Project BQ – Marathon Training Week #20

dreams-hopes-poster-rhino-treadmill-unicornI don’t know how I made it through these last 20 weeks, but with that said…race week has arrived.  I’m both nervous, excited, anxious, and calm.  How is it possible to feel all the things and remain sane?  Well, the vote is still out on that whole remaining sane thing.  HA!

This was definitely a week to turn it down.  And my coach gave me specific instructions that he didn’t want me to take a complete back seat this week, but I could move or change whatever I needed to going into it.  I didn’t change a damn thing.  I did, however, knock my recovery runs down one mile and made sure to keep that pace nice…and…easy.  The last thing I wanted was to go into race morning with lactic acid hanging around in these legs.  NOPE NOPE NOPE!

As I mentioned previously, my coach does an untraditional taper.  He does lower mileage (although I was in the 60s, 50s, 40s for the last three weeks)…kinda.  He makes a lot of it all about that speed work.  Getting those legs to fire…right at the end of a run…when they are the most exhausted.  But this week really didn’t have too much on it.  My longest run was 7 miles, and that was the ONLY one that really had a speed element to it.  And it was a 4 mile fast finish.  Other than that…strides on the last day I ran before the race.  But I’ll cover all of that in this week recap.

It’s race week…let’s go!

Monday: INSTRUCTIONS: NO WATCH ALLOWED! FOCUS ON THE GOAL OF THE RUN = RECOVERY! GO AS FAR OR SHORT AS YOU NEED, AS FAST OR SLOW AS YOU NEED, WALK OR RUN AS YOU NEED.

I love that even in taper, my coach trusts me with “Choose Your Own Adventure” runs.  Knowing that this is race week, I really wanted to make my primary focus recovery.  I want to hit that start line feeling fresh and ready.  I was stressing over the forecast a little too much, because it looks like this will be my coldest marathon I have run.  Thanks to Canada and this arctic blast that is attacking our nation.  HA!  Anyway, I woke up to weather JUST above freezing.  So it was a long sleeve, capris kind of a run.  I didn’t wear my Dunkin’ Donuts hat…don’t know why.  I just didn’t.  And the legs did a little shakeout.  They felt good for a Monday.  I opted to do 4 instead of my usual 5 miles…and somehow snagged some negative splits in the process.  I called it a day.  No personal training.  Just my normal PT stretches.  I didn’t even do the additional hip strengtheners this week, not wanting to accidentally tweak something.  Simple.  Basic.  Got it done.

Tuesday: INSTRUCTIONS: 5-8 MILES WITH 3-5 MILE FINISH AT MARATHON PACE – GOAL 6.5 MILES – EASY DOES IT UNTIL THE FAST FINISH AT THE END

I woke up on Tuesday morning to 50 degree weather.  Yep.  From 33 degrees Monday morning to 50 degrees on Tuesday.  Fun times.  I knew he gave me the option of 8 miles…and if this was training on a normal week and I was feeling good…I might have pushed for it.  BUT…it’s taper.  It’s race week. I don’t like half miles…so I rounded up to 7…and I opted to go right in the middle with that fast finish, doing 3 easy miles and pushing pace on those last 4.  It felt hard.  It shouldn’t have felt hard.  But, I did at least get it done.  My sinuses were having a fun reaction to the yo-yo temperatures, so that was fun.  Other than that…I took it for what it was.  Finished as strong as I could for the day, then went inside to shower and just do my usual stretching.  Keeping it nice and easy.  Oh, and I went and voted.  Because that needed to happen!

Wednesday: INSTRUCTIONS: NO WATCH ALLOWED! FOCUS ON THE GOAL OF THE RUN = RECOVERY! GO AS FAR OR SHORT AS YOU NEED, AS FAST OR SLOW AS YOU NEED, WALK OR RUN AS YOU NEED.

Second verse, same as the first.  My only other “Choose Your Own Adventure” run for the week.  Happy to have had 2 of these.  I opted to do 4 again, unless I just wasn’t feeling it.  That’s the glory about these…I control them.  I did make a note to back off on pace and just let the legs work a little less.  My last 2 miles were much quicker than my first 2 miles, but that’s because it took me 2 miles to feel warm.  Isn’t that fun.  OH…did I not mention that the temperature dipped back down to just above freezing again?  Another morning with 33 degrees.  Oh…joy.  And the fact that I went from a warm apartment to run and it took me 2 miles to get my legs going was a bit of a concern.  I just tried very hard not to let it get into my head.  I did my stretches twice that morning.  And I foam rolled before work.  After work, I had a sports massage and I was so thankful for that.  Basically all that is holding me back right now is the weather.

Thursday: BASE FUN 4-8 MILES + 4-6 STRIDES – GOAL 6 MILES – EASY OVERALL EFFORT

It was another rainy Thursday morning.  Just like last week.  UGH.  MEH.  BLAH.  I originally had thought about just doing the run on the treadmill, but I can’t do strides on the tready.  Nope.  So…I opted to just go and get it done.  It never stopped raining on me…but thankfully, we were back up to 50 degrees.  WHAT THE HELL WEATHER?!  So, I definitely didn’t want to push anything. Not even the hills I go up and down.  This was one of my slowest training runs to date.  And some of it might have been fear of slipping on the wet pavement and falling.  I won’t lie.  But I really just wanted it all to feel super easy.  It didn’t.  I blame the rain.  But, I did get in 6 miles.  See…I was given the option of going up to 8…but I really am doing JUST what needs to be done this week.  I reset for strides and pushed those legs on some short sprints…then went inside to take a hot shower, stretch, and get to work.  I met my friend, Melissa, for coffee after work…and she gave me my start line pep talk just in case she couldn’t get that out at my start line.  I appreciated it.  Went home to eat dinner.  Was supposed to pack.  Didn’t pack.  Went to bed by 8:30…because I really wanted to get some quality sleep knowing that I probably won’t sleep much on Friday night.

Friday: REST/RECOVERY DAY!

