Saturday, October 31, 2009

The last of fall

So I was at the dentist yesterday to have a cavity filled. First one in 5 years. Strange enough, it was on the back of one of my front upper teeth, which you would think is about the easiest place to keep clean. I am blaming my energy gels and Clif Shot Bloks! :)

We are starting to see the last signs of fall around my area. The leaves are way past their peak brilliance, and many leaves have already fallen. These pictures were taken on my Wednesday run. The rain and wind over the last couple of days have taken most everything down. It is starting to look like November!

The forest floor along the trail

Yellow leaves, still hanging in there as of Wednesday

This Saturday, I was supposed to do a short cross country race, however it was canceled a couple of days ago apparently due to some logistical issues. So I did a 10 mile run this morning instead. It was 37 and overcast with a fairly stiff west wind. That being said, I had an excellent run and felt very speedy.

Good luck to my blog readers who are running in the Monster Dash and Surf the Murph. I probably should have come out to cheer people on since my race plans got bagged. However, this is the first weekend in the last three that I have been home, so I have a few cooking projects going on in the kitchen! More to come...

Until next time,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October weekend on the North Shore

I drove up to the North Shore on Friday, and it was rainy and windy the entire way.

When I got to Duluth, there was a strong NE wind, and the waves were absolutely rolling into the shore. It was enough to bring the surfers out by the Lester River. The parking lot by the river was filled with vehicles that had surfboards on top, and several people were in the water riding the huge waves. Yes, people surf on Lake Superior - in 38 degrees and rain, even. Minnesotans are die hards!

Snow on Saturday

That sort of set the tone for the weather over the weekend. While Saturday was very nice (sunny, mid 40's, and even a dusting of snow in the morning), Sunday and Monday were drizzly and overcast. Still, I managed to have a fun weekend with the family.

I went running on Saturday and Sunday (8.5 miles and 5 miles respectively). Both runs were rather nice with temps in the low to mid 30's. I saw one person over the course of both days, so I pretty much had the roads and trails to myself! Always great to go running in the North Country.

On my Saturday run

Mom and Dad fed me extremely well. Dishes included fish cakes (made with fresh Lake Superior whitefish...yum!), grilled ribeye steaks, and Dad's applewood smoked ribs.

Fish cakes with homemade tartar sauce, along side some carrots and parmesan-herb crusted new potatoes

We did make it out into the woods a couple of times. Most of the leaves have dropped, and there is a winter like appearance that is starting to settle in. The resident chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers were out in full force. Many of the arctic birds have moved into the area, including scores of dark-eyed juncos, Lapland longspurs, and some of the first snow buntings showed up this week as well.

The birds are always happy to see me when I visit - photo courtesy of Dad!

The family was great, and my little nephew is really cool. He even sat with me and, for the first time, didn't start crying! One of the funnier moments of the weekend came at dinner when my Dad was cutting my brother's steak at the dinner table while my brother was trying to eat and hold his son at the same time. Welcome to parenthood, Brett!

Mom also sent me home with an unexpected gift. She is a wonderful quilter and made this beautiful Christmas wall hanging for me! How cool is that? Mom really does beautiful work, and I am thrilled to have this. Thanks Mom!

'Tis the season!

This was a fairly short weekend, but it was good to go home. I will be spending some extended time up here at Thanksgiving, which I am already looking forward to. :)

Until next time,


Monday, October 26, 2009

Back from the North

A Saturday morning dusting of snow in the North Country

I have returned from a long weekend up at Mom and Dad's. The weather wasn't the best (Saturday morning was at least pretty, as seen above), but we had a fantastic time, I got to bond with my nephew, and Mom and Dad fed me way too much awesome food.

Just letting you know I haven't dropped off the face of the earth! I will post more later!

Until next time,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iowa trip notes

Iowa always makes me feel somewhat nostalgic. Part of the reason is because I went to school down here. Another reason is because countless family trips have always taken us through Iowa. Here are a few random trip notes from my Des Moines Marathon weekend:
  • I stopped at the "Primary Iowa Welcome Center" (exact words on the highway sign) just across the border on my way down. It was a really nice center fashioned like an old red barn. It made me wonder if there was a "Secondary Iowa Welcome Center" and what that might be like. :)
Welcome to Iowa!

