Random Observation…

Something I discovered today…

I should never, ever, EVER skip morning coffee.  I had 2 cups of green tea…but it just wasn’t the same.  I do not function well without my coffee.

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I was having massive coffee withdrawal brain fog.  Which…in many ways is probably not healthy either…but I mean…I was making really stupid errors and doing really stupid things.  ALL THE STUPID THINGS!

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Now we know…and knowing is half the battle…

…but first…

COFFEE!

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Run For The Berries 5K – Starlight, IN (May 28, 2016)

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Me crossing the finish line of the Run For The Berries 5K – Starlight, Indiana

Race: Run for the Berries 5K

Place: Starlight, Indiana

Date: May 28, 2016

Time: 22:24

There are a lot of things people run for.  For some…beer.  For some…donuts.  For some…pizza.  For others…wine.  For me…FRUIT!!  I love fruit.  There is nothing quite as amazing as a giant bowl of cold, wet watermelon after a hot summer run.  In fact, this is my favorite thing to eat in the summer after I run…whether it’s a short weekday run or that long slow distance on the weekend!

So, trust me, whenever the Run For The Berries 5K rolls around every year…I’m always eager to take part.  Why?  Because strawberries…EVERYWHERE.  Yes…I will run for berries.  Hell, I’ll run for any type of fruit, honestly.  YUMMY!!  And while you don’t get any for free, there is nothing better than rewarding yourself after a hard run with a big bowl of strawberries and a cold frozen strawberry drink.

I wasn’t actually signed up this year for the Run For The Berries 5K in Starlight, Indiana this year.  Like I said, every race has sort of been a last-minute decision thing due to the hip issues and how I never know exactly how I’m going to feel from one day to another.  I haven’t actually participated in the Run For The Berries 5K since 2013 (when I was in my best racing shape…and at my fastest).  In 2014, I was in Buffalo, New York for the Buffalo Marathon, and last year I wasn’t running anything…at all.  I was a miserable pile of non-running self-pity and hurty hip things.  So, it was nice to come back to this one.  This is my fourth time running this local 5K and I will always do it whenever I am able.

Today…despite some slight twinging in the hip first thing in the morning…I was going to do it.  I filled out the registration form at work on Friday and had it all set to go in the morning.  Cathy offered to pay my $25 registration fee because…bills…bills have been plaguing me recently and I am slightly broke at the moment.  So that was awesome.  So I got up early (4:00 am) to get my PT stretches, dynamic warmup, and some plyometrics in prior to the race.  I did my core work as well.  And then made a dash (in the car) up to Kroger because I needed a pre-race banana.  This is not a want…this is a NEED.  I went ahead and grabbed a few other necessary groceries while I was out.  Got home just before 6:00 am.  Cathy and I had some cereal for breakfast with some coffee (for the kid and adult in each of us) and proceeded to keep saying we needed to get off the couch and get moving, but neither of us really making an effort.  Ah well.  The good thing was, any tenderness or soreness in the hip had worked itself out…so I was feeling good.

Teeth were brushed and I put my hair up in pigtails and got out my Bondi Band of choice.  I went ahead and put some water in my Kara Goucher water bottle and popped a NUUN tablet in it for some electrolytes before Cathy grabbed the sign, the race bag, and we headed out for the race.

We left early, because Cathy wanted to make sure we had plenty of time for her to get lost on the way there.  We don’t go up that way often, but, there are signs that point the right way.  The drive there was gorgeous with the sunrise and the beautiful houses out in the country.  It’s always a nice ride up to Starlight.  We followed the signs to the little field we always park in at the race and got situated into a spot.

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Pinned up and ready to run the Run For The Berries 5K – Starlight, Indiana

From there, it was into the main hall of the Strawberry Festival grounds to get officially registered for the race.  I went up to the table with cash and the form already filled out…got my race bib (#180) and was given a t-shirt in the size I requested.  The shirts were gray this year.  And back to being in tech material.  YAY!!  I got pinned up, went to use the bathroom, and then we meandered around the grounds for a little while to kill some time.  On the way out, I saw Renee from my spin class heading in.  She wasn’t feeling good, but was running with a friend of hers who is training for her first triathlon.  So, that’s really fun.  We chatted for a moment and then she went to register and I went to meander, waiting for my good friend, Michelle, and her little boy, Liam, to arrive.

And then I ran into my friend Amber, whose husband Tim was running (and was 2nd male overall) in the race.  Amber and I both have been dealing with hip labrum tears.  She had surgery on hers…I didn’t.  We’ve bonded over this.  I’ve met a lot of good friends through having to sit out of running…and it has made me better for it.  Amber and I are going to start riding bikes together once I get more comfortable on mine.  YAY!  Her kids were anxious for her to come and join them…so we parted ways and she said she’d cheer for me at the finish.

I love my friends.

We saw a lot of the fast runner people doing their strides and warming up prior to the race.  So we headed that way so I could stretch.  I think I did a quad stretch on each leg and called it a day, HA!!  I’m so awful about stretching.  We were all starting to move up to the orange cones that marked the start of the race.  It was at this point that Michelle and Liam showed up, just in time, which made me SO happy!!  We waved and they went to stand with Cathy just beyond the start point.  Our race organizer got on the bullhorn and started to give some information about the race.  Like male runners at the finish will have white cards to fill out; female runners will have pink; walkers will have yellow.  OH…and if you are registered as a walker…and you run down a hill…you are now a runner.  It made me laugh.  And everyone else.  Then…we had to wait for HIS Garmin to find satellites. He did…and the count was given.  On your marks…runners set…and then the horn.

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Total game face on at the start of the Run For The Berries 5K – Starlight, Indiana

I took off…giving a nod to my cheering section.  It was total game face though.  Which is not like me, LOL!!  Seriously.  I’m so laid back but…game face.  The first mile is a series of rolling hills…nothing too major.  I was running comfortably, but speedy.  I could tell I was speedy.  In fact, at one point, I was thinking…”Wow…I’m ahead of Lynn.”  And the moment I thought it, she passed me quite easily, not even breathing hard.  HA!!  That will teach me.  Anyway…I was having a nice run…no pain…feeling good…not worrying over anything but holding steady and preparing for the hills ahead.  Mile 1…perfectly measured…my watch beeped right at the marker.  Turns out…it was a new fastest mile for me… I just wasn’t aware of it at the time.

Zen racer.  I never look at my watch or obsess over pace.  I run better when I don’t know.

I made the turn onto Engle Road and started into the second mile.  I loved this part of the run because, soon after making the turn, I scooted past a cute little girl running with her dad.  She was saying something about how what she loved about today’s run was she was running with older people.  I turned my head and said, “You’re doing an amazing job!”  She thanked me and said, “How old are you?!”  She was aiming for first in her age division.  HA!!  I told her I was 35 and she was relieved.  She was in the 14 and under group…and definitely under 14.  That was an ego boost.  This mile also brings in more rolling hills, but a few more downhills than uphills.  We ran past Hubers Family Farm and continued down Engle Road.  And then I made the turn into Mile 2.  This is where the water stop is, but I just kept on running.

Because right there…RIGHT THERE…on Hill Road…is THE HILL.  It’s like my friend, Amber, said later on Facebook…it’s not just the hill but WHERE the hill is in that race.  At this point, your legs are tired and this hill is HUGE.  I mean…it’s a steep, steep climb.  So, I did my best to run up it, still lacking the power and strength that I used to have.  I’m working on that…kinda.  I’ll be working on that more.  Hills might slow me down…my legs might not be able to maintain a fast pace for a long period of time…but maybe soon they will.  It all takes time.  And I’m sometimes impatient, LOL!  After the hill, it’s just a few rollers and a couple of smaller climbs to the finish.  You actually finish this race going uphill.

I could see it in the distance and I attempted to pick up the pace, but my legs were shot for the day.  The best I could do was just focus.  I had runners pass me up as I got a bit closer…which always pisses me off…they were all men…

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I don’t always drink a frozen strawberry drink after a 5K…but when I do, I’m at the Strawberry Festival!

I heard Cathy and Michelle and Liam all shouting and cheering.  And as I ran by, I hear Amber yelling, “GO KAREN!”  I really do have awesome friends.  So, I pushed…and I saw I was in the 22 minutes…but it ticked past my 22:02 PR…and just ticked past the 2013 finish time of 22:19.  But only by six minutes.  I was tired, and hot, and a sweaty mess when I stopped…but I was so happy with that run. It was challenging and it was amazing and I came out of it without any pain.  Not even a twinge.

I was handed a pink card at the finish showing I was the 8th woman to finish.  Cathy said I definitely placed in my age division.  We thought that in 2013 too, and I ran it faster, and didn’t…so I wasn’t going to hold my breath.  We took some pictures and then meandered over to the festival to get a nice, cooling frozen strawberry drink.  And our big bowl of strawberries (Cathy & Michelle got strawberry shortcakes).  We went and took a seat at a table.  Liam went to play on the slides and we sort of hung out, enjoyed our strawberry treats, and found a lot to laugh and talk about.

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You can’t do the Run For The Berries 5K and not eat a big bowl of strawberries!  FOR REAL!

It was taking a lot longer than I remember to get to awards, so we decided to go hit up the booths at the festival.  Cathy bought me this amazing crocheted Wonder Woman doll.  This woman knits there fantastic dolls from Disney movies and other things.  There was only one Wonder Woman doll.  It was meant to be mine.  There was also only one Captain America doll.  Cathy went back and purchased that while I got her a purple star crown with blue and purple ribbons to wear.  Seriously…we really are adults.  Liam got his face painted for the first time and did a fantastic job sitting there while it was done.  Then we went to watch Liam play some games and I purchased a thing of strawberries with a salted caramel dipping sauce.  THIS. WAS. LIFE. CHANGING.  I love salted caramel and was the first person to get this dip that day.  I am so glad I did.  It isn’t a combination that I ever considered. There were the usual suspects…chocolate and white chocolate. But you wave salted caramel ANYTHING at me…and I am buying it.  THIS WAS AMAZING.  I’m in love.

