Sunday, May 02, 2010

To change things up a little...

It has been four years since I started this blog, and it is time to freshen things up. I am in the process of starting up a new blog with a running, cooking, and food focus (which mine kinda was already - I just wanted to give it a new look and theme that will reflect this!).

So, I am taking a little break from blogging while I work on the new site and migrate all of my old posts over there, so none of my drivel from this blog will be lost. I won't be gone too long (heck, I have a marathon next weekend that I will need to report on!), and no doubt I will be commenting on the blogs that I read regularly.

Stay tuned...I will let you know when things are up and running! :)

Until next time,


Monday, April 26, 2010

Belated food post

I haven't talked much about food lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking! Here are some recent creations from my kitchen:

These cookies are from a couple of Saturdays ago. They are chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies with cinnamon. The recipe was loosely based on this one, but eliminating the toffee and going with all chips, and with a teaspoon of cinnamon added to the flour. There was something of a happy accident in that I added too many chips, so the cookies stayed big and chunky instead of flattening out. And I am really liking the addition of cinnamon to a lot of my cookie recipes. Yum!

Chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies with cinnamon

Made a tasty pizza last Thursday - black and green olives, fresh Mozzarella, Trugole cheese, and Grana Padano cheese, and home-cured Canadian bacon (still had a little bit left in the freezer!).!

Another cookie recipe - this is from the "sounds really strange, but is actually really good" files. I found this recipe in Bon Appetit for soft chocolate cookies with grapefruit and star anise and wanted to give it a try. Soft in texture with a rich chocolate flavor, the star anise adds a licorice note, and the grapefruit zest lends a pleasant citrus burst. Probably not a cookie for everyone, but I found them interesting, unique, and quite flavorful.

Exotic tasting cookies

Saturday night's dinner was shrimp in yellow curry. This is a Thai-style coconut curry dish I found in Mark Bittman's cookbook, The Minimalist Cooks at Home. (You might remember Bittman as one of the lucky guys who got to eat and drink his way around Spain with Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols) His recipe is here - but I changed a few things. I added lemongrass and roasted chile paste to the aromatics, reduced the amount of shrimp to a pound and included some veggies (red bell pepper, water chestnuts), and used all of a 14 1/2 oz. can of coconut milk (the recipe called for a cup, but I figured why waste the rest?). Even had some of my homemade curry powder on hand. You create an extremely flavorful sauce and basically poach the shrimp until just cooked through. This dish was outstanding.

Shrimp in yellow curry

Sunday was a crummy day weather wise, so I stayed in for most of the day and made pork and black bean enchiladas. It started with a homemade guajillo chile salsa, which would serve as my enchilada sauce. I also made a tangy and smoky tomatillo-chipotle salsa. A small hunk of pork butt was seasoned with a variety of spices and braised in beer, chicken stock, and some of the tomatillo-chipotle salsa until tender. I shredded the pork and mixed it with a can of black beans. The braising liquid was defatted and reduced to about a half cup worth of intensely flavored and spicy glaze, and this was mixed into the pork and beans. The pork and beans were rolled up in tortillas, topped with guajillo chile salsa, Monterrey Jack, and sharp cheddar cheeses and baked until golden brown and bubbly on top.

Hot out of the oven

Labor intensive? Yes. But absolutely worth the effort? You bet! The enchiladas came out of the oven smelling amazing, and tasting even better. Topped off with a little bit of both of my salsas and some sour cream, and I had a delightful south-of-the-border feast.

Plated up, with extra guajillo chile and tomatillo-chipotle salsas!

There, I am caught up!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nature's surround sound

Saturday morning arrived with cloudy skies and temps in the low 50's. Looked like we had received a little rain overnight, and a quick check of the radar indicated my area was in a dry slot with most of the rain was in southern MN. I headed out for my run.

Everything was going just fine until around mile 7 when a few raindrops started to fall. I could see the southern skies darkening, and I started to hear some claps of distant thunder.

A couple of miles later, the heavens opened up. It started with some large raindrops intermingling with...pea-sized hail? Good grief! This is the first time I have ever been caught in hail on a run (it stings). The hail subsided quickly enough, but heavy rain continued, along with more thunder and lightning.

