What I’m Packing for Expo West

Expo West 2019

As some of you may know, I’ve spent the past 15-ish years working in the natural products industry. Every March, the industry’s largest US trade show, Natural Products Expo West (Expo West for short) takes place over the course of 3-4 days in Anaheim, CA. For retail buyers and other attendees, this is a one-stop-shop for seeing everything new in the natural products industry – from supplements to bath and body products to natural foods and way more. Thousands of brands exhibit, and most folks who attend need at least two days, if not three, to see everything they want to see.

For exhibitors (such as myself and my team) this show entails super long days, standing in a small space, saying the same things over and over again to thousands of people, with no time to eat a full meal, take a break, or do much more than run to the bathroom once every few hours. Even if you bring loads of snacks and have time to hide behind a banner somewhere long enough to chew and swallow, you really aren’t eating proper meals with enough protein and fiber. You aren’t drinking enough water because you don’t want to have to go to the bathroom too many times. And you’re hardly moving, so not only are you sore from your lower back to the balls of your feet, but your digestion is probably pretty messed up too.

Compile all this with the stress of the show, and just all the digestive and sleep issues that come along with changing time zones and sleeping in a hotel, it’s just ironic that at the country’s “healthiest” trade show, most everyone working is tired, starving, and dehydrated. Oh, and did I mention that this show ALWAYS takes place during my period? Without fail.

I’ve been working this show with various brands for a decade and a half now, though, and every year I get a little bit more clever about how to get through it all without disaster. So here’s what I’m packing for Expo West this year:

Hotel Room Breakfast

Steeped coffee

Even if we had time to go get breakfast before the show opens each day, there really isn’t anywhere in Anaheim to get a good vegan breakfast (not to mention the fact that everything is totally bananas there because tens of thousands of people are there for the show). Our team always stops for hotel room groceries the first day we get in, and all of our rooms have a mini fridge and microwave. I’ll be grabbing a large container of unsweetened almond milk so I can make Oats Overnight and my protein shake. Most of the vegan Oats Overnight flavors contain 20g of protein, and a good amount of fiber so I’ll actually feel like I ate something. I just have to remember to make them the night before, which I guarantee I will forget at least once during this trip. I’ll also portion out my protein shake and creatine before I leave so I can just shake it up with some almond milk each morning.

If you think the local restaurants are busy during this show, you should see the Starbucks. Now, I personally think Starbucks is an insult to coffee, but hotel room coffee is an insult to humanity. Those cheap single-cup brewers they put in the rooms now spit out ashtray-flavored brown water and I am simply too snobby for that. So I always bring Steeped Coffee with me when I travel. This ethically-sourced coffee comes in compostable tea bags that you simply steep in hot water. The resulting cup of coffee isn’t quite like the Americanos I make at home, but it’s worlds better than Starbucks or hotel room coffee. Once I’m on the show floor I can usually find a coffee exhibitor, or a nondairy milk brand that’s making drinks at their booth, and that takes care of my second cup for the day.

Booth Snacks

Greenbites Go vegan protein cookies

Between my shake and my overnight oats, I’ll have about 45g of protein and plenty of fiber in my system to keep me feeling pretty good for a few hours. But we’re inside the convention center for 7-10 hours most days so we need some snacks. I’ll grab some kind of produce at the store – either an apple or some baby carrots – just so I’m not eating 100% highly processed stuff all day long. But since we don’t have a refrigerator, and there’s no time to eat a salad, my access to fresh food is limited and I just have to deal with it. I always have protein bars, and this year my preference is NuGo Slim bars, which taste good, and have 17g of protein in them. (Use code NATALIE50 for 50% off a variety pack!)

I thought about packing some mixes for protein mug cakes with me, but I’d need to make those in the hotel room and I already have shakes and oats there, so this year I ordered some things from Greenbites, which is a vegan protein bakery based in Florida. Most of the flavors have 18g of protein in them, and they have a lot of great reviews from people I follow on social media, so I have high hopes.

I’ll also be bringing my largest water bottle so I can do my best to stay hydrated in the booth. I’m a big fan of Ghost BCAA Powder in the Sour Patch Kids Redberry flavor, and they make Hydration Sticks in that same flavor, so I’m going to bring some along.

When we do finally make it to dinner, I prioritize eating lots of vegetables, and a good amount of easily digestible (for me) protein like tofu. Which brings me to my next subject…

Pooping and Sleeping

white toilet paper
Photo by hermaion on Pexels.com

Whether I’m traveling for fun or work, on a 12-hour flight to London or a 60-minute flight to Atlanta, I can pretty much count on getting traveler’s constipation. It’s just something that always happens to me. I have a few tricks for making it less terrible, if not avoiding it completely, and they start at home the day I’m traveling. I make sure to drink extra water, eat something healthy and full of veggies, and do the same at the airport and on the fight. It’s very easy to get dehydrated while traveling by air, and that leads to an unhappy digestive system. Once I arrive in L.A. I’ll take any chance I get to eat vegetables or fruit, drink water, and walk around. Show days are challenging, because even if you eat a lot of fiber and drink a lot of water, you’re hardly moving. So I always pack a gentle, overnight laxative just in case.

I have a hard time sleeping away from home. I’m a creature of habit and I like to sleep surrounded by my own things, with my dogs and my husband, after doing all my little rituals like taking a bath and drinking some tea. I try to bring some comforts from home with me – bags of tea, my satin pillowcase, an eye mask in case there are street lights shining in my room, but worst case scenario, if I can tell it’s going to be a bad night, I take melatonin.

