Comfort Baking Part 2: Vegan Apple Spice Bread

When my soul feels troubled, I turn to activities that comfort me. The first is running. This morning, I spent a meditative run thinking about the injustices in our world. I ran for Ahmaud Arbery. He was murdered while out on a run in his own neighborhood. We should not be hunted down and killed for simply exercising. My soul aches for my country. How can so much injustice happen in the land of the free? This topic certainly deserves much further discussion.

Documenting 2.23 miles completed in memory of Ahmaud Arbery.

My other comfort activity is baking. And based on the fact that I’ve already used an entire 10 lb. bag of my favorite King Arthur Flour unbleached, all-purpose flour, I’d say I’ve done a lot of comfort baking. I opened this bag just before we had to quarantine. When I bought it, I actually felt a bit ridiculous; I never thought I’d use up all of that flour before it expired! The regular 5 lb bag wasn’t available. When I emptied the giant bag, I had to pause for a moment and reflect on all of the goodness that bag of flour has given my family over the past weeks.

I also found myself down to one little packet of yeast. In my maddening search for this elusive pantry staple over the past weeks, I began to realize how very lucky I was to buy what I did at the beginning of quarantine. Fortunately, I have a friend who scouted the Costco for yeast and found it! I had to send my card holding husband out to get some! It’s amazing how much my anxiety lifted just having that pack of yeast in my possession, though, as silly as that sounds.

My mom posted a picture of apple fritter bread to Facebook that she made the other week. It looked amazing! But I’m sure it’s not vegan. And I had already been mulling over another version of my favorite quick bread recipe. So after much thought, I executed the plan. Unlike the Tropical Banana Bread that took a few attempts to get it perfect, this time I nailed it on the first try.

This recipe calls for one banana, but as one of my “sole mates” reminded me, not everyone can eat bananas! Feel free to sub ½ cup applesauce for the banana.

For the applesauce in quick breads, it’s so easy to use the unsweetened applesauce cups. These are ½ cup each.  Just about every grocery chain makes a multi-pack of unsweetened organic applesauce cups, so I buy them frequently, just for baking.

This bread is spicy, subtly sweet, full of apples, and almost custard like in its texture. Even with the single banana, this is not the dominant flavor of the bread. It’s definitely something reminiscent of apple pie. It is a denser bread than traditional banana bread. I will absolutely make this again! So if you’re already bored with your 10th banana bread under quarantine, give this one a try!

Vegan Apple Spice Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups flour (can use any combination of all-purpose, whole wheat, bread, whole wheat pastry, oat flour; just make sure at least half is all-purpose)
  • 1/3 cup organic brown sugar (can use regular organic sugar, but the brown sugar gives it more flavor)
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon, apple pie spice, or pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup avocado oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed (you can sub ½ cup applesauce for the banana)
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, sliced, and diced. (I used Honeycrisp, but anything besides Red Delicious would work)

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed banana and/or applesauce, oil, and vanilla.
  • Blend the dry ingredients into the wet.
  • Fold in the diced apple.
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan (non-stick spray works great!)
  • Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, AND bread bounces back when pressed gently in the center.
  • Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then gently loosen the bread by running a knife around the edges, then remove from the pan. Allow to cool on a cooling rack.
  • Store wrapped in aluminum foil at room temperature if eating within 1-2 days, or store in the fridge for up to a week.

If you try this recipe, let me know! I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Finding Fitness Motivation: Pandemic Edition

I recently revisited my post from February about finding motivation. I wrote that post knowing that the novelty of our New Year’s resolutions was likely fading, evident by the smaller crowds at the gym. Well, now that we don’t have the gym, how do we find motivation to exercise? And where do we look for help? As much as it sucks to lose the gym, it kind of takes off the pressure of seeking those new weightlifting PR’s for me, and I kind of don’t mind being forced to be creative, at least in the short term. I do, however, miss running with my sole sisters tremendously. Solo runs are just not as much fun.

I’m really missing my sole sisters right now! This is us before one of the Ukrop’s Monument 10k races.
This year’s race was postponed until September.

Honestly, I look to my exercise time as an escape from the confines of my home. That’s why I like my endurance cardio escapades. This means long runs from home or in town, or long bike rides from home. Even though most of the time I procrastinate in getting out the door, my soul appreciates the separation from my physical house. So my cardio is on point, but my strength training may be suffering. The few HIIT workouts I’ve compiled have left my muscles complaining more than I ever expected, which tells me that I should maybe focus on this a bit more! Although I long for the wind in my hair as I run or bike!

My bike!

Since I’m not officially training for anything as far as running goes, I’m keeping up with a simple maintenance running schedule. For me, this is 3 runs a week, 3, 3, and 6-8 miles. Since I have asthma and have a history of getting sick after big races, I’m resisting the urge to sign up for some of the super fun ultra challenges going on right now. But, oh, how I want that Yeti 24 hour ultra shirt!

Yes, exercise can help you stay healthy, but too much exercise can also wear on your body. So make sure you are allowing for adequate recovery if you are doing tough workouts or long virtual races. There is conflicting research about endurance exercise and its effects on your immunity, but recent research concludes that the phenomenon of runners coming down with respiratory infection after races may have more to do with what we are dealing with now during this pandemic… transmitting viruses due to close proximity with others as we stand in corrals prior to and in crowds to celebrate after. Check out this article and this one about running and the effects on your immune system. Bottom line? Keep exercising. Moderate exercise is very good for your immune system.

This three day per week plan is my maintenance schedule for running, but my body is used to training for a spring half marathon and at least one fall full marathon. Your schedule may look different! If you want some motivation to run, there are many shorter virtual races available right now, too. Are you new to running? Check out these tips by Sports Backers and my earlier blog post about running safety.

