Mama Wendina’s Brew

Hi. I’m Mama Wendina. Am I Italian? No, not really. There are a few Italians hanging from my mother’s branch of the tree, but this post isn’t about my lovely cousins, Toni and Tina, their uncles or Grandma Angelina’s splendid Sunday gravy. (That’s red sauce, for those of you not in the know.)

What Mama Wendina has in common with Italians is a passion for a strong, smooth, sumptuous cup of coffee*, and I make-a da best. The two ex boyfriends who’ve had the privilege would lay testament to that. In fact, they’re probably sharing a cell in a maximum security facility, talking about my coffee and trying to decide which of their mothers to kill first when they get out. One of them will be heavily armed and the other is clinically psychotic, so avoid the greater Seattle area if you can.

First, let’s discuss beans. Buy these beans: http://bargreencoffee-store.stores.yahoo.net/frenroas.html End of discussion.

They have an organic French roast but it doesn’t cook up as nice. Other coffee snobs and snobettes are finding these beans to be near the best, and have even blogged about them. Imagine that? If you live near Seattle (and haven’t encountered one of my exes) you’ll find Bargreen Coffee at Bartell Drugs, so make sure to grab a bag of the whole beans while waiting for the pharmacist to refill your happy pills.

If you don’t own a grinder, buy one. I have a typical home grinder that holds around two-thirds of a cup of beans. Fill it to the top, then grind the holy heck out of those poor beans until they are almost an espresso worthy paste. On any given morning, my neighbors can hear horrific cement grinder sounds, followed by loud slams on the counter as I loosen unground beans from the sides of the well. Then back to RRRRWRRRRWWRRRR SLAM! BWEEERRRRRWRRR… They hate me.

While you’re shopping for a grinder, also purchase a #2 plastic Melitta cone and some #2 filters. I sometimes buy the unbleached filters for aesthetic reasons. At this point, bleaching my brain cells won’t make much of a difference. The plastic cone will cost less than a latte, and a box of 40 cones will run about the same.

Heat water until you see a hint of steam. Do not let the water reach a full boil. If you’re using a tea kettle, you’ll be pulling it off the heat well before the whistle blows. Hotter, and you’ll add bitterness**.

Put a filter in the plastic cone.

Scoop half the ground beans (around 1/3 cup) into the filter, and place the rig on top of a coffee cup that holds 10 or 12 ounces.

Slowly pour hot water over the beans until you reach the top of the filter.

Gently stir the contents to incorporate all the grounds into the water and form what is known in the espresso world as crema. Crema is the caramel colored swirl that forms on top, and is an indicator that the essential oils in the coffee are now flavoring the water.

DO NOT bump the cone full of hot water and grounds with your elbow and splatter the wet grounds all over your kitchen. I cannot stress this enough.

Let the water filter all the way through, until there is absolutely none left in the cone. You’ll have around eight ounces of coffee at which to sip.

I take mine with two huge spoons of raw sugar and one large spoon of non-dairy creamer. Sounds sacrilegious, but non-dairy creamer doesn’t water down the coffee, it has a Twinkie-like shelf life and it’s great for those of us who can’t even look at a glass of milk without getting gassy. If you do use a milk product, use heavy cream.

If you insist on using one of those flavored creamers, please don’t tell me about it or I’ll have to ‘unfriend’ you on Facebook. Years ago I pulled espresso at a friend’s cafe. When someone would order a “nonfat, single tall, decaf vanilla latte with two packets of sugar substitute” we referred to it as a “why bother” and banned them from the premises.

My next post will be a continuation of my Christmas cookie series. Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time between now and then to finish reading Atlas Shrugged.

*I also have a violin case, but there’s a violin in it.

**If you’re like me, you’re already bitter enough.

Here Come the Holiday Baking Posts: This Is the Only Warning You’ll Get

I’m such a slob, lately. Seriously. Ever since finding out my beloved cat Spenser has The Cancers* (said in that cute way so I don’t get all bummed and wander off, again) I haven’t done much of anything. Some people say, “Stay busy and active, okay? I don’t want you to miss out on anything life has to offer.” My cat says, “Stop everything and pay attention to my every move. If I can’t have a life, neither can you.” Cats are selfish bastards.

