Friday, August 30, 2013

The International Vegan Package Swap: My new "culinary" adventure

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to travel the world, tasting different vegan-friendly foods? I do. I dream about it daily actually. About traveling to different parts of world and immersing myself into the country's culture, exploring the different varieties of fruits and vegetables that are native to that country, and learning new cooking techniques, flavor combinations and so so much more. Yes, a culinary world tour would be nice…when I retire! For now, I have to focus on raising my family which means traveling will have to remain a distant dream. But that doesn't mean tasting different foods has to too. THAT can become a reality. All you have to do is participate in All About Vegan Food’s Vegan Package Swap and from there, your vegan food journey around the globe begins. 

Photo from All About Vegan Food

The Vegan Package Swap is a non-profit project started by the author of the blog, All About Vegan Food, as a way to bring vegans from all over the world together to bond over a common interest: food. The idea is simple. Every month, if you choose to participate, you are paired with a swap partner who can either be from within your country or internationally depending on your chosen preferences. During the beginning of the month you chat with your partner to determine their likes or dislikes and then, you go shopping! All you are required to spend is $20 USD or equivalent. It may not sound like a lot but trust me, $20 can buy a LOT! You package your goodies nicely and ship it off by the 15th! Once you receive your package, you can choose to continue to chat with your partner about the goodies you have received. That’s it! The swap is simple to do and worth every single penny! 

I finally jumped on board this month with the Vegan Package Swap and I cannot be more pleased with my experience! Upon receiving my swap partner’s information, I have to admit I did a happy dance as I realized the type of adventure I was getting ready to embark on. My partner was located in the UK but was actually from Poland. Her name, Martyna. She had messaged me asking me the usual questions of likes, dislikes, allergies, etc., but instead of going through a want and don’t want list, we both made it pretty easy on each other. We both stated, we liked whatever, and for anyone who knows me, you know I ain’t lying. I’m always willing to trying anything at least twice. During our initial chat I also learned that she was sharing her goodies with her partner Greg which I thought was a genius idea. When it comes to new vegan eats, eating it is, well, awesome, but sharing it with others makes it way more fun. I may have to consider that next time…if I can get past my greediness of course. :)

After learning about each other a bit, we set out to shop and ship. Shopping wasn’t too hard as I had already pre-planned what I was going to purchase. I even started a list of vegan goodies, categorized by type of snack and price to make it easier for me when I shop for future swaps. Oh, and here's a tip, use coupons when you have them! I was able to send my partner more than $20 worth of goodies thanks to coupons! Yep, shopping was easy peasy. All it took was one trip to Whole Foods (plus a few Filipino treats from the Philippines) and I was done. As for shipping, that was a completely different battle.

Unless you have a company that receives discounts for shipping internationally via FedEx or UPS, then you’re best bet is to go with USPS’ international first-class shipping option. For anything under 4lbs, they charge shipping by weight. Anything over and you’re better off going with the pre-paid boxes which are not large nor cheap, making it NOT worth your least not for this specific occasion. When I first weighed my box it weighed in at around 4.2 lbs which was WAY too heavy. I took a few things out, brought it back and my shipping came out to be $30 for a little over 3lbs worth of goodies. The price was a bit higher than I had anticipated initially (I was aiming for $15-20), but after seeing an estimated price of $140 from our FedEx shipping center at work, I was okay with $30 bucks.  It was estimated to arrive within 6-10 business days, but to my surprise it arrived within 5 to 6 days. I had shipped it on the 15th and it had arrived  on the 21st! That made me feel a bit better about the price; at least it arrived quickly!

A day after Martyna and Greg received their packaged I received mine! I had received it at work a few minutes before I was getting ready to head home, so I had to wait to open it. My excitement was so high built that the moment I got home, the first thing I did before even closing the door was rip my package open!
As I looked through the contents of my package, I recognized a few items I had either heard of or seen on previous package photos. Everything else was new to me! The package contained a wide variety of goodies; sweet, savory, ready to eat, ready to cook, grains, fruit, spreads…I loved it! My partner even threw in a few Polish treats for me to try as well! I found my letter and began reading it, taking in all the valuable information my partner shared about the polish treats that I could not read nor understand. As I sat there reading my letter, the feeling of nostalgia immediately hit me. It was like being a kid all over again when I used to write letters to long-distance friends and family. I recalled the anticipation that came with expecting and receiving a letter and that’s how I felt when I had received my package. It was like I was reliving my pen pal years. All I could do at that moment was stare at my letter and smile….until I noticed the goodies on my table, from which then I dug in!

