Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Traditions

When I was 19 years old, I participated in a boot hockey game on Christmas Eve morning. Every Christmas Eve since, that game has been held on the beautiful Bahrenburg pond -- 20 years. Holiday traditions are special, aren't they? Traditions that emphasize family, giving, and holiday celebration. This particular tradition -- just as special in my opinion -- is all about friends, the outdoors, and that sacred winter activity known as hockey. I guarantee that everyone on the pond yesterday feels the same as me -- that our annual Boot League is one of the most special of winter traditions.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Last Bit of Summer

In an effort to get one last bit of summer before the long, cold Vermont winter, Alison and I went to Mexico this fall! You may think this is old news, because we went at the end of November. But such is the way it goes in AikenAction Land; I'm a bit behind on my reporting!

The nice thing is that we missed a rainy Vermont week right before the snow started falling. We ran, rode bikes, snorkled, sat on the beach, and -- maybe best of all -- ate unbelievable food for 10 days. The food was a highlight because it was so good! Everything we ordered at restaurants was totally fresh. We bought a lot of fresh food -- corn tortillas made that day at the tortillaria, fresh snapper at the pescatoria, veggies at the vegetable stand, and so forth -- and cooked several great meals at home.

Have you ever had corn tortillas from an American grocery store? They are dry and crumbly... because they're just not fresh. And that has always frustrated me. The only thing they're good for is my famous enchilada casserole (a topic for a future post) -- not for tacos or anything like that. But we went to one restaurant in Tulum -- La Lorena -- where I asked the owner to show me how they make tortillas. Then I went straight to the hardware store and bought a tortilla press to bring home. Which has begun a new era in Mexican cooking here in Richmond. Fresh corn tortillas are the bomb!

We met Rob and Amy French down there, which made the trip even more amazing than it already was. While there, Rob tested every flavor of hot sauce available on the Yucatan, thereby receiving the "Hot Sauce Award" (see photo of trophy. This particular trophy is an heirloom and will most likely be cherished by him for years to come. Congratulations Rob. (For more background info on the trophy, click here.)

And now that I have this tropical fix out of my system, let's get on with Winter!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No Excuse

There's really no excuse. My dog Oscar, author of "AskOscarDog," the wildly popular dog blog, hasn't had much of anything going on lately. Yet he hasn't put up a post in months! Meanwhile, I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off, working two jobs, climbing at the gym, attending and working skiing events all over Vermont, playing hockey. And Oscar has nothing going on.

So why he hasn't been posting is beyond me. All I know is, with a schedule like his, I am sure we can expect much more regular activity on his blog moving forward.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fire in Stove

It takes a whole season to prepare and gather a wood supply to heat one's house in wintertime. In fact, with wood needing to dry for a year or more, you could say it takes even longer.

But when the temperatures drop, the air gets damp, and the house ceases to be the warm haven it has been in early fall, I always look forward to getting the wood stove fired up. That said, I always try to put off the first fire too. No need to waste our wood, right?

Finally, though, temperatures drop into the thirties and forties and frost covers the lawn every morning for weeks. It's time. I cut the kindling; I ball up newpaper. The long, straight chimney draws the smoke up above, and the wood crackles. Suddenly, we forget all rooms of the house except the front room with the stove. The flames dancing inside the glass doors are more captivating than television, and the non-stove areas of the house resign themselves to a winter season of neglect.

Heating with wood is a dirty, troublesome task that is ongoing throughout the year. But once we light the first fire, I forget the difficulties and enjoy the warm dry heat that a wood fire provides.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Alison Aiken is headed to Boston! That's right... last Sunday she achieved the impossible; in the first-ever Smuttynose Marathon along the seacoast in Hampton, New Hampshire, she ran a Boston-qualifying time of 3:44:20. Yayyy, Alison! What made the accomplishment even more special was the fact that Ali's training partner Kristen Courcelle was also on-hand at Smuttynose. The two runners, determined to qualify, ran in several triathlons and foot-races this summer, and they did speedwork together too -- often in hurricane-like and rainy conditions. But regardless of weather, they never bagged out of a workout. The result: Kristen also qualified with over a minute to spare. Both of them ran strategically perfect races and remembered their rainy sprint workouts in the final miles. There were never two more deserving qualifiers!

Big congratulations also go out to Marty Courcelle, Newton Baker, and Mark Aiken, who ran strong marathons and to Heather Jarochym who kicked rear-end in her first-ever half-marathon.

All in all, it was a beautiful day in which many accomplishments were made and many goals achieved. And that's what recreational running is all about.

