Category Archives: Good Living

Air Conditioning… Not So Cool

A hot night, preceded by an above-average hot day. When its that hot, there’s no fun under the midday sun, so I worked through the day without looking up from the computer little over an hour ago. On go the shoes, on go the headphones and out I go to work up a little thirst before settling down with the west-coast baseball feeds.

Somehow, it might seem a little nice, going out for a peaceful late-evening walk but it just gnaws at me because it’s just a little too peaceful… There’s hardly anybody out there. Yes, it’s no secret that it is uncommonly hot this week. Very uncommon, but mild nights like this are better seen on the steamier side of the window and nothing could convince me otherwise. Thinking of the places I’ve been, the ones where staying at home is the least comfortable option makes for the best night life.

In Zanzibar Town, the days are so hot the stone buildings are still giving heat off in waves at midnight. Not that many would notice, everybody is in the park by the beach. Friends, buskers and hustlers would all agree there’s no better place.

In old Marrakech the center of the city is a giant public square that walking across at midday is what it must feel like to walk over hot coals, shimmering heat in every direction you look. But when night falls, the square fills up with these portable restaurant stalls, complete with seats and counters for diners. You pick the food you want to eat and watch the cook cook it.

Those are just two of my favorites. Let me put it this way by lining up a few points:

Activity #1: Typical Night, A/C-free Zone

Activity# 2: Typical Night, w/Air-Con

  1. Go someplace where cold drinks are served
  2. Meet friends
  3. Watch sunset
  4. Ponder whether to eat at patio restaurant or from stand beside shish-kebob cart
  1. Get home
  2. Check the temperature, lower it by five degrees
  3. Watch TV
  4. Ponder life in the rat-race

There’s no point trying to judge one or the other, but if I had the choice, if it was simply an option around here, I know which one I’d choose.

That’s all for now, I’m a slow typist and my beer is only going to get warmer with every extra word!

Advertisements

Espresso coffee for the absolute beginner

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t about the coffee so much as it’s about having “a thing” … some people chew gum, others smoke. I like coffee, so coffee is “my thing”. In any sit-down-job, long periods of deep concentration really pays-off up to a point; once you hit that wall though, it  is very difficult to stay on top of things. That’s why deliberately stopping to “do your thing” really gives the brain a chance to get back on track.

Nowadays I can (and do) enjoy three to four very small coffee-breaks every day; you might think I get very little sleep, but did you know that espresso has LESS caffeine than a regular cup of java, especially in the super-sized cups we’ve grown used to? [Note: My Dad had a pretty high tolerance for caffeine, so some of my coping with coffee I inherited, but still: espresso has less caffeine is the real message!]

The right tool for the right job

If you’re a first time espresso machine buyer, simply: the first espresso maker you buy is never the last one you ever buy, so do not buy the biggest one with all the bells and whistles attached!

Buy something small that looks easy to use and easy to clean.

The only metrics you really need to see on the box is that it is capable of 15-bars of pressure and promises a consistent temperature.

Speaking of temperature: don’t go for the stylish stainless-steel espresso cups. They don’t retain heat very well. A tepid cup of espresso is a shot of disappointment so, buy the nice and thick ceramic ones. I’ll leave the choice of saucers up to you. =)

While you’re at the store, get a couple of those tiny coffee-spoons, narrow espresso cups won’t accommodate most of the spoons in your kitchen. A small sugar-bowl that is easy to open with one hand is good to keep near the espresso machine too.

Bean there, done that

Tastes will vary, so recommending a brand isn’t going to help. You can always ask at places where you’ve enjoyed espresso before. Some restaurants even have the brand on display. Grinding your own beans is an option, but starting with pre-ground will get you familiar with the consistency of espresso grounds which is finer than regular coffee grinds.

Try not to get something super-special or difficult to buy. Better to get used to a brand that is easy to find so you never run out. My brand is available at two or three grocery stores in my neighborhood so there’s always some around when I need to stock up.

Making your brew!

No matter what bean or machine you get, temperature plays a significant role in the actual taste of the coffee. Really. Cooled-down espresso just doesn’t pop and often tastes awful. The secret to keeping espresso warm is in the coffee cup. Remember I told you not to buy the stainless-steel ones? We’re going to nuke ours in the microwave so steel cups are definitely off the table for good espresso.

