Monday, October 28, 2013

2 kids later.....

So I had a couple kids in the interim of this and my previous post (probably about 4 years ago). As a result my commuting experiment took quite the hiatus. It was one thing for me to take the risk of riding down Washington Ave at 10 at night after work, trying to avoid tipsy girls on teetering heels walking out from between cars. And quite another to know I was totally responsible for someone else. You know, maternal instinct and all that stuff.

Those are them. The older will be 3 in December and the younger is 18 months. 16 months apart, go big or go home.

Note the bike helmet. A, as I like to call her, is already an avid biker. Her bike of choice is a "Strider". Its small and has no pedals. The basic premise is that balancing is much more difficult to learn as opposed to pedaling. Training wheels teach you to pedal but we all take nose dives and scrape elbows while learning to ride because we lack the balance. So on this apparatus, she scoots along to pick up speed and then lifts her feet and coasts, learning to balance.

She is fairly adept at this. In fact her favorite ride is from our home in the Old Sixth Ward to Spotts Park and an art instillation known as "The Blue Trees" along Memorial Drive. 1.5 miles may not seem like very far, but on 2yr old legs it is quite the trek. I have found that the only days we can do the ride to completion is on a Saturday or Sunday morning. This is simply because there are so many bikers and runners out who cheer her on, their encouragement spurs her to keep going. We have tried the ride on off days and make it about 1/3 of the way before she wants to stop. I could be waving pompoms like a maniac, my enthusiasm means nothing.

View Larger Map

We are lucky in that we have direct access to the rapidly improving hike and bike trails along Buffalo Bayou. Riding with kids and teaching kids to ride in Houston is a whole different kettle of fish compared to bombing down the road solo. That is probably where the direction of this blog will go, assuming I keep it up this time. Pedaling Houston with kids.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tour de Houston (in search of squash)

Today was a day devoted to house cleaning and bike riding. House cleaning because Mike comes home tomorrow and the house looked liked it hadn't been cleaned in about 2 weeks. I did a full top to bottom, dish (no dishwasher) and clothes wash, sweep, mop and dusting in about 3 hours. This is a personal record for me.

Around 3:30 I realized I had not turned in my schedule request for November. This is where the bike riding started. Trip 1 was to work to fill out and turn in my schedule request. Note to company: develop an on-line form please.

View Larger Map

From there I headed downtown for my Rotary meeting. The location we usually use was occupied by another event, so we opted for for a social meeting at Lucky's Pub. Lucky's has no bike rack I would like to point out, so I had to lock my bike to a street lamp.

View Larger Map

The socializing was good. From there I headed to the Randalls on St Emanuel. I had my grocery list and the full intention of making the previously mentioned 'curry pear squash soup' to have in the fridge for Mike when he gets home tomorrow. Well guess what: no butternut squash. Also no pear nectar. Apparently to cook anything in Houston outside of your standard meat and potatoes, a trip to Central Market or Whole Foods is required.

View Larger Map

From there I rode home. I dropped the items off I was able to get from Randalls at my place.

View Larger Map

From there I ditched my bike, sore butt and all, and walked to Kroger in search of the squash. Victory on pear nectar, still no butternut squash. In defeat I walked home.

View Larger Map

8 hours later, post good night's sleep, I rode up to the other Kroger and found my squash. Soup got made, although I have not tasted it yet. By the time it was done, it was time to ride to work.

View Larger Map

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pears. Lots and lots of pears.

Yesterday I helped create a wonderful meal centered around pears. My dear friend got sucked into the bounty of Cost-Co and walked out with a flat of 12 ripe pears. At noon I hopped on my bike and rode over to her place carting with me: goat cheese, strawberries basil from my basil plant. None of this we actually needed.

Working double team method, we used a little over half of them creating 3 dishes and invited some friends over to help us eat it. There were going to be 4, we attempted bread, but that never made it out of the rising stage. In fact we had at least one issue with each recipe.

