Archive for the ‘Run notes that run into life’ category

Summer 2015

November 4, 2015

It’s been a while since I have written a post. There are days when it seems like there is too much to write  after so much time has passed and summoning the energy seems impossible. Today, though, it’s time to dig in and just do it.

On July first, I am joyfully teaching my group fitness class—Forever Fit, for anyone 50 years and older. I am prompting, singing, counting, jumping, squatting, grooving to the music, thinking of nothing other than being right where I am and doing my job. The room is filled with about 25 women and one man, all following my lead as we work through Cut Chemist’s “What’s The Altitude“. The song fills me with joy and energy. We all do what I refer to as “step-out step”, a modified jack step. I alter the step to include a raised knee every other beat, switch sides, switch to kicks on alternating sides, and move the step forward for four beats, then back. It’s one of my favorites. We all look like dancers in a Michael Jackson video. It’s a beautiful thing to look up and see a room full of people smiling and moving like that. Suddenly, I both feel and hear a loud pop in my left calf. I think I’m fine, yet find myself unable to touch even my left toe to the floor. I think I am going to finish teaching the class, yet when I look up, with the music still blasting, my class has stopped moving. “Are you okay?” and of course I answer yes. But I am not.

In what feels like seconds, one woman from my class has raided the freezer in the kitchen of the building and comes back with a bag of ice. The Counsel On Aging director has flown down the stairs from her office and is talking about calling an ambulance. Someone else is grabbing a chair for me to sit down and in all the panic, somehow everything feels like it is happening in slow motion. No. I do not want an ambulance. No, I do not want the chair. Hot tears prick behind my eyes. The tears are not from pain, although there is plenty of that. Fighting to hold those tears back, I recognize fear asserting itself and racing to the front of my emotional repertoire. Immediately, I am wondering if I will ever run again. I know in these moments I should be afraid of not being able to work, of a long, painful recovery, of the potential for a bad tear in a muscle that will require surgery. Yet all I can think about is never being able to run again.

As I finally settle into the chair and place the ice on my calf, I start to make decisions. I need to go home first. I obviously won’t be able to drive, so as people ask what I need, I send someone to go pick up my partner Bill so he can drive me home in my own car. I want to change out of my sweaty clothes and wash my face.  I need to get to my car. Before I can think of anything else, Bill is standing over me, asking what I need. “Please. Just take me home.” Two women from class confer for a moment, and then they stand, one on either side of me. They cross their arms, hold each others’ hands in some Girl Scout carry configuration and slide their linked arms beneath me. I am lifted and carried out to my car by a woman in her seventies and a woman in her sixties. I am in awe of their strength and kindness. Even in such pain and fear, I pat myself on the back for doing a great job with this class. I can’t stop thanking them.

In clean clothes and with the sweat washed off (mostly), I reline on a gurney in the emergency room, I am given Valium and a manual examination. The handsome ER doc decides that I need to see an orthopedic specialist. I leave the hospital with a prescription for enough Valium to keep me for a month(!!!) as well as a comfy, handmade soft cast to wear until I see the specialist, and, of course, crutches. I whimper on the way home, clutching my prescription and wondering how bad this injury really is. And, of course, when I can run again.

The next day, I get an immediate appointment with a doctor at Sports Medicine North. After careful examination of my leg, he says I have a slightly torn gastrocnemius and a badly strained soleus, the two main calf muscles. It can take three to six months for this injury to heal. I feel sick. Bill takes me back to the drug store with prescriptions for two different pain killers.

I go home on the crutches, wearing a walking boot that comes up to my knee. I wear the boot for the whole month of July. Bill takes me to Pebble Beach, carries me over boulders to my beach chair, wipes my tears, suffers along as I attempt two and thee mile walks with the crutches. I find I am strong enough to pull myself up the stairs backwards two at a time using my triceps and my good leg. I manage to shower while balancing on one foot. It takes a little over a week before I am able to touch my left toe to the ground and not cry out. I don’t want to talk to or see anyone.

The Boot

The Boot

Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach

I cannot tolerate sitting or resting unless it’s bedtime. I am a mover. During the months of healing and rest, I color beautiful cards to mail to my youngest child in Arizona. I write poetry. I read books—some fiction, some fitness books, some cookbooks. I lose weight on the painkillers, (plus they made me cry all the time), so I ditch them during the first week. I eliminate all sugar to reduce inflammation. I eat lots of greens and naturally anti inflammatory foods. I do everything I can to heal quickly. I also sit on our deck or sun porch and watch with envy as runners pass my house all day long. I hear their footsteps through the open windows of summer as I lay in bed, trying to bring my focus back to what I have instead of what I am missing.

