Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Ravioli

Actually, it was more like Saturday and Sunday ravioli.

I decided to make homemade ravioli this weekend. My inspiration was the Urban Italian cookbook. I did take some liberties with the recipe (Carmellini's recipe didn't call for venison; mine did). This was a rather involved process, so I spread it out over two days. Here is what I did over the weekend to prepare this:

Day One:

1. Stewed some venison and a little bit of pork with carrot, celery, onion, garlic, diced tomato, tomato paste, fresh rosemary, red wine, and chicken stock until the meat was very tender and most of the liquid evaporated. Cooled the mixture completely, refrigerated overnight.

2. Made the pasta dough, starting it out in my stand mixer, eventually turning it out onto a board and worked until everything came together. Wrapped in plastic wrap, refrigerated overnight.

Day Two:

1. Took the cooled venison, pork, and vegetables and ran everything though a meat grinder, creating a finely textured mixture. Added some egg yolk to bind and a healthy dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano for flavor.

2. Rolled the meat mixture into small little meatballs (approximately 1 T. of meat to each ball). Covered and refrigerated until needed.

3. Rolled out the pasta dough through a pasta roller, rolling it incrementally thinner until I reached the thinnest setting. Placed the meat at approximately 1 inch intervals. Moistened the edges with water, folded the dough over, and sealed the ravioli, trying to work all of the air out of them. Cut with a pastry wheel. (Note: part takes a LONG time if you are doing it by yourself!)

Freshly made ravioli on the cutting board



4. Made spaghetti (this has absolutely nothing to do with the ravioli; I just had a lot of extra dough, so I ran some of it through the pasta cutter attachment to create spaghetti and froze it for later use! Moving on...)

Bonus spaghetti made with the extra dough



5. Made the tomato sauce; just a basic marinara with tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper, fresh basil, fresh parsley, and some dried Italian seasoning.

6. Boiled the ravioli for a few minutes until they floated, and tossed them in a pan with some of the tomato sauce to coat. Served them up with grated some fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top. Enjoyed them immensely, wondering all the while if what Giada De Laurentiis was cooking for dinner tonight was as tasty as this (I am guessing it was, but still, this was pretty darn good!).

Homemade venison ravioli with tomato sauce



Yes, this was a lot of work. But this ain't exactly Chef Boyardee, either. It was totally worth it.

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blood, sweat, and birds

A pretty nice Saturday. Temps are in the 30's, abundant sunshine, relatively light winds. Hard to complain.

I ran 19.5 miles this morning. I hadn't intended to go quite that far, as I underestimated the distance of a couple of deviations along my route. I kind of crapped out over the last couple miles, as I ran out of Gatorade (that will happen when you leave the spout of your water bottle open instead of closing it!), and I didn't bring enough gels. But, no complaints. Overall, it was a decent run.

A few new birds to report; yesterday I saw a flock of American tree sparrows. We are actually at the northern edge of their wintering zone, so this was notable since it seemed they were on the move in large numbers. Also, the juncos are everywhere.

Today, I saw my first two great blue herons flying overhead. And, in some open water where a creek flows into a lake, I saw three hooded mergansers, including one male displaying his full crest. Previously I had said the wood duck might be out prettiest duck, but the papa hooded merganser can hold his own in that category. A gorgeous duck!

The geese are also starting to pair up and establish their little territories for nesting; in many instances, right along the running trail. I ran within feet of several of them, and they start honking, telling me to back off. Some day I am going to have a tussle with one of these bird, probably reminiscent of Marlin Perkins' able bodied assistant, Jim Fowler, on the old "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" show. (I always though Marlin had a pretty easy job. I envisioned him sipping martinis and narrating while Jim was getting his ass kicked by an alligator.)

I loved this show as a kid. "Stay tuned for footage of Jean getting attacked by a goose!" :)



When I got back into my apartment, I noticed the front of my shoe was all red. I took off the shoe and my sock was soaked with blood. One of my toenails was ever so slightly digging into another toe, so I had blood all over the place. Ick! You think I would have noticed that at some point on the run, but apparently not. Anyhow, I am no worse for wear (and the toenails have been trimmed!).

Tonight's dinner was simple; spicy BBQ chicken wings and baked Yukon gold steak fries. Quick, easy, and good basketball watching fare. :)

Mmmmm....wings!



