Friday, August 29, 2008

A Very Unfortunate Sighting

Last night, while gazing out a second-floor bedroom window of my house, I had a very unfortunate sighting of my next-door neighbors dropping their towels and getting into their backyard hot tub. It wasn't pretty, and now it's an image that is permanently etched in my mind.

Karen and I were very worried when our neighbors recently purchased a hot tub. Somehow we just knew an incident such as this one would transpire. They seemed like the type that were apt to bathe in the nude. In the middle of the day!

Our neighbors are very nice, but a little odd. And one is quite obese. Not exactly what you'd hope to find while gazing out your window. Has anyone else had a similar experience? Any weird neighbor stories? I'm okay with skinny dipping, but only when it takes place in the dark hours of the night...

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

One of the recipes I make most often is for my favorite banana bread (recipe follows). I purposely buy two extra bananas whenever I'm at the grocery store so that I can make this bread as soon as they become very ripe. You can also freeze your ripe bananas and pull them out of the freezer whenever you're ready to bake. This bread is deliciously moist and flavorful, and pairs wonderfully well with morning coffee. Enjoy!

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 large bananas will do)
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, spray cooking oil (you can use butter) to coat the bottom of a 9x5x3 inch bread pan, then lightly dust the pan with flour and tap out excess.

Next, in a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until well blended. One at a time, add eggs, beating well with a fork after each addition. Stir in bananas, milk and vanilla until combined. Stir in flour mixture just until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scrape batter into a prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until you test with a knife in the center of the bread and it comes out clean. Remove the pan to a wire rack, cool 10 minutes before removing bread from the pan, then finish cooling on the rack.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The S'mores Song

Kristin and Emma enjoy subs on Picnic Point

Allie and Karen prepare to roast marshmallows for s'mores

Lake Wingra

Kristin and Emma rowing on Lake Wingra

This past weekend, Karen, Kate, and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday with two of Karen and Kate's nieces, Allie and Emma. I love these girls. Luckily, I have many opportunities to spend time with them, and they treat me like one of their aunts. I love their big hugs and smiles, and just being part of their lives and watching them grow up.

As I've said before, Karen and Kate truly are the best aunts ever. That's probably why Allie and Emma, and their sister Megan, are always so excited to spend time with their aunts, and have absolutely no reservations about spending the night away from home in Madison, even at such a young age.

It's always non-stop fun when they come to town. On Saturday night, we reserved a fire pit at Picnic Point, where we enjoyed subs from Jimmy John's and s'mores. Picnic Point is a peninsula near campus that extends into Lake Mendota, where hikers, runners, and picnickers can enjoy fantastic views of the lake, campus, and the state capitol. It's a great spot to see the city all lit up at night. We had a great time enjoying several rounds of s'mores and even made up a s'mores song, which Allie continued to sing the entire weekend. It was good stuff.

The girls slept over at Kate's new house and enjoyed "blasberry" pancakes the next morning, while Karen and I volunteered at the Trek Urban Assault race. Afterwards, we joined up again for an adventure on Lake Wingra. We rented a row boat and spent an hour exploring the lake. It was a beautiful day, and we had a lot of fun, despite making very little rowing progress and being trash talked by a little girl in another boat who cruised by us with her father in a canoe. After such an exhausting adventure, we walked to Michael's Frozen Custard, where we enjoyed great custard and many laughs over the custard that ended up all over Allie and Emma's clothes and faces. That's the problem with custard, it just melts too fast for the little ones!

It was a great weekend, and I'm excited to see the girls again this weekend for one last summer hurrah at Green Lake.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Taper Time

With race day approaching in just 11 days, it's officially taper time for my upcoming Ironman Wisconsin triathlon on Sunday, September 7. What exactly is a taper, you might ask.

According to, a taper is a "period of time in which you reduce your training load before a peak race. By reducing your training load for a period of time, you allow yourself to rest before your race. This allows you to store up physical, mental, and emotional energy over a period of a few weeks, allowing you to “unleash” your maximum potential on race day. If you were to skip the taper, you would carry with you, into your peak race, some residual training fatigue, and you would not be able to race your best."