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I posed with a lot of stuff today.  Someone needs to make me a spokesperson. LOL!  This is the knitted Wonder Woman doll!

As Liam finished up his games, the announcement that the awards were going to be given out was announced.  We made our way over there and saw all the male awards handed out first.  My friend Amber’s hubby, Tim, won 2nd overall male, because he’s stupid fast…and amazing.  And then the female awards were given out.  And I was announced as the first female in my age division.  WOOT WOOT!!  Considering I didn’t place the previous time I ran..and ran it faster, this was a nice surprise.  Exciting stuff.  Cathy, Michelle and Liam all cheered loudly as I went to receive my award, this cute little pint glass thing.

And that was a wrap for the day.  Liam wanted to go check out the bouncy houses and Cathy and I needed to go grocery shopping and hit up a few spots in Louisville.  So, we parted ways and I went home to shower and change.

As it stands, the official results of the Run For The Berries 5K are that I finished in 22:24.  Not a PR…but I clocked my first mile in 6:48, which is awesome.  Now if only I could maintain that sort of pace.  But these legs just aren’t there and aren’t ready.  Maybe one day.  Maybe not!  Either way…super proud.  I was the 8th female to cross the line and came in 1st in my division.  If the official results ever get posted…I’ll update this accordingly.

Already looking forward to doing it again.

 

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!!

Hawaiian Hau’oli

Aloha!

So, last week, for a wonderful week, I was fortunate enough to spend some time on the two of the Hawaiian islands.  The original purpose – to run the Kauai Marathon.

But then…I fractured my ankle.

Trying to start a new trend in footwear, perhaps? This is Bootsie, my new friend for the next 6-8 weeks. MEH!
Trying to start a new trend in footwear, perhaps? This is Bootsie, my new friend for the next 6-8 weeks. MEH!

Yep.  Fractured my freakin’ ankle three days before leaving for Hawaii.  SUCK!!  I tried to put a positive spin on things…I really did.  At least I was still going to Hawaii.  Yeah…it didn’t really work for me then either…but I was trying.  To help make this painful adjustment, I started a Twitter account for Bootsie (the boot I’m forced to wear for 6-8 weeks) to document traveling adventures.  I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason…so there better be a damn good reason for this.  That’s all I’m saying.

The first leg of the trip was flying out to San Diego.  This gave us pretty much a full day to adjust to a bit of the time change (West Coast = 3 hours behind EST; Hawaii = 6 hours behind EST) and break up what was already a long ass flight to the islands.  We’d depart San Diego before it was bright and early to get to Kauai by mid-morning.  It was a plan.  The ankle just meant we had to depart from the hotel sooner because I wasn’t moving anywhere very fast.  So…my traveling companions, Cathy & Jenn, were both very helpful and very, very patient with me.  And, I didn’t complain much.  I mean, complaining won’t change the situation.  I just apologized…a lot…for being slow.

The first order of business after getting to San Diego and checking into the hotel to drop off luggage was…lunch.  Not having prepared for lunch, I ate a protein bar, while my fellow travelers ate tacos from a local taco stand.  SO cool.  But after that, I required my morning cup of coffee…so we sought out and found a great local establishment called…

Lestat’s Coffee House, San Diego, California

Lestat’s is one of those places that is open 24/7, 365 days of the year.  YES…it is always open!  Holiday?  No worries…they’re open!  Lestat’s Coffee House has a few signature drinks on their menu…and as it was pretty toasty in San Diego, I wasn’t feeling the hot coffee that day.  Neither were my traveling friends.  So, they each got coffee freezes (think blended drinks!) while I opted for one of Lestat’s Signature Drinks done up all refreshing and cold.  Jenn got the Winter Raspberry Freeze ($5.25), which is a ice blended raspberry mocha.  I took one little sip.  WINNING!  Cathy had me pick for her, and I choose the Arctic Squirrel Freeze ($5.25) for her, which is an ice blended hazelnut mocha (similar to the Hazelnut Turtle drink she loves at our local cafe…just…blended and cold).  As for me…I went with the Iced Arctic Joey ($4.55)…which is coconut, almond and chocolate.  I had mine made with coconut milk as well (+$1.00).  In essence, it was a liquid almond joy.  And it was delicious.  There were bits of coconut floating in it.  I think I was just starting to get in the Aloha spirit by getting something with coconut.  Needless to say…smooth, creamy, delicious.  Nothing overwhelmed the drink, and it wasn’t heavy.  It was pure liquid gold.  And refreshing.  And tasty.  And in the end, coffee should always be tasty.  I was beyond happy with this decision.

Lestat's Coffee House Iced Almond Joey with Coconut Milk
Lestat’s Coffee House Iced Almond Joey with Coconut Milk

Upon arriving in Hawaii…after the rental car debacle…wherein we learned…convertible is fun…but not when you have a fractured ankle.  We got it sorted…and switched out the fun and stylish convertible for…a Ford Fusion.  Yeah…definitely not the way we had envisioned traveling, but it gave us more leg room and some more storage space for our big-ass luggage.  LOL!  After checking into Pono Kai Resort in Kauai…coffee was needed.

It’s always coffee with me.  LOL!

So, we scoped out and fell in love with a local café called Ha Coffee Bar.  And we went back every day we were on the island of Kauai…save for Sunday, because they are closed.

Ha Coffee Bar, Lihue, Hawaii

It was love at first “Aloha” when it came to Ha Coffee Bar.  I have nothing but warm fuzzies when I think back to every stop at Ha Coffee Bar, each morning, first thing, while on Kauai.  It was a bit of a drive from the resort, but always worth it.  I tried three different things on the three days we were there that they were open.  And, not once, was I ever disappointed in my choice.  Ha Coffee Bar is a café that is built to resemble an old-school bar.  No joke.  Their iced drinks are even mixed in martini shakers.  LOVE.  This set-up allows them to showcase and sell products and items, such as pour-overs, that might not typically be served at a café.  Ha Coffee Bar primarily serves espresso coffee, cold brewed coffee, pour-over and French press coffee.  The variety in the types of coffee they serve allows for different origins and price points, which also helps minimize waste as they don’t have coffee sitting and going stale…high quality coffee and flexibility that allows customers to explore different blends, flavor profiles and methods of making coffee.  Coffee love.  And boy…did I LOVE this.  On the first day there, I stayed pretty basic.  I got a Salted Caramel French Pressed Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk.  I loved that they added the flavor to the steamed milk itself, and then gave me the pitcher of leftover almond milk in case I needed more of it in the drink.  But it was perfect the way they gave it to me.  And the French pressed coffee…OMG…so good.  Jenn got a simple Iced Hazelnut Latte and Cathy got an Iced Peppermint Mocha.  So, on the next morning, I noticed they had signature drinks hanging up near the register…so I decided to give one of those a try.  I had it narrowed down to two…but opted for their drink the Bee Sting.  The Bee Sting is simply Espresso, Coconut Milk, Honey and Cinnamon.  I got it iced…as the humidity was killer that morning.  Cathy got their take on an Iced Black & White Mocha (Zebra).  And it was, absolutely, hands down, my favorite coffee drink of the trip.  I wish I could have had it again.  I would have gotten it again.  The coconut milk gave it this rich flavor, the honey sweetened it, the cinnamon lent a hint of spice…and espresso…got me moving for sure.  Simple…yet SO good.  SO very good.  In fact, on our last day there, this is the drink that Jenn opted to get after trying mine.  With Ha closed on Sunday, we had to go elsewhere, but on our last day on Kauai…we were there in the morning and I was getting another signature drink…Liquid Sunshine, which was cold brew coffee, coconut syrup, and coconut milk.  DELICIOUS!!  Not Bee Sting delicious…but delicious.  I was quite happy with it.  Not something I can get here…anywhere…so that was most of the draw for this drink in particular.  The last morning there, Cathy got the Iced Hazelnut Mocha and a Pineapple Cream Cheese Scone to enjoy for breakfast.  I still say it today…back in Louisville, Kentucky…that I miss Ha Coffee Bar.  It made that much of an impression.

Ha Coffee's Salted Caramel Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk, Iced Bee Sting, and Iced Liquid Sunshine
Ha Coffee’s Salted Caramel Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk, Iced Bee Sting, and Iced Liquid Sunshine

 

Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream, Lihue, Hawaii

I have KONG Radio to thank for the discovery of Skinny Mike’s.  As we were driving the island of Kauai on Saturday, just enjoying beaches and the like…an advertisement for Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream came on.  And it advertised ice cream, sorbets, and vegan ice cream.  They had my attention, and the attention of both Jenn and Cathy too.  I looked them up…and took note of where it was located.  And we vowed to go there and check them out.  At least once, yes?

