Mercy Health Glass City Marathon – Toledo, OH (April 28, 2019)

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Me after finishing the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon – Toledo, Ohio

Race: Mercy Health Glass City Marathon

Place: Toledo, OH

Date: April 28, 2019

Time: 3:38:46

After a really good shakeout run using Glass City’s Savage 5K as just that (and somehow placing in my age group), I spent the rest of Saturday in my hotel room.  Sitting on my bed.  Feet up.  Eating.  Blogging.  Watching television.  Not out walking around Toledo.  Not hanging out at the expo.  Off my feet.  Foam rolling.  Stretching.  All of it.

I was really taking this prep seriously!  I didn’t actually leave the room until about 4 pm…when Cathy and I headed into Toledo to hit up Organic Bliss Deli & Bakery for dinner.  We had looked at a few places in Toledo, but it is so hard to gauge  how safe some places are, and some reviews on places I had been looking at weren’t so good on my Find Me Gluten Free app.  We were going to do my new favorite thing before a major race – sushi…but Toledo’s only safe sushi place only had the a vegetable roll, cucumber roll, or avocado roll for vegan options.  BOOOO!  I am lucky to have Dragon King’s Daughter for my vegan sushi needs in Louisville/New Albany.  As we were driving up to Toledo, my fellow Celiac blogger and Instagram friend, Margaret, was on her way down to Columbus for the Gluten Free Allergy Free Fest and posted about Organic Bliss.  They closed at 5 pm, so we went early and got there to figure out what we wanted for dinner.  And, of course, we would get a box of goodies to go back to the hotel with us.

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My Gluten Free Caribbean Avocado Sandwich with a Chickpea Salad from Organic Bliss Deli & Bakery in Toledo, Ohio

The people there were very kind and gave us some time to look over the menu, and we finally came to our conclusions…Cathy went ahead and got the BLT with Chips.  And I went with the Gluten Free Caribbean Avocado Sandwich (avocado, romaine, spinach, tomato, cucumber, black beans, papaya poppyseed dressing).  I got that with a side of the Chickpea Salad.  And then we boxed up some treats: A Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcake, an Almond Scone, a Cranberry Orange Scone, a Cinnamon Roll, and the Peanut Butter Quinoa Bar.  We paid and went and took a seat in the corner while meals were prepared and brought out to us.

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All my baked goodies I took back to the hotel with me from Toledo, Ohio

Sandwiches before a race are a good back-up it seems.  And this sandwich was AMAZING.  I loved it.  And the Chickpea Salad was the perfect side.  Got some carbs, protein, healthy fats…perfection.  They were trying to get ready to close, so the floors were being swept and people were coming in for last minute purchases.  We finished up and headed out to go back to the hotel for the night. And you better believe Cathy and I split that Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcake for dessert back at the hotel.

I went ahead and posted on my Instagram feed the motivation, the drive, and the reason I was running the following day: my mom.  My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer back in January, just after the New Year.  It was a shock to my family and one that none of us were prepared for.  Right now, she is going through chemo, keeping her spirits high and her thoughts positive.  What a warrior.  This race, save for a couple of miles, was to honor her.  Mile 1, my roommate claimed.  Mile 26, my friend Natalie claimed,  And Mile 10 was in memory of my friend Tina’s daughter, Kinsley, who died in her sleep at the age of 10 a couple of days before I left for Toledo.  I would carry these honors with me respectively on the race course.

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My mom – she’s a warrior!

I did one last round of stretching and foam rolling while watching Guy’s Grocery Games on Food Network…and got an onslaught of uplifiting and motivational gifs from my coach.  I do love my coach.  He has been amazing, even when training went slightly off the rails when I busted up my knees.  The gifs made me laugh.  And he threw in a Game of Thrones reference, so that was winning.  But, soon it was time to turn in for the night.  I set two different alarms.  One for me to get up and take my medicine and use the bathroom…and then go back to bed.  And then one for Cathy…which would be when I would get up and get dressed.  No surprise…I couldn’t sleep well.  And I shut off my first alarm before it even went off.  Tried to climb back into bed and wait for the other alarm, but then my mind wouldn’t shut off.  So, I got up and did my PT stretches for my hips…and then went ahead and started to get ready.  By the time the second alarm went off, I was pretty much dressed and ready to head out the door.  So, while Cathy got ready, I started prepping my hydration vest bladder with 1 liter of water, grabbed my Maurten gels to use as additional fuel on the run, and put on my clothes I would shed prior to the race.

