entering the Ironman fold

I’m not the personal race report writing type. Never have been, and after this, probably never will be. But last night, after pouring a glass of pinot (OK, three) and sitting down to read my good friend Lisa’s account of competing in last weekend’s inaugural Ironman Mont Tremblant course, I was inspired.

Finishing an Ironman—a day spent swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles— is an achievement worth commemorating with words beyond status updates. So I’m going old school and putting this up the only place I have to publish it: my backslidden food blog.

I blame this one.

When I decided last summer that I wanted this new Canadian race to be my first Ironman, I thought it would be perfect to have one of my first tri mentors there by my side. Back in 2007, as a fresh transplant to Syracuse, Lisa’s spin classes and passion for triathlon carried me through a relocation funk and sparked my urge to do a tri. By early 2008 I’d signed up for the Cazenovia Olympic-distance triathlon. Three years and a whole bunch increasingly long races later, 2012’s docket held two half iron-distance races (Wildflower and 70.3 Hawaii) and a local sprint triathlon in the spring, and last weekend’s Ironman Mont Tremblant in Quebec. It’s a typical path for a triathlete; the bug bites quickly and the sting goes deep.

I somehow managed to convince Lisa to trade her usual July Ironman in Lake Placid for this new, unknown Canadian race, and as our respective training programs kicked off in January, we began, totally unplanned, to exchange weekly emails about our training. We asked each other a million questions (“Does X happen to you?” “Do you feel like X too?”), shared advice, and wove the highs and lows of Ironman training into our correspondence. I felt like I had a training companion three time zones away. To bring closure to this seven-month journey, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone just this once and pound out my first race report, even if nobody reads it but me.

A few ounces of red at my aunt and uncle’s condo on race eve, fingers and toes freshly painted to match my bike.

Race Day Arrives

My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. on the heels of a fitful sleep (no surprise there, adrenaline and sleep do not make good companions). A new race day nutrition plan from the good people at QT2 Systems dictated an early morning meal of 2.5 cups of unsweetened applesauce (low glycemic index but also low fiber), protein powder (I used a Tropical Energizing Smoothie mix from Vega), and a banana. I’d blended the powder and the applesauce together the night before using the hand blender I’d packed, so all I had to do was open the fridge, scoop a ridiculous amount of pureed mash and a banana into my mouth, and hit the pillow for another 45 minutes of precious “I’m trying way too hard to sleep” shut-eye.

At 4:15, Mark prepared the contraband mug of coffee my nutrition consultant had declared off-limits. Even though I did end up trying a few new things on race day (one of triathlon’s biggest no no’s) a morning without coffee was one I simply wasn’t willing to try on my first Ironman. I was about to put my body through enough. How much more could I really ask of it?

This shot contains many of the essentials for a good race.

I suited up for battle in my Long Distance Tri Shorts and Singlet from 2XU, secured my timing chip around my ankle with safety pins, and tied my hair in a ponytail. I put full compression tights and a warm hoodie overtop of my ensemble, as it was chillier than it’s been in SoCal for some time. Having dropped off everything I might need for the bike and run portions the day prior (bike, helmet, cycling and running shoes, sunglasses, etc.) all that was left to cart down to the transition area was a backpack containing the two special needs bags I’d receive mid-bike and mid-run, and my swim gear (blueseventy googles, swim cap, Brave Soldier body lube, awesome new Doc’s surf earplugs, and pre-race nutrition). Phew, Ironman’s a mouthful. There’s so much to remember, and if I hadn’t had my lists and notes on my phone, I would’ve been a disaster waiting to happen. Not to mention my awesome pack-horse husband.

The perfect day began beautifully.

After dropping my special needs bags, pumping my tires in the bike corral, and throwing a last-minute pair of arm warmers into my T1 bag for what looked like a cooler-than-usual bike. I downed an Apple Pie Bonk Breaker at 6 am, an hour before I’d hit the water, and promptly got in line for the porta potties. Silently singing the praises of coffee, I emerged with a big smile for Mark. Despite the new day-before-the-race nutrition plan I’d tried (a HUGE carbohydrate-rich breakfast, medium-sized lunch, and tiny serving of pasta for dinner) things seemed to be working somewhat normally. We met up with Jordan, a friend who’d driven up from Ottawa at 3 a.m. to watch me race (!) and headed to the beach. I was freezing, so Jordan lent me his Syracuse University hoodie, which kept me warm and gave me a nice little nostalgic boost to boot.

Athletes and spectators poured onto the beach, to the usual upbeat Ironman soundtrack, and it was hard not to get distracted. I ran into a friend from SD, and pulled my wetsuit over my shorts and jersey while chatting with her, Mark, and Jordan. Then I stuffed my tights, hoodie, and walking shoes into the green plastic bag given to each athlete for their “morning clothes,” and tossed it into another bin. (Volunteers would later sort them out and return it to the transition tent.)

All kinds of colorful fun down at the swim start.

The clock inched closer to 7. Heading for the beach, an unplanned meeting with my parents surprised and delighted me. Seeing their faces stirred the emotional pot already teeming with both new and recognizable varieties of anxiety and excitement. I walked over the timing chip activator and found a spot on the soft sand. At 6:45, I ate the Raspberry-Chocolate GU Roctane I’d tucked under my wetsuit sleeve, pulled on my green cap, spit in and then rinsed my goggles with lake water, praying they wouldn’t fog up. And then–Lisa! A familiar face on a strip of sand packed with athletes, yet that was starting to feel surprisingly lonely. I noticed some moisture in her eyes, too, as the fighter jet fly-over signalled the arrival of our day. I never actually cried on race day, but I definitely didn’t expect to be closest to tears at the start. Maybe you’re more vulnerable at the beginning of a journey than you are at its end.

Love this shot! Thanks Jason Ward Studios for this and many other great edits.

The swim: just breathe

I’d been advised to start on the edge of the beach, but running into Lisa distracted me and we both ended up starting dangerously near the front and center of the pack. I ran into the water, dove in, and proceeded to get plowed over by what seemed like hundreds of bodies. About five minutes in, I had a mini freak out moment. Not a full-fledged panic attack, but I swallowed a bunch of water and my heart rate skyrocketed. I actually started looking around for a kayak to rest on, but instead put my head down and let the motion of a familiar activity soothe my nerves.

