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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A quick and healthy bread

Whole grain, nut and date quick bread 

Do you love homemade bread?

Do you wish that bread could be healthy AND delicious?

Do you have an oversupply of survival ingredients? 

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" then read on.

For years, one of my favourite breads has been a whole-grain sourdough that was inspired by a type of Bavarian whole grain bread (vollkornbrot). My recipe is here Pat's fermented ultragrain. In fact, I'm so enamoured with fermented bread that I rarely make  bread any other way. However, it does take a few days to make, so I thought it would be interesting to create a grainy and healthy bread that could be made in a couple of hours.

In these days of self-isolation, I also wanted to make a recipe that does't require any fresh ingredients like milk or eggs. This one uses only things that one might have stashed away for the long haul. 

It is healthier than a typical quick bread because it has high fibre and low sugar. The only sweetness is from dried fruit and a little honey so it's not sweet by modern standards. However, it's rich and filling with whole grain, milk, nuts and dates. It also contains turmeric, about which there are many interesting health claims such as suppressing inflammation and boosting the immune system.

Quick bread with whole grain, walnuts, and dates


You'll need a non-stick 9 inch loaf pan or a regular 9 inch loaf pan with parchment paper or non-stick spray.

Dry ingredients

  • 2 cups whole grain flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or other nuts)
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates (or raisins, dried cranberries, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Wet ingredients

  • 2 cups milk (fresh or from instant powder)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons warm honey

If using a regular loaf pan, coat the inside with non-stick spray or cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside like this.

Parchment paper can be re-used even though it turns brown

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the dates to reduce their size and to make sure there aren't any pits. You definitely don't want to bite into a date pit.

Mix all dry ingredients in a big bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. The mixture will be quite wet.
Pour into loaf pan.

Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.
Reduce heat to 250 F and bake for an additional 40 minutes.

If you have an instant read thermometer, the internal temperature should be about 85 to 88 C (185-190F).

My favourite way to serve this bread is toasted with peanut butter.


Substitute almonds, sunflower seeds, or pecans for the walnuts.
Substitute raisins or dried cranberries for the dates.
If this bread contained greens (e.g. dried kale or spirulina), it would be a balanced meal!

Same recipe except raisins instead of dates

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Walking highway 20 - kilometre 67 to 132

Morning of day 4

Rain came overnight followed by snow so I awoke to a preview of winter. The thought of packing up cold, wet gear and walking along a slushy highway was grim so I decided to stay where I was for the day. I rested, ate, read, went for a walk, ate more, and filtered water.

Tent and Chariot on the morning of day 4

Under my cook tarp.
The snow was almost gone by the afternoon.

The weather was better on day 5 with clouds blown away by a cold west wind but the snow was all gone and the ground was drying out. Most delightfully, it was Saturday and there was very little traffic. Unlike weekdays, I had many periods of more than 5 minutes with no vehicles when I could cruise along on the pavement. Yippee! This part of highway 20 also has lovely, long straight stretches where it was easy to be safe. The light traffic helped put a little spring in my step in spite of blisters.

Just past the new Tsilhqot’in Nation solar farm, I arrived at the Chilcotin River rest area/overlook for an early lunch. Within a half hour I saw three old friends in two different cars and had nice conversations. They just happened to be out for a Saturday drive and also stopped at the rest area. I hadn't talked to one of them for years!

During the long descent into the Chilcotin River valley past the overlook, I had another lovely surprise when a friend pulled up behind me and stopped. She drove out from town with her girls just to cheer me on and deliver two bottles of freshly squeezed apple juice. Wow, this gesture was so thoughtful it almost brought me to tears!

After 23 kilometres, I stopped at a ranch belonging to a German couple who had recently moved here from Alberta. I declined the offer to sleep instead and pitched my tent in their yard with a beautiful view of the Chilcotin River valley. Over a glass of wine, they told me about the series of coincidences that led to their buying the ranch in 2017 and how they became bonded with the community while fighting the wildfires that summer.

The Chilcotin River from my friends' place

I slept well, even with the barking dog, crowing cock, and whinnying horses, then made porridge and coffee on my camp stove while ranch errands went on around me. Animals don't care if it's Sunday!

