Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Children of the 80's, prepare to feel old

I had recorded "Sixteen Candles" on my DVR and watched it recently. People who went to high school in the 80's will certainly remember this classic high school comedy-drama that introduced us to everyone's favorite girl next door, Molly Ringwold.

I ended up Googling the name of one of the actresses, Haviland Morris (the gorgeous blonde girlfriend of the Jake Ryan character), to see if she had done anything else.

Did you know that Haviland Morris is 49 years old? 49! I realize some time has passed since this movie was made. But still, it blows my mind that Caroline from "Sixteen Candles" is a year away from being able to get an AARP card!

Wow, I feel old.

(Also, did you know she is really a redhead? She wore a blonde wig for "Sixteen Candles." See, you can learn stuff here on my blog!)

Unrelated to anything, here is a Thai basil shrimp stir-fry I made on Monday. The rice that accompanies it is a Thai black sweet rice, which is not only tasty and mighty attractive, but it also leaves a permanent purple stain in the aluminum bowl of your rice cooker! :)

Thai basil shrimp with black rice



Until next time,

Jean

Christmas "without gifts"

This year we decided we weren't going to do gifts. Rather, we had just planned on having some nice meals and spending time together as a family.

Of course, Mom, Dad, and even the cat, decided they would violate this rule and managed to shower us with gifts. The justification was that "we were still their kids," so I suppose we could let this slide! :)

I ended up with some nice books (including one about the Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a Charlie Brown snow globe), clothes, running socks (those were from Bobbi the cat!), and some sweet homemade NASCAR coasters that my Mom quilted. She does excellent work!

Even Bobbi had a blatant disregard for the "no gifts" rule! :)



The highlight of the gift giving was a quilt that my Mom made for Brett and Blythe, as they are expecting their first born this spring. It was made with some panels based on the children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Their child will no doubt appreciate this, and I would have to say the kid is doing very well; he or she is not even born yet, and they are already getting impressive homemade quilts from Mom!

Mom's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" quilt



While there was a slight breach of etiquette with the gift giving, we all followed through on the part where we would eat some good meals and spend time together.

Mom and Dad fed us extremely well over Christmas. Christmas Eve consisted of the traditional roast pork and Norwegian polse sausage from the meat locker in Wanamingo, MN (pictured below), Christmas Day included a wild turkey, and there was even a prime rib roast over the weekend as well. Mom and I also made a double batch of lefse (since we went through it so quickly at Thankgiving!).

The traditional Christmas Eve dinner



We also got to spend a lot of time together, which is always great. There were those previously mentioned hikes in the woods with the birds and animals, a few good college football games on TV, and of course the beautiful Christmas Eve church service (Linus said it best; "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.").

A fantastic holiday weekend all around; even if a few gift giving rules were broken. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas is for the birds

Hi all! I am back from a fantastic (although somewhat abbreviated) Christmas weekend up north.

As you know from my previous post, I waited until Wednesday to drive up to Mom and Dad's. While the weather was indeed better, the roads were not exactly fantastic. It was bitter cold when I left the Twin Cities, and the roads all the way to Duluth had a icy glaze on them. I drove between 45 and 60 MPH most of the way. Not good. But I made it in one piece.

And, I ended up leaving on Sunday due to the promise of snow overnight into Monday morning. All signs indicate that was a wise decision, as the Arrowhead of Minnesota was under a winter weather advisory today and the roads were snow-packed and horrible according to Dad. So I had a somewhat shorter trip than originally planned. But we still made the most of it.

I went running three times. Nothing too crazy, just a few 5 milers to work off some of the excellent meals! Temperatures ranged from -3 to 18 on those runs, so I was not terribly uncomfortable. Bird and wildlife activity is somewhat slow this time or year, so I didn't see too much on my runs. However, I was treated to a few spectacular sunrises over Lake Superior, so that more than made up for the lack of wild creatures.

But that is not to say that there are no wild creatures to be seen! Just hanging around in Mom and Dad's yard, and I could see their feeding stations are teeming with activity. All of the winter resident birds were there. The chickadees, nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers, and the blue jays are permanent fixtures in the yard, as are a host of ornery red squirrels who chase each other through the snow in obviously territorial disputes.

We managed several hikes into the woods. The snow is quite deep compared to the dusting I experienced at Thanksgiving. My folks have received 34 inches so far this season, so the woods is draped with a rather thick but fluffy blanket of white. Very pristine and beautiful.

A snowy hike in the woods



Norris the red-breasted nuthatch and his roving band of chickadees are doing well, and they were most excited to greet us in the woods to enjoy their ration of sunflower seeds.

Bonding with Norris and the chickadees



There has been a new addition to Norris and his cast of characters, a solitary female white-breasted nuthatch. She is more wary than the rest, but she does follow us around. Dad finally figured out what she was up to. Norris and the other red-breasted nuthatches like to embed bits of seeds into the crevasses of the bark on the trees. The white-breasted nuthatch likes to creep up and down these trees and take the seeds that the other nuthatches were storing! We tried to tell Norris that he was getting fleeced by his nuthatch cousin, but I don't think he understood! :)

One of the friendly nuthatches, enjoying some seeds



Our trips into the woods were fun, even though this is a quieter time of year for wildlife. Occasionally a flock of redpolls would fly by. Ravens were very active, making all kinds of chortling noises. We even saw a single robin, which is an incredibly unusual sighting up there in the winter. And we got to inspect all kinds of interesting little tracks left in the snow. What winter lacks in terms of diversity of wildlife, it more than makes up for it in terms of beauty.

A snow-covered spruce



More pictures and details later, including a recap of some of our excellent meals, as well as our Christmas where we decided not to give each other gifts (wink, wink).

Until next time!

Jean

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When wire hair terriers attack

Our snow down here has ended; however, the system that left us with about 2 inches or so is heading northeast, straight up to Mom and Dad's place! If I left today, I would be driving in snow all the way up there, and they are expecting 3 to 5 inches. Ugh...

Funny story; my Dad is a snow spotter, so he is regularly speaks with the meteorologists out of the Duluth office to report snow totals (which, as of late, has been on almost a daily basis). Dad spoke to one of them this morning, saying that I was trying to drive up to the North Shore today. The meteorologist strongly recommended that I wait until tomorrow if I could. That pretty much sealed the deal. When I get a personalized, first hand weather report from the National Weather Circus advising me not to travel, it might be wise to stay put! :)

More often than not, whenever I try to head home for the holidays, I am faced with the shittiest weather for driving (Is "shittiest" even a word? Or would "most shitty" be more grammatically appropriate?). Long time readers will recall my trip at Thanksgiving of 2007 where I was caught in a snow/ice storm on the way to Mom and Dad's. And, there was also last year at Christmas where I experienced even more difficult driving on my way home. It is always an adventure up here. About the only thing I don't like about winter is having to drive in it.

