Category Archives: Life

Journal-ish entries about my journey through this world

January Reads

A quick rundown of what I’ve been reading in case you too are looking for a book to add to your pile in 2020.

Links are to my Goodreads reviews (where they exist) and Amazon (if you want a copy):


Non-fiction

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

Bettina Love | Nonfiction – Education, Race

Review on Goodreads | Amazon link

review of Bettina Love We Want to do More than SurviveI wanted to like this book. Really did. Hits the intersection of issues I care about (critical theory, education, freedom) and I was hoping it would be as helpful as Chris Emdin’s For White Folks who Teach in the Hood (Amazon link)

Spoiler: It wasn’t.

Super disappointed. Now more than ever, we need good discussions of how race and poverty and systems intersect to cut off non-white folks from power and influence in America. I’ve been reading on this topic for 10-15 years now and still have so much to learn. Really wanted this book to be something I could pass on to others and say “Read this! It helped me understand things.”

The book did help me understand stuff, but not in a way most people would find helpful.  If you’re a teacher, read Emdin’s book.  If you’re just generally interested, I found Ta Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power (Amazon) to be one of my favorite (and painful) reads of 2019.

Others:

  •  The Washington War is on my list, continuing my journey through WW2 and General George C Marshall that I worked through last fall
  • American Warlords – ditto; started reading this before handing it off to someone a few weeks ago. Need to find another copy so I can finish it!

Science Fiction & Fantasy – in progress

Enjoying all three of these enough to mention them; will post reviews once I’m done. 

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker

Amazon 
Song New Day PinskerI love Sarah’s short fiction – her Hugo-nominated story “The Winds Will Rove” about a teacher / musician on a generational starship was one of my favorite things in 2018. This is her first novel. Imagine you’re the band who played the last show before The Thing Happened that ended civilization as we now know it, a Thing that forced people into their homes and ended public gatherings for good…. and you’re trying to find an underground music scene so you don’t shrivel up and die inside.  Great so far!

Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard

Amazon
I found Aliette De Bodard’s short fiction in the Hugo nomination packets and fell in love with her gorgeous prose.  Her novella “The Tea Master and the Detective” (2018) is delightful and I highly recommend it.  This novel is the first in her Aztec-inspired series, exploring the murder of a priestess and a priest’s journey to find the killer. It’s like NCIS in history with Aztec magic! lol  I’ve enjoyed the book, and I’m going to read the next one, though I don’t find her novel prose as rich as her short fiction writing.  Still, this is a rare opportunity to see Aztec culture in fiction and I have learned a lot!

Seven Blades in Black, Sam Sykes

Amazon
I’ve been following Sam on twitter for a while now and he cracks me up! One of my favorite twitter personalities, especially his 2018 series of painful tweets about trying to get up every day and work on his novel. So when I ran into the hefty Seven Blades book at B&N, I bought a copy and started reading.   It’s been a fun read with strong lead characters. I’d say Sal the Cacophony is one of my favorite female leads in all of speculative fiction. She’s brassy and mysterious and brutally honest.  I haven’t entirely love the prosaic style of the novel. So. Many. Short. Sentences.  But the action is pulling me along and the world is interesting and I genuinely enjoy the characters.


Professional Reading

I’m working on my doctorate in education / professional leadership, and I’m trying to identify my research agenda. Been reading a lot about adaptive leadership (giving a presentation on it at work next week). Also looking into scholarship on followership (it’s a thing) as well as critical theorists’ critiques of leadership theory in general (I dig what they’re saying).

When I have something more interesting to say here, I’ll say it.

 

So – what are you reading?  What should be on my list? 

2019’s good discoveries

Sometimes in the course of my day I stop and realize that I’ve been enjoying something good which others should probably hear about so they can enjoy it to. Those moments spark these kinds of posts. 😉 Enjoy this laundry list of things that have been bringing us joy…..


Wingspan – board game, 2019

Buy it: Amazon | publisher

We just came back from a board game conference where game designers are working to refine games-in-development and pitch them to publishers. Probably should post about that elsewhere; it was a fascinating weekend in many ways. But I mention it here to note that there still aren’t many women or minorities in the roomful of board game designers — it’s predominantly full of white guys between 28 and 50.

