Tofu and Transcendence

Post by blogger | June 20, 2012      

We all need to eat. While this blog is called “Wildsnow,” not “Wildtrailrunning,” food is a great leveler. We can all draw lessons from conversations about what foods work for backcountry athletes, no matter our medium for pain and enjoyment.

Local Boulder ultrarunning legend, Scott Jurek, recently released a book sharing the secrets and struggles he learned from running hundreds of miles on a whole-food, plant-based diet. The book, “Eat and Run”: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, was released on June 5 and recently hit #7 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list for nonfiction. Jurek has won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven times, winning the Badwater Ultramarathon—a 135-mile race in Death Valley—shortly after his seventh Western States victory. Even if those credentials don’t make you pause and listen, whatever it is he’s doing seems to be working.

The man himself—Scott Jurek gathered with the Boulder-area running community on June 14 for a quick run, some good food, and a session of questions and jokes.

Yours truly and the man himself—Scott Jurek gathered with the Boulder-area running community on June 14 for a quick run, some good food, and a session of questions and jokes.

Jurek’s book talks a lot about pain and transcendence—mind over body. He seems to have found, and become addicted to, a part of his will that he finds after a certain number of miles and amount of struggle. We can all relate, no matter our sport or whether we happen to be ultramarathoners. The point when your will takes over—even from fatigued muscles and a pesky doubting mind—is a threshold you can find on a bike, a trail, or a pair of skis. It’s the moment when you recognize your fear (or your exhaustion, or your blisters, etc. etc.) and you keep moving anyway.

Brooks busted out the sample shoes at Boulder Running Company and let us take the Cascadia—a go-to trail shoe Jurek helped develop—for a spin.

Brooks busted out the sample shoes at Boulder Running Company and let us take the Cascadia—a go-to trail shoe Jurek helped develop—for a spin.

Jurek’s book is about more than pain, it is also about food. His message, after all, is simple: eat to fuel your body. While he advocates a no-meat, no-dairy approach, the message is one of being conscientious of what your body needs and your responsibility for whatever you choose to put into it. Now on the road for his book tour, I met up with Jurek and a crew of Colorado’s fittest at Boulder Running Company for a quick jaunt, some yummy vegan food (thanks to Native Foods Café), and bit of conversation. Some, but certainly not all, of the take-aways from Jurek’s book and my evening with rockstar Colorado ultrarunners include:

· Essential fatty acids are important. Among the many glowing qualities of the omega fatty acids, omega 3 and 6 aid in recovery and reduce inflammation—important qualities for any athlete. The tricky part is that the body can’t produce them on its own.
· Steer clear of processed carbohydrates and refined sugars. Jurek explains that he still consumes these (gels, blocks, etc.) on long training days but he also packs potatoes, rice balls, and homemade hummus wraps.
· Make it work for you. Jurek reportedly often spends hours preparing his veggie meals, but Buzz Burrell, another Boulder trail running legend, assured us that he spends 15 minutes or less preparing food.

I’ve been doing the whole-food, plant-based, active lifestyle for about a month now. While I feel great, one of my issues is being hungry for a large portion of the day. In pursuit of something delicious and filling, I opted for a variation on two recipes in Jurek’s book in a form I’ve been wanting to try for a while: a nori roll. Jurek notes that he often takes burritos and rice balls on long runs and I ate a crunchy-store-bought nori roll at the high point of my last long trail run, so what could be better than recreating the nori burrito? Great fuel for any adventure.



Nori Roll with Red Curry Almond Sauce
(red curry almond sauce recipe courtesy of Eat and Run)

Red Curry Almond Sauce
¼ cup almond butter
½ cup water
¼ cup fresh lime juice or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons miso
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, or to taste
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger

Nori Roll
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
¼ package sliced tempeh
1 package nori
Optional: avocado, cucumber, red peppers, carrots (or anything else you feel like wrapping with nori and delicious rice)

Mix all ingredients for the red curry almond sauce in a bowl and set aside. Place rice and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil (I rinse my rice before cooking to remove excess starch). Reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes or until rice is cooked. While the rice is cooking, sauté tempeh with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste until lightly browned. When the rice is done, mix it with half of your red curry almond sauce and let cool enough to handle (save the rest of the sauce for the delicious rice noodles you’ll make later in the week or for your next batch of nori).