Thank God for small miracles.  I woke up at normal time…of course.  I didn’t set an alarm.  I just woke up.  So I lounged and dozed and finally got up at 5 am.  I showered.  I stretched.  I was thankful to not have to do one single mile today.  I was thankful that it was 26 degrees outside and I got to stay inside, stretch, hydrate, and sit under my snuggie, working on this blog.  That’s what I did.  I eventually made breakfast and my roommate and I got to packing…pretty much every option for any scenario on race day.  I still don’t know what I should or want to wear during the race.  We haven’t had weather this cold yet here…so I am at a total loss.  Not to mention, I have never run a marathon or a long distance run in temperatures like this.  It doesn’t sound fun.  It’s producing a lot of anxiety…but we’re working through it.  We had to wait for Dragon King’s Daughter to open so I could order my “magic sushi” to take with me to Indianapolis.  Then we hit the road to get up to Indy, check into the hotel, and hit the expo.  The rest of the time, I was going to spend in the hotel…rolling, stretching, and keeping myself off my feet.  I wanted to feel good Saturday morning.

Saturday: CNO FINANCIAL GROUP INDIANAPOLIS MONUMENTAL MARATHON

Goal: Qualify for Boston – needed 3:40 time.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Finished in 3:35:13.

More to come in actual post race recap!  This girl is going back to Boston in 2021!  This is my second fastest marathon…EVER.  This beats out my 2nd marathon, the Marshall Marathon, by about 42 seconds.  Super proud.  Super sore.  But my day didn’t end with that finish line.  Then I went and sat outside in Indianapolis for the USL Eastern Conference Finals between the Indy Eleven and…Louisville City FC.  We won.  In overtime.  It was a long day of being cold.

Sunday: REST/RECOVERY DAY!

I just can’t sleep the night after I run a marathon.  I was up until after midnight, watching Mindhunter (finished Season 2) and was still NOT tired.  I tossed and turned all night.  Finally got up and decided to finish this blog.  Will take a short 20 minute walk on the hotel treadmill this morning before grabbing breakfast, packing, loading up the car, and heading out for some shopping and lunch (you know I’m going to Woody’s).  Then, the long car ride home to Louisville, where I still need to buy groceries, meal prep, and all the usual stuff.  This coming week will bring my 20-30 minute walks (just like I did post Glass City Marathon in April).  I want to get back to spin classes…all the stuff I stopped doing when marathon training took over my life.  Looking forward to this recovery time while I make plans for 2020, which now doesn’t need to include a marathon!

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: Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters

Van's Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters

Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters

Product: Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters – $5.99+

One of my favorite, favorite, favorite things to have to eat before heading out to my morning spin class (like 5:30 a.m. start time for class) is something as simple as yogurt, fruit, and a little granola.  It isn’t too heavy to make me feel…BLEH (technical term, yes!)…while spinning out to awesome music and getting my sweat on, but it does give me enough fuel in the tank to not pass out or run out of gas during the workout itself.  And…it’s refreshing…and delicious.

So, when I randomly bought strawberries this past week at the grocery store (they looked good and I really wanted them), I randomly needed to get granola to go with it.  I have an abundance of yogurts (vegan and otherwise) in my fridge for my roomie and I at all times.  But granola…not so much anymore.  I’ve just been trying other breakfast stuff…like Gluten Free NY-Style Bagels and all that.

That being said, this was necessary this week, for sure.  And while out and about on Saturday doing our very random grocery shopping at at least 5 different stores (NO JOKE!), I was on the hunt for a granola that wasn’t too high in sugars and that would pair nicely with strawberries.  I opted for one brand, and then quickly changed my mind when I spotted the Van’s Foods granola in the gluten-free section of said store.

I’ve only had one other version of the Van’s Gluten Free Granola Clusters, but what I loved about it was the soft and chewy nature of it.  So, back went the original brand I had scooped up…hello to one of the newest additions to the Van’s Gluten Free Granola Clusters lineup.  The flavor…Banana Nut.

I am a runner…a marathon runner.  This means I have this special place in my heart for banana.  Banana bread (gluten-free of course), banana cookies, bananas with peanut butter, banana chips…and yes…straight up banana.  Banana is my pre-long run eats.  So, anything banana makes me one happy girl.  No question about it…I wanted to try this granola.

And I have been totally devouring it and enjoying it all weekend.  Like the other granola clusters that they sell, Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters are…really more one large mass of granola, rather than individual clusters.  But that’s fine.  The massive chunk of granola does break apart easily, making for easy sprinkling over yogurt or whatever.  It also makes for good pinching material for stealing snacks between meals, before eating, or just…because.  I love the soft and chewy texture of this granola, because while I do love granola with a crunch, this texture just pairs well with…everything.  And I can eat it quietly and not feel like I might wake up my roommate simply by chewing.  What I do love about this granola is how the banana flavoring doesn’t overwhelm or overpower the actual granola itself.  This makes it perfect for pairing with anything…oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, smoothies, ice cream, etc.  Oh yeah…it’s amazing.  There are bits of nuts included in the clusters as well.  It’s a delicious way to start your day…or end your day…or to have throughout the day.  And I don’t feel bad about snacking on this…because Van’s takes pride in the ingredients they use and the nutritional worth of their products.  It’s a win either way.  Definitely a win when banana is involved.

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients that are used in put together the Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters, shall we?  As I stated, Van’s uses ingredients that they are proud of.  For this variety of their Granola Clusters, Van’s includes gluten free whole oats, brown rice syrup, invert cane syrup, cane sugar, non-GMO expeller pressed canola oil, unsweetened coconut, pecans, honey, flax seed, gluten free oat bran, almonds, natural flavors, salt, walnuts, vitamin E tocopherols (for freshness).  Gluten-free, vegan, and made with whole grains.  Gotta love that.

Now let’s look at the nutritional information of the Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Granola Clusters.  A serving of this granola is 1/3 cup (30 grams).  This serving will provide you with 120 calories, 5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 1.5 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 6 grams sugars, and 2 grams protein.  Deliciously well-rounded, balanced, and not too bad on the nutrition.  I like that this brand keeps added sugar levels low.  Some granola has double digit sugars in a serving.

Van’s Gluten Free products have always impressed me and been amazing.  I love the soft and chewy texture of their granola clusters.  And the Van’s Gluten Free Banana Nut Clusters is definitely a new favorite.  This package is almost empty…so I think another trek out to purchase more is a must.

If you haven’t tried Van’s Gluten Free Granola Clusters…make a point to do so.  It will change your granola-loving mind forever!!

