Saturday, March 26, 2011

20 Minutes of Switzerland

With gas prices rising and the fuel efficiency of my car dropping (thanks to ethanol added at the pump in winter), I calculated that a drive to Marymoor Park to start a bike ride would cost me $5.60 round trip. That doesn't take into account the possible frustration and annoyance of stop-and-go traffic on the way home. For that reason, I decided to take the bus there, a round trip fare of $5 and use of the 3+ person HOV lane  to avoid the crawl of traffic.

I added a time buffer of about ten minutes which is pretty good for me, since my preference is to show up at a stop within a minute of the bus arriving. The busses were arriving every half hour, however, and I didn't want to be late to a ride I was leading. I organized myself quickly at home, having laid out the necessities the night before, and set out for the Montlake Freeway Station on SR 520. It only took me 20 minutes so I was a full 15 minutes early but I was warm and had some hot tea with me (that I carried in my waterbottle cage on the seat tube).

I kept checking the time and so I know that the 545 Sound Transit bus bound for Redmond arrived right on schedule, at 8:34. I loaded my bike on the no-brainer rack and took a seat near the front on a very comfortably cushioned seat. I looked around and saw nice seats throughout the bus, with a luggage rack overhead and reading lights below the rack. I thought about reading the bus schedule just so I could utilize all the amenities the bus provided, but instead I engaged in my usual bus activity – eavesdropping on conversations. It wasn't nearly as juicy as you get on Metro busses, but it was early on a Saturday morning.

When I looked out the window, I saw we were cruising along nicely with the car traffic; no lumbering bus ride here. And the bus never left the freeway to make stops; there were stops at a few points that were incorporated into SR-520, much like the Montlake station. That's a huge time-saver as the bus doesn't get stuck at lights. Less than twenty minutes after boarding, the bus exited 520 at E Lake Sammamish Parkway and I disembarked at the corner of Leary Way, tapping my ORCA card as I said goodbye and grabbed my bike.

From there, I rode just a few minutes to the entrance of Marymoor Park and found my fellow COGS ready to ride. We had a great ride over the hills, through the valley, caffeinating ourselves along the way and then over the hill and down again. Upon arrival at the park, it had begun to rain and one of my fellow riders offered me a ride home, saving me a few raindrops (and a couple of dollars) in the process.

While we sat on 520 in stop-and-go traffic on the drive home, I saw the 545 bus whiz by in the HOV lane.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My New Cap

Every once in a while I stumble onto an excellent piece of clothing, something that once I start wearing it, I wonder how I ever lived without it. One of those things is arm warmers for cycling. The in-between clothing layer that allows for micro-adjustment while on the bike. Too hot? Pull the arm warmers down. Too cold? Pull those arm warmers back up. Perfect and simple.

I saw an ad for Walz Caps in a cycling magazine, either Bicycling or Momentum (two cycling mags on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, by the way) and I was curious. The website depicted both men and women wearing their caps while on and off the bike. They had fabric and color options that were nearly endless, but they had the important choices I was looking for: wool in red. They also offered a cap that had ear flaps built into it, flaps that could come down to keep ears warm but also be tucked up under the cap so it could be worn as just a cap. The absolute selling point was that the cap was available personalized, with embroidery on the side, for a small fee. Bingo! 

I paid a very reasonable price (saw a similarly priced cap made by Smartwool that was very plain) and soon it was on its way to me. The day I received it, a friend was with me and the moment I put it on, she remarked, "That's cute!". Cute was only the first of a string of adjectives to describe how fashionable and functional the cap is. 

The temperature in Seattle had just taken a dive and that evening I was riding to Ballard for my music lesson. I put on the cap, pulled down the ear flaps and secured my helmet over it. Since the wool is thin and soft, my helmet fit over it with just a small adjustment to the chin strap. And my ears stayed warm, along with the rest of me, since I was deterring heat loss by covering my head. Once I arrived at my destination, I tucked the earflaps up and was ready to make a fashion statement.

