Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Retrospective

On my way into work this morning, I realized that it was a year to the day since we left Houston and started our life here in Colorado.  Wow.

I would like to say that 2011 was everything I wanted it to be and more.  Say that it was an awesome year.  But I can't.  While we had some big highlights to the year, 2011 was one mostly marked by loss and drama.  I've never really had anyone or anything die on me before.  Nothing could have prepared me for losing 4 close souls this year.  I still can't really think about it much - it still hurts too much.

I would like to say that I have high hopes for 2012, but we have some more family health hurdles to get past.  Big, uncomfortable ones that will be drawn out and painful.  Lets just say that I'm hoping for a good 2013.

Some highlights have been:
  • 30 min PR at Texas 70.3, while taking it easy (thank you IMTX training)
  • IMTX (really, this is THE highlight of the year)
  • Exploring Colorado on my bike for IM training, even if I whined about it a lot.
  • Beer.  Lots of beer.  Probably too much beer.
  • Buying a great house in a town that we really love
  • Camping
  • Being able to spend time outdoors, pretty much anytime I want
Looking forward, some vague goals are:
  • Surviving the next few months getting Will's dad into assisted care (or nursing care).  This means dealing with Medicare/Medicaid, selling his house, blah blah blah blah.  More stuff then one should deal with when your dad is 68.
  • MOAR skiing.  This is of course dependent upon the ski areas getting some snow.  Its pathetic right now.
  • Getting stronger on the bike.  I got tired of getting my ass kicked on the hills here.
  • Enjoy training with a group.  My club is doing IM Kansas 70.3 as the club race.  Boise is the day before.  This means I have instant training buddies.
  • I would put a time goal down for Boise, but with the crazy weather, I know better.  Lets just say I want a stronger performance on the bike.
And really, I can't think past June at this point. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Snowboarding Fail

Will and I both had last Friday off and decided to hit the slopes.  I had bought a 4-pack of lessons for Winter Park, thinking Will could really figure out how to snowboard (he's ok, but I think he needs some instruction so he will really enjoy it).  I said I'd use one of the lessons to learn how to snowboard myself. 

I think I learned how to ski when I was 5.  At any rate, I've been skiing for 30+ years.  That's a long time when you think about it.  In the past, Will and I have only had maybe one day a year to hit the slopes.  Will usually was good for a half day of snowboarding before the frustration took over and he was done.  I would spend the whole day skiing.  Will wanted me to take a snowboarding lesson, but each time I'd refuse because I was NOT going to spend my one day a year on my ass hating life.

Now we live here and I have a season pass.  I think that means I have more than one day a year on the mountain.  This also means I didn't have an excuse to not give boarding a try.

I went into it knowing I'd be spending the whole day on my ass, but I was optimistic.  I'm a great skiier.  I was excited to learn something new from scratch.  Think about it, how often do you get the opportunity to learn something completely new?  I went into this with an open mind.  I came out with very bruised knees and probable moderate whiplash.

The 4-pack had two options.  A semi-private lesson whichs started at 11:30, meaning we'd waste the morning waiting for the lesson to start.  Or an all-day group lesson with lunch included.  We did the group lesson.  I know Will was hoping to be in my group, but he can do things like stand, turn, and stop.  I could not.  He was placed in the beginner group.  I was placed in the novice group.  And we parted ways for the day.

Winter Park.  See all those trails?  Well, I didn't go on hardly any of them.
I had ~10 people in my group, ranging from high schoolers to some guy who was maybe in his 40's.  I wasn't the oldest, but I was probably the second or third oldest.  At least I had altitude and endurance training to my advantage, as most people were from out of state. 

We started the lesson figuring out our bindings.  Pain in the asses, those bindings are.  We strapped one foot in and practiced scooting along like you'd ride a skateboard.  Only I'd never ridden a skateboard so the motion was incredibly awkward. We practiced scooting up the hill like that.  Hey, I was good at this and beat everyone up the hill.  Then we practiced turning by leaning back towards our heels with our back to the hill (one foot strapped in, the other loose).  Ok, it felt weird, but I got it.  Next we practiced turning by leaning forward on our toes.  Got it.

Then it was time to go up the lift!  Scary!  We had very minimal instruction on going up the lift.  I figured I could fake it, if needed.  The guy who was supposed to ride up with me freaked out, almost got tangled up in the lift side pole, freaked out even more and didn't make it onto the lift.  At the top of the lift, I successfully dismount and did not crash.  We all got to the top, but were missing random guy, so our instructor zoomed down the mountain to get him.  Only as soon as the instructor took off, random guy appeared.  Ugh.

First lesson - standing up.  You can either sorta dig you heels in and magically stand up or you can be a yoga master and dig your toe side in, do a back bend sort of thing, and stand up.  The easier sounding way didn't work for me - I kept sliding down the hill as I tried to stand up.  Good thing I've done a bunch of yoga, as that worked for me.

We finally made it over to the "bunny hill" area, which is a bit weird since its mid-mountain.  We practiced falling leaf patterns, where you zig-zag across the run.  First we practiced leaning back to our heels and turning/stopping, then going across the other way.  It was awkward.  Also: it was easy to lean the wrong way (down the hill) and fall on your hands and knees (and face).  Knees don't have much padding.  Falling on them hurts. After a few runs of that, we practiced going "toe side", where you face uphill and lean towards you toes to turn and stop.  This was HARD.  Very tough on the calves and feet, as you're almost tippie-toe.  Heel side is much easier, even if its hard on the quads.


Cropped view of the area I snowboarded.  Yes, that tiny yellow shaded area.  Very sad.
The hill we're on is pretty flat.  Half the time I have to jump around or throw my feet around to get going.  A bunch of the time, my balance sucks and I crash. 

Lifts suck on snowboards.  First, you have to undo your back foot and scoot around everywhere.  Then if you don't angle your leg just right  as you get on the lift, your knee gets turned awkwardly as you take off.  Then the dismount.  The bunny hill lift has a harder dismount than the first lift we went up.  So you'd point the board perpendicular to the lift and place your free foot on top of the board.  Then you'd gently push off the lift and coast downhill.  Each time, I'd crash HARD on my tailbone.  Only I couldn't sit there and curse to myself.  I would have to gather myself and move quickly out of the way.  Then I'd have to stand up (which isn't hard when you have one foot free) and scoot to where my lesson people were, sit down, and buckle my feet in.  Buckling in sucks.  You wouldn't think it sucks, but it does.  Especially since, when I ski, there is none of this up and down, crash, stand, sit, buckle business.  You just get off the lift and go.

So after ~maybe 2 hours of this ride the lift, crash, sit and listen to our instructions, board falling leaf style, crash a ton, and ride up to do it again, it's lunch time.  We board part of the way to the lunch spot (Snowasis), only the slope isn't quite right and we get stuck and need to walk most of the way there.  We have lunch and walk back to our little bunny hill.  Only we had to walk through a pretty busy flat spot, where the skiiers/boarders hauled ASS to get through.  So it was like we were playing frogger.  Not cool.

Apparently over lunch I'd forgotten what I learned that morning.  I was having a lot of issues and crashed pretty hard backwards, which made me really appreciate the free helmet that came with my rental.  Yup, definitely not liking things.  And each time you crash, each time you have to awkwardly stand up.  And each time, you'd have to flop your board around to position it so you can stand up.  Such a pain in the ass.  I finally figured out that I could face the mountain, stand up with my back pointing downhill.  But that was only ok if it was flat enough for me to hop around 180 degrees so my face was pointing downhill.  If it was too steep for that, I'd have to get up the other (more challenging way).  Somewhere along the way, I tweaked my shoulder and my hand.  My knees were killing me.  And my ass was well on its way.  We practiced some more, in a way that was more like "real" snowboarding, where you point the thing downhill and use your heels and toes to guide you.  I'd get freaked out and heel it all the way down, which was a ridiculous quad workout.  I think I had maybe 2 runs total where I didn't crash.  They wweren't fast runs, but I didn't crash.  I think at the end of the day, I had 3 lift dismounts that were successful. And each time up the lift, I was spending more and more time (while buckling my foot to the board) gathering my wits to head back down.

