Another Year, Another Squamish Days 8K Run – This Time at 29 Weeks Pregnant

At the start of the year – before I got pregnant, but hoping it would be a possibility in 2018 – I set out a goal to finish 5 races before the end of year. Over the August long weekend, I ticked off my fifth (and final) race at the Squamish Days 8k run – mission accomplished!

The Squamish Days 8k is a personal favourite. It takes place over my very favourite weekend to be a Squamptonian: the Squamish Loggers Sports Festival. This year, we attended the kettle boil on Thursday night (verdict: underrated and fun, especially when paired with the chili cook-off) and the Sunday World-Class Open Loggers Sports Show (verdict: as entertaining as ever, but SO HOT) – and of course, I ran the Squamish Days 8k for the third time in as many years.

The Squamish Days 8k is a well-run, small town, unpretentious race. The route is a simple out-and-back. It’s all paved and while one generally wouldn’t describe it as overly scenic, it is flat, fast, and is a great distance – a challenge for experienced runners who really want to push it, but friendly enough to accommodate first-timers and third-trimesterers.

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My friend and I fell into the latter category: I was a day into my 29th week of pregnancy, while she had never run more than 4k before and was attempting her first ever race. I had no doubt she would finish in one piece, and I had been keeping up with runs in the 5-10 k range, so I knew I’d be just fine – albeit a little slower than years past.

I first ran this race back in 2016 in the early days of my first marathon training program (and the day after tackling the Red Bull 400 – an excellent and very unique race that should be on your bucket list if you like such things) in a decent 41:44, and cracked the 40 minute barrier last year by squeaking in at 39:55 (which is average for a Squamish runner but REALLY FAST FOR ME). I had a hunch I’d be a litttttle slower this year (ha), but (spoiler alert) I still managed to cross the finish line in the forties.

It was a hot morning – what else is new? – but check-in at the local high school was easy and we had a cheer squad of 3 to keep us entertained until the race kicked off.

I mentioned in my last race recap that I appear to have hit an automatic maximum speed – I simply cannot exert a whole lot of power at this point, so I just cruise along at a moderate, steady pace. I like to think that this made me an excellent pacer for my first-timer friend! We had never run together before, but we spent the race chattering away and the kilometers seemed to tick by pretty steadily (each KM is marked in this race, which is nice).

My #1 concern with this race was the lack of bathrooms along the route. I’m at the point where I need to stop at a port-a-potty on even just a 5k run, so I was a little nervous about this. I’m not sure whether it was the company, conversation, or race day excitement, but miraculously, there were no emergencies en route. That in itself was a major success!

I won’t lie – the last couple of k on the open road beneath the beating sun were REALLY HOT! We were sweating like mad as we crossed the finish line (with our cheer squad going strong and a TON of cute dogs to motivate us).

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Post-race celebrations took place inside the gym, where I enjoyed copious amounts of watermelon and waited for them to post the time results. Here is my insider tip: don’t leave early – your odds of winning a draw prize are very high! My friend was actually the very first prizewinner announced and she walked away with a snazzy pair of 7mesh running socks. I won two tickets to the Loggers Sports event that afternoon, which we were planning on attending anyway.

Our final time: chip time 48:49 and 48:50, gun time 49:01 and 49:02, which placed us 98 & 99 out of 129 runners. I guessed we would finish around 50 minutes – pretty close! I appear to have bested my friend by 1 second, which we determined was based on the fact that my bib, pinned to my belly, protruded further out and hit the timing mat slightly ahead of hers. The perks of pregnant running, folks!

This year, I discovered that the run offers a STROLLER RUN category!!! And you BET I’m going to be running it with my baby next year (will this count as her second time running it?) Only 2 people raced in this year – but the girl who placed first ran it in 40:20, which is most impressive. Think I can crack Top 3 next year?

(Actually, based on the number of pregnant women swarming Squamish, I bet the field will be a little deeper next year!)

Dorie’s Cookies’ Chocolate and Walnuts Bars – the Not Brownies

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A little while ago, I made a brownie-with-walnuts recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook, which was very delicious. However, here’s something intriguing I noticed: another recipe in the same chapter was for something called “chocolate and walnut bars”.

Chocolate brownies with walnuts. Chocolate and walnut bars. How different could they be?!

The only way to resolve this kind of riddle, of course, is to bake both and experience each recipe firsthand. So, with the brownies already ticked off my list, it was time to tackle the rather un-inspiringly named Chocolate and Walnuts Bars.

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There are three things to know about this recipe. One: it calls for a lot of chocolate – 12 ounces total, between the cake and the glaze. Two: it calls for a lot of eggs – 8 total. For one recipe. Three: it calls for a lot of dishes.

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Not discussed: the many dishes used in the mise en place.

First dish: the heatproof bowl in which you melt some of the chocolate.

Second dish: a small bowl in which you place some chopped (but not melted chocolate) and some chopped (… but not melted…) walnuts. These two ingredients get mixed together. Chocolate and walnuts for the Chocolate and Walnut bars – makes sense, right?

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Third dish: the food processor bowl (a.k.a. my least favourite dish for cleaning purposes) in which you process some of the walnuts alongside some flour. Then, after dumping out the walnut-flour (fourth dish), the butter gets pulsed with some sugar, salt, and eight whopping egg yolks (one by one).

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Third dish continued: the food processor bowl in which you combine all the components (so far): the melted chocolate, the walnut-flour, and the eggy butter sugar (already in third dish – are you keeping track here?).

