Minnesota Half Marathon – St. Paul, MN (August 6, 2016)

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Me crossing the finish line of the Minnesota Half Marathon – St. Paul, MN

Race: Minnesota Half Marathon

Place: St. Paul, Minnesota

Date: August 6, 2016

Time: 1:41:24

Two weeks ago, I had a plan.  I was to run 12 miles…either around my grandpa’s neighborhood in Minnesota…or with my friend Julie (depending on her schedule) somewhere in the Minneapolis area.  Neither came into fruition, because Southwest had that computer meltdown that literally grounded and cancelled flights that entire weekend.  So, while my family was in Minnesota, celebrating my grandpa’s 95th birthday, I was still in Indiana…and Southwest was willing to reschedule for up to 2 weeks out.  And after checking with my aunt and my grandpa about their schedules…I was rescheduled to visit now at the beginning of August instead.  The rest of my family would be back in Alabama, but I would get a bit more one-on-one time with my grandpa, aunt, and cousins (and their families).  So, there were pros and cons.

It just so happened that in my current marathon training schedule, my long run for that weekend was a 13 mile run.  And, as luck would have it…there was a local half marathon running on Saturday.

Maybe this was meant to be.

There were a lot of things that compelled me to sign up for the Minnesota Half Marathon.  For one thing…if I’m going to put in the time and miles, why not get a medal for it?  Another reason…it benefited the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and a friend of mine is currently in Chicago at the Ronald McDonald House with her niece, who is being treated for cancer…and kicking cancer’s ass if I do say so myself.  Also…there was an inline skating division.  Yes…roller bladers were invited to also do the 13.1 mile course.  I have never been part of a race with an inline skating division.  So cool.  OH…and the course…has you running right along the Mississippi River the entire time.  Sounded perfect to me.  And so…as a rather last minute decision, I registered and packed my racing gear in my luggage.

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Caribou Coffee!!!!!

Upon arriving in Minneapolis, after a much-needed and fantastic stop at Caribou Coffee at the airport, my roommate and I got our rental car and headed out to St. Paul…down to The Running Room to pick up my packet.  We arrived just slightly before they opened (let’s hear it for making good time!), so we went up the street and killed some time in CVS, before heading back down to the store and stepping inside.  There was a small table set up with a laptop, some race bibs, and boxes of t-shirts off to the side.  A young woman was manning the table and she asked my name, typed it into the computer, and grabbed the next race bib on the stack (2490), took a sharpie and marked the half marathon checkbox, and told me to grab my size t-shirt.  That was it.  Super easy.

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French Meadow Bakery’s Gluten Free & Vegan Cornmeal Waffle

From there, we headed over to Minneapolis to hit up the grocery store (I was cooking 2 meals while there AND making dessert), and then get to grandpa’s house.  We let ourselves in…and he was inside and very happy to see me there.  We were, of course, already ready for some lunch.  We invited Grandpa along, but he was tired from his trip earlier in the week that he took.  So, Cathy and I packed up and headed out to one of our favorite places to eat while in Minnesota…French Meadow Bakery.  I was cooking dinner that night for my Grandpa, aunt, my cousin Natalie, and my cousin Molly and her family (hubby and 3 kids)…and I was making BigMAC Potatoes.  I normally do gluten-free pizza before a race, but since I was treating this as a training run, I figured it was fine to change things up.  Who knows…maybe I’d stumble across something that worked better.  Cathy ordered the Mac & Cheese for lunch and I went with the Gluten Free & Vegan Cornmeal Waffle (which is topped off with bananas, toasted walnuts, and a toffee syrup).  Because…we all know how much I love breakfast.  We devoured our food and did a little bit of shopping at the Electric Fetus (that’s a record store, in case you were wondering), a Half Price Books, and then went back to home base, as I needed to bake the Gluten Free Strawberry Streusel Bars that I brought ingredients (yep…I brought the last 2 jars of my strawberry jam to Minnesota for this) to bake specifically for the birthday peeps (my aunt celebrated her birthday a few days after my grandpa did).  The dessert needed to cool for 2 hours, so I got it baking and then settled in to talk and hang out with grandpa for a little while.  Eventually, my aunt came home from work and Molly & Co. arrived.  Molly volunteered to make her famous green beans…and I was excited about eating them because they sounded SO good.  I put Cathy on the task of rinsing, poking, and rubbing the potatoes down with a light bit of olive oil.  We got them in the oven, since it would take about an hour to bake, and then I got to work on the lentils, which would make the “meat” portion of the vegan dish.  Soon, we had everything cooked and we settled down at the table, where I walked everyone through how to assemble their potatoes.  And we devoured them and half of the Strawberry Streusel Bars too.  Vegan cooking FTW!!

The Olympics were starting that evening, so the opening ceremonies were put on the screen and while I foam rolled (and taught my cousins all about foam rolling and the stick!), I watched what Brazil was bringing to the world stage for these 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  I was exhausted, as I had been up since 12:45 am to squeeze in all my stretches, warm up, and manage a short (2 mile) run and shower before my ride to the airport had arrived at 4 am.  But, as the United States were walking in the E’s (Los Estados Unidos!), I was at least able to stay up and see Michael Phelps carry in the flag.  Once that happened, I was in bed and setting 2 alarms for the morning routine for a race.

