Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cranberry Fig Chutney

12 oz bag of cranberries [if you can't find fresh, dried will work -- but use less sugar]
8 oz dried calimyrna figs, chopped into small pieces [the smaller the better]
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 lemon, chopped, seeds discarded
2 T. minced, peeled fresh ginger
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. water
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar [you can use red wine vinegar, but the balsamic really gives it a better flavor, I think]
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 t. ground clove [optional]

In a nonreactive three quart pot, combine all ingredients. Heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 - 90 minutes. Its done when you can 'pop' all the cranberries by pressing them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.

Ladle into glass jars, refrigerate until well chilled -- at least 4 hours.

Enjoy with Turkey, meatloaf, on sandwiches and burgers.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Woodstock cyclocross. It was a good course -- not as technical as St. Charles or Northbrook, but long with LOTS of painful climbs, some fast descents, one set of three barriers, bumpy, bumpy ground, and some tricky downhill 'S' curves right before the finishing stretch.

I started better, but still not great. I was fifth or sixth through going into the first climb, and I could see Emily of VQ already pulling away from the rest of us. I was a bit blocked in, but managed to stay in the first chase group. At the barriers, an unaffiliated rider on a single speed tore past me and it took me until the next climb to get around her. I went through the start/finish in fifth place, and quickly passed the woman in fourth.

I caught up to Lara of mission bay and Carly of Tati on the long descent in the woods -- noting that they braked into the turn -- on the hill, I passed them, but was again passed by Lara. I chased her hard, and then she made a mistake: she took a wrong turn up towards the barriers and had to turn around and get back on the course. This gave me enough time to make my painstaking way over the barriers [I can't jump them, I just can't get the height] and ride on in the lead.

They were hot on my heels the whole way to and through the start/finish, but I had ridden the course 4+ times before my race and was able to take good lines, hit turns without braking and put a little more distance between us. But Lara was a jauggernaut. Coming into the final climbs, my teammates were yelling that she was 20 feet behind me. I worked SO HARD. I was at my absolute max and just kept pushing and pushing. Down through the gravel, around up the hill, onto the pavement, pushing harder, across the road, swooping down, braking to make the 180 turn -- right here my teammate Mike hollers, "don't mess up these turns and you got it!" forshadowing my downfall. -- back up the hill, around the 180 at the top, braking into the first 'S' turn, braking for the second, which you can shoot right out of and into the finishing stretch . . . but I was trying just too hard and missed the angle on the second turn, the easy turn, and slid out. Mike was screaming for me to get up, and I tried, but stepped on the side of my foot, rolled my ankle and fell again -- Lara passing me, of course -- I finally got on the bike and finished in third.

So frustrating. So disappointing. But that's bike racing. Skill is as important as strength and speed. Lara made a mistake that cost her and I made a mistake that cost me. And third is my best result yet. [My goal for next year is to be as powerfully dominant as Emily of VQ.]

The ankle is tender. I can walk on it fine, but it's weakened and if I twist it again it would be bad news. I have it supported and am being careful. Got to heal for Montrose Harbor!

Note the mud all over my left side and the grass sticking out of my brake levers. And my roar of rage at screwing up.

Thanks to Carolyn Golz -- velosnaps -- for the awesome pics!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

HEY! I finally made the top ten in the Chicago Cyclocross Cup standings! In fact, I'm ninth. I'll get my first call-up on Sunday at Woodstock. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Riding without my [prescription] glasses in the dark turns out to be a MUCH bigger handicap than riding without my glasses in daylight.

So I was riding on the Lakefront path this morning and enjoying the solitude. I could see the lake effect snow clouds on the horizon but it was clear and crisp and the sun was just starting to come up. I passed Oak Street beach and was watching the waves wash up. There was a little crispy ice, but nothing my knobby cross tires had trouble with. I turned the corner . . . and was suddenly on a solid sheet of black ice. Before I could react at all, I was down. Hard. I hit my head harder than I ever have and broke my glasses [rats!]. I sorta wanted to just lay there and cry. But its 20 degrees and the ice is cold and I still have an hour and a half of endurance and I am a tough and hard bike racer so I make my way off the ice, get back on my mercifully unscathed bike and continue my ride.

On the way back, I dismounted and picked my way carefully across the ice, hugging the wall. But the rubber soles of my shoe covers still slid out and I ended up crawling again. As I did, another roadie came around the bend and before I could warn him was on the ice and then crashing and spinning out. Its SO treacherous.

I'm fine -- nothing but my glasses are broken. And I think I can glue/tape them back together until I can afford another pair. My helmet seems intact . . . still might be time to look into getting a new one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unfortunately, I looked like this all too often at the Lansing cross race yesterday. My skills were terrible -- especially mounting. I seem to have forgotten how. I need to spend some time practicing getting off and on my bike this week.

The course was completely flat and fast. No place to recover for a moment, just all out effort the whole time. I got a better start this week and hit the first corner in the top five. A few women passed me after that, and I got caught behind a slower rider and ended up 20 feet off the lead pack. I worked my way up to them by the barriers, but my skills were lacking and I lost a place or two there. The barriers and the sandpit really broke things up. By the third lap, I was in fifth place. In the fourth I was in fourth place and closing in on Eileen in third. I caught her at a barrier and she and I were yelling at each other to go go go.

