Sunday, January 31, 2010

Same 'ol, same 'ol...

I ran on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at the dome in Plymouth. Friday included 53 laps for a shade over 10 miles. It was actually kind of nice because there were very few people on the track, so I had plenty of space and didn't have to navigate through a sea of walkers. It is nice to have the indoor option.

Saturday was a day off, and I ran a short 5 miles this morning...outdoors, even! It was 4 degrees with a slight breeze, but that didn't feel all that chilly. The trails and sidewalks are still slick in places, but I found some routes that were pretty well cleared off, so that was OK for running. We could supposedly get a dusting of snow Monday. I am actually hoping we do, because that will give the trails a coating for some additional traction.

This weekend has been fairly uneventful, and actually, kind of boring. There is nothing on for sports right now, and it is still pretty cold out. So I might as well spend more time in the kitchen.

Saturday I made a pizza yesterday with a Summit Winter Ale pizza dough, topped with homemade chorizo sausage, a chipotle-tomato sauce, red bell peppers, roasted tomatoes, black olives, red onions, and a combination of smoked cheddar and pepper jack cheeses. Sort of a "south of the border" pizza twist!

Spicy, smoky pizza



Sunday was cold with a high of 16 degrees. So, it was a chili kind of day. I spent the better part of the morning with prep work, including grinding my own chilies and spices (and let me tell you, if you have never ground your own chilies to make powder, be prepared for a lot of sneezing!). I made a nice and spicy batch of beef and chorizo chili to warm me up on this chilly January day.

I also baked honey cornbread muffins to accompany the chili. I used this recipe. The two darker muffins in the front were dusted with ancho chile powder for a tasty little experiment. Good stuff.



Chili and cornbread...mmmm!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I wore shorts in January

It was all of 9 degrees tonight with a wind chill of -10, but I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to go running in shorts!

(OK, so I did my running indoors...)

I checked out the Plymouth Fieldhouse dome tonight. I had heard rumors of its existence for awhile now - a small track that goes around the outside of an indoor athletic field, opened up to runners in the winter, and free of charge, even. Sounds too good to be true, right? My trail conditions suck so bad right now that I was willing to try anything.

I am embarrassed to say I had no idea where this place was until today. Turns out it was practically right on my way home. I found it no problem, and the rumors were true! I ended up having a great run in a comfortable 55 degree environment.

It wasn't too crowded on the track - just a handful of runners when I was there, and perhaps four times as many walkers. There were some soccer, rugby, and lacrosse practices going on in the center (I am a country boy - those sports are completely foreign to me!), so a loose ball occasionally squirted onto the track, but otherwise it was a pleasant experience.

Able to free myself from the shackles of winter running gear, I felt speedy and nimble. While not ideal (no birds to watch, scenery never changes, having to remember what lap I am on), at least I didn't have any ice to contend with. I did 33 laps around the track (1 mile = roughly 5 1/4 laps), good for about a 10k. I will be utilizing this place more often on crappy days in the winter.

There is something about a place that opens its doors to people so they can run inside during the bitter cold winter months that strikes me as being very Minnesotan. I love it!

Digging the shorts in January,

Jean

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No run scheduled today...

...but the trails and sidewalks remain icy and look as awful as they did yesterday. Still, more cheesy, bacony, tomatoey goodness was required to try and lift my spirits until warmer weather arrives... ;-)

Mac and cheese with smoked cheddar, Emmentaler, roasted tomatoes, my homemade porchetta bacon, and radiatore pasta



Still dreaming of spring,

Jean

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nowhere to run to

With the temperature dropping rapidly to around 20 degrees this afternoon, the trails that were slushy yesterday have now frozen solid. It would have been smart to plow off the trails yesterday when everything was melting, but that didn't happen. This means everything is all rutted up once again from all of us who were stomping through the slush.

Adding to the misery, most of the sidewalks are sheets of ice from the weekend thaw. Not even the inch or so of snow we got today did anything to cover them us because the 30+ MPH wind gusts blew the snow right off. It is just terrible running right now. And temperatures are supposed to dip into the below zero range later this week, so this stuff is here to stay for awhile.

I love winter running, but this absolutely sucks. I ran possibly my slowest 5 miles ever. There are no good places to run outside right now. And I am going to be bitching and moaning about this for some time now, just to forewarn you.

A grilled cheese sandwich with oven-roasted tomatoes and my super porchetta bacon cheered me up a little, but I am still kind of pissed off about the running conditions... ;)

Cheesy, bacony, tomatoey goodness



Declaring myself ready for spring,

Jean

Slushy Sunday

After raining for much of the day Saturday, and with overnight temps right around freezing, the trails have become a sloppy mess. The previous base of a couple inches of hard packed snow has turned into a couple of inches of slush. Just awful running this morning. I put in a slow 5 miles, and that was about all I could stand.

