Wednesday, September 30, 2009

French Omelette

Really nice running weather over the last couple of day! It was 56 degrees yesterday and near 60 today (with a crisp 38 this morning...brrrr!), which made for delightful running. The fall colors continue to kick into gear as well.

A shot of the lake this afternoon. The leaves continue to get more colorful!

But enough about that. The real reason I am here is because I am happy to report that for two days in a row now, I have managed to rock out a really good French omelette for my dinner!

A successful French omelette with Gruyère cheese and fresh thyme, garnished with a little parsley

This has been something of a culinary nemesis of mine ever since I saw Alton Brown make one of these on his show. I don't know why, as it should be so simple, but the technique has eluded me. I think I find it challenging because it comes together so quickly, the window for success or failure is narrow, and getting the fold right has been kind of tricky for me.

But I think I have it down now (or at least I am getting close). For two days in a row, I have turned out a French omelette with a fluffy exterior and a nice creamy interior. The photo above was from tonight. Yesterday's was actually prettier, but I was so excited with the results, I forgot to take a picture! :) Delicious stuff.

Yours in eggy goodness,


Monday, September 28, 2009

More images from fall

Sunday morning started out pretty nice, but the wind was absolutely cranking by the afternoon (40-45 MPH gusts out of the northwest). The wind was still whipping today and it just about stood me up a couple of times on my run this afternoon. I am afraid we will probably lose a lot of leaves as a result, but it should still be kind of pretty and colorful for a few weeks yet. Here are a few images of fall from this yesterday and today:

A pretty Sunday morning

Colors keep changing every week

The sumac are brilliant right now

My local lake on an extremely windy Monday afternoon. It looks like rain, but it is more just an effect from the sunlight.

Another sign of fall? I am cooking soup again! This weekend it was my homemade vegetable beef soup.

Until next time,


Saturday, September 26, 2009

21 in the fog with the owls

Finally, a decent Saturday morning! The last two weekends were warm and humid. Today, it was humid, but also very cool.

A foggy Saturday morning over the lake. You can see the colors are really starting to turn.

I ran 21 miles today, and it was GREAT! I was out the door at 5:20 and temperatures were cool, staying in the mid 50's the whole time, with areas of mysterious, patchy fog. I ran very well, nice and steady, with no crashing and burning in the later stages. I stayed well hydrated and energized, and was very happy with my performance. It was good to have this after two weekends in a row of feeling somewhat unproductive.

The highlight of the journey was running a dirt road through a wooded area adjacent to a field. It was still dark and you could see stars in the sky, but there was also some low hanging fog over the field and in the trees. A very loud sound of "Who-cooks-for-you!" echoed throughout the area. I started laughing because I knew this was the call of the barred owl. There were two of them that had a little call and response going on in the early hours of morning. It was a beautiful setting in the darkness with the stars and the fog, hearing the haunting, yet somewhat comical, vocalizations of these beautiful birds.

As the sun came up it revealed to me just how much the leaves have turned in the past couple of days. It's getting pretty around here! Ducks and geese are starting to flock together in large numbers on the lakes and ponds. Robin and blue jays are starting to band together as well. You can definitely tell changes are in our midst.

For dinner, I cooked up my Minnesota Viking-style gratin Dauphinoise, made with alternating layers of Yukon gold and purple potatoes (recipe for the gratin is found here). It is football season, after all.

Go, Vikes, go!

The gratin paired nicely with some grilled venison tenderloin drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and a side of fresh Minnesota-grown green beans!

Some tasty carbs and protein after a big run today!

Until next time,


Friday, September 25, 2009

I've got nothing, so let's talk golf

It was a very busy week at work. I went running tonight in the drizzle. Fall colors are really starting to show (lots of yellows). Actually saw lots of birds, including one of my eagles, a green heron, yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern flickers, cedar waxwings, many blue jays, the robins are starting to flock together, and I chatted with three deer. That is all I've got.

