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?

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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.

Rise and Shine

Emerging from the dark ages of winter, daylight savings time begins tomorrow, pushing the hour hand of our clocks forward and tired bodies out of bed earlier than most would prefer. Studies have shown that this shift is not just an unpleasant adjustment for the sleepyheads among us, but one of the most dangerous times of year. That missing hour of rest accounts for a dramatic increase in car accidents, affecting drivers, bicyclers, and pedestrians alike. There’s no substitute for a proper block of shuteye every night, but when that’s not possible, an extra dose of caffeine doesn’t hurt to ease the transition.

There has never been a better time to re-energize with a can of RISE. Elevating the average cup of Joe to gourmet heights, this brew is brilliant in its simplicity.

Pop the tab to unleash a startling fizz, an awakening of the dark brew concealed within. Don’t be shy, take a sip. An incredibly smooth, velvety texture floods your senses with strong, but balanced, full-bodied coffee flavor. The fine matrix of nitrogen bubbles creates an experience that isn’t foamy or bubbly like soda. Rather, the air pockets are so fine that they knit together in a cohesive, creamy texture. It can’t be compared to beer out of a tap, either; despite the beautiful cascading pour and frothy head that crowns each glass once RISE has been released from its aluminum can, the flavor far surpasses that of any boozy beverage, in my admittedly biased, largely non-alcoholic opinion.

Beyond the superlative take on a standard jet-black brew, unconventional citrus additions set the remaining line of options apart from the pack. Lemon and coffee sounds like an unlikely pair, and yet the two mingle harmonious in this cool, bright, and refreshing blend. Think of the classic Arnold Palmer, combining black tea and lemonade, but with a darker, richer base to approximate the experience. A touch of cane sugar rounds out the high notes for a very satisfying sip, from start to finish. Served over ice, surely this will be the hit of summer when the heat is on.

Blood orange is another unexpected fruity twist on tap, leading with notes of sweet orange that fade into the ground, earthy flavor of dark roasted beans. It’s like an all-purpose, full breakfast beverage in one compact container; just add champagne for a brunch-worthy celebration.

Stay awake, keep hydrated, and treat your taste buds. Coffee can’t stop the relentless march of time, but it can sure help you cope.

Take a Trip Down Candy Cane Lane

Crisp and clean, an invigorating icy sensation greets me right as the sun begins to awake from its slumber on this early December morning. No, it’s not a fluke snow storm visiting California for the first time in years, but a wintry treat hailing from the warmth of the kitchen.

While the threat of actual flurries strikes fear into my heat-seeking heart, the oral chill of peppermint is an entirely different story. Be it pungent and herbaceous or smooth and subtle, I can’t get enough of the flavor, particularly when Christmas rolls around with an endless supply of candy canes around every corner. Those brittle sticks of red and white striped sugar are never going to inspire a frenzied Instagram fad like some popular seasonal sweets, but they’ll always be an essential element of the holiday season.

It’s never too early to get into the spirit, so a light, bright, candy cane smoothie is just the ticket, no matter what the weather is outside!

Pairing up bananas and mint together may sound like disastrous blind date, but hear me out on this one. In their unripe state, those tropical fruits merely lend creaminess and body to the blend, without any discordant flavor. Mint is powerful enough to speak above the subtle undertones anyhow, so all you’ll get is pure, bright, peppermint power with every sip. With this fool-proof formula, there’s no reason why you can’t make every day a holiday.

Candy Cane Lane Smoothie

3 Small Unripe Bananas, Frozen
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Protein Powder
1 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1 – 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1 Tablespoon Beet Powder

Toss the frozen bananas, protein powder, non-dairy milk, 1 tablespoon syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract into your blender. Puree until perfectly smooth, taste, and adjust sweetness and minty-ness to taste, as needed.

Pour half of the mixture into a separate pitcher and set aside. Add the beet powder to the blender and puree to incorporate.

Layer the two colors into a glass to create red and white stripes, gently stirring just before serving for a slightly marbleized effect. Add a straw and drink in that refreshing wintry goodness!

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe

Another Nod to Nog

In case nine different nog options weren’t enough for you, I’ve got one more eggless trick up my sleeve this holiday season. Recipes for vegan eggnog abound, from raw, nut-based blends to cooked custards that approximate melted ice cream, and all of those approaches are welcome in my punch bowl. You can’t go too far wrong with this classic combination of sugar and spice. Even in the worst case situations, a certain “spirited” addition can erase all other culinary sins.

Truth be told, this particular formula still can’t hold a candle to my winning pick for this year’s Nog Off, but it’s an uncanny dupe for the majority of mainstream varieties. Thick and silky smooth just like the commercial formulas, this particular rendition brings more vanilla and nutmeg to the fore, without the excessive sweetness that so many brands inject.

It’s all because of an effort to clear out overstuffed kitchen cabinets that I stumbled upon leftover dregs of VeganEgg samples. Surprised to discover that no one else had yet turned this instant egg substitute into nog, I took it upon myself to fill that void. Thus, here’s one more decadent, delicious vegan nog to sip and savor this holiday season. You’re welcome, internet.

VeganEgg Nog

3/4 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons VeganEgg
1/8 Teaspoon Kala Namak
3 1/2 Cups Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Bourbon, or Additional Non-Dairy Milk for an Alcohol-Free Option

To Serve (Optional):

Whipped Coconut Cream
Ground Nutmeg

 

Place the water and sugar in your blender first and start the machine up on low speed. While the motor runs, slowly sprinkle the powdered VeganEgg into the center of the liquid vortex. It’s essential that you do this in a blender and not by hand with a whisk, as it will clump and become a nasty, chunky, unsalvageable mess. That’s no way to get into the holiday spirit!

Continue processing while adding the kala namak, non-dairy milk, and nutmeg. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan set over moderate heat on your stove. Bring to a boil, whisking periodically, and immediately turn off the heat. Let cool before placing in the fridge. It may look somewhat thin while still warm, but have faith; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for it to chill thoroughly.

Pour the nog back into the blender and add the vanilla and bourbon, or more non-dairy milk if you’d like to keep it non-alcoholic. Blend once more until creamy and ladle into glasses. To serve, top with whipped coconut cream and one last sprinkle of nutmeg. Cheers!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe