Friday, December 5, 2008

raison d'être

I rapidly discovered two things after leaving home for college: I had grown up eating good food, and bad food is distressingly common. By the time I was entirely responsible for my own care and feeding it was clear that I'd better learn to cook. For the last twenty years I've been doing just that. Not formally, and not expertly, but my enjoyment of food has led to a very satisfying process of culinary exploration.

I was in high school when I began drinking coffee. It was generally watery dreck from a 7-11 urn, or acrid dregs poured thickly from an office carafe. It did its job of increasing the quantity if not the quality of my waking hours, but its pleasures did not extend beyond that biochemical effect. One day a girlfriend opened my eyes, and opened them wide. Coffee at her favorite small café wasn't just brown water. Neither was it scorched motor oil. And there was something at the Italian restaurant called espresso. It was true love! While countless times since then I have resorted to drinking swill, sometimes of my own creation, decent beans and coffee are not hard to come by in Seattle. I usually drink or brew or press or pull pretty good stuff. Yet a couple of years ago I finally had the same epiphany that I had regarding food: Personal satisfaction could be maximized only by roasting my own beans. It has been tremendously fun.

I was not in high school when I began drinking beer, which I suppose makes me unusual. I drank very little through my college years. My beer experiences were analogous to my early coffee experiences, with the exception that I was not very interested in the biochemical effects. I enjoyed wine on occasion, but the insipid domestic beers that I'd sampled were utterly unappealing. Then I moved to Seattle. It was 1991 and the craft beer explosion was underway. Out with friends one night I had a draft pint of a local pale ale. I had a draft pint of a local hefeweizen. This is beer? So what exactly does Anheiser-Busch put into those red and white cans? Since then I have enjoyed many a fine pint, particularly from Pacific Northwest breweries, and there is absolutely no problem finding good beer around here. However, and perhaps an identifiable pattern is emerging that will reveal the name of this blog to be foolishly shortsighted, I recently decided to begin homebrewing. My first batch is conditioning right now.

I've long had the nagging feeling that I should keep a record of my kitchen activities for those times when some creation turns out to be special. Coffee roasting records are quite important to achieving repeatability, but I've been bad at that too. With food, I can make something palatable out of whatever is on hand and improvisation is easy. Roasting coffee takes so little time and the consequences of a bad roast are so minor that it's not hard to skimp on record keeping. I usually end up with something I like and I haven't done a lot of the experimentation that demands bookkeeping. But it's very clear as I undertake the complexity of brewing that sooner or later I will deeply regret not having kept a detailed log of my efforts. Therefore, this blog will be that! And as long as I'm doing it for beer, I may as well keep some notes regarding coffee roasting and cooking too. It's for me, but perhaps it will be interesting for someone else too.

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