While my taper technically started on August 11, following a peak workout weekend with a 100-mile ride and a 23-mile run, I still had some difficult workouts last week, including 10 x 800 repeats on Tuesday, an Aquathon race on Thursday, and a Brick workout on Saturday (4 hour bike ride, followed by a 1:15 hour run). With all of that now completed, the future looks bright with much rest and relaxation, and very manageable workouts for the remaining days leading up to race day.

While it's certainly a relief to be over the really long/hard workouts, taper time can be a challenge in itself. I find that I start to feel little aches and pains surface, I have trouble sleeping, and interestingly, I feel hungrier with a reduced workout load. My goal over the next week and-a-half will be to eat well, get plenty of sleep, and mentally prepare for the upcoming race. I'm incredibly excited for race day, and I feel more prepared for this year's race than ever.

Trigger Happy

Volunteering at the Trek Urban Assault bicycle adventure race on Sunday morning was an awesome experience. For three and-a-half hours, my job was to soak competitors with a super soaker water gun, while they attempted to gather wooden nickles that were scattered across an astro turf field, while wearing tedious oven mitts, and fill a stationary bowl.

The whole experience was so much fun—it was a beautiful day, the other volunteers were great, the race was extremely organized, yet relatively laid back, and I obviously loved wielding a highly powerful squirt gun and the authority to douse competitors in cold water. For the most part, the racers totally enjoyed the experience and were cracking jokes the whole time. There were a few competitors, however, that were not at all happy to be targeted, and I did receive some very dirty glares. This, of course, only encouraged me to squirt that particular competitor even harder and longer. Needless to say, they left a little wet.

Great race, great volunteer experience. I’m now trying to convince Karen to sign up with me next year, and my parents to sign up as a team as well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Best of Dane County Farmer's Market

As many of you know, I am obsessed with the Dane County Farmer's Market on Madison's capitol square. It's no doubt the highlight of my week. I wanted to share with you my very favorite stops at the market, so I've been collecting pictures all summer...

My first stop is ALWAYS for coffee at Steep and Brew. I get a 12 oz. cup for $1.75 and fill it to the brim with French Roast. Definitely need my coffee before starting the loop.

Next up, I need a little treat to go with my coffee. As you know, I love scones, and fancy myself a connoisseur. There are many great scone purveyors at the market. My favorite, the name of the booth escapes me, offers orange chocolate chip scones, which are fabulous. There are also some newbies out there this year that are cooking up some very unique and tasty scones. I'd encourage you to sample a few :)

Renaissance Farm offers amazing pestos, vinagrettes, and sea salts. I love the basil vinagrette and keep it in stock for salads throughout the year. It's fantastic. Their cinnamon rolls are pretty good, too.

The cheese from Bleu Mont is my favorite. I particularly love the aged cheddar. The cheese maker at Bleu Mont has been heralded by the New York Times as the "rock star of cheese." The cheese is a little pricey, but well worth it.

Fresh veggies and fruits galore.

I also get some fresh RP pasta each week. I love it in the summer with a little olive oil and fresh veggies from my garden.

And then there's the famed hot spicy cheese bread from Stella's. If you've never tried it, you simply must. It's hot, and straight from the oven. You'll hear the bakers yelling "HOT, spicy cheese bread" from across the square.

I hope you enjoyed my tour of market favorites!

Back in the Game

Last night, I competed in my first Aquathon of the season. I've done many of these in the past, but largely sat this year's series out and cheered from the sidelines. For some reason, I felt the urge to get out there again and see what I could do.

Leading up to the start, the skies were a little dark and rain seemed imminent. The water was churning with sizable waves. But I really like waves. I think they make the swim a little more interesting and propel forward momentum. I'm sure most would argue otherwise. I came out of the water as the third female, and raced through transition. I always have such a hard time transitioning from the swim to the run. I feel dizzy and faint. I definitely prefer biking as an in between event, as in a triathlon.

