Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buff

Yesterday while watching the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, German golfing sensation Martin Kaymer was wearing something around his neck because of the chilly conditions in Tucson. Curiously, this generated a lot of discussion in the NBC broadcast booth, and there was even a news story about Kaymer's "fashion statement," as nobody covering the event had any idea what it was.

A number of runners, hikers, and various outdoor enthusiasts out there probably recognized this. It is a Buff, a tubular piece of fabric that can be twisted or turned into anything - headband, wristband, scarf, facemask, etc. See the video below for its many applications:



I have two Buffs that I bought four years ago. Typically I wear them as either a scarf or a partial facemask on cold winter runs. The Buff really helps to keep my neck warm, as it fills a gap between my jacket and my facemask that gets exposed to wind and cold. My red and orange Buff is in the wash right now (I wore it today on this morning's 12 degree run!), but this is my favorite one:

Mooooo! My Buff is cooler than Kaymer's! :)



Not sure if this is meant to be a bovine theme on war and peace, but I thought it was kind of cute. Seemed reminiscent of "The Far Side" to me, and who doesn't like cartoon cows? Plus, it is totally functional and gets the job done. I love my Buffs.

I am watching golf as I type this. Quite cold in Tucson today (there was actually snow on the golf course this morning!), and Kaymer is wearing his Buff again. Dan Hicks, the lead broadcaster on NBC Sports, just told the world what it was. I am sure the Buff company is loving the free advertising!

In food news, it was another Saturday stir-fry! Last night I prepared a spicy cashew chicken. It was based largely on this recipe, but I added broccoli, carrots, and red bell pepper, along with some white wine, black bean sauce, oyster sauce, and chile-garlic sauce to the overall sauce mixture.

Spicy Cashew Chicken



I probably should have written down the specifics of my adjustments, because the sauce was fantastic. :) Very yummy and spicy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Return to the deep freeze

I decided to do my long run tonight, as I was not excited about the prospect of another below zero run tomorrow morning (predicted low of -5 F).

Not sure if tonight was a better option. The temperature was 6 F, and a rather brisk west wind gave us a wind chill of -7. A tad chilly out there!

Couple that with the fact that some of the trails that take me to my normal long run routes are buried under a foot of snow ("Mr. Plow," for some reason, did not touch those), I had to improvise. It was one of the most screwed up running routes I have ever taken, winding through loops of residential areas, across busy roads, and eventually to my lake trails - which were only partially plowed. Ugh. This winter is wearing on me.

I had no idea how far I went. I guessed 12 miles. After mapping it out, it turned out to be 13.3. I've never been great at estimating miles!

And I was really cold by the time I finished. A wind chill of -7 is nothing I haven't run in before, but today felt particularly raw, even a bit humid. Running directly into the wind was excruciating. My goatee froze over. I should have worn my full facemask, but didn't. Towards the end, it was getting hard to see because my eyes felt cold, and eyelashes were frozen. As I am writing this, the tip of my nose still feels cold! I haven't been that chilly on a run in ages. Here I am when I finished:

Clumsy camera phone self portrait of yours truly, happy to be back inside!



I am sitting in front of the fireplace as I type this, warming up nicely. It is a great spot to be.

Tonight's dinner was a "mystery calzone" from my freezer. The mystery was that I couldn't remember what I filled the calzone with. Turned out to be pepperoni and green olives. Nice! :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Return to winter, and a tale of two pizzas

When I last left you, it was 52 degrees, we had lost much of our snow, and I was running in shorts. Here was the view outside of my office today:

Winter Wonderland!



Depending upon where you live in the Twin Cities, you got anywhere between a foot to 19 inches of snow from Sunday's and Monday's storm. Good golly! Welcome back to winter.

Of course, this has made running a challenge. Yesterday was almost impossible, as the plows hadn't even gotten to some of the streets in my area. Today was better, however. They got after the sidewalks right away, and with today's temps in the mid 20's with the sun getting higher in the sky actually melted some of the snow. So I had a decent run tonight.

Still, I like 52 degrees better. :)

At the grocery store the other day, the woman in front of me was purchasing one of those ready-made Boboli pizza crusts. I used to buy these years ago before I learned to make my own dough.

