Monday, January 18, 2016

Chuao Chocolates: Vegan, Delicious & FEP-Approved!

such classy packaging. 
right from the get-go, you can tell that you are dealing with a nice situation!

Do you like chocolate? ME TOO. 

Actually, I love chocolate so much that I have a little chocolatey nibble almost every day. I even have a special little box in my cupboard full of chocolatey goodies. It has "SWEETIES" written on the side of it in all caps. I love white chocolate, dark chocolate, hot chocolate, raw chocolate, vegan milk chocolate... But, all that said, chocolate is definitely a luxury and not a need - so it's important to me to buy chocolate that I can feel good about eating. 

the sweeties box
(no chocolate for doggies, sorry Snoopy!)

In the last several years I have learned more about chocolate, and I do my best to buy organic, fair trade chocolate. I installed the Food Empowerment Project Chocolate List App on my smartphone -- this is a really wonderful app that gives a list of all companies that make vegan chocolates and lets you know about each company's transparency as far as using chocolate from non-slavery areas or sources. For me, veganism is all about non-violence and non-harming toward others, so doing my best to make sure that my luxury chocolate items don't originate from a situation rife with suffering is important to me. It is always a joy to find that the chocolates I'm looking at in the store are approved on the FEP list. And sadly, I have put back (or stopped buying) so many products because of their "not-recommended" status on the list. There is still a lot of work to be done in this arena! 

FEP-approved                      versus                      FEP-not recommended

So, when the folks at Chuao Chocolatier offered to send me several of their vegan flavors (they also make non-vegan flavors), the first thing I did was check the FEP list -- "approved"! 
Yeah! Let's do this thing! 

excellent array of tastiness! it was a good day when these beauties arrived in the mail!

I had seen Chuao bars in the stores, but hadn't realized that several of their dark chocolate varieties are vegan, so I had never tried them. 

Boy, was I missing out! These were all so excellent. Gentle readers, I have SO many chocolate bars tucked away in my special sweeties box. But, I'm a slow consumer... just a nibble or two per day. So it can take me quite a while to get through a whole chocolate bar. Let's just say, that once these bars arrived on the scene... I opened them and never even made eye contact with any of my other chocolates until these were all gone! 

The base of dark chocolate in all of these bars was 100% to my liking -- velvety smooth, a strong dark chocolate flavor perfectly balanced between a little bitter and a little sweet. So good! Each of the individual bars was really unique and they were each really perfectly balanced with their unique flavors. You know how some chocolates are too heavily flavored, or too subtle with their promised flavoring? I really feel like the folks at Chuao got it just right in every case. I was so impressed! I understand that they also have an Orange-a-go-go flavor that is vegan and it sounds great, but I haven't tried it yet. 

I'll tell you about each of the flavors I tried individually:

ooh aah almond

Instead of just a simple almond + chocolate bar, the Chuao almond chocolate bar has a few special touches: the almonds in the bar are left whole and are covered in a slightly sweet and slightly salty crunchy coating. Somehow the result is more than the sum of its parts. Smooth, creamy dark chocolate with whole crunchy salty almonds is an all-round good thing, and that sweet-salty crunchy touch on the almonds is excellent!

peace, love & peppermint

I loved this bar. I love chocolate + peppermint, and yet I've found that some minty choco bars just really don't do it for me. Some are too artificial or "extracty" tasting, some aren't minty enough... This bar starts with the fantastic smooth dark chocolate, and then has millions of minty little candy cane bits mixed in... for an excellent peppermint flavor and an excellent crunchy texture experience. Definitely one of my favorite minty chocolate bars ever!

triple nut temptation

This bar is dark chocolate, with whole roasted almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts mixed it. Nothing more than that, but nothing more is needed. I think this one was Mr. VE&T's favorite. I love the whole roasted nuts in there so much. And those are 3 of my favorite nuts too, so it's no surprise that I was such a fan of this one. 

spicy maya

Chuao's take on spicy hot chocolate is definitely my favorite ever in this genre. I like the combo of spicy heat with chocolate, but in some spicy chocolate bars the heat is over-powering and brings no extra flavor... and other times the heat is completely under-whelming and feels like it didn't deliver. I totally fell in love with this bar immediately - it's got complex flavors and just the right amount of heat... from cinnamon, pasilla chile and cayenne in the chocolate. You can really taste the chile flavor even before the heat hits your palette. Quite to my surprise, this was the first bar to disappear from the Sweeties box. A sleeper hit! 