So I decided to hold off on heading north until tomorrow. And I am happy about this decision for more than one reason; had I left today, I wouldn't have been able to share this gem of a story:

Since I was done with work before lunchtime, I headed home and decided to go for a run. The trails in the neighborhood had not been plowed, so there was 2 inches of fluff. The temperature was also 18 degrees, so it felt like a heatwave compared to yesterday. Slower going, but it was fun breaking through the fresh layer of snow

You might recall me telling a story about a wire hair terrier that gives me the business on a fairly regular basis. I haven't seen him as much lately because of the cold weather, but in the spring, summer, and fall, he is outside all the time. The dog is always tied up, so he has never come after me. But that is not to say he doesn't try! When he sees me coming, he starts barking and straining on his leash, seemingly wanting a piece of me. This has always made me chuckle.

Today I ran by the house of the terrier. The garage door was open, and a lady was working inside. Suddenly I hear barking and see this little dog tearing down the driveway.

He was loose!

The lady started yelling at the dog to stop, but he would have none of that. The vicious terrier saw his opportunity for the kill shot, and he was making a beeline for me at full speed. Finally, after all this time, he was getting his chance to attack that horrible runner who has been tormenting him for the last year or so!

Because it had snowed, the traction was not good. As the dog approached me, I stopped running. He locked up his brakes and, unable to stop, ricocheted off my leg and completely wiped himself out! It looked kind of like a "Scooby Doo" cartoon when Scooby crashes into something. Eventually he skidded to a stop. I started laughing.

To make matters worse, the little dog was dressed up. He was wearing this doggie parka that looked like a miniature winter coat (complete with a fuzzy hood), and there was also a Christmas-themed kerchief tied around his neck. He looked ridiculous.

Composing himself after the crash, he then jumped up on my leg. All the while, the lady was apologizing profusely, trying to contain the pooch.

"He usually doesn't do that when he has his collar on!" the lady said to me. If he was willing to throw caution to the wind and risk getting zapped by his collar, now I know he wanted to get me! :)

The dog was still at my feet, so I leaned down and started scratching him behind his ears...and he LOVED it! The terrier closed his eyes and started leaning into my hand as I itched his little head. Suddenly, I was his best friend.

"See, I am not such a bad guy!" I said to the dog.

The lady was very nice and kept apologizing to me. I told her it wasn't a problem. We wished each other a Merry Christmas, and she brought the dog back inside. This was a nice comedic moment that was worth sticking around for. I guess this means the lesson here is don't judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a dog by his bark! :)

Merry Christmas and safe holiday travels to all! I will speak to you next week when I return!

Jean

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you out there in blogland! I thought I would share this year's running-themed Christmas card! :)

My 2008 Christmas card; the photos are of running in -30's wind chill last January, and me at the finish of the Fox Cities Marathon in September



I have a half day of work today and then I am going to try and head up to my folks' place this afternoon, providing the road crews can get a handle on the couple inches of snow overnight (the snow seems never ending!). I will be back next Monday with a full report from the North Country.

Safe travels to those of you going places, and I wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons!

All the best,

Jean

Monday, December 22, 2008

20 + Winter Storm Warning = 11

So I was supposed to go out of town on Saturday. The weather changed that and I canceled my plans. We got socked with a good old fashioned snowstorm.

The storm arrived a little sooner than predicted, so by the time I woke up on Saturday, it had begun. There was no way I was going to go out driving anywhere. So with nowhere to go and nothing to do, I went for my weekend long run!

Saturday morning was actually my warmest run over at least the last week; 20 degrees, even though an official Winter Storm Warning was in effect. Fine snow had already left about 1/2 inch dusting on the trails, so footing was decent.

The snow was really coming down. And as soon as I passed under the freeway, I was really glad I canceled my travel plans. Traffic was crawling along at 40 MPH or less early on Saturday morning, so I was happy I was not out there in my car.

A photo from my deck during the storm



With the exception of running on the west side of the lake where I was getting pummeled with snow in my face from the easterly winds, the run was actually most pleasant. The snow is exceptionally beautiful when you are not having to drive through it. I saw bunnies, squirrels, chickadees, cardinals, and even a large red-tailed hawk. There were more wild critters than humans. I actually did meet three other die-hard runners, however. I made a couple of laps around my lake.

By the time I got to the second lap, I could barely see my tracks. I figure it snowed at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches during the course of my run. A Winter Storm Warning didn't stop me from putting in 11 miles.

A side note; when I return home from a run, I always have a practice of checking the local National Weather Circus website to record the weather statistics in my running log. It listed the conditions as "snow/freezing fog." Freezing fog? What the heck is that? Sounds ominous, and I am not sure I want to know what that is. Never a dull moment during a Minnesota snowstorm! :)

Although I did pick up some groceries on Friday in preparation for the storm, I had forgotten something critical for my Saturday night stir-fry (fresh ginger). Luckily, I am within walking distance of a grocery store. So after my run, I hoofed it over to pick up a couple of items. I was astonished at the number of people driving around. The roads were an absolute mess. Again, it made me happy that I had nowhere to be.

In fact, following my hike to the grocery store, I didn't leave my apartment until Monday morning. The bottom absolutely dropped out on Sunday and I woke up to -12 degrees with wind chills in the -30's. This morning I saw -13 degress on my drive into work (although the wind chill is not quite as bad). Brrrr! Anyhow, it was a good excuse to stay inside and cook this weekend:

Saturday night's kung pao chicken



Sunday night's "yard sausage" from Dehmer's Meats in St. Michael, along with a "bubble & squeak" style mashed potato and root vegetable cake



My Christmas vacation starts tomorrow, and I am supposed to head up to Mom and Dad's. Predictably, we have another snow storm hitting us tonight and into tomorrow, which should dump another 3 to 7 inches of snow on us, depending upon who you are listening to. So who knows when I will be able to drive up there? We seem to have a winter storm every other day!

At least those who wanted a white Christmas will get their wish.

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, December 19, 2008

The forecast

The long range forecast graphic from WCCO. It is shaping up to be a warm week... :)



Here is what the weekend holds in store for us in Minnesota. The latest from the National Weather Circus out of the Twin Cities as of 6:15 AM on Friday:

Tonight: A 50 percent chance of snow after midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 11. Wind chill values between -1 and 8. East southeast wind between 6 and 9 mph. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Saturday: Snow. High near 18. Wind chill values between -2 and 8. East southeast wind 8 to 13 mph becoming west. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

Saturday Night: Snow. Low around 2. Wind chill values between -8 and -18. West northwest wind between 15 and 18 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%.

Sunday: Snow likely and areas of blowing snow, mainly before noon. Cloudy and cold, with a high near 5. Blustery, with a northwest wind between 16 and 21 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%.


