Thursday, March 28, 2013

From Rebecca Delaney ....... A Wonderful Resource : 40+ Online Sources for Fabulous, Affordable Fashion Fabric

40+ Online Sources for Fabulous, Affordable Fashion Fabric: I have a lot of FEELINGS. Sometimes, I deal with these feelings by watching Girls, but only if I’ve already taken my Prozac. (There are only so many times you can scream “JESUS, ALL OF THESE PEOPLE NEED TO BE MEDICATED” at the screen before feeling guilty about not taking your own pills. And of all the feelings I [...]


Monday, March 11, 2013

Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide....

Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide:
Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete GuideWe spent last week learning all about coffee with our friends from Tonx, the fresh roast subscription service. We covered everything from why you should care about quality coffee and how to pick the best beans, to the nitty gritty of gear selection and the best resources to tackle a coffee hobby head on. Here's the complete guide in all its glory.
Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide

Lesson 1: The Case for Better Coffee

In this first lesson, we tackle the case for a better cup of joe. Is there really much difference between gas station sludge and an expensive cafe blend? And if there is, why should I care?
Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide

Lesson 2: How to Select Your Beans

Even the most simple brewing device can produce otherworldly brews when paired with great coffee. Finding an approach into the often confusing landscape of consumer coffee bean choices is the essential first step to improving your morning ritual.
Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide

Lesson 3: The Basics of Brewing

Contrary to how it might seem if you listen to many hardcore coffee geeks, brewing good cups of coffee at home doesn't have to be approached as if taking on a whole new hobby. A few basic principles will give you a toehold into almost every brew method and with just a bit of trial and error (and of course good beans) you'll discover that a great cup doesn't have to be hard to find.
Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide

Lesson 4: How to Choose Your Weapons

There are many manual methods to choose from, and some that appear simple are actually somewhat fussy. Others that look complicated at first glance turn out to be easy and reliable with practice. There is no absolute "right" way to prepare a cup, and most of the popular methods will give you good results if you begin with great fresh roasted beans and take a bit of care with your measurements.
Brew the Perfect Cup: The Complete Guide

Lesson 5: Additional Resources

Now that you've subjected yourself to our good coffee propaganda, learned the basics of brewing, and explored some of the popular brew methods, we'll cut through much of the online clutter and leave you with some selected resources that can continue your path to full-on coffee nerdity.

These posts were written by Tony Konecny, cofounder of Tonx, with help from Ryan Brown and Nick Griffith. Tonx is an innovative coffee subscription service aiming to source, roast, and ship the best fresh roasted coffees for people who brew at home. Right now, the first taste is free!


Make Your Own Cheez-Its to Create New Flavors and Ditch the Processed Additives

Make Your Own Cheez-Its to Create New Flavors and Ditch the Processed Additives:
Make Your Own Cheez-Its to Create New Flavors and Ditch the Processed Additives Cheez-Its and other cheezy snack crackers are delicious, but if you want to control the flavor yourself, make them less salty or more spicy, or would just prefer to enjoy your Cheez-Its without all of the chemical additives used in the mass production of them, they're surprisingly easy to make at home. America's Test Kitchen shows us how.
You'll need the ingredients here and the time to make the dough, let it chill, and bake it, so don't expect this to be a more convenient solution than just grabbing a box at the grocery store. Even so, making your own lets you completely control the flavor and ingredients, and lets you make your cheesy crackers just right for your tastes. The base recipe is pretty straightforward, and uses ingredients you may already have in your pantry.
ATK even shows you the secret to that orange color that's so characteristic to Cheez-Its if that's what you want (Spoiler: It's crushed annatto seeds, available at most grocery stores.) Hit the link below to grab the recipe, and see how they're made—complete with photos for each step.
How to Make Homemade Cheese Snack Crackers | America's Test Kitchen


Friday, March 8, 2013

Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 5: Additional Resources...

Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 5: Additional Resources:
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 5: Additional ResourcesSo now that you've subjected yourself to our good coffee propaganda, learned the basics of brewing, and explored some of the popular brew methods, we'll cut through much of the online clutter and leave you with some selected resources that can continue your path to full-on coffee nerdity.