Looking Like a Human

Peace Out Puffy Eye Patches

If I can manage to sleep decently, drink water, and poop regularly, I’ll consider that a win. But if I can do those things while also not looking like a goblin who rolled out of a dumpster? Incredible. I always travel with Peace Out Skincare (20% off with this link) Peace Out Puffy Eyes patches and Acne Healing Dots. I put the eye patches on first thing in the morning and wear them while I make coffee and eat overnight oats. The acne patches are in case of emergencies, if I feel a zit coming on I sleep in an acne patch and it’s almost always gone by morning. I also travel with Pacifica Beauty (10% off with this link) Wake Up Beautiful Super Hydration Overnight Mask and use it at least the night I get in from air travel because my skin is always dry after a few hours on a plane. I already mentioned that I bring my own satin pillowcase, but this helps keep my hair from getting frizzy on changing weather conditions, and I also bring my own microfiber hair towel because cotton towels and my hair do not get along either. Finally, I pack a diffuser for whatever hair dryer my room comes with. I’m not extra enough to travel with my own blow dryer, but I do want the one I end up using to gently dry my hair and not air fry it.

Pack It In

Eagle Creek packing system

As you can probably tell, most of my suitcase is snacks, blender bottles, and beverages. But, I’m also required to wear clothes at work events, so I bought some Eagle Creek Packing Cubes to use my suitcase space more efficiently. I like to use a small cube for socks, underwear, and jewelry; a medium cube to keep all my protein bars and snacks in order; and then I use the garment bag (which kind of looks like a school folder) to pack my shirts without wrinkles. It’s usually better for me to roll up my pants, and then if I need to pack shoes I use the space inside the shoes to tuck in small things like charging chords.

As much as I’ve complained about all the hardships, I actually do look forward to this show every year. It’s really cool to see all the products natural brands are launching before they hit store shelves, and to reconnect with people I’ve been seeing at this show for more than a decade. So that’s it, that’s what I’m packing! What items are on your list of travel must haves?

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click and make a purchase I could earn a laughably small amount of money.

Friday Five: What’s In My Gym Bag

This post contains a few affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase, I will earn a laughably small amount of money.

I originally titled this post “Gym Bag Essentials” but quickly changed it because there are hundreds of blog posts and articles online that will tell you useful things to have in your gym bag, things like makeup wipes, deodorant, etc. But there’s only one blog post that will tell you five things that are in my, Natalie Slater’s gym bag. And that’s the kind of information that keeps you all coming back here time after time for nearly 18 years now, am I right? So let’s take a look inside and see what we find:

buff garfield

A Bag of Bags

When I became a full-blown gym rat I upgraded from a vintage Garfield duffel bag to a pretty expensive Stella McCartney/ADIDAS duffel that has loads of pockets. There are pockets on each side large enough to fit a pair of shoes in each, inner and outer zipper pockets, and a removable pouch that is either for shoes or underwear, I don’t really know.

But when it was just me, my Garfield bag, and a heart full of hope, that Garfield bag was organized with lots of other bags inside. I had a zipper pouch to keep all my small toiletries together – lip balm, hygiene items, makeup wipes, a mini deodorant, etc. I’d also sometimes stash a couple of dollars in there if I was at the gym without my wallet. I had a drawstring pouch for shoes, to keep whatever was on the gym floor from touching all of the other things that would go in my bag. Finally, I had a waterproof bag that I could throw my sweaty clothes in if it would be a while before I got home, or even a wet bathing suit.

Now that my bag has built-in pouches and compartments, I still have my Beavis and Butt-Head zipper pouch for my lip balm and little things I mentioned above, and I also keep a ChicoBag in there in case I stop at the grocery store on my way home.

person in black activewear practicing plyometrics

Shoe Carnival

I walk to the gym from my house, and I change into other shoes once I’m in the gym. Maybe if I was just going to get on an elliptical, treadmill, or bike, I wouldn’t bother, but my feet are all over that place – on mats, in the squat racks, and on all the machines. So I don’t want to put dirty “outside” shoes on all that.

Two years ago I got a pair of lifting slippers that I wear on days when I’m doing deadlifts, or basically anything that isn’t running, biking, or squats. Some people like to lift weights barefoot or in their socks, but I’m a person who wears Crocs slides around my house because I hate the feeling of hard floor under my bare feet. But when you’re lifting weights, it’s important to feel the ground under your feet, and to have plenty of room for your toes to spread out, so these barely-there slippers are perfect for that. They provide some traction, and the feeling that I am not barefoot, while also letting me grip the floor with my toes and feel the ground underneath me.

More recently, I also invested in a pair of squat shoes. The first pair I bought cost nearly $300 and were wildly uncomfortable. Luckily I was able to return them, but what I’m getting at is 1) you might have to kiss a few frogs and 2) more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. Eventually I found some Adidas shoes that were around $130, comfortable, and made from vegan and recycled materials. If you’re doing squats and squat variations, these specialty shoes provide stability with a wedge shape, stiff sole, and a strap you can pull tight against your midfoot.

If you’d rather just have one pair of shoes that you can wear for squats, deadlifts, machine work, and low impact cardio (we’re talking walking, but not running) you could grab any pair of Vans or Converse with a flat sole and they’re going to work pretty well for you.

close up view of a person putting talc in his hands
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Straps and Gloves and Chalk, Oh My

A real-deal weightlifting gym is probably going to provide some form of chalk – dry or liquid – and if you’re already at one of those gyms, you probably don’t need to keep reading this entire post. But most mainstream, “regular” gyms not only don’t provide chalk, but don’t allow it because if can get all over the equipment. After I failed to find a pair of lifting gloves that helped me more than they hindered me, I did sneak in some chalk, but I had to spend extra time wiping it off everything and ultimately while it did help prevent calluses, it didn’t help once my lifts got heavier and more strenuous on my wrists.

