CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (November 4, 2017)

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Me crossing the finish line of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

Race: CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: November 4, 2017

Time: 1:41:44

When weekends are busy…boy, they are busy.  That’s how my Monumental Half Marathon weekend turned out to be.  The running gods just sort of made this race available to me, as I was already going to be up in Indianapolis that weekend for a wedding.  Why not make an event out of it?

So, I signed up for the Monumental Half Marathon and went into it with the run/walk mentality that I’ve been practicing, in an attempt to not have my body fall apart on me again at crucial and critical times.  Training with the run/walk method is one thing.  Actually incorporating it into racing is another beast altogether.

But I digress.

My race weekend started off with lots of packing on Thursday night.  Not only did I need to pack for a half marathon, but I also needed to pack for a wedding…AND (yep…there is an and in there) a soccer match.  Told you my weekend was busy.  And this all was happening in the span of one day.

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Lunch on the go…when you’re broke!

So, packing for three events meant about 4 pairs of shoes!  HA!  No joke though, because at first the forecast called for rain, so I had my regular racing shoes, my rain shoes, heels for the wedding, and my recovery shoes for the soccer match.  It also meant packing running clothes for rain, for cold, for comfortable weather…a dress to wear to the wedding…and some jeans, a t-shirt and a hoodie for the soccer match.  Plus pajamas, race fuel, snacks, protein powder, recovery stuff…ALL THE THINGS!!  And, I had originally suggested grabbing sushi on the way up to Indianapolis (we were taking a half day from work to travel and would hit the road right at lunch time), but decided to save money and made gluten-free cashew butter and jelly sandwiches!  My roommate had a small baggie of chips with hers (we had one serving left in a bag at the apartment) and I had the remainder of the grapes we bought at Costco!  That was lunch.

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Me at the race expo for the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

We got up to Indianapolis in good time, actually.  No traffic issues really at all.  So, after checking into the Hilton near the Indiana State Capitol (and also near the start line and finish line), we took a walk to the convention center to hit up the race expo.  I had actually expected to spend more money on stuff at the expo.  It’s a really nice expo.  But all the official merchandise promoted the full marathon, and not really the half.  So, that was a bit disappointing.  Aside from that…obtaining my race bib, t-shirt, and all that stuff was super easy.  And we navigated the aisles of the race expo without signing up for more races, or buying extra stuff…save for 3 Bondi Bands.  They had one that’s perfect for a race I am planning to do with friends in the fall, one that had unicorns and rainbows on it (DUH!) and one that said “Run Like A Princess Today.”  HELLO!  Made for me.  And that was it.  I purchased two replacement water bottles for my fuel belt and called it a day.

With plenty of time to kill, we took the stuff back to the hotel room and then decided to hit up Indianapolis by foot.  This meant walking Monument Circle and stopping into candy store (DUH!).  That’s where we picked up dessert, actually.  Because…candy store!!  Cathy picked up a Diet Butterscotch Root Beer to dry, and it was decent enough.  We then took a stroll down to the city library because she wanted to look at their Irish History section.  And from there…we were both ready to figure out what to have for dinner.

Ideally…it’s always gluten-free pizza before a race for me.  BUT…as this was my first distance race where I would be incorporating my run/walk method, I was toying with giving up the pizza and opting for Mexican or other options.  The gluten-free pizza place we had discovered the year I ran the Indy Women’s was our first stop though.  They weren’t taking reservations and with a marathon happening the next day, we weren’t certain that it wouldn’t be crowded.  It wasn’t at that point.  They said they could seat us at a table, but we’d have to be out by 6:30.  Not a problem.  That gave us plenty of time to peruse the menu, make dinner choices, and still not feel rushed.

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Gluten Free Focaccia from Napolese in Indianapolis, IN

Our waiter was awesome.  We explained to him that I was a Celiac and also couldn’t do dairy.  He was great to work with and even remembered the dairy-free part when we ordered the gluten-free focaccia, which had garlic.  Lots of garlic.  YUM!!

After going back and forth on the type of pizza we were going to split, we finally decided that creating our own would be the most fun.  AND…we even asked the opinion of our server when it came to doing either a white pizza or one with sauce.  We had wanted to have winter squash, balsamic onions, and then quail eggs (protein!) on the pizza.  And after mulling back and forth on whether to sauce it up or go white pizza…the server settled it for us, saying that the white pizza would let the other ingredients shine, and with the eggs, we would have plenty going on with the pizza.  No need for the red sauce.  DONE!!  Order in.

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The pizza we built at Napolese in Indianapolis, IN: Gluten Free Crust, Winter Squash, Balsamic Onions, Quail Eggs

The pizza, by the way, was magnificent.  The crust was basically what they made the focaccia out of, but this time it wasn’t sliced into triangles and put into a basket, it was laid out on a plate, baked to perfection, topped with everything.  Eggs on a pizza was a new experience for me.  And it was amazing.  We devoured without rushing through the meal, pausing to discuss how EPIC this dinner was.  This reminds me…I have squash in my fridge that I need to bake up so it doesn’t go bad.  Perhaps a pizza is in the future.