Further Brewing Resources

The internet is full of esoteric guidance about every conceivable coffee brewing method. Almost any public forum post on coffee will bring out a handful of folks claiming to have figured out the one essential secret to a perfect cup. Well, in spite of the title our editors chose for this Morning School series (way to set the bar high for me guys, thanks!) perfection is an ideal we can always get closer to but perhaps never quite touch.
But for the idealists, perfectionists, and compulsive optimizers a great resource to explore is Organized by brewing device, this is a handy compendium of links to brew tutorials from around the internet, from the simple to the complex to the completely confounding.

And You Thought Gram Scales Were Nerdy?

For the most serious of optimizers, a refractometer is the tool that leads all the way to the bottom of the rabbit hole, giving you precise data about how much you're extracting from your beans. Gizmodo ran a very good piece on Vince Fedele, creator of the ExtractMojo system that some coffee nerds have come to trust more than their own tongues.
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 5: Additional Resources

More on Espresso

As we discussed in the previous lesson, home espresso has a tendency to metastasize quickly into a full blown hobby and is difficult to approach casually. Expect to do a healthy amount of research before taking the plunge and purchasing expensive gear. Some additional resources for those who feel the call:
Scott Rao's The Professional Barista's Handbook is a great guide to get started with and will introduce you to some of the conceits and concepts you'll see argued about in coffee geek forums. His second book Everything But Espresso is one of the best guides to precision coffee brewing and stirs many coffee nerd debates.
Seattle espresso pioneer David Schomer sits deep in the lineage of many current "third wave" coffee bars and his books and videos are a classic resource on the topic of espresso preparation. is an excellent resource for equipment reviews and discussion. The forums there are full of folks who are ready to indoctrinate you into the espresso cult and help you solve your shot pulling riddles.

Home Roasting

The only coffee hobby with a deeper rabbit hole than mastering espresso preparation is roasting your own beans, though the basic gear for getting started doesn't have to cost a small fortune. Many people roast on simple electric popcorn poppers with often decent results, and aside from some smoke and mess, getting started isn't too difficult.
Even if you lack the inclination to dive deep into the requisite trial and error explorations or the time to regularly roast yourself up a fresh supply, there is something really great about experiencing close up the sights and smells of the roasting process and the rapid transformations that occur with the coffee. One online resource stands above all the rest in catering to the needs of home roasters from supplies to tutorials, Sweet Marias.

History of Coffee and General Coffee Knowledge

There are too few books on coffee and a really good, comprehensive guide to approaching the bean remains unwritten. But here are a few of the books I like from my collection that are worth your time.
Mark Pendergrast's Uncommon Grounds contains a good overview of the early history of coffee, the first coffee shops, and the beginnings of the modern coffee era.
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 5: Additional ResourcesTwo books that look at the contemporary "third wave" coffee culture worth noting are Hanna Neuschwander's Left Coast Roast, and Alon Halevy's The Infinite Emotions of Coffee.
A good, concise resource to the formal art of tasting coffee, the SCAA's Coffee Cupper's Handbook , is a good introduction to classifying coffee flavors and recognizing common flavor defects. Contains an excellent glossary.
On the many issues of sustainability, I highly recommend Michael Sheridan's CRS Coffeelands Blog which does an excellent job of giving producer perspectives on the evolving state of the global coffee market from commodity to high end specialty.
Showing up to coffee industry events like barista competitions or conferences as a civilian can be a little overwhelming but provides a great opportunity to pick up some knowledge and experience some of the scale and chaos of the trade. Ultimately, getting out there and tasting coffee from many regions and many roasters is the best way to build your understanding of the bean. And brewing at home is a great and economical way to explore. More quality focused roasters are cropping up in more towns and most of the well regarded roasters have mail order options (I might be slightly biased toward one of them in particular.
Thanks to everyone who gave comments, notes, and critiques on this series. Happy drinking!

Tony Konecny likes his coffee like he likes his (insert your own punchline). As a founder of Tonx he crusades for better coffee in the kitchen by offering a hassle-free subscription program of fresh roasted coffees sourced from top farmers. He lives in Los Angeles with his lovely Chemex and a collection of hand-cranked grinders.
Top image remixed from etraveler, Subbotina Anna, and Oros Gabor (Shutterstock).
All other images via Tonx.


