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Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

This blog has been on the back-burner, but I wanted to post it because there’s another new blog – Plant-Based On a Budget – so maybe “thrifty vegan” is a trending topic.

I thought it might be good to track a week’s worth of groceries. I did this partly because the groceries look delicious. I’m not sure my pictures do them justice, but feel free to feast your eyes. I also just had no idea how much things cost. It can be enlightening to simply track expenses. This seems to be an average week, but this isn’t intended to be scientific. Also note that there are two of us, about average-sized, both active with maybe two meals eaten out weekly. So what we find is a pretty solid distribution with about $150 total for the week’s groceries.

Beautiful vegan spreads for each day - click to bigify.

Does $150 make sense? The Census reports the cost of a “nutritious diet” on thrifty, low-cast, moderate, and liberal level. the “liberal” cost for “nutritious diet” for a family of two is just over $150 for 2009 and 2010. The “thirfty” plan for a…

Click to see weekly cost

family of two is only $80. Just with a quick adjustment, removing ProBars first, pre-made Whole Foods Lentil Soup, deluxe chips, deluxe orange juice, and hummus, the total plummets to just $83.07. Obviously one might swap some hummus with sprouts and add some lower-cost staples (beens, split peas, etc) to replace the calories from the ProBars (which is on the order of 6 days of calories). However, we also compare this diet with nearly no effort to reduce costs.

Jo notes that the census data indicate that a male and female living together spend about $25 more in food living together versus separately. “I guess married people do put on weight…”, she says. The census also reports average food costs. Oddly, they provide three kinds of meats and dairy, but nothing for lentils and beans, thus acknowledging no vegan alternative for protein intake.

In any case, this is a small sample size. A vegan diet, at least for us, is no budget-breaker, but it doesn’t seem super-cheap either.

Brussels sprouts, barbarian style, for maximum yum

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I had the pleasure of some Simply Sprouted, Way Better Snacks, specifically the Sweet Chili Chips. They were quite tasty. Very sweet and moderately spicy at the same time provided a combination of flavors much lighter than most snack chips. The snacks were, in fact, way better than most.

I always like first to dig back into the company. What I found was that Way Better is a brand new (Sep 2011) competitor to Garden of Eatin which is a larger line of brands you’ve likely heard of (if not, see below). Jim Breen is the CEO and Founder and comes most recently from Hain Celestial, the parent company of Garden. Breen, in Way Better, has founded a new startup (on Facebook) that is impressive in its commitment to organic nutrition. All products are:

*All Natural * Vegan * Certified Gluten Free * Non GMO * Certified Kosher * Excellent Source of Whole Grains * Low Sodium * Never contain: Trans Fat, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives

Authors note: Healthy, organic, vegan, and tasty. These are good chips from a good company despite the skepticism I am prone to. (more…)

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I had the pleasure of picking a Big Skinny non-leather wallet this weekend at a festival in Harvard Square ($25 for the pictured bifold).  Do you see that picture?  No fooling, my old leather wallet empty is the same size as my new vegan wallet full.  Awesome.  The founder of the shop was there in person and declared himself to be vegan, so three cheers for supporting a vegan company.  And I was able to do away with my pregan leather wallet ($5 from a Manhattan vendor bought me an indestructible wallet and lasting shame).  Happy as I am with my wallet, I wanted to sing praises, but it’s also important to get the rest of the story.

So I’ve got this fat wallet.  You know, Costanza-style.  I suppose it’s not killing me, but nothing is good about having a fat wallet – not an inch, not a half an inch.  It would be great to just do away with it.  I travel a lot too.  I sit a lot (A LOT).  I was always pulling my wallet out because it’s uncomfortable.  It’s not the worst thing in the world.  This is one of those little things, like having a non-stick pan that starts sticking, or using envelopes you have to lick instead of the self-stick kind.  Just spend a few bucks and make life easier.  But it’s not that easy.  I’ve got to find a wallet I like.  It’s got to have the right pockets for my stuff, and the right sizing.  I like a two-fold, not a three-fold.  I don’t like my stuff hanging out in one of those clip-wallets.  Vegan wallets tend to have those irritating zippers around the outside.  I don’t want fake leather…  It’s a trial.

