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St Helena Star: Brenda Hinton puts the 'awesome' in raw food

St. Helena Star

Brenda Hinton puts the 'awesome' in raw food

By Carolyn Younger
St. Helena Star
Thursday, September 2, 2010

Brenda shows off her German Chocolate Cake (secret ingredient: zucchini) with assistants Meagan and Amber
Brenda shows off her
German Chocolate Cake
(secret ingredient: zucchini)
with assistants Meagan and Amber

You wouldn't suspect it to look at her, but Brenda Hinton has a few surprises up her shirt sleeves.

That German chocolate cake of hers for instance -- the one with the velvety chocolate frosting and light-as-air layers that she made last week for her 30th wedding anniversary -- well it wasn't baked in an oven.

Nor was it made with refined sugar, refined wheat flour or traditional dairy products. But it does have zucchini as an ingredient.

And the creamy chocolate mousse? It owes its color to cocao powder, its texture to avocado and its sweetness to agave.

And so it goes. This week Hinton is introducing a group of Japanese visitors to the mysteries of raw food in general and raw desserts in particular.

Some of the 17 visiting students are restaurant owners who want to add raw desserts to their conventional menus, Hinton said. "Other students are going to be opening cafes and juice bars so they want raw desserts that are take-away, single pieces like bars, cookies, cheese cake slices. Others are looking to put product into the market place."

JLBA Patisserie 2nd Course, 2010 in the beautiful Whole Foods kitchen and Meagan sharing her expertise.
JLBA Patisserie 2nd Course, 2010

During the stay the group will make peach ice cream and peach scones using fresh peaches from Dr. Wendell Dinwiddie's orchard on Deer Park at Silverado Trail. They'll also be making double layer lemon poppy seed cake and German chocolate cake.

They'll be introduced to different natural sweeteners -- agave, although Hinton urges caution here, as well as lacanto, sucanat, papadura, lacuma, yacon and others -- and all of them lower than refined sugar on the glycemic index which ranks foods on how they affect blood glucose levels. For breakfast the group will have Hinton's gatehouse granola made with buckwheat and served with almond milk and fresh fruit.

They'll also sample Hinton's favorite green smoothies which taste like fresh fruit but look like the dark leafy greens that are also part of the ingredients.

"This is a wonderful way to get vegetables without sautéeing them or adding butter and salt and everything else," Hinton said.

Even her husband, Mike, an avowed "choice-ivore" who enjoys eating barbecue and various cuts of meat, is a fan of green smoothies. Much to the delight of Hinton, who calls herself the green smoothie queen.

A short conversation with Hinton and you'll come away several Hinton-isms -- "food matters" and "the freezer is your friend; blenders, too."

Hinton has a website and newsletter, Rawsome Creations. Despite her enthusiasm for the raw food movement she suggests that anyone interested in testing the waters should start with "baby steps." No need to rush out and purchase an expensive high-speed blender like the one standing on her kitchen counter.

"I encourage people to use their regular blender for smoothies," she said. "It may not be as smooth as they like but it will still have that wonderful taste and they will be getting their greens in a wonderful way."

Cancer diagnosis

For all her 53 years, the Texas native as been one to "push the envelope," she admitted.

From early childhood on, "I've always been on the front of the icebreaker; on the bow of the ship plowing through the water just like Kate Winslet in the movie 'Titanic,'" she said.

She explained her switch to raw food more than three years ago by saying "For me, a healthy life style has been an ongoing transition. I was an omnivore, then a vegetarian, then a pescetarian, then vegan, then raw. It hasn't happened overnight."

Later she mentioned that a stage III breast cancer diagnosis at about the same time tipped the scales in favor of a raw food regimen, but she didn't rule out the more conventional treatments.

"When we need the big guns, we need the big guns and they are very effective," she said.

"I chose conventional therapy but I also chose to balance that with complimentary methods and food. I didn't have the side effects that others have, other than losing my hair," she said, laughing as she added, "But I wanted short hair anyway, the older I get, the more I run."

"Food matters," she said. "What you put in your mouth affects what goes on in your system. The more healthy you are in your food choices the better."

When she decided she could do anything for 30 days, she explained, "I gave myself a challenge. I'm going to go 100 percent raw for 30 days and see what happens. Well, I never turned back."

There is nothing new about raw food, she noted. "People remember hippie food from way back when, but now raw food is about cuisine ... Like any other cuisine, with raw food it's about presentation, it's taste, it's mouth feel and learning how to do taste testing and recipe development. It's the same for us. It's just that our ingredients are sometimes different."

There's no doubt about her high energy level.

JLBA Group visiting Café Gratitude
JLBA Group visiting Café Gratitude

In anticipation of this week's visit by Japanese raw food enthusiasts Hinton prepared a sheaf of 40 raw food recipes. She went with the group on its tour of the central kitchen of five raw food restaurants in the Bay Area, and flew with them to Los Angeles as they investigated the raw food scene there.

Meanwhile, Hinton is a distance runner who trains regularly for half marathons -- she'll be running her fourth soon. She teaches the fundamentals of raw food at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg twice a month and teaches at Whole Food's culinary center in Napa. She also volunteers as a mentor chef in a local commercial kitchen where teens are learning food preparation and knife skills as the chefs prepare food for patients at the Martin-O'Neil Cancer Center. They are also creating a cookbook.

There are one or two other projects as well. Hinton has created a line of white nylon bags, commonly known as nut milk bags most often used to separate almond milk from ground almond slurry, but for which Hinton suggests a variety of uses.

Brenda with Ibu Robin at Bumi Sehat.
Brenda with Ibu Robin at Bumi Sehat
Brenda with Nyoman at Yayasan Widya Guna Orphanage.
Brenda with Nyoman
at Yayasan Widya Guna Orphanage

Proceeds go to the Bumi Sehat Birthing Center and to the Yayasan Widya Guna Orphanage, both in Bali, Hinton's favorite place in the world after the Napa Valley.

"I don't know what's on the horizon," Hinton said last week as she sat in the cool of her Deer Park dining room. Outside 103-degree heat was ripening the fruit on the grape vines and on the peach, pear, plum, persimmon and fig trees in the backyard orchard.

"I never anticipated that I'd be so captured by food," she said. "I'm always discovering new things. I love life. I love my life."

For recipes or to learn more about raw food visit Hinton's website,

Green Smoothie Berry Goodness

1 cup water
4 leaves of Dinosaur (Lacinato) Kale or any mild greens
1 ripe banana
10 ripe strawberries (with the stems)
1 cup ripe blueberries
4 ice cubes (if you want your smoothie cold)

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. About one serving.

NOTE: The name of the game is mix and match fruits and greens the way you like them. There is something to be said for not mixing sweet and acidic fruits (that pesky food combining thing) but to begin with just an experiment, see what you like, how you feel and go from there. BH

Copyright 2010 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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