At any rate, I’d made up my mind to do all kinds of holiday baking this year, and as that is something I can do while being Spenser’s home hospice care nurse, doctor of force feeding and orderly of pill cramming, that is what I shall do.

Every year, whether I bake or not, I research recipes. I’m a good cook and an even better baker, so I don’t really need full recipes that are all neat and tidy and exact. I do, however, enjoy some of the tips and tricks, interesting additions… and bad photos.

Blogs weren’t popular when I first started internet recipe hunting six or seven years ago. If there were photos attached, the photos were beautiful, professional and appealing, with no extra browning on the edges of cookies or dry looking cakes. Now that any home cook can whip out a camera phone and take a candid shot, I’m seeing images that are, well, hilariously bad**.

I’m going to fix that, my loyal subjects, and document my holiday baking foolery for you. All of it. From mincemeat pie to fruitcake, and also the stuff people actually eat. My photos may not be all that wonderful, either, but you’ll never know thanks to the awesome power of Photoshop. See how selfless I am, even though I’m busily pre-mourning my fuzzy little boy’s demise?

For now, you seriously have to see these homemade offerings:

This right here is why people hate fruitcake. If the first fruitcake I saw looked like this, I’d have run the other way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

French baking mat: $20. Professional 1/2 baking sheet: $16. Six shy, nervous cookies: priceless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a love for the ages. It was a love born of hardship. And when they could hear the soldiers at their door, they walked into the fire as one.

 

 

 

 

 

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*Not for nothing, I always thought The Betes (diabetes) would get him because he used to be super fat.

**I have a good friend who does a recipe photo blog, and her photos will make you want to leap into your computers and do unspeakable things to the chef and the food and you can tell her I said that. http://poeticfood.blogspot.com/

The Letter ‘M’

I’ve been contemplating doing another product endorsement, possibly for Fred Meyer’s new Home Sense Facial Tissues that come in a set of four decorative boxes and cost, like, almost nothing AND are soft and strong. BUT there is something distracting me from that titillating topic. What could be more interesting than quality facial tissues at bargain prices, you ask?

Professional psychics. I’m obsessed with professional psychics. I want to be either a psychic or an FBI profiler; or at least a writer for The Mentalist. (Call me, Simon.) The amount of information they get by simply asking, “Have you lost anyone whose name starts with the letter ‘M’?” blows my mind. Think about it. Who hasn’t lost someone whose name starts with the letter ‘M’? Why, I had two great aunts, both named Mary. Both are deceased!

I didn’t mean to sound so excited about that. Sadly, one Mary died many years ago and the other a year ago. That leaves the door wide open for the next question: “You lost them recently?” Or: “You lost them long ago?” Either way, we have a winner.

The holidays are approaching, and it’s a great time to tap that vein (as it were). Both of my great aunts had a strong influence on our family during the Christmas season. One Mary was so natural at keeping kids happy she should have taught the first grade. Maybe she did. It doesn’t matter. The other lived a little higher on the hog than the rest of us, and decorated her home with fascinating beauty and kept the adults out of us kids’ hair so we could “steal” her expensive caramels that were left well within our reach. *wink* One Mary was in charge of Christmas Eve, and the other was in charge of Christmas Day.

“But you don’t like holidays, do you?” asks my internal psychic/profiler. Exactly right. What’s important here isn’t the delightful memories I’m having, it’s what’s happening to my shoulders while I think about those memories. There were some not so great things afoot that time of year for almost everyone in Western society.

A good psychic/profiler would watch my shoulders, and then say, “You don’t have to tell me why you don’t enjoy holidays. I can tell it’s private.”

What is private? They and/or I don’t know. Neither one of us/them can see into my mind, let alone chat with either Mary, but we don’t need to. We watch. My shoulders are rolling forward, not down. Okay, I remember what happened to me, but I’m having trouble keeping my pronouns straight. Shoulders. Watch the shoulders.

A psychic would say, “They both want you to know that if they could have done something, they would have.”

An FBI profiler would say, “You found a way to get whoever hurt you back. Everyone has that darkness within them, and you are one of the lucky ones. You know how to let it out.”

