Monday, July 26, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 11

This week, let me dive right into the nuts and bolts:

Training Days: 3     (To Date: 40)
Rest Days: 4    (To Date: 37)
Weight: 150.5     (Net Gain/Loss: -9.5)
Running Days: 3     (To Date: 30)
Running Miles Logged: 33.4     (To Date: 279.4)
Average Run: 11.1     (Short = 4.6, Long = 22.1)
Cross-Training: None

Patience.  When you're talking about a 50-mile race, the virtue of patience definitely applies.  You're not going to sprint 50 miles.  It's not going to be over quickly.  You can't be in a hurry or a rush.  In other words, you have to be patient; content with the fact that the miles will tick by relatively slowly, stride by stride, hour by hour.  In this sense, reaching the finish line and the end of the race involves a good bit of anticipatory waiting.  You know it's coming, but it's not here yet.

During Week 11, that same paragraph could be said to describe life here in the Bronski household.  We're imminently awaiting the arrival of our second child.  We thought she might arrive last weekend, but didn't.  Then we waited all week, and nothing.  Then this immediate past weekend came and went.  Patience.  Anticipatory waiting.  We know she's coming, but she's not here yet.  (Though hopefully will be soon!)

It's helpful, too, to bring a good bit of patience to the gluten-free lifestyle, especially when newly diagnosed.  You likely won't get better overnight.  It will take time for your body to heal.  There may be setbacks, when you're unintentionally exposed to gluten.  You'll have to learn where gluten hides in supermarket foods, and have more than one conversation with a server at a restaurant.  Through all of it, patience will make the process much better.  And remember, with patience comes anticipatory waiting.  You might not be fully healthy...yet, but you'll get better.  That finish line is coming.  Stick to your training; stick to your gluten-free diet.

Speaking of the nexus of gluten-free and training, this week, huge thanks go out to Debra S., Daniel S. (no relation), Amber W., Peggy G., Joan Z., and Nancy M. for your generous donations to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness!  With your help, I've now raised $1,135, which brings me to 23% of my goal of raising $5,010 for the NFCA.  If you're reading this and haven't made a donation, I'd greatly appreciate your support.  Please check out my fundraising page and consider making a donation.  If you're debating whether or not to support the great work of the NFCA, consider this: a recent Mayo Clinic study looked at Celiac Disease in the 1950s in the United States.  Researchers found that people with undiagnosed Celiac Disease (and hence, who were not on a gluten-free diet) were 4 times more likely to have died in the decades following, compared to healthy members of the "normal" population.  To think...with better awareness and better diagnosis, many of those deaths could have been prevented.  That's where the work of the NFCA comes in.

- Pete

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Foto: Sticky Buns

Kelli's a voracious reader of fiction.  After my aunt got her hooked on Jodi Picoult (at least, I think that's how the story goes...), Kelli worked her way through pretty much all of Picoult's novels.  Her most recent read was Handle With Care, which came out last year.  The book is sprinkled throughout with recipes (as well as, coincidentally, a character named Marin).  And on pages 343-344, you'll find a recipe for Sunday Morning Sticky Rolls.  Which inspired Kelli to modify our own Cinnamon Bun recipe (which you'll find on pages 36-37 of our cookbook) to make Sticky Buns...in all their sugary, sticky, gooey goodness.

The base dough for making the Sticky Buns is identical to our Cinnamon Buns.

For the filling, Kelli took a page out of Picoult's recipe and used 6 parts white sugar to 6 parts brown sugar to 1 part cinnamon, mixed them together, and spread the cinnamon-sugar on the dough (already brushed with some melted butter) before rolling it and cutting the rolls to size.

For the "sticky"part of the Sticky Buns, we (Kelli) made a basic caramel with brown sugar, salted butter, and corn syrup, plus some halved pecans.

Finally, to bring it all together, the caramel got poured into a 13x9 baking pan, sprinkled with the pecan halves, and lastly, loaded up with the buns, evenly spaced.

