Saturday, April 30, 2005

Local coffee

Today I made my morning cap with beans from Amazing Beans, a relatively new local company that roasts your beans to order and delivers them (free in Ann Arbor) the next day. Here's the review I posted on the AnnArborfood yahoo group which includes a little note to the owner, Johann, who is a member of the group:

I ordered the Really Good Dark Blend--it came yesterday afternoon and it took all my willpower to wait 'till this morning to try it--it smelled so darn good!
Today I made a double shot cap with my Saeco espresso machine (which, by the way, I think is a terrific machine--it makes espresso with lots of good crema, is easy to use and we got it at 20% off from Bed Bath and Beyond with one of those coupons they always send out). The flavor of the coffee was very good--deep and rich. My only gripe was the grind--I felt it was too coarse. I don't own a Burr grinder (one of the kitchen appliances I still covet) so I get my coffee ground at the source I buy it. The grind I get with Grumpy Monkey at Big 10 is much finer than the Amazing Beans espresso grind, and that results in more pressure in the machine and a stronger espresso. With super fine grind I get espresso that is almost all crema (heaven!) and what I made this morning was very good, but not quite as strong and with a bit less crema. Johann, is there anyway it could be ground a little finer?
Other than the grind, I really like the coffee and will definitely order it again. My husband prefers drip coffee most days and the grind is fine for that. And the convenience and price can't be beat!
Now, for a little more about my espresso machine: I have the Saeco Classico which my husband bought as our 5th anniversary present. We did lots of research and consulted our local coffee epicure, John, for his opinions on machines. John makes an incredible espresso (not like a lot of the small-amounts-of-strong-coffee that most cafes in the area pass off as espresso). However, John clearly has more brain when making his espresso in the morning than we do so we chose a less-manual, more-idiot-proof machine than he has.

We've liked our machine from the get go (especially after watching the instruction video that came with it narrated by a man with the strangest, most unplaceable accent), though I confess that we rarely use the frother. I prefer to heat and froth my milk in a less dangerous way than handling live steam in the morning before I'm awake so I nuke some milk in my glass frother which works great. (I tried one of this type of frother once and it was a disaster--I couldn't get any foam and kept getting splattered by hot milk. No fun.) The few times I have used the real frother on the machine, it has worked pretty well, but since I can't tell the difference, I go with the easier way.

However, I do have to pass on Lynne's incredibly sad story of her experience with the same machine which she bought after I made her a mocha at my house. I like to think that the machine she got was just demonically possessed; thankfully the store took the machine back, no questions asked, and are shipping a new one to her house. I'll be sure to report back her opinions of it when she's had a little time with the new machine.

By the way, if you want to subscribe to the Annarborfood yahoo group, you can send an email to It's a newish group so it hasn't really developed a big following or a regular tone yet, but I have no complaints--I love to get tips about local good food.

Friday, April 29, 2005

My first sock

I keep hearing from knitters how addictive sock knitting can be, but in my 23 years of knitting (gasp!) I've never tried knitting a sock. Truth be told, before my friend Lynne started knitting and regularly sharing her addictive enthusiasm for learning new knitting techniques, I was pretty content to just plod along, knitting stuff that didn't push the limits of my knitting knowledge.

I've been browsing lots of knitting blogs and so many feature socks prominently and rave about how fun sock knitting is (look at Sock it to me and tell me you aren't tempted) so last autumn when Elann had some sock yarn in appealing colors, I bought two balls. I did an excessive amount of research trying to find the ideal first pattern and the more I read, the more conflicted I became. I convinced myself that I had to try toe-up socks, then changed my mind and considered the two-socks-at-once method on two circulars (most of which are top-down patterns). I even Interlibrary Loaned the "bible" of the latter method, Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles, but when I started reading it and the web pages out there that detail the process step-by-step, I got overwhelmed. I don't think it is the method for me to start with, particularly since I'm still pretty dyslexic when it comes to remembering which is my left hand and which is my right.

So I finally went back to a pattern I had considered at the beginning--the sock pattern in Sally Melville's The Knitting Experience: The Purl Stitch. I'm not sure why I decided to trust Sally since I'm not a big fan of any of the other patterns in her two books; maybe it's because she sounded encouraging and enthusiastic (without being so thrilled that she sounds out of her mind). The one modification I did decide to make was to use Magic Loop (knit the sock on one long circular) rather than wrestle with double pointed needles. I've done fine with dpns in the past, but I learned how to do the magic loop last autumn and wanted an excuse to try it. Besides it gave me an excuse to buy my first Addi Turbo needle (which I bought locally at Flying Sheep). So here it is, a photo of the beginning of my first sock:

The top of my first sock, or maybe just a small wrist-warmer...

