The Cruelty-Free Review

A review of compassionate products, foods, and recipes

Free Chipotle!

Who doesn’t love free food? No one, that’s who. And here’s your chance to try Chipotle’s new sofritas (if you haven’t already) and get rewarded for it. On Monday, January 26th, order any item with sofritas, and you’ll get a free burrito (or taco, salad, or bowl), redeemable between January 27th and February 28th.

Still unsure if you want to try sofritas? Read the guest blog review I did for That Was Vegan? here, and then just give it a shot! You might discover your new favorite item…and if not, hell, at least you’ll get to go back and get something you do like for free! Either way, you’ll be supporting Chipotle’s awesome vegan option. Bring on Sofritas Monday!

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DIY in ’15

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When I started writing this post, all I could think about was how I wished it was 2005 instead of 2015 because then I could title it “DIY in ‘05” and it would totally rhyme. But still, if you say “one-five” instead of “fifteen” then the rhyme still works.  These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night. Aaanywaaay….

Obviously, this is all about how I want to try and make my own cleaning and beauty products this year.  Long story short, after 10 years of living in the same apartment Robert and I lucked into renting a condo. It’s bigger than our old place and in a nicer area of town, but with the upgrade in the quality of living conditions, we also got an upgrade in the rent. So I’m trying to be more frugal and want to try the DIY route that seems popular these days. I’ve seen loads of ideas and recipes for making homemade laundry detergent, all-purpose cleansers, body scrubs, shampoo, spider repellant (something I’m VERY interested in, now that we have a garage with lots of boxes in it) and so forth. People swear that they save a ton of money by making their own stuff and that’s definitely something I can get on board with!

I decided to start with something very basic, something idiot-proof that even I couldn’t mess up, so I decided to make a sugar body scrub. Winter in Colorado equals very, very dry skin, especially with the extreme cold temperatures we’ve had lately. So sugar scrubs are a great way to slough dead, dry skin, and are especially effective when combined with an oil to moisturize. There are only about a million and one recipes for DIY scrubs, but I found one that called for just sugar and coconut oil. I said it was basic, didn’t I? Besides, that’s pretty much all the ingredients I had at the time. So I combined 1 cup of plain white sugar with ¼ cup coconut oil. I mixed everything together with my hands, which provided just enough warmth to gently melt the coconut oil and blend with the sugar. I tried it that night in the shower and it was just perfect. Gently exfoliating and moisturizing without being greasy. But like I said, it was very basic. No smell, no color (which is why I won’t bother with a picture. Imagine a Tupperware container with white sugar in it. There’s my scrub). A few drops of an essential oil would certainly elevate to something more indulgent.

But it was cheap! A 2lb. bag of sugar costs about 90 cents and the coconut oil was about $9.00 for a 32oz jar. If I’m doing the math correctly (and there’s a good chance I’m not!) that works out to about 60 cents for the batch of scrub, which makes enough to last 1 ½-2 weeks, if used every other day or so. Not too shabby when you consider store-bought scrubs can cost $5-10 or more. And given that sugar and coconut oil are staples of cooking and both have long shelf-lives, there’s little chance they will go to waste.

So, my initial foray into the world of DIY was a success! I didn’t spend any money since I used what was already on hand and it was effective. Now I want to hear from you. Has anyone else tried DIY products? Was is actually cheaper and did it work? I’d love to hear any and all experiences!

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Eating Vegan In Omaha, Part Deux

Thanks for coming back to part two of this vegan Omaha review. The little owl is so very happy! 🙂 Now to continue the journey…

The next day was our big outing to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The HD Zoo is comparable to the San Diego zoo in terms of sheer size and awesomeness. Granted, I’ve only visited the Denver Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, San Diego Zoo, and HD Zoo, but trust me when I say that the HD Zoo is one of the best in the US, if not the world. For one thing they have the world’s largest indoor desert inside the world’s largest geodesic dome, the largest zoo-based aquarium, America’s largest indoor rainforest, the world’s largest indoor swamp, and the world’s second largest free-flight aviary. And if that doesn’t sound like enough there’s also the huge cat complex, gorilla valley, Expedition Madagascar, the Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, and all the other outlying exhibits. Whew! We were there for over 6 ½ hours and only left because we were too hungry to stay longer. Among other things we saw:

adorable lion cubs

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a baby pigmy hippo (partially pictured; mama is very protective)

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lots of baby prairie dogs at Prairie Dog Hill

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gorgeous butterflies free-flying around us in the Pavilion

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and rhinos who appeared to be recovering from a kegger the night before

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Plus the admission to the HD Zoo is only $15 compared to the $44 (!) you’ll pay for entry to the SD Zoo. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the admission to SD is pretty much worth it considering 1) they have Giant Pandas and 2) they’re in San Diego.  But you would be remiss to ignore the Henry Doorly Zoo in your travels. And like all zoos they are very active in conservation of species which is the most important thing when it comes to any zoo.

