Thursday, December 31, 2009

HNY

Last run of 2009 tonight, an easy 5 miles at 11 degrees on the as-of-yet unplowed and snow-packed trails.



1752 miles for the year - a new personal best.

Bring on 2K10!

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas 2009

Christmas was a lot of fun in the North Country this year. It ended up being a very white Christmas, but not as white as it could have been.

The National Weather Circus had initially predicted...gulp...20+ inches of snow for Mom and Dad's area. The combination of this huge storm system (some were comparing the setup to the infamous '91 Halloween blizzard, for those you in the Midwest who remember), along with strong east winds causing lake effect snow off of Superior, was supposed to absolutely dump on us.

While the predictions of 20+ inches rang true in the Duluth area, my Mom and Dad's zone was spared. Dad, a snow spotter who reports official snow amounts, was getting regular updates from his buddies at the Duluth office. Apparently the computer models were predicting much colder upper air temperatures, and that turned out to be incorrect for most of the Arrowhead. It was just too warm, and even rained a little bit Friday into Saturday.

Snow falling the day after Christmas



I don't think we got more than 6 inches total, even though some areas quite close to us, but slightly higher in elevation, got between 12-15! Some of that melted early Saturday due to the rain, and we got two inches of snow after the storm warning expired! So, we spent the whole weekend bracing for the storm that never really got going where we were at. But that was OK! The snow/rain combo created quite a slushy mess, and another foot or more on top of that would have been really interesting.

I went running three times, just some easy 5 milers. The weather was not especially pleasant on any of the runs, as I was battling strong east winds, drizzle, and snow most of the time. Saturday's run was the worst, as the trails had turned to slush, and the county roads became sheets of ice, making running almost impossible. But the important thing is that I got out there and ran!

Finishing up a run as the snow was beginning!



The meals were great, as always. Highlights included the traditional Christmas Eve meal of roast pork and Norwegian polse sausage, double-smoked ham for Christmas Day, and even a day-after-Christmas roasted goose. Mom and I made our traditional batch of lefse as well. No shortage of good eats over the holidays.

Christmas Eve dinner



This year we decided not to give gifts - which of course meant than Mom and Dad went out and bought (or made) gifts for everyone! I came home with some nice clothes, books, and flannel pillowcases that Mom quilted for me. Beautiful! And it was fun watching my little nephew learn how to tear into the gifts (we suspect he will be much more proficient next year). Mom also made an awesome quilt for the little tyke!

Mom's handiwork



So it was a fantastic weekend with the family. And I returned home to more than a foot of snow in my own neighborhood. As of Tuesday night, they still haven't really plowed the sidewalks and running trails. Running has been challenging, to say the least. Could be a long winter if this keeps up!

I hope you all had a fun, safe, and memorable holiday season!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A belated Merry Christmas!

A snow-covered Christmas tree in Mom and Dad's yard



A belated Merry Christmas to all! I apologize for not extending these wishes sooner, but the weekend sort of sneaked up on me!

I have returned from a fun holiday weekend up north. We ate well, I did a little bit of running, and we braced ourselves for the 20+ inches of snow that was promised, but never really came (at least in the area we were at). Additional details forthcoming.

I hope you all had a fun and safe holiday weekend!

Jean

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lit up

The overhead lights in my kitchen burned out yesterday right after I got done making my pizza for dinner. I am not the handiest guy in the world, but I successfully removed the light fixture cover without everything crashing down. Both of the bulbs were shot. They were those really long, 48-inch "T8" bulbs, which I have never purchased or installed before, and they have prongs instead of threading.

After figuring out the confusing method of turning the bulbs just right so the prongs align with a notch (I felt a little like Nicolas Cage trying to access a secret passage in "National Treasure"), I successfully removed the bulbs. Not wanting to cook in darkness today, I found my way over to Home Depot this morning and located the bulbs I needed. I returned home, unwrapped the bulbs, got the prongs aligned correctly, turned the bulbs just so, flipped the switch, and presto...let there be light! I even got the cover back onto the light fixture successfully.