I'm thinking now that I may need to splurge and buy a new pair of shoes to properly exhibit these socks when I'm done.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I finished Marilynne Robinson's Gilead last night at 4 AM. It is an incredible book and has bumped Jane Mendelsohn's I Was Amelia Earhart out of my top 10 list (sorry Jane, but you've been there a good long time). I know what I'll be giving everyone as a gift for birthdays and Christmas this year! In an uncharacteristic burst of generosity, I'm even going to make sure I return my copy to the library today so that the next person on the reserve list gets the pleasure of reading this book that much sooner.

I feel breathless from reading such beautiful prose, but I'm also breathless for another reason: last night during my terrific Cardio Karate class I almost passed out which means I'm anemic again. Why is it that I can make sure my kids take their multi-vitamin daily, but can't get myself to regularly pop my prescription iron pills? Maybe if my iron pills were in the shapes of lions and hippos it would be more fun. On the positive side, Ian had a great time talking to me about my predicament since he prefers discussing red blood cells and the process of oxygen distribution to a normal bedtime story.

So I have a challenge for you all: send me your iron-rich culinary ideas. I'll be making a special trip to the store today to get a big old steak for dinner tonight, but we really aren't the biggest beef fans, so that will only cover one day. I was going to serve it with kale but then read that kale is actually an iron absorption inhibitor. For the same reason, I can't have red wine with it which really stinks as I have an opened bottle of nice Coppola Rossa that needs to be consumed. I guess Brian will get it. According to the chart I can drink white wine with my steak--blech.

Here is a list of foods that I'm willing to eat (sorry, no liver) that I should incorporate into the meal plan: Clams, Oysters, Mussels, Cooked beans and lentils, Pumpkin seeds, Blackstrap Molasses, Beef, Shrimp, Turkey, Baked potato with skin

Here are the iron absorption enhancers:

Orange, Orange Juice, Cantaloupe, Strawberries, Grapefruit, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Tomato, Tomato juice, Potato, Green & red peppers, White wine

And here's the super sucky list of the stuff I shouldn't eat with the above since it will render the iron useless:
Red Wine, Coffee & Tea,
Spinach, Chard, Beet greens, Rhubarb, Sweet potato, Whole grains and bran, Soy products

The exasperating thing is trying to come up with any sort of complex recipe. Yea, I could just eat steak, broccoli and baked potato with skin for a week, but I'd go crazy. It seems that most of the recipes I have for foods in the first list require something in the last list (no bran muffins with molasses, no sweet potato in the dal, no brown rice with the beans). And since when did spinach become an iron inhibitor? Was Popeye completely wrong?

If any of the iron-rich ingredients trigger a terrific recipe in your head, please share it with me! My blood will thank you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

yet another...

Yet another tampon-holder has made its way into the world. This one is destined for my sister in Syracuse. The body of it is made from a handspun yarn I got a few years ago at Spinners Flock--I couldn't resist its copper color flecked with blue and chartreuse, but I had no plan what to do with it. It was too scratchy for a scarf and there wasn't enough of it for a bigger project, but now I see that it was just waiting to become a tampon-holder.

I knit it up too loose at first so it took a quick trip into a hot machine wash to tighten up the fibers. And I departed from the Shrinky-dink buttons to use this beautiful wood one. It's the kind of button you want to stroke with your thumb; it's so warm and smooth.

I finished up the crochet last night at a knitting group my friend Lynne told me about that met at Sweetwaters. Knitting is rarely a social thing for me, so it was a nice change and a chance to meet other local knitters and fondle their yarn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dinner Redemption

Does a good dinner taste even better when it comes after a dud? Tonight's dinner was very satisfying and didn't require much work either. I made a batch of that terrific barbecue sauce before the kids got up and dumped it in a crock pot with a pork loin and left it for 10 hours. It made a pretty good approximation of southern pulled pork with almost no effort. The only change to the recipe I made was substituting ground chipotle chiles for the cayenne to give it the smoky flavor that pulled pork usually acquires via access to real smoke. I also made buttermilk biscuits, a basic coleslaw and a little steamed broccoli (for redemption). Brian was out-of-his-head happy because biscuits are the only thing he likes more than barbecued pork (can I still call it "barbecued pork" if it's not technically barbecued? Well, call me a Yankee but I'm gonna).

