back roads and mason jars

live country. eat plants. be happy.


back roads and mason jars

Thriving with Online Shopping

I have seen a lot of information about Thrive Market lately – Facebook ads, YouTube videos and blog reviews.  I finally decided to see what the hype was about it and if it was really worth it.  I mean – I love saving money especially on products that I know are good quality for my family.  You’ll even ship it to my house where I can shop in my pajamas? Sign me up!

The Fine Print

Thrive Market advertises to sell you the same products you currently purchase, but at drastically lower prices.  It is a membership – kind of like Amazon or Sam’s Club.  The annual membership is currently $59.95, but you do have the option to sign up for a FREE 30 day trial membership which you can cancel at anytime.  Thrive Market advertises FREE shipping on all orders over $49 too!  I don’t know about you, but Amazon Prime has totally spoiled me on the actual cost of shipping.  Thrive Market also has a Savings Guarantee on their membership cost versus your dollars in savings.  If you don’t save the whole membership fee throughout the year, Thrive Market will refund you the difference so you really have nothing to lose!

The Website

From the moment I saw the website, I was impressed.  The first click that caught my eye was the option to search by Values.  Thrive Market has already divided up all their product offerings into these Values – Gluten-Free, Moms, Paleo, Raw, Staples, and VEGAN!  No thinking is required.  No reading through every ingredient trying to determine if it’s vegan.  I know that all the products in that value category are indeed vegan.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve wasted in a grocery store trying to decipher ingredient lists and allergen labels to find out if I can buy something.

In addition to the ease of use, the company is centered on good values as a whole.  They give back to families that can’t afford a membership to allow them access to good, quality products.  In their Thrive Gives program, for every membership that is purchased – one is donated to a low-income family where the assistance is needed.  A stipend to spend on groceries is also granted in circumstances that are appropriate.

My Experience

Since this was my first order and experience with Thrive Market, I took my time and looked through every product offering on the Vegan Values.  I had a small list of items that I knew I was running low on in my pantry, but I found so many more products that I wanted to take advantage of especially for future blog postings!  I was really impressed with the selection that they offered from skincare to junk food to baby products and aluminum foil.  The big difference from other websites I’ve used like (which is amazing too!) is that Thrive Market doesn’t appear to carry cold or frozen products.  I submitted my order at night on July 11, it was shipped to me on July 17 and it was on my doorstep on July 18.  Below are photos of all 20 products that I purchased in this order for a total of $79.41 and a savings of $70.15!  Not too bad for my first experience!

Desert Essence Coconut Hand/Body Lotion, Everyday Coconut Body Wash & Everyday Coconut Face Wash
Mary’s Gone Crackers Super Seed & Herb Crakers
Bragg Nutritional Yeast
Annie Chun’s Pad Thai Rice Noodles
Purple Potato & Brown Rice Ramen and Millet & Brown Rice Ramen
Spectrum Organic Ground Chia Seeds, Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts, Spectrum Organic Ground Flaxseed
Vegan White Cheddar Hippeas, Louisville Vegan Smokey Carolina BBQ Jerky, Beanfields Nacho Chips
Upton’s Naturals – Bar-B-Que and Chili Lime Carnitas Jackfruit
Deva Vitamins – Multivitamin, Cal-Mag Plus, B12


Based on my savings so far, I think that a membership will be extremely beneficial for my family living vegan/vegetarian in a small town.  Some of these products are very hard to find in such a rural area and this will eliminate pricey shipping when I order online in the future or gas to drive to the nearest city for these essentials.  If you would like to give Thrive Market a try as well, use my link below to save 15% on your first order!

Bye y’all!


But first…coffee.

It’s 6:30 a.m.

Your alarm is going off and you’ve probably already hit snooze once (Who am I kidding? At least 3 times!).

The dog is snuggled up so close to you that you can’t move without waking him – which you wouldn’t dare do.

The husband is still asleep with his own alarms buzzing as he quickly hits snooze himself.

In your head, you run through all the things you want to accomplish for the day and then it stops.

Immediately you realize, you need coffee.

“I can’t stop drinking the coffee. I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and the walking and the words putting into the sentence doing.”

