Roasting Coffee ….

Few people know that I craft home roasted coffees from Africa, South America and Hawaii. What started as a hobby has now turned into a definite obsession. My small Nesco Roaster will roast about a quarter of a pound of green coffee per batch to my liking. For me, it’s not a set it and forget it kind of thing, I stand there and stare at the beans whirling around in circles as they begin roasting, watch for their color to change from green – to yellow – to walnut, chocolate and finally that deep color that gives me such a thrill! I listen for those pleasing cracks as they go through the two stages of de-gassing and shedding their chaff … and finally when they sweat off that glistening dry oil that when heated up smells so heavenly!

THIS MORNINGS ROAST:

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A Costa Rican Dota Estate Coffee from Dota Terrazu.

This is one of my favorite coffees to roast because of the amazing scent it puts out early in the roast! You can tell by the beans that they are going to be quite chaffy, so I give them a brisk rubbing with a non-terry kitchen towel to loosen as much of it as I can before I begin.

Green coffee beans (unroasted) smell very much like grass when you open a fresh bag.  The first thing I do when I’m prepping for a roast is go through my beans and pick out any small twigs, pieces of string, or pebbles that end up in the bag.  The twigs and string will ignite in your roaster … and the pebbles will just kill it … so be sure to make a quick look at your beans.  If there are peewee’s in the mix (smaller beans), pick those out as well because they will roast earlier and then burn, otherwise ruining the entire batch if there are too many in there.  It’s better to check than wish you had later when you’re dumping a sad little batch of beans in the trash.

The roaster I use is a Nesco Professional Coffee Roaster. It suppresses the smoke and it quiet enough that you can hear the beans as they crack during the expanding and releasing stages. Here, my roaster is cycling through the cool down stage. There beans are still cooking on the inside, but the roaster itself is cooling down. Once it stops, I break ALL the rules and open it up to allow extra air to get to my beans, but I wait a full five minutes before removing them.

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Once you open up the roaster and remove the screen over the chaff cup, you’ll see how much chaff has collected in the cup!  These were incredibly chaffy beans and since so much chaff collected in the cup, I’m expecting this roast to be incredibly smooth. The chaff from the cup is tossed in my garden along with left over coffee grounds.  I’m always happy when I see the chaff cup this full!  I know I’m going to have a good finished product.

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After the beans have cooled the five minutes in the roaster (not what the instructions in the book says – but my method seems to work a little better), I remove the chaff cup and dump the warm beans into a wide-toothed sieve and shake off all the excess chaff.  I got this sieve at an Asian market and it’s actually for dipping stuff out of hot grease, but it works perfectly at removing chaff from freshly roasted coffee!  Shake until no more chaff falls and then set them aside to cool.

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While the beans are cooling I make sure I’ve noted everything in my log book so I know how I roasted my beans.  I keep a thorough record of how long each type of bean roasted so I can pinpoint roast times on light, medium and dark roast … or if you want to be particular, you can throw light city, city, and dark city in there as well.  I also make a note of how many ounces of beans I roasted … believe it or not, that has a HUGE impact of the coffee finish.

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This is also a good time to go over your now roasted beans for a quality check.  In the photo above, you can tell that there are some very dark beans, some uncracked beans, and some beans that are very light in color.  Anything non-uniform in your roast will effect the final outcome of your roast.

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I go through my roasted beans and pick out the too-dark ones, the lighter ones (which probably weren’t quite ripe), and the ones that didn’t either split or crack during the roast.  There were seven in this roast that didn’t make the cut.

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A good batch is uniform in color with very little chaff showing after running through the sieve.  This photo is of early season Kona Coffee Beans and it’s usual for them to be varied in sizes, but they all roast evenly.  The more you roast, the more you learn which beans will roast evenly and which ones won’t.  Costa Rican beans are more temperamental but more fragrant than most when roasting, but Kona is one of the easiest to roast.  Tanzanian is also an easy first roast coffee and makes for an amazing cup of coffee!  Nothing beats Tanzanian Peaberry for the scent during brewing!

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I package and date all the coffees I roast and let them degas for at least 24 hours before opening the bag.  I won’t go far as to say it will ruin the roast, but it does a lot to soften the boldness of a good roast … so I set mine out of sight and out of mind until they are ready to open and enjoy or send to friends.

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People always ask what kind of coffee grinder I have.  Mine is a Cuisinart Burr Coffee Grinder.  It will grind anything from the finest grind on up to the most coarse … the the burr is never a problem.  This photo was right after doing a fine espresso roast for a neighbor.  The lines on the side are where I was testing the looseness of the grind.  I washed it right after, but I’m always fascinated with the fact this grinder will grind coffee as fine as powder.

