Saturday, October 28th, 2017

One of the best things about waking up at home instead of a hotel? The coffee doesn’t suck.

I don’t know how many hotels I’ve stayed in while I’ve been away on business trips these past three months — getting close to a dozen, I would think — but I can say without hesitation that the coffee they served at almost every one of them (except the Best Western in Hudson; good job, Hudson) was not coffee anybody should be proud of serving to the customers, even if it was free. And in particular, somebody ought to be hung for the coffee I tried to drink from the urn in the lobby at the Microtel in Rice Lake. I don’t know how you screw up coffee so badly it tastes like water used to rinse underwear & socks, other than actually using water you soaked socks & underwear in.

On the plus side, I’ve been to quite a few very nice little coffee shops in towns all over the state. I thought we here in Madison were spoiled for choices of cozy mom & pop coffee shops, but really they seem to be everywhere, and thank goodness for them because I don’t know how I would have survived these trips without them.

road trip FOREVER | 8:41 am CST
Category: business travel, coffee, food & drink, work
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Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

I’ve been on the road for a couple days in the service of the Great State of Wisconsin, which means that I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee until just this morning. The hotels we stay in on these trips are all the kind that serve a complimentary breakfast of dried cereal or make-your-own waffles, and the coffee they set out for us comes out of a great big stainless steel urn. I was very hopeful the first time I saw that. Although coffee that’s been stewing all morning in a great big urn does not always taste the best, it’s usually strong enough to strip the paint off the sides of a battleship. Alas, chain hotels have apparently figured out how to water down urn coffee so it wouldn’t wake up a light sleeper if you poured the whole thing on his head.

I’m a light sleeper, but I’d like a strong cup of coffee in the morning, preferably two. That’s just not happening, not at the hotel and not anywhere near the hotel. The off-ramp territory where chain hotels are built seems to be the last places on earth where Starbucks fears to tread. I don’t like the coffee Starbucks makes; it all tastes burned to me, but at least it’s strong. I’d trudge a quarter-mile on foot and gratefully slug back a cup of their French Roast if I could just get my hands on one, but no joy.

There’s usually a McDonald’s nearby, but I won’t set food in a McDonald’s again until after the apocalypse.

Which reminds me: Whatever happens, even if the zombie hoards are overrunning the city, do not resort to drinking the stuff that comes out of those toy coffee makers in hotel rooms. Not only is that stuff not coffee, it’s not drinkable. It may even be injurious to human health, but I’m not saying anyone should be forced to drink it just so we can find out.

javaless | 9:40 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, random idiocy, travel, work, yet another rant
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Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

All night Wednesday and into Thursday morning it rained two kinds of rain: normal rain and acorn rain. We were parked at a campsite under an oak tree, y’see, and it was autumn, so every time the wind came up even just a little bit, the roof of the camper was pelted by a hail of acorns. It was like trying to sleep inside a snare drum. And yet, we still managed to sleep somehow.

After checking out of the campground, we went back to Ashland to look for a place to get some breakfast. There’s a kind of trendy coffee shop in Ashland called Mix Sweet Shop. We knew it was trendy but we like trendy so we went there anyway, ordered some sticky sweet morning rolls and a couple big mugs of coffee. After filling our bellies and warming up on java, we both decided we’d have to give it rave reviews, just like all the other Yelpers, but at the same time we felt a little underdressed in our rumbled sweatshirts and blue jeans, like maybe we should have been wearing yoga pants or spandex running gear.

We had to spend one more night in the wild, and B wanted to make s’mores over a camp fire, so we stopped at a local co-op before leaving town to pick up picnic food, marshmallows and graham crackers. B was – how shall I say this without getting pelted by rotten cabbages? – a happy camper.

Then we went in search of more vineyards. And we found, oh, a few: Dana Campbell, Grizzly Peak, Thistlecroft, and Bella Fortuna – but they were all closed, apparently because it was too early in the morning or too late in the season. But when we pulled up in front of Weisinger vineyards they were just opening the doors to their tasting room, so we hung around there for a while, sampling their wine and buying a few bottles of the ones we liked best. Bonus points to Weisinger: They ship wine, and they don’t care where you bought it, so we dredged all the bottles out of the bilge of our camper and brought them inside, where they packed everything up, took down our address and promised us we’d get our wine delivered to our door. And we did, all in good shape, a little more than a week after.

Mount Shasta Brewing Weed CA

After that we hit the road and drove for a while, crossing over the border into California as far as the town of Weed before we stopped at the Mount Shasta Brewing Company to stretch our legs and maybe quaff a beer or two. Because it’s in the town of Weed, Mount Shasta has adopted the motto, “Try legal Weed,” which apparently attracted the attention of the feds and almost got them shut down until the story made national news and popular opinion swung in favor of the brewer. Now they put it on all their souvenir t-shirts and hats.

From there we went a bit further on to the Dunsmuir Brewing Works to get a bite to eat and another lovingly-crafted microbrew. We would never have found this place without GPS; it’s all but hidden in a small storefront building that looked like maybe it was once a gas station and still kinda looks a lot like it’s shut up and abandoned. Good thing we made the effort to find it, though. Their ploughman’s platter filled me up in the best way: salmon that was smoked in-house, sausage, shrimp, peppers, two kinds of cheese and a hot demibagette with butter. B had an elk burger, perfectly grilled medium rare. And, of course, beer.

It was getting late by the time we hit the road again, so we drove up to Lake Shasta to look for a camp site. We wanted a camp fire that night but the first place we stopped was way back in the woods & had no fire rings. The next place, Antlers RV Park, was in Shasta-Trinity National Park – still closed by the feds, remember? BUT it appeared to be open. We checked one more place that wasn’t as nice, then went back to Antlers after stopping at a gas station to fill up the tank and grab a bundle of firewood. It was open! There were four or five other campers there, and they said that before the rangers left, they could stay as long as they wanted. So we slipped thirty dollars under the door, picked out a nice camp site not too far from the bathroom (it pays to plan ahead) and built a roaring fire that burned long after the sun set. We had one bottle of wine set aside in the camper that we popped open and shared as dusk deepened into night and all the stars came out. Turn out that toasted marshmallows are delicious with Sangiovese.

California Day 7 | 8:13 pm CST
Category: beer, coffee, food & drink, restaurants, travel, vacation, wine | Tags: , , ,
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Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Let’s see, how does this work? Oh, yeah: Wake up too early, make coffee, cat on my lap, type up some drivel.

Mmmm, coffee. Gone back to making it drip. Still like my coffee gadgets, but drip is the way to go. That’s my official word on that. Take it to the bank. Tell ’em I said so.

Man, this granola is the best thing ever. I buy it in the bulk food section of the co-op. Supposed to be good for you. They sell lots of locally-produced, organically-grown food, but this looks like the kind of stuff that comes from a 55-gallon barrel shipped from China by container ship. Don’t care. Has a nutty, vanilla flavor that is now permanently associated in my brain with granola. All other granola tastes like gravel.

Cat is purring like a diesel engine. He can keep it going for hours, but if he starts to fade all I have to do is stroke his chin and he cranks the volume up to eleven again. He won’t purr for nothing. Got to give him a chin-rub, or at the very least let him climb in my lap. Did you know cats are the reason laps were invented? It’s true. If you have a lap, you need a cat.

wakey-wakey part mcmlxiv | 5:02 am CST
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Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

In spite of daylight savings time I was in bed by nine last night and couldn’t keep my eyes open past nine-thirty, so why am I awake at four o’clock this morning? Well, part of it is because we have cats, of course, but it’s also because I woke up gasping for air after my sinuses blocked up. I can’t blame the cats for that.

Wait, why can’t I? I can blame the cats for virtually anything. They’re defenseless! They can’t speak for themselves and there’s no one to speak for them! I can lay blame with impunity! They are guilty! Guilty, guilty, GUILTY! Bwah-hah-hah-hah!

Okay, the cat-blaming’s out of the way.

