Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cheese Louise!!!

     When looking for plant-based options whether dining out or shopping for prepared foods, what is the deal with cheese on just about um, let's see...EVERYTHING??? I get it...we have been brainwashed to believe that cheese is delicious and we can't live without it!  After all, it's rich, creamy, salty, hearty, substantial, flavorful, gooey, meltable, versatile and the list goes on and on.  We have, in essence, created a society of serious cheese dependency!!!   But, as we all know, it's also high in fat and cholesterol not to mention it is derived from an animal!!! Overwhelming cheese consumption definitely contributes to the increase in obesity and heart disease, among other diseases within our population. I totally understand that the struggle to give it up altogether is real when transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle. For me personally, it wasn't that difficult to give it up in my quest to be healthy and cruelty free.  Once I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan, I noticed that food began to taste better!! Much to my chagrin, after many years of being a mainstream vegan, I just can't seem to get away from random cheese that seems to be thrown into otherwise perfectly balanced plant-based meals at just about every freaking food joint for no good reason at all!!!  Chefs, cooks and food preparers continually fall short.  They can't seem to help themselves when it comes to creating and serving healthy, nutritionally complete meals sans animal products.  It's as if they feel like something is missing..."oh yeah, let's throw some cheese on it..yeah!  Now we're talking!!" They recognize the call to include healthier, veg-friendly options but their brains won't allow them so accept something unfamiliar or foreign.  Somehow they are not convinced that there is enough protein or that something is still missing. Cheese seems to bring it all home for those who don't really get it.  " THAT makes sense."
     The common misconception, as we all know by now, is that vegans don't get enough protein (where do you get your protein from- ugh!!!) So I suppose to non-vegans, the answer would be cheese so why not throw it on anything and everything whether it's healthy or junky.  The biggest problem for me besides the obvious one is that rather than enhancing dishes, cheese takes away from the subtle nuances that plant-based ingredients have to offer.  It's like taking fresh, innovative ingredients from nature and completely adulterating them.   This cheese culture, if you will, seems to be getting stronger and we must band together from near and far to convince chefs from around the world that cheese is not needed on plant foods!!!  In all fairness, I must say that I have encountered quite a few places both locally and during travel where chefs have been enlightened and do go that extra mile to accommodate vegan patrons far beyond a basic salad or quinoa bowl.  Some even take the time to make substantial house-made vegan burgers but "shocker" they might slap a slice of real cheese on it or even worse...throw it on a non-vegan bun!

     One trendy appetizer which falls victim to cheese invasion is avocado toast.  From local coffee shops and bistros to chain restaurants, it seems they all have their own version of these delightful little morsels and if we're lucky, they consist of a slice of toasted French baguette with lightly mashed ripe avocado, basil or arugula, heirloom tomatoes and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic glaze.  But, don't be surprised if some random cheese is thrown on like feta or parmesan which only takes away from the sweet and creamy avocado.  Kinda makes you think...what are they trying to hide?  Most food servers are happy to leave the cheese off.  This one local coffee shop owner who serves this item with mozzarella cheese on top recently told me that many customers ask him to leave the cheese off.  When I asked him why he uses it in the first place, he couldn't even give me a reasonable explanation.  That's because there is none!!!

     By now we are all aware of quinoa its many benefits so it's no wonder we are starting to see quinoa bowls pop up on menus with lots of veggie toppings, guessed it... CHEESE!!!  Ugh!!  At least it's not chicken (although there are plenty of those around)!!! How silly, when you think about it, when food preps create a beautiful bowl with bountiful veggies, fruit, nuts and legumes only to be corrupted by a pedestrian mainstream ingredient (this time it's from a goat) which adds zero nutritional value to an otherwise complete protein meal (quinoa alone contains all 9 amino acids). I give Wawa a lot of credit for preparing many different salads and bowls to go but unfortunately, the one I want has one ingredient too much.  Same goes for the red quinoa bowl from Yard House with feta thrown in the mix.  Oh the humanity!!!

     Being vegan doesn't always mean always eating healthy.  Sure, we are more evolved than most but we are still human and can enjoy a little splurge from time to time, especially if we are athletic or very active.  By default, many junk foods just happen to be vegan like French fries and tater tots, that is, if they are cooked in a dedicated vegetable oil fryer.  Truffle fries/tots are all the rage these days but wouldn't you know, they are typically topped with parmesan cheese shreds which personally, I think add absolutely nothing to the spuds!!!  If you start with good ingredients like fresh potatoes topped with quality truffle oil, there's no need for cheese!!!  Perhaps a sprinkle of chopped parsley and maybe a little roasted minced garlic is really all you need.  I get it...truffle fries are a departure from the old cheese fries with processed Velveeta sauce but it sure would be nice to exclude cheese altogether!  If one must have a dusting or sprinkling of a cheese-like substance to feel complete then luckily, Follow Your Heart makes vegan parmesan style shreds.  For the love of fries around the world, let's all see if we can school the chefs to look into keeping this viable product on hand.  I doubt anyone would know the difference!