And so, Saturday evening, after splitting a gluten-free pizza at a local chain…we headed over to Harbor Mall, where Skinny Mike’s is located.  We parked and marched up the stairs to the little shop.  Online I had taken a peak at the flavors, and sort of had my heart set on the Pineapple Cream.  However…they didn’t have that flavor.  So…I was left to look over the offered flavors while Jenn & Cathy made their choices.  We each got regular scoops ($3.49) of our flavor choices.  Cathy went with the Mint Chocolate Chip as it is one of her favorites…anywhere.  Jenn won with their signature flavor…a local classic…Macadamia Nut.  Hers was so good, we went back the last night there and each got a scoop of the Macademia Nut.  That’s how good that was.  For my first trip there, without the Pineapple flavor being available…I went with the suggestion of Coconut Cream.  The Coconut Cream ice cream was the perfect level of coconut flavor.  No bits of raw coconut…just the flavor infused in a creamy scoop of ice cream goodness.  It was delicious.  Smooth.  And melted fast.  Ah…coconut based things…I didn’t mind though.  Not one bit.  I eat frozen desserts rather quickly regardless.  LOL!  We were so impressed with the ice cream there that, as I said, we all went back to get the signature Macadamia Nut flavor on our last night on Kauai.  Worth it.  That was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  Just…delicious.  I miss it.  I want some more of the Macadamia Nut flavor…it’s a craving that hits now.  Now that I know it exists…but can’t get it anywhere else…but there.

Skinny Mike's Hawaiian Ice Cream's Coconut Cream and Macadamia Nut Ice Cream
Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream’s Coconut Cream and Macadamia Nut Ice Cream

 

Java Kai, Kapaa, Hawaii

What happens when  your favorite Hawaiian coffee stop on Kauai is closed on Sunday?  You have to find a new place to get that caffeine hit.  And this was what we were left to do on Sunday morning.  Sunday.  When I should have been running a marathon.  When, instead, I was hobbling around Kapaa in search of coffee.  The stop at the little food truck-like coffee place was…not going to work for everyone.  No one was really happy with the menu options…so…we backtracked to a spot that Jenn spotted and had looked up online.  It wasn’t far from the resort.  It was a worthwhile stop in the end.  And, in the end, we all ended up with a bit of breakfast with our coffee as well.  How?  Because this place had some gluten-free options on the menu and in the bakery case.  SCORE!  This meant we could have something a little more substantial at the start of the day, instead of the meager protein bars or yogurts back at the resort.  It would mean eating better now and not making poor choices later.  And so…Jenn got one of the bars from the bakery case…the Aloha Bar ($3.75), I think.  For her caffeinated goodness that morning, she got the Iced Macanut Latte ($4.50).  Cathy went for the Breakfast Burrito ($10.50), which includes eggs, roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese, which she got with the mango-chipotle salsa.  For her drink, she got the Iced Hazelnut Mocha ($4.70).  She at hers there at the café as she was the driver.  As for me…they had gluten-free English muffins.  HELLO!  So I ended up getting the Gluten Free English Muffin with Cream Cheese ($3.95), which they kindly toasted for me…looks like in a pan…no cross-contamination.  And for the drink, I got the Iced Macanut Latte ($4.50) with Almond Milk (+$0.75).  Jenn and I had ours to go and I happily noshed away on a Glutino English Muffin with a light spread of cream cheese.  The Macanut Latte…macadamia nut flavor…espresso…nutty goodness.  And it was just the perfect drink that morning.  It was supposed to be marathon morning…and I needed a distraction.  This food, while simple and basic…was just what I needed.  The drive along the coast helped too!

Java Kai's Gluten Free English Muffin (with Cream Cheese) and Macanut Latte with Almond Milk
Java Kai’s Gluten Free English Muffin (with Cream Cheese) and Macanut Latte with Almond Milk

 

Hanalei Bay, Hanalei, Hawaii

We visited a lot of beaches while visiting Hawaii.  I mean, that’s part of the point when you visit an island, right?  But, I think, above all others, my favorite one we stopped at, and spent the most time at, was Hanalei Bay.  This beach is stunning.  A beautiful 2-mile long crescent of white sand, nestled beneath a breathtaking range of mountains.  The water was relatively calm that day, with some small waves crashing against the shore.  Despite my new friend…Bootsie…being on, we were determined to get away and enjoy the day.  Anything to keep my mind off the fact that I should have been running.  Hanalei Bay is a great beach for walking and body surfing.  Calm waves, lifeguards, and a great coast line.  I managed a few solo ventures along the waterline of the beach, just needing to at least move a little…minus the boot.  I took it off for beach time.  Strange tan lines were not on the agenda.  I was very careful of where I stepped and the movement of the sand…and would pause if a wave came up and rolled over my legs…because that undertow could be a bit strong and throw me off balance.  It was here that I realized my surf lessons the following day were not going to happen, as much as I wanted to give it a try.  It was just not going to be physically possible for me to get up on a surf board.  I was brokenhearted over this…but shrugged it off as no big deal.  These were the cards I was dealt.  Suck it up, cupcake…you’re in Hawaii!

Me and Bootsie at Hanalei Bay
Me and Bootsie at Hanalei Bay

After some walking and some laying on the beach…we got dressed and headed off for the next venture.  Which tunred out to be a good thing.  Heavy rains started soon after we had changed…and soon, Jenn and I realized just how sunburned we had gotten.  I don’t think Jenn slapped on any sunscreen.  I had…but the burn was in those places where clothes met skin or that strings were located.  I was trying to avoid strange tan lines…and yet…that is what I ended up with in the end.

That being said…for a moment, I forgot about the ankle…and the boot…and I just enjoyed the perfect afternoon at the perfect beach.

JoJo’s Shave Ice, Hanalei, Hawaii

I have my good friend Harry Cooke to thank for the journey, while in Hanalei, to JoJo’s Shave Ice.  He had mentioned it to me in a message on Facebook…and we were right there!!  And with the rain pouring down now, it gave us a good excuse to not sit in a car and try to avoid the flooding roads.  It gave us some time to hope the rain would pass and we could do more exploring.  The rain didn’t pass.  It was with us the rest of the time on the North Shore.  However, after a bit of a short (hobbling, for me) spring from the rental car to the little storefront that the Hanalei JoJo’s Shave Ice operates out of…we knew we were in for a treat.  The original JoJo’s began in Waimea in 1992, the same year that Hurricane Iniki landed on Kauai.  That store is stil there today and still has the original JoJo’s sign.  The goal of JoJo’s…to offer the ultimate in Shave Ice on Kauai…which is a true Hawaiian treat.  When they expanded into Hanalei, they took the JoJo’s traditions and secret recipes along…and introduced the smaller “junior size,” which closely matches the normal serving size of other shave ice venues throughout Hawaii.  JoJo’s doesn’t use commercially made syrups.  They, instead, carefully make up their own syrups, with a lot less sugar and more flavor than the commercially used ones by other shave ice businesses.  And…no corn syrups either.  They also have upgraded all their locations with the best ice machines on Kauai, making for an unmatched, fluffy shave.  LOVE.  The three of us each got the Junior Sizes ($4.50).  And they let you choose up to 4-5 flavors.  I don’t remember what Jenn got…but it had cherry…and perhaps lime?  I can’t recall.  Cathy got Root Beer, Lemon and Grape Shave Ice.  And I opted for two of my favorite flavors…Watermelon and Strawberry Shave Ice.  Of course, now looking back, I wish I opted for something more…local…like mango or something.  Next time.  But the shave ice at JoJo’s was huge…filling…and amazingly packed with flavor.  I can see why it’s been open for 23 years.

30 ounces of Watermelon and Strawberry flavored goodness from JoJo's Shave Ice
30 ounces of Watermelon and Strawberry flavored goodness from JoJo’s Shave Ice

 

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café, Kalaheo, Hawaii

I know that technically Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café should have gotten a full review, as it was our place to catch a bite for lunch…on Monday afternoon.  However, it was a hot day…and the humidity was really doing a number on me.  And while there were a few options for a gluten-free vegetarian on the menu, what sounded really, really good was the Spinach and Kauai Greens Salad ($10.95).  And the reason that this didn’t warrant a Restaurant Review post was…it was a salad I could have made at home.  Honestly.  But this was what I wanted.  The Spinach and Kauai Greens Salad is a blend of fresh grown Kailani Farm greens, served with crisp spinach and topped off with strawberries and candied pecans.  I kept the feta cheese and held the side of warm flat bread for obvious reasons.  It came with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  And it was delicious.  Light, but filling.  And cooling.  And just flat-out what I was really wanting that miserably humid day.  But…it was a salad I could make…and therefore…it garners a mention here…but the restaurant itself is cozy and has a lot of great, fresh-made, delicious sandwiches, salads, soups, etc, to choose from.  And I loved sitting in there, listening to runners who had run the day before discuss the marathon and half marathon…looking at the different food items coming out of the kitchen to each table.  Beautiful setting, beautiful food…and tasty too.  For the record, Cathy got the Hot Pastrami Sandwich, which contained grilled onions, mushrooms, and melted Swiss cheese on toasted bread.  She got it with the much raved about Garlic Cilantro Fries…which after seeing her and Jenn devour…made me really wish I could have had those.  Not safe though…not for me.  Darn it.

