Category Archives: Food

Disaster Averted

I got a family recipe from the wife of my German cousin Wilhelm. It is a traditional Christmas bread called Bremer Klaben. Petra speaks wonderful English, but her written recipe is, well, interesting.  It is ok that the ingredients like raisins and candied peel and flour are measured in grams. I have a scale that will do that for me. I really like cooking by weight, not volume.

The recipe calls for 60 grams of yeast.  I always assume a reference to yeast means granulated yeast. 60 grams of granulated yeast is about 1/3  of a cup. This only makes one medium-sized loaf of  bread, so I surmised that she was referring to cake yeast, not granulated yeast. The granulated equivalent of cake yeast is 4 1/2 teaspoons. Can you imagine what would have happened had I not made the proper conversion?  Disaster averted!

Tell about disasters you have averted (or not).

 

Rich Beyond Measure

I made broth last weekend.  It is the Brodo recipe from The Splendid Table with 9 lbs of turkey wings and 3 lbs of beef bones.  It simmers for 14 hours. It produces a couple of gallons of golden brown goodness. We use it all the time, so we try to always have some on hand.  We  consider ourselves rich as we put the broth containers in the freeze “This is wealth”, we say.  Who needs more things when you have broth?

We have much to be thankful for besides homemade broth.  We feel especially rich in good friends,  good coworkers,  and in our community as a whole.  In this season of rampant consumerism, I think it is good to consider all the things that contribute richness to our lives.

What makes your life a richer, more satisfying one?

 

A Good Cuppa

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I started drinking coffee in the week I began grad school. I had my first cup in a coffeehouse, a memorable day because I learned I loved coffee and coffeehouse music. That first cup was espresso, dark as sin and quite strong.

That launched an odyssey as I searched for a way to make great coffee at home. As far as I’m concerned, the odyssey—which took 53 years to complete—came to a happy end about two months ago. The odyssey involved three things: my coffee mug, the brand of coffee and the coffee brewing technology.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my pursuit of the perfect coffee mug. The story ran under the title of Arabia Beehive. I described how I bought a mug that I later decided was perfect. It shattered when knocked to the floor in 1983. Since then I spent hundreds of hours looking for a replacement. And this year in October that 32-year search ended when I found a copy of my original beloved mug.

I spent about three decades looking for a great brand of coffee. It was a curious hunt. I knew how good coffee could be, for the coffee in good restaurants was wonderful. But I couldn’t find coffee like that in grocery stores. My erstwife and I went from brand to brand to brand, never finding one that tasted remotely like the best restaurant brew. We didn’t know the problem was that restaurants got to buy coffee that was roasted to perfection, coffee of a quality not sold in stores.

The search for great coffee beans took an unexpected turn when Starbucks became so popular in the early 1990s. Suddenly there were little coffeehouses all over serving and selling wonderful brews. And suddenly it was clear why we looked so long in vain for coffee like that in stores.

Everyone has a favorite. Mine is the Caribou blend from the Caribou Coffee folks. It is nothing terribly special, being a medium roast suitable for all-day drinking. I’ve dallied with French roast blends, which are stronger, but I keep coming back to the Caribou blend. I love it.

The odyssey also included a lot of experimentation with coffee makers. I’ve owned about fifteen different makers. For a while I liked a French press. I used to make Italian espresso. For about a year we made “camp coffee,” which is grounds thrown into cold water that is heated. Then you clarify the coffee with egg shells, maybe filtering it as a last step. It is pretty good, but messy and not easy to do when half-asleep.

While trying different coffee brewing technologies, I spent several years grinding my own beans each morning. According to experts, that was necessary, and for several years I believed them. But grinding beans makes an awful sound that I can’t abide shortly after waking up. I ultimately decided making coffee from freshly ground beans was more trouble than it was worth.

My search for the ideal coffee maker ended when my daughter (who rarely drinks coffee) served amazingly good coffee four years ago. I say “amazingly” because the coffee itself was just Folgers from a big red can, the stuff they sell in every grocery store in the country. I was astonished to learn that coffee from her Cuisinart coffee maker was truly better than I could make with my more expensive German brewing system.

And now the odyssey is truly over. Each day begins with perfect (to my palate) coffee brewed in my favorite coffeemaker and served in my favorite mug. I’m a happy, happy guy. It is embarrassing to be so easily pleased, but I really enjoy starting each day with something so reliably delightful.

What is your favorite beverage? Do you have it all worked out or are you still experimenting?

 

Doughnut Dream

I may have bemoaned the demise of the corner doughnut shop here before. There are a few doughnut shops around but I’m not a fan of lavender infused doughnuts with basil and rosemary or mac & cheese donuts or any kind of doughnut with bacon.

For a few years I’ve been getting doughnuts at a little tiny shop down in Bloomington. They open at 5:30 in the morning and have all the old favorites and nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately they are way out of the way, so I only go down there when I need two or three dozen. So when I saw that a Dunkin Donuts was opening not only close to my house but on my way to the office, I was pretty excited – especially when I saw that they were putting in a drive-through!