The follow-up appointment on July 30 brings good news. I can ditch the boot and start physical therapy. I have already been working on range of motion, stretching, massage and strength. Despite being told to wait, I have been listening to my body and it feels right to gently start the active part of recovery. I rotate my ankle, practice inversion and eversion. I flex and extend my ankle. I gently massage the painful areas in my calf. I go easy, but I keep it up for a bit every single day. I wear the boot unless I am in bed.

My physical therapist is incredibly good at her job. Each visit shows improvement. Because the boot changed my gait, I am also struggling with hip and back pain on the right side. For a couple of months, I am in pt four times each week. Some weeks I see four different therapists. Each one is kind, honest, good at her job and adamant that I take it slow. I use the foam roller. I stretch. I strengthen. I ice. Some nights after an hour or more of exercises and pt homework, I find myself on the couch with four ice packs strategically placed to reduce pain and inflammation. I am so cold that even in August, I huddle beneath a down comforter.

Friends come and take me for walks. My friend Krissie walks so fast I can barely keep up. I keep going, though, pushing through the discomfort. Soon I start easy running—walk a few yards, jog a few. My friend Amy patiently jog-walks with me. I am grateful. My friend Charlene brings us a delicious vegan dinner.  My class sends lots of sweet emails, telling me they miss me, hoping I am healing well so I can come back to work soon. I even get a couple of cards in the mail. It is nice to be missed and to be loved. I am grateful.

On August 31, one day ahead of my self-imposed deadline, I run three miles. The next day, I run five. I am not allowed to run uphill, so I walk the hills, giving my attention to the beautiful ocean views in my neighborhood.  I note the fishing boats in the harbor, the soft sand on the Front Beach, the rolling waves lapping against the shore of Back Beach. The slow hills are okay, so I run those. By mid-September, I run up all the hills. Once again, I am grateful.

The End of the First Run

The End of the First Run

I return to work September 9. My class is thrilled to have me back. I tell them I am going to go easy for the first couple of weeks and I do, mostly. By the third week back, I am hopping, jumping and singing as I lead them through our workout. We stretch at the end, and I go home and stretch again. I still ice at night and have a fresh awareness of my left calf that I will probably hold onto for longer than need be. I am back. I am strong. And I can still run.

What did I learn? Too much to put it all down here. A couple of biggies, though. I am a runner and much more than that. I can heal my body.  I can wait when I have to wait. And I can be still.  For a while. As long as I have crayons, books and lots of love.

Bil and I at Pebble Beach

Bill and I at Pebble Beach

My Handsome Hero, Bill

My Handsome Hero, Bill

Catching Up, Eagle Sighting and Raw Cashew Cream

November 4, 2014

Blogging has taken a backseat these days—there have been a myriad of changes in my life and I have been busy focused on adjusting to divorce, moving, a new relationship, and a significantly greater workload.  No complaints here, though.  Life is good.  My ex and I have remained friends, my new relationship is a blessing I was not expecting, and work is physical and fun.  I am still teaching vegan cooking in a group setting on a monthly basis, as well as in private settings for individuals.  I am still running!  Definitely not the 50+ miles each week like last year, as I am doing a lot more personal training and wellness coaching for work, as well as teaching group fitness three times each week for the Recreation Department of my town.

This morning I had the opportunity for a long run.  My early client cancelled last minute and I found myself racing through Halibut Point State Park, enjoying the late fall scenery with it’s nearly-bare trees, glass-surfaced quarry and vast expanse of ocean view.  With the hours of cross-training I have been logging with work, running feels easier than ever.  This was one of those days where breath, legs and mind were all on board from the moment I stepped out the door.  I felt as though my feet barely touched the ground and I don’t think I heard a single song on my playlist after the first mile.  Running is meditation just as much as it is physical exercise, maybe even more than ever before. I did get to see an eagle perched on a treetop as I ran home. Not that I noticed it myself—a pram-pushing mama pointed it out for me. Magnificent.

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Teaching vegan cooking is a joyful experience.  The people who come to my classes are enthusiastic, open-minded, and excited to learn each month.  My amazing photographer has been recovering from a broken ankle, so I am sorry to say I have none of her beautiful pictures to share in this post.  She is coming along nicely in her healing so am hoping to she will be back soon to take photos and notes for me.  It makes me realize how fortunate I am. It’s amazing how good people are to me and how much I depend on the kindness, generosity and skills of those around me to help me get through and be successful in this life.

