Saturday, December 18, 2010

Occasional Other Matters: Two Legged Adventure (Mount Wrightson)

If not for my inability to ride after dark, this day most definitely would have included my motorcycle. Alas a day in late fall is not long enough to comfortably confine all these activities to the daylight hours.

The activities, in order of appearance:

Drive to Madera Canyon, begrudgingly in the car.  Prior moto trip to the canyon discussed here.

Climb Mount Wrightson, the steep way up, the long way down.  (I know, I know...  "Stop.  Think.  There must be a harder way.")
Ascend Old Baldy Trail - 5.4 miles to the top, over 4000 ft elevation gain.  Hear me roar, I made it to the peak in 2 hours, 45 minutes!
Descend Super Trail - 8.2 miles back to the trail head.  The prettier of the two trails, in my opinion.  Solve geocache puzzle at Josphine's Saddle.

Find actual geocache.

Drive home.  Yep, it got dark before I got home.  Good call on taking the car. 

Photographic evidence:

Bellows spring was frozen.

A teeny tiny perfect autumn leaf as opposed to the gigantic enormous perfect fall leaf I'm holding in this post.

My spaghetti squash sun-dried tomato herb muffin (savory, not sweet) contemplates the view at Baldy Saddle.  Who says you can't put spaghetti squash in muffins or bread?  If you can use zucchini, why not?  (Recipes still under development, but I'm getting darn close...)

Arrival at the summit!  The frozen spring surely tipped you off:  It's cold!  I wore leggings, hiking pants, silk underlayer, turtle neck, "soft shell" jacket, gloves and hat, and didn't find myself wanting to remove any layers at any time.  I even wore my boots, which I never do.  I'm a confirmed Teva hiker, regardless of terrain, since boots invariably leave my toes all bruised.  Turns out this latest pair of boots is no exception.  Maybe some day I'll get hiking boots that fit correctly, but I'm not into buying pair after pair, only to find out these too don't suit my strange (narrow at the heel, wide at the ball) feet.  I can ride in them without a problem, I just can't hike in them.

The summit offered gorgeous vistas in each direction, and none of my pictures really captured them.  Here's a photo from the top anyway.

Making my way back down via the Super Trail.

A commemorative sign at Josphine's saddle.  On the date shown (purely by coincidence I was hiking on the anniversary of the tragedy), a boy scout troop camping and hiking in the area was caught in a freak snowstorm that dumped several feet of snow in the Santa Ritas.  Three boys died.  No one hikes Mt. Wrightson without checking the weather anymore.  This sign is one of five I needed to locate to solve a puzzle that would yield the coordinates of the geocache I was hunting.

A pretty spot not too far from my geocache find.  (The geocache itself was not on the trail, but further down Madera Canyon.)

The moon rises over the Santa Ritas.  Good night moon.  Good night mountains.  How lucky I was to have this day!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Safety Gear - not just for motorcycles anymore!

I'm an ATGATT rider.  That means "All The Gear, All The Time."  Ya never know, ya know?  This means helmet, kevlar armored jacket zipped to armored leather pants, boots, and 'roo gloves. (Sorry, but kangaroo leather is da bomb when it comes to keeping you safe and alive.)  I'm grateful to never have needed my gear for its primary intended purpose to date, but I've found other good reasons to wear it.  Like Reason No. 573 - an off course vulture directed like a missle into my left ankle.  Vultures are big.  I was glad I was wearing boots.  The vulture was probably not nearly as glad.  Or Reason No. 1232 - hail.  Hail hurts.  I can't imagine riding through it wearing a muscle shirt and Do-Rag.  Ouch!  (I can't really imagine wearing those items in any circumstance, come to think of it, but I digress.)  And, more recently, Reason No. 1791.  Bees.  Not just one (although I have been stung more than once whilst riding), but an entire swarm.  I know they were bees, because my bike, helmet and jacket were covered with bee carcasses.  Glad the helmet visor was down!

And there are times when I'm not riding when I find myself wishing I was wearing my gear. It crosses my mind when bicycle commuting in urban traffic.  Or when hiking a trail on which a mountain lion had been spotted an hour earlier.  In an area where mountain lions have been actively stalking hikers and runners.

But I was really glad to have it on hand when I learned of this unique riding opportunity at a local Christmas tree lot today...



We three kings, yo!  That's me hanging off a camel!  (The camel appears unimpressed.)

Thanks to C.Snood  for technical support.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I recently did some more canning. This time, applesauce. It's probably a good guess that taking an attractive picture of applesauce is beyond my capabilities, so I'm not going to bother. I can tell you it came out a pretty pink color, because, thanks to my German Wheels, I was able to cook the apples with their skins, and strain the skins out after. Beats peeling 30 pounds of apples, hands (and peelers) down. When you preserve foods, you can use the jars and rings many times over, but since the flat lids will reliably vacuum seal only once in their lives, it's customary to use new ones each for each project. Who knew that the old ones would be so handy in a motorcycle tank bag?

Here the lid keeps the side stand from sinking into the soft ground, thus preserving my motorcycle from a tip over!  So much classier than a flattened Coors Light* can, wouldn't you agree?