I had thought about running some errands on Sunday, but with wet streets and somewhat foggy conditions, the roads had a bit of a glaze on them. I even saw a car lock up its brakes and slide through a stoplight. That ended my thoughts about running some errands.

So I stayed put. And then I watched the Vikings blow their chance to go to the Super Bowl in the evening. As I heard on the radio this morning:

"Go Vikings! And take the Twins, Wild, and Gophers with you!" :) Tough day to be a Minnesota sports fan.

Ugh...

Jean

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rainy day in...January?

Today is a positively miserable day. It was 36 and rainy. How is that for January in Minnesota?

In anticipation of the rain (and possible freezing rain), I did my "long" run after work on Friday. I managed 9 1/2 miles. The trails were in terrible shape from some mist and drizzle earlier in the day, making the trails slushy with a thin, slick coating on top of that slush. Not much fun running. In fact, this has probably been the worst outdoor winter running I have experienced. Ick!

I did see a red fox on my run, so that was fun and took my mind off of the awful trails. I actually saw him a couple of times, both out and back. I whistled to him while he was sitting out in the meadow, causing him to crouch down, and then he just looked at me curiously. Funny and beautiful animals, those red foxes are.

As for today, since it was too yucky to do anything outside, it made for a good excuse to hang out in the kitchen and do a little experiment. I had a smaller slab of pork belly in my freezer, too small to be turned into slab bacon, anyhow. In one of my cookbooks, Gennaro Contaldo's "Passione," he makes a porchetta-style roast using a rolled and tied pork belly. I thought I would give this a shot, put my own little twist on it, and make bacon this way.

Since I have plenty of dry cure on hand (you remember Ruhlman's recipe?), I applied some of the cure to the pork belly, along with brown sugar, minced garlic, fresh thyme, and a mix of freshly ground fennel seeds, black pepper, and crushed red pepper, and let it sit for a couple of days in the fridge.

Today I removed the belly from the cure, rinsed and dried it, and covered it with a mix of fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, and garlic, along with some additional crushed red pepper, black pepper, and a few more fennel seeds.

A well seasoned cured pork belly



I rolled and tied it, similar to pancetta, and roasted it in a 225 F degree oven until it hit an internal temperature of 150 F.

Here is what it looked like coming out of the oven



And here is a shot of the finished product - my homemade "Porchetta Bacon"



A culinary triumph, and ridiculously good! Sweet, savory, salty, wonderful flavor of herbs, garlic, and a little heat from the red pepper. Mmmmmm...this was a winner! I just made a sandwich with some of the bacon and did it in the style of a Reuben. I would have posted a picture, but it got kind of messy. I think I still have some thousand island dressing on my chin... :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frosty

Just a quick post to share a photo from tonight's run. The trees were frosty and pretty!

Winter wonderland



The weather is still relatively decent as well with a balmy 26 degrees today. I am enjoying this January heatwave!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On frozen pond

Today was a day off from running. And since it is that time of year again, I headed to Medicine Lake to check out the Art Shanty Projects, some of the most creative ice fishing houses you will ever see.

Some really cool fish houses dotting Medicine Lake



The Art Post Shanty - a Post Office on ice!



The Nordic Immersion Village Art Shanty, complete with a goat on the roof



The Write Me Up Shanty - a giant chalkboard



The Tiny Shanty - I thought this was cool because of perspective. It is only about 10 feet tall, but looks much larger in the photo!



The "I'd Rather Be..." - A "Staycation" Shanty - that's one big suitcase!



Do Minnesotans know how to have fun in the winter or what? Always great to see creativity in action when it comes to ice fishing! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Slushy Saturday

What a different a week makes. Last Saturday, I ran at -15 below zero. Today, 21 above. And the high temperature today in my neighborhood was 37! Everything is melting, the streets are all wet, and it looks teasingly like March.

I put in 11 miles today, and it was a somewhat difficult run. With all of the freezing and thawing, a lot of the side streets and trails have a texture resembling that of snow cones. Things are getting kind of slushy, and it feels like you are running in sand. Tough going, but a good workout for certain!

I have numerous American robins in my neighborhood. This is always a strange sight, as everyone always looks forward to seeing the first robin arrive in the spring. But as long as they have abundant food and access to water, they will stick around. Many of the decorative crab apple trees are still thick with fruit, and the robins have been feasting on those.

Also, I heard some confused chickadees today making their "fee-bee" call. This is most often heard in the spring and fall, but occasionally they break out this song in the winter to mix things up. Maybe they are hoping for spring like the rest of us?

Tonight's dinner - homemade pizza with homemade spicy Italian sausage, oven-roasted tomatoes, green olives, and mushrooms, with a blend of fresh mozzarella, fontina, and Grana Padano cheeses, on top of my pale ale-infused pizza crust. Hardly traditional, but pretty darn good.

