Month: April 2011

Illinois Marathon

This weekend was the Illinois Marathon, an event for which I have been training since January.  It was the best marathon training I’ve ever had.  I was actually in shape going into training and I didn’t have any injuries.  I felt great during all the long runs.  I set a huge personal record in the half-marathon on March 20.  According to McMillian’s calculator, with that half -marathon time, I should be able to run a 3:46 marathon. However, I was training for a 3:55, which was my realistic goal. My happy goal was 3:50, but as long as I finished under 4 hours, I wouldn’t consider the race to be disastrous.

On Friday, we left Woodstock around 3:00 for the almost 4 hour drive to Champaign, IL. Some friends had already picked up our packets in case we got in too late, so we walked around the expo until it was time for the pasta feed.

Frank Shorter and Lorraine Moller spoke at the Pasta Feed (yes, that is really what it was called).  It was hard to hear what they were saying in the room, but I did pick up that they are amazing runners!

The pasta was from Biaggi’s Restorante Italiano.  It wasn’t that great. Apparently, the buttered garlic bread and bread pudding were good, but I didn’t get any of that.  I had a granola bar when I got back to the hotel room just to get in enough calories for the day.  I’ve never been to a race sponsored pasta dinner before and I do not think I will go again.

We got up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, ate breakfast (a peanut butter builder bar and bad hotel coffee for me) and got ready for the race.  At 6:00, we headed down to the University of Illinois campus.

Starting line – so nervous!

There was no 3:55 pace group, so I got a little behind the 3:50 pace group.  I figured if I could keep them in my sights, I was doing good.  The gun went off and we started running.  The first three miles are always hard for me. I eventually get into a rhythm, but the beginning of a marathon is overwhelming when you think of how far you have to run. We came to the first mile marker, I looked down at my watch and it said 8:24! The 3:50 pace group was just up ahead and was supposed to be running an 8:47 minute mile.  I was averaging an 8:23 pace when I crossed the 10K check and averaging a 8:34 minute mile at the half-way point. This was too fast.  After the half-way point, I was actually running with the 3:50 pace group, at times I was even getting ahead of them at the water stops.  (This was when I learned that his pacing plan was to go out fast and bank some time – this is NOT how you pace.  I can go out too fast on my own, I don’t need someone to help me do that). During miles 14-20, I felt really good.  We crossed the 20 mile check in 2:53.  But then I saw this between mile 20 and 21:


The last 5 and a half miles were terrible. I was not sure if I would even finish the race. Five miles was so long!  While I was happy to see the mile markers, it was also very discouraging. I still have 4 miles to run! I cannot run that far! Oh my goodness, still 3 more miles to go! I only had to maintain a 10 minute per mile pace to reach my goal, but that was getting extremely difficult. The water stops started taking longer and I felt like I wasn’t moving even though I was going as fast as I possibly could.  We finally come around a corner where you can see the stadium, but it looked so far away. There was a decent crowd lining the streets and through the stadium, which was encouraging.  I knew I would definitely finish under 4 hours, but 3:55 was not going to happen.

I did not see myself finish on the JumboTron.  I didn’t even see the finish line. I ran into the stadium, but was looking at the ground. I crossed a timing mat, stopped my watch and started walking. But then people started screaming at me: “you’re not done” and “keep going!”  I look up ahead and there is the finish line.  Oops!  I started my watch again and ran the last few steps to the real finish line on the 50-yard line. One minute slower than my goal.

When I finished, I just found an open spot on the field and collapsed.  For five minutes I stayed there wondering how I made it through those last 6 miles.  I eventually got up, found a bottle of water and met up with my friends.  We took showers, went out to eat, had some beers and drove back to northern Illinois.

But we had to stop at a Dairy Queen, apparently it is a spring road trip marathon tradition.  Fortunately, Dairy Queen has the dairy-free Starkiss, which will turn your mouth blue. It’s actually not that bad.

Quiche FAIL

This is what I get when I fatten up a Fat Free Vegan Kitchen recipe: a soggy crust and a dish that resembles a soup more than a quiche.

But at least it looked pretty before you cut into it.


I used a store bought crust and even pre-baked it, but the water content of the veggies was too much. Next time I’ll try Susan’s brown rice crust.

Martha Stewart Monday: Polenta “French Toast”

With Top Chef over (Top Chef Masters is so boring, why?), my new weekly series will be cooking or veganizing a Martha Stewart recipe. I tried several of her recipes for Easter, but one thing I didn’t get to do was an Easter brunch. So for Monday’s dinner, we had breakfast. I made Polenta French Toast and served it with raspberries and tempeh bacon.