Thoroughly famished we headed to Downtown Omaha in search of Block 16. Formerly called New York Chicken and Gyros, I was super excited to try this place because their website boasted house-made seitan and separate fryers for veggie items. I ordered the vegan gyro which featured thinly sliced chewy, chicken-y seitan, loads of crisp veggies, and creamy hummus in place of the traditional yougurt-based tzatziki, all stuffed into a soft pita. The spicy crinkle fries rounded out the meal.

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Sadly their website has changed since I last looked at it prior to the trip and it no longer states that separate fryers are used for meat and veg items. That doesn’t mean they don’t still adhere to that practice. I’m someone who accepts that cross-contamination will happen when eating out but I hope they haven’t stopped doing it.  They are currently redesigning the site so hopefully that issue will be clarified. I did take a pic of their in-store menu and you can see  the many options of adding seitan to various sandwiches and even salads!

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Surprisingly, Omaha features not one but two bakeries that have competed on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. We had no intention of getting cupcakes but we had a lot of time to kill before heading to Werner Park to catch the Omaha Stromchasers (the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals )and Jones Bros. Cupcakes was a short drive away. Their online menu didn’t have any vegan cupcakes listed so I was so very happy to see a vegan Chocolate Hazelnut cupcake sitting among the other choices. That made my decision easy! It’s easy to see why this bakery won CW as they have a perfect cake-to-frosting ratio. The cake was dense and chocolaty and the frosting has just the right amount of sweetness to be indulgent but not tooth-achingly sugary. I don’t believe for one second that if you handed that cupcake to someone without telling them so that they would be able to tell it was vegan.

On the right, my vegan chocolate hazelnut cupcake, on the left, Robert's non-vegan strawberries and cream cupcake.

On the right, my vegan chocolate hazelnut cupcake, on the left, Robert’s non-vegan strawberries and cream cupcake.

The baseball game was a lot of fun. I’ve only been to major-league games so going to a game on a smaller-scale was kind of weird. I liked not having as many people swarming around and the fans in Omaha are very passionate. To make things more interesting there are a lot of fan promotions that the team does between innings like trying to throw softballs into the sunroof of a car as it drives around the field and homerun contests. I was happy to just sit in the warm air and drink beer and you can’t beat the price—we sat just six rows behind home plate for only $11 a ticket!

We also made a stop at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Safari on the way from Omaha to Lincoln. The park features bison, deer, wolves, elk, pelicans, bears, and an eagle aviary.

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The aviary was especially cool as it houses bald eagles that have been rescued from the wild but unfortunately can’t be re-released. It’s a rare chance to see them close up and two of them posed handsomely for pictures for us.

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Most of the park was drive-through but there was about a 2-mile walking trail that looped around a lake that we hiked. I laughed at the signpost about the hike; there was a warning that halfway though there was ’moderate’ elevation gain for approximately .3 miles and was rated’ somewhat difficult’. I had on a pair of platform sandals and was only winded for about 10 seconds after the ‘treacherous’ climb. I guess that’s how you know you’re from Colorado; what is considered difficult elevation to mid-westerners is laughed at by those of us who know what elevation really is! We also snapped a pic of this frog, appropriately located at Frog Lake, trying to hide. We can totally see you Carl! (If you don’t get that reference I’m sorry. Just Google Geico antelope commercial and you’ll see what I mean.)

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The rest of the trip was uneventful, as far as vegan food goes. We did plan on trying a place in Lincoln on our way to the concert called Maggie’s Vegetarian Wraps but they closed at 3pm—we were 2 hours too late. It was a bit disappointing because the menu looked fantastic. Maybe the next time around!

