Sir Pops Alot

Popped popcorn

There is really only one way to make popcorn. Well, I guess technically that isn’t true. There are, in fact, a bunch of ways to make popcorn.

You can take a pouch out of a cellophane bag, flatten it out and put it in the microwave. That’s a way to get gross tasting popcorn that frequently is scorched or burnt. You can put loose popcorn into a thingamy gig–a thingamy gig is one of those single use tools that you buy on a whim from Bed Bath and Beyond. If you have a big kitchen, it gets stored in the back of an underused cabinet. If you have a small kitchen, you regret buying it. Anyway, this popcorn thingamy gig also goes in the microwave. I think that people use it to avoid using any fat in the making of the popcorn. Creates a taste and texture similar to a styrofoam coffee cup.

Another way to get styrofoam-reminiscent popcorn is to use one of those air popcorn poppers. I don’t know if they still sell them. You used to put a knob of butter in the top of the dome so it would get greasy. Like greasy styrofoam. That’s what McDonald’s quarter pounders with cheese used to come in.

For people with bars in their basements, you know with a cool neon light and dusty bottles of booze because all they ever do is take beer out of the fridge? Yeah, those people. They might buy a small movie-theatre popcorn maker. It’s next to the arcade style pinball machine they got from Brookstone. They can even buy the fake butter for their groovy machine. Mmmm. How about that? They might have that singing mounted fish, too.

Then, there’s jiffy pop. I’ll just leave that one there.

So, to be honest, there may be many ways to make popcorn, but there is only one way that you can make good popcorn. It takes a heavy, 3-quart stainless steel pot, vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pot and some popcorn kernels. (Here, I can go either white or yellow, both have excellent results. I lean a little toward the white as they seem to have less moisture. But it’s not science. It’s not like I’m Kenji López-Alt).

I used to heat the oil and then add the popcorn kernels after a test pop. But that was stupid. I’d heat up the oil and then dump a third or a half cup of kernels which would immediately drop the temperature. Then I’d have to raise it up again. There was occasional burning, and, more importantly, this was very inefficient.

Now I put the pot on the burner set just above medium heat. I put the oil and the kernels in at the same time. I swirl the popcorn in the oil, to coat it. Also, because I like the swirling sound of the seeds on the steel. There’s a lot to like about making popcorn the right way.

Oh, and I place the lid on the pot. Don’t forget that. I had a pockmark in the middle of my forehead after a tragic popcorn popping incident. Fortunately it was when I was young, and it healed over with no permanent scar.

As the oil and kernels heat, I occassionally swirl it some more. My stove is kind of old, so it might not be heating evenly, and you want the popcorn to heat up together. Uneven heat is a big cause of scorched snack. This is to be avoided at all costs. I have heard that some people “like” burnt popcorn, but frankly, they are wrong. Burnt popcorn stinks and tastes bad. Believe me.

Be patient. Do NOT increase the flame. This is a mistake. I know this. So don’t do it.

After some intermittent undulations, it begins. Always with a single ding. The cymbal of the seed hitting the lid of the pan. It’s the sound of promise, of a beginning. I have sometimes questioned this miracle of corn and heat and opened the lid. My advice is to open away from your face, because after the first pop there may be a lull or there may be a a blitz. If the latter, shut the lid. Like NOW. (See scar above.)

What follows is the staccato pummeling of the kamikaze seeds throwing themselves against the pot. The start lasts about four seconds of single kernels popping before it becomes a cacophony of explosive corn, releasing energy and steam. It’s critical that you vent the lid, just a wee bit, to let out some moisture. You don’t want soggy popcorn. What I usually do is shake the pot–this is a good technique to force the seeds that might have been tossed to the top of the transformed corn back to the bottom of the pot where it has a chance to pop, too. Anyway, when I shake the pot, I let the lid clank around a bit and out comes some vapor.

Once the corn starts to erupt, you can’t walk away. The entire reaction is done in very few minutes, and you need to take it off of the heat the instant it’s done. Like, seriously, when it’s done. Don’t delay. Turn off the heat and pour it into a bowl. Now. (See burnt above.)

