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.

How to Make Vegan Minestrone: Easy and Pantry-Friendly!

A quiet sort of chaos reigns in my household these days. We’ve been fostering a super sweet hound mix named Margaret for four (!) months, and she’s got all sorts of fun little health issues that keep cropping up. The latest? Polyps in both ears, requiring an expensive, complex surgery. As the rescue tries to find a surgeon who’ll offer a discount, they’re fundraising to mitigate the (substantial!) cost of the surgery. (Margaret isn’t in pain, by the way, but the polyps are causing chronic ear infections and could become malignant. She is truly the gentlest, sweetest little girl, though, and I hope an adopter steps up soon.)

For the last two weeks, we’ve also been dealing with a (human) health crisis on Steven’s side of the family. The details aren’t mine to share, but we (mostly Steven!) have been making lots of long trips to the hospital and dealing with the uncertainty of a potentially serious affliction. It’s been draining and scary and exhausting.

And on top of all that, our beloved Prius started making some seriously odd noises — like a prop plane taking off. Our mechanic thinks it’s caused by low tire treads and hasn’t been able to find anything more serious, but as someone who deals with car-related anxiety, the noises leave me discomfited.

Basically, we’ve got a lot of ongoing, unresolved issues. For two chronic worriers prone to anxiety, it’s… stressful.

In times like these, healthy eating tends to fall by the wayside, even for the best of us. We haven’t meal-planned in weeks, grocery trips have taken a backseat to hospital trips, and we’ve been relying on a combination of leftovers, whatever we can scrounge (hey-o, random pot of black-eyed peas, kale, and pizza sauce!), and the occasional dinner shared by our super thoughtful friends who happen to be vegan and live just down the street. Things are finally getting back to normal, but we’re not quite back in our regular meal-planning mode yet.

Collard leaves from the gardenI have managed to make one solid meal in the past couple weeks, though: minestrone. A steaming hot, big ol’ pot of veggie-laden soup, perfect for delivering a dose of the nutrients we’re sorely lacking. I put it together with all sorts of scraps found in the fridge — half a jar of canned tomato sauce from god knows when, baby carrots, a jar of roasted red peppers, some sad little garlic cloves beginning to shrivel and sprout. I didn’t have celery, so I forewent the traditional mirepoix base. I added some little collard leaves picked from the garden; thank goodness for cold-hardy vegetables! Green beans and broccoli — the only fresh veggies in the fridge — went into the pot, along with a small can of diced tomatoes and a big can of cannellini beans. A liberal dusting of herbs, plenty of nooch, and some veggie bouillon rounded out the flavors, and elbow macaroni provided the pasta component. A nice long simmer while Steven drove home from his hospital visit helped meld all the flavors, and we sat down to big bowls of surprisingly delicious soup two Sundays back. A brief moment to catch our breaths, and much appreciated.

So, today, in the style of my template for making lentil soup, a template for making minestrone with whatever you’ve got on hand. Start with these five tips for homemade minestrone, and then read on for more detailed instructions

Cook your pasta separately.

My texture issues might be speaking here, but who wants to eat leftover soup laden with soggy, bloated pasta? Avoid that nastiness by cooking your pasta separately (in bulk) and adding individual portions to each serving of minestrone.

Embrace liberalism (with your seasonings).

Do not skimp on the herbs! Big scoops of dried basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme make all the difference. I’d opt for at least one teaspoon of each herb per 3-4 cups of liquid, but don’t sweat the measurements.

Say yes to yeast.

A big scoop of nutritional yeast adds a funky kick you’d get from parmesan in a non-vegan minestrone. Don’t skip it!

Get creative with your veggies.

Do not feel beholden to traditional minestrone recipes that “suggest” a very particular blend of vegetables! Instead, feel free to add whatever’s in your fridge or freezer. Aim for a blend of veggies with different sizes and shapes to keep things interesting.

Take your time.

Tempting thought you might find it to dig in to your minestrone as soon as you’ve dumped all the ingredients in the pot, give it some time to rest! Simmer your soup for at least an hour to build and deepen your flavors. (If you’re using any veggies that are prone to sogginess, feel free to add them closer to serving time.)

Vegan minestrone soup // govegga.com
One-Pot Vegan Minestrone

Serves 4-6

The basics

  • 2 T olive oil (you can use more if you prefer, or even just water-sauté the veggies if you want to avoid added oil)
  • Diced onion, carrot, and celery (the amounts don’t really matter, but aim for about 1/2 cup of each)
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • A small shake red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3-4 cups vegetable broth (I like Better than Bouillon)
  • 14 ounces diced canned tomatoes (if using whole, smash them up a bit)
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes (optional but recommended; use 8 ounces tomato sauce and a little extra broth in a pinch)
  • 14 ounces cannellini beans (or other white beans)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 ounces small pasta, like ditalini or elbows

The veggies (choose 2-3)

  • 1/2 to 1 cup green beans, ends trimmed and sliced into 3/4″ inch pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 cup small broccoli florets
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
  • Additional 1/2 cup sliced carrots
  • 2 cups greens, roughly chopped (kale, collards, spinach)
Method

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium. When it begins to shimmer, add the mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) and garlic. Heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing burns, until the onion is translucent.

Add your spices and give everything a good stir, then add all remaining ingredients except pasta. Bring everything to a boil, give it a good stir, and then turn it down to low. Let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the soup is simmering, cook your pasta according to the package’s instructions, then set aside.

After about 45 minutes, check to ensure that all veggies are nice and tender. Season with salt, pepper, and more nutritional yeast to taste. Serve piping hot, with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cooked pasta per bowl. Top with additional nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan as desired.

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How to make vegan minestrone soup // govegga.com
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Vegan Afternoon Tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, Canada

I’ve finally achieved a dearly held dream: enjoying a full vegan afternoon tea!

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaFor years I’ve read fellow vegan blogger Jenny’s accounts of the vegan afternoon teas she’s enjoyed all over the world (okay, mostly the UK) and wistfully wished for a tea of mine own. I’ve salivated over the savories and pined over the pastries, dreaming of a day when I’d get three tiers of treats all to myself.

My chance nearly came this past spring. For my birthday, Steven’s mom very sweetly gifted me (and Steven!) passes to enjoy a special vegan afternoon tea being offered at a tea shop in Ellicott City, a nearby historic mill town. The shop doesn’t typically offer vegan snacks but was partnering with a local vegan society for a one-off event, and I was quite excited to attend. Then the owner had an emergency in the family and had to reschedule the event, understandably. Before she could reschedule, climate change took its toll: A series of horrific floods swept through Ellicott City, and the tea shop flooded and had to close, likely permanently. Sad for me, but truly tragic for the town. My afternoon tea dreams were on hold.

And then Steven and I booked a winter trip to Montréal. I’d been itching for a December trip to somewhere in Europe where we could visit Christmas markets, but it wasn’t in the cards this year. A long weekend in Montréal was a more than passable substitute, and when a search for “vegan afternoon tea in Montréal” led me to discover that sweet tea shop Le Parloir offered a vegan afternoon tea, I was sold. I made a reservation and counted down the days till three tiers of treats would be mine.

We’d booked our afternoon tea for 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday and found the tea shop about half full when we arrived. After being seated, we waited about five or so minutes before getting the menu and a run-down of how to order, and that’s pretty indicative of the overall pace at Le Parloir: relaxed! This is the time to chill out, get cozy, and while away a few hours. (We were glad to escape from the biting cold outdoors; the temperature hovered around 5˚F on that day!)

