Saturday, March 21, 2015

So: Which is It?

There are a lot of times in life when we are legitimately confused. I’m not talking about the times when we are willfully confused (being exasperated with ludicrous bureaucracy) or tactically confused (casually “forgetting” when it suits), or even confused for the sake of saving someone else’s feelings (there is a fine art to this in clergy life). No, I’m speaking of the genuine confused article.

The occasion for this post comes from two signs on Church Street as one heads north, each purporting to herald the start of the pedestrian-only sidewalk safety area downtown.

The first sign is at Trade Street, in front of a block of sidewalk that gets relatively little pedestrian traffic.

The second sign is at Ferry Street, at the start of a much busier block next to the historic Methodist church, and a more logical place, overall.

The question is: which is it? Are both signs needed? Does the zone start on Trade or Ferry on the east side of the block?

Now, I have an ulterior motive here. When travelling south along Winter Street after leaving the Capitol grounds, I often take a right on the vestigial, old part of Ferry and travel a couple of blocks west towards the intersection of Church and Ferry (one of the many major speedway intersections in this part of town, slicing everything into odd-shaped sections so that motorists can travel at high rates of speed—except when they can’t, which is fairly often). I then cross the Mario Andretti Memorial Speedway there and head south on Church (on the sidewalk) to Trade, where I cross the eastbound part of this Military-Industrial Road Complex in order to get to the quiet part of Church Street and resume my travel south toward Bush Park on the street itself.

Now, in order to do this, I need to travel on the sidewalk that one block between these two signs (because it is a one-way street going north). If I am riding my bike to do this, I am apparently violating the law—something I’m not keen on doing.

I bring this all up for a wider reason, as well. Salem is a bit of a crazy quilt for transportation cyclists who, like myself, prefer quiet streets rather than risking life and limb on the big speedways rammed through the fabric of our fair city. Getting from one place to another is frequently hampered by these asphalt-and-concrete barriers. Since they are normally of the one-way or divided highway type, these roads present difficulties for cyclists making our way across town. There are usually alternatives, but they tend to be much more circuitous, risky, or actually more likely to put one in conflict with a pedestrian than the block I’m bringing up (this is the case in the area I mention, as the logical alternative is to take the pedestrian path and underpasses from Church over to the Willamette campus…but that really does put one in contact with a lot of pedestrians and several blind corners).

Church Street south of downtown is a natural bike route to Bush Park. It is a good place to cross Mission Street (a better-than-average crosswalk with an island and at a point where that infamous thoroughfare is at its narrowest), and there is a path up the hill to the park’s interior (though it would much better if the old carriageway were restored as a multi-user path…another of my hobby-horses).

Yet, once one gets to Trade and points north, Church turns into quite another critter, much less friendly to cyclists (of the normal sort). Getting from Church to Winter is generally advisable, allowing one to use the Capitol grounds to head north or to connect to points east. This, too, has its own challenges, but is much less anxiety-producing than continuing north on Church. It is that connection from Church to Winter that makes the confusion about whether the block in question is (or is not) in the Pedestrian Safety Area.

When I am walking downtown, I really don’t like having to dodge cyclists on the sidewalk. So, I am cognizant that me being on the sidewalk anywhere in that area is not optimal. However, the maze of cycle-unfriendly possibilities makes it unclear what the best way to get from downtown to Bush Park is.

Winter Street is generally the best bet, except for the rather dreadful intersection with Bellevue—the traffic signals there do not seem to be actuated by cyclists, meaning that one either waits for a car to make the light change, or one has to dismount and push the pedestrian crossing button. If this were to change, it would make Winter the clear first choice (except for the endless construction at the hospital). The lights at Winter and Mission now seem to respond to cyclists, and that leaves the Bellevue signal the big problem.

Well, that’s a lot of verbiage to ask: “Which sign is telling the truth?” I hope someone can tell me. Until then, I’ll ponder the possible hidden meanings of it all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

An Oatcake-y sort of day...

All year, but especially during Lent, one of my favorite snacks is the lowly oatcake. They are easy to make, easy to clean up after preparing, and very healthy. They are especially tasty with a hot cup of tea, and go marvelously with a good, sharp cheese 'round about four o'clock of an afternoon. I'm told they are splendid with paté...I'll have to try that sometime after Easter.

When the weather is unsettled, stormy, or "cold and raw," these little numbers are just the ticket. We have had a couple of oatcake-y days this year, and I'm glad to share a simple recipe to grace these less than satisfactory weather days.

The oatcake is a staple of Scottish cookery, and they are also well known in Ireland and other places in that often cold and rainy part of the world. Last summer, while I was in Scotland on pilgrimage, I purchased some examples of the "Real Deal," the (apparently) famous Stockan's Oatcakes from the Orkneys. I dinna' suppose you can get more authentic than that. They were, indeed, very tasty...and their flavor was almost precisely like the ones I have been making for years. How satisfying.

Oatcakes make a great little treat before cycling, especially in winter. I sometimes bring a few to church with me so that before I set out for home at the end of the day, I can have a cup of tea from the samovar (it stands ready to serve out Russian-style tea most of the year in my office--just drop by!) and munch contentedly on some crisp oatcakes (sort of "two-for-the-road" in a healthy way).

There are many ways to make oatcakes. Some like them thick and chewy. Some like them thin and crunchy. Some prefer them round, others square, &c. I tend to like them very thin, crispy, and cooked enough to have a nutty taste (sort of like a cracker, really). When being a bit more fancy, I cut them into circles. Normally, I just roll them out and cut them into rough squares with a pizza wheel (well, I am part Sicilian, so...). I always make a double batch. Being the product of a thrifty culture, they keep for a number days; I never have to throw any away.

