Review of Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen, Lexington, KY

Vinaigrette Vegan Power Salad with Chicken

Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen is a new restaurant off of Leestown Road that describes themselves as a “fast casual salad shop serving fresh gourmet salads.” As the first salad shop of its kind in Lexington, it’s causing quite a stir. My eyes widened in excitement as I heard the announcement of their opening because, as a health-conscious nutritionist that struggles to find restaurant options that are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and mammal-free, salads are my mecca, especially when they’re packed with hearty, fresh ingredients. When I looked at their menu, my heart skipped a beat when I saw their Vegan Power Salad. A restaurant option that doesn’t require me to make a million adjustments to the ingredients and then still worry about any hidden dairy or egg?  I was sold, and I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to this salad mecca.

I ordered the Vegan Power Salad, which consists of spring mix with Napa cabbage, quinoa, chickpeas, carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sweet peppers, roasted sunflower seeds, and edamame. Somewhat ironically, I added grilled chicken to this vegan salad and swapped the salad’s standard Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette for their Blackberry Sorghum Vinaigrette. My mom ordered their Orange Blossom Salad, a mixture of romaine and iceberg mix with Napa cabbage, crispy rice noodles, edamame, snow peas, carrots, and cucumbers with a Honey Orange Sesame Vinaigrette. They also had a tempting assortment of lemonades, including Sweet Baby Watermelon, Blackberry Mint, and Lemon Rosemary.

The Food:
I really enjoyed my salad- the ingredients were really fresh and crisp. I loved the edamame and chickpeas in the Vegan Power Salad- it’s so nice to see some vegan sources of protein out there. Further, I knew I had to order this salad when I saw the quinoa- finally a place in Lexington that uses quinoa in salads! It adds such a great texture to the greens, and it’s a wonderful source of protein and fiber. Additionally, the tomatoes and cucumbers were really tasty! So often restaurants use pathetically pale insipid tomatoes and wimbly, watery cucumbers in their salads; thus, it was refreshing to get some quality ingredients. You really get a lot of salad at Vinaigrette, as they fit a lot of greens and lettuce into those deep metal bowls (which is a cute idea, by the way). I drizzled my salad in their Blackberry Sorghum Vinaigrette, a delightfully rich and smooth dressing with a hint of fruit and sweetness, but not overly saccharine or tangy. I definitely enjoyed this vinaigrette and got a second cup of it to finish off my lettuce (they’ll give you as much dressing as you need). I tried both their Sweet Baby Watermelon and Blackberry Mint lemonades. The Blackberry Mint was pretty good, but, oh my, the Sweet Baby Watermelon… SO GOOD. I could drink that all day. I love the taste of watermelon, and Vinaigrette perfectly captured the delightful sweetness of fresh watermelon in this crisp and refreshing lemonade. Overall, I was very satisfied (both with the taste and quality of the food and also with how the salad satisfied my hunger).

The Atmosphere: 
The interior is quaint and adorably appointed. There is great texture and warmth to the interior: rustic brick, barn wood, metal chairs, wooden tables, subway tile… the interior gets a definite thumbs up from me. However, the seating is almost absurdly minimal- there are three tables, three! I understand they are a new business and pressed for space, but finding a place to sit was a challenge. At lunch time, all of the tables inside were occupied, their tables outside were occupied, the benches were occupied, the tables in front of the neighboring Orange Leaf were occupied, and some people were sitting on stray chairs with their laps. My mom and I, along with several other patrons, had to walk around the corner to the patio of Firehouse Subs to be able to sit down. Not that it’s horribly inconvenient, but it was awkward, as the manager of Firehouse came outside to tell all the Vinaigrette patrons (who stand out with their large metal bowls) that, essentially, we couldn’t sit there but she would let us finish eating before she kicked us off the patio. So be cautious of the lunch rush and consider getting your salad to go if you are planning on trying out Vinaigrette during peak hours. However, the staff of Vinaigrette was exceptionally friendly, upbeat, and helpful. Even when I asked to add chicken to a vegan salad and inquired which of their dressings were gluten free and vegan, they were happy to answer all my questions and definitely added to the warm and inviting atmosphere at Vinaigrette.