So I'm watching my watch (please, when will this end!).  I was trying to figure out how we were going to get down the mountain to the base.  Lessons ended at 3, and it was 2:40.  Our instructor gathered us and announced that we'd be heading down after another run.  I asked how we were getting down, if we only had 20 minutes.  He replied that we were walking to the Gemini lift (the one we originally took up), and TAKING THE LIFT DOWN.  I have never in my life had to ride a lift DOWN.  Oh, the humiliation!  Ugh.

We got to the base and I found Will.  I'd seen Will a few times during the day (he was on the same bunny hill for part of the day), but he generally kept his distance since he knew I wasn't happy.  He had a good lesson and learned somethings.  I had an awful day.  Honestly, the best part was riding the lift up each time.  It was a spectacularly sunny day with fresh snow on the mountains.  Beautiful.  But I was dead.  And frustrated. And sore.  And I missed my skiis.

So we went and had beers and really tasty gorgonzola/spinach/artichoke/bacon dip at the Cheeky Monk and then went home.  I told Will he can have the remaining 2 lessons.  I'm not snowboarding ever again. :/

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Not what I had in mind for a workout this morning

8 inches of snow.  And dummy here left her laptop at work.  My arms are tired now.
I only shovelled my side of the driveway
8 inches on the ground and the snow pile was probably 3 feet high.  fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What a week (and its only Wednesday)

I started eating Paleo Sunday night.  I went to a tri seminar a few months back, and they had a dietician talk about metabolic periodization, where you restrict grains during the build phase of your training schedule.  I've been feeling like crap for months now and have had a little voice telling me to think about Paleo.  After doing some reading the past few weeks, I'm giving it a shot.

My first full day eating Paleo - my coworkers dropped off a bag of chocolates.  Ugh.  Bad week to start a diet which restricts sugar.  Fortunately, my boss was asking around for chocolate, so I gave her the whole bag.

So far its not awful.  I think my stamina is a bit reduced (which is common).  Yesterday was sprint day for swimming, and I was more gassed than normal.  And I was sweating more than usual during my lunch time weight workout.  Supposedly after the 2nd week, your energy goes through the roof and you access your fat stores.  We shall see.  If anything, it will be an interesting month.

Last night, I got conned into going to this sort of self help seminar by a coworker.  She's a friendly acquaintance and did this seminar and it changed her life.  I really didn't want to go but she wouldn't let it drop.  I went, and its basically a cult.  Or cult-like pyramid scheme.  Do some googling of  L a n d m a r k F o r u m.  I'm glad my radar went off in the first 30 seconds I was in the building (everyone was SO HAPPY) and it kind of went downhill from there.  They even had a portion of the evening dedicated to registering for the 3 day course ($500).  I didn't want to give them any trackable information, so I didn't even get a name tag at the event entrance.  I saw that you had to fill out a contact card when you got your name tag, so I just kept walking.  Even though several worker people said "I see you don't have a nametag, have you been offered one?"  The whole thing was weird.  People were having epiphanies (but they call them Breakthroughs!) but while people were talking about their problems (Breakdowns!), the moderator was guiding their words to match the program's bizzaro language.  Sometimes it was subtle (and the people mirrored his wording with barely any promting), sometimes he flat out made them repeat his statement.  And while the words were english, they were assembled oddly.  They said specific sentence structure led to empowerment and words were powerful.  And magically, by using the modified language, they reached their Breakthrough! I thought it was creepy.  And when said person reached their Breakthrough! the whole room sighed in amazement and applauded.  Even my coworker was saying "you just witnessed 2 breakthroughs tonight, wasn't it amazing!" (the issues were not life changing, and in one case, the class led some guy to apologize to his ABUSIVE FATHER.  The son apolgized to his father because the son had allowed their relationship to lapse.  Call me crazy, but I'm thinking if you don't want a relationship with a guy who beat the shit out of you and your family, that's probably a good thing!)  In fact, you couldn't simply talk to someone.  You were "sharing" and "having a conversation".  Everyone was talking and using identical phrasing.  Sooo weird! I'm sure it helps some people, but I really do not need an organization telling me how to think, right down to how I express my thoughts.  Ick.  Seriously, I get the heebie jeebies when I think about last night.  I'm so glad I didn't get sucked in!  I'm sure my checking account thanks me as well!

And now I have a coworker who was/is friendly to me, but she is in what I believe is to be a pseudo-cult.  Awkward!  I really am destined to not have any friends at work.

I just want to get through tomrorrow and then I'm off for a 4 day weekend.  Will and I are going to learn how to snowboard on Friday.  The snow is shitty, but you really don't need good snow when you learn.  Hopefully I won't die.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

So that race didn't happen

I woke up Saturday to this:

maybe 3 inches and another 2-3 on the way....
Big puffy flakes, wind, and really cold temperatures.  This was at 7:30 AM.  No road plowing had been done.  I hung out for a bit and debated going.  Then I decided that even driving to the race was sketchy, much less racing it.  So I went back to bed and slept in until 10:30 AM.  Will and the kitties were very happy about this decision.

This was my second ever DNS.  My first was for the Kemah Olympic tri, where I had a horrible stomach virus the night before (morning of?) where I was puking every 30 minutes from 11 PM to well after the start of the race. 

I checked out the race results, and it looks like over 100 people raced.  On their bikes.  Colorado people are crazy.

I, on the other hand, was very happy to be home, in my jammies, fire going, and being lazy. 

Zipper likes to try and catch snowflakes as they fall outside the patio door.


Friday, December 02, 2011

mountain bike... what is that?

It snowed all day yesterday.  It will snow tonight and tomorrow morning.

The problem?  I have a duathalon tomorrow.  4 mile trail run and a 10 mile bike.  With snow.  And the roads/ground was nice and warm, which meant that the snow melted at first and turned to ice, and then got covered with more snow.

I have seriously thought about turning my tri bike into a ski bike.

Condition update from the race director:
*** DECEMBER 3RD RACE UPDATE!!! (updated 7pm Thursday December 1st) As always, we issue a course conditions report the Thursday before each Chilly Cheeks race. Yesterday, the roads and trails were dry. Tonight, there are a few inches of snow on the ground at Cherry Creek State Park. It's Chilly Cheeks Season!!!
  
The forecast for Friday calls for morning sunshine and afternoon clouds with temps getting just above freezing. So... I would anticipate some slick conditions on at least a portion of the bike course on race morning in the form of packed snow and patches of ice. Saturday's race forecast is for temps around 20 degrees at race time with the potential for light snow falling.

 As always, your bike choice is up to you, but a mountain bike might be a good option. If you arrive on Saturday and you are uncomfortable with the bike course conditions, you can switch to the run-only prior to the start of the race. Just let us know when you pick up your number.

 Here are some last minute instructions for everyone. Packet pick-up will open at 8:00am, with the race starting at 10:00am. Please bring photo ID with you to packet pick-up. Your race number and timing chip can only be picked up by you on race morning.

 Directions to the park are listed below this update. Please enter through the west gate off of Dayton. Parking will be available in the Hobie Hill lot, immediately adjacent to transition. Once this lot is full, we will cone off the entrance, and you will need to park in the marina parking lot, just 200 yards further down the road. Please do not park on the grass (park rangers will ticket you) or attempt to park in the Hobie Hill lot once we have closed it to parking. Any available spots you see are reserved for race volunteers and our ambulance. We are only permitted to park in these two lots. Please do not park elsewhere or it will jeopardize our ability to hold these events in the future.
  
There will be two starting waves on Saturday morning - all men at 10:00am, and all women just a few minutes later. During the first 1.75 miles of the run, you will need to stay to the left side of the road facing traffic. There will be an aid station serving water at 1.75 miles. From there, you will run on dirt trails for about 1.5 miles, then on bike path for the remainder of the 4 mile run.

 Run-only participants will conclude their event when they cross the 4-mile timing mat (all miles will be marked), and a volunteer will retrieve your timing chip. Duathlon participants will continue to transition, grab their bikes, and head out for a 10.8 mile ride. Helmets are mandatory on the bike, and must be buckled before you start. You will not be allowed to start without a helmet.

 The bike course will be open to light park traffic, so please stay to the right except to pass, and no crossing the centerline of the road (even if it is covered with snow, you know where it is). Also - this is a low-key fun winter event, but please - no drafting on the bike. You must leave at least 3 bike lengths between your front wheel and the rear wheel of the bike ahead of you.

