Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

soy milk

Got (Soy) Milk?, morning fix of soymilk and coffee,
photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I picked up my milk habit in Granada, Spain, in 1986. There my morning ritual was to walk out the door, hop the narrow cobblestone road to the bar across the way, and order a tall glass of café-con-leche. Pepe, the bar owner, prepared it with hot milk and just a splash of strong coffee.

Milk became over the next 20-plus years my daily vice. In all respects it seemed to be a respectable habit. My nails grew strong, hair thick, bones firm. One would expect (and I do) that my two cups of milk-and-coffee a day kept osteoporosis away.

But there were downsides. The worst was at night as I lay on my back and drifted off to sleep. I’d wake up choking to what felt like a wet hairball in the back of my throat. Mucus was the culprit, and it wasn’t just at night. When I exercised I had to clear my throat like a smoker with a hack. I suffered from morning stuffiness and a drippy nose even when it wasn’t allergy season. And forget about allergy season! During those months I was a poster child for Kleenex.

But the worst of the milk side effects hit recently as I began to enter menopause. If you’ve gone through menopause, you know the symptoms. Sore boobs, hot flashes, mood swings (mine went from grumpiness to rage).

Women I knew told me that I ought to try soy milk. My sister-in-law said it had an instant calming effect on her. Soy beans contain isoflavones, which produce an estrogen-like effect on the body. Inspired, I gave it try.

At first I disliked it. The sweetened kind was too sweet; unsweetened tasted like liquid chalk. For a few months I tried almond milk, then coconut. Nothing stuck. I turned to green tea (since I drink black tea the way I drink coffee) but didn’t like that either. I fumbled through my mornings, lost. I lamented that I’d inadvertently dumped my coffee habit. I missed my ritual.

I don’t have all that many vices, and honestly, milk-and-coffee probably did more good for my health than bad. Maybe that’s why I kept trying to find the right non-dairy version of my old favorite beverage.

Persistence paid off—I have finally discovered the secret to making the kind of non-dairy leche-con-café that might even make ol’ Pepe proud.

I am now an avid soy milk drinker. The extra mucus is gone, as are a couple of extra pounds. I only rage once in a blue moon. But most importantly, I got myself a new morning ritual. Life is good.

Roma’s Menopause-B-Gone Soy Milk-and-Coffee Drink

Start with a good brand of unsweetened soy milk. Not all brands are the same. Soy milk is processed from soy beans, and as with other processed foods, the processing can take something that is healthy and make it unhealthy. So if you’re going to drink soy milk, you need to check out the soy scorecard.

Pour about a cup of soy milk into a glass saucepan (preferably with a pouring spout) and heat on low for about 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. I add just enough local honey (no more than a teaspoon) to give the unsweetened soy milk a hint of sweetness. I’m not a fan of sweet coffee, and so I’m stingy with the honey. Just a bit. Helps with allergies, too.

Once the soy milk is good and hot yet not boiling, pour it into a curved mug that fits your hand just so. Add in enough strong coffee to top the drink. (I make the coffee beforehand in a French press.)

Walk into your writing room, sit down, take a few sips, and then write. A calm beginning to any day.

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My favorite coffee shop has light and green, is serene. The food is one of the biggest draws, a tortilla breakfast sandwich for $2.99, and it has bacon inside and a poached egg, cheese, lettuce, salsa. The best dish is a red chile tamale with a poached egg on top. I’m not a poached egg fan normally, so I know I love a coffee shop when it’s got me loving poached eggs.

Oasis is a furniture shop, also, an odd combination: coffee and outdoor and indoor furniture. If there were a theme to the furniture it would be serenity. Second time I’ve used that word when talking about Oasis. Several fountains throughout the place, wind chimes, wicker and bamboo chairs and tables, statues. Some statues are giant Buddha heads, another is Saint Francis of Assisi, the guy known for his love of animals. If Jim were a modern-day saint, he’d be St. Francis.

I like the color of the place, dark wood tables and the wind chimes and bird feeders come in all colors of blown glass. I like that my favorite coffee shop gets all manner of people, old, young, single, couples. Here, at the Starbucks where I’m hanging out while Em is getting a Math tutor lesson, 85% of the people who’ve come in don sports outfits, like they’ve just stopped in after a game of tennis or a jog. If this Starbucks were a city, it’d be Boulder—young, fit, and blonde.

