Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving week

Following the Turkey Run, I headed up to Mom and Dad's for a whole week. What a treat! I have not had a full week off in about three years, so that was a very nice break.

I ran four times up there. Nothing crazy, just a bunch of 5 milers to burn off some of the calories. I am not really training for anything at the moment, so I decided to forgo doing a usual weekend "long" run. The weather ranged from low 40's to low 20's, from fog, to rain, to overcast, to partly sunny (we actually only saw the sun briefly on Saturday and Sunday!). Good running weather.

As per usual, I spent a lot of time in the woods. The mountain ash trees are loaded with berries, so they will no doubt serve as treats for the birds over the winter months. The wildlife is not as diverse at it is in the summer, but I saw some of the year round residents, including deer, grouse, chickadees, nuthatches, numerous woodpeckers, blue jays, ravens, and eagles. My parent's neighbors, along with some of their family members, also joined us for a hike to see "Dad's birds" as they are becoming known, which was most enjoyable.

Hanging out with Dad's birds



A few squirrels enjoyed my company in the woods as well



I did add a new bird to my life list - the white-winged crossbill. Approximately four dozen of them flew in to raid the pine cones at the top of a large spruce. They were beautiful, and my glimpse was only fleeting, as they departed rapidly. But what a thrill! These guys have eluded me for many years.

Of course, food plays a special part of any trip home, but even more so at Thanksgiving. Mom and I always make homemade lefse at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This batch turned out excellent. In fact, I boldly proclaimed that not even Pearl Johnson (author of our recipe that has been used for three generations) could make these as thin and fluffy as we did! A little lefse making with Christmas music playing in the background - what could be better? Good stuff.

The lefse makers



Yours truly, turning out some lefse (notice I am even using an official lefse stick!)



Our Thanksgiving dinner has one tradition - that is, it is never traditional! We always have the turkey and fixings at some point over the weekend, just never on Thanksgiving Day. This year, we had some wild pheasants from Nebraska, grouse, and polse sausage from near my Dad's hometown (it is something of a traditional Norwegian ring sausage). Yum! It was a legendary meal. I also did some cooking over and made my recipe for Hungarian pörkölt one night, which everyone enjoyed. Other items included Mom's homemade pizza, Dad's seafood chowder (a day-before-Thanksgiving tradition), turkey on Saturday, and we even hit 2 for 1 burger night at Moguls up on the ski hill. Needless to say, I did not come home hungry.

Thanksgiving dinner



Of course, there was turkey as well... :)



Otherwise, I didn't do much of anything, which was great! We watched an endless amount of football, Mom and I made a trip into Grand Marais on "Black Friday" to bum around and do a little shopping, and I had a lot of fun hanging out with Mom, Dad, my brother and sister-in-law, and my nephew, who is becoming quite personable. I think he likes his uncle, which is good, since I am the only one he's got! :)

Grand Marais harbor on a cloudy day



A wonderful week. It was something of a shock to return to the real world, but isn't it always? In any case, Christmas is only a few weeks away, and I am looking forward to my return trip home!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey Run 2009

What better way to kick off a week long vacation than with a nice little 5k! Last Sunday, I participated in the Turkey Run over in St. Paul. This is my 5th consecutive running of this event, so it has become something of a tradition.

A shot of Lake Como. The race runs all the way around this. In years past, the lake has been frozen over.



Yours truly, ready to do the Turkey Run!



I don't have too much to say about this race that I haven't said before. I will say that the weather was unseasonably warm - 50 and overcast! This is the first time I have ever done the Turkey Run in shorts! A nice change of pace, considering I remember a crisp 19 degree day a few years ago.

I pretty much ran my typical Turkey Run. I've raced on this exact same course for five Turkey Runs and a couple of other events that used the same route. It is extremely flat and fast, and I usually finish in the high 21 minute to low 22 minute range. I finished this year in 22:26 (results here), making this my slowest showing on this course. However, I had to stop during the race to untangle a shoelace and tie my shoe! That cost me precious seconds. Amazingly enough, nobody passed me during my pit stop, and I cruised the rest of the way home.

