Thursday, December 31, 2009

HNY

Last run of 2009 tonight, an easy 5 miles at 11 degrees on the as-of-yet unplowed and snow-packed trails.



1752 miles for the year - a new personal best.

Bring on 2K10!

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas 2009

Christmas was a lot of fun in the North Country this year. It ended up being a very white Christmas, but not as white as it could have been.

The National Weather Circus had initially predicted...gulp...20+ inches of snow for Mom and Dad's area. The combination of this huge storm system (some were comparing the setup to the infamous '91 Halloween blizzard, for those you in the Midwest who remember), along with strong east winds causing lake effect snow off of Superior, was supposed to absolutely dump on us.

While the predictions of 20+ inches rang true in the Duluth area, my Mom and Dad's zone was spared. Dad, a snow spotter who reports official snow amounts, was getting regular updates from his buddies at the Duluth office. Apparently the computer models were predicting much colder upper air temperatures, and that turned out to be incorrect for most of the Arrowhead. It was just too warm, and even rained a little bit Friday into Saturday.

Snow falling the day after Christmas



I don't think we got more than 6 inches total, even though some areas quite close to us, but slightly higher in elevation, got between 12-15! Some of that melted early Saturday due to the rain, and we got two inches of snow after the storm warning expired! So, we spent the whole weekend bracing for the storm that never really got going where we were at. But that was OK! The snow/rain combo created quite a slushy mess, and another foot or more on top of that would have been really interesting.

I went running three times, just some easy 5 milers. The weather was not especially pleasant on any of the runs, as I was battling strong east winds, drizzle, and snow most of the time. Saturday's run was the worst, as the trails had turned to slush, and the county roads became sheets of ice, making running almost impossible. But the important thing is that I got out there and ran!

Finishing up a run as the snow was beginning!



The meals were great, as always. Highlights included the traditional Christmas Eve meal of roast pork and Norwegian polse sausage, double-smoked ham for Christmas Day, and even a day-after-Christmas roasted goose. Mom and I made our traditional batch of lefse as well. No shortage of good eats over the holidays.

Christmas Eve dinner



This year we decided not to give gifts - which of course meant than Mom and Dad went out and bought (or made) gifts for everyone! I came home with some nice clothes, books, and flannel pillowcases that Mom quilted for me. Beautiful! And it was fun watching my little nephew learn how to tear into the gifts (we suspect he will be much more proficient next year). Mom also made an awesome quilt for the little tyke!

Mom's handiwork



So it was a fantastic weekend with the family. And I returned home to more than a foot of snow in my own neighborhood. As of Tuesday night, they still haven't really plowed the sidewalks and running trails. Running has been challenging, to say the least. Could be a long winter if this keeps up!

I hope you all had a fun, safe, and memorable holiday season!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A belated Merry Christmas!

A snow-covered Christmas tree in Mom and Dad's yard



A belated Merry Christmas to all! I apologize for not extending these wishes sooner, but the weekend sort of sneaked up on me!

I have returned from a fun holiday weekend up north. We ate well, I did a little bit of running, and we braced ourselves for the 20+ inches of snow that was promised, but never really came (at least in the area we were at). Additional details forthcoming.

I hope you all had a fun and safe holiday weekend!

Jean

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lit up

The overhead lights in my kitchen burned out yesterday right after I got done making my pizza for dinner. I am not the handiest guy in the world, but I successfully removed the light fixture cover without everything crashing down. Both of the bulbs were shot. They were those really long, 48-inch "T8" bulbs, which I have never purchased or installed before, and they have prongs instead of threading.

After figuring out the confusing method of turning the bulbs just right so the prongs align with a notch (I felt a little like Nicolas Cage trying to access a secret passage in "National Treasure"), I successfully removed the bulbs. Not wanting to cook in darkness today, I found my way over to Home Depot this morning and located the bulbs I needed. I returned home, unwrapped the bulbs, got the prongs aligned correctly, turned the bulbs just so, flipped the switch, and presto...let there be light! I even got the cover back onto the light fixture successfully.

So how many running/cooking enthusiasts does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, baby.

It was a day off from running, however, so I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I finished making my chipotle pepper beef jerky on the dehydrator today (tasty and spicy!). And, I made meat loaf with a chipotle-ketchup glaze, fire roasted tomato sauce, and homemade smoked cheddar macaroni and cheese. I was happy to have light so I could see what I was doing! :)

Sunday comfort food on a December day in Minnesota



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When bunnies attack

Saturday morning greeted me with a mild day, 23 degrees and overcast. A great day to run. I was out before sunup and put in 11 miles. Both of the resident eagles were roosting near their nest, and their chunky silhouettes could be seen agains the clouds. Lots of cardinals were out and about this morning as well. I only saw three other people; a runner, a walker, and another walker walking what appeared to be a wolf (it was the biggest, fuzziest Alaskan Malamute I have ever seen...an awesome dog!).

A funny thing happened as I entered the trails. It was still fairly dark, but you could see well with the lights of the city reflecting off the low hanging clouds. I startled a cottontail rabbit that was sitting in a yard next to the trail. The bunny took off like a shot. In a moment of confusion, it ran right for me in its bid to escape, making a sharp 90 degree turn at the last second, and just barely missing me. That is right - I nearly got run into by a rabbit! That would have been a first.

