From then on whenever I was a-going somewhere I was a-running-a

There is this great old story in our families’ mythology where my dad and his best friend were out at the Essen Haus in Madison and spied a couple who looked like they were less than thrilled to be there. Always quite gregarious, my dad’s friend approached the couple and asked them what was wrong. They replied that they had recently moved from Los Angeles and were having trouble adjusting. My dad’s friend exclaimed that they should get down on their knees and thank their lucky stars that they had gotten out of California and moved to Wisconsin. This is how I feel about having taken up running. Don’t get me wrong- there are days where I feel like I am running through mud, but tonight as I ran under a suspended pink sky over frozen Lake Wingra I felt like I could have kept running forever- much like Mr. Gump.

I think I went close to seven miles tonight and the only reason why I stopped when I did was because I knew that there were warm molasses cookies waiting for me at home. These are pretty much my favorite cookies in the world. My mom made them last year to share with friends but I’m pretty sure that we ended up hoarding them all.


This recipe is from the November 2006 issue of Bon Appetit

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

A pinch of cracked ground black pepper

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)

1 large egg

About 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cracked pepper. Working with a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes or so to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry indgredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If some of the flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, avoid overbeating the dough and mix in the last of the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. You’ll have a smooth, very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes or chill for at least 1 hour. (You can refrigerate the dough for up to 4 days). Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Working with one packet of dough at a time, break off 12 pieces and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar, then place them on the baking sheet. Dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes*, or until the tops of the cookies feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if the cookies have spread and are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are hot. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

*We only baked them for about 8 minutes



It’s taco night tonight and I plan on eating about three more cookies, at least. Let the festivities begin.

I won yoga

Things have been a little crazy here this week- they always seem to get like that around this time of year. But sometimes it’s important to get back to basics. I believe this was at the heart of the issue when my sister asked my mom today if we have any plans for tomorrow and my mom replied, “No… I just know that we will have to eat something.”

There have been about 84,000 trips to various grocery stores this week, however there is a rumor going around the house that there is nothing to eat. I believe that this rumor may have something to do with the fact that it is nearly impossible to find what you are looking for in the black hole that is our college dorm room-sized refrigerator (just keep looking behind the chocolate milk, soy milk, buttermilk, two half-gallons of skim milk and orange juice and you might find the pita bread). When several of us were looking for a snack this afternoon I did manage to find a couple of cans of garbanzo beans on the cupboard shelf and suggested the possibility of making hummus. Garlic? Check. Lemons? Check. Cumin? Check. Olive oil? Check. Tahini? Check. I decided to start with the tahini and immediately noticed that it appeared to have separated. I proceeded to “stir” the rock hard bottom layer into the oily top layer and mentioned the consistency to my mom who was busy making the best molasses cookies on the planet (I will post that recipe tomorrow). I remained vigilant until I “stirred” too ferociously and ended up with a spray of oil all over my down vest. At this point I took a break to soak my vest and my sister, after picking up the jar of tahini to examine it, discovered that it had expired in 2005. I’m impressed that we were apparently buying tahini sometime in 2004… Our snack seemed doomed until NPR and Nigella Lawson saved the day. My mom and sister both instantly remembered hearing on NPR that Nigella Lawson said that she likes to make her hummus with peanut butter. Luckily I can’t live without peanut butter and we were back in business. I have to admit that I was skeptical, but this hummus was, as my dad says about my sea salt that makes his humidifier steam like Old Faithful, “the bomb.”


Peanut Butter Hummus


2 x 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1 garlic clove, peeled

3-5 tablespoons regular olive oil

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons lemon juice, or more as needed

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoons table salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 – 1/3 cup Greek yogurt*

2 tablespoons peanuts, finely chopped, to serve (optional)*

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, to serve (optional)

breadsticks, mini pitas, crackers, tortilla chips, to serve (optional)


Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put the garlic clove, chickpeas, 3 tablespoons oil, peanut butter, lemon juice, salt, and cumin into a food processor and blitz to a knobbly puree.**

Add 1/4 cup of the Greek yogurt and process again; if the hummus is still very thick, add another 1–2 tablespoons yogurt and the same of oil. (This will often depend on the chickpeas, as different sorts make the hummus thicker or not.)

Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice and salt if you feel it needs it.

On serving, mix the chopped peanuts with the paprika and sprinkle on top if you wish, and put an array of bits and pieces to eat with or dip in, as you see fit.

Makes enough for a party of 10***


*I omitted the yogurt and the peanuts

**I just mashed up all of the ingredients with a fork

***Or a party of three….

I served up the hummus with some pita bread (I found it!) that I warmed in the oven, carrot sticks and a few olives. The leftovers were immediately eaten with pita chips.

