Monday, July 17, 2006

ETC: Recent Non-Literary Cultural and Aesthetic Experiences I Have Had

I realized over the weekend that I'm getting so behind on logging the books I've read that I'm starting to forget which ones they are. Clearly, I need to catch up, so I'm working on a big-ass post about that. Which will not go up today.

Instead, let me dazzle you with my provocative insights about some items that have tickled some of the other nerve centres in my brain. Someone once called me "cerebral." I think they meant it as a compliment, but as a result, every so often I feel a compulsion to brag about how well my other senses are functioning.

Rusty and I made the recent decision that we would stop buying our morning coffee drinks (usually supercharged mochas from the Italian coffee shop around the corner), and would instead learn to be self-sufficient in the ways of caffeine. This decision was precipitated by the realization that we spend (conservatively) about three grand a year on coffee. If I multiply this number by how many years we've been doing this, it makes me throw up a little, so I'm not going to go there.

But we decided that, if we're going to do this, we're going to do it right. And so I tagged along with my pal
Kris, aka my official coffee guru, when she bought some coffee beans from this company. I bought a grinder. Also copycatting Kris, I picked up some high-quality cocoa and raw sugar made by this company, as well as some organic milk for a fully feel-good coffee experience. And then I dusted off our Bodum, did a bit of reading, consulted Kris some more, and then spent hours in the lab perfecting my technique. And now, if I do say so myself, I make a pretty goddamned good cup of joe, or devil's brew as Rusty calls it.

All you people who make your own coffee will be nodding your heads in agreement when I tell you that it's indescribably
sensuous to make your own brew. Taking the icy foil package of beans out of the freezer. The clatter of beans being poured into the grinder. Making an extremely satisfying racket for ten seconds while you grind. The smell of freshly ground coffee and the feel of the gritty, chilly grinds. Pouring the hot water over the beans in the Bodum and watching the mixture froth and create minor eruptions at the surface of the liquid. The tantalizing wait before you press. And then the pleasurable futzing with cocoa powder and sugar, trying to concoct the perfectly proportioned blend of elements. And then -- as if all that weren't great enough -- you have this mind-blowing beverage that you get to DRINK.

I'm not a religious person, but I finally feel like I've found something in this crazy old world that I can believe in.

All of my other friends already know this and have judged us for it, so you guys may as well join them, but our cat Lulu has hygiene issues. We're not sure if the underlying problem is that she's fat, or that she's lazy, or both.* All we know is that, once or twice a year, Lulu just gives up and decides that it's too much trouble to groom the back half of her body. I imagine it's sort of how Anna Nicole Smith feels from time to time, and hey, who am I to judge?

We do our best to brush her (Lulu, not Anna Nicole), but there's no substitite for self-cleaning, and so inevitably the dirty matted hair starts to form clumps that are not unlike stubby dreadlocks. And then we make a vet appointment, the vet checks Lulu out and declares her healthy (if fat), and proceeds to gently shave off all the kitty dreads.

Without the back half of her body to worry about, Lulu develops a renewed zest for hygiene and does a not-entirely half-assed job of keeping her front half presentable. We resume our efforts on the back half, which looks not unlike a clearcut on the side of a mountain, and between all of us Lulu starts to look -- and more importantly FEEL -- like a normal cat again. Once again, it's a pleasure to stroke her, and it's an evident pleasure for her to be stroked. Her fur is short but very thick and plush, and when it's clean it's a delight to touch.

Each time we're in this phase, we try to will it to last. Keep your fingers crossed. Half-shaved cats are not part of god's plan.

We recently got a membership at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and we're kicking ourselves for not doing this years ago. Not only does the thing pay for itself in just three visits, but as members we automatically get to skip the line to get in, and let me tell you something: I love jumping lines. In my defence, let me add that I try really, really hard not to think,
Haha! See ya inside... SUCKERS! as we scoot past everyone standing in line.

The gallery changes its exhibits often enough that we can always count on going at least four times a year, and having a membership card already in hand eliminates the mild psychological hurdle that always comes up for me when I'm trying to weigh the benefit of going someplace against the trouble and time and expense. Plus, if you want to go back and see stuff again, you can. Bonus!

