Monday, September 26, 2011


If there is anyone who doesn't remember ramen noodles from college, then you probably did college incorrectly. 

Ramen noodles, the ridiculously cheap meals that were staples for just about every college kid.  It was most commonly prepared according to the package directions to make a sort of noodle soup, complete with the salty seasoning packet.  Me, I usually just boiled the noodles and threw a cheap jar of spaghetti sauce on top.  But I am digressing. 

Saturday I was seeking inspiration to cook something and ended up preparing a dish that was not only quick, but surprisingly good, given that I made it up in the fly.  I had a package of ramen in the pantry.  A variety of condiments.  A crisper filled with various veggies.  Shrimp in the freezer.  Eggs in the fridge.  I could make a quick, single serving of shrimp Pad Thai!

OK, so it isn't really Pad Thai.  Honest to goodness rice stick noodles would be required for that, among other things.  But the principles were essentially the same - noodles, veggies, shrimp, and eggs tossed in a tangy, spicy sauce.  Just using some pantry items, condiments, and things on hand, I was able to turn a 20 cent package of ramen into a nice, spicy noodle supper. 

To the best of my recollection (all measurements estimated), here is what I made.  Feel free to improvise, and additions or substitutions are welcomed and encouraged.  This is just what I had available to me.  As a director might say to an actor, "Just have fun with it!

Jean's Ramen Shrimp Pad Thai
-serves 1

-1 T. ketchup
-1 tsp. fish sauce (nam pla)
-1 tsp. chile-garlic sauce*
-1 tsp. roasted chile paste*
-1/4 c. white wine
-1 tsp. sugar
-1 package of ramen noodles, seasoning packet discarded
-1 T. cooking oil
-Small handful of medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
-Small handful of red bell pepper, sliced
-1 t. garlic, minced
-1 t. fresh ginger, minced
-2 green onions, sliced
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-Small handful of Napa cabbage, sliced
-Sriracha sauce for serving

*If you don't have these ingredients, don't sweat it.  You can just sprinkle in some crushed red pepper for heat, or substitute a little Sriracha if you have it.

Combine the ketchup, fish sauce, chile-garlic sauce, roasted chile paste, white wine, and sugar.  Stir well to combine and set aside.

In a pot of boiling water, cook the ramen noodles until slightly soft.  Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside.

Over medium-high heat in a wok or large skillet, heat the oil.  Add the shrimp and red bell pepper.  Stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the shrimp start to turn pink.  Add the garlic, ginger, and green onions and stir-fry for maybe 15 seconds until fragrant. 

Push everything to one side of the wok or skillet and add the egg.  Stir-fry the egg until set, perhaps 30 seconds.

Add the Napa cabbage, ramen noodles, and the sauce.  Stir-fry, tossing everything together until all ingredients are combined and the noodles are warmed through. 

Serve immediately.  Feel free to drizzle on some Sriracha sauce for added heat if you so desire, all the while remarking, "This is way better than the ramen I had in college!" ;-)

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Fall is here.  Saturday's long run greeted me with a beautiful sunrise and some relatively chilly temperatures.

A foggy sunrise over Elm Creek Park Reserve on Saturday
I think the temperature was around 40, but it was definitely cooler in Elm Creek Park, as I saw a little frost in the low lying areas.  But this is absolutely fantastic running weather.  I put in 13 miles and felt great. 

Sunday I did a 7 miler around my local lake.  Again, temps were in the low 40's, so it was another good run.   No more of that heat and humidity sapping all of your energy.  Love the colder weather. 

This week has seen a shocking transition in the leaves.  Just in the last few days, in fact.  We are starting to see a lot more yellows, and even some reds.  It is getting very pretty here.

Colors starting to turn at Elm Creek

A lone goldenrod hanging out in the sumac

Getting pretty along the trails at Elm Creek
There have been lots of birds on the move this week.  I have seen countless northern flickers. large numbers of ducks, geese, cormorants, and robins, too.  The Myrtle warblers and palm warblers showed up on Sunday as well.  They are usually among the first to arrive and the last to leave, so we are getting closer to having all of the warblers out of here.  Also had a few encounters with bunnies, squirrels, and deer (including a nice 8-point buck that snorted at me!).