It was a great race and lots of fun, as it always is. And it wraps up my 2009 racing season. Time to set some new goals and figure out where I want to race and what I want to do!

With that, I raced home, showered up, and headed to Mom and Dad's for a week on the North Shore. A mega-huge Thanksgiving blog post will no doubt be coming soon.

I hope you all had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving weekend!

Gobble, gobble...

Jean

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bring on the turkey!



Just finished 12 miles on a cool, frosty, slightly foggy morning. It was beautiful. Got to see the sun coming up over the pond, and I even heard a couple of great horned owls in the wooded areas around the swamp bottoms. A great start to the day!

With that, I am now officially on vacation for the week. This is the first time in about three years that I have had an entire week off, so I am going to enjoy it. I am doing the Turkey Run in St. Paul tomorrow morning, and then I am heading up to the North Shore to spend the rest of the time with the family. Should be an excellent week, and I am really looking forward to it.

I want to wish all of my readers and fellow running bloggers a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Safe travels to those of you going places, and I hope you have fun and memorable times with your families and friends. Enjoy, and I will talk to you next week!

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, November 20, 2009

Failing the birds

I never thought I would be upset about trees being planted.

I mentioned earlier that some sapling trees were being planted along a portion of my running trails. These trails are beautiful, and the reason this place hasn't been turned into a subdivision or a shopping mall is because it was purchased through a land and water conservation grant. This land is maintained by the local park district, and it never would be developed.

They were planting in a small area nestled between an existing wooded grove, and it was nicely done. However, I recently noticed an ever expanding section of the neighboring meadow being mowed down to facilitate even more planting. The area in question is a unique mix of grassy, open meadow that borders some marshland and a pond, home to many interesting birds, plants, and wildflowers. And the size of the area they cut down was enormous.

This place is home to ring-necked pheasants that enjoy the cover provided by the tall grasses. Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows nest here - they even have nesting boxes set up for them. I have found eastern kingbirds nesting here as well. Common yellowthroats skulk around in these tall grasses in the summer. All are birds that prefer these open environments.

Of special concern, this spot was a nesting ground for great numbers of sedge wrens over the summer. You might recall me raving about these encounters in earlier posts. While not an endangered bird, the sedge wren is somewhat scarce, secretive, nomadic, and not very well understood, especially in terms of their migration patterns. They nest in the grasses near marshes and swamps, and they were a joy to watch and learn about. Several nesting pairs made their home here, right in the grassy meadow that has since been cut down. This was an ideal habitat for them.

Today my Dad sent me a scanned copy of an article from the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union journal, "The Loon." This arrived in their mail today and was rather timely. In the Conservation Column by Tom Will, he speaks about the golden-winged warbler, but the second paragraph illustrated my concern. He cited that Minnesota is the breeding ground for 32% of the total population of sedge wrens. Good habitat in Minnesota is key to a healthy population of this species.

Here is a photo showing the meadow after it had been mowed. This used to be filled with tall grasses, and this particular area is where I observed the highest concentration of sedge wrens. You can't really see them, but there are bluebird and tree swallow houses towards the back of this meadow as well.



This map, with my sloppy artist's rendering, shows the approximate size of the areas that were mowed for planting. The red lines represent the areas that were mowed down. On the far left, the red circle within a circle represents a doughnut-shaped swath where the grasses on the interior are intact. The other two red areas were cut down in their entirety. The above photo was taken at the northernmost point of the center area. The left and center locations below represented the areas where I saw the most sedge wrens.



