Quick Holiday Recipe: Spiced Candied Nuts

How did Christmas sneak up on me so fast?  It’s almost here!

With the temperature in Asheville rising into the 50s and 60s, it’s hard to remember that it’s the holidays.  I’m not a fan of the cold, so I am loving the mild weather.

But there are presents to wrap and delicacies to be prepared.  I tried out a great, easy recipe that I adapted from Minimalist Baker that will fill your house with deliciousness.

It’s easy and addicting and it’s the perfect snack for a quick appetizer of last-minute gift (it’s about last minute, isn’t it?)

About to go in the oven

A couple things I changed from the original recipe:  I don’t think the coconut oil particularly adds anything.  It’s extra fat and calories and doesn’t produce much more crispness to the nuts. So I tossed that out.

It also calls for coconut sugar.  I don’t stock fancy sugars in my pantry, and plain ol’ brown sugar is a great sub.

One detail that takes this recipe  over the top is to use freshly grated nutmeg.  The pre-ground stuff will work, but grinding it yourself makes a huge difference!

Fresh ground nutmeg is key!

After baking in the oven for about 15 minutes, stirring once, they are ready!  The entire house smells like the holidays.

You might want to remember if you are thinking of giving these as little gifts, you’ll have to double or triple the batch.  They are so good that they might not make it into the jar!

Yields 2 cups

Spiced Candied Nuts

2 minPrep Time

16 minCook Time

18 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 cup (100 g) raw pecans
  • 1 cup (120 g) raw walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp (24 g) brown sugar, plus extra for finishing
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Sprinkle (or more) cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground nutmeg (about 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spread the nuts out on a plain baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
  3. Drizzle maple syrup over the nuts and sprinkle with remaining ingredients.
  4. Bake for 6 minutes, remove from oven and stir.
  5. Bake for an additional 6-10 minutes or until your entire house is fragrant.
  6. Remove from oven and top with additional syrup and spices to taste.
  7. As they cool, the nuts will become more crisp.
  8. Try not to eat them all straight from the pan!
Cuisine: Holiday snacks |

“Over It” Might Really Mean “Overtrained”

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

I am losing my enthusiasm.

After feeling so well prepared and ready for a big success in Richmond and then not getting there, it’s been a challenge trying to stoke the fire again.

I have gained so much fitness this year that I wanted to get back on the horse and try again.    With eight additional weeks of training, the Charleston Marathon seemed like a good choice to learn from my mistakes in Richmond and get just a little bit stronger.

Yet part of me just feels over it.  I thought I would be done training this hard by now.

In some ways, I am glad the DNF happened. What I am able to see now is that I was clinging on to my sub-three-hour goal so fiercely that it became like a wet bar of soap: the tighter I held on to it, the more easily it slipped away.

Afterwards, I rested and recovered and scaled back for a couple weeks.  Then I chose Charleston and put my nose back to the grindstone.  I quickly got back up to 70-85 miles a week and began watching my food intake carefully again.  Not too much, not too little, but just enough to get a little leaner and and a little faster.

Then I bombed a key marathon workout, the 2 x 6 miles.  Blowing one workout is no big deal, but this was a complete mental and partially physical unwillingness to come anywhere near the paces I normally do not struggle with.

But I let it go and kept up with my schedule as usual.  The next workout was fine.

A week later, what should have been an easy workout in the middle of my pace range felt like a struggle.  I hit my paces, but for some reason the slower-than-marathon-pace run felt unusually hard.  What was going on?

But then the next workout was great.  And then I had a really fantastic fast-finish long run.  Just what I needed for my confidence!  All better, right?

And hey, I’m almost at 3000 miles for the year of 2016!  If I run around ten miles a day for the month of December, I could do it.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Then came another bad workout.  This time on a cut-down run where each mile gets progressively faster.  These runs are always hard, but back in October, I had run a cut-down beautifully.  Textbook perfect and faster than I ever thought possible.  But last week, I could barely get below marathon pace without feeling defeated.  I ended the workout early.

I was yo-yoing from good to bad to mediocre and back again.

I needed some advice.  Marathon training is supposed to be hard and exhausting, but I was starting to get to the point of not really caring anymore.

I brought my concerns to my coach at Runners Connect.  Being a coach myself, it’s all too easy to try to be my own coach.  But that’s a lot like being your own lawyer.  When you coach yourself you have a fool for an athlete.

 “You’re running too much,” warned Coach Danny.   “More isn’t always better, especially with volume. Even though you aren’t tired physically, you are mentally, and I think that’s more of a sign of overtraining.”

Ideally, I should be concentrating more on nailing the workouts with fresher legs and scaling back on the easy miles in between.

