Two-wheeled troubles

It’s been a rough couple of months, bicycle fleet-wise.  Our stable, which has held as many as five bikes, has seemed bare with just two or three bikes at any given time, between planned maintenance and unexpected events.  As of this week, we are down to ONE really, truly functional bike between the two of us!

Matthew’s Giant hybrid
As part of the conversion to a kid-hauling bike, and due to general age of the previous wheels, Matthew invested in some new, heavier-duty wheels for his back-up bike.  No sooner did he get the new wheels (and install a front rack, to address weight balance issues with G on board) than he noticed some handling issues (well, he’d noticed them before, to some extent, but dismissed them).

Another visit to the bike shop revealed a bent fork (probably due to a crash, and has been bent for some time now).  There’s been some delay in getting the correct replacement part, so this bike has been at the shop for a couple of weeks now.

Matthew’s Salsa road bike
In mid-September, Matthew took this [barely year-old] bike in for a regular tune-up, not expecting any issues.  He was rather surprised when a guy at the bike shop called and told him the rim of his rear wheel was cracked.  Despite the fact that the bike was just barely out of the warranty period, and that this rim seems to have some track record of trouble, it was very hard getting anyone to take responsibility for it (turns out most bike warranties cover the frame, but often exclude “components”), but in the end, customer assertiveness prevailed.*

Matthew purposely waited until he had the Salsa back to take the Giant in for the fork issue, so he wouldn’t be bike-less.  But of course, after barely two weeks of riding (and after he’d taken the Giant to the shop), the newly replaced rear wheel on his Salsa went out of true.  So, until we deal with that, Matthew’s left using Big Blue for all of his bicycle trips and busing on days that I need Big Blue.

BUB
When I replaced BUB’s tires last month, I noticed that he was in major need of a tune-up.  In the end, I got the tune-up, plus a new chain (I think these replaced the original components, so I was due for the new parts).

Turns out, I should have checked the bike over more carefully before taking it home.  My first ride out, I discovered that the front brake was rubbing the rim on one side.  My assumption was that the brakes were not adjusted correctly, but Matthew suspects that I have a wheel out of true.  I’ve still been riding it for short trips, but, if it is a wheel truing issue, it looks like I’m headed to the bike shop yet again.

Of course, I still haven’t replaced Baby Jake, so on the days that Matthew takes Big Blue, my options are pretty limited, bike-wise.  Gabriel and I actually walked to a park (that I would usually choose to bike to) yesterday, which was a nice change of pace.

I guess it’s good that our one functional bike is the one that we can both operate, but I’m ready to have a fully functioning bike fleet again!

*Clarification from Matthew: Most bike warranties cover components, but only the ones that break, not the ones needed to install the replacement part, nor the labor involved.  My rim broke, but since they discontinued that exact rim, I also needed new spokes to fit the new rim, as well.  The spokes, plus the labor of building the wheel, were the lion’s share of the cost here.

 

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Creamy celeriac soup

Nothing says fall is here like beautiful (or slightly funky, in the case of celeriac) root vegetables and chilly weather that invites turning on the oven to roast said veggies.

This recipe started with a desire to make a creamy soup based on celeriac (AKA celery root). Celeriac is a rather humble vegetable.

IMG_5917[1]

Beneath the dirt and gnarly exterior is some good stuff.  (We sell a lot of our celeriac to Five Bistro; it’s on the menu now, in fact!)

You can always chop up veggies, boil, and puree them, but basing the soup on roasted veg really amps up the flavor.  I discovered that starting with a covered dish for the first twenty minutes of roasting, followed by spreading the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet and roasting for an additional 30-40 minutes, worked really well for both celeriac and carrots.

I used a fairly generous amount of oil for roasting and generous butter for sauteing the leeks.  This approach yielded a rich, creamy soup without actually requiring cream.

