CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (November 3, 2018)

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Me heading into the finish line of the CNO Financial Monumental Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

Race: CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, IN

Date: November 3, 2018

Time: 3:46:17

“Ever tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”
~ Samuel Beckett

I admit it.  The results of the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon  were a hard pill to swallow.  In all honesty, I had hoped that my training, regardless of changing plans and going solo on it all…making it all up as I went, catching up on miles I didn’t get to run to build up that marathon base…I really thought it would be enough.  I didn’t feel like I was in marathon shape.  But I felt confident.

And, as we know…I crashed and burned soon after the 14 mile mark.  I finished.  But not with a time I was happy with.

Moral of the story.  Do NOT ever leave me along with an upcoming half marathon with the option to upgrade to the full marathon when I’m pissed off with my previous marathon performance.  Less than one month apart.  27 days apart, to be exact.  Because, I figured, hell, I was already in “marathon shape”…might as well try again with a different plan of action.  So, it happened.  I upgraded my registration to the full marathon (trust me, I was starting to doubt the wisdom of this the morning of the race, but I’ll get there, LOL!) and then…didn’t really broadcast it anywhere.  I told my training partner, Lauren.  My roommate, of course, knew.  And a couple of people at the gym who asked me what was next for me knew…but no one else.  Not. A. Word.

My plan for the days in between?  Recovery.  Easy runs.  Not a ton of miles.  Just easy, training runs.  I did maybe 3 speed intervals…all of only 4 miles.  My longest long run was 10 miles…last weekend.  Slow and steady with Lauren who took me on an adventure and kept the pace right where I wanted and needed it.  Some people like to pile on those miles and brag about weekly and monthly totals.  I have never been that sort.  And, honestly, it is a rare thing for me to ever hit 200 miles in a month, even during marathon training.  There is training and there is overtraining.  One of these benefits you.  The other leads to injury, burnout, and a plethora of other issues.  Just like pace, I don’t usually post my miles or mileage either.  Honestly, who cares other than me?

Deep breath.  Let’s start with the day before the race.

Thursday night was filled with packing and not trying to overthink anything.  Cathy picked out my outfit…she packed recovery wear, shoes, race gear, fuel, etc.  Everything I would need for another 26.2.  I made her pack capris because I was nervous it would be too cold at the start of the race for the running skirt she had picked.  She allowed for that…but nothing more.  We went to work as usual on Friday, planning to leave around 2 pm to make the drive up to Indianapolis.

I made certain that I got as much work done that I could in the time I was in the office.  Lunch was just a giant salad, made from all the fresh ingredients/produce that I had lingering in my fridge heading into the weekend.  We packed up, brought bottles of water that had our Nuun Immunity Tablets in them.  If you haven’t tried them…HIGHLY recommended!  And we hit the road, with our mid-day snacks to get us through the drive and the expo before heading to dinner.

We hit a small amount of traffic on the way, but we made it to the Omni Severin Hotel, in downtown Indianapolis.  Honestly, if you’re looking for a hotel in downtown Indy…STAY HERE!!  I was blown away by the hospitality, even if they didn’t do late checkouts due to it being an event weekend (I get it…but after a marathon, I usually appreciate a hot shower).  They did say that they had a fitness center with a shower and if I needed one I could get a key made to get in there and shower.  So…I mean…there was that.  Our luggage was taken up to our room by the nicest guy, Matt, who gave us the rundown about the hotel and the history behind it.  He showed us the amenities in the room and made sure we had plans for dinner because otherwise the hotel was doing a pasta dinner for the runners.  Honestly, I’ve never felt so welcome at a hotel.

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Cathy at her first major packet pickup for the Monumental 5K

Next stop…the expo.  We took the inside path through the hotel and Circle Center Mall to get ourselves over to the Indianapolis Expo Center.  Some roads were going to be closed because Trump and Pence were in town (BARF!), but it wasn’t affecting us.  We had a work-around.  The Expo felt a lot smaller this year than it was last year.  We got there, and immediately collected posters and headed to the back to get race packets and shirts.  YES…that’s plural.  Since I upgraded to the full, Cathy decided she could do the 5K, as it started AFTER the full and half marathons were sent off.  Had I stuck with the half, she wouldn’t have done it otherwise she’d miss my finish.

We stopped at the 5K booths first and Cathy did her first ever official big race 5K packet pickup.  She had to show her ID and everything.  The volunteers at her table were SO fun and very cool.  They even had thrown safety pins into her bag.  It was awesome.

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Cathy and Me with our race numbers for the next morning.

After she got her stuff…we headed over to the marathon tables where I collected my shirt and bib and we went straight into Official Merchandise.  Where I spent more money.  This time only on a lapel pin and a jacket.  The jacket is SUPER nice though.  I could have spent SO MUCH more.  HA!  We made our walk through the vendors and races that were represented at the expo.  Cathy had forgotten a BondiBand to keep her ears warm, so we had to go and get her one of those.  She found one…bright pink…that says, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  Just like the button she has worn since NYC.  I spotted a different flavor of Gluten Free Honey Stinger Stroopwafels (I can only ever find Salted Caramel…which is GOOD…but I know there are other flavors out there…and I found a Vanilla & Chocolate one!).  But we wrapped it up quickly, stopping to find my name on the poster and then take a few pictures with the banners.  A volunteer was kind enough to get a lot of these photos for us, from every angle.

From there, we made the trek back to the hotel room.  We had about 30 minutes to kill before dinner, so Cathy went ahead and tried on her race shirt to get my opinion on the fit.  I decided I should do the same, and thank GOD I did.  Turns out, the volunteers at my end of the table gave me a men’s small and not a women’s small.  I was NOT happy.  With 20 minutes to get to our dinner reservation, we packed up the shirt and stepped outside to take a quicker route to the convention center in hopes of changing it out.  I booked it down the hall and back into the expo to the shirt exchange area and snagged my women’s small.  Whew!  Cathy was waiting in the hall outside.  We had about 5 minutes to make a 10 minute walk to our dinner reservation at Napolese.  Honestly, whenever we are in town for a race, this is our go-to restaurant.  I mean…GLUTEN FREE FOCACCIA AND GLUTEN FREE PIZZA!!

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Napolese’s Gluten Free Focaccia

I apologized to the hostess for being late and told her we had a 5:45 reservation.  Our table was still there though, next to two very loud men who were drinking a lot and talking REALLY LOUD about Queen and movies and games and whatever.  I was over it.  Thank God they left while we were eating our appetizer.

We had already had plans on what we were going to do for eats that night.  I looked at the menu on the way up so we could formulate a plan.  So when our waiter came over, we got glasses of water and put in our order.  Gluten Free Focaccia (no dairy) and then we were going to Freestyle our pizza and do a Gluten Free Pizza topped with the Housemade Tomato Sauce, Winter Squash, Mushrooms, and Duck Eggs.  He asked if the gluten-free was an allergy and made note that it was for a Celiac on the ticket.  And also made note of the NO DAIRY preference as well.  They are VERY efficient there.  And trust me…the food is amazing too.

