Sunday, December 27, 2015

Immersion Blender

We have a simple rule in our kitchen: if we buy a new piece of equipment, something has to go.

We go a long way with good knives and a couple decent pots, and we don't use many gadgets. But I do like my immersion blender, and have been using it for over ten years. 

I can make a creamy soup in a few minutes from ingredients in the freezer:
Stock (see previous post)
Mirepoix (see previous post)
Leftover roasted vegetables (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes, squash)
A spoonful of tomato paste (for acid, color, umami)
Salt and pepper
I just heat all this up, then blend right in the pot. The result is better than canned.

I never make the same soup twice. For example, spices, or fresh ginger (stored in the freezer), or garlic move the soup around the world.

Other dishes I make with the immersion blender include eggplant dip and a surprisingly good banana chocolate "ice cream." The "ice cream" is actually:
Bananas, a little past their prime, saved in the freezer, thawed slightly
A couple good heaps of cocoa powder
A small amount of milk to help everything to grip while it is being blended
Cleanup is minimal compared to the mess made transferring liquids to a countertop blender.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Palm Springs Hiking

Palm Springs, CA, is surrounded by mountains and lovely trails: good reasons to be there last week.

There are downsides to hiking in the Palm Springs area:
  • Too much driving to trailheads. It took one to two hours.
  • Days are short at this time of year. When my partner and I were hiking around Palm Springs last week, the sun set soon after 4:30 p.m.
But there are upsides to being in Palm Springs in early December:
  • Comfortable, dry climate. The average high in July is 108°F, but in December, the temperature reached the low 80's. At higher elevations, the temperature was in the 50's. 
  • Cheap digs. We stayed in a comfortable resort for close to one-third of prices charged later in December through the rest of the winter.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Urban Hike: Early Nordeast Houses


If I didn't know better I would walk right past this unassuming house. It looks to be about the right size and style for Nordeast (Northeast Minneapolis), and it's in a typical neighborhood.

A typical Nordeast neighborhood has a bunch of churches and bars. There's five churches within a couple blocks of this house, and plenty bars within staggering distance.

The house was built some time in the 1850's through 1870's making it one of just a handful of houses in Minneapolis surviving from that time. The Minneapolis fire of 1893 destroyed more than 23 surrounding blocks, but somehow spared this house.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Northumbrian Beauty

When I tap "beauty" into the Google search box for my photo collection, I get a flood of too-easy, stereotypical beauty. There's enough sunsets and mountaintops to induce indigestion in even the most hardened tourist.

But the picture at the top of this post is top of the search results.

It's October 2015. I'm standing outside the Fenwick department store in Newcastle upon Tyne, north-east England. Instead of the usual merchandise or animatronic Christmas displays, the windows promote generic looks. In front, two strangers march in lockstep, neither likely to use the advertised products, at least not in public.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Remains of a Tree

In the past few days, a sculpture has appeared on my running route around Lake of the Isles (Minneapolis, MN). It's a defiant sculpture, but it's not the creation of an artist.

The remains of the tree wait to be felled and chipped: it was diseased, it has to go. New trees will be planted for the next generation.

But this week it makes a statement. An old, gnarled hand is giving the finger to xenophobia. Those who have squandered yet another opportunity to call on our better selves are beneath its contempt.

Note: "The Remains of the Day" by British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro is a good read.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Urban Hike and Bike: All Over the Nordeast Map

Nordeast (Northeast Minneapolis) encapsulates much of the early working class history of Minneapolis, but it gets short shrift in guide books.

Recently I've been exploring Nordeast, trying to decode it's history and culture. Later in this post I'll introduce some tools I've developed, including an interactive map and a feature to customize and print Nordeast guides.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015

Today I cycled to Sheridan Veterans Memorial beside the Mississippi River in Northeast Minneapolis.

The monument reflects on the cost of war, expresses hope for peace, and is even-handed about the conquerors and vanquished.

The push to build this memorial came from veterans. It was dedicated just two years ago, so it is not a strong part of the public consciousness. Memorials at the State Capitol, Fort Snelling, and Victory Memorial Parkway get more attention.

I stood there alone, Veterans Day 2015. Balloons had been attached to some of the markers indicating the day had not been forgotten.

Ten conflict markers commemorate America's wars, including the one war on Minnesota soil, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mirepoix

I like to cook from scratch, but some days I simply want to assemble previously cooked ingredients.

The solution is to have a selection of "subassembly" ingredients in the freezer. I've written about one of these ingredients: stock. Another is mirepoix.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Superior Hiking Trail 2015

We're almost through a week of exploring the Superior Hiking Trail.

