Quinoa carrot cake cookies (and Pikes Peak Ultra 30K)

I’d almost forgotten how much I love trail running. Not just on my own, but as a participant in an official group event, competitive or not. I’d just about forgotten too, how much I enjoy these gluten-free, vegan, oil-free (or not, if you prefer), lightly and naturally sweetened, easy on the digestive system cookies. That is the loose stretch of a connection between the recipe and narrative of this post. Sorry the record of the race experience is the dominating presence by far. It was my first official run event in two years after all.

carrot cake cookies (1 of 1)
First, about those “cookies”. They’re more like breakfast bars, but cookie shaped. I love them. They’re currently one of my favorite portable on-the-go breakfasts/snacks/lunches, and little F likes them too. They may taste a little more cookie-like and less like energy bites with the inclusion of coconut oil, but I prefer them without. You could totally give them a sweet treat lift with a bit of glaze if you wanted to. And the race connection? They’re good pre-run fuel. Generally, I prefer to go on empty. Even my former fave of banana and peanut butter was too much for the odd long run I tested it on in this last build up. But race day, I wanted to have a little bite beforehand, and carrot cake for breakfast works a treat. (Here’s where you skip the rambling race record to recipe below.*)

Living in Boulder County, perspective can become a little (a lot) warped. It’s not uncommon for people to ask questions along the lines of “How many ironman distance triathlons are you doing this year? How many ultras? ” within a minute of being introduced. When I tell people here that “these days I am only doing a 50K or two a year” the immediate response is often nods of understanding, if not a questioningly raised eyebrow confirming I’m a slacker. So it’s easy to feel hesitant when it comes to logging race memories for “just” 30K, especially when coupled with average ability. But it was such a beautiful, perfectly challenging course, and kind of a breakthrough mentally, in its way. Besides that, I had the best cowbell crew I could have ever wished for.

When I originally signed up for the Pikes Peak Ultra 30K, held in Colorado Springs from Bear Creek Regional Park, I intended to run the 50K. Typically, the longer I go the more competitive I can be, and to a point the less nervous too. But early on I realized too well how unprepared I would be for the 9000 feet of elevation gain in that event, let alone the altitude. Little F is a stellar household helper, but without family nearby Dave and I continually alternate to accomplish a number of things, workouts in particular. There just isn’t time to get into the hills or up high the way I’d like to, and training efforts need to be efficient even when sustained. For that reason, the week approaching this event I started to take on a few more jitters than I expected, become a little crankier, clouded by feelings of niggling aches and fatigue.

But it’s hard to drown in anxious anticipation the way I used to when a little person keeps you laughing and on your toes. Heading down to the Springs the afternoon preceding, we were caught in a pounding freak storm on the highway in a 50 minute delay caused by a crash. It would have been frustrating–it was, for Dave as generous driver both ways–only little F and all “the guys” (stuffed animals who comprise ‘the class’ when playing school) were so wowed and gleeful we couldn’t help but be a little bit delighted, too.

pike
Race morning, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Lightly misting, but temperate. Just right for running. Not too chilly for a singlet, but not hot, just pleasant. The previous day’s rain had the effect of making the trails feel firm and grippy, not muddy or loosely gravelly. Dave had prepared me for mentally taking the course in thirds. Side note–my amazing husband solves problems, assesses situations, and prepares ahead of time so very exceptionally. Sometimes I wonder idly by how much his skills are superior to mine, and whether I’m secretly far more crafty and opportunistic than I am willfully conscious of when it comes to taking shortcuts in letting him dig in so well on my behalf. (Thank you, thank you, darling Davy!)

Pikes 30K (4 of 4)
The first segment was a solid 5.5 mile climb of about 1600 feet right out of the gate. Competitors weren’t as chatty as my experience in 50Ks; I guess the distance being that much shorter really made a difference. Still, the trail running vibe has a different intensity to road, one that feels more laid back and friendly even as everyone strains and suffers. Nearing the close of the ascent, I started talking with an older guy who it turns out is clearly related to mountain goats. “Your walk-run strategy is working great for you,” I said to him, striking up conversation after miles of leap frogging. He was a modest, convivial man. Not talkative, but not reserved either. I don’t know what his background is, but just from the mile or so we ran together I was impressed by his genuine appreciation for being out there and for the way he without doubt plugs away with passion and keeps on showing up.

