Comeback Kid…Again! Week #3

There is a good possibility that I will be back to running on the streets in as little as three (3) weeks.  Yep.  That is how confident my physical therapist is with my progression.  That being said, he really put me through the wringer this past week.

My appointments were later in the week…Wednesday and Friday.  Due to his schedule this time.  Next time…it’s all me.  I have a Sting concert to attend and all…

But I digress.

That being said, it gave me the whole first part of the week to work on the marches and all the lunges he assigned me to work on at home.  And here I thought I was totally done with homework. Let me tell you…my quads were burning.  I tend to do my PT stuff twice a day.  So, that was a whole heap of lunges.

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This is, legit, one of the lunge moves I am to do to help strengthen the hip and get that hip flexor firing properly.  He also added a new resistance band move for the left hip as well…in addition to the other stuff I was doing.  OH…and the lunge matrix.  Five lunges with each leg in basically every direction possible.  It is beyond hellish.

Told you…lunge hell.  If I don’t have the best looking ass at the end of this I will be highly disappointed.

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On Friday…it got a little more real.  After going through the stretches, exercises, and adding some fun new plyometric lunges and leaps with the BOSU to help with not only the push-off but also landing.  It’s a great exercise, and I luckily own a BOSU ball, so I can do this one at home.  Outside.  I’m in a 2nd floor apartment after all.  HA!

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So, then my PT had a little heart-to-heart with me.  For real.  He said I was coming along great…and my pain was minimal these days.  So…he wanted to know how I would feel if he told me to go outside and run 3 miles.  Just go.  Right then.  And run.

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So, he asked me why I felt that way…and I told him that I was nervous about it hurting again, or doing further damage.  And that I don’t want to take any more steps back.  He said that I was ready to get on the Alter-G treadmill…and he wanted me to pick a pace I felt comfortable with and see if I could run for about 25 minutes on it.

He had to kick someone off of it, but he got me all zipped in and I got started…

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So…this wasn’t a fix.  Not at all.  In fact…I still had some twinging in my left hip flexor while doing this…and I was running with a slight limp.  He pointed that out immediately.  So, he told me to attempt to even it out as I was going, and I could keep going for the 10-25 minutes as long as the twinge didn’t escalate.  It didn’t.  So I managed 2.83 miles at a 8:34 pace for 25 minutes.  It wasn’t perfect…but look at that smile!  I WAS FINALLY RUNNING!  It had been a full month since that had even happened.

This week, I think I’ll be doing a lot of work on the Alter-G.  He had me at 80% of my body weight on Friday…and I think he’ll move me to 90% this week or next…and then…I’m on the road…IF all things go well.

That being said, I showed up for the training run for the Norton Sports Health Training Program for the Kentucky Derby Marathon/miniMarathon…and I was able to do some of the jumping jacks and other dynamic warm-ups that I had to phone-in before.  So, I do think the process is working.  It’s just slow.  But I’ll take any improvement at this rate.  I took a short walk, went and got my taxes done, and then met back up with my fellow Ambassadors at Big Four Burgers + Fries for a social.  It was the best way to spend my Saturday for sure.


Looking forward to moving forward some more this week.  But now…I’m off to officially cook my first Gordon Ramsay meal…Mushrooms on Toast for dinner!!  Yes…his class…his recipe…me cooking it.  Wish me luck.  I’ll need it…it involves bacon.  Not for me.  For my roommate.  Mine is minus the bacon.  Chef Ramsay has his hands full with this gluten-free vegetarian!!

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Lumiere’s Challenge – Orlando, FL (November 5-6, 2016)

Ah, Disney.  My dear, sweet, Disney.  I wanted to hate you for not deferring my Dopey Challenge entry after I was told by my doctor, I physically could not run.  I was angry…because that was a lot of money to be out…despite having doctors notes and all.  I wanted to swear you off for life.

But I couldn’t.

Especially since I had to cancel my trip in January due to the injury and I opted, instead, to sign up for your latest challenge…Lumiere’s Challenge…which is a 2-race challenge (not the 4 races you do in January)…a 10K on Sunday and a half marathon on Sunday.  I had the date marked on my calendar to sign up…and was so busy at work that I totally missed it…by a day.  I figured it would be okay…but it wasn’t.  The races were sold out.

I was sad, but then I recalled I wanted to do some more running for charity.  So, I chose a cause near and dear to my heart…Alliance For A Healthier Generation.  I blogged on this during my fundraising effort…and I totally raised a little bit more than the $1000 required for the charity.

THANK YOU to anyone who donated.

So, this was the weekend it all went down.  And it has been a bit of a struggle getting here.  Not physically…well…not here to Disney World.  Physically, my foot ligament has been twinging every now and again, and sometimes is just painful. Also, just under a week before leaving for Disney, my sinuses suddenly decided that they wanted to just get all cloggy.  I wasn’t sneezing or coughing, but I was definitely congested and lost my voice.  This also meant my training runs were a mess of stops and breathing issues. Which didn’t make me feel confident heading into this weekend.  While some of it has cleared up, I’m not 100%, but I was definitely ready for some running for sure.

Two days…two races…19.3 miles.

Let’s do this thing…

 

Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K - Orlando, FL

Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K – Orlando, FL

Inaugural Disney Wine & Dine 10K

Race: Disney Wine & Dine 10K

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: November 5, 2016

Time: 48:19

It is my long-term goal for the coming year to set a PR in a distance race.  Short or long.  With my return to running from injury, I’m having a hard time, mentally, dealing with the pitfalls of this hip labrum tear and the other aches and pains that have cropped up.  So, after getting back with my running coach, we’re setting a few goals to aim for.

This was not one of the races I was using to hit a new PR.  In fact, I was a little under 4 minutes from doing so.  But I didn’t care…because this race was so freakin’ fun!

This is the first year that the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend included a 10K distance as well.  I love doing inaugural races.  I really do.  And then I love returning to them.  Disney puts on fantastic races, as I have mentioned before.  And I do love these challenge race weekends that are popping up…EVERYWHERE now.  But Disney…Disney has always done it best.

I actually got to Disney World on Thursday, giving me time to hit up the expo and have an entire day of exploring the parks before needing to worry about running.  It also gave me time to recover well and be ready to run.  We all know that race mornings come very, very, very, early at Disney World.  And while Wine & Dine is usually a night race…this year they changed it to morning.  So…I set three alarms on my phone…the first 2 for me and the final one for my entourage (aka: Jenn & Cathy).

Officer Judy Hopps - Costume #1 for the Disney Wine & Dine Race Challenge

Officer Judy Hopps – Costume #1 for the Disney Wine & Dine Race Challenge

I always do Disney races in costume, and I had originally intended to break out Vanellope Von Schweetz again (I was Vanellope when I did Wine & Dine in 2014), but my hip labrum injury had me not running for close to a year.  Despite keeping a clean and healthy diet, I’ve put on some weight.  So, the costume wasn’t flattering on me…at all.  So…in the span of 2 days, my roomie and I managed to piece together an Officer Judy Hopps costume (from Zootopia).  And that took a little while for me to get on (as it involved hair extensions and accessories), but I managed to get it on and get out the door in time to catch the shuttle over to the start.

I was supposed to meet up with my friend (and fellow #KDFMarathon Ambassador, Stephanie) at the shuttle bus from our resort (she was also staying at Port Orleans Riverside), but it turns out she turned off her alarm and slept through the start of the race.  But, I did manage to meet up with another #KDFMarathon Ambassador, Melissa, at the start line.  She and her husband were running the 10K as Disgust and Fear from Inside Out.  Their costumes were totally cute!  So, it was nice to converse with them before we were heading into the race.  Melissa is a Run Disney pro…for real!  And her costumes are AMAZING.  So when she complimented me on my Hopps costume, that meant a lot to me.