*Coors Light is not my first (or second, or third, or fourth...) choice of beer.  Oh yeah, and I don't drink and ride, either.  Ever.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Not in California. Not on a Kawasaki. This Time by Choice

I've been really, really busy.  Call it a work deadline, if you will.   The light at the end of the tunnel, the one I had been aiming towards for almost two months, was Thanksgiving.  I had SIX DAYS OFF, and no deadline looming afterward.  I was going on a moto trip.  Yes, yes I was.  No matter what.  The original plan was Baja - the whole darn thing, all the way down to Cabo.  3000 miles in six days?  Without riding at night?  And actually seeing (and eating) a thing or two along the way?  Um, that's not going to work out.  Ten days (or more) would be better.  So that was scrapped.  I turned down a number of lovely holiday invites as well. I was GOING ON A TRIP.  Where?  Honestly, I didn't do much planning or thinking - I really didn't have the time or extra mental capacity - but I finally and hastily settled on a loop taking in Joshua Tree National Park, Salton Sea, Anza Borrego State Park, and the Algodones Sand Dunes.  Not great riding perhaps (800 miles of highway and not much else) but it was A TRIP.  The week, the day even, before I left I was still scrambling with work and general catching up with life tasks that had been swept aside in the previous weeks.  I had the sum total of one hour of daylight to make a final adjustment to the luggage capable Kawasaki, (Ducati to gain luggage capability in December - hurrah!)  and no daylight hours to actually test it before departure.

My self-imposed nighttime riding restriction dictated I hit the road at first light.  It's too dim for me to ride by 5:30 this time of year,  I had 350-400 miles of riding ahead of me that day (someday I'll explain why it takes longer to get anywhere on a moto, no matter how fast you like to ride), I like to leave room for error, (remember my "error" of September?), and I was informed getting a campsite was going to be quite a trick.  Who knew camping was so popular at Thanksgiving?  The alarm went off before dawn and I piled on every possible layer.  Silk base layer, turtle neck sweater, heated vest, motorcycle jacket with winter liner, and even my rain suit.  It was 40 degrees, and that is c-c-cold when you factor in the motorcycle wind chill factor.  No matter.  I hit the road - no way was I going to squander six precious days off.

Cruising westbound on I-10, I finally had time to think.  Let's do the math, shall we?

The pros:
  • I finally get to check out places I've passed by a number of times and have always been curious about.
  • I'd probably take a cool hike in Joshua Tree.

The cons:
  • 700-800 miles of highway riding  - borrrring! - and little to no "fun" riding
  • Temperatures projected to hover around freezing each night.
  • I'd probably be twiddling my thumbs at a really cold campsite or cheap and depressing hotel from 4:30pm to 7am each day.
  • Kawasaki (which, as it turned out, was still not performing optimally despite my many attempts to correct it) vs. new Ducati
  • Granola bars for Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Speed traps seemingly every mile, and the Kawasaki has given up the radar detector set up to the Ducati. (It's more complicated than you would guess to switch it back.)
  • Wearing "safety gear" with a big hole in it (um, that sort of defeats the purpose, to some degree), while my new jacket would likely be delivered that very day.

And if I stayed home?
  • Mountain roads every day on my Ducati (in my new jacket!*)
  • Plenty of as-of-yet unexplored hiking here in Tucson
  • Good eats and socializing after dark
  • Warm (relatively speaking) house for sleeping

After 60 miles, I turned the bike around.  I admit, it was hard to do.  I was swearing loudly in my helmet as I reversed direction.  Silly, maybe, but I felt like a bit of a quitter.  Wisdom prevailed (for once) though, and I realized that, purely out of stubbornness, I was about to squander my vacation by trying too hard not to squander it.

So, instead of looking like this:

(Archival photo of me being miserably cold.  In July.  In Utah.  Imagine me waking up to a 33 degree campsite.)

and this (blech):

My Thanksgiving vacation looked like this:

Daily "training runs" up and down (and up and down, and up and down and up and down) Kitt Peak on my awesome Ducati.  No traffic, no police, and now (hurrah!) no more loose gravel!

and this:
Bread hot from the oven.  (Potato Bread, except as an experiment that I will most definitely repeat, I used turnips!)

and this:
Brown Mountain Trail

and this:
Arugula parmesan thin crust pizza.  Tomato sauce source described here.  So good!  So easy!

and (not shown):
Angus Burgers with Double Truffle Fries, lounging in sunbeams while reading books, watching movies, catching up with good friends and good wines, long walks and warm snuggly time with my beloved three-legged Dalmatian, sleeping in, real coffee, warm bowls of my miso soup after chilly morning rides...

I'm not the only foodie who isn't particularly enamored with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Turkeys should really be disassembled before cooking to get every bite done just so, even if you do brine them, and there are just too many too heavy casserole-ish side dishes.  All too often it's a quantity over quality meal.  It can be done well, but, sadly, usually isn't.

My Thanksgiving dinner?  Osso buco** over polenta.  Hah!  The picture isn't pretty (neither is Thanksgiving dinner, once it hits your plate), but the sauce left me swooning in my kitchen like a lovesick 15 year old.  Don't worry, I had apple pie for dessert.


