ALDI Haul

ALDI Haul

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by ALDI as part of Influencer Activation for Influence Central.

I am the biggest fan of discount grocery stores that offer quality items at insanely low prices. That was one thing I thought LA lacked when I first moved here, since I always came home from visiting my family in NorCal (when they still lived there) with a suitcase stuffed with discounted yogurts, nut butters, and other staples I wouldn’t spoil myself with in LA since it was not worth the price to me.

But along came ALDI, and a store of its kind arriving in SoCal is exactly what I had been waiting for: a one-stop grocery shop that offers deep discounts on quality food products! Even though ALDI originated in Germany, they now have locations across Europe, Australia, and the US. I actually first learned about ALDI when I took German in high school, and my teacher used to rave about the store.

When I visited my family over winter break in Tulsa, I checked out the location there so that was my first time stepping into an ALDI. A lot of their current California locations seem to be in Orange County and the Inland Empire, but there are at least two within reach of those who live in LA: Inglewood and Arcadia.

Information about the stores, giftcards (!!), and a quarter for cart rental.
Information about the stores, giftcards (!!), and a quarter for cart rental.

I was given two $50 giftcards and a quarter for renting a cart in order to facilitate my haul. I chose to go to the Arcadia location since it gave me an excuse to ride the Gold Line extension. From there, it was about a 50 min. walk, and while I could have taken a connecting bus, I just wanted to go! I did get mocked along the way for hauling a suitcase, but I didn’t allow it to get to me because I would be the real winner in the end 😉

Tucked within a shopping complex right next to a CVS, I found the ALDI of Arcadia.

I'm almost there...ah!
I’m almost there…ah!

I was able to rent out a cart once I inserted my quarter (putting it back was another story…needed help with that!), and there was plenty of room to stuff my roller board underneath the cart.

Rent a cart.
Rent a cart.

Once inside, I was met with all the color, lights, and a clean, fresh display of goods.

Groceries on a Sunday...let's go!
Groceries on a Sunday…let’s go!

First thing I did was stroll casually down the cracker/nuts/protein bar aisle to see if anything caught my eye. I stocked up on some Southern Grove Chia Seeds and Southern Grove Deluxe Oven Roasted Almonds, grabbed a tub of steel cut oatmeal and a box of instant oatmeal, and proceeded forward towards the back where the produce was. There, I got a hold of some salad packs, my usual veggies for weeknight crockpot dinners and some “splurges” (mushrooms and brussels sprouts!).

I could list in detail how many minutes I spent in each aisle, how many times I threw things in my cart trying to estimate if it would fit my gift card budget, but that’s why I listed a detailed list of my haul at the end of this post! And since I had the opportunity to stock up on staples, I gave myself the freedom to really load up my cart. I even went so far as to purchase three bottles of SimplyNature® Creamy Almond Butter 😮

Once at the checkout line, I felt a little nervous and excited. Wonder if this is how the folks on that couponing show feel? Haha, actually my final balance ended up being $123, but my cashier was helpful in voiding some things out for me.

Checking out at ALDI!
Checking out at ALDI!

I still felt like I made out with quite a hefty haul. It’s not like you can leave any grocery store with an overstuffed suitcase, a bulging reusable bag, and your own purse that could fit a laptop with $100 worth of goods, but I would say I was successful in doing so 😉

This is what happens when you spend $1.78 on groceries…with a $100 off discount 😉 . I have to say that this is probably my biggest grocery haul ever completed in one trip since moving to LA, which justifies me hauling my roller board all the way to Arcadia.

ALDI grocery store haul!
ALDI grocery store haul!

Good thing my roommate wasn’t home because I literally had to clean off the dining table in order to fit everything for one picture! Also forced me into cleaning said dining table since it was empty for once!

While the store does offer some name-brand items (a pint of Double Rainbow Vanilla Bean Soy Cream and I did fetch myself a box of Boca Flame Grilled Meatless Burgers), approximately 90% of the products sold at ALDI are ALDI-exclusive brands, and they are tested frequently to ensure quality.

Most of my products from my my haul are from the in-store SimplyNature® brand, which also includes items that are certified to be organic by the USDA and free of GMO ingredients. They also have a wide variety of gluten-free items under the liveGfree® brand (I got someliveGfree® Gluten Free Yogurt Covered Pretzels from this brand to try out!!).

Breakdown of my haul:

Produce
Veg. Steam Packs (2)
Salad Packs (4)
Carrots
Kale
Brussels sprouts
Brown mushrooms
Onions
Head of cabbage

Dairy and Dairy-Free
Fit & Active® Yogurt and Friendly Farms Greek Yogurt (12)
Double Rainbow Vanilla Bean Soy Cream Pint
Friendly Farms Almond Milk carton
Boca Flame Grilled Meatless Burgers

Staples
Milville Steel-Cut oats
SimplyNature® Organic Black Beans
SimplyNature® Organic Garbanzo Beans
Organic Lentil Soup (2)
Stevia (2 boxes)
SimplyNature® Instant Oatmeal Assorted Varieties
Southern Grove Chia Seeds
Deutsche Küche German Style Sauerkraut
Southern Grove Deluxe Oven Roasted Almonds
Peanut Delight Creamy Peanut Butter
Berryhill Hazelnut Spread
SimplyNature® Creamy Cashew Butter (2)
SimplyNature® Creamy Almond Butter
Tuscan Garden Artichokes
liveGfree® Gluten Free Yogurt Covered Pretzels
Fusia Asian Inspirations Sriracha Sauce

