Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shiny Happy Runners

What a day!

At noon today, I saw a temperature of 41 degrees! Wow, what a change.

I went running this morning before sunup, and it was much cooler. 25 at the start, but warmed considerably over the course of the run.

I ran a half marathon today. Not a race; I just happen to have a 13.1 mile route that I clocked in my neighborhood. It was somewhat challenging, as the snow pack on the trails was tuning to slush. But I made it!

The several runners I encountered today were positively jubilant. Enthusiastic shouts of "Good morning," "Nice day!", and "It's about time we got a day like this!" Many happy runners out there today. The song "Shiny Happy People" popped into my head.

Sing it with me now: "Shiny happy people, running!" :)

Heck, even the birds were excited about the weather. I heard cardinals singing wildly, and the chickadees were making their "fee-bee" noise, which is usually only heard in the spring and fall.

An odd, but most appreciated day in January. Had we not surpassed the freezing mark today, we would have set some sort of record that hasn't occurred since the late 1800's where there were zero days in January at or above freezing. Still, this was an exceptionally cold month.

REM's "Shiny Happy People"...or in this case, "Furry Happy Monsters!"



Enjoy your weekend!

Jean

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Psycho is as psycho does

I had a really nice run this evening. I got home from work later than normal, so it was close to getting dark.

A light snow started to fall as I put in my 5 miles. The temperature was around 16 degrees, which felt quite comfortable. It was a very peaceful run.

So today I was have a conversation with one of my friends at work. We frequently discuss running, and she is well aware that I run outside year round. She was leaving today for somewhere in Florida for a vacation. While down there, she was going to run a race.

My friend was lamenting that the predicted low temperature down there was supposed to be 50 degrees the morning of race day and that she had no cold weather running gear packed. I told her that I didn't think that was too bad and said anytime it is above 40 degrees, I break out the shorts when I go running. She responded with:

"Yes, but you are psycho! The concept of 'cold' doesn't register with you!"

I laughed out loud. Apparently in the eyes of my coworkers, I am the Norman Bates of running. :)

The "Psycho" movie trailer: Here is hoping the Bates Motel isn't the "preferred lodging partner" for my next destination race...



Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Above zero, and good lasagna

A relatively nice day here at 10 degrees above zero (it is nice to say "above zero" for a change).

I had a good 5 mile run after work this afternoon. The sun was trying hard to peek through the clouds, and there was a breeze, so the wind chill was about 2 (above zero, that is!).

The trails were somewhat slick. It looked like they had gone in with a plow and tried to scrape down some of the snow packed areas, but they seemed to have made it worse. Nothing treacherous, just kind of annoying because it was difficult to feel speedy when you are stepping and sliding. Oh well! The National Weather Circus is calling for a dusting of snow tomorrow into Thursday, so that should fix things!

On Sunday, I cooked up some lasagna with spicy Italian sausage and mushrooms. I used the traditional method this time as opposed to Giada de Laurentiis' rolled up lasagna.

Sunday lasagna; molto bene!



I am becoming more and more convinced that some Italian found its way into my French/Norwegian heritage. Perhaps I have some long lost ancestor from Italy named Chiara who instilled a fond interest in this kind of food?

Whatever the case, some of my best dishes are Italian, and this lasagna was no exception. Bravissimo! Giada, you've got nothing on me, girl... :)

See Giada cook...cook Giada, cook!



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Frozen Pond

Dice on Ice! The "Dicehouses" at this year's Art Shanty Projects.



They had predicted -14 for this morning's temperature. However, we received a real treat; it only ended up being -6! :)

I did another 5 mile run and had the trails to myself except for one other runner. Needless to say we were both bundled up and looked pretty ridiculous in our multiple layers, but he won the prize for apparel on this day. The dude was wearing those gigantic downhill skiing goggles with the amber lenses. I suppose that is one way to prevent your eyelashes from freezing over, isn't it?

Whatever the case, it was another good run, and the temperatures are supposed to warm up this week.

Following my run, I thought I would go and check out the Art Shanty Projects. Long time readers might remember me talking about this exhibit last year.

A sauna on ice! The "Sweat & Drink, Inc." shanty.



We love our fishing in the state of Minnesota. In fact, we love it so much that people will actually resort to dragging these portable shelters out onto the ice in the winter, drill a hole, and go fishing. Some folks build rather impressive "ice shanties" (most Minnesotans simply call them "fish houses") that have beds, TV's, and other comforts of home. Others, such as these artists, take it to a whole new level.

The Black Box Theater shanty, offering live musical and theatrical performances on Medicine Lake!



