Thursday, June 28, 2012
Random thoughts while having morning coffee
Coffee is the elixir of life, at least as far as I'm concerned. I don't even remember when I first started drinking it. I know Stanley and I drank coffee all through school, or at least most of it. I remember when I lived with my Uncle Bill I had it before school, that was in the second grade. I guess you could say I've had a few cups.
I'm not a coffee coinsure but I have had some that I liked and some that I didn't. Some in very fancy restaurants and a lot in diner's and dives. I've had the first cup out of a fresh pot and cups from a pot that had been sitting on the burner for hours. Everything from coffee that cost over a hundred dollars a pound to three dollar a pound poor folk blends and over the years I have had a few that tend to stand out in my memory.
I've noticed that where the coffee is made is just as important as what kind it is. The big industrial pots that they use in truck stops makes a pretty decent cup as do the small single cup dispensers. One thing I have to point out here is that I'm only talking about "real" coffee. To me that means just plane ole boiled coffee. Even though I have tried several cappuccinos and even a few lattés I just never really cared much for them. Not that I'm saying they're not good but when I order coffee I just want to use two words, hot and black. That must be my red neck roots coming out. Anyway, back to where you make it.
I believe the world's greatest is made over a campfire. There were a few time when we were younger that we even had a real coffee pot even though it seemed like everyone we ever had was beat to death and the strainer was almost always loose on the stem. It didn't really matter though, they would hold water and we could always get them propped on a couple of rocks over the fire. Of course you don't really need a real coffee pot; anything that will hold water and take the heat will work just fine. I remember as a kid in Arizona we were out at the hobo jungle and had a guy show us how you could boil water using a paper sack. Would have never believed that if I hadn't seen it.
The way Stanley and I mostly made it was to just fill up whatever pot we had from the creek, dump a handful of coffee grounds in, through a couple of egg shell in (if we had them) and put it on the fire. I'm not sure exactly what the egg shells were supposed to do but that's the way Uncle Henry always did it.
Anyway, that's the how of making coffee but as I said it's the where that's the most important. I found out long ago that for some reason a pot made over the campfire down by Salt Creek hanging out with a friend seemed to taste better than the finest brew sold in the fanciest restaurant. Even though most of our morning consisted of me wandering around bleary eyed trying to figure out which way was up and Stanley bouncing around like a squirrel on steroids. I got even with him at night though. I may not have been as much of a morning person as he was but when it came to sitting around that fire having a cup at night I was wide awake long after he had called it a night.
The odd thing was there was a place where I for sure was a morning person and a late night person at the same time. Morning in the desert is a time you have to be up. You want to already have your coffee ready and find a place to lean back and relax when the sun first comes up. Maybe it's because most of the firewood you find in the desert is mesquite that makes your morning coffee taste so good. Maybe it's because the only sounds you here are the calls of the doves and the quail. It could be just the joy of being alive in such a beautiful place. Night in the desert is another time to enjoy a cup and a meal. Not quite as nice as the morning but if you're in the right spot it's really neat to sit back, relax and watch the first stars come out. If you're lucky you'll get to see a few eyes moving around at the edge of the fire light. Raise a cup and toast the coyotes, coons and skunks that seem to be drawn to the fire.
Another place that sticks out in my mind is the big trees of the northwest. For those of you who have been in the redwoods or the old growth forests you'll know what I mean. Sunshine is always nice but I prefer those cool misty mornings that deaden all sounds. It has always surprised me at how quite it can be in those forests especially after growing up in the woods down home where between the birds singing and critters prowling through the leaves it's seldom quite. Leaning back against one of those huge trees and watching the mist drift through its easy to let your mind drift. Between the quiet and the half seen columns of the trees disappearing into the mist you can picture yourself inside some giant cathedral with a line of silent monks passing through the trees. Or if you're like me and love Tolkien the monks become elves and you can imagine what Mirkwood might have looked like.
There's one other thing I guess I should add here. Over the years I've also had lots of coffee in various hospitals. I would not count those as some of my fondest memories but I will say that the hospital in Moses Lake, Wa. does have the best of any I have found. Enough said.
The cup of coffee that does and will always stand out above all others in my mind was the one I had in a very small cave. It wasn't the first I'd ever had in a cave but since this one was made of snow it added a different spin on it. I sat huddled over a candle holding a cup full of snow, waiting for it to get hot enough to add the last of my instant coffee. I had a little stand I could sit the cup on but I held it as much to try and warm my hands as to try and make the coffee. There was a blizzard blowing outside the cave that I had been lost in for over twelve hours while trying to find my way back to the cabin. I have no idea how cold it was but I do know the temp was forty below zero with no wind when I had left the cabin. The tips of my fingers were ghost white when I took my gloves off and I was scared to death that frost bite was going to make me lose them. I should have used my stand to hold the cup because my fingers were so cold that by the time the snow melted I had burnt them from holding the cup without even knowing it. When I saw I was burning my fingers I scraped out a shallow trench where I could sit the candle in the bottom and balance the cup over the flame. Once the water was hot it took me six tries to unwrap my instant. I dropped the package the first three times because I was shaking too hard to hold it. I was finally able to dump the coffee in the cup but I couldn't hold anything to stir it with. I cried with frustration the first time I tried to pick up the cup and take a drink because I was shaking so hard I sloshed almost a quarter the cup before I could get it to my mouth. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was just sitting and watching that coffee boiling in the cup while I held my hands in my arm pits and wait to stop shaking so much. I was able to blow the candle out to keep what I had left from boiling away. When I was finally able to take the first sip it was the absolutely the best coffee I had ever tasted. I seemed like the warmth spread from my mouth to my toes and back up. Yes it was just instant coffee and to be truthful just a cup of warm water might have had the same results but as far as I was concerned I would never have a better cup of coffee no matter how long I lived. Thinking back on it after all these years, I think I was right.
Posted by Down Home at 9:09 PM