They should bake for about 35 minutes in a 350-degree oven.  (You want the dough to cook through, but don't want to cook the buns so long that the sugar turns hard.)  Turn the buns out of the baking pan onto a serving tray, so that the sticky side is on top and all of that yummy goodness oozes down into and over the buns.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Product Review: Chobani Yogurt

During a recent trip to New Jersey for a friend's wedding, I had the chance to try Chobani gluten-free yogurt.  Since then I've also seen Chobani pop up in my local supermarket in Colorado, so I thought it was high time to write a review.

Chobani is based in the dairy country of upstate New York, and launched in 2007.  Its parent company, AgroFarma, started out with Euphrates, a feta cheese company.  Chobani is AF's second offering, with Greek-style yogurt.

Happily, their yogurts are certified gluten-free by the GFCO.  Seeing that logo on the side of the package is like instant peace of mind that the food you're about to eat is indeed gluten-free.  The company offers three categories of yogurt: non-fat, low-fat, and "Chobani Champions," with packaging designs and flavor names meant to appeal to kids.  (I'd love to see a full-fat version of their yogurt, though I doubt there's enough consumer demand to justify branching out in that direction...)

From an ingredients and nutrition perspective, there's much to love.  Chobani's non-fat and low-fat plain yogurts contain nothing but non-fat milk and live, active cultures, and non-fat milk, cream, and live, active cultures, respectively.  There's a beautiful simplicity to that.  And thanks to the Greek-style of yogurt making, each 6-ounce serving contains about twice as much protein as "normal" yogurt.

On the flavored side of things, they offer an impressive range of nine options currently, including many popular favorites: blueberry, strawberry, peach, vanilla.  In a word, the fruit flavors are delicious.  They are rich and creamy, much like the Noosa Aussie-style yogurt.  And yet, they contain less sugar than most yogurt brands I stock in my fridge regularly.

From a philanthropic point of view, there's also much to love about Chobani.  Every year, the company donates more than 50,000 cups of yogurt to events that support health and wellness.  What's more, the company donates 10% of its annual profits to a dozen charities that work in the areas of health, environment, and what Chobani calls "good" - NRDC, Farm-to-School, Team Hoyt, and Doctors Without Borders, to name a few of them.

[Update: July 23, 2010. When I originally posted our Chobani review, I had mostly praise, but also some criticism with regard to the marketing language on their website.  In response to our criticism of some of their marketing language, Chobani has revised the wording on their website to more accurately reflect their product.  (Their yogurt does not contain thickeners or other additives.  The locust bean gum and pectin are used in the fillings for the fruit flavors to improve the consistency of the fruit.)  We give big kudos to Chobani for responding so promptly and attentively to our concern.  It's a great yogurt that just got even better.]

[For those interested in reading my original criticism, here it is:

Now, despite all this Chobani-lovin' I'm throwing around, I also do have a bone to pick with the company.  They are using marketing language that's coming dangerously close to falsehoods.  

For example, their website declares that "unlike some Greek yogurt companies that add ingredients to their yogurts for texture, you won't find any thickeners, gelatins or stabilizers in our yogurt."  Not so fast.  Both their website and the nutrition and ingredient labeling on the yogurt reveal that the fruit flavor yogurts contain both locust bean gum and pectin, both of which are thickeners and gelling agents widely used in the food products industry.  I'm not necessarily saying locust bean gum and pectin are bad, but don't tell me you don't use thickeners, gelatins or stabilizers.  

For another, Chobani also proudly states that they "lightly sweeten our real fruit chunks with evaporated cane juice, a natural type of unrefined sweetener."  Evaporated cane juice seems all the rage in the natural foods market these days, but from what I've read, it's a lot of smoke in mirrors.  ECJ is remarkably similar to refined sugar.  Structurally, they're nearly identical, and ECJ goes through just one fewer step in the refining process than its alter ego, refined sugar.  ECJ does contain trace amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, and its color is slightly darker, but these differences are marginal.  Again, I don't necessarily mind a little sugar in my yogurt to sweeten the flavor (within reason), but don't dress up an ingredient to be something it's not.]

That being said, I'm still a fan of Chobani.  At the bottom of my proverbial balance sheet, I give it many more pros than cons, and I'll continue to enjoy it in my rotation of favorite yogurts.

