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Friday, August 5, 2016

Brewpub Pedal Crawl

Last month I joined a few friends and a few strangers to tour a handful of brewpubs in the Saint Paul and Minneapolis area. I opted to ride a Minnesota NiceRide, while other members of the group rode their own bicycles.

After a easy few miles from the starting point in Minneapolis, the group sat down to a few lagers from Lake Monster Brewing, just off of Vandalia Street in Saint Paul. A large water tower and fantastic outdoor seating greeted us, as well as food truck gnosh provided by Potter's Pasties. Despite the notable construction nearby, the seating was pleasant and quiet; the nearest NiceRide kiosk was a short walk to Raymond Avenue, and though I got familiar with walking to and fro as the day went on, my group was happy to wait and obliged the slower pace.

Moving from Lake Monster Brewing, the group descended on Burning Brothers Brewery, a gluten free brew that originated from two fire eating brothers who didn't let their love for a good ale get in the way of a health condition. Not a long walk from the Fairiew and University NiceRide station, this smaller brewery offered little in the way of outdoor seating but was fun and companionable within...I'd go for a Dr. Who reference here but phone booths are getting long in the tooth these days. After Burning Brothers, the group pedaled over to The Urban Growler and Bang Brewing, located within walking distance of the Raymond Avenue NiceRide kiosk and the Green Line train.

I really liked the food at Urban Growler and would heartily recommend...I guess this is sort of shouting at the ships after they've sailed though, so don't expect any spoilers. It's good enough to enjoy responsibly, is all I will venture.

Moving from the third and fourth breweries, our group fractured a little in finding our way to the well documented and legislatively predominant brew pub, Surly brewing; located just off of the Campus Connector bike and bus lane between the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis and Saint Paul campuses. I had never seen the restaurant and open air communal seating area that is now Surly, having only seen their first brewery in Brooklyn Park maybe once or twice. If you are planning an event with a whole lot of people you hope might bump into some more people and maybe a few more people who you hopefully might get to know and then enjoy some beers with a lot of people who are now your new friends, I'd suggest going here...crowd surfing is a skill for the waitstaff, and they were surprisingly adept at keeping people happy and sociable.

After enjoying the Surly Brewery stop, the group I was with diminished. Undaunted, I overstayed my welcome to see the last and final stop of the PubRoll BrewPub Pedal Tour, Insight Brewing. Although by this point I was tired and the beer tasted like beer, a bartender attended kindly to all of us in the group. Sitting amongst a group of friends on a pleasant evening as traffic and mosquitos dwindled was the easiest and most relaxing part of the evening. I was impressed with the number of growlers lining the wall behind the bar at Insight, as well as the artistic representations of mythologies eulogized on their t-shirts and logos.

After all of that eating and drinking I got back to a NiceRide, took the long way home and slept it off, hoping to see some more of the 30 or so brewpubs within the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area; Harriet Brewing, Bad Weather Brewing, Fulton Brewing and Lift Bridge Brewing to start with.

Starting near Calhoun, hashtag PubRoll. Photo by Michael McKinney

Lake Monster Brewing Patio, Photo by Michael McKinney

Burning Brothers Brewing, Photo by Michael McKinney

En Route, Photo by Michael McKinney

Urban Growler Brewery, Photo by Michael McKinney

Group Photo, Urban Growler Patio, Photo by Anon

Storms beyond, Photo by Michael McKinney

Surly Sculpture, Photo by Michael McKinney

Minneapolis and the Stone Arch Bridge at night, Photo by Michael McKinney

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hiking and Fishing along Minnehaha Creek

Sometime last year, while standing in hip deep water and trying to untangle a fishing lure of some kind from a tree branch, it might have occurred to me how tedious fishing is. All of the hiking and walking makes it seem like golf, and between snagging rocks on the bottom of the stream or lake and snagging branches overhanging the stream or lake, the frustration levels can get a bit extreme sometimes.

That being said, it takes me a whole day to hike from the Mississippi River to Lake Calhoun along Minnehaha Creek, stopping to catch and release fish along the way.

After breaking two bones in my foot early last year, I have been reticent to run on pavement or trails. Besides feeling like a hypochondriac every time my foot gets tired or I step on a rock, riding a bicycle has been okay and my soccer cleats still fit so playing field sports has also been good. What I have not gotten back to is running. In place of trail running, I have taken to making the ten mile all day hike from Minnehaha Falls Park to Lake Calhoun, or portions thereof, once or twice a week.