We visit this trail just about every year. One year we hiked from lodging to lodging, but usually we just do day hikes.

The twist this year was to bring two cars. That way we could explore sections of the trail as a series of one-way day hikes. For the first time we got to see the remotest parts of the trail, ending just a mile short of the Canadian border.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Gate Agent's Conundrum

I hold my phone close, but the boarding pass scanner rejects me. The agent guarding the gate gestures me to scoot sideways towards his colleague at the podium.

Podium Colleague does not make eye contact, she sighs as she pokes at her keyboard.

"Your seat has been reassigned to someone with higher status," she informs.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sometimes You Can Go Back

I'm pausing for a few days before I complete my 500-mile Walk Around Newcastle, a walk I started in 2010.

The walk does not include Newcastle upon Tyne, the town where I grew up: after all, it's a walk "around" Newcastle. Today, though, I'm pausing the walk, and wandering in Newcastle.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Travel Gear: The Carbon Footprint of Hiking Boots

I'll soon be crossing The Pond to hike in my beaten-up boots. At the end of the trip the boots might be good for a few more day hikes.

All this leaves me with The Big Question:
Should I bring the boots home to the USA at the end of my trip?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Kagoshima: Kirishima Volcanic Group Practicalities

From Karakunidake.
From Takachihonomine Ridge.

There's nothing like a decent hike after a long series of flights.

previously posted how to get from Kagoshima Airport to a hotel on the edge of the Kirishima Volcanic Group of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park. The hourly bus from the airport takes you to the Kirishima Iwasaki Hotel in 47 minutes. If you arrive in the morning, there's time for a hike in the afternoon.

This post gives specifics about where to stay, bus service to trailheads, and trails.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The End of a 500-Mile Walk

September 2010, I felt sad as Bamburgh Castle loomed in front of us. For three weeks my partner and I got up each morning, enjoyed a hearty breakfast, then walked. I wanted to walk forever, but this Northumberland castle on the North Sea marked the end of our walk.

We had started down the coast at Saltburn-by-the-Sea. We trekked half-way across England, then north up England's Pennine backbone before heading back to the sea. We connected several trails, including half of Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast, half of the Pennine Way, and sections of connecting trails including Cleveland Way and St. Oswald's Way.

330 miles, mostly glorious miles, sometimes tough-sledding miles. Usually just my partner and me, sometimes with my brother or friends.

I called the walk a "Walk around Newcastle" because it explores countryside around Newcastle upon Tyne where I grew up. I wanted to experience and share the heritage of this rugged northern land.

I vowed I would return to complete the loop around my home town by walking between Bamburgh and Saltburn.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Freakin' Cheap: Almost-Free Homemade Stock

Risottos, soups, and gravies taste best when they're made with homemade stock. I want to make these dishes quickly, but stock takes a long time to prepare. My solution is to make stock in bulk and freeze it.

My stock is basic, and varies from batch to batch depending on ingredients on hand. It provides a foundation of flavor and body.

I don't buy any of the ingredients specifically for stock, and I try to make the preparation as unfussy as possible.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wabi-Sabi Lessons for Imperfect Journeys

"Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular, and enduring. Wabi-sabi is not found in nature at moments of bloom and lushness, but at moments of inception or subsiding. Wabi-sabi is not about gorgeous flowers, majestic trees, or bold landscapes. Wabi-sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes." [Source]
I love to hike up Japan's mountains, but I will never climb Mount Fuji. I love the trails of New Zealand, but I'll never walk the Milford Trail.

I'm unimpressed by brochure-speak and heavily saturated travel photographs. I don't have a bucket list, I generally avoid over-loved A-list destinations.

I don't seek "the perfect trip."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Freakin' Cheap: Eliminating Unwanted Phone Calls


A few years ago we reached a tipping point with unwanted phone calls.

When the phone rang, it was usually a call we did not want to take: fundraisers punishing us for our previous gifts, pollsters, sales people, scammers.

Then I came up with a solution that for a one-time cost of less than $25 has eliminated all unwanted calls. Over the past 5 years our phone has not rung several thousand times.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Afraid of Eggplant No More


This is the best time of year for eggplant (aubergines) in Minnesota.

Several varieties of locally grown eggplant were available at my coop today, including usually hard-to-find Indian ("baby") eggplant and a long, skinny Asian variety. I was set on making Eggplant Parmigiana, so I chose the most common type: the large, dark ones.

Once upon a time the thought of cooking eggplant intimidated me. I never seemed to get it right, ending up with a greasy, unevenly textured dish.

