One of the hardest parts of being a new vegan (or even an old seasoned vegan) is trying to keep up with all the new products out there. I must have spent over $50 looking for the "right" vegan cheese my first year being a vegan and I have over 50 vegan/vegetarian cookbooks in my arsenal but not all the recipes are the greatest. I’m the first born so I’m used to being a Guinea Pig and now I’m your Vegan Guinea Pig. So here are my recommendations and critiques. Let me know what you think!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Beat it! Natural & Herbal Insect Repellent (DEET Free)

Ever since I was a child there was just something about me that mosquito's loved. On my first trip to the south I remember being covered from head to toe in mosquito bites by day 2 and soaking in a bathtub of Avon's Skin So Soft to try to relieve some of the pain and swelling (needless to say that didn't work). As a child and even as a young adult it never occurred to me to even use any type of insect repellent. But, after I woke up one morning looking like Quasimodo with a big swollen mosquito bite over my right eye I decided it was time to take some action.

I started using all the popular brands you find in convenience stores. I used sprays, lotions, wipes, the whole gamete. They worked fine but I soon realized why my mom had kept these things from me my entire childhood. They were full of DEET, a known carcinogen. The EPA says that if you use products with DEET as the label says then you should be fine. Well, that wouldn't solve my mosquito bite on the eye issue. For years I had been slathering this stuff all over my face, behind my ears, and on every nook and cranny of my body to make sure that I stayed bite free. According to the EPA you shouldn't even put it on your hands! So after I completely freaked out and threw out everything in my house containing DEET I started searching for alternatives.

A lot of natural insect repellents tend to leave you smelling like a huge citronella candle. And that just isn't very sexy to me. Plus, somewhere in my mind, I wasn't 100% convinced that a natural/herbal product could do the same work as the heavy chemicals. When I saw Beat it! I figured I would give it a try. After all, the label claimed that it was "Jungle Strength" so that had to be some good stuff right?

I tested Beat it! in every scenario possible. Hiking trails, backyard BBQ's, the Costa Rican rainforest. Wherever I went, Beat it! went with me. And I have to say that, in my opinion, it worked even better the conventional brands of insect repellent. Plus, since it is a herbal formula, you can spray it on your clothes too, creating a nice barrier between you and the bugs that love to bite you.

Another huge advantage of using Beat It! is that it works great on animals too! I spray it on my dogs, goats and even my rabbit when he's outside. It gives me one more layer of comfort in knowing that I'm protecting my dogs from mosquito's and heartworm while not using toxic chemicals on them.

Beat it! is carried in some natural food stores and Whole Foods but can always be purchased online at

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Coconut Bliss - 7 Minutes in Ice Cream Heaven

It's official. Coconut is the new soy. Everywhere you turn there is some new hot coconut based product. Coconut ice cream, yogurt, milk and even coconut flour. Luna & Larry have thrown one more hat into the coconut crazy ring with the addition of their Coconut Bliss line of dairy free, soy free and sugar free ice creams. I must admit as I tried each one of their 8 flavors and slipped into a soft, happy, place somewhere between the feeling of a 2 hour massage and sleeping on a bed of soft feathers (faux feathers of course. Down is so not vegan!), I started to feel like I was cheating on Purely Decadent's Coconut Ice Cream. I started to wonder how I would explain myself to you guys. How I could go from loving Purely Decadent's Coconut Ice cream more than newborn puppies to being lost in a sea of love and emotion over Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss. But then it all came to me. You can love them both equally and feel unashamed.

Coconut Bliss and Purely Decadent Coconut Ice Cream have 4 flavors in common: coconut, vanilla, chocolate and mint chocolate. But they also each have 4 unique flavors as well. So you can try Coconut Bliss' Cappuccino, Cherry Amaretto, Strawberry Lemon Love, or Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge while still being able to enjoy Purely Decadent's Cookie Dough, Mocha Almond Fudge, Passionate Mango and Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl (I've also seen a snickerdoodle flavor out there once but only at Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe).

So you see, there's enough coconut ice cream love to spread around between both brands. And this summer my freezer will be well stocked with a little of both. Ice Cream party anyone?!