My run was excellent today. I felt really strong and had a spring in my step this morning. Apparently the beef and bean burrito I had at El Azteca for lunch yesterday is my equivalent of Underdog's "super energy pill?" Who can say for sure? All I know is that it was a lot of fun running today!

This does beg the question; was Underdog taking performance enhancing drugs? :)



I spent the rest of today in the kitchen. I made my little chocolate covered peanut butter crisps, as we are having a cookie party at work on Monday. I also started marinating some beef to make jerky. The day in the kitchen was capped off with pizza for dinner. Four cheeses, fresh basil, and little bits of my homemade bacon, to be exact. The dough was also made with some excellent whole wheat flour from southern MN wheat (my Mom gets this stuff milled fresh for her - I am happy to have my Mom as my connection for really good flour!). Mmmmm, I love pizza...

Pizza, pizza!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Memories of Y2K

Call me slow, but I looked at my calendar today, and it just dawned on me that we are entering a new decade in a couple of weeks.

Exactly ten years ago, I was working a lowly production support job helping to save my company from the dreaded "Y2K" bug. If you believed any of the news footage at the time, you might remember this was supposed to cripple the entire planet. Ultimately, all it really did was make a lot of consultants a lot of money. :)

So I got to spend my 1999 New Year's Eve at work, ensuring that none of our computer systems crashed when the clock struck midnight. I remembered earlier that day watching some TV, and they were showing various countries around the world ringing in the new millennium. The lights were still on in Bangladesh, so I figured the odds were pretty good that we would be fine here in Minnesota.

Of course, midnight passed and nothing out of the ordinary happened. That night was spent alternating time between my cubicle and the server room until about 2:30 in the morning (had to wait to see if the West Coast was fine, you know). I drank sparkling grape juice (nobody could have sneaked in the real stuff?!?) with co-workers who would all rather have been somewhere else with someone else. Good times!

I personally encountered only one Y2K glitch (two if you count the fact that my local grocery store was sold out of fresh mushrooms on New Year's Eve day due to hoards of people stockpiling food, so I had none to go along with my steak dinner that night!). At my local gas station, the pay-at-the-pump receipt printed the date as "1/1/100." Everything was charged to my account correctly and without issue; it was just that the year on the printer rolled over from 99 to 100. I thought that was really funny and kept the receipt as a souvenir of my millennium experience. I might still have it somewhere.

A little "Y2K" humor...with a running theme, no less! :)



Anyhow, hard to believe that was ten years ago!

A little nicer running tonight. The temperature was 11 degrees, and there was very little wind, so it was not quite as brisk as it was yesterday. Once again, I encountered no other humans on the trails. Didn't see much else, but the sunset was gorgeous.

I did surpass a milestone of sorts. Tonight's run put me over 1700 miles for the year. I have long since surpassed my previous best of 1616 miles in a year, and I still have a couple of weeks to go, so every step adds to a new record! A pretty good year for me, so I am quite pleased.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cool running, and corned beef

Who is that masked runner?



The picture above is from this evening before my run. I was bundled up for the 0 degree temperature with a -15 wind chill to go along with it. The run was good, and I did not see a soul on the trails (which were already beautifully plowed from the 4 inches of snow we got the previous day). Didn't see much of anything except for a huge flock of Canada geese flying in their "V" formation. It was chilly, but I was nice and toasty. Six more days until winter officially begins... ;-)

Over the weekend, I tried a little experiment. I had read a post by Michael Ruhlman where he suggested one could theoretically make a quicker version of corned beef by using a dry cure. Corned beef is traditionally made with brisket, and it is normally brined. But with a smaller cut of meat and by using the dry cure method, it could be accomplished in far less time. I thought I would give it a whirl.

Dry cure and pickling spice applied to the beef



I bought a cheap cut of top sirloin, dredged it in my dry cure (recipe for the cure is at the Ruhlman link above), and rubbed on some pickling spices. After about 3 1/2 hours in the fridge, I rinsed off all of the cure and spices and added the beef to a pot of water with some additional pickling spices. I brought the beef to a boil and then simmered it for about a half an hour (no need to cook very long for such a small cut).

My homemade corned beef



And darned if it didn't look and taste like corned beef! Through the process of cooking, the meat turned pink, indicating it had successfully cured thanks to the sodium nitrite. The flavor was really good - not too salty, and nicely seasoned. The only thing I would do differently is use a cut of beef with a little more fat (or maybe just try the brining process with an actual brisket sometime!). But because this was so lean, the bits of corned beef crisped up beautifully in my homemade corned beef hash for breakfast the following morning!

Corned beef hash



Breakfast is served!



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday run

I ran 11 miles this morning. The temperature was around 7 degrees with a wind chill of -2. Actually, it felt a lot nicer than it did a couple of days earlier this week! It wasn't a very speedy run, as it is kind of tough to run when you are so bundled up. But it was pleasant out there, and I never felt cold.

I only encountered one other runner, and two walkers during my entire journey. This is the time of year when people start to hibernate, so thus begins the season of having the trails mostly to myself!

In nature notes, I saw two red foxes in different locations out on the ice of my local lake. They are the most beautiful creatures. One of the foxes had procured himself some gray squirrel for breakfast, and was strutting proudly across the ice with his snack. Always fun to see the foxes.

