“It’s like silk,” I tell her, eyes all ablaze. “Balanced,” I say. “More balanced than those workers eating lunch on the sixty-ninth of the Rockefeller. A mile up from the concrete. Those dudes were balanced. But this,” and I take another sip. “This is balanced. Balanced with all that is right and good in the universe.”
“Dear, what are you talking about?” she says. “It’s just a sock! Whatever are you talking about balanced for?”
“Yes, honey, I know it’s just a sock. It says it right here.” And I point to the label. “‘CoffeeSock’. But this is not your ordinary sock. This sock must’ve come from the bowels of God himself, you know?”
“What do you mean, bowels?” she says. Then whispers, “Not around the children, dear!”
“Oh, honey, you know what I mean! I don’t mean sacrilege. It’s just a figure of speech. I mean from his depths. The depths of the holy. From the depths of glory! You know? His Inners. His inwards. It’s hard to put it in-words, you know.”
“No. I don’t know,” she says. And I take another sip.
* * *
She, this dear, lovely lady of mine brought me home a set of two CoffeeSocks and I looked at her and said, “Why would anybody want a drink coffee made through a sock?”
And she looked at me and said, “Why are you always judging things before you try them?”
And she’s right. I am. So I took that as a challenge and I tried that sock.
“The directions said to boil it for ten minutes to ‘pre-shrink’ it. Yeah, right, pre-shrink! You aren’t fooling anybody. I’ve been around long enough to know you don’t boil something for ten minutes just to shrink it. You boil it to kill something in it. Besides, I shrink things in the dryer.” So I threw that CoffeeSock in the dryer for ten minutes, and it smelled like a couple of dryer sheets afterwards. But did the job.
“The label here tells me,” I said to her, “‘CoffeeSock reusable filters make a noticeably superior brew from the first pour.’ I’ll tell you what’s superior, dear. Superior is not having to pour your coffee through a sock. Superior is waking up with your coffee ready made for you before you wake up. But I’m not one to waste,” I said.
Then I took my first sip.
“Whoa!” I said. And she looked at me. “Now that’s superior! You ever felt silk before, honey?”
And her eyes looked at me as though she were saying, Have you ever bought me anything made from silk?
“Silk, honey, you know. Imagine with me for minute. Imagine silk times a hundred. No, a million! Now that’s smooth.”
And she looked at me like she does when she knows she’s been proven right and I’ve been schooled.
So I take another sip.
“I mean, baby, I knew I was good at making coffee, but dang! I didn’t know about pouring-it-through-a-sock making it better! Wait’ll I tell the guys. Been humbled by a sock. Whoo!”
I take another sip, and pick up the label.
“Label says these things last up to a year or more. Look at that!”
“That’s because they’re organic,” she says.
“O-gantic? What’s that, like bigger than gigantic?” I take another sip. “Because these things are making coffee larger than life for me right now.”
And I read the label some more.
“Label says here there’s ‘no unpleasant bitterness or bad attitude.’ I guess they’re right,” I say. “I guess they’re right. Because my bad attitude has gone out the window, I tell you.”
I take another sip.
“Honey, get this. Label says these things are ‘vegan’ and ‘gluten free’. That means they’re healthy, right?”
“They’re just cotton,” she says.
And that’s all she needs to say to make me wonder about making coffee through my cotton underwear. The possibilities are endless. But I’ll leave that for another day.
Being ‘paleo’ (whatever that term means anymore) in today’s world of fast food and grain subsidies is not easy. But, as the idea goes, ‘scarcity is the mother of invention’. And when you are desperate for something you’ll find a way to get it.
There isn’t much I miss by way of food anymore. I think it’s safe to say I’m clean over sugar, as well as grains by now. But there is one thing that’s irreplaceable in my food book. And that’s plain old toast with butter. That, with a cup of strong, black coffee in the morning was my lifeline in college. My crunchy, caffeinated explosion to ignite my day.
Summer brings the humid heat, Fall brings loads of squash to eat.
For the last two years squash has served as our staple carb substitute. Something to help fill out those meat and veggie dinners, and stretch those food dollars. But, as with any other food, too much of it becomes repulsive after a time. As much as I love those sweet as pie Long Island Cheese Pumpkins, my body eventually screams, ‘No more!’
I’ve been finding that these leftover mashes of squash and butter sit in the refrigerator untouched. They are unsure of their place in life. Doubtful of their eternal destiny.
