Iced Coffee: An Idiot-Proof Guide

Yes, I am on Pinterest.

No, I have never been tempted enough to actually make anything I’ve seen there.

That is, I had never been tempted enough until I saw a pin to this post about cold-brewing coffee so a tasty iced treat would always be only moments away.

Um, yes please?

Idiot Proof Directions*

Step 1: Dump 8 quarts of water and 1 lb of ground coffee into a big ol’ container (or 1 quart for every two ounces of coffee.) I recommend pouring in the water first to make sure the container will be large enough for your batch o’ brew.

Step 1: Make mud

I also added a teaspoon of cinammon and a couple tablespoons of vanilla extract to the mix. I’m not sure that’s enough to make any sort of difference to the taste of the finished product, but I was too scared to add any more in case it would mess the whole thing up and I’d have to start over. I’ll leave it to you guys to do the experimenting on this one.

Step 2: Stir the muddy mass around a bit to make sure all the grounds are wet, then stick it in the fridge and forget about it for 8 hours.

Or for 14 hours if you decide to start the process a few hours before bed.

Step 3: Strain the brew. I did this by pouring several quarts at a time into a juice pitcher (because it was easier for me to hold than my giant metal stock pot)…

Step 3: Play with the mud

…and pouring from there through a tea strainer inside a cheesecloth coffee strainer.

Step 3a: Strain the mud

I collected my strained, caffeinated goodness into a Brita shelf unit with a spigot on the front, because I am a clever, clever girl.

I then ran the brew through the cheesecloth strainer a second time, figuring I probably hadn’t gotten all the grounds out during the first go ’round.

Step 3b: “Ew” at the remaining sludge

Yep. Missed some. Ewww.

Step 4: Chug-a-lug. I mixed 3 parts cold-brewed coffee (on ice), 1 part Half & Half, a teaspoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of chocolate syrup, and I mean to tell ya’, folks: It was pretty awesome.

Step 4 – Look for cloud animals in the Half & Half swirls

I even went to bed excited that when I got up in the morning I’d have this stuff ready to go so I could enjoy another yummy coffee treat. (I may come to regret my admission that iced coffee was enough to gear me up for the following day, but for now it stays. I trust you all will not to think less of me for it.)

For those of you more swish than I at such things: Any recipe modifications you’d recommend?

*I got all of this from following The Pioneer Woman‘s recipe.

Paraguay Blog #11: Nuestra Ciudad

From one of our day trips: The Basilica of Caacupé

In the early part of my trip to Paraguay, my hosts- the Hagerman family– and I spent quite a bit of time traveling. First we headed east for about a week and a half, hitting up Obligado, Encarnacion, Ciudad del Este, and Foz just over the border into Brazil. Since then we’ve also taken day trips to Villeta, Alberdi, Asunción, Areguá, Caacupé, and around our own town of Itauguá. But most days? Most days are gloriously low key and normal, which is truly ideal for this kind of trip.

Well, you know, “normal” plus all this heat and the goats and the lizards and everything.

The average “normal, but with goats and lizards” day for us begins with Ken brewing a pot of coffee in a 90° kitchen in a country suffering from Junior High Awkwardness at the very idea of coffee. To wit: Ken was gifted a bag of Starbucks beans a few weeks ago and responded with what can only be described as giggles, and a face that looked like he’d just been told he’d won Hawaii.

Seriously, man: It’s time to get Paraguay some sister cities in Honduras.

The lack of proficiency- and interest- with coffee in Paraguay is completely understandable, however, given that the better part of the year here includes temperatures in the low 100s every day by 11 AM. There’s not really much call for hot drinks amongst those dripping with sweat. No, what’s needed here is something cool. And if you want to keep cool, and sufficiently hydrated, in this kind of heat, your best bet is to skip the coffee altogether and drink water All The Time. And what better way to drink water than socially and when it’s full of yard weeds, amiright?

Enter: Tereré.

A typical tereré kit: termo, attached cup holder, guampa. Click the pic to view the source post and to leave Betty lots of nice comments! (We love that sort of thing. ;) She has a great blog about Paraguay, and life in general. Worth a read. :)

Tereré (pronounced teh-deh-DAY) is the Guarani name for a drink almost everyone in these parts consumes daily in enormous quantities. It’s prepared by scooping yerba (dried herbs from a certain kind of holly plant) into a guampa (a cup traditionally made from wood or a hollowed out cow’s horn), pouring ice water over it, and drinking it through a bombilla (a long metal straw with a spoon-shaped sieve at the end to keep the herbs from going up the straw). If you’re with friends you’re expected to share your tereré with all present, refilling it with water after each drinker finishes their turn. It’s all very “puff puff pass,” and you’d do well to just dive right on into drinking it as soon as you arrive.

