Friday, February 27, 2009

Heading to Nebraska...

... for a little birthday shin-dig. It will be a rehearsal for the Z'ster's first birthday next month.

We've got the traveling thing down, as long as they are short trips. The first month was hairy, but now it's all routine. Of course, we're flying through the day with no time to catch our breath, but so far we haven't pulled a Raising Arizona and left the carrier on the roof of the car.

And then something happens to throw us all off our game. We woke up yesterday to find that Zo had done a Jackson Pollock on the garage floor, thanks to an upset tummy. I was just getting used to baby diarrhea, and 170 pound Great Dane poop is in a class of its own. Took forever to clean up, and then had to wash his dog bed over and over to get it clean. A quick trip to the vet revealed he had more bugs than Microsoft Vista, and now my wallet looks like an "after" picture in a NutraSystems commercial.

In other news... Z. had his one year physical this week, and we're pretty sure he's going to be a rocket surgeon, double-naught spy, or some other high-falluting occupation, according to my interpretation of his tests. He's put on some weight since we got him but he's still on the skinny side, and he's in the 90th for height, so we're now calling him Ztring Bean.

Getting Ready for St Paddy's Day

Loving Pappy's cheddar scones, along with a hearty Irish stew.

Recipe here, if you're so inclined.

Irish Stew with Cheddar Scones

There aren't very many stew days left in the year, but even if Mr Summer is breathing down Mr Winter's neck, you can always break this one out for St Paddy's Day, if nothing else.

It takes a good hour and a half, but most of that time is just watching it simmer on the stove, which frees you up to make the scones, clean everything up, and set the table, so once dinner's on, there's nothing to do but sit back and enjoy it all.

2 pounds stew meat (beef or lamb), cut up into one inch cubes
Olive oil
1 large onion or 2 med/small ones
2 Tbs chopped garlic
2 Tbs tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
One bottle stout or porter beer
4 cups broth — 2 cups beef, 2 cups chicken
Thyme: either a couple of fresh sprigs or a shake or two of dried
*2 pounds potatoes (Yukon works best)
*1 cup carrots
*1 cup frozen peas
*1 cup savoy cabbage

*you won't need these until after the stew simmers for an hour, so you have time to chop it all later

(Adapted from Cuisine at Home.)

Season the stew meat with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown the meat for 5-8 minutes on med-high in 1-2 Tbs of oil. Move it to a bowl (or a plate, but you want to catch and save any liquid from the meat for the broth) and drop the heat down to medium.

Add a bit more oil and saute the onion for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic, stir well and cook for 2 more minutes, until the paste darkens. Add the flour and stir until everything is evenly coated, and cook for 1 more minute. Then deglaze with your beer, scraping the bottom for a couple of minutes to free up the meat and onion bits from the bottom of the pot.

Most folks will tell you to use a Guiness, but this time I used an Odells Cutthroat Porter. Any dark beer will work, but avoid anything sweet (eg, your vanilla or chocolate stouts).

Once you've deglazed, add both broths, the stew meat and its juices, and the thyme. Simmer for one hour on low heat. (Now you can work on the cheddar scones and clean up a bit.)

Chop the potatoes and carrots. Stir in to the stew and cook for about 10-12 minutes (potatoes should be tender). Cut the savoy cabbage into slices and add with the peas, and cook for 5 minutes more.

The cheddar scones take about 20 minutes to make and 25 minutes to bake, so you can make these while the stew is simmering.

2 1/2 cups flour (up to one cup whole wheat, the rest all-purpose)
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
10 Tbs butter (keep it cold until you need it)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup minced chives
*1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbs water
1 egg whisked with 1 Tbs water

*or water and Saco cultured buttermilk powder

Preheat the oven to 375ºand line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (Ahh, parchment paper... one of the world's greatest inventions.)

Mix the flour, sugar, baking power and baking soda, and salt. Combine until evenly mixed. (If you're using the buttermilk powder instead of real buttermilk, add that now as well.) Cut in the butter until pea-sized.

