Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday run, and more kitchen fun

After Saturday's 11 miler, I took a nice easy 5 miler Sunday morning.

A gorgeous day to start. It was blissfully cool with temps in the low 60's and relatively low humidity. Quite a change from most of this week. There was some wind, but it wasn't quite as wild as it got later in the day. Good running weather, though. Were it not for the fact that my insoles were still kind of waterlogged from yesterday's run in the rain, it would have been perfect! :)

I saw five bunnies for a perfect 1.0 BPM (three were babies, so cute!). The meadow along the edge of the pond was teeming with sedge wrens, goldfinches, and eastern kingbirds. The wooded thickets were filled with cardinals and gray catbirds. What a nice morning to be outside.

The rest of the day was spent in the kitchen. You might recall me gushing about the "Urban Italian" cookbook by Andrew Carmellini a few months ago. Today I made another recipe from the book (well, kind of); I cooked up his lamb ragu.

Lamb ragu over fusilli; Urban Italian style!



The recipe in the book called for the use of canned cherry tomatoes if you can get them, but to just use regular tomatoes if you can't. I have never seen canned cherry tomatoes. I did have a pint of cherry tomatoes, as well as some leftover baby heirloom tomatoes from yesterday's pizza, so I made my own sauce out of them. The tomatoes were halved, tossed with garlic, olive oil, fresh basil and thyme, salt and pepper, and roasted in a hot oven for 15 minutes. I passed the tomatoes through a sieve and made a deliciously sweet roasted cherry tomato sauce. (Basically what I am saying is that I used this as a labor intensive substitute for canned cherry tomatoes!)

The rest of the recipe was a lot like a classic ragu; meat (lamb, and I also threw in a little pancetta and pork), carrots, celery, onion, garlic, fennel bulb (my addition), crushed red pepper, tomato paste, red wine, stock, my cherry tomato sauce, and assorted fresh herbs.

Carmellini makes a really clever addition that I never would have thought of in an Italian ragu. He adds scant amounts of ground coriander and cumin (both ingredients I use when I make chili). The coriander has a wonderful perfume. And the cumin (..."only enough to enhance the meat, not enough to really taste," says the author) added an earthy warmth to the overall dish and works exceptionally well with the lamb.

This recipe was fantastic. So rich and flavorful. And I would definitely go through the trouble of making the roasted cherry tomato sauce again. Viva Italia!

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A run in the rain, and Saturday pizza

Saturday morning greeted me with a light drizzle and temperatures around 70. I did an 11 mile run again.

The light drizzle was pleasant, but it gradually turned into some locally heavy rain showers, which means I got absolutely soaked. I even heard a couple rumbles of thunder in the last mile. I know they have some pretty cool home theater technology these days, but Mother Nature still has the best "surround sound" system. Hearing thunder when you are outside is cool!

There must have been some minor storm action last night, although I was not awakened by it. I discovered a huge tree limb that had snapped off and blocked the whole trail, so I had to do a bit of climbing to get around it!

In spite of the rain, I did have a few wildlife encounters. I saw a mere 3 bunnies (a .27 BPM), but they were no doubt hunkered down due to the weather. The rain didn't slow down the robins and catbirds. They were numerous. I also saw a pair of broad-winged hawks who were whistling loudly (I know they have a nest nearby, as I have seen them in this location before). And, I stopped to chat with a deer. A doe was standing in the woods perhaps 15 feet off the trail. I just started talking to her, and she could have cared less. She didn't even move after I resumed running. The deer's summer coat is really reddish colored right now. Very pretty!

I had not made homemade pizza in ages, so I decided that tonight's dinner was the perfect occasion to return to pizza making. They were selling these little boxes of mixed, baby heirloom tomatoes at the grocery store, so I decided to use them, along with some pancetta, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. The tomatoes were delightfully sweet, and the pizza turned out fantastic. I love homemade pizza.

