Sunday, February 28, 2010

Curry up!

No running today, so let's talk cooking...

As noted in an earlier post, I made some of my own curry powder this past weekend. The recipe I used was this one from Tyler Florence (scroll down on the page for the recipe - it also appears in his cookbook, "Eat This Book").

I took whole spices - coriander, cumin, fennel, mustard, cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns, and a few dried red chilies (I added more than the recipe called for), toasted the spices in a skillet, and whizzed them up in my electric spice grinder. Once everything was finely ground into a powder, I added the ground turmeric and gave it a final zap to incorporate. There is nothing like the smell of freshly toasted and ground spices, and the aroma of this exotic spice blend was amazing.

Freshly ground curry powder



Let's cook!

I used my fresh curry powder in an Asian-style noodle stir-fry, fashioned very loosely after a Singapore fried rice noodle recipe in Nina Simonds', "Asian Noodles" cookbook. An assortment of veggies stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and curry powder, along with some twice-cooked five spice pork tenderloin (ground my own five spice powder for that, too - I can discuss that another time!), shrimp, and rice stick noodles, with a light, thin sauce consisting of chicken stock and soy sauce.

Stir-fried rice stick noodles with curry, twice-cooked pork, and shrimp



Delicious. And spicy! I loved the blend of curry powder. Such an interesting flavor. And what a difference it makes when the powder if fresh. So much brighter and livelier. It was a tasty and light Saturday night meal with plump shrimp and yummy bits of roasted pork.

Be warned - the noodles, when coated with a light layer of this spicy yellow sauce, will stain the hell of of anything they touch, as my kitchen towels will attest to. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, February 27, 2010

14 at 13

I ran early this morning. 14 miles at a balmy 13 degrees. It was rather crisp to start, but after a beautiful sunrise, things warmed slightly to all of 19 by the time I finished.

The run was decent. I am still trying to shake off some of the winter rust. This was my longest run since last October at least, so I am slowly trying to build up the miles again.

As noted, the sun was shining brightly this morning, and the birds responded in kind. Chickadees and cardinals were happily singing. The nasal sound of the white-breasted nuthatch echoed in the woods. And I stopped for a minute or so to watch a red-bellied woodpecker working away on a tree. Nice morning.

Now, back to the Olympics, as well as some cooking. There will be a food-related post if what I am working on turns out!

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, February 26, 2010

Come on, spring!

I am very excited that March begins on Monday. That means spring is only a few weeks away. That means we are roughly six weeks away from the first warblers of the season to start migrating through. That means I will hopefully be able to start wearing shorts again sometime in the very near future.

Then again, we always run the chance of snow through late April and some of our lakes might not thaw until mid May, so perhaps I should contain my excitement for a few more weeks. :)

This has been my most challenging winter for running. In late December, we got dumped on with snow, then everything froze solid. The trails have never really gotten completely cleared off. Now, with the sun being higher in the sky, a lot of melting is occurring, creating ice slicks on parts of the trails. The last few months have been frustrating, and a few days have even driven me (a guy who loves winter running) indoors.

Tonight was a very slow, tentative 5 miler. Here's to warmer days ahead. Bring on spring!

The Olympics will be missed when they are finished this Sunday. I have really been enjoying the games and have decided that cross country skiing might be the prettiest sport to watch on TV. The colorful uniforms against the white and green backdrop of the mountains - wow! And the racing has been excellent.

I actually caught myself shouting at the TV during the late stages of the Nordic combined on Thursday when the American skiers pulled away from the Austrian and went 1-2, capturing their first gold medal ever in this event (by the way, big week for Billy Demong). Anyhow, despite some bellyaching about the weather, I thought the Olympic games have been fun. Good show, Vancouver.

Tonight's dinner was a homemade pizza Margherita. Pizza with tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. So simple, yet so yummy.

Mama mia!



Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Laff-A-Lympics

Today was a day off from running. All I am doing this evening is making some pizza dough to have on hand, and then I am getting ready to watch the Olympics.

And since I have really been getting into the Olympic spirit, how about an Olympic-themed blast from the past that you might remember from your Saturday morning cartoons? (That is, if you are old like me!)




I loved these cartoons!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deep freeze, and what a performance

The last three nights, five miles each. The runs were challenging, as the trails have become skating rinks again thanks to some recent thawing. But we now have dipped back into the deep freeze with some overnight temperatures in the single digits below zero, so the trails are frozen solid. This afternoon was 19 degrees with a wind chill of 11. But it didn't feel too bad. The sun was out, and the sun felt kind of warm. That being said, I am still ready for spring.

