Friday, December 28, 2012

Vitacost - Product and Website Review

Vitamin supplements can be very expensive. Last year I was searching the internet trying to find lower prices for my calcium supplement and multivitamins. In my search I came across the Vitacost website. I was thrilled to find they not only carried the brands I use, but they were significantly less expensive than where I was purchasing them, like $5.00 per bottle less!

I wanted to just test the water to start off with as I had not heard of this company before. It was very easy to navigate their website. The products are organized into different "departments". The site also has a very handy side bar of search criteria to narrow down your search. If you know the exact name of  the product you are looking form there is a search box at the top. I love being able to find things easily, so they were quickly winning me over. The free shipping for orders over $49.00 was the deal closer. What did I have to lose? I was saving money and not paying for shipping. Win/win. My order came within a week. The vitamins bottles were well packed and fully intact when they arrived. They were the exact same product that I had been paying much more for (and I was very happy to see they weren't past their expiration date). 

At first I just ordered supplements from them. Then I started looking around their website and discovered they carried a whole load of other products I used and some interesting ones that I hadn't tried. I now order all of my 7th Generation cleaning products, Eden Organic Beans (about $.30 less per can than retail) and other vegan products from them. Fred has been giving me a hard time about making the postal workers lives miserable by ordering so many heavy products at one time. I am going to try and mix it up, but I just love shopping there, so it's hard to stop.

The folks at Vitacost contacted me recently and asked me to test a couple of their new vegan products. Already being a loyal customer, I said I'd be happy to do it. The first product I tried out was a super seed cereal called TeeChai produced by Santa Barbara Super Seeds, Inc. ($8.99 for 10.6 oz package). It's gluten free, kosher, and nutrient dense with a good dose of Omega 3's from the chia and flax. Each serving boasts 6 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. It's a super quick and easy way to get a healthy start to your day. It is convenient for work too. All you have to do it add 1/2 cup of hot water to 1/3 cup of the cereal mix and wait about a minute or two. The flavor I tried was blueberry date. On its own, I found it to be a tad bitter. I added about a tablespoon of vanilla soy yogurt and a little bit of chopped apple and it was really yummy! I also tried it with almond milk (pictured below) with tasty results. I tried it out on my co-workers too. They gave it a thumbs-up. I'm ordering more of both flavors today for our upcoming clean eating challenge.

The next product they sent was Vitacare whitening gum. This is no regular gum. One serving (2 pieces) provide 20% of the RDA of vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Vitamin E. There is even 2% of the RDA of calcium. It's a cool way to get some extra nutrients.

I'm not really a big gum chewer, so I enlisted Fred's help on this one. He chews gum often. We tried the Cool Mint Freshness flavor with Chia Mint (vegan). It starts off with a big minty bang of flavor. Fred mentioned that the flavor didn't last a super long time, but the flavor was good. I found it lasted as long as other gums of this size. The texture of the gum is good too.

This product contains xylitol, of which I am not a big fan. While it's base comes from corn (possibly GMO corn), it is a man-made chemically produced product. It can be fatal to doggies too. The gum also contains titanium dioxide. This ingredient has been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. There is no conclusive evidence that it causes cancer, but as a breast cancer survivor, I tend to avoid anything that is even a suspected carcinogen. I'd personally rather stick to my non-gum chewing ways.

I wanted to make sure to mention Vitacost's great prices on one of my personal favorite lines of personal care products: Aubrey Organics. I have been using their shampoos, conditioners and moisturizers for years. They have over 150 vegan products. Many of their products are also certified organic as well. I used to pay about $10 retail for a bottle of my favorite shampoo (Honeysuckle Rose, which also happens to be vegan!). Vitacost sells it for only $6.99. That's a huge difference!

I love to save money and I've been able to save a LOT shopping at Vitacost, plus the stuff shows up right at my door! I know the holidays probably emptied a lot of your wallets and you're probably looking forward to your own fiscal recovery. Take a look around Vitacost's website. I'm betting you will find great prices on things you use all of the time.

Exciting news!!! The folks at Vitacost are letting me give away $25.00 worth of free products! All you have to do to be eligible to win is post a comment about a product you use that you can get for less at Vitacost by midnight MST on Monday, January 7th. Winner will be drawn randomly on Tuesday, January 8th. A discount code will be sent to the winner. Anyone is eligible! Here is the fine print:

one time use
code does not roll over
does not include shipping
expires in 6 months

Monday, December 17, 2012

Last Minute Holiday Gift Giving

We live in an awesome neighborhood. We get together with the neighbors throughout the year to celebrate life events and sometimes just for the heck of it. Each year, the doorbell rings and standing there is a kid or parent of one of the houses on our little corner holding some delectable holiday goody. So often during the holidays those treats are sweet and far from low-cal/fat. I'm totally not complaining and will scarf them down with glee. But last year, I decided that I wanted to take a little different approach to holiday treat-giving that would compliment (and hopefully offset some of the calorie intake) those sweet treats.