I ended up ordering some straps, and have been a strap girl for deadlifts ever since. There are literally hundreds of variations of these online, but for me, a simple wrist loop with a strap you wrap around the barbell for grip is exactly what I needed.

faceless bodybuilder lifting barbell on street in daylight
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Belt It Out

Last year my coach gifted me a vegan lifting belt she had specially made for me. Leopard print with “Lupo Vegano” (vegan wolf) in big letters on the back. Belts can really help with your form, and once you start lifting heavy, can take the pressure off your lower back and refocus it on the muscle groups you’re trying to work. A lot of lifting belts are leather, so keep an eye out for that, but I’ve found tons of vegan alternatives online too. You might want one that you need to manually hook (like a regular belt) or one with a quick release latch, and consider the distance between your hips and your bottom ribs when you’re looking at the height measurement. I’m a shorty, and my ribs damn near touch my hips, so my next belt will be as short (narrow) as I can get it so it’s not pushing on one bone or the other when I use it.

This photo isn’t me, it’s another lady with tattoos who likes to do gym stuff. 😉

The Dreaded Hip Thrust

Hip thrusts are TikTok’s favorite booty exercise, and while I’ve seen it hotly debated whether or not they’re even necessary when lunges are possibly more effective at growing your glutes, chances are, you’ll be doing some hip thrusts in your lifetime. Setting up a barbell hip thrust (if you don’t go to a gym that just has a hip thrust machine) takes FOREVER. You have to drag a barbell over to a bench, drag all the weights over, put everything together, drag a mat over, get yourself all situated, do the exercise, and then, when your butt is as sore as possible, you have to get up and put all that shit away. It’s annoying. And if you work out at home, you might not even have all that stuff to begin with.

Dumbbell hip thrusts are a good alternative, but balancing a heavy dumbbell on your hip bones might be uncomfortable, and as you get stronger, you might find it hard to keep a heavy enough weight on your pelvis. If you’re on gym Instagram, you already know what’s coming… the Bella Booty. I bought this contraption two years ago when I got sick of setting up barbell hip thrusts and now it’s always in my bag. It has two side straps that you can use with dumbbells or plates, which means you can go a lot heavier than you could balancing a dumbbell on your hips. And the weight is close to your body, and I think more challenging. Now I never have to wait for a barbell, or drag weights all over the floor. I just grab two 30-40 lbs dumbbells, strap them in, and hump the air like there’s no tomorrow.

back view of a student answering a problem on the chalkboard
Photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels.com

Bonus: Fractions? I Hate Math

This is a bonus entry because I do not keep my fractional weight plates in my gym bag, I actually wrote my name on each one and I keep them stashed on a high shelf in the locker room at my gym. They’ve been there a year and no one has stolen them yet. Fractional weights are little tiny weighted plates that increase the weight you’re lifting by as little as 1/4 pound. They’re a good way to keep making gains on tough lifts. For instance, bench presses are tough for me, and making the jump from what I can currently bench to the next amount with my gym’s regular plates is too much. But I can keep pushing my PR higher and higher with these incremental increases, which keeps me motivated.

What non-essential doodads and thingamabobs are in your gym bag? Tell me in the comments!

Juicy Marbles Blocked Me On Instagram

Content warning: Anti-Asian racism, racist imagery

Sometime in 2022 I started following a Slovenian-based vegan meat company called Juicy Marbles. Their hyper-realistic soy steaks caught my eye on Instagram, and I even went so far as to turn on post notifications because they were always selling out online before I could even click through to their website to order. I believe they have some retail placement in the United States now, but it seems like it’s still easier to get your hands on their products in the UK and EU.

In early June 2022 my phone dinged with a notification that Juicy Marbles had posted. I tapped quickly to see if they’d restocked their store, and was astounded to instead find a post promoting a blog they’d just published titled “China’s ‘Meat Boom’ is kinda scary”. Anti-Asian rhetoric in the vegan community isn’t uncommon, and if anything there was a surge thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. What shocked me about this post wasn’t the fact that this brand was leaning into this particularly tired form of anti-Asian racism, but rather the illustration that accompanied it.

There I was, on my Peloton, pedaling away and expecting to finally order this vegan steak that looked so good, and suddenly my legs stopped moving and my whole face felt hot. I typed a comment, I wish I screen grabbed it, but it was something like “Are you kidding me with this racist illustration?” Within seconds some of their followers responded to me, essentially telling me to relax. But other comments from similarly confused vegans started popping up too.

I screengrabbed the blog post they were promoting, which featured the same crude illustration of a slanty-eyed character pumping a chicken-shaped balloon decorated with the Chinese flag. (What a cursed sentence.) I posted it to my Story with a poll asking if other people found the illustration “wildly offensive” and 97% of responders voted yes. Dozens more DM’d me responses that could be summarized as “what the actual F?”

Meanwhile, other comments were appearing on the post, including a few from members of the API community. I thought for sure this blog and Instagram post would be quietly deleted. Best case, a few days later they’d post some kind of apology, worst case they’d dirty delete and only the handful of us who were on Instagram at 7am that day would know.