CREAMY CELERIAC SOUP
Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2-3 celeriac, depending on size
8 carrots (you won’t use all of these in the soup, but you won’t regret having extra roasted carrots, trust me!)
1 large leek
4-5 small potatoes (or equivalent larger)
1 bay leaf
butter and/or olive oil
salt & pepper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425° F.  Prep the celeriac by cutting off the tough outer layer, then cutting into large chunks.  In a large, lidded Pyrex baking dish, toss the celeriac chunks with olive oil and salt.  Bake in covered dish (use a baking sheet set on top of the pan or aluminum foil if you don’t have a lidded dish) for about 20 minutes.

Prep the carrots by cutting into carrot sticks.  Wash and chop the leeks.

Once the celeriac has roasted in the covered baking dish for 20 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer to an oiled baking sheet (minus any accumulated liquid in the pan).  Roast on the baking sheet, uncovered, for 30-40 more minutes, stirring once.

In the same baking dish you used for the celeriac, toss the carrots with some olive oil, cover, and roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, follow same procedure for transferring to a baking sheet and roasting, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes.

Chop the potatoes (large chunks), and cook with a bay leaf and 5-6 cups of water, and 1 t. salt.

Saute the leeks in butter, over low heat.

Once your celeriac and carrots are roasted, potatoes are boiled, and leeks are sauteed, you’re ready to blend.  For this soup, I pureed all of the potatoes, most of the celeriac (reserved some to chop smaller and add to the soup as chunks), most of the leeks (again, reserved some to garnish the soup), and about 1/4 of the total carrots I roasted.  Use the cooking water from the potatoes as your broth (just remember to remove the bay leaf before pureeing!).

Working in batches, blend until you have a nice, smooth, creamy soup.  Add more or less of the broth (or additional water) to reach a consistency of your liking.  Salt and pepper to taste, and add the reserved leeks and celeriac chunks.

We rounded out the meal with a side of greens and [whole wheat] bread spread with roasted garlic.  Oh, and some of the extra roasted carrots!

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Raising a child in an apartment

There must be thousands (millions?) of people raising kids in apartments, but among my friends and acquaintances, we’re somewhat of an anomaly.  I can think of exactly one other apartment-dwelling family-with-kids that we know in St. Louis.  Other than that, it seems that by the time children enter the picture, there’s a house involved.  While in many ways, I’m in no hurry to buy a house, raising a kid in a multi-family building presents some challenges, mainly involving noise.

We live in a two-family duplex/flat with wood floors.  We intentionally chose a second-floor space, in part because it tends to be quieter on top, compared to living on lower levels with people walking around above you.  That said, there is very little up-down sound insulation, and sounds carry both ways.

In the beginning, when Gabriel was younger, the challenge mainly came from noises below, and my concern that they would wake him.  As he’s gotten older, the noise he makes being an energetic little person — walking, marching, running, jumping, dancing, knocking down blocks — has become an increasing issue.  The sounds don’t bother me at all, and would be a complete non-issue in a house, but I totally get that, for our neighbor downstairs, they are loud, unpleasant, and annoying.

The question is what to do about it.  We ARE actively looking to buy a house, but given our land and location requirements (and the fact that we’ve already been looking for years, since before G was born), it doesn’t seem that that will happen anytime soon.

We could look at rental houses, but I imagine that a rental house that is similar size and quality as our apartment would be out of our budget (and the cost and hassle of an extra move — oof!).

If the noise downstairs is really as bad as I imagine it to be, I’m somewhat surprised that our neighbor hasn’t moved, but that would not solve anything for us, because there would just be another tenant.

Measures to minimize noise

  • Using area rugs might help somewhat, but they’re not going to cover everything, and I don’t want the hassle of keeping them clean (cleaning wood floors is soooo easy).  So we probably won’t go this route.
  • We’ve been trying to keep Gabriel out of the bedrooms (which are above our neighbor’s bedroom) in the morning, especially on weekends.
  • Now that it’s cooler, we’re encouraging Gabriel to wear his slippers, which might offer some sound dampening.

Kids will be kids? 