To make the rolls, place the nori rough-side down on a piece of tin foil (or a bamboo sushi roller if you have one). Keep a bowl of water nearby and make sure that you wet your hands to work with the rice but dry them off when you handle the nori. Grab a handful of rice and roll it into a ball before molding it into a long mound on the nori. Add a few strips of tempeh and any optional ingredients. Fold the nori over the mound and slowly work the nori into a roll using the tin foil (don’t worry, the nori is pretty forgiving for your first few attempts—you’re just trying to get the nori to stick to itself in some sort of roll). Now you’ve got yourself some travel-ready snacks that pack a good amount of protein, carbs, and veggies.

While studies on miso have mixed results, it’s considered a valuable tool in the plant-based diet arsenal.  Derived from fermented soy, it packs a good protein punch and is a source of B-12 --my miso container even told me that it lowers the risk of breast cancer according to a recent University of Alabama study.

While studies on miso have mixed results, it’s considered a valuable tool in the plant-based diet arsenal. Derived from fermented soy, it packs a good protein punch and is a source of B-12 --my miso container even told me that it lowers the risk of breast cancer according to a recent University of Alabama study.

Once you gather all the ingredients, the sauce is beyond simple to make—simply combine the ingredients and stir.  I omitted the cilantro and went easy on the Thai curry paste.  To kick up the heat, add more curry paste and a bit of chili powder.  The almond butter is delicious and almonds are a good source of protein and vitamin E.

Once you gather all the ingredients, the sauce is beyond simple to make—combine the ingredients and stir. I omitted the cilantro and went easy on the Thai curry paste. To kick up the heat, add more curry paste and a bit of chili powder. The almond butter is delicious and almonds are a good source of protein and vitamin E.

My favorite ingredient—straight from VT.

My favorite ingredient—straight from VT.

You can by-eye the amount of rice to use in each roll, although I’d guess it’s about ¾ of a cup.

Estimate the amount of rice to use in each roll. I’d guess it’s about 3/4 of a cup.

No sushi-rolling experience needed to make nori rolls.  Tin foil and just a touch of patience is all you need.

No sushi-rolling experience needed to make nori rolls. Tin foil and just a touch of patience is all you need.

Ready to go trail running, mountain biking, spring skiing—the possibilities are endless.

Ready to go trail running, mountain biking, spring skiing—the possibilities are endless.

( guest blogger Jess Portmess currently lives in Boulder, Colorado. Having grown up in New York and Vermont, she’s now chasing snow covered peaks, endless trails, and a legal career in the West.)


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28 Responses to “Tofu and Transcendence”

  1. Dz June 20th, 2012 11:14 am

    I can’t wait to try this! How wonderful!

  2. KPo June 20th, 2012 11:33 am

    There’s something about “whole food/plant based” that doesn’t turn me off like the word “vegan” does. Perhaps it doesn’t have that militant reputation yet. Great post and I can’t wait to try the recipe!!

  3. Jason June 20th, 2012 12:27 pm

    Good stuff! My family has been eating “whole food” for years. It’s the best. As for the Vegan thing, I can’t pull it off. I feel like I need to eat every hour. I had a buddy who was healthy “whole food” vegan for YEARS, recently started eating fish cause he wasn’t able to keep up physically. He looks great now. I guess all our physiques are unique. Eat Organic, Eat Veggies, GO!

  4. Shane June 20th, 2012 12:45 pm

    How exactly is the term “whole foods” defined?

  5. Scott Nelson June 20th, 2012 12:46 pm

    Nice to see some running mentioned on Wildsnow. Have been curious about Scott’s new book so thanks for the motivation to check it out. I’ve been curious about a more vegetarian diet, but have wondered about the cost (increased?) and amount of time it takes to go there. So, Lou, I’m expecting to see some sushi rolls in your pack next winter….

  6. Xavier June 20th, 2012 12:56 pm

    Boulder= The city behind the tofu curtain, an enigma wrapped in a gluten free vegi roll surrounded by a riddle of broccoli.

    Looks tasty though…. Mike Tyson will enjoy it now he’s a vegan.
    I do feel good when I eat my veggies though so I might try it but with some meat as well.

  7. Lisa June 20th, 2012 1:22 pm

    Wonder if Lou will like this better than pastry?