Don't get me wrong.  I am more than ready and willing for some motorcycle camping "hardship" when the time is right.  But this week I was surprised to find that turning my bike around and going home would be the best decision I've made in a long time.

*Miscommunique about the jacket.  It's projected to arrive this  Wednesday, not last Wednesday.
** Except I used grass-fed, humanely raised CSA beef shanks rather than conventionally (i.e. cruelly) raised veal.

Friday, November 26, 2010

That "Self-Imposed Night Time Riding Restriction" I keep talking about.

When it's dark, I can't see. For real. I'm not particularly confident driving a car at night, but one does what one has to do. (I recently had a car passenger gently suggest he take over the driving, after sensing his life was in danger with me at the helm after nightfall.) But you need a heck of a lot more visual input to ride a motorcycle than to drive a car. ONE time I tried to ride my motorcycle after dark. It was frighteningly similar to riding with my eyes completely shut. Where does the road go? No idea. When do I put my feet down? Um, now? No, now! So I am quite confident in saying I would be much safer hitch hiking or sleeping in a ditch by the side of the road than riding after dark. Since I wish to do none of these things, I allow myself plenty of room for error when riding, and plan to arrive at my destination an hour, or, even better, two hours before sunset.

No one really wants to ride at night. The problem of your visibility (other drivers seeing YOU) is compounded many times over. But it would be nice to have the option in a pinch, when hunting down a campsite, for instance, or after a nice dinner. But despite the ophthalmologists and hundreds of dollars on special glasses and contact lenses, the fact remains the same. Cinderella must be in well before sunset, or Cinderella likely becomes one smashed up pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Daily Special (Generic Sustainable Fish with Random Vegetable)

I haven't really been able to ride much lately, which is particularly frustrating when your beloved new Ducati has returned from the shop after a month long absence. I've had a weird and intense head cold, and it must be messing with my middle ear or sinuses or something, because I can't really judge speed, distances, or even where my body is in space at all.   As it turns out, this is a pretty big problem when you are trying to aggressively ride a sport bike up (and down) a mountain road.  I'm also buried in work right now, which doesn't do much for one's ability to recreate.

So I'm fairly grumpy.

Here's my "I'm So Grumpy I'm Slamming Pots and Pans Around for No Reason" Ten Minutes or Less dinner that I made tonight. Not bad, given my state of mind, now that I think of it.

Put leftover roasted potatoes* in toaster oven.  Go post a few comments on Facebook about being grumpy, because the potatoes will probably take 10 minutes, and it will only take you four minutes to prepare the rest of dinner.

Remove one of the  pieces of generic sustainable fish you now stash in the freezer (I like halibut) because it turns out most days you don't approach consuming even half of the RDA of protein for a person of your gender, age and size.  Not that you believe everything the government says in regards to what you should eat (or in regards to anything at all), but come on, HALF of the RDA?  Perhaps that might have something to do with your hypoglycemia??  Ya THINK?  Anyway, take the piece fish you transferred from freezer to fridge yesterday and put it in a microwave safe dish.  Yes, I said microwave. I don't use it for much, but for fish it's not a bad way to go.  Even James Peterson says so.  Sprinkle said fish with salt and pepper, splash with two or three tablespoons of white wine (pour yourself a glass while you're at it), and top with a pat of butter.  Cover the whole thing with a plate or something, since plastic wrap gives you the creeps.  Microwave for one minute, while chopping up your random vegetable.  (a tomato and slice of onion in this case)  Whack!  Whack! Whack!  Check your fish - it will probably need another minute.  Turn it if you are so inclined.  Saute your vegetable for a minute in olive oil.  Check fish.  Add another 30 seconds.  (YMMV**)  Continue sauteeing the random vegetable, while you viciously grab a green leaf or two from your herb garden.  If you don't have one, it doesn't matter.  Look to your spice cabinet (make sure you slam the cabinet door), or omit all together.  Add that to your random vegetable.  Ding!  Fish is done. Dump random vegetable on top of it and throw pan into sink.  Crash!  Apologize to the dog for startling her.  Ding!  Potatoes are done.  Take ONE photo of your finished product, because you are in no mood.  No.  Mood.  Click.
Total prep time, 10 minutes, but blame that excessive delay on the left over potatoes.
*If I wasn't grumpy, or if I had either in the fridge, I'd use polenta or rice instead.
** Your Mileage May Vary

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Colorado Collage - Photos

Here's that Colorado photo collage I was going to post in, oh, May or June. I think if you click on it, you can see it in its full glory. This entry goes along with the Colorado Word Collage and the Colorado Map I posted more promptly. I didn't have lots of great pictures, since this was about the time my Lumix digicam bit the dust.
Time to get crackin' writing up my summer Utah travels, lest I have another glut of "What I Did Last Summer" posts this spring.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gearing up for the long cold winter...

I made my annual trip to Richcrest Farms to can tomatoes a week or two ago (on the Kawasaki.)  You gotta love a top box that fits a case of canning jars!  I'll spare you the details, since I wrote about it here a couple of years ago, but I thought I'd show you my winter rations to date.