 There will be volunteers at all intersections and turns on the bike course to direct you. The finish of the bike will be the same point as the start line for the run. After crossing the finish mat, slow down immediately and return your timing chip. Please do not blow past the chip retrievers as you will cross the path of runners who may still be on course. You may also miss out on a great raffle item that we award to random finishers at the finish line. We have helmets and glasses from Rudy Project, training DVD's from Carmichael, gift certificates from Boulder Running Company, Koobi Saddles, KompetitiveEdge, Excel Sports, and more. Lots'a great swag!!!
  
Once you are done, stop by the food tents for home made banana chocolate chip bread (my house smells so good right now!!! As well as hot cocoa, hot ramen noodle cups, and plenty of other drinks!

 I know, after weeks in the 50's and 60's this blast of winter is a real shocker, but this is what Chilly Cheeks is all about. Come out and have some fun with us!!! Online registration closes at 5pm on Friday, and race-day registration will be available. We'll see you on Saturday morning!!!
I have a mountain bike that I bought ~10 years ago.  Will and I used to ride them a lot.  Then I found masters swimming and really didn't want to work out 2x a day (swim in the morning, ride after work.  little did I know what my future would hold....)  Then I got a tri bike and have completely forgotten about the mountain bike.  The only time in recent memory that I rode it was a year ago, only because I needed to get to/from the car detail shop by my house and I didn't have the time to run to and from the place.

So, I busted the bike out last night.  Aired up the tires (hopefully they hold air - those tubes are original.  probably just cursed myself here).  Played with the shifters so I remember that they do not shift like my tri bike.  And wow, this sucker is heavy.  (Will actually told me not to whine about how heavy it is before I went in the garage to mess with it)

Dressing for this thing is a whole different animal.  My transition time will be ridiculous.  For the run, I figure I'll wear my fleecy run tights (with tri shorts underneath), a long sleeve shirt, my SONY jacket, a hat, and my new windproof baclava (that I just got for skiing).  And probably gloves.  For the bike, since I'm using my mountain bike, I won't mess with the cycling shoes.  I've debated about putting my SPD pedals on my mountain bike for more power, but I've decided that its probably safest if I'm able to quickly put my foot down if I start sliding.  I will bitch about not being able to pull up on my pedals, but its only 10 miles.  Still debating on wearing my warm winter cycling gloves or my ski gloves.  I will also probably have an insulated water bottle with warm water for the bike.  And maybe another jacket.  Although with the mountain bike, its not like I'll be generating that much speed/wind.

When I heard about this, I thought it would be interesting to race in the snow, but secretly hoped that it wouldn't come to it.  Guess I'll find out tomorrow if snow racing is fun or horrible.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Back on a plan

I've decided that I really don't want to run outside in the dark and cold.  I've also decided that I have no interest in running on the treadmill.  This means, no running during the week. I may occasionally run on the weekends - but only if the weather is good and I'm not up skiing.  Skiing is my winter weekend focus this year.

My 1.5 month break has been amazing.  Luxuious. Restful.  However, not doing much of anything has lead to weight gain - probably 10 lbs.  Not cool.  Also not surprising. 

I've discovered this late summer and fall that if I do not have a plan, I simply won't follow through.  I'm generally self-motivated and accountable, but if I don't have a specific something planned on a daily basis, then its way too easy for me to sleep in or bum around on the couch.  As much as Will and the cats love me blowing off workouts, my waistline can't take it anymore.  So, I'm playing "coach" for myself.   Monday, I sat down with a calendar and created my own version of TrainingPeaks (in Word) which lays out a daily plan for the whole month.  With specific exercises.  A plan.

My focus for this off-season is to gain strength on the bike, so I'm better able to ride up hills, canyons, and maybe even a mountain.  I started (and then stopped - but I was sick) lifting weights, earlier in the month with an emphasis on leg strength.  Knowing that I needed some sort of cardio to build strength, I found a 16 week free cycling program - "Winter Cycling", which is designed to build critical power.  Cool.  Most of the workouts are short - usually 45 to 60 min long.  I can get by on 2 workouts a week, I could do the 3 short rides, or I could do 4 rides a week (3 short and 1 long).  I highly doubt I'll get in the long weekend ride (hello, skiing!) but 2-3 short rides on the trainer are achievable.

I've also joined a new swim team, my 3rd this year.  Hopefully this one will stick.  I know that the workouts won't completely meet my swim-snobbery standards, but for the time being, just getting in the pool and having friends there with me will be enough.  I can always show up early if I want to get more yards in (which I will probably do this spring).

Finally, I registered for the Chilly Cheeks Duathalon series.  I have no plans of really racing these.  Its more like an excuse to get out there, run at least once a month, and keep my skills sharp.  The first one is this Saturday.  And we're expected to get 5 inches of snow tonight, and the high temp for the day is 22 degrees. (!!) (the low is 10 degrees and the race is at 10 AM.).  My lovely husband, upon hearing that I signed up for the race AND upon hearing the weather report laughed out loud.  I told him, just for that reaction, I should make him go to the race and spectate.  So, yeah.  Snow and cold.  Looks like I will be racing with my ski gear.  All this so I could get a pair of sweat pants that say "Chilly Cheeks".....

So, my plan, is roughly like this:
Monday - weights at lunch, bike after work
Tuesday - swim team before work
Wednesday - bike after work (or before work if something fun is going on after)
Thursday - weights at lunch, bike after work (depending on how things feel)
Friday - swim team before work
Weekend - ski and maybe run.  Tri club has a Sunday run group, so I may join in.

This is my third day on the plan, and my legs are sore.  Not dying sore, but more like "hey, what is going on?!?!".  Was I sore like this every day during my IM training?  I don't remember being sore all the time.  Hopefully this is just an effect of being a couch potato.  Either way, it feels good to be back and doing something.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Ramblings

Things are still kind of blah.  Here's a recap of the past week and other random thoughts...

I love to cook for Thanksgiving.  For the first time this year, I got to cook for my mom (pretty much all of my "family").  Normally we'd fly to Denver for Thanksgiving for the week, but now we live here.  Yay!  Also, last year was a bit depressing as we were selling our house and moving, and cooking a big meal would mean making a mess.  And we needed to keep our house clean.  So no turkey at our house last year.  So, this year, I went with tradition and made: apple cider brined turkey (really, the BEST turkey recipe ever), homemade rolls, traditional stuffing (which for the first time, turned out near perfect - I have a hard time seasoning it properly), roasted and mashed squash (I used the Chirimen squash I got from the farm... it was just ok), and homemade cherry pie, including the crust.  Mmmm

My mom came over (her second visit since we bought the house).  She arrived 15 min before food was served and stayed a whopping 1.5 hours.  And she asked for her pie to-go.  No idea.  And also, kind-of weird.

I love making Thanksgiving because that means I get all the leftovers!  Sadly, a 15 lb turkey didn't last very long.  We had leftovers for dinner on Friday and that was it.  I think that Will had a bit more than he should have for lunch, though.  I was really hoping on 3 meals total from the spread.  *sigh*

Friday I went skiing with my friend D.  My first day of the year.  My first ever trip on a season pass.  We went to Winter Park because the weather said we'd get 2-4 inches of snow during the day.  Copper had more runs open, but we wanted SNOW.  Sadly, the weather report lied.  It was a good test though - we had pretty much every kind of weather: sun, clouds, wind, snow, sideways snow.  It was a good test of my gear and helped me figure out what I was lacking.  I then bought a new ski bag (which holds my boots and gear), baclava (protects your face from the wind/cold), some light weight fleeces, and some before and after winter boots.  Wooo.  Skiing was fun but with the limited runs, it was fairly crowded.  I think we hit the slopes at 10, had a short lunch break at 2, took 2 more runs and was done by 3.

Sadly (or maybe this is a good thing?), my winter running gear = ski gear.  I used my heavy running tights (which are fleecy on the inside) as long undies.  And I used various run shirts as layering for my top.