Then I learned a method that has worked every time. The resulting dish is not greasy and is consistently tender with no tough bits. The secret is the initial preparation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Travel Gear: Clean Clothes


For me, freedom is traveling light with just one change of clothes. That still translates into wearing clean clothes every day.

The downside is doing a bit of laundry each day.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Urban Bike: Mill City

Much of the early wealth of Minneapolis came from grain. This grain legacy translates into locally headquartered companies like Cargill and General Mills.

Cargill, the largest privately held company in the country, manages 25% of US grain exports. General Mills manages ubiquitous brands like Betty Crocker and Pillsbury.

The first flour mill in what is now Minneapolis was built in 1823 to serve Fort Snelling. From the 1880's through the 1920's, Minneapolis earned the nickname "Mill City" because its mills were the most productive in the world.

I spent a day on my bicycle finding significant examples from these productive times.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Errant Balls


I enjoy the Search feature of Google Photos. I type in a word or two, and I get a selection of our photos. Memories revived, time wasted.

I was thinking about the photo Search feature today while cycling past signs warning of "errant golf balls." My brain floated off to ridiculous places: it bothered me the golf balls took the blame rather than the golfers. I resisted the temptation to post a snarky Tweet.

There was a sudden cloudburst, so I sheltered under a highway bridge. To kill time I Googled "signs" on my phone then scrolled through dozens of signs in our photo collection.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Freekin' Cheap: Free Landline Phone Service

Google Voice and a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) adapter give us free dial tone on all our landline phones.
Almost all calls within the US and Canada are free. International calls are near enough free.
We use our home landline phones the same way we have always used them. People continue to call our old landline phone number.
We've been using Google Voice since 2009. It has most of the features of regular POTS (plain old telephone service) and a few extras for people who like to travel. It emails voice mails, filters spam, and lets us have a single number for our home and cell phones.

It takes a few days to set everything up, but if you value saving around $4,000 over the next ten years, this is the way to go. There are five steps:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Urban Bike: City of Lakes


Today I'm off on my bicycle to visit every lake in Minneapolis, City of Lakes.

It took some effort to draw up a list of 16 Minneapolis lakes, or, to be more precise, lakes and other notable bodies of water.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Personal Space in Economy


I love to fly, even in Economy. Fellow passengers are almost always considerate, showing respect for personal space. They might even have interesting stories to tell.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Kagoshima: Getting Around the Region


Navigating Japan is not for the faint-hearted. Most overseas visitors arrive in Tokyo, only to enter a world of alphabets they cannot read, streets with non-consecutive house numbers, and train stations that are the world's busiest.

In my previous My Kagoshima posts:
I emphasized the need to "chunk it."
Kagoshima Prefecture is a manageable chunk of Japan that is as far as you can get from Tokyo by bullet train (910 miles, 1,464 km). 
I picked out three areas in Kagoshima Prefecture: Kagoshima City, Yakushima Island, and Kirishima (the Kirishima Volcanic Group section of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park). 
I described how to get to Kagoshima Prefecture from the USA
I left you at Kagoshima Airport or Kagoshima City's main train station (Kagoshima-Chuo). Either way, the arrival is manageable: Kagoshima airport has 10 gates, Kagoshima-Chuo has 14 platforms.
In this post I describe how to get from the airport or train station to the three areas of Kagoshima I selected.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Urban Bike: Yard Art in a Civil Society


I see things from my bicycle I don't see from a bus or car. 

It might be an old guy on his bicycle, stovepipe hat, bushy beard, archaic black clothes, a character from a Dickens novel. Or a bearded guy cycling the Midtown Greenway in a girlie dress. 

They seek attention, or inhabit an alternate reality, or express art. I'm fine with any of that.

"Did you see that?" a cyclist asks politely as he speeds past me.

It's not just the fellow cyclists who enrich my cycling experience. I get to take in all the individuality around me, including the yards in front of people's homes. 

I'd like to tell stories of three of those yards, including the yard of one of the bearded cyclists I mentioned at the top of this post.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Field by the River Thames


An unassuming meadow on a sunny day in October 2014.

I had gone out of my way to walk across this field. Earlier that day I had traveled to the town of Staines, a short distance from London's Heathrow Airport. Next morning I would catch a flight to Athens, Greece, the cradle of democracy.

After checking in to an old inn set on the River Thames, I followed a path along the river. At Runnymede I walked across this field.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Urban Bike: Car-Free Minneapolis Bridges

Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge. 
Below me sixteen lanes of traffic roar.

I'm standing on the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, one of many Minneapolis bridges I cannot cross in a car. The bridge takes me between two parks: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Loring Park.

