Milk-less Chai “Milkshake”

I don’t know why I do it, but every few months I forget my prior experiences and decide to pick up a new tea flavor at Trader Joe’s.  Their prices are always so great, and the flavors of the Trader Joe’s brand of tea always sound a bit exotic.  Let it be known that I am a huge fan of Chai tea, even without the milk and honey added, and I recently discovered a love for Rooibos tea.  So when I spotted their Rooibos Chai, I thought, “That sounds too perfect, maybe this one is different.” 

Drats, they captured me once again!  You see, the Trader Joe’s brand of tea is horrible.  Perhaps it is just my personal taste buds, but they seem to produce almost lifeless tea.  No spark, no zest, no nothing really.  It was most certainly the most bland Chai or Rooibos (let alone a combination of the two) that I had ever tasted. 

I pondered iced tea, but this often requires a stronger tea if anything.  Then, I thought maybe, just maybe, I could chill the tea and use it in smoothies?  After all, the package referred to their Rooibos as antioxidant rich, it would be such a shame to waste it.  Curious if anyone had trialed tea smoothies, I set out on an internet search.  I certainly found a few green tea concoctions, but those used mostly green tea powder.  Slowly, I began to unearth various creamy teas, and I was surprised by the method.  Rather than brewing and then chilling the tea, they just ripped those bags right open and tossed the contents in.  This sounded easy enough.

My cool and creamy beverage turned out to have more of a milkshake-like consistency, though the texture is inevitably up to the individual.  Honestly, it wasn’t bad.  It was still a weak bunch of spices, but at least their full essence was captured in this recipe.  The spicy twist to my otherwise ordinary shake was also a welcome enhancement.

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Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Chai “Milkshake”

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 1 chai tea bag (I used the Chai Rooibos from Trader Joe’s, but I am sure there are better!)
  • 1 frozen ripe banana, sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon almond butter
  • ice (optional)

Blend it all up!  If your mixture is too thick, add more almond milk.  If it is too thin, add more frozen banana or ice.

I think the perfect dairy-free / vegan “milkshake” would be a simple blend of the tea with some vanilla non-dairy “ice cream,” maybe Whole Soy & Co or Soy Delicious, some milk alternative, and your tea bag of choice.  However, since I am trying to keep added sugars out of the picture as much as possible, this banana and almond mixture seems to work quite well.  I even used unsweetened almond milk, but you don’t need to go that far.. I believe regular vanilla almond milk is still quite low in sugars, and it has a nice mild sweetness that will surely be welcomed by any beverage.

Practicing Frugality

While the word “frugal” evokes thoughts of cheapness in many minds, really this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Okay, my husband occasionally borders on cheap, but really, frugality is a way of life that involves a minimalist attitude, a reduction in waste, and of course, finding good deals.  Really, the folks of Wikipedia get the definition best, so I won’t try to elaborate further myself.

That being said, I am almost angry at myself when it comes time for that weekly fridge evacuation and I discover some beautiful food items that I have forgetfully allowed to rot.  Perhaps some perfectly good leftovers, or those beautiful berries I just had to purchase.  Whatever it is, I always vow, never again… but unfortunately, never seems to come again. 

I have however, started a new habit that seems to be helping.  After a good shopping trip, I plan an extra hour for food prep.  Really, it saves me time in the long run, and not a scrap went to waste this last week!  Essentially, nothing goes into the fridge without packing up any extras that may not get eaten within the next couple of days:

  • Celery and carrots are cut and put into a cool bath of water (I remembered my dad doing this when I was younger, it works great for keeping that celery crisp!)
  • Excess fruit is chopped and frozen for smoothies.  This works for everything from berries to bananas to peaches.  I have discovered that nectarines are often a bit difficult to pull off the pit, so we reserve those mostly for snacking.  It helps to flash freeze the fruit in bite-sized pieces on cookie sheets, and then place them in baggies for longer-term freezer storage to prevent the bits from solidly freezing together.
  • Chicken is portioned into small baggies and frozen for meal-sized servings.  Keep an eye out for natural chicken that is specifically labelled as antibiotic and hormone free (all chicken is hormone free, so if it doesn’t note antibiotic free, then it is a marketing ploy), and vegetarian fed.  This will save you quite a bit of money over organic chicken, while still gaining the benefits.  We buy some at Trader Joe’s.
  • Bread and tortillas are pre-emptively put into the fridge (rather than risking possession by the mold gods), since both will be heated or toasted anyways. 
  • I have even started chopping up basil, stirring in some olive oil, and freezing it in individual baggies (flattened) for some quick sauce action.  Some people use the ice cube tray route for freezing herbs, but I haven’t trialed it yet.

