Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WInter Canning

Canning is stereotypically a summer/fall activity-after all, that's when the full bounty of the summer growing season is overflowing gardens and CSA shares.   I typically can seasonal fruit jams- strawberry in June, Blueberry in July, Peach in August, Raspberry in September, and Fig in October.
Peppers, green beans, tomatoes and carrots are in there at the appropriate times.

But I can in the winter too- not as often, but at least once a month.  It's a lot nicer to have a big pot of water boiling for an hour or more in January than in August- that's for certain.  I make a lot of beans, as they're a good easy protein source, and it's nice to be able to open a small quantity to have them ready quickly. When I was growing up my Mom would make "bean of the week" and then freeze it, so that there were always a variety of legumes available.  I don't have enough freezer space for that, so I can them instead.   They're not much different than store-bought canned beans except I can pre-season them with chili pepper and onions (pintos, black beans, cranberry beans)  or cumin and onion (chickpeas).
 These ones were my first test of my new BPA-free, re-usable canning lids from Tatler that I got for Christmas.  One reason to can is that you can avoid the BPA lining that most commercial canned goods have,  but the lids still have a coating that has BPA in it.  While the food doesn't sit in contact with the lid, I think I'd prefer to avoid it if I can do so easily, plus these are re-usable, which will be nice. I was a bit worried about the system, but so far so good, and I think I'll buy a bunch more, as I don't want to feel like I need to "save" them.

I also can chicken broth as I use it up.   I will go buy 10 lbs of chicken legs and backs- ideally from Mayflower Poultry- "Live Chickens, Fresh Killed" in East Cambridge. Making the broth takes a while, but canning only takes 25 minutes at temperature.  I need to do another batch, but it's a nice thing to do on a cold weekend.

Both of the above require a pressure canner, but last weekend I made something that requires just a hot water bath- Marmalade.  Citrus is in season this time of year, even if it's not exactly local.  
After two trips looking for sour "Seville" oranges, I finally found some at Market Basket in Somerville. (hint, they're all the way at the end of the produce section, next to the plantains).
I followed this recipe, and it worked out OK,  except for my oranges weren't very juicy, and I had to supplement with other random citrus I had around (grapefruits, clementines, lemons).
It took forever ( four hours or so of chopping, pithing, cooking down etc), but the results were good, at least on the back of a spoon.

  To test it properly, I made home-made English muffins,  from this recipe from King Arthur Flour.   They were very tasty, but the dough was really sticky and hard to deal with, and they had to rise a really long time, even in a warmed oven, and then took a long time to cook on the stove.  I think they were too much trouble for not enough improvement on store-bought to make them a regular thing.    They proved admirable marmalade vehicles though, and I very much enjoyed them on a cold winter morning.

I know this is mainly a bike blog, but is there anyone out there that cans?  Do you do it in the winter, or just in the summer months?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morning Snow Report

We got maybe 2" of snow last night,  and I had to ride over to the Longwood area early this morning in it.   If I were just going to work, I might have taken the T, but there's no good transit connections between Harvard Sq and Longwood, and the roads looked pretty clear from my front door, so I decided to saddle up.  My typical route to Longwood is to take the river path to the BU bridge, and then across Brookline to Longwood ave, and across the J-way to the medical center.
sorry for the low light-it was pretty early still
Unfortunately the path was not very well cleared at all.  Tread tracks indicated that some kind of snow-clearing vehicle had passed that way, but there was no appreciable "clearing" that resulted.  I expect they just didn't bother to lower the blade of the plow enough.

I think it's fantastic that New Balance pays for the clearance of these paths, but the state of the path this morning makes me think that Mass DCR isn't taking it seriously, or giving New Balance value for their money.  Just look at the clearing that Mass DOT did at the bridges (where their jurisdiction begins) compared to the half-assed job that DCR did.
Easy to tell where the line is
I'm afraid that DCR doesn't take bicycles seriously as a transportation mode. I know that they're seriously underfunded, but if the paths in their jurisdiction are being counted by the state as major parts of the bicycle infrastructure, they need to be maintained as such.  

I only saw two other bicyclists on the river path (probably because everyone else was smart enough to avoid it).  I did however see a ton of cyclists on the bike paths and roads in the Longwood area.  I don't ride there enough to do a comparison, but it felt like there were more bikers about generally than there were when it was so cold last week.  Maybe people who bailed and took the T last week got tired of that and jumped back on their bikes despite the snow.