Top shelf: Mexican lime curd, prickly pear jelly, pickles, strawberry preserves
Middle shelf: raspberries, peaches, rhubarb
Bottom shelf: tomatoes, tomato juice, apricots

It hasn't been a great year for stocking up.  The fruit in Utah came late, and I had to leave before I could get my cherries and blueberries.  Somehow I didn't get as many apricots as usual, either.  It was a bad year for tomatoes in Arizona, too. For a while, it looked like I'd be buying canned ones for the first time in several years, but I managed to get a few quarts at the eleventh hour.

Soon to be added:  apples, applesauce, and the pate I raved about here.

The contents of my freezer are getting interesting as well, but the freezer is not quite as photogenic as my cabinet.

 My sharp eye noticed some new wheels at the farm.  I wonder which set belongs to Farmer Jim.

Pleasant surprise on the way home from Richcrest:  the ten mile stretch of Dragoon road was completely a-flutter in butterflies!

Next time:  I swear I'll visit the pistachio orchard I pass by each year on the way to the farm.  I'm always worried about that pesky night-time riding constraint of mine.  Word on the street is that this year was a bumper crop.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Baby, We're Back! (Maiden Voyage II)

When I looked out my bedroom window upon rising one recent morning and saw this... startled me!  A desert Santa left me a Ducati under the mesquite tree!  In reality, of course, I had picked it up from the dealer the afternoon before, almost one month to the day after its demise.  But I was so loopy with a nasty cold that it was all I could do to ride it the few miles home from the shop.

"That's a mighty nice bike you got there, Pretty Lady, " said the guy who watched me take this picture. A sleek, sexy, Italian bike does wonders for any gal's looks - call it "Ducati Goggles."

I was going to take an awesome picture with a drop dead background to celebrate the event.  I really was.  I even borrowed a tripod for the occasion. (Thanks, Martha!).   But fiddling with the tripod, finding the best viewpoint (a counter-intuitive process, I discovered), positioning the bike just so etc., kinda takes the sport out of sport riding.  It was as bad as, if not worse than trying to take a good picture of your dinner when you'd rather be eating it.  So I snapped all of two I-really-should-fix-my-helmet-hair-shots, said "enough of THIS," and hit the road.  Vroom!

Ducati 696: more money than I had any business spending.
Air cooled bike that smokes my hams at stoplights: yow!
Speeding tickets: might become a problem
Unbeatable power to weight ratio, torque to spare, and feet flat on the ground: as they say, priceless.

Baby, we're back!

Due to popular request (that means by more than one person! By some people I haven't even met, believe it or not!), I've added ways to subscribe to this silly blog of mine. For email notification, look at the top right of the page. At the bottom right of the page you can "follow" or get notifications on your browser bookmark bar. Hope it works!  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


So, as you know, I made it to California, finally (albeit not with the Ducati), without the slightest of problems.  I did make it back, too, but with a little help from my friends, pictured at left.

0800 hours - depart San Diego

80 mile point (aka - in the middle of the desert) - in a dramatic cloud of white smoke, dump ALL of your coolant.  Hmm.  This is going to be a problem, no?  Be grateful because:
  • You can dismantle practically your entire motorcycle with your leatherman.
  • Because the screw that holds the stray coolant hose decided to lodge itself in the hose well, rather than go skittering onto (or off of) the highway, somewhere.... anywhere...  Metric screws are not easily replaced in the middle of nowhere.
  • And finally, be VERY grateful that this particular "middle of nowhere" happened to house a border patrol checkpoint. So you could actually refill your motorcycle with water after repairing it.  I carry water, but not THAT much.

130 mile point - fill up with gas, peer at hoses and fluid levels.  Hmm.  Oil is down.  Note that your valve cover gasket appears to be self-destructing.  Pick up some gasket goo at the truck stop, apply, add oil.  (Aren't you glad you packed some of your motorcycle specific oil, just in case?)

260 mile point - fuel up, reassess.  Apply more gasket goo. Reattach license plate that is hanging on by a thread with zip ties. No self respecting motorcyclist EVER leaves home without zip ties.

1600 hours and 400 mile (or so) point - arrival!  400 miles and three roadside repairs in 8 hours.  Not bad!

16:10 hours - fall asleep

Next day - order new gasket.  Here we go again...

Yes, there is packing tape in that picture.  Guesses? (from those of you who don't already know what I love to use it for)

Due to popular request (that means by more than one person! By some people I haven't even met, believe it or not!), I've added ways to subscribe to this silly blog of mine. For email notification, look at the top right of the page. At the bottom right of the page you can "follow" or get notifications on your browser bookmark bar. Hope it works! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In California! (On a Kawasaki)

So, yeah, my last blog post? That was me sitting on my bike, holding one of the offending bolts. And the background? We're not in Tucson anymore. (Not everyone caught all the significant points of that photo.)

Yes, I made it to California! San Diego, to be specific. Not the extended trip I had originally planned, and not on my Ducati, but... Kawasaki, meet the Pacific Ocean!

I arrived a bit ahead of schedule, so while awaiting my good friend and host, soprano extraordinaire Stephanie Sabin, I enjoyed a turkey pesto panini, espresso, and tasty macaroon at Twiggs Bakery and Coffeehouse. It felt good to kick back after a 465 mile ride!