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Napolese’s Gluten Free Pizza – no cheese, tomato sauce, mushrooms, winter squash, duck eggs

The focaccia came out first…olive oil, garlic, parsley.  SO GOOD.  And as we were polishing that off, the pizza came out.  But it was missing…the duck eggs.  Cathy pointed it out and he apologized and took it back.  He returned with a little thing of olive oil to go with the pizza if we wanted to add it and said that he took the pizza before they had cooked up the eggs and it would be up momentarily.  And we didn’t really have a long wait before it was returning to our table.  Looking SO good.  And even with polishing off the focaccia…I was ready to eat.  We polished off the pizza and took his advice, adding the olive oil…and it was light and fruity and just added a whole new level of deliciousness to the slices.  BIG FAN.  We finished eating and were given the bill, where they didn’t charge us for the duck eggs (that was sweet…but they didn’t need to do that).  We left a big tip, because or waiter was awesome.  Then headed to CVS to pick up some waters for the next morning, and then hit up the Hard Rock Cafe for a pin.  Mind you…I was not wanting to be on my feet much this time around.  But, we were never far from the hotel and we were back into the hotel by 7:30-ish.  Cathy went to shower.  I got out all my race gear and laid it out and then started my foam rolling because I was determined to do that the night before the race.  As I was doing that, there was a knock at the door.  It was housekeeping delivering a bottle of water, some ice, and a card.  It was from the hotel.  Super sweet gesture.  I knew it would all come in handy.  We finished up an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…and then…

Lights out…9 pm.  On the nose.

I woke up a couple of times during the night…like my usual wakeup time of 3 am.  At 4

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Cathy’s complimentary drink tray that morning – orange juice and coffee!

am, my first alarm went off so I could take a pill and use the bathroom.  Back to bed for 2 restless hours.  At 6 am…we were both up and starting our morning routine.  I popped open a Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Matcha Happiness Ambition Bar.  I ate one before I ran the Monumental Half Marathon last year.  Why not do it again?  I prepped my pre-race drink and started to slowly get dressed.  At 6:15 am, Cathy’s free orange juice and coffee arrived outside the door.  We got up at 6 am so we could have a more relaxed moment and this gave her the chance to eat her Clif Bar and drink some coffee and juice as she does most mornings.  Including in her own training.

I finished getting ready, and this included slathering on some sunscreen because…it was going to be a sunny day that morning and I refuse to be the person with a sunburn in November.  I was wearing two different color CEP sleeves, my Injinji toe socks, my Newton Distance IIIs, a black running skirt, my Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon singlet, red arm warmers, and a red BondiBand that said “Breathe.”  I had some pajama bottoms to toss away prior to the race and a halfzip that I bought in a child’s size a long time ago that I was okay parting with.   I put my Nuun Energy into two of my bottles and water into the other two bottles and put my fuel belt on.  I put my new nutrition (tested once) into the front zip pouch and called myself ready.  Cathy ended up putting on a second layer on top and then we headed down to the lobby.  They had water and bananas out for the runners.  I usually eat a banana before a marathon so…I snagged one.  We ran into people from Louisville that we didn’t know, but I spotted his Chicago Marathon t-shirt and said I had run it too, but he was smarter than me this morning since he was only doing the half.  We had a good laugh over that.

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Race outfit for the marathon – minus the arm warmers, which got put on soon after.

And after they moved on…I started to have a small meltdown.  Why?  Because, despite being easy on my body and training smart leading up to this…I felt like my legs weren’t going to let me go another 26.2 so soon.  Cathy talked me down, as she usually does.  And then she had us moving out the door and into the cold Indianapolis morning.  It was 34 degrees outside.  We made the walk from the Omni to the start line, where I ate my banana and slowly drank my water.  We made it here and Cathy took a few pictures.  When we saw the pacers getting into the corral, she told me to go find my pacers and talk to them.  She gave me a hug and I left…stepping into the network of corrals and finding the 3:35 pacers (see what I’m doing here?), in the 2nd wave.  My bib was good for the first wave, but like I said, I was learning from my mistakes at Chicago…I hoped.

My plan for this race…line up with the 3:35 pace group and hold on as long as I could.  I

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Cathy & I staying warm in the hotel lobby for a few minutes before walking to the start of both of our races!

didn’t expect to be with them for long, just given how my training runs had been coming off of Chicago.  But, I figured it would be a good way to keep from going out way too fast (and we all know I would have) and at least keeping a constant pace going forward.  The male pacer’s PR was 3:09 and the female had just run a 50K the weekend before, so I can only assume that she is normally super fast as well.  Crazy good.  I never run with pacers, but I figured…this might be what I need.

I ditched my toss-away clothing and got back to the pacers just as the national anthem was being sung.  It was gorgeous.  The wheelchair racers were sent off first.  Wave one was next.  And we were moved up to the start gate.  I gave a wave to Cathy since I wasn’t on the outside of the corral…I was right behind the pacers because…I didn’t want to lose them.  After about 5 minutes…off we went.  We hit the roads of Indianapolis…and Cathy went to line up for her 5K.

The pacers guided our group down Capitol Avenue, reminding us that the pace would be slow for the first couple of miles until the race spread out a little bit.  Since the half and full marathon start together, it can be very congested at points.  Reminder, Indianapolis roads are awful.  The male pacer pointed out holes as we ran and I heard the female pacer say, “You’re going to be saying that a lot.”  HA!  She wasn’t wrong.

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Game face on as I stick close to the 3:35 pacers at the start line

We made a couple of turns before running across the first water/aid station.  They were nice enough to shout out each station as we approached so anyone who needed water or Gatorade could grab it.  It was a little chaotic through there, but I stuck with them as we made a couple more turns and made the half rotation around Monument Circle.  There was another aid station before we hit Mile 3 and the pacer sign was passed from the male to the female.  He had a pace tattoo on his arm and when we hit three, she asked, “How are we?”  He said, “We’re a little over.”  So she picked it up slightly.

Not only was I incorporating a “stick to the pacer” technique this race, I also decided to fuel more.  So every 4 miles…I was trying something new (I know…nothing new on race day, but…MEH)…Maurten Gel 100, which is apparently what Kipchoge uses!  I am no Kipchoge, nor was I aware of this when I purchased it to try…but it isn’t bad.  I like the texture way better than the Honey Stingers or Gu type gels.  I took my first one at Mile 4, which had me ease back on the pace just enough.  I took a drink of water, and pushed my way back up toward the pacers.

It was just about the 10K area that I discovered how dangerous it was to run with a pace

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My new form of fueling – Maurten Gel 100

group.  As more people fell into the group it got crowded…fast.  Someone clipped my foot from behind, sending me stumbling.  I recovered, but was pushed into someone ahead of me, which sent them stumbling.  Then someone else closed in and his foot pretty much tripped me…and again I had to catch myself.  And then someone clipped me again and that one nearly took me down for good.  The adrenaline was rushing at this point which was definitely NOT what I wanted to have happen.  I eased back just enough to allow some space so I wouldn’t get trampled at this point.