What I did not expect, but what Juicy Marbles actually did, was conduct a days-long back-and-forth comment war during which they refused to acknowledge that perhaps this illustration, much less this talking point about China’s eating habits, missed the mark and came across as insensitive if not outright racist.

Please take a moment to really carefully read these two comments. On the left, Juicy Marbles would like to know, if not for slanty eyes, how would anyone know this illustration was a Chinese person and not a white guy? (Nevermind the Chinese flag that is also in this abomination of a drawing.) On the right, they suggest this commenter is being “dramatic” and confoundingly conclude that she’s the real racist for thinking that a racist drawing of a Chinese person is racist.

I started screen grabbing their responses, and sharing those to my Story but pretty quickly discovered I’d been blocked. Some of my friends were also blocked. This did nothing to encourage any of us to “relax” and, in fact, made us all very angry. That’s when I started tagging folks with larger followings in my Stories. People like Joanne Molinaro, The Korean Vegan. And my friends started doing the same, letting creators like Jackie Sobon at Vegan Yack Attack and Larisha and Andrew at Make It Dairy Free know what was going on.

What ended up happening, of course, is that once Joanne shared my screen grabs to her hundreds of thousands of followers, the social media post and blog post were edited (see illustration below), and eventually deleted, and Juicy Marbles went into crisis mode. They started DMing the large creators who shared what I’d captured – sometimes profusely apologizing and promising to do better, and sometimes just demanding that they do the unpaid emotional labor of explaining racism to them. This attempt at “fixing” the illustration is truly incredible.

For a few months I archived all of the posts and comments on my account, and every time an influencer or publication posted about Juicy Marbles, people who’d seen the whole thing go down would start directing everyone in the comments to my archives. Eventually, though, bring the “keeper of the drama” wore me down and it seemed like maybe Meati entering the US market with a splash (and so far, no racist illustrations or blog posts) made everyone forget about Juicy Marbles.

But recently I’ve been seeing them in my feed again because they’re teasing new products in new markets, so I decided to put all this stuff I saved here, where Juicy Marbles can’t block me.

Did Juicy Marbles actually learn from this? I have no idea, I never heard from them and I’m still blocked. I know they did their best to apologize to anyone who had 100,000+ followers and shared what they’d posted, but I’ve never seen any evidence of them apologizing to the non-influencer AAPI folks who commented about the harm their post caused. Here’s the copy + paste DM several large accounts received:

Juicy Mables, if you’re reading this, we all make mistakes. Shoot, I’ve even reacted really inappropriately when called out on my own gaffes. Is that what happened here? You can’t DM me since you blocked me in 2022, but grab my email address here and send me an update. I’d love to know what you learned and what you’re doing differently now, if anything.

It should also be noted, for anyone who made it this far, that we wouldn’t have most of the mock meats we enjoy as vegans if not for Asian cuisine. Oh, and there are plenty of animal rights organizations in China and other Asian countries that white vegans always seem really concerned about so maybe trust that they know what they’re doing.

As always, the contents of my blog reflect my personal opinions and you know, all that stuff, don’t yell at my employer, especially because literally all of their emails and DMs on social media go to me first and I don’t want to hear about it.

Friday Five: Mailbox Holidays

I hate the holidays. Sorry, was that an aggressive way to start a post about vegan holiday foods that can be shipped to your door? Let me try again. I hate the holidays. Hm. I don’t know I guess I just hate the holidays. Anyway, because I hate them, I have no desire to put any effort into them whatsoever. Will I put some kind of seitan roast in the oven and mash some potatoes? Sure. But am I baking a pie? Absolutely not.

But, I am a lone hater in a family of people who love the holidays. Specifically, holiday foods. Having been vegan in the 90s I would never dare to complain that vegan holiday foods are hard to find in stores, but good vegan holiday foods? That’s another story. If I’m being forced to eat a beige plate to celebrate a holiday that I think is stupid, I absolutely refuse to follow it up with a bland pie from Whole Foods.

If you also don’t feel like cooking or baking, and are lucky enough to live in a place where a small business is offering vegan holiday foods by all means support them! I’ve seen far too many vegan businesses close this year and plan on ordering as many of our holiday items locally as I can. But, even in a great vegan city like Chicago there are still some items I can’t get locally. So here are my top five picks for vegan holiday foods you can have shipped to your house.

1. Herbivorous Butcher Turkey-Free Feast

It’s true that vegan holiday roasts are pretty plentiful even in the most conventional grocery stores. But are they good? I’m willing to fight you about that one. If you’re looking for an all-in-one holiday feast complete with a turkey-like centerpiece, stuffing, and plenty of sides, plan ahead and order this feast from Minneapolis’ own Herbivorous Butcher. Not only is all the food handcrafted with much higher quality ingredients than what you’ll find in stores, but you’ll also be supporting a vegan-owned small business that does a lot for their community. (Uhhh and you might want to Google who owns the brands making the roasts you usually buy because it’s pretty much all bad news.)

2. Goldbelly

If you’ve never spent hours scrolling through the vegan options on Goldbelly online marketplace sorry, can’t relate. I could have made this entire list and many more just based on items you can order from this one place, but specifically in this listing I wanted to call out their vegan Hanukkah options. Are you looking for vegan latkes? Linda’s Gourmet Latkes offers vegan and vegan + gluten free options. (Note: not everything on the linked page is vegan.) Yonah Schimmel Knishes offers variety packs of knishes in lots of flavors – vegan and nut-free. And for something sweet, choose your own vegan babka from Green’s Babka.

