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Friday, December 8, 2017

Early December

The weather has abruptly dropped off the shelf, as many local weather forecasters had been expecting. After a very warm November and unprecedented wildfires and hurricanes in the national forecast, some Minnesotans may have begun to expect a similar calamity in their weather system. Obviously not, as lakes and creeks have begun freezing and the daily temperatures resume their typical below freezing averages.

Three category four hurricanes in a row through Central America and wildfires throughout the western United States have made the anticipation of weather less a premonition of happiness than a prayer for strangers caught out.

Summer in Minnesota was enjoyable, I again volunteered for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as a Volunteer Stream Monitor along Minnehaha Creek, a 22 mile stream through Western Minneapolis flowing out of Lake Minnetonka. Since a 2014 flooding, changes in the stream and surrounding bodies of water have mandated changes in the way it is managed, and following along as a volunteer has been a gradual evolvement from passing spectator to willing participant.

My responsibilities as a Citizen Stream Monitor are fairly simplistic, and often the process of getting to my water collection site is more complicated than the process of measuring the turbidity or generating quantitative judgements of the recreational or aesthetic potential. I hope to resume my volunteering when the snow and ice melt next year, but for now it is back to planning for winter bicycle riding (studded tires and bring a bus pass just in case) and volunteering with the City of Lakes Loppet Foundation during their Loppet Festival in Minneapolis, which this year coincides with the Super Bowl.

Stay Warm!

Minnehaha Creek Northern Pike, Photo by Michael McKinney

Minnesota Nice Ride late season, photo by Michael McKinney

Bread, photo by Michael McKinney

Pottery through the Saint Paul Community Education Program, photo by Michael McKinney

Me with a Largemouth Bass, anon photo

Saint Paul Mural, photo by Michael McKinney

Mountain Biking on July 4th at Wirth Park, Minneapolis, photo by Michael McKinney

Minnehaha Creek Smallmouth Bass, photo by Michael McKinney

Minnehaha Creek Largemouth Bass, photo by Michael McKinney

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend 2017

It is a really nice day outside today. Plenty of sunlight, light breeze, some chance of rain later in the day. I have been in a Minneapolis library for the last three or four hours, working on getting a handful of crossword puzzles finished as near to acceptably perfect as my ability allows. I think more than enjoying the effort it takes to answer the question I look forward to the time when I can get myself back outside again to pursue the motivations that got me started on expressing myself a little more clearly, even if it meant risking the impunity of not knowing exactly how to.

I enjoyed riding in the 2017 Fulton Fondo again this year, and thanks to the non-profit organization Nice Ride Minnesota, I have enlisted in a Community Partners program that gives me access to their many kiosks around the Twin Cities. My own bicycles are waiting at home waiting to be used, and besides a few minor mechanical issues are ready for another day.

There were a nice few weeks back in April when I got out fishing along Minnehaha Creek, between Lake Nokomis and the Mississippi River, and had some luck catching large rough fish. So far this year that has been the most noteworthy thing...besides Donald Trump getting elected president, which I am doing my best to refrain from commenting on. Minneheha Creek has been crowded a lot lately and it is a constant reminder of how lucky I am to enjoy good health to be able to simply keep walking to another fishing spot if the one I had hoped to try this afternoon has become another person's favorite fishing hole.

Carp from Lake Hiawatha, April 2017.

Fulton Fondo II completed, May 2017

Carp from Lake Hiawatha, near Minnehaha Creek, Minneapolis, April 2017

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Update

Walter Donovan: Where are these missing pages? We must have them back!

Elsa Schneider: You're wasting your breath. He won't tell us, and he doesn't have to. It's pretty obvious where the pages are... He's given them to Marcus Brody.

Henry Jones Sr.: Marcus!? You didn't bring him along, did you? He's not up for the challenge.

Walter Donovan: Brody sticks out like a sore thumb. We'll find him!

Indiana Jones: The hell you will! He's got a two-day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody's got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan. He speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom. He'll blend in, disappear, you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the Grail already.

[Cut to Marcus in İskenderun]

Marcus Brody: Does anyone here speak English? Or even Ancient Greek?

- Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade

That quote reminds me of It's a Wonderful Life, and the uncle who keeps a pet crow. The holidays are approaching, the weather has cooled off and fishing season has wound down for me. Three weeks ago the bail spring on my fishing reel broke, so I contacted Daiwa and their customer service department kindly forwarded me two new ones.

It took a little elbow grease but the new spring works, the reel is again functional and next year I'll hopefully get back to enjoying the distance from Minnehaha Falls to Lake Calhoun, which has formally had a name change to its original Dakota name, Mde Maka Ska.

As far as baking, biking and books goes, here are some recent efforts:
A couple loaves of bread from my Half Ass Kitchen;

My Goodreads reading list for the 2016 Reading Challenge; 



      2016 Reading Challenge

          2016 Reading Challenge

        Michael has
            completed his goal of reading
            40 books in



        44 of 40 (100%)

          view books

...a recent bike ride from Saint Paul to Lake Minnetonka, about 46 miles on a sunny afternoon;

Sometime over the summer I happened to see a number of beautiful sunsets over Lake Hiawatha, so I thought I would add a photo of that in here too.

Tight lines, rubber side down, don't forget the salt, adieu, ciao, whatever.

Happy holidays.

Lake Hiawatha Summer sunset 2016, Minneapolis. photo by Michael McKinney.

I apologize for the sloppy formatting and inaccessible hyper links.

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