Gone Fishin'


I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!


Brewing Journal: Batch #6, Entry #3

Tasted batch #6, Hard Cider.  Well, actually, I have been tasting some of this all along. I made a 6 gallon batch and drank the first gallon over the last month from growlers- the part that did not get any carbonating sugar, lactose, or maple syrup. The stuff in the growlers wasn't very good. Very young, very, very dry and sour on the finish. 

Now for the stuff from the keg. I chilled it down to 40 degrees and tapped in. It is not overly sweet, but the "take your breath away" dryness has subsided and there is a little bit of mouth feel there. Big, big apple flavor, just like biting into a Mac at Boyers. Then, bubbles on the tongue, almost like champagne. Dry finish, no aftertaste at all.  I would be proud to serve this to anyone.  No vinegar at all, so I must have kept the acetobacter at bay. 

Notes for next year: My only quibble here is that I should have given it a nice long secondary. It is pouring golden yellow now with very little haze, but occasionally the keg pulls a few particles of brown sediment that kind of float around. It's merely aesthetics, though.  I'd consider bottling this next time to give out as presents, also might consider a double batch if a lot is going to be given away. 


Off the Bike

I would love to be the type of bike-commuting evangelist who could go around telling everybody how easy it is to give up the car and start riding to work.  I would love it if it was that easy for me. The truth, of course, is another thing. If it was easy, more people would do it. 

For me, the summers are very easy. Throw work clothes and lunch in a bag, put on shorts and a t-shirt, ride to the office, shower, reverse direction 8 hours later to come home. There's some traffic to contend with, and sometimes it rains a little, but that's about it. If I didn't have the shower and lockers available at work, that would be a significant barrier, but I'd probably still ride.  

Now, it's nearly winter. The clothing equation is much more complicated. It takes longer to get dressed in the morning, and all of that stuff needs to be hung up to dry for the day once I get to the office.  It is completely dark out when I get on the bike to ride home, but it is still rush hour, so the traffic is the same as in the summer, only drivers are less aware of their surroundings. Lit up as I am, I sometimes still feel invisible, sometimes still wonder where else I might need to add another light. Riding in darkness also means you trip the common sense threshold for another population of drivers: those who can see why someone might ride a bike to and from work in the daytime- but at night? That's crazy. I'd also call this the "deserves to get hit" threshold.  So you've got to be on your guard. 

Despite all of those things, I have had a couple great weeks of riding.  But I've had a cough the last couple of days, and the thought of gulping down cold morning air makes my throat close up.  Which puts me in the car, which makes me cranky, stiff, and itchy. I miss being on the bike, I hope to be back on it soon. 

But that brings me back to my point:  Getting to work by bike is at best a partial solution. We'd all love to be like Copenhagen, but when people point to Copenhagen's amazing bike infrastructure and imply that if we just did that, we could be Copenhagen, I have to disagree. Copenhagen is flat, the climate is mild, and the city is dense.  People can ride comfortable dutch-style bikes in their street clothes.  The bike lanes and other infrastructure make it even more pleasant, and if you ever don't feel like biking, there's an incredible bus and train system you can take advantage of.   Here in the Burlington area, we have good-size hills everywhere that simply cannot be ascended without sweating. 40 pound dutch bikes, with all of their glamor and comfortable riding positions, would be boat anchors on those hills.  We also have a climate that is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than Copenhagen's.  Real snow, and the fact that it is often plowed into the minimal road shoulders we have available to ride on, makes winter commuting a dicey proposition, especially as you are trying to get up and down one of those aforementioned hills. 

So, when bike commuting is not an option, what's the backup? Public transit? Hmm. Maybe. Transit in Burlington is available, but ridership is low and schedules are a challenge. I could make it work, but I'd have to adjust my schedule at the office and I'd end up spending significantly more time in transit than when I'm biking or driving. The reason transit is an incomplete solution is that you need the ridership to justify mailing the buses run more often and to more places.   Ridership is not going to increase unless there is greater residential density in the areas the bus services, and that seems to be where the real bugaboo is. 

