The Smell That Separates Night From Day

“The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day.”
Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 

 

Aeropress, from Williams Sonoma

Ok, I have a thing for gadgets… we’ve talked about this before. Sometimes… not very often but sometimes… a gadget is worth it. I think this one is.

Some history first.

When I was a kid, my parents made a pot of coffee every day in a percolater – the worst way to make coffee in the world. It is a machine that re-heats coffee over and over, burning it, and jetting it up a pipe and off a translucent glass doohicky to bounce down onto a ring of ancient pre-ground robusta coffee. I remember my parents wouldn’t even have proper filters – sometimes they’d use toilet paper to line the perforated metal ring. What a godawful mess. Still, you have to forgive them, they knew not what they did. Plus, as a kid I didn’t have to drink the stuff and the process of heating and bubbling and shooting up looked and sounded cool and even smelt nice up until until the coffee burned.

As a more modern style of human I’ve never had a percolater but I’ve made coffee in a lot of different ways – drip, cold brew, Moka Pot (nice because it is essentially a bomb on your cooktop), espresso machine (cheap useless home machine), Keruig (coffee maker from hell), pour over…. My favorite was the French Press – easy, good, simple. I have fresh beans and an electric burr coffee grinder. But even a French Press has a fatal flaw – it is so hard to clean out. It was so bad I had taken to going out in the back yard and squirting out the grounds with a hose.

So I was still searching for the perfect way to brew a cup of coffee. Up until three days ago I had no idea such a thing existed. It does… it’s called an Aeropress.

I had an Amazon  gift card left over from my birthday and was looking for something that I would like but that I wouldn’t spend real money on. I have followed a group of folks that get up before dawn – ride to a common location on bicycles and then prepare coffee. That seemed somehow weird and attractive to me so I did a little research. I came across references to the Aeropress as the best portable way to make coffee. The descriptions though… “like a giant hypodermic” … “forcing hot liquid through a small paper filter”…”invented by a man who designed ring-shaped frisbees” … simply didn’t sound too appetizing. But, references to the thing kept coming through my computer from various directions (though I had never actually seen one) until I clicked on the “BUY IT NOW” button – as much for curiosity as anything else.

While I waited my long eighteen hours for it to arrive I started looking at Youtube videos on how to use the thing and on why it’s the best coffee maker ever. There are thousands of Youtube videos. People are nuts over the thing. There are international competitions to find who has the best way of making coffee in the thing. There are two main schools of thought – the “regular” method and the “inverted” method – with a thousand other variations of coffee type, grind, water temperature, filter type, filter pre-moistening (or not), stirring (or tamping), immersion times, extracting pressure… on and on. Despite all this brouhaha one message kept being repeated – even if you do it wrong… it’s still pretty good (that’s what she said).

So the box arrived and I took it out and made my first cup of coffee. And it was fantastic. It really does make great coffee. And it isn’t hard at all. All the picky details in the videos really don’t amount to a hill of arabica. Once you have the thing in front of you it’s all obvious.

For the record, I like the inverted method (because I can immerse the grounds a little longer without the coffee dripping into the cup) and the paper filter (which I discovered can be re-used over and over – for no particular reason). I’ve made hot black coffee – it comes out of the filter stronger than usual and can be diluted a lot with hot water and still make a decent cup. The hot concentrate can be poured over ice for a nice cold drink or mixed with milk for a passable latte – like beverage.

It is small and amazingly portable. Some of the Aeropress kits come with a tote bag – but that looks flimsy and I have a nice nylon zippered bag I bought at Goodwill for a buck that it fits perfectly. I’m going to go on a pre-dawn bike ride with the thing and carry it with a thermos full of hot water. Make some coffee somewhere and watch the sun come up. Really.

But the best thing… the very best thing… the thing that puts the Aeropress over the finish line a hundred yards over any other coffee maker… is the cleanup. Once you’re done, you remove the filter cap and give the plunger one last push and the coffee grounds pop out in a “puck” right into the trash. Quick rinse and you’re done. No fuss, no mess. Five seconds tops. That, my friends, is a game-changer.

So, if you like coffee… if you drink coffee… don’t hesitate – buy an Aeropress. They are available everywhere and the price seems consistent at twenty-nine bucks. The best gadget for making coffee. I promise.

