Light Culinary Arts Institute of Fort Bragg, Calif., which offers a nine-day certification program in raw food preparation.

Originally from New Hampshire, the 30ish Sarno has spent the last six years traveling and teaching classes for the institute at places such as Breitenbush Hot Springs. He has just settled in Eugene to open a raw foods wholesale distribution business he will call Vital Creations.

In a splash of synchronicity, Eugene resident David Niles, 39, is planning to open a raw foods cafe early next year.

A graduate of Sarno's course and the former bicycle coordinator for the University of Oregon Office of Public Safety, Niles is currently scouting locations in the Fifth and Lincoln area for his Moringa Cafe, named for a particularly nutritious African tree.

The cafe will serve salads, spreads, juices and desserts, Niles says, but also will be educational. His vision for the cafe extends from grow-your-own-wheatgrass seminars to a pedal-powered juice bar. (Pick out your fruit, then set the blender/bike to liquefy.)

Until these businesses sprout, the meeting place for raw foodists will be the monthly potlucks that Phyllis Linn has organized since June.

"When I changed my diet to be 100 percent raw, I had so much extra energy, and it needed channeling," she explains.

Linn, 54, a book indexer by day, is the woman who brought Boutenko to Eugene.

"It was at a talk that Victoria gave that I decided to go to 100 percent raw," Linn says. "I did so at that moment, and I've been that way for four months."

The process was gradual. Five years ago, Linn was intrigued by a healing diet of raw foods and juices called The Incurables Program.

"It seems to me that if this program could cure somebody from death's door," she says, "what could it do for me, who has no real symptoms of illness?

"I got a juicer and I started juicing. That was the start."

Linn would start each meal with a raw food: fruit at breakfast, salads at lunch and dinner.

"I didn't really worry about forcing myself to do anything," she recalls. "I would just start adding raw foods, and then I found that's more and more what I wanted, and so other things fell away. And that's the only way I recommend to people to try it."

Linn attended the Boutenkos' recent raw food weekend in Ashland. She brought her husband, Art, who is pure West Texas: ramrod posture, blue jeans and boots.

Art attended the seminars, soaked in the hot springs and ate raw food all weekend. Until Sunday, when he slipped down the road to a Mexican restaurant.

"Chili verde and a margarita," he recalls with a shy, shameless smile.

The Linns seem to juggle their diets handily.

"One thing I learned from Victoria is that you don't all have to eat at the same time, or eat the same things," Phyllis says. Different family members might have different "food urges," she says, and will eat accordingly.

Art is about 50 percent raw - fruit for breakfast, sometimes just a smoothie for dinner - and figures that's about where he'll stay.

"I have to have coffee. I'm not going to give that up," he says. "And every two, three months, I say, `It's time to have a steak,' and we go to the Black Angus."

DESSERT! (No coffee.)

What looks like a large pink sheet cake is peach slices layered with a thick, chunky fruit-nut paste, frosted with a raspberry puree and trimmed attractively with sliced almonds and poppy seeds.

It is a weighty concoction, particularly after the pizza, and not as appetizing as plain fruit. But creative, to be sure, and widely sampled by the diners.

By evening's end, 36 people have enrolled in Boutenko's five-class series.

"I aspire to do what she's doing," says Katherine Baynton of Eugene, who signed right up. Much cheaper than the Breitenbush class, she says.

Baynton attended the dinner with her elfin 7-year-old, Shawna, a vegan since birth.

"When she was little, she would ask for raw foods, especially cherry tomatoes," Baynton says. "Kind of like a little teacher."

Beverly Rowland, 63, a vegetarian of 20 years, is intrigued enough to take the class.

"As a vegetarian, I'm always looking for ways to improve my diet," she says. But she doubts she'll go 100 percent raw.

"I'm all for it, but I don't think I can maintain it," she confesses. "There's a pumpkin cookie at that bakery downtown that I just lust for."