Due to the geography of the Chilcotin River valley and the clear air, I resumed my walk with a tantalizing view of Alexis Creek from a distance of 15 kilometres (in a straight line). I kept seeing it from a distance all morning, which made it seem like I'd never arrive. By the time I got there in early afternoon I'd been dreaming of fast food from the General Store. I sat outside in the sun and ate the best microwaved ham and cheese sandwich ever!

After lunch, I had another 8 kilometres to Bull Canyon Campground but the weather was nice, the Sunday traffic was light, and I had a visit by an RCMP officer who recognized me from a couple days earlier. He stopped in the middle of the road with his lights flashing and asked how I was doing. When I said I was heading to the the campground for the night, he said it was closed for the season but that that shouldn't be a problem. I hadn't thought about that possibility. The gate was locked but I easily got around it and had the campground to myself!

As I lay in my tent, I thought of the ups and downs of this trip. Traffic has been irritating but some vehicles have brought the most memorable moments. Blisters have been an unexpected problem but they've made me think about people who live with chronic pain. My pain stops as soon as I stop walking.

An interesting thing about a long, solo walk is the way my mind wanders. I recall old friends and events that I haven't thought of for years and I seem to have more vivid dreams. Daydreams too, like how I wish British Columbia had a long walking route like the Camino de Santiago.

I awoke to a clear, frosty morning next to the Chilcotin River and continued west, but I was on the highway only for a kilometre before turning left on Young Road. This 21 kilometre long section of unpaved road used to be highway 20 but was bypassed during an upgrade. Now it's used for local access so it's much quieter and prettier than the highway. It also stays low in the valley so I could avoid 400 metres of elevation gain.

The old highway, west of Bull Canyon Campground

I was going to end today's walk at Kinikinik near Redstone for a rendezvous with Jane, a box of supplies, and a night of luxury. Instead, it ended more than an hour early when Jane caught up with me in her car on Bayliff Road. It was after 3 PM and I accepted a ride right away. We had never been to Kinikinik before and were impressed with their restaurant and our cabin.

The next morning, I decided to end my walk because my blisters weren't healing. It didn't make sense to continue and we decided to stay in our cabin another night.

In 7 days, I covered 132 kilometres for an average of 19 km per day - not counting 7 kilometres on my rest day. I had been for day hikes this long many times before but never day after day, never on pavement, and never pulling a trailer. But I think I would have been okay if I had made a better choice of footwear at the start. Actually, I'm lucky to be able to do this and only have blisters as my biggest problem.

This trip was surprisingly adventure-like, considering it was just a walk along a highway. I was touched by friends and strangers who showed a lot of support on social media and on the highway. It seems that people relate to the idea of adventure, even a simple one close to home.

To be continued next year...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Walking highway 20 - kilometre 0 to 67

Due to last minute preparations, I wasn't sure if I'd get away today but the beautiful early autumn weather really motivated me. Jane got a photo of me as I left our neighbourhood with a handful of celery from the garden. Last fresh greens for a while!

Looking fresh after 1.5 kilometres! 

A few kilometres from home, I was on highway 20 but even before then, I had a technical issue. The Chariot’s “trailer hitch” consists of two aluminum poles that are bolted to the hip belt through a grommet. This means that my hips were rigidly attached to the 100 pound load, causing the Chariot to jerk against me with every step. This was very annoying and slowed me down. After a couple hours of trying different things, I removed the hip belt and tied the poles to the bottoms of my pack straps with loops of nylon cord. This swinging connection eliminated the jerking and I was able to walk faster. A “test walk” with a fully loaded Chariot before my trip would have been a good idea!

"Trailer hitch", before and after

A few hours from home, a car going west stopped and it was a friend I hadn’t seen for quite a while. It was very nice to have some unexpected socializing while doing first aid on my toes.

My first day was mostly downhill with more than 500 metres of descent from the plateau to the Fraser River.  I was glad to reach the Sheep Creek Bridge because it’s the gateway to the Chilcotin but I had to pause before crossing it. The bridge is unnerving for a pedestrian because it’s 300 metres long with two lanes and no shoulder. I made sure there was no traffic coming either way, crossed as fast as I could, and fortunately had the bridge to myself.

I crawled into my tent that first night with the satisfaction of walking my planned 22 kilometres after a late start.