I typically fill in the days of the week that I don’t run with one active rest day and three cross training/weightlifting days. I’ve become reacquainted with my bike. But let me tell you… my body craves slinging weights almost as much as it itches to run. So finding suitable bodyweight training activities and things I can use around the house as weights has been a bit lackluster when compared to the barbell. I’ve mentioned in prior posts that I found wine caddies have come in handy as weights. Fill them with cans, and you’ve got a decent substitute for dumbbells. Used together, they can even sub for a kettlebell for kettlebell swings. I also have a jump rope, resistance bands, my bike, and a nice circular driveway that’s about 200m.

Wine totes filled with cans to be used as weights. Necessity is the mother of invention…

But even with these tools, how do you design a home workout? Sometimes I like to focus on a specific area, like core or arms, or a specific task, like accessory work for running, and I do isolated work on these. Some days, I’m not feeling motivated at all, and I work through a few online or on demand workouts I don’t have to think about. Other days, I like to create HIIT style, short workouts. I generally choose a cardio component and 2-3 body weight activities to create my “WOD.” If my legs are tired from running or biking, I may focus on more upper body work. Or if I feel like I need leg strengthening, I will try to do this the day after a short run. Body weight exercises can be squats, lunges, burpees, pushups, or sit-ups. Cardio can be a short run (up to a mile), jumping rope (reps of single or double unders), or a short bike ride. I also use a resistance band for more focused leg strengthening, deadlifts, and other functional movements. I will start sharing with you how to break down and scale some of these movements and how to use resistance bands, too, in subsequent blog posts.

It seems like everyone is posting workouts online and fitness motivation tips right now if you need further inspiration. And maybe you will finally have the time to work on your mobility with a yoga class! You can have lots of access to free and low cost routines and information if you know where to look! A good first place to start is your own gym. I’m a member of the YMCA, and they host online classes. My husband’s CrossFit box posts home WOD’s. But here are some other resources:

Recovery and strengthening tips with a bit of anatomy education:

  • DuraMater Therapy. Hallie Lifston is an occupational therapist, CrossFit coach, nutrition coach, and badass athlete. Her specialty is exercise recovery and injury prevention. She provides excellent content on her Instagram account @duramatertherapy.
  • Risingsummityoga is the Instagram for Amanda Myers. She is a runner, yoga instructor, massage therapist, and health coach. She posts a lot of valuable content or her account @risingsummityoga. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the different yoga poses!

Yoga classes:

  • Yoga On Center in Ashland is zooming classes right now. These are donation based if you are able to give. Follow them on Instagram for their schedule @yogaoncenter.  
  • Check your local yoga studios to see if they are streaming classes. Many are charging fees, but just think of it as another way to support your local economy.

HIIT workouts:

  • The Sports Backers Fitness Warriors are posting classes online. They have a variety of styles, including dance, fusion, and HIIT style workouts. Follow them on Instagram for updates @rvafitnesswarriors.

Sports Backers:

  • This Richmond area non-profit, mother of the Fitness Warriors, the Richmond Marathon, the Ukrop’s Monument 10k, and associated training teams, has posted a variety of resources online, including information about virtual races, races still on the books for later this year, fitness trackers, Facebook accountability groups, and a kids challenge!
  • Sports Backers is also celebrating Bike Month in the RVA this month with Bike Walk RVA! There are many virtual activities to help you celebrate and keep you moving!

Cable subscription offerings:

  • If you are a subscriber, both Xfinity and Verizon offer several fitness classes on demand. These are great for introverts like me who are timid about zoom classes! I’ve found a wide variety of class types, intensity levels, and length of workouts. Some are even short enough that if you are working from home, you can fit in a quick 10 minute workout to fight the fatigue of sitting in front of your computer.

YouTube channels:

  • There are a myriad of fitness gurus to follow on YouTube! This article and also this one highlight just a few popular ones.

Social Media for the Soul:

Fitness also means having the mental space to feel like working out. So it’s really nice to fill your feed with positivity and humor! Here are a few accounts I really love right now:

  • Photography:
    • @billdraperphotography is a local runner and personal friend of mine. He captures stunning views of the City of Richmond and our local wildlife.
    • @jtm71 is a professional photographer based in Tennessee. He captures incredible views of the Smoky Mountains. Most of them simply take my breath away.
  • Vegan goodness:
    • If you haven’t experienced the joy that is @iamtabithabrown, you simply must go follow her! She posts great videos with vegan recipes with her own special brand of charm. Like so, like that!
    • For more vegan recipes, follow @nora_cooks_vegan. Her recipes inspire me! She posted a vegan coconut cake and a few donut recipes that I really want to try.
  • Fun and cocktails:
    • I have followed Tamo since she was a DJ on xl102, and alternative station here in Richmond. Her career took her to Charlotte, then LA… and now she’s back in Richmond on 103.7 Play! She frequently shares cocktail recipes mixed with her own brand of snark on her stories on Instagram. She reminds me we aren’t alone in this suckfest! Follow her on IG @itstamotime.
  • Stella the Talking Dog
    • I can’t remember how I found out about @hunger4words, but I’m in love with Stella, the talking dog! Her mom is Christina Hunger, a speech language pathologist, who has been teaching Stella to use a communication board. I look forward to each post and watching Stella’s progress!

If you aren’t up to your usual fitness regimen, don’t fret. Except perhaps for the rare centenarians, no one alive right now has been through a pandemic like this. We are all treading in uncharted waters. At least allow some time to go outside and take in some nature. But otherwise, don’t put pressure on yourself. We’ve got enough to be stressed out about right now. I think exercise should be about relieving anxiety more than anything else while in quarantine, and that looks different for everyone.

Are you finding ways to stay active in quarantine? Do you follow anyone on social media that you find uplifting? I’d love to hear about it! Hope everyone is safe and healthy.

Growing Food: Sprouts

Do you want to start a little project that is both super fun, provides fast results, is kid friendly, and delivers delicious, nutritious, edible results?  This is for you. I’m talking about growing sprouts. I have always been a fan of this nutty, flavorful addition to salads and sandwiches. Sprout, veggie, and hummus sandwich? Yes, please! And it’s a working science experiment in your home that takes about a week from start to finish. Think of all of the homeschooling potential for those with kids while we are all in quarantine!