Ah yes, fall.  I love this!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Harmon Farms 10 Mile Trail Run

Minnesota has received very little rain in the last month or so.  We went from flooding in the spring to near drought this fall.  It goes without saying that we really, really wanted some rain.  But did it have to be the day of my race?

Today I headed to Inver Grove Heights to partake in the Harmon Farms 10 Mile Trail Run, which is held at the Harmon Park Reserve.  I had never been here before, so I was not sure what to expect.  

Welcome to the Harmon Farms Trail Run
It was raining steadily on the drive over to Inver Grove Heights.  By the time I got to the parking lot, the rain was quite heavy.  Great!  A quick check of the radar showed that there might be a break in the action.  However, there was another band of rain building in south-central Minnesota that was moving in behind the break.  Looked like we were going to get wet for sure at some point.  In any case, I sat in the car and waited it out.

Staying dry at the Harmon Farms Trail Run!

Shortly before the race, the rain subsided.  I wasn't the only one waiting it out.  Nearly everyone else it the parking lot was doing the same thing that I did, so we all headed to the packet pickup at once!

The break in the rain left us with a cool, humid day to race.  The temperature was about 55 degrees, so it was perfect.  

Yours truly, ready to run (and needing to shave!)
The race consisted of laps around the park - one lap for 5 milers, two laps for the 10 - on some rather scenic mountain bike trails.   They started the 5 milers first, and the 10 mile race started 15 minutes later.

Milling around at the start

Start of the 5 mile race
The 10 mile race got underway, and the relatively small field of 50 runners dispersed in rather orderly fashion.  We headed into the park.

The race was conducted almost entirely on single-track trails.  I had no idea how beautiful and diverse this park would be!  We ran past ponds and over creeks, through oak and maple forests, birch groves, open fields, stands of large pine - this is a quite remarkable piece of property.  

And the trails were not easy.  The course was hilly, however there were no long climbs.  Just a lot of relentless ups and downs, with some rocks and roots thrown in there for good measure.  And wow, were there switchbacks.  Seemed like you were constantly turning and zig-zagging all over the place, so much that it was hard to tell whether you were headed north, south, east, or west! 

I felt really good and strong during the race.  It was fun running through the forests and fields.  And the switchbacks were blast.  Given that this is a mountain bike course, these corners had a pretty good banking to them.  So on those downhill switchbacks, you could really lean into them and build up some good speed coming out of the corner!  I had a great time.

My finishing time was 1 hour, 28 minutes, and 15 second.  For me, on uneven, hilly terrain, that is a pretty good effort.  Quite pleased after a summer of difficult running conditions.  Fun was had by all at Harmon Farms Trail Run, and I have a sweet new shirt to add to my wardrobe. 

My snazzy new shirt
Actually, for a mere $25 entry, they gave you not only a nice long-sleeved T-shirt, but also goodie bag filled with a Salomon drawstring dirty clothes bag, Salomon water bottle, Clif Bar "Mojo" bar, a sample of gummi vitamins, and a bunch of really good coupons.  Good grief!  Some pretty nice schwag for a small event.

I am really glad I did this race.  I signed up on a whim about a week and a half ago, and it turned out to be a gem.  Highly recommended if you like trail running.  While challenging, the course is not overly difficult, so I would say this would be a good introductory single-track race to see if you like it.  This will be on my list for next year.

Oh, and as soon as I crossed the finish line, it started to sprinkle.  When I got back on the road to head home, some heavier rain started to fall.  Thanks for giving us a dry window of time in which we could race, Mother Nature!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Caterpillar rescue

Fall definitely started to settle in this week in Minnesota.  Monday was 90 degrees, but following that, we had our first frost and a lot of really cool days in the 50's - which, as a runner, I love!

Running was very, very good.  I enjoy weather where you can still wear shorts and a light running shirt (perhaps one with long sleeves!) and be completely comfortable without overheating.  Running in 50 degree temps felt downright cold compared to our summer weather that we have grown accustomed to.  It was wonderful.