Thus, Wingspan stands out not only for its excellent game design and beauty on the table, but also as a game designed by a woman – Elizabeth Hargraves – and developed by Stonemaier Games.  She loves birds and loves games, and found a way to take her real knowledge of birds and their habits and habitats, and translate it into something that plays well as an actual game.

Read more about Elizabeth in this NYT article.

Wingspan is an “engine-builder” game about, well, birds.  In other words, as the game progresses, you’ll collect various birds and add them to your board, increasing the number of things you can do each turn because individual bird cards have different abilities.  It’s also a “point salad” type of game, where you can earn points toward your score in a whole bunch of ways, and it won’t be obvious till you add everything up at the end who’s won.

The watercolor aesthetic is just gorgeous, and the bird drawings remind me of the color plates in my parents’ well-worn Audobon bird-watching guide that sat near the back patio window in our house so they could identify unusual birds when they stopped by our bird feeder. My parents were avid bird watchers (out our window, at least) and I kind of wish I had a similar spot outside my window too.

Give Wingspan a try. If we’re friends IRL, stop by the house and we’ll play it!

*Update: There’s a new edition available that includes a “starter pack” to get your first game off the ground quickly if you’re a new player. If you’re very familiar with Euro-style, recent board games and like learning from rules or let’s play videos, you may not need that scaffold, but if you’re buying Wingspan for a less-experienced gamer, definitely get the one with the starter set. 

Buy it: Amazon | publisher


Native deodorant

Native DeodeerantI know deodorant is a weird thing to recommend, but personal care is important, and not swabbing aluminum  on your body every day is probably a good change given the link between it an Alzheimer’s disease.

I tried a sample of Native deodorant last year on a lark, and it was such a great experience that our household has switched over.  It’s a transition, for sure, because the consistency is different. But they offer a range of really lovely scents, and it’s extremely comfortable.

Native’s product is a genuine “de-oderant” more than an antiperspirant, so this product may not be for you if you’re really adamant about not sweating at all. (But, I mean, sweat is healthy so maybe reconsider?)  But Native works great in keeping me spelling fresh, and it doesn’t irritate my skin the way some of the other “natural” deodorant products do.  Also, it doesn’t make a mess on clothes, and it easily washes out of fabrics since it’s made of natural waxes and moisturizers. I think my shirts are going to write me a thank-you note.  (see below for more on this)

Last thing – Native is more expensive than deodorant in the store, but it’s also lasting me  longer than a stick of Degree ever did. And it shows up at my house every several months (I do a subscription), meaning I always have one on the way before I run out. You can grab 1 oz testers if you don’t want to commit.

They offer scents for women or men or very neutral scents that would make anyone happy.

Buy it:  Amazon (singles) | website (singles or subscription)

BONUSDollar Shave Club — if you’re still buying razors in the store, you are 100% wasting a lot of money (or using super crappy $1 razors).

C& I share DSC monthly – we bought two of the mid-grade handles (for $5 each) and spend $5 a month to get blades delivered. I change blades every 7-10 days (I don’t shave my legs every day) and C swaps his every couple weeks since he doesn’t shave daily.  He also loves their shave butter, so we get a tube of that about every other month.

Anyway, $5 a month for razors is hard to beat, and they show up without me having to remember them. Now that CVS puts razor cartridges behind Fort Knox *AND* charges like $15 for refills, I don’t understand why everyone isn’t a member of DSC or Harry’s or similar.  Seriously.  Make this change for yourself.

Dollar Shave Club (our sharing link)


Arcadia Power

A couple years ago, I stumbled across an ad for Arcadia Power and did quite a bit of research to make sure it wasn’t a scam.

It sounded too good to be true: Arcadia Power takes over your power bill (ie: they pay it on your behalf) and you pay a small upcharge (between 5-10% more) to allow Arcadia to buy renewable energy certificates on your behalf to offset your electricity usage.

In other words, you pay your power bill, but you also pay a little more to ensure that the equivalent renewable energy is put into the grid to offset your coal or nuclear or natural gas power.

