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December 10, 1999
a year ago

Lattes, Chili, and Utena

Interesting to have my latte-making process under close scrutiny, to have every action studied and critiqued, positively, but still critiqued... It amused me greatly when a co-worker watched every move I made this morning and asked for explanations for what I did and why I did it. I like to steam the milk first, because then the steam recharges much more quickly for brewing than it recharges from brewing for steaming milk. An oddity of the espresso maker. Then, because I don't mind a little extra water, I rinse the espresso catcher out with hot water and put that into my latte as well. I like Americanos well enough, so it doesn't bother me to have a little more water if I catch the last of the espresso instead of rinsing it right out.

Yeah. I often make my own lattes in the morning. Turns out espresso has less caffeine than drip-pot coffee, and I like it better because I know, absolutely, that it's fresh. The coffee in the coffee pots could have been sitting there for half an hour, which makes it completely undrinkable to me.

I also use half decaf and half caf, one shot's worth of each type of grind in the basket. Press it until it stays but not until it compacts. Nuke a half a mug of milk for half a minute while the espresso machine heats up and then I steam the milk first, eventhough the coffee's packed and ready. When the steam engine recovers, I then brew my espresso short. Hm. Which means that I only run a little steam through, making a little more than a shot's worth of creamy espresso from nearly two shots' worth of coffee grounds. I don't like the bitterness of a long draw, and find most of the flavor in the first half of the draw. If I want it to be less strong, I just add hot water afterwards, which doesn't touch the grounds so it can't overbrew them. There was plenty of crema over the darkness of the brew and I threw the shots in on top of the foam of my milk, put a bit of hot water in the catching cup and rinsed the cup into my latte.

It takes about five minutes, tops. The result, as another co-worker once marveled out loud at, is something that looks like a real capuccino. Technically it's a wet capuccino because I pour the espresso through a cap of foam. I regard it as a latte, i.e. milk and espresso, though technically lattes really have the espresso at the bottom of the glass before having the hot milk poured in. I have, however, never tasted a real difference between the two approaches so I don't really distinguish between them too much when ordering. For me, a real capuccino is a dry one, where it's all just milk foam as the cap before getting the espresso poured in. If there's more milk it's a latte.

John does it the hard way with our boiler espresso maker, and I am very glad when he does because he does a really good job of it, but when he doesn't, this is how I get my cuppa joe in the morning. It's gotten to the point where it's nearly a meditation because I know the steps so well. No thinking required and by the time I'm done I'm pretty centered and settled into the fact that I'm at work, it's morning and it's time to start.

No morning meeting, thank God and management.

Got digging into things. Last night I was really upset at myself for not having more done, but I really wanted to see what there was left because I keep chasing the ten thousand things that pop up rather than just following a single path all the way through. Like a novelist that keeps going back to revise rather than finishing the book first, all the way through, it just keeps distracting me. I finally figured out that if I take my data model changes all the way through to the end, I'd end up with far fewer problems than before just from having a whole change from front to back. Write the novel through to the end first, feel good about finishing, and then revise. There seem to be good psychological reasons as well as procedural.

11:45 came pretty quickly. I got interrupted a few times with folks coming over to tell me that the plugged in Crock Pot smelled really good. It was on low now, after John stirred in a can of chicken broth this morning to make up for all the liquid that had boiled away. He had a meeting, so couldn't bring it down in time, so when the time rolled around, I brought mine down. As expected, all the other contestants had made red chili, so I knew we probably wouldn't have a chance in the comparison; but it really was a typical sort of thing for John to have done. That's one of the major differences between John and I, when I saw the competition, my initial reaction was, damn, what if I had actually made a *real* chili? When John's was just to see how many people enjoyed what we brought. By his measurement the fact that ours was the second one to run out was the best thing. I have to admit that I really can't argue with him.

What was funniest was that when they actually announced the winners, one of our co-workers said, flat out, "They don't know what they're talking about, Phyllis, yours was the best." That just floored me, but it was a very good kind of surprise. I'm just glad they liked it and I got a lot of email, afterwards, from folks that really liked it, some of whom were SouthWesterners who were nostalgic about the fall bowl of green chile from local ingredients. I was also surprised, mildly, that no one had brought in a pot roast style of beef chile, which, I reckon, was how it very first started, not this ground beef ease of use thing. Low and slow. I'm going to have to try the pot roast method sometime in the next while to see if I still have that one down, where it's mostly some big hunk of really tough beef slow cooked with chiles, garlic, onions, salt, bay, and hot peppers. Then in the last few hours adding soaked beans to soak up some of the concentrated flavors and tomatoes and caramelized tomato paste for sweetness and finally some sweet peppers for texture. Yum. Makes me drool just to write about it.

It sounds like a good winter kind of thing for eating, especially with plenty of sweet corn bread.

A few weeks ago I happened, on ebay, to bid for a set of Esterbrook pen points. Vintage pen points which were new in the box and had never been used. The guy selling them all had happened upon a stash someone had of a whole bunch of rarer points than I normally see; and when all the bidding was done on the lots that he'd put up for sale, he offered anyone that won any bid a chance at all the points he had left. One of the point types was an extra-fine flexible point with a durachrome tip, which meant that it should have been smoother than the normal steel pens.

I'd seen lots of the durachrome points that were medium width and many more that were just the normal points, not the flexible ones. So this was a fairly rare find. Yet, of the folks that won his auctions, no one else wanted the points and there were nearly a dozen of them. He wanted to get rid of them all, so gave me a bit of a discount on the remaining points and I just bought them all, reasoning that since I have been looking at points for about the last few months and having seen none of this type in all that time, that they were fairly rare and, therefore, somewhat valuable in the long run. The price I got them for was about what the more common points go for at most of the on-line antique pen stores that I frequent.

There was no way I was going to use an entire dozen points, and I thought that Pendemonium might like having them in stock and would be able to sell them. I didn't really need money back, and I like the store enough that I thought I could just trade them in for credit at the store, which would save Sam some money, give her something interesting to sell, and give me a few things at the store that I really wanted. So I wrote her to ask if she'd want them for that kind of deal. Being who I am and how I'm made, I thought, because she didn't answer for a day, that I was foolish for having even come up with the proposal; but today she wrote back saying that it was a good deal for her and that she'd love to do it in just so many words. So. It looks like I did well.

The afternoon was more work and I looked up to find out that it was well on the way to 8 p.m. by the time John and I were done with what we wanted to get done. I still had one major task left until I was finished with the data model changes, so I unplugged my machine to bring home. John was a sweety and carried it down while I wrestled the empty Crock Pot down. Home again, home again... and I just plopped the last of the turkey pot pie filling into the individual serving sized ceramic dishes, took two minutes to make a pie crust topping which I brushed with egg to protect it from the moisture of the filling. Into the oven at 425 for a while, which was defined by one Utena episode.

Cera was marvelous and sent me the whole sub-titled collection of Utena VHS tapes for my birthday/the holidays. So I have them all, now, and John's interested enough that we're starting to watch them all the way through, a bit at a time. By the time the first episode was done the pies were piping hot and the crusts were golden brown and crisp to the spoon. Crunch. Yum. HOT!! They were really hot and I was blowing on my bites through most of the pie, which was kinda cool. We got through the second episode before we were done and it was already past 10 p.m.. Sleep time.

Yay! I'll get to sleep in tomorrow!

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