Unexpectedly, the temperature got into the upper 20's today, so the road salt finally started to kick in on some of the snow-packed side streets, turning them into a sloppy, slushy mess. I am happy that some of my local roads are finally clearing off after Wednesday's storm! ;-)

Tonight's dinner was a Thai chicken and lemongrass stir-fry with rice stick noodles. I used lots of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and a ton of red chile flakes and chile-garlic sauce. It was delicious and spicy. In fact, my nose is still running from the heat as I type this. Yeehaw!

Spicy stir-fry on a Saturday night



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter in fall

It was all of 4 degrees for tonight's run. Add the wind chill and it felt like -9. I keep reminding myself that it is 11 days until winter officially starts! :)

The only people I saw on my run tonight were a couple of kids snow blowing a pond to make their hockey rink. The trails were all plowed, the the crews got after it in a hurry. I encountered no other runners, no pedestrians, just a couple of deer and a beautiful red fox that rapidly scampered into the woods when he saw me.

Please enjoy this slideshow of our recent snowstorm. We only ended up with a few inches in my neighborhood, but southeastern Minnesota got clobbered, some areas with upwards of 16 inches!

The long range forecast shows a possible high of 20 on Sunday. That is the warmest temperature predicted for the next week. Might be awhile until I run in shorts again!

Staying close to the fireplace tonight,

Jean

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The meadow

It is 6 degrees with a wind chill of -11 as I type this (25 MPH wind gusts will do that!). Driving was not much fun this morning, but was somewhat better in the afternoon. Today was a day off from running, so instead I will give an update on the tree planting project in the meadow of my local park.

Over the last couple of weeks, I had conversations with Three Rivers Park District officials, including the public affairs coordinator, as well as the Commissioner who represents my district. They put me in touch with the forestry manager overseeing the project. I learned more about what is going on, and feel much better as a result.

A shot of the meadow in a nicer season



Upon further review, they decided to leave a large section of the meadow as is out of respect for some of the species currently living here - most notably the resident eagles. Input was sought from their wildlife staff before planting the whole area, and they collectively decided to scale back the planting significantly, not wishing to disturb their nesting site. Also, this will leave a nice vista overlooking the pond area. No further planting will occur south and west of the area currently planted, which is the location I was most concerned about. So this is great news, and a huge section of this land will remain as excellent habitat for the sedge wrens, as well as eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, ring-necked pheasants, and the like.

From last winter - pheasant tracks on the trail in the meadow



It still isn’t clear to me if they were entirely aware of the sedge wrens and the other species that were out there (from my numerous conversations, they certainly are now!), or when the decision was made to scale back. It does seem like this was reconsidered after the project had started, otherwise there would have been no reason to mow as much as they did. The important thing is that they brought in the right people to discuss and made decisions based on that input before moving forward. So, all is well that ends well. The birds I was concerned about will still have a nice habitat to call home. Plus, through the conversation with the forestry manager, I did learn how this planting could help enhance the area and strike a balance to benefit other species, as well as those species currently living there (apparently, these “big woods” conservation efforts help to create the greatest amount of biodiversity, which is also good).

Also of note, everyone I spoke with at the Three Rivers Park District was great. All of the people I had contact with were knowledgeable, professional, thoughtful, and helpful. And they expressed genuine interest in, and appreciation for, my concerns. Not something you generally expect from a government funded entity, so that was refreshing! And they really do maintain a beautiful park system. If you are even in the Twin Cities, I would highly encourage you to check out their parks and trails.

Of course, I am looking at drifting snow in my yard, but I am already looking forward to my birds coming home in the spring! And I am thankful that they still will have a place to come home to.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Winter Storm Warning run

Last week on Tuesday I was running in 44 degrees. Today it was 18 degrees, a wind chill of 4, and the first official Winter Storm Warning of the season. What a difference a week makes!

Not too much snow during the run, but 4 to 7 inches is on the way tonight!



The drive home was not much fun. There was perhaps only an inch of snow, but the intersections were horrible, and it was slow going.

I went for a 5 mile run when I got home. Not very much accumulation at this point, but the trails were coated, and the wind is starting to pick up. The snow was very fine and it was stinging my face! The weather gurus are calling for 4 to 7 inches in my neighborhood, with much more to the south and east, along with possible blizzard conditions. Wow, it isn't even winter yet, but we are starting it off with a bang!

I saw both my eagles, a few deer, and strangely enough, more runners today than I saw in the previous two days (including the speedy dude I occasionally meet who runs in his winter coat and blue jeans...he must have been cold today!). In any case, it was fun to run in the elements, but it felt good to get back inside, and it could be an interesting storm tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, it is time to sit in front of the fireplace and watch the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special!" ;-) What a perfect night for it!



Staying warm,

Jean

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chilly Sunday

I went for an easy 5 mile run on Sunday morning. The temperature was only 11 degrees, but winds were calm, and my new running suit kept me warm.

Once again, I was out before the sun had risen. One of the resident eagles was roosting close to the nest, so I could see his/her silhouette. And, as I made my way through the wooded area, I saw three deer sleeping on the forest floor. That's right, I was awake before the eagle and the deer this morning. :)

In fact, I only saw two other people the entire time, so the wildlife outnumbered humans. The sun just started to peek above the horizon as I was finishing up. A gorgeous, chilly Sunday.