Unfortunately, I had blisters. I started this trip with a bad choice of footwear and walking on pavement didn't help. So, from my tent the next morning, I messaged Jane (with my inReach satellite device) and asked her to bring different shoes and boots. With a gear swap and spousal encouragement, I spent the morning of day 2 pulling the trailer back up to the top of the plateau. This resulted in new sensations from my leg muscles and I was relieved to stop for lunch at the brake check station. While pulling up the hill, I reverted to the rigid "trailer hitch" but after lunch, went back to the swinging connection. Hard pulling was the only situation in which the rigid connection was beneficial.

Back up on the plateau, walking was easy and I was really in the wide open landscape of the Chilcotin. I also had two more surprise visits from friends and an offer of a ride from a stranger -  unexpected interactions that were surprisingly uplifting.

Reflection in a Beecher's Prairie pond

The weather started out very nice on day 2 but there was a drizzle by the time I passed the turnoff to Farwell Canyon. I heard someone shouting from far behind and it turned out to be the caretaker at the old Riske Creek Fire Camp. It took me a while to realize he was saying I should get out of the weather for the night and asked if I needed a room. Apparently, they still rent out rooms but by then I could almost see the Chilcotin Lodge and I replied that I had accommodation but thanks anyway. I was again touched by the concern of strangers.

Arriving at the Lodge at 5:30, I was lucky to have this historic, cozy place to stay on a rainy night. A shower, a big dinner with a nice couple from West Kelowna, and a roof over my head. What luxury! With the climb out of the Fraser canyon, 19 kilometres was plenty for day 2.

I woke up in a dry room at the Chilcotin Inn after a night of cold rain, then had a hot and filling breakfast. How luxurious these simple comforts seem after a couple days on the road!

Chilcotin Lodge, morning of day 3.
Not shown is the high-vis vest I always wore on the highway. 

The morning was clear after the rain and I cruised along on the plateau with just a few sore body parts. I was getting irritated by traffic but three vehicles stopped to say hi and wish me well so the traffic wasn't all bad. Two were friends who knew I was out here and one was an RCMP officer who asked where I was going and if I needed anything. These little roadside conversations lifted my spirits!

Highway 20 is not busy by most standards but my mood went up and down inversely with the traffic. Another factor was the condition of the shoulder. If there was traffic going either way, I had to get off the pavement and if the shoulder was sloping or narrow, I had to come to a stop until vehicles passed. I started noticing how much vehicle-free time I had and there were not many occasions when I had a stretch of 5 minutes. I walked on the left so I could see the vehicles closest to me and I always wore a safety vest. I wanted to look like this...

Becher's Pond
Professional drivers were very considerate. They moved into the other lane if they could and I always waved at them. Apparently, some truckers who use this road frequently were starting to recognize me because they tooted their horns as they went by!

Toes continued to hurt but it was largely a mental thing - sort of like mosquitoes.

By late afternoon and after covering 26 kilometres, I was relieved to reach my planned overnight stop. As I had hoped, there was a gate in the range fence where I had spotted a branch road in Google Earth before my trip. This was fairly important because I need a gate to get my gear to the other side of a fence and this part of highway 20 doesn't have very many branch roads. I had a nice flat tent site surrounded by juvenile pine trees. My normal evening meal has been a commercial freeze dried dinner but tonight I made one of my homemade instant dinners. This one was instant potato flakes, dried kale, beef jerky, dried bone broth, chilli powder and herbs. It wasn't pretty but it was hot,  filling, and actually quite tasty!

to be continued...

Friday, October 25, 2019

Walking highway 20 - Preparation

When summer heat decreases and the air freshens, I feel the urge for an outdoor adventure. In recent years, I've done this in far-away places but this year I decided to stay close to home and get more intimate with one of my favourite landscapes.

West of Williams Lake, between the Fraser River and the Coast Mountains in the British Columbia interior, the landscape is a gently rolling plateau with a mix of forests and grassland. It's called "the Chilcotin" and is about the size of Belgium but with 1/1,000 the population. It's used for ranching and forestry and is known for it's natural beauty. The only access through this region is the 460 km long highway 20 which connects Williams Lake with the coastal town of Bella Coola.