I also had a great moment during the test that they were doing on me, where I was making small talk with the tech, and said I'd biked there.  He was going into the condescending driver mode, saying "oh, you really have to be careful of the cars, it's so dangerous."   That kind of thing always gets me annoyed- (how about the drivers of the dangerous  multi-ton vehicles be held responsible for being careful! instead of lecturing bikers).  But then the resident who was observing the test spoke up and said "it's not really that dangerous if you're careful,  I used to ride everywhere when I worked at MGH"  It was nice to have someone who obviously "got it" Which is part of why the Netherlands is so safe- even when people aren't biking, they're intimately familiar with what it feels like to bike, and thus drive more respectfully.

Riding back into work,  other than the 6 cars parked in the bike lane in Kenmore sq, things were pretty good.   The Comm Ave bike lane was very clear- more because of salting than plowing I suspect,  but either way it was much nicer than most of the bike lanes in Cambridge.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

One if by bike, two if by foot

I did a lot of walking yesterday trying to publicize the Beacon St meeting on Monday.
I walked from Kirkland and Beacon up to Porter Sq, and back again, in 23 degree weather.
Because I was anticipating standing around handing out informational flyers, and walking to attach flyers to parked bikes,* I wore a LOT of clothes.  Wool long-sleeve T-shirt, wool cardigan, down vest, down coat, wool tights, jeans, wool socks, Ugg, wool hat and wool scarf.    To borrow a lovely phrase from Vorpal Chortle, I was like a "woolen onion" with all my layers. While I was walking, I was perfectly comfortable, neither too hot nor too cold. But while biking to the meetup, just a few blocks, I was WAY too hot, even with my down coat unzipped, and my scarf off.  When riding home I took off the coat completely and rode in t-shirt, cardigan and vest.

People often ask if I'm going to be warm enough when I'm heading off on my bike.  The answer is that you produce a lot of heat when you're exercising,  and just a few layers to trap that heat go a long way. You might need two layers or two coats if you're walking, but one layer will do you just fine when you're biking.

*pro-tip when you're looking for bikes that are being regularly ridden at this time of year, look for bikes that are covered in salty grit.  Disregard any bike with a flat tire, and think twice about bikes with rusty chains.  I saw a lot of very very sad looking bike shaped objects which had clearly been abandoned at the Porter Sq T stop.

And on a completely unrelated note- It's not completely dark at 5pm !!!!  So exciting that the darkest days are behind us already!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Biking and Business part 2

A somewhat delayed follow up to this post.  These thoughts were precipitated by the Beacon St Cycletrack proposed for Somerville- important meeting details below.

The problem for advocates, is how to measure the power of bicyclists as consumers, and, what's harder, convince business owners that bicyclists are an important part of their business, and not some group of "others" who don't patronize their businesses.

There have been a lot of studies recently (this one in NYC is getting a lot of press)  about how livable streets are good for businesses.  But it's hard for a business owner to look at a study from a place far away and see how it applies to their business.   They say all politics is local, and real estate is about location location location.  It's hard for a lot of people to extrapolate from data in a completely different context, in a place that they don't know, and to use dry numbers to overcome the fear of change.

The City of Cambridge has been somewhat proactive in doing studies of major business districts to get a baseline, such that when a project comes up, they have data over time, instead of an ad-hoc survey.
Unfortunately many people have extended their skepticism of "big government" to conspiracy-theory level and don't believe traffic counts, and other objective data if it's been gathered by the city.  (see the brouhaha over protected Bike lanes at Prospect Park West in Brooklyn).   So it's hard to convince someone with a survey,  even a survey in their specific neighborhood.

I have a slightly dis-heartening story to this effect.  I was at a local specialty business on Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard (which is a great dense pedestrian strip of mostly small businesses).  The owners of the store are bicyclists, and I even think they said they don't own a car.  We were talking about how miserable it can be to ride down Mass Ave, and I asked them how they would feel if the city proposed removing some parking to make a better, safer bike lane.  I was kind of shocked that they were very opposed.   The co-owner said "I get people coming in here all the time complaining about how hard it is to park here."

The thing is, for every person who drives there and has a hard time parking, I bet there are 10 who are walking by, maybe on their way to one of the squares,  maybe on their way to another business in that stretch, and just stopped in to check it out.  But since it's easy to walk, and easy to park your bike (it's a big bike thoroughfare, even though it's not very pleasant), none of the customers who come in by foot or bike are making a big deal about it.  So they have no way of knowing how many people walk or bike in,  they just hear the squeaky wheels moaning about how hard it is to park.

If you think about it, the (mostly) local (mostly) small businesses that line Beacon should be doing everything possible to encourage local customers.   If you're walking or biking and you need screws, unless you need vast numbers of screws, you're not going to bike out to Home Depot, you're going to go to the hardware store in Inman sq.  If you want to meet friends for drinks, you're not going to go to one of the chain restaurants up in Burlington on 128,  you're going to go to the Thirsty Scholar.

