Friday, January 28, 2011

Peanut Butter Brownies & Run Fast Until You Die

I’m gearing up for my final long tune-up run tomorrow morning. I’ll do about 8 miles, then on Monday I begin the real training program for the Martian Half Marathon.

I’ve run a few full and half marathons but I’m trying something a little different this time. Instead of just going out and plodding along for however many miles I’m supposed to do interval training. For those of you that aren’t nerds like me that read every issue of Runner’s World magazine from cover to cover, interval training is basically running short segments at various speeds, usually faster than you’d normally go, connected by recovery jogs, over and over and over again. The idea is that you build up the fast twitch muscles necessary to carry you to eternal glory or you turn into jello.

I have to admit I’m kind of excited to try something new. PR here I come!

Speaking of fast, here’s a super fast and easy recipe that also looks impressive.

Peanut Butter Brownies

1 package brownie mix, mixed according to directions
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup powdered sugar

Pour brownie batter in your pan of choice. Mix peanut butter and powdered sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for about 30 seconds. The peanut butter should be fairly runny and pourable. If not, stir and microwave in short intervals. Pour the peanut butter mix in a back and forth pattern, taking care to space it so that there is just enough to go the length of the pan as shown in the diagram. Stick a toothpick or bamboo skewer straight down into the batter and move in a back and forth pattern perpendicular to the peanut butter, as shown in the red line in the diagram.

Then you just bake it according to the directions on the package. A tip for cutting them (and any other brownie): cut it with a plastic knife. It won't stick to the knife as much.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sweet Potato Pie > Humble Pie

As I've mentioned several times before, I'm a really slow runner. However, at the end of a race I have a good kick that usually lets me blow by a few of the other slow runners. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment to bear down on someone (usually like an octogenarian with a walker) and pass them with mere yards to spare. It's something I pride myself on.

This used to happen a lot in high school when I was on the high school cross country team. I wasn't good enough to even be on the JV team so it was basically just for fun. There were a couple of races that I still remember because I was able to pass a couple of my usually faster teammates at the end. It was usually the only time I beat them all year but on that day I was the better man.

In a half marathon I ran last year I was cruising down the homestretch, with a grandpa in my cross-hairs when a girl blew by me on my left side. (I guess I'm letting a little sexism show, so I apologize to womanhood everywhere) There were probably two hundred women that had already finished before me, but in that moment they didn't matter. In an all out foot race with a teenage girl, I ate her dust.


Technically this isn't sweet potato pie because there isn't a crust and it's supposed to be served alongside the rest of your feastly fare, but it's loaded with sugar and butter so I made the editorial decision that it belongs, with pride, among the dessert hall of fame that is this blog. (I was going to call it "My Yammy Vice" but someone once told me that word play is the lowest form of humor. Personally I think the lowest form is watching someone get hit the groin on AFV. It's hilarious!)

Heaton's Sweet Potato Pie

4 cups sweet potatoes or yams, cubed (white sweet potatoes are recommended but can be difficult to find)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbs butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Boil sweet potatoes until tender and drain. Add rest of the ingredients and mash to your desired consistency. (I like it really smooth.) Pour in a 8X8 pan. Sprinkle evenly with topping. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
3 Tbs butter
1/2 chopped pecans

Mix sugar and flour. Cut in butter. Mix in pecans.

Courtesy of Analise Heaton

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Make Time for Caramel Sauce

A year ago I had just signed up for the Bayshore Marathon that took place on Memorial Day Weekend. I knew it was going to be hard, not only because 26.2 miles is inherently hard, but because my schedule was so jammed packed that I was concerned that I would not have the time to train properly.

"Don't have time." That's an interesting phrase that is often said but isn't true in the context of how it is most often used. People usually say it to mean that there isn't enough time in a set period, a day or week for instance, to engage in a certain activity. Actually, we all have the same amount of time as everyone else (unless we're talking bigger, about mortality, when everyone's 'time' is variable and unknown). There are 24 hours in everyone's day and 7 days in everyone's week. So what we are actually saying is that of all the competing possible uses of our time, we are prioritizing that particular activity out. In other words, it's not as important enough to us as the other things we actually do.