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café's Spinach & Kauai Greens Salad
Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café’s Spinach & Kauai Greens Salad

 

USS Arizona Memorial – Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii

This was one ONE place that I had to visit while in Hawaii, and the main and primary reason we even island hopped over to O’ahu instead of just hanging tight on the beautiful island of Kauai.  Honolulu is definitely a hopping city and much more urban…think LA and NYC.  But this…this stop was…important.  To all three of us.  The USS Arizona Memorial is the number one visitor destination in Hawaii, drawing millions of people from all over the world to see where World War II began for the United States on December 7, 1941.  Visitors are free to explore the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center, which was recently expanded from the original 3 acres to 17 acres, and is now operated by the National Park Service.  Admission and parking is free to all visitors.  Over 2000 tickets are given out free per day on a first come, first serve basis.  We had to check our bags before entering the historic site, so Jenn and I did that while Cathy went to get the tickets she reserved online for us.  We were set for the final shuttle out, at 2:45 pm.  It was the hottest day in Honolulu…and with all the metal and concrete, we were literally melting out in the sun while walking around the ground.  We ducked into the museum, but it was even hotter in there.  Bottles of water were purchased and Cathy and I downed ours before we were put on an earlier shuttle, the 2:30 pm, to head out to the memorial.  A US Navy boat taxied us out to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is built over the remains of the sunken battleship, the final resting place of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces.  The memorial itself was relatively quiet upon disembarking and walking over to it.  You can still see the oil leaking out of the actual ship that is buried beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor.  It is moving and touching.  And the memorial is beautiful and humbling.  And I am so glad that we went.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

 

Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, Hawaii

Two words…

DOLE WHIP.

DOLE FREAKIN’ WHIP!!  That was the primary reason to venture out to the Dole Plantation in Wahaiwa.  It was a bit of a journey…a long drive, but well worth it.  The Dole Plantation originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, before opening up to the public as “Hawaii’s ‘Pineapple Experience'” in 1989.  Another one of O’ahu’s most popular visitor attractions, the Dole Plantation provides activities for the entire family, including the Pineapple Express ($8.25/adult), the Plantation Garden Tour ($5.00/adult), and the Pineapple Garden Maze ($6.00/adult).  None of which we did…due to the cost that was associated with each one and the warm, humid weather that made us want to stick to the air conditioning.  What we did do, however, was shop at the HUGE gift shop, which carries a wide variety of Dole Plantation Gifts, local favorites, foods, and refreshments…including DOLE WHIP!!  You can even purchase a fresh pineapple to take home.  I wish I had.  The pineapple in Hawaii is freakin’ incredible.  I did some shopping, buying a few minor things like Dole Pineapple hard candy and a magnet.  Easy to transport and all.  And then, we went over to The Plantation Grille to purchase a bowl each of the world famous Dole Whip ($5.25).  It was a large serving, which I loved, and devoured enthusiastically.  Better than Disney, which is one of the few places Dole Whip is available.  This was…amazing and I wish I had gone back for seconds.  Dole Whip, by the way, is vegan and gluten free.  LOVE!!  It’s just pure frozen treat love.

Dole Whip from The Dole Plantation's Plantation Grille
Dole Whip from The Dole Plantation’s Plantation Grille

 

Panalu’u Beach Park and the Random Pineapple Roadside Stand, Hauula, Hawaii

Welcome to two of the most random stops we made on our trek around the North Shore of O’ahu.  Panalu’u Beach Park is located on O’ahu’s windward coast and has this strip of narrow, sandy beach.  The nearshore ocean bottom is shallow and has a reef, so swimming conditions here are poor.  This was a clam day at this particular beach when we pulled over to check it out.  Cathy went wading…and the water looked so refreshing (another humid and hot day!), that I took off Bootsie and kicked off my flip-flop to go wading in the surf myself.  My friend Jenn snapped my favorite picture of me on this entire trip here…with the gorgeous blue water and the white sand on the beach.  As I said on my Instagram…”Make only memories…Leave only footprints…Kill only time…”

Me on Punalu'u Beach Park (THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE!)
Me on Punalu’u Beach Park (THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE!)

From there, we went hunting for a shrimp place, Romey’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, that the lady at Enterprise told Cathy about after we first arrived in Honolulu, when she mentioned we would be heading up to the North Shore.  Along the way, I had been hunting for mangos and we found a stand that advertised them.  We pulled into this dodgy little roadside stand, only to learn that they were out of mangos.  The weather had ended the season early.  I was bummed.  BUT…we did purchase a fresh pineapple there, so we purchased one for $5.00, and watched as this little old lady had it peeled and sliced in less that 2 minutes…bagged…and ready for us to take away.  We wasted no time, after climbing into the car, trying it out.  So fresh…so juicy…so amazing.  Hands down, the best pineapple I have eaten in my life.  Anywhere.  And I’ve had a lot of pineapple.  We did find Romy’s…and Jenn and Cathy split a plate of the Garlic and Butter Shrimp.  They ate that and I ate a good 2/3 (if not more) of the pineapple.  They helped a little after they were done with their fresh seafood.

Best.  Pineapple.  Purchase.  EVER!

BEST PINEAPPLE EVER from a random roadside stand along the North Shore of O'ahu! They peeled and chopped it right there!
BEST PINEAPPLE EVER from a random roadside stand along the North Shore of O’ahu! They peeled and chopped it right there!

 

Chief’s Luau, Waimanalo, Hawaii

Okay, again, this would generally get a blog of its own, despite not being a restaurant.  I couldn’t go to Hawaii and not do a luau, even if it is one that is so tourist-y…it’s funny.  We chose Chief’s Luau ($82.00+) due to the fact that it is the best ranked luau on O’auh AND that it had an allergen menu on their Web site.  And, yeah, it’s tourist-y, but I actually had a lot of fun at the luau.  I finally got a lei (made of shells as we had the cheapest package), had my picture taken with Chief…learned how to hula dance, watched Cathy throw a spear (rather poorly), watched Cathy make a coconut leaf headband (which she left behind), listened to great music, enjoyed the history of the dances that are native to Hawaii…and just…kicked back, laughed, and enjoyed my final night in Hawaii…with a Mai Tai and everything.  Aside from the free drink…the luau package also included dinner…and as a gluten-free vegetarian, this left only a few things for me to pick from.  Cathy was there for the meat…the pork…cooked in the ground with banana leaves…but for someone like me…I got the food that was catered in.  And that’s fine…but because it was catered, I didn’t review it.  I was left with the Seasonal Fruit Salad (more pineapple!), the Poi (GROSS…it looked like Barney’s (the purple dinosaur) snot…kind of gelatinous and goopy and YUCK.  I didn’t want to try it, but peer pressure had me at least take a taste.  NEVER AGAIN!), the Steamed White Rice and (my personal favorite) the Sweet Potatoes.  My first plate of food was not really full, and as this was all you can eat, I ventured back for more of the DELICIOUS sweet potatoes and the fruit.  Because…fruit and sweet potatoes are actually two of my favorite foods in life.  For real.  The Mai Tai’s were delicious…and I had a great time at the luau.  If you are in O’ahu and want to go to a luau…go to Chief’s.  They are #1 for a reason!

Seasonal Fruit Salad, Poi (GROSS!), White Steamed Rice, and Sweet Potatoes - my gluten free and vegetarian dinner at Chief's Luau
Seasonal Fruit Salad, Poi (GROSS!), White Steamed Rice, and Sweet Potatoes – my gluten free and vegetarian dinner at Chief’s Luau

 

Barista, Portland, Oregon

The flight we took back to the mainland went through Portland, where we disembarked and stayed an entire day, so we could explore.  Cathy and Jenn had Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast.  We hit up the food pods for lunch, we did a gastropub for dinner.  But after the stop for doughnuts, it was vital that we got caffeine.  And I chose Barista, out of all the different coffee shops in Portland.  I chose wisely…of this I am certain.  Being a former barista, myself, I not only liked the name, I liked everything I read about them.  Barista was established by coffee legend, Billy Wilson, who now has four (4) Barista cafés open in the Portland area.  Let me tell you, this cofee delivers!!  Barista is one of the first multi-roaster shops in the Portland area, showcasing Heart, Coava, and another roaster on bar for espresso or drip.  Barista is known for serving exceptional coffees from the world’s finest roasters, prepared by the most skilled baristas in the Portland area.  No joke.  Jenn skipped out on this amazing experience, but both Cathy and I partook of the opportunity to try the coffee at the Downtown Barista location.  Cathy ordered the Semi-Sweet Valrohna Mocha ($4.50).  I went for the Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha ($4.50) with Almond Milk (+$0.75).  It was delicious.  Strong…but smooth.  There was this perfect balance of chocolate and espresso that just…melted together.  The milk softened up the bite of the espresso itself, cutting through the dark chocolate.  OH MY GOD…one of the best coffees I have ever had.  If you are in Portland and love coffee…you are missing out if you don’t swing by one of the Barista locations.  For real.  I loved every sip.  Even better…finally a coffeeshop that gives me an 8 ounce cup of coffee for a small!!  THANK YOU!

Barista's Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha with Almond Milk
Barista’s Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha with Almond Milk

And that was it.  It was Portland to Vegas to Louisville from there.  And my 10 day vacation came to an end.  Back in Louisville, it’s hard for me to ignore Bootsie.  It’s a depressing reminder of everything I’ve had to cancel for the upcoming weeks leading into November.  I tried not to fuss much over it on the trip.  And, I ate whatever I wanted…whenever I wanted…as long as it fit into my dietary restrictions.  And despite limited mobility and really lack of much movement at all…while continuing to stuff my face with local eats…I lost 3 pounds.  I’ve put it back on since coming home though…so no worries.  LOL!

It was a beautiful trip to paradise…and I’m already dreaming about my return.  Next time…to actually run the Kauai Marathon!!

Restaurant Review: Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon
Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Restaurant: Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

What do you think of when you think of Portland, Oregon?  Food trucks…yes…but a lot of people would also point to the amazing array of brew pubs that the city has to offer.  Oregon is very much a foodie haven, and there is plenty of places to whet your appetite.

Research began on Find Me Gluten Free…which pulled up hundreds and hundreds of restaurants that cater to people with gluten intolerance and Celiac.  I knew that my traveling partners, Cathy and Jenn, were being very good about where we ate on Hawaii (often out of Jenn’s comfort zone) due to my dietary restrictions…so…going to a brew pub in Portland wasn’t just a necessity, it was a way of thanking them for being so flexible with the food choices while island hopping in Hawaii.

