Travel: New York in November

It’s been nearly a year since we left the country last, but after six months of plotting and planning our long awaited return to Manhattan finally rolled into view on the calendar.

Whatever else, it might give me some things to write about here over the coming week or two as I settle back into that post-vacation it’s-snowy-at-home winter blues, but for now I thought it useful enough to kill some time on a six hour airport layover writing that it happened at all.

The trip itself, like so much we seem to do these days, was a make up trip from one that was supposed to have happened during the pandemic. The Kid was paid and ready for a school-run adventure to the Big Apple with her eighth grade classmates back in 2020, a trip that never happened, and one that was rewarded as something of a honours-in-middle-school do-over that came due this past weekend.

The Kid, being a theatre kid, was primed for some Broadway brilliance, so no less than three of our evening and a substantial portion of my October paycheque, bought us a trio of a trio of tickets for The Music Man, Beetlejuice the Musical, and Book of Morman.

Thar was her jam.

My jam was taking a ton of photos, eating pizza and sitting in Central Park on a rock and sketching.

I’ll have more to write about the trip soon, as soon as the trip settles in my writing mind, but for now it’s probably good enough to say that it was an excellent mini-vacation, I’m tired as heck, and I still got most of a continent to traverse before bedtime.

Local Flours Sours: GroundUp Coffee Flour

I was feeling adventurous when I bought a wee bag of local-ish upcycled coffee flour from a local food market.

For what it purported to be, coffee flour turned out to be little more than milled used coffee grounds, cleaned, dried and packaged as a gluten-free additive for bread or other baking needs.

When I opened the bag for the first time the colour and odor lived up to it’s claim. It looked and smelled like discarded espresso grounds. Admittedly, not very appetizing.

My first batch of bread was as per recommended by the blurb of text on the packaging. I substituted 20% of the bread flour by weight (100g of coffee flour to my 400g of bread flour) to my standard sourdough recipe.

The resulting dough was as black as mud but had a terrific elasticity and smoothness. It still smelled — reeked — of spent coffee, but I was hopeful that the baking process would mellow some of that out.

Honestly, it didn’t.

Those first two loaves could have been mistaken for a couple of over-baked and well-burnt bread. It had the colour of char, for all the world looked like I had forgotten them in the oven for twice their normal baking time. After my standard thirty minutes, the bread was cooked.

First, food that has the colour of burnt is generally not always appetizing. If the first first bite is with the eyes, this bread recipe was a wincing, reluctant bite on colour alone.

Second, though I am a dedicated coffee lover, I couldn’t get over the overwhelming spent coffee scent. A lot of the smell did mellow, but 20% is just too much for this flour. I remarked to my wife (who does not like coffee at all) that they’d do just as well to upcycle cigarette butts into a baking additive for some earthy, tobacco, ashtray aroma.

I ate one slice. Got a stomach ache. (No, really.) And for the first time in a long time in my bread baking career, tossed two loaves into the compost bin.

But I am anything if not forgiving and adventurous, and I tried again. (Not to mention a kilogram of this stuff was the same price as five kilos of bread flour.) This time, however, I substituted at a much lower ratio. Five percent. I used a mere 25g of coffee flour to my 475g of bread flour.

The dough was still grey by the end of the fold cycle, and had a bit of “cookies and cream” appearance, as if little bits of black specks were mixed in with the off-white of the dough.

And instead of two sandwich loaves, I stuck to my single dome loaf for the second attempt.

Success?

I think so.

Note: The third photo, above, is my second attempt loaf, and the main top photo, the first in the post, is the sliced view of the “successful” dome loaf pictured.

It’s not my favourite additive, but the 5% blend does give the bread a very rich colour and a strong nutty-coffee-ish flavour whose odor was mellowed significantly during baking. It was almost a savoury bread, as it tasted pretty decent with a bit of butter but as my morning toast with peanut butter and honey, there was something lacking in the pairing that had me thinking I’ll be sticking to oatmeal until I can bake up a new batch without the coffee flour.