The first alarm came WAY too soon, but I got up, went through the first part of my race-day routine, and then climbed back into bed for about another hour.  The second alarm was go-time…so I had to get up, get changed, eat something, and get to the race.  I managed to get into my race outfit before checking the weather and discovering that it was currently 57 degrees outside.  So, bra top wasn’t going to work.  I came prepared with 3 different singlets though, so I grabbed my purple Boston one and slipped it on.  That would do.  Cathy was up just as I stuck a bagel in the oven to toast for her and prepped my oatmeal cup I brought with me.

So…basically I was doing EVERYTHING that they advise against in preparation for this half marathon.  I forewent the pizza the night before…I stayed up late…I ate a big bowl of oatmeal pre-race (I usually have a serving of cereal before leaving for the race and then a banana 30 minutes before the race)…I was testing out Skratch as a form of fuel (as my current fuel has been giving me stomach cramps)…and I didn’t give myself any time to stretch, do my PT exercises, my dynamic warmup stuff, or my plyometrics…yep…I was doing it all wrong and just hoping for the best.  HA!  Good thing I wasn’t racing this.

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Pre-race nap in the rental car

After we ate, I quickly brushed my teeth, filled up one water bottle in my fuel belt with water, the other with Skratch, and grabbed my banana.  Then, we were off to the races.  Via a detour.  Where Cathy managed to get where we needed to be without even trying.  Talk about luck!  She got us parked in the parking garage the race site recommended to park in…with time to kill.

So…I took a nap.

No joke.  I took a freakin’ nap.

Ah…my power naps are so…awesome.

After about 2o minutes, we decided to head on down toward the start line so that we wouldn’t feel crushed for time.  One problem…we couldn’t figure out how to efficiently get down to the ground level over by the river.  Hmmm…

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The Minnesota Half Marathon has an inline skating division…HOW COOL!

After a few false starts and a lot of back and forths…and many stair wells and elevators, we figured it out and got down to where we needed to be.  From there, we followed all the runners toward the start area.  And I immediately ducked into the long lines for the port-a-potties.  Apparently potatoes and oatmeal make me have to pee.  I rarely make use of the port-a-potties…and the lines were LONG.  Cathy found me in time to pass of my banana at 6:45 am…as the half marathon was to go off at 7:15 am.  The inline skaters were sent of at 7 am.  The bathroom lines had a TON of inline skaters in them and as the time ticked down and the lines barely moved…they had to move to the front or miss the start.  Banana…bathroom…time to watch the inline skaters go before getting myself ready to run.  There were some seriously incredible skaters who lined up…but the majority were casual racers.  Still…it was pretty awesome to see them take off.  Some were SUPER fast.

After they were out of the starting area, the half marathon runners were asked to line up.  So, I hopped into the start area…just behind the 1:40 pacer.  I had no pace expectations…just to run comfortably.  It was a training run, after all. We were sent off a few minutes early, to be sure.

But I was off.

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Me…heading out at the start of the Minnesota Half Marathon in St. Paul, MN.

This race was beautiful.  The entire run is done along the Mississippi River.  The roads are closed to traffic, so it’s just you, the runners, the river, and…the occasional struggling roller blader.  This course was reversed from the years previous to help make the last 5 miles a bit flatter.  You know what that means?  The hills hit in the first half of the race.  Some of these climbs brought some more of the novice roller bladers to a stop, or to a crawl (while clinging to the cement divider on the road), but I just worked my way up them.  I’m still trying to get my spring and speed back when it comes to hills.  That being said…I just adjusted my stride and pushed on.

We turned around just before Mile 4 to head back toward the start area, so any downhill we had, now was an uphill.  There was a small amount of support out on the side of the road…but mostly I enjoyed listening to the pacers whenever they were around.  OH…and the one guy who was totally flirting with this girl in the 1:40 group.  He literally turned to her and said, “I like your pace!”  Um…right…

Anyway…the run beside the river was quite pleasant…even though most of these miles were put in right in full sun.  Yeah…I was regretting not just doing the bra top at this point.  The singlet was light…but I would have been way more comfortable without the fabric.

At Mile 5, I decided to take a risk and try out some of the Skratch that I picked up samples of to see how it did as a fuel.  By Mile 6, the pacer in front of me was telling the runners that were with him that it would be a good time to gu.  LOL!  One good thing about running so close to a pace group, was I knew when “the last hill” would be hitting.  I let them go soon after Mile 8.  This is also the point of the race where all the runners are sent past the finish line.  Seriously…we had to run up the road for another few miles before turning around again.  This is the second race I’ve done in Minnesota where we are sent past the finish area…like a tease…

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This is me…running past the finish line area just after Mile 8.  What a tease!

Cathy saw me and was screaming and cheering.  And I gave a wave and continued on.  Mile 10…more Skratch…but I was feeling a bit tired.  So, I knew Skratch was not going to be a good fuel for my upcoming marathon.  UGH.  This means that I am back to square one on the whole nutrition/fueling thing.  MEH.  I had a backup Huma gel, but I was only 3 miles from the finish, so I stuck it out.  Just before Mile 11, we make the turn and run back toward the finish area, this time…to finish for real.  This involved a bit of a hill climb…and then it was just over 2 miles to hit that finish line.

With the gentle breeze coming off the river, I relaxed, settled into my pace, and just made my last couple of miles count.  I could see the finish line ahead and started to pick it up as much as I could manage.  And…I even managed to pass up another female runner right at the finish line.  You see that line, you sprint, dammit.  SPRINT.  Even I do that, and I don’t sprint.  I am not a sprinter.  LOL!