Some people add butter to popcorn, but I don’t see this as a big plus-up. It makes it greasy and doesn’t add too much, to me. But if you like butter, go for it. I won’t judge you.

Now I like to add two kind of salt. Regular salt shaker salt for brine and chunky kosher salt for crunch. It’s a bit more art than science. But the science does kick in if you use too much salt. I think it’s biology. Too much salt and your lips turn white. Like a chemical reaction.

But my secret ingredient, the one that I wouldn’t tell the boys no matter how many Friday nights I made popcorn for our weekly dinner and a movie nights and no matter how many times I caught them trying to sneak a peek, is ground black pepper. Not pepper ground from peppercorns. Nope. The already pulverized pepper in the red and white tin. I sprinkle on enough that you never realize it’s actually pepper, but there is some extra warmth in the bowl.

The popcorn is the best when there is some crunch, some sweetness from the corn and some salt. Maybe more than some. The oil provides the crunch and a little bit of flavor. I use a neutral oil.

Popcorn presents first in the air, its distinct smell fills your nostrils. It goes from my 3-quart stainless steel pot into my big stainless steel bowl. I think we call it the popcorn bowl. The bowl is much bigger than the pot, yet the popcorn expands to fill the bowl. More popcorn magic.

My next step, almost always, is to take the bowl into the other room and plop on the couch with a huge glass of water that I rest on the table. The TV is on, and there is, almost always, a movie to watch. It’s best when I put the bowl between me and a companion, and especially wonderful if the movie is funny.

And that’s really the only way to make popcorn.


Tastes Like Metal

Leeks, garlic, parsley, yams, sweet potato and parsley, beautifully photographed still life.

There were many many many many and many ingredients in the Magick Mineral Broth. Of course there were carrots, onions, celery and potatoes. But that would not be very magic.

The recipe calls for leeks and garlic, too. Not only that, but sweet potatoes (preferably Japanese) and garnet yams. The spice mix included the standard bay leaf and peppercorns plus the flavor and medicinal value add of juniper berries–just don’t substitute gin. Added to the boil, just so you really had to go a fancy grocery, was kombu–also known as seaweed sheets. It adds a bit of fullness of flavor, like saltwater with fish.

You can drink it warm for breakfast. You can add noodles and an egg and eat a bowl full of soup. You can use it as a base for another soup. You can put it on your cereal.

Seriously, I might as well have.

The technique is simple enough, throw everything in a big pot of water, boil the hell out of it and add salt to taste.

I got this recipe from a cancer cookbook I ordered. The idea was to use this combo of beautiful, healthy, colorful foods to prep my body for chemo and to make myself less unwell after treatment. To be honest, I think that the real purpose was to give myself a mindless yet mindful project. Distraction from the unknown. You’ve heard about an idle mind?

You don’t know what chemo does. And different combos have different impacts. And those impacts will be different for different folks. Will you be puking? Hair falling out? Just generally feeling gross? Will your feet and hands feel like sand? Will you hurt? Get sores in your mouth? Will you be cold? Hot? Exhausted? Couch or bed bound? And, behind all those unknowns is the real question, the one you don’t want to ask. Will this poison cocktail work?

Preparing the broth, the rich golden elixir full of antioxidants and magical minerals, was a step into something knowable. I could cut and cook. I could control that part. I could calm–or at least distract–my active imagination.

So, I chopped and I boiled and I added salt. It topped off my 12 quart stock pot. I disposed of the spent vegetables. Then I strained it into a many large jars. The magical mystery broth makes a ton of soup.

Later, I used a cup or so and made the noodle bowl. It tasted very good that day. I think I tweeted about how awesome it was.

And then I never touched it again. The jars sat in the fridge for a while until I made the Spouse spill out the contents into the sink and wash it away.

To this day, three years later, when I think of that magical broth, the smell, the taste, even the color, I feel a little sick. As I’m typing the words that described me eating it, that described pouring it into tall Mason jars, my stomach is getting queasy and I’m swallowing thickening saliva.

That liquid that extracted all the flavor and benefits from the ingredients tastes like chemo to me. The drugs are pumped into a port in your chest, but the scent and the taste get in the back of your mouth and violate the tastebuds at the back of your tongue. I think of the golden soup and I think of drinking something made from cheap metals that would turn your finger green. The minerals tasted more like slate and pencil shavings and solder.

