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1

Whether your tea tastes range from Tetley to Goji Green, local tea shops are ready to expand your horizons.

Whether your tea tastes range from Tetley to Goji Green, local tea shops are ready to expand your horizons. )

2

Going the CSA route ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious produce available.

Going the CSA route ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious produce available. )

On the Rise for Food and Drink

Published Apr 13, 2017 • Last Updated 11:35 am, April 13, 2017

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In food and in life, variety is key. While pizza is a much-beloved food trend for a reason, it's time to stop making it a go-to when there are so many other options to choose from, especially on the shoreline. From drinking activated charcoal (seriously, it's a thing) to new vegan offerings on the shoreline, here's a look at some of the latest trends in food and drink.

Vegan-Friendly Restaurants

There's no doubt about it: Whether due to health reasons or environmental concerns, veganism is on the rise. Here on the shoreline, restaurants are stepping up to the challenge with a variety of animal-free offerings. At Shakahari in Old Saybrook, diners find an entire restaurant filled with homestyle vegetarian and vegan Indian dishes. The breads and appetizers are all vegan—including the restaurant's addictive patra—colocasia leaves cooked with chickpea flour, carom seed, lemon, and jaggery. All of the main dishes, already vegetarian, can be prepared vegan, with a substitution of almond or coconut milk. Shakahari also offers vegan drinks including masala chai, and vegan desserts: gulab jamun, fried dough balls in honey, and rava sheera, a traditional Indian sweet of semolina flour with almonds, cardamom, and saffron.

The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center offers a full vegan catering menu, from appetizers with smoked almond pate to quinoa salads, entrées including vegetable moussaka and spaghetti squash lasagna, to desserts of raw coconut vegan carrot cake and pumpkin pie with a cashew crust. There's even a gourmet specialty vegan sandwich: The Veganese, featuring zesty Asian slaw, seared tofu, sliced cucumber, and Sriracha dressing on a French baguette; plus, a veggie-stuffed mushroom burger and more.

No mention of veganism on the shore would be complete without a shout-out to G-Zen in Branford, a vegan restaurant whose specialties include a handcrafted artisan cheese plate of cashew cheeses, fresh fruits and dates, and crowd favorite the Feisty Monkey, chilled whole grain pasta with fresh herbs and house-made spicy peanut and cilantro sauce.

The Tea Experience

Savvy Tea Gourmet in Madison is on a mission to educate the public about the nuances of tea. From teas of different tastes to the health benefits of tea and the whole ritual of the afternoon tea experience, owner Phil Parda is happy to share his wisdom and enthusiasm. The shop even has a Tea Education & Awareness program.

"We go to great lengths through our tea tastings, our library lectures, our afternoon teas, and through customer interaction at the tea shop to help them understand the nuances of tea that make it a new and valuable dimension in many of their lives," said Parda.

From white and green teas with names like Cloud Mist, Matcha Genmaicha, and Goji Green to "dark" teas like Golden Flower, which Parda calls the "Heart-Healthy Mystery Tea from the Tea Horse Road," the world of tea is ever-expanding.

"We've had hundreds of customers come in and tell how this tea has helped improve their LDL cholesterol," Parda noted of the Golden Flower tea.

There's also a trend toward non-caffeinated herbal teas, such as the ginger turmeric tea sold at the Spice & Tea Exchange in Guilford.

"People want things for stress, they want tea they can drink at night, and herbals are a good way to go for that," said owner Jen Asbury.

Flavored teas are also popular right now; at the Spice & Tea Exchange, that includes blueberry black, hazelnut cookie, Earl Grey, and coconut oolong tea.

"The true enthusiasts will come in and want a straight black tea or a straight green tea, but a lot of people like the flavors, too," Asbury noted.

Activated Charcoal

On the subject of trends in drink, activated charcoal—traditionally used to treat poisoning—has become a new health fad. Detox drinks made of food-grade activated charcoal combined with nutrient-rich additions like hemp seeds and spinach are hitting the market from companies including Juice Served Here, Juice Generation, and LuliTonix. Whether it works as a detox method or simply draws all the nutritional value out of the nutritive additives it's blended with (that's what charcoal does), it's becoming easier to find, even here on the shoreline.

While it doesn't offer "Activated Lemonade," the Spice & Tea Exchange does carry Cyprus Black Lava Sea Salt, colored black due to activated charcoal.

"People like to buy that and season their food for the antioxidant properties," said Asbury.

Regardless of its health benefits—or lack thereof—there's no doubt that it wins major points for presentation.

"It looks absolutely stunning if you use it to rim a glass for a Bloody Mary or if you sprinkle it on top of deviled eggs or sushi," Asbury said of the black salt.

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)

There are few things more farm-to-table than a box of fresh veggies delivered fresh from a farm to your home. Several local farms on the shoreline offer community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, which offer weekly pickup of seasonal offerings such as veggies, fruits, eggs, and honey. They're a win-win for local farmers and locavores, as signing up for the program in advance means the farm is guaranteed the initial capital to grow its yearly crops. In New England, CSAs commonly run from June through September—weather permitting. Participants need to sign up early, and should display a willingness to try new foods; the foods in each week's box vary depending on what's growing at the farm.

"People love the farm share concept and really enjoy coming to our farm for weekly pickups to see our animals and birds, as well as have the opportunity to pick up other things they need like beef, pork, chicken, eggs, or honey," said Stephanie Lesnik of Field House Farm in Madison.

Take note: many farms that offer a CSA program have very limited enrollment, so sign up early to make sure you get a spot.

"We are a small family farm, so we keep our farm share enrollment small, at 25 to 30 families," said Lesnik.

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