With my pre-race meal now in the tank, we took a stroll to CVS to pick up additional waters for that evening and race day…and then turned in for the night. I laid out my clothes while Cathy showered…and then it was Food Network for Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives until bedtime.  We turned in early.  But thanks to being so close to the start of the race, my three race morning alarms were set later.

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Rocking my Louisville Landsharks shirt at the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon

Got up with my first alarm to take a pill and some water.  Went back to bed.  An hour later, alarm went off.  I went to get dressed in my race clothes and finished putting my hair up when the alarm for Cathy to wake up went off.  It was perfect timing.  I had packed some snack bars/protein bars to have for breakfast…so we did that in the room.  I filled up my fuel belt with one side water and the other my Nuun Performance (LOVE!!) before grabbing my hoodie, and heading out.  Cathy even remembered the sign.  We were WINNING this morning.

I texted my coach once I got to the start line area, hoping to catch her before the race.  She was aiming for a PR.  I’m not concerned with time right now…just focusing on form, and how I feel.  And she and I discussed a race plan via text for this one the night before.  With as many people running this as there was, we decided a 4 minute run/30 second walk interval might cause problems.  So…the new plan was to have me walk all the water stops.  She was hanging in the convention center, so I didn’t actually find her ahead of time.  Cathy had to convince me to give up my hoodie and get into my corral as I was a Wave 1 runner and the start of the race was getting close.

I gave it up, got a hug, and went to get into the corral at the start.  I had just found a spot that was a decent amount of space back from the start, but not too far back, and then I hear my name being shouted.  I start turning my head, and I see two guys waving at me.  It’s Tim and Greg from Frankfort!!  Greg came over and gave me a hug.  They were doing the full.  We joked about how I was smart and was focusing on half marathons for awhile.  But with the anthem starting to be sung, we wished each other luck and got back into our own zones.

The wheelchair race was underway first.  And then…Wave 1 was off.

I actually felt really good that morning, even with the cold air.  I had opted, at the last minute before leaving town, to swing back by the apartment and grab arm warmers for the race.  This turned out to be a wise decision.  While there were points of the race that I felt I was getting too warm, the wind would kick in and I’d be grateful to have them again.

I loved this race.  Honestly!!  I have always heard good things about it…but this was my first year actually running it.  I have known friends who have done the full or the half and have never heard anything bad about it at all.  I settled into what I felt was a good and easy pace and got into the zone.  Even though it was crowded, there wasn’t a lot of weaving going on.  I felt comfortable and like I wasn’t really pushing too much too fast.  I saw Cathy just after crossing the start line, and she had said she’d be at Monument Circle as well before heading to the finish line to wait for me.  Apparently an actual breakfast happened for her as well…because while I saw her at Monument Circle (hard to miss that sign!), she didn’t see me.  It was still dark, and I was wearing darker colors than I normally do.  After she realized she missed me, she spotted the Au Bon Pain and ended up getting one of their breakfast sandwiches.  HA!!  She’s resourceful like that.

Almost 3 miles in now and I still felt good.  No hip issues (even with the chilly weather) and just a steady rhythm going.  I knew that the marathon/half marathon split was just after Mile 7, so I knew things would thin out a bit at that point as well.  At my 4 mile water stop, Tim caught up with me and gave me a pat on the back and told me I was doing great.  He was doing the full and looked like he wasn’t even trying to maintain a fast pace.  He’s superhuman, I swear!  He ended up catching me again at the water stop around Mile 6 before the split.  I kept waiting for Linda or Greg to pass me…but never did see that.  It was good to see Tim out there though!

The split came and that involved running underneath this arch where half was labeled for the full and the other half was labeled for the half.  They kept on going straight and we made a left turn to continue on our path to the finish line.  Just after Mile 8, they were handing out gels on the course.  Not my thing so onward.  I really felt good the entire time, except between Miles 10 and 11.  I just felt really tired at that point.  I walked a “hill” and a water stop within the same mile.  I didn’t feel bad for it.  I was tuning into my body and it really needed.  There is no shame in walk breaks.  In fact, they sort of make the run more enjoyable…and in the end…the results are quite surprising.  I didn’t speed walk those breaks either.  I strolled each water stop…taking in my own water of fuel as needed.  And after that extra break heading into Mile 11, I felt better and I was able to pick it back up.  Final two miles and into the home stretch.

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Me with Linda, my coach, after the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

I could hear the announcer as I neared the final stretch of the half marathon.  I took a corner and could see that finish line.  As I was nearing it, I spotted Cathy and the sign.  She was shouting at me and the crowd was loud and awesome.  And I heard my name get announced just as I was moments away from crossing that finish line.  That’s always a motivation to kick it up a notch.  I never have much of a kick at the end of a race, but I was smiling the entire time as I crossed over that finish line and threw my hands up in celebration!