  8. Jess June 20th, 2012 2:18 pm

    I interpret “whole foods” more as a concept than a discrete list of acceptable foods — think minimal processing. When I think of “whole foods” I generally think of foods lower on the Glycemic Index, with a focus on whole grains (quinoa, barley, wheat berries), legumes, etc. But, “whole foods” can also include certain dairy products, hence the “plant-based” modifier. In the end, it’s a long way to say “vegan” but Scott points out in his book, and I tend to agree, that “vegan” no longer carries the greatest of connotations (something like a dirty word nowadays).

    Jason, I definitely sympathize with your comment. As I mentioned in my post, I’m struggling with an almost constant hunger. I’ll also be ramping up my training in the next few months in anticipation of a fall marathon. I think it will take some experimentation, but I’m determined to find ways to stem the hunger. I’ll also be exploring how to do the whole-foods, plants-based lifestyle in some way that’s close to budget and doesn’t consume all of my time. I’m a student (in law school, which likely makes this particular point even more important) and I have limited funds and even more limited time. I’ll certainly keep you posted!

  9. aemono June 20th, 2012 2:21 pm

    Nice write-up, wildsnow’s ever more diverse! Just one quibble: miso is great in many ways but can we solidly affirm that it is a source of B12? Don’t think so.. look here for example:

    And as regards the cost of going veggie, in simple terms it should normally mean cheaper, as plant-based protein is generally less expensive than meat-based protein. It is nevertheless true that there are a lot of not-so-cheap meat substitute veggie products around. Also if you equate going vegetarian with going organic (and you’re not gonna grow it in your own backyard) then, yeah, costs will probably increase..

  10. Jess June 20th, 2012 2:38 pm

    Some studies do contradict assertions that miso is a good source of B-12. I gleaned my miso info from Andrew Weil, a Harvard M.D., who’s become pretty well-respected in the alternative medicine community ( — under “Food as Medicine”). According to Dr. Weil, the bacteria in miso synthesize B-12. So, the official disclaimer is that miso may help the plant-based eaters get their B-12 (although it may not itself, technically, be a source). I haven’t read the studies, but it’s always good to take claims of great benefits with a grain of salt.

  11. Buzz June 20th, 2012 2:40 pm

    Good job – Scott is inspirational to many athletes.

    Michael Pollan had the best advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

    For more on Scott, diet, and his book tour:

  12. Lou June 20th, 2012 6:24 pm

    Thanks for chiming in Buzz, you make it back over here to the Western Slope very often?

  13. Melinda Portmess June 20th, 2012 6:33 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading “Eat and Run” . Also looking for ways to fill the belly when hunger strikes on a plant based diet. Will be sure to try the detailed ( with illustrations) recipe. I’m a big fan of Tahini and might try it in that recipe, a good source of Omega’s 3&6, calcium and protein. Thanks Jess!

  14. Lou June 20th, 2012 6:52 pm

    Indeed, getting some trail running into here is perfect diversity. Went through a phase many years ago when I did a ton myself. My body type was good for it, but my foot and leg alignment make running super inefficient for me, so I never excelled. Did do some speed ascents of some peaks that were pretty fast, for the times anyway. Really enjoyed that. One of those was a 2:45 or thereabouts climb of Pyramid Peak, which at the time was the fastest for our route. I was running in hightop basketball shoes, no one made real trail running shoes at the time (grin). What a blast. More, thinking back, at the time I might have even been a vegetarian! Imagine that!

  15. Joe June 20th, 2012 9:30 pm

    Lou, so the elk mount hanging in your house is full of tofu right? 😉

  16. Lou June 20th, 2012 10:29 pm

    Tofu does make good elk stuffing!

  17. Matt Kinney June 21st, 2012 9:08 am

    As a “pescatarian” the money one saves eating super healthy foods more than pays for itself over the long term. I like “super” heathy food. Sure organic apples cost more. Yes it takes some time to plan and eat vegan and be athletic. It was hard when I committed, but not now. Been a vegan a for 30 years in remote Alaska has had its challenges both economically and socially. I crave fresh fruit and veggies. I am so jealous when I visit a store in “south america” and see the produce area. WOW. If you want to save thousands of dollars in health cost, there are choices. I may not have much cash (guide thing), but having my health is worth at least a million dollars.

    Unfortunately veganism does not cure baldness.

  18. Jess June 21st, 2012 12:53 pm

    Thanks so much to everyone for weighing in! Tahini would be an excellent idea (in this recipe and in general). I actually stood staring at the tahini in the store for a good while before my (and my wallet’s) ingredient fatigue pulled me away.