Random necessities
Handsoap
Women’s products

Overall, I would say my first solo shopping experience at ALDI was a fun one (minus the time it took via my mode of transportation, and actually having to haul my haul). Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, I feel like everyone was entranced by the products and having a good time pointing stuff out to family members rather than be in a rushed or impatient mood. ALDI has already opened 25 total stores and will have a total of 45 stores up-and-running by the end of 2016, I’m hoping some of those locations will be in the city of LA itself! I can easily see ALDI becoming an instant hit among students and other urban folk 😀

You can find out more about ALDI via the website, or stay updated about openings through their Facebook page!

Have you heard of ALDI or shopped there?

Can’t Go Wrong with Carbs

Can’t Go Wrong with Carbs

The week after LDW was one that started off slow, but once it picked up momentum, I couldn’t believe it was the weekend by the time Friday rolled around. My meals during the week were the routine, somewhat mundane meals I have often talked about on the blog, but my proyo bowls for this particular week had a new addition to them.

 Wowbutter!
Wowbutter!

I found this intriguing jar of Wowbutter while shopping at Sprouts over LDW, and was fascinated by how it tasted exactly like peanut butter…even though it was completely peanut-free! Soy nuts were the key ingredient instead, and the crunchy version tasted much better than regular ol’ crunchy peanut butter I’ve had in the past.

wowbutter_proyo
Me and my predictable proyo bowls :9

I had it topped on Raw Meal mixed in with lemon greek yogurt, and altogether it was an awesome combination!

On Friday night, I was able to meet up with a few of my classmates from last year, and I was especially excited about this meeting since I had not seen them since the beginning of summer! We’ve all been crazy busy in our respective labs, and so when one of my friends invited me to a wine & lasagna night being held at her house, I couldn’t pass up the invite! Plus, CARBS!

friday night lasagna
Multiple servings of freshly-made lasagna, soft garlic bread, and brownies from the box 😛

After lab, I carpooled with my friend to her house, and helped her and her roommate (a first-year actually!) with lasagna prep. I was on zucchini-cutting duty ;D . After a couple hours, more people arrived—mostly first-years by the time everyone showed up, but a few of my classmates/friends showed up as well, and it was nice seeing them again!

After getting my fill of food and chatter, I started to feel tired around 11pm (shocker I even stayed up that late, I know…) and my friend graciously offered her bed for me to use. I still couldn’t get to a sound state of sleep, since people had to pass through her bedroom to get to the only bathroom in the house, and the constant party noise/bright lights from the dining room didn’t help…so it wasn’t really until 2am that I finally got some shut-eye. Well…my friend’s dogs were a bit noisy, but they’re adorable lap dogs so I’ll give ’em a pass 😉

On Saturday morning, my friend dropped me off in lab, where I spent an exhausting morning on my feet collecting that data. I did force myself to go grocery shopping though, and when I was finally done with everything by the late afternoon, I came home to find my roommate stepping out to go to a party. I had the apartment to myself for the rest of the evening, so that obviously only meant one thing: TV & ice cream!

 Chubby Hubby? Don't mind if I do...
Chubby Hubby? Don’t mind if I do…

I had high hopes for this flavor, but was somewhat disappointed with the odd shape of the pretzels. They were definitely not the usual knot shape, but had the shape similar to that of cheese puffs. They were covered in chocolate though, so maybe that made up for it?

I did like the peanut butter swirl though (even if it was only a sliver in the entire pint).

My low-key Saturday night soon became a productive Sunday morning: an early morning long run followed by lab work, and an insatiable craving for donuts once I was finished with all of that. California Donuts was on my mind, so I decided to finally pay them a visit before heading home to catch up on some reading for class.

california donuts (1)
Outside of California Donuts

I expected to find a stand-alone donut shop decorated with bright lights and a room for seating, but what I found was a strip mall donut shop with counter service. Even though it was too hot for steamy donuts, there was a still a long line at the burn-me-to-a-crisp hour of 3pm.

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“Stop staring at me!” the donuts cried.

At least standing in line gave me enough time to figure out what in the world I wanted…

california donuts (3)
A Koreatown institution.

Once it was my turn, I ended up choosing one flavor that caught my eyes initially—blueberry cinnamon toast crunch, and then I had to pick a chocolate-based one for “balance”, so butterfinger crunch it was 😉

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Donuts eaten with a fork.

To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the too soft, too doughy consistency of the donuts (yes, even though dough is part of the name!). The glaze for each was flavorful, but I felt like it couldn’t do much to affect the taste of the entire donut. When it comes to desserts in the cake family, I prefer a 50/50 cake/bread-to-icing/frosting ratio…maybe even more in the icing/frosting department. In terms of this personal rubric, unfortunately these two donuts didn’t meet the mark.

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Closer…

But they sure were pretty to look at!

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They were photogenic though…

I think for now, Donut Friend seems to outrank California Donuts in my book…but there are still a bajillion more donut shops to check out in the LA area and beyond, so my ranking may or may not change in the future 😉 !