In no time, I was drenched. Large puddles quickly appeared along the trails. Gutters along the side streets became small rivers. We received a tremendous amount of rain in a very short period of time.

(Nice morning for the Get In Gear, by they way! I will be interested in reading some race reports.)

I will say this much - there are few things cooler than being able to hear thunder when you are outside. It is just an amazing sound. The rumbling can not only be heard, but also felt. This vast, expansive sound makes you feel small. Mother Nature's surround sound system absolutely rocks!

I actually met another runner during the worst of it. We exchanged "Good mornings" with a little bit of a laughter in our voices, both keenly aware that we didn't do a very good job of interpreting the local weather forecast.

Clothing completely saturated? Check. Shoes waterlogged? Check. Chafing badly because every article of clothing was clinging to my body? Really big check. Good times!

Can you believe I ran 20 miles in this crap? This was the weekend for my "long run" in preparation for my marathon in a couple weeks! In spite of the conditions, I ran OK. But never have I been so happy to take a hot shower and put on some dry clothes.

So, with that, let the taper begin! :)

A couple of random notes:

1. This morning I noticed two different flowers. The marsh marigolds are in full bloom in one of the local parks I passed. The swamp was just a sea of yellow flowers. And, I saw some lilacs along the trail that are just starting to bloom. This is, I believe, the earliest I have ever seen both. In fact, I know a couple of years ago during a cool spring, the lilacs were not out until Memorial Day weekend.

2. Here are a couple of belated action shots of me from last weekend's Trail Mix 25k - My friend Jon was there with his family, and his daughter was kind enough to snap a few photos of me. It is kind of rare that I get any photos of me actually running in a race, so these were fun to receive.

Yours truly, completing the first lap

And, here I am at the finish

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I like Minnesota in the springtime

What a spectacular week. Running has been excellent, with pleasant, dry days in the high 60's and low 70's. Just delightful. And the warmer days have caused the vegetation to explode. Lots of wildflowers are emerging, and the flowering trees are starting to blossom. It is looking gorgeous around here.

Spotted a few new birds this week, all on Sunday. I was very happy to see the warblers have started to return. I found numerous yellow-rumped "Myrtle" warblers, and located a solitary palm warbler. These two species are usually amongst the first of the warblers to arrive, so they were right on cue. I also discovered a few blue-winged teal on one of the lakes, field sparrows (in a field, appropriately enough), and encountered a very chatty brown thrasher. It is so great to see the spring migrants moving through.

Forget Paris. I will gladly take Minnesota in the springtime any day! :) A few images from this week:

Leaves filling in nicely along the trails

This happy cardinal was singing from the treetops

A blossoming apple tree

A closeup of the apple blossoms

The yellow-rumped warblers (a.k.a., "Myrtle" or "Butterbutt") have arrived

Blue-winged teal floating on the lake

A flowering crab apple tree outside of my place - these are blossoming at least a couple of weeks earlier than normal

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Trail Mix 25k

Yours truly at the Hyland Lake Park Reserve, ready for Trail Mix

Fueled by last night's pre-race pizza consisting of arugula, pine nuts, three cheeses, and prosciutto two ways (cooked on the pizza itself, and a couple of slices draped over the top post-cooking), I headed down to Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington to join Minnesota's trail running enthusiasts for the 19th running of the Trail Mix Races.

Love those pre-races meals...

The morning was cloudless and beautiful, with a rather cool start. And Hyland Lake Park looked stunning. With our relatively early spring, many leaves have started to sprout, so the green color was everywhere. A great day to be a runner, and everyone seemed positively giddy with the way the day had turned out. I would be partaking in the 25k, but there were a good number of folks tackling the 50k ultra.

Start of the 50k race

My goal today was not to have any goals. :) Didn't even wear my watch. I was really just intending on treating this as a long, steady training run, which is what I did.

The trails were quite nice and scenic, taking you through the woods, fields, and past lakes and ponds. The 25k race consisted of two laps around the park on a mix of grass, dirt, and wood chip trails. The terrain was rolling and hilly; lots of gradual ups and downs, with a couple of longer, steeper hills, but nothing overly difficult. Trails were wide (I believe they serve as ski trails in the winter months) and not at all technical. This would be a great introductory trail race for anyone looking to try some longer distances.

