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.

Rules of the Road: Running Edition

I’m sending this out as a special Friday edition, hoping it will help those who will go for a walk or run this weekend. I’ve already had to edit from my original writing due to multiple changes from new regulations regarding COVID-19.

Taking to the streets now that gyms are closed? It’s a weird time right now. But one thing that we can all do is run or walk, taking advantage of the great outdoors and nature. What else hasn’t changed? Road running rules. The following is guidance for new and experienced runners alike as we navigate our strange, new world of social distancing.

Several years ago, I went through a program with Sports Backers in Richmond called Bike Walk Academy. Participants in this 8 week class went through training about biking and pedestrian safety and how to advocate for safer roads. From that, Bike Walk Hanover was born. We organize community events and work with our local government to promote safer roads for everyone. We are currently in the midst of a social media campaign to remind our neighbors about driving, running/walking, and biking safety tips.

I created this graphic for Bike Walk Hanover with feedback from our team to help educate our followers on social media. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook!

Experienced runners already know these guidelines, but it doesn’t hurt to review every now and then. But if you are lacing up your running shoes for the first time, it’s really helpful to have some tips about how to stay safe on the roads.

For women especially, we must be extra cautious about where we run, especially when running solo. I think that while we typically prefer group or partner runs, particularly when running long distances, this time of social distancing may place us at a disadvantage from a safety perspective.

Here are my favorite tips for road running:

  • Run against traffic. This way, you can see what’s coming. Make sure you are looking at the driver as cars approach. You can at least tell if they are looking at you or their phone!
  • Wear bright colors. Please don’t run in black! Bright colors catch the attention of drivers and improve your chance to be seen.
Wearing one of my favorite neon tanks for a run! Be seen!
  • Use crosswalks when crossing the street in urban areas. Don’t cut the tangents!
A few of my phone carrying options. Hydration belt and bottles are by Nathan. Belted pouch by Spibelt.
  • Do not wear headphones. You cannot hear cars or people approaching. I still listen to music when I run alone, but I just play it from my phone. No one can really hear it unless they are within a few feet of you, and you can still hear cars and people.
  • If you are running at night, dusk, or dawn, wear lights and/or reflective gear. Nathan makes comfortable reflective vests. Noxgear light vests are popular in my running groups.
  • Let someone know where you are running, how far, and when you expect to return.
  • When we do get back to group runs, do not run more than two abreast. This is the biggest thing I fuss at my marathon training team participants about!
  • Run with ID. Many of my friends have a Road ID product of some kind. I typically run with my phone which has a pocket for my ID.
  • Choose safer places to run. I live in a rural area, so taking to the streets near my home is not my favorite, with all roads at 35 to 45mph with no shoulders, although I will if necessary. I prefer to drive to other areas to run in which have less traffic and/or with sidewalk access. For now, that’s driving less than 5 miles to “town.”
  • Maintain social distancing. This means that if you encounter other people on trails or sidewalk, move over and give them space. The virus can live in microdroplets which project even further when exercising. On my run yesterday, I crossed the street to avoid others. Unfortunately for now, this also means no group runs. This doesn’t mean you need to be rude, though! It’s always polite to give a little wave, nod, or smile.
  • Consider running with pepper spray or a noise maker. I have a hand held pepper spray with a strap, much like for my water bottle, which I carry when running alone in certain parts of town or when trail running. I have a Nathan Zephyr light for night runs which has an alarm on it. Plastic whistles work, too.

Even when we do everything right, things still happen on runs which seem to be beyond our control. The biggest issue I see is drivers who are looking at their phones instead of the road, followed by drivers making right turns who never look to their right to see you. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and assume they don’t see you. My peers have also recently reported that novice exercisers are also taking to the trails and neighborhoods who are not mindful of others, talking on their phones and not demonstrating awareness of others, including wandering right into the path of runners. Try to announce your presence to alert others that you are there.

It is your responsibility to remain vigilant at all times when you take to the streets for exercise. Even though pedestrians have the right of way, DO NOT try to stand your ground against a car. You will lose.

Trails are a nice alternative since you don’t have to worry about traffic, however, ladies do have to watch out for other people who may have other reasons for being there. In Richmond, the James River Trail system has been very crowded since the gyms have closed, making it difficult to maintain social distancing, but may be safer from a potential stalking perspective. (Per latest reports from RVA Trails, the parking lots to access the JRP trails will be closed as of today.) Many neighborhoods have multi-use paths which help avoid vehicular traffic as well. Taking to city and state parks for running may be a nice alternative, too, although we are in danger of losing access to these, too. Check your local area for ever changing rules with regard to park access. If you do take to trails, make sure you practice good etiquette, announcing your presence to other people enjoying the trail. For example, saying, “On your left” before you pass. And allow bikers to pass you.

I don’t share these safety tips to alarm you, just to make you aware of potential issues. Knowledge is power, right? (If you think that is a Schoolhouse Rock reference, you are right! 80’s kid here!) Don’t let fear keep you from running. Just use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings!

Let me know how you are maintaining fitness while social distancing! I Hope you and your family are staying safe.