Oh, and just when you think spring is here; the National Weather Circus has issued a Winter Storm Watch for Monday night into Tuesday. They are already saying 6 inches of snow might be possible. Just great.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A damn fine cup of coffee

It has been precipitating for a few days now.

Yesterday I went running when I got home from work in 45 degrees and a downpour. I actually met one other person on the trails; a lady walking her black lab. We both said hello and smiled at each other with that “Yeah, we are both idiots for being out in this weather” kind of grin. By the time I finished, my shoes were waterlogged (they still were not dry today) and I looked as if I had fallen into a lake. I even wrung about a quarter cup of water out of my running socks! I guess what I am trying to say is it was kind of damp.

This morning we got a slight dusting of snow in the grassy areas. On my run this afternoon, I was treated to a temperature of 32 with a very strong wind, giving us a nice wind chill of 21 (of course, I must remind you that on Sunday it was in the low 60’s). It is actually flurrying as I type this. Welcome to spring in Minnesota!

So my post from last week regarding the owl inspired me to track down something that was missing from my DVD collection; the second season of "Twin Peaks." Sure, I have the entire series on VHS, but who watches videocassettes anymore? (Heck, I don't even have a VCR hooked up anymore!)

I bought the first season on DVD when it was released in late 2001. It took until 2007 to release a DVD version of the remaining episodes from the second (and final) season. And for some reason, I didn't learn this until last week.

"Damn good coffee...and hot!"



The collection is complete. I am sensing a "Twin Peaks" marathon in the very near future.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tie goes to the runner

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of joining nearly a thousand of the Twin Cities' die hard running enthusiasts at an annual rite of spring, the St. Patrick's Day Human Race 8k.

As noted in an earlier post, this was my fifth consecutive Human Race. For the last five springs, it has really marked my official end of winter and the start of racing season here in Minnesota.

The University of St Thomas, host site of the Human Race



As always, the race is headquartered at the University of St. Thomas. The route is an out and back on scenic Summit Avenue. The course is relatively flat (just a few sneaky inclines in the midsection), and from four miles on home, it is ever so slightly downhill.

I just love running this race.

I got there early to pick up my packet. There was also a shoe drive going on to benefit a local free clothing store, so I brought several of my old but decent running shoes to contribute to the cause. Following that, I just milled around, took in the atmosphere, and watched some of the 5k race.

Footage from the start of the 5k race. Race starts are always exciting!



Shortly before the 8k started, I had the pleasure of meeting local running blogger Beth and her husband Mike. Beth recognized me and was kind enough to introduce herself. A very nice couple, and it is always great to meet nice folks who are part of the Minnesota running scene. Thanks for going out of your way to say hello, Beth!

By the time my race got going, temperatures were in...the low 60's? Good grief! In every past Human Race I have entered, the weather was decent. But never had I been able to wear shorts. Today, wearing a light long-sleeved shirt was overdressing!

The race headed east down Summit Ave...right into the teeth of 20-25 MPH southeast wind! The wind was blowing very hard, and you were fairly exposed to it if you weren't running in a pack. But the good news; the wind would be pushing us all the way home once we reached the turnaround point.

This comedic highlight happens every year; I am just shy of the two mile mark, and here comes a cop car with lights on going leading the way. The race leaders go screaming past me in the opposite direction! Those are some fast dudes.

My race was a good one. The first part was slower (wind related), but I really was able to pick up some speed in the later stages of the course (also wind related!). I felt very strong and fluid. The legs felt great. I was having fun.

Yours truly, at the 2009 Human Race



My fastest Human Race 8k was in 2007 when I ran it in 35:42. Yesterday I ran it in 35:42 (results are here).

That's right, folks; I tied my own course record at this race! That was also 29 seconds shy of my own personal record at the 8k distance. I was quite pleased with my performance. And this after I ran more than 13 miles the previous day. I am excited about the upcoming season.

Dinner last night was the semi-regular post-race tradition of Chinese takeout. Some Szechuan beef and hot & spicy chicken tasted mighty fine, and it was a perfect celebratory meal for kicking off my 2009 race season.

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good Day Sunshine

Sun peeking through the trees at Fish Lake Regional Park



Spring is officially here! Hallelujah!

I was treated to a glorious Saturday morning for my run; clear skies with a bit of fog, temperatures in the mid 30's to start, and almost no wind. Very nice.

