Water You Waiting For?

Why is it so hard to drink enough water on a daily basis? Such a fundamental element of survival should come as naturally as breathing, and yet the majority of people suffer through perpetual dehydration, without even realizing it. The excuses are pitiful, but plentiful:

  • I’m too busy to remember.
  • Plain water doesn’t taste good.
  • It’s too cold/not cold enough.
  • Bottled water is wasteful.
    I can’t drink straight from the tap.
  • Public fountains are grimy.
  • Caffeine is necessary in the morning.

Attempts at increasing any sort of fluid intake usually end in poor compromises for me, using sugary sodas, sports drinks, and juices as a crutch. I know I’ll feel better if I just swallow my pride along with a big swig of pure, clean, fresh water, but it’s never the most compelling option in the kitchen.

That’s all changed now that I have a Vitapod on the counter. This formidable machine works like a single-serve coffee maker with individual pods containing nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and most importantly to discriminating drinkers like myself, FLAVOR. Formulated by a panel of experienced doctors, the overall goal is to supplement up to 15 under-consumed vitamins and minerals that leave 9 out of 10 Americans under-nourished. The recyclable pods contain 90% less plastic than single-use water bottles, and will be 100% biodegradable by 2023.

Choose between 11 different flavors that include watermelon, raspberry hibiscus, green apple, and even cotton candy. In case you need an extra kick of caffeine, you can get your fix from the Iced Tea+ (60mg), Sports+ (100mg), and Energy+ (200mg) options, too. There are no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners in any of the beverage mixes.

The real beauty of the Vitapod system is that it doesn’t even need a flavor pack to function. The built-in multi-pass filtration system purifies water better than market leaders. Plus, the machine cools water to 50 – 59 degrees, which is the optimal temperature for hydration, allowing the body to absorb water quicker than water that’s too hot or cold. Simply dispense your drink over ice if you’d like it cooler.

Infuse your brew and take it to go in a reusable bottle and you’ll never go thirsty again. Now if that doesn’t solve all your dehydration difficulties, I don’t know what will.

Save $15 on a Vitapod Machine or Vitapod Machine Starter Pack at vitapodworld.com when you use code MOM15. Expires 9/30/21.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Vitapod. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Tanmi, the Latest Ancient Taste Sensation

Umami is well known and highly regarded as the fifth taste, the savory flavors we all know and love, but do you know about the sixth taste? Tanmi is a bit harder to describe, defying direct translation from Japanese to English, which explains a large part of its much slower ascent into widespread awareness.

Working in concert with the rich, robust tastes associated with umami, it provides a balancing counterpoint. “Natural” and “fresh” are the best words to explain it; the light, delicate touch of a practiced chef, emphasizing the inherent goodness of an ingredient without heavy seasoning. Start with the best food and allow it to shine for the greatest example of tanmi in action.

The gentle whisper of kombu infused into pale amber dashi broth? The subtle nutty, toasted green tea leaves that go into a hojicha latte, brightened with whole bean soy milk? You guessed it: those utterly enthralling gustatory experiences are all thanks to tanmi.

Shiitake, though typically associated with heavy, bold, hearty dishes, can also pack a punch of tanmi that will enhance any meal when properly harnessed. Especially when employing Sugimoto Shiitake Powder, just a pinch goes a long way to amplify the carefully layered flavors already developing, without creating an overwhelming mushroom sledgehammer that obliterates delicate nuances.

In the case of seared hearts of palm “scallops”, in fact, there’s no discernible mushroom character at all. It just serves as a spotlight to let the vegetables themselves shine. Like when salt is expertly applied, the results shouldn’t taste overtly salty, but some how, almost imperceptibly, indescribably, better.

Resting on a lush bed of cauliflower puree, tender sliced hearts of palm seamlessly take the place of seafood. Crunchy bites of pistachio punctuate the creamy base, which is all at once light yet decadent. Seasoned with bright, fresh lemon and parsley, the gentle savory undercurrent running through the complete plate could easily sweep the unsuspecting diner out with the tide.

