Follow Your Bliss

Fading sunlight highlights the bumpy gravel road, still slick from a quick cloud burst earlier in the day. Humidity hangs in the air like a thick cloud, plastering my hair against my sticky temples. Cavorting around with a pack of kids, we roam the streets, going nowhere but moving forward with youthful ambition. It’s getting late, but the day is just getting started for us, only a few hours out of bed, now growing hungry for something more than iced coffee. The siren song of an ice cream truck fails to lure us in; too juvenile for us sophisticated, independent teens. Marching out to the first mini-mart bearing a freezer chest by the register, we found our far more valuable plunder. Ice cream novelties sheathed in a simple chocolate coating, perched on short wooden sticks to grab and go, the impression of opulence shone from the ice-encrusted wrappers. One bite and the heat of the day was forgotten; it was a taste of pure bliss.

The Vanilla​ ​Island​ ​in​ ​Chocolate Bars by Coconut Bliss are not the ice cream treats of my childhood.​​ Immediately those joyful memories flood back to overwhelm my senses when reunited with this classic combination, but the experience is easily surpassed. Gone is the comparatively waxy exterior, replaced by a shatteringly crisp dark chocolate shell, which gives way to a silky frozen custard filling. Madagascan​ ​vanilla​ ​provides​ ​a​ depth of ​flavor​ ​which ​is​ ​simultaneously rich,​ ​warm,​ ​and​ ​comforting​ ​when​ ​blended​ ​with​ ​the delicate​ ​sweetness​ ​of​ ​coconut​ ​milk. So smooth, so luxurious, just calling it an ice cream bar doesn’t do justice to its full splendor.

It feels like a crime to do anything but slowly savor that moment of bliss, to risk ruining something that’s already pretty much perfect. The good news is that with such a strong base, you truly can’t go wrong whether you choose to dress these treats up or keep it sweet and simple. Finding just the right balance between the two approaches, I was inspired by these new treasures, all grown up yet so nostalgic, to elevate another old-school favorite. This is not a plain old vanilla smoothie, but a legitimate drinkable dessert. Fine chunks of chocolate flakes swirl throughout every sip, instantly dissolving upon contact with the tongue, exploding with bittersweet flavor while relenting long enough for the vanilla base to shine, like the sun peeking out after a summer storm.

Trust me, it’s not a sacrifice to deviate from the original dessert… It’s a genuine upgrade that you owe to your taste buds.

Stracciatella Milkshakes

2 Coconut Bliss Vanilla Island in Chocolate Bars
1 (5-Ounce) Container Vanilla Coconut Yogurt
1/4 Cup Coconut Milk

Toppings (Optional):

Coconut Whipped Cream
Chocolate Shavings

Simply pull the ice cream bars off their sticks and pop them into the blender along with the yogurt and coconut milk. Blend on low speed until creamy and thoroughly combined, but not completely smooth. Stop when there’s just a fine mix of chocolate chunks remaining in the mix, making sure that they’re all small enough to fit through a straw.

Divide between two glasses and top with coconut whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if desired. Follow your bliss and start sipping!

Printable Recipe

This post was made possible thanks to the support of Coconut Bliss and Women’s Choice Award. All content and opinions are unbiased and entirely my own.

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Primed and Polished

Right alongside clothing concerns, from ethical production to actual components, cosmetics are often one of the last things that one considers when choosing a vegan lifestyle. In our food-obsessed culture, the focus is almost entirely on diet, while the remainder of our vast purchasing habits go largely unquestioned. It’s confusing, too, discerning the difference between cruelty-free certifications and pledges to avoid animal testing.

Then there’s the considerations towards personal health. Just finding something off the shelf that’s non-toxic is surprisingly difficult, with many mainstream labels boasting genuinely harmful chemicals like dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. When brands say that they’re five-free, it’s these bad apples that don’t make the cut. Now, many are taking it a step further to go “seven-free,” excluding triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) and xylene. That’s before we even start talking about shades and shimmers.

Based in Australia, Sienna Byron Bay has made the decision an easy one. Completely sustainable, vegan, and genuinely beneficial for your nails with breathable, water permeable polishes, each dazzling hue offers smart beauty in a bottle. Considering the disturbing number of landmines one must avoid when making an informed purchase, I was delighted to learn of this new brand, jumping at the opportunity to adorn my own fingertips.

