Monday, August 31, 2009

My sourdough experience

As you might know, I love to cook and bake. I make my own bread from scratch, and I have to boast, I think my regular brown and white loaves of bread are far superior to the ones that can be bought at the grocery store. So, about a month ago, one of my favourite cooking bloggers, Clotilde Dusoulier, at Chocolate & Zucchini detailed her experience about making sourdough bread. Although she didn't make her own starter, she did provide links to other bloggers who did. Being always up for a baking challenge, and wanting to expand my bread-making repertoire, I decided I would give sourdough a try--including making my own starter.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you will know that my first attempt at sourdough starter (or "started" as I typed numerous times) didn't go quite right. I used the directions from the blog, The Fresh Loaf, as they are well laid out and easy to follow. Day 1 and 2 went along swimmingly. The starter was nice and bubbly on the second day, but on third day it didn't double like it was supposed to. The instructions said to wait until it had doubled, so I waited. And waited, and waited. And then my starter was rancid and I had to start again. The second attempt went much better. This time, I noticed that the instructions said to give the starter I little boost with extra flour and water if it didn't double, so when Day 3 came around and my starter hadn't grown enough, I gave it a little extra to eat. And voila! My starter continued to grow and bubble and collect wild yeast like it was supposed to. Huzzah.

Last Friday rolls around and I ponder the eternal question of whether or not I should pull my freshly minted starter out of the fridge so I can bake with it the next day. Due to scheduling uncertainties, I decided to leave it be. Saturday morning, up early as per usual, I changed my mind and reversed yesterday's decision. I was going to bake sourdough bread. I pulled my starter out of the fridge, follow Clotilde's instructions for preparing it and continue on with my day as I waited for the starter to rise. Fast forward to 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. The starter's looking good and I'm ready to roll. I pull up the recipe again and begin weighing my ingredients (we recently purchased a kitchen scale).

I've got everything mixed when Andrew asks me something along the lines of: "Have you actually read all of the instructions?" To which I sheepishly reply, "At some point I did." Now Andrew starts reading me the recipe out loud. "Let rest for 2 hours...6 hours later..." My response is a somewhat panicked: "Are you s**ting me?" I come over to the computer and after a few minutes we discover alternate instructions, which permit the baker to place the dough in the fridge to rise over night. I took the alternate option.

On Sunday Andrew and I got up, went for our long run (18 km) and when we got back I pulled the dough out of the fridge to warm up. We went to church and even had brunch with another couple who go to St. Joseph's chapel before returning home to the sourdough-dough. At this point there were only a few quick kneadings to go before placing it in a 3 litre pot and into the oven for an hour. My last tribulation of my first attempt at completely homemade sourdough bread: the bottom got a little burnt. Our oven runs hot. Roughly 100 degrees hotter than what the temperature dial reads. We've known this since we moved into our apartment over 2 years ago. We've got a little thermometer in the oven to gauge the actual temperature. Unfortunately, it runs even hotter at higher temperatures and so when I went to pull the bread out of the oven I was greeted with "burning" smell. I was preoccupied with hemming pants while it cooked and I forgot to use my nose to tell me my bread was done.

Regardless the bread is delicious. The sour flavour isn't really strong, yet. But it comes with a more aged starter.

In Garden News...

I wanted to give a quick shout out to our garden, continuing to preserver on our 12th floor balcony. We have strawberries! They're tiny, but they're there. And tomatoes, which, with the wave of hot weather we're getting here in Edmonton, I hope will continue to grow.



Monday, August 24, 2009

Redundancy...and playing with fire

I've been made redundant. Just for this week though, and just for this blog post. Andrew and I and a couple of our friends went inner-tube rafting down the Pembina River on Saturday. We lucked out with warm, sunny weather and even the river temperature was quite nice. We spent the whole afternoon in the great outdoors and the evening too. After we got back to Edmonton we stopped at our apartment long enough to grab our poi equipment, next to Save on Foods for dinner supplies, then we headed over to our friend's house. We sat around a fire, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows then Andrew and I spun poi. We haven't done that in ages. If you want an in depth report on the day, you can go here. Like I said, I've been made redundant this week, and I'm feeling too lazy to write up a full report myself.