Birds were everywhere. Before the race, I chased a rather loquacious ruby-crowned kinglet around the picnic grounds, and I saw my first chipping sparrow of the season in the same area. During the race, we passed an osprey nesting platform where mama and papa osprey were busy constructing their nest. I also heard numerous robins, cardinals, wood ducks, red-bellied woodpeckers, and also the familiar cackle of the pileated woodpecker. The feathered friends were enjoying this day as much as the runners.

By the second loop, the day had really warmed up. From our start at around 40, the temperature quickly shot up into the upper 50's. I was feeling overdressed with my long-sleeved shirt, but was probably faring better than those who decided to wear jackets and long pants!

I was really enjoying myself during this race. The park was spectacular (it is impressive that people had the foresight to protect areas like this, since the park is truly surrounded by the metro area - heck, the infamous Mall Of America is only a few miles east of here!), runners were having fun, and aid stations were enthusiastic and on the ball.

Overall, I was pleased with my run. I ran how I wanted to and didn't overdo anything, finishing in 2 hours, 17 minutes, and change (official results forthcoming). Actually, this is a new PR (I have only done one 25k before, and that was at the Superior Trail Races - anyone who has run that knows that isn't exactly a PR kind of course!).

I had a great time today at Trail Mix and saw several folks I know. I got to chat with Wildknits before and after the race, which was a lot of fun. I ran into Ed, an old colleague from my previous job, so I got to talk to him. And, I also saw our family friend Jon after the race, so I got to catch up with him and his family as well. Fun stuff!

The rest of my day involved a little bit of shopping, baking a batch of chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies, and the semi-regular post-race tradition of take-out for dinner. I am now sipping on a Boulder Beer Co. "Mojo" I.P.A. as I type this.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A beautiful Sunday in Minnesota

No run on Sunday after the 19 miler. Instead, I took a two hour hike up at the local park on an absolutely gorgeous spring day. I hadn't been out here since last fall, so I wanted to check out what was going on.

Lots of new bird arrivals - got to see my first trumpeter swans, double-crested cormorants, ruby-crowned kinglets, and brown-headed cowbirds of the season. There were plenty of other feathered friends as well, including song sparrows, eastern phoebes, northern flickers, cardinals, American goldfinches, killdeer, and wood ducks.

Trees are getting greener by the day, and the forest floor is coming to life. Bloodroots are starting to bloom, and all sorts of vegetation is beginning to sprout.

Some images from Sunday:

Gray squirrel finding snacks in the treetops

Bloodroots blooming on the forest floor

Trails getting greener

Trumpeter swans inspecting a possible nesting site

As you can see, it is a great time to be in Minnesota right now.

A quick food note - Saturday's dinner was pretty good; linguine carbonara with apple-cinnamon bacon.

Pasta with bacon and eggs - it's not just for breakfast anymore!

This was very loosely based on a Giada recipe where she worked with some pancetta dusted with cinnamon. I bought some wonderful apple-cinnamon bacon from Old World Meats when I drove through Duluth last week, so I used that instead. It is not a traditional carbonara in any sense of the word, but it was really delicious and quick to put together. The cinnamon adds an earthy and unexpected warmth and sweetness to the dish that was quite tasty. A simple dish, slightly exotic, and really good stuff.

Until next time,


Saturday, April 10, 2010

19 on a pretty day

Sunrise over Fish Lake on Saturday morning

Gorgeous day down here on Saturday. 44 degrees when I woke up. I ran 19 miles today. It was a decent run - better than last weekend's 16 miler, anyhow! Just a nice, steady pace. Skies were slightly overcast, and breezes were gentle, making for ideal running conditions. A lot of fun to run today.

I was treated to symphony of bird songs. The woods was positively alive today. Lots of leaves are popping out and hints of green are showing up everywhere. Also, the Dutchman's breeches are in full bloom on the forest floor. By my assessment, they are 2 1/2 weeks earlier than last year. It is really getting beautiful down here.

Getting green along the trails

Dutchman's breeches - some of the first wildflowers of the season

New bird arrivals this week:

On Wednesday, I noticed the tree swallows and northern flickers were back in my neighborhood. I also found a pied-billed grebe swimming in a local pond

Today I saw my first osprey of the season. He took flight as I rounded the corner along the edge of a lake. I also saw a pair of Coopers hawks. And, a couple of eastern bluebirds were busy selecting a home in the meadow.

