Sunday, July 31, 2011

Welcome to the tropics

(Just noticed this is the 1000th post on my blog.  Who could have imagined this much drivel was possible?)

This has been one heck of a summer.  Paul Douglas says this was the 5th warmest July on record.  We've had 13 days of 90 degrees or more.  Not to mention the humidity - we have more of that fun 100+ degree heat index stuff on tap for today and tomorrow.

I'm ready for winter.

(OK, not really!  But I am ready for some cooler days.) 

Saturday's run was 13.5 miles at 77 degrees with a dew point of 70.  That amounted to a whole lot of sweating, and a whole lot of shuffling in the final couple of miles.  I was a sweaty mess.  Every article of clothing, from my hat to my shoes, was soaked.  I looked like I went swimming in my running gear.  Not a fun morning to run.

Today was more of the same - 78 degrees, 72 dew point - but for some reason, I felt a little more spry and had a better run.  It was also a rather picturesque morning.  I had to stop and take this picture of the sunrise:

Gorgeous sunrise over the lake on the last day of July
Pretty stunning view over my local lake!  I also saw a couple of green herons, and a Cooper's hawk being chased by several angry songbirds.  While still muggy and unpleasant, it was an enjoyable run.  I ran 7.5 miles and clipped along at a decent pace.

Tonight's dinner was a beef lo mein.  Essentially it was this Mongolian beef dish tossed with egg noodles instead of serving over rice.  Very nice!  I haven't made a noodle stir-fry dish in ages, and this really hit the spot.   I made it a little spicy too with some extra chile-garlic sauce and crushed red pepper.  Tasty stuff that will also make for some nice leftovers for lunch this week.

Take-out at home
Back to the weather for a moment - I took a short walk after dinner, and I needed to shower when I got home.  It is positively disgusting outside.  The heat index is 101 as I type this.  Ugh...

Maybe I am ready for winter? ;-)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Trail babies

It has been a very busy week.  The weather has been hot.  Running has been difficult.

There, that about covers it!

In lieu of having anything to write about, please enjoy this picture of a couple of cute little dudes I spotted on my run yesterday.

The Bambi Twins!
They were right along the edge of the trail, and it was kind of them to stick around long enough for me to take a photo.  And, I am happy I was smart enough to bring my camera with me this time!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Photo Ops

Over the last few days, I have missed some amazing photo opportunities on my runs.

Thursday after work I am running along my trail and happened upon the cutest twin spotted fawns you could imagine.  I stopped 20 feet from them and froze.  They just stood there staring back at me.  Unfortunately, my camera that I usually carry with me was siting on the kitchen table.  Oops.

Saturday I went out early.  While rounding a corner in the meadow, I met papa ring-necked pheasant with five of the kids.  The young ones were half the size of their dad.  It was a pheasant party on the trail!  But, of course, they scuttled off into the tall grass before I could get my camera ready.

Oh, well.

This morning I didn't get any pictures of baby animals or baby birds.  So you will just have to settle for this guy:

"None shall pass!"
I was thinking this wild turkey was the sentry guarding the gates to Elm Creek Park Reserve.  But he flew into the woods a few seconds after this picture was taken and let me through. :)

Today was the best run I have had in weeks.  After the scorching heat and sopping humidity we have experienced as of late, this morning was downright cool.  Low 60's and overcast.  Perfect for running.

I put in 14 miles and felt great.  What a treat to not have your energy sapped by hot weather!  In fact, the sun didn't break through until my last mile, so I had a really nice cruise around the neighborhood and through Elm Creek.

Saw a few birds today - in addition to Mr. Turkey, I spotted several green herons (picture of one of them below), cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, tons of goldfinches (they were busy raiding the blooming thistles), eastern phoebe, and even one of my favorite songbirds, the sedge wren.  I also heard some trumpeter swans vigorously honking way out on one of the lakes.

We are starting to see the late season "yellows" along the trails as well.  Black-eyed Susans are in abundance, and the giant sunflowers have started to bloom.  This is a really pretty time of year when all the yellow flowers start kicking into gear.