At Mile 7, the half marathoners turn left and the marathon runners continue up toward the State Fairgrounds.  At Mile 8…I fueled again.  And I was still hanging onto the pace group.  YAY.  I was a little bit behind them, but I felt that was for my own safety and sanity.  We turned onto Washington Boulevard, which we would be on for almost the next two miles.  They were giving out Clif Gels at Mile 11, but I had my own fueling to contend with.  But it was here…HERE…that I started to get a side stitch.  I wasn’t pushing my pace…but it soon turned into a stomach cramp of sorts.  I gutted through it until we made the turn and hit Mile 12…and then I slowed it to a walk to see if I could get it to pass.  This was when I was supposed to fuel again anyway…and I took the opportunity to do that before I felt I would be okay to pick it up again.  And I did.  No problems.  I made sure to drink more water this time.  I think that was the problem.  I was now further behind the pace group, but was about to hit the halfway mark.  I pushed through and continued…still feeling strong for the most part.  I was just frustrated that I was off the pace group earlier than I would have liked.

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Do you see my name on the poster? I meant to post this earlier. LOL!

I loved winding through the streets of Indianapolis.  There were crowds and people cheering in places you wouldn’t expect.  If we ran through neighborhoods, people were there too.  I may have been a bit off my pace, but I was going strong for the most part.  I made the turn onto Meridian and picked it back up a little.  Mile 16…I eased back again to fuel and drink more water.  And now I decided I would start walking some water stops in order to make sure I was hydrating.  When it’s cold outside, I forget to drink water.  I wasn’t letting anything stupid like that take me down that day.

The 3:40 pacers caught me just before Mile 18, where we ran through this area that felt like a park and were met with a wall of screaming from the people inside.  I think it was a college group, but they were fantastic.  I got quite a few compliments at aid stations and as I ran through here on my pigtails.  Love that story.  We exited onto the highway and headed toward my favorite part of the course, this gorgeous, twisting downhill on an exit ramp.  YES!  Downhill is my favorite speed as we all know!!  And this was fun.

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Cathy after she did her 5K!  She did it in 46:42!

Mile 20…and I had only a 10K left.  I took a little longer on my walk to fuel here because not only did I fuel and drink some water, but I also moved my one and only Honey Stinger Gel from my zip pocket in my running skirt to my fuel belt.  Why?  Because I was going to do one more fueling and I didn’t have enough Maurten with me.  I wanted to feel good and strong at the end of this.

At this point, if there was a hill…I speed walked it.  If there was a water stop, I walked it and took in some water.  If there was a crowd, I ran.  I was running more than walking, which was opposite Chicago, so already my plan was paying off.  I think it was at Mile 23, I went ahead and took my last gel, fueling for the last push.  The water stop here was AMAZING.  They were blaring this great song about being downtown.  And it just helped me pick it back up.

The next three miles went well, even though I could tell I was slowing down.  I think at some point the 3:45 group passed me.  I tried not to let it get into my head.  I took any water break walks that I needed and promised that I would push it at the end.  I was going to finish this one strong.  I made the turn onto W New York Street.  The crowd was amazing.  Someone shouted, “The finish is just around the corner!”  They were right.  I rounded the corner and could see the finish line down the way.  It seemed so far, but I found another gear and I started to pick it up.  As I got closer, I saw Cathy standing near the finish, screaming her head off for me.  I pressed on, crossing the finish line, arms in the air, and stopped my Garmin.  I never looked at it. I wanted to beat my Dopey time.  But I didn’t want to be disappointed yet either.

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Me crossing the finish line at the CNO Financial Monumental Marathon

So I never looked.  I started walking down the row.  I was wrapped in a Mylar blanket.  I saw some people with their medals on…and thought for a moment I had walked right past that station.  But I hadn’t.  I just hasn’t moved up far enough.  I continued on.  A nice woman put a medal around my neck and congratulated me.  I smiled and thanked her, snagging a bottle of water before stopping to get an official finisher photo from Marathonfoto.  On down the aisle of snacks, snagging a banana, a Clif Bar (for Cathy), a bag of Lay’s chips, and the famous cookie (I can’t even eat it…but I knew plenty of people who could).  And then…I made my way out to be greeted by Cathy with a hug.

I asked her, “Did I beat my Dopey time?”  And she said, “You smashed it by over three minutes.”  I was elated.  It wasn’t the time I was hoping to hit, but I once again chipped away from my time I set at the beginning of the year…doing a run/walk for the entire race.  This time, I mostly ran and felt strong and good throughout…and that was saying something.  As Cathy was finding a spot for me to lay down and put my feet up, I spotted the hat in her clear backpack and said, “You got a hat?”  She said I should have gotten one too and I told her I must have walked past that station.  She told me to lay down and she would see if she could get one for me.  After about 5 minutes, she returned victorious, saying she flagged down a happy looking marathoner to see if she could get another one.  It worked.

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Feet up…suns out…guns out.  FINISHER!

After stretching my feet up for a little bit, just basking in the sun, we finally decided to get up and head back toward the hotel.  Cathy checked us out of our room and had our bags checked.  It felt like the walk took forever, but it was a good way, save for the wind that had picked up.  I drew my arm warmers back up over my arms and we zigzagged our way back to the hotel.

We stepped inside and got into the elevator to go up one floor.  Cathy told me to go over to the bench to sit down and wait while she got luggage.  It didn’t take too long.  She opened up my suitcase and pulled out the outfit I had set out to wear afterwards, compression socks, jeans, the race t-shirt, new underwear, a proper bra, the basics.  We went ahead and took off my shoes, socks and put on my compression socks while I was sitting there.  She pulled my pigtails down, getting my hair extensions out and grabbing my hair brush.  And then she sent me around the corner to the bathroom to change.

I ducked into a stall and did that in record time after a marathon.  I realized that I had left my deodorant in my toiletries bag so I made sure I looked presentable, brushed my hair, and then went to grab that while leaving my race clothes with her.  Quick duck into the bathroom to apply deodorant, a wash of the hands, and one more fix of the hair…and I was good to go.  Once I put on my recovery shoes.

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My celebration meal at Woody’s Library Restaurant in Carmel, IN!

We headed out and she gave me the valet ticket to get the car while she went into Starbucks to grab me a much-needed coffee.  They valet went to retrieve the car, which took about 5 minutes and she hadn’t yet made it out.  I had no money on me to top the valet, which I felt AWFUL about, but I couldn’t help that.  I texted her and she said about 14 teenagers had been in front of her and she was coming. She was out in about 3 minutes and we loaded up her luggage.  I snagged my coffee.  And we were off, heading to Carmel, Indiana, the home of Woody’s Library Restaurant, my new favorite place to eat in all of Indianapolis.  Our friend Greg met us there.  I didn’t have an appetite at this moment, but went ahead and ordered the Gluten Free (Lettuce Wrap) Tex Mex Quinoa Tacos with a side of the Gluten Free Sweet Potato Fries, and Cathy got me a little side of pickles…just in case I wanted them.

I made a go at the food…taking my time to chew and to digest so as not to set my stomach off.  And I managed to eat the fries and most of the tacos before calling it quits.  I maybe had two of the pickle chips.  I was surprised I managed that much.  Afterwards, to stretch me out a bit more before we made the car ride home, the three of us went to the Antique Mall and looked around.  They both found things to buy, but I didn’t this time.  Maybe next time.  Then we hit up the gluten-free No Label at the Table bakery there.  I picked up two of their Lemon Cookies, a Brownie, and a Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf.  The lady who owns the bakery was there, and she was excited to see a marathoner there and asked me about other local races and Disney races as I shopped and decided what I wanted.