There are four exhibits at the gallery right now, but the one I like the most is called
Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art. I'm going to be honest right up front and tell you that I've never really gotten native art before, despite being part native myself. My First Nations status is purely technical. I know nothing about this aspect of my culture, and like most Canadians, haven't really had any interest in learning much about the people who were here first. This exhibit, however, was a breakthrough for me, thanks mostly to Rusty, who spent a few days on a reserve up in the Queen Charlotte Islands a couple of years ago while producing a TV segment on Haida art, and met many of the contemporary artists whose work is now in this exhibit. Rusty gave me a customized tour of the exhibit, giving me a better back story on the pieces than the gallery placards were able to do, and he peppered it with stories from his trip (like the dinner he was invited to at one artist's house, where he ate deer spaghetti, which he still raves about).

Anyway, it's a really cool exhibit. It places contemporary pieces alongside traditional pieces that are sometimes hundreds of years old, and you can learn so much by seeing the tiny differences between the two (and by reading the literature alongside the pieces). I liked it a lot and hope to go back for another look before the exhibit ends in September.

I don't know how many of you do the internet radio thing, but Rusty's gotten really into it, as have I by osmosis. The station we play about 90 percent of the time is KCRW, which Rusty has aptly dubbed "alternative adult contemporary." In other words, it's easy listening for thirtysomething hipsters. The station plays everything from ambient tracks to groovy contemporary covers of '80s pop songs. They also do smart talk radio, some of which is available as podcasts, including (my favourite) the Bookworm segments.

Hm. I'm kind of drawing a blank on this one. Yesterday, Sam made a poop that melted all the hairs inside my nose. Does that count for anything?

And on that note, the young master is awake from his nap, so I've got to skedaddle. Get out there and feast your senses, okay?

*Just so you know, Lulu came to us fat, and she's firmly resisted our encouragement that she might want to do something about it... purely for health reasons, mind you. We're not fattists in our house.


White Trasherati said...

Wow. 3 grand? I feel ill. I do brew my own 4-shot latte in the mornings, but haven't the courage to add up what the ones from the shops cost me. And love the Bodum! Just thought yesterday that I need to buy one.
(Suggest that you don't freeze the coffee beans - it dries them out and the oil is vital to the flavor. Airtight container that's not clear would be better.)

Your Anna Nicole Smith analogy made me snort with mates then had to read it. Seems a few of us share the guilty fat-shaved-cat secret with you.

Tammy said...

We actually spend FOUR grand a year on toilet paper, but that's because we buy the gold-plated brand. It's a little crunchier, but we just loving the hedonistic feeling of excess!

Want to know another nutty thing I've done? Used up a tonne of airmiles on a ticket to fly myself and my toddler practically across the country -- including a two-hour stopover each way -- to visit someone who doesn't even return my phone calls or emails. :P

Thanks for the trip about not freezing the beans, WT, and thanks also for your kind words in your other comment. I think my block has become unblocked.

Anonymous said...

I love the radio over the internet thing, and also listen to KCRW most of the time. And wind up spending tons of money on music as a result. But that's a good thing, right?

As for the coffee, substitute a more caffinated beverage and I'm right there with you (it's a bit harder to produce myself though).

landismom said...

I'm sorry to say that the only one of these sensual experiences I've shared yesterday is the last one.

Paul said...

You don't even want to know what we spent recently on the Rancilio Sylvia espresso machine, the Rancilio Rocky Grinder and a ton of freshly roasted espresso beans, etc. Oh, can't forget the $30 tamper and other necessary crapola!

It makes fabulous coffee, though, and makes our wonderful place twenty miles out of town all that much better.

Em said...

Somehow I feel that working in a coffeeshop and making sixteen lattes in a row has now made me numb to these pleasures that seem to make others so happy.
Maybe I should start drinking coffee in order to better appreciate the magic effect it apparently has on everyone else.


/end animosity towards the caffiene-oriented.

And three grand? I can totally see that. A double-shot latte from my place sells for around five bucks a pop; (and that same bottle of water that sells for .99 at the gas station? Is 2.50 here!)

Tammy said...

Uli, I'm not sure what more-caffeinated beverage you're talking about, but I keep picturing some kind of noxious Mountain Dew/Red Bull cocktail. Please tell me it ain't so.

