Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More days like this, please

A perfect spring day! Yours truly, enjoying a run along the shore of the lake this afternoon.



The roofers that started roofing two Mondays ago are still here. Last night about 8 PM, I witnessed a ladder being propped up outside my window followed by one of the roofers climbing onto my deck and firing up a gas-powered leaf blower to clean off debris. It was a little difficult to hear "24" for a few minutes. Ugh! It looks sort of like they are packing up for good, but they are still doing some work outside tonight as I type this. I will be glad when they are done!

I put in the normal weekday 5 miler this afternoon. The new shoes feel really good. Always nice running in new shoes; you feel like you have an extra spring in your step!

No new bird sightings today. However, I am enjoying the nesting bluebirds and tree swallows along my route. And, we are absolutely infested with "Myrtle" warblers right now. I don't remember the last time I have seen this many of them, and I am hoping some of their other warbler friends show up soon.

And what a day for running it was! Low 60's, no humidity, nice breeze, bright and sunny...wow! What a treat! Leaves are busting out all over, and the flowering trees are days away from blooming. These are the kind of Minnesota spring days you dream about.

Speaking of weather, I have kind of enjoyed Christine Clayburg's forecasts on the local FOX affiliate for the past few years, and now I know why. Check out her bio. Beer, X-Files, pizza, tacky 80's music, burgers, Sapphire gin, AND she can wax poetic about hook echoes, gust fronts, and zonal flows? What a woman!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lazy Sunday, and a wild finish

I didn't do much of anything today. It rained. I stayed inside. I made some salsa. I watched NASCAR and golf. I cooked lasagna rolls for dinner.

A wild race at Talladega today. Check out Carl's crazy finish. Good grief! I thought any runner would appreciate how he got out of his wrecked car and ran across the finish line! :)



Oh, and here are the lasagna rolls. It is a Giada recipe, although I omitted the prosciutto and used some Italian sausage instead (here is Giada's instructional video showing how to make them!).

Mmmmm....lasagna rolls....



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A sudden change in the weather

So the original weather forecast called for a 70% chance of rain today. That was the latest update when I checked last night at 10 PM.

There was some very light drizzle for about 5 minutes on my run this morning (barely enough to wet the pavement). It is a cooler day in the mid 50's's, but right now the sun is even shining! Hardly the washout that the National Weather Circus predicted just hours earlier!

I did 18 miles today, and it was a very nice run. I pushed the pace a little bit and gave myself a decent workout. Felt good.

My latest new bird sighting on my run was the white-throated sparrow. I actually heard their familiar whistle before I saw them and encountered a flock of perhaps a dozen or so. These guys don't stay down here and are just passing through. My parents are lucky enough to have white-throats nesting on their land, and they are among my Dad's favorite birds. Very fun to see them!

I also saw some cedar waxwings, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, and many wood ducks. The wood ducks love the area around my running trail; plenty of trees and water.

Following my run, it was time to head back to my running store to replace my dirty, worn out, blood soaked shoes from this past winter. I learned of another dreaded model change. My beloved Mizuno "Wave Inspire 4" shoes have suddenly become the Mizuno "Wave Inspire 5." Eeek!

Having fallen victim to a model change in the past when my formerly beloved Brooks Adrenaline series changed just enough that they no longer worked for me, I am now always nervous when this happens. But the helpful runner girl working the shop sized me up and put me on the treadmill for a good test run. They felt fantastic. I don't think Mizuno screwed around with these too much. The shop girl was satisfied as well, noting that they both looked and sounded really good (my feet weren't slapping or anything) when she analyzed my stride. So I think I am good to go!

Since the day turned out much nicer than predicted, I also took a walk around the neighborhood. I ended up going 4 miles, so nobody can accuse me of not getting my exercise today!

The forest floor coming to life along my running trails



The afternoon was really pleasant. I hoofed it around the trails with my binoculars in case I saw anything interesting. The trees are continuing to sprout their leaves, and the forest floor is turning green.

I stopped to check out the eagle's nest. Mama is sitting on the side of the nest, so I wonder if her eaglets have hatched? Lots of tree swallows were buzzing around the meadow, and we are still being invaded by Myrtle warblers. The walk was enjoyable and felt quite good after the long run.

Tonight's dinner was simple; Sloppy Joes! None of that "Manwich" sauce either; this was a concoction of my own. Nice and messy, yet tasty too!

