Sunday, December 21, 2014

Low Fat Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce

Reliving The Indulgences Of My Youth:

A Simple Recipe For Low Fat Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     I am a junk food junkie. That may come as a surprise, since I am a proponent of sustainable, healthful eating and innovative race fueling strategies, such as fat fueling and preferring whole foods over gels and mixes. But the fact is, I loves me some junk food. I make an effort to choose to eat well the majority of the time, but like any addict, there's always a little voice in the back of my mind attempting to lead me into temptation.

     In this context I can honestly say nachos are my crack. I've never met a nacho I didn't like, running the gamut from gourmet platters of real bubbling melted cheese over chips in respectable restaurants to mini mart plastic clamshells of tortilla triangles that you self-serve cheese sauce onto from a pump dispenser. And for some reason, one thing I really miss in vegan food is that low-brow nacho cheese sauce as is served in a nationwide fast food chain whose name sounds disturbingly similar to "Toxic Belch".

     Obviously, the sauce is just a component of a good plate of nachos. So to make a properly satisfying vegan version, what's needed is a cheesy tasting sauce that can fill the role of nachos cheese in the recipe. All of the other ingredients for a great plate of nachos are already vegan: tomatoes, olives, onion, and avocado, among others.

     I have refined a recipe for Low Fat Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce which has that hot, saucy texture and a cheesy flavor, and which ties the other flavors together perfectly. If you have experience cooking from scratch, you will probably recognize the fundamentals of a gravy recipe, with nutritional yeast, yellow mustard, and jalapeno added to take the flavor in a new direction. Here's the what and how of it:

Low Fat Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce


  • 3 Cups unsweetened plant milk (soy seems to make the thickest and richest sauce, but almond, rice, hemp, or any other kind of vegan milk will work)
  • 1 1/4 Cups nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 Cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 Cup softened Earth Balance (or other brand) vegan margarine
  • 3 Tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (the salt can be omitted, but it is a predominant flavor in nacho cheese sauce)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 Cup minced pickled jalapenos, to taste
     Begin slowly heating the milk in a saucepan on medium low. Unsweetened milks don't scald as easily, but be careful to heat it slowly. As the milk heats, combine all the dry ingredients except the nutritional yeast in a small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup. Mix thoroughly with a fork. Then add the margarine and combine with a fork until completely blended to make a seasoned roux. As the milk nears the boiling point, add 1/4 cup of the hot milk to the roux and blend with the fork until smooth. The more patient you are with this step, the smoother your sauce will be. Add another 1/4 cup from the hot milk and repeat this step. Then add the diluted roux to the saucepan of milk and brink to a simmer. Thoroughly stir in the nutritional yeast until completely blended. Then add the mustard and minced jalapenos, reduce heat to low, and simmer lightly for 2 to 3 minutes, or until sauce achieves desired thickness.

     Spread tortilla chips on a plate, ladle sauce over them and add toppings as desired. My favorite combination is black olives, diced tomato, chopped green onion, and diced avocado, as pictured below. Other toppings can include refried beans, textured vegetable protein, or seasoned soy curls, among myriad other possibilities. This nacho cheese sauce is also good served in a small bowl on its own to dip chips in, or in burritos. One of Kathy's favorite uses is to spread it on bread to make a grilled cheese sandwich and then add sliced tomato, onion, and fresh basil leaves. This sauce keeps and reheats just like gravy. Enjoy!

photo by Ras/
Vegan Nachos Supreme, complete with holiday appropriate color. iFeliz Navidad!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Running Gear:
Kathy's 13 Essentials for The Trail and Ultrarunner's Winter Adventure Kit

photo by Kathy Vaughan/UltraPedestrian.comBy Kathy Vaughan

      Winter running is magical. The air is cold and fresh. When the sun is out, the blue sky in contrast to the pristine white of the snow is beautiful. Running in falling snow is refreshing and invigorating. Stars glisten in the dark, night sky while sparkles are glistening in the snow from the beam of the headlamp's glow. It feels so good to come inside and get into warm clothes, eat a good meal, while sipping on a hot drink by the woodstove after being out in the winter weather. It is well worth taking what you put in your Winter Running Kit seriously so that these aspects of cold season runs can be enjoyable, no matter how long you go out or how many miles you cover.

