Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Some people, like my friend Ellen and my parents, love "my" granola and want me to make it for them as housewarming presents and Christmas presents and Spring Solstice presents... while other people say "Eh, it's granola," or in other words, they're all the same. In any case, my granola is really Mollie Katzen's Very Crunchy Granola, and the recipe can be taken from her website. All I do to change it is reduce the oil content and soy protein content, reduce the almonds a bit to make it cheaper, leave out the brown sugar, and set the oven 25-40 degrees lower so I don't burn it. I add 1/2-2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, which add fat to the granola, and I can't really taste a coconut flavor, but the granola isn't as good without the coconut. I suspect I wouldn't need the cooler oven if it weren't for the coconut, which burns easily. The more coconut I use, the cooler I have to set the oven.

I wrote all that down for Ellen, whose head was spinning from the simplicity of my alterations to the recipe. She ate the granola I left her, and then she made her own, and it didn't taste the same. She called me and told me, and I realized I had a secret ingredient. Of course I promptly spilled the beans: Instead of using raw pumpkin seeds, I make the granola with tamari pumpkin seeds, which are greasy and salty and extremely tasty.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

New Wheels

I just bought my second bicycle. I bought the first a year and a half ago: a Cignal Ranger hybrid trail bike, a little too small for me but I bought it at a small independent bike store at the end of the season when the owner didn't have many bikes left. I didn't want to spend too much money in case either I wound up not enjoying riding very much, or my acute sciatica prevented me from riding. I could only ride a short distance at first, and it would make the sciatic nerve ache, but riding quickly began to make the sciatica improve!

I was thrilled to find a form of exercise I enjoyed that made my body feel better instead of giving me more injuries. I observed other bikes to figure out what I wanted to upgrade to. At first I wanted a mountain bike with disc brakes because road riding makes me nervous, I love trail riding, and mountain bikes are a blast. However, I decided that there are only two single track riding areas within a two-hour drive of my apartment, and I had no one to mentor me or ride with me on mountain bike trails, and a mountain bike would lock me into solo riding because I wouldn't be able to keep up with groups on road rides. Thus, I needed to choose a bike based on my riding goals, rather than what appealed to me most.

So did I want a road bike? Suiting up in fancy riding gear and cruising at high speeds isn't my style. I don't take a serious attitude to bicycling, I mainly bike on rough surfaces, I'm a little clumsy, and I really don't like to wipe out. On the other hand, I wanted to join Bicyclists of Iowa City for some low-key road rides just to be social and hang out. Thus, I decided to buy another hybrid, but a faster one.

I thought I might get a Trek hybrid because the nicest bicyclists seem to ride Treks and I wanted to be like them. However, it was too much of a bicyclist's bike for me. There wasn't even a shield over the chain spokes, so the bike couldn't be ridden with trousers on unless the cuffs were bound to my legs. Also, although the bike shop would have fitted the bike for me, the default handlebar settings were so far wrong for me that I wasn't entirely confident they could be fixed. My rotator cuffs hurt just from taking a spin around the parking lot!

I think Cannondales are gorgeous, but I fell in love with the Specialized Sirrus, which is a cushy, compact bike designed for the casual rider. It seems to be very popular; there were at least two others out for customers when I bought mine, this time at Northtowne Cycles in Cedar Rapids. I have to say, if there was a Northtowne charge card, I'd have it. I think I shop there more than almost anywhere else except grocery stores. Anyway, the Sirrus has a comfortable ergonomic seat; it's sporty and compact so I can reach the handlebars easily; it has a straight handlebar instead of curved, which gives me more control and keeps my back straighter; and its handling is far superior to that of my Ranger. It has narrow tires that help it get up a good speed easily, yet the tires are still wide enough that they won't get caught in a crack in Sutliff Road and throw me on the pavement. Plus it's beautiful. It's a little cheaper than a low-end road bike, as well.

I took the Sirrus for its maiden voyage today on the North Ridge Trail. Very sweet. It corners smoothly, with a certain style and grace. At times I get the feeling of floating over the road. Hopefully now when I ride with other bicyclists, they won't turn and look at me every time someone's brakes squeal; and mechanics won't look askance at me and hint that I might have purchased a bike at a department store. For the record, my Ranger's brakes have never squealed, not even once, and I'm keeping it for trail riding.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Wrong Way

One thing I learned this spring about backpacking was that packs were supposed to be loaded with lighter items at the bottom and heavier items on top. I never knew this, so a few years ago I simply tested my pack with heavy items at both top and bottom, concluded that having heavy items at the top made the pack pull away from my shoulders and sit funny, and henceforth always loaded my packs with the heavy items at the bottom.

Fortunately, today I read a more extensive and up-to-date guide to backpacking, and I learned that my way is the right way for my body type. Men should put lighter items in the bottom of their packs, but women tend to have longer legs and shorter torsos, which changes their center of gravity. Women should therefore experiment with where they want the heaviest items in their packs. For women like me whose legs require trousers for tall people but who can wear petite shirts, it is preferable to put the heavy items right above the sleeping bag at the bottom of the pack.

This discovery perfectly fits my philosophy that if somebody tells me there's only one way to do something, I should try another way.

Last summer a friend and I rented bicycles in Boulder. My friend is very tall, and the store gave her a big men's bike and insisted she ride it with the seat up so that she could scarcely graze the ground with her toes. She was uncomfortable at that height and said so, but they would not change the seat height, because it would compromise her pedaling efficiency and it would not be the proper height for her. On the other hand, they gave me a women's bike with a wide seat. I hate wide seats, I'm a regular bicyclist, and I ride a men's bike. I wasn't pleased with the bike, and I expressed my preference for a men's bike and a narrow seat, but I did not insist on a different bike.

We rode a block and a half, and I turned around, went back, and insisted they give me a men's bike. They didn't want to, but I was absolutely adamant. I hate wide seats, and I'm a regular bicyclist and I ride a men's model. The guy actually thought I would be awkward and uncomfortable, and he seemed to think it was ridiculous for a woman to be riding a men's bike.

As soon as I got back to my friend, we lowered her seat and had ourselves a very pleasant bicycle ride, the wrong way.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Trip Planning Continues

My new backpack turns out to be something that gearheads call a "load monster," in other words too big unless I intend to be out for a week. Sigh. Well, I won't be hiking very far with it.

My new strategy is to try to win some gear from Backpacker magazine, which is sponsoring a contest. It's a long shot, but I might as well try, as I have no difficulty in presenting myself as pathetic, after ruining a nerve ending in my pinky on my first solo CAR CAMPING expedition, in freaking NEBRASKA. I'm going to get a friend to take a picture of me with my load monster and the offending padlock, the one I crushed the nerve with.

Anyway, I'm leaning toward purchasing a Jetboil camp stove. It's rather expensive, but it's so fuel efficient that if I use it for a few years, it will pay for itself. And when you're boiling water for 20 minutes to kill tapeworm larvae, fuel efficiency is a nice feature.