I passed both of the leading females within the first half-mile. Then I tried to get into a rhythm and hold my pace. I felt pretty good and strong, which definitely gives me confidence going into Ironman in 15 short days. That's shockingly soon. I ended up being passed in the last 400 meters by a former UW track star. She passed me like I was standing still. And at that point, I had nothing left to give. I crossed the finish line in ~36 minutes and felt like I was going to puke. It's so painful to sprint when you're an endurance athlete. I can maintain a steady pace forever, but I can't sprint at all anymore.

It was a fun race and Kate, Karen, and I stopped at New Orleans Take-out on the way home, which was of course the highlight of my night. I indulged in a dinner of crab cakes. Now how's that for a post-race recovery meal?

College Rankings Just In

This just in. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has moved up one spot from last year in U.S. News and World Report’s 2009 edition of America’s Best Colleges. We’re now ranked the 7th public university in the nation (behind only UC-Berkeley, University of Virginia, UCLA, Michigan, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and UC-San Diego). In terms of top school/college rankings, Business is tied for 13th, and Engineering was also ranked 13th overall. In the category “programs to look for,” which features administrator-nominated student-service programs, UW was mentioned most for its undergraduate research/creative projects, learning communities and study abroad. The issue is on newsstands today.

Although I think the rankings and their methodology are a load of crap, and compiled each year solely for the purpose of selling magazines, as an Admission representative, I know just how important they are to prospective students and parents. I’m also a proud alum, and happy to see that both of my alma maters are in the top seven!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beer, Bikes, & Big Wheels

This weekend I’m volunteering at an urban adventure race that is taking place in Madison on Sunday. It’s the Trek Urban Assault Ride, and involves a crazy bike scavenger hunt with checkpoints around the city offering various obstacle courses (e.g., Big Wheels, the Keg Walk, Inflatable Slides, etc.). In addition to Madison, Urban Assault races have been offered this summer in Seattle, Portland, Austin, Fort Collins, Denver, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

I’ll be volunteering at the Princeton Club check-point, which will feature an obstacle course requiring riders to pick up pennies using oven mitts and fill a jar. My task: to shoot them with a super soaker and make it a little more difficult. And after the race, there’s a huge post-party featuring Capital Brewery beer and Chipotle burritos, which I’ve also been invited to attend. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. I’m excited for some super soaker action and to check out the race.

Madison's New Late-Night Food

Insomnia Cookies is one of the most recent entrants to Madison's late-night food scene. Founder Seth Berkowitz began baking and delivering cookies to the late night crowd at UPenn as a college junior. His goal was, and still is, dependable late night delivery to hungry college students, without the grease and heaviness that oftentimes accompanies late night foods. Business continued to grow, and after graduating in 2004, Berkowitz began to develop a commercial plan for expansion.

Insomnia Cookies has since expanded to 17 college campuses, including Cornell, Indiana University, NYU, Ohio State, University of Illinois, and Wisconsin. At Wisconsin, Insomnia operates out of a big van, pictured left, from 8pm-2:15am, and can usually be found on Library Mall or Francis Street (strategically located across from the Red Shed). In addition, Insomnia offers delivery within 3 miles of campus. There’s a $6 minimum delivery, and wait time runs ~25-30 minutes. Offerings include 8 classic cookies like sugar, chocolate chunk, and peanut butter ($1 each). There’s also cookies a la mode, the menage a trois “this cookie give new meaning to the word ‘threesome” ($6), jumbo deluxe cookies ($2.50), and “14 cookie cakes ($18).

In other late night food news, Pelmeni, the small store front on State Street that offered amazing Rusisan dumplings has closed its doors, and Ian's Pizza has expanded to Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood and also expanded hours at Madison's State Street location until 2:30am. There has also been much controversey surrounding Jeff Okafo, owner Jin's Chicken and Fish, a classic late night food cart on Langdon Street. Jin's has always had issues with the city, but this time he's truly in hot water. Apparently, Jin's received 23 parking tickets in 12 months, and Okafo has been driving without a license since 2004. As a result, in July, the city's Vending Oversight Committee recommmended that city council members suspend Okafo's vending license for six months. Council members will decide his fate on September 2.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stuffed Hierloom Tomatoes and Another Tart

Yesterday happened to be just one of those days in the office. I needed a little time in the kitchen to relax and unwind. I’ve had two recipes at the top of my list for a few weeks, but alas, have been too busy with training and work to spend any quality time in the kitchen recently. Sigh.