Another mental strategy that kept the chaos at bay was bringing to mind the countless open-water swims I’d done with my training partners (and good friends) Robert and Dane. As I focused on the tasks at hand—hips rotating, arms reaching, head turning—I just kept saying to myself, “That’s Robert right beside you.” “You’re just out swimming in the Cove on a Friday morning.” “It’s just like swimming Masters at the Y.” Little thoughts like these made the “big” moments of the race seem more manageable. I’ve read about the pre-race strategy of reviewing one’s training log for an extra kick of confidence, but what worked best for me on the day was reliving the moments of training in as much detail as I could.

Chaos.

I eventually found my rhythm in the water, and after what seemed like a very long time, began to hear the din of the crowd grow louder. I swam until the sandy lake bottom appeared beneath me, stood up, and ran over the timing mat at the one-hour, 12 minutes, and 16 seconds mark. I ran over to a crew of volunteers, laid down on the grass, and had my suit peeled from my legs in a flash of neoprene. It was my first time at a wetsuit stripper equipped race, and I loved it. I stuffed my goggles, earplugs, and cap into my wetsuit sleeve as I began the quarter-mile jog over soft red carpet to the transition tent. A nasty yet familiar cramp sunk its teeth into my right quad, and I made a mental note to take extra salt as soon as I hit the bike.

The bike: a trusty steed

I tried to take my time in transition, having heard that calm breeds success in Ironman. I found my bag easily (thanks to the strips of bright-blue towel I tied to the top) and carried it into the women’s change area. I put on socks, my helmet, and Oakley Commits as a helpful volunteer sprayed me with sunscreen. I grabbed my shoes as the volunteer insisted on putting all my swim stuff into the bag for me, shooing me off with an insistent “go go go!” I found my bike, put on my shoes, and wheeled Amelie out for her victory lap.

Mounting the saddle is one of my favorite parts of a race. Only the last 100 yards of the run and the finish line itself can compete with the feeling of climbing on a well-oiled machine you’ve spent so many hours riding through the countryside in the company of friends. As my strongest leg and the one I enjoy most, the bike always feels like a solid, trustworthy companion propelling me farther and faster than I could ever go alone. If the ancient elements (Water, Earth, Air, and Fire) applied to this sport, the bike would be my Air. Light and swift, cycling is a constant play between smooth efficiency and pure, fierce strength.

Matchy matchy! (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix.com)

One thing that I didn’t expect was how quickly the bike leg flew by. The rolling hills thick with evergreen and the freshly paved roads were a welcome change from parched San Diego county, and I soaked in the scenery with every passing mile. Riding through the town of St. Jovite, its narrow streets lined with spectators, was how I imagine riding in Europe must be. The wind picked up but was never unmanageable, and looping past the crowds in town four times brought me fresh energy each time.

My Garmin 910XT reminded me to eat every 40 minutes—all I had to do was look at the piece of paper I’d taped to the bottle between my aerobars to see what was on the menu. Bike time 00:00 and 00:40 each brought half a peanut butter Powerbar (race day “new thing” number … ?) At one-hour 20 I ate a Honey Graham Halo Bar, and starting at 2:00:00, I began to taper off the solid food, switching to a caffeinated gel and salt pills only (extra of those given the annoying quad cramp that wouldn’t go away.) These solid food sources were in addition to the three full bottles I started out with on my bike, each containing either two scoops of EFS mixed with water, or a NUUN tablet/CarboPro combination. (Each of these mixtures provided the same electrolyte/carbohydrate combo as the sports drink my nutrition consultant had recommended given my sweat rate. I’d never used that drink in training, however, and I didn’t want to try something that major for the first time on race day.) What you consume on the bike is actually more important for setting you up for a good run, not just fueling the bike leg itself—another thing I learned from my coach, Mike Plumb.

At the halfway point I received my special needs bag, which I’d stocked with two fresh bottles of fluid, a Kona-Mocha flavored EFS Liquid Shot, and a Ziploc bag of Korean seaweed. It was something I thought might make me smile (something a friend had encouraged me to think about when packing that bag), and I must say, it was fun jamming that salty, crispy, green stuff in my mouth as I passed hoards of spectators on the sidelines.

I can say now that my QT2 fueling plan worked remarkably well, despite not having much time to practice it in training, which was no fault of theirs. I got a jarring abdominal cramp around mile 85, which made breathing difficult and slowed me down considerably. I’m guessing this was just from loading my body with more than I’d conditioned it to in training. Given the seven or eight times I peed on the bike, I was adequately hydrated, despite finishing the bike one full bottle short of the six I was supposed to consume altogether. By mile 100, I was really ready to be vertical again—strange for this cycling-focused triathlete. A few more deceptively steep hills on Chemin Duplessis to put under the wheels, and five hours, 38 minutes and 58 seconds later, I was back where I started. And thanks to some key trainer workouts from my coach (and his 180-190 watts range guide for race day) not much worse for wear.

The marathon: taking care of business

I dismounted, passed my bike to a volunteer (gotta love that about Ironman) stopped to remove my shoes, and hobbled back into the transition tent. I grabbed my bag, exchanged cycling shoes for my Pearl Izumi Kissakis, popped a visor on my head and stuffed my bike gear into the bag. A row of portapotties appeared like a mirage, and two volunteers slathered me with sunscreen while I waited for a vacancy. It was clouding over, but you can never have too much sunscreen (right Baz Luhrman?) I was in and out of that portapotty in a flash, emerging with an even bigger smile than my morning stop had warranted. The abdominal cramp was a thing of the past. I saw Jordan in that first few hundred yards, and his cheering giving me much-needed boost. A few steps later, a large black man was bent over the fencing yelling “Go Jennifer! Go Jenny!” in a thick French accent. My grimace broke into a huge smile, which seemed to whip the spectators into even more of a love-fest. I kept on trucking, trying not to let the thought of a full freaking marathon get me down. Just a long, slow, easy run. Take your time.

Running (and talking) in some light rain.