Southern Minnesota is getting clobbered right now (5-8 inches of snow, but just a dusting here in the Cities). Then we have a winter storm slated for Saturday with possible blizzard conditions Sunday, followed by yet another potential storm on Tuesday.

That makes 3 winter storms in 5 days. I just read that of the 19 days this month, here in Minnesota it has snowed 16 of them.

Hey, at least winter officially starts this Sunday, and it will definitely be a white Christmas! :)

Those of you in the northern climates, stay warm!

Battening down the hatches,

Jean

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December running, Minnesota style!

2 degrees, wind chill of -9 degrees, and falling snow...

LET'S....GO....RUNNING!

Minnesota has been getting clobbered with a cold snap. Tuesday morning on my drive into work, I saw a reading of -10 degrees below zero on my dashboard thermometer. Many areas of the state were even colder than that.

To add to this, the Twin Cities received some snow in the afternoon. It wasn't significant accumulation, but it was that really fine stuff that sticks to the roads. And, combined with the road salt, this makes for some slow going and slick driving on the highways. I don't think I made it above 40 MPH on the way home. Ugh...

I went running when I got home, and I was so glad I did. This was one of the most fun runs I have had in a long time.

A snowy Tuesday run on the trails. I was actually fortunate to get the pictures I did because the cold air drained my battery!



As stressful as the drive home was, the snowfall became amazingly beautiful as soon as I set foot outside to run.

The trails were covered with perhaps an inch of fine, pure white snow. Whereas the salted highways were slushy and slippery, the trails were not. The layer of fresh snow offered excellent traction. In many places, my footprints were the only signs that anyone had been there recently.

I was bundled up nicely with multiple layers, the full facemask, Gore-Tex trail shoes, and my awesome new running mittens (they could be the warmest articles of clothing I own). Never was I cold, even as my eyelashes had a frost buildup and my facemask was freezing over.

Yours truly, slightly frosty on my Tuesday run in the snow!



I actually met another runner. This was the only person I saw outside, and he was bundled up as much as I was. We exchanged muffled a "Hello" (a common runner's greeting during the winter in Minnesota) and both of us chuckled. I am sure he didn't expect to see anyone out here, either. But clearly, he understood the joys of winter running (even though technically it is still fall!).

Most people would tell me they think I am nuts when I insist this is great running weather. But I love it. Give me 2 degrees and snow over 80 degrees and sunshine any day of the week.

Some say running in the cold and snow might show you are nuts. Kentucky Fried Movie showed us another way... :) (By the way, can I just say this embedded video feature is fun?)



What I am trying to say is that winter running is awesome. The snow and the landscape can be very pretty, you will have the trails virtually to yourself, and you will never overheat so you feel like you can run forever. This is Minnesota running at its finest.

And face it; it would really suck if we had to stay inside until June when it finally gets warm again... :)

Embracing the cold,

Jean

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ice, Ice, Baby

It officially looks like winter. Saturday morning clouds over Rice Lake.



An interesting weekend, weather-wise.

Saturday morning was blissfully mild, around 30 degrees with some cloud cover. It was extremely comfortable for running, and I did 11 miles.

Really, Saturday was a gorgeous day in December. I was treated to a small sliver of a sunrise, saw a pair of eagles, and also a red-tailed hawk. All of the chickadees and cardinals were very active at various spots along the trail, no doubt appreciating the mild weather.

The sun trying very hard to peek through on Saturday morning



Sunday was really interesting, however; low 30's and...freezing rain! Ick. For the most part, the trails were just wet. However, the areas that were slushy (or, on roads that the city didn't bother to plow since our last snow for whatever reason) became somewhat icy and I needed to watch my footing. I did 7 miles in that stuff, and it was cold.

It is very strange, but running on a crisp 0 degree day is greatly preferable to running in low 30's and rain. Being cold is fine. Being cold and wet absolutely sucks. Brrr, that is chilly!

And speaking of chilly, the temperature dropped rapidly on Sunday. Northern Minnesota had blizzard conditions, and we only got perhaps an inch of snow in my neighborhood. The temperature on Monday morning was -7 degrees on my drive to work. That is actual air temperature, by the way. Couple that with a strong NW wind and the wind chill is in the -30 below zero range. Again, I keep telling myself it is not even officially winter yet! :)

My cooking highlight from the weekend was a roasted venison loin with rosemary and mustard, along with a side dish of gratin Dauphinoise.

My brother had given me a beautiful venison loin (perhaps a pound or so). I coated it with fresh rosemary, whole grain mustard, and a little bit of garlic, seared it, and finished it in the oven. I made a pan sauce with red wine, butter, and some extra mustard. I like rare meat, and I kept the it quite rare because I did not want to overcook and destroy this beautiful cut of meat (hell, it was so clean and perfect you could have made carpaccio out of it!). Delicious, marvelously tender, and a true carnivore's treat.

A delicious venison loin with gratin Dauphinoise



The side dish was gratin Dauphinoise, a classic French scalloped potato dish. This is beautiful in its simplicity; sliced Yukon gold potatoes, garlic, cream, milk, Gruyère cheese, salt, pepper, and a scant grating of nutmeg; that is it. Baked for about an hour in the oven, the Gruyère cheese on top becomes a gorgeous dark brown color, and the layered potatoes become creamy and soft. Awesome, and almost better the next day as a cold snack, even! :)

Oh, the company bowling outing from Friday? This just in: I am not good at bowling.

My first frame consisted of two gutter balls. I soon discovered that I was not following through, so I managed to dial it in a little better. I bowled a 135 by my third game.

However, there were some ringers in the group.

Note: always beware of the people who bring their own bowling ball. These guys are almost always good. There were people around me putting up some pretty good scores, as well as some guys who could actually put a wicked spin of the ball. I heard the high score was a 205 posted by our intern who is this tiny little high school kid!

Clearly, I was out of my league. However, I felt comfortable in the fact that if a spontaneous half marathon broke out at my company party, I would be able to hold my own. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A funny thing happened at the running store

Today I went to visit my good friends at Start Line, my favorite running store, to pick up some new shoes and new winter gloves. I heard something absolutely hysterical.

I had already been helped with my shoes, so I was looking through the selection of gloves. A few other customers were milling around, trying on shoes, and running on the treadmill. Some members of the staff were conversing with a couple that had just entered the store.

One of the staff recognized the female customer and reintroduced herself. They had apparently met at a race over the summer. It finally dawned on the female customer that they had met before, and she responded (loudly):

"Oh, sure! I didn't recognize you with all you clothes on!"

The entire store heard this, and everyone (staff and customers, myself included) erupted into laughter.

I love runners. They have the best senses of humor.

Just had to share. I will update you on Friday's bowling exploits later!

Jean

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Let's Bowl!