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Race day ready!!

Because up in Toledo…it was 41 degrees on race morning, but with the windchill, it was in the real feel was in the low 30s.  They had been predicting snow…but thankfully that didn’t happen.  I had, thankfully, packed some clothes that I could wear over my race gear (and a back up short sleeve shirt since a tank top was the original plan for this race), so I felt like I was good in the wardrobe department.  I was glad I had the clothing to give to Cathy before I got into the corral, because I was cold in that wind.

We left the hotel early.  Like 5:45-ish early.  And we made the 20 minute drive to the University of Toledo, where we found a lot to park in.  And then…then was the walk to the start.  It was slightly drizzly, but Cathy had purchased some trash bags at Kroger so, we both donned them and set out down the sidewalk to get to the start.  It was a pretty big walk, but it was a good way to warm up for sure.  If you know Cathy’s history with directions, you will understand that I kept checking with her to make sure that she was on track to getting us to the start line, especially when random runners who were walking near us would veer off and we’d continue on…into the land of empty sidewalks and roads.  But, we turned at an intersection and I could hear the tunes of the start line, and they just so happened to be playing my theme song for this year, Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes.”  It was a good sign.

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This was not the start line that I expected for a spring marathon. Wet, cold and windy!

We went to find a spot for Cathy to stand for the start of the race and just sort of made that base camp.  I stood behind her to break her from the wind.  We took a few photos.  I looked miserable.  I was miserable.  Spring marathons were not meant to be spent freezing.  At least, not in my opinion.  I drank my bottle of UCAN with 30 minutes to go and eventually, with about 10, shed my extra layers, save the trash bag, got a hug from Cathy, and headed to Corral B.

It was here in Corral B that I set out on my mission to find the 3;35 pacers.  The Web site had two of them listed, but as I hunted for the tiny yellow signs the marathon pacers held, I just couldn’t find any in my corral.  So, I went up to one of the half marathon pacers and asked him where the marathon pacers were.  He said that they should be in here…and asked which group I was looking for.  I said, “The 3:35.”  And he told me that there was no 3:35, only 3:30 and 3:40 and to find and line up with the 3:40 so that I start slow.  I was determined not to melt down or let this mentally get to me.  The National Anthem was about to be sung, and after that, I gave one last look around my corral for pacers….shed my trash bag, and decided I was going to have to pace myself this time.

That’s a scary thought  right?  But that was how it was going to be.  Corral took off and I saw the bobbing of the yellow pacer signs up there.  So…one more chance to check for them in my corral.  No luck.  None.  Deep breath. We were moved up toward the start line.  Waited two minutes.  And then…we were off.

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Just before Mile 4 in the Glass City Marathon

I reeled it in immediately.  Normally that race start is intense and the adrenaline is rushing and you just GO.  You bolt it out and find some space, but it uses up valuable energy, and I had been given a plan to follow, and while I couldn’t see the first 5 miles through with the pacer as the plan said, I wasn’t going to blow it up by going out too fast too soon.  I could hold it together and hold back.  Five miles.  I had this.  My coach wanted me to be around an 8:12-8:10 pace for these miles.  I did the best I could, and while a few of them were slightly fast, the last two were just slightly slower (not by much) than that pace.  Just before Mile 4, Cathy had found a spot on the side of the road to cheer. It was amazing.  Cowbell and all with a crowd.  I will say this, for being a smaller race, I never felt like I wasn’t supported out there.  Going into Mile 4 was a huge example of this.  Lots of people, even in the damp cold, just there to cheer on the runners.  It was great.

From Mile 6-15, I was supposed to maintain a slightly faster pace, not sprinting, not going too fast, but hitting those high 8’s.  And I managed this.  Holy crap, I was doing it.  And I felt good.  I didn’t feel like I needed anything, and technically with UCAN, I didn’t…but I didn’t want to run out of steam, and I have always been told to fuel early and often.  So, I took my first Maurten gel at Mile 6. Here we were guided through some neighborhoods, and people were down at the end of their driveways cheering.  Our bibs had names on them, so they would shout out your name and some encouragement as you went by.  Loved that.  While big races are all fine and good, this was the feel of a big race without all that big race stuff.