So I had it that one day and I couldn’t take it again. I decided that I hated that book, too. The Cancer Cookbook or some stupid name. It did have some great advice–to avoid eating your favorite foods on the days surrounding treatment. They said that chemo could ruin them for you. Forever.

Chemo sucked, but it didn’t ruin my taste for dark chocolate with hazelnuts–or dark chocolate anything. It did, however, turn me against that awful veggie broth. Oh, and two months ago I left the cancer cookbook in my local Little Free Library. I hadn’t opened it again. Not since I cooked up that nasty broth three years ago. Maybe someone else can use the distraction. Me? Not looking back.

Roux the Day

A worn wooden spoon on a worn wooden cutting board.

She stood over the stove stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. She wasn’t giving up.

She was learning to cook. It was a grownup thing to do, and she was ready to be a grownup. She outfitted her kitchen with a few pieces of mid-priced cookware to join the battered pots that had been her stepmom’s. She was addicted to cooking shows and studied the mis en place and vino in mano of her favorite chefs on her favorite shows.

Between HGTV, YouTube and prodigious brunches around town she was growing her skills, her palette and her repertoire. She fancied herself the foodie friend. She had started inviting friends to stand up cocktails with cute things on skewers and bites on those silly appetizer spoons. She graduated to hosting her own brunches filled with fancy french toasts, egg custards, salads and mimosas. Last year she did Thanksgiving for the friends who couldn’t get home. The boxed wines she served were the good ones. Everyone said she did great.

She was ready to cross into new territory. The turkey dinner was a win, but she was ready for something from her own inspiration. She decided that she’d host her alumni squad for a fun dinner party after the game. Her solution? Gumbo.

Gumbo was like chili only more exotic. Like chili, it could make ahead of time, it didn’t need extensive staging and it was hearty. She figured she’d serve gumbo, a goat cheese and pear salad with candied pecans that Giada makes and a baguette from the local bakery. She’d lay out some of Emeril’s “kicked up” olives, that fancy cheese with honey, breadsticks and beers to hold her guests while she warmed up the stew. She was hoping to remind people of New Orleans. Her idea was to have a party that was theme-y without really having a theme. She expected maybe ten or so.

She hadn’t made gumbo before, but didn’t consider it beyond her domain. The ingredients weren’t unusual–save the okra, but okra is a vegetable. She hadn’t been challenged by a vegetable yet. She felt confident. She got up early.

First up, the roux, the key to an authentic gumbo. Ingredient-wise it’s just oil and flour. Not too complicated. All she had to do was heat it and stir it until it was a deep chocolate brown. It seemed triflingly simple. Stand and stir. And stir.

After about five minutes she could see the color change. She nodded to herself. Something was happening. She figured a few more minutes. All she could hear was the spoon on the pan. Her phone should be charged by now. She grabbed it off the charger in her bedroom. She swiped around until she found an appropriate Spotify list–1,600 songs from New Orleans. That was good for mood setting.

She walked back into the kitchen to a scorched pan. The roux was burned. She had stepped away for two minutes, okay, maybe five or six, but it’s supposed to cook for like fifteen. Crap! She only had one big pot. She had to wait for it to cool before she could clean it out.

She fiddled with her playlist and made sure that her phone was connected to the speaker before she started again. She was glad she started early. She smiled and thought if it were later she’d have some cooking wine. Maybe it was better to be stone cold sober. She filled up her coffee mug, swirling in some of that hazelnut creamer. She dried the pan with a dish towel and put it on the burner to remove the last traces of water. She was ready.

Roux take two.

She measured out the oil and the flour and began the stirring process. She knew now that this concoction was a demanding master. She kept her spoon moving through the flour and the oil. It swelled and bubbled a little. She kept stirring. It went from vanilla to beige. More stirring as it passed from beige to taupe. It started to smell a little nutty. That was a good sign according to her recipe. She stirred and stirred. She swept the spoon in figure eights. She squiggled it through the mixture. She sipped her coffee from the cup held in her left hand as her right hand pushed the the darkening roux back and forth. She wasn’t stopping this time.