That said, after years of grabbing hot pans out of the oven and washing dishes with scalding water, my hands are not very pretty to look at. To do these gorgeous lacquers proper justice AND enjoy them for longer than the average lifespan of a manicure, I decided to get a bit crafty.

Turning just a few drops of Sundance and Grace into genuine paints, plain white bowls became marbleized masterpieces in minutes. The idea is not a new one, but timelessly brilliant for any fellow photographers looking to jazz up their prop closet, or crafty kids who want to give personalized gifts this holiday season (because it’s never too early to start planning!)

Just fill a large bucket with enough water to submerge your dishes and drizzle your polishes of choice randomly over the top. The colors will float! Dip carefully, in one slow plunge, covering the surface smoothly. Let dry, but if you’re not happy with the results, just hit it with some nail polish remover and try again. Add more polish to the water if needed. Use with care, avoiding both the dishwasher and microwave to preserve the pattern.

Greater awareness of issues with cosmetics is building, which is very exciting to see, even as a fair-weather beauty enthusiast. Do you have any hot tips on brands to seek out, or surprising labels to avoid? It’s time to clean the shelves; no matter how you use lacquer, no one wants an evil genie to come out of those bottles.

Beets Me

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always,the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Blood red, murky liquid filled the glass, dark and menacing, yet impossibly, inexplicably appealing. Touted as an everyday superfood, hidden in plain sight on the supermarket shelves yet locked away just beyond reach, beet juice is both laughably commonplace and frustratingly difficult to get a hold of all at once. Brimming with nutrients shown to improve stamina, improve blood flow, and help lower blood pressure, vitamins and minerals are all locked away within the tough, fibrous exterior of these hard root vegetables. Drinking straight beet juice cuts out the middleman to make this rich source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, and antioxidants, far more accessible for instant absorption. Call it the new energy drink; no caffeine need apply.

What of the flavor, you ask? Some people can’t get past that deep, earthy taste, but all I get is subtle, natural sweetness. It helps that I’ve taken to mixing up Nature’s Way Beet Root Powder lately, which is far easier than fumbling with a messy juicer and consistently palatable. Mixing up instantly with plain water, you couldn’t find a better source of instant vegetative goodness.

Idly browsing the pages of iHerb as I’m apt to do, powdered beets stood out as a specialty item that should really be a mainstream staple. I’ve never encountered this powerful new ingredient before, which makes it particularly fortunate that iHerb is fully stocked, carrying this and over 400 Nature’s Way products that can be shipped to over 160 countries, and representatives that offer support in 10 languages.

For those of you still balking at the idea of chugging a tall glass of beet juice, no matter how mild, fear not. I have three different ideas here for refreshing, revitalizing drinks you will genuinely enjoy.

Popularized by Starbucks but improved by real ingredients, the famous pink drink blushes a bit more boldly with an infusion of not only Wilderness Poets Freeze Dried Dragon Fruit Powder for flavor, but our hero, the beet mixed in for backup support. Stash Mango Passionfruit Tea brews up a tropical base for both the colorful swirl and rich cream contrast, thanks to Earth Circle Organics Coconut Cream Powder, creating a far more flavorful blend than anything coming plain out of a can.

Pink Ombre Drink

2 Cups Brewed and Chilled Mango Passionfruit Tea
Liquid Stevia, to Taste
1/4 Cup Coconut Milk Powder
1 Teaspoon Beet Root Powder
1 Tablespoon Freeze-Dried Pitaya Powder
Ice, To Serve

Add a few drops of stevia to the brewed tea according to taste and divide it into two parts. To the first, whisk in the coconut milk powder. To the second, whisk in the beet root powder and pitaya powder.

To serve, fill one or two glasses with ice. Pour a layer of the coconut mixture in first, and then gently pour an equal amount of the pitaya mixture on top, allowing the two to slowly swirl together. Enjoy immediately.

Makes 1 – 2 Servings

Printable Recipe

For a quick sip on a hot summer’s day, nothing can beat a zesty glass of fresh lemonade. Nothing, except for lemonade infused with the vitality of beets and fruitiness of blueberries. Mingling together in a harmonious purple blend, this is an easy way to introduce the pickiest of eaters and drinkers to the idea of liquefied root vegetables. Dynamic Health Laboratories Pure Blueberry Juice Concentrate is so powerful that just a tiny drop add volumes of fresh berry essence in an instant. Since whipping up this drink, I’ve used it as an utterly luscious glaze over baked tempeh and rich finishing drizzle over many salads, too.

