Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mini Obsession: Stainless Steel Straws

I don't even care how random this post is. When I drink water--and yes, I am the annoying person who drinks a lot of water and then has to pee all of the time--I enjoy it best with a straw. I use straws for most cold drinks, including my smoothies (fascinating stuff, I know).
I get why you are so happy
We had a package of plastic straws from some time ago, so I would use one (washing it from time to time) and reuse it until it would essentially disintegrate. I knew it was wasteful, but since we already had the straws I just figured I would use them until they were finished and then drink water with my mouth like a commoner.

Before my supply dwindled too far, I searched for BPA-free plastic reusable straws, and that search led me to find metal or stainless steel options. I initially thought they seemed silly since they would not be flexible, but then decided to get into obsessive mode and hunt them down and see them for myself. I considered ordering them online when I couldn't find them in any shops or supermarkets, but then one day a friend found them in Whole Foods while I was somewhere in the chocolate section:
It was love at first sight. A four-pack stainless steel straw set and it even came with a mascara wand/cleaner. I was sold. I took them home, washed them, and used one right away. Verdict? These straws have changed my life. I kid you not, they make drinking anything more enjoyable. They keep the liquid colder and mine have a little curve (there are straight options too) so when I am in my angry-eyebrow work-mode, I just keep my water by my computer and conveniently take sips of that cold delicious drink, which is perfectly positioned thanks to the straw.

In case anyone is wondering, this is not a paid advertisement. I just really really really love these straws and they have changed the part of my world connected to drinking. I went from being an annoying person who always wants water to an annoying person who travels with stainless steel straws and there is no going back from here. I even told a friend in Armenia I would give her one and now plan to "forget" so I can have them all to myself.

I paid either $7.99 or $11.99 for these babies and they were worth every penny (aww I still keep forgetting the penny is out in Canada and still try and use them).
Me at every shop before I am gently embarrassed
In all seriousness, not only are these straws great, they are a much better option than plastic straws. Try them out and join me in mocking mouth-drinkers!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of Beyond Meat's Beyond Burger

Hello! I finally got to try the bleeding Beyond Burger in the United States and did a review for Clearly Veg. You can check it out right here! I will add it to my review post as well.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

DIY Healthy & Filling Muesli/Granola/Cereal

Oh man this post was a long time coming. I love cereal, muesli and granola, but because I'm never fully satisfied with any store-bought options ("oh this would be perfect if there was just a touch of cinnamon, blah blah blah") I knew I would have to make my own eventually. Even "healthy" muesli brands I have checked out can be loaded with a bunch of extra and unnecessary sugar, even when they are already packed with dried fruit.

My last straw was recently, when friend #1 liked muesli so bland that it seemed like it was meant for serious old people with digestive issues (sorry!), and friend #2 liked it with a ton of ingredients, leading to a painfully sweet final product. I mixed both to find a happy medium Goldie Locks-style, and promised myself I would finally make my own exactly to my liking, friend #1 & 2 be damned! You can of course personalize the recipe to suit your own preferences, and if you don't have some of the below ingredients it's not a deal breaker--just get creative!
What you need:
-1/2 cup puffed quinoa
-1/2 cup puffed brown rice
-1 cup rolled or steel cut oats
-7 dates (medjool are my go-to choice, but I found a different type in the fridge hiding away and went with those, I would use less if using medjool)
-Handful of almonds or walnuts
-2 TBSP hemp seeds
-Handful of goji berries (I had those but you can use raisins or any other dried fruit)
-A few pinches of cinnamon
-Sprinkle of PB2
-1-2 TSP almond extract
-1-2 TSP vanilla extract
-Optional: pinch of sea salt

Just a note, I am OBSESSED with puffed grains since they are generally like healthier versions of rice crispies and make everything so much funner to eat. I tried puffing my own quinoa recently and while they did "pop," when I opened the lid they were all burnt to a crisp :( I will try again but for now I just buy puffed grains anywhere that has them in bulk with a quick turnover rate to avoid them being stale. 

The first items on my ingredient list (quinoa, brown rice, oats) are the bulk, the dates and goji berries are the sweeteners and provide the chewiness, the almonds and hemp seeds are for some crunch, with the cinnamon, PB2 and extracts added for flavour. All together, this mix is a great filling breakfast or snack, packed with protein, carbs, EFAs and fibre!