So how many running/cooking enthusiasts does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, baby.

It was a day off from running, however, so I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I finished making my chipotle pepper beef jerky on the dehydrator today (tasty and spicy!). And, I made meat loaf with a chipotle-ketchup glaze, fire roasted tomato sauce, and homemade smoked cheddar macaroni and cheese. I was happy to have light so I could see what I was doing! :)

Sunday comfort food on a December day in Minnesota



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When bunnies attack

Saturday morning greeted me with a mild day, 23 degrees and overcast. A great day to run. I was out before sunup and put in 11 miles. Both of the resident eagles were roosting near their nest, and their chunky silhouettes could be seen agains the clouds. Lots of cardinals were out and about this morning as well. I only saw three other people; a runner, a walker, and another walker walking what appeared to be a wolf (it was the biggest, fuzziest Alaskan Malamute I have ever seen...an awesome dog!).

A funny thing happened as I entered the trails. It was still fairly dark, but you could see well with the lights of the city reflecting off the low hanging clouds. I startled a cottontail rabbit that was sitting in a yard next to the trail. The bunny took off like a shot. In a moment of confusion, it ran right for me in its bid to escape, making a sharp 90 degree turn at the last second, and just barely missing me. That is right - I nearly got run into by a rabbit! That would have been a first.

My run was excellent today. I felt really strong and had a spring in my step this morning. Apparently the beef and bean burrito I had at El Azteca for lunch yesterday is my equivalent of Underdog's "super energy pill?" Who can say for sure? All I know is that it was a lot of fun running today!

This does beg the question; was Underdog taking performance enhancing drugs? :)



I spent the rest of today in the kitchen. I made my little chocolate covered peanut butter crisps, as we are having a cookie party at work on Monday. I also started marinating some beef to make jerky. The day in the kitchen was capped off with pizza for dinner. Four cheeses, fresh basil, and little bits of my homemade bacon, to be exact. The dough was also made with some excellent whole wheat flour from southern MN wheat (my Mom gets this stuff milled fresh for her - I am happy to have my Mom as my connection for really good flour!). Mmmmm, I love pizza...

Pizza, pizza!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Memories of Y2K

Call me slow, but I looked at my calendar today, and it just dawned on me that we are entering a new decade in a couple of weeks.

Exactly ten years ago, I was working a lowly production support job helping to save my company from the dreaded "Y2K" bug. If you believed any of the news footage at the time, you might remember this was supposed to cripple the entire planet. Ultimately, all it really did was make a lot of consultants a lot of money. :)

So I got to spend my 1999 New Year's Eve at work, ensuring that none of our computer systems crashed when the clock struck midnight. I remembered earlier that day watching some TV, and they were showing various countries around the world ringing in the new millennium. The lights were still on in Bangladesh, so I figured the odds were pretty good that we would be fine here in Minnesota.

Of course, midnight passed and nothing out of the ordinary happened. That night was spent alternating time between my cubicle and the server room until about 2:30 in the morning (had to wait to see if the West Coast was fine, you know). I drank sparkling grape juice (nobody could have sneaked in the real stuff?!?) with co-workers who would all rather have been somewhere else with someone else. Good times!

I personally encountered only one Y2K glitch (two if you count the fact that my local grocery store was sold out of fresh mushrooms on New Year's Eve day due to hoards of people stockpiling food, so I had none to go along with my steak dinner that night!). At my local gas station, the pay-at-the-pump receipt printed the date as "1/1/100." Everything was charged to my account correctly and without issue; it was just that the year on the printer rolled over from 99 to 100. I thought that was really funny and kept the receipt as a souvenir of my millennium experience. I might still have it somewhere.

A little "Y2K" humor...with a running theme, no less! :)



Anyhow, hard to believe that was ten years ago!

A little nicer running tonight. The temperature was 11 degrees, and there was very little wind, so it was not quite as brisk as it was yesterday. Once again, I encountered no other humans on the trails. Didn't see much else, but the sunset was gorgeous.

