Ethical Product Review: Will’s Vegan Store Biker Boots

Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.com

Badass black boots: It’s my personal belief that every lady needs a pair. Put ‘em on when you need an extra boost of confidence or a reminder that, yes, you can do whatever it is you need to do today!

I haven’t had a real good pair of badass black boots in a while, but that changed when I purchased these kick-ass vegan biker boots from Will’s Vegan Store (formerly known as Will’s Vegan Shoes — they’re expanding!). I had actually been eyeing the work boots but didn’t love that the tread was so deep; it seemed a little at odds with the more delicate, slender profile of the work boots. If I’m gonna get a pair of boots with big, deep, treads, I want a similarly badass design to match! So I turned my attention to the biker boots, a style that hadn’t previously been on my radar. With an autumn trip to Estonia and Finland coming up fast, I knew I needed a sturdy pair of boots for city tromping and bog hopping, so I took the plunge and bought a pair.

Truthfully, I was dubious. I have skinny ankles and calves, and I kind of thought my legs would look like little sticks poking up out of the wide openings (hence my initial interest in the narrower work boots). But as soon as I received these suckers and zipped ‘em on, I was in love. Yeah, they opening is a little wide for my legs, but that’s the style. Plus, all the more room for slouchy, cozy socks!

Just as I did for my dock boots, I figured I’d write up a Will’s Vegan Store biker boots review for anyone who may be considering a purchase. Please check out the dock boots post for a little more info on Will’s in general, including why it’s one of my  favorite ethical vegan shoe companies.

Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.comHow do Will’s Vegan Store biker boots fit?

I have a few different styles of Will’s shoes (bought both new and used), all size 39. )For reference, I wear a size 7.5 U.S.) I do find the sizing a little uneven — while my dock boots were snug from day one, the footbed sandals are a little loose and long, unfortunately. The biker boots are somewhere in the middle. The width works fine for my narrow feet, but when I first got them, my heels would sort of lift out of the back because they were a tad large overall. The solution? Add some soft gel insoles. They both provide comfort and take up a little room in the shoe. Doing that (and tightening the buckles) made a huge difference, and they fit perfectly now.

I also tend to wear these with cozy thick socks (like these) for maximum comfort and  warmth. (Note on those socks: I looove them and thought I’d read they were ethically made in the USA, but now I’m not so sure! Sad face.)

How is the quality?

I think Will’s in general are well made, and the biker boots are no exception. I’ve had them for about six months and wear them multiple times a week, and they’re not scratched or showing much wear. I will say that the soles have pulled slightly apart from the shoe proper in a couple small spot, but that hasn’t affected their watertightness. I’ll update if something changes, however!

Are the biker boots comfortable?

After adding a gel insole to perfect the fit, the biker boots are super comfortable! Not that they were problematic to begin with, but insoles make most shoes better. I wore these almost exclusively during my trip to Tallinn, where I was walking 7-10 miles each day, with no issues. I did make sure to break them in first, but even then only got one tiny little blister on my ankle (?!) that hasn’t bothered me since.

How warm are the biker boots?

I’ve worn my boots on and off through this winter, and I’ve never been cold — even though they’re not insulated. If I’m wearing a thin pair of socks, I occasionally double up, but I do that with most of my shoes. :) I wore these for one night during a trip to Montréal last December, and my feet were plenty warm — even though the temperatures dropped to 5˚F that evening!

Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.comAre they waterproof? How sturdy are they?

These are sturdy shoes. Will’s markets them as water-resistant, not waterproof, though I’ve worn them in plenty of yucky conditions (see photo at left!) with no ill effects. Plus, because they have super deep treads, they provide great traction. I’ve worn them in light snow and rain, and they helped me complete a very muddy, very slippery, very steep hike in Austin on New Year’s Eve without falling once.

Are there any downsides to the biker boots?

If you’re planning any sort of maneuver that requires stealth, seek alternate footwear! Here’s why: The biker boots squeak. Not a lot, but noticeably. I don’t quite know why, but I do know that whenever I walk down the hall during an (uncharacteristically) quiet moment at the office, I feel very conspicuous. No big deal when you’re strolling down a busy city street, but not ideal for moments that require silence and/or stealth.


What did I miss? What else do you want to know about these fab vegan biker boots?


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Review of Will's Vegan Store biker boots // govegga.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free shoes from nor compensated in any way for a review. (Although I would happily try another pair to review!) I simply bought the shoes and wanted to share my thoughts in a Will’s Vegan Store shoe review. This post does contain an Amazon affiliate link, however.

