Review: Love With Food box

Today I have another subscription box to review: Love With Food, a monthly organic snack subscription box. For $12/month you get a box with eight or more natural, organic snacks; an annual membership ($120/year) knocks that price down to $10/month. The company also donates a meal via food banks such as Feeding America for every box sold. Boxes are billed on the first and ship on the tenth of the month. There are no preview or skip windows for this subscription. If you like your snacks, you can purchase them at a discount through the LWF website; you can also earn points for reviewing the products in your box, which can then be applied to product purchases.

I was lucky enough to snag a Facebook deal (no longer available) to try my first box free and pay only the $2 shipping fee. Here’s everything I got, and some thoughts on the products.

Dang Toasted Coconut Chips: This was my favorite item in the box. I think these would be good straight out of the bag or sprinkled on ice cream or cereal; they’re lightly toasted and not too crispy or sweet.

Happy Squeeze Fruit & Veggie Twist: This was just okay. The blueberry/apple/purple carrot flavor was nice, but I honestly would rather eat a piece of real fruit.

Pizzelle Crisps: These were not a hit; they tasted like chocolate cardboard. They’re low-cal and clearly meant as diet food, but I would rather have a tiny piece of real chocolate than a whole bag of these. My husband also remarked that these had a horrible aftertaste.

Mini KIND Bar: My husband tried this out (in the almond & coconut flavor) and gave it a six out of ten; I think this bar isn’t as popular as some of their other options with fruit or chocolate thrown in.

Pixo Pearls: I haven’t had a chance to use these yet, but as I understand them, they’re apple cider vinegar pearls meant for use in a salad or appetizer. Interesting, at least!

Torie & Howard organic hard candies: These were surprisingly sweet and tasted pretty good. At $6.40 per 2-ounce tin, they’re definitely pricier than traditional hard candy, but they’d make a nice gift item.

Glee Gum: This was probably the worst item in the box; the gum was rock hard and lost it’s flavor within minutes. My husband though the berry flavor tasted like cough syrup. It’s nice to see natural, sustainable snack items, but this just isn’t anything we’d ever repurchase.

Caveman cookies: Paleo and naturally sweetened, these cookies were small but quite tasty. They were really chewy though, with my husband comparing them to taffy.

My box also contained an assortment of coupons for brands or products featured in the box, along with a coupon for a free Lean Cuisine meal, which theoretically raises the value of the box (assuming you use the coupons).

Approximate value of my box:
Dang Toasted Coconut Chips: $2.90
Happy Squeeze Fruit & Veggie Twist: $1.52
Pizzelle Crisps: $1.20
Mini KIND Bar: $1.20
Pixo Pearls:N/A
Torie & Howard hard candies: N/A
Glee Gum:  $1.60
Caveman Cookies: $2.08
Total value (excluding coupons): $10.50
Overall, this was a pretty decent box–it didn’t go through the roof in terms of value, but it’s a nice way to sample organic snacks and find out what you like (or don’t) without paying full retail for a large package. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of vegan items included, but a lot of the items are dairy- or gluten-free, so if those are concerns you’ll probably find plenty of items inside that you can eat. The coupons are a nice bonus touch. I’m undecided if I’ll pay for another month or not just because I’m trimming my budget in advance of Christmas, but if you like monthly subscription boxes this is definitely one to check out, because they don’t skimp on the contents!

Product review: Immortal Herbs Total Nutrition

I received one or more of the products mentioned below for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Because I don’t always have the time or the energy to fix a proper meal for myself, I’m a big fan of smoothie powders that work as a total meal replacement. Total Nutrition from Immortal Herbs ($69.95/9.5 ounces or 30 day supply; available through promises to deliver a full day’s worth of nutrition in one small scoop, plus it’s low in calories and fat and doesn’t contain cheap filler ingredients or tons of sugar like smoothies from traditional shops. Total Nutrition is 100% natural, organic, raw, GMO-free, gluten-free, and vegan. You can read more about the ingredients and the philosophy behind Total Nutrition on the product page at the company website (here).

