Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Coffee - Better and Cheaper at Home

The congregation in Sturgis had an idea about the coffee left in the urn. "You could warm it up to drink during the week,"

Instead of taking up that frugal suggestion, I made my own coffee. Reheated, percolated coffee left in an aluminum urn was not my culinary fantasy.

At Melo-Cream I was always happy to go down to the coffee barrel where the Yuban coffee was kept. My father mixed Maxwell House and Yuban, used a drip coffee maker, and insisted on keeping coffee no longer than 15 minutes.

The favor of coffee is mostly in the aroma, so drinking it fresh is the key to enjoying it. Here are some key steps in making delicious coffee.

Pure Water
The water has to have its off-flavors filtered out. We use a tap filter for that. Otherwise, the coffee competes with the flora and fauna of the lake water we get on tap. I would get spring water and use that ($1 gallon) if I had to.

The freshness of the coffee grounds will make an enormous difference. I stopped grinding it each time because the early morning or late night sounds were like gravel being ground up, and the results were uncertain. I put in too much in one batch or two and had truly awful coffee, too weak or too strong.

But we keep the coffee sealed up tightly in sealed containers, one from Gevalia, which we no longer buy. They used to offer wonderful coffee storage devices, and we still have one for the favorite variety of the day. We got a free one each time we tried Gevalia, every six months, so we did, and kept the jar. Alas we only have one jar left.

Now the free offers are for one measuring spoon, so I have two spoons I keep, and I keep track of the amounts used for a good pot of coffee.

Let us pause and consider cost. A large Starbucks cup of coffee is $2 plain. Their fancy concoctions are $4 and up, $24 a gallon, if you take 6 x the 20 ounce cup! Starbucks' plain coffee is one step above restaurant coffee, two steps above church coffee.

High quality coffee is $2 per 10-cup pot at home. The cost is even lower with premium grocery store coffee. Gevalia is found at Walmart and is fairly good. Some other brands can be found there too, and many favored ones as well.

K-cups are more costly per pound but convenient with a large group of people wanting fresh coffee - or hot cocoa - at various times. I was converted Keurig in Seattle, of all places, but the numbers are not favorable for beginning the day with a pot of fresh coffee.

I like Boca Java for several reasons. They have every possible kind and flavor of coffee, and they roast it once the order is in. Therefore, the coffee is quite fresh and the choices nearly reach infinity. They have the best flavored coffees, which are always risky. Most flavored coffees have a bad after-taste and a tendency to be bitter when made. That does not matter when balanced with 50% sweetener and fake cream, as the Starbucks customers know.

The only Boca Java flavors I enjoy are Blueberry and Chocolate Hazelnut. Nevertheless, the other attempts at flavoring are pretty good. I can make perfect cinnamon coffee by shaking some cinnamon on the coffee grounds before making the pot. Others do the same thing. It reminds me of apple sauce with cinnamon at the store. I remembered my mother doing that on her own, not picking it out at Geifman's store.

Roasts vary the flavor and the caffeine content. The light roasts are higher in caffeine and lighter in flavor. Dark, French, and Expresso roasts are not my cup of tea.

The Machine
Our previous drip-maker was a Mr. Coffee that emptied into a thermo-carafe. That wore out after six years. Their latest model  was panned in the Net so I looked around and settled on a Black and Decker thermo-carafe.

This maker is easy to fill and works very well. My only problem is the clock blinking 12:00 all day long, but I ignore that.

Coffee Varieties
The most expensive is Jamaica Blue Mountain, half the crop used for coffee liquor, a terrible waste. Boca Java must have made tons for Father's Day, because they sold it cheap afterwards. Otherwise, it is something like $50 a pound.  JBM is mellow but has a good flavor at the same time. If I had a choice between JBM and Kona, I would take Kona.

Kona is from Hawaii and combines a great flavor with smoothness. Often a coffee will get a bit much after a few cups, but Kona is so smooth that overdosing is likely. Fortunately, the high cost of $40 a pound will prevent that problem. I bought some on sale at Boca Java - and wow.

We favor light and medium roast coffee. Some come from on location, like Costa Rican and Kona, and JBM.

Another benefit of regular Boca Java ordering is their free sample. One two-ounce packet is offered free each time, so we have tried Banana Foster (a slight chocolate flavor with bananas), Maple Bacon (noping that one), and types with coconut in the background. Since coconut is so easy to obtain now, an artificial coconut flavor in coffee is not choice. Now I am more likely to pick various roasts, but they snagged me with Chocolate Hazelnut.

I used to make my own whipped cream to add to coffee, a slippery slope. Sometimes the old cup would be found in the basement, with howls of outrage coming from Little Ichabod, Mrs. Ichabod, or both.

The coffee aisle at Walmart is heavenly, because the coffee aromas are mixed with the artificial cream fragrance. Bending down into a case of half-pound coffees in bags, I thought about the old coffee barrel at Melo-Cream.

However, I would never put those artificial powders and cremes in my coffee. Whipped cream is off the menu for obvious reasons. I could easily finish a bowl off, but that is not wise.

The only amendment approved by the Melo-Cream Little Chef is Cream of Coconut, which is found in the mixed drink aisle of stores. How do I know, with my aversion to drinking alcohol? One customer came looking for it at the Neighborhood Market and the assistant manager directed us to the cubby hole for beer and liquor. On display was Cream of Coconut, used  for pina coladas. The concoction, made of coconut juice, coconut oil, and sugar, is perfect on desserts (like pineapple) and also good for taking the bitterness from a cup of coffee made a little too strong. The bottle is not expensive, a few dollars, and lasts a long time without refrigeration.

Combat typos - start the day with coffee.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Management by Sassy

Sassy is signaling me for her morning walk.
I must answer or get into trouble with her.

Everyone loves Sassy, so I decided to describe how she carefully manages our behavior and displays a remarkable amount of intelligence, independence, and humor.

Sassy supervises all meal preparation, but only when it concerns her. No matter what order I prepare the breakfast, she appears for the cutting of the brats or the melting of the cheese. She sits there with the assumptive close, as they call it in sales. She assumes I will give her some. And I do.

Sometimes we work on threat gestures. I learned early that my intruder pose would get her leaping up and grabbing my hand. Simply by grazing my hand in a fast-moving gesture, she opened up a wound with her teeth. I was dodging without success, and I stopped. The blood stopped soon, and I did not try that again.

Sassy has assumed the role of protecting our yard from a wandering black lab. The neighboring dogs bark at the intruder walking down the grassy alley between our homes. They are large and muscular, but seem helpless. Sassy always asks to go out and take care of the lab. She goes to the fence and does her best German Shepherd attack. She plants her front legs down, barks and snarls furiously, displaying her teeth and moving her head back and forth close to the ground.  The lab takes off and the neighbor dogs bark impotently at him in a me too response.

Sassy even barked the lab out of our neighbor's yard, but the lab got its hind leg stuck up in the wire fence. Black labs matter, so I called Animal Control and got the dog freed in a few minutes. Unharmed and clueless, it came back to the same yard an hour or two later.

We have always worked on the gentle command with Sassy, and she is great responding. When I pretend to form a claw coming down on her flank, she bares her teeth menacingly. But she cannot hold her fierce pose for long, it turns into a grin. She loves the game. She has the fast motions of a Cattle Dog and snaps at my hand with incredible speed - always to lick my hand.

Sacky was our first Cattle Dog. Sacky could kiss my bare feet alternately as I walked, but never while I was looking. I never figured out how she could do that. To illustrate her speed, she simply snapped all houseflies out of the air in Phoenix.

Sassy and I walk twice a day, and she is keen to remind me when the sun is up or going down. I tired of the leash and she was quick to learn commands - wait, leave alone, cross the street, and so forth.
I can wiggle one finger and get her to run full speed at me, both of us grinning. She has to ask permission to cross the street or go meet someone. She has learned not to bark loudly in greeting adults and children. However, one friend loves her happy bark, so she lets loose when she hears, "Where is that happy bark, Sassy?" Left and right, she barks as loudly as she can.