Pizza, pizza!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Born in a small town

One of the highly underrated aspects of growing up in a tiny rural town was that you had the opportunity to participate in a multitude of school activities. This wasn't like the big city schools where there were tryouts and cuts, and there was no such thing as making the "traveling squad." If you wanted to play a sport, you were on the team. If you were interested in joining a club, you were in. You really could do and become whatever you wanted.

I would have rivaled Rachel in "Glee" with the number of different activities I was involved in. Anyone who was any kind of student took advantage. So not only was I on the basketball team, but I also happened to be in the school choir, and, during my junior year, a five guy singing quintet. We called ourselves "The Polyesters," named after our horrible blue, school-owned, polyester sport coats, as well as the fact that we weren't The Nylons!

The Polyesters, circa 1987 - yours truly, second guy on the right



There was a week during my junior year when all the winter sports teams hosted their annual "parents' night." Always occurring late in the season, this was a special evening that served as an opportunity to honor our moms and dads. Normally a very positive occasion, this particular year featured some bizarre incidents of highly questionable sportsmanship at each event.

The wrestlers had their matches on a Thursday night. One of our wrestlers was getting heckled mercilessly by a fan from the opposing school. Our guy ended up pinning his opponent. After the ref declared him the winner, he turned to the crowd and, in front of all the parents, gave a two-handed "middle finger salute" to the heckler. The only person in the gym who didn't see this was the ref!

Friday night, the girls and boys basketball teams played a double-header. During the earlier girls game, one of our players committed a flagrant foul. And by "flagrant foul," I mean "tackled another girl in a fashion that would make a Vikings linebacker proud." She was subsequently ejected from the game. Again, I remind you this was on parents' night.

Since it was a special night, The Polyesters made an appearance and performed our a cappella rendition of the National Anthem between the two games, much to the delight of the crowd. I had to sing in my basketball warm-ups since I was playing in the game immediately following the song.

In our game, we got our demolished by a team that eventually represented our conference at the State Tournament (because we were so far behind, this was a rare occasion where I got to play quite a bit!). Not to be outdone by the middle finger incident at the wresting match or the ejection in the girls game, the varsity boys coach (a hothead who didn't really care much for me - he had a contentious relationship with the choir director and, consequently, disliked the choir people) managed to rack up three technical fouls and was tossed from the game!

The third and final "T" came when we were down by 30+ points and the coach decided to argue a three-second lane violation called on one of the third string players. On top of that, a heated argument ensued in the locker room after the game (the refs used the coaching office to store their things and shower up), and the coach and the refs had to be separated.

Once the dust settled from the melee in the office, the coach lost it. He ended up wandering around the locker room in tears, approaching each individual player, apologizing, trying to impart words of wisdom and encouragement, telling everyone how hard they fought, how valiantly they played, etc. When he got to me, searching for something to say, he uttered the following:

"Jean...that was some really nice singing out there tonight."

Even though more than two decades have passed, I still find this hilarious. There was not even a tepid "way to hang in there" after getting pushed around by their 6-foot, 8-inch center for much of the game. The coach said the best thing I did on the basketball court that night was sing.

Undoubtedly, the singing was likely one of the more positive things that happened during this week of parents' night activities. And...well, maybe he was right! I ended up receiving more accolades for music than I ever did for athletics. I didn't go on to play any sports in college, but I was in the choir. Perhaps I wasn't good at basketball; but at least I got to find out.

I loved the chance to be in the choir, various music ensembles including The Polyesters, plays and musicals, the basketball and golf teams, student government, the yearbook staff editor, a teachers' aide, as well as a student reporter/photographer for the town newspaper. I wouldn't have had those chances at a bigger school. Opportunities to discover your unique talents abounded, and I wouldn't have traded anything for these experiences (or the stories!).

The one activity that did escape me? We were such a small school that we could not fund a track or cross country team. But maybe that is why I enjoy running so much now?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A heatwave

Tonight's run...26 degrees.

That is a whopping 41 degrees warmer than my Saturday morning run. And it is still below the freezing mark!

Yours truly on tonight's run



I am almost not even sure how to dress on days like this. It seems so long since we have had a mild day. All I know is this is the first run in some time where I have not had to wear a face mask or a balaklava!

With the warmer temperature, some of the snow on the side streets is starting to melt (it is warm enough now that the road salt is finally kicking in), and the trails are starting to soften. More weather like this is expected into the weekend, so I suspect things are going to get a wee bit sloppy down here.

Snow-packed trails



I will enjoy this while it lasts. Winter is far from over!