Beyond Burger with home grown sprouts

At a time where we are seeing and hearing so much about the end of life from something from which we have limited control, it’s nice to start some life. That’s one reason growing our own food gives us a sense of control and value in how we spend our newly found extra time.

Back in my more extreme homesteading days, I almost always had a batch of sprouts going. However, once I went back to work full time, I gradually reduced the projects I had going around the home, and this is one that suffered. I never really thought about it once I dropped back to part time work unless I was in the store buying produce. Now that I have no work during this pandemic, and with our food supply in question, I decided it was time to grow these again. And because, well, I was craving them! I was lucky that I picked up a packet of seeds the last time I saw them. I was in Strange’s Garden Center here in Richmond buying plants for a science project for my younger daughter. This was long before the pandemic hit US soil.

You may have seen or read some stories about recalls of sprouts for bacterial contamination. And, yes, this is prevalent in commercially grown sprouts. A lot can grow in warm, wet environments, and not all of it is good! Many grocery chains have simply stopped carrying sprouts all together. I think you definitely have more control over the cleanliness of the results in your own home. Plus, you grow such a small amount at a time and eat the results so quickly, you limit bacterial growth. However, it is important to know and acknowledge that there is a risk of bacterial contamination when growing sprouts, and this could potentially cause food poisoning. You can reduce this risk by disinfecting your seeds before you sprout them. You may find that home grown is super easy and the results tastier than what you can buy in the grocery.

Check out this article for more information about the relative risks and benefits of eating sprouts. The Botanical Interests website has valuable information about growing and disinfecting seeds. And I found this article for additional methods for disinfecting your seeds as well as using the seed sprouting box.  If you use this vinegar method discussed in the above article for disinfecting your seeds, you can do it in the same jar that you will use for sprouting.

Here’s what you need for the jar method:

My favorite sprouting seeds.
  • Good quality sprout seeds. I love these from Botanical Interests. I bought mine locally in Richmond at Strange’s Garden Center, but they are also available online here, or alfalfa sprouts of the same brand here on Amazon via Whole Foods. You may be able to purchase these at a local garden center yourself. This particular brand is organic and lab tested for contaminants. Buy whatever variety you like. I really enjoy the blends for salads or sandwiches. You get a nice variety of flavors and textures with the blends.
  • A sanitized jar. Washing in the dishwasher works just fine. I used a quart size jar here to allow for growth.
  • A sanitized canning rim. Again, dishwasher works!
Plastic canvas for needlepoint works well as your screen.
Canvas cut to fit the inside of the canning rim for your screen.
  • A screen of some kind to cut to fit per the diameter of your lid. I suggest using clean kitchen shears to cut. I used a plastic needlework canvas which are readily available from Amazon, Michael’s, Walmart, or Joann’s. Michaels and Joann’s have online ordering and curbside pickup at this time. You can also use part of a fine mesh strainer if you have one that has already seen better days; just be careful of sharp edges under the rim.  These commercially made screen jar lids are also available on Amazon. Wash prior to use.
  • Alternatively, you can use one of these adorable sprout growing boxes. These are also available at Strange’s if you are local to Richmond. I had one at one time, but can’t find it! So I’ve reverted back to the jar method.
  • Clean hands. It’s really important that your hands are clean every time you handle your jar and seeds!

Here’s how to grow them using the jar method:

  • WASH YOUR HANDS!
  • Set up your jar. After you cut the screen to fit your lid with clean kitchen shears, place it on the inside of the lid. You may have to trim it a bit to improve the fit. It should be snug.
  • Pour enough of the seeds into the jar to loosely cover the bottom of the jar (about 1 T; and if you used the vinegar disinfecting method, you’re already at this step!)
Seeds in the jar, soaked, and ready to grow!
  • Place the lid on the jar.
  • Fill the jar with water and allow the seeds to soak overnight.
  • Drain the jar, placing your hand over the screen to help keep the seeds from slipping through your netting. Again, make sure your hands are clean!
  • Rinse your seeds twice daily, filling the jar with enough water to generously cover the seeds/sprouts, swirling, and draining as above. Keep your jar at room temperature.
Sprouts in progress!
  • Once your sprouts seem to have grown to capacity with very few unsprouted seeds, you can remove the sprouts and store in a separate, clean container in the refrigerator, and then start the fun all over again! I place the jar and lid (with screen intact) in the dishwasher to clean between batches. Sprouts will store in the fridge for about a week.

I’m on my third round of homegrown sprouts this “new” growing season. I will never go back to buying them in the store. They taste so much better grown at home!

If you try this, let me know how it goes! I give this information to you with no assumption of responsibility for contaminated seeds or unsanitary growing conditions. I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Gardening in 2020: Sustainability is Chic Again!

Who is experiencing anxiety when going grocery shopping right now? I’m definitely in this camp! Surveying empty shelves is panic inducing. Who has lots of time on their hands at home right now? Yup. I’m in that camp, too. So what CAN you control? You can create your own food source.

My garden right after planting a few weeks ago. I already had the fence posts and plastic netting. I plan to upgrade the netting soon!

That’s right. It’s a great time to get your hands dirty, occupy your time, support some local farms and feed stores, and put in a garden. Your kids might even want to help you!

Baby zucchini in my garden.

As the world isolates, there have been reassurances that our food supply chain is intact and safe, however, there have been multiple reports that it is not as stable as we might perceive. Those who rely on meat and eggs for nutrition have known for a few weeks that these items have been in short supply. Many processing plants have had to shut down due to the spread of the virus among their workers. Dairy farmers have had to dump milk. And even vegetable farmers have had to waste some of their harvest. Even more reason to lean more on local food sources. My family has been taking advantage of the offerings of our local farmers in recent weeks. Many farmers’ markets are learning how to adapt, with vendors taking online orders and with drive through pickup. But now I am even happier that I’ve started this garden project.

Collards in my garden.