(Scott Peacock says to cut in the butter by hand, mashing it and tearing it between your fingers until it crumbles. I tried that but make too much of a mess. And I'm not a huge fan of pastry cutters, because I hate cleaning them. So I use my three dollar, all-purpose utility knife to cut the cold butter into tiny cubes and then mash it with a fork.)

Add the cheddar and chives (or a dash of onion and garlic powder, if you forget to get green onions) and then add the buttermilk and 2 Tbs water. Mix very gently, just until blended. Move the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a large square, 8-10 inches on a side. Cut in half both ways, and then cut each section in half both ways again. Then cut those squares into triangles. Place on the parchment paper and brush the tops with the egg/water mixture. Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden.

Clean up the kitchen, get back to the potatoes and carrots, and get ready for a slow dinner.

Cheers, and Happy Birthday, Naomh Pádraig!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Question of the Week: Oats

Pat said:
whats the difference between quaker oats one minute oatmeal and the regular. Does it effect nutrition? Did they precook it?

If you’ve ever seen raw oats or oats in horse feed, you probably noted that they look plumper than what you see in your oatmeal. Humans can’t really eat raw oats — the bran shell makes them indigestible. So you’re three choices are steel cut (like the name says, cut between fine disk blades), rolled (slow cooking), and quick cooking (also rolled, but rolled finer and usually cut again).

Nutritionally, if you gave steel cut oats a 100, then rolled/slow would be around a 90 and slow cooking maybe an 85. It’s a personal question whether the extra nutritional gain is worth the extra cooking time.

Lots of folks advocate eating more oats. If you’re fighting high cholesterol, cancer, or celiac disease, you’ve probably read that you should eat more. So here are a couple of tips.

For one, avoid the individual packets of oatmeal. They are highly processed and contain tons of sugar. And they’re expensive. Just buy a big tub of oatmeal and add your own brown sugar, maple syrup, walnuts, dried fruit, unsweetened coconut, or whatever you want. For three bucks you get eight individual servings, or for three bucks you get a tub of oats that will last you a month or more.

Second, if you’re going to microwave your oatmeal, then there is no difference in cooking time between regular and quick cooking oats. They both require the water to get right up to boiling, so you’re not saving any time and you’re losing a tiny bit of nutrition by picking the quick cooking.

For baking applications, I have found that quick cooking give you a chewier cookie while regular give you a crisper one. We use the regular in our granola, because I like that smokier taste of the browned, crisp oats over the softer, quick cooking ones. But both work and there’s no time adjustment to the baking.

Finally, you can grind oats in your coffee bean grinder and make oat flour. Substitute about one half cup of oat flour for one half cup of wheat flour for every two cups of flour called for in the recipe, and you’ll probably get the same results (in terms of rise and baking time) with a slightly nuttier flavor and bit of a nutritional boost.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two videos on checking your stride

From ChiRunning. When you're one step ahead of the Grim Reaper like I am, fine-tuning becomes more and more important.

Video at ChiRunning

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pontification to pause and ponder upon

From the Hardscrabble Times:

I’m really a vegetarian. It’s just that I’m a meat-eating vegetarian.

I for one don't see any contradiction there whatsoever.

Make your own energy bars

Donna, a charter member of the Training Table, sends us this:

Art Eggertsen is the founder of Pro-Bar. Below is one of his recipes for some great protein-rich calorie grenade. One bar is enough for a meal.

1.5 lbs chopped dates
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp fresh orange zest or Grand Marnier (my choice) or 1/4 tsp orange extract
1/4 tsp seat salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/2 c dried currants or other dried fruit
1/2 c chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds
1/2 c of your favorite granola or toasted oats (try this homemade one)

1. Chop the dates and combine them with the maple syrup, vanilla, orange, salt and spices.
2. Stir in the currants, nuts and granola until you have a firm consistency
3. On a lightly oiled baking sheet, roll out the mixture to a uniform thickness of about 1/2 inch
4. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes then cut into bars.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Slowing it down

The Well at the New York Times has been discussing school lunches and kids' nutrition a lot lately, and yesterday's was another good one.