My homemade Sloppy Joes; putting the "S" in "Sloppy!"



Until next time,

Jean

Friday, April 24, 2009

Leaves, Dutchman's breeches, Dayglo, roofing, and pizza

Welcome to spring! Green leaves are popping out everywhere!



Our 83 degrees yesterday has kicked spring into high gear. This is so great to see!

Today was in the upper 60's, windy, and pretty overcast. This is something of a calm before the storm, as they are predicting rain and possible thunderstorms for the next three days (we need rain, but this is something you come to expect living in MN...rain just in time for the weekend!).

Running was very nice this afternoon. I did my 5 miler and enjoyed all the new signs of spring that are emerging everywhere. The leaves have exploded over the last two days, so there is a beautiful green tint to all the trees. I saw a new bird today, a pied-billed grebe diving around out in the bay of the lake. And the forest floor is covered with Dutchman's breeches. It is a beautiful time to be in Minnesota right now.

A cluster of Dutchman's breeches along the trail



I also saw something strange on my run. Clearly, it is prom night for one of the local schools. A family was down by the swamp taking picture of a guy in a tux and a girl in a neon Dayglo pink nightgown. Egads! Those Dayglo colors were all the rage in the 80's. Are they cool again? Maybe my high school wardrobe has come back in style! :) Anyhow, this is not something one usually encounters along the trail.

Unrelated to anything, they are re-shingling my building. We are on Day 4 of generators, nail guns, pounding, and debris falling past my windows and crashing into the ground, and this is still going on as I type. And it looks like they still have a lot of work to do. Of course, when I arrive home from work, it always seems like there are about eight to ten roofers milling around the parking lot. I want to remind them that the parking lot doesn't need to be re-shingled, but I am assuming they knew that already. :) Hopefully they will be done soon!

Dinner was homemade pizza consisting of Boar's Head pepperoni, artichoke hearts, and green olives with mozzarella, asiago, and Pecorino Romano cheeses. A great way to finish off a busy week and to start off the weekend right!

Tonight's pizza; a clear violation of any school's "wellness policy," but nourishing for the soul. :)



Good luck to those of you racing this weekend!

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In defense of things homemade

My Mom is a retired home economics teacher. One of the classes she taught was a foods course. We learned all sorts of things related to nutrition, food groups, ingredients, measurements, and cooking techniques. For lab exercises, we baked homemade pies, prepared eggs in different ways, made Japanese tempura (exotic, exciting stuff for us rural Minnesota kids!), and even cooked our own Thanksgiving turkey dinner, just to name a few things. Mom even had me return to her class long after I graduated to show the kids how to make a delicious, nutritious stir-fry. It was great.

There is a story making its way around the local news scene today about a school district in the south metro that is banning birthday treats for kids starting next fall. Canceling the birthday treats wasn't even the part that irked me, even thought it is beyond silly. What really ticked me off was the line in the Star-Tribune article where the parent who was opposed to the measure stated, “her family has always followed safety rules about sending in store-bought treats instead of home-baked goods.”

That is right; you can’t bring baked goods from home to school. In fact, last fall Michael Ruhlman blogged about a California school where their high school bake sale fundraisers were prohibited from selling homemade brownies and cupcakes because of similar rules. What is going on here?

That essentially means a class such as my Mom's (or at least the activities that were part of the class) probably wouldn’t fly at schools that have rules such as these. It pisses me off to no end that somehow a box of Twinkies filled with preservatives and mystery ingredients would have been allowed, yet some cookies made with loving care completely from scratch would have been banned under a so-called "wellness policy." This is getting sad.

Of course, to combat this misery, this evening I made some beautiful homemade pizza dough. However, I will be sure not to bring it anywhere near a school, as I am guessing that my horribly unnatural concoction of unbleached flour, water, yeast, kosher salt, sugar, organic extra virgin olive oil, tomato sauce, and real cheese would be held up at the door to make way for the Domino's delivery guy... :)

In other local food news, please enjoy this story where chaos ensued at a Popeye's Chicken in Minneapolis when the store chose not to honor an advertised $4.99 promotion. Man, do people ever get upset...and over fast food at that! It is funny how this works out, but I never seem to have these sorts of confrontations when I do my own cooking. ;-)

Click on Tom to play the video



As you might have guessed, I did not run today! Even though it was...83 degrees? Wow. Of course, they are predicting a high of 50 for Saturday, so this will be more typical of the spring weather I know and love!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nicer spring days

A view of this afternoon's run; puffy clouds and waves on the lake



With the exception of some gusty winds, today was pretty darned nice. 60 degrees with a mix of sun and puffy clouds. This is more like it! The wind made for difficult running this afternoon, but I still had a decent run.

