Travel: Fruits, Wines, and a Weekend Half

Two years ago this past weekend the world was a very different place.

The world was different enough that we had no issues hopping into the car, driving for nearly ten hours straight, and wending our way across the prairies, over the rocky mountain passes, and into the verdant Okanagan Valley in nearby British Columbia.

for whatever one photo is worth:

The official travel excuse was that I had signed up for an October half marathon in Kelowna. Yet my wife has a healthy collection of extended family who have located to the micro-climate over the past ten years and we were due for a visit.

As much as Canada sometimes deserves its reputation as a vast semi-arctic wasteland, even the locale in a radius hundreds of kilometers from where I sit writing this (which is frozen and snow-covered for half the year), there are places in this vast and diverse country which are fertile and lush.

One of those less-often-frozen zones is the Okanagan Valley, a longitudinally positioned string of deep lakes tucked between the high peaks of the continental divide rocky mountains to the east and the lusher coastal mountains nearer to Vancouver to the west.

The weather-stabilizing effects of this location and the nearby water features means that a climate zone amenable to ample fruit tree orchards and sprawling vineyards exists and makes the region both desirable as a home for hundreds of thousands and a tourist destination for multiples more.

I would move there in a heartbeat given the right opportunity, but two years ago we merely wedged ourselves into the tourist category.

Two days in the area was barely enough to get a taste of everything, though.

On Saturday we visited the local famer’s market in the morning, ate lunch on the pier, collected my race package in the park, wandered through a corn maze on a hobby farm, and visited a wine tasting at a vineyard (pictured) along the road to the house where we had set up camp.

On Sunday I toured a twenty-one point one kilometer stretch of waterfront and urban streetways on foot and recorded one of my better half marathon times in the perfect autumn weather, before slipping back to shower, change and pack the car for the push back across the mountains and home.

Our intention was to make it an annual trip.

A run.

A visit.

Good food.

Fresh fruit and great wine.

Somehow though, the last two years has made the world a very different place and, like so many others around that world, even nearby adventures have fallen to the bottom of our possibilities list.

Sourdough Science Saturday

My starter is a little over two and a half years old and as I alluded to in my previous post I’ve baked about two hundred and fifty-ish loaves of bread with it, pre- and during pandemic.

You would almost think I would understand it better.

About an hour ago I pulled my Thanksgiving loaf from the oven and it turned out great.

All around, I followed my basic twenty-four hour prep-and-proof plan, the process I’ve been fine tuning for years even before this starter, and which works for me fairly consistently.

Only it sometimes doesn’t.

Like this summer.

This summer we had a heat wave for a solid month where the temperatures outside rarely dropped below twenty-five degrees at night and routinely stuck in the mid-to-high thirties during the day. Also, it rarely dropped below twenty-five degrees in our house (including the kitchen) which was a nightmare, the waking kind, because I could hardly sleep in those conditions.

All the bread I baked during this month flopped.

Poor rise. Dense crumb. Edible … but not enjoyable.

And at the time I got it into my head that the heat was putting my yeast into some runaway proof and I was missing the window to bake it and get a good loaf.

However.

I’ve had a few months to think about this, and my nineteen degree kitchen (where I proofed today’s loaf to within one standard deviation of perfection) only added another layer of evidence to my theory.

“You’d think the yeast would have liked the heat.” Went the conversation with my wife. “But I think my yeast aren’t loving it.”

Not all yeast are created equally, after all. In fact, there are fifteen hundred known varieties of yeast, and the yeast that come in the little envelope from the grocery store may have very little lineage in common with the yeast I caught in my kitchen two and a half years ago.

The yeast from the store are bred to grow consistently, quickly and thrive at warm temperatures.

I’d be willing to bet that whatever yeast I found thriving in my kitchen air and trapped in my starter probably prefer, say, a dry central Canadian climate and do quite well in my nineteen degree kitchen. Wouldn’t it make sense, after all, that the most common yeast floating around my house were probably plentiful enough to be caught because they actually favoured … preferred … had maybe even adapted to … the conditions of my house?

So, back in June when my house was eight or nine degrees warmer than normal, those nineteen-degree-loving yeast … well, they made some garbage bread.

And today, when my thermostat is regulating the house to optimal conditions for both me and my yeast … well logically they made a loaf of awesome bread.

Short: Long Weekend & Floury Friday

In Canada, we celebrate our Thanksgiving in October.

The right way.

And as we prepare a large meal for Sunday evening, my wife is out shopping for a fresh turkey and I’ve spent Friday evening getting my sourdough started.

While making sourdough has become fairly routine around our house, I find myself usually making sandwich loaves. In fact, over the duration of the pandemic I’ve baked about two hundred and twenty sandwich loaves … but only four classic dome loaves.

So, Thanksgiving is a lot of things, but it’s a thankful opportunity to bake up a beautiful classic loaf of sourdough to enjoy with our Sunday dinner. I settled on a basic white flour loaf with about twenty percent organic spelt mixed in. Nothing beats sopping up some turkey gravy than a thick slice of buttered sourdough, after all.

And of course, the work starts on Friday.