Indoor Plants From Kitchen Scraps: The ‘Towering’ Radish...

Indoor Plants From Kitchen Scraps: The ‘Towering’ Radish:
In January, I shared with you my latest garden experiment; “An Unorthodox Winter Gardening Project”, which entailed growing indoor plants using kitchen scraps like garlic cloves, lentils, carrot tops, a sweet potato and a radish.  I enjoy garden projects – especially ones that you can do indoors during the winter months.
A couple of weeks later, all but one of my kitchen scraps was growing very well and my garden experiment was a success.  You can see how they looked just after 14 days after planting in my post “Indoor Plants From Kitchen Scraps” Success!”
What I was NOT prepared for was how huge one of my kitchen scrap plants would grow.
Here is a collage of what my radish plant looked like for the first 14 days…
Here is what it looks like just 6 weeks after planting…
Look how tall it has gotten!
I must admit that I had no idea that my radish would grow so tall.
The flowers are pretty – small and delicate.
All of my other kitchen scraps are doing well, but none has approached the status of my radish plant :-)


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your Weapons

Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your Weapons:
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your WeaponsSo far this week, we've made a case for drinking good coffee, given tips on scoring good beans, and covered the essential basics of coffee brewing. Now we're ready to dive into some specifics.
There are many manual methods to choose from, and some that appear simple are actually somewhat fussy. Others that look complicated at first glance turn out to be easy and reliable with practice. There is no absolute "right" way to prepare a cup, and most of the popular methods will give you good results if you begin with great fresh roasted beans and take a bit of care with your measurements.
Previously we made the case for using gram-accurate scales to get precise repeatable results in your daily brews. I expect not all of you have rushed out and purchased the very finest gram scale available, so the recipes below also include approximations in standard kitchen measures. Though it will vary coffee to coffee, you can assume that 1 tablespoon of coffee is equal to about 6-7 grams, and know that there are 30 milliliters in one ounce. Whatever method you use to measure coffee dose and amount of water, the important thing is that you are using a good ratio and that you can repeat the results.
With any of these recipes, taste is the ultimate arbiter. Upping the coffee dose slightly (from a standard 1 gram per 16 ml to a stronger 1 gram per 14 ml for instance) to suit your taste is totally acceptable. Different coffees will find their sweet spots with different parameters, and the ratios below should be regarded as simply decent baselines from which to begin fine tuning.
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your Weapons

Pour Over Coffee: The Chemex

In essence, manual pour over coffee methods are simply doing the same thing as ubiquitous drip coffee machines, but giving you more control over the process. Even if you lack the patience to approach pour over with the precision of a professional barista, odds are you'll still bring more finesse and land better results than the average Mr. Coffee. (Image via Tonx.)
Invented in 1941 the Chemex is made of durable borosilicate glass, has a lovely hourglass shape, and comes in several sizes. It differs slightly from other pour over methods in that the chemex paper filters are a bit heavier than most allowing for slower flow rate, longer extraction, and more room to play with grind size.
  • 48 grams (~7 Tbsp) fresh ground coffee to 770 grams (25oz) water, near to boiling
  • Grind the coffee beans so they are about the coarseness of fancy sea salt—you can go a bit coarser than a typical filter grind
  • A quick pre-rinse of the filter with warm water can help remove any "papery" taste that might show up in the cup in the cup
  • Using a timer, add about 1/5th of the water to the settled bed of grounds in your filter (a gentle stir can help saturate all the grounds) and allow the fresh coffee to "bloom" for about 45 seconds
  • Slowly pour the remaining water, aiming to finish the pour at about the 2:30 minute mark
  • Coffee should be finished dripping and ready to serve between 3:30 - 4 minutes
You can adjust the coffee and water amounts down when brewing smaller amounts and get good results. If the coffee is slightly sour, try going finer on grind. A little bitter, try nudging coarser. As a word of caution, it can be easy to brew too fast, too slow, or inconsistently if you're not leaning on a timer.
For those with an aversion to paper filters, the well made stainless steel Kone filter is a great Chemex accessory, and a slim spouted japanese pouring kettle such as the elegant Hario Buono will allow you to do a nice slow pour that most tea kettles stumble at. Similar brewing methods worth exploring would include the Hario V60 dripper, the Kalita Wave, and the common Melitta pour over filter.