All in all the trip was a success in trying unique vegan eats. I came away with a new respect for mid-western restaurants because I never expected to have so many choices and the two places we visited are by no means the only options in Omaha. Of course, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything vegan in chain restaurants or at major attractions. I know there were few vegan options outside of the usual fries and peanuts at the zoo or the baseball game. We stayed at the Ameristar Hotel in Council Bluffs, IA for the first two nights and of all the restaurants there I had to settle for just vegetarian food. Being a flex-vegan it was easier for me to make do but strict vegans will want to do a lot of research and explore all their options ahead of time. Still you can never assume that eating vegan is impossible in any city and there’s a pretty good chance you will discover some great new food if you keep your mind open!

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Eating Vegan in Omaha, Nebraska

Yup, you read that right. It is possible to get some tasty vegan eats in the heart of beef country. A few weeks ago Robert and I took a mini vacation to NE to see Alice in Chains in concert in Lincoln. We decided to extend our visit by a few days so we could go to the Omaha Zoo (the reasons for which I will explain later) and while planning the trip I had to find some veg-friendly places for us to eat at. Thank goodness for HappyCow.net. If you haven’t utilized this website you absolutely must the next time you plan on eating in a different city. Simply plug the city you are visiting into their search engine and you will get links to all the restaurants that feature veg-friendly food. Without it I would never have thought finding vegan, or even vegetarian food would be possible in a city known for their steaks.

The drive from Denver to Omaha is about 7 ½ hours so despite snacking on the way up there we were desperate for a solid meal by the time we finally rolled into the city. We immediately headed to Blue Planet Natural Grill. Their menu features plenty of vegan options, from burgers to bowls to pizza. Having browsed the menu several times prior to arrival, I knew I wanted to have the Ratner’s Vegan Griller burger with vegan cheese. The ingredients of the burger aren’t listed but I think it was a chickpea-based patty with veggies like corn, peppers, and onion mixed in. It was just what I needed after the long drive. Crispy on the outside, loaded with flavor, and topped with a creamy slice of what I assume was cheddar Teese on top. The whole-wheat bun was also fantastic. It reminded me of a ciabatta roll but it was softer on the inside and added just the right amount of texture to the whole thing.   I had the regular fries but ever-adventurous Robert opted for the curry fries and I’ll admit that I should have had them as well. They were perfectly spiced and went well with the Grill’s homemade chipotle-lime ketchup.

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After we checked into the hotel and had a quick nap we drove to the Benson Street neighborhood, an historic area of Omaha full of unique shopping and loads of bars. We made our way directly to Krug Park, an upscale bar that features over 50 beers on tap. Having lived in Colorado all my life I am fortunate to have a lot of options when it comes to local beers. We are tied with Portland as being the microbrewery capital of the US after all. However it is nice to discover brews from other cities and Krug Park had plenty of NE beers for us to try. I won’t lie at this point; I don’t remember which ones I tried but I do know that I liked them all. I wasn’t drunk mind you, but as much as I like beer one starts to taste just like the other after a while. We really went to Benson St. to try and find Shooter, the resident bar cat. According to the Omaha Visitor’s guide Shooter makes his rounds throughout the bars, cozying up to bartenders and making friends with patrons. We asked the bartender at Krug about Shooter and she became all smiles. She told us that he belongs to the man who basically owns all the property on Benson St. and will just saunter in and out of places at his leisure. She even showed us several pictures she’s taken of him relaxing on her bar’s back patio. He looks very much like a well-fed, content alley cat and the proprietors of the bars are very protective of him. Our bartender said that the only person who has ever been banned from Krug was banned because he tried kicking Shooter. Now that’s my kind of place! They don’t care about rowdy drunks, but don’t you dare try to hurt Shooter.

On a side note, Krug Park is located right next to Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar. I only mention this because we glanced at the Lot 2 menu and I was shocked to see not one but two dishes that featured seitan! I don’t know if they were vegan but I do find it immensely cool that a fancy wine bar had seitan on their menu.

I originally planned this to be one post but once I got to typing I realized I wanted to share as much as possible about what we did without boring anyone so come back on Friday for Part 2 of Eating Vegan In Omaha featuring lots of animals, scrumptous seitan, and decadent desserts. To keep you interested, here’s an adorable picture of one of the rescued owls we saw at the Conservation Park and Safari.