     As I wrap this baby up, I don't want readers to think that I'm bitter or hostile in any way.  I believe my non-vegan counterparts (just about everyone in my life btw) and I can coexist peacefully. I suppose I'm simply frustrated that just when I think we have made some serious progress in our quest for society to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle, I feel that meat-eaters are here to stay.  Fine... let them have their meat!  But for goodness sake, just don't taint our glorious plant foods with animal products.  In all fairness, many chefs have indeed come a long way in discovering new ways to prepare vegan dishes to appeal not just to vegans.  However, they seem to hesitate in allowing themselves to coax the naturally occurring subtle nuances found in those treasured gems courtesy mother nature. As a group, we need to continue our work within the mainstream restaurant setting to ensure we have plenty of vegan options wherever we choose to dine. I dream of the day when I can simply glance at a menu filled with healthy choices without having to always scream on the inside...CHEESE LOUISE!!!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Is it Me or is it Just Meat???

     If you are a mainstream vegan like me, then I'm sure you have faced similar situations where you are dining out with family/friends at a typical restaurant with some vegan options and you have everyone ordering a VERY meaty dish because they really want it or are they doing it just to spite you???  You might say I'm being a bit paranoid but I swear that sometimes the folks around me are deliberately ordering the meatiest dish they can find just to get a reaction from me.  Mind you, I'm not one of those outspoken, bordering on obnoxious vegans always preaching or lecturing everyone about the health risks involving red meat.  I almost NEVER extoll the virtues of a plant-based diet or remind everyone of the recent report from the World Health Organization linking red meat to cancer.  In fact, I consider myself the easiest going vegan I know!!!  I usually just go with the flow, not asking for much, happy to be in good company, hoping to find a healthy, hearty plant-based option and a nice IPA on draft or a cool and refreshing lo cal cocktail to wash it down with.  I try to stay low key and not make a big deal about the menu options (or lack thereof) or brag about the meal I choose to order.  Even when they get my order wrong, which is almost always, I try not to make it an issue!  I even go so far as to inconspicuously tell my food server that I am lactose intolerant or have specific food allergies instead of declaring myself VEGAN!  SO... why is it that those around me feel the need to turn a fun, casual get-together into a meat-centric lesson.  With so many healthier alternatives that aren't vegan/vegetarian, like fish, shellfish or even chicken breast, I have noticed that my dining companions are so obvious and go right in for the kill by choosing dishes like a huge rack of ribs or lamb, steak salad (OMG, the irony) or a gigantic rib eye!  

     Two of my three kids thoroughly enjoy red meat but I know that they do not intentionally try to get a rise out of me when we go out to eat.  It's not their fault that they have been brainwashed by the industry's false advertising as well as their crafty, manipulative way of convincing everyone that animal flesh is delicious. My kids also feel very comfortable being themselves around me without worrying about me judging them.  I do hope one day my healthy choices will rub off on them but my choice to go vegan was my own and imposing my views on them would only backfire, I'm sure. 
     When it comes to my domestic partner's adult children, however, who we visit with from time to time, I get the feeling that their intentions are different but again, I may just be imagining it.  When I observe the abundantly meaty options they choose, at every meal, no less, I cannot help but feel they are doing it to make me squirm. On top of that, the subject always turns to meat with a reference to an old family animal flesh recipe guaranteed to be thrown into the mix.  They are just waiting for my head to explode.  When I address this with my partner, he insists that the only reason they are ordering the meatiest, most expensive dishes is because he is paying!  I would bet that he's right (he always is lol). It's just that when I am with educated folks, their behavior always surprises me as we continue to learn more and more about the never-ending benefits of a plant-based diet and all the health risks involved with animal products from heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, not to mention cruelty to animals as well as the direct impact on global warming.
     So when I say it's me, my partner says it's just meat.  He tries to convince me that meat is a treat. Whatever the case may be, I will simply try and keep my cool, no matter what my dining companions directly or indirectly throw at me.  Being the butt of vegan jokes has become so old and tired, am I right???  I have evolved and it's only a matter of time before everyone else does too.  I know that's wishful thinking but I'm not giving up.  At least the word "vegan" is being thrown around a lot more, with vegan options becoming more available in mainstream restaurants not to mention dedicated vegan restaurants popping up in major cities.   Perhaps there will come a time when the world is mostly plant based with the exception of that one unenlightened, unevolved odd ball here and there asking if there are any meat options available.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clean Running- A Survival Kit