Pizza with heirloom tomatoes, pancetta, fresh mozzarella, and basil



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The next big thing

I hated not having a "big" race on my schedule, so I now have something set up for the fall. I am going to do the Des Moines Marathon in October.

On two different occasions, I have run the half marathon at Des Moines (actually, that I where I ran my fastest half back in 2006). I greatly enjoyed those experiences, so I figure it is time to do the full down there.

Des Moines is a nice Midwestern city, they put on a good event, and it is very pretty that time of year. Plus, it is a nice arrangement as the host hotel is right at the start and finish line, so I can pretty much stumble out into the street to start and crawl back up to my room from the finish. Look out, Iowa, here I come! :)

(I was also considering the much smaller Siouxland Marathon in Sioux City, Iowa this October. However, when an internet search turned up a dearth of interesting restaurants, I decided to pass. Yes, dining choices are THAT important!)

This week has been sweltering. I didn't run on Tuesday because the heat index was near 100 again. Yesterday was 88 degrees, however the drop in the humidity made it feel much more tolerable. Today's five miler felt really hot again with sunny and 90 (although I did see three bunnies today for a solid .60 BPM). Summer took awhile to get here, but it has most certainly arrived.

I think the resident baby eagle has taken flight! I did not see him at the nest yesterday or today. so unless he was tucked way down in the nest, he has finally taken to the air! I would have loved to have seen that. Fly high, little guy!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hot weather, hot salsa!

I just finished running, It was 93 degrees with a dew point of 70 degrees and a heat index of 98 degrees. It royally sucked. But enough talking about hot running; I am going to talk about hot salsa!

I've been on a salsa kick lately. This weekend I concocted a salsa using chipoltes en adobo; smoked jalapeno chiles packed in a tomato and vinegar sauce. This comes in a can, and you will find them at just about any grocery store, generally next to the refried beans, tortillas, jarred salsas, and the like.

Chipotle peppers en adobo sauce are very spicy and smoky. And the vinegary liquid that the chiles are packed in tastes almost like a spicy barbecue sauce. The sauce itself it great tasting in its own right, so I have been reserving that to drizzle on meats.

But I'm making salsa, so I am just using a couple of the peppers here. This is what I came up with over the weekend. The salsa has a pretty lively kick to it, so this might not be for the faint of heart. It isn't screamingly hot; it has a pleasant after burn that kind of sneaks up on you, but it also has a rich, smoky taste. I have been eating this with chips exclusively, but there is no reason it wouldn't be fantastic anywhere you would use a spicy tomato salsa.

My Chipotle Salsa



-1/2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
-1/2 tsp. dried cumin
-1/4 tsp. dried coriander
-2 medium tomatoes (tennis ball sized or so)
-4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
-1 thick slice of yellow onion
-Small handful of fresh cilantro
-2 chipotle peppers from a can of chipotles en adobo
-1/4 tsp. salt
-Several grinds of fresh black pepper to taste


In a dry skillet over medium heat, add the Mexican oregano, cumim, and coriander. Shake the skillet continuously and toast the spices briefly until fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Toss the toasted spices into a blender.

Return the skillet to the heat and crank it up to medium high. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and slice of onion. The object is to char the outer skin of the tomatoes (but not cook them through), soften the garlic, and to char the onion slightly. This will take a few minutes. Keep turning the tomatoes to try and blacken as many sides as you can.

Once everything is charred to your liking, transfer the ingredients to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut the tomato into large chunks, and try to remove as much of the pulp and seeds as possible. Peel the garlic, and rough chop the onion. Add everything to the blender, including the cilantro, chipotle peppers, salt, and pepper. Pulse until you have a coarsely textured salsa.

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups of salsa...in other words, a single serving. ;-)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A fun Saturday

Fish Lake on a cloudless, sunny day



Kind of a steamy Saturday. I woke up early and did an 11 mile run. It was humid and there was not a cloud in the sky, so the day heated up quickly. By the time I had finished, it was already creeping into the 70's with a dew point in the 60's. I was drenched!