3. Sweet Maresa’s Crumb Cake

There are absolutely people shipping vegan pies, but my family always orders locally from Pie, Pie My Darling and Ritual Pastry. But if you think one pie is enough for an entire weekend of holiday gluttony, you have not met the Slaters. For that reason, I always order a crumb cake from Sweet Maresa‘s too. The holiday flavors vary, but they hold up well in transit, and you can actually freeze them until you’re ready to thaw and eat so it’s great if you like to stock up for back-to-back holiday dinners.

And, as my December 12th birthday is the only winter holiday I believe is worth celebrating, I should also mention that Sweet Maresa’s makes a 1lb Rainbow Cookie, which is my all-time favorite sweet treat, and something I always put on my birthday wishlist.

4. Nostalgica Pizzelle

While we’re on the topic of beloved Italian and Italian-American sweets, did you know that there is an entire company dedicated to making and shipping vegan pizzelle? If you’ve never had one, a pizzelle is an Italian wafer cookie that comes in a variety of flavors. The most traditional are anise, lemon, and vanilla. They’re lacey and delicate, crispy, and lightly sweet, and really tricky to make vegan because the traditional recipe relies heavily on eggs. You can enjoy them with coffee or tea, or incorporate them into other desserts like ice cream sundaes. They remind me of my nonie, who always had a vanilla pizzelle or a hazelnut-filled wafer cookie stashed away for me. Nostaligca Pizzelle offers holiday flavors, as well as pizzelle subscriptions, which make a really. unique and special gift.

5. The Very Vegan Sweet Shop

If you’re in need of stocking stuffers or vegan-friendly gifts, The Very Vegan Sweet Shop has holiday-specific treats as well as veganized versions of classic candies. This vegan, woman-owned shop is always adding new things like allergen-friendly advent calendars and white chocolate gingerbread people. Ship your order to you, or to your gift recipient, or if you’re in Chicago you can order online and pick up at Liberation Kitchen.

Bonus: Mac and cheese isn’t a traditional holiday food in every part of the country, but we always have it at my house. I save myself so much time and effort by warming up a couple packages of Upton’s Naturals Ch’eesy Mac instead of making it from scratch. Microwave it, fry it on the stove top, top it off with breadcrumbs and broil it in the oven. No one will know it came out of a box.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase I could earn a laughably small amount of money.

I Co-Hosted Keep On Cookin’

Over the summer my dear friends Dustin Harder and David Rossetti spent a whole week in Chicago working and exploring the city. While they were in town, we got up bright and early to record an episode of Dustin’s vegan cookbook exploration podcast Keep On Cookin‘.

I’ve been a guest twice already, once to discuss my book Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans, and then a second time to discuss Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ Vegan Brunch. So for my third appearance, we flipped the script and I interviewed Dustin about one of his books, Epic Vegan: Wild and Over the Top Vegan Recipes.

Please enjoy this episode, and dig into the backlog of past episodes while you’re at it!

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click and make a purchase I might earn a laughable amount of money.

Friday Five: New Vegan Things I’ve Tried

I never get PR packages. Except for the last few weeks when I got so many. So I figured I’d put together a semi-random round up of all the things I’ve tried from those packages (all vegan, of course) and pretend that I have done my job as a content creator, creating some content while the world burns around me. LOL what? Nothing. I’m fine. Everything is fine. I received all of the following items for free from the brands noted, and some of these reviews may include affiliate links. The reviews, however, are 100% my honest opinions.

1. Naked Nutrition Pumpkin Spice Protein Shake

naked nutrition pumpkin spice protein shake

This product got a brief mention in my Friday Five Pumpkin Spice post, but at that point I hadn’t actually received the PR package yet. Since I received it, though, my other protein powder has just been sitting on the counter hoping I come back to her someday. Naked Nutrition is known for their clean ingredient panels, and this protein powder is no different. There are no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or colors, and as far as I can tell, nothing in here that isn’t serving a nutritional or flavor purpose. It’s not as thick as other protein shakes that add gums, which I really like about Naked because I don’t want to chew my shake in the morning. I think the defining feature here, though, is the absence of a sugar alternative like monk fruit or stevia. Instead, they use coconut sugar and fermented cane sugar (but there’s still only 3g sugar per serving) so there is no bitter aftertaste, and it’s not artificially sweet. I typically have 1.5 servings (3 scoops) before my workout, for a little extra protein, which I blend with some oats and half a banana for extra carbs.

2. Paula’s Choice 25% Vitamin C + Glutathione Clinical Serum

I have been a faithful Paula’s Choice user since high school and I know this is not the first time I’ve mentioned this brand on my blog. So when I tell you that the day I found myself on their PR list was one of the happiest days of my life, please trust that this is true. Paula’s Choice products are mid-priced, meaning that they cost more than skincare you’ll find at the drugstore (although that stuff is no longer cheap either) but it’s still not as unattainable as the “luxury” brands in department stores. I’ve found their products to be super effective – the Clear line of acne solutions got me through some really terrible post-pregnancy acne battles, and now that I’m in my 40s I use products like this Vitamin C serum for their brightening and anti-aging qualities.

At $62 for 1oz, this product is a bit more of an investment than other Vitamin C serums I’ve used, but after spending the entire summer on the beach (wearing sunscreen, of course, but you know how life is) I had high hopes for this product. I noticed a difference within days, my skin tone is more even and my skin looks refreshed. I’ve even been skipping fondation. I have sensitive skin, and I did notice that I started to break out after using this serum every day for a few weeks straight, so I’ve started alternating it every other day with another product and my skin cleared up but I still have all of the positive results. Paula’s Choice has a great resource on their site for checking a product’s vegan-friendly status. They actually note that this product contains xanthan gum, which is sometimes processed with an enzyme derived from eggs. For me, this is acceptable and I appreciate their transparency.

