Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coffee: Addiction, Waves, Temperature

Every once in a while, I give up coffee and my life kind of falls apart for a little while. When things settle down again and I no longer feel the need, I pick it up again. I wait until it sounds good, smells good, and actually tastes good again. Usually my abuse gets to the point of it not tasting good anymore, nor does it really matter. It gets me moving in the morning and helps me complete the most mundane tasks. Next thing I know, I'm drinking it at every turn. So I quit.

In the interim, I think about my relationship to the beverage, if I should really drink, and how to start drinking it again.  This time I really started thinking about coffee's third wave and our new relationship with the beverage here in San Francisco.

I'm a little unclear on what exactly constitutes the "first" wave, although I imagine it falls somewhere between coffee colonialism and the emergence of Juan Valdez. The first wave lasted until Starbucks started kicking things up a notch, increasing the quality and supply of coffee to the overfed the world over. People soon started having coffee beverages that were the caloric value of a meal. Frappuccino entered our vocabularies as did the ever delightful frappuccino-gut.  And so now we're onto the third wave.  Third wave coffee reaches toward high cuisine and moves away from commodity. It's about small harvests. It's small batches of roasted coffees. It's high cuisine meets molecular gastronomy. It's getting a cup like you've never had before. It's coffee meets wine. It's suddenly finding yourself surrounded by yuppies sipping at four dollar (or more) cups of coffee. It's increasingly keeping me shuttered in the house.
So before I brewed my first cup in over a week and a half, I picked up On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee and took a quick looks at the section on coffee. I was particularly interested in brewing temperatures. Too high of a brewing temperature can render your fifteen dollar a pound coffee from Ritual schwaggy and taste more like a brew from Starbucks.  What a waste. The book suggested the ideal temperature for french press was between 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 to 6 minutes.

Pardon me if this seems either obvious or just a pain in the butt. I had always heard that temperature mattered, but never had a proper thermometer. In addition, it's an extra variable which just might make your brewing all the less enjoyable. You don't have to do this, but if you're looking to kick things up a notch, I do recommend it.
The result? A very smooth cup that brings out the unique flavors of the coffee without any of the off flavors that had recently pushed me away from this brewing method.  I had mistaken my sloppy brewing technique for a fault in the method. The added bonus was that my head cleared and I felt refreshingly intelligent. It made me able to attend to business with a new sense of confidence.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Peanut Butter, Bananas and Honey

There's something about peanut butter. It's an eternally baffling subject as it is one of the few American staples that many, many outsiders take a pass on. Growing up, and now well into adulthood it appears frequently in my diet. I eat it when I'm lazy, when I'm crashing, and when it's the only thing that could possibly fill the (unfillable)void. Take this classic comfort food:

Peanut butter, bananas, and honey,
Elvis Presley himself was known to love this here sandwich. Some sources even claim Mr Presley even enjoyed a few strips of bacon to make the sandwich even better. What with the current bacon craze, it's hard to believe this variation isn't getting tremendously popular.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Israeli Juicer

I would like nothing more than to be able to walk out my front door, visit a favorite juice hawker, and sit upon the sidewalk and watch the world go by. Unfortunately, there is no juice man or woman gracing the streets or storefronts. The streets aren't really public anymore as recent laws passed in this land make it a possible offense to sit too long on the sidewalk. Also, I risk my safety each and every time I leave the house. Fortunately, in my kitchen rests an epic juicer.
Meet the Israeli Juicer. My housemate, who holds dual American/Israeli citizenship, is kind enough to share one of the perks: A juicer used by the many juice vendors in Israel. This here juicer is the perfect example of how a beautiful piece of engineering makes certain delights an easy everyday thing.
Three or four oranges, depending on the orange and the size glass, and you've got a glass of juice. A four year old could operate this device as you get a lot of torque from the long handle.
This takes a minute or less. Then you can sit at your table and read the paper and learn all about how the country and larger world is falling apart.
Some people cry into their beer. I choose to do it into a nice glass of juice. Everything seems like a dream with a cup of liquid sun in your hand.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Club Sandwich. I'll Pass on Membership.

I said goodbye to my endless summer the other week the only way I know how: with food and drink. The hottest day of the year called for a meal in Dolores Park.
The club sandwich from Claire's Deli is not for me. Especially not on a 90 plus degree day. Too many meats, too salty, and on this one, way too much mayo.  The beer tasted good at first but only added to my dehydration on this hottest of days.