Nice morning for wildlife. I saw five bunnies for a respectable .45 Bunnies Per Mile ratio. I saw many catbirds, robins, I heard a hawk whistling, and I found another pair of sedge wrens in a swamp south of me. My neighborhood must have been invaded by them this year!

Around noon, I ventured up to the Elm Creek Park Reserve to do some hiking around. The place was a zoo. It was in the mid 80's and their man-made swimming lake is open, so that place was packed. However, once I got past the parking lot, I was able to escape the crowds.

I made an interesting discovery; I found this little black butterfly along one of the trails. I had never seen anything like this before. He was kind enough to sit still for some pictures so I could at least identify it. A few e-mail exchanges with Mom and Dad, and we figured out it is called a red-spotted purple. What a pretty little guy!

A red-spotted purple butterfly at Elm Creek Park



Other highlights included watching a mother cedar waxwing feeding berries to her baby, who was the same size as her! I also saw a green heron, American redstart, more catbirds, and...you guessed it...even more sedge wrens. 2009 is the year of the sedge wren. I am declaring it so!

A blooming wild rose along one of the trails at Elm Creek



For tonight's dinner, I revived an old school lunch cafeteria classic; tater tot hot dish! Ground beef, cream of (your choice) soup, French cut green beans, and tater tots over the top. Yum!

Hot out of the oven



To do it right, I really believe you need to use cream of mushroom AND cream of celery soup. The celery just adds a different dimension to the dish. And while this has always been considered something of a lowbrow kids meal, I have corrected this with the use of sauteed crimini mushrooms, fresh thyme and parsley, and my cheddar cheese that I won at the Udder Run last week. :)

School lunch never tasted so good!



Not a bad Saturday so far. What is this? There is NASCAR night racing on ESPN2 in less than an hour?

Saturdays rock.

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Torpedo

There is a huge "Back to the 50's" classic car show taking place over in St. Paul this weekend, and I noticed there is a Mecum Auto Auction going on at the event as well. If you get the HD Theater channel, you may have come across these classic car auctions on TV. Amazing machines! I would be tempted to go just to check things out, but I am afraid I would be tempted to buy something. :)

The reason I am bringing this up is because I was perusing all of the cars up for auction in St. Paul, and one is a beautiful 1969 Toyota Corona Deluxe. That is no typo; this is not the popular "Corolla" - it is a "Corona," a somewhat forgotten model which actually predated the Corolla and seemingly enjoyed greater success abroad than in the US.

This was of great interest to me, as I had the privilege of driving a 1973 Toyota Corona Deluxe when I was in college. It was originally my Grandma's car, and it totally looked the part with its metallic turquoise paint and a white vinyl roof. I am still not exactly sure what made it a Corona "Deluxe." Perhaps it was the AM radio with a single speaker? :)

I believe it was my Dad who nicknamed it "The Torpedo," which sort of became the standard moniker for a series of cheap "old beater" automobiles that my family drove over the years.

The Torpedo was really a great car; it got me down to Iowa and back on numerous occasions, and made countless trips to the golf course for my summer job. It also was quite distinctive. Everyone at college knew it was mine, and one of my buddies actually convinced some gullible girls that it was the first Toyota ever made. ;-)

It was also very reliable, though occasionally you would have to take off the air filter cover (which was disproportionately large given the small size of the car, and it wouldn't have looked out of place on a big block Chevy) and jiggle a small plate to get it started. Of course, this had a tendency to occur at the most inopportune times, like when rain was falling, or when trying to take a cute college girl out on a first date (astonishingly, there was no second date, even after such a manly display of mechanical prowess). However, the Torpedo always started! It served my family well for many years.

Yours truly behind the wheel of the Torpedo, probably summer of 1992. What a cruising machine!



