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What I Ate For a Relay Race + Beet and Berries Cacao Smoothie Pudding

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I spent last weekend running around central Oregon in a heatwave with a group of 11 other runners, sharing space in our two vans, running the Cascade Lakes Relay. This year was my fifth relay and though I’ve meant to share some of the food aspect of races in the past, I decided this year it is time. For virtually all races, I have a policy of fueling as much as possible with “real food” that I eat on a regular basis, and don’t like to introduce foods outside the norm, even though they may be more convenient. For relays, I tend to wait until the last day or two before the race and then make about two recipes that sound like they’ll hit the spot food-wise. Essentially, if they sound like something I’d like to eat one-two days out, chances are they’re going to be what I’m desiring throughout the race.

For the past four years, I’ve run with my (now former) work team, and each year it seems, we’ve improved our team time, gaining slightly faster team members when we need a handful more. This year our team finished in the top 10 out of more than 200 teams and averaged a 7:33 pace throughout. The fast pace offered up a whole new learning curve of needing to adjust what I ate as the race progressed based on how much time I had to digest. For me, I always struggle with the balance between fueling and hydrating properly and keeping my stomach happy with minimal sleep and extra hot temperatures (high 90s most years and this year was no exception). Even though I never go into this race with the mindset that I’m tapered and “racing”, I still try to run a good effort each leg for my team while also trying to sustain some more reserve for both another run in a few hours and because I know I’m going into at least another week or more of hard training once I finish the race. After years of observing others’ methods of fueling, I can say it is a highly individual process both in general and for these types of events, but I want to share what worked for me especially because out of my five relays, this year my stomach handled what I did the best.

The Relay started Friday morning and I ran in our team’s first van. We stayed together as a team both before and after the race at my former boss’s house in Bend, and we had a 2-hour drive to the race start Friday morning. The relay conveniently finishes in Bend, only a few minutes from where we stayed.

 

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Thursday Night
Dinner: a version of this Summer Quinoa Salad before heading over to Bend to meet the rest of the team.
Dessert: Apple +  small handful Salt Water Taffys

Friday
5:30 am Breakfast: Chia + Peach Overnight Oats

Morning Snack: 1/2 a Picky Bar
2-3 hrs pre-run: Zucchini Carrot Muffin + apple

12:00pm 7.7 mile run: It was hot already and this was an unsupported mostly-trail run on a sandy path with a 3 mile hot, flat finish on the highway in the direct sun. Temps were pushing 98 degrees that afternoon, and I’m guessing they were at least in the low 90s by about 1:00 pm when I finished. I drank about 10 oz. water throughout and swish and spit the last ~2 oz. in my bottle (I good method in the heat when you don’t truly need to hydrate more but cool water helps the mind/body sustain the effort).

Post Run: Beet + Berries Cacao Smoothie Pudding (Recipe Below)
Coconut Water and Water and a few tortilla chips

Afternoon “Lunch” around 3:00 pm: Cooling Red Lentil Kitchari. It may sound completely unappetizing to eat an Ayurvedic stew during a relay race, but the mixture I made of cold stewed red lentils and brown rice with turmeric, ginger, fennel and coriander spices and some seasonal vegetables really hit the spot.

5pm snack at the park after our first van exchange: watermelon

Dinner around 7:00 pm: Cooling Red Lentil Kitchari with tortilla chips

10:00pm 4.4 mile run: Physically and mentally, this was my hardest run of the race, even though on paper, it was by far the easiest. Physically I felt great at the park during our rest break, had stretched out, self-massaged, relaxed, and done some yoga to keep from getting too stiff. After two hours back in the vans, however, my body was not happy. On top of that, my stomach was a little wobbly for the first couple miles or so. I tried to not focus on the discomfort too much and eventually it felt better. After about a mile of a smooth paved road, the pavement ended and I hit a tough gravel road for the duration of the run. The vans were all driving alongside us and with a strong direct-in-the-face wind, dust from the vans in my eyes and headlamp, and a body that was less than happy, I was glad this was a short run. I ran the best and picked up my pace every time a van was behind me (because it was much brighter and I could see the road ahead more clearly), and I chose to do something throughout the run that I would normally never do: each time a van was behind me and I was about to pass a person, I chose to move a little more in to the center of the road and make the van wait so I could pass the person rather than me waiting for the van to go around. I did this only because I knew at that hour and because we were so remote, the only vehicles out there were relay vans going slow, and making them wait so I could have more light and less dust was a real mental boost.