The ingredients in this product are simple but all pack a huge dose of nutrition: barley grass, wheat grass, spirulina, spinach, alfalfa leaf, kelp, dulse leaf, barley grass juice, orange peel, beet root, dandelion leaf, lemon peel, gingko leaf, wheat grass juice, maca root, cacao, ashwagandha, sacha inchi, manuka honey, bee pollen, reishi mushroom, blueberry, black currant, wild bilberry, wild lingonberry, aronia, pomegranate, concord grape, red raspberry, sour cherry, wild elderberry, wild cranberry, black raspberry, goji berries, and schizandra berries. No fillers, no sugar or added fluff!

Like any smoothie mix, you just combine a scoop of powder in the blender with fruit juice, almond milk, frozen fruit, or whatever else you fancy. The powder is green but it has a very neutral taste, so you can pretty much add whatever fruit you want to your smoothie without worrying about a strong, grassy taste.

I liked that this powder made for a smoothie that was filling without leaving me overfull or feeling like I’d had a sugary dessert drink. I made this up in the afternoon because I’d had a bad headache all day and didn’t have the energy or appetite for a full dinner; I felt like this helped blunt the headache and also gave me a small energy boost to get through the rest of the day.

The one downside that people like to point out about premium smoothie powders is that they’re expensive. However, when you look at the bulk price for a one-month supply of a smoothie powder–whether it be this product, a protein supplement, or any other smoothie powder–I think you have to do the math per serving and compare it to what you’d pay at a smoothie shop in order to get a good picture of how this would fit into your monthly food budget. For this package, the cost per smoothie works out to about $2.30. For comparison purposes, I just stopped into Jamba Juice this week to grab a smoothie as a treat for my husband, and a medium antioxidant and protein-boosted smoothie costs almost six bucks. And because it’s from the chain smoothie shop, I know it has plenty of sugar and nowhere near the nutritional levels of a homemade smoothie. (Honestly, looking at the nutritional info on the JJ website makes me cringe. And I love their smoothies! But seriously, some of them pack almost 70 grams of sugar–that’s nearly three days’ worth!)

So yes, for the casual smoothie drinker, this might seem really pricey. But if you stop at the smoothie shop three times a week for one of those $6 smoothies–as a meal while running errands, driving home from the gym, or just because you’re too tired to cook dinner–you’re already spending about the same amount as you would to buy the powder and make your smoothies at home. And again, depending on where you go for your smoothies, you’re essentially drinking a fruit-flavored candy bar in a cup, not a true “meal replacement”.

I think this would be an excellent meal replacement or dietary supplement for anyone who has strict nutritional/dietary needs and struggles to find the time to prepare proper meals to follow suit–maybe because of a busy lifestyle, frequent traveling, or a heavy athletic routine. I also think that for someone who’s recently recovered from a major illness and needs to pack a maximum amount of nutrition into their diet, it would be hard to find a better supplement than this one; it’s not just incredibly healthy, it’s tasty and easy to digest, so if you don’t have much of an appetite you can still get plenty of the good stuff without forcing yourself to eat a big meal. You could even divide the smoothie into two smaller servings and just put the second in the fridge for later in the day.

It’s a lot healthier (and depending on your habits, possibly cheaper) than constantly hitting the smoothie shop for your fix, and if you’re constantly on the go in areas where it’s hard to find healthy, natural, vegan meals or on-the-go substitutes, it’s pretty awesome. Plus, if you’re hardcore into health food and healthy living, you know that there are lots of pricey nutritional supplements in capsule or powder form that promise to boost your energy or overall health, but it’s hard to find good ones without unnecessary ingredients. Total Nutrition gives you just the ingredients you need, and it’s in a form that’s easy to digest so you get the full nutritional benefit of the product (unlike some capsules or tablets, which can be hard for the body to properly digest, leaving you with only a partial measure of the promised benefits).

Thank you to Immortal Herbs for being kind enough to send me this product for review! It made for a delicious and nutritious smoothie, and it’s one of the best powders I’ve tried yet.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Vegan pumpkin cranberry chocolate chip cookies! (recipe)

It’s not autumn without a healthy dose of pumpkin recipes! The other day Alyssa (who blogs over here) posted on Facebook that she was whipping up a batch of pumpkin cookies, and of course we all clamored for the recipe! It got me browsing around looking at different pumpkin cookie recipes, pumpkin drink recipes, and all other manner of pumpkin-flavored things in between.