A few other images from today:

Silhouette of a green heron at Elm Creek Park

Layer of fog on the lake

Getting pretty along the trails
Dinner tonight was from the Urban Italian cookbook - chicken leg cacciatore.  I have made this dish before, and this time was a little less Clouseau-esque than the previous attempt, opting to roast the chicken legs (as opposed to broiling) before adding to the sauce.  It was a busy afternoon in the kitchen, as I had a lot of chopping, slicing, and mincing to do, and I roasted my own red and yellow bell peppers, too.  Love making this dish.

This photo op did not escape me!  Tonight's Chicken Leg Cacciatore.
Not a bad way to fuel up after the long run today.  Yum.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heatwave

Our streak of ridiculous weather continues.  The last few days have given us temperatures in the mid to upper 90's with heat indices in the range of 110-115.  Yesterday the Twin Cites saw an all-time record high for dew point - 82 degrees.  Moorhead, MN wins the prize, however - check out what their Tuesday was like.

The last two mornings I did my running at 4:30 AM to avoid the heat as much as possible.  It was unpleasant, but clearly the better option.  Today was strange because, while still humid, it felt almost cool.  I was astonished to learn when I returned from my run that the temperature before sunrise was 82 with a heat index of 89!  Amazing.  The weather had been so disgusting that this felt good.

With the heat and humidity absolutely hammering us right now, what did I do for dinner last night?  Why, I fired up the oven to make pizza, of course!

Wonder if I could have baked this on the hot pavement?
This one was sourdough with double-smoked bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, and scallions.  Cheeses included mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, and a little Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Very tasty, and the sun-dried tomatoes made it extra "tomatoey."

Good stuff.  And at least the oven was a dry heat.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rainy, stormy, steamy, road trippy

The weather over the last couple of days has been nothing short of ridiculous.  Depending on where you were in central or southern Minnesota, you probably got anywhere between 2 and 7 inches of rain.  And we had another round of storms in the overnight hours that knocked down some trees and caused more water woes.

Today there were reports of flooded roads, and even a train derailment due to the flooding.  On my run today, some of my trails were under water, and I observed some trees down, including one that just appeared to have toppled over under its own weight due to the saturated ground (basically uprooted itself).  Streams were really high, and I saw some localized flooding in fields as well. 

Below is an image from the local National Weather Circus.  It depicts the 48-hour estimated rain totals through 9 AM today.  Hennepin County, where I live, is just right of center, and I am firmly in the 3 to 4 inch rainfall zone.   

Too much rain
Not good.  We just experience one of "those" winters (a few reminders can be found here, here, and here).  Now it looks like we are going to have one of "those" summers.  With that being said, here is the weather forecast for the next week according to WCCO:

Feeling hot, hot, hot...
Ick!  We are under an Excessive Heat Warning through Wednesday night!  I am predicting some early morning runs this week.

So I went for a 12 mile run this morning, and actually, it wasn't too bad.  The saving grace was the fact that is was still drizzling when I started, and there was cloud cover, which kept things in the low 70's.  The dew point was also 70, so I was sweating like mad and was positively soaked by the time I finished.  But I wasn't hot.  So glad to be able to get that distance done today.

A couple of unusual things happened on the run:

1.  I did a couple of laps around my lake today, and along the trail I pass a large park and baseball field.  Today there was a tremendous amount of activity on the field.  My city was having their annual summer celebration (who knew?), and they were setting up for a 6K fun run.  Luckily, I got out of there before they started, as I was apparently running race course in reverse.  Wouldn't have been much fun dodging a couple of hundred oncoming runners!

2.  I met a pickup truck on the trail!  It was actually a worker with the city park service.  She stopped me to ask about trail conditions.  Since I had been all the way around the lake, I told her all was well, pointed to some areas that had minor flooding, but indicated that there were no downed trees anywhere.  I must have saved her some work because she seemed very appreciative.  With that, she hopped in her truck and headed back down the trail.

Following the run, I ran some errands, bought some groceries, and took a little Sunday drive on a Saturday.  Road trip!

For lunch, I drove to Spring Park, a little town on Lake Minnetonka, to visit the Minnetonka Drive In.  I try to make a trip out here at least once every summer.  This place has been open since 1961, so it is something of a trip back in time, complete with carhops.  I sat at one of the picnic tables and got myself a tasty little "California Supreme" burger with some awesome crinkle-cut fries!  Mmmmm.  Food like this always seems to taste better when you can eat it outside.

Lunch at the Minnetonka Drive In
(As an aside, a little tip to the neighboring city of Mound - if you are going to block off your Main Street for a town celebration with a great big "Detour" sign with an arrow, you might want to put another detour sign somewhere on the detour route so people have an idea how to get back to the main road.  Can we do that next time so I don't end up ten miles out in the middle of the Boondocks?  Thanks!  I appreciate it.)

...and need I remind you, I have actually BEEN to the Boondocks, so I am something of an authority!  Definitely felt like I revisited the Boondocks today... :)
Following my unexpected tour of the countryside, I finally located a familiar road and made my way to the town of St. Bonifacius.  There, I visited Mackenthun's Meats and Deli, a fantastic small town meat market.  You open the door and you are immediately greeted with a wonderful smoky aroma.  It smells so good.  They have fantastic products, excellent sausages (smoked farmer's sausage, Sam Adams & sauerkraut bratwursts), and an awesome meat counter.  I love coming here.

One of my favorite things Mackenthun's makes is something that I have never seen anywhere else - Jamaican pork jerky.  I mean, you hardly ever see pork jerky, especially here in beef country.  But these are big slabs of lean pork, marinated in pineapple juice and some concoction of jerk seasoning and dried chilies.  It is sweet, hot, and there are definite hints of allspice and ginger.  Great balance of flavors.  Easily some of the best jerky I have had, beef jerky included.  It is worth coming here for that alone (snacking on some as I type this....yum). 

A sweet and spicy snack while computing!
With that, I am spending the rest of the day inside close to the air conditioning (and the remaining Jamaican pork jerky!).  The temperature outside right now is 85 with a dew point of 75, giving us a heat index of 94.  But that is only going to get worse.  In fact, I just stepped outside a little bit ago, and my sunglasses fogged up!  Ugh...this week is not going to be fun.

Stay cool, Midwesterners!  Below zero and snow is sounding pretty good right about now... 
  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

I made a really nice sourdough pizza on Monday night.  It consisted of a layer of my usual tomato sauce, and I threw on some leftover chopped up chicken that I tossed with some of the new Tabasco Buffalo sauce.  To that, I added caramelized onions, minced chives, and a combination of mozzarella, habanero-Jack, and Gorgonzola cheeses. 

Of course, I used my go-to sourdough pizza dough recipe.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza - spicy!

I am a firm believer that you can put caramelized onions and some variety of blue cheese on just about anything and it would taste great.  Naturally, it went really well with the Buffalo chicken theme.  I liked the Tabasco Buffalo sauce, too.  Good Buffalo wing flavor, tangy and vinegary, and it was fairly spicy. 

The dough was particularly nice.  Hope, my sourdough starter, has been especially active during the warmer months, so my dough has been rising quite well and has resulted in some really good and flavorful crust.

A delicious pizza.  I am almost embarrassed to say I had a leftover slice for my breakfast the next morning. :)   


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Upset Fish

Just wanted to share a lunch I had last week when visiting my family.

We dined at the Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais, an excellent little fish restaurant that is only open seasonally and sources virtually everything locally (they get their fish from the Dockside Fish Market, which is literally right next door).  This place is hardly a secret.  It is popular with the locals and the tourists, and nearly every regional foodie publication has written it up favorably, so the restaurant is always jumping. 

And well it should be.  Their food is great.  As luck would have it, they had fresh Lake Superior herring the day we were there, so that made the selection of fish & chips a no-brainer for me.

The Fish & Chips at the Angry Trout Cafe

Fresh herring is so unbelievably good.  A very mild, clean fish, it makes for fantastic fish & chips.  A couple of crunchy, breaded fillets, drizzled with some malt vinegar and their homemade tartar sauce (which is loaded with dill and is possibly the greatest condiment on earth), a huge pile of waffle fries, and some light, refreshing, and absolutely delicious cole slaw, and I had myself one awesome lunch with Mom and Dad.

Go to the Angry Trout if you are ever in town.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Getting down and dirty at the Tofte Trek

"There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." - Carl Sandburg 

A 4th of July tradition along the North Shore is the Tofte Trek - a 10k trail race held on some interesting terrain in the Superior National Forest.  The race has a reputation for having lots of hills and mud.

My first Tofte Trek experience was in 2005, which was a fairly wet year.  The race delivered on its promise of hills and mud.  I ran it again in 2006, and that year it was dry.  Still plenty of the same hills, but not very much mud.  After a five year absence, I returned to run the Trek.  What would I encounter this time around?

2011 has given the North Shore ample rains.  The woods are lush and green, and the area has received some significant rainfall in recent weeks.  Therefore, mud would definitely be on the menu, and in copious amounts.

The race started and we headed into the woods.  Same as always, the course is virtually all uphill for the first half of the race!  But the difference this year included some really muddy areas on the ascent.  I don't remember this from years past!  The climb is difficult enough as is, but the lack of traction in places made it even tougher.

Even with the relentless climb, the beauty of the course does help to distract.  Thick forests, views of the Sawtooth Mountains, and I even heard the calls of ovenbirds and black-throated green warblers throughout the race. 

The descent is where things got even more interesting (if you can call it a "descent" - there is a pretty good stretch of downhill, but there are some climbs as well, which makes you believe that most of the course is uphill!).  Once you reach the top, you connect with part of the Superior Hiking Trail for a brief time. We actually met a couple of hikers out on the trail.  What must they have been thinking with a couple hundred filthy runners blowing past them? 

You always encounter the most mud in the second half of the race, and this year certainly did not disappoint.  It was the wettest I have seen this course.  Passing though the lower, swampy areas, you occasionally found yourself with your shoes and lower legs completely submerged in the muck.

I have to believe that every year there are some first-timers who don't quite realize what they are getting into.  Scanning the field, you will see people in nice running clothes, newer looking road shoes, wearing expensive iPods, etc.  You will occasionally see runners try to skirt the edges of the trail in an effort to avoid the mud, but this never really works out.  You are almost always better off just running right through it.  I even saw one girl taking off her shoes at a particularly soggy area an effort to preserve them from getting wet and muddy!  What most soon come to realize is that this is a lost cause and getting dirty is all part of the experience.

The coup de grâce occurred in the final kilometer.  Prior to the race, the Race Director announced there was some "crotch deep" mud out there, and this was definitely the location he was talking about.  There was a perhaps 20-yard-long stretch that was completely underwater.  This area is wet even in the driest of years, but this year it was something special.  I am talking the blackest, murkiest water you have ever seen.  It was mostly midway up my calves - not exactly "crotch deep" - but once I did sink up to my knees!  There is really no avoiding it, and you just have to slog through it as best you can.

Emerging from the swamp, it is pretty much downhill to the finish.  My toes were hurting because some rocks had found their way into my waterlogged shoes and filtered their way to the front, effectively slamming into my toes with each step.  Ouch!  Thankfully it levels off as you run through the Forest Service parking lot (special thanks to the Forest Service for setting up the sprinkler to run through!) and make your way back to the Birch Grove school.  Mom and Dad got lots of great pictures as I headed to the finish.

Emerging from the woods
I rather liked this photo, as it almost makes me look like I know what I am doing!
Getting closer to the finish.
Yeehaw!
My legs were caked with mud.  I literally poured water out of my shoes.  My socks actually had dirt inside of them and required a two day soak in soapy water to get them somewhat clean.  I finished in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 15 seconds - my slowest Tofte Trek yet, although that was really dictated by the conditions.  But this race is not about time.  Rather, it is about having a good time!

One of my trail running buddies, Lisa, was also there, so it was great to see her and catch up.  I also got to finally meet Wayne and Rick, two guys who are avid and enthusiastic runners on the Minnesota trail running scene.  Always fun to see old friends and meet new ones at these events.

Here are a few more shots of the aftermath:

Slightly muddy after the race
Lisa and me after the race
Muddy legs!
This is how we shower up north. :)  Hosing down after the race.
So, in summary, it was a great day, I got good and muddy, and probably had as much fun as is allowed by the law in a pair of trail running shoes.  How come it took me five years to return to this event?  I won't make that mistake again.

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