- Pete

Image courtesy of Chobani.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 10

Well, Week 10 is officially in the bank.  And after two weeks of adjusted training while Marin was sick and then recovering, I got back into full swing in a big way.  Here's the breakdown:

Training Days: 5     (To Date: 37)
Rest Days: 2     (To Date: 33)
Weight: 152     (Net Gain/Loss: -8)
Running Days: 3     (To Date: 27)
Running Miles Logged: 35.9     (To Date: 246)
Average Run: 12     (Short = 6.7, Long = 21)
Cross-Training: Mountain Biking, Skiing

That's right.  This past week, cross-training included skiing.  In July.  The week started off with an 8-plus mile run on Monday, followed by mountain biking in Tuesday.  Wednesday found me at Copper Mountain in Colorado's Summit County, where I was on assignment for Denver Magazine.  The mountain is home to Woodward at Copper, a one-of-a-kind snowsports training facility, with a heavy emphasis on terrain park and halfpipe progression.  If you wanna be Shaun White or Gretchen Bleiler, this is where you can go to learn.  My task - in addition to writing about Woodward and the athletes that train there - was to attempt to learn a trick of my own... I wanted to stomp a 360.  I spent the day in training - bouncing off trampolines, cruising down SnowFlex ramps and into foam pits, and ultimately, hucking myself off progressively larger kickers at an outdoor snow terrain park.  By the end of the day, I was worked.

I followed up my day of skiing with a mellow run on Thursday, a rest day on Friday, and then it was time for the main event.  After having to bump it from my schedule two weeks in a row, it was finally time to head out for a long, hard trail run that would cross the 20-mile threshold.  In a word, it was brutal.  The elevation gain was intense.  The temperature soared (despite the fact that I headed out early in the morning, the mercury still climbed quickly, and later that day, Denver officially set a new record at 102 degrees).  I ran out of water...twice.  (I run with a two-liter CamelBak, which I can refill at a strategic point on my runs when I pass near a ranger station.)  I did finish the run, and my per mile pace was reasonable - it came in between my target come race day, and the race cutoff time, so I'm making good progress.

But if I came away from that training run with one thing, it was a healthy fear.  I've had more than a few good trail runs in the 17-mile range.  And those runs had me feeling confident.  Maybe a little overconfident.  This 21 mile run put me in my place.  It was tough.  For the first time, I'm looking at that 50 mile race distance and truly realizing just how far it is.  The good thing is that I still have two months of training left before the big day, and I'll need every minute to prepare.

Finally, on the fundraising front, I've now raised $1,040 for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, which brings me to just over 20% of my goal.  This week, huge thanks go out to Andrew I. at Shabtai Gourmet Gluten Free Bakery, Melissa M.J. at Gluten Free for Good, Jonny W., Gregory L., and Evan M., for your generous donations!  If you haven't yet donated, please take a moment to visit my fundraising page and consider making a donation for a great organization that does great work on behalf of the Celiac and gluten-free community.

Featured Donor

This week I'm also delighted to bring special attention to Shabtai Gourmet, a gluten-free bakery based in New York.  Shabtai is very active in supporting the Celiac and gluten-free community, and I was thrilled when they stepped up to the plate with generous support for the NFCA via my ultra race.  
I personally recommend their Rainbow Cookie Squares.  They're delicious, and remind me of the rainbow cookies I used to eat as a kid from Long Island bakeries.  

- Pete

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Foto: Mostones

Garlic-lime skirt steak with Cuban mojo and tostones

On page 97 of our cookbook, we talk about how to make tostones and maduros.  Both are made from plantains, a staple of Cuban-American cuisine.  Tostones are made using green, under-ripe plaintains, which are starchy and require cooking to be made edible.  Maduros, on the other hand, are made with brown-black, over-ripe plaintains, which are sweet and sugary.

Our local supermarket, alas, has been selling plantains that seem to have emerged from Cuban Purgatory - they are neither green enough to make proper tostones, nor over-ripe enough to make maduros.  Undeterred, we've been using them to make "mostones," a kind of tostone-maduro hybrid.  We use the tostones cooking technique (peel, cut, fry, press flat, re-fry), but the maduros-like plaintain has more sugars to caramelize, resulting in a darker color and sweeter final flavor.

