Cocozia Coconut Water Review and 3-Ingredient Pina Colada Smoothie

Recently the nice people at Cocozia offered to send me some of their original organic coconut water to try, and of course I said yes!  
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Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary case of Cocozia for review purposes, I was not compensated in any other way for writing this.  All opinions are my own, and as always, I only publish reviews of products that I think my readers will actually enjoy!

To be honest, in the past I have not been a huge fan of coconut water.  The first time I tried it was after one of my half marathons, and despite knowing how super-healthy it was and how much it would help in my recovery, I was put off by the sickly-sweet flavor and watery consistency.

Turns out I still do not love the taste of coconut water straight up.  However, I came up with many other fun and delicious uses for my Cocozia!

The first, best, and most obvious use is in smoothies!  You get all of the hydrating benefits of coconut water plus a boost of sweet coconut flavor.  My favorite is this 3-Ingredient Pina Colada Smoothie.
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Ingredients
1 cup Cocozia original organic coconut water
1 frozen banana
3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks

Directions
Blend and serve!

Remember that when creating smoothies, you can add coconut water as-is (like in the recipe above), or you can freeze it in ice cube trays (a la Kathy Patalsky) so that it’ll be ready for you to drop in to any smoothie at any time.

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I have also had fantastic success replacing plain water with Cocozia in recipes!

For example, I tried out Isa’s Banana Flapjacks (from Vegan Brunch) using Cocozia and ended up with the fluffiest, most delicious batch of pancakes I’ve probably ever made.
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H and I were amazed by how awesome these came out. If we really tried, we could detect the slightest hint of coconut flavor, but the main thing about these was the texture. I may never make them with regular water again!

I also subbed Cocozia for regular water in a batch of muffins I made out of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread mix (which I have veganized many a time), also with fantastic, moist, fluffy results!
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To this particular batch I also chose to add some fun stuff (dark chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and chopped walnuts) to boost their nutritional and caloric value a bit (because, you know, breastfeeding). [And as a side note, these are very special muffins! They are the first thing (at 15 days post-partum) I have been in the kitchen to bake or cook since Baby H was born. It made me feel a bit like myself again.]

I definitely recommend Cocozia as a way to boost the nutrition and flavor of smoothies and baked goods, or just to enjoy as a post-workout or anytime drink (if, of course, you are someone who enjoys the taste of plain coconut water)!

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Pre-baby Pantry Plunder, part 1

Over the past few months, I have been making gradual progress toward getting the house ready for Baby H’s arrival, which will be any day now (my actual due date is tomorrow-eek!).

Obvious important projects, such as assembling the crib, have been checked off the list:
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And I have been hard at work trying to use up/clean out older items from our freezer and pantry in order to restock them with prepared meals that we can turn to in our first few weeks as new parents.

This has been an ongoing project, and I’ve been keeping track of some of my fun (and sometimes, surprisingly delicious!) concoctions so that I can share them here.

For part 1, I’ll start with some of the packaged, brand name foods that had been taking up residence in the freezer for quite some time. All of these were simply heat-and-eat, so very easy and convenient, but nothing too creative or earth-shattering.

Gardein meatless buffalo wings:
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I had exactly three of these, most likely left over from some lazy football Sunday, most likely in the 2013 season (yeah I need to clean out my freezer more!). They still tasted awesome, but three tiny “wings” do not a meal make, so note to my future self: if you’re going to open the package, use it all in one go!

Tofurky pepperoni pizza pockets:
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I bought these months ago because my curiosity was killing me. They taste eerily similar to the Hot Pockets I used to heat up for an after school snack back in the day (so healthy, I know), and definitely benefit from the liberal addition of hot sauce.

Trader Joe’s stir fried vegetable rolls:
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These are delicious and filling and I love them. This might be one that I buy more of to restock the freezer for baby time.

Amy’s baked ziti bowl:
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As you can see from the state of the box in the photo, this one had been bashed around in the freezer for some time. It was really, really yummy but unfortunately (as seems to be the case with many such frozen entrees) rather small. You’d want to pair it with a side salad or some bread to make it a more complete meal.