The Prices: 
Vegan Power Salad $8.95
Add grilled chicken $3
Orange Blossom Salad $8.95
Seasonal Lemonade $3
Our total for lunch ~$26

The prices are reasonable, but you will pay more than your average quickie salad due to the quality and customizability of the ingredients. If you get a salad, and only a salad, you could scrape out of there for under $10. However, if you want to add any additional toppings, especially proteins, or if you want to indulge in one of their tantalizing lemonades, you could be over $15 for one person. As someone that rarely eats out and always packs her own lunch, it will be more of an occasional treat than a regular occurrence, but it is convenient to find somewhere that prepares healthy food in front of you.

Overall: 
I really enjoyed Vinaigrette- the food, the drinks, the atmosphere, and the business. It’s a little out of my way, but it will definitely be a top contender for future lunch dates! Want to learn more, see more pictures, and see what others have to say? Head on over to their Facebook page.

Note: I received no compensation for this review and purchased my own food. However, I would never be opposed to some complimentary salads or lemonades… you know, for taste-tasting purposes 😉

❤ Nika

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Amy’s Light and Lean Quinoa and Black Beans with Butternut Squash and Chard Review

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I am a big fan of Amy’s frozen meals- they make for a great lunch when you’re almost out of the door and realize you haven’t prepped anything to eat at work (because you aren’t buying lunch out at restaurants, fast food chains, or cafeterias… right? RIGHT?!). Although in an ideal world we would prepare all of our meals from scratch, this isn’t always possible in the hectic, busy constraints of the real world. Enter the healthy frozen meal. I like to keep some frozen meals at work so I know I always have something on hand that I can eat (because even if I wanted to get something on campus, there’s nothing I can eat!) The Amy’s rice, veggie, and tofu bowls (especially the teriyaki) have been staples in my freezer for quite some time, but I stumbled across this gluten free vegan Light and Lean Amy’s meal and was captivated by its promises of nutty quinoa, hearty black beans, earthy swiss chard, and juicy butternut squash.IMG_2425

With hearty ingredients like quinoa, black beans, swiss chard, and butternut squash, this bowl is very filling due to its impressive 11g of fiber and 10g of protein with only 240 calories. I was really looking forward to this meal, but the first bite left me a little disappointed- it was quite insipid and bland! Although it contains many great, healthy, and whole ingredients and veggies, this bowl was seriously lacking in seasoning. Luckily I had some salt and pepper on hand. Granted, some of you may watch your salt intake, but I have incredibly low blood pressure, hypothyroidism, and a predilection for lightheadedness, so my doctor has actually told me to consume more salt! Um, done. I am really quite moderate with salt, but sometimes you just need a little dash! In my opinion, salt and pepper is quite possible the best seasoning. It’s not fancy, but sometimes the basics beat out all the frilly and herbed competitors. After the addition of some seasoning, the salt really brought out the flavor of the butternut squash, black beans, quinoa, and veggies, while cutting some of the bitterness of the swiss chard.

The verdict: unaltered, I would not be a big fan of this bowl. However, some simple salt and pepper really transforms the flavor of this bowl and enriches the taste profile. Will I purchase it again? Perhaps. It’s a pretty unique frozen meal and contains many ingredients I love. However, there are other frozen meals out there that don’t need any alterations to have great flavor!

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Kutoa Chocolate Banana Bar Review

The last time I ventured to Whole Foods, I discovered a new gluten free, vegan bar: the KUTOA Bar (kew-toa, ko-toa, ku-toah?). I may not know how to pronounce Swahili, but I do know that this bar has good intentions. Not only are these bars constructed from natural, non-GMO ingredients, this bar has a social and public health cause in mind- for every bar you buy, they will feed a child in need.

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Whenever you buy one of their full-size bars or kids squares, they will give mironutrient packs, nut packs, KUTOA bars, or healthy sandwiches to children in need in the US, developing countries, and globally.

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Whenever I find a new gluten free, vegan bar, I can’t refuse slipping it into my cart; therefore, I couldn’t resist trying this alimentary version of Tom’s Shoes, especially with flavors like Chocolate Banana and Blueberry Almond.

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You can read more about their cause and their products on their website, but now let’s get to the part you really want to hear- how does it taste?!