In what has become a ritual of fall, during my runs I have been busy rescuing caterpillars from the trails.  I hate to see them get run over by bikes, and they are so fuzzy and cute!  So I pick them up off of the pavement and transport them to a safer grassy area.  It is good I don't time my runs, because I generally have to stop several times!

Fuzzy bugs!
The trick is to sort of corral the caterpillars and coax them into climbing up onto your fingers.  Sometimes they get alarmed and curl up into a little ball, which also makes them easy to pick up!  A few people have been running/biking by while I have been doing this, and I get some interesting looks.  But that is OK.  Someone needs to be the guardian of the caterpillars. :)

A rescued Woolly Bear caterpillar
I also ran into the Bambi twins this week!  Hadn't seen them for awhile, but they moved away from my place and down into the park, which is a much better spot for them.  This little dude was kind enough to stick around for a photo.  His buddy was off to the left in the trees.  They were both fine with my presence, but they scattered when a bike came by and scared them.

I caught him right in the middle of snack time! :)
Following our frost this week, a lot of the migratory songbirds have hightailed it out of here.  The frost no doubt decimated the insect supply, so they are headed south.  My walk up at Elm Creek today confirmed this.  Hardly saw a thing!  The trumpeter swan family is still here, as are a few gray catbirds.  I see Cooper's hawks practically every time I am out (even got buzzed by one earlier this week on my run!).  But the common yellowthoats, house wrens, and red-eyed vireos that I saw here in abundance last week - they are all gone.  Until next spring, my feathered friends!

Since we are entering a change of season, it is time to break out the comfort foods.  Tonight was a school lunch classic - tater tot hot dish!

Tater Tot Hot Dish
The hot dish was basically this one with reconstituted porcini mushrooms instead of fresh crimini.  So good.  So comforting.  Way better than the school's version.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Autumn soon?

Another week has flown by.  It was a busy one, too.  Lots to do at work, some movement on the housing front (but still a lot to do), and precious little time to blog.

I did a 12 mile run on Saturday morning.  I trekked up to Elm Creek again and did my lap of the southern loop.  There is definitely an appearance of fall that is starting to take shape.  More and more yellow colors.  New England asters are blooming, which are one of our last flowers to bloom.  And I am starting to see more and more migratory songbirds starting to wend their way south.  Lots of warblers, vireos, and hawks yesterday.

The day was warm with bright sun, which made things a little tough.  Wasn't too bad to start, but as the sun got higher, it warmed things up rather quickly.  I am looking forward to some crisp, cool days (which are promised for later this week!).

A few photos:

Sunrise on a cloudless Saturday
Fog over the swamp

Giant sunflowers still in bloom

Mama wild turkey with her kids.  Gobble, gobble!

Because it was 89 degrees today, I made meat loaf. Nothing like firing up the oven on a day like this! :) But it was good. Darn good.

Mmmmm...meat loaf!
The recipe was essentially this one, and for the first time, I roasted it on a parchment-lined sheet pan instead of baking it in a loaf pan.  I am doing it this way from now on.  You get a nice glaze all over the loaf, and some tasty browned bits around the edges.  Awesome!  And I am already looking forward to cold meat loaf sandwiches for my lunches this week.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chili with moving pictures

It is September, and the mornings are starting to get crisp (44 degrees for my run today!).  Therefore, it is time to start making some more comfort foods. 

To celebrate the arrival of "meteorological fall," the subject of chili was tackled on the set of "Jean Cooks!"  Of course, making chili is not exactly rocket science, but I had some fun documenting my process on video.     

The recipe was this one with the following modifications:

1.  Used 1 lb. ground beef and 1 lb. chorizo sausage instead of using all beef
2.  Added 2 minced chipotle peppers en adobo (the canned variety) when browning the beef, onions, and garlic
3.  Instead of dried thyme, used a small bundle of fresh thyme
4.  Used a can of fire-roasted tomatoes as opposed to regular tomatoes



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