However, Sassy's great response and intuition are tempered by her independent spirit. She loves to walk south down the side streets when we are walking west down Scott Street. Once she asked permission to cross the street and go farther down Scott. When I said yes, she darted left and ran about 20 feet south down the side street. Then she stopped and looked back, grinning. I said, "OK, let's go down that street." She pranced into each yard, catching up on all the signals left by other animals.

When one woman suggested that Sassy leave her front-yard family gathering, with Sassy meeting each child, Sassy responded by going to the woman, laying down her ears and reaching out for a final petting. The woman could not help laughing as everyone enjoyed Sassy trumping her ace. Sassy lays down her ears and reaches out in meek and friendly gesture that no one can miss.

Sassy's goal is to meet each person on our walks. She went up to one man, who said, "Oh, Sassy, you are the dog that loves everyone."

Sassy loves treats: she remembers and counts, always pushing for a greater number at any given time. One treat means two would be better. Two is the norm and three would be nice, as the dessert. The vet suggested breaking treats into small pieces so Sassy could get the count up with fewer calories.

Sassy likes to take one more trip outside once I am settled in bed to sleep. My transition from writing and grading to sleep is quick and easy to make. The bed is the best chair I have used for the painful process of grading 25 essays at a time.

To get Sassy outside before I am nodding off,  I have tried various things, such as snapping my fingers. I even dragged her off  the bed gently - and she crawled back. I used a snack once to get her up and out and another small one to reward her coming inside. After that happened once or twice,  I invited her in. She stopped in the kitchen and glared at me. "Where is treat #2?"

Talking and Singing - The Tell-Tale Tail
Sassy has many ways to talk. She uses her Cattle Dog (kelpie) voice at times. If she yips a little, I ask, "Are you going full kelpie on us?" Then she yips in that high-pitched wild dingo voice of hers, and we laugh.

She is great at singing along, as she did when we sang Happy Birthday to grandson Alex.

The ears, face, and tail are part of her signals. She may make a little whining noise for a moment. We look and ask, "What's wrong?" Her tail rotates slowly. That means she needs a treat or a walk. If I delay or miss the signal, she rotates rapidly and with great force. That can include whipping my arm as I work. Her tails is soft, but the perpetual rotation makes work impossible.

If that fails, she uses her powerful claws to pull me down on the bed for lovey time.

The rotating tail is often paired with her stupid dog look. Sacky pulled that on me too, to show how clueless I was.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Dirty Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Take that, Wyatt. I started at age 4.

I have been planning to post some of my recipes, with some suggestions for our granddaughters.

When I learned that one of my best education students has a son who likes to cook, I decided to do a little writing on the topic.

I will tag these "Chef's Corner" so they are easy to group together in a label search. The label list is in the left column.

Dirty Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

These are dirty because I begin with a pan that was used to warm up grilled meat - leaving some beef juice behind - or to fry bacon, leaving bacon flavoring behind. The better the meat, the better the grilled cheese.

I always start with coconut oil, which we make a point of using daily. There are many good benefits of coconut oil, and we love the flavor. Also, it is stable at high temps, which means it does not smoke.

Add coconut oil to the residue in the pan and heat at medium on a gas stove.

Place bread on the new and old mixture. I usually keep the bread in the freezer, so I want it warming up fast.

The keys to good grilled cheese are quality cheese and bread, plus the melt.

Cut good cheese on the bread warming up. I have my favorites in the quality cheese area of Walmart - not in the massive hanging cheese displays, which often cost the same or a little more. I like their

  • Muenster - about $6 a pound.
  • Smoked Gouda - roughly the same per pound.

On the cheese I place a little bit of butter - for the flavor. I make butter last a long time. As I explained to the doctor, butter is a gateway drug for me. I eat more bread because of the butter, and never tire of eating more bread and butter, toast and butter, cinnamon sugar and toast and butter.

Reducing bread consumption, as suggested by Dr. Bandy, meant my weight dropped 7 pounds.

You can use good bread - Pepperidge Farm - or white bread. Do I have to write a jeremiad on cheap, white bread? Me, a born and bred baker?

I keep the temperature at medium and place the other bread on top. To hold in more heat for the melt, I place a metal pan lid on top of the bread. Soon smoke rises up, which means the bread is toasting, maybe even blackened. I love it blackened and I am in a hurry. Those who want to back off the burn will have to wait longer for the melt.

If your cheese is not liquefied at the end, your mission has failed.

Flip the sandwiches when the smoke forms the first time. Some chefs will turn down the burner a bit, but they will wait longer too. I keep mine at medium and expect black-brown on both sides.

Muenster and other cheeses will melt and drip onto the skillet. That will make a hissing sound - your sandwiches are done. If burning is a fear, turn it low or off at the end and let the heat penetrate.

You can follow the same directions for pristine grilled cheese sandwiches, but why not take advantage of a skillet that has been baconed or beefed up already?

That is the melt desired.

Delicious and Satisfying Breakfast

ChurchMouse, one of my favorite bloggers, has noted that the Seventh Day Adventists (example, GOP candidate Dr. Ben Carson) replaced the protein breakfast with grains. Kellogg and Post developed all kinds of breakfast cereals that really have no nutritional value, apart from the milk poured over them. My kin were Adventists, but when they moved to Iowa to start hog farming, their sect did not approve and they became Evangelicals. Two of my relatives were bishops in the Adventist sect, a bizarre group, to say the least.

At Walmart the associates laughed at the money spent on enormous boxes of puffed up grains, loaded with sugar, garnished with the most outrageous graphics and lures. That amounted to feeding sugar and grain carbohydrates to children, marketed as cinnamon toast, donuts, and frosted this or that.

Shelving cereal was easy because each brand had distinctive art that grabbed one's attention, I could find anything in a long row, but canned beans were sorted by red, black, dark red, low salt, ranch style, and other variations, dizzying for beginners.

Those who spend the day using their muscles know that sugary snacks will not offer long-term energy. One study showed, in fact, that an egg breakfast will help someone lose weight while providing an impressive amount of protein and minerals with better carbos and less dessert-style eating. For someone raised in a bakery, with total access to donuts, danish, cookies, and fresh candy (fudge and peanut brittle), a sugar-free breakfast is a challenge.

Our physician suggesting reducing bread to lose weight, and this is one way to start - no bread, rolls, donuts, or cereal for breakfast. Bread? I love bread.

Our egg breakfast began with leaving the frying pan "dirty" with bacon grease or the remains of beef or pork heated up for dinner. I loathe the smell of bacon cooked in the kitchen, when it lingers like cigar smoke, so we do not cook bacon indoors anymore. We grill it with the meat - more of that later.

Once I began making eggs each day, Mrs. Ichabod wanted some too. When I worked in groceries, the variety of spices, condiments, and vegetables gave me all kinds of ideas I wanted to try.

This is how I make breakfast each day now, in order of appearance.

  1. Melt coconut oil in the pan. Coconut oil is the best for cooking and very healthy. Oddly enough, it is also an ideal skin cream, melting into the skin without being greasy. We use LouAnna from Walmart.
  2. Thaw some mixed vegetables, from the frozen section at Walmart. We like peppers and onions, but there are many other mixes and possibilities.
  3. Add one can of Great Value mushrooms. Cost $1.25. We love mushrooms and they have almost no calories or carbos.
  4. Slice one or two Johnsonville brats, very thinly, so they warm up with the mix and toast a little. This is when Sassy enters the kitchen and waits for her tithe.
  5. Add various enhancements early, before eggs are added - a little butter, wasabi, mustard, ginger, garlic, freshly ground pepper. Too much of one will lead to the WASABI reaction, which is not good. A subtle blend is great fun to vary from day to day.
  6. I add six eggs once everything is heated up. They go on the open side of the large pan and get blended in once they start cooking. They need some salt, so I add chipolte sea salt (Walmart) ground into them. 
The cost is about $3 for the entire pan, a hearty combination of vegetables, mushrooms, meat, and eggs. Sometimes we leave out meat, but mushrooms are always added. The vegetables, condiments, and spices vary each day. When Team Jackson has had a grilling day. cooked grilled bacon from the freezer is scissored into the mix instead of brat slices.