While we discourage blatantly loud, unnecessary activities, like repeatedly banging his wooden blocks on the floor or shouting inside the house, we’re not willing to suppress or discourage the normal sounds that come with being an exuberant, happy, active child.

Focusing overly on the noise, e.g., asking Gabriel to walk quietly, is stressful for us, and it often seems to produce the opposite behavior.  We try to explain that we’re doing this “to be respectful of our neighbor,” but at three, he just doesn’t quite get it.

Still stressed

Overall, our neighbor has been patient and understanding (and we try to respond in kind to sounds that travel up to us).  We’ve talked with her about the accommodations we’re trying to make.  Still, the ongoing worry about the noise we’re generating makes me feel stressed and “yuck.”  The fact that our neighbor is being bothered by sounds that we can’t totally eliminate also creates a dynamic where it’s very hard for us to bring up reverse concerns.

Having a little person means that we are not ideal neighbors.  I wish I could magically create a sound barrier between the first and second floor units, but short of that, I guess I’ll just have to make my peace, as best as I can, with the situation.

I’d love to hear from others who have been in similar situations, whether you were the one with kids or the one living with sounds from other kids in the building.

 

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Growing big, beautiful onions

I must say that, as the end-user, the larger onions Matthew grew this year are fabulous.  It’s a lot easier peeling one big[ger] onion than lots of tiny ones — this chef is very happy!  Now on to the guest post by Matthew . . . .

I’ve been trying to grow an onion that I’m satisfied with for years.  I kept getting small onions.  Finally, this year, things went well.  I started last December by planting four seeds per 1.5″ x 1.75″ soil block.  I believe this careful regular spacing was important.  Previous years I scatter-seeded and wound up with plants too dense to grow well.  This year I got nice thick pencil-sized of onion starts for transplanting.

I grew Aussie Brown, Stuttgarter, Brown Spanish, Red Amposta, Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca.  The Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca are sweeter onions without a lot of storage life, but they produced very well for me.  The Bronze Amposta is supposed to have a 3-6 month storage life, so that’s probably my best bet of the bunch, and what I focused a lot of production on this year.

This year was also complicated by a trip out of town right when the Ampostas and the Valencias were wanting to finish growing.  I compromised and harvested most early, to avoid risk of them rotting in the ground, but I left a few Valencias to see what happened, and, wow, did they bulk up in that last two weeks the others didn’t get.  Granted that could have also been all the extra space they had, but I expect it was mostly the time . . . .

OnionTable

As you see, my Valencia late harvest was the champion.  The Bronze di Amposta may have rivaled them had I let them keep growing.  The Sierra Blanca mostly grew to maturity, so I think that is about the size I can expect.

I’ll probably keep brown Spanish in the mix as a longer storage onion (10 months), and do a very few of the others I grew this year to repeat the experiment, but I think I have my primary four onions I’ll be growing unless any other onion wows me.

IMG_5816

These were transplanted out at 6” spacing, kept well weeded, and heavily mulched with leaves as soon as they were big enough.  I think I might mulch first and plant through the mulch next year.

I’m also growing leeks, shallots, Egyptian (top-setting) onions, and potato onions (from SESE).  Leeks and Egypt onions for greens are certain keepers.  So far the shallots and potato onions are looking pretty good, too.

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Mindfulness Part II

When I wrote my initial post on mindfulness practice, I was a little over two weeks into the 6-week program at Masterpeace Studios.  Our group, which meets for two hours on Monday nights, has now met four times.  We took a week off of meeting between the 3rd and 4th weeks due to a conflict with the instructor’s schedule.

This break was nice for two reasons.  First, it just happened to fall during a very busy week, when I was prepping for and teaching CyclingSavvy and Matthew had a couple of other weekday evening commitments.  Second, the break effectively added a week to the workshop, building in an additional seven days to be held accountable for practicing.

Of course, no one is judging you, other than perhaps yourself, if you don’t practice (and you shouldn’t be judging yourself because mindfulness is all about nonjudgmental awareness), but having the workbook to record daily practice, and knowing that I am doing this as part of a group, is quite motivating.