#KDFMarathon Ambassadors collide...Melissa as Disgust (Inside Out) and me as Officer Judy Hopps (Zootopia) at the start of the Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K

#KDFMarathon Ambassadors collide…Melissa as Disgust (Inside Out) and me as Officer Judy Hopps (Zootopia) at the start of the Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K

We took some photos and then headed toward the start line.  She and her husband were in a different corral, so I went to get into mine.  It was pretty crowded in Corral A, but I found a spot to sit (even with my pinned on bunny tail) and let myself relax a little before being moved to the start line.  I wasn’t there for too long before the group began to move.  We passed by the other corrals and I heard a few people calling out to Corral A and wishing us luck.  Love that.

Once at the start line, there were some announcements made and the National Anthem was sung.  And the wheel chair racers were sent on their way.  At this point, I was drawing a deep breath as the corral moved forward and we waited a couple of minutes before our fireworks and start time.  And soon, Remy from Ratatouille was sending us off for the start of our run.  I was hoping for the best.  Continuous running was a mere impossibility leading into this race due to some sinus issues.  I still had the lingering effects, so I just hoped I could get through it.

I was less than enthusiastic about the first three (and then some) miles of the 10K race.  As with most Disney races, a majority of your time is spent out on the highway.  They sort of curb your boredom with character stations and areas with jumbo television screens and fast, fun music.  Still, by the first mile, I was already not loving my costume.  The long hair extensions were hot…and annoying.  I honestly don’t know how women with long hair can run with it down.  I was so DONE with it.  It just kept getting in my way.  I can’t count the number of times I flung a extra-long pigtail back behind my shoulder.

Also…wearing three layers on your top half in humid Florida…not my best idea.  HA!!  Yep…three (3) layers.  My sports bra, my t-shirt (which was originally long sleeve, but I thought better of it), and my other sports bra that I made into Judy Hopps vest.  Yep…it got hot pretty fast for me.  But, you know, you just keep trekking.  I mean, it was 68 degrees with 88% humidity (it is Florida, after all) at the start of the race.  I knew the layers were going to be hot when I threw this costume together at the last minute.

Regardless…I felt a little better about life (even if all the race photos are unflattering and tell a different story), once we entered Epcot for the last part of the race.  At about 3.5 miles, we take to the park, starting around the World Showcase, cutting down across the boardwalk (and I love the people staying at those resorts along the boardwalk who come out and cheer that early in the morning!), and then cutting back into the World Showcase to round out the run by running past the big Epcot ball.  From there, it’s down a stretch into the parking lot and across the finish line.  I could tell I was slowing down once I hit Epcot.  The hills inside the World Showcase aren’t bad…but my legs had been going on a full day of parks and I was tired.  Seriously.  I was tired…and a little grumpy.  That 2:30 am wakeup call came too early and I was doing my best to not fall asleep in the corral at the start of the race.  So, finishing was a relief.  I didn’t even care about my time.  And after crossing, I saw Cathy and Jenn waiting up in the bleachers, waiving the sign that was made the night before…and cheering.

None of us were really firing on all cylinders.  But I do love having my peeps at the end of a race.  I walked through the finisher’s chute, getting my 10K medal (this thing was HUGE and HEAVY) and continuing down for the water, snack box, banana, and then the official photos near the end.  Cathy and Jenn were going to meet me outside of bag claim…so I went through after that and there they were, heading my way.

Mama Melrose's did away with their flatbreads (gluten free and otherwise) it seems, so I went with pasta.  This was gluten-free penne with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and onion.  Perfect pre-half marathon eats, even if it wasn't my standard pizza.

Mama Melrose’s did away with their flatbreads (gluten free and otherwise) it seems, so I went with pasta. This was gluten-free penne with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and onion. Perfect pre-half marathon eats, even if it wasn’t my standard pizza.

I gave them sweaty hugs and Cathy helped me change out of my race shoes (I raced in my Altras for the first time!) and into my recovery flip flops.  My feet thanked me for that.  I had wanted to take some photos with the Disney characters in the finish area, but the lines were super long.  I told them we could head back to the resort as long as I got to get pictures after the half marathon.  I think they were all relieved.  We got on the bus after a few pictures and headed back to Port Orleans – Riverside, where I showered, ate some real food, and got ready to spend the rest of the day out in Hollywood Studios.  Yep…at Disney, I don’t rest these legs. I get on rides, chase down characters, and have a blast.  It’s Disney.  And even though lacking mega caffeine and oomph, I had a brilliant time.  Spent the day on my feet, and ended with a traditional (gluten free) pasta dinner at Mama Melrose’s.  I even got to indulge in more carby goodness with the gluten free dinner rolls.  I only ate one.  And I ate only about 2/3 or my huge pasta dish.  I was full.  And tired.  It was back to the resort after that.  I climbed into bed, setting three alarms for the following morning…when I would run the half marathon!

Oh…so my official results of the Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K are that I finished in 48:19.  Not too bad given the circumstances!!  I was 164/9260 finishers overall.  I was the 42/6556 female to cross the finish line.  And I was 6/1102 runners in my age division.  Considering I am still not 100% physically (damn ligament in my foot) and was dealing with the last of a sinus…thing…I’ll take it.  It was a fantastic race and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Me after finishing the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and completing the Lumiere's Challenge - Disney World - Orlando, FL

Me after finishing the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and completing the Lumiere’s Challenge – Disney World – Orlando, FL

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Race: Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: November 6, 2016

Time: 1:44:30

What a difference an extra hour of sleep makes!!

Seriously, THANK YOU TIME CHANGE!!  It was a lot easier to get up at 2:30 am when we had to fall back on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  I’ll take that extra hour.  I could tell we all needed it regardless.

Especially Jenn.  Jenn was not feeling the early morning love all day on Saturday as we trudged around Hollywood Studios.  I kept offering coffee and/or caffeine in the form of soda, but I think she was determined to just be tired and (a little cranky) ride it out on her own.  NOT ME!!  I downed a Iced Soy Caramel Apple Latte from Joffrey’s just after riding Tower of Terror on Saturday and that was the kick I needed, honestly, to help with the rest of the day.  I don’t play around.  If I’m tired…I get my caffeine.  Lessons learned along the way.  Definitely helped make the day easier to navigate through.  And it was another long day…this time at Hollywood Studios…still undergoing renovations.

We did take in the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular show, which meant we were sitting for awhile.  So, I think she liked that part.  Be that as it may, she was not loving much of life all day Sunday, and after hearing, “I’m so tired I could cry” more than once, I told her that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if she stayed at the resort on half marathon morning and slept.  In fact, I’d prefer it so that we could avoid another adventure like Saturday.

She ignored all three alarms, and slept through my hurried dash back into the room after forgetting my sunglasses (sunrise was now earlier…I didn’t have time for the sunscreen I didn’t put on thinking it would be like the day before and still be dark when I finished).  The one other race weekend she came to Disney with us, I was doing Wine & Dine in 2014…and it was still a night race.  Note to self: Jenn doesn’t handle Disney wake-up race times well.  LOL!!  Hey…those schedules on Disney weekends are brutal…I admit it.  But I’m sort of used to the early mornings, and the on-the-go days, to the semi-late.  And I’m pretty much a Disney race veteran.  This lifestyle isn’t for everyone for sure.  I think Saturday was the breaking point for Jenn.  And that’s fine.  The extra sleep and down time meant that she was ready to go at Epcot that afternoon.  So, YAY!  And that was a long day, as we had the after party that night as well.  So, this was probably the best option for her…so I’m glad she did what was best for her.

Now, Cathy and I were up at the ass-crack of dawn and out the door to the shuttle to take us to the ESPN Wide World of Sports where the race was to start.  For the half marathon, I was running as the Disney Princess that my niece, Kaytlynn, requested this time around…Ariel.  Yep…I was The Little Mermaid.  Simple costume (and much cooler too, although this race morning was a bit cooler (64 degrees) and windy…but the humidity was higher…pretty much at 100%.  UGH.  That being said, I had a throw-away shirt on over my purple sports bra and it helped keep me warm up until I shed it for the #KDFMarathon Ambassador photo before the start of the race.  Anyway, the big shuttle left the resort pick-up spot just as we were getting to the front of the line…so, when the next bus showed up, it was WAY smaller.  I said, “And they sent us the short bus!”  It made everyone laugh.  That being said, we boarded, settled, and let the bus carry us to the start of Sunday’s adventure.

