To Vaccinate or Not?

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question.

Me on Friday, right after receiving the vaccine. I had to sit for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction. Thankfully, I was fine!

Personally, I was on the fence about getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Indeed, there are so many unknowns. But in the end, I decided to go for it. Here’s why:

First, as a healthcare provider, even as a physical therapist, I’ve been exposed enough that it makes sense to protect myself. This way, I hopefully won’t bring it home to my family. This includes my in-laws and my own parents, all of whom are dealing with or caring for a spouse with medical issues. It makes it safer for me to help them if they need it.

Therapists have to get close to our patients to help them transfer, bathe, dress, guard them while walking, etc. It’s impossible to maintain “social distancing” in our practice. And at this point, I’ve treated both COVID + patients in acute care as well as those recovering and in inpatient rehab on a routine basis. I consider myself very lucky to have been included with the frontline workers.

Even if I’m not providing critical care like ICU nurses and doctors, I see my job as a PT in a certain sense as a support role for the RNs caring for these patients on our COVID units. I can provide valuable feedback about how these patients tolerate mobilizing, especially capturing important objective information like oxygen saturation levels and heart rate with activity and trends from day to day. I can also do things like assist patients to the bathroom which, for these patients, is typically more often to the bedside commode because they can’t even tolerate walking 25 feet to the bathroom. I can also help guide decisions about discharge planning. There are so many pieces to the puzzle.

As a side note, if you are wondering if healthcare providers really wear those tents over their heads with the backpacks like on Grey’s Anatomy, the answer is yes. Yes, they do. My husband asked me this very question. I still don’t think he actually believes me. RN’s and patient care techs who are in and out of COVID rooms wear them routinely. I wear standard PPE for these patients of an N95 mask, face shield, plastic gown, and gloves. If that sounds like you’d get hot, you’re right.

Second, even though it seems like this vaccine has been created at lightning speed, the foundation for this new science was actually built in working on vaccines for the first SARS and MERS viruses, which are in the same family of coronaviruses as COVID-19. These vaccines never came to fruition because the viruses never reached pandemic stages. They simply didn’t need to be finished because infections from these viruses subsided. These COVID-19 vaccines were created due to an astounding cooperation among the scientific community, starting with the Chinese government sharing the genetic code of the virus when it was first isolated. The other piece was in receiving adequate funding. Voila. Smart scientists with money can get things done.

Third, this is a case where the benefits outweigh the risks for most. Now, I hate getting the flu vaccine, which is only 40% effective in preventing the flu, by the way. My body hates the preservatives used to keep it stable. However, the newer, hypo-allergenic versions I can tolerate well. A bonus of the Pfizer COVID vaccine I received is that there are no preservatives. It’s one reason it needs to be kept at -70 degrees. I think the biggest risk of getting this is the possibility of an allergic reaction. So far at my hospital, there have been no abnormal reactions to the vaccine. There have been a few reactions reported in the US and the UK, but very few. My only reaction thus far? A sore arm, which is to be expected, and which resolved by the next day. And to have a vaccine available that is 95% effective and knowing I will be exposed repeatedly? It just makes sense to protect myself since I have the opportunity. That being said, I have friends who have had a history of severe allergic reactions to new medications who have opted out, and I fully understand.

Fourth, for those who are just absolutely terrified of needles, this was the tiniest needle ever. Seriously. I didn’t even feel it. Rest assured that anyone who would give you this vaccine will have given hundreds of these by the time you are able to get it.

Fifth, there is no live virus in this vaccine. It works by sending a very specific set of instructions for your body to recognize the spiky protein that gives the coronavirus its name. This is done via messenger RNA. Again, there is no full genetic code of COVID-19 in the vaccine. It’s simply a set of instructions to defeat the most physical characteristic of the bug. That’s it. Its purpose is to call to action your body’s natural immune response so that it can recognize COVID-19 if you are exposed and defeat it.

Sixth, despite what our government promised, hospitals in our area may not get enough to vaccinate everyone who works for them. We were told to get the vaccine while we had the opportunity, because we may not get another chance until much, much later.