She had massaged the stuff in the pan for fifteen minutes. It seemed stalled. It wasn’t getting darker. It was stuck on caramel colored but she needed dark chocolate cake batter colored. She turned the heat up to make something happen. And it did. It went from a nutty smell to the stench of old fire pit. A few curse words sputtered from her lips.

Ruined roux number two.

She inhaled long. She exhaled from her nose and mouth at the same time. She needed to get this done and cooked before she left for the game, so she didn’t have time to get frustrated. She waited, again, for the pot to cool. It was a good thing, because she needed to cool, too.

She looked at the clock. She was running low on time. She googled “roux” and looked through a few of the entries. She found one from a site called BlueBayouCrazyCajunCooking that said it takes a half hour to get the right shade of chocolate and to lower the heat toward the end to avoid burning.

Well, she definitely knew how to burn it. She had two techniques for that. She shook her shoulders out and switched her coffee out for a coke. She measured out the flour and the oil and began the process again, hoping that the third time was the charm.


Taking Stock

Guac and salsa and chips with a beer on the deck. Looking at the ocean. But you can't see the ocean in this pic.

We asked our friend, Chef, what she brings on vacation. If you rent a beach house—and are not in the demographic worried about having an appropriately sized table for beer pong—this is an important question.

If you’re tooling around Ireland, it’s about pubs along the way. If you’re vacationing in Italy your food questions are local wines and food, unless you rent a villa. Then you are renting a kitchen staff. My dream is to charm my way into nona’s kitchen and leave with both an appreciation and mastery of her techniques.

At the beach house, you find a blank canvas with unknown brushes, paints and palette. Actually, the paints are known. They are BYO.

The kitchen is supply free. There may be a filled salt and pepper shaker, and the salt may be sticking together, otherwise it’s empty cupboards. Last time I moved into a house and didn’t have a supply of mustards and vinegars, spices and sugars, and oil, flour and maple syrup was—let me think. Yup. It was the first time I moved as an adult. The second time, I packed up and moved my accumulated larder.

I’ve packed up the oregano and sage, rosemary and thyme, the cumin and chili powder, the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and the 3 vinegars and two oils each move until I moved into this house a generation ago.

My current staples include the above plus capers, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies and anchovy paste, four or five different types of nuts, golden and Thompson raisins, dried cranberries, cans and cans of beans of various colors and sizes, artichokes, 4 more types of vinegars, additional grades of olive oil, yellow and brown and rustic country and Dijon mustards, horseradish, fish sauce, sriracha and Tabasco, and a hearty and hefty addition of jarred spices. There’s jasmine rice, sushi rice, abririo rice and rice rice. There is white flour, wheat flour, coconut flour and corn meal—both coarse and fine. There’s lentils—black and green; quinoa—regular and tricolored; some farro; and an I interesting grain mixture that I like. I’m sure this list, as long as it is, is very incomplete.

Even with cupboards filled, there’s frequently something I need. And, many other days, nothing to cook.

Rolling into the beach house is all about minimalist stocking for minimalist cooking. The eating out options are sparse, and somewhat gross, so eating in is big.

While some beach cooks are into disposable stocking—that is to throw out barely used jars of ketchup, mayo, pickles, salad dressing, and the specialty gourmet splurge-on-account-of, well, vacation—I just can’t. And The Spouse would secretly pack it all to bring back home where I will throw out the tiny jars of spoilt goods when he’s sleeping. I like that even less.

Bring more, you advise. I just can’t pack up my kitchen. See above re: the sisterhood of the traveling pantry. Not doing it. And I’d forget something and have to buy it and then end up with two at home. Or three. I’m still at a loss as to why I had 3 jars of paprika and 3 of that disgusting dried lemon peel at home.

So for my week of vaycay meals I settle on olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, fresh cracked pepper, sea salt, garlic, onions and a few sprigs of fresh thyme from the produce section. Add some lemon and lime zest—those fruits are critical for drinks!—and I’m stocked.

So when I asked Chef what she brings, I was surprised to hear her say, a knife. A tool! But she is damn right. The knives—and most of the culinary tools in the rental
kitchen—are usually both plentiful and dull. And mostly serrated. Who has six serrated to one regular knife? Heathens!

