Product Review: Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters

Van's Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters

Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters

Product: Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters – $5.99+

One of my favorite, favorite, favorite things to have to eat before heading out to my morning spin class (like 5:30 a.m. start time for class) is something as simple as yogurt, fruit, and a little granola.  It isn’t too heavy to make me feel…BLEH (technical term, yes!)…while spinning out to awesome music and getting my sweat on, but it does give me enough fuel in the tank to not pass out or run out of gas during the workout itself.  And…it’s refreshing…and delicious.

So, when I randomly bought strawberries this past week at the grocery store (they looked good and I really wanted them), I randomly needed to get granola to go with it.  I have an abundance of yogurts (vegan and otherwise) in my fridge for my roomie and I at all times.  But granola…not so much anymore.  I’ve just been trying other breakfast stuff…like Gluten Free NY-Style Bagels and all that.

That being said, this was necessary this week, for sure.  And while out and about on Saturday doing our very random grocery shopping at at least 5 different stores (NO JOKE!), I was on the hunt for a granola that wasn’t too high in sugars and that would pair nicely with strawberries.  I opted for one brand, and then quickly changed my mind when I spotted the Van’s Foods granola in the gluten-free section of said store.

I’ve only had one other version of the Van’s Gluten Free Granola Clusters, but what I loved about it was the soft and chewy nature of it.  So, back went the original brand I had scooped up…hello to one of the newest additions to the Van’s Gluten Free Granola Clusters lineup.  The flavor…Banana Nut.

I am a runner…a marathon runner.  This means I have this special place in my heart for banana.  Banana bread (gluten-free of course), banana cookies, bananas with peanut butter, banana chips…and yes…straight up banana.  Banana is my pre-long run eats.  So, anything banana makes me one happy girl.  No question about it…I wanted to try this granola.

And I have been totally devouring it and enjoying it all weekend.  Like the other granola clusters that they sell, Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters are…really more one large mass of granola, rather than individual clusters.  But that’s fine.  The massive chunk of granola does break apart easily, making for easy sprinkling over yogurt or whatever.  It also makes for good pinching material for stealing snacks between meals, before eating, or just…because.  I love the soft and chewy texture of this granola, because while I do love granola with a crunch, this texture just pairs well with…everything.  And I can eat it quietly and not feel like I might wake up my roommate simply by chewing.  What I do love about this granola is how the banana flavoring doesn’t overwhelm or overpower the actual granola itself.  This makes it perfect for pairing with anything…oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, smoothies, ice cream, etc.  Oh yeah…it’s amazing.  There are bits of nuts included in the clusters as well.  It’s a delicious way to start your day…or end your day…or to have throughout the day.  And I don’t feel bad about snacking on this…because Van’s takes pride in the ingredients they use and the nutritional worth of their products.  It’s a win either way.  Definitely a win when banana is involved.

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients that are used in put together the Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters, shall we?  As I stated, Van’s uses ingredients that they are proud of.  For this variety of their Granola Clusters, Van’s includes gluten free whole oats, brown rice syrup, invert cane syrup, cane sugar, non-GMO expeller pressed canola oil, unsweetened coconut, pecans, honey, flax seed, gluten free oat bran, almonds, natural flavors, salt, walnuts, vitamin E tocopherols (for freshness).  Gluten-free, vegan, and made with whole grains.  Gotta love that.

Now let’s look at the nutritional information of the Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters.  A serving of this granola is 1/3 cup (30 grams).  This serving will provide you with 120 calories, 5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 1.5 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 6 grams sugars, and 2 grams protein.  Deliciously well-rounded, balanced, and not too bad on the nutrition.  I like that this brand keeps added sugar levels low.  Some granola has double digit sugars in a serving.

Van’s Gluten Free products have always impressed me and been amazing.  I love the soft and chewy texture of their granola clusters.  And the Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Clusters is definitely a new favorite.  This package is almost empty…so I think another trek out to purchase more is a must.

If you haven’t tried Van’s Gluten Free Granola Clusters…make a point to do so.  It will change your granola-loving mind forever!!

 

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United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NY (March 20, 2016)

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Place: New York, New York

Date: March 20, 2016

Time: 1:43:53

When I go into a race without any expectations or goals…I seem to do better than anticipated.  While I had a semi-goal of being able to do my first half marathon distance after injury (for a year) in sub-2 hours, I wasn’t going to be too hard on myself if it didn’t happen.

Especially since the weather changed drastically the week of the race.

The weekend before the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…the weather was gorgeous.  Not just in Louisville (where I ran my first official race back…the Rodes City Run 10K), but up in New York too.  I was hoping it would hold.  I do better in nicer temperatures.  But as the week went on…the gorgeous weather started to go away.

NOOOOOO!!

For much of the week, the forecast was calling for rain…cold…wind.  Then snow…cold…wind.  And then, on Friday night, it changed to just really flippin cold and really flippin’ windy.

UGH!!  Now I was in a crisis. I had my outfit planned out for weeks…but the 30 degree temps and the strong winds (and the wind chill it would bring), meant I needed to reevaluate my wardrobe.  With much reluctance, the running skirt went back into the closet and a pair of my (albeit bright) compression tights came out.  Any of you who regularly read my running blog know…I…HATE…PANTS.  So this frustrated me.  I also packed a big turtleneck lined top and a windbreaker…and at the last minute, just before walking out the door early Saturday…I tossed in a long sleeve shirt…just in case, because I never ran in a windbreaker and I was nervous it would annoy me or just not work out…in which case, I’d rather brace against the cold in layers than anything.

So, Saturday morning was an early morning for me.  I was up at 2 am to do all my physical therapy exercises.  The stretches, the dynamic stuff outside, the plyometrics.  I knew once I touched down in NYC…I was on the move…and these stretches were more important than anything else.

I admit, a little voice in my head said, “Go on…go do an easy mile or two for a shakeout before getting on the plane.”  But, as tempting as it was, I quieted that voice.  I knew I’d be on the go both at the airports and once I touched down in the city, the shakeout wasn’t important, and I didn’t need to do it.  I’d be doing ample time on my feet just moving about NYC.

See what I have learned??!!

So, we (my roommate and I) walked out the door right at 5 am (giving us time to get a light breakfast in our stomachs and (SO VERY MUCH NEEDED) coffee into our system.  We got to the Louisville airport in record time…parked…had to take a roundabout way to the Southwest Airlines counter due to renovations that are going on, and which I hope they finish up before Derby, or that airport is going to be a mess.  Security was quick, although I ended up being randomly chosen for the hand swab, and my laptop (as always) had to be examined more closely…but it was quick, painless, and we were off and heading to our gate (which was behind a bunch of renovation boards).  Like I said, the airport was sort of a mess.

Deciding that we weren’t ready to settle in yet, we took a little walk, as usual, through the airport crowds, and Cathy and I grabbed a Cool Lime Refresher at Starbucks (and she got a breakfast sammie as well) and we went back to the gate.  I downed one of the new LUNA Bars (the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond, which has only 5 grams of sugar and tasted like an amazing caffe mocha) and then…it was time to board.  We were at the end of the A group…so it worked out perfectly.

Our flight had a small layover at Chicago Midway before we went on to NYC.  So, we took the time to stretch our legs and walk the terminal. I was really craving something sweet, so we went on the “Great Fruit Cup Hunt of Midway,” finding that everywhere that normally had fruit cups were sold out.  With 5 minutes to boarding, we finally found something at one of the food court restaurants.  It was a large fruit cup with honeydew melon, pineapple, grapes and strawberries in it.  I carried it onto our flight into Laguardia Airport and ate it while still sitting on the runway.