In the meantime, I want to share a very easy cashew cream recipe.  I posted earlier about cashew cream and the recipe called for roasting the cashews first.  That recipe is delicious!  This recipe is even creamier than the first, and without the roasted flavor, it is even more versatile.  Used in vegan chowders, cream soups and cream sauces, the rich, thick texture lends a sensual mouth-feel and no one ever misses the dairy.

Raw Cashew Cream

Ingredients:

1 c whole raw cashews

filtered water

Method:

Rinse the cashews in cold filtered water and drain.  Place the cashews in a medium sized bowl and cover with filtered water.  Soak for at least 20 minutes, but overnight is a great choice.  Without soaking, the cashew cream will not be as creamy.

Drain and rinse the cashews after they have soaked.  Place in high-powered blender and add 1 c filtered water.  Blend on low until the cashews start to move around easily.  Turn blender speed to high and blend until completely smooth.

I always double this recipe and freeze what I don’t use.  It’s great to have a stock of some basics ready to go when I find myself standing in the kitchen, pondering what to make for dinner.  Consider pasta primavera, pasta al invierno, sweet potato and corn chowder, creamy tomato soup, creamed spinach with cumin, cayenne and cubed tofu—bring it on, winter!  Hearty food awaits!  More to come…

Spring City Run

March 21, 2014

Howie and I hit the pavement together early this morning.  I have driven to Somerville to run on my day off—a small concession to be able to train with my friend.  Howie starts to sweat almost immediately and I am envious of the water dripping from his hair and face. It’s much colder than I anticipated, and I find myself shivering as we start off and for the first few miles.  Although I wear gloves, my fingers are an ugly blue-yellow from the cold.

Howie leads me from his house through a labyrinth of sides streets.  We run through Porter Square, Harvard Square, Central Square and Inman Square.  He cuts through parking lots and down driveways like rivers whose mouths narrowly spill onto more tiny roads.  He points out the many places he has lived in Cambridge and tells me the story behind each lovely old house—the trees he planted, the skylights he put in to let in the light he so loves in his living space.  As he talks while we run, I find myself grateful for his friendship and understanding of the world. We are both in the same place in a lot of ways, but right now mostly we share being a bit stuck in our respective areas of creativity.  It is good to talk to him, and even better to listen to his thoughts about life and where we stand in it.

The sidewalks are upthrust and askew with frost heaves in a lot of places; brick and pavement reach sharp edges up to trip me.  I pay extra-close attention so that I don’t fall.  I jump over a lot of the big bumps, exhilarated by the cold air and the joy of running with my friend.  We run close together on the narrow paths, sometimes turning ourselves out onto the streets, the thought unspoken that it might be safer as long as we don’t get run over.

We pass some runners, others pass us as we press against the cold, fresh spring wind.  We run along the Charles River for a while, keeping to the soft dirt paths, that softness protecting our joints, ligaments and tendons.  Crews are out rowing on the river and we watch them as we run by.  Running here today gets me thinking about the long runs we did last summer, miles and miles and miles along the river in the heat. I  already anticipate with excitement more of the same coming soon.

I breathe in the smells of the city—car exhaust, oil, the slightly funky smell of the Charles River, a thousand different food smells from all of the restaurants we pass.  The mingled scents bring on a slew of memories of other times, but I keep them to myself today, wanting only to enjoy the quiet sound of our sneakers touching the pavement or dirt, and the sound of our breathing as we run in step along the route.

We cross streets without waiting for the lights to change and sometimes far from the crosswalks, even Memorial Drive.  I let Howie assess the safety factor in that today; I feel like he will take better care of me that I will myself.  As we approach a small intersection near Inman Square, a car stalls as the light turns green.  Without even looking to each other, we both scoot behind the car, indicating to the driver that we will push her out of the way.  I take the left and Howie takes the right and it is easy for us to move the little gray sedan out of the intersection and up the road.  The driver steers her car into a parking spot along the side of the road and gets out to tell us she can call AAA.  We wave and run on.  When we reach Central Square, we cut around the back of the busiest street.  A delivery man spills his cart of milk, eggs and sour cream on the sidewalk.  Once again, we stop together and immediately begin to help, grabbing cartons that have not ruptured.  The delivery man takes one look at us and says, “Hey!  You guys are getting your exercise.  Keep going.  Don’t interrupt your run to do this.  I got it!”  His face breaks into a warm smile as we ask if he really doesn’t need help.  “No, no.  You two go on.  Have a good run!”