**Note: you will notice the sleeve-like things hanging off Alison's waist (directly under her race number) in the photo; these arm warmers were cut out of an old pair of ski socks and were meant to be "throw-aways" once she warmed up as the race got underway. But not Alison. She carried the old socks for 25 miles, and she will have them for the next race she runs... and probably the one after that and the one after that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Roasting Dogs

Hot dogs, that is. Obviously!

Less obvious -- and you may find this surprising -- is that until a few weeks ago, I had never roasted a hot dog on a stick. How did this come about? Well, how I went 39 years without doing it, I'm not sure. I have great experience with s'mores around a campfire, but I guess I limited my expertise to sweet desserts.

This Labor Day weekend, however, Alison and I decided to spend three or four days at the Aiken camp in North Hero. Unfortunately, our hot and dry summer came to an abrupt halt a few days before the weekend; one of the Atlantic off-shore hurricanes sent off-and-on rain and crazy wind our direction for the whole weekend, confining our activities mostly to reading, Scrabble, and other indoor pursuits.

One night for dinner, however, we ran into trouble. It was so windy we couldn't keep the gas grill lit. Fortunately, we had decided to have a fire in the fireplace. And I think the accompanying photos (along with demonstrating exactly how bald I have become here in my old age!) tell the rest of the story. Jalepeno chicken sausages roasted over hot coals, a whole wheat bun, sauteed onions, and spicy mustard... and I had myself a great meal! S'mores for dessert and a few beers to wash it down... and I was ushering out the last of summer in style.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Cup

What a lucky girl. On her second anniversary, Alison Aiken got to have dinner with her in-laws AND get her picture taken with Lord Stanley's Cup. Amazing... What a life she leads!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Go Ahead

Are you serious? Sometimes I can't believe the stuff I read in the news. Ordinarily, this isn't a political or current events blog, but some stuff is so ludicrous, I can't let it slide. FIrst it was this mosque down the street from the Ground Zero site. Now it's this reverend who plans to have a Quran-burning in front of his church on Saturday.

Here's where we're at, the way I understand things: pretty much everyone agrees that it is his First Amendment right to have his little book-burning. Everyone is also pretty much in agreement that he's a goldarn idiot for doing it. Most further agree that extremists abroad are only going to take this act the wrong way and that the backlash can only mean bad news for American troops and tourists overseas. Again, I have to ask: you're really serious?

This reverend character has called his critics "cowardly." He has called the Islamic extremists who might retaliate against Americans cowards as well. Well, here's what I say. Anyone can burn the Quran down in Gainesville with our police and armed forces protecting him and his First Amendment right. If he's going to call everyone cowards, how about stepping up to the plate? Why not hold his little book-burning over in Afghanistan or Pakistan? Yeah! Find a city square, maybe right in downtown Islamabad, and set up shop. Then burn your books... go right ahead.

Update 9/13/2010: This reverend guy did end up canceling his book-burning... most likely in response to the logic put forth in this blog.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Latest Article: Climbing the Six Summits

Check out my latest article -- which chronicles my journey this summer to the high point of each of the New England states and which appeared in the September 5 issue of the New York Times. Also be sure to check out their sweet interactive map that accompanied the article. Nice job on the map, NYT!

And, finally, some photos from the adventure: top left: Johnny at the top of Connecticut (JG), top right: me at the Three Corners (JG), bottom left: the high point of Rhode Island, and bottom right: the diner where we had breakfast in Rhode Island (JG). For some real New England accents, check this place out.

Friday, September 3, 2010

New Dental Expert

Despite having just one filling (lifetime), I am no dental expert. However, after interviewing 16 dentists in 6 months, here's where I am an expert: when it comes to Dentists in New Hampshire!

The latest dental exclusive appears in Around Concord magazine. If you like teeth, this one will really give you something to chew on! Exciting write-ups on 7 dentists. Now that's a mouthful.

Okay, enough with the dental puns. Click here to read the profiles.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chicks Dig Runners

Running has a lot of positive benefits -- it's cheap, keeps you in shape, gives you the leeway to eat more -- but most obviously... chicks dig runners! Here I am enjoying this benefit before the "Dress for Success" leg up the Killington Mountain Road during last weekend's Heart of Vermont Relay. I definitely plan to keep running... and I think I might stick with the hairdo.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slugs With Drinking Problems

For the most part, our vegetable garden has remained predator-free this summer. Although it is surrounded by two-foot-high chicken-wire-style fencing, I do not doubt that any deer, squirrel, or rabbit that wanted to munch our lettuce, tomatoes, squash, or berries, could certainly step or hop right over the barrier. But, so far, the garden has remained more or less undisturbed. Japanese beetles did attack one basil plant, but one carefully placed beetle trap 40 feet from the garden seems to have mitigated that problem.

There is one pest that, until recently, we couldn't seem to defend against: slugs. When our plants were young, slugs would eat the plants. Once they bore fruit or veggies, these slugs and snails would crawl onto the veggie, leave their slimy trails, and munch away. And there was really nothing we could do.