The flight into Laguardia was uneventful, save for the funny flight crew.  The lead flight

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo - New York, New York

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo – New York, New York

attendant was in her 50s and just…SO funny.  Love that.  It also helps calm my nerves when the flight crew is loosey-goosey like that.  I was drinking my water to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and we landed in Laguardia early.  Taxied to the jetway…disembarked…and went to baggage claim.  My bag was the 2nd one off the belt.  Cathy’s wasn’t too far behind.  With bags in hand, we called the hired car company and they had a car out to fetch us in about 5 or so minutes.  Luggage went into the trunk and we were now on our way into Manhattan…staying at a different hotel this time (which was totally our fault because we originally had the race pegged for the weekend before this one and it wasn’t until about a month before that I realized the date of the race was for the week after…in my defense, it ran a week earlier last year!)…but the traffic situation wasn’t bad and our driver was really aggressive once he got into the city blocks, LOL!  We were dropped off at the door of The Distrikt Hotel on W 40th Street and went to check in.

We were much earlier than anticipated, so our room wasn’t ready yet.  We did go ahead and leave our bags and went to go buy a Metrocard and take the subway to get to the United Airlines NYC Half Experience (the expo), which was taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We headed into the Expo, which was a madhouse!  Seriously…at some points, I felt like salmon swimming upstream.  I had the registration sheet with me so I went over to where my numbers were to pick up my bib.  From there, it was through the store and over to get my official bag with my t-shirt and stuff in it.  I haven’t really looked through what else was in there.  I made one circuit of the expo before returning to the official store.  There was a great t-shirt in there, pink and purple, that I had my eye on.  But, to no surprise, my size was gone.  Disappointing for sure.  Ah well.  Except, Cathy and I realized almost all official merchandise for women had nothing left in small.  Now I remember why I order things online ahead of this.  She did manage to find me an official finisher’s t-shirt and I grabbed a Sparkly Soul headband that had the event name on it.  Purchases made.  Back into the expo.

I actually thought there would be more vendors there and more to see and lots more places to shop.  But, for the best, there wasn’t. I walked through the line of charities…I got in line to have my picture taken in front of the logo…Cathy made a couple signs (which never got used due to the 21 mph gusts of wind on race morning)…and we settled in for a moment at a table where I could charge my phone and we could catch our breath.

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

My friend, Ellen, who got in on lottery this year (I deferred last year so had automatic entry…except I had to repay the $127 registration fee), turned up to meet up with me, and brought me a nice salad to boot.  YAY for friends.  YAY for food!  We discussed what we were planning on wearing, food, and…all the crazy shit (hehehe…get it Ellen?) that runners rely on and need to have happen prior to a run.  It was fun.  I even did a Snapchat video for her giving a running tip.  She calls me her inspiration…but I think she’s mine.  She needed to get back to the charity event she was attending, and I needed to get back to the hotel to get into the room.  The travel capris I was wearing weren’t very warm against the already chilly wind of NYC.  So, we returned to the hotel, got our room, gathered our bags, and went upstairs.  We flopped for a moment before changing into jeans and heading back out…this time just to explore.  We didn’t want to stop in for dinner until at least 5 p.m.  So, we had a couple of hours to just explore.  That’s what we did, too.

With no plan, we just wandered through some of the area, stopping into shops that drew our attention.  We went and got our chocolate from Teuscher (I got a mini champagne, dark mocha, and dark salted caramel…and Cathy got a limoncello, almond, and chocolate orange truffle), which is a requirement, and ducked into the Hard Rock Café for a shotglass and a pin.  Back out and seeing the city until we decided to hike over to our pre-race dinner spot of choice, Don Antonio by Starita on W 50th Street.  They have a fantastic gluten-free pizza menu, and while they have a couple of GF and Vegan options, I stuck with the one I knew I loved and wouldn’t give me too much.  The Marinara Pizza Senza Glutine.  OMG…this is my 2nd favorite gluten-free pizza crust in the world (the first being Annie May’s Sweet Café).  I love when there is a real and actual crust on a gluten-free pizza, and not just a cracker crust.  We devoured dinner and then hiked back to the hotel to cycle through showers, giving me time to foam roll, and to eat some chocolate.  HA!  It was an early to bed night…and by 9 pm…we were turning out the lights.

I set the alarm on my phone for the first one to wake me up at 4 a.m.  It went off and I got up to use the bathroom, take my medicine, and then crawled back into bed for another 50 minutes.  The second alarm was the 5 a.m. one, and I got up and started to get changed into my running gear for the race.  Cathy was up at 5:15 to get dressed and ready.  And while I felt good all day prior to this morning, I felt tired, but in good shape for the actual race.  I was not happy that I had to wear pants to run a half marathon, but the windchill was a factor and I under-dressed once before for a full and have been nervous about doing that again ever since (hypothermia is NOT fun, my friends).  I decided to wear a long sleeve tech shirt under my warmer top with the big turtleneck top, figuring it would be good against the wind, without me trying to get used to running in a windbreaker on the fly.  I got my number pinned on, threw on the hoodie I was going to leave behind, filled up my water bottles and we were off.

We took the subway to Columbus Circle and disembarked, climbing the stairs and being

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

greeted with some of the coldest wind.  I don’t know how the dude in front of us was handling being in short running shorts, because I would have been dying.  I think he was.  But…to each their own, right?!  We walked over to the checkpoint at Central Park where Cathy had to go her own way and I had to show my bib number and enter.  We took a picture of me with Times Square behind me and then I went in.  I walked with a bunch of runners who were just talking about some of the most random stuff.  One was talking about Scott Jurek on Instagram and it was kind of amusing to me.  We went through the medal detectors and then continued on the path to the corrals.  There was a line of port-o-potties without lines and many of the people I was walking with went to take advantage of them…and I kept on trekking.  I made my way to the line of corrals, working my way up to the one for 10000-10999.  I did a few of my dynamic warm-up moves from physical therapy, but the air temperature was enough to make me not want to do it anymore.  I did one set of each, then hunkered down and shivered for a good half hour more.  It was really, really cold.  When the corrals opened for the start of the wheelchair race, I stepped inside and did a few static stretches just to loosen up.  From the onslaught of the cold wind, my hip was already not loving me.  It began to ache during the easy walk from security to the corals.  Seriously, my body and cold weather never got along, but it really doesn’t get along with it these days.

The wheelchair racers, hand crank racers, and elite women were all sent off by 7:15 a.m.  It was awesome standing in the corral and being able to see each group take off.  When the elite women took up, I cheered loudly for Molly Huddle, who is from Elmira, NY…my hometown area.  She’s amazing.  She’s fast.  She set a new course record that morning and it came down to an eighth of a second…it was THAT close.  The elite men went off with Wave 1 at 7:30 a.m..  Then my wave…Wave 2…were shuffled forward for our 7:45 a.m. start.  It was really exciting.  When the airhorn blew to send us off, I began the walk toward the official start, and started my Garmin as I crossed.  The first step already had my hip screaming at me.  I struggled through the final mile of a 10K the weekend prior…and I just started a half marathon.  I really just made a point go focus on my form and my breathing, and just finding a comfortable pace to run at.  As I said, I had no goals or expectations…just to have fun and to finish what I start.  Well…I started.  I now had to finish.

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

The 6 miles through Central Park are beautiful and quiet.  There were pockets of spectators out there, but mostly it was runners, our feet, and our breathing.  Being the start of the race, I would catch snatches of conversations people were having as they ran the race with friends or running partners.  It keeps me amused.  Some people were tucked into their earbuds, their music propelling them forward.  There was a couple running together, and on the back of his shirt was a sign that said “Baby on Board” and an arrow pointing to his wife who was running right next to him.  The people inside the park were loud and awesome and the little loop we do outside the park to turn around and head back in…was packed, crowded and loud.  I love a good crowd.  The hills of Central Park are respectable, but my hill repeats have been more intense than those, so while they slowed me down slightly, they didn’t have me huffing and puffing.  I’m learning to love to hate to love those hill repeat sessions more and more.  I didn’t check my pace on my watch at any point, but I hit the 5K mark and felt like I was coming along well for someone who was fighting hip pain twinges since the start.  With the hills now behind us, the runners exit Central Park onto 7th Avenue.  Cathy said she’d be outside the park to see me there, so I got to the left per her instructions and headed up 7th Avenue.  She was tucked into the pocket of the turn, but I heard her shouting and screaming and I gave a wave at her as I ran past.  It lifted my spirits, for sure.  And it was on to run down 7th Avenue and into Times Square.