Anyway…upon finishing, I was given my Minnesota-shaped finisher’s medal and took some time to walk through the recovery area.  I was introduced to Aspire Sports Drink, which is made with natural ingredients and doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives.  It was AMAZING.  I tried 4 of the 6 flavors.  Only 35 calories per bottle too.  Gotta love it.  I eased out of my racing shoes and into my flip flops for recovery.  And, after a bit of walking…Cathy and I went to get some coffee at the nearby Caribou Coffee (of course), before heading back to Minneapolis so I could change and then hang out with my friend Heather for some lunch and shopping that afternoon.

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Me with the Mississippi River behind me…after the finish of the Minnesota Half Marathon – St. Paul, MN

So, my official results of the Minnesota Half Marathon is that I finished in 1:41:24, which is only 6 seconds slower than my finish at Derby.  AND…my Garmin had this course at 13.25 miles exactly.  Anyway, I was 86/1164 finishers overall.  I was 16/640 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 3/87 people in the 35-39 female division!  Third in my age division.  HOLLA!!  Imagine if I had been racing this thing (but I know better…and I am SO close to my marathon this year!).

I had a lot of fun at this race.  Not only did it benefit a great cause, but it was a fantastic way to work in a training run.  Afterwards, I went and had delicious Mexican food for lunch and walked the Mall of America with one of my best friends in life…Heather…who brought along her 8 month old niece…and we had a blast.  It was a perfect start to a perfect visit to Minnesota.  Gorgeous course…challenging…and if you aren’t feeling up to the half distance, they also offer an unusual 6K distance as well.

Product Review: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

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Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

Product: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) – $4.99+

I love discovering products I might have not seen, might be new, or just may not have noticed in the past when I go grocery shopping.  Such is the tale of me and a line of frozen entrees by the company Buen Sabor.

Whole Foods.  Freezer section.  At least, that was the beginning of this tale for me.  Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t easy…but sometimes you just have to make exceptions to the budget rule.  Especially when you have events to be at every Tuesday evening (running event) by 6 p.m.  I don’t like to turn up late, because then I feel like I need to try to catch up to everyone, and with the current day-to-day status of the injured hip…I just don’t like to take risks.

Taking risks with food that fits into my kind of restrictive diet…that is sometimes worth splurging on and taking a risk.

So, yes…Buen Sabor.

Buen Sabor was created by Sarah, who grew up on an organic farm in Maine.  With the help of her mother, she used to cure, can, freeze, and dehydrate almost everything they ate.  The family freezer became an invaluable asset to a busy family that wanted to enjoy humble foods that tasted great.  When Sarah became a new mom in 2008, she delved into the quest to solve the “busy persons” food dilemma once again.  And, with all that she learned growing up on the farm, she harnessed that knowledge and started Buen Sabor.  The team at Buen Sabor is passionate about offering simple, crave-worthy foods that…yes…come from the freezer.

In fact, Buen Sabor actually wants you to become a “freezer believer.”  One thing freezer meals have going for it is convenience.  But another thing is…given the right ingredients…they can actually be a clean eat.  Buen Sabor is deeply committed to creating the best possible (and super convenient) food.  All of the sauces are made from scratch, their vegetables are picked and cooked at the height of their freshness, and the proteins are cooked just right and then frozen immediately to preserve the dishes most naturally.  Don’t knock delicious frozen meals…simply put, freezing food is nature’s pause button…it is, literally, the most natural preservative there is.  Frozen foods are nutritious, have real nutritional value, are convenient, and naturally preserves foods.

Buen Sabor aims to build a business that creates as many happy customers possible, who are able to spend more time doing the things they love.  They want their products to exceed all expectations as far as quality, focusing on freshness, flavor, and nutritional value.

But do they achieve this?

Well, I picked up one of their vegan and gluten-free meals at Whole Foods that afternoon, to keep in my freezer for those rushed, hurried, “I need to go run hill repeats” Tuesday nights.  Leave work, rush home, eat, change, out the door to drive over the river to meet with a group who simply…runs up a hill…jogs down…repeats it for some set amount of time.  It means Tuesdays are rather stressful and rushed.  So I grabbed the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) for me and my roomie opted for one of the meaty dishes…the Arroz Con Queso Y Trocitos De Chorizo (Savory Chorizo-Seasoned Rice With Cheese).

Super easy to warm up.  I made Cathy’s first, simply by cutting a slit into the plastic on top of the tray and warming it up for 5 minutes.  It sits for 1 minute and then…ready to eat.  It doesn’t LOOK amazing like it does on the box…but it smelled good.  And when Cathy ate it, she said it was good…for a frozen meal.

Okay…

So, needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo).  Just like with the meaty one, the vegan one also had the plastic film sliced through to allow everything to steam.  Into the microwave for about 4-5 minutes.  I let it go for 5, because I have an old microwave.  Peel back the film and stir, letting it stand for one minute.

And…much like Cathy’s…upon taking it out of the microwave and pulling back the plastic, the meal really doesn’t look appetizing.  It looks…like a frozen microwave meal.  The picture on the box is GORGEOUS…but this is just sort of…one tone…one note…brownish.  LOL!  Over rice.  That being said, once I stirred it up, it looked…slightly more appetizing.