Directions:
-In a food processor, process the oats until they are coarse. The goal is not to turn them into a powder, just smaller than they once were. 
-Add the almonds and process until they are also coarse. Pulse is your best bet here.
-Throw in the dates. Even when a package claims the dates are pitted, be skeptical. TWO esheg pits almost destroyed my food processor. Before I could even daydream about making millions from a lawsuit, I noticed this:
-You can now add the cinnamon, PB2, vanilla/almond extracts, and salt and give the mixture a few more pulses. Transfer it to a large container. It should look something like this (and smell wonderful):
-Next, add all the other ingredients--the puffed quinoa, brown rice, hemp seeds, and goji berries. 
-Now it's the fun part. SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE (please close the lid first):
-Yay! Open it up and take a whiff of that sweet, sweet goodness! Mine looked like this:
You can bet your boots I snacked on it like crazy (no photos tee hee). So delicious, so filling, and so healthy--I love it as a snack, with some almond milk as a power breakfast, or even as a topping on my banana ice cream! This specific recipe is my current obsession, but I am always willing to experiment, and will add in some different grains and flavours (aka chocolate) next time.

BLOOPERS/OUTTAKES: I thought it would be really funny to "wink" like in my chameleon photo on my main page but forgot I cannot wink without looking creepy and then I also found another photo where I unintentionally looked at the finished product a little too lovingly:
My nose looks like Gérard Depardieu's

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Banana Ice Cream Three-Ways!

I wrote about when I first experimented with banana ice cream last year, and how impressed I was with how delicious it was. What I should have noted though, was that bananas are not one of my top fruits--and I don't like banana flavour or chunks in ice cream, and never add them to my smoothies. So no one was more surprised than I was when I realized that FROZEN banana as an ice cream base is the best.

Frozen bananas that are blended or processed provide an incredibly creamy and sweet base, and the flavour is neutral enough that you can make them taste like just about anything. So while I enjoyed my almond butter ice cream from last year, it was time to experiment, and experiment I did. The three flavours I focused on were chocolate coconut, matcha green tea, and mint chocolate chip. All options are three ingredients or less, and no ice cream maker is required!

Just a note: If you have a Vitamix (one day I will join you) you don't need any liquid. My food processor and Magic Bullet need a little help from their non-dairy milk friends to get things moving along.

Chocolate Coconut:
What you need:
-1 to 1.5 frozen bananas (I did a photo-guide here)
-1-2 TBSP cacao or cocoa powder (make sure there are no additional sweeteners/ingredients!)
-Optional: coconut flakes or 1 TBSP of coconut milk

Directions:
-Blend or process it all together. Really. As mentioned above, I do not have a Vitamix :( so I have to add some liquid-power to get it properly blended, which is usually almond milk.
-Top with some coconut flakes and enjoy! If you are going for coconut milk, just blend it with the other ingredients.

Matcha Green Tea:
What you need:
-1 to 1.5 frozen bananas
-2 tsp matcha green tea powder--just a note, while matcha can be pretty pricey, as is the case with most things buying in bulk is much cheaper, and I even found it at Bulk Barn (times are a-changin')
-Optional: goji berries

Directions:
-Blend or process it all together.
-Top with some goji berries (again, much cheaper when bought in bulk)--they will freeze a bit but then provide such a nice crunch, followed by some serious chew. And the colours complement each other nicely.

Mint Chocolate Chip:
I know you are supposed to lie and say you love all your babies creations equally and alternate them fairly, but I am in obsessive-mode with the mint chocolate chip option. I always loved that flavour in general, and seeing how easy it is to make has opened a new world for me, and I am enjoying this one regularly now. Join me.

What you need:
-1 to 1.5 frozen bananas
-1-2 tsp peppermint or mint extract. Just a note to go easy on the extract since the first time I made this I went wild and put in way too much and it felt like I was eating spearmint gum-flavoured ice cream.
-Optional: dark chocolate chips, chunks, or cacao nibs

Directions:
-Blend or process it all together.
-Top with some form of chocolate (you can also add them in while blending).

Update: I recently had an insatiable sweet/chocolate tooth so I just skipped the chocolate chips and put two heaping tablespoons of cacao powder along with the peppermint extract and it was dangerously good. The photo is not great, but only because I was in such a rush to swallow it (and because I suck at photos). This is my new favourite child version:
So there you have it. With frozen banana as your base, you can mix and match flavours and get creative with delicious results. Next for me is a sorbet-inspired option (sour power). The world is mine!