And a good day for soup! Today I made a batch of my chicken noodle soup. The recipe is a little time-consuming, but it is worth it. And I am loving it that the temperatures are colder now because it makes de-fatting a stock so much easier when you have access to a walk-in freezer (my balcony, that is!).

Chicken noodle soup with two kinds of noodles



I made this with two different kinds of small pasta - capellini spezzati (tiny little bits of angel hair pasta) and farfalline (tiny little butterfly-shaped pasta). This made for a nice textural contrast, and the soup was yummy to eat while watching football!

And, so much for that nice weather we were having less than a week ago - a Winter Storm Watch has been issued for my area Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday with possible blizzard conditions. It isn't even officially winter yet! ;-) Stay tuned...

Bundling up,

Jean

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Suit up

What a difference a few days make. Tuesday I was running in 44 degrees. Friday it was 19 with snow flurries. This morning was 15 with a wind chill of 9. Winter has finally started to show up. And it is giving me a chance to try out my snazzy new winter running suit!

Ready for winter running



This morning I did 11 miles before sunup. Despite the chill, it was a gorgeous morning. Some areas of the trails were dusted with a layer of snow, so it was my first chance to get my "winter legs" back. Skies were clear with many stars, and the bright light of a waning gibbous moon lit the way for me. A layer of ice has started to form on my local lake. On the north end, where there were still some pockets of open water, hundreds of geese and ducks were congregated. Quite a sight! And a fun morning to run. My new winter running suit is awesome, both warm and breathable. It should serve me well in the coming months.

Aside from a few errands, today is devoted mostly to watching college football, which has been on nonstop since I got home. However, I did make it into the kitchen to prepare some chocolate-covered peanut butter crisp squares this afternoon (recipe here). They are like mini Rice Krispie bars covered in chocolate. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used dark chocolate chips, and I used chunky peanut butter, because that is how I roll (I don't do the creamy stuff!). Fun and easy to make, and quite yummy. I am glad I used dark chocolate, too. Mmmmmm....

Chocolatey, crispy, peanut buttery goodness...



Dinner was easy. I roasted a Swedish potato sausage that I bought at Thielen's in Pierz some time ago. Yum, I love Swedish potato sausage. Even if I am mostly Norwegian. :)

Swedish potato sausage



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Déjà vu all over again

A couple of days ago, I got stuck behind this old, dilapidated Pontiac Fiero on my drive home from work. This car had a bad exhaust and muffler system, as I could hear it over my car stereo, and it would practically stall every time the driver would shift. We absolutely crawled away from stoplights, and progress was incredibly slow. I followed this car for miles, too (I take the back roads, so there is no getting around anyone). He would happen to be going the exact same route as me! The crowning blow occurred when we were lallygagging along and approaching one of my last stoplights (a really long one) when the light turned yellow. The Fiero gunned it and, with a sputtering gasp of the engine, made it through. Of course, I had to stop. Argh! What a frustrating and slow drive home.

In the strangest of coincidences, the very next day I got stuck behind the same Fiero at the exact same intersection! I felt like I was Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." Adding to how strange this was, I even left work at a different time. Bizarre! So, again we begin the long, slow procession north, listening to the drone of the loud muffler as the car poked along. Not wanting to deal with this for two days in a row, I took a chance and peeled off of the normal route, taking a winding shortcut through a residential area. This almost never works out, because while this shortcut is shorter, the stoplight here is ridiculously long, and you invariably end up waiting minutes for the light to change. But not this time. I hit the light perfectly, and got ahead of the Fiero. Victory is mine! Take that, slow Fiero! It was clear sailing the rest of the way home.

That story really has no point. I just thought it was weird. And I did not see the Fiero tonight, which is probably good! :)

I am starting to get back into the swing of things after the week long vacation (regular routine, normal eating habits). Running has felt good this week with a series of 5 milers on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It was in the low 40's earlier in the week, followed by temps right around freezing yesterday, and today we got a dusting of snow. Not much, but it is always strange to see snow when we have gone so long with none. I am still regularly seeing the resident deer coming out for their evening grazing, as well as the local eagles hanging out by their nest.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving week

Following the Turkey Run, I headed up to Mom and Dad's for a whole week. What a treat! I have not had a full week off in about three years, so that was a very nice break.

I ran four times up there. Nothing crazy, just a bunch of 5 milers to burn off some of the calories. I am not really training for anything at the moment, so I decided to forgo doing a usual weekend "long" run. The weather ranged from low 40's to low 20's, from fog, to rain, to overcast, to partly sunny (we actually only saw the sun briefly on Saturday and Sunday!). Good running weather.

As per usual, I spent a lot of time in the woods. The mountain ash trees are loaded with berries, so they will no doubt serve as treats for the birds over the winter months. The wildlife is not as diverse at it is in the summer, but I saw some of the year round residents, including deer, grouse, chickadees, nuthatches, numerous woodpeckers, blue jays, ravens, and eagles. My parent's neighbors, along with some of their family members, also joined us for a hike to see "Dad's birds" as they are becoming known, which was most enjoyable.

Hanging out with Dad's birds



A few squirrels enjoyed my company in the woods as well



I did add a new bird to my life list - the white-winged crossbill. Approximately four dozen of them flew in to raid the pine cones at the top of a large spruce. They were beautiful, and my glimpse was only fleeting, as they departed rapidly. But what a thrill! These guys have eluded me for many years.

