Friday, September 28, 2012

Race Recap: Virgil Crest Ultra, 2012 Edition

At mile 0.0, before the 6:00am start
Leading up to the 2012 edition of the Virgil Crest ultramarathon, I remained optimistic that my ankle was healing and that it'd be up to the rigors of the race. But despite putting on a brave, happy face publicly, I'd quietly been harboring doubts. My ankle had been through ups and downs in previous weeks, and although it felt better than it had, all week there was constant, lingering pain. It was mild, but with every footstep, it was there. And if my ankle hurt ever so slightly simply walking on flat paths to and from my office, how would it hold up against 50 miles of trails through rough, mountainous terrain?

As planned, we drove from the Hudson Valley to the Finger Lakes on Thursday night. On Friday I picked up my race bib—#115—and prepped my gear, hydration, and nutrition for the race. I kept it pretty simple. In the end, my gluten-free race hydration and nutrition looked liked this:

  • First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System (hydration)
  • First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot (nutrition)
  • First Endurance Ultragen (both)
  • Cara cara navel oranges
  • Bananas
  • M&Ms chocolate
  • Honey Stinger organic energy chews
  • Luna gluten-free protein bars
  • Salted potato chips
  • Fanta orange soda

I snacked on handfuls of the "real" food in aid stations, swapped out my empty bottle and gel flask for fresh ones from Kelli to carry with me while running.

Ultrarunning grows more popular every year, and this year's Virgil Crest was bigger than ever. Something like 170 runners gathered at the starting line for the 50- and 100-mile races, nearly 100 of them for the 50-mile version, including me.


With headlamps to light the way, the race director blew his ram's horn and we were off into the darkness at 6:00am. I set off with several goals in the forefront of my mind:
  • Run conservatively: I needed to wait and see how my ankle was feeling before I really started to push.
  • Race beginning at the Daisy Hollow aid station: If my body was cooperating, and I wanted to really try and race this thing, then I decided that I'd start to race at the turnaround of the out-and-back course, at the Daisy Hollow aid station, mile 25.1.
  • Negative split the course: In order to make sure I didn't go out too hard too early, I focused on trying to negative split the course, which means running the second half faster than the first half.
  • If all systems were go, aim to reach Daisy Hollow in 5 hours: If I reached Daisy Hollow in 5 hours, and I negative split the course, I'd succeed in going sub-10 hours for the first time. (Based on previous years' results, I'd also succeed in breaking back into the top ten with a time like that...)

All of these related goals boiled down to a few simple things to focus on during the race: 1) take it easy, 2) be patient, and 3) slow and steady.


And they're off!
Despite recent rains, the trails were in pretty good shape, especially compared to last year's mud-and-water fest. Although I was focused on running my own conservative race at a comfortable pace—at least to start—I soon found that my body (though not necessarily my ankle) was feeling pretty good, even though I hadn't trained in a month. In fact, as 170 of us set off into the darkness, I found myself near the front of the pack, with a long string of shining headlamps strung out along the lakeshore behind me at Hope Lake park.

I was running what felt like a very reserved pace, yet came through the Gravel Pit aid station (#1, mile 4.6 or so) somewhere in the top 5 to 10 of the 50-mile race. At aid station #2 (mile 9.5 or so), I remained somewhere in the top 5 or 10. I was averaging 10- to 11-minute miles, and it felt very comfortable. Keeping a pace like that would easily allow me to break 10 hours. Plus, I'd spent portions of those segments running with the guy who eventually took 2nd place in the 100-mile race and another guy who finished in the top 10 of the 50-mile race. I was in good company.

But there was a problem. Somewhere around mile 7 or 8, my ankle flared up. I can't say that I stepped "wrong." I simply stepped one of the myriad ways you're forced to step while trail running, and in a flash, a zing of pain returned. I tried to write it off as a fluke, but in the back of my mind I worried what it meant for the remainder of the race. I didn't have to wait long to find out. The pain returned ... and then it stayed.

By the time I reached Kelli at aid station #2, every footstep hurt. The next section of the course—about 4.5 miles long—was the "dreaded" alpine loop, which climbed the Greek Peak ski area twice. This year—probably thanks to my intense hill training in the Hudson Highlands—the alpine loop felt surprisingly benign. In fact, in spite of my ankle, the whole race was seeming easier to me than in previous years. It's easy to say such a thing only 10 or 15 miles into a 50-miler, but three years of experience with this particular race gave me something of a veteran's perspective. I knew what was coming. I knew which hills to power hike, and when to run. And this year simply felt different ... sections of the course that in an earlier year felt "long" or "challenging" this year passed quickly and with comparatively less effort. It was confirmation that I am perhaps, as I've suspected, in the best shape of my life.

This made what came next all the more difficult to swallow.

Leaving Lift House 5 aid station, en route to Rock Pile at mile 20
When I reached Kelli again at the end of the Alpine Loop (just shy of mile 15 or so), she could tell that something was off. I told her what was going on. The sharp pain in my ankle had returned, and it wasn't going away. In fact, it was getting worse with every mile. Downhills were the toughest, actually, which I had to run very gingerly, my right leg doing most of the effort. Uneven ground—any place with lots of roots or rocks—caused an acute sting of pain deep in the ankle. I questioned whether this thing was gonna happen. But I wasn't ready to drop. Not yet. I wanted to at least make it to Rock Pile (aid station #4) at mile 20 and see how things felt.

I put on my smiley face (see photo above) and set off, hoping for a small miracle, but not expecting one.

The next miles were tough on my ankle. Numerous times I winced from the pain. I could tell that I was subconsciously favoring the foot. Sometime before I reached the Rock Pile, I made the decision to drop. Kelli was there waiting on a dirt road 1/3 of a mile from the aid station. I told her what was up. We had a quick conversation during which we discussed the merits of dropping versus forging on.

There's a canon of literature and race reports of ultra runners who've persevered and finished a race despite some pretty incredible injuries. On this day, I wasn't prepared to add my name to that list. This wasn't a matter of testing myself against a distance I didn't know if I could finish or not. I'd finished my share of 50-mile races before. This wasn't a case of testing myself against a new course. I'd finished two previous Virgil Crests before. As Kelli and I agreed, this was a matter of either a) pushing on now and potentially doing damage to my ankle, thus ending my season early, or b) pulling the plug now, in the hopes of rehabilitating my ankle in time for the Bimbler's Bluff ultra in Connecticut one month away at the end of October.

