30 January, 2013

Crispy Quinoa Chocolate Cookies

The Dubai marathon is over! Three months of hard training culminated in the actual race last Friday. It would be the third time that I'd run a marathon. As many of you have followed my little journey, you surely deserve to know how it went. A comment from Cal Cakestall on the Hazelnut Vanilla Meringue Cookies last night made me get my act together. Here we go:

Five days after race, I have recovered physically. Emotionally,  I am still floating somewhere on Cloud Nine. I thoroughly enjoyed the race, I finished in 3:26:37. That's 9 minutes off my previous Personal Best. In the rankings, my time put me 32nd woman to finish  (out of 450 and that included some really fast Kenyans and Ethiopians) and 4th place in my age category of the 35-39 year olds (obviously no Kenyans or Ethiopians in that group).

I had trained for a 3:20:00 marathon, but knew all the way, that it might be a tad too ambitious. Part of my training was to run at marathon pace. That pace never felt 100% comfortable. Therefore, I set myself staggered goal times: I needed to go under 3:30. That had to be a must, otherwise I would have been disappointed. I thought that 3:25 would be a realistic. I figured that a 3:20 would be possible when all the stars were aligned.

After a surprisingly good night's sleep the night before the marathon, I woke up to find out that there was deep fog outside. One could hardly see beyond 20 metres at times on the way to the race site. We had a few foggy days in the past week. I thought it was quite nice weather to run in. Fog means cool temperature and no wind. Two conditions that I'd very much appreciate during a race.
Running a marathon in deep fog - a great surreal experience.
I felt great at the start line. My plan was to run negative splits: take it rather easy in the first half of the race, so I'd have some energy left for the second half. My halfway time was 1:44. Now it was time to speed up a bit. In my other two marathons, I followed the same race strategy, and it always worked out well. It makes you overtake other runners when their AND your own energy levels are dwindling. It's a great motivation booster that keeps you going. I felt great up until 39-40k. The last few kms were the longest I have ever run, although they were my fastest in the whole race. I felt completely depleted, and was thinking that I might either faint or throw up after I'd cross the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 3:26:37 (which means I ran the second half in 1:41 - faster than the first half). The next few minutes were a bit of a blur, as I was trying not to faint or to vomit. I had some rehydration drink and a banana wrapped in plastic was given to me. I wasn't even able to remove the plastic and had to ask for help :-) With some liquids and a banana in my system, I was slowly able to pick myself up again. My sister was waiting for me at the finish line, and we walked back to watch my friends on their last metres before their finish. It was great to see so many people finish with a PB, or under 4h for the first time. 

My stomach couldn't take much food for the first few hours after the race. In fact, I only had an appetite for a coffee which we managed to buy near the finish line. Only after about 5-6 hours I developed an appetite for hearty, savory food (and a few beers and wines too). Once the ice was broken foodwise, I didn't stop eating for another 2-3 days. Little bits and pieces went into my mouth on constant basis.

These little quinoa cookies became an integral part of my marathon post-race refueling strategy. It's the first time that I used quinoa flakes which sat in my pantry for ages. These cookies come out very crispy, just as I like them, full of chocolate flavor with a good hint of coconut. I have made them several times since. They are nut-free too, which means I can pack them into my kids school lunch boxes as a treat. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1/2 cup palm sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup quinoa flakes
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup dried coconut

Yields 20-25
Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk together together the sugar and coconut oil until light and fluffy. Add in the coconut milk and vanilla and beat until creamy.

In a medium bowl, combine quinoa flakes, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Pour wet onto dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Fold in coconut flakes.

Scoop spoons full of dough and place them on the baking sheet. Flatten them with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes. To make them extra crispy, turn off the heat in the oven. Flip each cookie and leave them in the warm oven for a few more minutes. Let cool completely on wire rack. Keep in airtight container.
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23 January, 2013

Hazelnut Vanilla Meringue Cookies

Last year's Christmas got me on a cookie baking roll. I am still on it. It's especially gratifying when my family likes them. These days, they deserve all the good (and healthy) cookies of the world.

You wonder why? You might have guessed it. Because they have to put up with me, who is running a marathon in less than 36 hours. 4-5 times a week for three months they made it possible that I can I run during regular waking hours, not in the middle of night when everyone else sleeps. They had to put up with endless whining last month when I first was injured and then got the flu. Subsequently I missed out on crucial training. My honest family admitted that they'd rather have me out there running instead of getting on their nerves with my niggles. They put up with never-ending stories of training details, marathon goal times, statistics of weekly mileages. They would probably even know what negative splits are, if they ever listened to my ongoing marathon talk.

It probably got even worse during taper time in the last two weeks, as I was running much less, and spent so much more time at home. Nevertheless, the marathon was constantly on my mind and therewith more marathon talk to my family.

Our meal plans have for the three days before the marathon have been adjusted so I can carb-load until I drop: porridge, rice and pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today is Day 2 and I am feeling pretty loaded already, I must say.

Tomorrow is a public holiday here in Dubai. I was granted the right to sleep in because the sleep two nights before the race is actually more important than the sleep of the last night.