If this is out of your budget, I recommend trying Pacifica’s Glow Baby line, which also features Vitamin C for a brightening effect.

3. Abbot’s Butcher Plant-Based Proteins

If you’re reading this, you likely know that I work for a vegan food brand, and I tend to be pretty critical of meat alternatives because so many of them rely on added flavors and yeast extracts, or have nutrition panels that hardly qualify as food in my eyes. So when Abbot’s Butcher reached out, I almost replied “no thanks” until I went to their site and read the ingredients. I was impressed that there actually weren’t any “flavors,” just real seasonings and spices and of course, pea protein.

Of everything I tried, I thought the Chopped Chick’n was the best, although some other folks who tasted it with me were bothered by how wet it was, and how spongy of a texture it had. I didn’t particularly care for the flavor of the Ground Beef, or the Chorizo compared to wheat-based meat alternatives with the same flavor profiles. But, if I was gluten-free, these would be solid options that could easily be flavor-boosted with a little extra garlic or hot sauce.

In my local grocery store, these retail for $8-9 for a three-serving package, which is quite a lot when you consider how inexpensively you can buy and rehydrate pea protein chunks. But again, if you’re looking for a convenient, gluten-free protein this one has the best ingredients and nutrition panel I’ve seen.

4. Paula’s Choice Barrier Repair Advanced Moisturizer

Remember how, a few years ago, everyone figured out that certain bacteria is helpful and that maybe all the antibiotics and hand sanitizer we were consuming was damaging our bodies’ natural ability to defend themselves? (I mean, you know, pre-COVID when hand sanitiser came back in a big way.) I feel like our skins’ natural barrier is having its own “gut health” moment right now. People on TikTok have decided we are overly exfoliated, and making ourselves look like beef jerky with all of our scrubs and peels.

The packaging for this product says “100% had an improved skin barrier in 30 minutes” and I was like, “holy crap, that’s impressive.” Upon further inspection, that was 100% of 30 people who self-assessed, so I’m not sure how they could tell their skin barrier was improved but OK. Regardless, I did in fact notice that my skin was significantly softer within minutes of applying this moisturizer in place of my usual night cream. Whether or not my skin’s barrier was improved, or the moisture and hydration increased, I couldn’t say. But, in terms of a moisturizer that feels really nice and isn’t wildly priced ($38 for 1.7oz) I will be purchasing this when my freebie runs out.

5. Aloha Maple Sea Salt Protein Bar

Aloha is another brand that has made several appearances on this blog. Their protein powder was one of my top picks several years ago when I wrote Five Protein Powders that Don’t Suck (this needs an update, I know.) This was another sample offer I almost passed on because (if you follow me on IG you know) I am very, very committed to NuGo Bars. But Aloha caught me at a good time, because I’m trying to up my overall calorie consumption for muscle growth and at 220 calories a bar, 14g protein, 26g carbs, 9g fat, these were a good option for my bulking macros.

After months and months of low fat, high protein bars, these are a real treat. With ingredients such as sunflower butter, almond butter, organic pecans, maple syrup, it’s soft and chewy – like a cookie, but not as sweet. Much like the Naked Nutrition protein powder I mentioned earlier, there’s no stevia, either, so no bitter aftertaste. They’re not always going to work for my macros, but for the phase I’m in right now they’re a nice option with. a seasonal flavor.

Bonus: Vice Lip Bond Glossy Longwear Liquid Lipstick

I also recently received a really cute package from Urban Decay, containing lots of their vegan-friendly best-sellers and this long-lasting, high-shine liquid lipstick in a new, pure black shade. As thrilled as I was to receive it, and admire all the pretty packaging for the glittery eyeshadows and other things they sent, I knew none of it was ever going to go on my face. Me, the queen of brown eyeliner and a neutral lip. So I passed the entire package on to my teenage niece, who was beyond excited to receive it. My sister also later texted me to let me know this lipstick “does NOT come off” so there’s your review. Ha!

Friday Five: Pumpkin Spice Til Death

As of post time, we are less than 48 hours away from the first day of October, aka Halloween Month. That means we’re celebrating all things pumpkin spice and ignoring all the haters who have made it their life’s mission to suck the fun out of everything. While most of the country lines up for their first Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season, we vegans must look elsewhere to get our fix.

Lucky for us, there is no shortage of that magical squash n’ spice mix in all forms imaginable. So here are five-ish forms of pumpkin spice that I am currently unapologetically celebrating!

1. Pumpkin Spice Protein

If you follow me on Instagram, you knew I was going to go here. Last year I demo’d how I use Conscious Muscle Supplements Pumpkin Spice vegan protein powder (21g protein per serving) to make a supercharged latte. You could also use it in your favorite Protein Mug Cake recipe. Naked Nutrition also has a Pumpkin Spice Protein powder (20g protein per serving) with a super clean ingredient label. Or, if you’re looking for a ready-made protein snack try Aloha’s Pumpkin Spice Protein Bar (14g protein, 15% off with my affiliate link.) I mean, if you’re like me you’re going to power through protein shakes and bars all month anyway, they might as well be on-brand for spooky season.