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Raaka Unroasted Vegan Chocolate Review

Among Steven’s many excellent qualities is one that makes birthdays and holidays extra fun: He is a terrific gift-giver. He’s the type of person who keeps a running list all year long, adding ideas gleaned from offhand comments or the merest suggestion. His gifts are always thoughtful and frequently generous. For my 25th birthday — a year in which I’d come up with a list of 25 goals to accomplish — he made what was essentially a birthday advent calendar, with one box for each goal. Once I accomplished the goal, I’d open the box to find a trinket to commemorate my success: a sachet of saffron for a cooking-related goal, that sort of thing. For my 30th, he gave me a generous gift certificate to a local photography school so that I could take classes, a nod to my desire to improve my photography and to my desire to focus more on experiences than physical things. Steven derives genuine joy in giving the perfect gift, without expecting the recipient to reciprocate with something equally perfect. (Although I was pretty proud this Christmas when I got him a handmade Slytherin robe, which seemed to delight and surprise him.)

All this is to say that even my stocking is a thrill to open come Christmas morning. This year, along with some other lovely stocking stuffers, Steven included three chocolate bars from Raaka, an ethical chocolatier that produces some truly wonderful vegan chocolate bars. The gift ticked all the boxes for me, a lover of high-quality dark chocolate who tries to support small companies that incorporate transparent, ethical practices in their supply chain. I hadn’t heard of the brand before I received Steven’s gift, but I was glad to learn about them.

Raaka differentiates itself from other chocolatiers by focusing on single-origin unroasted beans and by being truly transparent about their processes. I received three bars, which came packaged in a nice little muslin bag I’ll happily use to stash toiletries during my travels. Here are the bars I tried. Spoiler: I love them all.

Vegan Raaka chocolate bars


Bourbon Cask Aged

Raaka describes this bar as their “tuxedoed sophisticate,” and they’re not wrong. The company barrel-ages their single-origin cacao in bourbon casks, imbuing the chocolate with a deep, rich, complex flavor. Would I have described this chocolate as bourbon-infused had I not read the label? Probably not. Is it still delicious? Yes, it is.

Pink Sea Salt

I am fully here for the trend of sprinkling salt atop an otherwise sweet chocolate! This bar fulfills all my salty-sweet dreams, with a grains of sharp pink salt liberally dashed onto a 71% cacao bar of chocolate. It’s utterly delightful.

Coconut Milk

This is easily the best vegan chocolate I’ve had in a long, long time. It hits a perfect balance between milk and dark chocolate, melting on the tongue like a milk but with the complex flavors of a dark, and very little actual coconut flavor. It’s light and smooth, a creamy delight that goes down easy. I’m exercising restraint and making this bar last as long as I can!


Vegan Raaka chocolate bars

If you can’t tell, I’m officially a Raaka convert. This is quality chocolate prepared with love and respect. I’m not sure that I’d identify it as unroasted if I didn’t know it in advance, but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing right. Plus, the labels are pleasing to look at and the price is comparable with other artisanal chocolate bars (which is admittedly steep). It’s chocolate to be savored, eaten slowly a square at a time. My kind of chocolate.

Raaka has quite a few other flavors, and I’m looking forward to trying them. I love the idea of the cab sauv bar, and they just introduced an oat milk bar (!?!) that sounds really interesting.

Let me know your favorite ethical vegan chocolate brands… if only to give Steven ideas for my March birthday! :D

Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Review: Barking Mad Café in Gaithersburg, Maryland

I’m not usually a burger person. Sure, I’ll order them every so often at veg restaurants if the mood hits, and there’s definitely an uptick in my patty consumption during the summer months, but in general I could take or leave them. When I do take them, I typically opt for a burger that’s more veggie than meaty.

At least that was the case until I tried my new favorite restaurant meal: the Beyond Burger, served with tempeh bacon, sautéed mushrooms, BBQ sauce, and all the veggie fixins on a big ol’ wheat brioche bun.

Beyond Burger at Barking Mad CaféIt might look like your average veggie burger, but oh. my. goodness. It is phenomenal, and I’ve eaten it an embarrassing number of times over the past few months. It’s juicy, sweet-and-savory, and full of so many delicious textures… and it’s served alongside my favorite style of french fries: skin-on, nearly shoestring, with just enough salt.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the restaurant that serves this burger par excellence happens to be located just 10 minutes from our house, and just a couple minutes down the street from my office. The place is called Barking Mad Café, and it boasts an impressive range of vegan options on the lunch and dinner menus. Aside from my beloved burger, plant eaters can also enjoy a soba noodle bowl, a pizza (with mozz, caramelized onions, figs, tempeh bacon, and arugula), a farro salad, a kale salad, or a quinoa salad. I’ll be honest: I’ve only ever ordered the burger. But Steven had the pizza and was impressed, and another friend loves the soba noodle bowl. Plus, Barking Mad has a vegan affogato on the dessert menu, and you can veganize the fried cauliflower appetizer with spicy avocado sauce. (We did try the latter once, and I wasn’t impressed — too oily and not enough flavor.)