I ran 13 1/2 miles today. Normally I don't even run the day before a race, but I couldn't help myself. It was just too nice of a day.

It was too dark to focus, but I still thought this was neat. The swamp looked mysterious! Fog and a partial moon near the start of my run.



The running was incredibly comfortable today. I started out before sunrise just as the world was waking up. I just ran easy, stopped to look at things, and took lots of pictures. It was good to do that, because there was so much to see.

The sunrise was outstanding. It was coming up when I was in the Fish Lake Regional Park. There were no clouds in the sky, so everything was brilliant orange. A great start to the day!

Sunrise over Fish Lake



Time for a bird report...

This week, there has been an increase in bird activity with many spring arrivals to report. On my Thursday run, March 19th, I saw my first mourning dove, song sparrow, and eastern bluebird (a half dozen of them, in fact!) of the season.

Today, I added two more to the list. I scared up a pair of wood ducks from a tree along the creek. These guys are arguably the prettiest of our ducks. Also, I saw a pair of broad winged hawks. This was kind of fun because one of them was trying to manhandle a dead branch while the other watched (presumably attempting to collect nesting materials). They could have cared less that I was there. I am really hoping that there will be a nest somewhere along the trail so I can watch them this summer.

Of course, there were plenty of resident birds as well. I saw a pileated woodpecker in the swamp bottoms and heard him cackling in other locations. I also noticed the red-bellied woodpeckers were out in great numbers and they are quite vocal. Not sure if this is a mating thing or what, but honestly, I heard their distinctive "kwirrrr!" vocalization everywhere and saw a couple of them in the woods. And, there seems to be an influx of blue jays. We do have them year round, but there are migratory jays as well. I think those who go south have returned.

In mammal news, I even saw a red fox trotting across the ice on Fish Lake! He looked as if he was in pursuit of some geese that were sitting out on the lake, but the foxy one quickly retreated when it was blatantly obvious that the geese saw him coming.

Yours truly, with a rapidly thawing Fish Lake in the background (unfortunately, no photo of the fox!)



While running through the wooded section of the trail, I saw all of these curious blue bags hanging from trees. It is maple syrup season! With warmer daytime temperatures and nights where it still gets to freezing or below, maple sap starts to run. Someone here was obviously taking advantage. My folks made maple syrup when I was a kid living in central Minnesota, and these self-contained bags were definitely more high tech than the old spigots and ice cream buckets we used! :) Anyhow, this person will be in for a treat. Real maple syrup is ridiculously good.

Tapping maple trees along the trail



So that was my morning run. I ran just a shade over a half marathon the day before my first race of the season. I don't care if I am dragging my butt up and down Summit Avenue in St. Paul tomorrow; it was totally worth it.

Tonight I treated myself to a dinner of homemade chicken cacciatora; chunks of chicken with pancetta, red bell pepper, mushrooms, mixed olives, fennel, onion, garlic, rosemary, and fresh parsley in a tomato and white wine sauce. No doubt this will give me the fuel I need for tomorrow. And if not, at least I will have some damn good leftovers! :)

The pre-race dinner; chicken cacciatora with linguine



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This afternoon's run...with video!

Once again, I was treated to a nice afternoon run. 50 degrees, sunny, and I thought I would do something different on tonight's run and film a few seconds of video along one of my local trails.

I will warn you; it is terrible. There is no production value at all, and it makes the Zapruder film look as if it was shot in high-definition. That being said, enjoy a small snippet from my running route!

He talks, he runs, he babbles incessantly about birds!



Two new birds to report; the common grackle has arrived, as has one of my favorite little birds, the chipping sparrow. Things are really picking up in the bird world. Bring on spring!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Breaking out the shorts

Yours truly on a glorious St. Patrick's Day run



What a day! 55 degrees, a mix of sun and clouds, and a nice breeze. It was time to go running in shorts for the first time this year, thereby exposing my embarrassingly pale white legs to the entire northwest metro. (Don't worry, I won't subject my readers to such atrocities!)

Very good running today. All of the trails are obviously clear of ice by now, and the there were only a few puddles to navigate around in places. It is great to have some traction again.

Trails free of snow!



I really like my trails. I have the prettiest areas to run through. The trail I was on today takes me along the edge of a creek, and the area is teeming with bird activity. It is always fun to be out here, especially as the season is about to change.