And then I crashed into the barrier before the sandpit. Got myself up and over, dashed to and through the pit, hopped on my bike . . . and my chain was off. I was afraid to try to pedal it on as I'd gotten it completely screwed up a week and a half ago trying to do just that. So I dismounted, fell, got up, fiddled with it -- Randy ran over and started talking me through it. When I'd finally gotten it on and gotten going, three people had passed me. I easily caught and passed one of them [might have been a junior], but Eileen and the other rider were just too far ahead. I really pushed through the last lap, but I never got close.

On the good side, we'd opened up such a huge gap that the women behind never got close to me either. So I finished fifth. Not bad considering. I feel like my fitness is returning.

Afterwards, some lovely women in the team tent cooked brats and veggie burgers for us -- a delightful post-race meal. Eileen finished third, so we both won $20. Nice! We got our registration fee back. All in all, a very fun day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The cross race in Northbrook yesterday was the first really COLD race. By the time we lined up, I could barely feel my hands and feet. The woman next to me was visibly shivering. And I was pretty intimidated by the course -- two practice laps and I was not confident I wouldn't end up in the pond and was filled with terror at the thought of the crazy 'ant farm' switchbacks.

I again did poorly in the opening sprint, ending up 10 - 15 women back when we hit the narrow, twisty part. But the group stayed pretty much together to the stairs -- This course had no barriers, substituting two punishing stair climbs, the first leading to extravagant, long switchbacks down the steep hill, the second to a fast, but slippery descent. To my surprise, I was able to pass a couple people on the stairs and even more in the switchbacks. I chose not to ride the first two -- running them instead. the corners were way too steep, muddy and treacherous for my ability-level. So up the stairs, set down the bike, haul ass to the corner, skid through it, haul ass to the next corner, leap on the bike, shoot through the next two switchbacks [with teammates coaching me!] and be on my way.

I came out of the 'ant farm' fifth, which helped me immeasurably. On the flat, a racer who's been regularly finishing in the top 3, sped by me like I was standing still. Clearly, she was operating on another level than I was. Definitely something to aspire to. In the second lap, I painstakingly worked my way up to the strong racer ahead of me and got around her in the mud before the second stair climb. I could feel her running up the stairs behind me and tried to angle my bike to make it impossible for her to pass me, then hit the descent fast and tried to put some distance between us on the paved section. It worked . . . and I saw a rider ahead of me that I'd never gotten close to before! I could see she was tiring, but I had a lot of ground to make up. I caught her as we started our third lap and then really concentrated on staying ahead. Again the stairs and switchbacks favored me -- I was so far over max at the top of the stairs, the run was sheer orneriness. I could barely think and my feet still felt like blocks of frozen meat, but I came out with a gap that I managed to keep.

As I came through the start/finish, steeling myself for another lap or two, the officials were standing in front of the lap counter. "How many more?" I asked, they called back, "You're done!" Woooo! I came in fourth, my best finish so far. I met my goal of breaking into the top five.

I'm feeling more and more comfortable racing cross. I rode this course better, saw the way to do it sooner. Looking forward to next weekend!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Welcome to the new world!

I wish I could be completely joyful about this, but the passage of Proposition 8 in California, amending their constitution to limit marriage to male/female couples, really sucks. Especially when our president-elect agrees that "separate but equal" is good enough for same-sex partners. I don't understand how people who have suffered from discrimination their entire lives can turn around and openly and willingly discriminate against others.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Raced cross in St. Charles yesterday. It was a VERY technical course, which did not play to my strengths. But it was still super fun. Part of my problem is that I only start figuring out the best way to ride the course on the last lap or two. Then I can see the line I should have taken in the beginning sprint, the way to get through the off-camber turns and deep gravel. A couple practice laps are great, but I'm not experienced [or smart] enough to work it out then.

I lined up on the outside to start --the inside was the better choice-- and ended up 10th or so in line up the first hill. Trapped behind some slower racers, the front group rode away from me. [JT, racing juniors, passed me in the first third of the first lap -- the boy is FAST.] I again spent the race working up to the woman in front of me, passing and dropping her, then setting my sights on the next one until I ran out of laps. A Mission Bay woman gave me trouble for a while, then a Tati girl remained tantalizingly out of reach for two laps -- every time I got close, I'd screw up at a barrier or in the gravel or in the off-camber turns, and she'd get out ahead of me again. I finally caught her on the last lap, passing her on the way up the hill and somehow managing to stay ahead of her through the barrier and run-up. I could see an Alberto's girl way up ahead, but finished sixth way after she'd crossed the line.

So basically, I need to nut-up and really kill the opening sprint. Got to practice that.

After the race, Beth and I went to Loyola Medical Center to visit Emily who had crashed Saturday on a pleasure ride with her husband and fractured three vertebra, including the all-important C-2 -- i.e. she broke her neck. She's all screwed into the halo device that will hold her head and neck still while the fracture heals. She'll be in it for the next three months. Hard core.

It was good to see that while tired and on a lot of pain medication, she was in good spirits. She has full movement of her limbs and they think that after she heals she'll have full neck movement as well. It could have been a lot worse. For Emily, the glass always seems to be half full. She should be home by now.