Loring Park.
In Loring Park, the zig-zag approach to this old bridge tells me I'm welcome on foot, not bicycle. Better to dismount.

Sometimes I cross bridges where both cyclists and pedestrians are not welcome: bridges with defaced no-trespassing signs, low guard rails, no guard rails, live rail track, gaps between rotting and fire-damaged boards.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Freakin' Cheap: Free Telecom


The typical household pays north of $20,000 over ten years in landline, long distance, and mobile phone fees.

In our household, we pay almost nothing for these services.

There is a long history behind free telephone service. In the 1960's and 70's, phreaking was the art of hacking the public phone system using tone generators called blue boxes.

The "Worthy" Poor


I was helping "Maria" to apply online for a job.

She had a good job history, she was eager and presentable. Maria was just the kind of person I would want to serve me in the low-wage position she was seeking.

There were just a couple problems that prevented her from completing the form: she didn't have a fixed address or a phone number. Maria was homeless and destitute.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Scenes from a Day in 2010


The deep sleep during the overnight long-haul across the ocean.

The pause between flights when I photograph a Heineken. I email the picture to a friend who is in a different place, a different time. I remind him of this place, this time of day, this beer, three years earlier when he and I were on our way to work in Stockholm, Sweden.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Zen and the Art of Casserole Assembly


Oh, the things I wish I'd known when I was young.

Take the ingredients for a basic bake pictured at the top of this post. They look simple enough but for me they represent small lessons learned over decades.

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Kagoshima: Chunking the Map


I'm filled with questions when I look at a map of a place I have never visited.

How do I chunk up a manageable journey through this place? How do I get there? Which areas do I visit? Where are the hiking trails? Where are the trailheads? How do I get around? How do I find a room?

I once stared at a map of Japan and, like most newbies, focused on central Japan. Most visitors stick to this part of the island of Honshu. They visit Tokyo and points south, 4 hours or less by bullet train, Kyoto, Hiroshima. Easy, populous, over-loved.

The first time my partner and I stopped in Japan, we used Kyoto as a base for exploring: a good plan for first-time visitors.

Since that first trip, I've found I can go to just about any corner of Japan and find a great place for the solo hiker. I find good trails, decent and inexpensive places to stay and eat, reliable public transport, civility and safety.

If I could visit only one region of Japan, it would be Kagoshima Prefecture on Kyushu, the southernmost of the main islands.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Simplifying Flying


Earlier this month, I found myself airside at Japan's Fukuoka Airport. 13 minutes earlier I was boarding the subway downtown.

In those 13 minutes I rode the train two stations to the airport, walked up two levels to Departures, and cleared Security. I had almost an hour before boarding the plane, plenty time for a relaxed breakfast.

Security was efficient. Travelers ahead of me had their phones out for the boarding pass scanner, and they placed their bags on the belt without fuss. With domestic flights in Japan there's no need to unpack liquids, or remove shoes or jackets.

This rapid process contrasted with the snaking Border Control line later that day at Chicago's O'Hare.

When I got home I took steps to replicate the Fukuoka Airport Security experience here in the USA. As a bonus, I no longer need to stand in USA Border Control lines.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Travel Gear: Buying the Wrong GPS


Whether it's investments or stuff, I'm a buy-and-hold kind of person.

I'd had my handheld GPS (a Garmin, function-key-driven GPSMAP 6OCSx) 8 years when I lost it on a trip in January 2015. I was not ready to replace it because it still performed well relative to current units.

But now I had no GPS. I decided to stick with Garmin because I have sets of Garmin maps, and am impressed how rugged my GPS had been. It has survived immersion in water and many falls onto hard surfaces.

I looked at Garmin devices positioned for hiking and narrowed my choice to two units:
A touch-screen unit: Oregon 600
A function-key-driven (non-touch-screen) unit: GPSMAP 64S.
I decided to try something new and settled on the touch-screen unit, the Oregon 600.

Over the course of a two-month trip, February through April 2015, I decided my chosen GPS is unfit for serious hiking.

So, where did I go wrong?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Behind the Steel Door


Hakata (Fukuoka), Monday through Saturday:
08:53 People start to assemble outside the steel roller shutter door.
08:55 Voices behind the shutter make a declaration in unison.
08:59 An electric motor whirs as the shutter slowly rises. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hita Station


I can add Hita train station, northern Kyushu, Japan, to my "delighted" list.

By any standards, it's a small station. A single train track enters town, and a single track leaves town. At Hita station, the track fans out into multiple tracks, more than enough to handle the three platforms and the boarding of an average of three country trains an hour.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Animatronic Hell

Painting of Buddhist hell, Daihonzan Naritasan Temple, Kurume, Japan. 
The things you learn when you travel.