2. Kiss My Pumpkin Spice

pumpkin spice lip balm

I buy so many Crazy Rumors lip balms that they probably have me on a list of weirdos. But they make the absolute best flavors, and their formula is super moisturizing without being sticky or waxy at all. All of their products are vegan and cruelty free, and their prices and shipping charges are the best in the biz. There’s an entire category of fall flavors, and obviously Pumpkin Spice Lip Balm is the star of the show. Use my affiliate link and go to town!

3. Light a Candle for Pumpkin Spice

There’s no shortage of pumpkin spice candles on the market, but please allow me to make a case for a candle company that is hyper-local to me. We’re talking “I can stick my head out my front door and basically see their store” local. Edgewater Candles is a small businesses that produces super dreamy soy candles right here in my neighborhood. Not only are they some of the longest lasting, and best-smelling candles I’ve ever owned, but they’re also constantly partnering with nonprofits throughout the city to fundraise for some truly important causes. In fact, $6 from each Pumpkin Pie Candle goes to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. If you’ve been waiting for a sign to buy some candles, this is it!

4. Pumpkin Head (and Butt)

Lush’s Halloween drop never lets me down, from alien bubble bars to ghost bath bombs they do spooky-soapy season right. Obviously that includes all things pumpkin and pumpkin spice. I LOL’d at their black, triangle-shaped Pumpkin Eye Mask that literally makes you look like a Jack-O-Lantern when you use it. And, because it’s Lush, it’s made with actual pumpkin puree, which softens and moisturizes skin. Grab one of their Pumpkin Sheet Masks too, if you want to go for full pumpkin head eleganza. And, for your butt, aka the pumpkin in your pants, soak those buns in a cinnamon-spiked Punkin Pumpkin Bath Bomb.

5. Pour One Out for the PSL

Even though I can’t drink Starbucks PSLs, both because the flavor syrup contains dairy, and also because Starbucks’ coffee is an abomination, I respect what they did to elevate this grandma flavor to what’s it’s become. Something people loved, and then hated, and then loved ironically, which eventually reverted back into genuine love. There are so many pumpkin spice-flavored vegan coffee creamers and canned pumpkin spice lattes out there I have nothing to add about any of them. Instead, I will direct your attention to the Queen of Vegan Halloween, Kathy Hester, with this link to her Halloween recipe section, which is filled with pumpkin spice-inspired drink recipes and lots more.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase, I could earn a hilariously small amount of money.

Plant-Based Delicious: Mediterranean Cauliflower Casserole Recipe

If you follow me on social media, you might be aware that in 2022 I started working with a certified plant-based nutritionist and fitness coach, Belinda Lagasi. My entire approach in the kitchen has changed under her guidance, and I’ve increased the amount of real vegetables and plant-based proteins I’m eating by more than I can really even account for. Every single meal has at least 2-3 “big handfuls” of vegetables included, according to her guidelines. Most of my meals are oil-free, high protein, moderate in carbs, and low in fat. Of course I am still the force behind Bake and Destroy, so I never deny myself a sweet treat or some comfort food when I want it. But I’ve learned to love vegetables in their purest form in a way I wish I had much earlier in my vegan journey.

So, that brings us to Plant-Based Delicious, a new cookbook from Ashley Madden. This book revists comfort food favorites like pasta, casseroles, and chocolate chip cookies but with a focus on wholesome ingredients, and all of the recipes are gluten-free as well as oil-free. When you’re trying to eat your veggies, I mean really eat them, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of salads and stir fries. So I love all of the creative recipes in this book that both feature vegetables – like this Mediterranean Cauliflower Casserole – and, sneak them in where you don’t expect them, as in the case of Double Chocolate Chip Chickpea Cookies.

I’m really excited about the Mediterranean flavors in this casserole – olives, tahini, oregano and parsley. For my own macros, I would probably replace the chickpeas with seitan (which isn’t gluten-free) but that’s what’s great about a smart recipe – it should inspire you to make it your own.

Absolutely check out this book if you’re looking for better-for-you plant-based recipes, and follow Ashley on Instagram at @riseshinecook for more inspiration.

mediterranean cauliflower casserole
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Mediterranean Cauliflower Casserole

This recipe and image are shared with permission from author Ashley Madden and Page Street Publishing Co.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Mediterranean
Keyword: cauliflower recipe, healthy vegan recipe, plant based whole foods recipe, vegan casserole
Servings: 4 people


For the Casserole:

  • 4 cups (400 g) bite-sized cauliflower florets
  • 1 large red onion thinly sliced
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper seeded, stemmed and cut into 1˝ [2.5-cm] pieces
  • 1 cup (100 g ) pitted black or green olives, sliced if desired
  • 1 ½ cups (255 g ) cooked or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup (30 g ) baby spinach
  • 1 cup (180 g ) uncooked millet or white quinoa

For the Sauce:

  • cup (80 g ) stirred tahini
  • cup (80 ml ) fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large cloves garlic crushed and peeled
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml ) red wine vinegar
  • tsp(2 g ) dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • ¾ cup (175 ml ) water
  • 1 tbsp (8 g) arrowroot starch
  • ¼ tsp sea salt or to taste
  • Pinch of black pepper

Optional garnishes:

  • 1 small bunch fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp (16 g ) sesame seeds
  • Lemon wedges


  • Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC).
  • Start with the casserole: Put the cauliflower, onion, bell pepper, olives and chickpeas in a 9 x 13–inch (23 x 33–cm) casserole dish.
  • Make the tahini sauce: In a blender, combine the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, oregano, parsley, water, arrowroot, salt and pepper, and blend until smooth. Pour the sauce over the vegetables in the casserole. Stir to coat all the veggies, then cover tightly with tinfoil.
  • Roast in the oven for 60 minutes, stirring once around the 40-minute mark. It’s done when the cauliflower is fork-tender and the sauce is bubbling.
  • When about 20 minutes are left on the casserole, cook the millet according to the package directions. Once cooked, fluff with a fork and cover until needed.
  • When the casserole is ready, remove it from the oven and stir in the spinach. Cover again for a few minutes to let the greens wilt. Taste and reseason with salt, if needed.
  • Spoon the millet into bowls and top with the casserole. Garnish with mint and sesame seeds and serve with a lemon wedge.