I made a pot of coffee, fired up the internet and started surfing. Ironically, caffeine turned out to be an unclogger of sinuses. After just a few sips I was able to take deep breaths again without being forced to gasp … and then I had to grab most of the kleenex out of a nearby box to wipe up the torrent of snot that was clogging me up until the caffeine, or something, set it loose. Rarely have I ever been so relieved and so disgusted at the same time.

Although I could finally breathe easy, going back to bed after I’ve had a cup of coffee would be pointless. It was an immutable fact of the universe that I was up for the day. There was no more shuteye in my future, only a shower and some breakfast instead. In the words of Peter Green, Oh Well.

ramblin | 5:03 am CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, sleeplessness | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

It’s four-thirty in the morning, and it’s time for some coffee, because what else are you going to do if you’re awake at four-thirty in the morning besides make coffee? Everything else in the day comes later. When it’s that early, coffee’s the only thing that matters.

Why am I out of bed at four-thirty in the morning? It was the cats again, natch. Nuff said about that.

I’m pretty sure My Darling B is lying awake in bed as I type these words. She’s much more stubborn than I am, although, if I may say so without sounding like I’m bragging, I was being pretty darned stubborn myself. It was two o’clock when I unceremoniously threw both cats out of the bedroom for violating the No Rambunctious Cats rule, and although I managed to doze off once or twice since then, I was never asleep long enough not to notice that B was tossing and turning in the darkness as well. By four o’clock I’d had enough of that — my own tossing and turning, I mean, not hers — and, grabbing the copy of Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters resting on my bedside table, I rolled out of bed and headed for the kitchen.

I’m using an old Sunbeam percolator to make coffee these days. About a week ago, while tending to my morning duties as the coffee steward of Our Humble O’Bode, I found that I’d let myself run out of paper filters for the pourover cone I customarily use. Whereas in any other house this would be a disaster, in our house it’s an opportunity for me to head for the basement vault and bring an antiquated coffee maker out of retirement.

I love antique coffee makers. Part of this passion is the neurotic result of my hoarding instinct: Humankind has devised so many various and unusual ways to make coffee, and I compulsively want to possess an example of each one of them. If I didn’t check my impulse to hoard coffee makers the way I hoard typewriters, we’d be tripping over them by now.

The biggest part of my love for coffee makers, though, comes from the sheer joy of rediscovering all those various and unusual ways of brewing a hot pot o’ joe. Whenever I end up wandering through the wreckage of a garage sale, I keep an eye open for vessels that appear to have no modern equivalent to any stove-top kitchen appliance in my experience. I don’t know how many times I’ve popped the lid off an innocent-looking jug and found plumbing inside that could only have meant it was made to brew coffee.

Finding the Sunbeam was like that, even though I had my suspicions almost from the moment I spotted what at first glance appeared to be a glass pitcher from across the room. As I closed in on it I could see that the glass body of the pitcher was mounted on a base made of Bakelite, and extricating it from the rest of the jetsam surrounding it on the shelf revealed a sleek Bakelite handle styled in space-age contours.

What seemed odd, at first, about this particular glass pitcher was that someone had incongruously left the basket of a coffee percolator inside it. It wouldn’t be out of the question, given the accumulation of detritus that crowded the shelves of that particular resale shop, to suppose that a passing customer jumbled together two so disparate kitchen items, but that turned out not to be the case. There was a hole in the bottom of the pitcher to stand the stem of the basket in, and a receptacle in the Bakelite base to plug in an electric cord. I’d never seen a glass-walled percolator before and was so wowed by it that I would’ve bought it even if it hadn’t been tagged at only five dollars. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how long I can stand beside it in the kitchen watching the coffee perk. I’ve done it before, and I did it again just this morning. What else was there to do?

With a freshly-brewed cup of mud on the armrest beside me, I curled up on the sofa and read several dozen pages of Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, while slowly sipping. When I finally felt as though I had the energy to do it, I picked up my laptop, carefully bookmarking Salinger and setting it to one side.

Our Humble O’Bode has been internetless since Sunday morning, when I discovered that the router box was ticking like a time bomb, and that all the green status lights on its face had gone out, replaced by a single red light. I unplugged it from the wall and plugged it back in, but the classic dodge of cycling power that usually fixes other computerized junk only made this problem worse, if it’s possible to make a broken router any more broken. In this case, the slow ticking noise it had been making accelerated from a slow waltz to a crazy-fast Irish jig. The red light was still on, and it still didn’t work, so I’m not sure it was any more broken than it was before I attempted the power cycle, but it was a lot more emphatic about being broken. Just to make sure, I unplugged it again and left it unplugged for about five minutes. When I restored power this time, the ticking was a nerve-racking buzz. I didn’t want to find out what hellish noise it would make if I tried another power cycle, so when I unplugged it a third time, it stayed unplugged.

So what have we been doing without the internet? Well, I nearly finished The New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle, just for starters. I can’t remember the last time I had the patience, much less the time to attempt that. It took just about all Sunday afternoon, but I’m still rather proud, if only because I twigged to the theme of the puzzle, “Last Name First,” when I figured out that “Item on a steel worker’s agenda” was “Weld Tuesday.” I solved two more like that before I got stuck on “Smarmy preprandial blessing.” It ended with “grace” but I couldn’t think of anybody with a last name that might also mean “smarmy.” My Darling B was sure it must be Grace Slick, but if “slick” is a synonym for “smarmy” it’s a meaning I’ve never encountered. Neither one of us could get any of the words that crossed through “slick” to check if it fit, so it remains an wild-ass guess, as far as I’m concerned. She’s still dead certain.

I so desperately wanted to know which Grace it was that the first thing I turned to when I got the next day’s issue of the Times was the answer to the previous day’s puzzle. Only it wasn’t. It was the answers to Friday’s puzzle. This must be a new meaning to the word “previous” that I wasn’t aware of up to now. I didn’t know until I could look it up on Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle this morning that My Darling B was RIGHT! Mea Culpa, B. I will never doubt you again.

Although I began this missive at four o’clock this morning, if a text of over fifteen hundred words can be called a missive (it can: I’m giddy with pleasure at being able to google anything again), it’s eight o’clock as I finish this up in a coffee shop on Washington Avenue, where they offer free wifi and there is an electrical outlet within arm’s reach of ever table. (The battery in my laptop went to fuel cell hell many moons ago.) The date is 12/12/12, which the state legislature has officially proclaimed “Aaron Rodgers Day” because what else have our state lawmakers got to do in these times of plenty and peace, right? Oh, dammit, did I leave my soap box at home? Okay, forget I said that.

Aaron Rodgers may have an official day proclaimed by the law of the land, but was he born on the twelfth day of December, so that his birthday falls on 12/12/12 this year? Well, I don’t know. But I doubt it. I can tell you who does, though, and was relaxing at the very moment he typed these last few words in a coffee shop enjoying his day off from work on his birthday. You’ll never have that, Aaron Rodgers.

P.S. I was sitting in the car in the driveway, waiting to drive My Darling B to work and mulling over the things I could spend the day doing, when it occurred to me that Wisconsin state driver’s licenses expire on the birthday of the license holder, and when did I get that thing, anyway? Was it four or five years ago? It would be just perfect, wouldn’t it, if I had to spend an hour or two in line at the DMV waiting to get my license renewed, wouldn’t it?

I dug my license out of my wallet with no small amount of trepidation. Guess which other official document issued by the state of Wisconsin, other than the official proclamation announcing Aaron Rodgers Day, has the date 12/12/12 on it?

up and at ’em | 8:21 am CST
Category: coffee, current events, daily drivel, food & drink, play, sleeplessness
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Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Our electric kettle sprang a leak, so My Darling B dug the old stove top kettle out of storage and I washed it up last night in preparation for making this morning’s pot o’ joe.

From what I could remember, it took a long time to boil water in a kettle on the stove top. My memory’s a little dicey, though, so after cleaning the kettle, I filled it with water, set it on a burner and cranked the heat all the way up. It took more than ten minutes before wisps of steam began to snake out of the spout. That’s way too long. I’m half-asleep when I start making coffee in the morning and will likely fall all the way back into deep sleep in ten minutes.