I did surpass a milestone of sorts. Tonight's run put me over 1700 miles for the year. I have long since surpassed my previous best of 1616 miles in a year, and I still have a couple of weeks to go, so every step adds to a new record! A pretty good year for me, so I am quite pleased.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cool running, and corned beef

Who is that masked runner?



The picture above is from this evening before my run. I was bundled up for the 0 degree temperature with a -15 wind chill to go along with it. The run was good, and I did not see a soul on the trails (which were already beautifully plowed from the 4 inches of snow we got the previous day). Didn't see much of anything except for a huge flock of Canada geese flying in their "V" formation. It was chilly, but I was nice and toasty. Six more days until winter officially begins... ;-)

Over the weekend, I tried a little experiment. I had read a post by Michael Ruhlman where he suggested one could theoretically make a quicker version of corned beef by using a dry cure. Corned beef is traditionally made with brisket, and it is normally brined. But with a smaller cut of meat and by using the dry cure method, it could be accomplished in far less time. I thought I would give it a whirl.

Dry cure and pickling spice applied to the beef



I bought a cheap cut of top sirloin, dredged it in my dry cure (recipe for the cure is at the Ruhlman link above), and rubbed on some pickling spices. After about 3 1/2 hours in the fridge, I rinsed off all of the cure and spices and added the beef to a pot of water with some additional pickling spices. I brought the beef to a boil and then simmered it for about a half an hour (no need to cook very long for such a small cut).

My homemade corned beef



And darned if it didn't look and taste like corned beef! Through the process of cooking, the meat turned pink, indicating it had successfully cured thanks to the sodium nitrite. The flavor was really good - not too salty, and nicely seasoned. The only thing I would do differently is use a cut of beef with a little more fat (or maybe just try the brining process with an actual brisket sometime!). But because this was so lean, the bits of corned beef crisped up beautifully in my homemade corned beef hash for breakfast the following morning!

Corned beef hash



Breakfast is served!



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday run

I ran 11 miles this morning. The temperature was around 7 degrees with a wind chill of -2. Actually, it felt a lot nicer than it did a couple of days earlier this week! It wasn't a very speedy run, as it is kind of tough to run when you are so bundled up. But it was pleasant out there, and I never felt cold.

I only encountered one other runner, and two walkers during my entire journey. This is the time of year when people start to hibernate, so thus begins the season of having the trails mostly to myself!

In nature notes, I saw two red foxes in different locations out on the ice of my local lake. They are the most beautiful creatures. One of the foxes had procured himself some gray squirrel for breakfast, and was strutting proudly across the ice with his snack. Always fun to see the foxes.

Unexpectedly, the temperature got into the upper 20's today, so the road salt finally started to kick in on some of the snow-packed side streets, turning them into a sloppy, slushy mess. I am happy that some of my local roads are finally clearing off after Wednesday's storm! ;-)

Tonight's dinner was a Thai chicken and lemongrass stir-fry with rice stick noodles. I used lots of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and a ton of red chile flakes and chile-garlic sauce. It was delicious and spicy. In fact, my nose is still running from the heat as I type this. Yeehaw!

Spicy stir-fry on a Saturday night



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter in fall

It was all of 4 degrees for tonight's run. Add the wind chill and it felt like -9. I keep reminding myself that it is 11 days until winter officially starts! :)

The only people I saw on my run tonight were a couple of kids snow blowing a pond to make their hockey rink. The trails were all plowed, the the crews got after it in a hurry. I encountered no other runners, no pedestrians, just a couple of deer and a beautiful red fox that rapidly scampered into the woods when he saw me.

Please enjoy this slideshow of our recent snowstorm. We only ended up with a few inches in my neighborhood, but southeastern Minnesota got clobbered, some areas with upwards of 16 inches!

The long range forecast shows a possible high of 20 on Sunday. That is the warmest temperature predicted for the next week. Might be awhile until I run in shorts again!