Shortly after we moved into this house, my husband built us four beautiful raised beds. I kept a garden for several years, but have not for the past 3 growing seasons. Unfortunately, the structure of these beds suffered from my neglect, but I have uncovered what remains, and I put in the beginnings of a garden.

Butter beans have sprouted!

I have a few plants started already. I had some garlic chives, a perennial, which remains from my prior gardens, and it has sprouted multiple volunteers! I’ve also put in one tomato plant, some collards, and a few varieties of squash plants. I’ve also started some potatoes and butter bean from seeds. For now, I have to keep my tomato, squash plants, and bean seedlings happy by covering them at night if the temperature drops into the 30’s, but I wanted to get a jump start on the season.

My not so sophisticated way of covering my plants to protect them from the cold last night. Low of 40 degrees.

My plants were purchased from a variety of sources. If I had known back in February that we would be facing a pandemic, I may have started plants from seed. But who had that foresight back then? Buying quality plants has been fairly easy, though. I tried as much as possible to support local businesses, buying from the local Ashland Feed and Seed and Lavender Fields Farm, although the collards and tomato plant were an impulse buy from the grocery store.

The Ashland Feed and Seed is an old time feed store that reminds me of the Ace Hardware Store that my Aunt Neva and Uncle Bob used to own in Plant City, Florida. I used to love playing with the baby chicks every time we would visit over spring break. If you have chickens, Ashland Feed and Seed carries Sunrise Farms non-GMO chicken feed grown in Virginia. They also carry a variety of plants, seeds, and gardening tools, plus anything you would ever need for your pets and livestock. Visiting in person is super fun because they have several resident cats who are all friendly and love attention! Ashland Feed and Seed is deemed an essential business and are open at this time.

The view of the Chichahominy River from Lavender Fields Farm in Henrico County. There are normally chairs to sit and enjoy the view, but these have been removed temporarily due to social distancing precautions.

My other favorite plant source is Lavender Fields Farm, a beautiful property in Henrico County off of Greenwood Road. The farm is bordered by the Chickahominy River, and there are outstanding views from the property. The Ashland to Petersburg Trail will run adjacent to the farm when it is completed. They have a cute shop with handmade soaps, essential oils, and Bev’s ice cream (not vegan). The lavender flavor is a favorite for my non-vegan kids! On my last visit, they also had small raised bed kits. But the highlight of items for purchase there are their herb and vegetable plants. Right now, you can order and pay by phone and pickup curbside, including ice cream!  Once we are off quarantine, take the time to take a tour! In a week or so, I will pick up more tomatoes from Lavender Fields. They will have all kinds of interesting varieties you can’t get anywhere else.

The view as you approach the farm from the entrance. There is a main house, two smaller shop buildings, and plants on display. There are numerous greenhouses toward the back of the property as well as chickens and bee hives.
Some of the many plants available on display at the farm.

As I am by no means a gardening expert, I rely on my friends for help! If you frequent your local farmer’s market, most growers are eager to share their knowledge. And my good friend Tisha has been posting a lot about gardening on her Instagram and will be sharing her gardening advice and adventures on her blog, On Bramble Hill. Go follow her blog and on Instagram @tisha_lyn. She has also recently added chickens to her little homestead, so it will be fun to watch them grow! Tisha also uses raised beds; it’s a great way to manage soil quality. We both live in rural areas on opposite sides of the metro Richmond area, so it’s necessary to protect our crops from deer. They are prevalent and LOVE to use our gardens as a food source. She recommends deer netting to keep them out of your garden. I’m hoping that it will also keep out the neighbors’ feral cats! Don’t get me wrong. I love cats. It’s just really disappointing when your babies you grew from seed start dying because cats have been using your raised beds as giant litter boxes.

Don’t have a place to put in a garden? Many plants grow well in containers. There are some bred specifically for this. Look for “bush” or “patio” varieties. Most tomatoes will grow well in containers as well, especially smaller varieties like grape, cherry, and Roma. Herbs grow very well as a windowsill kitchen garden or in containers. You can even grow potatoes this way!

Do yourself a favor. While we are all stuck at home, take the time to put in a garden. You may be even more grateful than you realize that you have this sustainable food source in the months to come.

Have you put in a garden this year? I’d love to hear about it! Hope you all are staying safe and healthy.

Comfort Food: Vegan Banana Bread with a Twist

First, let me follow up on my last blog post. I mentioned that one of my favorite movies was That Thing You Do. One of my friends posted this amazing cover by Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day as a tribute to Adam Schlesinger, and it’s so good, I almost cried!

And as we are all figuring out how to pass the time during quarantine, I have not read a more entertaining account than this one from Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale. She seems to be having far more fun than anyone I know. She is an immensely talented storyteller, so this is definitely worth reading, even if it’s just to find out about her rubber chicken choir.

Vegan Tropical Banana Bread, adapted from the banana bread recipe from The Simple Veganista

Now, back to the business at hand. Who else has found an unexplainable urge to stock up on bananas at the grocery store? Some of my friends have reported that this is a common error in pick up/delivery orders, requesting 7 single bananas and receiving 7 bunches of them! Or ordering one bunch of bananas and getting one single banana. Yikes! Why is ordering bananas so challenging? And in our efforts to utilize everything we’ve purchased, save from freezing tons of bananas, we turn to the best comfort food: banana bread.

Long ago, I searched the internet for the best vegan banana bread recipe, and when I tried this version from the Simple Veganista, I had to look no further. The basic recipe is outstanding. I had made it a few weeks in a row, and then I decided to tweak the recipe a bit, creating a version with a tropical twist by adding nuts, pineapple, and coconut. I tried canned pineapple, but even with draining the juice from the fruit, the resulting bread was too… I’m going to say it… moist. So I resorted to dried pineapple, and that was what worked. The result is the perfect mix of tropical flavors with a bread that has a good crumb.