I do some fishing along the way, and function as a Volunteer Water Monitor for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, collecting turbidity samples and sending them yearly to the MCWD for addition to their water quality database. Sometimes I use a Minnesota Nice Ride bicycle to get there and back, or to make a long walking section a little faster. It is not always Abe Winkleman trawling Shad Raps over the weed beds for lunkers, but it also not limping in a cast.

"Why not just ride your bike all the time?" is a frequent question people ask, because they don't catch many fish I guess, and sure I could be out riding my bicycle instead.

"What do you catch in there?" is another frequent question people ask me as I am standing hip deep in Minnehaha Creek, and I try to answer cordially, because they must not catch many fish either.

I did manage to cultivate a decent sourdough starter in the past couple of months, and had a nice couple loaves of sourdough bread turn out after following the same recipe I have been working on since 2009, the Thom Leonard sourdough recipe from Artisan Baking Across America.

Here are some pics of my hiking and fishing miles. A really good guidebook for fishing warm water fisheries is Fishing For Buffalo, Buffler; ( Fishing for Buffalo: A Guide to the Pursuit and Cuisine of Carp, Suckers, Eelpout, Gar, and Other Rough Fish) and if cold water fisheries are more your thing I strongly recommend Wisconsin and Minnesota Trout Streams, Humphrey and Shogren; (Trout Streams of Wisconsin and Minnesota: An Angler's Guide to More Than 120 Trout Rivers and Streams (Second Edition)).

NiceRide and MWCD Volunteer equipment at Minnehaha Creek. Photo by Michael McKinney

Thom Leonard soudough variation. Photo by Michael McKinney

Lake Calhoun (Mde Maka Ska) Largemouth Bass, 2016. 

Lake Hiawatha at sunset. Photo by Michael McKinney

Lake Nokomis. Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnehaha Creek Largemouth Bass, 2016. Photo by Michael McKinney.

Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis. Photo by Michael McKinney

Snowy Egret on Minnehaha Creek, 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney

Thursday, May 12, 2016

30 Days of Biking, Fulton Fondo and Non-Exceptionalism

I got into a discussion with some friends a while back about Lance Armstrong. This was in 2011, and I was convinced a sports figure of such high regard would not have to face litigation, public humiliation and a stunning reversal of fortune considering much of his allegiances were based on a non-profit organization that successfully marketed something as ubiquitous as a yellow rubberized bracelet into a multi-million dollar campaign for cancer research.

I was still on the fence. My friends were well past the first few stages of anger, denial and resignation, while I was still thinking a great American success story had emerged from cancer recovery and won the most difficult sporting event there is, seven times in a row, all while demonstrating a resiliency and determination that maybe survivors have, or maybe that is just the stereotype I bought into.

Personally it wasn't too heartbreaking for me because I spent a lot of time as a kid watching TV and established a long list of sports heroes that is probably not altogether healthy. Sure, he's a guy in lycra who won some bike races, but did he nail a game winning sky hook in game four of the NBA Finals like Magic Johnson? Did he walk on as a pinch hitter in the World Series with gelatin in his knees and pain killers in his blood stream and smack a game winning home run to win game one like Kurt Gibson? Did he overcome racial disparities like Jackie Robinson or Tiger Woods? I mean frankly, as far as sports go, it's a wash. Compare him to the other winningest cyclists of his era, most of whom were doping too, and he is still a significant indicator of what he stood for, an era of sports replete with Sammy Sosas, Mark McGuires and fewer Carl Lewises.

So there I was, in 2011, watching the Armstrong case unravel, and remembering that I had debated strongly for the guy, and I was dead wrong. It is maybe a lesson on remembering not to judge people solely on the extremes of their personality or career; like admonishing a priest who does not decry evolution, or a yoga instructor who displays vehement anger towards something he or she is strongly opposed to, it is simple to take a malleable interpretation of a person's occupation into an extreme state of idolatry.

I do like riding a bicycle though, and for the most part find myself enjoying being around other cyclists. I met Greg Lemond in 2012 and told him what I thought about him beating Laurent Fignon, and Greg, champion that he is, just smiled and made me feel like I had some relevance back then, watching him race down the Champs Elysees, tucked behind those aero bars and cranking for every exciting a sporting event as any I have witnessed before or since.

