Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Favorite Things

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;
Brown paper packages tied up with strings;
These are a few of my favorite things."

OK, so those are not necessarily my favorite things, but these are a few of my (current) favorite things:

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

I am not as coffee-snob as others out there: I will drink day-old coffee out of desperation (even re-heated *gasp*), and I use an automatic drip coffee maker in addition to my french press instead of a coffee gourmand-approved Chemex pot. However, I buy whole beans to grind up fresh and store them in an air-tight canister on the counter, never in the freezer, and I am tempted to hunt down a local roaster to get my beans roasted for me.

I've tried a lot of different beans, and have settled on a distinct favorite, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. The simple act of opening the canister holding these lovely beans releases a rush of complex scents that promise one of the best cups of coffee you will ever have.

I actively proselytize the merits of this bean, and have occasionally run into some smartass who makes the comment, "Ethiopia? They have coffee in Ethiopia?" Ok, they may not have a Starbucks on every corner in Addis Ababa, but according to legend, to first person to discover the peculiar benefits of the coffee beans was a 9th century AD Ethiopian shepherd who noticed his sheep acting strangle after chowing down on some funky red berries. Apparently not the cautious type, he tried a few and became the first person to experience that somewhat manic thrill of the caffeine buzz.

Although this story is most likely apocryphal - for starters I can't believe that people waited that long to sample those berries. I mean, we'd been drinking wine and beer for centuries already, how could the ancients have avoided trying just about every berry or plant they came across - most people do believe that the coffee plant originated in this part of the world.

So much for Juan Valdez and his donkey.

Chocolate-covered Espresso Beans

If you are ever in need of a fairly quick caffeine and chocolate-induced high, grab some of these. Now you may see the chocolate and coffee pairing and say, "Oh, mocha. How nice," but this is about as far away from that standard anemic mocha as you can get. This is a gorgeous symbiosis of flavor that absolutely explodes in your mouth with each satisfied crunch.

I am not a fan of mocha, in fact. I don't like most flavored coffees. I always got the impression that they took lower quality beans and tried to mask the flaws by painting over them with chemical analogues of other flavors - hazelnut, blueberry, French vanilla. Usually, I find them cloyingly sweet, completely overpowering the coffee essence, though that is probably the point.

With these chocolate-covered beans, you get a burst of coffee and chocolate every time.

Chocolate-covered Cacao Nibs

I remember in one scene from the movie "Chocolat," how raw cacao nibs supposedly brought a husband's hidden passion boiling to the surface. I thought to myself, "Man, I have to try those sometime." I priced them out on the internet and found that you're really paying for that rawness. Quite by accident, I found these chocolate-covered cacao nibs in the natural foods section of Wegman's.

I tore into the bag as soon as I got home. About 5 minutes later, I looked into the depths of that empty bag, stunned, wanting just one more, even a crumb. Those mis-shapen, crunchy bits of pure chocolate fusion blew my taste buds.

Oh, plus, they're chock-full of antioxidants as Dr. Oz would say!

Ha! No one eats chocolate for the antioxidants. It's not as though it were a forkful of broccoli. "Oh," you sigh, "If I MUST." Hell no. We eat this stuff because it tastes so goddamn good.

These are no exception.

Maple Sugar Candy

I live in a maple syrup-producing state, so why is it so difficult to find maple sugar candy and granulated maple sugar? I can understand the expense: they boil down 40 gallons of sap for just 1 gallon of syrup, and then even further to extract the sugar. There is more demand for the syrup than the sugar, so I get why I might not be able to find large bags of it in the grocery store next to Domino's granulated white sugar, but still, it should not be completely unattainable.

I can usually only ever find the candy at the local orchard stores, and even then, a tiny bag of 6 candies or so costs about $3.50. I have never seen maple butter or jars of granulated maple sugar there.

One time I made a maple-walnut apple pie by crushing up 10 maple sugar candies and mixing them in with the apples and ground walnuts. It was a wee bit expensive, and in my kids eyes, would have been a tragedy if the pie hadn't tasted so good. Still, next time, I'd like to have a jar of the real stuff.

Pink Himalayan Salt

I know, this is the big trend right now, this and cooking on those large slabs of this pink salt, but when I saw the little jar of these pink crystals, I could not help myself.

I mean, I don't even like the color pink, but these just look so cool in my sea salt grinder. Plus, I get a kick out of knowing that I am eating something whose age can be counted on a geological time-line.

Besides, did I mention that it is pink?

I can't leave without including the song.

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