     Greetings fellow VeGALs and fans!  Every summer I swear it's the hottest one ever and that's when I swear off fall marathon training for good...that is, until the next year.  So here I am, regretfully having kick started my training for a series of fall marathons once again.  I swear I must be a glutton for punishment but what choice do I have? The fact is, as brutal and punishing as the months can be leading up to a busy race schedule, if I didn't have anything on the calendar, I fear I would turn into a fat blob!  Let's not forget how yummy and potentially fattening plant-based foods/alcohol can be.  As a vegan foodie, there is no way I could ever "swear off" plant-based cuisine despite any decrease in physical activity.  Thus, the dreaded fall marathon training is a must.  As a "survival kit" of sorts, I have come up with a phrase I refer to as "clean running," a method I believe all runners, not just VeGALs, should adopt to ease the transition and help combat the harsh elements associated with the summer months leading up to our wonderful and rewarding fall events.
     Clean running starts from the inside out, from head to toe, from your nutrition to your outerwear, from how you look to how you sound as well as how you carry yourself.  Clean running means going that extra mile to represent runners in a most positive light.  It means inspiring others to do the same. Clean running doesn't necessarily mean you will magically feel better while training in the extreme heat and humidity but it can mean the difference between challenging vs. disaster.  Clean running is a state of mind which leads to an awesome state of body.  As I have quoted in the past..."To look good is to feel good and you look mahvelous!"
     Let's start from within and address nutrition.  When you think of clean, think of clean-burning fuel, and by that I mean whole foods, plant-based as much as possible! How can anything else be "clean" if it is derived from animal sources??? As we all have learned by now, digesting animal products can be very taxing on our organs, possibly leading to disease and/or medical complications.  With such a wealth of plant-based pre/during/post workout energy drinks, gels and snacks, why try anything else? May I suggest Vega Sport, Genuine Health Vegan Proteins/ActivFuel+, Sun Warrior, Nuun, coconut water, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Pro Bar Bolt, Gu, Cliff Shots and Gels, Hammer Gel, Pocket Fuel, Salt Sticks/S-Caps and Drip Drop. Wow...that's a lot!!!  Even if you're not completely plant-based, why not use natural fuel sources for increased bioavailibilty/digestibility rather than animal-based/artificial counterparts? Clean products help you to maximize efficiency, aid in recovery and reduce fatigue after a long hot run! Better for you, the enviroment AND the animals!!!  If you typically run with a water bottle, especially in hotter months, why not make it a reusable handheld one that is contoured to fit comfortably in your palm, as an extension of you. Ones by Amphipod and Nathan are both affordable and ergonomic, with pockets provided for your Nuun tablets, gels, money, keys or even your cel phone.  
     Next up...hygiene.  Just because you look like you just stepped out of the shower after less than a mile into your run doesn't mean you shouldn't be clean before heading out.  I don't mean shower right before, but do a quick rinse the late afternoon or night before so you are still basically fresh prior to hitting the stifling, pea soup air.  Note that showering/bathing too often can deplete the skin of natural oils as well as good bacteria. Being clean does NOT mean dousing yourself with perfume or cologne to mask your natural scent.  Perfume can be offensive, even suffocating, especially if you are running with others. Clean running means being considerate of others. Clean means just that...CLEAN, from skin, to hair and body parts so that when you do start to sweat, you might stink a little bit but you won't reek.  Hairy armpits...gross! More hair equals more trouble! Truth be told, I struggle with mainstream anti-persperants/deoderants vs the healthy, natural ones...the latter never seem to work for me, especially with the amount I sweat and the region where I reside (I'm a "schvitzer" from way back).  I'm willing to risk my health a bit for the sake of humanity!  Hairy legs, not cool...ever (unless you are a Ve-dude)!  As for the hair on your head, a little dirt doesn't hurt and is actually beneficial (overwashing can be damaging) for a run as long as it doesn't smell nasty...just dab a little conditioner or leave-in product with SPF and neatly tie it back before heading out the door. And don't forget your hat and sunglasses, not to mentiion the waterproof/sweatproof sunblock if the sun is unavoidable, for added protection.  I recommend natural, cruelty-free products from companies like Kiss My Face, Jason or Alba Botanika.
     The clothes make the girl, right?  I don't mean the fancier/pricier the better but rather the cleaner, neater and matching the better!  Whether running alone or with a group, once you put on fresh, clean, comfortable technical apparel, you are already one step ahead of the game.  Clean running means clean lines and sleek designs, paving the way to streamline running.  The better the fit, the better your performance.  In addition... the more you cover, the less problems you will have in terms of sun damage, dehydration and chafing. Running with just a job bra and shorts for VeGALs and shirtless for Ve-dudes is not advisable on long runs since it can lead to overexposure to the elements.  Lightweight, dry-fit clothing can keep you cooler and dryer rather than running essentially "naked. " Ill-fitting clothes, either too snug or too loose, can lead to added chafing.  And speaking of chafing...If you struggle with this issue, why not give Uberlube (found online on Amazon or Walgreens) a try?  This silky, non-greasy, odorless, scentless and tasteless product is all the rage!  It's made with friendly, inert ingredients.  This quality lubricant can also be used for other creative activities, wink wink.  What a great investment
