Quick Thoughts From the Week

It was a long, holiday weekend.  YAY!!  And, as is usual for me over the 4th of July…I was out of town.  At a convention.  In Indianapolis.  Now, normally when I am up in Indy for this convention, my Saturday morning is spent running the Monon Trail.  It’s gorgeous.  Seriously.  I always look forward to it.  The past few years (last year I wasn’t able to run at all at this point), I have managed to get out there for my long run of 10-12 or so miles.

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But, this past weekend, Saturday’s Monon Trail run wasn’t happening…

MEH.

SO…on Saturday morning, I was down in the fitness center at 6 am…and on a treadmill to do 12 miles that morning.  I started easy and worked up a ladder to a comfortable speed and then took it back down.  It was mind numbing, despite the music (and to think, I almost left my iPod in my room).  But, my training run was done.

And if that wasn’t enough punishment, I got up on Sunday morning to do my shakeout run.  I decided to do an easy run for an hour…getting 7.36 miles in during that time.

I was feeling it Saturday and I really felt it Sunday.  I hate running on treadmills.  They seem to do more damage to me than road running does.  I was sore through Wednesday, honestly.  I don’t know how people do long distances on these things on a regular basis.  My body couldn’t handle it!

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My runs have been suffering since those treadmill runs.  The hip was not mad…but not happy either.  MEH.  Not enough foam rolling in the world.  Of course…the epic humidity with air so thick you could cut it with a knife…isn’t helping either.

But, despite the humidity and the fatigue from late nights, I’ve been keeping up with my training runs.  Which…is impressive for me.  It’s not been easy to get out of bed to just go outside and melt…but…

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…I’ve been getting it done.  It hasn’t been pretty…and I’m not always happy with the results on my Garmin, but I’m doing what my body is currently capable of…so, there is that.

OH…and this past week, I got to play around with recipes that I created.  I made 6 different recipes…2 pasta dishes, a fusion pizza, a rice dish, a sandwich, and a dessert.  I was quite proud of the results…all based off of Peter Cincotti’s recently released EP, Exit 105.  Check out these images of the completed dishes…

 

Top (L-R): Island Spell Pizza (song: Palermo) – Jerk seasoned tofu, topped with onion, bell pepper, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and a Jamaican jerk coleslaw; Missing Sara Sammie (song: What’s Sara Doing?) – sammie layered with sweet potato, hummus, avocado (or guacamole), and kale; Unexpected Beat Tagliatelle (song: Long Way From Home) – tagliatelle pasta in a bechemel sauce and topped with shredded beets, goat cheese, parsley, toasted pine nuts, and toasted bread crumbs

Botton (L-R): Roamin’ Skies Pasta (song: Roman Skies) – my take on the traditional Roman dish – Cacio e Pepe – pasta mixed with butter, black pepper, Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses; Exit 105 Rice-A-Roni (Album Title: Exit 105) – my version of the San Francisco Treat (after all, Exit 105 takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge)…and it has been dubbed my “best rice dish in the history of ever”; Sexy on the Beach Ice Cream (song: Sexy) – a vegan ice cream made from coconut cream, pureed raspberries, pureed pineapple, chambord and vodka…just like the drink Sex on the Beach…

I love getting chefy.

So, aside from a little bit of work stress…that’s what’s going on thus far.  Stay tuned as this weekend is going to be amazing.  I can tell.

Take The Heat

Guess what, folks?

It’s SUMMER!!

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And let’s face it…the Olaf/Frozen/In Summer references don’t get old.  Because…it’s Olaf.  And Olaf is awesome.  Anyone who says so has no soul.

Summer is H-O-T.  HOT!  So hot.  And while I prefer to train in the heat…the one thing I do suffer through (like most other people) is the humidity.  And being that I live in the Ohio River Valley…it’s pretty damn humid.  Like…all the time.  One morning, this past week, I got up to run and it was 84 degrees at 4 am.  That’s not normal!  And it’s not even July yet.

