Food and Drink

Continuing Culture Shock

Even the Starbucks out here are different. They offer breakfast sandwiches made with whole grain english muffins, egg substitute, reduced-fat cheese and turkey bacon. They have fruit and cheese plates and fresh salads boxed up, overpriced and ready for purchase. All the Starbucks back home had in the way of food was sticky sweet pastries and crumbly coffee cakes.

What I Had for Lunch Today

Maggie Mason says no one cares what I had for lunch today, but I'm mentioned in her book, so that allows me to break the rules. Right? Right!

I walked down to the Ferry Buildings for lunch today. It was my first time inside the food pier -- wow, such options. Artisan breads, fancy cheese and infused honeys sat perfect and pricey alongside jarred olive tapinade and imported Italian olive oil. I opted for a slice of cheese and potato quiche from Lulu Petite because it was cheap ($4.75). I should have gotten the $7 egg sandwich, because the quiche was a bust. The egg part was almost liquid-y, and the crust was a soggy disappointment. I hate that my first meal from the Ferry Building bombed. Oh well, I ate just a few bites of what would have been an overly caloric lunch. I've been saved from stretch pants by a coagulated quiche.

Not Giblet, GIMLET

Currently my favorite cocktail is a vodka gimlet. Made with Belvedere, Rose's lime juice and shaken like a crying baby, this drink is pure perfection if the ratio is right. Three parts vodka, one part Rose's lime juice--that's it. It is surprising to me how many bartenders (in this area) don't know what a gimlet is, especially considering its very simple ingredients.

Is there a drink you love that you find yourself explaining to bartenders?

In Memory of Sprinkles

jim and pam cupcakesShauna and Pea made these cupcakes for a "The Office" premiere party I went to on Thursday. Also, Jamie made every guest a mix CD called The Commemoration of the Long Anticipated Return of Jam featuring songs sung by characters throughout the series. Instead of a track listing there were stills from the episodes in which the song was sung. The next morning when I listened to the mix c.d. in my car stereo and heard, "Goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend..." I almost had to pull the car over I was laughing so hard.

I have awesome friends.

Our First Boarding Experience

The boyfriend and I are going on a mini-vacation to San Francisco, which means we have to board the dogs. This is the first time we've ever had to do that. I'm already anxious as it is, but leaving my dogs behind for three days to be locked in a cage while I galavant in California drives my nervousness up to neurotic levels. I wanted to find a place that would actually be fun for them and not stressful, so I lucked into finding Almost Home Pet Farm by doing a simple Google search. I read about their facility--no kennels, mountainside to roam, sleep where ever they want, romp with 15 or more dogs--it all sounded like a dream doggie vacation.

I called Friday night to schedule our audition for the mutts. You have to drive down with your pets for an initial visit to see if they will get along with the rest of the pups, and to make sure they are not manic or aggressive or otherwise risky to take on. There are no kennels or runs at Almost Home Pet Farm, so they have to make sure your dog is well socialized and adjusted. Tootie took a large dump in the driveway and Cooper drooled everywhere, so obviously they passed with flying colors. The place is great--really remote (an hour drive away in Carthage!) with tons of room for them to run and jump and hump and play. There are large leather couches and big comfy beds for sleeping. They also get homemade organic treats.

Oh, and that's another thing. The Almost Home Pet Farm is a hippy sort of place that requires, unless under special circumstances, that your pets be fed holistic foods. Holistic meaning all natural, no fillers like corn or other empty carbs, with most of the product being animal protein. The owner of the Pet Farm likens it to not allowing the children in her day care to gorge on candy all day. Once she requested that all dogs switch to the higher protein foods she saw behavioral changes in the animals that convinced her never to go back to Pedigree or even the "premium" brands like Eukeneuba. Tootie and Cooper are both overweight, with the blonde one being heavy enough for the vet to call her a 7 on a scale of 1-10 fatness. So, we decided to give the holistic food a shot. It's a little more than twice as expensive, but they don't need to eat as much, since they feel satiated longer due to the high protein content. It supposedly reduces shedding and barking and overexcitability, so I was willing to try it out. And besides, the owner of the Pet Farm wasn't selling these products, I had to go make a special trip out to Berry Hill to get the stuff. No commission at stake in this case.

