Food!

[Ed Note: This was to be published on July 25, 2022. It is in my “drafts” section, which leads me to believe it was never published (and I can’t find it in the published section) – probably because I forgot to push a button. Here it is, over a month later. Happy reading!]

Our rest day is in Northfield, MN, which feels like a home away from home. My daughter went to school here and we stayed here in 2018 during the coast-to-coast ride.

When my daughter was in school and I came to visit, we always went to dinner at Chapati, an excellent Indian restaurant in the Archer House, a 19th century hotel. Alas, it burned in 2020 and is now a hole in the ground awaiting redevelopment. I was told that plans have been approved to replace it with another hotel with retail on the main floor. I don’t know if the restaurant will return.

With that option gone, I had Saturday dinner at The Ole Store, where I had an excellent polenta with a Spanish red wine and a blueberry tort for dessert. Blueberries and basil pair well together so, if I can still find fresh peaches and blueberries when this tour is over, my next peach/blueberry pie will include fresh basil.

Over dinner we shared storm stories. Some folks only saw it in the distance, some waited out lightning in a convenience store and got great photos and videos. No one saw the wind I saw, which was apparently an isolated event along the ridge I was caught on.

Breakfast Sunday was at the Brick Oven Bakery, a favorite of mine for many years for its excellent coffee, pastries, and oatmeal. I was up at 4 AM due to a series of texts from Scotland. My COVID-afflicted daughter was trying to reserve a hotel room in which to quarantine, and the credit card company didn’t want to honor the charge. Try fixing that at 4 o’clock on a Sunday morning from across an ocean.

I killed time until 6 when the café opened; but they don’t serve breakfast until 7, so I had to be content with a cortado and a pastry for the first hour.

Lunch had to be at Tanzenwald Brewing Company, where I heard live honky tonk with my Sunday afternoon beer in 2018. I stopped at the Downtown Bike Shop (where our mechanic, Anders, used to work), then at another shop in order to replace my cue sheet holder, which had been damaged in the Devil’s Tower windstorm and finished off in Saturday’s windstorm. (While the Devil’s Tower windstorm was pretty impressive, it didn’t hold a candle to the wind I faced outside of Veseli, MN on Saturday, a wind I will never forget.) [ed note: 18 hours later, on a beautiful Sunday morning, it’s hard to believe that actually happened just 20 miles from here.]

I also stopped at the Just Food Co-op, where I picked up some Just Coffee to replenish Anders’ supply – he provides us with Moka Bialetti coffee at picnic. Just Coffee is a co-operative out of Madison, WI, and provides a special blend with the Just Food Co-op label – since Anders and I both have ties to Madison and Northfield, it seemed only proper.

Between breakfast and lunch I replaced my chain and cleaned up the bike after Saturday’s excitement. That, of course, required a ride into town to make sure it shifted properly with the new chain. While I have lived without a chain master link tool for many years, I have to admit it comes in pretty handy. The Park MLP-1.2 is a keeper.

Next week we ride through Wisconsin after losing two riders and adding 11 more as well as a new mechanic. We will cross the Mississippi on highway 61 (where “God said to Abraham, ‘kill me a son’/Abe said ‘man, you must be puttin’ me on’/God said ‘no’/Abe said ‘what?’/God said ‘you can do what you want Abe but/The next time you see me comin’ you better run’/Abe said ‘where do you want this killin’ done?”/God said ‘out on highway 61’” – Highway 61 revisited – Bob Dylan), ride the Sparta to Elroy trail – the first rails-to-trails conversion in the US [don’t tell anyone but I might take an alternate route], ride through the beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park, cross Lake Wisconsin on the Merrimac Ferry, then continue on to Manitowoc where we will cross Lake Michigan on another ferry.

Featuring the great Sam Lay on drums, Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Al Kooper on keyboards, and Bob Dylan on Acme siren. I thought it was a cheap child’s toy, but the Acme version is sold as a musical instrument (and made by the maker of the Acme Thunderer – a really loud metal whistle).

Montevideo (MN, not Uruguay)

Moving, South Dakota style

We watched someone move this morning. As you can see, they didn’t leave a lot of room for oncoming traffic. I couldn’t resist the picture below, even though I took the same picture four years ago.

It’s good to know some people are so confident about what constitutes “The American Way”. And here I thought it was freedom to choose…between Coke and Pepsi.

The weather was perfect today. A bit cool in the morning, then comfortable. We turned north briefly just to remind us of the headwind, but the winds were mostly favorable.