California Donut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Beach Day We Wanted

The Beach Day We Wanted

A little power nap was all we needed, but my sis and I ended up taking a long 45 minute afternoon nap when we checked in to our hotel room for the night in San Diego.

 Rest!
Rest!

But when we woke up around 3, it was still bright and gorgeous outside! We still had time for a beach adventure 🙂

 Hello, downtown San Diego!
Hello, downtown San Diego!

We had trouble getting out of the parking garage (a Zipcar Honda vs. a bunch of SUVs/Hummers/Trucks is not exactly an easy battle to win…), but fortunately we made it out without a scratch.

Our destination was Coronado Beach—which also took a while to get to due to traffic, ending up at the wrong side of the beach due to GPS issues, and having to park in a far off residential area once we found the beach. But, when we found it, it was about relaxation!

 To the beach!
To the beach!

Once at the beach, my sis and I laid out our towels and proceeded to sun bathe for the next hour and a half…only because our 45 minute nap wasn’t enough 😉

 Time to relax...
Time to relax…

It was so peaceful though. Sure, there were crowds, but it was a beautiful California summer day, and we were finally able to say we were experiencing a real beach day.

Before heading back for dinner, we took pictures by the water and took our time getting to the car. The crowds had died down by then, and there was no traffic on our drive back to the hotel.

Before leaving for our weekend trip, I learned that Cafe Gratitude had opened a new location in San Diego—and it coincidentally happened to be in Little Italy, within walking distance from our hotel! Obviously this was our prime choice for dinner 🙂

 Sunny skies and lofts in SD.
Sunny skies and lofts in SD.

Our stroll through downtown was a fun preamble to dinner, but when we saw the swanky CG location, we were more than ready to eat!

 My third time visiting Cafe Gratitude :)
My third time visiting Cafe Gratitude 🙂

Since it was brand new, I wasn’t surprised by all the eager, vegan-loving San Diegans that were present that night.

 Soooo busy.
Soooo busy.

Because it was so busy, we almost had to sit outside, even though I had called in beforehand to make a reservation.

 Kind of cozy actually...
Kind of cozy actually…

The set-up reminded me of both their Venice and Larchmont locations, so I felt like I was in familiar territory. I was excited for my sister to experience CG for herself!

After staring long and hard at the menu, we both ended up deciding against a sandwich-based entree since we had our fill of that earlier in the day, and so we both ended up ordering the exact same thing. We both got the ‘Resolved’ entree, described as being a southern soul food sampler containing red beans and quinoa, seared tempeh, smashed maple garnet yams, spiced collards, coleslaw, and a gluten-free jalapeno biscuit.

Oh, and we couldn’t forget adding BBQ sauce on the side…even if it cost $2 (!!) extra.

It took almost half an hour, but at least our plates came full and ready for us to dig in.

 Vegan southern food platter.
Vegan southern food platter.

My favorite parts of this plate were the sweet mashed yams, the tempeh when dipped into the BBQ sauce, and the jalapeno biscuit (when dipped into the BBQ sauce as well). My sis didn’t like the yams so much, but was a fan of the coleslaw.

 Top: jalapeno biscuit (gluten-free!) // bite of tempeh // a bed of quinoa
Top: jalapeno biscuit (gluten-free!) // bite of tempeh // a bed of quinoa

It was a meal that we both agreed as being satisfying and sleep-inducing. I’ll admit it now—we are grandmas, but at least we eat well 😉

When we got back to the hotel, we quickly changed into our jammies and watched TV until our eyes started to droop. It was certainly a summer Saturday well spent.

What do you like to do at the beach?

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Stax of Sweetness

Stax of Sweetness

I knew that a fun-filled week of free food, beaches, and vegan favorites would eventually come to an end, but at least it ended on a sweet note.

Our trip to Tustin eventually became a trip to Irvine. The day was still gorgeous, bright, and sunny when we pulled up to the parking lot at University Town Center, right across from the UC Irvine campus.

 University Town Center!
University Town Center!

The little shopping and dining area very much gave off a college town vibe, and it reminded me of my undergrad days…

 Beautiful arches...one of which decorates my dessert destination!
Beautiful arches…one of which decorates my dessert destination!

My purpose for the visit that afternoon was to get my cookie-and-ice-cream fix at Stax Cookie Bar, a custom ice cream sandwich shop that also serves up other sweet specialties. I was fortunate to try some of those as well 😉

 Welcome to Stax Cookie Bar!
Welcome to Stax Cookie Bar!

I first met Marina, who had reached out to me about coming in for a tasting. She greeted me with a smile and an overview of all their goods—cookies, ice cream, shave ice galore!

cookies!!!!
Stuffed cookies (smookies!) and a wide variety of other cookies!

I was then greeted by another staff member who encouraged me to try whatever I wanted and to make sure I left feeling “full”. How could I argue against that 😀 ?

 Fun wallpaper to stare at while munching on cookies & ice cream.
Fun wallpaper to stare at while munching on cookies & ice cream.

I first learned about the Smookie, which is really a warm, shapened piece of cookie dough that can be topped with any flavor ice cream and fudge, caramel, or whipped cream.

 So many ice cream flavors...which to choose??
So many ice cream flavors…which to choose??