The next morning I took on the role of pillion, or motorcycle passenger, something I enjoy almost as much as doing the driving myself. My Most Excellent Tour Guide (or METG, as I shall now refer to him) was none other than the Ducati Instigator himself, guilty of alerting me to the availability of Ducati Monsters on Craig's List. He picked me up bright and early on his... his... Honda Goldwing! This is a different beast than any bike I had ever been on before, and, to use his own words, is sometimes referred to as a "geriatric" model. This is a seriously big bike, and as comfy and luxurious as they get. A couch on wheels! (Actually, it's safe to say it's quite a bit larger than my couch.) Here's the thing neither of us expected: I, uhhh.... don't know how to get on the thing! It's so big that I can't do the "swing the leg over the back" maneuver. I never did find a good way to do it, much to my pilot's (and my!) embarrassment. I think the running start was my best attempt. But once in my seat, I felt like Queen Cleopatra floating down the Nile. And despite its "geriatric" label, it had more "get up and go" than I would have guessed. I know all you sport bikers are guffawing, and I suppose I would be too, but I did indeed have a surprisingly fine time aboard this well appointed machine. Any ride with two wheels is a good ride!

We grabbed some coffee and crepes at Babbo Grande (what's up with their goofy seating restriction at 7 am? They're not THAT good.) and hit the road.

First stop, Julian, CA, just in time for its annual "Apple Days." The pie wasn't pretty, but it sure tasted fine!

Next stop, Henshaw Lake and Palomar Mountain. The Goldwing performed admirably, but roads that twisty call out for my Ducati. I admit I found myself missing it. No surprise there, my METG warned me I would.

I snapped this one from the back of the (moving) bike. Not bad!

Then on to Callaway Vineyards and Winery, where my METG is a member. Nice perk! I got to taste five wines followed by a port with an accompanying bite chocolate. My votes went to their "Dolcetta" and red Zinfandel. (Let me just point out here that six tastes are the equivalent of one glass of wine, and we were there several hours... you do the math. We were fine.)

And then over the Ortega Highway to Laguna Beach for a little picnic snack. (Sunset not shown.)

All and all a lovely day!

The next morning, Stephanie, her parents and I had breakfast at the aforementioned Twiggs, (Oh the choices - these people can seriously bake!) and then hit the Hillcrest Farmers Market. She had an agenda and schedule, and I was tripping gaily behind her, snapping photos, trying not to hold her up too long.

Quiz: What are these?

Then on to the Mission Bay area, to document the bike, the bolt, the water...

and La Jolla, too.

Next to St. Paul's Cathedral, to hear Stephanie sing her cleverly conceived concert, "Plaisir d'Amour." She'll be singing it again this spring... in Paris!

And finally, excellent Carnitas Tacos with Chipotle Black Beans at the after concert celebration of "Mexican Soul Food" at Barrio Star, courtesy of Stephanie's generous parents.

The following morning, the long ride home. How do you suppose the Kawasaki will fare? (Yes, that's a hint that this story isn't quite over...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hah! I Win!

Heartfelt thanks to all who aided, abetted and otherwise cheered me on!* In order of appearance:
sksrverret, xDaveManx, 02_500R, alxb, Pogo, FOG, ShadesOfGray, jonh, Apriliarider, K-woppa, netjustin, twowheels, wickedsprint, in4mation, Knightslugger, House_of_Dexter, cathoholic, JK, E from SWMT, DN

* During the "Crap, I suck!" bolt mis-adventure.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dear Motorcyclist on the Red Buell...

Thank you for stopping at the crosswalk as my three legged Dalmatian and I were passing by. "Hey," you said, just as I reached the other side. I wondered, "How does he know I ride a motorcycle, too?" I turned and you did something odd. You lifted your pant leg, just a little, to show me your ankle. You're missing a leg, too! We both laughed, and then you were gone.

Stop, Rider on the Red Buell... what's your story? My dog and I would like to meet you!
You made my day. I hope my dog made yours, too.

Due to popular request (that means by more than one person! By some people I haven't even met, believe it or not!), I've added ways to subscribe to this silly blog of mine. For email notification, look at the top right of the page. At the bottom right of the page you can "follow" or get notifications on your browser bookmark bar. Hope it works!

Zen and the Art of... Chile Rellenos

Often, when I'm trying something new in the kitchen, I begin by referring to one (actually several) recipes, then pick and choose the ingredients and techniques I think might bring the result I'm after. While I'm waiting for my cylinder head bolts to arrive, I thought I'd work on my chiles rellenos. It's chile season, after all. I wasn't 100% happy with my last batch, which, admittedly, was created a few chile seasons ago. The batter was too cakey, the filling too plain. This attempt is closer, but next time I'll make the simple flour/water batter I've chosen a touch thicker.