And speaking of winter running, I ran for the first time since the Denver RnR Half Marathon (Oct 9th).  I was supposed to start back up 2 weeks earlier but I got this annoying cold that just wouldn't go away.  I did the local Turkey Trot 5k.  It cost $15 and I got a fleecy hat.  The race was at the local rec center (a whopping 4 miles from my house) and we ran on the hike and bike trail.  The race wasn't timed, so it truly was just a fun run.  Suprisingly, there were 750 people at the 5k.  That's a ton of people for a hike and bike trail.  I met up with some of my tri club buddies and fortunately, we all run at about the same pace.  We stuck together for the first 2 miles and then I just had to walk.  So did one other person, so I didn't feel so bad.  And we were both sick.  Still - I can't even make it 3 miles?  Full disclosure: I actually had to walk 3 times in that last mile.  At 2 miles, 2.5 miles, and somewhere way too close to the finish.  The last 0.2 miles is uphill (very mean) and I was trying to push, but that made me feel pukey to the point where my stomach was starting to roll.  And some chick right in front of me lost her breakfast (over a 5k - REALLY?) so I stopped to regain my composure.  My time wasn't awful - 33:03, a 10:36 pace.  Not bad considering I walked 3 times.  Ugh.

I have a lot of squash, spinach, and apples from my CSA.  Its crazy.  So yesterday was "processing day", where I basically get things prepped (or processed) to sleep in the freezer.  I roasted 3 different pumpkins - a pie pumpkin, a cinderella pumpkin, and a long island cheesecake pumpkin.  The pie one only yielded 2 cups.  The long island one yielded probably ~6-8 cups and then became pumpkin-lime-coconut soup (with turkey added in).  The cinderella pumpkin was so huge I had to cook it up in 2 batches.  It yielded 17 cups (!!!) of pureed pumpkin.  Crazy.  Four large bunches of spinach shrank down to fill a large bowl.  And I had 3 medium and 1 large bag of apples.  I bought one of those apple peeler-slicer-corer devices a month ago.  I always thought those were kind of a worthless kitchen item.  That is, until I had a mountain of apples to peel.  This device is the shizzle.  I went to work prepping apples, intending to just chuck them in the freezer.  But then I decided to make a batch of crockpot applesauce.  Holy crap, was it the best applesauce ever.  And it smelled amazing.  And really very heathy for you.  I just took apples (enough to fill the crockpot up 3/4 of the way), 1/2 cup of apple cider, 1/2 cup of agave nectar (although you could use sugar), and a few dashes of cinnamon.  Then put it on high for 8 hours.  Amazingness.

This is the week I will get on the ball and start working out.  I finally registered for the new swim team.  If I pay for it, I will actually show up.  The problem this past month is that I didn't pay for it... which meant I had no motivation to go.  Its going to hurt.  I haven't swam in 2.5 months.  I will also ride my bike on the trainer at least once this week.  And resume lifting weights.  Being sick really put a kink in my "back on the wagon" attempt from 2 weeks ago.

I'm doing a duathlon series - Chilly Cheeks.  First one is this Sunday and go figure, I haven't trained.  The first one is a 4 mile trail run and a 10 mile bike.  Hopefully I can fake my way through.  The second race (in January) consists of a 1.5 mile run,  3.6-mile bike, a 2.5 mile run, 7.2 mile run, and a 50 meter run to the finish line.  Mkay!  The final race (February) is a 10 mile bike and a 4 mile run.  The distances are so very random and conditions could be snowy (they don't cancel due to snow - you just ride your mountain bike) that I really can't justify taking this series very seriously.  So I'm doing it for fun and to ensure that I touch my bike once a month this winter.

I had a really bad dream experience on Sunday morning.  I dreamt that I was on the couch and Ernie was next to me, lounging, purring loudly, letting me love on him and rub his belly.  Then Swift popped up and was on my lap, loving on me.  I was so happy to have both of them - acting just as they used to.  (Ok, maybe Ernie wasn't quite so friendly - but he could be when he wanted to).  Then I rolled over and *poof* the dream was gone.  I was still half asleep and found myself sobbing - ragged painful sobbing.  It was awful.  They were so real and then they were gone.  It was like I lost them all over again. :(

New kitties are adjusting (although, awkward - they were snuggled next to me when I woke up sobbing over my other kitties).  Zipper has run off with Will's heart.  He liked Ernie and Swift, but they were always mine (I had them before we got married).  Zipper has claimed Will and they really love eachother.  She'll jump up on his lap while he works, just to say hi, stays out a few minutes and zooms off to do something else.  They'll play fetch in the mornings for 30 minutes.  She'll sit with him at night while we watch tv. She's very playful but in an innocent and nice sort of way.  She just likes to be where ever the humans are and wants to play all the time.  Gunny is doing better.  He's over his bladder issues that was making him want to pee on anything.  My hope is that the issue was stress related.  He's still really shy but will spend most of his time snoozing on the couch.  He will jump out of his hidey hole (under the coffee table) when I'm around and want me to pet him.  And he'll cuddle on my lap at night.  He's still a scaredy cat, though.  Any new visitors, no matter how friendly, and *poof* he's off hiding under the laundry rack in the laundry room.  Poor guy - hopefully in time he'll mellow out and let our visitors get to know him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Scalloped potatoes with ham and leeks

I have an overabundance of winter veggies from the CSA.  In particular, squash, potatoes, onions, and leeks.  The squash and potatoes are happily sleeping in my basement until I feel like using them.  The leeks were massive and taking up space in my veggie drawer.  Seriously, these things were as big as my arm.

one of two ginormous leeks.  and to think, last month I got a
small leek and I was actually whining about how small it was.
 One of the cooking blogs I read is Three Many Cooks, and I found this recipe for Creamy Leek Gratin with Garlic Breadcrumbs and Bacon.  I had some ham steaks from the farm and decided that this would make a nice main course for the week.  However, upon slicing up the two massive leeks, I realized that while massive, they were only about half of what I needed for the recipe.  And then I went off-recipe and created something which I consider was WAY tastier.  This was done on the fly and measurements are approximate.  Really, I just used whatever I had lying around.

I'm guessing this makes 6 servings.

Ingredients:
  • ~1 lb leeks, sliced
  • ~1/2 cup onion, diced
  • garlic
  • spinach (I used one bunch - next time, I will use 2 bunches)
  • 5 fist sized potatoes (they may have been smaller).  Maybe a pound?  Type doesn't matter - I used both russet and red.  Slice thin, no need to peel them.
  • ~2 lbs ham, fat removed and cubed
  • panko breadcrumbs
Bechamel Sauce
(I think this is a bechamel sauce.... its my version of it anyways)
  • 2 T butter
  • 2-3 T flour
  • milk (really no idea.... 2 cups maybe?)
  • half and half (same amount as milk, but really no idea on the quantity.  Also, you could probably just use milk here)
  • 8 oz shredded smoked grueyre cheese
  • pepper
  • 6 oz plain greek yogurt
Steps:
  1. Preheat over to 425.
  2. Quarter and slice leeks and let soak in 2 water baths to remove dirt and grit.
  3. Get a big mixing bowl.  You can layer everything in a casserole dish, but I just dumped everything in a huge bowl, added the sauce, mixed it up well, and dumped it in a pan.
  4. Slice potatoes, dice ham and put in mixing bowl.
  5. Sautee leeks, garlic, and onion until translucent, about 10 min on medium heat.
  6. When done, transfer to bowl, keeping about 1 cup of leeks separate.
  7. Sautee spinach.  Honestly, the spinach could be cooked with the leeks.... I just didn't think of adding them until the leeks were almost done.  Add to bowl.
  8. Make sauce
    • prepare a roux.  Add butter and melt it, then add flour.  Then slowly add the milk, stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps.  Really, you want to add the milk slow.  Once that's combined, add the half and half.
    • Bring it up to a warm temperature - you don't want it to boil.  You just need it hot enough to melt the cheese.
    • Add ground pepper to taste.
    • Add cheesy goodness.  And stir a lot to melt.
    • Once the cheese is melted, remove from the heat and add leeks and greek yogurt.  Whisk to incorporate/mix yogurt.  Then I blended it a bit with an immersion blender - although you could totally skip this step. (also, if you don't blend it, you can skip adding leeks to the sauce).  I thought the yogurt was a bit odd, but it added a nice creamy-ness to it and you couldn't tell it was in there.
  9. Add sauce to bowl with the rest ingredients and mix to ensure everything is coated.  You want this pretty soupy.
  10. Add to casserole dish (I used a 13 x 9 glass dish), coat generously with breadcrumbs
  11. Bake in oven for ~45 - 60 min.  It was probably done at 45 minutes, I just wanted to make sure.  Also, after 30 min, check every 15 min or so to ensure your breadcrumbs don't burn.  I had to cover with foil after 45 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and let it sit for ~10 min. 
  13. Try not to eat the whole pan.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Horticulture


Sad looking front yard. Ok, maybe it just looks sad to me.
I don't know why, but each time we buy a house (you know, all of two times) the yard sucks.  All the plants still have their nursery tags on them, the plants are mostly kinda junky, and we have tons of empty bedding space.  Also, these houses don't have any mature trees. 