I chose to have the Nutella-stuffed Smookie as my base, topped with a scoop of green tea ice cream and whipped cream. Best decision ever.

 The perfect Smookie.
The perfect Smookie.

The Nutella filling was obviously the best part 😉 ! It was also at the right temperature, coming out of the oven after just 3 minutes of warming up.

 The undeniably good filling with melted green tea ice cream (:
The undeniably good filling with melted green tea ice cream (:

For my other ice cream-related dessert, I was able to customize a ice cream cookie sandwich so that I had birthday cake ice cream (how convenient 😉 ) in between a mocha and snickerdoodle cookie. I had all flavor and color profiles represented here!

 The masterpiece.
The masterpiece.

My Dad liked the birthday ice cream the best, and I could certainly see why. The ice cream was perfectly creamy, and the added swirls of color tasted just like icing. It wasn’t just for show.

 Who needs birthday cake when you can have it in ice cream form...and sandwiched in between two cookies?!
Who needs birthday cake when you can have it in ice cream form…and sandwiched in between two cookies?!

To add to all the sweet excitment, we were given another dessert to try—a generous portion of green tea shave ice! Topped with syrup and freshly cut fruit.

 The presentation itself was beautiful!
The presentation itself was beautiful!

It tended to melt pretty quickly, so being the resourceful person that I am (haha), I used to top off the leftover cookie pieces from my ice cream sandwich. We weren’t able to completely finish it, but if our stomachs had been large enough, there’s no question we would have annihilated the cup and then some 😛 .

I asked Marina about their vegan options, and she pointed to two of their specially-vegan flavors. I was urged to take one for the road, so I chose to try their vegan (and gluten-free!) coconut chocolate chip cookie. I was also gifted with a beautiful stack of cookies!

 My stack of Stax cookies // one of the two vegan cookies offered
My stack of Stax cookies // one of the two vegan cookies offered

The vegan coconut chocolate chip cookie was more fragile compared to the regular cookies, but its flavors were just as great, if not better than a standard cookie. It tasted just like a sweet oatmeal bar with gooey chocolate mixed in and rich coconut oil gleaming on the surface.

Stax has plans to open more locations in the future, and I surely hope they do, since I can’t have this be my only visit 😉 . Ice cream sandwich and cookie bars may have started out as a trendy thing, but based on my experience, Stax has taken it to the next level!

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Memorial Day Weekend ’15

Memorial Day Weekend ’15

Memorial Day Weekend was such a blast!  Having company over twice this month has made time fly by so quickly, which is great since that means I’m almost done with the specific set of experiments that have been requiring so much time from me as of late…

My weekend started off with a productive Friday in lab, and before heading home, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some essentials so I wouldn’t have to worry about it when my friend arrived. I also “had” to get my pint for the night—Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Froyo! Can you believe that it was my first time trying this?!

ben and jerry's half baked froyo

The mix of chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt was perfect, and how can you go wrong with moist, chewy bite-size pieces of brownies mixed with cookie dough?! I can see why it’s so popular. In fact, I witnessed a girl clean out a local Fresh & Easy of all the pints they had of this flavor one night, stating to her friends that it’s so hard for her to find, haha. 

On Saturday, my friend drove down to visit me for the weekend! Since she wasn’t expecting to arrive in the city before 2PM, that gave me plenty of time to take of my lab duties in the morning. The timing actually worked out quite precisely since I had enough time to finish, make it back to the apartment, change into some flip flops, and meet my friend to let her into the parking garage.

She was able to also stop by my parents’ house before driving down, so she brought plenty of goods from home for me to unpack (discount yogurts, oh yeah!).  We also spent an hour chatting it up and catching up, since the last time I saw her was back in December/January! 

Once we took care of unpacking, we decided to walk around DTLA and have dinner near Little Tokyo. The weather was overcast—not too cold, not too warm—and so it made so much sense to go out for some fresh air by going for a refreshing walk. 

We eventually made our way to the Little Tokyo Mall, and stopped in Daiso just to browse around. We spotted so many cute things, like miniature silverware, coffee mugs, and happy trashcans.

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For dinner, we actually ended up eating at Shojin, the vegan sushi place I reviewed three years ago on an old blog of mine. 

shojin

And while there were some minor changes I noticed in this visit when compared to my intial one, the dim lighting was unfortunately not one of them…the menu was though!

the new shojin menu

It was now more sophisticated, simply printed on cardstock in a professional font. Long gone are the days of  anime-style animals and characters on the cover of a laminated folding menu. 

The bathroom was just as cute, pink, and adorable as before…

shojin_

Even though this place is known for their all-vegan sushi rolls, my friend and I chose to get non-roll menu items. Specifically, I went for the Marinated Seitan Steak while my friend feasted on the gluten-free Avocado Tempura Salad.

The marinated seitan steak was comprised of grilled seitan cutlets (with grill marks too!), topped with butter, and served with brown rice and three humble pieces of veggies on the side. The salad had tempura avocado, greens, almonds, wasabi mayo, and sweet tomato dressing.

shojin food

Even though our table was set with chopsticks, I was given a knife and fork to attack my seitan cutlets, haha.

silverware

We walked off dinner by taking a long walk home, and then spent the rest of the evening chillin’ in the apartment before going to sleep around 10PM.