I don't have a history of eating this type of calorie bomb. It was big and rich enough for two eaters. At seven dollars for a hefty club sandwich, you do have a cheap meal for two. But how many people actually do this?

I'm getting interested in sandwiches. Correction: I'm getting interested in the glut of sandwiches in the area but lack knowledge on the subject. Every little market advertises them, but are they any good? There are lots of "famous" sandwiches in the area, but what of your average sandwich in a run of the mill corner store? I'm all ears.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sandwiches and Mediocrity

Sitting over a sandwich a while back, I effortlessly took this shot. It wasn't really a beautiful shot, a unique sandwich, or inspiring in any way. It got me thinking about eating, blogging, and talking about food. What percentage of Americans eat a sandwich on any given day? Of the masses, what percentage are eating a sandwich that looks something like this? I imagine many are more poverty stricken sandwiches than this one, but this one is a good example as there's nothing particularly special about it: mayo, mustard, lettuce, pickles, red onions, sprouts, and turkey. The same ingredients that can be had day in, day out in America, where the food changes little from season to season. Whether it's the dead of winter, or the height of summer, the tomatoes are always mealy and nearly inedible on their own. But for five bucks this huge sandwich is a step up from Subway or some other corporate chain that is sending Americans to an early grave. It's a meal that can be had just about anywhere in the union, and it's all very uninspiring.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time to go Shopping


Not a lot left. At least we've got Thai chilis, which have factored heavily into our recent cooking.  At a dollar a bunch at the civic center farmers market, this is maybe one of the best deals around.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Backyard Chickens Redux

Now that I've moved on and no longer live with a gaggle of hens, it's time to looks back and talk about what did and didn't work.

Owning backyard chickens has exploded in popularity in the last couple of years. And it makes a lot of sense. You give them a good life, they give you some great eggs. What could be simpler? Well there are problems. Let me remind you of what happened to my chicken Big Mamma. I'd love to tell you that it ended there, but it didn't. We in fact had another gruesome death that was maybe worse than the first. The gauge of wire you use on your coop is very important. You see, chicken wire is not really the wire to use. Who would have thought?  The holes are actually too large and some pesky creatures, say a raccoon, can reach its little paws through and do some damage. That's precisely what happened to our chicken Pepper. She had her leg and wing horribly mangled. She didn't die. She was left to suffer until we could finish the job.
Forgetting about death for a minute there's the issue of responsibility. Just like other animals you might keep like a dog, cat, or small child, chickens need food, water, and if you care about their well being, freedom to scratch. I've seen coops with chickens that rarely leave, but I like my girls to be able to get out and stretch. Furthermore, if things like food, water, and natural behaviors are important to you, as they should be, you need to be willing and able to tend to them everyday. That's a big responsibility. Unfortunately, a lot of people get chickens and then realize this far too late. In my own house, let's just say there was little enthusiasm for our feathered friends. Some housemates were never home, others kept strange hours, and others simply refused to have anything to do with them. So if one of us who was committed wasn't around, they were neglected, and that was very frustrating.

The last number of months we had only one chicken. I thought she seemed sad, but as the spring progressed she returned to her normally prolific self by laying every single day.



And the story ends there. We moved on to a different house and out of the remaining chicken's life. As far as I know, at present Naked Neck is still healthy, happy, and laying a lot of eggs.

So what can I say to prospective chicken owners? If you have the space, the time, and the dedication, go for it. Don't think of them as pets, but don't just think of them just as meat either. If you've got a lifestyle where you're on the move a lot, don't even think about getting them. They require and deserve your attention.

As with a lot of fads, like owning a particular breed of dog, many people don't get into this with the right frame of mind. "Oh wouldn't it be fun to own a (Insert name of animal here)!" they say. Novelty breeds of dogs and chickens alike are dropped off at animal shelters and deserted stretches of highway by people who think it would be cool to own a furry or feathered friend before adequately thinking things through.  If the needless death or slaughter of an animal doesn't bother you, by all means, get a backyard hen or three right away! Otherwise, do your research and get an idea what owning animals actually entails. If you think it's right for your lifestyle and you can commit to your feathered friends, I wholeheartedly recommend backyard chickens.