The new glitch in this process is the discovery of a new strain of the virus. It’s what is causing the rapid increase in cases in the UK. A similar variant has also been discovered in South Africa. This goes to show how quickly RNA viruses can replicate and mutate. And yes, these mutations are concerning. Fortunately, this is kind of what scientists do with the flu every year. They keep up with the subtle changes in the virus and tweak the vaccine accordingly. Right now, it’s a “wait and see what happens” scenario. Mother Nature sure is clever, but hopefully, science will prevail.

So on Friday, I rolled up my sleeve and got the vaccine. Like I said, I never felt the needle, and I was watching! After, they had me sit and be monitored for 15 minutes just in case I had a reaction. But I was fine! I received my card from the CDC and will be texted when my window for the second dose arrives. Easy. I’m already feeling a bit of peace of mind that I’m working toward immunity. And I’m hoping this opens doors for traveling, running races in person, and visiting with out of town family.

My CDC card.

For now, I feel like healthcare providers have been tossed a life jacket to clutch onto as we tread in choppy, stormy waters while the ship is sinking. It’s the first glimmer of hope we’ve had in a while. Again, now is not the time to let your guard down. Continue to wear your masks. Continue to socially distance. Just because the life jackets are being distributed doesn’t mean that everyone will get one. Distribution may not even be equitable, kind of like the Titanic. The storm of the pandemic is far from over. Cases are still surging in my state of Virginia, and it’s predicted that the worst is yet to come.

As far as having the opportunity to get vaccinated goes, perhaps Dan Rather said it best:

Most importantly, protecting yourself from viruses by vaccination is one way you can take control of your wellbeing. Reducing your risk of infection may also help alleviate anxiety about contracting the virus. By getting mine, I hope that my loved ones, like my dad who will likely be included in round two, will be less apprehensive about getting the vaccine. Science works.

I hope sharing my experience and understanding helps alleviate some of your fears about getting the vaccine. My best friend from middle school just lost her grandmother to COVID. One of my high school friends had it and was briefly hospitalized with complications. And one of my friends is currently in the hospital battling this nasty virus. I have friends working where she is, and I’m able to sneak in some essentials for her. But she, as well as all of my patients who have had this, say the same thing: no one wants this virus. In the end, getting the vaccine is a personal choice, a difficult one even for healthcare providers, and you must make the best one for you. Seek the advice of your doctor if you have any concerns. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan Spanish Rice

The other day I had a craving for this most delicious side dish at Mexican restaurants. Unfortunately, most restaurants make this with chicken broth, and I really wanted to create a vegan version. I also wanted to add some substance to this dish, so adding more texture with diced onions and tomatoes was purposeful.

The first batch was swiftly approved by both of my daughters, and my older daughter wanted me to make a new batch right away. Well, it’s been almost a week, but I did make more, making sure that my proportions were what I estimated, because as with most cooking, I just add a dash of this and that. But the second batch was equally delicious, so I’m ready to share the vegan goodness! And although not quite like the side dish at your favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant, I love the depth of flavor.

Keep in mind that I prefer a sticky rice. If you like your rice drier, I would reduce the water by about ¼ cup. Additionally, if you don’t have the Better than Bouillon paste, you can sub vegetable broth or stock for the paste and water.

Ingredients for Vegan Spanish Rice, minus the garlic!

Vegan Spanish Rice

Ingredients:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • One small onion, diced
  • One glove garlic, minced, or equivalent (Dorot cube or 1 tsp. jarred minced garlic)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp Better than Bouillon vegetable paste
  • ½ can petite diced tomatoes (about ¾ cup)
  • ½ can tomato paste (about 2 generous tablespoons)
  • 1 cup rice (I like basmati or jasmine)
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Next, sauté the onions and garlic together until they are translucent. Add all the spices, including the vegetable bouillon paste, and tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Add the water and rice, stirring to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, and then simmer on low heat, covered, for 15-17 minutes, until rice is tender and most liquid is absorbed. Serve as a base for burrito bowls or as a side dish.

Cooking the onions and garlic. I used refrigerated minced garlic this time.
After adding the dry spices.
After combining the tomatoes and tomato paste.
Finished rice! I love the depth of flavor using the bouillon paste, rich tomato paste, warm cumin, and smoky paprika.

