Wednesday, December 23, 2009
First off, I realize that having tweets sent to your phone is an idea prone with problems. Immediately, I knew there were a few whom I "follow" that would not make it onto the phone. Those with a penchant to tweet about every little movement or thought in their day-to-day lives were eliminated, as were those who just tweet too much nonsensical (to me) stuff.
From there, I chose whom I thought would offer insightful and interesting tweets. People who supposedly have the reputation for tweeting thought-provoking discussions and other stimuli. I made up a short list and eagerly awaited a stream of wisdom and insight.
After not even a week of this, I don't think I can take it much longer. Tweet upon tweet upon tweet about things that I really either don't care about or have no interest. But what I really don't get is the need for everyone to @someone to everyone else. Hey, if you've got a response for one person, why not just "dm" that person? Do I need to be included in that conversation? Especially when I think that person your "@"-ing is a buffoon?
Most importantly out of all this, I've become increasingly aware at how stream of consciousness tweeting is horrifically irritating. It's caused me to focus on my own tweets and realize that those 140-something characters are extremely precious and that the reader has lost those moments spent reading my tweets so they should have something of interest.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Whipping up some mac-n-cheese.
With so much snow and bitter cold, what better thing to do than cook? Really in need of something different than my normal repertoire of take away fried something or other, I decided to see what was in the larder for a little meal.
Sadly, there was no Velveeta anywhere in the house so I had to go with some Kerrygold Dubliner cheese and a block of Cabot Private Stock White Cheddar. Chop them up in the processor, whip them into some bechamel, mix with cooked macaroni and voila! A little mac-n-cheese base for now or later.
Mac-N-Cheese out of the oven with a side of bacong and roasted chicken for good measure.
The nice thing about this mac-n-cheese is that you can refrigerate (and I guess freeze) the mix until you need it. Then when the time is right, press the mix into a serving dish, add some chopped cooked bacon, cover with the cheddar and dubliner cheeses, top with homemade potato bread crumbs and bake at 350F.
Forty minutes later, your piping hot mac-n-cheese is ready to rock and roll. Add steak, chicken or more bacon to taste.
Baking. Such a curious pursuit. I like to cook. I even fancy myself a cook. But a baker? No, i don't think so. Sure, I've dabbled in breadmaking in the past and have even tried my hand at pastry stuff, but I wouldn't say that I know what I'm doing.
Which brings us to the pound cake. I like pound cake. I like the frozen Sara Lee pound cake I grew up eating in the tin pan. I loved how the brown cap of the thing peeled off and how you could dig out the bottom crust of the bread with your fingers from the bottom of the pan. I was amazing. I could go to town on that pound cake.
But now that I'm older and supposedly more sophisticated, it was time to make my own pound cake, using the ingredients I love and adore. Like I said, I'm not a baker - which is good because the pound cake recipe is rather simple:
- one pound Butter
- one pound Sugar
- one pound AP Flour
Okay, and a little salt and a little vanilla extract - maybe half a teaspoon each.
Cream the butter and sugar, add the salt, add the vanilla, then slowly beat in the flour until it fully combines then stop. Bake in a 325F oven for at least one hour, or until its' done.
It took two hours for the thing to cook through.
So it took a long time, but how tantalizing it looked in that oven. I could see the butter boiling in the pan. Amazing. But it took two hours.
Finally the thing was done and it had to cool. By the time I tasted it the next day the flavor was lovely. Buttery sweet, crusty and just tasty. A far cry from Sara Lee but more robust. Good thing I brought it down to The Spro where I could enjoy my labors with a proper coffee - the Montes y Colinas Colombia from Origins Organic, of course.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
A cigar too nice to do "The Monica."
As the Blizzard of 2009 blankets the world around me with an expected two feet of snow, I decided to take refuge at home and indulge myself (with my lady-friend companion).
Tonight's indulgences include a 2002 Montecristo #2 Habano, a 2007 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone, Davidoff matches, Dupont lighter, Paul Garmirian cutter, a bunch of candles, a meershaum pipe (just in case) and a plate of homemade chocolate chip and pecan butter shortbread cookies (with Askinosie 77% Davao chocolate, for good measure).
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Even though I've dedicated an entire afternoon to preparing food, I'm still hungry and without something to eat. So, I decided to whip up something that might make it onto project hampden's menu in the future: the "Tuna Club."
Okay, it's not really original and a total riff on Bistro 1245's Tuna Club, but I didn't want to simply copy it exactly, so here's what I did:
- toast a piece of baguette until crispy
- slather with wasabi mayo
- Benton's smoked country bacon
- add mixed greens
- a tomato would be nice (but they're out of season)
- layer slices of seared yellowfin tuna (poke marinade
- season with Aloha Shoyu
Fold, show off to your hungry friends and eat greedily.
Pork Shoulder Picnic ready to go.
I've got a problem. I enjoy tasting different flavors during my week and I'm absolutely terrible at planning my meals ahead of time. Because of this, I end up eating out more often than not - and I've got a larder full of fantastic foodstuffs.
Take this hunk of Pork Shoulder Picnic from Springfield Farm. It's been sitting in the fridge waiting for me to do something with it. I could dig the smoker out of the garage and smoke it up, but it's too darn cold and I'm too lazy to do that right now. Maybe something a little more low impact would be better.
Another problem is that it's just me, and this large piece of pig makes more than I can eat in a week. Really, it makes more that I would want to eat in a week. So the idea was to cut it in half and make two preparations of pork.
The first was chorizo. Simply chop the shoulder (with lots of fat included) into little brunoise (okay, maybe I might have pulsed it a bit in the food processor - but I'll never tell) and then mix with a slurry of chiles and seasoning. A little chipotle powder, some rehydrated pasillas, some fresh garlic, a little canela, some salt... Oooh, and I've still got some of that Hatch chiles from New Mexico - chop up and toss a bunch in there for good measure. Add some oregano and process in the Cuisinart until it turns into paste (note: sans pork).
Press the chile mix through a tamis and onto the chopped pork. Mix thoroughly. Pan fry a portion to check season and re-adjust if necessary.
