A Big Week for Bikes. . . and Tofu

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Pixie cuts pair well with speed workouts

Last week was a little strange weather-wise, with a smattering of hot, sunny days interrupted by a few non-consecutive days of torrential rain. When the skies were grey, I worked late. When the sun was out, I tried to take advantage of the beautiful weather and I spent a lot of time outside. I received my crash replacement helmet from Bell, and last week I finally got back in the saddle.

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That’s right, first time back on the bike in six months! I was not technically cleared to ride yet (I see the doctor this week), but I felt ready and the weather was perfect, so I carefully took a lap around the neighborhood just to see how it felt. . . it was magnificent! I have so missed riding a bike. I had no wrist pain during or after the ride, and no crazy crash flashbacks when I zipped downhill (braking. . . all. . . the. . . way), so I call it a success!

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Later that week, I was scheduled to run with a friend, and the high temperature that day was over ninety degrees. Due to the heat, we decided to run trails instead of road, to take advantage of the shade and any breeze we could pick up by running in the woods alongside the James River. I’m not technically cleared for trail running yet either, but I was riding high from the cycling success, and I only tripped on rocks once – no falling!

My arm was super sore and swollen after the short run. That night, the pain in my wrist woke me up several times and I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. After a long and stressful day of typing at work in pain, I headed to my regular Friday afternoon appointment with the occupational therapist and got bad news. My therapist wasn’t very happy with the pain and swelling, so I got this weird iontophoresis patch that made my arm look like a battery.

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The patch uses electric current to slowly inject an anti-inflammatory medication into my wrist over a few hours. It worked well so I’m glad that my therapist prescribed it, but after the titanium plates, the screws, the Storm Trooper splint, and now this, I do kind of wonder if OrthoVirginia is trying to turn me into a bionic woman. Am I slowly becoming a machine?

After overdoing it on physical activity in the great outdoors last week, I took it easy over the weekend and practiced being a spectator at the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation’s Cap2Cap ride. Spectating is awesome because it allows you to a) wear whatever you want (hey there Boho tank!), b) eat and drink whatever you want (Capital Trail Pale Ale, anyone?), c) support the participants you love (Kyle! Dad! Adrienne! Lindsay!), and d) take non-sweaty selfies during downtime (see my Instagram account).

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I had the privilege of cheering on my dad, Nick, and my husband, Kyle, as they completed the 50-miler together. I’ve watched them both ride bikes for years, but because they live in different states, they have only ridden together just a handful of times. I had a great time with my Mom, riding from one water stop to the next, to cheer on the boys and catch up on life this Mother’s Day weekend. They played it cool, but I know they both really enjoyed the together-time too.

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Although cheering from the sidelines was fun, I am so ready to get back into an exercise routine. Please send positive thoughts my way this week and maybe the doctor will clear me for more activity! I think that as long as I promise to ice my wrist after exercise and not fall, not even come close, I’ll be able to get back to hiking, biking, and running very soon.

One great piece of news is that I have gotten enough mobility back in my wrist that I am no longer cooking one-handed, and I was even able to cook Mother’s Day brunch for some of my family on Sunday morning, which felt great! My Mom has cooked for me so much over the last six months, so it was great to repay her for at least one meal by making Billy Bread strawberry French toast and cilantro scrambled eggs all by myself!

I also whipped up an awesome salad last week with cranberry balsamic vinegar that I got from my occupational therapist, who totally supports cooking. . . way more than she does trail running. The salad was composed of mixed baby greens, roasted Chioggia beets, goat cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and cranberry balsamic vinegar. I topped it with the best baked tofu I have ever made. I cannot take credit for this wonderful recipe, but I can link to it so you can try it too. I highly recommend Perfect Baked Tofu from Healthy Tipping Point. You will not be disappointed!

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Have a delectable week!

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Due Stagioni and Beer Dinneroni

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This is a tale of two seasons and two pizza recipes.

Kyle and I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at our house Saturday night. The theme was Farewell Summer, Hello Fall and the guest list approached twenty, for the largest Vegology beer dinner yet. For a month, we tasted and tested beers. Two weeks before the event, we began to prepare the house, yard, and décor.  One week before the dinner party, I realized that merely a wish and a dream would not get twenty people to fit into our house and around the same table, so I placed my order with Party Perfect to rent banquet tables and folding chairs for the patio. By Friday afternoon, the only thing I had not prepared for yet was what dish to make. It was the element I was least worried about, since I’ve thrown together my dishes for the last two beer dinners at the last minute.

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As I drove home from work on Friday evening, I started to think about what dishes I could prepare. The loose guidelines I imposed on myself and the guests – “summer or fall, any kind of small plate” – were not focused enough, so I had way too many ideas floating around in my head. I started to think about transitional seasonal dishes, ones that could bring you from summer into fall, and foods that I could make ahead and reheat at party time, and then it hit me. Four seasons pizza.

Quattro stagioni is a pizza with four different ingredient sections, representing the four seasons: artichokes for spring, olives for summer, mushrooms for fall, and prosciutto for winter. I decided to make miniature pizzas, or pizzettes, and do them in two seasons, due stagioni. Because I couldn’t think of a beer that would pair well with both olives and mushrooms, I did seasoned zucchini for summer on one half, and mushrooms for fall on the other, with a basil pesto base and fresh asiago melted on top (thank you,  Dany Schutte of Ellwood Thompson’s for the cheese suggestion!). The zucchini seasoning I used was the Village Garden piquant spice blend, which can be purchased locally at the South of the James farmers’ market or the Carytown farmers’ market.