I've been asked for recipes by more than one person. I'm flattered, happy to oblige, and I'll definitely try to add some of that to my blog. On the other hand, there has got to be at least 697,342 recipe blogs out there already, and I can't imagine I have something new or innovative to add. But that request, and the "Crap. I suck. Bolt Disaster 2010" as I'm now calling it, have got me thinking how similar cooking and motorcycle maintenance (or food photography, come to think of it, or flute playing, or any skill) really are. I, and those I'm asking, no doubt, get a good laugh at the questions I ask about motorcycle maintenance. "How many times, exactly, do I turn this bolt?" (Okay, I've never asked that, but I've come pretty close.) Honestly, you can read all the cookbooks you want, read every article out there on valve clearance adjustment, ask your photographer friends any number of questions, but when it comes right down to it, you've just got to get in there (kitchen, motorcycle engine, photography studio, wherever) and bust out some substandard work. Overcook a $75 pastured turkey for Thanksgiving, as I mentioned here. Irreparably blow out the background of a photo (like my grape photo here.) Or, even, ugh... break off three bolt heads in your motorcycle.

Due to popular request (that means by more than one person! By some people I haven't even met, believe it or not!), I've added ways to subscribe to this silly blog of mine. For email notification, look at the top right of the page. At the bottom right of the page you can "follow" or get notifications on your browser bookmark bar. Hope it works!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

When the night is darkest, it is closest to dawn. Or whatever that saying is.

Okay, where were we? Oh yes...


Because you used inappropriate tools for the job, KNEW it, and did it ANYWAY. Okay, there WAS a certain, if faulty, line of reasoning to your actions, but, still, it serves you right. "It seemed like a good idea at the time..." Uh huh. It always does, doesn't it?

Prepare yourself with mosquito repellent, fire ant spray, sunscreen and a hat. Eat something before you begin, I don't care if you just had breakfast an hour ago. You are hypoglycemic and if you get hungry during this procedure, you will most definitely sit down (on an ant hill, no doubt) and cry. Have a nice cheese melt topped with wilted amaranth greens tossed in olive oil, raw garlic and chile flakes. Tell your three-legged Dalmatian, that, yes, YOU CAN DO THIS. Wonder if she believes you. Wonder if YOU believe you. Take a deep breath, pick up that - oof! - heavy tool box, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Remove the pieces to get to the valve cover again. Remove the valve cover itself again and see what you've got to work with. Remember? Maybe... just MAYBE, there will be little nubs of bolt stem to grab with pliers or tweezers.



Pretty please...


The bolts are not stuck in the engine block proper, but in little easily removable pieces!

This... THIS... is a game changer. Your computer is not dead. You have NOT lost every byte of data. Golden beams of light emerge from the thunderclouds. Hosts of angels sing. There is... (breathy voice)... Hope.

At the very least, if you can not remove the bolt stems, you can slap on some lipstick and bring the little pieces to a real mechanic and plead for help. All is NOT lost. Your relief is immeasurable and you are already celebrating.

Remove cam caps (a.k.a. "little pieces in which the bolt stems are stuck".) Easy! Feel clever because you notice they are labeled so they can be replaced in the same position with the same orientation. You are brilliant!

Wrestle for an hour (Idiot!) with the surgical tools you own from your days as a veterinary technician, extracting two of the three bolt stems, being verrry careful not to damage the threads in the cam caps. Brilliant!

Wrestle for an additional hour on the final one, not getting anywhere. Idiot! Consider the use of power tools. Try the drill for one second. (Idiot!) Decide it is a very bad idea. (Brilliant!)

Stop. Put. The. Drill. Down. And. Think.

Wrestle a few moments longer. Arrrrrrrrghhh!

Epiphany: Idiot! (No, that part wasn't the epiphany.) The bolt stem is in there pretty loosely, there's just not enough of it exposed to grab, no matter how many cool, teeny surgical and flute repair tools you own. Use the corresponding "mating" surface of the head end of the broken bolt. Press it against the stuck stem piece to match up the parts, hold it there firmly while backing it (and the bolt stem!) out of the cam cap.

Feel illegitimately and unbelievably brilliant.

Illegitimately brilliant because:
A) It was your idiocy that got you here in the first place.
B) You kinda got tipped off that the bolts were stuck in removable pieces, not the engine itself. But you would have seen that for yourself as soon as you took off the valve cover again this morning, right? Right.
C) It took you two hours and one serious hand cramp to figure this out. (Idiot!)

Feel brilliant anyway, and enjoy it.

Write on the blackboard 100 times. "I will use the appropriate tools for the job. I will use the appropriate tools for the job. I will use the appropriate tools for the job..."

Go to the store and purchase said appropriate tools.

Realize that, because the stems backed out so easily using the broken bolt head, you probably didn't have to even remove the cam caps in the first place. In retrospect, you may not even had had to remove the valve cover (and all the pieces to get to the valve cover) again. Idiot!

Except you should clean out any metal shards anyway. Brilliant!

Thank your internet community profusely for seeing you through this mess without saying (aloud) how much of an idiot you are. Be amazed that you are not the only one to have done this.

Await replacement bolts. *sigh*
(Thank you, FOG!)

Acknowledge that until this bike is running and you are riding, you are not yet out of the woods.

Have another one of those apricot smoothies. Consider the rum suggestion.

Think to yourself that at least you re-installed the reed valves correctly. Wink. You know who you are.