That being said, we narrowed it down to two choices…and Cathy and I made Jenn pick the place.  This was no biggie for me…there were options I was interested in at each place…but it was a matter of whether Cathy got Chicken and Waffles or Roasted Lamb.

Jenn didn’t really care where we went, but in the end, she chose Deschutes Brewery…and that was our Friday night dinner.

After lunch at the food pods, we continued our exploration of Portland, meaning bookstores, record stores, chocolate shops, coffee shops, and all that good stuff.  But all that shopping does work up an appetite.  So, after spending a long time exploring Powell’s Books, we were ready to get some dinner.  And it was just a short hike to Deschutes Brewery…and I loved it from the moment we stepped inside.

Deschutes Brewery is a brew pub located in the heart of Portland and is described as a popular destination for great beer, delicious food, and a relaxed urban atmosphere.  It features 26 taps that include Deschutes mainstays plus a selection of seasonal and experimental beers developed and brewed on site exclusively for the Portland pub.

In addition, no pub is worth its salt without pub grub.  Executive Chef Jill Ramseier leads a talented culinary team that has put forth classic pub food, but elevated it.  In fact, each item on the menu is created, from scratch, with the best possible local ingredients.  SO Portland.  Love it!

We arrived shortly after 5 p.m. and it was already hopping.  We were seated immediately and given menus to peruse.  Water was brought to our table and our waiter, Zach, came over to pour some water and ask if we wanted anything else to drink.  Jenn and I were sticking with water, but Cathy had it on her to-do list to sample a local brew.  She went with the Deschutes River Ale ($3.25).  He went to grab her drink while we finished up decisions for dinner.

With beer delivered, it was time to place an order.  Jenn went with the Dungeness Crab Roll ($17.75), which is pacific crab tossed with onion, celery, lemon and mayonnaise in a seared East coast-style bun.  It came with a serving of fries on the side.

Cathy opted for the Spicy Fried Chicken and Waffle ($16.50).  This dish is a Nashville-style basted chicken breast and thick sliced smoked provolone over a housemade sourdough waffle with maple dressed kale, fenel and pecan salad, served with a maple honey sauce.  For an additional $2…you can add bacon.  Cathy left the bacon off.

As for me…I was given a gluten-free menu.  And on that menu was plenty of items to choose from.  Had I not had a great sandwich for lunch from Juniper at the food pods, I would have opted for the Quinoa Burger ($13.25), which is described as a crispy quinoa cashew patty with chipotle aioli, Rock Face Creamery aged white cheddar (which I would have left off), lettuce, tomato, onion and served, I am assuming, on a gluten free bun.  BUT…I DIDN’T get that.  I could have…and, as I said, had I not had a sammie for lunch, this would have been my dinner.

My dinner, instead, was the half portion of their Spinach and Quinoa Salad ($7.00) with a plate of their Garlic Rosemary Fries ($6.75), which I got minus the manchego cheese that comes served with it.  YES…the fries are gluten-free!!!  *HAPPY DANCE!*  Hey…I eat healthy most of the time, dessert and an occasional plate of fries are treats to me and ones I never turn down when they are available.  A healthy life doesn’t mean there aren’t treats every now and again!

Orders in.

And in true brew pub (and pub) fashion, the food didn’t take too long to come out.  Just long enough to know that everything was prepared fresh and made to order.  Our plates came out…and they were heaped with food.  Even without the plate of fries (which I did share!), my salad would have been plenty filling at the half portion on its own.  So, that was actually a good call on my part.

Deschutes Brewery's Spicy Fried Chicken & Waffle
Deschutes Brewery’s Spicy Fried Chicken & Waffle

Jenn and Cathy both loved their meals.  Cathy said that while the chicken was spicy, it wasn’t overpowering.  The provolone cheese helped to cool things down and the waffle was a nice hit of sweetness to mesh with the savory heat of the chicken.  When paired with the maple and honey, it was a perfect bite.  In fact, after years of wondering why chicken and waffles were such a thing in the south…it took a trip to Portland, Oregon for her to “get it.”  Yes…she gets it now.  And I think she has a new craving in life.  She ate until she was full…and then had to surrender to the dish.  But she made a healthy dent in it, loving and raving about every bite.  So there is that.

Let’s start with the salad.  The Spinach and Quinoa Salad comes with Briar Rose Creamery feta cheese (which I left on…because feta and I get along for the most part), blueberries, pickled beets, fresh spinach, and perfectly cooked quinoa.  It is topped with a delicious vinaigrette, which does come on the side so it isn’t swimming in dressing.  That’s something I totally appreciated.  This salad was filling and provided a myriad of different flavors and textures.  It was inviting with each bite.  Tangy, tart, smooth and creamy.  The quinoa and spinach are both nutritional powerhouses…and I devoured every last bit of this salad.  Besides, you put roasted beets on anything and you have my full attention.  Seriously!  OH…and it came with a gluten-free breadstick laid across it.  I questioned it when it arrived at the table…”This is gluten-free, right?”  “OH yes,” I was reassured.  Happiness comes in breadstick form sometimes.  It’s the little things that aren’t so little for other people but are for people like me.

But the star…as much as I want to point to the salad…was the gluten-free Garlic Rosemary Fries.  These fries are made from hand cut Kennebec potatoes and seasoned with fresh garlic (LOTS of it) and rosemary and served with a rosemary aioli.  These were to DIE for.  Seriously.  I took one bite and I was hooked.  I didn’t want to stop eating them.  Even with some self-control (HA!) and a little help from my friends, this plate wasn’t emptied.  It probably could have been, but we all have our limits.  These were some of the best gluten-free fries I have ever been served in a restaurant.  And fries are hard for me to get in a restaurant.  Everything shares a fryer…so this is always a nice treat.  And this is one splurge I was glad I made.  Holy cow.  I want to recreate these.  I’m going to do the best I can.  WOW!

Save for fries (from both Jenn & I) and a bit of chicken and waffle on Cathy’s plate…we ate the hell out of our meals.  And for good reason…they were amazing.  I was beyond impressed with the caliber of food that came to our table.  Everything looked beautiful and tasted amazing.  Nothing was soggy or overdressed.  Nothing was burnt.  It was pure dinner perfection in true brew pub form.  I am a huge fan…and I wish I lived in Portland so I could continue to go back and try other options from their extensive gluten-free menu.  Just…WOW!!

I have Jenn to thank for actually sending us to Deschutes Brewery in the end…and to me, it was the perfect way to round out an amazing and unforgettable trip.  No better way to end a vacation then with good friends, good food, and good times.  Deschutes…made that all possible…right in the heart of Portland.

Deschutes Brewery's Spinach & Quinoa Salad with the Garlic Rosemary Fries
Deschutes Brewery’s Gluten Free Spinach & Quinoa Salad with the Garlic Rosemary Fries (also gluten free)

Product Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Coffee Beverage

So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Beverage
So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Coffee Beverage

Product: So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Coffee Beverage – $9.99+ (4 pack)

Dairy-free (and gluten-free) coffee lovers…REJOICE!! So Delicious has done it again.  No surprise…because they are awesome.  Now…this is not new news to any of my fellow So Delicious and coffee lovers…but back in mid-2014, So Delicious Dairy Free put out a small line of shelf-stable coconut milk coffee beverages that are intended to be chilled and then enjoyed by the vegan and lactose intolerant (and even those dairy-lovers) alike.

And, my friends over at So Delicious were kind enough to send me a 4 pack of one of these new coffee beverages!  I. LOVE. THEM.

Anyone who sends me a dairy-free coffee beverages (especially a latte) WINS in my book.  So…even more love to So Delicious!

With every intention of devouring them around the time I got them…life happened.  And when life happens, the best laid plans often don’t happen.  So, this amazing pack of four sat in my pantry…and sat…and I’d think, “I’m traveling this weekend, I need to bring those…” And then I didn’t.

BUT NO MORE!

For the first time in forever, I took steps to remember to bring these little gems on the road with me, by setting them aside with other items I knew I needed to pack up for the journey from Indiana down to Birmingham, Alabama to visit my family.  They made the trip with me (finally) and I put them in my parent’s fridge that evening so they could chill, and the four ladies who were venturing out that morning for some shopping could have a caffeine hit before facing that challenge.

The plan worked like a charm.  That morning, after a good breakfast, my mom, my sister, my roommate and I each grabbed one of the So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Coffee Beverages from the fridge, gave them a shake to mix, and were on our way.

I was the first to crack mine open.

I was the first to down a bit of it.

I was the first to say, “Holy crap, that’s amazing!  So good!”

I should have said, “So delicious!” HAHAHA!  (Oh, the ways I amuse myself).

So, here is the lowdown.  I have grown to love coffee ever since I was a Starbucks barista.  When I started at Starbucks, I hated coffee.  Everything about it.  But suddenly…I it was my world.  I smelled it.  People asked my opinion on it.  So…slowly…I grew more accustomed to it.  First…the frou-frou blended drinks…then the mochas…then the lattes…then coffee.  Now, I brew a cup for myself at home…no cream…no sugar.  It took YEARS to get there…but that’s where I am.  But when I’m away from home…café au laits and lattes are all that I want from the local and chain shops I find along the way.