If you try making this dish, I’d love to hear about it! Post and tag me on Instagram @annecreates. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Grocery Store Tour for Vegans: Publix

In the Richmond market, Publix is a relatively new player. As a national chain, they have steadily migrated north. As a kid, I remember shopping there with my mom every time we visited my grandparents in Florida. They have always been nice, clean, bright, and friendly stores.

When Martin’s decided to leave the stores they took over from RVA’s beloved Ukrop’s, Publix stepped in to fill the void. They completely remodeled the stores, and they are beautiful. Plus, their store associates are so nice! They will go out of their way to help you find something specific.

Let’s start with what they DO have for Vegans. In addition to the accidentally vegan staples/junk food in the middle aisles and whole foods like beans and grains, Publix has:

  • Produce. Typically very well stocked and good quality. Often you will pay a premium for their produce, but you know it will be worth it.
The produce department at Publix is beautiful and well stocked.
  • Sushi. Their in house sushi makers usually keep some type of veggie rolls in the case.
  • Hummus. They have a half case devoted to several different brands of this vegan staple, including the new Sabra dessert varieties.
Publix has a wide variety of hummus brands and flavors, including Richmond made Sabra.
  • Vegan cheese and tofu. They have a section devoted to this in their produce department. At the beginning of the pandemic, they actually sold out of tofu! They carry Vivo Life, Daiya, Chao, and Follow your Heart brands cheese. They have their own Greenwise organic brand of tofu, plus the Hodo brand of prepped tofu I found at The Fresh Market.
A well stocked vegan cheese, fermented food, and tofu section located with the produce.
  • Kombucha. They sell several brands and many different flavors that you can’t find in other stores.
  • Vegan meat substitutes. Publix carries Beyond Meat, Lightlife, Impossible, and Pure brands. You can find these in the freezer section open cases.
A decent selection of Vegan meat substitutes which are kept frozen at Publix.
  • Frozen vegan desserts. They do carry a variety of non-dairy ice cream, including Ben and Jerry’s, So Delicious, and Publix store brand. The Publix peanut buttery cocoa chip is especially yummy! They also carry the Daiya plain cheesecakes.
They Daiya cheezecake.
  • Plant based milks. Publix carries a wide variety of brands and types. You can pretty much find your favorite here.
One of the best selections of plant based milks of the major grocery stores in Richmond.
  • Just Egg. It’s $5.49 here.
  • Dave’s Killer Bread. It’s my favorite. They have the whole line of products here.
  • Plant based yogurt. The Kite Hill, Forager, and Silk brands are right by the dairy yogurts.
  • Vegan cream cheese. You will find Kite Hill and Miyoko’s Creamery brands beside the dairy cream cheese.
Vegan cream cheese. Kite Hill and Miyoko’s are right next to the dairy versions.
  • Vegan chocolate. They carry both the Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups, which are vegan, and a few varieties of the Endangered Species chocolate bars.
Vegan chocolate bars!

What won’t you find at Publix? Vegan goods from the bakery. They do carry one brand of vegan healthy cookies that are similar to oatmeal cookies, but that’s it. They do not bake vegan friendly cakes, cookies, etc. in store.

I find their stores, although very pleasant, to be on the expensive side. For example, avocados are typically less than $1 at Walmart or Kroger, but can cost up to $2.50 for the same size at Publix. Another example: My husband’s favorite brand of kombucha, GT’s, is $3.69 here, when I can buy it for less than $3 at Kroger or Walmart. Nationally branded vegan items tend to run retail prices. However, when they do run sales, they are very good, and you don’t need a loyalty card to benefit . I’ve even seen buy one get one free Beyond Burgers here. I also highly recommend buying their Greenwise organic store brand. Everything I’ve tried from this brand has been good, including their tofu, canned beans and vegetables, and frozen vegetables.

If I need to go to the store to pick up a few items, I will stop here. It’s the closest grocery store to my home. This gives me a chance to pick up some vegan items I can’t find at my typical stores where I do my primary shops, like Kite Hill products and their store brand non-dairy ice cream. Overall, it’s a nice place to shop, and not any more expensive than Whole Foods, although a bit less vegan friendly.

Do you have a Publix in your area? Have you ever shopped here? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Adopt, Don’t Shop!