 

Product Review: Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar

 

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Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar

Product: Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar – $4.99+

It was at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana this past October that I was introduced to one of Freedom Foods newest products. Now, I’m already a huge supporter of the amazing, healthy, gluten-free products from Freedom Foods, but what I didn’t know up until that point was that they have moved beyond just cereals and (the best thing ever) Smudge (a dairy-free and nut-free version of Nutella).

I made a purchase of the Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks at the expo, and for my purchase (of umpteen million boxes), they threw in a free box of one of their new (at the time) products…their Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar.

NICE!!  As I have been a huge fan of everything I have tried from Freedom Foods, this was a nice treat and a huge added bonus for me.  I’m really cautious when it comes to buying protein bars and granola bars, as so often they are just laden with processed sugars, preservatives, chemicals and all that stuff that does the body no good.

But not so when it comes to Freedom Foods.  Their food should always find a spot in your pantry, bag, shopping cart…because their products are all free from gluten, low in salt, a great source of fiber, are non-GMO project verified, have NFCA Certification, are vegan, are kosher, and contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.  Basically…what you see is what you get.  And I absolutely LOVE that.

In fact, Freedom Foods offers a variety of products, although only a few items are available in the United States at the moment…and most of these include cereals, which, for the record, are made in a dedicated and specially built allergen-free facility in the Riverina region of New South Wales, in Australia.  As Freedom Foods was specifically developed to make allergen-free foods, they test every batch made in their facilities, to the most stringent levels possible, leaving no doubt that the Freedom Foods products you pick up will be free of the allergens that are necessary to avoid.

LOVE THAT TOO!

Because we live in a world where it’s not enough to just be health conscious.  Now we have to be allergen conscious too.  With the growing number of food allergies and intolerances, it is nice to find a company that really proves that it is dedicated to creating products that are safe to consume.  Freedom Foods has been around for over 20 years, making great-tasting and nutritious allergen-free food.  I can attest to this, as I am a huge fan of the products I have had from them thus far.  All of their products adhere to the strict guidelines laid out by Australia’s food industry, meaning all their products are non-GMO.  They even test for GMOs just to make sure.

So, here I am…4 months after the GFFAF and just now tearing into the box of free goodies from a company that I adore and trust.  What is wrong with me?  Well, just been working my way through the pantry and trying to do so systematically.  But this was to be paired with my container of Chocolate Chia Superfood Pudding after my gym sessions this week.  And, I admit, I was a small bit concerned that I wouldn’t like it, even packing a backup bar…just in case.

Back up bar wasn’t necessary though.

The Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar was…simply put…fantastic.  It’s the perfect snack as it’s small and easy to pack into a purse or pocket…ideal for an on-the-go breakfast or when that snack attack happens mid-afternoon, yes?  Hey…it happens.  Pretty much every day for me.  And having something healthy to reach for, rather than candy or sweets, is good for me.  Because, we all know I have quite the sweet tooth.

Well, not only does the Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bars fulfill any sweet craving, I don’t feel guilty noshing on it either.  Not only are they low in salt, with no added artificial colors or flavors, but they are also free of gluten, wheat, almonds, hazelnut, walnuts, dairy, soy, and eggs…and instead contain a whole heap of wholegrain oats, tasty apples, raisins, and sweet cinnamon.  They prove to be a great source of filling fiber.  And…guess what?  They taste amazing.  No backup bar required.

I loved these bars at first bite.  They are sweet, without being sugary.  They are crumbly and chewy, and not dry.  They are packed with fruit flavors and have amazing texture with the coconut, oats, apples and raisins.  Seriously…love.  LOVE.  And, like I said, I can be pretty picky about my bars.  But these are a dream.   A serious granola bar lovers dream.  I devoured them the past two gym days if that tells you anything.

So, now that I’ve raved over the Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bars from Freedom Foods, let’s talk about their ingredients!  These bars are made from whole grain rolled oats, glucose syrup, rice cereal (rice flour, yellow corn flower, psyllium husk, whole grain sorghum flour, sugar, canola oil, salt, sunflower lecithin, sultana raisins, glycerin, erythritol, dried apple (contains sulfites), canola oil, resistant dextrin inverted sugar, coconut (contains sulfites), maltodextrin, natural flavor, sunflower lecithin, and sodium bicarbonate.

And as far as that coveted nutritional information goes…Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bars have amazing stats.  Seriously.  A serving size is one (1) bar, and there are 6 bars in each box.  This one bar will provide you and your body with 130 calories, 3 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 6 grams sugars, and 2 grams of protein.  Filling…but filled with good stuff, that’s for sure.

I love how Freedom Foods continues to hold itself to the highest of standards when it comes to their products.  Their focus on a better and healthier diet, through the food they produce, is evident in the products that they put out on the shelves.  I have yet to be let down.  Totally amazing.  Totally delicious.  And yes…filling.

I’m sold…for life.

 

Product Review: McCabe’s True Original Granola

McCabe's True Original Granola

McCabe’s True Original Granola

Product: McCabe’s True Original Granola – $5.49+

One of my favorite things to purchase at the grocery store on occasion is…granola. Especially granola that isn’t loaded down with sugar.  Granola is so versatile.  You can eat it on its own, put it atop yogurt, or ice cream, or oatmeal.  It’s the perfect thing just to have on hand in the pantry.

And for a little while…I was without.  But then my local Kroger ran a Manager’s Special on some items and one of them was McCabe’s Original Granola.  With $3 off the regular price, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try this granola I had been eyeing on the shelves.

I admit to being a bit of a granola snob.  Most gluten free granola is laden with excessive sugars and are far from healthy.  But McCabe’s caught my eye because all ingredients are recognizable (no chemicals), and it was low in sugars and carbohydrates.  It took me a major sale to actually buy it though because I never could fit it into my budget.  But…now I think it’s worked its way into one of my favorite brands.  And this is simply based off the True Original variety.  Because, you gotta start with the basic.

McCabe’s Granola is a family owned business, run by Susan (mom), Chris (dad) and their sons Jameson and Michael.  Their goal is to provide you with the healthiest, most flavorful granola and granola bars possible.  They take great pride in their products and their family, and the products they produce definitely reflect this.

I purchased the McCabe’s True Original Granola.  Basic.  Simple.