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click and make a purchase I might earn a laughably small amount of money.

Vegan Finds at the 2023 Sweets & Snacks Expo

After four long days working with the Upton’s Naturals team at the National Restaurant Association Show what better way to relax and unwind than walking across the street and attending another trade show? OK I would not recommend that exact use of time, but in reality the moment my friend Nicole from The Very Vegan Sweet Shop and I walked into the Sweets & Snacks Expo, we were happy.

Colorful cutouts of pretzels, hard candies, cookies, and other sweets dangled from the ceiling, gigantic ads for new Tik Tac flavors and sour gummies towered over us, and everywhere you looked: there was candy. I’ve exhibited at this show with a few brands, and I covered vegan finds in 2017 and 2018, but I took a few years off so I was excited to see what everyone was up to this year.

The Trends

Before I cover the things I thought were most exciting, let’s talk trends. In non-vegan news, beef jerky is still going strong. It’s hard to believe that in 2023 anyone is saying, “You know what the world needs? More beef jerky.” But in addition to all of the legacy brands, we saw a handful of startups all with their own take on beef jerky. Sadly, we only saw two or three plant-based jerkies, including BeLeaf, and a few mushroom jerkies.

In vegan news, we saw so many gummies! It seemed like tons of vegan gummies were coming in from Europe, and even conventional brands had a vegan gummy on the table. We also saw a few marshmallows including Dandies, of course, but also a few brands from the U.K. and Belgium. Another big trend in savory plant-based snacks was protein chips. We saw at least three brands, and probably missed a few others. They were all the same puffed rice chip format, with pea protein mixed into the chip as well as the powdery flavoring. Everyone seemed to have a nacho or cheese flavor, and weirdly, two had a birthday cake flavor. Finally, low-sugar, low-carb, and plant-based + keto was a big trend this year. In past years, those are all things that I would have majorly rolled my eyes about, but I’ve been on quite a fitness journey since 2020 and actually really appreciated all of the new options from familiar brands as well as new ones.

My Five Faves

Ritter Sport Vegan Bars
  1. Ritter Sport Vegan – Old vegans such as myself probably remember hunting down “accidentally” vegan varieties of this German chocolate brand over the years. Now they have five “on purpose” vegan varieties including Roasted Peanut, Crunchy Whole Hazelnuts, Salted Caramel, Smooth Chocolate and Crunchy Almonds. The bars are exactly what you expect from Ritter Sport (delicious) and they didn’t try to make them “healthy” by adding quinoa or something. They’re straight forward, great chocolate that vegans and non-vegans can all enjoy.
  2. Bon Bon Swedish Candy Co. Swedish Fish – This brand is new to me, but apparently has been in business since 2018 and only some of the Swedish Fish flavors we saw were new. But I thought they had the perfect texture and really fun flavors like peach, elderflower, wild strawberry (sour or sweet) and sour blackberry. Plus the packaging was so pretty it really felt like a fancy experience eating these.
  3. Ocho Plant-Based Caramels – If you gravitate toward natural candies, you’ve absolutely had Ocho before. They have several plant-based options, and these chocolate-covered caramels made with Miyoko’s Creamery butter are brand new. The brand was nice enough to send me a preview of the Classic flavor, which my son promptly made disappear. So I’m excited to see if he loves the Coffee, Chocolate, and Cinnamon ones as much. (Spoiler: he will.)
  4. Lakanto Coffee Cups – Monk fruit and other sugar alternatives aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK. But I do opt for monk fruit when I’m training, and Lakanto makes lots of products I use every day. I didn’t realize they made so many chocolate truffles and other treats, though, and when the brand rep at this show told me the Coffee Cups have the caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee I was sold.
  5. Smart Sweets Caramels – These too were new-to-me, chewy coconut cream-based caramels with only 1g of sugar per serving. People who don’t fare well with sugar alternatives might also like that there are no sugar alcohols added.

Thanks to the Sweets & Snacks Expo for inviting me back – looking forward to next year!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase, I will earn a laughably small amount of money.

Podcast: Keep On Cooking – Vegan Brunch

I recently had the honor of co-hosting an episode of Dustin Harder (The Vegan Roadie)’s wonderful vegan cookbook podcast Keep On Cooking! The show started out as an interview series with vegan cookbook authors, deep-diving into their work. Sixty three episodes in, though, Dustin has expanded the subject manner and is now speaking with people about their personal favorite vegan cookbooks. Mine, of course, is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ Vegan Brunch (pub. 2009) so I was thrilled to spend about an hour diving in and talking about why it stands the test of time.

My dogs are being really annoying for about 19 minutes at the beginning, so if that bothers you skip ahead and you’ll just miss some opening chit chat about Midwestern accents and cuisine. Tony was golfing the morning we recorded so they were obsessed with me. You can listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or, watch below!

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