Post run: apple + small handful of a teammate’s Jelly Bellys

 

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Saturday
intermittent uncomfortable napping in the van post run

3-5am: 2 hr nap

5am early wakeup call: our team was ahead of schedule and I had an OH SHIT moment as soon as we got our gear packed and loaded and were on the road, knowing I needed to eat something before my last run in an hour, but had limited time to digest. Ultimately I chose a Picky Bar and a small plum. It was enough to help me feel ready to run, but the peanut butter in the bar was not the best idea that close to a hardish effort on close to no sleep.

~6:30 am 7 mile run of a slight gradual uphill: The last 4 or so miles were on a gravel forest road away from vans. It was downright cold, I took water but didn’t really drink it, wore mittens and left them on the whole time, silently thanking my wise insight for packing them, and though I was tired physically and mentally and not particularly happy with the somewhat difficult-to-run-fast-on washboarded gravel, I really enjoyed the serenity of a quiet, early morning mountain road. I saw absolutely no one and it was extremely peaceful.

Post run within an hour or so: Overnight Oats with Chia + Peach plus Elk Lake “Resort” coffee to warm up. I’m not normally a coffee person as I prefer black tea, but that coffee tasted amazing and it was so nice to have something warm in my system for the first time in over 24 hours. The post-run damp cold had started to set in and bundling up in all my layers, standing in the early morning sun, and sipping mountain coffee was pure bliss. I was warm again in no time.

Snacks: a tiny handful of nut + seed trail mix from a teammate.

Lunch: Back at our lovely abode post shower and almost ready to go to the finish line to run across with our team: Summer Quinoa Salad.

Post-Race: 2 glasses Lemon Ginger Kombucha, which really helped to settle my tired stomach.

Intermittent drinks throughout the relay: water (lots of it, as determined by thirst), and coconut water, often diluted to 1/3 coconut, 2/3 water.

Post Race Celebration Dinner, prepared by my former bosses: Run Fast Eat Slow quinoa salad and cabbage salad, grilled Steelhead, and more tortilla chips + guac.

Dessert: small plum +  a couple squares of dark chocolate

 

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Beet + Berries Cacao Smoothie Pudding, serves 1
I developed this “smoothie pudding” specifically for this race to enjoy post-run or in the afternoon as a hefty snack. It’s got a good mix of carbohydrates and protein in the 3 to 4:1 ratio as recommended by much of the sports nutrition literature for post workout recovery, and due to the nature of the event and because I broke my food processor/blender earlier in the week before the race, I wanted to include some of the beneficial phytonutrient and vitamin/mineral-rich foods like greens and beets, but do so in a tasty, appliance-free way. If you haven’t access to beetroot powder, finely grating a small raw beet will work also but won’t yield a result that is quite as smooth. Also, I included an adaptogen powder in my blend since I’ve been developing one in my herbal classes this year, and using daily for stress reduction and workout recovery. My current formula contains reishi, cordyceps, rhodiola, ashwaganda, amla, eleuthero, and ginger. You can essentially use any of those herbs or other adaptogens, or leave them out entirely. This recipe is definitely going into my regular rotation because it is so, so good, kind of like a chocolate pudding with the season’s best berries mixed throughout. Enjoy!

1/2 cup unsweetened plain coconut yogurt
1/2 a medium banana, mashed and chilled
1 Tbs. beetroot powder or finely grated small beet
1 Tbs. raw cacao powder
1/2 tsp. spirulina
1/2 Tbs. adaptogen powder of choice, if desired.
12 grams // 1/3 scoop vanilla protein powder (I used plant-based Vega)
1 2/3 cups blackberries, raspberries and blueberries (fresh or frozen)

  • Stir the mashed banana and powdered ingredients into the yogurt until thoroughly mixed.
  • Spoon into a jar or bowl and then top with the fresh or frozen berries. Chill for best results, as the berries will slowly soften and drip their juices down into the pudding.
  • When ready to eat after a workout, push or stir the berries into the mixture gently so you’ll taste bursts of smoothie pudding and berries together as you enjoy!