Kelli offered to go the Rock Pile to inform them I was dropping, but I wanted to give them the news personally. So we walked slowly together along the trail. It was a funny feeling, passing spectators, crew, and race volunteers going to and from that aid station. They'd see my bib number, and quite reasonably assuming I was one of the racers, offered hearty words of encouragement. I simply smiled and said "thank you," not wanting to explain to each one of them that I was only walking up that hill to withdraw from the race.

At the Rock Pile, I bumped into race director Ian Golden, who I've now known for several years. When he asked me how my race was going, I told him I was dropping; that my ankle was done. Paraphrasing, he said something like, "You know, you have enough time left before the cutoff to pretty much walk the rest of the race and finish." I did some quick mental math. He was right. I'd run the first 20 miles fast enough that I still had 12+ hours to cover the remaining 30 miles. That's a pace of 2.5 miles per hour. I could certainly walk that fast.

In the end, I dropped, not wanting to put those extra miles on an ankle that was already kaput. It was a crushing decision, knowing what my true potential was for this race, but that an injury prevented it from coming to be. I never actually cried, but there were times when tears weren't far behind my eyes.

That was all one week ago. I can't believe that such a small amount of time has elapsed since the race. It already feels like an eternity has passed.

Meanwhile, I don't have many answers for my ankle. I saw my orthopedist again. This time he agreed with me that the problem isn't tendons or ligaments, but more likely bones and nerves. An MRI later this week showed that my ankle pretty much looks normal, which is puzzling. I feel a bit like the undiagnosed celiac explaining symptoms to a conventional doctor and searching for an answer and a diagnosis, but not getting anywhere. I have pain in my ankle that is real, but so far they can't say why.

I've now entered into what feels like a cycle of pain and recovery. I give the ankle a week or more of solid rest, during which it improves greatly but is never fully pain-free. A doctor clears me for all activity, as my pain permits. The next weekend, I do a test run and the ankle blows up, which restarts the cycle. This is again where I find myself. My ankle feels pretty good as I write this, but it isn't pain-free, and I can feel—yet again—that certain motions bring the pain out. But I've once again been cleared for activity, as pain permits. If the pain returns, the orthopedist wants to do injections into the ankle. I'm not necessarily opposed to injections, but for what? Do we know what we're treating? What's the cause of this phantom pain I experience when running?

Answers, thus far, have been elusive. But if I learned anything during my two years of being really sick, leading up to my going gluten-free in early 2007, it's this: medicine can be complicated. Sometimes in hindsight the answers seem clear and obvious, but it's an imperfect combination of art and science. The ankle is a complicated joint, and lots of things can go wrong. We've potentially ruled out some things, and not others. Hopefully, though, there's an answer waiting. (Alternatively, I wouldn't mind not having an answer as long as the pain goes away and I can return to training...)

To quote the Dixie Chicks, I'm ready, ready, ready to run...

–Pete

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Recipe: Cider Donuts

Taste tester-approved
As I write these words, my ladies—also known as Kelli and the girls—are en route to a local orchard here in the Hudson Valley to go apple picking. It's that time of year. Apples. Fresh-pressed cider. Brewing a new batch of hard cider. And ... cider donuts.

Kelli and I each have strong memories of cider donuts from our youth. For her, the numerous apple orchards and cider mills in the Finger Lakes region where she grew up meant an annual seasonal ritual of picking up fresh cider and cider donuts from a handful of favorite local spots.

For me, cider donuts recall several seasons spent working on a farm on Long Island.

Fall was high season for the farm, when families and couples of Long Islanders came out in droves to pick pumpkins and purchase fresh cider donuts. The farm was mostly open-air, but we had several greenhouses. And one greenhouse was actually a bakery where the cider donuts were made. When I'd arrive between 6:00 and 6:30am each morning, the smell of those donuts was already wafting through the air as I approached the greenhouse. Those donuts were both my breakfast and my first job of the day—bagging them for sale later that morning. (Those of us that worked the farm could also take bags of leftover donuts home with us at the end of the day, which made us fairly popular among family and friends.)

Other than that, there wasn't much to be done for the donuts. A giant robot basically did the work for us ... plopping rings of dough into hot oil, automatically flipping the donuts, and ultimately carrying them via a wire conveyor to those of us waiting on the far end.

Baked
It's been a long time since I've had a cider donut—or pretty much any donut for that matter. Donuts aren't exactly a cornerstone of our diet, and finding a good gluten-free donut is pretty rare. (Though have you tried these maple-glazed, pumpkin donuts from Silvana's Kitchen? I have, and they're pretty awesome. Also, about one year ago we did make jelly-filled donut holes as part of the monthly Gluten-Free Ratio Rally.)

This week gave us reason to revisit donuts, however, as our daughter Marin's preschool class was headed to an orchard to go apple picking, where all the kids would partake in cider donuts. We didn't want her to miss out on that experience, so we resolved to make a tasty gluten-free donut for her (and us).

The result is a richly flavorful, moist, tender donut. And we offer it up two ways, depending on your preference: baked or fried. If you miss the seasonal cider donuts of your pre-gluten-free days, this recipe will leave you soul-satisfied.

Fried, with cinnamon sugar
Cider Donuts
Makes 10 to 12 donuts

Ingredients
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp (1/4 cup, 1/2 stick) butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp GF vanilla extract
250 g (2 cups) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp GF baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 400 deg F.
2. Over the stove, reduce the apple cider to 1/2 cup. Set aside.
3. In a mixer, cream together the sugar and butter.
4. Add the eggs and mix.
5. Add the buttermilk, vanilla, and reduced cider and mix.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients, then add the dry to the wet and mix until smooth.
7. Use a pastry bag (or similar) with a one-inch-diameter opening (or slightly larger) to pipe the dough into a non-stick donut pan to form single, continuous rings of dough for each donut. Repeat in batches according to the size of your donut pan (most make six donuts per pan).
8a. If making baked donuts: bake for 10 minutes, until the donut springs back when touched. Remove from the oven and from the baking pan, and let cool.
8b. If making fried donuts: bake for 8 minutes to set, then remove from the pan and flash fry in a pot of 350 deg F oil—flipping part-way through frying—until brown. Transfer to a wire rack, paper bag, paper towels, etc. to let cool and remove excess oil.

