When Health Care is Self-Care

Staring straight ahead with unfocused eyes, an expression of abject terror plastered across my face, the urge to escape grew stronger with every passing minute. A dozen other deliberate prisoners shared my plight, but none seemed nearly as disturbed by the situation. Hands shaky, shallow breaths failed to fill lungs, while a vague buzzing began to resound within my head. For a general well visit, I did not feel very well at all.

Call it classic white coat syndrome or iatrophobia because the symptoms are impossible to deny. I am absolutely terrified of doctors, to the point that merely dialing the phone to arrange an appointment is liable to send me into a full-blown panic attack. No matter how sick I may feel, no matter how dire physical evidence, there is always a good reason why it doesn’t warrant professional medical attention. Unless I was actively dying, it would not be a reasonable option to seek further intervention, and even then I might give it a 50/50 chance.

As you can imagine, many years tend to pass between checkups. Rarely afflicted by anything more serious than a head cold once a year, if that, there’s been no reason to reconsider this routine anyhow. I can’t say that the lack of objective evidence of overall well-being hasn’t bothered me, though. How accurate is my own self-assessment? How do I know that I’m taking the right supplements, at the right dosage, from prime sources? There’s no nutrient you can’t get from a vegan lifestyle, but conflicting nutritional advice makes it an onerous task to plot out a healthy diet on any level.

That’s why, despite my intense anxiety, I was quite excited to find the Vegan Nutritional Maintenance Panel offered by Health Labs. An independent service that needs no primary care physician nor medical insurance, available at over 4,500 labs nationwide, the range of potential tests is staggering, covering more wellness concerns than I thought could be addressed without more invasive measures.

Stunningly, the worst part of the whole experience was just waiting to be seen at my local clinic, which was one of three I could walk to from my home. After presenting a photo ID, I had my blood drawn in under 5 minutes, no pain, no bruising, no problems. It seemed implausibly easy, in sharp contrast to the mountains of paperwork required for even a vehicle’s emissions testing. Still eager to make a quick getaway, I made a break for the door, nonetheless dubious of the whole process.

Two small miracles resulted almost immediately, the first of which being that it was actually immediate. After submitting my blood samples on a Friday, I got back the results on Monday morning. Given the snail’s pace at which such highly regulated exams typically proceed, how is that even possible? Then, to my immense relief and mild surprise, after so much worry, my vitamin levels for the 11 most common deficiencies in a vegan diet were all within optimal range. Every. Last. One.

Having that peace of mind is priceless, and to anyone else even moderately curious about their own nutritional intake for any reason, I can’t recommend this service highly enough. Whether you add supplements or get all of your vitamins directly from food, it’s incredibly challenging to strike the proper balance. There’s no need to go it alone or feel like you’re hunting for answers in the dark; after getting your results, you can even get a personal consultation to help make sense of the numbers.

In the quest for personal health, just knowing your baseline is half the battle. After all, you can only improve upon something if you’re aware of it in the first place.

Many thanks to Health Labs for making this post possible.

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My Milkshake Brings All the Vegans to the Yard

And they’re like,
It’s better than green juice.
Damn right it’s better than pond scum.
I can teach you,
But we have to get takeout.

While I can appreciate a tall glass of savory vegetable juice every now and then, I never got into the juice cleanse craze and still bristle slightly at the suggestion. As the summer heat intensifies along with a powerful thirst, I look to the offerings at local cafes with equal parts lust and skepticism. Whenever I see those emerald brews, freshly pressed, full of verdant vitality, I project my own true desire on that glass: Mint. All I crave on the hottest of days is a creamy, cool, mint chip milkshake. Thus, the swampy melange I end up with is inevitably disappointing, more often tasting of apple than anything else, leafy or otherwise.

Milkshakes are the easiest things to make at home, but real luxury is being able to get them on the town, prefab and instantly gratifying. Besides, if I have ice cream in the freezer, it’s a hard sacrifice to plop a scoop into the blender when I could just eat it straight. When in the bay area, there are a wide range of options to get that satisfying minty-fresh fix.

Elixiria‘s Last Samurai Shake is my gold (or more accurately, green) standard for mint chip milkshakes. Cashew-based and tinted pastel green with a touch of matcha, it’s sweetened with coconut sugar and is infused with peppermint essential oil for a bright, bold flavor. Cacao nibs add crunch, without a ton of chocolate taste, granted, but the texture gets the point across sufficiently. This formula was actually the essential inspiration for my Cashew Milkshakes in Real Food, Really Fast, for anyone else who can’t just pop into the shop.

