Corn Fed

September 11, 2019

It’s fair to say, we’ve not gone short of a calorie or two (thousand) on this visit to the US. Most of them have been entirely delicious* and I don’t (currently) regret any of them for an instant but, having done a fair bit of driving and sitting in the last few days, there haven’t been too many opportunities to compensate for all the eating. Today was our last full day, and the forecast was to be fine, so we took the chance burn off some of the surplus if we could, starting with a bike ride with a view of wild turkeys (I’m stupidly excited about wild turkeys although apparently they’re quite common in these parts)…

wild turkeys

And a last chance to enjoy one of the many thousands of lakes.

Sucker lake

We then headed up to Stillwater for lunch which is historic (= has actual streets with shops on them)

Stillwater street

And has a converted grain elevator, which is actually pretty cool

stillwater elevator

Most importantly, and not to be outdone by Iowa, it has an impressive bridge, and although this one is mostly for cars, they let people use it too.

St Croix Crossing

As you can undoubtedly see, it’s an “extradosed” bridge – a hybrid of a cable-stayed and segmental box bridge structure.**

St Croix Crossing closer

Obviously we had to give it a go, especially when we realised we were effectively walking to Wisconsin (I think this is probably the first time I’ve ever crossed a state line on foot although I have walked across an international border that’s getting more contentious by the minute while the other half has walked across an ex-international border that now no longer exists, back in the days when it was the other side putting walls up, not us).

Wisconsin / Minnesota state line

All told it was about a mile there and a mile back – quite long enough to walk on a hot afternoon, although there will soon be a nice circular bike trail once the historic lift bridge is back in action. Just enough to burn off a healthy lunch, with calories to spare to cycle down to the local farmers’ market in Shoreview and buy some more food and rack them all up again and then some.

historic lift bridge

Back to Blighty tomorrow, if we are spared, with, undoubtedly, enough fat reserves to survive the most disastrous of Brexits.

* And can I just say that of all the delicious calories we’ve had on this trip, the sweetcorn (50c per cob at the farmers’ market) has probably been the chief revelation. If you’ve been buying sad little shorn cobs wrapped in clingfilm in British supermarkets you have no idea what you’re missing.

** according to the helpful information sign along the way



Onna Stick

August 30, 2019

It’s a sad truth, but when you’re on US time and the bulk of your followers are on UK time, your scintillating Minnesota State Fair Twitter thread is going to largely fall on deaf ears. This is especially so when the only members of your entire UK-based Twitter timeline who are awake are lying staring in the dark at the ceiling contemplating the latest grim twist in UK politics* and aren’t interested in carnival princesses being carved in butter, for some reason.

But – should you be looking for light relief, proof that Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is alive and well and living in the Midwest, and an 11-day extravaganza that can only be described as a cross between an eating competition and an agricultural show, the Minnesota State Fair is the place to be.

big Fat Bacon on a stick

Although I think the US version of Moo-I-5 lacks a little in animation.

inflatable cows

We spent a glorious four hours there yesterday and I think we poked into most of the nooks and crannies and managed to try pretty much all the major food groups that can be served onna stick. We climbed what could be climbed, marvelled at tractors, slid down the Big Slide, said hello to the cows, and emerged somewhat footsore, excessively well fed and more knowledgeable about walleye conservation than we were when we went in.

I also finally found a slice of frozen chocolate-dipped cheesecake onna stick – something I once tasted when I was 19 and travelling round the States on the train, and have never managed to track down again. I may have mentioned it a few times to the other half because he was the one who spotted the stall amidst the competing stands offering alligator (onna stick), Pronto Pups (onna stick) and mini-donut beer (not onna stick, but I suspect not from lack of trying). Readers, it was exactly as delicious as I remember it from 30 years ago. And there’s no photo because I scoffed it instantly and wasn’t going to let anything slow me down.

All in all, the fair was $15 well spent (plus how much?! for the cheesecake) and should Brexit end in the way the worst case scenarios predict, we’ll be able to survive the resulting food shortages for at least a week just on the fat stores we laid down over the course of the day. And you can’t say fairer than that.

cow at the fair

* I know we’re not all ardent remainers here on this blog, but I can’t see how the current political shenanigans do anything but make us look like a banana republic without the bananas. Or a stick.