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Who’s the fool if they don’t come back for the rest? Huh, see what I did there? 🙂

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Virtual Vegan Potluck #3-Maple Brussels Sprouts Pizza with Serranos and Lemon

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Hello and welcome to this, the third installment to the Virtual Vegan Potluck! I hope you are having a wonderful time making your way through all the amazing recipes. Each time we do this it gets bigger and bigger and I couldn’t be happier. A huge, huge amount of thanks goes out to Annie, Somer, and Jason for their hard work at putting this event together, not to mention Vegan Bloggers Unite! for serving as the host site and the myriad of sponsors who contribute prizes. It may take longer to get through each course but I personally love discovering new bloggers and fun recipes to try.  I certainly hope you enjoy my offering and I would love if you kept coming back!

My entry this year is a pizza inspired by a recipe from Meatless, by Martha Stewart Living. The book is full of wonderful vegetarian recipes, many that are vegan or can easily be veganized. One of those recipes is the Brussels Sprout and Lemon pizza, an easy dish that features crispy sprout leaves and tart slices of lemon on top of fresh mozzarella cheese. It’s cooked in a cast-iron skillet so there’s no stress about having a funny-shaped pizza. I liked the sound of it, minus the mozz, of course. The first time I made it the cheese was easily replaced with Teese and the result was a light, but filling meal. It paired wonderfully with a crisp white wine.

Then Robert and I wondered what could make it better. He was a little adverse to the slices of lemon, though I didn’t mind them. He suggested I toss the sprout leaves in maple syrup (maple roasted Brussels sprouts being one of his most favorite foods) to add a bit of sweetness. I concurred; a touch of sweetness can elevate a dish to a whole new level. Then I thought about adding some heat in the way of a jalapeno. The result was good, if not entirely what I was hoping for. The sprouts were perfectly flavored by the syrup, but the lemon became too assertive and the jalapeno was lost in it all.

As with any good experiment I went back to the drawing board. A spicier pepper was definitely needed and I wanted to tone down the lemon flavor without removing it all together. I used two Serrano chilies in place of the jalapeno and instead of lemon slices baked on the pizza I added a bit of lemon zest and juice right after taking the pizza out of the oven. The third time was the charm and I ended up with a truly unique pizza creation. The spice of the peppers matched the sweetness of the sprouts and the lemon zest and juice added brightness and acidity without being overpowering.  The subtle creaminess of the Teese rounded it all out.  You can certainly stick with jalapenos if you are not a fan of heat or increase the heat with a habanero if you are so inclined. I’m very proud of how this came out as it is the first time I’ve evolved a recipe to make something all my own. I’m usually scared to deviate from a recipe but in this case it really paid off.

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Maple Brussels Sprout Pizza with Serrano and Lemon

Adapted from a recipe from Meatless by Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients:

6-8 large Brussels sprouts

2 Serrano chilies

Zest of 1 lemon plus 2 teaspoons of lemon juice

5oz Teese  or vegan mozzarella of your choice

1 tablespoon Maple syrup

1 can Pillsbury Whole Grain Artisan pizza dough, or dough of your choice (about 13oz)

Olive oil, for brushing

Directions:

Remove the dough and let it sit at room temp while you prepare everything else. This will make it easier to stretch and manipulate it in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly oil the cast iron pan, making sure to brush it up along the sides.

Cut the stems off the sprouts and pull as many leaves off as you can. You should end up with roughly 2 cups of leaves. When done, rinse and dry the leaves thoroughly. It is imperative that the leaves are completely dry, or the syrup won’t stick and they won’t get crispy. A salad spinner works well to remove most of the moisture, but you will still need to dry them with paper towels after spinning to get them totally dry. Place dry leaves in a bowl and toss with the maple syrup. Use your hands to make sure every leaf gets coated! Set aside.

Clean the serranos and cut them in half.  Carefully remove the seeds and membrane, and then slice into thin half-moons. Remember to wash your hands after handling the peppers! Set aside.

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If you use the Pillsbury crust I did, this part is a little tricky. The dough rolls out in a rectangle and of course the pan is round so you have to do a little cut and paste. Roll the dough out in the pan then trim the excess that hangs over either side. Use these pieces to fill in the gaps in the pan. This is where having pliable dough comes in handy. Pinch the pieces of dough together then pat it out evenly throughout the pan.