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I knew the pizzette idea was a winner. I woke up Saturday morning and floated to Project Yoga at the VMFA feeling confident. After a relaxing practice in the cool autumn-like morning sun, I purchased my ingredients, some fresh flowers for the table, and a few more pieces of décor, and headed home to prepare for the party. Kyle was at work so I had to tidy up the patio, set up the tables and chairs, decorate, clean the house, and prepare the food all by myself. Everything was going really smoothly and I even had time to practice my introduction speech for the Due Stagioni Pizzettes, and decide whether to curtsy or bow when our guests gave us a standing ovation and declared the dish the most clever and delicious thing they had ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Then, suddenly, it was forty-five minutes before party time and I hadn’t made my dish yet, three people had cancelled, and Kyle was stuck at work. I frantically sliced zucchini, rolled out and cut dough, and preheated the oven. I was still assembling my dish as guests started to arrive and I distractedly pulled it out of the oven as the first course was being served. By the time my turn came around to serve, my award-winning pizzette idea had made a spiral descent down the drain and turned out to be an oily, crispy mess. A mess that left me wishing that I had chosen a stronger beer to wash down my soggy burnt crust, instead of that light, crisp pilsner, served with a side of hubris.

I made some mistakes, and I am going to outline them here so you don’t have to make them yourself. Because the next day, I repurchased all my ingredients and made the whole dish over again to prove to myself that it would work. And it was good!

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So here are the don’ts of making miniature pizzas, besides the obvious ones (don’t wait until the last minute to test your recipe, don’t cook during your dinner party, don’t shut off your brain while entertaining in your kitchen).

  1. Don’t roll out your crust too thin. I used a thinner crust the first time, thinking that a thicker crust would swallow up or spit out the delicate toppings as it rose. On the remake, I cut out the pizza rounds from a thicker sheet of dough and it worked much better.
  2. Don’t forget that your pesto has oil in it. Don’t use too much oil when sauteing your zucchini. I used way too much oil overall in the first batch, and when I pulled the pan from the oven, the oil from the pesto and the zucchini had seeped out and formed a slick on the baking sheet.
  3. Don’t second guess browned edges. I checked on the pizzettes at one point and saw browned edges but the top of the dough still looked soft and wet, so I left them in the oven for a few more minutes. Big mistake. The pesto pizzettes turned into hockey puckettes very quickly.

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Lucky for me, we had a beautiful evening with great food and beers and excellent company. Hopefully the nightmare of the failed pizzettes haunted only me that night, as everyone else seemed to have a wonderful time. Here is a rundown of the courses we enjoyed at our fourth ever potluck vegetarian beer dinner:

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Crispin Cider – Liz and Alex from I Heart Vegetables – deliciously fresh and tart, with sweet dressing and two kinds of nuts for crunch, a great start to the meal.

Eggplant, Chickpea, and Potato Curry with Three Brothers The Great Outdoors – Sydney and Andrew from chic stripes – perfect as the sun started to set and the temperature began to drop, a dish with summer vegetables and fall spices to keep us warm, and a beer that reminds you of camping.

Cracklin’ Cauliflower with home brewed rye pale ale – Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food – Brittany is right that this cauliflower is great at any temperature, and the flavor went really well with Isaac’s impressive home brew. I’ve made her recipe before, and it’s a keeper.

Due Stagioni Pizzettes (improved recipe below) with Victory Prima Pils – me and Kyle – thank goodness Kyle’s sense of humor and optimism pairs well with my high-strung perfectionism, so when the first attempt fell flat we could laugh it off and have another beer. . . then try again the next day!

Cauliflower “Cous Cous” Salad with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild – Paul and Leah – I need to get this recipe and I’ll link to it here. We loved this pairing of a dish and a beer that both came with a twist – the “cous cous” is actually cauliflower and the beer is actually Lagunitas Little Sumpin’, with an additional wild yeast strain.

Skillet Apple Pie with Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout – Shannon and Evan from Thirsty Richmond and Boho Cycle Studio – so decadent, this apple pie was perfect, not an exaggeration, and it elevated my appreciation of this milk stout, as well as cast iron skillets. Oh, and blogger husbands, who are (in my humble opinion) the very best.

Deconstructed Apple Pie with Cider – Brock (Isaac’s brother) and Alex from Quarter Life Cupcake – I did not know that a vegan, gluten-free homemade dessert could be so good! I am officially a believer now.

And then the after-dinner bonus beers came out, including Goose Island Harvest Ale from Al (and poor Adrienne who had to stay home with a cold), Dogfish Head Tweasonale, The Alchemist Heady Topper, Goose Island Bourbon County, and more. Thank you to everyone who made this dinner special!