Until I left a mostly empty beer can in the garden. The next morning, it was covered with slugs. Could it be? Were these slimy gastropod molluscs actually alcoholic?

Answer: yes they are. I started leaving 2-inch-tall cups of old beer in the garden. Every morning, the cups would be full of slugs who had drunk themselves blind and then drowned! First, I used an old Coors Light that had been in the garage (hot then cold then hot then cold). They loved it. But I wondered, are all slugs lager-lovers? In the back of my refrigerator, there has been a Long Trail Blackbeary wheat beer for some months. I am not a big "fruity" beer drinker, so I decided to give it a go. Up I filled the little cups and then I came to check it out next morning. Sure enough, there are plenty of slugs with more discerning palates; all the cups were full.

Here is what I have surmised. Slugs are drunks. If you want to rid your garden of them, beer is the answer. If you feel sad for them, perhaps suggest some sort of program, but remember, you can't help them if they don't want to help themselves. However, do pass along that I don't want them eating food in the garden. Otherwise, I will be there -- with beer, that lethal toxin to which they can't say no.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Article Covers Triathlon Camp

Check out my latest article in Vermont Sports about Maria Cimonetti's triathlon camp. An awesome coach teaches an awesome sport!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Man Lost In Garden

(RICHMOND) A northern Vermont man disappeared late Wednesday. He was last seen harvesting sun-gold tomatoes in his vegetable garden.

The man, identified as Mark Aiken, never claimed to be a good gardener, although his agricultural endeavors have improved from 4 years ago when his only production was a single red tomato that fell off the vine and rolled down his driveway only to rot between two rocks. This year, he has actually overseen a 20x50 foot plot that is bursting with peas, squash, tomatoes, greens, berries, and cucumbers.

The garden, in fact, was jungle-like -- particularly where 5-foot tall tomato plants have been over-run by chest-high zucchini plants. The last Alison Aiken saw, her husband was reaching into the wall of overlapping plants. She heard a muffled yell and some sounds of a struggle. When she looked back, the man was gone, the only clue that anything had passed: two manhole-sized zucchini leaves rustling slightly in the breeze. No sign of her husband remained.

Despite the man's disappearance, Mrs. Aiken is quite pleased about the strawberries, tomatoes, and squash that continue to grow. The cucumbers -- which have proved to be the most prolific growers of 2010 -- she can take or leave. "My husband ate most of these," she said, "in salads, plain, or with dip."

The only witness was an owl (see photo), whose services were retained by the Aikens for security issues in the garden. He declined to comment on the case, saying that this particular situation was beyond his jurisdiction. When pressed as to what, exactly, his jurisdiction did include, he answered with one word: "Birds."

If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of this individual, please contact the appropriate authorities.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ultra-Runners Go the Distance at Vermont 100

This weekend, I changed my running status: I became an ultra. An ultra is a runner who has run a distance greater than 26.2 miles.

Enough about me, however. My 30-mile run was simply to keep Todd Archambault on the race course late at night (we finished just shy of 2am)... after he had already run 70 miles of the Vermont 100 Endurance Run. Todd was one of 130 athletes who completed the entire 100-mile race on an "ultra-hot" Vermont summer day. Todd had a busy week at work, and I don't think he was adequately rested for an event like this. Add to this, he was nursing a seriously injured heel. But he battled these factors, plus dehydration and overheating, to come in under the 24-hour threshold and earn the coveted Vermont 100 belt buckle. There were other runners who have run in our Sunday Run With Jan group at the event: Serena Wilcox and Steve Meunier. Both finished. Also from our area were Kelly Wilson (ultra ski instructor from Stowe!), Jen Sorel, and John LaCroix. All finished. Obviously, northern Vermont runners are doing something right!

Although this weekend's Vermont 100 was my first glimpse of the ultra-running world, I found that previous experiences from my life helped me to feel right at home. A veteran of 3 camp-out Phish festivals, I noticed more than one similarity between an Ultra event and a Phish festival.

First, both groups arrive a day in advance in hole-in-the-wall places full of excitement and anticipation. They set up their tents, talking about past and future experiences and sharing stories. The day of the event arrives and, in both cases, participants approach their days with strategies, plans, and methods for maximizing their experiences. The events themselves are long and grueling -- survivable by only the fittest and most prepared. Late in the evening, certain members of both groups hallucinate, hearing voices and seeing shapes. The morning following the event, exhausted and battle-worn, people share stories over camp stoves and bagels about their past 24 hours as they pack up and get ready -- wistfully, in most cases -- to re-enter the real world. They say their goodbyes, knowing that they will all be together in some field someday in the future at another venue, another event.

