Sunday, April 22, 2012

Western States... Here I Come!

Something about clicking "purchase ticket" really gets the blood pumping!  I have been impatiently waiting, watching and scheming to get our tickets for Western States and it all came together on Thursday.  After applying every mile, point and discount under the sun... it is done!

Ironically, less than 10 minutes after booking the tickets, I stepped out of the shower to take a phone call from my husband and FULLY wiped out on the bathroom floor.  I laid there for a second staring at the ceiling and mentally scanning all body parts for breakage.  I'm the proud owner of a purply-green shin bone and a goose egg in my right glute but other than that, I am unscathed.  The irony of potentially breaking a leg within 10 minutes of ticket purchase was not lost on me.  Lucky girl... no more shower phone calls!

For anyone who's wondering why I'm so excited or if you identify the words Western States with Oregon, California and Washington - here's a bit of history for ya...

The Western States 100 is one of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile trail race in America.  A couple of thousand people apply through a lottery process and about 400 runners are accepted each year.  It begins in Squaw Valley, California and ends 100 tough miles later at a high school track in Auburn, California.  The runners will climb 18,000 feet and descend 21,000 feet over the course of the race.  Runners who finish in under 24 hours receive a silver belt buckle, 30 hours gets a bronze buckle, over 30 hours and you get nada.

Obviously, this is not about a belt buckle.  This is about moving the human body via mental will past any sense of reason.

Runners start the race alone at 5:00 a.m. to tackle the Sierra Nevada mountain range and then at mile 62, they're able to have a "pacer" join them to run through the night hours.  That's me... the pacer.  My friend and quasi-inlaw Wayne Miles asked me to join him for miles 62 through 80.  After I stopped laughing incredulously and spent an afternoon panicking on the phone with my running junkie girlfriends,  I saw this for what it was - a gift.  I promptly and happily accepted.  Apparently, this is how ultra runners give back and grow the sport - slap a headlamp on a newbie and send them into the dark wilderness of California?!

Last year a documentary film was made about WS.  This trailer will give you a little taste of why I break out in a sweat when I think about waiting at mile 62 for Wayne!  Just breathe Lauren...

Wayne is an inspiration to me for many reasons - not the least of which is that he's a legendary ultra-runner, terminal cancer survivor and at age 63 is running 50 miles Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim of the Grand Canyon this weekend as a "training run". Yeah, soak it in...

In preparation, I've read about 100 blog posts written by Western States pacers.  Some had runners that were in such good shape at mile 62 that they couldn't keep up with them and were left behind like pacer roadkill. Others had to scrape their runners off the trail as they sobbed and puked and begged to quit - but pacers don't let you quit.  Some are ultra-runners who have their own 100 miler on the horizon and use pacing WS as a training run. Some are the spouses and siblings of runners.  Some sign up on-line to pace international competitors that they've never met and who don't speak English.  So many stories, each one unique.

The distance and darkness are no problem.  I don't run a lot of trails here but anyone who has run on the roads of Barbados knows that I'm navigating potholes, uneven pavement, speeding taxi vans, loose dogs and soaring temperatures 365 days of the year.  The thought of a cool, quiet trail at night sounds like heaven!  (you can remind me later that I typed that 'heaven' part)

My specific plan for WS is to be whatever the heck Wayne needs me to be: whip-cracker, caretaker, chatty-cathy, church mouse, cleaner of blisters, head cheerleader, photographer, queen of the aid station - whatever

I'm on a journey that truly scares and excites me - that's how I know it's right!  I can't wait to post my own "Pacing Western States" story and I hope you'll read along...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Baby Shower Brunch

Owl Table Decor - stinkin' cute!
Get a passionate vegetarian on your planning committee for anything and I guarantee that the animal products will begin to magically fade from the menu!  You won't even notice that they're disappearing but when you take a look at your plate at the event... no meat!  Voila!

I had the awesome opportunity to co-host a baby shower this past weekend and lo' and behold... meatless brunch!  My dear friend Poonam even pulled a switcheroo and produced a delicious meatless gravy to spoon all over her homemade biscuits.  WHAT?!  I haven't had biscuits & gravy for years - yum.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to Vegan-ize but it's not for lack of heart - just a lack of products!  We included cage free local eggs and milk in the gravy.  I'm going to try to make the gravy recipe with almond milk this week.  I'll let you know how it goes!
Poonam & Michelle (mommy!)

On the menu:

Poonam's Biscuits & Gravy (Recipe coming...)

Sausage & Broccoli bake

We also had a large fruit plate on hand...

The little baby girl that's about to pop into the world will be named Olivia and the mommy-to-be has chosen a owl theme for the nursery.  Accordingly, our cocktail for the brunch was called an 'Owlivia' and came complete with orange slices for Owl Eyes.  (Just a little Prosecco and OJ!)    