Due Stagioni Pesto Pizzettes

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Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces pizza dough, homemade or store bought, rolled out to 1/4 inch thick
  • medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced – both shiitakes and maitakes are good (maitake mushrooms are our favorite)
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store bought
  • Italian seasoning or herb/spice blend of your choice for the zucchini
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 ounces fresh (soft) asiago cheese, or mozzarella, grated

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add zucchini to pan and saute until tender, adding seasoning to taste halfway through cooking. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in medium pan. Sprinkle the oil with 1/2 tsp black pepper. Add mushrooms to pan and saute until tender, then remove from heat.
  4. Using a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter, punch circles in the rolled out pizza dough and transfer to baking sheet. This should yield about 12-15 pizza round.
  5. Top each pizza round with pesto, dividing evenly among all rounds. Place two zucchini slices on one half of each round, and a spoonful of mushrooms on the other half. Top with grated cheese.
  6. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown – then remove immediately!
  7. Can be reheated from refrigerated in 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes if needed.

Savory Plantain Splits

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If you have been reading for awhile, or if you have taken some time to dig around here, you may know that one of my very first posts was a recipe for Tostones, fried plantains. I started Vegology to chronicle my adventures in the kitchen, particularly with ingredients and methods that were new to me. In the beginning, I was two years into vegetarianism and five years into my home cooking habit. I had started to be more adventurous in the kitchen and found new and exciting ingredients at the farmers’ market weekly. There were so many options that I had to consciously spread them out so that I wouldn’t bite off more new ingredients than I could chew each week. Now, three years later, I have to search a little harder to find ingredients that are brand new to me. There are still as many ingredients that I haven’t tried as there are stars in the sky, but I do have to look a little farther beyond my local farmers’ market to find them.

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Take, for example, jackfruit, which I discovered was an excellent stand-in for pulled pork last year. You can find a lot of things at a Virginia farmers’ market, but jackfruit is not one of them. Soba is another, and epazote yet another. So I have discovered a lot of my new-to-me ingredients over the last several months in specialty stores and grocers. However not every showstopper meal requires a trip to the end of the earth for exotic ingredients. When I am working with my same old kitchen staples, I try to reinvent the classics to get that jolt of adrenaline that I often do from novel food. Which leads me to the star of this show, the Cuban plantain split.

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Inspired by the elaborate and aesthetically appealing arrangement of the components of the classic ice cream shop creation, the banana split, I set out to make a savory version with starchy, green plantains instead of bananas. I often associate plantains with Cuban food, so I started brainstorming in that direction. I came up with my vegetarian paella to start. Then I recalled a Cuban dish that I made in my pre-vegetarian days, consisting of shredded meat, tomato sauce, spices, and green olives. Ropa vieja is like a Cuban sloppy joe, except that it’s so much better. Stuck at two scoops, I reached out to a foodie friend to come up with the third: slow simmered Cuban-inspired black beans.

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Topped with cilantro, avocado, a drizzle of hot sauce and a spritz of lime, this is a hearty vegan dish with complex flavors and a variety of textures. If you have an open mind, it is seriously fun to eat, and if you’re up to the challenge, it is easy to stuff yourself with this spicy comfort food. But let’s be real. This dish is a ridiculous time commitment.

Realistically, you’re going to get four separate recipes out of this post and you may never make them all at once like I did. To make them all together and assemble the plantain split masterpieces from scratch, it took me and another cook two hours in the kitchen, working together with no idle time. In the end, we agreed the result was worth it. But then again, I’m the kind of person who considers a night spent in the kitchen revamping the classics while chopping several pounds of produce and dancing to samba music to be a great time. If you are not that ambitious (or crazy?) each component takes less than an hour on its own and can be paired with a fresh salad for a quick, flavorful and filling meal.

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Cuban Plantain Splits

Prepare one batch of each: Split Plantains, Vegetarian Ropa Vieja, Cuban Black Beans, and Quick Vegetarian Paella. Arrange plantain halves along the long side of an oval shaped dish. Arrange one scoop of each of the other components, in a row between the plantain halves. Top with chopped fresh cilantro and fresh avocado. Serve with hot sauce if desired. Serves 4-6.

Split Plantains

Ingredients:

  • 4 large green (unripe) plantains
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Preparation:

  1. With a sharp small knife cut ends from each plantain and cut a lengthwise slit through skin. Cut plantains once lengthwise and once crosswise into quarters. Beginning at slit, pry skin from pieces.
  2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet heat 1/2 inch oil over moderate heat until just hot enough to sizzle when a plantain piece is added. Fry plantains in batches, without crowding, until tender and just golden, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. With tongs transfer plantains as fried to paper towels to drain.
  3. Remove skillet from heat and reserve oil. With the bottom of a heavy saucepan or a wide solid metal spatula flatten plantains to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Into a bowl of warm salted water dip flattened plantains, 1 at a time, and drain them well on paper towels.
  5. Heat reserved oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and fry flattened plantains in batches, without crowding, until golden, about 3 minutes. With tongs transfer tostones as fried to paper towels to drain and season with salt if desired.

Vegetarian Ropa Vieja

Ingredients:

  • 2- 10 oz. cans jackfruit in water, drained
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 small green pepper, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1- 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup green olives with pimiento, sliced or halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add jackfruit and cook until browned, about six minutes. Remove from pan and shred jackfruit until the texture resembles that of pulled meat.
  2. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic to pan. Saute until translucent. Add ground cumin to pan and cook, while stirring, for 30 seconds.
  3. Add fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, vinegar, and broth. Bring to simmer, then lower heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add olives, salt and pepper just before serving. Top with fresh cilantro.