But basic and simple doesn’t mean boring.  Especially in the McCabe’s True Original Granola.  I have eaten this over fruit, over yogurt, by the handful…and I never get tired or bored with it.  For a granola that isn’t just a bunch of sugar…the flavor is awesome.  This granola is proof that original isn’t simply plain.  Becasue there is nothing plain or tasteless or boring about this granola.  The bag refers to it as “The freshest, most natural, nuttiest granola in town,” and it’s not that far off.  It’s low in sugar, it’s made with natural (non-GMO) ingredients, it’s gluten free.  It’s awesome.  The blend of oats, seeds, raisins, and coconut bring great variety for texture and taste.  I love every handful (oh yes…I can (and do) eat this by the handful) of this granola.  My pouch is almost empty, but now I’m willing to pay the full price.  I know whatever flavor I end up purchasing, it’s going to be good.

McCabe’s True Original Granola is made from 100% natural ingredients that include: rolled oats, 100% pure maple syrup, sunflower seeds, cashews, ground flax seeds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, extra virgin olive oil, almonds, and unsweetened coconuts.  Seriously, how can a blend of those ingredients not be amazing.  It’s impossible.  This blend of granola is amazing.  The raisins are my favorite part…

As far as nutritional information goes, McCabe’s True Original Granola is awesome when compared to other gluten-free granola is outstanding.  A serving size is 1/4 cup (28 grams) and there are about 12 servings per container.  One serving will dish up 130 calories, 8 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fats, 0 grans trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.

Lower in calories, sugars and carbohydrates when compared to other brands of gluten-free granola, McCabe’s really shines as a healthy granola choice.  I can eat granola for breakfast or a snack, and I don’t feel at all guilty when I reach for this package.  McCabe’s is certainly fulfilling their statement to provide a healthy and flavorful product.  I am beyond impressed.

McCabe’s Granola is available in the following flavors: True Original, Delta Blueberry, Cran With A Twist, and PB & Chocolate.  If you want a great choice for granola…this is definitely one that you should consider purchasing.  For real.  So go.  Find it.  Buy it.  And devour it.

Product Review: Tina’s Sweet Treats Banana Bread Granola

Tina's Sweet Treats Banana Bread Granola

Tina’s Sweet Treats Banana Bread Granola

Product: Tina’s Sweet Treats Banana Bread Granola – $2.99+

One of the best things to ever come from my birthday expedition to Jungle Jim’s International Market (FOODIE HEAVEN!) was discovery local (to Ohio…not to me) bakeries through the products they had on display and for sale at Jungle Jim’s.  I love purchasing these items over everything else, because, well…I LOVE supporting local businesses.

So, one of the products I snagged from the end cap of gluten-free local bakery goodies at the market was this amazing sounding granola from a place called Tina’s Sweet Treats, based out of Franklin, Ohio.

Tina’s Sweet Treats came about after six (6) members of her family were diagnosed with Celiac.  She went from casually baking gluten-free to full-blown.  And, as with most people, wanting to make sure that her fmaily didn’t miss out on any of the wonderful baked goods that they loved, Tina worked hard to create products that won’t lack in flavor, taste, or make her family members feel like they were missing out on something amazing.  Everything from Tina’s Sweet Treats is baked fresh from their home kitchen, which is completely free of contamination!

I love it when I can also get a product and feel 100% secure that it won’t make me sick.  When something is produced where contamination will not even come into question, I never have to play roulette with my body.  And for that, I am thankful!

Jungle Jim’s had a few options from Tina’s Sweet Treats…but the one that really caught my eye…mostly because I don’t see a lot of this from local bakeries…was the granola.  But not just any granola.  Probably what may be considered the most epic of all granola.

Banana Bread Granola.

You had my full attention with all three of those words.  Into the basket…into the shopping bag…into the car…into my pantry.

And it didn’t last long.  This past weekend, I was baking and cooking up a storm, and my lunch was something quick and easy on Saturday.  I had a soccer match to get to and I needed to make some Gluten Free and Vegan Snickerdoodle Blondies and some Dairy Free Pumpkin Ice Cream before heading out to the big playoff match for Louisville City FC.  Thus…lunch became a yogurt with granola on top.  I remembered I had the granola…and being that it is made by a bakery, no preservatives are added and therefore, it is best when used by the sell-by date.  This would certainly accomplish that.  So, after palming a handful to taste on its own (OH MY GOD YUM!), I poured some on a yogurt for my roommate and some on mine.  It was a simple, yet delicious addition to already delicious yogurts, let me tell you.

What I love, first and foremost, is that toasty flavor you get with homemade granola.  Top it off with that aroma and the taste of fresh banana bread, and you’re talking about a winning combination.  And that is exactly what Tina’s Sweet Treats accomplishes with this gluten free Banana Bread Granola.  It was the perfect topper and stir-in for my vegan yogurt, and acted as a bit of a “sundae” topper for Cathy’s Banana Greek Yogurt with a Chocolate Topping.  It was, without a doubt, a way to kick up the yogurt lunch a notch.  And, the added crunch was that bonus that sometimes yogurt lacks.

I wish I lived closer to Tina’s Sweet Treats.  I’d purchase this every week.  Probably multiple times.

The Tina’s Sweet Treats Banana Bread Granola is made from rice flour, potato starch, millet flour, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, sugar, apples, milk, butter (cream, natural flavorings), eggs, brown sugar (white sugar, molasses) sour cream, baking powder (corn starch, sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, monocalcium phosphate), vanilla (water, alcohol, vanilla bean), xanthan gum, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and salt.

Since this is made out of a home and sold by a local bakery, I don’t have any of the nutritional information.  But…as with all granola out there, stick to a serving (usually around 28 grams), and don’t go overboard.  It’s all good.  Enjoy a sweet treat (see what I did there?) every now and again.

Love at first banana bread-y bite.  Seriously, if you are a lover of banana and banana bread, Tina’s Sweet Treats has you covered with this granola.  I only wish they had it online to order.  Just…pure goodness and pure wow any way you want to eat it.  Personally, by the handful is the way I recommend. HA!

Product Review: Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

Bobo's Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

 Product: Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar – $2.50+

Ever see one of those products that intrigues you…but you just can’t get up the nerve to purchase one to actually try it?  That is the relationship I have had for a few years with Bobo’s Oat Bars.  I spotted these first at my natural foods store, Rainbow Blossom, on an endcap.  Not all flavors are gluten-free, but there was quite a variety.  I really wanted to try one, and, for a gluten-free bar…the price isn’t so bad.  I just never could actually talk myself into it.

