Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Carrot habanero hot sauce

Last year I found myself in the unique position of having a lot of habanero peppers from the garden. It was a hot summer, and habaneros like heat, and we had planted some, mostly as an afterthought. They thrived. Since I have virtually no use for fresh, individual habaneros, I started looking around for ways I could maybe incorporate them into a sauce. I have long been a fan of Yucatan Sunshine, which has carrots in it. I'm not sure how I ended up finding this recipe, although I do know it is from a book I checked out from the East Central Regional Library system: Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen. It looked good, so I tried it. I ended up making two batches, and they were gone by mid winter. Good stuff.

This year, I did not have any significant yield of habaneros. The summer was kind of cool, even in the midst of global climate change. But I did plant carrots, a Nantes variety, and I got a good yield. So when I found some habaneros at the local grocery store, cheap, I could not resist.

Last night I did the hard and dirty work, chopping up stuff and cooking it and adding vinegar and whooshing it up in the food processor. I was up until 10 doing that. Tonight I whooshed it again, and simmered it some more. I am not crazy enough to think I will get it canned tonight, or tomorrow night. But it will be done, and I will make another batch, because I bought too many habaneros! :)

Se here's the recipe, with my modifications:

1 1/2 pounds carrots, cleaned, peeled and sliced into1/4 inch coins
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (this is the key ingredient!)

Combine these in a large nonreactive (stainless steel or such) pot and cook over medium high heat until carrots are soft. Add water if it gets too dry.

4 habanero peppers, seeded and chopped (I probably put in 7 or 8)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (3 maybe)

Add these and cook for 5 minutes.

5 cups white vinegar
Zest from one lime
The juice from that lime

Or so. Blend with an immersion blender (Don't have one, so I just transferred the mix, in batches, to my food processor. Or you could use a blender.) Cover and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors combine. And, at that point, I was ready to call it a night.

So today I blended the sauce again, in the food processor. Then the recipe offers two options: You can strain the mixture for a saucier sauce, or you can leave the chunkier bits in for more yield and a thicker sauce.Last year I strained the sauce. And I could not let myself discard the chunkier bits, because they were so delicious. So this year I skipped the straining. Cooked it down for about 30 minutes.

I have not canned it yet, I might tomorrow if I have time after yoga class. But, for canning, process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If left chunky, you should get about 8 half pint jars. Enjoy.


Monday, October 20, 2014

13.1: the saga


 Funny how when you anticipate an event, the actual happening of that event unfolds in a surreal way.
I arrived in Ashland, Wisconsin at about 7 Friday night. Nina and Joe had to be at their respective sports practices until about 5. Vinny was working, so he stayed home. I had left work about noon, so I enjoyed some time at home, packing and preparing. And thinking "Wow. I'm really doing this!"

The drive takes about two hours. Once we arrived, and picked up our race packets, I for the half marathon and Nina for the 10K, we went directly to the Pasta Feed/Fish Boil. Because this race is in Wisconsin, there had to be a fish boil. Whitefish. Although it was not as good as the Labor Day weekend fish boil in Port Wing, Wisconsin. That one featured volunteers running around with pitchers of beer, it was an all you can drink event. Which was probably not appropriate for a pre race event.

I got my gear together and tried to get to bed at a reasonably early time. The forecast was for temperatures in the 30's around race start time, so I adjusted my race wear plan. I was going to run in a tank top and shorts, but I decided on my long underwear shirt, capris, and my very fashionable tank top over my long underwear shirt. I pinned my number, which had my timing chip attached, to the tank top. The number had a bright green "First Timer" sticker attached, so I would be readily identified as a novice!

The alarm rang at 5:30. I got up, made a pot of coffee, and started getting ready.I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, something I rarely do. Russ drove me and Nina to the race starting area, about six blocks away. We boarded shuttle buses at about 6:50 AM. They were school buses, and my the driver of my bus was a jovial fellow. He seemed to enjoy his job. We arrived at the starting line, in Moquah, about 15 minutes later.

