When I heard that Starbucks was going to offer coconut milk nationwide, I was intrigued. While I don’t buy coconut milk for drinking, I do love ice creams and yogurts made from it. I also buy the canned versions for cooking and baking, and recently, for turning into amazing whipped cream. For drinking, we stick to soy and almond as of right now.

But before I give my opinions about the new milk, a small digression. As I read about the new item in advance of its being available, a lot of the comments were negative. Are the soy and coconut milks offered by Starbucks perfect? No, of course not. Would it be great if we could get non-dairy milks without carrageenen and other iffy ingredients? Sure. But I think a lot of people lost sight of the big picture here. Starbucks doesn’t have to offer any alternatives to dairy milk. While there are more people avoiding dairy everyday, we are far from the majority. Perhaps a little gratitude that our non-dairy needs are being considered at all would serve us better than complaining that they got it wrong. It’s a step in the right direction.

Back to my review. I tried the coconut milk in my usual Saturday mocha. It was good–definitely added a coconut undertone to my drink. The thing I didn’t like about it was that it was thinner than the soymilk. It also didn’t have the same degree of foaminess. Since I don’t really have a problem with soy, I will likely stick with that option for now as I prefer the extra creaminess. But I like that it is available as an option, and I may try it again when I shift to iced drinks in the warmer weather.

If nothing else, I do appreciate that Starbucks is broadening their options and thinking about people who cannot, for whatever reason, have dairy or soy.

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Last Friday our daughter had a sleepover with a friend, so my husband and I were able to arrange a date night–something we do far too rarely–like never. Anyway, we went to the movies and then to dinner. After much web searching and menu perusing, we decided to go to FLOW From the Garden, on Lark St. in Albany. I will state up front that part of the reason we went here was because I had purchased a Living Social voucher for them, and I wanted to use it before it expired. But it was a great choice!

FLOW stands for “For the Love of Wine,” which was the name of the wine store the owners used to have at a local mall. And the focus of the restaurant is still very much about the wine that accompanies the various courses. We had their five-course tasting menu, which consists of three first courses, an entree, and a dessert–plus wine to go with all the courses. It is $40 per person, which seems like a lot, but for “adult” dining, it was probably just right. The tasting menu does seem to be their most popular item–although you can order courses individually, and there are cheese and fruit platters available if you just want to go there and have wine. I think everyone else dining there with us ordered the tasting menu as well, and by the time we left, the place was crowded.

Their menu changes every couple of weeks, so even regular diners get something new. Our menu focused on the American Southwest. The firsts included Black Bean Bisque and two Salads, one focusing on greens and the other on corn and tomatoes. The entree was Rice and Beans with Greens, Potatoes, and Mushrooms. A Fruit Salad finished everything off.

Every course was delicious and just the right size considering all the courses we were getting. I have read some reviews that complained the portions were small. If you are used to The Olive Garden, then yes, but I found the courses perfectly portioned. We were full at the end of it, but we also didn’t feel stuffed. Even my husband, who isn’t a huge fan of Southwestern cuisine, liked everything.

And there was wine. Having owned a wine store, these people know their stuff. Every course was accompanied by a new wine, and we were given a full explanation of where it came from, how it should taste, and why it was chosen to go with the dish we were eating. The wine was served in tasting glasses, but that doesn’t mean they were skimpy. For me, it was just enough. We also had water on the table.

Everything on the menu, I was delighted to discover, was already vegan, and the only change that had to be made to make everything also gluten-free was croutons held back from one salad. There is a meat option for the entree for those who wish it–this time it was chicken. Like their name indicates, they get much of their produce from local farms, and what is in season helps shape the menu.

The pace of the restaurant is leisurely, but it isn’t slow. We were there for about an hour and a half. You can’t rush a meal like this, not if you want to enjoy the courses and enjoy the wine. Everyone was friendly and willing to chat. There is one large community table and then several smaller tables–so you can dine alone or make some new acquaintances. Quite honestly, it was nice to just sit back and not have to worry about going anywhere. If you go there with post-dinner plans, just schedule accordingly.

Downsides? Really, I can only come up with two. The restaurant is in downtown Albany, which is not parking friendly. My husband actually dropped me off so we wouldn’t risk losing our reservation, and it was about fifteen minutes before he came back. However, we also went the weekend of the Tulip Festival, so that affected the parking in that particular area. You just need to factor that into your time.

The other thing missing was a piece of chocolate at the end. When we got home, we were both full, but we also both had a taste for a piece of chocolate–something about cleansing the palate and tying the experience up with a bow, perhaps. Luckily I had some in the pantry!

I look forward to going back and trying another menu if we ever get another date night. They have wine class dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that are reservation only (they are limited to 17-20 people)  and sound fun–I would like to try one of those. Just need to wait for another sleepover!

Resisting Temptation

January 1, 2013

The biggest challenge with any type of life change is resisting the temptations out there in the world. Even the best intentions can be easily undermined. So, for example, Friday I went to knitting class, which is usually a food safe zone for me, until someone showed up with a big bag of chocolates that sat on the table for the whole two hours. I was good, however, and only ate one piece. Mainly because I knew I was going to have to report in here! Nothing like accountability to keep one honest!

Eating out is another situation rife with temptation. Friday, my husband and I ate at a health food store that has a lunch buffet, so that was safe: rice, roasted veggies, and tofu. I even resisted the natural sodas and got iced tea instead. At home for dinner, we had more rice and roasted veggies.

Saturday brought an unplanned dining out, and we wound up at Moe’s. I started off pretty good with a shell-less salad, but I did get a side of chips, so I probably remained neutral on that one. Then yesterday, a trip to the mall found us at the food court at lunch time. But I stuck to a salad from Mr. Subb and a side of pintos without cheese from Taco Bell. Maybe not great, but there were plenty of worse options!

The key is to not get sucked into the eating out trap, obviously, and to commit to eating at home. Sunday I made a big pot of Mac and cheese with gluten-free pasta, soy milk, and Daiya cheese. It was quite yummy. And last night I made waffles for New Year’s Eve. Also yummy. Today I think we can get by pretty much on left overs, which leaves me time to knit and watch the parade!

Kim Harrison

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