Mint Sun Tea

In case the three or four weeks of 100+ degree days wasn’t clear enough… summer is upon us. And, while summer is my least-favorite season, I do enjoy the memories of summer barbecues and weekends at the lake from when I was a kid. I like having those connections… maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m kind of a foodie… every meal, every ingredient sparks a connection to some memory or nostalgic feeling. I like that. And I like iced tea. I remember my pap used to put out a pitcher of sun tea at the lake cottage when we were younger… put it out, let it steep, bring it in. So, in the name of resurrecting summer time memories (and because I have a taste for iced tea), I put out my own pitcher of sun tea today… only with a twist.

Tried to make sun tea… ended up in the shade. #Firstworldproblems

Making sun tea is easy… just take your one gallon glass jug (or a translucent milk jug… or some other closed, clear glass or plastic pitcher), fill it with hot water from the sink, tie five Lipton tea bags together, plop the tea bags in the water in the jug, and let it sit in direct sunlight to steep for three(ish) hours. Just for something different, I walked over to our container herb garden, grabbed about 30 mint leaves off our mint plant, crushed them in my hand and added them to the tea as I brought it outside… voila, mint sun tea. For a little added oomph, you could use loose-leaf tea… like an oolong, a nice green tea, or maybe even milk tea… but, the Lipton bags will work just fine, as well. The mint simple syrup I keep in the fridge is a great (yet potent) sweetener… orange blossom or wildflower honey would be nice, too.

And there’s another way to use the herbs we’re growing!

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Sausage Fatty

Spent the Fourth of July hanging out at my buddy’s dad’s and stepmom’s place… it was awesome. Some good beers, good food, good company, fun with the herd of dogs… it was perfect. Coincidentally, my buddy and his dad have been embroiled in a alittle battle of who can make the best sausage fatty. Knowing the smoker would be out for today’s festivities, they decided to continue their fatty cook-off, and invited me to make a fatty, as well.

What’s a fatty, you ask? Well… it’s basically a log of meat goodness, stuffed with whatever your little culinary heart desires. Seriously… a log of meat… then, you wrap that meat log in bacon. If your brain didn’t just explode, I’m revoking your man card.

A slice of my fatty… om nom nom nomm

They’re ridiculously easy to make, too… the hardest part is weaving the bacon wrap. But, once you get the hang of how to do it, it’s not that hard. I’m not going to explain how, because I think this link from the Hog Blog does a great job explaining how to weave bacon strips.

So, once you got the idea of how to weave a mat of bacon, go ahead and get one made on a double-wide sheet of plastic wrap. Once you have that, spread a thin layer of sausage meat onto of the bacon. I went with brat meat… just sliced open the casing, squeezed out the meat, and patted it down into a thin layer. Remember, this is going to get rolled onto itself, so the meat doesn’t have to be incredibly thick. You can go with sweet or spicy Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, salisccia (“sahl-see-tsa”… a St. Louis-style sausage that taste like a mix between a brat and  an Italian sausage), kielbasa… whatever you want. It’s you fatty… do with it as you please.

Now, this is where the fun starts… you get to layer on the stuff you want stuffed inside. I went with cheddar cheese, chopped onion, minced garlic, fresh chive and parsley from our container herb garden, and prosciutto. My buddy used salisccia and stuffed his with red bell peppers, sliced onions, sliced baby portobello muchrooms, minced garlic, and provel cheese. My buddy’s dad went with ground turkey in place of the sausage, some pounded out chicken breasts, cilantro, basil, onions, mushrooms, and garlic. I’ve seen fatties stuffed with asparagus, ham, other types of peppers, jalapenos, any types of cheese… you can stick with a theme… like “Mediterranean”, or Italian… or Philly cheese steak… or just throw in whatever you have or whatever you think sounds like it’d be good stuffed inside a log of meat. Go for it.

Here’s what my sausage fatty looked like before it was rolled up… still needed a layer of prosciutto… but you can see the plastic wrap underneath to aid in rolling it all up.

Once you have it all laid out, it’s time for the hardest part of this whole process… rolling it up. It’s tough, but I’ve consumed enough burritos from Qdoba and Chipotle to have a handle on the process of rolling up something stuffed with way too much to seemingly fit in the wraper. Use the plastic wrap to help… you kind of roll it up, while pushing the meat  log back on itself… like rolling a burrito.

Here’s a visual aid to help you understand the process… wrapping starts at 2:53…

That guy made the meat log separately, then wrapped it in his bacon… like a 2 step process. I went with a one step process and built my fatty on top of my bacon. Whatever floats your boat.