Trader Joe’s Vegetable Pakoras:
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I absolutely love this tasty, spicy appetizer and tend to keep some in the freezer to serve if company should happen to come by. But, since I don’t expect to be entertaining much in the coming months, I’m using these up as well.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Ecolissa Eco-Friendly and Vegan Fashion: Review and Giveaway!

Today I am excited to tell you all about Ecolissa, an online retailer whose entire selection of clothing and accessories is eco-friendly and made from completely vegan materials!

Their website is super-easy to navigate.  You can shop by category (accessories, dresses, etc.), material (bamboo, organic cotton, etc.), or by designer.  There is truly something for everyone.

For this review, I received the Chunky Infinity Scarf in Camel. This gorgeous handmade scarf is comprised of a blend of acrylic and recycled polyester–no wool or cashmere in sight.
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I love this scarf!!!  It is soft and warm without being scratchy, and looks cute with a coat or as part of an outfit, in a single loop or doubled up. I picked the camel color because I thought it would go with a lot of my fall wardrobe (and I was right!), but it also comes in mink, mauve, and black.
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Ecolissa is generously offering my readers a 20% off coupon! Just enter the code acitm20 at checkout.

They have also agreed to give away a Chunky Infinity Scarf, in the color of your choice, to one lucky reader!  Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.  The giveaway will run until midnight on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.  Good luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary scarf from Ecolissa but was not compensated in any other way for this review. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

Wyman’s Frozen Wild Blueberries

Disclaimer: I received a coupon for a free product sample of frozen wild blueberries from Wyman’s of MaineI was not compensated in any other way for this review and all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Well, the summer is rapidly dwindling, and with it, the supply of fresh produce.  Here in Massachusetts, an exceptionally brutal winter has been followed by an unusually cool summer.  I can’t be alone in noticing the impact this has had on this years produce.  It definitely seems less sweet and succulent than usual.

Our blueberries in particular were pretty tart this year even while in season, and now that season is all but over.  Fortunately, I have a great stash of frozen blues to see me through!

You may have noticed Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries in your store’s freezer section before (they come in a dark blue packet-style bag).  If you’ve never tried them, I can tell you they are distinctly different from your everyday frozen blueberries.

For one, they are much smaller. Check them out in proportion to the other ingredients of this smoothie-to-be:
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They also pack a lot of berry flavor into that little shape!  I frequently use blueberries as a smoothie ingredient but often find that, once blended, the only indication that they were even there is the purple hue of the finished product.  Not so with Wyman’s wild blueberries.  You can definitely taste as well as see them in the end result.
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In addition to smoothies, they are fantastic stirred into oatmeal:
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Added to pancakes:
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Or baked into muffins:
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I used Chocolate Covered Katie’s recipe for Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Mini Muffins and simply subbed tiny Wyman’s blueberries for the mini chocolate chips 🙂

Overall, I love these little berries and they’ve been a huge help in getting me through this summer’s mediocre harvest.  If you spot these in your grocery store, be sure to snatch them up!

Review: Vegan Cuts May Snack Box

Many of you are probably familiar with Vegan Cuts, a fantastic company that operates sort of like a Groupon or LivingSocial for vegans (meaning that you can get great deals and discounts on all sorts of fun foods, beauty products, and other fun vegan stuff).

Maybe you also know that Vegan Cuts also offers a monthly subscription service for both snacks and beauty products.  Basically, each month, you receive a treasure chest of surprise goodies delivered right to your front door–how cool is that?!

Recently I was offered the opportunity to review the Vegan Cuts May Snack Box, which I enthusiastically accepted!
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Long story short: the Snack Box service is AWESOME.  Here is the low-down on each of the items that came in my box:

Nature’s Bakery Lemon Fig Bar
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LOVE.  Lightly sweet, very subtle but lovely lemon flavor, like a Fig Newton but WAY better.

SuperEats Kale + Chia Chips

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These were pretty good.  The taste reminds me a little of spanakopita (weird, right? But tasty!).  Nice crunch, not too salty.  Definitely good enough to satisfy a chip craving, but way healthier.  One bag has 180 calories, 6g fiber, 6g protein, 105% Vitamin A and 120% Vitamin C.

Beanfields Ranch Chips
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I had heard a lot about these prior to trying them, and I can tell you they live up to the hype.  They have everything you could want in a chip: crunch, body, saltiness, and tons of flavor.

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Unfortunately this one was a complete and utter fail.  In theory it’s an incredibly easy and quick way to get homemade pizza dough (just add seltzer and olive oil to the mix and let it rise for up to 10 hours, then roll it and bake!).  Well, I followed the directions, and the dough did rise, but somehow it was far too sticky to handle.  I could barely get it off my fingers, so rolling it into a ball was out of the question.  Total waste 😦

Meatless Select Vegetarian Taco Filling
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Yum–this was excellent!  Great texture, extremely easy to prepare, and very well-seasoned.  Usually I expect to add seasonings to something like this, but there was no need. [P.S. – This is the meat substitute I used in my delicious, lazy Taco Salad last week!]

Bonelli Simply Sesame spread
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Oh goodness, I LOVED this. It was creamy and sweet (but not too sweet) and made a perfect afternoon snack (with staying power!) on a piece of Ezekiel toast. I also love the fun, portable little packet it comes in! I can see so many more fun uses for this, and if I see it in a store I am going to snatch it right up.

Jyoti Appeteasers Indian Savory Snack Mix
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This was a really interesting and tasty snack! Lots of different textures and distinct flavors.  It definitely has a sweet element to accompany the savory, and is mildly spicy.  I enjoyed it; my only qualm was that the minuscule size and irregular shape of the pieces made it hard to pick them out of the bag to eat.  Instead I had to sort of pour some out into my palm and eat it by the handful. Fortunately no one was around to frown at my poor manners 🙂

Saffron Road Rogan Josh Simmer Sauce
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Saffron Road is not a vegan company but the majority of their premade simmer sauces are vegan.  I chose not to snap a photo for you of the package for the Rogan Josh because it contains a picture of a meat dish.  Shame, because the sauce is absolutely PERFECT for veggies!  I made an extremely delicious curry out of it, using half of a red onion, two cloves of garlic, half a head of cauliflower, a can of chickpeas, and one bunch of fresh spinach.  The sauce has lots of flavor so I didn’t need to add any additional seasonings, however it is not very spicy so I did throw in a generous helping of Vesta to liven it up.  With the cooking laziness I’ve been experiencing lately, I could see myself using this or other Saffron Road simmer sauces frequently for their convenience and great taste.

Pearls black pitted Olives to Go!
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What a cute and convenient snack this one is!  If you like black olives you can’t go wrong with this one.  The only thing that’s kind of weird is that the package says there’s 2.5 servings (each serving being 4 olives) inside…why not just make the serving size 1?  It’s 10 olives (40 calories)!

Jiva Hot Chocolate
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Inside the adorable little packet is a compressed cube (well, more of a rectangle) of hot chocolate mix!  You simply boil some milk, drop it in, let it sit for a minute, then stir, and you have a delicious, creamy mug of vegan hot chocolate!  Love this!  I could totally see myself popping a few of these into my purse to enjoy when I’m on the go.

The Bottom Line
The overall experience of a Vegan Cuts Snack Box is outstanding.  I consider myself an adventurous vegan and I tend to enthusiastically buy and try new products whenever I see them (case in point).  However, every last thing in this box was totally new to me!  And, with the exception of one unfortunate failure, I enjoyed every last one.

In sum, this is a fun and innovative way to expand your horizons, try some new things, and find some new favorites each month.  I would recommend it to both newbie vegans as a way of discovering joy and variety in vegan eating, as well as to seasoned vegan vets who love trying new things.  If you’re like me, anyway, you derive a lot of pleasure from watching the universe of vegan options continue to expand and prosper!

Vegan “Hamburger Helper” & a BOGO Beyond Meat Coupon!

Hello there!  Do I have a treat for you today!

It’s no secret that I love me some meat analogues.  In fact, I have always loved these going way back, many years before I had even contemplated going vegan.  At present, I work pretty hard to ensure that my diet is comprised of 80-90% whole foods, but every so often I still like to indulge in some meaty goodness (cruelty-free of course!).

I’ve blogged about Beyond Meat’s chicken-style strips before (check out this Grilled Chicken and Avocado Sandwich or this Spicy Chicken Quesadilla), but it was not until last week that I finally got my hands on some of their beef-free crumbles (using a Buy 1 Get 1 Free coupon that you can snag for yourself at the bottom of this post).

The bottom line: I LOVE IT.  I think this is the best ground beef analogue I’ve had.  And yes, it’s processed food, but it also happens to not be complete garbage.  The ingredients are 100% gluten-free and soy-free, and do not include GMO’s.

The first thing I did with my Beef-free Crumbles was to recreate a comfort food that throws it WAY back: Hamburger Helper.  Or, to take my darling H’s suggestion, we can refer to it as “Herbivore Helper.”

For the cheesy sauce, I used a recipe that one of my favorite bloggers, Jackie at Vegan Yack Attack, posted last week as part of her Vegan Cuts Pizza Party.  I could have made my own cheese sauce, but hers is so damn good that there would be no sense to that!  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

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Vegan Hamburger Helper, aka Herbivore Helper, featuring Beyond Meat Beef-free Crumbles
Serves 2 very hungry people, or 4 normals…I am not normal
Vegan, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free option 

Ingredients
4 oz. pappardelle pasta (or other pasta of choice…use GF pasta for gluten-free)
1 cup Beyond Meat beef-free crumbles
1 recipe of Jackie’s Cheese Sauce (or other cheese sauce of choice)–you will only need about half of it for this recipe, but make the whole thing and then go nuts putting the leftovers on everything!
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
Additional nutritional yeast (optional)

Directions
[Remember to put the cashews for the cheese sauce out to soak for at least 30 minutes before starting the rest of the ingredients!]

Boil water for pasta.  While the water is coming to a boil, warm the beef-free crumbles in a skillet with a little bit of oil (per package directions).

When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, while it’s cooking, make the cheese sauce in your blender (it’ll yield about 3/4 cup).

When pasta is done cooking, drain it, then add it to a large bowl and toss with 1/2 of the cheese sauce (use more or less to taste), beef-free crumbles, basil, and garlic powder.  Add salt, pepper, and additional nutritional yeast to taste.

Scarf it down!
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The second I was done snapping these photos, I completely devoured a heaping bowl of this stuff (like seriously, 3-4 times the size of the pictured serving).  This is good, solid comfort food, folks.  Even H, who normally is very picky and skeptical about any “fake” meats, tried a bite, and then asked for another, and another.  I’d say it’s a winner!

If you would like your own Buy 1 Get 1 Free coupon, redeemable for any Beyond Meat product, you can get one by clicking this link.  The coupon is good through June 1st.  Stock up this week for Memorial Day 🙂

Disclaimer: I am a 2014 Beyond Meat ambassador.  I am not compensated in any way for this, other than by getting awesome coupons that I can then share with you!  All opinions are my own and as always, completely honest.

Giveaway Winner! And Watermelon

Ugh, sorry it took me more than half the day to announce the giveaway winner.  Wordpress and my computer were in a fight, and I was stuck in the middle trying to make peace.  Can’t we all just get along??

Anyway, without further ado, the winner of a bottle of Benny T’s Vesta is Em!  Em wrote:
I’d love to try the very hot. I put hot peppers or hot sauce on EVERYTHING. It doesn’t taste right until it burns 🙂 

AMEN.  Congratulations to Em and thanks to everyone that entered!

In the meantime, I am super-jazzed about the watermelon I just bought.  My arm aches from carrying it around the store (it’s a whopper!) but it will be so worth it when I bite into that juicy summery goodness this evening.

I don’t have a pic of mine because it’s waiting for me in the car but here is what a watermelon looks like in case the horrid winter has eradicated all of your wonderful warm memories:
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I love you.

What’s your favorite summertime fruit?