Joy Dare :: 3 Gifts Sweet

Mom and I were talking about Three Gifts Sweet, and we realized that could go a couple different directions. There’s sweet like, “Oooh, that tastes sweet!” Sweet like “Awww… so sweet!” and then sweet like “Schaweeet!” (didn’t think of that last one till just a bit ago, Mom!)

So, really, I only thought about the “Oooh, yummy!” kind of sweet.

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We snagged these at our discount grocery store during an emergency run for flour and nutmeg. Yes, no nutmeg DOES qualify as an emergency. They were cute, festive, and dipped in white chocolate, which made the children very happy.

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But look! Papa is helping the girls identify a bird that they spotted. Awww, so sweet!

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I am very thankful that Dan can make it home on lunch breaks now. It’s nice to see an adult (and one I like so much!) halfway through my day. Plus, we give him a rundown of the school day while he’s here, and he often has something to add. It’s one of my happiest blessings right now!

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I also managed to score this yummy Christmas-ish coffee at the discount store. Which is schawheet! (But shhhh… don’t tell anyone about this last one, because some just might make it under the tree for certain family members at Christmas time!)

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Joy Dare :: 3 Gifts Silver

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When I was thinking about Silver Gifts that I am thankful for, the first thing I thought of was my French press. Turns out, the French press ranks pretty high with my mom, too. Great minds, and all that. It’s a pretty multifunctional piece of equipment, and I am am very grateful to own one!

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These pretty little shot glasses were a gift from my brother Jared. I think he snagged them from Germany on one of his trips ’round the world. I am convinced that Jared’s love language is gifts, because he and his lovely new wife Amber both just do gifts so well.

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My third item of silvery happiness comes from a thrift shop. Thrift shops are the bestest ever, and every time Dan leaves me with the van he secretly worries what I will drag home. But we both agreed that this was a good find, since last year when we needed a tree topper, and had a very small budget we still hated what dollar general had to offer. Thrift shops are the best!

When life gave us strawberries…

we made scones!

Nod to Rachel, at Song In My Heart

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My previous attempts at scone failed ten out of ten times. They were gross and tasted like baking powder. Frustrated at my failures, I decided that that it was a possibility that my three year old baking powder (purchased in bulk from Sam’s) might be the culprit. I got another can of the stuff and sure enough, that solved all my life’s problems. Morale of the story: Baking powder does go rancid. Yuck!

Armed with a great recipe, fresh baking powder, plump strawberries from Aldi, and 2 quarts of iced coffee, I trotted into the kitchen to make us some breakfast, and all was good.

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Springtime Breakfast

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One of the things that we love the most about spring is eating our meals outdoors. Especially in that precious week of warm weather before the mosquitoes get involved. We enjoyed quite a few breakfasts, lunches and dinners outdoors last week!

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The slightly cooler mornings call for coffee, of course!

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Some of us take a little longer to wake up and get with the program! 🙂

fresh laundry

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There’s no better feeling than having all the laundry caught up, folded, and put away. Thankfully, at the moment I feel pretty caught up in the laundry department.

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Rachel came over a week or so ago and helped me do some major cleaning in my laundry room, which also happens to be our dining room, so I’ve been able to maintain and slowly even make progress towards getting our little nest all ready to welcome the new little fella.

Our Valentine’s Day Breakfast

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It all started out so… civilized.

Marme and Granddad brought the girls some Valentine’s Day balloons last night, and they have been the most exciting thing that has happened to the girls all week.

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I made a replica of the breakfast which Dan and I shared (in bed, back then) on our fist Valentine’s Day together.

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We had Eggs Benedict (my all time favorite breakfast, in case you’re wondering), but this time on homemade English Muffins, with asparagus…

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and chocolate covered strawberries, though this time I made chocolate fondue and we dipped them as we ate them. So much easier! Strawberries and pineapple have been a part of every Valentine’s Day we’ve shared.

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The infamous pink latte, with pink steamed milk for the girls…

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Dan and I set the table last night before bed.

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We actually have colds today, and Kinsley ran a fever off an on last night. It’s tradition, you know.

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Looks fairly civilized, right?

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Look again. Sophie really enjoyed the fondue. She eventually ended up shirtless, because she can’t stand a stain on her clothing. Strange girl.

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Dan had an upset stomach, because he took a zink tablet on an empty stomach.

Kinsley’s dinosaur family made an appearance.

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Grandma had dropped by with chocolate hearts for the girls.

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Which they very much enjoyed.

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In fact, Sophie found them downright inspiring.