Afterwards, made the walk through the finish chute, getting a Mylar blanket, a medal, lots of snacks, and some water.  I got an official finisher photo on the way to meet up with Cathy.  And soon after finding her, we got word that Linda was on her way to the finish line, so we waited to flag her down.  And the first thing she did was give me a hug.  I love my coach, for real!!  She’s my biggest support system, even when I am one of her biggest headaches (I am neurotic; I can’t help it!).  We talked to her for a little bit, but soon had to head back tot he hotel to cycle through showers and get dressed for the wedding.  Linda was going to be waiting on her runners doing the full and half marathon.

From running shoes to high heels and a pretty dress. We made a coffee stop at Strange Brew in Greenwood, IN before the wedding (necessary) and then got to see two friends get married.  A little dancing and food at the reception and we were in the bathroom changing into clothes for the soccer match and heading back to Louisville to cheer our team to victory (it went to penalty kicks and we won…and charged the field afterwards).  It was a long, but totally amazing day!

So…the official results of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:41:44…walking EVERY water stop.   I’ll take that time with walk breaks. Hell yeah!  I was 720/7972 finishers overall.  I was the 175/4492 female finishers.  And I was 32/775 in my age division.  WITH. WALK. BREAKS.  YAAAAAAS!!  Maybe Jeff Galloway really does have the secret recipe for racing success!  I mean, I ran/walked that race faster than I did the KDF Half Marathon.  It was also faster than I ran the Dark Side Half Marathon.  Yep…Jeff Galloway is a genius!

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Hard work understands hard work.  And hugs from your coach at the finish line make it all worth it in the end.

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Product Review: nuun Performance

nuunhydrationProduct: nuun Performance – $20-24.00

It is no secret that since my running had to take a back seat while I worked on healing and re-training my hip(s) to work differently, more efficiently, and better after my right hip suffered a hip labrum tear in 2015 and my left hip’s hip flexor basically ended up paralyzed in early 2017…my body’s old nutrition/fueling while working out/running has stopped working.

When I came back from the hip labrum tear, I had immediately gone back to using Gu as my primary source of fuel.  But my stomach didn’t like it at all.  I did some research online and found Tailwind…which worked at first, but soon left me feeling sick and with stomach cramps.  Back to the drawing board and those crazy internet searches.  U-Can was next.  I heard amazing things about it.  I bought a sample pack and…this really upset my stomach to the point I was near puking on a 20 mile run before the Kauai Marathon last year.  I reached out to some friends at running stores and distance running groups and did a quick trial on a few different fuels.  Sword, Skratch, huma (chia) gel…all of which did absolutely nothing to help my body feel energized during a distance effort.  In fact, I almost threw the huma gel back up because of the chia texture.  I was throwing out a Hail Mary and had someone introduce me to Hammer.

I didn’t have long to test Hammer in the field before heading to Hawaii…but I did what I could.  Hammer gels and the Hammer Heed (which is a powder that gets mixed in the water).  They worked well enough for sure…and while I struggled with the marathon (mostly due crazy mountains and hella heat), it got me through.

After that, I was running shorter distances and had no need for the endurance fuel at the time.  Then the hip flexor thing happened on January 1 (NO JOKE), and I was out for over 2 months with that.  Training for a couple of upcoming half marathons finally kicked in with me way under mileage…until last weekend, when I finally did double-digit miles – 10 miles with some hills!

Lo and behold…just after that, as I’m gearing up for half marathons this summer and prepping for Chicago Marathon training to kick in around the end of June/early July…my favorite electrolyte drink company, nuun, releases their own version of endurance fuel.  And without any hesitation…I ordered it.

Why was I so quick to jump on the order?  Well, for one thing, I am a nuun ambassador.  So, it’s always nice to try products that I support anyway.  AND I have been a user of the nuun electrolyte tablets since 2012.  The nuun Energy Cherry Limeade will forever be in my fuel belt when I run half and full marathons.  And, the now defunct, nuun Active Kona Cola (can we bring this one back?!), was my absolute favorite flavor they created.  I gave up drinking sodas back in 2013 when marathon training began…and it was the perfect supplement.  With such great success with nuun (all products, except the nuun All Day flavors, which I no longer see on the Web site, so may be defunct now too, are gluten free), I figured I could justify purchasing the new nuun Performance and give it a try.  I ordered them the day they were released…no hesitation.

They offer the new nuun Performance in two flavors and two different forms.  Both powdered.  The flavors are Blueberry Strawberry and Orange Mango.  You can either order these in a box that contains 12 sachets, or in a 10 ounce pouch (that makes 32 8 ounce servings).  The sachets retail for $24 and the pouch is $20.  So it’s just preference.  But as I travel for most of my races, it was easier for me to spend the extra $4 for the ability to toss a sachet or two in my luggage than have to pack an entire pouch or measure it out into baggies and hope that they don’g explode with the change in air pressure on planes.