On Sunday, I checked off my usual to-do items such as a long run, and lab duties, but was free once again in the afternoon. We stopped by a local grocery store so my friend could pick up an ice cream pint for our ‘ice cream party’ later in the evening.

Soon after that, we were off on the bus for a late, late lunch/early dinner at Urban Garden near the Grove.

urban-garden

It was an hour-long commute, so we were starving by the time we arrived. We spent a good amount of time staring at the menu. Even though the main offerings were predominantly plates and wraps, there was a wide variety of possible combinations—so it was hard to come to a final decision!

I eventually went with a vegetable hearty plate with spicy falafel, babaganoush, and golden cous cous. My friend also got a plate with hummus and cucumber salad as the ‘main stars’.

 The intricate mural on the wall was so beautiful, it was hard to peel your eyes away from it!
The intricate mural on the wall was so beautiful, it was hard to peel your eyes away from it!
 My hearty veggie plate with spicy falafel, rice, cous cous, sesame oil, babaganoush, sumac paste, and complimentary pita.
My hearty veggie plate with spicy falafel, rice, cous cous, sesame oil, babaganoush, sumac paste, and complimentary pita.

Apparently this establishment takes pride in having serving the best hummus in LA, and my friend was a sure fan. I wouldn’t say they made the best babaganoush I’ve ever tasted, but it was certainly up there, and quite nourishing.

Between the two of us, we did a pretty good job.

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Needless to say, we left with full bellies and content hearts. We walked over to Vitamin Shoppe, and then stopped inside Sur La Table before continuing our walk down 3rd St. We walked through the park next to the Grove, and stopped to take a look at the Holocaust Memorial.

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Our super long walk eventually got us to Wilshire, where we decided to call it a day and head back home—ice cream was waiting for us, after all!

We were able to take the train home, and after taking showers and changing into our jammies, we busted open our ice cream pints!

ben and jerry's peanut buttah cookie core

I found the Peanut Buttah Cookie Core the same day I found the Half Baked Froyo pint, and saved it just for this occasion. I was on cloud nine eating through this peanut butter ice cream mixed with crystallized peanut butter cookie bits and a cookie butter core. Swoon!

I couldn’t have asked for a better evening with my friend—eating our ice cream pints while watching 500 Questions may have been the most simplest thing to do, but it felt just right. Sometimes the most unappreciated things we do on a daily basis are much more meaningful when you have company to do them with 🙂

What was your Memorial Day Weekend like this year?

Shojin Organic & Natural on Urbanspoon Urban Garden on Urbanspoon

Passion Over Profit

Passion Over Profit

Last Wednesday was my busiest weekday last week, but even so, I still was able to spend some time with my Dad before his flight back home. My afternoon class lets us out an hour earlier compared to the afternoon class from my first semester, so we were able to spend a few, unrushed hours together for dinner.

I passed Silver Lake a few times when riding on one of the city buses during winter break, but it was my first time walking in the neighborhood.

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The area certainly had a ‘hipster‘ vibe, and we thought it would be interesting to visit a nearby supply store before heading to the restaurant nearby. The shop mostly had survival/camping/military-type goods, but there were some highlights…like the hanging camouflage suit!

supplystore
A LOL moment!

The restaurant, Flore Vegan Cuisine, was on the same street so we walked on over and found a place to sit inside the small establishment.

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The seating options outside were not that bad either!

We were seated in a booth near the wall and the bakery display—which housed delectable-looking cakes and cupcakes to one side, and produce supply on the other 😛

inside_flore_vegan

It looks like it was voted “Best Restaurant” by LA Weekly back in ’12…

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There were so many choices, but I chose to get the Verde Bowl and my Dad got the Southwestern Quesadillas. We also asked for the beet salad as our deli side. While our food was being prepped, my Dad and I ended up having a conversation about how the people behind the small business operations (such as the many vegan restaurants in LA)  must really be in the business out of passion more so than profit. After roughly calculating the costs it takes to keep such a small, niche business open, we were amazed by how there are so many restaurants and cafes out there, but we were not surprised that many of them don’t keep their doors open for long…actually, I found out the other day that a restaurant I visited upon first moving to LA  had closed—and it happened just like that! 

Well, hopefully Flore has a brighter future, because the Verde Bowl I had was not only filling, but delicious with every bite! The unusual ingredients and varying textures made this plate (it wasn’t really a bowl…) stand out: 

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Verde Bowl ~ A wheat-free and gluten-free bowl with brown rice mixed in salsa verde sauce, nut ricotta, kimchi, fennel and radish sprout

I also made sure to try a slice of the quesadilla, and I immediately became a fan.

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Southwestern Seitan Quesadilla ~ whole wheat quesadilla of cashew cheese, seasoned seitan, tomato and shredded lettuce served with cilantro cream pico de gallo and daikon sprouts

The beets salad on the side was a flavorful addition:

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My Dad and I were both pleased with our dinners, and made sure to tip well (especially after having our restaurant business conversation)! After being dropped off back at my apartment, the rest of the week was spent being a homebody with the exception of school/running errands. I wanted to keep my energy stored for the 16 miler I had to run that Sunday, and for being able to accomplish the first-time feat, I treated myself to a late afternoon lunch at Sage Organic in Echo Park.