     It's true that running apparel can be very costly but as long as you wash them with naturally-sourced, biodegradeable detergents like Method or Seventh Generation and avoid the dryer, your hallowed running clothes will last through several seasons.  Before throwing out a very stinky, expensive running bra, try adding distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle.  I recommend shopping online at Oiselle or Lululemon in the sale or "we made too much" section for your running apparel.  Road Runner Sports (RRS) also has a wide variety to fit your needs with great VIP discounts and sales. Once you know your size, who cares if you buy last season's stuff at half price! I like to buy Moving Comfort's running skorts made with recycled water bottles and coffee grounds at RRS.  I also like the durability as well as the selection that Brooks has to offer.  On very long runs, you may wish to pack a clean outfit/fresh shoes to change into midway through your run to avoid the inevitable stinkage (which could ultimately get you kicked out of your local running club) or serious chafing (which gives way to screaming in the shower once the hot water hits your burned flesh- OUCH!).
     We've covered head so let's jump down to toes...running shoes, that is!  The rule of thumb is to change your shoes every 3 months or so, depending on your mileage.  Wearing nasty old running shoes is not only a turn off but can be associated with several types of running injuries if the soles are worn down too much.  You may wish to alternate shoes, depending on the type of workout, to extend the life of your fave pair.  BOGOs can be available either online or at your local store so stock up whenever possible!  Your shoes may not be worn out just yet but they can still stink to high heaven in which case I suggest tossing them in a delicate wash cycle and letting them air dry.  A trick my running partner suggests is after a hot and sweaty run when your shoes are water-logged, try stuffing them with newspapers and storing them in a cool, dry place for a day or two.  Carry a pair of flip flops to change into immediately after your run to air out your shoes as well as your stinky feet.  If all else fails, there's always Febreeze!!!  
     Another aspect of clean running beyond your nutrition and overall appearance is your voice!  If you are running with others, make sure to keep your volume down to avoid distracting others as well as annoying neighbors in nearby residential areas. In addition, be careful of content and try to avoid adult or awkward topics that may make random passers by uncomfortable.  Watch out for language that may be inappropriate for younger runners, especially during family-oriented race events.  Control sudden outburts of laughter or swear words, if you can.  To that end, if you listen to music and like to sing along, be mindful of the volume...if the music is too loud, then your voice will automatically be too loud. Rule of should be kept at a soft enough volume so that you can still have a conversation as well as hear ambient noise (safety first). The newest annoyance out there is cel phone music playlists on speaker, especially at races.  Ughhh...that's so rude! YOUR taste is NOT MY TASTE and I DON'T want to hear your crappy music!!! I'm not trying to take all the fun out of running (if you know me then you know my fowl mouth lol).  I am merely suggesting that you show some tact and decorum out there (I should take my own advice). Others may not, but you will be proud of yourself when you show some class while you kick some ass!!!
     And finally, there's running style to address, which is essentially, how you put everything together to make yourself a clean, mean running machine!!! Of course, running is a very individual sport, but there are some common characteristics/principles that runners try to adopt such as good posture, form and stride.  As much as we strive to be as efficient as possible, we cannot help but incorporate our own natural style into every step we take, thus making us a little more prone to injury. As long as it works for you then don't worry about fixing it.  However, there are those instances where a runner should question their gait at which point, their running economy may be compromised. My biggest pet peeve on the road is hearing a fellow runner scrape or "shuffle" one or both feet.  The occasional scrape is okay- I even do it from time to time, kind of like a wake up call to switch gears or step it up.  But there are those runners out there who desperately need to listen to their own sound and re-adjust their gait, if applicable.  Clean running means QUIET running, not scraping your feet like nails on a chalk board!!!  Clean running means being able to sneak up on runners ahead of you who never heard you coming!  That's always fun.  My running partner and I like to amuse ourselves and rate runners passing by in terms of degree of shuffling on a scale from 1 to 10.  Sounds a bit childish bordering on cruel, I know.  But all that noise can really be bothersome to us, especially when we are trying to escape, clear our heads and relax on the road. If you think you might be a shuffler then ask yourself if your shoes are right for you.  Perhaps you are a heel striker and those big clunky heel to to drop shoes aren't ideal for you. Shoes with more fore/midfoot support may help you to get off those heels. Maybe you are leaning too much to one side.  I'm not exactly sure what causes the shuffling, I do NOT claim to be an expert.  But common sense tells me that if you are making lots of noise while running, then something might be wrong. Landing too hard is another pet peeve of mine.  Think of being light on your feet, like floating through the air, to reduce all the extra pounding/wear and tear. Maybe you need more cushioning, or perhaps less. I recommend looking into a Chi Running course which can help tweak your form, reduce injury and maximize your running efficiency. Clean running also means arms are comfortably by your side, loose and relaxed, not flailing.  You certainly don't want to wack someone as you pass them!  Or do you? (I feel like that sometimes lol) Keeping your head slightly lowered while bringing your arms in and keeping them close to your body makes you a more aerodynamic runner, enabling you to move through the thick, hummus-like air with ease (just keep telling yourself that).
      So there you have it...your survival kit to becoming a clean runner!  Pretty simple, huh?  Clean running is just the survival kit you need to get through the summer and achive success throughout the year. If you can put all the pieces together as you put yourself out there, you will represent all runners in a very positive light, which will hopefully inspire both new and existing runners to do the same, giving way to a more courteous and respectful running community overall.  To sum it up, clean running is how you prepare as well as present yourself as a runner, from head to toe, from the inside out, from how your move through space and how you win the race!  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Dreaded DNF