Creamy Fennel Soup with Honey + Thyme

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Near the end of my spring term, my biochemistry professor began a week on both an uplifting and cynical note: he encouraged us not to stress about the class or final too much and then relayed the stark truth that we never know what the next day will bring and we should make the most of enjoying the present. I could tell from the weeks previous that something was happening in his personal life that was challenging, and though he shared only a hint beyond that particular day, his words really stirred me.

 

I’ve shared only a little of it here, but in the past couple years I’ve been going through somewhat of a personal growing up/life upheaval. Above all, I guess I’m slowly learning to simplify and downsize what I accomplish in a day and opt for a little less stress and “striving to.” I’m also working on letting go of a manic hold on the future and just let it happen. My mantra of High Intention, Low Attachment, one I learned from a Running on Om podcast, is one I have to remind myself daily. In the spare moments I have now, I’ve been trying to take it all in with all my senses: the colors, the scents, the sounds, and yes, the flavors.

 

I can for sure say I fail as much as I succeed, but I think it’s a growing up kind of pursuit that I need in the way that only big life challenges can ask of us.

 

One way I’ve been achieving more of living in the moment is by moving many meals outside. The other is by working with the freshest produce, whether it’s from our own garden, harvested right before dinner, or from local farms. We are truly spoiled in this season and getting to walk outside and harvest a basket of something different each day has me being reminded that being able to do so was both a major priority for William and I, and that we are so privileged to do so. It is a privilege I do not take for granted.

 

Wherever you’re at in this season within the grand scheme of things, whether everything is wonderful or larger struggles have come your way, I hope you take a little moment to stop and look around, and find simple joy in the process.

 

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Creamy Fennel Soup with Honey + Thyme, serves 4-5
Soup might seem an ironic thing to eat in this warm season, but energetically, it is helpful to our bodies to be heated mildly so we can use our internal thermostat to self-regulate back to a comfortable state. It is much less harsh and draining than eating very cold foods, like ice cream or large helpings of cold melon, to cool down quickly. For this reason I think, I tend to favor light soups more in the summer than in other seasons. This one, with its emphasis on fennel, is quite light and simple. The flavor of the fennel really shines through, and there is just a sweet hint of the honey and thyme with each bite. You’ll want to serve it as starter or on days when only a light meal is preferred. As I note in the directions, taste and adjust flavors at the end. Depending on preference, you might want to add more or less salt, honey, lemon, or even cashew butter. 

1/2 tsp. coconut oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 large fennel bulbs, diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3/4 cup cooked white beans or garbanzos
1 tsp. salt + more to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 Tbs. cashew butter
2 tsp. honey

  • Melt the oil over a medium heat in a large pot. Add in the diced onions, celery, fennel, and thyme. Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes, until the vegetables have softened but haven’t yet browned. Add a splash or two of water as needed.
  • Add in the garlic and cook, uncovered, for about a minute more. Add in the beans, then pour in the broth or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • When the soup is done simmering, pour it into a blender in batches, to bring it to a smooth puree. On the last batch, spoon in the cashew butter and puree in.
  • Add all the now pureed soup back into the pot and then bring up to a simmer again. Add the lemon juice, salt and black pepper, and honey. Taste to check for seasoning and adjust as needed. You might find it needs more salt, pepper, lemon juice, or honey. Add a small amount of whatever it needs until it tastes balance and “right.” You’ll know and it will be lovely.
  • Ladle into bowls, and serve with warm bread as desired.

The Best (Humble) Carrot Cake

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I turned 30 this last weekend. It was a birthday that both crept up and one I had been thinking about for a while. When I was a teenager, I imagined I’d have my career and life 100 percent sorted by now, already fabulous at or well on my way to being a professor/dean/mom/farm wife/NGO executive/etc.