But last night, I finally had the opportunity to make both recipes—one was a recipe from Williams Sonoma for Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes, and the other, a modified recipe from Bon Appetite for a Nectarine and Marscapone Tart in a Gingersnap Crust.

For the stuffed tomatoes, I found beautiful organic Heirloom Tomatoes at the farmer’s market this past weekend. Preparation was relatively simple. I cored each tomato, scooped out the seeds, and stuffed with the filling of bread crumbs, Italian Sausage, mushrooms, onions, and cheese. I arranged the tomatoes in a pie dish and sprinkled with additional cheese, followed by a light drizzling of olive oil. Then I baked at 375 for 30 minutes. The dish was wonderful and hearty enough to serve as an entree, but would also serve as a great appetizer for a summer barbecue.

The Nectarine and Marscapone Tart was even more simple to prepare. I crushed the gingersnap cookies in a food processor, added melted butter, and then spread the crust in a tart pan, using a metal measuring cup to flatten the crust. I baked the crust for 8 minutes and then cooled on a wire rack. Meanwhile, I combined the filling ingredients, and spread on the crust once it was cool. I then refrigerated the tart and cut the nectarines into thin slices. When I was ready to serve the tart, I arranged the nectarines on top. I forgot to brush the top with the peach jam, but will try that tonight. Delicious, delicious tart. I'm clearly not over my tart obsession yet. But I feel like there are so many wonderful tarts yet to discover...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kilts & Tug-of-War

Our festival weekend continued with Irish Fest in Milwaukee, which is impressively the largest annual celebration of Irish culture and music in the entire world. Kate, Karen, and I made the trip. Always looking for a deal, we decided to attend Catholic mass on the festival grounds to take advantage of the day’s admission promotion--free admission for each person who brought 2 nonperishable food items and entered the grounds prior to the 9:30 a.m. mass. A $15 savings! At least that’s why I attended mass. Perhaps my Catholic friends had other well-intentioned reasons.

Mass was long. I’ve attended mass with Karen a few other times, and it's never felt that bad. Usually I strive to be a patient and supportive friend. But this time I was antsy and bored the entire time, especially when I learned that they were going to give communion to every Catholic in the Marcus Amphitheater! But I felt better when I looked over at Karen at one point and saw her nodding off. At least I wasn’t the only one struggling.

So mass finally ended, and then we walked around the festival grounds to watch several musical and dance performers. Most notable were the adult Glencastle Irish Dancers, particularly the men in kilts, as well as the Tug of War championships. What makes Tug of War so Irish, I’m still not sure. But it was intense and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There was a whole lotta grunting, boot digging, and screaming from coaches.

The festival was fun, but it was very, very hot. The sun was beating down all morning, which made it very uncomfortable to sit and walk around. We ended up leaving after spending only two hours at the festival. From there, we sought cooler air and treats at the mall and Kopp’s Frozen Custard.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kristin Gets Salty

The corn "rejects"

Kristin, Kim, and Matt shucking the corn

The butter table

The salt tree

Matt and Kim loading 'em up

Matt and Kim enjoying corn and R&B music

It was a summer weekend full of festivals options. I chose Corn Festival in Sun Prairie on Saturday, followed by Irish Fest in Milwaukee on Sunday. Lots of townies, greasy food, good music, and excellent people watching.

Above are pictures from Corn Fest. It was an interesting experience. The corn was fantastic, straight from the farm that morning. By the time we arrived at the grounds around 5ish, the place was packed and there was a very long line for the corn tent. Luckily, it moved fast, and in no time, we were filling our basket with ears (10), then off to seperate areas for shucking, buttering, and salting. Love that salty goodness. I was feeling particularly salty after losing so much during my 100-mile bike ride earlier in the day, so I really poured it on. But when do I not?