Although I’m reviewing the Chocolate Banana flavor here (which is the flavor I was the most excited about), I tried the Blueberry Almond bar first and loved it. The chocolate flavor in this bar is great, but the banana is a little off to me. It tastes a little too ripe and mushy, almost like a babyhood banana purée. The bar is a little softer and mushier than the Blueberry Almond bar, so there is not as much of a rice crunch crisp present (which I really enjoy, I like a little crisp!). The chocolate has a great taste and melts perfectly in your mouth, but the banana really doesn’t measure up for me. The off-taste (for me) is likely due to the date paste, which is listed above bananas in the ingredients (ironically). I often steer away from bars with ingredients heavy in dates because, although they have great nutritional value and add natural sweetness, I often find bars with dates to be overly saccharine in taste and to have an odd, mushy mouthfeel. That’s totally personal preference, so if you enjoy LaraBars (which are also heavy in dates), you might love the Chocolate Banana, but I think I will stick with the Blueberry Almond KUTOA bars to get that nice, airy crispy crunch! After perusing their website, I discovered they also have a Chocolate Espresso flavor that sounds divine, but my Whole Foods unfortunately doesn’t carry this flavor. (Cough cough for anyone who can find one and wants to send one my way! 😉 )

This bar contains 7g of protein and 3g of fiber, so it has some nutritional worth… until you scan down to the sugar content: 22g of sugar!! Most GF vegan bars you can find are around 12-17g of sugar (which is already high enough), so I was shocked (and preparing for a sugar coma) when I saw that this KUTOA bar contained a full 22g of sugar. Despite the high sugar content, the ingredients are natural and the bar contains lots of chia and flax seeds to pack a 200mg omega-3 punch.

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The verdict: The bar wasn’t terrible, but I much prefer the Blueberry Almond flavor. I won’t be purchasing this flavor again, but it hasn’t deterred me from trying their other options, especially if I can get my hands on the Chocolate Espresso flavor! Until then, I guess I will continue to eat my Espresso Chip Bonk Breaker Bar!

Whole Foods Grocery Haul and Reviews

I thought I would share a recent grocery haul from Whole Foods with you all. I’ve posted pictures of all the items, and I will do an itemized list with a mini review below. Some products will garner a more detailed individual review post later, but I’ll give you all a thumbs up or a thumbs down in the meantime in case you’re heading to Whole Foods soon and need some suggestions. While I like to do the majority of my bulk shopping at a variety of grocery stores, Whole Foods has a great selection of protein/granola bars, specialty granola and cereals, and frozen meals and pizzas that are hard to find elsewhere in town. My motto? Come for the bars, stay for the multitude of impulse buys.

