Category Archives: re-cap

How to Snowshoe for Beginners

Snowshoes

 

Go snowshoeing! All you need is a pair of shoes and the ability to walk!! This appeal reverberates throughout snowshoe literature, but — in my experience — a successful expedition requires more. You’ll need warm clothes and, if you’re the whinging sort, waterproof pants. You’ll want insulated gloves, a backpack, some water and trail mix, not to mention a pack of disposable hand warmers. Although snowshoeing may have once been a question of strapping on flotation-friendly shoes and walking across deep drifts, modern sensibilities have complicated the sport, evidencing a shift in how contemporary society moves.

Neither heroic age explorers nor intrepid mountaineers sparked my snowshoeing mania. Nancy Drew launched my desire to crunch over the white stuff. I was twelve, playing White Wolf of Icicle Creek. I sent the game gratuitously crunch-crunching over simulated snow in my artificial shoes. Even though snowshoeing starred in my winter reveries for years before I strapped actual metal frames onto my real-life boots, those dreams opened me to the sport’s unique pace and beauty.

As ice skating began as a way to converse energy in frigid Northern Europe, snowshoeing sprung out of necessity. Snowshoes helped those living in cold regions reduce the effort needed to cross areas blanketed in snow. Unfortunately, since early snowshoes were composed of wood, clues to the shoes’ origins have dissolved along with the snow they traversed. We may be momentarily sated by British archaeologist, Jacqui Wood’s assertion that Ötzi, a remarkably preserved corpse found near Bolzano in Northern Italy, died wearing his snowshoes. In the absence of a distinct origin, the modern snowshoe-r may freely transpose their understanding of the sport onto its history.

Despite the uncertain provenance, researchers have charted the snowshoe’s development in relation to the terrain in which the shoes were found. Given the distinct appearances of snowshoes in North America and Europe, nomadic Central Asian tribes are thought to have invented the shoe, taking their gear with them as they dispersed. Thus, the unique snowshoes in Northern Europe, Canada and Eastern United States arose from a common ancestor. The variations we see were subsequent adaptations to suit each terrain’s unique challenges. In the North Eastern United States, Native Americans favoured Bear Paw shoes. These shoes were wide and circular, perfect for manoeuvring in densely wooded areas. Maine Native Americans preferred a longer style, aptly called the Maine snowshoe, that allowed the user to move quickly across large expanses. Within each region, various shoes would be interchanged throughout the season, depending on the specific snow conditions. Although the snowshoe’s origins are up for debate, the relationship between the snowshoe’s local use and environment marked, and continues to mark, the shoe’s development.

Trees on the trail

Modern snowshoes seem the natural progression in snowshoe’s evolution, responding to today’s multi-purpose manner of sport as previous models responded to topographic particularities. Gone are the regionally specific, artfully woven foot beds. Today we enjoy zippy aluminium frames with waterproof neoprene foot beds and tough steel crampons. A standard pair of snowshoes can transition from backcountry terrain to rolling hills, reflecting the varied approach the modern sportsperson craves. We aren’t static in our practice; we move between regions, shifting landscapes and lengthening our hikes. Although certain subcultures cry the superiority of the traditional snowshoe, these old models are better at generating romantic fantasy than navigating trails. The contemporary snowshoe’s ability to shift between various terrains and purposes reflects spontaneous modern movement as the North Eastern Bear Paw or Maine-style shoe once mirrored local culture.

None of this was on my mind as I set out on that first nerve-fuelled snowshoe hike. After driving the six-hours from Brooklyn’s cement-grey to the Adirondacks’ snow dusted peaks, my legs itched to escape into the enticingly unblemished powder. But what was once routine for the region’s Iroquois population was, for me, an endeavour.[1] Shivering in the mountain chill, I hurried into my sweater, zipped up my vest, yanked on my socks and laced up my boots. With ceremonial pomp, I threw my backpack over my down-coated shoulders. Now came the rite of the first snowshoe fastening. Although these preparations might seem hopelessly modern — as distant from the Iroquois’ daily snowshoe jaunt as my subway commute — the process helped my speedy twenty-first century mind relate to the simple pastime.