I am not a fan of figure skating. But, the performance by this young Canadian skater at the Olympics last night was nothing short of incredible. How she managed to hold it together, especially under such difficult circumstances, is beyond me. I hope she wins it all.



Apparently you can't embed the actual performance, but NBC's link to the video is found here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Norwegian sporting influence, and weekend cooking

The Vancouver Olympics have been fantastic to watch. On Sunday, I caught men's 15k biathlon - a peculiar sport that, in part, traces its roots back to an 1800's military training exercise for Norwegian soldiers and involves a curious mix of cross country skiing and gunplay. (Speaking as a person of Norse ancestry, you are right to be wary of things devised by the Norwegians - after all, we are the ones who gave you lutefisk!) The winner covered the 15k in 35:35 while stopping four times to shoot out five small targets at 50 meters. And he had zero misses. Wow!

I am not a skier, and I joked to some of my friends that I wondered if there was any sort of running/marksmanship equivalent. After some quick research, it turns out there is! There are variants to the sport, some involving archery, and another called a "primitive biathlon" involving...snowshoes and muzzleloaders?!? Good grief. But they actually do have summer biathlons where a cross country run takes place instead of the skiing.

As a runner, and a person who finished 2nd in the marksmanship portion of his MN Department of Natural Resources firearms safety training class back in the 5th grade (I lost to a girl), this sounds like fun to me. There are a couple of problems, though. One, there aren't many of these summer biathlons around here in the US (most appear to be out east, and they are few and far between). And two, I have nowhere to train for such an event. Running around my neighborhood with a biathlon rifle strapped to my back would certainly raise eyebrows and potentially land me an appearance on "COPS" as the perpetrator du jour getting tasered by the local PD.

In any case, I love the idea that this sport exists. It is still no Snøkåathlaan, but then again, what is?

As Sunday was a day off from running, in addition to watching sports, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Here is the rundown:

-I baked cookies. I found a recipe at the Running Foodie's blog for "Peanut Butter Volt Cookies" - peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, peanuts, and coffee, which sounded incredibly interesting. And they were! A delicious, chewy cookie, and the flavors worked very well together. The only deviation from the recipe was the use of dark chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate chips, because that is how I roll. I brought a bunch of them to the office today to share with my coworkers and they were gone before lunchtime. A new cookie for my repertoire. Great stuff!

Peanut butter cookies with a blast of caffeine!



-I found a really nice chuck roast at the meat market, so I made a beef stew with Zinfandel. I love stew this time of year! Herbage included fresh rosemary, thyme, and parsley, along with a few bay leaves and some dried herbes de Provence. There were lots of carrots, onions, mushrooms, and garlic, with a rich braising liquid consisting of Zinfandel, beef stock, and tomato paste. Served with pureed root vegetables (rutabaga, turnip, Yukon gold potato, and carrots), I had myself a mighty fine Sunday dinner.

Stew is good food



-I also broke out the spice grinder and made my own homemade curry powder. But I will save those details for when I actually use it in a dish! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A half marathon, a few pound, and some soup

This morning I ran my own half marathon. A shade over 13 miles today, and it was a nice morning to run.

The temperature was around 19 degrees when I started, but winds were relatively calm, and the skies, which started fairly clear, became overcast. Cardinals and chickadees were singing like crazy, and I heard an exuberant red-bellied woodpecker doing his "kwirrrr!" vocalization (first time I have heard that since fall). All in all, a pleasant day on the trails.

There were a lot more runners out today. It would seem that some training groups were starting up, as I met a group of five women doing laps around the local lake. And I met several other seasoned runners who looked as if they were preparing for something. We are all getting pretty excited for spring in these parts!

I don't obsess about my weight, but I typically gain a few pounds in the winter. Some of this is because of running fewer miles this time of year (subsequently burning fewer calories), and some is because of eating heartier winter dishes, too.

About a month ago, I made a simple change - I quit snacking at work. No more getting the bagel for breakfast in the cafeteria, or heading down to the office gift shop for a candy bar, and no more keeping bags of Jelly Belly jellybeans in my desk. The only thing I eat at work is the lunch that I brought. Breakfast and dinner are at home.

I figure this is saving anywhere from 600 to 800 calories a day, depending on what kind of Jelly Belly bender I went on. I am already at my summer running weight, so I am feeling pretty good about that. Maybe this will make me faster as the racing season approaches? We will see!

Speaking of heartier winter dishes...tonight's homemade split pea soup with ham. :) My recipe is here.

Winter comfort food. Yum!