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Me heading into the finish line of the Glass City Marathon

It was actually just before Mile 10 that the half and the full marathons split.  This was clearly marked with big gates for the runners to go through.  The half marathon runners turned left, while we continued on.  This did bring the number of people around down some.  But, again, I never, ever felt like I was running alone.  At Mile 10, I fueled again (remember, early and often) and then I did give a point up to the sky and said Kinsley’s name.  She gave me some wings on that mile.

It is just before Mile 11 that the marathon course enters Wildwood Preserve Metropark.  We would actually run through this park twice on the course, but, trust me, it didn’t really feel repetitive.  The open streets we had been running on narrowed to a running/biking path, but it was paved and beautiful.  There were race volunteers out there, handing out water at the two water stops that were inside the park.  There was a band playing as well at some point.  On the first pass through the park, somewhere after Mile 12, we are sent to the right to run out onto the streets again.  I fueled again at Mile 14, and pressed on, still feeling strong and confident.  It was somewhere in Mile 16 that I caught up with the 3:40 pacers.

WHAT?!

Yep…the 3:40 pacer.  I shook this off, figuring that it was fine.  The problem was, I joined up with them as we were sent to run on the shoulder of a road, and in a pace group, that made for some tight, tight quarters.  This made my split at this mile much slower than I would have liked, but I was afraid of clipping runners ahead of me, or being clipped by runners near me.  This happened twice, if you recall, when I started with a pace group at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon back in November.  When I had an opening, I did pass and get ahead, able to stretch my legs back out and pick it back up.  I didn’t panic.  Not at all.  I just found my own pace again and was happy to not be in that pack anymore.  I had some breathing room and it took that anxiety away.  I fueled again at Mile 18 and just kept on going.

Just before Mile 20, we re-enter the park again, from a different entrance and make our way back through that path.  It was here that we have to navigate a small bit of an incline.  And it was here, that my legs slowed down and just wouldn’t pick it back up.  The final 10K…where I wanted to just maintain and keep going strong.  A tiny little bump in the elevation took the speed away from me.  I felt like I was picking it back up, but I wasn’t.  I truly wasn’t.  This time as we go to exit, if it’s your second loop, you turn left, and now you’re heading back out toward the university.  I still felt good, I just couldn’t find any sort of speed at this point.  We are still on this paved trail, and runners were scattered, but we were strong.  The 3:40 pacer passed me again.  And I didn’t fret or sweat it.  I did shed my gloves around Mile 22.  My hands were getting really hot finally.  And I was close.  I also took my last gel at this point.  Fuel for the final four miles.

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Me crossing the finish line of the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon – Toledo, Ohio

There were some really perky and happy ladies running a friend in for his last few miles, who were fresh and really uplifting.  It was nice that they came by me because they definitely helpful in that stretch.  Around Mile 25, you can pretty much see the school.  You know that finish line is on the field of the football stadium, and you know…you really are almost there.  People are cheering.  Shouting your name.  Encouraging you.  Telling you how good you look.  How fast you look.  That you’re doing amazing.  I still felt good.  I still felt confident and strong.  I knew I wasn’t getting the BQ I had been training for, but I hadn’t glanced at clocks or my watch for time…just my pace.  I never peeked at it if it wasn’t buzzing at me for a mile lap.  I hit the turns to take the chute into the 26th mile…and then it was on to the stadium.  The crowd was amazing.  Loud.  Screaming.  I saw Cathy as my name was announced and I kicked as much as I could toward that finish line.  Crossing it…with my hands up.  I paused my Garmin and took a look at the time.

3:38.

I was just off of my BQ time by 3 minutes and off my goal time by 5 minutes.  I was so close.  I didn’t get my goal, but I was incredibly happy and proud.  I hadn’t hit the 3:30’s in a marathon since 2013, where I did it twice.  Both BQ times.  I was elated.  I cried.  Cathy came over after I got my Mylar and my medal and gave me a hug.  I told her I needed to put my feet up so we went over to the field and I laid down in the sunlight and propped my legs up on her.