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaWhile you can order vegan a la carte options, we went straight for the full three-course vegan afternoon tea, served on (yess!) a three-tier cake stand. Priced around $25 Canadian, it was a bargain thanks to the favorable exchange rate for us Americans. (How rare it is I get to say that…!) Steven opted for a black chai blend, while I chose a jasmine green tea. Our piping hot iron pots arrived in short order, complete with hourglasses to time the steepage. Steven enjoyed his chai; my jasmine wasn’t quite as flavorful as I prefer, but still fine. We sipped our teas and did some covert people-watching while waiting for our trays. Interestingly, of the three other pairs of diners present during our meal, at least two people ordered the vegan tea, and one ordered a vegetarian spread. :)

A woman who I assume to be the shop owner delivered the vegan tray to a lady sitting behind us, explaining each dish, but we unfortunately didn’t get the full run-down when the waitress came with our cake stands a bit later. No matter; the food didn’t really require much explanation.

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaFor the savories, we enjoyed five tidbits: a savory tart with walnut-mushroom pâté, a slice of toasty bread with beetroot hummus and radish slices, a (heart-shaped!) open-faced cucumber-cream cheese sandwich, two egg-salad finger sandwiches, and — my favorite — two tangy, mustard-y, pickle-laden sandwich triangles. I’m not sure exactly what the filling was on those latter two sandwiches; I’d guess it might’ve been chickpea-based, but it was really tasty, especially served on a soft, nutty wheat bread.

We slowly munched our way through the savories before moving on to the middle tray: the scone course! We received one towering scone apiece, and a good ‘un it was. Flaky, nice and tall, just barely sweet, with a tender crumb. Scone perfection, just about. The scones came with a small pot of blueberry compote, which I found just a tad too sweet. (A bit of cream would have helped cut through the sugar!) The tray also included a cute little pot of panna cotta, the only misstep of our entire afternoon tea. I think this dish relied on agar to thicken it — too much agar. It was basically a solid, flavorless white block — not terribly appetizing. I dutifully dug through mine to discover an absolutely perfect mango-passionfruit coulis at the bottom, a tangy-sweet sauce that paired really nicely with the toasted coconut flakes sprinkled atop the panna cotta. This would’ve been really lovely if the middle layer were a softer vanilla pudding!

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaAt last we reached the dessert plate. Stomachs straining, we indulged in three treats: a tiny vanilla cupcake with almost painfully rich and thick frosting, a sweet little berry mousse tart topped with fresh berries, and a few candied orange jelly slices coated in rich dark chocolate. I could take or leave the cupcake, but not through any fault of its own; I’m just ambivalent about cupcakes in general these days. The other two sweets were lovely, and the dark chocolate oranges made for a wonderful last bite. I was pleased to pace myself enough to finish everything — it was a lot of food, all told!

I’m so glad we were able to make it to Le Parloir to enjoy a vegan afternoon tea in Montréal! I enjoyed the whole experience, from the kitschy-cute décor to the slow pace to the tasty little nibbles we enjoyed. And it’s fair to say that my appetite for afternoon tea will only increase now that I’ve had my first taste!

IF YOU GO

  • You don’t need to make a reservation at Le Parloir, but if you’re going on the weekend, you might want to do so just in case — they sometimes host bridal and baby showers, which can take up a large portion of the tea shop. You can call or send a Facebook message to make a reservation.
  • You don’t need to reserve a vegan tea in advance, but when I messaged the owner to make my reservation, she said it’s helpful for them to know in advance if multiple people will be ordering vegan teas. So you might as well specify when you make your reservation!
  • Take your time! Of the three pairs of diners who were there when we arrived, two were still there when we left.

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Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, Canada // govegga.com

5 Caffeine-Free, Alcohol-Free Hot Drinks to Keep You Cozy

It’s here: the end of daylight savings time. Goodbye, drives home from work in the slanting golden rays of a sublime autumnal sunset; hello, evenings where the transition from work to home happens under cover of darkness.

For those who rouse themselves early, the changeover at least provides a little more light in the mornings. But for dedicated sleepers like me who see few dawns and can find the snooze button without opening an eye, the benefit goes unnoticed.

And so, on these darker evenings, I find myself turning to all things comfy and cozy and hygge, to sweatpants and hot mugs of something steaming: a bracing cup of English breakfast tea, served black and unsweetened, bitter and tannic on the tongue. Carafes of coffee made strong and shared, poured out still steaming. Hot buttered rum so rich your belly aches, decadent hot chocolate thick as liquid fudge… the list goes on.

But what to sip late at night when the merest milliliter of caffeine would spell disaster for my sleep schedule? What to enjoy when a sensitive tum rejects anything a bit boozy?

The question came to me last weekend when I wanted something un-caffeinated to sip but wasn’t satisfied with the standard mug of green or chamomile tea. Oh, I thought. I should write a blog post about that. So, here we are: Five ways to satisfy your craving for something hot without resorting to caffeine or alcohol.

Hot Molasses Mug

1. Hot Molasses Mug

Filling and iron-rich and shockingly satisfying, with an almost salty note that you can temper with a little extra liquid sweetener, should the mood strike. (Maple syrup and agave nectar both work fine.) Personalize your molasses mug with spices that speak to your soul; ginger is an obvious choice, but go wild and see what works! (And let me know what concoctions you like best!)

Feeling boozy? Try this spiked maple-molasses mug for a little extra kick.

2. Golden Milk

While I’m sure many of you are familiar with this turmeric-infused hot beverage, the uninitiated may (rightfully!) wonder why anyone would want to drink something flavored primarily of a golden root more frequently used in curries and other savory delights. The most common answer peddled by many food bloggers will almost certain include the following phrases: superfood! anti-inflammatory! health benefits!

Well, dear reader, I am not that food blogger. As my go-to source for Real Science states, “…the scientific evidence for turmeric is insufficient to incorporate it into medical practice. As with so many supplements, the hype has gone way beyond the actual evidence. There are some promising hints that it may be useful, but there are plenty of promising hints that lots of other things “may” be useful too.”

So, instead, drink golden milk for the simple reason that it tastes good. This recipe from Minimalist Baker is a great one to start with, though you can just as easily make it up as you go, flavoring your golden elixir to meet your personal preferences.

3. Spiced Apple Cider

No recipe for this one because it doesn’t need it! Simply heat your favorite apple cider (I like a high-quality, fresh-pressed one from the farmers market) with a few spices and enjoy. If you’re short on time, nuke it in the microwave and then add a cinnamon stick for flavor and festivity. If you’ve got a few extra minutes, heat it on the stove in a small pot with mulling spices (I like cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, and ginger, but you can go wild). Strain and enjoy!

Feeling boozy? Add a shot of your favorite bourbon or whiskey!

Hot pumpkin molasses mug

4. Hot Pumpkin-Molasses Mug

Another take on my molasses mug, this one incorporates pumpkin for an even more seasonally appropriate hot drink! Swap the cinnamon and nutmeg for your favorite pumpkin pie spice mix to make it even easier (and even more delicious).

5. Hot Pumpkin Mug

Dubious about sipping on a molasses-infused beverage? Go simple with Kathy’s hot pumpkin mug. This bright orange hot bevvy is the perfect choice for you hardcore pumpkin lovers, and the cheerful, sunny color is sure to brighten up those dark winter nights.

Bonus!

Though I haven’t tried it myself, this caffeine-free hot carob milk could hit the spot when you want something along the lines of hot chocolate but don’t fancy the idea of a sleepless night.

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I hope this list helps you find a caffeine-free, booze-free beverage to warm your hands (and heart?!) as winter descends. For added fun and deliciousness, top your drink of choice with any of the many (!) vegan whipped creams that now crowd supermarket shelves. (Well, you may want to avoid whipped cream if your drink of choice is hot cider.) And let me know which other hot caffeine-free, alcohol-free vegan beverages I’ve missed!