Pikes 30K (2 of 4)The middle third of the course, began with a descent on singletrack, sharp in spots, where my running companion dusted me for many miles and where I internally berated myself a bit for how my descent can let me down. At least when it comes to anything close to technical. But the trail was shadowy and beautiful, with mist hugging the peaks all around us. And I knew (from Dave’s preparation, not mine again), I just needed to focus on getting to mile 12 and the top of the next big hill before a major boost in momentum. While on a stretch of steep road connecting trails, Dave and Little F happened to pass by in the car on their way to a hike. “Go Mommy!” I could hear little F whooping even as they rolled down the hill behind me. “Mommy’s fast!” No caffeine infused gel could have possibly given a better, more lasting lift than knowing my little boy was proud of his mama in that moment.

The final section was mainly the beginning in reverse. As cautiously as I approached the middle descent, my legs were all about letting it rip and pounding down the 5.5 mile (mostly) descent to the finish. I knew my quads would pay the price–they were already sore–but it was fun to try to fly. Especially knowing my fast little sprinter was waiting to jump in on the finishing stretch.

About that “breakthrough”–there were two things. One, the biggest hurdle was definitely getting to the starting line but not in terms of training. That part I loved and looked forward to. It wasn’t the actual signing up, either (because Dave , ever supportive, did that for me, too–thank you, honey!!). The challenge was getting over the guilt and the fear that has been present in my mind since Dave’s injuries forced him to give up something that has been so special to share. Even as he has found the same kind of satisfaction in mountain biking, I still feel the shadow of what might be, if I do too much. At this point I’m guessing that won’t ever go away. Because, aging/practical reality/a number of things. But it’s so liberating to be able to relish getting out there again, owning the joy of just showing up.

Another notable aspect came from a semi awkward moment of irony strangely freeing, in the final ½ mile or less. A woman had passed me on the ascent early on, about ⅓ of the way in. We were cordial, greeting each other with breathless nods of “good job” and minimal eye contact. I didn’t expect to see her again, but in the final mile I found myself closing in on her. By the time we were 800 yds from the finish, I had to pass her, and in my head I felt conflicted. On the one hand, she’d managed to be ahead of me for all those tough miles. It seemed kind of unfair somehow, in a laid back event like this, to go by her. On the other, I did pull her back on my own efforts, so why not? When I pulled alongside her, I couldn’t help myself. “I don’t really want to pass you,” I said. “Want to finish strong together?” “Let’s,” she responded, surprised. “Thank you.”

Pikes 30K (1 of 4)The story could have ended there with some nice warm fuzz. Only what actually happened is that she took off at a strong clip I didn’t feel up for trying to match. I was happy with my performance, busy looking out for little F and his promised sprint to the finish together, and totally in touch with internal gratification and contentment. That was the breakthrough. I’ve always done my best in all areas when I can focus on finding out what the best is I can do on the day, without thought of others. This was no exception. Admittedly, I secretly knew I probably wasn’t in her age group, something she couldn’t have been sure of. Who knows but I would put more mojo in had I not had that knowledge. But  it was strangely liberating not to, and not at all like losing. The feeling was validated all the more when, to my surprise, I was handed the prize for first place Master’s female at the finish. That felt amazing. Big hugs from my two stalwart supporters, even better. Can’t help but admit, I can’t wait to pick the next one and go again. But I can choose smart, thinking long-term healthfulness, and wait, too.

Quinoa carrot cake breakfast cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup quinoa flour
  2. 1/2 cup quinoa flakes
  3. 1/2 cup gluten free rolled oats
  4. 1/4 cup ground flaxseed/flax meal
  5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  6. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  7. 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  8. 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  9. 1/2 cup raisins
  10. 1 1/2 cups grated or shredded carrots (lightly packed)
  11. 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  12. 1 ripe banana, mashed
  13. 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce OR ½ cup applesauce and OMIT coconut oil, below
  14. 2 tablespoons liquid coconut oil *optional
  15. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  16. 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (optional but recommended)
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Curried quinoa pilaf

I’ve been sitting on this simple, comforting dish for weeks. Problem is, the only time I’ve had lately to log it has been when experiencing end-of-day brain burnout. So now I’m trying early morning power posting–quick, efficient, and just the basics. Which is actually really appropriate for this hearty, easy meal.

quinoa pilaf3 (1 of 1)
There’s lots to love about this ‘pilaf’. For one thing, it’s delightfully versatile, in that it can be tailored to taste; it can just as easily make for a filling meal or an accompaniment. I added baked cubed tofu to bulk into a main meal, but other proteins would complement just as well if you’re not into soy. Switching things up as a side is easy, too–almonds for cashews, cranberries for raisins, addition of apples…there’s an awful lot of leeway for play considering how little active time it actually takes to make.

