Thursday, March 31, 2011

Since When Were Ranchers Jolly?

With just two days to go before the big race, my daughters are finishing up their training program for their kids marathon.

As I wrote previously, the kids marathon is one of the Martian Marathons races where children run or walk a total of 25 miles leading up to the race then run the final 1.2 miles on race day to finish their marathon. As my wife and I expected, there were many days where the girls moaned and groaned about doing their running.

However, their attitude got much better recently mainly due to two changes. The first was that I began offering them candy for good behavior. They earned a Jolly Rancher if they run without complaining and if they alternated between running and walking. I was shocked how quickly their attitude changed. I guess they share my love of sugar.

There are theories out there that if you offer extrinsic rewards for behaviors then it destroys any intrinsic motivation there may have been. (Extrinsic = external, like money or candy, intrinsic = internal, like warm fuzzies) The belief is that people think, "If they are willing to give me something for doing it, then really must not be that enjoyable". I don't disagree with the theory for the most part but sometimes people need some initial motivation to try a behavior that they will eventually find intrinsically rewarding. Take my older daughter for instance. She was running about a mile a day. One day she decided that she wanted to do two miles instead, even though she would receive no extra candy. Of course we heaped loads of congratulations on her to reinforce the behavior.

The other change was that the weather began to get nicer, allowing us to escape the treadmill in the basement and walk/run around the block. Once we were able to do that I really didn't have to promise them the candy at all. Maybe it wasn't the walking and running they didn't like, just the treadmill.

I just hope that someday one or more of my children will come to me and ask me if I want to go running with them. Of course, I may have to have a pocket full of Jolly Ranchers just in case.


My idea of a perfect food is something crunchy smothered with butter, chocolate and peanut butter, tossed in more sugar. Can you go wrong?

Muddy Buddies

9 cups Rice Chex®, Corn Chex® or Chocolate Chex® cereal (or combination)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar


Measure cereal into a large bowl and set aside.

In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.

Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator. Hide it from the kids or you'll regret it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pressure Time & Molten Lava

The big day is now just three days away! The weather for race day looks perfect; mid-30s – mid-40s and cloudy. My hips haven't hurt for about a week so I hope that whatever was going on in their has had a chance to fix itself.

Not being a naturally talented runner, I have always been very strict about having a training plan and sticking to it. Until my hip troubles I have followed the plan to the letter. And yet I'm still going into the race not entirely confident that I'll be able reach my goal of getting a PR.

My current half marathon PR of 1:54 was set last year in the same race in almost the exact same conditions. At the time I was in the thick of training for a full marathon, so 13.1 miles was actually a shorter distance than I was running the Saturdays before and after the race. I decided to do the race as a training run. I went out really loose with nothing to prove and no firm goal in mind. I thought it would be nice to break two hours but I knew I couldn't kill myself because I had to keep training the following week. About half way through I was feeling good and I could tell that I had plenty left in the tank so I decided to push it. I was thrilled with the result because, while not spectacular for many a fit person, my performance greatly exceeded my expectations.

So this year, it seems all things are equal, except that I have definite plans to do well. I guess we'll see if I can live up to the self-imposed pressure.


My wife and I have been big fan's of Chili's Molten Lava cake for years. Since we're cheap and adventurous we decided to try and make it ourselves rather than run to Chili's and fork down $6 for a serving everytime we're jonesing for some chocolaty goodness. We've tried many recipe with disappointing results but finally found one that fits the bill. It started as a surprisingly complicated recipe from the Food Network that made the cake from scratch. When we tasted it I decide that there was almost no difference between the scratch cake and one from a box so I simplified.

Molten Lava Cake (copycat for Chili's)

For the cakes:
-Mix one box devil's food cake mix according to instructions

For the filling:
-8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-4 Tbs unsalted butter
-1 Tbs light corn syrup

For plating:
-Chocolate Magic Shell topping
-Vanilla ice cream
-Caramel sauce for drizzling


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 4 10 oz brioche molds, ramekins or jumbo muffin cups with cooking spray. Dust with cocoa powder and tap out the extra.