Until next time,

Jean

Friday, February 19, 2010

Snøkåathlaan

I've had a busy week and don't have much to report. A nice 5 mile run this afternoon. It was a gorgeous day in the low 30's - what a week. I did see some dark-eyed juncos my running route, the first I have seen since fall, so perhaps they are on the move? That's about all I've got.

I will say that I am enjoying the Olympic winter games immensely. However, I do wish the Snøkåathlaan was a real event. Good grief, so many rules... :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Will run for chocolate

I didn't run yesterday. So I baked brownies instead. :)

They were a huge hit at the office today, and our receptionist insisted I give her the recipe (which can be found here). They turned out really nice - rich and chocolatey, but with a somewhat fluffy, velvety texture. The only deviation from the original recipe is that instead of the 4 egg whites, I used 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites. For chocolate, I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder, and Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate bars with 70% cacao. The brownies tasted great along side of some caramel macchiato-flavored ice cream last night for desert.

Ice cream and brownies...mmmmm!



To burn off some of the chocolately calories, I did go running today! And what a day it was. Sunny, temps in the mid 30's, and freshly plowed trails. There was a decent breeze, but it was hard to complain. I put in a brisk 5 miles and enjoyed my run immensely.

Now if you will excuse me, there are some leftover brownies on my counter with my name on them (you didn't think I was going to bring all of them to share at work, did you?!?).

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Well, isn't that special?"

With any homecoming week, there is always a multitude of "spirit building" activities. During my junior year of high school, there was a skit competition held at the homecoming pep fest. I was entered with a friend.

We performed a skit based on Dana Carvey's old "Church Chat with the Church Lady" talk show bit (I am really dating myself here, but this was a popular recurring SNL sketch at the time).

I was dressed to the nines in an old lady outfit, and I conducted a "Church Chat" interview with my buddy. Some of our skit was scripted out, but a portion of it had to be improvised, as I also ended up dragging my Dad (a teacher at the school) out of the crowd to be subjected to some grilling from the Church Lady. We thought we were pretty clever.

Time for Church Chat...



We ended up finishing in second place behind some football players who performed as the California Raisins - "claymation" figures made popular by TV commercials that were something of a pop culture phenomenon at the time. All these guys did was dress in black Hefty garbage bags, wear sunglasses, and dance around to the song, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine."

Remember the Raisins' Christmas Special?



I remember being quite disappointed because of the effort we put into our production. All those hours of study hall completely wasted (shhhh...don't tell) with our planning, crafting, writing and rewriting of our skit, only to finish second to guys merely dancing around as giant raisins, an act they threw together in minutes. There is a better than average chance that we just really sucked and weren't nearly as funny as we thought we were. But still - giant raisins?

Lessons were most certainly learned from this experience. I learned that entertainment is a tough business, and that an audience can be difficult to please. But also, I learned that aspiring to mediocrity is never a good thing.

(Sorry...I caught about 30 seconds of the sitcom "Accidentally on Purpose" tonight, and all of these memories came flooding back...) ;-)

Since this is a occasionally a running blog...no run today, but Sunday was a nice morning. The temperature was around 8 degrees, but the sun was shining, and it was not quite as frosty as Saturday. I put in a good 7 miles on the trails. A great weekend of running. Here is to getting in some quality miles!

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Horfrost in Minnesota

We had dense fog and cold temps in the Twin Cities overnight. All the trees had a thick layer of horfrost clinging to the branches. Here are some images from my neighborhood this morning. It is a winter wonderland!









No doubt, this helped to make for a gorgeous run this morning. 8 degrees, relatively calm, and occasional periods of the fluffiest snow falling. Stunning!

I did 11 1/2 miles today. My cold is completely gone, and I had a really nice run. The trails were in good shape, so the footing was solid. And hardly anyone was out yet, so I had the trails largely to myself. It felt great to put in some miles on such a pretty day.

More and more chickadees are singing their "fee-bee" song, and I head cardinals doing their "what-CHEER!" call, which I almost never hear in the dead of winter. I am taking these as signs of spring. Come on, spring! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting Better

I have defeated my cold! Even though I didn't have Penny from "Big Bang Theory" to sing "Soft Kitty" to aid in my recovery, I am feeling infinitely better than I did on Tuesday. All hail the healing powers of chile peppers and chicken noodle soup!

I've been well enough that I went running the last two days. I took the lame route and ran indoors at the Plymouth dome. It was a very nice day today, but it was also nice to run at a warm 55 degree temperature...and in shorts! Today's run was particularly good. I am no longer congested, and I felt fairly energized. Good to be rid of that miserable stuff!

I am a bit behind on my food posts. Here is one of the meals from the weekend that took two days to prepare. On day one, I made a pork shoulder braised in red wine and tomato sauce with mushrooms. On day two I shredded the meat and used the some of the braising liquid combined with a traditional red sauce to make lasagna.