Me, Richie, Stephanie, and Melissa...representing the #KDFMarathon Race Ambassadors at Disney!!

Me, Richie, Stephanie, and Melissa…representing the #KDFMarathon Race Ambassadors at Disney!!

The plan was for all of the #KDFMarathon Race Ambassadors (Stephanie, Richie, Melissa and me) to meet up at Bag Check before the race.  This time, all four (4) of us made it.  And we all looked amazing in our cute outfits.  We got our pictures (which meant I ditched the shirt and then just never got it back) together and chatted a bit about the 10K, upcoming races, and just other stuff…that general stuff.  Richie and I were in Corral A together so, after we all broke to get to our corrals, he and I stuck together and made our way into ours.  I stood with him until the wheel chair racers kicked off.  Then I gave him a hug and said I was going to move up and attempt to meet the goal that my coach had set for me for this race.

That goal…run it in 1:45:00.

As I had run (not raced) the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon two weeks prior to this (that race blog is incoming, life has been a busy, frantic, hectic mess) in less than this time (but barely), I figured this was an acceptable goal and one that I could accomplish.

But it wasn’t a walk in the (Disney) park either.

Once again, we had the fanfare of fireworks for Corral A to start off to.  We also had Olympian Jenny Simpson running with the first corral.  She was using this as an easy training run, you know…only running 6:15 min miles and all.  She came in second, overall, btw…after a back and forth to the finish with the eventual winner.  Her husband, Jason Simpson, won the Wine & Dine Half Marathon and set a new course record.  So, that’s kind of cool to run in the footsteps of Simpson running greatness.

It was also in this first mile that I noticed a familiar running stride ahead of me.  I pushed a little to catch up and was able to say “HI” to another Louisville runner, Lynn Riedling.  That was about all I got to say before she pulled ahead and then was gone in the darkness.  Probably about halfway through the first mile we heard the fireworks go off to send off Corral B…and one of the guys just ahead of me goes, “Run faster…they’re coming for us!”

Once again, this Disney race was mostly highway miles.  But they did make a point to have character stops and some scenic stops along the way.  There were also the music and television monitor stations throughout the course, to sort of shake up the monotony.  The first three miles of this race…I felt like I ran well.  I was comfortable in the moist air, as my layers today consisted of a purple sports bra and a green sparkle skirt.  MUCH better in the Orlando humidity.

My first noticeable pace slow-down came between Mile 4 and Mile 5.  Surprisingly, or maybe not, this was while I was inside Animal Kingdom (THANK GOD, they let us run completely through a park, because when the course maps were first released, it looked like we were running to the middle of nowhere and coming back).  The course did narrow in some areas, and I do get distracted by the photo stops that are set up with characters.  But I pressed on through to the 10K mark, my pace picking back up.  I told myself that I would take in nutrition at the 10K line, and I did, downing a Hammer Gel (giving these a try…despite the rule to never try something new on race day).  This and my Nuun I was hauling in one of my bottles on my fuel belt both had caffeine, which I hoped would wake me up when I was feeling tired and ready to stop.

I completed the Lumiere's Challenge for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend...I was NOT missing my chance to take a photo with Lumiere at the end.

I completed the Lumiere’s Challenge for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend…I was NOT missing my chance to take a photo with Lumiere at the end.

It worked its magic.  I managed to pick the pace up a little again for Mile 7 through Mile 11.  These were all on the highway, and despite being Florida, we actually had a few hills to navigate over.  Two of them came in a row.  My favorite one though had to be the first hill we hit.  Disney stationed a character out there…one of the Green Army Men from Toy Story.  He was calling out to runners to push hard up the hill.  If anyone slowed down they would have to do pushups.  He noticed one runner just ahead of me.

“You…you in the blue shorts…get over here.  Give me one pushup.”  To my surprise, the runner did just that.  And then the army man said, “Now…run fast and make up the 3 seconds you just wasted.”

I LOVE DISNEY!

Mile 12 had us entering the Epcot area.  Like most of the races at this point, we just sort of duck into Epcot.  It isn’t like the 10K where we get to run around the World Showcase and see it all.  At this point, I spotted one of those inflatable T-Rex Costumes and the wearer was holding a sign that said, “Free Hugs.”  LOVE IT.  I was in my last mile…and really cutting it close on time.  I hated that I felt like I ran this race better and was still coming in so close to what I did Urban Bourbon in without even trying.  Returning from injury is frustrating at times…but you just end up being thankful for the gift of running that day in the end.  I did the weird jog around the Food & Wine Festival centerpiece and headed up past the Epcot ball.  And with that said, I made the turn and heard the gospel choir that is always at Mile 13 (or 26 if it’s the full marathon) at the Disney races.  This is always uplifting…and I picked up my pace.  I rounded a corner…got nailed by all the Disney photographers taking pictures of the runners coming toward the finish…and just pushed with every ounce of strength I had left in my hip and (sore) foot…and crossed that finish line…before it hit 1:45:00.

Goal…achieved.

I saw Cathy up in the stands cheering and gave a wave as I made my way down the finisher’s chute.  Here I received my medal for the half marathon, then proceeded on to get water, my snack box, and eventually go through the tent to get my medal for completing the 10K and the Half Marathon.  This was “Lumiere’s Challenge”.  As I was about to grab my water bottle, I hear my name being called over the fence.  It was Cathy, sticking her camera over to get a photo.  She said, “Want to know your time?”  I said I did.  And she said…”You did 1:44:30…BOOM!”  She even texted it to my coach for me.  HAHA!  The volunteers at the table found this entire conversation amusing being as it was done over a covered fence.  I got to the Challenge Medal tent, had them look up my name, and they sent me through to receive the medal.  Afterwards, I exited through Bag Check and met up with Cathy on the other side.  Sweaty hugs were given, and my race shoes (today I was in my Brooks), were changed out for the flip flops again.  I was lingering a little, hoping to catch Richie again as he came through, but Cathy noticed that the lines of the characters were super short, and didn’t want me to miss the opportunity to get photos with them, since I passed it up due to lines on Saturday.  I was able to get photos (rather quickly) with Lumiere and with Remy (from Ratatouille).  And after that…I went back to see if I could catch Richie, but he had already finished and left for Port Orleans French Quarter.  I had just missed him.

We arrived back at Port Orleans Riverside and trekked back to the manor house we were staying in.  Jenn was up, and she was rested.  So this was good.  I went to shower, change, and eat some real food before we got our stuff together and headed out to Epcot for the day.  We finished up around 4-ish with everything and decided to go back to the resort for a little while to unwind before returning to check in and then enjoy the After Party.  This also meant that everyone else was kicked out of Epcot and we got to stay and eat at all the countries, drink at all the countries, and ride any of the rides that were open.  This was, in fact, how we got on the new Soarin’.  We had fast passed the Frozen Ever After ride.

Michelle just FOUND ME (for the second time in a row) in all the chaos at Epcot.  She's awesome!!

Michelle just FOUND ME (for the second time in a row) in all the chaos at Epcot. She’s awesome!!

I did manage to meet up with Stephanie and Richie while walking the showcase that night.  I didn’t ever find Melissa.  Ironically, my friend Michelle, for the second time in a row, managed to find me in the huge crowd of people at the After Party. We took a picture to commemorate her awesome GPS honing skills.  HAHA!

I was able to enjoy a few stops at the After Party as well.  I started my night off with Dole Whip…then went on to Brazil where I devoured two large rolls of Pão de Queijo, and then finished off the night with a Dark Chocolate Red Wine Truffle.

It was close to 1 am when we got back to our room at the resort.  And we had to get up early (but not race morning early) for a character breakfast the next morning.  BUT…that involved gluten-free Mickey waffles…so I was okay with this.