In other words, my 10 mile super slow easy days that I thought were doing me so much good are actually sabotaging me.

The other thing Coach asked me to do is review my training.  “Look back at logs and find a string of weeks that you really nailed every workout and felt you broke through a plateau, or things were effortless,” he said.  “That’s the ‘sweet spot’ of your volume vs. intensity and you never want to get too far from it.”

Unfortunately, there was no clear correlation between big volume and bad performances.  I had some of my best workouts during some of my highest mileage.

Even so, I think the cumulative mileage is starting to show up in my workouts.  It seems that overtraining is a sneaky affliction because I don’t feel tired in the rest of my life.  My muscles are not sore.  My appetite and weight have been stable.  I’m not getting sick.

I’m just mentally tired.

I’m losing my enthusiasm.

So I’m scaling back.  I will not run today. I will not run any more 10 mile easy days before Charleston.  I will shift my focus away from mileage and concentrate on “training density,” which is making the workout days really count.

I will not get 3000 miles this year and that is just fine.

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston. (That was hard to type, so I’m going to type it again to make sure it sticks.)

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston.

It is still a goal of mine to cross the finish line under three hours.  I will do it someday but not this time.

After a year of great running without a great marathon, I just need to focus on finishing one well again, no matter what the time on the clock says.

I need to take a smaller bite out of the elephant instead of trying to eat it all at once.

I plan to pace myself slower than Richmond and hope to cross the finish line between 3:05 and 3:10. This is a conservative goal for me, but it would still be the fastest I’ve ever run that distance, so I’m going to prepare myself for it to hurt more than I ever have before.

And if I fail again, I will learn again.   And, eventually, after a nice long break, I will try again.

With enthusiasm.

Sugar-Free Chocolate Milk Race Fuel

I’m really excited about this one.

We’ve all heard that chocolate milk is good for recovery.  But what about for fuel?  And what if it’s not milk at all?

After experimenting more with my DIY UCAN recipes, I came up with a brand new flavor that just might be “the one.”

It really does taste like chocolate milk.

Cornstarch is a pretty amazing ingredient.  It takes very little liquid to dissolve so you can pack an entire marathon’s worth of calories in a single 8-ounce bottle!

You will still need to stop at the water stations to get enough hydration, but I’m really happy that I can get away with a single small bottle of fuel and say goodbye to gels forever.

I’m not always in the mood for a citrusy drink and thought that chocolate would be a great addition to my flavor choices.  A little cocoa powder does the trick!

If you make this recipe, experiment with the amount of liquid you add.  I like that I can add very little water so I don’t have to carry so much weight, but you might prefer your fuel on the thinner side.

You absolutely must sweeten this and I prefer NuNaturals Pure Liquid Vanilla Stevia.  About 10 drops provides the sweetness of 2 teaspoons of sugar.  I have not tried powdered or granular stevia in this recipe because I’ve never found anything I’ve liked, but I might try some out to keep the ingredients all dry.  (Better for traveling!)  If you try a dry sweetener, let me know how it goes!

For variation, I’ve also added a teaspoon of PB Fit peanut butter powder to make PB Chocolate Milk.  Yum!

Sugar-Free Chocolate Milk Race Fuel

A sugar-free liquid fuel that is an alternative to gels or chews. Recipe can be doubled to fill an 8-ounce water bottle for over 300 calories of fuel in one small bottle!

The ingredients will settle to the bottom fairly quickly, so shake before drinking.

5 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 40 grams cornstarch (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 grams cocoa powder (about a teaspoon)
  • 1/16 teaspoon salt
  • 1/16 teaspoon Morton's Lite Salt
  • 10 drops vanilla stevia liquid
  • 2 to 4 ounces of water, depending on preferred thickness


  1. Mix all ingredients except water together in a small measuring cup with a spout.
  2. Slowly add enough water to your desired thickness. Two ounces will be like a runny milkshake and four ounces will be like thin chocolate milk.
  3. Stir thoroughly and pour into a small running water bottle.
Cuisine: Race fuel |


153 calories, 38 grams of slow-release carbohydrates, 219 mg sodium, 87 mg potasium, small amount of magnesium and calcium




Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins, Vegan

I have a confession to make.

I am a banana hoarder.

Whenever I see those bulk bags of overripe bananas on supersale for $1.99, I usually shamelessly buy every bag available.

One time I bought four bags.  And they usually contain about 15 bananas each.

What on earth would I do with 60 bananas?


First of all, I eat them.  Many times those bags are not only filled with ripe bananas, but lonely singletons that have been separated from their bunches.  Lonely bananas need love too!

Then what we can’t eat, I peel and freeze for smoothies.  We have a deep freezer and I have several gallon Ziplocks of frozen bananas on hand at all times.

