Wisdom in “The Perfect Cappuccino”

Anyone who has spent even a day in a European country knows that coffee and “the cafe” play a central role in European culture.  Having traveled extensively through France, Spain, Italy, and dipping a toe into Germany I know this to be true. One of the first things I do after I land in a European country and shower off the nearly 11 hours of funky flight scum, is get my hands on a respectable espresso drink and nuzzle into a seat at a cafe.

At home here in the States, I am not much of a coffee drinker. I limit my intake mostly to the occasional decaffeinated coffee or espresso (I can hear the boos, hisses, and cries that I am a poser already), as my system is very sensitive to caffeine. I will brave a full octane espresso only when I know that I will not have access to windows higher than the ground floor, for fear that I might jump out. Yes, it gets that bad, and no this is not a cry for help.   Caffeine also causes me to perspire, act like a cranker, and I swear I can feel my hair growing when I have it.  None of the listed side effects are particularly attractive, hence my desire to limit my descent into the imminent “crazy” to only those times when I know the espresso and the experience are worth it.

From the moment I first tasted coffee in a European cafe, I have asked myself, why doesn’t coffee taste like this at home?  In the States we have amazing access to coffee beans from all over the world, we have local producers of the finest quality organic dairy products, and of course we have American ingenuity, that has to count for something, so again why?  I am convinced that the answer to that question is culture.

Save places like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York, we don’t really have a cafe culture. On a whole, we don’t place much emphasis on lingering and savoring an artfully crafted “cup of coffee.”  We are usually rushing around drinking coffee on the go, expecting it to serve only as a conduit of chemical fueled energy to get us through the day.  If you have any doubt about the validity of my position, just count the number of people in the drive through at Starbucks, or even the number of people rushing around with a to go cup of coffee in their hand–a guaranteed anomaly in Europe.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love my country dearly, but we can stand to learn a few things about taking the time to savor excellence in the craftsmanship of food and drink the way Europeans do.  There is an amazing world outside of our McDonaldized, fast, cheap, and easy tendencies.

Still think I am a traitor American with a tendency toward self-loathing?  Check out this really cool film by Amy Ferraris that I stumbled upon on Netflix last week called, “The Perfect Cappuccino.”  Stream it.  Ms. Ferraris presents her case for why Europeans, particularly Italians, have a leg up on us.  She captures the essence of why the European coffee experience sends any well travelled American into blissful reverie at the mention of it.  She also exposes some spooky moves by Starbucks to torment a gifted espresso craftsman in of all places Tulsa, Oklahoma!  The film isn’t about bashing the States, or corporate America, rather it is a call to action for us as Americans to take the time to savor things that are truly great, and to examine the product of our own rampant, mindless, consumerism.  Luckily, a few of the small operations leading the charge to whet American tastes to espresso excellence are here in the Bay Area, as she features Ritual Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee in the film.  This is no work of typical leftist “commie” blather. It’s 89 minutes well spent.

On The Ranch, I am at least 90 minutes from any place where I can get a truly great cup of coffee, so I have learned to take a stab at it on my own, thanks to my Nespresso machine.  Luckily, when I feel like living dangerously and having a caffeinated espresso, I only have the second story window to worry about and there are tons of well placed objects in between to graciously break my fall.  And yes, I make a point to sit and savor.  I dare you to do the same.

Watch the film.  Tell me what you think.

My cappuccino is by no means "perfect," but I can guarantee it beats souless Starbucks

My cappuccino is by no means “perfect,” but I can guarantee it beats souless Starbucks

I love my Nespresso Pixie!

I love my Nespresso Pixie!

Like From Paris to Poison Oak on Facebook


Sunday Dinner on The Ranch, Je t’aime

I used to absolutely hate Sundays.  The bitter dread of the impending work week would creep up and punch me squarely in the face around 4:00 PM.  The late afternoon used to mark the time when my imagination would go into overdrive about how to delay the inevitable, mundane, often the painful return to my work-week reality. Sometimes the thought of having to return to the confines of my windowless office, with the occasional jaunt “upstairs” into the cesspool, clearing house for criminal activity was too much to bear.    In order to avoid an extended period of time in a women’s prison, I determined that instead  of allowing my thoughts to drift toward automatic weapons, I would channel my angst into something I love.  To redirect that energy is my way of blocking the punch of the dreaded work week, and smiling back at it as I kick it in the neck.  From this, Sunday Dinner was born.

Cooking is my escape.  It is my catharsis.  I have no technical training in the culinary arts.  Rather, whatever skill I have in the kitchen comes from sheer determination, an addiction to cooking shows (from Julia to Giada), a life long love affair with food, and a passion for entertaining the people I love.  Sunday Dinner is my ritual, it is my relief.

Sundays are now my favorite day of the week.  I spend all day in the kitchen dicing, chopping, browning, roasting, and baking–with my Pandora channel set on Dave Brubeck or John Coltrane, and glass of wine in hand.  I usually decide the Sunday Dinner menu by Thursday, and do all of my necessary shopping by the time I am Northbound to The Ranch on Friday evening, thus avoiding the supermarket wasteland that lies north of Whole Foods.  My Beloved steers clear of the kitchen, except to offer to be the official “taster” of my work.  Unlike my day job, Sunday Dinner affords me the unique opportunity of having tangible evidence of my efforts, be it in the form of braised grass fed short ribs, Valrhona chocolate pot de creme, or otherwise.  I love, love, love Sunday Dinner.  It is the one time during the week that the Ranch Family can get together and catch up.

Like any true Parisienne at heart, for me, the sound of my friends’ and family’s laughter and witty repartee, coupled with great food and wine, keep the specter of the work week at bay.  Isn’t this exactly what life is all about? Indeed, the work week is imminent, but my Sunday Dinner talisman against it’s evil, ensures that I don’t let it’s stink pollute my precious weekend a minute sooner than necessary.  Work will always be there.  These small, but powerful moments won’t.

Give Sunday Dinner a shot.  Spend your last hours of freedom from the work week sharing a meal with the people you love. It doesn’t have to be “fancy” or perfect.  You just have to mean it.

Tonight’s Delights?  Flank steak marinated in Meyer lemon, olive oil, and garlic, along with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts and carrots, and fresh pumpkin pie, of course.  The wine? 2010 Unti Segromigno from Dry Creek Valley.  Delicious.


Marinated Flank Steak--DIVINE!

Marinated Flank Steak in Meyer lemon, garlic, and flat leaf parsley–DIVINE!

The Makings of Pumpkin Pie from scratch!

My faithful kitchen sidekick…Diego

Like From Paris to Poison Oak on Facebook