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Five caffeine-free, alcohol-free hot vegan drinks to keep you cozy // govegga.com

The Two Leaf-Free Easy Vegan Salads I’m Loving this Summer

I say this every year, but: I can’t get enough summer produce. Warm tomatoes right off the vine, crisp green beans with a satisfying snap, juicy peaches and nectarines and berries… whether it comes from my local farmers market or my own backyard, summer produce is a treat to be savored.

Cherry tomatoes from the garden in a blue basket

Our farmers market is tiny. But among the three produce vendors, the two bakery stalls (including one with vegan cookies!), the brewer, the vintner, and the coffee roaster, it gets the job done. (We won’t mention the butcher’s stall. I try not to look at it.) The first two summers after we moved into our house, I had a sweet Saturday morning routine of getting up and walking to the market. It’s less than a mile away, so even during the hottest and most humid of summer days, it was manageable. Sometimes I’d treat myself to a cookie and an iced coffee (back when Brewing Good exhibited at the market). This summer, the routine has changed a bit — I visit a hospice patient every Saturday morning, so I just stop by the market on my drive home — but the joy I get in wandering the stalls and watching the offerings change with the season hasn’t diminished.

Nor, of course, has my sheer pleasure in devouring fresh produce. It’s been a hot, hot summer, so Steven and I have enjoyed a fair few stove- and oven-free meals. Simple salads were a staple side dish earlier in the season, but now that lettuce isn’t as readily available from our market vendors, we’ve switched to some lettuce-free summer salads that still make use of all that juicy produce. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed.

Panzanella

Bread in salad: A genius pairing, or the most genius pairing? Plenty of cultures have their own take on transforming stale bread into soup or salad, and I’m here for it! I’ve been making my own bread since I got a sourdough starter from a friend in the spring, and occasionally my loaves get a bit dry before we have time to finish them. (Clearly we’re doing something wrong.) Enter panzanella! We’ve enjoyed a few spins on the dish, but my favorite actually didn’t include regular bread at all.

Falafel Fattoush from Real Food, Really FastInstead, it used… pita bread! This is the Falafel Fattoush (p. 99)  from Real Food, Really Fast, an ingenious cookbook by Hannah Kaminsky of BitterSweet Blog. She’s put together a collection of creative and satisfying dishes you can prepare in 10 minutes or less, with lots of tricks and hacks to allow for these speedy suppers. I keep intending to use Real Food Really Fast as my cookbook of the month, but we’ve been cooking from lots of sources this summer and I haven’t used it exclusively enough to feature. But everything I’ve made from the book has been spot-on, even if it’s taken me more more than 10 minutes to prepare some of them! (I’m not usually in a major rush, so I don’t mind taking my time.)

Hannah describes the Falafel Fattoush as an “herbaceous Middle Eastern panzanella,” but whatever you call it, it’s delightful. Featuring toasted pita shreds, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and herbs along with lemon juice and lots of spices, the dish is an unquestionable winner. It’s surprisingly filling, too — I had to finish Steven’s portion!

No copy of Real Food, Really Fast on your cookbook shelf? No worries. Here are a few other panzanella recipes that have caught my eye this summer. (Although I really do recommend Real Food, Really Fast — I’ve loved everything I’ve made from it!)

  • This Fattoush Lebanese Salad from Kalyn’s Kitchen looks like a decent alternative to Hannah’s recipe, although this one does require lettuce.
  • I looove the idea of including fancy olives in a panzanella, so this recipe looks delightful!
  • Sweet summer corn and juicy summer peaches are two of my favorite farmers market finds, but I have yet to eat them together. Enter this recipe, which makes that combination possible!
Tajín-Spiced Simple Veggie Salads

Do you ever buy a cucumber (or pick one from your garden) and then think, What is even the point of cucumbers, besides putting them in dainty teatime sandwiches? Yes, me too. You can’t really cook with them, so they must be eaten raw. (My old roommate and I once tried braising a cucumber. I do not recommend it.) Yet all too frequently I find myself with a slowly softening cucumber in the produce drawer, its increasingly pockmarked skin an indictment of my rash purchase.

WELL. Imagine my delight when this article from Food52 showed up in my feed, touting the deliciousness of a simple cucumber salad with a “magic spice blend.” And imagine my further delight when I read that the magic spice blend is “not unlike cucumbers with Tajín” and recalled that, just a few months prior, a coworker had returned from a trip to Mexico with small bottles of Tajín and handed them out to us, and that I — sadly ignorant of the magic that is Tajín (and also unable to open the plastic cap) — had stowed the bottle in my spice drawer for future use. So, inspired by the article (and newly able to open the Tajín), I made a super-simple cucumber salad that was, quite literally, just sliced cucumbers and Tajín.

AND IT WAS AMAZING.

If you, too, have spent your life devoid of the magic that is Tajín, let me enlighten you. Per the Tajín website, it is a “unique seasoning made with … mild chili peppers, lime, and sea salt.” (You can find a DIY recipe here.) I’m in love with it. It’s the perfect addition to pretty much any vegetable, from simple sliced cucumbers to sweet roasted corn on the cob.

But I digress. My point is to say that chopped veggies + Tajín have become my new favorite leaf-free summer salad. Inspired by this kachumber recipe from Vegan Richa, I used all the veggies plus Tajín and had myself an absolutely delicious spicy summer salad. I cannot recommend this combination highly enough! If you want to incorporate more raw veggies in your summer suppers, adding Tajín is the way to go.

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So… what are your favorite lettuce-free summer salads?

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Note: This post contains affiliate links, which help me keep the lights on.

Vegan Travel: An All-Vegan Cruise in Norway

A little over six months ago, Steven and I were drinking our weight in vegan Irish coffees, gorging ourselves on all-you-can-eat vegan food, and enjoying some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

We also happened to be on a cruise.

All-vegan cruise in Bergen, Norway
Which, if you know me, may seem like an odd choice. For one, I’m a bit of a control freak enthusiast when it comes to traveling, preferring to make my own plans and set my own schedule. (And, as an introvert, I prefer to spend a decent amount of that schedule alone!) Plus, I’m frugal. “All-inclusive” and “luxury” are not exactly in my personal travel vocabulary. And finally, I’m leery of the environmental effects of cruises and of their less-than-savory reputation when it comes to how they treat their employees.

So why, then, did Steven and I put down a big chunk o’ change to spend a week WITH OTHER PEOPLE on a CRUISE SHIP that was essentially ALL-INCLUSIVE?!

Well, friends, we were on an all-vegan cruise, where we could stuff as much vegan food as we wanted down our gullets before spending our days immersed in pristine, gorgeous nature. Curious? I don’t blame you. Settle in, because I’ve got a LOT to say about this experience — all completely candid, of course.

What is a vegan cruise? Who operates them? Why would I want to join one?!

Eidfjord, Norway -- all-vegan cruise of Norway

The first time I heard about Vegan River Cruises (aka Vegan Travel), a German company that organizes all-veg cruises throughout Europe, my ears perked right on up. (Or rather, my eyes bulged — I’m pretty sure I saw it on Reddit first!) I’d always been more interested in the concept of river cruising than ocean cruising, because the boats are smaller, newer, and more eco-friendly, and I loved the idea of seeing European cities from a new perspective. But I’ve always hesitated when it comes to all-inclusives (including cruises) because I don’t want to miss out on the food. Sure, the kitchen might be able to churn out a vegan meal each night, and yeah, you might have access to a salad bar, butttt… let’s be honest. That is NOT the equivalent of the buffets and smorgasbords that characterize most cruises. I would be a grumpy vegan if I had to watch people stuffing their faces 24/7 while I twiddled my thumbs and counted down the hours till dinner. So, when I realized that literally ALL THE FOOD on the VRC ships would be vegan, I was instantly tempted. And when I learned that all toiletries on these cruises are also vegan and cruelty-free, I put another tick in the “SIGN ME UP NOW” column.