The Art Shanty Projects runs from late January into mid February every year. This exhibit takes place on the southeastern corner of Medicine Lake just a short walk onto the ice from East Medicine Lake Park. As you can see, the local artists take a great pride in their work with these fun, humorous, and downright impressive structures. Any hard core ice fisherman would be insanely jealous of these fish houses!

Who said you can't use the catamaran in January? This one is called the Ship in a Bottle shanty.



My personal favorite; The USS Walter Mondale submarine shanty. In fact, some have referred to Mondale's 1984 Presidential campaign as a "sinking ship!" :)



This was funny; Here we have a church ice shanty. The paper you see on the outside are from visitors who have posted their confessions!



Incidentally, it was all of -1 below zero when I was out on the lake, which (strange as it may seem) felt brutally cold compared to my last two runs where the temperature was colder. The lesson is that there is a huge difference between running in the cold vs. standing around in the cold!

That was enough outdoor activity for me today. The temperature is not supposed to get above 5 degrees, so I will now banish myself myself to the kitchen to prepare some lasagna for dinner! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A cassoulet kind of day

Another cold snap is upon us. I awakened to -12 with a -27 wind chill. A runnin' we will go! :)

I put in 5 miles this morning. As expected, I was the only one out there and had the trails to myself. The only signs of life were chickadees and crows, but I was treated to a gorgeous arctic sunrise over the lake.

The snow packed trails crunched loudly as I ran. Good traction today, for sure. My face mask was completely frosted over, and the eyelashes on my right eye froze together, making it a little tough to see towards the end.

I still had a great run! I was actually pretty speedy today. Perhaps one is just more anxious to get inside on days like this?

Believe it or not, there was a local race going on today. I have never done this one before, but the St. Paul Winter Carnival hosts a half marathon. I heard on the news this morning that the distance was cut in half due to the cold (they have some rule where they will shorten the distance if the temperature reaches a certain threshold, and if the temperature is -25 or worse, they would cancel the race altogether!).

As you can see from the picture below, it didn't warm up all that much when I went out to run some errands later...

My dashboard thermometer this morning; The Silver Hornet says, "It's cold!" :)



With the running and shopping done, it seemed like a great day to stay inside and make the perfect cold weather dish. What could be better on a below zero day than a steaming kettle of baked beans with meat and sausages? I am talking about cassoulet!

Lamb shanks, an assortment of sausages, and three kinds of beans, cooked low and slow in the oven for several hours. Now there is some cold weather comfort food for you. Delicious.

Cassoulet of the Gods



It is supposed to be -14 overnight, so I will be preparing for another chilly run in the AM. Good thing I have leftover cassoulet to warm me up! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Traction control

The last two days of running have been fantastic. Temps around 30 degrees, very little wind, and just plain 'ol nice for January!

I ran my normal 5 miles yesterday, and I put in 8 1/2 tonight (just because the weather forecast looks interesting for the weekend, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to get in a semi long run!). The trails are good, with some snow pack and even some bare areas.

About half way though my run, I met another runner. I had seen this guy out here a couple times before and we always exchange a wave and a hello (as do most runners in these parts). Today he stopped to ask me a question about my shoes.

He was curious how my traction was on the snow packed trails because he noticed I was just wearing regular running shoes. I told him I had no issues on these surfaces, and that if there was more snow, I would just wear trail running shoes.

He showed me these things that were strapped to his shoes called Yack Tracks. They were these chain-like cleats that clamped over your shoes, designed to give you additional grip for running on slippery surfaces. He told me they were great on the snow pack, but he was having problems running across the parts of the trail that were now bare pavement. When he hit the pavement, he said it was like hitting ice in regular shoes. Treacherous!

I told him I had never worn anything like that, and I have never had many problems. These surfaces were actually pretty friendly, but that I always take care when I come to areas that look slippery. He thanked me, we both exchanged out appreciation that it is no longer snowing 2-3 inches every other day like is did in December and early January, and we went on our way. It is not every day I get to dispense my own personal running opinions on the trail!

On the way back, I saw one of the resident bald eagles lurking around his nest. It is getting close to that time last year when the pair started to nest, so it appears as if they will be back for another year (or at least I hope so, because they were fun to watch). And, since it was a nice day, my buddy the wire-hair terrier was out in the yard, straining on his leash, and barking like crazy at me. But now at least I know he is all talk and secretly loves me! :)

Unrelated to anything, I am deliriously excited that "Lost" is back with new episodes. Last night's season premiere was very intriguing, and I am anxious to see where it goes from here. I just loooooove this show! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January heatwave

OK, I am kidding. It is only 22 degrees. But it still feels like a heatwave!

It is 22 degrees...and I am running WITHOUT a full face mask! :)



A very pleasant afternoon for running. A wee bit of sunshine found its way through the cloud cover and made for a lovely January day.