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Fifth dish: a stand mixer bowl in which you whip up egg whites – eight of them (you guess it!) – into a foamy opaque cloud of goodness, which turns into a stiff, glossy mixture after adding some sugar. [Note: okay, busted – this post is from FEBRUARY, back when my mixer worked. #rip]

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The whites are then added to the rest of the ingredients (see: third dish) in two ways. First, you plain old mix a quarter of the whites into the chocolate and stuff – then the rest of the whites get folded in properly. We’re chasing after a light and fluffy texture here, folks.

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Now, it’s baking time: the cake gets baked for 25 to 28 minutes (I think mine was more like 30 – I used the toothpick test to make sure it was fully cooked). Then, it’s time for…

Sixth dish: You didn’t think we were done with dishes, did you? Dish number six is a saucepan, in which cream, sugar, and water comes to a boil to make the base of a delicious topping.

Seventh dish: Almost there now, folks. Dish number seven is another heatproof bowl in which chocolate is placed, then the boiled cream-sugar-water is added while it is still hot. The heat melts the chocolate into a glorious, shiny, decadent glaze. Pouring this over the cakey part is incredibly satisfying.

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And that’s how you make Chocolate and Walnut Bars. Now, it’s time to discuss how Chocolate and Walnuts Bars differ from walnut brownies:

  1. Colour: the C&W bars are much lighter in colour than the rich, fudgy brownies.
  2. Texture: while the brownies are very dense, the C&W bars benefit from the folding of the eggs whites. Dense is the opposite of what these are: think fluffy and airy like a delicious cake.
  3. Chocolately bits: The addition of the un-melted chocolate chunks (see second dish) is DELIGHTFUL. It’s like bonus chocolate chips in an already wonderfully chocolatey dessert.
  4. The glaze: Oh, the glaze! While the brownies were a quick-and-easy icingless recipe, the C&W bars get a gorgeous glaze (at the expense of extra dishes). The glaze takes it to the next level – do not skip under any circumstances.

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Here are my final thoughts about the Chocolate and Walnut bars: these are not meant to be bars. This recipe is really meant to be a torte of sorts. It should be baked in a round dish, then served topped with delicious raspberries. I feel like Dorie had this amazing recipe and was like, “Hmm, how can I fit this into my latest book? I know – bake ’em in a square pan, cut ’em up, and call ’em a cookie.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s delicious – but it definitely feels like a cake in disguise.

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MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish Race Recap

Ah, yes, the succinctly named MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish trail running race — I ran that!

This race took place a few weeks ago in my own backyard. I took part in a 15K MEC trail race last year in West Vancouver, but for reasons I cannot remember, I had to miss the Squamish stop on the MEC trail race circuit.

This year, I had the race on my radar, but I held off signing up for awhile because the date coincided with my leap into the third trimester of pregnancy and I just had no idea how I would feel. Luckily, not only are the MEC races outrageously affordable ($15 – which includes a timing chip and all that), but unlike many races, prices don’t go up as you get closer to the race, meaning you can make a decision the week of, as I did.

The bulk of my runs this year have been solo, but there is one girlfriend I have enjoyed running with about once a week or so since the early days of my pregnancy. She had signed up for the MEC Race and gave me the push I needed to finally pull the trigger. There are two distances in this race: a 5k or a 10k. We signed up for the former.

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A 5k romp in the woods – no biggie, right? WRONG! We had heard that this particular course featured some serious elevation, and folks – the rumours are true! I don’t typically run around Smoke Bluffs – in fact, the only time I’ve really run there was during last year’s Squamish 50 23k, which had me cursing the never-ending uphills – and MAN, was it steep.

The 5k route is said to have about 230m elevation gain, which doesn’t seem so bad. Except the course is kind of a lollipop shape, so that 230m elevation gain is concentrated in just half of the race. Now, the first 0.5 km or so of the race takes place on a paved path that leads from the start/finish at Rose Park to the trail head at Smoke Bluffs. What I’m saying is that the 230m elevation gain basically occurs in only 2km of trail, so it’s a lot steeper than the numbers would suggest at first glance. (The 10k features an elevation gain of 410m, for what it’s worth.)

If you’ve been around Squamish this summer, you already know that it has been relentlessly hot – I’m taking 30+ degrees day in, day out with little to no rain at all. Most of my runs have wrapped up by 8/8:30 AM to beat the heat, but this race didn’t start until 9:20 (the 10k runners took off closer to 9). I was a little concerned about the heat, but it was early enough not to be atrociously bad and the shaded trails kept us pretty cool overall.

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Picking up our bibs was pretty straightforward, and we swatted tiny biting bugs until it was time to take off. I haven’t been doing much trail running since June – the road has just been easier and offers fewer tripping hazards for a pregnant solo runner – but I have to admit, it was nice to ditch the pavement for the dirt for a change. Once you enter Smoke Bluffs, the trail starts off as a not-too-steep gravel  trail, then eventually transforms into a narrower, more technical dirt trail.

It climbs. And climbs. And climbs. While we were able to run some of the gravel uphill, I had to walk most of the climbing dirt bit – and man oh man, did my calves ever burn. I tried to pick up the pace whenever the trail flattened out a bit, but the breaks in the climbs were usually very short lived. There was a lot of power hiking over kms 0.5 – 2.5. This part of the run felt a lot longer than 2km.

Of course, what goes up must come down, so the second half of the race is a nice treat for those who like to careen down steeps. I took it pretty conservatively on the downs, as I didn’t want to risk twisting an ankle or tripping over a tree root. The consequences of a fall right now seem a little more serious than usual.