Why bother?   Two reasons:  One, we need to make renewable power more of a thing. Climate change is going to hit us all (it already is) and this is a small way to make a difference in your own power usage if you can’t afford your own solar or alternate methods.

Second, the energy industry and our politicians don’t believe people will pay for renewables. Pretty soon, I don’t think we’ll have a choice, but for now, Arcadia offers a way for you to put your power bill toward renewables to help prove that you at least give a care.

We have a referral link. You’ll get $25 off your first bill and we’ll get a few bucks off next month too if you sign up.  Check them out:  Arcadia Power


Make better coffee

So vital, I’m going to turn this into its own post!


Piri-piri

Before reading an issue of Milk Street magazine, I’d never heard of this Portuguese spice until one of the recipes in the magazine mentioned it. A few days later, we ran into a small jar of this spicy-yet-not-too-hot blend plus a bottle of it in liquid “hot sauce” form. Bought both.  LOVE THEM.

It’s spicy without being overpowering.  Hot without taking out your sinuses or causing weeping.  It pairs super well with red meats or BBQ, but I’ve used it in nearly everything — I put the dried blend into marinades and rubs for chicken, pork, and steak; we stir both kinds into a big pot of pinto beans (which I try to work into our household eats at least twice a month).  And into our grain bowls, which I will describe in a minute.

You can buy piri piri at a lot of spice shops, or hit up Amazon for the liquid stuff or the dry variety, available from many sellers — or like me, get both and use them liberally. We found it at the olive oil store on north Main Street in downtown Greenville (near the Starbucks at the base of the Hyatt).

By the way, this is the brand we are currently using of the dry spice.


Grain bowls

This is like the home-run of the Ramey kitchen in 2019. I’m going to post the recipe as a separate post and link it here.

Monday Nights – Fast Whole Grain & Protein Bowls | RameyLady

If you’re making a shopping list and live in Upstate SC, hit Ingles for affordable sesame oil (check the Asian food aisle) and the downtown olive oil store for spiced Moroccan chili oil and sherry vinegar — and piri piri (mentioned above).


Sriracha & Honey

We’re dumb. We didn’t hop on the sriracha train till, like, last year.  *sigh*  But we’re on it now! Yeah, boy!

Use it: Sriracha-Honey glazed chicken with roasted brussel sprouts


Chocolate-covered Blueberries | Trader Joe’s

I know it sounds weird to combine blueberries and chocolate–at least, it was to me– but I promise this is a delicious combo!  We regularly grab chocolate for snacking at Trader Joe’s because  it’s a good quality chocolate at an affordable price, and we rotate through a winner’s list for end-table snacking:  dark-chocolate almonds or caramels or the shockingly good peanut butter cups.

(seriously, the dark chocolate PB cups will ruin Reese’s for you, forever)

But if you’re trying to “be good” with your snacking habits, and especially if you make hot cereal in the mornings, the chocolate covered blueberries are an unusual and delicious addition.

Buy them at Trader Joe’s, of course, — but if you need an online supplier, I was slightly surprised to find that you can purchase them on Amazon


She-Ra and the Princesses of Power | Netflix
The Dragon Prince | Netflix
Castlevania | Netflix

Look, I know that I’m not 9 years old and we aren’t in the 80s anymore. But if you also remember rushing home after school to catch She-Ra or ˆ cartoons, then take a minute to watch the Netflix reboot of the series which drops the exhausting moralizing in favor of good, solid episodic cartoon stories — child-friendly but enjoyable by adults too.  It’s happy and bright and carries a great message of empowering women to be all they can be. We’ve devoured both available seasons.

The creator of the animated series The Last Airbender (one of our absolute faves) has returned with a new series on Netflix called The Dragon Prince. The storytelling has been great, and it’s a nice reminder of how good Aaron Ehasz stories are. The characters confront difficult choices regarding family, friendships, and loyalty, and the series is poised to investigate the cost of grasping after power, even in hopes of using it for good. One of the key supporting characters is deaf – and I wish that weren’t so rare in media as to be notable here.