 

 

 

That Secret From the River

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

I have written about it, here, many times before – All my live I have always wanted to live on a creek lot. For the last decade or so I do, sort of… it is more of a ditch lot – the creek is tamed into a straight line in the middle of the block, exactly between property lines. No natural watercourse flows in a straight line.

It is tamed in terms of location and direction… but not in terms of flow. Usually a quiet narrow strip of water barely moving, when it rains the water rises and becomes violent.

The last storm (not the big one, a couple days later) I took some photos from the Yale Street Bridge right when the rain ended and again, the next morning.

Huffhines Creek, From the Yale Street Bridge, upstream, under normal conditions.

Huffhines Creek, From the Yale Street Bridge, upstream, after a rain.

Huffhines Creek, From the Yale Street Bridge, downstream, under normal conditions.

Huffhines Creek, From the Yale Street Bridge, downstream, after a rain.

The crazy thing how fast this transformation occurs. Despite the buffering of the flood control ponds upstream during a thunder-boomer the water will come down in a wall and the creek will rise in seconds. When it ends the water drops almost as fast, leaving only a line of detritus as a reminder of the violence that was there minutes before.

These are by no means photographs taken under extreme conditions. That little bit of water visible in the before photos will almost completely dry up in July and August, evaporated under the deadly Dallas Texas summer sun and inevitable drought. This was only an ordinary spring thunderstorm, I’ve seen the water significantly higher (over the bike trail, for instance). I simply can’t get a photograph of that because of darkness and/or fear.

 

The Bottom Is Out Of the Universe

“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the repair stand from Aldi – getting ready for a fresh pair of tires.

 

I am not a professional bike mechanic. If I was, I would need a professional bike mechanic’s repair stand. I would have someone’s bike in said stand all day, every day. What I am is a person that has to fix his bikes because he can’t afford to hand them off to a professional mechanic every time something goes wrong… which is often, if not every day.

Still, I have always wanted to have a bike repair stand. There have been too many scratched handlebars while I tried working on derailleurs with the bike upside-down on the driveway. Too many hours sitting on the ground or a stool, bent over, trying to wrench something that doesn’t want to be wrenched. I usually end up wrenching my back.

Once, when we lived somewhere with extra garage space I built a repair stand out of 2x4s and large Home Depot bolts and screws. It wasn’t much of an improvement. A professional work stand can run up to 300 bucks… I paid less than that for two of my bicycles together (maybe that’s why I have so much repair work to do).

At the end of our block is an Aldi grocery store – and it has been something very nice. I remember when it was first rumored to go in (I don’t remember what was there – some third-rate fast food place… I think) the folks on the neighborhood mailing list went nuts. “Some tiny European grocery store.” “All their own brands.” “You have to pay a quarter for a cart.” “Bag your own groceries.”

All of it was untrue (well, except for the “bag your own groceries”) – the place is our go-to for consumables. If they have something – you should buy it there. It has actually been expanded once, though it doesn’t seem any bigger. I ride my bike there – it is uphill (a bit) from where we live, so I can buy milk, water, anything heavy, and coast home. I have a pair of grocery panniers for my commuter/cargo bike (a converted Giant mountain bike I bought on Craigslist for 90 bucks) and it’s always a game to see how much I can pack in.

The only thing I don’t buy on my bike is eggs – there’s a set of traffic bumps on the way back and I seem to break them some eggs often, even though my bike has a front shock.

One odd thing about Aldi is that, small as it is, it has this one aisle with completely random shit in it. I call it the “random shit” aisle. You never know what is going to show up there – but if it is something you need, it’s probably going to be cheap. I rarely buy much from that aisle, but I always walk down it… which I guess is the point.

One day there was a dry erase board there for… like six bucks or something. I had been wanting one and been looking at them for twenty dollars at other places. I didn’t know if it would fit in my pannier, but I decided to go for it. It did fit, diagonally and barely, but I rode off. As I crossed the parking lot, some guy yelled at me, “Hey! Is that a Beto sign?”

That brings us to a few weeks ago. I was getting ready for a week-long business trip to Boston when my Facebook started blowing up. I belong to a number of “Bike-Friendly” groups and they were all posting about the weekly Aldi ad having a bike repair stand for twenty-five bucks. These had come through about a year ago and I didn’t jump quick enough – they were sold out in a day or so. And now they were back. But I would be out of town.

So I made arrangements for Candy to stop by the Aldi on Tuesday and get a repair stand if they had one. I received a text in Massachusetts that she had been successful.

