April 14, 2014

The Real First Day of Spring

On a gorgeous, wonderous day a couple of weeks ago, the weather was so promising that J and I decided to have a date day. Spring had technically arrived, but we'd yet to feel true warmth in the air. And as you can see from the picture below, the trees still looked barren, with no buds in sight. That day, there was no hint of winter lingering in the breeze. I was shocked, realizing that there was a part of me that thought spring may never come again. We were determined to make the most of it.

First stop: Sree's food cart for lunch. I didn't take a picture of my food, but did take this picture of my beautiful necklace for the first day of the Vegan Cuts Instagram contest. It was a really fun contest and I loved following everyone else's posts.


Sree's has two storefronts, but I like going to the food cart when it's nice out. For $6, you get to pick 3 of the 4 vegan options of the day over rice (there's also one chicken option, but that's no option for us!) and a piece of pita bread. They were out of bread that day, so they gave us all 4 of the vegan options. Since I stay away from gluten as much as possible, I was really happy to get a little bit of extra gluten-free food in exchange for bread!


Afterwards, we took a leisurely walk which which ended with bubble tea. I haven't had bubble tea in a long time. Since it was almost 80 degrees (unbelievable!), I decided to get my tapioca pearls in a fruit freeze. I got lychee and J got mango. Mmm, lychee.

We walked a little bit more and explored, catching a really nice view overlooking the East End. 


At this point it was dinner time, but we were still full from Indian food. Instead, we took Tucker to the dog park so he could play. There were almost 30 dogs there at one point! It was way more crowded than I ever remember. Tuck had a blast as always.

That night, it was still warm outside, and we couldn't think of turning in early. We took another long walk with Tucker, this time zigzagging through our neighborhood, and long story short, this little guy followed us home!


He was lost and instantly attached himself to me. My search for the owners was fruitless, as was the scan for a microchip. After a week of no progress, I spent another week acclimating him to a new home (not mine, though I was so tempted to keep him). I'm working on documenting the story, so look forward to many more adorable pictures. Welcome to our family, Pepper!

April 09, 2014

Review: Vegan Cuts Snack Box

When Vegan Cuts reached out to me asking if I'd like to review their beauty box, they also offered to send me one of their snack boxes. I was, of course, excited to get a sampling of their monthly snack box subscription. The March snack box was curated with Bianca Phillips, who has a cool blog called Vegan Crunk.



THE GREAT:

My absolute favorite was Vigilant Eats Espresso Maca Mulberry Superfood Cereal. For one thing, it was convenient to prepare. All I did was open it up and pour in some homemade hemp milk, and it had a tiny spoon inside that you could use if you were on the go. The flavor was unbelievably amazing. I've never been much of a coffee drinker, but I've always loved coffee (and espresso) flavored foods. Though the caffeine from the espresso powder gave me some jitters (I'm sensitive to caffeine), it was worth it.


What I loved about it most: I already talked about the taste, but I also love that all 4 of their flavors are organic, soy-free, gluten-free, and use no preservatives or additives. They also use low-glycemic sweeteners like mesquite, lucuma, and coconut sugar. I know a lot of people say "sugar is sugar"- which is true to an extent - but I notice a difference in how my body reacts to white sugar vs. unrefined cane sugar vs. coconut sugar (and other low glycemic/unrefined sweeteners). The last thing that I really loved about it was that they don't skimp on ingredients. I'd read on the label that cacao nibs and dried mulberries are added to the cereal, and I was pleased to see that there was a decent amount of both inside.


Another favorite of mine was Roots powder by Deeply Rooted. This fruit and vegetable powder boasts having 19 superfoods in each serving, some of which are spinach, broccoli, bilberry, reishi mushroom, and dandelion leaf powders. It's one of the better tasting powders that I've tried, though it was a tad too sweet for me in my smoothies. The blueberry and lemon flavoring (made of dextrose and natural flavors) definitely tasted like artificial candy flavors. It wasn't so bad, but I like to taste the fresh fruit in my smoothies. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but I'd choose to use it in something like raw blueberry brownies or toss a packet into banana ice cream. In addition to those suggestions, if you have a sweet tooth and want to cut down on your sugar intake, you may enjoy adding Roots to smoothies to help you wean off of sugar. There is only 1 gram of sugar per serving, but it tastes very sweet and fruity.


One of my favorite candy bars when I was little was Mounds. Dark chocolate with coconut filling. Delicious. These Ocho bars, which are organic and free of preservative, additives, and artificial flavors, taste very similar. I loved it, but it was a bit sweet for me since I don't eat candy all that often. I shared the mini square of chocolate with J, and I'm pretty sure he wanted a bag full of them after the tiny tease!