I dumped the water out and began again, this time measuring how much water I’d need to fill the carafe that holds our morning dose of coffee. I think it holds a little less than a quart, but that’s only a guess because, no matter how carefully I poured water from the measuring cup into the carafe, most of the water did that thing where it ran backwards down the side of the cup, over the lip of the sink and down my leg. I tried two different measuring cups, but they both did the same thing.

I could pour the water with a minimum of sloppage if I filled the measuring cup only halfway to the one-pint mark. Doing that, I could get what I thought was three pints into the kettle (dribble dribble), which boiled in about eight minutes. Much better. I can stay awake that long.

Weirdly, when I repeated the process of measuring out three pints of water this and brought it to boiling, it wasn’t enough to fill up the carafe. I couldn’t possibly have boiled off more than a pint, so I don’t even know. Maybe I hallucinated the previous evening’s kitchen experiment. Maybe I was too sloppy. Maybe I just can’t count. Whatever, I managed to get another pint boiling in just a couple minutes and fill the carafe so there was happiness for coffee drinkers at Out Humble O’Bode today.

kettle | 6:40 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

image of County Clare Inn in Milwaukee WIJust a bit more drivel about Milwaukee and then I’m done for a while, I promise.

Almost as good as being in the audience for one of our favorite radio shows was having the great good luck to find a place to stay for the night as comfy and warm as the County Clare Inn. I could say good things about this place from now until the cows come home and, if I didn’t stop for breath and maybe a bite to eat, I might get them all said, but it would be close.

First off, the location is great: It’s right in the middle of old Milwaukee, a short walk from the river, a short taxi ride from the UW-Milwaukee campus. We might even be able to hoof it all the way to the Modern Art Museum from there if the weather was good and we were feeling our oats. If all we were looking for was a place to stay the night and maybe take a walk in the morning, though, the tree-lined streets around the inn are quiet and some of the houses and buildings are really very eye-catching.

Then, there’s the pub downstairs: Irish-themed, obviously. I don’t usually go for themed bars chock full ‘o kitschy knick-knacks, but they managed to keep the kitsch under control. It isn’t spilling out of every nook and cranny. We could hold a conversation without shouting at one another; the background music stayed in the background. That should always get high marks. There was just one television screen, it was off to the side and the sound was muted. More high marks.

And the service is wonderful. We came back from the taping a little after eleven o’clock and, because we hadn’t eaten since two, My Darling B was feeling a little peckish. I could’ve used a snack myself, but we figured the kitchen wasn’t serving any longer so I asked the bartender where we could get a bite to eat. He helpfully pointed out there was a place down the block, then added, “You could always order off our bar menu, too,” and handed me a copy. Smooth.

B got the hummus plate, figuring it would be a pita sliced into eighths with a dab of hummus and maybe a little couscous on the side. Wrong. It was enough pita and hummus to feed us both. Not knowing that, I ordered a plate of tater tots myself, figuring that would make up enough of a bedtime snack to hold us both over. Well, we both went to bed sufficiently serensified that night, I can assure you.

Saving the best for last, there’s the room. We’ve been to a few places in all corners of the world; fallen into fleabag flophouses and lucked into sumptuous suites with luxury amenities that were probably all but wasted on us. We weren’t expecting so very much from an inn smack in the middle of town that charged just a hundred fifty bucks a night, but I’m pleased to say the accommodations exceeded our expectations in every way. The room was much larger than it had any right to be. The bedroom and the bath were all together in the same room, but separated by a permanent screen with the toilet and sink off to one side, the shower and whirlpool bath off to the other. B cherished every minute of her Sunday-morning soak in that tub.

Finally, we got two tickets to breakfast with the price of our room, a nice little perk. They had an eye-popping spread laid out when we came down in the morning. Two short-order cooks were making omelets to order on a row of portable gas stoves. We put in our order with them, then grabbed a complimentary newspaper off the stack in the dining room as we went in to pick out a table by the window and whiled away the better part of two hours eating, sipping coffee and flipping through the news.

When the staff began to pack away the buffet and bus the tables, we thought we might have overstayed our welcome, but just then a guy came by with a pot of coffee and offered to warm up our cups. B asked how long the dining room was open.

“It’s the weekend,” he said. “Stay as long as you like.” Then he went off to see if anyone else wanted coffee.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day – Part 3 | 12:54 pm CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, radio, restaurants, travel, vacation | Tags:
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Friday, October 12th, 2012

I don’t know how many times I played this scenario out in my head: I set the coffee cup on the arm of the sofa, I sit down on the edge of the sofa, I prop the laptop on my knees, I begin to settle back, making myself comfortable, the cat decides to make himself comfortable by climbing into my lap, I try to shoo him off, my elbow jogs the arm of the sofa, the coffee cup tips and falls, and coffee, cat, computer and cup go every which way.

As I’ve seen these events play out over and over in the part of my brain that’s always cooking up worst-case scenarios, I’ve done everything I can think of to avoid this catastrophe (sorry, unavoidable pun) and, until this morning, was entirely successful. When it finally went wrong, though, it went wrong exactly the way I thought it would. I’m not sure whether to be impressed with how totally right I was, or depressed because the universe would screw with me like that.

catastrophe | 11:55 am CST
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Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Seems like I am just not going to be awake today. Funky weird sleep last night, kept waking up, would lay awake for at least one gong of the clock in the front room, then fall into dreamless sleep only to wake up again.

The common factor seemed to be a bubble of gas big enough to light all the homes in Cincinnati, if it were properly harnessed. And that, my friends, is the first time I’ve ever spelled “Cincinnati” right without looking it up. Let’s make it The Word Of The Day.

Lucky for me there’s coffee. Lovely, lovely coffee, hot and chocolaty. There’s some in front of me right now. And there will have to continue to be some in front of me all day. Think of me when you quaff a cuppa joe on your break today.

gonna coffee all day | 5:52 am CST
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Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

A lone figure stumbles into the dining room, feeling his way through the darkness toward the far corner of the room to the coffee shrine. Hooking a finger through the handle of the electric kettle, he shuffles across the room to the kitchen sink, opens the faucet and stands waiting with a finger hanging in the steam of water, jerking it away when it’s too hot to stand. He fills the kettle.

Is it still a kettle if it’s made of plastic? he wonders. It’s the first coherent thought of the day to pass through his brain.

The kettle fits on a base that connects it to the electric cord plugged into the wall socket. The water begins to pop and hiss as the kettle warms up.

He flips through the stack of paper filters, trying to get hold of just one. How can this possibly be as hard as it is? he wonders. How can the top filter always be stuck to the one underneath? He does a lot of wondering first thing in the morning.

Holding a filter, he uses his free hand to scoop coffee beans into the grinder. He counts one, two, three, four scoops of beans. There used to be a reason to measure out exactly four scoops, but now it’s just muscle memory. He shuffles back to the kitchen to set the filter and the grinder on the counter top.

He dozes off while washing out the carafe and doesn’t wake up until he’s drying it off with a dish towel. Dirty or clean? he wonders, then decides that, just this one time, it doesn’t matter so much.

Grinding the coffee wakes him up. It’s more physical activity than he really wants to do at this early hour, but as much as he’d rather be flat on his back in bed, he wants a hot pot o’ joe even more. The water in the kettle comes to a boil just as he finishes grinding the last of the beans. He dumps the grinds into the paper filter that somebody – did he do that? – has already loaded into the drip cone on top of the carafe, fetches the kettle from the coffee shrine, and begins to pour piping hot water through the cone. From below he can hear the satisfying drip, drip, dribble as the aroma of life itself fills the room.

ritual | 6:18 am CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, play, story time
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Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

image of a plastic reusable coffee filterAs loyal readers of this blog may have noticed, I have employed many, many different gadgets in many ways as I’ve tried to figure out how to make the perfect cup of home-brewed coffee.

(If you’re my brother, the perfect cup of coffee is made this way: Heap the filter basket of a Mr. Coffee with all the freshly-ground coffee beans it will hold. Drink the rocket fuel that is produced. Here’s a video of Pete’s coffee maker turning out a batch of the stuff he calls coffee. Yes, it really makes that warning noise. Actually, all coffee makers have that warning siren on them but you never hear it because you don’t make coffee the way my brother does.)