Anyhow, what a treat to see that at least one Corona Deluxe has survived the test of time. There can't be too many of them left! Love those old cars.

Today was a day off from running, but I went for a 5 miler yesterday after work. It would appear that summer is finally arriving. Yesterday's temperatures were in the upper 70's with dew points in the sticky 60's, making for very humid conditions (I hate the humidity!). This made for slower running for me. Nature notes include more painted turtles laying eggs on the side of the trail, and I discovered an albino gray squirrel in my neighborhood. He is snow white and quite striking!

It is looking like the weekend is going to be sunny and warm. This is the first weekend in the last three where I do not have a race! So I will just be doing a long-ish run on Saturday morning before things really heat up.

All the best to those of you racing this weekend, especially to my buddies running at Grandma's!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Udderly" coincidental

In my post about the Udder Run, I received a nice comment from a new reader, Ms. V. Upon reading her comment, I learned that she too had partaken in the Udder Run on Saturday. I went to her blog to read her race report.

To my surprise, there are actually two different Udder Runs in the United States; one in Goodhue, MN, the other in Hilmar, CA. But that's not all! Both races happen to be the same distance, 5 miles. Not only that, but they were run on the exact same day, June 13, 2009. Adding to these strange coincidences, she and I were both the recipients of cheese for placing in our respective divisions!

Is that funny or what? Thanks for stopping by to share that, Ms. V! This is indeed a small world! Maybe next year these two races should join each other via satellite so we can have a simultaneous Udder Run? :)

I went for a 5 mile run after work today. It was light drizzle when I started, gradually turning into a steady downpour by the time I finished. I looked as if I had fallen into a lake. My shirt and shorts felt like they weighed about 10 pounds.

This is good though; we needed the rain, and this is a good, steady soaker. Plus, there was absolutely nobody outside, so I had the trails to myself. And I even saw some wildlife on the run today. The rain didn't stop a deer, muskrat, painted turtle, and an osprey from coming out to greet me.

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, June 15, 2009

Attack of the red-winged blackbird

Let me just get this out of the way first; last night's homemade meatballs and red sauce over spaghetti. Yum!

Mama mia!



It finally happened; I was on my easy 5 mile run this afternoon, and for the first time this season, I was attacked by a red-winged blackbird. He was fluttering over my head like a hummingbird and chirping at me incessantly. This occurs every year about this time. I figure the babies must have hatched. These dudes are pretty fearless when defending their nest. I've never been pecked by one, but I have come close. I suppose I will have to dodge these guys in the coming weeks!

On an unrelated and humorous note; I should preface that I don't watch the NBA much anymore, but I caught part of the halftime show a couple of games ago (game 4, I think). They ran a piece on Bill Russell having a conversation with Dwight Howard from the Magic. It was really a nice story because Russell is a legend and such a classy guy, and Howard seemed fairly humble and eager to learn from the master.

The story ends and they cut back to the talking heads on the halftime show. The host lobs a question to the great Magic Johnson, asking "Magic, what can Dwight Howard learn from Bill Russell?"

Magic's response: "Well, he can learn about offense AND defense!"

I was thinking how fortunate this would be for Howard; why, in basketball, they just happen to play both offense and defense! :)

Loved the insight, Magic. We have long since established that most athletes shouldn't be role models. Apparently many of them shouldn't be TV analysts either. ;-)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's not easy being cheesy at The Udder Run

A couple of weeks ago I saw a uniquely named event on a race calendar, and I thought it had to be something special. As the great orator and former Viking Randy Moss might have said, "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that only happens every so often." I needed to do this. I am talking about The Udder Run.

Saturday morning I hopped in The Silver Hornet and headed to the southeastern Minnesota town of Goodhue, which is located in beautiful farm country approximately half way between the Twin Cities and Rochester. Goodhue is in the midst of Volksfest, their annual town celebration.