Purple Lemonade

4 Cup Ice Cold Water
1/2 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Blueberry Juice Concentrate
1 Tablespoon Beet Root Powder
Liquid Stevia, to Taste
Fresh Blueberries and Ice, to Serve (Optional)

Simply mix together the water, lemon juice, blueberry juice concentrate, and beet powder in a large pitcher. Sweeten to taste with stevia, adding just a few drops at a time. Serve over ice with a few fresh blueberries on top, if desired.

Makes 3 – 5 Servings

Printable Recipe

Finally, because this is the 21st century and we CAN have our cake and drink it, too, red velvet gets a nutritious boost from these beets, plus a powerful punch of Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior Blend Protein. Thick and creamy, it’s good enough to call dessert, but healthy enough to throw down for breakfast.

Red Velvet Protein Shake

1 Cup Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1 Scoop Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior Blend Protein
1/2 Cup Vanilla Vegan Yogurt, Plus More for Garnish (Optional)
1 Tablespoon Natural Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Beet Root Powder
5 – 6 Ice Cubes

Toss everything into your blender and puree on high speed, crushing the ice into a completely smooth mixture. Pause to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed to make sure the powder is full incorporated. Pour into a tall glass and top with an extra swirl of vanilla yogurt, if desired.

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe

Beet powder is poised for culinary and nutritional domination as more people discover the benefits this humble root has to offer. Though still somewhat of a rarity, iHerb has you covered with this and thousands of other specialty goods to give your beverages an extra boost.

Plus, all customers get 5% off their order, but new customers get an additional $5 off their order of $40 or more by clicking here!

Yo, Soy

Though still a rare delicacy outside of most Asian cultures, yuba has slowly developed a foothold here in North America thanks largely to one shining example produced right in my backyard. Hodo, better known for their contributions to Chipotle’s popular tofu sofritas and now their ready-to-eat line of seasoned savories still pushes eaters to expand their culinary boundaries. Yuba, the gossamer-thin skin that forms on top of soymilk as it’s heated is very closely related to tofu, but bears a few distinct differences. Tofu-making takes soymilk and immediately mixes it with either calcium chloride, calcium sulfate, or magnesium sulfate to curdle, whereas yuba requires no coagulant whatsoever. Fragile, quick to spoil, it’s a treat that few have an opportunity to experience fresh. Most options are sold dried, to be rehydrated on demand, which obviously loses a good deal of flavor and texture in the process.

This isn’t the first I’ve shared about Hodo nor extolled the virtues of Yuba, but it’s a delicious declaration that bears repetition. There’s no need to be redundant, however, since Hodo has begun sharing the softer side of yuba that only a privileged few have ever had access to before. In the stages just prior to coagulating into consolidated, solidified sheets, there are actually a number of stages that the soybean slurry goes through, each one uniquely delectable in its own right. I was lucky enough to experience these earliest phases right when production was just barely getting underway, photographing some of the first batches for easy reference to the uninitiated.

If you should be so as lucky to get your hands on an ingredient of such superlative quality, the best (and most difficult) thing to do is not mess it up. Little is needed to enjoy the naturally rich, luscious character of young yuba. The very earliest harvest, Kumiage, is the style I savored the most, being completely unique from anything currently on the market, or available in restaurants, for that matter. Given a pinch of black salt, you would swear you were eating the creamiest scrambled eggs on the planet, yet no shells will be broken for this plant-based luxury. My favorite approach was to simply scoop out a tender mound into a bowl, drizzle with light soy sauce, and finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and scallions. Nothing more, nothing less. Working in concert to bring out the nutty, umami notes of the whole bean, it’s unlike any other tofu experience to which I can compare.

Deeply savory yet just as versatile as the familiar beige bricks we’re all familiar with, I was delighted to try my hand at a sweet Philippine snack otherwise well out of reach: Taho. Made of soft soybean curds and lavished with tender tapioca pearls soaked in a sugary syrup, it’s a classic street food perfectly suited for the brutal heat of summer. Glittering in the sunlight, cherry- and mango-flavored popping boba sparkle atop this unconventional take on the concept, yet it’s truly the yuba beneath that shines.

These softer stages of soy supremacy can be purchased by the general public only online, not in stores, but it’s worth going all in for a big batch and sharing the riches with friends.