So without further ado, I give you:

Vegan Tropical Banana Bread

Some of the ingredients for Vegan Tropical Banana Bread.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups flour (I prefer unbleached AP, but use what you like or have)
  • 1/3 cup organic brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup avocado oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large overripe bananas, mashed
  • ½ cup diced, dried pineapple
  • ½ cup diced walnuts or pecans
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut
Mixing in the pineapple, nuts, and coconut.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare a bread pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Mix the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • Mix the wet ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  • Add the remaining ingredients, and stir until combined.
  • Pour into prepared bread pan.
  • Bake for 50-60 minutes or until surface is browned and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  
Batter after all ingredients are mixed! Dough should appear wet, but hold together.

Some helpful tips:

Let the bread cool in the pan for a few minutes prior to removing it from the pan. To do that, gently ease bread from sides of pan by sliding a knife between the bread and the pan around all sides, and then flip the pan over to free the bread. I use oven mitts or oven gloves to do this, since the pan will still be hot! Let the bread cool on a cooling rack. This slices best when it’s completely cooled, but I can’t ever wait that long! As with most quick breads, store it wrapped in aluminum foil at room temperature if you will eat it in 2-3 days. Move it to the fridge if it will take longer.  

If you need a nut-free option, just add a bit more pineapple and coconut.

If you need a gluten-free option, I would suggest using a commercially blended GF flour like Bob’s Red Mill.

Finished bread. I cut this before it had fully cooled, so it looks a bit messy!

If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes! Happy comfort baking!

I hope you and your family are surviving quarantine. What “comfort foods” are you making? I’d love to hear about it! Stay safe and healthy.

Focus on Wellness: Pandemic Edition

How is everyone? No, really. How ARE you? Have you settled into a new routine? Are you one of the lucky ones who can work from home? Are you studying online? What are you doing to pass the time?

I think most of us have reached the level of quarantine where the novelty has worn off. We are all a bit stir-crazy. With the new wave of protests, this is very evident. But from the perspective of public health scientists, we are not out of the woods yet. We need to keep listening to them, even if we are growing bored with our stay at home lives.

For me, I’m doing OK. I’m an introvert at heart, so isolating isn’t absolutely terrible for me. I was officially laid off as a PRN employee, and no one is hiring physical therapists right now. Grocery stores are hiring, but my applications have been met with swift rejections since I’m “overqualified.” I am extremely grateful my husband is still employed. It could be so much worse.

I am also extremely grateful my children are very self-sufficient teenagers! I have no idea what I would do if I had young kids at home. For those of you who do, I’m so sorry! I’m sure there are some magical moments, but also lots of frustration and chaos.

Speaking of chaos, my wardrobe and appearance have certainly regressed. I am by no means a high maintenance girl. The last time I had a haircut was a year ago. And I don’t ever polish my nails. But I do wear makeup to work and to go out. I haven’t worn makeup in over a month! The ads that pop up on social media for makeup are hilarious. I mean, who’s wearing makeup right now? And I have settled into a rotation of pajamas, “dress” lounge pants, regular lounge pants, and workout clothes. I think I’ve put on a real bra once during quarantine, and that was for a trip to the grocery store.

Unless I am on that rare trip to the grocery store, my brain has been surprisingly calm. I tend to struggle with anxiety and feeling down anyway, but it’s if my brain is saying, “See? I told you the bad thing was going to happen.” And I’m simultaneously anxious about the future and at ease with the present, although I’ve been having very strange dreams in quarantine. Anyone else? My most memorable pandemic dream thus far was that I suddenly had ginormous boobs, and I was breastfeeding numerous babies. I figured there must be a hidden meaning to this, so I looked it up. Apparently I miss being a caregiver. Strange dreams are seemingly common during the pandemic.

I’m coping by taking in what I like to call “comfort entertainment.” I haven’t been able to really concentrate on reading books. I’ve tried, but nothing I’ve read has really hooked me in. I don’t know if it’s the trauma of the pandemic or something else. If you’ve got any recommendations, I’d love some suggestions of good books! But lately I’ve been resorting to other media.

Do you re-watch movies? My top choices are The Sound of Music, That Thing You Do, Legally Blonde, and Pitch Perfect. Comfort in a DVD. Yes, I still have those!

My affection for The Sound of Music started at a young age. You can thank my parents for that. I looked forward to the replay on TV every Christmas. A few years ago, my brother bought me the DVD for Christmas. I love it! And now my kids do, too! Rogers and Hammerstein are Broadway geniuses, and this is their best work.

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the cast reunion of That Thing You Do on their YouTube channel. I first saw this movie while I was in PT school. My study partner and I took a break from cramming for graduate school exams and watched this in the Byrd Theater on a Saturday night. It is still the only movie I’ve ever seen there, and I was lucky enough to do that on a night that they played the organ! The reunion is a fundraiser in honor of Adam Schlesinger, who succumbed to COVID-19 earlier this month. I didn’t know that he wrote the song That Thing You Do until he passed, but I did know that he wrote one of the best songs of all time, Stacey’s Mom, as a part of the Fountains of Wayne.

And Legally Blonde… well, I come by my love for this lighthearted movie honestly! One of my running partners and fellow blonde, Sarah, also loves this movie. We are most likely to bust out spontaneous quotes from the film several miles into a delirium inducing 16 plus mile long run.

Pitch Perfect has a similar feel of That Thing You Do, although much more frivolous! I love to cheer for the underdog, and I love music. This movie is also a favorite of my younger daughter. We bought her parts 1 and 2 for Christmas a couple of years ago.

Then there’s TV. I am sad that the new shows are wrapping up for the season. But I find myself going back in time to the 90’s and watching Friends. I almost forget about the present… until a commercial comes on. Most are about how companies are dealing with the pandemic. And I’m in love with the new show Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist. I’ve tried streaming some shows on Netflix, etc., but, to be honest, I’m having a difficult time engaging with some of the hot, new shows. I did binge watch Unorthodox and enjoyed it. Highly recommend! What have you been watching in quarantine?