Slowing Down School Lunch

In the Army, the drill sergeants used to tell the recruits that they should be eating in the chow line, eat on the way to the garbage can, if they're eating fast enough they don't even need to sit down... leaving more time for shining their boots and cleaning their rifle.

And that's what a school lunch is like these days. In our district kids get 20 to 30 minutes, and half that time can be spent waiting in line. One of two things happen: either we're teaching them that food should be shoveled into their gullet, or that they need to look for even faster meals like McD's. Neither are especially good messages.

It's hard to slow it down. We all live further and further away from the place where we work than we used to, and the kids have a thousand places they need to be besides the dining room. Homework, sports, extra-curriculars... they all add up, and making dinner a hour of sit-down instead of just fifteen minutes and then off to whatever, that can be a lot to ask.

But every little bit helps. If you are currently running helter skelter each and every day, then adding one slow, deliberate meal to the week is a huge first step.

In that vein, next weekend I'll share a nice, slow dinner: Irish stew with cheddar scones. Stay tuned... back in a few days with that one.

A Conversation with Z.

"Who's that?"


"Very good! And who's that?"


"No, that's Mom."


"Say 'Mom.' 'Mommy.' 'Mom.' "




"Okay, who's that?"


"Very good, that's Kitty."


"That's right, that's Kitty. And who's that."


"That's right! That's Doggy."

"Daw. Daw."

"Yes, Doggy. Dog. Doggy."


"And who's that?"


"No, that's Mommy. Say 'Mom.' 'Mom.' "


"Okay, let's move on to numbers..."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brunch ideas... don't forget the wee ones.

Just one more quick one: Baby Frittatas from Weelicious.

I'm thinking that, instead of asparagus, I'll make it a Denver omelet. And maybe add some cottage cheese to the egg mixture, instead of milk. If anyone beats me to it, let me know how it went.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pictures I've always wanted to take

There's a link down to the right to a little blog called Hardscrabble Times. It's there because the author lives in a gorgeous part of Colorado and from time to time posts some amazing photographs.

Today is one of them. Check it out here.

Valentine's Day Surprise

This weekend, surprise the family by making them something new for breakfast. Head this way for three ideas.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weekend Brunch Part II

So your first option is the World's Greatest Granola. It's easy, relatively quick, and provides you with a hot breakfast today and left-overs for the rest of the week.

But if granola isn't your thing, here are a couple of others for the weekend.

Let's start with french toast. I love french toast, but it's hard to make for 4+ people if you make it the traditional way, by dipping bread in the batter and frying up on the griddle. The first one served either has to eat his warm toast alone or wait for everyone else and watch his golden fried bread go cold. And for some reason my first batch never looks like the last batch, since cleaning the griddle or skillet between servings isn't really an option.

But baked french toast makes all of that go away. Whip it up the night before, let it soak up the custard all night, clean up the kitchen before you go to bed, and then just pop it in the oven when everyone's up the next morning.

I use day old french bread, but any sturdy artisan bread will work. I've cut the recipe in half for just the two of us, doubled it for company, or make it as listed here. Any left-overs can be put in the fridge and nuke for 20-30 seconds for breakfast later in the week.

2 baguettes or one large loaf of french bread, day old or air dried for a couple of hours
(Slice the bread into 2 inch slices)
7-8 eggs
1 ¼ cups milk and 1 ¼ cups half-and-half, or 2 ½ cups buttermilk, or any other combo
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Spice: minimum of ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, and ¼-½ teaspoons of cinnamon, ginger, or cloves, according to your taste. (I'm a big user of ginger — probably use a full teaspoon plus half a teaspoon of cinnamon, but that's your call.)

Butter or spray a baking dish with non-stick spray. (13X9 for the 2 baguette version, but it's best to lay down the sliced bread and eye-ball it to see what size you need. I'll use two smaller pans a lot of the time.)