Many of you know I grew up in a small town, so let me tell you about small town celebrations; if you've never been to one, they are a good time. At least here in Minnesota, these annual events tend to draw folks from all around the area. There is always a parade, perhaps a carnival, and they usually crown a "Miss (insert name of town or festival here)" to reign over the festivities. You can also find things like car shows, golf tournaments, art and craft shows, bake sales, talent shows, live bands, good food, and many typically have a "fun run." Goodhue has been holding The Udder Run (a cleverly-named race sponsored by the local dairy producers and related organizations) for 26 years now.

Yours truly outside of the school in Goodhue



I arrived in Goodhue, and the town was rather active. Downtown was blocked off for various vendors, a car show was being set up, and the race preparations were underway at the school. I checked in and had some time to kill, so I ventured across the street to watch a couple innings of the softball tournament that was underway. And let me tell you, the trash talk was pretty lively for 8:30 in the morning!

(True story: years ago back in my hometown, the softball tournament during our annual summer festival featured the highly coveted "beer trophy" which was presented to the team that purchased the most beer over the course of the weekend. It was a huge trophy with a can of Old Milwaukee mounted to the top. I can't imagine this practice is still in existence and I am pretty sure it has since been discontinued. Something about dozens of out-of-shape ex-jocks staggering around the high school ball field on a Saturday afternoon was none too appealing to the townsfolk. Anyhow, seeing the softball tournament today reminded me of this. Back to the race...)

The Udder Run is a 5 miler. It runs briefly through a residential area and then does an out-and-back down a county road. The newly crowned Miss Goodhue rang a cowbell to start the race, and we would be off.

The walkers lining up at The Udder Run



It was a cloudless day, and it felt hot. I am guessing it was close to 70 at race time. Also, almost the entire first two miles was gradually (and on a couple of occasions, not so gradually) uphill. I didn't feel very fast because of this, but I managed to keep a fairly steady pace. One of the young high school hotshots who went out too fast was walking by the mile and a half mark, and I cruised on by. Call me shallow, but it is fun passing those younger than me! :)

The route along the county road was pretty, passing green fields and a stately farm with a gorgeous red barn near the 2 mile mark. It was downhill to the turnaround point, and then uphill to the 3 mile point. But from here on out, it would be a blissful downhill jaunt most of the way to the finish (sweet!).

Approximately a half mile from the finish there was a family sitting in their yard watching the race. A young kid had a sprinkler in his hands and was offering to spray the runners. As I approached, I shouted "Hit me!" and he turned the sprinkler loose on me, much to the delight of the spectators. That felt great! I was really warm by now.

The finish was back at the school, and I crossed the line in 36:34. Not my fastest 5 miler ever, but the pace was only 50-some seconds slower than the time I posted at the ever so slightly shorter (and flatter) Human Race 8k back in March. Given the hills and the heat (good grief, listen to me complain about 70 degrees!), I am pleased with my time.

There were only about 70 runner in this race, so this will look more impressive than it really is. But I finished 12th overall, and I placed 2nd in my division. Right in line with the dairy theme of the race, my prize was a block of cheddar cheese! I tucked it away in my cooler for safe transportation home, and I am envisioning my prize melted over some tortilla chips with homemade salsa in the very near future.

Say cheese! My prize for finishing 2nd in my division.



OK, so let's break this down; I preregistered for the race, so the entry fee was a ridiculously cheap $15. For that, I got to run a fun little small town race in pretty farm country, runners got treated to a more than generously portioned root beer float when they finished, and I ended up winning some free cheese. I also figured (correctly) that a race named "The Udder Run" has to have great T-shirts. I came home with arguably the coolest race shirt in my collection.

My super cool shirt from The Udder Run



They also had a display at the race featuring their awesome shirts from past years!



How can you not help but love these small town races? Nicely done, good folks of Goodhue. Thanks for a fun day!

