Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nasty Bits

Looking like summer in the northwestern metro



It is really is beginning to look like summer. Full leaves on the trees, flowers blooming, and baby geese and ducks are running around. Quite hard to believe that a mere month and three days ago we were dealing with this! :)

Today is rainy, but yesterday was nothing short of spectacular with temperatures in the low 70’s, no humidity, and a slight breeze, making for fantastic running. Lots of the usual suspect birds, once again, and this time I got to watch a gorgeous red-tailed hawk making lazy circles in the sky above me as I ran down the trail. I had a nice, spirited romp around the neighborhood and through the park.

Changing gears completely (just because I like food writing), over the weekend I picked up chef/author/TV host/world traveler/food writer Anthony Bourdain’s book, The Nasty Bits. Bourdain could write about nearly anything, and I would probably find it fascinating. He is kind of a curmudgeon (but in a good way), and his writing is laced with sarcasm, humor, and plenty of opinion and insight into food, cooking, fine dining, and the hospitality industry, among other things.

The book is a collection of articles and essays he has written. There have been some fantastic chapters on obesity in America, chefs and celebrity, and terroir and tradition vs. fusion and innovation in cooking. I am absolutely loving this.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekend cooking

Today was supposed to be 71 and sunny. Instead, it was a cool 60 degrees, overcast, and windy as all heck! Hmmm...

I didn't end up doing too much today. A 5 mile run, and and some shopping at REI for energy gels and Barnes & Noble for a couple of books.

Most of my weekend involved food. Yesterday I prepared a delicious venison ragu with linguini. It is sort of a Bolognese-style sauce with tomato, wine, beef stock, mushrooms, and an assortment of aromatic veggies like celery, carrots, fennel, onion, and garlic. I enjoy making this sauce. It is so rich and flavorful, and the leftovers freeze well for quick weeknight pasta dinner.

I love Italian food!



Tonight, the meal was simple; it is kinda-sorta summer, so I made my first "BBT" of the season (bacon, basil, and tomato sandwich). I had some maple bacon from Knaus Sausage House which was beyond awesome. None of that greasy, water-added crap here; this bacon was meaty and lean. The tomatoes needed a little help, so I gave them a splash of aged balsamic vinegar. Yum! There will be many sandwiches on my menu this summer.

Possibly my favorite sandwich



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, May 25, 2008

When geese attack

I think this is the first Memorial Day weekend I have spent at home. Usually, I go up to Mom and Dad's, but since I was just there, I opted to spend the weekend down here!

This morning I did a 12 mile run, and I must say it felt almost effortless compared to last weekend's trail race! Temperatures were in the low 60's with overcast skies and a pretty good dose of humidity. Good weather for running, feeling like summer but without a lot of heat. Nice!

I saw a number of birds again. Of interest, I encountered a noisy flock of red-winged blackbirds that were giving the business to a Cooper's hawk. I spotted several yellow warblers who were obviously nesting in the area around the lake. And of course, there were the usual suspects; tree and barn swallows, catbirds, egrets, eagles, bluebirds, cardinals, and chickadees. The park was alive today.

The resident Canada geese have all started having their babies as well, so there are many proud parents walking around with their yellow puffballs in tow. If you have never encountered Canada geese with their young, they can be ornery birds.

While rounding the lake, I met mama and papa goose with their four adorable goslings. They were standing right on the edge of the trail. As I approached, I tried to stay as far away from them as I could. One of the parents started hissing at me. I have experienced this before, and it usually ends there.

But suddenly, the crazed goose lunges at me, flapping its wings and flying up into the air to come after me. Making a quick dart to the right of the trail, I sprinted up into someone's yard in an attempt to evade the pursuit of a goose gone wild. Pointing my water bottle at the bird, I yelled at it and said, "Hey, back off!" (I am unsure if squirting the goose would have done anything, but it seemed like a solid defense mechanism at the time)

The goose sensed that I was leaving, so it quickly returned to the family. However, the bad part was that I had another lap around the lake, so I would be seeing these geese again. Sure enough, they were in the exact same spot! This time, I ran up into the yard to steer clear of the angry bird (still hissing at me), pointing my water bottle at it the whole time, ready to fire if necessary. Happily, I made it past with no unpleasantness. Although I am guessing if anyone in the homes near this part of the trail witnessed any my two episodes with mother goose, it probably made for some good laughter at the breakfast table.