Of course, food plays a special part of any trip home, but even more so at Thanksgiving. Mom and I always make homemade lefse at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This batch turned out excellent. In fact, I boldly proclaimed that not even Pearl Johnson (author of our recipe that has been used for three generations) could make these as thin and fluffy as we did! A little lefse making with Christmas music playing in the background - what could be better? Good stuff.

The lefse makers



Yours truly, turning out some lefse (notice I am even using an official lefse stick!)



Our Thanksgiving dinner has one tradition - that is, it is never traditional! We always have the turkey and fixings at some point over the weekend, just never on Thanksgiving Day. This year, we had some wild pheasants from Nebraska, grouse, and polse sausage from near my Dad's hometown (it is something of a traditional Norwegian ring sausage). Yum! It was a legendary meal. I also did some cooking over and made my recipe for Hungarian pörkölt one night, which everyone enjoyed. Other items included Mom's homemade pizza, Dad's seafood chowder (a day-before-Thanksgiving tradition), turkey on Saturday, and we even hit 2 for 1 burger night at Moguls up on the ski hill. Needless to say, I did not come home hungry.

Thanksgiving dinner



Of course, there was turkey as well... :)



Otherwise, I didn't do much of anything, which was great! We watched an endless amount of football, Mom and I made a trip into Grand Marais on "Black Friday" to bum around and do a little shopping, and I had a lot of fun hanging out with Mom, Dad, my brother and sister-in-law, and my nephew, who is becoming quite personable. I think he likes his uncle, which is good, since I am the only one he's got! :)

Grand Marais harbor on a cloudy day



A wonderful week. It was something of a shock to return to the real world, but isn't it always? In any case, Christmas is only a few weeks away, and I am looking forward to my return trip home!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey Run 2009

What better way to kick off a week long vacation than with a nice little 5k! Last Sunday, I participated in the Turkey Run over in St. Paul. This is my 5th consecutive running of this event, so it has become something of a tradition.

A shot of Lake Como. The race runs all the way around this. In years past, the lake has been frozen over.



Yours truly, ready to do the Turkey Run!



I don't have too much to say about this race that I haven't said before. I will say that the weather was unseasonably warm - 50 and overcast! This is the first time I have ever done the Turkey Run in shorts! A nice change of pace, considering I remember a crisp 19 degree day a few years ago.

I pretty much ran my typical Turkey Run. I've raced on this exact same course for five Turkey Runs and a couple of other events that used the same route. It is extremely flat and fast, and I usually finish in the high 21 minute to low 22 minute range. I finished this year in 22:26 (results here), making this my slowest showing on this course. However, I had to stop during the race to untangle a shoelace and tie my shoe! That cost me precious seconds. Amazingly enough, nobody passed me during my pit stop, and I cruised the rest of the way home.

It was a great race and lots of fun, as it always is. And it wraps up my 2009 racing season. Time to set some new goals and figure out where I want to race and what I want to do!

With that, I raced home, showered up, and headed to Mom and Dad's for a week on the North Shore. A mega-huge Thanksgiving blog post will no doubt be coming soon.

I hope you all had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving weekend!

Gobble, gobble...

Jean

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bring on the turkey!



Just finished 12 miles on a cool, frosty, slightly foggy morning. It was beautiful. Got to see the sun coming up over the pond, and I even heard a couple of great horned owls in the wooded areas around the swamp bottoms. A great start to the day!

With that, I am now officially on vacation for the week. This is the first time in about three years that I have had an entire week off, so I am going to enjoy it. I am doing the Turkey Run in St. Paul tomorrow morning, and then I am heading up to the North Shore to spend the rest of the time with the family. Should be an excellent week, and I am really looking forward to it.

I want to wish all of my readers and fellow running bloggers a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Safe travels to those of you going places, and I hope you have fun and memorable times with your families and friends. Enjoy, and I will talk to you next week!

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, November 20, 2009

Failing the birds

I never thought I would be upset about trees being planted.

I mentioned earlier that some sapling trees were being planted along a portion of my running trails. These trails are beautiful, and the reason this place hasn't been turned into a subdivision or a shopping mall is because it was purchased through a land and water conservation grant. This land is maintained by the local park district, and it never would be developed.

They were planting in a small area nestled between an existing wooded grove, and it was nicely done. However, I recently noticed an ever expanding section of the neighboring meadow being mowed down to facilitate even more planting. The area in question is a unique mix of grassy, open meadow that borders some marshland and a pond, home to many interesting birds, plants, and wildflowers. And the size of the area they cut down was enormous.

This place is home to ring-necked pheasants that enjoy the cover provided by the tall grasses. Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows nest here - they even have nesting boxes set up for them. I have found eastern kingbirds nesting here as well. Common yellowthroats skulk around in these tall grasses in the summer. All are birds that prefer these open environments.

Of special concern, this spot was a nesting ground for great numbers of sedge wrens over the summer. You might recall me raving about these encounters in earlier posts. While not an endangered bird, the sedge wren is somewhat scarce, secretive, nomadic, and not very well understood, especially in terms of their migration patterns. They nest in the grasses near marshes and swamps, and they were a joy to watch and learn about. Several nesting pairs made their home here, right in the grassy meadow that has since been cut down. This was an ideal habitat for them.