Moquah was probably a bit larger than it is now when the race corridor was a railroad. Now it is a township hall, a utility shed, and a couple of ball fields. When my bus arrived, the township hall was already filled with runners seeking warmth. They just opened up the utility shed when my bus arrived, and soon that was crowded with runners. I found a spot to sit down and sip the coffee I had brought in a mini thermos. I talked with a couple other female runners. I don't know why the shuttle buses arrived an hour before the 8:30 race start, but I guess it's better to arrive early.

Sooner or later, it was approaching start time. I consumed the one GU gel I had brought with me; the rest were to be found along the race course. I made my way to the trailer, where I stuffed my sweatshirt and coffee thermos in my labeled gear bag and placed it in the trailer that would take it to the finish area. The race start was very informal; I tried to figure out where would be the appropriate start for me. Not at the back, but maybe towards the back. I chose my place, and before I knew it, we were off and running.

The start of the race course headed west, away from Ashland, for a little over a mile along a county road that had very recently been re-paved, so very smooth. From there it took a connecting gravel road to the abandoned railroad corridor that would be our very straight course for the remainder of the race. A railroad corridor headed towards Lake Superior can only mean one thing: downhill or flat all the way. Which is a very good half marathon course for a first timer.

One thing I noticed in the first two miles was that my capris, which I had not worn on an actual run since I bought them in the summer, seemed to be slipping down on me. A lot. In the first mile I was pulling them up every minute. I thought that would be a problem. I thought that every runner behind me was probably thinking "First timer! Pants on the ground!" But somehow after two miles, the problem resolved itself. I figured the capris had either frozen to my butt, or had adhered themselves with sweat. Probably the latter.

I was running with my Map My Run app on my iPhone activated, mostly so I could keep track of my pace and not run too fast in the first few miles. When the friendly voice announced I had just completed my first mile, it was in approximately 11 minutes, 40 seconds. Perfect. I had told myself, in no way did I want to complete one of the first few miles in under 11 minutes.

The first couple miles were surreal, full of thoughts of "Oh my God, I'm actually doing this!" And they felt very good, physically. I was pacing myself, going the speed I knew would get me through this. Enjoying the tidbits of conversation overheard from other runners. My plan was to grab another GU gel at an aid station that was supposed to be about 3.5 miles from the start. Somehow I missed the GU if it was there, and I knew I didn't need water or anything until about 5 or 6 miles. And I could always make it up with Powerade. Wisdom from my 12 mile training runs.

 The course, as I mentioned, was along an old railroad grade. It was unpaved, mostly firmly packed gravel, which is as good as or better than what I'm used to running on. And, going through deciduous woods with maple trees at their peak in fall color, it was very beautiful. This is probably one of the most rural half marathons out there, which suits me well. The quietness, and the fall colors, the joy of running, and going on a flat to downhill grade got me into a happy, meditative state for most of the run. I really didn't think about the first half of the race as it went by. It was just another run along a country trail for me. And it felt pretty good.

I didn't stop to walk much. At the first aid station after mile 5 I had some water, but didn't feel like stopping too long for it, and at another aid station I actually used one of the portable restrooms (damn coffee). Finally, when an aid station came along near mile 9, I was ready for some Powerade. And they had GU. I could not believe I was crossing under US Highway 2 already. That seems so close to Ashland, well, driving anyway.

Then, at about mile 9.2, there was an unofficial aid station. With a keg. Hell yeah, I stopped for that one! It was quality beer too. It lifted my spirits, and my pace for the next half mile. Ah, Wisconsin.

My only problems came at about mile 11. Not exhaustion, far from it, but both of my calves decided to cramp up at the same time. I was totally clueless about how to deal with muscle cramps during a race. I massaged them a bit, did some gentle stretches, started to run, then did some more. Somehow the cramps went away, no damage done.

Soon after that, I entered familiar territory. When the rail corridor crosses the road at the western edge of Ashland, it turns into a paved trail, and I had run to that part of the trail once or twice on a Sunday morning in Ashland. Smooth sailing. But somehow my energy was waning, and I was succumbing to walking every so often. Okay, I told myself, I'm going to finish this, no worry about time. But looking, back, if I had not walked when I wanted to, I could have saved a minute or two. Oh well. First time issues to work out next time.