We didn’t do this run to smash a personal record or anything, but I have to admit that as we returned to the paved trail and tackled the last half k to the finish line, I still had some energy and I wanted to really give ‘er. But it was strange: I already seemed to be at my maximum capacity. For whatever reason (smaller lung capacity? extra weight? blood pumping all over the place?), I couldn’t seem to move any faster than I already was – which, believe me, was nowhere near record breaking speeds. I wasn’t overly bothered by this – after all, I expected to slow down as the weeks went on – but it was certainly a big shift from the St. John’s half-marathon I ran just a month and a half earlier.

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The finish line was simple but sufficient: bananas, water, and electrolyte beverages were free for the taking. My favourite part, however, was the girl who dunked a towel into ice water and mercifully wrung it out over our sweaty heads.

In the end, we ran the 5k in a reasonably respectable 46:12 (chatting the entire way – not bad!), which placed us 16th and 17th out of 39 women (not sure how we ranked overall – the results are organized by sex). For the record, the fastest lady finished exactly 10 minutes faster than us in 36:12 – just to give you an idea of the terrain we were dealing with.

So that’s how that all went down. At the beginning of the year, Cedric and I made a list of goals that hit on various parts of our lives. In the fitness/sport category, I made a goal of running 5 races in 2018. This one was #4 – and though it was pretty short but sweet, it was perfect for where I’m at right now. Besides, now I have a time to beat for next year!

I Shall Never Eat Biscotti Again: Dorie’s Cookies Chocolate Chip Not-Quite Mandelbrot

Bad news: I’m pretty sure I can never make biscotti again.

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And these cute looking “Chocolate Chip Not-Quite Mandelbrot” cookies are to blame.

You see, I whipped this batch of cookies up for a book club meeting I had early in my first trimester juuuuust as my food aversions were starting to hit. [PS – I am posting this during my third trimester – my lagging blog post trend continues.] Thankfully, this stage only lasted a week or two – but at the expense of my love of biscotti*.

*These are technically not biscotti. They are technically not even Mandelbrot, which is what the recipe is supposed to be modeled after. But they are an awful lot like biscotti – twice baked and everything – and so the entire biscotti genre of cookie shall suffer.

I enjoyed eating the ends and broken bits of the cookies as I was baking them, but as soon as the whole thing was done, suddenly they seemed awful to me. I can’t explain why – all I know is that when I brought them to book club, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with them, and the thought of them today makes my stomach turn a little.

It’s not the recipe’s fault – I promise! Everyone else who ate them said they are fantastic.

Anyways, this blog post is devoted to the memory of biscotti. I didn’t eat you very often, but I will probably never eat you again for the rest of my life.

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Race Recap: St. John’s Uniformed Services Run Half Marathon at 21 Weeks Pregnant!

[Surprise, surprise – I wrote this post over a month ago but am only getting around to posting it now. I was waiting for them to post race pictures because I swear I saw a race photographer on the course, but I never did find any photos!]

The Uniformed Services Run in St. John’s, Newfoundland, was one of those races that could have totally gone either way.

On the one hand, I had trained steadily for a trail half just three weeks prior, plus I had tacked on the last couple of weeks of a regular road half marathon training program to fill the time between the trail half and the St. John’s half. In theory, I was in decent running shape for the race.

On the other hand, I spent the eight days leading up to the race in full tourist mode, meaning lots of time sitting in a plane or car and lots of indulgent meals (with some fresh Atlantic salmon thrown in here and there, for good measure). I managed to squeeze in a couple of short (<5k) runs and we did a few hikes as well, but I was certainly moving less than I ordinarily would in the week leading up to a race.

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Behold: Magee and the Great Porta Potty Line Up. (Do I look overdressed for a race in June? Um, yes.)

Running a race away from home has its own challenges, too. I’ve only ever run one non-BC race – a ten miler in Toronto eons and eons ago. Running a race on a vacation means you have to remember to pack everything you’ll need ahead of time, plus pre-race rituals (like the meal you typically eat the night before a race) are tougher to stick to.

Throw the fact that I was 21 weeks pregnant into the mix, and you can see why things felt totally up in the air. For this race, I was at that point where some days, I almost forgot I was pregnant – but other days, I would get winded just walking up a short but steep incline. Even though I’d just run a trail half 3 weeks before, I knew that a whole lot could happen, fitness-wise, in those 3 weeks.

(As an aside, there is something oddly satisfying about running 21k at 21 weeks.)

So you can see why I had no idea what to expect going into this race. Well, I’m glad to say that it pretty much turned out to be the best case scenario!

Initially, my goal had been to enjoy the race and just finish before the 3 hour cutoff. After completing the Loop the Lakes trail half in about 2 and a half hours, I decided I could probably expect to run a road half at least as fast as that, given the relative lack of elevation. I estimated that I would probably finish around 2:15 – 2:30, depending on how it all went down on race day.

On the third day of our Newfoundland trip, it had snowed in St. John’s. The day before the race was cold and damp – the kind of weather that really gets into your bones. I was understandably a little worried about what race day would bring, but the forecast looked promising: sunny but cool (6 degrees, but feeling more like 1 or 2 degrees at our 7:30 AM start time). I had brought one t-shirt, one long sleeved shirt, one pair of shorts, and one pair of running leggings, so I had to option to mix and match depending on the weather. I opted for the long sleeved shirt and leggings, which seemed a little ridiculous for mid-June, but hey – cold is cold!

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Our friend was much faster than me – possibly because he wore shorts instead of pants?