Eventually, I decided that I did, in fact, need to move.  So, we headed out of the stadium to the runner finish area.  Here we collected my commemorative glass mug (you get it upon finishing), and went to the food tent.  I couldn’t eat anything, but poor Cathy was starving so she had my beer and pizza tickets, so I let her claim those.  I was feeling lightheaded, so I went to sit down and shiver in my Mylar.

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My Spicy Ginger Tofu & Ancient Grains bowl from Corelife Eatery

Cathy and just shown up when my Instagram friend, Scooby (who had a fantastic day as the 3:15 pacer) wandered by.  I called him over and we chatted for a minute, but he had just snagged some pizza and I didn’t want it to get cold…so we congratulated each other and I let him go.  Cathy had two beers to try.  The first one she hated, the other one she sipped on until I decided I was ready to go get warm with a hot shower at the hotel while she went to get me some coffee from Bigbee Coffee.  The walk to the car felt longer than it probably was, mostly because my body was tired and a little sore from the effort that day.  I eventually foam rolled, stretched, and went to get dinner at Corelife Eatery before seeing Avengers: Endgame that night (the theater was advertised as having reclining seats – it didn’t…and by the end, I knew I had made a big mistake).  It was a good day, and I am still basking in my accomplishment.  I think, next time, I’ll get it.

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Nothing is impossible.  Keep on dreaming!  Glass City Marathon Finisher!!

So, the official results of the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon are that I finished in 3:38:46, making it officially my third fastest marathon and the first one back in the 3:30s since 2013.  HOLLA!  Stoked.  I was 408/1278 finishers overall.  I was 108/527 female finishes.  And I was 30/96 in my age group!  How amazing is that.  I felt good and strong the entire time, never letting any self-doubt or negative talk enter my head.  I was focused on the race at hand and the people I was running it to honor.  Marathon #15…done.  Now to find the perfect fall marathon to make the next attempt on that Boston Qualifying dream.

Remember…training rarely is linear…race day can throw so many factors at you…trust the process and remain focused on your own race that day.  You never know what you are capable of until you try.

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Recipe: Pomegranate Breakfast Quinoa

I’ve been trying to be a bit more mindful of how I start my day when it comes to food these days.  While it is so easy to simply grab a (delicious) gluten free bagel and top it off however I wish…my sports nutritionist and I have been working hard on keeping my protein levels higher…so this gives me incentive to come up with new ways of doing my favorite meal of the day.

And, one day, while shopping at Costco and spotting the pack of pomegranate seeds…an idea struck.  And it has grown to be one of my favorite ways to do breakfast ever since.  And why not?  We’ve jumped on the smoothie wagon for Wednesdays, since our lunch is a giant, gluten free pretzel (always!).  Why not play around a little more and find new ways to get nutrients in in the morning?

This is a super easy recipe, the most time consuming part is the 15 minutes it takes to prep and cook the quinoa.  The rest…easy-peasy!

Find the recipe below:

Recipe: Pomegranate Breakfast Quinoa

 

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Pomegranate Breakfast Quinoa

 Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp nuts of choice (optional)

Directions:

Cook quinoa: place 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa in a pot with 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover, cook for 12 minutes until water is absorbed.

Split between two bowls.

Drizzle with pure maple syrup and top off with the pomegranate seeds, dark chocolate, and nuts (if using…highly recommended).

Enjoy!

~*~*~

Just yesterday, I had asked my roommate what she wanted for breakfast, and listed off some favorites including bagels, overnight oats, and pumpkin pancakes.  But she said, “I really like that quinoa thing you’ve been making.”  And just like that…I knew I had hit on something good.

How do you like to fuel your mornings?  Do you keep your breakfast basic or do you like to get creative?

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!

Product Review: Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Product: Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger – $5.99+

Veggie burgers are one of my current favorite treats.  I just find something so amazingly comforting and…yes…crave-worthy…about burgers.  Since I gave up meat and then had to give up gluten…really good and different veggie burgers have been hard to come by.

Thankfully, there seems to have been a lot of growth in the market.  Some have been outstanding; others have been truly outshined by their competitors.

With growth comes flavor variations, and one of the first to really move beyond the classic or black bean varieties has been Qrunch.