I’m a loyal coffee shop consumer, a patron, I suppose. I will go to my favorite coffee shop at least once a week, not as frequently, I realize, as the loyal Starbucks patron. Some people stop in daily, drop that $5 every single day. I’ve seen stats that show how if you invested your coffee habit dollars into a good mutual fund you could within a few years have several thousands of dollars.

I am of that ilk, I’m afraid, the person who rather than fuel a coffee habit every day at my favorite coffee shop will save the money and drink my morning drink at home most days. But I’m still loyal, I still try to do my part to keep a coffee shop solvent. I’ll take my daughters to Oasis most weekends and together we’ll order drinks, breakfast, and if we’re real hungry, a couple of pastries to share. Oasis has the best pastries.

If I lived in Albuquerque, I’d hang out at Java Joe’s, which is across from Robinson Park, that old part of downtown where Mom used to shop at Arden’s. For all I know, Java Joe’s is the old Arden’s. Or there’s that newer shop in LoDo, the lower downtown district, that is so cool, it has a hidden patio that reminds me of being in another country. I’ve only been there once, last summer, and I hope it survived. Just like I hope Oasis survives.

Hard to imagine any of these Mom & Pop places competing with this Starbucks, though, the steady stream of jogging-suit-clad men and women. I swear at least 40 coffee drinks have been sold in the 40 minutes we’ve been here.


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My favorite coffee shop is the Blue Moon on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Large windows facing an urban street; back-lit hideaways with less light, more cozy. Then there is my favorite table. I have two of them. The one across from the half moon string of lights over the serving bar. And the one right by the front door, up against the cooler. I would sit with my back to the cold white wall, facing the refrigerator wind that blew through the door a Minnesota winter. A writing group I used to be a part of met at the Blue Moon once a month. We called it the Blue Mooners. It has disbanded now.

Second favorite coffee shop? Diamonds in Northeast on Central Ave. The parking is limited but I like the checkerboard flag, that the owners are women bikers, that I can hide away inside what used to be the building’s bank vault. Are the walls green, yes, I think the walls are mint green with vintage lamps and tables. I don’t know how people make it in the coffee business. It was mentioned in the Writing Topic that people get into it because they love the product. We’ve got Caribou’s corporate headquarters here in Minneapolis. I’ve always tried to support them. Who can compete with Starbuck’s? And Starbuck’s may not even be the best — but they have the longest arms.

Kiev is sleeping next to me at almost 1am and I’m writing about coffee shops. She thinks I’m nuts and has left me in the dust with her zzzzz’s. Sometimes she snores her little cat snores. Mr. StripeyPants is more likely to take long, deep breaths. Long deep cat breaths. He does it when he’s frustrated or when I won’t play with him. Cats like three things: exercise (to them it’s play), food, and love. Now that I write the words, those are the same things humans need. Not necessarily in that order.

I’m fond of Tazza in Taos because I’ve got memories there with my writing friends, memories of sitting alone and jotting practices in my wire bound notebook with a fast writing pen. But there’s Taos Cow. I wrote there once, too, after a trip to the D. H. Lawrence Ranch. I have read my writing in coffee shops which, looking back, horrifies me. How in the heck did I stand up there and do that? It was a launching pad of sorts, the kind of thing you do when you’ve got nothing to lose. Maybe I need to get back into it. Coffee shops are forgiving. Also noisy. Writers and poets crammed between fiddle player and ragtime. We stuck it out. It’s important to stick things out.

All of the coffee shops have WI-FI now, which begs the question — how do they make any money? I read an article on how people would camp out in coffee shops for the free WI-FI and not buy any drinks. Or buy only one, then stay for hours chatting with their friends, writing, reading. Taking up tables and space. How do you balance the bohemian slant of a good coffee shop with the real need to make money. They need to make money to stay alive. Just like we do.

