I was recently in Seattle and had the pleasure of sharing a meal with the author Neal Stephenson, a lovely man who’s also a part-time inventor at Intellectual Ventures. (He has worked on, inter alia, I.V.’s hurricane-busting device.) As delicious as the food was, it was nearly eclipsed by the coffee Neal served afterward. He made it in a French press, which is how I make coffee at home. But it tasted far superior. I’m not the kind of person who typically asks for recipes — especially for coffee. But in this case, I did. Turns out that Neal picked up his coffee technique from Chris Young, the acclaimed Fat Duck chef (and food scientist/writer) whom Nathan Myhrvold brought on board at I.V. to create Modernist Cuisine, the landmark cookbook featured in our two–part podcast “Waiter, There’s a Physicist in My Soup!” Chris was good enough to send along his coffee recipe, which I’ll reproduce below. I’ve started to make coffee in this fashion and, while the placebo effect may be polluting my reality — I haven’t done any blind tastings, nor much experimentation yet — I have to say that the coffee is amazing. One key step is to “skim” the grounds from the top of the coffee before plunging. This is a weirdly satisfying thing to do, especially when you let the grounds “bloom” in the press pot, as described. (It also makes cleaning the French press easier in the long run.) So if you’ve got the energy, desire and resources to try to make the perfect cup of coffee at home, take a look. Experiment. Let us know how it works out. Thanks to Neal, Chris, and the assorted forefathers of the technique.
Ok enough about coffee!
Callie is my husband’s 14 year old cousin. She was diagnosed with Alstrom’s early in life and fights a battle every day. Alstrom’s is an extremely rare syndrome that is degenerative and incurable. Lest you think she victimizes herself, think again. She is, by far, one of the most spirited people I know with the very best sense of humor.
Callie was with us at my in-laws for part of Christmas break and I feel like everyday she was there, I have been given an open invitation to learn. Callie cannot see, she needs multiple insulin shots daily, her diet is extremely strict and there is a continual threat of what malfunction her body will hand her next. But from the moment she walks in the room, her no-nonsense view on life is apparent.
As I watch her interact and express love to each person in her own way, I’ve begun to notice the honesty she expresses both about her condition (she like to remind you she’s blind when you say silly things like doesn’t that look good? ) and about her surroundings isn’t a coping mechanism. It is simply her living a life stripped of any ability to be deceitful or mean spirited both because of her need for those around her and truthfully, her just not seeing the point of messing with it.
I’m grateful for my ability to look my husband in the face and see the exact color of his eyes at the moment I tell him I love him. I can’t imagine not seeing the smile on my sister-in-laws face as people open the presents she thoughtfully picked out for them; or finding out when I open the sweater my mother-in-law picked for me that it’s the most perfect shade of navy. Callie can’t see that. For me, it makes her expressions and emotions that much more pure and treasured. She lives her life in truth and places complete trust in those around her because she has no other option. Moving from place to place requires a guide, finding out the bracelet we gave her is purple required someone to tell her and even on our last night together, as we built a Gingerbread house, my sister-in-law had to walk her through every step of it and Callie believed every word she was told and had an amazing time. Pure trust. How refreshing.
How many of us could do that? Rely solely on those around us to be able to carry out even the most acute daily task? Or even beyond needing servant-hood out of our community, how many of us truly trust every person we have placed in valuable roles in our lives?
This raises a few thoughts in my head. Number one being this: Have I surrounded myself with people who possess and cultivate pure emotions and motives? And secondly, have I done a good enough job of pouring into and loving those that I have surrounded myself with so that the community I have created is built on trust, honesty and willingness to serve?
Callie taught me how vital those things are and I owe her so much for that. Make the most of this week and dig into what role community plays in your life. 2011 can be a year of deepened relationships and rich community but it is all up to you.
Like most people, I like a lovely coffee at home before I go out and have another lovely coffee, made by a barista with immeasurably better honed skills. I talk to a lot of people about coffee and get a lot of questions about 'best coffee shops', 'best home coffee machines' and 'best coffee beans'. With both budget and coffee quality in mind, I would recommend a manual brewing method for home (filter, aeropress, chemex, cafetiere etc.) rather than an espresso machine. I think it's a lot harder to get a great cup of coffee out of a home espresso machine without considerable cost and training than manual brew methods. On that basis, here are the most important ways you can dramatically improve your home brew, in no particular order: Use great beans Get a burr grinder Weigh your ingredients.
Doing these things will make the taste, texture and aroma of your coffee so different to what you've had before, that it may well feel like a different drink. (Big call, I know, but bear with me) Additionally, because you can taste your coffee much more clearly i.e. you can taste separate flavour attributes rather than a general flat 'coffee flavour', it's much easier (and more fun) to try different beans. It's easier to work out which beans you love and those you can live without... and there's a never ending stream of new beans to try so you'll not tire of it.
A bit more information to back up my audacious claims... Use great coffee beans - Just like cooking, if you use excellent ingredients, you don't need to do much to them to create great tasting food. Buy your beans from a specialty roaster or coffee shop to suit your brew method (espresso, filter, aeropress etc). You can expect to pay between £6-11 for 250g and buying in larger quantities can be cheaper. Edinburgh has some great places to get beans. Ask the barista or roaster for brewing advice for the specific beans you buy - all tips are useful and they know their product better than anyone. Don't buy too many beans at once and keep them in an airtight container or in the bag they come in if it's re-sealable - this will stop them going stale quickly. (Don't put them in the freezer).
Other related topic: Looking for the best espresso machine