Looks aside, I decided it was time to test the frozen meal waters myself.  And, you know what?  I was actually really surprised.  I mean, packed with flavors.  Just loaded with a hint of spice, fresh vegetables, and rice that ended up cooking to perfection.  I was expecting something bland, perhaps tasting as unappetizing as it looked.  But I was blown away by the flavors.  The chickpeas and potato reheated gorgeously.  Nothing got mushy  And I love that quinoa is included for a bit more of a protein boost.  Picadillo translates into “little (savory-yummy) chopped things.  And the aim of Buen Sabor with the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) was to deliver “a delightful dance of flavors with roots in the Caribbean and Spain.”  I might have devoured mine long before Cathy (who had a headstart on hers) finished hers.  A little spicy, but I have an iron stomach for the most part, and I knew this wouldn’t bother me while running hard up some hills in a local park.  SO tasty.  So good.  And really good for you too!  I loved the spice and the bit of heat that each bite brought.  And I love that brown rice is used instead of white.  YES!!  This company is speaking my language.  None of the vegetables were mushy or soft.  Everything had great texture and heated through perfectly.  All-in-all…a dinner win!  A convenient, easy dinner win.

Speaking of being really good for you, let’s take a look at the ingredients that Buen Sabor puts into the Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)!  One thing that Buen Sabor prides itself on is that they don’t add any hormones, antibiotics or preservatives to their food.  Their products are 100% natural.  Pure and simple goodness.  The Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is made from brown rice, onions, quinoa, chickpeas, water, sweet potato, tomatoes, red peppers, poblano chili peppers, olive oil, spice, sea salt, garlic, corn starch, and smoked sweet paprika.  All real ingredients.  Nothing fake. Nothing that has me questioning my dietary choices.  I love that.  This particular meal is gluten-free, vegan, contains no added sugar, and has no trans fat.

Now, let’s discuss nutrition, shall we?  A serving of the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is 1 cup (159 grams) and there are 2 servings per container.  Except, if you’re making it an actual meal…you’ll eat the entire thing like I did.  No worries, nothing bad or outrageous with these stats.  For one (1) serving, however, you will be taking in 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 5 grams protein.  LOVE IT.  Even after running 8 miles of hill repeats, I still felt full.  And the heat didn’t bother my system at all.  Good food to fuel a tough run that day.

Check your local natural foods stores for the Buen Sabor products.  Honestly, you won’t regret it.  Freezer section.  Good stuff.  Very good stuff.  I think I might have to pick up a few more…at least until this group stops meeting…which, sadly, happens in a couple of weeks.  But, it’s always good to have a quick meal on hand…because you never know when time might get away from you or something might come up!  Buen Sabor…has your back!

Restaurant Review: Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

Verde, Kapa'a, Hawaii

Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

 Restaurant: Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

So..day one in Hawaii was a big success.  I was originally coming to enjoy the challenge of the Kauai Marathon, but things change and so do circumstances.  With all that being said, the trip was, naturally, still on.  The marathon would just be running without me this year.  But, who says that has to stop the adventure, right?

Nothing really stops me.  Things just slow me down is all.

After the longest flight ever (in retrospect, I’ve been on longer flights, but this one seemed particularly long due to the very annoying family traveling behind us who DID NOT SHUT UP the entire time and who do not have indoor voices or control over their children either!), we found ourselves in the humid, sunny atmosphere of the island of Kauai!  HELLO GORGEOUS HAWAII!

After getting our rental car…returning our rental car…getting a different rental car…getting to the resort…not having a room…so going for coffee and a drive and some shopping…we got checked in…and settled and changed.  We went to the beach (major props to Jenn and Cathy for helping me get out to those waves!)…we came back to the resort…and we were ready for some real food.  Seriously, I had lived my day on 2 navel oranges, a Quest protein bar, and coffee…so real food was necessary…stat.

But Cathy was prepared with our dinner plans that evening.  And, we were going to be enjoying a little Mexican flavor here on the Island of Kauai.  I am a huge lover of Mexican food, and she found a great place located just up the street from our resort, located in the Kapa’a Shopping Center.  The restaurant of choice – Verde.  And it was hopping Friday night.

Never one to take a Celiac anywhere unknown, Cathy did some serious research before we headed to Hawaii…finding a lot of different and varied places to enjoy meals while we are visiting.  Verde came with great reviews and a menu that boasts gluten free and vegetarian options.  With the Friday night packing the little restaurant, we waited outside for about 10 minutes until a table opened up that could seat three of us comfortably inside.  During the wait, the staff brought us water and menus so we could have an idea of what we might want to eat when we get seated.

Of course, me being me, had already scoped out the menu and knew what I would be eating that night.  When one of the Verde staff took us inside to our table (and even carried my water for me!), they asked if we had any questions and when we didn’t, we just let them know that I was a vegetarian Celiac.  With that not even being a problem…we placed our orders.

Jenn and Cathy both got the Garlic Shrimp Tacos ($13.95) (really…I think that they are just going to eat the same stuff everywhere we go, LOL!), which was cornmeal-crusted shrimp, local greens, cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, flour tortillas, and a roasted garlic-chipotle aioli.  Jenn got hers with the guac and pico de gallo on the side (which…is totally Jenn), whereas Cathy kept her taco as a comprised dish.

I opted for the Vegan Tacos ($10.95).  These intrigued me from the start.  They are corn tortillas that are stuffed (and I mean stuffed) with green beans, spinach, broccoli sautéed in chipotle, and topped with pico de gallo.  I had never had green beans in a taco before.  Like I said…I was intrigued.

