Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Perfect Barbecue Dessert

There is one dessert that is perfect for barbecue:  banana pudding.  There are other good desserts for barbecue: pecan pie, blackberry or peach cobbler with ice cream, Coca-Cola cake, and the list goes on.  But banana pudding is the first choice.

No one knows the exact date of the origin of nanner puddin' as it is colloquially known.  Nabisco first started selling Nilla Wafers in 1901, and it is thought that banana pudding was developed shortly thereafter.  There is an early mention in a Kentucky cookbook from 1903.

Anyway, the pudding is now a standard in barbecue joints from Texas to South Carolina.  I regret that this pudding never made much of an impact in Illinois or Missouri, so I guess it's up to me to evangelize its creamy goodness.

Banana pudding is generally made by layering vanilla wafers, bananas, vanilla pudding, and a topping.  There are a couple of schools of thought on the topping.  Some prefer a classic meringue topping, while others worship in the house of whipped cream.  Cool Whip is not acceptable.  Again, repeat after me, "Cool Whip is not acceptable".  Personally, I am a devoted disciple of the whipped cream church of banana pudding.

We had some bananas left over from the biathlon yesterday that had already been cut in two, so they needed to be used quickly, so I decided to make the sacrifice and make banana pudding.  Here's the instructions.

Pick out 3-4 ripe bananas.  These should not be green, but neither should they be brown.  You also need vanilla wafers, vanilla pudding mix, milk, and whipping cream.

Take a 9-inch baking dish or pie pan and arrange vanilla wafers across the bottom and up the sides.  The dish should be nearly completely covered, although a few small gaps aren't a problem.  Slice the bananas thin and layer these over the cookies.  Again, try to cover thoroughly, but a few gaps are okay.

Now cook the pudding.  Note that I said cook.  Instant pudding simply does not work.  After you cook the pudding, pour it slowly over the bananas and vanilla wafers.  The hot pudding will soak into the cookies and extract flavor from the bananas in a way that can't be matched by cold, starchy instant pudding.  For a 9-inch dish, I use the big box of pudding, the one that uses three cups of milk. 

If you normally keep skim milk in your house, you may need to pick up some whole milk to make the pudding as skim milk does not contain enough fat to properly bond to the starch in the pudding.  In other words, if you use skim milk, you will get runny pudding.

If you have extra bananas, you might want to throw a few more slices on top of the pudding.  Take a piece of plastic wrap and lay on the surface of the pudding prior to placing it in the refrigerator to cool.  This prevents the formation of the dreaded "pudding skin".

After the pudding is completely chilled, remove the plastic wrap and cover the top with whipped cream. 

The perfect dessert for barbecue or anything else.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Frosty Race

Spring is here.  Yeah, right.  This year I joined the Metro Tri Club here in Edwardsville, Illinois.  One of the two events that they put on each year is the Tracks n Treads off-road biathlon.  This is a 5k run on the SIUE cross-country course (not an easy route) followed by 9 miles of tight, technical single-track.

Due to the weather this year, the single-track portion of the race had to be run on an alternate course.  It was still fairly tough. 

Who was the winner this year?  Old Man Winter.  It was 35 at race time and 34 at the finish.  At least we got the race in before it started to snow.  I am going out tomorrow to find the lying groundhog who said it would be spring soon, as I watch the inches of snow pile up outside.

I did fairly well in the race considering my size and age.  I ended up in 34th place out of 62 participants.  The run definitely kept me from placing higher.  The good news is that I would have finished in the top three in my age group had I been 8 months older.  I guess there's always next year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Miscellaneous Ramblings

I ran my first race of the year yesterday at McKendree College over in Lebanon, Illinois.  I know, technically it's McKendree University, but I'm not convinced.  Anyway, they have a spring fling race every year with a 5k, 10k, and 10-mile runs.  This race is a bargain at $12 and a pretty well run race as well.  I finished the 10-miler in just a hair under 1:31, right at the 9:06 pace I need to finish a half marathon in under 2 hours.  I guess training does make a difference since last year I finished the same race in 1:46.

Earlier this week I was in Houston and had dinner at a place with many, many beers on tap.  I had a couple of my favorites, Boddingtons and Old Speckled Hen.  Both of these are nitrogen pressured light ales.  Nitrogen is what gives Guiness that creamy texture.  Boddington's is a very light ale and Old Specklen Hen is slightly darker and heavier.  Both are excellent when you can find them on tap.

Next week is the Metro Tri Club's Tracks n Treads off-road biathlon at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.  It's a 5k run on the SIUE cross-country course followed by 9 miles of mountain biking on the single track trails. 

I decided to pre-ride the course last weekend and see what it was like.  I dusted off the old Cannondale and headed out to the trail.  I discovered that you really need brakes to ride the single-track fast.  So this week I gave the mountain bike a full brake service job, which included replacement of the rear rotor which got bent sometime through the years.  The secret of good disc brakes is proper adjustment.  The rear was set fairly loose for clearance of the bent rotor and the front was just set too wide.  I also found that both brake cables had frayed at the clamp on the brake assembly.

So, after two new cables, one new rotor, and a good bit of adjusting, my brakes are working well.  We'll see if my running and biking ability is tuned as well for the race on Saturday. 

