Journeys and Destinations

I haven’t been cycling long enough to make a grand statement like “the Festive 500 made me fall in love with the bike again.” But it sure did make me realize just what makes this sport so special. But not at first.

When I heard word of the challenge – ride 500 kilometers between Christmas and New Years – I reacted with a half-hearted and non-committal, “why not.” There are so many excuses for not riding over the holidays that I knew there would be an easy out, if and when I’d come to my senses to stick to shortbread cookies and roast turkey leftovers. Maybe it would be the Canadian Winter. Maybe it would be family commitments. Whatever the reason, I didn’t think I’d feel guilty about spending time off the bike.

And then the challenge started. Each morning I’d look at the weather, and set goals for myself. Some days I’d surpass them, other days I’d fall short. But as the kilometers added up, I felt like I owed it to myself to finish.

But then a funny thing happened. I realized that this whole time, my rides had been about getting to 500km above all else. Including actually enjoying myself. It sounds like a trite cliche (because it is a trite cliche) but the destination had become more important than the journey. This narrow focus on collecting miles made riding brainless, and kind of a chore. To fix that, I just went for a ride. I didn’t care about “segments” or PRs, my only focus was enjoying myself. Which meant going further than I ever have, to places I had never been. It meant laughing out loud to myself when it started snowing. And it meant witnessing the most beautiful winter sunset I’ve seen all year, and not caring one bit that I didn’t bring my camera along to #proveit.

And that’s how I made it to 500km. And that’s what I’m going to take into 2015.

Shut up legs

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This summer I went a bit bike crazy. As I mentioned earlier in the season, Isabel and I picked up vintage Raleigh cruisers to commute and get around the city. We quickly learned that with a bike, Toronto is so much smaller, and ripe for exploring. I was hooked, but soon had to come to terms with the limit on speed and distance  a 40 year-old cruiser could manage.

So I bought a road bike.

From there, it’s been a steady progression towards further, faster, and longer. It meant waking up early most days to go for a ride – even when the weather dictates you should stay in bed. It meant obsessively tracking my goals and achievements on Strava. It meant renting and borrowing bikes while on vacation just to get the fix. It meant falling off and fracturing my elbow. And it meant getting back on two weeks before my doctor said it was wise to do so.

In the short time that I’ve been riding, I have noticed a big difference. My average speeds on the bike has increased. And my weight off the bike has decreased (not by design, but appreciated nonetheless). Because I came to it so late in the season, I have become obsessed with making the most of the few mild days we have left. Which has meant lots of layers and frozen toes. But along the way, I have loved (mostly) every minute of it.

As I write, I’m coming up on 2,000km traveled, in about 10 weeks of riding. Which I’m pretty happy about. But I’ll be happier if the season can extend just a few more weeks, before I have to start looking at indoor training, as to not undo all the good work done so far.

Franklin BBQ

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If you come to one conclusion from my recap of Hot Doug’s, it’s that Isabel and I don’t mind waiting in line for the promise of great food. And of course, when it comes to Texan cuisine, great food and great BBQ are one in the same.

Coming from Toronto, the notion of proper, southern BBQ is foreign. BBQ around here tends to be hot dogs, steak and burgers (or chicken wings, if Isabel and I invite you over). But of course, anyone with tastebuds and internet access knows that ain’t the case in Texas. So while in Austin, it was natural for us to sink our teeth into the best BBQ we could find. And since the internet is full of people who know more about that sort of thing than I do, it was easy to to get pointed in the right direction. Because if you’re looking for BBQ in Central Texas, all signs point to Franklin.

Of course we knew about the lines. But from what we’d heard, the multi-hour queue is a worthy price of admission for what plenty of experts call, “the finest barbecue in the land.” So we arrived shortly after 9am on an unassuming Thursday morning. Some two hours before the restaurant opens its doors and staked our place in line. Little did we know, it would be close to 4 and a half hours before we’d come face-to-face with the famous pitman.

Here’s where I say the most unbelievable-but-true thing I possibly could: the wait wasn’t that bad. Yes it was long, but we happily used that time to make friends with the fine folks around us who shared the belief that greatness (some might say, “perfection”) is worth waiting for. Maybe we lucked out, but our linemates were all very friendly, offering a place to sit (on their cooler) and drinks (beer from said cooler). And as the line snaked closer and closer to the unassuming shack of a building you couldn’t help but feel that the waiting is part of the appeal. BBQ is slow food, after all.

So what did we eat and how was it? We ordered everything that came out of the smoker (aside from the turkey, which sold out before we got the chance to probably not order it). So this meant brisket, ribs, sausage and a handful of pulled pork given to us gratis. The brisket is probably what gets most people excited, and it was undoubtedly delicious. The Central Texas-style of BBQ means that the rub is simple: salt and pepper. Which means that the end product is really all about the meat. And the smoke. And the skill of the pitman. A common credo around these parts is that great BBQ doesn’t even need a sauce. And this was true for everything we tasted. But that’s not to say that Franklin doesn’t have a dynamite BBQ sauce. Spiked with espresso, it’s much more complicated and delicious than the typically one-note sauces I’m used to.

On the whole, the Franklin experience was worth it. It was the best BBQ I’ve ever had, and would happily stand in line for it again if given the chance.

Keep Austin Weird

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I enjoy traveling more than most, but that’s not to say I fall in love with every city I visit. I’ll gladly tell you why I’m over London, and will happily state that the appeal of Vancouver is mostly lost on me. So I’m not an easy mark.

With that said, Austin was everything everyone says it is.

Having never been to Texas before, Austin was probably not the most typical introduction to the state, but what we were greeted with was a vibrant and interesting, young and unique city. The food and bar scene was great. The people were friendly. And our four days there left me already itching to go back. Maybe some future posts will go into more detail on why that’s the case, but I’ll leave that for “Future David” to bore you with.