By the time we are finished, we have logged close to nine miles.  I am still cold, but feeling pleased.  Pleased with our distance, the camaraderie  we share for running and also for stopping to do the things we both know are the right things to do.  Mostly, though, I am pleased that I have Howie for a running partner and a friend.

26.2

December 29, 2013
Here I am, still standing after my first official marathon.

Here I am, still standing after my first official marathon.

It’s a clear, cool, sunny day in October.  I am in Hartford CT, as ready as I am ever going to be for my first official marathon.  I stand in line to pee one more time, although I know damn right well this will not be the last, and pray that there are lots of chances to go again on the route. I also pray that there will not be lines like this one, which is ridiculously long.  I notice there are tons of people not dressed to run but waiting to go and I wish that there were separate bathrooms for the runners.  I am nervous.  Not nervous about the race, but about reaching the start line on time.  I have just a few minutes left before the race begins and my support team, Bill, stands steadfast and strong beside me, knowing just how itchy I am to run.

I carry a water bottle in my right hand.  It’s the kind of bottle that has a strap so that my hand does not have to do any actual work while I run.  I am dressed in my favorite capri running bottoms and a soft, comfy long sleeved tech shirt.  On my feet I wear the oldest sneakers I own—Nike Free 3.  The pair I was planning to wear became saturated on my final long training run and changed shape so much that they are unfit for running.  These sneakers are worn on the bottom to the point where I can almost see my socks through the soles under the balls of my feet, and my toes poke out of the tops like tiny, sharp gophers in a prairie.  They fit, though, and I feel great.  I could do this barefoot.  I think.

I finally pee and we hustle over to the starting line.  I am so late that I am at the very end of the runners waiting for the start gun.  I don’t care at all; in fact I am happy to be at the end.  That means I will be able to pass lots of other runners at the beginning, which always pumps me up, even though it’s not really a competitive feeling.  It’s more of a personal challenge. I don’t care who wins or how I place.  I just want to finish.  And finish running.  26.2 miles is a long distance to run.  I am prepared.  Bill takes a couple of pre-race photos and I smile for him, and for me.  This is it.

The race begins and I find my pace early on.  The route takes us through the city for a few miles, then out into the suburbs.  I run easy, listening to my favorite playlist.  As I cross the bridge that leaves the city and leads to the bulk of the distance, I see Bill.  He is leaning precariously over the rail of the bridge, phone in hand, ready to capture the image of me on this day where one of my dreams is coming true.  I work my way over from the middle of the street so that I am almost close enough to touch his hand as I run past.  I can feel the smile spread over my face as I see his; he takes the photo as I run by him and then I am on my own.  Through the race, I periodically think of him, and how he must have hustled to reach the bridge from the start line to watch me run by.

About seven or eight miles in, a man runs up beside me and asks if he might join me for a while.  He tells me I have been his pacer for the past couple of miles, and that he chose me because I am the only runner in sight who is not breathing heavily or panting.  His name is Brian.  I smile and agree to the company, as he is smiling sweetly and seems to be at my level of fitness.  We talk and talk while we run, and I learn that he is married, has three children, and loves to run as much as I do.  I learn that this is his first marathon, too.  He asks how I know how to pace myself, and I tell him that it is easy to keep going if you run at a pace where it is easy to talk.  And so we do.

We run over the tracker that proves we have completed the 15 mile marker distance, and loop around for the last part of the race.  We drink at some of the stops; we pee at others.  Some little girl hands me a banana and my gratitude is immense—I cannot stomach gels or GU packs, or any of that special race food that is handed out freely during long races.  I hold the banana for a couple of miles, then eat the whole thing, tossing the skin into a wooded area we pass.  My new running friend Brian is getting tired, and I encourage him to keep going.  We both know that running with someone else can be salvation if the running gets tough.  I remind him that if we slow our pace a bit, we will still be able to finish in four hours, which is a pretty good time to finish.

Then, at mile 20, something happens to me.  I feel a sharp muscle spasm in my low back on the left, and my IT band on the right squeezes up tight.  My right knee feels like it is going to collapse.

“Brian.  I have to stop and stretch.  You go ahead.  I’ll catch up with you.”

“Are you kidding?  I’ll stop and stretch, too.  I’ll wait for you.”

