Product Review: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

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Gluten Free Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix (and topped with Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting and sprinkles)

Product: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix – $3.99+

I blame my neighbor.  I do.  Because she knows how much I like to cook and bake and make tasty treats for myself, my roomie, my friends, my co-workers, and just…people in general.  So, while she was out at one of the discount stores, she snagged me four (4)…yes…FOUR…boxes of the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix and one (1) box of the Immaculate Baking Company’s Gluten Free Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough.  I love it when she surprises me with gluten free goodies.

All that being said…I was out at Michael’s a couple of weekends ago and spotted a T-Rex cookie cutter.  Don’t judge.  My roommate loves dinosaurs.  Yes…she’s in her mid-30s…but…that’s just who she is.  And then…there was the Unicorn cookie cutter.  UNICORN COOKIE CUTTER.  I used to have a unicorn collection.  I am a Boston Marathon runner.  Unicorns are sort of my spirit animal.

Now, sugar cookies and I don’t have the best relationship.  Every time I have attempted to make them, be it from a mix or from scratch…they have been ultimate fail.  And, while the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix gives instructions for round cookies, I really wanted to make cut-out cookies.  So, learning from my past in sugar cookie baking, I made up the dough and wrapped it in Saran wrap before sticking it in the back of the fridge and letting it chill while I was out and about running errands that day.

That afternoon, when I returned…and called my dad to wish him a Happy Father’s Day…I set out rolling out the chilled dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, flattening it out.  Then, I took my new cookie cutters and carefully (there were some really tiny parts that were not easy to come out of the cookie cutter (hello unicorn horn)) cut out T-Rex and Unicorn shapes as I chatted with my dad.  The mix set up perfectly for this…and I kept it chilling when I wasn’t using it.  So, onto a baking sheet these cookies went and…BAM…into a preheated 375°F oven.

So, while these are virtually baking in my blog, let me tell you how easy this mix is to make.  All you need is the cookie mix, 1/2 cup of butter (I used Earth Balance Vegan Butter Sticks – room temperature), 1 tablespoon water, and 1 egg.  Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until soft dough is formed.  From here, you can form dough by rounded teaspoons and put onto a baking sheet 2 inches apart…or you can chill it like I did (this was me being stubborn…I wanted cut-out cookies, dammit!) and roll it out after it’s chilled and cut out fun shapes like dinosaurs and unicorns.  Adults can have fun-shaped sugar cookies too, you know?

I lost track on the first batch as my dad was a fun and worthwhile distraction.  These bake for about 8-10 minutes, except in my oven, because it is old and doesn’t get as warm as it says at times.  So, the cookies weren’t ready after 10 minutes, so I figured I’d go for 2 more minutes.  Didn’t set a timer, and as I was rolling out the second batch and chatting with my dad…remembered those were in there and pulled them out.  The edges got a little toasted, but they were still fine.  I noted, much to my dad’s amusement, that the unicorns became fat unicorns.  They did spread slightly…but still resembled the original shape.

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T-Rex and Unicorn Cut-Out Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

While out grocery shopping early that weekend, I picked up a jar of Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  And some green sparkle sprinkles for the dinosaur cookies.  I had rainbow sprinkles at home already for the unicorn cookies. HA!  So, after the cookies cooled and I was off the phone and not browning the edges of the rest of the cookies, I cooked dinner…and knew these cookies would be dessert.

I snagged one T-Rex and one Unicorn cookie and gave each a schmear of the Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  Topped each off with some sprinkles…and dessert was ready.

I have been really impressed with the Pillsbury Gluten Free products, and these were no exception.  This mix was not only easy to make…but tasted great.  I always had a soft spot in my heart for sugar cookies (I used to bake them with all the neighborhood kids at a neighbor’s home every Christmas)…because they are so versatile.  Top them off with frosting, sprinkles, stuff them with ice cream, or more frosting…add nuts or chocolate chips…the possibilities are endless.  Sugar cookies are the ultimate decoration cookie.  And while I’m not big on frosting at all (I really am not a fan), these required delicious frosting (hence…Dollop Gourmet), and sprinkles…because sprinkles are awesome.

Know what else is awesome?  These cookies.  They have that buttery flavor, with a touch of the sweetness from the sugar in the mix.  I asked my roommate what she thought and she said they tasted just like “regular” sugar cookies.  And they should.  The only difference is rice flour and tapioca starch and potato starch replace the all-purpose flour that would go into regular ones.  These cookies have that nice crunch on the outer edge with a soft center.  SO good.  And this made SO many of these.  So, I have sugar cookies for days…and am wondering if I’ll ever run out at this point.  At least they are amazing and yummy.

So, let’s discuss what Pillsbury puts into their Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix, shall we?  This mix is a blend of sugar, rice flour, tapioca starch, canola oil, potato startch, contains 2% or less of: salt, baking soda, cellulose, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors.

As for nutrition information…keep in mind…these are sugar cookies.  Mmmm…cookies.  COOKIE MONSTER strikes again.  Anyway, a serving size is 1/18th of the mix (if you make the drop cookies, this box makes 3 dozen; if you make the cut-out cookies, it varies.  I got 22 cookies in mine).  A serving size (for drop) is 2 cookies and for the cut-outs 1 cookie.  This serving (when prepared per package instructions) will provide you with 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams sugars, 1 gram protein.

I am very happy with the mix that Pillsbury has created for those of us who, perhaps, missed the amazing cookies that a company like Pillsbury puts out.  I am also intending to use a box of this to make Strawberry Streusel Bars or Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars for the office birthday party that is happening next week.  Just have to decide on which one I want to make.  Trust me, with an office that usually turns its nose up at anything that is gluten-free, I wouldn’t serve this mix to them if I didn’t think it was worth it.

Thank you, Pillsbury, for making gluten-free baking mixes for those of us who love to have an easier and more convenient way to make cookies.  Especially sugar cookies.  Because sugar cookies are evil. But this was so easy and my cut-out cookies were…perfect.