First on the list was Curried Squash-and-Pear Bisque Soup (amazing). Recipe from and published in Cooking Light October 2000 edition.
* 1 butternut squash (about 2 3/4 pounds)
* 1 tablespoon butter
* 2 cups chopped peeled Bartlett pear (about 1 pound)
* 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
* 2 1/3 cups water
* 1 cup pear nectar
* 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth
* 2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
* 1/2 cup half-and-half
* 1 small Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced


Preheat oven to 375°.

1. Cut squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membrane. Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet; bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool. Peel squash; mash pulp. Set aside 3 1/2 cups pulp, reserving remaining squash for another use.

2. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped pear and onion; sauté 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Add squash pulp, water, and next 5 ingredients (water through pepper). Bring to a boil; partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes. Place one-third of squash mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour puréed mixture into a large bowl; repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture. Return squash mixture to pan; stir in half-and-half. Cook over low heat 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Ladle soup into bowls, and garnish with pear slices.

Only problem with this was actually trying to find the butternut squash. Kroger had a grand total of 1, that didn't weigh much. So a pit stop to HEB was necessary. Smaller store, fewer options, lots of butternut squash, go figure.

Next on the list was baguette bread. We killed the yeast before we really got anything started. Note to future bread bakers: don't pour boiling water on your yeast, it kills it. Dead yeast, no oxygen production--no oxygen production, no rising--no rising, really dense bad bread. We wound up sending a husband back to the HEB to pick up a baguette for us. Better luck next time.

Dessert: Pear Upside-down Cake (really good, no comment on caloric content). Found on and published in the Sunset magazine (according to Mikel 'Southern Living' for California) September 2007.
* 3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for pan
* 2 Bosc pears, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/4-in.-thick slices
* 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
* 1 cup chopped pecans, divided
* 1/3 cup bourbon
* 1 teaspoon salt, divided
* 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
* 3 eggs
* 2 teaspoons vanilla
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 2 cups flour
* 3/4 cup plain whole or low-fat yogurt


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter a 9-in. cake pan and arrange pear slices in a pattern on the bottom of pan. Set aside.

2. Bring 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a 10-in. frying pan (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Lower heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, undisturbed, until mixture starts to brown (swirl pan to help mixture brown evenly). When mixture turns a medium amber color, add 1/2 cup pecans and cook until fragrant but not burning, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and slowly stir in bourbon and 1/2 tsp. salt. Pour over pears in buttered pan.

3. Put 3/4 cup butter, the brown sugar, and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl. Beat until smooth and a bit fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Add half of the flour and beat until combined. Then beat in half of the yogurt. Repeat with remaining flour and yogurt. Stir remaining 1/2 cup pecans into batter (it will be thick).

4. Drop spoonfuls of batter over pears and sauce and spread evenly. Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack 15 minutes. Run a knife between cake and pan sides and invert cake onto a plate or serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This one gave us the most issues, besides the complete and total failure of the bread.
--First problem was being Sunday, most liquor stores are closed and we didn't have Bourbon. We used something we guessed was Scotch. Liquor is liquor right.
--Problem two was the whole browning of the sugar, it never browned. In fact we evaporated off all the water the first go round and wound up with packed sugar crystals. Basically we dumped water back in, got the sugar into solution and let it heat some more. We never achieved the amber color we were looking for. When the water was about to evaporate for the second time we just dumped the pecans and Scotch in and hoped for the best.
--Problem three: we used a spring form pan so the sugar liquid was seeping form the base. To prevent possible fire from messing up our evening we put a baking sheet under the pan, thus blocking a lot of the heat from the base. It took a little over an hour to cook as opposed to 40 minutes.
--Problem 4: when we were flipping it to make it upside down, we dropped it on the stove top. We just scooped the pieces back up and onto the plate.

Last but not least we made a salad with cut pear pieces and feta cheese. Easy, no issues, good too.