Several places along the roads and trails were actually showing some bare pavement where the salt did its job. Oh my, is it fun to run when you have traction!

It was enjoyable not having to bundle up in multiple layers, and to not have to wear the full face mask. There was very little wind, so once I got going, I was plenty warm.

I stopped near my turnaround point and snapped this photo. I thought the clouds were particularly pretty, producing this unique pattern across the sky. As I said, a pleasant afternoon for running.

A cool cloud pattern on this January afternoon



Tomorrow and Thursday are supposed to be even warmer with a possible 30 degrees of more. This will be short lived, however. Look at what's in store for the weekend.

Well, it is January, after all.

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Roast

Sunday morning greeted me with 13 degrees and snow flurries. I put in 7 miles on the trails. There was virtually no wind, so even though the temperature was only 13, it still felt quite nice. I only met one other person, a runner (and she was fast!).

The trails were not quite as slushy as yesterday. It looked as if they had run a plow on the trails since yesterday to clean them off, so the extra effort was appreciated!

Since it is Sunday, and since it is winter and the time for comfort food, dinner tonight was a good 'ol fashioned beef pot roast.

I found a gorgeous beef chuck on sale at my local grocery store, so my menu this weekend was a no-brainer. I braised the roast in the oven for several hours in a flavorful liquid consisting of diced carrots, fennel bulb, red onion, garlic, tomato paste, red wine, beef stock, and a bouquet garni. I added some large chunks of carrots and potatoes about half way through the cooking process.

All hail the pot roast



I removed the roast, carrots, and potatoes. Then I strained the braising liquid, returned it to the heat and thickened it up. The result? A moist, tender roast beef with carrots, potatoes, and very flavorful dark gravy.

Oh yeah, that's good pot roast. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Channeling Carl

The weather has improved dramatically. My gosh, it actually got into the 20's above zero today!

Now that things have warmed up from our ridiculous cold snap, the salt that the highway department dumped on the roads is finally starting to work. This means that the snow-packed roads that were not plowed exceptionally well (translation: most of the roads in my neighborhood) start to soften, developing the texture of a slushy snow cone. This is one of the things I dislike about winter. Makes for some interesting driving.

I was rounding a seemingly innocuous 90-degree corner on one of my little back roads coming home from work on Friday. To use some NASCAR terminology, my car started to push, with the front end heading straight instead of wanting to take the corner. I seriously thought I was going to slam into the curb and gutter. Not good.

I believe in that instant, I channeled the spirit of Carl Edwards. Immediately, I cranked the wheel left as far as it would go and eased off the throttle. I drifted The Silver Hornet perfectly around the corner, mere inches (I'm not exaggerating) from the curb, with a wall of snow being kicked up by my car.

It was a hell of a piece of driving, if I do say so myself. I felt like Carl hugging the wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of course, as fortunate as I was to avoid bending a rim or knocking out the toe, it was a good lesson for me to mind my P's and Q's when driving in this crap! In fact, someone before me wasn't so lucky. You could see a spot where a vehicle had jumped the curb and ended up on a sidewalk. Ugh.

I was telling my Mom this story about how I became Carl Edwards, and she asked me if I did Carl's signature flip when I got home (Carl does a backflip off of his car when he wins races). I did not, as I probably would have hurt myself. But I was actually impressed with Mom's snappy response, as she does not even watch NASCAR! That was funny. And I was pissed that I didn't think of it first! :)

I will leave all the flipping to Carl...



(That reminds me, the Daytona 500 is less than a month away!)

Anyhow, in honor of the nicer weather, I ran 11 miles this morning when it was 17 degrees. This felt like a heatwave compared to the last few days. There was even a fairly stiff breeze this morning, so the wind chill made it feel colder than that. But still, it is hard to describe how much warmer it felt!

It was a good run today. I managed a decent pace (although the snow on the trails is starting to resemble the snow on the roads!). Not a lot of activity as far as wildlife is concerned. I saw some chickadees and juncos, and I heard a pileated woodpecker cackling in the woods.

Dinner this evening was an old favorite, Giada's balsamic roasted chicken. I just love this dish. Not only does the marinade of balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil add a wonderful flavor and help to keep things moist, but the skin develops a beautiful dark lacquered color. Delicious! I just love Giada's recipes.

Giada's Balsamic Roasted Chicken



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Office Space

With my promotion, I got moved to a new department, and to a new location in the building. For the first time in my professional career, I have an honest-to-goodness “office,” and not a cubicle.

And, what an office it is! It belonged to the president of my company. He recently moved to one of our new suites on a different floor, so his office was vacated. They moved another guy from my new department and me into this space and built it out so there are two private desks, which means I do have to share. But still, this is completely absurd. I have a corner office (did I mention it was a corner office?) with two VP’s sitting on either side of me, and I have a hell of a view overlooking a wooded area and a lake.

