Monday, November 12, 2007

The Morning Beverage Minority

I do not drink coffee.

I wish that I drank coffee. I would love to be referred to as a coffee drinker. “There goes Robert,” they would say. “He’s a coffee drinker.”

I think it would be cool to sit in a coffee shop and sip some type of mocha concoction and read the New York Times. On occasion I would order an exotic frappe-something-or-other. At Christmas I would order the Holiday Blend, at Valentine’s the White-Chocolate Blend, and on Millard Fillmore’s birthday, I would order the Millard Blend— a Fillmorchino.

Maybe I would order a “tall coffee” even though “tall” is the smallest size. In my mind’s eye, I see myself saying, “I would like a TALL mocha-frappe something.” And I look cool saying it.

“Grande” is a medium-sized coffee. Saying “grande” is not as hip as saying “tall.” It seems that a word such as “grande” should refer to the largest size available. Not so. “Venti” is the largest sized coffee available.

Venti sounds like a foreign car, not a beverage size. If I was a coffee drinker, and I drank a lot of coffee, I would not order a venti or a grande. I would order a tall and go back for refills, often.

On second thought, if I was a coffee drinker, I don’t think I would want my coffee to be mocha’ed or frappe’d or Millard’ed. I wouldn’t want any flavoring in my coffee. No caramel or vanilla or pumpkin— just coffee-flavored coffee.

If I were not in a coffee shop, I would order black coffee. There is something manly about ordering a “black coffee.” No sugar, no cream, no foamy stuff, just a cup of three-hours-old, sitting-on-the-hot-plate, hot-as-a-McDonald’s-lawsuit, sitting-next-to-the-microwave-at-the-convenience-store, pours-like-maple-syrup black coffee.

I want to be that guy— the black-coffee-drinking guy— the one who holds a small (or tall) non-eco friendly, un-biodegradable Styrofoam cup of bitter, burn-your-tongue-while-it-warms-your-buns black coffee.

I am not that guy. I drink Coke Zero. Coke Zero is not as manly as a cup of black coffee, though the can is black. I like that. I used to drink a lot of Diet Coke. The Diet Coke can is silver. Silver is not as manly as black.

I drink from a black can. I drink it cold. No cream, no sugar, just Coke Zero, black, straight out of the can. I am not hip or cool.

In our society, non-coffee drinkers are discriminated against. I am a member of the morning-beverage minority. It’s true. It’s brutal, and it’s not fair. The next time you attend a breakfast meeting, check out the beverage offerings— black coffee, decaffeinated coffee (both stored in very cool space-age designed air pots), and a pitcher of ice water. No soft drinks. Ever.

Try asking for a soft drink at the average morning business meeting and then watch the all-out scramble to find a beverage. After 20 frantic minutes, they’ll return to the table with a leftover Tab that has been sitting in the back of the break room fridge from the days when cigarettes were still being advertised on television.

Most coffee shops don’t even sell soft drinks. They offer crazy mango-papaya concoctions, and over-priced water, but no soft drinks. The baristas look down their noses at any poor slob who would not drink coffee.

Coffee servers even get cool names: Baristas. Who serves the members of the morning-beverage minority? Soda jerks.

I want to be a coffee drinker when I grow up. I want to sit in the coffee shop and drink a steaming tall cup of un-mocha’ed, non-frappe’d, black coffee. Until then, I’ll be a card-carrying member of the morning-beverage minority.

Purple Parrot Pumpkin Cheesecake

2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup Brown sugar
Pinch salt
5 eggs
4 egg yolks
3 /4 cup Pumpkin Puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp Pumpkin Spice

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees

Place softened cream cheese in large mixing bowl and beat using paddle attachment on medium speed until VERY smooth. Scrape sides and beat again to ensure there are no lumps.

Add brown sugar and mix well. Add in eggs and yolks a few at a time, allowing them to incorporate well before adding more.

Place the mixer on slow speed and add pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and pumpkin spice. As soon as the pumpkin is incorporated, stop mixing

Pour the batter into a cheesecake crust (recipe listed below) and bake for 1-1 1 /2 hours. The cheesecake should jiggle slightly when tapped. Remove and let cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

To cut cheesecake, run a thin knife under hot water before cutting each slice.

Cheesecake Crust

1 1 /2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 /4 cup melted butter
1 /2 cup sugar

Combine crumbs and sugar and mix by hand Add butter in stages, mixing well before each addition.