With all that being said, how about I highlight some of the things that made this hot and stormy week a little cooler…

1.  Game of Thrones

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So, last Sunday was, possibly, one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones.  The battle scene, shown above, was one of the most intense and best things I have ever seen on television.  Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow, was amazing in this episode and totally deserves to win some awards.  I mean, he really had 100 horses charging at him.  That is not CGI!!  Unfortunately, my HBO Now stream was locked up (as was the rest of the world, apparently), so I ended up having to stay up an hour later than usual to actually watch the episode.  I was NOT looking forward to spending an entire day off the Interwebs if I saved it to watch the following day.  It was totally worth it, but damn, it through off the rest of my week for sure.

All that being said, tonight is the season finale!  OMG!!!  I hope HBO Now isn’t bogged down this week and that the finale lives up to this past week…because…DAMN!

2.  Blueberry Picking
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First of all…yes…I picked the blueberries pictured above.  I went to Bryant’s Blueberries with the intention of only picking 5 pounds of berries…but the crop of Blue Crop berries this week were AMAZING!  I mean…big and ripe and awesome.  Oh yes…I was in a good place.  So, as it was bound to happen…I got 10 more pounds.  WORTH IT.  These are the best blueberries I have ever had.  Forget anything you get in the store.  I don’t know if more jam will be in the future, but I think some blueberry bagels and/or waffles and/or pancakes will be happening.  And blueberry muffins are definitely happening.

3.  Louisville City FC…SOCCER BABY!!
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So, on Tuesday (which meant I did my hill repeats in the heat of the day…after 2 spin classes on Monday), and last night, I was at Louisville Slugger Field, not for baseball…but for soccer!!  I am a season ticket holder to Louisville’s very own professional soccer team.  In fact, last night’s match was broadcast on ESPN3.  Which is pretty cool.  We also had our highest attendance record to date, finally breaking that 10,000 mark.  In fact, it was 10, 062 showed up for the match last night.

But, beyond that, after the match on Tuesday night, I got to get my picture with my favorite player this year, Enrique Montano (#20).  I look horrible in the picture, as I still had my hat on (I hate hats), and I had been melting in that heat I had been speaking about…but this picture is…awesome!  I love when the payers come over to the midfield section to meet the fans.  And Montano is very good about that.  Happiness.

If you’re local and haven’t made it to a Louisville City FC match yet…stop delaying.  Our team leads our division…so we’re pretty awesome.  It’s worth it

4.  Fun Hair
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I don’t think it will last for long, but on Wednesday afternoon, I went to my hairdresser and we got a little funky with my hair.  Teal.  Yes…I dyed my hair teal.  Not all of it, but quite a bit of it.  The problem is, I workout and run quite often, so I sweat.  And my hair, just being blonde, doesn’t hold color too well.  So, I’m enjoying it while it lasts, but it’s already, sadly, fading.

5.  Roadside Assistance
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I’m not talking about AAA or the local trucks that stop and help out stranded drivers.  Nope.  I’m talking about a super-amazing project that I am a part of with some great friends of mine.  One of my girls, Indy (aka: Jennifer), had a spark of genius about creating a project that centers around the songs released off of Peter Cincotti’s new album.  Since Exit 105 was released the other day, Indy put together a Tumblr blog and posted a recipe already for a cocktail based off the song “Long Way From Home.” So from now until Peter’s birthday on July 11th, we’ll be developing and sharing recipes inspired by the songs on the EP. These will be shared everywhere we can think to post them, but will also be collected onto a Tumblr blog-http://exit105-roadside-assistance.tumblr.com/ Check it out!!

And if you are unfamiliar with the talent of Peter Cincotti…discover him…NOW!

Did you do anything amazing, fun, and/or exciting this past week?  Ever dye your hair a crazy color?  Got any fun plans for the upcoming 4th of July holiday?

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!!

Recipe: Gluten Free & Dairy Free Lemon Blueberry Scones

So, this past weekend, I did something I have never done before…but, believe it or not…it was on my Summer Bucket List.  I went and picked blueberries.  Yes…I went out…in nature…to a local blueberry farm and spent 2 hours with my roommate, Cathy, picking over 10 pounds of blueberries.