 

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I store my coffee in plastic containers and never EVER refrigerate or freeze your fresh coffee.  Grind your beans for only as much as you’ll use in two days and keep your freshly ground beans in an air-tight bag or container.  That goes for the ground beans as well.  I generally use one heaping tablespoon for a cup of coffee in a French Press.

Happy Roasting everyone!

 

Five Poetry Books …

There are, in this world, five books that I dearly love. Five poetry books that have shaped me, changed me and helped me become a better, more visually observant writer.  These are the writers I’ve admired for many years … all different in their own right, most from the 50’s, and all with a particular flair with words in some unusual way.

Meet my five favorite poets.

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishops “North & South” :   This one is first because I’ve had it the longest.  Elizabeth Bishop sends her readers on a Mr. Toads Wild Ride of vivid imagery and whimsical tales!  My Aunt Lila introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop when I was a teenager and it was her poem “The Fish” that  hooked me (pardon the pun).  “The Fish” reminded me immediately of a child’s reenactment of “Moby Dick”  and it was impossible not to continue this incredible collection of simple and colorful poems!  And there are so many that I adore: “Roosters”, “The Gentleman of Shalott” and “Man Moth” … and the list would go on and on!  It makes me wish I were related to her!  She seems like one of those people you feel like you’d call Aunt Lisabeth.

Stanley Kunitz

“Selected Poems” by Stanley Kunitz:   So this was my Dads book and he really admired Kunitz.  I had picked it up when my Dad was living and wondered how much Mr. Kunitz was paying my Dad to keep that ridiculous book in the house.  After my Dad passed away, I just happened to flip through it and a particular poem demanded my full attention.  It was his poem “The Portrait” … a poignant memory about a slap his mother gave him as a child.  In his 64th year, he could still feel it in his cheek.  But there were other less sad under-tales and they are goodies!  He writes of romance and simple memories so beautifully, you almost feel as if you’re intruding on his moment.  LOVE this book!

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“Complete Poems” by Carl Sandburg:  If you loved eating more than anything, imagine, if you will sitting down to a table piled so high with food you couldn’t see what was on top or on the bottom!  This is how this book is … six hundred and seventy-six pages of pure beautiful Carl Sandburg poetry that is enough to satisfy your craving for poetry for months!  If you’re a bit like me and you love a history lesson scattered around in your poetry, Sandburg will never disappoint. At times you think he’s writing an inaugural address in verse, and other time you think perhaps he’s just in the mood to tell you a thing or two about Abraham Lincoln you didn’t know, and then he just surprises you with a fog walking in on cat feet!  The man is a genius whether he’s writing for kids or grownups, it’s all absolutely unforgettable!

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“The Collected Poems” by Wallace Stevens:   He’s the wild card in my list, but on my list of favorite poets.  He is the most aristocratic and high-falluting of most of the poets … he’s hard to read … you find yourself having to re-read lines before you can elevate yourself to his high-thinking and finally get the meat of what the devil he’s talking about, but once you get it, you just want to cry.  Yeah, he’s that amazing.  He uses multi-syllable words I’ve scarcely heard of like I toss around pronouns.  In my favorite piece,  “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (yeah, don’t try to guess where he’s going with that title), he invites you into a corner of his imagination and have a look at his thoughts on God.  HIGHLY moving, captivating and a spark of romantic verbiage, Wallace Stevens brings my imagination to life, and that’s what I love most about poetry.  If a poet can do that, then they’re accomplished in my eyes.

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“Living Above the Frost Line” by Nancy Simpson:  Saving the best for last.  This is a book by my Mountain Mother and I’ve loved all her books equally, but this book is my favorite.  With gentle echos of Elizabeth Bishop (a poet who’s style she greatly admired), her writing is a timeless as the Blue Ridge mountains and the poems roll out of her pen like a free-flowing fountain.  I’ve sat in front of her and watched her compose … how she would look out her window, then down on paper, tap her pen a few times in the margin, and then start writing so quickly it was as if she were chasing the thought and catching it on paper.  She was a word genius, who had a flair for describing the things she observed so vividly you could envision a pink pantsuit walking out the door, or leaves on the ground turning into a flock or wrens.  I carry this book with me everywhere and no matter how many times I read it, I always find some new little discovery that I missed the first hundred times I read it.

Last but Not Least

The Reluctant Benefactors …

INHERITANCE

My poor kids.  Both grown and off on their own, each with their own particular style – but both simple, clean, artsy and bright.