Our new normal?

This new world is one big, giant suckfest. Does anyone else feel like they are living in some horrible made for TV movie about the end of the world? I’m sure my feelings are far from unique. I’m trying to take solace in other things, like being outdoors while we are still allowed to do so.

But seriously. Everything has changed, right? Virginia is officially under a stay at home order with the exception of those who are working, out getting essential supplies, and for exercise. Parks are at risk of being shut down at this point, since everyone is out.

My mind creates the possibility of illness. I dream about masks and desolation. Every hint of a sore throat, chill, or headache has my brain immediately concerned that I’ve contracted the virus.

My heart aches for those who are sick and for those caring for them. My work as a physical therapist is not essential at this time, and I don’t have the skills most needed to help those who are sick.

School is out for the year. My senior is devastated. No prom. No graduation. No idea about IB/AP class resolutions. No college credit for all that extra work? That’s not fair. She’s wondering if she will be robbed of a normal college freshman year, too.

We have poor leadership in this country who have exacerbated the growth of this pandemic, have not listened to science, and are placing the economy first over public health. The tone has been a bit more serious in the past couple of days, but I worry that this is too little, too late. The ball is in motion.

Trips to the grocery store are opportunities for panic attacks. Shelves are sparse, if not barren. No eggs, meat, bread, dried beans, tofu… you know it’s bad if the vegan protein options are gone. And don’t get me started on the toilet paper, although I got lucky at the grocery store the other day.

My dad is sick, but not with the virus. He was already facing issues from last fall after he had two surgeries one week apart. And we knew his kidneys were unhappy. But this is not an ideal time to start dialysis, even though the question that begs to be asked is if there ever is an ideal time. This is way more exposure to hospitals than anyone needs right now. And, by the way, if you are admitted, you are not allowed visitors. I get it, but it’s hard.

When my dad was admitted last week, I went down to my parents to help my mom manage my dad, as his mobility has been declining, and he has had a couple of near and actual falls. Good thing I’m a PT. Helping people with their mobility is kind of my thing. We broke out the gait belt, and I showed my mom how to guard him on the stairs, car transfers, and how to use their new transport wheelchair. I’ve also been helping my mom navigate this new, restricted, and already complex system for the best care for dad with the least likelihood of exposure to the virus. My mom is actually handling things well, all things considered. My poor brother can only help via phone. He’s in quarantine because someone in his office may have the virus. My dad is home now, and they are settling in to their new normal.

I’m taking my workouts outside as much as possible. So while I was down in Newport News, I checked an item off of my bucket list. I ran the Noland Trail. I really needed the time to clear my head. I’m glad I did this, because apparently, the park is now closed due to the virus as of today, reported by both the Daily Press and the Virginian Pilot. I can see why, because even at 10AM on a Tuesday, the parking lot was packed.

The south trailhead of the Noland Trail at Mariner’s Museum Park in Newport News, VA.

The trail is just over 5 miles long in Mariner’s Museum Park. The path is well marked and made of mostly packed pea gravel. There are some pretty amazing views of Lake Maury all along the trail. There are tons of mayflowers getting ready to bloom. And there were turtles sunbathing. Time in nature helped me forget about the state of our world, at least for a few moments.

Just one of the many water views from the Noland Trail.
The Lion’s Bridge with the James River behind. The trail actually goes over the bridge.
I ran this as part of the One City Half Marathon on March 1st.

I thought about doing this when I ran past the trail head a few weeks ago as part of the One City Half Marathon. I made a promise to myself that I would run it this year. Only took a couple of weeks to fulfill that promise to myself. That race seems like it was years ago at this point.

Once we are out of the woods with this virus and if you ever find yourself in Newport News with an hour to kill, this little trail is definitely worth your time.

The Mariner’s Museum Park entrance from Warwick Blvd. Now adjacent to Christopher Newport University, this used to be right next to my high school.
Check out that giant propeller!

I’m trying to take some time to organize a bit. I may even attempt a garden this year. Who knows? This is going to be a long ride, folks. Stay safe, stay healthy, and check on your elders.

Let me know how you’ve been staying active in our new normal. Stay tuned for some tips for safer running in my next blog post.

Looking for Allergy Friendly Vegan Meal Ideas? Try this Alfredo style pasta!

How is everyone surviving while we are social distancing in our new reality of COVID-19? While my husband thankfully still has work, I do not. Since I work for a rehab hospital, census is low. I anticipate that there will be some interesting changes to the utilization of those beds soon. But no one really knows what’s coming with this virus. We can only speculate. And the more I read stories from Italy, the more anxious I become.

My kids, especially my older daughter who is a senior in high school, are devastated that the school year is over in our state of Virginia. We now await further decisions about fulfilling graduation requirements and what will happen with IB and AP testing. And we continue to hope that by this fall, life as she transitions to college, hopefully, will be returning to some new sense of normal.

But for now, as we collectively sit in our homes and try our best to avoid boredom and getting on the nerves of our family members, I will shift my blog posts to recipes and resources for exercise. I would love to continue the grocery store tours for vegans, but, quite frankly, trips to the grocery store induce panic as I survey empty shelves and produce stands. And who is buying all of the tofu? Publix was sold out and on backorder at their warehouses! So the tours will wait for now.