If elaborate skis exemplify complicated contemporary winter sports, snowshoes are the no-frills throwback. Forget the instructor strapping on your skis, your own trembling hands can put on snowshoes. And forget skis punishing your curiosity as you stand up; snowshoes won’t slide in separate directions like wooden sticks will. I stood up, took a tentative first step, and felt the tight grip I had against the snow. One step became two and five the snowshoe’s steel crampons continued to support me. The shoe’s back remained loose like a flip-flop.[2] When I reached a slightly slick surface, the metal grips protected me from plummeting down. No matter your hiking style, there’s a snowshoe to support you. There are light shoes for running; mid-sized shoes for hiking on groomed trails; and large shoes for venturing into the backcountry. But I didn’t worry about the best shoe. I just fastened my rental shoes, handed to me without mention of a size, and began to stomp atop the snow.

Forget wobbling around on ice skates for years, snowshoeing is an instant gratification sport. But even instant gratification necessitates a revised outlook. For the flat hike, snowshoeing requires adapting your gait for a wider-than-normal base and adjusting your expectation from a brisk walk to a contented clomp. You walk and you wander and, if you arrive at a hill — steep or shallow — you pause momentarily taken aback by the incline. Look down at your feet and appreciate the ample base grounding you. Approach the incline at a slight angle then walk. Aha! The metal grabs earth and you enjoy a solidity no normal shoe could possess. Adjust your posture, maybe move forward a bit to prevent yourself from tumbling back. Poles might be helpful, but they aren’t necessary. Because, with a little focus, you’ll realise you’ve conquered your mini summit and are ambling to the pleasant rhythm of snowshoes thwacking against icy trails.

Like anything that excites people, snowshoe literature presents manifold techniques and competitions for zealous athletes. Magazines articles describe the fervid sub cultures that only snowshoe using traditional wooden shoes, the kind that decorate every serious lodge’s fireplace. Blogs profile the athletes petitioning to earn Olympic recognition for the sport. But you can abandon your competitive streak at the lodge, along with the ornamental snowshoeing gear. Meandering through the pristine terrain means wandering away from the present. Spotless trails offer a glimpse into what snow would look like if cars and foot traffic didn’t blacken it immediately. Routine concerns dissolve; just navigate from point A to point B without becoming a galumphing wet mess. Only now, if you do slip into soppy misery, there’s a warm room and a cup of hot cocoa waiting for you.

Light through trees

Whereas the production of superlative snowshoes was once an art, the modern preoccupation seems to concern techniques for a first-class expedition. This discussion displaced the location of art in snowshoeing. Before the industrialisation of snowshoe production, snowshoe making was a prized craft and way to interact with spiritual forces, in addition to being an essential survival skill. Although some traditional snowshoe craftspeople still exist, large companies manufacture the majority of footwear traversing the trails. We can personalise our hike by selecting from among a rainbow of colours and different frames. This consumerism bears no resemblance to art. But a peaceful walk through the wood does. When the discussion of gait and proper shoe disappear, we’re left with the same terrain the snowshoe-ers of yesteryear crossed. We may experience the journey differently — following packed trails bears little resemblance to marking freshly fallen powder — but the basic elements remain. As Native Americans remained mobile through harsh winters, so can our identities shift on a snowshoe expedition.

The trail’s peaceful atmosphere and clean landscape immediately enveloped me, but it was the calming rhythm of walking through snow that seduced me. Is this how Native Americans felt as they traipsed to their destination? What was it like when populations required snowshoes? These thoughts danced into my mind, then fluttered out as I admired a small, snow cloaked tree or listened to the sound of water running under a frozen over lake. Sometimes a song would pop into my head, disappearing when I arrived at the more absorbing rhythm of water flowing under a frozen stream. The sun filtered down through the trees, illuminating the snow with a gentle glimmer. A frigid winter breeze occasionally whipped through, but the consistent movement promptly warmed you. I imagine Native Americans felt similarly.

