Hands-On Probiotics

Change is the only reliable constant when it comes to advice on health and wellness. Young or old, fit or inactive, immune support tends to be a hot topic, especially as colder months creep closer. The once popular antibacterial hand sanitizers that once proliferated in grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and public school alike have suddenly turned into the enemy. It seems that the detrimental effects may outweigh the benefits. By indiscriminately destroying all germs, both good and bad, you may end up with a more fragile immune system that’s less capable of coping with even a mild cold. It makes perfect sense, in hindsight, but turns previous health commonsense preventative care on its head. Without this protective line of self defense, what is one to do?

Probiotics are here to save the day, again, but not in the form you may think.

We’ve all heard of probiotics in our food and our supplements—but what about our hand sanitizer? Desert Essence has changed the probiotic game with their new Probiotic Hand Sanitizers, available in three botanical-infused formulas. While they kill 99.99% of most common harmful germs, they also deliver good bacteria from probiotic-packed vegan-certified kefir. Further differentiating themselves from harsh, old-fashioned options, a few drops actually helps moisturize skin, rather than drying it out.

Available in lightly scented blends of lavender, lemongrass, and simply tea tree oil, any aroma is short lived but refreshing and invigorating when you need it. Cooling upon contact, it’s like a topical palate cleanser, between activities. Best of all, the mini size is perfect for travel, because everyone knows the importance – and difficulty – of staying healthy while on the road or in the sky.

Are you on the probiotic bandwagon yet? Go ahead and rub it in; there are more ways to get your daily dose than yogurt and sauerkraut now!

Use the promo code DEprobioticpower to get 30% off Desert Essence Probiotic Hand Sanitizers by visiting desertessence.com.

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

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Minutes to Mealtime

5… 4… 3… 2… 1… EAT!

I consider myself quite capable when it comes to whipping up last-minute meals and fast whole foods, but Nava Atlas has raised the bar to the next level. Now author of twelve cookbooks, 5-Ingredient Vegan, her latest entry to the burgeoning field, is yet another smash hit poised to take off in kitchens around the nation. Believe it or not, every single edible masterpiece is composed of just five ingredients.

Skeptics may argue that such lofty words of praise are tainted with bias, seeing that I photographed about half of the dishes in this book. Rather, I would argue that such experience leaves me in a better position to more accurately assess the recipes, since I had the pleasure of both cooking and eating all of those subject, too!

A particular standout from the long list of favorites has been the understated yet spectacular Curried Greens Smashed Potatoes.

A literal flash in the pan, it takes mere minutes to wilt massive amounts of greens into manageable portions. Tossed with boldly spiced Indian simmer sauce, the exact flavor profile is highly flexible, making it effortless to switch it up and never get bored. In fact, this is a concept that knows no cultural boundaries. Reaching into a spare pantry, I’ve been delighted by the results that even a basic marinara sauce have wrought, to say nothing of the dazzling flavors infused by a simple enchilada sauce. That’s the beauty of this cookbook; each recipe is an outline to fill with any colors you see fit. Go ahead and paint the town tomato red, if that’s the hue du jour.

I don’t just mean that in a hypothetical way, of course. I want you to really experience these taste sensations in your own home! That’s why I’m GIVING AWAY a copy of 5-Ingredient Vegan to one lucky winner, right here, right now! To enter, use the form below the recipe and let me know in the comment section: What is your current go-to meal using five ingredients or less? If you don’t have one, which of the recipes in the book sound like a fast favorite to start with?

Even when your fridge is nearly vacant and time is scant, Nava Atlas is here to save the meal. Who else could possibly pull off restaurant-quality Chickpea Masala with just five ingredients, or deceptively rich Seed and Nut Butter Truffles, ready to grab and go in a matter of minutes? With decades of experience, Nava’s welcoming voice narrates each page with compelling ease, making everyday plant-based cooking accessible, effortless, and most importantly, delicious.

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Kombucha in a Class of Its Own

To those who can’t ride the wave of kombucha sweeping the nation: I get it. The harsh, vinegary bite of most commercial brews can be matched in hostility only by the aggressive carbonation quick to follow. Frothing angrily in the mouth, searing all the way down the throat, such overbearing acidity obliterates all other sensations. Flavor? Who could discern a flavor from something as pungent as straight battery acid? Those sensitive to the taste know this isn’t such an exaggeration, especially when pairing equally assertive notes of ginger or lemon; an incredibly popular approach.