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Cut off thin slices of Teese and layer them on the crust, leaving approximately a half inch edge of dough. I using shredded cheese just sprinkle it evenly around, again leaving a half inch edge. Evenly spread the Brussels sprouts on top of the cheese then sprinkle the chilies on top. Place in the oven and cook for approximately 10-12 minutes or until the leaves are crisp and the dough is cooked through.  Remove from the oven and evenly distribute the zest and juice on top.

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Enjoy!

My entry will take you to The Road to Serendipity. Seriously, that’s the next blog in the potluck, but I think I might use it to close all my future blog entries; “Now to the Road to Serendipity with you.” It sounds very philosophical 🙂  Now off you go!

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Poppy’s Patisserie

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The Road to Serendipity

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Counting down to an awesome event

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The 3rd Virtual Vegan Potluck is quickly approaching! This time around there are over 170 blogs (including your truly 🙂 ) participating. If you’re new to this event, one: what rock have you been hiding under? and two: the VVP is a collection of vegan recipes from bloggers all around the world. On May 11th, all the participating bloggers will post their unique recipe with links to the preceding and next blog in the potluck. The categories include appetizers and desserts, and everthing in between. The idea is that of a real potluck; start with the appetizers and make your way to dessert. But just like a real potluck you can skip around and go back to your favorites again and again. I will be in the main dish category.  Check out the entire list of participants here and make sure you come back on May 11th to see what deliciousness I’ve cooked up!

Oh, and don’t think I haven’t noticed that my posting has been lacking lately. I’ve had an unprecidented bout of laziness come over me that I blame on the schizophrenic Colorado weather. It’s hard to want to do anything when it’s spring and there’s six inches of snow outside my window. Thankfully that seems to be over and my mood and energy will perk right up when I see some consistant sun. I’ll have some great reviews coming up and I’ve got a Sunshine Award nomination from Epicurean Vegan to acknowledge. That I am purposely saving for after the potluck, as I suspect I’ll have a whole bunch of new blogs I want to mention!

 

 

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Victory!

This little guy applauds the EU ban.

This little guy applauds the EU ban.

It’s been a long time coming, but it has finally happened- The European Union has banned the import and sale of all animal-tested cosmetics! From the Opposing Views article:

After over 20 years of effort and delays, animals will no longer be used to test makeup, skin care products and other products in the European Union. The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments has succeeded in banning the use of animals in cosmetics testing in all member countries of the EU. We all celebrate with them!

 

As of March 11, 2013, the EU will ban the import and sale of animal-tested cosmetic products (including ingredients) for all member states. From this date forward, anyone selling new cosmetic products and ingredients in the European Union will not be allowed to test them on animals anywhere in the world, the Nydailynews.com reports.

 

Under the new rules, all personal care products, from high-end to drugstore brands, not only cannot be tested on animals, but neither can any of a given products’ ingredients, according to mnn.com. All toiletries and beauty products, from skin cream to toothpaste, will be affected.

 

Cosmetics will still be tested for safety by the companies that produce them, but using agreed-upon methods that do not involve animals.

 

Chief Executive of Cruelty Free International Michelle Thew said: “This is truly an historic event and the culmination of over 20 years of campaigning. Now we will apply our determination and vision on a global stage to ensure that the rest of the world follows this lead.”

 

This victory was largely due to the support of the new European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg. The ECEAU states, “The former European Commissioner in charge of the EU’s cosmetics regulations had been considering recommendations to delay or weaken the ban, allowing the cosmetics industry to continue testing cosmetic products and ingredients on animals until they could find alternative methods, but it went through, thanks to Borg’s urging.”

 

The ban has been planned since 2009, but animal-testing campaigners feared a delay to the decision. EU Commissioner Tonio Borg wrote an open letter informing them that the ban is due to go ahead as proposed, and stating that he was “not planning to propose a postponement or derogation to the ban.”

 

The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments announced that its next goal is to end the use of animals in scientific experiments, stating that 12 million animals a year are used in Europe for this purpose, according to mnn.com.

 

OTHER AREAS OF THE WORLD

 

ISRAEL

 

On January 1, 2013, Israel banned the import, sale, and marketing of animal-tested cosmetics, toiletries, and household cleaners. In 2007, the Israeli government had banned the use of animals to test personal-care and household products within the country. In the new law, which came into effect January 1, 2013, lawmakers have blocked products that have been tested on animals in other countries from even crossing Israel’s border,

 

INDIA

 

At the urging of Maneka Gandhi and Indian activists, India is currently revising its method of safety testing for cosmetics and it is hoped all animal testing will be banned. Indian Drug Control General Dr. Singh recently stated, “If animal testing of cosmetics isn’t mandatory by either the US FDA or the EU, it seems unnecessary for India to have them at all.”