Our current house had only 5 trees - 2 mystery trees that could possibly be cherry trees, one which I was hoping was an apple tree but sadly, its a crappy crab apple tree where the fruit is a good 2" in diameter and makes good throwing weapons for the neighborhood urchins, and 2 austrian pine trees. 
Really pretty crab apple blossoms in mid-May.  Not sure
2 weeks of pretty blossoms is worth 3 months of picking
mini-apples up from your lawn.
NOTHING that would considered be a shade tree. 

The front yard is really horrible.  Ok, I'm exaggerating.  We have a very cute porch and in front of it are very ugly and mis-matched bushes.  There are some sort of juniper/evergreen shrubs combined with these weird pale green leafy bushes (which did turn a very pretty shade of red this fall).  This is completed by generic river rock underlain with weed fabric.  BLAH.  The back yard is slightly better.  We have 2 types of lilacs (I love lilacs), some really fugly ornamental plum bushes (they're very scraggly and we have a TON of them.  And we have some creeping blue juniper (which is ok) in the beds under the plums.  And a stand of aspen - which really are just big weeds.  The weird thing is that there were NO FLOWERS at all in our yard.  How sad is that?
veggie bed.  Strangely, this HUGE space was completely
devoid of plants.  Also see aspens behind it.

We bought the house in May but then had IMTX to contend with.  Which meant no time for the new house until June.  Which was too late to do anything substantial to the yard.  We did install a 5 x 8 ft raised vegetable bed.  Planted a ton of herbs (peppermint, 3 types of basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro), eggplant, zucchini, japanese cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, green peppers, butternut squash, mini-canteloupe, strawberries, and spaghetti squash.  I think it was just too late to plant anything, because for the most part, the garden was a collossal flop.  We managed to have nice herbs (although the cilantro died nearly right away - I never have luck with that stuff).  We got 3 lemon cucumbers, 2 japanese cucumbers, and a whoppiong 2 zucchini.  So weird.  I did get one decent sized spaghetti squash but when I picked it, it was fairly green and watery on the inside.  Ick.  And we did get a few tiny strawberries.  
Sad little cukes....
They were small, but actually SUPER tasty.  All I can say is THANK GOODNESS for my CSA and the weekly veggie deliveries.  Otherwise, it would have been a sad, veggie-free summer.

I also ordered a ton of plants from Spring Hill Nursery.  Huge disappointment.  They arrived as little plants, and I think by the time they got in the ground (mid-June) was was too hot and we were too far into the growing season for them to do anything.  Also: Will decided to "weed" some areas with a shovel and killed several of them.  Boo.

After about a month of being in the house, we knew that we needed some real trees.  Our living room / kitchen / bedroom face west with big windows.  Western sun + nothing to block the sun = HOT rooms.  Seriously, in the past 15 years, WHY did no one plant a real tree for shade?!?!?!?  Also, our house in situated on a corner and our back yard faces the front door and driveway of our perpendicular neighbor.  Fortunately, they don't have windows on that side of the house so its not like we're starring at each other.  Still, I really don't want to be aware of their house features.  So in late June, we ordered a HUGE (probably 20 ft tall) autumn blaze maple.  This thing will get
Maple tree. Small green shrubs were the existing lilacs.
to ~50 feet tall and should provide awesome summer shade.  We also got a baby blue eyes spruce and a vanderwolf pine.  Picking pine trees for this area was a bit tricky, because we didn't want the trees to be wide but we wanted them to be fairly tall.  Hopefully these trees will do what we need them to do.

Summer went by and we didn't really do anything with the yard.  In August, we came back from Idaho with some irises from grandma's yard. I also got some seeds from some ornamental poppies and hollyhocks that went to seed in the yard.  (I totally forgot about these until now... hmmmm).  Then my mom found some random guy who had "award winning" irises that he had split up and was giving away.  Apparently these things are expensive and lovely.  So we planted a TON of irises in the outskirts of the yard.
right to left - vanderwolf pine, baby blue eyes spruce,
austrian pine.  With icky scraggly plums in between.
  And hopefully in a few years, we'll have iris flowers.  Oh, and we got some hops from Will's grandparent's mountain cabin.  They were growing, but the bunnies ate the leaves off.  They now are surrounded by chicken wire.  Maybe next year we'll have hops for beer?

Its fall now and has snowed 3 times.  Fall is the time to plant bulbs, so you have a pretty spring. And once they're planted, you typically don't have to do anything with them for years to come.  They just do their own thing and come back every year.  When I lived in Houston, the first year we had a house I planted something like 150 bulbs. Most of them came up.  But over the following years, I'd say that maybe half came back, then half of that half, then soon, nothing.  Something to do with a lack of a hard freeze, bulbs rotting, crappy soil. Simply not worth the effort. But in Colorado, bulbs do great!  So I ordered some daffodills, tulips. hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and alliums.  And for the garden I got garlic.  We got some garlic in August from the CSA and it was some of the BEST garlic I'd ever had.  Small bulbs but they packed a punch.  A coworker told me about this garlic internet "farm" where you could order seed bulbs, so I got a small garden pack, containing 0.25 lb amounts of four different types of garlic.  I've never planted garlic before, so this whole thing will be an experience.  Apparently, you have to break up the garlic into individual cloves and plant each clove separately.  You want the big cloves, as they determine the size that your garlic will be at maturity.  So I got to work splitting up the cloves.  It was weird because it just looked like a bulb of garlic that you buy at the store.  Still not sure why these were special "seed" garlics, but whatever.  So after they were split up, I counted the cloves and we had over 60.  Which means I could have 60 heads of garlic next summer.  Good thing we're not vampires or we'd be in trouble.  Also: holy crap, that's a lot of garlic.  I didn't want to take up space in the raised garden bed, but the soil surrounding the bed is pretty good.  So I picked 4 distinct areas for each variety and planted those.  I probably should have planted them a month ago, but I didn't.  Hopefully they'll survive.  We shall see.

This spring, I would like to re-do the area in front of the front porch.  That means getting rid of those crappy ugly bushes that don't do anything and replacing them with other things.  I'm thinking miniature pines or spruces with maybe a flowering shrub.  This area faces to the north, so it could be tricky.  And I'd also like to get some potted flowers for the front porch - to make things cheery.  I also want to get into this area by our dining room.  Its a deep corner of the yard and it has 3 VERY scraggly plum bushes.  (can you tell I hate those things?)  We have at least 7 of those damn things and they really don't do anything at all.  Instead, I would love to do a cute xeriscaped area or maybe a rock garden.  Of course, this will depend on my training for the Boise HIM and how much time I feel like spending on a part of the yard that I don't see very often.  And we're going to start veggies inside and move them into the yard in ~April.  Two months earlier than this year.  Not certain what I want to plant, but I do know I want more basil, would like to try cukes and squash again, and I definitely want to grow romanesco squash (its like zucchini but so much tastier!).  We are thinking that we planted too late and our plants just couldn't get a good start in life, thus the very poor production.  I may also do some spring crops like lettuce and things. 
So that's the plan for next year.  We're still at least a good couple of summers away from things looking really nice, but its a good start.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Oh hai there

Wow, October kind of went and knocked me on my ass.  In the past month, all this happened:

Adjusting to life with two new cats, Zipper (~6 months) and Gunnison (Gunny, ~4 years).  Zipper is crazy, in a sweet kitten sort of way.  She rarely sits still.  She runs in all 3 dimensions, ala The Matrix, banking off of furniture and walls.  Gunny is really shy still and has a chronic bladder inflamation issue. Soooo, we've been working through that.  I think he's been feeling better, though, as he's been more social and cuddly.  Also: now that its cold, they both sleep with us at night.  Yay.