Until next time,


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter 2010, and the arrival of spring in MN

Buds popping on the hazelnut shrubs - spring arrives in northern MN!

Spring is arriving on the North Shore! It was a pleasure to take it in over a long Easter weekend with the family.

I went on three runs; a 16 miler and a couple of 5 milers, all done on a mix of quiet dirt roads with a little bit of trail thrown in for good measure. The long run was exceptionally difficult for the last 6 miles, as I was running directly into a very strong wind, and the last few miles didn't so much represent actual running as it did simply surviving! The 5 milers were both really good, however, feeling both speedy and spry.

Weekend food was good as always - Dad's burgers on the grill one night, Mom's homemade lasagna another. Mom and I also went into town to have lunch as My Sister's Place, where I got an additional burger fix with the "Trail Center's Bull Moose" burger, and Mom had a veggie calzone (which I also got to try...yum!). Never any shortage of good chow when visiting the folks.

Good burgers at My Sister's Place

Easter Sunday was fun. It started with Sunday church service where I was recruited to sing in the church choir! They were a little short-handed with some of the usual folks being out of town, the choir is somewhat informal, and I can at least carry a tune, so it all worked out in the end. We capped the day off with and Easter ham dinner and my nephew's 1st birthday party, which was a blast - mainly for us. The little guy doesn't quite understand the whole premise of gift opening yet, but he will figure that out soon enough! We all enjoyed his delicious Easter-themed birthday cake, made by Grandma Susie.

A festive cake for a special birthday

Lots of good birds have started to arrive on the North Shore - golden-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, eastern phoebe, northern flicker, Merlin, red-tailed hawk, and the turkey vulture were new arrivals while I was there. The Compton's tortoiseshell and mourning cloak butterflies have emerged from hibernation. Of course, the resident chickadees and nuthatches (a.k.a., "Dad's birds") were a treat, as always. And various plants are coming to life, such as the pretty little flowers on the hazelnut shrubs pictured above. It is enjoyable to see the gradual arrival of spring.

Mourning cloak butterfly from our Monday hike

A friendly chickadee enjoying a handout

Dad with a feathered friend

I had a couple specific birding highlight that were memorable learning experiences:

1. A male pileated woodpecker was busy excavating a hole in an old dead birch tree. We watched from afar with binoculars (so as not to disturb the nesting site) for more than an hour. The woodpecker was busy hammering away on the inside, occasionally sweeping out the debris. The damage he can impart in a short period of time is remarkable, and it looked as if he was using a broom as a large cloud of wood chips and sawdust would fly out of the hole. It was an amazing sight to see.

2. While walking in the woods on a quiet afternoon, I had the attention of a solitary red-breasted nuthatch who followed me around. He would take a seed from my hand, fly to a tree, and embed it in the crevasses of the bark (nuthatches will do this to store a cache of seeds for later - there must be thousands upon thousands of seeds in the sides of trees!). While I have seen this countless times before, what I had never noticed was a very fast and subtle move. Once the seed was packed into the bark, the nuthatch would quickly flake off a small piece of bark and pack it on top of the seed to effectively hide it from view. Clever little nuthatch. What fantastic camouflage!

With both birds, I was struck by their work ethic, creativity, and tireless efforts to build a nest or store food. They are constantly on the move and work so hard to make a life for themselves, and their perseverance and determination can only be admired. There truly are no deadbeats in the bird kingdom!

So that was the weekend in a long-winded nutshell. I returned to the Cities to find leaves popping out on the trees, even more new bird arrivals, and some wildflowers starting to bloom. More on that later!

Until next time,


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A belated Happy Easter!

Easter Dinner 2010

I just returned from an extended weekend in the North Country. Lots of fun with friends and family, a few runs (including an exceedingly difficult 16 miler), plenty of great food, an abundance of wildlife, and I even was recruited at the last minute to sing in the church choir at the Sunday Easter service!

More to come - just wanted to let you know I haven't disappeared!

To all who celebrate Easter, I hope you had a wonderful and memorable holiday weekend.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Gorgeous day today - 75 and sunny, with a decent breeze. March was snowless here in the Twin Cities, which is rare. And March came in, and is going out, like a lamb.

Tonight's 5 mile run was nice. It is fun to break out the summer running gear again. One new bird arrival to report - the eastern phoebe. She was busy characteristically flipping her little tail while sitting in a small tree. We had a big south wind yesterday, so I am expecting that should push more birds up here!

A funny thing happened as I was heading home. I always pass this assisted living apartment complex. Today being nice outside, there were several folks out and about. Two elderly ladies were sitting out at the picnic table on the lawn, and they were chain smoking.

As I passed on by, one of the ladies expelled a huge plume of smoke. In a voice resembling that of Selma Bouvier from "The Simpson's," she shouted:

"Run for me too, will ya?"

Fair Juliet took another huge drag off of her Pall Mall as I chuckled and just kept on running. That is right - I was heckled by a senior citizen! She was just being funny, of course, but it would be fun to have her e-mail so I could send her the following video... ;-)

Until next time,


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ice out

The ice is completely gone from my local lake. Friday, there was a thin film of slush still floating on the surface, but today's 73 degrees and a strong south wind pretty much decimated what was left. Unreal - an ice out before April! Fantastic to see the water again.

Open water is a wonderful sight to see

I am feeling good a couple days after the Human Race. There is a little bit of stiffness in my thighs and calves after the extra effort on Sunday, but I am no worse for wear. I took in an easy 5 miler around the neighborhood today, happy to be running in shorts and a short sleeved T-shirt.

New spring bird arrivals: yesterday I spotted my first great blue heron of the season (flew right by my office window), and today, four wood ducks in a pond along the trail. The wood ducks' timing could not have been better. I was specifically looking for them at this pond, as they love to hang out here, and I figured they should be back soon. At that moment, I actually heard them before I saw them. Almost on cue, their familiar whistle echoed across the water as they flew over my head and coasted into the pond. It was uncanny. They are such gorgeous birds! Great to have them back

A belated recap of my Saturday night prerace meal - Spicy lamb and Italian sausage ragu! I made this in the style of a Bolognese sauce with all sorts of aromatics - carrots, celery, fennel, onion, garlic, fresh rosemary and thyme, lots of crushed red pepper, and a small amount of dried cumin and coriander (a little trick I learned in the "Urban Italian" cookbook) - along with tomatoes, red wine, tomato paste, and beef stock. The Italian sausage was the last of my homemade stuff (need to make more). I served it over fusilli. A very good effort, and the leftovers have been making for some fantastic lunches this week. Perhaps this is the reason for my new 8k PR? :)

Powered by pasta!

Until next time,


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Records falling at the Human Race

Sunday marked my 6th consecutive St. Patrick's Day Human Race (which, curiously, was held a full week and a half after St. Patrick's Day?!?). It is the first organized race I even ran, so this one is kind of special and will always be on my schedule. And, at least here in MN, it sort of represents winter being behind us and marking the start of the racing season for all of us. I look forward to this event every year.

Still feeling a wee bit Irish, even if it is almost April - the 2010 shirt design

Yours truly on the St. Thomas University Campus

A completely random note about races to those of you who race frequently - is the little change compartment in the console of your car filled with safety pins that were once used to attach your bib numbers to your race clothes? Yeah, mine too.

I arrived early just to mill around and take in the day, which was pretty darn nice. Low 50's and not a cloud in the sky, but a fairly stiff breeze coming out of the north. But really, couldn't ask for much more. Most years I have needed a stocking cap, gloves, and full length running pants.

They have a shoe drive at this event, and runners are encouraged to bring in their used running shoes. They get donated to a local free clothing store. I brought in a sack full of my old sneakers, and they were positively delighted to see me, as I wear size 13's (a.k.a., "water skis"). Apparently, they don't get nearly as many contributions in the larger sizes, so I was happy my big feet allowed me to do my part!

The pre-race crowd

Start of the 5k race

The 8k race is an out and back down Summit Ave, same as always. A lot of the heavy hitters from the local running scene show up for this. It is a well attended race, and it is the start of a season team long points race, so there are many local running teams in the lineup as well. Lots of talented runners here.

The race started, and I settled into my pace. A funny thing happened around mile 1. A runner pulled up to me on the right and said "Jean?" It was Wildknits, a local running blogger. We have been reading each others blogs for quite some time, but had never met until now. How funny that we met in the middle of a race! We chatted briefly and would catch up at the finish.

I was feeling surprisingly good. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting much since I ran 14 miles on Saturday. But at mile 2, I was at a shade over 14 minutes. Not bad.

Between miles 2 and 3 is the turnaround point where we run a loop around the William Mitchell College of Law. Following the race, I got a message from another blogger buddy, Natalie (she was racing too), saying that she saw me and shouted out to me around this area, but I somehow missed that. So sorry, Natalie! I need to pay closer attention out there! :)

I came through mile 3 just past 21 minute, darn near on my 5k PR pace. Where was this coming from? Mile 3 to 4 is the toughest part of the course, if there is such a thing. This section is an ever so slightly uphill grade that, while not difficult, wears on you. And now is as good a time as any to mention that the north wind felt like it was in our faces during the entire race. Weird. Anyhow, I felt like I was slowing down here, but I passed through mile 4 at just over 28 minutes. Looking good.

From mile 4 on home, we are rewarded with a flat to gradually downhill stretch of road. You can see the finish line tents from quite a ways out. I managed to hold my pace and keep it together to cross the finish line in 35:12 (results here). Not only a new personal best for the Human Race course, but a new 8k PR as well!

Depending upon whether or not the now defunct Easy Does It Race in Plymouth was an 8k or a 5 miler (I have 2 shirts from this race - one called 8k, the other 5 miles), I improved my PR by either 1 second or 30 seconds! Any local running historian know the answer? Steve?

I caught up with Wildknits after the race to chat some more, talk running, discuss upcoming races, and whatnot, which was a lot of fun. It was a pleasure to meet you, Wildknits, and I will see you at Trail Mix!

Post-race photo with Wildknits

So, it was quite a day. An unexpected PR, and a nice way to kick of my 2010 race season. The semi-regular post-race tradition of Chinese takeout for dinner (hot & spicy chicken, and beef with Chinese black mushrooms) really hit the spot. And a celebratory glass of Dark Horse "Double Crooked Tree I.P.A." is tasting mighty good as I type this.

Disclaimer: Through the course of editing, I have moved on to a second beverage of my choosing - a celebratory glass of Dark Horse "Plead the 5th" Imperial Stout. I no longer take responsibility for any grammatical errors... ;-)

Jean's Dark Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookies with Toffee

Saturday afternoon it was time again to bake some cookies. My supply was running dangerously low, so I needed to stock up!

I ended up creating a recipe of my own. Nothing groundbreaking or very original - it is simply based on the principles of a basic chocolate chip drop cookie, but with a few customized tweaks of the ingredients and amounts. I wanted to make a cookie with a variety of chips and toffee bits. And, I read that using molasses not only helps your cookies to stay chewy longer, but it also heightens the brown sugar flavor. The end result was a batch of dark chocolate chip, butterscotch chip, and English toffee cookies.

The cookies turned out really nice. They are soft, chewy, and very tasty, and I love the combination of the dark chocolate chips with the butterscotch. The toffee bits add a nice textural contrast with a crunchy and sweet surprise every once in while. I took care not to overbake them and found that 10 to 11 minutes worked perfectly for my oven. Here is what I did:

Jean's Dark Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookies with Toffee
Makes 28 cookies - at least the way I portioned them it did! ;-)

-2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-1/2 t. salt
-1/2 t. baking soda
-1 stick unsalted butter (at room temperature)
-1/2 c. granulated white sugar
-1/2 c. light brown sugar, packed
-2 eggs
-1 T. molasses
-1 t. pure vanilla extract
-4 oz. Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chip*
-4 oz. Nestle Toll House Butterscotch Chips*
-4 oz. Heath Milk Chocolate English Toffee Bits* (or equal amount finely chopped Heath Bars...same thing)

*Note: if you don's have a kitchen scale, go with approximately 1/3 bag of the Ghirardelli (11.5 oz. bag), 1/3 bag of the Nestle butterscotch chips (11 oz. bag), and 1/2 of the 8 oz. bag of the Heath toffee bits - a little more or less won't hurt anything!

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, molasses, and vanilla extract, and continue beating until it is well mixed. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the flour is just incorporated and you no longer see any white streaks. Add the chocolate and the butterscotch chips, along with the toffee bits. Turn on the stand mixer one more time just to let the paddle gently stir in the chips and toffee until they are nicely distributed.

On parchment lined baking sheets, drop rounded tablespoons of dough (perhaps ping pong ball sized). Bake in the oven for 10-11 minutes, or until slightly brown on top. After removing from the oven, allow the cookies to set on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks and allow to cool completely. Can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, or frozen in zip-top freezer bags for longer term storage.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

14 miles and a turkey

I woke up to 41 degrees with a faint drizzle today - warm enough to wear shorts on the run, anyhow! I put in a shade over 14 miles.

A pretty easy pace for the most part, and it ended up being kind of a pleasant morning for running, even if it was damp and overcast. A fairly strong southeast wind was blowing. But after about the fifth mile, I had the wind helping me on the way home. Not surprising, there were few runners out this morning.

Yesterday on my run, I saw my first common loon of the season out on my lake (the MN State Bird has returned!).

Lots of birds on today's long run, but no new arrivals. Dark-eyed juncos are moving through in great numbers, and the common grackles are plentiful. Lots of cardinals, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, red-tailed hawks, mallards, Canada geese, and I even heard a few ring-necked pheasants crowing. The red-winged blackbirds are all over the place - just the males, though. They arrive first, stake out some suitable territory, and wait for a girlfriend to show up and express interest in them (they make it look so easy).

After my run, I was preparing to head out to run some errands. Pulling open the shades of my living room window, I saw something that seemed out of place. This guy was running around in the yard below me. I quickly grabbed my camera and sneaked out onto my deck.

Gobble, gobble!

The wild turkey was only here for a few minutes. Had I not opened the shades when I did, I would have completely missed seeing him. He did a lap around the yard and got a little nervous when he saw me on the deck. They are really quite pretty birds, and they are becoming an increasingly common sight here. However, I have never had one in my yard before, so this was a treat!

Another humorous nature note - I have gray squirrels that nest in a hole in a large maple tree outside my window. Clearly, they are not home, because as I type this, I have been watching a female white-breasted nuthatch repeatedly entering the squirrel nest and pilfering seeds! The 'hatch has been emerging with all kinds of goodies in her beak. The squirrels ain't gonna be happy about this! :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gorgeous week

Just a quick post - my afternoon runs this week over the last three days:

Monday - 56 degrees
Tuesday - 60 degrees
Wednesday - 55 degrees

This is some pretty spectacular weather for the month of March in Minnesota. Running has been absolutely wonderful this week.

Yours truly, enjoying this afternoon's run immensely

Saw a new bird today as well - the song sparrow. These little guys love nesting around my local lake, and they are usually some of the first spring birds to arrive and are some of the last to leave. I look forward to seeing them on my runs all the way through the fall.

Also, I am fairly certain it was a pair of mourning cloak butterflies that cruised past my office window today. I was not able to confirm it as they disappeared rather quickly. However, this is the time of year they start showing up, and I am not sure what else they would have been.

So glad spring is here!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Hanging with the Mergansers

Sunday was a day off from running, but I managed to put in several miles of hiking around my neighborhood. I needed to check out the open water on my lake again. I actually walked out there twice, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. Again, there were numerous birds gathering here, mostly from the merganser family, and it was a beautiful 50 degree and sunny day to watch them.

I got to witness one of the coolest things - the hooded merganser courtship. In all my years of watching birds, I have never seen this in person. The males puff up their crests, throw their heads back, and make this funny, frog-like croaking sound in an attempt to woo the females. Lots of posturing going on, kind of like the bird equivalent of a college bar on a Saturday night. The male mergansers were busy putting on a show and chasing each other around while the females looked on, seemingly unimpressed. Spectacular! What a treat to be able to see this.

New arrivals on Sunday included a solitary bufflehead (he was hanging out with the hooded mergansers), a flock of tundra swans flying overhead (a couple dozen in a perfect "V" formation), and of course, the common grackle (easily overlooked, but cute in their own right).

A few photos from yesterday's bird hike - no pictures of outstanding quality, but you can at least tell what they are.

Hooded mergansers swimming in the open water near the ice shelf

A pair of mallards

"RETREAT!!!" ;-)

The resident eagles frolicking on the osprey nesting platform - they have pretty much claimed this spot as their hangout

Today was gorgeous, 56 degrees and sunny. Running was awesome. I did the normal weekday 5 miler and loved every second of it. This is about the perfect temperature for running. No new birds, and there were way fewer birds on the lake today. Most of the ducks had moved on, so I am thankful for yesterday's opportunity.

Until next time,


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Duck soup

The first day of spring required winter running gear in the morning! A balmy 26 degrees, and coupled with a brisk wind out if the northwest, that brought the wind chill down to 18.

In spite of the chilly conditions, I had a good long run, just a shade over 16 miles today. Some of my favorite trails are finally free of snow and ice (these don't get plowed in the winter), so I got to run on my preferred routes. Nice to be back on my summer stomping grounds!

No new bird sightings on the run - however, I did walk back out to my lake in the afternoon. There is an approximately 300 yard long swath of open water where all the mergansers were the other day, and that is the only open water on the lake.

This afternoon, there were even more mergansers. Joining the common mergansers were their cousins the red-breasted and the hooded. Two new bird arrivals for the spring list! It was a huge duck party! I counted at least 70 birds, most of them the common, with a dozen hooded (6 males, 6 females), and approximately a dozen red-breasted. So fun to see some new birds returning.

Tonight's dinner - Giada's pork chops with fennel and caper sauce. A delicious dish. I did everything by the book, except I added garlic and crushed red pepper. Why? Because that is how I roll. :)

Giada's recipe rock!

I served it over some orzo pasta, but the sauce is a little runny, so next time I think I might do this over something that will sop it up better. Perhaps this would have been the time to try polenta? In any case, I will make this again!

Until next time,


Friday, March 19, 2010

Don't put away the stocking cap

Yesterday - official high of 64 degrees. I took a walk around my neighborhood in shorts and a t-shirt.

Today - cut that number in half. When I went running this afternoon, it was 32 with a wind chill of 18 (a rather crisp north wind...brrrr!). This is why I don't put away the winter running gear until May... ;-)

Yours truly, bundled up on today's run - what a difference a day makes

In spite of the cold snap, I had a very nice 5 mile run. I didn't see a soul today and had the trails to myself. I did, however, add a new spring bird arrival to my list. I counted a flock of 32 common mergansers congregating in the open water of my local lake. It is wonderful to see some of the waterbirds returning.

Even more exciting, I found a northern shrike along the trail near my favorite meadow, sitting on top of a small tree. Known as the "Butcherbird," they feast on insects and other small birds, often impaling them on twigs or barbed wire for a later snack. I stopped running was no more than 20 feet away. The shrike did not fly and stayed put for well over a minute. It was my best ever look at this somewhat local and not very often seen bird. This is not actually a spring migrant, however. The northern shrike comes down here for the winter. They breed in the northern areas of Canada. Such a cool bird, and a great find.

Needless to say, there was not a songbird to be seen anywhere near the shrike. The little birds know what the shrike is all about!

Until next time,


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blackbirds, chips, and tonight's dinner

It was a day off from running, so three quick non-running related notes...

1. The red-winged blackbirds have returned to my neighborhood. I was driving home from work with the sunroof open, and I swore I heard their familiar piercing yodel as I passed a marsh. A quick hike around some of the marshy areas in my neighborhood confirmed it. They are indeed here, and in great numbers. This is truly an exciting sign of spring! These guys are actually a day behind schedule - last year, they arrived on St. Patrick's Day.

2. As a follow up to an earlier post, the "All Nighter Cheeseburger" flavor of Doritos is decent. They are definitely unique. The predominant taste I notice is that of yellow ballpark mustard, accompanied by secondary notes of ketchup, pickle, American cheese, and something I will simply call "grill flavor." Not so much a flavor of beef - rather, it is a sort of smoky, charred flavor element (good grief, I feel like I am writing a twisted version of a wine tasting note!). Darned if they don't taste like a cheeseburger that you would cook up on your grill during the summer! I would probably buy these again if they were on sale, but the taco flavor is my favorite of this series so far.

3. Here is a quick dinner I threw together tonight. Aside from actually raising the chicken that laid the egg, everything on the plate is from scratch - homemade caraway rye bread, and homemade sausage gravy prepared with my homemade ginger & sage breakfast sausage! Great stuff.

Not exactly your garden variety "S.O.S." :)

Until next time,

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