Just Trolling

Horror is not my first genre of choice nor area of expertise. For that, you should really be following Video Creep, videographer, comedian, and horror professional. With his guidance, I’ve picked out the perfect entertainment for your Halloween evening: Troll 2.

What is Troll 2 about?

Described by some as the “best worst movie” and “most disrespected horror films in recent history,” Troll 2 is not going to keep you awake at night. It’s not even going to make you remotely uneasy. The basic premise is laughable right from the start, seeing as there are no trolls to be found during the entire 95-minute runtime, only goblins. It’s also worth noting that it has nothing to do with the preceding movie, Troll, which has only marginally better reviews.

Without spoiling anything, one of the key features is green goop being offered at every meal, which no one seems to find suspicious. Unfortunately, just one bite will turn people into their own sort of human sludge, which is then fed to the hungry goblins.

Naturally, it’s the food element that I find most captivating. Between the implausible story line and iconic acting, the goblin goop is a standout success in terms of execution. I didn’t pity the people that were dumb enough to miss all the warning signs and thoughtlessly indulge in their own demise. Quite the contrary, I envied the goblins; I’ll have what they’re having.

Join me in feeding your inner goblin with the finest human goo that plant-based ingredients have to offer. It’s every bit as nutritious as dissolved people, but without all the fat and gristle! Besides, no one has time for that kind of messy cleanup. Save yourself the hassle of ensnaring and poisoning your own middle class nuclear family, and let’s pull out the blender instead, shall we?

A base of frozen mango and banana creates a naturally sweet, creamy, and subtly tropical foundation for some bright spices. Turmeric adds a bold sunny yellow hue that harmonizes brilliantly with ginger and cinnamon. The real crowning jewel is the swirl of green goo, of course. This comes in the form of fluid gel made from green juice and agar.

What is a fluid gel?

Despite the fancy molecular gastronomy term, it’s really a very simple concept: Set any fluid with a thickener, then blend it to break down the structure into a substance that straddles the line between liquid and solid, AKA, goo.

What’s the best green juice?

You can make your own green juice from scratch, or buy bottled green juice at the grocery store. I’d suggest going with the latter for the sake of simplicity. A subtly sweet blend with a mix of fruits and vegetables is my preference here to pair with the smoothie itself, particularly if pineapple is involved. Top mainstream brands include:

At the heart of it, Troll 2 is a movie made for the plant-based crowd. The goblins were vegetarian, after all, so the only way they could enjoy their human feasts was by turning them into inert substance. Let’s raise a glass to these visionaries that were ahead of their time. Cheers, and Happy Halloween!

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Bubbling Over Boba

Shooting through fat straws everywhere, the bubbles found in many refreshing iced drinks this year aren’t merely effervescent, but tangible spheres that you can chew. Known interchangeably as bubble tea, pearl tea, and boba tea, this Taiwanese import has even more flavors than names. Different varieties of tea are only the tip of the iceberg; additional fruit, milk, herb, and spice possibilities are endless. The unlikely textural contrast between milky liquid and toothsome tapioca makes for an irresistible treat, no matter the temperature outside.

Despite their proliferation, trips to Chinatown often end in disappointment. Most commercial offerings are prepared from powdered mixes with milk powder built in, with few options on tap. Luckily, it’s a snap to bypass all the questionable chemicals when you make your own boba-licious brew! Starting with more readily available clear tapioca pearls, the texture is slightly softer, but the experience is just as sweet and satisfying. Get ready for some serious refreshment; it will be hard to stop whipping up bubbling up once you start.

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Nog-Off, 2021

Eggnog is to Christmas what pumpkin spice is to autumn; the flavor that embodies a moment in time, lingering as a taste memory inextricably linked to merriment, lingering with sweet resonance long after the cup has been drained. Originating sometime around the Middle Ages, it was an opulent indicator of wealth, being so laden with expensive spices, sugar, and rich dairy products. Today, as the popularity of eggnog continues to rise, it’s become a widely available indulgence for everyone to enjoy. Greater demand means more options, which follow perfectly in step with an explosive profusion in eggless, milkless nogs.

Oat milk has forever changed the dairy-free landscape which means that this year, we have more vegan options than ever to raise a glass with. Clearly, we’re due for another Nog-Off.

For this fiercely festive showdown between heavyweights, we have fourteen contenders in the ring. Both the bottom and top selections from the previous round have bowed out, setting the scene for a fierce battle on a level playing field.