What does one do with 10 pounds of blueberries, you might ask.

Well…I make a killer blueberry jam.  And I did that with 5 pounds of them.  And then…before we even picked them, back when only jam was in the plan, she kept saying that I was going to make Lemon Blueberry Scones.  This was news to me…but I seriously hate to disappoint.  So, after spending an afternoon making gluten-free sugar cookies and then…my famous blueberry jam…I got to work on some scones.

I LOVE scones, but haven’t made them in quite a long time.  But…any excuse for scones, right?  So…I got to work and this is what I baked up…

Recipe: Gluten Free & Dairy Free Lemon Blueberry Scones

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Servings: 8
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Bake 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour, plus more for hands and work surface (I used 1-2-3 Gluten Free All-Purpose)
  • 6 Tablespoons (75g) granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 cup (115g) vegan butter, cold and grated (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) coconut cream
  • 1 large egg (or egg replacer)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Adjust baking rack to the middle-low position.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.

Grate the cold butter (I use a box grater; a food processor also works).  Toss the grated butter into the flour mixture and combine it with a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the cream, egg, and vanilla together. Drizzle it over the flour mixture and then toss the mixture together with a rubber spatula until everything appears moistened.

Slowly and gently fold in the blueberries. Try your best to not overwork the dough at any point. Dough will be a little wet.

Work the dough into a ball with floured hands as best you can and transfer to a floured surface.  Press into a neat 8″ disc and cut into 8 equal wedges with a very sharp knife. Place scones at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush top with extra coconut cream and sprinkle with lemon (or plain) turbinado sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden and cooked through.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

To make the glaze, simply whisk the confectioners’ sugar and 2 Tablespoons lemon juice together until smooth. Add 1 Tablespoon of lemon zest.  Drizzle glaze over scones.

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These scones are best enjoyed right away, although leftover scones will keep at room temperature for 2 days.  These freeze well for up to three months.  Just thaw overnight in the refrigerator and heat up to your liking.

Want an amazing way to start your day…you gotta bake up some of these!!  ENJOY!

Product Review: Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts

Product: Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts – $6.59+

It’s National Donut Day.  No really…it is national donut day!  Mmmm…donuts…

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I have a soft spot in my life (and stomach…poke, poke)…for donuts.  And they aren’t something that I get to have very often.  Sure, my local bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, offers them (and sometimes donut holes) in a variety of flavors, every Saturday (and they go FAST.  Like…FAST!), I don’t always treat myself to one.  I am tomorrow…because…they have my favorite flavor…BLUEBERRY!

But I am digressing…as always.  The point is…it is a rare thing for me to get a donut.  Because, let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of places where you can easily get a gluten-free donut.  Fresh.  Hot out of the oven or fryer or whatever.

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Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts with Vanilla Icing

That being said, not too long ago, a rep for Kinnikinnick Foods contacted me about sending me a couple of their products to try.  As I am a food blogger, I never, ever turn this down.  When the box arrived, I was beyond elated to find a box of Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers and Kinnikinnick Foods NEW Gluten Free Soft Donuts with Vanilla Icing.  I put the cookies in my pantry and the donuts in my freezer, waiting for the perfect opportunity to break them out.

Hello!!  I’m lucky I was working my way through gluten-free bagels, because that meant I had these in my freezer when National Donut Day rolled around.  So, whereas prior to finding out it was National Donut Day, I was planning on opening the one pint of Ben & Jerry’s Vegan Ice Cream that I can safely eat (Chunky Monkey)…that soon became “Let’s have donuts for dessert.”

Hey, everyone at work got donuts provided by the boss from a local bakery.  I got a banana.  Yes…she brought me a banana.  I love bananas and all…but…IT. IS. NATIONAL. DONUT. DAY.  Sometimes you just take matters into your own hands…and freezer. (For the record, Annie May’s had donuts today…I just didn’t have time to drive over there).