The recipe was easily veganized by using almond milk. The texture is very different than French Toast. It is very soft. The flavor was good and I’ll eat the leftovers for breakfast in a bowl, as Martha suggests in her “Helpful Hints”.

I was not in the mood for something sweet, so I think that influenced my overall happiness with this recipe. At least the tempeh bacon was savory and delicious.

Happy Easter!

The centerpiece – jelly bean basket and fresh tulips.


Breaking out the fancy place settings.


Course One: Arugula Salad with Strawberries


Seond Course: Carrot Vichyssoise (not so carrot-y). I used vegetarian chicken broth and unsweetened almond milk instead of chicken stock and whole milk.


Main Course: Crispy Tempeh with Brussel Sprouts over Polenta from The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life. This was very flavorful. I read this book last week and this is the first recipe I’ve tried. Very impressed.

Dessert: Easter cupcakes.
I wanted to make this, but I didn’t have the right tip, so I just created my own design that’s more inspired by a flower than an actual flower. I made lemon and vanilla cupcakes and half of them are gluten free. This round of gluten free baking was better for quinoa flour, but, FYI, corn meal is not a good substitute for corn flour. The cupcakes are moist and taste good, but the texture is still grainy. However, if you love cornbread, you’ll love these cupcakes!

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Picnic for the Planet – Happy Earth Day!

Last Friday was Earth Day and in honor of Earth Day, The Nature Conservancy celebrated with a Picnic for the Planet. Here is the Woodstock, IL version held in Emricson Park.

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On the menu: Pressed Picnic Sandwiches and Three-Bean Salad with Agave-Mustard Vinaigrette


To veganize the sandwiches, I used Ste Martaen’s muenster cheese (although, if I had the time, I would have made this delicious-sounding cashew goat cheese). I was also going to add Peppered Tofurky Deli Slices, but they had gone bad. It was still a yummy sandwich without the “meat.”

The agave-mustard dressing (just sub agave nectar for honey in the recipe) is so good!


To drink, we had seltzer water with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strawberries and agave nectar.


We were joined by this little lady.


Our amazing view at the top of the hill.


Dessert! S’more cookie bars. So rich and decadent.

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Lazy Saturday

Today I went down to Chicago to return some items to Crate & Barrel and buy a proper food processor.  A Whole Foods is nearby, so, of course, I stopped there for lunch and exotic grocery shopping.  At the little 50s diner, I ordered a vegan hot dog with the works and a chocolate milkshake.

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The shake was so good!

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For dinner, H & I went to Wild Orchid in Crystal Lake. I read a yelp review that they make a good vegan pad thai (someone else in the suburbs said the v-word!), so I ordered the veggie pad thai sans egg. Not bad. Not amazing. The garnish was pretty and the carrots are elaborately sliced.

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And here is my new toy:

Tomorrow will be a busy day of baking.

Hummus Quesadillas & Cream Cheese Brownies

I spent the entire day in Rockford yesterday for depositions and afterward my boss agreed to stop by Choices Natural Market. I accidentally bought kosher marshmallows (with fish gelatin) instead of Dandies vegan marshmallows. (In my defense, the kosher marshmallows were above a sign for Dandies). Fortunately, they let me return the kosher marshmallows. The Dandies were still out of stock (no worries, I ordered 2 bags during VegNews’ marshmallow blowout sale), so I bought Ricemellow Crème and hummus (not to be used together).

For dinner I made Quesadillas by substituting red pepper hummus for cheese. Obviously, this doesn’t result in an authentic, stretchy cheese tortilla sandwich, but it’s a similar color and it tastes good. I sautéed a red bell pepper, poblano pepper and jalapeño pepper, reserving handful of diced bell pepper for garnish. I put a layer of hummus on the tortilla, followed by spinach and the pepper mixture.  I spread some more hummus on a second tortilla and put it on top and baked at 350 degrees for a few minutes. Garnish with diced bell pepper, green onion, and avocado. I served it with Amy’s refried black beans and Tofutti sour cream.

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Two nights ago I made cheesecake brownies. I followed the recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar, but instead of sprinkling chocolate chips over the cream cheese topping, I put half of the topping on the batter and melted chocolate chips into the other half and swirled them together. It probably would have been better to do 2/3 and 1/3 instead of half & half.  They are so gooey and delicious!

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The Green Box Boutique

Despite living in Woodstock for over two years, I just discovered the The Green Box Boutique in the Square. It features eco-sustainable and fair trade items, including clothes, jewelry, gifts, wine, coffee, and (wait for it) VEGAN PURSES! We rushed out of the store on Saturday, so I went back yesterday for a closer look.  I bought some whole bean coffee and made it this morning; it’s very good.