Anyways, roll it up using the plastic wrap (without wrapping the plastic wrap into the fatty), then use the plastic wrap to wrap up the fatty and mold it a little more. Throw it on a baking sheet and tuck in the chill box to firm up.

After a few hours (or overnight), unwrap the fatty and smoke it… 300 degrees for about 4 hours (or until the internal temp is over 145 deg F… or 180 deg F if you fatty has poultry in it). Yes, that’s a little warmer than most smoking methods… but you want the bacon to crisp up a little but. You could grill your fatty over indirect heat, as well… or maybe even bake it in the oven (with a pan underneath to catch any drippings). But, smoking it is ideal… mainly because smoked meats are way more awesome.

Our three fatties on the smoker… mine is in the middle.

And that’s pretty much it… take the fatty off the smoker when it’s reached its proper internal temperature… let it rest for 10-15 minutes… slice and serve. Bacon-wrapped meat log… smoked… a little slice of heave, if you ask me.

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Perfect Mojito

We’ve been thinking up uses for our herbs we’re growing… one of which is lime mint. Lime? Mint? Mojito… yes, please. I don’t care that mojitos were “cool” a couple years ago. I’m more interested that they taste amazing… they’re very refreshing… they remind me of that awesome Cuban restaurant on the harbor in Baltimore… and it’s a use for the mint we’re growing.

“Hey did you make me a mojoito for later? You did? Que bueno!”

Since we just planted the herb plants earlier this weekend, we did have to buy a pack of mint from the grocery store today… I didn’t want to rip every leaf off our little mint plant just for a few drinks. Can’t wait for the mint to grow and fill in… mojitos for everyone! Apart from the mint, you’ll also need some lime juice (I cheated and bought the ReaLime bottled lime juice), a bottle of tonic water or San Pelligrino, and some raw sugar.

The first mojito I had was at Little Havana Restaurante y Cantina in Baltimore… sitting out on their patio, right on the edge of the harbor… great food. Great friends. It was awesome. But, they used granulated sugar in the drink, and it didn’t all dissolve, and the drink was a little grainy and gritty. I didn’t like that. So… I got to thinking… why not just use a simple syrup. That way, the sugar is all dissolved and the drink’s texture will be homogeneous.

So, the first thing you’ll need to do is make a simple syrup… I infused mine with some mint leaves.

Mint simple syrup coming to a boil.

Mint Simple Syrup

2 cups raw sugar

2 cups tap water

1 handful mint leaves

Roughly chop the mint leaves and add to the water in a 4 qt pot. Stir in the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature. Strain. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Making the mojito

Once you have the simple syrup done, the rest is pretty easy. I like my mojitos in a pint glass… because I like to show off my pint collection, and because it’s more drink… so, take a pint glass, drop in three mint leaves and add a pinch of raw sugar. Muddle this in the bottom of the glass… use a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon… mash, stir, and smush the leaves into the sugar to get the mint oils and flavor out of the leaves. Don’t muddle the leaves up too much, or you’ll be sucking down bits of mint… not enjoyable to have to fish the little green bits out of your teeth.

Fill the glass with crushed ice. Add one shot glasses of the mint simple syrup, one shot of white rum, and one shot glass of lime juice. Pount into a drink shaker, shake a few times, them pour back into the pint glass.

Top off the glass with tonic water or San Pelligrino, and serve with a lime wedge (forget the mint sprig garnish… save the mint for another drink, not the decoration).

If you’re having a few folks over for a grill out or party or something and you want to mix up a pitcher ahead of time, just mix two cups of the mint simple syrup, two cups of white rum, and one cup of lime juice into a pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Muddle the mint leaves with sugar in each glass, fill with ice, stir up the pitcher of mix, pour a little less than halfway up the glass, and top off with tonic water or San Pelligrino.

What could be better on a hot ass Missouri day than a refreshingly cool minty drink. Perfection.

My mojito… anyone want one?

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Container Herb Garden

The wife and I moved into a new apartment a couple months ago and we really love it. It’s in a great neighborhood… tree-lined street, lots of young families, close to work. But, the downfall is, this new apartment is in a multi-family building, so the back yard is shared. At our old townhouse, the patio and “yard” behind our unit were ours, so we felt free to do with it as we pleased… so we grew a little container vegetable and flower garden. It worked kind of well… but, the hot, sunny Missouri summer got the best of our containers one week we were out of town and couldn’t tend to the plants… we came back and the dirt was sun baked completely parched and dry and the plants were completely withered. Damn Missouri summers… But, I digress.