I wrote to everyone I could think of who would listen (park district, park board commissioners) to try and find out what was going on, to let them know the errors I saw them making, and to see if this could be reconsidered or stopped. Through a friend at the park district, I was finally able to get through to the Public Affairs Coordinator. The plan is indeed to plant this area over with native hardwood trees and have it become forested. She acknowledged this would change the landscape significantly, but that some open areas would remain (mainly because they were too wet to plant anything). Apparently the effect on the land was considered, but they were cool with that. It was a nice, cordial note, and I thanked her for the information. But I also respectfully disagreed in that I saw nothing that was broken and in need of fixing.

As it turns out, I can thank the resident eagles for the fact that more of the meadow wasn't plowed under. She explained that they did not want to disturb the nesting site, which I really appreciated. So the area closest to the eagles was left alone, thereby leaving some of the southern section intact. In my reply, I asked them to be mindful of the nearby vacant osprey nesting platform (which the park district mowed around to plant trees). I happen to know the eagles actually spend as much time hanging out there as they do at the nesting site. :)

I am certain that behind this project, there were nothing but good intentions (then again, the road to hell is reportedly paved with them). While it is hard to argue that planting a small forest is a bad thing, it will no doubt have a huge impact. Transforming this area from meadow to forest is a rather drastic change of habitat, so much that it risks displacing some of the species that currently thrive here.

Here is a shot illustrating the planting in progress as of Wednesday. Again, this area is right on top of the sedge wren habitat. And if you look really close, way back in the center of the photo you can see an osprey nesting platform - the little speck is the eagle sitting on it!



This was marvelous meadow/marsh habitat that has now been forever changed. Is it actually a change for the better? I suppose that is subjective and debatable. I mean, in an age where "going green" has become a commercialized buzz phrase used to sell cars and other wares, who is going to argue with people wanting to plant trees? It certainly could be much worse, and there will definitely be other species of plants and wildlife that will benefit. All I know if any sedge wrens, bluebirds, tree swallows, and the others do return, it won't be anywhere near the numbers, because a huge chunk of their nesting ground was cut down to be planted over. And that still bothers me.

Part of me feels like I have failed the birds. I couldn't even help to protect a small piece of land that was already being protected. But I still think there is a chance to learn something from this. And I am still waiting to hear from the commissioner. So maybe we can do some things differently? Time will tell. And I would like to help however I can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toga! Toga!

Talking golf for a moment, I enjoyed this story about Michelle Wie winning her first professional tournament. What I particularly loved was this quote describing the celebration after the win:

"Just seeing them come out and pour beer all over me, it was a great feeling," Wie said. "I've always seen it on TV and I've always wanted people to pour beer on me. It was as great as I thought it was."

It is worth noting that Michelle is only 20, so not quite of legal drinking age yet. I also feel as if that quote was stolen from me, as I am relatively certain that I said the exact same thing after one of the annual "toga parties" back in college. :)

Taking a trip down memory lane - One of my college classmates recently mentioned on Facebook that this past October was 20 years since the toga party of our freshman year. This fraternity had two annual parties - a "toga party" in the fall and a "beach party" in the spring. It was the exact same party, but with different attire. Everyone got driven out to an old roller skating rink on the outskirts of town in rickety old school buses (I am talking complete junkers that could only be called "buses" in the sense that they were long, had tires, and held a bunch of people). There was no pesky "21 or older rule" - if you could hand $5 to the bus driver, you were good to go.

At the roller rink, they had a huge beer truck parked outside the building with taps built right into the side, so you could just help yourself. Local law enforcement seemed to tolerate this, as it was really no secret what was going on. Police officers would wander through the party every so often, more or less turning away from the action as if they were professional wrestling referees. I never heard of anyone being ticketed or arrested, and I am guessing they were just there to make sure everyone was safe. I also think the only reason they let everything slide was because nobody was driving. These parties were fun, and always made for some interesting stories afterward. One year, a couple of the guys came back to the dorm with a souvenir; the emergency door from one of the buses! I am guessing in this day and age, these parties have gone the way of the dinosaur. Still, they were good times!