If you read my post about how I became a dog person, you will learn that I’m actually a cat person. We had 2 cats growing up. Both of them lived long, happy lives, into their 20’s. I do miss having a cat, though. My last cat passed away at 18. My dog isn’t much of a snuggler, but she rarely sleeps at night without being right beside me. As much as I love this, there’s still nothing like having a cat cozy up to you in your lap.

So when my niece suggested to my parents that they consider adopting a cat, the idea was exciting for them. They are unable to travel due to my dad’s medical issues, and they’ve felt a bit isolated in quarantine. The time was right to find a new family member.

Outside of the Richmond Animal League near the Chesterfield Town Center.

Fortunately, I have a friend who works for the Richmond Animal League. This happens to be the rescue organization where we adopted our dog Ellie. Having someone on the inside was great, because I could tell him exactly what my parents were looking for, and he could help me find the perfect companion. Due to Covid precautions, you now need to make a selection before you get there, which complicates the process a bit, but shouldn’t stop you from meeting a potential new companion!

One morning, my friend sent me pictures of a beautiful girl named Ace, and he was, in his words, smitten! She had been adopted from them in the fall, and was surrendered a bit over a week ago. Apparently, she does not do well with toddlers. Poor girl! So my parents are probably more her type.

Meeting Lacey! She’s as gorgeous in person as she was in pictures online!

After going through the application process and phone interview, we had an appointment to meet Ace. Since my parents live in Tidewater, not Richmond, my daughter and I went to meet her. I even Facetimed my mom so she could see the kitty!

Shortly after that, we were on our way to take Ace to her new home. She was the best car rider! I’ve never had a cat so content in a carrier.

After she had been in the house for a bit, Lacey started to relax!

Once we got to my parents’ house, we let her out of her crate to assess her new domain. We only stayed about 30 minutes and were masked the whole time, but in that time, Ace, who will now go by Lacey, explored every inch she could, and she even used her litter box twice. Her first time on my mom’s lap, she made biscuits. And by the time we left, she seemed quite content and was purring up a storm.

My mom reports that Lacey is settling in just fine. She sleeps in the bed with them and has been very generous with her attention. I think we found a good fit!

Lacey loves to sit with my dad. I look forward to my mom’s posts on social media to see how they are getting along! Photo courtesy of my mom.

I can’t say enough great things about the Richmond Animal League. They are a no-kill shelter, and have been since their founding in 1979. If you’re in the Richmond area and are looking for a new friend, be sure to check out their available animals. They also take donations of goods and money to support their efforts. As you know, all non-profits need help right now. But most of all, if you are looking for a fur baby, adopt. Don’t shop. Check out a shelter in your area. You may find a new companion to rescue you!

My take on COVID-19

The question has officially been asked of healthcare providers: do you want to be included in the first round of vaccinations? At one time, I thought this day would never come. I’m actually surprised that the therapy staff were included in the first go-round, but pleased. That being said, I will get the vaccine eventually, but am holding off in the first round. Since I’m pretty sure I had it in August, I’m hoping that I have some immunity for a bit longer. The doses should go to the true front line heroes who are most vulnerable.

My experience in August was terrible, and I only had mild symptoms, and was only sick for 2 weeks. But the raging headache, the incessant watering, burning eyes, the severe fatigue, the altered sense of taste, the fever, the chest discomfort… it was awful. I also felt stigmatized and ashamed, like I had an STD or something. If I contracted the virus, I must have done something wrong, right? I tested negative twice, but my doctor told me I needed to quarantine as if I tested positive since I had all the symptoms.

In addition to my own experience, I have had the honor of helping several patients recover from this horrible virus in rehab. Post-Covid patients that come to rehab have most likely been intubated at some point in their battle with the illness, and typically suffer from ICU induced myopathy. They are weak, fatigue easily, and might have a bit of anxiety from all of their time in isolation. Some even have trouble swallowing from their prolonged time being intubated. Every single one I’ve worked with has said the same thing: “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

With all of the times I’ve been exposed to active COVID cases in the hospital, the PPE has worked. However, I’m more likely to work with a patient who has potentially been exposed, which requires the same gear. This is a plastic gown, and N95 mask, goggles, and face shield. It makes hour and a half treatment sessions in a room absolutely sweltering for my peri-menopausal body. I’ve learned to ask the patient if they need anything before I gown up. I take the opportunity to make sure the time I spend with them is as fun and pleasant as possible, because my time with them may be the most significant human interaction they will have all day. They likely need a friend as much as they need the exercise and mobility training I give them. I look at it as a part of my job to be their sunshine.