Team Chocolate 4Ever

In all, I am a big fan of this chocolate! No doubt that I would be even more stoked about it if their chocolate was also organic and fair trade -- but knowing that it's vegan and FEP-approved helps me feel good about enjoying these delicious treats. And I also wish their website made it easier to locate the vegan flavors, without having to click through each one to find out. I totally love the quality, the flavors, the presentation, the packaging -- and I will definitely buy Chuao bars again. I also think that they would make nice chocolate bars for gifts, because of how beautiful and delicious and special they are. 

disclaimer: I was sent these bars to sample and review, but the opinions expressed are mine alone!

PS! We have a winner!!
Congratulations to Gabrielle
for winning a copy of Jess Nadel's latest cookbook "Superfoods 24/7"

Monday, January 11, 2016

Superfoods 24/7: Book Review & Giveaway

 Superfoods Gang! 

When I think of "superfoods," I think of things like goji berries and lucuma powder, neither of which are staples in my kitchen. But, actually, it turns out that there are so many superfoods that are actually staples in my kitchen! Things like almonds, edamame, walnuts, oats, lentils, turmeric, blueberries, sweet potatoes... and the list goes on and on. When my friend Jess Nadel of Cupcakes and Kale asked me to be a part of the blog tour for her newest book Superfoods 24/7, I was stoked! I enjoy eating healthy and learning about foods that are full of yum-power and nutrition-power.

So, I set to work, super-charging my meals with all sorts of great recipes and ingredients. I was happy to find that many of the recipes called for ingredients that I had loitering in my pantry or my freezer... things like hemp seeds, chia seeds, amaranth, maca, and acai. These were all things that I bought on a whim (probably at Grocery Outlet, where I am unable to resist appealing deals on hippie products), and then didn't know what to do with. As you'll see, I put them all to excellent use!

The first thing I made was Coconut Kale Soup with Cashew Creme Fraiche. This soup is easy to make and has So Much Kale in it!!! It's also got a lot of peas in it, which is a great contribution to the flavor and the overall body of the soup. The recipe doesn't call for any specialty ingredients at all, and actually the flavor isn't particularly complicated... but with each bite, I became more and more enamored with this soup. Then we both went back for seconds. Then I had the leftovers for lunch the next day. Then I decided to make it again next week. So, I'd say that qualifies as a hit.

We had the soup with Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower Steaks, which was a great combo! I make roasted cauliflower all the time. It's easily one of my favorite foods. But I usually just use a little oil, salt and pepper for seasoning. This was a big step up! We both loved the Indian flavors of turmeric and fresh ginger coating these giant cauliflower slices... and we also both gobbled them down immediately before even getting started on our soup. Honestly, for a less presentation-worthy affair, you could definitely use these same seasonings on every day florets and still have the same great taste sensations!

two important things of note: fresh turmeric is so beautiful, and also
look at my cute mug of cats playing on a swing

Back in VeganMoFo, I learned that drinking coffee or tea within 3 hours of an iron-rich meal will vastly inhibit your body's ability to absorb the iron. This is a bummer for me, because I really love coffee. I usually drink decaf, so that's not the issue. I just like the flavor a lot, and I like how it feels sorta substantial. I mean, herbal tea's o-k... but it's also kinda just a glass of hot water. So, ever since I learned that, I have been on the lookout for other nice toasty beverages. Especially after eating a giant bowl of kale soup -- I wanna maximize my nutrient intake, baby! So, I was excited to finally try something I've heard of before: Golden Turmeric Milk. I really loved this. It's made with almond milk, some great warming spices, and turmeric and ginger. Options are given to use fresh or dried turmeric, so I jumped on the opportunity to buy some beautiful fresh turmeric. I first found out about fresh turmeric when I was in India, and it still reminds me of that special time. I loved this toasty and satisfying drink, and I'll definitely make it again!

