My Favorite Thanksgiving Recipe

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoyed family, friends, and FOOD! My Thanksgiving was very low-key, but it was nice to just relax and have a break from schoolwork. Since it was just my husband and I this year, I bought some sliced pre-cooked honey baked ham and cold asparagus salad from a local market and made roasted acorn squash and cheesy hash brown casserole. Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole is a dish my mom always made for Thanksgiving when I was growing up. My mom is the Queen of super easy recipes that taste incredible, and this one is no exception! I usually make it either for Thanksgiving or Christmas and for Easter since it goes especially well with ham. I believe my mom originally got the recipe out of a newspaper or magazine, then it was written on a piece of paper for many years, and most recently saved on my computer even though we both have it memorized! This year, I made it a little different since my diet has changed a little, but the basic ingredients remained the same.

Thanksgiving dinner consisting of honey baked ham, roaster acorn squash, cheesy hashbrown casserole and cold asparagus salad with balsamic vinegar.

Thanksgiving dinner consisted of honey baked ham, roasted acorn squash, cheesy hash brown casserole and cold asparagus salad with balsamic vinegar.

The day before Thanksgiving, I made a shopping trip to Orlando and spent quite a bit of time at Ikea, the Millenia mall, and Whole Foods. I had never actually been to a Whole Foods before even though I had heard wonderful things about it. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement! I have such a hard time finding good gluten-free food options and other healthy food choices locally, but Whole Foods is like a superstore of healthy food and groceries. I was like a kid in a candy store! As I was leaving, I noticed a restaurant next door called Hot Krust Panini Kitchen that advertised gluten-free options, so I stopped in to grab a bite to eat. I am really impressed with this restaurant concept. It is a “fast food” place in which you order at the counter and then they bring your order to you when it is ready, but they do not use processed meats, instead they use in-house roasted meats, they bake their potato and sweet potato fries instead of frying them, and they offer gluten-free bread. I ordered the BBQ Chicken panini with gluten-free multi-grain bread and sweet potato fries, and it was delicious! I really hope this concept catches on and there will be one closer to me soon. It was fantastic and it did not give me any digestive issues like most sandwich joints do.

So, back to Thanksgiving, I thought I would share my mom’s recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole with you and note the slight changes I made to make it a little healthier. Most people would think it is very unhealthy because it has LOTS of butter, cheese and sour cream, but in fact, the recent research is showing these ingredients are healthy for you especially if you use real ingredients without preservatives, in other words, grass-fed butter (raw is even better), sour cream with cultured cream as the only ingredient, etc. However, this casserole is very rich and decadent so I like to save it for special occasions, and it is also an easy, fast option to bring to potluck events (and ALWAYS a big hit!).

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Ingredients poured over frozen hash browns – doesn’t look very appetizing at this point, but trust me, it will be delicious!

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Buttery potato chip topping added  – ready to go in the oven!

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Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole – done!

I will add that these hash browns taste even better re-heated the next morning with eggs for breakfast. The original basic recipe is at the bottom of this page and directly below are the substitutions I made to make it a little healthier (all of these ingredients, except the local butter, were found at Whole Foods):

2 bags (16 ozs. each) Alexia organic frozen hash browns
local grass-fed raw butter
2 boxes (12 ozs. each) Pacific organic cream of mushroom condensed soup
8 oz. block of 365 (Whole Foods brand) sharp cheddar cheese shredded in food processor
12 ozs. sour cream
Kettle organic sea salt potato chips

Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole

Serves 1 pan
Prep time 1 hour, 40 minutes
Cook time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Side Dish
Creamy, cheesy hash brown casserole is sure to be a crowd-pleaser and is a perfect side dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter ham!