While we were waiting, a bowl of tortilla chips and fresh salsa were delivered to the table.  I didn’t partake at first, because I never trust tortilla chips.  Shared friers are very real and very scary to me.  But Cathy flagged down one of the staff and asked if they were safe for me.  He assured me they keep everything separate as his wife is Celiac and they make sure they take every precaution.  YAY!  It is so rare that I get to have a few of the chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant.  This sort of was an exciting moment for me.

The homemade corn chips were fried to perfection, completely crispy and not overly salty.  I loved the nice balance that each crispy bright brought.  And the red salsa that was served with it was mild and full of flavor.  A nice way to whet the appetite before the main event.

And the tacos were not a disappointment.

Verde's Garlic Shrimp Tacos

Verde’s Garlic Shrimp Tacos

Cathy and Jenn had these delicious looking bread shrimp tacos, greens, pico, guac and a heavenly aoili that topped it all off.  They both raved about it…especially the aioli.  I asked Cathy if they beat out my vegan shrimp tacos that I made (because I love to put her on the spot like that) and she stammered and stuttered and finally said they were two different things.  HAHA!  I told her it was okay if they were.  But, both of them devoured their tacos with gusto and raved about.  Cathy pretty much did that with every bite…so I say these definitely win out over my vegan version I sometimes do at home.  HA!

Cathy also got a glass of the Hapa Limonada Verde ($4.00), a signature drink that Verde prepares that is a blend of Agua Fresca 4 Citrus Green Tea, Pink Lemonade, Lime, and Agave Syrup.  Jenn and I each tried it…and wow…super delicious.  The agave syrup as the sweetener was a nice touch for sure.  Jenn and Cathy drank the rest of it up.  I was sticking to water…which I didn’t get enough of that day (evident in the leg cramps that hit me that night!).

Verde's Hapa Limonada Verde

Verde’s Hapa Limonada Verde

As for me…the vegan tacos were amazing.  With a lightly fried corn tortilla holding a mound of fresh vegetables, cooked to perfection, I was in love at first bite.  The green beans were the main base, and they had great texture and great flavor.  The broccoli, however, was the true star, cooked in chipotle spices.  The pico and the spinach were a nice addition, but the main veggies were definitely the main event.  I devoured…seriously…devoured my two tacos, with the packed veggies that fell out getting eaten with a fork.  No veggie left behind.  It was a great meal and just what this weary and sore traveler needed, for sure.

We polished off the remaining tortilla chips and paid for our meal.  We left content, full, and really pleased to have actual food in our bellies.  The servings weren’t ridiculous, they were perfect.  The food was cooked to order, safe for me to eat, and really, really delicious.  I was so happy when I left Verde that evening to return to the resort and shower off and relax for a bit before turning in.  My body is getting adjusted still to the time change.  I think I made it to 8 pm before turning in.

What a great way to kick off the food experience of Hawaii.  If any plans fall through while in Kauai…I’d go back there in a heartbeat.

Verde's Vegan Tacos

Verde’s Vegan Tacos

Product Review: Evol Foods Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos

Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos

Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos

Product: Evol Foods Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos – $3.99+

There are very few products out on the market these days that fill me with excitement and pure elation when I see them on the shelf for the first time.  I know that might be hard to believe…but it’s true.  Honestly.  It’s true.  Granted, there are some things that make me happy and truly excited when I find them…enough to run, flailing, up and down the aisles at the local Whole Foods or grocery store…but it’s not an everyday or even an every week occurrence.

That being said, one of my favorite foods in the world is…tacos.  “Why tacos?” you might be wondering.  Well…the reason I have a taco obsession (and have had weeks where all I cook are different varieties of vegetarian tacos…and call it Tour de Taco) is that you can literally put just about anything into a taco.  For real!  And it can be delicious.  My favorite creation, by far, has been my veggie burger and fries taco.  Yep…unhealthy but…OMG…yummy!

So, yeah, I was really, really excited to be shopping the frozen food aisles at my local Target one afternoon and spotting the orange and white box from Evol Foods for their new line of street tacos.   Currently Evol Foods offers three gluten-free varieties with only one being vegetarian.  So, hell yes, it came home with me and took up residence in my freezer.  And, for some reason, I was unprepared for my lunches this past week…don’t know why.  The never happens.  But it did.  So, on Friday, as I was intending on Indian food that night to celebrate my roomie (Cathy) heading out to audition for Jeopardy…this made the perfect lunch for us to share.  I thought.

So Evol Foods mission is “to inspire people to care about where food comes from and how it is produced by making real food that tastes delicious.  Love what you eat.”

Simple.  Basic.  And, as someone who has tried a couple of Evol Foods gluten-free and vegetarian products before, was pretty confident that the latest products to hit the market, the Evol Foods Street Tacos, would live up to not only their mission, but the high bar they set with the quality of their previous products.

Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Goat Cheese Street Tacos (frozen, out of the box)

Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Goat Cheese Street Tacos (frozen, out of the box)

That being said, the first thing I noticed when I removed the tray containing the two (2) street tacos that are in each package were just how small these were.  I mean…SMALL!  Maybe 4-5 bites each small.  Given the size of the packaging and the picture on the box, I don’t know, I just expected…more.