A shot of the swamp from my running trail. So good to see the snow is gone!



Speaking of bird activity, I had a somewhat unexpected surprise; the red-winged blackbirds are back!

I actually heard their shrill voices before I saw them, but they were present in large numbers along the swampy creek edge. They arrived almost two weeks sooner than they did last year. It is funny how they all just show up. Good stuff! Spring is upon us.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, March 16, 2009

Six days until race season!

I am starting to get a little excited. The temperature was a ridiculously beautiful 64 today (keep in mind that a mere four days ago, the Twin Cities registered an official low of -4!). After a warm weekend, our snow is gone, baby! People are walking around in shorts and t-shirts. This weather rules.

And this coming Sunday marks the start of my 2009 race season! On March 22nd, I will be joining many of Minnesota’s die hard runners at the 2009 St. Patrick’s Day Human Race 8k over in St. Paul. I look forward to this event every year, and it is the one race that will always be on my calendar.

The 2009 St. Patrick's Day Human Race logo, from The Sporting Life's website



In many ways, the Human Race race marks the start of the Minnesota race season in general. It is one of the first “big” races of the year, routinely drawing well over a thousand runners just in the 8k alone. It is also billed as one of the fastest 8k races in the state, so this one brings out a lot of the heavy hitters. A great way to kick off a new season and greet the start of spring, no doubt.

This race also holds a special significance for me. I started running in the spring of 2004. The following spring in 2005, the Human Race was the first “official” race that I ran. I have done it every year since. So the upcoming 2009 edition will be my 5th anniversary. Pretty cool!

Here we go! I am looking forward to a new season.

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A new sign of spring, and weekend cooking

As I type this, it is 55 degrees outside. Hard to believe that back on Wednesday we had high temperatures in the single digits!

Sunday morning was so nice that I went running, even though I did a challenging 17 miler the previous day. The temperature was right around freezing, but skies were clear and the winds were light. A gorgeous morning, no doubt.

My legs were tired, so it was a slow and easy run, and I put in 5 miles total. There was another pretty sunrise. I saw both of the eagles at the nest, cardinals are singing like crazy, and I heard another owl ("The owls are not what they seem!"). A very good morning!

And today there was a new sign of spring; I have officially removed the flannel sheets from my bed and replaced them with my regular summer sheets! I am really hoping I don't need the flannel anymore this season, so call me a cautious optimist. :)

This just in; cooking is fun.

In weekend cooking news, on Saturday I made a recipe from my "Urban Italian" cookbook. This is called "Rigatoni Pugliese," supposedly a pasta dish in the style of the Pulia region of Italy.

The dish consisted of Italian sausage, homemade tomato sauce, chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), and borccoli rabe (or in my case, broccolini, as I couldn't fine broccoli rabe!).

Rigatoni Pugliese from "Urban Italian"



What made the dish interesting was that you pureed half of the can of chickpeas and added it to the tomato sauce and Italian sausage mixture. This created something of a rich, luxurious, and creamy texture without the addition of extra fat. Tossed with big rigatoni noodle, you have some very good and hearty stuff! It only took an hour from start to finish, so it was a quick and easy dish as well. Definitely worthy of making again.

For tonight's dinner, I found some beautiful, meaty short ribs at one of my favorite small town meat markets ($3.49 a pound, as opposed to $8.99 a pound at a major local grocery store for short ribs about half the size). This recipe was also of the Italian variety, however it came from a different book. I made Mario Batali's "Short Ribs in Barolo" from his "Molto Italiano" cookbook.

Anyhow, the braise was as simple as it gets; pancetta, short ribs, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, wine (not Barolo, however, just an inexpensive zinfandel), some of my homemade tomato sauce, fresh thyme, and some bay leaves. The only real secret is to brown the hell out of the meat (I had my windows and porch door wide open!) to get some good color, then brown the hell out of your veggies, and then deglaze the pot with the wine and scrape up all of those tasty bits that your browned the hell out of! Cook low and slow until tender.

Mario's braised short ribs



Mmmm...so good. The beef came out tender and succulent, and the beefy, tomatoey, winey braising liquid could stand on its own as a pasta sauce. Yum! Another winner recipe worthy of making again.

Now I've got some great leftovers for my lunches this week. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The owls are not what they seem

A glorious day here in the metro. As I type this, it is 47 degrees and sunny. Wow!