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We very much enjoyed our breakfast together, even though Dan and I often feel that we’re observing the residents of a loony bin, destined to be residents of a loony bin ourselves, as a result. What would we do without them, though?

the perfect latte or cappuccino without a machine…

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(Photo credit – Indian Boy)

Steamed/Frothed Milk:

There’s really no need for an expensive Espresso machine when it comes to making the milk part of the latte or cappuccino. A flexible whisk, thermometer, and a stove top burner are really all you need to create rich, creamy, meringue like froth to go with your coffee. Either whole, or 2% milk works best with this method.

Pour the cold milk into the saucepan (fill only half-way at most, to allow for the expanding foam). Place the saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Stir the milk slowly (at first) with your whisk. Loose, wide bubbles will begin to form. The more you whisk, the smaller and more condensed the bubbles will become. Increase whisking speed as the milk temperature rises. Basically, you just whisk exactly like you would for whisking eggs. You will soon notice the milk “blossoming” or swelling. Whatever you do, do not allow the milk to boil. If the milk does boil, it will spoil the foam and even ruin the taste of the milk. If you think the milk is about to boil, remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk until you have as much foam as you want.

Set the milk aside for thirty seconds or so, while you pour the Espresso or coffee into the warmed mugs. During this time, the milk will settle, with the steamed milk settling to the bottom of the pan, and the airy little bubbles surfacing at the top.

Remember that the proportions for a finished cappuccino are one third Espresso, one third steamed milk, and one third foam, while a latte is one part Espresso, and either one or two parts steamed milk.

Espresso Methods:

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There are many ways to come up with a shot of coffee strong enough to count as an Espresso in my book, though I think technically the only two that can be considered true Espressos are the machine and Moka-Style (non-electric) stove top Espresso Pot.

In my opinion, I’ve gotten coffee that is both stronger, as well as more complex without being bitter from my French Press pot. I’ve heard people rave over the results they get from their vacuum pots, as well as from the Vietnamese filter pot. Each of these can be easily obtained for less than $20.

Once again, the proper grind for the proper equipment really makes all the difference, though the proper brew time is important as well.

Grind
(Suggested grind times are based on an average propeller style grinder with no more than 4 scoops or 1/4 cup of beans at a time. Cut down on the grinding time, if you are grinding less coffee.)

French Press (or any plunger style pot) – the grind should be medium to coarse. It should feel pretty similar in texture to cornmeal. Grinding time should be around 10-15 seconds. Brew time should be between 4-8 minutes. I prefer mine closer to 8 minutes.

Vacuum Pot – Medium grit, with little powder present. Grind time, 15 seconds. I’m not familiar with vacuum pot brewing methods, but the standard rule for medium grind coffee is a brew time of 4-6 minutes.

Napoletana Flip-Drip – Medium to coarse grind with no powder present. Grind time 12-15 seconds. Brew time 4-8 minutes.

Stovetop Espresso Moka Pot – Grind type should be medium to fine, like fine sand. Grind time is 20 seconds.

Middle Eastern or Turkish methods – require the finest grind possible. It should feel as soft as flannel, with the texture of flour. This fine grind may be hard to accomplish at home!

Vietnamese Filter Pot – requires a fine to medium grind, similar to the stove top Espresso pot. It should feel like a fine sand. Grind time is about 20 seconds.

Since the two most common of these methods seem to be the French Press, and the Moka-style Espresso Pot, those are the two I will focus on here.

First, the Moka Pot
The moka pot has two chambers, with a filter between them. Cold water is placed in the bottom chamber to the level of the safety valve, and finely ground coffee is placed loosely into the filter,which is then placed in the bottom pot. Screw the upper chamber onto the bottom and place over medium to medium-low heat. The water heats up, and the resulting trapped pressure is forced up through the coffee grounds. In about three minutes, the coffee will begin to trickle into the top chamber of the pot and begin to gurgle and emerge out of the spout. The heat is turned off, and the pot is removed from the burner and allowed to rest for a few minutes. The Espresso is finished when the top chamber is full and just steam comes out of the center spout.

Additional tips:

***Aluminum Moka Pots tend to react with the coffee acids, producing an “off-balance” flavor.
***Use coffee which is roasted and ground for Espresso making, as ordinary drip blends don’t work as well.
***Do not tamp the ground coffee when you place it in the portafilter, instead, mound the coffee before screwing both chambers together.
***Before screwing the chambers together, wipe off the rim of the bottom chamber to ensure a tight seal.
***Make sure that the heat is not too high. It needs to be on medium, or even medium low because once the water begins to boil, the brewing process is very fast and the coffee can become “over-extracted” and taste bitter.
***As soon as the coffee begins to come out of the center spout, remove the pot from the heat and let the rest brew through more slowly. You can simply leave to top open so that you can see when the coffee starts to brew. When the spout begins to sputter foam, turn off the heat and allow the rest to brew through. The Espresso is ready only when steam starts to come out of the spout.