We've all heard the saying, If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Well, if the supermarket gives you bastard plantains, make mostones!

- Pete

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Versus: Chicken Nuggets

Today we're unveiling a new segment here at No Gluten, No Problem: Versus.  Usually, when we do a product review, we choose one company, and we review a comprehensive suite of their offerings.  But for Versus, we're changing the rules of the game.  Instead, we're choosing a specific product category - in this case, chicken nuggets - and reviewing two or more companies in a head-to-head face off.  We'll tell you how they compare, and we'll declare a winner.

We'll have companies square off in five categories:

1. Taste and Texture - Enough said.

2. Integrity of Ingredients - Does it read like a chemistry kit?  Is it made with familiar ingredients we'd likely have in our own pantry?  Are there trans-fats or artificial sweeteners?  Are plant-based ingredients organic?  Are animal-based ingredients certified humane?  You get the idea.

3. Gluten-free Goodness - Is it made in a dedicated facility?  If not, is it tested to a certain gluten ppm threshold?  What cross-contamination procedures are in place?  Does the company support Celiac and gluten intolerance organizations?

4. Company Ethic - This is a catch-all category that captures other things that are important to us, like a company's environmental commitment and their social philanthropy.

5. Overall - Most importantly, who's the winner?

For our inaugural Versus: Chicken Nuggets, three companies are stepping into the ring - Ian's Natural Foods vs. Applegate Farms vs. Bell & Evans.

Taste and Texture

Despite the fact that all three companies' nuggets are frozen foods that you either re-heat or cook, their offerings tasted remarkably different.  The Ian's chicken nuggets are made with a kind of chicken filling that's then breaded.  The filling is made with chicken meat, canola oil, corn flake crumbs, water, potato flakes and sea salt.  The result is a chicken nugget that feels pasty in the mouth.  It's a weird texture that's contrasted by a quite crunchy breading.  Also, the use of corn in both the chicken filling and in the breading give the nugget the corniest taste of the three.  Applegate Farms also goes the route of a chicken filling that's breaded.  Theirs is made of chicken, water, cornstarch, salt and oregano.  Its taste and texture are both better than Ian's, and reminds me of frozen chicken nuggets I once ate as a kid on Long Island.  Finally, we come to Bell & Evans.  Bless their souls, they make their chicken nuggets from whole pieces of chicken breast meat.  The difference is profound.  On the counts of both taste and texture, B&E wins this category for me, hands down.

Integrity of Ingredients

On a superficial level, all three companies do a pretty nice job with their ingredients.  Nothing is too foreign or unfamiliar.  Ian's uses boneless, skinless chicken, corn (corn meal, corn flakes, cornstarch, etc.), evaporated cane juice, potato, sea salt, and canola oil.  They boast of using no refined sugars and no hydrogenated oils.  Similarly, Applegate Farms uses chicken, corn, salt, rice, tapioca, spices, and vegetable oil.  Finally, Bell & Evans uses whole chicken breast meat, salt, rice, corn, xanthan gum, evaporated cane juice, non-hydrogenated oil, yeast, egg and spices.  Again, nothing out of the ordinary.  Good news.

On the topic of humanely raised and slaughtered chickens, the story changes a bit.  Apart from noting that they use "no skin" from the chickens in their nuggets, Ian's doesn't say much about the topic.  Which is either a gross oversight, or a sign that it's not something they want to talk about.  Applegate Farms and Bell & Evans, on the other hand, are almost two peas in a pod in this realm.  Both companies boast of their chickens' minimal stress environment, fresh air and sunlight, no overcrowding, room to roam, constant access to fresh water, and a vegetarian diet comprised of corn, soy and vitamins.  I was tempted to give the nod to Applegate - for their explicit discussion of humane slaughter, and for their commitment to sustainable agriculture with integrated/cyclical practices (such as using chicken poop to fertilize on-site or nearby farm fields).  On the other hand, I was also tempted to give the nod to Bell & Evans - their commendable practices have made them a chicken supplier to both Chipotle (and the company's Food with Integrity program) as well as Whole Foods.  That's no small accomplishment.  It's a tie between Applegate and B&E on this one.