For a superfood fix, I’m impossibly addicted to Mint Cacao Chip at Urban Remedy. I can rationalize the indulgence because it employs pea protein powder and really does drink like a meal. On busy days when I can’t stop to sit down for a proper lunch, you can bet this is my first choice for refueling. Although it’s not quite the same as what you’ll find in the refrigerated cases, Urban Remedy also offers a homemade solution that approximates the refreshing experience.

Incredibly similar to the previous pick, Project Juice is also slinging a bottled Mint Chip Shake, but ranks ever so slightly lower by employing dates for an earthier sweetness, and quite frankly, not enough of them. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve snuck in packets of raw sugar on occasion to spike my drink.

Moving on to a no-holds-barred, full-throttle dessert indulgence, Saturn Cafe has you covered. The Thin Mint Milkshake was a limited edition special to coincide with the annual girl scout cookie inundation, but a simpler mint chocolate variation is available all year round. Locally made Double Rainbow non-dairy ice cream provides the thick, rich base, which always exceeds the generous old-fashioned soda fountain glasses, filling much of the metal mixing cup which is provided on the side, as if one mountainous milkshake wasn’t enough. Whipped cream, cookie chunks, and chocolate syrup complete the drinkable dessert. Better yet, Saturn is open late everyday, with a full menu of hot food available, which means you can get my all-time favorite milkshake pairing: French fries, hot, extra crispy, and lavishly salted.

Next Level Burger deserves a shout-out for the effort, but truth be told, this isn’t a blend worthy of a repeat order. Where was the mint? Where were the chips? All I could taste was syrupy sweetness; not even a modest hint of vanilla came to the fore. It’s cool and refreshing, fine pairing for a burger, but you’re better off opting for a different, stronger flavor.

Finally, one more runner up to add to the list is CREAM, with multiple locations scattered across the bay area. Vegan options are limited to just two soy-based ice creams, but as luck would have it, one is the illustrious mint chocolate chip of my dreams. Milkshakes are available, and I’ve been promised there’s non-dairy milk behind the bar as well, although that’s as far as my inquires have gone. Let’s be honest: When you’re offered chocolate fudge cookies and rainbow glitter sprinkles as garnishes, what rational person could really order otherwise?

Plenty of other competent milkshake makers are blending up the goods on a daily basis across the bay, but no one else seems to have a minty melange on the regular. Given such superlative options already, it’s hard to branch out beyond this crave-worthy sip, but do tell- What’s your favorite milkshake flavor, and more importantly, does it bring all the vegans to the yard, too?

Foam, Sweet Foam

Long gone are the days of curdled soymilk clouding an otherwise lovingly crafted cup of coffee. Alternative milks have reached such astounding levels of acceptance in mainstream markets that even the most basic establishment will have at least one suitable substitute, if not two or three, for the dairy-adverse. Home brewers have even more to raise their mugs to, with more options available than one could hope to drink in a lifetime, no matter how prodigious their caffeine consumption. While almond has become the new default alt-milk, coconut is no slouch these days, and oat milk is now making a big splash on the scene, too. A whole world of creamy contenders remains on the fringes of widespread awareness, though, unsung and unappreciated for their own unique qualities. One such challenger poised to hit the big time is macadamia, if the latest submission from Milkadamia is any indication.

Differentiating themselves from the existing “Latte Da Barista” Macadamia Milk, this new line of coffee whiteners is aimed at home users looking for a simple splash of cream in their morning cuppa Joe. They’re so new that information is scant online; even their website hasn’t been updated to include these hot options. Shelf-stable and available in three flavors, Unsweetened Vanilla provides the most clean, neutral flavor while Vanilla and Fudge add an indulgent twist to the array.

Of course, with access to some world-class baristas at my second home at Nourish Cafe, I had to ask the experts what they thought of these innovative creamers. Across the board, everyone was impressed by the most basic entry, finding it hard to believe that absolutely no sugar was included in the unsweetened option. Smooth and rich in a way that’s near impossible to replicate with homemade recipes, this simple blend had genuine body that came stunningly close to true heavy cream. Though it wasn’t designed for foaming or latte art, it performed remarkably well when put to the test, too.

Turning up the flavor dial to 11, the sweetened varieties became my fast favorites, despite my penchant for plain, jet-black coffee in the morning. So called “fudge” lives up to its name, with a round chocolate flavor akin to liquefied truffles. Suddenly, I understood the craze surrounding flavored, fanciful lattes. Though clearly designed with the standard roasted bean in mind, I found it dangerously habit-forming in hot matcha, both green and blue.

I’m already craving my next fix, waiting for supply to keep up with demand. These new creamers from Milkadamia should be hitting store shelves sometime this month, and I’ll be first in line to add a generous splash to my next fresh brew.