As much as I like gadgets, the making of coffee doesn’t seem to lend itself to gadgetry. The simple method of pouring boiled water over a heap of freshly-ground beans in a paper filter has produced the best cup of home-brewed coffee I’ve made to date. But I’m always open to new ideas.

One I came across recently was a reusable filter. It seemed like a good idea because it had a rigid plastic frame and four tabs around the top that would suspend it so it would not press up against the walls of the drip cone. If hot water could pass through the coffee grounds and out the sides of the filter, instead of being forced to pass through the one teeny-tiny spot in the bottom of a paper filter that’s right over the exit hole in the drip cone, that would perhaps bring more of the flavor out of the bean. Also, maybe I wouldn’t have to wait so long for a cup of coffee.

I got to try it out this morning and I was right about the second part. I didn’t have to wait nearly as long. The coffee flowed through the grounds, out the filter and drained through the drip cone into the carafe almost as fast as I could pour it. I was pretty happy about that, but my pleasure lasted only up to the point when I took a sip from my coffee mug. Weirdly, the coffee that was made without the use of a paper filter tasted an awful lot like wet newspaper, very weak and with none of the chocolaty goodness that marks the flavor of a really tasty cuppa joe. My guess is that the tiny little hole in the bottom of the drip cone gives the hot water just enough time to extract all those yummy flavors from the grounds.

Whatever the reason, the reusable coffee filter flunks out and I won’t be using it again, good news for My Darling B, who uses these same filters when straining infusions.

coffee fail | 8:55 am CST
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Monday, July 16th, 2012

Some kind of sticky crud forms on the lip of my coffee cup as I sip from it first thing in the morning. I usually just lick my thumb to wet it and wipe the crud off. This morning, though, I paused just long enough to wonder: What is that crud?

The obvious answer is: Coffee. There must be little bits of something in the water that makes it coffee, and those little bits are somehow congealing on the lip of the cup as I drink. No idea why. Might be wrong about that.

The only other answer I could think of was: Might be bits of sloughed-off skin from my lip adhering to the scalding-hot rim of the cup. That’d be pretty gross. I gotta stop thinking about shit like that.

crud | 7:19 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Thursday, July 12th, 2012

I’m wide awake, and I don’t know why. Well, I sort of know why. I think it might have something to do with the air conditioning running all night. It doesn’t usually bother me but after two o’clock last night I woke up every freaking time it kicked in until I got up at three and turned it off, but by that time it was too late. I was already wide awake. Laid in bed for another thirty minutes but didn’t feel the least bit sleepy.

Also, I was passing a lot of gas. I don’t know what I ate or drank that made me so gassy but there I was, tooting like a foghorn. Fun fact about me: Farting wakes me up. Really. I have to wake up to do it. I’m pretty sure My Darling B will disagree with me on that one, because she thinks I’m asleep when I’m gassing her out of the room. If only she knew. Mwa-hah-hah-hah!

So, not being able to sleep, I got up and brewed a pot of coffee. Seemed like the sensible thing to do. If you’ve got to be up, you might as well be as up as you can get, right? I’ve been brewing some kick-ass coffee lately, by the way. My Darling B bought me a sack of dark-roasted coffee beans as a present for going through with my colonoscopy because that’s just how kind and considerate she is. She doesn’t like dark-roasted, but I’ve been mixing them half-and-half with lightly roasted beans to moderate the dark stuff and the joe’s been coming out just great! I could drink it all day. My eyes would be fluttering and I probably wouldn’t make any sense when I talked, but I really could drink it all day if the side effects weren’t a consideration.

And then I fed the cats. They were crowding around my feet to get me to feed them. How tripping me so I’ll fall and break my face gets them fed is one of those mysteries of the universe that may never be solved.

tripped | 4:35 am CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, Farts & Farting, food & drink, play, sleeplessness
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Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

CAFFEINE PANIC!

My Darling B drank off the last of the pot o’ java I brewed this morning and went to make more at about nine-thirty. That’s what we do on mornings we have off from work: Drink too much coffee and lay around in our pajamas until ten or eleven o’clock.

So when B put the kettle on, then flipped open the latch-top mason jar to scoop some beans into the grinder and found there were no beans at all in there, the shout went out: “There’s no coffee!”

I’m pretty sure we could have gone without it, but I put on my trousers anyway and hauled ass down to Fraboni’s, an Italian grocery store just two blocks from our house. I have never been able to figure out why Fraboni’s is there. Monona is a bedroom community more than a neighborhood, by which I mean it’s all houses and apartment buildings; the few stores we have are chains like Walgreen’s and Copp’s. I wouldn’t think there are enough people here who consider themselves Italian to support a specialty store like Fraboni’s, but it’s been there for years, and it’s right behind an Italian restaurant, so what do I know?

And I guess Italians drink a lot of espresso, but they don’t seem to be especially into coffee, or at least not enough to look for beans at Fraboni’s, so I was out of luck there. Fortunately there’s Ken’s Deli right across the street, where I could get a half-pound of chain store coffee. B breathed an audible sigh of relief when I walked in the door with it, then hovered by the kitchen counter as the cone filter dripped its last. Coffee panic over.

hey joe | 10:09 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Monday, March 26th, 2012

And, in the blink of an eye, the weekend was over.

For the first time in months we slept in late Saturday morning – didn’t get out of bed until almost eight o’clock! What a couple of hedonists we can be! After we’d cleared the cobwebs from our heads with a couple cups of coffee, we went to Crema Cafe, a local coffee house, for brunch and some more coffee. I’d never been before – well, years ago I had, but it had a different name then and was a lot smaller. Whoever is running the place now managed to buy up the place next door, knock out the wall and make a very cozy little cafe that serves quite a tasty fungus scramble.

After we got home, I went into brewing mode: Looked up a recipe on the web for a basic red ale, made a list, and hit the road to Brew & Grow, the local brewing supplies store. And, because it’s a natural law that all the trips I make for supplies have to come in twos, I made another trip back about a half-hour later when I was unpacking my supplies and realized I’d forgotten to buy the yeast. Can’t make beer without yeast.

I boiled up the brew on the patio with a beer in hand while B pulled weeds in her garden. Her hobby: Pulling weeds in the hot sun. My hobby: Drinking beer. That, in a nutshell, is why I don’t garden.

But I help her garden from time to time. Yesterday, we were both tearing down the chicken wire fence, digging trenches between the fence posts and tacking up fresh, new fencing, made of galvanized hardware cloth this time. We meant to buy galvanized chicken wire last time, but we must not have been paying attention on one of the trips we made to the store because about half of it rusted away, leaving gaping holes big enough for black bears to amble through. I double- and triple-checked the labels on the hardware cloth to make sure it was all galvanized, so rust shouldn’t be a problem this time.

Finally, yesterday afternoon I grilled burgers. And that was the weekend.

blink | 5:59 am CST
Category: beer, coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, garden, hobby, homebrewing, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Monday, January 16th, 2012

I broke my new coffee toy this morning. I caught a bad case of butter fingers while I was washing the dishes and dropped a cocktail shaker into the dish pan which, unfortunately, was where the upper globe of the vacuum coffee maker was waiting to be washed off. Caved in one whole side of the damned thing. “Shit!” I barked, “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Because it’s important to cuss when something like this happens. I don’t know why, but it is. Scared the hell out of B, though. She thought I cut myself, or worse, and ran over to help, but when she saw what had happened she was appropriately sympathetic.

I was just about in tears. I’d found that coffee maker within a week of starting a search for it. The glass ones usually go for eighty bucks or more, but I’d managed to snag it for just forty dollars. I figured I’d be able to find a replacement but that it would take a few weeks. As luck would have it, though, a quick search on e-bay found not one, but two people selling just the globe at very reasonable prices, so I’ve got a bid in on one and I’m watching the other. I might even buy them both, now that I’m dropping things.

crash | 5:13 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

My newest coffee-making gadget, a coffee siphon, came in the mail today. After cleaning it up I couldn’t just let it sit there, so I loaded it up with a couple scoops of freshly-ground coffee, put it on the front burner, cranked up the heat and kept one eye on it while My Darling B and I played a couple rounds of Boggle.