Today my Dad sent me a scanned copy of an article from the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union journal, "The Loon." This arrived in their mail today and was rather timely. In the Conservation Column by Tom Will, he speaks about the golden-winged warbler, but the second paragraph illustrated my concern. He cited that Minnesota is the breeding ground for 32% of the total population of sedge wrens. Good habitat in Minnesota is key to a healthy population of this species.

Here is a photo showing the meadow after it had been mowed. This used to be filled with tall grasses, and this particular area is where I observed the highest concentration of sedge wrens. You can't really see them, but there are bluebird and tree swallow houses towards the back of this meadow as well.



This map, with my sloppy artist's rendering, shows the approximate size of the areas that were mowed for planting. The red lines represent the areas that were mowed down. On the far left, the red circle within a circle represents a doughnut-shaped swath where the grasses on the interior are intact. The other two red areas were cut down in their entirety. The above photo was taken at the northernmost point of the center area. The left and center locations below represented the areas where I saw the most sedge wrens.



I wrote to everyone I could think of who would listen (park district, park board commissioners) to try and find out what was going on, to let them know the errors I saw them making, and to see if this could be reconsidered or stopped. Through a friend at the park district, I was finally able to get through to the Public Affairs Coordinator. The plan is indeed to plant this area over with native hardwood trees and have it become forested. She acknowledged this would change the landscape significantly, but that some open areas would remain (mainly because they were too wet to plant anything). Apparently the effect on the land was considered, but they were cool with that. It was a nice, cordial note, and I thanked her for the information. But I also respectfully disagreed in that I saw nothing that was broken and in need of fixing.

As it turns out, I can thank the resident eagles for the fact that more of the meadow wasn't plowed under. She explained that they did not want to disturb the nesting site, which I really appreciated. So the area closest to the eagles was left alone, thereby leaving some of the southern section intact. In my reply, I asked them to be mindful of the nearby vacant osprey nesting platform (which the park district mowed around to plant trees). I happen to know the eagles actually spend as much time hanging out there as they do at the nesting site. :)

I am certain that behind this project, there were nothing but good intentions (then again, the road to hell is reportedly paved with them). While it is hard to argue that planting a small forest is a bad thing, it will no doubt have a huge impact. Transforming this area from meadow to forest is a rather drastic change of habitat, so much that it risks displacing some of the species that currently thrive here.

Here is a shot illustrating the planting in progress as of Wednesday. Again, this area is right on top of the sedge wren habitat. And if you look really close, way back in the center of the photo you can see an osprey nesting platform - the little speck is the eagle sitting on it!



This was marvelous meadow/marsh habitat that has now been forever changed. Is it actually a change for the better? I suppose that is subjective and debatable. I mean, in an age where "going green" has become a commercialized buzz phrase used to sell cars and other wares, who is going to argue with people wanting to plant trees? It certainly could be much worse, and there will definitely be other species of plants and wildlife that will benefit. All I know if any sedge wrens, bluebirds, tree swallows, and the others do return, it won't be anywhere near the numbers, because a huge chunk of their nesting ground was cut down to be planted over. And that still bothers me.

Part of me feels like I have failed the birds. I couldn't even help to protect a small piece of land that was already being protected. But I still think there is a chance to learn something from this. And I am still waiting to hear from the commissioner. So maybe we can do some things differently? Time will tell. And I would like to help however I can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toga! Toga!

Talking golf for a moment, I enjoyed this story about Michelle Wie winning her first professional tournament. What I particularly loved was this quote describing the celebration after the win:

"Just seeing them come out and pour beer all over me, it was a great feeling," Wie said. "I've always seen it on TV and I've always wanted people to pour beer on me. It was as great as I thought it was."

It is worth noting that Michelle is only 20, so not quite of legal drinking age yet. I also feel as if that quote was stolen from me, as I am relatively certain that I said the exact same thing after one of the annual "toga parties" back in college. :)

Taking a trip down memory lane - One of my college classmates recently mentioned on Facebook that this past October was 20 years since the toga party of our freshman year. This fraternity had two annual parties - a "toga party" in the fall and a "beach party" in the spring. It was the exact same party, but with different attire. Everyone got driven out to an old roller skating rink on the outskirts of town in rickety old school buses (I am talking complete junkers that could only be called "buses" in the sense that they were long, had tires, and held a bunch of people). There was no pesky "21 or older rule" - if you could hand $5 to the bus driver, you were good to go.

At the roller rink, they had a huge beer truck parked outside the building with taps built right into the side, so you could just help yourself. Local law enforcement seemed to tolerate this, as it was really no secret what was going on. Police officers would wander through the party every so often, more or less turning away from the action as if they were professional wrestling referees. I never heard of anyone being ticketed or arrested, and I am guessing they were just there to make sure everyone was safe. I also think the only reason they let everything slide was because nobody was driving. These parties were fun, and always made for some interesting stories afterward. One year, a couple of the guys came back to the dorm with a souvenir; the emergency door from one of the buses! I am guessing in this day and age, these parties have gone the way of the dinosaur. Still, they were good times!

Of course, I might have been of questionable legality in terms of drinking age for a few of these, so perhaps I should give Michelle a pass. Never mind. And Mom, please ignore the previous two paragraphs. These are vicious rumors only... ;-)

Anyhow, on to running - There is a massive tree planting project along my trails that has me kind of steamed. It sounds absurd to be upset about anyone wanting to plant trees, but it was poorly planned and executed. I will explain at some point, but I need to get some more information.