I think Times Square was my favorite part of this race.  The crowd was intense.  There was so much noise.  All the screens were lit up.  The Kids Mile was running through there.  There was so much energy there…that it just pulsed through you.  I loved every stretch of this portion of the race.  And it is the part I remember the most.  I love a good crowd.

And with the extreme winds we were getting, it was a great way to start off the last stretch of the race.  This portion is pretty flat, save for just after the 20K mark.  So, it was nice to easily pick up the pace a little here.  Miles 8-12 really just have you fighting the windtunnels that are 42nd Street.  Here you make a U-Turn and head down the West Side Highway.  Wind.  Lots of wind.  Thankfully there was music blasting at various stages throughout this stretch of the run.  The crowds were sparse, but there were some spectators out there to cheer.  But without the bands, this might have been a tough slog through these 4 miles.  However, as the miles tick down, One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower keep getting closer and closer.  It’s gorgeous.  I can’t tell you how long I just kept my eyes on that building, minding each time I drew up my right leg, making sure I wasn’t overcompensating due to the hip pain.  This was…uplifting.

Mile 12 takes runners through the Battery Park Underpass.  This…was fun.  Seriously.  You are underground for a long while.  Runners scream and shout and let out whoops as they run through the dark, spooky tunnel. I loved it.  I even left my sunglasses on.  Just powered on through.  Running through tunnels is fun.  For some reason, I always smile more in them.  The 20K mark was just as we were let out to run up a hill.

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

This is where Cathy was situated to see me before I hit the finish line.  LOVED this little uplift right at the end.  I waived and smiled as she shouted, “YOU REALLY ARE ALMOST THERE!”  And so, I burst up the hill and got hit by one hell of a headwind.  NYC has this way of always being super windy when I run there.  So…I battled the headwind and just ran…ran…ran…rounding a corner…passing up a pace group….rounding another turn and seeing that finish line.  As I ran this race rather conservatively, I still had some go in the tank and so…I powered up, powered through, and crossed that finish line.

I stopped my Garmin…and the tears just started going.  I didn’t know my official time.  I didn’t check the Garmin.  I competed and finished my first half marathon since my hip labrum tear over a year ago.  And I could still move.  No limping.  Just a small ache.  I had done what I thought I wouldn’t be able to do…and it turns out I did it well.

We were filtered through the finisher’s area where we had medals hung around our necks and mylar sheets wrapped around us to keep us warm.  We were given these nice bags filled with snacks, Gatorade and water, and then shuttled out toward Battery Park.  At the exit, Cathy was waiting.  I hurried over and got a hug and she said, “YOU KILLED IT!!  Do you want to know your time?”  Of course I did.  She told me…and I started crying.  Not only was it better than I anticipated, it was better than I could have dreamed of doing, given the circumstances.

Our bodies find ways of surprising us.  And I think not having a specific goal or pace I wanted to hit helped.

So, the official results of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:43:53.  I was 3318/20,149 finishers overall.  I was 786/10,556 female finishers.  And I was 132/1706 finishers in my division.  I, honestly, couldn’t have run this any better.  Since the cold weather made me sore from just shivering at the start, I just took this race one step at a time…one mile at a time.  And I LOVED it.  I loved this race.  It was…probably….one of my favorite half marathons I have ever run.  Even in the cold…and the wind…and the suck…it was just…fun.  And I had fun running it.  It was a struggle at times…but I finished it and I felt good at the end.

Afterwards, we hopped the subway back to the hotel where I showered and changed.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy and I went to Empire Coffee & Tea House where I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte (dairy free…made with almond milk…and YUMMY!).  Then we ended up hiking around NYC the rest of the day with Cathy and my friend Marisa, who I have known since high school.  We stopped in at bakeries (I bought 3 cookies from By The Way (BTW) Bakery) and a tea shop (where I had the Energitea…an amazing green blend).  We settled in for a bit at the hotel before getting ready to head to dinner at Red Rooster Harlem.  You might recall, Red Rooster is where I celebrated my NYC Marathon finish…so I wanted to go back for this.  And it was amazing.  Once again, the chef created a dish to fit my dietary needs…and I was SO impressed.  I even had dessert.  And fun.  We sat and talked over mint tea and listened to the live jazz music in the bar before calling it a night and making the trek back from Harlem to Midtown.  We said goodbye to Marisa and settled in for the night.

Overall…I’m already ready to come back to NYC…even if I don’t have a race.  There is always so much to see and do.  But…this time…for me…the highlight was getting through the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…after having to defer it last year.  It was just the boost I needed.

Hawaiian Hau’oli

Aloha!

So, last week, for a wonderful week, I was fortunate enough to spend some time on the two of the Hawaiian islands.  The original purpose – to run the Kauai Marathon.

But then…I fractured my ankle.

Trying to start a new trend in footwear, perhaps? This is Bootsie, my new friend for the next 6-8 weeks. MEH!

Trying to start a new trend in footwear, perhaps? This is Bootsie, my new friend for the next 6-8 weeks. MEH!

Yep.  Fractured my freakin’ ankle three days before leaving for Hawaii.  SUCK!!  I tried to put a positive spin on things…I really did.  At least I was still going to Hawaii.  Yeah…it didn’t really work for me then either…but I was trying.  To help make this painful adjustment, I started a Twitter account for Bootsie (the boot I’m forced to wear for 6-8 weeks) to document traveling adventures.  I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason…so there better be a damn good reason for this.  That’s all I’m saying.

The first leg of the trip was flying out to San Diego.  This gave us pretty much a full day to adjust to a bit of the time change (West Coast = 3 hours behind EST; Hawaii = 6 hours behind EST) and break up what was already a long ass flight to the islands.  We’d depart San Diego before it was bright and early to get to Kauai by mid-morning.  It was a plan.  The ankle just meant we had to depart from the hotel sooner because I wasn’t moving anywhere very fast.  So…my traveling companions, Cathy & Jenn, were both very helpful and very, very patient with me.  And, I didn’t complain much.  I mean, complaining won’t change the situation.  I just apologized…a lot…for being slow.

The first order of business after getting to San Diego and checking into the hotel to drop off luggage was…lunch.  Not having prepared for lunch, I ate a protein bar, while my fellow travelers ate tacos from a local taco stand.  SO cool.  But after that, I required my morning cup of coffee…so we sought out and found a great local establishment called…

Lestat’s Coffee House, San Diego, California

Lestat’s is one of those places that is open 24/7, 365 days of the year.  YES…it is always open!  Holiday?  No worries…they’re open!  Lestat’s Coffee House has a few signature drinks on their menu…and as it was pretty toasty in San Diego, I wasn’t feeling the hot coffee that day.  Neither were my traveling friends.  So, they each got coffee freezes (think blended drinks!) while I opted for one of Lestat’s Signature Drinks done up all refreshing and cold.  Jenn got the Winter Raspberry Freeze ($5.25), which is a ice blended raspberry mocha.  I took one little sip.  WINNING!  Cathy had me pick for her, and I choose the Arctic Squirrel Freeze ($5.25) for her, which is an ice blended hazelnut mocha (similar to the Hazelnut Turtle drink she loves at our local cafe…just…blended and cold).  As for me…I went with the Iced Arctic Joey ($4.55)…which is coconut, almond and chocolate.  I had mine made with coconut milk as well (+$1.00).  In essence, it was a liquid almond joy.  And it was delicious.  There were bits of coconut floating in it.  I think I was just starting to get in the Aloha spirit by getting something with coconut.  Needless to say…smooth, creamy, delicious.  Nothing overwhelmed the drink, and it wasn’t heavy.  It was pure liquid gold.  And refreshing.  And tasty.  And in the end, coffee should always be tasty.  I was beyond happy with this decision.