For a couple of years now they have been avoiding the subject of who will INHERIT what … usually it’s in the form of “Alex can just have that” or “Just will that to Aly”.    I’m thinking there’s a motive behind all this generosity.  Neither want to be the one to be stuck with the stuff that I, myself, inherited.  And I inherited a LOT!

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You probably already know I inherited a ton of rocks which will be used in some way or another when I build the house on Serenity Mountain in Waynesville, NC.  But I was also left stacks of vintage books from my parents, two Aunts and a cousin, a cloth clown that my mother made (its locked in my china cabinet – BTW, I’m TERRIFIED of clowns!), china from a Great Grandmother by marriage, and a blue stuffed spaceman from my husband,

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Both kids want the Spaceman. The SPACEMAN!

Some things were easy to will away.  My cousin LaWanda wants my mothers buffet, Granny Morris’ sewing machine cabinet, and if I’m ever found mangled from falling off a cliff, the china cabinet will go to her as well … along with my lifeless body stuffed inside (unless the kids change their minds).

Many of the things we’ve acquired over our 32 year marriage will have to be re-homed and upgraded … so my beautiful bedroom suit that will be MUCH too big for the Waynesville house, the dining room suit, living room suit, bonus room furniture and the rest of the occasional chairs will go to a local organization that helps displaced family’s in need.

My parents beautiful cherry wood bedroom suit will become a guest bedroom suit, the mahogany birthing/mansion bed I inherited from Grandma Hamilton will go in my study, and the china cabinet will be placed on it’s own wall in the country kitchen! A friend of mine, Mary Leslie, is painting a big guinea fowl to hang on the dining area wall.  It will quickly become one of my new most prized possessions.  The mirrored bowl and pitcher stand (or commode table that once held a slop jar) will go in the entry-way.

All of these things will someday need a home along with my parents journals, my own journals, photo albums, Bibles that belonged everyone in my family all the way back to Grandma Hamilton, movie films, and all of my Fathers memorabilia from his time in WWII.  Who would want all this stuff?  If I were the kids at their age and just starting life, I’m not sure I would be willing to take it on either.

They may not realize it, but I certainly don’t want to guilt them into taking on stuff they don’t have any desire to have.  As a Mother, it’s one of the worst things you can heap upon your kids conscience.  So, every so often I suppose I’ll be parting ways with something that means a great deal to me … but has the potential to mean at least a little something to someone else.

Maybe I’ll start with the clown.  *shiver*

Naaaahhhhh …..

 

 

Obsession Confession …

I came by it naturally … my obsession with rocks, shells , acorns, buttons from shirts, and so forth. My mother had the obsession is well. Everywhere we would go, she would pick up small rocks as a memento that we had been there – sort of like prehistoric Polaroids.

When I was just a little kid, we would be driving down a country road when Mom would suddenly holler for Dad to “Stop the car Cecil”, so we could all get out and haul a rather gigantic rock into the trunk. Sometimes it took all three of us to move the occasional boulder, but Dad was always so good natured about it. He loved Mom enough to let her bring home any rock she desired because she loved them so.

I don’t know how genetics work, but somehow, I too, am famously obsessed with them. All around the house stuff like seashells, rocks, acorns and old handkerchiefs have a special place.  I even have a small box of buttons. But rocks … those have become my true hearts desire.  Some are on display …. some are tucked away.

These days, when people go on vacation, they ask me what they can bring me back as a souvenir. My answer is always the same … “Just go find me a rock!”

Rocks are one of the things I truly enjoy the most in life! I love feeling of the rocks and sometimes I’ll actually smell them to see if they carry a bit of their homeland with them … like Pakistan or Germany! Both of those had a unique t scent.  And while I won’t readily admit to it, a few people have accused me of sticking my tongue to a couple. But what I enjoy most about the “getting part” … is the story that’s always attached to it: how they got it, where they got it, sometimes there are photos .. but the “rocks story” is always lovely to hear.

My friend’s know me well and they tell me they actually enjoy going out and searching for the most perfect rock for me! One friend and his family searched the shoreline of Iceland for hours until they found one of the most interesting ones in my collection. All five of them were picking up rock after rock on the beach and his kids were arguing about who had found the best rock.  It was getting late and suddenly there was a bright flash on the shoreline that got everyones attention. The Northern Lights were lighting up the evening sky!  One small rock at at the waters edge caught the eye of his four year old grandson as it reflected the glow of the glistening Aurora Borealis!  THAT was the rock they brought me back.  Dan said his grandson held it in his hand all the back from Reykjavik!