By the time we got to the start line, I could already tell that I had overdressed. It definitely did not feel like 1 or 2 degrees – more like 10 or 11 degrees – and I felt envious of the runners around me who were wearing t-shirts and shorts. It was too late for a wardrobe change, so I decided I would just have to make do.

I pulled up to the start line less than a minute before the race actually started, and I seeded myself towards the back, knowing that I would probably be on the slower side. Before I knew it, we were off.

I knew virtually nothing about the course. Our friend was running the half (though his goal time was much more ambitious than mine), and he had told me that there was some nice downhill to start the race. I also knew there was a loop that I’d have to repeat twice, though I wasn’t sure when it would come up or how long the loop was. I’d read the course description, but all the names of the roads were foreign to me so I decided to just go with the flow.

The first few k were indeed downhill – and HOT! Despite a pre-race bathroom break, within the first kilometre, I was already sweating buckets and I also had to pee. There was a porta potty at the first aid station, but another runner juuust beat me to it. I waited for about 30 seconds but when he didn’t emerge, I decided he was probably going to be in there awhile longer and that I was probably better off just hustling to the porta potty at the next aid station.

There was a good crowd of runners around me, but then the course split off into half marathon and 10k runners – and most of the people around me abandoned me as they turned right towards the 10k course. This was the beginning of my first loop. Despite feeling a little overheated and having to pee, my legs were feeling pretty good and I was enjoying the run.

As I made a U-turn at the far end of the loop, the course marshal said something about pacing myself as I ran into the wind. Wind? What wind?

Then, as I began running in the opposite direction, it hit me – and I mean it, the wind smacked me right in the face. On the plus side, I no longer felt hot and overdressed. On the down side, it was serious work running into the wind. That infamous Newfoundland wind is no joke!

I had time to gather a bit of energy as I stopped at the (thankfully vacant) porta potty at the next aid station, then got back to it. Running into the wind was tough, and as we rejoined the 10k course, the road started to get a little hillier. Thankfully, the hills didn’t bother me too much – I credit this all the trail running I’ve done in the past few months.

One thing to note is that this race has no kilometre markers. I never had any idea whatsoever how far along I was – I wasn’t even wearing a watch (though I had my phone tucked away into my running vest. By the way, I’m pretty sure I was the only runner with a running vest. Trail habits die hard!) I was, however, beginning to wonder when my second lap of the loop would start. For some reason, I had thought that the loop was much shorter than it actually was.

Just when I was starting to feel a little discouraged, I ran into some fans: Cedric and the wife of the friend who was also running. I didn’t think that I would get to see them along the course, so it was great to get some high fives from them. This also happened to be about the point where the first loop ended and the second began – at least now I knew what to expect for the next loop.

I enjoyed a little stretch with the wind at my back, then it was once more time to run straight into it. I stopped at the same porta potty on my second loop that I had on my first loop – pregnancy bladder is real!

I am pretty certain that the wind picked up as the morning went on. At this point, the runners were very spread out – at times, I could only just barely make out the colour of the shirt of the next person ahead of me, and they would sometimes disappear over a hill or around a corner. There were marshals along the course, but I really had no idea where I was going, so I wanted to try to keep another race in view at all times.

Meanwhile, my legs were still feeling good. I felt like I was pushing myself, but comfortably – the kind where your legs will probably feel sore the next day, but you don’t feel like throwing up or anything (this is generally a sensation that one wants to avoid when running pregnant, to be sure). Eventually, the person ahead of me would come closer into view until I was able to pass them, then I would target a new shirt colour.

This is how the last few k went – I’d see a shirt colour, slowly catch up to them, and find a new target to lead me to the finish line. The only thing is that I wasn’t sure how far away the finish line was – I knew when I had completed the second lap, but from there I wasn’t sure how far into the race we were.

The last little bit was a slog – windier than ever, and just uphill enough to chew up your legs. I had been trailing a guy in a blue shirt and I passed him as we entered the park. Suddenly, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me – and I was at a T junction with no course marshal in sight! I asked a bystander if she knew where I should go and she said she thought she saw people take a left, so I decided to do the same. For a moment or two, I thought I might have made a mistake – but then I saw the finish line come into view, thankfully.

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Finish line swag

The finish line clock was just turning to 2:03 as I crossed it (my chip time ended up being 2:02:47) – and I couldn’t believe it! I knew I had felt good, but this was a totally normal road half marathon time for me – and things had been SO windy and, you know, the whole pregnant thing. It was one of those days where things just kind of aligned for me and I struck that magical, elusive balance of pushing myself while still really enjoying the whole thing.

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PEACE, BABY! (This is why my hands look weird in the previous photo – because they were in transition to peace signs)

Another magical, elusive miracle: my Strava app actually recorded the correct 21.1 km distance (although it put my moving time at 2:02:15, so something was a little off – maybe my bathroom breaks automatically paused it?). My KM times are approximately as follows:

  1. 5:59
  2. 5:19
  3. 5:33
  4. 5:35
  5. 5:19
  6. 5:20
  7. 5:44
  8. 5:52
  9. 6:02
  10. 5:54
  11. 5:58
  12. 5:44
  13. 5:27
  14. 5:25
  15. 5:39
  16. 5:33
  17. 6:12
  18. 5:50
  19. 6:07
  20. 6:30
  21. 5:58

I’m not sure when my two bathroom breaks were – I would guess kms 9 and 17.

I am pretty sure that this was the last “big” race while pregnant – though I still hope to run a few shorter, for fun races. Who knows when my next half will  be – but hopefully it’ll be as much fun as this one was.