One of my patients in isolation was having a particularly rough day last week. It had been storming much of the day, and I kept watch on the changing sky during our session. I saw the lighting was just right for a rainbow, and I found it! I had to make him walk to the window to see it, but he was elated! I convinced him it was an omen that his luck was about to change. He was taken off of isolation soon after our session.

I am pleased that in my region, folks are finally mostly compliant with the mask mandate. When Governor Northam first announced the mandate, I was already wearing a mask in public. But I would see maybe 50% of people actually wearing them when I was running errands, especially in conservative Hanover County. But now, for the most part, people are wearing them.

My family has been lucky thus far. I know co-workers who have gotten sick. I have friends who have contracted the virus and have experienced complications. In the nursing home where I used to work, they lost many long-time residents at the beginning of the pandemic, which was heartbreaking. But my family has been safe.

Can you believe that we’ve been in this fight for 9 months? So much could have been, and still should be handled better. Our country failed Epidemiolgy 101. We surpassed 200,000 daily positive cases one day last week! So, while it’s great that the vaccines will soon start to be distributed, we may not have the capacity to vaccinate everyone for another year. It’s far from over.

I believe one positive effect from the pandemic is the reduced stigma surrounding mental health care. As the world suffers this collective trauma together, I think we have become more accepting of the phenomenon of the effects of isolation and fear of becoming ill in causing depression and anxiety, and we’re more willing to discuss it. Finding a provider to assist with these struggles right now can prove challenging. But at least if we talk to each other about these prevalent issues, perhaps we can even more fully normalize these feelings, and they become less of a burden to carry.

I watched last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, where they have incorporated the pandemic into their storyline. Of course, there’s some grumbling from fans about not getting a break from daily Covid world. But I think the writers are actually doing a community service. I’m already weary of being a healthcare provider in Covid times, and I’m not a frontline fighter. I catch patients after they have passed the danger of dying from the virus. But watching this episode, they articulated so well how most of us feel who are working in the hospital, helping the nation survive this battle. Maybe it will convince others to take the virus more seriously and develop more empathy toward those on the front lines. It’s worth watching.

Looking back over my blog posts as this pandemic developed, we have many more answers to how to battle this virus and, it seems, we have the prevention on the way. It’s still exhausting from all perspectives: wearing masks, fewer social interactions, changes at work, limited visits with loved ones outside your “quarantine cluster,” and virtual schooling, to name a few. This feels like we’re running an ultramarathon at this point. For a while, we were lost in the woods and didn’t know which mark on the trail would lead us in the right direction. We even rolled an ankle and ran out of food and water and ended up waist deep in a creek. But the finish line has been discovered. Now we just need to stay vigilant and run a bit farther to reach it. We can do this!

Do you plan to get vaccinated? How has Covid affected your life? I’d love to hear about your feelings and experiences. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

I’m Going Streaking…

No, not that kind of streaking. My days of partying and doing something stupid like running across campus in fewer clothes than are publicly acceptable are over. I’m talking about a running streak!

In my quest for improving my pace and staying motivated, I decided to join the Runner’s World run streak, running every day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. On Thanksgiving Day, I started my streak with a 5k. Unfortunately for me, I decided to do this after my big meal! The results were, well, disappointing, but I did it. I almost puked a couple of times, but survived. That run went about as well as I thought it would.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve run at least a mile each day. Some days, it’s been after work when it’s already dark, so I’ve broken out my Noxgear vest. It’s so amazing! I definitely feel seen. On my country roads, it’s necessary to be visible! No one actually drives just the speed limit on the road I live off of.

I figured out shortly after this that my vest was on upside down. Works so well!