Of course, I might have been of questionable legality in terms of drinking age for a few of these, so perhaps I should give Michelle a pass. Never mind. And Mom, please ignore the previous two paragraphs. These are vicious rumors only... ;-)

Anyhow, on to running - There is a massive tree planting project along my trails that has me kind of steamed. It sounds absurd to be upset about anyone wanting to plant trees, but it was poorly planned and executed. I will explain at some point, but I need to get some more information.

Aside from that, it was a nice evening for running once again. 50 degrees, clear, and sunny. I was treated to a gorgeous sunset. And I got to see one of my resident eagles, which is always a treat. I am really enjoying these fall days.

A blurry sunset through the trees on tonight's run



Another shot of the eagle's nest at dusk. Can you find "Sam" in this picture? :)



Until next time,

Jean

Monday, November 16, 2009

More fun with dry cure

Sunday morning was a crisp 29 degrees with a heavy layer of frost covering the grasses and weeds, even the wooden bridge decks on the trails. I went for a 5 mile run just as the sun was coming up. Very nice day, relatively calm winds, and the skies fairly clear. I took it kind of easy today after the 11 miler Saturday. The one nature note I have is that I scared up a red fox on the trail. He scuttled off into the frosty weeds near the pond as he saw me coming!

Today was a glorious 48 degrees and sunny. What a great day! I went running after work, once again in shorts - not bad for mid November! I saw a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers chasing each other from tree to tree (those two better be heading south soon!). My deer came out to greet me again, including the forkhorn buck. The tree planting project along my trails that I was previously excited about now has me deeply concerned, as the scope appears significantly larger than originally thought (I will say more when I find out some additional details, and by then my comments will likely have morphed into a full blown hissy fit). Anyhow, nice day, nice run, lots of fun.

Saturday I made another recipe from the "Charcuterie" book; tasso ham. Tasso is a quickly cured and heavily spiced Cajun-style ham.

Using my dry cure, I dredged a couple of slabs of pork shoulder and allowed to cure in the fridge for four hours. I then rinsed off all of the cure and salt. Traditionally it is smoked, but as I do not have a smoker, I would be cooking this in a low oven. To compensate for the lack of smoke, I did apply a scant amount of liquid smoke to the meat, and I used smoked paprika in my spice rub (along with sweet paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powder, black pepper, thyme, sage, allspice, mace, marjoram, unsalted Cajun seasoning, and brown sugar) which I used to liberally season the cured pork.

After cooking in a 200 degree F oven until the internal temperature hit 150, this is what I ended up with:

Two slabs of heavily spiced tasso ham!



You can see that, after curing, the tasso takes on some of the color and texture of ham



The tasso turned out to be very tasty and flavorful. My only regret is that I do not have a smoker, because this would really be something smoked. But it was good. Real good.

Tasso isn't something you eat on its own; rather, it is used in small amounts and serves as more of a seasoning to accent a dish. You will often see this used in gumbo or jambalaya. But there are other applications as well. Could you include some bits of tasso in your morning omelette? Absolutely! Can small chunks of tasso (along with some of my homemade bacon!) find their way into your yellow split pea soup for some added zip? Bring it on! Is it possible to add diced tasso to you New Orleans style BBQ shrimp and serve it over a fire-roasted tomato couscous? Yes it is!

Yellow split pea soup with tasso and homemade bacon



My New Orleans style BBQ shrimp (basically shrimp scampi with some Worcestershire sauce added!) with diced tasso over fire-roasted tomato couscous



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2010 Races

Below are links to my 2010 Races:



February 7, 2010 - Frigid 5 - St. Paul, MN

March 28, 2010 - St. Patrick's Day Human Race 8k - St. Paul, MN

April 17, 2010 - Trail Mix 25k - Bloomington, MN

May 8, 2010 - Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon - St. Joseph, MN

May 22, 2010 - Northern Lakes Run 10 Miler - White Bear Lake, MN

June 5, 2010 - Dam To Dam 20K - Des Moines, IA

July 24, 2010 - Freight House Road Races at Lumberjack Days 10 Miler - Stillwater, MN

November 7, 2010 - Rocky's Run 5k - Falcon Heights, MN

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Decking the halls

I put my Christmas lights in my window this week - nothing too fancy, just a strand to decorate the window sill. It is the earliest I have ever done so, but I noticed some of my neighbors had a fully decorated tree glimmering away, so I thought I would join the party. With the beautiful Santa quilt that Mom gave me hanging on my wall, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Jean's place!