Bobbette & Belle’s Classic Canadian Butter Tarts – Go, Canada, Go!

Disclaimer: I have a queue of draft posts that I have neglected for whatever reason. This one is from the Olympics back in February – but it seems fitting for Canada Day!


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For most of my life, I thought that I didn’t like butter tarts.

I think it’s because of the name and possibly because I was never quite sure what was in a butter tart (beyond butter).

Just under two years ago, I found myself at the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve. I was working on a second Woods Canada campaign. The first one had Cedric and I trek across the country, but the second one was an online reality TV style competition and I served as the shuttle driver/content writer/French speaker/general gopher (it was a weird but fun experience). Anyway, I can’t remember what we ate for dinner on this particular night, but I remember eating it outside and I remember that dessert was butter tarts.

At first, I passed. But then, the people who had taken one seemed to have an out-of-body experience, proclaiming that these were the best butter tarts they’d had in their entire lives. Well, that did it – I grabbed for one, and then I had an epiphany: I do like butter tarts!

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Despite my very positive first butter tart experience, I hadn’t had another one since until I recently decided to give the Bobbette & Belle recipe a stab. The occasion: a loosely Canadian-themed celebration in honour of the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

I worried at the name of the pastry used for the butter tarts: pate brisee, which translates directly to “broken pastry”. I have found B&B’s pate sucree recipe (used in the Mixed Berry Tart and Mini Blueberry Hand Pies recipe) to taste delicious, but to be extremely finicky to work with.

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I’m pleased to report that the pate brisee is much easier to handle. I love the technique it uses to integrate cold butter with flour/sugar/salt: it calls for the butter to be grated in to the dry ingredients, so you barely have to handle it in order for the pastry to come together.  Brilliant!

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An egg and a little cold water gets added to the dough, then it is mashed into a disc and refrigerated for about three hours. The waiting is always the hardest part!

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Next up: blind baking the pastry. I rolled out my dough and used a 4 inch round paper template (which I printed off from the internet) to stencil and cut out dough circles. The recipe states, “Make sure the pasty expands half an inch above the edge of the muffin cups to allow for shrinkage.” Mine were too small to do this, and although they turned out fine, I might use larger circle templates in the future for a more even tart.

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The blind bake involves putting a cupcake paper over each tart, then filling it with beans and baking for 15 minutes. As always, add a good 10+ minutes to Bobbette & Belle recipes – mine were in about 25 before they started to get a nice golden colour.

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While the shells were cooling, I got to work on the filling. At last, I solved the mystery of what goes into a butter tart. In a word: sugar. In several words: sugar, butter, honey, corn syrup, cream.

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Making the filling is easy, namely because it doesn’t require a candy thermometer – you just have to cook it on the stove top until the sugar is dissolved.

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Once the sweet stuff has melted, you carefully mix in an egg, vanilla, salt, and sugar mixture, finally whisking in some vinegar (which I’m sure does something scientific to make it all come together).

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The recipe calls for straining the mix, which I did, though I’m not sure it did anything. Oh well, better safe than sorry. The glorious filling gets added to the shells, then then whole she-bang bakes until the filling jiggles slightly. As you can see, the filling gets kind of puffy and doesn’t look very butter tart-like – but the whole thing settles as it cools.

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The recipe opener says that the butter tarts should have a filling that has a slightly runny centre – specifically, the words “oozing” and “look like lava” are used. I was incredibly pleased when I cut a test tarte in two and saw flaky pastry with a slightly oozing middle. They were perfect.

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The tarts were very well-received at the Olympic shindig, by Canadians and non-Canadians alike (we had Brits, an Aussie, and a Kiwi in attendance as well – a truly international affair!)

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The pastry and the filling both pull their weight equally here. Each recipe is perfection, and together, they are unstoppable. Like a male and female figure skater in the pairs competition. Or the doubles luge. Or… something.

Butter tarts: I’m officially a fan.

Race Recap: Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k

I had such good intentions of writing this post immediately after I finished the Loop the Lakes race… but I didn’t. So instead of writing it with fresh memories and emotions, I’m writing it about a month after the fact. It’s not nearly as satisfying, but better late than never, I suppose.

A quick background: I ran Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k race last year (recap here!), though under less-than-ideal conditions: I had sprained my ankle in March, so training was sporadic and limited. Plus, it was my longest trail run ever at the time, so the intimidation factor was considerable.

This year, I had the advantage of a few good trail races under my belt from last year – not to mention the fact that I knew the course inside out, having run the same race the year before and having incorporated many of the trails on my training runs. Speaking of training – I trained for this one! Properly and everything! You can read a bit about my training here. I dutifully ticked off each and every run in my training plan, and I even incorporated speed work and hill workouts, which I’ve never officially done before.

There was only one little challenge that popped up in the months leading up to this race: I got pregnant!

When I signed up for the Loop the Lakes 21k back in the fall, I knew there was a chance I would be pregnant by the time it rolled around. I figured there was also a chance that I might not be pregnant, and if that was the case, I certainly wanted to keep up with my running. I decided to sign up because the race would be relatively early in my pregnancy and there was always the option of dropping down to a shorter distance (8k or 15k) if I wasn’t feeling up to the half.