Cuban Black Beans

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
    • OR 1 teaspoon dried oregano plus 1 teaspoon dried epazote
  • 2- 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a large sauce sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, garlic, and oregano, and epazote if using. Saute until translucent.
  2. Mash 1 cup of beans with fork, or blend in food processor, Add mashed beans, remaining whole beans, vegetable broth and vinegar to pan.
  3. Cook 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Quick Vegetarian Paella

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup medium grain white rice
  • 6 saffron threads
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup fresh vegetables, diced (I used zucchini, carrots, and peas)
  • 1- 6 oz. jar quartered, marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 oz. tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Prepare rice according to package directions to produce 3 cups prepared rice.
  2. Boil 1/2 cup water in a small sauce pan. Turn off burner. Add saffron threads, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Strain water into a bowl and discard threads.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and saute until tender.
  4. Add vegetables, saffron water, artichoke hearts, vegetable broth, tomato sauce, and garlic to soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add rice and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Vegetarian Beer Dinner III

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and words of encouragement on my last post. This beer dinner recap is a few weeks late, but I cut myself some slack, since the week after the beer dinner I focused solely on preparing for my first half marathon, and I have been recovering ever since! Thank you for your patience!

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It’s that time of year again. . .

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Seasonal vegetarian beer dinner time!

A few weeks ago, I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner to celebrate the flavors of late winter and early spring. Some good friends showed up with vegetarian dishes paired with seasonal beers, and we all enjoyed tasting a diverse array of delicious combinations. You might recall that this is the third dinner of its kind that we have hosted en la casa de Vegology.

Check out my recaps of past beer dinners here:

Vegetarian Beer Dinner I – Summer 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – Winter 2012

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As usual, we had notebooks for taking notes on our favorite pairings, as well as the ever-present “Beer: it’s not just for dinner” cocktail napkins. Of course there were plastic tasting glasses, because my only dishwasher is named Kyle, and I love him enough to keep him from washing fourteen glasses by hand when we already have fourteen plates and fourteen forks to take care of!

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I offered oyster crackers as a palate cleanser this time around, and they were a real hit. Someone enthusiastically commented “I only go wine tasting for the oyster crackers!” I have to say that I agree that these little crackers are one of the highlights of wine tasting in Virginia. Smile

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Our dining room was jam packed with chairs and people. I don’t know if I could have fit any more seats in there! Not only was the dining room full, but we also packed the refrigerator and a cooler full of a wide variety of craft beers. Here is the lineup: Potter’s Craft Cider, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art Debutante, Bell’s Oarsman Ale, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and The Duck Rabbit Brown Ale.

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Course 1 – Sarah (The Smart Kitchen), Liz (I Heart Vegetables) and Lindsay (Neat As You Please)

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Sarah, Liz and Lindsay put together an awesome appetizer of Apple Fennel Salad Skewers with Creamy Ginger Apple Honey Mustard Dressing (recipe). They paired this with Potter’s Craft Cider, and the complementary apple flavors were a great fresh start to the meal. Sarah won the prize for best pairing story, explaining why she wanted to use Potter’s cider (a cute guy in the tasting room had something to do with it) and how she came up with her dish (why not put salad on a stick?).

Course 2 – Adrienne (Hippie Itch) and Al

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I was super impressed by Adrienne’s made-from-scratch samosas (recipe from Skinny Bitch), that were totally vegan and bursting with flavor. Just like their pairing, the Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, these perfectly portioned appetizers packed a serious punch, but with enough restraint that they didn’t knock you completely over, so you could really enjoy the complex flavors inside. If I can muster the patience to make this dough from scratch, I would like to try making this one at home sometime.

Course 3 – Lauren and Kyle (Vegology)

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For the entrée course, I made Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes. We all joked that Adrienne and I must have been on the same wavelength with the Indian flavors! You can follow the link above to get the recipe and to read about how I came up with my pairing. Kyle and I tasted a lot of beers before we chose this one, and we ultimately decided to serve Debutante, a saison which is a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art, both from my hometown of Baltimore.

Because it was dark by the time we got to my course and I couldn’t get a great picture during the dinner, I can’t resist posting this glamour shot of the dish here:

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Course 4 – Paul and Leah

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Our friends Paul and Leah brought over a pairing that, no matter how fast you paddled or how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from. Beets! After having this tasty Golden and Crimson Beet Salad with Oranges, Fennel and Feta (recipe), we noticed that little traces of bright pink kept showing up in subsequent courses. Check out the next two photos on this post to see what I mean – we got the beet! The beer paired with this course was Bell’s Oarsman Ale. I always thought this beer tasted a little sour (in a good way) and after reading the Bell’s description, I realize there is a better way to describe the flavor – citrusy tartness – which paired very well with the citrusy beet salad. This was one of the few dishes that I went back for seconds on, so I know it will make another appearance in my kitchen soon.

Course 5 – Bob and Ashley

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Our friends Bob and Ashley hit a home run with their comfort food pairing, which included a creamy polenta cooked with beer and Asiago cheese, with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils to wash it down. I begged to keep the leftovers and Bob and Ashley were too nice to say no, so I was treated to a second serving of this delicious polenta the next day (okay, the next morning. no judge!) Bob is a skilled home brewer that taught Kyle a lot of what he knows about brewing beer. Bob and Kyle’s latest home brew creations came out a little bit later, which is always a fun add-on to the tasting dinner.