Notes
The donuts can be enjoyed plain, or you could glaze them or coat them in cinnamon sugar, as we did with the fried version. To make a simple cinnamon sugar, combine 1 tsp ground cinnamon with 1 tbsp sugar. For the baked donuts, lightly brush with melted butter, then coat with the cinnamon sugar. For the fried donuts, coat with cinnamon sugar shortly after removing from the oil.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Race Preview: Virgil Crest Ultra, 2012 Edition

As I write these words, the start of the Virgil Crest ultramarathon is just 36 or so hours away. The moment of truth is nearly here. To be honest, there's not much to be said in this race preview that hasn't already been said here, here, here, and here.

There's about one week left to still donate to the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, which supports the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Our three-year total has surpassed $9,000 (woohoo!) and the 2012 total is right at 50% of my goal of raising $5,000 ($100 per mile).

The race takes place in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, about half an hour east of Kelli's hometown, so we'll be staying with family for the weekend, as we have in previous years for this race as well. We'll make the four-hour drive tonight, so that tomorrow I can avoid sitting in the car for extended periods of time, which tends to make my legs feel heavy and a bit dead. Tomorrow I'll prep food, pick up my bib number, and attend the pre-race briefing.

For nutrition, I'm planning to keep it simple ... even more so than for the Finger Lakes Fifties ultra earlier this summer. I'll be hydrating with my trusted First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System and carrying a gel flask of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot. In the aid stations, it'll be chocolate, oranges, bananas, some soda (probably root beer or orange Fanta or Sprite), and I doubt much else. It's amazing how limited those options are compared to my first Virgil Crest, when Kelli and I brought a veritable gluten-free bakery and restaurant to the race with us. But I'm learning—thirst, more than anything, dictates what I can manage to eat. It's got to go down easy. I might tweak things a bit between now and the race, but not by much.

Then—if past races are any indication—I'll try to go to bed early Friday night, but won't be able to, because I'll be too excited to race. Saturday morning, I'll wake around 4:00am (likely before my alarm goes off), eat breakfast, double check that I have all my gear and gluten-free food, and plan to arrive at the race start sometime between 5:00 and 5:30am. The race starts at 6:00am between flaming torches with the blowing of a ram's horn.

As of right now, there's a chance of evening rain showers the night before the race, but it doesn't look like it'll be anything close to last year, when we got drenched and muddy. The weather for race day looks pretty good for running—a high around 70, with a low somewhere in the high 40s to low 50s. There's a 40% chance of scattered storms throughout the day, which should further help to keep things cool (though hopefully not too wet and muddy).

From past years, we know that cell service throughout much of the course ranges from spotty to non-existent, so we're not even going to try and tweet and Facebook the race live. If you want to follow along on race day, there are a few options:

1. Check the live race leader board. Make sure to click the "VCU 50M" option, and look for my name—"Peter Bronski." That'll give you a sense for how I'm stacking up against the field.

2. Visit the Race Center, which will update throughout the day with runner statuses.

3. Visit my runner page, which will have my splits as I pass through each checkpoint.

4. Finally, receive text updates sent directly to your phone by race organizers. Click on the cell phone icon next to my name and sign up to receive messages on your mobile phone with my status.

Otherwise, I'm signing off. See you next week on the other side of this race with a report here on the blog. I can't predict how the race will go, but I guarantee this much: there's always a good story to tell.

–Pete

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Recipe: New England Pumpkin Pie


"To everything there is a season." When The Byrds covered the Pete Seeger song "Turn! Turn! Turn!" in 1965 (his lyrics adapted from the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes), it became a sensational hit. And they were right: to everything there is a season. At the moment—with the official start of fall just days away—pumpkin season is nigh.

There's more than one way to experience the changing of the seasons. Of course, you can just sit in one place and wait, allowing the simple passage of time to eventually bring a change in season. When we lived in Colorado, we learned that altitude can similarly signal a change in seasons. While it may feel like summer in the valleys, as you climb into the mountains it can quickly become fall or even winter. And there's latitude. By traveling far enough north or south, you can similarly transport yourself from one season to another.


Our recent trip to Mont Orford in Quebec was a perfect case in point. We left our home in New York's Hudson Valley in late summer, and by the time we arrived at our campsite far to the north, it was definitively fall. There was a noticeable crisp chill in the air, especially in the mornings. In places, mountainsides were aflame in yellow, orange, and red.

As if on cue, our own food cravings followed suit. Suddenly, we desired things such as apple cider and pumpkin pie.

On our second to last day in Quebec, we ventured to Citrouilles & Tournesols, which translates from the French as "Pumpkins & Sunflowers." In short, it's a kid-friendly farm that grows an impressive variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits, with a special emphasis on—you guessed it—numerous varieties of pumpkins and sunflowers.


We wandered the fields and, feeling inspired by the rapidly approaching fall season, picked a pair of beautiful, compact New England pie pumpkins (sometimes, but not always, synonymous with sugar pumpkins). Then came the delicious part: transforming them into a richly flavorful and silky smooth pumpkin pie. Since we used New England pie pumpkins, I've twisted the wording to call this recipe New England pumpkin pie.

Dare I say, we've improved upon the pumpkin pie recipe you'll find on page 270 of the 2nd edition of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking. We've eliminated the sweetened condensed milk, opting instead of some heavy cream and extra eggs, and adjusted the blend of spices.