To cheer up our first morning after the building fire I thought I would bring doughnuts in yesterday morning. When I turned in to the Dunkin Donuts, I thought about the drive-through, but there were a couple of cars in line so I parked and went in.  I got my two dozen and a couple of coffee; as I paid and looked behind me there were seven people in line.  When I went out to the car, there were about six cars waiting in the drive-through.  Clearly Dunkin is meeting a need that we didn’t even know we had!

What kind of establishment would you like to open close to you?

 

 

Epiphanies

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I once considered writing a book of personal memoir. The title was going to be Epiphanies. Not everyone is familiar with that word, which comes to us from the ancient Greeks. Epiphanies are those moments of sudden understanding in which a nagging problem is solved or a blazing new perception reveals itself. A less fancy definition would be “aha moments.” The word has special relevance to Christians, referring to the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. My favorite example of epiphany in popular culture is that moment in The Miracle Worker when Anne Sullivan pumps water over the hands of little Helen Keller, teaching her how language is the key that will reveal the world to her.

For me, epiphanies are special, even magic. Of course, we all learn lessons as we experience our lives. Usually enlightenment appears after a slow, unremarkable, evolutionary process. Epiphanies, by contrast, surprise and shock us. Routine mental growth is like lighting a candle in the dark; epiphanies are more like skyrockets that explode to fill the skies with color and noise.

Epiphanies I experienced as a child are hard to date with precision. When I was a toddler—somewhere between three and five—my grandfather took me out for a treat. He bought us drumsticks, those ice cream novelties with wafer cones. Up until that moment delightful things seemed to appear and disappear randomly. But when Grandpa Clarence bought those drumsticks I realized that these and other treats existed all the time. They were part of the world. If you had this thing called money, you could exchange it for a drumstick. The world was more orderly and benign than I had understood before that moment.

I experienced an epiphany in third grade that I often remember. Our classroom had an American flag (just 48 stars back then). Large portraits of George Washington and Abe Lincoln hung on the walls. Our desks were bolted in place facing the teacher’s desk, which was mounted on a raised deck to allow her to look down on the little humans in her charge. Our teacher, Miss Maybe, called on a kid named Andy to deliver a report. Sitting in my desk on the right hand side of the classroom, halfway back, I grinned with relief. The voice in my head said, “Hey, that’s Andy up there, not you! He has to give a report and you do not. He’s Andy. You’re Steve. You aren’t Andy, and you don’t have to give a report!” I’ve always wondered if most people have a particular blazing moment when they realized they are a unique consciousness, not part of a larger group.

Not all epiphanies are so fun to remember. In the first year of my marriage, my erstwife and I spent a winter month housesitting the home of Arthur Naftalin, then the mayor of Minneapolis. On a sub-zero February afternoon my parents drove all the way in from their Orono home to visit us. After a delightful meal they left, walking down the steep driveway to where they had left their car parked on the street. I stood at a living room picture window to watch. When they turned up the sidewalk, my mother and father spotted me. As if they had rehearsed this move for weeks, they turned, smiled radiantly, raised their hands and waved goodbye, each one mirroring exactly the expression and movements of the other. Tears shot out of my eyes, and I staggered back into the privacy of the living room so my parents wouldn’t see me crying. Something about the moment—the crazy synchronicity of their goodbye waves—made me realize these two people I loved so much would someday exit my life forever. Of course, I had always known my parents would likely precede me in death. That abstract, dry fact became a moment of scorching awareness when they waved goodbye that afternoon.

Do you experience epiphanies? Can you share examples?

Leftovers!

Photo credit: Steven Puetzer / Getty Images

YA and I have done Thanksgiving with the same folks for all of her life so I don’t know about anybody else’s traditions, but at our festivities, everybody brings some Tupperware (or cheaper equivalent!) and then after the meal, we divvy up the leftovers. Our favorite leftovers include mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and sage dinner rolls.  YA wants the potatoes; I want the sage rolls.  Here’s my favorite leftover recipe:

Juju’s Sage Rolls w/ Cheese
1 sage roll (or two if you’re counting this as a meal)
1 not too skinny slice of cheese (your choice)
Butter (or mayo or mustard)

  1. Heat up the roll a bit, either in the toaster oven, the microwave or even the regular oven if it’s already on for something else
  2. Pull the warm roll apart (breathe in deeply while you do this so you get the sage smell)
  3. Slather on the butter or mayo or mustard
  4. Add the cheese
  5. Eat with your favorite day-after-Thanksgiving beverage!

What’s your favorite way to deal w/ leftovers?

 

Spilt Coffee

At Caribou this morning Nonny and I spilt an entire cup of coffee while navigating the “add cream and sugar” part of the transaction. Very quickly two gals jumped in to help, with napkins and a little towel that one of them asked staff for.  Between us we wiped and wiped and eventually got it all cleaned up.  I thanked them profusely and asked them if they would come later to my house and do my kitchen floor.  One of them stopped at our table a bit later as she was leaving to say “have a nice day” and Nonny was surprised to realize that she wasn’t an employee.  I said they were both just innocent helpful bystanders – which had made me all the more thankful at the time.

What the last kindness someone did for you?