A clip of Wally and "Chopper" from the old Comedy Central show, "Let's Bowl." (Filmed in Minnesota, even!)



Tomorrow my company is having our Christmas party, and we're going bowling, baby! In fact, they have already divided us up into teams, and there has been plenty of e-mail trash talk going around. I haven't bowled in a few years, so this ought to be interesting. But a good time will be had by all, that is for certain!

I had a nice run tonight. It was a crisp 17 degrees, but calm, so it really didn't feel very cold. I saw but one other person (another runner), and a very large red-tailed hawk, so it was a quiet night on the trails.

In looking at my running spreadsheet, tonight's run put me over the 6000 career mile mark since I started running "seriously" over 4 1/2 years ago. It was pretty cool to see that odometer turn over. Here is to the next 6000 and beyond! :)

A full report on my bowling exploits to follow. So, as the announcers Wally and Chopper would have said at the beginning of their short-lived but classic show:

"Leeeeeeeeet's....BOWL!"

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Charlie Brown, and fresh snow

On Monday night, I watched the "Charlie Brown Christmas" special. This is the one Christmas special that I absolutely must see every year. It is a classic, and what can I say? I loved the Peanuts cartoons. In fact, I thought it was worth dragging out an old picture:

Yours truly, from the Halloween of 2007 office party. My aunt knitted this sweater for me when I was in high school! :)



The 3-6 inches of snow never materialized in my neighborhood in the northwest metro on Monday night. There is maybe 2 inches on the ground, and some of that was from Saturday's snowfall. It was just enough to screw up the roads and make Tuesday's drive to work kind of interesting. I guess the south metro got hammered pretty good, however, with some areas receiving up to the predicted 6 inches, so there was a very pronounced line of snow that divided the Twin Cities. Whatever the case, things are looking pretty white here in Minnesota!

Tuesday's run was great. The temperature was a crisp but comfortable 18 degrees and the skies were bright and sunny. The local bike trails were plowed and there was a nice, crunchy layer of snow to run on. I enjoy running on this kind of surface. The packed snow offers both cushion and moderately good traction.

Although, I do need to get my "winter legs" back. You can feel different muscles being worked on when you run in snow. There is more effort involved, and you occasionally "spin your wheels," so you end up getting a very nice workout. I love winter running (even though it is not officially winter yet!).

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, December 08, 2008

A missed photo op, and Hungarian food at its finest

I am kicking myself.

Occasionally I bring my camera along on a run. I actually thought about it on Sunday morning, but decided against it for whatever reason. It was unfortunate because I was treated to one of the most beautiful winter sunrises I have ever seen over my local lake.

The skies on the eastern horizon were slightly overcast, and there were thicker clouds moving in from the west. As the sun rose, it created stratified layers of pastel oranges and purples, as well as a blazing hot pink. Saturday's winds had blown the snow off of the ice, so these brilliant colors were reflecting off of the frozen lake surface.

I came to an elevated part of the trail and just stopped running so I could take a look. It was marvelous. If only I had my camera!

And just as quickly as it arrived, it was gone. Vanished. The clouds from the west rolled in and erased Mother Nature's canvas. I thought of all the people who missed out on this because they were not outside or were still sleeping. I was really glad to be a runner so I could have witnessed such an amazing sunrise.

This whole episode lasted only 10 minutes or so. I didn't even mind that it was 3 degrees and -10 wind chill.

Oh, yes, I failed to mention that it was kind of cold this morning. Some of the snow from early Saturday morning blanketed the trails as well, so we had perhaps an inch so that made for soft running. I ran 7 miles, and my eyelashes were frosted over by the time I finished, so it must have been chilly! :)

Saturday was a little warmer (20 degrees), but the wind chill put a damper on that (5 degree wind chill). Still, that didn't stop me from doing 9 miles in the fresh layer of snow. I even got to try out a new pair of Gore-Tex trail running shoes that will prove to be awesome for winter running (nice and warm!) And, in the 9 miles on Saturday and the 7 miles on Sunday, I know you will be shocked to hear that I didn't encounter any other runners on the trails!

A few snow flurries on Sunday



This was an extremely relaxing weekend. Saturday after my run, I did a couple of errands in the morning, and then I just hung out. I finished up my Christmas cards in front of the fireplace while watching some great football games. Sunday after my run, a few snowflakes started falling outside. I leisurely did some laundry, watched the Vikes squeak out a win against the worst team in football, and I made a brand new dish for dinner. It is called "pörkölt."

I found this recipe in the free "Real Food" magazine from the Lund's and Byerly's stores. There was an article by sausage guru Bruce Aidells on Dutch oven cookery. Pörkölt is a thick, hearty Hungarian goulash that can be made with beef, chicken, pork, or even game. In an attempt to learn more about this dish, I discovered that Hungarians are passionate about pörkölt, and fistfights have been known to break out over the correct way to make it (like beef Bourguignon, Bolognese sauce, or even chili, I am guessing there are as many recipes for pörkölt as there are people!).

My dish contained three things that are truly good in life; pork shoulder, sauerkraut, and beer. :) But there were other ingredients, too; onions, garlic, red and yellow bell peppers, chicken stock, and tomato paste. It is seasoned heavily with sweet paprika and accented with caraway seed, marjoram, and bay leaves. The whole thing is finished with sour cream and served over egg noodles.

All hail pörkölt



This could be my new favorite stew. I mean, any braised dish with pork shoulder is going to be awesome, right? But if you couple the pork with a delightfully sweet peppery flavor from the paprika, the earthy exotic notes of caraway, a tangy flavor from the sauerkraut, and a certain creaminess from the sour cream, you end up with a hearty dish for winter that is out of this world. I will be making this over and over again.

More snow is on the way. The National Weather Circus in the Twin Cities has us under a "Winter Weather Advisory" for tonight and tomorrow. The warning map is quite colorful at the moment, and we are predicted to be in the 3 to 6 inch range for snowfall totals. It will be interesting to see what materializes. Better keep my Gore-Tex shoes handy.

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, December 05, 2008

Below zero wind chill with snow on the way

Last night’s run was sort of chilly; 14 degrees and very blustery, making for a wind chill of -1.

Today I was having a conversation with a coworker who knows I am a runner. She had asked me if I went running last night. I said yes, and that I regretted not wearing my full facemask. My face got quite cold and my goatee frosted over.

But, I also told her that it wasn’t that cold because I had no frost on my eyelashes. I explained that, to me, a frost buildup on your eyelashes was one of the true indicators of really cold weather.

She stared at me with a look of incredulity, said “OK, I have nothing to say to that,” and told me she wasn’t leaving the house this weekend!

At any rate, she is right; it will be a good weekend to hole up next to the fireplace, cook some nice dinners, and take in a whole bunch of great football. And tonight we are supposed to get our first significant snow of the season.