They were not cage-mates at the shelter.  Oddly enough, they really like each other.
Half marathon was fun.  Somehow, I was only 3 minutes slower than my PR, with about half as much training.  Goooo IM training base!  I ended up running with my tri-club friend Steph.  We were chatting and some girl behind us said she was listening in and figured we were tri-dorks (my words, not hers).  Turns out she's training for IMTX 2012, so we had many miles of conversation.  Sadly, though, at mile 10, my legs/body definitely felt the lack of training.  I ran 10 miles 6 weeks earlier, and that was my longest run since May.  Also: consuming less than 1 full gel (because of stomach issues) was probably a problem.  At mile 10 I tried to push and just couldn't.  The really sad part was that the last mile was all downhill.  Again, I tried to push and nope, there was nothing in the tank.  Afterwards, we (as a club) went to two bars.  Steph celebrated by doing a tequilla shot and push-up.  Some of our club people did the full marathon, and at mile 14, they did a keg stand.  Impressive.  And also a tiny bit scary.
So we saw the photographer and tried to run and take a group photo.  This is what that looked like.  Cracks me up everytime I look it.  Its like Steph is trying to kill me or something.
Our 12th wedding anniversary was on the 16th.  We went up to Steamboat for a long weekend. Did some hiking and some beer drinking.  Had a nice dinner out.  The fall colors were amazing.  The weekend was a bit low-key though, as Will's grandmother died on the 14th.
Fish Creek Falls.  Will is convinved that I try to kill him on our anniversaries, because we always go hiking.  Hiking = sweating a ton for Will.  Its kinda funny.

So yeah, Will's grandmother passed and we flew up on the 21st for her funeral.  Grandpa (her husband) passed in February and she was actually more worn down more than he was.  In July, she asked to be placed in assisted living.  In August, we spent a week in Idaho, mainly to say goodbye for her.  In the week leading up to her funeral, I barely even cried.  I think its because we already said our goodbye.  But then the day of the funeral, wow.  Major tears.  I was ok during the funeral (it was fairly heavy on religion* and I spent most of the time thinking just how very strange religion is.  One of the sermons likened a wife to a supply ship.  For reals.)  Then afterwards, I went to look at a quilt they had out on display - one of her best ones.  Then I lost it.  People kept trying to talk to me and I was trying (and failing) to not cry, so I just bolted out the church and down the street a few blocks.  If I had my running shoes, I honestly would have ran for a few miles just to clear my head.  UGH.
Grandparents on their wedding day - some 66 years ago.
After the funeral, the cousins went to a local (awful) winery for wine and shuffleboard.  Wine was bad but it was nice to have some fun.  After the winery, we gathered back at the ranch to scatter grandpa's ashes in the meadow across from him home.  So sad.  But really nice too.  We probably spent 2 hours in that meadow, drinking Squirt and Crown Royal (grandpa's drink of choice), sharing memories and stories of them.  After that, the Aunts had taken what remained in the grandparent's house and set it up, sort-of like a garage sale.  They invited us all over, asking us to take what we wanted, and said that anything that was left would go to Goodwill.  I was really weirded out by everyone looking over their trinkets and things.  That, and I'm generally not good with crowds.  So I went upstairs and found grandma's fabric room.  I started looking through her things and found what I consider the lottery.  Grandma was a master quilter.  I *covet* her quilts.  Will's mom pointed out a box, which contained the last quilt that grandma made.  Its not complete - but all it needs is the back sewn on and for it to be quilted.  Its cream and purple and beautiful.  I also found a hand-quilted unfinished one (needs a border, backing, and quilting) with grandma's notes on how to finish it, saying it was for charity.  Um no, this one will not be going to charity.  I also found a zip-lock bag full of random finished squares - without instructions.  My mom is an amazing sewer, and I figured if anyone could help me with this, its her.  Also, suprisingly, no one wanted grandma's sewing machine.  Its one of those old metal ones (electric) that folds down inside a wooden cabinet.  I think I'll have to learn how to sew....  Will got one of grandpa's tool boxes, since he spent quite a bit of his childhood and teen years working with grandpa on the ranch.  It was a really sad day, but also a really good day.

Grandpa's favorite tractor - June 2010
Also while up in Idaho, I got to ride a horse (yay!) and moved cattle around on 4-wheeler.  The terrain for the 4-wheeler was really hilly with dry streambeds (and steep drop-offs) and really thick sagebrush.  I was kicking ass dodging sagebrush and going up and down hills, until I got to a mini-ravine, and freaked out.  I couldn't figure a good way down, then the 4-wheeler started sliding sideways (breaks didn't really work).  It felt like it was going to roll sideways (on me), so I chucked myself off of it.  Somehow I landed flat on my back in the streambed, missing all rocks and bushes.  LUCKY.  I did get a minor case of whiplash (my neck HURT) and my back was sore.  And I freaked Will out - he was on the hill watching all of this.  And I freaked myself out.  Riding back on dirt rutted roads, I would spaz at the tiniest bump that sent the 4-wheeler off course.  *sigh*

We've also had 3 snowstorms. And I've lifted weights twice.  Still haven't been swimming, biking, or running.  hmmm.

* I am not religious in the slightest, so religion in general is really awkward and weird for me.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A bit lost but trying to find my way

I used to be so motivated.  Check out my workout stats in the right side of this blog - I've barely done  anything lately.  It took a while, but I think I've finally hit burnout.  Maybe crash and burn style burnout.  After ~15 months of always having something to train for, I really have nothing on my calendar.  Or rather, anything that I care enough about to take seriously.*

Seriously.... sad stuff here.  Especially the swimming.
I'm just tired.  I have really icky peely rough skin around my rib cage from who knows how many hours of wearing my heart rate monitor.  Seriously, its gross.  My feet still get achy easily from IMTX.  And my calves are fubared.  So messed up that, after running with what I'm going to call "shin splints"** since February, I finally went to get physical therapy a few weeks back.  That therapy involved very painful massage and even more fun - sticking acupuncture needles into my trigger points (muscles) and letting my muscles convulse around the needle.  Good times!

I want/need a break.  However, I'm also gaining weight.  Rather, I suspect I am because I feel blah and pudgy - getting my actual weight would require me to go to the gym.  This is bad.  I also don't want to lose the muscle that I worked sooo hard for this spring.  What to do.. what to do.

Moving forward, I think that once I get through the Denver RnR half marathon this weekend, I'm putting up my running shoes for at least a month.  Probably should have done that in June. 

I also think I'm going to lift weights at the gym at work 2x a week.  One of my "winter" activities was supposed to be weight lifting.  Something I totally forgot about until maybe February then ditched completely.  This winter I will lift weights so I can ride my bike up these Colorado hills more easily.

 I'm also going to enjoy winter*** and get myself a season pass to some ski areas.  I will then go skiing as often as I feel like it and not feel guilty.  (although, training for Boise 70.3 will get interesting.... I have to start riding in February or March). 

I will also join a new swim team and actually go to practice.  For the first time since 2007, I've been "swim-homeless".  The team I'm going to join is far from perfect, but I will have friends on the team, which says a lot in keeping me motivated in going.  There's a lot to be said for having people keep you accountable.  Which is a big part of why I'm so blah lately - no accountability. 

I'm also going to TRY and make myself get up early and hit spin class once a week at the rec center.  Also, for the past month, I have not woken up any earlier than 6:30 AM.  That's right - no morning runs or swims.  A few times I've set the alarm, but then realized the air temp was below 50 and decided it was too cold and I would be happier asleep in my bed.  Need to work on that, as it was 37 this morning (brrr!) and it will only be getting colder.

So that's the plan (sort-of).  We'll see if it sticks.

* I have a half marathon on Sunday.  Normally that would motivate me to train for it.  This time though, I really don't care about my race time or splits or anything.  All I care about is drinking beer with my friends when the race is over.  I just hope my IM fitness will help me through it, because my running volume in the past month sure as hell won't.  Also: how jaded and sad am I when a half marathon isn't a big deal anymore?!?!

** "shin splints" is code for I may have a stress fracture but I don't actually want to think about it or find out for sure that I have a stress fracture.  Smart, huh!