When you start to look at your time that way it starts to get a little scary from a self-awareness standpoint. If you or I forego a noble activity, like volunteering at a homeless shelter, because we "don't have time", we are in essence admitting that we value everything else we do more than that noble activity, including, for example, watching mindless TV, surfing the internet, playing Angry Birds on your iPhone. staring blankly at walls, or reading this blog (the last is, of course, also a very noble activity).

Many of us would like to run but say we "don't have time". I am not saying that there is something wrong with you if it is not a high enough priority to actually get done. We all make choices. What I am saying is that there are significant benefits to how we are able to use the rest of our time if we do chose to run or exercise in some other way.

The first benefit is the statistic probability that we will live longer, and therefore have more time with which to work. The next is that many people feel that they are able to be more productive and healthy the rest of the time when regular exercise is part of the uses of our time. The third is, admittedly, a little vain, but we look better, fitter, and feel more self-confident, so that while we aren't getting more time, we enjoy the time we have a little more. In summary; more time, more productive time, more enjoyable time.

So back to last year's marathon. The training last year was particularly hard because I teach religious class every weekday morning at 6 am to high school kids. I also have kids with whom I enjoy spending time. So in order to "have time" to train I got up at 4:30 each morning to run. To get enough sleep I went to bed at around 8:30 each night. (I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my wife who spent a lot of lonely nights doing housework in order for me to reach my goal.) I can happily say that I completed the training and finished the marathon with a (rather slow) PR.

And now to the present. I still teach the class. I still have the same priorities competing for my time, but I find myself in a little bit of a funk with regards to running. Spending time with my wife has become more important, whether it's spent completing our family room renovation (which turned out great, by the way) or watching a show. So I stay up too late to be able to crawl out of bed early enough to run.

In a couple of weeks I will begin my training regimen for the Martian Half Marathon. When that happens running will climb a couple of notches up my priority list. In the meantime I have embraced the funk and am okay with running just a few times a week and view the scale-back as a valuable recovery period.

By the way, my friend and talented author, Rob Wells, wrote an insightful blog about this subject with regards to aspiring authors making time to write. You can find it here.


Of course, consuming dessert should be on everyone's priority list. This caramel sauce goes with nearly everything.

Caramel Sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¾ cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
½ Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher salt

Before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go - the cream and the brown sugar next to the pan, measured and waiting.

In a heavy bottomed stainless steel 2 quart saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add all dark brown sugar at once and stir with wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet. Add corn syrup. Stir infrequently until mixture goes from looking grainy to molten lava. Make sure to get into the corners of your pot, and watch closely to notice how the mixture changes. It will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

Right before you add the cream, the caramelizing brown sugar will begin to look and feel more like liquid and less like thick wet sand. Add all the cream at once and replace your spoon with a whisk. Lower heat a little and whisk cream into mixture. When liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes. Stir in half of the vanilla and half the salt.

After liquid has been boiling on the stove for its 10 minutes, turn heat off and let rest for a minute or two before transferring into a heatproof storage vessel. (I prefer a stainless steel or glass bowl.) Cool to room temperature. Add additional vanilla and salt to taste.

Chill butterscotch sauce in a non-reactive container with a tightly fitting lid only after sauce has chilled completely. It will keep for one month refrigerated, that is if you can keep from eating it all the moment it has cooled down and been seasoned to your liking.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hard Bargains & Coconut Bars

As I've mentioned, I am going to be running the Martian Half Marathon on the first Saturday in April. This will be the third year that I'm running the race at some distance or another. As part of the event they put on a kids' marathon. In the weeks leading up to the event the kids run a total of 25 miles, a little at a time. Then on race day they run the final 1.2 mile for a complete marathon. The idea is to get kids out there active and hopefully plant the seed of running love.