I suppose corn fest was what I expected. I think it's like many things, something I needed to try once, but I'm not feeling particularly compelled to get it on my calendar right away for next year. I had fun with Kim, Matt, and Karen, but we'd probably have had just as much fun or more cooking up a huge batch of corn at home. So that's my take on Corn Fest. Gotta do it once for the experience. But once is probably enough for me. Maybe I'll host my own corn fest next year. Salt shaker necklaces for all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cycling Paradise

Madison continually receives accolades for its great great cycling routes, roads, lanes, shops, and overall bike-friendly nature. In recent years, Madison has been named the “Best Road Biking Town in America” by Outside Magazine (2006), and the "#1 City for Cycling” (among cities with a population between 200,000 and 500,000) by Bicycling Magazine (2006).

There’s no doubt Madison is a great place to be a cyclist. In fact, it’s one of the many reasons I decided to move back to Madison after brief stints in Aspen, Colorado, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. There’s just something about the roads, people, scenery, and small towns of Wisconsin, that simply cannot be beat. Cyclists in Madison just know they’re lucky. And never one to be complacent with top rankings, Madison has launched the following two extremely innovative bike-friendly initiatives in just the last two months.

1. Madison Offers a Different Kind of Vending Machine
Machinery Row Bicycles (a Madison bike store) and Trek Bicycle Corporation's Advanced Concept Group (Trek is also headquartered in Madison) recently partnered to bring bicyclists a “vending machine that will pump up your tires, not your waistline.” The test unit is currently set up outside Machinery Row and is available to cyclists at any time, even after store hours. The unit features a vending machine with small bike tools, accessories, and fuel. On one side of the vending machine is a bike stand, as well as an embedded video screen that explains step-by-step instructions on basic repairs, such as fixing a flat. The other side of the unit displays local bike maps and events.

2. Madison Launches Solar Energy Bike Path
Earlier this month, Madison also launched a new campus bike path which makes it much easier for commuters to connect from west side neighborhoods to the heart of campus. The path features 37 solar lights, which makes it one of the largest solar installations in the country.

It's Raining Salt. Hallelujah.

I love summer festivals, and this weekend promises my fair share.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be hitting up the Sweet Corn Festival in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Admission is $1, and a whopping 70 tons of sweet corn will be available throughout the weekend. Approximately 16-18 tons of corn are delivered to the grounds twice a day. The corn is placed in iron baskets and then into giant steamers. Once cooked, the ears are passed to the buttering table, followed by a final stop at the “salt tree,” which are hanging dispensers (pictured left--looks like a forest to me). A tote of corn is $6 and single ears are $1.50. Uncooked corn is also available for purchase. Entertainment includes a carnival-midway, live bands, and petting zoo. I have wanted to go to the Sweet Corn Festival for years, so I’m very excited.

Then on Sunday, I’m heading to Irish Fest in Milwaukee, which is the largest celebration of Irish music and culture in the world, and the largest annual ethnic festival held at the Summerfest grounds. There, my friends and I plan to enjoy traditional Irish music, foods (like corned beef, fish ‘n chips, brats, and stew), dancing, and art, as well as the beautiful lakefront setting.

Should be a good time. I can't wait for the salt tree and good people watching.

The Big Surprise

A bit more on the birthday surprise party. So like I said, Karen organized the whole thing. She got my parents involved, and I was led to believe that I was going to dinner on Saturday night to Harvest with my parents and Karen. My mom asked me weeks beforehand to pick the restaurant and claimed to have made a reservation for 6:45pm.