  • Whole Foods Guacamole– avocado, lime, cilantro, white onion, hot peppers, salt and pepper. I was very disappointed in this guacamole. It tasted oddly acidic and the flavor profile was lacking despite the ingredients. The ingredient list sounds better than the guac tastes. Thumbs down.
  • Whole Food Bars: Bonk Breakers (thumbs up, see full review here), Epic Turkey Bar (thumbs down), That’s It bar (thumbs up), Kit’s Organic Bars (eh, neutral thumbs), PROBAR Core Chocolate Mint (thumbs up, see full review here), Kutoa Bars (thumbs up)
  • Artisan Bistro Coconut Lemongrass with Chicken: thumbs up, full review to follow. These frozen meals are the best I’ve had.
  • Amy’s Veggie Loaf: haven’t tried this one yet, but Rob loves it… so, third party thumbs up
  • Amy’s Roasted Vegetable GF Vegan Pizza: thumbs up,  see full review here. Would be my favorite GF vegan pizza if it came in a larger size.
  • Amy’s Black Bean, Quinoa, and Butternut Squash Bowl: thumbs up with modifications. This bowl was great, but the taste was rather bland. I added some salt and pepper to liven it up, and it was much more flavorful. Full review to follow.
  • Daiya Fire Roasted Veggie Pizza: thumbs up, see full review here.
  • Michele’s Pumpkin Spice Granola: thumbs up. Looove this granola, especially the cinnamon raisin flavor. It’s pretty expensive compared to something like Kind, but totally worth it.
  • Emmy’s Cacao Coconut cereal: neutral thumbs. Full review on cereals to follow. This cereal is loaded with 6g of protein and 5g of fiber with 8g of sugar. The Cacao Coconut is probably the best flavor, but it’s still a little bland to eat alone, so I mix in some granola.
  • Erewhon Quinoa and Chia cereal: thumbs up. 6g of protein and 5g of fiber with less than 1g of sugar. This cereal is the nutritional winner amongst GF vegan cereals, but it is a little bland (naturally), so I always use this as a cereal “base” and top with granola.
  • Back to Nature GF Sesame Seed crackers: thumbs up, probably my favorite GF vegan cracker. Nice and crunchy with a lightly salted sesame flavor.
  • Amy’s Chili Lime dressing: thumbs up. If you read any of my salad recipes, you’ll see how much I love this dressing. Hands down, my favorite salad dressing right now (hence the two bottles)
  • Pink Lady Apples: thumbs up. The candy of apples, see a more in depth review of my favorite apples here.
  • Whole Foods Almond Milk: thumbs up. I always get unsweetened plain almond milk, and they all taste pretty much the same to me. Usually I get Silk, but this is essentially the same.
  • Knudsen’s Nature’s Peak Orchard Veggie juice: thumbs up. Like Bolthouse’s or Naked’s Green Machine/Green Goodness, minus the wheat grass (gluten) and pineapple… neither of which I can eat.
  • Honest Kids Watermelon Super Fruit Punch: neutral thumbs. Random purchase, as I almost never buy juice. However, I love watermelon, and I can always use it in smoothies. There is a much better watermelon juice at Whole Foods that I will share with you all soon…
  • Hilary’s Eat Well Veggie Bites: thumbs way up. Love these! I usually cook them in the oven, and they are a nice way to have a starchy-tasting carb side dish without sacrificing vegetables. They taste and smell lovely- almost like cheese! I’ll definitely do a full review on these soon.

Do you have any Whole Foods favorites?

Review: Bonk Breaker Espresso Chip Protein Bar

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I first discovered these Bonk Breaker bars in a Whole Foods in Los Angeles last summer. At that point, the GF vegan market in Lexington was rather pathetic, especially in terms of protein bars. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I approached a shelf containing not just one bar that I could eat, but several. Having options in a world full of limited options is an intoxicating feeling… and one that leads to you buying $50 in protein and granola bars… I had been looking for a replacement for Clif Bars, which used to be my addiction. They’re delicious, but I don’t trust them to be GF and dairy free. Enter the Bonk Breaker bar.

There are several flavors of Bonk Breakers, but many of them contain peanuts, so that limits my options some. My favorite in this selection is the Espresso Chip, delicious chocolatey coffee heaven. I love to have this bar in the morning if I don’t have time to eat breakfast before I leave for work. The bar actually contains caffeine! So it’s a great bar to help get you going in the morning. This bar has the gritty texture of ground expresso beans complemented by chunks of mocha chocolate. The gritty crunchiness of the espresso helps mask the taste and texture of the protein powder. The Espresso Chip flavor is less dry than their other flavors (the bars definitely benefit from a liquid companion. Naturally, I like to pair the Espresso Chip with… more coffee!!!). The taste is almost like a coffee cake- flavors of chocolate, mocha, espresso, granola… These tastes intensify as you chew, further grinding up the espresso chips.

The only downside to this bar is that it is quite petite; however, it is filling for its size. Unfortunately, it only contains 7g of protein, which is clearly surpassed by the 20g contained in the PROBAR Core Chocolate Mint bar that I reviewed the other day, which is probably my new favorite GF Vegan protein bar for pre-workouts. The Espresso Chip is still my pick for a quick breakfast on the go.

 

Comprehensive Review of Gluten-Free Vegan Frozen Pizzas

What is the one thing I miss most of all since eliminating all dairy, egg, gluten, and meat from my diet? PIZZA. The crispy but chewy crust, the warm, melty cheese, and the endless possibilities for toppings… pizza was the hardest thing for me to bid adieu to, and my mind often wandered back to it’s deliciousness in times of weakness. I’m not alone in this love affair with pizza; Rob, my nutrition and fitness compadre and the only person crazy (and awesome) enough to eat like me, shares my love for pizza that is reminiscent of Barb Kelner, the pizza eater… Or my friend Hussein, who has a notorious and committed love affair with all things pizza.