Signs of spring are really starting to emerge along my trails. Buds are starting to pop out on some trees, and hints of green are everywhere. The forest floor is starting to come to life. New bird sightings for me included the osprey, a pair of blue-winged teal, and the belted kingfisher.

Yours truly, enjoying a nice spring day



Believe it or not, they are predicting 80 degrees for us in Thursday. Wow! That would be our warmest weather in 7 months! Can I officially put away the winter running gear? :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nature at home on a lazy Sunday

Today was a day off from running after the 21 miler. Everything feels really good, so I am happy with the way my training has gone.

The weather was a little drizzly this morning and much cooler. We barely cracked 50 degrees today. Believe it or not, my parents are actually getting snow in northern MN. Even though it is spring, they are under an official "Winter Weather Advisory," so I am not going to complain too much.

My only trip outside was to the grocery store this morning. Had it been a nicer day, I wouldn't have minded hiking around somewhere. No worries though, as there was plenty of wildlife activity just outside my window to keep me amused.

I had a yellow-bellied sapsucker in my yard today, my first of the year. So pretty! Also, the "Myrtle" warblers are still here in large numbers. The males have been peeping and chasing each other around, no doubt trying to impress the females. There was a handsome white-breasted nuthatch skulking up and down a tree. A mama robin was busy gathering grasses for her nest, and two different gray squirrels were picking up leaves to stuff into their nests as well.

It is fun being able to watch wildlife while wearing flannel pajama bottoms and slippers!

And was the drizzly, gray, slightly chilly day a perfect excuse to make some braised short ribs with red wine and mustard sauce, along with Ina Garten's cheddar dill cornbread? Why, yes! Yes it was.

Ina's Cheddar Dill Cornbread



Red wine marinated braised short ribs with a red wine and whole-grain mustard sauce and a side of cheddar dill cornbread



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, April 18, 2009

21 miles of chasing turkeys and dodging hawks

It was a fantastic morning for running. Low 50's, overcast, and really comfortable. Were it not for a somewhat stiff west/northwest wind, it would have been ideal. But it was close.

I ran just a shade over 21 miles today. Fargo is three weeks away, so this was my peak long run. It went well. My legs were still a little tired from the previous day's run, but all in all, I performed quite well.

Somewhere between miles 14 and 15



And Mother Nature contributed mightily to today's run, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Lots of interesting stuff today. I saw a couple of deer, along with my first wildflowers of the season, the Dutchman's breeches (sorry, I tried to take photos, but they all turned out blurry!). They were everywhere in the woods along the trails.

Birds were incredibly active, including many wood ducks, a loon, Cooper's hawk, great blue herons, pileated woodpecker, eastern phoebe, goldfinches, and song sparrows. I also heard at least four different pheasants crowing, and I even chased a wild turkey across a road. And man, did he get moving after he saw me!

Some of my first sightings of the year included the great egret, killdeer, ring-necked ducks, northern flicker, and a sharp-shinned hawk who buzzed no more than five feet above my head in hot pursuit of his breakfast. It scared me half to death, but was pretty cool to see!

Towards the end of my run I was starting to chuckle because I had seen so many neat things. And that is when I saw my first warbler of the season, the yellow-rumped (which will always be known to me as "Myrtle"). These are usually among the first of the warblers to arrive, and he was gorgeous. His yellow patches were positively glowing (my yard became invaded with these warblers as the day went on...the first wave is moving through!)

Now that is what I call a good day in the Great Outdoors! :)

I felt really good after the run. So good that I went out and did a little wine shopping (one of the local stores, Haskell's, is having their annual spring sale, which is always a good one). And when I returned, I realized I had forgotten an ingredient for dinner, so I took a walk to the closest grocery store. Nobody can accuse me of not getting my exercise today!

Tonight's dinner; a spicy beef and vegetable stir-fry. A well-earned and tasty reward, if I do say myself.

