Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Muesli for the indolent

I first had muesli, that wonderful Swiss dish of uncooked oats, nuts, and fruit, several decades ago while visiting some friends. We were staying with them before heading off to DC to see a Georgia O'Keefe exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, and the night before we left our friend painstakingly chopped up nuts, apples, pears, and other fresh fruit, poured in a oats and raisins, added milk, and popped it into the 'fridge. The next morning we enjoyed a wonderfully healthy breakfast (which offset the Mexican food and margaritas from the night before). I really enjoyed the muesli, but left with the impression that making it involved far more chopping and preparation than I was willing to do just for a bowl of wet oats, even if they were mighty tasty. (Remember, this is part of what might become my "for the indolent" culinary series, if I can get around to developing it as an actual series. Eventually. )

A while back, maybe a year or so, I had an inspiration to try a quick n' easy version of muesli to see how it would work. It whips up in minutes and has become a household favorite. Indeed, my wife B loves it as a snack.

Muesli for the Indolent

All the ingredients are pictured above. Choose variations according to availability or whim.

  • Whole, uncooked oats - Sometimes we get organic from the coop, sometimes it's Quaker or the grocery store equivalent
  • Frozen organic fruit - We typically use the berry mix from Kroger
  • Raisins
  • Nuts - almonds and walnuts are favorites here, but anything's game.
  • Milk - Organic plain soymilk is our choice
  • Fruit juice - we're fans of Cherry JuicyJuice. Organic options are also nice
  • Brown Sugar - to taste, if desired
  1. Thaw the berries in a big bowl. I microwave them for a minute or two
  2. Pour in a big bunch of oats. I probably use 5 cups or so, but I never measure
  3. Add nuts and raisins. Just dump enough in to make you happy
  4. Mix in a bit of brown sugar. We usually put in 2-3 tablespoons. Or so. I think
  5. Pour in enough soymilk and juice so that the oats will soak. I usually use about half soymilk and half juice, but again, I never really measure
  6. Refrigerate overnight
That's it! I can whip up a batch in five minutes. This is our standard weekday breakfast, and our big bowl last 3-4 days, plus some snacking.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Java Blues

"It's just the pit of a berry from an Ethiopian shrub" - Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed the World

As rituals go, my day starts with a round of stretching, a short workout, and a big cup of cafe mocha (a double shot of espresso and heated chocolate soy milk, in roughly equal amounts). Coffee's a big deal in America - 81% of us drink coffee, and 57% of Americans drink it every day. In 2006, we drank 6.6 billion gallons of coffee, according to coffee industry reports.

Coffee originated in Ethiopia, and by the late 15th century coffee was a popular commodity throughout the Islamic world. Coffee beans and plants were smuggled out of Ethiopia. By the early 17th century European traders were bringing the beans to Europe, and the Dutch were planting coffee plantations in places like Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, and Timor. Coffee was an important part of the developing European commodities market, as portrayed in David Liss' excellent novel, The Coffee Trader, an engaging portrait of life in 17th century Holland.

By the late 17th and early 18th century coffeehouses were springing up across Europe. London alone had over 2000 coffeehouses in 1700. Known as "penny universities," these "chaotic, smelly, wildly energetic, and capitalistic" were places where conversation and debate ran rampant. Coffeehouses often were theme-oriented, as it were, so you could pick your place based on your political, religious, philosophical, or vocational whim. Some contemporary pundits noted a that coffeehouse, as opposed to alehouse and taverns, seemed to promote a greater sobriety in society. (A British coffeehouse is pictured on the left).

In Colonial America, however, the practice was to serve ale, tea, coffee, and beer in the same establishment, surely a more democratic way of quaffing. The legendary Green Dragon in Boston was a favorite meeting place of John Adams, Paul Revere, and other patriots, who met to talk politics and, eventually, revolution. After the British did their silly stuff with taxes and tea, resulting in the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, coffee's popularity soared in the Colonies, while tea fell out of favor.