Disney Food & Wine Festival After Party Eats!!  All gluten free.  All super delicious.

Disney Food & Wine Festival After Party Eats!! All gluten free. All super delicious.

Oh…and I guess I should give you the official race results.  The official race results of the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:44:30.  So, yay…I managed to hit my coach’s goal time with 30 seconds to spare.  Whew.  I was 208/12651 finishers overall.  I was 56/8749 women to cross the finish line.  And, I was 11/1513 in my age division.  Not too bad.

Now…if I can get this whole endurance with speed (and no pains or issues breathing) thing down, I might be well on my way to a way better race year next year.  But this was Half Marathon #23…and the final one for the year.  No better way to finish it up than at Disney!

I will say…I still miss running this race at night.  But it wasn’t a bad way to start a Sunday off either.

OH…and before I forget…a big THANK YOU to all of you who donated funds to the charity I was raising money for by doing this race.  Alliance For A Healthier Generation is a fantastic charity doing great things for the future of our country and the children that are to be our future.  I went slightly over my fundraising goal, never a bad thing…and I have many of you to thank for that.  So…THANK YOU…from the bottom of my heart!

Product Review: Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels

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Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels

Product: Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels – $7.75

Blueberries are always on the top of my list when it comes to favorite fruits and berries.  Always.  It has always been one of my favorite things to eat…whether in a muffin, pancakes, waffles, jam, donuts…and yes…especially in bagels.

So, leading up to the ONLINE EXCLUSIVE release of their latest flavor, the crazy baglers at Sweet Note Bakery teased a bit on social media as to what they have coming up.  I knew immediately from the pictures that it was going to be blueberry.  And I knew, the moment they hit the store, I would be ordering.

I think I’ve told you enough about Sweet Note Bakery…their origins and the like in all the past blogs I’ve done about them.  If you are just now tuning in…you can read about their history here.  If you want to know why size always matters, especially in certain important matters like…bagel size…read all about it here.  Seriously…if you want authentic New York-style bagels…that are both vegan and gluten-free…NOTHING beats Sweet Note Bakery!  Their bagels are phenomenal.  Feel free to go back to all the past entries (and I still have 1 more of their new flavors to review!) and see what every flavor is like.  Trust me…I grew up in New York.  Bagels and I are BFFs.

And if bagels and I are BFFs…then I would totally date blueberries.  This is what makes the latest flavor of the Sweet Note Bakery line up of bagels all the more sweeter.  I pre-ordered the blueberry flavor the moment they said they were taking the orders and last Thursday, much to my delight, they arrived safe and sound.  It was difficult not to just open one up right then and there and devour it, but my weekend was packed with plans that would keep me full and happy…so the bagels would be my Monday breakfast for sure.  Right after the first of my two (2) spin classes that day.

So, one of the crazy and wonderful and remarkable things that sets Sweet Note Bakery apart when it comes to their delicious and epic (yes…epic) gluten-free bagels is…they use real ingredients.  And, yes, that means that these blueberries are the real deal.  No fake bits.  No dried bits.  Real blueberries.  Giving you real blueberry flavor.  And not just a few berries.  These bagels are loaded with blueberries.  When they sell you a blueberry bagel, you’re getting a blueberry bagel.  You will not be disappointed with that.  So, you won’t feel like you were left hanging with only a few blueberries scattered in the dough (sort of like when you get chocolate chip cookies and they only have a few chips in them…no, no…load those bitches up!), you will get sweet bursts of berries in every…single…bite.  I swear it to you!

Upon returning home from the gym, I pulled the package of blueberry bagels out of the freezer and set to defrosting two (2) of them.  One for me.  One for my roommate (who doesn’t have to eat gluten-free…but mostly does at home.  All her gluten-containing foods are kept away from my foods).  I was pretty stoked.  So, after doing my usual thawing method (30 seconds on one side…flip…turn…30 seconds on the other side…let sit for a minute…slice in half), I placed each half on the baking sheet and put it in the preheated 350°F oven.  While they toasted for about 15-20 minutes, I went to shower and returned in just enough time to pour some coffee, get out the [vegan] cream cheese, and mix up a little cinnamon-sugar topping (an idea I pilfered from Lin-Manuel Miranda as this is how he tops off his cinnamon raisin bagels in NYC).  The bagels (which smelled PHENOMENAL) were removed from the oven and I allowed them to cool for a moment before schmearing them with a healthy dose of cream cheese and a smattering of cinnamon-sugar.  Breakfast was served.

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Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels with a schmear of vegan cream cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar

Normally, I ask my roommate what she thinks as I deliver her plate to her first and she digs in before I return with my own bagel.  But, for some reason, today I didn’t do that.  I settled in to my own breakfast, coffee nearby, and took a first bite.  And…WOW!!  For real…just WOW!!  There has never been a blueberry anything that I have purchased that has packed this much flavor, great texture, and pure goodness and deliciousness…in every single bite.  This is not an exaggeration.  If you’ve been conned by previous blueberry bagels on size, taste, and…the amount of blueberries you have in each bagel…then it’s time to look for a better bagel.  And there is none better than the (happily) gluten-free (and trust me…no one would guess it!) and vegan (again…no one would guess it!) Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels.  When I took my first bite…I went…”OMG…YUM!”  To which, as she was devouring yet another bite, my roommate said, “UM…YES!”  We were both totally smitten with the newest Sweet Note Bagel in the lineup.  Blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse.  Pair them with the most perfect bagel recipe (yeah…I said it, Sweet Note!)…and you have a perfect product to satisfy every taste.

I’m dreaming of eating another one as I write this right now.

Good thing there are four (4) in each pack.

So, while on the subject, let’s discuss what Sweet Note Bakery packs into their Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels.  I mean, besides the obvious…blueberries.  Each bagel is made with LOVE (yep…an actual ingredient…and you can tell), water, white rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet white rice flour, apple juice infused blueberries, sorghum flour, sugar, cane syrup, olive oil, molasses, yeast, xanthan gum, wild blueberry juice concentrate, psyllium husk, and salt.   As always when it comes to Sweet Note’s bagels, these bagels are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, egg-free, peanut & tree nut-free, and cholesterol free.  Made with love, indeed!!

As far as nutrition goes for the Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels you’ll find you hunger satisfied and here’s why.  A serving size is one (1) bagel, which is about 4.5 oz (128 grams).  There are four (4) servings per package.  Each bagel will deliver 320 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 69 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 17 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  The sugar count on these is a bit higher due to the inclusion blueberries and the blueberry juice concentrate.  BUT…they are amazing nonetheless.  And I am going to keep on ordering them until they tell me I no longer can.  Which I hope never happens.  For real!!  THIS…just became my most favorite bagel that Sweet Note has introduced.

And, trust me, I can’t wait to see what else they manage to cook up in the future.  Every time they come out with a new flavor, they exceed expectations and previous products.  Every. Single. Time.  And I never tire of placing orders to keep my freezer properly stocked and ready for a quick, toasted, deliciously schmeared breakfast.

So, yes…whether you love bagels, blueberries, or blueberry bagels…head on over to the Sweet Note Bakery online store and place an order.  You won’t find these in locations where Sweet Note Bagels are sold.  These are only online.  Trust me…you’ll find love at first bite too.  Delicious…blueberry…love.

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A Wild & Wonderful Weekend

In the midst of everyday stresses and stressors, it’s always nice to have a little break from the things that are just…making you feel so BLAH about life and what you are doing with your life.

For me, this week, it was having my beautiful sister, Karla, drive up from Birmingham, Alabama, with her eldest son, my nephew, Landon.  I didn’t know how much I needed her and the distraction of having her and Landon here to really just allow me to relax, smile, and be me again!

Family, especially my sister, is, apparently, the cure to what ails, troubles, and bothers you.  I’ve been having…a not so amazing time these past few weeks…and, unfortunately, it’s something I am not really allowed to discuss.  Censorship sucks, yes?  YES!  But…just trust me…the type of personality I have and the person I am…it’s been bothering me on a fundamental level, which, has added a lot of added stress to my already chaotic life.