So...I enjoyed another round of the Minneapolis #30DaysOfBiking challenge in April, and made 30 consecutive days count for a little over 730 miles and 17,000 feet of climbing. I jumped at the chance to apply for an entrance into the Fulton Gran Fondo, and won a prize drawing for the entry fee. Getting in a few hundred miles of riding really must have helped me prepare for the Fondo, because even though the day was windy, and occasionally I found myself bucking a twenty mile an hour headwind without a domestique, it was a great day and a fun afternoon.

During 30 Days of Biking I got a few flats, mostly from having my tires under inflated, the frequent demarcation of trails, sidewalks and urban city streets broken into the occasional rutted gravel road strewn with haphazardly arrayed potholes; during the Fondo at least one large farm truck hurled profanity as they drove past going 60 miles an hour on a two lane farm nothing is perfect.

Nothing is perfect. It's worth remembering that even the purest element is only 99.994% perfect, so how much you strive for that last second, fraction of a second or specific benchmark that defines excellence, nothing is flawless. Learning how to appreciate your own non-exceptionalism is a skill, all the more challenging when so much of expecting yourself to achieve greatness takes away from what is truly great.

I put together a few decent loaves of bread in the past few weeks. I still haven't gotten back to a reliable sourdough starter, so a lot of cranberry walnut breads made with RedStar yeast.

4-22-2016, Minneapolis turns purple. Photo by Michael McKinney

Honey Cranberry Bread, photo by Michael McKinney

Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis. April 2016. Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnehaha Creek, Minneapolis. April 2016. Photo by Michael McKinney

Felt F75X, at Lake Harriet, Minneapolis. April 2016. Photo by Michael McKinney

At the end of the Fulton Fondo, May 2016. 

Image by Sisu, My 30DaysOfBiking, April 2016. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Baking update

Believe it or not, I have worked as baker. I did some time over the deep fat fryers you might find in fast food restaurants, dropping raised doughnuts in by the dozen, for hours at a time, day after day; I picked cake doughnuts off of a conveyor belt; admired the mechanizations of industry that made it possible to produce maximum quantities with minimum effort, mixed fifty pound bags of flour together by the ton before 8 AM and also once made a créme brûlée recipe with Tablespoons of sugar, rather than Teaspoons.

Hundreds of dozens of finished product, being carried out double doors, box by box, started at six in the morning, being escorted to urban businesses by vans and trucks...the sort of mass produced quality gas stations and hospital cafeterias are famous for, but there you have it. Four years of frying, sheeting, baking, cutting, mixing, picking, packing and watching the cake decorators painfully constructing magnificently complicated works of art, while I and three or four other bakers hammered out chocolate coated biscuits by the thousands.

Other experience, if you needed to know, came from three or four other bakeries, where I learned about cutting butter into scones, shaping boules, making croissants, the relevance of salt in bread, the amount of time it takes different flours to become active starters in a sourdough recipe and how to listen to bread to make sure it is done. It takes less time to blink though, to trace down a wealth of information on the internet. The thing I draw on more and more, is those days working over a fryer making the lowest common denominator, than the few months I spent in a kitchen making chocolate croissants from scratch.

So, if anybody I ever worked with reads this, thanks for the help. I'm no expert, as you probably recall.

Here are some pictures of the bread I have been baking lately, almost all made with honey, nuts and cranberries, high quality flour from my local Co-op and dry active yeast. I haven't tried making a sourdough recipe since 2009, a Thom Leonard recipe I found in Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer, which I highly recommend.

Nut and Berry bread, photo by michael McKinney

Cedar Lake Minneapolis balancing act, photo by Michael McKinney

Nut and Berry bread, photo by Michael McKinney

Nut and berry bread, photo by Michael McKinney

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Recapitulation, 2015

I didn't get much accomplished with the extra reading time I had sitting around with two broken bones in my foot, according to my 2015 books list on Goodreads...four or five of the books I didn't even finish.

Oh well. Adding to the gift of hindsight seems redundant, but according to a witty blog post I saw this morning on the bus, there are at least twenty words in foreign languages that do not occur in English that express a universal sentiment. The feeling expressed when two people make eye contact and both feel impelled to take action but do nothing; "Mamihlapinatapei", the pleasure of seeing your friend in pain; "Schadenfreude", for example. "L'espirit d'escalier" translates to "Staircase Wit" but it is a french expression for knowing exactly what to say after re-hashing an exchange subconsciously, perhaps humiliatingly, a thousand times.