Using the rental kitchen “sharps,” I suffer though trying to chop garlic fine. My knife sides off the side of the onion. Another knife pummels verses slices the tomato. Oh, for a good knife!

But the wine is good. The vegetables are fresh. The fish market—when you find the one with the local catch—is perfect. And the creative challenge of a meal for foodies with few staples is well worth the fun. Especially because the wine is good. Seriously, I’m on vacation, but not on a vacation from good food. And did I mention the wine? I did, didn’t I? It’s good. It’s all good.

Chop & Pop

tomatoes, avocado, scrunchions, secret cukes and lemon mint dressing.

I rummaged to the bottom of the vegetable bin. There were some of those cute Persian cucumbers. I don’t know why a recipe calls for English versus Persian cukes. They taste the same. They’re cucumbers. Especially from the grocery store.

There are six of seven left in the package. They are pretty skinny. I toss the one that is mushy and discolored in the center. I take three, trim the ends and quarter them before I run the knife up to the top, chopping into fairly even pieces. Kelly Clarkson is singing Since U Been Gone.

I stir the bastardized ropa vieja that I have on the stove.

Next up are the green onions. The recipe wanted red onions. I have them, but the scallions are more fragile, and anyway I like the crunch of the green parts. Same trim drill, but the tops of the onions are different lengths. It would barely waste anything if I cut them straight along the top, but I am in no hurry. I nip the bits of brown at the top. Before I chop, Pharrell and Daft Punk challenge me to Get Lucky. Dance steps ensue.

I’m interrupted by a friend who needs to go out. He really had to go so there was little time elapsed. I came back into the kitchen to a roaring Dave Grohl. He supposedly said Prince’s cover of Best of You at the SuperBowl was better than their original. I can’t help but think of Prince singing in the rain with that head scarf protecting his mane. I readjust my clip to keep my bangs out of my eyes.

The water comes out of the faucet fast. I am not sure why it sometimes comes out in an single stream and other times like a shower head. It’s shower head today. I soap up my hands to get back to my knife and wooden board. This playlist skips all the cursing in Gold Digger. I sing those words anyway.

I piled the onions next to the cucumbers in the white bowl. As I grab the plastic clamshell with the little tomatoes Shakira totally distracts me. I salsa back and forth through my kitchen galley, telling only lies with my hips. I wouldn’t even care if the neighbors saw, but they moved last week, so they can’t.

The first grape tomato gets sliced in half. They are very small, but I think that they look better if they are closer to the size of the other vegetables so I slice the rest in thirds. I pop one in my mouth. I pull out small handfuls, slice them and place them in the bowl. I keep going until it fills the space with enough red to break up the green. I eat two more and then slice two more.

I pulled out the large half-avocado. It was in better shape than I thought it would be. Sexy Back comes on. I cut around the pit. Someone said that it keeps better if you leave the pit in. It may have. I had a small whole-avocado, too. I didn’t think it was necessary.

My knife slid through the fruit. It was like a hot knife in butter yet still produced distinct squares that I piled between the tomatoes and the onions. The bowl was filled as Teenage Dream played. What a dumb song. I know it seems unfair to pick on this song versus the rest, but I don’t get Katy Perry. And, I get less why that cut allowed explicit lyrics. I woulda let Kanye finish.

There is a silly technique where you take a big pinch of kosher salt between your fingers and from a foot above the food “rain” it down. Somehow this distributes it better. I end up stirring the food anyway so it’s really unnecessary. I do it because it’s dramatic, and I feel like a celebrity chef. So I rained some salt and twisted some pepper.

I opened the cabinet literally above my head. I have to stand on the tips of my toes and really stretch to reach the mini-stainless bowl that sits on the top shelf. This prep bowl is well used, but in an inconvenient place because I don’t have anywhere else to put it in this barely functional kitchen. Taylor is whining about how We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. I’m unconvinced. This was on her last country album, even though most of it was pop.

I take the EVOO–it always cracks me up when I see that on a menu. I want to find the pretentious menu author and punch them in their pretentious author neck.