Tanmi is also associated with the satisfaction after eating; a state of zen and contentment, rather than a food coma. One plate will crush all food cravings without leaving you feeling weighed down.

Create the best versions of your favorite dishes with the secret power of tanmi in your tool belt. Sugimoto Shiitake Powder is your ticket to instant culinary elevation, and ultimately, gratification.

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The Great Shake Down

What makes a truly great milkshake?

Greedily drinking down my umpteenth test subject, I must ask myself this vital question. Why is this one superlative, crave-worthy at all times, while an equally priced, similarly composed competitor is more like a nuclear meltdown in a cup? With that, my quest to find the very best that Austin has to offer began in earnest.

Flavor, of course, is essential, though highly subjective. Judging objectively, it all comes down to texture, which encompasses a number of factors:

Viscosity– Thick enough to drink through a straw without great duress, just shy of being able to turn the cup upside-down without incident, but with more body and heft than a protein shake.

Smoothness– This is no place for gritty powders, but more importantly, errant chunks of unblended ingredients or coarse ice cubes should be considered a crime. There’s no excuse for that kind of neglectful prep work.

Temperature– If it’s not icy-cold, there’s something wrong. Though rich and indulgent, it should still be refreshing enough to take the edge off a sweltering summer day.

Ingredients– As with the components for any other recipe, quality counts. This is where I need to get a bit granular and disqualify anything that uses bananas as a base. Sorry kids, that’s a smoothie, not a milkshake.

First up, the reigning champ should surprise no one: Milky Way Shakes has it right in their name, after all. The only thing on the menu here are frosty blended beverages, with options for both the mild and wild of disposition. Taking inspiration from galactic sources, your kicked up classics are the Chocolate or Vanilla Eclipse, which both come adorned with a dark chocolate crescent moon, adorned with almonds and edible glitter. While I personally default to the Oreo Borealis which hits that sweet mint-chip spot thanks to homemade peppermint syrup, coarsely crushed sandwich cookies, and the critical garnish of star-shaped food-grade confetti, the seasonal specials are out of this world. In the frigid days of winter, it would be worth the chill to snag the North Star, a rich and creamy eggnog blend that’s topped with a genuine meringue snowperson. These nondairy masters go above and beyond the average options, while still churning out pitch-perfect nostalgic treats. You definitely don’t need to be vegan to appreciate the artistry and bold flavors happening in this tiny trailer.

On the same level of handcrafted indulgence, Sweet Ritual is a full vegan scoop shop preparing unique ice cream concoctions from scratch. The challenge for each visit is deciding whether you can forgo the decadent sundaes, cookie sandwiches, straight-up pints, or, of course, milkshakes. Unlike most parlors, opting to drink your calories is not a sad sacrifice here, where you get all the goodness of their bestsellers in semi-liquid form. Their signature coconut and soy soft serve can accommodate any flavor requests, though the Coffee Shake made with cold brew and crowned with a beguiling swirl of vanilla soft serve “whipped cream” is a top request, for obvious reasons. Nothing beats the bright, bold, and pure refreshing properties of the simple Mint Shake, though. No chips need apply to keep me coming back for more; thick and creamy, melting slowly even on a steamy sun-drenched afternoon, it satisfies my thirst and sweet tooth all in one luscious slurp.

Known for their coconut-based pints found in freezers nationwide, Nada Moo is rooted here in beautiful Austin where they can flex their creativity for us locals. Serving up more than the supermarket hard-packed products, your best bet is the DIY shake option, giving you full control over your particular mix-in masterpiece. The option of swirling your scoops with cereal milk is a standout offering that’s worth sipping at least once, but don’t let that dissuade you from going with a ribbon of chocolate or caramel sauce, applied to coat the inside of the cup like a luxurious lace blanket. For more hardcore cravings, though, you can never go wrong with the Death by Chocolate shake, which is every bit as dark and devilishly fudgy as it sounds.