It is good to be the king.

The view from my office



It is a distinct possibility that I will never have an office this nice again. I am sure they will eventually hire some new executive that will need a real office and I will be moved to the cubicle next to the boiler room kind of like Milton in “Office Space,” so I will savor it while it lasts!

On my drive into work today, my dashboard thermometer measured -23 degrees. Our cold snap continues, and it is expected to reach -25 in my neighborhood tonight. But get this; possible upper 20’s and maybe some 30’s above zero early next week. That is quite a swing.

The run this evening was brisk again; -6 with a -24 wind chill according to the National Weather Circus. I was noticeably more frosted over on my return home than I was yesterday. Not sure why, as the temperature was nearly the same. But it was a good run today as well.

I noticed something humorous; on my typical weekday run, I have to take about a mile of a paved bike trail to get to the trails around the lake. Since it had snowed a light dusting on early Wednesday, I was able to see that my footprints from yesterday were the only footprints that had been on that trail in the last 24 hours! There were a few footprints around the trails along the lake, but none on my trail leading up to the lake. It would appear that not too many others in my neighborhood are very excited about our current weather pattern! :)

Oh, and just as a disclaimer, I had not seen Chad's post from yesterday prior to posting my report from yesterday. Except for the fact that he is discussing skiing, the similarities are eerie. I guess we Minnesotans are all kind of thinking the same thing right now!

Still sticking close to the fireplace,

Jean

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cool running

In every apartment I have lived in, I've had those baseboard heaters. Also in every apartment I have lived in, I have never used them. My thermostat is always turned down as far as it will go. I have found that in most cases, the places I have lived stay in the mid 60's during the winter without turning the heat on. That is comfortable for me. And, my current place has a fireplace, so I crank that up if I am chilly.

When I arrived home from work today, I thought it felt unusually cold in my apartment. I checked out the temperature gauge on the thermostat. It was 58 degrees inside! I guess that will happen when your high temperature outside barely approaches zero for two consecutive days (with projected lows around -22 tonight).

Needless to say, the fireplace AND the baseboard heaters are on right now.

Still, I went running when I got home from work. The temperature was -4 degrees. But the good news is that the wind chill was only -23. :) (Hey, it could always be worse, like here where it was so cold they closed some ski hills on account of the wind chill!)

I braved the elements and put in my 5 miles today. Actually, I had a fantastic run. Despite being cold, the sun was shining, so I had that going for me! The trails were plowed, but they had a light dusting of snow from last night, so there was plenty of grip. I clipped right along at a brisk (pardon the pun) pace.

Perhaps I am strange, but I really actually enjoy running in weather like this. It is exhilarating, it makes me feel like I am accomplishing something, and you are pretty much guaranteed to have the trails to yourself (I didn't see a soul, and I only saw two other sets of footprints in the fresh snow. Both were made by runners. You could tell by the stride!).

The one thing that I really dislike with winter running is getting dressed, especially on days like this. It just takes so dang long to get ready! For example, here is a complete list of every article of clothing I had on today.

Bundled up for a January run



What Jean wore in the -23 wind chill

-Shoes
-Socks
-Running briefs
-Base layer long underwear
-Cold weather running tights
-Running pants
-Base layer winter running shirt
-Long sleeved technical shirt with mock turtleneck
-Another long sleeved technical shirt over that
-Running jacket
-Full face mask
-A Buff for around my neck
-Stocking cap
-Running gloves made of Polartec material
-Running mittens worn over my gloves


Believe it or not, I was actually quite comfortable (even considering my Buff ended up partially freezing to my face mask!). I am not sure who coined the phrase, but it is said there is no such thing as bad weather; just bad gear. With some care and preparation, running can be accomplished outside in the brutal Minnesota winter. And some might even call it fun! :)

Sticking close to the fireplace tonight,

Jean

Monday, January 12, 2009

Now where is my parka? - Updated

The weather forecast for the next several days according to WCCO.



OK, so we are in line for anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of snow today, and then it is going to get sort of chilly over the next few days. Some of high temperatures might still be below zero. You have to love any forecast that uses the words "painfully cold." Wow!

I did another 7 mile run on Sunday morning, which was quite pleasant. A crisp 11 degrees, but there was very little wind, so it felt great. We had received close to an inch of fluffy snow, and I created the first set of footprints on the trails for much of my route.

The rest of my Sunday was pretty much dedicated to TV. Playoff football, followed by the return of "24." I couldn't be more excited that Jack is back!

Actually, I am thinking there will be a lot of TV in my immediate future, since it will be too cold to do much outside (well, except for running, that is!).