Lestat's Coffee House Iced Almond Joey with Coconut Milk

Lestat’s Coffee House Iced Almond Joey with Coconut Milk

Upon arriving in Hawaii…after the rental car debacle…wherein we learned…convertible is fun…but not when you have a fractured ankle.  We got it sorted…and switched out the fun and stylish convertible for…a Ford Fusion.  Yeah…definitely not the way we had envisioned traveling, but it gave us more leg room and some more storage space for our big-ass luggage.  LOL!  After checking into Pono Kai Resort in Kauai…coffee was needed.

It’s always coffee with me.  LOL!

So, we scoped out and fell in love with a local café called Ha Coffee Bar.  And we went back every day we were on the island of Kauai…save for Sunday, because they are closed.

Ha Coffee Bar, Lihue, Hawaii

It was love at first “Aloha” when it came to Ha Coffee Bar.  I have nothing but warm fuzzies when I think back to every stop at Ha Coffee Bar, each morning, first thing, while on Kauai.  It was a bit of a drive from the resort, but always worth it.  I tried three different things on the three days we were there that they were open.  And, not once, was I ever disappointed in my choice.  Ha Coffee Bar is a café that is built to resemble an old-school bar.  No joke.  Their iced drinks are even mixed in martini shakers.  LOVE.  This set-up allows them to showcase and sell products and items, such as pour-overs, that might not typically be served at a café.  Ha Coffee Bar primarily serves espresso coffee, cold brewed coffee, pour-over and French press coffee.  The variety in the types of coffee they serve allows for different origins and price points, which also helps minimize waste as they don’t have coffee sitting and going stale…high quality coffee and flexibility that allows customers to explore different blends, flavor profiles and methods of making coffee.  Coffee love.  And boy…did I LOVE this.  On the first day there, I stayed pretty basic.  I got a Salted Caramel French Pressed Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk.  I loved that they added the flavor to the steamed milk itself, and then gave me the pitcher of leftover almond milk in case I needed more of it in the drink.  But it was perfect the way they gave it to me.  And the French pressed coffee…OMG…so good.  Jenn got a simple Iced Hazelnut Latte and Cathy got an Iced Peppermint Mocha.  So, on the next morning, I noticed they had signature drinks hanging up near the register…so I decided to give one of those a try.  I had it narrowed down to two…but opted for their drink the Bee Sting.  The Bee Sting is simply Espresso, Coconut Milk, Honey and Cinnamon.  I got it iced…as the humidity was killer that morning.  Cathy got their take on an Iced Black & White Mocha (Zebra).  And it was, absolutely, hands down, my favorite coffee drink of the trip.  I wish I could have had it again.  I would have gotten it again.  The coconut milk gave it this rich flavor, the honey sweetened it, the cinnamon lent a hint of spice…and espresso…got me moving for sure.  Simple…yet SO good.  SO very good.  In fact, on our last day there, this is the drink that Jenn opted to get after trying mine.  With Ha closed on Sunday, we had to go elsewhere, but on our last day on Kauai…we were there in the morning and I was getting another signature drink…Liquid Sunshine, which was cold brew coffee, coconut syrup, and coconut milk.  DELICIOUS!!  Not Bee Sting delicious…but delicious.  I was quite happy with it.  Not something I can get here…anywhere…so that was most of the draw for this drink in particular.  The last morning there, Cathy got the Iced Hazelnut Mocha and a Pineapple Cream Cheese Scone to enjoy for breakfast.  I still say it today…back in Louisville, Kentucky…that I miss Ha Coffee Bar.  It made that much of an impression.

Ha Coffee's Salted Caramel Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk, Iced Bee Sting, and Iced Liquid Sunshine

Ha Coffee’s Salted Caramel Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk, Iced Bee Sting, and Iced Liquid Sunshine

 

Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream, Lihue, Hawaii

I have KONG Radio to thank for the discovery of Skinny Mike’s.  As we were driving the island of Kauai on Saturday, just enjoying beaches and the like…an advertisement for Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream came on.  And it advertised ice cream, sorbets, and vegan ice cream.  They had my attention, and the attention of both Jenn and Cathy too.  I looked them up…and took note of where it was located.  And we vowed to go there and check them out.  At least once, yes?

And so, Saturday evening, after splitting a gluten-free pizza at a local chain…we headed over to Harbor Mall, where Skinny Mike’s is located.  We parked and marched up the stairs to the little shop.  Online I had taken a peak at the flavors, and sort of had my heart set on the Pineapple Cream.  However…they didn’t have that flavor.  So…I was left to look over the offered flavors while Jenn & Cathy made their choices.  We each got regular scoops ($3.49) of our flavor choices.  Cathy went with the Mint Chocolate Chip as it is one of her favorites…anywhere.  Jenn won with their signature flavor…a local classic…Macadamia Nut.  Hers was so good, we went back the last night there and each got a scoop of the Macademia Nut.  That’s how good that was.  For my first trip there, without the Pineapple flavor being available…I went with the suggestion of Coconut Cream.  The Coconut Cream ice cream was the perfect level of coconut flavor.  No bits of raw coconut…just the flavor infused in a creamy scoop of ice cream goodness.  It was delicious.  Smooth.  And melted fast.  Ah…coconut based things…I didn’t mind though.  Not one bit.  I eat frozen desserts rather quickly regardless.  LOL!  We were so impressed with the ice cream there that, as I said, we all went back to get the signature Macadamia Nut flavor on our last night on Kauai.  Worth it.  That was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  Just…delicious.  I miss it.  I want some more of the Macadamia Nut flavor…it’s a craving that hits now.  Now that I know it exists…but can’t get it anywhere else…but there.

Skinny Mike's Hawaiian Ice Cream's Coconut Cream and Macadamia Nut Ice Cream

Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream’s Coconut Cream and Macadamia Nut Ice Cream

 

Java Kai, Kapaa, Hawaii

What happens when  your favorite Hawaiian coffee stop on Kauai is closed on Sunday?  You have to find a new place to get that caffeine hit.  And this was what we were left to do on Sunday morning.  Sunday.  When I should have been running a marathon.  When, instead, I was hobbling around Kapaa in search of coffee.  The stop at the little food truck-like coffee place was…not going to work for everyone.  No one was really happy with the menu options…so…we backtracked to a spot that Jenn spotted and had looked up online.  It wasn’t far from the resort.  It was a worthwhile stop in the end.  And, in the end, we all ended up with a bit of breakfast with our coffee as well.  How?  Because this place had some gluten-free options on the menu and in the bakery case.  SCORE!  This meant we could have something a little more substantial at the start of the day, instead of the meager protein bars or yogurts back at the resort.  It would mean eating better now and not making poor choices later.  And so…Jenn got one of the bars from the bakery case…the Aloha Bar ($3.75), I think.  For her caffeinated goodness that morning, she got the Iced Macanut Latte ($4.50).  Cathy went for the Breakfast Burrito ($10.50), which includes eggs, roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese, which she got with the mango-chipotle salsa.  For her drink, she got the Iced Hazelnut Mocha ($4.70).  She at hers there at the café as she was the driver.  As for me…they had gluten-free English muffins.  HELLO!  So I ended up getting the Gluten Free English Muffin with Cream Cheese ($3.95), which they kindly toasted for me…looks like in a pan…no cross-contamination.  And for the drink, I got the Iced Macanut Latte ($4.50) with Almond Milk (+$0.75).  Jenn and I had ours to go and I happily noshed away on a Glutino English Muffin with a light spread of cream cheese.  The Macanut Latte…macadamia nut flavor…espresso…nutty goodness.  And it was just the perfect drink that morning.  It was supposed to be marathon morning…and I needed a distraction.  This food, while simple and basic…was just what I needed.  The drive along the coast helped too!