Departing from the conventional custard creations, TLV blends an entirely unique base of 100% pure sesame tahini, date molasses, and almond milk into distinctly nutty, buttery shakes. It’s an unlikely foundation that proves unshakably strong in the face of any comparable rivals. Disqualifying the banana option for reasons outlined above, it’s delightful served up as is, or embellished to make a Chocolate or Cardamom-Turkish Coffee Tahini Shake. There’s truly no better accompaniment to a meal of crispy, freshly fried falafel or mushroom shawarma. Move over, French fries; the be-pita sandwich and tahini shake are the new power couple on the block.

Brand new on the scene, Project Pollo has finally launched their much-awaited oat milk shakes just this past weekend. Being that I rushed out first thing to get my fix, they deserve a bit of slack while still hammering out the fine details. While enjoyable, my inaugural Double Chocolate Shake did fall a bit short of expectations. More like vanilla soft serve with chocolate syrup, it was certainly thick, but not exactly drinkable, and quite pale compared to the advertised images. Also available in Strawberry Shortcake flavor which promises real strawberries and crumbled sugar cookies, I’ll check that one out next time, perhaps after a longer trial period. At least when you snag an order of loaded fries on the side, you won’t walk away disappointed.

When you find yourself at Next Level Burger, there are no two ways about it: You must order a “next level” milkshake, or be sorely disappointed by the “classic” flavors. The basics are one-note, bland, and too sweet, trying to compensate by adding more sugary syrup. Go big or go home with the Cookie Shake, however, and you’ll be rewarded with a cool contender blended with its namesake, topped with extra crumbles and chocolate syrup. The real trick is to ask for chocolate chips as well, for the best textural and most flavorful experience. Take your pick from a soy or coconut base, though I’ve tasted no discernible difference between the two. You can now get the same drinkable desserts through their ghost kitchen sister establishment, Next Level Clucker, too.

A trip to The Yard Milkshake Bar is not a journey to be taken lightly. By placing your order, you’re making a commitment to face down a frosty behemoth; there is no such thing as a small size, only big, bigger, and biggest, with “toppings” well exceeding the confines of the commemorative keepsake glass. The NOT MILK? is the sole vegan option, but even that will leave the most hedonistic glutton for punishment craving more. Chocolate soy milk blends with oat milk chocolate chunk ice cream, topped by either almond or coconut whip and crushed cookies. Vanilla icing acts as the edible spackling paste gluing more cookie pieces to the exterior, and thick rivulets of chocolate syrup stripe across the whole thing. Don’t forget the full-sized soft chocolate chip cookie that’s nearly hidden in that thicket of garnishes. If that sounds like a situation, you’re not wrong. Full embracing your milkshake and all the mess that comes with it is part of the experience. Fully prepared for this inevitability, each shop is equipped with an extra-large bucket sink to wash off your glass- and self- before slowly waddling home. It’s outrageous, it’s over the top, and it’s a must for anyone that wants a truly memorable milkshake.

To close out this roundup, I must offer an honorable mention to the Birthday Cake Smoothie at Nekter Juice Bar. Yes, we do have bananas here, but by some strange alchemy, you’d never know it from the taste. The flavor is that of unadulterated, unmistakable layer cake, frosting and all. Better yet, it’s tinted a festive blue hue thanks to the natural color granted by spirulina, and topped by pastel sprinkles. Don’t forget to request plant-based protein though, since whey is the default option.

Who makes the best milkshake on your block? Though you could easily hold that title yourself, what makes it such an illustrious treat is the luxury of having someone else make it for you. Everything tastes better when you don’t have to do the heavy lifting, or in this case, arduous blending, especially when you get genuine chefs and ice cream experts on call.

Bravocado!

What’s better than bulletproof? Avocajoe is your indestructible, unbeatable, ironclad warrior in a sleek aluminum can. We’ve met this caffeinated champion before almost a year ago, before his greatness was fully realized. Answering the cries for truly upgraded coffee, without saturated animal fats, Avocajoe has finally arrived to save the day!

Forget the costly morning coffee run; this amber elixir delivers a lush latte experience at home, at work, or on the go. Velvety smooth and lightly sweetened with monk fruit, each sip lingers pleasantly, like a gentle, loving kiss. Easy to drink down in seconds, savor the moment before getting back to work, buoyed by the focused, slow burning energy that can only come from balanced nutrition. While a straight shot of espresso will send me flying at first and crashing later, this is one smooth trip, not a wild roller coaster ride to endure.