I was really curious about the quality of the thing. How useful could it be for twenty five dollars?

It’s surprisingly good. Not professional quality – but it’s got a big base, very stable, very tall, and a usable clamp to hold your bike. It isn’t something to use every day, but for the shadetree bike mechanic – it’s just good enough.

My only complaint was the rubber jaws on the bike clamp fall off – but some glue fixed that. Now, I have a crazy idea…. I’ve wanted a serious camera tripod for long exposure shots. The stand is rock-solid and I think I’m going to try and build a camera mount on a cross-pipe so this bad boy can do double duty.

 

 

 

 

 

In Its Own Way

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

Huffhines Creek, Richardson, Texas

There is always someone like the duckling in the lower left corner. In unknown danger, not in with the group, crossing upstream, almost alone. Is it you? Really? Are you sure?

One Of Those Manifold Alternatives Open To Us

“We have annexed the future into the present, as merely one of those manifold alternatives open to us. Options multiply around us, and we live in an almost infantile world where any demand, any possibility, whether for life-styles, travel, sexual roles and identities, can be satisfied instantly.”
J.G. Ballard, Crash

Wrecked Car waiting for the decision – scrap or repair

For me, the most amazing aspect of a car crash – even the simplest fender bender – is the sound. The sharp snap of breaking safety glass, the thud of impact, the groaning of thick bending metal. Behind it all is the sound of entropy increasing, of the inevitable disaster that lies behind the veneer of our day to day lives. The reality forced upon us that there is no going back… time only runs one way.

Spider Update

“But how can you walk away from something and still come back to it?”
“Easy,” said the cat. “Think of somebody walking around the world. You start out walking away from something and end up coming back to it.”
“Small world,” said Coraline.
“It’s big enough for her,” said the cat. “Spider’s webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.”
Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Trinity River Levee
Dallas, Texas

Only two days ago I wrote about the spider that lives in the driver’s side rear view mirror on my car.

He has been there every morning. Today, watching his behavior closely, I realized what he is doing.

When I came to my car he was nowhere to be seen, but his web was stretched out from the mirror capsule to the door. It was oval, complex, symmetrical, and beautiful shining gossamer in the rising sun.

As I drove down the road, suddenly he emerged, fighting the wind, moving over his web as best as he could.

Why didn’t he stay put? Why did he come out of the safety of the mirror housing to flap around in the speeding air?

I watched him (as best as I could… I had to drive) and suddenly realized what he was doing – what he was doing every morning out there.

He was eating his web. First, he gathered all the disparate strands into one, thick, sturdy rope and once that was accomplished, he devoured the strand surprisingly quickly. Only then did he return to the safety of the mirror housing.

I wasn’t sure if I saw it right, so I looked up “Do spiders eat their old webs?” on the internet. Sure enough, they do.

From Indiana Public Media:

Look around many homes and businesses today, and you’ll see recycling bins full of paper, metal cans, and plastic.

In a world of limited resources, it makes sense to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. That’s why humans aren’t the first to try to conserve natural resources by recycling. Spiders have their own program to recycle valuable protein.

Tangled Prey

The spiders we’re talking about are the orb-weavers, the ones that make those rounded, intricate webs you see shimmering between branches in a garden or forest. To increase their chances of capturing prey, orb-weavers’ webs are often located in high traffic areas. This makes damage to the web more likely, either when a scrumptious morsel gets tangled in it or when a bumbling human gets hung up for a few seconds!

Some orb-weavers remake their webs every day, whether it’s damaged or not. Since spider’s silk is made of protein, all this web-weaving requires considerable amounts of protein. What if a nice, protein-rich insect doesn’t get trapped in the web every day? What’s a hungry orb-weaver to do?

Recycling

That’s where the spider’s genius for recycling comes in. When the orb-weaver takes apart an old web, it actually eats the silk. The protein from the old silk is never wasted, from the spider’s digestive system, it goes to the silk glands to be made into a new web. Even if a spider misses a few meals, it can still go on spinning webs. This is thanks to the efficient recycling program that lets spiders conserve protein by eating old webs.

You learn something new every day.

Make the World A Better Looking Place

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”
Banksy, Wall and Piece

Fabrication Yard, Dallas, Texas

The odor of drying alkyd is overpowering. Almost as strong as the smell of burning weed.