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The blog is back. I'll be posting more like weekly rather than daily for now. All entries are written by me (Eric Buckley) unless otherwise noted. The content is race oriented, but I write about other things as well. I also maintain a training log on Attack Point (Click on graph to the right). For older entries, check the archive links at the left.

3/4/2012 - Hungry for Hungary

Well, it had to come sooner rather than later. Once a kid learns there's a country named Hungary, they want to know what people eat there. So that was the question we posed for this week's cooking excursion.

The answer: a lot. Or, at least, they cook a lot. Hungarian recipes seem to be written for those cooking to feed the entire village rather than just their family. This trait common to Eastern European cooking. A few years back I dined at the house of a friend from Romania who, aside from being a world-class athlete, is a more than competent cook. When I saw the size of the pot he was using, I asked if there would be more joining us for dinner. He just shrugged and said it would get eaten at some point. It turned out so good that we returned to it throughout the afternoon and evening and did eat it all. The fact that we had spent the morning racing through the woods for six hours in cold rain probably had something to do with that. And that sums up the cuisine in a nutshell: it's hearty comfort food, intended for people who have worked hard and are ready to eat.

"Let's keep looking; they probably only serve overcooked stew in there."
While I could have left it at that and simply made goulash, an easy, cheap, and satisfying peasant meal, I couldn't squander the opportunity to do something more grandiose. While Attila the Hun no doubt had plenty of meat and pepper meals served out of a giant cauldron, surely his successors served something more refined at Buda Castle.

There was another reason to steer clear of goulash: a heavily Americanized version of the dish is one of Yaya's favorites. Making her the real thing would be messing with success, something you never want to do with an 8-year-old palate. After a bit of research, I settled on csirke paprikas (chicken paprika), which is probably second only to goulash as Hungary's most consistently abused recipe in American kitchens.

I email my Romanian friend to see if he has any particular insight on the dish. His responds that, like most slow cook meals, it's pretty hard to screw up as long as you use good ingredients. In particular, he warns of using regular supermarket grade paprika. Good Hungarian paprika is much more flavorful and replacing it with the bland powder in the baking isle not only robs the dish of its Hungarian character but leaves you with a meal of soggy, tasteless meat. He also notes that most kids prefer it made with sweet paprika rather than hot (I was sure this would be true of Yaya, as well) but both are equally authentic.

Beans were added as insurance in case Yaya hated everything. They turned out to be unnecessary.
Armed with that, I round out the meal with some really outstanding kaposzt salata (coleslaw, made with just vinegar and oil; much more delicate than the creamy variety we normally see), csipetke (pinched noodles), and some whole wheat rolls. Both doughs are difficult to work with (the pasta is too wet, the bread too dry for easy kneading), but worth it. The hearty rolls are just the thing for sopping up the spicy sauce on the chicken and Yaya has asked for the delightfully chewy noodles every night since.

Even with the sweet paprika, the chicken is alarmingly bold while simmering. The cream isn't added until right at the end. The one substitution I make is Greek yogurt for sour cream in the sauce. I've found them to be pretty interchangeable, and the yogurt is definitely healthier. At any rate, it does a great job of bringing the sauce down to earth, with a touch of heat, but not enough to bury the other flavors on the plate. Kate's mom is in town so the good-bad vote comes to a resounding 4-0. Yaya cleans her plate, including the coleslaw.

I don't know much about Hungarian wines, so I bust out a Konstantin Frank Lemberger that I had on hand and knew would work. Granted, it's not even European, but it's a Hungarian varietal, grown in similar climate (upstate NY), and produced by a winery founded by an Eastern European. Seems a consistent choice. A tasty one, too.

Pancakes for dinner!
For dessert, I make rakott palacsinta, which translates to stacked pancakes in English, but using the French equivalent, crepes, is a better characterization. The base batter is almost identical to what I use for crepes. The main difference is that the French version relies on the filling for flavor and sweetness, whereas the Hungarians flavor and (in the case of dessert) sweeten the batter as well. I make two fillings, one a mix of cocoa and cheese, the other fresh pureed raspberries. These are alternated between a dozen palascinta and then topped with a simple caramel sauce of brown sugar, butter, and vanilla. Another 4-0 win.