And that always makes this cookie monster happy!!

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!

OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (May 7, 2016)

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Me heading into the finish line of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Race: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: May 7, 2016

Time: 1:39:28

Four years ago…four years ago I ran the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon as my second half marathon EVER!  I was fortunate enough to have a friend in my corral, a local runner I met with the (now gone) Blue Mile Monday running group.  It was a fantastic race that day.  Hot.  Steamy.  Sweaty.  But fantastic.  It was such a spirited, fun, and well-run race and expo…that I vowed to go back.

And then…it didn’t happen.

Until, I decided to run it again.  It was a really random, really quick decision to run it.  And I didn’t really shout about it because, as I’ve said before, every day is different for me.  I never know when there is a good day ahead or a bad day…so, I haven’t really been talking about races I’m doing just in case it’s not a good day and I don’t actually run it.  It’s hard coming back from injury, but I’m being cautious and smart about it and I’m not pushing it.  So…I left work early on Friday and trekked up to Indianapolis, Indiana to get checked into the hotel.  I always stay at the JW Marriott when in Indy for a run, when it’s convenient.  It was for this race.  The start line was right out the door!  HA!  Besides, I’m a princess…I like to stay in nice places.  (Joking…sort of…).  After checking in and dropping off bags in the room, Cathy and I headed down to the race expo to pick up my race bib.  This was a little bit of a hike through the convention center, but it’s a hell of an expo and worth the hike.

We noted the Starbucks in the hotel and said we’d stop and get a banana for me for in the morning on our way back.  Once we got into the expo, we were handed drawstring backpacks and we immediately headed to the Packet Pickup area.  Since I registered later, my number was pretty high up there, which meant hiking further back in the line of windows with bib numbers.  I found my spot and went up to the window.  They said to have your photo ID ready, but the guy didn’t even ask for it.  He did find my bib and got my shirt…tucked it into a Blue Mile bag and handed it over to me.  YAY!  Officially ready to run.  But first…shopping…

…and the official merchandise store always has some goodies to offer.  Cathy went and bought an official Finisher shirt for me (I can’t buy that…bad mojo).  And I ogled a few other things, but opted to leave it with just the shirt.  So…we began a quick weave through the expo.  This is where I fell in love with the Ocean Spray PACt Cranberry Extract Water.  I am forever having this stuff in my fridge.  HOLY COW!!  SO GOOD!!  We scooted past the Clif Bar place, which had a line due to all the samples they were handing out.  And then…

…I signed up for another race.  It was one I was considering anyway…and with the expo discount and the promise of a free hat…I ended up going ahead and signing up.  Somebody stop me!!  LOL!!  This one isn’t too far away, so I  feel confident I’ll be in good form to run it.

We then found the BondiBand booth…and…oh yeah…there were purchases made.  I ended up getting 3 more…because…I can’t have too many of these.  I wear them on runs, at the gym, and in spin classes…so, yeah…they get used.  I still own the very first BondiBand I ever had…my 13.1 one that my friend, Heather Dillon, purchased for me at my first half marathon in Chicago back in 2011.  You might say that I am a fan…but I’m also a brand ambassador for them now too.  More on that once it’s officially official.  Anyway…more money spent and it was time to leave the expo to get to our dinner reservation.  We stopped for a moment to sign the banner wall at the exit.  Then, food.

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My Gluten Free Penne with Tomato Marinara and Vegetables from Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis, IN

Now, my pre-race eats is always…ALWAYS…a gluten free pizza.  BUT…we couldn’t find a close spot that offered that near where we were in Indianapolis.  And we really didn’t want to leave the area…so Cathy found out that the hotel restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offered gluten-free pasta on their menu.  I normally don’t do pasta as I am a pasta freak and will EAT ALL THE PASTA…and sometimes it’s too much and I still have it with me in the morning.  But, you gotta do what you gotta do.  Turns out, this place had their act together. The chef and servers were very knowledgeable about gluten-free dining and when they brought out Cathy’s bread…they brought me out some toasted Udi’s Gluten Free Sandwich Bread to have with either butter (no dairy for me) or olive oil.  It was a nice gesture.  The chef threw together a pasta dish for me using the Gluten Free Penne and their amazing red marinara and some fresh vegetables (onion, red pepper, broccolini).  Cathy got their signature pasta dish – Straw & Hay (chive noodle & egg noodle, lardo, English peas, garlic cream, pine nuts, and topped with a soft boiled egg).  I didn’t think I was that hungry…but as I said, I love pasta…and I devoured mine.  LOL!!

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Just hanging out with my NUUN guys!  I loved them.  I really loved them.

After dinner, we returned to the expo to finish up.  Starbucks was closed…so Cathy said she’d get a banana in the morning for me. We revisited the entire expo, walking through the slightly less chaotic area this time.  Cathy bought another BondiBand for spin class, and the lady working there gave us the discount so she only paid $5 for it, since we previously bought some that day.  YAY!!  I found the NUUN table and got to talking with the cute guys behind there.  I told them I was a #nuunambassador and we got a picture together.  LOVE!!  It was fun.  My new favorite flavor…the Mango Orange.  WOW!  And…then I signed up for ANOTHER race.  Seriously…stop me.  This one is in the fall…and they gave me a free wine glass and an expo discount for signing up.  Cathy was given a race shirt because they were so impressed with what a great running fan she is and everything she does for not just me…but other runners.  SUPER awesome.  We wrapped up the expo and hiked outside to Circle Center to hit up Rocket Fizz.  We ended up purchasing a Diet Root Beer for Cathy and a Nut Goodie Bar to split for dessert.  I am a firm believer in dessert.  And then…it was back to the hotel.  I talked to my sister on the phone on the way back…and I even stood at the window in my room and watched an ongoing baseball game…which was totally awesome.  Cathy went to go shower and I needed to do my nightly foam rolling.