Course 6 – Shannon (Thirsty Richmond) and Evan

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Shannon, the Queen of the Beer Cakes, did it again with another fantastic beer baked dessert. Even though Shannon’s oven failed to turn on the day of the dinner, Shannon found a way to get us a creative dessert. If I had found myself in the same situation, I might have just given up and picked up a pack of cookies on the way over, but Shannon persisted. Spontaneously turning her vegan cupcake recipe (similar here) into a vegan brownie recipe, she fired up the toaster oven and pulled off a brownie bar that was so good that I didn’t even miss the cupcakes (and let me tell you, her cupcakes are out of this world). She used Duck Rabbit Brown Ale in the batter and as the pairing beer.

Not 100% confident that the brownies would turn out well, Shannon also picked up a pack of Oreos (vegan!) on the way over just in case. We cleaned our plates and made a dent in the Oreos. And then there were all those leftover “extra” beers that mysteriously disappeared, one by one, as the night went on. Go team beer dinner!

Thanks to all who participated. We had a blast and I’m already dreaming up plans for the next one this summer!

Running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C.

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It is hard to believe that after four months of training and fundraising, I have finally completed the Inaugural Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. Last Fall, when my Mom asked me and my sister to do the race, I was skeptical that I would cross the finish line in one piece, and I never expected to run across it. When I announced my participation last December and first asked for your support, I was pretty confident that I could at least walk the whole thing. I am very happy to announce today that I did finish the half marathon, and that I raised over $3500 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as the #3 fundraiser for the Maryland chapter of Team in Training for this event. Additionally, Team McDowney raised over $8,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and all three of us crossed the finish line on April 28th. THANK YOU to everyone who supported us on this journey.

Because I have heard that it is important to write down the race story to read again in the future, and because some of you have asked for the details, here is my recap of the 2013 Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C. I call it The Longest Story Ever Told. If you think this post is long, just be glad it wasn’t a full marathon – I know I am!

My Story

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Every runner in every race has a unique story that brought her there. On the morning of April 28th, Run Nike Women posted on their Facebook page, “On this day, 15,000 stories come together as one.”

For several of us running, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society played a part in our stories. There were 2300 Team in Training participants in this race, and together we raised $6 million to beat blood cancer. I have already shared with you my fundraising and training experience this season, including the small victories as well as the bumps in the road, and how I got introduced to Team in Training in the first place. What I haven’t shared with you yet is why running a half marathon was such an incredible personal victory. I ran in honor of seven and in memory of thirty-one people, I ran for all of my supporters and donors, I ran for all the patients and patient family and friends that have been affected by blood cancer, and I ran for me.

When I was a college sophomore, I came down with a bad case of mononucleosis that would not go away for months. After dozens of tests and a few rounds of several different medications and therapies, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I dropped my course load down to six credits, stopped working, and slept 12-16 hours a day. I could not climb two flights of stairs without having to sit down and take a break. A four hour shift standing on my feet at my part-time job was a trial. I left every dinner early, I missed almost every party, and shopping trips were a real struggle. I even fell asleep during my 20th birthday party! No matter what I tried, I could not get better for about two years.

Without going into all the details here (because that could take a few blog posts), I will summarize by saying that my life completely changed for ages 19-21. During that time, I thought I would never work a forty hour week or play another sport, and I locked all my old dreams up in a box and tried to replace them with smaller, achievable ones. I read about people with CFS getting better and I read about people getting worse. I did not know what to expect for the future and I took things one step at a time, learning to not push myself or I would pay for it.

For people who know me well, it is easy to see how this condition was devastatingly contrary to my nature. I’m a perfectionist and overachiever, who packs too much activity into too little time, and I am always chasing the next big achievement. In the words of Daft Punk, “harder, better, faster, stronger” is my mantra. In the words of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “if you’re not first, you’re last” sums up how I had felt about most things I had ever attempted. For that reason, I worked hard. And for the same reason, I had a tendency to shy away from things that I knew I couldn’t be great at. While I was sick, I made a promise to myself that if I ever got better, I would no longer shy away from challenges that were outside my comfort zone and I would accept new experiences, even if I thought I might fail, just because I could.

So, seven years later, training for and completing a half marathon is kind of a big deal. I still have to be careful with my activity level and I am very attuned to my body’s needs, resting when I need to, and only pushing it when I know I have the energy reserves. I work hard but I also work smart. I could relapse at any time and when those old symptoms creep in, I step back so that I will not have to battle fatigue again. I am working on keeping that one promise to myself, which is why I said yes to this experience and raised over $3500 for a great cause, even though I knew I would never be the best at it. I ran because I could, I ran to use my energy for the benefit of others, and I ran far!

Race Week

While much of Richmond prepared for the big NASCAR race, I prepared for my own race weekend by completely resting my injured right Achilles tendon to maximize my chances of finishing strong, trying to let work and life stress roll off my back to stay calm, and following my pre-race diet plan (semi-strictly) to fuel my body for the 13.1 miles on Sunday. I took off work on Friday to pack and prepare, and Kyle and I traveled to D.C. on Saturday morning. I was very excited to see my parents and some fellow Maryland teammates decked out in TNT gear in the hotel lobby when we arrived.