Let me backtrack for a second, because it’s important to understand exactly what Vegan River Cruises does. The company itself does not operate or sail ships. Instead, they make arrangements with existing cruise companies to run one-off all-vegan sailings, typically on the company’s existing routes. The boats are still captained and serviced by their regular staff, but behind the scenes, the folks at Vegan River Cruises work super hard to make sure everything is vegan. Well in advance of the trip, they work with chefs — often bringing in an advisor or consultant — to help veganize existing meals and dream up new veg options. They also recommend cruelty-free toiletry brands to stock the bathrooms and vegan vintners to stock the bars.

I’d been monitoring Vegan River Cruises’ upcoming journeys for a few months when I saw a new one pop up: their first-ever cruise of the Norwegian fjords. These majestic soaring mountains and their pristine waters had been on my must-visit list for a while, and I’d always heard that the best way to experience the fjords is by sailing through them. (That’s why many tour companies in Norway offer day-long sailing trips from popular ports.) So, we figured,  why not make a week-long trip of it, hitting up quite a few of these picturesque ports and gorging ourselves on endless amounts of vegan food?

That’s just what we did. We booked our tickets in January 2017, and in September, we hopped a flight to London and prepared to set sail.

Are vegan cruises a good value?

This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” question! Compared to my typical vacation style, the cruise was definitely more expensive. (We did cut down on costs by booking round-trip tickets to London, from whence the cruise departed, on airline points.) We paid £1,249 each for our cabin, which had a really nice-sized window. (No balcony, but it was chilly anyway!) That’s roughly $1,700 a person with today’s exchange rate.  (I’m wincing just thinking about that price. This was a splurge for us!) This price included seven nights of lodging and all our meals (including breakfast the day of departure) and averages out to about $250 per day per person. We stopped at four ports: Eidfjord, Flåm, Nordfjord, and Bergen. (We were scheduled to go to Geiranger rather than Nordfjord, but weather conditions prompted a change of plans.)

Vegan meal at Kaf in Bergen, NorwayFor a trip to Norway, this was a decent value… but that’s because Norway is notoriously expensive. In fact, the one day we had lunch off the ship at a cute place called Kaf in Bergen, we were pretty shocked at how much a relatively small — albeit delicious — meal cost: nearly $50 for both of us, including a drink for Steven. (Grainy photo at left!) Had we paid for lodgings, all our meals, and transportation to all the ports we visited in Norway without being super frugal, I have no doubt we would have spent nearly as much as our cruise cost. Plus, there’s the intangible benefit of not having to worry about finding food, booking lodgings, and arranging transportation… and I think that does count for something!

It’s worth noting that the smaller — and more traditional — river cruises tend to be less expensive. VRC just started advertising a December cruise of a few Christmas markets in Switzerland and Germany (!!!), and it’s actually quite reasonably priced; twin cabins start at just 499€ for five nights, and obviously that includes all your meals as well.

What does a vegan cruise include?

Vegan Irish coffee on all-vegan cruise

See above — a cabin and all your meals. You can also tack on a drinks package with unlimited beer, wine, and cocktails, but Steven and I did the math and realized we would have to drink quite a lot each day to make it worth our while. I know myself — and my desire to make every penny count — so I knew I might get a bit obsessive ensuring that our drinks package was worth it. Not wanting to force myself into drinking more than I might want/need (always a good strategy, eh?), we forewent the drinks package and just told ourselves we could splash out on drinks as desired. They were relatively inexpensive anyway, and we never felt deprived.

The cruise also includes all onboard entertainment… and yes, that did mean we had — gulp — a cruise director. He was exactly what you would expect, and he seemed a bit puzzled by the whole vegan thing, as evidenced by his embarrassing garbling of the word “quinoa” at one point. Come on, quinoa is like the least bizarre thing vegans eat! It’s mainstream now! Ahem. Other onboard entertainment was more targeted to the audience; Vegan River Cruises had booked the likes of Macca-B, Dr. Michael Greger, Joyce Tischler (of the Animal Legal Defense Fund), Gene Baur, and Tobias Leenaert (the Vegan Strategist). There were multiple talks and panel discussions each day, many of which were stimulating and inspiring.

Cow in Olden, NorwaySo, other than drinks, what’s not included? Optional gratuities for cabin stewards, of course, although tipping culture is not as big a deal in Europe as it is in America. Transfers to and from the Tilbury port, which you could arrange on your own or pay to join a coach from Victoria Station. You will also need to pay for shore excursions, if you’d like. Steven and I researched each port and discovered that most of them had gorgeous hiking trails just literal steps from where our ship would dock, so we only ended up booking two days’ worth of excursions (we stopped at four ports total). As mentioned above, rough seas prompted a rejiggering of our itinerary and we didn’t end up stopping at one of the planned ports, so we got our money back for that. We also ended up canceling our second one because we loved the DIY approach: disembarking on our own time and choosing our own activities. (An absolutely gorgeous hike in Olden, Norway, gave us spectacular views… and a chance to see a few grazing cows. <3) We also independently booked tickets on the Flåm Railway, an absolute must-do. We could’ve booked them through the cruise, but it was less expensive to just do it ourselves! On that day, we rode the railway up to its highest point, turned around, then got off a few stops later and hiked down the mountain ourselves, along with some newfound vegan friends who wanted to do the same thing. It was a great decision: We were almost entirely alone in the middle of towering forested mountains, passed by the occasional blur of a biker whizzing downhill.

I feel pretty good about our choice not to opt for any excursions. While I’m sure some of them were really neat, and they gave you the chance to go a bit further afield, our hike-heavy independent excursions satisfied me just fine.

What kind of people go on a vegan cruise?

You probably know the stereotype: Only wealthy elderly folks take European river cruises! That was not the case on our vegan cruise. We had quite the mix of folks of all ages, from hippie families with young kids to a seventy-plus-year-old grandma who had raised all her kids vegan (and without ever going to see a doctor, butttt that’s another story entirely). I would guess that the average guest was middle-aged, probably white, and probably vegan for health reasons. Which leads me to my next point…

What types of vegans go on a vegan cruise?

Oh, I was so ready to indulge in a favorite habit on this trip: people watching! I was incredibly curious about the kinds of vegans who’d take this trip… and they were all over the map. There was the 20-something Dutch couple we chatted with at dinner, comprised of a vegan nutritionist and her not-quite-vegan partner who was gamely enjoying his animal-free dining experience. There was the middle-aged Liverpudlian couple we sat with during another dinner, chatting about vegan food in Liverpool and their (extensive!) travels throughout the United States. There were lots of Brits, since the cruise left from London, and many Europeans. We met some Americans at Tilbury Port — from Alabama, of all places — and they told us this was just one of many trips they’d taken with Vegan River Cruises.

Will's Vegan Shoes dock boots review // govegga.comAnecdotally, it seemed that many, if not most, of the guests were vegan for health reasons. Which is not to say that they didn’t also care about the ethics, but it seemed that many guests were relatively new vegans who’d been inspired by Forks Over Knives or similar documentaries. In my extensive observations (ahem) of the guests, I noted that many seemed ready to buy in to the most outlandish, non-scientifically-valid theories, i.e. the idea that veganism is a panacea. I personally find settings like this uncomfortable and off-putting, where the general attitude is that veganism is the One True Diet and that it will Cure All Your Woes, and people indulge in a sort of cultish celebration of their superior life choices. I heard a fair few people complain that the food (more on that below) was too unhealthy, with too much fat, sugar, and “processed” ingredients. To which I say: SHUT YOUR TRAP AND LET ME STUFF MY FACE. IS INDULGENCE NOT THE ENTIRE POINT OF A CRUISE?!