New England Pumpkin Pie
Makes 12 servings

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 recipe uncooked pie dough (page 265 of the cookbook)

Steps
1. To roast the pumpkin (adapted from the handy 10-step guide at Elana's Pantry): Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Cut the pumpkins in half (we used two small pumpkins), scoop out the seeds, place face down on a pan, add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, and roast until the pumpkin is tender, about one hour. Let cool, scoop the flesh out, and puree in a food processor. Increase the oven temp to 375 deg F.
2. Whisk all ingredients together (not including the pie dough) in a bowl to combine.
3. Roll out the pie dough between sheets of plastic wrap and transfer to your pie pan.
4. Add the pumpkin pie filling.
5. Bake for 45 minutes, until just about set in the center when jiggled.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Notes
To make this recipe dairy/lactose/casein-free, try substituting coconut milk for the heavy cream, and also use your preferred DF butter substitute when making the pie dough.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Campfire Cuisine, Quebec Edition

The Mont Orford ski station and the destination of our summit hike
From time to time, readers ask what kind of meals we plan when we're camping. And from time to time, we've answered that question here on the blog the best way we know how: with concrete examples of what we actually eat when we're camping.

Earlier this summer we shared some of our menu from a trip to New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock, which included turkey taco nachos with peppers, onions, and salsa, as well as corn on the cob and hot dogs with toasted gluten-free bread. Then there was last summer's trip to New York's Catskill Mountains, which included "pouch potatoes," bacon, and s'mores made with gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and roasted marshmallows.

For our recent trip to Quebec's Mont Orford National Park, we decided to change up the menu.

Pizza over an open fire
Since we have young girls, our camping has taken a definite turn, shifting focus from the backcountry to car camping ... usually at national park, state park, and forest service campgrounds in the mountains. We're looking forward to getting back to backcountry camping with our expedition packs, but in the meantime, we're taking full advantage of car camping.

When you're car camping, you can pretty much bring the kitchen sink, and we nearly do. It probably won't surprise you—given that we're food bloggers and cookbook authors—that one place where we don't like to cut corners is with the food. That's certainly one area where car camping has a big leg up over backpacking. We plan our menu, then stock our large cooler accordingly, topping it off with bags and bags of ice. Yogurt? Milk? Meats? All of them, no problem.

Canoeing on Lac Stukely, with a to-go picnic lunch stashed in the aft of our boat
For our first night at the campsite, we made pizzas over an open fire ... from scratch. Oh yeah. I built a hot fire while Kelli and the girls mixed up a batch of dough in our small pot, using it as a mixing bowl. Then we portioned the dough into quarters. Each quarter got pressed into an oiled non-stick pan to par-bake on one side over the fire until golden brown. Then we flipped the crust, added the tomatoes, cheese, turkey pepperoni, and dried herbs, covered with aluminum foil to retain heat and cook/melt the toppings, and finished it over the fire.

Each pizza took about 30 minutes from start to finish, so it was something of a progressive dinner that lasted nearly two hours. But boy oh boy, it was worth it! Dee-licious.

For our hike earlier that day, we brought along a variety of easy, portable, munchables: gluten-free crackers, cheese, turkey pepperoni, fresh apples, dried mango, chocolate, a handful of GF Luna protein bars.

Whole grain brown rice pasta with basil pesto and a bottle of local white wine
Since the hike proved to be too much for my ankle, the next day we rented a canoe and set out on Lac Stukeley. We paddled across the lake from the national park beach to a tiny, secluded cove, brought our boat to shore, and had a picnic lunch in the shade of some pine trees beneath the slopes of Mont Chauve. Like our hike the day before, the meal included some familiar, portable munchables, plus a sandwich for each person, with the gluten-free bread lightly toasted over that morning's breakfast campfire. Easy.

With our trip drawing to a close—and our stash of gluten-free beer and naturally GF hard cider already depleted—we decided to finish with some class, picking up a bottle of local Quebec white wine. (Earlier that day—the same day that we discovered Boulangerie Owl's Head in Magog—we had gone wine tasting at a nearby vineyard.) Of course, to keep it classy we drank the wine from what we had on hand ... bright yellow Elmo cups that we borrowed from the girls. No wine snobbery or pretense here!

For the meal, we went with whole grain brown rice pasta and a pesto made with basil from our garden. The pesto we'd prepared at home and brought along in a glass jar in our cooler. Although we cooked 90% of our meals over the open fire, for the pasta we opted to boil it over our small camp stove.

As you can see, the sky's the limit when it comes to planning gluten-free camping meals. When you're car camping especially, the possibilities are nearly endless. And since we're embracing this whole car camping thing with full gusto (we even invested in one of those canopies with screen walls you can erect over and around your picnic table!) we're considered investing in a Dutch oven. Just imagine the options that would introduce!

–Pete

Monday, September 17, 2012

In Praise of Small Miracles

Butter Hill summit from the trailhead
As I write these words, the Virgil Crest ultramarathon and the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge are five days away. Yikes! Where has the time gone? As you've probably read, recent weeks have been something of a roller coaster ride with my foot and ankle injury, and now the moment of truth is nearly upon me.

This time last week, I was lamenting some serious lingering pain following a test trail run on Schunnemunk Mountain. It left me with major doubts as to whether or not I'd be able to start the Virgil Crest race. I spent the entire past week giving my ankle complete rest, hoping that I'd experience some small miracle and see a turnaround in how it feels so that I can still run.

In the meantime, my spirits were buoyed by news to celebrate: thanks to a pair of recent donations, the three-year fundraising total for the Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge has now surpassed $9,000 in support of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness! A sincere and deep thanks to each and every one of you who has helped us collectively reach that great milestone.

USGS benchmark atop the Butter Hill summit
Back in New York after a bit of travel late last week, I set out this past weekend for Storm King State Park for another test run to evaluate my ankle. I put it through its paces, running over Butter Hill and then a loop around and over Storm King peak, which looms high above the Hudson River.

Some sections were very runnable; others were quite rocky and technical. Although the roundtrip distance car-to-car was only 3.5 miles, it logged about 2,000 vertical feet of elevation change, so there were plenty of steep ups and downs (and not all that many flats).

I had planned on running a longer 9-mile circuit, which would have also included North Point, one of the summits of Crow's Nest, a mountain that straddles the border of Storm King State Park and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but I opted to keep the run much shorter. My ankle told me everything I needed to know, and there was no sense in pushing my luck and risking either re-injuring my ankle or delaying my current, ongoing recovery.

And what did my ankle tell me?

