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.

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The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning typically entails a purge of non-necessities, ousting not only the cobwebs but the excesses that support their tangled strands. Taking out the old and broken, the useless and the antiquated, the pieces that no longer serve their intended purposes, is just as important as any efforts made towards vacuuming and polishing hardwood floors. The rationale is that with fewer things to collect dust, there are fewer things that need dusting.

What that doesn’t mean, in most sane approaches to organization, is adding to that collections of odds and ends- but who ever said I took that conventional route for anything? Determined to lighten the load in my cramped quarters, I first set about letting go of the warped, beaten, and rusted pans that always gave me grief for even the simplest of recipes. One can’t simply go without proper cookware though, so immediately I set off on a new spring cleaning mission of renewal, rather than removal.

Admittedly, this kitchen equipment renovation began months ago, giving me time enough to torture test these new tools for all they’re worth. Now that this season of revival is upon us, it’s with great pleasure and confidence that I can trash the previous set of decrepit pans in favor of my gorgeous 10-Piece Circulon Baking Set, in a very fetching shade of chocolate brown, no less. What could be better for a dessert fiend?

Not all baking sheets are created equal; a critical element that’s sadly overlooked when it comes to most recipe disappointments. Having a reliably non-stick surface that cooks evenly, browns properly, and retains heat as expected is the single most important component of any edible creation that goes into the oven, sweet or savory. For baking dishes of any depth, having wide enough handles for easy removal is also key, lest you plan on feeding your latest creations directly to the floor below. From the loaves to squares to sheets, this new set has proven its worth through every trial by fire, coming clean with equal ease once its duty is done. The matching cooling rack and covered rectangular lid for easy transport are truly the icing AND cherries on the heavy-gauge steel cake.

Equally matched in beauty and functionality, my gleaming behemoth Anolon Vesta Cast Iron Umber 12-inch Skillet has the capacity to feed an army with a serious sweet tooth. This workhorse is truly a beast, with the weight and heft to withstand any amount of heat. Transitioning from stove top to oven like a champ, I’ve used it to make everything from glorious golden brown pancakes, crisp grilled cheese sandwiches, juicy fresh fruit cobblers, and far beyond. The porcelain enamel exterior adds flair to this kitchen essential, adding a touch of personality without compromising performance.

Is it time you considered an equipment refresh of your own? When was the last time you examined your arsenal of tools with a critical eye, taking stock of their true shortcomings? Pots and pans aren’t forever, and making one small upgrade can have a huge impact on all of your culinary exploits.

These pieces were provided for the sake of review, but there was no obligation nor expectation of a feature. All opinions and content are my own.

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.

Fountain of Youth

In a business as ruthless and cut-throat as the restaurant industry, it’s a well known fact that few fledgling establishments survive beyond a single year. Such depressing statistics are far from shocking when you consider the cost of rent, rising prices for food, and aggressive competition on all sides. That makes the longevity of a place like St. Francis Fountain truly remarkable, speaking volumes of the menu, of course, but also the fiercely loyal following it’s created over the past one hundred years in operation. Yes indeed, first opened in 1918, this little slice of Americana has beaten the odds for a century, with no signs of fading away.

It’s the kind of place where some things never change. Wooden booths where young lovers and families of many generations alike convene over classic breakfast fare, no matter the time of day. Nostalgic signage lines the walls, bearing such endearing statements like “we’re glad you’re here” that you can’t help but believe their genuine sincerity. The relentless march of time is evident in the menu, however. The option to have a milkshake made with soy gelato, or scramble platter swapping eggs for tofu, was probably not part of the original plan.

While it’s true, you will find toast in ample supply here, it’s a far cry from the $9 avocado creations assembled for Instagram notoriety; rather, they’re the default side dish to all savory entrees, toasted dry, with a side of vegan butter on the side for all who wish to remain dairy-free. Sourdough seems mandatory for such a classic San Francisco institution, no matter the pairing. In this case, roughly crumbled chunks of tofu slathered in a mild ranchero sauce will cure what ails you, sauteed with as many (or as few) vegetables as your heart desires, scrambled to taste.

Best known for a quirky dish that’s offered as a side but eats like a full meal, the “Nebulous Potato Thing” defies definition, which is part of the appeal. A mountainous pile of hash browns, crisped on the outside, tender and buttery on the inside, arrive at the table like a gustatory challenge. Even the half portion is immense, enough to satiate any reasonable eater for a full day. Spicy pico de gallo is crowned with a generous dollop of creamy guacamole for the vegan version at no extra charge. In this day and age when just the green fruit alone can command sky-high prices, this just may be the bargain of the century.

Like any greasy spoon worth its griddle, pancakes flip onto plates in a diverse palate of fruit flavors. Banana walnut is a real winner, yielding large chunks of toasted nuts and sweet banana in every forkful. Granted, the syrup isn’t pure maple, but it suits the venue for its no-frills, unpretentious sensibility.

Though not explicitly stated, the chocolate egg cream, arguably one of the greatest obscure soda fountain staples, can still get its fizz on with a quick soymilk swap. This may be the only place in the city, if not the entire west coast, willing to serve up this slice of childhood sweetness for alternative eaters. Even if you wake up late, don’t sleep on this option.

Limited hours preclude it from being the late-night haunt of many stoners’ dreams, but every morning, seven days a week, St. Francis Fountain consistently delivers the hits to soothe the hungover and the heartbroken, to feed the community, body and soul.

It’s hard to say what might be coming out of the kitchen in another hundred years from now, but based on its track record, I’d sure like to think that it will be hot, comforting, and easily veganized.

St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Treat Yourself Well

Highly skeptical, but equally ravenous, I tore into the tiny package with abandon. Crunchy cookies never get as much love as the giant, soft and chewy sort popularized by American bakeries; a bias that I too am guilty of possessing. That said, despite being dubious of the format, there seemed to be a lot of potential locked away in these single-serve packages of Zemas Madhouse Wholegrain Cookies.

Placing an emphasis on wholesome ingredients and nutritionally sound snacks, these are not just empty sugar bombs to throw down when cravings strike. Rather, they’re designed to satiate and energize, and all in good taste, of course. Sorry to spoil the surprise; each variety wildly exceeded all expectations on that front.

Sweet Potato Spice impresses with a flavor profile that actually tastes like yam, as promised! Tossed in not just for color, but genuine flavor, it’s subtly spiced bite pock marked with equally crisp pepitas for an added nutty undertone. Oatmeal Cranberry follows up with a strong encore of millet, quinoa, and amaranth as well as the aforementioned featured grain. Comforting, cozy, and easy to eat, the addition of chewy cranberries adds nice textural contrast, softening the cookies overall and bringing to mind the warmth of a bowl of hot oatmeal.

Chocolate Chip starts with a creamy vanilla base, but that rich chocolate flavor sure does carry! A snack that could transcend all boundaries, this timeless treat would be an easy hit with any crowd. This tastes like childhood but with wisdom beyond its years. Double Chocolate Chip follows up that stellar performance with a slightly softer bite with a pure cocoa base that provides less contrast than the previous option, but supports the chips with a more serious, slightly bitter edge. The overall impact is surprisingly sophisticated for such an unassuming little package.

Did I mention that all of these mini cookies, for all their benefits, are also certified gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, top 8 allergen-free, and kosher? That’s quite a mouthful of dietary designations, which is perhaps fitting for these bold little snacks. Despite my initial misgivings about crunchy cookies, these diminutive treats from Zemas break the mold, offering something that defies the category as beneficial to both the body and soul.