But there’s a point when there’s just too many frozen bananas to justify buying more discount bananas.  So I bake with them.

Ripe mashed bananas are a vegan staple that adds sweetness, moisture, and flavor to many baked goods.  It also works as a fat substitute in some recipes, like banana bread.

I prefer banana muffins to banana bread, because they are less messy and perfectly portioned.  They freeze well and I have a quick, healthy breakfast for me or the kids in seconds.  So I always make a double batch.


Making traditional banana muffins healthy and vegan is simple.  Applesauce replaces the oil or butter and aquafaba replaces the eggs.

If you haven’t heard of aquafaba yet, there is a whole world out there for you to explore.  It is simply the liquid drained off a can of chickpeas or the thickened cooking water if you make them at home like I do.  Three tablespoons of aquafaba is equal to an egg in baked goods and I freeze it in 3 tablespoon servings in large ice cube trays so that I always have an “egg” on hand.

Blueberries and bananas play so nicely together that I had to add some in as well.

With a little smear of almond butter, these muffins make the perfect easy breakfast!

Serves 12

Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins, Vegan

Healthy, delicious, blueberry banana muffins.

15 minPrep Time

30 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons aquafaba (liquid drained from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 3 large, ripe bananas
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (may use all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12 muffin pan or use silicone.
  2. Mash bananas in a bowl then add applesauce, sugar, vanilla, aquafaba, and almond milk and mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl add the rest of the dry ingredients (except blueberries) and mix well.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine, but do not over mix. Your batter should be like very thick cake batter, not pourable, but spoonable. Add extra almond milk if too dry.
  5. Gently fold in blueberries.
  6. Using two spoons, fill muffin pans completely full.
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pan for at least 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.
Cuisine: Breakfast |

The Selfish Joy of Volunteering

Sometimes even the most motivated runners can find it hard to lace up their running shoes.  Maybe it’s too cold or too hot or too windy or the covers on the bed are just too cozy.

Most of the time, we can push aside those thoughts and get on with our run and we feel better when we are done.

Other times, the lack of motivation seeps deeper into the insecure cracks in our psyche.

One particular runner that I coach with Runners Connect is struggling to find the answer to “why?” every day.  She questions why she struggles to get out the door and also struggles to find the reasons why to run at all.

My advice to her was to work on finding the joy again.  The simplest way I have found to do this is by volunteering.

The idea of volunteering sounds quite noble when you are considering it.  You are helping out a cause, doing a service, providing support.

The positive energy you are rewarded with, however, feels completely self-serving.

The act of moving from contemplation to actually volunteering is generally met with some of the same negative thoughts that keep us from getting out of the house to run.  Maybe it’s cold and raining or maybe you won’t know anyone or maybe it feels like a big time commitment in an already busy life.

Yet like running itself, if you can push past the initial resistance, you will feel better when you are done.

Our family has begun a tradition of volunteering at the local Turkey Trot water station each Thanksgiving Day.  It’s a fun activity that the whole family can get involved in that doesn’t cost anything and is immensely rewarding.

Water station pros at work!
Water station pros at work!

Getting thanked by thousands of runners for the simple job of handing them a couple ounces of water is the perfect antidote for any holiday-related stress.  We work together as a team and have a sense of accomplishment when the last cup is cleaned up.

It’s also so wonderful to see people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities running or walking the exact same race.  The participants are all choosing to spend part of their holiday doing a healthy activity with their friends and family and it’s truly inspiring to see.

Encouraging the best out of others is a short step away from encouraging the best from yourself.

This past weekend, I paced the Girls on the Run 5K for the second time this year.  It was a cold and rainy morning, but that didn’t stop a thousand girls and their families from participating.

Maya had an awesome kick to the finish!

The run is an easy pace for me so it is all joy with little work.  The crowd warmed up by dancing in the rain before the start, which was simply adorable.

The girl that ended up finishing first was named Maya and she and her mom held a steady pace of around 8:30/mile for the first two miles, which included some hills.

Then, about a half mile to go with a boy about her age ready to close in on her, I told her to give it everything she had.  It was all downhill at that point.

I held her Santa hat that she had taken off and she picked up the pace.  She pumped her arms and we dropped below seven-minute pace to the finish!  That girl is an athlete!

I love having the opportunity to give back, because it give me the (perhaps selfish) satisfaction of helping others enjoy the sport I love.

It reminds me to remember the joy in running when sometimes I get too preoccupied with paces and races and workouts.

It inspires me get out the door when it’s too cold or too hot or too rainy because I know it’s worth it and I will feel better when I am done.


When you log so many miles alone, it’s easy to forget that there is an incredible community of runners out there.

When you volunteer, you remember.