     Long time no see, VeGAL.  Wasn't feeling inspired there for a while. Still not too enthusiastic at the moment but starting to turn the corner.  Rather than write about a fantastic race event, where everything seemed to go just right, I've decided to share a bad, if not deeply sad moment in time with my readers to let 'yall know that not every race goes as planned...not even close!!! From elite athletes to the novice participant, a DNF, aka Did Not Finish, can strike at any time!  It's something we fear, an occurrence we dread, and most definitely try to avoid at all costs!  But should it happen, go with it, deal with it and be done with it!!! I am struggling to take my own advice so please bear with me as I take this cathartic journey in accepting my first DNF which took place down in the Florida Keys last Saturday at the Keys100 50k race.
     As many of you know, I ran the Keys 50-miler last year, and things went better than planned!!!  In fact, my finishing time far exceeded my expectations due to the unseasonable cool front that blew in the day before, leaving the air a little cooler and dryer.  Don't get me wrong, it was very tough but looking back, especially today, I would do it all over again.  In fact, I had wanted to do the Keys 100-miler in the forseeable future but due to time constraints as well as my running partner's busy work schedule, I thought it best to delay it for a few years.  So when I casually mentioned to my partner that the race had added a 50k event, he was all over it and signed us up straight away.  I was less than excited to learn that the race was to start at 1 pm, the hottest time of the day, in the middle of May, not less.  Realizing that that cool front last year was a freak thing, I was pretty damn sure it wouldn't happen again. And...indeed it didn't!!!
     Thinking that doing a race in Key West would be a nice little excursion, an excuse to get away, my partner insisted we go but in all honesty, I truly believe he was looking to prove something to himself, perhaps some redemption from a previous 50k race that turned out to be very physically challenging to him as he suffered extreme nausea.  I totally get that...we all want that second (or third ) chance, especialy ultra runners who by our very nature, tend to be a "bit" OCD, haha.  So I obliged him and off we went to conquer the Keys, minus any miraculous cool front. Tried as I might to be optimistic, I remained apprehensive about the 50k, right up until we toed the line. From the start, the heat was oppressive, where I could hardly catch my breath.  It's as if the gates of hell opened up and said "come on in?" And to make matterts worse, a side cramp kicked in to boot, ugh.  My partner, on the other hand, was ready and eager to beat the odds!  In fact, I could barely keep up with him!  So we forged ahead, trying to stay cool and steady.  Nutritionally speaking, I stayed true to my vegan regimen, although not all my fuel would be considered "healthy"...Vega Sport Pre-workout drink, Salt Stick caps, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Drip Drop powder, pretzels, Fritos and ginger ale...not too much at one time.  I always say, "less is more."  My partner, who vowed not to overload on sugar this time as it apprears to be his nauseau trigger, ended up overdosing on Drip Drop, not realizing it contained high amounts of sugar, unbeknownst to him.  In addition, he took in 1 1/2 Hammer Gels (without me looking) and I remember cramming ginger ale down his throat, and the combo ultimately created this sugary tornado that just sat in his belly, wreaking havoc on his system...once again!  Not even Baby's famous coffee could do the trick!
     Rather than bore you with the details of our dramatic 6-hour trek down US1 in the blistering heat and unrelenting sun, I will skip to the part where we came to our decision at mile 25 of 31.07 to throw in the towel.  I will say that along the way, it was very traumtic for me, watching him struggle to walk, nevermind run.  I almost resented him for holding us back. It looked as though at any moment, he could pass out.  That said, when we approached the race marshall who had no ice, but only warm water and Mountain Dew, with a mile to go to reach the ice station, my partner dropped out.  I actually thought he was gonna drop dead.  He insisted I keep going the 6 more miles needed to finish (together, it would've taken us at least another 2 hours) and truth be told, I considered it.  I tought we had come way too far to quit now and I didn't want to face an imminent DNF.  I wanted to cross the finish line and get my medal! How selfish of me, right?  But then seeing him start to hurl then spread himself out on the concrete. my heart sank with fear which was quickly replaced with love.  It was in that instant that (as I approach mid-life in a few years) I grew up a lot!!!  So we carefully placed my partner in the passenger seat with the air conditioning on him full blast. Not exactly in the mood for celebrating, I asked to be dropped off at the hotel, but my partner agreed with the race marshal that we should go back to the finish line and enjoy a cold beer.
     As we took our walk of shame and dropped our timing chips in the bucket, we were mindful not to go anywhere near the finish mat. I watched in dismay as my fellow 50k peeps, along with some 50-milers and relay runners crossed the line and got their medals.  Just then, I decided to drown in my sorrows with the light and watery beer offerings and stuff my face with the veggie burgers, only to find out after one bite that they were Morningstar...NOT vegan!   I began to sob inconsolably. A dear friend of ours, who just happened to win the 100-mile relay event with his team and set a new course record, caught me crying like a baby, rolled his eyes and handed us an IPA to share.  Whether is was vegan or not...who the hell cares!!!  
     We eventually made it back to our hotel and I was completely spent both physically as well as emotionally.  I just wanted to curl up in bed and go to sleep and put an end to the miserable day once and for all.  I stopped taking anymore photos for the rest of our trip as my spirits remained rather low.  My partner insisted we go out for dinner on famous Duval St. that night since we were still in fabulous Key West. quickly my partner recovered!!!  I regrouped and we found Willy T's, where they offered a b vegan burger and fries.  Perhaps it was me but I didn't find my beloved post-race reward staple very rewarding at all.  I would've much preferred a huge bucket of Five Guys french fries (nearby) in bed with a good movie. Oh well.  It seems I wasn't exactly getting what I wanted that weekend. No biggie.  What was big was seeing our sweet and passionate ultra running friend DB, the oldest runner in the race, 2 miles before he completed the 100-miler 32 1/2 hours later! What an inspiration, a true hero! 