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I made a Clean-out-the-Fridge Lentil Soup last night. It was perfect for a cold, rainy night.

  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1/2 cup of sliced carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tsps cumin
  • salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste
  • 3/4 cup red lentils
  • 3/4 cup black lentils
  • 4-5 cups of veggie broth
  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 4 tsps lemon juice

In a large soup pot, saute celery and carrots in a little water. Add zucchini, bell pepper, garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes.  Add lentils and 4 cups of broth, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add quinoa and extra broth and simmer until quinoa is cooked. Add lemon juice and serve.


Stuffed Shells

I created a recipe last night! Let’s see if I can remember what I did.

  • 1/2 – 2/3 of box of jumbo pasta shells
  • 16 oz. extra-firm tofu
  • 1 oz. pine nuts, toasted
  • 1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • package of fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 package of Upton’s Naturals Italian sausage-style seitan
  • olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 zucchini, sliced & quartered
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 jar of marinara or saute some garlic in a olive oil, add 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with basil, red wine, balsamic vinegar, red pepper flake, dash of sugar and salt.
  • bread crumbs
  • soy Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare shells according to package.

Saute onion with a little olive oil until translucent, add garlic, red pepper flakes, parsley and oregano and saute for a minute more. Add zucchini and saute until soft (add a little water if necessary).  Set aside.

Saute seitan in a little olive oil until browned. Set aside.

In a food processor (or in a mixing bowl with an immersion blender), crumble the tofu and add pine nuts and nutritional yeast and blend. (If using food processor, take the tofu mixture out and put into a mixing bowl). Reserve some basil for garnish, but mix in the rest to the tofu mixture. Stir in the onion mixture and the seitan and add salt & pepper, if needed.

Spread a layer of marinara on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. When the shells are cool enough, stuff the tofu mixture into the shells and place in the pan. Pour the remaining marinara over the top of the shells. Bake covered for 25 minutes, remove cover, sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake uncovered for 5 minutes more.

Garnish with a basil leaf and sprinkle with soy Parmesan, if desired

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Chicago Weekend

My friend from high school came to a conference in Chicago last week and stayed a few extra days in fabulous Woodstock. While it was more like winter than spring, we still had a blast.

On Friday night, we went to Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake. I feel like they had fewer vegan options this time, which makes me a little sad, but the jalapeno hummus appetizer was great.


For dinner I ordered the vegan chili again (this time with French bread instead of non-vegan cornbread) and the roasted vegetable pizza.

On Saturday, I had my last longish run before the marathon. H & A met me in Crystal Lake for breakfast with the group. In the afternoon, I showed A around the beautiful city of Woodstock. We occupied ourselves for hours in the town square shops admiring vintage hats and laughing at corny trinkets.

We rushed to catch the 5:48 train to Chicago, but I still managed to juice 9 limes to make vodka gimlets for our trip down. (I’m stealing pictures from my friend; she has a really good eye).

We went to Ai Japanese for sushi when we arrived downtown. Without realizing it, I ordered two versions of the same sushi roll. The plain garden roll and a fancy one. Sadly, Ai uses egg in its tempura and cream in the kabocha corn soup. The chef hemmi veggie roll is garden maki topped with cucumber & moro-miso; mango; endive & sansho; avocado & nori paste; oshinko.

We ended the night at Rebar in Trump Tower. Good view, great cocktails, nice crowd, but watch your drink like a hawk! Servers grabbed our drinks well before we were done with them. At $18 a pop, I want to drink the entire thing, not 3/4 of it.

Thank goodness for the weekend pass; we got back on the train on Sunday afternoon and headed downtown to Karyn’s on Green.

I started with the French Onion Soup.

A had the Butternut Squash Soup, which looked and tasted amazing.

H ordered biscuits and gravy. The biscuits and “butter” were good, but the gravy left a little something to be desired.

I think I’m finally at the point where next time I go I’ll try something new, but I had to get the crab cake sliders again.

A’s Buffalo Chicken Pita looked great.

We didn’t save room for dessert, but we ordered it anyway. The chocolate terrine was amazing, but the coffee cheesecake was so gross. We picked the berries off of it, but the cake was not edible.

They use Villeroy & Boch new wave cups & saucers.

We tried to go to the top of the Sears Willis Tower, but once again, I wasn’t able to use my free tickets to the Sky Deck. When my parents came, it was closed when we wanted to go. When my sister and her husband came, it was a dark & stormy night and there would have been no view. Yesterday, there was a one and a half hour wait! It wasn’t worth missing the 6:30 train to stand in that line. We walked around town a bit, went to the lobby of the Palmer House and then caught the train back to the burbs.