Espresso: My first impression of Italy

Espresso. It’s one of those words that causes me fits because of its inevitable mispronunciation. I literally grind my teeth when someone says expresso. It’s been this way ever since I worked at the Cafe in a Border’s book store during my first year of college. Now, espresso is today’s topic not because I want to share a recipe, tell you how I’ve been trying to hack my Keurig to make a decent faux espresso shot so I can make a damn latte without buying another machine (though that IS the truth), or talk about coffee in general. The purpose of this post is to tell you why this picture makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

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Lawn work complete #coffee time.

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You see, I got married just about a year ago, and we went to Europe for a long honeymoon. I think about that trip every day because everything was just so freaking perfect for those six weeks and we hadn’t yet been subjected to the difficulties of finding “real” jobs in the U.S. yet, or any of the other challenges that we’d have the opportunity to overcome during our first year of marriage. Yeah. I think about those six weeks a LOT. At any rate, this post risks becoming about now when it’s supposed to be about then.

It was sometime well after midnight when we made the crossing from France to Italy, and I can’t tell you exactly where it happened. So far as I know, we got on the bus at Marseilles and got off in Florence, with one rest stop in between where I managed to somehow recover my vestibular system enough to not puke the whole ride to Florence. The ride was filled with what seemed to be sheer drops to the waterfront below, stunning vistas (that were completely dark) and road signs that at some point switched from French to Italian. When we made the rest stop, I wasn’t really sure if we had crossed the border or not. Until I walked into the bus station to use the facilities.

When I walked in, the smell of espresso hit me like a cargo van at top speed. POW. Yeah, I was awake now! There was a line of tall, slim, dark haired men speaking rapid, loud Italian drinking espresso from demitasses at the cash register. There’s nothing like finding out that a place is essentially as it seems on TV first hand, ya know? It didn’t stop there, though, this truck stop was an amalgam of stereotypes that would have made any afraid-to-generalize American blush. There were bundles of pasta. Breadsticks. Limoncello. All set in gift boxes to bring back to your family or loved ones when you got off the bus. I thought, okay, I can handle Italy, and it sure isn’t Marseilles!

So what did I do? I didn’t get an espresso. I thought it would interfere with me being able to sleep on the bus. Not that sleeping on the bus was going to be anywhere in the vicinity of reality anyhow. I should have had one. Damn. Then again, it’s not like I lacked for espresso over the ten days we spent in Italy. I’m pretty sure my veins were running with it by the time we left.

Now, the other day I was in the grocery store and saw that can of grounds and thought, I may not have the time flexibility or money to take Carolyn back to Italy right now, but I could sure go for an espresso. For the record: putting the medium grind espresso beans in the my K-cup attachment and brewing it works pretty okay. It doesn’t give you a great crema, but it tastes fine. Pour some milk on it and you’d never know the difference if you look on the sunny side. 😉

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Assumptions in the Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago Carolyn and I returned to the United States of America after two years in Asia. I guess if you’re reading my blog there’s a pretty good chance that you already know that. Another thing you might already know, or correctly assume about our time in Asia is that we’ve had our fair share of Asian noodle dishes. Noodle dishes in Korea, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan.

You might also assume, and assume correctly, that I have quite an interest in food. I read lots of books by chefs. I cook at home. I don’t often cook things out of these chefs’ cookbooks, but I read them anyway. I like to look at pictures of food. I’m interested in how chefs do what they do, why they do what they do, and how they do what they do. I don’t want to be a chef, but I’m interested. Everybody gets their jollies somewhere, right?

That said, I don’t mind trying things out of important big name chefs’ cookbooks from time to time. Food doesn’t intimidate me. I have fun when I cook, so I might just try to make something out of a book with beautiful pictures. More than likely, I’ll try and make a low rent version of something I see in the book on my own, adapting someone else’s ideas to my own budget and palate.

Now, David Chang is a big deal. He’s had a great run in New York. He’s been all over the TV. He gets praise left and right. Of course I’d want his book. My soon to be stepmother-in-law gave us both gift certificates to Barnes and Noble while we were still in Korea. I saved mine until I got home so I could buy an extravagant cookbook with zero guilt. I decided on Momofuku, the book by David Chang featuring selections from Momofuku Noodle House. I was carrying it peacefully around the store (carrying things around a store helps me decided whether to buy or not) when some d-bag in oversized khaki pants with a polo shirt tucked in (what is it, 1990?) and a big fat cowboy belt buckle starts an exchange based on an assumption.

Dude: Momofuku? Are you a chef?
Me: No.
Dude: Have you read that book? I mean really read it?
Me: Uh, no. (Thinking to myself: “I’m in the bookstore carrying it around, what the hell do you think?”)
Dude: Those recipes aren’t really made for the home cook, they’re too difficult.
Me: (In a fairly sarcastic tone) Yeah, but it’s got a lot of great pictures, right?

I bought the book. I’ve made fun of that dork several times, while imagining him trying to channel his (nonexistent) inner David Chang, covered in flour from noodle making with a fridge filled with jars of poorly made pickled vegetables and kimchi. He assumed I wanted to stand in my kitchen and spend all day fretting over a recipe for alkaline noodles, when I really just want to see what other stuff he puts in his bowls of noodles so I can make a cheap and easy version.

Anyhow, the lesson has been the same for about 10,000 years.

You know what happens when you assume?

You piss off a blogger and get made fun of on the Internet.