I tested the nuun Performance  out on my 8 mile run yesterday.  I know that isn’t really that long of a run, but with 2 weekends and 3 races in my future, I didn’t feel that I needed to run 11 miles with the group.  But, I figured if I fueled halfway through, it would give me some idea of what to expect.  The real trial will happen this coming Sunday as I run the Disney World Dark Side Half Marathon.

So…how did it go?

I decided to try the nuun Performance Orange Mango first.  In 2 cups of water, I mixed the powder from the sachet and let it dissolve.  Into my fuel belt bottle it went and I was set to try it out on my run.  It was a rather warm morning too, so I figured this would go a long way on telling me how I react to it.  I set out on my run, and shortly after hitting that 4 mile mark…I tried it out.

How do you use nuun Performance?  This endurance supplement was created for you to drink during intense or long workouts (>90 minutes) to stay hydrated and perform your best.  It was formulated using the newest science on how your system performs under stress.  nuun formulated a precise combination of electrolyte + carbohydrate ingredients, in quantities to be fully absorbed, for improved hydration and reduced stomach distress as compared to other leading sports drinks.  Also, being in powdered form allows you to make exactly as much as you need each time.  What’s even more important to me is the ingredients.  nuun Performance uses only clean ingredients, such as dried fruit powder, not fruit flavor + fillers. And it is certified non-GMO!

So, how did it go?  Did it work for me?  In a sense…YES!

The nuun Performance is light, both in texture and flavor.  You would think you simply dropped one of those tablets for their Active/Energy/Vitamins varieties into the water.  The flavor was also light, which I appreciated, simply because I don’t like to be overwhelmed with flavors while I’m running (especially long distances), but I like to have a break from plain water.  This did it.  The powder dissolved perfectly and didn’t have that chalky flavor other performance powders I tried have.  I was impressed.  And the best part…no stomach issues!!  Not a single one.  I was beyond impressed and hope that this continues to hold as I build in more endurance races into my schedule and begin training hardcore for my go at the Chicago Marathon this fall.

Let’s discuss the ingredients in nuun Perfomance.  Check out the screen cap of the nutrition and ingredients for this amazing endurance fuel:

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Here is a list of nuun Performance active ingredients:

  • sodium: 380 mg
  • potassium: 200-210 mg
  • magnesium: 20 mg
  • calcium: 15 mg
  • chloride: 80 mg
  • 15 grams of carbohydrates

And…here is a helpful table of guidelines for use of this new, amazing product!

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It is, honestly, impossible to run long distances without fueling your body at some point during the activity.  While there are a lot of options out there, I was very impressed with the new nuun Performance.  I have a sensitive stomach, especially during intense activity, but this was gentle and light and…perfect if you ask me.  I can’t wait to use it more and more during my training.

If you’re looking for new fuel options or are just starting to seek out endurance fuel…give the new nuun Performance a try.

You can order it here: https://nuunlife.com/shop/nuun-performance/

 

Product Review: Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels

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Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels

Product: Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels – $7.75

Blueberries are always on the top of my list when it comes to favorite fruits and berries.  Always.  It has always been one of my favorite things to eat…whether in a muffin, pancakes, waffles, jam, donuts…and yes…especially in bagels.

So, leading up to the ONLINE EXCLUSIVE release of their latest flavor, the crazy baglers at Sweet Note Bakery teased a bit on social media as to what they have coming up.  I knew immediately from the pictures that it was going to be blueberry.  And I knew, the moment they hit the store, I would be ordering.

I think I’ve told you enough about Sweet Note Bakery…their origins and the like in all the past blogs I’ve done about them.  If you are just now tuning in…you can read about their history here.  If you want to know why size always matters, especially in certain important matters like…bagel size…read all about it here.  Seriously…if you want authentic New York-style bagels…that are both vegan and gluten-free…NOTHING beats Sweet Note Bakery!  Their bagels are phenomenal.  Feel free to go back to all the past entries (and I still have 1 more of their new flavors to review!) and see what every flavor is like.  Trust me…I grew up in New York.  Bagels and I are BFFs.

And if bagels and I are BFFs…then I would totally date blueberries.  This is what makes the latest flavor of the Sweet Note Bakery line up of bagels all the more sweeter.  I pre-ordered the blueberry flavor the moment they said they were taking the orders and last Thursday, much to my delight, they arrived safe and sound.  It was difficult not to just open one up right then and there and devour it, but my weekend was packed with plans that would keep me full and happy…so the bagels would be my Monday breakfast for sure.  Right after the first of my two (2) spin classes that day.