Little known fact: this is actually what Missouri looks like in July and August… caravans of camels and all.

I should also mention that we took a “Growing and cooking with Fresh Herbs” class last month… good time… learned a few cool recipes and the instructors gave us some great ideas on how to cook with and use fresh herbs. The lady that runs the place was a horticulturist, so she was chalk-full of info on growing an herb garden. Lots of great tips… and some good “don’t do’s”, as well. So, we were very excited to get out container herb garden together.

We wanted to do the same kind of container garden thing at the new place, but it felt a little different, since it’s a shared back yard. So, before we went ahead and just planted, I talked to our landlord and he told me it would be fine to put up a few pots in the little “garden” patch in the back corner of the yard. He even helped me decide where he the pots could go. Thank goodness for a good landlord.

Now, on to the gardening….

First, check the Farmer’s Almanac to see when the average last frost is for your area. After that date, you’re pretty safe to start planting outdoors. Also, check out the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone map to see which types of plants will thrive in your particular area. You can even search by zip code to get specific to your area. While herbs are pretty hardy and easy to grow, the little bit of info will help with other gardening ideas, as well. I’m in zone 6b, and a quick Google search revealed that anything from pumpkins, to corn, to tomatoes, to cherries, to squashes will do well. Google search your zone, as well… maybe something you’ve had your eye on growing won’t do well… so double check.

2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

Next, decide which herbs you want to grow. We simply thought about which herbs we see frequently in the recipes we often use… then decided to try growing some of them. We decided on chives (since we like making dips for parties), oregano, basil, parsley (since we like spices and Italian dishes… btw, flat-leaf parsley is for cooking. Curly leaf parsley is for decoration and garnish), and mint (since the wife likes mint in her tea, including iced tea, and I like mojitos). There’s lots of other herb options, too… thyme, sage, majorim… the list goes on-and-on… but those five varieties should work for us. The Missouri Botanical Garden, in St, Louis, has a fantastic website.. they have a Plant Finder where you can search for the specifics of any plant you might be wanting to grow… from which zone the plant does well is, to how much sun the plant will need, to how much water to use. Awesome.

It’s important to understand that there are quite a few varities of each type of herb… like six different kinds of mint (apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, lime mint), three different kinds of basil, Greek oregano versus regular oregano… and each variety is just a little bit different. The easiest way to decide which type you want is by scent… when you’re out shopping for your herb plants (yes, you’ll want to plant actual plants… heard it a ton of trouble to start herbs from seeds), just rub a leaf between two fingers and smell. How the herb smells is going to be darn near how it’ll taste, so use your nose to find one you like. For example, i like the smell of lime mint over peppermint… it had a citrus-lime note to the smell. So that’ll probably make good mojitos and be good in tea. Do that for the other herbs you want, as well, to narrow in on the variety you like the best.

A cool, refreshing mojito… probably the greatest use for mint in the history of plants.

Unless you have lots of room in one large pot, or you’re growing in a “window” sill long planter, you’ll want to stick with one herb variety per container. We’ve read that some herb plants can get pretty big, and the roots will grow pretty well… so you don’t want one overtaking another in the same pot and you definitely don’t want to overcrowd as all the plants start to fill out and expand. Mint is notorious for being an expander. A guy at work told me, that, over the course of a couple years, the little corner where his wife planted a mint plant had taken over and overwhelmed every plant in the whole flower bed… and now it’s a mint bed. He said it smells nice, but he wishes he would have known how veracious it is.

Next up: the dirt. Herbs like dry(ish), well-draining soil… logically, it makes sense… herbs found such prominence in Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern dishes because herbs grow plentifully in the soils around the Mediterranean… and those soils are (you guessed it) sandy and well-draining. So, when you’re picking out soil at the big-box home store, look for something with mulch built into the mix… nothing to “heavy” and dense. And, put a nice layer of pea gravel or some other gravel in the bottom of the pot to promote drainage. Standing water in the pot will root rot the herbs… that’s one thing that will absolutely kill your herbs. And speaking of water… herbs don’t need to be heavily-watered like other vegetables and plants. So, unless you live in a particularly hot location, or have your herbs exposed to direct sunlight all day, you can probably get away with just one watering per day.

And speaking of sun… you want the herbs to get about six hours of sunlight per day. Granted, some herbs do well in the shade (woodruff, lemonbalm, some mint varieties)… but, most herbs are sun lovers. Again, that’s just a rule of thumb… Google the specific type of herb you want to grow if you have any questions about sun exposure.