Mark, my parents, and my aunt and uncle surprised me on the hill at around mile one, their ecstatic cheering providing yet another boost. This wasn’t going to be a boring 26-miler. There was a huge family here to pull me through, and I was going to milk it for all it was worth. I’ve heard it said that an Ironman marathon is about 80 percent mental. I’d up that to 90. If it weren’t for some of those spectators—one of them looking right into my eyes and saying “you are an inspiration, Jennifer!”—I’m not sure where I might’ve gone, mentally. A massive thanks goes out to all of them, and their shouts and signs: “Allez allez allez!” “You’re part of the 0.01%!” etc.

It’s always hard for me to consume calories on the run, hence the importance of getting in enough on the bike. I often develop acid reflux—an incredibly painful tightening of my esophagus around mile 14-15, a problem I still haven’t solved. I ate half a banana at the first aid station, which sat well, and sipped on the on-course drink (Ironman Perform) and my Liquid Shot when I could. I felt surprisingly strong on the first 10K, but at the half-marathon point back in town, noticed that an on-again, off-again pain in my left knee had flared up again—the chief physical niggle of this particular race. Thankfully, the right quad cramp was long gone. Yay, salt and seaweed!

On the advice of a pro triathlete friend, I had put a bottle of Ensure Plus in my run special needs bag. Channeling my inner 80-year-old, I downed it, along with two Advils, in hopes of staving off the knee pain. (Both were additional race-day firsts, but they proved wise decisions as I dug into my second half-marathon.) At one of the next aid stations, I pulled my left calf sleeve up over my knee and jammed some ice cubes in. Eventually the Advil kicked in and it never got any worse. Thanks to the 300-plus calories in the Ensure, I didn’t need to take advantage of many more of the aid stations from then on in.

The miles between 13 and 18 formed the toughest chunk of my day, mentally. Once I hit the final turn-around at the end of Le P’tit Train du Nord (an old railway bed converted to a cushy recreational trail), I was charged by how little there was left to go: “It’s just a six-mile run around Cardiff.” (Beep and buzz of the watch.) “It’s a five-mile run on your lunch break!” (Beep, buzz.) “It’s an easy four-mile recovery run with Mark.” (Beep, buzz).

And finally, the last two miles showed up like honored guests at a party, and the roaring crowds began to break the grip of my fatigued muscles and run-zombie brain. My cadence slowed and I began to take huge strides forward on the cobblestone, feeling like a professional athlete as hands reached forward to high-five me in my last push. Borrowed energy carried me to the illuminated finish arch. I heard the author Paul Auster say the following on NPR interview yesterday: “Some people take their bodies for granted. They just sort of live in them.” It’s hard to be an Ironman athlete and be that kind of person.

Off the ground.

It took me 11 hours and 19 minutes on the nose to enter the Ironman fold, and suddenly, as quickly as it had arrived, it was all over. Mark medalled me, and escorted me with another volunteer to the finisher’s area where beer, pizza, and all sorts of of other necessities were on offer. Cuddled up in my foil blanket, all I wanted was an ice-cold Coke. I immersed myself in the sweat-soaked moment I knew would fly by so quickly. As I hugged my dad I thought back to the first long run (seven miles) he convinced me to do with him years ago in Birds Hill Park. I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. As I hugged my mom, I thought of the model of health and fitness she’s been throughout my life. As I hugged Mark, I thought of all the post-workout lattes, bike maintenance help, much-needed company on runs, and the great interest he’s taken in the sport and my participation in it. These types of achievements don’t happen in a void, and I am very grateful.

Smiling and still upright.

Six days later, I’m back in our Cardiff apartment, coming down gently off the high something like that infuses into your life. My recovery has been easy—I haven’t been as sore or broken as I thought I might be. As per usual, I’m taking one solid week to eat whatever I’m craving, which always makes me return to healthy eating with a new appreciation. Save for a quick Cove swim yesterday morning, I’m waiting one solid week to swim, bike, or run again, and I’m trying not to think about my next athletic goal. Ironman is so much more than a day, it’s a many-month journey; the feeling of all that coming to a halt is jolting. Hopefully by focusing on the things that got waylaid by my training I’ll be able to temporarily fill the hours once occupied by swimming, biking, and running. But after having completed an Ironman, I can confidently say that for as long as my body will put up with it, I’d like to keep my membership to this club, thank you very much.

So here it is, down on “paper:” my account of 11 hours and 19 minutes doing three of the activities I love most in the great outdoors, with some of the people I love most—and a whole bunch of like-minded strangers—along for the ride.

Taking a bite out of 140.6 miles.

bircher muesli

When it comes to food, I probably have fewer “mainstays” than most people. Sure, I have my favorites, but you’re more likely to find me whipping up a one-time-only creation from the scraps in my refrigerator than making “Monday night meatloaf” or some such weekly regular.

I’ve always wanted to be that person. Known for a dish. Talked about in social circles. (“You’ve simply got to try Jen’s famous butternut squash lasagne…”) But I’m not, and I’ve come to terms with that. You’ll rarely find me making anything twice, let alone committing it to memory.

Except for a few special standouts, which brings me to this post. Meet my new obsession: Bircher muesli. Straight outta Switzerland, my new breakfast staple came to me by way of the chic city of Melbourne Australia, where I got to travel for work last month to sit in cafes and wax poetic about soaked oatmeal. Sort of.

Before Melbourne, I was only vaguely aware of this strange mixture that, to my uneducated palate, was basically just un-crunchified granola. We did eat a chocolate chunk enhanced version of it by the handfuls when I was living and working in West Africa but it quickly faded from my memory. I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I saw it again in health food stores, packaged up in cute little bags. I’d read somewhere that you should soak it in juice (really? cereal and juice?), but passed it off as an odd old-world habit.

Foolish, foolish me.

After trying it again in Australia, where it’s offered on every breakfast menu from upscale bistro to underground cafe, I was hooked. The texture ranged from soft and gooey to pasty, stick-to-your-ribs hefty. Toppings included everything from stewed fruit and actual granola (above) to banana and macadamia nuts. The possibilities were endless. One thing it was not? “Just cold oatmeal.” Nope. This stuff is in a class by itself. So much so that granola goes by another name: “Toasted muesli.” I found that funny for some reason.

Muesli was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital. I figure if it was good enough for a doc, it’s good enough for this breakfast-loving triathlete who needs a nutritious start to her day. And it’s quickly making a move on coffee as the number one thing to look forward to during a 6 a.m. swim. (Watch out coffee, your post is under siege!) I’ve surprised myself by how many consecutive mornings I’ve been able to eat this stuff. And enjoyed it. A lot.