Holiday hummus with a mystery ingredient

In other news, I went to my first yoga class this morning in several years.  I wish that I could write that I loved it and felt rejuvinated but I had a hard time not focusing on all of the snuffy nasal breathing and coughing that I heard going on in the very cozy room. I also found myself doing a head count at one point and figuring out how much cash that meant for the instructor (and then wondering how much of that cash she gets to keep). My proudest moment came when I stayed standing on one leg longer than a woman who looked like she knew what she was doing. I thought to myself, “I won,” which then reminded me of the time that I was an archery instructor at summer camp (it’s a long story how I ended up in that position) and a young man named LaTroy declared that he had won archery after hitting a straw target. I’m pretty sure that all of this mind wandering and self-imposed balance competitions with unknowing participants is not the point of yoga. I suppose I’ll have to give it another go….

Tonight Dan and I took a walk to my favorite tree that I have been admiring on my evening jogs so that I could take a picture.

It’s a somewhat calm evening for now (I’m actually home alone for a few minutes with a snoring dog) so I am taking it all in. Happy solstice, everyone- the earth is now tilting ever so slightly back toward the sun (at least in Wisconsin).

Roughies, to-do lists and The Band

Last night visions of a to-do list danced in my head and I woke up parched and humming “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” by The Band. Unable to sleep, I got out of bed while the sun was still down and briefly admired the quiet and snowy pre-dawn world. Then it was time to take action. Before tackling the sleep-depriving to-do list, I decided to make a smoothie (or, as Dan likes to call them, a roughie). While my mom may have instilled in me an inability to sleep soundly when there is lots to think about, she also taught me to love smoothies for breakfast, so maybe this is the trade-off. And even though there was (is) lots to do this morning, the roughie came first because, as I learned in my days as a kayaking guide and camp counselor, you have to take care of yourself first before you can do anything else. So, the order of business: 1. Smoothie, 2. Fold laundry, 3. Make coffee, 4. Make lentil soup, 5. Walk around in circles starting many different projects and not finishing any, 6. Get distracted by the computer…

I like smoothies because they are refreshing, fun to make and I enjoy knowing that I am starting the day off with some protein and a few servings of fruit. Here is how I like to make my smoothies:

I always start off with Sugar River Dairy low-fat plain yogurt.

Crafted in Wisconsin

Next I add a banana, orange juice, organic frozen blueberries and organic frozen raspberries or strawberries and cinnamon. I love how the layers look in the blender.

Roughie layers

Wild card ingredients: Tofu, spinach, random fruit, coconut chips, flaxseed meal, flaxseed oil.

Blend it on up and enjoy!


While a strong argument could be made for pizza night, as my dad has been saying for my whole life, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. That’s all for now, I’ve got my Clay Matthews t-shirt on and a list that needs to be sacked. Cheers!

So, good news- I saw a dog today

When I got home from school today it was a balmy 32 degrees so I decided that it was definitely a day to run outside. As I slipped and slided through the slushy snow under a hazy crescent moon I saw kids skating on a neighborhood ice rink and ran past a very familiar christmas tree twinkling in the window of a house near where I went to high school. I smelled wood-burning stoves, saw countless trees aglow with those big colored bulbs that always remind me of Charlie Brown and ran past my Grandma’s old house where I spent many second Christmases (the first one being celebrated in Iowa) eating puffy cheeseballs, drinking 7-up and reading my dad’s Donald Duck comic books. It’s easy to get excited about Christmas as a kid. As an adult, I think sometimes you have to force yourself into a little bit. It’s not that I don’t get excited to spend time with my family and friends, open presents and eat lots of delicious food- I definitely look forward to those things. It’s just that as a child there is something mystical about Christmas that I find to be missing now. But I’m focusing on the little things, like giant green, red and blue-colored bulbs glowing on snow-covered pine trees, to coax myself into the season. The following is a list (in no particular order) of things that are helping me get there. Here’s to bringing some of the magic back.

1. Just Coffee’s “Peace on Earth” coffee

I was thinking about giving up coffee for the week (after an extremely jittery Monday morning) until Dan came home with this package of Just Coffee from Willy St. Co-op.

Peace on Earth coffee

2. My advent calendar

My advent calendar which Dan likes to wear on his head sometimes

My mom has been sending me this one from UNICEF the last few years. It doesn’t have the cardboard-tasting chocolate in it, but I think I like it better this way. It’s also fun when Dan opens the day and says stuff like, “Oh no, there is a giant monkey stealing Christmas presents.”

3. Thinking about this scene from “Elf”

Anyone in the Madison area have a copy I could borrow? I don’t have cable and I am jones-ing to watch it.

4. Listening to Otis Redding’s “White Christmas”

Today happens to be the anniversary of the day that Otis’s plane crashed into foggy Lake Monona in 1967. It breaks my heart a little to think that he was only 26-years-old. This beer that I am drinking is for you, Otis.

5. My Snoopy calendar

I adore my Snoopy calendar

6. Hunkering down at Mickey’s Tavern on a snowy evening for vegetarian Shepard’s Pie

Mickey's Tavern on Willy Street in Madison

The macaroni and cheese is pretty awesome too.

