Sunday 28 December 2008

Winter Not Conquered Yet But Soup's On!

Pasta e fagioli soup
(photo by Moritz Guth, Creative Commons)

My idea of conquering the season was meant in jest but Ol’ Man Winter took me at my word and has pelted Ottawa with a range of very strange weathers over the last two weeks: startling cold days of -22C; massive snowfalls; high wind; and this weekend an abrupt thawing as temperatures jumped up to 10C or so and ruined my plans to try my new cross-country skis since everything has turned either to ice or to water. A bus strike in Ottawa means that I can park my car not far from the office and not get ticketed so I have put Blackadder in the basement for the moment but want to get more use out of that studded tire, so the season is not yet Officially Over.

Looking back over 2008, I have to say that I had another good cycling year. My training continues to go well and I have managed to stay motivated. I competed in more time trials (15 kms and 40 kms) this year than I ever have done before in total, I think, and even though I just missed my goal of 40 km/h average for 15 kms I am confident I will reach this mark early in the 2009 season. Given the length of winter here, that would probably be early June.

Out on the road, I had a great weekend riding in Roanoke, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains in May, and enjoyed the company of my good friends the Badger and Dr. Chef in June when we did the 350 km weekend tour that is the Rideau Lakes Tour. Of course the cycling highlight of the year had to be the fabulous Tour d’Enfer, where the Badger and Dr. Chef joined me and fourteen other hardy and entertaining souls cycling the great climbs of the Tour de France in the French Alps. A few weeks later I was back in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this time in Cass, West Virginia, with the Badger and his friend Kim, the Duck and the Young Champion, riding the Cheat Mountain Challenge. The ride was crampingly challenging for me this year but at least the next day our recovery effort consisted of popping into Staunton for a great lunch at the Baja Bean Company before the long drive home. Other cycling highlights had to include getting the Marinoni back from the factory refinished to perfection and visiting the Pedaling History Museum before it closed.

I was also fortunate to have a number of cycling book reviews published at, and am looking forward to continuing on in the New Year. As part of the holiday round-up, contributors to Pez get to be highlighted and I am pleased that my comments, and a photo, are included. And Mr. Pez made my holiday that much happier as he supplied me with an amazing new Giro Ionos helmet and more beautiful Pezcycling clothing. He did not think my red helmet matched the Pez ensemble so now I have an elegantly understated white and silver high-tech lid that is far too beautiful to ever crash onto.

Work has been extremely busy for the last few weeks as we have had national elections in both Canada and the United States, the domestic auto industry has driven itself into a liquidity crisis and we have some demanding Official Travel that has to be arranged on short notice. The advantage of this is that I have not sat around at home eating too much but have put in some long hours at work while attempting to stick to my training program.

The Buffalo Trainer:
an early tool for the Tour de Basement of 1900, as seen at the Pedaling History Museum

With the nasty weather I am really much more motivated and have been doing well, with the Tour de Basement at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, weight training at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and spinning classes on the weekends. I am working with my coach on my goals for next year but on my own I have increased the weight program considerably and will alternate the spinning with cross-country skiing once the weather allows it. I have signed up for a very reasonable beginners’ Nordic ski course with the City of Ottawa at the end of January for a long weekend, and two weeks later I will follow this up with a one day workshop for people too klutzy and/or fearful to go down hills or turn corners on skis.

Other plans in various stages of development are for a DIY Spring Training Camp in Virginia or North Carolina in April; a return to the Mountains of Misery in May (or perhaps the Wintergreen Ascent uphill time trial); participation in the 2009 Cirque du Cyclisme in Leesburg, Virginia (where I would like to show off the Marinoni), followed by riding the Great Appalachian Trail from Cumberland to Pittsburgh with my friends from the DC area; our own Giro dall’Inferno in late July or early August, with a week in the Chiemgau area of Bavaria followed by serious climbing in Italy’s Sűdtirol; and of course a whole lot of time trialling.

Good nutrition means good results on the road! Is this Damiano Cunego in the off-season? Mamma mia!

As mentioned, the training is going quite well. I have some interesting new literature related to training and will be doing a four-part series on this shortly, so watch this space! Of course one of the big elements of good training is good nutrition and since it is wintry I have consulted one of my new Christmas cookbooks, “Pasta for All Seasons” by Robin Robertson and made some delicious pasta e fagioli soup to ward off the cold winds. This is Italy’s famous tradition pasta-and-beans stew and is laughingly easy to make and delicious. Since my last efforts to put a recipe on the Tindonkey met with such success, here is one for you to try for the New Year:

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 6 oz/160 ml can of tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
6 cups (1.4 l) vegetable stock or water
3 cups (0.7 l) cooked light red or white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz /225 g elbow macaroni
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large pot, medium heat, then add the onion and cook until soft (5+ minutes);
add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
Reduce heat to low and blend in tomato paste, then add the oregano, bay leaf, stock and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Add beans.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, about 6 minutes; when cooked, drain it and stir it into the bean mixture. Simmer gently for 10 minutes to blend the flavours.
Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle some grated cheese and/or basil on top.

Serves 6-8

Nutritional Information:
Per serving: 410 Kcal total; 9.0 g of fat; 65.0 g carbohydrates; 16 g protein



oriello said...

Great recipe for pasta e fagioli, that traditional Italian dish made from all American veggies (Gary Paul Nabhan, in his book Songbirds, Truffles and Wolves delighted in pointing out all the introduced plants you'll see in Italy). As for bicycling Italy, we found a great source for renting road or hybrid bikes for your next villa vacation in northern Italy, Sicily or wherever at They've got a blog, too at if you want to pass on some advice.

Cycling Phun said...

Happy Holidays to you Sprocket! Hope that all is well.

I'll have to try this one too! I LOVE Pasta Fagioli! I have yet to find a recipe that I like as well as my Grandmothers, and most of her recipes were taken out of circulation at the time she left this world... sadly. Regardless, I've been looking for a good Fagioli recipe... Thanks again!

Unknown said...

I'll add my vote to pasta e fagioli - likewise made famous in our family by my nona (grandma in Italian). I also loved riding in Sicily (liked your pic). But the indoor riding is getting better now due to some very cool virtual cycling DVDs from Global Ride. Their first set is out - from Hawaii - but they promise a second set in February from Italy! Check them out

Sprocketboy said...

See--everyone loves "pasta fazool!" And look for some spinning DVD reviews coming up!

oriello said...

It's me again. I had momentarily lost this recipe that my wife's anut Angiolina used to make - but now it's found so I thought I'd share it. We called it "bean soup" on our e-mail news, so I coulnd't find it. Note that this is geniuine, right from the farm in Romagna, about 55 km southeast of Bologna. In Tuscany they'd put a good dollop of olive on a serving of this soup. In Romagna and Emilia (north of the Apennines) they'd use parmesan cheese - never both. Here's the recipe:

Sprocketboy said...

Oriello, thanks for the additional recipe, which looks quite simple. I think it is true that if the soup sits it just gets better.