But of course, as you can see above, my two loves get along swimmingly.

Preparing Bircher muesli is as easy as toasting bread or pouring cereal, if not easier. Let me introduce you…

Step 1: Procure some raw muesli. Above is my current favorite, the bulk Hot European Cereal from Sprouts’ market. I love it because it’s all ready to go, includes dates and raisins that get all poofed up when you soak them, as well as almonds and sunflower seeds for extra good fats. (Plus, it serves as my new favorite base for homemade granola. Just toss it with the wet mixture, bake, and voila!) Bob’s Red Mill makes a pre-packaged version, or you can make your own at your favorite local bulk foods store. In a pinch, plain, old-fashioned oats will work just fine too.

Step 2: Soak the mixture in half the amount of liquid. Here, I used 2 cups of muesli, and a total of one cup apple juice and milk. I’m still experimenting with the best combinations, and have some other juices on hand to try soon (peach, pineapple, and cran-apple).

Step 3: See how easy this is? You don’t even have to stir. Just put a lid on it and shake shake shake! Then pop it in the fridge overnight.

Step 4: The next morning, it will look something like this. Take out what you want (I usually make about 2 days’ worth at a time), and mix in however much plain yogurt you need to achieve your desired consistency. This is an essential step, and you must mix heartily. I usually put only about a quarter-cup of the regular (not Greek) lowfat plain yogurt in mine. If you do use Greek, add some milk so that it doesn’t become too pasty. Some recipes call for grated apple to be added here too, but I usually skip that step in the interest of time.

Step 5: Top with your favorite toppings. I make a big jar of toasted coconut, dried cranberries, pepitas, flaxseeds, and almonds and keep it around for a quick topping. But get creative! That’s what this stuff is for.

And for those of you who need a more traditional recipe, here you go:

Bircher Muesli

Ingredients

Base:

2 cups bulk dry muesli (ie: Sprouts’ bulk Hot European Cereal mixture) or old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup liquid (try low-fat milk, natural apple juice, or a mixture of the two to discover your perfect creamy/sweet ratio)

½ cup low-fat plain yogurt, Greek or regular style

½ an apple, grated (optional)

Toppings:

coconut flakes, slivered almonds, and/or hazelnuts, toasted

raisins and/or dried cranberries

stewed or fresh fruit

apple butter or maple syrup for extra sweetness

granola (what the Aussie’s call “toasted muesli”)

pluma moos (fruit compote)

Preparation

  1. Mix the dry muesli mix (or rolled oats) with the cup of liquid (milk, juice, or a combination of both) and let sit overnight in the fridge.
  2. In the morning, stir in the yogurt until well mixed. (Plain yogurt will give the finished product a more moist texture, whereas Greek will yield a “drier” effect.) Many recipes call for the addition of grated apple. Try it if you have time; it’s by no means essential.
  3. Top with your favorite toppings and enjoy!

stuffed prunes of Buen Appetito

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging much. My excuses include work, Ironman training, and my new favorite time-suck, Pinterest (which apparently is changing the way people blog).

Though I haven’t been cooking and baking up a storm like I did when I started this ‘lil site, we haven’t been lacking in the good food department. There are plenty of places to try speckled along our stretch of California beach (I smell bacon on my whole bike ride to work each morning, mingled with the smell of sea and campfire), and the hubby’s been cooking a lot more. The best part? He seems to genuinely enjoy it. I get frequent eggy breakfasts upon returning home from 6 a.m. Masters swims, and in the last month he’s been known to whip up osso bucco, or lamb tongue/beef heart stew on weeknights. Currently, he’s making his own bitters. NICE.

But there is one “recent” favorite I thought I’d share with you: a wee little appetizer we cooked for friends on New Year’s Eve … our foodiest yet, spent with our charcuterie and French technique master friend Chris (and his excellent sous chef, Rebecca.) We chose these Stuffed Prunes of Buen Appetito, which we discovered on The Splendid Table radio program and cooked for our parents a few Christmases ago. Here’s a little preview:

Soak prunes in a briny, wine-y marinade, stuff Dijon mustard and a macadamia nut inside, stuff with a prawn and wrap in a slabs of fatty bacon? You can’t really go wrong with that. (OK, I’ve been watching too much Bourdain.) But you must admit, they do look appetizing. And that is the job of an appetizer, non? Anyway, this was just the beginning of a night of memorable, yet classic, subdued flavors, which we sampled well past the turning of the calendar to 2012.

There’s the master chef at work…

After welcoming an iPhone 4S into my repertoire I haven’t been toting the fancy camera around much. But that’s no reason to stop blogging, and I’m going to try to be a bit more regular, even with just good old Instagram and Camera+ at my disposal. Here’s a peek into the other dishes that satiated us into a new year.

We started with duck confit with mixed greens and pomegranate,

accompanied by a fine selection of cheeses of course.

Then we transitioned into crab bisque with puff pastry lids,

and finished off the night (and 2011) with all-day-long poached pears (in red wine, anise, cinnamon, and cloves) with pistachio nuts and full-fat Greek yogurt:

Winnipeg’s chill was offset by the warm, luxurious flavors, and the meal was a great send-off as we headed back to San Diego the next day. More to come, but for now, the recipe for the prunes, below.

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simple roast chicken

I used to read food blogs on a daily basis, and subscribe to (and yes, read) Cook’s Illustrated. I even made their chicken once. Baking and cooking used to play a much more central role in my life. I even started this wacky thing called a food blog.

All that was before getting a grown-up job (sort of ) and moving to California, where my secondary hobby, triathlon, staged an uprising and usurped Suzie Homemaker. These days, we do consume more meals out, but we also make far more simple meals that don’t require recipes. Because of that, and spending far more time in front of a computer screen than when I started out, freshcrackedpepper has quieted down significantly. But thanks to the recent encouragement of some fell0w fitness-minded friends (you know who you are), I’ve decided that I’m not ready to let it die just yet.

(And, for someone who used to be an obsessive journal-keeper, this blog also serves as an interesting record of my no-longer-journal-obsessed life. The other night Mark and I were trying to figure out when we’d become friends with a certain couple, and what did I do? I checked the blog. There they were! “…a tempting invitation from friends to come over and eat chocolate cake all afternoon kept me away.”)