I soon found myself drowning in a sea of nog. Mercifully, there are no complete losers in this game, and I wouldn’t be upset to have any of these cartons in my fridge again. Different situations call for different drinks, however, so I thought it would be best to break it down accordingly.

Probably the Same Product: Natural By Nature Oat Nog and Sprouts Oatmilk Nog. I noticed after judging, they both had the same lurid yellow color which was notable by itself. Flipping them over to compare labels, the nutritional facts matched exactly, as did the ingredients. Oops. The only difference? Sprouts’ costs $1.50 less.

Most Like Coffee Creamer: Milkadamia Veggnog. The only commercial macadamia nut nog in existence, it’s exceptionally smooth and rich but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was drinking French Vanilla coffee creamer. There’s not a hint of spices nor eggy flavor to speak of. You could doctor them with an extra pinch of nutmeg for an instant fix, but they’re not winning awards straight out of the container. Strikingly, I found this more suitable than the actual coffee creamer made by Nutpods, which is unsweetened and flat out bland.

Most Natural: Fronks Vegan Eggnog. If you want every ingredient to count, you can absolutely taste it in this blend of whole foods. Cashews, almonds, and dates are the foundation, lightly kissed by a touch of cinnamon and cardamom, for a more nuanced spice blend. It tastes pure and fresh because it is! Made by hand in small batches for local distribution, it’s the closest you can get to homemade without pulling out a blender.

Best for Sipping Solo: Califia Holiday Nog Almondmilk. Light but not watery, rich yet low in calories, I could drink this one all day long without any trouble. Thank goodness it also happens to come in the largest bottle of all, with a total of twelve half-cup servings.

Best with Booze: Chobani Oat Nog. Coming from a long line of oat milks and creamers, it should come as no surprise that this thick oat blend is perfectly engineered to balance out the bold, sometimes harsh edge of rum, bourbon, or brandy without tasting watered down. Also, it has a notable malted, toasted, earthy flavor that would harmonize beautifully with additional spirits.

Most innovative: Good Karma Holiday Nog. Allergens, who? Made with cold-pressed organic flax, this is the nog for everyone. No nuts, no soy, no funny business. While it doesn’t carry the same weight as genuine eggnog, for that same reason, it’s exceptionally drinkable and even refreshing.

Best for Baking: So Delicious Coconut Milk Holiday Nog. The last remaining coconut option on the list, this nog has a powerful, candy-like sweetness that puts it squarely in dessert territory. Strong seasonings ensure that it won’t just fall into the background like any other non-dairy milk if employed to make festive cupcakes, cheesecakes, and more.

Best on a Budget: Trader Joe’s O’Nog. The most affordable option on this list, one generous quart will only set you back $2.99. Every dollar counts when budgeting for holiday gifts, and the most expensive option on this list, by contrast, will set you back $12.99 for a pint.

Best for Most People: Good & Gather Oatmilk Holiday Nog. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if there was only one nog I could celebrate the holidays with, to take back home to my family and impress the widest range of palates, after much deliberation, I think it has to be… The Target house brand. I’m still struggling with such a shocking outcome. It’s not the best of all categories, as is made clear above, but those mad food scientists managed to hit the ideal balance that could appeal to the widest audience. Spiced gently, sweet but not sugary, rich but not cloying, it stands out by virtue of… Not standing out.

It’s both a relief and a disappointment that there’s no clear winner, standing tall above all the noise. I wish it was such an easy judgement, but that means it’s hard to go wrong. Where ever you are, whatever you have access to, you can pour yourself a glass of holiday cheer. Isn’t that the real meaning of a Nog-Off?

When all else fails, don’t forget, it’s not so hard to make your own from scratch, too.

What is your personal favorite here? Is there a local specialty in your neck of the woods that would have swept the floor with these national brands? Leave me a comment, and maybe next year, they’ll make it into the rematch!

Rice, Rice, Baby

Young vegans today don’t even know how good they’ve got it. Back in my day, dairy-free milk was still a rarity, available only in niche health food stores. Even there, your choices were limited to only soy or rice. Oat? Almond? Cashew? Forget about it! Who knew there were so many potential sources of creamy liquid back then?

Shelf stockers at mainstream markets would either scratch their heads, dumbfounded by the request, or haplessly led you to the lactose-free cartons. For a compassionate eater living in the suburbs, without a driver’s license, that meant stocking up and paying obscene prices for the luxury of access, or getting a bit more creative.

Guess which path I chose?