Basically, I’m plugging in a mile or two on the days I don’t have a 5k or 10k run planned; my winter off-season schedule is two 5ks during the week and a 10k on the weekend. It’s a far cry from my marathon training schedule, but it gets the job done. It’s worked well for years, and makes it super easy to jump into a half marathon training plan for a spring race.

The last time I attempted a running streak, it was a few years ago. I made it about 2 weeks before I got sick, including a high fever, and that was that. I’m crossing my fingers that this time, I can make it the entire 37 days to New Year’s Day.  

I’ve largely avoided running streaks in the past, fearing injury. However, my most accounts, I’m a more experienced runner at this point in my life, and I plan to keep my overall weekly mileage low to help decrease the overall stress to my older body. This week, I will only accumulate just over 18 miles. I am also planning to be done with the streak and not continue past the 37 days.

What I’m finding so far that it removes the stress of planning out of my fitness schedule. I already know I’m going to run. It’s kind of a relief. I’m also avoiding the gym, which seems to be a good thing with Covid cases on the rise again.

On some of my really short runs, I’m trying to push my pace and my cadence. It’s still disappointing that my effort seems so much faster, but my Garmin tells a different story. However, I have had some miles that are under 11 minutes, so that’s something. And I used to be able to run sub-30 minute 5ks. Sigh…

Me with my dog Ellie today!

Today’s “run” was a different story. I brought my dog, Ellie. She’s ten, and she has arthritis. So our short mile turned into more of a brisk walk with some spurts of jogging mixed in. But so much fun for her with pit stops to potty and to sniff all the things.

Wish me luck that I can keep this up! Hopefully, I will emerge a stronger, faster runner!

Have you ever done a run streak? I’d love to hear about your experience! Check out the links below for more info on the running streak. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

https://www.runtothefinish.com/should-you-run-everyday/

https://strengthrunning.com/2020/03/running-streak/

Grocery Tour Series for Vegans: Fresh Market

Last week on the Outer Banks, I found myself in need of vital wheat gluten for a recipe for vegan Salisbury steak from Rabbit and Wolves that my friend and fellow blogger Britany shared with me. Well, the Harris Teeter didn’t have it. Of the remaining grocery stores at the beach, I figured the Fresh Market would be my best bet, and I was right! I did find it there.

This is not a store I frequent in Richmond, although we have a few locations in our region. They are simply too far away from me, and I find them rather expensive. But it’s fun to visit from time to time and see what’s new. What else did I find besides my gluten?

The produce section at the Fresh Market is always beautiful!

Well, as you would expect, the produce here is great. Beautifully displayed and, much like the store’s name, fresh. And they have lots of unusual fruits and vegetables. This section is also where they carry tofu, seitan, Beyond Meat products, seasoned jackfruit, another brand of seasoned tofu products I’ve never seen before called Hodo, and a number of specialty vegan sauces from Haven’s Kitchen. I’m going to have to go back and try some of these.

Hodo is a brand of vegan friendly products I haven’t seen before!
This line of certified vegan sauces from Haven’s Kitchen were tempting.

In the dairy case, there was a wide selection of plant based milks, a fair selection of Follow your Heart vegan cheese, and they had Just Egg as well. I shared in my recent post about egg substitutes and how the retail price of this product seems to be going down. I was pleased that it was on sale for $5.99. Still expensive, but an item that was not at Harris Teeter, which is where I did our primary shop for the week. So, yes, I bought some. I sensed some French toast in my future…

Just Egg is sold here, retailing at the typical $7.99, although it was on sale last week.

In the freezer section, I found your standard Gardein products, a large selection of products from Dr. Praeger’s, and a few more products from Strong Roots that I haven’t seen before. I’m a big fan of their cauliflower hash browns! I may have to go back and try some of the other product offered here.

The selection of vegan prepared items in the freezer section.

One unexpected surprise was an extensive line of vegan chocolate bars by Endangered Species Chocolate! This is a brand that they also carry at Target, but Target only carries a couple of varieties. I think Fresh Market must carry every flavor! I brought home two bars: the oat milk sea salt and almonds + dark chocolate and the salted peanuts + dark chocolate. Both were delicious!

Many of the chocolates from Endangered Species Chocolate are certified vegan.