I pour the exact amount, in that it’s exactly the amount I poured, if only measured by my squinted right eye. I don’t have fresh lemon but a fairly fresh bottle of lemon juice. I squeeze about the right proportion to join the oil. I pick up my super cute baby-whisk. I ordered this whisk from either Crate and Barrel or Sur la Table. They came in a pair, which is good because I wore one of them out. Speaking of worn out, that Lumineers joint comes on. Hey! Ho!

The recipe, that I am not really following in any meaningful manner, wanted me to add fresh cilantro. I don’t have that or the dill they suggested to swap. I go through the spice jars twice. I even go to the way back of the cupboard where I have the extra bottles of valencia orange peel and smoked paprika that I bought by mistake. Nope. No dill anywhere. So I go for some dried mint. Seems like a fresh substitute. After I added it I remembered that I have some actually fresh mint on the back porch. Went too fast there.

Here’s my favorite part. The whisking. I get oddly excited by how quickly that little whisk emulsifies the oil and lemon juice. It seemed exceptionally fast tonight–like only three or four turns and it was like melted caramel.

I’m not ready to dress the salad yet, but worry that the avocado will discolor before The Spouse gets home. I shake a few drops of lemon juice over the concoction. I take the cookie sheet lined with discs of polenta out of the oven and flip them. Whoa, that oven is a little hot.

Lil Jon comes on. Seriously. Right then. Turn Down for What? In this case, turnt down to keep dinner from burning.


Morning coffee in a big red mug surrounded by the morning paper.

The coffee has been a little thin. Not necessarily weak, but, if I were being truthful, I would admit that it was a bit weak, too.

The grind for French press is fairly coarse. You don’t want the coffee to be powdery, which leads to sludgy brew. Depending where you have it ground, sometimes it presents like the tiny pebbles in sand. Sometimes the bean fragments are smaller, more like pepper shards out of a loose pepper mill. I’ve not done a double-blind study, but it seems to taste better with the slightly finer, but not too fine, grind.

Making the coffee has a few steps that I approach more like washing a car than a tea ceremony. You’ll understand better in a minute.

First, you measure the coffee and put it in the pot. I have a huge scoop so I don’t have to count so much. Sometimes I can loose track of the scoops and then I either have to pour it out onto a plate and start over or say three Hail Mary’s while praying that there is enough. I never worry about too much, it’s only too little that would be the jolt. Or, more accurately, the anti-jolt.

Second, you add the water. I always used filtered water. Although that likely becomes much less relevant in month three and four of the two-month rated filter.

Back to the coffee. The water should be just below a boil. So, after the water reaches the boiling point you need to wait a bit as it cools. The wait can range between me chanting “one thousand one, one thousand two,” as I’m patiently standing next to the kettle, all the way up to to a few (ten? maybe 15?) minutes if I forgot that I started this project. That happens. Mostly on weekends, but sometimes during the week if I get involved with a first-thing-in-the-morning Buzzfeed quiz. Which Disney villain are you? or How many of these 90s songs can you name?

Sometimes I preheat the pot. This usually occurs when I realize that I didn’t wash it yesterday and I have to wash it for today’s coffee. I shake out the dregs, pour them down the sink and rinse the pot with hot water. Very hot water. That preheats the pot, as if by design.

Third is the timing. Those of you with a drip maker or a fancy machine are unconcerned with timing. Your appliances finish all by themselves. With the French press, your coffee floats around in the water to flavor it for an optimal interval. I think it’s four minutes. That’s my goal, anyway. Usually one of three things will occur. I will set the timer and respond at the ring, I will set the timer and ignore it because of some minor distraction, or, I will forget to set the timer and contort my brain to imagine the lapsed time. The timing is actually very important to the taste. I just don’t usually get it right.

Fourth is the plunge. This is pure technique. You need to corral all the floaty grinds under the mesh net and push them to the bottom of the pot. There is sometimes resistance–not always. It’s like an air bubble somehow forms and as you continue to push the plunger down, the pot burps and very hot liquid comes shooting out of the spout. I’m usually lucky and the spout is pointing away from me. Sometimes, though, I get it in the chest like someone yelling, Good morning!