photo by Ras/

  1. Altra Running Lone Peak 2.0:  These running shoes have a wide toe box, which allows ample room for a thicker wool sock or two pairs of socks. Its a good idea to order a half size larger than your normal shoe anyway, and this provides the room you need for winter socks and summer swelling. The lug sole on the LP 2.0s is really aggressive and provides great traction in the snow for both downhill running/lunging and uphill climbing/kicking steps. On plowed roads, the lugs give awesome traction on the smoother/slicker surface. The velcro Gaiter Trap allows for using gaiters which helps keep out some of the snow. I love how they perform in the snow and highly recommend them for winter running.
  2. Hats:  It is good to have a mix of wool, fleece or balaclava style  hats with you on runs, layering them as needed. A shell or merino wool sweater with a hood also works well as a hat layer. I like that with a hood up, my neck stays warm as well.
  3. Chemical Hand Warmer Packets:  I like to have 3 packages with me on a long run. I can then open one package, using one inside each glove. This allows me an unopened emergency packet for myself and an additional one for my running partner.
  4. Firestarter:  It is good to have some form of firestarter in your pack in winter weather and cold temperatures. Stopping even briefly when wet with sweat from exertion, can cause you to cool down surprisingly quickly. If you find yourself in an emergency due to injury or illness involving yourself or your running partner, it might be necessary to build a fire to stay warmth. I like to be prepared for this with a lighter and some firestarter sticks. Cotton balls saturated in petroleum jelly (Vaseline) is another lightweight and effective idea.
  5. Extra Base Layer:  It is good to have a dry layer to change into on a long run if necessary. If you stop for any reason and your under layer is wet, it is easy to get chilled fast. Quickly putting on a dry layer, sets you up to stay warm after the stop or in an emergency.
  6. Extra Dry Wool Socks:  Wet feet from snow or sweat get cold very fast. A dry pair of socks is important to have to change into in case of an emergency prolonged stop. Wet feet in wool socks stay warm while moving, but once stopped, they cool down quickly.
  7. Merino Wool Base Layer:  I like Smartwool Mid Weight sweaters. My favorite is the style with a hood and thumb holes on the sleeve cuff. The hood is really useful as a head layer over hat(s) that can be removed easily while moving, once warmed up.
  8. Merino wool buff, neck warmer, or balaclava (as mentioned in “Hats”):  I like to have a head layer that I can pull around my entire face, as needed, and easily pull away as I get warm. The Buff Wear brand of head buff comes in a merino wool style and I have found it to be one of my most useful pieces of running gear, year round. It is long enough to adjust exactly as you need to around your head and face to protect yourself from the wind and cold. The wool is soft, warm and allows for breathing through the fibers while it is covering your mouth and nose. I have also used a Smartwool merino wool neck warmer that is good for pulling around your mouth and nose, but is too short to pull around  your head. A balaclava is like having an extra hood along and it can also be pulled up over your mouth and nose as needed.
  9. Two Pairs of Running Tights (Insulated and/or merino wool): In the coldest parts of the winter, I layer with merino wool as a base tight and an insulated North Face or Sugoi pair over those. This allows perfect warmth for moving and brief stops in 20 degree temps and lower.
  10. Headlamp with Fresh Batteries (And a set of extras):  In the winter, dark comes early. It's good to be prepared with a headlamp with fresh batteries and a set of extra batteries on any trail run. You never know what will happen, and running/hiking out in the dark when getting caught in it unexpectedly,  is rough.  It's worth the weight, as is everything mentioned in the above list.
  11. Down Puffy Jacket and Down Puffy Pants:  I like to have these stuffed into my pack if I am going out on a trail run in the cold temperatures where I will venture for more than two hours away from home or my car.
  12. A Warm Car Blanket:  I get chilled quickly as soon as I stop running in the winter time. I like to have an older wool blanket that I keep in the car to throw over the top of me for the car ride home. It keeps me warm while I change into dry layers.
  13. Swix Cross Country Ski Gloves: These gloves keep my hands warm even when wet from perspiration. They are designed for high aerobic winter activity which makes them perfect for running. They have out performed all the running-specific gloves I have tried. 
photo & meme by Ras/