So how should we bikers make ourselves known?  If statistics and government findings are too easily dismissed on an emotional level, how do we make our presence feel personal and real?  Should we complain about poor parking or non-existant bike lanes?  I know some people who argue that you should always wear, or at least carry your helmet in with you when you ride your bike somewhere.  I often find that annoying (one more thing to carry), and I'm not sure that anyone really notices, as Bikeyface pointed out in this great post.  And if they do, it's probably a low level staff or server, not the manager or owner.   I've tried to mention that I rode my bike there, but that is hard to work into conversation.  If anyone has suggestions about how to do that gracefully, please let me know.   I suppose thanking businesses who are bike friendly (i.e. offer bicycle benefits,  have good parking, etc) is not a bad place to start, but that doesn't help convert the people who are anti-bike.
Anecdotally, I heard that one of the business owners on Mass Ave who was desperately opposed to the taking of parking for bike lanes has now started calling police on cars who block the lane which brings him so many customers.

The Boston Cyclists Union and Livable Streets did a survey in November where were asked people to say why they were on Beacon St, and how they got there.  It actually showed that the majority of people walk to destinations there, with bicyclists and automobiles almost tied for 2nd.

It's a difficult issue, and I'm hoping that some of you out there have ideas for how to bring the topic up and encourage small businesses to see us, and quantify us in a way that makes sense to them.  We can lead them to the cycletrack, but if we can't convince them that bikers are good customers and the cycle track is good for their business, they're going to feel resentful and continue to oppose the project.
Even if we can tell them "I told you so" after three years, like the NYC study, that's doesn't help get the cycletrack be put in in the first place.

If you bicycle on Beacon St, especially if you're a Somerville resident I strongly encourage you to come to the public meeting this Monday, January 28th to support better bicycle facilities on this important regional cycle route.  It's at the Argenziano School (290 Washington St, Somerville) at 6pm.  If you speak up, you might want to mention if you shop by bicycle, and explain that you buy stuff or are a customer when riding your bicycle just as much as people who drive.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brain freeze

This morning, riding in with temps in the low 20's, I had something happen that I'd heard about several times, but which in 4 winters of cycling in below freezing temperatures, had never happened to me:  My shifter cable froze.

This happens when a bit of water (it doesn't take much) gets into the cable housing.  In very cold weather, that bit of water freezes and suddenly the cable can't slide in the housing as it should, and you can no longer shift.

This is a little less common in IGH/ chain case bikes than regular derailleur shifting bikes, but obviously it can still happen!  Unfortunately for me this happened about 1/3 into my morning ride, coming down a small hill in 6th gear- 3/4 of full power.  This made riding up over the Longfellow bridge, riding up Beacon hill via Cambridge St, and any and all stops and starts in traffic a real workout.  I didn't have to worry about being cold (although my knees may have something to say about it tomorrow).

After a day in the warmth of my office, it shifted just fine, but on the way home I was careful, and never shifted above 4, and indeed, I got stuck there almost immediately.  I managed to make it to Cambridge Bicycles just before they closed, and bought triflow lubricant and a new shifter cable (just in case).  I was bracing myself to pull the cable, blow out the housing, lube it and re-install it, with a new shifter cable if I screwed the old one up somehow.  This is all do-able-  I did it when I first built the bike up, but it's a lot to tackle on a Tuesday night.  The guy I spoke to at Cambridge Bicycles suggested that before I do all that I should just try propping the bike upside down and dripping in lube at the ferrule on the gear-end of the shifter, with the hope that the water would be diluted enough/ displaced enough to not freeze on tomorrow's ride.

So I propped the bike upside down on the stand:
Not the normal workstand position! 
A view of our tv room/bike workroom
I removed the back of the chaincase, Pulled the cable end out of the shifter body, and pulled the end of the cable out of the stay. Then I dripped and dripped the tri-flow down the cable and into the housing,  shifting up and down a couple of times to get things moving.

I guess I did enough, as it was finally dripping out of the shifter end of the cable.

I reassembled everything, which was much easier than it has ever been, thanks to a tip I noted at lunch on this very good video.  I always struggled to get the nut at the end of the cable into the notch on the shifter body.  Evidently there's a little hole, just big enough for a spoke or a small allen wrench,  and you can use that to torque the shifter body around, which makes popping the nut in a breeze!  How did I never know this trick before!

Tomorrow morning the temps are predicted to be in the single digits,  so we'll see how this works, or whether I'll have to ride Minerva the DL-1 until the weekend gives me a chance to pull the cable for real.  Hopefully I won't be stuck either in too low or too high a gear if it does freeze!