Lo and behold, my May (Is For Mom) 2015 Cuisine Cube brought Bobo’s Oat Bars to me, instead.  It was like a “if you build it, they will come,” moment, save more of a, “if you covet it, someone will send it to you.”  HA!

So, first let me recap for you what Cuisine Cube is all about, shall I?  Cuisine Cube is a subscription service that delivers 5-6 gluten-free, full-size products to your door for as little as $34.99/month. Inside the cube, you will discover full-size products (not sample sizes) that are made by local and smaller, artisan companies, rather than those that you can find at the average grocery store.  It has introduced me to so many new and delightful products.  Each box contains a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert product…and then, sometimes, an extra bonus item.  Who doesn’t love a little something extra, right?   Keep in mind, however, that Cuisine Cube has gone through some changes as of May.  No longer do they strictly only offer gluten-free cubes.  In addition to their gluten-free option, they now also offer Artisan and Vegan cubes as well.  The Artisan cube means that you have no food allergies and foods that contain common food allergens will be included.  The Vegan cubes contain products that are dairy and animal free.  And, they still have the Gluten Free cubes, which will have products that contain no gluten or wheat.  So, if you’re really interested in being introduced to the smaller, lesser-known, artisan companies, give Cuisine Cube a try!  It’s like…Christmas…or your birthday…every month!  Who doesn’t love that?!

In the May 2015 box, there were quite a few snacks/candies/sweets packed in.  It was the Mother’s Day cube, that’s how it should be.  And for the Breakfast/Snack option, the people at Cuisine Cube sent me a much coveted, highly anticipated, Bobo’s Gluten Free Oat Bar.  The flavor – peach.

Now, peach for me can be hit or miss, honestly.  You either get it right, or you get it wrong.  As a huge fan and connoisseur of peaches (fresh, tinned, frozen…you name it!), peach is one of those flavors that either wins me over or loses me.  So, peach was the risky flavor of bar to send from the gluten-free line, I think.  It’s not a common favorite, but, honestly, it is one of the most refreshing and summer-inducing flavors around.

Bobo’s Oat Bars was founded by Beryl Strafford in 2005.  This Boulder, Colorado, based business is still headquarted there today.  These bars are named after Strafford’s eldest daughter, who she has affectionately called “Bobo.”  These bars were developed out of a simple mother-daughter baking tradition, and soon grew to become a sought-after snack bar that are enjoyed by families, athletes, and healthy minded people everywhere.  Strafford wanted these bars to embody two of her highest values in life: being a mom, and living an active and healthy lifestyle.  Bobo’s Oat Bars are baked from scratch using only the finest organic ingredients, with no additives or artificial sweeteners.  These bars are not only convenient, but a wholesome snack choice that are convenient for the busy kids, students, athletes, and adults in life.  Not all of Bobo’s Oat Bars are gluten-free, but they have a core selection of flavors that are, including: peach, maple pecan, lemon poppyseed, chocolate almond, apple pie, and peanut butter and jelly.

Cuisine Cube shared probably the flavor I would have picked up last, due to my love-hate relationship with peach flavored items.  I am either going to love it or hate it.  And after 2 months of not quite getting around to trying the much-coveted Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar, my roommate and I split it tonight as our dessert.

First of all, I loved the texture of this bar.  It was substantial, yes, but it was soft and chewy…like an elite granola bar of sorts.  The oats were stunning and each bite was chewy and wholesome.  I love that these are made with natural ingredients.  I love that very little sugar is in these bars.  I loved how 1/2 of this bar (which is the serving size) was filling enough to double as a meal.  Yes…I loved all of that.  What fell a little short for me, however, was the flavor.  When something declares that it is peach flavored, by the taste gods, bring me that bold, sweet, amazing peach flavor.  At the very edges of this bar, I found it to be very bland.  The center part, still bland, but had more of that peach flavor that I was hoping for.  At least the flavor didn’t taste fake…there just wasn’t enough of it there.  The Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar was filling, for sure, but not all that flavorful.  A little bit of a let-down, but not enough to make me not want to try the other gluten-free flavors out there.

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bars!  These bars are made from organic gluten free rolled oats, brown rice syrup (brown rice, filtered water), Earth Balance [natural oil blend (palm fruit, canola and olive oils), filtered water, pure salt, natural flavor (derived from corn, no MSG, no alcohol, no gluten), sunflower lecithin, lactic acid (non-dairy, derived from sugar beets) and colored with annatto extract], organic sucant (non-refined cane sugar), dried peaches, natural peach extract, and xanthan gum.  These bars are gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and now certified kosher!

As for the nutrition facts of Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bars, these stats are pretty fantastic.  Do keep in mind, however, that each bar is 2 servings, so cut that baby in half and save the rest for another day.  One serving, or half of a bar, will provide you with 180 calories, 6 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams sugars, and 3 grams of protein.  Is it any wonder with that low sugar, and the higher protein and fiber that this bar feats more like a meal than a snack?!  Fantastic.

So, the jury is still out for me.  While I wasn’t completely blown away by Bobo’s Gluten-Free Peach Oat Bars, I didn’t dislike them either.  In fact, the texture, chewy, yet substantial, was amazing.  I loved that.  I just wish it was more peachy, given theat it is the peach bar.  However, I’m not counting them out yet.  Next time I’m at my natural food store, I’m going to snag a different flavor and see if it smacks my taste buds around a little more.

For what it is worth, Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar is a great, healthy snack or meal for the busy and on-the-go type of person.  It will leave you feeling full, and with it being made from natural ingredients, keep you feeling full.  Your body won’t burn right through this bar, as it would many protein, granola and/or snack bars out on the market.  The lower the sugar, the happier I am.

If not for Cuisine Cube, I don’t know if I ever would have convinced myself to purchase one of Bobo’s Gluten Free Oat Bars.  That being said, I’m glad that this was shipped to me so I could get a taste of what is out on the market, and what I love and might not love as much about new bars.  I’m a marathoner, I’m always looking for new fuel and recovery items.  This…is off to a good start.