Monday, December 1, 2014

UltraPedestrian Training Challenge

UltraPedestrian Training Challenge:

Winter Strength Training For Bipedal Hominids

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     Winter is a great time to change things up on your training. Throughout most of the year a lot of my training is 'Lifestyle Training,' meaning physical conditioning resulting from the way I live my life. Forest thinning, cutting firewood, trail work, climbing scaffolding and balancing on ladders wearing a heavy tool belt, hiking saws and tools around, building fence, and other physically demanding labor provide me with both strength training and 'time on my feet,' which contributes to endurance. 

     The decreased employment of the snowy winter months is the perfect opportunity to focus on specific aspects of strength training and cross training that don't get targeted during the busy trail season. This winter 2014/2015 I'll continue with what has worked well for me in years past, including running in the snow unweighted, with a weighted pack, and occasionally dragging a tire; Fartlek Fridays; cross-country skiing; and a small amount of trials bike riding, jiu-jitsu, and kickboxing. In addition this winter, I've planned out a regimen making use of 30 Day Challenges of increasing difficulty to build strength throughout my structure with an emphasis on my legs, but with enough core and upper body work to balance it out.

Turning Adaptability To Your Advantage

     The success of Human Beings as a species can fairly accurately be ascribed to a single broad trait: adaptability. We are amazingly adaptable on every level: physiologically, psychologically, socially, environmentally, and in a myriad other ways. We thrive when challenged. Ease slowly kills us.

     In training this can turn against us. Doing a set amount of exercise that requires a set amount of effort on a regular schedule quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. The human body adapts so well that a regular and unvarying fitness regimen is downgraded in the body's perception from a challenge to nothing more than the expected workload. To continue to reap benefits, the type of exercise, duration of the workout, and required amount of effort need to be varied. New and different challenges will keep the body striving to adapt, thus increasing strength, fitness, and athleticism.

     Toward that end I planned out the below regimen for myself. Each 30 Challenge is, indeed, challenging. And every 30 days it changes and becomes slightly more difficult. My goal with this series of challenges is to give my body an optimum amount of time to adapt to and benefit from an exercise, and then change it up and step it up.

What An Amazing Time To Be Alive

     The interwebs are an amazing training tool. By just performing simple searches on YouTube, the average person nowadays has access to training tips and video tutorials that are exponentially more varied, detailed, and abundant than what was available to professional coaches and trainers just a decade ago.

     If you want to participate in any of the 30 Day Challenges I'm using to train this winter, simply search up on YouTube how to do the exercises. Watch a number of videos from a variety of instructors. Note their differences and similarities in form, technique, and methodology. Then feel free to choose the version of the exercise that best fits your fitness level and training goals. Each of the graphics below includes Optional Badassedness, simple tweaks to make the workout more challenging, but feel free to create your own or use a method from a video. The main thing I want to put across here is that there is an amazing amount of information available online for free. Doing your own research to develop a custom training plan is astonishingly simple in this day. Take a little time and start becoming an expert on a topic no one else can know better: yourself.

     For all of these exercises you can find both easier and more difficult variations. For example, if you aren't quite up to full push ups, you can do the variation pivoting on your knees instead of your toes. Or if your push ups are rock solid and you have a lot of upper body fitness, you can include a stability ball or dumbells or kettlebells. You can customize each challenge to fit your needs, or even vary them from day to day to keep it interesting and accommodate your other training, which may vary in intensity and, thus, the wear and tear you take.