Unrelated to anything, I'm on the verge of winning my fantasy golf league (providing Jason Dufner doesn't finish last at the TOUR Championship, and providing Zach Johnson doesn't win it). In lieu of not having much to say, I will leave you with some random golf silliness!

Until next time,


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First run of the fall

My local lake on the first day of fall

Fall officially arrived today at 4:19 PM. Put a fork in the summer of 2009!

Yesterday's run was a really nice 5 miler, partially because I just got a new pair of shoes, but also because of the weather - low 70's, fairly overcast, with an occasional stray raindrop. While still a little warm, not having the sun beating down on you makes a different. I felt downright spry and speedy!

I also encountered a pair of deer the woods along the trail. They were there on my way out, and on my way back in exactly the same spot. During second trip past them, I stopped to chat. I was no more than 20 feet from one of them, and they could have cared less. She stared curiously at this idiot that was talking to her, and then resumed her munching on some of the underbrush. I went on my way, and they never moved. Clearly, they are used to seeing people.

Today was supposed to be overcast with a chance for rain. As you can see from the photos above and below, it turned out to be a spectacularly gorgeous day. Low 70's, low humidity, just idea. Not a bad way to kick off the first run of the fall. I put in an easy 5 miles again, as I was stopping to take photos and investigate the woolly bear situation.

Yours truly, enjoying the trails on the first day of fall

I did find a woolly bear caterpillar today. I tried to photograph him, but it came out blurry. He did have a large brown band on him, which is supposed to be indicative of a mild winter. However, I saw one over the weekend that had a very tiny brown band, meaning our winter could be harsh.

So far, it is a mixed bag of woollies. More research is needed. :)

Until next time,


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Looking, but not feeling like, fall

A giant sunflower still in bloom. Most of these are losing their petals now, but this guy is hanging in there. By the way, I was eye level with the flower.

We experienced another warm weekend, so it is definitely not feeling like fall. However, it is starting to look like fall. A little bit, anyhow. Now I am just waiting for the days to get cooler.

Local trails showing some fall colors

A furry friend on the trail

Today was a day off from running. I ran a little over 18 miles on Saturday. It was kind of a tough run, as I found it rather humid, and the day was rapidly starting to warm up. Slow going towards the end. But I finished! I saw a green heron en route, along with many blue jays, and lots of ducks and geese on the move. It would appear many of my feathered friends are hightailing it out of here!

Last night, my reward for the long run was a lemon-dill roasted chicken, again, straight from the pages of the Norwegian cookbook "Kitchen of Light" by Andreas Viestad. This is my favorite preparation. I love fresh dill, and I use a whole bunch as Andreas insists (it's a Norwegian thing). In fact, my kitchen still smelled of dill this morning! :) In any case, dinner was awesome.

Out of the oven

Lemon-dill chicken with Minnesota-grown green beans and sweet corn

Until next time,


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Woolly bully

Our unseasonably warm weather continues. The first part of the week was in the low 80's with high 70's yesterday. Not the most comfortable weather for running, considering fall is only a few days away. I have managed 5 milers on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I was a sweaty mess after each of them!

I saw a few interesting things during my run this week, including a Cooper's hawk, the reemergence of the mourning cloak butterflies, as well as several tiny woolly bear caterpillars trucking across the trails. And so begins another season of the woolly bear rescue mission.

There is a theory from the Old Farmer's Almanac stating that the length of the central brown band on the woolly bear caterpillar is indicative of what kind of winter we can expect. A longer brown band indicates a shorter winter is in store for us, while a thin brown band tells us the winter will be long.

A woolly bear from last season. This guy had a fairly small brown band, and we had a rather drawn out winter last year. We will see what happens!

I will be conducting extensive woolly bear caterpillar analysis in the coming weeks and will let you know what we are in for. ;-)

On a related note: I just learned there is a Woolly Bear Festival in Ohio. It is this weekend if you are anywhere in the neighborhood of Vermilion. Looks like this festival is in need of a fun run. :)

Until next time,


Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday in the foggy park

Geese on a foggy lake on Sunday morning

Nice run this evening after work. Just an easy 5 miler. Once again, it is hot (83 degrees), and fall is only a week away!