I’ve been mailed rocks from some of the most beautiful places in the world! Friends send the rock and later post photos on their social page of the rock on the ground, a photo of them picking it up, and usually a photo of them with the rock standing in the beautiful scene! It’s become a “THING”!  Friends online will pick a rock up from their yard and send it to me and do the same thing!  Then there are those who include me in their incredible travel adventures and bring rocks back from places I dream of traveling …. like the Holy Land, the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge, the Vatican, the high mountains of Peru, the deep caves of Mexico, and the peaks of the tallest mountains in the world!  (I have rocks from 8 of the top ten peaks … and yes, Everest is one of them!)

So do you understand why I love rocks yet?

I have a THEORY about my rocks. Each rock that is being picked up and given to me has more than likely stayed in that general spot for millions of years … but in my theory, it has a destiny.  It, by destiny, is selected out of all the other rocks and picked up just for me. The fingers that touched it and handed off to me, may be the only figures in history to ever have touched it. Some of my rocks are from the other side of the Earth but yet they end up here with me and placed in a very loved collection with other rocks from all over the world. That part I know.  The “destiny theory” … well, I’m still mulling that one over.

As for the acorns, I place them in soil and watch them grow. Oak trees from the Middle East and Russia grow side by side in my yard, yet no one would ever know at a glance. But I know … and the people who gave them to me know.

On my property in Waynesville, I’ve buried over two dozen oak acorns from all over the world. I can hardly wait till spring when they wake up and poke their tops up through the soil!

In my basement I have a lot of my mother’s things.

Among those things is a ream size paper box and four metal coffee cans filled with thousands of small adorable rocks. A friend of mine suggested I go to a specialty mill and have a large sheet of Plexiglas poured and put part of my collection in it, that way I could see it them from both sides.  She said it would make an incredible looking room divider or shower doors and frames.

I’ve also thought about doing one of the many rock designs you see on Pinterest.  For now though, I take comfort in the fact that I’m simply obsessed with them.  Each one, MILLIONS and MILLIONS of years in the making …. and I and only a tiny part of its story.

Happiness!

How My Career as a Child Outlaw Began …

In my basement there is a cardboard box filled to the brim with Blue Willow china. Place settings for ALMOST sixteen are wrapped in newspapers dated September 13, 1995 … almost two weeks to the day after Mom passed away. 


Now before you stop reading, thinking “here comes a depressing piece, written by a down-in-the-dumps writer”, I need to tell you that this is anything BUT a depressing piece, and I am anything BUT down in the dumps.


This little tale begins around fifty years ago in 1966 when I was a mere six years old.

We, meaning my Mom, my Dad, and myself, were wrapping that Blue Willow china for our move from Macon to Savannah, Georgia. Dad was unpacking the china cabinet and handing the beautiful blue plates to me and mother, and we would wrap them in newspaper and stack them in a cardboard box. At the time, there were sixteen place settings along with assorted matching bowls, pitchers, and tea-sets. Mom was desperately proud of that Blue Willow set, because she had saved up Octagon Soap coupons and ordered the entire set through the mail.


I know this because every time we used that china, Mom would regale us in how she purchased that Octagon Soap for everyone she knew, just so she could earn enough coupons for the set. In other words, if you had a birthday coming up, more than likely you would get a bar of soap … well, a bar of soap along with a half of a pound cake or maybe a coconut cake.

Mom would tell this story with a lot of pride, and when she got to the part where she sent off the “bulging packet of Octagon Soap coupons“, she would ALWAYS be laughing at the idea that she bought soap every week for nearly two years, just to get that set of Blue Willow china. My Aunt Ruth would chime in, “The people at that grocery store must have thought you lived with the filthiest bunch of people!”

It was was her favorite “hard times” story to tell, and truthfully, I loved hearing it even though I didn’t have a CLUE what Octagon Soap was. 

So anyway, there we were … wrapping her china, when Dad suggested that he and Mom have a cup of coffee. They vanished into the kitchen and I was left at the dining room table wrapping plates.

Don’t ask me how it happened … what strange event happened to cause the Earth to shift and yank the plate from my hand … I haven’t a clue.

But whatever it was that happened in that split second turned me from a cherub into an outlaw.

When I looked down and realized that the plate was broken almost perfectly in half, my heart plummeted like an elevator down to my toes. Since Mom and Dad were in the kitchen, I did what any normal six year old would do … I wrapped both pieces in a piece of newspaper, smuggled it down the hall to my bedroom and stuffed it between the mattress and the boxed springs.