I suck at Boggle. All those letters, and what do I spell? The. And. But. Too. It’s maddening, but all I can see are three-letter words. Four letters, when there’s an S on the board that I can make plurals with. Meanwhile, everyone else is spelling words like “constabulary,” “mitosis,” and “disingenuous.” Paradoxically, I love the game. I’ve played it for hours and enjoyed it, even while I was scoring a measly three points each round. Though it may be getting late, I’ll grab my pen and paper as soon as someone suggests, “One more round?” I can’t explain it.

My fledgling skill with the coffee siphon turned out a passable cup o’ joe, but I need to work on it. It’s an old-fashioned double-bubble coffee maker* that squeezes hot water from the coffee pot on the burner up into a glass bowl filled with coffee grounds, where the java brews. The water doesn’t really get siphoned out of the pot. It’s the steam from the boiling water that does the work of pushing the water up a short tube into the upper bowl and keeps it there while the brewing gets done. When you turn off the heat and the water stops boiling, there’s not enough expanding gas in the pot to hold up the coffee any longer, so it drops back down the tube into the pot, and voila! Coffee.

I ground the beans a little too fine for this first pot and we ended up playing about a dozen rounds of Boggle waiting for the coffee to drip past the grounds that were clogging up the filter in the top of the tube. The good people at Coffee Geek say that a longer brew makes a stronger cup of coffee, but there’s a delicate balance between a need for caffeine and a ridiculously long wait. Besides, we weren’t really in it for the jitters. I was just playing around. As soon as we had enough to fill a couple of coffee cups, we tried it and left the rest to drain ever. So. Slowly.

*In case you clicked on the link to see what the coffee maker looked like, I borrowed an image from the internets. That’s not my coffee maker, but I sure wish it was, just so I could say I have a Vaculator!

vaculator, franken puss | 9:20 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Breakfast: A cup of coffee, and another cup of coffee. And I’m fine with that because I’ve been eating nonstop since last Friday. It’s time to stop. I’ve eaten so much food in the past three days that I’m pretty sure I won’t have to eat again until maybe next week. Oh, wait. My Darling B is cooking a duck this weekend for New Year’s, so I have until Saturday to fast. Better make another pot of coffee.

One of the women I work with was telling me the other day that she used to drink ten pots of coffee a day, and she got a little mad at me when I ran the bullshit flag up the pole. But who wouldn’t? I had to, I really did. So she counted them off on her fingers: She said she drank a pot of coffee at home while she was getting ready for work. I’ve heard a few people say they started their day by drinking a pot of coffee. That seems plausible. Not exactly healthy, but plausible. I wouldn’t do it myself, even though I brew pretty mild coffee. The way my brother brews coffee, a whole pot would kill almost anybody. But if you didn’t do that, I suppose you could drink a whole pot right after getting out of bed.

Then, she said, she started another pot of coffee as soon as she got to work. That was back in the good old days when they used to let people keep coffee makers right on their desks. Just about every desk had a great big ash tray back then, too, with at least one lit cigarette balanced on the edge. She drank the whole pot before her morning break, she said, then started another pot after she came back from her break and drank that off before lunch.

She drank another pot with her lunch. At this point in her story I pictured her with her lips wrapped around the mouth of a beer bong filled with coffee. Would that even work, or would it scald you so bad that no ordinary human being would be able to suck it down? No matter. I wasn’t imagining an ordinary human being. If she had developed a tolerance for that much caffeine, it would probably maker her numb to even the most traumatic injury.

She drank another pot of coffee between lunch and her afternoon break, and on most days she drank another pot of coffee between her afternoon break and quitting time.

“Okay, that’s not ten pots of coffee, that’s really more like seven or eight,” she said, “but I drank a lot of coffee. And then one morning I woke up and I thought about making myself a pot of coffee and I really didn’t want to. And I haven’t drunk coffee since. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t drink it any more.”

“I know why,” I said. “That was your body telling you that you were gonna die if you kept drinking seven pots of coffee a day!”

pots | 9:03 am CST
Category: coffee, coworkers, food & drink, play, work
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Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I bought a coffee pot from a guy on e-bay. Well, no, wait. If I say I’ve bought a coffee pot, you might assume I gave the guy money and he sent me a coffee pot. You might even assume I now possess a coffee pot. I do not and, as far as I know, he did not. So let me start over:

I saw a coffee pot on e-bay that I wanted, so I bid on it, and won, and paid the seller. Then I did the UPS equivalent of waiting by the mail box – every evening after supper, I punched the tracking number into the UPS web site to see where my coffee pot was. The first time I checked, UPS told me the label had been printed but they still hadn’t taken delivery of the package. The next evening, same thing. And the next evening. And the next.

On the day after the seller said I could expect to take delivery of the coffee pot, I logged in to e-bay and asked the seller something like, Hi, I bought a coffee pot from you last week and I still don’t have it. He answered (the typos are all his):

I shipped it
On the 28th of sept contact ups thank you and I’m sorry for any inconvienence ups has caused u

If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear he was saying, “Oh hey, sorry UPS screwed up, sucks to be you, IT’S NOT MY FAULT!”

But I figured, give the man the benefit of the doubt; maybe he really did send it and the UPS tracking system just doesn’t realize it’s out there. That could happen, right? Sure, it could.

My Darling B, who isn’t the kind of obtuse, delusional goober I am, took matters into her own hands and contacted UPS customer service to find out what she could. While I was sitting on my hands, they told her that, although a label was printed by the seller on September 28th, UPS never took delivery of the package.

Three or four days after I was supposed to have my coffee pot, I wrote back to the seller:

“I contacted UPS and they told me they received electronic transmission of package data from the shipper on Sept 29th, but the package was not physically picked up from the shipper’s location. Please let me know whether you intend to ship the item, or refund my money.”

And then, just to cover my bases, I opened a case file with e-bay. I had no idea whether that would be worth my time or not, but I wanted it on record that I was working out this little problem with the seller. But that’s not the way the seller saw it:

I already told u this is ups’ fault I shipped it for sure y would I lie now ur just blowing things outs proportion I’m trying to make a living and support my kids and ur trying to destroy my ebay account by opening cases for no reason we could have resolved this ourselves

Dude. A little punctuation? And what’s with the leet speak? Your signature block says, “Sent from my smart phone.” How smart can it be if it doesn’t help you spell “you’re” correctly?

I never called him a liar, and I wasn’t interested in destroying his e-bay account. I just wanted my new coffee toy. “I don’t see why this can’t be resolved,” I wrote back. ”It should be a very simple matter for you to contact UPS, show them your receipt and get them to find out what happened to the item after they took delivery from you.”

His answer:

Well I printed the label online And in my small town the ups store doesn’t open till 430 pm to 630 pm but the doors are always open so I just drop the pakages off and never have a problem I guess I will probably end up having to give u a refund I was just trying to wait and see if it was gonna come or not u didn’t have to open a case so abruptly I was responding and trying to help resolve the problem when u open a case on someone it goes against their performance and eligability for top rated seller I sell a lot of different items ranging from $10 to $2000 sometimes and have not nor do I intend to rip anyone off for a measily 20 bucks I just wish that in the future u learn to give the seller a chance before taking to extremes

At this point My Darling B lost her patience with Mister Measily 20 Bucks and answered: “I think the best way to resolve this is for you to refund my payment, including shipping charges.” A “measily” twenty bucks must have been more than he was willing to part with because we haven’t heard from him since. I think we’ll give him until Friday before we torpedo his flawless 100% e-bay rating with an unsatisfactory review.

measly 20 bucks | 6:34 pm CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, story time
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Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Bleary-eyed, I staggered into Java Cat, the coffee shop at the very top of Monona Avenue, at seven-thirty this morning. I had stumbled in my duties as the maker of the coffee and allowed our home supply of beans to run out so, for my penance this morning, I rolled out of bed into a pair of trousers and hit the road almost before I had started thinking, certainly before I could see anything. I had to navigate my way up the road completely by feel until my eyes stopped tearing up and I could see more than a blur.