Tonight's dinner was the semi-regular post-race tradition of Chinese takeout (some excellent Mandarin beef & kung pao chicken from Ming's Garden). I thought I should celebrate since it is not every day that I place in my division! :)

On to the next,

Jean

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Green sauce

This is my new favorite condiment; a homemade tomatillo-serrano pepper salsa. I made it for the first time last weekend along with two other kinds of salsa, and this was by far the best of the lot. I just got done with another batch tonight.

After reading a few different recipes and techniques, this is what I came up with. The tomatillos are quite tart and add a nice citrus-like acidity (a little sugar balances this out). I like using serrano peppers in my salsas because I think they taste fresher and brighter than jalapenos. Pan roasting most of the ingredients in a dry skillet helps to produce a roasted flavor. And, I just love the green color!

My tomatillo-serrano pepper salsa



-3/4 lb. tomatillos (approximately 5 slightly larger than golf ball sized), husked and rinsed
-2 serrano chilies, whole
-A 3/4 inch thick slab of sweet yellow onion
-3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
-1/2 cup of fresh cilantro leaves
-1 1/2 tsp. sugar
-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
-A few grinds of black pepper
-2 T. water (to thin it out just a bit)


In a dry skillet over medium high heat, add the tomatillos, serranos, onion, and unpeeled garlic cloves. The object is to slightly char the outsides of the tomatillos, chilies, and the onion (but not cook them through), and also to soften and cook the garlic just a little bit. Don't be afraid to let some nice black spots develop. This adds good flavor.

Once all of those items have been charred to your liking, you can toss the tomatillos and onion right into the blender. When the serrano peppers are cool enough to handle, slice them open and remove the seeds and veins (Be careful when handling chile pepper guts! Don't go rubbing your eyes or anything!). Add the serranos to the blender. Peel the garlic cloves and toss them into the blender, along with the cilantro, sugar, salt and pepper.

Pulse until you have a slightly textured salsa. You can add a couple of tablespoons of water to thin it out. Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups of salsa.

This is actually a very mild salsa because I remove all of the seeds and veins from the chiles (Or leave them in if you want it really spicy. You won't hurt my feelings!). But it seems to be pretty well balanced in a sweet/tart way, and any heat from the chilies won't overpower your food. So far, I have found it is good one just about anything; including this pan roasted salmon fillet dusted with ancho chile powder! Yum.

Roasted salmon dusted with ancho chile powder and topped with the good stuff



And in case you haven't guessed, there was no running today. Just cooking! :)

Yours in green sauce,

Jean

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A round of applause, please

Our strange weather continues. Yesterday saw a high of around 55 with plenty of clouds and even a light mist. Today was only in the mid 60's and kind of overcast. Not very summer-like, but it made for nice running. I did a pair of 5 milers on both days.

Some good wildlife notes this week; I saw a mama Mallard swimming on the lake with six of her babies in tow. I spotted a green heron who even had his neck extended and his crest puffed up (he was a little perturbed about something). There is a mama chickadee in my yard that has three noisy babies following her around and demanding food. The sedge wrens are everywhere along my running trail. And today I saw a common yellowthroat and heard another in the swampy edges near my lake (there has to be a nest nearby!)

Not to leave the mammals out, on yesterday's run I encountered two deer, a couple of yearling bucks both sporting six inch velvet spikes. I stopped and chatted with the deer for awhile, as they were not terribly afraid!

This is a beautiful time of year in Minnesota, even if summer hasn't really arrived!

I've been reading recent posts of the fellow runners on my blog roll, and a significant number of you participated in a race on Saturday or Sunday (with a couple of you running Saturday into Sunday!). Even better, you all had some pretty remarkable performances! I think perhaps some acknowledgments are in order:

-Penny ran a 5k race and placed 3rd in her division

-Glenn ran a 10k race and established a new personal record time in the process

-Kel ran the Chester Woods 10 miler and bettered last year's time by nearly 10 minutes

-Beth finished her very first triathlon (on what was a rather chilly day to be swimming in Minnesota!)