Fast forward five more moves and it’s the late 70’s. I’m nineteen years old and Mom was unpacking her Blue Willow dishes and the one she had JUST unwrapped magically fell perfectly into two pieces in her hand. She looked at the plate as if she were wondering what strange event had caused the earth to shift and break one of her plates perfectly in half.

It was then that I spilled my guts, and since it was years and years later (and Mom hadn’t even missed the stupid plate), we both shared a good laugh until we had tears streaming down our cheeks.

So where, you might ask, had the Blue Willow plate been all that time?

Well, after unsuccessfully gluing it back together with school paste, I decided to bury the thing in the back yard once we were moved into our new house in Savannah. However, the ground was so hard, I could barely dig a hole big enough to bury a pecan, much less two broken halves of a Blue Willow plate. So, I hid it in the garage in a box of my toys I no longer played with.

During the NEXT move (when talk of a yard sale put the fear of God in me), I decided to try once again to hide the evidence by burying it in the only soft spot in our back yard. Almost a dozen months later a torrential rainstorm washed the dirt from around the buried plate (I was the only kid alive who routinely watched rain in a terrified horror), so I had to bring it back in and hide it once again. It stayed hidden in my Barbie Doll case until 1976.

I was sixteen and a glorious invention called Super Glue saved my life.

Late one night I covertly glued the plate back together and let it dry in the back of my closet.  Several days later, at long last, it was slipped back into the china cabinet when no one was looking.

For thirteen long years that stupid broken plate had followed me around. It had been buried, hidden, smuggled, glued, and stuffed into a Barbie doll case. It had made my life a living nightmare at every dinner Mom decided to use the “good china”.  I held my breath during every move, and once when the box of china slipped out of Dads hands and hit the corner of the table, I PRAYED for a few broken pieces! I surmised that maybe I could somehow slip that stupid broken plate into the box before anyone “outed” the missing one. No such luck. Everything survived.

I was bound for hell.

So, today the box of Blue Willow china is in the basement. On the very top of the stack of plates is a wrapped plate that is very clearly broken exactly in half. On the back, there is a tell-tale line of dirt mixed with school glue from one of my many attempts at repairing the plate … a plate that no longer “haunts” me, but rather comes along for the ride as I tell MY kids the story of that plate …

… that stupid blue willow plate that Mom got with Octagon Soap coupons.

Blog: Day One …

 

Today it began.

This is the day I begin the greatest adventure so far in my life.  I declare myself incapable of failure … for in the end, I will be my own hero.

Currently I live in a noisy suburb of Atlanta.  Behind my house an endless stream of cars whiz along the once quiet road, now a short-cut to avoid interstate traffic.  Airplanes landing and taking off at Atlanta airport fly almost directly over the house a dozen times a day.  By now I’m immune to the sound.  Airplanes have been a part of almost half my life in some way or another, but I know they are there.  Like the squirrels that live in the attic, I know they are there, they just don’t annoy me any more.

It’s how things are here.  However ….

There is, three hours north of where I currently live, a quiet piece of mountain side property with a noisy creek that runs along the foot of it.  Rue Anemone grows along the forest floor alongside fiddle head fern.  Herds of deer cross the old logging trail that crosses my land, and high above my head a hawk makes home in the tallest hemlock.

The first time I saw it, it was covered in a half a foot of snow, but it took my breath away.  I knew from the moment I saw it that it was my destiny.  After all, I’d asked God for a sign and God GAVE me one.  Okay, so it was a Berkshire Hathaway “For Sale” sign … but it was a sign none-the-less.  Four months later I owned a piece of Serenity Mountain in Waynesville, NC.

That was the easy part.

The hard part is giving up my life here in Georgia where I have lived my entire life.  Here, I’m close to friends and family … my veterinarian … my doctors … my hair stylist … the hot tamale place … my favorite deli … the places I hike … and everything else I’ve come to depend on.

My father, who in my opinion was the smartest man I ever knew, once told me that if I want to get from point A to point B smoothly, I may want to consider all the space between them.  In that space lies an infinite number of choices all mine “ripe for the making”.

“Pick your way well,” he said.

That’s what I’m about to do.


MY A to B TO-DO LIST …. starting with “A” ….

  • Spend as much time with friends and family as possible
  • Purge the house of everything I don’t need/want/haven’t laid eyes on in five years
  • Hike at least once a week
  • Bake something and deliver it as a “thank you”
  • Get the house ready to sell
  • Pack and Move
  • Become a feature writer for The Mountaineer in Waynesville, NC
  • Build the new house on Serenity Mountain
  • Keep up with this blog! Be faithful and write at least once a week!
  • Keep my SH** together!!!