Fried Cauliflower at Barking Mad CaféBarking Mad does both sit-down meals and take-out, which is a boon for those of us who live close and prefer to eat while wearing jammies. I’ve only done a sit-down meal once, on my birthday, and found the ambiance and service a bit mystifying. There’s a back bar section, which seemed quite busy, and then a surprisingly massive table section with chrome and hot pink accents and a big window opening onto the kitchen, with the massive brick oven taking center stage. Although the bar was hopping the night we went, the rest of the place was not full by any means, yet the service was surprisingly slow. It took me an age to get my old fashioned (meh), and our food was similarly delayed.

On the plus side, in warm weather you can sit outdoors on a lovely — and large — patio. Barking Mad is situated in a fairly new mixed-use complex, with apartments facing a small retail development. There’s a splash pad, community lawn, and “performance park” in the central shared area, though I’ve personally never seen any “performances” other than dogs straining to have a pee on the artificial turf!

All in all, while the service may be disappointing, the vegan food at Barking Mad is anything but. And the restaurant itself is a great addition to the dismal vegan scene in Gaithersburg. During the warm months, their cold-brew nitro coffee is my occasional morning splurge on the way into work: It’s gorgeously smooth and a perfect, hyper-caffeinated start to the day. Now if only they’d add some vegan options to the brunch menu!

Ethical Product Review: Will’s Vegan Shoes Dock Boots

You can take one of two perspectives when it comes to finding vegan shoes. One, that it’s a frustrating endeavor because you have limited options — and especially limited budget options — and you will likely have to order online, with no chance to check sizing in person. Two, that it’s freeing! Rather than suffering from the paralysis of choice, with literally thousands of options at big-box shoe stores and hundreds of online shopping sites, you have a select few vegan shoe brands from which to choose. You can just put on your blinders, ignore the non-vegan options, and not have to stress out about which of 284 nearly-identical pairs of trendy black Chelsea boots is the “right” one for you.

I’ve decided, unsurprisingly, to take the latter perspective. Once I know that I want cruelty-free vegan shoes that are also made ethically, my options are, frankly, slim. Not many brands meet both those criteria, although I have seen more and more pop up over the last couple years. But one long-time purveyor of ethical vegan shoes has long been on my radar: Will’s Vegan Shoes, AKA Will’s of London. And this brand has a lot going for it.

Will's Vegan Shoes dock boots review // govegga.com

Here’s what makes Will’s Vegan Shoes great:

  • Ethics. All shoes are 100% vegan (and labeled as such!), and the company manufactures them under fair labor conditions in Portugal.
  • A commitment to the environment. Will’s just rolled out a new carbon-neutral delivery process, and they are moving towards using more eco-friendly materials in their actual shoes.
  • Free shipping. Not only do U.S. orders get free shipping from this UK-based company, but you can return or exchange your shoes FOR FREE if the sizing doesn’t work! This is a huge benefit. Shipping shoes across the pond can be expensive, often running between $15 and $20. Knowing you can exchange or return your shoes if they don’t fit is massively comforting. Plus, the shipping is fast — see below for details. (Note: Arguably, shipping shoes back and forth across the ocean is not super eco-friendly, so keep that in mind if you’re the type who likes to online shop just to “try things out” without an intent to keep the product.)
  • Stellar customer service. If you follow Will’s on Instagram or elsewhere, you’ll frequently see Will himself (yes, he’s a real person) responding directly to questions. Reviews confirm this observation: The team is truly invested in keeping customers happy and will do what it takes to get you shoes that fit and that you love.
  • The price. Although you may balk at spending ~$100 for a pair of shoes if you’re used to, say, Payless prices, ethical vegan apparel is not cheap. Yet the prices at Will’s are actually quite affordable compared to similar ethical shoe brands. And the free shipping mentioned above really helps reduce the cost.
  • The shoes themselves! Will’s has a truly impressive range of both women’s and men’s vegan shoes, a rarity in this already small world of ethical vegan shoe brands. Choose from the formal (faux-suede heels) to the casual (biker boots) to the eminently versatile (ballerina flats). I particularly love the more androgynous women’s styles, like the sleek work boots and dapper derbys.

Although Will’s had been on my radar for years, I never really *needed* to buy from them until last fall. At that point, my new commitment to buying ethically produced clothing meant I couldn’t settle for big-box store specials when I wanted a pair of leather-free boots, so I pointed my browser to Will’s with the intent of making my first purchase.

I’d been eyeing the super-snazzy dock boots for a while and finally pulled the trigger. Steven and I were preparing for our vegan cruise to Norway, where I knew we’d spend our shore days doing some (relatively light) hiking. I wanted to have an alternative beyond the vegan Jambu sneakers I was also bringing, and the stylish chestnut dock boots fit the bill. Here’s how my purchase turned out.