Tweed Ride 2014

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In what’s proving to be a bit of an Indian Summer, this weekend saw the 2014 version of the Tweed Ride – a fashionable fundraiser / bike ride through Toronto. Participants are encouraged to sport traditional British cycling attire (think tweed jackets and knee socks as far as the eye can see) and ride handsome vintage bikes. Since Isabel and I both got vintage Raleighs this summer – and I happened to be sporting quite a distinguished mustache – we decided to take part.

The ride itself was relaxed. A lot of ringing bells, waving crowds and “pip pip cheerios!” Wrapping up in Trinity Bellwoods Park, all participants were treated to a delightful tea party. Prizes were awarded for a variety of categories, including “Most Awe-inspiring Mustache” which I just happened to win.

Blue Star Donuts

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When telling people that you’re headed to Portland, the word “donuts” is generally said within a few sentences of their response. Or at least when you talk to the kind of people I do.

“Skip Voodoo Doughnut. It’s for tourists. The real winner is Blue Star.”

Be it through word of mouth or word of mouse, the general consensus is nothing but praise for Blue Star Donuts – the trendy shop (of course it’s trendy, it’s in PDX)  slinging inventive and delicious donuts. So naturally, it was Isabel and I’s first stop when we rolled into the city. And it did not disappoint.

I typically favour a cake-type donut (with a sour cream old fashioned being my absolute favourite) but Blue Star’s brioche-based dough gave even the best donuts I’ve ever had a run for their money. Between the two of us we sampled three delicious varieties, but the undisputed champion was the lemon poppyseed. Paired with Portland’s finest brew and what you’re left with is a breakfast fit for a big ol’ fat king.

Hiking Mount Si

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Ever since last year’s remarkable trek to Machu Picchu, Isabel and I have tried to fit hiking into our vacation plans whenever possible. With that in mind, our trip to Washington State provided the perfect opportunity to stretch our climbing legs, and treat ourselves to some fresh, Pacific Northwestern air.

Mount Si – a 40 minute drive from downtown Seattle was the perfect daytrip. Located about 35 miles southeast of the city, Mount Si lies on the western edge of the Cascade Range, with its highest point reaching 4,167 feet. Getting to Si was not a problem, but finding the trailhead (and a place to park once we arrived) proved a bit trickier. But the extent of our confusion was not made apparent until we reached what we thought was the peak – where we learned we’d been actually climbing Little Si, the smaller, cuter neighbour of Mount Si. We had a good laugh at this fact, and took a group shot at the top, with the actual peak of Mount Si looming in the background.

Still a nice day out, though.

Ebbets Field Flannels

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One of the stops on our trip to Seattle that had me most excited was Ebbets Field Flannels. This rather remarkable store located in the city’s historic Pioneer Square district sells handmade reproductions of turn of the century (the last one, that is) baseball uniforms. The cap selection alone is enough to spend the better part of an hour mulling over. With common debates being: could I carry off a pillbox cap? What about wearing the logo of a defunct Negro League team? In my case the answer to both questions was “no.” But I still managed to find a cap that suited my taste. That being, the iconic emblem of the Colorado Telephone Company of 1911. It’s early days, but I’ve already been told by a number of strangers, much cooler than I, that they like it.

Ontario Peach Sorbet

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Maybe because its been a cooler summer than last year, but our ice cream maker has been criminally under-utilized this season. But after picking up a couple bushels of fantastic Ontario peaches, we put that worry to bed by trying our hand at a batch of sorbet.

I’ve experimented with a number of different ice cream flavours since getting the machine, but this was my first stab at sorbet. And given the fact that it’s a much more straightforward process, with less elements to screw up, it came together even easier than I thought it would. Obviously with so few ingredients, the strength of the end product is largely contingent upon the quality of the fruit. And since we are in the height of peach season here, that was never in question. I’m sure canned fruit would work, but when you taste how fresh this version is, why would you bother with anything less?

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Ingredients:

  • 8 large peaches (ripe, skin on)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of vanilla

Directions:

1. Slice the fruit and place it in a large bowl.

2. Add the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine.

3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blitz the works until it is smooth.

4. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours – or better yet, overnight.

5. Once the sorbet batter has chilled, freeze the works in an ice cream maker, following the instructions as if it were ice cream.

6. The sorbet will come out of the machine in a soft serve consistency. It’s tasty to consume now, but would benefit from setting for a couple of hours in the freezer.

 

 

 

Homemade Horchata

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In my opinion, part of the fun that comes with traveling to the States is getting to eat real Mexican food. As good an eating city Toronto is, there just aren’t many options when it comes to snacking south of the border. So on our recent trip to Chicago, Janice took Isabel and I to the Lower West Side neighbourhood of Pilsen—which happens to be one of the city’s Mexican communities.

We had a very enjoyable (and filling) meal. But one of the highlights of it was the cold glass of horchata that accompanied it. When we came back to Toronto, I knew that I wanted to have a go at making it myself.  And here’s how I did it:

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Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of long grain white rice
  • 1 cup of skinned almonds
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • simple syrup (to taste)
  • dash of vanilla

Directions:

1. Blitz the rice into as fine a consistency as you can. A spice grinder would do a great job at this, and I found our food processor did ok too.

2. Toast the almonds in a dry pan until they become fragrant and begin to brown.

3. Add the rice and almonds and cinnamon sticks to 3 cups of warm water. Let the works sit overnight.

4.  Once the rice and almonds have softened, process the works until smooth. Strain and add a dash of vanilla and simple syrup to taste. Serve over ice.