Unrelated to anything, I made a great dish last night. I cooked up Giada De Laurentiis' scampi on couscous, and it was delicious.

Giada rules



I don't think I have ever been disappointed with one of her recipes, and this was certainly no exception. I took a few liberties with the recipe (added some dried red chile pepper to the tomato sauce for heat, seasoning the shrimp with fresh rosemary and herbes de Provence, and added peas to the couscous), but I was true to the measurements.

A delightful summer meal. The couscous was light, fluffy, and absorbed the flavors of the tomato broth, and I did a great job preparing the shrimp so that they were just cooked through. I will be making this one again!

Kind of a gloomy day with a chance of rain, so it is a perfect excuse to stay in and watch golf and NASCAR, as well as cooking a little dinner!

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hiking with warblers

Following the Superior Trail Race on Saturday, I stayed up at Mom and Dad’s place for a few extra days to relax, recover, and take in some of the surroundings. I was fortunate that the weather was decent; meaning, no rain (or snow!) and relatively decent temperatures in the 50’s, which made it quite conducive for outdoor activities.

Yours truly, hiking in a creek bottom



The bird watching was nothing short of fantastic. I spent every day out in the woods, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon for a couple hours at a time. It is my contention that the spring migration was really just getting started up in that part of the state, so new birds were arriving all the time.

In the woods behind Mom and Dad’s place, I saw fourteen different species of warblers over the course of the weekend. The most exciting find was a new “life lister,” the bay-breasted warbler. Dad and I were lucky to encounter this guy. The bird was docile enough that we were able to observe him for more than 20 minutes. What a gorgeous creature!

A couple of other interesting sighting included the dapper black-throated blue warbler. I have seen this guy before, but never at Mom and Dad’s place, so that was very exciting. Also, Cape May warblers frequented a couple of birch trees that were dripping with sap. I learned that these birds in particular enjoy the sap from trees and have been occasionally known to stop at hummingbird feeders to drink the nectar. Awesome and colorful birds!

The chickadees were happy to see me



Norris and Noreen are well, as are the roving band of chickadees. They kept us company in the woods, and also gave us the added benefit of attracting the warblers (because everyone loves hanging out with the chickadees!). Noreen was particularly amusing, as she has grown much more assertive since my last visit. On one occasion, both Norris and Noreen were sitting in my hand arguing with each other, and all the while a chickadee was sitting on my shoulder patiently waiting for the domestic squabble to subside so he could pick up his sunflower seed. These little guys and girls are a treat; as are the feisty red squirrels who visit us along the trail!

The red squirrels know where to go for a handout



But not all was about bird watching and hiking. There was plenty of food and drink as well, especially over at my brother and sister-in-law’s place where the garage was turned into a makeshift brewery on Sunday! Dad and I stopped over to check out the goings on, and we discovered my brother and some friends boiling a kettle of what will eventually be India pale ale. The operation was a fairly simple one, with a giant kettle placed on top of a propane burner, and we got a quick overview of the process. The beer smelled great as it was boiling, so hopefully the finished product will be equally as good. Save me a sip, guys!

Brewing in the garage



And, we were fortunate enough to show up when some awesome burgers were being grilled, and venison loin was being smoked, to feed the hungry brewers. So we got a little lunch out of the deal, too! :)

A grilled treat while watching beer being brewed!



Of course, Mom and Dad fed me well also. Chicken, asparagus, and spinach pasta, salmon and tomato stir-fry, grilled brats from Knaus Sausage House in Kimball, Dad's homemade venison stew, and even a Sunday prime rib. (Mmmm...prime rib...) Wow, it is good I got in all that running and hiking to work off some calories!