Attempting to stay warm,

Jean

----------------

Just a quick update; my drive home from work was the worst commute of the season so far. I would estimate we have three inches of snow in my neighborhood. It has snowed most of the day, and the roads were icy and horrible. I counted six vehicles in the ditch in my short drive on the freeway. Ick!

I did go running after work, however. 14 degrees, snow, and the wind in starting to crank from the northwest (wind chill was -1). Kind of challenging running in the snow, but it was still quite satisfying.

Tonight, I watch the 2nd half of the "24" premiere while bracing for the cold tomorrow! :)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Baby on board, and pieces of Americana

I have had a rather full Saturday; it started with a trip up to Brainerd in the morning for an appointment (by the way, the air temperature in Brainerd this AM was -12! Brrr!).

On the way back, I stopped at my friends Jason & Cathryn's house. Their baby daughter is outgrowing some of her things. My mission was to pick up some baby gear that they are giving to my brother and sister in law, as they are expecting their first child this spring.

We had a fantastic visit, and Cathryn served up some delicious chili and rolls for lunch. It was great to catch up with them. I loaded up the back seat of The Silver Hornet with a car seat, toys, pillows, and tiny baby clothes.

A rare sight; Baby stuff filling up the back seat of The Silver Hornet!



I won't be heading up to my brother and sister in law's place for a little while yet, so I thought it would be funny to leave the car seat in my car just to play with my friends and coworkers. Can you just imagine the fun that could be had with this? "Well, Giada De Laurentiis called, and she said I am going to be a dad!"

But The Silver Hornet did not approve of this prank and felt emasculated. He told me in no uncertain terms that he is a "sport sedan" and not the "Wagon Queen Family Truckster." I assured him that we were just transporting these goods, and there were no immediate plans to turn The Silver Hornet into a baby wagon. :)

The Wagon Queen Family Truckster: You think you hate it now, but wait till you drive it!



Also on the way home, I took a few rural roads. I love getting off of the freeways and taking the roads less traveled by to see the small towns.

I stopped in Pierz and loaded up on some goodies for at Thielen's Meats, a very well known butcher shop in central Minnesota. Thielen's is one of those great, old fashioned meat markets where you walk in and it just smells of delicious smoked meat products. And this is a smell that cannot be replicated; it only happens in places that have been perfecting their craft for decades. The aroma is just intoxicating. I made a good haul, and my fridge and freezer are now well stocked with bacon, smoked pork chops, Swedish potato sausage, blood sausage, beef sticks, and a gorgeous looking pork roast that I intend on transforming into an Italian ragu tomorrow.

One of the things I love about small towns, particularly those in Midwestern farm country, is the churches. Many times, they become the focal point of the town, as the steeple creates the skyline and can be seen for miles around. And whereas many newly constructed churches have become very modern in design, small town churches tend to be fairly old and retain a certain nostalgic architectural charm.

Here are a couple of beautiful churches I saw on my trip today.

St. Joseph's Church in Pierz, MN. This steeple can be seen for miles around.



St. Michael's Church in the tiny town of Buckman, MN



Also, there is something to be said for an authentic small town main street. Today, we are seeing suburbs that are trying to develop fake "main street" areas, however they all lack character and are filled with chain stores and restaurant. I stopped and took this picture in Royalton, MN, as I thought it was kind of neat. What I really liked was the ancient 7UP sign. It was attached to a tiny, small town grocery store that was actually open. You don't see this much anymore in the age of supermarkets.

Downtown Royalton, MN



You miss out on things like this when you stick to the freeways. On your next trip somewhere, I challenge you to deviate from the freeway, find a two lane road, and see what you can find. Pieces of Americana are still around; sometimes you just need to do a little searching!

And that is not all; when I made it home, I did a 7 mile run! I was kind of tired after driving most of the day, but it was totally gorgeous. 18 degrees, bright, bright sunshine, and relatively light winds. It would have been a shame to have wasted a day like this. I made a lap of my lake, observing several people out on the lake ice fish (clearly they too were enjoying such a nice January day!). A fun way to wrap up my Saturday.

And now, I am ready to kick back in the easy chair! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, January 9, 2009

The weekend is here!

Thank...goodness...it's...Friday!

It was a very busy week at the office. I am actually quite excited and very thankful; I received a promotion at work! In fact, I completely switched departments from project management to quality assurance. The change should be nice, as I will get to work more with our internal staff as opposed to external customers, which is, as Martha Stewart might say, a good thing (at least for me it is!).

However, this also means I am trying to transition my old projects to others, all the while trying to wrap my brain around what I will be doing in my new role. It is kind of like doing two jobs at once right now. So, I am happy it is Friday! The weekend is here.