The dogs seem to love it. I chose the Azmira brand, Classic Formula, because it has 8% fat whereas other brands had 11% or more. They don't usually get excited by dry food, but this stuff they gobble right up. And if the benefits are a less barky dog who doesn't shed like it's going out of style, I'm all for it.

We'll be gone for just three days. The dogs will be blissed out at The Farm. I doubt they'll miss us a bit.

Candy Bandit

My love affair with junk food is well documented. I'm not huge into candy or anything, just junk in general. Chips, cookies, french fries - - full-fledged crap. I try to resist the siren song of the Sun Chips, but occasionally I fall a lumpy victim to their crunchy cries.

My boss at work, the VP of marketing, keeps a dish of bite-sized candies on his desk, he readily admits, to draw employees in to chat with him. He keeps the good kind, too - - mini-Snickers and little Milky Ways. I always eye them, but never take from the bowl. I have no problem feeding the break room vending machine money for its fruit chews, but for some reason won't eat a piece of chocolate free for the taking.

However, one day I really, really wanted a piece of chocolate. I'm not a sugar addict or anything, but I cave easily to cravings, especially at work. They can distract me from creating masterful copy. Heh. So, I dug into my giant laptop bag/purse for my wallet only to find twenties and a pocket full of pennies. No machine-ready bills or coins. I refilled my water glass and tried to forget about it.

I went back to my product descriptions, trying to decide which adjectives worked best, when the mingling of soft caramel and puffy nougat consumed my brain. I bit my tongue, but soon remembered the dish of bite-sized candy bars in the VP's office. Ooh, he had just the candy I wanted, no coins needed, sitting at the ready on his desk. I made my way over even when I remembered he was out of town. They were two steps from the door, which was wide open, so I kept going. I saw that the office was empty, strode in and grabbed a single piece from the bowl, then spun on my heels when the overheard lights came on. I dropped the mini-Snickers and jumped backwards, hands in the air. I thought I'd been busted by the candy cops. I learned that day that some office lights where I work come on when a sensor notices movement in the room.

I ate the candy, but it was disappointing after my little scare.

Tamp my Grounds, Baby

The Boyfriend breaks down some specifics on espresso making in the comments, and I thought it was worth making a whole post about. As a coffee lover, this kind of stuff fascinates me:

[The term] “pulling” [an espresso] comes from the older machines that had a lever that you would pull down to force the water through the grounds. Most modern machines have a pump to force the water through, so instead of pulling anything, the water comes out after you push a little button.

The “best” extraction time varies depending on the beans used, but at Portland Brew, for example, we aimed for 22-30 seconds. That’s the time it takes the pump to shove 2 ounces of 200 degree water through 18 grams of compressed grounds. You can vary the extraction time by changing the amount of grounds used (more grounds take longer), by changing the pressure with which you “tamp” the grounds down into the portafilter (the thingy with a handle that comes off of the machine), or by changing the grind level (finer grounds restrict the water flow more, giving higher extraction times).

The way we trained was to get very consistent at dosing (putting the right amount of grounds in the portafilter) and tamping (cramming the grounds down into the portafilter with about 30lbs of pressure), and to then only change the grind to get the desired extraction. Too many people “set it and forget it”, which is a shame, because extraction times can vary from something as simple as the room getting warmer or more humid during your shift. Good baristas will make small adjustments often, and will taste their shots often.

On those old-school machines, the operator can vary the pressure of the water during the extraction, which takes crazy skills that only someone like this guy has. Some of the cutting-edge espresso weirdos have modified modern pump-driven machines to be able to make these adjustments.