Spicy enough to make your nose run! :)



Until next time,

Jean

Friday, April 17, 2009

Out of the woodwork

It has been a gorgeous week here in the Twin Cities. When I returned from the North Country on Monday, I went running at a comfortable 55 degrees. For the rest of the week, the temperatures have been in the upper 60’s on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the low 70’s yesterday and today. A far cry from the 19 degrees I experienced on Saturday morning! We are in need of rain here in the Twin Cities, though, and it looks like we will be getting some this weekend. It seems strange that there has been so much flooding this spring in parts of Minnesota and North Dakota, yet we need rain. Too much water in the wrong format and wrong place, I guess.

The running was absolutely outstanding this week! When it gets above 60 degrees, it is time for all Minnesotans to put on our shorts and tank tops and blind each other with our pasty white legs! And let me tell you; every walker, biker, and fair-weather runner has come out of the woodwork.

Normally, when you run at regularly scheduled times, you see a similar cast of characters, recognize most of the folks, say hello, and exchange pleasantries. Tonight, the trails were packed with people, and I didn't recognize anybody. Bikers are whizzing by me, I'm dodging strollers, and none of the runners were familiar at all. Who are these people?

I am convinced that there are folks who only come out when the weather is nice. The only evidence I needed was the lady on a mountain bike who stopped me in the park to say:

"Hey, did you know there is an eagle's nest back here?"

She doesn't know me very well, does she? :)

Oh, and an update; I have tried the Doritos “Tacos at Midnight” chips that I had mentioned in a previous post. I am not entirely sure how it was done, but they have managed to capture the “essence" of tacos. As soon as you open the bag, you are hit with the exact aroma of a bag of drive-thru tacos; corn tortilla shells and taco seasoning, right down to the smell of the lettuce (no, I’m not kidding about the lettuce...it is true). Actually, the aroma kind of reminds me of the Happy Joe’s taco pizzas we used to get in college from time to time, another late night indulgence (Hey, maybe that could be the next flavor of Doritos...taco pizza? I'll have my people call the Frito-Lay people!).

They do taste different from the regular Doritos taco chips, and overall they are not too bad. But I am guessing that, much like the beloved Ruffles Cajun spice flavored potato chips I remember from high school, this flavor is likely something of a novelty that probably will not stand the test of time. Gather ye "Tacos at Midnight" chips while ye may!

In closing, since it was 73 degrees at my place today, here is where I was five days ago. Talk about worlds away!

Easter Sunday in the snow at Mom and Dad's place



Have a great weekend, and good luck to those of you racing!

Jean

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Harbor Run

Since I am still training for the Fargo Marathon, and because I needed to work off that slab of beautiful, rare, mouthwatering prime rib of beef that Mom and Dad served for dinner the previous evening, Saturday's long run took me from the suburbs of Lutsen into the town of Grand Marais.

Dad offered to pick me up in town, as he wanted to check out the harbor in case there were any birds to photograph. This way, I could also do a point-to-point run without having to turn around.

When I started out, the temperature was a balmy 19 degrees (welcome to spring on the North Shore!), but it was sunny and calm. And the temperature warmed to around freezing by the time I finished. Really, this made for incredibly comfortable running.

The sights and sounds were amazing. My entire run paralleled Lake Superior, and the lake was almost still. A rare sight. Running along side of the cliffs near the roadside, you could hear icicles crashing down as the sun melted them. The creeks and rivers were flowing rapidly into the big lake, so the waterfalls were roaring.

I saw three bald eagles along the route, two of which were adults and the other a very large immature. I also saw three merlins. Dad said they just returned this week, so it was a treat to see these small, noisy falcons.

It was a most enjoyable journey with some fantastic views at the mouth of the Cascade River, Cut Face Creek, and the big downhill leading right to Grand Marais harbor. Dad met me in the parking lot next to the Coast Guard station.

Yours truly at the Grand Marais harbor following my run



Dad was smart. He showed up with Coke Zero and Gatorade...the purple colored Gatorade Tiger "Focus", to be precise...tastes exactly like focus, by the way :)...even though I had forgotten to ask for him to bring liquid refreshments. Dad was a good runner back in the day, so he knew what was going on!

And it was such a nice day that we stuck around to wander out on Artists' Point. There was some open water on the east side of the point where we found a couple of common mergansers and a small flock of common goldeneyes (their wings make a funny whistling sound when they fly!). Also, the ring-billed gulls were out in full force, taking up residence in the harbor for the season. Not a great variety of birds, as the harbor itself was frozen over, but it was enough to keep us entertained.