Aside from that, it was a nice evening for running once again. 50 degrees, clear, and sunny. I was treated to a gorgeous sunset. And I got to see one of my resident eagles, which is always a treat. I am really enjoying these fall days.

A blurry sunset through the trees on tonight's run



Another shot of the eagle's nest at dusk. Can you find "Sam" in this picture? :)



Until next time,

Jean

Monday, November 16, 2009

More fun with dry cure

Sunday morning was a crisp 29 degrees with a heavy layer of frost covering the grasses and weeds, even the wooden bridge decks on the trails. I went for a 5 mile run just as the sun was coming up. Very nice day, relatively calm winds, and the skies fairly clear. I took it kind of easy today after the 11 miler Saturday. The one nature note I have is that I scared up a red fox on the trail. He scuttled off into the frosty weeds near the pond as he saw me coming!

Today was a glorious 48 degrees and sunny. What a great day! I went running after work, once again in shorts - not bad for mid November! I saw a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers chasing each other from tree to tree (those two better be heading south soon!). My deer came out to greet me again, including the forkhorn buck. The tree planting project along my trails that I was previously excited about now has me deeply concerned, as the scope appears significantly larger than originally thought (I will say more when I find out some additional details, and by then my comments will likely have morphed into a full blown hissy fit). Anyhow, nice day, nice run, lots of fun.

Saturday I made another recipe from the "Charcuterie" book; tasso ham. Tasso is a quickly cured and heavily spiced Cajun-style ham.

Using my dry cure, I dredged a couple of slabs of pork shoulder and allowed to cure in the fridge for four hours. I then rinsed off all of the cure and salt. Traditionally it is smoked, but as I do not have a smoker, I would be cooking this in a low oven. To compensate for the lack of smoke, I did apply a scant amount of liquid smoke to the meat, and I used smoked paprika in my spice rub (along with sweet paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powder, black pepper, thyme, sage, allspice, mace, marjoram, unsalted Cajun seasoning, and brown sugar) which I used to liberally season the cured pork.

After cooking in a 200 degree F oven until the internal temperature hit 150, this is what I ended up with:

Two slabs of heavily spiced tasso ham!



You can see that, after curing, the tasso takes on some of the color and texture of ham



The tasso turned out to be very tasty and flavorful. My only regret is that I do not have a smoker, because this would really be something smoked. But it was good. Real good.

Tasso isn't something you eat on its own; rather, it is used in small amounts and serves as more of a seasoning to accent a dish. You will often see this used in gumbo or jambalaya. But there are other applications as well. Could you include some bits of tasso in your morning omelette? Absolutely! Can small chunks of tasso (along with some of my homemade bacon!) find their way into your yellow split pea soup for some added zip? Bring it on! Is it possible to add diced tasso to you New Orleans style BBQ shrimp and serve it over a fire-roasted tomato couscous? Yes it is!

Yellow split pea soup with tasso and homemade bacon



My New Orleans style BBQ shrimp (basically shrimp scampi with some Worcestershire sauce added!) with diced tasso over fire-roasted tomato couscous



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2010 Races

Below are links to my 2010 Races:



February 7, 2010 - Frigid 5 - St. Paul, MN

March 28, 2010 - St. Patrick's Day Human Race 8k - St. Paul, MN

April 17, 2010 - Trail Mix 25k - Bloomington, MN

May 8, 2010 - Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon - St. Joseph, MN

June 5, 2010 - Dam To Dam 20K - Des Moines, IA

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Decking the halls

I put my Christmas lights in my window this week - nothing too fancy, just a strand to decorate the window sill. It is the earliest I have ever done so, but I noticed some of my neighbors had a fully decorated tree glimmering away, so I thought I would join the party. With the beautiful Santa quilt that Mom gave me hanging on my wall, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Jean's place!

'Tis the season



We are entering my favorite time of year. Fall is the best season, and I think when most people say that, they are referring to early fall, when the leaves are at their brilliance and you still have some warmer days. I absolutely love the later part of fall in November and December.

While the leaves are gone, the days grow shorter, and the temperatures start to drop, there is still something really neat about it. With colder days, we are now entering the best months for hearty stews, soups, and other comfort foods. Football season is really heating up. Perhaps it is because it is such an exciting, drastic change of season where we go from gorgeous leaves to a stark landscape with an impending chance of snow in such a short period of time? It certainly doesn't hurt that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and Christmas not long after that. Nice!

I ran 11 miles this morning. It was about 43 degrees, overcast, not much wind, and an occasional light mist. Still, it was warm enough that I could wear shorts! Not too bad for November 14th. The run was good. I hoofed it around my neighborhood and only encountered two people the entire time (a guy walking a dog, and another runner). Didn't see a lot in the way of wildlife, however I did hear a great horned owl hooting from down in the creek bottoms as the sun was coming up. And that alone was worth the price of admission.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Same place on the trail as yesterday...

...with a slightly different sunset tonight! The clouds made for some interesting effects this evening. No eagle this time, however.



