Black bean chili (without guardrails)

When I looked up a recipe for black bean chili yesterday (spurred on by the odd can in our pantry), I only needed to glance at the ingredients to visualize how to cook it. Not because I’ve cooked this particular recipe before, or because I make chili frequently (I don’t—it’s not something Stephanie has ever really appreciated, until now), but I suppose just because I cook a lot in general. No humblebrag here, chili is obviously not rocket science. Most recipes consist of a simple 2-step algorithm: 1) brown protein in a skillet, and then 2) dump everything into a large pot and simmer for 2-3 hours. And I’m sure that would have rendered a perfectly serviceable chili using the ingredients below. Of course that’s not what I did, but what I did is based on my own personal relationship with each of the ingredients at this particular moment in time, and you might feel differently. So rather than try to codify what I did in prose, I’m just going to list the ingredients I used and leave the rest up to your interpretation and imagination. That said, the order in which I listed the ingredients is not by accident.

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A GRE question for our times

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, only all-purpose and whole wheat flour are available at the supermarket (if at all). All-purpose is sold in 5-pound bags and whole wheat is commonly sold in 2-pound bags. The internet-famous no-knead bread recipe that everyone is making (in order to exert a modicum of control over something in their lives) calls for 400 grams of bread flour. One of the key differences in flour types (« though not the only! » interjects Alex, aka “frenchguycooking”) is protein content. Conveniently for us, The King Arthur Flour Company prints their flours’ protein content directly on the packaging. The all-purpose and whole wheat flour that we were able to buy are 11.7% and 14% protein, respectively. Furthermore, thanks to the internet, we discover that their bread flour, currently unavailable everywhere, is 12.7% protein. How many grams (rounded to the nearest integer) of all-purpose flour do we need to combine with how many grams of whole wheat flour to approximate the protein content of bread flour to use in the no-knead bread recipe?

Cross-section of a loaf of no-knead bread
A loaf of no-knead bread, cut in half

Crepe myrtle buds

Darker times may yet lie ahead, but on a hopeful note, the crepe myrtle tree in our front yard, which I worried I had killed due to lack of water last summer, then extensively trimmed back this winter (and as of late, I have been watering almost daily), just sprouted its first buds, several weeks after what seemed like every other tree in Fresno had exploded with white, purple, and pink confetti.

Crepe myrtle buds
Crepe myrtle buds

I’m famous! (on a composition notebook in India)

I got one of my favorite emails a few days ago, this time from Shreyash in India who wrote:

I bought 3 notebooks for my assignments. They had a QR code at the back of it, which I scanned. It took me to your website. It took me a little while to figure it out but I eventually did, thanks to your article. This notebook is from a local manufacturer. I am attaching the images of the notebook for you to look at.

Here are the photos he sent me:

Front and back cover of an Asmi A4 Notebook from India
Front and back cover of the Asmi A4 Notebook

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788.7 miles in 53 days

Stephanie and I didn’t come to the Arizona Trail with any predetermined ideas about “zero days”, but the weather was so miserable during our first four days (snow-covered trails, gale-force wind, freezing rain, drizzle, clayey mud) that we took a zero during our resupply in Patagonia, AZ just to let the weather pass. But from that point on, we almost always planned a zero to resupply, and if at all possible, preceded it with a morale-boosting half-day of hiking (or “nero”) on the way into town.

Dinner in Patagonia, AZ after 4 hellish days and 51 miles of backpacking the Arizona National Scenic Trail, NOBO
Two thru-hikers in desperate need of a zero

Over the course of the hike I ended up resupplying 8 times (all but 2 of which were during nero-plus-zeros), which effectively punctuated the trail into 9 discrete sections. I ran into a few day-hikers and backpackers along the way who found the scale of hiking the AZT “in one go” almost incomprehensible. I always reassured them that “thru-hiking is just a series of backpacking trips, glued together with zero days.” I didn’t feel like I was doing anything that special—I just had the “luxury” of going on 9 backpacking trips, back-to-back. While I was hiking, I started to visualize the following infographic to convey how the trail felt for me less like a linear journey, and more like a collection of related but distinct adventures (in no small part due to the evolving role Stephanie played in each).

Infographic of my 2019 thru-hike of the Arizona National Scenic Trail

Of the 53 days I was on trail (from March 9 through April 30, 2019), I slept in a hotel for 13 nights (after neros, zeros, and the last day). Which meant that for 40 days, survival depended on finding a patch of flat, clear, dry, spacious, and wind-shielded ground to pitch my tent. Even though these were sites chosen for their essential utility, I felt compelled to capture each scene—often picturesque only in the contrast of the alien-looking Plexamid against Arizona’s diverse landscape. More than the miles I racked up (788.7, per the Guthook Guides AZT app, though most round the trail to 800), I viewed these nightly rituals as the true measure of my progress.

All 40 campsites from my 2019 thru-hike of the Arizona national Scenic Trail
A visual TL;DR

Remarkably, even though more than 7 months have elapsed since we set off, each of these photos, some with only the slimmest of context, transports me right back to the trail, and to the day that led to that moment in time. What follows are my recollections, stories triggered by 40 photos of my campsites along the Arizona Trail.

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