Different recipes will give you precise amounts of chile but this one I just freestyled. It's not as delicate as Oscar Gutierrez's dried chorizo I had last year, but it will suffice for my morning pleasures.
From here, you can mix in some pink curing salt (not too much) then stuff into casings and hang to dry. That was a bit too much work for a lazy Sunday so I just rolled them up into one pound balls, vac bagged and tossed them into the freezer. Note: after bagging, I like to press the balls flat to fill the bag so I can lay them down and stuff as many into the freezer as possible.
The other half I decided to make Poor Man's Kalua Pig. Simply take the pork, rub with 'alae'a salt from Hawai'i, wrap with one ti leaf (also from Hawai'i and completely different than tea leaves), put it into a dutch oven (a Le Creuset, if you want to be fancy) and toss into a 250F oven for 10-16 hours.
The more traditional approach would be to rub with liquid smoke and wrap the entire thing in banana leaves, but I didn't have either on hand. The more traditional approach would be to put it into a mesquite smoker. Then the ultra-traditional approach would be to wrap everything in chicken wire and bury the lot in an in-ground 'imu with smashed banana stalks and lava rock heated by a keawe wood fire, but that really was too much work for a lazy Sunday.
Ten to sixteen hours later (depending on the size of the meat), the pig is done when it's tender, juicy and can be shredded with a fork.
Simply box it up in a cambro, toss it in the fridge and reheat when hunger calls and serve with hot steamed rice, Aloha Shoyu
and chili pepper water - add some sliced Maui sweet onions and haupia on the side and you're really good to go.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Our tasting crew points to their brew preference for the Dama Yirgacheffe - aeropressed.
Today was the day to take the coffees that we have selected for service at project hampden and determine which brew methods will be the "default" brew for each coffee.
The idea is that if you're the kind of customer who wants to come in and just try the coffee, you can simply order it and we'll prepare it for you utilizing the brew method that we think best highlights the qualities of the particular coffee. Of course, if you're a bit more adventurous, you can come in and request the coffee of your choice brewed in the method of your choice.
So while the "default" brew method for let's say, the Amaro Gayo Ethiopia from Barefoot Coffee Roasters may be in the Clever brewer, you can also order the Amaro Gayo brewed as a pour over, French press, aeropress, eva solo, chemex or vac pot - giving you the ability to try the same coffee and see for yourself how each brew method will enhance or diminish certain aspects of a coffees' flavor. No other shop in the world offers this array of brewing options - all to order, by-the-cup.
Jenny eva solos the Kenya Gichathaini from Ecco Caffe.
Here are the coffees that will open project hampden in early January 2010, and their "default" brew methods:
Amaro Gayo, Ethiopia – Clever & Cold Brew
Barefoot Coffee Roasters, Santa Clara, CA
Santuario Bourbon, Colombia – Aeropress
Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, Chicago, IL
Yirgacheffe, Dama Cooperative, Ethiopia – Eva Solo
Ecco Caffe, Santa Rosa, CA
Gitchathaini, Gikonda Cooperative, Nyeri, Kenya – Chemex
Ecco Caffe, Santa Rosa, CA
Finca El Injerto Pacamara, Guatemala – French Press
Stumptown Coffee Roasters, New York, NY
Finca Mauritania, Santa Ana, El Salvador – Pour Over
Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC
Aida’s Grand Reserve, Santa Ana, El Salvador – TBD
Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC
Kigabah, Plantation A, Papua New Guinea – Chemex
Origins Organic Coffee, Vancouver, BC
Decaf House Blend – Aeropress
Origins Organic Coffee, Vancouver, BC
Espresso Blend – Espresso
Hines Public Market Coffee, Vancouver, BC
Lamarie and Rebecca vac pot the Amaro Gayo Ethiopia.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Fried Spam, nori and press at the ready.
That's it. That's all you need to know: Spam Musubi.
The ubiquitous Hawaii snack/meal is essentially the perfect sandwich. A balance of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy and umami - well, spicy if you add some spice, or use Tabasco Spam. Take a slice of Spam, fry it up in a down and dirty teriyaki sauce, add a dash of Tabasco, top over steamed rice and wrap in nori. Amazing.
It's been something I've been thinking of adding to the menu at project hampden, but first, I need to understand how to make it. You see, in Hawaii, it's everywhere. You don't need to make it if you live in Hawaii, everyone else is making them so why bother? You can even get Spam Musubi (along with variants) at 7-Eleven.
Pressing the rice.
For today's Spam Musubi, I'm using a simple California medium grain rice, Japanese nori, Hormel Spam and a down and dirty teriyaki sauce made from soy sauce and sugar. The secret battle ingredient? Aloha Shoyu - that island made soy sauce that's light, nutty and refreshing. It is the flavor of Hawaii and I spend incredible amounts of money laying my hands on the stuff.
The other key? A Musubi Press. Those of you in California (and maybe living near the Mitsua Marketplace in New Jersey) probably can get it, but I get mine straight from Honolulu where I know it's going to be right - the mold fits a slice of Spam exactly. Beautiful.
A bounty of Spam Musubi!
Simply marinade the Spam (marinading Spam, that's got to be ironic) in the sauce, pan fry until it's caramelized and set aside. Cut the nori into strips and lay a slice of Spam across the nori, put the press in place, add the rice and press to form the shape. Pull the mold, wrap the nori tight and you're done! Spam Musubi 101.
Now, if only I knew some girls from Hawaii I could seduce over lunch today...
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Joy, Ilenia and Jeremy ponder their evaluations.