Available in three flavors, the Dark Roast could be considered the original; naturally sweetened coffee enhanced by whole avocado goodness, the flavor is straightforward but far from simple. Bold, woodsy, dark, and slightly mysterious, layers of flavor set this blend apart from the pack.

Taking that lustrous base note and adding bright, floral hints, Vanilla is the sweet, milky latte of third wave coffee shop dreams. Intensely flavored yet soft in texture, the experience is akin to a gentle wake up call for all the senses. Imagine using a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream as your coffee creamer, and you’d come pretty close to the luxurious taste contained in each slim aluminum can.

Saving what I think is the best for last, Mocha is my personal favorite of the trio. Leading with a creamy cocoa flavor, it reminds me of leftover hot chocolate that’s been chilled overnight, allowed to mature and deepen in complexity, then spiked with a concentrated shot of espresso.

Bolstered by avocado rather than typical alt-milks, Avocajoe is completely allergen-free; no nuts, seeds, dairy, or gluten to speak of. If you’re keto, diabetic, or just want a damn good iced coffee, it’s one-stop shopping here.

If you’re expecting drinkable guacamole blended with cold brew, you’ll be relieved to know that the green fruit only manifests as a rich, but not thick texture, leaving any objectionable savory notes out of the can. Served properly chilled, poured into a tall glass, you’d never guess the secret ingredient, but you can tell from the first taste that this is not your average Joe.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Avocajoe. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Over-the-Counter Remedies

While so many of us are redoubling efforts to support small businesses in this particularly fraught moment in time, some of those small businesses are actually doing the same. Literally starting from the ground up, sourcing from local farmers is part of the puzzle that those in the dining room don’t see, but when it goes missing, it’s obvious when the bigger picture doesn’t look right. An essential, core element of the community, Counter Culture is weathering the storm of the pandemic without ever losing sight of that crucial aspect, among many others.

To discuss Counter Culture without mentioning their outreach and impact across all of Austin would do a terrible disservice to all that it stands for. Food is a form of activism here as a way of positive reinforcement, making environmentally-sound, cruelty-free options an easy choice. Inclusivity has been part of that compassionate approach from day one, which means that there’s something for everyone at the table, offered at affordable prices that still allow employees a living wage. It’s a delicate balance to maintain, if not an impossible compromise to strike between ethics and business, which makes the past decade of success all the more inspiring. If every meal is a battle, they’re winning this war.

At the end of the day, it’s the food that keeps customers coming back, after all. Approachable, comforting classics are menu mainstays, but that’s not all. You can also find raw specialties like zucchini noodles and raw cheesecakes for healthier cravings, or on the flip side, strong mixed drinks if you’d rather re-tox than detox.

Sandwiches are the stuff of deli dreams, layered with thick, hand crafted and cured seitan pastrami, or sweet apple jam with “bacun”. Though few people would rave about a green salad, the BLTA salad deserves such praise, sharply dressed in creamy ranch with lavish piles of buttery avocado, smoked tempeh, and hemp Parmesan. Show up for happy hour to get a smart discount on their crowd-pleasing buffalo mac & cheese balls, or the towering plate of east side nachos that could feed an army.

Visitors should put it at the top of their itinerary and plant-based residents should be regulars. Counter Culture is the kind of cornerstone establishment that any city, big or small, would be lucky to host.

Counter Culture
2337 E Cesar Chavez St.
Austin, TX 78702

Caring is Sharing

Sometimes, being vegan is easier said than done, especially depending on where you live. Even as veganism rises in popularity, many restaurants and grocery stores still have only a small selection of plant-based options. However, this movement has been continuously on the rise and wider varieties of food and cosmetic items have popped up, particularly online. The accessibility of these virtual shopping ops mean that it’s effortless to spoil that special vegan in your life with thoughtful, cruelty-free gifts shipped directly to their door.

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