  • On both my trip down and back, I had the iPod plugged into the car stereo playing on shuffle mode (which is different from the "shuffle mode" that sometimes happens when running a long race!). This almost instinctively played a pleasing mix containing a ton of Son Volt, The Jayhawks, Gear Daddies, Shooter Jennings, and Wilco (including numerous selections from the "Mermaid Avenue" vol. 1 & 2 collaboration with Billy Bragg), which was so incredibly appropriate for a trip across the rural heartland of America. I was beginning to think the iPod had a GPS that synched with the shuffle mode.
  • I also stopped at a rest area that was extremely close to the hometown of a girl I knew in college. I was interested in dating her, but my overtures were met with a metaphoric stiff arm closely resembling the "Heisman Trophy pose." I wondered what ever happened to her, and if she realizes she could have potentially landed a slender, studly marathoner? :)
My historic hotel

  • As I said in my previous post, I stayed at the Renaissance Savery Hotel in downtown Des Moines. It was the host hotel for the event, and it is a beautiful facility that is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The great thing about these hotels during marathon weekends - everyone is on the same schedule and goes to bed early! The hotel was almost eerily quiet.
  • My pre-race dinner in Des Moines was at the Court Avenue Brewing Company, which was only a couple blocks from my hotel. The "Pesto Chicken Pasta" came highly recommended from my server who resembled the adorable Daisy character on the TV show "Bones." She didn't lie - the dish was delicious. It consisted of grilled chicken in a pesto cream sauce with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and pine nuts over farfalle pasta. Their beer sounded good too, but, you know, I had a marathon in the morning! So I settled on their homemade root beer, which was excellent. A classy pub atmosphere, and a very tasty dinner.
Welcome to Swaledale!

  • My family and I always loved the name of the town of Swaledale and remarked about it every time we drove by. It just kind of flows off the tongue, don't you think? Best of all, the tiny little town has a wonderful sense of humor. Only a mile off the Interstate, they have a sign on nearly every telephone pole leading into town - cute little signs that say things like: "Looking for Swaledale?" "Well, here it is!" "Next 7 Exits." Great stuff. There was also a sign referencing polka being an Iowa state law. And, apparently there have been some good ghost sightings in the area. I love this town!

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crashing through the wall at the Des Moines Marathon

Personalized bib numbers; always a nice touch!

I woke up to 37 degrees the morning of the Des Moines Marathon. I know this because I went out to my car and checked the thermometer. You know how The Weather Channel has their "Local on the 8's" where you get the weather forecast for your area? My parents who live in the boonies get this segment with a forecast tailored for them. Apparently Des Moines (or at least the cable provider for my hotel) does not. Instead I got the temperatures for various cities across the country, Des Moines not included! In any case, it looked like it was going to be a good day for running.

The hotel I stayed at was ideal. The Renaissance Savery was the host hotel, and it was right at the start and finish line. Stumble out the door and you are on the race course. The lobby was absolutely jammed with people trying to stay warm before the start of the race! I wandered out to the start line with about 20 minutes to spare.

Yours truly at the marathon start (thanks to the nice lady who offered to take my picture!)

At 8 AM, we were off like a herd of turtles. The first few miles were shared by the full and half marathoners on narrow city streets, so the quarter were a little cramped. We ran past the beautiful gold domed Capital building and made our way through the downtown area.

After three miles, the half marathoners split off to the left, which freed things up considerably. Miles 3 through 8 threw a surprising number of hills at us (and here you thought Iowa was flat!). This was the rather upscale section of Des Moines, home to the Governor's Manison and other expensive residences. While nothing was incredibly steep, the hills were lengthy and gradual. At one location I looked off to my left and took in a rather nice view of the river valley. We must have been on top of "Mount Des Moines!"

The course leveled out significantly after that. Around the 9 mile mark, I saw one of the leaders coming back in the other direction. He was past mile 15. Of course, he and others were eventually stopped by a train near the finish, so that would allow me to make up some ground on him! :)

Mile 12 provided one of the coolest parts of the race - we entered the Drake University campus (gorgeous, by the way...the trees on campus were the prettiest along the route, displaying spectacular shades of orange and red) and got to do a lap around the track, home of the famous Drake Relays. This was especially fun, since my Dad was here decades ago competing with his college track team. A great experience for any runner to get to run on the blue track!

Also, I saw a digital thermometer on/near the campus that said 42 degrees. The temperature was staying perfect!

I crossed the half way mark in a hair over 2 hours and 1 minute. That was almost 4 minutes slower than the midway point of my Fargo race. I figure those early hill had an effect, but I was also trying to pace myself better so I had something left at the end. I was feeling very good and liked the pace I was keeping, so I tried to stay within that comfort zone.

I actually made the background of one of the photos in the Des Moines Register slideshow!