Landismom, you have my deepest sympathies, and Nancy, you have my deepest envy. Though considering I was intimidated by the Bodum, I'm lightyears away from an advanced rig like yours.

Em, I'm angry FOR you. I just don't get lattes. It's a coffee with cream! It's not worth five bucks! Coffee with chocolate... now THAT'S worth five bucks. Heh.

Anonymous said...


Check out this coffee place. Not only does it provide organic, fair trade coffee, but it's also unroasted. You roast it yourself, which you can do in an oven, or their handy (i.e. expensive) device. It is truly the richest coffee I've had. When they brewed it, there was more froth than coffee. "Take that, espresso crema!"

I went nuts over this stuff.

Merchants of Green Coffee

that mckim girl said...

My cat Darcy has the same problem. I have just started to realize we are not alone in this...

lazy cow said...

3 grand on coffee. Imagine the number of books you could've bought with that?
Have you tried using the Italian cafetiere thingies that you boil on the stove? I think it makes far superior coffee to the plunger/French press, which I also have. And it stays hotter a lot longer.
You've inspired me to start grinding my own beans though.

Anonymous said...

Just the old diet coke, I assure you!

Em said...

In a fit of what I think is irony...I just got a second job. At another coffeeshop.
Only this one has fancier drinks, and it's all organic and free-trade. And...hand-ground beans or something...

Cataclysm said...

Ohhhh!! I just love being mentioned in someone else's blog!! Ok, I don't think I've been mentioned in anyone else's blog but that just makes this posting so much more special!!!

But when I read this post, I had to do a small moment of apology to you Doppleganger. Y'see, when you bought the wonderful and amazin' Pemberton beans, I had this little moment of, "what are you gonna do with those at Abruzzo's (the local coffee shop)".

And then when you proudly showed me your pristine, beautiful and totally classic Bodum (ever so much nicer than my own 'new' edition I might add, no touch of jealously) that you had kept for years in your basement, well, there were a few other thoughts I had that I should just apologize now for. I mean, its like if I keep my 1st edition Shakespeares in a musty damp corner... or my Frida Kahlo's in direct sunlight... or if I used artifical vanilla extract...

But your new-found enthusiasm for the 'devil's brew' has almost completely redeemed you!!

See, I too used to be a barista in Southern California Em! And if I even took a passing dislike to anyone, I would 'accidently' use decaf for their lattes! Oh yes, people need to respect their baristas!! And that tip jar is there for a reason!!

Thanks Timon - I immediately forwarded this to my Mom whose religious event every Sunday is roasting her own green beans in a modified popcorn popper. That's almost like being a gynaecologist or urologist - its just too much information (and weird smell) to roast my own but those who are into it are really into it!! I know a fetish when I see one!

Just wait till Melissa O reads this post... Her husband is a real Fair Trade coffee roaster!

Tammy said...

Thanks for the link, Timon. I don't think I'm ready for roasting my own beans yet, but it's tantalizing to have a new goal. Right now I'm in coffee base camp. Roasting my own beans is Everest. But I've bookmarked that site. Someday...

Hee! Kris/Cataclysm, your comment made me laugh out loud. I had no idea that our Bodum was such a coveted item. It's a good thing we kept it in a clean corner of the basement... right next to our original folio of Shakespeare's sonnets. Heheh.

You'd be so proud of me. I just talked with the nice people at Pemberton Valley and ordered FIVE POUNDS of Upper Valley Dark beans. Get this, though: to save on shipping costs (seven bucks a pound by regular mail -- ack!), they're shipping the beans to me via Greyhound, so I get to go pick them up at the bus station. Isn't that awesome? Hardcore!

Cataclysm said...

Oimygosh!! Coffee by Greyhound!! That is just so Canadian! [I've been saying that a lot today, even since the awful finale of Canada's Next Top Model... we almost turned it off after Sisi wasn't in the top two...]

You let me know if you need to pick it up this weekend because I can drive (and take the pics!!)

And if you are ordering so much, you might want to try their medium roast - the roaster raved about it but her sample might have just been a little weak... now that you are becoming the connoisseur!! You could teach her a thing or two about brewing it for exactly 15 min!!!

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