We traveled to the Georgetown waterfront to visit the Nike concept store and have some lunch before heading to packet pick-up. Lunch was at Le Pain Quotidien, and because this is a food blog, I have to show you what we ate.

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The mint lemonade that I ordered was delicious and refreshing. In the name of carb-loading, I dove headfirst into the most perfect slice of wheat bread before our food arrived. I ordered the avocado and chickpea tartine, Kyle had the spring pea hummus tartine, Dad had the smoked salmon and scallion omelette, and Mom had the roasted turkey and avocado tartine.

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After lunch, we walked over to Nike. Nike had put all of the runners’ names on the wall next to their concept store in Georgetown and we had fun finding our names in the mix. I thought this was a pretty cool idea and I was totally surprised by it when we approached the storefront.

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My sister Meghan met us for packet pickup and the Expotique, which was unlike any other race expo I have ever been to. Instead of having dozens of vendor tables and booths in a big conference center, this expo featured just the key sponsors, with really cool booths and activities for each one. Nuun had an electrolyte lounge with brightly colored electrolyte-rich concoctions, Luna Bar had a create-your-own cheer poster station, and Bare Minerals and Paul Mitchell were doing free makeovers right in the expo tent!

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We met up with hundreds of other TEAMmates at the TNT Inspiration Dinner on Saturday night and lined up for unlimited pasta and veggies. We entered the ballroom through a tunnel of costumed cheering TNT coaches and staff. They made a lot of noise and I felt like a celebrity! The dinner featured some great speakers including a few Olympians and an inspiring survivor and honored TEAMmate, Annalynn Surace, who has fought blood cancer herself two times and was running with us that weekend. Her incredible speech about her journey reminded us all why we were doing what we do, and inspired us to complete the final 13.1 miles of our Nike Women’s Half Marathon journey the next morning. At the dinner we learned that 2300 participants had raised $6 million for LLS during this event, and I learned that I was one of the top fundraisers for Maryland. After dinner, we made our final preparations and headed to bed early!

Race Day

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The alarm went off at 4:00 AM, and in true McDonald sister fashion, Meghan and I were moving quickly. . . 15 minutes later. Ha. By 5:00 AM we were dressed, checked out of the hotel, and eating breakfast in the lobby. I usually eat toast with peanut butter and a banana before long runs. I couldn’t find a banana on Saturday, so I settled for just the bagel and Justin’s maple almond butter that I brought with me. By 5:30 AM we were riding the Metro  with hundreds of other runners, and by 6:30 AM we were lining up in our start corral. Energy was high before the race started, as Nike led us through dynamic warmups that were a little difficult to complete, as 15,000 runners were packed like cattle into tight corrals. Then runners made last-minute adjustments and stretches as party music blared through the loudspeakers. The excitement was overwhelming and I had to start my own playlist early just to tune out and relax for a few minutes before the race.

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The announcer said a few words about the tragic events at the Boston marathon two weeks before, and tens of thousands of runners and spectators fell silent for a moment that gave me chills. After an hour of nonstop loud noise and bustling activity, suddenly all I could hear was a few birds singing on Pennsylvania Avenue and the quiet breath of everyone around me. I saw the sun rise over the Capitol building as the National Anthem started to stream through the speakers, and thousands of women around me quietly placed their hands on their hearts, wiped tears from their eyes, and gazed at the American flag above us. It was an indescribable feeling.

A few minutes later, we were off! A lot of runners passed me in the first few blocks, as I jogged at a comfortable pace with Meghan and Mom by my side. Mom planned to walk the race, so after about a quarter mile of running, she patted me and Meg on the back, air kissed us on the cheeks and said, “Go, girlies!”

The first 4 miles flew by. The course took us through a tunnel in the first or second mile with two bands playing underground with us. The drums echoed through the entire tunnel along with the thunderous sound of a thousand feet running through and loud cheering from participants. I was amazed at the volume and energy of that experience. Meghan and I high-fived at every mile marker, which was a lot of fun. She always saw the mile markers before me because I was so tuned into the playlist on my iPod and the scenery around me. There were a lot of TNT supporters along the course, and I saw some great motivational signs in the crowd.

We expected to see Kyle and my Dad between miles 4 and 5 but somehow missed them. That part of the course was packed with spectators on both sides, and we looked and never found them. Meg and I assumed they couldn’t get access to the cheering spot in time so we kept looking for them along the rest of the course. We saw our Team in Training coach, Jack Beach, between miles 5 and 6 and he ran with us for about 30 seconds and told us we were doing great. There were enthusiastic TNT coaches all over the course and they loudly cheered the names they saw on the front of our jerseys and asked us how we were doing. It was really cool how much support we had the whole way. We hit the 10K mark after an hour and 12 minutes and we realized aloud that we would definitely make it to the finish within the 4 hour time limit.

I started to deflate a little after mile 6 and had to walk and have a few Clif shot blocks at the water station, as I felt that my blood sugar was getting low. I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen Dad and Kyle yet because I was really looking forward to the lift. Plus we had planned to ditch some gear with them as my SPIbelt was a little too packed and Meg was still wearing the long sleeve shirt she had started in and wanted to strip down to the race tank around 8:00 AM. It was almost 8:30 at this point and warming up outside. After some carbs and water I was feeling better for the next mile or so. I accepted the fact that I might not see our cheering section until the finish line and it pushed me to get there sooner.