While this wasn't the great deal of our earlier efforts, it was still well within all but the most miserly budget. By using dark meat (which is better for slow cooking anyway), the free-range organic chicken was about the same price as regular supermarket chicken breasts. The sweet paprika was about a dollar less than the hot stuff (but still the bulk of the cost after the chicken - the good stuff runs about $5/ounce). The result was four people ate for under $20. The wine doubled that, but that's one of the upsides of cooking at home: you have money left over for wine. The four of us would have spent more on pallid servings of chicken smothered in an empty cream sauce at a typical "family" restaurant. Considerably more if we wanted salad and dessert. I'd do it even if the cost was more, but this ethnic thing is saving me money big time.

Next stop: Isreal.

2/26/2011 - Olivia B dines in Bolivia

Well, OK, it was our kitchen, but the recipes were authentic as far as I could tell. This week's culinary journey took us to Bolivia. While per capita income is nearly identical (just under $5,000/year), it appears that internet usage in Bolivia far exceeds that in last week's destination, Botswana. It could also be that there are a lot more Bolivians living here and posting web pages about their homeland. Either way, it was much easier to find recipes and other supporting information for this meal.

The first thing I learned was that Bolivians traditionally take their main meal in the middle of the day, often followed by a siesta. Dinner is usually more like a late evening snack.. While that sounds great, I don't want to spend a beautiful spring day inside cooking, so I go with our usual evening schedule.

This turns out to be a good call anyway because the featured dish is empanadas and the Bolivian version, which go by the name Salteñas, require some lead time. Unlike most empanadas, which use a fairly dry filling, Salteñas are very juicy. This is accomplished by mixing gelatin with the filling and chilling until it sets. Salteñas are cooked at very high temperatures, so the shell crisps before the gelatin melts, resulting in a stew-like filling encased in a semi-hard shell. It's basically a hand-held pot pie.

The other filling ingredients are pretty typical (beef, potatoes, peas, onions) with the noteworthy addition of olives and raisins. I found those in Peruvian and Argentinean recipes as well, so I guess it's common to use them throughout the southern part of the continent. I was a bit concerned about the level of spice since Yaya's limit is medium heat and all the recipes looked well beyond that. I then found a post by a woman from Santa Cruz saying that sometimes the ground cayenne is replaced by paprika to tone it down. That works like a charm; the resulting filling still has a pleasing after burn, but it's nothing that will scare Yaya away. We mix it all up after church and stick it in the fridge.

Late in the afternoon, we get going on the shells. The dough is a bit of a PITA (and I don't mean Greek bread) because it's very sticky. Compared to a normal pie shell, it has about double the liquid ingredients which makes working it a lot like kneading wallpaper paste. I assume the stickiness is there because it's so important that these be completely sealed or the filling will all run out during the bake. Yaya assists with frequent flour dustings while I shape the dough into little balls and then flatten them into disks by hand (the roller doesn't work at all). A chunk of the now solid filling is added to each and then they're sealed by moistening the edge of the shell, folding it over, and crimping with fingers. My seams don't look nearly as nice as the ones in the web pictures, but they don't leak.

A new record on the taste/cost scale.
The side dish is Bolivia's most famous (and healthiest) grain: quinoa. I cook it in beef broth rather than water to give it more flavor and mix in some chopped spinach since the meal seems a bit short on green stuff. Bolivia does produce a few decent wines and beers but, this normally being a midday meal, I go with the more traditional pairing of coffee. Besides, having attended our wine club "meeting" the night before, Kate and I have had enough alcohol for the weekend.

For dessert, I make Helado de Canela, which is just cinnamon sorbet by its Spanish name. It's easy to make but takes a lot longer to freeze than I expect, so it's not ready until pretty late at night. If I'd prepped it when I did the filling, it would have been done right on schedule.