I did see something cool on my run, too; I heard loud rustling in the tall grasses along the creek. I backtracked to see what was making the commotion. Suddenly I see a beautiful red fox staring back at me. Such a pretty animal. He bolted back into the grass as soon as he caught sight of me, but that was a treat.

Sunday morning I headed up to Elm Creek Park to hike around and loosen up the legs after the difficult 20 mile race on Saturday. It was another warm and humid morning with lots of haze, fog, and mosquitoes. I am really not sure what is going on with the mosquitoes as of late. Usually they tend to disappear this time of year, and this makes two weekends in a row where they have been nearly unbearable. We need a good frost to kill those buggers off!

In spite of the "skeets," I did manage to see some good birds. Lots of American redstarts, red-eyed vireos, common yellowthroats, gray catbirds, blue jays, several sedge wrens, rose-breasted grosbeaks, tons of ducks and geese, and even a Wilson's warbler. I think I would have seen a lot more birds if I could have spent more time out there on Sunday (seemed like many birds were migrating through on this day), but the insects were more than one could take.

Colors are slowly starting to show on some of the trees. The yellows of fall continue to emerge, and spots of red are appearing on a few of the maples and especially on the sumac. We are still weeks away from peak colors, but you can definitely tell the season is changing.

I also saw a few deer (photo below). Actually, they were the ones who saw me first. I had been standing in one location for several minutes watching some warblers when I turned to my right and found three deer staring at me. I have no idea how long they were there. They skedaddled off down the trail and stopped to stare some more for several minutes. The deer closest to me kept stomping her hoof at me, but the other two were somewhat nonchalant. Eventually they all came to distrust me and trotted off.

Below are a few images from the park on Sunday:

Leave turning yellow in the park

Furry friends sharing the trail on a foggy morning

Fog hanging over the swamp

Also, here is a shot of some late-season baby gray squirrels that are nesting in a knot hole of a maple tree outside of my window at home. There are three babies. So far, they haven't left their tree, but they are getting bolder each day and have been running up and down the trunk working on their squirrel moves. The mama squirrel looks exhausted, too. Sometimes she just sprawls out on a branch outside of the nest to relax while the little ones raise hell. They are hilarious to watch.

Two of my resident baby gray squirrels practicing their squirrel skills

Until next time,


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Humbled by humidity at the Get Ready To Rock 20 Miler

My snazzy new shirt from the Get Ready To Rock 20 Miler - long-sleeved and black; always a nice touch.

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of joining a number of local marathon aficionados in the city of White Bear Lake for the Get Ready To Rock 20 Miler. As this is a few weeks prior to the Twin Cities Marathon, a lot of runners use this as a final tune up.

(As a side note, just a few miles south of my race was the Bear Water Run. Not one, but TWO 20 miles races occurring in the same town, on the same day, and at the same time! You can't say we don't have options here in Minnesota!)

Let me set the scene for you; a couple of days ago, the National Weather Circus was predicting a high of 66 degrees for Saturday with clouds and occasional rain. I am thinking, "Sweet! It will be cool!"

Saturday arrives. On my drive over to the race, prior to the sun rising, it was already 68, muggy, and humid with little to no wind. Ick! When the sun did come up, it was a hazy sun, which further added to the stagnant grossness of the morning. A big swing and a miss on the forecast.

Yours truly before the race. If the setting looks a lot like that of the Northern Lakes 10 Miler, that is because it is the same place! Same headquarters, using a lot of the same route as well.

Since there is nothing you can do about the weather, I just prepared as best I could. I decided to carry my hand bottle with me so I could always have fluids. I did not plan to run this race all out or anything ("It's just a long training run," I kept telling myself), and I was preparing to dial it back if need be.

The race started at the White Bear Lake high school, ran though the residential areas for several miles, turned north and would run two clockwise loops of Bald Eagle Lake before returning to the school for the finish.