Afterwards…it was time to make the long drive back home.

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Until next year…BE MONUMENATAL!

So, the official results of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 3:46:17, which makes it my fastest marathon this year and the one that closes out my actual racing season, as far as I know.  HA.  I was 1377/4568 finishers overall. I was the 377/1983 female finishers. And I was 106/391 in my age division.  Very happy with my results as I was dedicating this run to the people I know…who can’t run.  Spontaneous Marathon #14 is in the books and I already can’t wait to sign up for next year.  This was a great race, all around.

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CTRL + ALT + DEL: Start Fresh

UGH!  I have started three blogs in the past couple of weeks, which I have since gone and deleted because they were no longer relevant.  MEH!!  Kinda sucks when you put some hard work into starting something and just don’t have the time or energy to get back to it.

Welcome to my life as of late…

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I’m trying desperately to reach a bigger audience both here on my blog and on my most frequented form of social media…Instagram.  Really, I am an athlete that deals, daily, with Celiac Disease…and I’m working really hard on branching out on the blog…maybe in podcast form…and on Instagram to cover some of the trials and tribulations of this.

But I need more help.  So, if you could help me out a little…directing people to my blog and my Instagram (and if you aren’t following me…please…give me a little click and follow along)…I will love you forever!

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Okay…so let’s do some quick catching up, shall we?  What in the world have I been up to since…October 20th, when I blogged about setting and reaching goals?  Well…a LOT!

First of all, the great apartment repaint, reorganize, and redecorate has commenced.  The two bathrooms, the kitchen, and HALF of the living room are DONE!  As far as painting goes.  The decorating is taking a bit more time, because I’m totally OCD and need to measure everything I hang up to make sure it’s centered and perfect on the wall.  But…progress!

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I am not a fan of painting.  It is tedious and tiring work…but I love the way the apartment is starting to look.  After eight years of living there, the apartment definitely needed a touch-up.  And being able to finally redo some of the wall hangings has been a nice change too.

For the 4th (I think this was the 4th year) year in a row,  my roommate (Cathy), her sister (Amanda) and I went to the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Iroquois Park in Louisville, KY!  We always make a night of out this, starting with dinner (we got sushi – mine was vegan), a hot beverage (usually apple cider or tea) from Highland Coffee, and then, Mr. G’s Kettle Corn while we stand in line to walk the half mile path and gaze in awe at all the amazing pumpkins. Seriously…this was AMAZING.  It always is, but the theme this year was A to Z and they did a fantastic job with all the pumpkins.

On October 26, I went to the University of Louisville Comstock Hall and got to listen to the iconic Kathrine Switzer speak.  She was so empowering and totally made me want to do ALL THE THINGS.  I was just so wrapped up in her talk about her life and how she got into running and how the Boston Marathon incident came around and WHY this was so life changing.  I was hoping there would be a photo-op afterwards, and there was.  I had brought my Disney Wine & Dine bib, Bib #261, which I received in 2014, just after I met her at the NYC Marathon Expo the year I ran it.  I told her the story and she was just so freakin excited.  She even got a picture of the two of us with our 261 bibs on her iPhone.

She signed my bib “Karen – You are awesome and fearless.”  I thought I was lucky to have met in her NYC 3 years ago…but I just got to meet her again…AND had a fun story to tell her.  She might be my new running BFF.  If nothing else, she is someone who has always and will always inspire me.  After going to her talk, I just wanted to make SO many changes in my life…seek out things that really make me happy…

HENCE…wanting to do more with my blog and social media.  So…again…if you could give a like and follow here and on Instagram…and tell your friends…let’s do this thing.

Dreams need to come true!

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And I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time.  And so often stuff just gets crazy and things I enjoy…like blogging, writing, cooking, eating, running, etc…sort of get pushed to the background.  NOT THIS TIME!

In addition to this…I’ve been enjoying watching Louisville City FC climb the ladder to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the THIRD TIME in as many seasons as they have been around.  YAY!

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Granted…last week I was pretty much frozen and the boys didn’t score until after Half Time.  I had been hoping to keep warm by constantly jumping out of my seat.  That being said…this is always as far as we get in the finals.  And I want us to go on to the championship…and WIN IT!  And the weather this Saturday looks to be warmer and much more enjoyable than LAST Saturday.  I even stayed up late to drink hot tea to thaw out afterwards it was that cold.  But the win was worth it.

Here’s to another one…if the soccer gods shine upon us!

Halloween came and went…in the blink of an eye.  I wasn’t scheduled to do a run on Tuesday, but I was heading to the gym for some strength training.  I dressed as Wonder Woman.  I think it inspired me to lift heavier and more.  But, damn…look at my arms these days!

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So, yeah…training is still happening.  I’ve cut back on cardio by a lot when it comes to time at the gym, usually hopping on a machine for 10 minutes to warm up and 10 minutes to cool down…and then I do one day of arms/abs and one day of legs/core.  My running has been progressing.  My hips hardly twinge at me unless the weather is cold or I sit too long.  So, the strength training is paying off (not just in giving me amazing muscles to flex).  I am currently using a run/walk method and hope to get back to a solid run in the very near future, but this is working and, honestly, hasn’t really slowed me down all that much with the short walk breaks in between efforts.  So…YAY!  And, thankfully, I have found one friend who is willing to train with me this way and doesn’t complain or mind.  WINNING!  Long runs are much more enjoyable with someone.  And someone who doesn’t mind the starts and stops in my current training method is even better.  There aren’t a lot of people who are willing to train that way or want to train that way.  So, I count myself lucky.

I have a few recipes that I will add to the blog this week…if not tonight/today.  I’ve been having a great time experimenting in my kitchen with all the winter squash and seasonal foods that are showing up in grocery stores.  I buy that stuff up like it’s going out of season.  And it’s not.  The season is just starting!  Grocery shopping is always an adventure when I decide to get all chefy and creative in the kitchen.

supermarket
That’s pretty much it for right now though.  Trying to really do better for myself and I am really trying to make some waves in the Celiac and running communities. So…watch this space.  Get others to watch this space.  And I post DAILY on Instagram, so, for one last plug…make sure you follow me over there.

Follow along with my progress…because there will be as many ups as downs, I’m sure.  But if there is one thing I have learned from all of this over the past couple of years…is that I am stronger than my situation.  And I learn and grow from every obstacle.  Grow with me!

its-not-about-the-goal-its-about-growing-to-become-the-person-that-can-accomplish-that-goal

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Recipe: Roasted Vegetable “Rice” Bowl with BBQ Sauce

I told you I was playing around with cauliflower rice…which is why you are getting the third consecutive recipe which includes it in part of the lineup!!

As a vegetarian, I get my share of veggies…but my favorite way to eat them…is roasting them in the oven.  I love when they get that slight crispiness to them.  And yes…it happens even without oil!  I take oil out of the cooking process more times than not…and the results are just as amazing.

After my trip to California, I wanted to really get back on track with my eating.  It got pushed to the wayside with the holidays and then with my trip…but I did have a detox in between and it really did make me feel better.  So, with a promise to rely less on those processed carbohydrates and get my nutrients from more real food…I honed in on a few changes.