Update: June/July 2009 Coconut Bliss is adding 3 new flavors to their arsenal. Chocoalte Peanut Butter, Naked Almond Fudge and Pineapple Coconut. I can't wait!!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Guinea Pig Updates: So Delicious Coconut Yogurt

This little guinea pig has managed to stir up quite a lot of emotion from the Purely Decadent coconut yogurt lovers out there. Here's an update on my purely decadent coconut yogurt review. Hopefully this clarifies some things. Also there are a couple new flavors that I've tried as well.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brownies Are For Lovers...

Ghirardelli brand chocolates is not only a chocolate lover's dream but a vegan's dream as well. For all those people who think being vegan is inaccesible, hard and you have to go to a bunch of special stores to get good vegan vittles I say nay to you! I picked up a box of Ghirardelli chocolate double chocoalte brownie mix (with chocoalte chips in the mix) for $1.50 at Target. Ghirardelli's brownies were almost good enough to make me stop making brownie's from scratch all together...almost.

The add in ingredients to the mix are 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 1 egg. You can easily substitute out 1/4 cup pureed soft silken tofu or 1 egg equivalent Ener-G egg replacer for the egg in the mix. Both ways come out great. You will need to increase the cooking time by about 2-3 minutes (you can tell it's done when a toothpick passes through clean).

Aside from the phenomenal taste, texture and ease of veganizing this brownie mix has the best directions of any mix I've seen. It not only has directions for metal pan baking but glass pan baking as well. I only have glass so for me this is a huge help as I'm always left with the task of trial and error trying to translate baking times to fit the pan I'm using.

There's also a great recipe for Seven Layer Brownie Bars on the back of the box, which can also easily be veganized by trading out Earth Balance margarine for the butter and oat milk for the sweetened condensed milk to make yummy Seven Layer Brownie Bars.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: The Last Carrot Miami, FL

Two weeks in Miami sounds like the ultimate vacation to some but for me it was nothing but endless meetings, a bad hotel exercise room and an endless stack of take out menu’s to pick out my dinner from. Inevitably that means a choice between pizza or Chinese. After alternating between the two for days I finally had to branch out. Thankfully a kind spirit took pity on my poor soul’s yearning for fresh vegetables and “real” vegan food and shuttled me down to The Last Carrot (3133 Grand Ave, Coconut Grove Miami, FL).

The Last Carrot isn’t much to look at, but from the second I walked in the door I knew that I had made it to a little slice of vegan heaven. Instead of trying to decide between Chinese take out classics like Buddha’s Delight and Bean Curd & Eggplant or pizza (no cheese) plus a meager list of toppings from the local pizzeria, I had a full menu to choose from including vegan desserts! It had only been a week since I dined at an ultra vegan-friendly restaurant but it seemed like an eternity and I took my time looking over the menu. Would I try the Spicy Tofu Pita Sandwich? Maybe the Hummus Pita? Homemade Veggieburgers are always a safe choice. Or did I want to go for one of their ginormous (yes that’s a word, because I say so!) salads. Maybe some hearty soup and a salad. Then there was the prospect of having a smoothie made from real fruit, not concentrated fruit juice or syrups. As I tried to make my decision I looked down to see a huge vegan cake beckoning me to come closer and a full case of vegan cookies and brownies. What’s a little Vegan Guinea Pig to do with such choices put in front of her?

Well after mulling over the menu for at least 10 minutes I finally decided on the Spicy Tofu Pita which turned out to be one of their ginormous salads complete with bean sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbal dressing (which was also a bit spicy) topped with two generous portions of baked spicy tofu. It was one of those sandwiches that begins to fall apart as soon as you eat it, so there is no attractive way of going about devouring it. I just went for it full force. Salad dressing on my cheeks, I think some of it even got on my nose. Lettuce and sprouts falling onto my plate. I didn’t care. It was all just too good to care who was watching or what they were thinking. I would have never imagined that I could ever be this excited to eat fresh vegetables! After the sandwich I was already 99% full. I knew there was no way a smoothie was going to fit in my stomach so I gave in to temptation and decided to go for the vegan cake that had been whispering sweet nothings in my ear since I walked in the door. It was a chocolate, coconut, ganache-ish cake. Mind you, the name of the cake didn’t sound as great as the looks of the cake but I thought I’d give it a try anyway. Boy am I glad I did! All the flavors blended together seamlessly and I found myself scraping the crumbs of it off my plate.

The bottom line is, next time your in Miami get yourself down to The Last Carrot. Your belly will thank you.
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