*** Enjoyment of winter is skiing often with no Ironman in my way.  Also, enjoyment means no running in the snow (or when its below 20 degrees) and definitely NO BIKE RIDING IN THE SNOW AND COLD.  Really, I see snow reports coming in and I want to cry.  I am so scarred for life from training outside last winter.  I think I've got IM-training PTSD.  I used to love winter, now the thought of snow makes me cringe.  Hopefully skiing will fix this. If not, I'm in trouble.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Salsa Verde Chicken with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings

I love the website The Pioneer Woman (and her associated site, Tasty Kitchen). One day, at the bottom of the Tasty Kitchen page, I noticed a link for a cookbook for Perfect One-Dish Dinners.  I clicked on the link, which took me to Amazon.  After reading a few of the sample recipes, I knew I wanted to give this book a try.

This recipe was one of the featured ones on Amazon.  It was crazy-easy to make.  Seriously.  Mostly chopping up some herbs, mixing things, and opening some cans.  It took about 30 minutes to cook.  Will said that this was easily one of the best things I've ever made.  As a bonus, the "dumplings" (which are more like drop biscuits that you put on top of the chicken/sauce mixture) would easily be very tasty bisciuts on their own, as a compliment to another dinner.

From the cookbook:

Courtesy of Amazon / Perfect One-Dish Dinners.  Mine did not look quite so pretty.
Serves 6
This stew can be made 2 days ahead up to the point of making the dumplings. Reheat it before topping and baking. If you want to double the recipe, use a large heavy roasting pan set over two burners.

Ingredients:

For the Chicken
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 can (14.5 ounces) chicken broth
1 jar (16 ounces) salsa verde (2 cups)
1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
1 large rotisserie chicken, meat deboned and left in large chunks (about 6 cups)
Erin note: I also added some swiss chard (because I got tons from the farm share).  It was really good and added some veggies and color.  Spinach (or something similar) would also be good.

For the Dumplings
1 cup whole milk (I used 1%)
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions:

For the Chicken
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees (for the dumplings).
2. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a large (11 to 12-inch), deep ovenproof sauté pan or 5-to 6-quart Dutch oven.
3. Whisk in flour to make a paste.
4. Mix broth, salsa verde, and evaporated milk and whisk in all at once. Whisk, vigorously at first, until mixture simmers and thickens to sauce consistency.
5. Stir in chicken, heat through and cover to keep warm.

For the Dumplings
1. Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan until steamy.
2. Mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, scallions, and cilantro in a medium bowl with a fork. Stir in milk mixture to form a smooth, firm dough.
3. Pinch off Ping-Pong-ball-size pieces of dough with your fingers and drop onto chicken mixture.
4. Return chicken to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and transfer pan to oven and bake until dumplings are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve.

Erin Note - I don't have a dutch oven, so I used a regular skillet (which can go into the oven) but quickly realized that the poor little skillet was no match for how much food this was.  After preparing the chicken on the stove in the skillet, I poured it into an 11 x 9 glass baking pan, then added the dumplings.  Then it all went into the oven for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Swift - 1995-2011

I really don't recommend losing both of your kitties within two weeks of each other. :(

Swift kitty was really about the sweetest and prettiest kitty around.  We got her at the Butte, MT pound for a whopping $10, where they thought she was a boy and 2-3 months old.  Hmmm.  Immediately, she was very loving and affectionate.  The roomates and I were kicking around the name Valentine - that's how affectionate she was.  She was also crazy.  I don't know if it was from her hard time on the heavy-metal laden streets of Butte or if she was happy to have room to run, but she spent most of her time zooming up and down the stairs of our duplex.  She zoomed around so much, we decided to name her Swift.  Swift was also a bit crazy.  She liked to run up and bite the ankles of random people, then run away.  Not cool.  She was so crazy that we actually debated her future as our collective kitty, but then one fall day, Ernie was left with us, and she became incredibly sweet.  I guess she just needed another cat to act all her agressions on, although usually, Ernie was the agressor and she was the victim.

Ernie claimed me and Swift had claimed my roommate.  So much so, that when Brandee would leave to go to class, Swift would sit in the window and cry as she walked down the street.  Swift really only liked Brandee - whenever I tried to pick her up, all I got was growling and hissing.  Ok!  Then, in May 1997, Brandee got married to someone who was not a cat-lover.  She offered to find Swift a new home, but I figured, two cats aren't much more work/money than one cat, and Swift and Ernie got along really well.  It was decided that Swift would stay with me.  And then Swift became my shadow.

Swift was affectionate to the point of being incredibly annoying.  When I came home from work, she would run up to the door to greet me and then follow me around the house.  As soon as I sat down, she was on my lap, sometimes without me even realizing it.  She looooved Will (much to his annoyance, although I think he secretly loved it).  Will could get her to do these drunken-love flops on the bed, on command.  He'd say "roll over" and point to the bed.  Swift would drunkenly flop sideways and roll over.  Very cute.

As much as Ernie didn't want to acknowledge humans, Swift was the opposite.  She was very social and friendly.  Occasionally talkative, mostly at food time.  She was actually very annoying at food time with her incessant meowing.  It was so annoying that we would lock her in the spare bathroom - aka "kitty jail" - so we wouldn't have to listen to her demands.

Swift was always my sleep buddy.  At night, she would curl up on my hip and spend the whole night there.  For naps, she was really weird and liked to sleep under the covers.  She would paw at the sheet near your head until she got her way, and then happily curl up under the covers somewhere near my feet.  A few times Ernie figured out her hiding spot and attacked her from the top of the covers.  Good times.

In June 2010, right after I signed up for IMTX, Swift was diagnosed with high blood pressure and probable pancreatits and/or lymphoma.  Her once beautiful fluffy fur was greasy and she wasn't eating and was down from 12 lbs to 8 lbs.  The prognosis was uncertain.  Some kitties lived a long time with this, others didn't.  Only time (and a lot of vitamin B-12 injections) would tell. 

Swift was my nap buddy.  I loved to come home after a long (early) run or a race, grab her, and take a nap for a few hours.  I knew that with my IMTX training that I would be taking a lot of naps and would NEED her.  There was just something about her being there, lying on me, that made me go to sleep.  It was our routine.  I needed that routine for my training.  I remember holding her up to eye-level, looking her in the eye, and telling her that she HAD to live through IMTX because I would be needing my nap buddy a lot.  She held me to my word.  The literal day I returned from IMTX, she started to decline even more.  Her digestive system wasn't working well and she wasn't absorbing nutrients - her weight was down to 5.75 lbs.  Even while she was getting sicker, she was still very cheerful and cuddly.  Finally, about 1.5 weeks after we lost Ernie, her breathing became labored and finally we knew that she would not be around anymore as the cancer had likely spread into her lungs.  She had a great life and my naps aren't the same without her.