The biggest disappointment was their bakery. I was really hoping that they had jumped on the vegan bandwagon, but sadly, that was not the case. Among their gorgeous cakes, cookies, and pastries, not a vegan one was to be found. I even asked one of the associates in the bakery area if they had anything vegan made in house, and she kind of laughed at me. Sigh. What I would have given for a vegan pumpkin pie! Good thing I’m a good baker and had time on my hands last week.

So, overall, it was a fair experience. This is definitely not a primary shop for me due to the pricing here and limited selection of goods, but they do have a few items I haven’t seen anywhere else. Most importantly, if you need something unusual for a baking project and you are on the Outer Banks, the Fresh Market will likely have it, even though you’ll pay a premium for it. In addition to the vital wheat gluten, Just Egg, and chocolate, I also picked up some vegetable sushi rolls made in house that were quite tasty. I’m definitely going to have to try some of those pre-made vegan sauces! And I’m happy to report my Salisbury steak turned out great!

My finished Vegan Lentil Salisbury Steak! Highly recommend.

Do you have a Fresh Market where you live? Have you ever shopped there? I’d love to hear about your experience! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday! We are on the Outer Banks of NC still, but leaving tomorrow. This is a trip that almost didn’t happen. Maybe it shouldn’t have happened. But we’re here. Just our immediate family in our quarantine cluster, and we traveled by car. It’s been our tradition for over 30 years, and I’m grateful to be here.

Vegan “Turkey” Loaf from Trader Joe’s

The big meal has been strange for me since going vegan. But this year, I made some extra effort to make sure I had some special dishes to enjoy alongside the omnivores. I tried the Trader Joe’s version of Tofurkey, and it was good! The gravy, although tolerable, was less than perfect. I can make better. But the seitan loaf filled with stuffing was outstanding, and I’ll definitely buy it again.

Finished loaf

I paired this dish with vegan mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. I used this recipe from Minimalist Baker for the casserole, and even the meat eaters loved it. Seriously. No one could tell it was vegan!

Of course, I finished my meal with my favorite chocolate cake made from the recipe from King Arthur Flour paired with the vegan chocolate frosting recipe from Loving It Vegan. Good stuff.

My favorite cake!

Even though I was miserably full after my meal, I managed to take my food baby on a run that evening. I may have almost puked a few times. But the weather was glorious!

What special vegan dishes did you enjoy for the holiday? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

When You Feel Like a Slug…

Lately, my runs have felt anything other than easy. In fact, since I got sick in August, running has felt slow and laborious. It’s my new normal, so it seems.

The first week in August, I developed Covid symptoms. I was sick for 2 weeks. The first few days, I couldn’t tell you which symptom was worse: the relentless headache, or the non-stop watering eyes. I also had a low grade fever that lasted the entire two weeks. It seemed each day brought a new, annoying symptom. I went to the doctor two times and was tested for Covid both times using a PCR test. The results of each were negative. I’ve now been tested 3 times through work as well, all negative.

It took a while for me to get back to running. I obviously didn’t run while I was ill, so took those two weeks off, but then I also gave myself some grace when I did get back to running. I took lots of walk breaks. I ran intervals with my teammates (socially distanced, of course). But “recovery” from whatever that illness was has seemed ridiculously long. It’s been so bad that my new joke has been, “if you like to walk, you’ll love running with me!”

We are on our annual Thanksgiving holiday week on the Outer Banks of NC. We drove, and we are only with our immediate family (our quarantine cluster). My latest runs have been ALL running, for which I’m grateful. But when my effort seems like a 10:30 pace, and I look at my Garmin and see 12:00, it makes me want to cry! I was never a fast runner, anyway, but I swear my watch was wrong! Sigh.

Puffer fish we found on the beach.

Hopefully, if I’m persistent with training, the speed will return. I have to have faith that it will. For now, I’m on my maintenance miles schedule since marathon season is over. My best friend is talking me into doing some speed work. Yes, maybe it’s time to get back to that.

For now, I hear the kitchen calling! I’ve got a chocolate cake to make…

Did you train for a marathon this fall? How did it go? Did you contract Covid and struggle to get back to running after? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Happy running! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

What Came First: The Chicken or the Vegan Egg?

Yeah. That answer should be obvious. I know… this groaner of a title was a cheap trick to get you to read my post. But, seriously, let’s talk about egg substitutes!