America's taste for coffee was fueled by large corporate entities, such as Chase and Sanborn, Maxwell House and Folgers, who brought inexpensive coffee to homes throughout the twentieth century. Coffee companies promoted radio and television shows, including Eleanor Roosevelt's "Over the Coffee Cups" program in 1941. Coffee became a fixture in American culture. In the 1950's, police departments promoted drinking coffee to stay alert while traveling. The term and idea "coffee break" was invented in 1952 by a coffee industry group, and it quickly became part of our collective language. Coffee advertising was everywhere. In 1957, a young puppeteer named Jim Henson created a series of ads for Wilkins Coffee that featured a puppet named Wontkins (pictured at right). It's easy to see how his work developed into the Muppets.

Large commercial coffee companies dominated the market until the 1980s, when smaller roasters and resellers began to emerge. A small Seattle firm called Starbucks started in the early 1970s, eventually developing into a chain of six stores and a roasting plant. In 1987, the original owners of Starbucks sold their small chain for a whopping $3.8 million to investor Howard Schulz. Schulz lost money for several years, but kept plugging along until he developed the behemoth that is today's Starbucks chain. By the early 1990s Americans developed a taste for "gourmet beans," and they soon accounted for 20% of home coffee sales. As the market for better coffee developed, so did an awareness that the traditional colonial-based coffee plantation system was rife with environmental problems, and was frequently abusing the farmers and workers who grew and harvested the coffee.

From this awareness emerged the idea of fairly traded coffee, manifested in such efforts as Equal Exchange and a growing organic coffee movement. Soon it became pretty easy to find fairly traded organically grown coffee, even if you happened to live in a small town in the Arkansas Ozarks, as I did for seven long years. That's when I came across Dean Cycon's marvelous Dean's Beans, an organic coffee vendor in Massachusetts with great coffee and a strong sense of social justice. Cycon's become somewhat of a spokesperson for the fair trade coffee movement. I've been a fan for years, and even though I now live in a town with several fine local coffee shops and roasters, I still buy a lot of my coffee from Dean.

And keeping with the musical theme of Epicurean Librarian, here's a few of my favorite tunes about coffee. First, a live version of one of Rick Danko doing "Java Blues" on Soundstage, circa 1978:

Followed by Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," from the Rolling Thunder tour:


Most of this information came from Mark Pendergrast's, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed the World. The pictures came from various websites.

Monday, December 1, 2008

If it tastes good...

Here at the Epicurean Librarian, our motto is "if it tastes good, it is good." Of course, we've blatantly ripped this from Duke Ellington's famous comment about music, "if it sounds good, it is good," intentionally adding musical allusions to the mix, broadening our palate to include food, drink, music....and we'll see what else.

Let's start off with a dozen favorite tunes about food, just to get the ball rolling....

  1. Beans and Cornbread - Louis Jordan
  2. RC Cola and a Moon Pie - NRBQ
  3. Eggs and Sausage - Tom Waits
  4. Call Any Vegetable- The Mothers of Invention
  5. Jambalaya - Hank Williams
  6. Fishin' Blues - Taj Mahal
  7. Salt Peanuts - Dizzy Gillespie
  8. Home Grown Tomatoes - Guy Clark
  9. Church - Lyle Lovett
  10. Hokey Pokey - Richard and Linda Thompson
  11. Hot Biscuits and Sweet Marie - NRBQ
  12. Saturday Night Fish Fry - Louis Jordan
Did we say Eggs and Sausage? Well, here at the Epicurean Librarian we personally only eat the former, but we're more than happy to hear ditties about the latter, such as this fine tune by Tom Waits on the Mike Douglas show in 1976. Stick around for the interview after "Eggs and Sausage" (Douglas: "Do you classify yourself as a poet or as a singer?" Waits: "I"m a Methodist."):