Fire/Smoke

The world is on fire.

As much as I love a good campfire, heating a hefty pan over some crackling logs, I love even more that I can always walk away when the smoke wafts into my face, stinging my eyes. I can stand up and step into fresh air, take a deep breath, and reset my lungs.

This past weekend all the air was a smoky haze, everywhere. There was no reset.

Image: https://firesmoke.ca/forecasts/current/

Dozens of forest fires are burning across the country.

One of my colleagues started his career as a forest fire fighter, spending years of summers helping to control burns and protect small communities surrounded by kindling. We had an amazing conversation on Friday as he talked about his knowledge of the history and strategy of forests in Canada and the different approaches taken by different regions of the country, all of which go a long way to explaining why and where those little orange dots appear on the map above.

While people joke on social media about escaping or blowing it back west, the data shows that the culprit is actually intense wildfires to the north east that are clogging our throats and lungs.

The short of it is that fire and smoke and wind and summer air currents mean that my house is not at risk of burning, but my lungs are now haunted daily by the thick, campfire-like smoke that permeates every corner of every breath of outdoor air.

Image: https://weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/abaq-001_e.html

The effects are no joke.

People call in sick from work due to aching lungs and throbbing heads.

And we skipped our run yesterday, the prevailing opinion that we would be… might be… probably would be taking our health into negative concern by sucking down ten kilometers of smoky air from the “very high risk” and the literally off-the-charts poor air quality.

The world is on fire.

This is not new.

A few years ago we spent five days hiking in the backcountry mountains near Lake Louise. The day we hiked inbound was a clear, beautiful, sunny day, but over the week a thick cloud of forest fire smoke descended over the valley where we were camping shrouding the mountains in what seemed a romantic fog but was actually an acrid, lung-burning, inescapable haze that made the air smell and taste of char.

That same year I also ran a marathon, and due to the smoke the go-no-go call for that race was uncertain even as we stepped up to the start line.

It was not the first time the air was smoky through the summer, by far. But it was among the first of many consecutive summers clouded by a shroud of burning forest smoke. Every summer since, it seems, weeks are lost to hunkering from the attack.

Even today, the few people out and about on the streets are still wearing masks despite the lifting of the health-related bylaw, and I pass by them wondering if they are hoping to avoid a virus or to simply screen out the visible ash from the air.

The world is on fire.

Take a deep breath… if you still can.

A Reprieve by Rain

It was raining this morning when I woke up, the light, almost inaudible patter of drops hitting the windows and roof, creeping into my zone of awareness as I lay in bed contemplating starting my day.

The rain is oh-so welcome this morning, in the wake of a week-long heat wave that baked the city streets and melted our souls, reminding us yet again that we’re too cheap (or just too environmentally guilt-ridden) to install air conditioning.

To be fair, the heat mostly broke over the weekend and the air has cooled considerably since the unbearable never-ending outdoor-oven-like temperatures late into last week. But the rain dropped the temperature even more into the mid-teens and it was the first time in recent memory that I felt a bit of a shiver and chill when I opened the door to let the dog outside.

More important than my personal comfort, of course, is that the rain brings an area-wide break in the risk of fire. The provincial map on the Alberta Fire Bans website had turned from yellow caution to orange restriction and had begun changing to splotches of angry red prohibition against burning, lest the very real risk of forest fire turn into literal flames.

Each year it seems that entire communities burn to the ground because the rain is a few days late in arriving to quench the tinder-like deadfall.

Never mind that in a few days I am about to go camping and as we plan our oh-so-important campfire menu we were seriously wondering if our trip would be a campstove adventure rather than an open flame cast iron cooking frenzy. That would have been a personal disappointment.

Almost always the rain means cool, wet and fresh but this week it also means campfires and cast iron.

And it is raining this morning.

Summer

Where I live, there exists a short and precious span of time between snowfalls. It is when gardens grow strong, trails turn green, and daylight extends well into the night.

SUHH - murr

For July and August, this blog is on a summer publication schedule: still posting, but not-daily. Check back for sporadic summer check-ins and stay turned for my regular daily blogging schedule to return this September.

In the meantime, my summer photo gallery will be updated as often as I can remember to post new pictures.

Thanks for reading!

– bardo

Heat Proofed

While the baker in me is disappointed by the negative impact the heat has had on my sourdough, the science nerd side of my brain has been giddy at watching how this blast of summer temperatures spun the dial on one of the variables in the delicate process.

My fellow Western-North-Americans know this all too well right now, but if you’re not from around here you may have not heard that we’re in the early half of what is turning into a week-long, record-breaking heat wave.

Many of us (and our winter-ready homes) are ill-equipped to handle such heat. My house is designed to contain heat, reduce air circulation, and stay warm through eight months of sub-zero temperatures.

I don’t own either an air conditioner or a personal swimming pool.

I personally prefer the weather to be about ten degrees Celsius and I am far more comfortable in a wool toque and ski gloves than a sun hat and sandals.

In other words: It’s hot. I’m uncomfortably warm. And it’s going to be scorching for at least a week more.

In the midst of this blast of irregular heat, I ran out of bread (a regular occurrence) and went about my regular routine of making dough and getting a couple of loaves of sourdough ready to bake.

Now let me back up one step: regular readers know that I have been making bread two or three times per week for the last sixteen months of this pandemic. I have a recipe and a process that I follow with rote precision, step-by-step, to produce a consistent loaf.

For comparison, a pair of loaves that I baked with a blend of local rye flour a few weeks ago turned out great, rising on the counter for about twelve hours pre-bake after an overnight proof in the fridge.

Great rise. Consistent crumb. Pleasant overall result:

Compare the successful loaves from the second photo to the less-than-stellar loaves from first photo in this post.

I cut into one of those squared-off loaves this morning and found a dense, poorly-risen, heavy bread that more resembled a dense bagel then a fluffy sandwich bread.

For comparison, those first two loaves proofed and rose on my counter for only about eight hours before I had to turn the oven on mid-day (in the hottest part of the afternoon to boot) because they were obviously starting to over-proof, losing cohesion and loosening up.

To be clear, both pictures are loaves from the exact same flour blend, from the exact same bags of flour, from the exact same process… save for that the average outside temperature is about twenty-five degrees warmer this week than two weeks ago.

This means also that my kitchen is currently at least five to ten degrees warmer than normal, despite my best efforts to keep it cool.

The heat has completely revved my yeast into high gear causing what seems to be an accelerated, runaway proofing that I have no great experience (yet) working with. If I bake anymore loaves this week I’m going to need to rely less on watching the clock and more on watching the pans.

And to sum up…

Baker me: sad.
Science-nerd me: neat!