When I was a teenager, the coffee shop of choice was Dunkin’ Donuts. There was no Starbucks. No Peets, Caribou, or Java Train. No Diamonds, Urban Bean, or Anodyne. I had a friend who worked at Dunkin’ Donuts one summer. It was 1976. She wore all white (no hairnet but instead one of those creased paper hats) and served me a free cup of coffee when I came in. I’d watch her pluck lemon crèmes off the slanted steel shelves, and place them next to chocolate coconut cake donuts and fry-bogged glazed donut holes. Dunkin’ Donuts coffee smelled good, that old style percolator odor that gets into the nooks and crannies of a place. The price of a cup of coffee in 1970 might have been 10 cents, a quarter. Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar. For a cup of perked coffee, I’d stand up and holler.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, March 26th, 2010


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By OmbudsBen

Yesterday Part 1 ended with my newsletter story “Coffee Muggings,” about the misappropriation of coworkers’ coffee cups. Little did I know, that was one of the more peaceful brew-hahas the stimulating bean would initiate for me. This was back in the years B.W. (Before Wife), and for a while I dated a lively young woman, more given to night life than morning’s tranquil pleasures. Still, as I got to know her better and we enjoyed more movies and meals together, we soon were getting a jump on our weekends by waking in the same place, too.

Which is when I made my next caffeine-fueled discovery.

For as extroverted as she was the rest of the day, as much of a dynamo as she could be when we went out evenings, mornings were an introverted affair — it seemed she waged a painful battle with wakefulness. I, on the other hand, happy to have made a new friend and mind alive with the prior evenings events and conversations, would wake ready to quietly say hello and pick up anew.

She might manage an answer or two, but her replies were decidedly monosyllabic, until she finally turned to me, impatiently brushing hair out of her morning face and plaintively whimpered, “It’s not fair! Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee!” before she collapsed face down into her pillow.

Well, that was easily remedied.

So I began making coffee for her, which brought me to the second discovery. After she had visited my place several times, we spent a night at hers, and I woke the next morning, ready for her to begin the coffee ceremony for me. Unfortunately, we had plans to be somewhere, and the demands of the morning were already upon her when she woke.

As I smiled and asked, “Is there any coffee?” she answered, “Yes, it’s downstairs. Why don’t you go make some?”

Which I did, and found mildly amusing, but my women friends shook their heads in warning. And they were right. It was the first whiff of inequity, a sort of coffee-colored blotch on the early relationship, and proved a kind of Rorschach test in reverse. For if some find love reproduced in the ink blots, I saw the opposite. Subsequent events outlined a distinct incompatibility, and we were soon waking apart, a move I’ve since learned was well-advised. And it was coffee that spilled the beans, as it were.

I do not drink coffee first thing in the morning. While it may be starter fluid for some, it is more the oil of my day. I rise and brew a pot for us, deliver a cup to my wife and reserve the rest for my thermos. She wakes slowly, and just as no blossom greets morning suddenly, her transition from somnolence to sentience is never abrupt, either. It seems a gradual emergence, and she takes in her coffee like a flower drinks in sunshine — thirsty flowers, especially. Once she gets started she downs a cuppa far quicker than I, drinking it while it’s still far too hot for normal human consumption. The marines may be known as leathernecks, but gauging from my wife’s ability to down a cup shortly after it stops boiling, the lining of her throat would well qualify for the few and the proud. She leaves me in her dust — or her grounds, perhaps.

My grandfather had a trick for drinking it while hot — he poured a little into his saucer. His wide hands would grip the saucer between thumb and finger and he lifted the disk carefully to his lips, blowing across the thin flat surface of the quickly cooling coffee, and winking at me as if sharing a good trick. I wish I could share a cup with him now, I wish I had a chance to hear him talk about FDR or Ike, the price of crops or telling jokes on his friends. (“What goes va-room, screech! va-room, screech! va-room, screech!? Denny Brighton at a flashing red light.”)

I wish I had a chance to visit my great-aunt Florence’s farmhouse kitchen again, with the smell of its wood stove, the thin-slatted white wainscoting, and her deep, full pantry. Even as a child, I felt transported back in time. I wish I had a chance to taste her coffee again, however thick it was, and however it “stands up” against the latest trendy blend. It could be that a good cup of coffee can be made just as much by the company you have as by the country of its origin.

I bring my thermos in to work with me, and do not pour my own first cup until I’m sitting at my desk. Now is the time I want the mind engaged, to be alert, aware. For me, my cup is still akin to Bobby, the companionable little dog, loyal nigh unto death. I like to recognize my mug, my boon companion, right away. If they ever invented a vessel that wagged its handle in recognition, I’d be a sucker for it. And microwave ovens are a blessing for me. Top it off and warm it up, and back to work I go.

In fact, my faithful cup is cold now. It’s time for a break.