Of the things I miss most being vegan, it’s definitely not meat. I’ve never been the type to crave a steak. (Well, at least not after getting food poisoning after an unfortunate meal at a Quincy’s steakhouse when I was nine.) What I miss most are cheese and eggs. It seems nothing can give that custardy texture but eggs! Or am I just missing the right substitute?

Which egg replacer you use really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Scrambled eggs? Baking? French toast? All beg for something different. This summary, by the way, isn’t the textbook of all egg substitutes. I’m just sharing what I’ve personally tried.

Tofu scramble with a variety of veggies!

Let’s begin with scrambled eggs. Savory breakfasts are a favorite for me! Pre-vegan, I would often have breakfast for dinner, especially if the rest of my family was having something I didn’t want. It was nothing to whip up a nice omelet or egg and cheese sandwich. But, alas, those days are gone. What I have now is either tofu scramble or Just Egg. Each sub has its own secrets to making them work. For tofu scramble, add a bit of turmeric for the yellow color. If you can find it, adding black salt will lend a sulfur-like flavor that mimics eggs, or so I’ve heard. I haven’t been successful in finding this, though. A recent addition to the market, Just Egg is great! I think it’s a love it or hate it thing with this product, though. I happen to love it. Many in my vegan circles do not. It does tend to stick to the pan like mad, and it cooks very quickly. The secret to scrambling this is to use a non-stick pan and a fair amount of oil. For both, I recommend sautéing in a bunch of veggies to the mix, cooking these first before adding the tofu or Just Egg.

Just Egg with leftover vegan chili, pico, and guacamole.

Your choices go up for baking. As I’ve worked on veganizing my traditional egg based recipes, I’ve tried flax eggs, Bob’s Red Mill egg substitute, and Just Egg, all with success. To make a flax egg, mix 1 tablespoon flax meal with 3 tablespoons water, and wait several minutes for the mix to thicken. Bob’s Red Mill makes a powdered egg substitute that you mix with water. Although the texture works for baking, I think it adds a strange flavor that I’m not particularly fond of. You can also use ¼ cup Just Egg. Some other popular choices are ½ mashed banana or Ener-G egg substitute (similar to the Bob’s Red Mill product). Be aware that you will be able to taste the banana if you use this.  

French toast was a bit disappointing the first time I tried to make this vegan. As always, I started with a googled recipe. The first I tried had flax eggs. It was just OK. But my favorite thus far is using Just Egg. I followed the recipe on their website first, but now I just eyeball it like I did before I went vegan. I use about ¼ cup Just Egg to ½ cup unsweetened plant-based milk, a dash of salt, and a liberal sprinkle of cinnamon. This is enough for about 3 slices of bread. Cook in a non-stick pan generously coated with cooking spray until golden on both sides, then top with vegan butter and syrup!

Vegan French Toast made with Just Egg.

So maybe you aren’t a French Toast fan. You’re more of a pancake lover? You can rely on science to create fluffy pancakes, not eggs. My favorite recipe is the Fluffiest Vegan Pancake recipe from Tasty. The chemical reaction from baking powder and vinegar is what gives these pancakes its amazing texture. My favorite vegan chocolate cake recipe from King Arthur Flour also uses this method to help the cake rise.

Vegan pancakes using the Fluffiest Vegan Pancakes recipe from Tasty with a homemade strawberry compote.

So, there you go. A synopsis of some of the egg substitutes on the market and, perhaps, already in your kitchen! The best choice really depends on your needs. I’ve yet to try aquafaba to make meringue. Have you tried this? I’m still super impressed by Just Egg, though, for its versatility. Now that I can find if for less than $5 as it becomes more widely distributed, I’m going to try using it to make custard desserts. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to explore the silken tofu route, which I also haven’t tried. We’ll see how my recipes develop!

Just Egg on the shelf on my local Walmart.

My lead photo for this piece is of my last chickens, Eggo and Ebony. They were born and raised by a hen from my own flock. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life to watch Francesca raise her babies. I no longer keep chickens, but doing so taught me so much about these amazing creatures! Birds are awesome.

What are some of your favorite egg substitutes? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.