And here are the results for the last three days of service cuppings for project hampden:
Score / Coffee / Origin / Roaster / Roast Date
9.43 Amaro Gayo, Ethiopia - Barefoot, 12/1
8.69 Wondo Worka, Ethiopia - Caffe Pronto, 11/11
8.44 Amaro Gayo, Ethiopia - Barefoot, 11/23
7.50 Dama Yirgacheffe Organic, Ethiopia - Ecco Caffe, 12/1
7.44 Santuario Bourbon, Colombia - Intelligentsia, 12/1
7.40 Don Pachi, Panama - Stumptown, 12/1
7.38 Santuario El Mirador, Colombia - Intelligentsia, 12/1
7.30 Organic Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia - Intelligentsia, 12/1
7.19 Finca Mauritania, El Salvador - Counter Culture, 12/1
6.60 Sidama, Ethiopia - Intelligentsia, 12/1
6.57 Malacara Lot 119, El Salvador - Barefoot, 12/1
6.44 El Injerto Pacamara, Guatemala - Stumptown, 12/1
6.36 Gichathaini, Kenya - Ecco Caffe, 12/1
6.14 Palo Blanco, Guatemala - Barefoot, 12/1
6.13 Cruz del Sur, Peru - Intelligentsia, 12/1
6.00 Los Luchadores, El Salvador - Counter Culture, 12/1
6.00 Tablon 12, El Salvador - Barefoot, 12/1
5.90 Ndaironi, Kenya - Counter Culture, 12/1
5.90 Lot 91, El Salvador - Barefoot, 11/23
5.81 Monte Cristo, Brazil - Barefoot, 11/22
5.80 Gichathaini, Kenya - Intelligentsia, 12/1
5.71 El Porvenir, El Salvador - Barefoot, 12/1
5.69 Nueva Armenia, Guatemala - Counter Culture, 12/1
5.64 Piura Organic, Peru - Ecco Caffe, 12/1
5.63 Sidamo Washed, Ethiopia - Origins, 11/23
5.31 Montes de Oro Honey, Costa Rica - Stumptown, 12/1
5.29 Tingo Maria Organic, Peru - Ecco Caffe, 12/1
5.21 Ixii de Avelina, Guatemala - Barefoot, 12/1
5.00 21st de Septiembre, Mexico - Counter Culture, 12/1
4.80 Thiriku, Kenya - Intelligentsia, 12/1
4.31 Gathuriri Reserve, Kenya - Stumptown, 12/1
4.13 Ndaroini French Roast, Kenya - Counter Culture, 12/1
3.86 La Guatuza, Nicaragua - Ecco Caffe, 12/1
3.75 Pashapa French Roast - Counter Culture, 12/1
3.19 Organic Emera, Timor - Zeke's, 11/30 ?
2.86 Monte Cristo, Brazil - Barefoot, 12/1
2.75 Supremo, Colombia - Kirkland, ??
Again, we used a subjective scale of 1 to 10 and all coffees were cupped on December 4th or 5th, or in the case of the Ecco Caffe and Barefoot coffees roasted on 12/1, they were cupped on December 9th.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
All sorts of paper goods from the paper suppliers' showroom. I won't need TP at home for a week!
As project hampden moves closer and closer to its' opening, more and more details need to be attended and time seems to be in very short supply. Time to think about paper goods. The quandry: how to present a thoughtful and refined approach without increasing costs to the point where it has to affect the retail price? Sure, we could go with nice linens, but that costs money and may mean the difference between a dessert costing $3.75 and $5.50, or more. And while I'm fine with charging what's appropriate, we don't want to scare people away because of price alone.
To my mind, many things in the coffee business are played out. Cheap is played out. How about something refined? Corn lined paper hot cups are nice but the premium is pretty steep and does the wax lining of "regular" paper cups really mean that it will take a bazillion years for the thing to decompose? The irony here, of course, is that all "bio-friendly" disposables inevitably end up being sealed in plastic bags that will always take a bazillion years to decompose...
Of course, nothing beats ceramic. Give me beautiful white plates and we'll fill them with something beautiful and tasty. Eating stuff for "here" is the easy part. It's the "can I take it with me" that it all falls apart. Plastic containers are nice and reusable, but there's going to be some tree-hugging jerkoff who's going to complain about the petrochemicals used in the container. I'll then be tempted to point out that the Horizon Organic Milk they're drinking at home is rubbish but that would only serve to irritate the problem rather than soothe.
Foil has the ability to go from the oven to the bag, so if we decided to make fresh mac 'n cheese, we could just pop it in the over, bake it off and let the customer take it home in all its' molten, oozy, cheezy glory. But the foil containers look about as classy as the stuff I used to get from the Washington Square Diner while attending NYU.
Then there's the pseudo-chinese-takeout-looking flat boxes in bio-friendly brown paper. They're stylish, kinda retro and very bio-chic. They can take the microwave, limited oven and look classy. I think we'll go with those.
Cups? To go paper will probably remain standard white because I'm unconvinced that the wax lining is that destructive to the environment, and because no matter the cup, the lid is always going to be plastic - until they figure a way to stop corn based plastics from disintegrating when warm.
Plastic cups may go to corn-based plastics. The concern here is not with cold beverages, where the corn plastics excel, but with the method we prepare some of our cold drinks - starting with warm to hot ingredients that we cool down. Does the additional expense of corn plastic also justify the additional labor of changing our production methodologies? Not sure yet.
Another conundrum is the utensils. At The Spro in Towson, we use all black plastic utensils. They're stylish, functional and disposable. Do we maintain those utensils for project hampden, or change to bio-friendly tan colored utensils? Or do we just use stainless utensils in-house and screw the convenience and tell people to go home with their take out, use their own utensils and save the environment? Idealistic but not very accommodating for the customer.
The curious aspect is the paper towels. The recycled towels cost less because they're not as pretty as the white towels. Hmmm, bio-friendly and cheaper? Now that's some tree-hugging I can get behind!
Meanwhile, I've spotted a bit of whimsy while perusing the stacks of our paper supplier. Soap dispensers geared towards children. I'm determined to find a way to use them at project hampden to bring a little fun into our serious world of coffee...
Sunday, December 06, 2009
The cupping begins!
It's been over two months since we started on this journey of the barista for our project hampden crew. In the process, we've cupped lots of coffees, learned and proofed brewing methods and visited cows and other coffee places. In training new baristas, I've never taken the route we've taken. For our crew of baristas, I've been doing my best to train the best rounded baristas that I possibly can - and I still wish I had more time.
A by product of tasting and learning about coffees is the formation of preferences. It's simply not possible to taste some of the best coffees available and not become tainted by it. As our time together has progressed, I've been hearing more and more reports on how increasingly difficult it is for them to find coffee that they can enjoy outside of our little world. It is a hazard of our business.