Note: I also recently purchased a (gently used) pair of Will’s sneakers on eBay (and got a great deal). They seem to be this style, but in a grey color that’s not in stock at the moment. So although my review here is primarily of the dock boots, I’ll also draw on my experiences with the sneakers for added anecdata!

Will's Vegan Shoes dock boots review // govegga.com

How do Will’s Vegan Shoes fit?

Given that Will’s is a British brand, its sizing doesn’t correspond directly to American sizes, so I had to guess and hope for the best. I usually wear a U.S. 7.5 and opted for a European 39 in the dock boots. I’ve seen a 39 equated to both a U.S. 8 and an 8.5, but it fits me perfectly, so take that as you will. This is true for both the dock boots and the sneakers.

The good news, of course, is that Will’s generous return policy takes some of the stress out of the size conversion. If your shoes don’t fit, you can exchange them at no charge.

How is Will’s Vegan Shoes quality?

Both my dock boots and sneakers seem well-made and thoughtfully designed. Neither pair is remotely flimsy or cheap; and the faux leather on the dock boots is really nice — none of that flaky stuff you find on cheap vegan shoes. I bought the sneakers (gently) used, and they really have no marks on them. I’ve now had the dock boots for about five months and they’re also in great shape, although admittedly I don’t wear them all that regularly. But they certainly didn’t sustain any damage from my Norwegian hiking endeavors!

Are Will’s Vegan Shoes comfortable?

Here’s where my answer gets a little complicated. Yes… ish. I made sure to break in the dock boots before our trip since I knew they might irritate my ankles, and that definitely helped. Neither pair is remotely uncomfortable, and I did not get blisters from them, but I do notice I’m wearing them, if that makes sense. With some shoes, they’re so comfy you feel like you’re just wearing an extension of your own feet. That’s not the case with my Will’s shoes, and I think it’s because the soles are quite flat and very inflexible; I have high arches and prefer soles with a little more shape to them. I’ll probably need to add inserts to both pairs just to make them a little comfier. I also noticed that both pairs of shoes are quite stiff — I think the high-quality materials they use are just a lot sturdier than the cheaper shoes I’m used to!

Where can I buy Will’s Vegan Shoes?

I’d start with their official site for a list of all available styles, the best prices, and that unbeatable free shipping. But I have occasionally seen them at other vegan shoe retailers, although most don’t carry every style. If you are in the UK, I believe some brick-and-mortar shops stock them as well. There are even some styles on Amazon, but I would exercise caution there — it’s unclear who’s actually selling them. Finally, check out eBay — like I mentioned, I got my sneakers there and got a great deal!

Where can I find other Will’s Vegan Shoes reviews?

Other than the short reviews on each product page on the official site, truly informative and comprehensive reviews are sparse. Mihl of Seitan is my Motor has a review of three separate styles, which I found quite helpful when considering my purchase, and The Spooky Vegan reviewed two styles here. Vegan Miam has a great review of both the desert boots and work boots, and it includes an interview with Will himself.  I also just found this “test” of the brand over at Gentleman Buddha, which includes five separate pairs.

The lack of plentiful comprehensive reviews is one reason I decided to write my own. If you’re going to invest in a quality vegan product, you should be able to read other folks’ experiences! I hope this is helpful to other potential Will’s customers. :)

Would I buy Will’s Vegan Shoes again?

Yes, definitely! The Will’s Vegan Shoes dock boots are beautiful, well-made, ethical footwear, as are the sneakers. I think I just need to figure out how to make the flat soles work for my feet! I’ve got my eye on a few other styles as well, and I’ll continue to monitor eBay for more affordable gently used pairs.

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Will's Vegan Shoes Dock Boots Review // govegga.com

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free shoes from Will’s nor compensated in any way for a review. (Although I would happily try another pair to review!) I simply bought the shoes and wanted to share my thoughts in a Will’s of London shoe review.

Ethical Product Review: Oka-B Taylor Flat Review

I am not exactly a shoe fiend. Sure, I like shoes, I admire different styles, I enjoy wearing everything from cute heels to kick-ass boots, but I’m not the type of person who gets buried under an avalanche of footwear when opening her closet. I prefer to keep things minimal and to identify gaps in my footwear wardrobe before buying another pair. My desire to purchase only ethically made, cruelty-free, vegan footwear* certainly helps; there are fewer options that fit those criteria, especially affordable ones.

So when I realized I was sorely lacking in work-appropriate shoes for summer, the search for a pair of flats commenced. I have very few light-colored shoes (beige or tan), so I focused my search on that color.

Oka-B Taylor flats in blush. Image copyright Oka-B.