My first half of the race went OK. I made it through the half way point at 1 hour, 30 minutes exactly. The route does offer a fair amount of shade in many places, so I was feeling alright. Many lovely views of the lake here. I saw dozens of ducks and geese congregating near the shoreline, and some of the residents of the lake were even performing the unenviable task of pulling in their docks for the winter (more signs of fall!).

Lots of fantastic, friendly volunteers were handing out water and HEED sport drink (not my personal favorite; to me, it tastes like you dipped a cup directly into your water softener, but that is just my opinion!). They were offering words of encouragement, as well as words of consolation about the weather. Hats off to all of you! You made a difficult day of running much better!

The heat and humidity really started to catch up to me. The sun was getting higher in the sky, and I could feel myself losing energy and slowing down.

And then, somewhere around 15 miles, everything went to hell in a hand basket.

Video footage of Jean hitting the proverbial "wall" sometime around the 15 mile mark... :)

Despite taking adequate fluids and gels, I was sapped of energy. Normally I do a good job of pacing myself, but not today. In hindsight, while I thought I had gone out at a slow enough of a pace, I should have started even slower to account for the weather and to conserve more energy down the stretch. The last five miles contained a mix of attempted running, shuffling, and intermittent walking breaks.

At one point I saw an ambulance go by me, lights and sirens on full blast. I was fearful that they might have been en route to treat another runner behind me. After I saw that, I was content with my slow pace. No need to do anything stupid. I wasn't feeling all that great by the 18 mile mark, and I thought I might puke if I tried to push it, so I just stuck with the the run-shuffle-walk plan all the way back to the finish.

The aftermath; yours truly following the race, using the trunk of The Silver Hornet to prop myself up!

When I crossed the finish line, I looked as if I had fallen into Bald Eagle Lake. Every article of clothing from head to toe was drenched and clinging to me. Sweat was even dripping profusely from the bill of my cap. I handed my tag to one of the volunteers. He took one look at me and said, "Tell me there was someone out there spraying you guys with water, and that is why you are so wet?"

I replied, "Actually, there was a guy with a hose spraying people around the 18 mile mark...but this is mostly sweat. It was brutal out there!"

He smiled, laughed, and shook his head. "Way to go, nice job!" he said.

I crossed the line in a crowd-pleasing time of 3 hours, 20 minutes, and change (that is right...1 hour and 50 minutes for the second half...ugh!). I thought 3 hours on the nose would be a good goal, as I have been right in that zone for the last two marathons I have done. I have been feeling great about my training, and don't think I am training poorly; rather, I just think it was a bad day (temperature when I finished was 79 with a dew point of 65...yuck!).

My lackluster performance in no way should take away from the race, or its organization. They put on a good show. In addition to orchestrating the 20 miler, there were also 5 and 10k events going on. They do a really nice job keeping things coordinated, the volunteers were excellent (as noted earlier), the course around Bald Eagle Lake was beautiful and well marked, officers from the sheriff's department were controlling traffic at all the major intersections (thanks Officers!), and the race was relatively inexpensive considering the distance (I preregistered for $35). Kudos to the Final Stretch crew!

In closing, these things I know:

  1. Running in heat and humidity sucks. This has me looking forward to my first winter run in below zero weather (seriously)
  2. I shouldn't be afraid to run even slower at the start in weather like this
  3. The semi-regular post-race meal of Chinese take-out (Empress Chicken & Mongolian Beef from Ming's Garden this time around) was excellent
  4. The beer I am sipping as I type this, Dark Horse Brewing Co.'s "Crooked Tree" I.P.A., is tasting really good right about now

Hoping it will be much cooler in Des Moines,


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Happy birthday to me

Only one more year until the "Masters" division...yikes! :)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Runner up!

This was possibly the best weather I have ever experienced over a Labor Day weekend. Every day was glorious.

Monday morning I actually slept in (7 AM counts as sleeping in, right?), and then I did a nice 5 miler. Turned out to be a really good run, and there were a ton of other runners, bikers, walkers and rollerbladers out and about.

During my run I met a pack of four bikers (the serious guys decked out in lycra and riding expensive machines). Well in advance of getting to me, the lead biker shouted out, "RUNNER UP!"