But then, wandering through this festival, I found exactly what I was looking for with Big Skinny.  This is one of those business relationships where customer and product match perfectly.  This is like when you first saw that bag of kale chips at Whole Foods – rejoice!  The material is like nylon, and easily slips in and out jeans.  There are plenty of pockets there.  It’s two-fold like I like.  Big Skinny has lots of other types as well – bi-fold, tri-fold, bi-fold with clip, super-thin sport wallets…  It’s a great selection.  There is also a material that holds credit cards in place so they don’t slip out.  It doesn’t make them stick either, so it’s the best of both worlds.  If you like the window pocket for your driver’s license, it has that too.

But remember how I was talking about kale chips?  Ever wonder why the F&*% there’s fake cheese all over them?  I suppose it’s ok, but why can’t I just get some dried kale with some oil and seasoning?  Nothing is perfect.  The bad news is that Big Skinny’s vegan cred is suspect.  They make leather wallets, so it’s not an exclusively vegan company.  This may be a deal-breaker for many of you, but I hope we can inspire more hard-line from a self-identified vegan.   I’m very understanding, but making leather wallets and singing the praises of Dunkin Donuts is very suspect.

Also, the Big Skinny wallets slaps a logo on the outside of the wallet.   I suppose I understand, but that’s the thickest part of the wallet, so I just cut it off.  There’s got to be a better way…  Overall, the Big Skinny wallet is a great product ($10-$30 depending on the style).  There are vegans running the shop, and I think that’s commendable.  Unfortunately, the company itself isn’t vegan, and that may turn away the most discerning vegan customers.

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Brandi, over at Brandi’s V-Spot blog, was holding a contest for a free Arbonne Seasource Detox Spa Express Set. As I love any good contest that is vegan related, and has such an awesome prize as a full size (what you’d buy if you’re purchasing the same pack) Arbonne Express Detox set, I entered my answers to the questions – basically how much I love animals and how long I plan on being vegan (can you say ‘to infinity and beyond’?). I was amazed when I got the email saying I had won!! I was ecstatic to say the least! So Brandi sends me the kit, and I’m blown away by the amount of stuff I won. Full bottles of Detoxifying Rescue Wash, Fortifying Hair mask, Sea Mud Face & Body Mask, Renewing Body Gelée, and Foaming Salt Scrub! Not only did she include the full kit, but she was kind enough to toss in a couple bags of detox tea, a few stickers from PETA, and of course info on the kit itself.

So to the review part. The first time I washed my face with the body/face Detoxifying Rescue wash, I could instantly feel a cleaner wash (and I’d been using Alba Organics, which gives a pretty clean wash) – but this was different. Maybe it’s because my skin was so desperate for something more with all the construction going on (see Apologies and News)..I don’t know, but it felt great! It has a bit of a citrus scent to it (which I know is excellent for reversing damage to skin). The Body Gelée has that wonderful minty scent that perks you right up – perfect for my legs during ladder climbing and such. And it makes my skin feel just like silk…vegan silk! The Fortifying Hair Mask makes my hair as soft as the day I was born – before any damaging sun rays, or hair coloring or product infiltration! I didn’t even have to use a leave-in conditioner out of the shower in order to comb it out (you know, to detangle it). I felt like a whole new person – or better yet, I felt like the beautiful girly girl I was before all this manly manual labor commenced 😉 The Foaming Salt scrub buffed away the impurities and my skin glowed after the shower!