On the rocky shore of Lake Superior at Artists' Point in Grand Marais



Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. My run itself was very good. I clipped along at a steady pace, only stopping once to look at one of the merlins. It was a great workout. I remarked to Dad that I wished my marathon would have been today.

The rest of the day involved a trip over to my brother and sister-in-law's place, and a couple of short hikes into the woods, so I really didn't get to sit down until late in the day. A cold beer tasted mighty good at that point.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The "Nuthatch DMZ," and pursuing the owl

In case you haven’t guessed by now, my entire family is really into birds and wildlife. Despite the fact that there was still three feet of snow in some places in the forest (as I found out when I post-holed up to my waist while walking on top of what I thought was frozen solid snow), and that the snowshoe hares are still pure white (I was lucky enough to spot one on my Friday run!), this time of year is always especially exciting as the signs of spring are starting to emerge.

We saw a few new arrivals. The chipmunks came out of hibernation while I was there (Mom and Dad said this is the earliest they have ever seen them). Juncos, fox sparrows, and purple finches also showed up in the yard to enjoy some seeds at the various feeding stations. Some of the deer are starting to sprout their antler, as you are beginning to see the little velvet nubs poking out of their heads. Mom and Dad constantly see them around the house in the winter eating up the seeds that the birds knock down from the feeders. But soon, most of the deer will be heading back up into the forest once the snow melts and food becomes more plentiful.

A common sight on Mom and Dad’s patio



We spend a lot of time hiking in the woods. Dad has become a wildlife photographer since retiring from teaching, and he is out here every day. Because of that, the chickadees and nuthatches have almost come to accept him as one of their own. They will routinely visit you for sunflower seeds.

One of the friendly chickadees



I have talked about Norris, the infamous resident red-breasted nuthatch, in previous posts. He and his mate, Noreen, both survived the harsh winter and are seemingly doing well, hopefully getting ready to produce another family. One fascinating thing I got to learn about was the “Nuthatch DMZ,” as Dad calls it. It is the line where one nuthatch’s territory ends, and another begins. Dad actually found the border of Norris’ range, which butts up against the territory of Norris’ arch nemesis, “Norbert,” as he was dubbed. These little birds are very territorial, and if one is in the other’s zone, they will chase them noisily through the forest with moves that would make a fighter jet pilot proud. I got to witness a confrontation where Norbert was infringing upon Norris’ territory, and Norris ran him clean out of there. Norris is a force to be reckoned with!

Norris having a snack, keeping an eye out for Norbert



The highlight of our hikes was that I got to add a new bird to my life list. While spending some time near the “Nuthatch DMZ,” Dad was trying to get some pictures of the little birds on the sides of trees. We had been meandering along a deer path, and I noticed some movement in a small tree directly above Dad’s head. A set of yellow eyes turned and looked down at him.

In a hushed yell, I exclaimed, “DAD! There is an owl right above you!!!”

Literally, it was no more than six feet above Dad’s head. By the time Dad had turned to look, the owl had taken off. As soon as the owl flew, the chickadees, nuthatches, and even some redpolls were alerted to its presence. They went after him in hot pursuit, sounded their alarm, and surrounded the owl near the top of a cedar (they are the “woodland police” and will alert other birds to the presence of a predator, but they were clearly off their game because I saw the owl before they did!). The owl was easy to find, but hard to see in the deep cover.

This particular species was a boreal owl; a small, chunky owl of the northern forests that is hardly found anywhere in the lower 48 states. The boreal is perhaps no more than 10 inches tall with glowing yellow eyes. They are the cutest little things that wouldn't look out of place on "The Muppet Show." And this was the first one that Mom, Dad, and I had ever seen. A new life lister for all of us. We spent at least a couple of hours with the owl, Dad even longer. Dad was able to see that the owl had a mouse that it was eating. The fluffy owl eventually flew down to a lower branch where Dad could get some photos, and then it decided to take a post-dinner nap and couldn’t have cared less about our presence. How tremendously exciting!

I am already looking forward to my next trip up there in May, which will be the height of the warbler migration, possibly the most exciting season for bird watchers in Minnesota. Hopefully the snow will have melted by then! :)

Just a little bit of snow left on the ground in northern Minnesota!



Still more to come! I have to tell you about my run to town!