I stopped in Madison, MN at a combination coffee shop/art gallery/newspaper office/grocery co-op/community education center/event space. Not all of those aspects are up and running yet, but the proprietor gave me a tour and talked about their plans.

She asked what I was up to and asked me to stop by the local radio station for an interview. I neglected to ask where the studio is, so had to conduct my own interview while continuing down the road. Alas, no one will hear it.

The proprietors of Madison Mercantile.

As we say goodbye to South Dakota, I have to add this, which applies to central South Dakota as well as Nebraska, especially when headwinds add hours to the journey.

For more info re: Montevideo and how it came to share a name with a city in Uruguay, see the 2018 post. The only way they’ll see mountains here is in a video.

In Madison I learned of a brewpub in Montevideo. They were not yet open for the day, so I stopped at Java River, the same place I stopped four years ago, for an iced coffee drink in their excellent courtyard.

Aside to work folks: are we on for next Wednesday in Baraboo? Who’s in, and where are we going, boss? Is playing “Sober in Nebraska” as a Friday song acceptable?

Super Spreader Saturday/Roxbury Ride

The first home football game of the season. 80,000 maskless and screaming fans packed together. It’s foggy, so little airflow. What you exhale, I inhale. Once the air gets hot enough, it will rise out of the stadium. Since the air is already saturated with moisture, the droplets will be left behind. The good news is that 90% of the university community has been vaccinated. The bad news is that the university community makes up less than ½ of the audience.

These were my thoughts as I headed out of town, sort of fulfilling a long-term fantasy. As I ride to work, I fantasize continuing on out of town instead of stopping. Today I did that. I was on the road at 9:30 AM, nearly 4 hours later than if I were riding to work on a Saturday morning. I had the day off for the holiday weekend – one of the perks of working every Saturday for 20+ years is that I get a three day weekend when holidays roll around. Of course, so does everyone else, except that they have to work one holiday weekend/year and I don’t. The sidewalks were packed. Traffic through campus was bumper-to-bumper. It was good to get out.

I rode to the once-iconic Roxbury Tavern. Tom had taken over an old roadhouse and decided he wanted a new clientele – people who would sit and eat and talk, with drinking incidental to that. He got rid of the TVs, the video games, the pool table, and the piano. He instituted nightly specials – not the usual bar food, but a Cuban night and (on Wednesdays when we stopped in after rides) an Italian night among them. Spaghetti with Italian sausage and garlic bread was on the menu. Victor was more prone to the mushroom burger and homemade fries, which came with Tom’s own garlic or jalapeño ketchup. Homemade pickles were on the table as an appetizer. The beers were from a small brewery just down the road. Tom was a curmudgeon, and I mean that in the best way. On the other hand, on Paul’s birthday, he serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” on trumpet, guitar, kazoo, and nose flute. I probably told that story here before, but it seemed worth repeating.

Tom retired and there were hints of small changes with the new ownership. Perusing the menu, it looks like a typical roadhouse with the bar food usual suspects. I haven’t been inside. They do have a couple of goats living in the backyard, so it isn’t totally a typical roadhouse.

I stopped to say hello to the goats and have a snack. The bar wasn’t open yet. The goats had less to say than the sheep a few miles down the road. The cattle tend to just watch, sometimes with what seems like idle curiosity, and sometimes looking like they wonder about those humans sometimes. While I anthropomorphize, do they bovimorphize? The town roads were quiet. The fog slowly lifted and the grey was just a little higher off the ground. I had in mind 70 or more miles, but at about 50 the clouds started leaking. Rather than wash off the fresh wax-based chain lube from this morning, I cut the ride short, ending at 61 miles. I froze some cherries earlier this year, so Sunday I baked a Labor Day cherry pie in lieu of riding.

Breaking news! I just learned that the early discount for Cycle America‘s coast-to-coast tour in 2022 has been extended to September 18! Now’s your chance if you want to see the continent the way it was meant to be seen – by bike!

A great Vuelta a España comes to an end. Primož Roglič gave up the red jersey for the middle stages when he didn’t need the pressure. When the chips were down, he answered every challenge. He won the final time trial for his 4th stage win, to go with his Olympic Gold Medal in the same event. It was his third consecutive victory in the Spanish tour. For those who need people from the US in order to feel a connection, Sepp Kuss of Colorado rode brilliantly in support of Roglič, frequently setting the pace in the mountains to narrow the field to the elite climbers, and finishing 8th overall. Lawson Craddock of Texas rode well in support of his teammate Magnus Cort Nielsen, who won three stages. Joe Dombrowski of Virginia finished 39th overall. Thanks to NBC for great coverage, beautiful shots of the scenery, and daily updates on YouTube for those of us who don’t pay their subscription fee.