The ABC’s of CBD

Is it a true panacea, or modern day snake oil? CBD has been touted as alleviating an incredible spectrum of ills, including pain relief, treatment for depression and anxiety, reduced inflammation, and prevention of seizures, just for starters. As curiosity surrounding all forms of cannabis reaches fever pitch nationwide, amidst legalization for both medical and recreational use in a growing number of states, it’s easy to see why the field is exploding with new options everyday. With far-reaching benefits that sound appealing to pretty much anyone interested in improving their mental or physical health, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the topic, too. What is it, really, and how does it work?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the non-psychoactive chemical extracted from leaves and flowers of cannabis plant. There’s no THC, so it doesn’t make you “high” or hallucinate. It can be blended into a plethora of other products, from sublingual oils to gummy bears and even topical lotions or balms. Believe it or not, amidst rigorous testing, NO negative side effects have been discovered yet, and there have been no recorded instances of overdose. Doesn’t that sound too good to be true? I thought so, but I simply had to try it for myself.

I started using PlusCBD Oil Capsules as a daily supplement with a strong dose of skepticism. The results were not ground-shaking nor miraculous, but I can’t deny feeling a subtle difference. Facing down an over-crowded bus at the height of rush hour didn’t seem nearly as daunting, and working under hard deadlines didn’t stress me out the way it normally would. The frequent fear of running late for anything, and everything, subsided to a more reasonable level of cautious planning. I could soon take a step back from strenuous situations to observe them from a more objective plane before addressing them pragmatically. This small shift is quite notable, coming from someone altogether too high-strung on a regular basis.

There’s a lot to be said for the pure PlusCBD Oil Drops, too. This format made it easy to blend into smoothies or oatmeal, and be able to share with Luka during travel. Though he had never flown before and hated his carrier with a ferocious passion, he sat serenely in my lap for the entire 6-hour fight. Was it the CBD oil, or just good behavior? It’s hard to say, but I have to think that the drops helped to some degree.

As the PlusCBD Oil range sold by CV Sciences is classified as a “health supplement,” it is legal for sale in all 50 states. This isn’t true of all brands, and quality can vary widely, so always be vigilant and do your research before selecting a supplement. I’m particularly fond of PlusCBD because all of the capsules are vegan (cellulose based) and is independently verified by 3rd party laboratories. If you’d like to give it a try for yourself (or your pets!), use the promo code momsmeet17 to receive 15% off online orders.

What do you think about the CBD craze? Have you tried it, or do you plan to soon? This is still a fledgling field so I want to hear all about your experiences!

This conversation was inspired by PlusCBD Oil and made possible by Moms Meet.

Healthy Morning Habits

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

When no two days are the same, a consistent, reliable morning routine keeps chaos at bay, no matter what insanity lurks ahead. Will it be 10 hours straight, on my feet in front of the stove? Is there a cache of a thousand photos to sort through and edit? Does a photo shoot on location call for a mad dash all around town for that perfect background? One of the great joys and pains of freelance life is the predictably unpredictable workflow.

Essential for a complete approach to well-being, the few constants in my own rituals appear unrelated at a glance, but all add up to a full spectrum of self-care practices crucial for success in any endeavor. Many years of trial and error have shaped my personal approach, and this everyday habit has been made possible by iHerb. Their encouragement to share a few of my favorite things was a true windfall, since it’s the only online shop that carries everything I need to make it happen, with over 30,000 products that can be shipped to over 160 countries, and representatives that offer support in 10 languages.

Everyday, be it a weekend, weekday, or holiday, starts at 6AM sharp with the wail of my alarm clock. The thing is, I never set a timer; it’s the insistent yipping from Luka that shakes me from the deepest of slumbers. We both bolt out of bed and head straight outside for a brief jaunt around the block, still bleary-eyed and clad in pajamas. A man on a mission, he heads back inside without delay, anticipating breakfast with a beastly appetite. Only after he’s fed and satisfied can I address other matters.

Skin care is incredibly important, but also very uncomplicated for me. It just takes a vigorous scour with Acure Organics Facial Scrub and a schmear of Shikai Hand & Body Lotion to wash away the nightly grime and instantly rehydrate. A tall glass of cool tap water is soon to follow or else I’ll start croaking like a frog before noon.

One of the biggest dilemmas I faced when first going vegan was sorting through all the supplements and misinformation that came with them, painstakingly sorting through the options to determine what was important to add, what genuinely worked, and what was affordable. Nature’s Way Multivitamin checks all of those boxes, handily beating the competition with a single daily dose that includes everything I might lack from food sources, like B12, iron, and vitamin D. One tablet down and I’m ready for breakfast.