Snowshoeing shouldn’t be considered a niche sport: it is everywhere. It allows you to encounter the past and engage with your present. It can be a serious, Olympic-minded endeavour or a fun afternoon activity. It helped shape continents and cultures. Snowshoeing is modern and antiquated, and all the more exciting because it exists within this tension.

[1] It should be noted that neither the Iroquois nor the Algonquin, the Native American tries settled in New York, settled in the region. Instead, the used the mountains for warfare.

[2] This is not true of all snowshoes. Some strap to the rear of your foot as well, reducing the snow spray with each step, making it less likely you’ll need gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.

The Best Cookbooks of 2014

Cookbooks of 2014

The cookbook recaps are flooding in. They’ll ease Christmas shopping block and give you a gastronomic assessment of 2014. Or so they say. Because, with so little hindsight, it’s difficult to say decisively which ten or twelve or twenty-four cookbooks were the year’s best. Our current favourites might be covered in dust by February or June. Who would have predicted that in 2014 we’d want to make all our pantry staples from scratch? Or that innovative interpretations of French cuisine would capture our minds and stomachs? The popularity of these books reveals little about 2014’s culinary impact. Although yearly cookbook roundups may be fun — and handy when shopping for an avid cook — they conveniently forget that calendars don’t dictate a cuisine’s evolution. Thus, we’re left to wait and wonder which recipe collection will actually impact our kitchens and society.

That a cookbook doesn’t always have the practical use we wish it would won’t surprise anyone who has bought a heavy, glossy tome, only to let it languish on their shelf while they reach for smaller, easier to handle books. But it’s what the book contains, not just its dimensions, that separates a life-changing recipe collection from a one-off dinner. As Jamie Oliver learnt when teaching cooking to town in a South Yorkshire, knowing recipes and knowing how to cook aren’t the same. While recipes provide formulas for a predictable result, cooking is an alchemy that relies on intuition and interpretation. Executing a recipe as printed doesn’t mean you’ve improved your kitchen skills.

This is especially true for the new coffee-table cookbook that’s become increasingly popular. These cookbooks typically follow either a famous chef or a niche cuisine. Their recipes usually require exceedingly exotic ingredients or hard-to-replicate techniques. North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, written by Gunnar Karl Gíslason and released in September, exhibits this tension from the table of contents. Each chapter highlights a different small-scale producer of a regional Icelandic foodstuff. While smoked arctic char might seem familiar — especially after the interview with the maker from Lake Mývatn — it won’t be easy to find at Whole Foods. To recreate recipes like ‘Parsnips Three Ways with Arctic Char Roe’ in the home kitchen, the cook must use the recipe as an outline which they embellish with their kitchen skills. They need to know that more common salmon roe could be used instead of arctic char roe, the parsnips could be dried in the oven instead of in a dehydrator, and the plating can be improvised. Coffee-table cookbooks don’t teach practical cooking skills and, consequently, don’t integrate into home-cooking vernacular. Instead, they help the individual comfortable in the kitchen get creative with a guidance and inspiration from an expert. Beyond the trend they illuminate, coffee table cookbooks have a short shelf life as a ‘must-have’ title.

While roundups frequently include these big-budget books, it’s the other cookbooks the roundups include which point to the year’s most pervasive trends. Most lists agree that David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune and Nicolaus Balla’s and Cortney Burns’ Bar Tartine are 2014’s essential cookbooks for the serious home chef. Although each presents a unique attitude toward cooking, they all argue for the creation of a new food culture. Lebovitz shares essays on living in Paris to help the cook understand the recipe beyond its ingredients and process. Hamilton’s succinct approach and relatively minimalist style reflects the no-fuss food she presents. Balla and Burns equip the cook with tools to build a homemade pantry and their own culinary world. Whether narrative, bare, or self-made, 2014 celebrates the comprehensive lifestyle cookbook.