'Tis the season



We are entering my favorite time of year. Fall is the best season, and I think when most people say that, they are referring to early fall, when the leaves are at their brilliance and you still have some warmer days. I absolutely love the later part of fall in November and December.

While the leaves are gone, the days grow shorter, and the temperatures start to drop, there is still something really neat about it. With colder days, we are now entering the best months for hearty stews, soups, and other comfort foods. Football season is really heating up. Perhaps it is because it is such an exciting, drastic change of season where we go from gorgeous leaves to a stark landscape with an impending chance of snow in such a short period of time? It certainly doesn't hurt that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and Christmas not long after that. Nice!

I ran 11 miles this morning. It was about 43 degrees, overcast, not much wind, and an occasional light mist. Still, it was warm enough that I could wear shorts! Not too bad for November 14th. The run was good. I hoofed it around my neighborhood and only encountered two people the entire time (a guy walking a dog, and another runner). Didn't see a lot in the way of wildlife, however I did hear a great horned owl hooting from down in the creek bottoms as the sun was coming up. And that alone was worth the price of admission.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Same place on the trail as yesterday...

...with a slightly different sunset tonight! The clouds made for some interesting effects this evening. No eagle this time, however.



Another gorgeous day, around 57 degrees and partly cloudy. Unbelievable weather! The run was really nice. I saw six of my resident deer coming out of the woods to snack on some of the grasses in the meadow. I also discovered that the park service is planting a whole grove of trees long one of my running trails. That should be pretty nice once that is done.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reminiscing at the microwave, and a nice fall day

I was microwaving some lasagna today for lunch, and I remembered a story from a couple of jobs ago.

My department relocated me to another floor due to space issues. I was surrounded by people from a different department, and my cubicle was near an older lady who was the admin for this group.

I barely had my computer set up when she stopped by. Without so much as an introduction or a hello, she launched into this diatribe explaining that if I was going to share the same printer as their group, we would have to work out some sort of billing arrangements between our departments (ink cartridges were expensive, they shouldn't have to absorb all the costs, blah, blah, blah). I kindly explained to her that:

A.) This was for someone other than me to figure out, and...
B.) I really didn't care. :)


Anyhow, that was a hell of a first impression, and I found her to be quite unpleasant. She would never say hello and would only really talk to you if she needed something, so I generally went out of my way to avoid having any interaction with her.

Most people who know me know that I like to make food from scratch whenever possible, especially pasta dishes. I invariably prepare my own red sauce, and even make my own fresh pasta from time to time.

So there I was in the break room heating up some of my lasagna, and my buddy was in there as well. Out of nowhere, she happened to ask what I was making. I told her "lasagna," and she got uncharacteristically animated and excited.

She exclaimed and declared, "Oooh, lasagna! I love lasagna! And I make gooooood lasagna! Is yours homemade?"

"Yes, it is homemade," I replied. "I love to cook, and I think I can make a pretty good lasagna as well."

Letting my guard down a little bit, I figured that she might have been a fellow cooking enthusiast. Maybe she was going to let me know about a family cooking secret for lasagna, such as a red sauce that was handed down from generation to generation, a new technique, or some special ingredients? Perhaps this broke the ice and I had found some common ground with her?

"Really?" she responded. "Do you use Prego, too?"

Or, maybe not. ;-)

(For the record, Prego is a fine and tasty product, and I heartily endorse its use! I like Prego, have purchased it countless times, and I subsisted on the stuff in college. It was just that given her enthusiasm for the dish, I was expecting a very different response and it completely cracked me up! Anyhow, that is what I thought of today while warming up my lasagna...)