“You don’t have to.  I’m okay.  I want you to finish.”

I know he sees the pain on my face, the wincing as I try to run again.

“I am going to finish.  With you.  You got me through all of the parts that were hard for me.  Now I am going to get you through this.”

I feel tears spring to my eyes, knowing this stranger who has become my friend while running a marathon means exactly what he says.  So I allow it.  I stop and stretch every quarter-mile or so.  The pain in my back is excruciating, making me sick to my stomach.  Because there is someone with me, I am able to keep going.  We pass the candy station that is just a couple of miles from the finish line.  I cannot imagine eating candy at this point; Brian, too , passes on the stop and we run on, steady and slow.

I can hear the finish line crowd and music, see the gate we will run through, my heart soars and at last, we cross the finish.  I turn and hug my new friend, feeling a gratitude that makes my heart swell with a love that exists only among those who experience this kind of camaraderie.  And then Bill is beside me, gathering me into his arms, congratulating me, hugging me, and Brian’s family is there, his children grinning proudly at their dad, whisking him off for photos and congratulations.  A volunteer hands me a Mylar blanket which I take and them shed immediately as the pain in my back intensifies.   Someone else hands me a bag with snacks and a medal for finishing.  Bill helps me to the side and off the finish line area and I try to bend over to remove my sneakers.  I cannot, so he kneels down to help me.  We walk—or Bill walks and I hobble—past the food tents and drink tents and trinkets—directly to the massage tent.  I am afraid someone is going to stuff me into an ambulance, but I hobble directly to the front of the line.

“How long is the wait to see someone?  I have a terrible muscle spasm and I don’t think I can wait long.”

The woman behind the make-shift desk looks at me for a few seconds, assessing me.

“Come in right now.  Come in, honey.”

And then I am in a chair with an icepack on my back.  Bill paces around outside the tent. I know he is worried, but he will have to wait.  Soon, someone comes to get me and brings me to a massage table.  The masseuse is a young man, and as he listens to me telling him what is wrong, I can sense apprehension in his approach.  I allow him to work on my back for a little while, and soon realize there will be nothing he can do to help me today.  I wince as I roll off the table and stagger to my feet.

“Thank you.  Thank you so much.  I am sure this will feel better soon.”

I exit the tent and find Bill, who is still pacing around.  The concern on his face makes me glad I am not near a mirror.

We head back to the hotel, me gingerly putting one foot in front of the other, leaning heavily on Bill’s arm.  At some point, he wraps his arm right around me and I rest as much of my weight on him as I can without actually letting him carry me.  We take breaks from walking and I stretch a bit.  I am grateful for the longish walk back to the hotel, knowing that if I stop moving, my muscles will seize up even more and I will be defeated by my own body after making my goal.

A couple of hours later, after a long hot shower, four or five ibuprofen and more stretching, I find myself at a table in a restaurant, eating house special miso soup with mushrooms and rolls of vegan sushi.  Plates of vegetables and noodles crowd the table in the corner and I eat and eat and eat until my belly is full.  We walk together back to the car and I fall into the front seat, spent from the run, the dinner, the excitement and the success.  I did it!

Campus Run

May 4, 2013

The Twin Lights Half Marathon is tomorrow and I will not be running it.  I am at UMass Amherst with my husband for his 40th (or thereabouts) reunion with his mates from way back.  Although I am supposed to be training for a marathon in October, this weekend is out of bounds for training.  That being said…

After a night of eating, drinking, and some other stuff I am not going to mention here, I managed to haul my dehydrated self out of bed by eight o’clock this morning, throw back some kombucha and about a gallon of water, and get dressed in running gear.  The campus at UMass is ginormous, spring-green, and nicely paved all around. My start and end point:  the UMass Campus Hotel.  MH says it looks like a waffle iron.  I beg to differ.

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It took a mile or so to clear my head and remind my legs that I run.  I started easy, then picked up the pace as I passed dorms, science buildings, some very young runners, and a lot of construction sites.  I logged seven miles in a little over an hour, not bad considering last night’s behavioral slips.  I circled the campus a couple of times, took a few short detours through residential areas, and worked on reconciling myself with the anxiety I feel that stems from struggling with meeting and hanging out with a lot of strangers who share a serious history and know each other well.  Everyone has been nice to me, but it’s just a little weird.  It makes me wonder if I have ever done this to MH.  Probably.  He is just way more chilled than I am about this kind of stuff.  He’s a Type B.  Me?  Definitely a Type A.  Which is why I brought running gear and got up and out this morning.