-Lorelai, Gilmore Girls

Admittedly, I am not a huge coffee drinker.  In fact, most of my habits are on a yearly rotation.  I like coffee for a few months, but then I’ve moved on to smoothies and before I know it, I’m starting my day with tea.  The rotation is a cycle that repeats itself year after year.  In the summer, I love to have an iced coffee most mornings.  That’s another thing – I don’t drink my coffee hot ever, but I will drink my tea iced or hot.  This is a lot to remember if you are married to me – thankfully my husband can keep up!  I haven’t used or purchased dairy milk for any purpose in probably 2 years now.  However, my husband still uses a dairy coffee creamer for his daily coffee.  Since he is a coffee addict, we thought we’d explore some vegan options that are newer to the market.

Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss Almond Milk Creamer – Hazelnut Flavor

In early 2017, Coffee-Mate announced that it would be releasing a few vegan coffee creamer alternatives.  According to their website, they make 3 almond milk based versions and 1 coconut based versions.  The flavors are Sweet Creme, Caramel, Hazelnut and Vanilla.  The Hazelnut flavor is a Target exclusive item so we picked one up on our last trip.  Hazelnut is also my husband’s favorite flavor.  I personally feel like I would have to use too much of this to get the flavor I like in my coffee.  I prefer my usual iced coffee with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a little bit of sugar sprinkled in.  We did taste a hazelnut flavor though.  I would like to find the Sweet Creme Coconut based version to try sometime in the future though!  My husband still prefers his non-vegan version that’s a bit stronger so we’ll be on the lookout for more options.

Wannabe Vegan: 5/10 ~ Omnivore: 6/10


Califia Farms – Salted Caramel Cold Brew Coffee

Confession time: I have purchased this product several times so I already knew what my rating would be, but I’ve never told you!  I love anything and everything salted caramel flavor.  I love the creaminess and sweetness that this coffee brings to my mornings.  My husband, on the other hand, hates it.  He humored me for this review and did try it though. He did ask where the coffee was in the drink, because he said the salted caramel flavor overpowered the coffee which I don’t mind one bit.  Since this item is a little pricey for an everyday purchase, I do buy it every now and then.   Keep in mind – for companies to keep producing these items, we have to let them know that we want them and like them.  The easiest way to do this is through your purchases.  To learn more, check out their website.

Wannabe Vegan: 10/10 ~ Omnivore: 8/10


Ripple – Chocolate Milk

I know there are tons of people out there that don’t enjoy coffee or maybe have kids that need a morning pick-me-up.  We decided to also check out a new line of dairy free milk that’s been released to the marketplace called Ripple.  It’s a pea protein based milk product and all of the varieties offered are vegan!  This product boasts 8 grams of protein, less sugar than traditional milk, and nut free which can be a challenge for vegans with nut allergies.  We weren’t too crazy about this product.  The mouth feel and weight is similar to that of traditional chocolate milk (from what I remember), but it has a protein shake aftertaste that we just couldn’t love.  This is our first experience with pea protein with the exception of the Vega smoothie powder I add in my shakes from time to time.

Wannabe Vegan: 5/10 ~ Omnivore: 6/10

Bye y’all!


Summer, Summer, Summer Time

Summer to me means cookouts with friends and family.  It means drinking an ice cold beer at an outdoor concert.  It means spending family vacations at the beach.  It means fresh off the vine tomato sandwiches.  It means fireworks in July to celebrate our Independence.  Summer was my Mom’s favorite season.  Naturally, she longed to be near water being raised in a Navy family.  Adding a pool to our house was her top priority.  We spent all Summer having pool parties complete with burgers and hot dogs on the grill.  Food has such an important role in our lives as it ties us to our memories and I still think of those long, summer nights swimming until my feet and hands were completely prune-like.  I don’t have a pool anymore, but I can recreate those memories with new, vegan options on my plate at a cookout.