Qrunch Foods was created by Jim Adams (a former restaurant marketing executive) and Brad Holley (a classically trained chef).  Adams’ wife and Holley’s daughter were both gluten intolerant, and both knew from experience that finding delicious, but also convenient gluten-free products could be hard.  That and the “good for you” products on the market were tasteless or…just disgusting.  Gluten free had become associated with “anything free of good flavors” and vegan was simply thought of as “yuck.”

Knowing there were better things out there in the vegan and gluten-free world, Adams and Holley began tasting and experimenting with organic grains, produce, spices and other ingredients, having a goal to incorporate them into something that they would want to eat themselves – but more importantly, be able to offer to their loved ones.  They didn’t want to use soy, so they looked into some lesser-used, unique ingredients that could meet the requirements of their gluten-free family members.  It was from this idea and these trials that the Qrunch Burger was born.  One of the main ingredients and flavors in all of their products is quinoa, hence the “Q” in Qrunch.  With health in mind, millet and organic vegetables were added to each burger base…and they nailed it.  With a goal to create great-tasting, gluten free foods…they have certainly exceeded all expectations.

I have eaten quite a few of Qrunch’s products…the Original Qrunch Burger and the Spicy Italian Burger for starters…and also their Cinnamon-Vanilla Toastables.  So, when I spotted one of their Qrunch Burger varieties with the word Curry in it…the Indian food lover in me jumped at the chance to stuff my face with it.  I purchased the box and rushed it home to my freezer.  Then started on a meal plan where most processed and packaged foods aren’t used…and they were forgotten.

Except with the passing of the holidays…I’m on a tight budget so now is the “survive off your pantry/freezer/fridge” days.  And thank goodness I stocked up on some things…like veggie burgers…because I’ve been coming up with new and fun ways to eat these foods that I have hunted and gathered at various grocery stores…and incorporated them into my meals.

This weekend, instead of taking the easy (and more expensive route) for lunch on Sunday, I decided to get a little creative.  I knew I had the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burgers in my freezer…and I had some salad fixings from the previous night’s dinner (I made homemade dolmades with a Greek side salad)…so I thought…a salad would be good, but I wanted it to be more substantial. The answer…Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger.  No bun needed…just flavor.

I simply got out my skillet and toasted these up on each side, about five minutes per side, and while they were browning, I got out the greens, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and the tzatziki. When the burgers were done, I chipped them up, scattered them over the salad and topped it off with the cucumber and dill dip.  One amazing salad…ready to devour.

Using the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Burger as the main protein source in the salad was genius.  First of all, as the base of this burger is quinoa, it is a bit softer in texture and a little more…crumbly.  So, not trying to stuff it between a gluten-free bun and not have it spill anywhere was PERFECTION!  This is Qrunch’s newest flavor, and was created to sort of recreate the flavor of samosas, which are available at fine Indian restaurants.  The lentils were added to give it a mild, earthy flavor, and the curry seasoning was a blend of both sweet and spicy.  That is the perfect blend to create the perfect flavor in what might be the perfect burger.  And serving it up with the raw veggies and topped with tzatziki was ideal.  Seriously…it was a blend made in heaven.  The burger had this nice crisp outside, but was flaky and soft on the inside.  It was packed…packed…with fine flavors and just…really impressed me.  I am already going to prepare the other two burgers the same way this coming Wednesday, per the request of my (carnivore) roommate…who absolutely fell head-over-heels for this combination.  We were both very impressed.

So, let’s take a gander at the ingredients that go into the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Burgers, shall we?  These burgers are made from organic millet, organic quinoa, organic lentils, organic coconut oil, organic onion, organic carrots, organic broccoli, organic spinach, organic arrowroot starch, organic apple cider vinegar, organic psyllium seed powder, sea salt, organic garlic, organic non-GMO canola oil, and organic spices.  This is how you can still eat clean and do it out of your grocer’s freezer section.  I know what all of those ingredients are and love that most of them are organic.  Yep…happiness can be achieved through an amazing, healthy veggie burger.  The Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger is gluten-free, wheat-free, corn-free, soy-free, animal-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free, MSG-free, non-GMO, and low in sodium.