Where is all the tofu?

Cooking is a love language for me. I find comfort in making great food for my family, and limited trips to the grocery force me to get creative. I’m up for the challenge. I will be sharing recipes over the next few weeks, trying to feature those with shelf stable ingredients as much as possible. And although I’m vegan, I know many of you who read this are not. If there is a tweak to include dairy, I may include this as I did for the bread recipe I shared. These are interesting times, and I hope sharing recipes helps in some small way.

Exercise is a necessary mode of stress relief for me. Fortunately, I am a cardio addict, so as long as we are allowed to take to the streets, I will. I’ve dusted off my bike and taken several bike rides this week as well as keeping up with my 3x per week running schedule. My younger daughter has actually joined me for shorter bike rides. As more of our neighbors take to the streets, please, please, please be more aware as you are driving to complete those necessary errands. Give runners, walkers, and cyclists some space, preferably moving completely to the other side of the road to pass. Strength training will be limited to body weight activities for now, although my husband’s CrossFit box made a great suggestion of using a backpack loaded with whatever you can find to add weight and use that like a sandbag. I also have a generic TRX rig I bought from Aldi a few years ago that I may break out, especially if we are suddenly confined to indoors.

Now let’s get back to cooking. My friend and fellow runner Niki asked that I share some recipes which are high in protein, vegan, nut-free, soy-free, and gluten-free, as well as some ways to incorporate nutritional yeast. I immediately thought of an improvised version of a creamy alfredo sauce I created a few weeks ago. I served it over regular wheat pasta, but with a swap out for bean-based pasta, this will satisfy both the GF and higher protein needs. Here you go, Niki!

Ingredients for Alfredo style pasta with broccoli

Creamy Alfredo-style Pasta with Broccoli (vegan, GF, nut-free option)

For the sauce:

  • One can white beans, drained and rinsed (Great Northern or Cannellini both work)
  • ½ cup unflavored and unsweetened plant based milk, plant-based half and half, or vegetable broth (I used Silk brand oat/coconut half and half)
  • 1 clove garlic or one cube Dorat frozen crushed garlic
  • 1 T nutritional yeast (optional, but adds some B-vitamins and cheesy flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions:

  • Blend all above ingredients together in a high powered blender, regular blender, or food processor until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a saucepan, bring to simmer on medium heat, reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer while pasta and broccoli are cooking, stirring occasionally. Once hot, you can cover and turn off the heat.
Alfredo style sauce in progress.

For the broccoli:

  • Rinse and cut one crown of broccoli into bite size pieces.
  • Steam until desired tenderness is reached (10-15 minutes).
  • Alternatively, if you want to use your microwave, place all broccoli in a tempered glass measuring cup, like Pyrex, add a bit of water (about ¼ depth of vessel), cover with a plate, and microwave for 4-5 minutes until desired tenderness is achieved.
Broccoli steaming in progress.

For the pasta:

  • Prepare one box of any bean based pasta per directions. Make sure you salt the water! For this example, I used Barilla brand chickpea pasta since it is certified GF.

Once pasta is cooked and drained, return pasta to its pan, pour sauce over pasta, and mix. Top the pasta with desired amount of broccoli. Sprinkle with additional nutritional yeast or with vegan cheese if desired. This makes about 4 small servings. Enjoy!

For a general idea of protein content per serving, one serving of beans has 7g, one serving of the Barilla chickpea pasta has 11g, and ½ cup broccoli provides 1.5g. Depending on the type of liquid you use, you are also adding a small amount of protein with that. Nutritional yeast also provides 2.5g protein per tablespoon. So you’re getting about 20g of protein in each serving!

If you don’t care for broccoli, check out this web page for other high protein vegetables you can sub for the broccoli. I think using peas, sautéed spinach, or roasted Brussel sprouts would be delicious options. If you are using frozen or fresh peas, you can throw about 1 cup of these in with the pasta to heat, reducing dirty pans! (Trader Joe’s sells little bags of shelled fresh peas in their produce section).

If you want more of a cheesy flavor to the sauce, try adding a bit of vegan cheese or cream cheese to the sauce once warm.

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Best thing since sliced bread? Homemade instead.

Is your grocery store out of bread? Here’s a way to make it yourself!

How is your COVID-19 quarantine going? It’s day two. I’ve prepped all that I can. Kids are getting instruction on how school will proceed remotely. My husband is set up to work from home. And I’m waiting for my next opportunity to work. And I’m meal prepping!

I visited 3 grocery stores over the weekend. Shelves were almost empty. I’ll admit to panic shopping. I seriously felt like I was in the midst of a dystopian movie. I’m sure most of you can relate. The biggest surprise was that no one had bread. Yikes! But I regrouped to solve the problem. I remembered that I know how to make bread easily. So I picked up some rapid rise yeast. Everything else I need for bread I keep stocked in my pantry.