When I crossed into the city park that led to the finish line, however, I got a burst of energy. I was in VERY familiar territory at that point, and I was so close, and this was what I had been training for all summer, and finally I was going to see the finish line, and WOW! So I got faster with every turn, for at this point in the course there were turns. I could see the finish tent. I smiled. I was HAPPY! When I rounded the final turn, I was ecstatic. I heard my name being announced. I raised my arms in victory. And I crossed the finish line. 2:38:23.

Respectable. I still have it at 47. And I'm going to do this again. This one for sure. And Brookings, South Dakota in May. Duluth, MN in June. This is the beginning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My first half marathon, part 1: What led me there

Last Saturday I completed my first half marathon. I can recite my official time, 2:38:23, in my sleep. That time was right about where I wanted to be. Although I could have maybe run it a bit faster. But, my goal was to finish.

The road that led to this half marathon has been long. Until a year ago, I never envisioned myself being any more than a casual runner. I ran cross country for a year or two in high school, mostly for fitness, and I came in almost dead last at the regional meet one year. I ran throughout college and graduate school, because it felt good to get away from studies for a while. I got away from running in my adult, mom years. I took it up again in 2009, but in the last 2 years my motivation had waned a bit. My excuse: No time. My legs felt weak. It was too cold out. My hips hurt. I wish I had known about myofascial release then.

I believe opportunities, and teachers, present themselves at exactly the time you need them, if you are open to seeing them. The Universe works like that. So, almost exactly a year ago, I found myself in Ashland, Wisconsin. It happened to be the weekend of the Whistlestop Marathon and Half Marathon. The Hermit's apartment was about six blocks from the finish line, so I wandered down there to check out the scene. I watched the runners as they triumphantly crossed the finish line. I felt the energy from the spectators. And, I thought to myself, "I could do this! And it would be fun!" So the seed was planted.

My training began in winter. Here in Minnesota we were blessed/cursed with a lot of snow in the winter of 2013-2014. So I did what any insane Minnesotan would do: I went cross country skiing. And I loved it. So much, I skied 10 kilometers across Chequamegon Bay, from Ashland to Washburn, Wisconsin, in the dark.

But, alas, spring came slowly to the Northland. March and April were in between seasons, not enough good snow for skiing but not warm enough/snow thawed enough for running. According to Map My Run, I ran three times in April. As I recall, it was a disappointing baseball season for my oldest son as well, the whole season being crammed into three weeks in May.

I remembered my thoughts about the half marathon in May. About the same time, my daughter was taking an interest in fitness and healthy eating, and working out. I thought again about how I would like to lose some weight, and thought "So what's my excuse?" I could think of none, so I started running. Two or three miles at first, with a pace over 12 and usually 13 minutes per mile. But I was running, and I remembered every good thing running ever did for me. I remembered how it kept me sane in insane times.

As the weeks went by, I started increasing my mileage. I had never run over seven miles at one time, and when I reached that distance it was a milestone. Seven miles is kind of the bridge between casual runner and serious commitment. On one July evening, as I was waiting for Joe's marching band bus to return from the day's activities, I logged on to the WhistleStop Marathon page, and I registered for the half marathon. Commitment.

to be continued

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Unintentional Mud Run, or How To Bond With Your Daughter (and get a new iPhone in the process)

I went for a run with my daughter last Saturday morning. We were camping at El Rancho Manana for our fifth Homegrown Kickoff Bluegrass Festival. El Rancho Manana is a beautiful campground located in some rolling terrain just west of St. Cloud, Minnesota. It has the only access to Long Lake, a beautiful little lake with some nice bass and sunfish.

We started out about 7 AM on Saturday morning. It had rained the night before, so much that Nina and I had canceled our plans to see a band at 10 pm on the main stage. So I knew trails would be kind of muddy. And, it looked like rain was threatening again. So I slipped my iPhone (3GS, old model) into a Ziploc bag in my fanny pack. I was going to use Map My Run to track our mileage, and I wanted to be able to access my phone, so I did not seal the bag.

At first we ran around the camp sites by the lake. Then we found a trail that cut from the lake camp sites to the main stage area. So far, so good. Then I found a trail that would lead from the stage area to the rough campground that I had planned would be the halfway point of our run. It was a bit muddy in some areas, but nothing we could not handle.