Just for kicks, I checked out the ingredients that comprise the Boboli pizza crust. They are as follows:

Unbleached enriched wheat flour [flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid], water, palm oil, yeast, salt, milk casein, sugar, mozzarella cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt and enzymes), preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid), fumaric acid, modified food starch, sodium phosphate, whey, monoglycerides, lactic acid, natural flavor, garlic, artificial color

Wow, that is a lot of stuff!

Compare that to the ingredients of my pizza dough...

10-year-old sourdough starter, bread flour, water, kosher salt, sugar, extra virgin olive oil

...which produces something like this:

Sourdough pizza with home-cured pancetta, pepperoni, Nicoise olives, and fresh sage, with mozzarella, provolone, and Trugole cheeses



Yeah, I think I will stick to my version. Take that, Boboli! ;-)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who likes short shorts?

So it is February 16th - and it is 52 degrees. In Minnesota! I broke out the shorts for the first time in 2011 (for an outdoor run, that is).

I like short shorts!



I apologize for exposing my pasty white legs to the good people of the Twin Cities metro, but it had to be done. We don't get days like this very often this time of year! :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken & Stars

I found these cute little stelline pasta (tiny little star shapes) on a recent shopping trip, and they were just begging to be used in a soup.

Star light, star bright



Many of you are probably familiar with Chicken & Stars - a Campbell's Soup product. It is basically chicken noodle soup for kids with star-shaped pasta. So, with my new pasta find, I decided to make my own homemade Chicken & Stars.

Chicken stock was made following this method, minus the parsnip and turnip (didn't have any on hand, but they are really optional!). Roasting the chicken in a hot oven just to get the skin a little brown adds so much flavor to the stock. Once the stock is de-fatted, the rest of the soup-making process is simple.

Making the stock



The vegetables from the stock were discarded since they have given their all. In the stock pot with a little olive oil, saute four sliced carrots and two stalks of diced celery with some garlic, just to soften slightly. Add your stock, cover the stock pot, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer to cook and soften the vegetables.

Add some chopped chicken to the soup, along with some fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, whatever you like, and any combination thereof), and some dried herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and let your soup simmer.

I cook the pasta separately in boiling water until just shy of al dente, drain, and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. I find the pasta retains its texture much better than if you cook the pasta directly in the soup.

Homemade Chicken & Stars!



Right before you are ready to serve, stir in the cooked pasta and some frozen peas. Allow to heat through, garnish with parsley, and serve it up, all the while embracing your inner child with this playful, homemade version of Chicken & Stars. :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Inching closer to spring?

I know, it is a little premature to suggest that spring is imminent. For crying out loud, it snowed on May 8th last year! We really do have quite a way to go.

However, today was lovely. The high temperature hit 38 degrees! The week ahead looks great, with a couple of days predicted to be in the low 40's. This ought slowly put a dent in the mountains of snow around here.

I ran 15 miles this morning at a comfortable 24 degrees in overcast conditions. A very nice temperature, and not much wind, either. Trails are in great shape. With the warmer temps, they have done some additional snow removal to level things off and widen the path to its normal size. So the running surface is really good.

A solid run, too. Unlike last week were traction was sometimes difficult, that was not an issue today. I felt strong and maintained a decent pace. Feels good to get in a quality long run during a winter where long runs have been challenging at best.

The cardinals were singing loudly everywhere I went. They were doing their emphatic "what-CHEER!" song. Naturalist Jim Gilbert says in his book, Jim Gilbert's Minnesota Nature Notes, that this is a sound we start to hear frequently in February, so they are right on cue.

On a related note (pardon the pun), the black-capped chickadees have started doing their "fee-bee" song, and I heard this often on my run today. Gilbert, in his book, also suggests that this is one of our earliest signs of spring. Sounds good to me!

These are great sounds to hear. Dare I suggest that spring is around the corner?

OK, probably not. But it is nice to have days like this.

For dinner tonight, how does a baked pasta dish sound?