The National Weather Circus is calling for upwards of 3 inches in my neighborhood. The snow ought to make for some interesting running on Saturday morning. Well, the snow, coupled with the continued below zero wind chills they are also predicting.

Perhaps there will be frosty eyelashes after all? :)

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Turkey sandwiches, race photos, and charcuterie

Just a few random notes to wrap up Thanksgiving:

-Following Thanksgiving, my brother and I both love making hot turkey sandwiches with leftover turkey, Swiss cheese, and barbecue sauce. I am not sure which one of us started the trend, but we both make these and have done so for years. I had previously thought this simple sandwich was unimprovable. That is, until I put it in a sandwich press and made a panini out of it. Oh, baby, oh! I have been pretty much subsisting on these for much of the week.

-There is a cool picture of me from the recent Turkey Run in St. Paul that made it onto The Sporting Life' website (scroll to picture #11 in the slide show). I get to see so few action shots of myself, and I thought this one was particularly good because it looks like I actually know what I am doing and have somewhat decent form! :)

-My brother has been getting into charcuterie and does a lot of his own smoking and curing of meats. At Thanksgiving, he sent me home with some of his homemade pepperoni, which was absolutely excellent as a pizza topping. Most pepperoni is quite fatty and renders out little oil slicks on top of your pizza. But my brother's version was not at all greasy like that. Great stuff; dense, meaty, flavorful, and it cooks up beautifully. Last night's pizza was really, really good.

Homemade pizza with my brother's homemade pepperoni and a few green olives



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Food and fun at Thanksgiving...and some running, too!

Thanksgiving weekend was a festive occasion with lots of fun with the family.

In addition to spending time in the out of doors, there was plenty to do inside as well. Thanksgiving weekend is a football fan’s paradise, and there were many great games to be watched (and much to my surprise, the Vikings won!). And the cat loves me; she is always excited when I come home and actually seems to recognize my car when I pull up to the house (if anyone else arrives, she hides!). And of course, there was great food.

The cat is always happy to see me



For our Thanksgiving dinner, our family has a tradition of being nontraditional. We always do something a little different (although we will always have a turkey at some point over the weekend).

This year, we had roast North Dakota pheasant, venison pot roast braised in red wine (oh, so tender!), and shrimp scampi. It was one of the better meals in recent memory. Everything was delicious, including all of the side dishes.

Our Thanksgiving dinner



As is our tradition, Mom and I made up a batch of homemade lefse, which many of you know is a traditional Scandinavian flatbread (kind of like a tortilla, but made with potatoes and flour) that accompanies meals during the holidays.

Making lefse is a two person job. Mom is the roller, and I am the fryer, and we make a pretty efficient team



The lefse turned out great. The dough looks and feels much like that of Italian potato gnocchi. Rolled out thin and cooked quickly on a hot griddle, it results in a lefse with a light, fluffy texture. This is Norwegian peasant food at its finest; the simplest and cheapest of ingredients, yet it is incredibly satisfying and tasty.

Most people sprinkle it with butter and sugar and eat it as a sweet/savory side dish. Personally, I like it straight up, but that is just me. However, I think all of us recoiled in horror when my brother made a mini burrito out of his, filled with mashed potatoes and pickled herring! Ick... :)

Lefse on the griddle



Oh, and there was a turkey dinner with all the fixings, which we had on Saturday. Mmmm...turkey dinner!

The traditional platter of turkey goodness



Given that this blog is supposedly related to running, perhaps I should talk about it! :)

Because I ate so much, it is a good thing I am a runner! I did manage to go running four times while I was up there. Nothing too difficult, just a few 5 milers and an 8 miler on Saturday.

The weather cooperated for the most part with temperatures being between 17 and 23 degrees during all of my runs. I was treated to an absolutely gorgeous sunrise on Wednesday, and I scared up a couple of grouse on another run. I had the dirt roads and trails virtually to myself, which is always a treat. I love running up north!

With another Thanksgiving in the books, the next trip up north will be at Christmas, which is only a few weeks away. I can’t wait to see everyone again.

Next up...Christmas!



I hope you all had a fun and memorable Thanksgiving!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thanksgiving nature report from the North Shore

The harbor and lighthouse in Grand Marais, with the Sawtooth Mountains in the background



Here is my nature report from the Thanksgiving weekend:

The Thanksgiving weekend started with a trip into Grand Marais on Wednesday. We had lunch at the legendary Sven and Ole's Pizza (quite good!) and then checked out the scenic harbor for signs of wildlife. We saw several ducks, including mallards, goldeneyes, and a lone bufflehead. We also spotted a very stately eagle right in town at the municipal campground.

On Thanksgiving Day, we received a dusting of snow. In fact, Dad and I were hiking in the woods when a microburst of snow started falling for about a half an hour. Big, fluffy flakes! The snow was beautiful and light, clinging to everything, making the woods look like a winter wonderland.

Thanksgiving Day snow in the woods



One of the benefits of the fresh snow is that it makes it quite easy to find animal tracks. It doesn’t take long for the squirrels and other critters to forge many paths through the woods. I even found this print left by a ruffed grouse.

Grouse track in the fresh snow



Norris and Noreen, the resident red-breasted nuthatch couple, are well. I got to visit with them out in the woods, and they very much enjoy their ration of sunflower seeds. In fact, if you would like to read more about Norris, you can pick up a copy of Jim Gilbert’s Minnesota Nature Notes. There is a brief story on Norris, and several of my Dad's wildlife pictures are featured in the book. A great stocking stuffer for the Minnesota nature lover, if I may shamelessly promote! :)

The world’s most famous red-breasted nuthatch



A squirrel nicknamed “Bottlebrush” (because of her uniquely tipped tail) still frequents the yard and is sort of a mascot of ours. Bottlebrush will come up to the picture window and look inside the house if there are no sunflower seeds out there for her! It is always nice to see her because she is actually a very old squirrel (4 1/2 years that we are aware of). In a harsh climate that is filled with various predators, we always appreciate it when she shows up.

The resident red squirrel, "Bottlebrush," enjoying some lunch



And of course, there were the chickadees. I got to hang out with them in the woods as well. As an added bonus, I got to see them go into “alarm mode.” There was a predator up near the top of a cedar tree. One little chickadee went up to confront it and started making a shrill, loud noise. Instantly, more than a dozen other chickadees came to the rescue and joined in (along with a couple of nuthatches), sounding their eerie warning call. They completely ran the offender out of the area. I had never witnessed this before, so that was really cool. They are tough little birds!

One of the tough chickadees; stern, but fair! :)



It was a fantastic weekend in the woods. All of the summer birds are gone, but as you can see, this season still has a lot to offer.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend 2008

Yours truly, turning out the lefse onto a hot griddle



Hi everyone! I am back from what was a most excellent Thanksgiving.