Spectators and aid station volunteers were great all the way around. I heard lots of personal words of encouragement being directed at me with several folks shouting "Go blue!" in reference to my shirt. There were even some guys having an early morning happy hour near the 14 mile mark with a couple of bottles of hard liquor on their table! Aid stations were on the ball, well staffed, and quite enthusiastic.

Best sign I saw on the course from a spectator was around mile 15 - "Janet, run like there is a yarn sale!"

Miles 16 through 18 - beautiful. Here were left the residential areas and entered a trail that would lead us into the Water Works Park. The trees were turning pretty shades of yellow and orange, and we ran along side of a river. It reminded me a lot of my trails that run by the creek near my place.

In the open area of the park, the south wind was raging between miles 19 and 20. But after mile 20, we turned to head back to the city, so for the most part it would be helping us back to town.

I was still feeling remarkably good. I had been popping two Clif Shot Bloks every 4 miles, and I took water or Gatorade at every aid station except for the first one, and I was feeling like I had something left in the tank. Miles 21 and 22 came and went, and we started the counterclockwise lap around Grays Lake. This is where I started passing a lot of people. Several folks were in full on "shuffle mode," and I felt like I was clipping along.

Around the lake and heading for home, we crossed the George Washington Carver bridge over the Raccoon River and made our way into the downtown area. I passed the 25 mile mark and was still doing well. I felt like I crashed through the proverbial "wall" like a clumsy party guest. I was maintaining the pace I wanted, I didn't crap out, and I was feeling great about how my race was going. In fact, as I was passing some folks down the home stretch, another runner (a gentleman with a very thick foreign accent) shouted to me enthusiastically, "Looking good, buddy! You are running strong!"

We turned north on 4th Street and headed to the finish, which was only a few blocks away. Always nice to see the finish line in sight! I ran past lots of cheering folks, (as well as the big Templeton Rye party bus that was parked downtown!) and I crossed the line in 4:07:26. (Results here)

My time was over three minutes slower than my marathon PR, but in some cases this was a little more gratifying just because I managed myself so well. I felt good the whole way around. I finished strong. My stomach didn't feel like crap afterward. I was quite happy with my performance and time. And aside from some minor stiffness in my legs, overall I came through this in good shape.

The race is well organized (anyone who got held up by the train might disagree, but that wasn't the fault of the race!). Aside from being windy, you couldn't have asked for a nicer day. And the course was really quite gorgeous with fall colors busting out everywhere. As I have said before, anyone who thinks Des Moines in not pretty has never been there.

A fun event, a successful race, and a nice way to cap off another season.

Loving this marathon stuff,


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Des Moines Marathon Verification Testing Results

Picking up where I left off on the validation plan, I need to finish off my testing results:


Using the downtown Des Moines testing environment:

1. Chose proper attire based on Sunday morning weather, suiting up in shorts, long sleeved top, and a light top over that. Gloves also came in handy for the 37 degrees at the start
2. Tied shoes, ensured laces are tight - additional regression testing included ensuring timing chip was properly affixed
3. Applied liberal amounts of anti-chafing stick
4. Carried enough gels in waist pack
5. Lined up at 8:00 AM in downtown Des Moines on Sunday, October 18
6. Ran, ran, ran, managing race well and actually had a strong finish
7. Finished the 2009 Des Moines Marathon in 4:07:26

Testing PASSED. Marking as VERIFIED. :)

Thanks to all for your well wishes and kind remarks leading up to the event. I really appreciated it. I will be posting more details soon (without the techno-babble!). Bbut in short, I had a really good race. It was not my fastest marathon, but it was my best one in terms of management, pacing, and finishing strong.

More to if you will excuse me, I am off to my recliner with a cold beverage! ;-)


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Des Moines Marathon Validation Plan

I'm going to write this post using some of my work-related lingo. Only developers and QA types will probably find it amusing. It is sort of like Steve Martin from his early stand-up days when he geared one of his jokes towards a convention of plumbers supposedly in the audience, only not nearly as funny...


2009 Des Moines Marathon Validation Plan


Preliminary weather forecast appears to be sunny and in the low 30's at the start with a high around 60 later in the day. Should make for an ideal day of running, even though it might create something of a wardrobe conundrum at the start.


Runner had a good, solid summer of training. A few medium distance races and a 20 miler for tuneups, and weekend long runs between 17 and 21 miles over the course of August and September.


Review suggests runner is prepared and has trained within the established standard operating procedures. Runner is also armed with a new enough pair shoes that are properly broken in, a varied wardrobe for any conditions, plenty of gels, and is taking adequate anti-chafing measures.