Anyway, onto the food.

Now that I’m finished my main races of the year (Oceanside and Orangeman) and triathlon training has taken a backseat to yoga and TRX and a new run focus, we’ve started cooking more. There’s been lentil soup and butternut squash soup and pumpkin muffins and muesli (most made without consulting a recipe). I’m focused less on perfection, and more on the creative act of throwing things together. Just the other day I said to Mark, “we have to keep cooking like this when I’m training for Ironman in the spring!” One can dream.

And, thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s fun techniques episode of “No Reservations,” we’ve rediscovered roast chicken. My response to a good, simple roast chicken, is always “why don’t we make this more often?” Seriously. It makes the house smell like a holiday and makes me crave pumpkin pie or some other delicious dessert my mother makes that’s no longer part of my life.

I want to offer you two ridiculously easy methods of roasting a bird. Neither of them require a special pan. Neither of them require trussing (though you can if you want to). Neither of them require anything but a 3-4 pound roasting chicken (go organic for the best texture and flavor), some salt, pepper, and that spice simply made for chicken: thyme. Dried or fresh, no matter. The first is for those of you who own a Bundt pan and wondered what else you could possible do with it besides make ridiculously delicious cinnamon coffee cake. The second is for those of you who own a cast-iron pan, or other oven-safe skillet. Both are equally simple and yield a tender bird with temptingly crispy skin.

So wherever you are on the food preparation spectrum, from microwaving Trader Joe’s meals to becoming the next Thomas Keller, these two methods will restore your confidence. They did mine.

Courtesy of glutenfreegirl.com

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calypso roti

You wouldn’t know it by hanging out around this blog, but there’s been a whole lotta great food in our lives lately. Since my tango with the Paleo diet came to an end (R.I.P.), I’ve returned to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet( with a new appreciation for tasty animals, and a better showing of the vegetable kingdom throughout my day). I must say, however, that I am enjoying eating the things I love again, and I still feel great.

One of the best things about being lucky enough to have the wide wide world of food available to me again is being able to try new recipes from colorful cookbooks like Rebar. (Of Smoky-Sweet Potato Soup fame.) When I found out we were indeed going to have dinner guests on Sunday night, I whipped out this book to look over while I drank my morning coffee. I’m not sure which was more fun: perusing all the great recipes I wanted to try, or sipping a delicious brew from Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective, a generous gift from a friend recently returned from Denmark. Given the glut of red peppers in my fridge, I settled on this recipe, which looked inspiring enough to serve to a transplanted German and Ohioan.

Photo by cookbookman17

I have to thank the good folks on the Internet for most of these photos, as it was too dark and the wine was already flowing too freely for me to want to drag out my SLR. These “rotis” are essentially spiced-up, crunchy wraps full of simple but bright flavors. They’re a great make-ahead meal, as both the hummus and the “mango mojo” sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. First you make a black bean hummus with garlic, lime juice, toasted pumpkin seeds, spices, and chipotle purée. This hummus would be excellent served with chips or vegetables as its flavors are uniquely nutty for a hummus. I never thought of using pumpkin seeds before, and they lent a nice thickness to the spread.

Your second make-ahead sauce is the “mango mojo” which is basically just blended ripe mango (we used the smallish ones, can’t remember their proper name but they were perfect). You blend that up with cilantro, the juice of two limes, fresh garlic, and half a habanero pepper. I was pleasantly surprised at the heat in this sauce. It was definitely spicy, but had a warming, “manageable” spice instead of a pass-me-the-milk-NOW-dammit effect. We ended up spooning all the leftovers over our bites of roti.

Once your two sauces are done, you spread the hummus in a wrap, top it with sautéed red peppers and green cabbage, drizzle with mojo sauce and sprinkle with more toasted pumpkin seeds. You roll them all up, pop them in the oven on low while you nosh on salad and wine. They’ll come out 15-20 minutes later just warm enough for a late summer evening meal. This is definitely one for the rotation, and in the presence of more meat-eaters, I might be so inclined to throw some pulled pork or blackened chicken in for good measure.

Calypso Roti

makes 4 large or 6 medium rotis

BLACK BEAN HUMMUS

2 – 14-ounce cans black beans
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chipotle puree (puree made of canned chipotles in adobo sauce…the best!)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 – 1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground corainder
2 – 3 tbsps chopped cilantro
2 tbsp flax seed oil
1 bunch cilantro

MANGO MOJO

1 ripe mango (use two if they are very small)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 habanero (seeded and chopped…use gloves!)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped

ROTIS

4 roti, chapati or whole wheat tortillas (I used 6 medium-sized tortillas)
2 sweet red peppers
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 cups shredded cabbage, tossed with some lime juice
4 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Puree the ingredients for the hummus in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside. Puree the Mango Mojo ingredients using a hand blender or standard blender. Set aside.

2. Halve, seed and julienne the red peppers. Head the oil in a skillet, and saute the peppers for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Heat the wraps in the microwave to soften. Spread hummus over wrap up to 2 inches from the edges. Line with grilled peppers, cabbage, Mango Mojo, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Roll, and place in a warm over (250-275) until ready to serve, or serve immediately.

paleo postmortem

I did it! I went paleo for a whole month. Yesterday marked the end of 30 whole days of cavewoman-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners sans grains and dairy, minus the three days I let myself cheat due to extenuating circumstances (like birthdays and races).

I can’t help but feel a little victorious. I’ve never tried any sort of “extreme” diet before, and always wondered if I had the willpower. Turns out I do. This single fact probably means more to me than the supposed benefits of the diet—the fact alone that I resisted chips and salsa, popcorn and Greek yogurt for a whole month shows me that when I put my mind to it, I can do anything.

OK, now we’re getting a little cheesy. Seriously though, overall, it was good mental training. Sometimes, food can get the best of me, consuming my thoughts and leading me to false paradises that I then regret visiting. Going paleo helped me narrow my diet down to the absolute bare necessities, the most nutrient-rich, unadulterated pure foods I could possible load up on. And you know what? After the first week’s mental fog passed (likely from the significant reduction in carbohydrates), I felt great. I slept well, had tons of energy, and rarely experienced that mid-afternoon energy slump.