To be continued...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Where there's a Will

I have returned from a fantastic Easter weekend up at Mom and Dad's place. I have a lot to talk about, which will probably require a couple of posts, but I thought this one deserved its own post. For the very first time, I got to meet my nephew, Will.

Uncle Jean and nephew Will



His first and middle name is William Ogden, but they are calling him Will. I loved it that they chose names from both families. William is the name of Blythe's father, and Ogden is the name of Brett's and my late grandfather on my Mom's side.

Blythe and Brett seemed a little tired, but are doing really well. They seem like seasoned veterans when it comes to the parenting thing. Will is a good and relatively quiet little kid, only really crying when he is hungry. He joined us for a couple of dinners and he just sort of hung out and chilled while all of us ate. He will fit in well with this group!

As I am Will's only uncle, I told him that I would have to work harder at finding him an aunt. He doesn't deserve to be aunt-less. In any case, I figure I have to be a shoe-in for the "favorite uncle" designation, as Will really has no choice. And I can't wait to buy him a drum set (just kidding, Brett and Blythe...or AM I?).

Will sporting his bunny ears for Easter.



So, that is my cool little nephew, Will! I look forward to the days where we can go on bird hikes, and when I can help him learn various cooking techniques (Will, I am going to teach you how to make homemade pasta. You'll love it; we'll make a total mess of the kitchen. It will be fantastic!).

Much more to come from my Easter weekend, including my long run into town, and my hikes into the woods where Norris the nuthatch rules the forest, and (as "Twin Peaks" taught us) where the owls are not what they seem. Stay tuned...

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Take Off to the Great White North

I'm at work, but the car is packed, and I am ready to roll. This afternoon I am heading up to my parents' place for an extended Easter weekend.

It should be a great time. Mom and Dad have some nice menus planned, I am looking forward to doing some running on the North Shore, and I will also get to meet my nephew, Will!

Just wanted to wish everyone a good weekend, and best wishes to those of you running races. I will speak to you next week when I return!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, April 6, 2009

Late night snacking

While doing my grocery shopping over the weekend, I noticed a new type of Doritos chips on the shelves. The name was intriguing; the flavor is called “Tacos at Midnight” (that is some serious menu poetry there). Since Doritos already offers a taco-flavored chip, I would assume this has to be some sort of variation, but I am unclear as to what the difference might be. Whatever the case, seeing this reminded me of a couple of late night food items, both from college:

1. The Subway near the bar we frequented on weekends (Mom, if you are reading this, we only frequented it occasionally :) ) was open late, which was genius on their part, as this was during an age when you typically did not see fast food joints open past 10 PM. They served something called the “taco sub.” They took warm, taco-seasoned ground beef (just like the stuff in Taco Bell's cheap tacos) and piled it into a sub roll with cheese and all of the fixings. The sandwich was either offered for a very limited time (this was the early 90’s) or in a very limited market, because I never saw it anywhere else, and I haven’t seen it since. Few sandwiches tasted so good after midnight. Along these lines, it also only sounded like a good idea after midnight.

2. Not to be outdone, a local gas station/convenience store (also in very close proximity to the bar...which, as mentioned earlier, we only frequented occasionally!) served up a late night south-of-the-border offering of their own; the infamous (some would say notorious) “chili cheese nachos.” This consisted of a tray of round corn tortilla chips, a scary looking molten "nacho" cheese sauce that was a neon orange-yellow in color and was dispensed from a pump, and a ladle full of brick-colored beef chili (which the clerk scooped out of a crock pot that was sitting right there on the counter by the cash register). Everything about it was just so wrong, and it absolutely screamed “stay away.” The morning after, you never said, “Gee, I am really glad I capped off my evening with those chili cheese nachos.” Yet, after a few beers, you were mysteriously drawn in as if Escoffier himself was reincarnated and preparing late night fare at a gas station.

Of course, I had to purchase a bag of the Doritos. I will let you know if they taste good on their own, or if beer and a late evening are required to enjoy them. :)

This can't possibly be a good idea, can it?



A relatively decent day in the Twin Cities temperature-wise. It was 43 degrees for my run this afternoon, but there was a raging northwest wind, which made for slow going on the return trip. That dusting of snow we got yesterday disappeared almost as quickly as it came, so that was a non factor. Just a nice easy 5 1/2 miler tonight.