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Suckage.

But this weekend…was amazing.  I love spending time with my sister…and it doesn’t happen often enough.  So, her texts and calls that ask what I’m doing on certain weekends means…she’s coming to visit.  And I LOVE when she comes to visit.  She and I are best friends and sisters and just…have always been close.  So, me living this far away for 11 years (YES…11 years as of Friday)…has not been easy on either of us.  But here is some of the mischief that we got into this weekend, helping me to not even think about the bad and sucky things that have made a certain portion of a time of my day…a thing I have resented and even loathed at times over the past couple of weeks.

Here’s to sisters…and nephews…and family…and general FUN!  They make the world right again.

1.  Fish in the Water

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One thing Karla and I had discussed for Landon to do while here was to go to the new water park in New Albany.  Unfortunately, Friday left us with thunderstorm warnings and the threat of pop-up storms.  So, at around 3:30…when she arrived and we left the office…the lifeguards were being sent home and the park was closing.  So, Plan B…go to the YMCA and let him swim.  He was swim tested and given permission to go to the life guard chair in the lap pool and to go down the slide in the kids pool.  So, for a good portion of the afternoon…about an hour and change, that’s what he did.  Cathy, Karla, and I all sweltered to death in the humidity of the pool area of the YMCA while he played and cooled off in the pools.  It was worth it to see the smile on his face!

2.  SUSHI TIME!

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My sister commented a week or so ago about how delicious my vegetarian sushi looked when I Instagram-ed it and posted it to Facebook.  And then…I had a brilliant moment of brilliance.  My nephew, Landon, is a very, very, very picky eater.  BUT…he does love cheese things.  Cheese quesadillas, cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese….ALL THE CHEESE!  With the excitement over sushi on my post, I thought of the perfect place for us all to grab dinner, that even Landon couldn’t turn his nose up and refuse to order anything.  Dragon King’s Daughter to the rescue!  For those of you who are not local, Dragon King’s Daughter is an Asian-fusion restaurant with two locations…one in New Albany, Indiana, and one in Louisville, Kentucky.  The menu includes traditional fare from the Far East, as well as contemporary fare with a unique twist.  They offer classics of Japanese dining such as lemongrass miso, vegetable, and sushi rolls, as well as a multitude of new creations including a mixture of East and West forms and flavors.  On the kids menu…a cheese quesadilla…and for the adults…we all went sushi.  My sister and I figured we could get a roll each and split one…so I got the Vegetable Roll, she got the Buffaroll, and we split the Green Acres Roll.  Cathy went for the fishies…and got the Shrimp Tempura Roll and the Dragon King’s Daughter Roll.  And after that…a trip over to the Comfy Cow for an ice cream dessert.  What a great first few hours.

3.  Playtime at the County Fair

It just so happens that the Floyd County Fair happens across the street from where I life.  Convenient, yes?  After dinner and dessert, we came home and walked over to the fairgrounds to scope out some rides and the barns with Landon.  He went on three rides (he had 4 tickets, but he wanted his mom to ride with him on one he wasn’t sure about).  He loved going to see the animals.  And one of the highlights for me was seeing my sister crack up every time the goats bleating.  Her laugh is so contagious.  We all shared lemon shakeups and just walked around.  After that…it was time for showers and then we were all down on the couch to watch Zootopia and then…they took over my room and went to bed and I crashed out on the couch so I could get up early and head out for my 12 mile run and get it done before too much of the morning was passed.

4.  It Runs in the Family

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One of the best things we decided to do, was to go for a short run together.  After my 12 miler, I got home and Karla and Landon put on their running clothes.  We hiked up to Sam Peden Park and ran a loop.  It was hard for Karla, as she hasn’t run in a long while…and she’s not used to the crappy air quality of the Ohio River Valley, but she was a trooper and pressed on.  I ran right there with her to encourage her…and Landon…he was busy chasing down the Army men who were running there.  He beat quite a few.  It was awesome.  Landon has amazing speed and gorgeous running form.  He’s a natural and I love watching him run.  Needless to say, it was a great way to start the day as a family.

5.  Wild Eggs

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Breakfast was the next most important stop on Saturday.  We stopped off at Highland Coffee for some coffee first…and then took the drive over to Westport Road to go to Wild Eggs.  Landon already knew he wanted pancakes and BACON.  He made sure to tell me that if I got an omlette, he wanted my BLUEBERRY muffin.  Since I can’t eat the muffin, I was totally cool with this.  It had been forever since I went to Wild Eggs for breakfast…but it was a nice return.  They even have gluten-free bread and a gluten-free menu now.  LOVE that.  Yes…it even includes gluten-free pancakes, French toast and the like.  That was exciting.  But after 13 miles of running and a hike to and from the park…I wanted some protein.  So I ordered the Surfer Girl Omlette (fresh spinach, wild mushrooms, tomato, cream cheese and onion and topped with diced fresh avocado, pico de gallo, sour cream and fresh alfalfa sprouts. Served with skillet potatoes).  I got mine without the cream cheese and sour cream.  My sister got the same thing, just without the mushrooms (she hates mushrooms).  And Cathy got the Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict (green chili cheddar corn cakes,topped with chorizo, two poached eggs and queso fundido, pico de gallo, sour cream, green onions and avocado. Served with skillet potatoes and an Everything Muffin).  And, yes, I got a blueberry muffin for Landon.  He was pretty full after eating the two pancakes that were as big as his face and the bacon he ordered…but he took a few bites.  The rest…came home with us and then went home with them today.

6.  Pierced Ears

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Okay, here is something that I didn’t expect to happen this weekend.  My sister and I got to talking about earrings…and she brought up how her daughter (she’s 16 months) had her earrings work out perfectly…and how my mom (whose holes closed because she stopped wearing earrings) had just gotten her ears pierced a few weeks ago.  I said that I keep saying I need to get it done but just haven’t pulled the trigger.  I think a part of me thinks it will fail again.  As a kid, I gave the pierced ears a try about 5 times, but always and an allergic reaction to them.  My sister was the same way, but it worked for her as an adult.  So, she told Cathy to pull into somewhere that could pierce my ears.  We did.  And now I sit here with beautiful 4mm white gold studs in my ears.  Karla taught me how to clean and turn the earrings every day (3 times a day)…and the rest is history.  So here is hoping that they work out this time around…because I have wanted to have pierced ears for a long, long time.  Leave it to my sister to get me to do something like this on a short weekend visit.  HA!

A shopping trip to a few of our favorite stores followed up that little adventure.

7.  Putt-Putt

Because you can’t just spend the day shopping when you have a 9-year-old boy with you, we took Landon to the Renaissance Fun Park.  We had discussed Go Karts…but opted, instead, for putt-putt.  It had been ages since my sister and I went putt-putting.  It was a lot of fun.  The easy holes on the course they put together there are actually quite challenging.  But we had a blast.  Afterwards, Landon and I took on some air hockey…which he won…and then he played a few more games after that…until the money on his card ran out.  It was worth every moment to see him out there laughing and being a competitive little boy.


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.  SOCCER!!!

One of the main reasons my sister aimed for this weekend was that the local professional soccer team, Louisville City FC, was playing on Saturday night.  And, since Landon is a HUGE soccer fan, and soccer player himself, we thought it would be fun to take him to a match.  I said I wanted to get him a replica jersey for him to wear during the match and she picked him up a hat and then got a t-shirt for Chace.  I made sure Karla wore the logo t-shirt I owned to the match as well.  They got some pizza for dinner and we settled into our seats at midfield to enjoy.  I have never seen Landon so into an event as that soccer game.  Seriously, he was shouting at the players and the refs…and it was just magical and fun and amazing.  I bought him ice cream at half time because…it’s my job as Auntie…to spoil him and get him hyped up on sugar.  HAHA!  In the end, after a horrible call by a ref, we ended in a draw of 1-1…and Landon had hoped that some of the players would come over to the midfield (they usually do) so he could get pictures and some autographs, but they all returned to the locker room without coming over.  He was bummed, but he still had a fantastic time, and I loved seeing him light up the way he did when Louisville City scored the first goal of the match!