Hot out of the oven



I found this recipe for Baked Shells with Pesto, Mozzarella, and Meat Sauce at the Food & Wine website that looked kind of appealing. My variations included adding a 20 oz. can of crushed tomatoes instead of drained whole tomatoes (I thought it should be a little more saucy). Also, I added garlic, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, dried Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper (seemed like there should be more seasoning). For cheeses, I used a mix of mozzarella and provolone along with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Baked pasta shells, plated up



The additions were quite welcome, and they added a lot to the dish. A sauce redolent of tangy tomato, basil pesto, and a little spice, small pasta shells that collect pieces of meat and sauce, and melted, slightly browned cheese - how can you go wrong?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm cold

My last three runs were as follows:

Monday: 7 degrees, wind chill of -8. Had a very light layer of fresh snow on the trails. Didn't see a single person, although I saw some huge dog tracks, either that of a Siberian husky or a werewolf (next week's full moon should reveal the truth).

Tuesday: -1 degree, wind chill of -15. My eyelashes froze over pretty nicely. And thanks to Monday's snowfall, I was able to see my tracks from the previous day. It confirmed that I was the only person who had been out on the trail in the last 24 hours!

Wednesday: -1 degree, wind chill of -14. Trails were nicely leveled off today, however, making for a fast and fun running surface. Played a game of "chicken" with an oncoming, excitable golden lab (I was the one who flinched). Eyelashes froze up again, and my Buff that I was using as a scarf ended up freezing to my face mask.

Today was a day off from running, but it was -14 (actual air temperature) on the drive to work.

I'm cold.

With any luck, the cold snaps will be over with for this winter. The sun is getting noticeably higher in the sky, and temps are predicted to be in the low to upper 30's for the foreseeable future. Ought to melt some of this white hell we have been putting up with as we crawl ever so slowly towards spring.

This week has been so busy that I have barely had time to cook. Thankfully, I had a ball of sourdough pizza dough on hand, so I was able to crank out a quick, simple pizza for dinner tonight. This one cooked up quite nicely, and the crust had a beautiful rise around the edge. So good.

Sourdough pizza with sopressata, mozzarella, and aged provolone



Lately I have been making a batch of sourdough pizza dough on a weekly basis, and I think I have it down. This is really handy for making a fast and good meal on short notice, like tonight.

Since sourdough takes time to develop, I feed a batch of starter in the evening right before I got to bed. In the morning, I mix prescribed amounts of the active starter, flour, and water to create a sponge. I let that rise while I am at work. Then when I get home, I mix the final ingredients, knead the dough, and store in the fridge for at least two days to let the dough relax and expand (and I have found it to be even better tasting after about five days).

Sounds like a lot of work, but it is not. Feeding the starter and creating the sponge takes mere minutes. Kneading the dough can be accomplished in 10 minutes once you measure out your remaining ingredients (which takes an additional 5 minutes). And then you have dough on hand for the week to make pizza in rapid time. Now that is what I call "fast food!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Frosty morning

Saturday I treated myself to another 13 mile run. The temperature was around 17 degrees, and there was actually fog! And when there is fog at these temperatures, you get horfrost.

A frosty Saturday morning



So the run was quite pretty, as you can see! A thin layer of pure white horfrost covered all the trees and shrubs. My journey took me to some of my more southern "long run" routes that I have not visited in months, and even explored some new territory. Lots of fun, especially in this kind of "winter wonderland" setting.

My running performance was decent, but nothing spectacular. I am trying to build up my mileage again after what has been (and in some respects, still is) a challenging winter. A lot of the paths and trails had melted off due to some warmer temperatures over the last couple of days, which made for good traction. But, there were other places where the snow pack was kind of soft, which required more effort. My legs are slightly tired right now!

Another Saturday night, another stir-fry - this makes several weeks in a row now, which is fine by me! Tonight I made Mongolian beef. This is a favorite take-out item of mine. It seems everywhere I go, this dish varies somewhat. Generally speaking, it consists of stir-fried beef and onions in a flavorful brown sauce.

I found this recipe for Mongolian beef awhile ago, and it has been sitting in my recipe file, taunting me, waiting to be prepared. I was quite true to the recipe and utilized all of the prescribed amounts. My only additions included minced garlic (added that with the ginger in the beef marinade), a small, sliced yellow onion (the recipe had leeks and scallions, but every Mongolian beef dish I have tried has onion as well), and a small carrot cut into matchsticks (I wanted some color and crunch).

Take-out at home



Tender flank steak stir-fried with a variety of onions in a flavorful, savory, sweet, and slightly spicy sauce - yum! In fact, it tasted quite similar to the Mongolian beef that I would get at a restaurant. I really liked the recipe. A lot. Definitely worthy of a repeat performance!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain

"Well I never been to heaven.
But I been to Oklahoma."
Three Dog Night - "Never Been To Spain"

It seems strange, but aside from being cold, Minnesota probably had the nicest weather in the Midwest over the past couple of days! We managed to dodge this latest episode of "snowmageddon" that has pounded much of the nation's midsection and east coast.

I have lived in Minnesota virtually all of my life. We get more than our share of nasty winter storms. But to date, the worst snowstorm I have ever experienced was in, of all places, Oklahoma.

In 1994, I spent a winter working at a golf course in Arizona. On my return trip to Minnesota in mid-March, my journey was impeded by a huge weather system that took the form of an ice storm. Thunder, lightning, and literally raining ice pellets. Not good! I was forced to spend a night in the panhandle town of Shamrock, TX (which is not nearly as Irish as it might sound).

As if the ice storm wasn't bad enough, the following day I got stranded in some of the heaviest white-out snow conditions I have ever seen north of Oklahoma City. What started out as rain in OKC quickly turned to white hell. Roads were snow-packed and drifting over. You could hardly see anything because it was snowing and blowing so hard. I remember feeling incredibly unsafe and just needed to turn off the freeway and stop somewhere. My salvation turned out to be a vehicle pulling a camper. The taillights of the camper were my guide as I crawled along at 20 MPH from I-35 into Stillwater, OK.

Two things I needed at this point - a place to stay, and something to eat. You might say I was a wee bit concerned after getting shut out at a Holiday Inn. However, on my second attempt, I found a budget hotel with vacancy. Whew!

I made a few phone calls from the hotel room to let people know where I was. My parents were school teachers. Keeping in mind this was an era before cell phones became the norm, I had to call the receptionist at the school. Mom still laughs about the receptionist relaying the message to her over the intercom that I was stranded in Oklahoma!

Now, for something to eat. I was in an unfamiliar town, with no idea where I was. Driving anywhere was out of the question, especially after what I had been through. I took a walk outside into the parking lot just to get my bearings and to see if there was anything nearby. Completely by accident, I happened to pick a hotel that was fortuitously located next door to a Mexican restaurant - and it was actually open.

Upon entering the restaurant (the name escapes me - I wish I could remember that!), I was greeted by a several employees who were, for all intents and purposes, trapped. They were simply excited to see someone. As the only customer in the joint, I was treated quite well. After munching on some chips and salsa, I recall dining on some sort of grilled chicken that was glazed with a red chile sauce, served with sides of beans, rice, and Mexican hominy (which is the only time I have ever had hominy). Dinner was very good.

I asked the server if they got much snow around here. "This is the first of the year!" he said. Quite thankful for receiving a hot meal on a day like this, I left him a very generous tip.

The next morning, I woke up to 14 inches of snow piled on top of my car (being a Minnesotan, I had a really good brush/scraper to clean everything off!). Cities that far south aren't equipped to deal with this stuff. I even witnessed a road grader plowing the highway, since they really don't have an army of plow trucks like we do up north! Crazy. While I have seen and experienced greater snowfall totals here in Minnesota, I have never been through a snowstorm with the intensity of that one in Oklahoma.

The roads were reasonably well cleared off by morning, so I was able to resume my journey. And as amazing as this snowstorm was, 30 miles north of Stillwater received no snow! Everything was free and clear as I approached Kansas.

I kept thinking if I could have only made it 30 more miles, I would have driven right out of it. Of course, that is a big "if." And I would have missed the opportunity to try Mexican hominy.

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