Evenly distribute the crust in a nine-inch spring form pan, pressing it firmly on the bottom of the pan, and building crust up two inches on the sides of the pan.

Pour in the cheesecake batter and bake for 1-1 1 /2 hours. The cheesecakes should jiggle slightly when tapped.

Remove and cool refrigerate overnight before serving.

To cut, run a thin knife under hot water before cutting each slice.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Food Fight!

In the cafeteria scene of the 1978 movie Animal House, John Belushi pops up from behind a table and yells, “Food fight!” Chaos ensues. That was my first exposure to the phenomenon of thrown food.
There is a cafe near an outlet mall in Alabama where the employees of the restaurant throw yeast rolls at the customers. They don’t do this in a fit of anger, or in an inspired moment of college hi-jinks, but they throw hot bread at paying customers on purpose.

A town in Spain hosts a food fight every year in which hundreds of citizens throw tomatoes at each other. They throw tomatoes at an annual festival in Columbia, South America, too. Italy is home to a festival where people throw oranges at one another.

My father-in-law— a man with the maturity level of your average eighth grader— once threw a roll at me in a backwoods catfish house. He missed and hit a large pulpwooder at a neighboring table. We both escaped to tell the tale, but barely.

My wife cooked a clean-the-cooler dinner last night. A clean-the-cooler dinner is a meal where one gets all of the old, passed-over, and mish-mashed food items out of the refrigerator and freezer, and cooks them in one meal. It should be done approximately four times each year. Unfortunately, it only happens once a decade in my house.

My wife is a packrat when it comes to food and spices. Shelf lives and expiration dates mean nothing to her. I constantly throw away all manner of out-dated food in our cabinets.

Last night, there were two tins of leftover dinner rolls in the freezer. I am not exactly sure how old the rolls were, but they had probably been hiding behind the chopped spinach since Bill Clinton’s first term.
She served two tins of the Clinton-era rolls for dinner. “These rolls taste funny,” my son said.

“What’s up with the rolls, Mom?” said my daughter.

I made a joke and my daughter acted like she was going to throw her roll at me. I, in turn, actually threw one at her. My son howled. My daughter threw a roll at him. He threw one back at her. My son ran into the kitchen and grabbed the entire cookie sheet of rolls.

A full-scale food fight ensued. It was The Three Stooges on steroids. The breakfast room looked like an out-of-control episode of Jerry Springer.

It was a blast. The look on my kid’s faces was sheer joy. It was one that said— I can’t believe they are letting me do this. It soon changed to— I can’t believe daddy’s actually doing this with us.
My wife sat unaffected and watched as the six-year old, the 10-year old, and the 46-year old acting like a six-year old pelted each other with rolls. There was bread everywhere. There were crumbs everywhere. There was laughter everywhere.

Typically, I advocate the use of proper manners in this column. I was taught good manners at an early age. My mother and grandmother kept Emily Post’s Etiquette book next to the family bible. When I was growing up, nothing was done without consulting Mrs. Post. Though every once in a while it is liberating and exhilarating to throw decorum to the wind, especially while throwing rolls at your dining companion.

I am not endorsing the act of throwing food. As a restaurant owner, I am grateful that food never flies in any of our dining rooms. If you decide to throw caution to the wind and heave a roll at your dining companion, it should be done in the confines of your family home (or in one of my competitor’s restaurants).

I am, however, letting you know that some of the deepest belly laughs I’ve enjoyed recently came from a stale-roll war between my children and me. Maybe it’s healthy to act like a child every once in a while, no matter what Emily Post says.

Sunday Dinner Rolls

Butter, melted
1 package Active, dry yeast
2 Tbl Water, warm (105-115 degrees)
5 cups Flour, self-rising
1 /4 cup Sugar
1 /2 tsp Baking soda
1 cup Shortening
2 cups Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease baking pan with melted butter. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside. In mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking soda. With pastry cutter or fork, cut in shortening until mixture resembles course meal. Combine buttermilk and yeast water.

Gradually add liquids to flour mixture, stirring with fork until flour is moistened. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and roll out 1 /2 inch thick. Cut with 2-inch biscuit cutter, dipping cutter into flour between cuts. Press cutter straight down without twisting for straight-sided, evenly shaped rolls. Place close together in prepared pan. Cover with damp cloth and let rise one hour (dough will not double in size).

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until brown. Brush tops with melted butter while hot. Yield: 30-40 rolls