“Nectar Sun” Herbal Iced Tea

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One of the most fun things about travel is bringing home something that reminds you of your trip. I don’t mean the kind of souvenir that you buy in a gift shop, because chances are that coffee mug or magnet is going to end up in the Goodwill box. I mean something that has a special significance for you.

On our latest vacation in Las Vegas, we stayed at the Nobu Hotel inside Caesars Palace, an offshoot of Nobu the sushi restaurant. (For my review of the hotel, click here.) In the serene, minimalist lobby, they offered free iced tea for hotel guests all day long. But this wasn’t just any old iced tea… it was a delectable herbal blend that I’d never tasted before. It was called “Nectar Sun.”

Now, I’ve always preferred black teas, the stronger the better. But the caffeine can mess with my sleep, and I can’t drink tea with milk because I’m lactose-intolerant. So I’m always looking for herbal teas that’ll hit the spot. Nectar Sun had a surprising depth to it, plus a hint of sweetness without being cloying. I realized there was no reason I couldn’t have some of that herbal magic back home.

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Dairy bombs: stuff I did NOT eat in Vegas.

The problem is that when I looked up Nectar Sun tea, I discovered that it’s only sold wholesale to hotels, restaurants, and spas, and not stocked in retail stores. You can order it directly from the manufacturer, Ikaati, but it costs a whopping $20 for a box of twelve tea sachets. That’s what my dad would call “highway robbery.”

So I decided to make my own version of Nectar Sun. The main ingredients are rooibos tea, marigold, hibiscus, and peach. After experimenting with a few different herbal teas, I came up with a blend that tastes almost exactly like Nectar Sun.

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It’s truly guilt-free because rooibos tea is good for you, and the peach tea gives it enough sweetness so that you don’t need to add any sugar. Did I mention that it’s dairy-free, too?

Every time I take a sip, it reminds me of our vacation. What are some foods you’ve made that were inspired by your summer travels? Let me know in the comments below!

“NECTAR SUN” HERBAL ICED TEA RECIPE

3 tea bags of Mighty Leaf Organic African Nectar
1 tea bag of Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion
1 quart filtered water

Place tea bags in a heat-proof pitcher. Bring water to a boil and pour over tea bags. Let them steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags with a slotted spoon. Let the tea cool, then refrigerate. Serve over ice.

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Ode to Jonathan Gold, 1960-2018

On Saturday, July 21st, the beloved Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold passed away, and the whole city is mourning. Anyone who writes a food blog owes Jonathan Gold a debt of gratitude. He paved the way for an entirely new way of writing about food. He democratized it, proving that you didn’t have to be some sort of erudite elitist with a culinary degree to have valid opinions about food and express them.

Somehow, Gold managed to write about food in poetic language without sounding pretentious. He had a way of transporting the reader to the restaurant (or food truck) and making them feel like they were right there sharing a meal with him. I would often read his reviews in the L.A. Times while eating breakfast, and pretty soon my eggs and prunes would seem like the saddest meal ever, compared to his sensuous, evocative descriptions.

I didn’t always agree with Jonathan Gold’s opinions. For example, I have no idea why he liked Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts at the Original Farmer’s Market on Third and Fairfax. Their doughnuts are nothing special. In my opinion, the best doughnuts in L.A. are from the Doughnut Hut in Burbank.

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Chocolate old-fashioned, fresh out of the fryer at Doughnut Hut.

He also sang the praises of the LudoBites truck, run by celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre, and I thought their signature fried chicken was unmemorable at best.

And in his “Five Rules for Dining in Los Angeles,” he listed as one of the rules: “There is no shame in avocado toast.” I contend that there is shame in avocado toast if you’re paying upwards of eight dollars for it.

But Gold loved Asian food and he loved spicy food, and that’s where our tastes intersected. Upon his recommendation, my husband and I drove out to Van Nuys years ago to try the pad Thai at a strip mall restaurant (the kind Gold loved so much) called Krua Thai. Not the regular pad Thai, mind you — the “Pad Thai Krua Thai.” The dish was so good that every time we were anywhere near Van Nuys, we felt compelled to stop at Krua Thai. We even went there after I broke my toe at a nearby Costco. I needed to get that pad Thai even if I had to limp there!

Jonathan Gold also championed Szechuan cooking, and it was through his reviews that I found Mian, a noodle restaurant in San Gabriel (again, in a strip mall). San Gabriel is crawling with noodle joints, and even for an Asian person it can be overwhelming to navigate the choices. Mian lived up to Gold’s praise and has become one of my favorite spots to eat in the SGV. The spices will make your tongue go numb and your nose run, but that’s part of the fun.