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sub zero Saturday

Saturday morning treated me to another sub zero run. It was -15 degrees when I left and warmed to all of -10 by the time I finished. I managed 8 1/2 miles. And believe it or not, it was not terribly uncomfortable!

I was planning to go much shorter due to the temperature. But the saving grace was that there was not a breath of wind. It was perfectly calm. I cannot tell you what a huge difference this makes. Dressed appropriately in multiple layers, and since they plowed the trails again after Thursday's dusting of snow, creating a fast surface with good footing, I kept on going and got in a decent run on a chilly day.

The only sign of life, aside from the chickadees, cardinals, and blue jays, was a lone runner. She was dressed in the same kind of attire as me. We exchanged a muffled "Good morning" through our face masks. At least, that is what I think she said... :)

The rest of the day has been spent in the warmth of the kitchen with some sports on in the background. I found some pork shoulder butt on sale, so it was necessary to make some homemade spicy Italian sausage (to be used in tomorrow's dish). And for dinner, I was craving something spicy and flavorful, so I made shrimp pad Thai.

Pad Thai on a chilly January night



I love pad Thai! I break with tradition and use the thin rice stick noodles instead of the wider, flatter variety. I just prefer the angel hair-like texture. In any case, it was a delicious, spicy, and colorful dish to warm me up on yet another chilly Minnesota evening!

Staying warm,

Jean

Friday, January 8, 2010

Knowing your distances

Yesterday's run was kind of interesting. We had received a little bit of snow overnight and earlier in the day. Not much at all, perhaps no more than an inch. But then the northwest winds cranked up. The temperature during my run was a crisp 8 degrees with a wind chill of -9.

The trails had been plowed the previous day, but thanks to the wind, some drifting was occurring in the open areas. There were a few places where I busted though drifts of fluffy snow that were close to a foot deep. It was a wild winter run!

On days like this, I hardly ever see any people on the trails. Once again this was true, and I only encountered two other folks. One was a guy trying to cross country ski on the trail's edge - there is no grooming that happens here, so he was having a difficult time.

The other person I saw was a lady who was running, and she actually flagged me down to ask a question.

"Excuse me, but do you know how far it is around the lake?"

(Do I know how far it is around the lake? Does Giada De Laurentiis make some mean Italian food?)

"Yes I do!" I exclaimed in a muffled voice through my full face mask. "It is exactly 3.7 miles around if you follow the trail closest to the edge of the lake."

"Oh, OK," she replied. "How about the trail that takes me back to the main road?"

"You mean the one that goes under the bridge?" I asked. "That is another .5 to the road."

"Oh...great, thanks very much!"

Did she ask the right person or what? ;-)

With a look that combined appreciation for the information with a quizzical "Who is this nerd?" expression, she was on her way. I thought about warning her of the snow drifts that were about .7 mile in the direction she was heading, but that might have been too over the top.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jean

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mr. Plow

Hallelujah!

My running trails have been plowed for the first time since the Christmas snowstorm! They managed to get some heavy equipment in there and scrape everything down. Tonight I was back to running on a nice, flat layer of hard-packed, crunchy snow with tons of grip. I felt downright speedy! Thank you, Mr. Plow!



And just in time for another 2 inches of snow tonight...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chilly

2010 is off to a brisk start. It has been a very cold weekend here in Minnesota.

My car thought it was kind of cold this weekend



Sunday morning I ran 5 miles at -16 below zero (air temperature, not wind chill). Actually, it wasn't so bad, relatively speaking, as there was no wind. Days like this are always interesting to run in because your entire face mask and hat frost over, and your eyelashes also freeze and develop a frost buildup. And then as soon as you walk indoors, everything melts almost instantly!

My neighborhood is still an absolute mess from the Christmas snowstorm. I've been having to map out new routes because they still have not plowed some of my usual bike paths and sidewalks. They didn't get out there fast enough after the storm to clean off the trails, and now everything is a frozen blanket of ice. Some of these areas are completely screwed up until we get some melting going on - and that might happen by June. ;-) Could be a challenging winter of running.

When I returned to my building, there was a guy outside letting his dogs do their thing. I greeted him with a "good morning." He took a look at this completely frosted over runner, laughed and said:

"You're nuts!"

I've heard this so many times now that it has really lost all meaning... ;-)

Tonight's dinner needed to be something to warm me up. How about some spicy tangerine chicken stir-fry? Recipe is loosely based on this one, substituting chicken for beef, adding some julienned carrots, snow peas, and red bell pepper, along with some water chestnuts (I increased the chili sauce and added a lot of crushed red pepper as well). Good stuff, and spicy enough to get the nose running!

A spicy stir-fry on a cold weekend



In looking at the long range weather forecast, the warmest temperature I see over the next week is a high of 15 degrees (next Sunday!). More below zero overnight temps as well. Welcome to Minnesota in January.

Until next time,

Jean

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