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Coffee Brewed

All we want to do these cool, winter days is curl up with a hot mug of freshly brewed coffee. With the morning news. In a Yeti mug as we go out the door to work. Meeting friends at a coffee shop. Weak church brew in the narthex on Sunday mornings. Espresso and chocolate truffles after dinner. When is it not a good time for coffee?

The Many Faces of Coffee

It can be made as simply as the “dirty stick coffee” we would make when hiking in the mountains. With this method, we mix water and grounds and place them in a pot over a campfire and stirred with a stick (hopefully not a dirty one) from the nearby forest. Coffee also takes on an artform created by a master barista such as the sage latte made by Avery Burke of the Temporarium in San Francisco. In this drink deemed by many to be the world’s most complicated, he starts by frosting the rim of the cup in pomegranate molasses, curry powder, and cayenne pepper. This drink then involves cream steeped in blackened (a blowtorch is involved here) sage leaves and cream, anise, and brown sugar then poured over espresso. Coffee can include ingredients from all the food groups, from brown butter to pumpkin to hazelnut to cinnamon.

Straight Coffee

So whatever happened to plain ol’ coffee? Straight up, hot, and black? Well, that’s out there too. Sometimes as a pour over, other times a cold brew, French press, or Chemex, only a few of the many methods of brewing pure, black coffee. Last year I attended a series of coffee tasting events called cuppings. These are much like a wine tasting.

Single origin beans from a specific country, region, and/or farm are brewed at an ideal temperature and for a specific length of time to show off the coffee’s best traits. Cuppings include smelling, swishing the drink across the taste buds, and then spitting it out (which, of course, I could never bring myself to do). In places such as these, you can appreciate the taste of beans from Guatemala versus Ethiopia and how fermentation, rainfall, or elevation affect the flavor of the drink. Furthermore, you can hear stories of the hard working farmers who toil in all sorts of conditions to bring us the most delicious beans possible.

At its Finest

My many rich experiences with this drink have inspired me to slow down and smell the process. To appreciate what goes into a great cup. The aroma of the freshly ground beans or the steaming richness of the elixir poured from my French press to my tall pottery mug. As with so many other things in life, we can drink coffee, or we can savor it. I first dipped my toes into this proverbial coffee stew by drinking conventionally percolated grocery store brew.

As time progressed so did my palate. Mostly this happened gradually as the coffee culture in our society developed. I do, however, have some hallmark memories of firsts. For example, the first time I walked into the original Dunn Bros. on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minn., and smelled beans roasting in their massive Probat roaster. Or the time I sipped my first perfectly crafted espresso, crested with just the right amount of crema. I was standing at a espresso bar just feet from the Duomo in Florence, Italy. Those Italians…and their coffee…

The Cup

One can’t leave the topic of coffee without also discussing mugs. Everyone has their favorite size and shape. Mine tend to be tall, narrow at the top to keep the drink hot, and hand crafted. On the other hand, I’m also drawn to ones that carry poignant messages such as the simple heavy white ones with “call your mother” inscripted on the side. Maybe you use vintage cups given to you by your grandmother or ones collected on a particularly memorable trip. Whether it’s squat and wide to show off a talented barista’s design in the froth or sturdy with a tight lid to bring on a car trip, we all seem to have a preference.

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For me, as much as I love my coffee brewed in just the right way and as much as I like drinking it out of a mug of my choosing, the most important thing about this drink is who we drink it with. As interesting as the history and the story, coffee is simply the vehicle, or rather the impetus that brings people together. Family, loved ones, friends. In your kitchen, on your front porch, or on the patio of your local coffee shop. It’s the conversation over the drink that’s the memory created. Enjoying coffee you love with people you love. That is the good life.

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The Many Uses of Ginger Root

A Ginger Collection

Who knew when we were young and sipping on a can of ginger ale that this root would become such a large part of our culture and diet?

As one of Scandinavian heritage, I was first exposed to the spice in the form of my Aunt Joyce’s incredibly crisp ginger snaps and my family’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It was an ingredient people used to bake things. I didn’t give it much thought or find it particularly remarkable.

The root morphed its way into my life like the shoe collection taking over my closet. It slowly expanded, almost unnoticed, into more and more of the dishes I made. Now I eat it in something almost every day.

I really started playing around with the ingredient back in the early 90s. I was developing an Asian grilled pizza recipe, and I wanted a fresh kick component to the sauce. In went grated ginger root. It was the perfect je ne sais quoi I was looking for.

Cooking with Ginger

When I started exploring the world of Indian dishes, ginger was in all of them.

Next it landed in my Thai Curried Noodle Soup, and then I started pickling it to serve alongside Vietnamese dishes. I love serving it pickled with sushi. Now it shows up in my homemade rosemary ginger tea or in the lemon ginger kombucha that the family seems to devour around my house.

Fresh or frozen root is not the only way to go. My latest obsession is candied ginger, which I tuck into impossibly tender scones, buttery pound cake, and cookies. You can also sprinkle on ice cream or pancakes; the list could go on and on.

Ginger is a grass which grows in tropical regions. It produces a pretty yellow flower and is often used as a part of landscaping in warm climates. The root of the grass is called a rhizome. It reminds me of an Iris bulb, which is also a rhizome. The various Asian cultures started incorporating ginger into their cooking and diet thousands of years ago. They brew it in tea or use it as a spicy addition to hot and cold dishes alike when a little kick is wanted. They use it pickled, candied, dried and ground into a powder, and of course fresh.

Thai Curry Noodle Soup with rice noodles, ginger, curry, chicken, mango, red onion, cilantro, lime, and green onions.

Facets of the Root

There is much debate between Eastern and Western medicines as to ginger’s specific health benefits. While the experts battle this out, we can all sit back and enjoy this wonderful, edible rhizome, knowing at the very least, it is okay for you health-wise, and at the very best, it aids it relieving a half a dozen or more illnesses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t end by mentioning ginger beer, the essential ingredient in the ever-popular drink, a Moscow mule. Served in an icy cooper mug, this refreshing drink is the perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer evening.

On this cool and gratifying note, start incorporating this versatile and delicious spice into your recipes. I always have a fresh root in my vegetable drawer, a frozen root in my freezer, and the powdered or candied spice in my cupboard. Just like shoes, you can never have too much.

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