People are afraid of density. Vermonters don't come here for city life, and by and large when they have enough resources to do so, they move out into the country, where a car for every working adult becomes a necessity. The old neighborhoods, for all of their locational advantage, wither. 

Or not. People seem like they might be starting to get it. Planner that I am, I watch my neighborhood with great interest. We're on a bus line, close to lots of stuff (heck, downtown Burlington is within easy biking distance, its the hill and miserable I-89-US2 cloverleaf meat grinder that makes it such a challenge), in a relatively dense neighborhood (small single-family homes on lots smaller than a quarter of an acre). Along with Kate and I, two of the three houses adjacent to us are two-adult, one car households. One neighbor is able to walk to work, another takes the bus. In our case, I ride my bike a lot and Kate does too, in the summer.  Our small houses, with their single bathrooms and utter lack of "bonus rooms" or garages, seem to be holding their value, and in the short time we have been in the neighborhood, we've seen people invest in things like new siding, new windows, new landscaping. Nobody has just checked out of the neighborhood, leaving behind an ill-maintained rental property. (It's not the "renters" who ruin a neighborhood, by the way, it's the landlords.)

I'm hoping for a trend. I'm hoping that people begin to see the real value of living in close, and that infrastructure continues to improve so more households can go "car-lite" even if "car free" isn't an option. I hope allowable densities and lot coverages are increased in neighborhoods like mine, so more people can live in closer, so more people will park on my street, making it effectively narrower and thus slowing traffic. I hope  that increase in people will increase demand for bus service, demand for the urban environment to be a livable one instead of an unpleasant one that we pass through each day on our way to something better. And yes, I hope all of that makes building some bike infrastructure more palatable, especially to connect downtown Burlington with South Burlington and to make Williston Road a pleasant place to be whether you are in a car, on a bike, or on foot. 

As for me, I just want this stupid cough to go away so I can get back on my bike. I can wait for the bike lanes  and the better bus system and all of that, I can wait for the higher-density neighborhood and the neighborhood coffee shops and the vibrant street scape that ought to be within a 10-minute walk of this place.  I can continue to ride my bike to work because it is what I like to do and I can continue to be part of a one-car household because it is financially necessary right now (we are about to own a second car called "day care.") But I can't do any of that if it makes me sicker. 


We Did Not Plan This

The trip to the Cape for Thanksgiving was planned (contingent on weather and health of all involved cooperating). When we go to the Cape, we almost always end up at Nauset Beach- it's one of my favorite places in the whole world. So I'm sitting there with Kate and she says "Do you want to take Austen to Nauset today?"

And I think for a minute, and I write it out:


We named our son an anagram of our favorite beach, completely unintentionally.
Posted by Picasa



Maybe the is the obligatory "what I am thankful for" blog post.

I recently spent some time going back over the five years' worth of entries that have accumulated here, adding tags to some of them in an attempt to get things a little more organized. There was a lot to reflect on in there, and many, many things came to mind that could be used to end the sentence "I am thankful for..."

So here are a few of them:

Great friends and family. As I look over the last few years of entries, I am amazed at the generosity of the people I am surrounded by. These people have helped me pack, move, unpack, remodel, relocate buildings, ride bike races, and so much more.

Our cat, Ishmael, who came into our lives not long after I started this blog.  He adds a randomness to our home life that nobody could replace, and how can you argue with unconditional love from something so soft and warm?

All of the bicycles in my life, and all of the things they've taught me and places they've taken me. Coming back to cycling over the last few years has been revelation.

Most of all, my wife and our new son.  Every day that I come home to them is a great day, no matter what else happened. Austen and Kate are my whole life, and I don't know what I did to deserve them.

I've left some more things out- the amazing places I've been to over the last five years, the food I've cooked and eaten, the new pastime I have found in homebrewing, the continued opportunity to write, a rewarding career that makes a difference in the world...  I spend way too much time waiting for the next thing to happen, even while I'm doing the thing I'm doing.  Thanksgiving is a great time to remember that all these things I was doing, all of these people in my lives, that life at its fullest demands that I be present for them when they are there, not just waiting, or worrying, or planning ahead.