Owlivia's waiting to be filled...

Me and Michelle - love that belly :)

Pear & Ginger French Toast

Big disclaimer here...  Poonam made this recipe the week before the shower and it came out great except it would've taken a zillion Pyrex dishes to make the quantities we needed and it has some 'timing' issues.  On the day of the shower, P made french toast separately and made a pear/ginger sauce to go on top.  We both agreed that the original recipe* was better so that is what I'll share here...

  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 large ripe pears, cored and sliced
  • 2 cage free eggs
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 4 slices bread
  • 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

  • Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish

  • Stir 3 tablespoons honey, the lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger together in a small bowl; spread evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange the sliced pears in 2 rows into the bottom of the baking dish.

  • Beat the eggs, 1 tablespoon agave nectar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 ginger together in a shallow dish; soak each piece of bread in the egg mixture and arrange atop the pears.

  • Bake in the preheated oven until the bread is set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

  • Cut the bread into squares. Use a thin, flat spatula to lift each portion out of the pan and flip so the pear side faces up. Sprinkle with almonds and drizzle with any syrup left in the baking dish.

We also found that while this tastes fantastic, the presentation wasn't all that great.  This could be the cooks but... probably not  :)

  • *Taken & adapted from

Sausage & Broccoli Bake

I can't believe I didn't take a picture of this dish... just goes to show how busy the morning was!  Trust me... it looks like quiche :)


2 large stalks of broccoli - cut into small florets
1 small yellow onion, small dice
1 clove of minced garlic
6 Morningstar Farms breakfast sausage patties
6 Cage Free eggs
1 cup biscuit mix
1 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
3/4 cup veggie parmesan
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
Cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 375.

Saute the broccoli, onion and garlic in a covered pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I used a shake of Nature's Seasoning Salt for a little umph here.  Cook only until the onions soften a bit and the broccoli turns bright green.

In a LARGE mixing bowl, beat the eggs a bit and then add the almond milk, biscuit mix, veggie parm and nutritional yeast.  It will be a little lumpy - that's good.

Next, add the sautéed broccoli, onion and garlic to the mixing bowl along with the crumbled sausage patties.  It took approximately 1:30 in the microwave for the frozen patties to succumb to crumbling. DO NOT over cook in the micro.

This amount of quiche-like batter fit perfectly in my 13x9 inch casserole dish.  I rocked some cracked black pepper and kosher salt across the top before baking.  The bake will take anywhere between 40-50 minutes in the oven.  Parts will rise, parts will fall - just keep an eye out a light browning on top and a firm center.

Remove from the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes before serving.  Also delicious completely cooled and I'm still enjoying it straight out of the fridge today! This dish is NOT getting me any closer to that one abdominal muscle but I'm okay with it!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mexican Brunch Puffs

I got a nice note from my brother yesterday, reminding me that living on a beautiful island with a shaky supply chain is what spurs my creativity. Implying that I may get "soft" when all of the choices of America are eventually laid out before me. That message couldn't have been more timely as I navigated the grocery store this morning!

Barbados shuts down for Easter. The grocery stores are closed on Good Friday then open limited hours Saturday (this leads to total mayhem so I just act as if it doesn't open at all) and then closed on Sunday and Monday. I knew my options would be thin after the shut down but the recipe for Beefless Empanadas had to be made today (I promised!) so I held my breath and plunged into the wonders of Big "B".

Empandada is a strong word. Proper Empanadas are made by skilled humans in accordance with their cultural cuisine. I did not make Empanadas. All things considered, I made delicious little "Mexican Brunch Puffs". Behold the creation that was born from a bad day at the grocery store:

Ingredients for 12 puffs:
8 oz. Loma Linda Vege-Burger (there were no Morningstar Starters)
1 pkg Jus Rol 'Vol-Au-Vent' (18 per package)
2 small yellow onions - diced fine (would've killed for 1 big sweet vidalia but alas...)
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 roasted red pepper
 1/2 can drained Rotel - Lime & Cilantro
1/2 jar Bajan "Not Hot Chile Sauce"
1/4 cup of vegan shredded cheese (we only have vegetarian)
1 free range egg - beaten

First, the original recipe called for puff pastry but the only thing at the store was Vol-Au-Vent, little pop-up pastry cups. They rise into fluffy little cups all on their own. Genius! The traditional Empanada flew out the door with this purchase.

Second, the "Not Hot" is a specialty item unless you're in Barbados. A great substitute would be a mild hot sauce mixed with a can of diced green chiles (an item we rarely have here). OR Goya Sofrito in your grocery store.