So, after devouring dinner tonight (because I knew donuts were happening), I pulled the box out of the freezer and tore into it.  I was so excited.  DONUTS.  ON NATIONAL DONUT DAY!  Don’t mock me.  When you’re a Celiac, it’s the little things in life.

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My hand showing the true (and small) size of the Kinnikinnick Gluten Free Soft Donut

But, my excitement waned slightly (very slightly) when I pulled out the sealed package of six (6) donuts.  Because, in my head I expected this giant box to contain six amazing, Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme-sized donuts.  But…these donuts were small.  Like…three bites…amuse-bouche small.  I was a little let down.  I just expected…DONUTS…not donuts.  But…you know…it was a minor thing.  I removed a donut for my roommate and myself and tore off a packet of the vanilla icing that was included in the box.  These are super easy to prepare…microwave from frozen for about 20-30 seconds (my microwave in older than God, so I had to do 30 seconds), then drizzle with the icing pack.  Then…cram into mouth and devour.  I handed my roommate hers and she wasted no time, going on about how soft it was, how it wasn’t dense or heavy…and she licked the icing off her plate.  No joke.  Licked it.

So, the Kinnickinnik Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts are…just as advertised.  Soft.  They aren’t quite as light as a yeast donut would be, but they don’t have the heft and density of a cake donut.  They are a perfect medium between the two popular types of donuts.  The icing…is soft of like the icing that you’d drizzle over a warm toaster strudel…and added a nice sweet glaze to the donut as well.  I lifted the little donut and took a bite…

Usually when I settle in to try a new gluten-free product…I’m like…

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…and sometimes I’m surprised…and sometimes I’m disappointed. As for these…

Oh…these were definitely good.  They sort of have the flavor of a funnel cake.  No joke.  Lighter than that fried dough treat, these donuts are a sweet treat that I would have savored more, had it not disappeared within three bites.  I’ll stop ragging on the size to say…YES…these are amazing.  They have a fantastic flavor, texture, and sweetness to it.  I felt like I was eating a donut…and you can’t even tell they are frozen.  It’s donut voodoo, I’m sure.  No disgusted face.  I ate this faster than I probably should have.  I was tempted to go fix up the remaining four, but restrained myself.  It wasn’t easy…because these easily left me wanting MORE.

So, let’s take a look at what ingredients go into Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts, shall we?  These donuts are made from water, white rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, fuctose, non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening (palm oil, modified palm oil), egg whites, cellulose powder, tapioca syrup, psyllium fiber, cellulose, yeast, glycerin, salt, pure vanilla extract, enzymes, Icing (icing sugar (sugar, corn starch), water, glucose, xantham gum, sodium citrate, natural flavor, salt, locust bean gum, natural color (titanium dioxide), citric acid)).  These Soft Donuts are gluten free, dairy free, nut free, soy free, and cholesterol free.  And…they are soft, light, and fluffy donuts…with a glaze!!

As far as nutrition goes, the small Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts with Vanilla Icing aren’t bad…I don’t think…for the size of these donuts.  A serving size is one (1) donut (45 grams), and there are six (6) servings per box.  One donut will provide you with 130 calories, 4 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 23 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 8 grams sugars, and 1 gram protein.  Not filling, but also not too high in sugar either.  I was impressed, before opening the box, with the 130 calorie count, but, these donuts are about 3-4 bites…so the 130 calories is sort of right in line with the higher calorie count a regular (and normal-size) donut would hand you.  Yeah…pastries are calorie bombs, I get that.  But…NATIONAL DONUT DAY. It was totally on.  And I am not ashamed and I regret nothing.

I haven’t had a lot of Kinnikinnick Foods products, but I’m definitely open to trying more.  These donuts are just the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure.  And, don’t let my disappointment in the size fool you…these were actually really good.  I’ve seen other versions of Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Donuts (and other snacks) in regular grocery stores, so I may investigate a few more.