Wee Jimmy

August 28, 2019

We made it to the US (I highly recommend Icelandair if you do have to fly the Atlantic, by the way, if only for the incredibly civilised transfer arrangements between flights at Keflavik Airport) and with a two-week stay in the offing, obviously the first order of business was to get a sourdough starter on the go (One side-effect of blogging a couple of times about sourdough is that other sourdough-curious people occasionally make the mistake of asking me about it, and getting persuaded into giving it a try (see also: cycling)).

cow nose

“Have you been in close proximity to any livestock?”

Sadly, I couldn’t bring Jimmy-Carter-the-Starter with me to the States (the customs declaration makes it clear you shouldn’t have been recently handling livestock, let alone bringing in millions of live microscopic organisms in your luggage) so a new Jimmy needs to be created. That means unbleached flour and ideally untreated water, to allow all the yeast beasties to multiply. Filtered water would probably have been okay, but when the other half mentioned that the big brewery downtown used to have a tap where locals could fill up bottles with the water from their spring, that seemed like a much better option, if only for the Internet bragging rights.*

schmidts brewery


This being 2019 rather than 1979, the brewery tap has moved on somewhat (as has the brewery which now hosts upmarket housing and the misleadingly named Keg and Case market where you can buy mushrooms grown on the site (complete with logs) but not, as far as we could see, any actual beer). This is not just water, it’s The Drink and now comes out of a high-tech vending machine which accepts ApplePay because of course it does. Still, it’s only $1 for a gallon which seemed reasonable enough. We made the beginner mistake of not bringing our own gallon container, but the next-door cafe was happy to provide us with an old milk jug, and the precious water was secured.

filling the container

And appropriately labelled, in case anyone got confused.

water container labelled

New Jimmy is currently residing on top of the fridge awaiting its next feed and looking fairly hopeful so far. I will keep you posted with any exciting developments, or even – my blog, my rules – any crashingly dull ones, as they unfold.

Next stop, the State Fair.

* There’s something about sourdough that attracts a certain amount of one-upmanship. The next time someone flourshames me for just using flour from the supermarket, I’ll be able to hit back with my 35,000 year-old artesian well water.

Wee Stoater

August 24, 2019

As I mentioned, we’re off on holiday on Monday for a couple of weeks, and so it’s been the usual rush to get everything done before we go. So yesterday morning I was keen to get to my desk and get my head down, with a couple of work deadlines looming.

This would have gone better, had not a stoat decided to appear on our front lawn and – if you’ll forgive me the technical animal behaviour terminology – start wildly mucking about.

Up until now, my encounters with stoats have been pretty fleeting – something dashing across the road in front of my bike, or occasionally stopping to peer at me from the undergrowth. I’d certainly never seen one doing backflips before, let alone right in front of my study window. As a means of distracting me from work, it couldn’t have been bettered.

In fact, according to some sources, this was the point of the acrobatics: stoats apparently hypnotise their prey by acting weird and then pounce as their unsuspecting audience edges closer for a better look. This would be more convincing if there had been anything else around to watch than us – stoats are also known for taking prey much larger than themselves, but even so I think a couple of humans (however fascinated we were) might be overambitious for something that weighs a couple of hundred grams. Another school of thought is that it’s the side effects of a nematode infection (although there’s no reason both couldn’t be true and that the stoats have evolved to profit from their infestation-induced antics; after all, it’s been suggested a similar thing might be happening in humans).

Either way, by the time I’d extracted myself from an Internet-sized rabbit hole of animal behaviour work really was looming, so it took until today before I managed to get the resulting poor quality video up online to prove I wasn’t imagining things

This morning’s distraction was just as cute but rather less acrobatic.

young hare

Given the stoat is still around, if the dancing really is an effective form of hunting behaviour, and the leverets prove as susceptible as we were, we might have a dilemma on our hands …

Choices, Choices

August 17, 2019

Stopping to admire a view during the Bigtown Cycle Campaign ride this afternoon, I mused that we too have a nice view from our house – and that as someone who rides a bike for transport, I take the time to appreciate it because I have earned every metre of elevation. In fact, I added, it was worse than that because the final road to our house drops down before the final hard climb.

‘You’ve chosen the worst possible place to live, as a cyclist,’ someone pointed out, who has visited ‘Wherever you go, its always uphill home.’