When the going gets tough, the tough ... build boardwalks? On the steep northeast slopes of Storm King peak
I'm convinced that my initial diagnosis from the orthopedist was incorrect. It's not a lateral ankle sprain. The ligaments and tendons that would be implicated in such a sprain are strong and solid and pain-free. Running motions that test them cause me no problems.

The trouble comes when the trail gets very rocky and uneven and technical, forcing my foot and ankle to flex in particular ways that bring out the pain. To me, it feels much more along the lines of an injury to bones and/or nerves, which is consistent with the compression/impact nature of my original injury.

For those of you who, like me, want to geek out on the specific details: Based on a semester of sports medicine in high school, some diligent and copious internet research, and an unfailing willingness to self-diagnose, I suspect the problem actually lies in the subtalar joint and/or sinus tarsi. We'll see if I'm right or not.

The important thing is this: one week ago, I was highly pessimistic about my chances for starting the race. Now, I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to run. I'd be lying if I said that my ankle is 100%, or that it's even pain-free. It's not. But I saw marked improvement over the course of the past week, thanks in part to the deliberate rest I gave it, not to mention all of your prayers, well wishes, healing thoughts and energy, and even a get well card or two received in the mail! I remain hopeful that with this final week of rest, I'll see even more improvement so that I can start—and ultimately, finish—the race come Saturday.

The eastern Hudson Highlands and river from a summit overlook on Storm King
Depending on how my body is actually feeling on race morning, I'll either take it easy and just run to finish, or—if I'm feeling good—I'll push and race and try to recapture a top ten finish. For now, I'm not entertaining any such thoughts.

I'm going into this race with more uncertainty about my potential performance than perhaps any race before. (Except maybe last year's Virgil Crest ultra, when I got pretty darned sick the week before the race... I'm starting to think this race might be cursed for me!)

I'll be relying almost entirely upon my fundamental base of endurance, and not on any recent training or other preparation, thanks to the injury and all the time off I've had to take to focus on recovery. By the time race day rolls around on Saturday morning, consider these facts: 1) It will have been a full month since my last long training run. 2) It will have been about 3.5 weeks since the ankle injury, I'm not yet back to 100%, and it has prevented me from doing any meaningful training. And 3) In those 3.5 weeks, I was on schedule to log about 140 miles of trail running training. Instead, I've managed just 16.5 miles of running, all of which were tentative runs to evaluate the condition of my ankle.

But that's okay. I've accepted that that's the hand of cards I've been dealt this time around. And I'm grateful for small miracles, for the fact that I'm even writing this blog post considering racing. My season could have been over, but for now, it looks like my body and my recovery are cooperating, and that there's more long-distance running and racing left in this 2012 season!

–Pete

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bakery Review: Boulangerie Owl's Bread, Magog, Quebec


During our camping trip at Mont Orford in Quebec, the weather forecast one day was looking a little less than ideal, with something like a 70 or 80% chance of rain. So, we headed into the nearby town of Magog, a quaint village on the northern shore of Lake Memphremagog, for a little sightseeing.

As we walked the main drag, lined with a number of inviting restaurants, we stumbled upon Boulangerie Owl's Head, a bread bakery named for nearby Mount Owl's Head. A bilingual French-English sign in the front window noted that the bakery offered gluten-free breads on Wednesdays. It was a Tuesday. We resolved to return the next morning, our day of departure back to the states.


We had such high hopes. Overnight, we entertained visions of an elaborate spread of French-inspired gluten-free options: baguettes, croissants, pastries. The reality fell far short.

In practice, Boulangerie Owl's Head—at least on that day—offered a single gluten-free bread, in sizes small and smaller, which cost $6.25 and $3.50 Canadian, respectively. The bread is made in-house from rice flour, buckwheat flour, and a third flour we had trouble translating from the French, but which we suspect is garbanzo bean flour, plus maple syrup and olive oil. It is displayed on a common wooden rack alongside and beneath gluten-ous breads, which raises some serious cross-contamination concerns.

Fortunately, you're not missing much if you wisely opt to take a pass. This was one of the worst gluten-free breads we've ever had. When someone describes a loaf of bread as being dense and heavy like a brick, this bread should be the standard against which all others are judged. We couldn't even cut it with a knife. We tore it apart with our hands, took a requisite bite, and opted to give the rest to the birds, so to speak.

On the plus side, our campsite cuisine on this trip was glorious ... coming in a blog post next week!

–Pete

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Restaurant Review: Pacini, Sherbrooke, Quebec

Our recent camping trip over a long Labor Day Weekend took us to Mont Orford National Park in Quebec. From where we live in New York's Hudson Valley, it's about six hours of driving time and about eight hours door-to-door, when you factor in stopping to eat, refuel the car, etc. For our first night, we booked a hotel in nearby Sherbrooke, Quebec, since the national park campground was all booked the first night of the holiday weekend. We'd set up camp in the forest the next day.

We'd be cooking almost all of our food over the campfire, but for that first night, we set our sights on the restaurants of Sherbrooke. It looked like there were several exciting options nearby, but we also decided to ask for recommendations from the hotel front desk. A few stock phrases in French come in quite handy in situations like this (not to mention when you arrive at a restaurant or are speaking with a server):

Je ne peux pas manger gluten - I cannot eat gluten
sans gluten - without gluten or gluten-free

They did some quick sleuthing on their computer and recommended Pacini, which offered a gluten-free menu. That was encouraging, so we followed their recommendation.

Pacini turned out to be something of the Canadian answer to Olive Garden and the half-dozen other Italian-American franchise restaurants you'll find across the country (or countries, as the case may be with Canada...).Their gluten-free menu offers a number of options, primarily a variety of salads and proteins cooked on the grill.

We have mixed feelings about such menus. On the one hand, it's commendable for restaurants like Pacini to look through their standard menu - not very gluten-free friendly on the whole - and find options or modify dishes, and take steps to mitigate the cross-contamination risk during preparation. On the other hand, it's disappointing when a gluten-free menu at a place such as Pacini doesn't include at least one dish with gluten-free pasta. They'd basically need the pasta and dedicated boiling water in the kitchen. Is that asking or expecting too much? Maybe. But it's hard to get excited about dining out at an Italian place and ordering the Caesar salad (again) or salmon. Which is exactly what we did.