Thanks, everybody.


Brewing Journal: Batch#4, Entry #6: Further Tasting Notes

Posted by Picasa

Batch # 4 (Bourbon Barrel Porter), further tasting notes. Storage at temperature with gas attached (44 degrees, 12psi) has added a little carbonation and that, combined with age, has really mitigated the molasses component of this beer that I wasn't as happy with. Now, it drinks a little thinner, a little spicier (maybe the oak).  Others say they can taste the bourbon, and this thing certainly packs a punch I can feel after a pint. Very nice to serve at 40 degrees, then let it warm up, finishing the last quarter of the glass at a little more like 60.  This is a favorite, and I can see spending the waning weeks of summer brewing a big dark beer like this for late fall and holiday consumption in the future.   


Belly Shirt

No wonder so much baby clothing is one-piece.
Posted by Picasa


The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Flats

Yup, that's a staple right though my tire, the Mr. Tuffy strip inside the tire, and the tube, of course. Happened halfway though my morning commute today. I pulled off to the side of the road and replaced the tube with the brand new spare I had in my bag, and was on my way and at work with time to shower as usual, but still.

Nothing looks sillier than a person in bike clothes (black tights and a neon green windbreaker) when that person is no longer on the bike.

Anyway, darkness has fallen on my evening commute, which makes things all the more interesting. I'm lit up like you wouldn't believe; front blinky light, front headlight, rear tail light, rear light on my back, reflective stuff all over...

And still there are people who "don't see" me.  Oh wait, yeah, they do. They just like to drive up real nice and close and let out a big diesel rev to make sure I know they could crush me if they wanted to.  Picture a four-lane road, with no shoulder, but never enough traffic around to fill both lanes. I'm all the way over to the right, the steady "blink, blink, pow!" of the Planet Bike Superflash taillight warning everybody behind me for a mile that I'm there.  I can hear cars approaching me from behind, and every one of them moves to the outside lane to pass- the decent, courteous thing to do, the way most of us treat each other and would like to be treated.  Then, I hear something big, really close to me, and before I know it there's about four inches between me and the side door of a monster pick-up of some sort. Here's the thing- he matches my speed, and slowly, steadily starts to squeeze me closer and closer to the curb. A big rev of the motor, a black cloud, and he finally passes.

The message could not have been clearer. "You don't belong here. You're in my way. I'm bigger. I don't care if you die."

I hope the price of gas goes through the roof soon.


Sometimes You Just Let Them Sleep...

...Where they land. Especially when they have been up all night pooping and eating and generally carying on. Sorry Austen, I'm sure this will all be embarassing someday, but the moments of extreme cuteness make up for the sleep deprivation.

Otherwise, life is good. I'm in the market for a better headlight for my bike, something I can truly use to "see," and not just "be seen." The mystery creak is back in my headset, too. Also, I bought rollers for indoor training this winter, so expect some battle scar photos soon.
Posted by Picasa


Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #5

Tasted batch #4, Bourbon Barrel Porter. It's nice, but the molasses sweetness still really dominates.  Not something you'd have more than a pint of at a time. Part of me wants to capitalize on the sweetness by adding a little chocolate extract, part of me just wants to leave well enough alone and move on. There will be lots of cold nights when this will be the perfect thing. The beer pours with a big stormy-looking head that resolves with those Guinness- type descending bubbles. The oak and bourbon are a nice touch as well. 