Here's to all the runners who put themselves out there in the attempt -- successful or not -- to run 100 whole miles this weekend. And to the friends and supporters who helped and supported them in their quests to finish. And to the people who put the event together. It was an unbelievable weekend.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Great Book

Have you ever finished a book that was so good you didn’t want to pick up another for awhile? As if to bask in the glow of the one you just put down...

That’s how I feel about Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River (Grove/Atlantic), which I finished at around 1:30am after about a 5-hour marathon read of the final chapters. I’ve never been much of a fan of the reviews that publishers quote on bookcovers, but a critic from the San Francisco Chronicle does sort of hit it on the head on my edition’s cover: “Peace Like a River serves as a reminder of why we read fiction to begin with.”

Exactly right; published in 2001 and set between Minnesota and the Badlands, Enger creates characters that are real – even though men can’t levitate (as one of Enger's does) and 6 year-olds can’t write epics with perfect rhyme and iambic meter (again, one of his does) – and plotlines that are fantastical, heroic, tragic, and romantic. All at once!

Read Peace Like a River. Read it if you like historical fiction and modern fiction, heroic characters and characters who are flawed. If you like characters who reach out and grab you and villains you can’t stand.

Read Peace Like a River if you want a book you can’t put down.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Rules

I do not have many rules, so listen up.

First rule: in summertime, when you pass kids selling lemonade by the side of the road, stop and buy some.

Even if you don't have time.

Even if you were going the wrong way and have to turn around.

Even if you don't like lemonade.

Here's the deal: these kids are sitting diligently out in the heat -- taking breaks only periodically to run through the sprinkler. It's not, come to think of it, so different from actually starting up a new business. Lots of excitement initially accompanies the fanfare surrounding getting set up -- the carrying of table and chairs out the the roadside (their "investment"), the designing, drawing, and coloring of a big sign to attract customers (a.k.a. their "marketing strategy"), and the mixing of -- or helping a parent to mix, and the level of parental involvement is of course directly proportional to said parent's tolerance for spillage -- lemonade (their actual product).

Once the setup is complete, however, reality sets in. Particularly for young entrepreneurs who have the misfortune of living on less-than-thoroughfares. The discovery that one's business idea is less glamorous and glorified than one originally imagined can be a difficult pill to swallow.

You can see, then, how you stopping can turn their day around. You are what every entrepreneur wants and needs: a customer! So. You have already made the kid's day just by stopping. But maybe you want to do more. Maybe you want to truly make a difference. Maybe you're the type who likes spreading goodwill and cheer everywhere you go. If you are, then read on to Rule #2:

Rule #2
Whatever the going rate is for a cup of lemonade (here in 2010, it's around 25 cents), pay ten times that. Never will the words "keep the change" mean more to a small business owner -- or to you. As you return to your vehicle or continue your walk (whatever you were doing before stopping), you'll hear small feet pounding up to the front door ("Mom, look!"). Your sense of satisfaction will be surprising -- even to those of you who are experienced cheer-spreaders. There is something about sipping lemonade you bought from a kid on the side of the road after overpaying. Take my word for it -- it's worth it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Station

All my life I have wanted to live somewhere that had an incredible radio station. Growing up near two college stations, there were sporadic moments of radio greatness, but just as often they'd broadcast "Cats Screeching in the Night" or "Out-of-Tune Flutes Attempting to Shatter Glass" programs for hours on end.

I've lived near Public Radio stations that have had interesting news shows, Garrison Keillor's show on Saturday evenings, and the occasional folk or blues show, but classical music has been their main musical genre. And, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against classical; it's just that this is the year 2010 here, people. How about some music that came from this century?

Recently, however, I saw a guy riding his bike up the Main Street hill in Burlington. Dangling from his bike frame was a placard: "Farm Fresh 102.9." Hmmm, what's this?

Fresh is right. Farm Fresh Radio is broadcast from an actual farm in Bridport, Vermont. Their only commercials are brief, creative sketches done in their own studios or soft-spoken DJs plugging their sponsors. Their music lists generally include more songs and performers that I have not heard of then ones with which I'm familiar. Still, after most songs, I am left wondering who that was. Just as often, I never find out; there is so little chatter on the station that I have usually reached my destination by the time a DJ comes on to talk. If I had to come up with four words to describe their playlists, they'd be "bluesy," "bluegrassy," "Americana," and "gives-me-faith- that-there-is-still-a-universe-filled-with-great-new-music-out-there" (yes, hyphenated words count as one word, and if you don't agree, I make the rules on this blog.) In the last few minutes, they played Frankie Lee, Guy Davis, and Root Boy Slim 'n' the Sex Change Band featuring the Rootettes.