9.  Home-Cooked Breakfast

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I gave my sister and Landon the option of grabbing breakfast out at a restaurant before they hit the road…or having me cook breakfast for them.  Landon really wanted waffles (with powdered sugar, which he now LOVES thanks to Wild Eggs putting it on his pancakes), scrambled eggs…and bacon.  So, my sister and I hit the grocery store for bacon (this vegetarian does not have bacon on hand), eggs, and a gluten-free waffle/pancake mix.  And then, this morning, I got to cooking.  I started the waffles first, knowing that would take the most time.  He wanted the Mickey Mouse shaped waffles…so I made that happen for him.  And, because we adults weren’t too sure we wanted waffles, we had gluten-free avocado toast with our eggs.  I started cooking the bacon before Karla emerged from the bedroom, but she took over that so I could focus on toasting the bread, doing the waffles, and scrambling the eggs.  It all finished up at the right time…everything done when it should be.  Breakfast was served.  And I didn’t take a picture of it, but Karla and I cook epic breakfasts together.  And Cathy now has lots of bacon in the fridge for this coming week.  Which makes her happy.

After that…they had to hit the road and get home…

It was hard to let them go, but I know Karla’s husband and other two kids were missing her and Landon like crazy.  I just was having such a good time and all the time together went by way too fast.

They got home late this afternoon…and she said that they missed me as well.

I hope we do it again soon.

Sisters really do make everything better!

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Product Review: Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels

Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels

Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels

Product: Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels – $7.25

Breakfast.  Breakfast is not only the most important meal of the day…but the most versatile and best meal…in the history of ever.

Anything can be breakfast, honestly.  There was a time when a cold slap of pizza would carry me through my morning classes to lunch time.  That was a very long time ago.  Back when a container of spaghetti was fair game for brekkies.

That being said, I have always been a fan of “real” breakfast food.  Seriously.  Breakfast has always been the most magical and wonderful meal of the day.  My mom made it a point to cook a hot breakfast for myself and my two siblings every morning before sending is off to school.  It was always something different…nothing fancy…but just what we needed.

We were also that family that would eat pancakes for dinner.  Or scrambled eggs.  Maybe waffles or French toast.  Yep…breakfast has always been one of my favorite things in the history of ever.

So, you can only imagine how my mind was blown when the Crazy Bagelers at Sweet Note Bakery put together the ultimate fusion of ultimate breakfast favorites.  Bagels (because…New Yorker here!)…and French toast.

YES…introducing the ONLINE EXCLUSIVE Gluten Free French Toast Bagel.

FRENCH. TOAST. BAGEL.

Let those three words sink in for just one moment…

…one epic moment.

Because this, my friends, is epic breakfast food.  Bagel fusion at its finest, for real!  Imagine, if you will, the most perfect, dense, chewy, amazing New York-style bagel.  Now…imagine if it tasted like maple syrup and dreams.  Can you imagine it?  If not, you’re in luck…because this heavenly breakfast food is available through Sweet Note Bakery’s online store.

It’s Friday…and I was out of the vegan and gluten-free pumpkin pancakes I made earlier in the week.  I asked my roommate if bagels were okay in the morning.  She agreed.  So, as is my typical Friday morning…I did my core work, my physical therapy exercises, and all that before heading to my 5:30 am spin class.  Upon my return, I turned on the oven, greeted the roomie who was on the couch, ready for the freshly brewed coffee.  She got a nice warm cup of coffee and I pulled the last package of Sweet Note Bakery bagels out of my freezer (don’t worry…four new packages that I ordered came in today).  It was the (amazing sounding) Gluten Free French Toast Bagels.  I set out to my usual perfect thawing method…heat for 30 seconds on side, flip over, heat for another 30 seconds.  Let sit for about 30 seconds…slice…toast in oven.  It’s simple…and this has been the best way to not get harder parts on the bagel when you thaw them in the microwave.  My microwave is ancient…but it came with the apartment…so maybe that just happens with my caveman microwave…but this helps even out the heat and allows the bagel to get to that right level of softness to make the knife slip right through.  I placed them on a baking sheet, stuffed them in the oven, and went to take a shower.  15 minutes later, I was out of the shower, dressed, and pulling these amazing smelling bagels out of the oven.  Seriously…it smelled like…like warm maple syrup and pancakes.  But like toasty bagels too.

Before leaving for spin, I pulled the Daiya Vegan Cream Cheese out of the fridge and measured out two servings.  Then, I sifted in a bit of confectioners sugar and drizzled in a bit of maple syrup.  I whipped it all together and put it back in the fridge to chill.  This is what got spread over each half of the Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels.  To finish it off in true chefy fashion, each half got a small additional drizzle of pure maple syrup.  I walked out a bagel to my roommate, schmeared with my special cream cheese and set her to feasting.  I went back to prepare my own…ready to dive in because I was H-U-N-G-R-Y.  And these smelled A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

As I was preparing to grab my own cup of coffee and settle in on the couch to watch some of the news before heading to work, I asked her what she thought.  She was chewing…and didn’t actually answer me.  I asked her later on and she said, “I don’t know where the French Toast part came from, but they were tasty.”  I explained that the French Toast part of the name probably comes from the cinnamon and maple flavor that infuse the bagel and rests atop it too.  Finger-licking-good!

Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels with a schmear of Vegan Sweet Maple Cream Cheese and Coffee!!

Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels with a schmear of Vegan Sweet Maple Cream Cheese and Coffee!!

So, here is my more thorough take on the Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels.  Do you love a breakfast that you can pour maple syrup over and devour?  Do you like French Toast?  Do you like bagels?  Texture-wise…the Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels taste like…a bagel.  But the sugar-y, maple-infused top and bagel itself, with that little brush of cinnamon flavor…definitely makes you think of French Toast.  Without that weird egg-y flavor/texture that you can sometimes get.  It’s, honestly, the perfect fusion of two of the most amazing breakfast foods.  I loved the little hint of spice that the cinnamon adds, and the sugary sprinkle on top was a very nice touch.  That maple flavor is key, though, making it taste like pancakes and bagels and French toast and breakfast.  All the breakfast.  I think the sweetness that the confectioners sugar added to the cream cheese made for the perfect topping for this breakfast treat.  I mean, powdered sugar and French Toast go together like…pancakes and syrup.  The maple syrup that was stirred in added to that French Toast appeal.  And yeah…I had to remind myself to slow down and savor my breakfast instead of just gobbling it down mindlessly because it tasted so amazing.  That perfect golden toasted crust and that soft and chewy dense center…ah…so good.  So very good…and reminiscent of the bagels I could eat back before the Celiac diagnosis.  Seriously, no one would guess these were gluten-free if they were just given one to eat.

So, what exactly goes into this breakfast nosh of dueling breakfast treats?  Well, I can tell you!  The Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels are made from love (yep…that’s an actual ingredient), water, white rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet white rice flour, sorghum flour, sugar, cane syrup, molasses, maple syrup, yeast, xanthan gum, psyllium husk, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla extract.  As with all other Sweet Note Bakery bagels, the French Toast variety is gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, egg-free, peanut & tree nut-free, and cholesterol free. And breakfast heaven.

As far as nutritional information goes, these bagels have all the basics covered.  A serving of the Sweet Note Gluten Free French Toast Bagels is 4.5 ounces (128 grams), or one (1) bagel.  This bagel will serve you up 310 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 65 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 14 grams sugar, and 4 grams protein.  Due to the higher fiber and protein, these will leave you feeling full all the way through lunch.  I know the sugars seem a bit high, but it’s a French Toast bagel.  There’s going to be sugar.  Worth it.