     At the beginning of each month I will post the graphic for the challenge(s) I'm doing on my personal facebook page, and will post frequent updates on my progress and what optional badassedness I am doing, if any, to keep me accountable. I will use the hashtag #UPtrainingChallenge, and anyone who wants to join in can do the same. Share the graphic out on your social media and use the #UPtrainingChallenge hashtag so we can keep track of one another's progress. 
Challenge #1: November
30 Day Squat Challenge

     I have somewhat weak glutes, so when Kathy suggested a 30 Day Squat Challenge, I jumped on board, beginning November 1st. I was able to complete every set on the assigned day, erring on the side of caution on a couple of occasions and doing a few more than necessary when I couldn't recall the exact amount for the day. I've definitely been feeling this in my quads and glutes. And these Challenges are great mind training, as well. Many of the days I didn't want to do my allotted squats, and making myself do them when I was unmotivated also exercised the mental skillset that helps keep me moving deep into a race, adventure run, or thru-hike.

graphic by Ras/

Challenge #2: December
30 Day Lunge Challenge &
30 Day Push Up Challenge

     In Challenge #1 I built up some new leg musculature. For Challenge #2 my goal is to use Lunges to maintain that strength and build more, while refining the focus to movement more specific to hiking and running. I'm doing to stated number of lunges per leg, so for day 1 that's 20 lunges per leg for a total of 40. And I am doing walking lunges; again, in order to more closely mimic the movements for which I'm training.

graphic by Ras/

     During December I'm doubling up by including a push up challenge in order to bolster my upper body fitness in preparation for January's challenge. The goals below are modest and should be fairly doable.

graphic by Ras/

Challenge #3: January
30 Day Burpee Challenge

     January's Burpee Challenge promises to be a difficult one. Widely considered one of the best all around workouts, burpees are a great old school body weight exercise that can be done anywhere there is room. As far as straight strength training for the legs, this is letting off the throttle a little bit from November's Squat Challenge and December's Lunge Challenge. But by doing full fledged burpees, with a push up in the middle and a jump at the end, I'll be stepping up my core fitness as well as building some explosiveness in my legs, all in preparation for February's Extreme Squat Challenge & Dip Challenge Psycho Double.

graphic by Ras/

Challenge #4: February
30 Day Extreme Squat Challenge &
30 Day Dip Challenge

     The numbers on this one are intimidating and promise to push me toward my limits. But I was able to complete November's Squat Challenge handily. So beginning this challenge with the final number of reps from November's challenge seems like a logical progression, and a great way to round out my winter's strength training.

graphic by Ras/

     I use trekking poles when running and hiking, so I chose this Dip Challenge specifically to target my upper body in a way that will apply directly to poling. I use my own poling technique I've developed which differs slightly from traditional nordic skiing type poling. Rather than using long poles and reaching forward with them to pull myself, I use short poles and plant them even with my feet or slightly behind and push myself forward. In essence, I use the poles to tip myself forward, helping perpetuate the forward lean at the ankles which is the foundation of the physics of my form. I included this Dip Challenge in my plan to build strength specific to this technique, as well as to keep my structure in balance in light of the heavy leg workload I am taking on with the Extreme Squat Challenge (above). I chose a plan where the rest days coincide with the rest days for the squat challenge that I am doing simultaneously.  

graphic by Ras/

Go Ahead, Call Your Shot

     One of my favorite parts of a Fastest Known Time attempt is posting the goal ahead of time. Publicly stating what you hope to achieve, and then dealing with all the ramifications of publicly declaring it, is part of the thrill and part of the risk. These, and numerous other, 30 Day Challenges are a fun way to do that same thing on a smaller scale. Posting a workout online and publicly declaring your intention to complete it is a little bit of a risk, but not a huge one. However, the knowledge that others are watching my progress helps keep me focused and livicated and pursuing my goal. On more than a few occasions during November's Squat Challenge, I did my squats at 11:30 at night, right before bed, in my underwear, because I knew I would have to answer for it if I didn't complete that day's set.

     So please feel free to follow my workouts on my personal facebook page, and be sure and call me out if you catch me slacking!