Ah well…I was fortunate enough to have planned ahead, bringing the rest of the Good Boy Organics Organicasaurus Tangy Tomato Puffs (previously blogged on) with me for my roomie and I to split as we had intended to split the street tacos to keep lunch lighter in preparation for a bit of a bigger dinner.  So…size…it does matter when you see a product with 220 calories and figure…well…a regular size (6-inch) soft corn tortilla has 40 calories in each tortilla.  What I got were two very tiny tacos with doubled up corn tortillas that were about the size of the palm of my hand.  I was shocked.

It came with frozen pouch containing a somewhat mild-spicy salsa verde, so before I even worked on the tacos, I brought some water to a boil and set the pouch into that to thaw while I warmed up the teeny-tiny tacos for 2 minutes on the tray.  They then sat for 1 minute more…until they were considered ready to consume.

Let me start by saying this…the taco stuffing looked like…a hairball a cat threw up.  Seriously.  The image on the box is so deceiving, showing impeccably orange sweet potatoes, surrounded by crumbled goat cheese and perfect black beans, topped up with the perfect drizzle of salsa verde.  Do not let this fool you.  Because one the taco is cooked, the insides look more like something mashed up together and left out for the dog.  Or…as stated before…a coughed up hairball.  People eat first with their eyes, so it looked rather unappealing.  I gave each taco a healthy dose of the salsa verde, which I had to cut the packet open as it is not one of those that gives you a corner to tear across.  Good thing my office is equipped with such things in the kitchen.  I was still going with it, however.  Because I’ve eaten quite a few things that didn’t look all that appetizing, but in the end were phenomenal.

Tiny tacos were placed on two giant plates and I carried one over to where my roommate was working.  I think she thought I was joking when I set it down in front of her.  Eager to see how it tasted, I shrugged, apologized for the lack of size in the taco, and hurried to my own desk to tuck into my lunch.

It was…bland.  Honetsly.  If it wasn’t for the healthy squirt of salsa verde, I would venture to say that the Evol Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos would be nigh-on tasteless.  Some things taste like a frozen dinner…and this is one of those things.  The tiny corn tortillas began to fall apart.  The filling was not appetizing to look at and not even seasoned.  The salsa verde, thawed in a coffee cup full of hot water, was the best part of this entire dish.  In fact, I ate my entire taco and then savored the little dinosaur puffs I brought as a side, instead of the other way around.  I wasn’t impressed, and my roommate was less than impressed as well.

I get it…street vendors are big into tacos, and street tacos might be smaller than the average taco.  But this was really not even close to being a filling and decent-sized meal.  What a complete and utter disappointment.  When the best part is the part I almost didn’t mess with…well…there is a problem.  Never underestimate a good salsa verde with a nice kick of cilantro.

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients for Evol Foods Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos.  These tacos are made from corn tortillas (white corn flour cooked in lime water, yellow corn flour cooked in lime water, water, and guar gum), sweet potatoes, organic black beans, goat cheese (pasteurized goat milk, salt, cheese cultures, vegetarian rennet, cellulose powder), roasted corn, salsa blend (jalapeños, green onion, cilantro, garlic), cheese sauce (whole milk, cheddar cheese [milk, cheese, cultures, salt enzymes], heavy cream, butter [cream, salt], water, potato flour, onions, rice starch, Parmesan cheese [part-skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], sea salt spices), cilantro, jalapeños, salt, lime juice, cumin, and black pepper.  The ingredients in the salsa verde are fire roasted tomatillo puree, jalapeños, cilantro, corn starch, lime juice, salt, onions and black pepper.

As for nutrition facts, the Evol Foods Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos have 1 serving per container, which holds 2 small tacos.  This serving will provide you with 220 calories, 5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams sugars, and 8 grams of protein.  These are gluten-free and vegetarian.

So, yeah, you can say that I feel betrayed and really let down by both the presentation and the flavor of the Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos.  Thank goodness I decided to go ahead and thaw out the sauce packet or I would have been very, very disappointed.  I hate to say I wouldn’t purchase these again, but I wouldn’t.  I’m glad I tried them, but I just wasn’t impressed.  What a let down from Evol Foods.

Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos (prepared)

Evol Foods Gluten Free Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Street Tacos (prepared)

Recipe: Double Corn Cakes with Black Beans

I have been a reader of Vegetarian Times since before I went full-on vegetarian.  No joke.  And after I took the step toward eating a plant-based diet, I became a subscriber.  It’s one of the magazines I just can’t live without each month.  Well, back in the April/May 2015 issue, they had an amazing recipe that involved polenta and corn, and black beans, and some other easy to find, or already have on-hand, items.  And I had it in my head to make it.

This happens every month when I get my magazine subscriptions.  But this time, it was different.  Instead of just saying I would one day make that recipe.  This time I did.

The recipe is for Double Corn Cakes with Black Beans…and the flavors, textures and just presentation are all fabulous.  It’s a healthy and plenty filling meal.  Having a hard time with your protein?  Make this and you’ll be getting 19 grams in one serving.  YES!

Recipe: Double Corn Cakes with Black Beans

Double Corn Cakes with Black Beans

Double Corn Cakes with Black Beans

Servings: 4
Time: Prep 5 minutes; Cook 20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (1-½ cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and diced (¼ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 (15-oz) cans no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1-½ cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 (18-oz) tube pre-cooked polenta
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add onion, garlic, jalapeño, and cumin, and sauté 5 minutes.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, 1 cup corn, and lime juice; season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Cook 5 minutes, or until heated through. Transfer mixture to covered container, and keep warm.

Wipe out skillet.