Whisk together everything else in a largish bowl. A wide bottom in essential so that you can soak as much of the bread at the bottom as possible.

Gently place the sliced bread into the custard mixture and let is soak up the egg for about 5 minutes. You might need to toss the bread once or twice to get it all evenly soaked. Use tongs (silicon coated are best) so you don't tear the bread.

Place the coated bread into your baking dish, and pour any extra egg mixture evenly over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. You can chill it for as little as an hour, if you get up early to make it the same day, or for up to 24 hours before the bread will start to fall apart.

When it's time to bake it, make a streusel topping as follows:

½ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
dash of salt
3 Tablespoons butter, slightly melted
¼ cup sliced almonds

Mix everything in a small bowl and spoon over the sliced bread.

Pre-heat the oven to 375º and then bake for about 30 minutes, until the bread is set and the struesel is golden brown.

Serve plain with maple syrup or with sliced fruit, berries, or what have you. Just no peanut butter! We're not savages here, you know. And no hot sauce — it's not a t-rat, after all.

So there's option #2. Option #3 is a sausage / potato casserole. This one is great for a family sit-down breakfast if one person can get up about half an hour before everyone else. It takes about 20-30 minutes to assemble, and then you bake it for 30, so you have half an hour to clean up and get the table set. I love recipes like that, because there's nothing worse than enjoying a great meal and then looking at a trashed kitchen when everyone wents to get started on the weekend.

This came from our buddies to the east at the Greasy Skillet. He did a great job explaining the steps, so I won't steal his thunder. Check it out here.

Like he said, we need to add some veggies to this. I'm thinking a half-cup each of sauted green peppers and onions, but I need to figure out whether it goes on the bottom with the sausage or into the flour/egg mixture. Spinach might work, and you can't miss with tomotoes, either.

So the ball's now in your court. You have three choices for a hot, sit-down, family breakfast instead of cold cereal in front of the TV this Saturday morning.

Now comes the fun part... burning off all of these calories.

Happy trails!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weekend Brunch

Here is the first of three options for a weekend breakfast. The first is the healthiest of the bunch, so I'll start with the world's greatest granola recipe. I know what you're thinking: Ewell Gibbons died just like everyone else, so you're not going to sit around eating pine cones and tree bark just to go out like he did. Trust me on this one: this isn't the crap you buy from the far end of the cereal aisle.

Mountain Granola, adapted from Colorado Collage, from the Junior League of Denver.

(click the graphic for a close-up view.)

Homemade Granola
8 cups oatmeal
½ cup vegetable or olive oil
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups shelled, unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted
⅔ cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread seeds out on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5–10 minutes, stirring once or twice to avoid burning.
Place oatmeal in large bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat oil, brown sugar, and honey over medium heat, until thin—about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and salt. Pour mixture over oatmeal; add sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and almonds and toss to combine.
Spread evenly on 2 baking sheets and bake 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Serve with yogurt and berries.

(Makes enough for a family of four for about a week. Feel free to cut everything in half if you only want to use one baking sheet.)

For variety, use a little less sunflower and/or sesame seeds and add the difference in pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, dried apples, or whatever else. We also usually add a little coconut and a sprinkle of flax seed meal.

I almost forgot to mention: friends of the family used this recipe at the Nebraska State Fair a couple of years ago and took the grand prize in the breakfast category.

For options #2 and #3, continue reading here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tough guys

I like to read about folks like this to remind me how soft my life is.

Canadian Rider Has Made Unorthodox Climb to the Top

"We will never be here again."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

High Plains Weather Report

Chinook winds with a full moon.

That means you can expect some howling from those around you. Time to lock up the firearms and move the kitchen cutlery out of reach.

Everyone is a bit on edge. Z. got up screaming in the middle of the night, and before we could make it to his bunk to check on him, he was already sound asleep. That's the wind, howling through him.