I could have made a quick, fifteen-minute trip to the corner grocery store to get the beans, but I’d much rather spend my money at a local merchant’s place than at a corporate chain store. I guess that sounds snotty but I don’t care. The people who own and operate Java Cat live right here in Madison. Chain stores can blah blah blah all they want about giving back to the community, but when the owner of the store is part of the community it means a little more to me, whether or not that makes sense. Thank you, I’ll get down off my soap box now.

There were only two people on the counter but one of them was working the drive-up window, leaving the other to serve walk-ins. There were just two people ahead of me, and the one at the front of the line was paying as I walked in, so I felt pretty good about my chances for getting out of there in less than five minutes. I remind the reader that, because of the very early hour, my brain cell had not even begun to fire at a frequency that would support rational thought. Had I been capable of putting two and two together, I would have recalled how long it takes to prepare a pair of double-shot ultra creamy venti caramel lattes and I would have more accurately calculated my time at something like ten minutes. Such is my life.

The young lady at the counter, a woman wearing many many piercings and only tight-fitting clothes so black that light itself could not escape from them, got busy loading ground beans into the latte machine before she commenced to pulling levers and boiling milk, while the woman at the window, who wore a tattoo like a cap on her bald head that would probably take a whole book written by Ray Bradbury to explain, gave all her attention to the long line of cars in the parking lot. This went on long enough for me to fall asleep standing up at least twice, but I was already half-asleep when I walked in, so my ability to stand in line was handicapped from the start.

My somnambulism was the prime reason I was taken completely by surprise by the woman with the tattooed head when she turned away from the window and announced she could help the next person in line, namely yours truly. If I had to name another reason, it might have been her smile, which was warm enough to melt all the frozen moons of Saturn. I don’t know why, but I harbor an assumption, unfair I suppose, that tattooed people are generally gruff and grumbly. She was neither. When I slid the bag of coffee beans I wanted across the counter, she very thoughtfully asked if I wanted them ground, and when I said no, thanks, she added that I was entitled to a free cup of coffee with the purchase of a bag of beans. That woke me up.

“I … I get free coffee? Right now?

Her smile rays brightened by an order of magnitude as she answered, “Yes. Would you like the house blend, Wake The Dead, or Arriva?”

I sank to one bended knee and answered, “I want to marry you!” Or I would have, if I weren’t already married to the perfect woman, but I am, and I am so monogamous you couldn’t turn me with a pipe wrench, so instead I got a grip on myself, asked her for a cup of Wake The Dead, my favorite roast from the Just Coffee Cooperative (another local merchant – ahem!) and glowingly took it from her, a gift the likes I have not received from a stranger in many moons. How does one even begin to put a value on the gift of free coffee? I can’t fathom it, not even after my brain cell fires fast enough to cast an incandescent light on the idea.

And that’s my morning so far. How’s yours?

wakey-wakey | 9:51 am CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, play, story time
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Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I have no idea how much coffee I ground this morning. I usually scoop four tablespoons of coffee beans into the grinder but, right after I closed up and just before I started cranking it, I had that moment of doubt you get when you’re counting things and it’s very important that you get the right number. As everybody knows, the more important it is that you get the right number, the less confident you are that you have, in fact, the right number. Did I measure four or five scoops? I was pretty sure it was four, but for some reason I had the feeling it might have been five. It didn’t help that I was right at the bottom of the jar. I didn’t want to waste the few beans that were left down there, so I scooped them up, too, and threw them in. Then, the moment of doubt. Was it four or five? Five wouldn’t have ruined the coffee, it’s just that I normally use four. Five or four? Oh, for shit’s sake, it’s only coffee. Turn the damn crank.

scoop | 9:01 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Thursday, May 19th, 2011

It was really pleasant waking up this morning, knowing that I didn’t have to get out of bed right away to jump in the shower and start getting ready for work, then getting out of bed anyway and doing whatever the hell I wanted. I made this ordinary weekend into a hyperextended super-weekend by taking off from work today and tomorrow, using the prorated vacation time I earned but couldn’t touch until I finished my probationary period at the office. Bliss!

And I’m putting it to good use so far, by which I mean I’ve spent the past hour reading web comics and looking at silly pictures on the internet while I drink coffee and listen to cocktail-lounge music on Pandora. I’m shooting for total awesomeness this weekend, and nothing’s going to stop me. Don’t even try.

off | 7:10 am CST
Category: coffee, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, play, vacation, work | Tags:
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Sunday, May 1st, 2011

I froze my ass off today. Really. I have no ass.

I sat in line with My Darling B – stood, for a while, but mostly sat, so I’m defaulting to that – for five hours this morning to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest. The skies were clear, the day was sunny, the temps were in the low fifties. Wouldn’t have been a bad day at all to sit in a lawn chair all morning reading or playing cards or otherwise whiling away the time as we waited for the doors to open. When the wind wasn’t blowing it wasn’t a bad day, but the wind was blowing more than it wasn’t, and it was blowing hard. No gentle breeze, this wind made reading a book difficult, reading the Sunday paper impossible (I still haven’t gotten around to reading it), and the only card game we might have played would have been Fifty-Two Pickup. We could have played that game just once. And it sapped every bit of warmth, right down to the marrow of my bones, out of me and My Darling B in just an hour, maybe less, so the other four hours we were technically cold enough to be dead, had anybody with medical training checked, which thankfully never happened or I’d be in a body bag at the morgue right now.

Why would we wait in line for so long, risking death by hypothermia, for tickets to a beerfest? Ah, this is no mere beerfest. This is the beerfest, the Great Taste of the Midwest, tickets for which only the blessed and the saved can get hold of. The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild want to keep the festival to a manageable size, so they sell just 6,000 tickets to the event each year, 3,000 by mail and 3,000 at various retail outlets across Madison. The manner by which they sell the tickets is so arcane that the uninitiated have almost no chance of getting in.

The mail-order tickets, for instance, are sold by lottery. You must mail in your request on a certain date. Requests that are postmarked on any other day are sent back. They sell just two tickets to each person. The orders that are postmarked on the correct day are thrown into a hat (the biggest hat in the world, I’m told; a fedora, in case anybody’s asking) and 1,500 letters are drawn at random. The rest are sent back to the unlucky ones who then scour Craigslist hoping that someone will have a change of plans or who bought an extra for a friend who can no longer make it. There may be a few scalpers among ticket buyers to the Great Taste, but I’ll bet a six-pack of my favorite Hinterland brew there are darned few.

The sale of 600 tickets at Star Liquor on Willy Street opens at twelve o’clock promptly, and people start lining up to buy them the night before. No, really. People camp out overnight to get hold of a couple tickets to this event, that’s how devout they are about this enterprise. We are not that devout. We didn’t get in line the night before, or even before sunrise this morning; we showed up at about eight o’clock, an hour earlier than we did last year because we just barely got there under the cutoff. How did we know we cut it so close? Because there’s a guy at the end of the line helpfully counting noses. Anybody in line after Standee Number Three-Hundred was hoping against hope that at least some of the people ahead of them were not buying two tickets each. That’s got to be a nail-biter.

This year, getting in line an hour earlier, we were just under the wire again. I guess that means next year we’ll have to show up at seven. *sigh*

To make the wait as pleasant as possible we brought along camp chairs, a couple of books (I brought along a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, a novel I’d started only the day before, figuring it would keep me plenty busy; little did I know. In two hours I managed to bull my way through twelve pages, so dense was the text. At this rate, I won’t finish until Christmas) and lunch. We did not bring winter sleeping bags. If only the day had not appeared to be so warm and inviting, we might have wrapped ourselves in thick, quilted flannel and kept ourselves toasty warm. But no. That would not have been consonant with the wishes of The Great Cosmic F.U.

To stave off complete and total conversion to human Pop-sicles we took turns walking to a local grocery store. I made two trips to a bakery, first to get scones, then to refill my coffee mug. It helped a bit, especially the hot coffee, but eventually I was completely numb from the tips of my fingers all the way up to the wrist. My lips were numb and I thought they were probably corpse-blue, too, but nobody said anything so maybe they weren’t.

