WHETHER OR NOT you officially made a New Year’s resolution, chances are that most of us have vowed at one point or another to shed a few pounds, get in shape or start eating better. Anyone with half a brain knows how terrible crash dieting is -- consuming less calories than can be measured in a leaf of lettuce, drinking nasty tasting shakes with unpronounceable ingredients and then failing gigantically mere weeks later.
Every diet expert has a different theory, from ingesting protein by the primal cut to eliminating all animal products from consumption, including meat, dairy, eggs and even honey.
Madeline Eyer, 56, has an even more unusual approach. She has been a vegetarian since the early 90’s when reports of antibiotic-injected animals made their way to consumer ears. Due to dairy and egg allergies, Eyer is now technically a vegan. But, that’s not all.
Eyer lives by a diet where her food is never heated above 117 degrees Fahrenheit -- the temperature at which digestion-beneficial enzymes are destroyed. The so-called “Raw Food” diet, an unfortunate name in my mind as it conjures up images of raw meat or raw wounds, is really as simple as it gets. Buy produce, wash produce, then eat produce.
I sat down with Eyer in her elegant home in Woodinville, where she teaches classes on fresh ingredients and food preparation. Honestly, I was slightly disappointed to see a range intact on the granite covered island. Perhaps I was expecting a commune-esque ranch house complete with potted herbs on every surface, maybe a free range chicken or two pecking in the yard.
Eyer claims that she would love to grow a garden, but the light isn’t good enough in her back yard, where fir trees tower through a green belt. Instead, she frequents farmer’s markets -- Ballard’s market is open year round -- sticking closer to home in the summer at markets in Bellevue and Redmond.
“But I buy the young Thai coconuts at Seafood City in Tukwila,” Eyer says, where the coconuts are much less expensive than their cousins at or Whole Foods.
In reality, much of Eyer’s produce couldn’t be grown in a garden anywhere north of Mexico. Coconuts provide a huge dose of potassium and Eyer includes them in much of her food. She instructed me in the skill of opening a fresh coconut -- find the “sweet spot” around the top and carefully hack it with the bottom corner of a cleaver until it can be popped off much like the top of a jack-o-lantern.
She poured the translucent coconut water into her envy-inspiring Blendtec blender (to impress your 6-year-old son, check out a “Will It Blend?” video on YouTube), then pried the white “meat” from the top and inside of the coconut adding it to the water. A couple of scoops of cashews, three large pitted dates (for sweetness), a tablespoon or so of raw cacao (not cocoa) powder and some ice joined the coconut, then the mighty horsepower of the Blendtec’s motor pulverized the ingredients into a creamy, frothy and absolutely delicious smoothie.
OVER SMOOTHIES AND delicately crisp kale chips, Eyer described her food journey. Two years ago, Eyer was struggling through some medical issues and sought relief from several doctors who all wanted to “fix” her with prescription drugs.
“Not one of them suggested that it might be food-related. I was exhausted, my adrenals were stressed. I wanted more energy -- not just another Chai tea latte from Starbucks.”
“Think about the difference between eating a salad brimming with life or a piece of dead, gray meat,” says Eyer.
Her enthusiasm was catching, especially when she put it that way. I felt myself easily jumping on board the vegetable cheer bus, cauliflower pompoms thrust high in the air: “Veggies are great, Fruit is stellar, Eating a steak is like eating Old Yeller.”
For the record tough, the meat I eat is never gray.
Changing one’s diet is a complicated task. Many of us are emotionally attached to certain foods -- the lasagna Mom makes, Auntie’s famous bread, roasted potatoes, birthday cake. Eyer had to forgo the homemade Italian bread over the holidays.
And how does one even approach family meals? Smoothies, even the nutritionally superior green smoothies, are fairly easy adjustments for breakfast, but what about dinner when the neighbors are coming over?
Eyer keeps a few bags of quinoa in the cupboard, a super nutritious South American grain, that she does cook on occasion.
“You have to be a nice neighbor,” she says with a wry smile.
But most of the time, Eyer sticks to “uncooking” her dinner -- or “making food” as we decided to call it. Eyer’s husband, Mark, has been on board since the big change, dropping ten pounds and feeling great. She was a bit sad to say that her grown daughter has rejected her vegetarian upbringing in lieu of a more mainstream diet.
Who knows, though? We daughters tend to try our own way in life, but often come back to our roots -- just like all of us tend to be on-again/off-again when it comes to healthy eating. What I do know is that I want to look like Madeline Eyer when I am 56. Heck, I want to look like her now -- radiant skin, slim figure, confident spirit.
FOR THOSE OF us not quite ready for the complete plunge into a vegan, raw food diet, Eyer suggests three ways to move in the right direction.
- Eliminate white flour, white sugar, white rice (anything super refined) -- she says there is no nutrition in them.
- Increase your intake of water.
- Add in a green smoothie -- a 60/40 ratio of fruit to green leafy vegetables. Eyer’s favorite is pineapple, spinach, cilantro. The possibilities are endless, though she cautions against too much kale as it can be bitter.
Eyer’s goal is to educate people about the benefits of eating “live” food through her website, cooking classes, YouTube videos, and she will soon be adding tele-seminars to the list. Much of her work is helping clients organize their pantries and cupboards or teaching them how to use a food dehydrator -- the “oven” of the raw food diet. For more ideas, such as how to rid walnuts of bitterness by soaking them in water, visit madelineeyer.com.
Here’s one of my favorite salad recipes to get you started on a path with more “live” food.
THE TRIPLE "0" SALAD
- 3 oranges (mix varieties for extra color)
- ½ small red onion, thinly sliced into semi-circles
- black Nicoise olives, with pits
Pare away the skin and white pith on the oranges with a sharp knife. Slice the oranges horizontally into pinwheels. Combine on a platter with the red onion slices (if the onions are too strong, soak them in ice water for about 10 minutes). Scatter 3-4 olives per person over the top.
For the dressing, combine the following ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously:
- 2 TB orange juice
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 2 TB olive oil
- salt and pepper
Drizzle over the salad and serve.