Another gorgeous day, around 57 degrees and partly cloudy. Unbelievable weather! The run was really nice. I saw six of my resident deer coming out of the woods to snack on some of the grasses in the meadow. I also discovered that the park service is planting a whole grove of trees long one of my running trails. That should be pretty nice once that is done.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reminiscing at the microwave, and a nice fall day

I was microwaving some lasagna today for lunch, and I remembered a story from a couple of jobs ago.

My department relocated me to another floor due to space issues. I was surrounded by people from a different department, and my cubicle was near an older lady who was the admin for this group.

I barely had my computer set up when she stopped by. Without so much as an introduction or a hello, she launched into this diatribe explaining that if I was going to share the same printer as their group, we would have to work out some sort of billing arrangements between our departments (ink cartridges were expensive, they shouldn't have to absorb all the costs, blah, blah, blah). I kindly explained to her that:

A.) This was for someone other than me to figure out, and...
B.) I really didn't care. :)


Anyhow, that was a hell of a first impression, and I found her to be quite unpleasant. She would never say hello and would only really talk to you if she needed something, so I generally went out of my way to avoid having any interaction with her.

Most people who know me know that I like to make food from scratch whenever possible, especially pasta dishes. I invariably prepare my own red sauce, and even make my own fresh pasta from time to time.

So there I was in the break room heating up some of my lasagna, and my buddy was in there as well. Out of nowhere, she happened to ask what I was making. I told her "lasagna," and she got uncharacteristically animated and excited.

She exclaimed and declared, "Oooh, lasagna! I love lasagna! And I make gooooood lasagna! Is yours homemade?"

"Yes, it is homemade," I replied. "I love to cook, and I think I can make a pretty good lasagna as well."

Letting my guard down a little bit, I figured that she might have been a fellow cooking enthusiast. Maybe she was going to let me know about a family cooking secret for lasagna, such as a red sauce that was handed down from generation to generation, a new technique, or some special ingredients? Perhaps this broke the ice and I had found some common ground with her?

"Really?" she responded. "Do you use Prego, too?"

Or, maybe not. ;-)

(For the record, Prego is a fine and tasty product, and I heartily endorse its use! I like Prego, have purchased it countless times, and I subsisted on the stuff in college. It was just that given her enthusiasm for the dish, I was expecting a very different response and it completely cracked me up! Anyhow, that is what I thought of today while warming up my lasagna...)

A quick note on running - What a day this was! 61 degrees and sunny, on November 10th? Are you kidding me?!? Any day like this, this late in the year, is a bonus.

Running was a treat tonight. I put in my normal weekday 5 miler, and it was oh, so comfortable. I love running in weather like this. Here are a couple of images from tonight's run:

The lake with the sun setting behind me - you can sort of see that we have no leaves left



Tonight's sunset through the trees. See the blob to the left of the nest? That is one of my resident eagles.



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rocky! Rocky!

U of M flag flying proudly at the starting line of Rocky's Run. Other Big 10 Conference schools were represented in the background.



Fueled by my homemade bacon and some eggs for breakfast, I was ready to run on Sunday! I had the pleasure of joining nearly a couple hundred cross country running enthusiasts at this year's Rocky's Run 5k.

This race is held in memory of Rocky Racette, one of the all time great University of Minnesota runners. It is run on the U of M Les Bolstad golf course, and it serves as a fundraiser for the Rocky Racette scholarship fund. This is the fourth time I have participated in this event.

Yours truly, milling around before the race



We were blessed with a glorious fall day for the race. In fact, every year I have done this, the weather has been good. Early November in Minnesota can be kind of interesting and unpredictable, so I will take temperatures in the mid 50's with some sun trying to peek through mostly overcast skies!

A view of the Minneapolis skyline from the U of M golf course



As per usual, the U of M women's cross country team was well represented. I am always in awe of how fast they are. This race also draws a lot of current and former cross country runners, so for a small little cross country race, there is an awful lot of talent.

Runners warming up prior to the start; U of M team in maroon and gold warming up on the right



The race starts, and we all take off down the driving range. It never fails, but every year I always forget one thing when I come to this race:

This course is more hilly than I remember!

In fact, there is very little flat ground of any kind on the course. The terrain is rolling and is constantly going up, down, and even sideways. This is a challenging little track to run!

Despite the hills, I was feeling pretty good today. I didn't wear my watch and had no idea how I was doing, so I just ran.

Given the nice temperatures, I was surprised to see a number of cold weather running outfits. Lots of tights, long pants, and even gloves. I passed one person wearing pants, some sort of polar fleece shirt, gloves, AND one of those earmuff/headband things that skiers wear. I was hot just looking at this runner!

I felt pretty strong, trying my best to maintain my pace on the uphills, keep my balance on the sidehills, and take advantage of the downhills. I passed a number of folks over the last couple of kilometers. Having come off of a marathon, it is remarkable how quickly these 5k's get over with! I crossed the finish line in 23:59 (results here), so this was my fastest Rocky's Run time ever. For what it is worth, my previous times at this race are 24:10, 24:14, and 24:15, so I am also a model of consistency. ;-)

This year's Rocky's Run shirt



So, with that, another Rocky's Run is in the books, and we are close to completing yet another race season here in Minnesota. It was a great day to be a runner.

There was an 8k race following the 5k. I usually stick around to watch a little, but didn't this time. There was lasagna to be made... ;-)

Lasagna with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and homemade red sauce...mama mia!



Until next time,

Jean
Related Posts with Thumbnails