Photo Dump: Sticky Buns and Scotch Ale

Yesterday, in addition to smoking the hot peppers and going down to the orchard to pick the last of the fall apples, I made sticky buns out of the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. This is a phenomenal tome, one to have on the shelf next to Julia Child, James Beard, and Irma Rombauer. Kate asked if I would make these sticky buns at about 8 in the morning, and off I went. So what if the recipe called for getting a starter going overnight, or if it needed dough relaxer, potato flour, and dried milk? I had none of these in the pantry. I had no time for a starter.  I gave it a whirl with the rest of the ingredients, and they rose up admirably:

Then, with the insane pecan/brown sugar/golden syrup topping, they browned beautifully:

I also already put up some tasting notes about the Scottish 80 Shilling Ale I have on tap right now, but here's a picture for color:



Hot Peppers

We had a good hot pepper harvest this year, way more than I could ever use in the short season between when they are ripe and when the frost kills the plants. So, I'm smoking them today on the grill with charcoal and mesquite. Dried, they'll keep for a long time and find their way into chili, tom khai gai, and who knows what else. Left to right: Cherry Bomb, Cayenne (ripe red), Long Hot, Pepperoncini, Cayenne (green, not as ripe).
Posted by Picasa


Brewing Journal, Batch #5 Tasting Notes

Tasted Batch #5, Scottish 80 shilling. Nice, deep almost ruby copper color, lots of malt without being too cloyingly sweet, just a little Fuggles hops bitter at the end as the light carbonation tickles your tongue. Little bit of butterscotch in the aftertaste. Served at 44 degrees. If it would go fast enough, it would be fun to serve as a cask ale, letting it oxidize a little bit over a few days, but it doesn't get consumed that fast here and will remain on the gas at 12 psi and in the fridge. 


Austen, Meet Chris.

Chris, Austen.  Thanks for the eggplant parm and the wine, Chris!


Austen's Arrival: Part Two

We navigate the hospital, Kate in the bed, Austen on the bed, me walking behind. The ceilings get shorter, the floors, dingier and the halls narrower. We go to our room. A curtain divides us from our roommates, their car seat is visible, and they leave in the still early morning. The door clicks every few minutes and the parade of interlopers begin. Nurse, Lactation Consultant, Janitor, Resident, Doctor, Surgeon, Food Service. The room was made to fit everything in it, then reduced in size by 10%. This is the last place I'd want to heal, except that the concentration of professionals here make it necessary.  In the mid evening, I go home to check on things and to take a nap. I go back to the hospital in the early morning hours on Tuesday.


The world is a room
too small for what's in it
and brightly lit.
The two of them sleep.
I listen to the rattle of
unwanted dry air. The
rain outside softens the line
between day + night,
The door latch clacks.
They come to take a pulse, the
trash, to leave
food, advice, supplies.
Every quarter hour a jolt.
I go out of town, to the house
and it's strange. This place
we left in Labor
will not be our home.
It will be here and some other thing.
The house demands quiet now.
The house demands darkness now.
Closing the door, it inhales waiting
for our return.


Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #4; Batch #6, Entry #2

Batch #4 racked to keg. Gravity was down to 1.024, not what I was hoping for but better than nothing. Natural carbonation via 1/2 cup of cane sugar. The sample tasted good, different from a week ago and thinner, less sweet, so it's headed in the right direction.  I have been following a thread on homebrewtalk.com discussing this recipe (Northern Brewer bourbon Barrel Porter) and many have had similar stuck fermentations. Certainly its a lesson in the necessity of yeast starters for big beers. 1.065-1.024 X 135 = 5.5% ABV. 

Batch #6 also racked to a keg, added 1/2 cup cane sugar and 1/4 cup maple syrup as well as a pound of lactose for back sweetening. Batch #6 at 1.000 gravity, very dry. I had enough in the fermenter to rack off almost a gallon into growlers that would not fit int he keg. The cider has nice apple flavors, a little bit of a hot alcohol bite, and a very dry finish with a little bit of sourness.  I'm not sure I'd be happy to serve it at this point but I have heard the ciders benefit greatly from age. Hopefully keeping it in the keg and with a blanket of carbon dioxide there will not be any acetobacter activity, otherwise it'll be a lifetime supply of apple cider vinegar. 1.051-1.000 X 135 = 6.8% ABV. 

Cleaned carboys that had soaked in oxy-clean solution since last weekend. Both were emptied and double-rinsed with clean tap water.  They should get another rinse and then Star-San before their next use.