Meanwhile, crumble polenta into microwave-safe bowl, and mash with fork until nearly smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup corn kernels. Microwave 1 minute to soften polenta. Stir, then add beaten egg, and fold into polenta mixture until smooth.

Coat skillet with cooking spray, and heat over medium-high heat. Shape polenta into 8 1/3-cup cakes, gently flattening with palm. Cook corn cakes in two batches in skillet 5 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Serve corn cakes over black bean mixture.

~*~*~

There is something amazing about transforming corn kernels and polenta into savory fritters.  I served mine with a side of sliced avocado, but salsa would be a great touch as well.  These fritters have this nice crispy outside and soft inside.  Fantastic flavor.  Healthy.  Delicious!!  I need to really make more recipes from my magazine subscriptions in the future!

Product Review: Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales

Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales

Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales

Product: Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales – $6.99+

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Or I should probably say Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Either way…it’s May 5th…Return of the 5th…and yes…Cinco de Mayo.

And I felt the need to celebrate.  This time at home…not at Moe’s or Q’doba.  Home.  Because I have no money.  What I did have, however, was a local product in my freezer.  Yes.  Local.  Let me tell you the tale…

It was a few months ago.  I was wandering around Whole Foods, attempting to stick to my tight food budget and epically failing at it.  But…I was trying.  As I was making my way up to the registers, my roommate pointed out a table where a nice gentleman was handing out samples of vegan tamales.  Vegan.  Gluten Free.  Tamales.  I had to have this in my life, so I bee-bopped over that way and tried a sample.  Cathy was right behind me.  He was just removing some fresh tamales from his steamer.  He plated a few bits and one bite sold us both.  The nice man was actually the founder of the local Don Tamal…and pointed out that we could purchase them in the freezer section and directed us that way.  We were already a bit over budget, but we couldn’t pass this up. They were REALLY good.

So, the purchase was made.  I took the Don Tamal Veggie Vegan Tamales home and placed them in the freezer.  Where they have been ever since.

But…as I said…it’s Cinco de Mayo.  Time to get our tamales on.

Don Tamal is a local business based out of Louisville, Kentucky that specializes in…TAMALES.  This business strives to provide authentic, all natural, Mexican tamales for people on-the-go who love to eat healthy without sacrificing enticing flavors and textures.  Their philosophy is that all people should have the chance to eat delicious food that is free of additives, preservatives, chemicals, trans fats, growth hormones, and genetically engineered ingredients.  The reward…traditional food of better quality.  In fact, the wife of the founder, Marcela, pursued a PhD in Food Science and Engineering and came up with ways to make flavorful food without sacrificing the texture or flavor.  Same traditional fare…better ingredients.  A healthier choice.

Oh yeah…they had my attention.

There are two ways to cook up the frozen tamales.  You can use the preferred method of using a veggie steamer on the stove top.  Which, if I had a veggie steamer, I’d have done.  But…I don’t.  Luckily…it’s not required.  I used the microwave method, where in I wrap the two tamales that come in the package in a very tamp paper towel and place them in a microwave safe container with a lid.  I microwaved these for about 3 minutes and 15 seconds (the package says 2.5 minutes, but my microwave is old and not very powerful), and then let it stand and steam for about 1 minute.  Then, discard the husk and enjoy!

It really doesn’t get much easier than that.  I served mine up with some tortilla strips and salsa.  Yummy!

Let me tell you…these are fantastic.  I forgot what drove me right over to that freezer in the first place.  Holy cow, these were just amazing.  The masa was soft and creamy.  The veggies that were mixed in tasted so good.  And the different veggies stuffed inside…those were just…yummy.  Despite having habanero pepper in it, it wasn’t spicy.  Which is good, or my roommate (Cathy) would never have let me live it down.  Superb.  Not bad at all for reheating from frozen.  I was beyond impressed back at Whole Foods and tonight just re-introduced to me the reason why.  After one bite, I started pointing at it with my fork and finally managing a, “We’re getting more of these tamales” in between forkfuls.  It was gone way too soon.

Let’s look at the ingredients that go into the Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales, shall we?  These tamales are made from corn dough (corn with lime, vegetable base (organic carrots, organic celery, organic onion, organic tomato, salt, organic and gluten free soy sauce, organic cane sugar, organic maltodextrin, yeast extract, organic potato starch, organic onion powder, organic garlic powder, and organic spices), poblano pepper, organic carrots, organic corn, purple onion, yellow onion, olive oil, organic palm oil, cilantro, organic kale, fresh garlic, spices, aluminum free baking powder, habanero pepper and vinegar.  These tamales are made without hydrogenated oils or lard.  And, yes, they are certified vegan.

As this is a local business selling these, I don’t have the nutrition information…but…I can tell you…they are YUMMY!

Nutritious.  Delicious.  Tamales.  Happy Cinco de Mayo indeed!  Thanks, Don Tamal.  I’m heading to Whole Foods for more this weekend!

Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales (cooked)

Don Tamal All Natural Veggie Vegan Gourmet Tamales (cooked)

Product Review: Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini + Recipe Bonus

Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini

Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini

Product: Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini – $5.99

There are probably a few things that you know about me by now.  These may include the fact that Cuisine Cube has revolutionized my life in introducing me to products I never would have known about or thought to seek out.  Another fact may be that I am a pasta-holic.  Yep.  I love pasta.  I know…that whole athlete who loves pasta thing is pretty cliche (hey…my pre-race night of carb loading doesn’t include pasta…always gluten-free pizza!).  But, ever since I was a child and could eat my first plate of spaghetti…I was hooked.  I love any and all pasta and sauces.  And while my options for pasta and their sauces have narrowed after first becoming a vegetarian and then, a year later, being diagnosed with Celiac…well…I haven’t let it hinder me from devouring one of my favorite food groups in the world.  Yes…pasta is a food group.  It…it just is.