The So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Coffee Beverage has that pure coffee goodness that people who drink lattes want.  You drink mochas if you don’t like the taste of coffee…you drink lattes if you do.  I was, actually, the first in the car to polish mine off (my mom was done first, but I really don’t think she drank hers…just sayin’) because it was just that good.  This bit of coconut milk based coffee goodness is not too sweet and not too overwhelming on the coffee flavor.  My sister loved hers as well.  My roommate said that it was alright, but she’s not a fan of cold coffee (which she says…then orders cold coffee at times…so…yeah…).  It was convenient to have, amazing to try, and delicious in the end.  Totally would buy these and stock my pantry with them for those busy mornings where I just don’t have time to wait on my coffee to brew.  Super tasty!

Now, let’s talk ingredients.  The So Delicious Dairy Free Cococcino Latte Chilled Coconut Milk Coffee Beverage is made from organic fair trade coffee, organic coconut milk, organic dried cane syrup, organic vanilla extract, natural flavor, sea salt, potassium chloride, calcium phosphate, organic guar gum, xanthan gum, and monk fruit extract.  True…there are some…not-so-natural sounding ingredients making these not-so-much a clean eating staple…but definitely a splurge every now and again.  These coffee beverages of coconut milk awesomesauce are always certified dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO.

And now…nutrition.  Hang onto your knickers, friends.  Because these 11 ounces will fill you up with fewer calories than anything you could get at Starbucks that even remotely resembled this.  A full serving is one single-serve (11 ounce) container.  This serving will give you 130 calories and 4 grams of fat.  This serving also provides 150 mg sodium and 22 grams of sugar.  That…is high, I know.  This drink is cholesterol free.  And, finally, you’ll be consuming 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.

Like I said…coffee lovers rejoice.  You don’t have to be gluten-free or dairy-free to love these little boxes of coffee goodness.  You just have to be someone who loves coffee and a little variety.  As for me…I’m definitely smitten.

Product Review: Dear Coco Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon

Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon
Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon

Product: Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon – $4.50

Oh, the weather outside is frightful.  No…really…it is.  For the first time all year, we actually have snow accumulation here.  And I’m kind of unhappy about it.  While I do love the snow…I don’t like being out in the snow.  That being said, my roomie and I braved the slick and unplowed streets to go into work, only to be sent home just before lunch.

And, for some reason, I decided that it would be totally awesome to plant myself in the snow and make a snow angel at my apartment.  Snow…down my shirt and jeans.  Makes for one very cold Celiathlete!  Trust me.  My roomie, however, found this incredibly amusing.  Go figure.

I think, perhaps, Cuisine Cube knew that winter had one last blow to deal us.  Because inside my February 2015 (Happy V-Day 2015) Cube, was one of the most interesting and exciting products ever.  It was a bonus item.  A beverage.  And, as many of us know, Cuisine Cube ships a box off each month to your doorstep that has 5-6 items in it.  A breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and dessert…always.  But this time…there was a beverage slot to fill.  Cuisine Cube is a subscription service where these amazing gluten-free products from lesser-known, smaller artisan companies make there way to you via the mail once a month.  The service starts at $29.99…and it is totally worth the investment.  I have fallen in love with this service.  You will too, if you give it a try.

So…February…snow…beverage…

Cuisine Cube introduced me to Dear Coco.  Dear Coco is a boutique artisan chocolatier specializing in innovative small batch chocolates, which are handcrafted in Maryland and designed to transport around the world.  The company, Dear Coco, says that each of their chocolate sis a journey and they invite everyone to explore every destination, whether familiar, exotic, or unexpected.  By that, they mean they have a variety of different flavors of chocolates that you are sure to find something that entices and delights your taste buds.

In this particular cube, I had a Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon.  The idea behind these little treats is that you can enjoy a decadent and gourmet hot chocolate in minutes, complete with a fluffy (and vegan) marshmallow already inside.  These Hot Chocolate Spoons are created with handcrafted dark chocolate ganache topped with a vegan marshmallow and dipped in premium tempered Belgian dark chocolate.  The gist is…you warm up your milk (be it dairy or not…for me…almond milk) in the microwave and then place the hot chocolate spoon into the hot chocolate and stir until it is completely melted.

I didn’t do this, however.  My roommate wanted to try it as well so we just ate it without making it into hot chocolate.  We had hot chocolate with it…but we devoured the spoon it it’s original form…as a dark chocolate coated vegan marshmallow.

It was AMAZING.  So, now I feel the need to order more of these so I can actually make it into hot chocolate as it was intended.  But, without allowing it to melt into beverage form…this was one amazing treat.  The chocolate was dark and rich and really high quality…no extreme bitterness.  The marshmallow was melt-in-your-mouth good.  And the peppermint flavor in the Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon didn’t overpower or overwhelm, but rather complimented the entire treat.  I need more of these…stat.

The Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon is made from premium Belgian dark chocolate, non-GMO vegan butter, organic brown rice syrup, pure peppermint extract, vegan marshmallow, salt, dried mint leaves.  These are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, contain no corn syrup, no trans fat, no preservatives and no food colors.  LOVE IT.  They come in three different flavors: Polar Peppermint, German Gingersnap, and Belgian Double Chocolate.

I don’t know about nutritional information as none is listed on the packaging or the Web site…but it is super delicious and made from real and high quality ingredients.  And…who cares.  It’s hot.  It’s chocolate.  It has a vegan marshmallow.  We all win.

I really loved having a beverage option in my Valentine’s Day Cube from Cuisine Cube.  It was a super nice change and a great surprise to open up and find.  I sort of wish I had used it as intended, but that’s why they are available for order on the Web site.  Regardless, the Dear Coco Polar Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoon was a decadent and sweet treat to savor on a cold, snowy afternoon.  And I am now planning my order because now I really want to just use these as hot chocolate.  I mean…dark chocolate…hot chocolate…vegan marshmallow…dairy-free goodness.

Yep…I’m completely enamored.  LOVE!

Restaurant Review: Be Our Guest – Fantasyland – Magic Kingdom, Disney World

Be Our Guest - Fantastyland - Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida
Be Our Guest – Fantastyland – Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Be Our Guest – Fantasyland – Magic Kingdom, Disney World

It’s probably one of the hardest reservations to get at Disney World at this time.  One of the newest restaurants at the theme park itself, Magic Kingdom opened the Be Our Guest Restaurant in Fantasyland.  And yes, just as the name suggests, the basic theme of this restaurant is Beauty and the Beast.This means, should I ever take my neice Kaytlynn to Disney World…this is where we would eat!

We didn’t get the much coveted dinner reservation, however, my Disney Travel Agent and friend, Karen, managed to snag a spot for a lunch reservation.  She added it to our Fast Passes and we were good to go for Sunday lunch.

We had big dinner plans that evening at The Wave, so we opted for a “dessert first” approach to our reservation.  In other words…forget the real food…give us something sweet!

One of the reasons I had wanted to get into Be Our Guest was the fact that they had…

…wait for it…

…a GLUTEN-FREE CREAM PUFF!!!!

*cough*

Sorry…I get excited sometimes when it comes to things I love but haven’t been able to eat in years.

The rumors were true, however, so once we got into the Fast Pass line and were ushered up the walk to the restaurant, the hostess handed us each a menu and we perused it.  I knew what I was getting.  Cathy was torn between getting soup or getting a dessert.  As Jenn and I were getting desserts and had declared it “dessert first” day…she eventually let go of the soup thought and went with her choice for a dessert.  No duplicates.  Actually, normally with the three of us…little duplication ever happens.

We stood in line in this amazing Great Hall, with suits of armor and screens that showed images of the items available on the menu.  When we got up to the host, he directed us to stand inside and await the help of someone else, who would then direct us to one of the pay stations.  We had wanted to charge these to our cards, but were sent to a kiosk thing instead of the cashier.  When we questioned it, we were told it would take a card.  Jenn was first…and she wasn’t given any option except her Fast Pass.  So…onto the bracelet it went.  Cathy and I played around with it, and we did find where we could charge it to a card…except it automatically made us use the Fast Pass.  So…yeah…that was confusing, convoluted, and just chaotic.

From there, we turned over our menus and were told to take a seat at any of the tables in any of the rooms.  This involved a little bit of investigation.  The main room you enter was packed.  There was a darker room near the back, that had more of a tavern feel to it.  But…it was also packed.  So, we moved to the more ballroom-ish room.  Plenty of seating in there.  We pulled up a booth (and chair) at one of the tables at the back.  I was facing the rotating statue of Belle and The Beast dancing.  Absolutely…gorgeous.

Cathy and Jenn both got “Adult Cold Fountain Beverages” (aka: SODA!) ($2.99), so while they went to retrieve their drinks from the fountains at the other side of the room, I sat and manned the table.  While they were gone, a man came over to check our receipts and wrote down something on a pad.  I’m assuming this is how they eventually figure out where to bring our food, instead of playing a game of Marco Polo with each and every customer.  They returned and I got up to get my drink.  I don’t do soda anymore…so I opted for an “Adult Hot Beverage” (aka: coffee, tea, hot cocoa) ($2.39), and had to go retrieve a cup to get some coffee.  Caffeine was necessary.  The coffee in this room was out of order, but I was told to just go around the corner to the other room as they have coffee there.  So…I did.

Brewed hot coffee.  Not fancy.  Very basic.  But…served it’s purpose.

Finally, we were settled in and taking in the entire place.  And then, this gorgeous cart rolled up and Jenn was given her dessert.  Yes…just Jenn.  She ordered the Éclair à l’Orange ($4.19), which was an éclair with a custard filling with zested orange and finished off with chocolate ganache.  Jenn loves chocolate and orange together…so this was a definite win.  She was kind enough to wait for Cathy and I to receive our treats before she dove in.

And they did…about 5 minutes later.