I ate some really good food, hiked in the woods, bonded with birds and furry creatures, hung out with family and friends, and even made the traditional lefse with Mom.

I hope everyone had a fun, safe, and memorable Thanksgiving. More to come, with pictures!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 30, 2008

2009 Races

Below are links to my 2009 Races:



March 22, 2009 - St. Patrick's Day Human Race 8k - St. Paul, MN

May 3, 2009 - Minnesota Landscape Arboretum "Bud Break" 5k - Chaska, MN

May 9, 2009 - Scheels Fargo Marathon - Fargo, ND

May 30, 2009 - Northern Lakes Run 10 Miler - White Bear Lake, MN

June 6, 2009 - Manitou 15k - White Bear Lake, MN

June 13, 2009 - The Udder Run 5 Miler - Goodhue, MN

July 4, 2009 - Firecracker Run 10k - Excelsior, MN

July 25, 2009 - Freight House Road Races at Lumberjack Days 10 Mile Run - Stillwater, MN

September 12, 2009 - Get Ready To Rock 20 Miler - White Bear Lake, MN

October 18, 2009 - IMT Des Moines Marathon - Des Moines, IA

November 8, 2009 - Rocky's Run 5k - Falcon Heights, MN

November 22, 2009 - Turkey Run 5k - St. Paul, MN

Monday, November 24, 2008

"My roommate is hung over, and she's running today!"

This past Sunday, I (along with a few hundred other Twin Cities runners) participated in the Turkey Run 5k in St. Paul. This is the fourth year in a row I have done this race, so it has become something of a Thanksgiving tradition for me.

Lake Como with a dusting of snow on the frozen water. Does this look like a November day in Minnesota or what?



The Turkey Run is a very relaxed event; a "fun run," if you will. It is a great way to wrap up the racing season for many. You will also see many casual runners (and even walkers) just getting out to be active during the holidays.

And if you really pay attention, you might hear wonderful snippets of conversations such as, "My roommate is hung over, and she's running today!"

What I am saying is that the Turkey Run is for everyone; from hardcore runners, to novice joggers, and even those of questionable sobriety. :)

We were greeted with a relatively mild day, roughly 33 degrees at race time with gray, overcast skies. There was still some remaining patches of the dusting of snow we received Saturday, and Lake Como was just about frozen over. While mild and not that cold, it was also quite humid with a decent breeze, making it feel colder than it really was.

(Incidentally, I think the weather is like this every year. Every Turkey Run I have done, I recall the day being overcast, chilly, and gray. It is a sign that winter is just about upon us, I guess!)

A clumsy self portrait of yours truly at the Turkey Run



The course is the same as always; leave Como Lake Elementary School, run north on East Como Lake Drive, then turn around and run a clockwise loop of the trails around Lake Como. It is a scenic and fast course.

The race started, and we were off like a shot. It was a relatively clean and fast start. I made sure not to get boxed in by anyone that seemed hung over! :)

Settling in at a pretty brisk clip, I felt very good and comfortable the whole time. Actually, I also felt efficient, which is a really nice feeling to have at a race.

Even though I was exerting a lot of energy, there was a certain sense of effortlessness. I even had a nice kick at the finish, passing a couple of folks in the last quarter mile, and I crossed the finish line in 21:58 (results here).

This was a very good 5k time for me. There have only been a few occasions where I have gone under 22 minutes. Considering I don't really train to be fast, the race was quite satisfying.

Perhaps I owe this performance to my pre-race meal of spaghetti with homemade meatballs? Mmmmmm....meatballs! :)



And, with that, another racing season comes to a close. It was a fun a memorable year with 11 more races in the books; some new adventures, a few really challenging races, some extremely rewarding races, and just a lot of fun overall.

In a sense it is sad to see the year end. However, part of the fun with the 2008 season ending is that I now get to start all over again and plan for a new season in 2009!

I am heading up to Mom and Dad's on Tuesday for a little vacation over the holiday, so this will be my last post until I get back next week.

I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and memorable Thanksgiving!

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, November 21, 2008

9

...degrees, that is.

That was the temperature on my drive in to work today. 9 degrees. Brrrrrr!

The last two nights have been somewhat chilly on my runs. Wednesday was in the low 30's and yesterday in the mid 20's, but the wind was raging out of the northwest, producing a fairly significant wind chill. I actually wore a ski mask yesterday because it was so raw. 'Tis the season to bundle up, I guess.

Not too much to report in the way of wildlife over the last two days, either. Yesterday there was a solitary deer that peeked her head of of the brush to check me out before retreating to the safety of a grove of trees, but that was about it.

Our potluck at work yesterday was a tremendous amount of fun, and my calico bean hot dish (complete with the Denny Hamlin-sponsored pork and beans mentioned in the previous post) was a huge hit. There were no leftovers to take home, so they were apparently enjoyed by all.

We had all kinds of your good, typical office potluck fare; an assortment of salads, sloppy joes, cocktail weenies, chips, dips, and plenty of desserts. Needless to say, I ended up having a pretty light dinner last night!

Have a great weekend!

Jean

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The official beans of NASCAR

Thursday we are having our Thanksgiving potluck lunch at the office and I am bringing my famous calico bean hot dish. I picked up my ingredients at the grocery store last night. My recipe requires six different types of canned beans.

You all know by now that I thoroughly enjoy NASCAR, but I was actually laughing out loud in the store when I saw this. Check out the can of Van Camp's Pork and Beans. Is there anything these guys won't put their faces on?

"I'm Denny Hamlin, and I heartily endorse these beans."



This absolutely cracked me up; I mean, Denny Hamlin trying to look tough on a can of pork and beans? It seems so absurd and reminded me of a Simpson's episode where they were in a home improvement store and there was a display for "Jaclyn Smith's Axe Heads." I am hoping that next season another driver like Carl Edwards endorses a rival canned bean (maybe Bush's "Grillin' Beans," for instance) and the two start feuding. :)

Anyhow, I had a nice run this evening. Temperatures were in the low 30's, but a strong south wind gave us a wind chill of 20, so I was bundled up pretty good! The good thing was that I had the wind at my back for the second half of the run, which was sweet. I clipped right along. I even saw three eagles riding the currents. They were having a tough time in the wind, and at times they looked almost stationary like a kite. Quite beautiful.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chicken soup for the runner's soul

Sunday was fairly overcast and cool. Why not make some homemade chicken noodle soup? Here is how to do it:

Soup is good food



What you will need:

-Chicken
-Carrots
-Celery (be sure to save some of the leaves)
-Yellow onion
-Garlic
-Olive oil
-Fresh thyme
-Fresh rosemary
-Fresh Italian flat leaf parsley (not the curly kind)
-Herbs de Provence (dried)
-Frozen peas
-Pasta (whatever small pasta you like)