Braised pork and mushroom lasagna



The pork got ridiculously tender, the sauce was rich and tasty, and it was a pretty successful dish. The side dish is Brussels sprouts with bits of my home cured bacon. Yum.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Still sniffing

The snow started on Sunday night and finally tapered off on Tuesday morning. I think my neighborhood was in the 7 inch range. Not exactly the storm of the century, but it turned the last few commutes into absolute nightmares. I have never seen so many cars in the ditch. And not just spinouts - we are talking rollovers, too. It was absolutely crazy.

Adding to the misery, I still have my cold. Monday was actually the worst of it. I was so stuffed up and coughing, and I felt awful. I did something that I haven't done in over 5 years - took a couple hours of sick time and went home early. I do seem to be improving somewhat, although I am still congested and my voice resembles that of Patty or Selma on "The Simpson's."

Haven't had a cold like this in years. This sucks. And unfortunately, I don't have Sheldon's neighbor to nurse me back to health...



No run yesterday or today. Need to get better first.

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Frigid 5

As I have been typing this over the course of the afternoon, there is endless Super Bowl pregame coverage and chatter on the TV. It is obvious they are already in "time filler" mode, as I saw Chef Emeril Lagasse talking Creole cuisine on "Sunday NFL Countdown." Also, you learn the most amazing facts. I heard ESPN's Suzy Kolber utter the phrase, "Dwight Freeney heals like a wolverine!" I like to think I know a thing or two about wildlife, but I was previously unaware of the healing abilities that a wolverine possesses. Thanks, Suzy! :)

Anyhow, earlier on Super Bowl Sunday, I found myself in St. Paul on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to partake in my first race of 2010, the Frigid 5.

I have been fighting a cold all weekend, so needless to say I was not feeling my best. Before I left for the race, I wasn't terribly excited about going. But once I got there, that all changed. I had not been to a race since before Thanksgiving, so it felt good to be at a race again! A great running atmosphere, lots of runners milling around, and I was even greeted by the infamous Running Bear. Spirits were instantly lifted!

Running Bear - the Frigid 5 mascot!



The morning was actually quite pleasant, too. Temps in the mid 20, a slight breeze, and some sun trying to peek through the hazy clouds. A nice reprieve from the snowstorm that is supposed to hit us later today and into Monday.

Setting up for the race at the State Fairgrounds



The 5k race is a couple of laps around the State Fairground which starts and finishes at the hockey arena. In my condition, I started out slow and didn't want to exert myself all that much. I just settled in to a brisk but easy pace and tried not to labor too much.

The State Fairgrounds is a strange place in the winter. It is configured like a bunch of city streets with buildings for businesses, radio and TV stations, food stands, and whatnot. In the winter, the place is desolate, and there are no people around at all. It looks eerie, kind of like a scene from a horror movie or something - which makes me want to run faster for fear of some chainsaw wielding maniac in a hockey mask chasing after me! ;-)

Making it through the first lap in 12:04, I was feeling better than I thought I would, so I increased my effort slightly on the second lap. To heck with feeling bad! The streets were in really good shape, free and clear of ice, so it was a treat to actually have some traction. I ended up passing a few folks in the last half mile on the ever-so-slight downhill to the finish. I ended up finishing in 23:28.

Not a very speedy 5k for me, especially on a fast, flat course. But, no worries. I really don't care so much about the time. I was just running for the super cool cap. :)

The 2010 Frigid 5 stocking cap design. Go Vikings! Oh, wait...



Race #1 of 2010 in in the books. On to the next...

Jean

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pictures of Matchstick Men

Saturday morning I did an easy 8 miler. It was a nice morning. Overcast, low 20's, not bad at all. I am still dealing with my cold, which has evolved into the runny nose and coughing up phlegm variety. So I really didn't want to push anything.

I sure have been having a tough time getting in some longer runs on weekends. First I dealt with all the snow from December, the bitter cold days, and the terrible trail conditions. Now that the trails are nice and smooth, I have a damned cold. And tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be the start of a significant snowstorm that promises to dump anywhere from 6 inches to a foot or more of snow (depending upon which weather forecaster you trust) and linger in the region through Tuesday. Yikes.

Following some errands today, I stopped at my local Culver's for lunch, which is often a Saturday ritual. Love their burgers! They always have some sort of 50's music playing inside the restaurant. Everly Brothers, Bobby Darin, stuff like that - sort of your quintessential, nostalgic burger joint music.

