The Loose Teas Café and Gifts

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One day, looking for a boba place in Monrovia, I came across The Loose Teas Café and Gifts in a strip mall on Huntington Drive. This is not your typical boba place. It’s more of a traditional tea shop, specializing in a large selection of fine loose teas. I ordered my usual — lychee iced tea — and had to send it back because it was too sweet (this happens a lot with me). But the barista adjusted it until I was happy. And I was thrilled by the boba: super fresh with just the right amount of chewiness.

Since then, I have become a big fan of The Loose Teas Café. They make tea the right way: by brewing each cup fresh to order. And for those of us who don’t eat dairy, they offer soy and almond milk, rather than the non-dairy creamer that most boba shops use (yuck).

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Last week I ordered an unsweetened iced tea latte made with rose black tea and almond milk.  It was totally on point. Most boba shops that make rose iced tea use rose-flavored syrup that tastes artificial and sickly sweet, instead of tea that’s flavored naturally with rose petals. This makes a huge difference.

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Iced tea latte with rose black tea and almond milk

Most boba shops have snacks like popcorn chicken, Taiwanese sausage, and spicy fried fish balls. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some spicy fried fish balls, but they’re a sometimes treat. The Loose Teas Café makes super fresh, healthy sandwiches. They have a turkey sandwich called the “Flaming Bird” that doesn’t come with cheese and yet still tastes great, thanks to their seasoned mayo and house-made hot garlic chili flakes.

I don’t know about you, but I love not having to say, “Hold the cheese.”

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Look at those chili flakes! Sprouts, cukes, avocado… heaven!

THE LOOSE TEAS CAFE AND GIFTS, 666 W. Huntington Dr., Monrovia, CA 91016

Homemade Dairy-Free Smoothies

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I’ll admit that when I first heard about the NutriBullet blender, I thought it was one of those cheesy “As Seen On TV” fads. I couldn’t imagine this gadget was any better than our old-fashioned blender. But oh, it is!

Let me back up. Back in my dairy-eating days, I used to make smoothies all the time using yogurt and milk as the base. After giving up dairy, I stopped making smoothies. I never thought of using a liquid like coconut water. Not only is this possible, it’s way healthier. Coconut water, often called “nature’s sports drink,” has lots of nutrients and electrolytes. The flavor can be hard to get used to when you drink it straight up, but in a smoothie you can barely taste it.

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One of the reasons I have a love-hate relationship with Costco.

So, back to the NutriBullet. This thing has some key advantages over a traditional blender:

  • It’s more powerful and can blend ingredients faster and more thoroughly.
  • It’s smaller and easier to store.
  • The plastic cup that you blend the ingredients in can also be used to drink from, saving you extra dishes to wash.
  • The cup comes with a to-go lid that snaps open and closed easily.
  • Every part of the NutriBullet is easy to clean, including the blade attachment. (Our traditional blender is a heavy beast that we despise washing.)

I could go on and on giving the NutriBullet free advertising, but suffice to say that since my husband and I got one, we’ve been drinking at least one smoothie every day. And because the NutriBullet app lists tons of recipes, I haven’t gotten bored yet.

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Not a single smoothie I’ve made contained dairy products. So, what can you use instead of milk? In addition to coconut water, I’ve also used almond milk and coconut milk. And some recipes, like one of my favorites, the “Super Beauty Blast” (pictured below), uses chilled green tea as the base.

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You’ll notice there’s a fair amount of greenery in this smoothie, and that is the case for most of the smoothies I make now. Ever since we got the NutriBullet, we’ve doubled our consumption of green vegetables. The recipes are so tasty, you really can’t tell you’re drinking a handful of spinach or kale.

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Toxin Cleansing Blast, with boba straw for extra-fast slurping

Sometimes when I’m feeling creative, I’ll wing it and do an “Improv Blast.” The basic formula is you fill half the cup with greens (e.g., spinach, kale, chard, spring mix) and half with fruit (e.g., apple, orange, banana, pineapple, mango, berries).

I like to use some frozen fruit in every smoothie because (a) it’s convenient and (b) it makes the smoothie cold without having to add ice. (This is also a great use of overly ripe bananas, if you don’t have the time or inclination to make banana bread. Just peel, slice, and freeze the bananas in individual Ziploc bags for future use.)

