MALK Almond Milk

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I already have a favorite almond milk, Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Almond Beverage, which I first bought because the box looked cute. Well, I fell for cool packaging again. Walking through the dairy section of Ralphs on my way to the eggs, I saw this futuristic-looking bottle of MALK Cold-Pressed Pure Almond Milk. It looked like a prop from a sci-fi movie. Can’t you just see Dave Bowman and Frank Poole sipping this stuff on board the ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The ingredients list was also appealingly short and sounded healthy. I know, “Himalayan salt” is probably not much different from regular salt. It’s one of those marketing tools to get hippies like me to buy stuff. Guess what? It worked.

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When I brought my MALK home, I still had some Trader Joe’s almond milk in the fridge, so I did a head-to-head taste test. The difference: Trader Joe’s has a subtle nutty flavor, while MALK has a strong almond-extract flavor.

I happen to like that flavor in certain contexts. It’s a staple in many Taiwanese desserts, for instance. At BlackBall in San Gabriel (yeah, that’s really its name), I had a hot almond soup with mochi balls in it that was weird and pretty awesome.

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Dairy-free, despite its milky appearance.

But I digress. Back to MALK, almond milk of the future. After tasting its strong flavor, I decided the best use of MALK was in an almond milk tea. This is another Taiwanese classic you’ll see at most boba tea shops. It’s iced black tea with a non-dairy milk, almond-flavored syrup, and optional boba pearls. I usually find almond syrup to be overpowering and too sweet, but by using MALK, I achieved a more balanced almond-extract flavor without adding syrup.

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Homemade almond milk tea

My experiment turned out well, but for most of my almond milk needs, I still prefer a subtler flavor. So even though MALK has the best packaging, I’ll be sticking to Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage.

But I can’t bring myself to toss this bottle in the recycling bin. I’m saving it for my next space mission, where all food comes in tubes and all drinks come in cool bottles like this.

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Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey

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When I saw this in the funny papers of The Los Angeles Times, I knew I had to include it in a review of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey ice cream. And what better time to do so than the week of 4/20? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, never mind.)

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Let me preface this by saying I’ve never tried the regular version of Chunky Monkey, mostly because I’m not a big fan of walnuts. But I’m into bananas, fudge chunks, and vanilla ice cream, the other ingredients in Chunky Monkey. So I gave it a try.

I’m okay with walnuts in moderation. But there are a lot of walnuts in this stuff and they’re big, not little chopped bits. The other thing I don’t like about this ice cream is the banana flavor. It’s super-intense and almost sour. Doesn’t taste like real bananas.

After my taste test, I went to the Ben & Jerry’s website to read the reviews. Looks like I’m not alone: Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey got 2.5 out of 5 stars. One reviewer said that only the Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey tastes sour — the regular version doesn’t. I wouldn’t know, but I’ll take her word for it.

Not everything about Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey is bad, though. The almond milk vanilla base, as I discussed in my review of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy P.B. & Cookies, is smooth and delicious. You cannot tell it’s dairy-free. And the chocolate chunks are great, too.

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How adorable is this cup? Found it in the $1 bin at Target.

Last time I reviewed a Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice cream, there were only four flavors available. Since then, they’ve added three new flavors: Caramel Almond Brittle, Cherry Garcia, and Coconut Seven Layer Bar. The only one I’m interested in is Caramel Almond Brittle. You’ll be seeing my review of that one soon.

Meanwhile, still waiting for non-dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. C’mon, guys!

To read my review of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Fudge Brownie, click here.

Sleepytime Extra Herbal Tea

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You’d think that as a dairy-free tea drinker I’d be into herbal teas because they’re never drunk with milk. But I confess: I’ve always hated herbal tea. I like black tea, green tea, oolong — you know, all the ones with caffeine. Unfortunately, I can’t have caffeine in the evening or I’ll be up all night.

I have tried tons of herbal teas and the only one I’ve managed to stick with is Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra. The original Sleepytime was the first chamomile tea blended and marketed specifically to counteract insomnia. Everyone knows chamomile has calming effects. The “extra” in Sleepytime Extra is valerian root, an herb that seems to act like a sedative on the brain and nervous system.

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Julianna Margulies asks for valerian tea on The Sopranos.

I remember an episode of The Sopranos where Christopher and his girlfriend (Julianna Margulies) are both recovering heroin addicts and they drink super-concentrated cups of valerian tea because they heard that in high doses it feels like valium. Believe it or not, this is what made me decide to try Sleepytime Extra. I thought, “That shit must work.”

Well, it does. I noticed the difference when I’d been drinking Sleepytime Extra every night before bed and then I ran out. I started waking up in the middle of the night and generally sleeping less soundly. Of course I stocked back up on Sleepytime Extra, pronto. You may notice that this tea is frequently sold out. That’s because the shit works.

It also tastes pretty decent. Pure chamomile can be bland. But Sleepytime’s trademark blend of herbs produces a caffeine-free tea that, although it can’t compare to a strong Earl Grey, is easy on the tastebuds.

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I tip my hat to the Blendmaster.

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Now I very much enjoy my nighttime ritual of sipping Sleepytime tea while I do my physical therapy exercises, watch Netflix, and cuddle our new dog, Sammy Bagel Jr. If only they made valerian root dog treats…

On second thought, I don’t think he needs any.

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Lee’s Sandwiches

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Last week I wrote about how happy I am when I find dairy-free sandwiches that taste good, and how nice it is to not have to say, “Hold the cheese.” Well, that’s why I was so excited about Lee’s Sandwiches, an Asian sandwich chain that specializes in bahn mi.

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Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich filled with flavorful meats such as grilled pork, beef, or lemongrass chicken and vegetables like pickled carrots, daikon, cucumbers, jalapeños, and cilantro. Reflecting the French colonization of Vietnam, bahn mi is served on a baguette and sometimes contains paté and a mayo-based spread like aioli.

What bahn mi sandwiches never have is cheese!

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Sometimes I pick the seeds out of my jalapeños. Yep, I’m a pussy.

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I’ve been to the Lee’s in Van Nuys twice, since it’s near the pool where I go swimming. I have to say their bahn mi isn’t the best I’ve ever had — not even close. It’s more the idea of Lee’s that I’m in favor of. You walk in and there’s a whole section of the menu labeled “Asian Sandwiches” with almost as many choices as their “European Sandwiches” menu.

It’s like the Subway of bahn mi.

They also have boba tea, coffee drinks, smoothies, and even house-made Italian sodas. I had the lychee iced tea and I had to ask them to adjust my drink to make it less sweet. However, I found an actual lychee fruit in my cup, so that was cool. I wouldn’t recommend a special trip to Lee’s for boba tea, but I do like that I can get one when I order a bahn mi. One stop shopping is always a plus.

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Are there better places to get a bahn mi and boba tea? Absolutely. But in this section of Van Nuys, Lee’s is temptingly convenient and cheap takeout. Most of their 10-inch bahn mi sandwiches are only $4.49 — a steal compared to Nong La, my go-to Vietnamese place on Sawtelle, where an 8-inch pork bahn mi costs $7.

Know of a good bahn mi place in Van Nuys? Or in West LA? Let me know in the comments section!

LEE’S SANDWICHES, 16900 Sherman Way, Lake Balboa, CA 91406