Bobo's Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar (unwrapped)

Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar (unwrapped)

Product Review: Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal

Fiona's Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal

Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal

Product: Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal – $4.99

January has come and gone, but some of us are clinging tightly to our New Years Resolutions.  There are so many new members at my gym that it’s virtually impossible to get a machine unless you arrive at 5 a.m.  Granted, this happens every year…but it can still be quite the gauntlet to run for about 2-3 months.  Along with exercise come vows to eat better and to diet, diet, diet.  Now, I’m not one to technically diet.  I try to mind what I eat (although I have my weaknesses…like anything creamy like a nut/seed butter) all throughout the year, but it seems when everyone around you is dieting, you become a bit more mindful of what you’re eating as well.

Leave it to Cuisine Cube, then, to put together the perfect cube for January 2015.  Enclosed inside were some really fantastic gluten-free products…that had a healthy edge to each and every one of them.  I have already dined on the gluten-free white chili mix.  And while I have plenty left in this cube, this past day, I realized I was out of my little pouches of oatmeal for lunch…so therefore, I needed something to feast on at work.  Since oatmeal is my thing…I remembered that Cuisine Cube had included a package of oatmeal in the latest delivery.  I went and dug it out of the box and took it into the kitchen to see about getting it ready for the following day at work.

But I’ll get to that soon enough.  Let me first talk about Cuisine Cube.  Cuisine Cube is a mail delivery service, starting at a cost as low as $29.99, which delivers amazing, local, small artisan gluten-free products and foods to your doorstep each month.  Encased in each box you will find 5-6 products that are free of preservatives and chemicals that you are likely to find in the more common gluten-free product brand names on the shelves of your grocery store.  When I first signed up for this, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But I’m hooked.  And I love the surprise I get each month when I open up the box and dig out what they included this time.  It is truly like Christmas every month.  And I have liked and loved pretty much everything that that have included.  Not always…but they have a good streak going this far.

Well, with all the promises to get fit and stay fit, it seems Cuisine Cube was prepared.  For the breakfast item in the January 2015 cube, they included a pack of Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal.  This is not the first time Fiona’s Natural Foods has been a part of my Cuisine Cube.  I’ve had the opportunity to try (and love) a granola that was included in the very first Cuisine Cube I received (May 2014).  This made me very excited to give the oatmeal a try.  Fiona’s Natural Foods’ mission is simply to offer consumers an organic, gourmet product that is superior in taste, texture, quality, and nutritional value.  They commit themselves to this mission with each product they have on the market.  In my January Cuisine Cube, it was the Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal.

The first thing I did was scan the packaging for the instructions on how to prepare it.  They had a few options…stove top, microwave, or cold.  I love overnight oats, and it’s so much easier to do for work than try to fit into the line for the one microwave we have for the 18 people that work in the actual office.  So, that’s what I did.  There weren’t many instructions, just to combine the oatmeal with milk and let it sit overnight.  There were no measurements, so I went with the measurements for the warm version of this cereal.  1/4 cup of the oatmeal – 1/2 cup of milk (I used Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk).  I put it in a mason jar and set it in the fridge overnight.  There was a lot of liquid, but I was hoping that the oats would soak most of it up as it sat overnight.  It didn’t.  Not really…but it was no bother to me.

That following afternoon, around noon, when I usually take my lunch, I went to the kitchen at the office where I stashed my jar of milk and oats in the fridge and brought it back to my desk.  I took one bite…and was amazed.  The crazy amount of flavor and texture that comes with each bite is fantastic.  I will definitely have to give this a try warm in the next few days…but cold it was soupy (so much milk), but amazing.  The European-style oatmeal is a hearty and wholesome blend of dried fruits, oats, nuts and seeds.  There was no added sugars, no added oil.  Nothing that shouldn’t be in there.  Extra love just for that.  So, I carefully brought a spoonful of the chilled oats and cashew milk up to my lips and tried it.

I am beyond in love with this blend.  First of all…the flavors that come out of having no sweeteners or spices included in the ingredients is fantastic.  The seeds and nuts make each spoonful take on a fantastic and intriguing texture.  I loved the variety.  The raisins and tart cherries plumped up sitting in the milk overnight and were sweet and sour all at once.  It was fantastic.  In fact, today I made it up for my roommate as well.  Remember, Cathy doesn’t have to eat gluten-free or vegan or vegetarian…but she does in the apartment.  And, guess what?  She LOVED the oatmeal.  In fact, she said her favorite part was how plump and ripe the bits of raisin and cherry got.  Yeah…it’s a total win.  Super delicious.  I would make this for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a total heartbeat!

Let’s talk ingredients, shall we?  The Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal is made from certified gluten free rolled oats, certified gluten free steel cut oats, raisins, flax seeds, dried sour cherries, pecans, and sunflower seeds.  Yes…that is it.  It is raw, wheat free, vegan, soy free, salt free, gluten free, and amazing!!  Just pure and simply amazing.

As for nutrition, a serving of Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal is 1/4 cup.  In this serving, you will be taking in 120 calories and 4 grams of fat.  You will also be provided with only 3 grams of sugar.  Isn’t that fantastic.  This oatmeal is cholesterol free and sodium free.  Finally, you will be consuming 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, which will help make you feel full once you finish your serving.  It truly is one of the most fantastic oatmeal combinations I have ever eaten.

I can’t find Fiona’s Natural Foods products here in my area, so when I get something like this, it truly does make me want to place an order for more.  And that will certainly be happening as the way this oatmeal plays across your taste buds and excites your palate is really unmatched by anything else I have eaten.  Truly a fantastic food in and of itself.  Hot or cold…you’re going to want to devour the Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal.  I know it won’t last long in my pantry.

Another brilliant product brought to me by the amazing Cuisine Cube.  I am forever in their debt.

Overnight Oats made from Fiona's Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal

Overnight Oats made from Fiona’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Cherry Pecan Oatmeal

Product Review: Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola

Jessica's Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola

Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola

Product: Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola – $6.99+

On some very rare occasions, a product that arrives in my Cuisine Cube is actually something I am familiar with…or…perhaps…even might have tried before.  When it comes to the Non-GMO Project cube, which arrived in October, I was actually surprised to encounter a brand that I had already tried.  Albeit, this was not a flavor I had tried from this brand, but it is readily available at my local Whole Foods!  Like I said…this doesn’t happen often…but sometimes it’s a comfort to find a small brand that you have familiarized yourself with before.