When sold in watered down cartons, rice milk was usually my least favorite option, but at home, I found a crafty loophole to create a thicker, richer blend. Creating a dense rice milk concentrate, not entirely dissimilar to wallpaper paste, I could better control the viscosity, flavor, and sweetness, all while building up a stockpile to easily whip up another cup, quart, or gallon at a time if I so desired. It was cheap, effective, and highly satisfying to beat the system.

Over time, my own means of access improved along with a boom in widespread availability. Once an essential staple, that formula that served me so well fell to the back of the digital recipe box. Collecting virtual dust, forgotten until an unfortunate computer crash forced me back onto an old laptop, it suddenly popped up like a long lost friend.

Today in 2021, I don’t need to make my own rice milk in bulk (thank the stars) but the concept spoke to me in a whole new way this time around. With a few little tweaks, a little polish, and some modern upgrades, I had a beautiful, brilliant instant horchata concentrate on my hands.

Perfect for sweltering summer heat when all you need is a tall, icy drink to keep your cool, horchata is the ultimate agua fresca. Creamy but not thick or rich, subtle notes of cinnamon and almond play in the background with in delicate, balanced harmony.

By skipping the time-consuming step of soaking whole grains of rice, prep time is slashed by an eighth or more, and it’s ready to reconstitute whenever a profound thirst strikes. Whether you’re serving a solo drinker or making a pitcher for a party, this stuff is like liquid gold for a quick fix.

We may not need bulk rice milk anymore, but you can never have too much horchata.

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Avo-Coffee Advocate

The two most essential components of my daily diet, the staples that are always on the grocery list, are avocados and coffee. A house is not a home unless there are at least a half dozen of the green fruit ripening on the counter and freshly roasted coffee beans in the pantry. Everyday, without fail, avocados and coffee are what get me out of bed. They’re two great tastes that… Taste great together?

Do me a a favor and suspend disbelief for a minute. Offended at the thought of ruining nature’s most perfect foods, I had the same knee-jerk reaction when I first came across the concept for Avocajoe. My thoughts immediately went to the hipster trend of avolattes, which are really just espresso drinks poured into empty avocado shells; a perfect representation of the hollow promises they leave unfulfilled. Avocado coffee, on the other hand, does the fatty fruits proper justice in equal measure, blending both together in a rich, creamy concoction that edges dangerously close into the realm of milkshakes, while remaining light and highly drinkable.

Inspired by es alpukat, hailing from Indonesia, it’s best described as a plant-based alternative to “bulletproof” or butter coffee. Known for their abundance of monounsaturated fats and oleic acid, avocados are essential brain-boosting treats. Blend in the perks of caffeine and all the flavor of premium coffee, and this unlikely union starts to look like the perfect marriage that was meant to be. Even better, this contemporary reincarnation has zero sugar for sustained energy, without the usual midday crash.

While Avocajoe is still in funding mode, you can back their Kickstarter campaign to get in on the ground floor and be one of the first to get a taste! Until then, try blending up your own avo-coffee drink at home.

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Happy Camper

Only once in my life have I attempted any form of overnight camping. At five or six years old, eyes full of stars and head full of dreams, my parents pitched a tent right in the backyard, no more than a few feet from our back door. Safe from the true elements but still firmly planted in the “great” outdoors, it was an ideal way of testing the waters.

It was all perfect. My sister and I made shadow puppets after the sun fell, giggling long into the night. We rolled around in sleeping bags, despite the balmy summer air. As soon as the flashlights switched off, however, I was inconsolable. The ground was too hard, there were ants and mosquitoes and (maybe!) spiders, it was too dark, too cramped, too breezy, too… Outdoors. After about 15 minutes, I hightailed it back inside to my bed.

To this day, my idea of “roughing it” still involves WIFI and running water, but no matter. I would gladly build a campfire to roast marshmallows and make s’mores any day. After all, that’s really the only reason anyone would bother with camping, right?

Starbucks knows this and capitalizes on the concept. Their seasonal S’mores Crème Frappuccino makes all the glory of camping accessible without pulling out of the drive-through line. It is, sadly, one of the few concoctions that can’t be veganized.

Save yourself the trouble, heartache, and money by just making your own at home. Instead of marshmallow-infused whipped cream, my copycat recipe is crowned by a plume of aquafaba marshmallow fluff, homemade chocolate syrup, and a crunchy sprinkle of crushed graham crackers. The base is a simple blended iced mocha, made from frozen coffee cubes, so the mixture isn’t watered down by plain ice.

Raise a glass to the goodness of summer, without having to hike into the woods and set up camp.

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