In the end, the entire training period aligned with being pregnant, and I ran the race at 18 weeks. The training runs weren’t always pretty (lots of chafing, lots of pee breaks – I will write more about pregnancy and trail running/running in another post), but they always got done. I was very lucky to feel pretty good overall during my first trimester, and on the days where I wasn’t feeling so hot, I always felt soooo much better when I was out on the trails, even if I was going at a snail’s pace. Being in the trees and moving around always seemed to do the trick for me – though I acknowledge that this is definitely not the case for everyone. (And I did have a few very discouraging training runs – again, I’ll talk about this in another post.)

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Classic pre-race photo – check

 

 

The weeks leading up to the race were HOT – like, 25 to 30 degrees hot. Yet somehow, race day ended up being perfect: cool, overcast, and all around optimal. I headed to the start line at Alice Lake and got a good warm up walk in as I walked from the parking lot to the starting line (be sure to give yourself LOTS of time for this – I arrived at the start just a couple of minutes before go time).

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KILLER finish line food at the Nester’s tent – although the oranges were the only thing I was interested in.

Before I knew it, we were off. I seeded myself towards the back of the pack, anticipating that there was a good chance that I would be one of the last of the half marathoners to cross the finish line. As we headed out to loop around the first like (Alice Lake), another girl made a comment about being happy to let others go ahead of her – she told me her motto for this quarter of the race was “slow and easy”. I never thought about having a motto for each quarter, but I liked the thought and decided to adopt it myself.

Slow and easy seemed especially fitting since it would prevent the keeping-up-with-the-pack start line jitters – plus, I have grown to dislike running the Four Lakes Loop clockwise in Alice Lake Provincial Park, and this motto would get me through it in one piece. I’m not sure why I don’t like it – I think it’s because I have run it a few times too many and it has just enough incline to be runnable, but annoying.

Anyway, I took it slow and easy through this first section of trails and found myself thinking that the small uphills weren’t as horrible as I’d anticipated. I pulled over at the same porta potty I stopped at during the 5 Peaks race for a pee break (for those doing the math – I was also pregnant during the 5 Peaks race), then got ready for the second quarter of the run.

The second quarter is actually my favourite part of the run – I love the technical parts of Entrails and the flowy, downhill Roller Coaster and Lumberjack segments more than anything. I had run these trails a ton during training and I surprised myself when I was able to pass a few people on some of the more technical bits. At this point of the race, I was feeling great – though I knew it was still early on. Still, rather than focusing on how things might start to hurt in a little while, I decided to enjoy feeling great while it lasted.

 

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These extremely unflattering spandex shorts are the only warm weather bottoms I have that currently don’t cause extreme chafing.

When I popped out of the bottom of Lumberjack, I adopted a new motto for the third quarter of the race: keep your head down and run. This part of the race features the Around the Rock section that I remembered from the previous year as being pretty uphill – zapping any evidence of a runner’s high that might have developed on Roller Coaster and Lumberjack. This was actually the only part of the race that I hadn’t covered in my training runs and, indeed, it did have lots of uphill and I certainly slowed down. The reward was none other than my beloved (not) Jack’s Trail – mostly the same section that is covered in the 5 Peaks race, where the incline is slight but relentless.

Throughout this section of the race, I felt like I was running alone – I saw virtually no one else out there, aside from some course marshals. This was fine by me – I did the vast majority of my training runs by myself, so it was nothing new. Besides, I was still feeling pretty good.

At long last, I found myself back at Alice Lake Provincial Park – but the race wasn’t over. I now had to run the Four Lakes Loop counter-clockwise for the fourth and final quarter. My motto for this leg: dig deep. The end of the race is so often where the wheels start to fall off, and in this race, us 21k runners actually run against a stream of 8k runners for part of the stretch. The 8k runners got to tackle a fun downhill, which for me was a slog of an uphill. But I knew that once I got through the uphill, it would be relatively easy until I crossed the finish line – mostly flat and downhill, woohoo!

I didn’t need to dig to deep after all (though I did take one more porta potty stop, for good measure). Overall, I was feeling pretty good – far better than I had for either of the two 19k runs I had done in training.

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Finish line fun

When it was all said and done, I crossed the finish line in 2:33:09 – placing me 26th out of 42 women. More importantly, I beat my time from last year by more than 21 minutes – at 18 weeks pregnant, to boot!

All in all, it was a great day. The runner’s high lasted me through the entire weekend. I was proud of having felt so good throughout the entire run – and I was really, really proud of all those training runs I had completed, even on the days where it was the last thing I felt like doing. Having a race like this was exactly the motivation I needed to get outside and get moving – two things I hope this future baby likes to do, too!

Dorie’s Cookies Parmesan Galettes: Ooh La La

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Here’s something delightfully intriguing: the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook has a chapter devoted to savoury cookies. I’m not used to seeing non-sweet things in my baking cookbooks, but there are plenty of interesting (and weird: I’m looking at you, hot-and-spicy togarashi meringues and honey-BLUE CHEESE madeleines) recipes here.

(I am never going to make those madeleines. I hate blue cheese.)

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A little while ago, I was supposed to head to a friend’s house for a pre-dinner birthday gathering. I thought the Parmesan Galettes sounded perfect for an appetizer, so I decided to try my hand at my first savoury cookie.

(I ended up having to turn the car around and skip the party because the roads were horrible – so I had these all to myself.) (Note: I wrote this post back in February when snow was still a thing…)

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The ingredient list is short and sweet: all-purpose flour, butter, Parmesan cheese, and a bit of sea salt. If you’re reading this, I probably don’t have to tell you to buy the kind of Parm that you have to grate yourself. But just in case… there you go.