Instead, how about a few words on poi, also known as fire dancing?

I started spinning poi, oh I'm not quite sure now, six, seven, maybe eight years ago? A friend of Andrew and mine had spend some time in Australia woofing (that's working on organic farms for room and board). One night she and the friend she'd been traveling with, spent the evening on a beach. This particular beach is apparently where all the hippy, poi spinning people hang out, and for the price of sharing their loaf of bread our friend got to learn how to spin poi using socks stuffed with rocks. When she got back from Australia she demonstrated her new found talent and wowed us all. Andrew picked up the hobby next and not too long after so did I. I was once told by a member of the girl guide group I used to help out with that, "I wasn't as boring as I seemed," after I had demonstrated my poi spinning skills.

The way to learn how to spin poi is with tennis balls. Do not start out with flame on your first try, you will probably seriously hurt yourself and potentially others. Practice poi cost about $3.00 to put together with a quick trip to your local hardware store for 2 tennis balls, string and 2 washers. You just have to nick the tennis balls with a cut long enough to slide a washer tied to string inside and you're pretty much done. Then you start spinning, just the basics of course. Spinning forward, maybe turning and the basic beat/wave. Once you've masters those tricks you can move onto the butterfly and its variations. I learned many of my tricks off of a website called Home of Poi, which I believe is still in operation (just Google it).

The first time I tried poi with real fire was pretty terrifying. I recall it was a New Years eve and I could do all of three, maybe four tricks. For some reason I also recall wearing a white shirt at the time. I think it's good to have a healthy does of terror on your first live spin, you are after all, flinging flaming balls of fuel soaked Kevlar (in my case anyway) around your body. The flame roars while you spin. Andrew often tells people we can't hear what's going on outside our poi while we spin, but that's not entirely true. I don't practice too often, and get to spin with fire even less, so I have a tendency to have little mess-ups. The worst I've done is smack myself in the face while preforming for a bunch of girl guides. I swore rather loudly. I had singed some of the skin around my upper lip and felt a bit like the Phantom of the Opera for the next week.

My poi are made from Kevlar rope (as noted above). The rope is tied into a monkey's fist knot around a large metal ring, which is then attached to a length of chain. I used to have handles made out of bits of an old leather belt, but they broke a long time ago and now I hold onto the metal rings the handles were attached to. It's a little hard on the hands, but I've gotten use to it. We use citronella oil as fuel. You can use kerosene as well but it's rather smelly. Most of my tricks center around the butterfly maneuver, including: regular butterfly, giant butterfly, Mexican wave, alternating Mexican wave from front to side and from front to over my head, as well as a front butterfly/behind the back thingy. I can only do a 3 beat wave, whereas Andrew can do 5. I've said for a number of years I need to learn more, but I've never found the time/someone to teach me.

Below are my poi, unlit. You can see the monkey's fist knot and the bear rings I hold onto. You might also notice that one of the poi is frayed. This happened one night when some chemist friends of ours brought us some salts to test in our fuel in an attempt to make the flames burn different colours.

These two pictures are from a few years ago when Andrew and I went camping in Pembina Provincial Park, AB.

These final pictures are from a June night in Elora, ON several years ago (I don't remember when specifically). They include our friend who originally showed us poi as well. I'm not really sure which picture is of whom.



Friday, August 14, 2009

Heading down PhD road

I think I might be heading down PhD road. I'm not too sure what to think of this.

Today I had a meeting with my adviser for the literature review I discussed in my last post. We didn't actually talk too much about my work thus far, which is fine, I'm sure I'll get feedback soon enough. What we did discuss for some time was the prospect of my doing a PhD. The thing is, I'm not sure I would be happy with a librarian-esque job. I could probably manage it for a short while, doing reference or giving library instruction. But I suspect eventually I would grow bored and want something else to do. Also, I don't want to drop my research topic once I'm done the advanced research course this fall. I think there's more work to be done in the nutrition information seeking area, and I'm not likely to find a job that will allow me to pursue my interest.