Most streets here are peppered with vendors selling ice and water so folks can replenish their termos (thermoses) of cold water throughout the day. You’ll find you’re also never far from a place where you can buy remedios (remedies) to add to the water for extra flavor, extra pep, or to cure any number of ailments. These remedios come in the form of herbs, roots, bits of tree bark, etc. which get crushed and mixed into the tereré water. If, by some sort of contrary miracle, you should find yourself with nary a remedio shop in sight, there are always plenty of free alternatives growing in your own back yard, or up between the cracks in the sidewalk. Cure away, friends.

Lomito Arabe and a bottle of guaraná make for one happy gringa!

Meal time is also pretty laid back here at the house where I’m staying. Breakfast can be anything from toast, to cereal, to a piece of pan Felipe (large, white rolls) with butter and a cup of coffee. My favorite breakfast so far has been a roll with veggies and a piece of white cheese. See? Laaaaid baaaack.

Lunch and dinner will usually be something whipped up by one of the Hagerman girls, Camille (15) and Caroline (13). Egg salad, rich casseroles, mandioca (cassava), baked chicken and the like are staples at the Hagermans’ house, and with good reason: Those two girls know their way around a kitchen. And lucky for all of us that includes knowing their way around serving up some pretty tasty desserts, too. This week’s treat was a batch of K Bars, courtesy of Caroline. And a week or so before that we were treated to Camille’s Avocado Mousse.

We’ve had dinner out a few times as well, favorite spots being Tia Pachi’s, home of $0.75 empanadas, and Allo Beirut, home of the Lomito Arabe. We stopped there the other night after church and ooooh was that some good eatin’.

The hottest part of the day is usually spent inside the house fixing things (if you’re Ken), reading, blogging, working on chores, or doing school work. The weirdest part about that to me is that the girls are actually working on chores or doing school work. I know. Crazy, right? But day in and day out they get it all done. Cool kids, huh?

Milciades’ trophy is too big for the shelf. Life’s tough, eh? ;)

During the cooler parts of the day- that is: when it’s down into the low to mid-90s in the morning or the early evening- there’s almost always company here at the house. Kids from Hogar Ganar will stop by to play with the girls or with Saúl, or maybe church friends will come over to chat in the hammock or practice their English. Last week we got to enjoy the company of some missionary friends of theirs from the US for a few days while they were passing through town on their way home after a conference in Chile. Never a dull moment around here!

One of our most frequent visitors is Milciades, the all-purpose maintenance guy and grounds’ keeper here at Hogar Ganar. Yesterday he came by to show us the trophy he won for a 7k race he ran in San Bernardino Saturday night. He took 2nd place out of 1,500 runners!

He entered several Hogar Ganar kids into the race as well; boys he’s been training with for a long time now. Sometimes we’ll see him working with them in the yard outside his house doing drills, running sprints, and learning what it means to develop the skills necessary to pursue something they care about. All the kids are young- I think the oldest boy is maybe 12- but they’re doing so well with him and have come such a long way. They run because they enjoy it, and because they look up to Milciades and he enjoys it. He’s just this young guy, but he’s so attentive and dedicated to these kids. It’s really a neat thing to see. Go Team!

We generally wind down the day reading and chatting on the front porch, taking turns in the hammock while the dog runs his fool self ragged through the fields and woods around the grounds. He comes back exhausted but happy, and absolutely covered in small, green burrs. Gotta love a dog!

And then finally? A nice, normal, everyday sunset…

…with palm trees.

Happy trails!

Tomato: A dream

“True love is the greatest thing in the world. Except for a nice MLT– mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich– where the mutton is lean and the tomato is ripe.” Miracle Max (William Goldman)

Always a bridesmaid…

I dreamed last night it had been arranged that three other women and I should marry four boorish young brothers from a wealthy family that was having trouble marrying off its sons. I found myself in a church I didn’t know, using a poorly lit room that had been converted into a dressing room for the four of us and our bridesmaids. All the girls were talking and laughing except me. I didn’t know what was happening and had no one to ask as I stood there alone with no bridesmaids.