Note: As you might have noticed in the photo, I use little applesauce cups to keep my moto parts and pieces organized.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Not in California. Not Riding a Ducati. Not Riding a Kawasaki. Staycation NON-Expedition.

Remember when I said my Kawasaki needed a bit of maintenance? To tell the truth, its rear tire was totally bald, it was about 10,000 miles past due for a valve clearance adjustment and carburetor synchronization (and is running like it), I'm sure it needs a new chain and sprocket, is also overdue for a fork oil change and could use a new neutral safety switch.

I'm not a mechanic. I don't want to be a mechanic. But my budget demands that I do this work myself whether I want to or not. So... I promised my trusty Kawi that if it got me home safely from the Grand Canyon (and I would not have blamed it if it hadn't) I would drag out the tools and get to work before riding it again. (Hopefully to CA! For a different trip. Later this month.)

Based on its symptoms, I though I'd start with the valve clearance adjustment (so easy, I'm told, even I can do it!) and carb sync, get a new tire, and finally replace that turn signal that's been repaired with packing tape for over a year. If THAT went well, maybe... MAYBE... I'll be brave enough for the chain (and neutral safety switch, while I'm in the neighborhood). I'm not sure about the forks.

Hurrah for the internet, where I find detailed instructions for the valve clearance adjustment! With pictures, even! I've never done this before and it sounds scary, as much as I'm told that if I've taken apart my carburetor (many times, thank you) then this will be a piece of cake.

Anyway... it's not important if you don't understand what I'm talking about. And if you do, well, don't laugh at me too hard, okay?

So off I go, with a stack of references in one hand and toolbox in the other to dive into the valve clearance adjustment. Shockingly, amazingly... this IS easy. I am so proud and I can not wait to announce to the EX500 online community that for ONCE, I have done some work on my bike without even one panicked SOS posting. But before I button her up completely, I figure I might as well put the wheel (with new tire) back on, clean the chain, mess with the turn signal, knowing that if something DOES go wrong when I start her up, those other chores will already be checked off the list.

Yay! It's time to close up the patient and wake her up! Just a few bolts to tighten and...

Snap. Snap. Snap.

This is not a good sound, friends.

See the bolt on the left? It's supposed to look like the one on the right. I bet you're wondering where the rest of it is. Why, it's lodged in the engine of my motorcycle! Irretrievably so, it seems. This is a grave error, people. You may not have broken off bolts (THREE of them!) in your beloved motorcycle before, but I bet you're familiar with the sickening feeling that I had. Ever had your computer crash, when you haven't backed up for, say, six months, and you fear all your photographs, work documents, banking records, emails, whatever data that is important to you are lost, lost, lost forevermore? All the while knowing you have only yourself to blame? THAT is how I felt. Because I broke them doing something stupid. By using the wrong tool to put them back. What's more, I KNEW I was doing something stupid WHEN I was doing it, but, for whatever reason, proceeded to do it anyway. Actually, I did have a (faulty) line of reasoning for this at the time, but I'm too embarrassed to explain.

Snap. Snap. Snap. That's the sound of another chance to ride California going down the drain. That's the sound of one very panicked post going up on I'm going to have to extract these things aren't I? I'm guessing that much, and I know it requires a drill. Now, I'm not afraid of power tools per se, but putting one on the innards of the engine of my motorcycle is NOT something I want to do. One slip, one shard in the engine... you're done fer.

I'm going to be cool, here. Cover her up, think things through. Tomorrow is another day. After all, you're not a real back yard mechanic until you've broken off a few bolt heads. Maybe... just maybe... there will be a stub of a bolt stem to grab with pliers when I open up the cover tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.

What am I eating while working on my bike? Smoothies. Throw some OJ concentrate, ice cubes, yogurt, wheat germ, apricots (canned in UT!) in the blender, hit the button with the tip of your elbow (the only part of you not covered in grease) and slurp.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Not in California. Not riding a Ducati. (Staycation Expedition No. 3)

Hello, Kawasaki! How very nice to see you again! My dear Kawi needs some work of its own, but these are desperate times. I'm going to Flagstaff for the weekend, holiday traffic be damned!

First I pass by Roosevelt Lake, the very same one I showed you here.

By the time I approach Payson, AZ, it's time for a gas stop and lunch break. Look what I find right in the gas station parking lot!

Indian Fry Bread (aka Doughboys, for those of you back east.) Resistance is futile.

Soon it becomes clear that I am not the only one seeking higher elevations and cooler temperatures for the weekend.

Okay... YOU. Yes, you. Go outside. Grab your bicycle brake lever. Gently vary the amount you pull in the lever, but don't release it. Do that for an hour. In triple digit temperatures. Wearing a helmet, of course, but also about 20 lbs of leather and armor. No cheating and standing in the shade, either. Hand tired? Getting a little warm? Thirsty? That's what it's like to be stuck in traffic on a motorcycle. It's not our favorite part of the game, but still, a bad day on the moto beats a good day in the car any day! Press on!

Sedona, predictably, is a mad house, but I manage a snapshot of its famous red rocks. Look out for that vortex!!