Today was a day off from running. I ran on Thursday instead because all the local TV weather people were calling for between 3-6 inches of snow today. Big swing and a miss! The snow moved drastically south, so we were spared. We barely got a dusting in my neighborhood, which is fine. I will get in some good runs over the weekend before the deep freeze settles in (it is going to get bitter cold again next week!)

Some belated food pictures...

This was a shrimp scampi over curried couscous that I made last week. I forgot I had a picture of this. It was both pretty and tasty.

Shrimp scampi with curried couscous



And, purple potatoes make darned good hash browns. :)

More fun with purple potatoes; hash browns and eggs over easy



Enjoy you weekend, everyone!

Jean

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weather stats - or, as they say, welcome to Minnesota!

Tuesday was phenomenally gorgeous. In my neighborhood that afternoon, it was 26 degrees, bright and sunny, and barely a breath of wind. The trails offered decent traction, even if they were somewhat slushy in a few places. I was amazed at how warm it felt! What a difference sun and virtually no wind makes. The birds and animals seemed to be enjoying it as well. Chickadees were happily singing, and squirrels were playfully scampered through the woods. A delightful weekday run, I must say.

Today was back to reality; 10 degrees, a decent breeze, and pretty darn crisp. The trails firmed up, and they had run a plow since yesterday to clean things up, so the surface was nice and fast. I felt fairly speedy. Nice!

Speaking of weather, I was reading the 2008 climate summary for the Twin Cities on the local National Weather Circus office's website, (the report can be found here).

(By the way, I think I am turning into my Dad. I LOVE weather-related websites!)

Anyhow, according to their records:

-The last trace of snow in the spring was on April 27. Our first trace of snow recorded in the fall was on October 26. This means we had almost six consecutive months where it didn't snow here Twin Cities.

-The maximum warm temperature was 94 in July. The maximum low was -15 in February. (There seems to be discrepancy here; on page 1 of the report it lists the low for the year being -15 on Feb 18. However, in a table on page 4 under “ACTUAL DAILY EXTREME FOR EACH MONTH,” they list February with a maximum low of -14, and January with the maximum low of -15. If January actually had the maximum low, I am pretty sure it was the 19th. I had -15 in my neighborhood that day, and I went running! Whatever the case, -15 seems to be the official low.) For those keeping score at home, that is a 109 degree temperature difference! Goodness knows what that would be if you factor in heat index and wind chill.

Wow, we sure put up with a lot here over the course of a year, don't we?

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Minnesota Purple Potato Eaters

My "Run Jean Run" blog is fast becoming "Cook Jean Cook." But this was worthy of sharing... :)

Back in the "good ol' days" (if indeed there is such a thing for Vikings fans) the Minnesota Vikings defense was known as the "Purple People Eaters." This past weekend, I ate purple potatoes in honor of their first playoff appearance (and, as it turns out, playoff loss) in several years.

I concocted this dish a few years ago. It is your basic gratin Dauphinoise, a classic French scalloped potato dish topped with a dark crust of Gruyère cheese. But this one has a twist.

I found some purple potatoes at my local grocer, so I was inspired to make the gratin with alternating layers of purple potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes; purple and gold being the color of my Minnesota Vikings! It is the perfect side dish to serve for a die-hard Vikings fan. I thought I would share how it is done, and I took a few pictures to show how it comes together.

Here is what you need:

Jean's Minnesota Vikings Gratin Dauphinoise

-Butter for the baking dish
-1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
-1 lb. purple potatoes, peeled
-Salt and fresh ground black pepper
-4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
-Approximately 1 1/2 cups of some sort of fatty liquid dairy product (cream, half & half, whole milk, or whatever combination thereof)
-Pinch of nutmeg (fresh grated if you've got it)
-1/4 lb. Gruyère cheese, grated


Thinly slice the peeled potatoes. Place them in alternating layers in a buttered baking dish, sprinkling each layer with salt, black pepper, and a little bit of minced garlic.

You can see the purple potatoes are quite dark when sliced. The color does fade somewhat when cooked.



When all of your layers are down, add a pinch of nutmeg to the your cream, half & half, or milk (or a combination). Pour over the potatoes. You need to pour in just enough liquid, making sure that the liquid does not completely cover the potatoes (You want the top to brown, and you don't want this to bubble over and make a mess in your oven, so take care! You may wish to place a layer of foil below the baking dish to catch anything that may drip.).

Add the Gruyère cheese over the top. Gruyère is the classic cheese for a gratin Dauphinoise. It has a strong, nutty flavor and it develops a beautiful brown color on top when baked.

In a 375 F degree oven, bake covered for 30 minutes, and then uncovered for 45 minutes more. The top will start to get really dark, but that is what you want. Don't get scared, it will be OK! Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes to a half an hour before slicing. It will stay plenty hot, and it needs time to settle.