Gluten-free Goodness

All three companies - which all make both gluten-free and glutenous products - offer up something to love in the gluten-free goodness category.  The Ian's website has a very handy allergen search page, which allows you to filter their products by different allergens (wheat, gluten, dairy, vegetarian, etc.).  This is a handy feature.  (However, it does lack an allergen search option for corn, one of the Top Eight allergens.)  The company tests its gluten-free chicken nuggets to a level of 2.5 ppm to ensure against cross-contamination, and they use a different "Red Banner" on their packaging to distinguish gluten-free foods from the company's traditional product lines.  Applegate Farms, meanwhile, has a great gluten-free info page on their website, which addresses both some big picture questions about gluten, as well as specific ways the company ensures its products are gluten-free (gf chicken nuggets are tested before they leave the facility, and they're held until test results are verified and the food is "cleared" as gluten-free).  Like Ian's, Bell & Evans uses differentiated product packaging - gluten-free chicken nuggets are sold in a black box, versus the company's traditional blue box.  B&E also tests its chicken nuggets to a max allowable gluten level of 10ppm, well below the internationally accepted standard of 20 ppm.  Like Applegate, Bell & Evans has a good gluten-free info page on their website.  Everyone's a winner in this category.

Company Ethic

Each company has nice things to say about their respective environmental commitment.  For example, Ian's uses eco-friendly recycled content packaging and was certified as carbon neutral.  Bell & Evans touts their recycling program, use of eco-friendly cleaners, and their wastewater treatment facility.  But this category goes to Applegate Farms for their support of small family farms and sustainable agriculture.

Overall

At the end of the day, it all comes down to a few basic questions: Which one tastes the best?  Which one is the best for your body?  Which one is the best for your soul?  Depending on your priorities, one of those questions may be more important than another.  My guess is that, for the average NGNP reader, what you really want is a tasty product, and if you can get some benefits with respect to questions 2 and 3, well that's an added bonus.  For me, the clear winner is Bell & Evans.  Their chicken nuggets were head and shoulders above the others.

Winner = Bell & Evans

- Pete

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 9

In many ways, Week 9 was an extension of Week 8.  With Marin out of the hospital, Kelli and I traded off taking days off of work so that we could keep Marin home from day care for the week and let her fully recover and grow strong.  On top of that, my own health felt like it was sitting on the fence, and so I scaled back in the hopes of avoiding getting sick.  And so, the numbers...

Training Days: 2     (To Date: 32)
Rest Days: 5     (To Date: 31)
Weight: 151     (Net Gain/Loss: -9)
Running Days: 2     (To Date: 24)
Running Miles Logged: 25.2     (To Date: 210.1)
Average Run: 12.6     (Short = 8.2, Long = 17)
Cross-Training: None

My original plan for Week 9 had been to do a long run on Monday, rest Tuesday, cross-train on the mountain bike Wednesday, a moderate run on Thursday, rest Friday, and finally a very long run on Saturday.  Things started off well-enough.  I took care of Marin on Monday, and when Kelli got home from work, I set out on a 17-mile run I've done before.  I usually run early in the mornings, but running in the evening proved pleasant as well.  As opposed to my AM runs, when the sun climbs and the temperature gets hotter seemingly by the minute, my PM run grew progressively cooler, especially as the sun retreated behind the mountains and left me in total shadow.  I finished the 17-miler faster than I ever had before, and was able to sustain my uphill running through sections I'd previously walked or power-hiked.  Progress.

Marin made her own rapid progress, and by Tuesday evening, it seemed she was about 85% or better.  It was hard to believe we'd been in the hospital just 48 hours or so before.  Seeing Marin's improvement made it easier for me to put some focus on training, but alas, my own health seemed on the brink.  I suspect it may have been the stress of Marin being in the hospital, combined with me physically being in the hospital as well where I would have been exposed to plenty of nasty viruses (and at the very least, whatever virus Marin had).  But by Wednesday, I could feel myself coming down with something.  I scrapped the mountain biking in the hopes of resting up and not actually getting sick.  It was to no avail.  By Thursday, I've developed a 100+ degree fever and a few other symptoms.  Thursday's run went out the window, too.  Friday was a rest day, so that worked out well.