Marin Kombucha is the brew for you. Before breaking the seal and taking your first sip, forget everything you previously knew about fermented tea, because this is just that: tea first, tonic second. Far more balanced, sweet without being sugary, and altogether more refreshing than any other option in the category, Marin Kombucha stands apart from the pack. Founders Gerit Williams and Brian Igersheim meld their unique passions in food and chemistry to create such an unparalleled beverage right in the heart of the north bay, between Napa Valley and San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to meet Gerit at an event by Sound & Savor, who stocks only Marin Kombucha as the non-alcoholic alternative to beer or wine. Passionate about tea, his lifelong obsession progressed in knowledge, understanding, and exposure throughout the years to culminate in the brand, first launching in 2015. Ask him anything about the process and prepare yourself for a complete education. Reverse osmosis-filtered water meets a mix of dragonwell green and kimon black tea in exacting proportions, but don’t forget about the nuances drawn out by brewing time and temperature, too.

“After 90 seconds, all the bitter tannins begin to leach out,” he explains. “Longer brews don’t yield stronger flavor, just more bitter flavor. Besides that, it destroys antioxidants.”

Both art and science intermingle in every glass bottle, bringing centuries of tradition into the modern age with precise control over every step in the process. Every small batch ends at exactly a PH of 3.5 and an alcohol content of less than 0.01%. The really fascinating thing, however, is that this is truly a live food; given warmth and time, the yeast will reactivate and continue to ferment. It’s one of (if not the) only kombucha currently on the market that could actually grow its own scoby given the right conditions. If you’ve considered adding probiotics to your daily diet, skip the supplements and drink your “medicine” instead!

Marin Kombucha’s signature flavors of oak-aged fermented tea reflect the local harvest: Original Oak, Apple Juniper, Pinot Sage, and Ginger Lemongrass. While these four distinctive varieties are currently bottled for purchase in every Whole Foods in northern California and in many specialty and natural foods stores, rapidly spreading across the country, limited run batches tempt in full kegs. Unconventional combinations like Strawberry Pistachio, Raspberry Cacao, Blood Orange Cardamom, Cactus Agave, and Mojito tease, popping up randomly on tap every now and then. My current favorite, Melon Rose, is happily transitioning to single-serve packaging soon, harmonizing notes of honeydew, watermelon, and a hint of rose on a naturally effervescent foundation.

Currently producing in excess of 15,000 gallons per week, the only barrier to further growth is sheer physical space. Demand is bubbling over because once anyone tries their first sip, they’ll realize what kombucha really should be. It’s hard to go back to anything else.

 

 

 

Americas Made

When is a bean more than a mere legume? Arguably, all pulses, big and small, have their own stories to tell, but some would spin epic tales encompassing history, heritage, and a whole lot of heart, if only they could talk. The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE. Can you imagine what those tiny seeds might say? Though we still lack bean-to-human communication, the best translation you might find today would be through Fillo’s. Born of two brothers determined to share some of the beloved Latin American foods from their childhood with a broader audience, each savory selection speaks clearly and boldly through the convenience of modern packaging. Celebrating the unique character of each bean and their diverse origins across the continent, you might be surprised by what tiny pulses are capable of with just a bit of time, gentle seasoning, and love.

Placing equal value on authenticity and convenience without sacrificing either, each flavorful blend is fully shelf-stable and ready-to-serve, filled with fresh vegetables, olive oil, beans, water, and spices. Otherwise known as sofrito, this cooking method extracts bold flavor and nutrients. Clocking 10-16 grams of plant protein per pack means that they’re ideal, complete meals on the go. What sets this pouch apart from others is the fact that it’s actually built for ease and accessibility. Fully microwavable, there’s a top notch to tear and pour, and a second, lower notch that can turn the entire thing into its own bowl; nothing more than a spoon needed.

Celebrating the cultures responsible for so many of our favorite foods today, there are six different options to shake up the bean routine in an instant.