They are grassroots, word-of-mouth, and underground. The guy riding around advertising by bicycle fits perfectly with their message and mission. And don't count them out because they are new or because they are small. I have a feeling about Farm Fresh Radio 102.9. A feeling like they are about to take off. And that they're going to be here for a long, long time.

(Note: if you don't live in town, check 'em out at You can listen to them on-line and get their on-line playlist to find out who that last-musician-to-play-in-your-car-before-you reached-your-destination was.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Aiken Launches Website

Mark Aiken's new website exploded into cyberspace this week. Not exploded in a bad way (like "crashed and burned"); rather it is up, running, and already making waves. Don't miss out on the excitement: the new site address is, of course, Check it out! And please make sure to let us know if you have any issues (other than you are "wow'ed" out of your mind), try out the "contact us" form, and click on all of the different links.

In a related story, followers of AikenAction have surely noticed the overhaul of the blog's layout. The blog's creator is looking for feedback. Did you not even notice? Is the site more readable? Not enough color? Font too small? Better than ever?

These events are all part of a stronger representation on the Web, and so far, feedback has been nothing less than stupendous.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Sport

I have a new sport: it’s known as “Hosing.”

The only equipment necessary is a garden hose and a water-supply to hook it up to. Ideally, you would have a flowerbed or other receptacle to pour water into, but this is optional.

Here’s how the game works: first, walk into your yard with the running hose as if you have a purpose (the more purposeful you act, the better your results will be). Then start observing. I think you’ll find the results quite satisfying.

A less refined version of the sport has been called “neighbor-watching.” The guy across the road from me just put in a new driveway. Another guy operates a landscaping business from his home, and he spent a number of days planting a stand of trees between us (I probably needed to practice looking more purposeful), while up the road, a lady is putting siding on her new addition.

Another piece of optional equipment in Hosing is beer. I recommend cans for optimum efficiency. Take up this exciting new sport and get ready for hours of enjoyment.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good Thing

"Glad you made it. Celts in a war. Kobe is terrific. I hate him. But love you."

I know a good thing when I see it. I sent this text message recently when Alison, after a 3-hour late-night drive with some friends, sent me a text announcing they had arrived at their destination.

A good thing is a wife who, receiving the above text, recognizes that this is an expression of eternal love and devotion and that, given what I was in the middle of at the time, is a highly meaningful and caring gesture.

Go Celtics!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unmet Goal

This spring, I find myself in uncharted territory. For the first time in my running career, I didn't achieve a goal that I had set for myself. Actually, let's go back a few steps. It's not the first time I didn't meet a set goal; in my second marathon (the 2006 Vermont City Marathon), I failed to meet my goal of beating my time from my first VCM. The uncharted part is that this is the first time I CARED!

Why did I care? I don't really know, except that since that ill-fated 2006 marathon (for which the temperatures were in the 80s -- too hot to run 26.2 miles, that's for sure!), I have run personal bests in five consecutive marathons. So I guess you could say I wasn't accustomed to coming up short -- regardless of the effort I put in.

Was I surprised by the result at this spring's Vermont City? I can't say I was. I definitely didn't put in the time -- or the quality of -- training as I did for my last marathon. But I secretly hoped I wouldn't need to. This year's marathon wasn't as hot as the 2006 VCM, but it was deceptively warm. Still, I can't blame the weather when my training was so lackluster. So how do I respond?

I look no further than my spouse as a role model. Running the LaCrosse Marathon in Wisconsin, she missed the goal she set for herself by a minute. Then she was disappointed when the Mooseman Olympic-distance Triathlon (see photo) cancelled its swim portion due to weather. Alison wallowed in disappointment after both of these races for about a grand total of six minutes. After that, she was already on the lookout for other races to run -- in which she could meet her goals.

The lesson those of us goal-missers can take away? Regroup, refocus, and keep trying.

Alrighty, then. I'll look into running a fall marathon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Amazing Athletes

Ladies and Gentlemen, take a close look at this picture. It's as close as you may come in your lifetime to true greatness. Lauren, Coach Jan, Meg, Alison, Marty, Kristen, and Liza are just part of a team of elite athletes that is not only participating in a grueling three event race this June, they have also -- between them -- raised thousands of dollars in support of cancer research (speaking of which, don't forget Casino Night this Friday!).

But let's focus right now on this race. It's a swim, a bike, and a run. The swim takes place in Newfound Lake in New Hampshire, a lake, I'm sure that freezes solid in the winter and surely is fed at least in part by run-off. The race may be in June and they may be swimming in wetsuits. But, I'm sorry. Ladies and gentlemen, when the people pictured in this photo jump into Newfound Lake in a few weeks, they will be submerging themselves in, that's right...

...About twelve degrees!