I'm not concerned about the work required for a PhD degree. I know I can handle it, possibly better than many people who have gone through the process before. I'm highly, one might even say, over motivated--I think this has to do with my being the youngest. I'm pretty good about not procrastinating too much and I can work without direct supervision. My adviser told me I would probably do well in a PhD program, and even hinted if I didn't do one now, I would likely wind up doing one eventually anyway. The good thing (actually there are 2 good things), is one, I will be able to apply to both SSHRC and CIHR (where there's a lot more money) for funding. And two, the Library and Information Studies/Science (LIS) field is in need of professors, or so I'm told. In fact, according to my adviser (who was recruited to U of A before she'd even completed her degree), they've been in need of professors for at least 10 years. Therefore, getting a job shouldn't be too difficult.

So what's the problem? My writing. I want to keep writing. I want to be published, not just on scholarly papers or government reports, which I already am, I want to be a published fiction author. And just when, in the 3-4 years it takes me to complete a PhD or the years after will I have time to write? I might, as I did last year, still be able to squash 30 to 40 minutes of writing in before I go in for morning classes. But only writing 30 to 40 minutes a day will take me a long time to complete a full manuscript, even a young adult one. This, above the marking, above the teaching, even above the pressure to produce papers and attend conferences is my greatest concern. When will I find the time to write? When will I ever see one of my stories, printed and bound on the shelves of your local bookseller?

Despite this, I will probably begin the application process soon. U of A does not have a LIS PhD program yet, and aren't expected to for a couple more years. Instead I have to apply for an interdisciplinary degree. This means much rigmarole. I have to co-ordinate advisers and courses (6), then get approval from grad chairs and then the University. In the end, if I decide this is what I want to do, I should be able to start in the fall of 2010 (or potentially even do a course next summer). Then I can really start reading PhD (comics) in earnest.



Monday, August 10, 2009

Food for thought

I thought, since it's currently consuming my life, I would take this opportunity to briefly describe my literature review and the related research project I am completing for my Masters. Also, nothing much of note happened this weekend, although I did get the chance to try out Starfarers of Catan.

I have an interest in nutrition; however, I have only taken one course on the subject during my undergrad, and I've done some reading on the topic (primarily Michael Pollan's books--who's not a nutritionist). In general, I have an interest in how medical/health information is passed onto the public and how that information is preceived and used. This interest has grown out of my experiences during my nursing degree, my time as a research assistant involved in systematic reviews, and my general outlook on health care and how it should be conducted. Since I am currently in a library and information studies program, I have combined this interest with the the LIS field of information seeking (basically, how people look for information).

Currently, I am enrolled in an independent study course involving a literature review on the topic of undergraduate information seeking behaviours for food and nutrition-related information. Since no one has specifically looked at the nutrition information seeking behaviours of undergraduates, I'm having to combined data on undergraduate nutrition (perhaps not to surprisingly, it's not great) with information seeking behaviours of undergraduates in general (also not that great) along with a smaller section on what is known about how people search for health information (I haven't gotten to that part yet). This whole process has taken a considerable amount of time, much more time than I had anticipated. I'm glad I don't have to factor in class time as well. Sadly, because of this, completing work on my Nora MS has been delayed.

During the fall semester I'll be taking on the primary research part of this project. I'm going to interview U of A undergraduate students to find out if, how, where and why they search for information on nutrition. This is a slightly terrifying prospect, a) because I'm an introvert by nature; and b) I suspect I'll be dragging information out of these students by tooth and nail. My suspicion is that most students don't look for information on the food they eat. They eat what's convenient (which is what I've found out from my literature review) and cheep. I think the whole thing is going to be a tough go. Once I've completed the interviews I'll have to transcribe, code and analyze my data and finally write up a paper. From where I stand, it seems like a mind-booglingly large amount of work.