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This recipe doesn’t require a mixer; it uses the food processor to mix the butter, flour, and Parmesan. Here’s how the dough is described: “process in long bursts until you have a moist curds-and-clumps dough”. Although that sounds incredibly vague and non-scientific, somehow, I knew exactly what Dorie meant when the time came.

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I’m pretty sure this is what moist curds and clumps looks like?!

It’s super easy to smush the dough into a log. I was surprised at how teeny tiny the log was, but the recipe yielded 15 galettes, as the book said it would. Before slicing, you pop the log into the fridge for a couple of hours (or the freezer for just one hour, if you’re of the opinion that time is money).

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After the dough has chilled, it’s time to slice and dice. The sidebar of the recipe says that these galettes pair nicely with a variety of herbs and spices, so I experimented (conservatively) by grinding a bit of fancy pepper over each galette. (If you’re wondering what fancy pepper is, it comes from France and includes tasting notes – thanks Mom and Dad!!!)

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Note: If you look closely, you can see that some of my galettes have a tiny hole in the middle. This is because I didn’t roll my log quite tightly enough. Lessons learned!

The cookbook says that you can either bake the sliced galettes in a muffin tin (for a perfect circular shape and satisfying edges) or free-standing on a cookie sheet.

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I baked 12 in the muffin tin and the rest on a baking sheet, and while the muffin ones looked prettier, I found they took a little longer to bake than the designated 15 to 17 minutes. They were more like 20 minutes.

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Here’s the verdict on the galettes:

I LOVED them. They reminded me of dinner parties when I was younger. I feel like my mom used to serve cheese straws or something that were just like this. I loved the slightly crumbly texture and I thought they tasted just the right amount of Parmesan. I like Parmesan, but usually as a side cheese, not as a cheese on its own. Like, I wouldn’t typically eat Parmesan alone on crackers. These galettes were fantastic and felt fancy to me.

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Cedric did not like them. I did not see this coming from a mile away – in our relationship, I am the one who favours sweets and he likes all things savoury (though he’s never met a chocolate chip cookie he didn’t like). Not only that, but he LOVES cheese – including Parmesan. He will gladly slice Parmesan and put it on a panini (which is exactly what he did with the leftover Parmesan from this recipe). But for whatever reason, this recipe didn’t do it for him.

Oh well. More for me!

Dorie’s Cookies Classic Brownies – Far Better than a Convenience Store Treat

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I thought the brownie looked very small and lonely on a plate, so I put it on a coaster.

We live dangerously close to a convenience store. When the craving for something sweet hits, it can be awfully tempting to run over and get a candy or a chocolate bar.

When this happens, I often feel myself underwhelmed with the same old mediocre-tasting options – sometimes I just go back home because nothing is calling to me. When I do find something I like, most of the time the enjoyment is merely fleeting. Blaaaaah.

Here’s an alternative I prefer: something easy to whip up – preferably something deliciously decadent – that involves little to no grocery shopping and that takes long enough to make to build anticipation, but is fast enough to enjoy within the hour.

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The Classic Brownies recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook that I’ve been dipping into is the perfect recipe for this. While I wouldn’t say this is the best brownie I’ve ever had (that honour goes to any brownie from Purebread – all hail Purebread!), it certainly hits all the criteria I listed above.

You probably already have butter, sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and vanilla on hand in your pantry. If you do, you’re most of the way there. The only other two ingredients needed are chocolate (bittersweet or semi-sweet) and optional walnuts. We opted for the walnuts, and I’m glad we did. I don’t trust people who don’t enjoy nuts in their brownies. (Unless, of course, those nuts would kill them or something.)

I always like it when a recipe starts by telling me to preheat the oven – that means there won’t be much waiting around. So far, this recipe is off to a solid start, right?

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With the oven doing its thing, the next step is to melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler, then once it’s just about finished, you take it off the heat and stir in the sugar. Then the eggs go in, followed by the salt and vanilla.

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The last step is the flour: unlike the previous ingredients, which get mixed in with no abandon, the flour needs to be gently folded in. The last items to get added to the batter are the delicious (and optional) walnuts.

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If you’re reading between the lines here, folks, you’ll realize that this recipe does NOT require a stand mixer (or an electric mixer of any sort). THIS is what a call the perfect quick recipe – minimal waiting, minimal dishes.

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Pre-baked…

Finally, the brownies get baked for 27 to 29 minutes – I put mine in for 29 and they were perfect. These brownies are dense and squat – they’re not the prettiest, to be frank, but I like that they’re firmly in the brownie category, not in the cake category.

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Post baked (droooooool)

Of course, the brownies are delicious while warm, but we managed not to devour the entire pan straight out of the oven. I can attest that they are indeed good after a few days if you take care to store them in a tupperware.

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While I appreciate these no-nonsense brownies for what they are, I am a little intrigued with some of the variations proposed for them:

  • Rum raisin (not so much)
  • Chopped-chocolate brownies (with chunks of chocolate inside – yes, yes, yes)
  • Ginger brownies (sounds weird but probably delicious)
  • Orange brownies (as an avid Terry’s Chocolate Orange fan, sign me up)
  • Cinnamon-mocha brownies (could be interesting)
  • Peppermint brownies (saving this for Christmas)

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5 Peaks Alice Lake Race Recap: First Race of 2018 in the Books!

I am pleased to report that the first race of the season was a great success!

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Don’t mind our colourful wardrobe choices…

Cedric and I volunteered as course marshals last year at the 5 Peaks Alice Lake race, and as a thank you, we received a free into any 5 Peaks race. We saved it for this year’s iteration of the race and had a fantastic time on our respective courses (Cedric did the 8.5k sport course, I ran the 13k enduro course).