The following recipes are from Victoria Boutenko.

Borscht

4 cups water

3 beets

1 small root ginger (sliced)

3 to 4 large cloves garlic

6 to 7 bay leaves

3 to 4 carrots

2 stalks celery

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 to 4 oranges, peeled with the seeds out (seeds will make very bitter taste)

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup olive oil

Sea salt to taste

1/2 cup walnuts

1/4 head cabbage

1 bunch parsley

Blend 2 cups of the water, beets, ginger, garlic and bay leaves well, about 2 minutes, in a blender or Vita-Mix. Pour in big bowl.

Blend another 2 cups water, 2 carrots, celery, vinegar, oranges, honey, olive oil and salt for a short time, about 30 seconds.

Add walnuts and blend on low speed very quickly, so they just break in pieces but not blended. Add to the mixture in the big bowl and stir.

Dice or grate cabbage, 1 or 2 carrots and parsley. Add diced or grated ingredients to blended mixture, stir and serve.

Yield: 5 to 6 servings.

Un-pizza

This is a transition food when the crust is made of manna bread, which is partially cooked.

Pizza crust:

1 manna bread

Take one manna bread (available at health stores in the freezer section) and roll it out with a rolling pin on a board.

Use dried dill weed on the board and rolling pin so it will not stick. Make it about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. If it gets broken, reshape it with your hands.

Use an extra-wide spatula to transfer the crust to a plate and patch the holes.

Note: You can also use a dehydrated cracker crust. See recipe for dehydrated crackers. For pizza, dehydrate your cracker only halfway, so it stays soft. Best if made out of 1 part kamut, 1 part flaxseed, herbs and spices to taste.

Pizza topping:

1/3 cup fresh, chopped or 1 1/2 tablespoons dry basil

1/4 cup fresh, chopped or 1 tablespoon dry oregano

1 clove garlic

1 lime, peeled

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 ripe tomatoes

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds, soaked overnight

1/2 jalapeno, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Blend first five ingredients. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

Quickly pour topping on the crust and spread with a spatula.

Arrange on top: sliced mushrooms, sliced cherry tomatoes (look like pepperoni), sliced bell peppers, sliced black olives (note that olives are not raw), sprinkled paprika and/or dry parsley.

Must eat in 1 to 2 days.

Everybody's Favorite

Crackers

1 cup soaked sunflower seeds

1 cup soaked walnuts

1 cup soaked almonds

1 tomato

1 cup red onion (chopped)

3 tablespoons flaxseed

3 teaspoons cumin seed

2 teaspoons salt

Mix in food processor or Champion Juicer with blank on. Spread on parchment paper or TefIon sheets. Make them very thin.

Then using a pizza cutter, cut in squares. They will be easier to break into pieces when dry.

Dehydration time is about 15 to 20 hours.

Victoria's Universal

Cake Recipe

Crust:

1 cup ground nuts, seeds or grains (see note)

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup chopped or crushed fresh fruits or berries, optional (see note)

1/2 cup dried fruits, ground, soaked for 1 to 2 hours, optional (see note)

1 teaspoon vanilla, optional

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, optional

1/2 cup raw carob powder, optional

Tangerine peel, well ground, from 4 tangerines

Combine ingredients, mixing well. If mixture is not firm enough, add psyllium husk or shredded coconut. Form into crust on a flat plate.

Filling or topping:

1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit

1/2 cup nuts (white nuts look pretty)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons honey

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend ingredients well, add water with a teaspoon if needed. Spread evenly over the crust. Decorate with fruits, berries and nuts. Give it a name.

Chill before serving.

Note: Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, filberts, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, sesame or tahini, oat flour or rolled oats, buckwheat, kamut, barley.

Fresh fruits and berries: Strawberries, apples, bananas, blueberries, pineapples, mangoes, apricots, raspberries, cranberries.

Dried fruits: Pitted prunes, raisins, apricots, dates, figs, currants.

 

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