So despite our obvious problems with following directions, we ended up with 3 good items. Fortunately we had people come help us eat it. And I had a nice swerve ride home. Unfortunately I had to leave for work at 8:30 in the next morning.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The face on the driver's license looked nothing like the face before me. It was the same person, but a lifetime separated the picture from the person. I felt like I was witnessing a life unraveling.

He walked in an hour before closing, maybe my age, looking for items so he could 'get away'. The skin stretched across his face was pale to the point of being translucent. The words he spoke slurred together and his eyes couldn't seem to find anything to focus on. He kept leaving to go out to his car and then would return a few minutes later to check out more stuff.

We all started speculating as to what he was on. We all helped him navigate the store, making a pile of items on the front counter we never thought he would purchase. Items that would sit on hold for 3 days and then make their way back to the floor.

He asked my opinion about how he looked in 3 different sweaters and 5 different belts. I picked the gray sweater because it made him look a little less like a ghost. He asked how his butt looked in a pair of pants. I said fine. Every now and then I would hear my name called out over the racks to come see what I thought about one shirt over another. You could see a longing in his eyes beyond the unfocused stare, maybe simply to be told he looked good, well, whole.

At first he was going to put everything on hold. Then he decided to call his dad. Every day I listen to kids beg their parents, the longing in their voice for items they are holding in their hands, the fear they are going to have to put it back. This was the same conversation, asking his dad for a sweater and pants and a bag that he really liked.

He was trying to thread his new belt through his new pants while talking on the phone. You could tell he was coming down off whatever was coursing through his veins, teetering on the edge of falling asleep standing up. I wanted to walk over and either help with the belt or hold the phone, something to make the process a little easier.

Because the transaction was taking place without an actual card, we requested his driver's license for photo I.D. and the number. That is when I saw the photo. The face that was no longer his. A round young face with bright eyes and a big smile. What happened between that photo and this version of that person? Was his dad buying a sweater and pants for the ghost man standing in the store or the boy in the photo?

We shook hands once all was said and done. He thanked me for my help and I told him to take care of himself. The bag he purchased may wind up sold for junk, but I hope he keeps the sweater to stay warm. I hope the face from the driver's license comes back.

Friday, October 16, 2009

KUHF Silent Movies

About once a month KUHF sponsors a free silent film viewing at Discovery Green in downtown Houston. Discovery Green is a 12 acre park on the eastern edge of downtown. Before becoming the park it is today, about half the space was used as parking lots. Below an aerial view of the park's humble beginnings:

Today the green hosts concerts, movies, even bike repair workshops.

The films shown are usually from the 1920s and have included 'Girl Shy' (1924) and Buster Keaton's 'The General' (1927). To add a little more spice, orchestral groups are brought in to perform their own original scores for the films. This is a photo I found of tonight's performers 'Two Star Symphony'.

The films are classic if a little difficult to see given the street/office lights on behind the screen; not to mention the effect wind has on the inflatable screen. The treat is the live music and all the people who come out to sit on a grassy knoll with their family, friends, kids and dogs.

Tonight's film was 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920); widely considered to be the original horror film.

Mike is off-shore and everyone else was busy so I packed my blanket and sweater into the panniers and took off to watch/listen solo. As I mentioned above, Two Star Symphony provided the music, a score they wrote for the film a few years back. Although only an hour in duration, totally a worthwhile trip. The cool front blowing through also helped make the evening enjoyable. First time this season I have needed my sweater and wanted to burrito wrap myself in the blanket I brought to sit on.

My route for the evening, same 'ole for downtown destinations:

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Im Back

So it has been a couple weeks since my last post. Let it be stated for the record: I have not cheated. I have been busy though. My husband came back home from his job on the oil rigs and we hit the ground running. In the past 2 1/2 weeks I have attended 2 weddings and 1 funeral, flown back and forth from Austin a few times and hung out in the Baltimore airport for 12 hours trying to catch a ride back home. So anyway, lots of undocumented commuting has taken place and I'm going to try to make amends.