I’m a little sloppy on the plunge so I usually take the first cup. This is the one with grinds that escaped the mesh and washed above the rubber seal when I was not paying any attention. When this happens, I am glad for the grind with the large chunks. You can more easily chase them around the rim of the cup and scoop them out with a spoon. When I’m very sloppy, I get the tea strainer and pour into another cup. When I’m very sloppy and very lazy, I just add milk and go about my business focusing on not focusing on the grains. I’ll spit out the gravel later. Or, if I don’t, I call it fiber.

The coffee I drank this gray morning was amazing. It was perfectly hot and a bit syrupy to balance the goodness of bitter. It was the earthy, composty Indonesian coffee that’s my favorite. It tastes of a little dirt and a little acid, flavored with what tastes of chocolate and maybe maple–or is that dark cherry?

Someone else plunged it this morning, though. Someone who is a much better scientist than I. Someone who made a beautiful cup of coffee for me this morning. No grains. No spills. Just love in a mug.

Now, THAT’S a good cup of coffee.

The Midnight Train Goin’ Anywhere

a confusing array of kitchen cabinet knobs and pulls. Who could decide? They are all fine.

Kitchens. Baths. Mudrooms. Decks. Master suites. Remodels. Some people are all about the process of remaking a home into theirs: the discovery, the design, the development. Me? I’m about the Done.

The thought of picking out knobs for cabinets, looking for the perfect granite vein, comparing backsplash options, selecting faucet and matching vanity lights? Shoot me now, in the head.

It’s not that I don’t care. I want a good remodel. I want to respect the bones of our great old house. I definitely have an aesthetic, but extreme nuance is uninteresting and somewhat unfathomable to me. Shades of taupe? Notched or twisted pull? I really don’t care. Does it work? Is it sturdy? Does it look okay? Great! Done and done.

I’m simple. My goal is to be able to cook a good dinner and for my guests to be able to turn on the light in the bathroom. Right now it’s a trick. The switch is on the outside wall. Inside would be a huge win. Another criteria is that nobody gets electrocuted. If someone gives me a reasonable fixture option, I’ll say yes. I care about completion and operation.

A friend was talking about a partner who wants to completely understand the process. He’s researching the natural light from multiple sources and how they will blend and create a perfect reading spot. He explores design with the fervor of a securities attorney unraveling the complex law–in this case laws of nature, laws of composition, and even, perhaps, those of humanity. The journey is made of hundreds, if not thousands, of turns that will determine the future of their lives.

Me, I’ll take the average of those options and plot a way forward. I’m not so deep.

I’m not being flip. Okay a little flip, but I don’t think he’s wrong. I’ll stipulate that there can be meaning in all those options. I personally can’t care about most of them. It’s why I only drove back to Detroit twice in decades. I can’t stand to drive eleven hours–twenty-two round trip–when I can fly in seventy minutes. I care about being there not getting there.

“Wait, Doc!” you say. “Look out the window will you?”

And to you I say, “have you ever driven on the Ohio Turnpike? Nothing to see here. Move along.” Yes, I have patience issues. I want to be there more than get there.

People have their things. People really enjoy the art and craft of serial-remodeling, either the same house or flipping houses. People like to shop shop shop for the best antique or best bargain or best find. People tinker with their cars inside and out, sometimes spending more time on the detailing than on driving.

I’m not immune. I would rather start a meal from scratch–selecting, washing, cutting and roasting or sautéeing vegetables; whisking the mustard into the oil and lemon juice for a vinaigrette; flipping a steak continuously in a red hot cast iron skillet and basting it with butter. Some call me crazed to perform cooking feats at the end of a workday. But this journey, from kitchen to table, is as important to me as the destination, from fork to lips.

I don’t know why some journeys have meaning to some and not to others. Why the selection of a pecan over a walnut floor stain defines peace for one person and elicits indifference in another? Why having flowers in my house is important to me, but arranging them is not?

When I was thinking about being a destination person and not a journey person, I realized that I was wrong. We are all on our own meta-journey that is made up of mini-journeys and side destinations along the way.  This greatest journey has a destination, too. The destination none of us will avoid, but most of us are not anxious to see.

I’m working on enjoying my overall journey on my own path until it’s natural end. There’s nothing else.