After adding fruit, you can throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds or flax seeds for added protein and omega-3s. And finally, you pour in the liquid of your choice up to the MAX line on the cup. Blend for 30 seconds and you’re done.

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I like to think about how many fruits and veggies are in my smoothie and how long it would take to eat all of that if it weren’t blended up. A long-ass time, folks. If you’ve ever gotten tired of chewing a salad, you know what I mean.

So if you’re lazy and thinking it’s too much work to make a smoothie, especially first thing in the morning, just remember that smoothies are the ultimate boon for lazy people. It is far less work than chopping up a bunch of vegetables and stir-frying them — and then of course, the chewing. As my husband likes to say, “In the future, all food will be in tubes.” And that includes straws through which you drink your smoothies.

Easy Vegan Banana Bread

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Do you always end up with a couple of bananas that are too ripe? Spotted and maybe even completely brown? Don’t throw them out — use them to make this easy vegan banana bread. Here’s what I love about this banana bread:

  • It’s dairy-free (doesn’t even contain eggs).
  • It’s super moist.
  • It only requires two bananas, so you can use those ones you have lying around that would otherwise end up in the compost.
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The darker the bananas, the sweeter they taste.

I adapted this recipe from a banana cake recipe in The Peaceful Palate, a classic vegetarian cookbook. I halved the original recipe because I only had two bananas on hand, omitted the walnuts, and used a loaf pan instead of a 9-inch square pan. The result was a very short loaf of banana bread that was the perfect size for a household with only one banana bread eater (me).

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I also substituted the oil with melted Earth Balance, an oil-based butter alternative. The Earth Balance worked beautifully, giving the banana bread a nice buttery flavor without the dairy. I only had the kind of Earth Balance that comes in a tub, but you can get it in stick form that’s easier to measure out for baking.

I baked this banana bread in a toaster oven and it came out way better than anything I’ve ever baked in my full-size oven. First of all, the toaster oven heats up faster so you don’t have a long preheating time. Second, it doesn’t make the house hot. And third, electric ovens produce a more even heat and better browning than gas ovens. So use a toaster oven if you’ve got it.

Now go on and put those spotty bananas to good use!

Easy Vegan Banana Bread Recipe

1 cup unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted and cooled
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1  cup)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and melted Earth Balance together. Add the mashed bananas, water, and vanilla extract; mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine, just until moistened.

Spread batter evenly into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert pan and continue cooling loaf on wire rack.

After banana bread is completely cool, store in plastic wrap at room temperature.

Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage

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The first thing you may ask is what’s the difference between almond “beverage” and almond “milk”? Answer: There is none. Some folks have gotten in a twist about non-dairy milks using the word “milk” on their packaging, but the controversy is kind of silly. Most people use almond milk the same way they would use dairy milk, so calling it milk just makes sense. This “beverage” is exactly the same thing.

There are a lot of almond milks out there and it can be hard to pick one. I’ll admit that, if everything else seems equal, I go for the most attractive packaging. Presentation matters. This brand stood out from the rest because of its clean design and robin’s egg blue color scheme. I suspect that even the most feminist, nonconformist woman is subconsciously drawn to a Tiffany blue box.

You’re not going to find a diamond ring in this one, but you will find a very nice almond milk.

Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage Unsweetened Original tastes nutty and natural. Compared to Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla, Trader Joe’s makes a much better “blank slate” when you add it to coffee or tea, use it for smoothies, or eat it with cereal. (Perhaps the vanilla flavor of the Almond Breeze is what makes it taste a little unnatural; I haven’t yet tried the unflavored kind.)

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When you eat cereal with coconut milk, it turns to paste. Almond milk works better.

Every so often I get a hankering for a latte, and I was pleased to find that I can make a wonderful foam out of almond milk using a manual milk frother.

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Almond milk latte sprinkled with cinnamon

I also used Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage in a cup of Earl Grey iced tea and it worked beautifully. The slightly nutty flavor of the milk goes well with lots of black teas.

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Earl Grey iced tea with almond milk

I wouldn’t make a special trip to Trader Joe’s to buy this almond milk, but the next time I’m there, I would definitely get this one again. At $1.79 a carton, it’s a steal. And as superficial as it may sound, when I open my refrigerator and see that pretty blue box, I get a lift. Who doesn’t need that?