    Matt, I’m curious to know what your go-to vegan meal is in remote AK. It’s almost too easy to find alternatives for almost anything in Boulder–the enigma wrapped in a gluten free veggie roll–as Xavier so poignantly put it. I often wonder what I would/will do in a place where all the options aren’t so readily at my fingertips.

  19. Lou June 21st, 2012 1:07 pm

    Matt, an honest vegan! Yep, there is only one thing that cures everything but one thing (grin).

  20. Matt Kinney June 21st, 2012 2:44 pm

    Thanks for asking

    Tabitha has her own blog and writes much better than I do about the food we eat: Her most recent entry is on this topic….

    Our favorite meals are veggie soups and we make them from scratch once a weekend for at least two dinners. Spiced carrot soup with potato chunks mixed in is great. Lentil, black bean etc….all make great healthy brews for our active lives. A fiish dinner twice a week is equally as tasty.

  21. Mark W June 21st, 2012 9:18 pm

    Way to go, Matt. Dunno if I could pull it off, the full vegan thing, but I do eat a bit like a vegetarian because my wife has many food allergies.

  22. aemono June 22nd, 2012 5:10 pm

    Hey, you Dollars are really confusing me.. reading back over the comments to this post there’s something I’m not getting, I was waiting for somebody else to question, but no.. (is there maybe some difference in N.Am usage?)

    Matt, I think you affirm that you have been vegan for 30 years..but simultaneously “pescetarian”? I checked Tabitha’s blog where the recipes not only include seafood but also butter and eggs.. now on the Old World side of the pond none of these ingredients would be compatible with “vegan” opposed to the recipes in this post and Scott Jurek’s no-meat, no-dairy approach, which do correspond.. ?

    Enlightenment, O Great Greenback? (..for a poor, declining Euro!)

  23. Matt Kinney June 23rd, 2012 9:57 am

    Hey thanks for visiting her blog. Tabitha does an egg once in a blue moon and likes butter. I don’t. We deal with it in many loving ways.

    I said we were pescatarians, but no one ever knows what that means so we keep it simple and just say we are vegetarians, avoiding a long drawn out chat or blog replies about why we eat what we do.

    We have a modern grocery store. Valdez is not “remote” or “bush” Alaska. Its more like the “shrub” Alaska.

  24. Brian June 25th, 2012 11:07 pm

    A “vegan Alaskan”? That’s pretty funny. What a shame. Oh well… more salmon, halibut, moose, elk and caribou for the rest of us!

    Let’s hear it for the wild omnivores out there!

  25. Brian June 25th, 2012 11:09 pm

    Oooops. Sorry Matt. I guess we have to share the fish.

  26. Matt Kinney July 5th, 2012 10:25 am

    Speaking of veganism and athletes, AK backcountry guru and arctic explorer Dick Griffith(AK) set the age class record in the Mt. Marathon Race in Seward yesterday taking 10th overall. The amazing thing about his ongoing efforts in that race and the mountain running series up here is he’s. The only one’s who beat him are young elites.

    From the news…

    “And he said he owes it to going vegan beginning four months ago after doing some research prompted by winter training that left him tired and listless.

    Griffith said his new diet furnished renewed energy and seems to make it easier for him to recover after hard workouts, hence Wednesday’s performance.

    “It means a lot to me because I’m not getting any younger,” Griffith said.”

    (I bet he eats fish!)

    3000 feet up and then down in 48 minutes…WOW.

    Going vegan is a long term health decision, not some “greenies in the sky thing” .

  27. Jess July 5th, 2012 3:30 pm

    Matt, I couldn’t agree more. The evidence is mounting that focusing on plants and non-processed foods leads to better performance and decreased recovery time — even if that evidence is mostly anecdotal at this point. Dick Griffith, Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier, Rich Roll, and countless others.

    I also get the pescatarian point — I grew up with my Mama telling me that fish was food for my brain. I’ll admit that I even ate a scallop last night (I know, I know, it’s a mollusk not a fish) and it was delicious!

  28. Jim July 8th, 2012 4:50 pm

    Primitive foods such as beans, rice, nuts dried fruit make great portable packing food for backcountry travel and when eaten together provide all the necessary proteins. They are cheaper to buy with less chemicals. The old trappers carried a bag of flour salt baking powder for their staple. Bannock a pan bread is a nice hot fresh bread at camp.

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