 7. Our visit to Mineral Point

8. Watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” while eating my experimental whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies

Whole wheat cookie balls ready to go into the oven

I broke about 42 rules while making these cookies and loosely followed the recipe, which isn’t so acceptable when it comes to baking. They still tasted pretty good.

9. Watching this video

I have a soft spot for Coldplay. And Christmas lights.

10. Busting out my old mix tapes

In about 1994 my best friend Meagan and I made a mix tape entitled, “Bon Hiver,” after our favorite episode of “Northern Exposure.” We took our mix tapes very seriously. It has stood the test of time despite a couple of missteps (namely Eagle’s “Hotel California”). Everytime I hear “Ruby Tuesday,” Misguided Angel,” or “The Boxer” I feel nostalgic for winter time.

11. Getting locked out of my house and…

taking a trek through a winter wonderland to my aunt and uncle’s house for a key while Dan composed a song for Clovis Mann’s upcoming Gingerbread Spectacular event: “It’s gingerbread… it’s spectacular….”

12. Listening to The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Carolina Christmas”

Gotta love The Marshall Tucker Band

It’s a pretty sweet album. It includes “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “My Christmas in Custody.”


The forecast calls for more snow and it’s time to open a new door on the calendar. Apparently this one features a plodding, giant teddy bear planning some sort of present attack. Stay tuned.

Next exit of fun: Mineral Point

If I seem a little distracted it’s because I can hear Dan standing outside the front door right now talking on his phone and he happens to have all of the fixins’ for tonight’s pizza. Today I have consumed very little (a banana and a piece of toast with peanut butter) and I just ran 3.77 miles at the gym (too cold to run outside today- boo), so needless to say, I’m slightly famished.

All is forgiven…. he just entered the house bearing two Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales, olives and news of Packers tickets for the last game of the regular season at Lambeau Field. Go Pack! On to the field trip….

This past Saturday Dan and I took a day trip to charming Mineral Point in southwest Wisconsin.

I like motel signs...

As a sign boasts upon your arrival into the town (not the one above!), Mineral Point is “twinned” with a village in Cornwall, England; Mineral Point, one of Wisconsin’s oldest cities, is very much like an English village. After the first European settlers came to Mineral Point in 1827, the discovery of lead in the area in the 1830s brought about a “mineral rush;” news of the lead reached Cornwall, England and many Cornish miners and their families began to arrive in Mineral Point. Today Mineral Point boasts a strong art community. Many of these artists and galleries are housed in the sandstone and limestone buildings built by the European settlers. (Do I sound too much like a tour guide now? I did half-fake my way through a job as a kayaking tour guide in Yellowstone for a couple of summers.) On to the awesome-ness that is Mineral Point.

Snowman outside of the General Store where we purchased spicy beer brittle

We were invited to visit Mineral Point by our new friends whom we met over the Thanksgiving weekend. Relatives of Dan’s bandmate, this family welcomed us warmly with open arms and we feel very lucky to have gotten to know them. Tim told us that a perfect time to come would be on Saturday so that we could experience the Gallery Night/ Candlelight shopping extravaganza. With the snow that we received overnight on Friday, the town definitely looked extra holiday-y! Our first stop was at the General Store on High Street where we purchased some locally-made spicy beer brittle (officially called “Fire in the Hole”). We devoured the whole package standing outside of the store on the sidewalk.

Window of La Bella Vita

Next we stopped at La Bella Vita on Fountain Street. This store had beautiful yarns and knit hats and also vintage clothing and household items. Dan came this close to purchasing a kimono-style robe for lounging in during the Packers games (but, alas, it was not green and gold.)

After La Bella Vita we met up with our friends for a stroll about town…


And then we stopped at Cruise Inn for a beverage and tutorial from our friendly bartender on how to play an endearing (and somewhat addicting) dice game entitled, “6, 5, 4.”

Cruise Inn, where we learned how to play 6,5,4

By this time the town was aglow with luminaries and decorated lampposts as we made our way to our dinner destination, the Brewery Creek Inn.

Dan and I actually discovered this place on our own a couple of months back when we decided to go for a little joy ride. The food is delicious and it has a very lively- yet cozy-atmosphere. There is a walnut burger on the menu that will completely alter your universe if you have been looking for an alternative to the traditional cheeseburger.

Try the walnut burger at the Brewery Creek Inn: YUM
There are some incredible-sounding desserts on the menu at this place, too. I actually got to try a bite of a rich chocolate cake on my second visit to the Brewery Creek Inn (Saturday was my third) with my sister and her friends before the remainder of the cake was devoured by our friend’s hilarious and adorable two-year-old son (after eating the cake he entertained us for minutes by repeating, “Dog, dog, dog, dog…” before crashing from the sugar rush.) On my next visit I fully intend to devour a dessert myself.
After dinner we said our goodbyes, purchased one more package of spicy brittle (for breakfast), and hit the road. It was a lovely day.