Yaya isn't wild about the quinoa, but she does eat it and that's the only mixed review from either her or Kate. This week's go round is even cheaper than last. $6.25 worth of ingredients purchased at Whole Foods and Penzey's Spices (neither of which are a bargain hunter's paradise) feed all three of us with half a pot of coffee and a small serving left over.

2/19/2012 - Culinary Safari

I'm obviously not using this space for it's original purpose, so I might as well post this here.

Yaya and I were talking about how her previously narrow palate has expanded nicely over the last year and I suggested maybe she should try a few ethnic foods to further develop her tastes. She was all over that idea. When I asked what country she would like to try first, her answer was immediate: "Botswana!"

Um, OK. I consider my tastes fairly broad, but I'll admit that I knew absolutely nothing about what the good folks of Botswana have for dinner. Fortunately, we live in an age where a few mouse clicks can yield answers to such basic questions. Much to my relief, it is not a diet centered around fried grubs (though they do eat those, too). In fact, the more I searched, the more familiar it seemed. It's basically Irish cooking without wheat (which is apparently very hard to grow there). I wasn't able to ascertain if the similarity was coincidence or the influence of the English Army that occupied the region for 80 years (at Botswana's request; a rare case of reverse colonialism). At any rate, while there are certainly differences, I was on pretty familiar turf putting this meal together.

For the main dish, I chose to make Seswaa which was called out on several sites as a dish unique to Botswana. I found that claim amusing since it looks all the world to me like corned beef and cabbage without the seasoning (you read that right: LESS seasoning than Irish; I didn't know that was possible). Brisket is slow cooked over a fire in an iron pot filled with salt water until it practically falls apart. Being a bit chilly out for a campfire, I used a crock pot. The part that makes this dish unique is that the meat is then pounded so it really does fall apart. This is probably done to make it easier to eat by hand, but it also makes it easier to eat by 8-year-olds who don't like sharp knives, so it was a win all around. Vegetables are also slow cooked, typically in a separate pot, but I just threw them in with the meat halfway through the cooking. I chose onions, carrots, beans, and cabbage as those all stand up well to boiling and are readily available both here and in Botswana.

Potatoes also grow in Botswana, but then we'd just have an early St. Patrick's meal on our hands. For a starch side I made Ugali, a corn meal paste which can be served soft like oatmeal or cooked firm. It also goes by the names of Pap and Bogobe which probably indicate differences in preparation, but I wasn't able to discern what those were. I found several pictures and recipes and there were significant variations, but none I could correlate to the names. One fact stated consistently is that Ugali is made from white corn meal; yellow corn is only used for animal feed in Botswana. So, no cheating and using Jiffy mix. I can't find white corn meal, so I go with sorghum, which is also a common base for the paste. The unsweetened variant is more commonly served with meat, but I went ahead with a recipe that contained a bit sugar out of deference to Yaya. I also cooked it nearly dry since she isn't digging runny foods lately (rice is fine, but not risotto).

None of my usual beverage suppliers had beer from Botswana, so I had to settle for something from neighboring South Africa. Fortunately, South Africa is the only other country below the Sahara to prominently use sorghum malt, so the styles are probably pretty similar. Most African beers get their malt from maize which produces a much different brew (often called "opaque beer").

Dessert was an easy call as Watermelon is believed to have originated in the Kalahari Desert (though it is sufficiently ancient that nobody knows for sure; Egyptian hieroglyphs tell of a harvest some 5000 years ago). Yaya has always been a fan of all types of melons.

St. Pat's, African style. Ugali is front left.
Impressions? Well, for a guy who grew up eating corn beef and cabbage every couple weeks (which is not really authentic Irish, but an American meal embraced by Irish immigrants), this wasn't exactly stretching my horizons. Since the preparation was in my comfort zone, I also cheated a bit and made some minor modifications to the recipes. The main one was that I added beer to the water the beef and veggies were simmering in. Sorry, that's just what we Irish do. I'm sure somebody in Botswana has also figured out that this makes it taste a thousand times better. Plus, what the heck was I going to do with the other 5 sorghum beers? It's not gross, but it's certainly nothing I'd normally drink.