I had made a promise to my good friend, Deana, after the Derby Mini, that I would dedicate the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon to her.  I kept my word, and in Sharpie, on my race bib, I wrote: FOR DEANA!  I texted her a picture and we chatted for a little while…as I watched some Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives (seriously…this is a tradition!) and did more foam rolling and used THE STICK on my hip and hip adductor.  After that…it was time to set the alarms for the morning and get some sleep.

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The final race day outfit…I was told to NOT wear the tank…I am glad I didn’t.

My first alarm went off and I got up, turned it off, took my medicine, used the bathroom, and then…went back to sleep.  My second alarm got me up at 5:30 am.  I grabbed my pile of race gear and headed into the bathroom to change and put on ALL THE SUNSCREEN.  Hey, I’m a pale, blonde, Irish girl…I burn easily.  And I had to slather it ALL OVER myself.  I wasn’t sure at this point if I was running in just a sports bra or if I was throwing on a tank, but I acted as though I’d do the bra only.  Once I had my Injinji socks on and my Newtons laced up, I put my hair up in my signature pigtails, dressing them up with red and black hair extensions.  And the BondiBand was a pink and black checkered one I found at the expo.  It was the closest thing to a checkered flag I could find.  I went back into the hotel room and made sure Cathy got up out of her bed.  Her mission was to go get me a banana from Starbucks.  They were giving them away for free, but it was a madhouse, and she was gone long enough that I managed to eat my cereal, do all my PT stretches and turn on the news/weather.  When she got back, she changed, ate a protein bar, and drank her Starbucks Cool Lime Refresher.  At about 6:45 a.m., I had my fuel belt on and was heading out the door.  Cathy realized she forgot the sign, so back to the hotel room to snag it.  And then, we were on our way, heading down the elevator and out the door.

My friend, Julia, was running in the 5K, which was going off at 7 a.m.  I was hoping to find her, but, there were SO many people that I never did see her.  I looked and waited.  And never saw her go by.  DANG IT!  Cathy thought she heard the announcer say something about corrals closing and said that it involved mine, so now we were walking the line down to the split in the corrals.  She found an information guy and asked and he aid that my corral was going to open as soon as the 5K runners were though…since I was in C.  So…Cathy made me panic for no reason.  She does this a lot at races.  Seriously.  *deep breath*  We walked back up and I downed my banana and I went to get into Corral C.  I had a moment to do my dynamic warmup moves before Cathy said she needed to stake out her spot at the other side of the start…so she made me take off my NYC Marathon zip I had put on to keep warm.  I parted with it, and was surprised that it wasn’t too chilly at the start.  A little, but not enough that I was shivering.  The National Anthem was sung BEAUTIFULLY and the wheelchair racers were sent off by Meb.  Meb was there running from the back of the mini to the front…I never got to see him.  Dang it.  In fact, I finished the race before he even started.  I did beat his time though, LOL!

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Meb waiving the green flag up in the bucket. I didn’t even see him. I suck.

The corrals moved up and the first wave was prepared to be sent off…by Meb…at 7:33 am.  The horn sounded, Meb waived the green flag, and we were off.  I crossed the start line, started my Garmin, and just went with the crowd.  I saw Cathy and gave a wave and headed toward the Indianapolis Zoo.  I didn’t see any animals out this year…but it is a nice way to start the race regardless.  That zoo is gorgeous!  This was a quick pace for me, though it didn’t feel it at the time.  My first mile was 6:57, apparently, but I dropped back after that.  Let me say, I am very glad that Cathy told me to go with the bra top only and not the tank.  The humidity was very real at Mile 2…and it was still early.  So, yeah…that worked out wonderfully.  I would have died with fabric on me.  As it was, my legs felt heavy and I was wondering how well this race was actually going to play out for me.  But, I pressed on, hoping I’d find my stride and fall into a comfortable pace and hold it.  Mile 2 and 3 are run on W. Michigan Street.  In fact, much of the first 5 miles of the race is through residential and such areas…but always with spectators and people there to cheer, some more populated than others.  Mile 5 is Main Street…and a banner is spread over the top welcoming runners to Main Street.  There are restaurants and the like out here and the crowd was loud and proud.  It was a nice way to make the turn toward the Speedway itself.  You enter the speedway via a steep downhill slope, and then back up.  Inside, you hit Mile 6 and the run around the actual Indianapolis Motor Speedway is on.  This is the part I always look forward to.  This was also the slowest miles of the race for me.  I think it’s because the sun had come out, the humidity was high, and there was no shade out on that track.  But I was running ON THE TRACK of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  How cool is that.  They have 2 pit stops (water stations) inside the track, but I carry my own water and fuel with me, so I never make use of these.  I thought about it though, with the humid air.  I was sweating!  The best part…the highlight, is hitting that brickyard.  I flashed devil horns to the photographers and carried on.  You exit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just before Mile 9.  From here…it’s 4 miles to the finish.

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Me leaving the start gate of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

4 miles is a morning run for me.  So, despite feeling like I was really slowing down, I was super happy with how I was plugging along.  I kept saying, “This is for Deana…and Deana doesn’t quit!”  Or “Be relentless…like Deana.”  Mantras really help.  LOL!  I wasn’t about to quit…when it’s humid and hot, you just slow it down and run comfortable.  Miles 9-11 wind you back toward downtown, and when you get to Mile 12, you see the checkered flags, and hear the crowds, and you just run.  You just run because you’re almost done.  You just run because you are heading to that finish line. You just…do what you’ve been doing all along, but with feeling and spirit and maybe jazz hands.  Or maybe not.  Jazz hands might be a little much…

I love this part of the race.  The energy is amazing.  I could hear the finish line announcer and I knew I was getting close.  My watch beeped long before the 13 mile marker (I was about .20 miles ahead of the mile markers), and I picked it up some more.  I gritted my teeth, dug deep, and pushed it.  I saw Cathy to my right with my sign and just screaming at me.  And I noticed, as I neared the finish, that the clock time said 1:39:45…I crossed.  I just turned out another half marathon (13.29 miles on my Garmin)…and was only 1:07 minutes off of breaking my PR set at the Geist Half Marathon in 2014.  I felt amazing.  And accomplished.  And…yeah!!  I was ushered toward the medals and was handed one, which I eased over my head, somehow not spilling any water in the open water bottle I was holding.  I’m just that talented, folks.