While I won’t always be replacing pasta and rice with alternatives, I do want to do it a lot more than I have been.  So, instead of plating my roasted vegetables over brown rice…I just got out the riced cauliflower…poured it in a pan with some water and cooked it until it was soft.  I seasoned it the same way I would have the rice…and the results were mind-blowing.  I’d make this again instantly!  It would work even as a breakfast or lunch…but this week…it was dinner for my roommate and for two nights.

The recipe follows:

Roasted Vegetable “Rice” Bowl with BBQ Sauce

image1-1Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, ends snapped
  • 2 medium yellow squash or zucchini, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced into 1/3-inch-thick rings
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • black pepper, to taste


Ingredients for “Rice”:

  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets (or one bag of cauliflower rice)
  • 1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari
  • sea salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
Garnishes:
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce of choice
  • 1 medium avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced

 

Directions:

**Chop head of cauliflower into florets and place in food processor. Pulse until it starts to resemble rice; set aside.

**NOTE: If you want a less-mess, no maintenance way of doing this, go to Trader Joes, Kroger, Target, or pretty much ANY grocery store these days and they have bags of already riced cauliflower in their produce section and even in the freezer section.  I do this…because food processors are a pain to clean!  So, skip the first step if you cheat and get the already riced cauliflower.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Spread the veggies out over the pan, drizzle with the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes or until veggies are tender and golden, stopping to toss at the 20-minute mark.

While the veggies are roasting, place your riced cauliflower into a pan with 1/4 cup water and cook until softened.  Place cooked cauliflower rice into a large bowl and add basil, balsamic vinegar, and tamari to a large mixing bowl.

Use a large wooden spoon to stir.

Season with sea salt and black pepper, to taste.

Once the veggies are done roasting, remove from the oven and set aside.

Scoop 1 cup of the cauliflower rice into a bowl, top with the roasted vegetables.

If your barbecue sauce is thick, whisk one tablespoon of water into it at a time until desired thinness is achieved. Drizzle over the veggies or serve in a small dish alongside them.

Garnish with the sliced avocado.

ENJOY!

~*~*~

I have SO much Master’s Hand BBQ Sauce in my fridge thanks to a bit of a Thanksgiving kerfuffle.  But, it works out in my favor, as it’s the most amazing BBQ sauce I have ever tasted…and it was magnificent on this dish.  I ended up thinning it out with 2 tablespoons of water to get more of a drizzle over the veggies.  But that is all personal preference.

If you want to get the most out of your veggies…roast them.  If you want to make them awesome…drizzle some BBQ sauce over them.

Oh yeah!

Restaurant Review: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

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Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

I am a foodie.  Hard to believe with all my food allergies and intolerance…and the fact that I am a vegetarian…that this is a true statement.  But I LOVE food.  I love to eat food.  I love to enjoy food.  And I love to cook food.  I love to share food.  Food is love.  And, as an athlete, food is also fuel.

I am on a nice vacation at the moment, enjoying myself and my time away from the stresses of life.  And, as is the way me and my traveling compatriots do vacations…we work in one nice meal out.  And, as we were enjoying some time at Universal Studios today, we opted to eat on the Universal Studios Citywalk…at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando.

Now, I have loved Emeril Lagasse for a long time.  He is, not only, one of the most recognizable and quotable chef’s (“BAM!”)…he is just awesome.  His food is simple, pure, cajun goodness!!  He is pure Louisiana.  And that’s what we went there for.

We were in for a treat.  White tablecloths.  Chairs were pulled out for us.  Napkins were dropped into our laps.  I sort of felt under dressed with my roller-coaster windblown hair and my Wonder Woman t-shirt.  But, none of the staff minded.  We were greeted soon after by our waiter for the night…which was actually going to be three people seeing to us.  Our waiters were amazing and funny and extremely helpful.  We were given the menu to look over and I mentioned that I was a gluten free vegetarian…and after some witty bantering…he pointed out the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day (which changes from day to day) and explained to me that it was a noodless lasagna…where the chef layers squash, zucchini, eggplant and roasted red peppers, all seasoned with amazing herbs, and makes them into the noodles.  They could even make it vegan for me.  They let us peruse the menu and I noticed the special as well being a Roasted Cauliflower in a tomato broth with crispy kale that sounded SO good.  I needed to ask about it being gluten free.  Cathy had settled on the Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop and Jenn said she was getting the Shrimp and Grits (I had a feeling all the veggies would be tossed aside…LOL!).  But then, after checking with the chef about the gluten-free status of the cauliflower special (it was), and answering Jenn’s question as to what an étouffée was (all the veggies)…he went on to say that the Shrimp and Grits was the best dish on the menu.  So…Jenn was sold.  He also went on to say that the other dishes he considers the best served there were the Scallops and the Short Rib.

So now Cathy was undecided.  And I still was torn between the special and the menu special.  Both were special.  LOL!  But…both were different enough that I knew that I couldn’t get them anywhere else.  So, once Cathy decided on the Scallops instead, I was still torn.  And my dinner buddies weren’t making the decision any easier.  Back to our waiter for his opinion…and with his help, I opted for the Vegan version of the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day.  This meant none of the cheese or alfredo would be added to the dish.  Gluten free and vegan vegetable goodness.

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Emeril’s Cast Iron Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Bacon Jam

As we were going to have a little wait while our food was prepared, Jenn and Cathy decided they were going to split an appetizer.  They ordered the Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Bacon Jam ($8.00).  The cornbread looked fantastic.  They said it was light and fluffy and just soft and amazing.  Cathy was a big, big, big fan of the Bacon Jam (pork belly cooked in butter with brown sugar and reduced).  Jenn said she could take it or leave it…but the honey butter at the bottom was just soaking into the bread.  I thought it was just…awesome looking.  But, alas, so not something I could eat.

Before too long, our entrees were being served.  They had Cathy and Jenn’s backwards, but that was easily fixed.  The plates were changed out and we were ready to dive in.

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Emeril’s Shrimp + Grits

Jenn ordered the Shrimp + Grits, which was Louisiana shrimp, étouffée, Anson Mills rice grits, and local cherry tomatoes ($30.00).  She said the shrimp was nailed to the perfect cook.  The grits were smooth and creamy.  I looked at them.  I thought it was rice at first…with all the cheese.  Much of the étouffée was cast aside, as she is not a cooked vegetable person, but the rest of it was devoured.  I really do think it was a 1/1 ratio of cheese to grits…but it looked awesome.  Her only qualm…the tails were left on the shrimp.  It’s kind of hard to be classy in a nice restaurant when you have to use your fingers to remove the tails.

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Emeril’s Blackened Diver Scallops

Cathy went with the Blackened Diver Scallops, which was served with a Creamy Corn Moque Choux, Wilted Greens, and Local Tomato Jam ($32.00).  It looked GORGEOUS!!  The corn sauce fascinated her.  She said it was almost like a corn chowder.  The greens were cooked perfectly.  They weren’t mushy or overly done.  She said the tomato jam was sweet and paired beautifully with everything.  But the star…the scallops.  They were tender and buttery and had a perfect sear.  She said they were the best scallops she ever had.