As such, I almost never drink coffee outside of The Spro or my own home. I only drink coffee at select places that I know take the time to do it right. Sadly, most places brew poor examples of coffee. For most people, it's not too noticeable, but when you're drinking some truly spectacular coffees, the difference is starkly apparent.
So, after two months of subjecting my crew to truly amazing coffees, as well as a number of horrific coffees, it's now time for them to take the big step: the evaluation and selection of coffees for the opening of project hampden.
I've always felt strongly that our baristas should be passionate about the coffees we serve because it's far too often that I see baristas (yes, in the Third Wave) that merely recite verbatim the description provided by their roaster. Perhaps that description is accurate but, in our experience, it's not always so. The vision that I have for project hampden is that our team of baristas will evaluate and vet out the coffees for which we feel most strongly.
Jenny crunches the numbers.
I'm lucky to have great roaster partners to work with. Friends in the business who are willing to join me and our crew on this exploration/aberration of the coffee industry. The practice of using multiple roasters is still relatively unheard of in our business and certainly the few places that have done this have not executed to the extent that we are planning to execute.
For project hampden, our primary roasters will be:
- Hines Origins Organic Coffee, Vancouver, BC
- Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters, NYC
- Barefoot Coffee Roasters, Santa Clara, CA
- Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, Chicago, IL
- Ecco Caffe, Santa Rosa, CA
All of whom are friends and companies whom I believe are sourcing, roasting and producing some of the best coffees in North America.
Our cupping protocols follow along the industry standard but our cupping forms mimic those developed by Counter Culture Coffee for their informal cuppings. In the evaluation of the coffees, I wanted more notes on the flavors, aromas and characters of the coffee rather than the numerical scores given in either the SCAA or CoE cupping forms. I wanted more "gut" feeling about the coffees than the clinical numbers of formal cupping sessions.
Writing their evaluations.
This past weekend, we cupped twenty-five different coffees from a variety of roasters, both named suppliers and outside sources. The results were both surprising and not so surprising.
A new feature to our cupping form was the additional of a numerical score for each coffee. The point scale ranged from 1 to 10, with ten being the highest. Again, this numerical score was completely subjective. Did the barista like the coffee or not? Loved it or hated it? The numerical score would be the easiest way to gage likability by our staff and readily tell me which coffees to target.
Certainly an argument can be made against this system of grading- what are the criteria? None. What does a "5" mean? Whatever that barista deemed it to mean. It's not "fair"! True, it's not fair. But neither is the likes of any customer. It's not meant to be a "fair" grade. It's meant to tell me which coffees our baristas feel most passionate about. Which coffees will they champion? Which coffees will they sell the most? It's human nature to push something you like. Why not fill our selections with coffees our baristas like?
More smelling and cupping.
Of course, that's not to say that the selection of coffees for project hampden is completely egalitarian. project hampden is about my vision and what I want to project upon the world, so if a coffee doesn't meet my standard, it won't make it - even if everyone on staff gave it a "10". Conversely, if there's a coffee that I'm particularly interested in highlighting, it will be there.
But for now, our crew is cupping, evaluating and determining the coffees that will be there the day we open.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Electrical outlets ready to rock and roll.
After what seems like (to my pockets) interminable delays, project hampden is rolling once again. Electrical and plumbing are done and now we just need to get cabinets and counters installed and we're on our way!
Of course, the installation of mechanicals has left an absolute mess of project hampden. What were once beautifully painted walls are no more. Tiny holes and large patchwork abound. Everything is covered in dust and the once polished floors need serious attention to bring back to life.
But project hampden will be opening. As Soon As Frakking Possible!
The Tasting Lab.
This is progress???
Oh my floors!
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
The sous vide versus the pan stirred.
A bit of time ago, I attempted to recreate Alex and Aki's Scrambled Eggs and met with disaster. After some coaching from Alex and a water bath running a 48 hour short rib run, I decided to try the egg thing once more.
This time I decided to forgo the problem of the eggs solidifying in the ISI Whip Charger and just vac bagged the mixture of eggs, butter and sour cream. This way, if the eggs solidified, I wouldn't have such a task cleaning out the whip charger - just toss the bag and it would be done.
62C not looking too promising.
After an hour of cooking in 62C water, the eggs were not looking too promising. They seemed cooked but the texture looked like coagulated broken milk in coffee. To say that it didn't look appetizing would be an overstatement and the thought of salmonella or some kind of other food poisoning due to improper handling came to mind.
But since I'm an intrepid kind of chap, who's too foolish to heed his own cautions about food poisoning, I thought I would still give it a try. Afterall, I spent the past hour waiting for this thing to cook.
Scrambled Egg Foam - not quite the result I was looking for.
I should note here that under other circumstances, like me giving you advice on the preparation of this dish, I would tell you to quickly throw the bagged eggs in the trash and start again with a different approach. Under no circumstances would I ever recommend to anyone that they attempt to consume this potentially hazardous/lethal product.
But it was breakfast time and I was a bit on the hungry side, so full speed ahead as I toast to Living Fast and Dying Young.
Scrambled Eggs and Scrambled Egg Foam. Could be an Eggs Two Ways kind of dish...
Happily, as evidenced by my writing of this post, I was not debilitated, poisoned or killed due to my reckless nonchalance with the eggs. After yet another phone call with Alex, I realized my error. Since I hadn't consulted either my own notes or the previous blog entry, I didn't realize that 62C is simply too cool to cook the eggs properly. I had just gone gonzo and winged it - which could have resulted in my being sent to the hospital. Not smart.
Since Hope Springs Eternal, I lived another day to try more of this sous vide eggery foolishness and proceeded to heed Alex's recommendations of cooking the eggs for 25 minutes at 75C.
Scrambled Huevos Otra Vez!
Into the bath went two eggs, two tablespoons of butter and a dollop of sour cream. Wait, wait, wait and then it was time.
Pulling the bag from the bath and already I could see something different. It looked much better than the 62C eggs but still kinda was separate from the eggs and the cream. In spots, the eggs had clotted together. This was remedied by a thorough mixing of the ingredients by mushing the bag over and over again until the mix had combined.
Looking promising in the bag.
From there, it was just a matter of cutting open the bag, seasoning with salt and then layering over a piece of toasted Struan bread from Atwater's Bakery. Lovely.