Bratwurst and sweet corn; a plate that just screams "summer"



Beef; it’s what’s for dinner



A great long weekend up north; I completed a brutally difficult trail race, hiked all over the woods, saw a huge variety of birds, learned about home brewing, and ate like a king. Not a bad vacation!

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kicking the snot out of the Superior Hiking Trail

Or was it the Superior Hiking Trail that kicked the snot out of me?

Last Saturday, I spent 3 hours, 20 minutes, and 39 seconds running a 25k. Yes, you read that right. It took me 3:20 and change, my slowest race ever by a long shot. But also the most difficult because I was dragging my butt up and down Moose Mountain at the Superior Trail Race 25k.

The race is run on a section of the Superior Hiking Trail along the North Shore of Minnesota. What we have is an incredibly beautiful trail system that offers fantastic views of Lake Superior and the surrounding wilderness. And it is challenging enough to hike, much less to try and run!

I stayed with my folks, so they served as my transportation to and from the race. And this would also mean I would have my own cheering section, which almost never happens, but it is always appreciated! The day was sunny, yet incredibly windy. Temperatures were pretty mild at the start, so it would be a comfortable day for the race.

The course for the 25k went from the Caribou Highlands resort to Oberg Mountain and back. It is comprised of rocky, rooty, and hilly single track trails almost entirely, and there were a few substantial climbs. By "substantial," I mean that I was better off walking them, as they were too steep for me to run up efficiently. The interesting part is that they were also too steep for people of limited trail running ability (i.e., yours truly) to run down without risking life and limb. Throw in more than a few blown down trees to hurdle or crawl under, and this is one crazy and challenging course!

There were some fun, as well as some interesting moments on the trail.

One of the truly exciting things I experienced was running down Mystery Mountain before the ascent up Moose. Here, the downhill was not quite as severe, so I felt like I was flying through the woods. (Of course, this was probably only a couple of miles into the race, so I was still feeling pretty spry!)

Meeting the leaders was also interesting. I am sure I was probably a couple miles from the Oberg Mountain turnaround point when the 25k leader went screaming past me the other way. How can someone maintain that pace on this terrain? That guy was a rock star!

Yours truly, approaching the finish



I managed to get a few nicks as well. Each of my shins have a good sized scrape from the underbrush, and I somehow raked a branch across my left ear, which started bleeding. My face felt almost windburned afterwards, as the stiff northwest winds pelted the runners where the trail ran along the north side of the ridge. My quads were absolutely burning from all the uphills and downhills. ("Flatlanders" such as myself are not used to this sort of thing!)

All throughout the course, I heard the buzzy call of the recently returned black-throated green warblers, no doubt mocking my every step. :)

But the runners I encountered were friendly and of good cheer. People chatted about the difficultly of the course, lamented not having a chain saw handy for the fallen timber, and cracked plenty of jokes. Just after coming off of Moose Mountain on the way back and beginning the long ascent up Mystery Mountain, a young lady who was running/walking with me at the time said, "Do you think once we get to the top, it will be all downhill after that?" My response; "Gosh, I hope so!"

Shortly after the finish...man, was that tough!



So I ran where I could and hiked where I had to. Basically, I just tried to keep moving forward. I thought 3 hours would have been a good target time based on some past results I looked over. So it took me 20 minutes longer. No big deal! Even at 11 miles shorter, this was way tougher than the Walker Marathon I ran last fall, no question about it.

If you look closely, you can see blood dripping from my ear!



My prize for finishing? A hanky proclaiming that I kicked the snot out of the Superior Hiking Trail. Pretty cool. This might need to get framed.

To the victor goes the hanky



Despite the difficulty of the race, I still had a lot of fun. The race directors and the volunteers were fantastic (especially those manning the big tent at the Oberg Mountain aid station). The scenery was gorgeous, and the course immensely challenging. I am happy to say I finished.

