Vegan-friendly holiday dessert tips

The holidays can be overwhelming, especially if you have dietary restrictions. For all my vegan or dairy/egg allergy friends/followers, there's a good chance that you will feel deprived of the many delicious desserts offered to you, filled with ingredients that you can't (or should not) eat. While your reasons may be for ethical, religious, moral or health, the holidays are for everyone, regardless of your dietary needs. Everyone deserves to yum!

In my recent issue of Food and Nutrition (Nov/Dec 2017) on pg. 23, there was a great article titled "Mastering Vegan Baking."

I wanted to share a few ingredient swaps from the article, to help you make eight traditional desserts, vegan friendly.

  1. Whipped cream - Combine full-fat chilled coconut cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
  2. Tiramisu - Extra-firm tofu blended with raw cashews, sugar and lemon juice.
  3. Flan - Extra-firm silken tofu paired with high-fat non-dairy milk (ex. coconut milk). Combine with agar flakes (a thickener made from red seaweed), sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Creme brulee - Silken tofu, full-fat coconut milk, sugar, vanilla extract and cornstarch. Sugar is key for the caramelized top. Ground turmeric can create a golden color in vegan creme brulee or flan.
  5. Panna cotta - Full-fat coconut milk, vanilla extract, sugar and a thickener such as agar powder and tapoica flour.
  6. Gelato or ice cream - High-fat non-dairy milk, such as coconut, combined with sugar and cornstarch.
  7. Pie crust - Chilled vegan butter, shortening substitute or coconut oil combined with all-purpose flour, salt and ice water.
  8. Tres leches - Plain unsweetened soy milk plus apple cider vinegar to create buttermilk. To make the soaking liquid, which creates the moist cake, combine vegan sweetened condensed milk and full-fat coconut milk. 

Other vegan-friendly food swap tips:
  • Eggs
    Powdered eggs (made with potato and tapoica starches)
    -Flax "egg" - 1 tbsp finely ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp water
    -Mashed banana (1/2 banana = ~1 egg)
    -Baking soda + vinegar (1 tsp baking soda + 1 tbsp white vinegar = 1 egg)
    -Aquafaba - the liquid from canned chickpeas and other legumes
  • Milk and Dairy-Plant-based full-fat or lower-fat replacement
    -For buttermilk - 1 cup soy milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
    -For traditional sweetened condensed milk - coconut milk + white sugar + vanilla extract
  • Butter
    Vegan spread (palm oil or vegetable oil)
    -Coconut oil or avocado
  • Honey
    Maple syrup
    -Agave nectar
    -Apple honey
  • Chocolate
    Cocoa powder
    -Frosting - bitter cocoa powder + vegan sweetener + powdered sugar + vegan-friendly butter, coconut oil or cashew cream. Add non-dairy milk and vanilla extract.


The underestimated celery plant

History has taught us that plants were commonly used for medicinal reasons, either to cure or reduce symptoms from an illness. Still today, there's no denying that food can be our medicine.

Back in the 1600's, in ancient Egypt, Rome and China, celery was medicinally used to treat health issues, like arthritis and indigestion. Rich in water and a good source of Vitamin K, Celery provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, thanks to it's many phytochemicals (ex. phenolic acids, flavones and flavonols). Although commonly recognized as a "diet" food, with every crunch, you are also providing your body with a great dose of nutrients, like vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin B6.

I love celery as each stalk provides a nice crunch. And despite containing only around 35 mg of sodium, somehow the slight bitterness tricks the taste buds to make you believe that you are eating something salty. Whether you enjoy your celery as "ants on a log" or chopped/diced in salads or in stews, celery can be steamed, blanched, braised or sauteed. 

In addition to the stalk, the leaves and seeds can be also used in cooking.

And you can also eat the root of celery!

While the look may not be appetizing, celery root (also called celeriac) has the taste of celery and parsley, combined into one.

I remember when Karel and I were engaged in 2007 and he wanted to prepare me a traditional Czech Christmas dinner. Although he did have to make some vegetarian modifications for me, as the typical meal that he was use to included fish soup, potato salad and fried carp or schnitzel, I could not get over the delicious taste of the potato salad. Karel had to go to several different grocery stores in the Jacksonville, FL area (where we were living at the time) because he had no luck finding the star ingredient, next to the potatoes - celery root!  Finally, he was able to find a celery root for his recipe.