Java Kai's Gluten Free English Muffin (with Cream Cheese) and Macanut Latte with Almond Milk

Java Kai’s Gluten Free English Muffin (with Cream Cheese) and Macanut Latte with Almond Milk

 

Hanalei Bay, Hanalei, Hawaii

We visited a lot of beaches while visiting Hawaii.  I mean, that’s part of the point when you visit an island, right?  But, I think, above all others, my favorite one we stopped at, and spent the most time at, was Hanalei Bay.  This beach is stunning.  A beautiful 2-mile long crescent of white sand, nestled beneath a breathtaking range of mountains.  The water was relatively calm that day, with some small waves crashing against the shore.  Despite my new friend…Bootsie…being on, we were determined to get away and enjoy the day.  Anything to keep my mind off the fact that I should have been running.  Hanalei Bay is a great beach for walking and body surfing.  Calm waves, lifeguards, and a great coast line.  I managed a few solo ventures along the waterline of the beach, just needing to at least move a little…minus the boot.  I took it off for beach time.  Strange tan lines were not on the agenda.  I was very careful of where I stepped and the movement of the sand…and would pause if a wave came up and rolled over my legs…because that undertow could be a bit strong and throw me off balance.  It was here that I realized my surf lessons the following day were not going to happen, as much as I wanted to give it a try.  It was just not going to be physically possible for me to get up on a surf board.  I was brokenhearted over this…but shrugged it off as no big deal.  These were the cards I was dealt.  Suck it up, cupcake…you’re in Hawaii!

Me and Bootsie at Hanalei Bay

Me and Bootsie at Hanalei Bay

After some walking and some laying on the beach…we got dressed and headed off for the next venture.  Which tunred out to be a good thing.  Heavy rains started soon after we had changed…and soon, Jenn and I realized just how sunburned we had gotten.  I don’t think Jenn slapped on any sunscreen.  I had…but the burn was in those places where clothes met skin or that strings were located.  I was trying to avoid strange tan lines…and yet…that is what I ended up with in the end.

That being said…for a moment, I forgot about the ankle…and the boot…and I just enjoyed the perfect afternoon at the perfect beach.

JoJo’s Shave Ice, Hanalei, Hawaii

I have my good friend Harry Cooke to thank for the journey, while in Hanalei, to JoJo’s Shave Ice.  He had mentioned it to me in a message on Facebook…and we were right there!!  And with the rain pouring down now, it gave us a good excuse to not sit in a car and try to avoid the flooding roads.  It gave us some time to hope the rain would pass and we could do more exploring.  The rain didn’t pass.  It was with us the rest of the time on the North Shore.  However, after a bit of a short (hobbling, for me) spring from the rental car to the little storefront that the Hanalei JoJo’s Shave Ice operates out of…we knew we were in for a treat.  The original JoJo’s began in Waimea in 1992, the same year that Hurricane Iniki landed on Kauai.  That store is stil there today and still has the original JoJo’s sign.  The goal of JoJo’s…to offer the ultimate in Shave Ice on Kauai…which is a true Hawaiian treat.  When they expanded into Hanalei, they took the JoJo’s traditions and secret recipes along…and introduced the smaller “junior size,” which closely matches the normal serving size of other shave ice venues throughout Hawaii.  JoJo’s doesn’t use commercially made syrups.  They, instead, carefully make up their own syrups, with a lot less sugar and more flavor than the commercially used ones by other shave ice businesses.  And…no corn syrups either.  They also have upgraded all their locations with the best ice machines on Kauai, making for an unmatched, fluffy shave.  LOVE.  The three of us each got the Junior Sizes ($4.50).  And they let you choose up to 4-5 flavors.  I don’t remember what Jenn got…but it had cherry…and perhaps lime?  I can’t recall.  Cathy got Root Beer, Lemon and Grape Shave Ice.  And I opted for two of my favorite flavors…Watermelon and Strawberry Shave Ice.  Of course, now looking back, I wish I opted for something more…local…like mango or something.  Next time.  But the shave ice at JoJo’s was huge…filling…and amazingly packed with flavor.  I can see why it’s been open for 23 years.

30 ounces of Watermelon and Strawberry flavored goodness from JoJo's Shave Ice

30 ounces of Watermelon and Strawberry flavored goodness from JoJo’s Shave Ice

 

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café, Kalaheo, Hawaii

I know that technically Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café should have gotten a full review, as it was our place to catch a bite for lunch…on Monday afternoon.  However, it was a hot day…and the humidity was really doing a number on me.  And while there were a few options for a gluten-free vegetarian on the menu, what sounded really, really good was the Spinach and Kauai Greens Salad ($10.95).  And the reason that this didn’t warrant a Restaurant Review post was…it was a salad I could have made at home.  Honestly.  But this was what I wanted.  The Spinach and Kauai Greens Salad is a blend of fresh grown Kailani Farm greens, served with crisp spinach and topped off with strawberries and candied pecans.  I kept the feta cheese and held the side of warm flat bread for obvious reasons.  It came with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  And it was delicious.  Light, but filling.  And cooling.  And just flat-out what I was really wanting that miserably humid day.  But…it was a salad I could make…and therefore…it garners a mention here…but the restaurant itself is cozy and has a lot of great, fresh-made, delicious sandwiches, salads, soups, etc, to choose from.  And I loved sitting in there, listening to runners who had run the day before discuss the marathon and half marathon…looking at the different food items coming out of the kitchen to each table.  Beautiful setting, beautiful food…and tasty too.  For the record, Cathy got the Hot Pastrami Sandwich, which contained grilled onions, mushrooms, and melted Swiss cheese on toasted bread.  She got it with the much raved about Garlic Cilantro Fries…which after seeing her and Jenn devour…made me really wish I could have had those.  Not safe though…not for me.  Darn it.

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café's Spinach & Kauai Greens Salad

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café’s Spinach & Kauai Greens Salad

 

USS Arizona Memorial – Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii

This was one ONE place that I had to visit while in Hawaii, and the main and primary reason we even island hopped over to O’ahu instead of just hanging tight on the beautiful island of Kauai.  Honolulu is definitely a hopping city and much more urban…think LA and NYC.  But this…this stop was…important.  To all three of us.  The USS Arizona Memorial is the number one visitor destination in Hawaii, drawing millions of people from all over the world to see where World War II began for the United States on December 7, 1941.  Visitors are free to explore the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center, which was recently expanded from the original 3 acres to 17 acres, and is now operated by the National Park Service.  Admission and parking is free to all visitors.  Over 2000 tickets are given out free per day on a first come, first serve basis.  We had to check our bags before entering the historic site, so Jenn and I did that while Cathy went to get the tickets she reserved online for us.  We were set for the final shuttle out, at 2:45 pm.  It was the hottest day in Honolulu…and with all the metal and concrete, we were literally melting out in the sun while walking around the ground.  We ducked into the museum, but it was even hotter in there.  Bottles of water were purchased and Cathy and I downed ours before we were put on an earlier shuttle, the 2:30 pm, to head out to the memorial.  A US Navy boat taxied us out to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is built over the remains of the sunken battleship, the final resting place of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces.  The memorial itself was relatively quiet upon disembarking and walking over to it.  You can still see the oil leaking out of the actual ship that is buried beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor.  It is moving and touching.  And the memorial is beautiful and humbling.  And I am so glad that we went.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

 

Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, Hawaii

Two words…

DOLE WHIP.