…so, overall, there was some anti-science bullshit that turned me off, yes. But on the flip side, there were plenty of animal welfare-driven, more old-school vegans to balance it out. Plus hearing from folks like Joyce Tischler and Gene Baur — people who have dedicated their lives to protecting animals in one way or another — was a wonderful experience and a humbling reminder of why I’m vegan.

What is the food like on a vegan cruise?

The million-dollar question, right?! The food on our cruise was best described as hit or miss. There were some really delicious dishes — especially the sweets! — and some that fell flat, occasionally because they were bland and occasionally because they didn’t seem coherent. For example, every morning, the breakfast buffet included a tofu bacon/sausage (really not sure which) that was more or less a stick of tofu, marinated in something extremely salty, then dehydrated (?!?) till it was incredibly dry. Not chewy or toothsome, just dry as a bone. I kept taking one for breakfast because I thought they would improve their cooking method, but no — it was always the same dry stick of tofu. Bizarre.

On the other hand, I loved nearly all their afternoon tea selections! The tea buffet always included a mix of savory and sweet, with little finger sandwiches, scones, biscuits, and other lovelies — along with vegan cream for topping. Mmmm. There was an almond scone that I particularly enjoyed. And because everything was bite-sized, I could really fill up my plate and try them all!

Like most cruise ships, this one offered either a buffet or a sit-down restaurant experience for dinner. We availed ourselves of the sit-down option twice, and found it wildly erratic. My first main dish was a seitan-based stew that was, not to mince words, pretty gross: The seitan was far too spongy and the broth lacked flavor. It was, quite frankly, difficult to finish this dish.

The buffet was a safer bet, because there were always dozens of options — everything from a massive salad bar to multiple hot mains. One winner was a whole-grain risotto, which I’d never even thought of trying. I want to recreate it at home! The buffet was available for all three daily meals (plus afternoon tea), or you could custom-order something at the outdoor junk food bar (my words), like a pizza, hot dog, or hamburger. I only ever got a veggie burger once, but I enjoyed it — it was nice and soft and veggie-filled. Overall, the buffet had something to offer any style of eater, and I never ever left hungry.

Two anecdotes: First, this ship did a great job of labeling what was oil-free (thanks for that, One True Diet vegans!) but was horrendous when it came to labeling anything that contained nuts! Are nut allergies just not a big deal in Europe?! I kept thinking about my sister — who is extremely allergic to cashews, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts — and what she’d do on a cruise like this, when nothing was labeled but they were presumably using nuts in a fair few dishes. How exhausting to have to ask about each dish.

Second, something more positive: During breakfast on the latter half of the trip, I overheard a family sitting next to us chatting about the food. The dad had seemingly just realized everything was vegan, and was asking his daughters about it. “Yeah,” one of them said, “Do you not see all the signs?! It’s all vegan.” This was interesting for two reasons: One, because how on earth did they book an all-vegan cruise without realizing it?! (My hunch is that Cruise and Maritime Voyages, the operator for this particular cruise, had some extra cabins to sell close to sailing and offered them at a discount… perhaps without highlighting the vegan aspect. Yikes.) Two, if it took this family three to four days to figure out they hadn’t been eating animal products, the food must’ve been pretty “normal!” (…or maybe they were just unobservant. And considering that all the signage at embarkation included “SAIL AWAY THE VEGAN WAY” in massive lettering, in truth all signs point to blissful ignorance.)

What is the ship like on a vegan cruise?

Time to ‘fess up: My Norway cruise was not actually a river cruise; it was a true ocean cruise. In fact, it was Vegan River Cruises’ first-ever ocean cruise, and I admit I didn’t really digest what that meant until Steven and I were at Tilbury Port, just outside of London, staring at a honking, massive, legitimate cruise ship. We had seen the ship in pics but hadn’t appreciated how large it was until we saw it in person.It’s difficult to get a sense of scale in photos, y’know? If you’ve ever been on a traditional Caribbean cruise, it was just that type of ship. Ahem:

All-vegan cruise in Norway

Honestly, I was a little disappointed… but I have only myself and my (willful?) ignorance to blame. I had been looking forward to seeing a smaller, more modern river cruise ship, but we were instead on a very large, very regular cruise ship.

And… it wasn’t great. The Columbus was built in 1987 (hey, just like me!) and it was showing its age (…I set myself up for this one…). Vegan River Cruises typically works with newer, smaller ships on their river cruises, and this one was not the norm. It felt dated, from the layout of the cabin to the overall decor. From what I’ve seen of the typical VRC ships, they make excellent and strategic use of space, so even a small cabin feels (relatively) spacious. Not that ours felt particularly cramped, but the overall style was just… bland. Dated. Plus, while newer ships are built with energy efficiency at top of mind, this one had one of those massive smokestacks that blasted out smoke into the otherwise pure Norwegian air. Not a pretty sight, and I cringed every time I saw it. That said, the ship had just that year been retrofitted and redone to meet new environmental standards, so presumably it’s about as good as a 30-plus-year-old ocean ship is going to get!

(On the related topic of working conditions, I have to admit that I didn’t investigate this as much as I should have — and I feel quite guilty about it. I know typical Caribbean cruise lines have pretty bad reputations, but I’ve always had the Pollyanna-ish assumption that European lines would not be so horrible, and that river cruises in particular would be much less stressful for staff. But this wasn’t a true river cruise, and this was a massive ship, so who the hell knows.)

What is the vegan cruise experience like, overall?

Path in near Norway's EidfjordIt’s actually a bit difficult to describe. For one, the entire experience was a little disorganized, on the part of the cruise line itself and on the part of Vegan River Cruises. The cruise line, for example, sent out horrendously incomplete and oblique emails beforehand, and it was painful to try to figure out how to book anything. Their website was a beast to navigate, a personal pet peeve. And the Vegan River Cruises staff seems quite small and overworked, so getting answers directly from them was also difficult. Many of us relied on a Facebook group to crowd-source answers, which is never what you want to have to do as you plan a wincingly expensive vacation.

That said, this was absolutely an amazing way to see Norway, and I so enjoyed the absolute indulgence of all my meals.

Should I go on a vegan cruise?

If you can lean in to a somewhat quirky and a little disorganized experience, go for it! If you enjoy VegFest-type experiences — and especially if you’re the type of person who attends lots of talks at VegFests — you would probably enjoy it! If you prize efficiency and getting the absolute best bang for your buck, maybe plan your own vacation, or opt for one of the company’s less expensive options.
Kelly and Steven in Norway
I will note that although there were quite a few Americans on our trip, Europeans really get the better deal here. Most cruises are charged in euros (ours wasn’t because it departed out of London), so you won’t have to deal with the nasty exchange rate that we did. Plus, you won’t have to pay for transatlantic flights to get to your port! We also met a few people who booked their trips at the very last minute (as in, a week or two before departure!) and scored solid deals on their cabins, which you could probably not do as an American who would also need to book flights across the pond.

Personally, I would love to try a more traditional river cruise… and quite honestly, I’m seriously considering the Christmas markets one next December! I’ve been to Germany before, but I’d love the chance to tick Switzerland off my list. Plus, Steven and I had already batted around the idea of a Christmas market-focused holiday trip, and this could be a fun way to make that happen. Who’s in?!

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Vegan travel: What it's like on a vegan cruise in Europe // govegga.com

Disclaimer: This is a wholly candid and unprompted review! We paid for our vegan ocean cruise and have no affiliation with Vegan River Cruises.

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.