And that’s pretty much it… I mean, just plant the plants… water daily… and let ’em grow. Harvest what you need as you go. Just be careful, because once the herb starts to flower, the plant will dedicate it’s energy to the flower and not to all the aromas and taste of the plant. So, in other words: flowering herbs are bad tasting herbs. Just use your fingers to pop the flower (or flower bud) off from the stem… or use a pair of shears.

Chive flower… yes, they’re beautiful… but, the flowering also means the chive has darn near passed the peak of culinary usefulness.

More to come on how we use our herbs… we’ve got a few ideas, but we’ll be exploring some recipes and uses as we go along. We’ll be sure to keep everyone abreast (giggity) as we discover the uses for the herbs from our container garden.

Our container herb garden… put some herbs in some dirt in a pot and before you know it, you’ll have basil coming outta your ears, amirite?!!

 

Further reading:

Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center… lots of great reading on soil fertility, composting, etc

“Growing Vegetables, Herbs and Annual Flowers in Containers”, Cornell University (PDF)

“Growing Herbs in Containers”, University of Illinois

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Workplace Pranks

I love my job, I really do. It’s enjoyable, I work with great people, and I take satisfaction and see importance in the work I do everyday. And… the folks in our office understand that just because we work hard, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun… and fun at other’s expense. So… I’m not going to give away all of my secrets, but here’s a few of my favorite ways to “lighten the mood” at work…

1. Messing with the phones…

  • This one is my absolute favorite.. simple and elegant. Use a piece of clear Scotch tape to tape down the switch under the phone handset/receiver on the victim’s phone, so it stays down even when the receiver is picked up. Now, wait for them to return to their desk and call their phone… works best is you can organize an non-recognizable caller if your work phones have caller ID… when they pick up their phone to answer it, the phone will keep ringing. They’ll usually start screaming “HELLO!” into the phone as their brain tries to figure out why the phone is still ringing despite their most valiant efforts to answer the call. Works best on the “older” folks at work… hilarity will ensue.
  • Read this one online… if someone at work has a generic cell phone ringtone, match your ringtone to theirs, turn their phone’s volume down, and call your own cell phone so they think it’s their phone ringing. Nothing elaborate, but would be funny to see them reach for their phone when it’s not actually ringing.

2. Messing with the cubicle…

  • If your office isn’t overly-worried about accounting for supplies, then this one may be for you… covering their entire office (or as such area as you feel comfortable) with Post-It notes…
  • Everyday, you can loosen the screws on their chair just a little bit, until one day the chair will fall apart when they sit down. Best to do it to one of the younger folks so no one injures themselves…
  • If you work in the traditional “square cubicle” space, you’ve probably come to the realization that you work in an oversized box… so take advantage of that and fill your victim’s cube with something…

Balloons…

Packing peanuts…

Paper trash… probably best to use non-“stinky” trash… balled up paper, or paper scraps out of the shredder.

  • Cover their cube with something…

Newspaper…

Aluminum foil…

Any and every potted plant you can find…

  • Gift wrap their cube…

Merry Christmas! Wrapping paper is sold at the Dollar Tree… probably costs $15 to do this… worth every penny.

  • This is the ultimate… but you’d probably have to have handy DIY skills, or know someone in the maintenance department… dry wall over their door so it looks like their office has disappeared.

3. Messing with their computers…

  • Every computer at my work uses a laser mouse… again, this is one of my favorites because of it’s simplicity and elegance. Use a piece of clear Scotch tape to tape over the laser on the bottom of the mouse. Even though it appears normal, it won’t work when the victim tries using it. I did this to someone in a training class and it literally took them 20 minutes to figure out what was wrong… they restarted their machine… twice… crawled under their desk and unplugged their mouse from the tower… twice… started cursing at their machine… the instructor had to stop class because they were making such a commotion. It was awesome. It’ll work if you take out the track ball, too.
  • You can do silly things like messing with the contrast and stuff… but that just seems like too much hassle for limited entertainment. I would recommend things like switching monitor cords with the cube next to their’s… so they’re operating each other’s computer… especially useful if two targets are sitting next to each other.

4. Cubicle Warfare

  • One word: Nerf. I just got a new Nerf gun at Target… seems like all the younger folks in our office are strapped up with a Nerf gun of some kind. Or… be the first one to rain down a hail storm of suction darts on your unsuspecting coworkers, you innovator.