R.W. Garcia makes an interesting product called Tortatos, which are chips made with a blend of corn and red potatoes. I got a bag of the salt and vinegar Tortatos in my box. These chips are verified by the Non-GMO Project. Because the major GMO ingredients, like soy, cottonseed, and corn, are regularly used in chips, this certification label is one thing I look for when I'm buying potato or corn chips. I love salt and vinegar chips and am used to the strong flavor, but I also loved these more mild flavored chips. They tasted more like corn than potato which I rather liked. They also tasted fairly fresh for being a bagged chip. Sometimes chips can taste stale and the oils make my throat scratchy, but these weren't like that. I munched on these happily.

THE SO-SO:



Explore Asian's Soybean Noodle Soup was a unique soup for sure. The noodles are like chewy, almost rubbery, thin strands of tofu. I wasn't entirely put off by it, but I wasn't sold on it either. What's nice about this soup is that is free of MSG and gluten, and you can control the sodium content of the soup. Inside the carton are a couple of packets and a spoon. One packet has the dehydrated vegetables and flavoring in it and another contains salt. I think it's really helpful for people to have the option of using less salt since soups are generally very high in sodium. I used a pinch of my own salt and thought the broth was very good. The depth of flavor in the broth, independent of the added salt, was the best thing about this. The one thing I really hated about this soup was that there were hardly any vegetables in it. Once it was made, I couldn't see any chives, spotted only two pieces of quinoa-grain-sized carrots, and had about 5 kernels of corn. I want more vegetables!


Also worth noting is that I got the vegetable flavor. My nutrition label was vegan, but on the website the vegetable soup contains egg powder. Not sure what that's about, but if you order or buy these soup cups, make sure to read the label first to make sure it's definitely vegan.


Garden of Life's Raw Protein Powder in vanilla spiced chai wasn't horrible, but I didn't like it very much. Overall, I think their high quality food powder and protein powder packets are nice and convenient for travel, and I've relied on them many times for just that. They're organic, Non-GMO Project verified, and contain no fillers, artificial flavors, or synthetic nutrients. As a company, they're pretty great. As for this product alone, I'm not very interested in it. Brown rice protein always feels so gritty in my mouth and tastes bland and sandy. Because it is so bland, it offsets the rest of the flavors of whatever you put it in. I couldn't taste the vanilla chai flavor.

THE FLOPS:


The Earnest Eats superfood trail mix bar could've been better. Despite saying "chewy" on the package, I didn't find these bars to be chewy at all; they were quite hard. The ingredients and the nutrition facts are great and the flavor is just ok, but I wouldn't buy this granola bar. There are too many delicious brands (not to mention homemade recipes) out there for me to be interested in buying this one.


Oogave's Loca Diet Ginger Ale was a disaster in many ways. J liked it alright, so I gave him the can to finish. I must admit, I've never liked pop too much (I live in that pocket of the U.S. where we call it pop, not soda), but that isn't the only reason I wasn't a fan. When I took a sip, it fizzed up so much in my mouth that it effervesced into my nose. It didn't have a very strong ginger flavor - it actually had no real ginger in it - and tasted watered down. The last thing taste-wise that really bothered me was the bitter aftertaste from the stevia. I use stevia fairly often and am not turned off by the taste, but something about the stevia they use is wholly unappealing.

They misrepresent the diet ginger ale on their website when they imply that there is real ginger in the product. "This 10 calories blend of stevia and agave uses real ginger!" The ingredients mention ginger nowhere, only "natural flavors" which could mean anything. It's not the lack of ginger that annoys me, but that one may assume from this sentence that there is real ginger in it. They could have easily reworded that sentence to be more clear about what their drink contains. Or maybe the ingredient label should read differently. Either way, it doesn't look right.

My last - and most major - gripe with this product is the preoccupation with calorie content. First of all, they call it "diet" soda. Any food/drink that uses that word on their packaging is going to make me cringe big time. Also, it announces very largely on the front of the can that it is only 10 calories per can. That alone isn't too annoying since tons of products display calorie content largely on the front of the packaging. Where it gets obnoxious is when you turn the can around and it tells you exercises you can do to burn off 10 calories. Seriously? No really. Seriously? But it gets worse. On their website they have a list of 100 things to do to burn off 10 calories. The list ranges from the serious to the silly, but I find it unnecessary. Body image, calorie counting, disordered eating are huge issues in our society. I know it's meant to be in good fun, but it's not funny. It's boring and conventional. Wow, you're (playfully?) telling people that they the need to be skinny and fear calories. How cutting edge, Oogave. Eye rolls for days. End rant.

THE VERDICT:

Overall, I really loved this snack box. Snacks evoke very personal preferences; they really bring out the pickiness in people. I thought they did a great job appealing to a wide array of taste buds without trying to please too much. I'm thrilled to be introduced to some tasty products, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to familiarize and educate myself on others. If you're interested in subscribing to the Vegan Cuts snack box, visit their page here.