About the author: OmbudsBen once traveled to the island of Java in Indonesia and ordered a “cup of java, please.” His traveling companion was quite amused by the blank stares the request drew, everywhere. While the Javanese are familiar with the term hamburger, and our word catsup comes from their word kecap, if they use slang when ordering a cuppa joe, it does not involve the word java.

Since then, he has met with similar rebuffs involving Vienna sausages, French fries, and Chinese fortune cookies. He found some consolation in a Belgian white ale. You can read more about him by clicking here.

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By OmbudsBen

I’ve known a lot of women who rely on coffee for ignition. A kind of starter fluid, rise and grind. In my experience, it’s enough to draw a tenuous gender distinction, so long as I draw it carefully, or at a safe distance. Of course coffee can be starter fluid for men, too, but in my family the percolation prerequisite (the perc perk?) is less dire for men. We’re early risers by nature. As a kid I was a morning paper boy and would no more have dreamt of having a jolt of coffee first than sticking a fork in an electrical socket.

It was different for my mom, who wakes like a tightly closed flower and isn’t going to open up until she’s got a little boost of caffeine running through her veins. Hoping for the best perhaps, but caffeine-fortified for the worst. I grew up in a medical household where one of the jokes was that the first IV of the day should be run from the coffeemaker upstairs to our mother. She might have tried it, too, but as she was the only one trained to start an IV, she wasn’t taking any chances with the rest of us. Not without having a cup of coffee first.

We brewed ours like everyone else did, out of an aluminum canister labeled “coffee” with a black plastic lid and kept on the kitchen counter next to three others for flour, sugar, and salt. After Mom had her first upon rising and most of us had a cup with breakfast, we were good to go, and I don’t think we gave coffee much thought after that. It was, at most, break fluid. You complained if it sat on a burner too long and cooked down to the consistency of 30 weight oil, but none of us ever thought to ask whether our beans came from Guatemala, Kenya, or Sumatra.

I now live among people who believe that coffee is more than just a plant, a product of agriculture. One of them told me that the word bean doesn’t do the fruit of the coffee plant justice. Beans are kidney, pinto, lima, and string. The elixir of coffee is finer stuff, more powerful; it is morning’s complement to an evening’s cocktail.

My grandfather would have scoffed at distinguishing coffee as separate from beans. He was a farmer before managing a grain elevator, one of the gray prairie spires that gather our corn, wheat and oats. His simple linoleum-floored office, with metal furniture and desk, kept coffee simmering on a burner, as a social gesture for local farmers. It was a place to do business as well as share a cup. They’d formed a cooperative, and I imagine sharing a pot of coffee was an extension of that, discussing the price of commodities and the events of the day as they sipped thin coffee. They were a dry-humored bunch of leather-skinned old farmers who told jokes about each other, and who grew the grain that may well have gone into sandwiches you’ve eaten.

So their coffee was more a social beverage than a starter fluid, meaning what they drank was weak by our standards. I suppose that way they could sip it frequently during the day. Or maybe after a few hours of cooking down on the burner it wasn’t too lethal, I’m not sure. But Grandpa wasn’t fond of thick stuff. My great-aunt Florence, on the other hand, favored a potent pot. “That Florence,” Grandpa said, “brews a cup of coffee you could stand on.”

Florence, I believe, resented the notion. I never heard Grandpa say it around her, but she complained about thin restaurant coffee to me once. “Just a spot of cream I added,” she groused as an aside, “and the whole cup turned white. It was too thin for cream. What that coffee wanted was milk.”

I left home as a young man, moving to a distant city, where the notion of coffee as sensory experience had escalated far beyond the kitchen counter canisters of my youth. My peers debated refrigerated or frozen, bought fancy grinders and coffeemakers that ground beans just before brewing, and they considered the qualities of foreign beans like the French discuss wine. My coworkers debated which vendor purveyed the best coffee; one disgruntled employee in accounting vehemently refused to drink the trendiest blend, a pungent brew he likened to the odor of camel droppings. (How did he recognize the scent?)