This was my second race in the 5 Peaks series, but it had been years since I ran my first one (which was up on Blackcomb mountain).

Logistically, the race was very well run. We picked up our race packages the day before at Capra, so we didn’t feel rushed to get to the start line on Saturday morning. Still, we left with plenty of time because parking at Alice Lake can be finicky. The pre-race email was very clear about parking; it advised to give yourself lots of time and noted that those who carpooled would be rewarded with the better parking spots.

Since we were only two in our car, we parked down by the highway and prepared ourselves for a long-ish, uphill walk to the start line. Luckily, we were able to hitch a ride up with another car – in the end, we only ended up walking 10 minutes or so to the start.

As the kid races were underway, I made my way to the queue for the porta potties. It was longish, but moved steadily and I made it in and out with a good 10 minutes to spare before the start of the race.

The enduro runners got a head start over the sport runners. The two courses start out the same for the first 4 or 5 km, so this gives everyone a good chance to space themselves out a bit. To help ease congestion on the trails even more, we seeded ourselves into different groups. Each seed took off a few minutes apart. I hung back, starting with the last group – speed wasn’t my goal for this race.

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I spy Cedric! Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

I should mention now that despite a nasty weather forecast, the weather was PERFECT. It was cloudy and cool for the most part, with the sun peeking through every so often. I saw people in shorts and tanks, and I saw people in down vests. It was that perfect in between weather. Despite a few days of steady rain leading up to the race, I didn’t find the trails to be too muddy at all. I had expected the worst weather-wise, but it ended up being just fine. I love when that happens!

The first part of the race takes you clockwise along the Four Lakes Loop. At this point, everyone was trying to find their place in the pack – there was a lot of passing and leapfrogging, but it wasn’t too bad. Things cleared up quite a bit as we approached the wide, flat stretch (where you hang a right to continue onto Four Lakes, rather than going left onto Bob McIntosh). I no longer felt like I was fighting for a spot as there was plenty of space.

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I like this photo because I’m such a ninny about running on the wooden parts when it’s wet – I always look down. Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

Despite my pre-race porta potty visit, I had to pee again – but I knew there were a couple of outhouses along this stretch of the trail. The first one was occupied, but the second one a little further down was free. There’s a race hack for those who are stuck in a long line as the race is about to start – if you can hang in there for a few km, you can visit the on course toilets!

Shortly after the toilets (and aid station) is when the two courses split off. The enduro runners go for an additional loop along Tazer, Rupert, and some other trails. I happen to think that this loop features some of the most fun trails to run – I would definitely recommend it if you’re torn between the two distances. It starts of with a bit of uphill (still runnable, if you’ve got plenty of steam in your engine), then continues on to some fun, technical stuff with plenty of cool bike features.

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Solid game face from Cedric. Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

The trail opens up at Tracks from Hell, which has a nice wooden bridge/platform section (I always like running these for a change of pace). Eventually, the course merges back and for a short section, you run a part of the course that you already covered a little earlier. It gives a bit of a sense of deja vu.

Shortly after, the course takes you towards Credit Line. I run Credit Line all the time, so I was looking forward to the long stretch of technical downhill. If you’re not used to the trail, this section can be tricky – I saw plenty of people taking their time, and I totally understood why (after all, this is the trail I sprained my ankle on last year!) I was feeling pretty good the whole way down and eventually, I was spat out onto Jack’s Trail.

I feel like Jack’s is an underrated menacing little bugger. It’s “just” a green mountain biking trail and it is pretty even and non-technical, compared to a lot of other trails in the area. But it slopes upward juuuust enough to tucker you out, especially at the end of the race. It also seems to go on forever and everything kind of looks the same.

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Luckily (or not), I run Jack’s often, so I have certain landmarks I like to look out for to break up the monotony. From Credit Line, you pass Mid Life Crisis on your left – they had a couple of marshals here, which was nice for a morale boost. A little while later, you pass 50 Shades on your right – when you hit this point, know that the distance between Mid Life Crisis and 50 Shades is about the same distance as 50 Shades to the finish line. In other words, you’re almost there.

The nice part about the course is that pretty much as soon as you’re done with Jack’s, you’re right at the finish line – no need to run around Alice Lake or anything.

So that’s the course (I wrote it out for any 2019 or beyond runners who want a detailed preview – sometimes I like to look up race reports to get any idea of what I’m in for).

In terms of how I felt, in a word: GREAT! Without getting into too much detail, I have been running a lot for the past couple of months (gearing up for my Loop the Lakes 21k race next month), but I have been pretty conservative with speed. That’s saying a lot, as those who know me know that I’m not much of a speedster to begin with. My goal for the race was to push myself comfortably (oxymoron?), to maintain my energy right to the finish, and to really enjoy myself.

I feel like I succeeded at all three! I love the racing environment, and even though I am generally not very competitive (unless it involves board games), I like the rush and extra push I get from the people around me. I felt strong and steady the entire run, so I feel like I paced myself perfectly. I crossed the finish line feeling great – and then I stuffed my face with sliced oranges from the snack tent. I ended up running it all in 1:45:32 – kind of mid/back of the pack, which is about what I expected.

Cedric is not usually much of a runner, but I’m glad he joined me for this race and I think he did really well. We celebrated our respective finishes with a hearty breakfast at the Crabapple Cafe in Brackendale. The home fries are to die for.

All in all, 5 Peaks Alice Lake was an awesome experience. I’ll be back next year – whether as a volunteer or racer is still TBD.