Reflections: The dates I added last year were completely unnecessary and I never add them now. So the only sweeteners in these ice creams are the bananas themselves, making the ice cream 1000x healthier than any store-bought option (yes, even vegan ones). And to save on time and to make sure I always have access to banana ice cream, I just keep a bag of frozen bananas in my freezer at all times, which makes this dessert not only super easy and healthy, but also super quick to prepare. So instead of eating one banana plain, use these recipes to add some mint, matcha, or chocolate to your life!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review of Gïk's Indigo-Blue Vegan Wine!

Hello dear friends far and wide. I may be one of the first people in North America to try and review the world's first blue wine by Spanish company Gïk, and wanted to link my review here. Also, the wine is isinglass-free and therefore vegan :)

You can check out my review for Clearly Veg right here!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review of the Sarma Maker 3000©

I don't actually know what this device is called, but a mini Google search showed me that there is a general consensus on the super efficient title of "Rolling Machine for Stuffed Grape Leaves." My name is better.
Anyway. A few years ago, when my parents came to visit me in Armenia, a man working at Vernisaj (outdoor flea market where you can buy all of the things) stopped us to talk about the Sarma Maker 3000. It felt a little like those super dramatic infomercials as he asked if we ever make sarma and before we could answer asked if we ever find the rolling process tortuous. He told us this device would change our lives. We decided rolling sarma was indeed tortuous and bought the machine--I don't remember how much it was but it was very cheap. He gave us a quick demo and it seemed simple enough.

Years later, the Sarma Maker 3000 found itself living in our cupboard, never really seeing the light of day. Even when I finally mastered the art of making sarma myself, it never crossed my mind. That changed this past Easter, when I decided I would make sarma for our Sunday feast. I would be the one in charge (aka my sister wouldn't help) so I figured a little help would go a long way.

For the life of me, I could not remember how to use it, and was ready to curse the machine back into oblivion before I remembered YouTube existed. I searched something along the lines of "how to use the weird sarma rolling thing" and voila, there were video responses. I scrolled down to find one that wasn't 12+ minutes long and watched one super dramatic video with Turkish music in the background where they kept zooming in at the worst times, but I eventually got it (I had even set it up the wrong way).

For those like me, who do not know how to use it, I will show you through the power of photos and words and then let you know my review. First, after setting it up like in the header photo, get it ready to receive a grape leaf by pressing down on the black band towards the mobile "cap" (the right) and then place the leaf on top:
Then, press down on the leaf so it conforms to the shape of the band that you pressed down. Basically, tuck it in real nice:
You can now fill your leaf up. One thing to note with the Sarma Maker 3000 is that you cannot put in too much filling. I learned this the hard way and the machine is merciless and will destroy everything in its path if there is too much filling (the destroyed leaves were given a new purpose by becoming the ones I lined the pot with). It was hard for me since I like packed sarmas, but about one teaspoon was all the machine would accept.
Once you add the filling, even it out and tuck it into the groove so it sits in there. Then you take the cap (the pink part to the right) and move it towards the left. Be fearless and swift:
Cigaro sarmas! And you can see the "cap" I keep referring to above. I have to admit, I was pretty happy to see it worked and probably looked like this:
Verdict? Good and bad, and I will begin with the good. For people who genuinely have trouble with the rolling process, and find that their sarmas always fall apart while cooking, the Sarma Maker 3000 keeps them super tight, and uniformly sized. There were no inconsistent sizes, even when the leaves themselves were. In this regard, it makes sense. These are the ones I rolled with the Sarma Maker 3000:
Now that I've buttered the creators up, I will say that in terms of speed and convenience, hand rolling wins in both categories. I have to admit I felt very cool using the roller successfully, and was filled with joy every time one of those little cigaro sarmas would pop out, but it took way too much time and my playlist wasn't long enough to accommodate that. So, after the amount I did in the photo above, and after showing it off to everyone who was home, I gently moved the roller aside, and finished the job by stuffing every leaf to its full potential, with no regrets. You can see the end result here, to the right (I should have zoomed in, I know):
While the cigaro sarmas were still delicious (it's all about the broth, baby), I preferred the ones that had more filling and personally don't mind when they are different sizes. So while I will keep the roller and will probably whip it out to show it off from time to time, when you want fast and efficient sarma-rollin', by hand (even solo) is the winner in my books.