 

Ms. Gandhi explained that India would lose tremendous revenue if the European countries are unable to purchase cosmetics from India because of its failure to comply with the new EU anti-cruelty laws, which prohibit subjecting innocent animals to unnecessary pain and suffering to test products.

 

CHINA

 

One of the world’s largest markets, China still demands animal testing as a safety precaution, according to mnn.com. PETA states that Chinese companies are required by law to pay for testing before some cosmetics can be marketed to the public. PETA is working in Beijing, training scientists to test cosmetics with alternative methods.

This is such a huge leap forward in animal welfare and I can only hope that other countries follow suit.

Don’t go running out to buy that favorite European brand you abandoned years ago just yet. Despite laws against testing in the EU, some companies will still sell their products in countries like China, which require animal testing. And since the testing is conducted in China it falls outside the jurisdiction of the EU law. And to make matters worse the company has to pay for their own animal testing. That’s why companies like Avon, May Kay and Estee Lauder fell out of favor with PETA last year. Late last year Urban Decay, a popular cruelty-free company with many vegan cosmetic options, experienced first-hand the disappointment from consumers when they announced they were going to sell in China. After the backlash they quickly backed off from that decision and said they would not sell in China until the mandatory animal testing policies were outlawed. Hopefully countries like China will take a page from India and realize that they could suffer a huge blow in revenue if they fail to comply with the new laws and can’t sell in any EU country. Thankfully they are amenable to learning about alternatives to animal-testing. If you are in doubt as to whether a brand is or isn’t tested on animals, refer to Leaping Bunny.org. You can trust them to list only companies that do not test products on animals in any country.

I wonder how this will affect US companies. Johnson and Johnson, Unilever, and SC Johnson are some of the biggest companies that still conduct animal testing and I can only imagine that they will take a huge financial hit if they can no longer sell in Europe. I hope this will be the catalyst that causes them to reconsider their stance on animal testing.

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Spiked Hot Chocolate

 

I hope everyone had a Merry/Happy Whatever! Our Christmas was a bit eventful—after brunch we had to rush our kitty Loki to the emergency vet due to a blocked urethra. This is a very dangerous condition in male cats which causes them to be unable to urinate. The wastes from the urine build up, distending the bladder and causing extreme pain, sickness, and death if not treated quickly. Thankfully we got him in before he became too sick and he is already on the mend and will hopefully be coming home tomorrow. I am so thankful that we live only 20 minutes from a 24-hour vet hospital and that the caring individuals got him in right away to begin taking care of him. We visited him yesterday and all the vet techs and the vet taking care of him just love how friendly he is. He really loves going to the vet so he made friends easily once he got to feeling better. Of course, this little trip wasn’t cheap but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t wait to get my boy home tomorrow!

On a happier note, this post is for my Spiked Hot Chocolate! With winter in full swing, we could all use a little extra something in our drinks to keep us warm and this recipe is perfect for that.

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A bit of back story—Robert works with some truck drivers from Russia who are always bringing him bottles of liquor. I don’t know why; he’s not even sure except that they are just really giving, friendly guys. We often get various kinds of Armenian brandy and champagne as well as the occasional bottle of vodka or tequila. For Thanksgiving, they brought him a gift set of Patron XO Café and XO Café Dark Cocoa, which are chocolate/coffee flavored liquors. I had an entire container of Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder that needed to be used so I figured they would go great together.  From the Patron website, here are the descriptions for each flavor:

Patron XO Café: Patrón XO Cafe is an extraordinary blend of ultra-premium Patrón Silver tequila and the pure, natural essence of fine coffee. The taste is dry, not sweet as with most low-proof coffee liqueurs with notes of chocolate and vanilla. Patrón XO Cafe is excellent for sipping, as a premium cocktail ingredient, or as a unique and delicious dessert topping.