Summer Oasis

With a cookbook heading to print, leaving town has been difficult. Aside from the usual busy-work, proofs back and forth in the mail require that we be here to turn them around quickly.  We found a window though, and headed off for a mid-week escape… taking our first venture to Zion National Park.  It is only three hours away, but we decided to make an event of it, and stayed one night in Mesquite, NV, midway between here and there. 

Not expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised for all we could get for our money in this entertainment filled little border town.  Flagged with three casinos, all run by the same company, a treasure of inexpensive food and activities awaited.  Unfortunately, we were just staying one night, and then off to the park.  We will be pack though.  They have a mid-week $99 special that includes two nights at the Casa Blanca (roughly a 3-star I would say) for 2 and either a round of golf for two or two swedish massages in their spa.  Okay, if that doesn’t sound like enough, every time you stay with them you get this insane coupon book that includes 2-4-1 buffets, free money to gamble (the only time we gamble), and a ton of other fun stuff like go carts and mini-golf (no we don’t have kids, that’s for us!). 

Anyway, my husband swore off buffets long ago, but when he saw that we could both eat for $12, we “had” to go.  I was nervous.  Not only do I loathe buffets, but a cheap buffet?  Well, it turned out to be pretty darn good, and there were just enough dairy-free/vegan options to keep me satiated.  If you are traveling between Las Vegas and Utah, Mesquite will keep you entertained and well-fed for a night.  All in all, we spent less than $50 in Mesquite, which included a hotel room for one night, a dinner buffet, breakfast (scarily large), and some free gambling. 

Of course, the next day we set off for a full day hike in the park.  Escaping the summer heat, we headed up the Virgin River, a true oasis.  You follow the river up the canyon for a half hiking, half wading through water venture.  It was a blast, and the best hike ever for a hot summer day.  Because most of the hike is well shaded by the canyon too, no sunburns were suffered!  The park was breathtaking, and I wish I had more photos, but I am new at this stuff.  We came face-to-face with a family of bighorn sheep (alas, I left my camera in the car) on a mini overlook hike.  That was very cool, if not a little close for comfort.  Below is a picture in some shallows of the river and one of many little lizards we saw….

I also loved how environmental the park was.  Heading up the canyon, no cars were allowed, only their quiet propane buses that ran with ease.  You park and let you feet, bike, or the buses do the work for the day.  It made for a very serene environment all around.  Of course, recycling abounded, and not a speck of garbage could be seen on the ground.  People seemed to show the park respect, which was nice.  While admission to the park is a bit steep ($25 for the two of us and our car), it did include parking, all day use of the buses, free museum/movie access, and a very affordably priced cafe.  We were amazed to see a menu that had hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and Garden burgers for $4 to $6, and they weren’t half bad. 

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Obviously, I have taken a detour from the kitchen, but wanted to share our travels, which I suppose included some frugal foodie action!

Busy Back to School & Work Snacks

So sorry for the few days off from blog posts!  Today was the day for the Go Dairy Free monthly newsletter, which takes an insanely long time to send out, plus I was busy over the weekend putting it all together.  The August newsletter had a definite back to school theme, that I seemed to get quite into.  I couldn’t resist adding one more snack idea article to the website today … speaking of, thanks to my product review crew for the great suggestions!  Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys the info!

For the record, while many of the snacks in my dwelling are homemade munchies, such as trail mix, fruit, veggie sticks, and bread/rice cakes slathered with some nut butter… I always keep a stock of “bars” on hand for when we may be away from home for a while, and in need of some energy… such as hiking, running errands, or on a road trip.  Once or twice a week, at least one of us is caught reaching for these super-convenience foods.