I was inspired to write this blog post after reading an article on Celery in the latest Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Food and Nutrition magazine (from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).

While I was excited to share some nutritional information about celery root, this article reminded me how important it is to see food for much more than calories, fat, protein or carbs. By shifting your view on food, you can eat with less/no guilt or anxiety and feel good about what you are putting into your body. Food shouldn't be tied to rules and it certainly should not be used a control mechanism.
For myself, food often connects me to Karel's upbringing and culture, since he did not grow up in the United States of America but instead, grew up in a communist country in Czech Republic (formally Czechoslovakia). 

Food plays an important role in our lives. With better eating comes better health and with that comes an enhanced quality of life. 


Don't be afraid to ask for help

When Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition LLC became an official business, I was given a lot of advice about starting a new business - some advice was helpful, a little was discouraging and a lot of it was overwhelming. But the best piece of advice that I was given was "don't try to do everything. Ask for help."

Many people do not like to ask for help as it can be seen as a sign of weakness, there could be fear of rejection or feelings of not being good enough. Some people just don't like to ask for help due to pride or ego. But this piece of advice encouraged me to focus on what I was good at (ex. coaching and nutrition) and to let others help me in the areas that I knew nothing about (ex. accounting). Still today, I don't mind asking for help as I like to collaborate with professionals who specialize in areas that I am not an expert in and I can learn from others. There's nothing foolish or inadequate about not knowing it all.

Asking for help, whether it's business/work related or life focused can boost productivity and can help you accomplish more tasks with greater ease. And this doesn't just apply to work. Sometimes I like to ask for a little help from the grocery store when I am time-crunched and I need to invest in pre-chopped veggies, a box of granola, a can of soup or ready-to-eat grains. I call these my semi-homemade meals as I know a little help from the store as it's not realistic for me to eat only real food every day of my life. 

I feel no shame in asking for help when I need a little assistance. I also like to ask for help when I feel overwhelmed with our back-end work at Trimarni. I don't find value in sacrificing sleep or time spent exercising for my mind/body/soul, when I know there is someone else who would love to help out so that I can focus on what I specialize in -which is coaching and nutrition.

Although asking for work or life related help may help you accomplish more tasks in a shorter amount of time (or may help with productivity), asking for help when it's related to your health can be very hard.

It's typical for people to avoid asking for help when before they need it and then when they really, really need it, the help is often found on the internet or forum due to embarrassment or frustration. Most people want to fix problems without the assistance of another person. And when a person is desperate for help because a problem occurred, there's often the tendency to think "I wish I would have gotten help weeks/months ago." Asking for and receiving health in a timely manner can positively impact your health and well-being. Prevention is cheaper than medicine.

If you are struggling with something in your life or with your health or you feel overwhelmed with everything on your to-do list, I encourage you to ask for help. Don't try to do it all. If you are a coach, create a team of other professionals so that you can better help your athletes with nutrition, mental skills, therapy/rehab and strength training. If you are a business owner, focus on your specialty and let others do what you are not good at. If you have an issue with your health, reach out to a professional for help. Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. You are not a burden for asking for help. When you need something done, ask for help so that you can get on with living your life.

Above all, asking for help shows that you respect the expertise of someone else (because you don't know it all) and it gives another person the opportunity to provide their assistance, knowledge or help so that everyone feels accomplished/satisfied.


Athlete expectations during the holidays

For athletes, there are many challenges to navigate around during the holidays. It can be difficult to stay consistent with training because you are off your normal regime and your healthy diet is sabotaged by so many oh-so-good family tradition eats and treats. While some athletes have no trouble skipping workouts and indulging in sweets during the holidays, it's common for athletes to feel anxious about the many changes in the normal routine. While your frustration is not understood (or supported) by your non-athlete family members, you still feel that it is important to meet your expectations during the holidays. 

So what's an athlete to do? 

Do you say good bye to all good habits and let loose until the New Year?

Do you refuse to change your routine because you need the control and stick to strict eating and structured training?

