Sunday, June 13, 2010

Classics Are Born Every Day

May 15

This post is about the circuitous ways that new food finds a permanent place at your table. It started with John, Master Roaster, expert in the sacred coffee bean. He is a neighbor of a friend, and one day while we were talking under the giant walnut trees that divide their driveways, I asked where one could learn more about coffee. Something like a wine tasting, a way to taste side by side and get a sense for the regions and the vocabulary used to describe flavors. He said I could come by anytime and we could roast up some beans and make espresso.

I took him up on the offer on a cold winter day when I had a break from the kids. John took from his storage closet a large burlap bag filled with small quantities of single origin, unroasted pistachio colored beans. He set up his home roaster, outside in the winter air, and started speaking.

It is one of life's singular pleasures to listen to someone with deep, calm knowledge talk about their passion. He described what was happening to the bean as the temperature rose, the smells were captivating. He would announce what smell was coming next, what it meant for the progress of the beans, and then it would fill the air. Around us, light brown husks burned off the beans and floated like a storm of tiny, wild moths.

We went inside to join his wife Alice and make expresso. I, despite my coffee tutorial, cannot describe how delicious the espresso was. I could only smile and nod and hope for another shot as John and Alice conversed about what they tasted. The casual way in which John tossed the roasts together to try different blends was the comfort of an expert.

John and Alice told the story of how the love of coffee and roasting was born in San Francisco and honed in Alaska. We talked of our travels and why Coca Cola tastes so much better in Mexico. As we talked and savored espresso, John started to bustle in the kitchen, and I absorbed his every move. He set a cast iron pan over a low flame and cut thick slices from a huge round of sourdough bread. A splash of olive oil in the pan and he pan fried the bread. Then Hellmans Mayonnaise in a bowl, and a few good shots of Sriracha, briskly stirred together to a pretty salmon pink.

He set the bread on a plate, sprinkled it with salt. I watched as he took the first piece of warm, pan toasted sourdough and dipped it deeply in to the Sriracha Mayo. I followed. So simple, so divine! Ingredients that have lived side by side in my fridge for nearly my whole life! On a cold day, it was the most simple, pleasing snack. I could hardly wait to tell Craig. It has been a part of nearly every meal since.

I write about it now because I am looking forward to it on summer foods, namely, slathered on a barely coked, lightly salted corn on the cob; grilled fish; a dip for asparagus; in deviled eggs; on a burger with arugula and roasted Sungold tomatoes. I love it with fried rice, grilled shrimp, any kind of taco, scrambled eggs. It is good on everything. And, it is very pretty.

We use Hellman's mayo or Spectrum Naturals Organic Mayonnaise with Olive Oil, and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, also referred to as Rooster Sauce. The Spectrum Mayo has a beautiful texture, it is closer to an aioli that to a typical mayo. Mix together to your preferred spiciness.

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