In the downtown Des Moines testing environment:

1. Choose proper attire based on Sunday morning weather
2. Tie shoes, ensuring laces are tight
3. Apply anti-chafing measures
4. Carry enough gels in waist pack
5. Line up at 8:00 AM in downtown Des Moines on Sunday, October 18
6. Run, run, run
7. Successfully finish the 2009 Des Moines Marathon

My VERIFICATION TESTING RESULTS will be recorded upon my return. :)

Iowa State Capital building from my trip in 2006

Onward to Des Moines! Good luck to all of you running this weekend, and I will speak to you when I get back on Sunday!

Until next time,


Monday, October 12, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

The first two photographs were taken outside of my office. You might think this was from last winter, but the pictures were actually taken shortly after 8 AM this morning, October 12th. Good golly! The local news also reported that the snow on Saturday was the earliest measurable snowfall the Twin Cities has received in 24 years!

Snow on October 12, 2009

Snow clinging to the trees

I know we still have two months to go before winter actually starts, but this is already shaping up to be one of "those" winters. You know, the kind where we get snow every month from now through the opening of walleye fishing season in May. And here I had been seeing many woolly bear caterpillars with lots of brown on them. As I have discussed previously, according to the Farmer's Almanac, the more brown color on the woolies, the milder the winter. The woolly bear theory is turning out to be pure hogwash thus far! :)

It snowed most of the day, but thankfully it was warm enough that none of it stuck to the roads. The temperature was 37 degrees, and I had a great run when I got home. With the exception of two other runners and a lady walking a ferocious beagle who wanted a piece of me, I had the trails largely to myself. The sights along the way were quite remarkable with our strange early season snow. Here are a few images from today's journey:

Snow on the edge of the trails, mixed with some fall colors - very strange to see snow AND leaves!

About the only place on the trails where snow was accumulating was on the wooden bridges

Yours truly, from this afternoon's run

Let's switch gears and talk food! Saturday night I conducted a little experiment. People make bread with beer used as the liquid ingredient. Why not try making pizza dough with beer? There were dozens of recipes on the Internet, but I decided to improvise with my old standby - Alton Brown's pizza dough recipe, substituting beer in place of the water.

I follow the amounts in his recipe pretty much to the letter, but I typically use unbleached all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and I cut down on the sugar and salt as he recommends. I also follow a slightly different process in that I warm the water (in this case, beer), add it to the bowl of my stand mixer, and sprinkle in the yeast to wake it up. Then I add all of my dry ingredients and the olive oil and mix away. I've had more consistent results this way. I also find it really only takes about 10 minutes of kneading in the mixer with the dough hook for everything to come together and produce a smooth, elastic dough.

The results were delicious! The use of beer gives a fantastic yeasty aroma when it bakes, and adds a somewhat tangy, sourdough-like flavor to the crust. I will be doing this variation on the recipe quite often. For my toppings, I figured what would go better with a beer crust than some sliced bratwurst and sauerkraut? Yum. Cheeses included an eclectic mix of small amounts of baby Swiss, Emmentaler, Gouda (from Wisconsin - not the real deal, but still good!), and smoked cheddar.

Pizza with bratwurst and sauerkraut on a Red Hook "Long Hammer IPA" pizza crust

The bratwurst sliced were browned first before adding to the pizza. And sauerkraut is a vastly underrated and underutilized pizza topping. Just be sure to drain the kraut, rinse, and squeeze as dry as you possibly can for the best results.

Anything with bratwurst and sauerkraut needs some good mustard!

See if you can get THAT at Pizza Hut! :)


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hazy shade of winter

Why is Jean bundled up? Read on...

I woke up this morning and took a look outside. It was dark, but I could see that a blanket of white was coating the trees and ground.

SNOW! The first of the season.

What a difference a couple of days makes. Wednesday was 64 degrees and I was running in shorts and a light top. This morning (25 degrees and breezy, making for a wind chill of 16!) required running pants, a winter base layer running shirt, jacket, balaklava, stocking cap, and my beloved winter choppers to keep my hands toasty!

Snow mixed with fall colors

The trails were in good shape. The snow did not really cling to the pavement. Some did stick in the grassy areas and on wooden bridge decks. I would estimate we got about a half an inch, but it will all melt today (in fact, most of it is gone already). Predictably, a few of the local homeowners associations that border some of the trails left their automatic lawn sprinklers on, so not only did they water their snowy lawns, but they also created skating rinks on parts of the trails! My winter running skills were tested in places, but traction was generally good.