quinoa pilaf (1 of 1)
I’m veering off the promise of bare bones only–just quickly–but when
I first made this I almost made myself laugh out loud. Because on first bite, a warm swell inside was accompanied by my brain randomly reacting with this thought: mmmmm…yummy like Rice-a-Roni. And you know I can’t have had Rice-a-Roni more than a handful of times in my life. Not that I have a particular problem with the product. But–you know, right? What I mean?

quinoa pilaf2 (1 of 1)

The more I read, observe, listen, learn, reflect, the more reasons I discover to deplore corporatization of our food system. The ugliness is endless, from the strategic profit at the expense of human health to the intent marketing directed at children. I’m rather obsessed. And yet I’ve still somehow attached sentimentality to boxed foods I hardly have any actual experience with. Whether testament to marketing genius or fickle-minded weakness I have no idea and don’t expect to solve in a hurried post about curried quinoa. But on the upside, the simple, soothing spice blend of this quick and easy makes for really good grounding when those convenience box cravings set in. Satisfying them is about saving time on little effort, and yielding something flavourful. Bonus, we can ditch the boxes and make said yields healthy too. Maybe you need to budget up to 30 minutes to make it, but the actual effort you put in hardly exceeds opening a box of spices within a box of grains to simmer in a pot. 🙂

Curried quinoa pilaf
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  2. 3 cups water or vegetable broth (or 1.5 cups each)
  3. 1 tablespoon curry powder, divided
  4. 1 tsp. ground ginger
  5. 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. 1 14-ounce pack organic firm tofu, cut into cubes
  8. 2 cups broccoli florets
  9. 2 cups cauliflower florets
  10. 1/2 c. raisins
  11. 1/3 c. roasted cashews
  12. Cooking spray
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Place tofu (if using), broccoli and cauliflower florets on a baking sheet in one layer. Lightly coat with cooking spray and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and browning at edges.
  2. Meanwhile, bring water or broth to a boil. Add quinoa, ginger, turmeric, 2 teaspoons curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, until quinoa is soft and fluffy (approx. 12-15 minutes). Stir in raisins and set aside, covered, until vegetables are cooked.
  3. In a large salad bowl, combine all ingredients. Enjoy!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls with oil-free coconut lime dressing

Doesn’t the “forbidden” elevate the idea of rice? Not that simply saying black rice would be any less appealing. But “forbidden” adds a haunting mysticism that’s kind of irresistible.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (1 of 5)

It seems forbidden rice owes its name to ancient Chinese dynasties when, thought to promote longevity and good health, it was exclusively reserved for emperors. Personally, I think it could as easily come down to the way the sticky black grains tend to create a comically unsavory toothless look when they lodge in your teeth. But it’s so good. Just be sure to have a toothbrush handy when you eat it, or at the very least plan on a vigorous but discreet swish with water immediately after eating and before talking if with company.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (2 of 5)

Call it a dragon bowl, buddha bowl, hippie bowl, just a bowl; forbidden rice or black rice, whatever the names, this may be my new most favorite dish ever (for now). Power packed with good nutrition, easy to make, easier to vary, and awfully beautiful to boot. Best of all, it’s sooo satisfyingly yummy. I made it originally solely for an excuse to write down and share the dressing, adapted somewhat from a coleslaw recipe my sister made when we were visiting CT earlier this summer. It came from an issue of Milk Street Magazine, and I was so taken with that coleslaw I wanted to record it here to come back to but felt uncomfortable doing so. It just seemed like tweaking and creating something new would be more fair somehow.

Given that this meal was built expressly around a sauce, I guess the “all about the dressing” streak continues. On the other hand, this particular combination of subtly spicy chickpeas, roast sweet potatoes, caramelized red onion and greens is an absolute perfect fit. As for the dressing, it’s awfully adaptable too. I thought about including a little sesame oil, only because I doubted  there was none in the original. I’m so glad I trusted memory and left it out. It would have been a foolishly gratuitous inclusion. I did make some changes (more coconut milk, soy sauce for fish sauce, chili garlic sauce for serrano chiles), and the result was so tasty I couldn’t help licking the lid of the jar I made it in.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (3 of 5)

Speaking of mysticism (back to the whole forbidden thing), lately little F has been getting into The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. I LOVE these chapter books. Reading them to students to conclude the day is among my very dearest memories of teaching Kindergarten and something that keeps me thinking I’ll come back to it. We’d dim the lights and I’d play soft background tracks from an Enya CD to match the mood of the story. (Her album, Without Rain is the perfect pairing.) I loved that time so much that one summer, pre-parenting, I tried reading them to the same music all by myself. It wasn’t the same.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (4 of 5)

Anyway, it took me by surprise how drawn to them little F became at not quite four, but I love this shared time together so much. Recently, we’ve been reading a set of “Merlin Missions” wherein the characters Jack and Annie are tasked with finding secrets of happiness to help a sorrowful Merlin. And here I’m going to start stretching for connections in such a way that borders on unbearable, depending who you are. As I do. 