Good luck, Team, and have fun. I'll be on the sidelines cheering -- and nowhere near that water!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Skills

It didn't take long: only a year-and-a-half of marriage and about four years of a relationship prior to that. But it is official... I now know how to make an omelette.

This is not a food blog, so you will not find a recipe or a list of how-to steps in this post. Besides, when it comes to omelettes, you almost need personal coaching -- there are subtleties in the craft like knowing how long to cook your eggs and how to keep them from sticking to the pan. In fact, if you don't have an omelette-maker to observe, or someone to give you that one-on-one attention, I suggest you stick with scrambled eggs. They taste similar, and you can add ingredients like onions, peppers, and cheese. You just don't get the, oh, so cool "look" of an omelette. Like when I make one.

My omelette mentor, of course, was my lovely wife. I will be the first to admit that she does a lot of things better than me -- a lot. I am going to put out the claim, however, that in the case of omelette-making, the student has become the master.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Strawberry-Rhubarb pie, to be more specific. In fact, before I say another word, take a look below...

Here's the deal. I found the recipe at the That's right... totally gluten, wheat, barley, rye free! So those of you out there cooking for the gluten-sensitive, this is a pie for you. Now, you can go to the Homemaker's website for her recipe (and I highly recommend that you do), but I, of course, like to improvise when I cook (ie I like to cut whatever corners are possible), so here's what I did:

1) The Homemaker leaves the crust up to you. I was dealing with a severe time shortage, so I bought a frozen gluten-free crust at the Natural Food store. Okay, not completely accurate. I called Alison and she picked up the crust at the Natural Food store. Okay, then, that's out there. Now, two things about the crust. One, I'm going to skip to the end and mention that if this pie had a weakness (and, mind you, it was a pretty damn good pie), it was the crust. Next time, I plan to do something different with the crust, whether it's from scratch or from a box, it won't be a frozen crust.

Anyway, the Homemaker calls for a 9-inch crust, which I confirmed mine was. (Note: it didn't say on the package what its dimensions were, but I confirmed the 9-inches with a 25-foot Stanley carpenters' tape measure.)

2) Whew! Finally, we're through Step 1. Sheesh!

3) The Homemaker calls for the following ingredients: 4 cups rhubarb (I used 1.5), 2 cups strawberries (I used 3), 1 cup sugar (yep), 1/4 cup corn starch, 1 tablespoon lemon juice (I used a quarter of a lemon and squeezed it), 1/2 cup sorghum flour, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoon butter (I used 1). Also, the Homemaker abbreviates all her measurements like 4 c., 3Tbl, etc. You'll notice I don't do that. It's fricken confusing.

4) Wash and cut the rhubarb into slices that are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

5) Wash and slice the strawberries.

6) Add sugar, corn starch, and lemon juice.

7) Toss to coat.

8) Let it sit while you get into step 9.

9) Prepare pie topping, which is sorghum flour and brown sugar with butter cut in.

10) Dump the fruit mixture into the pie crust, then sprinkle the topping on top (that's why they call it the topping, Einstein).

11) I like my recipe to jump out and bite your head off once in awhile.

12) Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. One thing I learned afterwards from Alison is that I should have put a cookie sheet under my pie while it was baking. Now I have a pile of pie filling overflow at the bottom of my oven.

13) Here's the one mistake I made. I didn't trust the Homemaker and thought the topping looked too floury. So I didn't add it all. Until after I had baked the pie for 30 minutes. At that point, I took a peek (noticing, but ignoring the overflow on the bottom of the oven) and realized that it could use more topping. I added the rest, and unfortunately it just didn't really brown like the rest (see photo). Fortunately, the end result looked kind of funny, but it tasted fine. Like really fine. Bottom line: Add all the topping at the beginning like the recipe says, dufus. Don't think; just cook.

13) Finally, here's the genius: I doubled the measurements and made not one, but TWO pies. I brought one to a party and left it with them when I left (so they probably think I'm super-generous, I mean seriously, who would leave such an awesome pie? But unbeknownst to them, I had another whole pie waiting for me at home!

And that, folks, is the story of my first Strawberry-Rhubarb pie.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Attention Death Eaters!

Okay, correction. This post is not actually intended for Death Eaters, the evil henchmen and followers of Lord Voldemort.

No, really, I am writing for the benefit of all the Death Racers out there. I am here to help you! Everyone knows that your event is coming up in less than two months. Nobody knows exactly what the Death Race will be like (the exact tasks and course are kept secret until the race is actually in progress), but wood splitting has been a task in the past.

Again this year, an axe is on the list of required tools that all Death Race participants must bring on race day, so one can only assume that you will be using it again in this year's event. So it makes sense that you'll want to be in good wood-splitting shape. And, you may want to experiment with different wood-splitting tools in order to figure which works best for your purposes (remember, in addition to using it in a task, you have to carry it throughout the entire course.