My other new thing is puzzles. One of my husband’s relatives loves them, so the last time my daughter and I delivered food to her, we borrowed a few. (We are doing the grocery shopping for the elders in our family right now.) We are on our third one, and this one is tough! This is usually a vacation activity. I can’t say I’ve ever assembled a puzzle in my own home before now. Apparently my family is not alone in this!

One of our quarantine puzzles

I’m also trying to keep up my fitness, so that means maintaining my 3 time per week runs, cross training on the bike, and some garage workouts. I look forward to my daily exercise, but tend to procrastinate in getting out of the house to actually accomplish it. My rural roads are still so crowded with cars, it’s like no one is actually staying at home. Meanwhile, my friends in the city seem to be blissfully roaming empty streets. So I’ve been running mostly in town, even though I feel guilty because I’m not exactly “sheltering in place.” I find myself a bit aggravated when I see people on “my” trails, which are typically empty, but are now busy with people escaping their homes like me. But I am glad that people are exercising. Bike rides are getting easier, although I’m still a novice. I actually live off of the Route 1 bike route, so it was pretty well frequented by cyclists prior to the quarantine. It’s supremely humbling to get passed by someone on a real road bike, though! Mine is kind of a hybrid of a beach cruiser, mountain bike, and road bike. But for what it lacks in speed it makes up for in versatility. I can ride the trails and roads equally with no issues. (Speaking of biking, check out Sports Backers for their Bike Walk Month celebration, which begins tomorrow!) As for garage workouts, I really wish I had some dumbbells, at the very least. They seem to be sold out everywhere! As a last resort, I’ve taken wine carriers and filled them with cans to use for weights, even holding them together for kettlebell swings. I also treated myself to a new jump rope, hoping to master double unders while spending so much time at home. I wish I could report greater success with this! If you need workout ideas, try this website to construct your own based on what you have at hand and the movements you like.

My makeshift home gym, featuring a jump rope and wine bags filled with cans!

My husband is thrilled that I’ve also taken some time to organize and purge, although I’m sure he’d rather me devote most of my time to that! I even reached the level of quarantine boredom that I have made a major dent in cleaning my laundry room, had my own little sock matching party, AND deep cleaned my toaster oven. FYI, I sadly still have socks missing their mates… but now at least I can see the chairs in our bedroom. That’s been a nice place to have my breakfast and morning coffee, since our main living space is now an office.

Then there’s cooking. So much cooking! And baking. And doing dishes. I enjoy the creative outlet of cooking, but loathe the cleanup. But we’re trying to eat at home as much as possible. It’s amazing how much I’m turning to comfort foods right now. Who else has made banana bread?

My last ongoing project is that I’ve started a garden. I’ll share more about that later, but this is my first garden in 3 years.

And, of course, there’s pondering what to say to you, my readers. I’ve got lots of time on my hands now.

Take care of yourselves. I don’t think there’s any right way to endure quarantine. But we will hopefully get through this together.

I hope you all are doing well. Please share how you are coping during quarantine. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Vegan Potato Soup: Comfort in a Bowl

As we continue to quarantine, many of us are turning to familiar foods that ease anxiety and use up all of those pantry staples we stocked up on. Of all the dishes from my childhood, this one is probably the best. It’s my family’s comfort food, and one of the first things my mom would fix if we were sick. It is also the dish I mourned the most when I went vegan, since the original recipe calls for butter and milk. This is one of the first recipes my mom taught me how to make as a child. It is also a traditional second night of vacation dish when we go on big family trips!

Vegan Potato Soup

When I transitioned to a vegan diet, I started to experiment with various milk substitutes to “veganize” this meal. My first attempt was using unsweetened, plain almond milk. Unfortunately, the results were not ideal. Edible, but far from great.

I’ve mentioned before the miracle of Sam’s Choice Vegan Protein Broth from Walmart, which gets its protein from lentils. (This broth is still on the shelf at my local neighborhood Walmart, even with less inventory available). When I discovered this, I decided to give it a go in this soup. It worked perfectly, lending a creamy, savory base to this soup that did not curdle.

The other secret to this soup is in how you cut the veggies. You must cut at random angles! The thinner portions will actually break off and thicken the soup.

Cutting potatoes and onions at odd angles

Recipe:

Potatoes, onions, vegan butter, and broth: ingredients for potato soup

Ingredients:

  • 5 lb bag of potatoes, peeled and cut in random sized pieces. I prefer gold or russet.
  • 2-3 onions (white or sweet), peeled, discarding tip end, but keeping root end in place to ease cutting; cut in random sized pieces
  • Enough water to fill pot 2/3 to potato/onion line
  • Salt
  • 1 stick Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 1-2 cups Sam’s Choice Vegan Protein Broth

Directions:

  • Place potatoes and onions in a large stew pot (I usually cut them directly into the pot)
  • Fill pot with water to 2/3 depth of potatoes/onions.
  • Salt generously (start with about 1T).
  • Bring to a boil, then turn to low, simmering for 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.
  • Add vegan butter and allow to melt.
  • Add vegan protein broth until desired consistency is achieved (typically 1-2 cups).
  • Adjust salt as desired.
  • Serve with crackers. We love saltines or oyster crackers.
Cut veggies
Vegan butter added after veggies are cooked.

This will typically serve 4-6 people as a main course.

Dinner is served!

If you try this dish, let me know what you think! I hope you all are staying safe and healthy.

Now Blooming: Pink Lady’s Slippers

Taking a pause from thinking about the virus to reflect on nature.

When I was a kid, my parents would tell stories to my brother and me about how they went hiking in their younger years. They became quite skilled in finding and identifying wildflowers and birds on these adventures, and they frequently shared this knowledge with us. Our bookshelves were lined with Peterson field guides which were tremendous fun to peruse, long before the internet. These experiences sparked a love and respect for nature in me that continued into adulthood.

In seventh grade, my science teacher had us go through a series of collection and identification projects, including tree leaves and wildflowers. How blessed was I to have parents who jumped in so enthusiastically into these projects with me! I had, by far, the best collection of wildflowers of anyone in my class. My parents knew how to find all of the unusual flowers. It’s where I learned about wild ginger, mayflowers, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and the elusive pink lady’s slipper.