Perhaps a topping of dill would suffice but I'm thinking that maybe shavings of bacon instead of the slices shown below might make for a fun presentation. Imagine someone coming to the table with a hunk of bacon and shaving slices/pieces of bacon over the eggs. Fun!
Sous Vide Scrambled Eggs on Struan bread with applewood smoked bacon, and Kenya Gaturiri from Stumptown Coffee.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
The Scales of The Spro: Pelouze Postal Scale, Ohaus CL Scale, CAS digital scale and IKEA scale, along with some of the brewing methods we'll be employing.
I don't know how it is for most of you, but I always seem to find details that I just never gave too much consideration towards giving me serious obstacles. Take scales, for instance.
Scales seem so ubiquitous in what we do that I don't really think too much about them. Yes, they're necessary and yes, we've had all the scales we needed at Towson, so I never really put that much thought into them. But now with the impending opening of project hampden and its' multiple brewing methods, the need for really great scales has suddenly come into focus.
Aside from our main scale in Towson, we've gotten by with small kitchen scales, postal scales and whatever we've had at hand. Now that our brewing is more focused and serious, these stand-by scales have started to show their weaknesses. From the ergonomics to the length of time the scale stays on to the shape and space, all of it takes a toll and needs reckoning.
Where once was a void that I didn't have to worry about suddenly has become a kink in our system that's growing more desperate with each passing day.
This week, a new scale showed up at The Spro, the Ohaus CL Series Scale. It's a laboratory scale that is either battery or wall socket powered. It's small form factor means we can set up several brews side by side and its' design allows the scales to be stacked on top of each other for greater storage capability. Plus, the scale stays active for four minutes, much more generous than the 25 seconds other scales allow during moments of inactivity.
Initial impressions from our baristas has been quite positive for the Ohaus CL and I'm thinking that it might just be the one we're going to go with - thank goodness it doesn't cost an arm and a leg!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Dons Octavio, Julio and Dona Rouki explore the sushi boat at the Barcelo Resort.
I've landed in Managua where our host, Julio Peralta, has informed us that, once again, we're expecting: A) Riots, B) Revolution and maybe even C) Civil War.
When we were here last November, the elections had just passed, tensions were high and protests closed parts of the city around us, always threatening to escalate into something I hadn't experienced before. Turns out that the supreme court has decided that it's constitutional for the current president to seek re-election and that has the opposition a bit upset and ready to protest.
Interestingly enough, protests of this nature don't happen spontaneously and just erupt. Seems like they are well planned out so that the local citizens can prepare alternate travel routes or stock up on supplies. The protest is scheduled for Saturday outside of the mall where the barista championship will be held. Because of this, they've decided to cut the schedule short with the championship on Thursday and Friday so that on Saturday we can either head for the hills or watch Managua burn from our hotel vista. Either way, it beats another lazy afternoon in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, the hotel seems to have lost Scott Conary at the airport and Jose is scheduled to arrive the next evening. All in all, it just seems like another day for the traveling barista judges. Happily, the hotel pool is refreshing and there's lots of fresh fruit juices here in Central America.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Oh look: Roasted on October 2, 2009.
I'm driving around Baltimore seeking out coffee from local roasters and it's days like this that I really start to feel that "Smalltimore" is really "Sprawltimore" as there is no concentration of coffee roasters in one part of the city.
First, it's down to Highlandtown to pick up a coffee from Higher Grounds where the coffee had to be roasted that morning because it's still warm in my hands. Then, after a little sleuthing, it's over to Greektown where I've found the roast facility for Bluebird Coffee in an industrial complex that is both scary and the perfect movie location. Sadly, Bluebird is closed and it doesn't look like they keep any sort of regular hours making it near impossible to plan a visit for coffee.
And here's one from September...
However, Bluebird's website states that I can buy their coffee at the Whole Foods in Mount Washington, so off I go. Now, some of you in Baltimore may be asking "what about Zeke's?" that now famous, nearly ubiquitous Baltimore coffee roaster. Zeke's is located way over in Lauraville, which is a bit of a pain in the butt to drive to and since they're still at the Towson Farmer's Market on Thursday, I'll just go there.
My intent really is to go to the roasters themselves and ask them, much like I asked the girl at Higher Grounds, which coffee are they most excited about this week? Which coffee best exemplifies what they do? Whatever that coffee is (as long as it's not a blend or flavored), I'll take it. It's why I drove down to Highlandtown and Greektown and why I'll wait for the Zeke's guy to set up his booth in Towson.
Then there's the well-known Baltimore Coffee & Tea in Timonium. I've been going there for miscellaneous odds and ends for years but I fear going there because every time I leave I smell like chemical flavoring. In the showroom, they leave their coffees in open-topped barrels for all to see and they have a sea of flavored coffees, filling the space with the noxious aromas of inter-mingling hazelnut, peppermint and whatever ungodly chemical concoction people like having their coffee sprayed with. If only they had cap hop service...
Wow. May. Wow.
Figuring that I might as well go for it, I reluctantly head to Whole Foods. To be honest, in spite of my penchant for quality, I almost never shop at Whole Foods. I much prefer what's fresh and in-season at the farmer's markets to the rabidly overpriced, rich white suburbanite and sanitized experience that is Whole Foods. That's not to say that the stuff they sell isn't of decent quality but I have to be in a real pinch to go there.
And here's the reason why. Lameness. White Suburban Lameness. A visit to their coffee rack and they've got a selection of local roasters like Mayorga (DC), One Village (Philadelphia), Higher Grounds and Bluebird. On Bluebird's website they list a selection of single-origin coffees but at Whole Foods all they offer is blends.
Blends. The choice of Lame Suburban America, which really isn't a choice. Hell, I don't think these people can tell the difference between Dodge Podge and Shorebird blends. Arrgh - I'm not going to get into it but there are no single-origin coffees to choose from.
I'm about to consider a blend when I spot the roast date on the bag of Santa Lucia Estate Coffee: October 2. Please tell me that's October 2, 2009 and not earlier. It's the middle of November. That coffee is dead. I decide to check the other bags of coffee and it only gets worse. September 19th on a bag of Bluebird but the one that takes the cake and breaks the back is the bag of Higher Grounds Coffee dated May 2nd. I left empty-handed.