Here’s “my espresso thing”:

  1. Take a clean espresso cup, fill it with hot water from the kitchen tap. Microwave the cup for 25 seconds.
  2. Take 1 scoop of espresso coffee and put it in the filter, flatten the scoop of coffee, but don’t pack it down. Packing coffee too hard makes water flow difficult.
  3. Dump the water from your warmed espresso cup and run the machine, letting the brew go directly into the warmed cup.
  4. Add sugar. [I only use 1 or 2 coffee-spoons of plain-old white granulated sugar, but the only rules here are the ones you make yourself.]

Drink the espresso within 1 or 2 minutes at the most otherwise it will be too cool and won’t taste very good anymore.

Start slow

Now I know I said that I do this espresso-thing three or four times a day. However, you respond differently to caffeine than I do. So try to limit yourself to one or two cups per day at the most for the first week until you can gauge your personal tolerance level.

One more thing…

Enjoy!


Combine Tuna and Olive Oil for a Healthy Snack

I’m a snacker… a nibbler… a sampler of foods. This is not a good trait, snacking on commercial snack foods leads to eating a lot of unnecessary calories, preservatives and salt.

Last year I decided to put a stop to eating food that isn’t nourishing or make me a healthier person. I may not have a perfect record but my weight is way down and I really enjoy eating my snacks far better than anything I get ready-to-eat from the grocery store. Really I mean it: eating any of my favorite snacks actually tastes so good to me I feel happier!

Even if my snacks don’t appeal much to you, try to build your own snack, using these criteria:

  1. Is there at least one high-quality ingredient in the snack (e.g. olive oil is my “high-quality ingredient” in this recipe)?
  2. Before you taste it, does it smell really good?
  3. Are the ingredients easy to get and keep in the kitchen?

Here is the first of several snack ideas to share with you. Preparation time is minimal, it will take you longer to read this blog than to actually make it!

Tuna, olive oil and Tabasco

My Dad was Portuguese, if there is one thing you learn from Portuguese cooking it is this: olive oil and fish were made for each other. Olive oil makes even average fish taste really good! If you don’t know from olive oil, be sure to get the “extra virgin” kind as it has the nicest flavor.

The recipe:

  1. Open 1 can of tuna, drain oil/water and empty into a bowl
  2. Splash on some Tabasco to suit your taste
  3. Pour 1 tablespoon (20ml) of extra-virgin olive oil
  4. Add fresh ground pepper
  5. Inhale the aroma!
  6. Mix together with a fork

Those used to tuna-and-mayonnaise my find this on the “dry” side. Try adding some fresh diced sweet pepper or cucumber to the mix to moisten the concoction.

Enjoy!

What are your favorite snack recipes?


Eating Large versus Eating Well

Come on, you know it too but still make the bad choice: selecting meals by quantity over quality. Not that I believe it is all our fault that we do. Every over-sized portion ever dished out to you carefully conditioned you to believe, really believe that a small portion cannot possibly satisfy. That the small portion of anything will leave you hungry and looking for more. But this is a trick!

Did you ever stop to wonder why so many chain restaurants offer you large portions in the first place? Our bodies gauge hunger not on how empty the stomach is, but on how many nutrients we need. I recall from my Psych 101 lecture that some cravings is the body telling you its need of a specific nutrient.  Could it be that a small portion of their food really wouldn’t satisfy you because it lacks enough nutrients to convince your body it is well-fed? I think so. (You are welcome to think the opposite. Power to you, friend, if you do.)

For the past year I have taken more interest in what food I am eating, how to prepare it, how much gets eaten. What became abundantly clear to me is: the nicer the food got, the less I ate; even when I really enjoyed eating it in the first place.

The reverse of eating well, whenever I chose to indulge in some “fun” by eating some junk food, the impulse to stop eating never arose. Hence a large bag of potato chips gets finished in one or two sittings. For that matter, there has never been such a thing as day-old pizza in my house– it never lasts that long. In fact that impulse to not eat wouldn’t come back for several days after indulging in junk food. No surprise, now that we know eating the wrong proportion of sugar, salt and fat together actually alters the human brain.

My advice to you? Seek out foods that make you feel good for how they taste, not how full they make you. Bad food will never make you full; good food will make you happy in ways that a full stomach never could!