On Friday morning, I will get up at 4:30am, be at the race site by 6am. And be running my 3rd marathon from 7am on. My family will see me at several spot along the course, providing me with bananas, energy drinks and whatever else I may need. When I asked my son if he wants to see me run the marathon, he said: "Errrhh, no, not really. It's always so boring........" He will have no choice as to tag along.

Marathons are not only the running person's business. It's a family undertaking. I really appreciate all the support I got and want to say thank you! I'll try my best to deliver what I trained so hard for: a 3:20 marathon.

And I offer cookies as rewards. These meringue cookies are crispy and very sweet, with a great flavor combination of hazelnut and vanilla. They keep very long on the kitchen counter (theoretically). Only four ingredients are needed. Additionally, they are gluten and grain free. A simple and delicious sweet treat. Enjoy.


(Print Recipe)

2 egg whites
1/3 cup granulated raw sugar

1 cup hazelnut meal
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Yields ca. 20
Preheat oven to 150C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In an electric coffee of spice grinder, pulse the raw sugar a few times until it reaches the texture of caster sugar. Set aside.

In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer on low for a couple of minutes, until bubbly. Increase the speed to medium for another minute, then whisk the high speed until stiff peaks are formed. Now whisk in the sugar at high speed, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is stiff and glossy. 

Gently fold in the the nut meal and the vanilla. Put heaped teaspoons of the batter on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten them  to 1/2 inch height with the back of a spoon and for a circle. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. Switch off the oven. If the cookies are still a little soft, leave them in the warm oven for another 10-15 minutes.
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17 January, 2013

Broccoli Pistachio Soup

One more week to go until I run my 3rd marathon. It's taper time. That means less running, less physical exhaustion, and so much more time to think and worry. Here are some of the the bad voices:
  • Have I done enough training? - Not as much as I wanted to as I was injured for 10 days, followed by being down with flu for one week in the most crucial training period. 
  • Have I trained at the right paces? - Not as much as I should have. My long slow runs should have been at a slightly faster pace according to the requirements of my training program.
  • Will I be able to run the marathon in my goal time? - I don't know. I don't want to be too optimistic and then be disappointed. So rather be pessimistic: It's looking bad because of the issues mentioned above. Perhaps my goal time was a tad too ambitious anyway.
  •  Will my leg injury play up again before the marathon? - I never know when it comes on, as the pain only starts after a run, when it's all too late. The first time it happened was after a 25k run. After I recovered, I did 29k and 32k runs just fine. After the 35k run and a Half Marathon it played up again a bit. So should I go for that 17k social run tomorrow with my running buddies?? Or will it spoil everything? If my leg falls off after the marathon, fine. But please, hang in there for another week!
  • Will I be getting a bad cold or stomach bug before the marathon? - That's the worst nightmare. Training hard for 3 months and then not be able to run because of a minor illness. My daughter has got a cold already, and my son reported a classmate vomiting in school yesterday. It's looking bleak! I find myself moving back a step if I hear someone coughing. My sister will come for a visit from Germany next week to cheer me on at the marathon. I am praying she doesn't catch some crazy bug while sitting on a plane with 300 people from all over the world for 7 hours.
Thank God there are the good voices too. 
  • I am an experienced runner, as I have been running for 10 years including countless 10k races and half marathons. 
  • I've got a race strategy and I can stick to it. I am disciplined enough to run my own race, and not get carried away by others who start off too quickly. 
  • I am consistent. I know my reserves well enough to settle into a pace that I can keep up for the whole distance, or even notch it up in the second half of the race. 
  • The second half of a race is my strength. I am the master of negative splits. It gives me all the motivation and energy I need for those last 10k, when I keep overtaking those people that ran off too fast.
So here I am sitting, with these thoughts on my mind on an infinite loop. It's gonna continue for another week, and it's gonna get worse. How to keep calm? I don't know. The pre-race jitters are part of the whole game.

The easiest part at this stage, seems to be the food. I am eating my usual stuff, and don't restrain myself when I get an appetite for carbs. In fact, I have been eating most of the gingerbread house that I made with my kids at Christmas. Only the front wall and bottom are left after a week of marathon taper.

Although I am not too keen to try any new foods, most plant-based dishes are pretty safe to try. I came across this "almost cheezy broccoli soup" at Peachy Palate. I was intrigued immediately, wondering what would give the almost cheezy flavor. It comes from toasted pistachios and coconut milk. It adds amazing flavor and depth while you can still taste the freshness of the broccoli and some spinach. On top of that, it's whipped up in 15 minutes, as the broccoli doesn't need long to cook. This soup shot into the Top 10 of my favorite dishes like a rocket. Delicious, healthy, very filling and quick to make. Enjoy.
adapted from Peachy Palate

(Print Recipe)

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 cups broccoli florets, roughly chopped

4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled

2/3 cup coconut milk (+ more for drizzling)

Serves 2-3
In a skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes, until onions have softened. Add broccoli florets, sea salt and water. Bring to boil, cover and simmer until broccoli is cooked, about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the pistachios in a dry pan over low heat for 5-7 minutes. Shake the pan a few times for even toasting and to avoid burning the nuts. Set aside.