Sushi Cups for the Rest of Us

Love sushi but hate the fuss and mess of making it at home? You and me both. Despite best intentions, such ambition inevitably leads to walls spackled with sticky rice, sesame seeds burrowed deep within kitchen tiles, and nori plastered across the table. Rolling up the compact parcels isn’t such a demanding task on paper, but in real life when deadlines loom and hunger gnaws with terrifying ferocity, all bets are off. If it’s still reasonably edible by the time I give up and scrape the mangled scraps into a bowl, I’d consider the venture a reasonable success.

For anyone else in the same sort of sushi boat, I’d like you to meet your new life (and sanity) preserver. Edible cups made of classic nori seaweed, crisp and delicate, in addition to more avant-garde carrot and daikon papers, are here to save the dinner. Swaddle your rice in flavorful wrappings without the need to roll. More elegant than the usual mess of fillings dumped into a bowl, these savory cupcakes are just as charming as they are delicious. Feed yourself or a number of last-minute guests with ease, even if some visitors aren’t fond of the “fishiness” that traditional maki rolls possess. Pale orange carrot cups have a subtle, natural sweetness that makes them an ideal offering for more picky eaters or younger palates, white the daikon option has a slightly bitter edge, perfect for cutting the richness of creamy avocado or a generous drizzle of miso mayo. In both cases, the only additional ingredient in the mix is agar, holding these thin edible vessels together.

It’s with equal parts excitement and frustration that I share this fantastic innovation, though, if you might have guessed from the previous product links. I first encountered these savory sushi cupcake papers at the Winter Fancy Foods Show, and regrettably, have yet to hear a word from or even about the company since. Why on earth hasn’t this concept caught on to spread like wildfire? There might be more competitors on the horizon, which is a relief, since my small stockpile has long since been exhausted. It’s an idea that’s just too good to keep to myself, regular availability not withstanding.

In lieu of perfectly formed nori, carrot, and daikon cupcake papers, what’s your quick fix solution when sushi cravings strike? Temari sushi or larger onigiri are probably the most direct conversions, offering single-serving bites of rice and vegetables without the need to roll, while temaki would be ideal finger foods to pass at a party.

Though this feels like another tale of “the one that got away,” I’m holding out hope that these sushi saviors will make a big splash on the market in the days to come. Either that, or someone will devise a press to turn nori into cupcakes at home. A hungry but lazy cook can dream, right?

Schmear Campaign

Whoever first looked at a cashew and thought, “Hey, I think this could taste like cheese!” deserves some kind of gold medal, if not a Nobel Peace Prize. Though this tropical nut has quickly been adopted as the staple ingredient to many dairy-free delights, it truly shines brightest when blended to a creamy consistency and inoculated with savory cultures. Something about the fermentation process brings out all the best flavors, not to mention the probiotic benefits, locked away inside those unassuming beige kernels. Recipes have flooded cookbooks both print and digital within the span of just a few years, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence on the grocery store shelves, too. Just take the new line of schmears from NuCulture for example.

Based in the Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon, I was lucky enough to stumble upon these fresh blends while visiting Seattle for the VegFest this past spring. Availability is still limited, but growing at a steady clip, as more savvy consumers catch on and get hooked. Very rich and buttery, each flavorful option is so much more than just plain pureed cashews.

Garden Herb is the best entry point for the uninitiated; think of it as an upgraded cream cheese, simply begging for a bagel. Scallions take the lead here, bringing onion flavor to the fore, while gentle notes of parsley, thyme, and oregano play backup in perfect harmony. For whatever reason, it’s the thickest of the three, making it less of a contender as a silky smooth dip, but still perfectly creamy and spreadable.

On the other hand, to all you nostalgic southerners out there, your pitch-perfect pimento cheese dip dupe has arrived. Paprika Pimento bears a mild kiss of red bell peppers, lending a gentle warmth without a bite. An irresistible savory spread with subtle, balanced sweetness, it was the first to disappear when the snacks hit the table.

If you like it hot, though, Bacony Chipotle has your number. Beware that it’s not a treat for the meek! This one is packing serious heat. It starts with a smoldering, smoky, meaty flavor but quickly progresses into a blazing finish. The fire definitely builds as you eat, which can catch up quickly if you’re a serial snacker, unprepared to face the flame.

For all you keeping score at home, mark this one down as yet another win for cashews. Though currently a regional specialty, I hope that the love of this nutty schmear will continue to spread through all 50 states soon, and beyond.