NERF… resurrecting childhood warfare in your cubicle

USB-controlled missile launcher.

  • Our work has a health fair every year… and all the insurance providers, doctor’s offices, dentists, etc, all come out to hand out their tchotchke junk… pens, hats, writing pads… but one of the things more and more people are handing out are foam stress balls. And they make for perfect aerial bombardment artillery… and they’re free. Just be careful you don’t knock over someone’s coffee cup if you miss.

What we say: “Hey, thanks for the stress ball. I’ll never forget your company!” What we mean: “Thanks for the ammunition, stupid. Can’t wait to throw this at someone.”

5. Protect Yourself…

  • You’re your own worst enemy… keep your head on a swivel. If you’re pulling off rad pranks on coworkers, chances are your coworkers are going to start gunning for you. But that’s ok. Be a good sport about it… if you give it, be prepared to take it. Laugh it off and take solace in the fact that you’ve created a fun environment.

You’re next… fortify your position.

As always, use your head. Don’t do something that’ll physically hurt someone. That’s not what this is about… it’s about fun and entertainment… not masochism. And, every place has that guy that’s ready to snap… he/she might not be the best target. Don’t drive someone to jump off a bridge on their way home or something… again, this is about fun, not emotional torture. Don’t break any workplace rules, either… and, as always… use your best judgement when carrying out a prank. Know your office culture and don’t do something that’ll get you fired. If your office has a tight office supply budget, wasting a thousand Post-It notes to cover someone’s cube might not be the best idea. Enjoy.

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Old School Wet Shave

Shaving Like a Gentleman

Shaving should be fun and enjoybale, almost like a hobby... not a chore.

Thanks to the man-version of Pinterest, manteresting.com, I’ve been reading lots of articles about manly things. One of the articles I stumbled upon through manteresting was “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa” from the artofmanliness.com. It piqued my interest, especially because I’ve been looking for a new razor to use, since the plastic Schick disposables I use give me ingrown hairs and make me break out (probably from razor burn). In the interest of trying new things, and resorting back to the “way things used to be” – because the way things used to be are, in most cases, usually better than the way things are now – I decided to splurge and give traditional wet shaving with a double edge safety razor a try.

Benefits:

  1. First-and-foremost is cost savings. A pack of 12 disposable razors is about $10… figuring one razor per week, that means you’ll get 12 weeks of shaving for $.85 per week. That’s nor bad, but the quality is horrible.. razor burn galore (at least for me). Disposable cartridge razors, like Mach 3, Fusion, etc, cost (on average) about $30 for 12 cartridges… figuring one cartridge every two weeks, that’s 24 weeks of shaving for $1.25 per week. Pretty expensive when you think about it… sure, you might be able to stretch a cartridge for a month or so, thus lowering your cost per shave, but quality certainly suffers the longer the cartridge goes before changing. You start to feel the razor tug instead of glide… razor burn… and all the gunk accumulates in between all the blades. Ick. Now, compare that to 10 pack of double edge razor blades, which runs about $6… you should change the blade once per week, so you get 10 weeks of shaving for $.60 a week. In terms of cost per shave, it’s well below disposables and cartridge razors. Don’t even get me started on electric razors.
  2. Natural vs. chemical. Look at the ingredients on a can of Gillette shaving gel… or Edge gel… what’s number one on the list? Can you even pronounce the ingredient list without having a phD in chemistry? I looked the other night and Edge shaving gels have isobutane listed as ingredient… sure it’s probably used as the propellant to get the gel out of the can, but still. Isobutane… a chemical similar to lighter fluid. No wonder those aerosol cans are marked “Flammable”. Now, compare that to the soaps and creams used for wet shaving. One of the most popular shaving creams, Proraso, contains eucalyptus and menthol, as well as glycerin for slipperyness. Think that stuff is in those cans? Nope. Just because their commercials have some hot girl rubbing all up on a man’s face after a shave doesn’t mean they’re the best… that’s the same way Budweiser and Miller advertise… they make you want their product. And we all know what you get for want those products… subpar, mass-produced drivel.
  3. Environmental impact. This isn’t a big one for me, but it might sway someone’s opinion… double edge razor blades are recyclable. Try recycling a disposable razor or the Mach 3 cartridge when it’s spent. Good luck. Plus, the lather you generate washes down the sink… and you don’t have a big metal can leftover. And, you’re not releasing aerosols into the atmosphere. Plus, all the wet shaving stuff I’ve seen is clearly marked that it is not tested on animals… think any other cosmetic companies can say that?