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Emeril’s Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day – Noodleless Lasagna (tightly stacked slices of eggplant, zucchini, squash and roasted red pepper) with a marinara sauce and greens

So…my perfectly gluten-free and vegan dish is now up.  As I stated, I ordered the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day ($23.00).  This was a noodleless lasagna, where the noodles were stacked slices of eggplant, zucchini, squash, and roasted red pepper.  The seasonings were crazy good.  And all of this was topped off with an amazingly rich marinara and greens.  I could hardly make out the noodles, and I didn’t want to destroy the dish to get a picture.  So, trust me…there are tightly stacked veggies under there.  OMG.  The tomato sauce, for starters, was killer.  Just mouth watering, savory, amazing flavor.  The vegetables were cooked perfectly…not limp and wet, but perfect, with still a little crisp to them, but tender to bite into.  Almost like real noodles.  I didn’t miss the cheese or the heavy Alfredo.  This was pure perfection.  Why go back to noodles when you can do this to have lasagna?!  Seriously…so glad the waiter talked me into this one.  I was one happy girl.

And while we were all rather full from dinner…we decided we had to do dinner.  The waiter had tempted me with a Flourless (and Gluten Free) Chocolate Torte earlier that evening.  And I had been on the fence.  He did deliver dessert menus to us, to let the Cathy and Jenn choose what they might want to have…and then said the sorbets (strawberry lemonade, coconut, and passionfruit tonight) were another option for me.

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Emeril’s Flourless Decadent Chocolate Torte with Butter Pecan Sauce

In the end, we decided to split the Flourless Decadent Chocolate Torte with a Butter Pecan Sauce ($10.00) between the three of us.  I am so glad we did.  While the slice of torte isn’t as huge as say, a slice of Emeril’s famous Banana Cream Pie…it was rich.  Smooth, perfect, rich, creamy, amazing, sinful, decadent, chocolatey goodness.  Pure sinful goodness in each bite.  And that butter pecan sauce…oh yeah…that just tied it all together.  Cathy and Jenn split the whipped cream.  I ate the strawberry.  This…was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

I was beyond impressed with the service, setting, and food that we received at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando.  They were so good at working with me and my dietary needs.  Didn’t even bat an eye.  Immediately knew what to ask about and explained to me what I could eat and what was delicious.  Our waiter was awesome.  He made me laugh, he made me feel so good about the food that was going to be made for me, and he even helped me make a decision on my dinner that night.

If only more restaurants turned out a meal and an experience like this one did.  Emeril is an amazing chef…and his restaurant didn’t let me down.  This was a meal I will be talking about for a very long time.

Restaurant Review: Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.), Charleston, South Carolina

Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.), Charleston, South Carolina

Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.), Charleston, South Carolina

Restaurant: Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.), Charleston, South Carolina

With every marathon I run, there is also a celebratory meal.  Usually it is on the same day of said race, but Charleston is an odd duck in that it’s marathon runs on Saturday.  And we already had eating plans on Saturday.  So, instead of changing everything around, we just decided to have the fancy, special meal on Sunday night.  And, after scouring a list of places that Amanda sent me (all of which had gluten-free items), it came down to two options – Poogan’s Porch and Slightly North of Broad.

Cathy chose in the end…opting for Slightly North on Broad because of one item on the menu that caught her eye.  This was fine with me…there was this amazing honey drizzled fruit plate dessert on their menu that sounded beyond amazing.  So…when Amanda came over to help with the planning session…this was decided.  And, to make the occasion even more special, Janet (Cathy & Amanda’s mom), offered to pay for our big meal out this trip.

The best part about where we were staying was that Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.) was literally right across the street from the hotel.  Seriously.  So, this meant we could stay out and explore until we absolutely had to return to our rooms.  Then, we could all clean up and head out to eat, then come back to change and go out for some more exploring!  Of course, when Cathy chose this restaurant, we had no idea this was the case.  Amanda enlightened us.  Odd, how when it came to eats the only one we really ventured out further than the immediate area of our hotel was Brown Dog Deli.  And we were over that way anyway as I was shopping for spices, tea, honey and other local goodies.  HA!

So Sunday morning and afternoon was spent walking the streets and cemeteries of Charleston.  Honestly, if you ever get to visit this amazing city…just walk it, duck into places, explore.  You can take tours, yes, but sometimes it’s just fun to get out there and just find something that intrigues you.  I was fortunate enough to have Richie and Amanda with me, to act as the local tour guides.  They might as well be locals.  They know where everything is…how to get there…and come to Charleston often enough it’s second hand.  But, even if you aren’t traveling with your own walking guide books…try something new.  We returned about an hour and a half before dinner so we could clean up and get ready to make the walk across the street.  I took a shower and changed and then we met Amanda and Richie at their room before hoofing it over to S.N.O.B.

We only had a brief wait while they prepared our table for our 6:15 p.m. reservation.  And once we were seated and water (and Coke for Richie) was poured, we were left to peruse our menus until our waitress came over to the table.  We immediately informed her that I was a gluten free vegetarian, and she immediately opted up with the Vegetable Plate that they serve.  She also said she could see what else could be done for me, but a big plate of seasonal and local vegetables sounded absolutely delicious to me.  My decision was made.  Now the rest of my dining party needed to ponder what they were going to have.  The server gave us a few more minutes to decide.

So, let’s discuss S.N.O.B. here, while we are deciding on food, eh?  Because this seems like as good a place as any.  S.N.O.B. is described as “an eclectic Lowcountry bistro that brings together an abundance of local ingredients and thoughtful, expert presentation with a friendly, contagious energy.”  In other words, very big on farm to table.  Love that.  They have a nice open kitchen, which I absolutely loved since I love being able to glance over and see what is being prepared as it is being prepared.  The food they make is the product of the local farmers, fishermen, and producers.  So…very Sean Brock.  And I love Sean Brock.  And if you don’t know who Sean Brock is…Google him now and learn!  The setting is low-light, candles, white table cloth, and soft conversations.  You get the sounds of the kitchen…the sizzles, the flames, the dishes clinking, all mixing with the pouring of wine and water, and the clink of silverware as it scrapes up that last bit of food from a pristine white plate.  This is S.N.O.B.

So…there it is.

When our waitress returned we all had finally settled on what we were going to eat.  Richie opted for the Pan Seared Duck Breast ($27.00), which includes savory blue cheese bread pudding, fig jam, Brussels sprouts, and a honey thyme reduction.  He saw duck…he knew what he wanted.  Amanda ordered the Grilled Pork Chop ($27.00), which is served with crispy confit potatoes, cabbage, and topped with a sorghum and whole grain mustard glaze.  Cathy was the foodie of the group and wanted to try something more than just a large appetizer plate, so she did a medium plate with an appetizer, which is recommended on the menu.  For her appetizer, she went with the Herb Crusted Eggplant ($12.00), which is topped off with buffalo mozzarella, green heirloom tomatoes, some sprouts, and pesto.  For her entrée, she opted for the Carolina Quail ($16.00), which comes with braised greens, tasso cornbread stuffing, Muscadine glaze (that’s from a particular grape, FYI), and quail jus.

As for me…I did go with the Vegetable Plate ($20.00), which is described on the menu as being “a variety of the best vegetables we can find.”  Hey…I’m a vegetarian.  There are very few vegetables I don’t like.  Very few.  So…our order was in and we fell into the din of conversations, discussing everything from our events that day to the other people in the restaurant, to wine bottles we could see from our seats, to how much fun we were having.  Lots of laughter and lots of fun going on.