Vegan in Rotterdam

Poor Rotterdam. It never had a fighting chance to win my affections. I arrived on a chilly, rainy afternoon after spending a few (relatively) warm, sunny days in Amsterdam. With my hood up against the wind and the occasional raindrop, I began the half-hour walk from the (admittedly striking) train station to my AirBnB with a minor sense of unease, and it only grew the further I walked. It wasn’t that the city seemed unsafe — more that it was slightly unwelcoming. I saw almost no one on my half-hour walk, a striking change after busy Amsterdam. The streets were unsettlingly quiet. The city gave off a distinctly barren vibe. The modern, clean lines of Rotterdam’s buildings were a jarring change from Amsterdam’s old-world charm, and they didn’t do much for me on that grey day.

Rotterdam central station

Shout out to Mr. Yawning Scooterist! (The blue skies appeared the morning I left… of course.)

I wish I could say my impression improved as the day went on, that I found a bit of charm in a seemingly charmless city. It didn’t happen, though. Perhaps the weather was to blame, but I found myself listless and anxious to leave. I gave the city a fighting chance, or as fighting a chance as I could in just under 24 hours. I had a good wander and I saw a few of the top sights, but I just didn’t connect with it.

Which is not to say the city has nothing to recommend it. The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen was an absolute highlight, with a surprisingly diverse collection. Although I got in for free thanks to my Museum Pass, I’d have happily paid the price of admission (€17,50 for adults as of January 2018). An eclectic yet engaging mix of Old Masters, Impressionists, Expressionists, Surrealists (and undoubtedly many more -ists) makes up the main collection, so you’re not sure what to expect in the next room. It’s also quite an educational spot; I didn’t know much about the De Stijl movement before spending time here, but the curators have done an excellent job of tracking the movement and I spent good long time reading through the signage. (Which, as a side note, is why I adore solo museum-ing. Free reign to… read!)

The museum also houses a fantastic display of “household objects that chart the history of design over eight centuries.” As I wandered through the basement rooms, I kept expecting the collection to come to an end — and then I’d turn the corner and find yet another room of, say, mid-century modern chairs or pipes used throughout the ages (including a charming one shaped like a dog).

The museum was blissfully quiet and uncrowded, a welcome change from the tourist-filled museums of Amsterdam. I was impressed and gratified I’d made the walk, and spent a few happy hours exploring.

Vegan cake in RotterdamAfter all that intense arting, I needed sustenance — in the form of cake. I headed to Heavenly Cupcakes, grateful for a chance to sit indoors and sip a hot beverage after a chilly walk. I ordered a slice of vanilla cake with raspberries and buttercream; it was perfectly serviceable, if a bit dense in texture. My perfect afternoon pick-me-up would’ve included a side of espresso, but alas: The espresso machine was being serviced at the very moment I stopped by. A pot of hot tea made a suitable replacement, and I enjoyed a leisurely snack in the otherwise empty cafe before heading back into the chill.

Suitably sugared up, I walked to the can’t-miss destination you’ll find on all city guides to Rotterdam: the Markthal (Market Hall). 

A vast indoor market characterized by its striking curved and reflective exterior, a dizzying indoor mural, and dozens of stalls, the Markthal is as good a place as any to spend a few hours in Rotterdam. Although it previously housed a vegan-friendly eatery, on my visit the Markthal was sadly devoid of much vegan fare, as far as I could tell. Still, there were plenty of bulk shops and a few bars, so you can always buy looseleaf tea and/or get a beer! Neither of which I did, but — you could.

The area around the Markthal also features the stunning elevated yellow cube houses that sometimes pop up on Pinterest and make you do a double-take. They’re even more impressive in person than in photos, and I wandered in the little cube-y “neighborhood” for a good while, wondering whether I should’ve shelled out for an AirBnB room in one of them. But I hadn’t, so eventually I returned to my regular ol’ AirBnB to charge my phone and fret over what to do next. I decided to keep it simple and go for dinner. Burgertrut was just a mile away, so I hoofed it to this indie eatery for  — you guessed it — a burger.

The place was packed when I arrived, with patrons who skewed heavily towards the hipster more than the hippie. (I didn’t realize overalls are now “on trend” until I saw a band of teens rocking them!) Luckily, the relaxed atmosphere meant I could grab an open seat on a couch and order from there, rather than waiting for a table to open up. I was seated right next to a visiting artist who was working on some kind of wall mural; Burgertrut is just one piece of a larger organization that includes a public studio and a communal art space. We chatted briefly while I waited for my food, and then I adopted an awkward silence and pulled out a book to read. As one does.

While Burgertrut is not a fully veg establishment, it does have a fair few thoughtfully crafted vegan options alongside its organic meaty burgers. I opted for the curry burger with a side of fries and vegan mayo and found it all perfectly tasty (especially with a beer). Wholly sated, I decided to call it a night and headed back to my AirBnB.

The next morning, I hoofed it to Rotterdam Centraal where I grabbed breakfast: an Alpro vanilla yogurt and a cup of fruit. This ersatz parfait was a surprisingly filling breakfast, and I thanked the vegan gods that Europe sees fit to sell vegan yogurt in its train stations. And then I was off. Bruges was my next stop, and as I’ve shared, it blew me away.

So, Rotterdam. I left feeling perfectly happy to put it in my rear-view mirror, but also with a tiny crumb of regret. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected it to be like so many other European cities I love; by its very nature, it’s a different beast. Rotterdam sustained heavy bombing during World War II, and rather than try to recreate its older architecture, the city was designed anew in a much more modern style. And while I did enjoy and appreciate elements of that style — the Markthal and the cube houses, to name a few — perhaps I needed to clear my mental slate and judge the city on its own merits, not in Amsterdam’s glow.

Pooping dog statue, RotterdamAnd if I’m honest, there were a few moments that made me think Rotterdam had hidden depths I left unplumbed. I saw a few pairs of honest-to-goodness punks, for example, that made my counterculture heart sing a bit. These were not the try-hard young hipsters of Amsterdam but grizzled old-school punks, and a quick Google search does indeed indicate that Rotterdam is home to a legitimate punk scene. I’ve also heard that Rotterdam is tops if you enjoy clubbing and “nightlife,” but as I spend 99% of my nights on the couch knitting, reading, or re-watching The Office, this fact holds no appeal for me. (Another high point? Finding this statue of Fikkie the dog… and his poo. Yes, I consider this a high point. No, I am not ashamed.)

My most acute Rotterdam regret is not taking an afternoon trip to see the Kinderdijk waterfalls (see here and here). It had been on my tentative to-do list, but the timing just didn’t work out — you have to take a water bus over to them, and the schedule didn’t make sense given my limited time in the city. They look really lovely, though, and they remain on my bucket list.

All in all, with six months of retrospection behind me, I’m glad I visited Rotterdam. The cube houses had been on my to-see list for years, and my sense of the Netherlands as a whole country was deepened by my visit. Will I return? I could be convinced. It’s easily accessible by train, so a daylong visit could happen at some point — and definitely with a visit to Kinderdijk built in. Maybe I’ll even shell out for a cube house for a night.

Other vegan options in Rotterdam

My pre-visit list of Rotterdam vegan restaurants wasn’t huge since I knew I’d only be spending a single night there, but here are a few places I didn’t get to try.

  • Gare du Nord: Vegan bistro in a train car! Lots of organic and local options. Reservations recommended.
  • Happy Kitchen: Eco-friendly eatery and small grocery store featuring vegan goods that skew towards the organic, raw, and whole-foods-based.
  • Tribestlife Raw Food Kitchen: Café with a bevy of raw, organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan menu items. Choose among small bites, heartier dishes, sweet treats, and plenty of hot and cold drinks.