Oka-B Taylor flats in blush. Image copyright Oka-B.

Eventually I settled on the Taylor ballet flats by Oka-B, and here’s why. Oka-B is a woman-owned company that produces affordable shoes in the United States and has a real focus on sustainability. What I really love is that they’re recyclable: You can send your worn-out Oka-B shoes back to their factory, where the company will recycle them and use the material in new products. This sort of closed-loop production really gets me excited. What makes this possible is that the shoes are made of a patented plastic blend. Yes, I know — plastic shoes. I realize that for many folks, this might put you off if you try to avoid plastic altogether or if you’re worried about sweat. I am #blessed with feet that are never particularly sweaty, so I wasn’t too worried about any stink. And the plastic does have an upside: You can wash these babies in the sink or in the dishwasher with water and soap.

Although there are Oka-B reviews (and some Taylor flat reviews more specifically) floating around the internet, none are particularly comprehensive. So I ordered the Taylor flats in blush and tried them for myself. Here’s my experience.

How do Oka-B Taylor flats fit?

The best I can say is, “They fit OK.” Unfortunately, Oka-B does not offer half sizes. This is a real bummer for those of us whose feet fall smack-dab between two whole sizes! I typically wear a 7.5, so first I ordered a 7. I’d read that the shoes can sometimes stretch, and I have narrow feet, so that seemed like a safe bet.

It was not a safe bet. I should not have taken that bet. Oh man. The first time I wore these all day long, I was in pain by 5:00. They squeezed, they pinched, and I was in agony. Instead of stretching, they seemed to contract, while my feet swelled in response. The result was… not good. That night, I gave the pair a thorough cleaning and immediately exchanged them for an 8.

Oka-B Taylor flatsAhh, [relative] bliss. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, the 8s are just a smidge too big for my feet, just a little bit too loose. They’re serviceable, though, so I kept this pair. But when I’m walking downhill they sometimes slip off my heels, and overall they just don’t feel perfect.

If Oka-B would only offer half sizes, this would not be an issue. I hope they consider doing so in the future!

How comfortable are Oka-B Taylor flats?

My experience with the Taylors has been mixed, even aside from the sizing issue. Although the site’s ad copy touts “soothing massage beads” and “premium arch support,” anyone with high arches (me!) will unfortunately not notice these perks. My arches sit well above the massage beads, although they do look comfortable. To be clear, though, these shoes are definitely more comfortable than cheaper ballet flats I’ve owned in the past, the ones with totally flat footbeds and no cushioning to speak of.

Unfortunately, I also experience toe pain with these shoes. Although these flats are somewhat flexible, the tops of the shoes dig into the bone of my right big toe. Though the pain isn’t acute, after a full day of wear, I’m definitely ready to take my shoes off. This seems to be a very specific problem though; if you read the reviews for the Taylor, many people find them absolutely comfortable.

One aspect I do like is the sole: These shoes have nice grippy soles; no slipping here!

Are Oka-B Taylor flats a good value?

With a list price of $40 (less on Amazon), I’d say the Taylors are a great value for made-in-the-USA vegan shoes! They come in a ton of colors, so if you find a size that fits, you could get a few pairs.

Oka-B Taylor flats

Would I buy them again?

Honestly, no. The size is not perfect and my stupid toe anatomy means these are comfortable only up to a point. (A day in the office is fine; two days in a row, not so much. And I would not walk long distances in them.) I’m disappointed; I’d hoped they’d fit well so I could buy a second, more colorful pair at some point.

I might experiment with another Oka-B style. I think I might be able to get away with a 7 in the open-toed wedges, for example.

Would I recommend the Taylor flats?

I recommend at least giving them a try. Thousands of positive reviews should count for something, and perhaps you can find a size that fits. (Want to try them for yourself? Get $10 off your first Oka-B order using this link!)

Note that Oka-B has a sister company, Okabashi, that makes casual sandals; I have a three-year-old pair that’s still going strong. So the quality seems good! (Get $5 off your first purchase at Okabashi using this link!)

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All in all, I’m glad I tried the Taylor flats, even if they weren’t a perfect fit for me. Let me know if you’ve tried them or other Oka-B styles!

*I’m not perfect. Desperate for shoes to match a specific dress for a wedding, I’ve purchased heels that were likely not made ethically. Vegan, yes, but not necessarily cruelty-free if you consider unfair working conditions a form of cruelty (and I do).

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Oka-B Taylor flats: an ethical shoe review on govegga.com~~~

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free shoes from Oka-B nor compensated in any way for a review. I simply bought the shoes and wanted to share my thoughts in an Oka-B shoe review. This post does contain affiliate links, which come at no additional cost to you.