Then, at some junction, I took a wrong turn. But, I told myself, even if I took a wrong turn, this campground has a good system of trails, and they would all lead back to the campground, right?

Then it started raining. At first I thought, how exhilarating to be running in the rain! In the pouring rain! And, this trail will turn back to the campground soon...

Then the trail started going uphill, and it was washed out in places from previous heavy rains. Kind of hard to run, but oh well.

Then the trail led through piles of saturated horse manure, way out in the woods. Not so fun. I began to question my navigating, but it was still raining, and I did not want to get my phone wet!!! (Irony to follow!)

Then the trail alternated between bogs and uphill runs. It seemed like the trail was going uphill forever. I kept waiting to hear Ms. Map My Run tell me we had gone one more mile, but she seemed strangely silent. Then we passed a sign: "Old Smokey, Highest Point in Stearns County". No wonder it seemed I was running uphill so much. I think it was about 1460 feet, about 200 feet above our camp site.

I was starting to hear some mutterings from Nina. Some curse words maybe. I was feeling kind of uneasy myself, but if life has taught me one thing, it is this: Just keep swimming!

We came to an open pasture, with a faint trail across it. It had stopped raining, so I decided to pull out my phone to see where the hell we were. Because I was pretty unsure at that point. I thought surely we would have circled back to the campground by then.

When I pulled out my phone, I realized I had not sealed the bag, and there was water around the phone. So much, that I could see water creeping underneath the screen. Crap.

We crossed the pasture because it was easy running/walking, much easier than washed out hillside trails and bogs. Nina was still muttering curse words, and I was starting to think of a few myself.

Then we came to a sturdy barbed wire fence, with a gate we were not meant to open. I hate to stereotype, but this fence must have been built by a German immigrant farmer, it was so solid and meticulous. The family dog could not have found a way under this fence. But at that point I saw water, and a house next to some water. So I commanded that we find a way under the fence, towards civilization. We crawled under the fence where a tree had fallen on it, and slogged across the open field and some low lying, waterlogged meadows. We reached another fence, and another, and crawled under them. Finally we reached a road. Big Fish Lake Road.

I had read enough maps to know that Big Fish Lake was one lake over from the campground. For a moment, I thought the lake whose waters we could see was Big Fish Lake, and we had gone a whole land section off course.

We started down Big Fish Lake Road, with the intention of finding an occupied cabin, knocking on the door, sheepishly explaining our situation, and asking for a ride back to the camp ground. By this point I was sure Nina would not be speaking to me for, well, a couple weeks minimum.  But, as luck would have it, we came to a dead end. Which, it turns out, was tantalizingly close to the camp ground. But we did not know if we waded along shore, we would be back to camp in ten minutes. So we turned around up the road. We walked to the first road junction. There was an SUV approaching, towing a pontoon trailer. I flagged it down, and luckily it was a nice guy about my age. I explained our situation, and he gave us a ride back to the camp ground.

All in all, we went a little over 4 miles. When we finally arrived, soaking wet, back at our camp site, Nina and I said little to each other. Then we drove to St. Cloud, where I upgraded to an iPhone 5C. I was long overdue for an upgrade, and I think at that point I had earned it.

I had not ever really had the experience of feeling lost. I usually have a good sense of direction, but on these winding trails in the pouring rain, I had lost it. I think Nina was genuinely scared at some point, but I always knew we could not get so far lost we could not find our way back. And by the way, she kicked my ass running. She can do an eight minute mile, while I still struggle to do an eleven. I think we both learned something about ourselves that day. And we can laugh now!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This cross country skier is back!

I have always loved cross country skiing. From my early beginnings, on wooden skis crossing Rush Lake to explore the mysteries of Heron Island, to my high school years, competing on my high school Nordic team although I didn't really know how to be an athlete, or didn't think I could be one, to my honeymoon and anniversaries at Gunflint Lodge, and early adult years getting to know the trails at Wild River State Park, skiing has been a part of me. But I never realized quite how much, until this winter.

Until the weekend after Christmas 2013, I had not skied for several years. This was a combination of my not making the time for it, a succession of winters with scant snowfall, and my having outgrown my old boots and having broken one of my fiberglass poles that had been with me since high school. I kept telling myself I would buy myself boots and poles if there was a winter when there was good snow, and I had time, etc. I see all of these now as nothing more than self defeating excuses.