By Saturday morning, I wasn't 100%, but I had improved enough that I felt compelled to still go out for a run as originally scheduled.  And foolishly, I thought I could still tackle the 20-plus miler I had planned for the day.  It was too much too soon.  As I set out from the house en route to the trailhead, my body felt fatigued.  My legs felt heavy and lethargic, and I lacked the usual spring in my step, even though I dialed back the pace considerably to try and take it easy.  (Can you actually take it easy on a 20 mile run?)  Between miles 3 and 4 - on the Mesa Trail between Shanahan Ridge and Bear Canyon - I started dry heaving.  Blech.  I knew then that 20 miles wasn't going to happen.  I cut my losses, turned for home, and finished the run after 8.2 miles.  I needed more rest.  Then I could resume training with full force in Week 10 (which I happily did this morning).

It's a funny thing.  Training is never a linear progression (as much as I'd like it to be).  There are always setbacks of some kind, and almost always, those setbacks are temporary.  I know this from plenty of personal experience.  I've been there before.  And yet, when these temporary setbacks crop up - as they did on that 20 mile run - I still get frustrated in the here and now.  I know they're only a passing blip on the radar screen.  I know I'll resume my training and continue to make progress.  I know these things deep down.  But on the surface, training setbacks get under my skin.  Perhaps I need to work on my zen running, or start doing some meditation or yoga before or after my runs.  (On the other hand, my frustration can at times be a good motivator, pushing me to go harder next time...)

The other big news of Week 9 was on the fundraising front.  A huge word of thanks goes out to Shirley B of Gluten Free Easily, Andrew B, Michael S, Jed F, Sam P, and Rob H for your generous donations!  With your help, I've now raised $590 in support of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  This brings me to just about 12% of my goal of raising $5,010 for the NFCA ($100 per mile).  If you haven't donated, please consider supporting me and the NFCA today.  Every little bit helps and makes a difference in raising awareness about the important issues of Celiac Disease and gluten-free living.  While I've made great progress so far - with your help - I still have a long way to go, and at current rates of fundraising, it doesn't look like I'll reach my goal.  I have two finish lines for this race - the actual finish line, and the fundraising finish line.  All the training I've logged up until now, and all the training I'll log between now and race day, will help to ensure I reach the first finish line (after 50.1 miles and 10,000 vertical feet of elevation gain).  But I can only reach finish line #2 with your help!

- Pete

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Foto: French Fries

Part of the discharge instructions when Marin left the hospital was for us to focus on feeding her foods that were high in carbs and fats, and low in protein, in order to try and reduce the diarrhea (at least until she kicked the virus that was causing it).  Kelli and I both immediately thought of french fries (which Marin loves anyway...).

While the preferred potato for making french fries is the Russet, we used Yukon gold potatoes, which is what we had on hand (they're a great, versatile, all-around tater).  I used the largest of three julienne blades on a mandolin to slice the potatoes into perfectly uniform fries (a mandolin also makes for quick work of the job of slicing potatoes).

The pre-fried fries were about halfway in thickness between a McDonald's french fry and a steak fry.  For me, they might be the perfect size...the ratio of starchy interior to fried exterior is ideal.  But a french fry of this size also presents a challenge - how to fry it in such a way that the interior cooks through but the outside doesn't burn or overcook.

In our cookbook (page 106), we describe a method of partially frying the potatoes, and then finishing them off by baking in the oven (a technique I learned from my mom).  You also have two other options: 1) double fry the potatoes, or 2) blanch the potatoes first by pre-cooking them for about 5 minutes in a pot of boiling water (which is what we did this time).  If blanching the potatoes, make sure you pat them dry well with a clean kitchen towel before frying.  Wet potatoes are dangerous with oil whose temperature is hovering around 375 degrees.  Remember: oil and water don't mix, and you risk either splattering hot oil, or flash steaming the water, both of which would make for a very bad day.  Take the extra minute and dry the potatoes off.