Cathy’s appetizer was up first and we all cast out our appreciative ooohs and ahhhs at the tower of eggplant, cheese, tomatoes, and greens, all soaking in a small pool of pesto.  She sliced into it, and said that the eggplant was actually really well cooked and that the cheese was amazing.  However, as she went on eating, she got tired of the sprouts getting caught in her teeth, and eventually that herb crust got completely mushy with the mix of the eggplant juice, the pesto, and the juicy tomatoes on top.  So, it started off really well…but in the end…all went to mush.  She polished it off, save for those greens on top though.

A little after her plate was cleared away, the main courses arrived.  Amanda had the largest pork chop I had ever seen in my life.  It was only polished off with some help from Richie and Cathy.  But…she did eat all her potatoes.  Richie’s duck was cooked perfectly and I had never seen him clean a plate until this meal.  Cathy was less impressed with her entree, finding her favorite part of the quail to be the pan seared area where it was crispy.  She hated the greens with a passion (and she eats greens…I cook them at home).  And her favorite part of the plate…the tasso corn bread.  Everything else left her rather…unimpressed.

S.N.O.B.'s Vegetable Plate

S.N.O.B.’s Vegetable Plate

As for me…when they said a plate of vegetables, they weren’t kidding. Upon further looking at the menu, what I have found is that this plate is a compilation of every vegetable in house and offered as a side on the menu.  This plate was mounded high with high fiber vegetables that were cooked however the side was to be cooked, and paired with three different starches.  It was beyond filling.  This plate included grilled eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, green beans, portobello mushrooms, grilled okra (on the list of vegetables I hate with a passion, so these got left behind!), broccoli (with a sprinkle of Romano cheese), sautéed spinach, caramelized onions, caramelized Brussels sprouts, maverick potatoes, Charleston gold brown rice with some butternut squash, yellow grits (with cheese), some sprouts on top, and some sweet pepper jelly mixed in.  The plate was a mish-mash of vegetables, no real plating flair…just piled high.  In fact, I didn’t realize I had an heirloom tomato until I moved the eggplant.  It was hidden below.  That being said…the green beans were…well…green beans.  I thought the potatoes were that weird overly-whipped consistency, and ate them by mixing them with one of the vegetables…like green beans or some eggplant just to give it a better texture.  The spinach was delicious.  I didn’t eat the okra because…GROSS.  The eggplant was grilled and good enough…though a touch under-seasoned.  The tomato was messy, but fresh and delicious.  I love that little hit of sweetness.  My favorite things on the plate were the grits, the Brussels sprouts, and the rice.  All of which I saved for the last things I ate.  And when I was done, I wasn’t sure if I was impressed or not…but it was a massive plate of food that was very filling indeed.  I mean, I didn’t dislike it…it was just…okay.  They definitely give you $20 worth of vegetables.  All local and fresh…so I will give them credit for that.

Afterwards we were asked about desserts.  I already had my heart set on something, even though I was filled up to the max.  You only get to celebrate once, right?  So…to hell with it…desserts all around.

Amanda and Richie decided to split the Crème Brûlée ($7.00), which was a creamy vanilla custard with caramelized brown sugar topping.  Cathy went with the Vanilla Ice Cream with a Shortbread Cookie ($6.00) for her dessert.  It also came dressed with fresh strawberries.  As for me…I went with what caught my eye originally on the menu in the first place…the Fresh Fruit Plate ($7.50), which came drizzled with local honey.

Desserts are a must for me.  I love trying desserts when I can.  And fruit is one of my favorite desserts to polish off a meal with.  The whole drizzled with local honey was an added bonus.  Our desserts arrived.  Richie had never had a Crème Brûlée before, so this was his first foray into that.  Cathy’s ice cream looked fantastic and she crumbled the cookie over it and dove in, enjoying the fresh berries for that added bit of sweetness.  My fruit plate consisted of grapes, strawberries, sliced apples, sliced bananas, spear slices, and chunks of fresh pineapple.  All of it, as promised, was drizzled with local honey, adding to the sweetness of the plate.  But it worked. I mean, it was a plate of fruit, but I couldn’t be happier with it.  Everything was perfectly ripe, juicy, and amazing.  Delicious and perfect way to end the meal.

While I certainly enjoyed my meal at S.N.O.B., when I return to Charleston next time, I will definitely investigate other options.  I am happy for the experience, and loved the company, but the food was just okay to me.  Maybe it’s my dietary restrictions…but I wasn’t overly impressed.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike S.N.O.B. by any means.  The food was cooked well and tasted good for the most part.  But…there is so much more to taste in Charleston…so while the dinner was nice, I’m eager to go elsewhere next time.

S.N.O.B.'s Fruit Plate dessert

S.N.O.B.’s Fruit Plate dessert

Product Review: Improveat’s The Pure Wraps

Improveat's The Pure Wraps

Improveat’s The Pure Wraps

Product: Improveat’s The Pure Wraps

Looking for a good tortilla alternative?  Hey…sometimes we are.  I know I’m usually searching for some sort of wrap that I can use…in some fashion.  And I managed to find a few options in other areas of the country…but never really in my state or region.  One product that I have seen, but haven’t gotten the nerve to try are The Pure Wraps.  I spotted these at a few of my local natural food stores on end caps and the like…but I just haven’t managed to talk myself into getting them.

Enter my monthly delivery from Cuisine Cube!  If I haven’t gotten you curious enough to sign up for a month of this delivery…then you aren’t human.  Seriously, click on the link above and check them out.  It is affordable and you really do get some interesting and otherwise unknown products each month delivered right to your door.  All gluten-free.  How’s that for amazing?

So, in only my second cube to arrive, back in June, one of the products included were The Pure Wraps from Improveat.  Hmmm…now I didn’t have to talk myself into purchasing them.  I now had them within my clutches.  Thanks Cuisine Cube!  Anyway, I tucked these away in my hall pantry, and sort of had the fact that they were there lingering in my mind for awhile.  I just needed a good reason to get them out and try them.

Filling form y quesadillas: The Pioneer Woman's Butternut Squash & Kale

Filling form y quesadillas: The Pioneer Woman’s Butternut Squash & Kale

That moment presented itself in the week following my trip to Walt Disney World to run the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  My roommate and I are getting back on track with our clean eating and I still happened to have a butternut squash from my bin a couple weeks before.  I purchased some organic kale and whipped up a recipe from The Pioneer Woman for her Butternut Squash and Kale.  She had a link using it as a stuffing for quesadillas.  And I thought…well…I do have those Pure Wraps in my pantry.  I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but I figured…it was at least worth a try.

So, that evening, I managed to properly cut a butternut squash without almost losing a finger and without much problem.  I cooked up the delicious squash and kale mixture and then it was time for the quesadilla part.  I retrieved the packet of Improveat’s The Pure Wraps and opened it up.