National Donut Day or not…these are definitely worth a taste.  So stock your freezer and be prepared to be wowed by the flavor.  Not the size…but the flavor.  And I guess, when it comes to gluten-free treats, that’s all that really matters.  Treat yourself.  And enjoy.

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!

Weekly Wrap-Up

I know, I have been horrible about these weekly posts about good, shiny things with rainbows and sprinkles and all that lot.

But the truth is…

…I’ve been busy.

Like…very busy.  On the road, racing, cooking, baking, seeing friends, living life…

That sort of busy.  The kind of busy when I get home on Sunday from finishing up any and/or all grocery shopping and errands that were ignored Friday night and Saturday due to time constraints or whatnot…and I really don’t want to do anything except sit and veg, foam roll, and watch Game of Thrones.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But…I do like my little roundups of what has been going on…so here’s one for this week.  I’ll try to be a bit more consistent…

So, what have I been doing?  Well…where to start?

1. Back-To-Back Weekend Half Marathons


Okay…I know, when coming back from a year off of injury, the last thing I should be doing is racing back-to-back long distances, right?!  Well…technically…not in my case.  My PT and I have discussed the importance of mileage as I attempt to build myself back up to a marathon distances.  I already transferred my bib for the spring one that I signed up for, and have made someone a very happy racer to have that bib and chance to be part of a marathon I have been dying to turn.  That being said, my training continues and last weekend, I was scheduled for a 16 miler…and this past weekend 13 miles.  It just so happened that last weekend was the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & Mini Marathon race.  I signed up because my friend, Deana, encouraged me to do so.  With 16 miles on the docket, I got up and ran 3 ahead of the race and then completed the last 13.1 miles in the rain…with lots of people and a medal at the end.  A couple of months ago, I signed up for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon up in Indianapolis. I ran this one back in 2012, and this year, Meb Keflezighi was not only sending off every wave of the race, but he was running from the back of the pack to the front.  HOW COOL!!  So, I signed up and went up to Indy this past Friday night to race on Saturday morning in the humidity. That being said, I had my first completely pain-free race and came within 1:06 of matching my PR time for a half.  I never did get to meet Meb though.  He started just after I finished…and I beat his time.  Something tells me that he wasn’t here to all-out run this one, though, LOL!  So, I’d say my return to running has been smart, slow, and steady.  It’s been fun having races on the schedule again.  I am not running any races this year for time or for PRs…just for fun.  And that’s making a big difference in how I approach going into them.  But it is nice to see that my fitness and strength haven’t gone to hell in the forced year off.

2. Captain America: Civil War
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I am totally #TeamIronMan.  My roommate is totally #TeamCap.  So, we have our own little Civil War as it is.  That being said, today we went to the movie theater and saw Captain America: Civil War and it was everything I expected and more.  I hate seeing a divided Avengers…but I love where they took this movie.  I loved how everything played out and how they are setting up for future films on the way.  If you haven’t seen it yet…GO.  Do not hesitate.  Do not pass GO or collect $200. (Monopoly reference there, LOL!)  Buy a movie ticket (I know they are expensive…but OMG…WORTH IT) and sit your butt down in a movie theater seat with popcorn and a drink and just…ENJOY IT!

#TeamStark forever!

3. The AlterG Treadmill
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Welcome to the spaceship!!  That’s what AlterG tweeted back to me after I blogged about my experience running on an AlterG Treadmill.  First of all, this is forever happening.  Seriously, I am going to pay for package minutes to run on this thing because it is going to mean I can train like I need to and take all the pounding off my body and come out of it faster, stronger, and injury free.  It’s totally worth it.  After getting to take a spin, as it were, and test it out…I can see why so many elite runners make use of the AlterG when recovering from hard races and/or from injury.  This machine has forever changed my way of training and recovering.  I am very fortunate that my physical therapist office has one to use.  Seriously…life changing.  Regular treadmills tear me up.  This one…I could fly…so fast…and when I was finished…nothing even twinged at me.  LIFE CHANGING!