So, one of the crazy and wonderful and remarkable things that sets Sweet Note Bakery apart when it comes to their delicious and epic (yes…epic) gluten-free bagels is…they use real ingredients.  And, yes, that means that these blueberries are the real deal.  No fake bits.  No dried bits.  Real blueberries.  Giving you real blueberry flavor.  And not just a few berries.  These bagels are loaded with blueberries.  When they sell you a blueberry bagel, you’re getting a blueberry bagel.  You will not be disappointed with that.  So, you won’t feel like you were left hanging with only a few blueberries scattered in the dough (sort of like when you get chocolate chip cookies and they only have a few chips in them…no, no…load those bitches up!), you will get sweet bursts of berries in every…single…bite.  I swear it to you!

Upon returning home from the gym, I pulled the package of blueberry bagels out of the freezer and set to defrosting two (2) of them.  One for me.  One for my roommate (who doesn’t have to eat gluten-free…but mostly does at home.  All her gluten-containing foods are kept away from my foods).  I was pretty stoked.  So, after doing my usual thawing method (30 seconds on one side…flip…turn…30 seconds on the other side…let sit for a minute…slice in half), I placed each half on the baking sheet and put it in the preheated 350°F oven.  While they toasted for about 15-20 minutes, I went to shower and returned in just enough time to pour some coffee, get out the [vegan] cream cheese, and mix up a little cinnamon-sugar topping (an idea I pilfered from Lin-Manuel Miranda as this is how he tops off his cinnamon raisin bagels in NYC).  The bagels (which smelled PHENOMENAL) were removed from the oven and I allowed them to cool for a moment before schmearing them with a healthy dose of cream cheese and a smattering of cinnamon-sugar.  Breakfast was served.

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Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels with a schmear of vegan cream cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar

Normally, I ask my roommate what she thinks as I deliver her plate to her first and she digs in before I return with my own bagel.  But, for some reason, today I didn’t do that.  I settled in to my own breakfast, coffee nearby, and took a first bite.  And…WOW!!  For real…just WOW!!  There has never been a blueberry anything that I have purchased that has packed this much flavor, great texture, and pure goodness and deliciousness…in every single bite.  This is not an exaggeration.  If you’ve been conned by previous blueberry bagels on size, taste, and…the amount of blueberries you have in each bagel…then it’s time to look for a better bagel.  And there is none better than the (happily) gluten-free (and trust me…no one would guess it!) and vegan (again…no one would guess it!) Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels.  When I took my first bite…I went…”OMG…YUM!”  To which, as she was devouring yet another bite, my roommate said, “UM…YES!”  We were both totally smitten with the newest Sweet Note Bagel in the lineup.  Blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse.  Pair them with the most perfect bagel recipe (yeah…I said it, Sweet Note!)…and you have a perfect product to satisfy every taste.

I’m dreaming of eating another one as I write this right now.

Good thing there are four (4) in each pack.

So, while on the subject, let’s discuss what Sweet Note Bakery packs into their Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels.  I mean, besides the obvious…blueberries.  Each bagel is made with LOVE (yep…an actual ingredient…and you can tell), water, white rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet white rice flour, apple juice infused blueberries, sorghum flour, sugar, cane syrup, olive oil, molasses, yeast, xanthan gum, wild blueberry juice concentrate, psyllium husk, and salt.   As always when it comes to Sweet Note’s bagels, these bagels are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, egg-free, peanut & tree nut-free, and cholesterol free.  Made with love, indeed!!

As far as nutrition goes for the Sweet Note Gluten Free Blueberry Bagels you’ll find you hunger satisfied and here’s why.  A serving size is one (1) bagel, which is about 4.5 oz (128 grams).  There are four (4) servings per package.  Each bagel will deliver 320 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 69 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 17 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  The sugar count on these is a bit higher due to the inclusion blueberries and the blueberry juice concentrate.  BUT…they are amazing nonetheless.  And I am going to keep on ordering them until they tell me I no longer can.  Which I hope never happens.  For real!!  THIS…just became my most favorite bagel that Sweet Note has introduced.

And, trust me, I can’t wait to see what else they manage to cook up in the future.  Every time they come out with a new flavor, they exceed expectations and previous products.  Every. Single. Time.  And I never tire of placing orders to keep my freezer properly stocked and ready for a quick, toasted, deliciously schmeared breakfast.

So, yes…whether you love bagels, blueberries, or blueberry bagels…head on over to the Sweet Note Bakery online store and place an order.  You won’t find these in locations where Sweet Note Bagels are sold.  These are only online.  Trust me…you’ll find love at first bite too.  Delicious…blueberry…love.

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Product Review: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Product: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto – $3.29+

You know…it was because I was told that the liveGfree Gluten Free Tortillas at Aldi wouldn’t fall apart and crumble on me (which was false…they did…and I was sad) that I ended up back at my Aldi to grab some gluten-free goods.  Just the tortillas…that was the plan.

But you know how quickly plans fall apart when gluten free products/food are involved.

While standing in line with one item, I spotted the infamous liveGfree box colors on some discounted sale items.  There were three different types of pastas sitting there…discounted…looking for a happy pantry to belong to.  I thought about just skipping that.  I’m trying to move things out, not bring more in, but they were discounted to $1.99…so I grabbed one of each flavor.