The dogs are all skittish and wary as well. Every sound or creak makes them jump out of their skin. Our six pound cat decided to sleep on one of the dog beds, and she just stared down 300 pounds of Great Dane as they tried to move her. M-dog finally gave up and went to sleep in the basement, as far away from all of the crazies as she could get.

The wind and the moon make everyone a bit uneasy. You have to give yourself wide berth of all obstacles, be they physical, spiritual, or psychological. The slightest things set folks off, and over-reacting is everyone's MO until conditions change.

Or maybe we're just a bit anxious about today's court hearing...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday Brunch

Heading out the door, so just pix today, story tomorrow.

Made a scrumptious brunch this morning, using a recipe from our flatlander neighbors to the east at the Greasy Skillet. One of life's biggest joys is making something tasty and watching your kid devour it.

Super simple and moderately messy... The Greasy Skillet Sausage and Potato Breakfast Casserole is going to be seen in our house on weekend mornings a lot this year, I'm thinking.

Z. learned a new trick to day. We got him this gimmicky bowl that sticks to his tray with a suction cup and has a spill lip that sticks out in his general direction, sort of like an inverted fly fishing cap with an over-sized bill. Supposed to catch spills.

Well, Z. figured out that if he spills some food on the lip, presses down on it, and then releases it, he can launch the mess out into the stratosphere, catapult-like. Lovely. Now I have to keep him from watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Please, no one get him this for his birthday.

Friday, February 6, 2009

More kids' nutrition news

The Renegade Lunch Lady is in town. Chef Ann Cooper was in Boulder, talking to the school board about ways to improve school meals.

Current forecasts show that the kids in school today will live shorter lives than their parents, the first time ever that this will happen. A big part of the reason is the habits they pick up in school.

This morning I watched kids pouring chocolate milk on their Count Chocula cereal, and watched as they dumped most of their fruit cups into the 55 gallon drum that will most likely find its way to a pig trough nearby. I talked to a couple of them, but I have to be careful lecturing them because it turns them off completely. Instead, I try to let them see me munching on an apple or drinking a bottle of water.

You can hear Chef Ann's spiel here, and read more about the program here.

It's twelve o'clock... do you know what your kids are eating right now?

No news today...

... just needed to post a picture of Z. wearing the Army colors to placate my half of the family.

The 12th man is now officially here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Admitting that you have a problem

The first step is to admit that you have a problem.

We got a call from Pepperidge Farms the other day. They wanted to offer us payroll deduction, in order to simplify our monthly Goldfish bill and consolidate our baked snack expenditures.

It started out innocently, as I’m sure all addictions do. It was time for Z’s dinner, but I didn’t have anything ready yet. But he was hungry, so I put him in the chair and tossed him a couple of Goldfish to keep him happy. I didn’t even know where they had come from... M. had picked them up at one of her twice-a-day stops at Target. So I toss him a couple or three... and I casually pop one into my mouth. Then I open the fridge, dig around for some soup or pasta or something for Z. ... and I unconsciously reach again for the Goldfish. I’m mashing Z’s dinner with the avocado masher... and I take another handful. Z’s a big agitated because I’m taking so long, so I toss him a couple more... and it’s one for him, two for me, another for him, another handful for me. The next thing I know, in between giving Z. spoonfuls of his dinner, I’m tipping up a now-empty bag of baked Cheddar heaven to my mouth and inhaling the last few crumbs.

And like all addicts, I tell myself, no one else saw me, it was just this once, and I’ll never do it again.

And then M. comes home with a bag of the Goldfish with the little fishy pretzels mixed in.

Same story: casual snacking while feeding Zebb turns into me cannonballing a whole bag of crackers.

Now it’s my turn to get groceries, and I’m walking down an aisle that before now I didn’t even know existed. I vaguely remember the concept of the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish snack cracker, but I hadn’t bought a bag in twenty years. Turns out they come in every flavor under the sun: cheddar, parmesan, pretzel, whole grain, toasted corn, and mixed bags. They come in the traditional size and itty bitty baby-sized crackers, and starfish as well. And don’t even get me started on graham and chocolate.