Cathy went for the obvious Cathy choice…the Lemon Meringue Cupcake ($4.19).  This is a vanilla sponge cake with a lemon custard filling and flamed meringue icing.  It just screamed Cathy because…it was lemon.  And she loves lemon.

As for me…I went with the item on the menu that I wanted to begin with.  It is gluten-free.  It has no added sugar.  It, my dearest friends, is the Lemon – Raspberry Cream Puff ($4.19).  It is exactly what it sounds like.  A pastry that is filled with lemon custard and topped off with raspberries.  Gorgeous.

With all of our sweet treats now present, we dove in.

Be Our Guest's Éclair à l’Orange
Be Our Guest’s Éclair à l’Orange

Let’s start with Jenn.  Jenn loved the Éclair à l’Orange.  She said it was perfectly orange-y.  In fact, it managed to be smooth and light, not heavy like some cream-filled pastries (especially eclairs) tend to be.  Her only stipulation…it could have been bigger.

Be Our Guest's Lemon Meringue Cupcake
Be Our Guest’s Lemon Meringue Cupcake

Cathy’s Lemon Meringue Cupcake looked like a little, personal, lemon meringue pie.  She used her fork to dive in, the cake portion completely encased in this gorgeous paper.  It was small…she said almost like two biter.  And it wasn’t knock-you-over lemony, but definitely had that bright citrus flavor in each bite.  In fact, when I asked her to describe it, all she could say was…”It was lemony!” Uh…yeah…the name tells me that.  So…there you have it.  It’s lemony!

Now onto the Lemon-Raspberry Cream Puff.  I admit.  I heard rumors of the gluten-free cream puff and knew…just knew…it had to be mine.  So…here it was…this little dough puff in front of me.  I took my fork and cut through the crusty pastry, watching it flake away to give way to the gorgeous, yellow, lemon cream inside.  I paired it with the cream and raspberries on top…and we’re talking a heavenly, sinful dessert.  I loved that this also had no additional sugar in it.  I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of sugar I consume, which isn’t easy because of natural sugars in things I love…like fruits.  But, I don’t really count natural sugars.  Still, I didn’t think this really needed any additional sugar.  It was light…fluffy, and just a dreamy dessert for a girl who last had a cream puff when this gluten-free journey began…and I cheated.  And suffered.  And that was the end of that.  This…was huge to me.  I have to agree with both Jenn and Cathy though…the dessert was small.  Which is fine…but I just thought for close to $5, there would be a little bit more.  Other than that…we devoured the delectable, delicious desserts, and raved about them the entire time.

Be Our Guest's Lemon - Raspberry Cream Puff (GLUTEN-FREE!!)
Be Our Guest’s Lemon – Raspberry Cream Puff (GLUTEN-FREE!!)

Dessert first…achieved.

Being a grown-up is awesome!  HA!

So, while I thought the ambiance of the restaurant was killer…like being in the film Beauty and the Beast…it was really chaotic, really loud, and a bit…of a mess when it came to ordering and checking out.  But, it was a great way to dine and I am thrilled my friend Karen managed to snag us lunch reservations.  The atmosphere at this restaurant is hard to top.  But, in a way…it was like eating at a 5 star cafeteria.  If you know what I mean.

I was definitely happy to have the chance to dine at Be Our Guest…and I thank them for offering one of the most amazing and fantastic gluten-free desserts I have had in awhile.

Restaurant Review: Red Rooster, Harlem, New York

Red Rooster, Harlem, New York
Red Rooster, Harlem, New York

Restaurant: Red Rooster, Harlem, New York

I totally broke tradition.  I did.  I was in New York City to run the TCS New York City Marathon…and so far I had managed really amazing gluten-free pizza the night before the race.  Normally, after I race, my friends and I go to a pub to celebrate the occasion.

Not. This. Time.

But, it was of my own doing that we ended up in Harlem just after 6 p.m. on Sunday evening.

How?

Well…since we were going to be in New York City, I thought it might be fun to check out a restaurant that belongs to one of my favorite chefs of all time.

The venue: Red Rooster.

The chef: Marcus Samuelsson.

After all, we were celebrating my finish at the marathon earlier that afternoon.  Why not make it special.  So, yeah…I broke tradition and decided to forgo the pub for something…a little different.  And I have never made a better decision in my life.

Prior to heading to New York City, I had told Cathy that I really wanted to go into Harlem and eat at Red Rooster.  She knows how much I adore Marcus Samuelsson.  And, honestly, we’re both foodies…she was right there with me.  So, she went ahead and called the restaurant and talked to them about reservations on marathon eve.  She mentioned that I was a gluten-free vegetarian and they said that food for me would not be an issue.  With that done, Cathy set up a reservation for 6 p.m., giving me plenty of time to run, shower, walk around, come back and change, and get there with my group of friends.  We had reservations for 4 people…me, Cathy, Heather, and my good friend Marisa.

So, that night, I dressed up in this elegant vintage dress…but kept on my recovery compression socks (and wore them with my heels, HA!), and my three friends and I went down to the subway and hopped the train to Harlem.  We emerged steps away from Red Rooster.  Literally.

And about 10 minutes late.  Whoops.  But…we got there…before they handed our table away.

We were seated near the kitchen, which was fantastic for me because I could see the people bustling around in there, working hard at the various stations.  I loved the feel of Red Rooster…very chic casual.  A fun, vibrant, laid back, but classic vibe.  It was the kind of place I would want to return to and bring everyone I know…at least once.  Totally my style.

Our server, Ryan, came over to greet us.  He said that if we had any questions regarding the menu to let him know.  I mentioned that I was a gluten-free vegetarian, and he said that wouldn’t be a problem.  In fact, he would go and talk to the chef and see what they could do for me.  I thanked him and we all studied the different menu options.  At one point, I know Cathy was trying to convince Marisa to try the soup with tripe in it, but that wasn’t happening.

Ryan returned, and said that he mentioned that I had run the TCS New York City Marathon and was a gluten-free vegetarian, to which he said the chef would like to create a dish for me.  I was thrilled and thanked him for checking.

Glasses of Brotherhood Riesling
Glasses of Brotherhood Riesling

With that said, Cathy took one matter into her own hands.  We were, after all, celebrating.  So, she ordered a bottle of wine for the table.  We went with a sweet wine (Heather prefers dry…but she was a good sport), opting for a local Riesling – the 2013 Brotherhood from Washingtonville, New York ($48.00).

We were ready to order, it seemed.  Ryan already had mine.  He said the chef was going to do up a Vegetable Plate ($21.00) for me.  So, I was excited to see what would emerge from the kitchen.  Cathy went with Marcus Samuelsson’s signature dish – Helga’s Meatballs, which are served with lingonberries, braised green cabbage, and buttermilk mashed potatoes ($23.00).  Heather ordered the Triple-Double Burger, which is served with bacon, jarlesburg, and rooster sauce ($19.00).  Marisa did a little picking and choosing, and went with the Upstate Farms Squash Soup, which includes yogurt, honeycrisp apples, and lentils ($12.00) with a side of the Cornbread ($4.00).  And, because they sounded good…Heather and I split a side of the Hearth Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($8.00).

Red Rooster Entrees: Helga's Meatballs, Upstate Farms Squash Soup, and Triple-Double Burger
Red Rooster Entrees: Helga’s Meatballs, Upstate Farms Squash Soup, and Triple-Double Burger

Ryan went to put or order in and we all got down to talking about New York, about work, about life, about the race, about food, about events…whatever we wanted to talk about.  We were in no rush and the restaurant was not rushing us.  I loved being able to just drink in the atmosphere.

Just before the food arrived, Ryan returned with our Riesling bottle, pouring a little bit into Cathy’s glass.  Cathy lifted the glass and took a sip.  And it was love at first taste for her.  So he poured some in each of our glasses, and I made sure to keep drinking my water too.  No dehydration here.

And then…our entrees arrived, each one settled down in front of us carefully.

The plates…were gorgeous!

Chef Creation: Vegetable Plate - Curried Black Eyed Peas, Charred Broccolini, Berbere Carrots and Parsnips, and Hearth Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Chef Creation: Vegetable Plate – Curried Black Eyed Peas, Charred Broccolini, Berbere Carrots and Parsnips, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The chef created a fantastic dish for me.  In a bowl on my left was Curried Black Eyed Peas.  And on the platter beside it…Charred Broccolini, Berbere Carrots and Parsnips, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Oh…I will note, these Brussels Sprouts tasted different than the side that Heather and I were splitting.  It was chef magic.  And it was a beautiful and gorgeous plate.  One that I looked forward to eating.

Let’s start with the Curried Black Eyed Peas.  Just…WOW.  WOW!  So much flavor.  Lots going on.  And yet…simple.  I like to traditionally have black eyed peas on New Years Day…and this is how I would want them this year.  For real.  Just this incredible depth of flavor with the curry spices.  Not hot…just simply bringing out more of the peas themselves.  One of the best dishes involving peas of any sort I have ever had in my life.  And, trust me, I’ve eaten plenty.

The vegetables that the chef prepared were a delicious and filling treat for me.  The broccolini was gorgeously cooked and vibrant green.  It had the right amount of crisp to it, yet, still soft and easy to bite through.  I love broccolini, and this was just as it should be…simple and delicious.  The Brussels Sprouts were roasted to perfection, giving that outer layer some depth of flavor, yet keeping the vegetable itself soft on the inside.  Fork tender perfection.