So interested in what I received? Read on! 

It’s funny. I’ve heard of it, seen it, even thought about buying it, but I’ve never, ever tasted it...until now. After reading multiple descriptions, I assumed marmite would be this savory, lightly salty, pate-like paste. Instead, what I discovered is that marmite is a dark brown, potently salty syrup. Even though the taste is one I am going to have to adjust to slowly, I was still thrilled to finally taste this popular treat. I did a bit of googling and I think it’ll taste a lot better if I put it ON something as opposed to just eating it right out of the jar. BAD idea :P

GranoVita Organic Pate
I’m sure someone will agree that the longer you are vegan, especially raw vegan, the more obsessed you are with the yeasty, cheesy taste of nutritional yeast. The moment I laid eyes on this delicious blend of nutritional yeast, onions, herbs and spices I knew I would love it. The paste is thick and tastes VERY much like a pate…not that I have any idea what a pate tastes like, but I do know what it smells like and the two are very similar. It goes great on crackers, cucumber slices and I bet it would be great with pasta or as a unique spread in sushi! Ooh trying that!

Yo-Yo Bear Fruit Roll Ups

The day I had received my package I had laid my goodies out on the table to take a pic. It didn’t take long for my husband to come in and snatch SOMETHING to rip open and eat. He grabbed the organic Raspberry Yo-Yo and devoured one of the two in the package. He said they tasted pretty good and I have to agree. What I loved about these little snacks is that not only are they made with 100% fruit, but the way they rolled them up reminds me of an old favorite: fruit roll ups! These are a perfect alternative to that crappy stuff and the look even got my daughter interested. I also love the unique pineapple flavor! I wish they had these here so I can throw them into my daughter’s lunch box or use them as a healthy Halloween/Birthday treat to give to other kids.

BlackFriar’s Cherry and Coconut Flapjack

I was surprised to see this crumbly pastry arrive in one piece considering the package looked like it had just been through war. The sound of coconut, cherry and oats had my mouth watering the moment I laid eyes on this super rich treat. I decided to have it for breakfast one Saturday morning and found myself attempting to take pics of it as I continued to slowly devour each bite. The taste was rich and sweet with just a small hint of cherries. The oats were additively chewy and the coconut taste was subtle, yet noticeable. The cake was overall just plain, frickin’ good. It was also pretty filling! A good choice for when the need for a guilty breakfast strikes. 

Nakd Bars, Cocoa Orange and Cashew Cookie

I had just finished a run and I was starving for something light and quick. I spotted my two Nakd Bars still waiting to be devoured and so they became my snack for the evening. Okay, they were more like a meal considering I ate both of them, but whatever. Nakd Bars are very similar to Larabars in that they are made with nothing but fruit (dates) and nuts. I was a bit skeptical about the Cocoa Orange flavor considering I don’t like fruit in my chocolate but I was surprised to find the chocolate bar tasted a lot like a Tootsie Roll! I turned the package around to figure out WHY a chocolate bar would taste like a Tootsie Roll and discovered there contained a hint of chocolate flavoring. I can deal with a hint because well it tastes like candy and heck, that made me happy! The cashew cookie was a bit more subtle in flavor, yet still nutty and sweet. LOVE these bars and would definitely request these to be sent in future swaps!

Flaczki Sojowe aka Vegan Soy Tripe Soup

YES, you read that right! Vegan “Tripe” Soup! A simple dried soup mix that can easily be prepared with a bit of soaking and some boiling. The soup smelled very much like “chicken” noodle soup and even had a similar taste. As it boiled it thickened beautifully and filled the room with the comforting scent of warm veggies and herbs. My daughter was drawn in by its scent and asked to taste it as soon as she could. She enjoyed the taste, but she knew the “chicken” wasn’t chicken. I tried. What I found interesting was the soy tripe strips. They were soft, spongy and chewy with a slight soy flavor. As the soup sat the soy strips seemed to alter the flavor a bit, but it was still satisfying none the less.
Ainsley Harriot’s Lemon, Mint and Parsley/Roasted Vegetable Cous Cous

I made the couscous for dinner one night to share with my family. Since the packets only served two I decided to make both for us to all try. The Lemon, Mint and Parsley CousCous was my daughter’s favorite. It had a slightly tangy flavor with strong notes of mint and subtle hints of parsley. It reminded me a bit of tabbouleh except with more grain and less herbs. I enjoyed the flavor of the Roasted Vegetable one. The chunks of tomato gave every bite a burst of sweet tanginess. Both were flavorful yet at the same time subtle. They weren’t seasoned much at all in terms of salt and the spices and herbs were not too strong. It served well as a side dish to compliment the main course. Both were good.