The lead biker was calling out to identify traffic on the trails. The guys following all ducked into a single file, slipstream position, and cruised by on my left. I waved, and we all wished each other a good morning.

Two things worth noting:

1. I found this to be an extremely effective method of communicating by letting me know well in advance that they were approaching without scaring the hell out of me, AND it let the rest of the group know about pedestrians so they could react and share the trail appropriately (you might recall me lamenting earlier in the summer that I though all bikes should be equipped with a bell).

2. They identified me as a runner! It just sounded cool. I get called a lot of different things over the course of a typical day, and "runner" is usually not one of them. :) Kudos to the biker guys!

My Monday run was capped off with a two hour hike at Elm Creek. I was excited that I got to see some sedge wrens, including a juvenile. If that wasn't the cutest little bird, I don't know what is. I am convinced that these wrens were moving on through, as I have not seen them in the area for almost a month. A real treat to see them, perhaps for the last time this fall. I also saw many more eastern wood-pewees. And, the yellow colors are still trying to make their presence known. This was a great weekend to be a Minnesotan.

A few additional images from the weekend:

A New England Aster; this is one of our last flowers to bloom

Turning leaves along the trail

The Giant Sunflowers are everywhere in the park

A yellowing meadow at Elm Creek Park

A maple tree going red; fall is nearly upon us!

Until next time,


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Signs of fall over Labor Day weekend

A shot from Elm Creek Park this morning. You will notice the sumac are turning bright red, and the yellow colors are starting to kick in.

I did a little hiking up at Elm Creek Park on Sunday morning. A gorgeous day (heck, the whole weekend has been gorgeous). Once again, I saw some cool stuff...even some wild turkeys!

Not a good photo, as the sun was still not up. But there were at least six "gobblers" that greeted me at the park this morning!

For some reason, the mosquitoes were horrible this morning. Not sure why, as they haven't been bad in previous weeks. This kept me on the move today, but I did witness a yellow-throated vireo with a baby. The baby was pretty self-sufficient and was working on his "vireo moves," inspecting leaves and snapping up insects. But mama had a really large bug that she was working on, so junior was still pestering her in hopes of sharing in the feast!

The common yellowthroats are still here as well. I got to see a papa yellowthroat and observed his brilliant black mask was starting to fade. The crisp black mask was fading to gray right around the eye line; a sign of fall. I saw these birds frequently over the summer, and they were a treat to watch and learn about. They will be out of here soon.

Other birds of note included a northern harrier, several least flycatchers, and an eastern wood-pewee.

The colors around the area are really starting to turn. It is a long way to go before the fall colors reach their "peak," but you can definitely tell the season is changing. It is starting to get rather pretty around here!

Yellow and red colors are starting to make an appearance

Backtracking to yesterday, I got in an 18 mile run on Saturday morning. Nice day; cool, yet slightly humid, and even some fog in the low lying areas. I had the trails largely to myself, so it was very pleasant and peaceful. Saw tons of blue jays and gray catbirds, and I even heard the hooting of a great horned owl echoing across the south bay of Fish Lake (a very cool scene, with the full moon reflecting off of the lake!). Overall, a nice run. Only six weeks to go until Des Moines!

My reward for the long run? How about a dinner consisting of gemilli pasta with shrimp, cherry tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, garlic, crushed red pepper, white wine, and some fresh thyme and parsley? Oh yeah, now we are talking.

Gemilli with shrimp and a bounty of fresh veggies and herbs...yum!

Hope everyone is having a great Labor Day weekend. And wow, one more day of vacation to go! Loving these long weekends...

Until next time,


Friday, September 04, 2009

Another holiday weekend at home

Got out of work a little early today, went for an afternoon run, and got to see the parking lot that was the Interstate heading out of the Cities for the last unofficial weekend of summer. As I ran a short section of the bike path that parallels the freeway, I even got to witness some horn honking and people conducting diplomatic relations with their middle fingers. Nice.