Pour the cake batter evenly into the molds and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool until they pull away from the molds.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Microwave the chocolate, cream, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second intervals, stirring each time, until the chocolate starts to melt, 1 minute, 30 seconds. Let sit 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Reheat before using, if necessary.

Use the tip of a paring knife to gently loosen the cakes from the molds, then invert the cakes onto a cutting board.

Use the knife to cut a 1 1/2-inch circle on the top of each cake, cutting almost to the bottom. Hollow out the cake with a spoon; save the scraps. Wrap the cakes with plastic wrap and microwave until steaming, 1 minute.

Drizzle plates with caramel, then unwrap the cakes and place on top. Pour about 3 tablespoons filling into each cake.

Plug the hole with a cake scrap. Save or discard any remaining scraps.
Top each cake with a scoop of ice cream and Magic Shell. Pig out.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You put your left hip out... & Shortbread

I mentioned in my last post that one of the reasons the run was ugly was that my hip hurt. Well, my run the following day was not nearly as ugly; I had plenty of energy, but my left hip started aching pretty badly at about mile three and the pain stayed all the way to mile 12.

To help the healing after the run I took a freezing cold bath and took some anti-inflammatories. I didn't run on Monday or Wednesday, and did just a little less than 3 miles on Tuesday until I felt the pain coming back. I'm not going to run today or tomorrow either. I'll go out for my long run on Saturday morning though.

It's all about gambling now. I'm gambling that I have enough fitness to hold out to the race just ten days away. It's better to let your body heal at the possible expense of a little fitness than to push the body to the point that you can't race at all.


Cookie Canvases (Shortbread)

2 cups butter (softened)
2 cups sugar
4 cups flour

½ lbs powdered sugar
5-6 Tbsp milk

Cream butter with sugar. Gradually add flour. Press into a large, rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm and transfer to a wire rack. Again, while still warm, brush with glaze. Allow to sit at room temp for 24 hours for the glaze to set. Paint with food coloring.

Recipe from Catherine Greer Limpo

Friday, March 18, 2011

Big Uglies & Gooey Caramel Popcorn

I went for a run this morning, and it might have been the ugliest run I've ever been on.

I'm closing in on two weeks before the half marathon that I've been training for the last two months. The training plan I'm on has this week as the hardest week with the highest mileage and some tempo runs thrown in to boot. This morning called for a 6 mile run. The weather was perfect so I went outside. The weather was the only thing perfect. I was slow, way behind pace. My hip hurt. I was pretty unmotivated. Every mile was a battle.

This isn't the first time I've had an ugly run but the proximity of race has me a little freaked out. I'm really writing this in an attempt to discover the cause of the ugliness so as to avoid it in the future.

Reasons for the ugly:

1) Lack of sleep. I really haven't gotten enough for the last week. I normally need at least 7 hours per night. In the thick of training it should a little more. Last night I got about 5 hours. Solution: surf internet less, sleep more.

2) Garbage food. I had a fabulous time last night watching my team win their first round game in the NCAA tournament with a bunch of friend. Throughout the night I ate junk food galore. Solution: have at least an ounce of self control.

3) Incomplete recovery. Two nights ago I had a very hard workout. It was almost eight mile with most of it at or above my goal pace. Solution: there really isn't one. Our bodies get stronger and faster by being pushed a little past their limits and then recovering. I think I should have just been aware that I wasn't going to break any world records this morning and it wouldn't have been so depressing.

Tomorrow morning I embark on my longest training run; 12 miles. I guess we'll see if I learned anything from this morning or if ugly is here to stay.


This is our good ol’ fashioned family recipe for gooey caramel popcorn. It’s best when it’s still warm but don’t burn your mouth off or anything.

Caramel Popcorn

½ cup butter
1 cup corn syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 ½ gallons plain popcorn

In saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Stir well and bring to boil over medium heat. Stir in sweetened condense milk. Simmer stirring constantly, until mixture reaches soft ball stage (234 degrees). Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour over popcorn and mix until evenly coated. Wait for 5 minutes to cool then stuff your face until you go into a sugar coma.