But, before I go into detail about this new-to-me brand of gluten-free pasta, let me share with you some information about the people who brought it into my life.  Cuisine Cube is run by a small group of foodies who have put together a completely gluten-free box of goodies and then sends them to your doorstep each month.  These boxes contain 5-6 full-size products from small, lesser-known artisan producers…mostly local…some not as local.  Some you may even have heard of before, but most will be new to you.  I signed up for Cuisine Cube back in May and have never looked back.  Subscriptions start as low as $29.99…which is a great price and great incentive to sign up for this subscription box service and try out some gluten-free products you have been too nervous about purchasing yourself or, perhaps, didn’t even know existed.

Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini (cooked)

Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini (cooked)

So…Pastabilities.  Yes…you had me at the name.  I love the play on words.  And I was beyond excited to pull a gluten-free pasta out of my March 2015 Cuisine Cube.  Pasta + me = LOVE.  Seriously, we are a match made in carb heaven.  We are BFFs for life.  And it will always be this way.  One of the first things I staked out when I had to go gluten-free was good gluten-free pasta.  While there are uncountable varieties out there on the market…the key word there was good and not all of them fall into that category.  I want a gluten-free pasta to be like real pasta.  I don’t want it to fall apart or turn to mush.  I want it to cook through and have that perfect al dente bite to it.  I want it to reheat well if I cook too much of it and need to eat some for lunch the next day.  I want it to pair well with a variety of sauces and I want it to stand out.

Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini does exactly that.  Tagliolini is a long, flat ribbon-shaped pastsa that is similar to linguini or fettuccine, and is traditionally from the Northern regions of Italy.  This brand is crafted from high quality ingredients.  Even better, the actual pasta itself is manufactured in Italy using bronze dies that give the pasta a matte look and makes the surface rough…which is perfect for sauces.  We all want sauces to stick to our noodles, not fall away like water.  Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini is also made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

YAY!

Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini is fantastic.  Seriously.  This pasta is made with a blend of 70% corn and 30% rice, which makes it cook up within 8-9 minutes to a perfect al dente texture.  And the taste…amazing.  It isn’t gummy and it isn’t mushy.  It has that “real” pasta feel.  Like it was just made fresh for you.  Completely gluten free to boot.  As a connoisseur of gluten-free pasta, this ranks right up there as one of the best.  It is fantastic.  These ribbons of pasta held their own with the arrabbiata sauce, which makes me one happy pasta lover.  Nothing worse than going to take a bite of pasta and having it fall apart and needing to chase it around on your plate.  Pastabilities is, honestly, gluten-free pasta done right.  And it really is amazing.

Let’s talk about ingredients.  Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini is made from corn flour and rice flour.  That’s it.  Simple. Perfection.

As for nutrition, this is phenomenal for a gluten-free pasta.  A serving of the Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini is 2 ounces.  In this serving, you will be consuming 200 calories and 1 gram of fat.  You will also be taking in 1 gram of sugar.  This pasta is cholesterol free and sugar free.  And, trust me…it will fill you up just like “real” pasta as it packs 45 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein!

So, what do I do?  I go for a traditional approach to pasta in an nontraditional way.  I cooked up the pasta as I normally would…but served it in tacos instead of in a bowl.  Yes…spaghetti tacos.

You see, my roommate has apparently led a very sheltered life and had never indulged indulged in the Italian/Mexican infusion that is…Spaghetti Tacos.  It’s a traditional iCarly treat…one that my friends have raved about and that I have eaten myself.  And no one should ever miss out on spaghetti tacos.  So, below is the easy and delicious recipe for Spaghetti Tacos featuring…Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini!

Recipe: Gluten Free Spaghetti Tacos

Spaghetti Tacos made with Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini

Spaghetti Tacos made with Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini

Servings: 2
Time: Prep 5 minutes; Cook 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 Gluten-Free Hard Taco Shells (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 4 ounces Gluten-Free Pasta (I used Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini)
  • 1 cup Gluten Free Pasta Sauce (I used BonGiovi Arrabbiata Sauce)

Directions:

Cook gluten-free pasta according to directions on the package.  Don’t overcook it.  Get it to the perfect al dente texture.

While the pasta is boiling, start warming up the sauce.

Preheat the oven to 425°F and toast your crunchy taco shells for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from oven.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce.  Allow the noodles and sauce to cook together (this is for flavor).

Spoon the pasta and sauce into the taco shells.  Top with your favorite pasta toppings (cheese, red pepper flakes, etc).

Devour.

~*~*~

If you haven’t tried the wonder of Spaghetti Tacos…remedy that.  It has revolutionized my roommate’s world.  I mean, savory good pasta inside a crunch tortilla shell…yeah…that’s good eats right there.  And thanks to Pastabilities Gluten Free Tagliolini…I had the perfect pasta to introduce this meal to my friend with.  It doesn’t get any better or fun than this.

Don’t miss out on amazing products like this one.  Hop on over to Cuisine Cube and sign up today for a subscription.  You won’t regret it.  Trust me.