Because every person should dedicate time to exercise for health on a daily basis and should focus on eating for nourishment, it's not necessary to avoid your family in order to get in every minute/mile of your prescribed workout and to avoid the occasional indulgences that come with holiday eating. The holiday season offers a few great opportunities to enjoy a little downtown and change up your normal training and exercise routine without anxiety or guilt. 

Here are a few tips to make the most out of your Thanksgiving break. 


1. Create a better internal dialogue in your head when you are eating, especially as it relates to your body and food.
2. Trust your body. Tune into your true signals of hunger and satisfaction as a way to guide you through your holiday feast.
3. Treat yourself to family, don't make the holidays just about food. Enjoy your time around your loved ones or if you are alone, call up an old friend or volunteer and help out those in need.
4. Slow down and taste your food. Appreciate the aroma, presentation, flavor and texture of your food - real food and store bought. Share a story if a dish reminds you of something happy.
5. Love what you eat. The first few bites of anything should always taste amazing. If you don't love it, don't eat it. 


1. Get it done early, but not too early. Enjoy waking up without an alarm but if you can squeeze in a workout before your day gets busy, you'll find yourself energized and you won't have to deal with the guilt that comes with removing yourself from family time, just to train. 

2. Loosen up. It's ok if you have to modify a set or reduce the volume. Don't feel guilty if you have to miss a workout. Prioritize the workouts that give you the best return for your investment at this phase of training. A few modified workouts over the holidays will not affect your race performance in September.
3. Keep training fun. Participate in a Turkey Trot, exercise with your kids, go for a hike or set up a local group workout. Do something each day that is good for your mind and body.
4. Be efficient with your time. Indoor workouts are great for time management as you can get in a quality workout with minimal distractions.
5. Communicate. Now more than ever is the time to communicate with your family. You may be surprised that if you tell your family/kids that on Friday you will be gone from 8:30-10:30 for a workout, they won't care about your absence. But if you tell them last minute, they may be upset that you are suddenly leaving them, which then leaves you with guilt, if you even leave for your workout. 


1. Don't skip meals throughout the day. Excessively restricting calories or an entire food group (ex. carbohydrates) will likely lead to overeating at your upcoming feast. Instead, focus on small meals throughout the day, eating every few hours. Prioritize nutrient dense foods like fruits and veggies at your meals. Don't forget to stay hydrated - with water, of course.
2. Do not go into your big meal with a starving belly. Plan a healthy snack around 45-60 minutes before your meal. Options like apple slices and pistachios, deli meat and lettuce wraps, celery sticks with cheese or a few almonds with figs should take the edge off so you don't eat with your eyes when serving yourself.
3. Fuel your workout. Seeing that there is a good chance that you will workout in the morning, restricting calories around/during your workout is not a permissible strategy to indulge (or to eat more calories) at your upcoming feast. It can actually backfire on you as you will likely be so famished by meal time, that you may eat beyond a feeling of fullness - stuffed and very uncomfortable. Treat your workout like any other day. Fuel smart and hydrate well. And be sure to eat a healthy breakfast after your workout (or Turkey Trot).
4. Choose wisely. Create a healthy plate of a little of everything.
5. Indulge wisely. You are not forced to eat everything at your feast but you are allowed to indulge. Choose your favorites and say "no thank you" to the unappealing or familiar options. Share, split and limit yourself to just one. 

It's very easy for athletes to remain rigid around the holidays because a change in the normal routine (training or eating) can bring anxiety or feelings of loss of control. 

When you think about the big picture (your entire season ahead), a few days away from your normal routine may be a good thing. Don't stress about what doesn't get done. The holidays are a wonderful time to give thanks to your body, to your friends and to your family.


The 30% grade climb

Back in early August, on day one of the Purple Patch Greenville camp, Karel was shown a new cycling route by Greenville locals George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde, accompanied by  Cadel Evans and two other PPF campers (Duncan and Emily). Although a beautiful route, I aslo remember Karel telling me that this route was the "the hardest climb in our area....and he is so excited to show it to me." I guess it's more fun to suffer together than alone.