A few years ago, a New York Times article published a trendy recipe for making bread in a Dutch oven inside your oven. It’s a beautifully simple recipe and method, and I’ve developed multiple variations on this basic recipe over the years.

The recipe I use now calls for a bit more yeast. You don’t have to have a Dutch oven. Any oven-proof cooking vessel with a lid will work, including Pyrex, as long as it can withstand 450 degrees. I’m lucky to have a Le Creuset which was a Christmas gift from my husband several years ago, but I have another enameled Dutch oven from Target that I love, too.

Rosemary loaf fresh from the oven and cooling.

This bread cooks into a beautiful, round loaf that has a wonderful, crunchy crust with a chewy interior. Cooking in the pot keeps in moisture, steaming the dough, and finishing it without the lid ensures that crunchy exterior. It will rival anything you can buy from the bakery in the grocery store. Granted, this will not give you your super soft, mushy PB & J sandwich bread. But it will be something delicious and new! If you have kids, they may like to help. This is an easy recipe that takes just a few minutes to put together, and, since it goes in stages, will be something that won’t lose their interest.

Here is the basic recipe I follow:

Dutch Oven Bread

Ingredients:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur)

1 ¾ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon instant or Rapid-rise yeast

1 ½ cups water

Rapid Rise Yeast. It is also typically available in jars. Store it in the fridge!

Directions:

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
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  • Add water and mix until dough begins to form.
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  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 12-18 hours. (I usually mix a batch of dough in the evening and let it sit overnight).
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  • Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  • When oven has reached full temperature, place a Dutch oven (I use a cast iron pot with lid) in the oven, allowing the pot to heat for 30 minutes.
  • While the pot is heating, take a piece of parchment paper at least the size of the pot, flour the surface, and pour dough onto the floured paper, shaping it into a ball.
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  • Cover with the same plastic wrap from the bowl and allow to rest.
  • Once pot is heated, remove the lid, and use the parchment paper to pick up and then drop the dough with the paper under it into the pot. Replace the lid, and allow to bake for 30 minutes.
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  • Remove lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  • Remove pot from oven, remove bread, and place on a cooling rack to cool.
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  • Use a large, serrated knife to cut the bread.
  • Note that the parchment paper is not necessary, but I’ve found that it makes for easier transfer of the dough into the pot, and it keeps the dough from sticking.

Now here’s the fun part. These are some variations I’ve created:

Spiced Raisin Bread:

  • Add generous 1 T pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, or cinnamon plus ½ cup raisins to the dry ingredients. If dough seems a bit dry after adding the water per the base recipe, add a bit more water to ensure that the dough pulls together.
Sliced raisin bread. This one is seasoned with pumpkin pie spice.

Rosemary Bread:

  • Add chopped, fresh rosemary (from 4-5 sprigs from a grocery store fridge pack; cut with kitchen shears) or 1 T dried rosemary to the dry ingredients.
Cutting fresh rosemary.

Pizza Bread:

  • Add 1 T oregano and ½ cup sun dried tomatoes to the dry ingredients. Like the raisin bread, if dough doesn’t pull together with the initial addition of water per the recipe, add a bit more to ensure the dough isn’t too dry.

Seeded Bread:

  • Add ½ cup of a variety of seeds or nuts to the dry ingredients. I’ve tried sunflower and pepitas with good results.

I haven’t tried yet, but I think a cranberry/orange or lemon/blueberry version may work using the zest of the citrus and dried fruit. These will be my next experiments!

I have subbed part of the AP flour with whole wheat flour before. Note that the texture is denser with the addition of this flour, and the dough will not rise as much. But the result is still tasty! I do not recommend subbing for more than one cup for this reason.

For the savory breads, these are great to slice and dip in flavored olive oil, which you can make yourself. Take about ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and add salt/pepper to taste and additional spices as desired. I love to add 1 tsp. paprika and ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes. I’ve used rosemary in a version and have made a dill version, too.

(If you are not vegan, you can also add shredded cheese to the dry ingredients. As a vegetarian, I added smoked gouda to the pizza bread. I also made a version with dried dill and Havarti with dill cheese. About one cup of cheese should do, and you will need to add additional water. I have not tried a version with vegan cheese yet. )

I hope you are able to try making some homemade bread! It’s a great time to clean out the pantry of random dried fruit, nuts, and seeds and get creative with spices. If you do try it, let me know how it goes!

I’m trying my best to avoid boredom. After making two loaves of bread, I dusted off my Townie and went for a 13.5 mile bike ride yesterday. Best social isolation ever! I went for a short run today. My gym is closed for now, so I will be taking advantage of whatever workouts people post online for at home strength training and focusing on outdoor cardio for now. I also started doing some deep cleaning and organization. We’ll see how successful that will be!

Stay safe and healthy, friends.

If you are enjoying this content, please let me know in the comments or on my social media feeds! I’m annecreates on Instagram.

Survey Says?

As the reality of spending a lot of time stuck in isolation sinks in due to measures to control the COVID-19 outbreak, I’m trying to decide what content to provide. I’d love to know what you want!