Pad Thai Stir-Fry Sauce

In need of a lunch, I decided this Pad Thai sauce would be perfect to use to make raw zucchini noodles. The sauce was really sweet, a tad savory and subtly spicy. I heated it a bit to thicken as I noticed it contained starch in it. I tossed it with some zucchini and carrot noodles, topped it on top of a salad with tomatoes and green onions and enjoyed the next day. While it was a bit too sweet for my liking, I still enjoyed the combination of flavors. I noticed the ginger, soy and the chili in each bite. It made for a great dressing!

Dairy Free White Chocolate Buttons

Now we all know I’m a chocolate fanatic, but you normally see me eating the dark stuff. I’ve never been a huge fan of white chocolate except when it came in the form of a cookie loaded with macadamia nuts (yumm!). At least that was until these little buttons reminded me how yummy it can be! I guess I never realized how tasty white chocolate was until I stopped eating it completely because, well, it wasn’t vegan. I looked at that little bag of buttons and thought to myself I wouldn’t really care for them until I opened them and vowed to only eat one button a day! These little jewels taste JUST like white chocolate, but without the creamy mouth feel. I like them as any chocolate lover would, and I’m sure my attempts at trying to save them in hopes of making at least ONE White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie will completely fail. **Note to self, ask for these again from future UK swap partner. Make that three bags so I can make cookies**

Budya aka Pudding

I personally don’t care for pudding, but I was willing to give these a try because, as I said, I will always trying something at least twice. I whipped up the Vanilla Cream flavor one first and found that I didn’t care for the taste nor texture. I thought maybe I didn’t follow Martyna’s instructions correctly so after asking her again, I made a second attempt, this time with the Cream flavor. Again, it just wasn’t my thing. I think it was a combination of the texture and the scent which reminded me a lot of sunscreen. Even though the pudding wasn’t my thing (personal taste preferences, that’s all), I am still very grateful that Martyna sent them to me. I still got to try something new because the ingredients, texture, even taste was completely different from what we have here in America. It’s interesting to discover the different ways the same type of food is made and enjoyed.

Organic Green Tea Chai
I was happy to see tea added to my package! I am definitely a tea person and seeing these little packets made my day. Upon reading the description I had expected a heavily spiced tea, but what I discovered was a light, almost bitter free earthy green tea with only a very small hint of chai spice. I actually love the light, earthy taste as opposed to the heavy spices. I also enjoyed the fact that the green tea wasn’t too bitter. Very refreshing.

I still have a few things in my box to try including:

Sojowe A’la schabowe aka soy cutlets
Buckwheat Groats
Kallo Organic Vegetable Stock
Cukier aka Vanilla Powder
Grzaniec Korzenny aka warm cider blend

I will update this post when I get a chance to try these!

While this project is fairly new, only launching in March of 2013, it has already gained thousands of followers and hundreds of participants, with the numbers increasing rapidly each month. It’s a great experience and a wonderful adventure that very few can pass up! Even non-vegans are getting involved! I highly recommend you give a try, even if it’s for only one time. I promise you, you will have one of the best months ever.

I cannot wait to continue my culinary adventure around the globe next month. I wonder where it’s going to me next. Hopefully to a different country! Maybe to Brazil? Switzerland? Australia? My anticipation is already building! I plan on continuing this project for the next three months and then every other month after that (because honestly, it can be a BIT pricey) until either this project ends or until I get tired of it...which we all know THAT will never happen!

So cheers to a whole new adventure! Who knows WHERE it will take you!

Oh, and THANK YOU All About Vegan Food for creating the International Vegan Package Swap!! Best. Idea. Ever.

AND a DOUBLE THANK YOU to Martyna and Greg for being my swap partners. I couldn't have asked for better partners for my first swap. And the package rocked!


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