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Treat Yourself to Vegan Maple Liqueur

VeganMoFo 2016 graphic

Week One: Treat Yourself (and others)!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love maple syrup. Maple is one of my absolute favorite flavors; it balances an undeniable sweetness with a caramel-y complexity you don’t find in straight-up sugar. Which is why I was delighted when Steven gifted me a bottle of this maple liqueur last Christmas. (He knows me so well!) It’s handmade in Vermont, which — as far as I, a born and bred New Englander, am concerned — is the best place in the world for maple syrup. (Canada? Eh, where’s that?)

Maple liqueur // govegga.com

When I brought this bottle home, visions of complicated maple-y cocktails danced in my head… and then I tasted it, and since then, I’ve pretty much solely enjoyed it straight. Unlike some cheaper liqueurs, this is the real deal. Rather than employing artificial flavors to approximate maple, this beautiful beverage relies on pure maple syrup. It’s smooth, rich, and basically an ideal liqueur for a maple-lover. I treat it as a digestif, enjoying it after a meal, but its sweetness and lack of bitter herbs makes it more like a sweet dessert drink. And it looks so beautiful in these antique aperitif glasses we got from Steven’s mom.

Maple liqueur // govegga.com

Sometimes I’ll enjoy it over ice; the cold really brings out this liqueur’s flavor. And I’ve been known to add it to hot chocolate (see: here). But really, straight-up is where it’s at.

And that is why, on this first Friday of Vegan MoFo, I’m treating myself to a little maple tipple. Drink up!

How would you enjoy maple liqueur?

Review, Interview, and Giveaway: A Better Batch

Picture this: You’re sitting in a conference room after a daily hour-long meeting ends, catching up on a few emails and chatting with a couple coworkers. In walks another coworker, Sarah.

“Hey, do you guys want a brownie?” Sarah asks.

Something to note about Sarah: She and her husband Hanes run a vegan baking company.

With that in mind, is your answer going to be anything but a resounding YES? I think not.

You proceed to try the fudgiest, chewiest brownie you’ve had in ages. You tell Sarah how amazing it is.

“Oh, yeah? This was Hanes’ first attempt at a brownie!” she says. “Thanks so much for the feedback! We’re hoping to add it to the line soon.”

Jaw. Drop.

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One of the little perks of my job is getting to meet people like Sarah and Hanes, entrepreneurs who offer quality cruelty-free products to the world. Their company, A Better Batch, sells ready-to-bake vegan cookie dough in three delectable flavors, and they occasionally have fully baked products for sale at events like vegfests. If you’re a VegNews reader, you might’ve seen A Better Batch reviewed in the “Cookie Dough Taste Test” in the April 2016 issue! (Read on for a chance to try them yourself!)

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

Although A Better Batch is based in Maryland, their cookies are available to anyone in the United States thanks to their unique business model. ABB sends you frozen cookie dough that you can bake in your own kitchen. By shipping the dough quickly and packaging it with dry ice, Hanes and Sarah make sure that it will arrive still frozen and ready to bake.

Right now, ABB offers three flavors: mocha oatmeal, lemon poppy seed, and classic chocolate chip. I can say with no reservations that their Lemon Poppy Seed cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. Bursting with bright lemon flavor, they’re absolutely fabulous. Hanes and Sarah have managed to distill this flavor combination into a perfectly chewy, moist cookie that’s not to be missed. Mocha oatmeal is probably my second favorite — it’s another beautiful cookie, bursting with chocolatey goodness. Chocolate chip comes last, but not because of any defect — it’s a darn good classic cookie that anyone would enjoy.

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

But good-tasting cookies aren’t all that ABB offers. What sets A Better Batch apart from its competition is Hanes’ and Sarah’s dedication to providing the best possible products for people, the animals, and the environment. Here’s how:

  • Hanes and Sarah carefully source their ingredients, using fair-trade and organic options whenever possible. And by virtue of being vegan, these cookies are free of cholesterol.
  • Everything is vegan — no animals harmed here!
  • The cookies are shipped in biodegradable packaging instead of styrofoam containers, which we all know are horrible for the planet. And the individual wrappers are recyclable.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying ABB’s cookies a few times, but I wanted to know a little more about their business. So I reached out to Hanes, and he graciously answered all my questions and sent me a box of cookies to sample. Read on for his thoughts!

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

 

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Kelly: Let me start by saying how much I LOVE your lemon poppy seed cookies — they’re the best! Right now, you only have them and two other flavors available (chocolate chip and mocha oatmeal). I like that you have a few flavors that you do really, really well, but are you planning to expand your products in the future?  
Hanes: I’m glad to hear you love the Lemon Poppy Seed cookies! Yes, we do have plans to add more flavors and possibly different products such as brownies in the future. In fact, we just re-released a Peanut Butter cookie that we featured back in August for a limited time; it was a crowd favorite, so we brought it back!