With this being an odd week with half days and holidays…my usual meal planning is thrown a bit off.  When I’m not going to be here, batch cooking that much just doesn’t make sense.  So, I pick and choose and then fill in.  So, when my roommate said to just throw together a pasta or something for a lunch on Monday, that’s exactly what I decided to do.

I knew we had these boxes of Aldi lifeGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meals in my pantry, so I gave her the choice of flavors…(all of which will be reviewed here…so watch this space)…and she decided to start with the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal.

Cooking this up is super easy.  Simply throw 1-1/4 cup water into a pan and bring it to a boil.  Once there, pour the noodles and seasoning mix into the water.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for about 7-9 minutes.  Stir it occasionally, and continue to cook until the water is completely absorbed.  That’s it.  It’s ready to eat.

Well, here is the downside.  A box contains only 1-1/2 servings.  Yes…one and a half servings.  I don’t know where the logic is with that, but after I had this cooked up and split it between my roommate and I…there was hardly anything in our lunch bowls.  So, I reached into my freezer and pulled out the Beyond Meat Gluten Free and Vegan Italian Meatballs, cooking up some of those to add to the dish to bulk it up and make it bigger than just a side dish.  So, please be aware…1-1/2 servings per container.  If there is more than 1-1/2 of you eating…plan accordingly.

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal  (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

At lunch today, I retrieved the Pyrex containers with the pasta and “meatballs” in it and popped each one in the microwave to heat.  Once heated all the way through…lunch was ready to go.  I do love a no-hassle, fuss-free, easy lunch to prepare at work when the kitchen can get quite chaotic with everyone fighting for counter space and the microwave.

I settled in at  my desk, gave it a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (because I like it hot, LOL!) and dug in.

First of all, I was very impressed with the way the pasta held up, not just in the cooking process, but also in the reheating. It didn’t fall apart or get gummy.  So, that’s a huge plus.  I loved the seasoning that was cooked down over the noodles.  A blend of basil and spinach, mixed with a touch of garlic and Parmesan.  So, yeah…not exactly dairy-free, eh?  I didn’t notice that when I bought it…but…it was all I had for lunch.  I’m not allergic to dairy…just highly intolerant to lactose.  So, I just hoped for the best.  Very full of flavor…which surprised me.  I never expect much from boxed pasta meals, but this one was actually very delicious.  I am, however, quite happy that I opted to include the vegan meatballs to bulk it out.  It also added to the depth of flavor of the dish.  For a pasta meal that I spent under $2 to purchase…this was the happy surprise of the week.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, shall we?  This boxed meal is made from gluten free pasta (corn flour, rice flour), process cheese food in powder [cheese blend (pasteurized milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes), whey powder, salt, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate], cream powder (cream, milk), natural flavor, potato starch, parmigano reggiano cheese (milk, salt, rennet), dehydrated spinach, dehydrated basil, salt, garlic powder, and turmeric powder.  This pasta meal is gluten free and wheat free.

Now that we know what goes into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, let’s look at the nutrition ingredients.  A serving size of this product is 2/3 cup (or 3/4 cup prepared), and there are 1.5 servings fer container.  One serving will provide you with 250 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 42 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 8 grams protein.  If you were to eat the entire box yourself, you would only be consuming 375 calories in total.  Which, really isn’t too bad.  I just think that Aldi should either round it down to 1 serving or up to 2 servings, because this half serving really annoyed me, if you couldn’t tell.

I wasn’t expecting much from this Aldi meal, but, once again, Aldi surprised me.  I should have trusted them a little more.  If you can get your hands on the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meal’s…it’s a cheap and delicious way to have something on hand for when you don’t really have time or energy to cook something else up.

Check your local Aldi…and pick some up.

Product Review: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

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Gluten Free Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix (and topped with Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting and sprinkles)

Product: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix – $3.99+

I blame my neighbor.  I do.  Because she knows how much I like to cook and bake and make tasty treats for myself, my roomie, my friends, my co-workers, and just…people in general.  So, while she was out at one of the discount stores, she snagged me four (4)…yes…FOUR…boxes of the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix and one (1) box of the Immaculate Baking Company’s Gluten Free Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough.  I love it when she surprises me with gluten free goodies.

All that being said…I was out at Michael’s a couple of weekends ago and spotted a T-Rex cookie cutter.  Don’t judge.  My roommate loves dinosaurs.  Yes…she’s in her mid-30s…but…that’s just who she is.  And then…there was the Unicorn cookie cutter.  UNICORN COOKIE CUTTER.  I used to have a unicorn collection.  I am a Boston Marathon runner.  Unicorns are sort of my spirit animal.

Now, sugar cookies and I don’t have the best relationship.  Every time I have attempted to make them, be it from a mix or from scratch…they have been ultimate fail.  And, while the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix gives instructions for round cookies, I really wanted to make cut-out cookies.  So, learning from my past in sugar cookie baking, I made up the dough and wrapped it in Saran wrap before sticking it in the back of the fridge and letting it chill while I was out and about running errands that day.