After that, well, I'm not sure. I would love to continue on with this vain of research except, the only way for me to really do that is through PhD studies--and I'm not convinced I want to do that (when would I find the time to write more adventures with Nora?). Another possiblity bouncing around in my head is I could look at applying to the Nutrition department at the U of A for a second Masters. I would be a little behind on the nutrition knowledge, but I think given my background experiences I might be able to swing it. However, there again, do I really want to do a second Masters? I don't know. This is a problem, and I see no immediate answer to the question. Maybe I should just apply to everything that comes my way (jobs included) and see what happens.



Monday, August 3, 2009

A hiking good time: Lake O'Hara

Andrew and I spent the last 3 days (July 30th to August 1st) camping at Lake O'Hara, a very scenic area in Yoho National Park. To camp at Lake O'Hara you must make a reservation. And to make a reservation you have to call at 8:00 a.m. MST 3 months (to the day you want to arrive) in advance and keep calling until you get through. Otherwise, you'll be out of luck. This is a very popular campsite, with only 27 spots per night. Since we made our reservation back in May, Andrew and I have been planning what we were going to take with us. Also, Lake O'Hara, is a back country campsite (albeit pretty "cush" i.e. it has running water and non-smelly outhouses). This means you cannot drive all of your stuff up to your site. You can either take the Lake O'Hara bus, or you can hike the 11 km access road.

Thursday, July 30th: Day 1
In the morning Andrew and I both went to work. We left our respective offices at 11:00 a.m. and met back at our car. We were on the road around 11:20 a.m. We arrived at the parking lot of Lake O'Hara (Yoho is in B.C., by the way) just before 6:00 p.m. We pulled together our packs and started up the road on foot. We completed the 11 km, 450 metre elevation gain, in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, it started to rain just after we passed the 9 km mark. Not a complete torrential down pour, mind you, but plenty hard enough to soak us and some of our gear strapped to the outsides of our packs. We put up our tent as quickly as we could (putting the fly on inside out in the process) then hid under one of the shelters as we sorted through our food and clothing, etc.

Aside from arriving in the rain, we also ran into a bit of confusion about where our campsite and food locker were. Since we arrived after the park warden had left for the day we were assigned the extra (and no longer regularly used) campsite 3. The site wasn't labelled and so we wasted a lot of time (in the rain) trying to figure out where it was. We also didn't have a food locker (Lake O'Hara is in bear country and food lockers were a must), which added to our confusion. Thankfully, another couple who were headed out the next day allowed us to share theirs for the night. The rain let up and before going to bed we took a quick walk down to the lake (probably 1/2 km). We were snuggled in our sleeping bags shortly after 10:00 p.m.

All of our stuff in the back of our car.

Friday, July 31st: Day 2
Our second day started early. I think I was awake around 6:30 a.m. (Andrew woke up at this time too). Since it was light outside and I wasn't overly tired I got up. We set to preparing breakfast not too long afterward: boiling water for tea, preparing the pancakes (I put together a mix at home) and pulling out our lunch things. We ate standing, sharing one pancake at a time as they came off the pan. We didn't head off to the hiking trails until after 10:00 a.m. We wanted to speak with the warden to sort out our campsite and locker issues.

Cooking breakfast on our light-weight camp stove.

Our tent re-installed at site 13, fly readjusted so it faced the right way out.

We were on our way by 10:30 a.m., walking along the edge of Lake O'Hara until we came to the trail leading up the Huber Ledges/Wiwaxy trail. Now, let me pause here for a moment. I spent some time trying to figure out what to say about the hiking at Lake O'Hara. First off, the scenery is beautiful: mountain peaks in every direction, crystal clear lakes and streams, and lush forest foliage. But, I'm not sure it's the place for everyone. Most of the hiking trails take on a sizable elevation climb. Lake O'Hara is located at 2,035 m above sea level. The hike up to Wiwaxy took us up to 2,530 m above sea level (it took us around 1 1/2 hours at a leisurely pace). The trails are narrow and at times difficult to figure out where they lead. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, but we're also active people.

The trail on the way up Wiwaxy.