During mile 8, I spotted a bathroom stop that didn’t look too crowded and we were still making good time (12:40 pace compared to my training pace of 13:00-14:00 miles), so I decided to stop and take advantage. All of the bathroom stops before that one had a line of at least 25 runners and this one only had about 10. Unfortunately, the line moved very slowly, and this stop cost us 10-11 minutes, which was really disappointing because when we rejoined the course we were surrounded by people at a much slower pace. We had to do a lot of weaving for the next mile. Meghan said that all the walkers around her made her feel like she was going to start walking too, and I felt the same.

We high-fived at the end of mile 8, and Meghan wanted to take off to catch a faster group. We sped up for a bit but after about a half mile, I could tell she had a lot more energy than me and I needed to slow down. My breathing had not been much of a problem during training, with my muscle fatigue catching up to me faster than my well controlled exercise-induced asthma every time, but at this point I was starting to really feel it in my lungs and my legs. I told Meg to go ahead, she asked me if I was sure, and I told her again to go do great. I was really proud that she was doing so well, and really uncomfortable with my own body despite stretching at several points along the course. I needed to regroup and take it slow.

I started to hyperventilate, so I dialed down to a walk and took a puff of my inhaler. When my breathing was under control, I consumed some carbs and stopped to stretch and enjoy the scenery. I repeated my two mantras, “Slow and Steady” and “Enjoy the Moment” and I realized I had made it almost 9 miles in two hours. I was doing well. Not as well as I had started, but overall I was on pace based on my training, so I accepted that and tried to remain positive. I took in the scenery, which had been amazing the whole way. We had passed six memorials and monuments, Arlington Cemetery and the Kennedy Center, and had been within sight of the Potomac River almost the entire way. I focused on enjoying the moment, and that carried me through the next two miles, through a lot of pain in both knees, my right foot, and both hip flexors.

I almost cried when I saw the marker for the end of mile 11 and realized I had run the farthest I ever had. My pace had tanked and I was doing a combination of jogging and walking at this point. Every inspirational sign along the way nearly brought me to tears, along with the slow songs that randomly started playing on my iPod as I had run out of playlist and was just shuffling a Chemical Brothers album at that point. I walked almost all of mile 12 because I was in pain, I was getting emotional, and I wanted to save some energy to finish strong. Things got weird in this mile as the course widened, more people around me started getting sick and injured, and I saw strange (de-)motivational posters from spectators, like “I didn’t get up this early to watch you WALK!” My mantras weren’t working anymore and I realize now that I just wasn’t mentally prepared for those last two miles.

I hit the end of mile 12, downed one last Clif shot block, and hung unto a new mantra that I had seen at the Luna Bar area at the expo the day before: “Mind Over Muscle.” I started jogging again and right as I saw the finish line in sight, my left Achilles tendon (not the problem one) started hurting and my left big toe and foot arch started to cramp up. I immediately thought, I knew I should have tried harder to find a banana this morning, because I always have a banana along with my toast and peanut butter before running, but I couldn’t find a single banana in D.C. the day before the race so I went without. When my toe would not stop spasming, I stopped in the middle of the course and started to stretch my calf as a random TNT coach ran over to me and asked if I was OK. I told him what happened and he said, “you’re almost there, be careful, and don’t worry about this last part of the race, just take it easy and walk, you’re doing great.” I nodded my head and said thanks, and he added, “make sure you rest the rest of the day, these injuries can take a long time to heal.” Great!

I really appreciated the support when I was mentally over this race. I told him I was okay to jog, and thought, screw it, I’m so close, I can finish easy and strong. Mind Over Muscle. I jogged the last half mile, and there were so many spectators cheering my name (from the front of my TNT jersey) that it was impossible to find the three faces I was looking for: Kyle, Dad, and Meghan. I fought back tears as I crossed the finish line and walked down the red carpet to get my finisher prizes. My knees were killing me. Runner’s high, my ass! I just wanted to get out of there and stretch! I gulped a bottle of water, and accepted my finisher “medal” – an exclusive silver necklace in a little blue Tiffany & Co box (my first), handed to me off a silver platter by a cute boy in a tuxedo. Yup, this was a women’s race.

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The Finish

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I collected free snacks and my finisher shirt and headed out of the finisher area. When I had gotten out of the crowd and to a quiet spot, I started to eat a banana, texted my Dad, and started to stretch. Five minutes later, Kyle came out of nowhere and hugged me tight. Meg and Dad followed and I was so happy to see their faces! Apparently Dad and Kyle were on the bridge after mile 4, long before anyone in the race made it there, but we never saw them and they never saw us. Somehow the crew also missed me crossing the crowded finish line, even though we were all there at the same time, so I have no photos of that. You’ll have to trust my word and my timing chip for proof that I completed this race! After Meghan and I compared notes and stretched together, Mom rejoined the group and the men went on a coffee run for us. I have never been so happy to see an iced coffee in my life.

Women seeking men with coffee, ice packs, and compression sleeves.

Women seeking men with coffee, ice packs, and compression sleeves.