One of these things is not like the other...
that would be the bashful broccoli hiding in embarrassment
for sharing a plate with far less virtuous companions.

The biscuits made for another good honey sampling opportunity and Brian challenged my declaration that the wildflower honey was blah--he thought it was stronger than the catclaw. I still stand by my previous declaration (you think that wildflower is stronger? dems fightin' words, mister). We both thought the orange blossom was the most distinctive of the batch. In order to give all the varieties a fair sample we did consume a few too many biscuits...

The other reason I'm feeling fine is that this dinner helped redeem a piece of kitchen equipment that I've always hated--the crockpot. Brian owned this when I married him (don't judge him too harshly--he also had a whole set of All Clad cookware and Henckels knives! Yes, I did notice both the first time I stepped foot in his kitchen) and I've tried to give it away to Kiwanis twice. Both times Brian rescued it and hid it in the attic again. Before today, the only successful experience I've had with the thing was when it kept a whole lot of black bean soup warm when we had a party. I'd never actually "cooked" anything in it. Snobbishly, I put it down to incompatibility--my kind of food didn't use crockpots--I was all about fresh, bright flavors, not stewed to death stuff. Turns out I was wrong!

Making peace with an appliance is a very good thing, especially in this household where we name our favorites: my red Kitchenaid mixer is "Enzo" after Enzo Ferrari, the dishwasher is "George Washington", the fridge has lately been dubbed "Mean Mr Frosty" and the stove is simply "my darling." I don't think I can possibly come up with a better name for the crock pot than simply "crock pot"; one could employ the more sophisticated "slow cooker" but when I look at this thing it screams 1970 and "crockpot."

Monday, April 25, 2005

My cantaloupe, my savior

I'm indebted to a melon tonight.

After a frustrating day with the kids (Fiona not napping resulting in the synapses in her brain short-circuiting, Ian being intellectually precocious and socially clueless), I made a disappointing dinner--calzones. I've tried making a decent calzone for ages and mine never turn out. Last time the pizza dough was too thick and thus rubbery in places; this time I wrestled with the dough until it was paper-thin and while it crisped up in the oven, it was still a pretty blah dinner. I stuffed it with ricotta, pesto, steamed broccoli, roasted red peppers and a few pickled hot peppers. It sounded like an ok filling to me, but it all just sort of sogged together. This may be the last time I waste energy on making calzones; why sweat it when there are perfectly decent, cheap take-out versions available?

So after the unfulfilling dinner, I found myself pacing the kitchen looking for fruit-relief and seriously craving something more than an apple or a banana. In the winter months, I turn to ruby red grapefruit and often consume 2-3 in an evening. I adore grapefruit. But grapefruit season is ending and it is too early for strawberries. A fresh pineapple or even a ripe kiwi would have been welcome, but none were in residence. I'm not really much of a melon fan, but I found a cantaloupe hiding behind the espresso machine (shy little melon) and cut it open and it exuded a wonderful flowery perfume and a good deal of juice, really a terrific example of melon-ness.

I can't decide whether it is pathetic to be comforted by a cantaloupe or if it is a sign of good mental health when a small pleasure, say, a fine piece of fruit, is enough to get me to let go of a frustrating day.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

What to write

My edits for the camping article for the Community Observer are done which means I currently don't have a work-related writing project going. I'm trying to decide what to work on and I'm torn between things that will possibly generate a little income and spending some time with my long-neglected novel.

I'm leaning towards the latter because I may have a whole 4 days to myself to think and write over Memorial Day weekend. Brian is planning to take the kids camping up north somewhere and I am willing to skip a camping trip to have some alone-time. Of course, Michigan weather might nix the camping trip. This morning we woke up to 3 inches of snow and more likely to come.

My poor brave primroses.

My novel really needs a complete overhaul which requires extended thought time. I've been regularly reading Rosina Lippi's Storytelling blog and hearing about other people's writing processes has made me hunger to try my hand at it again. One fear I have is that I'll procrastinate the 4 days away, but if I could lure a few hapless souls (Ami? MJ?) into setting a workshop date then I'd be likely to face the hundreds of pages that I've written and be a stern task master. Not only do I need to impose a new structure on the current mess, I need to do what one of my favorite professors referred to as "cutting one's little darlings." I can be incredibly critical of other people's editors, but I am pretty lousy at being my own.