No new birds to report, although I did see a great blue heron, and we have robins by the thousands.

Time to sit down to a night of TV, where the NCAA, "24," and the new show "Castle" (which I find absolutely love and hope it gets picked up for next year) will be battling for my attention span.

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Uncle Jean's Beet Pasta

This is what I woke up to today. Thank goodness spring is here, right? :)

A coating of snow on April 5th



Since I ran 18 miles yesterday, and because it is such a lovely, chilly April day with 30 MPH gusting winds, I thought it was time for another homemade pasta project.

I am probably in the minority on this, but beets are among my favorite vegetables. Not only do I find them sweet and delicious, but the red ones have such great color. I have purchased beet pasta before, and today I decided to make some on my own. I reviewed a bunch of different recipes, and the quantities are all over the map. So I just created my own recipe. Here is what went into it:

Uncle Jean's Beet Pasta

-3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
-1/2 tsp. salt
-4 large whole eggs
-2 egg yolks
-2 tsp. olive oil
-1/2 cup pureed red beets (canned beets work great here)


Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Create a well in the center of the bowl of flour. Add the whole eggs, egg yolks, olive oil, and pureed beets to the center of the well. Turn on the mixer and let the dough hook do its thing. Do this until the dough more or less comes together.

Turn everything out onto a floured board and start kneading! Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes silky and smooth. You will have an intensely pinkish-purple dough at this point!

Beet pasta dough, ready to roll



Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. Now you can do anything with it. I rolled it through my pasta machine an cut it into long, wide, pappardelle-style noodles. I also cut out some small squares, pinched them, and made some farfalle ("bow tie") pasta for another occasion! You could also do stuffed pasta like ravioli (hmmm...I am already thinking about the possibilities of beet pasta with goat cheese filling....mmmmm!).

Rolling out the pasta into sheets



If ever a dish needed a little color, it is stroganoff. It is delicious, but the brownish-gray color leaves something to be desired. So I served my colorful pasta with a very tasty venison stroganoff.

Venison stroganoff with caramelized onions over red beet pappardelle



You can see the color of the pasta fades somewhat when cooked, but it still makes for a nice contrast and adds an interesting twist, if nothing else. Plus, homemade pasta is just downright fun to make and eat! Sides included some steamed broccoli and roasted golden beets (yes, more beets...more, more!). I'm already looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Oh, and why is it "Uncle Jean's Beet Pasta?" Last night my brother and sister-in-law had a baby boy! So I am officially an uncle. :) Congratulations Blythe and Brett! I look forward to meeting the little guy over Easter!

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lovely weather for ducks

A lovely morning in the metro. It was right around freezing this morning with relatively light winds, a little bit of sunshine, and gradually turned cloudy.

I ran 18 miles, and it was a really good run. I felt a lot more energized than I did last week; better speed, good stamina, and didn't feel at all tired afterward. So today was quite productive.

The title of my post is misleading. Usually, that phrase is indicative of miserable, wet weather. As noted, today was anything but miserable or wet. I just happened to see a lot of ducks (and other waterbirds), so it must be good weather for them!

A gorgeous sunrise over Fish Lake this morning with geese on the pond



A couple firsts for me this season; the common mergansers (lots of these guys today), as well as a few cute little buffleheads. They were enjoying the open water with plenty of geese, mallards, herring gulls, and a even a couple of swans.

Steve had noted in a comment on my blog that he saw a loon (our official state bird) on Wednesday. I finally saw my first of the year today! Three of them, if fact. That is a good sign. They will gradually be making their way north as the northern lakes being to clear of ice.

(Speaking of ice, I noticed yesterday that the ice was just about cleared off of the lake along my running route. This is almost a week and a half earlier than last year. Here is some more grainy video footage I shot on Friday afternoon!)



Another new sighting that was not a waterbird is the tree swallow. They literally just arrived in my neighborhood today. The area I run though is a prime nesting ground, and there are many birdhouses erected for them in the park. I ran through here yesterday afternoon, and there was no sign of them. Today, I saw dozens.

I do have to mention one more wildlife sighting, this one a mammal. I had a mink run up to me! I was passing a swamp, and this slinky little weasel loped out of the brush and up on to the trail, coming right for me. He stopped just about 10 feet in front of me and just stared with a sort of bewildered "What are YOU doing here?!?" expression on his face. I also stopped and chatted with him, and soon he scuttled off. Of course, I couldn't get my camera ready in time, but it was still fun. Weasels are cool.