Do you want me to continue the grocery store tours? I do have a few I can finish and post, some which even have store pick-up. Others will need to wait until I can visit and add pictures.

Do you want recipes/recipe reviews and tweaks/meal ideas to get you creative in the kitchen while you’re stuck at home?

Do you want to learn about some of the supplements I take and why?

Also, my senior in high school would love to share her perspective on how this outbreak is affecting her. So look out for a guest post from her. She’s really a talented author.

I’m not sure how my work will be affected as the outbreak grows, but I may be able to share that perspective as well, even though my capacity as a healthcare provider is limited as a rehab professional.

But comment here, on Facebook, or Instagram. I’ll do what I can to squelch boredom. Follow my blog so you can keep up!

Stay healthy, friends!

Anyone else feeling a bit anxious?

Anxious? Focus on what we CAN control right now.

How many of us thought we’d see an outbreak like this in our lifetimes? Honestly, most days I feel like the queen of anxiety. My husband thinks my concern about COVID-19 is unwarranted. And yet here we are… in the midst of a pandemic.

I think the worst part, besides the uncertainty about how this epidemic will evolve, is the disappointment of life’s disruptions. My senior in high school is upset that an overnight visit to a college was cancelled (all state schools are closed for now). And now she’s worried that she may miss out on all of the rights of passage for all seniors: prom, senior trip, even graduation. She has IB and AP tests coming up, and she’s nervous that these may be cancelled, too. Not to mention all of the robotics competitions, etc. that have also been cancelled. My younger daughter is very disappointed about that, and she’s wondering if the school musical will actually go on.

As an east coaster, going to the grocery store reminds me of hurricane prep. No water. No toilet paper. No cleaning supplies. No hand soap. No hand sanitizer. No bananas? It’s crazy town in Richmond, y’all.

Following the announcement by the World Health Organization that we have now entered an international pandemic, decisions about social distancing have been swift. Schools in my county are closed Monday and Tuesday, although I’m certain they will follow suit and close for two weeks like the rest of the Metro Richmond area. My husband has been asked to work from home. My work has established new restrictions on visitors and more thorough patient screenings. And race cancellations and postponements are rampant. All of these plans are warranted. I feel terrible for my friends who have trained for spring marathons which have been cancelled. But social distancing will flatten the curve and allow the inevitable spread to slow down, hopefully avoiding overwhelming our healthcare system.

Sigh. So what are we to do? Worry about this has already filtered into my dreams. But I’m trying to focus on what I can control, and plan for the things I cannot.

So, let’s take a moment to draw inspiration from my Pink Nation marathon training team coach, Blair Just:

BREATHE. RELAX. BELIEVE we can get through this.

“When you feel overwhelmed, remember: a little at a time is how you get things done. One thing, one task, one moment at a time.”

Posted on Facebook from my friend Amy.

This is exactly how we tackle a marathon or hero workout in CrossFit. We already have the personal skills to deal with this challenge.

I’m trying not to worry about new speculation that this coronavirus may be airborne (I have a good friend who is an epidemiologist who has assured me that it’s not). I’m trying to dismiss the fact that there are very limited negative pressure rooms in Richmond. That there are only so many ventilators available. That our hospitals are already very busy, even in the ICU’s. That our healthcare providers may face some really tough ethical choices in the coming weeks. That our government has dropped the ball on testing, among many faults. That what is happening in Italy could very well happen here. As a healthcare provider, I will help those who need it in whatever way I can.

So, I will focus on other things. I will reassure my girls that we will get through this. I will be thankful that I got to run my spring race! I will be grateful that I bought toilet paper Monday when it was available! I will not feel silly for buying a giant bottle of hand soap from TJ Maxx when my grocery store was out. I will not be nervous that I sat in a room with about 200 people on Wednesday for 6 hours. I will believe in science.

I will dream about taking advantage of cheap travel right now and plan a virtual trip with my friends. So far, we’ve settled on the USVI. Because YOLO! (Eh. Who am I kidding? I’m staying right here. But it’s fun to dream!)

Trunk Bay, USVI. From our trip in 2011. We left for this trip the morning that Hurricane Irene hit Virginia.

I will focus on taking care of myself and my family, and you should, too. My plan: Feeling good? Keep exercising. It will help you blow off some steam. Nervous about going to the store? Shop via store pickup or delivery. Do all you can to fuel your body the way you know you should: lots of veggies, whole grains, foods that tend to reduce inflammation (this does NOT include anything from a drive-through). Look at this post from Nora Cooks Vegan for a shopping list to stock your pantry! Take your vitamins (remember that Vegans need a b-complex, vitamin D3, omega-3’s, and zinc). Take elderberry if you think it will help (a recent study claims it blocks the flu virus from binding). Nuun even has an immunity blend. Stay hydrated. Check on your loved ones, especially if they are older. Stay away from large crowds and people who are sick. If you feel sick, call your doctor; they will provide the best direction for course of action for your particular symptoms. Keep frequently touched surfaces clean. Practice patience. Everyone is stressed. We are possibly in for a long ride.  And, for God’s sake, wash your hands!

How is the COVID-19 outbreak affecting you and your community? Let’s help each other deal with these uncertain times.