December is sure to bring chilly temperatures, even in Arizona. The chill in the air inspired me to make some belly and soul warming soup for my friends and co-workers last year. It worked out awesome, so I'm doing it again this year. I'm lucky enough to have a few giant stock pots to make the process a whole lot easier and quicker. I like to make one of my own recipes that I've created during the year. This year I'm going back to this post for Garlic Wonder Soup for my recipe. It is a simple, hearty and very healthy soup that anyone can make.

It is super easy to dress up your edible gift. This year I'm doing two versions. The first one I used last year. I bought a case of quart canning jars from the local hardware store. I found some very cute holiday fabric at Joann Fabrics. I recommend getting a thin cotton fabric to make sealing the jar a breeze. I cut circles about 2 inches bigger in circumference than the lids using pinking shears. I placed the lid on the filled jar (make sure to wipe it off first), centered the fabric circle over that and screwed on the outer ring. Tie on a cute curly ribbon and add a tag and you have a thoughtful, delicious home made treat for those on your list. Their waist lines will thank you.

There is a second option you can do as well. I just happened upon a great sale at the Pyrex/Corelle outlet store in Mesa this week. They had these awesome soup mugs with handles on sale for only $4.99. I have the same ones that I paid double that for. They have some great colors this year as well. I got every color they had for my co-workers this year. I simply tied a colorful wired ribbon around the handle and tied a tag on with gold string.

My sister and a couple of our friends are avid stampers. They make beautiful cards and lots of other fun things. I just happened to walk in on one of their stamp-fests yesterday afternoon. They helped me create adorable hand-made tags. Now if you aren't as lucky as I am to have stampers in your world, there are tons of adorable tags out there. Pick up a pack and get a small hole punch to make the holes to insert the ribbon. Tie, sign and there you have it: special homemade holiday gifts for everyone.

The holiday gift giving season can get crazy and stress us all out. But I am so incredibly thankful for every year I have with my friends and family. It is so special to be able to share my love of cooking and my life with those I love. This is a nice way to show that love.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pizza Heaven in Phoenix Has a NEW VEGAN Menu!!

I was plunking around the internet a couple of weeks ago and found this blurb about a little family owned pizza joint in Phoenix that offered vegan pizza. I was pretty excited right out of the gate and was hoping to check it out. A short time later I got an email from the VegPhoenix MeetUp group saying they were going to be having an event there to celebrate their new vegan menu. Could it be that there would be even more offerings than pizza?

My friends (all non-veg) and I were planning to go out somewhere to meet for dinner, so I craftily suggested Pizza Heaven. They thought it was a great idea as their 7th Street and Coulter location was very conveniently located for them. We all love to support individually owned businesses, so it was set.

We arrived before our friends and were happy to be able to be seated before 5pm as they were already open. We received a very friendly greeting as we walked in the door. It is a tad bit dark in the dining area, but cozy. Our server was very sweet and made sure we had everything we needed. The owner stopped by to chat for a while. She was super friendly as well. She brought us carry out menus and made sure we were having a good time. I expressed my deep gratitude for the offering of a vegan menu. The place got hopping as there was a group of about 30 people from VegPhoenix that were there for an event. We got our order in before they started to arrive. Even with a full house, the service was great.

On to the food. As always, I tend to want to order every vegan thing on the menu. But I did show a little constraint. I ordered the Veggieballs. They offer a Buffalo style and another option with marinara. I adore buffalo sauce, so that's the way I rolled. Fred ordered the Spaghetti with vegan sausage and we ordered the Veggie Pizza (minus the green peppers) to share. The balls came out first. They had a pretty good texture and were nice and spicy. It was a yummy way to get some Buffalo action, but I think the flavor and texture of the balls was more suited to a marinara sauce. I asked the owner what was in the balls and I can't remember all of the ingredients, but I do remember she mentioned beans and veggies. They came with vegan ranch and carrots. The presentation wasn't anything show stopping, but hey, it's Buffalo balls. Apologizing in advance for my phone pictures.

Next out was Freddie's Spaghetti. Unfortunately, Fred put parmesan on it before I got to take a bite, but he said it was pretty good. He's a bit spoiled with Julie Hasson's Italian Sausages that I make at home. They are hard to live up to. But seriously, it is so exciting to be able to get vegan spaggets and sausage out! 

Then there was the pizza! I loved the crust. It was crunchy and had great flavor. For me, I'm always on the fence with vegan cheese. I feel like less is more. There was quite a bit on the pizza, which most would probably be good with. I wanted more veggies than cheese and Fred agreed. But that crust! Oh Mylanta (as my good friends Sharon and Julie would say).  Pizza Heaven indeed. We reheated the pizza tonight for Fred's dinner. I baked it at 400 degrees right on the rack. The crust crisped back up beautifully and the texture of the cheese was even better reheated. 

Here is a picture with my good camera. This is the pizza re-heated. So good.

The rest of our group had the regular veggie pizza and some salads. One of them had the spinach calzone (which was the size of her head). They were very happy indeed. There is no doubt we will all be returning to Pizza Heaven. I can't wait to try the gigantoid vegan calzone!!! They also offer a couple of vegan sandwich options and vegan baked ziti. Great service, clean restaurant and good food. It is a perfect place for vegans and omnis to both enjoy a great home made meal. Oh and they deliver too!!!

5150 N 7th Street (7th Street and Coulter)
Phoenix, AZ