The topic of office coffee gathered so much steam we had a mini crisis over the cups, and I wrote a humor piece, called “Coffee Muggings,” for our office newsletter:

It’s Monday morning, and after the week’s first crawl to the office you’re approaching your goal – a cuppa hot coffee. But just as you near caffeine paradise, good humor is snatched from the jaws of java heaven as your very own coffee cup, the one your lips are accustomed to, is nowhere to be found. It happens, and there’s nothing to be done except snap at your boss or snarl at your secretary, or maybe blame Housekeeping and plot revenge. People seem to fall into two distinct camps on this. Some, like joyful beagles, go through life befriending all, eager to share any old coffee cup they have. For them, the trauma of separation from one’s coffee cup elicits nothing more than knit brows and a quizzical smile. Others are like Greyfriar Bobby, the Scottish terrier loyal nigh unto death, and a coffee cup is a treasure, a true friend lost in the moment of need.

This is a friendly plea from the terriers to the beagles. A number of cups are “missing in action” and the woeful howling emanating from our kitchen some mornings is a sorry sound. If you haven’t a cup of your own, please use a plain tan cup or one of the unclaimed castoffs in the far left cupboard. It may save on churlish morning manners – some bites can be worse than their barks.

And that was just about the cups, the collection of motley travel keepsakes from the Grand Canyon or Wall Drugs, South Dakota. Cups with heat-sensitive logos where the Phantom of the Opera would appear or some corporate logo would be revealed promising a solution to our temp employee needs, until the heat-sensitivity wore out and the poor phantom lost his disappearing act, looking a little bit sheepish.

Stay tuned for “Coffee Rorschach – Part 2,” where the author talks about the perils of caffeinated vs. non-caffeinated dating, his coffee habits, and how he prefers his coffee today.

About the author:  OmbudsBen once traveled to the island of Java in Indonesia and ordered a “cup of java, please.” His traveling companion was quite amused by the blank stares the request drew, everywhere. While the Javanese are familiar with the term hamburger, and our word catsup comes from their word kecap, if they use slang when ordering a cuppa joe, it does not involve the word java.

Since then, he has met with similar rebuffs involving Vienna sausages, French fries, and Chinese fortune cookies. He found some consolation in a Belgian white ale. You can read more about him by clicking here.

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Mid-morning strikes me as an unusual time to write about sleep. I eat a snack-sized Zone bar, only 80 calories, innoculation against the desire for sleep that seems to hit right about now, after my coffee wears off.

I was thinking about Aunt Helen yesterday and how she drank a pot of coffee a day. We lived in different states, our family in New Mexico, Aunt Helen and Uncle Nemey in California. Whenever Mom mentioned talking to Helen on the phone, I pictured her round fig-like body seated at her formica table, a small TV on top the washer, and Helen drinking cup after cup of coffee.

I’ve started to crave cup after cup of coffee with heated milk. I could drink three or four cups, in fact, each morning. Even some afternoons I crave the smell of coffee and the feel of the smooth ceramic cup warm in my hands.

I think of the question: If I were stuck on a deserted island and could have only one food, what would it be? Right now, this moment, it would be a cup of my heated milk and coffee, or maybe heated milk and black tea chai. But forever, or for as long as the mind can see, my one food would be coffee and not chai, the chai spices too intense and the chai flavor too sweet.

I know it’s all silly, this deserted-island talk, as if there were a Starbucks on the island, as if coffee or chai were foodstuff, as if my body could survive on coffee. I’d get jittery and skinny and I’d die of starvation, although in my mind I figure there might be coconuts or mango, fish to spear with sticks, but wouldn’t I want rice as my one food?

Why is it that in my head I think of foods that give me water instead of mass? Foods like bananas and watermelon, those I could live on into perpetuity. I’d ask, Wait, can’t I also have a salty food, like popcorn, to counter the sweet? It must be the coffee that makes me have these food cravings, or the lack of oxygen, as I just now realize I’m forgetting to breathe as I write.

My sleep has been deep. I almost remember dreams, one where I’m in a box, and maybe it’s a box train on its way somewhere in the dark. Then the box becomes a fourth-floor apartment where Jim and I live, and instead of moonlight shining in the window there is light from the bar at street level. I walk to the window and see people streaming in and out of the bar, and I tell Jim, Oh no, the store next door closes at 10 but the bar will stay open ’til 5. Jim is talking to our two roommates, and I think, What a disaster to live next door to a bar.

I wonder now, sitting here, much more awake than when I started, why is it I sleep so soundly and soundlessly yet dream so noisily? Is it, as they say, a time to work out all one’s worries, and if so, what kind of thing is it that leaves me craving water and salt, coffee at all hours, and a desire to be left all alone in the dark quiet night?

-From topic post, Writing Topic – Counting Sheep

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