Grocery Store Tour for Vegans: Kroger

Kroger is on my rotation of main grocery stores. I tend to visit at least once a month as my primary weekly shop, simply because they generally have everything I need in one stop, and there are two stores fairly close to my home.

My local Kroger Marketplace.

As an added bonus, because I have a rewards card, they send me coupons once a month to entice me back. The savings from these alone add up to at least $10 per packet, plus they have specials every week.

My Kroger coupons for the month!

For those who prefer to shop online and pick up, Kroger also has click list. This has been a great resource when I’ve needed it. Although I’m typically a touch everything before I buy it in store kind of shopper, there are times that this has really saved me! Navigating this system is simple. Since it uses your customer card for your account, it saves your frequent in store purchases for reference. Be aware that they will make substitutions if they are out of items.

Kroger’s store brands are good. Their Simple Truth Organic brand has really stepped up their plant-based game recently, adding burgers, jarred Alfredo sauce, and sweet goodies, too. I have to say, especially for the price point, their plant-based burgers rival Beyond Meat.

In the Richmond market, we have smaller stores as well as Marketplace superstores. The two locations I frequent most are the larger stores. All of our local stores have removed the “natural” sections in the past year and have essentially integrated all of their organic brands into the main parts of the store.

My primary frustration with Kroger is that each store is organized slightly differently, so you have to learn each store’s layout, and they recently moved all of their fermented products to a separate refrigerated aisle in the middle of the store. Sometimes I miss the kombucha!

So, what are some of my must-haves from Kroger?

The produce section at my local Kroger.
  • Produce
    • Selection and quality are typically very good. They do separate most of their organic from conventionally grown produce, with the exception of berries, root veggies, tomatoes, and bananas. There is usually also a wide variety, so if there is something specific that you need for a recipe, they usually have it. This is also where I stock up on bagged Organic apples, either honeycrisp or gala.
  • Farro
    • Kroger sells their own brand of this ancient grain. As I have written about before, I love this grain for its high protein and fiber content as well as its delicious nutty flavor! You can find this on the rice aisle near the quinoa. Check out this blog post for recipe ideas!
  • Canned beans
    • Their Simple Truth Organic brand canned beans are available in 4 packs, usually for less than $4. This is also an item for which I’m typically given a coupon. I’ll buy black beans for soup and Mexican nights, kidney beans/tri-blend beans for salads, garbanzo beans for mock tuna or chicken salad substitutes as well as homemade hummus, pinto for chili, and white beans for salads and soups. 
  • Frozen, prepared Vegan foods
    • Gardein products are stocked here, with their “chicken tenders” and “meatballs” as favorites for me. These are good back-up emergency meal starters.
    • Hillary’s breakfast sausages are also a favorite of mine that are carried here. I really like these because all of the ingredients are identifiable.
    • Amy’s frozen meals. I love the tofu scramble, and I try to have one on hand for a last minute meal.
  • Simple Truth Organic products
    • Plant-based “meats.” Like I said in the intro, I really do like their burgers. They also make a ground pack not formed into patties that I have yet to try. For the price point compared to the name brands, these are worth it.
    • Sauces. They make a jarred, plant-based Alfredo sauce (pasta aisle) and red curry sauce (international aisle) which are both good and are vegan. The curry sauce is SPICY! When I don’t have time to cook from scratch, these are meal savers!
    • Tofu. I really love that they sell a block split into two as one pack. I’m the only one in my house who will eat it, so I like the convenience of smaller portions.
  • Plant-based milk alternatives
    • Kroger carries the entire Silk line of products. I love the dark chocolate almond milk for my coffee. For unflavored milk, I love their oat milk!
  • Bean based, high protein pastas
    • Both the Pow! and Banza brands are sold here. I’ve tried both. I actually prefer the Banza brand, which is made from chickpea flour. The texture is most like regular pasta to me. The lentil based pastas from Pow have a peppery kick, though! If you are looking to boost your protein intake, these are great options while still enjoying pasta!
  • Dave’s Killer Bread products
    • These are, by far, my favorite breads! Organic, whole grain, and delicious. My family is addicted to their berry bagels, but we love all of their products. Now if they could just start making sandwich buns…

Grocery shopping at Kroger is a good, general option. Prices are always competitive, they have weekly specials accessed by my Kroger card, and they send me valuable coupons! This past week, I saved just under $29 between coupons and store specials. I can count on their Simple Truth organic products to be on par with the name brands for a good price, but they also carry the name brands I know and love. And I can use Click List when I really need it! And they have also added a delivery service!

My Kroger haul this week.

Do you shop at Kroger? What are your favorites here? I’d love to hear about it!

Race Recap: Newport News One City Half Marathon

Since this race began 5 years ago, I have wanted run it! Initially just offering a marathon, marathon relay, and 8k option, Flat Out Events added a half marathon last year. Since I typically run a winter/spring half every year, I knew this was my race! So when they ran a special for $60 for the half, I registered. I actually had an issue in this process, and ended up accidentally registering twice! I messaged Flat Out events via Facebook, and they responded very quickly. The issue was resolved the next day. I was impressed!