The two piles pictured above are ready to be split. Death Racers, come practice your wood-cutting skills on my piles! I am here for you. Think about it. This could be the difference between finishing and not finishing. Between 1st and 2nd, 32nd and 33rd, 128th out of 129! Let me know when you are ready to start swinging. No need to thank me... Beer, however, is provided during and after (good practice for those of you who intend to drink during the Race -- and for those who were under the influence when you registered for the Race). See you in the woodpile!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Casino Night!

It's the event everyone is talking about: Alison Aiken's big fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Here's the deal:

As many readers of this blog (and Alison's fans) already know, Alison has spent the last several months training like a mad-woman for an Olympic distance triathlon -- the Mooseman -- to be held in Bristol, NH in June. She is participating with Team in Training and has pledged to raise $2800 in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. While most mortals spent the winter huddled around heaters and woodstoves, Alison has been out getting herself in killer shape and at the same time raising money for cancer research, which, as we all know, continues to claim and affect lives every day. Thank goodness some people like Alison and her TnT teammates are out there doing something about it... thanks to her hard work and the generosity of many people who have already donated, she has raised $1800 so far. Wow.

As a final push to reach her fundraising goal, Alison has announced "Casino Night" at Casa Aiken on Friday, May 21 at 6pm. Tickets are $20. Tickets are good for entry, refreshments, and -- most importantly -- CHIPS! People will furiously participate in different card and dice games -- or, for those who don't like cards or dice -- ping pong! At the end of the evening, an accounting will take place. Those with the most chips at the end win crazy prizes from places like Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga, PetraCliffs Climbing Center, On the Rise Bakery, Tuscano Cafe Bistro, Stowe Mountain Resort, Sonoma Station, Bolton Valley, Bridge Street Cafe, Al's French Fries, and many more to be announced.

I know what you are thinking. You are asking "How do I get a ticket!" Here's how:
1) Post a comment on this blog or email Alison regarding how many tickets you need.
2) Click here for Alison's TnT fundraising website to purchase your tickets -- $20 per ticket.
3) Tell all your friends!
4) Pick up your tickets, come to Casino Night, retrieve your chips, and start winning!

For now, join the rest of the world in wondering about the big questions: Will Alison pull out her Las Vegas showgirl outfit for the night? Will pit boss Mark rule the tables with an iron fist? Will Oscar the dog leave the refreshments alone? And, of course, the biggest question of all: who will be the big winner???

Contact Alison for questions about Casino Night!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good News and Bad News

I read an article someplace yesterday with bad news. It was about trash bags.

The good news here is that Alison and I are great about separating -- and reducing -- our garbage. Minimizing what you throw away is cheaper, it's better for the world, and it's just the right thing to do. So, at the moment, we separate out all of our glass, cardboard, paper, plastic, and aluminum. We also compost all of our food wastes. The composting probably makes the biggest impact: every avocado pit, banana peel, and apple core that would go to the dump now decomposes in our compost bin with our grass clippings (don't worry, we make strides to shrink our lawn every year!), leaves, shredded paper, and ashes and helps turn our garden into a fertile place for stuff to grow.

Here's the bad news. The article was about reusable trash bags. As I read, I thought about the trash I do bring to the dump. A small trash bag full probably every other week, I throw it in the dumpster before I drop the much larger crate of recycling stuff in the recycling dumpster. But I know where this is going. Soon I'll be emptying out my reusable trash bag and I'll be left with disgusting trash guck and juice which I'll have to wash out when I get home. Yuck.

Doing the right thing can be messy. And a pain. But we still do it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Changing Seasons

The seasons are changing. That's right: we have shifted from the season when I play hockey twice a week to the season when I only play once weekly. The next season, coming soon (and known in Vermont as "summer"), is a four-week period when I don't skate at all.

Meanwhile, the changing of the seasons don't always go smoothly, and that was the case this year with the twice-a-week to once-a-week passing. In the middle there were two tournaments during which I played much more than once or twice a week: the Hyde Cup and the Monty.

The Hyde Cup is Stowe's local hockey tourney, held at Stowe's own Jackson Arena. A grueling 8-team affair, the Hyde is about one thing and one thing only: beer. Yes, there was some hockey thrown in there, but teams have to know their strengths, and our team knew ours. And it had nothing to do with moving the puck.

Two weeks later, I found myself 2800 miles west, playing in the Monty -- Whitefish, Montana's version of the Hyde Cup. The Monty was just like the Hyde Cup, with one difference: the Monty is even more about the beer.