K: Why vegan cookies? How did you get started?
H: My passion for baking started when I was growing up. I loved helping my Mom in the kitchen, and this carried over into adulthood. On the weekends I would get in the kitchen and make biscuits, cakes, cookies, pancakes etc. from scratch. I enjoyed it and found it to be a great creative outlet for me. About 9 years ago, my wife stumbled upon some information online about factory farms and how we treat animals in the current agricultural system. It was pretty shocking and we were completely ignorant to it before that. She started reading more about the subject and sharing a lot of the practices and statistics with me. Over the following few years we both continued to decrease our consumption of animal products and eventually went vegan.

This created a new challenge for me: how do I continue to bake and enjoy a lot of the comfort foods that I love making so much without animal products like butter and eggs? I got in the kitchen and got to work. I tried lots and lots of different recipes and found that I love vegan baking! I find that the vegan baked goods taste even better than the traditional counterparts, and they’re certainly better for animals, the environment, and even our health. I received rave reviews for my vegan cookies. They were being requested anytime we would go to friends’ houses or events. A couple of years ago, I started A Better Batch to make them available to people seeking amazing plant-based desserts everywhere.

K: What makes your batches better, i.e., what distinguishes your cookies from similar brands? 
H: At A Better Batch, we work hard to make sure that our cookies are the best vegan cookies on the market — not only in flavor but also in all aspects of our decision making. We are constantly seeking the best ingredients, which to us means using organic, GMO-free, and socially responsible products. For example, the coffee we use in our Mocha Oatmeal flavor is made by Brewing Good Coffee Company which is organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, and UTZ certified (a sustainable farming certification that covers farming practices, environmental impact, and social and living conditions). Also, their company donates a portion of proceeds to animal charities each month — how great is that! We refuse to use palm oil because of the devastating impact its production has on orangutan habitat. Our sugar, vanilla, and salt are all fair trade. Our boxes are made of 100% recycled material, and we don’t use Styrofoam in our shipping boxes; instead, we use an eco-friendly, biodegradable insulation. We take the taste of our cookies seriously, and we also take caring for the environment and animals seriously.

K: What’s the process like for developing new products? How long does it take?
H: It usually starts with me wanting a particular flavor and then I try and think about how that would look. Then I get in the kitchen and try to make it happen, which really is the fun part, as I get to eat lots and lots of test cookies. Sometimes it’s a very quick process, as with my Peanut Butter cookies (it was the very first attempt that I ended up going with!). Other times, it takes much longer. I’m currently working on a refrigerated cookie dough that you could either just eat with a spoon or bake; it has taken over 3 dozen attempts so far.

K: If you could select any flavor cookie to magically have developed and ready for production, what would it be? 
H: Salted Caramel! This is a cookie I have worked on before and plan to return to. It has proven tricky. I would like a nice soft sugar cookie that has little bites of gooey caramel with a slight sprinkling of sea salt on top to bring it all home. I’m a huge huge caramel fan!

K: I noticed that all your packaging is eco-friendly — how is that tied to your business as a whole? Does that ethic inform everything you do?
H: We want to be the best vegan goodie, not only in flavor and quality, but also in all the little decisions in between such as the packaging.  It’s important for us to make our products the very best way we can and that includes taking our impact on the environment into consideration.

K: Are you a full-time cookie baker, or do you have a(nother) day job?
H: I work during the week as an accountant. A Better Batch is my passion project, which is what I work on in the evenings and on the weekend. It does create a busy schedule sometimes, but the cookie business doesn’t really feel like work!

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I really appreciate how much thought Hanes put into his answers — and I’m dreaming of the day those salted caramel cookies become a reality! (Not to mention those brownies I tried a few months ago.)

Happily, A Better Batch generously offered to share the vegan goodness with one reader. Just visit the ABB website and let me know in a comment which flavor you want to try! One lucky winner will receive a box of all three flavors (worth about $58 including shipping). Sorry, my international friends — U.S. readers only this time! I’ll randomly select a winner at 5:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

If you don’t win but want to try these yummy cookies anyway, just sign up for the ABB newsletter to receive 15% off your first order. You can also check out ABB on Facebook and Twitter.

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*Disclaimer: After tasting their cookies on a few occasions throughout the past year, I reached out to A Better Batch and asked if they’d like to be profiled here. Although they did provide me with some cookies to taste for this post, all opinions are 100% my own. I enjoy supporting local, vegan-owned businesses and will never promote a company I don’t believe in just for the sake of some free samples.

All photos in this post courtesy Rebekah Collinsworth.