That afternoon, when I returned…and called my dad to wish him a Happy Father’s Day…I set out rolling out the chilled dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, flattening it out.  Then, I took my new cookie cutters and carefully (there were some really tiny parts that were not easy to come out of the cookie cutter (hello unicorn horn)) cut out T-Rex and Unicorn shapes as I chatted with my dad.  The mix set up perfectly for this…and I kept it chilling when I wasn’t using it.  So, onto a baking sheet these cookies went and…BAM…into a preheated 375°F oven.

So, while these are virtually baking in my blog, let me tell you how easy this mix is to make.  All you need is the cookie mix, 1/2 cup of butter (I used Earth Balance Vegan Butter Sticks – room temperature), 1 tablespoon water, and 1 egg.  Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until soft dough is formed.  From here, you can form dough by rounded teaspoons and put onto a baking sheet 2 inches apart…or you can chill it like I did (this was me being stubborn…I wanted cut-out cookies, dammit!) and roll it out after it’s chilled and cut out fun shapes like dinosaurs and unicorns.  Adults can have fun-shaped sugar cookies too, you know?

I lost track on the first batch as my dad was a fun and worthwhile distraction.  These bake for about 8-10 minutes, except in my oven, because it is old and doesn’t get as warm as it says at times.  So, the cookies weren’t ready after 10 minutes, so I figured I’d go for 2 more minutes.  Didn’t set a timer, and as I was rolling out the second batch and chatting with my dad…remembered those were in there and pulled them out.  The edges got a little toasted, but they were still fine.  I noted, much to my dad’s amusement, that the unicorns became fat unicorns.  They did spread slightly…but still resembled the original shape.

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T-Rex and Unicorn Cut-Out Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

While out grocery shopping early that weekend, I picked up a jar of Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  And some green sparkle sprinkles for the dinosaur cookies.  I had rainbow sprinkles at home already for the unicorn cookies. HA!  So, after the cookies cooled and I was off the phone and not browning the edges of the rest of the cookies, I cooked dinner…and knew these cookies would be dessert.

I snagged one T-Rex and one Unicorn cookie and gave each a schmear of the Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  Topped each off with some sprinkles…and dessert was ready.

I have been really impressed with the Pillsbury Gluten Free products, and these were no exception.  This mix was not only easy to make…but tasted great.  I always had a soft spot in my heart for sugar cookies (I used to bake them with all the neighborhood kids at a neighbor’s home every Christmas)…because they are so versatile.  Top them off with frosting, sprinkles, stuff them with ice cream, or more frosting…add nuts or chocolate chips…the possibilities are endless.  Sugar cookies are the ultimate decoration cookie.  And while I’m not big on frosting at all (I really am not a fan), these required delicious frosting (hence…Dollop Gourmet), and sprinkles…because sprinkles are awesome.

Know what else is awesome?  These cookies.  They have that buttery flavor, with a touch of the sweetness from the sugar in the mix.  I asked my roommate what she thought and she said they tasted just like “regular” sugar cookies.  And they should.  The only difference is rice flour and tapioca starch and potato starch replace the all-purpose flour that would go into regular ones.  These cookies have that nice crunch on the outer edge with a soft center.  SO good.  And this made SO many of these.  So, I have sugar cookies for days…and am wondering if I’ll ever run out at this point.  At least they are amazing and yummy.

So, let’s discuss what Pillsbury puts into their Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix, shall we?  This mix is a blend of sugar, rice flour, tapioca starch, canola oil, potato startch, contains 2% or less of: salt, baking soda, cellulose, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors.

As for nutrition information…keep in mind…these are sugar cookies.  Mmmm…cookies.  COOKIE MONSTER strikes again.  Anyway, a serving size is 1/18th of the mix (if you make the drop cookies, this box makes 3 dozen; if you make the cut-out cookies, it varies.  I got 22 cookies in mine).  A serving size (for drop) is 2 cookies and for the cut-outs 1 cookie.  This serving (when prepared per package instructions) will provide you with 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams sugars, 1 gram protein.

I am very happy with the mix that Pillsbury has created for those of us who, perhaps, missed the amazing cookies that a company like Pillsbury puts out.  I am also intending to use a box of this to make Strawberry Streusel Bars or Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars for the office birthday party that is happening next week.  Just have to decide on which one I want to make.  Trust me, with an office that usually turns its nose up at anything that is gluten-free, I wouldn’t serve this mix to them if I didn’t think it was worth it.

Thank you, Pillsbury, for making gluten-free baking mixes for those of us who love to have an easier and more convenient way to make cookies.  Especially sugar cookies.  Because sugar cookies are evil. But this was so easy and my cut-out cookies were…perfect.

And that always makes this cookie monster happy!!