Well, going back to the cookies: after looking at a few different recipes and tinkering with some vegan substitutions, here’s what I baked up today! These cookies are not only vegan, they’re easy to make and super-delicious.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (or break up a vegan chocolate bar into small chunks)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the pumpkin and oil together in a mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and other dry ingredients, except for the chocolate chips and cranberries. Add to the larger bowl and blend well. Add in the chocolate chips and cranberries, using more or less to taste. (I like tons and tons in my cookies, but you might use less or even omit one or the other.)

Drop in even spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Makes two dozen cookies.

Product review: Eat Green Tea edible tea leaves

I received one or more of the products mentioned below for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

I have a very busy lifestyle and am used to gulping coffee or energy drinks to stay alert throughout the day (and into the night!). The trouble, of course, with chugging down coffee and energy drinks is that the caffeine boost is usually short-lived and all of that caffeine and sugar coursing through your body can leave you feeling pretty jittery and wired. Too much caffeine makes my heart pound, too much sugar makes me feel sick to my stomach, and then when I want to go to sleep I have trouble drifting off because I’m still so wired. I think anyone bolting from one obligation to the next fueled solely by Starbucks and Monster Energy can relate to this dilemma!

Enter Eat Green Tea. When the company sent me my sample package I was very skeptical that such a small thing could keep me on my feet all day. However, after trying it out for a week, my opinion has changed–I’m totally hooked! This product mixes easily into a smoothie or oatmeal for breakfast, but you could also sprinkle it over salad, into a sandwich, in soup, into pasta sauce, etc. It has a bit of a grainy texture that reminds me of adding oregano or other spices to a dish, so it’s easy to disguise–and there’s no unpleasant taste, unlike some other energy supplements that I’ve sampled in the past. I’m sure in the grand scheme of things taste & texture should be secondary to how well the product works, but personally, if something tastes off-putting I won’t use it, no matter how well it works!

According to the Eat Green Tea website, one serving of this edible tea is supposed to deliver 100x the antioxidant power of simply drinking a cup of tea, which offers everything from increased energy to fat burning, improving heart health, and repairing skin damage. Obviously I haven’t been using it long enough to say if it will help me lose weight or improve my skin, but it definitely delivers on the promise of an energy boost! It makes me feel much more energetic and alert, both physically and mentally, and it doesn’t have the accompanying jitters of too much caffeine or sugar. It’s also a sustained energy boost, versus a quick spike, so I still feel the effects after several hours instead of reaching for another cup of coffee. My heart isn’t pounding and I don’t feel like I’m going to crash in an hour, but when I’m ready to sleep at the end of the day, I can lie down and go right to sleep without the post-buzz jitters keeping me awake.

I feel like it’s a very practical purchase, too–a one-month supply costs $25 and qualifies for free shipping from Amazon (score!), whereas I can easily blow through more than that amount in a month if I’m buying energy drinks, candy, coffee on the go and sodas from the vending machine to keep me on my feet. Not to mention–this is a much healthier choice than all that sugar and chemical additives! I like that it’s organic and unprocessed, so you know you’re getting the most for your money with no hidden harmful ingredients.

Overall this has to be the best health-related product I’ve tried all summer, and I will definitely be ordering more–I am head over heels in love. If you want more information on this product or want to order your own bag, you can find Eat Green Tea via their website here or order from here.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Mediterranean food!

Happy Saturday everybody! Today I just have a short random post about the Mediterranean food we ate this week. It was too yummy to not take pictures and share!

The pitas are stuffed with falafel, cucumbers and red pepper hummus. We actually found vegan-friendly pitas and the hummus in the Walmart deli, of all places. The falafel and the couscous came from the natural/health section of the grocery store. And of course cucumbers, olives and dates are easy to find at almost any grocery store.

(I suppose you could also call this Middle Eastern food. But I promise it’s not all that spicy, unless you add lots of spices to it!)

Recipe: cinnamon raisin bread

Today I’ve got a recipe for cinnamon raisin bread! When I was a kid my mom baked all of our bread from scratch. I was totally spoiled in the carb department. This is the recipe she passed down to me and not only is it super-easy to make, it only requires five ingredients to make the basic bread–no special bread flour, etc.–so it’s super-cheap, too. If you want to make plain bread for sandwiches or garlic toast, just go through the steps to make the bread without adding any cinnamon and raisins.