I slipped my dress on over my head. Where the other girls were putting on traditional, white gowns with lace and delicate embroidery, mine was an ill-fitting smokey blue taffeta. As soon as the other girls were engrossed enough in their chatter to not notice my absence, I ducked out through a side door and into a dimly lit hallway. I was sneaking out because I had to find someone to whom I could tell the truth and seek help. The truth was: I didn’t know which of the four brothers I was engaged to and I didn’t want to go through with the wedding. I had to find someone to ask for the name and appearance of the brother I was to marry so I could at least walk up to the right one when my turn came.

I don’t know why I didn’t choose to just leave. Maybe I couldn’t?

As I walked the hallway in search of someone to talk to I remembered a home movie I had been shown of the oldest of the brothers. In it he was sitting in an easy chair in the living room of one of the family’s summer cabins. He wore a shabby, pale blue sweatshirt from the 80s bearing an old Pepsi logo on the middle of the chest. His blonde hair was greasy, thin, and spiked. His doughy face was mostly expressionless in its perch above his myriad chins and his stomach slipping out past the hem of his sweatshirt. The video ended when he got up to check on some activity happening behind the person with the camera. I hoped this wasn’t the brother for me.

Squirrely boys will be squirrely boys

I found a young man helping out back stage for the service. He seemed laid back and fairly unconcerned about the whole event. Thinking he was probably uninvolved enough not to rat me out, I confessed I didn’t know which brother to go to  when my turn came and asked if he could advise me. He was able to tell me I was engaged to the youngest of the four who it turned out was little more than a child. I asked what he looked like so I would know him when I saw him. He said he was “short, kinda squirrely,” and that he was being brought over with his small, black poodle on the family’s helicopter at that very moment.

My heart sank. My stomach dropped. My head maintained altitude. I thanked the young man and kept walking.

I never did find the boy.

I came upon a set of wide double doors that led into a room that was a cross between a concert stadium and a sanctuary. I wandered in the semi-darkness looking for the youngest brother while listening to the ceremonies of the first two girls. I expected the ceremonies to continue as I hadn’t reached my own unfortunate turn yet, but then, abruptly, it all ended. Two of the brothers had never shown up, so two of us didn’t get married. I was instantly relieved because I hadn’t wanted to marry this person, this boy, when I didn’t even know him, but humiliated I’d been left at the alter with thousands of people present to witness my abandonment by a child.

I went back into the dressing room to change and found that all of the girls were gone and the furniture had been changed back to suit the room’s original purpose. It was a choir classroom and a young woman with dark hair was directing a choir of school age boys in dark ties and white dress shirts. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone in the room. I said I just needed to find someone and promised to keep out of their way if they’d just let me through. All eyes were on me. I heard the students whispering, talking about what had just happened in the ceremony, snickering. I felt the teacher’s glare on the back of my head as I hurried by.

I passed through a door on the other side of the classroom and found myself in the back hallway of a small coffee shop. I made my way through it into the light of the coffee shop proper. To my right there was a girl reading at one of the tables, and straight ahead of me there was a man about my age working behind the counter. I walked up to the counter and explained my frustrating situation to the man; that it had been arranged that I should marry a young boy I didn’t know, that he’d never shown up, and that now I couldn’t even find the other girls I’d been with before the ceremony since they all left while I was away. He told me the same thing had happened to his boss,  a woman named Bonnie whom he spoke of with great affection. He said she owned the coffee shop and had been engaged to be married to one of these four brothers as well even though she had a good thirty years on even the eldest of them. He said she hadn’t even shown up herself.

Knowing that, it suddenly all seemed so silly now. So forgettable. Knowing I wasn’t alone, and that the situation could’ve been even more bizarre, did so much to soothe my worry as I gratefully accepted the fact that I hadn’t gotten stuck in something horrible and so could go back to normal life at my own pace.

I thanked the man and turned to leave when somehow I found myself talking to him on my cell phone. He was so pleasant, so friendly, such a change from these strangers I kept running into who didn’t know me, who made plans about my life on my behalf, and who then disappeared before I could get any satisfactory resolutions to my concerns. He felt like a friend.

We hadn’t been talking long when the man asked if I’d come over the next morning before work for some gum.

“Gum?” I laughed.

“Yeah, you know. Just– come on over before work and hang out. It’ll be fun. I’m afraid all I’ve got on me is gum so it’s all I can offer.” I could hear him smiling.

“…the lamb was sure to go.”

While still talking to him on my cell phone I wandered back down the hall I’d first entered at the shop and saw a door that was open just a crack. Through that gap I saw I had reached the shop’s office, and there inside was the guy I was talking to seated at the desk, talking to me and grinning. I opened the door and said it was just too hard to meet before work but would he like to hang out now? He said he would and suggested he could show me around the building. On our little tour we came upon a mysteriously cavernous storage room, like a warehouse designed by Mark Danielewski. My new friend called me over to see a red toy piano he’d found and excitedly began dinging out songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Several keys were missing, however, so none of the songs sounded quite right and we ended up not staying very long.