The Euskaltel -Euskadi team from the Basque region of Spain was invited to the tour. The bikes they ride come from Orbea, a worker-owned co-operative in Mallabia, Spain. In my youth, we dreamed of a co-operative commonwealth; a world in which the production and distribution of goods were owned by the people – not by the government in the name of the people, but by co-operatives owned by the people they served. We worked to build such a system, with co-ops providing food, books, bikes, housing, taxi service, engineering, banking, health care, and car repair; but we fell short of the yogurt production facility we wanted to start. Not all of those co-ops survived, and the association was loose. We discovered that the co-operative commonwealth exists in Mondragón. Mondragón is a network of 96 co-ops employing 81,000 people and divided into four sectors: finance, industry, retail, and knowledge. Orbea is one of those co-ops, owned by the workers who build the bikes.

Why I’m not a farmer

I received these two photos from my CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) farm in the last two weeks. (Photos courtesy of Tipi Produce.)

On the left is a strawberry plant in bloom, coated in ice. On the right is a fresh strawberry from the same patch. On the night of May 29-30, they irrigated the strawberry field to protect it from frost. (For those unfamiliar with this, in the process of changing state from a liquid to a solid, water gives up a lot of heat. This heat is transferred to the plants and protects them from freezing. In the morning, when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, they irrigate to melt the ice.)

A week later they irrigated the same strawberries to protect them from 90 degree (32 Celsius) heat. And, by the way, we are in the midst of a drought and a week plus of 90 degree heat.

For all of that work we got a handful of strawberries this week, though more should be coming in the next week or two. If my rhubarb hangs on, we could have strawberry-rhubarb pie next week. The only thing better than rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie. And the only thing better than strawberry-rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.

I have been with this farm since they began their CSA adventure. That’s not the whole truth. I have been with this farm since 1975 when I was the produce buyer for the Willy St Co-op, a member-owned grocery store (now three stores) since 1974. (We opened in the fall of ’74, after the growing season.) Back then, there was no organic certification system. We collected affidavits from farmers, in which they would attest to their growing methods. And I would pay surprise visits to farms to verify this.

But back to why I am not a farmer. Besides the fact that the hours are long and the pay is low, there is the chance that that irrigation trick would have failed, and there would be no 2021 strawberry crop. How many crops can one lose before one loses the farm? I’ll take a paycheck.

If a little frost isn’t bad enough, consider the summer of 2018, when fields were underwater. Or the year before that, when corn leaves looked like spears. It was so dry that the plants adapted to try to cut their evaporative losses. As consumers, we want our food. We don’t care about the weather. And we don’t want to hear any excuses when the price goes up due to weather.

For those unfamiliar with CSA, the concept is that a group of member/consumers invest in a farm at the beginning of the season. Our investment helps the farmer to buy seed and meet other preparation expenses during the time of year when there is no income. In turn, we get a share of the crop when it comes in. If there are no strawberries, we get no strawberries. If there are a ton of peppers (as there were last year) we get a ton of peppers. Right now I am seeing a lot of greens, including the biggest head of red leaf lettuce I have ever seen. It is a way for city slickers to feel some involvement – a sense of ownership and responsibility – a connection to the land and an understanding of the food system beyond the notion that food simply appears: whether on the table if you’re young enough, in the refrigerator if you’re a little older, or in the store if you do the shopping.

We take our food for granted. We get mad if it doesn’t look perfect and then we expect it to be grown without pesticides or fertilizer and still look perfect. We expect a food to appear any time of year, even if it is only ripe in another hemisphere at the time. Somehow the notion of “carbon neutral” goes out the window. If I want peaches in January (in North America), by golly, I’m gonna get peaches in January, even if they come from Chile or Argentina.

And we are obsessed with “bigger is better”. I find the need to put quotation marks around the word strawberry when I refer to berries imported from California. The strawberry is not meant to have a long shelf life. It is not supposed to survive shipping thousands of miles. A strawberry is not supposed to be too big to fit in your mouth, and it is certainly not supposed to be hollow if you slice through it. (The berry in the picture above is on the large end of the spectrum, if you ask me.) A strawberry is meant to be eaten now, or chilled quickly and eaten soon. A strawberry should melt in your mouth, not crunch when you bite into it, like an apple.

Now that’s a strawberry!
And it demands to be eaten now.
It lasted a few seconds after the picture.