Looking west on highway 20

I planned to walk highway 20 from my house to Bella Coola, pulling camping gear and supplies in a borrowed "Chariot" child carrier. The weight would be on the wheels, not on my back. This would be my first time doing an extended walk along a highway as well as my first time pulling a trailer.

Trying out the empty Chariot

I've done a lot of walking in the form of day hikes and backpacking trips so walking an average of 22 km (13.7 mi) per day for 3 weeks seemed possible. There would be breaks from tenting thanks to a few commercial accommodations and gas stations along the way. I had arrangements for getting re-supplied at two points so I would only have to carry a week's supply of food.

Due to unpredictable autumn weather, I packed quite a variety of clothing. I also made a bear-resistant container in which I kept all food and cooking utensils for storage away from my tent.

Food for one week, cook stove and bear resistant container, 12 pounds empty, 23 pounds loaded

Clockwise from bottom centre in the left photo:
  • 7 breakfasts - rolled oats, powdered milk, dried fruit, cinnamon
  • Miscellaneous - matches, instant coffee, spices, cook stove and fuel canister
  • Bear resistant container
  • 7 lunches - survival bars, chocolate, beef jerky
  • 7 dinners - commercial and home made instant dinners 

Right before departure, the fully loaded Chariot weighed 100 pounds.

To be continued...

Friday, August 9, 2019

Hands of Artisans

A Photo Project

Last year I began a project to photograph artisans at work - to capture the normally unseen beauty associated with their hands, tools, materials, and workspace. I started in Florence, Italy which is famous for its art and artisans. 

Starting with a tour guide

I wanted to get off to a good start so I booked a tour with a licensed guide and got an enthusiastic response from Elena Fulceri (http://florencewithflair.com/). Elena is a university-educated Florentine and is fluent in English. Thanks to her arrangements, I was able to photograph eight different artisans at four shops in one March afternoon. I highly recommend using a licensed guide in order to see or learn a lot in a short amount of time. During the tour, I photographed some book conservation specialists whom I could never have found on my own because they work in an unmarked building.

I wouldn’t have even thought of looking for book conservation specialists. Here in western Canada, we aren’t exactly famous for our ancient books so book conservation isn't a well-known profession. It's important in Florence though and includes diverse activities ranging from gentle cleaning to disassembly and re-binding. The broader field of art conservation and restoration became urgent in Florence after an extreme flood on the Arno River inundated museums, galleries and libraries in 1966. But even in Florence, book conservers are relatively unseen compared with artisans who create new work so I was fortunate that Elena took me to see them.

Book conservation and restoration

Taking a book apart for re-binding (removing the "end paper" from the cover) 

Stitching a book binding

Self-guided wandering

After my tour with Elena, I continued photographing artisans on my own over the next weeks and again on a later trip by walking the streets until I found an artisan's shop. A book called “Artisans of Florence” by Laura Morelli helped me find some shops but mostly, I just wandered the south side of the Arno River (Oltrarno). Most artisans in small studios were willing to let me photograph them when they had no customers. Some even seemed excited that I wanted to document and promote their work. I returned to some studios several times in order to see work at different stages. This method took time and determination but approaching artisans on my own allowed me to establish some rapport with them. Here are some of my favourites. 

Carlotta fitting the last piece in stone mosaic, "Commesso Fiorentino"
Luthier carving a violin scroll
Jamie Lazzara, http://www.masterviolinmaker.info/uk.html
Making lace jewellery - Tatting, or "Chiacchierino" in Italian
Paola Ghelli, http://www.unfilodieleganza.com/ 

Camilla Pistolesi at her bench

Returning with a 2019 Calendar

I used these photos to make a wall calendar and when I returned to Florence in early 2019, I took copies as presents for some of my artisan friends. It was a joy to visit them with a tangible gesture of thanks and they seemed genuinely appreciative. What an honour to have my modest art accepted by Florentine artists!  

Sweet faces and skilled hands

Luca, goldsmith at Nerdi Orafi e Incisori (November)
Camilla, goldsmith at Gioielli di Camilla (Cover and September)

Mosaic artists Iacopo, Anna and Bruno at Mosaici Lastrucci.
Not shown is Carlotta who is on my June calendar page. 

My calendar cover

Thank you to all the cooperative artisans I met and to the citizens, patrons and supporters who have made Florence a city of art!