This product…was the Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola from Jessica’s Natural Foods.  Jessica’s Natural Foods was started by Jessica Mindell, an avid baker with a background in engineering.  Back in 2009, her husband discovered that he was gluten-intolerant and said that he missed oat-based granola.  Once Mindell was able to find gluten-free oats and a certified gluten-free facility, she was able to launch her healthy, delicious granola.  Since then, her bags of granola have expanded to over 25 states.  Mindell’s passion for natural foods means that she always bakes with simple, pure ingredients and keeps health and nutrition at the forefront of her products.

Prior to this Cuisine Cube…I had picked up a pack of the Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten-Free Pecan Almond Granola.  My Cuisine Cube stepped it up a notch by including one of my most favorite things…chocolate!  Chocolate chips to be exact.

With all the time that I’ve spent traveling and racing these past couple of months…and the holidays taking over life in general…I haven’t had much time to explore some items from some of my Cuisine Cubes.  That being said, I’m making a push currently to polish off most of the products that have made a home in my pantry.  I need to be more pro-active about these products…and that’s not a bad thing.  It is definitely getting me to branch out and try some things I had been content to let sit for awhile.

This past week, after a long weekend away in Charleston, South Carolina (I was marathoning)…I was looking for a delicious, and more nutritious way to enjoy breakfast.  I knew I had a few granola options tucked away on the top shelf of my kitchen pantry…so, I grabbed a stool (I’m short…I can’t help it!) and dug around.  I had two to choose between and both sounded great.  But the Jessica’s Natural Foods variety had one thing that won me over…

CHOCOLATE CHIPS!

Yep…the sweet-tooth, chocaholic emerged with a vengeance upon seeing that in the name.  WIN!  That morning, I darted out to the grocery store to pick up a few necessities that were needed for the coming week and ended up picking up a big container of Greek yogurt, some fresh organic blueberries, and a few other fruits and vegetables to use for the various meals I needed for the week.  Breakfast…lunch…dinner.  You name it.  But, I hadn’t made many of my fruit & yogurt breakfast parfaits for a long while, and I knew this was a delicious and nutritious way to start the morning.  With some granola at home, it was just a matter of choosing the fruit.  I had thought to get strawberries, but the organic ones didn’t look too good.  We are, after all, out of season.  But, the blueberries looked big and ripe and therefore…came home with me.  That morning, I assembled two breakfast parfaits, making use of the Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola, vanilla Greek yogurt, local honey, and the fresh organic blueberries.  I just layer these up and top it off with more granola and…voila…breakfast was served.

Jessica’s Natural Foods gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola is, without a doubt, one of the best granola’s I have had since going gluten-free.  The gluten-free oats were toasted and golden to perfection.  Adding to the sweetness were the melt-in-your-mouth bits of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  It feels like you’re cheating, but in reality, you are eating something that is good for you.  Mixing these delightful spoonfuls with a thick and delicious Greek yogurt and bursts of fresh fruit juice from the little blueberries…this made a perfect breakfast with each bite.  The granola brought this fantastic and light texture to the entire dish.  And, if left with a bag of this and no supervision, I could easily eat the entire bag in one sitting.  The clusters with the chocolate were my favorite part as they would melt upon hitting my tongue.  This made handfuls of this granola a great treat…if not addictive.  Seriously…one of the best parts of any breakfast I have ever eaten in my entire life…this granola is amazing.  And I don’t feel bad indulging in it, because the ingredients are natural and the nutritional information is rather good!

Granola can become a calorie-laden sugar-fest, so it’s always good to take a look at ingredients and nutritional information.  For Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola…this is what the company strives for.  The Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Granola is made from certified gluten-free rolled oats, semi-sweet chocolate chips, organic honey, brown sugar, expeller pressed sunflower oil, ground flax seed, coconut, maple syrup, pure vanilla extract, cinnamon, sea salt, tocopherols (natural vitamin E).  This granola is free of cholesterol and trans fats.  It is also gluten-free and non-GMO.

A serving of Jessica’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Granola is 1/4 cup.  Trust me…this may not seem like much…but it is an amazing and filling 1/4 cup.  Mmm…chocolate by the quarter-cup.  In this serving, you will be consuming 130 calories and 6 grams of fat.  Not bad for granola.  Not at all.  In this serving, you will also be taking in 30 mg sodium and only 7 grams of sugar.  Yes…only 7 grams.  That’s amazing.  So often, the gluten-free granola I find is laden with heavy sugar.  Not these.  Naturally sweet more than anything.  And finally, this 1/4 cup serving gives you 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein.  Not too filling, but filling enough, especially when paired with nutrient dense Greek yogurt and fiber-filled fresh fruit.

Oh yes…it’s a rare thing when Cuisine Cube sends me something I am already familiar with, but in a way, it’s also quite satisfying.  If you have yet to join the happy consumers of Cuisine Cube…just go over to their Web site and check out your options.  Every month is like Christmas as you open up your box and discover what products have been selected for you.  These monthly deliveries start at $29.99…and are so totally worth the investment.  I have yet to regret making this choice to enjoy these monthly deliveries.  Seriously…give it a month and you will want to keep going!  It’s because of this service that I am able to try foods like Jessica’s Natural Foods, a less-processed and lesser-known product than some of the brand name gluten-free granola out on the market.  I much prefer to support the smaller businesses who put a lot more thought and care into their products and the making of their products.  I feel that way about Jessica’s Natural Foods…so check them out too!  If you can’t find these bags of granola goodness at your Whole Foods…get online and place an order!  Stop hesitating…and just do it!

 

Product Review: Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal

Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal

Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal

Product: Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal – $3.50+

It feels like a frozen tundra outside, so my favorite things to eat right now are warm, hearty, and comforting.  This includes casseroles, soups, and yes…oatmeal.  And while I’ve been preparing refrigerated overnight oats since…the weather warmed up, I guess…when the windchill dips down and makes the air hurt my face, the last thing I want is cold meal.  I don’t mind…but once I’m chilled, I’m chilled to the bone.  So something that is warming is always welcome.

And, it seems like I’m on a current oatmeal kick.  And who, honestly, can blame me.  There is nothing better in life than a steaming bowl of gluten-free oatmeal.  I’ll take it flavored or plain or with fruit or nuts or however.  As long as it tastes good, you have won me over.  Seriously.  Growing up I hated oatmeal.  I think it was a texture thing…and the fact that my dad would overcook it so it got lumpy and just…meh.  And I upheld that I disliked oatmeal up until a few years ago.  I started bringing in little packets with me to work for lunch.  They were perfect.  And they weren’t all bad.  Some where.  I won’t lie.  But I discovered some that were actually rather tasty.