Where to stay in Rotterdam

I opted for a private room in an AirBnB since I was essentially just there for the night. New to AirBnB? Use my referral link to save $40 on your first booking!

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Vegan in Rotterdam, Holland // govegga.com

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A Very Isa Thanksgiving

Happy Tuesday, friends! Before we get too deep into the holiday season, I thought I’d share a quick recap of my very tasty — and shockingly stress-free — Thanksgiving. But first, a few housekeeping notes:

  • A sincere thank you to everyone who commented on my post about losing my cooking mojo. It seemed to resonate with quite a few of you! I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, but I did feel relieved to realize that I’m not the only one who gets worn down with meal prep. On my end, Steven is still going strong with the cooking (and cleaning). A few recent highlights included a creamy tomato-basil bisque with GARLIC BREAD GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES! on the side; tacos with TVP chorizo, spicy black beans, cheese sauce, avocado, and a tangy slaw; and a super comforting samosa soup. I even roused myself to make a mid-afternoon snack on Sunday: poutine! Featuring store-bought waffle fries, Steven’s homemade cheese sauce, and a quick brown gravy I whipped up. I’ve never had poutine — vegan or otherwise — and I suspect a cheese sauce isn’t the best choice, but it was still a decadent delight.
  • Second, a gentle reminder to check out my Q&A with Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener. The book giveaway closes at the end of this week and is open to everyone!

https://vegga.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/img_2888.jpgNow, Thanksgiving! Spoiler: We rocked it! Steven’s mom and stepdad came for dinner, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy our animal-free spread. In the name of simplicity, I had the genuinely good idea to cook all our sides from a single source: Isa’s fabulous The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion cookbook. I don’t own it, but I do own a library card! Here’s what we made — and how it all turned out.

  • Creamy whipped potatoes, p. 341. This recipe employs an immersion blender to whip up cashew cream with tender russet potatoes for an ultra-rich and creamy side. They were quite tasty, but Steven (who handled this recipe) said that the immersion blender wasn’t quite up to the task. I didn’t notice too many lumps, but the taters also weren’t particularly creamy.
  • Green bean casserole, p. 346. This classic dish was actually never a staple in my family’s Thanksgiving spread, but Steven’s a fan, so we decided to include it. YUM. Mushroom-y, creamy, bean-y goodness, all topped with Trader Joe’s fried onions. Perfection!
  • Caramelized onion and cauliflower casserole, p. 330. Oh dear. This did not turn out. I know my proportions weren’t quite right (my tofu block was a few ounces larger than called for, and I didn’t have quite enough cauli for the topping), but I don’t think that’s entirely to blame. We just didn’t care for the texture of the casserole base, which was kind of mousse-y and unexpected. The flavors were also a bit off, a little too acidic and just generally not enjoyable. Alas!
  • Orange-scented cranberry sauce, p. 344. You cannot go wrong with homemade cranberry sauce. If you’re still eating the jellied stuff from the can, I encourage you to try making it yourself! It’s a no-fail process and the results are so tasty. Isa’s recipe was, of course, delicious. Tangy and zippy and the perfect topping for a plate piled high with savory goodness.

Vegan Thanksgiving plate

We also cooked up a Trader Joe’s vegan roast as the main and found it quite tasty. This roast is, somewhat bizarrely, breaded! I was dubious, but it actually worked quite well. This roast was tasty, juicy, and affordable! We also picked up some store-bought stuffing mix; I think it was Pepperidge Farm. Call me uncultured, but I don’t want fancy homemade stuffing on Thanksgiving: I want the kind that comes in a bag and is salty and savory and comforting. Same goes with the rolls: We got Wegmans-brand crescent rolls and have #noregrets.

On the homemade front, I stirred up a big ol’ batch of gravy using a C’est La Vegan recipe that doesn’t appear to be online anymore. (I was working from a printed recipe my mama keeps on hand — she sent me a photo of it.) I added lots of poultry spice and a (not so) secret ingredient for umami deliciousness: Gravy Master! My mom has an ancient bottle of this delightfully retro browning sauce that comes out every Thanksgiving, and to me, gravy just isn’t the same without it. It’s accidentally vegan, so I picked up a little bottle of my own this year.

Vegan Thanksgiving appetizersFor dessert, our guests brought two vegan pies (apple and pumpkin) from Roots, our favorite local/ independent grocer, and I made a cranberry-orange loaf that isn’t worth mentioning — it was too sweet, and the orange was barely detectable. Oh well! Our guests also brought appetizers: samosas, crackers, rolled-up Tofurky slices, and a wheel of Miyoko’s cheese. Perfect for snacking while I wrapped up all the cooking.

In terms of said cooking, everything went eerily smoothly. No burnt roast, no lumpy gravy, no messes. I credit my obsessive levels of preparation: Steven and I chopped, diced, and prepared nearly all our ingredients the night before; I even blended up all the creamy elements for the various dishes (the cashew cream for the potatoes; the creamy sauce for the green bean casserole). That meant all I really had to do was bring it all together on Thanksgiving day. We ate almost exactly at 3:00 pm as planned, everything was hot, and I felt bizarrely relaxed sitting down to dinner. I’m not complaining!

I also had a brilliant idea for holiday breakfast: a massive, protein-rich smoothie that you can drink throughout your entire food prep process! It’s a quick, healthy meal that will keep you full until it’s time to overdose on savory sides. (Although I made a peanut butter-banana-chocolate-oat smoothie, so the “healthy” descriptor is arguable.)

So, all in all, a very successful Thanksgiving with LOTS of leftovers for Steven and me… and a reminder that even omnivores can enjoy a meat-free Thanksgiving. No turkeys need be harmed in the making of your belly-filling dinner!

Vegan Small-Business Interview + GIVEAWAY: The Vegan Potter

One of the most under-rated aspects of being an ethical vegan is the sense of community it offers. I love meeting other vegans and gushing about the best new dairy-free ice cream on the market or swapping recipe tips. I especially love meeting vegans who bring their passion for animals and a cruelty-free lifestyle to work with them. Even better? Meeting folks who create a business that centers around and celebrates being vegan.  And I love connecting vegan consumers with businesses that they can feel good about supporting.

So today I bring you the first in what (I hope!) will be an ongoing series, where I’ll chat with vegan small-business owners to share their stories and help bring a little publicity to their good work. I’m starting with the Vegan Potter, a fabulous Connecticut-based small business run by Lyndsay Meiklem.

I first learned about the Vegan Potter from my mom, who encountered Lyndsay and her pottery pieces at New England VegFest earlier this year. Mom enthusiastically shared what she’d learned about this fantastic business and gifted me with a small appetizer plate (see left!), which now has pride of place on my counter. With any luck, you, too, can own a vegan-emblazoned piece of original pottery!

Read on for my interview with Lyndsay, and don’t miss the giveaway at the end.

Interview with Lyndsay from the Vegan Potter

Which came first: the veganism or the pottery?
The veganism came before the pottery.

I went vegetarian at age 17 when I was still in high school. Vegan at age 19 in my second year of college, and I started taking pottery classes at age 20.

Why did you become vegan?
I became a vegetarian after researching the food industry and animal rights for an opinion paper in a high school English class. Two years later I came home from college and worked at a health food store. The owner was well-versed in many health and wellness issues (keep in mind, this was in 1994!). She encouraged me to read a book called Diet for a New America by John Robbins, son of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire. Each chapter focused on an animal and recounted in a very factual and non-inflammatory manner how our food industry processes the animals for human consumption. When I got to the chapter about how milk and eggs are produced, I felt like a total hypocrite for claiming that my reasons for being a vegetarian were motivated by animal rights, because the conditions that laying hens and milking cows endure are equally as deplorable as those in which animals are raised for slaughter. When I went back to college that year, I went vegan.