I was given a plastic bag to put water, banana, fruits, energy bars, and whatever else into as I walked through the runner recovery area.  As I got a Dole cup, one of the Dole employees said he loved my outfit and smile and asked if he could get my picture with the Dole cup.  So, I agreed.  If I turn up on any Dole advertisements, let me know.  I am almost famous, LOL!  Afterwards, I headed into the After Party area where I was to find Cathy in the family reunion zone around the end of the alphabet.  I spotted her and rushed over…and she gave me my official time!!  I was SO happy with it.  Impressed because I felt like I was running through tar at some points…no joke.  But this was 2 minutes better than Derby…which was 2 minutes better than NYC.  Nice pattern there, yes?  LOL!

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Getting my post-race massage.  I obviously approve, LOL!!

I changed out of my shoes and put on some recovery shoes.  I snagged some chocolate milk for Cathy and then headed into the massage tent.  I NEVER miss a post-race massage whenever possible.  Seriously, this just helps me with my recovery.  The lines weren’t long yet either.  The nice lady who gave me my massage was awesome.  It was, seriously, one of the best post-race massages I have ever had.  She asked me a lot about running and how I got into it…and she really stretched me out and worked my muscles.  She told me she loves working on people where she can feel their muscles and see how they move when she works on them.  GO ME!  Afterwards, I was ready to head back to the hotel to shower, so Cathy and I headed that way.

The hotel was handing out cold towels to runners so we could wipe our faces and get refreshed, which was SO awesome.  Once we got up to the room, I went to go shower and Cathy packed up everything.  Once I was clean and dressed, she called down to have the car brought out by valet and I downed some water and played on my phone for a moment.  We finally went down just as our car came around.  Packed up…we hit the road to go to Target and then meet up with our friend, Greg, at Cheeseburger in Paradise.  A celebrator Gluten Free Veggie Baja Burger (no cheese or sour cream) was in order.  I got mine with the gluten free sweet potato fries.  I devoured it.  No joke.  We did a bit of shopping after lunch, hitting up Half Price Books…Strange Brew for coffee…and the outlets in Edinburgh, before heading home.

Half Marathon #18…done.  And it’s my third fastest one to date!!

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Half Marathon #3 this year…done…Half Marathon #18 in my running career…done…3rd fastest half marathon time…achieved. Call it a comeback!

So, the official results of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon is that I finished in 1:39:28.  I was 889/24,768 finishers overall.  I was 123/13,487 female finishers.  And I was 21/1,939 finishers in my division!  I am so happy with this result and I texted Deana and she was so honored and happy.  It was a wonderful race, and now I remember why I loved it so much.  I hope not to wait another 4 years to return to this one.  That being said, I’m already in talks with Deana about some upcoming stuff for next year, which I’m super excited about.  I’m sure I’ll discuss that when it all falls into place.  I am certain my endurance will continue to get better.  Half marathon distances used to feel so easy for me, but I’ve been struggling in the last few miles as of late.  But this one surprised me, because I thought I had really slowed down, but I never once hit a sub 7:45 minute pace.  At all.  WOW!!  And to think I slowed down to a pace that felt “easy.”  At least my fitness has been kept up over the span of time I was out with injury last year.  I credit that to my spin classes, regular gym visits, and sheer determination on my part.

Deana…I ran hard and strong for you…I’m glad this race turned out the way it did.  Thank you for being an inspiration, a badass, and truly, an amazing friend.

Working Hard for a Weekend of Hard Work

Ah, it’s Sunday.  A day to rest and relax right?  RIGHT?!

HA…never!!  Today, I’ve done countless loads of laundry, prepped and cooked all the meals for the coming week, took recycle to the store, took care of a cat, did some necessary shopping, mailed off a package, finished up (much-needed) grocery shopping, organized the pantry, and polished off a book.  I’ve blogged on my race on Friday night, made up lunches/snacks for tomorrow, and have even changed sheets on the bed.  And showered.  Important.

This has been a chaotic and crazy week.  I got back into town from a relaxing (ie: NON-RACE) weekend in Orlando, Florida.  Sure, the Star Wars Half Marathon was running at Disney World that very weekend…but I was not quick enough on making a decision to run, and by the time I was certain I was going to be able to do it, registration had closed.  Instead, the day before I headed out to get to Florida, I did my long run.  On a Tuesday night.  On tired legs.  But it was done and I didn’t have to do it alone…or in Orlando, where I had no idea where I could safely and effectively go running.  As it was, I found a park where I managed 5 miles, and I did 5 miles back and forth on this 0.20 mile boardwalk on Cocoa Beach while I was away.  But that was it for the running.  The rest of the time I was exploring…but we’ll get to that momentarily.

With a couple of days away from the office, I was overloaded with work, so I ended up doing something I hate doing.  I brought work home and put in some time away from the office.  It had to be done…or I’d still be buried.  This made my week even more stressful because I was trying to fit in all my normal stuff while having to do some work at home.  It meant…the normalcy took a lot longer to get around to.  And grocery shopping never happened.  So, my roommate and I were living out of the pantry/freezer/fridge for this week.

So…with all that being said…some good stuff has been going down these past two weeks…so let’s take a look at some of the highlights!