At first it was my shameful little secret, chowing down on Goldfish when no one but Z was looking. But like all junkies, at some point I stopped caring who saw me. I’m making Z’s dinner, and I have a ramikan of Goldfish next to me. I’m making our dinner, and I’m taking them by the handful right out of the bag. I’m at school, and I have a ziplock bag of them on my desk. I’m driving to get Z from daycare and I have a little cup of them in the holder that before now has only ever seen coffee.

I’ve convinced myself that I’m not a Goldfish junkie but a Goldfish connoisseur. I mix cheddar and pretzel Goldfish with pistachios and tell myself I just invented something. Instead of saltines or oyster crackers, Goldfish are in my chicken soup. Crushed Goldfish replace breadcrumbs as a dusting for baked zucchini. The options are endless...

And like most junkies, I’m taking down the people around me. When I hand M. her packed lunch, she asks, “Did I get some Goldfish?” The dogs hover around Z’s highchair waiting for him to drop one, and then they pounce like sharks in chummed water. Even the finicky cats are in on it. I watched Fatty find one of Z’s discards, polish it off with a couple of bites, and then sit there and lick the cheddar powder off of the floor.

Step one is admitting that you have a problem. If anyone knows of a good support group, please let me know.

Next week: Rediscovering graham crackers

Winter Running Tips

Winter running tips from ChiRunning.

Check it out here.

You know you're listening to a die-hard runner when he's talking about taking an exacto-knife to his shoes' insoles.

Also worth reading at Well: Are your kids getting enough exercise?

School Recess Improves Behavior

Happy trails!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Greasy Skillet asks...

High Plains Update

Don't call it "global warming." Around here, it's called "global spinning around in circles, so don't even try to guess what's up tomorrow."

This time of the year, if you stick your head out the front door at high noon, you have a one in four chance of guessing what season it is. A week ago it was sunny and in the 60s. A couple of days later, below zero and snowing. And now it's back in the 50s. There's green in the fields where everything should be golden, except for where's there's snow. (That says minus fourteen, there on the left.)

Even the geese are confused. They're flying north, south, east, west, all over the place. No idea which way they want to go.

Our neighbors to the east over at The Greasy Skillet are asking what it is that you love about your town.

If I had to build a perfect town from scratch, I can think of a couple of places to start. You'd have a beach a mile away, bike friendly roads, and a little Italian place two blocks from the house like we had in Kailua. You'd have cool clubs and coffee shops like the Exit In and Bongo Java (of Nun in the Bun fame), from Nashvegas. You'd have vineyards right outside your front door and the Alps around the corner, like in Lehrensteinsfeld.

I don't have any of those things here in High Plains country, but I'm not complaining, not at all. It would be nice to have a bit more culture within walking distance, but the big city’s a quick hop down the road. After living in Baltimore, Wash DC, Atlanta, and other east coast big cities, this is as big as I ever want to go again.

The thing I don’t quite understand myself is, this place just feels like home to me. I grew up all over the east coast, but I didn’t realize until I left how claustrophobic I felt there. Especially in Georgia, living under 70 foot pines that didn’t let the day light in until maybe ten a.m. Out here, when Mr. Sun comes up, there’s no doubt about it — he’s looking in your window, telling you it’s time to get up and get to work.

Don’t get me wrong... it’s hard to beat Asheville, NC in the fall for sheer natural beauty, or the hills of western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, or the North Georgia mountains. But to me, those are great places to visit. Living there is a different story.

Back before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started, about the toughest thing one could do in the Army was go through the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, California. The National Training Center is basically in Death Valley, about as rugged a place to train as you’ll ever encounter. And to this day, I’m the only person I’ve ever met (awkward construction, but you know what I mean) who came back from there talking about how gorgeous it was. Yeah, it was a desert, nothing but rock... but if you looked hard enough, you could find flowering plants fighting their up through the rock. In the middle of nowhere, life was finding a way.