Here’s what you’ll need (makes two loaves):

  • 3 cups warm (not hot) water
  • 1 tbsp. (or one packet) yeast
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 8 cups flour
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • Raisins to taste (I use about three cups for two loaves! Don’t judge!)

Put the water, yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl and allow to “work” for 10-15 minutes. Make sure your water is only warm and not boiling hot, or it can kill the yeast. Add the oil and flour and mix well; dump out onto floured countertop, knead lightly, and return to mixing bowl to rise. Cover with a clean dish towel and place in a warm corner of the kitchen (away from any drafts) to rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

Flour the counter again and put a little shortening (vegan substitute) on your hands so you won’t stick to the dough, then punch down the risen dough and dump it out on the counter to knead lightly. Add the raisins and cinnamon and work into the dough as you are kneading. Cut the dough into two sections, form into loaves, and place in greased bread pans; cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Bake the loaves for 40-45 minutes. Pop them out of the pans to cool on a cooling rack so the bottoms don’t get soggy; once they’ve cooled a bit, slice up and enjoy!

Once the loaves are completely cool, you can wrap up the second one for the freezer or give it to a friend…if it lasts that long (it never does in our house!). This bread makes great toast, too!

Ethical consumerism: calculating your “slavery footprint”

Have you ever calculated your “slavery footprint”? When we use the term “slavery”, most Americans tend to think of something from a school textbook about the Civil War era. Sadly, slavery is alive and well in the modern world, and it’s lurking in places you might not think to look for it.

Take, for example, the clothes you wear. Do you know where they came from and how they were made? There’s a very good chance they were manufactured in a third-world sweatshop from cotton or leather harvested by workers who are paid a ridiculously low wage for their work (and may even be children pulled out of school to go to work). Or how about your food: that cup of coffee you enjoy each morning may be the result of slave labor to pick and process the beans on a farm in Brazil.

While slavery is technically illegal across the globe, that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent; the SumAll Foundation, which analyzes data and create reports for charities and social justice, estimated this year that there are over 27 million slaves in the world today. (In other words, there are more slaves in the world today than there were in 1860, when the estimated slave count stood at 25 million.) As profiled by The New York Times in March, a snappy infographic breaks down the numbers of the modern slave trade, pointing out that first-world consumerism is a driving force behind much of the modern slave trade.

Calculating your “slavery footprint”

While the numbers are troubling, it’s been hard to grasp the impact of modern slavery on the average American household until now. Made In A Free World, which works to engage consumers with an end goal of eliminating slavery, launched an interactive website called My Slavery Footprint, which offers users a way to input personal data and find out just how large their “slavery footprint” is in connection to what they buy, eat, wear, and use on a daily basis. The questionnaire covers topics like food, clothing, consumer electronics, and sporting goods.

The goal of the site isn’t to make you feel bad, but it probably will. After clicking through the questionnaire, the site calculated that a total of 53 slaves from countries like Brazil, China and Pakistan contributed to my daily lifestyle. 53? I’m not sure I interact with a total of 53 people on a daily basis. That’s a staggering number, and one that elicits a little pitter-patter of shame when I realize how terrible my consumer spending habits truly are.

Or are they?

Here’s the trouble with these types of questionnaires: while they’re a great place to start, they rarely capture the whole picture. There are a few reasons why I take issue with the My Slavery Footprint stats. For starters, some of the data presented on the site seems faulty. In a piece for published in January, Tim Worstall argues that the site doesn’t have all of their technical facts straight regarding the reserves and mining of coltan, an ore from which tantalum is extracted to make capacitors for electronics.

While it’s true that coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo contributes heavily to world supply and that human rights abuses there are off the charts, it’s also true that a huge chunk of the world’s mined tantalum production in 2009 came from Australia (12.1%), Brazil (26.9%) and parts of Africa excluding the DRC (44.3%)–a fact My Slavery Footprint neglects to mention. Once you start stretching the stats, it hurts your overall cause. (To be completely fair, Worstall also cites Canada as a leading producer ahead of the DRC, but in 2009 that country produced just 3.7% of the earth’s mined tantalum, compared to the DRC’s 13%.) (Numbers courtesy of the 2009 minerals yearbook from the United States Geological Survey)

Second, there’s the rather vague way My Slavery Footprint actually collects your data. For example, when the site asks about your wardrobe, it asks only for the number of items of clothing you own broke down by tops, pants, jackets, shoes, and so forth. Since the site doesn’t ask for further information, such as the country of origin or the materials used, a large wardrobe results in a larger slavery footprint. Basically, the site doesn’t differentiate between a pair of Nikes and a pair of Toms, so someone who buys ethically crafted clothing made from organic fair trade cotton gets the same score as someone who buys leather goods or lots of mass-produced items from factories in China. 