Well, a few months passed by and Karel kept telling me about the really "fun" cycling route that he really wanted to show me. I figured it couldn't have been that bad as Karel, Duncan and Emily covered the climb on their triathlon bikes and I do love to climb (especially on my road bike) so eventually, I told Karel that it was time for us to check out this climb.

On Friday morning, Karel and I drove to Hotel Domestique for the start of our ride. The weather was cool but the wind was strong. We dressed well for the ride and started our adventure on two wheels.

Within a few miles, we were already climbing as we needed to go into North Carolina for our climb. We went up the watershed and into Flat Rock and as we were riding, we were chatting here and there and I didn't think too much of the climb that Karel was so excited to show me. Our first 70 minute of riding covered around 1800 feet of elevation gain but I felt good and I was happy to be outside on my road bike.

The next 21 minutes were pretty mellow as we only covered around 470 feet of elevation gain. We were riding west on Crab Creek Road (toward Brevard) when Karel pointed to the left and said "that's where we are going."

We turned onto Walnut Cove Road, which turned into Bear Rock road and suddenly, the road became smaller as I felt us starting our climb.

I didn't say anything at the time but I wasn't too uncomfortable at the start of the climb. I kept thinking "this is it?" Karel did not say much to me during the climb but as I saw the road starting to get a bit pitchy in certain segments, I questioned his idea of this "fun" ride (this would not be the first time that I questioned Karel's definition of fun, easy, mellow or any other word he likes to use to describe a route or a ride).

Karel told me that there were some steep sections but the route was more like a step, where it would even out every now and then. I was relieved by this information and thought to myself "ok, this won't be too bad."

Not knowing how long the climb was or what was approaching, Karel stayed behind me for the ride so that he could get it all on camera. Although our Garmin VIRB 30 doesn't do the climb much justice, I approached a section of the road that looked like a wall and it just kept going. I was breathing heavy and in between breaths, I told Karel "I am not going to make it!" Karel reassured me that I could make it to the top of this climb and to just keep pedaling and to not look up. Thank you Karel for that great advice - yeah right.

After I completed the hardest climb of my life (about 1/4th mile at 30-31% grade), I was able to finally catch my breath and stop pedaling as I coasted on a slight decline, until I had to start climbing again. Karel rode ahead of me and finally, 1.5 miles later, we made it to the top.

Since this was a private road, I had to get off my bike to squeeze through the gate and at that point, I didn't want to get back on my bike. Karel asked "how was it?" and I had no words for him. After I finally got over what just happened, Karel said "Ok, let's keep climbing."

What?? Are you crazy!

I told Karel absolutely not, I am done. Karel would not let me quit and he told me that I have to embrace being uncomfortable, even when I am tired. I tried to get my way out of another climb but Karel wouldn't accept any of my excuses so I got back on my bike and up we went for more climbing (at least the road was two lanes and not a tiny little road). I was doing a lot of zig zagging on the 30% climb and a little on this next climb.

We finally reached the top before turning down for our descend. Oh I was so happy to descend and not have to climb any more.....but then again, there are no shortage of climbs where we ride but thankfully, no more over 12%! Of course I had to wait for Karel to do some exploring as whenever he sees a gravel road, for some crazy reason he wants to check it out.

In total, the climb was around 3 miles, 1500 feet elevation gain and averaged around 11% incline. There were several sections around 18-22% and of course, the 30-31% kicker that seemed to never end.

By the time we reached 2 hours of riding, our average speed was 12.7mph (the miles go by slow here) and we had accumulated around 4000 feet of elevation gain.

I do have to admit that once we started our ride back on Pinnacle Mountain road (we didn't head home the way we went up - if we had, my brakes would have overheated!), the beautiful scenery and freshly paved roads made all that climbing worth it - well, maybe.

Our ride home took us about an hour and thanks to a lot of descending, I had time to forget about the "fun" that I experienced on two wheels.

After the ride was finished, I was so happy that I experienced the climb and I hope that Karel doesn't take me there again (no doubt he will, however - lucky me.)

Total ride stats:
3 hours - ride time
5000 feet - elevation gain
14.8mph - average speed

For your entertainment - me suffering up the climb.
Video made by Karel with our Garmin VIRB 30.