Yaya gave the meal a 5 on the 1-10 scale. I'd notch it up one from there; it was a perfectly satisfying meal, if a bit bland, but not really memorable other than the novelty. Interestingly enough, Yaya's favorite item (excluding the watermelon for dessert) was the Ugali, which was the part of the meal most unlike anything either of us had eaten before.

Necessity is the mother of invention and I'm always impressed at how well impoverished countries do at producing good food for cheap. Even with the beer and organic beef, it was less than $10 for the two of us with a very generous lunch-sized leftover to spare and a liter of excellent beef stock as a by product of the boiling process. Not sure what I'll make with that, but it ain't goin to waste. Make no mistake, there are plenty of starving people in Botswana, but what does one expect when the median income is well below the US poverty line? We simply don't have that level of destitute on a large scale over here. An American who qualifies for food stamps could eat like this every day (minus the beer) and their only out of pocket expense would be a one-time purchase of a crock pot and ten cents worth of electricity. Sadly, not many of them do, preferring to eat prepared foods that are twice the price and half the nutritional value. Even more sadly, in Botswana, one Africa's few economic success stories, the steady rise in purchasing power has led to the inevitable onslaught of fast food and processed ingredients. It seems that no palate is immune to corruption by the hyper sweet and savory formulations that plague mass produced food.

There were other factors at work as well, but I hardly consider it a coincidence that Yaya's super-picky phase coincided with her introduction to fast food. Her eagerness to try new things is coming a year after being weaned from the same. About the only places I'll take her anymore are salad bars and premium pizza joints (both of which she loves and we're still eating out for under $20). Meanwhile, this little trip was enough of a success that we're going to keep trying it. Next stop: another impoverished nation, but one Yaya likes simply because it contains her (real) name: Bolivia.

10/6/2012 - 2000 Miles to Boston

All the summer ultras left me too beat up to slide in a VO2Max cycle this fall. I'm taking it easy for a few weeks and then will start the 24-week buildup to Boston. It's pretty much the same program I used for Illinois last year. Hopefully, we'll see similar results.

For those unfamiliar with Daniels' speed notations, E is base (easy) miles (7:40-8:20 for me), M is marathon pace (6:45), and T is tempo (6:20). Recover time is assumed to be equal to quality time (for example, an 800 run in 2:55 is followed by approximately 3 minutes of rest before the next). When that's not the case, recovery time is specified (followed by an R). Striders are run either at the end of one of the specified quality workout(s) or during the next day's run.

Boston is Monday, April 16, which is why there is no weekend quality workout on the week ending 4/15.

Midweek QualityWeekend QualityStiders
11/13Terrain intervalsLone Wolf 10KMid75
11/20Terrain intervalsSkippo 30KMid70
11/276x800@2:55SLOC 3-hourMid80
12/04Terrain intervalsChubb (Tyson@50:00)Both90
12/11Sat:Pere MarquetteSun:Possum TrotNone70
12/25Terrain intervals5x1500@6:00 100R, 1EBoth90
01/01Terrain intervals18E (FF New year's run)Both100
01/0810x800@2:552x15:00T 2:00R, 8EBoth90
01/156x1000@3:406x1500@6:00 1:00RBoth100
01/225x1200@4:2410E + 13.1M (Frostbite half)Mid110
01/294x12:00T 2:00R4x1200T 1:00R, 1E, 20:00TMid90
02/054x1T 1:00R, 5:00E, 3x1T 1:00R18EEnd110
02/122x20:00T 10:00RPsycho Wyco 50KNone70
02/19Recovery2x2T 2:00R, 10E, 20:00TNone50
02/268x1500T 100R15MEnd90
03/044x12:00T 2:00R18EEnd100
03/112x20:00T 20:00R2x(4x1200T 1:00R) 10RMid110
03/188E, 6x5:00T 1:00RSt Pats 5mi + 1.5ENone80
03/252x(40:00E 20:00T)15MEnd100
04/012x20:00T 20:00R2x15:00T 10:00R, 5EBoth80
04/154x1200M 2:00RRestNone25

8/22/2011 - Site Updates

Oh, heck, I've let the blog slip again. There's actually a fair bit of new content on the site.