Cuban Black Beans dazzle with savory notes of cumin and bay leaf simmered into every tender, toothsome morsel. The taste immediately struck me as a perfect pairing with chips, like a chunky dip, straight out of the bag. Adding freshly diced bell pepper to harmonize with those stewed within, the harmonizing flavors yet contrast of textures was simply sensational. This brilliantly simple combination is clearly a party-starter waiting to happen.

Mexican Mayocoba Beans shine the spotlight on a lesser known legume, bathing the creamy, if not downright buttery beans in a waterfall of onions and garlic, accented by piquant ancho chile and epazote. Swaddled in soft corn tortillas, they turn any day of the week into a flavorful fiesta, not just Taco Tuesday.

Puerto Rican Pink Beans, spiked with achiote and a hint of cilantro, are unbelievably rich, satisfying comfort food cravings without using excessive oil or salt as a crutch. Adding a scoop of steaming hot yellow rice alongside was merely a ploy to soak up every last drop of that thick, velvety gravy.

Peruvian Lentils manage to maintain an ideal half-dome shape, not mushy nor unpleasantly crunchy, which is quite a feat for this fickle little legume. As a meal in frequent rotation now, a touch of zesty aji verde enlivens the umami medley stuffed into a ripe avocado. If I had one shred of patience come mealtime, this has the makings of the ultimate avocado toast, but I’d rather just skip straight to the good stuff. An extra slice of bread would just be unnecessary filler here.

Tex-Mex Pinto Beans invites a punchy smattering of jalapenos to the party alongside the warmth of chili powder. Though mild, they’ve got a zesty kick that plays beautifully with the earthy flesh of baked sweet potatoes. Loaded with an extra punch of fresh, fiery pepper confetti on top, it’s a cozy yet invigorating union that will keep you on your toes.

Panamanian Garbanzo Beans ranked as one of my personal top picks, though it’s hard to really rank favorites when all the options are winners. Adding just a touch of vegetable broth created a rich stew that tasted as if it had been on the stove, cooking for hours. These particular beans have a subtle tomato undertone carrying notes of verdant oregano, perfectly al dente, in a way I can only dream of when cooking from dried stock. I was so thoroughly inspired by these chickpeas that I couldn’t leave well enough alone. After downing two or three packages straight, I had to take them into the kitchen to play.

Traditionally tinted a blushing pink hue with steamed and sliced beets, Ensalada de Papas is the Panamanian answer to potato salad. Incredibly popular for special occasions and everyday meals alike, there’s no bad time to break out a bowlful of this creamy dish. Simply adding a pouch of Fillo’s garbanzo beans transforms it into potential entree material, while still remaining flexible enough to serve as a side. My version adds the crisp bite of water chestnuts for variety, but at it’s core, all you need are potatoes, beets, and beans. The key is to keep it simple to allow the ingredients to speak, like Fillo’s Americas Made does in the first place.

Fillo’s is available online and in many retail stores such as Whole Foods, Jewel Osco, and more, but I want to share the legume love with you directly. Generously provided by the folks at Fillo’s Americas Made, you have an opportunity to win a full set of beans! Get a taste of each unique bend with a variety pack including one pouch of each flavor. To enter, all you need to do is fill out the form below and tell me your own little legume story in the comment section: What is your favorite bean, and how do you like to prepare it?

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The Lion’s Share

Do you know where your chocolate comes from? No, not the grocery store, or even the country of origin for the beans. More to the point, do you know who your chocolate comes from?

Most of the world’s chocolate is industrial, highly processed to maintain consistency and low prices, but at the expense of nuanced flavor, to say nothing of the human cost. Only a handful of chocolate makers are producing candy for the mass market, but smaller startups are turning the cacao world on its head by starting from the ground up.

Dandelion Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate maker rooted in the Mission District of San Francisco. One of the very few operations in the US that go through the full process of roasting, cracking, sorting, winnowing, grinding, conching, and tempering cacao beans in small batches, it’s a full three to four days before any bars are even formed or packaged- all by hand, I might add.

Here, the unique properties extracted through fermenting and roasting high quality beans are celebrated rather than muted. Even the sweetest blends minimize the use of sugar, adding just enough to accentuate the inherent flavors of the cacao, and dairy is never a consideration. Notably, neither is additional cocoa butter, vanilla, lecithin, or any of the other usual chocolate suspects. Without these typical crutches, everything you taste comes solely from the bean at hand. Finally, it’s chocolate that can speak for itself, and the message is loud and clear: There’s nothing comparable on the market, and almost certainly nothing better.