And that brings me to what the cap is embroidered with on the side. In a previous post, I wrote about my love for a certain dessert item. I also have a love for the bicycle and combining the two by leading rides to local pie establishments. Whether you see me on the road or walking down the street, you will recognize me by my obsession when you see the slogan, "I Ride for Pie" embroidered on my Walz cap.

Monday, March 7, 2011

All About Pie

My memories from childhood about pie centered around my mom's cooking and the delicious and beautiful items produced from the kitchen. I don't remember her baking pie very often, though it left quite an impression on me. I was horrified to think that black beans played a part in the making of a pie! My vividly-imagining mind couldn't understand that they were used solely as a tool for keeping the crust weighted in the pan and not to add any flavor or (eek!) nutrition to the end product.

I think back to those limited pie exposure days and wonder why I am so in love with pie currently. Maybe it is for the fruit filling, mixed with spices and a little sweetener or maybe it is for the light, flaky crust, like a croissant that tastes good even when cold. It must be the combination of those two elements and that the combination has a way of being more healthful than cookies or cakes. There's fresh fruit in there, after all.

In my quest to know more than just what flavor pie I liked (peach, spiced apple, cherry walnut), I set out to learn about the pie-making process. I learned about Four and 20 Blackbirds, owned by Wendy Sykes, an instructor-baker in Ravenna from a broadcast on KUOW about pie and its rise in popularity. It also featured one of my favorite pie bakers from High Five Pie, as well as the owner of Shoofly Pie (which I have yet to taste). Immediately, I went to the instructor's site and signed up for a class. For $55, Wendy would teach us in a hands-on class of the nuances and skills for making the perfect crust. That was the secret to good pie, I learned, as the filling seemed to be an afterthought. Wendy had already prepared the filling for the mini rhubarb custard pie we would each make, so we could turn our focus to the crust.

It became very clear to me during the class that fat was essential to the making of a pie. Fat in the crust, fat dabbed onto the filling and a little fat on top. That's a lot of fat, but fat is what makes things taste good. I'm not used to cooking with fat and I had to ask what shortening was, since my experience with it was hearing the word in a song or reading it in a book. Soon enough, I was using my pastry blender to cut the vegetable oil, solid at room temperature, into the flour mixture, then added water, not too much mixing and handling, then into the refrigerator it went.

When the dough had cooled, I rolled it out, using the quick, simple strokes I was instructed to do. The soon-to-be crust was smooth and uniform in color. It lifted from the mat like a blanket and I draped it into the pie dish. Wendy poured the filling in and I created a top crust, then tucked in the dough, sealing in the juices (this is making me hungry), then into the oven it went. The result: a pie so good that I had to have a nightcap slice before I went to bed.

A couple of weeks passed and I finally assembled the parts and ingredients to explore my own pie crusts and pies. I started with a spiced apple. The consistency of the crust wasn't quite the same and it stuck horribly to the stick-free mat I bought, but I persevered and ended up with a nice, tasty pie that even my foodie friends were impressed with. The second try (the very next week, as practice makes perfect), I made a rum-apple-walnut pie, this time with no recipe for the filling, just an idea as to what I thought would taste good. It tasted good and the pie looked beautiful, with a lattice crust that my teacher would be proud of. But, even so, the crust wasn't quite the blanket-like consistency that I was striving for.

Somewhere along, in the middle of consuming the pie-of-the-week, I was struck with a thought that perhaps meant I had wasted my $55 and several hours of time. What if I have been put on earth to eat pie, but only pie that others have baked. For every pie, several eaters are necessary to give meaning to the pie's existence. I think I am one of those people and not the pie creator, however much I would like to be. That is not to say that I am going to sell my pastry mat and use my rolling pin solely for muscle relaxing  (seriously, you should try it), because it is a valuable skill to be able to churn out a pie for a party at a moment's notice. But, for now, I will be happy with roaming the streets of Seattle by bicycle and riding for pie.

Look for my rides, to different neighborhoods of the city and to outlying areas on the COGS website.