I'm always looking for new breakfast ideas. I love to have the same thing for breakfast for a few days and then move along to the next thing. A while back I got some 100% acai packets (at Grocery Outlet, of course), and they've been siting in my freezer ever since. So, when I saw the recipe for Acai Smoothie Bowl with Superfood Toppings, I knew this was my moment! I almost never buy things like bananas or canned pineapple, so they feel like special treats to me! I know that sounds crazy, but we have great local fruit year-round at the farmers markets here, so I mostly stick to that. As a result, buying bananas and pineapple for my acai bowl made me feel like I was treating myself to something super special.

i am a cheap date

I had fun choosing superfood toppings from my pantry, and went with hemp seeds, almond butter, crumbled pecans, and rice krispies. I'm sure that rice krispies are not a super food, but I just had a few left and they were actually a nice textural addition! I have 3 more acai packets left in my freezer and now I am so excited to eat 3 more Acai Smoothie Bowls! This breakfast was different, delicious, fruity, and filling.

In honor of Jess' Canadianness, I used my Canadian Maple Sugar & Cranberries to sweeten my oats!

I also made the Blueberry Chia Overnight Oats. The recipe called for fresh blueberries, but it's wintertime, and I had a big bag of blueberries that I bought in the summer and had frozen for later. So, I used frozen. Overnight oats are so easy and delicious! It's been cold and rainy here, so when I was ready for breakfast, I just microwaved that biz and had a delicious, hot bowl of oatmeal in no-time flat. That left me plenty of time to drink my coffee and do the crossword puzzle before leaving to teach!

 so delicious and so quick to make!!

A few nights ago I made the Hemp-Crusted Tofu with Garlic-Chili Collards, and we both loved this dinner!! So easy to prepare and so delicious!! Back at VidaVeganCon, I answered a trivia question correctly (yay!), and my prize was two big bags of really nice quality hemp seeds. But I didn't know what to do with them. Look no further! I loved the seasoned coating on these tofus so much that I saved the leftover stuff to use it for another batch. These came together quickly and with very little effort, and then the garlicky, spicy collards were a super combo together with the flavors of the tofu. As you can see, I roasted up the leftover florets from our cauliflower steaks to have with dinner too. This whole dinner was quick, super nutritious, super delicious, and felt very emotionally satisfying (like "a complete meal.") Will make again, for sure!

excellent array of colors, flavors & textures in this salad!

Finally, I also made the Vietnamese Brussels Sprouts and Noodle Salad -- another big hit! Mr VE&T insisted on calling this "Viet-Nom-Nom," if that gives you any idea of how much he loved it. I did a couple extra things to the recipe: I doubled the amount of Brussels Sprouts (!), and I also roasted them a bit first... mostly because I thought of it and then I had to do it. This salad came together in a flash and was an excellent light dinner. We had it on a day when we had gone up to San Francisco for a huge fancy vegan brunch, so a light dinner full of veggies was absolutely perfect. On another day I might add in some pan-fried tofu cubes for a little extra protein blast.

Happily, I am able to share this recipe with you! I hope you enjoy it!

This fresh and crunchy salad is bound to fill you up and brighten your day, with Vitamin C-rich Brussels sprouts and lively flavors from heaps of fresh herbs.
Serves 6, gluten-free 
Prep: 15 mins | Cook: 5 mins

 2 cups (180 g) Brussels sprouts
 3 cups (300 g) beansprouts
 1 large carrot, julienned
 1 cup (20 g) Thai basil (I had to resort to regular basil, since it was all I could find)
 1 cup (20 g) fresh cilantro leaves
 1/3 cup (8 g) fresh mint leaves
 ½ cup (70 g) dry roasted peanuts, chopped
 4 oz (100 g) rice vermicelli noodles
 3 tablespoons lime juice
 2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari or light soy sauce
 2 teaspoons water
 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
 1 teaspoon unrefined cane sugar
 1 small Thai chili, minced or ½ teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional)

1. Peel away and discard the outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts. Rinse the sprouts well and pat dry. Slice each one in half, then, cut-side down, slice into thin ribbons. Transfer to a bowl and add the beansprouts and carrot. 