1.  Universal Studios Florida


It’s Marvel Superheroes, it’s Harry Potter, it’s rides, rides, rides.  And I had an absolute blast.  I met Captain America (he told me I had beautiful green eyes!), which had to happen as he is the favorite superhero of my nephew, Chace.  I flirted with the driver of the Knight Bus at Diagon Alley in Universal as well.  SO MUCH FUN.  That being said, I vastly prefer Disney to Universal, but it was actually nice to step away from the Disney monster and do something I’ve been wanting to do, but couldn’t pull myself away from Disney.  HA!  And thank goodness for my friend, Jenn, who was willing to go on the thrill rides with me.  Cathy refuses.  She’s a big baby.  OH…and I bought a wand.  I have my own Harry Potter type of wand.  It’s Ivy…with a Unicorn Hair core.  And I loved it because I was able to cast magical spells at both of the Harry Potter lands at each Universal Studios theme park in Florida.  It takes so little to make me happy.

2.  Toasted
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Eating out with me can be…difficult at times.  Thank you Celiac disease and lactose intolerance.  That being said, while I was in Orlando, thanks to my Find Me Gluten Free app, I found the most perfect place to dine.  In fact, we (Jenn, Cathy & myself) ended up having dinner there three times.  The place is called Toasted, and it specializes in Crafted Grilled Cheese & Burgers.  And…they have gluten-free buns, bread, and veggie burgers.  They also have vegan cheese.  This…was my happy place.  To top all of that off…they had gluten-free fries.  And, let me tell you, the Truffle Oil & Rosemary fries were to die for.  We learned, after our first visit, that one order of fries would do for the three of us.  Amazing sandwiches.  I had a different one each night…never got sick.  Let’s hear it for gluten-free dining done right.  If you find yourself in the Winter Park area of Orlando…go and check them out.

3. Gluten Free Snack Cakes
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Okay…I admit it.  I love my desserts.  I have tried, for ages, to give them up.  But the sweet tooth reigns supreme.  For sure.  And, after getting my roommate a little tipsy on her birthday, I took her grocery shopping.  And bought a bunch of stuff I didn’t need but wanted to try.  And, despite trying to be a little better about my choices…I discovered a new product from Schär‘s Sch’nacks!  These delightful little treats are simply a gluten-free, unrolled version of a Swiss Roll.  They are little single serve cakes that are filled with cream and dipped in German chocolate.  And they are light, and amazing.  I have to resist buying them too often…but a treat every now and again is always fine.  There are 10 cakes per package…and I only have one after dinner each night.  Seriously…a worthy investment for an every-now-and-again treat.  Back to some fruits and vegan yogurts after this.  And I’m back to cooking real food…and not just living out of the fridge/freezer/pantry…which is also a plus.

4.  Road Bike Shoes
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Today, I meandered over to Schwinn in Clarksville, Indiana, and purchased a pair of road bike shoes.  Now that I have a road bike, I figured I needed to get the clip-in shoes so I could ride it.  They are very nice at Schwinn and even discounted the price of the shoes and put the cleats in for me.  YAY!!  I hope to get fitted to my bike next weekend, time permitting!  Crossing my fingers.  Then, I get to practice clipping in and out…and probably taking a few spills during said process.  It’s actually…kind of exciting.  Not the falling part, but getting the necessary gear and stuff done to get out onto my bike.

5.  Running my fastest mile at my favorite 5K

 


Friday was not only Earth Day, it was the running of the Pro.Active For Life 5K in Frankfort, Kentucky.  I go to Frankfort quite often for the races, and while 5K races are one of my least favorite distances, this just happens to be my favorite 5K race.  It’s not just the race itself, but the people.  Frankfort, honestly, some of the best people in that running community.  I can’t say it enough.  Not only did I win my age division this year, but I pulled off a 6:53 mile.  Shocking myself.  Even more shocking…the entire run was pain-free.  And…I was only 6 seconds off my PR (also set at this race).  Stronger every day.  Trying to be really smart when it comes to my training.

6.  A long, solo, pain-free Saturday morning run

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So, Friday night I churn out a speedy 5K (even if my finishing picture looks like I’m just cruising, LOL!), knowing that Saturday, I was on my own for my longest run since…forever.  I am signed up for (although still not 100% sure I’ll be running) a marathon in June.  Bib transfer can only happen through May 1, leaving this Saturday the only chance I had for attempting a long marathon-training type run.  And, I had to do it solo, as everyone I know is either recovering from Boston, running Big Sur, running London, running Derby or running Flying Pig.  So, they are either recovering, out of town, or tapering.  So, Saturday morning, I laced up, still feeling good, and went out for 20 miles in my area.  No crossing the river (it was Thunder Over Louisville day anyway…so this was probably better in the long run…ha…I made a punny).  So, I just sort of went.  I never pushed my pace…I ran comfortably and just sort of made the route up.  The last 5 miles, however, I decided to make the toughest.  I don’t know why.  I’m sadistic like that.  So I hit up the Fast Freddie route…which is HILLS FOR DAYS!…and came out of it better than I even expected.  Once again…no pain.  And 20 miles done.  Alone.  And way better than I dreamed.  WITHOUT ANY PAIN!  I spent the rest of the day out and about, doing some grocery shopping and regular shopping and eating good food for recovery and fuel.  This…was the type of run I mentally needed.  And while it does make me feel better, I still don’t know if I’ll run in June.  I’m pondering for one more day before making that call.

7.  Game Of Thrones
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The new season of GoT starts tonight, and unlike last year, I’m set.  HBO Now was downloaded this morning and I’m set to watch this season as it airs, instead of getting spoiled.  I know I read the books, but the show has gone away from how the books actually worked out, so it’s nice that I won’t have to attempt (and fail) to avoid spoilers this time around.  It’s the little things in life.  SO…YAY!!  It’s the little things in life…like Season 6 of Game of Thrones.