But. Yes, there’s a but. After all is said and done, I simply missed the variety a truly balanced diet offers. Don’t get me wrong, when you come home from two hours of hill repeats at 7:45 in the morning and your husband has bacon and eggs ready for you, you don’t complain. But after days upon days of eggs, boiled, fried, steamed, poached and in omeletes, eggs get old. No matter how much you love them and no matter how good for you they are. I just wanted to sink my teeth into a soft, chewy, crusty piece of good old-fashioned TOAST.

So yesterday morning, that’s just what I did. After my hour Masters swimming workout, I bolted to the market near our house and grabbed a loaf of Bread & Cie’s Fig and Anise bread. Came home, popped two slices in the toaster, and slathered them with butter and honey. Delicious. I wasn’t satiated for as long as I was on my prior paleo breakfasts, but it was worth it.

Here are a few things I learned while trying the paleo diet that I’ll carry over into daily life:

1-Eat your veggies.

I always knew this in theory, but I wasn’t practicing it to the extent I should’ve been as an active person. Carrot and celery sticks don’t count. I have learned the joys of sauteed greens as a quick side or even breakfast. I will continue to eat plenty of easy, broiled yam fries before long weekend training sessions. Mark and I joined a local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) and somewhat ironically, our first pick-up was last night. (I can see a “Stuff White People Like” post emerging: “Picking up their organic veggies at Lululemon. Ugh. Oh wait. It already is one.) Our first box was impressive, as the spread in the first photo attests.

2-Protein, in moderation.

The paleo diet pushes the consumption of animal protein at every meal and snack, an approach I find not only unecessary, but also bad for the earth. Even when done 100% organic, it’s still just not necessary for us North Americans to hog all that meat-production energy for ourselves. (Yes, I used the word hog in a paragraph about meat. Hey, it’s a blog not a thesis.) I will continue to implore Mark to make the delicious roast beast on a regular basis (his second, rosemary-rubbed version, above, was even better!) and poached salmon has become a staple.

3-Food is worth it.

Meat costs money, yes. Fresh, organic veggies cost money. Big surprise. Paleo has taught me to really stop worrying so much about cost and invest my income in the food that keeps me alive and thriving.

4-Balance is best.

In the process, I’ve re-discovered Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple blog, and though it has some propaganda-esque tips that probably exist to build his publishing and supplement empire, contains some really good, moderate advice. Like this tidbit:

“We often say, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And for good reason. The target of (paleo) is deep-seated: the long haul of a healthful life, not a brief stop off for cosmetic fixes. The necessary approach, then, is centered around sustainability. One hundred percent compliance with (paleo) principles is ideal, sure, but consider it the ultimate representation – a consummate form rather than typical daily function. The PB is rooted in life, not just research, after all. A practical baseline is this: if you align your life with the PB principles 80 percent of the time, consider yourself on course.”

I love that. Eighty percent I can do. Perhaps even 90. But I simply enjoy certain foods too much to warrant their elimination from my life.

5-Go with your gut.

I know I just argued for balance, but now I’m going to argue for personal preference. Paleo changed my adviser Nell’s life and triathlon training. It works for her. It worked for me, too, but not in that same life-altering way. To me, taste, pleasure, and variety matter far more than some long-term nutritional benefits I’m not yet convinced of anyway. As a LAVA contributor writes on her blog, “by focusing on your own needs, it’s very simple to find enjoyment out of consuming a balanced diet where no food is off limit.” And while you won’t see me loading up on gummy bears anytime soon, I don’t want to live a life where I have to say no should I ever crave them.

All in all, going paleo for a month reaffirmed that while I love being healthy and fit, it’s more about putting life in my years than years in my life. I know I said this in a prior post, but it seems to be the theme of this whole exercise in pseudo-madness. VG’s doughnuts, here I come…

one week to go

It’s not that I dislike this whole Paleo thing, it’s just that after three weeks, it has started getting a little, well, old. Maybe this is  because I just spent six days living out of a car, hotel fridge, and whatever small-town American diners I could get my hands on. That would tire anyone out, rookie Paleo forager or not.

In my last post, I shared how I got by en route to Utah, but once those snacks were gone, I had to work a little harder. If I were to choose this as a way of life, I would have to be much better prepared. I’ve said that a lot, I know. Am I just lazy?!

I also think it would also be easier to do Paleo on the road if I’d been solo. I enjoy eating with my husband–it’s something we share–and it’s hard to enjoy a mini vacation when “doing breakfast” means sitting at a grocery store deli table eating cold cuts. Yeah, no. So here’s a little glimpse of the foods that helped me get by, with the help of Flickr’s Creative Commons for all but the Grind salad. I kinda forgot about the blog this weekend. It was a busy one!

Photo by inazakira

We arrived Thursday afternoon and hit up a Mexican place, were I managed to order a decent salad with chicken. Thankfully, there was a grocery store right across from our hotel for Thursday’s dinner: yay for rotisserie chicken eaten with your hands in your hotel room. Now that’s entertainment.

On Friday morning, I passed up fake eggs and greasy sausage patties care of Best Western, and we headed to a Grind cafe in Cedar City for breakfast and a few hours of work. Their spinach salad (above) came Paleo-fied with eggs and bacon. That evening we tried out the local BBQ joint Sonny Boy’s, channeling our Dinosaur BBQ love. It was good, but didn’t hold a candle to the Syracuse mainstay. I had brisket, ribs, a side salad, and their fried cauliflower. Not exactly what you see in the picture, but more or less.

Photo by VirtualErn

Saturday, race day, I cheated. Though I did manage to do Paleo for breakfast at a local diner. This we count as our Utah dining disaster #1: cold coffee and an omelette that took so long we were on our way out the door when it finally arrived. Just your basic ham and veggie omelette, nothing to write about here. But during the intensely difficult 100k/61m trail ride that took me the better part of the day, I just couldn’t stick to my Paleo plan. Gels? Yeah right. Give me chunky trail bars, gummy worms and pb&j. (Click here to read about my full experience at this awesome new race.) I cheated after the race and had a pulled pork sandwich, but after a few bites the bun didn’t really appeal to me and I just pulled all the meat out. That night, I indulged in two beers (paid for it at altitude with a nasty headache) and Thai food, of which two of the dishes were Paleo. Not bad, I say.