-Salt and pepper
-Oyster crackers


For the stock, take a chicken (organic is good if you can get it), along with four carrots (peeled), two stalks of celery, one yellow onion (cut in half), and a head of garlic (also cut in half). Rub the the chicken and vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes. (Just to get some color and caramelization, which will add a little hint of roasted flavor to the stock)

Everything gets thrown into a stock pot with a bouquet garni. With some kitchen string, tie together some sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, flat-leaf parsley, and some leaves from the celery. Chuck it into the pot. Pour in 10 cups of cold water. Cover the pot, bring it to a near boil, reduce to a simmer. In an hour or so, you will have a very flavorful chicken stock. (Trust me, you do this right and you will not need any bouillon or chicken base to boost the flavor)

Remove the chicken and vegetables, setting the chicken aside, allowing to cool. The vegetables have given their all, so they can be discarded. Strain the stock into another large pot. Put it in the fridge for a couple of hours so the fat will rise to the top, making for easy removal. (Or, if you live in cold climates, do as I do and use nature's refrigerator; set the whole stock pot outside on your deck...it was about 31 degrees today, so that was perfect!)

Once the fat is removed, return the stock to your large stock pot. Since the veggies that were spent and used up have been removed from the stock, I want to add some more back in. Take four carrots (peeled, sliced), two stalks of celery (diced), and saute them in a skillet with a bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes (just to release some of the liquids and aromas). Add to the stock pot. Bring to a boil (covered), and reduce to a simmer to help soften the veggies.

Remember that chicken you had cooling? Remove the meat from the chicken and chop into bite-sized pieces. By all means, do not be afraid to nibble on a few pieces of the moist, delicious chicken while you are chopping. You can't resist, can you? Anyhow, add the chicken to your simmering soup, along with a couple more sprigs of fresh thyme, a sprig of rosemary, and a couple teaspoons of dried herbs de Provence. Salt an pepper to taste. Allow to simmer.

Bring another pot of water to a boil and season the water with salt. Cook the pasta for a couple minutes less than the recommended time. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. This may seem a little involved, but I have found that if you add dried pasta directly to the soup and allow it to cook, it becomes kind of mushy. By cooking and cooling the pasta before adding it to the soup, the noodles seem to maintain their integrity and will retain a better texture. (Especially for leftovers the next day!)

A few minutes before you are ready to serve, add your pasta and the frozen peas to the soup. Allow to heat through, and you are ready to go. Garnish with some of that fresh parsley you have. Serve with oyster crackers. Enjoy a steaming bowl while watching football on a chilly Sunday evening.

Yours in chickeny goodness,

Jean

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Looking like November

It is certainly looking like November. There are no leaves left on the trees, and the landscape is growing stark.

A gray November day with ducks on the pond



Saturday morning I ended up going for a 13.5 mile run. The temperature was around 30 degrees, it was slightly overcast, and an occasional ghostly flurry of snow would drift by. There was a slight breeze, but I was really comfortable, hence my decision to run as far as I did. Great run.

I didn't see too much in the way of wildlife on the run. Just the usual mallards, geese, and winter songbirds. But I did see plenty when I went shopping following my run.

I was driving through what is still a fairly rural area in the northwest suburbs when I saw a beautiful deer running through a field. A nice buck with at least 6 points. A very healthy, good looking deer.

Not far from there, I drove past a freshly plowed field that butted up to a small woodland. In the field were five wild turkeys feeding! I was the only car on the road, so I slowed way down to take a look at them. They are huge, and actually quite majestic. What a sight! I have seen wild turkeys before, but never than many together.

Saturday's dinner was shrimp pad Thai. I broke from the traditional flat rice stick noodles and opted for the round, thin ones instead. Why? Because it is my dish, that is why! :) But seriously, I like the thin noodles better. While perhaps not as traditional, they are lighter, retain more of an al dente texture than the flat, thicker noodles, and they are just more fun, I think. A great meal. This could be my favorite Thai dish.

Saturday's shrimp pad Thai



Sunday I did 7 miles, and there was a little more activity. I scared up a bunny near the cemetery, chased a red fox through a neighborhood (he kept running ahead of me and stopping, but I kept catching up to him), found a few hooded mergansers mixing it up with some mallards, and the resident eagle flew over me.

It had snowed overnight, so there was just a light dusting on the trails. I came across something intriguing. There was a spot on the trail that looked like it had been swept away in sort of an erratic motion. In the center of the sweeping was a half-eaten mouse carcass. My theory is that this was the work of an owl, since it had to have happened overnight, and its wings brushed away the snow. Interesting stuff.

There is always something to see, in any season.

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, November 14, 2008

An unexpected new bird

Lately I have been talking about how all of the summer birds have taken off, and that it is just the usual suspects that I have been seeing.

On Wednesday, I had the most unexpected surprise. On my run, I stopped on the bridge where the creek flows into the lake because I saw a small waterbird. I knew what species it was, but it wasn't until I got home and reviewed my field guide that I could positively identify it.

It was a horned grebe in winter plumage. The only other possibility would have been its relative, the eared grebe, but it was not. The large white cheek was the giveaway. This was a new bird for my life list, too. Very exciting!

The middle of our week has been somewhat mild. It was actually 45 degrees on Thursday, which made for great running. I am afraid the weather is starting to bottom out, however. Tomorrow the temperatures aren't supposed to get above freezing, and the long range forecast seems to have us solidly in the 30's for the foreseeable future. Winter is approaching! :)

Enjoy the weekend, all!

Jean

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Freezing rain, dough, and flaming deer stands

Winter Weather Advisory

The National Weather Circus has us under an official “Winter Weather Advisory” today, calling for freezing rain, sleet, and snow. Again, we are at that time of year where we are on the cusp of near freezing temperatures, making for a veritable potpourri of weather possibilities.

So I drove home in freezing rain. The roads were still OK, so there was nothing treacherous. However, running was most interesting. For the most part, the footing was good, but there were some places on the wooden bridges and deck that were slippery with slushy accumulation. Ice pellets were absolutely stinging my face the whole time, so my face is still radiating a bit. Surprisingly, I encountered no other runners tonight. :) Just me and the chickadees along the trail, who I am convinced are the toughest birds on the planet.

When I am running on the trails in the park, I don't have worry about traffic. Or so I thought. I am running on the 8-foot wide bike trail and I see some lights approaching from behind. It was a police SUV! I had to move over to let the officers by, and they smiled and waved. I am guessing they were on patrol checking out the park. In the countless hours I have spent out here in the last year, I had never seen them before. Or perhaps they were just looking for a shortcut to circumvent the Interstate, which was at a standstill due to the weather? ;-)

Dough is weird

Sunday I made a batch of pizza dough to have on hand for the week. Normally I can make my dough recipe in my sleep with consistently good results, but something went horribly wrong and I don’t know why. The dough never really came together, and it almost refused to rise, turning out dense, heavy, and had the texture of Play-Doh. It just sucked.