What you’ll need:

A razor… double edge safety razor. I went with a Merkur 180 long-handle safety razor. Merkur razors are well reviewed on Amazon and the brand was referenced on many of the articles I read. $30(ish) for the razor… so there’s an initial cost for the equipment, but there is for other razors, too (like when you have to shell out a little skrilla for the Fusion razor AND the replacement cartridges… or the exorbitant cost of a high-end electric razor). You might be able to score a double edge safety razor at an antique store, on eBay, or in your grandpa’s medicine cabinet… but, they are available new through the internet, as well.

Merkur 180... made in Germany, so you know it's good stuff.

Double Edge Razor Blades… My razor came with a trial Merkur Super blade, which has been working out pretty well. Based on Amazon reviews, I ordered some Feather double edge blades, as well. Try out some different blades… see what works best for your face… and remeber, in the end, spending a few cents on a better brand of razor blades is worth it, since, in the end, it’s an overall cost saving over other shaving methods. You’ll need to change blades after a week and half, at most. And I was surprised that the blades were almost paper thin… very flexible. So don’t be taken aback when you first feel one.

Feather Stainless razor blades... will cut whiskers and stubble (and your finger tips and facial flesh) like butter.

Shaving cream or shaving soap… since we’re ditching the gel-in-a-can, we need to generate lather the old school way… the way any self-respecting barber does before he shaves your neck after your haircut. You whip that shit up yourself! The base for the lather is either a cream or soap. I recommend Proraso shaving cream, made in Italy. If you want to shop locally, Proraso manufactures shaving cream for Bath & Body Works called C.O. Bigelow & Company shaving cream… same stuff. Yes, it’s about $10 a tube, but that tube will last you WAY longer than a can of Gillette or Edge… I promise. Also, Target (at least the one by my house) has picked up on the luxury shaving trend and sells a few types of shaving soaps, as does Wal Mart. Van Der Hagen shaving soaps are sold at both Target and Wal Mart… Wal Mart sells unscented plain-Jane Van Der Hagen shave soap for like $1.50 and Target had scented and unscented Van Der Hagen soaps in stock for $5(ish), as well. Do some leg work… or there’s always the online option.

C.O. Bigelow Premium Shave Cream... Made by Proraso, but sold at Bath & Body Works so it's easy to find... just head to the local mall. Will last three times longer than cream/gel in a can.

Van Der Hagen Shave Soap... $1.50 at Wal Mart.

Scented Van Der Hagen shave soap... Target, $7.

A shaving brush… just like the barber… you gotta whip up the lather with a brush. Badger hair only… badger. Not boar’s hair. Badger… the bristles are stiffer, so you’ll whip the lather faster and exfoliate your skin a little more as you massage the lather on your face. You can spend upwards of $50 on a brush, but I found a Tweezermen’s badger brush on Amazon for $11.

Badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, brush. Badger hair brushes work the best.

An old coffee mug or bowl… this is where shave cream or shave soap + brush + a little water = lather. Latte mugs or old soup mugs seem to work the best.

A styptic pencil… to cover the inevitable knicks you’ll ding yourself with until you get the hang of this new shaving method… it’s ok. Wear them as a badge of honor!

An aftershave or face lotion… for facial recovery. Nothing with alcohol… look for the natural stuff. I picked up a tube of Every Man Jack post shave lotion at Target for about $5.

About 10 minutes…. once you get the hang of wet shaving with your double edge safety razor, prep, lathering, shave, and clean-up will take about 10 minutes once you get out of the shower in the morning.


How To:

In my opinion, it’s easier to post Youtube videos than it is for me to describe how to do it…

An introduction:

How to lather: (I use a dime-sized squeeze of the Bigelow cream in a bowl… I also keep a puck of soap in a mug to work up a little lather, too)

How to Shave: (you’ll get the hang of it… take a look at the technique. Don’t push, let the weight of the razor do the cutting. Don’t slide the blade laterally… move it north-south with a stiff wrist, letting your arm do the moving.)