  • 1 bag Frozen hash browns (about 30 ozs.)
  • 2/3 cups melted butter
  • 2 cans cream of chicken condensed soup
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 12oz sour cream
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 2 cups crushed potato chips or corn flakes


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pour frozen hash browns in an even layer in greased 9 x 13 pan.
Mix together the rest of the ingredients, except last two, and pour over potatoes.
Mix 1/4 cup melted butter with 2 cups crushed potato chips and spread on top of casserole.
Bake uncovered for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Let set up for 5 or 10 mins. before serving for best taste, and they are even better the next day!
Categories: Nutrition, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Gluten-Free Chocolate Walnut Banana Bread

I love bananas and often use them to make banana pancakes for breakfast. I don’t remember where I got the idea from, but you simply mash one banana with one egg, add a dash of cinnamon, then pour into a saute pan with some olive or coconut oil, and cook like a pancake. It takes several minutes for the first side to set up well enough to flip it, then the second side only takes a minute or two. I like mine smothered in almond butter! Sometimes I am not able to use my bananas quick enough and I end up with several over-ripe bananas. In this instance, I do one of two things; either peel them, cut them in half, and freeze them in a ziplock bag for smoothies later, or make banana bread. Today I am going to share my recipe for Gluten-Free Chocolate Walnut Banana Bread.

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My Gluten-Free Chocolate Walnut Banana Bread just out of the oven.

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Perfect for a quick breakfast or a pre-run snack!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Walnut Banana Bread
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This recipe was adapted from A Soulful Appetite's Double Chocolate Wheat Free Banana Bread.
Serves: 1 loaf
  • 4 ripe bananas (the more ripe your bananas are, the sweeter your bread will be)
  • 4 eggs
  • ⅓ cup melted butter (or coconut oil or ghee)
  • 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp. maple syrup (adjust according to sweetness of bananas)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of sea salt
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • ⅓ cup chocolate chips/chunks (I use Enjoy Life chocolate chips/chunks because they are dairy and soy free, but still delicious!)
  • Butter, olive or coconut oil to grease loaf pan
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine wet ingredients (first 5 ingredients) in a small bowl.
  3. Combine dry ingredients (next 4 ingredients) in a medium bowl.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well.
  5. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips/chunks.
  6. Pour mixed ingredients into a greased loaf pan.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes (use a toothpick to gauge doneness).
  8. Enjoy with lots of butter!
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“Mmmmm, gluten-free banana bread batter!!”

 Lucky for Cooper, who also follows a gluten-free diet, mom let him lick the spatula!

Categories: Recipes | 2 Comments

Six Tips for Following a Restrictive Diet on a Cruise (or Vacation for that Matter)

My friend perfectly captured the beautiful sunset over the Carnival Sensation balcony.

My friend perfectly captured the beautiful sunset over the Carnival Sensation balcony.

My 40th birthday was last week. My husband went all out for this milestone and surprised me with a 3-day Carnival cruise to the Bahamas, then he surprised me again when 10 of my friends greeted me on the cruise! It was definitely a day to remember, and I think it was the most enjoyable cruise I’ve taken to date. The only downside was that it was pretty rough seas for part of the time, and, even though I am back at work several days later, I feel like I am STILL swaying on the boat! Fortunately, one of my friends was smart and brought some ginger supplements, which was a godsend for the nausea we all started to feel. I was a little concerned about what the food situation would be like on the cruise since I have been trying to avoid gluten, grains and dairy, at the very least. It turned out that everything was fine, and I learned a few tips that I thought I would share.

1. Plan ahead. I was not able to plan as well as I could have since the cruise was a surprise, but I did know we were going on a trip to somewhere tropical. I made sure to pack my digestive enzymes and supplements and a few “legal” snacks in case I got the munchies. If you are going on a cruise, you can also notify the cruise company of your dietary needs when you book the cruise and then you won’t have to worry about it when you embark.

2. Make sure you have the right attitude. Try to stay positive and don’t worry too much about the possibility of there being nothing for you to eat. These days, gluten intolerance and other dietary restrictions have become so common that a surprising amount of restaurants and venues have gluten-free menus or options. Due to my preference of avoiding gluten, grains, and dairy, I had the opportunity to try things that I would not have normally tried. I was very pleased with all the dishes I tried, and it was nice to discover something new. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t eat, focus on all the yummy things you can eat!

3. Notify Maitre’ D of preferences. As soon as possible, notify the dining room of any allergies or special dietary needs, or if you let them know when you booked the cruise, simply verify that they know. On Carnival cruises (and I suspect other ones as well), they can accommodate a wide variety of dietary needs such as low salt or gluten intolerance. The sooner they know, the easier it will be.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If at any time you are unsure whether a food item from one of the many buffets and food options has gluten, just ask one of the chefs. On our cruise, the staff was eager to tell us anything we wanted to know about the ingredients, and if they didn’t know, they were happy to find out for us. It is better to be safe than sorry!