Kelli ordered a grilled salmon, which was exceptionally fishy to the point that she couldn't finish it. I ordered a grilled chicken Caesar salad. The chicken was nicely cooked if bland. The lettuce was drenched in an average Caesar dressing, and then the whole salad was topped with copious quantities of bacon bits ... if those bacon bits were made from smoked fish. Strange.

Did we eat a safe, gluten-free meal at Pacini. Yes. Was it a good meal? Not so much. Next time, we'll follow our instincts and hit up one of those fabulous looking independent local restaurants, and skip Pacini.

- Pete

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Long, Impatient Road to Recovery

The Long Path on the Western Ridge of Schunnemunk Mountain
The gluten-free community—especially those of us GF for medical reasons such as celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity—know a thing or two about patience. Depending on which sources you read, it can take an average of anywhere from 5 to 7 to 10 years or more to get a successful, correct diagnosis. Keeping the faith during that process requires persistence ... and patience (and sometimes, frustration).

Once diagnosed and on a gluten-free diet, it can take time for your body to heal. More patience. And if you've been cross-contaminated with gluten, causing a flare-up of symptoms, you start that healing process anew. Even more patience.

Unfortunately, I'm not always a patient person. I like to see results. I like to be active. As my mother often says, I don't let any grass grow under my feet. Sure, I seek balance and calm and rest and rejuvenation. But they are a yin to the yang of my active lifestyle.

Looking across a hanging valley to the East Ridge of Schunnemunk
Back at the end of August—roughly two weeks ago—I wrote about a fluke but relatively serious ankle and heel injury. I likened it to the experience of getting cross-contaminated by gluten, in the way that an injury can unexpectedly derail even the best-laid plans. And when that happens, you have to adjust course and expectations, help your body heal, and get back on track (eventually).

There are lots of ways to think about gluten cross-contamination. It's like getting poisoned. It's like getting sick. It's like getting injured. All of those statements are accurate.

Sometimes, you can just grin and bear it. In my half of the introduction to The Gluten-Free Edge, I write about how I got "glutened" at a Mexican restaurant the night before a ski mountaineering race in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. I raced the next day, but it was a bit of a sufferfest.

I'm reminded of another time when I was glutened, and the next day was scheduled to meet up with some guy friends for a ski mountaineering ascent/descent of 12,000-foot Mount Toll in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I didn't want to bail on our plans. When we met up at the trailhead, I gave them a disclaimer, something along the lines of: "Guys, I got glutened last night. I'm not 100% today." I reached the summit, and the ski descent was superb, but the trip back to our cars was a struggle in my low-energy state.

Sometimes you can push through the pain and fatigue. Other times it's more prudent to sit on the sidelines and give your body the time it needs to recover.

Climbing from the valley up onto the East Ridge. A bum ankle? Sure, this looks like no problem...
Sports injuries go the same way. Over the years I've learned to differentiate between nuisance pain (which you can ignore and push through) and injury pain (which you should listen to, lest you do serious and/or permanent damage to your body).

Following my ankle and heel injury, I took some time off from training to give my body a chance to recover, and to evaluate the severity of the injury. Just weeks out from the Virgil Crest ultramarathon and the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, I needed to do everything in my power to get my body back into condition to handle a 50-mile trail race.

Conveniently, we had a 5-day camping trip to Mont Orford National Park in Quebec planned for the Labor Day Weekend. (More to come from that trip in blog posts later this week!) It was a chance to lay low and let my body rest. We went for exactly one mellow hike, up a dirt and gravel road to the summit of Mont Orford. Even that proved too much for my ankle, which hurt a good bit. We spent the rest of our time canoeing on Lac Stukely and mostly lounging around camp.

Upon returning to New York, I decided to see an orthopedist and get my ankle and foot x-rayed. I wanted to confirm that there weren't any bone fractures that would prevent me from running in the ultra. The doctor did a brief analysis of my ankle and ordered some x-rays. He didn't see any bone breaks, and he diagnosed me with nothing more than an ankle sprain and some bone bruising. He cleared me for all activity, as my comfort and pain levels allowed.

I had some reservations about his diagnosis. The location and mechanism of my pain didn't match the lateral ankle sprain he diagnosed. And the x-rays were taken from the opposite side of my ankle as that with the pain. Why? But he gave me the news I wanted to hear: cleared to run. So I left the office ready to hit the trails again.

The Megaliths on the East Ridge of Schunnemunk. Each stone block is about the size of a city bus.
The orthopedic visit was last Thursday, and on Friday afternoon, Kelli, the girls, and I went out to the Vassar Farm, where we have our community garden plot. Kelli rode her mountain bike and towed the girls in our double-wide Chariot, serving as my pacer of sorts while I ran. My ankle and heel didn't feel nearly as good as I'd hoped they would. It took a good 2.5 miles for my foot to "warm up" and for some of the pain to mellow. Overall, on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (amputate my foot now!), I'd say it averaged a 2. Good enough. I managed 4.6 miles at a 7:58 pace. Not bad for a first run coming back from injury.

Somewhat encouraged by that experience, I decided to give my ankle a more substantial test: a 12+ mile run with roughly 4,000 feet of elevation gain on the technical trails of Schunnemunk Mountain. I left the trailhead on Saturday morning, optimistic for a strong run that would give me confidence heading into Virgil Crest. If all went well, I'd be able to put in one week of meaningful training before a one-week taper into race day.

Schunnemunk is a large, twin-ridged mountain. From any side, you must climb 1,000+ feet onto either the east or west ridge, where a network of trails weaves through an impressive and scenic landscape of rocks, dwarf oak and pine, and a hanging valley and swamp between the ridges. My original intention was to ascend the west ridge, run the length of the mountain, then return along the east ridge, dropping down to the base and climbing back up through a series of stream drainages.

From the outset, things weren't going well. Schunnemunk's technical trails were WAY too much for my ankle to handle. Ascents were slow. Descents I had to take gingerly. And running along the ridgetops—where open slabs of rock should have allowed me to make good time and fly, relatively speaking—caused me to wince in pain. If the Vassar Farm run was 2 on the pain scale, my Schunnemunk run had pain spiking to a 7.