And then…BAM…the diagnosis of being a Celiac.  I could find gluten-free oatmeal at my natural food stores…but I was having a hard time finding decent ones that wouldn’t break my already very fragile (and about to get more expensive) budget.  I purchased some, for sure, but eventually just moved onto making overnight oats with almond milk, gluten-free rolled oats, chia seeds, honey, fruit, cinnamon and Greek yogurt.  It was easy to make and really tasty.  But, when winter kicks you in the teeth…you fight back with heat, yes?  I know I do.

Back in August, my Cuisine Cube featured quite a few products that I’m still getting to try.  I travel a lot, so sometimes this means things get put into my pantry and I get to them…when I get to them.  And as I am sent a new box of goodies each month by Cuisine Cube…I sometimes get a bit backlogged.  But…this is not a complaint.  I always get to a product in the end.  I know I’ve talked a lot recently about Cuisine Cube, but let me share some more with why I love this service so much.  For a small fee (ranging from $34.99 (1 month) to $29.99 (six months)), a perfect cube filled with small business and lesser-known gluten-free products will be delivered to your door.  It’s yours to enjoy and then…do all over again the following month.  I love this because it is giving me the opportunity to try products and brands that I never heard of or would know about otherwise.  Sometimes the items come from local bakeries…and sometimes they might be something you have seen at a natural food store, but isn’t a widespread gluten-free corporate giant for sure.  It’s nice to try full-size (not sample sizes) products that are new to me or that I am unfamiliar with.  Every month, it’s like Christmas all over again.  At least 5-6 products in every Cube…and I never know what to expect inside.

I was very lucky to have not gotten through some items I received back in August because it meant with the cooler weather, I now had a warm treat for lunch.  And that treat was Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal.  I was not familiar at all with Modern Oats, so I was pretty excited to have a new gluten-free oatmeal to try.  Modern Oats was founded in 2013 with the simple goal of changing people’s perception of ‘old fashioned’ oatmeal.  You know…people like me…who either disliked or felt that oatmeal was boring.  They decided to only work with small farm, non-GMO, gluten-free rolled oats.  They next began to craft artisanal, delicious blends of fruits, nuts and seeds to produce the perfect, healthy, modern meal that can be enjoyed anytime…anywhere.  It’s a modern take on fast food…only better for you!

Modern Oats offers six varieties of their oatmeal.  The Cuisine Cube contained a single container of the Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal.  I love everything about this flavor.  I love apples.  I love walnuts.  Therefore…this should be a WIN with me, yes?!  Well…only one way to find out.

It’s Thursday and I’m rushing to get things done at the office before heading to Charleston, South Carolina this weekend.  YAY!!  Vacation.  A very short vacation, but a vacation.  The more I can be at my desk, working on what needs to be done, the better.  And the easy and quick preparation for this oatmeal definitely made it the best thing to bring with me this week.  Nothing could be easier.  Give the little container a shake, then pour boiling water over all the oats so they are covered.  Then, cover the container and allow it to sit for 3 minutes.  Uncover, stir, and devour.  Easy-peasy!  And quick.  I let mine steep and cook up while I got some work done.  And when the three minute time window was up…it was lunch time.  Sort of.  I might have added too much water…so I let it sit for another 2 minutes.  THEN…it was lunch time.

One bite.  And at first…I wasn’t too sure.  What I did notice was that it wasn’t abundantly sweet, despite containing 17 grams of sugar.  I’m assuming that some of that is the dried fruit.  At least…that’s what I am hoping.  On my second bite…I got it.  I mean, I really got it.  I had a little bit of everything.  The oats…the nuts…the seeds…the fruit…it was one magical bite.  I loved the different textures that were prevelant throughout the entire container.  This made each bite different from the one that came before it.  And that, my friends, is a fantastic thing.  I love that it wasn’t too sweet…nor was it bland.  And the best part was…it didn’t turn to mush.  Not at all.  The oats stayed al dente…in a good way…the nuts and fruits brought their own flavors and textures…and it was just one great bite after another.  I ended up eating this way faster than I usually would.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  I’m even happy to overlook the astounding (for oatmeal) calorie count, under the impression that much of that comes from the naturally good for you seeds and nuts that are inside.  Oh yeah…this was a big win!  And SO easy to make too!  Shake, pour, wait, devour!

Let’s discuss what goes into Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal.  This oatmeal is made from certified gluten-free whole grain rolled oats, organic cane sugar, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried apples, golden raisins, chia seeds, cinnamon, and natural flavors.  Real ingredients.  And while the second ingredient is sugar…not bad as to what all goes into it.  And, as a bonus, these ingredients are non-GMO.  This oatmeal, in addition to being gluten-free, is also cholesterol free and sodium free.

As for nutritional information, I will preface this by saying I was a little reluctant to dive into a small container that would give me over 300 calories for my lunch.  I’m not used to that.  But, I had to tell myself to remember that what I am eating is all-natural and real food.  A lot of these calories were coming from healthy ingredients, like the seeds, fruits, and nuts.  So…with that in mind, I hesitated no longer.  A serving of the Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal is 1 container.  This serving provides you with 310 calories and 7 grams of fat.  Much of that fat content will be the naturally healthy kind that you find in nuts.  This serving, however, does dish up a whopping 17 grams of sugar.  YIKES!  I’m trying to cut back on my sugar intake, so I’m chalking this figure up to the dried fruits…despite that second ingredient being organic cane sugar.   I am thinking positively.  One container of these oats will also serve up 7 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein.  Oh yeah…you’ll definitely feel full after eating this!

For the record, of the six flavors (Apple Walnut, 5 Berry, Goji Blueberry, Mango Blackberry, Chocolate Cherry, and Nuts and Seeds), the calories range between 250-310, depending on the variety you choose to feast on.

I love finding out what products Cuisine Cube has discovered and decided were worth to share with those of us who subscribe.  This little container from Modern Oats boasted big flavors and big promise.  It is one mighty meal indeed, and you will feel satiated and warmed all the way through.  Nicely done, Cuisine Cube.  Now, I have yet another gluten-free oatmeal option…and that is no bad thing!  If you can’t find Modern Oats at any of your local stores, you can certainly order online!

Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal (prepared)

Modern Oats Apple Walnut Oatmeal (prepared)