I feel bad that I didn’t really like this, though. Conceptually, it’s awesome. Upscaling food “waste” into reusable food additives or substitutes is a noble goal. And it’s from a company that is just a couple hours down the highway and supporting local business is also something of a noble goal. This would have been a twofer on ethical baking.

At 5% substitution, this little bag of flour will last me for another thirty-five batches, tho. And, to be honest, I can’t see myself making another thirty five batches of this strong-flavoured bread. I’m glad I made it a couple times, but even I only like coffee so much.

Maybe I’ll make some cookies… or biscotti!

Un-Wounding

I hate blog posts that are just excuses for not writing.

That said, I have been quiet for quite a while.

That deserves at least a little excuse for not writing.

The summer was a bust. Back in July when I wrote about my knee I was still moderately hopeful that whatever my self-diagnosed ailment turned out to be, that it would (at most) result in a couple weeks of healing and I’d be back at it. Hiking. Running. Doing things I loved to do.

What I didn’t expect was that finally seeking some medical intervention would set me on a path that has sidelined me for what is now almost exactly four months.

It turned out that yes, I damaged my MCL, a ligament that runs up on the inside line of the knee, but no, it’s not a simple injury. I’ve been going to physiotherapy and have severely reduced my participation in the things that would have brought me a bit more balance this past summer through work and life stress. There have been days I can barely walk. Sleepless nights. Urgent calls to medical professionals. And a lot of frustration and…

It’s been a tough span. Nor one I wanted to remember, let alone raise up and publicize online. Thus… no blogs were writ.

I mean, there was not much for adventure either when you’re injured, to be honest. Some car travel. Me limping around the local park to make sure the dog was walked. Watching the weeds grow in a garden I couldn’t bend down to deal with. Getting fat off sourdough bread.

That’s my little excuse.

Like I said, I’ve been pushing through physiotherapy … and things are improving. Slowly.

I’ve started running a bit. Mostly short thirty second or one minute intervals until the pain builds up and I need to stop for another day. My physio has me working towards a big goal, running the Chicago Marathon, which I (reluctantly) signed up for as I had a free entry leftover from a deferral from the 2020 race cancellation. That’s next October. Eleven months from as I write this. I’m hopeful.

And then the weather arrived in force this week. It started snowing on the second day of November and hasn’t really stopped for more than a few hours here and there. It went from a mild autumn to a blustery winter in the span of a single night.

Winter adventure is a thing, right?

I haven’t written for a while, and that’s my excuse. Not a great one, but an excuse nonetheless. And now I’ll keep writing. I haven’t left. At least… not yet. Hopefully not soon. Stay tuned.

Knee-hab

Ten days ago I was climbing up a mountain trail near the Crowsnest Pass, a low peak along the continental divide on a sunny Sunday afternoon, looking at views like this:

I could feel the start of some bit of twinging in my right knee, but like anything else for a guy in his mid-40s, aches and pains are sometimes something to worry about … but usually just the biological squeaks of rusty joints and complaints of underused muscles.

That logical gamble didn’t pay off for me this time, and after a week of continued mumbling and grumbling noise from my knee joint, it finally stopped pulling punches and objected outright and fully to my continued lack of care to it’s needs.

I’d say it walked out on me, but walking is something that we do together and not as much for the last few days.

I seem to have developed a bit of a strain or a tear in my MCL, or medial collateral ligament, an important tendon on the inner side of the knee joint that is pretty important (I’ve found lately) for doing things like standing, walking up stairs, and (of course) running.

I’m on a break from running for at least a week or two.

Instead, I’ve grudgingly renewed my municipal fitness centre pass and paid up for a whole year of access to the weights, machines, and lap pool. I’ve been reintroducing myself over the last week to the joys of lane repeats. It’s a kind of cross-training, rehab, knee therapy that I hope will reduce my down time.

But in the heart of summer, despite the heat and humidity, I’m more than a little sad to be missing the sunny trails and green-lined river valley paths because of an injury I don’t even really know the origins of: suddenly it just started aching, and progressively got worse.

In the meantime, I may be able to use some of that down time to write a few more posts about hikes, runs, and my recent adventures in the mountains.