A Pink Lady’s Slipper on our property in 2019

In the state of Virginia, the pink lady’s slipper is considered endangered. I’m sure habitat destruction has played a part. But I’ve also learned that this particular flower, a member of the orchid family, is rather particular when it comes to its ideal growing conditions. It grows in patches of woods with dappled sunshine and a fair amount of forest debris. It needs a particular type of fungus found in the decaying underbrush to grow. If you find one, don’t pick it! It will never return. She is a delicate flower, indeed.

The pink lady’s slipper evolved to almost legend status in my opinion. I had never seen one in person. It was like a mythical forest creature you could never catch. Imagine my fascination when I learned that my soon to be husband had some growing in the yard of the house where he grew up. I took it as a sign that our marriage was meant to be.

Fast forward a few years, and we now have a home next door to my in-laws. I kept hoping that we would have pink lady’s slippers growing on our property, but it didn’t seem that it was ever going to happen.

In March of 2018, our 18 year old cat Tigger passed over the rainbow bridge. The kids and I held him as he transitioned with the help of the vet. I left it up to the girls what they wanted to do with him, as we were given a choice between cremation or burying him ourselves. Anna held him in his blanket, and we took him home. He is now buried in a marked grave in the woods behind our home.

The grave marker for our cat, Tigger, who passed over the rainbow bridge in March of 2018.
My girls constructed his marker.

Later in April of that year, Anna suddenly ran into the house and breathlessly announced that we had pink lady’s slippers! A single flower appeared right beside Tigger’s grave, the first of these beautiful flowers in 11 years of living here. I took it as a sign that he was at peace. I decided to wander our property to see if there were any more, and, lo and behold, we had several more in various parts of our woods. I was ecstatic!

Newly budding Pink Lady’s Slippers.

As I wandered our property today, I was excited to see the familiar sight of the leaves of several pink lady’s slippers, and a couple of these already have flowers. It will be fun in the coming weeks to see dots of pink in our woods! It’s unusual to have so much time on my hands that I can actually savor their emergence and evolution into full grown flowers this year. Sometimes pausing in life allows us to appreciate the little things. I feel tremendously blessed by Mother Nature that she has chosen our home to host this beautiful flower.

Newly emerging. Just the leaves so far!

What’s in bloom near your home? Have you spotted any beautiful flowers on your quarantine walks? I’d love to hear about it! Hope everyone is safe and healthy.

Yellow Rice: A cheerful side dish!

When I was little, a favorite side dish at my house was yellow rice. Do you know the kind? It comes in a bright yellow, shiny bag. It’s delicious, but it’s also full of MSG and other processed ingredients.

Yellow rice. This batch was made without saffron.

Not too long ago, I had an epiphany of sorts while wandering the aisle of the grocery store. I decided to make rice with coconut milk and turmeric, all ingredients I stock in my vegan pantry. The result was delicious, and it made me think of that childhood favorite side dish. Plus, all of the ingredients are real, and this recipe is allergy friendly!

You have the added bonus of incorporating two ingredients known for their health benefits: coconut and turmeric.

Here’s how to make it:

Yellow Rice

Ingredients for yellow rice

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white rice. (I typically keep basmati on hand.)
  • 1 can coconut milk (regular or light, your preference) plus enough water to make 2 cups liquid
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garlic or onion salt or powder OR an frozen crushed garlic cube
  • 1 tsp salt, plus additional after cooking, to taste
  • If you happen to have saffron, you can add a healthy pinch of this to the mix as well, but it’s not necessary.
Adding coconut milk/water mixture to dry rice.
Rice before cooking with all spices added, including a pinch of saffron. Saffron isn’t necessary, but does add another flavor note.

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a medium to large saucepan and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Allow to cook for time specified for your variety of rice (usually 15 mins for white rice.) Stir and serve! Makes enough for 4-6 generous servings.

Rice after cooking.

Try it garnished with chopped green onion or chives. This makes a great accompaniment to roasted veggies, tofu, or beans.

I will continue to create and post dishes which rely on vegan pantry staples as we continue to quarantine from the coronavirus. If you try this dish, let me know! I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.

Grocery Store Tours for Vegans: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s in Short Pump, Richmond, Virginia. Taken prior to the pandemic.

I began writing this post long before the emergence of our current pandemic, and most of the photos for this post were taken on a trip prior to the outbreak. And although my grocery store tours will be sparse for now, it’s worth touring Trader Joe’s at this time. I visited yesterday, and they have the social distancing and cleanliness issues with grocery shopping under control at their stores. I stood in line and waited for over 40 minutes to access the store since they only let in 30 shoppers at a time. Since I was shopping for multiple households (I’ve been shopping for the elders in our lives, too), I brought my older daughter to help.

Line to enter Trader Joe’s, which ended at the opposite side of the shopping center. Note the TJ’s employees to the side monitoring safe distancing. As the line progressed, there were actually tape marks on the sidewalk 6 feet apart.
Now grateful for hobbies that require face masks for safety. These are part of my tie dye mixing gear stash. I only have enough for my immediate family. The new normal.

The stores were not only clean, but well stocked with everything per usual. And some of the things I dislike about Trader Joe’s, which isn’t much, are actually blessings right now, like their packaged fresh produce. It gives me a sense of cleanliness in an otherwise contaminated world. Plus, the employees were all super friendly, even the ones outside monitoring the lines, ensuring patrons maintained 6’ distances in line. Just prior to entering the store, an employee gives you a squirt of hand sanitizer, and carts handles are wiped.

Our Trader Joe’s in Richmond is in Short Pump, less than a mile from our original Whole Foods. The small format stores greet you at the door with beautiful cut flowers and potted houseplants! Employees are happy, friendly, and helpful, and many of them have been there so long, they know me by name. Typically there are samples of products in the back of the store as well as wine in the afternoons, but not now under new guidelines due to the virus. When my kids were little, they also loved to find Shorty the Dog! It earned them a lollipop!