I started packing up the camp chairs about twenty minutes before twelve and, not two minutes later, the line lurched forward in the first of many accordion-like compressions that eventually took us all the way to within a few paces of the corner of Few Street and Willy Street. If anything, I felt even colder from here to the very doorstep of Star Liquor. Most of the wait was in the shade, and there was some kind of freak weather pattern whipping the wind up to near-tornadic strength in the parking lot next to Star Liquor where the line snaked up to the side entrance. B kept pressing herself close against me so I can only assume she felt at least as cold as I did. My lips were too numb for me to form intelligible words, so I couldn’t ask her.

A few minutes past one o’clock we finally walked out of the store with tickets in hand, grinning like idiots. Once home, I made a big pot of hot coffee at the request of My Darling B, who curled up on the sofa with a steaming hot mug o’ java, wrapped up in quilts, where she stayed for at least an hour, slowing thawing out.

Hypothermic | 5:30 pm CST
Category: beer, books, coffee, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Monday, April 25th, 2011

Thoughts that went through my head at 4:30 a.m. after the cat woke me up from a sound sleep by dancing across the bed several times:

Obviously, the first thought was, Aww, dammit! What time is it? Feeling around the top of my bedside bookstand, my fingers found the flap that covers the bright green clock face, lifted it up and read the time, which led to the next thought:

Angel of God, prithee smite mine cat with thy rod and thy staff, repeatedly, until she pesters me no more, amen. In the absence of any smiting I got out of bed to confirm that the robot feeding dishes were full, because nothing’s going to stop Boo from keeping me awake if she doesn’t have her morning kibble. And a good thing I got up, because the tiny little mind of the robot feeding dish thought it was supposed to feed the cat at five o’clock instead of four, the time I originally programmed it to burp up more food. I gave it a manual burp and made a mental note to figure that one out later.

That done, I went back to bed. Three to five minutes later, Boo came back to bed, too, and sat down heavily right between my shoulder blades. Angel of God …

That was at about four-forty. My clock starts bleeping at five. I don’t know what you’re like, but I can’t get much sleeping done in twenty minutes, so I start thinking about stuff, like:

I wonder if it’s raining this morning? I was thinking of biking to work if it wasn’t raining. There was rain in the forecast, but only in the afternoon or evening. I’m only worried about the morning. If it rains on the way home, no big deal, but if it rains on the way to work, I have to sit in soggy clothes all day. Bleh.

I don’t hear water running through the downspout. It could be frozen. It’s not likely, but this is Wisconsin, after all. The guy who announces the weather on the radio in the mornings is still using the word “snow” in his forecast. I think he’s even enjoying it now. He pauses, just for half a beat, to get the right dramatic effect before he says “snow” and there’s a little frisson of glee in his voice as he says it, usually with an exclamation point, like a little kid looking out the window at Christmas. Most other announcers would say it with dread, but not him.

I could stop at the coffee shop if I rode in. Of all the things on your desk first thing in the morning, Is there anything better than a great big thermos full of steaming coffee? Of course there isn’t, don’t even bother to answer that. How do coffee shops make coffee so chocolaty good? I’ve tried all the recommended ways to make good coffee, grinding whole beans, brewing it with a drip cone, and I still can’t make coffee as deliciously yummy as they can at a coffee shop. I suppose that’s why there are coffee shops.

Random | 6:11 am CST
Category: Boo, coffee, commuting, daily drivel, food & drink, O'Folks, play, sleeplessness, work
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Saturday, March 19th, 2011

As I grabbed my coffee mug and headed to the kitchen for a refill, My Darling B asked me, “Haven’t you had enough coffee already?”

Her comment provoked a puzzled frown and a pregnant pause from me. When my brain finished processing her comment and came up with nothing, I was finally able to speak: “I don’t understand these strange words,” I said. “What does this phrase ‘enough coffee’ mean, please?”

No Such Thing | 8:39 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

The coffee house down the street is just close enough for me to make it there and back on my morning break to refresh my cup. And it’s just far enough away that I can barely make it there and back on my morning break to refresh my cup, if you get what I’m saying. I can hoof it there in about five minutes, especially when it’s cold and rainy and the wind is blowing the cold rain down my collar. And once I’ve walked down the street in that, I can make it back in about four minutes, leaving six minutes to ask for a coffee, pay the dude behind the counter, fill up my travel mug, snap on the cover and go!

But that’s only when there is no more than one guy in line ahead of me, because after he orders his latte, pays, and the barrister or whatever they’re called does all that grinding and pressing and steaming and other latte-making magic, at least five minutes are gone down the tubes where I’m must standing there, waiting. I don’t need any of that barrister magic. All I have to do is give him my money and go. Argh.

If there are four, as there were this morning, and the guy in front of me lets a cute girl cut in front of him, the timing goes from pretty dicey to impossible. And yet somehow I wasn’t late getting back to my desk. Latte-making dudes weren’t the only ones making magic today.

Magic Java | 8:48 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

evp coffee

There’s an EVP Coffee shop serving the most delicious cuppa joe I’ve lapped up in a long time, and it’s just a block from the office building where I am now privileged to work. I think it’s the original shop; there are three more around town, but this seems to be the one that didn’t get a grand opening whoop-de-doo on their What’s New web page. I am so lucky, coffee-liciously speaking. Doubly lucky, really, because there isn’t anyplace else to go for a coffee or a sandwich or anything, really, on that stretch of Washington Avenue. EVP Coffee is all I’ve got, way out there. But I’ll take it. The coffee I had today was very dark but didn’t taste burned; it was very rich but didn’t upset my stomach; and it made me crave chocolate. I really wanted some chocolate! Maybe they had some there; I’ll have to ask next time I go there, at about twelve fifteen in the afternoon tomorrow after I finish my lunch.

Best Cuppa Joe EVAR | 10:07 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

After a full day at the Department of Administration I am well and truly oriented, I can tell you! Is it just me, or does Department of Administration sound redundant to you, too? Or maybe it just sounds backwards, like it ought to be Administration of Departments. Okay, that went nowhere, didn’t it?

I came home with a backpack stuffed full to bursting with handbooks, leaflets and maps, and a thick stack of forms that I must fill out and return or suffer torture on the rack. I swear I didn’t have to fill out that much paperwork in twenty-one years of military service.

Speaking of coming home, I realized as I walked out of the last orientation meeting that I would have to wait hours for My Darling B to come pick me up, because President Obama came to visit Madison again. Not that I don’t just love President Obama to pieces, but he drops in about once a month to say hello and stop all the traffic. B would never be able to get across town in less than two hours through streets thronged with Obama-worshippers, and after a whole day of sitting on my ass I was not in the mood to park my butt in a coffee shop or even a tavern and wait that long, so I said to hell with it and started hoofing it up Willy Street.

An hour later I’d made it as far as Schenk-Atwood and was starting to wonder if I’d make it all the way home before I saw My Darling B again. Also, my feet hurt and I needed to pee. As luck would have it, at that point I was only a block away from The Victory, a new cafe on Atwood Avenue, so I stopped in to order an espresso. “Getting ready for the rush-hour crowd?” I asked the owner as he worked the various levers of his infernal machine.

“You are the rush-hour crowd,” he answered. “This is the first day we’ve stayed open past four.” Then he opened the display case and offered me a pastry on the house. Caffeine and sugar, just what I needed.

My cell phone bleeped as I was finishing the last of the scone. B was still trying to pick her way through all the roadblocks in downtown Madison and wouldn’t be meeting me any time soon. Maybe I really would be seeing her back at home. I hit the pavement with a spring in my step, thanks to the espresso, and made it all the way to Olbrich Park before B phoned me again to tell me she’d just left the Willy Street co-op and was headed my way. Our paths finally crossed at the East Side Club and I gratefully accepted a ride home.