Some tips (after only a couple days with the new razor):

  1. If you’re having trouble acquiring all the equipment you’ll need (safety razor, brush, double edge razor blades, shaving creams/soaps), check out a neighborhood, local drugstore… you know, the one that’s been around since forever… the one that supplied your grandparents when they were kids. Since they’ve been around for forever, they may have all the “old”-style shaving products in stock. If you’re having trouble finding them on their shelves, make sure to ask the manager or owner about the stuff, they might be able to point out the location… and, chances are if they don’t have the items in stock, they can order them for you or they’ll offer to keep a small selection on hand… that’s what I did, and now the small drugstore up the street is going to keep a little supply on the shelves.
  2. Google search for a “barber supply” store in your area, as well… or, tell your barber that you’re getting into wet shaving and ask your barber where he gets his supplies. Since barbers use a lot of the same equipment, you might have some luck finding things through their suppliers. You all have a local, “old school” barber, right?
  3. There’s always the internet… Amazon pretty much has everything a wet shaver could dream of on their site… just search. And, once you fine-tune the products that work best for you, eBay (and Amazon) typically offer items in bulk… 100 razor blades, a two or three pack of Proraso… cheaper per item that way. And don’t forget about Super Saver Shipping.
  4. When you’re whipping up your lather, make sure to hold the brush by the bristles, where the bristles meet the handle. Kind of pinch the bristles in your fingertips and let the handle rest in the space between your fingers and your palm. This will put less stress on the brush, making it last longer. Also, make sure to hang your brush, handle up, to dry… don’t set it handle-down on the counter… that’ll ruin it. You can make a brush hanger out of an old wire coat hanger… or buy a pretty razor and brush stand.
  5. Whip the lather until hard peaks form… like making a stiff whip cream.
  6. You’ll get the hang of it… I promise. Yes, it might be a challenge to master the art and technique. And, yes, you’re face may get a little irritated in the beginning. And, you might nick yourself until you get the fell down… but don’t give up. Everything gets easier with practice… so hang in there.

My Shaving Kit... A Merkur 180 Double Edge Safety Razor... Shaving Cream... Badger Brush... Styptic Pencil (still getting the hang of the new razor)... and my lather mug. Boom.

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French Press… ’cause coffee should taste good.

I’ve always looked at coffee presses with a bit of skepticism… they’ve always seemed like something old timey… passe… antiquated… stuffy. I mean, if those things were so great, we wouldn’t have invented drip coffee pots. I mean, seriously… progress happens. Electricity was piped into every home… and all I had to do was plug in my drip pot, fill it with grounds and water and flip a switch. Too easy.

But, as I was looking into home roasting coffee beans, I kept reading “French press” this, and “my coffee press” that. Got me thinking a little bit. As I was wondering through the kitchen section at Target, shopping for a Whirley Pop pan (for roasting my beans), I passed a coffee press on sale. Hmmm… only $20… I think I’ll give it a try. And it. was. the. best. coffee. I’ve. ever. had… ever. Ever. Aromatic, flavorful… not bitter. Man… maybe the antiquated way is the way to go. Plus, outlets are few and far between at work, so the “non-electric” coffee option seemed to be a perfect fit… until I realized I needed a way to boil water.

Here’s what you need:

Surprisingly, coffee beans are one of the two primary ingredients in coffee. Hmmm…

Your favorite coffee beans, whole… whether you roast them yourself, or shell out skrilla for a bag of Starbuck’s… whole bean. We’ll be grinding them ourselves. (Btw, my favorite store bought brand is Eight O’Clock… either the French roast or Colombian)… you want the beans ground coarse… if the beans are ground too fine, they’ll clog up (or slip through) the filter screen on the plunger.

A nice coffee grinder is a must… especially for those that roast your own beans.

A nice burr grinder… I did A TON of research on burr grinders before I bought one (err… had my wife buy me one for my birthday)… I decided on the Bodum Bistro burr grinder. Very well reviewed, decent price (for burr grinders, at least). Consistent grind… works great… no complaints. If you don’t have a grinder… you can use the grinder in the coffee aisle at the grocery store… just clean it out a little bit and stick an empty bag under the spout… give it a “dry run” for a few seconds to work out any grinds from the person that last used it. I wouldn’t take my own beans to the store to grind, but if you buy whole bean coffee there (PLEASE DON’T BUY THE COFFEE BEANS FROM THOSE PLASTIC BULK DISPENSERS!! Who knows how long those beans have been in there… exposed to light and heat… blech), I don’t see a problem with using the store grinder.

Hot water… the other important ingredient to coffee. It’s all coming together.

An electric water kettle… or some other way to boil water… tea pot/stove, microwave, etc. At first, I didn’t put two and two together that I would need hot water for the coffee.. derr… and I took my press to work, all excited, just to not be able to use it. Like I said, my work is very strict on outlet usage… no electric appliances at your desk… so it didn’t even dawn on me to think about how I would get hot water. After my disappointment and embarrassment, I had to I had to stop at Target AGAIN to shop for water kettles. I found an Aroma 7-cup electric water kettle on sale… $20. I fenangled my way into an approved outlet… boom. Hot water for everyone!