2. Roughly chop the fresh herbs and add these to the bowl, along with the peanuts.

3. Prepare the rice noodles according to package directions. If they are long, cut them in half to make tossing and serving the salad easier. Add to the salad bowl.  

4. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together, toss through the salad and serve.  

Calories (per serving): 178
Protein: 8.5 g
Total fat: 6.4 g
Saturated fat: 0.9 g
Carbohydrates: 24 g
Dietary fiber: 3.1 g
Sugars: 2.7 g
Vitamins: A, C

Credit line: Recipe from Superfoods 24/7: More than 100 Easy and Inspired Recipes to Enjoy the 
World’s Most Nutritious Foods at Every Meal, Every Day © Quantum Publishing, 2015. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.

Overall thoughts
As you can see, we've eaten really well from this lovely book! Superfoods 24/7 is also really beautiful (with gorgeous color photos by Jackie Sobon), an attractive and easily-readable layout, and a few nice features that I really appreciate: each recipe includes the volume and weight for the listed ingredients (I love this!!), very clear instructions with no surprises, and there is also a nutritional profile provided for each recipe.

I have several more recipes marked to try soon, including:
Coconut Milk Amaranth Rice Pudding     ~     Apple, Beet & Broccoli Slaw
Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese     ~     Tempeh Brassica Bibimbap
Gnocchi with Roasted Garlic & Kale Puree'     ~     Almond Tahini Truffles
Crispy Amaranth Coated Edamame     ~     and more!!

The recipes aren't oil-free, salt-free, or sugar-free, but they are quite healthy and are just about at the end of my healthy-eating spectrum. I'm happy to have a book full of healthy-oriented recipes that are also so delicious and satisfying to eat. I still haven't ever tried lucuma or matcha... but I'll have to work on that (and look for deals at Grocery Outlet!). There are definitely some recipes in the book waiting for me when I'm ready!

zipping through the skies, fueled with superfoods! 

Happy News! Superfoods 24/7 Giveaway
In addition to sending me a review copy, the publishers of this book have allowed me to offer a copy to one lucky reader (U.S. and Canada only). To enter, please leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite superfood, a food that makes you feel really super, or your favorite super hero. I'll pick a winner in one week. p.s. Just in case you were wondering, I always use the random number generator to select a winner!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

A Rainy Story, Lots of Soup, and Christmas Treats

Singin' In the Rain!

Well, it's actually been raining here!! After 4 years of intense drought, we are finally getting some rain. Our community is still technically very much in a drought, but it feels really good to see some actual rain again after such a long time. It makes me feel playful when I'm out in the rain, and cozy when I'm inside away from the rain. I love it!

I wish I could say that the pets love the rain as much as I do. But they do not!
It's not really like we're all dancing to Singin' in the Rain!

The other night we had thunder and lightning, which is very uncommon here.  It was in the middle of the night, and our poor little dogs got so upset, especially sweet Stevie Wonder. At the very first boom, Stevie started to tremble and tremble. 

By the second boom, she jumped off the bed and scooted right on under it for maximum safety. 

Then, she climbed right underneath where my head goes and proceed to pant and tremble inconsolably for at least two hours. My poor sweet buddy. No amount of telling her nice things or reaching down and scratching her ears, which I could barely reach, seemed to help. She barely fits under the bed, so she's really squeezed in there, and then my whole entire bed vibrates from her shaking. It's a little funny after the fact, but pretty distressing in the moment. Plus, all this commotion also got little Snoopy totally worked up and he kept pacing all over the bed, whining and whimpering and completely agitated.
Dottie was also quite scared, but she did the cutest thing: she ran right over to Mr. VE&T's side of the bed and jumped right up against him. This sounds normal, but Dottie is NOT into snuggling EVER. Apparently this is what it takes! It was so tender and endearing.

Unfortunately for Dottie, Mr. VE&T can sleep through anything (I kinda felt like giving him the finger, ha ha!) and he was just snoring away. What a jerk! ha ha. So, there I was trying to comfort three scared dogs all at once. Mr. VE&T had a great night's sleep, but I sure didn't! And neither did our sweet doggies. Happily, the cats also seemed relatively unaffected... thank goodness!!