On Sunday morning we hit up a really cute local diner, the only place that was open. I had an avocado bacon tomato omelette that was quite delicious, and got it with sweet potato fries (Paleo!) instead of the toast and hash browns. It didn’t look exactly like this one (ie: no cheese), but you get the idea.

photo by Jinx McCombs

Then we were off to Hurricane, Utah, just 45 minutes away and our home base for exploring Zion National Park. We couldn’t check in until 3 and we arrived at noon, so we spend a couple hours in McDonald’s using they’re internet and drinking best-you’re-gonna-get coffee. It cracks me up that the three times I’ve been there in the last oh, five years, have been to use their Internet. “Lunch” was random Paleo snacks and fruit, and for dinner in Hurricane we hit a ghetto Chinese place. I had a greasy chicken and vegetable dish that looked kinda like this, sans the black beans and with more vegetables. We hit up the movie Horrible Bosses in the evening, and bought strawberries from the local grocery store for a mid-movie snack.

Photo by FotosVanRobin

Monday, hiking day, I had cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli from the grocery store (with Craisins) in the hotel breakfast nook while Mark enjoyed some toast and Froot Loops. I think I got some weird looks on that one. I managed to subsist on nuts, and dried and fresh fruit for the duration of our 6 hour hike, but boy was I ravenous when we finally hit up Oscar’s Cafe in cute little Sprindale. I had their “Maui Burger” without a bun, which was a (slightly overcooked) beef patty topped with a slice of grilled pineapple. Our server didn’t charge me to replace the fries with a garden salad, which was nice. I snuck a few fries though, to dip in the delicious chipotle-aioli sauce.

Photo by Jennifer Chong

That night, I caved and we got frozen yogurt. Sometimes little things happen in life that only food can fix. Because of our broken air conditioning, we left Hurricane at 4 a.m. to beat the heat, and I enjoyed a mushoom and spinach egg-white omelette at Denny’s, served with turkey bacon and fruit. Not bad, Paleo peeps, not bad. We got home around 10:30, napped, and then it was back to work. Mark grilled up some fresh Ono and roasted some broccoli, mushrooms and red onion for dinner, rounding out a “work-cation” (my new term) that was, except for a few minor deviations, mostly Paleo.

So it’s true, you can do Paleo on the road. You just have to be prepared to spend a lot unless you’re prepared, and start developing a taste for packet tuna. It was a great trip of new endurance feats, and I’m sore and tired to tell the stories. Happy to be back in gorgeous San Diego where the market is only a stone’s throw away and our fridge is always stocked with good things.

paleo road trip

We just arrived in Cedar City, Utah for the inaugural Fire Road Cycling mountain bike race. The rocks are red, the air warm, and our car’s air conditioner on the fritz. What can you do? Cars get old and wrinkly, too.

Road tripping gives me the munchies. As I threw stuff together last night—after getting beat by my swimming rookie husband in a sprint session at the pool—I wondered what on earth I would do for seven hours in car, on Paleo. Last time, driving down from the Big Sur Marathon, I gave in to just about every crappy convenience store craving. Well, within reason of course. I’ve never craved a Twinkie.

As my Paleo guru Nell says, “prep in advance and pack as much as possible.” I didn’t have a lot left in the fridge (I always go on a fridge-cleansing mission, even before short jaunts), so I cobbled together all the Paleo goodness I could find. Exhibit A: Polar Tuna packs (don’t buy this brand, it’s dry!), apples, salt-and-pepper pistachios, almonds, crispy seaweed, and … drumroll please … Bare Fruit Granny Smith Apple Chips. These, my friends, are a popcorn-tortillachip-ricecake-pretzel lover’s Paleo dream come true. (Not pictured: carrot and celery sticks and cantaloupe balls.)

Back to the apple chips. I discovered these at Costco (this blog is becoming a tribute to that crazy behemoth of a store), where an 11 ounce bag set us back only 5$. They are perfect. Ingredients? Organic apples. 58 calories a serving. Some crispy, some just a little chewy inside. How? Something called “bake drying.” Don’t ask me how they do it, but man, it’s delicious.

Considering my breakfast consisted of a lone smoothie at 4:45 a.m, I was a hungry at oh, 7:30. And 9:45. And 11:58. These little snacks, combined with Mark’s delicious press pot followed later by a tall Starbucks it’ll-pass Verona, kept me going all the way to Utah. We passed the hours chatting with our roadie, and listening her audiobook, David Cross’ Why I Drink. He doesn’t touch my heart like Sedaris, but it’s pretty funny stuff.

Oh, and the best part (besides the forthcoming beef jerky story) was … we saw a Manitoba license plate! It was on the back of a Bison transport semi truck, so not really that strange, but still. Here’s the snack collection, with a shot of our very own plates in the background.

And to leave you on a humorous note (or humourous, if you’re Canadian), behold a little exchange we managed to overhear in our apartment parking lot the other day.

Hipster teen #1: “Man-i-to-ba??”

Hipster teen #2: “I swear that’s not even a state, man.”

HT#1: “Oh, it’s in CANADA, look at the little leaf on top of the ‘i.'”

HT#2: “I get it. It says ‘Eh.'” (Our license plate just happens to be EEH 245. No connection to the Canadianism at all, boys.)

my cheatin’ mouth

Today marks two full weeks of Paleo eating in the bag. As I begin Week Three, I can’t help but look back over my accomplishments, failures, and more lessons learned.

The thing that stands out most is how much my running has improved. Two long runs on this diet and no belching issues at all. I know I can’t jump to conclusions yet, but this seems like a victory worth celebrating … for now. I’ve also managed to resist popcorn, oatmeal, Chobani yogurt, and Mark’s unbelievable lattes.

As for the failures? Well, I haven’t been following my coach’s meal plan to the T. Lunches of “poached Halibut on a bed of julienne carrots, zucchini and leeks” have been losing to my day job, a busier-than-usual freelance plate, and this recent string of gorgeous summer days. I haven’t been getting in all the “Recovery Homebrew” smoothies included in my plan, which is probably leading to the onset of major munchies which usually hits at about 9 p.m. To satiate myself, I chow down on almond (which as I’ve recently learned from Nell, isn’t a good idea!)