The nutritional information reflects a product that is made from wholesome grains and real food.  A serving size of the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger is 1 burger (91 grams).  There are 4 burgers in each box.  A serving will provide you with 200 calories, 10 grams fat (health fat), 2.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 0 grams sugars, and 4 grams of protein.  It is a nutritional powerhouse to be certain.  And filling.  The lack of sugars and the higher fiber and protein ratio helps satiate any appetite.

I fell in love with the taste, texture and popping flavor of the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burgers.  I am so excited that I am having them again so soon.  Because…total yum.  They were so good and amazing in this salad.  I’m not sure how they would have been sandwiched between a bun, and I’m in no hurry to find out.  I think I found my one true pairing with this salad.  I’ve got a busy day planned on Wednesday, so this will be the ideal dinner to come home to.  I can’t wait.

A delicious salad topped off with Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

A delicious salad topped off with Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Restaurant Review: Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Restaurant: Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orders in.

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

Deschutes Brewery's Spicy Fried Chicken & Waffle

Deschutes Brewery’s Spicy Fried Chicken & Waffle

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

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

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

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

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

Deschutes Brewery's Spinach & Quinoa Salad with the Garlic Rosemary Fries

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

Recipe: Lemony Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Earl Grey Strawberry Compote

If there is one thing that my roommate loves…it is anything citrus.  Especially lemon.  But, then again, I know very few people who don’t appreciate the zippy flavor of something infused with lemon.  I am a huge fan myself.

Imagine, then, receiving an e-mail from Vegetarian Times with the spotlighted meal for the week.  It was from their June 2015 issue, which I had just finished eating, and had made mention of this recipe to my roommate.  The only thing I lacked in order to make this dish was Earl Gray Tea.  I love Earl Gray Tea, I was just out of it at this point.  So, we went grocery shopping and made a point of picking up some good Earl Gray Tea.

Today was a big day.  This morning, Cathy (that’s the roomie for those of you just joining my blog) was heading out to Atlanta for her Jeopardy audition.  I wanted to make sure her drive got started on the right foot…and that was with a healthy, nutritious and filling breakfast.  Per her request, this recipe was breakfast.

Recipe: Lemony Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Earl Grey Strawberry Compote

Lemony Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Earl Grey Strawberry Compote

Lemony Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Earl Grey Strawberry Compote

Servings: 4
Time: Prep 10 minutes; Cook 27 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice, divided
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large coins fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup low-fat milk (I used rice milk)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup strongly brewed Earl Grey tea
  • 1 cup halved fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 4 tablespoons sliced almonds

Directions:

Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice and enough water to make 1-2/3 cups liquid in 2-cup measuring cup; pour into medium saucepan, and bring to a boil.

Stir in quinoa, salt, and ginger, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, and stir in milk and lemon zest. Cover, and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring maple syrup and tea to a boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil 6 minutes, or until liquid thickens and bubbles turn frothy. Pour over strawberries in bowl, and stir gently to coat. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

Spoon 3/4 cup quinoa into each serving bowl, top each with 1/4 cup berry compote, and sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon almonds.

ENJOY!

~*~*~

I don’t think it was love at first bite.  Cathy said that there was a lot going on and she wasn’t immediately sure what she thought of it.  That being said, she ate it all, so that says something about the recipe.  Me…I enjoyed the new play on quinoa.  It paired really well with the strawberries and, when hit up with that lemon zest, was a bright and flavorful base for this dish.  I had an issue with the syrup and tea sauce going solid the minute it was drizzled in with the strawberries.  I did my best to improvise, but that was the only problem I encountered.

All of that aside, an amazingly light, but filling way to start your day.  Give it a try!

Product Review: Luke’s Mutli-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers

Luke's Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers

Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers

Product: Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers – $4.49+

I won’t lie.  When I received my March 2015 Cuisine Cube in the mail and, as I always do, tore into it to see what goodies awaited me, the product I was actually the least excited for were the crackers.  Why?  I dunno.  I think they just looked too much like the Mary’s Gone Crackers and Crunchmaster Crackers that I’m already familiar with.  So, yeah, I sort of tossed these up on the shelf of my pantry and left them there for most of the month.

I should have known that Cuisine Cube wouldn’t steer me wrong.