With their all-encompassing approach, it’s tempting to claim that 2014’s cookbooks will earn a prized place on our shelves for years to come. That’s what these roundups would have us believe. After all, ‘stories are big’ and ‘big books are big’ — to say nothing of the books that ‘[are] sticking closer to home’ or ‘helmed by a strong, opinionated personality’. These statements depend on when they were made. While Lebovitz’s mini-essays on Paris are 2014’s perfect cookbook story, they may become lengthy, drawn-out head notes in 2015. Prune, weighing in at nearly four pounds, may seem tiny should next year produce larger, dense books on fancier, heavier paper. Should the dehydrator become a commonplace appliance, Balla and Burns’ obsessive pantry may seem easily replicable. And, as reality television has sadly taught us, there is always a stronger personality waiting in the sidelines ready to wow us. Just because this year’s cookbooks sold well doesn’t mean they’ll become time-honoured favourites.

Scenes from Eataly New York

Lidia Bastianich sauces at Eataly

Eataly New York seems designed to be an Italian-style nightmare.  From the chaotic layout that shoves people together, to the none-sensesical division of various products, there’s nothing that makes sense about the store’s design.  As Eataly Turin Lingotto — which effortlessly directs foot traffic — proves, this issue isn’t endemic to the Eataly chain.  Neither is it endemic to New York buildings, as the comparatively well-designed Chelsea Market shows.  Rather it seems that Farinetti, Batali and Bastianich cleverly designed Eataly New York to build a screen of italianità, italian-ness, as it exists in the foreigner’s perception.

Although I’d previously shopped at Eataly in New York, I was interested in examining how the American version compared to the Italian one.  After all, it takes a few visits to the supermarket  to focus your thoughts on analysis as opposed to survival.

Polenta con fughi trifolati

The first stop was a meal.  Although the pizza/pasta and fish restaurants boasted a nearly hour-long, I was seated immediately at Verdure.  This discrepancy surprised me.  Most likely Eataly customers are either less eager to spend money on vegetables, don’t perceive vegetables as a sign of Italian food or vegetables in general don’t carry the same fetishized appeal as a ‘Vera Pizza Napoletana’ carries.  As soon as I sat down, a waitress came over with some bread wrapped up in a paper napkin and poured olive oil on a plate.  We weren’t in Italy any more.

While the design leave one frustrated, the menu leaves one perplexed.  Was it really necessary to add shiitake mushrooms?  Did the semolina gnocchi need a chili sauce?  What about the sweet vinegar over the polenta?  While the meals clearly relate to Italian food, they do not uphold the notion that ‘Eataly is Italy’.  Which begs the question: why do we visit Eataly?  Do we visit to buy ingredients, eat Italian food, confirm our notions about Italian food or for another reason altogether?

Prosciutto at Eataly
The check out, once you find it, begins to answer these questions.  Ice-filled trolleys with unfinished wood panelling boast the ubiquitous impulse purchases.  Rather than presenting tins of leone liquorice or venchi tartufi, you find packs of prosciutto and containers of mozzarella.  In Eataly New York, prosciutto and mozzarella attain meaning similar to small bottles of hand sanitizer and holiday-themed Reese’s eggs: you may not have come for them, but you can’t leave without them.

Eataly deserves more critical analysis. While there’s an interesting (though dry) article about Eataly’s consumer demographics in Italy, there’s little comparable journalistic writing.  The vast majority of articles about Eataly sing its praises because it’s unique and one of a kind.  It won’t be for long.  Eataly recently announced that they planned to open another location in New York.  A mexican-themed food market just opened and there are plans for a French-style emporium as well.  To what extent can we be entertained with gastro-tourism? This trend doesn’t seem likely to disappear anytime soon.  Though whether authenticity chooses to stop by is another question entirely.  Perhaps the one we should be thinking about.