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You can see how excited I am to tuck into these spicy noodles.

Whether or not you shared Jonathan Gold’s taste in food, you were probably influenced by him in some way. Do you read reviews on Yelp to decide where to eat? Most of the people who write those reviews — myself included — are doing it because Jonathan Gold made it okay for us to do it. He gave us all a voice.

He will be missed.

Van Leeuwen Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream

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My homemade dairy-free chocolate chip cookie sundae.

Ever since I went dairy-free, I’ve been looking for a non-dairy version of my favorite ice cream flavor, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. You could say it’s my “white whale.” Ben & Jerry’s, the originator of the flavor, has inexplicably left this one out of its selection of non-dairy ice creams. So when I saw that a brand called Van Leeuwen made one, I was super-excited about it.

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This one has a coconut cream base. That’s pretty evident when you taste it. The vanilla flavor is overwhelmed by the flavor of coconut. Which would be fine for ice creams that are more tropical in nature (like, say, pineapple or banana). But for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough? It’s a little weird.

As you can see in the photo below, there’s not a whole lot of cookie dough in there anyway. When I opened the lid, it looked like one random chunk of cookie dough ended up in a pint of vanilla ice cream. (You know those people who complain about the number of shrimp in their lo mein order? I’m becoming more like them every day.)

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The cookie dough itself was decent. I couldn’t tell it was vegan. But the coconut flavor of the base really took front and center. As I’m not a huge fan of coconut-flavored ice cream to begin with, this made my experience vaguely unpleasant.

I should’ve known. I’ve tried a few of Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss non-dairy flavors, also made from coconut cream, and the only one I truly liked was Mint Galactica, probably because the strong mint flavor masked the coconut. Another coconut-based ice cream I tried, Nada Moo, also had a strong coconut flavor.

Ben & Jerry’s uses an almond milk base, which to me, tastes better. I just wish they’d quit messing around and give us a non-dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough already!

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Ben & Jerry, we’re begging you to make this dairy-free.

I haven’t given up completely on Van Leeuwen, though. They have a scoop shop in Culver City where there are many more flavors available. I imagine the Vegan Pink Lemonade, one of their current specials, could be refreshing on a hot day.

If I ever check it out, I’ll let you all know. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve tried Van Leeuwen vegan ice cream and what you think of it.

Winston Pies in Brentwood

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I know, I just wrote about pie last week. But that was a peanut butter pie, and this time I want to write about fruit pies, because that’s what we think of when the Fourth of July rolls around. On our nation’s birthday, there’s nothing more American than apple pie — but really, any fruit pie is a fitting dessert at an Independence Day picnic or barbecue.

The thing I love about fruit pies is they’re usually dairy-free, unless you count the butter in the crust and unless, of course, if you eat it with a glob of whipped cream on top or ice cream on the side. (Please don’t eat pie with ice cream on top. It makes the pie soggy, dude.)

One day, walking along San Vicente Boulevard in the Brentwood neighborhood of West Los Angeles, my husband and I stopped in at Winston Pies, a small local bakery that serves homemade pie. We ordered a slice of the blueberry pie and an almond milk latte.

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Yes, the pie tasted as good as it looked.

The crust was flakier than any pie crust I’ve ever had. I don’t know much about baking, but I do know that making a pastry that flaky is a difficult task. Unlike a croissant, this pie crust is not flaky and light; it’s flaky and dense. You will either love it or hate it. I’m in the love category.

As for the blueberry filling, it tasted fresh and not too sweet. Many fruit pies have a syrupy-sweet filling that’s either too liquid-y or weirdly gelatinous. This filling was the perfect balance of flavors and textures.

The coffee was just okay. But points for the non-dairy milk options and the cool hand-glazed mug.

More points for the seating inside: There’s a wooden bench hanging from the ceiling that actually swings a little, so you feel like you’re eating pie on a front porch in the South.

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July 4, 1970: My mom grills several pounds of meat in Madison, Wisconsin.

The pie flavors at Winston Pies rotate seasonally, but right now there are about six out of twelve flavors that are cream-free. That’s a pretty good ratio. I can’t wait to try the Orchard Peach & Nectarine. Stone fruit + pie = awesomeness.

Right now they’ve got a special called “A Berry American Pie” that has a vanilla filling with raspberries and blackberries, so that it’s red, white and blue. It’s got a gluten-free shortbread crust, which I haven’t tried yet but I’d be willing to bet is pretty damn good.

Whether or not you’re eating pie, have a great Fourth of July!

WINSTON PIES, 11678 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049