With my finisher’s medal! It features the Victory Arch downtown and the propeller from Mariner’s Museum.

Flat Out events is based in my hometown of Newport News, VA. They organize several races each year, including the Christmas Dash in December at Busch Gardens and a 50k in October featuring the Noland Trail. One City is designed as a point to point race, with the full marathon starting in Newport News Park, the largest city park in the United States east of the Mississippi, and ending downtown at the Victory Arch. (Newport News is actually 23 miles long!) The half marathon follows the same route beginning at the halfway point at Menchville High School. Because of this, both races have a 7 hour time limit by default.

The original plan for this race weekend was to run it with my best friend, but she had a family emergency, so plans changed! I’m grateful to still have family in the area and a free place to stay, so this made the race weekend easy.

The race shirt, which is a super nice, long sleeve technical tee.

Here’s my review of the race. I’ll start with the expo. Although very small, every vendor had something good to give away. It was held at the Holiday Inn Newport News/Hampton, conveniently located right off the interstate and right down the road from where I grew up! Getting in and out was a breeze.

Outside the Expo.

The website for this event was very thorough. They have an app for spectators to follow their runners, which my brother used to track me, and the site itself had all the information you need, including course maps and a parking map. Since it’s a point to point race, you park downtown at the finish and take a bus to the start of your race. Parking was free and plentiful for participants. This is important to me, because parking for a race is always my biggest stressor! Race volunteers were super helpful with both directing parking and where to go for the shuttle buses, also making sure you get on the right bus! I’m grateful that I got to meet up with one of my friends from Richmond to start the day’s adventure together!

With fellow Legacy Nunn ambassador and Richmonder, Nikkia.
We were grateful for the warmth of the gym at Menchville High School before the race!

For the start of the half marathon at Menchville High School, they actually had the school open. This meant you could stay warm inside and use actual toilets, even though there were plenty of porta potties as well. They had both gyms open. I wore a throw away shirt to keep warm at the start, and I didn’t really need it because we were allowed this luxury. The school was also an exchange point for those running the marathon relay.

The race started at 7am. I really love having the early start! It was chilly at 28 degrees, but warmed up into the 30’s later in the morning. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather, with low humidity and beautiful sunshine.

Since I’m familiar with Newport News, I enjoyed running past places I remembered from my childhood. The race transitioned fairly quickly out of the neighborhood surrounding Menchville High and onto Warwick Blvd. The best part of the course for me started at the campus of Christopher Newport University, then taking you into neighboring Mariner’s Museum Park. You pass the trail head for the Noland Trail, then head to the James River. The only really significant hills are in the park. You then transition back into the Hidenwood neighborhood, crossing the Lion’s Bridge before heading back onto Warwick Blvd. This takes you through historic Hilton Village as you make your way downtown.

At the Lion’s Bridge at mile 6ish. This is where I turned on my music and settled in for the long haul!

Things I learned on the course? Todd Stadium looks exactly the same as when I was in high school, Newport News Public Schools took over the building my orthodontist once occupied, Hilton Village is just as charming as I remember, and the valedictorian of my high school class is running for the school board (I saw several campaign signs on the course!) I was also reminded of how delicious Skittles are when running (thank you to whoever it was in Hidenwood who was passing those out!)

Around mile 11, a race official on a bike approached me. He told me I was doing a great job, then proceeded to politely ask me to move to the right, as the race leaders of the marathon were about to pass. I felt simultaneously inspired and humiliated. In all, 4 male marathoners passed me. That means they ran sub-2:30 marathons! The top 3 leaders had police escorts on motorcycles. Folks, if you are in this league of runners, this is special. I don’t think I’ve ever run a race where the leaders had this VIP treatment. The job of these escorts seemed to be to make sure these runners could focus solely on their performance, not dodging slower half marthoners like me! Maybe they did this because the courses overlapped, but I was impressed.

As seen between mile 11 and 12. Cranes at the Newport News Shipbuilding.

Finally reaching downtown, I found myself feeling extraordinarily grateful that I didn’t sign up for the full! I was ready to be done. The water stop at mile 12 was absolutely phenomenal, by the way. The volunteers here cheered the loudest, and they made me feel like a rock star! And when I approached the turn at the gentle downhill finish, I heard the cheers of my family! My brother, sister-in-law, and niece were waiting for me! And the race announcer called my name as I crossed the finish. That was awesome!

With my brother and niece at the finish! I was really happy to see them as I rounded the corner to the finish!

I will absolutely run this race again. The course wasn’t too hilly. There were several gentle inclines to keep things interesting, but nothing Richmond runners can’t handle! It was well organized with a huge NNPD presence on the course. Crowd support was sporadic, but those who braved the cold were enthusiastic! The food at the finish included bagels from Panera and beer, although I forgot all about my 2 free beers until I got home, which made me sad.  Also, with only 2,700 participants between all the races, you never felt claustrophobic.

The Victory Arch at the race finish.

The Marathon winner was supposed to run a race in Japan next week. Because of the coronavirus, he decided to change his plans, and he found One City. His story is featured in the Daily Press.