In an attempt to redeem myself (and, to get something made for dinner), last night after work I made another batch. The difference was night and day. In fact, I think it was the finest batch of dough I have ever made! The dough was light, pliable, flexible, elastic, and just a joy to work with. The resulting pizza had a marvelously airy, yet crispy, crust. I love it when things go right in the kitchen!

I really can't pinpoint exactly what went awry with the first batch. Conversely, I am not entirely sure what made the second batch so outstanding, either. The recipe is the same, and how I can go from one of my worst cooking efforts in recent memory to one of my best ever is perplexing. Not sure if perhaps I got careless with some measurements, or maybe like Tiger Woods, I didn’t bring my “A” game on that day? Dough can be a very strange and temperamental thing.

Last night's pizza with Canadian bacon, green olives, and mushrooms



News from the deer camp

It is currently deer hunting season. People hunt deer everywhere, but it truly is a cultural thing here in Minnesota. Hunters look forward to this season much like Minnesota fisherman eagerly await the fishing opener.

Thankfully nobody was hurt in the following story, but something about it just struck me as being wonderfully Minnesotan, given the hard core nature of our local hunters. Knowing what a typical deer stand looks like (generally, little more than a platform built up in a tree), I have to think it is fairly uncommon for someone to have a heater in one. That being said, it is even more uncommon that you would hear about a deer stand catching on fire, necessitating a call to the fire department!

You can be sure that the guys involved will be telling this story over and over again at the next deer camp. And, like good wine, it will get better with age!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cassoulet and traveling trophies

Sunday morning was quite chilly and brisk. 24 degrees, a few flurries in the air, and there was still a relatively strong wind coming out of the north. For my run, I broke out a face mask for the first time this season! Brrr!

I managed a good run in spite of the wind. And I saw a couple of interesting creatures. One was a black phase gray squirrel. He was quite a beautiful animal and was coal black in color. The other was a golden-crowned kinglet, who was obviously one of the last migrating summer songbirds to get the heck out of here for the winter. Otherwise, it is the "usual suspects" that I spoke of in an earlier post. Winter is definitely setting in.

This was an interesting week weather wise, given that it was 75 degrees on Monday, and then 24 for my Sunday run. That is a pretty impressive swing. And because the weather is getting colder, that means you need to take measures to help warm you up. So, let me tell you about my cassoulet from Saturday. It turned out fantastic!

The finished cassoulet with a nicely browned crust



Three kinds of beans were used, mostly Great Northerns, but also some cranberry beans and a few heirloom Christmas lima beans for added texture and color. The aromatics consisted of carrots, celery, onions, leeks, garlic, fresh rosemary and thyme, herbs de Provence, and bay leaves.

For the meats, I had four varieties of sausage; smoked Farmer's-style sausage (a smoked ring sausage common here in MN), wild rice bratwurst (another MN specialty), a smoked bratwurst with beer and sauerkraut, as well as some boudin noir. A couple of small lamb shanks rounded it off.

The cooking liquid was primarily whiite wine and tomato paste, along with a splash of beef stock to level it off. I baked it in my cast iron Dutch oven at 300 F (covered) for 3 hours. Following that, I cranked the heat up to 400 F, tossed on some dried bread crumbs, and cooked the cassoulet uncovered for about 15 minutes, allowing a browned crust to form.

My cassoulet with lamb shanks and four sausages



Admittedly, this is not the prettiest dish in terms of presentation. But what do you expect from something so rustic? This is peasant food! And what tasty peasant food, at that. Warming, comforting, filling, hearty, delicious; wow, name your favorite positive descriptor. A delightful contrast in textures and flavors with the variety of beans and sausages, and the meat from the lamb shanks was unbelievably tender and moist. Throw in a hunk of baguette to sop things up, and this was a winner. I will be making cassoulet again in the winter months as the snow flies.

Oh, and slices of leftover baguette made for excellent breakfast fodder the following morning; wonderful little medallions of cinnamon French toast! :)

Mmmmmm....cinnamon French toast!



On Sunday night, I went out on the town to meet up with friends. We had our fantasy golf league awards ceremony at a local Buffalo Wild Wings, as is tradition (we've been going to these places since they were still known as "BW3"). I have been in this league with my friends since 1999, and it is such a good time. We try to pick weekly winners on the PGA Tour, and you get their money winnings for that week. The winner is the person with the most cash at the end of the season.

One funny aspect of the league is our trophy. It is a "traveling trophy," so the winner of the league gets to keep it for the year. A tradition has emerged where the winner has to add to the trophy to personalize it in some fashion. Here is what it looks like after last night:

The fantasy golf league traveling trophy



We have joked that one year someone is going to mount this to the hood of a car and the winner will have to drive the trophy home. That might not be out of the question knowing this crew! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, November 08, 2008

11 miles in the wind and the snow

The snow from the pictures in my previous post never stuck around. Just a little too warm. But it sure was pretty yesterday. The trees looks as if they had been spray painted white!

This morning I awoke to some brisk, blustery conditions. The temperature was around 33 degrees, and I ran 11 miles in light snow flurries (nothing was accumulating on the trails) and occasional 30 MPH wind gusts. Actually, most of my route is fairly well sheltered except for the east side of the lake. The strong northwest wind made that stretch a wee bit chilly. I do love this time of year, and running in weather like this (perhaps with the exception of the wind) is delightful.

We are getting to that time of year where the only birds I see are my "usual suspects." That would be the chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, and various woodpeckers who are year round residents. There were a few lingering cormorants, coots, and ducks on the lake, but they should be hitting the road (in fact, that is what I told them...it's getting cold!).

Aside from some shopping, I haven't done much today. Being an overcast, windy, cold day, it seemed like the perfect excuse to stay inside and cook.

Tonight I am making a cassoulet for dinner, and it just went in the oven a few minutes ago. It isn't authentic French (I don't exactly have duck confit hanging around in my fridge), so I am using some good ingredients that I can find here; three kinds of dried beans, some beautiful lamb shanks, and four different kinds of locally-produced sausages!

I have never made cassoulet before, and of course I am not following any one particular recipe. I either have a disaster in the making, or it could be something special. If nothing else, it should be some warming comfort food to eat by the fireplace on a chilly night in Minnesota.

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, November 07, 2008

It was 75 degrees on Monday...

...and here is what it looks like outside of my office this morning! The pictures aren't the greatest, but they at least illustrate what is going on.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Some early November snow in the Twin Cities.



Light snow, clinging to the trees



This won't stick around, as the ground is too warm. But you just have to love the extremes in this state. I think I will put away my summer running gear! :)

Planning to use the fireplace this weekend,

Jean
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