5. Know all your options. Unless you have notified the cruise ahead of time, you will most likely have to inquire to find out about the different dietary options. The first time that we ate in the dining room for breakfast, I happened to see on the menu that gluten-free bread was available. After discussion with our server, I discovered that I could request any meal as gluten-free as long as I let them know the day before. I will admit that the gluten-free bread tasted pretty awful to me, but maybe it will improve as it becomes more common!

6. Have fun with it! It is great to know you can still go on vacation and even go on a cruise without having to fret too much about being on a restrictive diet. I try to keep in mind that I am following this diet to heal my digestion, but that does not mean I will have to stay on the diet for the rest of my life. I also realized that I was able to try a lot of dishes that I would not normally have tried because I would always gravitate towards certain foods, like pasta dishes. I was just as satisfied if not more with the new foods that I tried.

On a side note, as a runner, you also do not have to worry about missing runs while on a cruise. There are usually treadmills in the gym, a track of some sort outside on one of the decks, and usually lots of options when you disembark from the ship. When we arrived in Nassau, we took a short cab ride to a beach and then three runner friends and I ran all over the island (or at least it felt that way). If you like to plan ahead, you can use a website such as Walk Jog Run, which also has an iPhone app, to figure out running routes for just about any desired distance anywhere in the world.


After climbing up from the beach, we are ready to get our run on in Nassau, Bahamas!

Categories: Nutrition | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Journey with Nutrition and How I Am Trying to Overcome My Digestive Issues - I am in a relationship with food... ...and it's complicated.

Over the next several weeks, I plan to focus more on nutrition and how it relates to running. First, I would like to give you some background on my journey with diet and nutrition and my struggle to overcome my digestive issues.

In the past, I followed the typical runner’s diet of primarily carbohydrates and ate copious amounts of pizza, pasta, and bread. I let myself eat as much of those foods as I wanted reasoning that I am a runner and needed to carb load, plus I could just run it off. Around 8 years ago or so, I started developing some digestive issues. First, I had symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then I developed the symptoms of acid reflux, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). I had all the standard tests, barium swallow, upper GI, ultrasound, etc. to confirm my diagnosis and was prescribed Protonix, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which essentially blocks your stomach acid and stops the reflux. Even on my medication, I still battled IBS and other somewhat obscure issues, such as eczema, joint pain, gas, acid reflux and indigestion even while on the medication, and just not feeling well a lot of the time.

Within the last year or so, I became more and more interested in nutrition and the possibility of curing my digestive and related issues with my diet. I wanted to get off my medication because I knew there were studies that had shown PPIs can cause issues of their own and were never meant for long-term use, despite what my doctor said. Not only that, but it made more sense to try to heal the root cause rather than just treat the symptoms. I read everything I could get my hands on about nutrition as it relates to digestive issues and learned about the dangers of genetically engineered foods or GMOs, preservatives, harmful food additives, pesticides, and meat and dairy contaminated with antibiotics and hormones. I realized I did not pay much attention to ingredient labels, and although I thought I ate pretty healthy, the truth was I did not have a clue!

I started adopting a real food diet by not buying food that is highly processed and buying local or organic produce and meat instead. We started purchasing fresh eggs laid by our neighbors’ chickens (and eventually got our own chickens); buying raw milk and butter, produce, and meat from the local farmer’s market; and even growing our own vegetables and herbs. I knew I could not go off my medication “cold turkey,” so I gradually reduced my dosage over the period of about two months. I was off my medication for about two weeks without any GERD symptoms, but then they came back with a vengeance.

There was no way I was going to go back on my medication after it had taken me so long to wean off it, so I went back to researching and trying to find a “natural” cure. I implemented the Special Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which basically cuts out all grains, dairy (except yogurt and aged cheese), starches, sugar, and processed ingredients, and adds nutrient dense foods, such as bone broth. The idea behind the diet, in the simplest of terms, is that digestive issues are caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria, so you starve the bad bacteria and replenish the good bacteria. The diet also enables you to determine what foods you have a sensitivity to as you add one food item back at a time. Generally, one needs to follow this diet for 6 months up to several years to overcome severe digestive issues like Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease. I did not consider my digestive issues as severe, so I followed the SCD diet strictly for a little over 2 weeks and then started adding in a few illegal food items to see how my body reacted. I discovered that I reacted the strongest to dairy, and specifically milk or cream. I also noticed that my symptoms lessened when I eliminated gluten.