Staying close to the fireplace tonight,

Jean

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The meadow

It is 6 degrees with a wind chill of -11 as I type this (25 MPH wind gusts will do that!). Driving was not much fun this morning, but was somewhat better in the afternoon. Today was a day off from running, so instead I will give an update on the tree planting project in the meadow of my local park.

Over the last couple of weeks, I had conversations with Three Rivers Park District officials, including the public affairs coordinator, as well as the Commissioner who represents my district. They put me in touch with the forestry manager overseeing the project. I learned more about what is going on, and feel much better as a result.

A shot of the meadow in a nicer season



Upon further review, they decided to leave a large section of the meadow as is out of respect for some of the species currently living here - most notably the resident eagles. Input was sought from their wildlife staff before planting the whole area, and they collectively decided to scale back the planting significantly, not wishing to disturb their nesting site. Also, this will leave a nice vista overlooking the pond area. No further planting will occur south and west of the area currently planted, which is the location I was most concerned about. So this is great news, and a huge section of this land will remain as excellent habitat for the sedge wrens, as well as eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, ring-necked pheasants, and the like.

From last winter - pheasant tracks on the trail in the meadow



It still isn’t clear to me if they were entirely aware of the sedge wrens and the other species that were out there (from my numerous conversations, they certainly are now!), or when the decision was made to scale back. It does seem like this was reconsidered after the project had started, otherwise there would have been no reason to mow as much as they did. The important thing is that they brought in the right people to discuss and made decisions based on that input before moving forward. So, all is well that ends well. The birds I was concerned about will still have a nice habitat to call home. Plus, through the conversation with the forestry manager, I did learn how this planting could help enhance the area and strike a balance to benefit other species, as well as those species currently living there (apparently, these “big woods” conservation efforts help to create the greatest amount of biodiversity, which is also good).

Also of note, everyone I spoke with at the Three Rivers Park District was great. All of the people I had contact with were knowledgeable, professional, thoughtful, and helpful. And they expressed genuine interest in, and appreciation for, my concerns. Not something you generally expect from a government funded entity, so that was refreshing! And they really do maintain a beautiful park system. If you are even in the Twin Cities, I would highly encourage you to check out their parks and trails.

Of course, I am looking at drifting snow in my yard, but I am already looking forward to my birds coming home in the spring! And I am thankful that they still will have a place to come home to.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Winter Storm Warning run

Last week on Tuesday I was running in 44 degrees. Today it was 18 degrees, a wind chill of 4, and the first official Winter Storm Warning of the season. What a difference a week makes!

Not too much snow during the run, but 4 to 7 inches is on the way tonight!



The drive home was not much fun. There was perhaps only an inch of snow, but the intersections were horrible, and it was slow going.

I went for a 5 mile run when I got home. Not very much accumulation at this point, but the trails were coated, and the wind is starting to pick up. The snow was very fine and it was stinging my face! The weather gurus are calling for 4 to 7 inches in my neighborhood, with much more to the south and east, along with possible blizzard conditions. Wow, it isn't even winter yet, but we are starting it off with a bang!

I saw both my eagles, a few deer, and strangely enough, more runners today than I saw in the previous two days (including the speedy dude I occasionally meet who runs in his winter coat and blue jeans...he must have been cold today!). In any case, it was fun to run in the elements, but it felt good to get back inside, and it could be an interesting storm tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, it is time to sit in front of the fireplace and watch the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special!" ;-) What a perfect night for it!



Staying warm,

Jean

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chilly Sunday

I went for an easy 5 mile run on Sunday morning. The temperature was only 11 degrees, but winds were calm, and my new running suit kept me warm.

Once again, I was out before the sun had risen. One of the resident eagles was roosting close to the nest, so I could see his/her silhouette. And, as I made my way through the wooded area, I saw three deer sleeping on the forest floor. That's right, I was awake before the eagle and the deer this morning. :)

In fact, I only saw two other people the entire time, so the wildlife outnumbered humans. The sun just started to peek above the horizon as I was finishing up. A gorgeous, chilly Sunday.