At that moment, I was happy that I didn't have to go anywhere this weekend. And from the looks of it, everyone has left town, so the Twin Cities will be my personal playground for a few days! :) And the weather forecast is supposed to be great. Looking forward to some running, hiking, cooking, and whatever else I decide to do!

Absolutely unrelated to anything, I found this story somewhat amusing. Clearly, Minnesota's neighbors to the east have a sense of humor:

Plastic Pink Flamingo Named Madison's Bird

Have a safe and fun holiday weekend, everyone!

Until next time,


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Because I am French!

...well, OK, Swiss. Mostly Norwegian, actually, with a smattering of German. Still, none of that prevents me from cooking like a Frenchman on occasion. :)

This past weekend was actually cool enough to cook some hearty "comfort food." So Sunday's culinary project was coq au vin, a French concoction of chicken stewed in red wine.

Tradition would dictate your cooking wine be a Bourgogne rouge, but I just used a cheap Zinfandel. I don't do the traditional pearl onions and bacon, either. And I am also guessing fennel bulb is something of an unusual ingredient in coq au vin, but I really don't care. It is my dish, and I like the flavor! :) Anyway, here is how I do it:

Jean's Coq au Vin

-6 pieces of chicken, skin on (2 each breasts, legs, thighs)
-1 bottle of red wine
-4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
-1 small onion, sliced
-1 small fennel bulb, sliced
-1 celery stalk, sliced
-4 cloves (the spice, that is)
-1/2 tsp. herbes de Provence
-Fresh ground black pepper
-Butter and extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and more black pepper
-1 T. flour
-1 bouquet garni (bundle of fresh thyme, fresh parsley, and a couple dried bay leaves)
-1 8 oz. package of crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1 T. cornstarch, mixed with 1 T. cold water to make a slurry
-Fresh parsley for garnish

The day before you plan on making this for dinner, combine the first 10 ingredients in a large nonreactive bowl or dish, deep enough so that the chicken is submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the chicken and pat dry. Strain the solids from the red wine marinade, reserving both.

In a large Dutch oven, heat some butter and extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces on all side, in batches if necessary. It is important to take your time here because you want to get good color on the skin (good color = good flavor). Transfer chicken to a platter.

Wipe some of the excess oil of of the Dutch oven, adding some fresh oil if some additional oil is needed. Add the reserved vegetables and cook over medium high heat until brown and soft. This will take several minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and give it a good stir until everything is coated. Add the reserved wine marinade to deglaze, scraping up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Toss in the bouquet garni and return the chicken pieces to the Dutch oven. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Every once in awhile, skim the surface to remove the fat, and also turn the chicken occasionally. Allow to cook for at least 1 hour until the chicken is cooked though, juices are running clear, cooked to at least 165 degrees F, etc.

Transfer chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid. Discard the vegetables and the bouquet garni (they have given their all). Return the liquid to the Dutch oven and add the sliced mushrooms. Turn the heat back up to medium high and reduce the heck out of the liquid. You want a nice rolling boil here to cause evaporation and concentrate the flavors. This will take several minutes. Try to reduce the amount of liquid by half.

When the liquid is reduced to your satisfaction, pour in a little bit of the cornstarch slurry while continually stirring. NOTE: You may not need all of the slurry! It will depend upon how much your liquid is reduced. Observe how the sauce tightens up as you pour in just a small amount. Add more of the slurry if needed to get the sauce to the desired consistency.

Reduce the heat to low and return the chicken to the Dutch oven. Turn the chicken pieces so they are coated, allowing them to warm up for a few minutes in the sauce. Check your seasoning! Make sure it tastes good. Add a little salt and pepper if needed, or if you are so inclined, strip off some leaves of fresh thyme and toss them into the pot for a last minute flavor boost.

Add some fresh chopped parsley right at the end and serve it up. Drizzle some of that luxurious sauce over the top, too. If you were smart, you made some roasted garlic mashed potatoes for a side dish, which makes a fantastic little reservoir for holding more of the sauce. Mmmmm.....

Until next time,

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