Improveat's The Pure Wraps (raw)

Improveat’s The Pure Wraps (raw)

What I pulled out were squares of what almost looked like thin paper.  I was now wondering how these would work with the whole “drop in some butter to crisp up the outside” method for the quesadillas.  I figured there wasn’t much to lose, so, into the pan one went.  It took a moment to begin to brown, but it did…so I flipped it.  These didn’t exactly crisp up right away, so when I went to do the other one, I set the first on a paper towel.  That’s when it began to crisp up.  Maybe it would work.  Maybe not.  If not, just wrap it around the filling and eat it like…shawarma or something.

But…it did work.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when the wraps charred up and did become solid enough to hold the amazing filling I prepared simply with local squash and organic kale…and a little bit of seasoning.  Mmmm.  So, there it was…dinner.  It wasn’t a normal looking quesadilla,but it wasn’t made with your typical ingredients.  So…I cut them in half…and they crumbled slightly, but it worked.  Dinner was served.

I was actually so happy with the way Improveat’s The Pure Wraps tasted.  Considering they are made from only three ingredients, and not a typical tortilla, I wasn’t sure how well this would work.  But they worked perfectly.  And it was a different take on how to eat them.  Next time, and there will be a next time, I think I will leave them in their natural state.  But, even with the attempt at crisping them up, I still got the bit of sweetness from the coconut these wraps are made from.  And this really paired well with the earthy and spicy flavors of the squash and kale that I placed inside.  I was beyond satisfied with these wraps and honestly will be heading out to the store for more.  I’m excited about them.  I fell in love with them.  And, they fall right into the clean eating regimen that my roomie and I are trying to get back on.

So, what exactly are Improveat’s The Pure Wraps made from?  Simple.  Each wrap is made from only three ingredients: young coconut, coconut water, and Himalayan sea salt.  Boom.  That’s it.  You can’t get more pure than that!  The entire purpose of these wraps being created by Improveat (based out of Atlanta, Georgia) was to have a healthy bread/tortilla substitute that was highly nutritious, free of major food allergens (including gluten!) and convenient for today’s busy lifestyle.  It took over two years of research and testing to come up with the right product, realizing the vision of the creators without sacrificing their high standards.  Talk about a labor of love…and one that really paid off.  These wraps are gluten-free, raw, alkalline, corn-free, soy-free, dairy-free and egg-free.

As far as nutritional information goes, Improveat’s The Pure Wraps come in a package containing four wraps.  A serving size is one of these wraps.  One wrap will serve up 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.  They are cholesterol free.  You will be consuming 240 mg sodium and less than 1 gram of sugar.  Don’t you love that.  These wraps won’t make you feel bloated or stuffed either.  Each one contains less than 1 gram of fiber and they have no natural protein.  Thanks to the coconut that goes into each one, you also get a bonus of 120 mg potassium.  Gotta love that.

And you will love these wraps.  Honestly.  I can’t wait to try them again, and this time just use them in the simple manner they are prepared.  Just fill, roll and enjoy.  But, on a whole, these were very good the way I prepared them too.  They held up to even cooking, which I wasn’t sure how that would work but it did.

So, once again, Cuisine Cube, you have made a believer out of me.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to try a product that I had been too nervous to try before.  Stepping out of your comfort zone when it comes to food is important, and this made it easy to do so.

Gluten-Free Butternut Squash and Kale Quesadillas made with Improveat's The Pure Wraps

Gluten-Free Butternut Squash and Kale Quesadillas made with Improveat’s The Pure Wraps

 

Recipe: Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Portobello Mushrooms, Garlic Marinara, and a Homemade Basil Pesto

Sometimes, I get more produce in my CSA bin than I can logically begin to work through in a week.  Sometimes I think I should go to every-other-week….but then the thought of not getting my fresh fruits and veggies makes me sad.  So, I try to come up with clever ways to use some of it up.  Last week’s bin had a yellow summer squash and a zucchini inside…and this week’s bin…two zucchinis.  I needed to use some zucchini up stat.

Also…I hate some large portobello mushroom caps, two of which were a little busted up…so making my portobello mushroom cap pizzas were not going to be an option.  So I thought…what can I do with this?  And then I thought…pasta.

But pasta made from zucchini…giving a bit of a low carb option (not that I worry about carbs!).  I was going to coat everything in a pesto, but my homegrown basil was…not enough to do that.  So I only had a small amount.  So, I could garnish the pasta with it.  And thankfully I had a jar of RAO’s Homemade Roasted Garlic Sauce in the pantry.  Yes!  Rescued by a manager’s special!  HA!

This recipe was super-easy to make and put together.  Even better…super good for you.  And, even if you don’t want to mess with making a pesto, the dish won’t lack anything if you leave it out.  Or, you can do what I originally had planned and skip the marinara and go with just the pesto!  It’s up to you.  I’ll put up the recipe for the full pesto recipe just in case.  I had to cut mine down to 1/4 the original recipe as I only had 1/2 cup of fresh basil.

That being said…

Recipe: Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Portobello Mushrooms, Garlic Marinara, and a Homemade Basil Pesto

Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Portobello Mushrooms, Garlic Marinara, and a Homemade Basil Pesto

Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Portobello Mushrooms, Garlic Marinara, and a Homemade Basil Pesto

Servings: 2
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Cook 15 minutes


Ingredients for Pesto:

  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast


Ingredients for Pasta:

  • Olive oil
  • Chopped/minced garlic
  • Seasoning of choice (I used herbs de provence)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 zucchini
  • 3 large portobello mushroom caps, sliced
  • 6 oz of marinara (or 4 ounces of pesto)
  • Dab of homemade pesto (if not using as the sauce)

 

Directions:

Make the pesto.

Place the basil, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the S blade.  Pulse to combine, until the mixture is coarsely ground.

Turn the motor on and drizzle the olive oil in a thin stream.  Add the sea salt, pepper, lemon, and nutritional yeast, and pulse a few more times to combine.
Make the pasta:

Use your julienne peeler, spiral slicer or mandolin to create noodles out of the zucchini.  I used a mandolin and made long, thin strips of zucchini for noodles.  It’s really up to you!  Zucchini is usually full of water, so take a paper towel and squeeze them to get out some of the water.  Place them in a bowl and set aside.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and heat for a minute at medium heat.  Add 1 clove of minced garlic and sauté for one minute.  Add your mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms begin to release their juices and have browned up beautifully.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Rinse out your skillet (or wipe it down to get out any mushroom residue) and place another tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, allowing it to heat for one minute over medium heat.  Add your zucchini noodles to the pan and begin to heat them up.  In order to not turn them to mush, do not stir them.  Just move them gently around the pan.

Once the zucchini noodles are heated, add the musrhooms back into the pan and season with your seasonings of choice.  Definitely add a bit of salt though.

Toss together and then add the sauce (be it marinara or pest0).  Continue to toss in the skillet until it is heated through.  Transfer to bowls and top off with pesto, if you didn’t use it for your sauce of choice.  Or don’t…if you didn’t want to fuss with it.

Serve!

~*~*~

This was so packed with flavor and so delicious.  Honestly, it was super delicious.  I’d love to make this again and serve it up in the way I intended…with the pesto sauce, but the marinara added great flavor and worked so well with the zucchini and mushrooms.  A delicious, low calorie, low carb meal that doesn’t take too long to prep or cook.  Dinner…couldn’t be easier.

Give it a shot.  I hope you like it!