Barb Kelner

The tricky dichotomy with pizza is its battle between good and evil. Good: so freaking delicious. Evil: every. allergen. present. Gluten? Yup. Eggs? Most likely. Dairy? Uh definitely, have you seen this cheese? But alas, I would not be discouraged. When I stopped eating all of these ingredients years ago, there was maybe one or two pizzas on the market in town (the Amy’s pizzas). However (and thankfully), the gluten-free vegan market has expanded rapidly, even in little ole’ Kentucky. Thus, this post is a comprehensive review of the 7 gluten-free vegan pizzas that I have been able to find, reviewed in detail and ranked from best to least favorite top to bottom. After consulting with Rob, we both agree on the ranking and review of these pizzas. Now that we’ve reached Barb Kelner status by eating every option out there (I’m such a soldier, the things I do for you all…), I want to share my thoughts with you so you too can enjoy pizza again!


 

Bold Organics Veggie Lovers Pizza

A crispy, flakey, and buttery thin crust first greets your mouth. This crust is probably the best gluten-free vegan crust on any frozen pizza, as it tastes the most similar to a wheat flour crust. There is a crisp crunch when you bite in, but it chews easily without being brittle or overly tough. This crust possesses a delicate balance between an enjoyable initial crunch and a palatable soft, doughy chew. The crust is easy to eat, but still sturdy enough to maintain it’s shape while handling, even under the pressure of added toppings. Your palate is then amused by a lovely marinara with a hint of pepper and just enough heat to tingle your tongue. The sauce reminds me of an Arrabbiata sauce- savory tomatoes, fire roasted red peppers, and mild heat from peppers. Continue reading

PROBAR Core Mint Chocolate Bar Review

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Is this love, is this love, is this love that I’m feeeeeelin’?

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Uh yes, true love in protein bar form right here. May I present to you the new PROBAR Core Mint Chocolate protein bar. This sizable bar is loaded with 20g of protein (!!!!!!!) but tastes like a candy bar. Seriously, I can’t even… just imagine a Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookie in bar form, packed with plant-based protein, chia and flax seeds, and 4g of fiber. And did I mention it’s gluten free and vegan?

PROBAR ingredients PROBAR nutrition

As you can see, the ingredients are pretty natural and pronounceable. And before you have an aneurysm over “OMGAH 9g of fat?! FATTTT. NOOOO,” take a deep breath and repeat after me- “we need fats, good fats, just not too much fat.” Ladies, you want to have flat abs, lean legs, toned arms without losing your curves? EAT SOME FAT. Everything in moderation, even moderation… so you actually have to move your butt and sweat too. I don’t trash items for not being “low-cal,” “low-carb,” or “low-fat”… especially since most of these products achieve these distinctions by replacing natural ingredients (like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and vegetable oils that have a nice composition of saturated (meh, “bad” fats) and unsaturated fats (“good” fats”)) with crazy Frankenstein chemicals that confuse our bodies and can harm our health. The next time you think about trashing a product for containing fat or some other “bad” macronutrient, first 1. look at the INGREDIENTS, not only the nutrition facts. Don’t be lazy, companies prey upon our laziness. If a product makes a claim, don’t just take their word for it, read the ingredients and find the truth, and 2. Before you go on a low-fat rampage, remember that we wouldn’t even have this whole trans-fat dilemma if we hadn’t gotten obsessed with low-fat diets in the 80s and 90s and tried to mutate and chemically zap everything that contained a hint of fat. Admittedly, I’d like to see slightly less sugar because they do add several syrups (tapioca, agave, cane) to sweeten, but, as I said, it tastes like a girl scout cookie, so pick your battles.

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Speaking of taste, this bar knocks it out of the park with creamy mint and a chocolatey crunch that delights the taste buds and makes me look down at the wrapper to make sure someone didn’t sneak a Thin Mint into my bag. COOOOOOKIEESSSS. Seriously, I do this Cookie Monster dance every time I eat one of these bars.