Finally, it’s worth noting the Castlevania short sereies on Netflix, if you’re in the animated mood. This builds on the lore from the beloved Playstation games, retelling Dracula’s story (kind of) and exploring the dark consequences of human tribalism, xenophobia, and power abuses.

she-ra-and-the-princessess-of-power-main


 

Cowboy Bebop

I don’t know why it took us THIS LONG to watch Cowboy Bebop. It’d been recommended to us numerous times by friends who love ainme, but we didn’t start watching until earlier this year — and it’s been a delight. We’re savoring the episodes, watching them slowly because you can experience something “the first time” only once, and we want it to last.

Take the best atmospheric storytelling you’ve ever seen on TV and move it to space.  Take the most beautiful framing in cinematography and make it anime. Hand the score to a blues + jazz group who assembled just for this soundtrack. Cap the story at the end of a single season so there’s an actual arc to the story (rather than dragging things out like Lost or nearly any other anime).  Offer some of the most singular characters I’ve ever seen on TV. Make your opening title season sizzle with graphic design hott enough to match the opening theme song (below). Steal style from mid-century Modern and marry it to film noir and pulp detective fiction. Throw it into the future.

That’s Cowboy Bebop

You can watch it right now on Hulu as part of your subscription, buy it on Prime, or watch on DVD/Blueray (Amazon).


Better cleaning, fewer headaches

All three of these products hit my radar thanks to those random Buzzfeed articles usually titled “25 products you can’t live without” or “15 ways to make your life easier.”  Don’t roll your eyes; I often find  gems that way.

I hate the chemical smell of strong cleaning products; they give me a headache.  I can’t even be near the bathroom if my hubby is using one of the strong tub cleaners, meaning he was always on tub duty.

So there was much rejoicing when I ordered Better Life Tub & Tile Cleaner from Amazon and gave it a try.  Short review: It’s fantastic.  Spray it on after a shower, give it 15-20 minutes to work, come back and rinse the tub; scrub if needed. We think the cleaner works even after you rinse it off; I swear the tub continued to brighten after the first time we used it.  And the smell is much less “chemical” than the typical cleaner. It’s not scent-free, but it’s bearable (open a window, turn on the fan) and I don’t get headaches

Better Life – Tub & Tile Cleaner – Amazon

Second, someone in one of those Buzzfeed articles said they’ve been mixing Castille soap with distilled water (5:1 water to soap) in a clean foaming soap dispenser, saving them quit a bit from buying hand soap.  Why not? I thought.  Ordered soap and dispensers (below) and set them up upon arrival.  The soap spells very nice and it foams well. It’s not as “sudsy” as what we were used to, but I’ll take the 75% savings over high-end soaps from BBW or the increase in quality and scent over cheap stuff from Walmart.

Quinn’s Pure Castille Soap with Peppermint Oil, 32oz from Amazon

mDesign modern square glass refillable soap dispensers – set of 2, from Amazon

I fill the soap dispensers about every other month in the kitchen and bathrooms. My bottle of castille soap is going to last for the year AT LEAST.

Finally, in my search for a better laundry detergent (and I don’t have the patience to make my own), I stumbled across Charlie’s Soap, which is apparently a favorite among the community of folks who can’t handle artificial scents. We don’t have that issue, but some of our friends do and it’s made me more conscious of the sheer number of chemicals dumped into my life from all sources -for no good reason, really.

Charlie’s Soap is a simple white powder. A tablespoon or so will handle an entire load in our washer. Clothes come out sparkly clean (we wash in cold nearly all the time) and smelling “clean” without any added scents.  It’s been fantastic.

Charlie’s Soap – Natural Washing Detergent, Amazon

Also worth mentioning that since I’ve switched to Native deodorant, I don’t have to scrub white residue off my clothes before (or after) the wash.  Makes Native worth the extra dollars.


I’d love to hear what you’re currently enjoying in 2019 — whether media, food, good reads, or household helpers. Drop me a comment!

Your Morning Routine Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect – The Atlantic

This night owl appreciated an article that pushes back against the lionization of early morning routines. Y’all can get out there at 6am if you want. I’m going to keep rocking 9am-1am over here.

In essence, morning routines have been repackaged as sacred rituals, safeguarded from the cursed bits of the rest of the day. As a label, routine doesn’t quite capture the sense of spirituality that imbues self-care behaviors. “There’s something unsexy about a routine; it doesn’t sound like you’re living your best life. It has this sort of sterile sound to it,” says Daphne Javitch, who offers nutrition and lifestyle coaching through her company, Doing Well. “When I think of the word ritual, I picture moving to Santa Monica and warming up some raw goat milk from my pet goat in my yard.”

via Your Morning Routine Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect – The Atlantic

Why Feedback Rarely Does What It’s Meant To

 

This is arguably one of the best articles I read in 2019, perhaps the best in a long time:

Why Feedback Rarely Does What It’s Meant To (HBR)

Every person I know needs to hear what these authors are saying: the way we evaluate others (this article addresses an employer setting, but it’s just as true for the classroom) is almost 100% wrong.  Research can show us how to give feedback in ways that promotes growth and excellence in others rather than shutting them down.

Seriously, it’s a great article. It’s so great, I’m not going to tell you anything else about it so you have to go read it. 😉

As of today’s post, the article is not behind a paywall.

Recipe: Sriracha-Honey Glazed Chicken with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Good enough of a supper experiment to get its own post! These chicken thighs and brussels sprouts are delicious and quick. So good that I’ve not had a chance to take photos either time I’ve made the recipe.  I’ll update when I can. lol 

As usual with my recipes, these are just guidelines. Swap out anything you don’t like and try new ingredients. As Coart says, “Just get good food and get it hot.” 

I’ve enjoyed having tube or squeeze bottle paste of garlic and of ginger in my frig. I’ve been adding it to nearly anything – the ginger adds an open fresh flavor, the garlic brings so much yum.  It’s faster than mincing fresh on a busy weeknight.

Ingredients

  • chicken thighs: 1 or 2 per person (how hungry are ya?).  I use skin-on, bone-in thighs because crispy chicken skin is delicious. You do you.
  • fresh brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and anything larger than a marble cut in half
  • sriracha (this one is fancy or get the basic one at the store)
  • honey (not the expensive one)
  • garlic paste (I like the ones in a tube, but squeeze bottles are common now in the produce section of stores). If you hate the idea of garlic in a tube, smash some on your cutting board and grind it into a paste. Be fancy, whatever. 
  • ginger paste (ditto to the squeeze bottle – again, check the refrigerated section of your produce market, near the spices)
  • olive oil
  • a pinch or two of kosher salt
  • dry herbs are nice on this dish.  I use California Seasoning from Spice & Tea Exchange. But thyme or oregano would be nice too
  • a splash of a good vinegar, like sherry vinegar, rice wine, red wine vinegar, even apple cider vinegar if that’s all you got on hand
  • Optional: A couple cloves of garlic. Peel ’em if you want, or don’t.
  • if you have it on hand: rendered bacon fat*

*Real talk: If you buy excellent bacon (our favorite is Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon), then you should save the rendered fat whenever you cook up a skillet of bacon and have clean fat left over.  I use this ceramic strainer & jar to hold mine, and it’s on the counter next to the stove at all times. Bacon fat brings EVERYTHING to the flavor party, and just a teaspoon in the skillet (combined with olive oil or butter if I need more fat in the pan) will be the perfect start to many meals.

Tools: This is best in a cast iron skillet, IMHO, but any roasting setup will do.  A rimmed baking sheet (lay down some foil) will work great as well, but you’ll have to start the chicken in a skillet first.

How to prepare

  1. Prep the chicken —  bring it to room temperature (if you have time; don’t worry if you don’t).  Pat it dry if you’re feeling extra. If it’s Tuesday and you can’t even, just get it out of the frig and keep rolling…..
  2. Preheat the oven to 375.  Get a burner going under a cast-iron skillet, a little below medium.
  3. Put some oil in the pan – as I explained above, I go with a tsp of bacon fat & then a bit of olive oil if needed — and gt it hot, then lay in the chicken skin-side down (if there’s skin), or just put it in there if not.  Lightly salt the chicken.  Leave it till it browns (but don’t let the skin burn.)  About 5min, flip the chicken over and brown the other side. You’re not trying to cook it through, just get some good browning going.
  4. Meanwhile, trim the brussels sprouts and throw them in the pan, round the edges, cut side down, as you go. The early ones will get extra brown and that’s cool.
  5. Mix up the glaze:  I didn’t list measurements because it depends on how hot you want it, how sweet you like it, etc.
    Let’s say start with almost equal parts honey & sriracha, then not quite as much (each) of the garlic paste and ginger paste, and a splash of olive oil + a splash of a good vinegar. Stir it up and add a pinch of salt and maybe some fresh cracked pepper.
  6. Once you’ve flipped over the chicken and the skin is a little browned, you’re ready to glaze the chicken and get  it ready for roasting.  Here’s what I do:  flip the chicken back over onto the non-skin side and spoon some glaze onto that side, smooth it around. Flip chicken over so skin is up, loosen the skin from the meat, and put a big spoon of glaze into that pocket, spread it around.  Then top the chicken with a bit of what’s left (you don’t have to use it all, be smart).
    (If you must transfer to a different pan for roasting, do that here.)
  7. Roasting: Stir the brussels sprouts if they’re already starting to stick and lightly salt them, then sprinkle a bit of dry herbs over the skillet. As noted, i use California Seasoning, but oregano would be great, whatever you like.  Slide the garlic cloves in amidst the chicken, and put the skillet or pan into the oven to roast.
  8. Bake for at least 20 minutes, and check to see if the chicken is done. Small thighs will take 20-30min, really big pieces of chicken or a lot of chicken  might need up to 40, but overall chicken doesn’t take long so keep an eye on it.  You want the juices to run clear; cut into a piece and check.  The sprouts likewise should be deep brown and caramelized, and soft.

I like to let the skillet sit out of the oven for about 5min before serving – loosely cover it with foil if you want. A cast iron skillet will keep the brussels sprouts hot.  If you’re not using cast iron, maybe skip this.

AND EAT IT — SO GOOD!

Side ideas

  • a crunchy salad is always welcome
  • sliced fresh tomatoes if they’re truly in season, topped with a wee bit of balsamic vinegar & olive oil
  • roast some broccoli along with the brussels sprouts, especially if you’re doing a big sheet-pan dinner here

Angus on Quad Espresso [Free For All]

That feeling when you FINALLY locate a hidden gem that’s the basis of a key inside joke based on a comic strip from 1999….

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you one of my favorite comic panels of all time, from the one-year run of Free for All, by Brett Merhar.  I’ve forgotten nearly all of the details two decades later, but I know the main character (who’s kind of a loser 20-something) has a pet ferret (remember when those were a craze!) who was a lab testing animal.

Angus, the ferret, is….. special….. in many ways.  But my favorite way was his reaction to caffeine.Free for All comic Angus on Quad Espresso

© 1999 – Free for All, Brett Merhar. “Angus on Quad Espresso”I myself may or may not resemble Angus on any given day….. lol  Also, the comic writer called Starbucks Fourbucks Coffee (IIRC) and that’s somehow so pure and delightful now that no Starbucks drink costs less than $5.

I was sad when Free For All got canceled after just a year.  This was an odd time in my life when reading the newspaper (yes, the actual paper) was part of my actual job as a reference librarian. We kept a “vertical file” of clippings related to recent news, mostly local and state, that my student workers would photocopy and organize by topic, because no digital archive could provide that coverage (except LexusNexus which cost more than a small car as a yearly subscription fee – what?!)

I would flip through the paper daily, annotate the articles (date, source), and cut out the ones I figured would be useful to students doing papers in future years.  That duty gave me the good excuse to also review the daily comics, and I became quite the connoisseur of Baby Blues, Free For All, Boondocks, Zits, and a few other great strips running at the time (or still running).  (RIP Calvin & Hobbes!)

The Internet has gotten so much dumber in the past 10 years (strangely coinciding with Google turning into a “monetize my eyeballs for ad revenue” company instead of a search engine public provider), so my only record of my favorite strip from Free for All was a very yellowed and brittle clipping that I’d taped to the wall above my desk.  Faded by fluorescent lighting and doomed by the high-acid content of cheap newsprint, I figured I’d never see it again.

But here we are. 🙂

I have no idea if the actual comic is worth reading, but you can buy the collection hereFree for All comic strip collection book cover

Buy on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2PflYPj

Make Better Coffee

So this post is going to border on “pretentious,” but not because I *want* to be pretentious about coffee. I just think the Bean Of Life™ deserves utmost respect and honor.

Also, we made coffee wrong for YEARS. I’m here to help you avoid my mistake – and up your coffee game to 💯.
via GIPHY

Hey! Good coffee is affordable

Great coffee has to start at the bean. You know that, I know that — but probably neither of us can afford to buy free range artisanal locally roasted coffee.  Granted, when I’m down for a splurge, we go for our local roaster‘s Tanzanian Peaberry.  But that’s special.

Our daily coffee is Trader Joe’s Dark Roast – we buy it whole-bean in the can when we’re at the store 45 minutes away (we go biweekly to stock up on bacon, chocolate, coffee, wine, and cheese – lol).

  • Grinding it ourselves means it’s fresher than pre-ground. If you ignore everything else in this post, buy yourself a grinder and whole-bean coffee of any kind. It’ll be an improvement.
  • TJ’s offers a 14oz can for about $8. It lasts us a week or so, depending on our coffee consumption.  We usually pick up one of the others and alternate for variety’s sake. (We drink coffee every morning and about every other afternoon, two sizable mugs.)
  • Joe’s Dark is consistently an even, solid flavor. It’s not complex. This isn’t the $40 wine kind of coffee, it’s the $5 Chianti that consistently tastes good with whatever you put on the table, and it’s cheap enough that you don’t mind drinking it every day.  It never tastes “sour” or bitter when we make it,  and is pretty forgiving if you add too much or too little.

Most of the coffee snobs on the internet (eg: Thrillist) disagree with us on this one, but oh well.  We know what we know, morning after morning.

You can buy TJ’s Dark Roast or any of their coffees at Trader Joe’s of course, but Amazon somehow carries this too?  – but it’s more expensive than in the store

Other good coffees we often use:

  • Komodo Dragon by Starbucks is consistently tasty. It doesn’t seem to have the “burnt” taste so common for Starbucks beans, and it’s delicious made through our quick pour-over method below.  If I get a Starbucks coupon, I use it on this or maybe blonde roast or Verona – we have good luck with those. Ditto the Christmas blend.
  • DazBog is a Western coffee roaster that nails it with great, bold flavor!  We have friends in Denver who spoil us by sending us DB coffee at Christmas, and let me tell you, we make every single bean count!
  • Counter Culture coffee is a hit in our local area, and we enjoy their brews at local shops. They ship nationwide and you can find their coffees in many places.
Make better coffee
Making Dazbog thanks to friends who shipped us some beans from Denver! You can see our Bodum in the back left, behind our faithful coffee grinder.

A better process for your morning brew

Here’s where you’re going to fight me. “I don’t have time for this! I need the coffee maker to click on by itself in the morning and run on its own!”

I get it; it’s hard to get rolling at 6am. Lord knows I haven’t willingly worked jobs that demand such a schedule unless I had my arm twisted. But YOU CAN DO THIS.

We use a Bodum, the filter that came with it (reusable), and a coffee grinder.  You’ll also need a water kettle.  Our picks are below.

Our Process: Perfect coffee every time

Step 1: Boil water – a couple minutes. I can eyeball it on the carafe, but you can pour water into your coffee mug and then from the mug into the water-pot or teapot until you get the knack.  And you’ve got a few minutes during this step to finish packing your lunch or whatever …. or start Step 2 (which is what I do).

Step 2: Grind coffee – 15 seconds.  We have learned that it takes “enough coffee beans to cover the center post and the silver edges of our grinder” to get the right amount. You’ll learn to eyeball it too.  Then dump your fresh, wonderful-smelling grounds into the Bodum’s filter, and swipe the inside clean with your brush (below).

Step 3: Bloom — 30 seconds. Slowly pour a couple tablespoons of water over the coffee grounds in the filter, just enough to wet them. Let the aromatics from the coffee punch you in the face. It’s a wake-up call from your sinuses outward.

Click the button on your water pot to keep the water hot (or put the teakettle back on the burner).  Take a 30-second break to stretch high and low. 

Step 4: Pour over — 1 minute.  Slowly pour the nearly-boiling water over the grounds in a slow circle motion. Breathe deeply. Meditate on the good things in your life and what you’re going to get accomplished today after injecting this caffeine into your bloodstream.  You don’t have to pour toooooo slowly, but also, give the water some time to contact with the grounds.

Step 5: Drain – 1 minute.  Get your coffee mug ready, put on your shoes. Once all the coffee has drained through, you have black gold ready for your vessel of choice.

Was that hard?  NO.  

We stumbled on the flavor and excellence of pour-over coffee apart from the hipsters; our coffee pot died and we were desperate one morning. A quick Google search revealed that only Americans use a percolating machine for morning juice. Everyone else (who isn’t making espresso) does some version of a pour over or French press.   And it’s 574738475747 times better! 

Coffee Equipment – our setup

We bought a Bodum, a water boiler, and a coffee grinder. Apart from actual coffee, this is all you need! The Bodum is easy to clean; the water pot is handy for other kitchen uses, and theoretically you could grind spices in the grinder if you keep it clean.

I eventually added a natural bristle brush to use when tapping the ground coffee out of our grinder.  Some coffees are more oily than others, and a brush lets you a) get all the good coffee grains into your filter for brewing and b) clean the grinder with a few quick swipes while you wait for the coffee to drain.

Bodum 34 oz Pour Over Coffee Maker with Permanent Filter

You can often find this Bodum on sale at Starbucks or Target or Amazon for $20 or less, so keep an eye out.  It’s a beautiful shape on its own; the mouth is wide enough to get a brush down in there and clean the thing out; the filter has never let us down and rinses quickly.

You can make 2 huge mugs of coffee in this or 4 small “after dinner” dainty cups of coffee. It holds 1 liter below the collar.

Better Coffee - Bodum

Coffee Grinder

We use the Krups F203 pictured here, but there are many affordable electric grinders available at multiple stores. Heck, wait till Bed Bath & Beyond sends you one of their incessant 20% off coupons through the mail and go pick one out.  Check site reviews first. Our little Krups has performed consistently well for us.

Krups F203 coffee grinder

Electric Kettle

Again, there are a million of these. Read the reviews, use a coupon, wait for an Amazon sale — whatever. We have a B&D model that we like, but anything that boils water quickly will do.  Stovetop teakettles are perfectly fine, though it takes longer to boil the water than with an electric kettle, and the electric models have an auto-shutoff that prevents you from worrying you’ll burn the house down.

Black & Decker electric kettle - make better coffee

Bristle Brush

Look, this costs $4. Buy a brush; it’ll make your life easier and keep your grinder clean.  This one is easy to wash with a little dish soap and water once a week; good as new.

Make better coffee - brush to clean your grinder

 

 


“But what if….”

This looks like work. Why should I buy into this method?

Look. Are you still eating ramen noodles out of a foam container or Kraft Shells & Cheez?  If you answered No, then grow up and make better coffee. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes. You waste 5 minutes trying to find your keys.

This looks like a hipster conspiracy.

I know, and I don’t disagree. But if you were a true hipster, you’d be using a Chemex and one of those swan-necked teapots and s l o w l y pouring water over a paper cone filter using only organic locally roasted beans ground by a $200 burr grinder by a Brandon in a beard. Go to your hipster hangout to get that. What I’m suggesting is pouring water over fresh grounds yourself instead of letting some sad machine do it for you and murder all the flavor in the process.

No, really, this is too much.

For goodness sake, buy a French press then!  Throw grounds in the bottom, pour boiling water in, wander off (maybe tell Alexa to set a 4 minute timer).  Come back, plunge, drink. IS THAT STILL TOO HARD?

But I need to make coffee for a small army!

Buy two French presses or Bodums then? Your tea kettle can likely boil 2 quarts, so mass production simply requires twice as much coffee (two batches of grounds) and two vessels. On a busy morning or hectic dinner party, I’d probably go with 1 or 2 of the big French presses instead. Grind, pour, walk away.

I really like my Keurig.

You’re dead to me.    Reason #1   Reason #2