8.  Caramelized Honey Latte at Starbucks

 


They keep selling out of it, but when I went to Florida this past week, I was introduced to Starbucks latest (and greatest) drink.  It’s the Caramelized Honey Latte and it is AMAZING.  It reminds me a lot of The Bee Sting, one of Ha Coffee’s signature drinks in Kauai (I miss Hawaii!).  I get mine with coconut milk and it is…OMG…to die for.  I had it hot and iced while in Florida. The Starbucks at Universal Studios City Walk sold out of them…and the one here in our local Target sold out too.  I think this drink is quite popular.  And it should be.  It is made of super YUM!!  If you haven’t tried it…RUN, do NOT WALK, to Starbucks and give it a try.  You’ll thank me for it.

So, there are some of the highlights these past couple of weeks.  Here’s to hoping for a bit more relaxed and easier week ahead.  And I hope everyone had a great week and enjoyed a beautiful weekend.  And for anyone racing this coming weekend…good luck!!

Restaurant Review: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

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Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

I am a foodie.  Hard to believe with all my food allergies and intolerance…and the fact that I am a vegetarian…that this is a true statement.  But I LOVE food.  I love to eat food.  I love to enjoy food.  And I love to cook food.  I love to share food.  Food is love.  And, as an athlete, food is also fuel.

I am on a nice vacation at the moment, enjoying myself and my time away from the stresses of life.  And, as is the way me and my traveling compatriots do vacations…we work in one nice meal out.  And, as we were enjoying some time at Universal Studios today, we opted to eat on the Universal Studios Citywalk…at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando.

Now, I have loved Emeril Lagasse for a long time.  He is, not only, one of the most recognizable and quotable chef’s (“BAM!”)…he is just awesome.  His food is simple, pure, cajun goodness!!  He is pure Louisiana.  And that’s what we went there for.

We were in for a treat.  White tablecloths.  Chairs were pulled out for us.  Napkins were dropped into our laps.  I sort of felt under dressed with my roller-coaster windblown hair and my Wonder Woman t-shirt.  But, none of the staff minded.  We were greeted soon after by our waiter for the night…which was actually going to be three people seeing to us.  Our waiters were amazing and funny and extremely helpful.  We were given the menu to look over and I mentioned that I was a gluten free vegetarian…and after some witty bantering…he pointed out the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day (which changes from day to day) and explained to me that it was a noodless lasagna…where the chef layers squash, zucchini, eggplant and roasted red peppers, all seasoned with amazing herbs, and makes them into the noodles.  They could even make it vegan for me.  They let us peruse the menu and I noticed the special as well being a Roasted Cauliflower in a tomato broth with crispy kale that sounded SO good.  I needed to ask about it being gluten free.  Cathy had settled on the Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop and Jenn said she was getting the Shrimp and Grits (I had a feeling all the veggies would be tossed aside…LOL!).  But then, after checking with the chef about the gluten-free status of the cauliflower special (it was), and answering Jenn’s question as to what an étouffée was (all the veggies)…he went on to say that the Shrimp and Grits was the best dish on the menu.  So…Jenn was sold.  He also went on to say that the other dishes he considers the best served there were the Scallops and the Short Rib.

So now Cathy was undecided.  And I still was torn between the special and the menu special.  Both were special.  LOL!  But…both were different enough that I knew that I couldn’t get them anywhere else.  So, once Cathy decided on the Scallops instead, I was still torn.  And my dinner buddies weren’t making the decision any easier.  Back to our waiter for his opinion…and with his help, I opted for the Vegan version of the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day.  This meant none of the cheese or alfredo would be added to the dish.  Gluten free and vegan vegetable goodness.

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Emeril’s Cast Iron Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Bacon Jam

As we were going to have a little wait while our food was prepared, Jenn and Cathy decided they were going to split an appetizer.  They ordered the Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Bacon Jam ($8.00).  The cornbread looked fantastic.  They said it was light and fluffy and just soft and amazing.  Cathy was a big, big, big fan of the Bacon Jam (pork belly cooked in butter with brown sugar and reduced).  Jenn said she could take it or leave it…but the honey butter at the bottom was just soaking into the bread.  I thought it was just…awesome looking.  But, alas, so not something I could eat.

Before too long, our entrees were being served.  They had Cathy and Jenn’s backwards, but that was easily fixed.  The plates were changed out and we were ready to dive in.

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Emeril’s Shrimp + Grits

Jenn ordered the Shrimp + Grits, which was Louisiana shrimp, étouffée, Anson Mills rice grits, and local cherry tomatoes ($30.00).  She said the shrimp was nailed to the perfect cook.  The grits were smooth and creamy.  I looked at them.  I thought it was rice at first…with all the cheese.  Much of the étouffée was cast aside, as she is not a cooked vegetable person, but the rest of it was devoured.  I really do think it was a 1/1 ratio of cheese to grits…but it looked awesome.  Her only qualm…the tails were left on the shrimp.  It’s kind of hard to be classy in a nice restaurant when you have to use your fingers to remove the tails.

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Emeril’s Blackened Diver Scallops

Cathy went with the Blackened Diver Scallops, which was served with a Creamy Corn Moque Choux, Wilted Greens, and Local Tomato Jam ($32.00).  It looked GORGEOUS!!  The corn sauce fascinated her.  She said it was almost like a corn chowder.  The greens were cooked perfectly.  They weren’t mushy or overly done.  She said the tomato jam was sweet and paired beautifully with everything.  But the star…the scallops.  They were tender and buttery and had a perfect sear.  She said they were the best scallops she ever had.