    Well, as I near the end of this blog, I can say with all honesty that I accept my DNF as a right of passage and I wear it with pride, like a badge of honor, better than any race hardware (NOT!). Gives me an idea of how some 100-mile runners feel after they are forced to drop out of a race by either missing their cut off time or from sheer exhaustion/fatigue.  No applause, no medal/buckle, no praise from their running club, even though they have probably run 70-80 miles that day, more than most in a month!  Both my partner and I retraced our steps to see what we (he) could've done differently and for starters, we would NEVER choose a 50k race that starts at 1 pm in the deadly heat!  As far as nutrition, I think my partner has it all figured out (hopefully).  So we will forge ahead, thinking of our next distance race and how great it will be, no matter what, as long as we are together.  Oops, I more picture that I couldn't help taking as we pulled away from a famous local key lime pie shop parking lot...
I'm sure they weren't as slow as us at the race :)))

Gotta Run!  VeGAL Andee


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Vegal Arsenal!

     Don't leave home without them!!!  What on earth am I referring to??? The Vegan Aresenal is any portable plant-based nutritional supplement or combo (added to food) that will come in handy when dining out or traveling to unknown parts where vegan options may be quite limited.  Expect the minimum and you won't be disappointed.  Come prepared and you can create your own nutritional powerhouse that will leave your non-vegan counterparts speechless (let's see them try and poke fun of you now!!).   Simply prepare small baggies of various non-perishable plant foods to carry in your purse (or fanny pack lol). There are even small packets of olive/coconut oil on the market in 6 or 10-count boxes. Then off you go to your worry-free meal!  You may wish to carry extra for your envious companions (although they hate to admit it).
     So you only see a garden salad (make sure there is no cheese) or some kind of meat-infiltrated entree salad (that you will most definitely have to pay the same price for sans meat) and a plain baked potato/white pasta on the menu?  Have no fear... tasty and hearty toppings are here! Whip out your oil packet or ask for some olive oil as well as balsamic vinegar for the salad then pull out your bag of tricks!  Sprinkle your nuts of choice like cashews, walnuts or almonds (a drupe, not a nut btw), and seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, hemp or chia, and finish off with your coconut bacon, a little salt and pepper and bam!  You have a salad fit for a king...or vegan queen!  In many instances, dining establishments will actually have peanuts or trail mix available which are not on the menu. Wherever you go, always ask for avocado, which they should have!!  They will probably want to charge you extra but you can argue your point that it is replacing the meat!  If you are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or certain seeds...that must SUCK for you as a vegan!!! Have you tried those new TigerNuts yet?

     When it comes to the potato or pasta, remember...don't fear carbs, you need the complex ones for extended energy, as long as they are consumed with the proper balance of protein and fats!  How else are you gonna fill up?  With pasta, whole wheat is preferred and luckily, it is becoming increasingly available in mainstream restaurants!  But if you find yourself limited to only white pasta, choose to have a small portion, plain, topped with steamed veggies (chefs/servers are more than willing to accommodate if you just ask). Whether potato or pasta, use some olive/coconut oil in place of butter, throw on steamed broccoli, spinach or whatever fresh veggies are available that night (and don't forget to specify "no butter"), plus fresh herbs like basil if possible, then sprinkle a generous amount of your nutritional yeast on top (better than any parmesan cheese), followed by nuts/seeds, spices, some more coconut bacon and the kicker...Sriracha or Tabasco (your own little bottle if you prefer). To add a rich and creamy texture to your entree, mix in any avocado left over from the salad or snag a dollop of guacamole!  I always can never have enough of that green gold since it consists of the good fats!!!

     For dessert, let your meaty friends feast their eyes on your fresh fruit or sorbet topped with either coconut salted caramel or dark chocolate shreds (or some more bacon lol)!  Sure, their molten lava brownie bottom pie or deep fried cheesecake will look scrumptious at the time but remember...a second on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!  You will walk out of there feeling energized and satisfied while your company will be sluggish and sleepy.  Perfect for them as they are sleeping in the next day while you will spring to your feet before sunrise for your daily hard core workout!  After all, you are a Vegan Girl with a conscience; staying firmly planted.
VeGALS unite!!!

Train hard, fuel hearty!
VeGAL Andee

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Meatus Interruptus!