My favorite thing, however, on that plate was the Berbere Carrots and Parsnips.  HOLY COW!  This side is exactly why I rushed out to a spice store in order to purchase berbere.  This spice is awesome.  It has this great flavor to it, followed with a little bit of heat at the end.  It paired beautifully with this root vegetables.  In fact, these were what I saved for my last bite.  Completely in love with a plate of vegetables.  How amazing!  My compliments to the marathoning chef.  My meal was sheer perfection.

Red Rooster's Hearth Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Red Rooster’s Hearth Roasted Brussels Sprouts

And I know you’re wondering about the Hearth Roasted Brussels Sprouts that Heather and I split, right?  Of course you are!  These were different from the ones that were on my plate.  These sprouts had this amazing char to them, but also hit up with a bit of a lemon or citrus flavor.  Sprinkled on top were macadamia nuts.  It was a combination that I hadn’t had before with Brussels sprouts…and I liked it.

But, wait…there is more!

Because when we celebrate we get dessert too!  We were handed the menus so we could peruse the options.  Ryan was taking care of another party at that moment, so I asked the new server about gluten-free options.  She highly recommended The Green Apple Viking Delight ($11.00).  I was game.  Heather actually ended up doing that too.  Leave it to the Scandinavian Minnesotans to order something with the word “viking” in it.  HA!  Cathy knew she wanted to have cheesecake in New York City, so her choice was the obvious one…Vanilla Cheesecake, served with yogurt, a granola crumble and pomegranate sorbet ($11.00).  Marisa went for the signature dessert of the restaurant, the Red Rooster Doughnuts, which are filled with sweet potato and coated in cinnamon and sugar ($12.00).  It came with an icing to dip them in as well.

Red Rooster's Vanilla Cheesecake and Red Rooster Doughnuts
Red Rooster’s Vanilla Cheesecake and Red Rooster Doughnuts

 

Red Rooster's Green Apple Viking Delight
Red Rooster’s Green Apple Viking Delight

Desserts arrived shortly after and…yeah…we were quite happy with our choices.  I thought The Green Apple Viking Delight was like a cold crème brûlée.  It was a green apple sorbet set on top of a white chocolate fennel cream.  On the side was chopped apple and fennel.  And a little tuile was set on top, giving it a little crunch and texture.  I was totally in love with the flavors, even though I wasn’t completely certain, at first, that they would work.  They complimented each other perfectly and each bite was a burst of sweetness, with a bit of richness from the white chocolate.  Divine.

Cathy loved her cheesecake (it looked deconstructed…so cool!) and Marisa was more than pleased with the doughnuts.  Needless to say…we are girls.  Desserts are awesome.  But these…these took awesome up to the next level.  Which I guess is phenomenal.  Or, in the culinary world, a sweet note to end the night on.

We left the restaurant completely satisfied with the meal.  The ambiance of Red Rooster was like no other restaurant that I have been in to date.  A live jazz band had started to play during our desserts and we really just took a moment to not only savor the food, but savor the experience as well.

I have been a Marcus Samuelsson fan for years…being able to eat at his restaurant was a dream come true.  Having a dish created for me, and having a careful and very caring staff made it unforgettable.  I was congratulated so many times on finishing the marathon.  It was an amazing day, but that night really just sealed it as one of the best days of my life.  Good race…good friends…good food…good times.

Thank you, Marcus Samuelsson and Red Rooster.

Restaurant Review: Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio
Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Restaurant: Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

It had been a long day for me.  No…really.  And, while a part of me was super stoked that I was leaving right from work to drive up to Cincinnati, Ohio, with my roommate, for a concert, another part of me just wanted to curl up under a blanket on the sofa at home.  But…there was music to be enjoyed.  And she had purchased a set of tickets to see Bastille in Cincinnati awhile back to help cheer me up.

This foot injury has had me pretty down since July…and she thought a surprise and a band I love might just help lift my spirits.  It did.  but this was a crazy, intense week at work, and my brain was ready to shut down.

Thankfully, that mindset changes when you actually get on the road to an event that you are really looking forward to.

So, at 4 p.m., we departed the office and hit the road up to Cincinnati, Ohio.  A couple of days prior, Cathy had made reservations with a place not to far from US Bank Arena (the venue for the show) due to some gluten-free options available on their menu.  I love trying out new food places so…WOOHOO!  Even better…it had fish and chips readily available for her.  YAY!  She made the reservations for 6:30 p.m., which would give us some time to hit traffic and get into the city, park, and get to the venue.  The last-ditch food option would be Chipotle, if the traffic gods were not with us.

But they were…and we arrived in Cincinnati just before 6 p.m., having only hit some traffic in Covington, Kentucky, just before crossing into Ohio and hitting Cincinnati.  We readily found parking and got out, making the short stroll from the parking garage (with it’s $20 event parking!) to the restaurant, which was literally one block up and then over…down toward the river walk.  Beautiful night too.  Perfect weather.

We walked up the stairs to Moerlein Lager House and stepped inside.  There were a few people ahead of us, but most went right to the bar.  We stepped up and Cathy mentioned that we were early, because traffic wasn’t as bad as we anticipated…and they were more than happy to sit us down early.  Nice.  We were shown to a very nice table, somewhere between the rowdy bar and the floor to ceiling windows, which offered a spectacular view of the riverfront.  We were given our menus and a menu that had the specials on it, where if any item were ordered off that menu, a donation would go towards a charity.  Tempting, but there really wasn’t anything on there for me…and Cathy had her heart set on fish and chips.  Our waitress, Kelly, came over to see if we wanted something to drink.  We started with water.  And when she returned, she asked if we wanted any appetizers or had any questions on the menu.  Cathy mentioned that I was a gluten-free vegetarian…and she came over.  I think she missed the “vegetarian” part following gluten-free…because she highly recommended the crab cakes.  But…hey…she tried.  And…working in it’s favor – the restaurant labeled everything V for vegetarian and GF for gluten-free.  And wouldn’t you know it…they had a dish that fit both requirements.

Cathy ordered her Fish and Chips ($18.00), which was cod that was battered with their house beer, Hudelphol, and served with a jalapeno tartar sauce, coleslaw, and fries…and decided she’d live dangerously with a non-alcoholic beer (I agree with some friends of mine on this…what’s the point??!), Einbecker ($7.00) to have with her entree.

As for me…I happily placed an order for the Crispy Balsamic Tofu ($17.00).  YES!  You read that right.  This entree was served with a spinach basil risotto and roasted tomatoes, cipoline onions, and wild mushrooms, topped with shaved asparagus and preserved lemon salad.  It had actually been a toss-up between that entree, or ordering a few sides and dining on that.  Cathy pointed out I could get those sides offered virtually anywhere…but the tofu dish was an original.  I agreed…and that’s what I ordered.

Moerlein Lager House's Crispy Balsamic Tofu
Moerlein Lager House’s Crispy Balsamic Tofu

While we waited for food, we discussed the concert…the music…my upcoming marathon…my foot (which to this day still bothers me!)…and the restaurant itself. And, when our food arrived, we were both certainly ready to dive in and devour.

My dish looked beautiful.  It was a true culinary work of art.  The tofu was sliced on the diagonal, making perfect triangles that had this great crispy coating on the outside.  It was all set over this mound of perfectly creamy risotto with the vegetables framing the outside of the dish.  Shaves asparagus topped it all off and there was this gorgeous balsamic reduction that was drizzled over the plate.  I felt bad slicing into it…but I was hungry, so that moment only lasted briefly.

One bite was all I needed to realize how much I loved this meal.  The tofu had this great crispy outside, but inside it was still rich and soft.  It was glazed perfectly with the balsamic reduction and the hit of lemon just made it shine.  The shaved asparagus was cooked to a perfect al dente and used as not only a garnish, but as a great addition to the roasted vegetables on the plate.  The onions were spectacular and the tomatoes were soft and juicy.  But the star…the absolute star of this entree was the spinach basil risotto.  It was phenomenal.  Creamy and rich and packed with great earthy and herby flavors.  I was already telling Cathy after one bite that I wanted to recreate this dish at home.  She sampled the risotto and understood why.  I also had her try the tofu…and she really liked that as well.  This dish hit on everything I liked.  It had a nice tang to it, but the flavors were simple and real.  And I ate the entire thing…possibly in record time.

A dessert menu was brought to our table and after a bit of discussion…and the mention of a Chocolate Creme Brulee ($7.00), Cathy and I decided that we could treat ourselves and split the dessert.  Cathy checked with Kelly to make sure the Creme Brulee was gluten-free.  She said she thought it was, but would check.  It was…and after a small wait, the delicious looking dessert was arriving at our table with two spoons.  Holy Moses!  This was one spectacular and rich dessert.  The burnt sugar on top was fun to crack through, but what it gave way to was this rich and decadent chocolate cream.  Cathy described it as high-class pudding.  HA!  And that’s what it tasted like.  It was amazing.  And I think once we set the spoons down, Cathy might have licked the bowl a little bit.

Honestly, the service was amazing and I didn’t feel nervous about eating here.  The clearly labeled items on the menu helped make it very easy to navigate and to make sure I got what I needed and wanted.  And what would be safe for me.  Cathy loved her meal, and even enjoyed the jalapeno tartar sauce.  She said it was her second favorite tartar sauce she’s had yet.  That’s something.  The food was outstanding.  I mean…it’s not every day I can get a vegetarian dish that is also gluten-free at a restaurant without it being…a salad.  So, this was a nice treat, indeed.  And one day, when I run the Flying Pig Marathon…you better believe this is the place I’ll be hitting up for dinner.

Thank you, Moerlein Lager House…you exceeded my expectations!

Moerlein Lager House's Chocolate Creme Brulee
Moerlein Lager House’s Chocolate Creme Brulee