Entrance of Trader Joe’s

If you’ve never visited Trader Joe’s, just know that most of what they sell is their own brand. Typically if you want to try something before you buy it, just ask! They are always willing to open something for you to sample, although no sampling is allowed for now. Almost everything I’ve tried is good! And the prices are amazing.

The only frustration I have with our location is that they tend to mix up the layout periodically. The wine/beer never moves, as well as the frozen foods, obviously, but everything else might be in a different location than the last time you were there! I mentioned this to a manager once, and he pretty much admitted that it is clearly a tactic to get you out of your shopping rut and force you to see new products. I can’t deny that this is a good strategy…

That minor frustration aside, Trader Joe’s has much to offer for vegans! What are my must-haves?

  • Produce
    • Can you ever really have enough? They have great pre-washed salad greens and pre-cut vegetables like butternut squash ready for roasting. They also have really good organic grape tomatoes. Much of their produce is packaged.
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  • Coffee
    • Their breakfast blends are great, and you can grind it in store. I’m still mourning the the Coffee and Cocoa blend that was discontinued, for that is my favorite coffee of all time. (TJ’s, if you’re reading this, please bring it back!)  But their seasonal Gingerbread flavor is also a favorite at my house. Look for it around the winter holidays.
  • Dried fruit, nuts, and nut butters
    • They have lots of variety at amazing prices. I love buying walnut and pecan pieces to use in recipes.
    • Their salted, creamy almond butter is my favorite almond butter of all time, and it’s very affordable as compared to major brands.
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  • Frozen foods
    • Vegan Tikka Masala. The “meat” is seitan, and the sauce is spicy! I keep a few of these meals on hand for an emergency meal.
    • Cauliflower gnocchi. Air-fry it if you can! I’ve served this with a tomato sauce, but have also made a spinach/onion/tomato sauté to go with it. They also make a new kale gnocchi. It was good enough for me to buy it again.
    • Frozen fruit. Great for making smoothies!
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    • Dorot brand frozen herbs. I’m a huge fan of the garlic. They also carry basil and ginger periodically. It’s a great way to add flavor to your meals without the mess, hassle, or risk of spoiling when using fresh.
    • Asian meal starters, including vegetable fried rice, vegetable dumplings, and vegan orange “chicken.”
  • Soy chorizo
    • It’s so good that it deserves this separate bullet point. It keeps sealed for a while. It’s a great addition to Mexican night and also makes a delicious pizza topping or spicy addition to soups.
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  • Dried pasta, grains, and lentils
    • Organic spaghetti. Their brand is simply the best I’ve ever tried. While you’re at it, pick up some pasta sauce! Lots of variety.
    • Red lentils. My favorite recipe from the High Protein Vegetarian Cookbook is the curried red lentils. TJ’s brand of these is my favorite.
    • 10 minute farro and barley. Although I prefer the farro from Kroger, this one is also great, especially considering that it cooks in half the time! And I often add barley to vegetable soups, although barley was not available this visit.
  • Canned goods
    • Jackfruit. This is actually the only way I have prepared this meat alternative at home! I’ve made it into BBQ and as a filling for enchiladas. Just drain, add to a saucepan, cover with your favorite sauce, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The chunks will break down, resembling shredded pork or chicken. Very little nutritional value, but very tasty!
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    • Refried beans. They have two varieties. Both are delicious!
    • Sundried tomatoes. These aren’t technically canned, but in the same aisle. I love adding these to pasta salads and quinoa.
  • Plant-based milk alternatives
    • Every flavor I’ve tried rivals the Silk brand. I’m particularly fond of their refrigerated oat milk. They also have great shelf stable varieties that I keep as a backup.
  • Spices
    • So many excellent choices here. TJ’s is, by far, my favorite place to buy spices. They have all of your typical needs at great prices, but you absolutely must buy Everything but the Bagel (excellent for avocado toast!) and their onion salt (which I add to almost every savory dish I make!) I also love their umami (adds that extra something to savory dishes, especially Asian inspired), and seasoning blends. I picked up two new ones this visit: Vegan Chicken-less seasoning salt and Organic Chili seasoning blend. They will bring in special blends for the holidays, too, so be on the lookout for these. They also have the best bourbon vanilla!
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  • Wine
    • If you shop in the afternoon, there is typically an associate offering samples, although not right now while we are under quarantine. TJ’s has lots of vegan wine choices. Just ask!
  • Cruelty-free body care products
    • I’ve been using their facial wash for years. They also sell a serum that is supposed to be great, but I’ve never tried it.
    • Bar soaps. All of the ones I’ve tried I have loved, and the prices are great!
    • Lotions. I love the extra moisturizing body cream. It’s unscented.

Trader Joe’s will also often carry new, unique items that might only available for a limited time. My last visit, I picked up a vegan mac that was delicious. I didn’t see it this pandemic visit! I did, however, pick up a pack of their new plant-based burgers. I’ll let you know how they live up to Beyond Meat and Simple Truth brands.

I hope your community is blessed with a Trader Joe’s! They have enough variety of products that I can make this my primary shop for the week if needed, but it’s usually in rotation as an extra stop. This visit, however, I made it my only shop, and I’m trying to make this haul last for 2 weeks. Their current shopping rules made me feel safer while shopping, and most customers were even compliant with the new mask recommendations. Staff were all wearing masks as well.

Some extra tips for our RVA store:

  • Just a warning: do NOT try to shop on the weekends late morning to afternoon unless you have packed your patience. The store is CROWDED under normal circumstances. Currently with the 30 person in store rules, the experience is quite lovely once you make it through the line to enter.
  • If you are there when neighboring Frostings is open, stop by for a Vegan cupcake! They are still open under our stay at home orders with limited selections. I sent my daughter in, and she ended up with ½ dozen, but two were vegan for me!

Do you love Trader Joe’s, too? What are some of your favorite products? I’d love to hear about them! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.