Glad that I went down to Highlandtown for my bag of Higher Grounds...
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Kevin Shaar - from the Barista Del Mundo episode "The Wife Works In Town"
I just read an article that forecasts difficult times ahead for farmers and those of us who prefer thoughtfully produced food. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm in Virginia and featured prominently in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma relates difficulties he's faced with neighbors, suppliers and even the government regarding his decision to raise farm animals humanely, feed them natural food, and raise them naturally.
A critic of Salatin's, who refused to sell him sawdust, criticized him stating:
"You let your chickens run loose. You abuse your cows because you don't vaccinate them. You don't want your cows taking antibiotics. I hate everything you stand for."
Wow. My first reaction was to compare Salatin's experience with that of our local farmers, such as David Smith of Springfield Farm, whose desire to build a farm store on his farms' property has been met with tremendous resistance and outright hostility by his neighbors - mostly ex-suburbanites who moved to Rural Maryland seeking the idyllic "farm life" but who would rather live near places that look like a farm rather than a real, working farm.
The problem we face here is that while we have farmers such as Joel Salatin, David Smith, Edwin Shank (The Family Cow Farm) and many others in each locale, we collectively face the industrial agriculture behemoth that is Purdue, ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland - industrial corporations whose purpose is to provide as much food as possible at the lowest price and greatest profit margin. This has led to the confinement method of raising animals that most of our nation eats.
And, like any conglomerate, these corporations would prefer that all of us consume their products and not turn to small, local farmers like Smith, Salatin and Shank - who collectively, are a potential threat to their profitability.
Which makes it increasingly likely that these conglomerates will turn their machinery against us and begin spinning hype in the manner of the sawdust supplier above. That these natural methods of farming are actually "bad" for us and threaten our way of life.
A great example of the industrial agricultural machine and how it treats our American farmers was most apparent during our visit to Wisconsin in the Spring of 2008 when we visited Kevin Shaar and his family on their dairy farm. At the time, Kevin was 29 years old and had worked his farm for fifteen years. They owned a herd of mostly Holstein dairy cows (most milk production per day) with a few Jersey and Guernsey cows thrown in for good measure. Milk production is measured in pounds and for every 100 pounds Kevin and Mary produced the local dairy would pay them the commercial rate of seventeen dollars.
Span that out over a thousand pounds and they're being paid $170 per thousand pounds of milk, or $1,700 per ten thousand pounds of milk. Not too bad for a couple of days work, right?
Back then the price for a gallon of milk had doubled at the grocery store, Kevin's cost for feed had rocketed from $80 per bag to $200 per bag. His cost for fertilizer per ton had tripled, the cost of fuel hovered over five dollars per gallon and his price per one hundred pounds of milk had fallen from $20 to $17 per hundred pounds.
When I asked him if it was "sustainable", Kevin said that they needed to make over $20 per pound of milk in order to break even - meaning that for every pound of milk they delivered to the dairy, they were getting screwed and losing money. Perhaps a government can operate at a deficit, but real people cannot. Kevin's situation isn't an isolated one and is the classic example of how our industrial agricultural system has gone wrong.
It's ironic in the coffee business that so many of my colleagues give so much lip service to "the farmer" and getting the coffee farmer more yet so proudly champion the American industrial agricultural system that sticks our own American farmers in the neck.
The situation here underscores that we need to remain vigilant about our food supply and educate those around us about the benefits of natural farming practices. Letting chickens and cows roam on pasture and letting pigs forage is not a "bad" thing. It's what they were meant to do and that needs to be celebrated, not destroyed.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Today was baked goods day and I'm feeling slightly ill.
I spent the morning driving around the city picking up various baked goodies for evaluation this afternoon with Ilenia, Lamarie, Rebecca, Jeremy and Joy. Baguettes, croissants, conchas and more - all piled up with butter, butter and more butter.
First stop: Patisserie Poupon to pickup some croissants, almond croissant, chocolate croissant, chocolate chip cookies, brioche, walnut tart and apple tart.
From there I headed down to Fell's Point to pick up a baguette, croissant and almond croissant at Bonaparte Bakery, then over to eastern Baltimore's Pastelleria Vargas for some fresh out of the oven conchas.
With the truck filling up with buttery goodness, it was back to Hampden and across the street to Puffs & Pastries, where I planned to put Anisha's croissants head-to-head with Poupon and Bonaparte's, but she only had some over-proofed nuggets that they were about to discard. I tried one and even though it was yeasty, the butter still tasted good and I swiped a couple to use as a comparison.
Last stop: Woodberry Kitchen where Spike, Isaiah and I have been discussing the possibility of them baking baguettes for us. The baguettes Bev and Isaiah are producing are more like batards but the crust covering the bread is baked to deep golden perfection. It just looks intoxicating.
The question facing our crew was simple: which tastes best? The baguette would be tasted three different ways: plain, with butter (Trickling Springs Salted) and warmed strips dipped in hot chocolate (for a proposed Chocolat Chaud & Baguette breakfast offering). The majority of the crew loved the Woodberry baguette over the Bonaparte, except in the chocolate category where they felt the Bonaparte demonstrated the sweet complexity of the chocolate better. But plain or with butter, it was the Woodberry batard that won hands down.
In the croissant competition, the surprising votes went to the Puffs & Pastry sort-of baked in a jumble 'til golden thing-a-ma-bob. In a flat out taste challenge, it beat the rest- though some of them did note that they liked it better because it was so different than the regular croissant, which some of them found to be too plain (the notion of croissant, that is).
Almond Croissant - the majority chose the Bonaparte over the Poupon. More complex and subtle in flavor than the bold and astringent-finishing almond croissant from Poupon. There's something about their almond paste that ends sharply.
The rest of the samples didn't have challengers and were more to explore flavors and the possibilities. All of them liked the Vargas concha - which is something I'm dying to bring to the menu, whether brought in by a bakery like Vargas or Hermanos Navarro, or baked in-house.
What they didn't really get into was the apple tart from Poupon. They just didn't like it.
Oh well. Time for more exploration.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
The sunlight flows as the morning cupping gets underway.