Automatic Drip Machines: The Bonavita BV1800

The ubiquitous automatic drip coffee machine has to be one of the most successful consumer appliances in history. When most people think of coffeemaker, they picture one of these devices. A relatively simple contraption, the drip brewer essentially does a version of what we did with the Chemex above—dribbling hot water over a bed of coffee grounds in a paper filter. There are countless versions of this product in every color and size imaginable with numerous features, chrome, big brand names, and blue LEDs. But very few get high marks when it comes to giving you the requisite near-to-boiling water temperatures.
The Bonavita BV1800 is one of the few that coffee nerds will give praise to (another popular one is the pricier Technivorm Moccamaster). Correct water temperature, a modest kitchen counter footprint, and a thermal carafe make this an exemplary brewer.
  • 52 grams (7-8 Tbsp) fresh ground coffee to 825 ml (28 ounces) water
  • Grind should look like typical preground canned coffee, slightly coarser than most table salt and reasonably uniform
  • Pre-rinsing the filter to minimize papery taste isn't a bad idea
  • Pre-heating the carafe doesn't hurt either
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your Weapons

The French Press: Easy to Use, But Easy to Screw Up

Many people have one of these hiding neglected in their cupboards collecting dust. Some will swear up and down that there is no better way to make coffee. The classic french press or press pot is in some ways the most simple of methods. Hot water steeps with coffee grounds in a glass. When you're ready to decant, a filter/plunger mechanism keeps the grounds out of the way and (mostly) out of your mug. A well prepared cup can show off a lovely body and mouthfeel that paper filter methods sometimes don't get.
  • Use about 15g (or 2 Tbsp) of coarse freshly ground coffee per xxx ml (xxx oz) of water just below a boil
  • Give just enough of a stir at the beginning to allow the grounds to settle
  • Total steep time of 3:30-4 minutes (if you're using a less than awesome grinder with irregular grind sizes and dust, cutting down the steep time is helpful)
  • Decant completely and enjoy!
Simple, right? But there are a number of easy ways to screw your brew. Here are a few tips to help you keep it simple and tasty.
  • Keep it clean. Making a habit of disassembling and washing the filter mechanism right away each time before it becomes a bigger chore will keep things from getting rancid.
  • That plunger mechanism? Don't think of it as a plunger. It is merely a filter to keep the grounds out of the way while you pour out the brew. Getting too aggressive with the plunger can muddy up your mug—or worse: we've seen presses shatter from an intense plunging.
  • Measure carefully. Just eyeballing your coffee dose and water fill can leave you with a different ratio each time, resulting in some not-always-needed tail chasing around other variables like grind size or water temperature.
A very similar brew can be had from the elegant Eva Solo Brewer, which has a unique filter top that lets you gently pour off the coffee at the end of the steep time. And in a pinch, one can MacGuyver a press pot like brew with almost any vessel and some creativity applied to the straining process.

The Aeropress: Easy Geek Cred

The Aeropress is sort of a giant syringe with a simple filter attachment on one end producing a very quick and easy cup of coffee. Inexpensive, portable, nearly indestructible, fast, and easy to clean makes this a no-brainer for brewing at home or cubicle. The Aeropress has a strong and vocal geek following, as the comment threads on almost any coffee blog post will attest.
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your WeaponsAs is true with many coffee brewing devices, you can begin by disregarding most of the instructions that come in the box. After all, the company that sells you the spatula might not be the best source for the flapjack recipe. With the Aeropress there are numerous methods and techniques that people have advocated and even a World Aeropress Championship where pro baristas try to out-syringe each other. The possibilities given just a bit of fiddling are seemingly endless. (Image via Ryan Brown.)
Here is a method that has worked well for us.
  • Use 14 grams (about 1 Aeropress scoop) freshly ground coffee to 225 ml (7.5 ounces) near boiling water
  • Grind just a bit finer than typical filter coffee, similar to table salt
  • Place the paper filter disk into the holder and rinse
  • Assemble the plunger and cylinder so the rubber sits at the "4" mark
  • Invert the Aeropress so the brew chamber faces up and load in the grounds
  • Add about half the water and stir to saturate the grounds
  • Add the remaining water, stirring gently to encourage the grounds to settle—let it sit
  • At the 2 minute mark attach the filter holder and filter and flip (un-invert) atop a sturdy mug
  • Press down gently on the plunger and enjoy your coffee
With a finer grind you can decrease to total dwell time. Another popular method is to brew much stronger and dilute the resulting brew after the plunge, allowing you to produce a finished cup of higher volume. Sticking with a tried and true coffee to water ratio first and adjusting grind and dwell time as your variables should quickly yield good results with just a little trial and error.