I abandoned the run early, worried I was doing damage to my ankle, more harm than good. I returned to the car after just 7.5 miles. Rather than 10-11 minute miles, I averaged 15:30 miles. I returned to the trailhead defeated. Instead of a boost of confidence, I finished my run with nothing more than pain and the sting of emotional disappointment. Worst of all, my legs and body weren't tired at all. They could have pushed much harder for much longer. But my ankle would have none of it.

Fall has arrived! Descending off the East Ridge of Schunnemunk
Since then I've been giving my ankle complete rest. I'm taking NSAIDs to help with inflammation, and caring for my ankle as best as I can. I'm taking an entire additional week off of training. Conveniently enough, I have an unexpected trip out West later this week, and I won't be taking my trail running shoes.

I have my own suspicions for what my injury might actually be. I'll leave those suspicions unsaid for now, since they're just that ... only suspicions. Suffice it to say I think that one of three things might be the culprit (or some combo of them). One or two could be serious enough that I might do more lasting damage to my ankle if I run on it. Other options are less serious.

Looking ahead to the Virgil Crest race, I'm now facing two related questions: Can I run? and Should I run?

For now, the answer is, I don't know.

My new plan is do another test run when I get back to New York. That will be roughly one week out from the race. It will determine whether or not I end up back at the doctor for a re-evaluation, or if I think I'll be ready to run for Virgil Crest. A 50-mile ultra is not something that you can start, thinking you may or may not finish. You need to go into the race believing you will finish, and not have in the back of your mind the idea of dropping from the race before you even start. That will become nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, I've just finished reading Eat & Run, the memoir of ultramarathoner extraordinaire Scott Jurek. In one chapter, he writes about blowing out his ankle days before the extremely demanding Hardrock 100 race, and winning the race while wearing an air cast duct taped to his ankle. But I'm not a professional (as much as I think that sounds like fun!). My paycheck doesn't depend on race results and sponsorships. I'm an amateur who loves long-distance mountain running and pushing myself to the fullest. And as the subtitle for The Gluten-Free Edge notes, I want a long "active gluten-free life." I need to take care of my body now, and not sacrifice for a short-term goal, so that I can enjoy many years of ultrarunning and other outdoor adventures ahead of me.

I'm hoping for a miracle. I'm hoping that by forcing myself to rest, my body is healing. But I'm tentatively preparing myself for alternatives. The long, impatient road to recovery continues...

In the meantime, thanks to you all for your support and well-wishes during my rehab!

–Pete

Friday, September 7, 2012

Athlete Insight: Kate Smyth


In The Gluten-Free Edge, Melissa (Gluten Free for Good) and I interview and profile dozens of amazing gluten-free athletes. One of the wonderful challenges of writing the book was that we discovered many more gluten-free athletes than we could ever hope to fit within the book's pages. And so, we're featuring more athletes here on No Gluten, No Problem in "Athlete Insight," a recurring series. Learn from them. Be inspired by them. And see that—whether you're gluten-free for medical reasons or voluntarily to gain a performance edge—gluten-free athletes are out there, living an active gluten-free life to the fullest.

Kate Smyth
Marathoner

Born: 1972
Lives: Australia
Gluten-free since: 2006

Former Australian Olympic marathoner Kate Smyth became a serious runner relatively late in her sporting life, circa age 30. Nevertheless, by 2006, she'd logged an impressive 7th place finish at the Chicago marathon, which gained her entry into the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Two years later, she posted a 2:28:51 in the Nagano, Japan marathon. It placed Smyth 6th on the Australian all-time marathon list, and earned her a spot on Australia's Olympic squad in Beijing. She turns 40 later this month, but shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. For example, earlier this year she won the Twilight Half Marathon in Brisbane in a time of 1:17:50, setting a new women's course record. Gluten-free due to celiac disease, she's also a past athlete ambassador for Australia's Coeliac Awareness Week.

Pete: You came to the marathon relatively late. What had been your athletic background prior to that, and what drew you to elite distance running?

Kate Smyth: I had enjoyed playing hockey and generally keeping fit at the gym and I was a recreational fun runner of sorts. After traveling I came back from overseas with an extra 20 kgs on my thighs and decided I needed to get into shape. That year I set two personal goals: one was to do a bungy jump over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; the other was to finish a marathon without walking. I managed to do both and have not looked back since. Over the years I just started to learn more and more about how I could better myself and I really loved the adventures running took me on to places
all around the world. I was inspired to be an Olympian after watching Tagahashi of Japan win the women’s marathon at the Sydney Olympics and decided to see if I could also represent my country and compete at the highest level. Eight years later I realised that dream.

P: What do you consider to be the highlights and/or proudest moments of your athletic career?

KS: When I rebounded from severe liver damage months earlier to set a personal best time of 2.28 minutes for the Nagano marathon in Japan gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. Everything came together at the right time and I qualified for the Beijing Olympics ranked as the No. 1 Australian. The opportunity to meet and compete against some very inspiring people has also provided some highlights. Getting a huge hug from Taghashi at Nagano was certainly one of them along with meeting world champions like Paula Radcliff, Catherine Nedereba, and Tegla Laroup. Of course having Haile Gebrselassie bump into me in the food hall at the Olympics was also a bonus! I have been fortunate to also be mentored and coached by some of Australia’s own best athletics talent. These legions of athletics taught me that you can be the best and still be humble and that it isn’t the medals around your neck that count but the person you become in pursuit of them.

P: When were you diagnosed with celiac disease? What types of symptoms had you been experiencing prior to diagnosis? Do you have a family history of celiac disease or other autoimmune conditions?

KS: In 2006 I was finally diagnosed although I'd always been sensitive to gluten. Symptoms included stopping and racing to the bathroom after every repetition at training, severe reactions and bloating, cramping, fatigue, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, skin rashes. No one else in my family has celiac disease, although other members have now found they are intolerant to gluten. My mother suffers from several inflammatory conditions.

P: Prior to diagnosis, did you experience some of the problems common among female celiac athletes, such as bone density loss and/or iron-deficiency anemia?

KS: Constant anemia yes. Not bone loss though. Constant tiredness and interruptions to training due to diet and stomach issues. I'd sometimes skip breakfast before a run to avoid the issue but then would run out of fuel and get giddy.