Fun morning (3 of 6)I do a lot of daydreaming while cooking. A lot of thinking and musing. Getting cheesily philosophical about “recipes for happiness” is a staple theme. It’s funny how contented we can be in our now while yet so anxious and fearful of what tomorrow might be. Since Little F was born I’ve known radiant happiness while continually quietly mourning the necessary drift. Always fervently hoping that as each new level of letting go arrives, I’ll find myself capable of whatever it is I need to be ready for. So far, it’s been alright. The other morning for instance, our keen “marching to four”-year old woke up early, and for the first time ever, he chose not to wake us up. Instead, all by himself he pulled his curtains, made his bed, got dressed (T-shirt adorably backwards), and busily set about “delivering” his stuffed animals to various locations throughout the house. I awoke hearing him bustling about and you could sense the joy in the movement. It was a milestone of independence. While my heart definitely felt  a pang, it also bloomed with pride and joy for him, as has been the case so far with all these dreaded yet special steps into his own.

That night while while cooking, my mind was wandering…there was the usual noting of worry regarding said drift, and time passing, and also Jack and Annie, happiness in general, that coleslaw from Milk Street I’d been too hesitant to write down even for myself as is. And suddenly, all these fluttering thoughts collided and I felt somehow closer to an important truth. Not there, but closer.  The Buddhist ideal of non-attachment began to make a little more sense. It seemed less cold and distant, more graceful and accepting than I’d interpreted before. 

Chick Peak & Black Rice (5 of 5)

Sometimes the most stirring epiphanies are those representing the things that seem like they should be the most obvious. Maybe an important key to happiness is letting go of ownership. The less we own, the less preoccupied we are with boundaries. I don’t own recipe combinations. Neither does Milk Street, for that matter (well, actually depending on copyright maybe they do, but you know what I mean). My marching-t0-four year old son is my world. I grew him from a tiny seed and his father and I love him to pieces, nourish him, revel in the weightiness of responsibility that is caring for him. Yet he is not ours. Recognizing this does not dull my love for him in the slightest, or lay the foundation for walls around my heart. If anything it makes me love him even more, if that’s possible. But remembering he is his own gives a little more peace. At least in this moment. 

The dressing for this dish is to me amazing. I’m not sure what makes it so. So simple, but everything works together (and who can scoff at coconut and lime, really?). There is no secret ingredient. You’ll take it and make it yours, and therefore better. Here’s the big corn, friends. Ultimately, the secret ingredient, always, is you.

Sweet potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups black rice
  2. 1 teaspoon chili powder
  3. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  4. 2 large sweet potatoes
  5. 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
  6. cooking spray
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. 3 tablespoons lime juice
  9. 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  10. 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
  11. 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  12. 1/2 cup coconut milk
  13. 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
Instructions
  1. Prepare the rice: Cook 2 cups in 3 ½ cups water. Rinse under cold water. Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
  2. Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange sweet potatoes and onions on a baking sheet and coat generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven to turn with a spatula and add chickpeas. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes, turning once.
  4. Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
  5. Add half the dressing to rice, stirring to coat. Divide rice into serving bowls, then top with equal amounts of kale/greens mix, sweet potatoes, onions and chickpeas. Drizzle remaining dressing evenly on top. Enjoy!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet and sour date sauce

Isn’t it lovely when you’re looking for an elusive something, and a voice or gem from the past pops up unexpectedly and simply hands it to you? It’s especially gratifying when that out-of-the blue bestower of wisdom is you. Whether that thing that you’re offered is significant or trivial, it brings a sense of restored trust, a quiet inner knowledge that even though time keeps stubbornly melting away, you can still count on you.

In general, making the shift to being so completely plant-based has meant more variety, not less. More colors, more textures, more venturing out into new realms. But sometimes a sigh sneaks in for an old staple that found itself subjected to little scorn when we stopped to think. A good go-to sweet and sour sauce was one of those.