The real treat is getting to see how it’s all made firsthand, through factory tours and generous tastings if you’re lucky enough to be in town. While the cafe is still light on vegan eats, the drinks are really where it’s at. Incredibly rich, dense, decadent hot chocolate put them on the map years ago, but for a lighter, one-of-a-kind refresher on a hot summer’s day, you really must try the cacao smoothie. If you’ve never had fresh cacao before, brace yourself; this tastes nothing like chocolate. Believe it or not, the tropical fruit is more evocative of pineapple, but mild and with no acidity, blending in notes of sweet Meyer lemon. When given the such a rare opportunity, I would implore you to taste the range of flavors the whole fruit is capable of.

Chocolate is so much more than cheap Halloween handouts. Dandelion Chocolate is working to change that misconception, one handmade bar at a time.

Start Something Delicious

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

The hardest part of any new endeavor, big or small, is just knowing where to start. That much is true for figuring out the opening sentence of a new blog post, building a cabinet from Ikea, or embarking on a different dietary path. Many people find the concept of veganism daunting simply because they don’t know where to begin. Seen as one complex tangle of ethics and guidelines, it’s nearly impossible to pick out one thread from that ball of yarn, let alone unsnarl it from that knotted mess. Setting yourself up for success means starting small. Personally, that brings me to the pantry, where all good meals take shape.

Having a solid supply of essential ingredients makes everything else possible, and I’m not just talking about the meals that are directly impacted by such delicious influence. Being properly fueled is the key to thriving, not just surviving, to power smarter decisions, more positive perspectives, and greater adventures at large. Food is where everything really begins, so my Ultimate Vegan Starter Kit focuses in on the staples that make up the foundation of my plant-based arsenal.

Starting strong also means knowing where to shop, which is why I always turn to iHerb. It’s one-stop shopping for all things vegan, compiled for easy reference in their new Vegan Specialty Store. Unlike other online grocers, iHerb takes the time to label and categorize all of their goods by dietary needs, so you can search specifically for items that are plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, separately or all together if needed! Considering the fact that there are over 6,800 vegan products to chose from, that eliminates the typical search frustration of scrolling through blurry pictures of print labels, and gets right to the good stuff. Orders are shipped to over 150 countries straight from climate-controlled distribution centers, ensuring the quality of their products. You’ll never receive expired goods, in sharp contrast to the gamble you sometimes take when purchasing from massive, multichannel online retailers. If there are ever any concerns, you can email or chat online with a real person 24 hours a day 7 days a week, speaking 10 different languages, no less! From this one-stop shopping experience, I have a few essential recommendations for building your plant-based pantry with ease, and always in good taste.

Stocking a kitchen can sound like a daunting task, but it really isn’t too difficult to gather the essential ingredients that will serve you well through countless meals.

First, I always make sure to have legumes and pulses on hand. That means plenty of canned chickpeas and black beans for ease and convenience, and quick-cooking Arrowhead Mills red lentils. Everything from soul-satisfying soups to rich gravies are no more than 15 minutes away since lentils need no soaking to become meltingly tender. Tofu is like the Swiss army knife of vegan cuisine, effortlessly absorbing any sauce it’s dressed with to make an entirely new dish every time. For my money, Mori-Nu is one of the best candidates to keep around, since it’s completely shelf-stable until opened, and blends the most smoothly for completely silken desserts or smoothies.

Nuts and seeds of all varieties are welcome, although particular emphasis is placed on buttery yet neutral raw cashews, such as those from Bergin Fruit and Nut Company since they can be used to make everything from cheese to mousse. Smooth almond butter is another indispensable staple, and my favorite is Barney Butter since it has no added sugar or salt, making it perfect for any application sweet or savory. Although coconuts are technically fruits, I place them in the same category for the sake of cupboard organization. You could go crazy with all the different types of dried coconut options out there, but my go-to is the Edward & Sons, Let’s Do Organic, 100% Organic Unsweetened Coconut Flakes for their thick cut strips and fresh flavor.