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Emeril’s Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day – Noodleless Lasagna (tightly stacked slices of eggplant, zucchini, squash and roasted red pepper) with a marinara sauce and greens

So…my perfectly gluten-free and vegan dish is now up.  As I stated, I ordered the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day ($23.00).  This was a noodleless lasagna, where the noodles were stacked slices of eggplant, zucchini, squash, and roasted red pepper.  The seasonings were crazy good.  And all of this was topped off with an amazingly rich marinara and greens.  I could hardly make out the noodles, and I didn’t want to destroy the dish to get a picture.  So, trust me…there are tightly stacked veggies under there.  OMG.  The tomato sauce, for starters, was killer.  Just mouth watering, savory, amazing flavor.  The vegetables were cooked perfectly…not limp and wet, but perfect, with still a little crisp to them, but tender to bite into.  Almost like real noodles.  I didn’t miss the cheese or the heavy Alfredo.  This was pure perfection.  Why go back to noodles when you can do this to have lasagna?!  Seriously…so glad the waiter talked me into this one.  I was one happy girl.

And while we were all rather full from dinner…we decided we had to do dinner.  The waiter had tempted me with a Flourless (and Gluten Free) Chocolate Torte earlier that evening.  And I had been on the fence.  He did deliver dessert menus to us, to let the Cathy and Jenn choose what they might want to have…and then said the sorbets (strawberry lemonade, coconut, and passionfruit tonight) were another option for me.

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Emeril’s Flourless Decadent Chocolate Torte with Butter Pecan Sauce

In the end, we decided to split the Flourless Decadent Chocolate Torte with a Butter Pecan Sauce ($10.00) between the three of us.  I am so glad we did.  While the slice of torte isn’t as huge as say, a slice of Emeril’s famous Banana Cream Pie…it was rich.  Smooth, perfect, rich, creamy, amazing, sinful, decadent, chocolatey goodness.  Pure sinful goodness in each bite.  And that butter pecan sauce…oh yeah…that just tied it all together.  Cathy and Jenn split the whipped cream.  I ate the strawberry.  This…was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

I was beyond impressed with the service, setting, and food that we received at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando.  They were so good at working with me and my dietary needs.  Didn’t even bat an eye.  Immediately knew what to ask about and explained to me what I could eat and what was delicious.  Our waiter was awesome.  He made me laugh, he made me feel so good about the food that was going to be made for me, and he even helped me make a decision on my dinner that night.

If only more restaurants turned out a meal and an experience like this one did.  Emeril is an amazing chef…and his restaurant didn’t let me down.  This was a meal I will be talking about for a very long time.

Winding Up A Windy Week

Whew.

Anyone else out there have to contend with stupid strong winds this week?  I swear, it was strong winds all week.  You know…those types of winds that, when you head out for a run, you are running into the wind…and when you turn around to come back…you are still running into the wind.

That being said, the cold temperatures have really wreaked havoc on my body.  At least, I hope it’s the cold weather…hard to say when spring weather has all but disappeared…despite being mid-April-ish!  UGH!

But that being said, there has been some amazing stuff going on this week for me too.  Sometimes it might seem mundane, but, you know…simple things make me happy, and there is nothing wrong with that.

1. My new favorite piece of kitchen gear
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This…is a cutting board.  This is a cutting board made by my super speedy, awesome, super-talented friend and running buddy, Dennis!!  How amazing is this?!  I love it.  I tried it out all this week, and it seriously makes me happy just to chop up my vegetables and fruits and tofu…and whatever else needed a happy bit of chopping.

Dennis, you’re super talented and I thank you so much for this gift.  Seriously, my favorite thing in the kitchen.

2. Game of Thrones
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Okay, so, I don’t have cable.  Nor do I have anything Apple that I could get HBO Go or whatever it was so I could watch Game of Thrones Season 5 while it was airing.  This meant, I was dodging spoilers (and still am whenever an actor from the show starts trending).  But, I purchased the Blu-Rays the other day, and have dived headlong into the season.  I’ve gotten through half of the season so far and am eager to wrap it up.  And then I need to figure out how to watch Season 6 as it airs…if possible.  Shhh…no spoilers!

3.  Cupcake of the Week

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Annie May’s Sweet Café Cupcake of the Week – Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake (vanilla cupcake filled with strawberry jam and topped with vanilla frosting and a fresh strawberry)

I have never been a cupcake person, but lately, Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, has been putting out a new weekly special…CUPCAKE OF THE WEEK!  And they always just sound so amazing.  I think I’ve only missed out on 2 of the weeks (once because I got a cookie, and the other because they were sold out).  But it has been my favorite thing to check out when I go in for Soft Pretzel Wednesday. It’s usually the dessert I split with my roomie that night.  A nice mid-week treat for sure.  Anyway, some of the standouts have been the “Unicorn Cupcake,” the “Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake” and the “Hot Fudge Sunday Cupcake.”  I missed the Cookie Dough one so maybe they’ll bring that one back sometime.  All allergen-free…and all have been totally yummy!!

4.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Are you aware that the new Star Wars came out on Blu-Ray and DVD this week?  I got the special edition at Walmart…because it had BB-8 on the cover.  Dammit, I’m such a BB-8 fangirl.  Regardless, I LOVED this movie.  And I love the new characters.  And I really love BB-8.  So, yeah, I braved Walmart and bought the Blu-Ray this past week.  I hear my Sphero BB-8 droid will react to the movie if I have him turned on and watching it when I am.  So, yeah…that’s happening.

5.  PB&J Breakfast Bowls
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Want to know what my latest obsession is?  Parfait bowls.  Now, I’m not new to breakfast parfaits, but this is a brand new, and SUPER good way to eat them.  And I have the Chobani Cafe in SoHo, NYC, to thank for it.  I eat this every morning after the gym.  And this coming week, with me heading out of town, this is breakfast all week.  Super easy to make:

  • 1 cup yogurt (vegan, Greek, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup grapes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons natural grape jelly
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (I use NuttZo!!) #NuttZoAmbassador #NuttZoFanatic #NuttZoLove #NuttZo
  • 1 tablespoon peanuts

Place yogurt in a bowl.  Scatter grapes over yogurt.  Place the grape jelly in the center.  Place the peanut butter around the edge of the bowl.  Top off with nuts.  Enjoy!