In addition to the dietary changes I made, I also added some supplements that I had read could help, such as a strong probiotic, magnesium, DGL powder, digestive enzymes, and Betaine HCL. All these things have been shown to help with digestive issues and help heal the digestive system. As of now, my GERD symptoms have subsided and my IBS symptoms have lessened (although still not ideal), and my diet is currently similar to the Paleo Diet with the addition of aged cheeses (because I love cheese and it has not caused my symptoms to worsen). I am definitely not perfect with my diet and follow an 80/20 rule in which I try to follow the diet 80% of the time. So, the reason I’m telling you this whole spiel is so you understand where I am coming from in regards to nutrition. I am not certified in nutrition, and I think diet is highly individual to each person, but I am simply sharing what has worked for me so far.

In the upcoming weeks, I will share some of my favorite pre- and post-run meals and snacks and delve a little deeper into nutrition and how it relates to running on my blog. See you then!

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Halloween Costumes and 5Ks Through the Years

Wow, time flies! This always seems to be a busy time of year with all the holidays coming. The race season starts ramping up here since the weather is finally starting to cool a bit. I’ve ran two 5Ks since the last time I blogged. One was somewhat of a disaster with runners getting lost on the course, so I am not going to talk about that one. The last one I ran, just last Saturday, was the Ghostly Ghecko 5K. It was put on by Running Zone, and since I am on their racing team and it is in their race series, I always make sure to run it. It is also a super fun race! Every year for the last 5 years, my husband, our dog Cooper, and I dress up in coordinating costumes. We’ve won the costume contest two of those years, but this year we were not able to enter because we discovered dogs weren’t allowed in the venue where the awards/contest was held. The race directors did not know this until last minute, so hopefully they will be able to move the contest next year. They held a costume contest just for the dogs by the finish line, but Cooper didn’t win. Three dogs dressed up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won, and rightly so!

I thought it would be fun to share a recap of our costume ideas from past years.

A Sailor, a Surfer, and a Shark

The first year we dressed up for the race was 2009. I went all out on our costumes this year, and they have been hard to beat since! Cooper was just over a year old, and we easily won the costume contest. We scared a few children who thought our wounds were real and a few real surfers were offended by our costumes, but overall everyone loved our costumes!


Mark dressed up as a surfer attacked by a shark, I was a sailor girl attacked by a shark, and Cooper was the shark, of course!


Cooper the Shark was so proud of his severed hand that he carried it everywhere!


Me crossing the finish line – my chip time was 23:46 (the clock was screwed up) and I placed 3rd in my age group.

Let’s Play Ball!

The next year, 2010, wasn’t quite as clever, but Mark’s favorite sport is baseball, so we went with it. We didn’t win the costume contest, but still had fun!


Mark and Cooper dressed up as baseball players and I was a referee. Somehow we got Cooper to drop the baseball and look at the camera!


Me rounding the first corner of the race.


Me crossing the finish line – chip time was 20:30 for first in my age group.

 Hot Diggity Dog!

In 2011, I had another clever idea for costumes, and it won us the contest again. It was also my fastest year to date!


A cute little girl asked to have her photo taken with Mark the Ketchup Bottle, Me, the Mustard Bottle, and Cooper the Hotdog!


What a handsome little hotdog!!


Me crossing the finish line with a chip time of 19:59 for a personal record. I have only ran under 20 minutes one other time since!


Mark, Cooper, and I celebrating after hearing we won the costume contest!

Replacement Referees

Last year, 2012, Mark came up with our costume idea, and although I think it was a very clever, I don’t think many people “got” our costumes. He might disagree, but that is my opinion. We didn’t win the costume contest, but it was pretty tough competition!


Mark and I dressed up as blind referees while Cooper wore his therapy dog vest and pretended to be a seeing eye dog. Cooper liked this costume the best, no surprise!


Mark calls “out”, I call “safe”, and Cooper checks out a lizard…


Me crossing the finish line with a chip time of 21:17 for third in my age group.