I'm sure The Simpsons character Comic Book Guy would have a Klingon word to contribute to the Argschnaddle.

So 2015, in Book Breads and Bikes had less to do with baking, reading and getting around on my bicycle than accommodating a moderate injury that hampered my ability to pursue the healthy activities I have taken for granted since quitting smoking 15 years ago.

I did get a few good photos here and there of whatever Minnesota Nice Ride I happened to be riding and a few decent loaves of bread were produced in between limping to and from my three separate part time occupations.

I read a really good article about the extreme athlete Dean Potter, a Patagonia Sponsored rock climber, wing suit flyer and BASE jumper when he died. He did a lot of things I wouldn't try. High lining, wing suit flying, free solo climbing and BASE jumping seem pretty far beyond the reach of the average person, and thankfully, according to the New York Times article I read, the mentors have a nose for the unworthy.

The word that has stuck with me from that article was one that a French associate of Potters used to describe the appeal of  BASE jumping, or wing suit flying; "Impuissance", which translates poorly to "impotence" but has more to do with powerlessness. This avid wing suit flyer likened the first few moments of free fall to powerlessness, an abject surrender to whatever preparations you have made, to your experience and your understanding of physics. Something gets lost in the translation.

A single specific favorite bike ride of 2015...probably one of many including a Minnesota NiceRide, a fishing pole and some intermittent success pursuing fish along Minnehaha Creek and the Minneapolis chain of lakes.

Willow River, WI. July 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney

Saint John's University Arboretum Stick House, February 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney.

Minnehaha Falls, February 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney.

Minneapolis Sunrise, May 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney

Pottery Greenware, St. Paul MN, April 2015

Rush river, WI, August 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnesota Nice Ride at Minnehaha Creek, Minneapolis, September 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney

Bread, Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnesota Nice Ride at Sunrise, Hamline Avenue Green Line Station, September 2015. Photo by Michael McKinney

Selfie at the Walker Sculpture Garden, December 2015.

Minnehaha Falls, December 2015.

Wells Fargo Tower, Minneapolis. December 2015.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Meantime, the fishing has been decent.

So what does a person do with a painful case of gout and two broken metatarsal bones? How to navigate through the days when walking is painful and running is out of the question? Never mind cycling, trail running and self-sustaining behaviors of good intent, what about getting dressed in the morning without grimacing in pain, slipping in the shower or simply keeping a job?

I got back to working, eventually, but I had to wear a removable plastic cast on my leg for a month, and then intermittently for another month. I am still not running, but have been cycling more, and riding Minnesota's NiceRide bicycles as much as wearing comfortable cork and leather sandals will allow, (they're good for the gout).

Did I mention the fishing? Since working at Target Field in the early part of this year, I had the initiative to steer away from fly fishing a little bit, in order to more simply cast on lakes the Rapalas, Mepps and poppers fly casting does not accommodate without snagging tree limbs or pedestrians on the back cast. So while it has not been particularly pleasurable or devoid of pain, I have managed to catch a nice walleye, a couple northerns, a bass or two and made it back into some Wisconsin trout streams for the more refined "single barbless hook" fly fishing I used to enjoy more readily.

If it all sounds too good to be true, consider how stadiums are cleaned.

As per Breads, Bikes and Books, I did finally get out and ride my sixth or seventh century on labor day. It started as a nice day to get out and ride, so a simple ride out to Stillwater seemed feasible. As I started I added a short loop onto the front of the ride, and after sitting with friends and relaxing in Stillwater, completing a century didn't seem impractical or even all that noteworthy.

It was however a beautiful day with a surprising lack of confrontational episodes.

Here is the link to the MapMyRide route I created.

Lake Nokomis Largemouth Bass, Minneapolis; Photo by Michael McKinney

Mississippi River Smallmouth Bass, Minneapolis; Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnesota NiceRide Selfie, Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis; Photo by Michael McKinney

Storm Clouds, Minneapolis; Photo by Michael McKinney

Saint Paul Sunset; photo by Michael McKinney

Removable Cast and NiceRide, Saint Paul; Photo by Michael McKinney

Goose Biot Stone Fly; Photo by Michael McKinney

Willow River Rainbow trout, Wisconsin; Photo by Michael McKinney

Stearns County, MN, Blue Moon; Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnehaha Creek walleye, Minneapolis; Photo by Michael McKinney

Pierce County, WI, Brown Trout; Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis; Photo by Michael McKinney