Okay…so if you still haven’t tried Sweet Note Gluten Free Bagels…what are you waiting for?  I have reviewed every single one of them…so look up the tag “Bagels” on my site and look them over.  Seriously…you need these in your life.  Whether you have to eat gluten-free or not, these taste amazing and are the most authentic gluten free bagels I have ever eaten.  The first time I ate one, I had to double-check the package to make sure they were seriously gluten free.  Small, dense, and NY-style all the way…you’ll love every bite of the French Toast bagels…or any of the other varieties.

Hop over to their Web site and check them out.  Just…trust me!

Restaurant Review: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Restaurant: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Normally, whenever I venture up to Indianapolis for an event, race, or whatnot, my one requirement is a stop at Cheeseburger in Paradise…because I can get a gluten-free veggie burger with gluten-free fries (or sweet potato fries)…and the burger custom made (no cheese; no sour cream) to fit my dietary needs.  This is awesome, as any frozen burger patty, or even homemade burger, tend to be a bit mushy and end up slipping out of any sort of gluten-free bread used as a bun (be it an actual gluten-free bun or just some gluten-free bread).  Cheeseburger in Paradise doesn’t have that problem…and it’s nice to be able to safely eat a veggie burger (so many use breadcrumbs as binder) out at a restaurant AND not have to eat it with a fork and knife (meaning…they have a gluten-free bun and I can pick it up).

Needless to say, I ran two half marathons, two weeks apart up in Indianapolis.  After the first one (OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon), I did hit up Cheeseburger in Paradise.  But two weeks later, I wasn’t ready to revisit Paradise.  I just had it.  My craving had been satisfied.

That being said, when I returned to the Indianapolis to run the Geist Half Marathon, I wanted to try something different.  Step out of the comfort zone…try something new.

I had been hearing some buzz around a place located in Greenwood, Indiana, by a bunch of my friends up in that area.  It was a craft beer tap house called Hops & Fire.  And what was pointed out more than once was that when you step inside to be seated, the hostess will ask if you require any special menus.  In addition to their regular menu, they have extensive vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menus.  I told her I was a gluten-free vegetarian and she grabbed both of those menus and a regular one for Cathy and told me that the menus don’t often cross over each other, but anything on either menu can be made gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian.  She took us to our table and we were seated.

Our waiter was totally adorable and came over to introduce himself.  His name was Kyle and he asked how we were doing.  Cathy pointed at me and said, “Well, she just ran a half marathon…”  He raised his eyebrows and said, “So I’m guessing you want water.”  HA!  He was so right.  Cathy had thought about trying one of their craft selections, but in the end started with the water.

Two menus and having so many options was a bit overwhelming to me.  The only thing I knew I wanted to try was Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread.  I bought Lactaid specifically for this meal.  No joke.  We went ahead and mentioned that we wanted that as an appetizer and Kyle said he’d put that in while we finished making our decisions on what to eat, as it was the appetizer that took the longest to prepare.  While he was gone, I started to narrow down my choices, getting it down to three options.  After a little back and forth and pros and cons, I went for the one that didn’t contain cheese…as I was certain I was about to consume more cheese than my body was going to like momentarily.

Kyle returned to take our order, and as usual, as I’m the complicated one, I ordered first.  I went with the Gluten Free California Wrap…keeping the House Chips as a side.  Cathy went with the Stout Pork Belly BLT, which was served with a side of their Parmesan House Chips.  Orders were in…after Kyle had to go and figure out how to combine two menus to make a dish.  Poor guy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Only a few moments late, a large plate was being carried to our table and put in front of us.  Clearly, when I saw the fact that I could get Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread…I didn’t read the description.  This plate and appetizer was HUGE.  Definitely enough for 4-8 people.  Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread ($9.00), is a full gluten-free baguette, which is drenched in roasted garlic and salted butter, served with a gooey, melted blanket of shallots and chives, which are smothered in Provolone, Mozzarella, and Romano cheeses.  This is then baked so that the top of the cheese gets golden and everything is melty and ooey-gooey.  It comes with a side of marinara.  I took my Lactaid and hoped for the best (sometimes it helps; other times, it doesn’t).  I grabbed the slice on the end and pulled it away, the cheese stretching and making me…so happy.  I cut it up, dipped a piece into the marinara…and immediately lost my mind.  If you go to Hops & Fire, this is their signature appetizer and it is not to be missed.  The gluten-free baguette was crispy on the outside and that perfect toasty, but still soft on the inside.  The cheese was melted to perfection.  The garlic was superb.  Yeah…this made me SO happy.  And, for the record, the Lactaid worked…this time.  Thank goodness!  This was A LOT of food, so Cathy and I said we’d eat half of it and get a box and take the rest of it home.  That’s what we did as our food arrived.  We boxed it up…and it was lunch the next day.

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

So, let’s start with Cathy’s lunch, shall we?  My om-nom-nomnivore (haha) friend loves to eat pig in any form she can.  This is no joke.  She loves her pork products.  So it was no surprise to me that she chose the Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT ($12.00) off of their Brewed Baskets selections on the regular menu.  It came with a decent serving of their Parmesan House Chips on the side.  This sandwich is not your typical BLT.  Hops & Fire serves up a stout beer and kosher salt-brined local pork belly, which is seared, roasted, sliced thin, and pan fried, then topped with baby bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and homemade apricot onion jam…served on their grilled garlic shallot bread.  Here’s the thing…they do NOT skimp on the pork belly bacon in this BLT.  Not one bit.  You’ll see by the photo I’m putting up here for those of you who are not a gluten-free vegetarian like me.  I mean…it was BACON. FOR. DAYS.  She had more bacon than Parmesan House Chips.  And that’s not a bad thing, as the protein is, honestly, what you are shelling out money for.  She said the garlic shallot bread was amazing (we Celiacs will never know…).  She said it could have used a slight bit more mayo…but it was awesome.  And yes…she devoured it all and the chips.  Carnivores.  Oy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a mountain of House Chips

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a side of House Chips

As for me…I went ahead and combined an offering on the Vegetarian Menu and asked that it be made gluten-free.  I opted for the Gluten Free California Wrap ($12.00)…mostly because it didn’t have cheese and avocado always wins.  The California Wrap is a gluten-free tortilla that is stuffed and rolled up around fresh sliced avocado, beefsteak tomato, bibb lettuce, pickled onions, and a roasted garlic aioli. OH MY GLUTEN FREE GODS!!  This was a simple, basic, wrap, but it tasted amazing to me.  Maybe it was because I had just pounded out 13.1 miles and was living off of watermelon and water at that point, but this wrap was great.  Gluten-free tortillas are nothing to write home about, and I’m pretty certain this was the standard gluten-free teff tortilla.  But it just serves as a way for me to pick up and devour the veggie-licious produce that was stuffed and rolled up inside.  The aioli, by the way, was delicious.  The avocado was ripe and sweet.  The tomatoes…so good.  I loved every bite of this wrap.  It came with a mountain…no…a landslide of their House Chips, which I couldn’t even finish.  Where Cathy had a decent side of hers, the chips serving was bigger than my wrap…so…I ate what I wanted and left the rest.

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

We were full, but we couldn’t end our experience there.  Kyle tempted us with a dessert menu, pointing out that those marked with a gf were gluten free and also the codes for vegan and vegetarian as well.  We were very tempted to get one of the Desserts For Two (yeah…we so wanted the Gluten Free and Vegan S’mores Cast Iron Cake), but in the end, decided we were too full for that and went with splitting a single serving of the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae ($5.00).  This was a small bowl (thank goodness) that had a scoop of vegan ice cream, drizzled lightly with hot fudge.  It was perfect and a great way to end the meal.  It was amazing.  The ice cream was not as creamy as regular ice cream, but it was cold and melty and amazing.  And the hot fudge…that’s always a welcome addition to anything ice cream-ish.

Kyle brought us our check once we had polished it off and we paid in cash and got our things together to go.  We talked about the food for a bit of the drive home…and how amazing and good it was.  I was beyond happy with the service and the attention paid to each dish that was ordered, making sure that it fit my dietary needs…nothing that made me take pause and question whether it was safe for me to eat or not.