What a lovely sentiment to be told that two women, both fun and entertaining, were on my side. Or to be told it’s normal to want to kill people. I want to believe and take comfort in those words. Sometimes that longing for acceptance is enough to make people spill their guts. I’m so relieved my aunts supported me and that killing people and hiding their remains in my freezer and serving them to guests in lieu of a Christmas turkey is okay, I’m ready to talk about all of it…

…to a licensed therapist.

Four aces, baby!

Let’s see what I can do with a deck of cards. It doesn’t have to be a mystical deck like a Tarot deck; though I know those decks well, any old deck will do. (I’m typing ‘deck’ over and over again for my own amusement, obviously.) Pick a card and I’ll tell you what it means to YOU and we can share a super special moment, or just click the “like” button down there to let me know you actually finished reading this ridiculous, pronoun-ridden post.

Weak Cup of the Week: The “Why I Tried Red Bull” Edition

The prognosis is bleak. I’m not just lactose intolerant, it’s a strong possibility that I have a full-on allergy to cow’s milk. It’s dismal and life altering, and though not directly responsible for my inability to post weekly Weak Cups of the Week, it has everything to do with why I tried Red Bull. Let me ‘splain.

At this stage of life sans dairy, it’s easier to point out what I can’t eat than what I can eat. I can’t have ice cream, for instance, and there is no true replacement. Later this evening I’ll dip into a “frozen chocolate treat” made with almond milk and make note of my findings, but I can tell you all right here and now it isn’t going to taste anything like Haagen Dazs.

When people say, “Oh, but you can have soy and rice and almond and blah blah blah, ” it takes me a second to get that, “You’re an idiot with no taste buds,” look off my face and attempt polite agreement. I then point out that I can’t have too much soy (gas city) but I can have goat’s and sheep’s milk, and love the cheese and yogurt culled from these critters. I then receive a, “You’re an idiot with no taste buds, and you’re gross,” look from my conversation partner and we agree to disagree or mount a cold war.

I can’t have Starbucks Doubleshots in a can, either. This is my go to drink when I don’t have the early morning wherewithal to operate a Melitta filter and a coffee grinder, but it’s mostly milk. Bibicafe is good, but expensive and hard to find. Pepsi is too sweet and Coke dissolves dimes and teeth, and both are very high in sugar; and that is why I bought my first Red Bull.

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t fancy the stuff. To keep things somewhat genteel I shall give my assessment in wine-tasting terminology. Sort of.

When I first pulled back the flip top on the slender, blue and red can I caught a whiff of vanilla and dare I say floral? A deep floral, like Hawaiian white ginger, neroli (a variety of orange flower) or exotic ylang ylang would pair well with many cola beverages, but the vanilla made me nervous.

It was odd that the top note was ever so slightly deeper than what comes next in perfuming and wining; the sustained middle note. The next thing that hit me was citrus, which is a typical top note. Mandarin? Bergamot (related to grapefruit)? Lime? Regardless, when mixed with the strong florals and vanilla it started to smell like Cascade dishwasher detergent.

I bravely took a sip and felt the surprisingly bland, caustic fluid strip my teeth of their enamel. Apple and cherry leapt to the forefront, and who doesn’t want grapefruit and vanilla on their apples and cherries? After that it became chemical. Though it doesn’t contain a chemical sweetener, it tasted as though it did. Much like milk substitutes don’t taste like milk to me, chemical sweeteners will always taste like anything but sugar.

I swooshed the sip in hopes of finding something redeeming, but instead ended up with a mouth full of explosive calcium carbonate that had to go somewhere… so I swallowed.

*ulp* *burp* Pardon.

The can sat staring at me for a few more minutes, chiding and bullying me into trying again. “Billions of teenagers think we’re da bomb, you dopey old lady! What’s wrong with you? 80 milligrams of caffeine and I can stay awake through history class AND math!”

When I brew a cup of coffee or tea, I’m hard core. What I end up with has more like 200 milligrams of caffeine and tastes good. I have two or three cups, too. Mind you I doubt I could keep my eyes open during 10th grade English, but I can get in a ton of housework and social networking AND still make time to watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills while knitting a 300 mile long scarf. Good luck with that, teenagers.