A sprinkle of kosher salt finished off the fries, and we were ready to eat.  I don't know exactly what it is, but homemade french fries always taste different than fries I have anywhere else.  I feel like you can taste their natural, made-fresh goodness.  So this summer, when you're busy grilling some hamburgers one weekend, why not pair those burgers with a side of fries?

- Pete

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Product Review: New Planet's Raspberry Ale

Just within the last week or two, Colorado's New Planet Beer Company has released its 3R Raspberry Ale, a second offering that follows on the company's wildly successful Tread Lightly Ale.  This alone makes New Planet noteworthy in the realm of gluten-free beer.  Most companies are one-trick ponies, offering gluten-free consumers a single option for GF beer: Redbridge, or New Grist, or Bard's.  The exception is some of the regional microbreweries, like Deschutes in Oregon and the Alchemist in Vermont.  But their beers are available only on a very local level - on tap at the breweries.  New Planet, in contrast, is distributed state-wide, sold by the bottle (or by the six pack) in liquor stores.

Like the TLA, the 3R Raspberry Ale is brewed from sorghum and corn, orange peel, hops and yeast...plus raspberry puree from raspberries grown in Oregon.  (The 3R, true to the company's environmental commitment, takes its name from the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.)  The Raspberry Ale is sold in 22-ounce bomber bottles, perfect for sharing with a friend (and two pint glasses) or enjoying on your own if you're planning to have more than one 12-ounce serving of brew.

In the pint glass, the beer has just the slightest tinge of pink from the raspberries.  The flavor is clean and crisp, and when enjoyed on the colder side, this beer is very refreshing, especially in the summer time.  It's fruity without being too fruity.  The beer is slightly sweet, as you might expect from a beer with fresh fruit in it.

Admittedly, whether or not you like this beer may depend primarily on your preferences as a beer drinker.  If you enjoy darker and/or bitter beers, you'll probably take a pass on New Planet's Raspberry Ale.  But if you enjoy sweeter and/or fruit beers, this one is definitely worth your time.  With my Belgian heritage, I've developed a great appreciation for Belgian-style Lambic fruit beers (my favorite is kriek, a cherry beer).  While there are some notable differences between New Planet's Raspberry Ale and a Belgian Lambic Framboise, I still love this beer.  I'll happily be drinking it this summer while I'm busy enjoying our newly landscaped back porch, grilling away.

- Pete

Logo courtesy of New Planet Beer Company.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 8

Balance.  In the context of training for and racing in an endurance event like the Virgil Crest Ultra, it's everywhere.  When you're actually racing, there's a balance to be struck between going out too hard and not having enough left to finish, and going out too conservatively and leaving "extra" behind when you cross the finish line.  During training, there's a balance to be struck between training days and rest days, between speed workouts that improve your per mile pace and distance workouts that improve your stamina and efficiency over many miles.  And of course, there's a balance to be struck between one's "racing" life and everyday life (at home with family, work responsibilities, etc.).

Sometimes, finding that balance isn't always straightforward.  For one thing, balance is subjective.  What may appear to be a perfectly reasonable training and racing schedule to the racer may seem horribly out of balance to his or her family.  For another, balance sometimes looks an awful lot like imbalance, and it can be a very fuzzy line between the two.  There are times when balance means over-committing to training, and the everyday life takes a back seat.  There are other times when it's the training that fades to the background, and life demands more attention.

Finding that balance, and experiencing how that balance can shift week by week, day by day, and hour by hour, was the defining aspect of Week 8.  But first, of course, the stats:

Training Days: 3     (To Date: 30)
Rest Days: 4     (To Date: 26)
Weight: 154     (Net Gain/Loss: -6)
Running Days: 2     (To Date: 22)
Running Miles Logged: 16.4     (To Date: 184.9)
Average Run: 8.2     (Short = 6.7, Long = 9.7)
Cross-Training: Gardening

No, that's not a typo.  I did in fact list gardening as cross-training.  Never in my life did I think I'd consider gardening a form of training, but after last week, I've reconsidered my position.  Over the course of Week 8, I re-landscaped the back patio of our townhome, basically spending 2 hours each night on the project.  Some of the tasks were mundane...like pulling copious amounts of weeds, tilling the soil with a spade shovel, and planting new native, drought-tolerant ornamental bunch grasses.  But some of the tasks were downright physical...like chopping down and cutting up a dead 15-foot aspen tree, and loading and unloading 850 pounds of locally quarried stone from my Jeep.  I felt like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV during the Siberia training montage when he's preparing to fight Ivan Drago.  I decided that, collectively, all these tasks amounted to at least one training day, and I've got the sore muscles and blistered hands to prove it!