     Greetings VeGALs and plant fans!  If you are a mainstream vegan like me, then chances are you deal with the issue of animal byproducts being randomly placed in your plant foods on an ongoing basis when dining out.  Chefs/cooks/food preps simply cannot help themselves when it comes to adulterating the foods from nature that we love so much.  In their eyes, they feel they are enhancing the flavor whereas we can all agree it only detracts from the true essence that plant-based cuisine has to offer.  On many vegetarian/vegetable menu items, no where does it even indicate that there will be animal-based foods added to the dish, which is surprising nowadays with so many food allergy concerns.  For instance, it is often the case where I order a garden salad that is listed as having only lettuce, cukes, carrots, tomatoes (and other "safe" ingredients) and when it arrives, it is laden with shaved/sprinkled parmesan cheese.  I have learned to ask for salads now with no cheese, egg or bacon even if it is NOT listed on the menu. Sadly enough, there are still some naive food servers/preps out there that still have no idea what the term "vegan" actually refers to so often times I choose the old "food allergy" excuse to drive home a point, especially when at an unfamiliar place.  Don't get me wrong...I wear my vegan identity with pride but when it comes to ordering my meal, I go to great lengths to get the order right and even then, I have to send it back due to error half the time!!!
     A while back, I had written an article for, where I'm a staff writer/contributor that discusses hidden animal products in our foods, if you would like to refer to that, like chicken broth, fish stock, beef stock, milk, whey, egg yolks, egg wash, oyster sauce, anchovies, parmesan cheese, butter, casein, gelatin, etc. Many restaurants, especially chains, have an allergy menu available either on location or online which can be very helpful in providing insight into non-vegan foods we assume to be safe. It isn't always easy, and sometimes next to impossible to find a vegan/vegan-friendly joint and the majority of our family/friends are typically omnivours so we must settle on mainstream, trying to make the best of it without drawing too much attention to ourselves.  
     Just this past weekend, my running partner and I were in Cocoa Beach, FL to run the Space Coast Marathon (as pacers) for our third year in a row.  A few days before the race, we looked over the dinner menu online for Fat Kahunas, a small bar/restaurant we've had our eye on for a few years.  The menu seemed very welcoming and the location, ideal to watch a nearby Friday night street party, so we were excited to check it out.  As soon as we were seated, we were served fresh homade hummus with olives and warm tortilla chips.  I would've been perfectly content eating that all night, washed down by a draft beer, of course.  But I chose to order the grilled vegetable tacos, minus the red and green peppers (I always lie and say I'm allergic since I just plain don't like 'em), add avocado instead as my entree.  As an experiment of sorts, I refrained from mentioning the word "vegan"  while I made sure that there was NO cheese or sour cream also due to "allergies" and the waitress said NO problem.  The menu said it comes with a teriyaki glaze which sounded safe enough for me. she sets my beautiful plate down before me, veggie soft tacos accompanied by coconut rice, black beans and fresh salsa, I noticed a red/orange sauce strewn across the entire dish, along with the teriyaki glaze.  I was immediately suspicious of a mayonnaise presence as the server explained that the chef uses his own "secret sauce" for an added touch. I only wish I would've snapped a photo of it! My fear was confirmed...the sauce was mayo-based, probably mixed with sriracha...something I do with my vegan "Just Mayo" all the time. Our server apologized and offered to prepare another plate that was "vegan."  Yes, she actually used the word after all that lol.  In the end, the food was scrumptious, especially the coconut rice, and the restaurant was very accommodating.  I schooled the server about Just Mayo being egg-free and "safe" for all patrons without compromising taste.  She said she would relay that to the chef!
     As our post race meal, we headed back south to Delray Beach, FL, along famous Atlantic Avenue, to a preferred hang out of ours, Budda Sky Bar, a departure from our usual post race beer/french fries reward. We were famished and in desperate need of fried food so we ordered vegetable spring rolls in addition to their divine mushroom dumplings and stir fried string beans.  However, much to our chagrin, when spring rolls arrived, they were nothing more than veggie egg rolls, which of course are made out of egg wonton wraps.  I proceeded to taste the inside and was unsure of the filling.  I have encountered the  "inadvertent meat eat" with dumplings in the past so I grew weary of the contents, which looked an awful lot like ground chicken or pork.  It's hard to distinguish ground meat!  The chef actually came out and insisted there were only vegetables, no meat inside but when we remarked how they were egg rolls, not spring rolls, there was no changing his mind about that.  He brought us a fresh batch of the same to be sure and said it's definitely tofu inside and that he said he tries to season it so well so that it tastes like chicken, which makes it taste better...yes, those were his words. Needless to say, I stayed away from the egg rolls altogether and embraced all the wonderful veggie options this Japanese restaurant has to offer.  Essentially, the chef's opinion is much like so many others...everything tastes better with animal products in them.  We know better!!!
     Try as we might, we will always face challenges when it comes to plant-based, cruelty-free meals but as more and more foodies turn to plants, more and more folks in the food industry will catch on. It's a trend that's here to stay.  We must remain positive as well as patient in our endeavors and not get discouraged every time we have to send a meal back.  Each time that we do, it actually sends a message to both chefs and servers to think outside the box, be creative, go beyond the animal byproducts,  Even if a server seems to be aware of the term "vegan," they may not have a clear understanding of what that actually means.  We have to simply be specific when ordering and ask questions for clarification.  And just maybe, we'll make a few of them go plant-based all the way!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Maine is Veg Friendly! Say What????


     When you think Maine, you think lobster!!!  I mean, you can't help but think about this bright red crustacean when it's symbol is plastered just about everywhere you look, especially on Mt. Desert Island, the third largest island on the eastern seaboard, where my running partner and I recently ran the MDI Marathon.  My partner in crime, Dr. Mark Shachner, is a seasoned marathon runner who had the pleasure (or nightmare) of running this particular marathon 2 years ago and fell in love with the course, extreme challenges and all, which starts at Main Street in Bal Harbor and finishes in Southwest Harbor.
This lobster-lovin' runner couldn't wait to take me there to experience the natural beauty MDI has to offer but was concerned with the limited dining options available to vegans.  During his stay, he checked out the local establishments in search of hearty, healthy, plant-based cuisine but was disappointed with what he found.  Fortunately, he ate at The Burning Tree, in Otter Creek, the night before they closed for the season, and was pleased to discover locally-grown vegan fare on the menu.
     Fast forward 2 years later, there we were, staying at his friend's beautiful home in Somesville, excited to tackle the MDI Marathon together!

