Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

I know it's late in the day and only two hours of Halloween goodness remain, but who cares?

Happy Halloween, to all my readers (all five of you)!

Monday, October 29, 2007

White Noise: The Photography of Michael Kenna

Time for another one of those non-food posts, just to shake things up a bit.

Like so many of us, anymore, I found myself Stumbling through the internet during a lapse in personal activity the other day. While jumping from random page to random page, one photograph caught my eye. It was a line of trees in the snow, with no detail to speak of. Just a visual focus. It was beautiful. I decided to look further into this page among millions and saw that the photos displayed there were some of the art of Michael Kenna.

I think that Mr. Kenna's work can best be described as a visual white noise, a meditation. His work is almost Zen in its simplicity (to use an overused analogy).

These are just a few of his wondrous, magical photographs. To see more, go to Michael Kenna's homepage at


I was cleaning my desk of needless things last night (in my ever-continuing quest for the distillation of the material) when this bottle, which has sat for years atop my monitor, caught my eye.

Hm, an empty bottle shaped like a cello. How can I not? It would be a crime to pass up the opportunity, would it not? Do I dare? How can I pass up the chance for such a great culinary pun?

I see limoncello in my future. ^_^
(How wrong is it that I'm so proud of this idea?)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stop the presses! Stop the (coffee) presses!

Like most coffee lovers, I believe that the best cup of coffee that can be had at home comes from the best, yet simplest, pieces of coffee brewing equipment; I speak, of course, of the French press. Also like most coffee lovers who own a press, I have one of your standard-issue presses from the folks at Bodum, makers of beautifully designed coffee and tea paraphernalia. This entry, however, is not about the beauty of the presses (though that isn't a bad thought for a future blog), it is about the technique of The Press, that all important morning ritual for so many.

I have done a good bit of research on brewing methods over the past year-and-a-half, or so, and have come across all methods from drip brewing, to coffee presses, to gravity-defying vacuum pots, to cold brewing, and the Turkish method (which sounds like it makes a cup of coffee with enough chutzpah to rival any espresso). I have also delved deep into the seemingly endless variations on the use of all of these methods, but most heavily the methodology of the French Press.

You see, you can go from coffee site to coffee site and find many press techniques. If you follow the instructions that come with a Bodum press, you are told to use two scoops of coffee (the press comes with a scoop) for every 6 oz. serving. This part seems pretty universal, so I'm game. Bodum also tells you to boil the desired amount of water, pour it into the carafe, then brew for four minutes. Plunge and pour. This is the method which I have used even since I bought my press, and it has seemed to work well. However, I have never been able to achieve that same bright finish that I taste when I buy a cup of Hidden Peak's Kilimanjaro blend at Adventurous Coffee and Deli (2550 Washington Blvd. in Ogden). Every time I made it at home the coffee tasted...heavier. So I decided that maybe I should study the art of brewing a bit deeper.

I wish I could say that my research abilities led me to the revelation and technique to follow, but I can not, for it was my knack at clicking my Stumble button that finally opened my eyes. What was this divine afflatus, you ask? I answer you with Metropolis Coffee. The good folks at Metro have a great website and a beautiful looking café in Chicago. I wish I could attest to this from personal experience, however I will have to make such judgments from the photos they have posted on their website. Works for me. Included in their site is a page dedicated to the art the brewing with a coffee press. It is a bit more involved than my previous formula, but after trying it I can really taste the difference in my coffee. The same bright acidity I enjoy at Adventurous, I can now enjoy without having to make the 20 minute drive to downtown Ogden every morning.
-Preheat your French press carafe with hot water.
-Use 2 level tablespoons of freshly and coarsely ground coffee per 6/oz H2O—scoop the coffee into the carafe.
-Bring some cold, filtered water to a rolling boil, then allow it to cool for 30 seconds before using.
-Start a timer (preset for 3 & 1/2 minutes), then pour around 1/2 of the freshly boiled and slightly cooled water over the grounds.
-Stir the mixture until the bubbling subsides—around 20 seconds.
-Pour the rest of the water over the grounds to fill the carafe.
-Place the plunger at the top level of the water, then allow it to brew for 3 1/2 minutes from the time that the water 1st came into contact with the grounds.
-Plunge and enjoy!
Believe me, it works beautifully! Give it a try.

Top Image credit: Andrew Saur & Angel Sarekla-Saur,

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Third Battle of Springerle

The Sun rises from over the Wasatch Mountains. A lone baker stands in his kitchen, sipping a cup of assam tea. A low heat emanates from the oven behind him. Pacing back and forth, like a general about to lead his Six Hundred into the Valley of Death, he gives a final inspection to the 21 raw springerle cookies that are lined up like soldiers on two steel sheet pans. The Baker turns on his heel, opens the oven door, and places the first of the two pans into the oven. The Third Battle of the Springerle has begun.