It was slightly cooler when I went running. The temperature was a comfortable 27 and had warmed to 33 by the time I returned. Skies were clear, and there was a decent breeze coming out of the south.

This morning I ended up running 17 miles. I had only intended for 16, but part of the route I had wanted to go was not plowed, was really icy, and just not a lot of fun in general. So I deviated, which took me an additional mile! It ended up being a fun, if not somewhat challenging scamper around the neighborhood.

Owls were everywhere this morning!

I heard great horned owls in three different locations, and even got to see one of them. Early on in my run, it was still dark, but a bright 3/4 moon was lighting my way. I heard the his distinct "hoo-HOO" call and could tell the owl was close. The moonlight revealed his silhouette on the very top of a pine tree, perhaps not more than 50 feet from me. I stopped and decided to talk to him.

"Hoo-HOO!", I said.

"Hoo-HOO!," the owl replied.


Yep, he talked back to me! That was pretty funny, and a great way to start off my run.

As a side note, being a fan of the old TV series "Twin Peaks," now whenever I see or hear an owl, I think of one of the cryptic clues from the show; "The owls are not what they seem." I loved this show. It was mysterious, creepy, perplexing, and it sucked me in the way "Lost" has me hooked right now.

"Twin Peaks" - Agent Cooper with the giant, talking about owls.



Last week I talked very briefly about discovering an old farm road, but I didn't really elaborate. I ran down it again today. The road is actually gravel, and it is completely cut off from the developments that surround it. And there is an old farm here that sits on the edge of a creek. What a neat place. It is like an oasis of yesteryear embedded in the metro area.

As I crested over a hill on the farm road, the sky was bright pink in the east. Light was starting to hit the big round hay bales sat along the edge of a field. Another great horned owl hooted from a grove of trees. And several cardinals greeted the morning with song.

Running is fun.

Running was also kind of tough! There were lots of icy areas on the trails, and some place had not seen a plow since our last storm. That made for slow going, especially over the last 5 miles or so.

But the slow journey was worth it, because I also discovered a new section of trail that I had never been on before. And it is gorgeous, taking you through deeply wooded areas and along side of a creek bottom. I had known about this trail but could never figure out where it started, so I was glad I did some exploring today. Ought to be great bird watching here this spring!

Tonight I bust open the "Urban Italian" cookbook to prepare my dinner. Full report to come.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Urban Italian

Yesterday's storm was pretty forgiving in my neighborhood. We only got maybe a couple of inches of snow.

Today, however, the temperature has plummeted. I saw a high of 8 degrees on my drive home, and it was windy as hell. The local National Weather Circus forecast center is predicting -10 for my city tonight. Brrrr!!!

At my job, we talk a lot about regression testing; well, I think our weather is regressing back to January! :)

There was no run today, as it was a scheduled day off. So let's talk cooking.

I love collecting cookbooks. Some cookbooks I pick up for the good recipes (anything by Giada, for instance). Some have a personal attachment or sentimental value (such as my treasured copy of "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread: The Norseland Lutheran Church Cookbook"). Others are great references ("Joy of Cooking", or "The Silver Spoon"). And there are those I buy just because they are interesting, inspiring, or just pretty, even though I will probably never cook anything from them (such as “Alinea”...I mean, who has guar gum in their pantry?).

Last weekend, I bought a new cookbook called “Urban Italian” by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman. This one falls into the category of a cookbook I will use for the recipes; but it is also quite interesting, entertaining, and pretty to look at.

The authors purposefully wrote this book with the home cook in mind. It focuses on ingredients that are accessible. Some recipes are quick and easy to make, while others are elaborate and quite labor intensive. But they explain the processes in clear, concise steps, and the chef shares some rather entertaining stories. The pictures are gorgeous, too.

I want to cook everything in this book! Look for a recipe attempt from me over the coming weekend weekend.

This is not from the cookbook, but it is no doubt Italian inspired. Tonight's pizza; pepperoni, asparagus spears, artichoke hearts, and four cheeses (fresh mozzarella, asiago, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and smoked gouda). Very nice! The asparagus gets nice and roasted on the top, and the hint of smoked gouda really adds a unique and delicious flavor element to the pizza.

A pretty pizza on a chilly March evening



Excited to cook, but still waiting for spring...