The A-meet page has a lot of new information and online registration is now open.

There are a few new race reports.

The calendar, which had become even more stale than the blog, has been updated.

I've also got a few more substantive posts in the works, but that's all for now.

6/16/2011 - Lessons Learned

When a race goes really bad, I like to simply put it behind me. Kettle 100 was way off of expectations and I don't think doing things differently would have changed that much. It was a bad day on a day that punished badness in the extreme. As the question has come up in several online conversations, I want to be clear that I'm talking strictly athletic performance here. As an experience, the race was great.

All that said, one has a lot of time to think when a 100-mile race is going in the tank. Here are a few things I came up with that are worth noting.

  • Five weeks isn't enough time after a competitive marathon. If there is a "root cause" for being so far off, I'm pretty sure this is it. I do think the strategy of prepping for and competing in a marathon as buildup for an ultra is sound. There just needs to be more spacing. Six worked out great last fall between Wineglass Marathon and Mother Road 100. In retrospect, I think I may have got away with one there because the conditions at MR100 were so favorable. I'll give myself eight to ten in the future.
  • Keep moving. The universal mantra of all endurance events. I already know this, of course, but this race really drove it home. It was one thing to bounce back from a low spot at Mother Road. This was a much deeper hole. And yet, I was able to walk and then run my way out of it. I spent over an hour at aid stations (three stops of just over 20 minutes each) while I was in trouble. I think I could have cut that in half and experienced similar recovery while walking.
  • Have a more carry capacity. It doesn't have to be (in fact, shouldn't be) full, but have a way to carry more food and drink if necessary. Having some extra bottles would have made it much easier to walk and recover. As it was, I could only leave the aid stations with 16 ounces of water. That was fine when things were going well, but meant I had to hang around longer when I was dehydrated. I didn't have much food capacity either. That wasn't really an issue since I was already limited by water, but it would have been if I was really trying to get out of the afternoon stations quick.
  • Go easy if you know something nasty is coming. Rushing to get to the meadows before the clouds broke yielded nothing and had me a bit in the hole before the death march even began. Backing off between the turnaround and the meadows to tend to hydration, electrolytes, and food would have been a few minutes well invested.
  • Go easy even if you don't know something nasty is coming. There's really no upside to hammering the first half of an ultra. I don't think my early pace was way off, but it was probably just a touch too fast.
  • Problems will be worse and recovery will be better than expected. This is just a function of experience. When things go bad in a short race, your choices are generally gut it out or quit. Therefore, the first reaction to something that's slowing you down is to push. In a hundred, there's time to turn things around, particularly if a problem is recognized and corrected before it gets too bad. Making such a correction may require giving away some time in the short run, but 100 miles is not a short run.

6/5/2011 - Puppy Day

Well, we're dog-less no more. Her name is Ruby.

6/5/2011 - Kettle race report

... is here.

5/11/2011 - Post Partum

Any time you run a PR it's a good race, especially when you're 47 years old. That said, Illinois has left me a bit flat. Even though I've been through this many times, the recovery period is always a bit depressing. Last weekend I ran the annual 3-mile Fun Run at Yaya's school. I ran it at marathon pace and it felt really hard. It feels like I'll never be able to run fast again.

Most of it is usual marathon recovery. The soreness went away pretty quickly and I can do light workouts, but there's no snap in the legs at all. My sleeping has been a bit erratic. My weight is up a few pounds. Returning to normal training in another week or so should take care of all of that.

