Thursday, September 23, 2010

Making The Best Of It

The glaciers are melting, the air is filling with greenhouse gases, our fuel reserves are on their way to being depleted, the economy is crippled, and the future is uncertain. Everywhere I go, I hear this forecast of doom. I was even pointed to a blog where eco concious parents where debating whether it was responsible to bring a child into such a troubled world. The idea of intelligent people refusing to reproduce out of fear and despair is truly depressing. One might ask what kind of a terrible time and place are we living in where we feel the need to make decisions like that. But I would argue that in spite of our troubles the future is not bleak and that in fact we are entering a period of tremendous potential.

The economic and eco crisis that we are experiencing is forcing us to change the way that we live and the way that we view the world. I say, good! We needed this kick in the ass to make us realize that the American Dream is no longer sustainable or satisfying. We have less money to spend, we have less fuel, and we cant ignore the fact that every bit of waste that we produce impacts the environment. But neighbors this is not something to fear, it is something to embrace, for by making the changes that we are being forced into we may discover a healthier, happier, more connected way of life.

The teaching garden at The Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford

Ever since the stock market crashed and the bubble burst I have seen gardens popping up in countless backyards and public lots. Thousands of people are rediscovering the joy of growing their own food, helping their neighbors and being able to provide for their families in a very real way. The DIY movement has taken off, there is a renewed interest in traditional food preservation, forgotten Americana, and slowing down the pace of life in general. Permaculture, Sustainability, Locavore, and Slow Food are becoming common buzz words. All of these changes tie communities together. Privation is leading us to draw closer to our friends and families, to eschew materialism, to focus on quality over quantity, and to be more aware of the world around us. In my mind this cannot help but increase our quality of life for we have certainly all already learned that a big house, a fancy car, and money to burn does not equal happiness.

Demonstration on fermenting vegetables at the Wallingford Urban Harvest Fair

Artist's design for a sustainable, eco concious Cul de sac at the 2010 Northwest Permaculture Conference

Community garden in a previously unused bit of space outside of Om Culture in Wallingford

Helen showing off her home garden in Wallingford, where she grows and sells produce to neighbors

So be excited about bringing a child into this world because they will have so much to offer each other. My only real fear is that once the economy recovers people will forget what they have learned and fall back into the same senseless mass consumption that has characterized the American way of life for far too long. I guess the best that we can do is build strong foundations for a better life now and hope that they will continue to stand come what may.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

French Press Coffee

You've probably heard the famous Turkish Coffee proverb at least once in your life:

'Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love'

Well, I'd like to offer up my own addition of 'rich as Croesus' to that recipe. Too many times I have been served a sour and watery brew that went by the name of coffee but seemed to have more in common with tea. Good coffee should be opaque, it should have a nice mouth feel even without the addition of cream, and it should never ever have a sour aftertaste. The drip machine and the K-Cup may promise efficiency, cleanliness, and speed but I tell you that what they deliver is but a pale caffeinated shadow of true Coffee.

Purists prefer to follow the ancient Turkish technique of boiling coffee in a pot over a heat source but this method requires a watchful eye, often produces as gritty result, and is far from portable. So ladies and gentlemen, I present the solution to your problems- The French Press. As with the Turkish method, ground coffee is steeped directly in hot water for several minutes. This allows all of the wonderful natural oils clinging to the beans to saturate the water, and produces a drink that is more full bodied in terms of both flavor and texture than coffee made by simply passing water through the grounds. The plunger filter eliminates much of the dregs that most westerners find so distasteful, and the small and light glass reservoir is easy to carry. Lastly, this is obviously a low tech mechanism so it can be used while traveling and even while camping. All you need is access to boiling water.

I myself was introduced to the French Press on my first long camping trip. I had drunk ungodly amounts of alcohol the night before and was blearily trying to figure out how I was going to face another day of 'getting back to nature' when one of my friends pulled her Press out of her backpack. I watched in amazement as she boiled water on her camp stove, added it to the pot, seasoned with sugar and creamer, and then suddenly I had a cup of real coffee steaming in my hands. It was like handing water to someone who had been crawling through the dessert for days on end. That coffee- emblem of civilization, of comfort, was here, all the way out in the mountains of New England. I was sold.

After returning home I soon bought my own French Press and I have never looked back. If you aren't convinced yet, visit a restaurant or coffee shop that offers Pressed coffee and you'll soon see what I mean. But I warn you, most coffee will soon seem like water to you and you'll find yourself joining the ranks of coffee snobs before you know it.

For the uninitiated, below are some simple instructions on how to use your own French Press:

Remove the lid and add the ground coffee of your choice directly to the glass reservoir. We have the standard 17oz Chambord by Bodum, and I typically use about 2 full spoon-fulls plus one more 'for the pot' ( as the friend who first introduced me to the French Press used to say). Making coffee this way is more of an art than a science so after some experimentation you may find that you like to use more or less depending on your taste.

If you buy whole beans and grind them at home or at the store, there is a recommended setting for French Press pots but I have found this grind to be a bit too coarse and the coffee does not steep as well. If you use the setting for a drip machine the results are much better, but beware, there is a greater chance of some of the finer grounds making their way through the pot's filter and into your cup.

Pour boiling water into the reservoir, until the water line reaches the bottom of the chrome rim around the pot. Again, these are directions for the Bodum line, so other models may use different measurements. Give the water/coffee slurry a good stir and then replace the lid, making sure that the plunger is in the fully extended position.

Set a timer for 4min and let the pot sit undisturbed. After the time has expired, give the coffee another stir, replace the lid, and gently push down on the plunger. Turn the lid so that the filter is facing the spout and pour out your coffee.

Voila, the perfect cup!