8-cup Bodum Brazil French press

A French press… I got mine, an 8-cup Bodum New Brazil press, at Target for $20. Bodum brand presses are reviewed very well… so don’t skimp a few bucks to get the knock off brand. Make sure to save the coffee portion scoop that comes with the press… you’ll need that for scooping out portions of coffee 😉 … and even though it’s an “eight cup” model, that’s only enough for two large mugs of coffee at my desk. Buy bigger if you want to make the equivalent of an entire pot.

a Thermos to keep your coffee all warm and snuggly, since the French press isn’t insulated.

An insulated storage container… obviously, the glass beaker of the press is not going to keep your coffee hot. It’ll need transferred into something that it’ll keep it all nice and cozy and steamy… and nothing beats a Thermos, in my mind. I mean, everything that keeps something hot is called a “Thermos”… so might as well go for the original. Big surprise, I got my Thermos bottle at Target… $20.

You’ll also need one chopstick… I bum a few extra pairs from the Chinese restaurant we frequent for lunch. And, don’t forget your favorite mug… obviously. Drinking coffee from your favorite mug just seems to make it taste better. I like my coffee with cream and sugar… so I keep a small supply at my desk. All the stuff fits nicely into one of the corners of my cube, so having all this coffee schtuff on my desk is no big deal. I’ll warn you that the coffee is kind of grainy, since the filter isn’t as fine as a paper filter… like how instant hot chocolate forms that chocolaty grainy powder at the bottom of your cup. But, no big deal… I’ve never found it displeasing… and now I’m used to it.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Fill your kettle to max, flip it on, and start it boiling.
  2. Grind your coffee… coarse grind… about 10 ounces of beans per press will be about right.
  3. Remove the plunger and add the grounds to the bottom of the press… five rounded scoops.
  4. The water should be boiling now… set the press down on a solid surface and pour the boiling water over the beans… pour in a circular motion, so the water evenly hits all parts of the beans. The beans will start to foam a little bit. Pour until the the water and beans fill up to the top of the word “ORIGINAL” (on the red sticker on the model pictured above)… that’ll leave enough headspace to fit the lid and plunger back on.
  5. Use the chopstick to stir the beans… some more foam will start to form. This is known as the “bloom” and it’s a good thing. No need to stir like crazy, just a half dozen, or so, gentle stirs.
  6. Put the lid/plunger back on… wait EXACTLY FOUR MINUTES. Too long and the water will pull off-flavors out of the beans. Too short and it won’t be as flavorful and strong as it could be.
  7. After the four minutes, plunge the press… use on hand to hold the lid tight.. use the other hand to slowly push the plunger straight down… even pressure.
  8. Pour the coffee into the Thermos, and off you go. That wasn’t terribly hard, was it?

Like I said, my French press works great for me at work, especially since I can’t have a personal drip machine on my desk. It’s become part of my morning routine. If I fill up the kettle to the max, I have enough boiling water left over for a bowl of instant oatmeal, so I’m killing two birds with one stone.

A French press will give your cup’a joe lots of great flavor… TONS more than even a good drip machine. Great aroma. Good body… nice and smooth. Does using a French press come off as “snobby”? Maybe… but if anyone thinks you’re being bourgeoisie, offer them a cup of coffee. I bet they’ll change their mind.

Visual Aids:

just to give you an idea of how it looks in practice (don’t go by this guy’s measurement stuff… just stick to the five heaping scoops from the scooper)…

feel like a latte?

Further Reading:

Coffee Geek: How to Use a Press Pot

Sweet Maria’s: French Press Brewing

Update:

After a little over a year of near-daily use, the beaker (the glass portion) on my french press cracked. Not because of anything wrong with the product… I was washing it in the break room sink and smashed my stainless steel thermos into the glass… right after I was discussing my “coffee snobbery” with someone getting a cup of 4 hour old Folger’s from the break room coffee pot. Karma is a bee-yotch. I looked up a replacement beaker in the instruction manual… Bodum part #1508-10 (1.01L/34oz beaker)… and it runs about $20 online… which is as much as the french press, itself. It’s also available in-store at Target… right next to the french presses… but, a Bodum 8-Cup Brazil press was on sale for $18 and the beaker cost $19.99… so the decision pretty much made itself. Shop around if you need a replacement beaker.

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