My parents arrived in Madison at ~3pm on Saturday so we could hang out together before dinner. Which is when we went to the New Glarus Brewing Company for a brewery tour and beer tasting. Karen originally planned to join us for the pre-dinner activities, but at the last minute, claimed that she had to go run over to her sister Kate’s house to check on a “sub-pump alarm” that was apparently going off while Kate was on vacation. Sub-pump alarm? Yep, I fell for it. So Karen faked this whole entirely believable phone conversation with Kate right in front of my face and I never doubted its legitimacy for a second.

So while my parents and I were in New Glaurs on a brewery tour, Karen ran to Kate's to pick up the food and supplies (where she had been storing everything), and then back home for party prep—everything from chopping veggies, to setting up tikki torches in the backyard, to packing beverages on ice. Kim was also on hand for party-prep, despite a recent ankle sprain. At 5:30ish, several other friends arrived to prepare for my arrival and surprise.

Just before 6pm, my parents and I were driving back into Madison from New Glarus. We had planned to pick up Karen back at the house at 6pm before dinner. Apparently we were running a little early, so my parents were trying to think of ideas to stall. My mom was like, “should we pick up some ice cream to have after dinner tonight.” I knew we had enough in stock, so I declined. As we neared my neighborhood, my dad tried with, “we’re a little early to pick up Karen. Let’s drive around the neighborhood and look at some houses.” Which is totally believable because my parents ultimately hope to move to Madison.

Around 6ish, we finally arrived at the house. We hopped out of the car and started to walk up to the front door. Out of nowhere, my friends start popping out from behind the house, in what seemed like a never-ending single-file line. “Surprise,” they all yelled. I don’t think I'd ever been so surprised in my life. I had no idea what was going on, and was admittedly very confused and flustered.

Once I was able to process everything, I gave everyone hugs, and we headed to the backyard for a great evening of conversation, laughing, and summer barbecuing. Karen and Kim had set up an incredible spread of amazing foods and drinks. I had such a great time and still can’t believe how it all happened. Now I think back on some of the conversations that took place in the week leading up to my birthday and think, ohhh…I should have realized what was taking place right under my nose! It was a fantastic surprise and birthday, and I’m so thankful for such great friends and family in my life. Definitely a memorable birthday. And I just love a good surprise!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Birthday Whilwind

Willy Porter concert at the Union Terrace
Karen at the farmer's market

Mom and Kristin sample at New Glarus Brewing Company

Kristin and Dad

Surprise birthday party!

Green Lake Art Fair

Moonlight cruise

The last five days have been a whirlwind of anticipation, great friends, surprises, exhaustion, and extreme happiness. As many of you know, this past Saturday marked my 27th birthday. In five short days, I managed to cram in the following:
  • A 100-mile bike ride, complete with two flat tires, much frustration, 40-minutes at the bike shop, and unknown quantities of Lemon Lime Gatorade and Cliff Gu Blocks
  • A very distressing $400 repair bill at the bike shop--all in the name of Ironman

  • A surprise Friday night dinner at my favorite restaurant, the Weary Traveler, complete with my favorite meal, the West of the Andes Sandwich, followed by ice cream and a Willy Porter concert at the Memorial Union Terrace

  • A lovely Saturday morning stroll at the Farmer's Market and a shout-out from the cute guy at the RP pasta booth (he said he liked my shirt)

  • Beer tasting and a rudely interrupted brewery tour with my parents at the New Glarus Brewing Company (home of the Spotted Cow)

  • A surprise birthday party thrown by my best friend, Karen, which included a backyard barbeque and an amazing evening with my parents and many of my closest friends--definitely the highlight of the weekend

  • A solid 22-mile run around Lake Monona (twice)

  • Two meals at Jimmy John's (#4 with chips) and two meals at Culver's (single butter burger with cheese basket)
  • A leisurely Sunday stroll through the Green Lake Art Fair

  • A fancy Sunday night dinner at Norton's of Green Lake Restaurant
  • Much reading and relaxing on the pier overlooking Green Lake, as well as a few pontoon boat rides

  • Much disappointment and consternation over John Edwards' extra-marital affair, and many heart-felt moments for Elizabeth
  • A very bad head cold and several doses of decongestants (perhaps the ultimate result of my whirlwind weekend)