And a good day for soup! Today I made a batch of my chicken noodle soup. The recipe is a little time-consuming, but it is worth it. And I am loving it that the temperatures are colder now because it makes de-fatting a stock so much easier when you have access to a walk-in freezer (my balcony, that is!).

Chicken noodle soup with two kinds of noodles



I made this with two different kinds of small pasta - capellini spezzati (tiny little bits of angel hair pasta) and farfalline (tiny little butterfly-shaped pasta). This made for a nice textural contrast, and the soup was yummy to eat while watching football!

And, so much for that nice weather we were having less than a week ago - a Winter Storm Watch has been issued for my area Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday with possible blizzard conditions. It isn't even officially winter yet! ;-) Stay tuned...

Bundling up,

Jean

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Suit up

What a difference a few days make. Tuesday I was running in 44 degrees. Friday it was 19 with snow flurries. This morning was 15 with a wind chill of 9. Winter has finally started to show up. And it is giving me a chance to try out my snazzy new winter running suit!

Ready for winter running



This morning I did 11 miles before sunup. Despite the chill, it was a gorgeous morning. Some areas of the trails were dusted with a layer of snow, so it was my first chance to get my "winter legs" back. Skies were clear with many stars, and the bright light of a waning gibbous moon lit the way for me. A layer of ice has started to form on my local lake. On the north end, where there were still some pockets of open water, hundreds of geese and ducks were congregated. Quite a sight! And a fun morning to run. My new winter running suit is awesome, both warm and breathable. It should serve me well in the coming months.

Aside from a few errands, today is devoted mostly to watching college football, which has been on nonstop since I got home. However, I did make it into the kitchen to prepare some chocolate-covered peanut butter crisp squares this afternoon (recipe here). They are like mini Rice Krispie bars covered in chocolate. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used dark chocolate chips, and I used chunky peanut butter, because that is how I roll (I don't do the creamy stuff!). Fun and easy to make, and quite yummy. I am glad I used dark chocolate, too. Mmmmmm....

Chocolatey, crispy, peanut buttery goodness...



Dinner was easy. I roasted a Swedish potato sausage that I bought at Thielen's in Pierz some time ago. Yum, I love Swedish potato sausage. Even if I am mostly Norwegian. :)

Swedish potato sausage



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Déjà vu all over again

A couple of days ago, I got stuck behind this old, dilapidated Pontiac Fiero on my drive home from work. This car had a bad exhaust and muffler system, as I could hear it over my car stereo, and it would practically stall every time the driver would shift. We absolutely crawled away from stoplights, and progress was incredibly slow. I followed this car for miles, too (I take the back roads, so there is no getting around anyone). He would happen to be going the exact same route as me! The crowning blow occurred when we were lallygagging along and approaching one of my last stoplights (a really long one) when the light turned yellow. The Fiero gunned it and, with a sputtering gasp of the engine, made it through. Of course, I had to stop. Argh! What a frustrating and slow drive home.

In the strangest of coincidences, the very next day I got stuck behind the same Fiero at the exact same intersection! I felt like I was Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." Adding to how strange this was, I even left work at a different time. Bizarre! So, again we begin the long, slow procession north, listening to the drone of the loud muffler as the car poked along. Not wanting to deal with this for two days in a row, I took a chance and peeled off of the normal route, taking a winding shortcut through a residential area. This almost never works out, because while this shortcut is shorter, the stoplight here is ridiculously long, and you invariably end up waiting minutes for the light to change. But not this time. I hit the light perfectly, and got ahead of the Fiero. Victory is mine! Take that, slow Fiero! It was clear sailing the rest of the way home.

That story really has no point. I just thought it was weird. And I did not see the Fiero tonight, which is probably good! :)

I am starting to get back into the swing of things after the week long vacation (regular routine, normal eating habits). Running has felt good this week with a series of 5 milers on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It was in the low 40's earlier in the week, followed by temps right around freezing yesterday, and today we got a dusting of snow. Not much, but it is always strange to see snow when we have gone so long with none. I am still regularly seeing the resident deer coming out for their evening grazing, as well as the local eagles hanging out by their nest.

Until next time,

Jean

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