DOLE FREAKIN’ WHIP!!  That was the primary reason to venture out to the Dole Plantation in Wahaiwa.  It was a bit of a journey…a long drive, but well worth it.  The Dole Plantation originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, before opening up to the public as “Hawaii’s ‘Pineapple Experience'” in 1989.  Another one of O’ahu’s most popular visitor attractions, the Dole Plantation provides activities for the entire family, including the Pineapple Express ($8.25/adult), the Plantation Garden Tour ($5.00/adult), and the Pineapple Garden Maze ($6.00/adult).  None of which we did…due to the cost that was associated with each one and the warm, humid weather that made us want to stick to the air conditioning.  What we did do, however, was shop at the HUGE gift shop, which carries a wide variety of Dole Plantation Gifts, local favorites, foods, and refreshments…including DOLE WHIP!!  You can even purchase a fresh pineapple to take home.  I wish I had.  The pineapple in Hawaii is freakin’ incredible.  I did some shopping, buying a few minor things like Dole Pineapple hard candy and a magnet.  Easy to transport and all.  And then, we went over to The Plantation Grille to purchase a bowl each of the world famous Dole Whip ($5.25).  It was a large serving, which I loved, and devoured enthusiastically.  Better than Disney, which is one of the few places Dole Whip is available.  This was…amazing and I wish I had gone back for seconds.  Dole Whip, by the way, is vegan and gluten free.  LOVE!!  It’s just pure frozen treat love.

Dole Whip from The Dole Plantation's Plantation Grille

Dole Whip from The Dole Plantation’s Plantation Grille

 

Panalu’u Beach Park and the Random Pineapple Roadside Stand, Hauula, Hawaii

Welcome to two of the most random stops we made on our trek around the North Shore of O’ahu.  Panalu’u Beach Park is located on O’ahu’s windward coast and has this strip of narrow, sandy beach.  The nearshore ocean bottom is shallow and has a reef, so swimming conditions here are poor.  This was a clam day at this particular beach when we pulled over to check it out.  Cathy went wading…and the water looked so refreshing (another humid and hot day!), that I took off Bootsie and kicked off my flip-flop to go wading in the surf myself.  My friend Jenn snapped my favorite picture of me on this entire trip here…with the gorgeous blue water and the white sand on the beach.  As I said on my Instagram…”Make only memories…Leave only footprints…Kill only time…”

Me on Punalu'u Beach Park (THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE!)

Me on Punalu’u Beach Park (THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE!)

From there, we went hunting for a shrimp place, Romey’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, that the lady at Enterprise told Cathy about after we first arrived in Honolulu, when she mentioned we would be heading up to the North Shore.  Along the way, I had been hunting for mangos and we found a stand that advertised them.  We pulled into this dodgy little roadside stand, only to learn that they were out of mangos.  The weather had ended the season early.  I was bummed.  BUT…we did purchase a fresh pineapple there, so we purchased one for $5.00, and watched as this little old lady had it peeled and sliced in less that 2 minutes…bagged…and ready for us to take away.  We wasted no time, after climbing into the car, trying it out.  So fresh…so juicy…so amazing.  Hands down, the best pineapple I have eaten in my life.  Anywhere.  And I’ve had a lot of pineapple.  We did find Romy’s…and Jenn and Cathy split a plate of the Garlic and Butter Shrimp.  They ate that and I ate a good 2/3 (if not more) of the pineapple.  They helped a little after they were done with their fresh seafood.

Best.  Pineapple.  Purchase.  EVER!

BEST PINEAPPLE EVER from a random roadside stand along the North Shore of O'ahu! They peeled and chopped it right there!

BEST PINEAPPLE EVER from a random roadside stand along the North Shore of O’ahu! They peeled and chopped it right there!

 

Chief’s Luau, Waimanalo, Hawaii

Okay, again, this would generally get a blog of its own, despite not being a restaurant.  I couldn’t go to Hawaii and not do a luau, even if it is one that is so tourist-y…it’s funny.  We chose Chief’s Luau ($82.00+) due to the fact that it is the best ranked luau on O’auh AND that it had an allergen menu on their Web site.  And, yeah, it’s tourist-y, but I actually had a lot of fun at the luau.  I finally got a lei (made of shells as we had the cheapest package), had my picture taken with Chief…learned how to hula dance, watched Cathy throw a spear (rather poorly), watched Cathy make a coconut leaf headband (which she left behind), listened to great music, enjoyed the history of the dances that are native to Hawaii…and just…kicked back, laughed, and enjoyed my final night in Hawaii…with a Mai Tai and everything.  Aside from the free drink…the luau package also included dinner…and as a gluten-free vegetarian, this left only a few things for me to pick from.  Cathy was there for the meat…the pork…cooked in the ground with banana leaves…but for someone like me…I got the food that was catered in.  And that’s fine…but because it was catered, I didn’t review it.  I was left with the Seasonal Fruit Salad (more pineapple!), the Poi (GROSS…it looked like Barney’s (the purple dinosaur) snot…kind of gelatinous and goopy and YUCK.  I didn’t want to try it, but peer pressure had me at least take a taste.  NEVER AGAIN!), the Steamed White Rice and (my personal favorite) the Sweet Potatoes.  My first plate of food was not really full, and as this was all you can eat, I ventured back for more of the DELICIOUS sweet potatoes and the fruit.  Because…fruit and sweet potatoes are actually two of my favorite foods in life.  For real.  The Mai Tai’s were delicious…and I had a great time at the luau.  If you are in O’ahu and want to go to a luau…go to Chief’s.  They are #1 for a reason!

Seasonal Fruit Salad, Poi (GROSS!), White Steamed Rice, and Sweet Potatoes - my gluten free and vegetarian dinner at Chief's Luau

Seasonal Fruit Salad, Poi (GROSS!), White Steamed Rice, and Sweet Potatoes – my gluten free and vegetarian dinner at Chief’s Luau

 

Barista, Portland, Oregon

The flight we took back to the mainland went through Portland, where we disembarked and stayed an entire day, so we could explore.  Cathy and Jenn had Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast.  We hit up the food pods for lunch, we did a gastropub for dinner.  But after the stop for doughnuts, it was vital that we got caffeine.  And I chose Barista, out of all the different coffee shops in Portland.  I chose wisely…of this I am certain.  Being a former barista, myself, I not only liked the name, I liked everything I read about them.  Barista was established by coffee legend, Billy Wilson, who now has four (4) Barista cafés open in the Portland area.  Let me tell you, this cofee delivers!!  Barista is one of the first multi-roaster shops in the Portland area, showcasing Heart, Coava, and another roaster on bar for espresso or drip.  Barista is known for serving exceptional coffees from the world’s finest roasters, prepared by the most skilled baristas in the Portland area.  No joke.  Jenn skipped out on this amazing experience, but both Cathy and I partook of the opportunity to try the coffee at the Downtown Barista location.  Cathy ordered the Semi-Sweet Valrohna Mocha ($4.50).  I went for the Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha ($4.50) with Almond Milk (+$0.75).  It was delicious.  Strong…but smooth.  There was this perfect balance of chocolate and espresso that just…melted together.  The milk softened up the bite of the espresso itself, cutting through the dark chocolate.  OH MY GOD…one of the best coffees I have ever had.  If you are in Portland and love coffee…you are missing out if you don’t swing by one of the Barista locations.  For real.  I loved every sip.  Even better…finally a coffeeshop that gives me an 8 ounce cup of coffee for a small!!  THANK YOU!

Barista's Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha with Almond Milk

Barista’s Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha with Almond Milk

And that was it.  It was Portland to Vegas to Louisville from there.  And my 10 day vacation came to an end.  Back in Louisville, it’s hard for me to ignore Bootsie.  It’s a depressing reminder of everything I’ve had to cancel for the upcoming weeks leading into November.  I tried not to fuss much over it on the trip.  And, I ate whatever I wanted…whenever I wanted…as long as it fit into my dietary restrictions.  And despite limited mobility and really lack of much movement at all…while continuing to stuff my face with local eats…I lost 3 pounds.  I’ve put it back on since coming home though…so no worries.  LOL!