The next morning, complete with bedhead

Finally, sometime around 7, the storm calmed down at last, and we did get another hour's sleep. And when I woke up, everyone's spirits were restored, and they were just a little extra cuddly. Such sweeties.

All this rainy weather (and sleepless nights) definitely puts me in the mood for soup, soup, and more soup. So, I've been making all sorts of delicious and wonderful soups - old favorites and new-to-me recipes. I love soup, and I love leftover soup. After making so many soup recipes, I actually managed to have leftover soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner the other day. YES. 

Lightened-Up Laksa, from The Abundance Diet

First up, I made the Lightened-Up Laksa from The Abundance Diet. I've already made this recipe several times and I love it. It's light, but satisfying, and the flavors in the broth are amazing: peanuts, lime, coconut, ginger, garlic -- all so bright and tangy and harmonious together. The tofu cubes are baked in the oven while the soup cooks, so they retain a great chewy and substantial texture. I used some black bean noodles, which were a good match with these flavors and have a LOT of protein. All that goodness with a giant dollop of Sambal Olek chili paste makes for a totally satisfying soup experience!!

Creamy White Bean, Potato, and Kale Soup with Mushroom "Sausage"

Bing! Bing! Bing! We have a winner!! I also made this delicious soup from The Abundance Diet. I had made it once before and we both absolutely loved it!! I think it might be one of my top favorite recipes from this book, which is saying a lot. Packed full with veggies and perfectly cooked potatoes and excellent seasonings... and then made creamy with some cashew cream, this soup is a 100% wintertime hit.

Tortilla Soup

This Tortilla Soup with Crispy Tortilla Strips from The Real Food Daily Cookbook is an old favorite, especially for Mr VE&T who love love loves tomato soups. I feel like the RFD cookbook doesn't get enough love. What a great book it is, with so many exceptional recipes. This soup comes together in 30 minutes flat, and makes enough for 5-6 generous servings. We had it for dinner two nights in a row. I love coming home from a fun and challenging two-hour yoga class knowing that there is left over soup just sitting there waiting for me and my tummy!

Creamy Parsnip Soup with Smoked Cherry Tomatoes 

I also made this AMAZING soup from 30-Minute Vegan: Soup's On!  I hadn't made this one before, but I fell absolutely in love with it. The soup is creamy and complex, made with lots of parsnips, but also has a spicy heat from horseradish and cayenne. The flavors were just lovely. Plus, as you can see, the soup is beautifully garnished with charred cherry tomatoes, black sesame seeds, a little dollop of horseradish, and Crispy Sunchokes. So fantastic! 

Since I don't have a smoker, I used the book's suggested alternate to charbroil my cherry tomatoes in the broiler, which was quick, easy, and deliciously effective. The Crispy Sunchokes are also from the book -- they're baked, and I cut way back on the oil and still got excellent results. I have a crush on this soup and wish that I were eating it again right now.

I know it's a bit ex post facto, but I didn't want these special treats to go unacknowledged. Each year around Christmastime, I like to make treats for my yoga classes. I usually pick one week and bring a treat to every class all week. I know that part of why people come to yoga is to feel healthy and good about their choices... so I try to make treats that aren't too over-the-top sweet or indulgent. Plus, you gotta keep the gluten-freebies happy and included... so my criteria are fairly specific.

This totally easy and tasty recipe completely fit the bill! These are sweet, chocolatey nuggets that come together in a flash and are mostly just melted chocolate and dates. So quick and simple and so good! I wasn't sure if everyone would be okay with Bourbon, so my friend suggested using fresh Orange Juice for a non-alcoholic substitution. What a great idea ~ the flavors were great together! 

Peanut Better Balls from Oh She Glows website

Oh MAN. Talk about happy Christmas memories. These little Peanut Butter Balls were super easy to make (even with the requisite dipping in melted chocolate) and SO GOOD IT WAS WILD. The filling is just so simple: coconut flour, peanut butter, maple syrup, and salt... plus, surprise fun ingredient: rice krispies! It's all mixed together, rolled into tidy little balls and covered in melted chocolate. I cannot recommend this recipe highly enough. Make them for the next party you attend. Or have a party with yourself to celebrate the making of Peanut Butter Balls and then eat the Peanut Butter Balls. You won't regret it!!