Let's start with last night. I am in a Rotary Club that meets downtown at 6pm. Seeing that even if I work the opening shift I never get out of work until 6pm; I usually just take Tuesdays off in order to make it to the meetings. Here is my route downtown:

View Larger Map

I attempted Allen Parkway once, unless I am on a mountain bike and plan on using the trial along the bayou...never again. Washington is technically a bike route, it even has a designated strip on the road specifically for bikes. Well for bikes, buses and parked cars. Even with the obstacles, nothing compares to the pot holes and botched road repair jobs which occupy the bike lane. I would say I make it 50% of the way to downtown in the bike lane, the rest of the time I am in the regular car lane dodging objects or poured mounds of asphalt that make my teeth chatter when I ride over them.

Something else I have noticed in the past few weeks, is the increased amount of cars parked on the road as a result of the recent influx of new bars along Washington in both directions. I'm all for the addition of new business, but more and more of the bike lane is being eaten up due to parking and drivers don't always look before pulling out or opening their doors. Ok so that is my deal with Washington. For all my complaining, of all the streets that lead into downtown, I would rather ride this road than any other.

So downtown. I take Washington over to Milam and head south. I am stopped at pretty much every red light from Bagby to Milam. Granted this is only 4 lights but still. It's a pain when you have just started rolling and the light only 100m away is already yellow. Now Milam is fun. It is 11 blocks from Preston to the Wedge Building, I have found if I go fast enough I can hit every light green all the way. Buses tend to complicate matters seeing as I ride in the bus lane and they tend to back up and stop every block or so. I have started riding in the far left hand side of the lane so I can skirt around a stopped bus, usually I am going with the speed of traffic so merging with the next lane isn't too tricky.

When I arrive, at least 3 seasons out of the year, I am a sweaty mess. Rotary is usually made up of business professionals who I don't think would appreciate my soaked through t-shirt and running short attire. I try to get there about 10 min ahead of time to take a quick paper towel bath and change into clothes I cart with me in my panniers. Usually I have enough time to grab a beer on the way in the door.

The ride home is usually in the dark. I take roughly the same route back as I do in. The added bonus is the bread bakery on Washington, if I am lucky I can smell the bread being churned out for the next day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rain Riding

I would like to state that I am a fan of riding in the rain. As a general preference I would much rather show up someplace wet due to rain as opposed to sweat. Considering Houston is so humid, it is the latter that is typically the case.

Today was one of those rainy days. I got up early so I could go swimming, good plan until the rain blew in and the lightning started up. Instead of putting some good time into the pool I curled up on the couch, read the NYTimes online and drank coffee. Not such a bad plan either.

I did have a moment of doubt about riding in today. That moment actually lasted from about 7am when the rain started till 8:30am when I finally sucked it up, threw all my work stuff in a Ziploc, and jumped on my bike. The radio was warning drivers about the weather, I figure it counted double for cyclists.

Usually Memorial Park is teeming with bikers, today I saw one compatriot. We gave each other a passing smile, which in my mind said 'that's right sister, you are a bad ass.'

My only issue on my ride to work occurs at the crossing point where I switch from the Memorial Drive bike trail to the trail that runs along 610. There are 2 points that I have to cross daily which are not protected by a light or stop sign. They are the rt turn lane from 610N access rd onto Memorial Dr and from Memorial Dr onto the access road of 610S. Usually the problem is people stop their car in the middle of my lane, making it necessary for me to hop the edge of the curb and coast around behind them (never in front because I don't trust them to look my way before they gun it to get going).

The problem at the point is, who exactly has the right of way? I stop when the cars are moving unless one stops and motions for me to go. But occasionally the cars are stopped and I am hesitant to move unless I make eye-contact with the driver and we exchange signals stating that they understand that I will soon be occupying the space between their headlights and they have no intention of smashing me.

Today I thought I had effectively communicated my movements with a stopped driver. Apparently not, nothing happened, but I did get to witness him throw a hissy fit because apparently my sudden presence in front of his car was enough to set him off.

Anyway I made it to work in one piece. Wet but extolling the virtues of Patagonia rain coats for the rest of the day.