22 Things for 22

Copenhagen

I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling 22.  But I am. (sorry, had to get that out of my system).

While my birthday this year doesn’t involve any Coffee Collective cortados, nor will it enjoy the end of exams as my 18th did, it seems wrong to let the day go by completely unnoticed.  Rather than celebrating, I’ll be sitting at university on a bank holiday that’s also my birthday, partially thrilled that there are no ‘cinco de mayo’ parties to attend.  Here’s a list of the 22 coolest things I did last year:

  1. 21st birthday in Copenhagen
  2. Get 30 lode on a literature exam in Italy
  3. Working social media for Sweet Lemon
  4. Finish reading the Divine Comedy
  5. Travel to Stockholm (on my own!)
  6. SKANSEN!!!
  7. Work at the British Library
  8. Attend an open day at l’università di scienze gastronomiche
  9. Work on my independent study
  10. Work with Epigram
  11. Drop Coffee
  12. Do a skype interview
  13. Bake the pistachio layer cake from Momofuku Milk Bar
  14. Drink coffee at Budin
  15. Go to Naples!
  16. Discover semiotics
  17. Eat countless ‘veggie omelette’ on a ‘multi-cereali’ bagel at The Bagel Factory (and return)
  18. Take a croissant baking class at Mille feuille
  19. Discover my go-to croissant in Bristol
  20. Read Into Thin Air (one of my favorite books. ever.)
  21. Made and ate hindbaersnitter
  22. Fourth year of university (and on that note…)

 

On 2013

Naples

2013 was the best year ever.  Whether I choose to measure the year through personal development, academic growth, goals achieved or countries travelled, I am left with this conclusion: 2014 has a lot to live up to.

People may begin the year with their bowl of non-fat yogurt and muesli to get them on the right track.  Unintentionally, I did the same this year.  No, I’m not talking about my feast at Runner and Stone or the free espresso I enjoyed at Gimme! Coffee.  My trip to Paris in January set the tone for my year.  The adventure of taking the night train, the embarrassment of losing my wallet and the discovery of the noisette inspired in me the right cocktail of ambitions, emotions and tastes to power me through 2013.

Tuck Shop

There was Italy in all its glory and stress.  There was beginning fourth year.  There was finishing my first term of fourth year.  There was Sweet Lemon Media and Epigram Travel, not to mention a year abroad blog, Hotcourses Abroad and my personal blog.  I travelled alone, read amazing books, spoke a new language and safely consumed more than my RYA (recommended yearly amount) of croissants.  Including an Ispahan croissant, from the Pierre Herme in Montparnasse.

At the beginning of the year, I chose the words authenticity and love to shape my year.  Have I lived up to these words?  Was it ever possible to do so?  I’ve honored them in some ways and forgotten them in others.  Yet, it doesn’t matter.  2013 has brought me to so many amazing places, led me to so many amazing opportunities that any attempt to measure the year will underrepresent it.

Copenhagen

My friends and I are obsessed with the idea of “being adult” this year, mostly because, despite being on the cusp of 22, we don’t feel nearly as adult as we thought we would be when we hit the lovely palindromic age.  22 means having a moderate idea of a job, a cool apartment, good fashion sense and the ability to afford better than second-to-bottom shelf wine.  Only, I haven’t found any of that to be true.  I want to be a journalist, but get freaked out when I say so; I live in a dump; I rewear my jeans more times than I should admit to and I prefer cider to wine.  Yet, when travelling home for Christmas, I felt the littlest inklings of adult.  It was scary.  It was awesome.  It was when they searched my bag.

2013, thank you.  Thank you for being the year I didn’t know I want, the year I didn’t know that awaited me as I woke up on January 1.  When my mother surprised me for my birthday in Copenhagen, I didn’t think my year could get any better.  That surprise has turned out to be the perfect metaphor for my year.  Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, it turns around and surprises you.  In Copenhagen.

How was 2013 for you?  What are you looking forward to in 2014?