Jean

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Winter storm running

Yours truly during my run in the snow this afternoon



Yesterday I did a 7 miler in 36 degrees and fog. It was a great run with almost no wind; a very comfortable day. I went a little longer than normal for a weekday run because I wasn't sure what today would bring.

Currently we are under a Winter Storm Warning. It hasn't been too bad in the Cities, but snow is picking up again as I type this. The brunt of the storm is west and north of here, so those parts of Minnesota are getting clobbered.

When I arrived home from work, there was only about an inch of snow on the ground. The temperature was around 30, light flurries were falling, and the afternoon was pretty decent, all things considered. So it was definitely nice enough to go running!

I put in my typical 5 miler, breaking trail in places, enjoying the sight of snow clinging to everything, and watching the cardinals and chickadees flying around and chirping. Even though the wind started to crank during my last half mile (the front was beginning to work its way through), I had a great time running during our Winter Storm Warning!

Here are a couple of photos from this afternoon:

Breaking trail; the only tracks you see on the trail belonged to me!



A winter wonderland in March



The predicted high temperature for tomorrow is 12 degrees with upwards of 30 MPH winds. I am relieved to know that spring is really only a few days away! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tangerine Chicken, and "Dumb & Dumber" revisited

"Josephine,
you're so sweet,
you must taste just like sugar
and tangerines."

The Wallflowers, Josephine

Mmmmm...tangerines. I love tangerines. Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers must like them too if that was one of the first things he thought about when writing the song "Josephine." And since I found some very tasty tangerines at the market, why not incorporate some into my dinner?

Tonight I made a tangerine chicken stir-fry. The recipe was loosely based on this dish from Guy Fieri.

Let me preface by saying Guy is not my favorite of the Food Network chefs. I'm not a fan of all the flash and the cutesy catch phrases. In fact, Anthony Bourdain equated him to the "Poochie" character in the Simpson's episode where they were trying create a cleverly marketed sidekick for "Itchy & Scratchy." But, I will give Guy some credit in that the recipe looked darn tasty, so I thought I would give it a whirl.

If you looked at a the recipe, the first thing you probably noticed is that it contains no chicken; it is for tangerine beef. However, I decided I wanted to do this with chicken, and chicken is an easy substitute. I also added red bell peppers, water chestnuts, and snow peas, just because I needed vegetables, as well as some color and contrasting textures.

Actually, the only thing I lifted from Guy's recipe is the sauce mixture, and I didn't even follow that exactly. I used white wine instead of sherry, and I threw some fresh grated ginger directly into the sauce for an added boost of flavor.

Tonight's Tangerine Chicken Stir-Fry



A delicious dish, with a nice sweet and spicy flavor, not unlike something you might see with a sesame chicken or General Tso's chicken dish. The stir-fry was very spicy, actually! Of course, there was chili-garlic sauce in the sauce mixture itself, but I also stir-fried the chicken with a few dried japones chilies, as well as some crushed red pepper. I was also glad I added veggies. Stir-fries should always have veggies!

Good recipe for the sauce, Guy! I will make this again, perhaps with beef next time.

Given all of the food banter, you have probably realized that I did not run today. It was a scheduled day off after the 15 miler. Part of the reason I scheduled this as a day off is because we were supposed to get snow, but that never happened. Two days ago they were calling for 2 to 4 inches in my neighborhood, and we didn't see so much as a flake. In fact, the sun is shining right now!

Tuesday still looks to be awful. Parts of central MN could see more than a foot (yes, as in 12 inches) of snow. However, some uncertainty remains as to the temperature, path of the storm, and possible snowfall amounts. Here is hoping they are wrong about this one too.

Unrelated to anything, I watched the movie "Dumb & Dumber" last night. It was on TBS, so I needed to tune in. I love this movie and had not seen it in quite some time.

Harry and Lloyd, en route to Aspen



This movie still makes me laugh pretty hard. And I was astonished to see that this movie was released in 1994 and is now 15 years old. How is this even possible?!?

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, March 7, 2009

15 miles with the birds

A fairly decent morning here in the metro. Temps were around 26 degrees and overcast, but there was a pretty stiff breeze out of the northwest, creating a wind chill around 17. Not bad. At least it was above zero! :)

I ran 15.5 miles today in a route that took me all over the northwest metro (I had orignally mapped out a 15 miler but missed a road due to a road sign that was absent, so I had to backtrack, which added another .5!). This was a new route that I had planned so I would not have to do any repetitious loops around the lake, just for some variety.