MDI has enchanted visitors throughout the ages from the mountains/trails/lakes/wildlife of Acadia National Park to the magical marine mammals and abundant sea creatures. The island essentially lends itself to nature-loving folks so it makes sense to provide patrons with plant-based cuisine, right?
Mark was determined to drive me by the Burning Tree to make dinner reservations.  Unfortunately, when we got there, they had already closed its doors for the winter, which can be the case for many places so better check before you go. Upon reviewing menus for both familiar as well as brand new joints, Mark was delighted to see that vegan options were ample enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Much has changed over the last few years, in a positive way...very representative of society in general!                                  
     Our first night there, we drove into touristy yet charming downtown Bar Harbor to grab some dinner at the Side Street Cafe.  We ordered the homemade hummus & olive tapenade served with warm pita wedges and brushed with olive oil as an appetizer. I absolutely LOVED this very generous portion of wholesome goodness.  For dinner, I had a large salad with fresh roasted veggies that was very satisfying.  And of course there was draft beer to wash it all down with...An organic Peak IPA.
And as I ask at every, there were NO VEGAN CUPCAKES for dessert!!!  Aside from that, the SSC was so accommodating that we found ourselves there 2 more times, once for lunch where they make a homemade vegan black bean patty served either in a wrap or ciabatta spicy, hearty and savory which we both thoroughly enjoyed!!!  Then, we rewarded ourselves (a promise I keep) with some homemade skins-on fries accompanied by a coffee stout chaser post race! A little Sunday football to boot! Although Mark enjoys plant-based meals, he finally indulged in what Bar Harbor is famous for...a lobster roll!    After all, he is NOT a veg but VERY veg friendly! It's important to be both accepting and supportive of one another!
     On the same street, we stumbled upon Gringo's, the locals' hang out, where they offer casual fresh mex!  There are many healthy choices, all satisfying, topped with homemade salsa.  I created my own burrito which was very filling, I actually left some over which is rare, especially before a race!!!  
We had actually attempted to grab some breakfast earlier that day at This Way Cafe but missed the boat by 10 minutes, NO EXCEPTIONS!  There they offer "The Vegan," soy seasoned scrambled tofu with mushrooms, onions, peppers, broccoli, potatoes with unbuttered toast.  Tofu is NOT exactly my chosen protein source but once in a while, I'll have some if it sounds appetizing.  TWC is also open for dinner where there are a few creative veg-friendly items on the menu that sound delish!  I Will have to wait for next time.
     Another restaurant we have on our short list to try is China Joy, which seems like typical fare but I did notice that Sawyer's Market in Southwest Harbor sold pre-cooked, packaged vegan dumplings and noodles prepared by China Joy which looked very fresh and appetizing.  That market also offered a homemade vegan potato soup but unfortunately it wasn't ready yet when we had stopped in.  By the way, I love the idea of these little grab-n-go boxed vegan delights (chinese, sushi, sandwiches) which are becoming increasingly popular in either grocer's/convenient story fridges or airports but sometimes they can be a bit soggy or taste like they have expired, even though the date shown is not. Eat a Pita, also in Southwest Harbor, is another one we wanted to check out but didn't have time, as they offer casual mediterranean pitas/burgers/salads/sandwiches with lots of veg option.  I especially like the sound of their spicy vegetarian chili, where they say, "you'll wonder where the beef went!"
     The biggest disappointed was at McKay's Public House, where we actually made reservations. The restaurant was so charming, the air so crisp and inviting, that we chose to sit in their outdoor patio area under a big heater.  The salads were tasty enough, as were the crispy sweet potato fries, but the curried vegetable dish I ordered consisted of what appeared to be frozen vegetables over very bland rice.  The worst part was the piece of paper I found in the dish... must have been from the box of frozen veggies lol.  Our server apologized, quickly removed the dish and scratched it from the bill. Oh well... at least I filled up on the warm bread with dipping oil when we sat down.  They all can't be winners.  Next time, we will try Lompac Cafe, with their many plant-based options on the menu PLUS dessert...bittersweet chocolate mousse made vegan and gluten free with almond milk!  They have sorbet as well. I can't believe I missed that one!!!  I'm always in search of vegan desserts to sample other than FRUIT!!!
     One last place, I promise!  Reel Pizza Cinerama, a stone's throw from SSC, is where you can catch a flick and customize your vegan pizza with either white or wheat crust and lots of interesting sauces/toppings/soy cheese.  I lied...there's The Friar's Pub, at the Black Friar Inn, where they have vegan pancakes for breakfast and make their own granola, served with fresh fruit.
       I would be remiss not to mention how impressed I was with the pre-race pasta dinner organized by many friendly and welcoming race volunteers at Mt. Desert High School.  As I walked up to get my mound of plain white penne pasta, (who needs fiber before a race?) I couldn't believe my eyes as I saw a sign that read "Marinara Vegan!"  Rather than top the pasta, I ate it like tomato soup!  Yum! Since the race was sponsored by Fiore olive oil, bottles were presented like salt and pepper on the tables so I feasted on lotsa pasta topped with olive oil and nutritional yeast that I brought from home. Attention vegans:  NEVER leave home without your NY to ensure your RDA of B12- it goes with everything!!!
     I think I have fed you enough info about vegan-friendly dining establishments for now.  I'm sure I'm missing a few but hopefully, you have an idea of how surprisingly accommodating Bar Harbor and MDI has become for us plant lovers!  If you happen to be a runner interested in participating in the MDI Marathon, Half Marathon or Relay Event, spoiler alert:  stop reading!  Continue on if you are just curious since I will say that this race is probably the most difficult I have ever run and I have completed 33 full marathons!!!  The cold temps, strong head/tail winds and undulating hills proved extremely challenging, to say the least.  I will say this, though, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking throughout, minus the last 5 miles in Southwest Harbor due to traffic and construction.
     Although I fell in love with MDI, it was no love affair between me and the marathon!  I look forward to returning to this spectacular island as long as there are no races on the calendar!  Can't wait to check out those places we didn't get to as well as the new ones that I'm sure will pop up between now and then.  Since Bal Harbor is generally very seasonal, check operating hours beforehand. For now I will pray that upon my return, I will be able to find a vegan cupcake, rising out from above the plethora of local blueberry pies, popovers, moon pies, salt-water taffy and fudge.  I can hear the harps now...."laaaaaa."   Then perhaps I will run the MDI Marathon again!!!

Training with a conscience; staying firmly planted...VeganGirlAthLetes