Last but not least, a huge congratulations to Josiane for winning her very own copy of The Taco Cleanse! I used the random number generator, which selected her comment (#9) I'll confirm your mailing address and get a copy headed your way, pronto! Now you can join Jennifer Aniston in eating as many vegan tacos as possible. Ha ha!!

Monday, January 04, 2016

Wintry Fruits From the Garden

When I think of wintertime, I don't necessarily think of fruit right away. But actually, there is a lot of fruit that grows locally during the winter... even in my own garden!

apples from my apple tree

On the day before Christmas, I finally went out and did a final and complete pick of all the apples off our apple tree. I always pick off all the rotten ones and put them in the yardwaste bin. I think the tree likes the chance to rest in the winter. I got a couple small buckets full of apples that are either good or mostly good, so I've gotta get to work on eating those little buggers before they go bad.

Bearss Limes

I also have a lime tree that has gotten really huge in the last year or so, and it is currently COVERED in limes. Goodness gracious, I have so many limes. I have been giving them away left and right. These limes are funny because they're ripe when they turn yellow and look like lemons, but they really are limes, I swear. What to do with so many limes?


A long time ago I went to a farmers market in San Francisco and bought some little orange fruits that I had never seen or heard of before. They were called Calamondin. I fell in love with them, and never saw them again... until a few years ago, when I was at the annual Mothers' Day sale at a local nursery (with my mom, of course), and they had a baby Calamondin tree for sale. Of course I bought it and planted it right away!! 

they are really small

This is my first year that my young Calamondin tree has made more than 3-4 fruits, I think we have at least 30 or so! They are tiny and bright orange and really cute. Apparently they are also called Kalamansi, or Phillipine Limes. Whatever you call them, they're really great. They are sort of like a sweet lime or a very tart tangerine. Mostly I just love putting them in my sparkly water - they give it such a nice citrusy blast!

Lime Marmalade
isn't it beautiful??

....BUT! This year I finally did something that I've wanted to do for such a long time: I made Marmalade! In particular, I followed this recipe online and made Lime Marmalade. I used about 2/3 Bearss Limes, and 1/3 Calamondin limes. I was so happy with the results! This was my first time ever making jam where I used the natural pectin of the fruit itself instead of using added pectin. It turned out so great - it's totally marmaladey and totally limey. I love it so much. I'll probably have to make another batch soon. 

Fuyu Persimmons & Kiwis
from my friend's garden

The great thing about fruit trees is that - just like me giving away limes to everyone - when people have too much fruit, they become super generous. One of my close family friends has an amazing garden full of so much great stuff. A few weeks ago, I opened my front door and found This Exceptional Box of Fruit just sitting there waiting for me. SO much yumminess!! 

English Muffin with Peanut Butter & Lots of Kiwis for Breakfast

Just about a week ago, one of my yoga students brought me a big bag of pomegranates and more kiwis, so I have really been living quite a fruity life even in the winter time. 

Persimmons Persimmons Persimmons!

I am really not a fan of the soft persimmons, but on the other hand, I really love crunchy fuyu persimmons. My special stash that appeared on my doorstep is gone now, and I am a little sad. I ate them all, and I loved them so much. I'm hoping to find more at the farmers market next week, because I'm not ready to say goodbye.

giant oranges, with Snoopy for scale.
can you see little Snoopers' blur of a tail in the background? I love that little booger! 

I have two orange trees too. One of them made so many oranges last year it was really awesome (and overwhelming), but probably because of all the effort last year, this year it is totally dormant. Not a single orange in sight. I hope it's enjoying its rest. My other orange tree isn't as prolific, but - happily - it's doing well and is working on several big, beautiful oranges. Just this week I picked the first two big oranges of the season! May there be many more to enjoy! 

Carmen Miranda of Wintertime
it's just not quite the same

I hope you're having a fruity winter too! 


ps! Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a copy of The Taco Cleanse
I will pick a winner on Friday January 8th. :) Good luck!