Patron XO Café Dark Cocoa: Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa combines high-quality Patrón Silver tequila with the extraordinary essence of fine coffee and Criollo chocolate from Mexico to create a unique and enjoyable ultra-premium coffee liqueur. Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa marries the smooth, dry taste of Patrón XO Cafe with the decadence of rich chocolate and light tequila.

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I don’t know about sipping either of these but then again I really am not a fan of drinking any liquor straight. So I decided to mix them with hot chocolate. You could use Kahlua (also vegan) or even Fragelico if you aren’t a fan of coffee flavor. Whatever floats your boat, really. And if you aren’t sure what liquors are vegan, check out Barnivore.com.

For this recipe I used the XO Dark because it is sweeter than the regular XO. I did not add any sugar as the recipe on the Ghirardelli container called for because the sugar in the liquor made it just sweet enough while still retaining a little bit of earthy bitterness from the cocoa powder.  Again, you can add it if you feel necessary. I certainly would add some when using the XO because it has little sweetness to it, making for a stronger coffee flavor. You can also adjust the amount of liquor you add; neither of these is overwhelmingly strong alcohol-wise when mixed with the milk and cocoa but some people might prefer a less intense taste.

Spiked Hot Chocolate (makes 2 large mugs)

3 cups non-dairy milk of your choice—experiment if you want; I used plain old soy milk but I bet vanilla soy milk, almond, or even coconut would take equally delicious!

4 tablespoons Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder

Approx 2 ounces (2 shotglasses) Patron XO Café Dark Cocoa

Sugar, optional

Pour milk into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk constantly until milk is hot (approximately 5-7 minutes) and cocoa is completely incorporated. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan with the whisk or else you will end up with a layer of cooked cocoa that is a pain to wash out. Remove pan from the heat. Pour a generous shots’ worth of the liquor into each mug and carefully pour an even amount of cocoa mixture into each mug. Stir and enjoy!

 

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Sunshine Blog Award…about a month too late

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Whoops, I totally forgot about the Sunshine Award Kinenchen at TurningVEGANese  nominated me for this in November. I am sooo very sorry; I hope it isn’t too late to pass on my thanks and nominations!

Here are the rules: If you are nominated you must include the link in a blog, linking to the person/blog that nominated you. You must answer some questions and nominate 10 fellow bloggers and link their blogs in your post. Let the people you have nominated know that you have nominated them!

Here are the questions:

Favorite philosopher: Hmm, this is a toughie since I’m not well-versed on philosophy in general. I’m not good at existential thinking so I’m going to cop out and say Gandhi, even though he probably technically is not a philosopher. But I can actually understand his sayings so he’s my winner 🙂

Favorite Number: 7 because I was born and bred a John Elway fan.

Favorite animal: Cats, of all shapes and sizes.

What are your Facebook and Twitter: Uh, I don’t have a Twitter account and I don’t plan on getting one. I can barely keep track of the few social media sites I participate in now. As for Fb, once this site really takes off I will consider making a Fb page for it.

Favorite time of day: Whatever time it is that I’m asleep 🙂

Favorite physical activity: How physical are we talking? Cause technically I’m being physical when I’m drinking wine…seriously though, I love circuit training. The best way to keep my interest in exercise is to change it up often. Hiking is a close second.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Orange juice. Coincidentally, one of my favorite alcoholic drinks is a mimosa which just goes to show how great OJ is.

Favorite flower: Snap dragons. I can never pass one up without making the mouth open!

What is your passion? Being an advocate for both animals and humans; reading.

So, as I am wont to do, I’m going to bend the rules a bit and not nominate anyone. Bear with me; it’s not that I don’t love other blogs and want to pass on the love, but I just cannot pare it down to a reasonable number, or find enough that haven’t already been nominated. Obviously I need to branch out my blog-reading world.  So here’s what I’d like to do—you tell me what blogs make you smile and bring some sunshine into your life.  They can be vegan blogs, humor blogs, blogs of only cute pics of animals. Just nothing that involves spiders or clowns. Cause there is nothing sunshiny about either of those things.

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Holiday Shopping Guide

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I have a hard time shopping for presents. I always want to find the perfect, unique gift that the recipient will find unexpected. But my creativity usually fails and I just end up buying whatever DVD or book they request. So if you are like me and just cannot think of something to get your family/friend/significant other besides that completely predictable copy of The Dark Knight Rises or Cloud Atlas (which they never even wanted to read before the movie came out) , I’m here to make some suggestions.