Third, upcycling is left completely out of the loop, so if you’re getting your clothes, electronics or sporting goods second-hand (which many of us do, particularly in this economy), there’s no way to calculate a reduced footprint based on secondhand purchases versus new consumer goods. And if owning a bike contributes to a higher score via owning a piece of sporting equipment, there’s also no reduction in score for using said bike in place of a car to run daily errands, which theoretically would use higher amounts of items like rubber, certain metals and petroleum.

The site sort of kind of admits that your results are largely based on “assumptions”, when it shows you the five responses that most affected your overall footprint. But it’s still pretty vague. For example, my result shows that marking “body wash” as an item in my medicine cabinet contributed to a higher slavery score. But there’s nothing to say what brands I’m buying, how they were sourced, or where they were produced–all crucial pieces of information for a more well-rounded score.

How to put those numbers to good use

An essential part of data collection and processing involves making sense of the numbers. While I don’t think that My Slavery Footprint necessarily does a very good job of calculating your score, and I wish that the site employed more specific questions, it’s a great start to understanding the connection between consumerism and modern slavery. And if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into the factoids behind the numbers, you can find some really easy ways to shrink your footprint.

For example, if you’re a fashionista, consider upcycling new fashions from thrift stores and shopping through retailers who are making strides toward a more ethical supply chain. (I’m going to be posting more about both of those topics later in the month.)

If food contributes highly to your score, look for more fair-trade and ethically sourced items. For example, if you’re a hard-core chocolate addict, purchase bars made from fair-trade cocoa beans. My husband just bought me a big stack of bars from Theo Chocolate for our anniversary, and on top of using fair trade cocoa I saw that one of the bars helps support World Bicycle Relief, an organization that supplies locally assembled bicycles to students, entrepreneurs and health care workers in rural Africa. Talk about a cool way to multitask your ethical impact, huh?

I’m going to have more detailed posts throughout the month of June about ethical fashion, upcycling, and how you can alter your shopping habits for a greener (and more socially conscious) footprint. So be sure to check back later to see those posts!

More resources

Recipe: chocolate peanut butter banana soy protein shakes

I posted the other day about making chocolate peanut butter banana soy protein shakes and Ambarina from Beauty Passionista asked for the recipe, so here it is!

You’ll need:

  • Two scoops chocolate protein powder (or 2/3 to 1 cup)
  • 2 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 2 cups soy milk
  • 1 banana
  • 6-7 ice cubes

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend well! Serves two.

The calorie content for this shake should be around 350-400, depending on the protein powder you use. This seems really high when compared to the 200-calorie diet shakes sold at the grocery store, but keep in mind that those shakes are typically used in a meal plan where you have a 200-calorie snack every couple of hours. These shakes are meant as a true meal replacement for a day when you need energy and know you won’t be eating again for several hours. They pack nearly 20 grams of protein per serving, so they really fuel you up and leave you feeling full.

If you’re not preparing for two, you could drink one and put the other in the fridge for later; just stir it up when you’re ready to drink it. This is actually great if you come home from work tired and don’t want to prepare a real dinner before you crash; you can drink one and leave the other in the fridge for the AM.

(I’m actually out of any higher-end protein powders right now because I’ve been too lazy to go shopping (!) but the one pictured, the Carnation breakfast mix, is pretty good and my hubby loves it. It does contain nonfat milk though so be warned of that if you’re trying to avoid dairy.)

Some other fun ways to fix up a summer smoothie:

  • One banana, two cups soy milk, one cup strawberries, one scoop chocolate or vanilla protein powder, several ice cubes
  • One cup soy milk, one cup brewed cooled coffee, one scoop chocolate protein powder, several ice cubes
  • One cup strawberries, one cup blueberries, one banana, two cups soy milk, several ice cubes