It was a beautiful trip to paradise…and I’m already dreaming about my return.  Next time…to actually run the Kauai Marathon!!

Product Review: Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert

Luna & Larry's Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert

Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert

Product Review: Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert – $5.99+

Growing up, my dinner always ended with a little touch of something sweet.  Dessert.  It was always my motivation to eat most of what was on my plate.  My parents had a rule that we at least had to try something.  I was never a picky eater, but I had things I liked more than others.  I’m still that way.  Believe it or not…I am only human.  HA!

So, I think the hardest part of my journey has been not being able to stomach ice cream these days.  I used to take a supplement for it, but even that has not helped as of late.  So, my cheating with dairy has come to an end.  I am completely dairy free…

But it doesn’t mean I’m ice cream free!

Thanks to the frozen dessert gods that brought Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Milk frozen goodness into my life.  Now, I’ve had (and loved) a couple of their products before, the Dark Chocolate Bars and the Salted Caramel & Chocolate Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert.  But there was one in particular that I had my eyes set on.  It was their version of mint chocolate chip…or, in the Luna & Larry universe – Mint Galactica.

It sounds so sci-fi and space-agey.  LOVE IT.

Know what else I loved?  This freakin’ ice cream!!  Can I call it ice cream if it is dairy free?  I’m going to, because it might as well be the full-blown thing.  It tastes…awesome!!  A little sci-fi and space-agey too.  (*WINK*)  Okay…so maybe not that far…but it is mint chocolate chip at its minty best.  To be honest, there is a local place here called The Comfy Cow that has a signature flavor called Minty Chocolate Chippy.  It was one of my favorites when I’d cheat and eat dairy…with a drizzle of hot fudge and it tasted like a Girl Scout cookie.  Well…this was just as good…a bit mintier…but just as creamy and delicious as the full-barrel, real deal stuff at my local ice cream shop.  And you know what…for an ice cream made out of coconut milk…that’s pretty fantastic, if you ask me!  I loved that the flecks of chocolate were just that…flecks.  Sometimes the chunks of chocolate get a bit much in a frozen dessert…way too big go comfortably eat.  I always do, usually saving it for last to suck on and allow to melt, but this was a nice change of pace and it perfectly flavored each and every bit of ice cream not just with that desired dark chocolate bitterness, but also with a bit of a crunch…a perfect texture for this ice cream.  Totally out of this world.

So, let’s discuss what goes into a pint of Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, shall we?  This ice cream is made with organic coconut milk (organic coconut, water, organic guar gum), organic agave syrup, organic dark chocolate flakes (orgnaic fair trade dark chocolate [organic fair trade cocoa liquor, organic fair trade cane syrup, organic fair trade cocoa butter, organic fair trade cocoa powder]. organic coconut oil), organic coconut cream, organic peppermint extract, and organic vanilla extract.  Simple, natural ingredients.  This dessert treat is gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan, non-GMO, and kosher.

And now…the down and dirty.  That nutritional information.  This is an ice cream treat, so keep that in mind when you read these off.  Every serving is worth every calorie…trust me.  A serving size is 1/2 cup and there are 4 servings per pint.  This serving will dish up 240 calories, 19 grams of fat (most of that is the healthy bit that comes from the coconut…be not afraid!), 16 grams saturated fat (definitely from the coconut), 0 grams trans fat, 0 grams cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 14 grams sugars, and 1 gram of protein.  Filling, not especially…delicious…totally!!

Seriously, if you are looking for a cooling, delicious, minty-fresh treat this summer, look no further than Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert.  It is one of the best mint ice creams out there…and an added bonus is…it has no dairy, making it an option for those out there who can’t tolerate dairy, or choose not to consume it.  This would be fantastic with hot fudge melted over the top…but on it’s own…amazing.  Totally over the moon for this flavor!

A serving of Luna & Larry's Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Diary Frozen Dessert

A serving of Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica Non-Diary Frozen Dessert

Product Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

Product: So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert – $6.99+

Okay, all you lactose intolerant and dairy allergic…listen up!  So Delicious Dairy Free has done it…AGAIN!  Yes, from the same company that brings you all things deliciously dairy-free comes the latest additions to their line of frozen desserts – with a base of cashew milk.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, or unless you are new to my blog, you know that my latest obsession, one that I really will pawn off on my readers, colleagues, and friends alike (and have!) is my love of cashew milk.  It’s rich, creamy, packed with calcium, and just amazing.  And unless you have a nut allergy, I highly recommend switching to cashew milk.

But why stop there?  Because So Delicious Dairy Free has a line of five (5) different frozen desserts (ie: ice creams) that use cashew milk for its base.  Want to see me do a happy dance?  You really don’t want to witness that, but trust me, the first moment I found these in my grocery stores, I did one.  I’ll probably turn up on a grocery store Christmas video or something.  HA!

But that doesn’t matter.  The happy dance that ensued was well worth it.  Especially…especially for this particular flavor:

DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE!!!

They had me at dark chocolate, honestly.

The existence of this ice cream is proof that So Delicious loves us and wants us to be happy.  Yes, us, the collective group of those who cannot tolerate dairy.  Here’s the scoop (see what I did there?)…

I heard about the release of the So Delicious Dairy Free Cashew Milk Frozen Desserts but figured it would take awhile for my area to get them in.  It didn’t.

For once.  Thank the ice cream gods…it didn’t.

Now, prior to noshing on the Dark Chocolate Truffle variety of the So Delicious Dairy Free Cashew Milk Frozen Desserts, I had already had the opportunity (thanks to my roomie!) to indulge in three other flavors: Snickerdoodle, Salted Caramel Cluster, and Cappuccino.  This is the fourth of five flavors that are in this line.  The final one I have yet to buy and try is the Creamy Cashew flavor.  But…here I was with this amazing looking chocolate dessert in my freezer.  You better believe I was going to dive right in.  But I had to wait 10 minutes to let this delicious frozen treat get to a scoopable temperature.  I’m sort of used to that.  If it’s not dairy…give it 10 minutes on the counter before trying to scoop.  It’s the magic number.  It works wonders.  I just left it out while we ate a quick dinner.

After dinner…I scooped up a serving into our special ice cream bowls, delivering one to my roommate before returning to the kitchen to put the pint away in the freezer and rinse off the scoop.  That’s when I hear…”It tastes like Comfy Cow…”

Granted, if you are not from or have not visited the Louisville, Kentucky, area you might not understand that statement.  Comfy Cow is our local ice cream place.  AMAZING ice cream.  Ice cream that I can’t indulge in anymore like I used to.  But this statement from my roommate (who can have dairy and eat Comfy Cow ice cream) lifted my spirits.  I grabbed a spoon and dug in.

OH…YES!!  If you are a chocoholic like me, this is the ice cream that is going to feed your soul.  It’s smooth, creamy, rich, and just chocolate to the max…without the overkill.  This means…this decadent desert is any chocolate lover’s dream.  I love the complex nature of the chocolate flavor, which, by the way, is brought to you by organic fair trade cocoa.  So, this creamy, dreamy chocolate base and then So Delicious ups the ante by adding bits of chocolate truffles for texture and flavor?  Oh…my…dairy…free…god!  I love chocolate, but most dairy-free varieties fall short when it comes to ice cream.  Not this one.  The cashew milk lends a bit of creaminess that I find almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk bases to be missing.  The intense flavor will definitely feed that sweet tooth.  You’ll lick the bowl.  Oh yes…yes you will!