As you can see, the different colored layers will be visible when sliced, even if the color does fade when cooked. Also notice the very dark brown top. This is what you are looking for with a gratin Dauphinoise.

A nice, dark crust, and contrasting layers of color



Here you have the finished product; Jean's Minnesota Vikings Gratin Dauphinoise, served with Swedish potato sausage and broccoli.

A treat for any Vikings fan!



Enjoy, and GO VIKES!!!! (groan...)

Jean

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back into the deep freeze, and why I love Giada

Saturday we were supposed to get between 4 and 8 inches of snow. I ran 7 miles in the morning (19 degrees, kind of windy), expecting the snow would start at any time. However, I even saw a few patches of blue sky, so I was suspicious.

With all my grocery shopping done, I really had no need to go anywhere. So I watched plenty of football and waited for the snow to start falling. And waited. And waited.

By Sunday morning, barely even an inch had fallen in my neighborhood. Apparently this storm had the National Weather Circus stumped. I suppose that is OK. Better an inch than eight, I guess! It was still enough to screw up the roads, but my trails were simply dusted over for the morning run on Sunday.

This is what -18 wind chill looks like! The start of an arctic sunrise over my local lake on Sunday morning.



However, the temperature took a nose dive. Sunday morning greeted me with -1 below zero and a -18 wind chill. The wind was cranking pretty good out of the northwest, so it made for a crisp, frosty run. I did another 7 miles and didn't see a soul. In fact, the only tracks I saw on one part of the trail belonged to a fox who had obviously traversed this area overnight. I did see some snow buntings though, so that was worth braving the cold.

For Sunday's dinner, I tried something new. I made Food Network diva Giada De Laurentiis' lasagna rolls. Giada's recipes have always turned out really nice for me, so I thought it would be worth giving this a go. As it turns out, the lasagna rolls were a lot of fun to make, so here is how it all came together.

The recipe says to spread the filling over the noodle and roll it up. However, in the instructional video link for making the lasagna rolls, Giada does it differently, opting to put a large spoonful on one end and then just rolling the lasagna up. I did it using the video method, as it seemed like it would be less work and less messy.

A prepped lasagna roll



I did not do the Béchamel sauce with the milk, butter, and flour, opting to line the bottom of the baking dish with some extra marinara sauce. Otherwise, I followed the rest of the recipe almost exactly (the only other difference being that I simply added a little fresh thyme, parsley, and crushed red pepper flakes to the filling mix).

The lasagna rolls sauced, ready to be topped with cheese and thrown in the oven



Here is how they looked coming out of the oven after removing the foil and allowing the cheese on top to get a little brown.

Fresh out of the oven



The results were fantastic, and this may change the way I make lasagna forever! This is a pretty and delicious dish, and kind of a fun twist on lasagna. There was some additional effort involved in the preparation, but nothing here is terribly complicated, and it really isn't all that much more work than would go into making a traditional lasagna.

Dinner is served! Giada's lasagna rolls with golden beets and broccoli.



These individual pasta packets cook up beautifully, the filling is firm (yet retains some moisture), and the taste is just excellent. Be sure to save a little extra warmed marinara sauce as she suggests in the recipe. It was nice to lay down a small pool of sauce on the plate for sopping material, as the filling itself is not really "saucy," if that makes sense.

Giada, I love you! I will be making this over and over again. And I can't wait to have leftovers for lunch. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's eats, and more snow

I started off 2009 with an 11 mile run on New Year's Day. The temperature was around 19 degrees in the morning, although it was fairly windy. Still, this was not too bad.

The trails had been plowed from out last dose of snow earlier in the week, so there was decent traction. It felt good to get out and run long, even though it was somewhat strange to do my long run on a weekday.

Given that this was a relatively decent January morning by Minnesota standards, I was surprised that I only encountered three other people the entire time I was out on Thursday morning. I suspected the Twin Cities was collectively sleeping off a hangover from the previous evening's festivities!

Here are the dishes I cooked up on New Year's holiday:

I whipped up a pasta dish on New Year's Eve; curly cavatappi pasta with shrimp and bay scallops in a spicy tomato sauce. The homemade red sauce had lots of crushed red pepper, garlic, chunks of sun-dried tomato, and was finished with some fresh basil and parsley. This was my attempt to make something similar to the wonderful dish I had at Big Tomatoes in Neenah, WI, last September (although I did not grill my shrimp, and I added scallops). It did not disappoint.

Cavatappi with shrimp and bay scallops in a spicy red sauce



My brother had given me some outstanding venison stew meat, so I decided to put it to good use. On New Year's Day, I made an Irish venison stew.

