I began the month of November with a feel-good activity—I volunteered for a highway cleanup campaign with my local heroes at Bring Your Own Glen-Ed, a community-based volunteer organization devoted to ridding our planet of plastic pollution. Times are risky in many ways this year—a year like none other I can remember, honestly. But we planned well, took all necessary “pandemic precautions,” and did the good work.

Bring Your Own Glen-Ed Volunteers at clean up siteI love these guys for their unwavering motivation and dedication to heal our planet. So I really wanted to be there for them on that first chilly Saturday morning in November. And being there for others means taking personal care of ourselves, yes? Enter The New Hope Network with a blogger box product that is now a mainstay in my house: Iconic Grass-Fed Protein Drinks.

I had little time on volunteer day to get all my chores done before heading out to the cleanup site—had laundry to hang out, cats to feed, emails to answer—probably similar in pace to most people’s mornings. It seemed the perfect opportunity to try Iconic’s Chocolate Truffle flavor. I mean, come on, chocolate truffle!

Iconic Protein Chocolate Truffle DrinkBut the amazingly rich, chocolaty flavor and smooth, creamy texture weren’t even the best part—this ready-made smoothie contains a whopping 200 percent of my vitamin B12 daily allowance with 20 grams of highly absorbable protein and only three grams of sugar. Whoa. For a vegetarian like me, this is gold. I found this drink so easy to digest, so pleasant to consume and so beneficial that I was holding my breath to see if it was also a good company to support…And yes!

The New Hope Network awarded Iconic Protein a NEXTY award in 2018, saying “Today’s beverage market is flooded with protein shakes, so what makes ICONIC Protein drinks stand out from the pack? The answer is in the ingredients list you can actually read. With 20 grams of New Zealand grass-fed milk protein, antioxidant and adaptogenic ingredients such as turmeric, ginger and black pepper, ICONIC Protein has delivered a low-calorie product that is both delicious and trustworthy.”

Further, right on the label you can find third-party verifications for sustainability and animal welfare. I love it when it all comes together like this—taste, nutrition, a dedication to healthy living and ethical sustainability.

My other typical “slump” times happen in the early afternoon, when I’m either in Zoom meetings (Ah, the new normal.) or trying to do research for my blog, my cooking or my activism. I find it particularly hard to concentrate and write if I’m feeling tired, and since I am the quintessential “morning person”, (up by 4:15 a.m. every day!) afternoons can be hard.

Imagine my excitement when a box of Nutra Collagen’s Collagen and Coffee arrived in the blogger box. I have been a coffee drinker since age three—no cracks about my size, please. I grew up with a French grandma, so café au lait was just what I drank. Even as a kid, coffee ice cream was my favorite flavor. The other kids thought I was nuts, and their parents thought I was allowed too much latitude (probably true, but not about coffee and not the point here). And while this great little afternoon sipper is wonderful all by itself, I could not resist creating a simple recipe to take it just a little bit higher—and what a great use for leftover morning coffee, which I refuse to throw out, BTW–a hand-me-down from Grandma.

Consider: Heat one ounce of strong black coffee with one cup of full-fat coconut milk and a tablespoon of honey. Once steaming, pour over your Collagen and Coffee instant drink mix. Stir to combine—this instant mix blends so easily! Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon. YUM.

Actually YUM plus really good for you ingredients. Nutra Collagen is the new wave in collagen products, and there are many out there, so choices can be challenging. Here is Nutra Collagen’s statement on what they think sets them apart from the mediocre pack:
At Nutra Collagen®, we believe that health supplement companies should care about the products you put in your body just as much as you do. That is why we decided to take complete control over the creation of our products. Everything you see on our website is manufactured in our very own facility. Every ingredient, that we use has been closely inspected first-hand.”
Another important difference is that Nutra Collagen has perfected “Instantized Collagen,”  the next breakthrough in collagen technology and quality because it delivers a better tasting and easier to mix product.

I probably would never have found either of these beneficial products without the New Hope Network Blogger Box because I’m not typically a big user of premade smoothies and drinks. I do like to make my own from scratch, which I’m sure you’ve caught onto by now.

The fact is, all my go-to protein powders and mixes have been Blogger Box samples, from this new Iconic favorite and my indulgent experiment with Nutra Collagen’s Collagen Coffee to what are now old favorites: Growing Naturals Energy Drink and NatreveWellness Vegan Smoothie Powders. New Hope Network is not only a magnificent curator of natural products, they are becoming a go-to reliable source for environmental leadership and social justice. Worth your time, so check them out!

And, of course, I had to contribute my own fall smoothie to get you sipping yourself happy and healthy as we move steadily toward a new year: My Pumpkin Kefir Smoothie! Recall that I began making my own kefir last spring, and ever since, I’ve been finding ways to include it in my diet and my recipes.  

One newer discovery I’ve made is that you can create a fizzy buttermilk substitute by preparing your kefir and straining it a day in advance of using it. Just tuck it away in the fridge in a tightly sealed jar for another 12 hours or so. I always make sure I include a few kefir grains in my strained kefir milk, so the process of fermentation continues Sometime later…fizzy kefir!

This double-ferment kefir gets richer in probiotics and is just the thing for lighter cornbread, richer quick breads and the fluffiest pancakes ever! I now double ferment whenever I’m making my kefir, so if you’ve started making your own kefir, it’s time to give double-ferment a try. However, the recipe below will work just as well if you don’t want to wait the extra day 

Not a kefir fan? That’s ok, too. Try the smoothie with regular milk, or a favorite nut, seed or grain milk. My recipe is just the sip of a suggestion…. 

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Here’s to an energetic end to fall! Share your favorite smoothie recipe or product!