-Don finished two marathons over two weekends, the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon this past weekend, and the Minneapolis Marathon the weekend before that...placing second in his division in both races!

-Steve finished the grueling Kettle 100 in Wisconsin...that is right folks, 100 miles, and he set a new PR. (Not only that, but this was his 6th ultramarathon since April 9th!)

-We're not done with the 100's yet! Rick ran the San Diego 100 miler and not only established a new personal best time, but finished 6th overall!

Congratulations to all of you on your achievements, and I hope I did not miss anyone! I love reading about all of your various adventures, and you all motivate and inspire me. Thank you for sharing your stories, and I wish you much continued success!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cassoulet in June

It is 55 degrees today. 55! So I made cassoulet.

Hot out of the oven



My aunt had given me a pheasant a few months back. I decided to use that to make a sort of wild game style cassoulet, along with a mix of a few different sausages.

I also used three kinds of beans (2/3rd navy, the remaining 1/3rd a mix of cranberry and Christmas lima beans). Additional ingredients included bacon, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, flat leaf parsley, fresh thyme, bay leaves, herbs de Provence, tomato paste, white wine, and chicken stock. Some panko bread crumbs were added towards the end to give it a nice crust.

The finished product; Three bean cassoulet with pheasant and mixed sausages



The cassoulet turned out excellent. It all came together really well, and the flavor was dynamite. The chunks of pheasant were tender and moist from being braised, the sausages and bacon added a nice smoky flavor, and the three kinds of beans offered a pleasant contrast in texture. I will not hesitate to call this my best cassoulet effort to date. Now, if I had just written down precise amounts and procedures... :)

And, I would like to point out that I just made winter comfort food. In June.

Brrrrrr,

Jean

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Once around the lake at the Manitou 15k

For the second Saturday in a row, I found myself in the gorgeous city of White Bear Lake to run a race! This time, it was for the 27th annual Manitou 15k.

The weather was unseasonably cool with temperatures in the...upper 40's? Brrr, that's kind of chilly for early June. Also, the skies were overcast and rain was threatening. Not the nicest day by any stretch, but ideal for running.

One of the only pictures I took today! :( Sailboats out on White Bear Lake. As you can see, not the prettiest of days!



A couple of my friends from work, Tony and Laura, were also running today, which was fun. They are training for Grandma's Marathon in a couple of weeks, so this was something of a final tuneup for them.

The Manitou 15k is a counterclockwise loop around White Bear Lake, starting and finishing at Matoska Park (which is the gateway to the legendary Manitou Island). We would run through four different cities; WBL, Mahtomedi, Willernie, and Dellwood. There ware many gorgeous homes along the lake shore, and there would also be many scenic views of the lake.

My race was went very well. I took off at a clip faster than I ran last week and pretty much stayed there. With the cooler day, I felt strong and fast.

The race was run mostly on quiet roads, with the exception of the the south end of the lake where the race ran right through the middle of the Birchwood Village Annual Neighborhood Garage Sale (it was a big deal...they even had banners hanging over the road advertising this), which created a lot of unanticipated traffic on the narrow roads.

With the exception of having to dodge weave around a few inattentive "garage salers" (I am sure they weren't amused with our presence, either), the rest of the course was pretty tame. The route was mostly flat with a few gentle hills here and there, so you were able to put on the cruise control and make some good time.

I felt fantastic all the way around and especially towards the end. In the last mile I picked up the pace and even ran down three runners that were ahead of me, finishing in an unofficial 1:12:43.

Another new PR!!!

OK, I have never run the 15k distance before, so it was going to be a PR whatever the time was! Perhaps it would be more appropriate to simply say I established a baseline with which I can measure my next 15k? :) In any case, this was a really good race for me. Anytime I can run sub 8 minutes miles over that kind of distance is a nice day of racing.

