Smacked cucumbers in garlic dressing

Fuschia Dunlop's recipe for smacked cucumbers in garlicky sauce, from "Every Grain of Rice", has changed the way my kids think about cucumbers. My youngest asked me to make this dish for her birthday dinner tonight, and I was more than happy to do it. It's delicious and fun and easy to make. I'm going to show you how.

The first step is to assemble the sauce. Or dressing. Call it what you like. I've been using one large garlic clove and 1/2 tsp of sugar per cucumber. To this I add a teaspoon of crushed chilies fried in oil, soy sauce, and a generous splash of vinegar or some other tangy liquid. My kids are sensitive to Sichuan pepper, so I crank the grinder just a tiny bit.

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Today I used some bottled Ponzu dressing, but I've also used rice or sherry vinegar (or both). This chili oil has peanuts, which I'm careful to omit because my kids do not love peanuts. Whatever: more peanuts for me!

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After putting the dressing aside, it is time to smack the cucumbers. Contused cucumis sativus may be a culinary cliché, but this technique is too good to dismiss. It turns ordinary, hard, crunchy cucumber (not a bad thing) into succulent, but not gross and slimy, mildly bitter melon. There's nothing to it: you lay unpeeled thin-skinned cucumbers flat on a cutting board and swat them with the flat of your chef's knife or cleaver just until they crack.

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I scraped out the one seedy cucumber, quartered them both lengthwise, and then chopped them diagonally. There's no point in trying to slice them into matching 1/8" thick pieces, smacked cucumbers don't give a damn about rules.

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Toss the chopped cucumber with salt and let it rest for 20 minutes. The goal is to get them to shed water so the sauce doesn't get diluted. These two cukes gave up about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of liquid tonight.

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When the time's up and you're ready to eat, drain the cucumbers, transfer to the bowl of dressing, toss well, and serve along with other Sichuan dishes or on top of buckwheat noodles.

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Dry and warm December

Due to a persistant ridge of high pressure over the western U.S., it has been and will continue to be unseasonably warm and dry in Fort Collins. We have had little precipitation this season and I spent some of Saturday watering our less-established trees and shrubs so they don't croak.

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Suburban singletrack of Fort Collins

I've also been trail running on consecutive days for the first time since the Blue Sky Marathon. For the past 8 weeks I've mostly quit running in favor of biking, yoga, and muscle-building with a trainer. My knees complained a bit about the extra pound per week I've gained from gourmandizing, but overall it felt great to be back running on rock and dirt.

On Jan 7, I'm going to start training for the Quad Rock 25 in Lory State Park on May 12, 2018. I hope I'll be able to get in the right mindset to train when Winter finally arrives.

Poudre Canyon Gateway

My family and I saw some familiar places from a different perspective on Sunday. The Black Powder Trail at the city's Gateway Natural Area climbs 500 feet up from an old filtration plant to a point overlooking the Cache la Poudre River, its canyon, and Colorado State Highway 14, our local route west to Cameron Pass. I've driven beneath this point a hundred times or more in 21 years, but have mostly treated this part of the canyon as drive-through country. I've never been on top before.

The ponderosa pine in the two photos below is a survivor of the 2004 Picnic Rock Fire and the 2012 High Park Fire.

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Thin clouds diffused the light while we hiked up to the top. On the return trip the clouds cleared and the sun shone directly on us. Jackets and gloves came off and it felt like September.

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I'd grabbed our better binoculars before we left the house and was rewarded for carrying them. On the steeper switchbacks going down we were treated to the spectacle of two golden eagles playing in the air rising from the south-facing mountain in front of us. Twice they tucked their wings and dove in spirals around each other before pulling up and shooting upward without a wing beat, purely on acquired kinetic energy. As we headed back to our car, homework, and weekend chores, the eagles spiralled up to their cruising altitude and disappeared in search of supper.

Reading

I'm spending less time running and scrolling through Twitter this season and more time reading. Reading what? Fiction and a memoir.

I've read the copy of "The End of All Things" that John Scalzi signed for Ruth and me at his 2015 reading in Fort Collins. The story about the Conclave leadership was the one I enjoyed the most.

Afterwards I read N. K. Jemisin's "The Fifth Season." It's harrowing and mysterious and subversive and beautifully written. It's also a geography and history book of sorts, complete with an intriguing map. Interestingly, Jemisin has written that she's not a fan of maps in fantasy novels. She had the help of an illustrator named Tim Paul, who has a site full of lovely fantasy world maps.

Now I am simultaneously reading the 33rd edition of "The Year's Best Science Fiction," edited by Gardner Dozois, and "Girl in a Band" by Kim Gordon. I'm 100 pages into that 600-page collection of short stories and novellas. "Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight" (Aliette de Bodard), "Ruins" (Eleanor Arnason), and "Another Word for World" (Ann Leckie) are my favorites so far.

Kim Gordon is a founder of one of my favorite rock bands and a fine writer and storyteller. Her reflections on growing up in L.A. in the late 60s are unique and new, to me. I don't read memoirs, generally speaking. Gordon writes frankly and, I believe, honestly and I find it pretty compelling stuff. Is this book particularly good, or am I discovering that I am a memoir reader after all? I read chapters 25-51 after cleaning my kitchen, while listening to "Goo" and "Daydream Nation," an indulgent and fun start to my Saturday.

November 25, 2016: Nîmes

We made three trips to Nîmes during our séjour. This one on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was our first. We took visiting friends to Nîmes in March and June. The city kept growing on us – Nîmes is both more historic and more accessible than Montpellier, if not as much of an economic engine.

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Ruth took this photo from a Ferris Wheel set up adjacent to the Arènes de Nîmes, a rare perspective on this 1900 year-old site.

Mercantile 1.0.0

Mercantile, the module of web mercator XYZ tile utilities that I started at Mapbox, is complete. Version 1.0.0 is on the Python Package Index today and can be obtained using pip: pip install -U mercantile, no --pre option necessary. The latest and greatest documentation is at http://mercantile.readthedocs.io/en/latest/. I expect to be making improvements to the docs over the next few weeks. Please don't be shy about pointing out what the docs lack.

I'm super grateful for the help from Matthew Perry, Patrick M. Young, Amit Kapadia, Damon Burgett, Stefano Costa, Jacob Wasserman, and Brendan Ward. Sam Matthews doesn't appear in the git log, but helped me with the Sphinx layout.

I'm fortunate to be able to work on open source projects at my job and proud of Mapbox's continuing commitment to open source. Virtual confetti is being tossed in Mapbox's main Slack channel this morning and I'm feeling good.