It ended up being a really fun run. I explored some new areas where I had never run before, found some new trails, an honest to goodness old farm road in the middle of the suburbs that I did not know existed, and saw many birds. Good stuff! I think I am going to change up my running routes more often. With the network of trails and bike paths I have in my area, there is no reason not to.

I saw some more interesting attire as well. I met another runner in a gray hooded sweatshirt and long basketball shorts. Not terribly out of the ordinary for running gear , except for (as mentioned earlier) the fact the wind chill was in the teens. Brrrr! Just watching this guy run made me feel cold!

Without question, the bird activity is picking up. I am certain that some actual migratory robins have arrived. Yes, you do see a few that actually spend the winter here if they have adequate food supply, but I saw some large flocks in my neighborhood yesterday, and also saw more along my route today. I think those who migrate are making their way back.

I spotted large numbers Canada geese today as well, so they appear to be on the move. These are some of the first I have seen since fall. A number of them were flying overhead, and I saw a few dozen congregating in the open water of a creek that flows into a lake.

The highlight today was a flock of at least a couple of dozen cedar waxwings. These nomadic birds were busy raiding a small tree of its fruit right next to the trail, so I got an up close look. A solitary red spot on their wing differentiates the cedar waxwing from its cousin, the Bohemian. They are sleek, beautiful birds, and it was a real treat to see them.

Of course, just as I am getting excited about spring and the arrival of new birds, the weather forecast has us expecting around an inch of snow tomorrow (they backed off of the 1 to 3 predicted earlier). But that's not all! The forecast for Tuesday is sounding even more ominous with a potential winter storm brewing. Ugh! Oh well, at least daylight savings time is upon us so it will stay light out later!

Tonight's dinner; homemade pizza with pepperoni, sun-dried tomatoes, and mixed olives marinated in hot peppers. Three kinds of cheese as well; fresh mozzarella, asiago, and fresh crumbled goat. Yum.

Pizza! Pizza!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The ultimate Egg McMuffin, and impromptu speed work

Tonight I made breakfast for dinner.

I had a piece of Niman Ranch applewood-smoked ham steak left over from my split pea soup preparation over the weekend, a free-range egg, smoked gouda cheese from Wisconsin, a honey-wheat English muffin, and some stone ground mustard. I toasted the English muffin, fried up the ham and egg, and assembled a killer "Egg McMuffin" sandwich. Yummy!

The "Golden Arches" have nothing on me!



Another nice run this evening. It helped that the temperature was around 38, so I did not need to run with a jacket today. The recent snow we received is melting at a rapid pace, so there were plenty of puddles on the trails. Running in weather like this it is hard not to get excited for spring.

Something amusing from my run tonight; every so often, I see this guy running in my neighborhood, and he runs in a regular winter-type jacket, hiking shoes, and denim blue jeans. I don't know why, and to each their own, but perhaps he has his reasons. This can't be comfortable, though. But don't be fooled by the atypical attire! This dude is deceptively fast, and I recall him roaring past me one time during a run last winter.

Anyhow, I rounded a corner and noticed that this guy was like 50 yards behind me on the trail in the park, and he was gaining. So I put the hammer down and picked up the pace, for no other reason than I didn't want to get passed by a runner in blue jeans! Shallow? No question. But at least that little bit of motivation goaded me into some "speed work" tonight! :)

I need to cut this short. I have a backlog of shows on the DVR, and at 8:00 PM, it is time to watch my favorite show, "Lost." It just keeps getting more and more crazy, and I am loving every second of it!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hopslam

And now, time to recommend a beer...

I've been a fan of Bell's Brewery out of Michigan. Their "Two Hearted Ale," is a favorite summer beer, and their seasonal "Expedition Stout" is a wonderfully thick, rich, and chocolaty brew.

Bell's "Hopslam" Ale



Over the weekend, I found a Bell's beer that I had never seen before, the "Hopslam" Ale. Crisp, floral, spicy, with tons of flavor and character. It is kind of like the Two Hearted Ale on steroids. Just awesome. Apparently it is a very limited release, only made in January and February. If you are a fan of really hoppy beer, give it a try if you can find it.