So, let’s discuss what So Delicious Dairy Free puts into their pints of Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert.  Each pint is a gorgeous blend of cashew milk (water, cashews non-GMO canola oil), organic dried cane syrup, organic fudge sauce [organic cane syrup, water, organic fair trade cocoa (processed with alkali), organic tapioca starch, organic chocolate liquor], chocolate flake [cane sugar, coconut oil, cocoa (processed with alkali), chocolate liquor, natural vanilla flavor], organic fair trade cocoa (processed with alkali), sea salt, gum acacia, and guar gum.  It is vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO.  It contains no trans-fat or cholesterol.  YAY!

As far as nutrition goes, for an ice cream, you’ll love these stats.  A serving of the So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert is 1/2 cup.  This serving will give you 180 calories, 9 grams of fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 18 grams sugars, and 3 grams of protein.  I admit, it’s a bit high on the sugar…yes…but this treat is definitely worth the indulgence.

If you are craving a rich, creamy, decadent, delicious frozen treat…but just can’t handle the dairy…grab a pint of the So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert.  Trust me…it doesn’t (and can’t) get any better than this.  You’ll feel like you’re committing a sin, but it’s just dessert…it’s okay.  The dessert gods forgive you.  Just remember…it would be so easy to eat this all in one sitting, so, while I never discourage eating ice cream straight from the carton, it would be way too easy to just not stop in this case.  Indulge wisely.  And enjoy!

A scoop (serving) of So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

A scoop (serving) of So Delicious Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Truffle Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

Product Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

So Delicious Diary Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

So Delicious Diary Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

Product Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert – $6.99+

So, for those of you who know me and who have been paying some sort of attention…I’ve been hooked now, since it was first introduced onto the market, to cashew milk (unsweetened, of course!).  Seriously…YUM!!  If you are missing a little bit of the thickness of regular milk, switch from that runny almond milk and coconut milk to cashew milk.  You will NOT be disappointed.  I will never go back to anything else.  Nope.  Not at all.

With that in mind, and the fact that, of everything in this world that contains dairy, the thing I miss the most isn’t cheese…but ice cream.  Good, delicious, cold, satisfying ice cream!  I stopped going to my local ice cream place (oh Comfy Cow, how I miss you!) as even the supplements I used to take to help me handle some dairy stopped really having any sort of effect.  I think the last ice cream I had was back on my birthday in September.

*SIGH*

But, there are, naturally, non-dairy ice creams out on the market.  One of the most notorious for their fantastic products, however, is So Delicious Dairy Free.  And, not only are they making ice cream with their soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk…but they have added cashew milk to the mix too!  That was an exciting day in the grocery store, let me tell you.  I have already tried two of the five (5) flavors they currently have out on the market: Snickerdoodle and Salted Caramel Cluster.  A reader (Louise) sang high praises of the Cappuccino flavor.  Now, I can understand how this flavor would be out of this world.  It combines my love of two things…espresso and ice cream.

And, one day, while I was home baking or cooking or something, my roomie made a last moment dash out to Kroger to pick up some items I needed.  And upon her return she presented me with two more of the So Delicious Cashew Milk Frozen Desserts.  Yep.  Dark Chocolate Truffle and Cappuccino.  As the Cappuccino was so highly praised in a comment on my blog…when I polished of a pint of my homemade strawberry coconut milk ice cream…this was next in line.

It’s the perfect time of year for ice cream and cold desserts.  While this summer hasn’t been as hot as years past, it still has  been enough to make me wilt on occasion.  That being said, ice cream makes everything right.  So, after I cooked up an easy vegan grilled cheese sandwich for dinner just before my last physical therapy session last night, I pulled out the pint of the So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert and let it thaw while I made up the sandwiches for my roomie and I, plated them with a serving of Zapps VooDoo Kettle Chips (OMG! YUM!), and devoured the food because it had been a long day and I was hungry.  HA!  When we had both finished eating and cleaned off the dishes, I got out the ice cream bowls and set to scooping out perfect 1/2 cup servings (yes…I measure…every time!) for each of us.

I handed my roomie her bowl first.  See, when it comes to ice cream that is coffee-flavored, Cathy will either love it or hate it.  Most of the time, she wrinkles up her nose in disgust and is done.  But…she kept on taking spoonfuls.  This…boded well.  This boded very well.  I tucked the rest of the pint back into the freezer, gathered up my own helping and settled in to try it myself.

OH…WOW!!  First of all, I appreciate that So Delicious manages to find a distinct and perfect balance.  This frozen treat isn’t too strong on the coffee flavor.  In fact, it’s more like…a latte if you will…milky with a coffee finish.  The nutty flavor of the cashew milk base itself helps to balance out the flavors, keeping the coffee from overwhelming the rest of the product.    The flavor is simple, but executed perfectly.  I probably could have put this into my coffee cup in the morning and told everyone I was just having my morning coffee…and be content.  I might even start a new coffee trend.  Forget Starbucks Frappuccinos…I’ll take a scoop of So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert.  Half the calories…big on taste.  Oh yeah!!  You know what I like.

Let’s look at the ingredients that go into the So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert, shall we?  This product is made from cashew milk (water, cashews, non-GMO canola oil), organic dried cane syrup, gum acacia, natural flavor, sea salt, organic fair trade coffee, and cinnamon.  This dessert is gluten-free, vegan, cholesterol free, free of trans-fats, and non-GMO.

As far as nutrition goes…aside from being a dessert and an ice cream treat at that, this is actually quite impressive and not half bad as far as the data goes.  One serving is 1/2 cup and there are 4 servings in each pint.  One serving will provide you with 150 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 20 mg sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 17 grams sugars (YIKES!!  It is dessert…it is dessert…), and 3 grams of protein.

Rest assured, the rest of this pint was polished off tonight.  No more of the So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert…for the moment.  But, trust me, that one is in the rotation for keeps.  So delicious (no pun intended!).  I loved it from the first bite to the last, and had to keep myself from stealing spoonfuls from the frozen pint for all the moments in between.  That is the mark of a quality ice cream for sure.

Coffee lovers heaven…in a dairy free package.  Enjoy!

So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

So Delicious Dairy Free Cappuccino Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Sorbet

We all know that two of my favorite things in life is ice cream and chocolate.  Well, unfortunately, real ice cream and I don’t get along, so I’ve taken to exploring other avenues, such as frozen desserts made out of coconut milk, almond milk, or even sorbets.  Even better…I have an ice cream maker and often do a lot of experimenting on my own.  Sometimes it works brilliantly.  Other times…not so much.

But…HELLO PINTEREST!  While browsing through my Pinterest one afternoon, I ran across a recipe from King Arthur Flour for none other than a dark chocolate sorbet.  WOO!  I had every intention of making this sooner rather than later, so I went home that night and started chilling the bowl for the ice cream maker.  I prepped the actual recipe and let it chill overnight in the fridge.

My roomie and I were having her mom over for dinner the following night, so that morning, I went ahead and made the ice cream up to freezer.  It was brilliant…

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Sorbet

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Sorbet

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Sorbet

Servings: 10
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Chill 8-12 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional, but it really does enhance the chocolate flavor)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Peppermint Mocha Kahlua, regular Kahlua, or vodka, (optional, but it keeps the sorbet from freezing solid)

Directions:

Combine the sugar, cocoa, salt, espresso powder, chocolate chips, and water in a saucepan set over medium heat.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the chips and sugar are dissolved.

Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and Kahlua or vodka. Transfer the mixture to a heatproof bowl, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled; overnight is best.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It’ll remain quite soft; freeze for several hours before serving, to firm up.

~*~*~

This was a rich, decadent treat.  The Peppermint Mocha Kahlua was the perfect touch.  Not only did it lend an amazing flavor to the recipe, but it honestly does help prevent the ice cream from becoming hard as a rock.  LOVE.  This was one of my favorite treats I’ve made in my ice cream maker.