Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Perfectly - Percolated - Pot - of Coffee

Some people are hardcore coffee drinkers.  It's as if their mothers had fed them coffee in their baby bottles instead of formula.  For me, although I loved the smell that wafted from my Dad's coffee can of Folgers, I could never get into drinking the famous morning elixir.... until I had to. 

I have always been a tea enthusiast.  Whether it be the frigid nights of January or the hottest evening of August, I will brew a pot (yes a POT) of tea after dinner.  For the mornings however, tea just wasn't cutting it.  Tea does not seem to give me that caffeine high that coffee produces - and despite being delicious, I needed something with a little more "octane" for my wake up time of 5:30am.  I decided it was time to MAKE myself become a coffee drinker. 

Then the question arose of how to make my coffee -- and what kind of coffee to use.  For those that know me or follow my blog, I am not a fan of modern technology.  Oh yes, I am addicted to my iphone and would be lost without my laptop and Netflix, but I prefer a time when things were done more by hand and weren't as disposable as they are now (my Iphone 5 is less than a year old and I am already seriously thinking of replacing it because I constantly have issues with it -- while my 70 year old rotary phones work as well as the day they were made).  Also being limited on counter space in my small apartment, I did not want a bulky auto-drip machine taking up valuable space.. and the ever popular Keurig machine is just way to Star Trek-like for my home which is perpetually stuck in 1947. 

The solution?  A percolator of course!! 

I had never personally seen a coffee percolator in use.  Growing up in the 80s, Mr. Coffee machines were the norm.  Through my love of old movies I was well aware of this former coffee making king which was dethroned in the 1970s thanks to the plastic auto-drip coffee revolution.   But what kind should I get?  Electric?  Stovetop?  Aluminum? Stainless steel? Glass?  How do I use one?  

I'd seen old commercials that would talk about a housewife's ability to make good coffee... but never quite understood this commentary, jokes about the wife's brewing abilities.  After all, the machine makes the coffee -- if you don't like the taste, just switch brands... why blame the wife?  It wasn't until I started using a stovetop percolator  that I realized it was very possible to make an awful pot of coffee - usually by over brewing it.

As I mentioned earlier I am not a coffee enthusiast, but have really come to look forward to my morning pot of miracle juice... that helps to keep me from killing my co-workers when I stumble into my office early in the morning.  There's something about the routine... the ritual of actually MAKING my morning coffee that I really love --- Turning the burner on -- measuring out the water for the pot - counting the table spoons of coarse (NOT fine!) ground coffee and waiting for that moment when the water starts to percolate in the glass knob... then watching the water getting darker as the coffee gets stronger.  It's like magic!!!

It surprised me how defensive and snobbish hard core coffee drinkers get about different coffee making methods. No matter what the topic is, if you are passionate about something, I guess  you're going to be very defensive of your ideas... Politics, Religion, Coffee.  It makes no difference.  When I was first learning to make coffee on the stove, I Googled "using a stovetop percolator" and found all sorts of snarky responses such as: There's no such thing as GOOD percolated coffee... and Step one, throw out the percolator.  Step two, but a Keurig.  Being a fan of all things vintage and retro - I plugged along with trial and error -- watching all sorts of youtube videos and learning all I could about the percolator.

Now I have become a wiz at making coffee in my stovetop percolator.  I feel just like Edith Bunker or Jessica Fletcher!!   After trying out many models and styles, I have settled on a neat vintage Farberware stainless steel model pictured here. It's from the 1950s and looks so cool.  I feel like a little kid as I wait for that moment the water starts to bubble and splash and love to hear the sound of it merrily perking away.  Yes, a percolator can make a very bitter cup of coffee... but if you know what you are doing, you'll have perfection in a cup!!

For all percolators, use COARSE ground coffee -- the pre-ground coffee in most stores is fine grind made for autodrop machines - which pass the water through the grounds once.  If you use this in a percolator - which passes water through the grounds multiple times - you'll end up with battery acid as it will extract WAY too much out of the beans.  You can buy whole bean coffee and either grind it at home or in the grocery store.

Keep the pot over high heat until the perking action starts -- once the water starts bubbling steadily, REDUCE the heat to low/simmer.... it won't take much to keep the perking action going.  If you have the heat turned up too high you will burn the coffee (which is where the poor housewife of yesteryear would get the blame).  Let it perk gently for 6-8 minutes on low heat until the desired strength is achieved (you can see the coffee getting darker through the glass knob on top of the pot to help determine its strength).  I personally don't like my coffee super strong, so six minutes is great for my taste -- but if you like high octane coffee.. let it brew longer.  After the coffee is done, I use a teapot warmer - a cast iron trivet with a tealight candle underneath - to keep the coffee pot warm while not on the stove. 