4. NuttZo
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I posted week or so ago about the Spring Sale going on with NuttZo.  I’m a #NuttZoAmbassador and decided I would take advantage of said sale.  If you missed out, I even offered my ambassador code for a 20% discount.  Stay tuned, as I am certain more sales will be headed this way.  That being said…I purchased the big jar of the Chocolate Power Fuel and then one of each of their available varieties: Original Peanut (Smooth), Original Peanut (Crunchy), Chocolate Original Peanut (Smooth), Chocolate Original Peanut (Crunchy), Power Fuel (Smooth), and (my personal favorite) Power Fuel (Crunchy).  If you are unfamiliar with NuttZo…you’re missing out.  Nuttzo is a medley of seven organic nuts and seeds…all combined to make a healthy, omega-rich, organic nut butter.  I love being a product ambassador for this amazing nut butter.  It’s pricey…but it’s worth it.  Take a chance and try it out!  You can find it in local stores or find buy it in their online store. #NuttZoFanatic #NuttZoLove #EatNuttZo

5.  Re-reading the Harry Potter Books
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I blame the upcoming release of a movie, the new book coming out, and the fact that the best time I had in Universal Studios a few weeks back was at both Harry Potter Worlds.  All of that has spawned me to revisit the entire book series.  In fact, I just wrapped up the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and will be starting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this week.  SO looking forward to it.  This re-read was a long time coming.  Been meaning to do this for awhile.

6. The new Goo Goo Dolls album, “Boxes”
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I have been a fan of the Goo Goo Dolls since…well…forever.  No joke. I was with them in their punk music days, and then stuck with them when they went mainstream rock.  I love their music.  And, somehow, they sneaked an album out on me. Seriously.  But after my race on Saturday, I went and picked it up.  This album is AMAZING.  I have listened to it all the way through at least 4 times this weekend.  If you haven’t heard it yet…listen to it…purchase it…enjoy it.  Nice to have some new material from them.

7. Repaying an Act of Kindness


So, just before the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon…like…Thursday morning (the race was Saturday), my Garmin 620…died.  It refused to charge, hold a charge, or turn on.  I was not a happy runner.  I posted about it on Facebook and had a lot of beautiful souls offer to let me borrow their watches for the race.  But, one of the race ambassadors, and a lady I came to know and count as a friend during the whole Norton Training Program for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & Mini Marathon, Melissa, offered just to give me one.  It was a no-frills watch. In fact, it was the original Garmin I had before I got the 620, so I even knew how to work it.  She didn’t ask for me to pay for it, she just said she’d give it to me.  So, in order to repay her, I do what I do best…I made her Lemon Blossoms, picked up a soft pretzel from Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, and delivered them to her that Wednesday around lunch.  It was nice to talk for a moment about our upcoming plans, and she and I are going to take a run together soon.  I love having someone join me on my morning runs.  We’ll have a good time.  This woman has a big heart and a beautiful soul.  I am so happy I got to know her.

8. The Return of Sweet ‘N Savory Food Truck
sweetnsavory
So…a month or so ago, I went online to find out when Sweet ‘N Savory would be returning to Louisville to serve up their amazing gluten-free crepes.  I know they had mentioned they had their first event planned for April, so I wanted to be in on it.  But, what I found instead was a message that the owners were pursuing their first love…training horses, and would not be returning.  I was happy for them, that they were making a good living and doing what they love…but selfishly, I was sad because their crepes and their gelato were like none other.  Well, this weekend while I was on the road, I saw messages about them being in Louisville and serving.  Turns out, they are under new ownership.  The new owner is Brandon Lutsch, who is very familiar with the importance of gluten-free foods as his wife is a Celiac.  I am going to go and introduce myself once they have their May calendar up.  I hope to become as good friends with them as I was with the original owners, Richard and Ashley!  I can’t wait to get my hands on a crepe!!  I’ve been crazing!!

And that’s a wrap for these past few weeks.  Logging off for some decaf coffee and some Game of Thrones.

Have you eaten anything fun, new, and exciting?  Do you have a favorite food truck?  Have you ever done or been a recipient of a random act of kindness?

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
schnacks
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?