I had no idea there was a Buddhist hell. I first caught a whiff of it this week in Unzenonsen, Kyushu, Japan. Hydrogen sulphide, boiling water bubbling out the ground, steam.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Channeling Eva Gabor in Kirishima


As the floor plan shows, the lower levels of big Japanese resort hotels have something for everyone.

Last week, in Kirishima, Kyushu, Japan, I walked through the hotel's amusement area dressed in a yukata, clutching a towel, heading for the stairs to the outdoors hot springs.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park

Mount Ebinodake and Onami Pond.
From where I'm sitting in my hotel room, I see steam vents, and can smell their sulfurous fumes. Further in the distance, over 20 miles further in the haze, is the unmistakable cone of Sakurajima, the massive, active volcano across the bay from Kagoshima, southern Japan. At night, I see the distant glow of Kagoshima.

See My Kagoshima: Kirishima Volcanic Group Practicalities for specific details about accommodation, trail buses, and trails.

See my series of posts,  My Kagoshima, for details about how to get to Kagoshima Prefecture, then how to get to trails.

I didn't come here to stare out the window. I came here to explore the trails of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It Takes a Village


Yesterday I was in such an intense conversation with Iris, thirtyish, from Switzerland, we almost missed the only bus from the trailhead that day. 

I get to meet fine people when hiking. These are people who put some effort into their travels. They discover and research trails, they put one foot in front of another to explore the trails. Besides, they usually have interesting stories: as well as hiking boots, Iris travels with dancing shoes because she loves salsa.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Hike in Kagoshima


After  being in Airport World for five days, it was good to spend today, Saturday, hiking in Kagoshima and the surrounding hills.

When you hike on a Saturday you get to see the locals enjoying their place.  Early in the hike I was the audience for a group of taiko drummers, practicing their art. I could feel their energy and emotions in this lovely spot, under a palm tree, looking out across Kagoshima Bay.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Unplanned Night in Houston


Well, I didn't get too far today.

The plan was to get from Fort Lauderdale to Kirishima, southern Japan. Instead I got as far as Houston.

My United flight from Houston to Tokyo was repeatedly delayed: something about a problem under the floor, eventually traced to a cargo door.

Monday, March 16, 2015

From Beaches to Volcanoes


It's time to leave a world of beaches for travel with a bit of fiber in it.

This weekend, in Naples, Florida, I got reunited with my hiking boots and walking shoes and mailed the lesser stuff back home. I'm on my way to Kirishima, southern Japan.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pleading the Fifth in Naples, Florida


My urban hiking this weekend in Naples, Florida, included quiet side streets lined with posh homes. As I walked, I thought about the logistics of maintaining multiple homes, and the burden of mortgages.

When hiking through farmland I avoid getting between cow and calves. In this spirit, I was walking on the street so I wouldn't get between a mother and her children running ahead on the narrow sidewalk.

A police car came towards me and stopped, blocking my path. I assumed someone in the neighborhood had called the cops on me for being an ambulatory stranger with intent to harm property values.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why I Like SCUBA Diving


I don't do water activities.

I'll dangle my feet over the edge of the shallow end of a hotel swimming pool while sipping something with a little cocktail umbrella poking out. Preferably a beer.

But that is as far as I go.

My partner, Dwight, does do water activities, including SCUBA. I'll never do that, at least not in this lifetime.

Apart from my distaste for submerging myself in water, I like to travel light: one 14lb backpack is my usual limit. Meanwhile Dwight is lugging 35lbs of SCUBA gear.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Iron Road to the Capital of Latin America


Tomorrow I leave Savannah for Miami, the end of the line on Amtrak. A journey from a world constrained by history to a place that is still inventing itself.

For tourists, Charleston and Savannah are about colonial times and early independence through the end of the civil war. A white history with selective amnesia.

Miami tilts to the future: it feels young (apart from all the snowbirds like me) and optimistic. As late as 1890 it was a tiny settlement of about 300 people. Today's Miami-Dade County has over 2.6 million.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Other

 Woolworth's lunch counter (Smithsonian)

I tried to build a coherent picture of my seatmate as I rode Amtrak from Cleveland to New York.

The obvious stuff: 40-ish, black, heavyset, financially on the edge. I got the financial bit as he talked on the phone about his imminent move to a smaller apartment.

He clicked away at his laptop, editing, re-editing video segments of silently dancing young women, fishnet leotards, backsides wiggling at the camera.