All of which is undoubtedly true. And yet, how could I now live anywhere where this wasn’t my road home?

road home

Or this?

road home

It’s sometimes worth reminding myself just how fortunate we are to have stumbled upon this corner of the world and made it our home

Common Ground

July 30, 2019

I am currently recovering from an unaccustomed bout of sociability; no sooner had I waved off one old friend on her train south, than I myself was heading north to visit two more old friends for our (now traditional – three times is a tradition, right?) annual reunion, this year hosted by my pal in Auchtermuchty.

Too often, when you connect with old school friends in later life, you find you no longer have much in common, but that’s not the case with these two who share many of my own eccentricities such as a fondness for truffling out secondhand bargains, getting outside, eating cake, gardening, and talking the hind legs off any passing donkeys.

This year the Brompton came too and we ventured out along the back roads of Fife, encouraged by the prospect of cake (as we approached the final hill, my friend announced ominously that the food at our intended destination was ‘rather worthy’ but fortunately this didn’t extend as far as the cake selection).

cycling the back roads

On the way back, we just had to stop at the local auction house although it was, perhaps fortunately, too early to put a bid on the giant pig …

giant papier mache pig

My friend helps to manage the local common, which was excelling itself when we walked round it yesterday – I have a particular fondness for harebells and they were in flower absolutely everywhere, along with apparently everything else. We often struggle to keep our gardens blooming in July but it seems that with the proper application of sheep, scything at the right time of the year and otherwise leaving things alone, nature has no difficulty at all.

meadow flowers

Not to be outdone, the local woods were pretty spectacular too.

floral woodland

The rest of the time was spent catching up, putting the world to rights, and inducting my friends into the mysteries of sourdough bread making, having brought a couple of offshoots of Jimmy Carter the Starter along.

jimmy shand statue

You cannot visit Auchtermuchty and not play homage to the other Jimmy

The only tiny fly in the ointment (apart from having to hole away from time to time on the laptop to get some work done) was visiting our hosts’ neighbours’ vegetable patch and associated polytunnel. My asparagus bed has started to perk up in the last couple of weeks and I’d been feeling quite pleased with it, until I realised that this is what it was supposed to look like at this time of year:

asparagus in polytunnel

I think we’ve got a ways to go.

A Nation of Shopkeepers

July 5, 2019

I remain, frustratingly, cameraless after one repair attempt failed leaving me with a phone that will now not focus at all unless I use it in selfie mode. This is particularly annoying as Moo-I-5 have made an unexpectedly early return and I’m sure will be providing entertaining* blogging material as soon as they have got over the ‘Nooo!! Scary humans!’ stage of their visit (meanwhile the cows in the other two fields near our house have discovered each other and have spent the last two days mooing yearningly at eachother across the front corner of our garden).

Bike hub shopfront

So I’ve been trawling back through earlier photos and realised I forgot to announce that I have taken up shopkeeping – or, more accurately, voluntarily minding the Buddies accessible bike hub one day a week. It’s fair to say I’m not rushed off my feet just yet, although I have rented out one bike, shown a couple of prospective punters round, directed numerous confused people towards the ‘real’ bike shops in the town, and spent much of the rest of the time in an undeclared war with the illegal parkers of the supposedly pedestrianised street the shop is on. If a space does open up outside the shop, my job then is to dash round as fast as possible (which is not particularly fast) with the rickshaw bike or other contraptions to fill the space before the spot is nabbed by someone else who’s ‘just dropping something off’ to one of the other shops, a task which apparently takes all day. I can then amuse myself by watching through the window as drivers think they’ve scored a spot and then discover they’ve been gazumped by a bicycle. Or, when I fail to get to the space first, then at least I can enjoy counting the number of direct hits Bigtown’s seagulls score on the scofflaw parkers (there’s a reason all those bikes are sporting saddle covers, and it’s not just to advertise the Bigtown Cycle Campaign.

If nothing else, I’ve found myself a quiet (and internet-free) spot in town to get on with some work and/or knitting while I wait for the good folk of Bigtown to come in for a nosey, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned. Watch this space for exciting tales of retailing or parking war triumphs – or at the very least, some progress on my latest knitting project

* adjusted for the peculiarly low standards of this blog.