On to the recipe:

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and move the top rack just north of center. Spread the cute little Vol-Au-Vent disks on a non-stick baking sheet and moisten all edges with beaten egg. Wait for the pre-heat and then pop them in the oven for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.

Saute the onions, garlic and roasted red pepper in a tablespoon of olive oil or non-stick canola spray Add the Vege-Burger, Rotel and a good chug of the Not Hot or substitute. Simmer all down for about 10 minutes.

When the little pastry puffs are cooled, carefully poke the center circle out of the top. I pushed the little top down into the cup because who doesn't love more pastry? Carefully fill the pastry bowls with the filling and add an extra teaspoon on top.

Shred a little vegan/vegetarian cheese on top and then pop back in the hot oven for about 1 minute until the cheese begins to melt. Top with a little more Not Hot or salsa of your choice and serve em' up!

I just ate four and couldn't be happier!

Monday, April 9, 2012

20 Running Songs

A little more inspiration for ya...
My friend Linda asked me for my top 20 running songs to give to a friend of hers who just started running - a newbie looking for a little inspiration!  I love it!

At first glance I thought 'No Problem!'.  I can rock 20 songs in 20 seconds.  But now the pressure is mounting because I realize how subjective music can be.   Opening up your running playlist is quite revealing - I feel a little naked.

I Googled "Running Playlists" recently and was shocked to see a disturbing amount AC/DC, Metallica and Van Halen.  Weird.  It's the music of my high school years so could perhaps be nostalgic but I mainly just want to turn it down. Besides - when nostalgia strikes, it usually comes in the form of New Order.

Naked or not... like it or not... here are my current top 20 running songs:

1.  Shake It Out - Florence + The Machine (favorite of the moment)
2.  Everlong - Foo Fighters  (ANY version of this song will do)
3.  Radioactive (Remix) - Kings of Leon
4.  Tongue Tied - Grouplove (Fun!)
5.  Naive - The Kooks
6.  Just Say Yes - Snow Patrol
7.  Wandering Star - Polica  (Perfect warm up song)
8.  Take Care - Drake & Rihanna (Barbados makes you love Rihanna like it or not)
9.  Wide Eyes - Local Natives
10. Hold On - Alabama Shakes (toward the end of your long run)
11. She's Long Gone - The Black Keys
12.  If you Run (Live) - The Boxer Rebellion
13.  Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall - Coldplay
14.  Balance - Future Islands
15.  Thunder - Matisyahu  (lyrics perfect for early morning runners!)
16.  16 Years- Phantogram (another good warm up for early morning)
17.  We Will All Be Changed - Seryn (imagine running the Scottish highlands)
18.  Last Summer - Pete Yorn
19.  Just Breathe -  Pearl Jam (for slow rolling hills on a beautiful morning)
20.  Dog Days Are Over - Florence + The Machine (Too late! Every runner already has it)

There she is - a snapshot of my current running playlist.

There are many songs that have been banished from the list for the crime of being overplayed - but it's not their fault.  I had a marathon to train for and some songs just had to pay the price!  RIP old songs... perhaps I'll see you in rotation again some day...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Shining at Parties!

One of the greatest opportunities I have to share my vision of how the world should work occurs when I accept an invitation to bring a dish to a party!  Yipee! Here is my chance to whip up a delicious vegetarian dish that goes beyond the ever-present and dreadfully boring VP.  (Vegetable Platter*).

It's my chance to provide something filling, something beautiful and something that surprises the omnivore... "THIS is vegetarian?!", "YUM!  I need this recipe!",  "My kids would totally eat this!"

...tinkling music to my ears...

Some of my biggest hits have been Thai Curry Tofu surrounded by roasted broccoli, garlic and chickpeas;  a bulgar wheat salad with broccoli, fresh tomatoes, basil, toasted sunflower seeds and Greek dressing; and the Vegan Lemon Bars I gleaned from The Joy of Vegan Baking.

Oh, and lest I forget... the great Lasagna Challenge I embarked on with my brother in April.  We had a full blown cook-off in my Grandmother's retirement home - complete with little 'voting' ribbons made by the retirees for first and second place.  My little bro beat me by ONE stinkin' ribbon but I have to believe I changed some hearts and minds by coming so close to victory!  Also worthy of a mention:  Retirement homes in the wilds of remote British Columbia are not my normal target audience.  I digress.

Little Bro hard at work on top of the community pool table.  Deluxe!
Our creations exiting the oven side-by-side.  In sibling harmony. 

A much blonder version of myself during the lasagna presentation ceremony.
Please remind me not to do that to my hair EVER again.  Thanks.