We're back at the Towson espresso bar cupping coffees. This time we're cupping a couple of selections from Greencastle Coffee Roasters, whom we found after yesterday's lunch in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, a selection from Starbucks and a surprise reappearance of Aida's Grand Reserve from Counter Culture.
In support of our cupping efforts, I've decided to create a blog that will chronicle our cuppings and coffee tastings. Originally, we were compiling these notes in a separate database then realized that it would be better to share our thoughts candidly. The site is open for all to see: staff, friends, roasters, vendors, customers - whomever.
On the new website you'll find cupping notes for the past few sessions, back to our visit to the Counter Culture Training Center in Washington, D.C. However, I just decided to change the format with the 11/7 cupping. Now you'll get to see all of our tasting notes verbatim on a per coffee basis. From the flavors and aromas detected, to their likes and dislikes about the coffee, to their descriptions of the coffees and my thoughts on the coffee as well.
There are some brutally honest comments within the notes and if you're easily offended, I recommend reading The Coffee Review. The notes you will be reading are the exact notes that we will be using to evaluate the coffees and determine which of them we will order for service to our customers.
The Aida's Grand Reserve that hit the table today was a bit of a curve ball. It is the same bag of coffee from the DC cupping over a week ago - a coffee that many of them raved about. The coffee was kept in the bag at room temperature, with no method of preserving it beyond squeezing the air out of the bag. Did the coffee maintain its' zenith of dazzle or fizzle out completely? Find out now!
Friday, November 06, 2009
The intrepid barista candidates of project hampden cross the vast expanses on a milkquest.
Crossing the soon-to-be-frozen tundra of the "west 40" pasturelands, I wondered just how we got here. Sure, the jokers of the group will suggest that we got there by car (minivan, to be accurate), but just how did we get here - visiting Edwin Shank and his collection of over two hundred cattle, several cats and an untold number of chickens?
It wasn't too long ago that I didn't even think about the milk we were using. It was whole or skim. Needed more? A quick call before midnight to the local distributor and a shipment would be delivered the next morning. Short by a gallon? No problem, they'll send a big truck to deliver it tomorrow.
Reflecting back it's amazing how little thought we put into what we consume. Whatever is there and readily available will suffice, especially if it's cheap. Cheap is good. Cheap is easy. Cheap leaves me with a little more cash to buy a new iPod.
Trudging across the uneven terrain with the cold, frigid air blasting across my face, I realized that this is where we belonged. Here, visiting the piko, or source of what we do.
I've starting using a phrase to describe what we do: Simple, but not easy.
Making coffee is simple. Very simple. Simply add hot water to ground coffee, wait a few minutes and et voila! It's done. But doing well and doing it thoughtfully is anything but easy. It's still simple, but it's very, very hard. Hence our trekking the two hours by car, into the Mennonite wildlands of Pennsylvania to visit a few cows chomping on grass in the middle of cold field, surrounded by cow pies.
It's too easy for a "barista" to sit at home and memorize details about the products they use. Grass-fed, hormone free, antibiotic free, organic, free-range, jersey, holstein, guernsey - blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Any monkey can sit around the house reciting spoon-fed information about anything. It's a whole 'nother thing to experience it and see it firsthand. It's how I learned about the products we use and it's how I want to impart our crew with their knowledge.
Having visited the farm, met the farmer, frolicked with the cows, toured the creamery and tasted the milks, I think it gives our crew a depth and understanding greater than merely reciting the label on a box of Horizon Organic Milk.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Kimmy and Lindsay working out the kinks.
It's been a long time coming and something I knew I should have done last week.
Today, I issued the order to kill our Chemex 24 Program. What we had once envisioned as the way to Chemex brew two servings of coffee at once had turned into a wild goose chase of poor quality, watery brews that just didn't satisfy. Different grind settings, pour amounts, pour times, brew times, stirring and more all resulted in just unsatisfactory coffee from a device that under 8 ounce and 12 ounce servings produced stellar results (depending on the coffee, of course).
We were a bit disappointed since Lindsay and Kimmy have been working so hard trying to make it work. Thanks though to Aaron Ultimo of Phildelphia's Ultimo Coffee for a Hail Mary phone call the other day in a desperate attempt to keep the Chemex 24 Program alive.
Farewell Chemex 24. Hello Chemex 12...
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
project hampden: ready and waiting...
Over the past ten years, I've built out three shops (the original Jays Shave Ice, the second Jays Shave Ice and the Spro Espresso Bar) - well, four if you count the refit of JSI One to open the OnoGrill, and project hampden has by far been the most difficult. From interior designer lameness to contractor flakiness to city permitting delays to phone line problems - if there was a hurdle to be made, it popped up somewhere along the way. Nothing is simple. Nothing is easy.
When we started to get the ball rolling at the end of May, I figured two months would be ample time to get things off the ground, and with any luck, we could open August 1st. Under that plan, I would hire a crew of baristas by the end of June, train all through July, open August 1st and operate for about a month before I had to jet off to host the Western Canadian Regional Barista Competition and instruct at the Expo Especiales in Ibague, Colombia. We would be rolling, I would fulfill my commitments and all would be well in the world.
Once upon a time, a good friend asked me if I thought he should go into business for himself. I told him no. No because he wanted too many guarantees. He wanted everything to be planned out. He wanted his eyes dotted and his tees crossed. I told him "no" because no matter how much you plan, it all goes to hell and then what are you gonna do? You're up to your teeth in the muck and there's no turning back. Screwed or swim. Better to be a salaried employee working the grind for The Man than to actually try to be "The Man." Too many variables. Too much risk.
Ask anyone in business and they'll tell you - you could write the best business plan in the history of the world, but it all gets chucked out the window the day you start business. The plan and the reality can diverge greatly and may never meet.
Which has been the case with project hampden. It's gone off the rails, full speed ahead, quite a number of times. Delay, delay, delay - that just seems to be the Order of the Day. The key is remain flexible and go with the flow. I could gnash my teeth, curse the Gods of Kobol and rant and rave about the house, but it does little good. I could get on the phone and scream bloody hell to the bureaucrats in City Hall, but it would do nothing more than cause them to like me less and delay the project further. My friend asking about business likes to throw in my face some of the stances I've taken in the past but fails to realize that this is why I said he wasn't ready for business: business takes flexibility and very thick skin.