The site of the cheating

And then there was Friday, Mark’s birthday, my first official “cheat night.” No, it wasn’t a night of marital infidelity. I decided that spending money on a meal out just wasn’t smart if I couldn’t enjoy any of it, and settled on Searsucker, a top-chef finalist’s trendy new San Diego spot. Partly because it looked good, partly because it was downtown, kind of a novelty for us North County dwellers. We had their “carb-free” crabcake, artichoke hearts with Gruyere and tomato, and short ribs as appetizers, then shared the Mexican-inspired tongue and cheek (yes, literally), and duck breast with confit. On the side, an arugula, prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato salad. So yes, it was Paleo only insofar as there was meat, though it was fattier than the diet prescribes. Vegetables were lacking (our choice, those are a la carte), and though grains weren’t featured, there was a significant amount of cheese. (Overall, we were a little disappointed by the food. It was OK, but nothing worth raving about.)

I paid for it the next morning on my 40-mile bike ride, during which my gut rebelled, and I had trouble absorbing water. It’s hard to know if it was eating the prohibited foods, or just eating and drinking a wee bit too much.

New Encinitas Whole Foods

I’ve learned a bunch, too. Like that the best kind of deli meats are known as whole cuts, as opposed to the “sectioned and formed” meat products (gross!) or processed meats. Thankfully, Whole Foods just opened a mile from our apartment, and their Applegate farms oven-roasted chicken and turkey breasts are just excellent…especially when paired with some walnuts and pear. (New favorite!) I never really ate deli meat to begin with, but now that I need to be having so much meat, it’s just so easy to turn to.

This article by Phil Lempert outlines what to look for in deli meats, the main issue being sodium nitrite, which is also used alone or with sodium nitrate to fix the color in meat products. (Um, really?) During cooking, however, “nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds,” Lempert says … compounds that are known carcinogens associated with all kinds of cancer. (See the original article for more information on a study done in Sweden.)Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’m craving dairy far more than I am grains. A cold, creamy lick of frozen yogurt or a rubbery slab of mozzarella have tempted me many times over these past few days.

I’m starting to draw conclusions already about this way of eating, which I fire at Mark in small doses through the day. “So I was thinking, about this diet…” The man patiently indulges me every time, as we weigh the pros and cons, what seems to make sense and what seems ridiculous. I am really enjoying trying Paleo out, but I’m not sure I could eat this way for the rest of my life. I read a quote recently in Outside about putting “life in your years,” not just “years on your life.”

Paleo thus far has taught me to be more creative in the kitchen. It wasn’t that I was bad at this before, but over the past year I’ve lapsed. Paleo has helped me make friends with not only a ton of interesting new veggies and greens (rapini, chard, Japanese sweet potato), but methods by which to cook them. The best part of all of this so far is learning that dinner actually comes together more quickly and with less stress than when I used to scour blogs and cookbooks for exotic-looking recipes.

roast beast (and beets)

My second Paleo Experiment-induced trip to Costco on Sunday ended in me taking home a five-pound top sirloin. I purchased it with the intent of making my own homemade (read, additive and sodium-free) healthy roast beef. I’ve never been a big fan of deli meats, and up until trying this new way of eating didn’t really eat much beef at all. But that, along with many other habits and tendencies, has all changed over the past week.

As the days go on, some of the “symptoms” of going Paleo continue to lessen or disappear. Namely, strange stomach pains, a dry mouth, and periods of mental fogginess. Everything seems pretty much back to normal now, with the addition of new energy, better sleeps, and a pretty consistently positive mental outlook.

It’s always so hard to know with these things which are caused or related to a certain factor (here, the diet), or whether they would’ve happened anyway. That’s the complication with the Paleo way of life. Die-hards claim a lot for it, but could many of those “improvements” be due to them incorporating new and fresher veggies and fruits into their diets?

See the above salad. I would often eat salads for lunch at work, but this new diet prompted me to add some turkey and roast beets (which I blasted under the broiler with garlic and olive oil for 30 minutes, skins and all). The turkey was an early-Paleo Experiment slip-up. It’s deli-style, and even though the ingredients are only “turkey, turkey broth (containing less than 2% salt and vegetable oil),” it’s probably not the best. The black flecks on there aren’t pepper, they’re roasted hemp seeds: delish.

Another thing was red about my day besides the beets? The roast beast.

Yes, you read that right. The roast beast. With apologies to any sensitive vegans out there (though they surely would’ve stopped reading by now, so I have nothing to worry about), it is rather pleasant to say “roast beast.” It’s from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I’ve always found the expression hilarious.

The beast in this case was that five-pound hunk of Paleo protein procured from that grocery store where couples like us should really not be shopping. (Costco). We cut it in half and froze the other 2.5 pounds, and then followed Saveur‘s sandwich issue instructions for DIY roast beef: season the tied roast with salt and pepper, sear in a cast-iron skillet until the edges are browned, and then bake at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for three and a half hours. Take the temperature to make sure the interior reaches 130 degrees, cool, slice, and you’re done!

By slow-cooking the meat at such a low temperature, you retain that nice even pink color. Who wants brown-grey roast beast? Not this Who. Mark reported that it’s not really thinly-cut enough for a good sandwich, which makes it even more Paleo-friendly than it already was.

Tonight, post “Andrew” yoga, I had 100 grams of this served with sauteed spinach and some of Mark Bittman’s Spiced Melon Balls? (For this simple summer appetizer, simply mix the balls from a whole cantaloupe plus one whole honeydew with the juice of half a lime, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1/4 tsp. cayenne, and 1 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro.)


5 Lessons from Today:

1. Don’t add coconut oil to a smoothie with frozen ingredients in it. It will turn to a grimy, greasy slop.

2 .If you’re going to eat roast beast often, invest in an electric meat slicer or marry a butcher.

3. When you go Paleo, it won’t be long before your co-workers start calling you a cavewoman.

4. Roasted seaweed, nuts, or hemp seeds work well when you’re craving popcorn or pretzels.

5. Choose your cheats wisely: I haven’t “caved” (ha ha) often, but tonight am giving in to Stone’s BELGO Anise Imperial Russian Stout while I watch the season premier of Weeds. Hey, it’s not easy being a cavewoman.