Tonight's dinner; Manicotti from Giada De Laurentiis. However, I made mine with Italian sausage, took a few liberties with the cheese (added asiago, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Pecorino Romano), and added fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, and a whole bunch of crushed red pepper to spice things up. I am sure Giada wouldn't mind.

Giada's Manicotti



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Little Miss Can't Be Wrong

Yesterday on my favorite classic rock station, I heard the song "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" by The Spin Doctors. They were two-hit wonder band from the early 90's known for the aforementioned song, as well as one called "Two Princes."

When I heard this, I laughed for two reasons:

1.) Yet another song from my more formative years is now considered "classic rock."

2.) I actually saw this band perform live as an opening act...for a comedian! Even better, the comedian they opened for was Pauly Shore (no, I am not making this up...April Fools Day has passed). Adding to the overall atmosphere, one of my college friends was in the front row mercilessly heckling the lead singer, who, at the end of their set, went out of his way to offer up a one-finger salute directly to my buddy. You can guess which finger (I am relatively certain that Dante Alighieri would have placed this experience for The Spin Doctors somewhere between the fourth and sixth circles of hell. Who said rock and roll is glamorous?).

So yeah, hearing that songs brought back some memories!

The Spin Doctors



Today is a day off from running. It is kind of a shame, as this is the nicest day we have had this week, but it is good to take days off.

I was going to run a local race this weekend but have decided against it for a kind of silly personal reason.

I looked at my running spreadsheet where I not only keep track of mileage, weather, and other assorted notes (mostly bird related!), but I also keep track of my races. The next race I do will be my 50th. I thought a milestone race like that really needed to be a big one like the Fargo Marathon. Seems logical, right?

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools fun, Minnesota style

Unrelated to anything, you have to love the Minnesota town of Ely. They have the best sense of humor and go all out for their April Fools Day pranks. Last year, they announced that they were selling the town to Canada. Check out this year's stunt; a bid to get the 2016 Olympic Summer Games!



I went running after work today. A very nice 5 1/2 mile run. 37 degrees, overcast, and slightly windy. The snow we received in the morning had already melted, so we sort of lucked out here in the metro. My folks, however, plowed themselves out from the 14 inches of snow they received yesterday up on the North Shore (no April fooling!). I am really hoping spring gets here soon!

One new bird to report today; a Cooper's hawk. I love these sleek, speedy hawks!

I must cut this short. Only 45 minutes until "Lost!" :)

Until next time,

Jean

April Fools snow, part two

So it is April Fools Day, and I am looking out the window to see a dusting of snow on the grass (no fooling). Oddly reminiscent of a scene from the movie "Groundhog Day," this is last year on April Fools Day. Spring is here, correct? :)

Other than this dusting of snow, the latest winter storm really didn’t pan out for the Twin Cities, which is fine with me. Unfortunately the heavy stuff tracked northwest of here, exactly where they didn’t need it. We got mostly rain, and even a brief hail storm yesterday.

Monday's run was 44 degrees, overcast, and quite windy. A couple of gusts nearly blew my hat off, but at least the temperature was pleasant. I also got to see two swans (my first of the year) flying up out of the creekbed. I presume they were tundra swans and not the less common trumpeter swans (they are hard to tell apart from a distance).

Yesterday's run was also in the low 40's. Kind of a strange day as noted earlier. Overcast skies and mist quickly turned to some spotty sunshine. Then it clouded over again. But it was nice running. No new birds to report from this excursion, although I did hear the pileated woodpecker cackling from deep in the swamp.

For dinner on Monday night, I tried out some of the homemade spaghetti pasta that I made over the weekend. I cooked up a quick and easy Italian dish called “spaghetti all’Amatriciana,” which is essentially pasta tossed in a sauce of tomatoes and bacon. While traditionally made with the hollow bucatini pasta, spaghetti is often used as well.

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana with homemade pasta



The homemade pasta has a distinct chewy texture that is different from your dried pasta, and the sauce clings to the noodles beautifully. Really very good, and quite a treat. I need to make fresh pasta more often. It does take some time, but if you are just making noodles as opposed to stuffed pasta such as ravioli, the time it takes will be a lot less. Definitely worth the effort, and not that difficult to do.

Until next time,

Jean

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails