You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.

 

 

 

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Glass Act

After so many years of looking inward in search of that “new you for the new year,” can we all agree that what we really need to change is the same tired routine? Could it be that such deep personal dissatisfaction is simply a side effect of boredom, of time wasted on the couch instead of living life? Shake it up, get out there, and do something radically different this time around! I’m all about making 2019 my year of adventure, starting with a little help from IfOnly. Curating singular experiences with talented luminaries in cities across the US, this is not just another Groupon or Living Social app. You can have Alice Waters cook a private meal for you in your own home, go paragliding over the whole bay area, or even book a hot air balloon excursion over Mount Everest. Starting a bit closer to home, I’m still just testing the waters before I jump in head-first on a scuba diving adventure, instead homing in on the wide range of hands-on art opportunities nearby. Sure, painting and sewing are easy enough to pick up, but glass work is considerably less accessible.

Enter: Lynn Rovelstad, offering curious crafters an opportunity to get up close and personal with a kaleidoscope of custom glass projects. Rather than a standard drop-in to dabble with scraps, this booking gets you a private tutorial with the glass master herself, for an intimate afternoon for two or a party of twelve.

Whereas blown glass is difficult, hot, and potentially very dangerous, fused glass is easy, safe, and fun for all ages. In fact, children as young as 18 months have gotten in on the act, but 3 years old is the generally recommended minimum. The biggest hazard to participants are possible glass splinters, though even that risk is quite rare.

Fragments of colored glass are adhered to solid white, black, or clear glass base with plain old nontoxic Elmer’s glue gel. The process is very much reminiscent of mosaic making, with the bigger picture slowly revealing itself through each subsequent shard. Placement becomes permanent only after a day or two in the 1500-degree kiln. Edges are rounded, surfaces smoothed, and your work of art transforms into a solid, single piece. It’s akin to modern magic, although in the case of my one-of-a-kind serving utensil set, much more practical alchemy.

In one afternoon, I managed to go outside my comfort zone to explore a new part of the bay area, meet an inspiring artisan, spend time with a good friend, AND craft a completely unique salad serving set, barbecue fork, bread knife, and cake server. While it may not be as bold as flying a jet plane at mach speed, it was the exhilarating change of pace I needed to get out of my crafting rut and try something new.

Join me: Don’t just make resolutions for 2019, but make something real. Start crossing activities of your bucket list instead of adding them, for once. Get $50 off your first booking on IfOnly with the discount code “Kaminsky50” until 3/31/19.

Jet Set Pets

Long before emotional support peacocks or squirrels started making headlines, everyday folks have been taking their pets with them on sky-high adventures without causing a scene. As we approach the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas, the height of travel season, the issue of how to reunite the whole family is top of mind. Dog mamas and daddies understand that inviting their four-legged baby is a given, and for those with a considerable distance to go, that means negotiating the barrage of challenges that’s included with airfare.

Before you start dreaming about walking in a winter wonderland with fido and well before you book your tickets, check the rules of your chosen carrier. Every airline has different regulations, and while the general guidelines for having a trained, well-behaved pup won’t vary, some require specific forms or documentation submitted far in advance of your flight. If you can’t play by the rules, you will be denied boarding, and that would really put a damper on plans.

Generally speaking, your pup must be small enough to fit in a carry-on approved bag that fits beneath the seat in front of you to fly on board. Thus, a proper carrier is a must. Have a soft sided model with a rigid base so it will be supportive while in use, but easily pressed down to fit into awkward spaces. More windows are better because no one liked to feel trapped in a tiny space all by themselves. When your dog can see you, they’re more likely to remain calm because they know they’re not alone. Take the fear of the unknown out of the equation by doing a few “dress rehearsals,” covering shorter distances, before the big event. Bring them around town in the carrier to get then accustomed to process, and leave it out and accessible when you’re home. Periodically toss treats into it to associate it with positive experiences. My little Luka was initially terrified of becoming airborne in this crazy contraption, but has come to regard his carrier as an enclosed safe haven, and at home, second bed!

Speaking of calm, even the most even tempered animal (humans included) have been known to lose their cool in these stressful situations. Try clothing your little guy in a thunder shirt, which is a very snug garment that simulates the feeling of a constant hug. It’s surprisingly effective and great to have on hand for other unwelcome stimulation, like fireworks or trick-or-treaters at the door.

Treat well and treat often. Any journey should be a vacation, sprinkled with little luxuries along the way. Bring plenty of bonuses for yourself and your dog, doling them out slowly, as needed. CBD-infused dog biscuits like Treatibles have been an absolute GODSEND; I wouldn’t dream of taking Luka anywhere without them. One before leaving the house, one before takeoff, and he’s as chill as can be. Options are still limited in this burgeoning category, which makes Treatibles even more noteworthy for their two entirely vegan flavors. They come in small and large sizes for easy dosing, but there’s no psychoactive component (no THC) so it’s impossible to overdose. For a calming supplement you can both enjoy, I’ve frequently packed pure CBD oil (3.4 ounces or less, don’t forget!) that’s specifically labeled as safe for dogs, cats, and humans alike.

Don’t feed them a full meal before departing to reduce the need for potty breaks, or potential accidents. Instead, bring it with you and dole out a few morsels at a time to keep them satiated, not stuffed. Same goes for water. Proper hydration is essential, but possibly problematic depending on the length of your flight. Bring a collapsible bowl, filling it with a few good slurps every few hours. If your pup is not reliably housebroken, consider subjecting them to the indignity of doggie diapers for this limited time. Promise them that the photos will never make it out on social media if they’re inconsolably embarrassed.

To manage both bathroom needs and excess energy, take them on as long a walk as possible before departing. A tired pup will just want to hunker down and rest, which makes it infinitely more easy to deal with inactive time in transit.

Keep a variety of toys to keep them entertained. Just like human children, they need something to do during those hours up in the air. Give them just one at a time, rotating them out if they start to get bored or fussy, switching between hard chews and soft plushies. For the love of your fellow traveler though, please refrain from packing anything with an audible squeaker!

As soon as you land, your priority is not camping out in a prime spot at baggage claim or securing your Uber. Head straight to the nearest pet relief area available. Know where to go by scoping out airport maps in advance to prevent any frantic scrambles through a maze of disoriented passengers just barely verticality upon arrival.

There’s no one fool-proof approach to bringing puppies on an airplane. Just like people, some simply can’t tolerate the stress, so know their (and your) limits if it’s simply infeasible. Always have a plan B, with a loving, trustworthy dog sitter on speed dial in the worst case situation, but don’t shoot down the idea before giving it a try. Despite the sensational horror stories circulating online, it’s really not so hard to have a proper family reunion, no matter the distance. You might even find it’s a better experience for every on board; nothing brightens a trying day like the bright, loving face of man’s best friend at your side.

Can You Hack It?

The following text is an excerpt from my latest cookbook, Real Food, Really Fast. Get more speedy tips and tricks, along with over 100 delicious, lightning-fast recipes inside! Better yet, if you’re in the SoCal area this weekend, catch me at the California Vegetarian Food Festival on Saturday, September 29th, where I’ll be demonstrating my infamous Garlic Bread Soup. Come early to snag a seat, and come hungry for generous samples!

The single most important ingredient in any recipe can’t be measured in tablespoons or cups, nor can it be bought, borrowed, or stolen. That extra piece of the puzzle that most cookbooks fail to address is you, the intrepid cook, boldly venturing forth to explore new culinary territory. Anyone can read a recipe and it doesn’t take a classically trained chef to chop an onion, but there are certain steps that can be taken to speed through prep work in record time. To better prepare your vegetables, you must prepare yourself. Move with intention and a sense of urgency; know your next step before you get there to keep dancing through the routine with grace. That also means reading through each recipe from start to finish so there are no surprises halfway through the hustle.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a new cook, the following suggestions should help tune up your techniques to get food on the table faster than ever before.

  • Citrus: Always zest lemons, oranges, and limes first, before slicing or juicing. While they’re still whole you’ll have more surface area to work with, and a better base to hold so you’re less likely to grate your fingers at the same time. Then, to extract the most juice as possible, microwave for 10–15 seconds to gently warm, and roll them firmly against the counter to break down some of the cell walls before cutting in half and squeezing.
  • Garlic: Separate the cloves and give each one a sharp whack with the side of your knife to instantly loosen the skins. You should be able to pick the peel right off. Once cleaned, you can continue smashing and mashing them with the side of the knife, rather than the blade, to yield a quick, coarse paste that can be used instead of a fine mince.
  • Ginger: Don’t bother breaking out the peeler to remove the tough outer skin. Use a paring knife to shave away the exterior if needed, but better yet, buy very young, fresh ginger that doesn’t need to be peeled in the first place. In Japanese markets, this is referred to as “myoga.”
  • Cauliflower or Broccoli: Pare away the leaves and trim down the excess stem. Place the head in a large, clean plastic bag, and twist it closed. Bang the whole thing down on the counter repeatedly, stem-side first, to easily break it down into bite-sized florets.
  • Cherry Tomatoes: Instead of chasing around each tasty red marble and slicing them in half one by one, slash straight through a whole batch in one fell swoop. Place a generous handful between two plates and gently press down to keep them all stable and still. Use an exceptionally sharp knife to cut horizontally through the center to cleanly halve tomatoes.
  • Corn: Once cooked, shuck corn quickly by slicing off the bottom of the husk and simply pushing the ear out, leaving the messy silk behind.
  • Cherries (and Olives!): Don’t bother with a unitasking cherry pitter if you’re unlikely to use it more than once or twice a year. Place each cherry on top of an empty glass soda or beer bottle, and use a chopstick to poke out the pit, pushing it straight down into the bottle.
  • Non-Dairy Milk: Whip up an instant dairy-free beverage by simply combining 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut butter (almond and cashew are my favorite options, but sunflower, peanut, and pecan are also excellent alternatives) with 1 cup of water in your blender. Blend until smooth and use as is for savory cooking or baking, or add up to a tablespoon of sugar, agave, or maple syrup to sweeten it for drinking.

Why cut and chop with conventional techniques when you can hack your way to faster food prep? Some specific foods hold secret shortcuts that will leave traditional methods in the dust.

Thrill of the Grill

Labor Day is right around the corner, signifying the dwindling days of summer while offering one last chance to celebrate. That means it’s time to gather up all your friends, neighbors, and coworkers, throw down an ice bucket packed with refreshing beverages, and uncloak that glorious grill in the heat of the midday sun. It’s your last best chance to fire that baby up, so make it count!

I’m probably the last person to ask about expert grilling practices, but I’d like to think that my novice status is actually my greatest asset here. I’m not about to pull some crazy, unreasonable, daredevil tricks when the metal grates get hot and the smoke starts blowing. While I can’t weigh in on the timeless debate of gas vs. charcoal, steering clear of debates over specific fuels or equipment, it shouldn’t be so complicated just to start a fire and get cooking outdoors. No matter what that means to you, even if the party gets rained out and you use a simple grill pan over the stove instead, it’s still important to start searing and making a mark!

Speaking of which, there are a few key principles to remember for emblazoning perfect stripes every time:

1. Start with a VERY hot grill. Give it at least 15 minutes, if not 25, to preheat before lubing up. If the food is par-cooked or semi-cooked (like meatless hotdogs or burgers, fruits or softer veggies,) aim for about 400 degrees.

2. Grease well to prevent sticking but do NOT use an aerosol non-stick spray over a hot grill! Trust me, you don’t want to light your backyard up like a torch here. Opt for an oil with a high smoke point, like rice bran oil, avocado oil, or peanut oil.

3. Don’t walk away, but don’t fuss with your feast either. Once you throw something on the hot grates, leave them there! Don’t start pushing them around, flipping again and again, repositioning them closer or farther apart. To leave a dark, solid mark, you need to allow full, uninterrupted contact. Yes, the food does still need to be turned over to even cooking, but just once, and only after a solid 5 minutes at minimum.

4. Use tongs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chased around ears of corn with a flat spatula because I was too stubborn to go back inside to get the right utensils. Seriously, save yourself the frustration, potential burns, and charred food. Just use the right tools for the job.

5. Go ahead and grill EVERYTHING! Once you’ve made the effort of dragging that beast out of storage, cleaning it up, and bringing it back to life, keep it busy from noon to night. Grill your tofu pups and corn on the cob, of course, but don’t stop there. Grill the buns! Grill the avocados! Grill pineapples and watermelon for a palate cleanser! Keep the party going and grill s’mores for dessert! Heck, if you’ve still got fire to burn and time to spare, grill any leftover veggies in the fridge to start meal prep for the coming week. After all, Labor Day is but a short respite from the daily grind… It’s right back to work tomorrow, ready or not.

Do you have any simple grilling secrets to share? I’m all ears, and not just with yellow kernels of corn. There’s a wide world of charbroiled delights to discover; I’m just getting started.

Many thanks to LightLife for simply providing meatless dogs to inspire this post. All content remains my own original creations, free of bias, and dedicated to an honest appreciation of cruelty-free food.

Illuminating Secrets to Mouth-Watering Photography

Contrary to popular belief, the key factor in achieving enticing images of food is not the camera you use and how many megapixels it has, but how you choose to light the scene.  For many professional photographers, this means buying numerous pricey studio lights, not to mention the never ending list of accessories, tools, and toys needed to properly manipulate the quality of that light. As more hobbyists have discovered a passion for food photography and food blogs became ubiquitous, however, this industry standard is rapidly changing. Preferring a softer, more “realistic” look as you might find the food in your own home, natural light is frequently the best choice for creating the most appealing shots, and one that I typically go with as well, despite easy access strobe lights. Knowing a few tips and tricks, put to use with plenty of practice, can enable anyone to capture luscious food photos worth drooling over.

The list of essential equipment is very short: A serviceable digital camera or camera phone, a dish you’d like to capture, and light are the only absolutely essential ingredients. For best effect, it’s highly recommended that you save your photo sessions for bright, sunny days, and aim to start shooting any time from late morning until sunset, for the best intensity of light to work with. Taking photos at different times of the day will yield varying results and some interesting, more atmospheric or moody effects, due to the higher or lower positions of the sun, so don’t be afraid to try different hours to see which you like best.

Though you’re always looking to use bright sunlight, avoid placing the dish in direct sunlight, as this will cast harsh shadows and highlights, making it difficult to properly expose. Make sure that all indoor tungsten lights are turned off so that subject doesn’t cast two shadows, giving the scene a clearly staged, unnatural look. Additionally, be aware of any ambient lighting inside that might cast confusing colors or shadows over the set. Tungsten bulbs, the most common type found in household lamps, can give off a slightly yellow-tinted light, as they range from 2500 – 3500 degrees Kelvin, so they’re never a good choice when photographing food.

It’s generally a good idea to arrange your food with the window light shining in behind it, to act as a back light. This tends to be most flattering, as it gently showers soft shadows evenly over the front, from the angle which you’ll be capturing it. The sunlight can also work nicely at either side, but if the light is too bright, it will give the food an overly-dramatic feeling, much like split lighting for portrait photography. As a rule, I never place the food so that sunlight hits it from the front, for the same reason that I would suggest never using the flash built into your camera: It flattens out the subject, giving a “deer in headlights” appearance. Font-flash is as unflattering on inanimate objects as it is on people!

If you find that the shadows are too dark, there’s still no need to bring out a secondary source of light; carefully placed mirrors can be just as effective, not to mention the fact that they’re far more budget-friendly.  By adjusting the mirrors so that they bounce the sunlight back into the darkest areas of the subject, you’ll be able to keep the same natural, soft lighting all over, but bring out more detail in the textures that would otherwise become lost due to low light. In a pinch, you can fashion a close facsimile with aluminum foil covering a piece of cardboard, folded and propped up at your desired angle. The same technique can be used with white poster board, or even gold fabric reflectors, to lend a warmer hue to  the image.

On the other hand, should you find that your window light is too “hot,” meaning that it’s blowing out the detail in the highlights, you can very easily diffuse it with everyday household items. Taping a large sheet of white parchment paper over the entire window will soften the light very effectively, as long as you ensure that there are no gaps where the light can escape and create a dappled look on your subject.  If there’s just one small area of your food that’s too bright, you can use the opposite tack as you would with mirrors; Use a black card, or piece of cardboard covered in black construction paper, angled to block the offending highlights. These cards can be cut to any size needed, so they’re very versatile.

With experience, the proper lighting setup will become second nature. With just a bit of creativity and a willingness to experiment, you’ll be able to create food photos that look every bit as delicious as the pros. Once you learn to master the light already at your disposal, the only thing you’ll need is a sumptuous dish to feature, and you’ll be well on your way!