For this 4th of July, I decided to review a new product – The Beyond Burger.  The Beyond Burger is the creation of Beyond Meat and is a 100% plant based, vegan burger.  It stands out among its competitors by being a fresh product that is sold in the meat cases.  You heard that right – it is literally sold right next to the 80/20 ground beef.  Normally, I would avoid these cases while grocery shopping, but I hope that its placement encourages accidental purchases by meat eaters and possibly convert a doubter.  The Beyond Burger is the answer to the people that could “never live without a burger.”  An answer to those that say you don’t get enough protein even though this product is made from pea protein and contains 20 grams of protein!  An answer to a cholesterol free, delicious burger.  It is currently only available at select Whole Foods and Safeway grocery stores.  Check here to see your closest location!

For my preparation, I chose to cook mine in a sauce pan on the stove top.  I topped it with the best vegan cheese, Chao Creamy Original flavor, as well as lettuce, tomato, vegan mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.  I chose a sesame seed bun from Arnold Bread.  Arnold Bread offers a variety of vegan options like 100% Whole Wheat loaves and Sandwich Thins.  A more complete list of vegan bread items can be found here.

Now for the review – I have to admit that I was very skeptical about this product from the second I heard about it.  Reviewers have dubbed this “the burger that bleeds” which is creepy and too realistic for me to a real beef burger.  The red color comes from the beet juice that they use to dye the product, but it still throws you off when you open the package.  As I was cooking the burgers, my husband could have sworn it was real beef he could smell in the air.  I did cook it a little bit longer than the instructions to bring the product up to temp and I steamed the cheese on top before assembling my burger.  We decided to try the burger by itself with no toppings or bun.  I have to be honest – this burger is crazy realistic.  I couldn’t believe that it even chews like beef.  I have mentioned before that I don’t miss ground beef products especially because they could always be a little sketchy when you would have a bite with gristle.  That would ruin the meal for me.  The more I ate of the burger – the more the texture started to creep me out.  It was just too realistic for me.  That being said, if you love ground beef and really miss it, this burger will for sure take you back down memory lane enjoying a burger by the pool waiting on fireworks to spark.

Wannabe Vegan: 6/10 ~ Omnivore:  10/10



I almost forgot!  My all time favorite part of July – tomato season!  Today, I picked my first tomatoes off my plants and I can’t wait to enjoy them for lunch tomorrow in a pita sandwich.



Bye y’all!

Virginia is for Festival Lovers

I, along with the rest of my state, love festivals and I don’t even care what we are celebrating…beer, music, food or even my small little town!  This past weekend, we attended the Richmond Vegetarian Festival for the second year in a row.  Since I didn’t have this blog at this time last year, I’ll share some photos from 2016 as well!  It’s been such a great experience to learn more about activism, shop for clever t-shirts that have started to overrun my wardrobe, and learn how in the world some of these chefs can make vegan replicas of our favorite meals.  Did you know you can make nacho cheese sauce from potatoes and carrots?!  It’s amazing by the way.


There are lots of places to get information about activism especially at a Vegetarian/Vegan Food Festival.  In the real world (away from like minded people at festivals like this), I’ve had some good experiences and some not so good experiences when people ask why I don’t eat meat and I explain that I’m on a journey to becoming vegan.  I choose to not speak about my lifestyle choice unless someone shows an interest in it or asks specific questions.  I’m happy to share anything that I’ve learned, but I’ve realized very quickly that most people just don’t want to hear it.  For me personally, I can’t unlearn what I’ve read or seen.  It’s a no brainer for me.

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls,

everyone would be a vegetarian.”

Paul McCartney

There were many opportunities that I decided to indulge in at the festival like more reading material, recipes, lists of local Richmond restaurants that offer veg-friendly options and, of course, buttons, stickers, and t-shirts!  The t-shirts are the best conversation starter in my experiences.  I tend to choose funny t-shirts that get people wondering and eventually a stranger will comment on it and get the conversation started.  Some of my favorite brands are Herbivore, Compassion, Beet X Beet, and Vegetaryn. Below are some of the photos from Veg Fest in 2016 and 2017.

Veal crates used to keep calves from moving.
Chicken crates used in egg production which cause pain for the ones that live while day old male chicks are killed since the egg industry deems them useless.
Recipes, RVA Restaurant Guides, Coupons, and Stickers
PETA van in 2016 – I’m living proof you really can live without chicken wings.
Shirts are from Herbivore and Compassion


Now, onto everyone’s favorite part – THE FOOD!