That extra week was also the most challenging to my daily practice, given the previously mentioned busyness, but I made time for some kind of formal practice every day.

Observations
In general, I find formal practice, i.e., sitting down at a specific time with the intention of practicing, much easier than informal practice (e.g., being mindful during an activity of daily living, such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes).  I picked flossing my teeth as my activity for informal mindfulness, and it’s really hard to reign-in my mind (maybe a time of day issue?).

My work situation, both working part-time and working from home, makes it fairly easy for me to fit formal practice into my day during 4/5 of weekdays.  Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are pretty good times for me.

The days when I am home with Gabriel (Wednesdays and Sundays) are more challenging.  On Sundays, I can get some help from Matthew during the day.  On Wednesdays, I’m limited to nap time or the evening, after G is in bed.

For mindfulness of breathing, I really like guidance (i.e., listening to an audio track) to get started, but I’m finding that after 2-3 minutes, I’m ready for silence.  Most guided tracks have talking (i.e., guidance) interspersed with moments of silence.  To have the best of both worlds, I’ve been using a meditation timer along with the “Mindfulness of Breath” track on the CD.

Screenshot from OnlineMeditationTimer.com

Screenshot from OnlineMeditationTimer.com

I set the meditation timer for the total time I want to practice (10-15 minutes usually, at this point), start the track, and then, when I’m ready, stop the track and sit in silence with my breathing until the timer chimes.

Looking ahead
I’m not sure how I will do when the class, and the external incentive to practice, ends.  Keeping a log of my daily practice seems helpful, so I plan to continue that.  I’d welcome any tips or suggestions from those of you who have had success in incorporating regular meditation (mindfulness-based or otherwise) into your daily lives.

Resources
For a timer, I like OnlineMeditationTimer.com (also available as an app, if you have a phone that’s smarter than mine).  Here is a link to an Awareness of Breath Meditation that is similar to the one I use.  I also like this Standing Mindful Yoga sequence.

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CyclingSavvy firsts

Despite the gloomy forecast heading into this past weekend (and the current, continuing rain), the weather cooperated on Saturday.

Matthew and I co-taught the on-bike portions of CyclingSavvy (Train Your Bike and the Road Tour) for the very first time.  In over three years as instructors, we’ve taught the on-bike portions with other local instructors, but never together.

Thanks to Harold for the picture!

Thanks to Harold for the picture!

Big Blue also participated in CyclingSavvy for the first time (since I still haven’t, ahem, gotten my butt off the fence about a certain decision).

BigBlue_CSGrad

Big Blue proved up to the task, though we knocked over a cone on the cone weave drill (were it not for the loaded bag, we would have cleared it), and Matthew demonstrated most of the more complicated drills on a “regular” bike.

My original plan was for a picnic lunch in Tower Grove Park on a beautiful fall afternoon.  Given that it wasn’t exactly a beautiful fall afternoon (pretty decent really, but chilly and damp, even though it wasn’t raining), we moved the lunch party to Sweet Art.

BikeCorral_SweetArt

Six bikes would have completely blocked the sidewalk, so we created our own, impromptu on-street bike parking.  A couple of our students had never been to Sweet Art before; it was fun introducing them to a local business that we enjoy.

After lunch, we finished the day with the Tour of [a small part of] South City.

MelRide

Nothing quite as satisfying or tiring as a day of on-bike teaching!  We finished at the church parking lot where we did the bike drills in the morning, and, in my head, there was a car waiting to take us the three miles from the church back to our house.  Of course, we had biked to class, and said car was, in reality, already parked at our house.  Matthew and I paused in the park for a quick snack, then tackled those last three miles.

That night, I made it to eight 0’clock, but not much later, before I passed out on the couch.