Cold Brew

It is easy enough to make simple iced coffee by brewing up coffee at increased strength and diluting with ice, but the long-steep cold brew coffee is a rather different experience—sweeter tasting with very little bitterness, refreshing, and packing a real caffeine punch. Cold brew coffee is aiming to be this summer's bottled beverage fad, but is very easy to make yourself at home.
Devices like the Filtron or Toddy are simple ways to make small batches of concentrate that can last for a couple weeks in your refrigerator. The coffee dose is typically 2-3 times as much as normal for the amount of water, ground very coarse, and left to soak for 12-14 hours. It is then allowed to slowly drip through a large reusable filter pad resulting in a very clean and potent coffee concentrate brew.

Espresso: The Slippery Slope

Ah the romance of espresso. And, as is so often the case with with romance, there is also heartbreak. Espresso isn't just another brew method—it is a full on hobby, maybe even a calling. There is a reason baristas take themselves so seriously. Much goes into the preparation of a proper espresso and achieving mastery, let alone competency, dedication, and some pricey toys. Even a talented barista will find it difficult to step up fresh to machine and dial in that first good shot of the morning—changing grinds, discarding bad shots—a lot of work just for one morning cup, only to be followed closely by a non-optional cleaning regimen that is necessary to keep the machine clean and ready for the next day.
Brew the Perfect Cup, Lesson 4: How to Choose Your WeaponsUnlike brewed coffee where almost anyone can produce results equal to the best coffeebars with minimal investment, espresso perfection is hard to attain outside of the cafe environment. Still, some people insist on taking the difficult path that leads to drinking cappuccinos in their own kitchen. (Image via Tonx.)
If you're not the type to be intimidated by these warnings, and you have the resources to invest in good gear, here is some broad advice to share to help you along your quixotic journey toward espresso utopia:
A good machine is a must. Much of what is sold as consumer espresso machines fail to hit the mark in terms of producing the correct pressure or temperature stability necessary for proper espresso extraction. The makers of many of these devices often make deceptive claims and very few of them will make anything close to resembling what you've come to expect from good cafes.
A good and precise burr grinder is a must. The most common mistake would-be home espresso geeks make is to focus too much on the espresso machine at the expense of investing in a proper espresso-capable burr grinder. A good truism is that a great espresso machine and a mediocre grinder will make a mediocre cup, while a mediocre espresso machine and a great grinder can produce something rather good.
Managing an inventory of fresh coffee can be difficult when you are tossing out multiple shots to dial in your grind or season the machine as it warms up. For espresso at home this can present an extra logistical challenge and expense.
If you start too far toward the bottom or middle tier with the gear you select, you will feel the upgrade urge grow for fancier and more commercial grade equipment.
Baristas are often hard up for cash. Consider taking one home with you and paying them for some private lessons. It is much easier to learn the skills with hands on coaching.
In our final lesson we'll cover further resources for brewing geekery, home espresso, roasting your own, and general coffee knowledge.

Tony Konecny is on a mission to improve the current coffee status quo and is a cofounder of Tonx which delivers fresh roasted coffee from some of the world's top growers to people looking to make great coffee at home.
Nick Griffith is a coffee industry veteran and one of the founders of the coffee subscription service Tonx. In addition to time as a roaster and on the business side of coffee, Nick landed a pile of trophies as a competitive barista—though he'll really win you over when he is making cocktails.
Top image remixed from etraveler, Subbotina Anna, and Oros Gabor (Shutterstock).