One City Marathon is a Boston qualifying event, so hopefully it will continue to grow!

Have you run any of the Newport News One City races? What other spring events are on your calendar? I’d love to hear about it!

Grocery Tour for Vegans: Aldi

This is the first in a planned series of grocery tours for Vegans!

I am lucky to live in the Richmond, Virginia metro area: the place where grocery store chains love to converge. As old time Richmonders collectively mourn the loss of our beloved Ukrop’s, several chains have moved in to console us and attempt to fill this void. This phenomenon is not lost on the industry, as it’s been written about many times! (Check out this article from Food and Wine, and this one from Richmond Magazine.)

Our variety of stores is both a blessing and a curse, because there are awesome products at every store in the RVA that are must haves! Even different locations of each store carry different products. This forces me to visit one large grocery each week and rotate the smaller, specialty groceries when I have time for an extra shop. Aldi is on that second tier, and is the first I will explore with you in this grocery shopping for vegans series!

My local Aldi store.

Aldi entered the Richmond market in 2015 and has gradually expanded its base as a low cost grocery here. I have many friends who have not yet explored Aldi, so I wanted to share what they have to offer, especially for those who eat vegan. Before you go to Aldi, you need to know the ground rules!

  • You need a quarter. One of the ways they cut costs is to keep their carts locked. You need a quarter to unlock your cart, which you get back when you return it to the corral. No, there are no hand baskets!
  • You need to bring bags. Don’t worry, though, because you can buy bags if you forget. You can also usually grab an empty box from a storage bin in the store, just like Costco, to carry out your goodies.
  • Be prepared to bag your own groceries. They have a very nice area to do so but they basically put all of your purchases in another cart to take to this area. Again, another way to cut costs.
  • Most of the merchandise is their own brand, just like Trader Joe’s.
  • Merchandise changes frequently. If you find something you love, stock up, because it may not be there on your next visit!
  • The store layout is essentially the same in each store. Once you learn it, navigating is easy. They don’t play the rearranging game every so often to make you spend more time in the store! (Trader Joe’s, which is related to Aldi, is notorious for doing this!)

What are some of the must-haves for Vegans at Aldi?

  • Chocolate.
    • Not all of their chocolate is vegan, but most of their dark chocolate is. It’s also fair trade! Their Moser Roth brand, which they carry consistently, looks like it’s a big bar from the outside, but it’s actually 5 individually wrapped bars. These are perfectly sized for your lunch box! My favorites are the 70% dark chocolate and the dark chocolate mint.
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  • Nuts and dried fruit.
    • Their prices can’t be beat for the quality of these items. Today I even found raw cashews. I will try to make an “alfredo” sauce with these! And I find that eating dried fruit, besides providing lots of fiber, cures me of any cravings for chewy, sour candy like Skittles for me.
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  • Produce.
    • Prices are usually really great on their produce, and the quality is usually good. The problem is that what is available is very hit or miss. So if you need something specific for a recipe, you’re better off going to a bigger grocery store. However, they usually have avocados, and today they were 79 cents! They also had organic berries today at my location.
  • Vegan snacks and dips.
    • There are usually several items available, although the products change frequently. Last time, I found Bada Bean Bada Boom snacks (I stocked up!) This visit, they had new cookies made with cashews and coconut which are surprisingly delicious! They also had cauliflower crackers, which actually aren’t as bad as they sound. At less than $2 per box, it was worth the gamble. Organic tortilla chips are a staple at Aldi in some variety. I also found an olive tapenade hummus and a black bean dip in the refrigerated section today that have both passed the taste test with one of my kids!
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  • Organic canned beans.
    • These are consistently available, especially black beans and kidney beans. Always less than $1 per can.
  • Vegan meat and milk substitutes.
    • Aldi makes “chicken” patties, several varieties of bean/veggie burgers, vegan “meatballs,” and “chicken” tenders in the freezer section.  I’ve tried most of these, and they are all decent. Today in the refrigerated section, they also had meatless Italian sausage and hot dogs. Read your labels, though, as the sausages contain egg! I didn’t purchase either. Although I don’t eat meat substitutes on a regular basis, the fact that most of these are frozen make throwing together a quick meal easy when you really need it!
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    • They also have several varieties of plant based milks, including a few flavors of almond milk, as well as soy and coconut milk, all Aldi brand.
  • Kombucha.
    • Aldi usually carries limited flavors of the GT’s brand (my husband is addicted!) They also have a store brand which is quite good, but they also carry other brands from time to time. Always just a bit under $3 each.
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So if you’ve never explored Aldi, now you know what to look for! I think of Aldi as an adventure each visit. It’s never my primary shop of the week, but I try to stop in about once a month to stock up on chocolate and nuts, at least! They also have an aisle of non-food items which vary, and can have anything from vinyl records to sweatpants to generic TRX rigs. You never know what you’ll find!

My haul from Aldi this trip.

Do you shop at Aldi? If so, what are some of your favorite items?

Next week, I’ll have a race recap of the One City Half Marathon!