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend doing construction just so you can buy a Detox Kit…I think you could reap even more benefits on a ‘normal’ regular basis from such products. So thank you, Brandi, for my random selection so I could experience something I normally wouldn’t have splurged on myself. I have a feeling, I’m going to be working Arbonne into the budget for beauty regimen in the future.

This was not a solicited review, but Brandi is now a consultant for Arbonne International…if you need products, Brandi is your gal!

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The wind chill in Alexandria yesterday was subzero.  Yes, Fahrenheit.  When I took Kirsche to the dog park, after about 10 minutes my fingers were painfully frozen and I couldn’t even feel my chin.  It was not awesome.  However, my feet and ankles were warm and comfy thanks to the best Christmas present ever:  a pair of ToeWarmers Kelly Boots ($94).  These boots have a synthetic upper and faux fur lining.  They are waterproof and definitely live up to their Toe Warmers name!  They also have a great, grippy sole to keep you from slipping around in the snow.

Even though the websites I’ve seen say they have a side zipper, they don’t.  They slip on, which is is great when you come home with icy stiff fingers and your pants are covered in snow.  You don’t have to manipulate any laces, just kick them right off!

Toe Warmers offer a number of vegan-friendly styles (though not all of them are, so make sure it’s not a leather upper), some with laces or zippers, if that’s your preference.  They usually come in black or brown.  All of them are offered in medium, wide or extra wide, so you can be sure of a great fit, especially if you have trouble finding shoes that are wide enough.

These shoes are made in Canada (and you know those Canadians know from cold weather!).  I’ve found some at Amazon, PlanetShoes, and other such places, so you should shop around if you are looking for a particular style.  So far, this winter is pretty brutal, and I’m not even that far north.  A good pair of waterproof, insulated boots is a must!

Toe Warmers did not solicit this review, I just love how warm they keep my tootsies!

On This Day in History: Green Saffron Pilaf

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Many vegans already know and love Matt & Nat for their beautiful vegan handbags and wallets.  A year or so ago they decided to make their line more “upscale,” i.e. more expensive, which priced many of us out.  However, they also launched a new brand call Samsara, priced more closely to what Matt & Nat used to charge.  The founder of Matt & Nat and Samsara “set out to create an accessories brand that, although vegan, was first and foremost beautiful, understanding that the two could co-exist.”  And they are beautiful.  Additionally, for every Samsara item sold, one dollar will be donated to a non-profit of your choice.  Samsara is a Canadian brand (those Canadian vegans have it almost as easy as the Brits!), but they are currently offering free ground shipping for all orders over $50.  As of this writing, they also had a holiday sale going, with 30% off every item!

These items have a the same high quality craftsmanship we appreciate about Matt & Nat.  Samsara offers wallets, clutches, handbags, overnight bags, briefcases, and belts in a range of colors.  My personal favorites are the Neuville handbag (on sale for $80.50) and the Sterling (on sale for $108.50), which is big enough to carry your lunch, clothes for the gym, your knitting project, or anything else you need to take with you.

Samsara did not solicit this review, we just like their bags!

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Maybe you don’t think that tea is a legitimate holiday gift, but believe me, quality tea is something a person can never have too much of!  Regular readers know how much we love tea here at the Primate, and if you also buy a nice tea tin to give it in, it will be a delightful gift.  (Prettywood Tea offers several lovely tins for $7-20.)  When buying tea, the quality is obviously important, but you should also keep in mind that tea is often grown in countries where the laborers could be exploited.  Happily, the Fair Trade movement makes it easier to know that you’re not contributing to poor worker conditions.  Choice Organic Tea fits both bills:  excellent tea and fair trade certification.

Now, they do offer tea in bags, but really, loose leaf tea is well worth the effort!  Every morning I drink an equal blend of Assam and Ceylon, with a spoonful of agave nectar.  🙂  Choice Organic also sells a variety of green and herbal teas.  If you’re a little intimidated by extra work involved with brewing loose leaf tea, don’t despair!  An infuser tea mug makes it as easy as boiling water!

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