I have done variations on this, using orange marmalade and either Smudge, Nutella, or the NuttZo chocolate versions.  Also strawberry with the chocolate Smudge, Nutella, or NuttZo is also delicious.  Want a healthy but delicious breakfast?  Make this.  You’ll thank me for it!

6.  I HAVE A ROAD BIKE!!
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It finally happened.  After years of talking about it.  And over a year of trying to get one for myself, but always having medical bills (hello, MRIs) to cover instead…the perfect bike finally came into my life.  Someone was selling their road bike that they hardly rode for a really good price.  Way less than what the bike was originally purchased for.  It had been sitting in her storage room.  It came with all the gadgets and gizmos.  And it is BB-8 colors, so it was truly meant to be.  I’m taking it to get fitted properly for me so I don’t do any hip damage or get injured…and then…I’m road ready.  FINALLY!!  I love this bike.  And, yes, I did name it BB-8.

How was your week?  Has the wind in your area been crazy-strong and gusty too?  What fun and exciting things do you have coming up?  Buy anything fun this week?

Product Review: WholeMe Cinnamon Banana Chip Clusters

WholeMe Cinnamon Banana Chip Clusters

WholeMe Cinnamon Banana Chip Clusters

Product: WholeMe Cinnamon Banana Chip Clusters – $7.00

One of the best parts about receiving a monthly subscription box is the products I never would have tried and/or heard of without it.  After Cuisine Cube…I needed a change.  So, I opted to get a subscription to Conscious Box, which has become Bestowed.  I love my little monthly treats and this one is affordable, and often has a blend of samples and full-size products.

I received the April box a few days ago…

And I’ve already delved into it.

This morning, I was prepping for a 6 mile run, and per the instructions of my sports nutritionist, I needed to get some fuel in my body before heading out.  So, I went to the pantry and pulled down a package of one of the products I received a full-size sample of.  It is like a granola (and we all know I love granola) and from a company called WholeMe.

WholeMe was created in 2003 by Krista Steinbach and Mary Kosir, two women who were dedicated to developing nutrient-dense, delicious, convenient foods.  Like so many of us, they were leading busy and chaotic lives.  But one thing they both took into consideration was that food has power over everyone’s daily lives and they really wanted to make eating real food delicious and convenient.  In early 2014, they launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $40,000 to begin WholeMe.  Their products offer a real alternative to the preservative-filled, sugar-laden snacks that infiltrate the grocery store, and then inevitably…our pantries.  They like to say, “Real food should have a limited shelf life.  Remember, food is perishable.  ours is.  And that’s why the only preservative we use is the fridge.”

So, thanks to my Bestowed Box, I now was the owner of a package of one of WholeMe’s three variety of clusters.  Their granola clusters are available in Almond Coconut, Lemon Berry Chia, and Cinnamon Banana Chip.  As luck of the draw (or in this case…box) had it, I received the Cinnamon Banana Chip.  And this morning…with 6 miles needed at 3:30 a.m…I needed to get some fuel before heading out.  Without any extra sugars, I thought this might be a nice thing to munch on while I got dressed and ready to stretch and warm up.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when I opened it up and reached inside, snagging a few crumbly clusters of the chocolate-y looking snack, I wasn’t expecting to see real banana chips scattered throughout the blend.  I love banana chips.  Always have.  So, yeah, this made me so happy!  The only real chocolate in this, by the way, is the smattering of cocoa nibs inside the mix.  I figured to give it a go, and I popped the handful in my mouth…

…and was immediately hooked.

In fact, I went back for some more and then went and finished getting ready for my run.  It’s sweet, without being overly sweet.  It tastes mostly of banana.  The cinnamon is nice for the flavor, but it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the product.  In a word…these clusters are freakin’ amazing.  Out of this world.  And GOOD FOR YOU!!  They are soft and have great texture.  Especially if you get a bit with a banana chip in it.  Yummy!  The bits of chocolate add just enough sweetness to keep the flavor interesting.  And everything inside these clusters…is made from real food.  Real food!  I love eating real food.  With a blend of nuts, seeds, natural sweeteners, and an appropriate hit of salt, cinnamon, and maca…this snack blend is a real treat…no guilt.

It is perfect for…as the back of the bag reads:

“What’s in it for Me?  The watch-what-I-eat Me.  The work-out-addict Me.  The grain-free Me.  The paleo Me.  The give-me-something-good-to-eat Me.  The diabetic Me.  The gluten-free Me.  No matter which Me you happen to be, WholeMe is determined to provide genuine, delicious, convenient foods.  Food that makes all of Me (you) happy.”

So, if it’s so good for you, let’s take a look at these natural and real ingredients that go into a package of WholeMe Cinnamon Banana Chip Clusters, shall we?  This granola mix is made from banana chips (bananas, coconut oil), honey, pecans, coconut, almonds, dried bananas, coconut oil, sunflower seeds, pure maple syrup, cocoa nibs, vanilla extract, cinnamon, salt, and maca.  This blend is grain-free, gluten-free, naturally sweetened, paleo, nutrient-dense, preservative-free, soy-free, and non-GMO.  It is all natural goodness, for sure!

So, with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the nutrition facts for the WholeMe Cinnamon Banana Chip Clusters.  A serving size of the clusters is 1/3 cup (28 grams).  There are 8 servings per package.  A serving will serve you up 133 calories, 10 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 0  grams trans fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 2 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 67 mg sodium, 11 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 8 grams sugars, and 2 grams protein.  Not too bad for something that you can eat as cereal, by the handful, or as a topping to yogurt or ice cream.  Seriously…options are endless.

I haven’t seen this in stores anywhere in my area, and it looks like it is mostly available in Minnesota (where WholeMe is based out of).  That being said, there is an online store…which I will definitely be hitting up in the near future.  With real food that is really good…why wouldn’t I?  This is right in my wheelhouse…and definitely gave me adequate and perfect fueling for my run.