A quick note on running - What a day this was! 61 degrees and sunny, on November 10th? Are you kidding me?!? Any day like this, this late in the year, is a bonus.

Running was a treat tonight. I put in my normal weekday 5 miler, and it was oh, so comfortable. I love running in weather like this. Here are a couple of images from tonight's run:

The lake with the sun setting behind me - you can sort of see that we have no leaves left



Tonight's sunset through the trees. See the blob to the left of the nest? That is one of my resident eagles.



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rocky! Rocky!

U of M flag flying proudly at the starting line of Rocky's Run. Other Big 10 Conference schools were represented in the background.



Fueled by my homemade bacon and some eggs for breakfast, I was ready to run on Sunday! I had the pleasure of joining nearly a couple hundred cross country running enthusiasts at this year's Rocky's Run 5k.

This race is held in memory of Rocky Racette, one of the all time great University of Minnesota runners. It is run on the U of M Les Bolstad golf course, and it serves as a fundraiser for the Rocky Racette scholarship fund. This is the fourth time I have participated in this event.

Yours truly, milling around before the race



We were blessed with a glorious fall day for the race. In fact, every year I have done this, the weather has been good. Early November in Minnesota can be kind of interesting and unpredictable, so I will take temperatures in the mid 50's with some sun trying to peek through mostly overcast skies!

A view of the Minneapolis skyline from the U of M golf course



As per usual, the U of M women's cross country team was well represented. I am always in awe of how fast they are. This race also draws a lot of current and former cross country runners, so for a small little cross country race, there is an awful lot of talent.

Runners warming up prior to the start; U of M team in maroon and gold warming up on the right



The race starts, and we all take off down the driving range. It never fails, but every year I always forget one thing when I come to this race:

This course is more hilly than I remember!

In fact, there is very little flat ground of any kind on the course. The terrain is rolling and is constantly going up, down, and even sideways. This is a challenging little track to run!

Despite the hills, I was feeling pretty good today. I didn't wear my watch and had no idea how I was doing, so I just ran.

Given the nice temperatures, I was surprised to see a number of cold weather running outfits. Lots of tights, long pants, and even gloves. I passed one person wearing pants, some sort of polar fleece shirt, gloves, AND one of those earmuff/headband things that skiers wear. I was hot just looking at this runner!

I felt pretty strong, trying my best to maintain my pace on the uphills, keep my balance on the sidehills, and take advantage of the downhills. I passed a number of folks over the last couple of kilometers. Having come off of a marathon, it is remarkable how quickly these 5k's get over with! I crossed the finish line in 23:59 (results here), so this was my fastest Rocky's Run time ever. For what it is worth, my previous times at this race are 24:10, 24:14, and 24:15, so I am also a model of consistency. ;-)

This year's Rocky's Run shirt



So, with that, another Rocky's Run is in the books, and we are close to completing yet another race season here in Minnesota. It was a great day to be a runner.

There was an 8k race following the 5k. I usually stick around to watch a little, but didn't this time. There was lasagna to be made... ;-)

Lasagna with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and homemade red sauce...mama mia!



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It took a week, but it was worth it

Saturday was the most gorgeous of fall days. I ran 11 miles in the morning in a crisp, but comfortable, 47 degrees with clear skies.

A delightful run. Got to see the sun rising over the lake, and I encountered a few remaining fall migrants, including a northern flicker, a pair of northern shovelers, and several beautiful hooded mergansers. All of our leaves are gone, so there are really no fall colors that remain, but a great day to be a runner nonetheless.

But enough about that. I am here to talk about bacon - because I made some of my own.

This is a project that actually started a week ago Friday (longer if you count the ordering process). My local meat market procured me a really nice fresh pork belly, five pounds worth. My objective was to make the "Fresh Bacon" recipe from Ruhlman's and Polcyn's book, Charcuterie.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not an expert at curing meats. If you want to attempt this, please do your research. I would highly recommend you read "Charcuterie," or seek out other books on curing meats for more information before starting any project. It is important to do this so you know what you need, and what you are doing!