Recently, though, through what I deem nothing short of divine inspiration, a recipe for squash cakes materialized in my mind’s eye one morning upon opening the fridge and seeing these sad leftovers.
* * *
4 C pumpkin
1 C butter
maca powder (optional, but very expensive these days, for added sweetness)
dash of salt
2 C tapioca flour
1 tsp baking soda
Add more butter/fat to pan and fry those cakes up.
* * *
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t divine inspiration, and maybe these cakes are ‘nothing new under the sun,’ but they are my new bread. My carrier for butter and salt. The missing half of my morning brew. The marriage is restored. The love is born again.
And I’m not the only one in love. I can’t fry these things up fast enough for our brood. Talia double-fists them, cheeks popping, apron on to catch the dripping butter, and cinnamon smeared, goatee style, around her lips.
This recipe is forgiving of a little smudging, and highly adaptable to all manner of use. Whether as a carrier for butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon, or if you just want to wrap up some savory leftovers, crêpe style.
These cakes literally melt in your mouth.
They reheat better than cold toes by the fire, and you can crisp up the leftovers to get that old toast feeling back in your mouth. Pair with strong coffee and your morning is made. Your day is set. These cakes will take you back to Saturday mornings with dad at the frying pan, without all the physical pain induced by Bisquick(R), or the insulin spikes of Aunt Jemima(R).
How do you brew that perfect cup of coffee? you ask, after taking your first sip. And I try to act flattered, like no one’s ever asked me that. Like I haven’t researched it for hours. And I begin to tell you about MIT chemistry professor E. E. Lockhart and his Coffee Brewing Control Chart, and soon I am full into my dissertation on How To Brew The Perfect Cup.
There are three factors: the freshness of the beans, the purity of the water, and the ratio of the two.
First, there are the beans. Make sure those beauties are fresh, whole, and of top quality. Fair Trade Organic is a fine. But where the roaster knows the farmer, even better. Check the ‘roasted on’ date, and make sure you aren’t more than two weeks out.
Next, the purity of the water. Don’t use tap, especially Jersey tap, unless you like the taste of metal in your mouth. You’ve got to purify it. The purer it is, the better your coffee will taste. Fill up your stainless steel kettle and set that water to boil.
Next, the ratios. They say the Golden Ratio is 17.42 units of water to 1 unit of coffee. And here your face glosses over for a minute, and I almost lose you. But then I say, Don’t worry, I’ve simplified it. Use two grams of coffee for every finished ounce of water you’re looking to have drip into that cup. I prefer to use a kitchen scale for accuracy and consistency. But, if you don’t have one, it’s safe to assume a tablespoon of beans is about 6 grams. So, for an 8 oz cup, use 16 grams of beans. And you nod your head in understanding.
But then you ask, Is this before or after you grind those beans? And I say, It doesn’t matter. We’re measuring by weight, not volume. Then you pause for a moment, letting the mathematical weight of it sink in. Then I say, Besides, you don’t want those beans pre-ground. As soon as you grind them, they starts to lose freshness.
But can’t I freeze my grounds to keep them fresh? you ask. And I shudder at the thought of it, then regain control. There’s no need, I say, if you use them up within a week. Then we continue.
Measure those beans on the kitchen scale, then pour them into the hand-grinder. That’s right, I said a hand-grinder. You can use one of those electric grinders with the airplane engine for a motor, but you’ll obliterate most of them into a fine espresso dust. Inconsistently ground beans make for inconsistent flavor. Remember that.
Now turn the handle round and round. Stay here for a moment. Get into the rhythm of it. Be present.
At around the 150th turn, the water will be on the verge of boiling. Take the kettle off the burner. The ideal temperature is 200 degrees. Anything more will over-extract the flavor. We don’t want to burn those beauties.
Next, preheat your mug. Then, place your paper filter (unbleached) into your ceramic cone. I have a plastic one, you say. Is that okay? And I say, If you like the taste of plastic, go ahead. And you scrunch your lips in distaste. Now, pour those grounds into the paper filter and dump the hot water out of your mug. Place the cone on the mug and the mug on scale, and tare the weight to bring it to zero.
Pour about one ounce of water over those grounds. You want to soak them through. Now be patient. Watch the steam rise, and the oils mix and swirl, changing color into a milky-gold. The grounds will bubble up, then deflate. Don’t miss this moment. This is where you continue your pour. Pour slowly. Two, three, four ounces. As much as can fit into that cone, and as space allows, pour the rest.