By the time my friends finished, the rain had just started to fall. Perfect timing! It held off just long enough. We retreated to the warmth of the Cobblestone Cafe in the downtown area for a hearty breakfast (GREAT corned beef hash!) and some nice conversation. Definitely a fun way to spend a Saturday morning.

It ended up raining most of the day and it never really got higher than 50 degrees. A perfect excuse to stay inside and cook.

For dinner in the evening, I broke from the semi-regular post-race tradition of Chinese take out (which is why it is semi-regular!) in favor of beef and bean burritos with a trio of homemade salsas (pico de gallo, guajillo chile, and tomatillo-serrano). Oh yeah, now we're talking! That definitely hit the spot.

A south of the border fiesta on a plate!



Now if you will excuse me, there is a NASCAR race starting up in a few minutes. Talk about a great Saturday! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bad ideas in training plans

I was having a conversation with a coworker this week. It was about running.

He was presenting a theory that if he ran three miles a day at a really hard pace, he should be able to successfully complete a half marathon by the end of summer by simply slowing down.

I told him he was crazy, and that he really needed to do some long runs to build endurance. All his body would know would be how to run three miles fast for a short period of time. He insists this should work and wants to give it a try. I told him I will be asking about his progress! :)

This has been the strangest spring weather. Temperatures in the low 70's, absolutely no humidity; Minnesotans aren't used to nice spring days! Typically it seems to rain incessantly from May through mid June. We do need rain, but it is hard to complain about this.

Running has been nice this week. Comfortable 5 milers on Monday, Tuesday, and today. I've seen a few painted turtles along the edges of the trail, some laying their eggs. The sedge wrens greet me daily (I think I have located three pair now). I even chatted with a baby bunny along the trail yesterday (which made for a scant .20 bunnies-per-mile ratio on that day...but no worries, as summer arrives, the BPM always increases!). Very enjoyable!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, June 1, 2009

Race results, more birds, and why I now like softball

The results were posted from Saturday's Northern Lakes Run. I finished in 1:19:46 (apparently I was was either slow to start my watch, or too quick to stop it!), so my new 10 mile PR was 9 seconds faster than my previous best that I posted at Stillwater last year. A fun race! I am still very excited.

On Sunday, I took the day off from running. I went for a hike in the morning up at Elm Creek Park Reserve. It was fantastic. There was hardly a soul there, and the morning was sunny, cool, and a little crisp before eventually heating up later in the day. The park felt like my own personal playground.

Lots of birds; two new ones that I had not seen yet this season included the least flycatcher and the bright blue indigo bunting (he has terrible camouflage). Other sightings included the American goldfinch, Cooper's hawk, American redstart, yellow warbler, brown-headed cowbird, trumpeter swans, bald eagle, sedge wrens (they have them out here too!), downy woodpecker, Eastern kingbird, song sparrow, and tons of red-winged blackbirds. A good day in the wilderness.

A couple of trumpeter swans taking flight in the park on Sunday; what a wingspan!



On a sports-related note, had you told me that I would enjoy watching the NCAA College Softball World Series, I might have laughed at you. However, I watched some over the weekend. And it was great!

I was particularly impressed with the Georgia squad. Whether they were ahead or behind, the players always had the same demeanor; smiling, constantly encouraging one another, seemed to be genuinely having a good time, and were absolutely relishing the experience. Even following their eventual elimination, they still looked as if they had won. There were smiles, hugs, and cheers all around. That was pretty cool and refreshing to see.

Having fun playing sports; what a novel concept! This was in stark contrast to one of the well-publicized sports moments from the weekend where LeBron left the court without shaking anyone's hand after Orlando stomped them (He later clarified that he refused to congratulate anyone because he is a "winner" and a "competitor." Whatever.).

I never thought I would say this, but give me college softball over the NBA any day. Those kids know how to keep a proper perspective and seem to understand what it means to play for the love of the game. Good stuff!

Until next time,

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