The Baker, having closed the oven door, thinks back on his previous engagements with The Springerle. A veteran of two previous battles, he is tired of being beaten, and feels that victory is in reach. He remembers the First Battle. Though the cookies tasted good, the detail of the image pressed into the dough was poor, and all the cookies ended up having large voids or pockets just beneath the surface, and the springerle failed to grow their traditional "feet." The Second Battle ended again with the Baker in retreat. He had decided to reduce the amount of baking powder from one teaspoon, to 3/4 teaspoon. Still, despite this adjustment, the void persisted, though the "feet" almost grew; he could see that the bottoms of the cookies had risen, but not enough to be "feet." So the Baker, defeated a second time, went to consult with his advisers.

First, he went to the creator of the molds he had used to press the springerle, Mr. Gene Wilson. Mr. Wilson advised reducing the temperature of the oven a bit. He also mentioned the effects of humidity and altitude while baking springerle. The Baker agreed, having dealt with the challenge of high-altitude baking many times before. The Baker then consulted his baking allies at The Springerle House. They too agreed that he should reduce the temperature of his oven from 300º F to 250º or 275º F. They also advised that he extend the baking time from 15 minutes to 20 or even 25 minutes.

As for the lack of detail, the Baker decided to allow the rolled dough to first warm up a bit, then having placed the mold, he jumped up on the table and knelled on the mold. (Understand, the Baker is not a big guy, so it takes do effort to press the cookie.)

The Baker applied these insights and techniques on this morning, as he waited for the first tray to finish baking.

Five minutes passed...then ten minutes...then fifteen. He peeked in the oven to see what had become of his springerle. What he saw astounded him, the springerle were floating. He closed the door, while joy and anticipation welled within him. Finally, twenty minutes had passed. He once again open the oven door and pulled out the sheet pan. Here is what awaited his gaze...

good, sharp detail, and...

the Weinachtsmann, standing up on his foot. Yes! The springerle had doubled in thickness, not by puffing up, but by growing a foot.

Encouraged by this new success, he placed the second sheet pan, this one holding cookies made with his new thistle mold, into the oven. Twenty minutes at 275º F later, again, success!

Sharp detail and a fluted edge (thanks to a linzer cookie cutter he didn't even know he had), and...

strong, well formed feet on all of the cookies.

Finally victorious after three attempts, the Baker now begins the hardest part of making springerle...letting them sit to ripen for a week before really digging in.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Cookie Stamp!

What can I say? I couldn't help myself. I loved the springerle mold that I bought from Gene Wilson of The details were exquisite, and the old world charm is warming to the heart, so I figured, "Why not get another mold?" This time, however, I decided to get a non-seasonal mold, so as not to be limited in my use of it. After much thought and rummaging through Gene's site, I decided on a 2.25" cookie stamp.

I went with the Thistle Stamp because I am a hopeless Celtophile and love all thing Irish and Scottish. Plus I can use it for a variety of cookies, gingerbread, shortbread, and any other small cookie that doesn't rise much.

I have to, again, congratulate Mr. Gene Wilson on his remarkable craftsmanship. To think that he can make such great molds and stamps, with so much intricate detail, using a router, never ceases to amaze me!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A life lesson on Self.

I want to apologize for my distinct lack of new posts lately. The past couple of weeks have been very turbulent for me and I just haven't had time to post, now have I really cooked or baked much. However, I think that things will settle out now and I can resume posting on my quasi-regular basis. I have come out of this past week saddened and somewhat disappointed, more with myself than anything else, but what's done is done (or what's not done is not done) and to dwell on it would serve no purpose. I have learned much from this experience, and I will take those lessons forward with me as I continue to dream of leaving for Portland. It may not happen this month, but I'm shooting for soon after Christmas or the New Year.

I will never stop dreaming.

In these tired and troubled times it's easy to feel afraid

And the angry young man - and the castles that he's made

In these long and empty days it's easy to feel the fool

The angry young man, he'll break every rule

She comes to me like a high flying seagull

She comes to me like a eagle, she comes like a swan

In these tired and troubled times it's easy to feel alone

The angry young man does not know where he's going

In these long and empty days he'll pull the curtain down

And the angry young man, he spins round and round

She comes to me like a high flying seagull

She comes to me like a eagle, she comes like a swan

In these tired and troubled times it's easy to feel confused

The angry young man he will not be abused

In these long and empty days he's going to get it right

The angry Young man, he's learned how to fight

She comes to me like a high flying seagull

She comes to me like a eagle, she comes like a swan

- Dougie MacLean; High Flying Seagull