I am being afforded such an opportunity next weekend as I co-host a baby shower with three other women.  Yes, it takes FOUR women who have never had children to host a shower for ONE who is about to!  My chance to shine is even greater as two of the four hosts aren't big into cooking - I'm pulling double duty and it had better be delicious.

To that end, I am testing the "shower" recipes this week and will share them with you judiciously - good or bad.  Keep in mind that I work off the recipes of talented vegetarian chefs and simply report back.  I am no Issa Moskowitz - because there can only be one...

Another hostess is making biscuits and gravy (of the animal variety) so I have my work cut out for me!

Tuesday:  Beefless Brunch Empanadas (IF they have pastry at the grocery)
Wednesday:  Greek Veggie Quiche (IF there are fresh tomatoes)
Thursday: Brunch Bake with "Sausage" and Hash Browns
Friday:  Ginger Pear French Toast (IF the pears aren't rotten)

It's all a crapshoot when you're cooking on a faraway island in the Caribbean. There's no guarantee that what is available on Tuesday will be available by Wednesday afternoon.  I am responsible for two dishes so I've learned to cook four in anticipation of a product availability meltdown.

And yes, floating around in the gorgeous 85 degree waters of Barbados more than makes up for these issues!

Stores don't reopen from the Easter break for another 36 hours.  And so I wait...

*Fair warning:  When you request a vegetarian meal at a wedding or other formal event, the VP suddenly morphs into the GrilledVP.  Is there not a creative chef in all of wedding catering?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

Along with everything else in life - being vegetarian or vegan is never perfect. You might glimpse perfection for a week or two but eventually a dish cooked with chicken broth slips by the vegetarian, or a slice of birthday cake made with egg and butter finds it's way into a celebrating vegan. Add a leather trimmed "N" on your New Balance running shoes and you might as well just throw in the towel and order a steak! Kidding.

Here's a portion of a comment by my dear friend Angie who is (among other wonderful things!) an Ironman:

When you don't eat meat or any animal products and people know this, it's as though you are being watched and if you decide you want fish or ice cream...yes, I am close friends with Ben and Jerry, a huge feeling of guilt would consume me. I am learning to get over it. Ninety percent of my diet is raw veggies and I (we) work so hard to eat healthy and KIND...should I beat myself up if I want a little yummy? Some will say, "but you run so much, you can afford to eat that"...but that isn't even what it's about.

She echoes the same feelings I have had many times. Foregoing eating animals should not be a life full of guilty feelings or constant stress. It is a joyful life that helps to set your heart at ease and place it in line with your mind. Step by step, meal by meal, choice by choice - it's a life spent moving toward your best.

It's a good life but it's a fight - no doubt. Most days I am David staring up at the big ol' Goliath of the food industry. It's a battle against focus groups and scientists who are devising 1000 ways to make you fall in love with their genetically modified, fortified, hydrolyzed, hydrogenated and sugar infused foods.

Is it always easy? No.
Am I perfect? No.
Will I ever be perfect?  That's an absolute NO.

Instead, I am perfectly imperfect. I eat free range organic eggs every other morning which knocks me out of the Vegan running.   I have seen the chickens on this farm and I feel comfortable enough to eat the eggs.  It does NOT mean that I forgot that male chicks are culled (electrocuted, gassed or drowned).  I know I will give these up too but for now, I am consciously making an imperfect choice.

I don't eat any mammals or fowl but about once every month I might eat fresh fish from the sea down the hill from my house.  I don't eat any dairy products - which I consider an accomplishment of epic proportion. Cheese? I loved cheese! But there IS life after cheese and opening my mind to the reality of dairy has made it easy to wave bye-bye!  Giving up something I thought I LOVED (cheese!) means more to me that eating a bit of fresh fish if I get stuck.  None of this is perfect - it's all about compromise.

Admitting it will never be perfect is the best first step you can take. Just pick something...anything. Cows or pigs, chickens, milk, cheese - and make a commitment to let that animal be. Better yet, sponsor that type of farm animal at a rescue site like Farm Sanctuary or The Gentle Barn.  If you love pigs but want to keep eating chickens, you can still help pigs and feel good about it. Everything you do matters.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It can just be something. It doesn't make you a hypocrite and you have no one to answer to.

If I'm completely honest, this blog has helped to keep me accountable during the rough patches. Some days it would just be easier to head out for dinner with my husband and not have to wonder what they'll have on the menu.  Accepting a dinner invitation to a new friend's house wouldn't require a phone call to let them know I'm vegetarian.   But as with almost everything, easier does not equate to better.

No English necessary - they communicate just beautifully!
If you're on the fence, don't hesitate to jump because you're afraid to be imperfect.  Just get used to being imperfect and move onward and upward.  If the animals could speak English, they would thank you for any effort - I just know it!