Very thick skin because everyone and your mother (including my own) will cast their questions at you. They think you're crazy. That you're going to go down in a ball of flames. That this idea will never work and why don't you just follow Starbucks. Better yet, go work for Starbucks. Truth is, I'm a raving lunatic who is wholly unsuitable for employment - that's why I have to run my own company: no one will hire me.
But one of the most difficult parts of project hampden has been conveying my vision and sensibility for the project. I'm in the "coffee business" and everyone "knows" what a good coffeeshop is all about. It's all about Free Wi-Fi, couches, earth tones, walnut cabinets and either the Starbucks or "indie" coffeehouse design. What "coffeeshop" isn't about is refinement, luxury and fine dining. Hell, it's barely about hospitality much less fine dining and finesse.
Because of this, I've heard all kinds of "suggestions" from flourescent lights illuminating the awning to more calls for free wi-fi to more syrups to interior design proposals that looked like they sat in the Roland Park Starbucks and took notes. Lots of average to mediocre "suggestions" that it's maddening.
Then tell these same people that you're looking do something refined and with finesse and they think you're an insane lunatic who's unsuitable for employment elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the delays keep pushing the opening further back. From October 1st to November 1st to "sometime before the end of 2009." Each day delivers another obstacle, another delay. But, truth be told, it's a good thing. Truth be told: even if project hampden were completed, equipped and fully-stocked today, we wouldn't be ready to open tomorrow. In fact, we couldn't open tomorrow even if I wanted to and our bank account demanded it.
For the past month, our crew of barista candidates have been busy learning the basics of our craft. They've been cupping, tasting and practicing brew methods and slowly learning the finer points of espresso making, but they're not ready yet. Like fine wine, they need time to mature. To hone their skills, develop greater command over the techniques and develop a flow. They need to "feel it" and roll with it. To paraphrase Jon Lewis: they need to Let It Flow.
Right now, they're like Luke Skywalker on Dagoba with Yoda: learning and exploring, yet not ready to take on Darth Vader. But soon, they will be.
They will be. Sometime before the end of 2009...
Monday, November 02, 2009
Of course, back then I was shooting with a Canon EOS RebelXT that wasn't suitable for everyday shooting or a piece of crap Nikon LiteTouch point and shoot. That camera was the worst camera I ever owned. It couldn't lock focus, had terrible low light latitude and just was too damn slow in all aspects.
Since that time, I've acquired both a Canon G9 and Canon SD790is, which in addition to the Rebel is what has been fueling this blogs' images for the past couple of years.
Well, everything has gone to hell. A few months ago, the RebelXT decided to stop focusing so I sent that back to Canon CPS for a rebuild and haven't picked it up. Then, within a weeks' time both the screen on the SD790 broke, rendering it useless and the G9 just crapped out completely.
That G9 really is a pain in the butt because it freaked out and froze last October while visiting the Trinity Nuclear Site in New Mexico, forcing me to buy the SD790. Lame.
So at the moment, I am without a camera hence the iPhone images. Apologies, I am working on sourcing a new camera while I decide what to do about the G9.
Meanwhile I'm looking for a pocket-sized point and shoot with good resolution, good low light performance and quick focusing.
Better pictures will return because I don't like being bludgeoned by a lorry...
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Joy pours the first press of coffee brewed at project hampden while Jeremy, Rebecca and Kimmy wait to start the vacuum pot and Chemex brews.
Tonight, the very first cup of coffee was brewed at project hampden. A milestone.
With neighbors Ma Petite Shoe hosting the annual Hampden Halloween Costume Contest across the street, what better way to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood than by passing out candies for the children and coffee for the parents? With a bag of the Fazenda San Antonio Brazil from Hines/Origins Organic Coffee in tow, we lugged down to Hampden a setup to brew French Press, Chemex and Vac Pot for our soon-to-be customers.
Truth be told, I originally was only going to do french press at the event. It was our baristas who pushed for multiple brew methods to show off what we were going to be doing when we open. So, along came the Chemex and Vac Pot.
This Is It - Live.
As our team has been getting more comfortable with our methods and practices, I've been stepping back a little to let them run with things. They decided the equipment to bring, they setup and tore down and they did all the brewing and all of the talking. I just kinda hovered in the background in my Wranglers and cowboy boots doing my best Garth Brooks impression.
I have to say: I'm impressed. And proud. Our team greeted the people, talked with them about the coffee and the brew methods and were generally engaging. In essence, they were the kind of baristas that I hoped they would be - and not the typical, chip on the shoulder, pretentious, arrogant, hipster barista you typically find in the "Third Wave."
To be expected, there were a couple of missteps. Maybe a miscue in the brew or a lazy comment, but those were quickly corrected and we soldiered on. It was their first time in the field and I was impressed with their ability to engage the customer and really surprised at how passionately they spoke about the coffee and the brew methods.
More brewing coffee at dusk.
Their choice to bring the additional brew methods was colossal. One coffee three different ways. Now the future customer could taste the difference between methods. No place in Baltimore affords this luxury. Some took the coffee to go. Others stayed and lingered to chat. Some stayed and tried all three brews. Kids came and went. Spiderman, Batman, Scooby, Velma, Parrots, Michael Jackson, Butchers and more. Only two people asked for sugar and cream. Two. Out of maybe a hundred or so served? Not bad.
Most people tried the coffee as is, meaning black. In Towson, perhaps 25% of our customers drink coffee black. Tonight, about 98% of those who came to see us drank it black. I can only guess that it's due to their seeing our crew brewing the coffees, talking about the coffees, engaging the people and developing rapport. Developing comfort and trust with the customer, leading them to giving it a try without sugar and cream.
It's something that I stressed early on. Getting the customer to relax and trust us is key. With that trust, they'll give it a try. That's when we have to deliver - to bolster that trust given us.
It was just a tiny, first step tonight in front of project hampden. But I think it was a great step forward.
Congratulations to Kimmy, Jeremy, Rebecca, Joy and Stephanie for a job well done.