Think of it as a cross between coffee and hot chocolate, which should appeal to caffeine junkies and chocoholics out there. Organic, fair trade cacao beans are roasted and ground in such a way that I can pop spoonfuls into the coffeemaker and in the usual coffee brewing time, get some soothing warmth with cacao vapors.
It isn't sweet or creamy on its own, so I add a scraping of sugar. But it's lovely and nuanced on its own -- a dark brew with enough oopmh to get me through a few more hours with less jitters. I won't quit coffee completely, but my gut thanks me for this choco-substitution.
Plus, the organic cacao beans are roasted, ground and packaged down the highway in a place called Orem, Utah. If anyone knows anything about the city, you know enough to be somewhat surprised, yet not. The city is also home to a fine restaurant, Pizzeria 712 and what I consider the best U.S. artisan chocolate maker, Amano.
For the love of God, don't throw away vanilla beans (or pods) after one use. It's a far more resilient thing thanks to its curing and aging. It did after all, survive the trek half way around the world and still manages to be fragrant and good mood-inducing. But especially, it would be a waste to those who had to hand-pick each pod from the tropical hanging orchids in order for you to flavor that custard or poaching liquid.
Doesn't matter if you've scraped out the paste-like pulp of the microscopic beans. The pod, too, has got loads of aroma. I wince everytime I see anyone throw away the hollowed out, earth brown bean as if it were some rotten banana peel. These vanilla pods are as underrated as cilantro and parsley stems. An afterthought at best. But it's the source of more vanilla flavor than you can imagine.
I see the kitchen catalogs with shiny new things that I can no longer afford. For the most part, they're a waste of money filled with the impractical and downright silly. But the thrill of shopping and getting new things is irresistible, I know. It must be how people feel when they order a pack of vanilla sugar, ready made.
That, I never did. Back in the day, I would buy vanilla beans to use in my recipes and a few extra for my vanilla sugar. Daddy Warbucks, me. I spent the extra dough, but it was to make my own. These days, I recycle the vanilla bean better than I do the household magazines.
The process is simple and rather gratifying:
1.) Take a vanilla bean, scraped clean or not. Pat it dry if it's been sitting in liquid. I like to bruise it a bit with the spine (non-sharp side of the blade) to release more of the essential oils and chemical compounds that make it so lovely. If you get a dry, brittle bean as I did (clearance price), bash it a bit to bruise and reinvigorate the scent. I like to break it into smaller pieces. The more surface area the better.
2.) Put some granulated sugar into a jar, bowl, whatever container you have. Add the tampered-with vanilla beans and shake or stir to get it worked in there. Keep it covered and everyday or so, agitate the sugar again. The vanilla bean can be rather moist and that can make the sugar cake. If you don't shake, you may end up with a brick of sugar. Very hard to use, albeit sweet and fragrant.
3.) After about two weeks, I call it done and use it for poaching liquids, baked goods, coffee, hot chocolate and fresh fruit. Feel free to replenish the sugar levels as you go. The black specks within the white grains are a good thing.
Vanilla sugar and fresh sliced strawberries are magic. One of my favorite desserts or filling for scones and biscuits. A winning combination of a recipe is up next, part of a mid-week dinner to summon Spring with all my kitchen might.
And, if you're wondering, you can make your own vanilla extract, too. Follow the recipe above, replacing the sugar with a hard liquor. Vodka, cognac, brandy. Last batch was bourbon and it is mighty fine. Remember to shake the brewing extract as well and replenish with fresh liquor as you run low. It's the neverending extract bottle.
So rewind to about 1994. I'm 14, spending the week with my friends in Orange County before sending my nerdy ass back to Music Camp. We're watching MTV, as all the cool kids do, and suddenly a synthesizer loop blares on the speakers. On the T.V. is a light bulb flanked by two hands, the fingers fluttering in time with the song along with some moths for good measure.
Then straight into some dance beats, silly lyrics about vacationing Brits and the catchy "Girls! Boys! Boys! Girls!" for a chorus. I was hooked. Love at first sight I tell you. Moody pop stars with their catchy songs. Blur was/is one of my favorite bands. We all rank band members the way we do John, Paul, George and Ringo (in precisely that order).
But for me, it was hands all about Alex James. That's him on the very far right sporting the fine early '90s do and the hungover moody artist look.
And unlike many aging pop stars, he's still styling, still oh so attractive and most importantly to me, still the coolest.
Case in point: He's retired to the countryside with his family, lives on a working farm and makes cheese for a living. Bad. Ass.
Again, on the right is Alex James. Older, wiser and a lover of cheese (though still loving music apparently). English cheese to be specific.
Oh sure, you say. He's a pop star with loads of money, farming is more leisure to him than anything. True, the pop star salary stash would be nice. But in my view the fact that he's springing his dough on that lifestyle versus a McMansion with an on-site Starbucks next door to Paris Hilton and worthy of a spot on a shitty MTV show is the higher road a music star could take.
Another point about the new Mr. James: He writes about his life.
Every so often, I browse my bookmark folder and remember that I've got a link to the Times Online in the U.K. and their food section. There, Mr. James has a column, detailing his adventures in cheesemaking and rural life and the intersting characters he meets along the way. His column, Foodie Boy, is a consistent read, one of many I browse in the Times' section.
You should check it out, too. Or any column featuring a farmer, rancher, food artisan at the pen. Because Alex James is onto something. These guys, who spend their lives crafting good food for us to taste, enjoy, crave and remember are to me, the biggest rock stars in the universe.
The solution for professed vegetable-haters is to make something vegetal appear distinctly not. Case in point, a sauce of broccoli and spinach for a jumble of linguine. Not that I have issues eating any matter of vitamin-suffused roughage, but there's only so much steaming and sauteeing a girl can take on the plate. And given the blossoms on the branches, the warmer temperatures and sporadic rain, it's a nice dish to make on a quiet night-in, to thank the stars it's finally spring.
Try as I might, I am not a morning person. I am known to abuse the alarm, both verbally and physically. My brain doesn't quite work so making a decision such as which fiber-loaded rational cereal should I have for breakfast is on par with should I choose the blue pill or the red one? For the first few minutes of being awake, the coffeemaker is my only friend in the world.
Still, I am a fan of large breakfasts. Starch. Protein. More starch. Cups of coffee. Hard to achieve when you've got a late start and loads of work to do. Even harder when you've procrastinated in your workout clothes, determined (half-assed) to do the next series of weight training and plyometrics.
Goat, a trend? Um, for like millenia in the making.
Thanks to Su and Francis for the heads up on today's New York Times piece in the Food section. The article is entertaining and somewhat enlightening on different cultural considerations of goat -- admittedly goat isn't a mainstream meat for most Americans. But for those Americans who came from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Middle East and Korea, it isn't what we would call "trendy." Food staple is more like it.
Still, it's nice to think I and my foodie friends are ahead of the curve. Trendsetters, if you will. It wasn't that long ago that we all congregated for a goat pot luck [AKA Goat Fest 2009] using some of the freshest and best goat's meat around. But in the words of Reading Rainbow's LeVar Burton (or for the geeky ones, Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: TNG), you don't have to take my word for it.
Be sure to check out the comment thread (which grows as we speak). Missing from it is a great rumination from a reader of New York magazine who responded to the rag's article on goat as THE "trendlet" last year. I'l leave you with his parting words ...
"Here are white people again!!!! Acting like they invented goat meat.”