Gorgeous fall colors along the lake this morning

This was arguably the prettiest run I have done, ever. The blanket of snow mixed with the fall colors was astonishingly beautiful. The snow was clinging to branches and leaves, effectively creating a winter wonderland (even though winter is officially more than two months away!).

Snow clinging to the trees along the trail

I did just over 12 miles, my last "long" run before Des Moines. All in all, it was a nice day to be running, even if the nozzle on my water bottle froze up, and I had to turn on my fireplace for the first time this season to warm up when I got home. :) I know it sounds silly, but I love running in the winter!

That being said, I have finished running errands and I think I will be in for the day. The wind is still blowing, and the high temperature isn't supposed to top 40 today. A great excuse to stay indoors, watch a lot of sports, and make some homemade pizza for dinner (I am trying something new again - a bit of an experiment, so I will let you know if it turns out).

Stay warm!


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Gorgeous fall day

After rain for four of the last six days, we finally got a really beautiful fall day in the mid 60's. Nice! I had a very enjoyable five mile run. Saw lots of song sparrows, a few blue jays, and even my pair of resident eagles. Just a great day to be outside.

Here are some images from this afternoon's run:

Pretty colors along the running trail

The shoreline of my local lake

Turning maples along the trail

The colors are going to be gorgeous down here this week. Even if it snows on Friday. :)

Here is my pizza from Monday night. I made pizza with a lattice pattern of prosciutto, fresh sage, a couple of cheeses, and an egg yolk right in the middle - sort of a "bacon and eggs" pizza, if you will!

Pizza, pizza...

While tasty, it was something of a failure aesthetically, as I should have put the latticed prosciutto on top of the cheese so you could actually see it! Also, the egg yolk cooked too long, resulting in a firmer, custard-like texture (I was shooting for somewhat runny). Next time, I will add the yolk towards the end of cooking. Lessons learned.

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It begins...

I couldn't help but notice this snippet in the long range forecast from the National Weather Circus out of the Twin Cities:

Friday Night: A slight chance of snow. Partly cloudy, with a low around 30.

Oh my, the "s" word! Now where did I store my winter running gloves and stocking caps? :)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A nice fall run, and a Sunday in the kitchen

Sunday was the nicest day of the last four. 50-ish, partly cloudy, and a decent breeze. I am sure those participating in the Twin Cities Marathon races must have been pleased.

Speaking of the Twin Cities Marathon, I gather I was one of the few not participating on Sunday morning. I ran 18 miles today, and in all my time on the trails, I saw only three other runners (including a guy running with not one, but two sheepdogs AND another slightly smaller black dog of some sort...the dogs were pretty much in charge!). In any case, I pretty much had the entire city to myself, or so it seemed.

I was, however, accompanied by my feathered friends, including a great horned owl I rousted from his perch on a post in the early morning hours, some trumpeter swans, dozens of cedar waxwings pilfering a shrub of its berries, and I also saw a palm warbler (the palm is one of the first to arrive in the spring, and is one of the last to leave in the fall - so my colorful warbler buddies have all but moved on through for the season). And the colors of the leaves are getting gorgeous. This week should be spectacular in the metro area.

Colors along the trail

I am happy it is cool, because that means I can cook up warming dishes like this; it is essentially chicken pot pie, but with a mashed potato topping (in the style of a shepherd's pie) instead of the traditional pastry crust. I am calling it "Chicken Shepherd's Pie," even though chickens require no shepherds (and if they did, the person herding chickens would most certainly not be called a "shepherd"..."chickherd," perhaps?).

Out of the oven

The dish was a little involved. I don't have precise measurements, as I was sort of winging this. Here is what I did:

I made my own chicken stock with chicken, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, a little white wine, parsley, thyme, and sage. I cooled the chicken stock in the fridge to de-fat it. While the chicken stock was cooling, I roasted my root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, and turnips) in the oven to given then a nice roasted flavor, which added a lot to the finished product). Once the stock was de-fatted, I added the reserved chopped chicken and roasted veggies to a stock pot and allowed them to cook together. While that was simmering, I made homemade Yukon gold mashed potatoes and ran them through the ricer to get them nice and fluffy. At the last minute, I added some peas to the chicken mixture and thickened it with cornstarch until I got a gravy-like consistency. Added some additional chopped thyme, sage, and parsley right at the end. Added the sauce to a baking dish, topped with 'taters, baked until bubbly and the top slightly crusty.

Chicken Shepherd's Pie with Roasted Root Vegetables

I think I spent most of the afternoon, and even part of the morning, putting all of this together, but it was worth every second. Gooooooood stuff!

Until next time,

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