If you're interested in the race, see the website:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Edwardsvile, Illinois - Nirvana of Cycling

Outside magazine comes out with their best places to live edition.  In the best places to live for biking section, Edwardsville was not mentioned.  Not in the top ten, not even honorable mention.
I formally protest.
Outside magazine editors are biased against the Midwest.  They like places with "mountains" and "coffee shop scenes" and "eco-green, bike commuter transit-based rail systems".  Well, we don't have any mountains, but we have a lot of other good things.  Here's why we should make the top ten:
- Madison County Trails.  We have 85 miles of trails in the county system.  65 miles are paved.  We aren't even required to cross many roads.  Most of the busiest crossing have underpasses or overpasses. The Madison County system is also uniquely routed into several loops varying lengths, between 12 and 30 miles.  You can link up a few loops and have a long outing completely on the trails without re-tracing your path.  Bored with the Edwardsville trails?  Head to St. Charles and get on the Katy Trail.  240 miles across the state on the same trail.
- Southwest Illinois farm roads.  When you come to the end of the Madison County Trails, get on the farm roads and just keep going.  The roads are generally smooth and very lightly traveled.  Most people forget that once you leave Chicago, Illinois just doesn't have that many people.
- Races.  Edwardsville has the downtown criterium and the mountain bike biathlon, and nearby O'Fallon hosts a road race and criterium.  The original Tour de Donut race is just up the road in Staunton.  A well-attended triathlon is held in nearby Wood River every August.  Other popular triathlons are held in nearby Greenville, Carlyle, Belleville, and Springfield.  Biathlons are hosted in Highland, Hillsboro, New Baden, and Millstadt.  And that's just on the Illinois side of the river.  Over in St. Louis (20 minutes away), races are held throughout the season, including road races, biathlons, triathlons, mountain bike, cyclocross, and velodrome track racing.
- Recreational rides. So you don't want to race? Enjoy one of the many recreational rides throughout the Edwardsville area.  A dozen or more are held each year around Madison County with the ever popular Tour de Stooges leading the way.  The Gateway Council of Hostelling International sponsors several rides and Trailnet has even more.  Again, cross the river and you'll keep finding more rides.  During the season, there are five or more rides per month within 50 miles.
- Refreshments.  We have coffee shops just like those snobby Pacific Northwest people.  Edwardsville has a re-vitalized downtown area with many coffee shops, restaurants, and watering holes.  Coming back in from one of our epic rides last year, our group stopped at the winery just 30 feet from the bike trail.  And for the ultimate ride stop -- Fast Eddie's in Alton.
- Weather.  Granted, our winters can be a bit cool here.  However, last year I was able to ride outside every month of the year, and that was without deep arctic gear.  Mid-summer can be a bit toasty (or steamy), but our hot spells usually only last a few days.  Riding weather is generally very good starting in mid-March and lasting until mid-November.
- Scenic rides.  We don't have any mountains, but we have the mighty Mississippi river with bike-specific bridges.  The bike trails are through tree-lined corridors on former railroad beds.  Besides the bike trail routes, we have a lot of peaceful, bucolic countryside rides.  You’ll see lots of wildlife on any of these rides, including deer, turkey, bald eagles, bluebirds, cardinals, lots of other songbirds, squirrels, groundhogs, and an occasional snake.
Okay, I think I'm proving my point.  Outside Magazine, listen up.  This is the best bike riding spot in the country.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March Events - Southwestern Illinois

There are a couple of good events coming up in March.

March 19th - Ramble Into Spring, McKendree University, Lebanon, Illinois.  The university hosts a 5k, 10k, and a 10 mile run, all starting together.  This race is a bargain at $12, especially with many races charging $40 or more these days.  The 5k course runs through town, while the 10 miles takes you out throgh the cornfields.

March 26th - Tracks n' Treads, Off-road biathlon, Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville.  This is an trail biathlon that starts with a 5k run over the university cross-country course and a 9-mile single-track mountain bike race over the challenging course on the SIUE campus.  This race is hosted by the Metro Tri Club, the same guys that put on the Pere Marquette Trail Run each December. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Essential Library

Okay, you've been given the ultimatum to reduce your personal library to four books.  Maybe you're moving into an RV and have limited space.  Maybe it's for a stretch in the federal pen after someone linked you and that new Trek Madone with SRAM Red to Bernie Madoff. 
So you only get four books. 
Let's assume that you'll have a chance to borrow novels from the prison library or do trade-ins on used books from the truck stops.  That means we want reference books, but reference books that are also great reads.  Where should we start?
We want our bikes to be in top working order.  A great place to start is Leonard Zinn's "Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance", an homage to Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".  This book has gone through several editions and has been kept up to date with the latest cycling gizmos.

We'll be thirsty after riding, so let's take a look at Michael Jackson's (the other MJ) "Great Beer Guide".  Jackson hosted a television series called "The Beer Hunter" and was noted as possibly the world's foremost expert on beer.  Jackson died in 2007, but has left a malty and hoppy legacy.

After a cold one, we'll be ready to eat.  Start with Steven Raichlen's "Barbecue Bible".  I will be the first to point out that many of these recipes involve grilling and not barbecuing.  However, roasted meat in its many forms is all good.  Raichlen references meats and cooking styles from around the world.

We may be fit, we might be full, and we might have satisfied our thirst, but let's not neglect our spiritual development.  For those of you so inclined, I would recommend the fourth book on the list to be the "Quest Study Bible" by Zondervan Press.  The text is a New International Version translation.  The notes in the margins provide reference to other parts of the Bible and notes about the cultural and historical context.  Each book has an overview page on who wrote it and why.  There are other study Bibles that contain more in-depth analysis, but this is a good place to start for the laymen without seminary training.