As you all are aware by now, Cuisine Cube is a subscription service that delivers a box of gluten-free products from lesser-known companies and artisans – from each course of the day.  There is a product included for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snack.  Sometimes…a bonus product too.  Love those little bonuses.  And you get this cube of goodness delivered to your door starting at $29.99.  I signed up for it almost a year ago and haven’t been disappointed yet.

So, I should have known better than to doubt their gluten-free snack wisdom.  In the March 2015 cube, I received a box of Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers.  From the picture on the box, of a polygon shaped cracker with butterfly wings, I immediately likened it to the predecessors I have consumed before – as I mentioned – Mary’s Gone Crackers and Crunchmaster (especially Crunchmaster).  Not impressed, I delegated it to the top shelf of my pantry, until the evening I cooked up the Lentilicious meal (previously reviewed) and my roommate said it would be nice to eat it with some crackers.

LIGHT BULB!

So, let’s first talk a little about Luke’s Organic, shall we?  Luke’s Organic was created by Luke (who else?) who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when he was 7 years old.  Ever since then, he has been on the lookout for great tasting, gluten-free snacks.  Of course, for the longest time, such snacks didn’t exist.  Everything tasted like cardboard or tree bark.  But not anymore.  And adding to the growing array of snack choices is Luke’s Organic.

Snack crackers barely catch my eye anymore.  I’ve pretty much been there and done that and just sort of…like them.  Nothing has really blown me away.  So, I was actually quite surprised to open up this box of Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers and discover something very unlike Mary’s Gone Crackers and Crunchmaster.  Perhaps not in looks, save that Luke’s crackers look more corn chip than the darker appearance of the previously mentioned brands.  So, there was that.  But appearances aren’t everything.  And when I popped one into my mouth to make sure it would be worth packing as a side to my delicious Lentilicious…I was even more amazed.

HOLY GLUTEN FREE CRACKER, BATMAN!  Or something.  Forget cracker.  These taste more like an amazing tortilla chip.  Like…restaurant quality.  Like…why don’t the tortilla chips I buy at the store taste as good as the ones I’m stuffing my face with here at this restaurant…good.  See what I’m getting at here?  These crackers are so different from anything else I have had since having to go gluten-free three years ago.  It’s a cracker…and a chip…and a nutritious snack as well.  And, for a sidelined active girl like me…that’s just what the doctor ordered (well…that and an MRI, but that’s for another blog).  Seriously, these will take away any salty craving without braking the calorie bank.  And they are made with whole grains, they are organic, and are non-GMO.  WINNING!  There is absolutely no corn in these…but that’s how they taste.  The magic of the culinary world.  Just WOW!

So, now that I’ve kind of already lead into all the good stuff that goes into Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigran & Seed Crackers, let’s talk about the happy ingredients that make these up, shall we?  Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers are made from Luke’s Organic Grain & Seed Blend (brown rice flour, millet flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour), organic potato starch, Luke’s Organic Oil Blend (sunflower safflower and/or red palm olein), organic sesame seeds, sea salt, and organic red quinoa seeds.  These crackers are made in California, are organic, are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, peanut/tree nut-free, whole grain, non-GMO, and kosher.  They are also cholesterol free and contain no sugar.  WOOT!

As for nutrition, the facts are as follows…Luke’s Multi-Seed Multigrain & Seed Crackers contains about 3.5 servings per box, with a serving being 1 ounce (or 28 grams…or around 12 crackers).  This serving will dish up 140 calories and 5 grams of fat.  This serving also will give you 150 mg potassium, 85 mg sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein.  The lack of sugar is great for someone like me who is trying to cut down on sugar (and not really succeeding…as of yet).

You know, appearances really are deceiving.  And this just goes to show you can’t judge a product by it’s box.  I was beyond impressed with the crunchy texture, the amazing taste, the light hit of salt, and…well…everything that this snack cracker had to offer.  Forget anything that you normally reach for…try something new and exciting.  Find Luke’s Organic or order online.  I would never steer you wrong…and these…these are worth every moment of the hunt for them.

May the grocery store shelves be ever in your favor…and may they have your favorite flavor!

(HA…I’m a poet too!)

Thank you to Cuisine Cube for surprising me with this product and showing me that something that looks like your typical cracker is anything but that.  Luke’s…you’re awesome.  I shall be enjoying you again soon!