I’m already planning my return to Hops & Fire.  So, if you happen to be in the Indianapolis area, or traveling through, do make the trip to Greenwood and check out this amazing and delicious place.  You have a specialty diet…they have you covered.  And I love it.

Next time…gluten-free onion rings.  It’s happening!

Product Review: Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagels

Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagel

Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagel

Product: Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagels – $9.99

You didn’t think they existed…but they do.  You thought they were a myth…but they are not.  Yes…the infamous Rainbow Bagel gets a gluten-free makeover thanks to the crazy bagelers at Sweet Note Bakery.

God, I love them!

Just before…and I mean…right before…as in DAYS before I went to New York City back in March, the big article about the Rainbow Bagel that The Bagel Store in NYC was offering hit the mass media…and it was…insane.  I felt a little pang of judgement (okay…okay…resentment) because I, myself, could not have one.  And they looked so, so pretty!  And delicious.  Pretty delicious too!

So, my bagel experience in NYC was left up to the gluten free offerings at Tompkins Square Bagels…which was fine…but it wasn’t a true NY-style bagel…and it just didn’t seem perfect to me.  And…the Rainbow Bagel was out there.  Sometimes schmeared with birthday cake cream cheese.

Life wasn’t fair.

But then the rain lifted and the sun came out, and the amazing ladies over at Sweet Note Bakery said, “You know what?  Celiacs shouldn’t have to miss out on tasting the rainbow.  Skittles got nothing on us.”  And so, a little while after my return from NYC…I saw a prototype of their own rainbow bagel on their Instagram feed.

And I coveted it.  I said if they put it out on the market, I’d buy it.  I needed it.  No, I wanted it!  They had asked if people would be interested in buying it…and that they were going to look into more natural food dyes as well (although their first attempt was with natural food dye and it baked out)…before offering it on the Web site.  I immediately chimed in with my calm, cool and collected, “I would buy them”…which…the more times the Rainbow Bagel appeared on their feed…the more this became…”OMG I NEED THESE IN MY LIFE RIGHT NOW!”

Well, last week…it happened.  They aren’t using natural food dies yet…but those crazy baglers have made their version of the Rainbow Bagel…called the Unicorn Bagel (don’t you love it??!) available as an Online Exclusive purchase in their store.  So…yes…for now, you can only order these online.

So…I threw more money at these wonderful people and put in my order.

Here’s the thing…I have been a collector of unicorn things since I was a child.  No joke.  Then, when I became a runner and qualified for the Boston Marathon…unicorns returned to the forefront of my obsessions.  So…you give me a swirly breakfast bread of wonderment in fun colors and call it a “Unicorn Bagel”…my money is coming at you and these are finding a way into my life.  No doubt about it.  And that, my friends, is how I wound up with the new Unicorn Bagel in my freezer…which lasted all but 15 hours before they were out and being thawed in the microwave and toasted in my oven.

It’s important.  Because…NEW GLUTEN FREE BAGEL.  Because…COLORS!  Because…UNICORN.  And because it’s a RACE WEEKEND.  So the unicorn theme should be good luck, yes?  Good omen, yes?  Oh…I hope so.

I think I’ve told you enough about Sweet Note Bakery…their origins and the like in all the past blogs I’ve done about them.  If you are just now tuning in…you can read about their history here.  If you want to know why size always matters, especially in certain important matters like…bagel size…read all about it here.  Seriously…if you want authentic New York-style bagels…that are both vegan and gluten-free…NOTHING beats Sweet Note Bakery!  Their bagels are phenomenal.  Feel free to go back to all the past entries (and I still have 1 more of their new flavors to review!) and see what every flavor is like.  Trust me…I grew up in New York.  Bagels and I are BFFs.

Just really quickly though, I will revisit the proper way (or at least the best way) to evenly thaw out the frozen bagels.  DO NOT thaw these on the counter.  It’s easy.  It only takes 60 seconds out of your daily routine.  Simply place a bagel on a plate and place in the microwave. Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds.  Then, flip the bagel completely over and turn it about 180°. Microwave for another 30 seconds.  Let it sit for a few seconds and then slice in half.  Place each half in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet and in the oven and let it toast up for about 15-20 minutes.  This is normally about the time I leave the kitchen to shower and let my roommate make sure that if she smells smoke to shut off the oven.  But I’m always done before anything gets burned.

Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagel with a schmear of Kite Hill vegan cream cheese and rainbow sprinkles

Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagel with a schmear of Kite Hill vegan cream cheese and rainbow sprinkles

I can’t even begin to tell you how giddy these bagels made me.  Seriously. They were swirly and rainbow-y and just plain fun!  I pulled them out of the oven when they reached that perfect level of toasty.  I mean…perfect crispy outer crust with the dense and chewy dough in the middle.  Bagel perfection.  I gave each half a schmear of vegan cream cheese from Kite Hill.  And then, because, I’m eating the rainbow here…I gave the cream cheese a smattering of rainbow sprinkles.

DUH!  You can’t eat a Unicorn Bagel without rainbow sprinkles.  And with that…breakfast was served.

Who doesn’t love fun food, right?  The more fun, the more exciting breakfast is.  I loved eating a colorful breakfast.  They say to eat the rainbow…well…they may not have had a Unicorn Bagel in mind when they said that…but…I successfully ate the rainbow today.  HAHA!  And it was tasty.  I get it…it’s a plain bagel with all the dressings of a sparkly soul, but it somehow makes it fabulous, you know?  It tasted sweet, but I don’t know how much of that was the bagel and how much of that was the little sprinkles of rainbow goodness I topped the cream cheese with.  Nevertheless…this bagel is made of complete awesomeness.  You can top it off without whatever floats your boat.  Frosting would have been pretty epic.  I mean, you’re devouring a breakfast bread that is dyed to every amazing color in the color spectrum…have frosting and sprinkless…or whatever…whatever makes you feel like a kid at heart.  Or a Boston Marathoner.  Or a lover of unicorns.  Or just…a lover of bagels.  Or rainbows. Or all of the above.

So, let’s discuss what goes into each of the Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagels.  Each bagel is made from love (because all rainbow-type food is made with love…and unicorn tears), water, white rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet white rice flour, sorghum flower, sugar, cane syrup, olive oil, molasses, yeast, xanthan gum, psyllium husk, salt, food coloring (red 40, red 3, yellow 5, yellow 6, blue 1, blue 1, titanium dioxide, modified corn starch, vegetable gum, citric acid, and less than 1/10 of 1% sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate).  They are still experimenting with natural food dyes that won’t fade…and I have every faith that they will find something that works.  But…for now…if food dyes don’t bother you, these are totally epic and worth a try.  As always when it comes to Sweet Note’s bagels, these bagels are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, egg-free, peanut & tree nut-free, and cholesterol free.  Made with love, indeed!!

As far as nutrition goes for the Sweet Note Gluten Free Unicorn Bagels…well…here are the magical facts.  A serving size is one (1) bagel, which is about 4.5 oz (128 grams).  There are 4 servings per package.  Each bagel will deliver 280 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 60 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 7 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  The mythical morning hunger pangs remained at bay…this was delicious and filling.  Loving the rainbow.

Breakfast should be fun.  After all, it is the most important meal of the day.  You might as well color it up, top it off, and eat it with a smile.  That’s the magic that is inside the Unicorn Bagels.  They are simple…but simply wonderful.  Just because you have to eat gluten-free doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun bagels for breakfast.  Sweet Note Bakery is taking the standard bagel and making it for the gluten-free and vegan bagel lovers.  No limits.  No boundaries.  Anything goes.  Like rainbow unicorn bagels.  The Unicorn Bagel will totally win you over.

Maybe it will make me run faster.

Maybe.

I’ll go for my run…and you go ahead and run over to the Sweet Note Bakery online store and purchase a pack or five of the Gluten Free Unicorn Bagel!