UPDATE:   Morning commute went just fine, but I've also ordered some of the fancy cable housings that Somervilian recommended in the comments, partly because at the moment, the cable is white, which doesn't match  the brake cables,  or anything else on the bike.   I'll replace it on a weekend though, instead of a weeknight, as it's a bit of a pain to get it in the chaincase.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Iced Coffee

This morning was the coldest day of the winter yet that I've ridden, at 19 degreesF. (There was a super cold day two weeks ago, but I was still hacking up pieces of lung back then).

I prepared for the cold ride with Falke wool sweater leggings,  thick smartwool hiking socks,  a thin ibex undershirt (long sleeve) a cotton jersey dress and a pair of knee high leather boots.

Over that I wore my Nau trench coat, my normal helmet, "ear pods"  earwarmers,  a scarf wrapped around my lower face and throat and a pair of "ski gloves" with liner gloves.

My toes were a bit cold- wish I'd worn two pairs of socks, or foot warmers,  but other than that everything was perfectly warm.

Unfortunately I can't say the same for my coffee-  I must have spilled a bit, and it froze before it could run all the way down the side of the mug.

The coffee inside was reasonably warm, but I still put it in a normal mug and re-warmed it in the microwave.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ari and Joep

I haven't posted many photos of cool bikes lately, have just snapped them and put them up on Instagram.    But Saturday I spotted these really cool pair of bikes that seemed to merit more detail photos.  At first glance, they appear to be a pair of fairly "Normal Nice Bikes" *
Cream tires, check; distressed Brooks saddles, check; city geometry with slightly funky handlebars and cork grips, check; sophisticated colors, check; fenders and chaincases and lugs, check check and check.

 I took a closer look because I wanted to see what brand they were, in case they were an off the rack thing- many of the details match, so I thought perhaps it was a new-to-me  brand of city bike.
When I was searching in vain for a headbadge or label, I found these little tiny tags on the BB,  which I originally thought were the owner's names, but which turn out to be the brand name, or maybe the model names.

Hard to read, but it says "joep"
These turn out to be Puur de Fiets bikes, a brand evidently created by a guy named Joep Salden.  
They're minimal and cool and very lovely, but the website is only in Dutch, so I can't tell you much about them.  I can't believe that they're being imported into the US (given how little Google can tell me about them) so these must be a self-import.  Can I just say I love the words for "shop" Winkel and "shopping cart" Winkelwagen,  which just are so much fun to say?

Hebie chainglider chaincase.  These are quite nice, and I'm surprised that no-one really imports them to the US- They'd work perfectly on a fixie or single speed, and the minimal aesthetic is much better for a lot of people than a full raleigh chaincase.

Cool bent plywood rack.  I think it might look cooler than it functions, but still.

 The leather pouch on the back is a "Leren hangslothouder"  which Google translate claims is a "learning padlock holder"  so I guess a place to store the chain.

The only thing I think is TOO minimal is that there are no integrated lights.  The hanging blinkies seem like a sad afterthought.  They're not really bright enough to do much good,  the one on the handlebar would drive me nuts swinging around, and the one on the rear hub seems like an accident waiting to happen.

Anyway, a cool new to me kind of bike- glad to see such exotic beasts wash up on our shores.

* These are the kind of bikes that might be remarkable anywhere else, but in Cambridge, they're just the kind of "curated" everyday cool bikes that seem to be everywhere.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Back At It

Today I rode my bike for the first time in over two weeks.  I got a bad cold over Christmas,  and just when I thought I was over that,  I got a case of Strep throat which put me out for another week.

I couldn't have asked for a better day to start riding again, as the weather on this 14th of January is freakishly warm (high of 60+) predicted.  I was at a job site first thing (via Zipcar)  and then rode in around 11AM.   Gilbert is up on the rack while I fiddle with the chaincase, so I rode Minerva for the first time in a while.

There's a psychological barrier to riding in traffic again after a long time off the bike.  I get used to the sense of cars riding not too far away from me, and I lose that after too long off the bike, and tend to get tense in traffic.   Riding at mid-day, with the lighter traffic made that easier, and I even cheated by riding on the Charles river path for most of it.  We'll see how my resets are when I ride home tonight.
It's also hard because I have to ride vehicularly for significant portions of my commute, and when you're still recovering, it's tough to ride as fast as often feels necessary when riding in traffic.  I wish it weren't that way, but unfortunately it's harder to ride at a slow comfortable pace when you have a delivery van breathing down your fender.  

As an advocate for more, and more separated, infrastructure,  I still take for granted the health and relative youth that make a lot of my riding do-able.  When my health is compromised, I'm reminded of  people who might be interested in riding, but who don't feel that they can ride fast enough or aggressively enough to be comfortable riding in traffic.  It renews my feeling that we need to do more to create safe spaces where everyone can ride at their own pace.