Two years ago my oldest daughter participated and last year both my daughters did it. I wish I could say that they caught fire and will be definitely be running for life, but I can't. We had them do about a mile a day for the month leading up to the race. The daily conversation to get them to do their running/walking usually went something like this:

Me: Girls, it's time to do your running.
Girls: Ahhhhh (read as a synchronized groan of death), do we have to?
Me: I told you before we signed you up and paid for it that if you wanted to do it you'd have to run or walk everyday. So, yes, you have to.
Girls: But we'd rather watch this poorly written children's program on TV.
Me: Too bad.
Girls: We'll make you a deal, if you give us a human head sized helping of ice cream covered in Pixie Stick powder then we'll do it.
Me: Deal. Anything to get you running.

Okay, so that's not exactly how it went, but hopefully you get the idea. They constantly grumbled and complained. On race day they had a great time and I think they enjoyed feeling a sense of accomplishment, but I'm sure that if they sign up again that I'll be in for the same daily gripe and negotiating session.

Does anyone out there have good ideas about how to teach kids a love of running? If you hold out on me I'll send them to you for the griping.


These bars are a nice change of pace from our normal, overly rich and chocolately desserts.

Raspberry Coconut Bars

¾ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 cups coconut (divided)
1 ½ cups oatmeal
¾ cup raspberry preserves (can substitute any preserves)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter, brown sugar and sugar together until fluffy. Add flour, 1 cup coconut and oatmeal. Mix and set aside 1 cup of mixture. Press remaining dough in a 9x13 pan. Spread with preserves. Crumble set aside mixture on top. Sprinkle on 1 cup of coconut. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve like a cookie or, better yet, warm with vanilla ice cream (Pixie Stick powder is optional).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rockin' Granola & the No Headphones Blues

Last Friday I took the opportunity presented by an unseasonably warm day to run outside for a change. It had been a couple of months since I had confined my running to the treadmill in the basement. As I've mentioned, I don't mind running on the treadmill, especially when there is something good on TV, but it was nice to get some fresh air and a change of pace.

I put all my cold gear on, grabbed my MP3 player and my new headphones (my trusty old ones broke) and headed out the door. It's always a shot of confidence when I emerge from the basement to run outside because I find that I go at a faster pace for the same effort.

Everything was going fine until I had about 1 ½ miles to go, when my earphones refused to stay in my ears. I was forced to abandon the book I was listening to and actually think. I wish I could say that I had some life altering epiphany, but I didn't. My thoughts went something like this:

Stupid headphones! … Why is my hip doing that? … That's a big dog, I hope that fence is closed. … My breathing sounds like a woman in labor … Hoo hoo heeee … What color should we paint the living room? … That yappy dog is annoying … Blue? … That's a nice car … Brown? … Hoo hoo heee … My toe hurts … I wonder what's for lunch … This road is bumpy … Bright pink? … I'm tired … Hoo hoo heeeeee …

And so on. I think I need new headphones before my own thoughts annoy me to death.


This is a treat that, while not technically a dessert, does contain sugar. If you like crunchy, high quality granola instead of the chopped cardboard you find in the grocery store then this is for you!

Cameron's Nutty Granola


4 cups rolled oats
1 ¾ cup slivered almonds
1 ½ cup cashews
1 cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pistachios (usually, I can only find salted. Seems to work fine)
1/3 cup pinenuts
1 ¾ cup shredded sweet coconut
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup honey
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ tsp salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger preserve (or ½ tsp dried ground ginger)


Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar, and dry spices.
In a separate bowl, combine honey, oil, ginger preserve and salt. Combine both mixtures thoroughly and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and cranberries and mix until evenly distributed. Allow to cool and gently break.

Note: Nuts can be expensive, particularly the pine nuts and pistachios. If you can afford them, use them. They make it taste awesome. If not, use cheaper nuts, but not peanuts. I've also used pecans and really liked it.