And that’s how I feel just about every day here. To some, picturesque might mean forested hillsides or fields of bluegrass or the rich colors of wildflowers. But I personally prefer the hardiness and ruggedness of something that’s just doing it’s best to survive. Desert plants that get by with a drop of water now and then, that are just barely green enough to capture light and CO2 and turn it into oxygen and new branches. Yeah, a magnolia tree on a southern plantation has it’s place, but can it roll down the highway at 60 mph like a tumbleweed? One bad ice storm and those 70 foot Georgia pines will be laying in your driveway (or in your kitchen, as we learned the hard way), but the plants here just shrug it off and silently remind you to quit whining. These plants are survivors.

And the same with the wildlife. Hawks and eagles circle overhead, reminding the little furry critters that they’d better not dilly dally unless they want to be supper. Foxes and coyotes roam the fields, reminding us that dogs were meant to have jobs, to work and play hard, and not to run around an arena, prancing for a judge. Even the cute little bunnies that run around in our yard aren’t hippity-hopping off to find Easter baskets but are part of this fight for existence, digging holes to hide from said eagles and coyotes and trying to survive temps that go from 100º to below zero practically over night.

I have no idea how the product of Pennsylvania and Florida genetic material, with roots in a Mulligan stew of European rolling hillsides, came to feel at home out here. Either reincarnation or alien abduction must be part of the answer. But whatever the reason is, this place just feels right to me.

Thought for the Day

From an interview with food critic Patricia Wells.

Q - You once said, "Americans eat every meal as if it is their last."

A - "And the French know that there will be more tomorrow."

We [Americans] are still not a food culture. We don't have the respect for food. We still have a fear of food. When we sit down to eat, we have too many negatives: no fat, can't have carbohydrates. It's just no, can't, no, can't. We forget what pleasure food can give us. It doesn't have to cost much and doesn't have to be complicated. Just going to the market and buying an apple can be a wonderful experience.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I hate running.

Or at least, I have from time to time.

I've had an on again, off again relationship with running.

As a kid, I didn't think about it. I never ran track, but running was a huge part of conditioning for basketball and soccer. To get ready for the season, I never intentionally laced up my shoes and went out and pounded the pavement. Didn't need to. We ran so much just goofing off and playing that we were always in decent shape by osmosis.

Then I joined the Army, and they proceeded to suck any marginal fun that there might have been in running. It was a chore, something you had to do. And that damn airborne shuffle. Those were the shortest strides I had ever seen, and they tore up my knees. Running in formation, I was taking quarter strides to try to stay in step, so my knees were barely bending. You had to stare at the back of the head of the guy in front of you. You ran around the same loop over and over. There was just nothing cool or interesting or fun about it. So running became something I only did when I had to.

Then, during my first mid-life crisis, I'm not sure what clicked but for some reason I found myself hitting the road to try to forget my problems. And for the first time in my life, I got smart about running.

I was stationed in Korea, and my best friend at the time, a guy named Bryan Chapman (who would go on to run the Kona Ironman a couple or three times and completed the Eco-Challenge back in 2001) taught me how to run smart for the first time in my life. Up until that point, "running" meant 3-4 miles at a constant 7 minute mile pace. Duh, no wonder I hated it. What Bryan showed me was that you needed to teach your body to run fast as much as you needed to train it. You had to show your legs what fast looked like. So for the first time ever, my workouts got smart. Every run had a purpose.

A typical week would include four days of running, with no two days the same. One day was focused on speed work. There was a state park right outside the gate, so I could jog about a mile to this huge expanse of parking lots. There, I could run sprints of various distances. Maybe a hundred meters out, walk back, and repeat. I could run a handful of full-gas sprints, or I could ramp up: two at 50%, two at 75%, two at 100%, then back down. Or I could run laps around the parking lot and make up my own intervals. Whatever, that day was all about speed.

Another day was all about maintenance. Those days were 3-5 mile days, and I'd line up the return so I came back on the PT test route and could time my last two miles.