When it comes to seasonings, my spice rack is about a mile long, but there are definitely some bottles that see a lot more use than others. Onion powder, such as that produced by Frontier was a bit of a sleeper hit at the beginning, since I hadn’t anticipated the uniquely savory essence it could contribute even in dishes that aren’t overtly onion-y. Plus, it’s fantastic in recipes that aren’t cooked, since it doesn’t have the sharp, harsh bite of a raw fresh onion. Salt is found in at least a dozen different formats across my stockpile, from coarse to fine, plain to seasoned, and each one has its own special purpose. Gustus Vitae smoked salt is the one I break out for extra fancy foods, since it delivers such a bold, earthy punch, no matter what. It’s a good substitute for liquid smoke as well, in case that’s a trickier item to hunt down. Staying on the salty side, tamari and soy sauce are both the traditional top dogs for instant umami gratification, but there should also be space on the shelf for Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. The differences are faint, but important. It has a lighter flavor that isn’t as overbearing on more delicate dishes, in my humble opinion. The spray bottle format is also quite convenient for spritzing on freshly popped popcorn or a steaming hot baked potato. In a related vein, white miso paste makes all sorts of savories sing, with far more nuance than plain old sodium. Eden Soy makes a variety of organic miso options, but you can also find chickpea miso in case soy is a concern.

Vegan catnip, AKA nutritional yeast, is perhaps the single most important yet misunderstood ingredient when transitioning away from dairy. In small doses, it contributes a subtly buttery taste, and can develop into a full cheesy extravaganza when added with gusto. It can be bought in bulk, but quality varies greatly. To those who think they don’t like it, I would implore you to examine the source before turning up your nose. I’ve used KAL since my earliest days of veganism almost two decades ago, and wouldn’t consider anything else at this point. It has substantial flakes and while some brands can smell like funky gym socks, this one is pure umami bliss.

A house is not a home without pasta, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be plain old white wheat noodles. I love instantly injecting a quick meal with some extra nutrition by using legume-based pasta, such as Seapoint Farms edamame fettuccine. It, along with chickpea, lentil, or black bean noodles have the added benefit of being gluten-free, but I love them for the extra dose of protein they contribute, to say nothing of the distinctive textures and tastes. All you really need to do is toss the colorful strands with some melted buttery coconut oil for some simple, satisfying comfort food.

So, how do all these seemingly discordant components come together to make a delicious meatless meal? I’m glad you asked! There are certain homemade staples I always have on hand as well, essential components that help make a feel more complete, ready and waiting to dispense at will.

Everything is better with bacon, right? As long as it’s meatless bacon, I would have to agree! That impossibly savory, smoky flavor is shockingly easy to replicate on a wide range of plant-based platforms, utilizing everything from eggplant to mushrooms and even banana peels. Reaching into my pantry for the most accessible option, crispy coconut chips form the foundation of my favorite cured pork facsimile.

Invariably, when confronted with the choice of going vegan or staying stuck, the most common refrain from anyone considering the plunge is that they would miss cheese too much. Granted, this was a real concern a decade ago, when I ate my fair share of naked pizzas and waxy grilled cheese sandwiches, there are superlative alternatives now on the market for every type of funky, gooey, or sharp craving any dairy addict may crave. In a pinch, you can even whip up an incredibly authentic Parmesan doppelganger from little more than ground nuts in a pinch of salt! This is one of those recipes that sounds way too good to be true, until you try it.

Egg replacers have long gotten the lion’s share of attention for their essential role in baking, but only recently has the spotlight turned to their place on the table as a stand-alone protein. My goal for this substitute isn’t to make airy sponge cakes or dense, custard-based ice creams, but scramble up a better breakfast entrée. Now you can make your own liquid egg mix, made to JUST pour and go, if you catch my drift…

The grand finale for all this delicious meal prep culminates in the easiest, creamiest, richest vegan carbonara you’ve ever twirled around a fork. Stunningly high in protein and fiber, devoid of even a single drop of dairy, beyond the pull of pork, and without ever breaking an egg, this is the ultimate vegan dinner, made from the ultimate vegan starter kit. After one bite of such a comforting, instantly gratifying dinner, you’ll wonder what was ever stopping you from making the plunge.

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