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As you can see from the above pictures, the bar contains two layers- a crunchy, chewy chocolatey bottom and a creamy chocolate mint top- all drizzled in a delicate casing of vegan chocolate. The bottom layer is reminiscent of the inside of a Thin Mint- slightly crunchy, some chew, and a nice airy, crispy texture. The top layer is a creamy mint chocolate fudge that melts in your mouth and complements the chewy layer perfectly. Perhaps most surprising of all, the vegan chocolate in this bar doesn’t taste overly fake and saccharine like most vegan chocolates (I am very sensitive to this distinction because I have a low tolerance for overly sweet and sugary foods). Furthermore, I can’t taste the protein in this bar, and I think the mint helps cover that up that undesirable taste and texture.

I give this protein bar two chocolatey thumbs up. I love to eat this as an afterwork/pre-workout snack, as it gives me plenty of protein and fuel to power me through my workout and keeps my bottomless pit of a stomach satisfied longer than most bars.

Eat, Drink, and be Healthy

My birthday was this past Tuesday, so I’ve been busy busy busy. Birthday celebrations inevitably mean eating out… at restaurants… with dishes prepared with who knows what ingredients. As someone with dietary restrictions, eating out can be quite daunting, especially for the health-conscious among us. However, it is possible to eat, drink, and be merry while still being healthy. Since my last post, I have gone out to eat three times (which is waaay more than usual). However, in this post, I will break down what I (or we, if you want to join me on this health adventure!) can eat at certain restaurants.

  • PF Changs

PF Changs is actually surprisingly good at dealing with food allergies. This restaurant was one of the first in Lexington, KY, to actually offer a gluten free menu. The GF menu is built into the standard menu, so you don’t have to go through the trouble/eye roll of asking for the GF menu. If you inform your waiter that you are GF, they will bring special sauces to the table (remember, soy sauce contains gluten! Tamari is a soy sauce substitute that does not contain gluten). If you tell your server all your dietary restrictions, they can actually print out an index of what you can and cannot eat and bring it to the table… like I said, PF Changs definitely gets an A+ for being accommodating for special diets. From the GF menu, we ordered the GF Chicken Lettuce Wraps, GF Changs Spicy Chicken, and Chicken Fried Rice without egg. Keep in mind that sometimes you can get their meats without the egg marinade, but often they have already marinaded the meat in a sauce that contains egg. Just a thought for those with egg allergies. See their GF menu online here.

  • Bella Notte (local Italian restaurant)

Bella Notte is another restaurant with a GF menu; however, unlike PF Changs, you will have to request this one (and some of the waiters, like the one I had on Monday, may not know about it… but I promise it exists). I ordered the Pasta Arrabiata, a dish with marinara sauce, red chiles, olive oil, lemon juice, and basil. I added chicken to this dish for some protein. It’s incredibly delicious, pasta is such a treat when you’re GF.

  • Mexican Restaurant

Since every Mexican restaurant in town has the same menu, I’ll just be general. My go to dish at Mexican restaurants is the chicken fajitas. I almost never eat the rice and beans (which are often topped with cheese) that come with it, but the grilled chicken, vegetables, and peppers are divine. I’m sure to order it without sour cream, but still get the guacamole. Since the normal tortillas are wheat based, you can order corn tortillas or use the chips to make wraps or “nachos” with the fajita meat. Plus, they give you so much food that you’ll always have leftovers (=easy lunch the next day).

There you have it- while going out can be difficult while trying to eat healthy, it can be done. But always try to consume the majority of your meals at home, as it is the only way to guarantee what is going into your food. I always feel heavier and more full when I eat out, even if I order the healthiest thing possible. I think the biggest piece of advice I can give about restaurants is avoid dairy. Everything in restaurants is discretely drenched in butter, cheese, cream, and all those other fatty, heavily caloric ingredients that will weigh you down (in more ways than one!). Also, alcohol with moderation! At two of the above meals, I enjoyed one drink (wine at one, a margarita at the other). When in doubt, always stick with wine (preferably red, for the antioxidant and health benefits). Wine is the only alcoholic drink that doesn’t make my stomach feel bloated or sour during or the day after. Don’t get me wrong, I love wine… but I love food even more, so I’d rather eat my delicious calories than gulp them down!

 

When in doubt, think “What Would Nika Eat?” (WWNE, can we make that a thing?) Or hell, text or email me and ask me yourself!