Nearby Oak Creek Canyon is cool, shady and delightful. I enjoy the twisty road, as do seemingly 3 million of greater Phoenix's 4 million people. I can't bear to stop for a photo. Get me out of here!!!

After a lovely evening, and restful night's sleep at "Spa DiBartolo," (my good friend's house in Flagstaff, and a place of down bedding, fine wines and luxury bath products), I'm ready to head out again. The Grand Canyon is so close, so close... but after yesterday's holiday traffic, do I dare? I think the better of it, and head off to slightly less traveled roads and places. I've never seen nearby Wupatki National Monument. No time like the present! I should have time to check out Sunset Crater Volcano, too. It's a beautiful, beautiful morning. Off I go...

...through high desert grassy plains...

...across fields of golden flowers... landscapes whose only logical explanation is that you've been transported to Mars...

...and then...

... then...

Well, the motorcycle went the other way. They do that, sometimes. You might fully intend to turn right, and it turns left! You are powerless to stop it.

Tag! You're it, Big Ditch!!

How clever of me! In other words, by dumb luck, I entered Grand Canyon National Park, through its east entrance rather than the south. No mile long line of cars waiting at the entrance booth! No caravans of RV's to follow! For every traffic headache I had yesterday, today I had a pleasant surprise.

I've seen and hiked the Grand Canyon before, but still, you can't help but stop and gape dumbly at its, its... grandness!

Imagine, hiking over a landscape such as this:

for 10 miles.

Maybe 20.

Or 30.


And then suddenly, you had to stop dead in your tracks, lest you fall into THIS enormous hole in the ground:

It's that unexpected and dramatic.

As I head out the south entrance, there it is. The mile long line of cars waiting to enter the park. But I'm going the other direction, free and clear, with hardly another vehicle on the road to bother me! Wheeeee!

I don't dawdle too much, though. I've got a dinner to attend at the friends of my friends. "He's a great cook. We're having lamb. You'll love it." "Cool," I think. I like lamb. I have NO IDEA what is in store for me.

We arrive at our plush and luxurious surroundings, filled with murals, rich fabrics and textured colors. Cheeses, sausages, wine and breads await. I soon realize this is no ordinary cheese platter. The cheeses are from all corners of Europe; a brie, a parmesan reggiano, a soft fresh white cheese I don't recognize, and a raw milk pecorino from San Gimignano, Italy. (I've been there before, it's lovely.) Three types of dry sausages as well - my favorite being a chorizo from Barcelona. Crusty fresh baguettes, and Italian breadsticks with a hint of truffle. But what brought this appetizer platter into the realm of exquisite was the array of accompanying condiments. Tiny apples the size of olives preserved in Armagnac. A spicy Sicilian pepperoncini jam. Reisling jelly. Guava paste. Almond spread. And, of course, a lovely red wine, the name and origin of which I can not remember.

Not a bad start, eh? I'd never met my hosts before that evening, so I had to contain myself to a certain extent. I took photos, as you see, but I didn't feel quite right arranging food on the platters for the sake of my camera lens, and running about the house turning this light on, that one off and the like. And I would have felt a little silly with notebook in hand, recording every detail. So, yes, I forget what the first wine we had was.

Now we gather at a beautifully appointed dining table. Polenta with truffles (black AND white!) garnished with perfect haricots verts, a citrusy, minty spinach and chickpea salad, a mixture of hearty grains covered with a generous snowstorm of parmesan reggiano (9 grains? was one of them red bhutan rice?). And the lamb, oh yes the racks of lamb. This is quality - glazed, cooked on a bed of herbs, and done Just So. Not one degree under. Not one degree over. That's key in cooking any protein, in my opinion, and anyone who gets this right scores high points in my book. A lovely Spanish wine, made by a friend of my host (if I recall correctly) completed the main course. Elegance surrounds us as we are serenaded by my host's daughter. Just 14 years old, she has the voice of an angel, and sang for us an aria from Handel's Alcina.

Shall we head back out side to the patio to enjoy the cool evening? There is not one, but two cakes to choose from. I opted for a marzipan cake with a chocolate-Vietnamese cinnamon ganache and candied violets. I was not disappointed. Dessert wine anyone? Red (a 12 year old Olivares - Spanish) or white (a floral sweet one from the German estate of Pfeffengen)?

The evening ends with something I've never even heard of before. This doesn't happen to me often, at least at the dinner table. Coffee as made in Galicia, Spain. What a spectacle! My host brings out a large low saucer, the size of a dinner plate, and pours into it a mound of sugar, strips of lemon zest and grappa, to stand in for the traditional Orujo. Flame it up and douse with a jug of excellent coffee, serve in smaller matching saucers, and you've got Queimada. What fun! And delicious!

Many thanks to my gracious hosts and new friends Harold and Diana. And apologies that my photos don't even begin to fairly represent your good offerings that evening.

Ah, all good Staycation Excursions must come to an end, and I headed back the next morning, choosing the simple beauty of the many lakes in the area over the hubbub of Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona. It was a good choice. Fields of wild flowers so big and dense caught my eye from at least a mile away. And there was enough of a chill in the air to make my return to the hot desert air seem almost welcome.