For those of you just tuning in, I think you may be starting to figure out what it is about hockey we love so much. Meanwhile, with the Monty and the Hyde behind us, we can welcome in a new season. Happy Spring, everyone!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Training Begins

What's the best way to start training for an event? Talk about starting to train for the event! Or, in my case, write about the event. That's what I have done with my second Tuckerman Inferno, and you can read what I had to say in the latest issue of Vermont Sports magazine (click here).

I've been talking about the Inferno for months now -- and all the training I'm going to do this year. And I actually got quite a jump on the training by bringing my bike up to the house two weeks ago. Did I ride my bike, you ask? Uh, no. But I have definitely thought about it! Anyway, I finally got on the bike; after a 6-mile run with Oscar this morning, I rode on the stationary trainer for 45 minutes. How can I ride for that long without going anywhere, you wonder? Well, I actually went all over the place, including central Mexico, Leadville, Colorado, and to the bottom of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. Okay, I didn't physically go there, but I read about all of them in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Yes, Chris G, I'm finally into it. And it's good; I could have biked another hour, it was so good. But I stopped; it was time for pancakes. So, Inferno, Vermont City Marathon, watch out. My training has begun (and, PS, the pancakes were excellent).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tailpipe, Anyone?

It was 1988. There I was, 17 years-old, driving up Route 7 in Colchester, Vermont in Old Betsy the 1977 red Jeep Wagoneer. On the roadside, was a dark, rusty pipe. "I wonder who lost their tailpipe," I wondered.

Upon closer inspection at home, however, I was alarmed to see that about 6 feet of tailpipe had rusted off of Betsy. The tailpipe was mine.

Fast forward 22 years. I am driving to the Dump with my dog. Over the sound of the radio, I hear a rattle -- the distinct sound of metal on asphalt. I pull over, and what is hanging off the truck? You guessed it!

Have I gone nowhere? Is there no escape? Will I forever be breaking down on roadsides, jump-starting my vehicles, and picking up car parts from curbs and shoulders? All I want is a little automotive stability in my life. And I really don't think that's asking so much.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Aiken Reaches Podium in "Lord of the Boards" Contest

Mark Aiken brought home silver, placing second in the first-ever Stowe Ski & Ride School "Lord of the Boards" contest. The LOB, held in conjunction with the annual Ski & Ride School fun race, is a grueling 3-part event, combining times of 3 runs in a giant slalom course on snowboard, alpine skis, and telemark skis.

"It was a thrill," said an ecstatic Aiken, between sips of a replenishing fluid (aka a 16-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon), "just to be a part of the inaugural event." In fact, the event seems sure to gain momentum in years to come. Ski School Director Dave Merriam was heard discussing plans for a Lord of the Boards trophy -- to contain ski, telemark, and snowboard parts. The prize is sure to be highly coveted -- right up there with the Stanley Cup and the Ski Bum Bowl -- in the future.

Regarding this year's second-place finish, Aiken seemed to downplay the fact that there were just two contestants. The big winner -- 2010's Lord of the Board -- was snowboarder Frank Wilcox, who was seen practicing his telemark turns on Gondolier prior to the event (and who put up surprisingly strong numbers in his ski runs). Analysts close to the event (and believe me the event was full of analysis... and trash talk) agreed that the keys to the contest are having a strong ski run, a strong snowboard run, and a strong telemark. The level of brain-power surrounding the event was as astounding as the skills and technique demonstrated by this year's field.

As for Aiken, he will certainly spend his off-season training harder than ever for 2011's LOB.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Aspiring Photographer

Perry White [thanks for the correction, Sue] told Jimmy Olson, "A photographer always has his camera. A photographer eats with his camera. He sleeps with his camera."

I have been brushing up on my photography skills. For some, this might mean taking a class or maybe reading up about exposure, apperture, or shutter speed. Not me. I am mainly just working on the same thing as Jimmy Olson -- namely, having my camera with me when a photo opportunity presents itself.

Like today, for example. Alison, Oscar, and I went on another backcountry ski. All of a sudden we were in a cave of snow-covered tree-branches -- crystals glistening and occasional beams of sunlight coming through. It was other-worldly; Alison called it a tomb of blue and white (to keep the comic motif going, it was very much like Superman's Fortress of Solitude). I reached into my pack for the camera. But it wasn't there. That's right, I remembered, the camera battery had been dead that morning, so I left it home on the charger.

Yesterday, however, I was ready. One moment I was looking at a cloud (left), when, suddenly, the mountain emerged. And I was there with the camera to capture it. See, not so bad! In fact, I am such the photographer now, check out my next move. I had the perfect "couple's shot" -- Alison and me in front of the mountain! I could just hold the camera in front of us and snap the perfect shot. Beautiful!

Well, I guess there's no need to pat me on the back prematurely. The following are my attempts at self-portraits with a backdrop of Camel's Hump.

I guess I'll keep practicing.