Once all is through, remove the cone, compost the grounds and filter, and pick up that mug. You can use cream but you don’t need it. And for the love of your taste buds don’t use sugar. Sit down in your favorite chair with a book, or with your spouse by the window, taking in the morning sun. The perfect cup. The perfect way to start your day.
If I don’t get up now I never will. My sleep cycle has just ended, and I gently slip the blankets off so as not to wake up Rachel, groping in the dark for my sweatshirt, pants and socks. I open the bedroom door, a few steps toward the stairs, then I descend, trying with all my morning intellect to remember if it’s the third or fourth step that creaks the most. *creak* Yes, it was the fourth. I descend quickly, remembering it is a lost cause trying to avoid them all. *creak, creak, creak*
I have grand plans for writing this morning, and I begin thinking about which idea I will flesh out. But first, the morning liturgy. Fill up the kettle with water, place on stove, put kitchen scale on counter, measure out 22 grams of coffee beans, hand grind them.
I finish grinding, then open my Bible to the morning Psalm while the water finishes boiling. This is what mornings are made of. And I begin to read. *creak, creak, creak*
“Mommy! Mommy!” I look at the clock. 5:46 am. “Mommy! Mommy!” I hear from the top of the stairs. I race up, barely touching the stairs with my feet.
“Hey Annie!” I try to sound excited in a loud whisper. “Mommy’s still sleeping. Do you want to come downstairs?”
“Yeah!” she says, holding her baby and blanket. She is wide awake and alert. I carry her down into the kitchen, and pull a chair up to the counter for her to stand on.
The coffee grinder is sitting to her right. A small, wooden box, with a drawer that pulls out from the bottom, containing the freshly ground beans. “Take a drawer out?” she asks, her hand already on the knob, looking up at me with with questioning eyes. I nod.
She gently pulls it out, while I place the paper sleeve into the ceramic cone over the pre-heated mason jar. She holds the drawer precariously by the knob, and I nervously watch her place it over the cone, then tip. Only a few grounds spill onto the counter, and she begins to sweep them into her hand, most of which fall to the floor.
The water finishes boiling, and I begin to pour. 46 grams. We let the off-gases rise for a moment, letting the water soak in its fresh coffee bath, drawing out the floral notes of this medium-dark Ethiopian roast. We savor the smell, then slowly pour more water onto the grinds. The water slowly makes its way to the bottom, through the filter, then *drip, drip, drip* Soon, a steady bleed into the mason jar.
Annie crouches low to watch.
“Do you want some milk?” I ask.
“Yeah!” she exclaims. So I pour her a glass, then pour the rest of the water over the grinds. She takes a few sips.
I pull the hand blender out of the drawer. “B’end it?” she asks, wanting to know if she can do the honor of blending daddy’s makeshift latte. I add a tablespoon (or two) of butter, then a splash of milk. “This one?” she asks, pointing to the low speed button. Before I finish saying yes, she pushes it in, and we blend away.
I pour the foamy brew into my mug, and we drink together in the quiet of the morning. Annie turns towards me, wrapping her arms around my waste in an overflow of gratitude, burying her head deep into my belly.
“Why did you get up so early this morning?” I ask her.
“I guess God had other plans for my morning, huh?”
“Oh,” she says, reassuringly, then I ask her if she wants to read a book. Which book? The Snow book. We head into the living room, grab Snow from the book nook, then pull a blanket up over us on the couch. On the cover is a young girl, with her arms outstretched toward the falling snow, wearing a full-body snow suit.
“Daddy, wanna tell you some-ing.”
“That’s me,” she says, pointing to the little girl on the cover.
With each turn of the page, we repeat the same ritual. Daddy, wanna tell you some-ing — What? — That’s me. If there happens to be a boy or another girl in the picture, they become her brother and sisters. The grandmother is, of course, grandma.
We finish reading. She is yawning now, and my eyelids are heavy. She slides down off my lap, and I look up at the wall clock, surprised to see it’s only 6:15. The light from the streetlamp is shining into our window, and not a sound can be heard but our breathing, and the tick-tock of the clock. She looks up at it with me, then I look at her.
She is still. She is watching the passage of time, if it can be watched at all; unaware of its beating heart, its constant trickle, carrying us through. She is present, only thinking of now.
This morning, sweet Anna Belle, you have taught me to rest. But now, I re-enter khronos, feeling its tick-tock, as though it were tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me that there is breakfast to be made, dishes to wash, and work to be done.
“Do you want to lay on the couch for a little bit?” I ask. She nods. And she lays down to rest.