Sweet and Sour (1 of 4)
I never really went for the clear, bright neon Asian takeaway style sauce, but I did have two homemade versions that relied heavily on sugar. Ditching them, try as I might I couldn’t find an alternative I really wanted to come back to. Then one day on a long solo run I found myself ticking the miles away by brainstorming possibilities worth trying that would be free from refined sugar and store-bought ketchup. I started thinking about dates and tomato paste, and bam! Fun flashback to grilling homemade pizzas with friends about ten (yikes???) years ago using a sauce that led to this pathetic, sad little blog post I am choosing to see as proof that I have improved as a sometimes blogger over the years (Mary, remember how awesome those Thai grilled pizzas were?). My pace must have picked up then, fueled by eagerness to try that forgotten sauce again, and especially to see if it might fit the bill for a healthy sweet and sour, adding rice vinegar and pineapple juice and adjusting quantities. It did.

Sweet and Sour (3 of 4)

It’s funny how the past lives with us–mostly with tenderness, at times unsettling. This year I’ve received birthday notifications for a handful of Facebook friends who are no longer with us.  I don’t have the heart to delete them, and of course they aren’t here to make their own graceful exit. I suppose that over time that number will continue to grow. I shared this with a friend who came to dinner, unable to shake a vague preoccupation with this strange new world of ghosts kept in limbo via social media. For a split second she looked stunned, then warmly snapped me out of my moroseness by laughingly exclaiming, “Way to be a buzzkill, Wendy!”
Sweet and Sour (4 of 4)

I wasn’t trying to be morbid. I may just be a complete oddball, but at times there is something bordering on uplifting to be gleaned from what seems otherwise depressing. A bit of a reality check, maybe. Gratitude, mostly. The reminder life is short and we’re still here.

Of course, none of this is related to this recipe, really…just a little sweet and sour.

 

Sweet and Sour Date Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. ¾ cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water to soften ten minutes
  2. ¼ cup tomato paste
  3. ½ cup rice vinegar
  4. ½ cup pineapple
  5. ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  6. Vegetable broth or stock
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except for broth in a food processor or high speed blender. Process until smooth. Add broth as needed to reach desired consistency. Add to your favorite stir-fried vegetables.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/
 

Carrot ginger (dressing) potato salad

This sort-of theme of “it’s all about the dressing” is getting a little tired. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to put up this short post. Or maybe I’ve just been waiting for a lightning bolt of whimsy to supply me with something inspired to say. 

carrot-ginger potato salad2 (1 of 1)

The truth is, I just wanted to share this “dressing” that’s not really dressing exactly and which was in itself rather inspiring. I discovered it recently when I had the happy chance to test some recipes for a local magazine, including a heaping bowl of fresh, crunchy deliciousness. Just 3 ingredients (carrot, not too much sesame oil and pickled ginger) plus water. I was awed by the power of its simplicity, delivering a punch of flavor that is at once sharp and cleansing. One bite and the taste bud nerve connection impishly sent my mind into overdrive trying to come up with a variety of ways to incorporate this exciting new “dressing” into meals just so I could post it on this blog to come back to in case I ever suffer mild amnesia and forget how easy it is.

carrot-ginger potato salad (1 of 1)

OK, so “overdrive” was a little exaggerated. The brainstorming lasted about 5 minutes. But, five minutes fairly well spent, because Easy Carrot Ginger “Dressing” works very well with a light, fresh variation on traditional potato salad; it also fares well in veggie wraps, and is a nice tangy palate cleanser scraped from the bottom of the food processor, too. As long as you like pickled ginger–I do, so added more.

For no particular reason I’m hopeful that this dressing  motif will be phasing itself out soon, though probably not for at least another week. There’s a saucy experiment I have in mind that I’m hoping will work out delectably this week. If you don’t see it within another two weeks, you’ll know it crashed in our kitchen (pssst…it’s sweet and sour). More soon. 🙂

 

Carrot ginger dressed potato salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ pounds small new potatoes
  2. 1 large carrot cut into chunks
  3. 1/4 cup pickled ginger
  4. 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  5. 1 cucumber, seeded and cut into chunks
  6. 1 cup snap peas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  7. 3 spring onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. In a steamer set over boiling water steam the potatoes, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are just tender, transfer them to a bowl, and let them cool to room temperature, then halve lengthwise (or quarter depending on size).
  2. In a food processor, pulse carrot, pickled ginger, oil, and ¼ cup water to create a chunky dressing.
  3. Combine potatoes, dressing, and vegetables in a large salad bowl. Serve room temperature or cold.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

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