Before I knew it we were back at the outside door of the shop and I was saying I needed to head home. I realized I held in my hands a white piece of paper and a yellow CD I’d picked up in the warehouse. I handed them back to the man saying I didn’t even realize I’d taken them when he offered to walk me to my car. Thrilled to have finally found a friend in a dream I said yes. We walked outside into a bright summer day where I discovered we were near a harbor full of sailboats. The surrounding park was dotted with children on bicycles, sun bathers, and ice cream stands. It was idyllic. I never wanted to leave.

When life gives you tomatoes…

As we walked my new friend offered me a few pre-cut bites of tomato so sweet and ripe his fingers were dripping with juice and seeds. It wasn’t something I’d normally eat as a snack, but I was so happy for the company and the beautiful day I accepted a few pieces and popped the first one into my mouth. It was sweet, and melted on my tongue like soft chocolate. We kept walking, laughing, trying to talk between bites.

As we neared a line of trees separating the park from the rows of cars that were our ultimate destination, I found I couldn’t talk around the tomato at all now. As I’d chewed it had begun to swell, mutton-like, in my mouth with each bit, and had lost its pleasant flavor to the point where it tasted like nothing at all. I turned my back to my friend so I could spit my current piece out into the grass. He didn’t mind; he just laughed.

He asked if we could meet again and I was suddenly overcome with sadness because I knew we couldn’t. I wracked my brain for ways to make it work, half aware I was dreaming and so this was impossible, half confident this was reality and there was no good reason I couldn’t return. I smiled, said I’d try. “But you shouldn’t wait for me,” I explained, feeling like a heel for not being honest with him by admitting I’d never be here again.

He thanked me for our nice afternoon and asked if he could give me a kiss goodbye; I nearly cried. “Of course,” I said. He gave me a a quick kiss, smiled, and turned to walk back through the park to the coffee shop. I kissed the back of his shoulder as he took his first step away, turned towards my car, and forced myself awake.


peach pit

"The best way to know God is to love many things." Van Gogh

Cut it into halves along this seam, he tells me, insisting the freestone peach into my hand, and the flesh will break clean from the pit.

I did.

It does.

I brushed the skin with my thumb and it was soft the way leaves are soft when they begin to yellow.

I was alone, so I brushed the skin with my cheek and smiled that it felt rougher there, like a worked palm.

I bit into the first quarter and in my mouth the skin had a new feel, like a delicate piece of canvas meant to be worn close to the body.

Each bite was soft, perfect, unusual. Sugared gold, honey yellow, autumn red near the core. Sweet with no addition, no rot, no wood clinging from the pit. Part of the pleasure was the novelty of eating a thing that had a texture on the outside like it shouldn’t be eaten, so I didn’t remove the skin.

The final three quarters are wrapped in the kitchen so I may live the moment again tomorrow at breakfast, but I know I won’t. I can’t. The sky then won’t be dark and clear outside my window, the air won’t be cool and filled with the sound of crickets, and the peace that comes from being only a few hours removed from the end of the work week will have passed.

But I enjoyed that standalone quarter tonight more than almost any other part of my week, of my month, and so I’m glad for it. And smiling.

What’s good for the goose…

A killdeer chick

A killdeer chick

Birds of a feather

According to Wikipedia, the killdeerfrequently uses a “broken wing act” to distract predators from the nest.” According to every summer since my family moved into our home in Waukesha, WI this is 100% true and incredible to witness firsthand.

I don’t know how many killdeer nests my parents have in their yard as I’ve only ever seen one of them and I don’t know how territorial they are, but I do know there are usually between 4 and 8 adults living on their property every year, and every early summer they’re accompanied by baby killdeer that are just about the cutest winged things you have ever seen in your life. Love those long stick legs!

Killdeer nest on the ground (we mow around them) so they’re regularly low enough for the casual observer to take a good long look at them, plus their long legs keep them high enough off the ground that they’re easy to spot running around, and they pull that “broken wing act” any time you’re within 20′ of their nests so they’re perfect for seeing Nature’s brilliance in action. They’re great birds. Move near some.