To make the bacon recipe, I also needed curing salt commonly called "pink salt." I ordered this from Butcher-Packer, and it was dirt cheap. From there, I made my dry cure with kosher salt, sugar, and the pink salt. (See Ruhlman's recipe for dry cure here, as well as a nice overview of curing)

ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: It can be confusing, as "pink salt" often is called by different product names, such as "Prague powder #1," "DQ Curing Salt," and others. What this is referring to is a curing salt with a 6.25% sodium nitrite concentration, and it is tinted pink to set it apart and prevent accidental usage. It can be harmful if ingested in quantity, so follow any recipes that use pink salt precisely, and keep it away from the kids. Again, read "Charcuterie," or another authority on meat curing, so you know exactly what product you are using!

Some dry cure was spread all over the pork belly, along with brown sugar and maple syrup, as I wanted to make the sweeter variation from the book. The pork belly is tossed into a huge ziplock bag and placed in the fridge for a week. A lot of liquid is released during curing, and I turned it every day to distribute the cure evenly.

Pork belly on Day 1 - coated with dry cure, brown sugar, and maple syrup, ready for the fridge



After seven days, I removed the pork belly. It was rinsed under cold water to remove any excess cure. After patting it dry, I placed it in my roasting pan on a rack and ground some fresh cracked black pepper over the top on the bacon, just because bacon and black pepper is awesome. Since this is a fresh bacon recipe that wasn't going to be smoked, I also took a page from Stumptown Savoury and used a scant amount of liquid smoke (and I mean "scant," like less than a teaspoon - that is powerful stuff!). However, I applied my liquid smoke before roasting as opposed to after when the meat cools.

Cured pork belly on Day 7, ready for the oven



It went into a 200 degree (F) oven to slow roast. I inserted a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the cured belly and set it to go off when it hit 150 degrees. When it finished, this is what I had:

Bacon out of the oven after roasting



I removed the rind while the bacon was still hot, and then allowed to cool on a rack. Once cooled down, I cut it into large chunks suitable for slicing later.

You can see the meat is uniformly pink throughout, so the cure did its job



I fried up a few slices to go along with an omelette for my dinner. The slices were so long that they wouldn't fit in my pan, so I cut a section in half to make smaller slices!

Bacon in the pan



The great thing about any kind of artisan bacon is that it doesn't wither away to nothing when cooked. It remains dense and meaty. I am not one for ultra crispy bacon, so I fried these up just to get a little color on them. The aroma was fantastic! You could definitely smell the sweetness from the maple and brown sugar, and that aided in the browning as well.

The finished product - homemade bacon and eggs!



The taste? Oh, baby! You can definitely tasty the maple sweetness, and there is a tiny hint of smoke. The bacon was slightly salty, but what can you expect for something cured in salt? :) It has a great chewiness, and the sweetness mixed with the richness of the pork fat was really, really yummy.

So was it worth it to take a week to make my own bacon? Heck yeah! Other than taking a lot of time, it was ridiculously easy. This recipe only cost me about $12 and change to make, and I now have a few pounds of delicious homemade bacon in my freezer.

Alright, enough about bacon. Back to running tomorrow! :)

Who likes homemade bacon? Jean likes homemade bacon!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

V

Last night I watched the premiere "V" on ABC. I am old enough to remember the "V" miniseries from the early 80's that this new show is "reimagined" from (exact word used on my cable guide - apparently "reimagined" sounds better than "borrowed," "lifted," or "we had no new ideas"). I seem to remember the miniseries being kind of a big deal. Of course, we only had three channels back then, so it was kind of hard to avoid the hype! :)

One of the things that has always bothered me about sci-fi shows/movies featuring spaceships the size of cities is that they would be seemingly implausible to build. Can you imagine the manufacturing facility needed to create a craft of this magnitude? It would have to be larger than an entire metro area, and this could never happen.