Immediately after the race, someone asked me if I would ever do a half marathon again. My legs and in turn my voice screamed “I don’t think so!” but after some reflection, I’m considering it. I think that if I were able to train properly, without any injuries along the way, and if my work schedule normalized so that it would not interfere with exercise time, then I think I would do it. I had a great race this time around, and I think I would  have an even better one the next time, now that I have the experience, and the knowledge that comes along with it, to say that I am a half-marathoner!

Thanks again to all who supported me through generous donations, encouraging messages, and motivational tweets, facebook posts, and instagram comments. Thank you also to the Richmond, VA and Harford County, MD Team in Training coaches and teams for the support during my tale-of-two-cities training experience. If you are interested in getting involved with Team in Training, I absolutely encourage you to do so, and you can find a local chapter here.For Richmonders, there is a Fall season info meeting this Tuesday, April 30th at 5:30 PM at the REI in Short Pump.

What’s next for Team McDowney? Supporting Nick (Dad) in his Seagull Century this Fall – more details to follow. What’s next for me? Rest and relaxation! Recipe development! And after a couple weeks of rest, trail running! Then, who knows?

Veganville Run Is Done!

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Last week I surpassed the $2500 mark for my fundraising for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon with Team in Training. Because we met the goal before April 12th, I had to make good on my promise to run the Monument Avenue 10K dressed as a block of tofu. Thanks to everyone who donated and spread the word, I heard cheers of “go tofu!” and “run tofu, run!” all along the 6.2 mile course on Saturday morning. Here are the photos!

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It was a beautiful day for a race, and definitely the warmest weather I have run in while training for the half marathon. I had the pleasure of hosting (and doing completely unnecessary carbo-loading with) my friend Sarah from The Smart Kitchen over the weekend, as she completed her very first race!

I stuck with my friend Jess for the whole race, which was also her first. One of the most exciting moments of the day was watching the winner of the race come into the final stretch, as we were making our way to the start. That’s right, several people completed the race before we even began. We were in a jogger wave that started one hour after the first wave, and as we were making our way over the the start line area, we just happened to be on Franklin Street, in the last few blocks of the course, at the precise moment that the number one and two runners came flying through. I have never seen someone winning a race in person, so it was pretty exciting! I can’t imagine what it feels like to come in first place in a road race (and will likely never know).

The race course itself was pretty entertaining, with live bands, enthusiastic cheering groups, and a lot of costumed runners. It was a terrible training run because of the erratic pacing due to overcrowding on the course, so I just seized the opportunity to work the costume and have fun with it. I felt more like I was just hanging out with friends than I was exercising. We even stopped twice to socialize with friends and family in the median on Monument Ave, adding at least 10-15 minutes to our official time, because we really were not going for speed (as usual). The goal was to have fun and I think we accomplished that.

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Unfortunately I have been having some swelling and pain around my right Achilles tendon over the last two weeks, and it flared up near the end of the race. I think this stems from a series of hard workouts during which I pushed myself harder than I probably should have, and the sudden addition of hills to my routine a few weeks ago. I dialed my running activity way down over the last week in an effort to heal what is acting quite a bit like a tendon injury. Of course this caused me to spend more hours in the office, and consequently have a major meltdown while making dinner one night this week, due to the absence of a good outlet for my overwhelming work stress. Not my finest moment. Oh, my poor husband.

After ice, anti-inflammatories, and rest for several days, I felt great at the start line of the 10K. However, around mile 4, I felt the now familiar tendon soreness that indicated I was still not fully recovered. Based on the swelling and pain I have experienced in the 24 hours since the race, I think it is safe to say that I am off it for at least another week. I want to heal as much as possible before the big race in two weeks, so I can have an enjoyable experience for my first half marathon. If that means my “taper” is more like a hard stop, then so be it. I want to be rested, recovered, and ready to run with TNT on April 28th!

There is still time to donate to LLS, so if you missed the opportunity to give before last weekend, please visit my Team in Training page to make a donation in any amount. If you are in Richmond area, please join me at Legend Brewing Company this Thursday for happy hour. Legend will donate $1 for every beer purchased between 4:30 and 7:00 PM on April 18th. Hope to see you there!

Bring it on Down to Veganville

Have you seen the Veganville sketch yet? If you don’t know what I’m referring to, please open another browser window and Google “Veganville Saturday Night Live,” or just follow this link.

Okay, are we all on the same page now? Great!

The reason that the Veganville sketch is important (besides the fact that if the Suit and Tie performance wasn’t enough, this sketch on the March 9th episode of SNL reminded us all why we fell in love with Justin Timberlake in the first place), is that I will be studying JT’s smooth moves and profound lyrics for the next four weeks. In an effort to boost my Team in Training fundraising, I have pledged to run the Monument Avenue 10K dressed as a block of tofu, a la Justin Timberlake in the Veganville sketch, IF I meet my goal of $2,500 by April 12th.

If you want to see photos of me dressed up as a block of tofu at a race with over 40,000 participants, go donate a few dollars now.

If you want to see video of me performing one of the Veganville songs at the finish line, please go donate a few more.

Check out my full pledge at VeganvilleRun.com.

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If I raise. . .

$2,500 – I will wear the block of tofu costume on April 13th at the Monument Avenue 10K

$3,500 – I will perform one of JT’s songs from the SNL sketch at the finish line of the Monument Avenue 10K

$5,000 – I will officially “bring it on down to Veganville” and go vegan for 28 days

The deadline for donations is April 12, 2013. Donate today!