The can waited patiently, breathing and wheezing carbonation for half an hour, and I thought, “Okay. Maybe the taste improves with aeration.”

The vanilla, citrus, chemicals and tree fruits were gone, and were replaced not with a bottom note of cola nut, chocolate or espresso bean, but with what could easily be described as Perrier.

“Mmmm, boy,” I said to the dog. “To think I paid $1.99 for the experience of drinking lightly caffeinated, overly carbonated mineral water, when I could be sipping a full, round, smooth, deadly strong cup of coffee with two tablespoons of sugar and a hefty sprinkle of non-dairy creamer.” He watched intently as I poured the rest of the Red Bull down the sink.

At any rate, now I know what I can’t have–and what I don’t want. That’s progress, right?

Weak Cup of the Week, Week Seven

Today’s post brought to you by me dying of a fever/flu/plague/bad karma… I really don’t care what you call it, it’s miserable. Or as I’ve been saying lately, “biserable”.

This Week’s cup of weak green tea is a bowl of chicken broth, homemade by someone but certainly not by me. In their defense, the fat hasn’t been skimmed from the dead, brown liquid in this photo. That was shown in their next photo, which was even less appetizing than this.

As a general rule, chicken freaks me out unless it’s white breast meat cooked just so and preferably breaded, fried and slathered in mustard or barbeque sauce. I can’t remember the last time I, personally, handled raw chicken flesh. Unless it’s slightly frozen, it’s like cutting into human flesh. (I have vast experience in the human flesh cutting arts from my serial killing days.)

That aside, I have made broth from pieces of raw chicken dropped from a package that allowed for no physical contact. I then added veggies, aromatics, salt, wine and water. The cooking smell is a little gamey and fatty for me if I don’t add wine, and though some say not to salt until the end I find it imparts a more rounded flavor in the finished product.

The resulting chicken is, itself, too rubbery and full of cartilage and skin, and I’m not one to patiently pick the scant palatable flesh from the bones (not since the aforementioned serial killing days). I strain the whole thing very well, and then make risotto, clear matzo or noodle soup with just the broth; or I add some chicken breasts, tomatillos, jalapenos, avocado, etc. and make a fiery chili verde that really cleans out the sinuses.

Weak Cup of the Week, Week Five

Ten or so years ago I decided I’d join the food and drink fadsters, and my first assignment was to try a vogue, mysterious bubble tea beverage. Lucky for me, there were dozens of bubble tea outlets in the Seattle metropolitan region. Seattle is replete with Asians and asiaphiles, ensuring that every few feet there will be a place that primarily caters to the food tastes of people who consider me and my food habits unusual.

I swung into a tea shop, and was delivered an endless list of possible combinations of tea and bubble flavors in rapid-fire Chinese-English by a girl who’s speech pattern indicated she wasn’t above the misuse or omission of punctuation*. Making matters worse, I had to choose between clear, brown, bright green, blue or pink bubbles.

Seriously? When I order something at Starbucks it takes two seconds. “Double short latte, please.” Done. Sometimes I want a fancier drink, but I do it to teach the, “Single tall, caramel, decaf macchiato with twenty-five ice cubes, six Splendas and–oh, why not?!?–a drizzle of chocolate sauce, please, because I went to the gym today,” people a lesson in proper coffee ordering.

It wasn’t easy, but I pared down my choices to green tea with a splash of milk for the primary fluid, and unobtrusive beige bubbles that I was promised were also made with green tea. I still felt ridiculous.

As that first blurp of tapioca climbed up through the oversized straw and into my mouth I thought, “This looks and, quite frankly, tastes like a clogged toilet.” The starchy blob didn’t have any redeeming qualities other than bitter sweetness, nor did it have a purpose in the drink. I tossed the almost full cup into the nearest trash can and ran before I could be judged.

Assignment: complete. Results: unfavorable.

On the heels of the bubble tea craze came the donut craze, immediately followed by the high protein craze; at which point I resigned from the fadsters. I enjoy a lot of meat, but I can’t skip carbs without enduring potentially fatal withdrawals.

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*For the record, neither am I.