Take off the heat. Stir in the spinach and let wilt in the hot mixture. Add the toasted pistachios (keep 2-3 tablespoons aside) and the coconut milk to the broccoli spinach mixture. Then blend with a hand blender or transfer to food processor and blend until smooth.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Chop up the remaining pistachios. Transfer the soup to serving bowls and garnish with chopped pistachios and a drizzle of coconut milk. Ready to serve.
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11 January, 2013

Portuguese Chickpea and Cod Salad

I am craving salty and hearty meals these days. Yes, it's winter.
But more so, I am in the final stages of marathon training. I've been logging in my longest long run of 35k last week. For several weeks I have been running 70-80k per week. Now it's taper time. Nothing more can be done to increase fitness, speed and endurance. The marathon will be in exactly two weeks. I have been training hard for 10 weeks. The last two weeks will be there to rest so I can line up at the start with fresh legs. Last year, I ran 3:35 at the Dubai marathon. For this year, I want to get close to 3:20. It's a very ambitious goal. I am convinced I can run under 3:30. I am pretty sure I can get close to 3:25. A time around 3:20 would be just awesome.

Until last week, when I was still running big mileages, my hunger seemed pretty normal. Only now that I can sit back and relax, I seem to develop insatiable hunger pangs. I eat three muffins for tea, I finish off whatever is left on my kids' dinner plates. My handbag is full with snacks on the go, as I cannot be without food for more than 2-3 hours.

As much as I try and keep animal products to a minimum, it doesn't work for me when I run a lot. I crave chicken, fish and eggs. They satisfy hunger, which would otherwise have me at the fridge all day long.
Today's recipe fits the bill perfectly. It's another Portuguese recipe that includes bacalhau (dried salted cod - remember - we brought several kilos to Dubai after our holidays in Portugal last summer), chickpeas, boiled eggs and parsley. It's so simple, yet so tasty. It's a popular summer salad in Portugal, perfect for potlucks and BBQs. And for marathon training refueling. Should I tell you that I had a hard time shooting the photographs of this salad, as I kept on eating the salad? Never mind sharing with other family members. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (home-cooked chickpeas are better than tinned ones)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
300g/10oz bacalhau (dried salted cod)
1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 eggs, hard-boiled
1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped + more for garnish
1 tablespoon white vinegar

black olives (optional)

Serves 4
 In a bowl, cover the bacalhau with water. Rehydrate for at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse the fish, then peel off the skin and remove bones. Flake into bite-sized pieces.
In a pan, heat half a tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until they become translucent. Add the bacalhau flakes and fry until cooked, another 4-5 minutes. Take off the heat and set aside.

Finely chop the hard-boiled eggs. In a serving bowl, combine chickpeas and cooled bacalhau flakes. Gently stir in the chopped eggs and parsley leaves. Drizzle the remaining olive oil and vinegar over the salad and mix gently. Garnish with black olives and more parsley. Keeps well in the fridge for up to 48 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.
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04 January, 2013

Hot Or Cold Chocolate

An icy wind is blowing that laughs at the temperatures on the mercury.  Numbers on the thermometer can be very deceptive in Dubai: yesterday it went es low as 20C which would probably count as a warm spring or fall day in most parts of the world. Or would even be accepted as a summer day in other parts of the world. I heard that 15C in Norway are warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt. In Dubai, 20C felt icy. I went to an outdoor event, and was wrapped in thick jeans, a long sleeve shirt and a  warm hoodie to keep my upper body warm, while having another fleece wrapped around my legs.

Let's start the new year with a very old recipe of mine. After three years of blogging I thought I shared all my secrets with you. However, there is a recipe that I have been keeping from you all the time. Hot Chocolate. Because I make it so often it's not even considered a recipe any more?

Almost daily when my son comes home from school he demands his hot or cold chocolate. It is so easy to make and requires very little ingredients and effort: milk, cocoa and sweetener and a saucepan is all you need. When making hot chocolate yourself, you have complete control over how chocolate-y, how sweet and how hot or cold the drink will be. Any dietary restrictions can be accomodated: it can easily be made dairy-free, gluten-free and even grain-free or vegan. The perfect versatile hot comfort drink for cold winter days.

(Print Recipe)

1 cup coconut milk (full fat) or other milk
1 cup water
2 cups of dairy or non-dairy milk

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons honey (or to taste) or agave syrup (for a vegan version)

Serves 2
Hot Chocolate
In a small saucepan, combine milk and water (if using). Stir in cocoa powder and cinnamon. Bring mixture to the boil over medium heat. Stir regularly to remove lumps of cocoa.

Take off the heat and let cool for 1-2 minutes. Stir in honey until completely dissolved. Transfer to mugs. Serve immediately.

Cold Chocolate
In a small saucepan, combine the smallest amount of milk and water (if using), about 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Stir in cocoa powder and cinnamon. Bring mixture to the boil over medium heat. Stir regularly until cocoa and cinnamon are completely dissolved.

Take off the heat and let cool for a minute. Mix in honey. Top up with remaining cold milk and stir until well combined. Transfer to mugs or glasses. Serve immediately.
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