Product Review: Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes

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Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes

Product: Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes – $3.99+

Sometimes, I don’t remember why I pick things out to try…they just sort of intrigue me at the time when I am at the grocery store.  It happens.  And while I have been steering mostly clear of packaged and processed foods, sometimes you just have to give in and try something that calls to you.

And that is apparently what happened when I snagged a box of Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  Let me tell you…the box makes these things look amazing.  Like little broccoli hashbrowns.  Or…broccoli and potato latkes.

I love potato pancakes (latkes)…and I love broccoli.  So this was basically Dr. Praeger’s brilliantly meshing the two of them together.  BRILLIANT!!

Dr. Praeger’s is a multi-generation, family-owned food company founded by two heart surgeons.  The company is committed to encouraging a more sensible and healthier way of eating.  Everything created by Dr. Praeger’s begins with their no-compromise recipes that help support an active lifestyle.  Every ingredient that goes into each and every Dr. Praeger’s product is pronounceable and recognizable.  You know how I love that!

As I stated above, I LOVE Broccoli!  Like…LOVE IT!  Always have.  Always will.

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So, imagine my elation when I spotted this little box in the freeze section of one of the many grocery stores I frequent.  I don’t know why I felt the need to snatch it up and try it…but it was like…meant to be.  Because it was BROCCOLI…and…

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…POTATO!

I’m Irish.  Potatoes and I are BFFs.  Like…for real BFFs.  I eat at least…at least two potatoes a week, but usually more.  No joke.

The box of Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes describes these little treats as a savory blend of broccoli, potatoes and onions.  There are six (6) cakes in each box, making it easy to decide whether you want to eat these as a snack, a side, or as a meal.

For me…MEAL!

Oh yes…meal time.

It was actually a Friday afternoon where these were pulled out of my freezer.  I had a half day at the office and was going to head into Louisville to get my grocery shopping done early so that I could go pick blueberries Saturday afternoon instead of running around and grocery shopping then.  So, I wanted something that was easy to make, not too big (as I was cooking up Gluten Free & Vegan BLT Sammies…with a side of guac and blue tortilla chips.  So, an easy, fast, and filling lunch was what I was looking to make for my roommate and I before we hit the numerous grocery stores.  Because otherwise we are a bit like this with any samples at said grocery/natural food stores.

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The Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes are really easy to prepare.  Each round cake is individually wrapped, so, again, you can pick how many you make.  The serving size is two (2) cakes, but as this was lunch, I made up all 6, so each of us could have three (3) each.  The preferred method for cooking these is the one I used…preheating the oven to 450°F and putting the cakes on an ungreased baking pan.  The cakes go into the oven for about 5-7 minutes until browned.  Then, you carefully flip them over, cook for another 4-6 minutes, until heated through and browned.  You can also cook these in a skillet or in the microwave, but the oven baked these up to perfection.

They honestly looked like little broccoli hashbrowns.  Which is fine.  Because hashbrowns are one of life’s best foods to ever be invented, created, and consumed.  They smelled fantastic.  And I ended up topping them off with a drizzle of a vegan lemon cream sauce that I had made earlier that week for another dish.  Lunch was served…and it took less than 20 minutes.  LOVE it.

First of all, the oven technique really does cook up the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes to a crispy perfection, all without the use of butter or oil.  And as I’m trying to cut back on some of that…that was a big thing with me.  I was afraid they would be mushy and soft, but they totally crisped up on the outside, getting that gorgeous golden color and crunchy texture.  The inside…warm…soft…and perfect.  You get a lot of broccoli flavor in each bite, but you get potato and onion and whatever spices are blended into the mix.  It was delicious.  I was beyond surprised.  I had one without the sauce, and it was fantastic.  They have the same consistency as a latke or potato pancake…but the flavor is more complex with the addition of the broccoli.  I loved these.  So simple…yet so delicious!

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients that go into the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  These amazing cakes of green goodness are made from broccoli, potatoes, onion, expeller pressed canola oil, oat bran, potato flakes, egg whites, arrowroot powder, sea salt, garlic, and black pepper.  The Broccoli Cakes are gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO.

As far as nutrition goes, with ingredients like that, you will love the nutritional info in the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  A serving size is two (2) of the cakes and their are 3 servings (or 6 individually wrapped cakes) per box.  This serving will provide you with 130 calories, 6 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  Believe it or not, these are quite filling…because the sampling snack monsters were kept at bay.

Dr. Praeger’s as a remarkable line of gluten-free and vegetarian offerings in their product line-up.  Not everything they make is gluten-free and vegetarian though, so read the boxes.  They label everything, so you will know just by looking at the box.  I have never had a Dr. Praeger’s product that I haven’t loved…and I think lots of that is that they really do strive to use real ingredients and real foods in each and every one of their products.  If you haven’t tried the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes yet…go to wherever Dr. Praeger’s items are sold near you…and grab a box.  Trust me…you will not be disappointed.

Product Review: Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts

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

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

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

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

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Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free Soft Donuts with Vanilla Icing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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