There are two more days of fun planned, including a dinner tonight.  MH has built a video slide show from old slides and photographs from “back in the day” adventures from Wheeler dorm.  He has spent countless hours scanning slides and pictures, adding a soundtrack of music from the early seventies, back when I was still a little girl.  The music I know.  The adventures depicted in the slide show?  Not so much.  There may be more drinking.  Okay.  There will be more drinking.  And tomorrow, there will be more running.  Wish me luck!

The Boston Marathon Bombings

April 16, 2013

It breaks my heart to consider the Boston Marathon bombings.

The Boston Marathon is a day that should be filled with triumph, joy, and fulfillment.  In place of that sweet goodness there is shock, disbelief and dismay.  Hot anger and  deep sadness surge through me for that tiny percentage of mankind that purposefully causes terror.  Hurt.  Death.

Boylston Street filled with heroes after the bombs went off; even runners at the end of their race stopped to help in the chaos of smoke and screaming.  My eyes were riveted to the television screen all afternoon, watching video clips of what happened.  Bloodied faces, tears, ambulances, emergency medics, wheelchairs, gurneys.  People running for their lives.   I wanted to take back the day, return to the start line and change one thing to alter the outcome.

The running community, the families and friends of the running community, and anyone else connected to this world famous race have spent the last 24 hours riveted to the news and connecting with each other, hoping for the best news for those injured, silently urging the police to find whoever is responsible for this tragedy.  Children.  Who kills children?

It breaks my heart.

Baked Tofu Ricotta-Stuffed Manicotti

May 11, 2012

Tomorrow is the big day!  I can barely wait to run the Twin Lights Half Marathon.  I am trying my best to rest and relax, which is work for me.  This morning looks perfect for a long run—the sun is out, the temperature hovers around 50 °,  and I am going crazy from resting.  I stick with my plan, though, and make a date for a lunchtime bike ride with my husband. What to do with myself for the morning?  Cook!

Carb-loading has never been a big concern for me, but this time, since I am working from a plan for this race, I figure I should follow some advice from Runner’s World and other runners.  I am also still succumbing to food daydreams.  My visions of roasted tomato sauce lavishly enveloping thick pasta stuffed with creamy ricotta and garlicky vegetables have reached a pinnacle and I must prepare this pre-race feast for dinner tonight.

Baked Tofu Ricotta-Stuffed Manicotti

Ingredients:

1 pkg manicotti pasta

For the tofu ricotta:

1 pkg firm or extra-firm organic tofu*

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/4 c nutritional yeast

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp sea salt

For the vegetables:

3 T olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, diced fine

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 c grated carrot

1 small red bell pepper, diced fine

1 16 oz. pkg frozen spinach (I prefer the loose frozen spinach—that big frozen block just irritates me.  Too hard to defrost!)

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 tsp sea salt

sprinkle/pinch crushed red pepper flakes

10-12 large fresh basil leaves, minced

For the sauce:

8 cups tomato sauce of your choice (I used the final container of last summer’s roasted tomato sauce from my garden. You can use any sauce you like.)

Method:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 7 minutes.   Drain, rinse, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the vegetables and tofu ricotta:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and red bell pepper.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the spinach, black pepper, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes.  Continue to cook until spinach is no longer frozen.  Turn off heat, stir in the minced basil leaves and set aside.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the tofu ricotta:

In the bowl of a large food processor, combine the tofu, lemon juice, marjoram, nutritional yeast, nutmeg, crushed red pepper flakes and salt.  Pulse to combine, scraping the sides if needed.  Process for 30-60 seconds, or until tofu mixture is mostly smooth.  Taste and correct seasonings.

Combine the tofu ricotta with the vegetable mixture, either in the skillet or in a bowl.

To assemble:

Spoon half of the tomato sauce into a large baking or lasagna pan and spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Fill each of the manicotti pasta tubes with the tofu ricotta and vegetable mixture.  Place each tube in the baking pan on top of the tomato sauce.  Continue filling the tubes until you either run out of pasta or filling.  (I ran out of pasta, so cooked some jumbo shells to use up the rest of the filling.)    Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the manicotti.  Cover the pan loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Serve as an entree with a leafy salad.  These freeze well, too and heat up nicely in either the oven or the microwave.

*If there is one food to buy organic only, it’s tofu.  Most of our country’s soy is GMO and grown in toxic fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals that do not wash off.  It’s worth paying the extra quarter or so for the organic version.