Coffee comes first, but it isn’t my end-all, be-all hot beverage anymore. Caffeine is no longer the benign energizer it used to be in my youth, preventing me from indulging beyond a single cup if I want to keep the walls from vibrating all day. Teeccino, an herbal alternative made from chicory, fills the remaining gaps, creating a brew that’s richer and more satisfying than the typical tea bag. The Dandelion Caramel Nut is my current jam, and I further sweeten the deal with a drop of KAL Pure Stevia Extract, since I’m liable to eat my weight in sugar through recipe testing later in the day.

Oatmeal has been the single, solitary breakfast option on my menu through most of my 20’s, but slowly, that commitment has started to sway. Especially as the weather warms, I find myself craving cooler staples, switching to a high-protein bowl of yogurt or tofu cottage cheese, Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed + Flax Granola, and fresh fruit. More important than the actual food itself though, is the act of eating it with Luka at my side or in my lap, slowly mulling over emails, readying myself for a new day. In fact, my mom captured a candid shot of exactly this ritual while I visited for all of two days.

Once Luka realizes I’m done eating and haven’t yet started doting on him again, he can get a bit punchy- literally. To fend off his loving attacks, I’ll throw him a Dr. Harvey’s Sweet Potate’r Chew which will keep him happily occupied for a good long while. They’re just dried sweet potatoes, nothing added, nothing removed (except water), and they really do hold up impressively well through some very aggressive teething. The pieces can be a bit big for my guy so I tend to cut them in half with kitchen shears, getting twice as much value from the same package.

Inevitably, I fall down some information rabbit hole, catching up on social media or fake news, giving myself a dangerously narrow window of time to get out the door before missing my regular BART train out to the city. With little time for regular meals and no set schedule to count on, I truly am powered by snacks; I’ll quickly toss a Sunwarrior Sol Protein Bar into my bag, knowing that I’ll need it later. All three flavors are fantastic, the single servings travel well, and always keep hunger at bay during critical times, so it’s one of my top picks. Aside from the manufacturer’s website, iHerb is the only place I can reliably purchase them, which always keeps me coming back for more.

Stepping outside of my orderly, comforting morning routine, I have no idea what sort of craziness may await me, but at least I’ll know that I’m fully fueled and equipped to tackle it, head-on.

How do you typically start your morning? If you’d like iHerb to give you a little boost, new customers will automatically get 5% off their first order, plus an additional $5 off of $40 or more by clicking here!

Get everything you need to make the most of your busy days, everyday.

Rolling in Doughnuts

Health food seekers and whole food eaters: avert your eyes. For the rest of us, there’s more to veganism than oil-free, salt-free, sugar-free kale salads, to the relief and rejoicing of foodies everywhere. You can bake a cake in the shape of a ring to make a mighty tasty dessert, as I’ve also done without shame, but the fact of the matter is that it will never be a doughnut.

Deep fried to a golden brown, grease-less finish, the sheen of warm icing moments away from fully solidifying, nothing can match the pure bliss of that first bite. A true, top-notch doughnut is a rare delicacy, and not just for the indulgence it represents. There’s only so often that one can justify the mess and potential safety hazard of a giant pot of bubbling oil on the stove, and then there’s the trouble of what to do with a batch of a dozen doughnuts or more. They don’t keep beyond a day, so unless you’ve got a party of pastry-lovers coming over, your efforts are doomed to go largely uneaten.

Vegan Donut Gelato is here to help. It’s the kind of shop that seems too good to be true, which undoubtedly was a factor in deciding on such a straight-forward, unpretentious name. Yes, it’s all vegan and yes, they’ve got all your sweet cravings covered. The classics are present of course, simple glazed and sprinkled little numbers that live up to the highest standards of childhood nostalgia, to more inventive flavors like matcha, blueberry, maple “bacon,” or cookies and cream. Don’t get me started on the apple fritters, which are the size of a dinner plate and loaded with soft, spiced apple chunks.

It’s hard to restrain yourself from ordering one of everything, especially because they really are cheaper by the dozen. Besides, when was the last time you had a bear claw? Or a maple bar? Or a Boston cream doughnut? Further complicating the final order is the incredibly kind owner, always at the counter, who’s liable to throw in a free doughnut hole or two to reward such enthusiasm.

Though it’s impossible to resist the colorful magnetism of the front display, don’t gloss over the other half of the shop’s name. Soy-based gelato is made in house with rotating seasonal flavors, offered by the scoop or wedged into an outrageous doughnut sandwich assembly. I can only speak for the eggnog flavor which is of course long gone at this point, but I truly hope it makes an early come back. The flawlessly smooth, creamy texture is better than almost all prepacked options scooped out of a carton, and possibly one of the best in the bay. It may get overshadowed by the deep fried delights, but you won’t regret topping off your treats with an extra frozen spoonful… Well, unless you’ve already eaten your weight in cinnamon twists. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Vegan Donut Gelato
411 E 18th St
Ste B
Oakland, CA 94606