Hah. The last decade has taught me life doesn’t work so linearly. I’m only just beginning to give myself the opportunity to reach for the career I think will fulfill me–the one that doesn’t have more emphasis on the glamorous or romantic title or idea of it but will actually make me feel full in the daily in and out. And I know now I may well pivot in process. I’m learning we change our minds as time goes on.

I’ve also learned that second, third, fourth, and more tries are often necessary to get something right. For instance, and definitely on the lighter side, I made myself birthday cake. I do almost every year as I love the opportunity to experiment with exactly the flavors of cake I want to enjoy, but I also don’t care for cake or sweets often. Last year I made myself a cardamom vanilla cake with cashew cream frosting. I know because the (failed) recipe was sitting among my draft blog posts for the whole year. This year, I was torn between re-experimenting with that flavor combination and making my absolute favorite, carrot cake. I chose the cardamom vanilla. I even nerded out completely and experimented with three different frostings ranging the full spectrum from all natural/nutritious ingredients to completely not. I generally don’t even like frosting.

Anyway.
The finished cake was gorgeous.
Even if one finger lick of the frosting gave me an immediate sugar rush. 
It was pretty, rustic, and exactly the effect I was going for.
See?

 

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Looks can be deceiving.
I’ve learned that multiples of times over the past decade as well.
The vanilla cardamom was no good. Too dry even on the second attempt and following ratios I know should have worked. The cardamom’s flavor was barely apparent.

 

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Now over any desire to eat cake but with a fridge full of two more (much less sweet) frostings, I found myself with the overwhelming desire to go bake that carrot cake. I adapted this old favorite recipe.

It looked humble.
It tasted delicious.
I found myself eating much more than I needed* and not caring.

A light lesson for sure, but somehow it was fitting that my grand plans for a 30th birthday cake that had more outward beauty than actual enjoyable substance failed completely while the humble, comforting old favorite won out the day.

The same could be said for the day itself as I had visions of a big party or grand adventure to bring in the new decade, and ultimately decided to do exactly what I wanted, i.e. went out to a quiet dinner with William at a very Eugene restaurant, chose a table in the back corner that was a bit like we were eating in a cozy closet/backstage, enjoyed a meal that was basically a tasty plate of spinach, and then wandered home to watch an also very Eugene movie. And then I woke up the next day, my actual birthday, stayed home, baked cake, read, made a nice dinner but nothing more special than normal, and generally just relaxed.

It was the best.
*Also, no one really needs cake.
But sometimes the process–of failing, of trying again, of eventually succeeding, and of getting to share the experience and result with loved ones, whether it’s baking and eating cake or something much more challenging and life changing–is simply good for the soul.
I’m learning that too.

 

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The Best Carrot Cake (gluten-free + vegan optional)
makes two 6-inch layers 
 
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water or black tea
1 cup whole-grain gluten free flour mix, below (or 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if not making gluten-free)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 plus 2 Tbs. canola oil
6 Tbs. aquafaba, 2 Tbs. ground flax + 6 Tbs. water, or 2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (about 2 large)
cream cheese frosting:
4 oz. vegan (or regular) cream cheese
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease, flour, and then line cake pans with parchment paper.
  • Soak the raisins in a small dish of warm water or black tea.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a medium bowl.
  • Whisk the brown sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add the aquafaba, flax mixture, or eggs; every method works well so use whatever you prefer. Then stir in the applesauce, vanilla, and flour mixture.
  • Drain the raisins from their liquid, and then fold them and the carrots into the mixture until combined. Divide the batter amongst the two prepared cake pans, and then gently lift and drop each filled pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. This will allow for more even baking and a flatter cake top. Bake until the layers are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.
  • Remove the cakes from the oven and cool about 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Then set them aside on a rack to cool completely.
  • For the frosting:  Blend the cream cheese and coconut oil together in a food processor. Then add in the vanilla and maple syrup. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set up before icing the cake.
 
My Whole-Grain Gluten Free Flour Mix
2oo grams brown rice flour
200 grams millet flour
200 grams sorghum flour
100 grams buckwheat flour
150 grams tapioca starch
150 grams arrowroot starch
  • Sift all the flours together.  Use 1 cup for this recipe and save the remaining for other uses.

 

If you’ve read this far, you’re in for a treat. Birthday playlist below!


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