We have been blown away by the food creations we have tried in their vegan form especially since my husband has a more current palate of meat flavors.  It’s just a memory for me now, so he’s a much better critic for people looking to transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.  I love cooking in general and some of these recipes just blow my mind on how people can recreate foods like fried chicken, but VEGAN!  It’s really so easy in our time to be a vegetarian or vegan with all the ready to eat options becoming more readily available each day.

In 2016, the festival was in July due to a storm damage in the park and, man, was it hot!  So hot that we actually only purchased food from one vendor booth and stopped at a juice cart on three separate occasions because it was just too hot to eat food.  The experience was still good, but I wish we could have eaten so much more!  In 2017, we were able to try a few more vendors and I have reviewed them below.


Mean Bird – This was the BIG HIT of 2016 for us.  Mean Bird started as just a local food truck in the local RVA scene selling at local breweries, but recently opened a brick and mortar location in 2017.  They are not exclusively vegan, but cater to all people.  Not to fear – everything is clearly labeled as vegan on their menu so there’s no guessing.  It can be hard to tell in my case if something is meat or not.  There have been several times that I’ve had my husband taste something to make sure before I would eat it!  This is one of those cases.  I chose the Vegan Fried Chicken Slider with Fried Green Tomatoes and my husband ordered the Veggie Bird two piece meal with fries.  Both options were delicious and I can’t wait to visit their new location in the future.

Ginger Juice – Ginger Juice is a local RVA company that offers cold pressed juices, smoothies, acai bowls, and toast with avocado, of course! I drink cold pressed juice regularly and drink it more often in the summer months.  When the temperature rises, I don’t really want to eat a lot of hot food and I imagine a lot of you are the same way.  This is the perfect solution.  The main difference between regular juice and cold pressed juice is the juice presser itself.  The traditional juicer creates heat while it is juicing which causes nutrients to be lost.  With cold pressed juice, you lose nothing!  On a hot day in July, this was the perfect option for us.  Giving (Mix of beet, pear, apple, lime and ginger) was my favorite juice of the day!


821 Cafe – This was a new find for us this year and we are so glad we did!  We ordered the Vegan Chicken Philly Cheese Steak.  This was the winner of the day for us!  The bread was fantastic and the sandwich was loaded!  It included vegan chicken, creamy nacho cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, and vegan mayonnaise.  The restaurant is located in the Carytown area of Richmond and I don’t know how we’ve missed it after frequenting that part of town fairly often when we lived in RVA.  The only thing we regret is not trying everything they had at the booth!


GWARbar – We actually tried this booth in 2016 and 2017.  GWAR is a metal band from RVA that got connected to the restaurant world to provide a very accommodating vegan friendly menu in downtown Richmond.  They have created the perfect match for me – metal music and food!  They have several vegan items on the menu including Cauliflower or Artichoke Nuggets with vegan Ranch, Seitan Wangs, Hail Seitan sandwich and even a vegan WHOPPER!  I really enjoyed their cauliflower wings last year so we gave them a go again this year.  They weren’t as fresh as last year, but I would still recommend giving the restaurant a try.


Veg-Ta-Bowl Foods – We tried several of their samples including the Vegan Carolina Style BBQ Chixen, Cheezy Mac Sauce, and Moroccan Mixed Vegetables.  The Moroccan Mixed Vegetables and Cheezy Mac Sauce were good, but we had to have more of that Carolina BBQ!  We purchased an 8 oz. container to bring home for dinner this week.  My favorite type of BBQ before was always North Carolina style – lots of vinegar and mustard!  This product checked all of my wish list tastes and textures.  I have been amazed how well BBQ products have been created and they continue to be one of my favorite vegan meat alternatives – no matter what brand.  We saw the smaller Veg-Ta-Bowl Foods booth giving out samples first, so we decided to try their Cheezy Mac at their fresh food booth since we already bought the Carolina BBQ to take home.  I wasn’t a fan of this.  Cheese is the #1 reason most vegetarians aren’t vegan and there is a reason why.  Cheese is so hard to recreate.  The pasta texture was even a turnoff for me as it reminded me of gluten free pasta.  No offense, but I love gluten! Below is a picture of the delicious Vegan Carolina Style BBQ Chixen that we had for dinner this week.