Here is the recipe I use, from my very non-Scottish kitchen, but apparently tasting like the genuine article:

Oatcakes (1 small batch)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F (I like to use convection baking, to make them very crisp)

1 Cup Oatmeal (I use regular rolled oats)
2 Tablespoons flour (I use plain, regular might want to very it; it does change the taste)
1/4 Teaspoon baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup hot water (nearly boiling is good)
1/4 Oatmeal (reserved for later)

In a food processor, grind the oatmeal until it is a fine powder. Some might want a coarser grind, but I  tend to like it very fine.

Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Run the processor until everything is very well combined. [I sometimes add a dash of cinnamon at this point...not authentic, but tasty. These cakes by themselves almost have a cinnamon taste to them naturally.]

Add the butter (in one tablespoon chunks) to the dry ingredients and process until it is all evenly distributed (a food processor is splendid for this).

While the processor is running, add the hot water. It should form into a warm ball. Stop processing.

Prepare a board or other surface to receive the resulting dough by pouring the 1/4 cup of reserved oatmeal onto its center. Removing the dough from the processor, place it on the pile of oatmeal. Pat flat. Take a rolling pin and roll out your dough to the desired thickness, using perhaps a bit of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. The oatmeal is there to keep the dough from sticking to the board. It is also rather pretty when you turn the cake over after cooking.

Cut the dough into the shape you desire (a small drinking glass serves well to make circles).

Place oatcakes on a baking tray and put into oven. Cook for 12-15 minutes. Check to see if cooked to your satisfaction. I often cook mine for 18-20 minutes.

Cool on a rack.

Enjoy on your next oatcake-y day!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Seen along the way...

As one pedals about in Salem, various encounters along the way enhance the experience--especially during such a run of fine weather.

This winter has been horrific for many in the Eastern two-thirds of our nation, with massive amounts of snow and well-below normal temperatures. Here in Oregon it has been mostly very warm and VERY dry. We are, in fact, heading into a drought of serious proportions if we do not receive rain and mountain snow in the coming weeks (and the forecast is not making one hopeful).

While this is very disconcerting for agriculture, recreation, fire-fighting, and the domestic water supply, it has been a splendid winter for biking in the Willamette Valley. We have a had very few rainy days, with their attendant gloom and grime. This week was a perfect example: sunny, no fog, a little frost here-and-there, but mostly just delightful. This weekend it may well reach 70 degrees. Sorry about that, my Eastern Seaboard friends....

One day this week I was out and about on the bike and took a few pictures of what is going on. Here are some thoughts...

Out with the old...

The television found in the street near church presented a particularly forlorn example of consumerism's endless cycle of waste. Here is a model I remember when new. It was a rather nice unit and we were happy to have it. Now, it is just more clutter, fit to be chucked out to the roadside (I would say "curb," but there isn't one on this street). In addition to being a sad spectacle of littering, it sums up for me much of what is wrong in our materialistic world. Spattered with mud, it awaits either vandalism or removal; whatever happens, it remains a study in what we do with possessions and (all too often) people in our nation today.

Civic pride...

Most plants seem about a month ahead of schedule this year. The flowering trees, unchallenged by rain and wind, stand out intensely against the clear blue sky. As I was making my way to church I came upon a stretch of flowering plums that particularly caught my eye, in part because of the nearby trailer park. This park is a place where many people are working hard to gain a toe-hold in the American Dream. It is a place with many challenges, many stories, providing affordable housing in a time when this is getting hard to find. The flowering plum trees highlight the fact that the park is an integral part of our neighborhood, graced by nature like all the other parts. We all benefit by the beauty of these trees, especially when they seem almost to float above us like pink clouds.

In a bit of a rush...

The afternoon bicycle commute in Salem is very gradually growing. I notice a few more cyclists each year. It can hardly be called a mob, but there are times when a number of us are making our way together. It is good to see men and women, young and older, fit and, well, not-so-fit, all out there together. Most folks I see nod or wave to each other; we know we are doing something unusual, but we also know it is really a blessing to have this option. The City is making gradual improvements to some of the bike-ways in town, but the preference still seems to be for something akin to "Vehicular Cycling," with its penchant for bike lanes on the busiest streets and the assumption that high-speed driving and average-person cycling mix well. I don't believe they do. When Salem connects downtown to the various flat-land neighborhoods near it via bike boulevards or other safety-conscious strategies, we will see a lot more folks on bikes making the 5 PM rush.

Sign of the times...

People from all over the country have heard about our resident avian celebrity, "Owl Capone." So aggressive have the owls in Bush Park been this year that special signs have been erected to warn of their silent, violent approach (though I'm not sure how you would know to look, given the silent part). The graphic for these signs was a gift from a designer working for a television show (perhaps viewed on the discarded TV above?), and is quite fetching. Other signs with accompanying text about the threat point out, somewhat ominously, that wearing a hardhat is recommended. Since I usually wear a bicycle helmet when traversing the park anyway, I do feel reassured about undertaking this apparently high-risk activity.

*  *  *

Being a utility cyclist means taking in up close the surprising and the unusual. One tends to move from being an observer to a participant. That isn't always an enjoyable thing, but it is mostly a very good thing in our increasingly isolated and abstract world. While I am growing a bit concerned about this summer and what it will be like with no water, it is worth one's while just now to appreciate the passing parade of peculiar, entertaining, hopeful, or quirky events on such beautiful days. It is part of what makes cycling a "broadening" experience, even in our relatively unadventurous corner of the nation.