As I was eating my lunch, a new song starts up. I instantly recognized the violin intro. Surprised, I said to myself, "This is Camper Van Beethoven!"

CVB was an alternative rock band from my college days. And yes indeed, it was "Pictures of Matchstick Men," their cover of a Status Quo song, and their most successful hit. This song was from 1989. It was so out of place here.

Yet, I was loving the fact that it was playing. Who is the wonderful person that slipped this song into the lineup? Happily, I ate my burger and fries, humming along to the lyrics...

"Pictures of matchstick men and you,
Images of matchstick men and you
Alls I ever see is them and you"



Once the song finished, it was right back to the oldies with a succession of 50's music. It was uncanny, as if they played that song just for me. An unexpected treat to go along with my Butter Burger.

Thanks, Culver's!

Friday, February 5, 2010

This week in Minnesota

Here is sort of a rundown of this week for me...

  • I've had several absolutely miserable commutes this week. Freezing rain, sleet, snow, you name it. The snow was so heavy and greasy this morning that I could barely make it up a not-very-steep hill with my car.
  • There is a good chance of snow all the way through Tuesday of next week, including a possible doozy of a snowstorm Sunday night into Monday, but the forecasters are holding their cards close to the vest.
  • I have a minor cold or something (scratchy, rattly throat with dry sinuses), so I am not entirely feeling like myself. I did go running this afternoon when I got home from work, but it was slow going and not a lot of fun (and the trails were probably in the best shape they have been in since before Christmas).
  • And, nothing to do with anything, but the guy I picked for my fantasy golf league this week (Robert Allenby) is playing mediocre at best.

In other words, it has been a less than exciting week here in the great state of Minnesota!

Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I reach for some spicy food because I like to think that a lot of chile peppers can kill just about any bug. So I whipped up some tacos for dinner tonight with my chorizo sausage, refried beans, Monterrey jack cheese, and two kinds of salsa - guajillo chile salsa, and a serrano salsa verde. Now that got the old sinuses running!

Friday night is taco night



And I don't really keep any "official" cold medicines at my place. In lieu of that, a homemade remedy that has worked from time to time involves a certain Scottish liquid with the words "Cask Strength" on the label. Similar to the chile theory, the belief is that anything rated at 116.4 proof should be able stop a cold bug dead in its tracks. :)

Take THAT, nasty cold!



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day of the Dogs

I have this newer 5.3 mile loop that I have been running fairly regularly in recent weeks. It is fairly rolling with a few hills, but nothing dramatic. Today I decided to mix it up and run it in reverse. For some reason, it felt like there was a tremendous amount of uphill running going this way! How strange. The elevation gain and loss has to be the same, so it is funny how that works. Perception is everything? Anyhow, it was a good run and a nice afternoon.

Today was also a day for the dogs. During the course of my run, I encountered another runner with a golden retriever (by all accounts, a very nice breed) that barked and snarled at me. The apologetic owner stopped and reigned in the dog so I could go by. But then the dog got away from her and came after me again, continuing to growl! Wow, this pooch didn't like me much!

Not to be outdone, a half mile down the trail, I was closing in on a guy walking an excitable black lab who was meeting a lady walking three even more excitable pointers. Chaos ensued as a WWE-style "royal rumble" took place in the middle of the trail between the four playful puppies. I had to stop completely and pass through a snowbank on the trail's edge to get by while the owners tried to play an unsuccessful zone defense in an attempt to separate the happy hounds.

The topper, however, was this:



Every year my folks check out the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon up on the North Shore. This race is has an interesting history in that it is based on an old sled dog mail route from the late 1800's where the mail was delivered by the legendary John Beargrease. They have this deal where you can get a commemorative stamped envelope that was actually carried during the race and signed by one of the sled dog mushers before being circulated into the regular mail. This letter from my Mom was in my mailbox tonight.

That's right, folks. The mail still arrives by sled dog in these parts! And, believe it or not, their delivery time was better than some online retailers. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fresh snow

From this afternoon's run, a gorgeous February day



At least, this afternoon was gorgeous, that is.

Yesterday afternoon and this morning treated us to some "nuisance snow" - barely three inches, but just enough to really screw everything up. Last night's and this morning's commutes were nothing short of slow and horrendous.

But, the mini-storm blew out of here, leaving us with a gorgeous, sunny Groundhog Day. Light winds, temps in the low 20s, and everything is coated with fresh snow. And they even got out there and plowed the trails for me. Thanks guys! The running was just fantastic tonight. Nice to be outside again! :)

Now, if you will excuse me, it is time to mentally prepare myself for the new season of "Lost" starting tonight. First, I have to remember what the heck happened last season... :)

Until next time,

Jean

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