Food Monster: A New App from One Green Planet

If you’re a regular over at One Green Planet, you might have seen some of my recipes published in their Recipe Monster section. And if you’re not a regular, you should check it out! OGP is a fantastic resource for all things animal- and eco-friendly, from tips on living consciously to sweet animal stories to brighten your day.

Recently, my contact over at OGP let me know about a brand-new iPhone app they’re launching on Earth Day (April 22) and asked if I wanted to try it early. Um, yes please! I’d just gone through the arduous task of making space on my phone, so I figured I might as well fill up that space with an all-vegan recipe app. Read on for my thoughts!

Food Monster app opening screen

When you first open the Food Monster app, you’re treated to a stunning photo overlaid with the OGP logo. (See screenshot above.) I like the simplicity of that opening shot (which varies each time you open the app), but I wish it stayed there longer and that you could access a menu from that open screen. Instead, the app quickly jumps you right into the main page, and not quite seamlessly — there’s a little lag, and the image gets stuck for a second.

Once you’re into the app proper, here’s what you can do:

  • Review the latest recipes from the home screen. Tapping a recipe brings you to a screen with more info, including the ingredients, prep steps, and even comments for that particular recipe. You can also add the recipe to your favorites or send it to someone using the standard iOS sharing options.
  • Access “features,” which are OGP’s Buzzfeed-style lists (e.g., 15 Ooey-Gooey Caramel Recipes), and then follow links to the recipes listed in those features.
  • Search for recipes by ingredient, name, or other keywords. There’s also the option to search within your bookmarked recipes only, which is handy if you know you saved something and want to find it quickly.
  • Browse recipes in a variety of ways, including by season, meal, ingredient, or diet (e.g., high-protein, gluten-free).
  • Peruse collections of recipes, like “American Fusion” and “Single Serve.”
  • Stay on top of what’s hot with easy access to popular themes and recipes that are currently going viral.
  • Bookmark your favorite recipes to use later.

Food Monster app collections

What I like:

  • The integration with OGP’s lists (aka the features). The OGP editorial team must have it pretty good — they get to compile lists of mouth-watering recipes and share them with hungry vegans! I always enjoy their lists and I like that they’re included in the app so that users have a different way to access content (rather than just searching or browsing recently added recipes).
  • The multiple ways of finding content. I appreciate that you can browse pre-made collections (see screenshot above) or narrow down your search using keywords.
  • That the collections aren’t just simply based on type of meal or ingredient — they’re more creative than that. Having pre-made lists of budget-friendly recipes or quick recipes is really handy.

What I don’t like:

  • In the recipes themselves, fully half the screen is taken up by the bottom of the featured photo, the author’s name, recipe tags, and tabs for ingredients, preparation, discussion, and similar collections. So you’re losing half the screen real estate for what’s arguably the most important feature of this app — reading the recipe itself! When I’m cooking, nothing is more annoying than needing to scroll down after every little step. I’d prefer to see the entire recipe on my screen, or at least most of it. (See first screenshot in the gallery above.)
  • The way the menu bar at the top requires you to manually scroll to see the different links (i.e., on the homepage, the word “Features” is cut off in the default view). It’s not intuitive to have to manually scroll to the right — it feels like the app was designed as a recreation of the desktop site, which is not the best way to design for mobile. (See second screenshot in the gallery above.)
  • The animations are in general a little clunky — they often lag or stick a little bit, which detracts from the overall user experience.
  • The fact that you can’t access the home screen by tapping the Food Monster logo at the top — that’s how I intuitively want to do it, but it doesn’t work. Instead you have to tap the hamburger button, which opens a menu on the left side, and tap Home from there.
  • Within a recipe, there’s an option to favorite the recipe with a simple heart icon or by tapping a bookmark icon, which opens a menu and lets you categorize it by meal or diet right then and there. Having two ways to save a recipe seems unnecessarily confusing.

My overall opinion is that this app was generally well-thought-out, but it has some implementation issues. The design mixes very modern, clean images (i.e., the opening screen) with a slightly dated design on the interior screens. I can tell that the developers and UI team wanted to mimic the look and feel of the OGP website, but I’m not convinced it fully works on mobile. The laggy animations are distracting, and it’s a little buggy — I had trouble getting links to work a few times.

Is it worth $19.99? I don’t think so. Few apps are; twenty bucks is super steep and is not at all in line with market prices. All the content on Food Monster is available (for free!) on OGP’s website, making it difficult to justify the high price tag.

That said, I’m looking forward to using it more thoroughly over the next few months to get a better sense for how well it works when I’m in the kitchen. In the meantime, I’m saving all sorts of delicious-looking recipes for later use!

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The Food Monster app will be officially released on 4/22, but you can purchase and download it early using this link. If you do, let me know what you think!

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*Disclaimer: I was given a free one-year subscription to the app (valued at $19.99), but all opinions are thoroughly my own.