Hoofing it | 10:55 pm CST
Category: coffee, commuting, food & drink, office work, play, work
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Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010


New coffee toy! It’s a coffee grinder. My grandmother had one of these; I think my aunt (her daughter) has it now. Not exactly like this one; hers was a wooden box with an iron crank on top. If memory serves, she kept pennies in it. The last time I asked her, she said she hadn’t used it to grind coffee in years, which is a pity because a coffee grinder like this one is praised by one and all as the best way to grind coffee. It grinds all the beans to granules of a uniform size, and you can adjust it to make the granules course as sand or fine as powder. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Mine has a plastic body and the grinding teeth are made of ceramics, but even though the materials have changed, the mechanism is practically identical. I dump a measured amount of beans through the sliding door in the top, and when I turn the crank, ground coffee comes out the black spout in the bottom. It’s simplicity at its finest.

What makes this particular make (or model?) of coffee grinder really wonderful is it cost me only twenty bucks, fifteen to purchase the grinder and five for postage and handling. If you visit a kitchen gadget store you’ll find that most of the coffee grinders like this one, called a “conical burr grinder,” sell for upwards of eighty bucks! I looked, but I could never find one cheaper than forty-five dollars. My cheapskate gene kicks in at a double sawbuck, so I never took one home.

Until I read a tip from the Lifehacker web site about a compact coffee grinder called JavaGrind. For fifteen bucks, I didn’t see how I could pass it up. I ordered it on-line from You Know Who-a-zon and it came in the mail yesterday. Took it out for a spin the first time this morning and I can tell you it does just what they say it does. No missed beans slipped through, no extra-fine powder turned to sludge and clogged up the filter. My only complaint is that there’s no easy way to hold on to the round plastic body, so it tends to pry itself from my fingers whenever I crank a little harder to force a particularly reluctant bean through the grinder. I may have to disappear into the work shop to knock together a wooden box, just like grandma’s, that will hold it firmly while I turn the crank.

You Too Can Afford To Grind Your Own Coffee Beans | 9:44 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Let the four-day weekend begin!

Oh, wait … I’m unemployed, so it’s really more like an indefinite weekend.

Well, whatever.

I applied for unemployment first thing yesterday morning … or rather, it was first thing after doinking around on the internet for an hour, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it until after nine o’clock, which is a really stupid reason for waiting until nine o’clock when you factor in that I applied on-line. You can do anything on the internet these days!

So at nine-thirty promptly …

What? Okay, so I doinked around a little longer than I said I would. It’s the internet! It’s not my fault! The internet forces us all to think non-linearly! Our minds are being scrambled by the internet! I couldn’t help it! You know it’s true! Just look it up! On the internet!

Besides, there was this killer John Stewart video I had to watch before I did anything else, such as provide for my family.

Anyway, after a quick google search and a couple of mouse clicks, my application for unemployment benefits was complete. Took me all of five minutes. Easy-peasy.

What did I do with the rest of my day? Oh, not much. It being my first officially unemployed day, I decided to celebrate with brunch at Lazy Jane’s, so I tucked a book into my backpack, jumped on my trusty Trek bicycle and rode into town. It’s about four or five miles from Our Humble O’Bode to our favorite Willy Street restaurant, so I worked up just enough of an appetite to want their half-sandwich and soup special.

That and a bottomless cup of coffee made me want to hang around just long enough to read through a couple of chapters of A Woman In Berlin, the book that’s on the arm of my easy chair this week. It’s a cheery little tale about the Russian liberation of Berlin in the final days of World War Two, as recorded in the diary of a journalist who was gang-raped by just about every Russian soldier who marched through her neighborhood. I’d have to recommend it because it’s so well-written, but I’d also have to include the warning that it’ll make you want to drink yourself unconscious. Enjoy!

image of shadow box

After a few good, deep burps loud enough to rattle the windows of passing cars, and a long, leisurely ride home (can’t exactly sprint on a full stomach), I spent the rest of the afternoon piddling around in our basement work shop trying to put my shadow box back together. I didn’t get a gold watch when I retired, but they did give me a going-away ceremony and a shadow box filled with medals (yes, mine) and a folded flag. Pretty nice, but they mounted all the little bits of bling with some kind of goop that wasn’t quite sticky enough to hold everything in place for very long. Five years later, all the medals and collar brass were lying in a sticky pile at the bottom of the box. (Senco members, take note.)

I made a few changes. Not that I didn’t like the original shadow box, but I wanted to include some of the patches I kept as mementos of the places I was stationed. I also wanted to arrange the ribbons, badges and name tag the way they usually appear over the pocket of a blue uniform jacket, and I wanted to hang my dog tags in there, too. So I pretty much changed it completely, okay, that’s true, but it was a great shadow box in the first place, honestly. I loved it and wouldn’t have changed it at all if it hadn’t fallen apart.

I made just one other teeny-weeny little change and that was changing the fabric on the backboard. It used to be a single piece of blue felt. I thought the patches and the dog tags would look a little out of place against that background, so I split it in half. On the left, I used a panel of woodland camouflage fabric I cut out of the back of an old BDU shirt I still had hanging in the closet. On the right, I replaced the blue felt with a panel of Air Force blue fabric cut from an old polyester Class-A jacket that I would never ever wear again in a million years, not because I’m anti-support-our-troops but because the polyester jacket sucked great big unlubricated bowling balls. I’ve still got my poly-wool jacket with all the ribbons and bling attached, so if I had to suit up again, I could wear that. Heaven help us all if Uncle Sam is ever desperate enough to ask me to suit up again.

To make sure the little bits and bobs didn’t fall off the backboard again, I hot-glued the shit out of every single thing in there. Hot glue two things together and they stay together. Gravity as a force is lame-o compared to hot glue. I hot-glued the fabric to the backboard, then I hot-glued the patches and ribbons, badges and other bling to the fabric. Hurricane Katrina could not tear this thing apart now.

The only thing left is to figure out where to mount it. There’s precious little wall space in my basement lair, at least for right now. I want to re-arrange things down there anyway, so maybe this is the time. See, this is how little things, like fixing up a busted shadow box, turn into big things, like rearranging my basement lair. I’ll probably still be feeling the aftershocks of this project twelve months from now.

The rest of the evening was pretty typical: Pick up My Darling B from work, sit down to a pleasant dinner, then hit the floorboards for a dance lesson that I had a hard time absorbing for some reason, probably because I didn’t do much all day and was almost too relaxed.

Let The Unemployment Begin! | 9:32 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, books, coffee, daily drivel, dance, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

For a significantly large part of the day yesterday we had no coffee. I find it just a bit hard to admit this because in our house I am Java Man, responsible for making the coffee, maintenance of all coffee-making gadgets (I have a growing collection, natch) and, most important of all, ensuring there is an adequate supply of coffee beans on hand so that there will never be a coffee-less day. Well, yesterday I failed my charge. I hang my head in shame.

All that remained of our bean supply was a single tablespoonful, maybe twenty beans that rattled around in the bottom of the jar on the coffee shrine. My Darling B gamely ground it up and made about a cup of what looked like tea but had less flavor. She loaded it up with cream and sugar anyway and pretended it was delicious, but I noticed she didn’t finish it.

I made do with a cup of tea. They say that tea has every bit as much caffeine in it as coffee, sometimes more. If that’s true, there’s something else in coffee, but not in tea, that puts me in a good mood. I had a hard time focusing on anything I was doing all morning; I was distracted by just about anything I happened to catch sight of, which I admit isn’t out of character for me under the best of circumstances, but I’m going to blame it on the lack of coffee anyway. I might even go so far as to blame our lack of coffee for my spectacular failure to put the tomato trellis together correctly, what the heck. I think most coffee drinkers would believe that.

After the trellis fiasco I drove up the road to the hardware store to pick up some tomato stakes, a trip that took me right past Java Cat, our local coffee house. Hey, they sell coffee beans! I remembered, And it’s even Fair Trade coffee! I stopped and went in. There wasn’t much of a selection on hand; everyone else in Monona must have misjudged their coffee supply on this long weekend as well. When I put the bag on the countertop, the gal at the register asked, “Just the beans?”

“That’ll do it,” I confirmed.

“Would you like the free coffee?”

I blinked. “Sorry?”

“A bag of beans comes with a free medium coffee,” she explained.

Free coffee? “Well, heck yeah!” And the rest of the day went much better after that.

coffeeless | 7:51 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, play
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