As it turns out, this was a good winter for snow early on, and I received a sum of money on Christmas morning that would pay for boots. The day after Christmas I went to the nearest store, T & M Athletics in Willow River, who happened to have the exact boots and poles I needed. I am lucky to have a local store like that! I would have hit the trails that day, had it not been for a family Christmas gathering, and the Christmas Bird Count was the day after. I had promised my kids I would take them shopping to spend their Christmas dollars on Saturday, but not before I had a chance to try out my new boots and poles.

I was a bit awkward at first, and my skis could have used a fresh glide wax. But I skied a couple miles that first day back. I went back the next day, though it was below zero. I skied with a friend on New Year's Day. I started going to Banning State Park every chance I could get. I enjoyed seeing open water on the Kettle River when it was ten degrees below zero, I enjoyed gliding down slight inclines, I enjoyed finding the courage to ski down Skunk Cabbage hill and the Deadman's Trail both in the same day, without falling. But mostly I just enjoyed being out on the trails, my heart pounding and lungs bursting. Skiing.

In January I happened to hear about a ski race in Ashland, Wisconsin. 10 kilometers, flat course across Chequamegon Bay to Washburn, Wisconsin. I had a place to stay in Ashland, so I figured "Why not?" Yeah, why not ski my first, longest ever race in nearly thirty years?

The week before the race, I was home four days out of five with the kids and myself sharing a nasty stomach bug. The day of the race I decided I would not eat anything I would not want to see again hours later. But I felt pretty good.

The starting line was divided into areas where skiers were supposed to "seed" themselves by suggested times. I, not knowing what to expect for a time, hung out between the 45 minute and 1:15 signs. 

The start was like a freeway jam slowly freeing itself into motion. The first ten minutes of the race, I felt like I was inching along with the crowd, waiting for things to thin out. There were a couple bottlenecks where ice conditions forced everyone to merge into a small crossing area. I did not feel like I got up to speed until about the third kilometer. I started feeling confident. I started passing people. I was amazingly agile at changing lanes. With classic style cross country, there are a couple grooved tracks set in the snow. If you want to pass someone, you have to find an opportunity, and switch over to the passing lane. I only fell once while doing that. 

Even as the skiers along the course thinned out, I found myself pushing harder all the time and getting frustrated when I got caught behind slower skiers for any length of time. I though maybe it was good that I got behind people, to pace myself, but I realized two things: I felt good, and I felt competitive! I would push myself as long as I could, and pass people whenever the opportunity arose. 

There were rest stops set up every kilometer or so, with hot cider and water, maybe a bonfire, and maybe even live music, or a snow sculpture of a fire breathing dragon that breathed real fire. They go out of their way to make this race fun! That said, I only stopped at one rest stop, because I had this horrible gob of mucus in my throat and I needed water. Even so, I felt bad when I saw skiers passing me.

I had thought at first that the course would be a straight shot across the bay, with the lights of Washburn growing ever larger. Not so. The course, lit by thousands of candle luminaries, zigged and zagged in order to bring it up to 10 kilometers. Every time I rounded another bend I thought I was headed into the final stretch. The last hour of the race was a blur of dark, lights, staying on the trail, passing skiers, and thinking the next rest stop along the way was the finish line.

When the real finish line finally came into view, I was still amazingly not tired. In the last minute, I left the grooved track to pass a couple more skiers. Hey, I wasn't in this just to have a leisurely ski at this point. When I crossed the finish line, I was sprinting. So fast I missed the display that showed my time. 1:31:13. A bit longer than I thought, but hey, I finished! And I could have skied a lot harder, I felt so good!

Later at the apartment, I looked up my time and standing. Overall for skiers I placed 732nd out of 2266; I was in the top third of all skiers! That includes skate skiers, who are always faster! For women I placed 280th out of 1174; for my age class, 36th out of 180. Pretty darn good for a woman who had not skied in years until the weekend after Christmas. 

I will continue to ski this year as long as there is snow. This spring and summer I will run, keeping up fitness for skiing while training for a half marathon. Next winter, more ski races! Mora Vasaloppet 42k classic? We'll see. As long as it's fun. :)