Still wondering who kicked the snot out of who,

Jean

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Recent birds, and working for the (long) weekend

I continue to see some spectacular birds, both during my runs, and also in my backyard. This week while running, I have seen new arrivals that include the Eastern kingbird, the rose-breasted grosbeak, and the gray catbird. Just outside of my window, the arrivals included a pair of great crested flycatchers, as well as a Lincoln’s sparrow (yet another new life lister for me!).

Over the past few days, I continue to see the adorable little Wilson’s warbler (I just love this guy…he is a complete spaz with a seemingly low attention span), along with plenty of Myrtle’s, American redstarts, and dozens of chipping sparrows. There is even a nesting pair of downy woodpeckers who make their home in a tree just off my deck. The birding has been incredibly enjoyable this spring.

I am starting get very excited. On Friday, I am heading up to Mom and Dad’s for a little vacation time. Normally I would visit over Memorial Day weekend, but this weekend coincides with a race up in my parents’ neck of the woods! With spring arriving late this year, the bird migration should just be getting started on the Shore, so I anticipate some good bird watching. Good food, as well! This will probably be my last post until I return next Wednesday, so I will talk to you when I get back!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Many warblers

Despite overcast skies Saturday morning, it was still perfect for running. At the start, it was 45 and cloudy, but winds were clam. Absolutely ideal. I put in 12 miles, looping around my lake a couple of times, and it was a good run.

The forest floor is coming to life. The woods was covered with Dutchman's breeches wildflowers. They were everywhere! It is good to start seeing flowers again.

There were some new birds on my run as well. I saw a few green herons. I like these birds. Everywhere I have lived in the cities, I have had one or more of them along my running route, and they are the cutest little waterbirds. Also, I saw my first Baltimore oriole of the season. A very bright and striking bird, to say the least.

Warblers have been moving through here in waves, and as it turns out, the best bird watching has been from the comfort of my own living room. The forest in the courtyard has provided me with eleven different species this spring, including three new additions to my birding life list!

I had a pair of Cape May warblers on Saturday afternoon while it was raining, the Wilson's warbler (who spent the better part of Sunday afternoon here), and also the blackpoll warbler. They were all so beautiful, and I was very excited. And to think all the time I have spent birding in the woods, and I didn't even leave my home and I got three life listers in less than 24 hours. Outstanding!

All in all, a great weekend of running, nature, and birds. Last night's venison stroganoff with mushrooms and caramelized onions, and tonight's homemade meatballs with spaghetti, didn't exactly suck, either... :)

Venison, Russian style



Mama mia!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Because I am French (well, partially anyhow)

Tuesday's sunrise over the northwest metro; not a bad way to start your day!



I went running Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, as well as this morning. Each time, the runs were most pleasant and filled with wildlife (and the mornings filled with enjoyable sunrises). I saw several firsts for the season; a sharp-shinned hawk (who did a spectacular 90-degree bank into the woods), a mourning cloak butterfly, and a green darner dragonfly (starting to see some insects now that it is finally warming up!).

The bird watching outside of my window has been no less spectacular. We have been invaded by Myrtle warblers, and I have seen several of them flitting around in the trees in the courtyard. Additionally, I had the cutest little ovenbird rooting around on the ground in search of food. Always great to see the warblers passing through!

Changing gears completely, how about a funny story from my last race?

Following the race, I had a quick drink and snack, cleaned myself up as best I could, and pretty much hit the road. As this was once of my slowest 10k’s, I didn’t really hang around to find out how I did.

While I know of local trail runners Steve and Kel through the blogosphere, I have not formally met them in person. It so happens they also ran at the Runnin’ in the Ruff race, and they each mentioned in their fantastic race reports that my name got called during the awards ceremony for placing in my division; apparently, for both the men AND the women!

My name frequently causes confusion, and it is really nobody’s fault as it is an easy mistake to make. You see, my name is French. Jean is not pronounced “gene,” it is Jean as in “Van De Velde” (for you French golf fans out there!).

Seeing my name in print, more often than not it is assumed to be pronounced “gene.” And I guess the spelling of “Jean” is predominantly indicative of a female, or so it would seem. This has led to more than a few instances of being categorized incorrectly by gender at races; actually, more times than I have actually placed in my division, I think!