The dish was similar to the Irish lamb stew I cooked up in October. I did it "Black & Tan" style again, as I used stout and ale in the braising liquid, along with a splash of The Tyrconnell single malt Irish whiskey just to complete the Irish experience. The stew was full of carrots, caramelized onions, crimini mushrooms, Yukon gold potatoes, turnips, barley, and peas. It was seasoned with a classic bouquet garni (fresh thyme, parsley, bay leaves), as well as some dried herbs de Provence. Delicious and warming, especially on a windy, chilly Minnesota day!

Irish venison stew



Believe it or not, we are bracing for yet another snow storm this weekend. Currently my area is under a Winter Storm Warning, and they are calling for 3 to 6 inches of snow by Sunday, along with 20 to 35 MPH winds.

This is becoming almost comical, as it seems to snow just about every other day. I guess I will just have to stay inside and do some more cooking this weekend! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The 2008 "Jeany Awards"

1617 total miles and 11 different races over roads (mostly dry, some snow-covered), trails, golf courses, and even through swamps; not a bad way to spend 2008!

Since the year's end is sort of a neat and tidy milestone, it serves an opportunity to reflect upon some of my more interesting running experiences over the past year. I will even throw them into a few self-defined award categories. And to make the ceremony completely pretentious, I can give the awards a cutesy name, such as the "Jeany Awards," and have Joan Rivers stationed at the entrance asking ridiculous fashion questions to the fellow runners in attendance.

So roll out the red carpet! The ballots have been tabulated, and there will be no recount (the MN Secretary of State's office is a little tied up at the moment).

The envelope, please...

Greatest Accomplishment Award: Community First Fox Cities Marathon – Appleton, WI

Yours truly, at the Fox Cities Marathon finish



Of course, this category had to go to finishing the Fox Cities Marathon back in September. I made a nice weekend trip out of this race. The Fox Cities area was quite beautiful with some great restaurants, and the race was well organized and a tremendous amount of fun. I set a new marathon personal record time, and I enjoyed every moment on the course. A lot of hard work went into preparing for the race over the summer, and it paid off in the end. Very satisfying.

Messiest Race Award: Runnin' In The Ruff 10k - Milaca, MN

Mud + Water + Swamps = These shoes and socks



Not even a contest. This past spring saw some incredibly wet weather in central Minnesota with a tremendous amount of late-season snowfall. The trails and swamps along the edge of the town of Milaca offered up enough mud to suck a shoe clean off your foot, along with some knee deep water crossings. And let me tell you, that water was cold! The shoes and socks in the picture above never fully recovered.

Most Difficult Race Award: Superior Trail Race 25k - Lutsen, MN

Wiped out after the Superior Trail 25k



Again, not even a contest. I ain't built for hills! :) This was the hardest race I have done, period. There is very little flat ground as you are dragging yourself up and stumbling down Moose Mountain on the Superior Hiking Trail. I was exhausted, beaten up, bloody, and I still have the ever-so-faint remnants of a scar on my leg from scraping a branch. That being said, it is still probably the most beautiful race I have ever run. A difficult challenge in some gorgeous country.

Most Satisfying Race Award: Freight House Road Race 10 Mile - Stillwater, MN

Yours truly, before the start of my best race of the year



This would have gone to my marathon except for the fact that the Freight House Road Race at Stillwater’s Lumberjack Days summer celebration was one of my best managed races ever. I felt great, I felt fast, and I had enough gas left in the tank for a very strong finish. It was my fastest pace for a "longer" distance race, and I destroyed my previous 10 mile personal record. Everything worked on this day. Good times!

Most Fun Race Award: Chester Woods 10 Mile Trail Run - Rochester, MN



Yours truly, hoofing it up the “Big Dam Hill” in the midst of a thunderstorm

When I signed up for this race, I had no idea how cool it would be. The Chester Woods County Park is extremely scenic. The trails were easy to run on, and they offered some pretty incredible views of southeastern Minnesota bluff country, as well as plenty of challenging terrain (particularly towards the finish). The added drama of a thunderstorm in the last few miles of the race proved to be quite interesting as well. A fantastic event all the way around. And if I recall, the entry fee was a ridiculously cheap $15. Money well spent!

Most Memorable Run Award: August 30, 2008 – My neighborhood

A fantastic sunrise taken during my favorite run of the year



It wasn't a race. I recall this August morning as being one of the most memorable runs of 2008. This was the day of my longest training run (21 miles) in preparation for the Fox Cities Marathon. Appropriately enough, I had an encounter with an inattentive red fox, which led to one of the funniest things I have ever seen in the animal kingdom. Couple that with a number of bunny sightings on a downright beautiful summer day with a gorgeous sunrise, and you have one fine morning run. Here is to many more days like this in 2009 and beyond!

Happy New Year to all!

Jean

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails