Friday, April 24, 2015

Auriganic Juices

Friend: "What are you drinking?"
Me: "It's a drink made of mushrooms."
Friend: "Ewwww! Can I smell it?...It smells like juice."
Me: "Yes, it's good and good for you!"

That was a conversation I had last weekend about Auriganic juices made with wood ear mushrooms. And, no, that isn't as gross as it sounds!  This is a brand new drink on the market and I'm pretty excited about it. Each bottle contains 1.4 grams of Aricularia Auricula extract, which is the equivalent to eating 35 grams of raw wood ear mushrooms. But, because they are mixed with organic fruit juice and superfoods, it just tastes like great juice!

Why Wood Ear Mushrooms? I thought you'd never ask. These mushrooms grow on the bark of trees in the deep forests of Northeastern China. They are shaped like human ears, hence the name "wood ear." They are a rich source of dietary fiber and collagen, which supports digestion and reduces risks of gallstones and kidney stones. These mushrooms also contain 20 times more iron than spinach and are rich in polysaccharides. Their health benefits are numerous.

The Auri-Goji juice is made with organic apple juice concentrate, organic carrot juice concentrate, organic lemon juice concentrate, and organic goji berry juice extract. I am a bit disappointed at the use of juice concentrates over fresh juice, but I don't think you can get wood ear mushroom any other way other than eating the mushrooms, which are hard to find. The distinct taste is like apple juice, but a little different. And Goji berries are super-good for you as they contain carotene, betaine, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, and iron and have been linked to lowering blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

The Auri-Hawthorne juice is made with organic Hawthorn berries, organic mango puree, organic apple juice concentrate, and organic lemon juice concentrate and tastes mostly like mango. Hawthorn berries are very high in flavonoids and rich in carotene and calcium. They've been known to improve appetite and bone health and lower cholesterol.

These juices retail for $5.99 each so they are pretty pricey, but I'd recommend you give them a try. Distribution is limited as they are still quite new, but look for them in a store near you soon. For now, you can find them online here.

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ben's Chili Bowl, DC

Since 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl has been a downtown DC favorite, but mostly because it is a landmark in DC. Having been visited by celebrities such as Bill Cosby and most recently even our President, Barack Obama, it is well known throughout the city. Recently, they opened a location prior to security in the Reagan National Airport in DC so I thought I'd check it out.

The decor is reminiscent of the 50's with old diner-style tables and chairs. The bright yellow floor brings warmth and brightness to an otherwise clean diner atmosphere.

The menu is quite simple -- you can have veggie chili in a small or large bowl, chili on a salad, or chili in a rice bowl. Alternatively, you could choose a vegan Boca burger though I'm not sure if the bun is vegan. There is also a veggie hotdog, but it is not vegan.

So I went with a simple order of veggie chili topped with fresh onions and tomatoes. Ben's veggie chili is their original recipe made with texturized vegetable protein, kidney beans, tomatoes, green peppers and onions. It really isn't that great -- it's just an old-school chili made the way they used to make veggie chili back in the day. It was a fine meal -- nothing special, but a hearty meal in the airport. I ended up dousing it in hot sauce as it is a bit too mild for me.

Chris also ordered the fries, which he seemed to like.

One thing that bothered me was their use of styrofoam, which is very uncommon in the DC-area and very unenvironmentally friendly. I hope they reconsider the materials they serve their food in and choose more environmentally friendly options in the near future.

All in all though, I'm happy to just have another option in DCA and I'd definitely eat here again. Please welcome Ben's to DCA!

Ben's Chili Bowl on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

The PlantPure Nation Cookbook by Kim Campbell

As you may know, a new documentary called The PlantPure Nation has is now touring the country and will be showing in Washington, DC on Saturday, May 9. The movie was produced by Nelson Campbell, Colin Campbell's son. In conjunction with this documentary is a new recipe book called, you guessed it, The PlantPure Nation Cookbook, written by Kim Campbell who is Colin Campbell's daughter-in-law and Nelson Campbell's wife.

The book has a very short introduction that details how to build a veg pantry and how to keep plant pure eating simple. The rest of the book includes simple recipes anyone could make. The only problem is that it appears that many of them are too simple -- sort of like what you'd throw together as a new vegan without much thought to making the dishes tasty. Sure, they are plant-based, but vegan cooking is so much more than throwing a bunch of veggies and beans together -- one must add the right spices to give it pizzazz!

As I glanced through the pictures to try to decide which recipes to make, I was underwhelmed by the low-quality pictures. So, instead of using the pictures to choose, I chose dishes based on the ingredients. The first one I tried making was the Black Bean Enchilada Bake. It was a very simple dish made by layering a corn and bean mixture, salsa, corn tortillas, vegan cheese, and spinach. And that is exactly what it tasted like -- not much other flavor. Cooking the onions, jalapenos, and garlic in water didn't help. Olive oil would have given it more flavor. I hate to say it, but loading it with Daiya vegan cheese did help, but I try not to use processed cheese on a regular basis. So, I wasn't very impressed with this dish.

Next, I tried the Mushroom Stroganoff. Now I've had amazing vegan stroganoffs in the past. This was not one of them. I was lured in by the introduction that stated this was a family favorite only to find out it wouldn't be one of my favorites. The sauce was made with wine, onions, garlic mushrooms, soy sauce, mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, whole wheat flour, almond milk, and black olives. The black olives were just weird. In fact, the sauce just tasted odd in general. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't that great either. And it certainly didn't taste like stroganoff.

Lastly, I tried the Thai Tofu Wraps. Now these were pretty good -- again, in a simple way. There was no cooking required. You just mix together a bunch of ingredients and you get a great tofu filling with savory peanut butter and spicy Sriracha sauce. The crunch comes from the bell pepper, onion, and sprouts. And to top it off -- a little fresh cilantro.

So out of three recipes, only one caught my fancy. Overall, I am disappointed because I like to promote vegan cookbooks, but this one just didn't meet my expectations. It's probably a good book for a college vegan looking for super simple recipes and not too concerned about flavor, but, in general, I think there are better cookbooks out there on the market.

Full Disclosure: Although the book was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lebanese Taverna, Tysons Corner, VA

Lebanese Taverna is a nice Lebanese restaurant that has several locations in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. I was meeting a good friend in Tysons Corner and decided to give it another go. My last experience there wasn't that memorable, but they have lots of vegan options, so, why not?!

Plus, my friend has lived in and around Lebanon so she knows good Lebanese food from bad Lebanese food so I knew she would be a good critic. We met at the restaurant located inside of Tysons Galleria. From the outside mall, you might not expect to walk into such a nice restaurant, but it is very classy. From the stone pillars to the plush, white chairs, it is a modern look and the servers are dressed quite nicely.

There are many vegan options from your typical hummus and babaganoush to other less traditional offerings like the pumpkin kibbeh. We munched on the delicious pita bread with za'tar spices and olive oil while we perused the menu.

I decided to go with two small plates. The Fattoush Salad was simple and very good. It had romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, mint, radish, and toasted pita chips in a pomegranate-sumac dressing.

I also ordered the Arnabeet, which was roasted cauliflower and onions with pine nuts and tahini. Unfortunately, this dish lacked some flavor as the sauce tasted like straight-up tahini without much else mixed in. It was good, but quite plain.

My friend ordered the falafel salad and wasn't that impressed with it.

Overall, I think it is a good option for vegans as there are a lot of options on the menu. One of my dishes was very good and the other was so-so. They were priced appropriately at around $7.50 per small plate so that was fine. And the service was great. I'll give them another try sometime in the future.

Lebanese Taverna
2001 International Drive
Mclean, VA 22102
(703) 847-5244

Lebanese Taverna on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Daiya - Frozen Pizzas

It has been a long journey towards healthful eating and one that I am very proud of. Nowadays I choose organic and non-GMO products 90% of the time over other similar products that are not organic or non-GMO. I care a lot about what I put into my body. And I rarely choose faux meats and cheeses. But, it wasn't always this way. As a vegetarian teenager, I had my share of fast-food fries and greasy pizzas. And as I was making the transition to veganism, faux meats and cheeses were like comfort foods. So, in an effort to seem a little more real, I have to admit that every once in a while, I put all of my healthful eating habits aside and eat non-organic frozen pizza.  There -- that felt like a dirty little secret and now that it is out, I already feel better.

My willpower really broke when I saw Daiya's new frozen pizzas including a new supreme pizza at Expo West. I tried to walk by and just look at them, but curiosity killed the cat, as they say, and I had to try them. And I loved them.

So, it made me realize that I avoid eating that kind of food regularly, but every once in a while, it probably won't kill me. So, I went back home and tried the three Daiya pizzas that have been out in the stores forever.

My favorite was the Fire-Roasted Vegetable pizza. Atop a typical frozen pizza-tasting crust made of non-typical gluten-free ingredients was a tomato basil sauce, Daiya mozzarella shreds and roasted red onion, green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, and basil.

The Mushroom and Roasted Garlic pizza was the same gluten-free crust, but with both mozzarella and cheddar shreds plus shiitake and crimini mushrooms and roasted garlic. We were big fans of this one as well.

Lastly, we tried the Cheeze Lover's pizza as well. A simple mix of mozzarella and cheddar shreds allows one to just enjoy the simplicity of the cheese or top it with their own stuff. I topped mine with black olives and red onion just for fun.

So, yes, these taste like frozen pizzas. The crust is quite thin and not soft like a fresh pizza. But, when you are in a pinch, these really hit the spot. The vegetables and mushrooms are yummy and Daiya shreds always taste great. The only downside is that they are quite expensive as I've seen them sell for as low as $8.99 and as high as $10.99. For a frozen pizza, that's pretty pricey. But, it's the non-traditional ingredients that drive the price up.

If you are planning to stay in and watch a movie and just contemplate life, a Daiya pizza might just be the perfect complement. You can find them in Whole Foods nationwide. Pizza, pizza!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kramerbooks, DC

Affectionately referred to just as "Kramers," Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe feels like a national monument in DC.  First opened in 1976, Afterwords Cafe was the first bookstore/cafe in the country to feature cappucino, espresso, a full bar, and food. Back in the day, I spent a lot of time at Kramers as it was one of the few places in the late 80's that was open 24 hours on the weekends. So, we'd find ourselves at the cafe at 3 a.m. enjoying a huge entree or salad and talking until the wee hours of the morning. My days of staying up late are over, but apparently the enjoyment of Kramers can continue.

Kramers is now hosting author talks and book signings and after attending one, I went to the bar for drinks and dinner. I ordered the Catcher in the Rye, which was absolutely fantastic. It was made with Rittenhouse Rye, orange turbinado syrup, and peychaud bitters. I might have had two, but I'm not telling.

I inquired if there was anything vegan and was told there was only one entree that was vegan as-is. I ordered it and patiently waited. After about 30 minutes, I inquired about the status and it was brought to the bar soon thereafter. I ordered the Cafe Whole Grain and Veggie Platter. It didn't sound exciting, but it actually was. When it arrived on the bar, Chris exclaimed, "it's a Thanksgiving feast!" And, right, he was. This huge platter was loaded with all kinds of good stuff. The mushroom crostini made with wild mushrooms was spectacular. In fact, everything was quite good. My favorite veggie -- broccoli rabe had been sauteed with sliced garlic and roasted red peppers. There was a black bean and corn salad, quinoa salad, grilled corn, and pan-roasted root veggie hash with sweet potatoes. It was all seasoned well and tasted delish!

For $17, Kramers isn't the cheapest place in the city, but I was quite happy with my meal and drinks. And who couldn't love the vibe. It's a hip bookstore that existed before Busboys and Poets and continues to survive in this cutthroat restaurant scene. Take a trip away from all of the new and go visit a DC staple.

Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe
1517 Connecticut Ave NW  
Washington, DC

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Crude means unrefined and is a fitting name for the new line of beverages put out by 19-year old Brett Robinson of Robinson Beverages.  CRUDE juice is cold-pressed juice made from simple, high-quality, whole-food ingredients out of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Each juice is high pressure processed (HPP) in BPA-free plastic bottles to preserve the naturally-occurring nutrients.

Brett was always interested in whole foods and nutrition and fresh juicing appealed to him. But, he got tired of shopping for all the fresh ingredients he needed to juice; and juice bars in his area were hard to find. So, he perfected his recipes and created his own company to offer fruit and veggie-blended juice in a ready-to-drink format. CRUDE has no added water, sugars, concentrates or flavors so it is really 100% crude.

I got to try two of the three flavors. My favorite, surprisingly, is CRUDE Red #1.  It must be the tanginess from all that ginger that makes it not taste like coconut water because coconut water is not a flavor I enjoy. Instead of cringing from the flavor, I absolutely adored it! Inside the bottle is just pears, beets, ginger, aloe vera, and coconut water. Aloe vera is very good for you for many reasons. I have used it to support digestive health, but there are probably 100 reasons why it is something you should incorporate in your diet. This is a really nice mix that has the hint of pear and beets with the tanginess of ginger that can't be beat!

CRUDE Green #1 is spectacular as well. It is a great-tasting green juice made of spinach, pears, limes, carrots, oranges, and spirulina. Spriulina is a superfood that is incredibly high in protein and a good source of antioxidants and other nutrients. It is an acquired taste, but it is used lightly enough in this juice that I think even the most unrefined palate will be able to enjoy it.

They have just come out with an Orange flavor as well.  What I really like about CRUDE besides them not using heat to pasteurize their drinks is that they do not use concentrates, purees, or added sugars.  They are also certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. CRUDE just launched a few months ago so distribution is limited. They are currently available in Michigan and Illinois but aspire to be nationwide. They retail for $7.99 each for a 16-ounce bottle. Ask your grocery store to carry CRUDE today and hopefully we'll be seeing it all over the country soon. CRUDE is juice unexploited.

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Black Bean Soup with Cashew Sauce

Simple, yet luscious. That is the way I'd describe the black bean soup out of the YumUniverse cookbook by Heather Crosby. This delicious black bean soup is topped with cashew sauce that serves to not only thicken it, but also add creamy texture and flavor. It's the prefect combination of spices and fresh simple, yet luscious. And it's even better the next day!

Black Bean Soup
Serves 4+

  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp applewood smoked sea salt + more to taste
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 cups black beans, cooked (2 cups dry)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Cashew sauce
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat a large stockpot to medium, add coconut oil, red bell pepper, and onion, and saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, lime juice, spices (cumin, smoked sea salt, coriander, and chipotle pepper), and cilantro leaves and stir together for 3 minutes.

Now add water and cooked beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer together for about 20 minutes.

Take half of your soup and puree it in the blender. Fold back into remaining soup mixture.

Season with smoked sea salt and pepper to taste. Topped with cashew sauce and fresh cilantro.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cashew Sauce

This versatile sauce made of cashews can be added to soups or stews for flavor. You can also toss it with noodles, veggies, greens, and more for a non-dairy sauce.  I topped my black bean soup with it.

Cashew Sauce

  • 1 cup cashews, soaked
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Add more water 1 tablespoon at a time if you need to in order to reach desired consistency.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Karma - Wrapped Cashews

I'm going nuts over Karma's wrapped cashews! The truth is that I eat nuts every day. Cashews, specifically, contain high levels of essential minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese. But, most of all, I like them because they are super tasty and that is what really matters! Karma is a company that has taken the already tasty cashew and made it even better by roasting it in its own skin. It's revolutionary in the nut world!

So not only do they look super cool, they also have a unique flavor because they have this flaky skin wrapped around them. The skin is slightly crunchy so when you first bite into the cashew, you get the flaky, crunchy skin that then reveals a perfectly roasted cashew inside -- slightly salted, but not overly so.

These cashews are air roasted to keep them mininimally processed and healthier than other cashews that are fried in oil. They use a hint of sea salt to enhance the natural cashew nut flavor. And the skin doubles the fiber as compared to regular cashews! The wrapped cashews have four grams of protein per 1/4 cup serving size and two grams of fiber.

So, yes, I'm going cuckoo over wrapped cashews. I'd say they'd be a hit for a party, but with a price tag of  $12.49 per 10-ounce container, you may want to keep these for yourself. I know I'm not sharing. To try them for yourself, order them here.

Full Disclosure: Although these nuts were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.