Yabba Dabba Doo!

This year we had several costume ideas, but none were panning out well, then a week before the race, I saw a couple’s costume set for sale on my work forum and a light bulb went off in my head. I bought the Wilma and Fred Flintstones costumes and then ordered a Dino costume online for Cooper. Brilliant! Only problem was, I ordered the largest size available for Cooper, a size XL, which according to the size chart was going to be a little small on him, but would still work. Well, when I tried to put it on him, it was WAY TOO SMALL! It looked like it might fit a Schnauzer, but not a Weimaraner. I did my best to add material to it and try to get it to fit him, but it was still ridiculously small. It didn’t matter, Cooper was a trooper and agreed to wear it for a short while. Our costumes were definitely a hit, and several people wanted to take our photo and pose with us. I am not sure if we would have won the costume contest, but I think we would have had a good chance!


Fred (Mark), Wilma (me), and Dino (Cooper) Flintstone!


Me coming around the first corner of the race. Half the race was against the wind so I had to hold my wig on! Running in a costume is not as easy as it might look.

I don’t have the photos of me finishing this race yet, but I will add them when they are available. My chip time was 21:42 and I came in 4th in my age group. Ugh, my age group was very competitive this year and it was the first year I did not place. Oh well, I have been battling plantar fasciitis for over a year and a half, and I have not been able to train as hard as I would like.

I’ll leave you with my favorite non-Ghostly Ghecko Halloween race photo from 2009.


My Superdog and I before the Pumpkins in the Park 5K.

Happy Halloween!

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Hello and welcome to my blog Lulu Runner!

Welcome to my blog, Lulu Runner! I created this blog as part of a project for a class I am taking at FSU called Social Media Management. However, I plan to continue the blog after my class is over because I have wanted to chronicle my adventures in running for some time, so this is a good opportunity to “get the ball rolling” as they say. I don’t plan on my blog being just about running though, I hope to share other things in my life, such as new recipes I’ve tried and other fun things I think others might enjoy reading about, and, of course, my blog would not be complete without including my Weimaraner, Cooper, in the fun!


To catch you up a bit, I have been running competitively for most of my life, and moved to Florida in 2003. I battled a knee injury for several years that kept me from running as much as I wanted and eventually I had arthroscopic knee surgery for a frayed meniscus. It took me two more years to rehab it to the point that I could run again. At this time, I was able to run regularly, but was not very fast. I decided to sign up for a local running camp and finally started to get fast again. It was during this time that I got engaged to my boyfriend Mark and we adopted an 8-week old Weimaraner that we named Cooper. In 2009, we were married and Cooper was our handsome ring bearer.


Shortly after that, I decided to start training for my first marathon. I ran the Space Coast Marathon in 2010 and qualified for Boston with a 3:29 time. I ran Boston in April 2011, and despite the record-setting heat and consequently a horrible finish time, I absolutely loved the experience of being there! Around this time, I was also offered a spot on a running team sponsored by a local running store and participated in various races almost every weekend while continuing to participate in running camp. In April 2011, I ran my lifetime PR in the 5K with a 19:50. Unfortunately a few months later I started to feel the beginning of plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the ligament in the bottom of your foot. For a little over a year, I have dealt with plantar fasciitis in one foot or the other and occasionally both feet at the same time. In the last month, it has finally subsided in my right foot, and barely remains in my left. I still ran while being injured, but my mileage rarely exceeded 10 miles a week, my races were slow, and my feet pretty much always hurt. This last week, I was able to reach my highest mileage in over a year and logged 35 miles. I also ran a 5K about a week and a half ago and finished in 21:19, my fastest time in over a year. I think I am finally getting over what has to be one of the most frustrating running injuries. It’s one of those injuries that takes such a long time to heal and if you don’t come back very slowly, it will just keep flaring up. I am so anxious to get back to more serious training and be able to improve on my 5K PR. I have decided, however, to not to do any marathons for another year or two due to the serious time commitment that the training requires. Since I am working and going to grad school full-time, I plan to just focus on local 5Ks up to half marathons. I plan to share my race recaps and throw in occasional running tips and inspiration here on my blog as I move forward with my training.


So, now that you know a bit about me, I hope you will continue to tune into my blog, and I am glad you stopped by!

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