The Vegan Potter: spoon rest

Your spoon deserves a beautiful resting spot.

How did you get started as a potter?
I studied English and Creative Writing with a minor in Art History at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. I always loved the arts and had taken many metalsmithing and photography classes in high school but actually dropped a ceramics class in my senior year because I didn’t like getting my hands dirty.

During my final year of college, paint-your-own pottery studios were just starting to pop up and I went to one and painted a plate with a friend. After that I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to learn how to actually MAKE the plate. I sought out a summer pottery course at another Montreal college but the enrollment was too low and they cancelled the class before it began. Shortly after, I discovered an art gallery owner who had a third floor studio space in an industrial building and had a small pottery studio in the back of the gallery to hold “classes.”

I signed up with my boyfriend at the time, and in the first class it was very clear this was not a teaching studio. The teacher gave us a quick demonstration and then left us on our own. I found out a few weeks later that the ‘teachers’ simply got use of the studio in exchange for teaching a class. During the pottery session my relationship ended, and as a result I spent ALL my free time in the clay studio, which was open most nights and weekends for practice. I watched and I practiced and after just a few weeks I remember calling my parents in Connecticut and having a conversation with my dad in which I recalled something he always told me: “Find what you LOVE to do and then find a way to make a living doing it.” I knew I had found what I love.

The Vegan Potter: cheese board

Cheese board and knife, complete with vegan cheese.

I continued to practice at that Montreal studio for another year when I had a thought: to open a pottery-teaching studio back in my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut. I tested my skills and endurance and spent the next two summers teaching 7- to 15-year-olds at a residential camp in southern Maine. I got a TON of practice teaching and honed my own throwing skills over the next two summers and then moved back to CT and spent the next year making pottery in my parents’ barn, which had no running water. I lugged 5-gallon pails and used a wood stove for heat and I threw pots on a partially motorized kick wheel.

In 2002 my dad rented me a small building next to his furniture craftsman shop, and after a few weeks of renovations and using a good portion of my savings buying 10 brand new pottery wheels and a kiln, I began my business. I’ve been teaching ever since, and in 2006 I purchased a property with two buildings on it and renovated one into a 2,500 square foot art studio, gift shop, and office. In the years following I renovated the building next door into a yoga and wellness studio and we’ve been thriving ever since.

How do you describe the type of pottery you create?
Functional one-of-a-kind stoneware made with love.

What does a day in the life of a full-time potter look like? I imagine it varies greatly depending on where you are in the process for each piece!
You’re right! Each day is very different, but in the past 15 years since starting my studio, a TON of time has been devoted to running the business! For the first 10 years I had my wheel in the main studio space where classes were held and over 40 students a week filtered in and out. When I added on to my building and created a 12 x 12 dedicated studio space for my own private workspace, things began to change. I was able to spend more time diving back into my craft and have fallen completely back in love!

The Vegan Potter: sloth life tumbler

Fabulous “sloth life” tumblers in lots of colors.

The making cycle often goes like this: Throwing pots on Tuesdays, trimming and finishing Tuesday’s pots on Wednesday/Thursday, and sometimes finding a few hours of hand-building time. Saturdays are often glazing days. I also teach four adult pottery classes each week, and loading and unloading kilns eats up at least a few hours each week. When I’m in the studio, I work 12- to 13-hour days. When I’m not in the studio, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do the next time I’m in the studio! Coming into the holiday season I’m in high production mode, and some weeks are devoted to packing and readying for weekend shows and events like veg fests!

If you visited the home of someone who’d purchased some of your pieces, where would you hope to see them?
Typically my work lives in the kitchen or dining room! I absolutely love seeing my work in use, filled with home-cooked food.

As you create new styles and lines, what inspires you?
I’m equally inspired by nature and function. I’m obsessed with drinking vessels and most recently began experimenting with a new clay body. I thought I was going to use it on its own but realized I could combine my white and brown clay and it gave me the opportunity to play with techniques that leave wonderful swirls and organic lines throughout the pieces. This encouraged me to want to leave the exterior of the pieces as raw clay. The finished work reminds me of wood grain AND swirled ice cream all at the same time.

When I have time to play and vary from tight deadlines or set projects, I’m able generate new forms or ideas for pieces. The medium has held my attention because I’m constantly learning and honing my skills making new forms or playing with new colors.

What motivates you to include overtly vegan messaging in your work? I’m thinking both of your pieces that include the word “vegan” and your social media accounts, which show lots of vegan love. Do you consider your work a form of activism?
I’ve always made a few pieces here and there that said “vegan” or “ahimsa,” a yogic word for “non-violence,” but in recent years I’ve had many more people ask me about my food choices and I’ve run a few vegan-eating info programs at my studio. Last winter I had a revelation when I discovered a holiday gift bazaar that was ONLY for VEGAN vendors — Compassionfest in Hamden, CT. I created a few pieces of pottery that said “vegan” and they were the first things to sell. I realized I had found my tribe and I got much more serious about the Vegans Unite collection. Since then, it has grown to include bowls, bread plates, mugs, tumblers, ornaments, and magnet sets.

The Vegan Potter: vegan bowls

No one will think your ice cream is dairy-based when you eat it from this bowl!

I’ve always used my social media accounts to discuss my food choices in non-inflammatory ways by simply posting pics of delicious food, which are often enough to spark discussions with folks about veganism. In the past 20 years, I have seen a tremendous amount of change here in the Northeast. 20 years ago, the only brand of milk alternative was soymilk in tetra packs and it tasted terrible. Health food stores were far and few between and bulk food was just making an appearance. There were NO meat replacements or protein sources outside of tofu (which you certainly couldn’t find in a mainstream grocery store). We have come a really long way in the past two decades BUT I have also noticed a trend for new vegans or vegan curious to lean heavily on the vast array of “fake” meat and protein replacements that are so abundant now in mainstream stores.

When you’re not eating delicious vegan food or creating beautiful pieces, how do you spend your time?
I love taking day trips with my husband to explore New England towns and seek out vegan restaurants. I can also be found taking photos of the local cover band my husband plays in.

And finally, do you have any companion animals? Who are they?
Living in a very tiny studio apartment we don’t have any pets but our dream is to build an earth berm home and we have big plans for several companion animals when that happens!

The Vegan Potter: garlic keeper

The perfect vessel for your garlic.

Five quick-fire questions

Favorite vegan indulgence?
Any vegan dessert! I’m a sugar-holic!

Favorite restaurant?
Crazy Burger in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Although they are not exclusively vegan, they have an extensive vegan section on their menu and they catered our wedding!

Favorite vacation spot?
Vacation? What’s that? When you do what you love, there is little time for time away!

Favorite kitchen tool?
Vitamix for smoothies, and I love my microplane for zesting and grinding fresh nutmeg and herbs.

Favorite animal?
I can’t think of any animal I don’t love! Someday I’d love to meet elephants!

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Find the Vegan Potter!

Main site // Facebook // Instagram //

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GIVEAWAY TIME!

Vegan mug giveaway by the Vegan Potter

Giveaway closed!

From 77 entries, the randomly selected winner is Judith Rontal. Judith, I’ll be emailing you to get your information. Thanks for entering, everyone!

Lyndsay has graciously agreed to give a lovely mug from her vegan collection to one lucky reader! Enter below to win the vegan mug with turquoise trim. The only thing you must do is visit the Vegan Potter website and leave me a comment saying which of her pieces appeals to you most. Then fill out the Rafflecopter form below. (Only Rafflecopter entries are eligible!) You can rack up extra entries by completing a few other tasks.

>>> Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! <<<

This giveaway is open to both U.S. and international readers! Giveaway closes at 11:59pm, EDT, on Tuesday, September 5. Good luck!

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