When done correctly, percolated coffee is delicious!!!  When making percolated coffee the right way, you'll get a smooth/rich cup of java.

For Christmas my siblings and I pitched in to buy my Dad yet another fancy Keurig coffee maker since his previous model died after two years of use.  My simple stainless steel Farberware stovetop percolator is still making amazing coffee after 60+ years... and barring me denting it or breaking the handle (which is entirely possible because I'm a klutz), it should be making many many more pots of wonderful coffee for years to come!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Through the eyes of children...

Yesterday I had my small family over to my apartment to celebrate Mother's Day.  I say small family, but when I try to cram everyone into my apartment it feels like hosting a football team.  I'm not sure how we all managed to fit into my dining room, but we did ---- only once you sat down, you had to stay there! 

My niece (2) and my nephew (5) were also there.  As my friends and family would tell you, I'm not exactly paternal.  My apartment isn't what you'd call kid friendly and I must admit... neither am I.  When God was giving out that nurturing gene that gives one the urge to get on the floor and play with kids and speak fluently in gibberish, I was too busy waiting in line for my "cranky old man" gene.   I put on my bravest front and pretended that I wasn't having mini strokes every time the kids picked up something that was sitting on a shelf or table.

My niece and nephew really are good kids - and my OCD aside, the night went very well.  My apartment has an interesting feature that everyone else but me finds fascinating.  It has a "turret room" off the living room.  It's called that because this part of the house is shaped like the turret of a castle.  Due to it's small space, angled ceilings and lack of heat in the winter... it's just used as storage for all my many boxes of... stuff.  To me it's just an attic space -- but for others it seems to be an area of intrigue.  In fact, when someone comes to my house for the first time I will politely ask my mother before they come to not include the turret room on the tour.  After all.. who shows off their messy attic when they have company over?  I slaved for hours to dust and polish the rest of the place... so don't look behind the little door off the living room to see where the real mess is hidden, please.

On the few occasions my nephew has come over I normally don't allow him into that room -- for two reasons:  1.  It's a mess in there.  2. Children break stuff (so the little voice in the back of my mind tells me).  Finally though, I relented and let Collin and Brittany go into the mysterious turret.

Collin behaved himself and left my piles of junk alone... but the kid was in amazement.  You could see and hear his imagination going at full speed.  My mother turned to me and said, "this is something he will remember for the rest of his life.".  I don't know that it will stay in his memory the rest of his life since my apartment isn't a regular part in his routine, but it got me thinking of when I was a kid and would explore the world... at least the world as I knew it... on my own.

Usually this exploration occurred at my Grandma's house.  There were two great "worlds" to explore there:  Uncle Vinny's room and the crawl space.  Like a child entering Narnia, the crawl space was a magical world hidden in the back corner of the basement...dark...and full of treasures.  Treasures left over from the "old house" (the house they had lived in a few years before I was born).  Treasures from the 50s and 60s that I am convinced helped to spark my love of anything relating to the first half of the 20th century.
Because I can remember my own explorations as a kid, I think I am all the wiser about.. and more leery of little kids.  I know your plots kids because I used to be you!  My older brother and I would constantly explore my Uncle's room -- the electric guitar tucked away under his bed, the treasure chest (yes - he literally had one!) on the night stand by his bed -- and the record albums of bands I had never heard of before (after all, he didn't have the Sesame Street Gang's Biggest Hits album...sadly). 

In my defence though, I was always very cautious when "exploring" Grandma's house.  Yes, I went into boxes I shouldn't have -- closets that were off limits (there's a joke there somewhere), but I was always very careful to preserve with the utmost care the objects I was - discovering.  For me it was like being Indiana Jones in some far off temple finding priceless artifacts of some other world. They were to be treated with care and respect.  Like Indian Jones however... there was always that element of danger lurking behind every corner... mostly Grandma who would firmly remind us when we'd present her with what we had found that: "you didn't find it, I PUT IT THERE."

Today my Uncle Vinny (whose room we routinely explored) turns 50.  Yesterday I became acutely aware that a new generation was beginning to explore the world as they knew it and using their imaginations to conjure exciting and fantastic adventures where we adults see only boxes and clutter.  Though I will still hold my breath the next time the kids come to visit -- praying that my own treasures survive their excursions as I'm sure my Uncle and Grandma did for us - I marvel at their imaginations and curiosity and remember back to a time when even a trip down to Grandma's basement could become the adventure of a lifetime!