And even if it could happen, the fuel needed to propel such a craft would be off the charts, right? I get 35 MPG at best with my little Silver Hornet. Imagine the mileage "The Visitors" get with those beastly ships! I can't see how you would have enough fuel to make it to earth from a galaxy far, far away, and I am assuming the Milky Way is not dotted with Kwik Trip gas stations at every off ramp. As an aside - this also make me wonder - would an alien government ever offer some sort of rebate program to trade in your spaceship on a more fuel efficient model? "Sawbucks for Spaceships," perhaps? ;-)

Despite these quibbles, I am capable of suspending my disbelief. And I think I will keep watching because:
  • "Anna," the leader of The Visitors, is hot
  • The actress who plays "Juliet" on the TV series "Lost" also stars in "V" - she, too, is hot
(Apparently I have some rather relaxed criteria for selecting my TV shows)

Yesterday's run was performed in 38 degrees and pouring down rain. I don't mind running in the rain, but the ice cold raindrops on my face made things feel rather chilly! Of note, I saw a double-crested cormorant on the lake, so some stragglers are still heading south. And I encountered seven deer. The deer, all does, were standing together eating the freshly mowed weeds and grasses in the meadow of the park. They barely moved as I ran by.

Darrell has suggested posting the "after" photo of the pretty yellow tree that no longer has leaves. I remembered the camera on today's run, so here we go. What a different a week makes... :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009



Wednesday, November 4, 2009 (these leaves were actually gone by Nov 1st!)



As you can see, it officially looks like November!

The weather was slightly nicer on today's run. 42, no rain, overcast, and still kind of breezy. I saw a pair of horned grebes on my local pond, so that was a good find. Oh, and four of those seven deer came out to greet me. Three of them made the photo.

One of the deer snorted at me and stomped her hoof when the flash went off! But, they never moved.



Until next time,

Jean

Monday, November 2, 2009

Goodbye to fall

Something I noticed on my run yesterday - this tree that I photographed on Wednesday...



...does not have a single leaf left on it! In fact, most of our leaves are gone. And the last of of migrating birds are working their way through. On Saturday, I saw hundreds of American coots on Medicine Lake in Plymouth. They are always some of the last to leave. Fall is all but out of here!

Aside from my morning 5 mile run on Sunday, I never left my home. A perfect excuse to make a little comfort food, if I do say so myself. And some beef and Guinness stew fit the bill oh, so nicely.

Beef and Guinness Stew - feeling a wee bit Irish!



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sausage!

One of my projects this weekend was making some homemade breakfast sausage. I have not made homemade sausage in a long time, and I just got some casings, so it was good excuse to spend some time in the kitchen.

I made the breakfast sausage recipe from Ruhlman's and Polcyn's book, Charcuterie. It consists of pork shoulder butt loaded with fresh sage, fresh ginger, a little garlic, salt and pepper. I added crushed red pepper, just because I am a wild man, and just about anything is better with crushed red pepper. :)

I ground everything together with the KitchenAid meat grinder, hooked up the sausage stuffer attachment and stuffed everything into my small sized casings, twisted them into 4-inch links, and viola!

The finished product; breakfast sausage links



It takes some time to do all of this (especially when you are doing it by yourself), and it is definitely a project. But it is totally worth it, and the results would put Jimmy Dean out of business if everyone did this. These sausages have great flavor, with the sage and fresh ginger really shining through.

Fresh breakfast sausage along side of some fresh grated hash brown potatoes and a poorly turned French omelette!



The only thing I will do differently next time is use a coarser grind. The recipe said to use the small die on the grinder, which produced a sausage with a very soft texture. I would prefer it a little firmer to the bite. But these were very tasty nonetheless. And I have a a few pounds of these in my freezer for future breakfasts, which, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

Until next time,

Jean

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