Another day was for LSD, long slow distance. I usually saved this for Saturday or Sunday, when time wasn't an issue, and it was all about ground pounding. By the time I left Korea, I was casually running 15 or 20 miles at a shot, but it took a long time to get to that point.

And the fourth day was used to keep things interesting. We had a trail running through the hills (a deer trail, really, because we never saw anyone else ever walking, hiking, or running it), and running the zig-zags of this trail was used to target the legs' stabilizing muscles. Or I'd run an ad hoc fartlek course, using my watch timer to tell me when it was time to do some push-ups or sit-ups or lunges.

So part of it was that I was for the first time learning to run smart, but the mid-life crisis part probably helped as well. I finally understood what a runner's high was all about, and I'd come back from my LSD runs thinking I had solved all of the world's problems in my head at about mile fourteen or so, and if we could just get all of the world's leaders to buy a pair of Asics and go hit the road, we could save this planet. There was a one week period when I was training up near the DMZ where I got up around four every morning and did a pre-PT run, and I saw at least a dozen shooting stars right at BMNT each day. I still remember thinking, how many of those have I missed because I wasn't running before?

This period lasted maybe ten years, and during that time, I ran a handful of marathons and whatnot. Whilst in Hawaii, I formed a team that completed the Oahu Perimeter Run, a 134 mile relay race for six-man teams. (Two of my buddies ended up getting hurt and dropping out, so I wound up running about 40 miles that day, along with my COL boss. Our team was one of the last to finish, but I couldn't have had more fun.

And then at some point I started biking instead of running. And the next thing you know, running became a chore again. It was okay, but why run when you can get twice as far twice as fast on two wheels? If the weather was crap, then that's what trainers and stationary bikes were made for. And the most boring bike ride to nowhere on a trainer can be made endurable with an iPod and a decent selection of magazines. So the circle is now complete, and I once again hate running.

But now that we have the kid and time is a premium, I'm reconsidering this arrangement. For one, I don't have the time every day to check my tires, find my duds, load my jersey pockets with grub, make sure the Garmin is charged, count out CO2 cartridges and everything that goes along with going out for a ride. I don't mind doing my own bike maintenance, but during this time of the year, an hour on the bike comes with an hour in the garage, cleaning snow and ice and grime from every nook and cranny of your bike and yourself. All of a sudden, running is starting to look good again. Lace up your shoes and your out the door. Might not be as sexy as climbing aboard shiny titanium tubes and watching the road disappear beneath you, but at this point glitz and glamour are over-rated.

But if I'm going to stick with this, I need to jazz it up again, so here's part of my plan: to incorporate things like this into each run.

Slope Training

This program includes lunges, squats, upper body, and exercises to work your stabilizing muscles and to work your muscles in extension and compression. On top of that, I'm going to add a bunch of plyometric stuff into my runs. There's are park benches along my route, so there's no excuse not to stop for a minute and knock out a hundred step-ups and step-downs.

If you have any good mid-run exercises that you don't see here, please fire away.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dining Out

We've been letting Z. play with a spoon during meals, but he hasn't shown the slightest hint that he knows what to do with it, other than gum on the rubber end of it and occasionally throw it at the cat, the latter especially when he has dipped it in something orange or dark green.

But then today out of the blue he dipped his spoon into his bowl and proceeded to get about 5% of his food into his mouth, although much of it made several detours along the way, stopping at his hands, arms, and the general area of his face.

Even still, you could tell he was quite proud of himself.

And you can tell Mom was in charge of feeding him today, because she's the half that's smart enough to know to give this kind of thing a shot when you're dealing with plain white yoghurt. Dad would have picked roasted beets or maybe spaghetti sauce for the day he tried this little experiment, and then would have cussed the deep red stains on the ceiling for months until he got around to dragging the ladder out of the garage to hose down the place.

The funniest thing was, about half-way into the meal, Z. looked at me and said, "How about chilling the salad fork next time, will ya? Have we forgotten everything in Cadetiquette?"