Nicknames:
  • Swifter
  • Rooster
  • Swifter-roo
  • Princess (when we were feeling sarcastic)
Favorite things:
  • She really didn't care much for toys, but she LOVED shoelaces.  She loved us to play "fish" with her, us holding one end and she'd grab the other.  She also just loved carrying the thing around.  Frequently, we'd go to sleep with the shoelace in one room and wake up to find it in another room.
  • She LOVED catnip.  The first time we gave her catnip, she actually managed to cup it in her front paws and throw it up in the air like confetti.  She would act 10 times of crazy for about 5 minutes and then pass out in a catnip-induced haze.
  • Laps.  She just loved to cuddle.
Randomness:
  • She was pretty dingy.  I swear, there would be times where she would be in one part of the house, freak out thinking we weren't home and start wailing.  Also, whenever it was time to put her in kitty jail, sometimes she'd run, but 8 times out of 10, she'd hunker down in the center of the room, like she was hiding into the floor.  Yes, the brown floor will hide a white cat.  Sure.....
  • We had issues of her peeing in her carrier on long road trips. The first time was in 1997, when I moved back to college from my internship.  I was in the middle of nowhere, MT when it happened.  I hauled her into a gas station restroom to wash her up, only there was no sink the bathroom - just a utility sink between the bathrooms.  I got a lot of weird looks as I bathed a yowling kitty.  Second time was on our way home after evacuating to Denver from Hurricane Rita.  One hour into our 17 hr drive back to Houston, just as we were about to get on I-70 at Limon, she got very meowy.  We pulled over to give her a tranquilizer, only to find out that she was really trying to tell us something important.  So, here we were with a cat with pee-soaked legs and tail on a dirt pull off, at sunrise, with wind and semi trucks BLOWING past us on the way to I-70.  All we had were Starbucks napkins and bottled water.  She freaked out and I was going to lose her, so I held her to the ground, which resulted in a cat with now MUDDY pee-coated paws.  We had to smell cat pee the 16 hrs home.  The final time was moving to Denver, just outside of Limon (what is it with Limon?!).  Only this time I knew the signs and pulled over to a rest stop.  Not in time to prevent the accident, but at least she didn't get covered in pee.  The air temperature was -15.  I was cleaning Swift up, Will was outside trying to clean up the carrier with paper towels (we learned) only the pee was freezing in the -15 air.  Fun times!
  • The summer I had an internship in Wyoming, I had a 2nd story apartment with a patio.  I'd let the kitties roam on the patio.  One day, Swift twirled around the iron fencing on the corner, lost her footing, and fell to the grass below.  I tore downstairs to get her, and she was happily relaxing on the grass.
  • She loved to roll on concrete, the hotter and dirtier the better.
  • She really did love to go outside.  Most of the time she was supervised (except for when we sold our Houston house and the dumb selling agent let her escape outside....).  Occasionally she would try to run off.  One time, she and Ernie somehow coordinated things, so that Ernie misbehaved and distracted us as she bolted off.
    Taken on that same Feb 1996 day with Ernie's snow shots.  That's the duplex neighbor's dog in the window.
  • 1996 - Will and Swift
    
    laser eyes (and James)
    
    So, Ernie was orange and was naturally ready for Halloween.  We thought Swift was missing out on the fun, so we dressed her in an orange t-shirt.  She really didn't like this very much.
    
    Kitteh in a box!
    
    roaming in the grass
    
    Pretty typical view at night watching TV, with Swift lying on my chest.

    Swift acting as Quality Control when Will works from home. 

    More QC support for Will. She would often rest her paws/head on his mouse arm.

    Ernie and Swift, 1995
    
    Swift had BEAUTIFUL blue eyes but for some reason, they were really hard to capture in a photo.  This is one of the few which really show off how pretty she was.
    
    more torture, in the name of Stuff on My Cat . com  she was unamused.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ernie - 1995-2011

Its been 5 weeks since we lost Ernie.  I'm getting better (the first week was ROUGH) but I sure do miss him.

Ernie came to us very randomly.  I lived with 2 other girls in a 2 story duplex.  Swift was really insane and she needed a buddy.  A friend of my evil roommate had Ernie and "couldn't keep him because he wasn't supposed to have pets".  (isn't that something you should check on before you get a pet?).  The guy's roommates throught Ernie was too hyper, so they'd put him in a box and blow pot smoke in the box to chill him out.  Poor kitty sneezed for a year and had what I call the "perma-munchies".  The guy came by on a Friday, was supposed to check in on Monday to see how things were working, but he never came back.  I was fairly indifferent to cats.  My roommates wanted a cat, I had an iguana.  But Ernie had different plans - he chose me as my human and stole my heart.  (just typing this is making me cry again - UGH).  Ernie was tiny when we got him - maybe 6 weeks old and so small he'd stand in the palm of your hand.  He grew to be a big monster kitty - weighing 15 lbs at his heaviest.  He was obstinant, crabby, stand-off-ish, hungry, a pain in the ass, but he could also be sweet, and warm, and gave me kisses on demand.  He was very much an "on my own terms" type of cat - pretty much wanting to be left alone until he decided to grace the humans with his prescence.  That, or if you had food, he was your best friend.  At least until the food went away.  Even though he preferred to be left alone, he was very tolerant of my affections.  He'd let me flip him over to smother his belly in kisses, pet him on demand, hold him upside-down.  Once he started growling, I'd play kitty-bagpipes (growling edition) by squeezing him.  He would eventually have enough (and boy, you would KNOW it), but generally, he put up a front of a tough kitty but was really a big teddy bear of a cat.

Ernie didn't meow (unless he was in the car, and then it was the most pathetic, mournful meow).  He chirped and squeaked.  Especially around dinner time, where anytime we would stand up, he'd take off for the kitchen (where the food was locked up) and made sort of a peeling out (like a car) chirping noise. 

Most of the time he didn't acknowledge humans, unless I'd hurt myself.  I'm clumsy and it was not unusual for me to drop something on my foot or walk into a wall.  I'd invariably do something, drop to the floor yelling in pain.  Will would ignore me.  Ernie would come running, looking very concerned, to make sure I was ok.

He loved all things food and was such a pain in the ass that we couldn't leave food out in the open.  Even if it was in plastic or in tupperware.  He would actually try (and sometimes succeed) in eating through the tupperware to get to the food.  No food item was safe, even for a short amount of time.  I can't even begin to say how many times I was cooling muffins on the stove to find little Ernie-munch marks in the tops of them - while they were still hot.

Ernie hated little kids until a few years ago.  Hated them to the point where he'd just hide under the bed.  One night we were babysitting for a friend and were having dinner in the kitchen.  It was also kitty-dinner time.  Poor Ernie, as much as he loved food, he REALLY hated kids - and his dinner was in the kitchen with the kids.  He really couldn't decide between eating or running.  It was pretty funny.

Ok, enough stories, although there are 16 years of them.  Just a few more random things about him and some pictures.

Nicknames:
  • Ernie-monster
  • Ernesto (when we were feeling Latin)
  • Bug (his first nickname)
  • Bugger
  • Rat
  • Raccoon (he had a racoon tail and had very raccoon-like traits when it came to food)
  • Boo
Favorite things:
  • sunbeams - he LOVED to lie belly up in the sun
  • blankets which were orange
  • food, especially squash (seriously, he'd go crazy for squash).  But really, he just loved food.
  • Body slamming Swift
  • acting as a paper weight.  Really, any loose paper or bag around on the floor and he was ON IT, holding it down.
Randomness:
  • He would never cuddle or sleep with us until wintertime.  I guess he was cold.  So at night, around 8:30 (or after dinner), he'd decide to cuddle on me for about an hour or so, until he got too warm.  I'd go to bed and wake up at some point in the night with a very large cat sprawled across my chest (back toes at my chin).  If you acknowlegded his presence by petting him, he would leave, only to come back when you were asleep again.  ("do not let the humans know I need them!"
  • One time I had a dream that a snake was biting my toe.  Turned out it was Ernie.  I kicked the "snake" in my sleep and sent him flying.  Oops.
  • During our last move (from Houston to Denver) he did NOT like our Oklahoma hotel.  AT ALL.  He was fine on the drive but when we got to the hotel - wow.  Unhappy cat.  He growled non-stop.  Walking around - growl.  Eating - growling WHILE eating.  Peeing in the litter box - growling while he did his thing.  He hopped up on the bed to be near us, but wouldn't let us touch him.  Poor guy.  Fortunately he was better when we got to Denver.  Maybe he just didn't like Oklahoma?
  • Repeatedly, the vet lectured me about his weight.  Poor guy was on diet food.  What was I supposed to do next, put him on a treadmill?
  • He loved catnip toys - so much that I had to put a playing time limit on him.  If he went longer than 5 minutes, his toy would be gutted, catnip extracted.
  • He fetched, although not on command.  This started when he was a kitten, I tossed a milk ring and he fetched it.  At least once a week for most of his life, we'd play fetch.  Our Houston house had a long tile hallway, which was perfect for fetching.  Early morning was usually good for fetch, although he would also decide that my bedtime was good too.
  • He had the BEST PURR EVER.  Very loud, easy to start.  And when he was very happy, he would get this high-pitched squeak to his purr.
I'm glad that he chose me as his human. :)

Feb 1996 - Ernie was maybe 6 months old.  We just had our typical week where it never got above zero degrees, and this day was sunny and in the 20's.  It was a wonderful day.  For some reason, we thought it would be amusing to take the kitties out in the snow.
wiggly kitties- Feb 1995

Feb 1995

Houston - June 1998.  Ernie and Sumo

My favorite photo of Ernie.  This captured how he would look at me

How can you resist a belly like this??

typical monorail cat pose


cat-skin rug
classic sunbeam pose

sprawl

more napping sprawl