Since the focus for Go Dairy Free was more so on kids, I didn’t mention our bars of choice, but will do so here, as we have definitely narrowed it down:

  • As his taste buds have matured, my husband has graduated from Clif Bars to Odwalla Bars.  Still with the same sort of vibe, Odwalla Bars are less sweet, and my husband likes that they always seem to be on clearance.  He prefers the Chocolate Chip Peanut and Superfood varieties.  While I have never had a coupon for them, we pay anywhere from $.25 to $1.00 depending upon the sale.  They are often displayed in some part of the store no where near the other bars, interestingly enough. 
  • He also likes Mojo Bars (made by Clif) which are like a trail mix in a bar.  Mambo Sprouts frequently has $.50 off coupons for Mojo Bars, and they often go on sale for $.99.  When I am in the mood, or see a good energy bar promotion, I stock up on Amazon.
  • For myself, I am into those Clif Nectar Bars.  Remarkable similar to Larabars, but almost always lower in price, these bars contain a super-simplistic mix of dates, nuts, and spices that just work with my taste buds.  Likewise, I frequent the $.99 sale on these.  If you can find a good deal (I think Trader Joe’s has them for $1.29) I would recommend the Larabar as well, but only the ones with multiple ingredients.  Really, ones like their Pecan Pie or Cashew Cookie which are no more than a single nut and some dates seem to have no real zest, and make me feel really lazy for not just grinding up some nuts and dates myself.  So far, the Apple Pie and Ginger Snap are my favorites… but really, I haven’t had a Nectar Bar flavor that I didn’t like.
  • If I were to really splurge, I would order Bobo’s Oat Bars.  But, I am still determined that I will one day remember to try making my own oat bars at home… hmmm, that sounds good!

Diet Notes: All of the above are vegan (dairy-free, egg-free) – wait, one of the Mojo’s contains honey; The Nectar and Larabars are also gluten-free and soy-free; The Odwalla and Bobo’s Oat Bars are made without wheat, but they do contain oats, and may contain traces of wheat.

Mini-Meals for Tummy Troubles

Every so often a little bug gets the best of us and a queasy stomach is the price we must pay.  Yesterday was my day for tummy troubles as a bad bout of nausea left me low on the productivity scale.  Sharing this grief with my husband, I can only assume it was something we ate when lazily going out for a quick bite the night before. 

gingersoothersparkling.jpgRegardless, I have never been one of those people who doesn’t eat when nausea hits, quite the opposite really.  I find that mini-meals of comfort foods seem to soothe the savage beast just enough to keep me functional.  Some oats were my breakfast of choice, soon followed by a ginger chaser…. I picked up a bottle mineral water and mixed it 50/50 with some Ginger Soother.  That did the trick for a short while and by splitting it up this way, I was able to make my one bottle of ginger beverage last the day.

When the urge for more solid foods struck, I knew that it had to be something bread-y.  I had a package of Gluten-Free Essentials Multi-Grain Bread Mix on hand for review.  Admitedly, it is a bit pricier than I would spend myself.  I rarely purchase mixes, but rather I buy grains and flours in bulk (I actually have some xanthan gum on hand for GF baking too!) as I love preparing baked goodies from scratch.  Nonetheless, on a day like this, a mix that allowed me to whip up tasty bread in ten minutes (seriously), was nice to have around.  Ten minutes you might ask?  Well the folks at Gluten-Free Essentials told me that this mix makes great “wagels,” so I decided to give them a shot.  Ready in no time, I topped these babies with a little almond butter (I know, I’m addicted) and enjoyed some comfort food…

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With much more batter to be used up, I fired the rest of the batter in some mini loaf tins, and boy did they rise… really, they put my yeast/wheat breads to shame…

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Later in the day my need for greens kicked in, so I grabbed a couple of slices of this mini-bread (I ate one before taking a picture), slathered them with Earth Balance (the 37% – I think – light tub is dairy-free/vegan and frequently on sale in major grocers), and piled all of our left over green beans on a plate with just a teaspoon or two of salad dressing for flavor…

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Of course, what  would my afternoon be without a soothing smoothie… 

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Really, this was a standard throw together one, one banana, 1/2 cup frozen chopped organic strawberries, 1/2 cup frozen chopped organic nectarines (when organic fruit is on sale, I stock up, chop it and flash-freeze any we won’t eat within the week), 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (you really don’t need added sugar when the fruits are nice and ripe), and a tablespoon or so of flaxseed.  It was a very banana dominated beverage, but that suited my tastes and my tummy, just fine. 

While my tummy troubles seem to be alleviating ever-so-slightly, it was nice to have these calming foods on hand for small, easy bites that get me through the day.  Particularly during a season when warm comfort soups just aren’t on the menu!