Us at the edge of Wiwaxy, stopped for lunch. Lake Oesa is in the background.

After lunch we headed on to Lake Oesa where we stopped, took off our socks and shoes and soaked our feet. The water was freezing, but it felt good on our tired toes as it was sunny and hot (+25C). From Oesa we carried on to the Yukness Ledges, mostly rocky terrain. We accidentally strayed off the path at one point and spent 10 or 15 minutes wandering around trying to figure out where we were supposed to go. When we reached a point where we could see the trail below us, but had no safe way to get down to it, we decided it was best to turn back to the last known marker. From there we managed to get ourselves back on route and continued around the mountain side to Opabin Lake. We took another short rest at Opabin, but found the bugs to heavy to want to stay for long. Once on the trail again we headed down East Opabin trail (thus not completing the full Alpine Route) and back to the campsite. The decent along the trail was steep at points (really engaging the quadriceps), but lovely amongst the trees. We returned to the campsite by 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, August 1st: Day 3
Having heard the night before about the adventures of a pair of guys who had climbed to the top of Yukness Mountain we thought we might give it a try. The trail up Yukness is not maintained. It is for the more avid hikers who don't mind sorting their way up by scouting for cairns (small man-made rock piles). We had been told by the two guys we needed to head back up to the Yukness Ledges and look for the trail that climbed up instead of down at the point where you descended. We reached the Ledges via West Opabin and without too much difficulty identified a thin trail working its way up the south side of the mountain.

Climbing the first stage of Yukness.

After a short detour to check out a lake on the first ridge of the mountain we followed the cairns around the southeast side, at which point the trail markers promptly stopped. We had been told the cairns at times were difficult to find, so when we made it around to the rock-covered southeast side of the mountain we were a little concerned. After consulting with our limited map and making some educated assumptions that we couldn't possibly go another way, we carried on further east hiking over the massive rocks for maybe 20 to 30 minutes. We broke for lunch still uncertain of where exactly we were going next when Andrew notice other people on the mountain. They were climbing up a ledge farther east of us, right up against a sheer mountain wall. We quickly finished off what we were eating and continued to cut across the mountain until we reached the ledge where we'd seen the other hikers. We caught up with them after a little ways as they'd stopped to eat. After a brief chat they pointed us in the right direction: farther up along the scree, switch backing until we reached (what I believe is called) the crux gulley*

It was here in the crux gulley that we were no longer mountain hiking, but actually mountain climbing. I think Andrew and I both enjoyed this section of the trek, but at the same time experienced a good healthy dose of terror. One miss-placed hand or foot could have left us tumbling down the mountain; however, this section wasn’t too difficult as neither one of us have done much wall/rock climbing and we were still able to clear the gulley without concern. Once we got over the gulley we realized that reaching the peak of Yukness would probably take us close to another hour and we had already been out 4 at this point. We sat on a small ledge to finish our lunch and decided that this would be the peak of our climb. The summit of Yukness reached 2,847 m above sea level. By our guestimation we probably made it to around 2,700 m to 2,750 m.

Andrew at our stopping spot at Yukness

We returned to camp via Opabin Lake, through the Opabin Highline and back down through East Opabin. It rained that evening, but not until almost 9:00 p.m., well after when we'd finished up with dinner so simply returned to our tent. We were pretty tired after two all-day hikes anyway.

Sunday, August 2nd: Day 4
Day 4 was home day. You're only allowed to reserve spots at Lake O’Hara for 3 nights and I'm not sure we would have had the energy for much adventurous hiking this day anyway. We did, however, walk the road back down to the car, rather than taking the bus. We met a number of tourists (mostly Asian for some reason) heading up the road for a day-hike.

I think we would probably be happy to return to Lake O'Hara again sometime. Maybe we would try to get right to the top of Yukness Mountain. Next year, we're thinking about trying the Jasper Skyline Trail.


*Not being a mountain climber and not knowing the lingo, I am not sure if crux gulley is the right term. After a quick online search the reference appears to match the terrain, but I'm not sure if this is a general or specific term.