Alternative Baking Company, Inc. – We actually won this product by pledging to complete the Meatless Monday Challenge – not to hard for us!  I was really hoping to win some V-Dog treats, a line of vegan dog treats, for Brodie.  I still won a cookie though and Will got some awesome Tofurkey coupons which will be used for sure!  We were not big fans of this product.  The company’s mission is to make the dairy and meat industries obsolete – what a great goal!  The cookies are readily available in several main stream stores and I’ve even seen them in Starbucks.  They were very dense for our taste.  I also thought it tasted like a hint of pumpkin.

Bye y’all!



Just Another Sunday in the South

A Tractor’s View of a Job Well Done – Photo Courtesy of Marge Swayne

Sundays in the South are made for relaxing and spending time with family.  We spend a lot of our Sundays, especially holidays, having dinner with my grandparents on their farm, Stillmeadow Farm.  Stillmeadow Farm is a small, hobby farm established in 1981 and tucked down a back road.  It’s a haven for all animals from the hunting dogs that lost their way and became family pets to the deer that spend all fall seeking sanctuary from the hunters while roaming the woods.


Heather Smiles for the Camera – Photo Courtesy of Marge Swayne

Every visit to the farm begins by waving at the dairy goats, Claudette, Claude and Heather, as you drive by the red barn and as you turn the corner of the circle driveway, you’re bound to see a cat or two lounging in the sunshine on a wooden bench in the grass.  We’ll then make our way to the back porch by walking around the chickens as they wander the yard collecting bugs and the rooster proudly crows announcing our arrival to his humans.


Star and Sadie Sunbathing in the Herb Garden – Photo Courtesy of Marge Swayne


Before we get to speak to the humans of the house, we have to play fetch with Star, a loyal German Shepard, while Sadie, a mischievous Alaskan Malamute, plots to steal your attention since she is not a fan of physical activity except when it involves making snow angels.





Sister, Sister? – Photo Courtesy of Marge Swayne

Once we finally make an appearance in the house, Kiki, the oldest and fearless leader of the house cats, greets us at the door while begging you pet her.  Over the years, Sophie, a gray version of Kiki, has gained enough confidence to allow us to pet her as she inquires about dinner from the cook, my grandmother.  Sophie and her two other siblings, Lily and Luna, were rescues that were abandoned in my grandparent’s drive way years ago so there’s been a bit of learning curve earning their trust.  After pulling Grandpa away from a NASCAR race or the grill on the deck, we sit down, say grace and enjoy a dinner made with love.

Field Roast Smoked Tomato Quarter Loaf

For this particular Sunday, I enjoyed a new vegan meat alternative that I have not tried before along side fresh vegetables from my grandparent’s garden.  It was a Field Roast Smoked Tomato Quarter Loaf.  The instructions warned against cooking this product in the oven so I prepared it by sauteing thin slices in a little bit of coconut oil on the stove top.  After they were done cooking for about 8 minutes total, I laid the slices on a few paper towels to absorb some of the excess oil.  Although I don’t rely on these meat alternatives like I did when I went vegetarian, I do enjoy them from time to time or on special occasions.



I thought this product was very flavorful with not as much tomato flavor as I was anticipating.  I ate a few bites alone, but enjoyed it much more in a freshly baked roll.  I re-purposed the leftovers in a sandwich as well.  The texture is very similar to other Field Roast products since they mostly all start with the same main ingredient – vital wheat gluten.  Vital wheat gluten is a the powdered form of the gluten (protein) found in wheat.  It’s a popular ingredient across the board in a lot of vegetarian or vegan meat alternatives.  Unfortunately, if you suffer from gluten sensitivity or allergy, this is an ingredient you need to avoid in your meat alternatives so make sure to check the labels!

Omnivore Rating: 6/10     ~     Vegan Wannabe Rating: 7/10

Bye y’all!

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