I was at my folks’ house this past Wednesday afternoon when my brother came home and said he’d just run over a baby killdeer on the driveway. He hadn’t seen it in time to avoid hitting it and clearly felt pretty badly about the whole thing. I surely do love that young man. I didn’t want the dog to go bothering the body, so my brother and I walked down the driveway with the intention of moving it into the bushes to either decompose in peace, or to become the meal of something a bit more used to hunting than my family’s spoiled shitsu bichon.

When we reached the chick we discovered it was still alive but had a badly broken leg. I scooped the bird into my hands. He was warm and soft, and so young he didn’t have feathers yet, just down that looked and felt like fur. He opened his beak the tiniest bit, a piece of brown grass still in his mouth, to let out a few quiet chirps as I checked his body with careful fingers. His right leg was fully dislocated, and bleeding.

I kissed the air above his head and wondered if I could kill him myself to put him out of his misery, but I knew I couldn’t do it. What if I made a pig’s ear of the attempt and just ended up injuring him more? And even if I was able to do it quickly and efficiently… I just don’t have it in me. So I said “Thank you Jesus for birds” and laid him in the bushes near his nest so the mother would at least have all her brood accounted for even if one was going to die.

I went inside the house with my brother to wash the blood off my hands and to find my dad to “take care of” the bird, but he wasn’t home so we did nothing with it. I felt equally sick at the thought of killing it or just leaving it be when it must’ve been in so much pain. Accidental deaths of innocent animals just breaks my heart.

All these terrible things going on in the world- war, famine, disease- and this is what makes me cry? But those other things– they’re just so big. So enormous and distant that I can’t wrap my head around them. And if I could, what then? Stop weeping over wounded animals because it’s not the worst that can happen? I am so glad there are people in this world like my Mimi or like my friend Stephen who have a heart for those who are suffering, who have the strength to do more than just weep, and who have the guts to actually do something about that suffering. And me? I guess I’m just the type to love the people I’m near, and get all teary-eyed over broken birds.

When God closes a door he opens a window to let the geese in

I was at the park today with friends when we overheard a woman who works at the park telling a coworker about a Canada goose nearby that sometimes follows her around and whom she had named Geraldine. My friends and I saw the goose to which the woman was referring, but we assumed it just liked to be nearby to catch fallen picnic fare and continued on our way.

We stopped at the end of a sidewalk near the park’s primary boat landing to get a better look at the water’s edge, when I noticed “Geraldine” peeking out as us from behind a lamp post. We stood watching her pecking away at the grass beneath her feet for a moment before picking some leaves ourselves and holding them out to her. She seemed a little unsure of us at first, but that didn’t last long and soon we were sitting on the ground testing different types of greenery on a very friendly, hungry Geraldine.

Feeding Geraldine

Feeding Geraldine

We offered her wide stalks of water grass, but she didn’t seem to care for it. We tried flower pods and thistle blossoms, but those were also a no. She seemed to enjoy the round leaves (read: weeds) that grew throughout the lawn, and the long blades that grew up between the sidewalk cracks and in the gravel along the river’s edge. She was also a big fan of our shoelaces. And pant legs. And bracelets. And leaning against our legs while looking us straight in the eye. And having her sides and belly rubbed. She even let me slip my hand between her wings to give her a nice long scratch after she’d done so first with her beak.

We must’ve sat there with her like that for at least an hour, feeding her grass, rubbing her belly, and studying all her weird little details. Her feet? Feel like leather. Her tongue? Edged in sharp grooves like a serrated kitchen knife. Strangest thing. And she never once hissed or tried to bite, though if we offered too short a piece of grass our fingers were likely to be included in her delicate little chomps. And she was personably vocal, offering sweet barking sounds when she wanted more grass, quiet honks as she wandered between us, and kind silence while we stroked her beautiful back. Another surprise to me was how wet her mouth was. I don’t know why I expected her to have a dryer tongue, but whenever she’d catch an errant finger it would end up dripping with goose spit. Who knew?

A little girl of about 5 or 6 and her brother of about 4 were out walking in the park with their grandparents when they spotted us. We invited them to come pet Geraldine, which they loved for a solid 2 minutes before running onto the pier to chase ducks. About 20 minutes later, while laying in the grass with Geraldine’s warm body nestled in the crook of my armpit where she sat munching on leaves, a girl and her boyfriend rode by on bikes and stopped to ask if this was our pet. The guy stayed on his bike, but the girlfriend was only too happy to come down and pet and feed our new pal, an enormous grin on her beautiful face. There is just nothing like something feathered and friendly to bring a smile to people’s faces. Just nothing like.

Thank you, for Geraldine.

“My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore always seek to praise God.”

– from Fioretti di San Francesco d’Assisi