Tuesday, June 12, 2012

7 not-so-Deadly Sins

I love a simple breakfast, but the key to a simple breakfast is quality over quantity. I'm loving the 7 Seeds and Grains bread from Coles. Your local bakery should carry something similar and if they don't they should, because it transforms the humble marmalade toast to marvelous toast.

...but man cannot live on bread alone and a good woman needs a good coffee, which brings me to the deadly sins. All coffees are not created equal and if you can't make a decent coffee for yourself, you shouldn't be paying someone else to make you a bad one.

I'm just a little bit fussy about my coffee, but as one of my more simple pleasures in life, I want it to be good. Contrary to the popular belief that a good coffee is a hit or miss affair, there are a few things that you can do to avoid being that unsuspecting customer.

Surf watch
When you walk into a cafe, note the coffees of the other diners. Lattes and macchiatos are your best indicators of good pouring techniques. You can't do latte art with surf froth and even if the milk is good, it's hard to work with a old shot of espresso.

Hopper check
The hopper is the vessel holding the beans before they fall into the grinder. The hopper is easy to wipe down before re-filling with beans, but if it's not clean, chances are that the espresso machine heads aren't being cleaned either. Even in a busy cafe, those group heads should get a quick clean at least once for every kilo of beans in order to maintain a nice pour.

Super clean
Coffee making is messy work, so it doesn't take long for a busy cafe to make a bit of mess. However, some cafe owners like to show off how pristine their machine is by lying their shiny group heads out on the tray. I don't see shiny, I see cold. Those group heads need to be staying warm in the machine, ready to make the next shot. If the group heads are lying out cold on the tray, let someone else push in front of you while you wait for the second pour, it will be a better coffee.

Sweeten me up
I don't take sugar myself, but if a barista asks me if I want sugar, it's a good sign. Coffee tastes better when the sugar is mixed into the shot before the milk is added. It makes it harder for the barista to impress you with latte art, but it indicates that they care about the taste as well.

Timing is everything
A good pour takes 20 to 30 seconds to come out of the machine, any quicker and you're not getting all the flavour that you should out of the beans, any longer and the coffee tastes burnt. A good barista can see a good pour, but timers are a good back-up and if you're nervous about your shot, set your stopwatch from when they press that button till when the shot stops flowing into your cup.

Local flavour
Don't get me started on all the imports that I love, but when it comes to coffee, buy local. Roasted coffee beans have a shelf life and for Australian coffee drinkers, that means buy Australian. I'll drink an Italian roast when I'm in Italy, but I'll turn down that same roast after it's been sitting on a ship for months. You can jazz up old beans with vanilla or caramel, but if you want your coffee to taste like coffee, choose a local roast.

Milk-crate coffee
I've sat on milk-crates sipping on lattes while the totally refurbished cafe next door slowly went bust. Bad service ruins the taste of an otherwise good coffee. I'll happily sit on a milk-crate chatting with friends rather than put up with bad attitude.  The customer doesn't always know best, but a good business is smart enough to let the customer think they do. When it comes down to it, it's not only about the coffee, it's the simple pleasure of having something made for you exactly the way you want it. A good coffee can be the perfect start to the day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Baked Porridge

'Twas a shy, wintery dawn and my alarm clock was sleeping peacefully, but the dream of Baked Porridge for breakfast was enough to pull me out of bed a few minutes earlier this morning. 

This is a variation of Bill Granger's recipe, mostly because I cook with what I have at hand and there was no way that I was trawling the city for double cream and figs this morning. 

These proportions will feed two to three of you, but if you cook extra it will keep in the fridge overnight (unless someone eats it first).

Photo of Baked Porridge
135g rolled oats
75g of sultanas
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp soft brown sugar
850ml milk
I doubled the batch and threw it all into a large baking tray, cooking it at 150°C for just under an hour, but you should check it at 45 minutes to see if you have to add more milk.

In a perfect world, you can put the oats in the oven, go for a  45 minute run, then come home and check how they're going before you hop in the shower. In a first world kind of way, I love feeling hungry before I sit down to eat and baked oats after a run are just a divine combination.

OK, I hear you. You're only here for the food and your doona has a greater pulling power than mine. I'm thinking that you could throw all these ingredients in the rice cooker the night before, set it to start an hour before your alarm goes off and enjoy an extra hour's sleep. That could work! I'll try that one next time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

About me

They told me to write about my passions. For as long as I can remember, my passion is simply daybreak. So many people greet the dawn with dread, but for me it is so full of promise, like looking into the face of a newborn and wondering what life has in store for them.

My perfect day begins as the rowers pull out onto the water, when the cold air that should sap my asthmatic lungs is no match for the soul-filling awe of being amongst the first to greet the day.

Don't get me wrong, the pre-dawn can be ghastly and I struggle with the snooze button as much as anyone. I lie in my warm cocoon and conjure up a thousand reasons why I should just stay in bed, just a little longer. Yet, if I can just edge myself to consciousness, I recall that the experience of dawn is ten thousand reasons in itself.

I love the empty running tracks, so stay in bed if you like, but do join me for breakfast. Nutritionists will tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it's not really about the food. Breakfast is the batter drawing the crease in the sand, preparing for the next ball. It's checking your course for the new day, before you set off blindly into the abyss.

The best investment that you can ever make is to take time every morning to nourish your mind and your body, so join me for breakfast.