Week 8 only included 2 running days, and neither run was a long-distance one in excess of 10 miles (let alone a 20 miler, which was my plan).  As the week evolved, other things took priority over training.  Marin came down with a case of croup.  That alone wasn't notable.  We've been through that before.  But as has happened before, croup proved a gateway illness to something else.  She developed some type of systemic viral infection that at one point caused her fever to spike to 105, and most importantly, left her with terrible diarrhea.  (It's funny how, when you or a child in your family has gluten issues, you become intimately familiar with the nuances of poop.  You know that not all diarrhea is created the same.  A gluten diarrhea looks and smells very different from a viral diarrhea.  But I digress...)

On top of the uncontrollable bowel movements, she'd stopped eating and drinking.  We couldn't get fluids in faster than they were coming out, and by Saturday morning, she'd been admitted to the hospital.  It wasn't exactly how we'd planned to spend the holiday weekend, but it is what was needed.  Thankfully, Marin's pediatrician and our preferred hospital are part of the same medical campus, with seamlessly integrated electronic medical records.  Even before we'd been formally admitted to the Peds department at the hospital, they were up to speed on Marin's dietary restrictions.  Then, in a case of serendipitous coincidence, the nurse caring for Marin happened to have a daughter with Celiac, so she was especially knowledgeable, and we felt like we had an extra advocate on our side and watching our back.

Saturday morning had been my planned long run of the week.  That was out the window.  It was a stressful 24 hours to say the least.  To see such a tiny person hooked up to an IV.  To see our daughter, normally so happy and cheerful and active, just lying in a hospital bed all day, listless and detached, was deeply troubling.  We ended up being discharged 24 hours or so after we were admitted.  By early Sunday afternoon, we were back at home.  Marin had improved (and continued to improve.  Today, Monday, she's doing great.  It's remarkable how much she's bounced back already...).

Sunday afternoon offered an opportunity to go for the run I'd missed on Saturday, but I didn't go.  Sometimes, training can be a great escape from everyday life.  It's a way to disconnect momentarily; to clear the mind and decompress.  But to do so demands having at least a little energy - physical, psychological, emotional - to sustain you through the run.  I was depleted.  I had nothing left in me to give to a run.  Plus, the father in me wanted to stay with Marin much more than the racer in me wanted to train.  And so Sunday came and went, and Week 8 came to a close.  In this case, finding the right balance involved a one-sided imbalance - family over training.

Now, Marin is probably 90% recovered, and with her health improved, my training will resume.

Speaking of which: huge thanks go out this week to Karla T (my sister-in-law), Eluena F, Gluten Free Steve and The Artist, the Romero family (more beloved in-laws), and Mike L for their generous support of my effort to raise money for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  With your help, I've now raised $400 for the NFCA, which brings me to 8% of my goal of raising $5,010.  I still have a long way to go to reach that goal, however.  Please consider helping me support the NFCA!  Every little bit counts.  And every donation, no matter how large or how small, is deeply appreciated.

- Pete

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Foto: Hummus

Whenever we're hosting people for dinner, one question we often ask ourselves is, "What food should we have on-hand to snack on during conversation before dinner?"  There are of course many, many answers to that question, but one which we return to often is hummus, a Middle Eastern dip made from chickpeas and tahini paste, plus olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt.  Our version uses enough garlic to give it a little "bite," and enough lemon to brighten the flavor.  It's naturally gluten-free to boot.  Here's how we make it:

2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 cup juice from the beans
juice of 1 large lemon
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt

1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth.

Enjoy!

- Pete