Of greater concern is the fact that the mild case of plantar fasciitis in my left foot isn't getting better. It's not getting worse, either, but I had hoped that taking a couple weeks off running would be enough to clear it up. I'm a little worried that if it isn't completely gone by the end of the month, the 100 miles at Kettle could turn it into something serious.

It's still way too early to be panicking; 10 days isn't much in the context of marathon recovery. However, when I originally put my spring schedule together, the thought was that Illinois would be a tune-up race for Kettle. It was only after having a really good training cycle that I decided to go for a PR. Now, the five weeks between the races is looking mighty short.

I had six weeks between Wineglass and the Mother Road 100. Wineglass was a PR and I was definitely back on form for MR100. How important was that extra week? I probably won't know until the sun sets on June 4th. By midnight, I'll know for sure.

5/5/2011 - Recent race reports

Wow, kinda let the blog slip a bit, there. The site hasn't been quite as stale as that. In case you missed 'em, here are some recent race reports.

Gateway Grunt

Double Chubb

Illinois Marathon

3/15/2011 - MOJO Course Notes

For lack of a better spot, I'm posting the course notes for this weekend's Missouri Junior Orienteering (MOJO) finals here. The event is held at S-F Scout Ranch just south of Farmington. It's open to all ages and abilities.

COURSES CLOSE AT 2:30PM - NO EXCEPTIONS. We will immediately start picking up controls at that time because we have to get them relocated the Grunt/Runt on Sunday. Please remember to check in at the finish, even if you are overtime or do not complete your course.

The map is 1:10,000 with 5m contours. It was fully updated in 2006 for US Team Trials. A few minor updates were made for this meet as well.

True safety bearing for all courses is EAST. You will either hit the main camp road or the big Lake, which you can follow south to the camp road. Follow the road back to the start/finish. If you know FOR SURE that you are on the east side of the camp road, you can skip the going to the lake part and just head southwest to the road.

I didn't spot any tics last weekend, but with more warm weather this week, they could be out by race day. Insect repellent is recommended. Check yourself afterwards.

White and Yellow courses use traditional punch cards. Orange, Green, and Red use e-punch. When White or Yellow have a control in common with one of the e-punch courses, the control will be hung on a stand. Use the clipper next to the e-punch unit to punch your card. Controls on stands are a bit lower than typical hung controls. Care has been taken not to "hide" the controls. If you are at the correct feature, you will easily see the control. The control may, of course, be on the far side of the feature and therefore obscured by the feature itself during the approach, which is certainly fair game. Clue sheets indicate placement where relevant.

Trails have received very little traffic since last summer. As a result, they are much less distinct than usual. They are generally easy to follow (see important exception in next paragraph), but you could certainly cross one or go through a junction without realizing it. There are also a fair number of new minor trails. These are typically short connectors to campsites and provide no route advantage. White and Yellow have been set to minimize the potential for confusing a mapped trail with one of the new unmapped trails.

WHITE COURSE: The trail between controls 3 and 4 is very indistinct near control 3. Control 3 has been hung slightly south of the trail junction to get you pointed in the right direction. Control 4 is hung relatively high and visibility is good. If you simply head straight down the hillside and keep your eyes open, you should be able to spot the control, even if you're having trouble following the trail.

Vegetation mapping is fairly current. The main exceptions are pockets of storm damage. In test running and setting the courses, I came across nothing that was significant enough to affect route choice, but you may have to alter your line a bit to get around some of the new deadfall. Medium green can be taken at a run this time of year, though you may lose a few drops of blood in the process.

Water features are all crossable everywhere (except the big lake, but you'll have no need to cross that). Most intermittent streams will have water in them or at least be mushy. You may encounter unmapped goopy spots as well, but nothing significant enough to affect route choice.

Bare rock completely covered with lichen or moss is mapped as clearing. If it's mapped as rock, you will actually see some of the surface exposed. The mapping standard for boulders is slightly higher than normal to avoid confusion with all the small rock in the park.

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