Raw Year

"Why are we here, dude?"

"To fulfill man's destiny, dude. To wreck this earth and send our kids off to Mars."

"No," I say. "Why are we here, at this place?"

"Oh. Wi-fi, dude," Hank says. "It's a hot spot. You can e-mail your broker on Wall Street till your billfold bursts. I use it a lot."

"Yeah, like you got real rich in 2004."

"At least I tried. And you?"

"Planets weren't aligned right. Still, we're both here, ain't we? We survived."

"Point. Good point. Not the Donald, but not Martha either. Right?"


"So let's eat."

We get up from where we've been sitting in the sun, head past a blackboard with something about "raw" scribbled on it, then under a sign, "Couleur Café." Inside, it's living-room comfy, with couches and swirly cane chairs, wildwood wreaths. A carpet hangs on the wall, a woven French-café street scene.

Hank plucks a paper menu out of a box. It takes -- I count 'em -- five seconds for him to decide. "I'll have the Greek salad, large, with turkey on top," he says to the gal behind the counter.

"Greek salad? Again?" I mutter.

"Cholesterol, dude," he says. "You gotta be serious." The salad is $4.99 (small's $3.99), and the turkey's 50 cents extra. He gets an iced tea too ($1.29).

Me, I'm looking at the sandwiches. You can have them cold or hot. This place has the usual suspects: American (ham, turkey, and roast beef), club (ham, turkey, bacon), B.L.T., "Hail Caesar" (beef with Caesar dressing), "Sister Salmon," "Uncle Tuna," and a vegetarian, which is basically cheeses. All $4.99 for the 6-inch, $6.99 for the 12-inch.

The hot sandwiches run from "Fromage Fondue" (cheddar, Swiss, provolone, and cream cheese), to ham and salami, to "Beefy Yum Yum" (beef, pastrami, and Swiss). A platter deal for $8.99 small, and $11.99 large, includes soup, sandwich, salad, and a drink.

I end up getting the "Guilty Melty," with turkey, salami, bacon, cheeses, onion, and tomato. The large, 12-inch, $6.99.

We sit down next to a chess table that looks as though it's used a lot. Heather, the gal at the counter, brings us two big black plastic plates, loaded. Hank's is piled with lettuce, olives, yellow pepper slices, red pepper slices, cucumber, and feta cheese crumbles. Slabs of turkey on top. Heather has artistically circled everything with tomato slices. Mine is two six-inch lengths of wheat French bread, cut into long triangles and framed by a couple of pickles. And, oh yes -- plenty of turkey and salami, and the bread's hot and fresh, and the oil and vinegar and raw onion give it a tangy kick.

A phone rings. Pretty little lady with rosy cheeks comes out to answer it.

"Uh, what's with the 'raw' sign outside?" I can't help asking when she hangs up.

"Raw? Oh, you've got to come see this," she says.

I get up and follow her -- Elizabeth -- back into a small kitchen. It has refrigerators, dehydrators, and jars of what look like sprouting grains. Two black dehydrators hum away. "The Champion, World's Finest Juicer" stands next to packets of grain labeled "Sun-Grown, San Diego."

"We're starting up a vegan-raw alternative restaurant here," she says. "But people aren't used to it. I have to show them how good it is. Here, try this."

She hands me a mushroom stuffed with some dark paste. Mmm. Chocolatey, almost, but savory. "It's a nutty paté with oregano, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and nama shoyu, that's raw soy sauce," she says. Pretty soon she's stuffing me with a nut "ravioli" and a delicious buckwheat "granola," with the kernels all stuck together.

"We heat live food only to 110 degrees maximum so its enzymes stay alive." Elizabeth has "milk" made from macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts, "tortilla chips" from flax seeds, raw chocolate from the cacao plant. "We can do anything!" she says. "Walnut burgers, 'seafood' cucumber salads made with this." She holds up a packet of arame -- raw seaweed. "But the secret of it all is right here."

She lifts a jar filled with wheat. Each grain sprouts a green shoot. "Things we eat should be alive," she says. "I have changed so much on this. We bought this place in September. By October, I was inspired by the raw food idea. I went to classes in Santa Monica. I studied. I started eating a raw diet. I am Type 2 diabetic. It helped my blood sugar straight away! My energy is up. But the 'killer' was this test: You get some raw burger meat, leave it somewhere for a week. And leave some raw grain somewhere else. Come back a week later, and the burger meat has mold, maggots, and stinks. It's dead, rotting. But the grain is sprouting, growing, fresh, because it is alive. That's the point. We should be eating live food, not dead."

Wow. Hadn't thought of it like that.

"That's it," I say to Hank. "We're eating raw from now on. A New Year's res! A year of raw. Once we cross that midnight line, raw!"

"Very funny," Hank says. "And Carla?"

"She'll, she'll..."

"Chew your head off. Send you packin'. For Mars, probably."

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