P: How did your health change upon adopting a gluten-free diet? And how did a gluten-free diet impact your athletic performance?

KS: I noticed big improvements in my ability to recover and to sleep well at night as my stomach wasn't upset from dinner. I could train harder and had more general vitality. As I feel better, my moods are far more stable and I can think more clearly. My health was better although I still had issues with absorption of vitamins and minerals and this was ongoing due to the demands of training nearly 200 kms a week.  I was able to handle more volume of training and my times started to improve. I certainly don’t get general immune reactions as frequently as I used to.

P: What are some of your favorite gluten-free foods? (such as for day-to-day diet, for training, prior to a big race, for carbo loading, however you’d like to approach the question...)

KS: I really enjoy a nutritious, balanced diet with predominantly raw, vegan foods in summer and more cooked foods in winter. I have lots of protein green smoothies made from almond milk and fruits and rice protein and leafy greens like spinach straight after I run for recovery or for breakfast before I run. When in hard training I also include some seafood in my diet and make my own pumpkin or sweet potato breads or banana bread. Pre race I generally have something like thick rice noodles with vegetables and light white fish.  For breakfast before a race I tend to have rice porridge with banana but on a more regular basis will have my homemade sprouted buckwheat muesli with organic dried fruits, nuts, flaxseeds, chia, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut, hemp seed. I will also have some gluten-free toast if doing a long run. I make a lot of food at home to make it easier but I have shifted away from relying on processed foods for carbs. I now eat lots of sweet potato and biodynamic brown rice and other root vegetables and get carbs from fruits like dates and bananas and raw cocoa treats I make. I also make my own seed and nut bars, and raw muesli bars using a dehydrator. My favourite treat is flourless chocolate cake or raw chocolate balls made from dates, almonds, raw cocoa, and agave.

P: Have you experienced gluten cross-contamination? How badly does it affect you? Has it impacted training or a race? How long does it take for you to recover and get back to 100%?

KS: Yes, I have. In small quantities like sharing a toaster I am ok but if a sauce has gluten in it and I eat it I know within about 5 minutes and I start feeling very uncomfortable. It can be 2-3 days before I get my energy back as I feel totally flat in the days after having an attack. It hasn't happened pre race thankfully, but training has been impacted and I just have to take it easy when my stomach is upset and run slowly and stop as needed.

P: What advice might you offer other gluten-free athletes in terms of managing their diet while training, competing, and traveling?

KS: A few suggestions that I can share from learning the hard way include: taking safe foods with you when traveling where possible. I always take lots of gluten-free raw bars with me for emergency situations and as top ups on the plane. We make special requests in the race hotel in advance to have a rice cooker in our room and so we can make rice porridge the morning of the race. I removed all gluten from our home and that makes it easy for a cross-contaminant-free environment. I've found you can avoid embarrassing a host and yourself by taking a gluten-free dish to dinner parties so I know I will have something safe to eat. I would suggest practicing what you want to eat on race day in training in the exact timing and sequence and volume to ensure there are no upsets on race day. This includes your hydration routine as sports drinks and gels may gluten in them. Source options that won't upset your system when under stress. I found for long races my stomach was extra sensitive to sugars so I needed a weaker mixture. I also did better if I alternated protein powder and sports drinks rather than consuming only sports drinks.

–Pete

Photo courtesy Kate Smyth.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Tortillas


For years our go-to gluten-free tortilla has been one made from scratch at home with Maseca, a popular corn masa flour. (You'll find the recipe on page 126 of the 2nd edition of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking.) But from time to time, we've "crossed over" and tried store-bought gluten-free flour tortillas. Most recently, we reviewed the new gluten-free tortillas from Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery last month. What timing, then, that the theme of this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally is tortillas and wraps!


From the outset, we knew that we wanted to make a straightforward flour tortilla as a gluten-free equivalent to the wheat flour tortillas the rest of the world eats. As simple as that goal sounds, we found it required a surprising amount of finesse. At first—inspired by the delicious Mandarin pancakes in Laura Russell's The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen—we experimented with a mix of millet flour and tapioca starch, but we were dissatisfied with the texture for flour tortillas. Next, staying true to our roots of using a single all-purpose GF flour blend, we broke out our familiar Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend.

We initially used butter in the tortillas, but the combination of flour and butter tasted too much like a savory crepe, rather than a tortilla. Then, desiring to make the tortillas dairy-free, we played around with coconut oil, but a coconut flavor came through way too strongly. At last, we found success using our signature flour blend with canola oil.

Thinly sliced chicken, lettuce, and garden-fresh tomatoes in a gluten-free tortilla
The result is a gluten-free flour tortilla that is thin, flexible, strong, chewy, and generally delicious. We made quesadillas for our girls, and lunch wraps for us. The tortillas kept well, and though the dough requires some care to work with without tearing, the results were certainly worth the effort.

And be sure to visit Brooke over at B & the boy, the host for this month's Rally, where you'll find links to plenty of other tasty tortillas for your tastebuds. (Sorry, couldn't resist sneaking in a little alliteration there toward the end of the sentence...)

Nice and flexible!
Flour Tortillas
Makes 8 tortillas

Ingredients
188g (1 1/2 cups) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp GF baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp canola oil
~2/3 cup warm water

Steps
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
2. Add the oil, and mix with your hands to incorporate.
3. Add enough warm water to make a soft and slightly sticky dough.
4. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. The dough will absorb water until it loses its tackiness.
5. Put a flat pan or skillet over high heat. (We used our pancake griddle.)
6. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (each about the size of a golf ball).
7. Place a ball between two pieces of plastic wrap, flatten with your hand, then roll out with a rolling pin until about 8 inches in diameter and thin.
8. Remove the top pieces of plastic wrap. Drape the tortilla over a rolling pin, remove the bottom piece of plastic wrap, and transfer to your heated pan. The dough is very tender and rips easily; take care.
9. Cook for 15 seconds on the first side. Use a metal spatula to separate from the pan, flip, and cook for 10 more seconds on the 2nd side.
11. Repeat for all remaining dough balls.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Notes
If you're averse to using canola oil, substitute another vegetable oil.

Enjoy!

–Pete