I personally love to get a lot of little things rather than one big thing as a present, so if you know someone like this then filling a gift basket with all kinds of cruelty-free (heretofore referred to as CF) products would be a lot of fun, especially if it means introducing them to new products and maybe influencing them to buy CF if they don’t already. Some people are so set in what they use that they just can’t possibly think that anything else would suffice. I have to say I have yet to find a CF product that I didn’t like as much as the non-CF product I used to use. So how about a basket with:

LUSH Charity Pot Hand and Body Lotion-Besides being vegan and highly moisturizing, proceeds from the sales of Charity Pot go towards various grassroots organizations that support animal, human, and environmental issues. The last pot I bought supported Stop University of British Columbia Animal Testing. Or you can get one of their many gift boxes filled with goodies; the ones that contain all vegan products (and there are a lot!) are clearly marked. Website

Pacifica Perfume-All of Pacifica’s fragrances are vegan and there are loads of scents to choose from. You can choose from a traditional spray perfume, solid tin, or roll-on. They also have body lotion, body washes, candles, and more. For a perfect little sample try the Take Me There set that includes the roll-on perfume, a 2.5oz bottle of lotion, and a Natural Moisture Lip tint. My review    Website

Hurraw Lip Balm –This is my absolute favorite balm. I highly suggest buying your giftee the Sun balm with SPF 15, and Moon balm, but you can’t go wrong with any of their flavors since they contain all natural ingredients. And they are very affordable, so I would also suggest you pick out a few for yourself 🙂 My review     Website

Mineral Fusion Nail Polish-I found out why I can’t find their polishes on their website—turns out they make it exclusively for Whole Foods. Still, a lot of people live within a reasonable distance of a WF and trust me, these polishes are worth it. Lots of colors to choose from, so if you know a polish fiend you can’t go wrong picking out one of their gorgeous, non-toxic colors. My review

EO Hand Sanitizing Wipes-Admit it, we all know that one person who is a germaphobe. They flush public toilets with their feet, open doors with tissues or paper towels, and practically spray Lysol into the faces of anyone who sniffles within 10 feet of them. They would love a box of these individually wrapped wipes, which contain organic alcohol and essential oils to sanitize and moisturize, and are biodegradable. Website

Know someone who is a transitioning vegetarian or vegan and they are a bit overwhelmed? These gifts will help make that transition much easier.

TofuXpress Tofu Press-This is a must have for anyone who uses tofu. The more water that is pressed out, the better able the tofu is to absorb any lovely marinade it’s put in.  When I first started cooking with tofu it was such a hassle stacking pots on top of the tofu trying to get the water out that I stopped using it for a while. This will help any newbies from experiencing such frustrations. My review    Website

A vegan cookbook-there are a ton out there and you probably have your favorite you would love to buy for another, but remember that making vegan cooking accessible and easy is one of the most important factors in getting someone to believe that a vegan diet is completely doable. Mock meats and cheese alternatives seem to be the biggest hurdles for new vegs/vegans to try, so a cookbook laden with those foods might be a turn off. That’s why I suggest Chloe’s Kitchen by Chef Chloe Coscarelli. Her recipes use easy to find ingredients and are simple to make, not to mention delicious—I have not made a bad meal yet from this book! There are only a couple seitan and tempeh recipes, so there are still plenty of other meal options to choose from. Plus, anyone who doubts that vegan sweets can be as good as the dairy-filled ones will think twice when they see the gorgeous cakes and cookies Chloe included-not to mention the cupcakes that won her Cupcake Wars! Website

Go Max Candy Bars-What better way to convince someone that vegan junk food is just as good (well, better, really) than non-vegan junk food. Go Max makes veganized versions of popular candy bars like Snickers, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, and my personal favorite, Almond Joy. Look for them at Whole Foods. Make sure you buy one for yourself so you don’t end up eating the gift 🙂  Website

Still can’t figure out what to buy? Just Give is a website that allows you to send a designated amount of money to your giftee and they get to choose from hundreds charities to donate it to. The charity list can be filtered by specific cause or even zip code for those who want to donate to a local charity. We did this for Robert’s family last year and they loved being able to pick a charity that was special for each of them. It’s a great way to pay it forward during the holidays. Website

I hope this has helped make your shopping a little easier, but if it not you can always go with the good old Visa gift card standby. Happy holidays!

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