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Optimizing garlic growing in the Midwest

Guest post by Matthew, in which he geeks out on growing garlic in St. Louis, complete with a crazy-detailed spreadsheet :)

One of the challenges of gardening is that things that work well in one place, with one soil and climate, don’t work the same way in another climate.  While it isn’t perfect, the best data comes from places that are near where we’re wanting to garden.  I haven’t found a lot of detailed information and recommendations for my Midwestern climate with hot, humid summers, cold winters, and fast weather changes.  (If you have suggestions, I’d love to add to my reference library.)  Because of this, I do quite a bit of experimenting with different techniques, spacings, varieties, etc.  We’ve posted some of my results about carrots before, but today is all about garlic.  Onions will come in another post.

We did one garlic tasting last year.  We were unimpressed with the practical differences in taste when used as we normally use it, or really even in the roasted product.  Granted, my roasting protocol could use some work.  If you have a foolproof recipe for all different kinds of garlic, please let us know.  Normally we just add a bulb to a dish of other food, and I think as long as it’s pretty garlicky, it’ll do.  I do plan to try tasting again this year, but unless something impresses me, I think I’ll be weeding out a lot of my lower performers, or at least cutting them way back and trying to grow them from bulbils to see if they grow better with a fresh start free from soil disease.

That said, I grew 24 or 25 different kinds of garlic last year, and eliminated those that were most diseased or unsuited to my climate.  This year I grew 17 kinds, plus elephant garlic, and took data for comparison.  This is not a great study, as the sample sizes vary, and the growing conditions vary some, but it’s a decent set of data to start from, and much better than the information I’ve been able to find.

I asked myself what I’d need to compare garlic…

First I thought number of bulbs, total weight, and average weights for each variety.

But wait.  My “Main Crop” tends to have only 4-6 huge cloves, while Inchilium Red has 8-10 plantable cloves per bulb.*  For a fair comparison, I needed to know the number of bulbs, and the weight, that had to be devoted to replanting the same amount for next year.  I needed more data.

My, that’s a lot of data (see PDF linked below for full data table).  But hmm, this still doesn’t take into account the planting density.  I mostly used 6″ spacing between plants, but planted a few sub-plots at 4” spacing, and the elephant garlic had 12” spacing.

I realized the productivity was probably my best measure, and that I could capture that with lbs of eaters per square foot total needed to grow the variety, including the footage for replants.  To get that I added the sq feet total for variety including replant, lbs of eaters, and productivity (shaded in gray in the PDF linked below).

Garlic for blog Planning 9.15.2014

When I added that in, I also adjusted the elephant garlic for space, and it’s productivity came out as low middle of the pack.  The Broadleaf Czech at 4” was essentially just as productive as Broadleaf Czech at 6”, but no better.  I’ll repeat the experiment on a small scale, but it certainly suggests that for Broadleaf Czech, and possibly other softneck varieties, the 4” spacing is just too tight.  Why have smaller cloves if you can have the same total weight and larger cloves?

On the other hand, Main Crop at 4” was significantly more productive than Main Crop at 6”:  7.48 oz/sq foot vs. 4.85 oz/sq foot (possibly contaminated with Music or Russ Giant) or 3.86.  4” was between 1.5 and 2x as productive.  Since it only has 4-6 cloves generally, I’ll probably continue trying significant amounts of 4” Main Crop, and possibly other high yielding hardnecks too.

So, for St. Louis, from my data, German White (a.k.a. German Extra Hardy or many other names), Russian Giant, Silver Rose, Inchilium Red, Broadleaf Czech, Asian Tempest, Siberian, and Shantung Purple, Kettleriver Giant, and Elephant Garlic (in order of productivity).  I’ll grow a little of the others to check my data next year, and I may start growing some from bulbils to see if that increases the yield of the other cultivars . . . IF my taste test reveals that it makes a difference for our uses.  If not, I’ll just focus on the top ten producers, and once I have results from a few years, drop it down to the top three to five.

Other garlic resources:

*Our best guess is that our “Main Crop” is German White/Extra Hardy, but we’re not quite sure.

 

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