Compared to its sister location in Culver City, the Echo Park location was tiny, and I only recognized it from the street corner because of the joint KindKreme business it operates. I’m not sure if a stranger to Sage would have been able to spot it so easily…

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I had to ask a staff member if I had to seat myself or wait to be seated. When I informed him that it was just me dining, he motioned towards a table in the center of the restaurant, where I sipped on some water while looking over the brunch menu.

inside_sage_echo

Even though I was craving jackfruit nachos, I found the gluten-free biscuits and gravy with walnut sausage to be eye-catching, and ordered that with confidence. What I got was an artfully-crafted, veganized version of the classic, homestyle dish:

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There were six tiny biscuits surrounding a mound of walnut sausage, all of which was swimming in a pool of gravy. What could possibly not taste good 😉 ?

walnutsausageandbabybiscuit

I would have stayed in Echo Park for longer, but my legs pleaded me to just head back home, cozy up on the couch, and mindlessly watch the SAG awards. I think this will pretty much describe the rest of my Sundays until the marathon is over, haha!

Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant?

Flore Vegan Cuisine on Urbanspoon Sage Organic Vegan on Urbanspoon

My Kind of Chocolate Bar

My Kind of Chocolate Bar

Disclaimer: I was not monetarily paid to write this review. This review is based on the products and information I received from Yes CaCao. All opinions are my own.

I can’t imagine ever saying “no” if someone were to ask me if I like chocolate, but I do have my preferences. Hershey’s—and even Cadbury’s—just don’t seem to cut it anymore, since there are so many “gourmet” options out there nowadays. I could spend hours strolling down the one aisle devoted to raw/fair trade/organic/vegan chocolate bars at Whole Foods—because if I’m going to indulge, might as well go all the way amIright?

I was definitely able to indulge when I got the chance to try three magical Yes CaCao bars. Yes CaCao is based out of the Bay Area (hometown pride!) and their ingredients include a plethora of super foods and items of botanical origin. The cacao in these bars is harvested in Ecuador via a direct trade relationship, and after months of experimentation, they were able to formulate the three flavors I was able to sample recently. You can read more about their story here.

 Loved the packaging!
Loved the packaging!

Marketed as botanical chocolate bars, I was able to try the Dirty Chocolate, Karma Mellowl, and Gaba Baba.

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All of the bars are cold-processed, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, not roasted, and vary from 140-170 calories each.

I tried Gaba Baba first—a sheet of soothing dark chocolate. It aims to function as a chocolate bar that promotes relaxation, with prime ingredients like kava kava, blue lotus, and turmeric. It was the perfect nighttime snack, and I imagine it would have made a successful match with a glass of soymilk and atop a graham cracker and vegan marshmallow!

 "GABA BABA is MEDITATION in a bar, calming your mind and body, falling into your natural rhythm of pure confidence"
“GABA BABA is MEDITATION in a bar, calming your mind and body, falling into your natural rhythm of pure confidence”

Now Karma Mellowl though…this bar blew me away. Forget the “golden ticket”, this is a golden chocolate bar, with flavors and a texture combination that’s so magical, it’s indescribable. It’s the ‘brain food bar’ of the group, and boasts ingredients like coconut palm sugar, bacopa, and lion’s mane mushroom. Even if it was devoid of these mystical ingredients, I think I would still like this bar if it kept it’s golden color!

 KARMA MELLOWL is BRAIN FOOD in a bar, for short-term memory and vision, regenerating synaptic nerve patterns, and reprogramming your paradigm.
KARMA MELLOWL is BRAIN FOOD in a bar, for short-term memory and vision, regenerating synaptic nerve patterns, and reprogramming your paradigm.

And last but not least, was Dirty Chocolate. This bar is all about balance and adaptation, and is designed to be that one thing that gives you a jolt in the morning (besides an espresso). It contains shilajit and tulsi, which aid in toxin release and nerve relaxation respectively. The super mushroom reishi is also in this bar, which only adds to this bar’s energy-boosting attributes.

 DIRTY CHOCOLATE is GROUNDING in a bar, into your body, into the earth beneath your feet, and anchoring your intentions.
DIRTY CHOCOLATE is GROUNDING in a bar, into your body, into the earth beneath your feet, and anchoring your intentions.

I would definitely say that ‘fancy chocolate’ definitely has its perks. If you’re going to say “yes” to chocolate, make it worth something 🙂 !

What’s your favorite ‘fancy chocolate bar’?

LA (+ Friends) Part 2

LA (+ Friends) Part 2

On day 2 of my friends’ visit to LA, I went out for a short 3 miler while I took Friend #2 and Friend #1’s brother over to my apartment complex’s fitness room. My legs felt somewhat sore since I was running in some old shoes (whether I am breaking in new shoes, or wearing out old ones, my legs seem to be sore after either situation…).

We left for Union Station to take the Gold Line out to Pasadena, and made our way over to Intelligentsia Cafe for some pretentious coffee 😉

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Thanks to Google Maps, I led my friends through an alley and so we ended up entering the coffee shop from the back. The entrance already made it seem like we were entering an elite-only club 😛

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Once inside, we were amazed by how big the coffee shop actually was.

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One side was an alcoholic side (which was unstationed at the the time we came in, around noon), and of course, the busy coffee/tea/chocolates side which was closer to the actual front entrance.

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We were all scrambling around, and making the frequent customers just looking to get their usual cup for the day feel antsy. My sister, Friend #1, and her brother found seats for us at an empty counter while Friend #2 and I contemplated over what kind of coffee blend we should each order.

 Cute mugs, but a tiny menu!
Cute mugs, but a tiny menu!

I decided on an Ethiopian black coffee with hints of honeysuckle, apricot, and almond butter, while Friend #2 got the Rwandan blend (I forgot what hints of flavor it had…). Our coffees were “supposedly” 12 oz., but they had to put the overflow into containers that looked like they were maple syrup jars! The rest of the gang got a cheeseboard to split.

 I had some of those plump craisins---soooo good :) !
I had some of those plump craisins—soooo good 🙂 !
ethiopian_and__rwanda
My Ethiopian coffee at the top, and my friend’s Rwandan coffee at the bottom with milk.

I finished all of the coffee in my mug, and part of the “maple syrup jar” coffee, but wasn’t able to drink it all. I could detect the smooth, buttery taste of my blend, but I could only handle so much of the bitterness—perhaps I should have added some more sweetener? They had their own Intelligensia-packaged sweetener (Natvia brand) , and you better believed I took some “for the road” 😉 

After our coffee break, we headed east on Colorado towards Vroman’s Bookstore since my sister and Friend #1 are major book fanatics. Apparently, it is the oldest bookstore in Southern California…

 The kitty collection at the bookstore!
The kitty collection at the bookstore!

We left the bookstore after a good amount of time had passed. To kill some more time, we went back down the road towards where the majority of the stores were. We made our way (window shopping) through Urban Outfitters, Paper Source, and Madewell before heading over to our dinner stop at Green Earth Vegan Cuisine.

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We were the only group of people at the restaurant around 5pm on a weeknight, but that didn’t bother us. We were hungry, so no shame, haha. 

 Inside Green Earth Vegan Cuisine
Inside Green Earth Vegan Cuisine

For an appetizer, Friend #1 ordered the wontons.

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For her meal, she got one of the burgers—which was so hefty on the lettuce, that I couldn’t tell what the actual burger was.

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I got the Roast Beet Salad, but my favorite part of the dish was the grilled tofu. That, and the beets were the only redeeming qualities of the entire salad. Everything else seemed like it could have been poured in from a bulk bag of salad mix…which I wouldn’t doubt if it was.

Roasted garden beets, organic spring mix, carrots, cucumber, avocado, organic bean sprouts and sunflower shoots, and grilled tofu
Roasted garden beets, organic spring mix, carrots, cucumber, avocado, organic bean sprouts and sunflower shoots, and grilled tofu

Friend #2 got the Three Flavors, particularly for the eggplant. I remember getting a similar dish called the P.E.T. at another vegan restaurant in Pasadena. She wouldn’t stop raving about the eggplant, since she herself has not had success cooking with eggplant…yet 😉 

Pumpkin, eggplant, tofu, onion, sweet basil, red and green bell pepper, and king oyster mushroom with chef’s sauce 
Pumpkin, eggplant, tofu, onion, sweet basil, red and green bell pepper, and king oyster mushroom with chef’s sauce 

My sister got the Lasagne Di Vendure, which sounded pretty fancy but appeared to be a simple, homestyle-but-healthy kind of plate. She also had a whole bowl of toasted bread on the side. 

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Lasagna with eggplant, zucchini, onion, broccoli, green and red bell pepper served with mashed potatoes and toasted bread (she got a whole bowl, unpictured)

Once dinner was eaten, my crew and I headed back to Memorial Park Station, but along the way, stopped for gelato. We joked about the guy behind the counter who kept insisting on not to get the green tea flavor (for some reason, he kept questioning my friends about their green tea choice!), were entertained by the brass band street performers, and had fun taking selfies on the train. Back at my apartment, we all got cozy in our PJs and watched a movie before falling asleep. Looks like Day 2 was another success, and a memorable one!

Have you ever had “pretentious” coffee? 

Intelligentsia Cafe on Urbanspoon Green Earth Vegan Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Making Do, and Finding New

Making Do, and Finding New

I planned to have the fun weekend with my girls start on Friday night, but due to circumstances out of our control, we had to push back our plans an extra day. That left me with another [lonely] day on my own.

I’m all about organizing and planning, and so when things don’t happen according to plan, it can throw me off guard. But I knew that it would be in my best interest to just treat this day as an extra opportunity for “me” time, before I had to gather up my energy to play hostess.

On Thursday night, I felt sore and achy and just wasn’t in an overall great mood because of all the changes happening, and so after taking some Tylenol, I went to bed early and decided to figure out my Friday solo plans in the morning.

Upon waking, I figured that a nice, long walk starting from Marina Del Rey and ending in Santa Monica would be a super mood booster, as well as a source for light activity, since I wanted to take a break from running due to the achiness I was feeling.

I also wanted Santa Monica’s Vitamin Shoppe to be my final destination because after visiting them on Tuesday, I found a Quest Bar representative living out my dream—she was handing out free Quest bars!!! I was able to grab at least five that day, and overheard her telling some other bar enthusiasts that she would be back on Friday with “more product”. Little did I know that that “more product” meant NEW product…

quest_smoresbar_newflavor
The new flavor does have a lengthier list of ingredients compared to the other flavors—but there is no gelatin (from marshmallows)

Yes, a serendipitous Friday it was. She introduced me to their newest flavor—S’mores! It’s not even in stores yet, and it’s barely a month old.

quest_smoresbar

It was a tougher bar to chew compared to Cookies and Cream or Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, but I would say it’s a fair representation of the s’mores flavor without any marshmallows in sight or taste. But then again…I may be biased 😉

She also asked if I had been able to try their Protein Chips.

Um, of course not, but I would be happy to if it’s on the house 😀

quest_proteinchips_salt&vinegar

I tried their Salt & Vinegar flavor, and was intrigued by how thin and extra crispy they were. In fact, they might have been too thin and crispy because they almost had a melt-in-your-mouth kind of effect. There was a crunch, but then poof! All gone! There was no time to really savor them…

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But perhaps with some salsa or dip on top, they may have been more pleasing to eat.

So even though Friday’s original plans didn’t turn out as I wanted them to, the resulting day’s events weren’t so bad 😉

Since I had no one to entertain on Saturday morning, I woke up around 8am (which is rare for me…) and as soon as I got ready, made my way to Encino to grab brunch (but what ended up being lunch…) at More Than Waffles.

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It took me a few minutes to realize that the restaurant was hidden on the ground floor of a mini shopping plaza across the street. On the outside, it looked like any other strip mall establishment.

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But as I got closer, I could sense the theme of warmth and coziness the restaurant works hard to promote as a family-owned business.

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Loving the retro font!
not quite noon
So busy at the brink of 11am!

Since it was obviously very busy, I ended up waiting almost forty-five minutes for a table. And since it was in an awkward location, I ended up just standing that entire time. When there finally was a space available for me, I was asked to come inside to sit at a smaller table.

inside more than waffles family restaurant
The indoor decor was adorable—especially the wallpaper!

With all that waiting I ended up doing, I knew exactly what I wanted, and my order landed on my table within minutes! At least I didn’t have to wait that long for my food 😛 !! I ended up ordering a seemingly light, but nutritious Tuscan Benedict. I’ve been on an egg kick lately, and having perfectly poached eggs already done for me seemed like such a treat! Even the fruit tasted sweeter than usual 🙂

tuscan benedict with fruit
Two poached eggs on a 9-grain toast with homemade bruschetta, topped with feta and fresh fruit.

I headed back home soon after to clean up the apartment, and then waited for the arrival of my friends. While it is good to have some quality time of solitude and introspection, too much of it can make one go crazy! I definitely need some friend time, and I’m hoping that the next few days rises up to that…

More Than Waffles on Urbanspoon

How do you react when things don’t go as planned?

A Commercial Take on Overnight Oats

A Commercial Take on Overnight Oats

Disclaimer: I was NOT endorsed by Chobani for this review. This review is based on the products I bought on my own from a discount grocery store. 

I remember way back in 2011 when overnight oats was such a trendy thing in the foodie blogosphere. When I first began blogging publicly, I was intrigued by the concept of soaking oats overnight in milk or yogurt, and then adding things like dried fruit, nut butter, and chocolate chips to the mix the following morning.

It has taken three years for “the rest of the world” to catch up to what us food-obsessed bloggers kept secret for so long, and not surprisingly, it was Chobani that took the leap into commercializing the overnight oats concept, through their Chobani Oats line.

They have four flavors in the collection: Apple Cinnamon, Banana Maple, Blueberry, and Cranberry. I happened to stumble upon ¾ flavors at my local Grocery Outlet. Not only was I in pleasant shock after seeing that these even existed, but after noticing that they were only $0.59 a cup, you better believe I stocked up!!

I tried all three flavors that same day after a shift at work and dinner. Looking back, I noticed that I ended up eating them in alphabetical order. That was not done on purpose, at all 😉

All of the yogurts in this collection have a goopy texture from the steel-cut oats mixed in, but it seems to me that the thick consistency that makes greek yogurt what it is was downgraded by the presence of the oats. So all of the yogurts pretty much tasted like regular, more fluid yogurt mixed with oats. 

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All cups are 160 calories, have decent protein content, and ensure those who are foreign to overnight oats that it is, in fact, “ready to eat—serve chilled”.

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Apple Cinnamon was my least favorite I have to say. As much as I wanted to be a fan of all flavors, I wasn’t exactly raving about the mini apple chunks or off-cinnamon taste.

Apple Cinnamon

Banana Maple was alright. I didn’t taste the banana flavor that much though, really.

Banana Maple

I’m surprised Chobani doesn’t already have a cranberry-flavored greek yogurt, but as part of this collection, the cranberry yogurt+steel oats combo was a winner. Not only was the yogurt colored pink, but there were decent-sized chunks of cranberry thrown in too!

Cranberry

Unfortunately, blueberry was nowhere in sight when I made my grocery store visit. Perhaps it’s too popular to be overstock? In that case, I guess that means I really do need to try it 😉 !

Have you seen/tried the new Chobani Oats line?

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