I had a very nice run this afternoon following work. Temperatures were near 30 degrees. It was overcast and slightly windy, but hey...it was almost 30! I felt somewhat speedy today and clipped off my 5 miles in what seemed like no time.

I have some new dogs that bark at me during my runs as well. There are a pair of twin beagles who have started giving me the business. They live right next to the trail where I turn into the park, just a couple of doors down from my friend, the terrier (you remember this guy?).

The bark of a the beagles is almost something of a cross between a howl and a rooster crowing. They make the strangest noises! And they have barked/yelped/howled at me during every run for the past couple of weeks. Anyhow, I am apparently well on my way to annoying every dog in the neighborhood now. Ought to be really interesting once the weather warms up and the pooches spend more time outside!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, March 2, 2009

The eagle has landed!

Rice Lake covered with snowmobile tracks on a sunny March day



Gorgeous day in the Twin Cities. OK, it was only 25, but still really nice. Abundant sunshine, a slight bit of wind, but really comfortable.

I ran my 5 mile route after work. The sun is so high now that is is actually melting some of the snow, even though the temperature is well below freezing. The trails are clear, so I was able to move along at a pretty good pace.

The eagle was sitting in her nest on my way out. All I could see was a little white spot sticking up out of the nest. But when I returned, she was sitting up on the edge and I snapped this photo. Not a good picture, but you can at least see her! She is a beautiful bird.

Mama eagle in the nest.



I also flushed a red-tailed hawk on the south shore of the lake in the woods. This is several times over the last couple of weeks I have seen the red-tailed in this area. I am guessing this is prime hunting ground for him. I would love to know if there is a nest nearby, but I have not seen it.

It is great to see some bird activity. And you know, we are probably only a month and a half away from some of our spring migrants starting to arrive. Bring on spring!

Leftover split pea soup for dinner tonight, and then it is the 2 hour episode of "24." Go Jack! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Thick as pea soup

Today was a lazy Sunday. This was a day off from running, so I just did some errands in the morning, and then pretty much watched golf (Geoff Ogilvy is a rock star!) and NASCAR.

It was definitely a soup kind of day, as the temperature barely topped 15 degrees. So I whipped up a batch of my split pea and ham soup. Since I haven't got much else to do today, how about I share a recipe? Consider it my effort to help warm people up in the chilly Midwest! :)

The key to flavorful soup rests primarily with the ham. If you use a nicely smoked ham shank, ham hock, or a leftover ham bone, you are well on your way. I typically use a ham shank, as I can get some tasty ones at my store, but use whatever you can get your hands on.

My twist with the recipe is that I use beer as part of the cooking liquid. My sister-in-law does this with bean soup, and since split pea is kind of in the same ballpark, I started adding beer into my recipe. It works nicely, as the beer adds something of a tangy, zippy flavor to the soup. (Of course, you could omit the beer all together. Just use 8 cups of water instead of 6 1/2, and you will still get great soup).

Here is how I do it:

Jean's Split Pea Soup with Ham



-Olive oil
-1 medium onion, diced
-2 large stalks celery, diced
-5 medium-sized carrots, sliced into rounds
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
-1 lb. dried split peas
-6 1/2 cups water
-1 12 oz. bottle darker beer (such as brown ale)
-1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, fresh thyme and parsley, celery leaves)
-1 smoked ham shank (about a pound or so)
-2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, diced (optional)
-Additional ham, diced (optional)
-Fresh parsley for garnish


Add some olive oil to a large soup pot. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots for several minutes until slightly softened and the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add the dried split peas, water, beer, bouquet garni, and the smoked ham shank. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook (covered). Stir every so often and also skim the fat that rises to the surface. Cook for 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until the split peas have broken down and the soup develops a smoother texture.

Take out the ham shank and allow to cool. Remove the meat meat, dice, and return it to the soup.

If you like potatoes in your split pea soup, add them about 1 hour into the cooking process. This way they will still cook through, but should still retain some texture.

Also, ham shanks generally do not have a lot of meat on them, so I like to add some extra ham. If you like, dice up part of a ham steak and add it to the soup at the same time you add the meat from the ham shank.

Adjust for seasoning if necessary. Garnish with some fresh parsley and enjoy with some soup crackers and a few drops of your favorite chipotle pepper hot sauce, if you are so inclined.

Until next time,

Jean

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