So for the record, my name is Jean. I am French (partially), a runner, and I happen to be a dude. I also like VW’s, classic rock, and the case models on "Deal or No Deal"...but I can save that stuff for another post! :)

Hoping I didn't ace out a deserving woman at the last race,

Jean

Saturday, May 3, 2008

These socks were once clean

What happened to these shoes and socks? Read on...



Back in 2005 before I started this blog, I ran in a race on the North Shore called the Tofte Trek. This was a 10k trail race with lots of hills, and (as it turned out) equally as much mud due to a wet summer. Never have I been so wet or so dirty after a race.

The bar has been raised.

This Saturday morning I pointed The Silver Hornet north and headed up to the east-central Minnesota town of Milaca to run in my first trail race of the season.

I would be doing the Runnin' In The Ruff 10k, a race that utilizes a network of trails through the woods and along the banks of the Rum River.

The Rum River was flowing hard following heavy snows and rain this spring



I had never done this race before, so I was a little unsure of what I would be getting into. Shortly before the start, the Race Director told us exactly what we would be getting into; mud, water, and lots of it!

Central Minnesota had received a fair amount of rain in recent days (in addition to a good amount of late-season snow), so the course was pretty sloppy. The RD pointed out on a map certain areas of the course that were wet, if not underwater. We were advised to lace up our shoes tight so the mud doesn't suck them under. Hmmmm...ought to make for an interesting day!

The Race Director, giving us the lay of the land



The race began, and quickly we turned into the woods. Lots of little hills and switchbacks, coupled with a rocky, rooty trail, made for pretty slow going for this hombre.

Not far into the run, the trail started to get muddy. And I am talking deep mud. On a couple of occasions, I sunk down to mid-calf. It is very hard running though stuff like this!

I think it was somewhere around the 2 mile mark, I saw something ominous; a pair of muddy, disheveled running shoes sitting along side the trail. What happened to the runner?!? Oh, my, this was not going to get any easier.

There was also water, as promised. I remember approaching this creek/swamp (not sure what it was), and the water was indeed up to my knees. The first time you slog into freezing cold water, it is quite a chilly sensation as your shoes and socks instantly become saturated. But after that, there is no reason to be dainty when going through future water and mud holes!

The whole course was filled with hills, twists, and turns, and the property of this park was quite beautiful. In the last mile, we even paralleled the river to take in some rather impressive views of the rapidly flowing water. I even saw a Myrtle warbler en route, who was no doubt mocking my slow pace. :)

I trudged my way around as best I could. I wasn't going to be fast, I was soaked and absolutely caked with mud, and never have I gotten this dirty at a race. But I was still having a blast.

As I neared the finish, a number of the faster runners had gone back out on the course to cheer on us slower folks, and there were plenty of hoots and hollers at the finish line. I crossed in 56:24 (according to my watch).

Yours truly, in "ruff" shape



It was a great day filled with many wet and wild challenges, and the race was very satisfying. The volunteers were most pleasant and kind, and they put on a good show. Although, I must say I am not sure if my socks will ever be clean again... :)

Friday, May 2, 2008

April showers bring May...storms and possible snow?!?

I am actually hoping we get some snow at this point in time. I looked back at my running journal, and I recorded some snow flurries all the way back on October 10, 2007. A little bit of snow overnight will make eight consecutive months where we have had snow. Here is the latest from the National Weather Circus out of the Twin Cities:

Today: A chance of showers and thunderstorms, then showers and possibly a thunderstorm after 1pm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rainfall. High near 47. Breezy, with a northeast wind between 14 and 21 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Tonight: Rain before 1am, then rain and snow between 1am and 4am, then snow likely after 4am. The rain could be heavy at times. Some thunder is also possible. Low around 35. Breezy, with a north northwest wind between 20 and 22 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

Saturday: A slight chance of rain and snow before 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 49. North northwest wind between 15 and 17 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

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