The French Press
The French Press pot is my all time favorite coffee brewing method. It’s so simple, and the results are so rich and wonderful, that it’s pretty hard to beat!

Pre-warm the glass beaker with hot water. I use about 2T of coffee for every six ounces of hot water in my French Press.

Measure the coffee into the beaker and dampen evenly with cold water. Stir with either a plastic or wooden spoon to make sure the grounds are evenly dampened. This protects them a bit when the hot water hits the ground coffee, and keeps it from having a burned taste after the brewing is complete.

The brewing water should be around boiling temp. Pour over the coffee and fill to the top, allowing some room for the coffee grounds to swell. After one minute, stir the coffee again, and let sit another 3-5 minutes depending on how strong you like your coffee. After the allotted time, put on the plunger lid, and press the coffee. How simple can it get?

Additional tips:

***I often add a dash of cinnamon or a splash of vanilla (or both) to my coffee grounds, before stirring in the cool water.
***Wrapping a thick terry towel around the pot as the coffee brews helps to keep at the perfect temperature.
***The French Press can also be used to froth milk. Simply heat about one cup of milk till just too hot to put your finger in it. Pour it into the clean press, and plunge away for several minutes. The milk should expand three or four times, in volume.

Perfect Latte

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I thought of several utterly corny names for this thing (names like “Whole Latte Love”…groan…), but I decided that since I stumbled on to the concoction quite accidentally, and since it requires no genius whatsoever, I’d stick with the plain old common sense name… The Pink Latte.

I made this using my Most Wonderful Thrift Shop Purchase Ever, but if you have any way to get a shot of espresso (or even really strong coffee will do – my French Press makes coffee nearly as strong as my espresso machine), then there are Ways of recreating this lovely beverage. (After writing most of this post, I’ve decided that the alternative methods will be a second post, since this turned out to be so long and “technical”)!

I should admit that what I ended up with is not even a true latte. It’s actually a cappuccino. A cappuccino is one third espresso, one third steamed milk, and one third frothed milk. A latte is one part espresso, and either one or two parts steamed (not frothed) milk. I’ve included directions for both.

Perfect Foamed Milk:

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(Photo credit – DeaPeaJay)

Always froth the milk before pulling the shot of Espresso, in order to have your coffee at it’s hottest. The milk will retain it’s temperature for longer than the Espresso.

The one thing I know about frothing milk, is that everything should be COLD to start with. I like to pop the frothing pitcher in the freezer for a few minutes while I’m getting everything ready, and sometimes I even pop the milk in the freezer for a minute or two as well.

I used about 1/2 c. cold 2% milk (I think you could get away with less). I used 2% because I like the feel of the higher fat content in my coffee, but I think that skim milk is supposed to be the easiest to froth “perfectly”. I added 1T of Davinci’s Classic Raspberry Syrup. I really used it because it was the only syrup I had on hand, and it turned out so pleasantly pink that I saved the rest of it for Valentine’s Day.

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(Photo credit – Steve Kay)

All you need are two fairly basic items: a stainless steel frothing pitcher (though when I was unable to find mine once, I successfully used one of my Fire King mugs), and a cooking thermometer.

Put the milk in the cold pitcher, insert the thermometer, and place the pitcher under the steam wand. Make sure that the steam wand is just below the surface of the milk, and open the steam valve fully.

If the surface of the milk becomes “violent” and large bubbles begin to form, then move the nozzle deeper into the milk and turn down the steam just a bit. The goal is to get even, tiny bubbles, which means that the milk is developing a velvety texture. It won’t take long till you will be able to tell by the sounds alone if the milk is foaming properly.

Allow the milk to double in volume, and turn off the steam when the temperature hits 140*. The temperature will rise a bit more even after you’ve finished frothing the milk. The foam on top will always be a bit cooler than the steamed milk underneath.

If it’s a true latte your after, then you want steamed milk. This is accomplished by putting the wand closer to the bottom of the milk, and steaming till the milk reaches about 160*. Gently bang the pitcher of milk on the counter top to get rid of the extra air. The texture should be more creamy and thick, like whipped cream.

Never try to re-foam, or re-steam your milk as this will simply water it down.

Perfect espresso:

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(Photo credit – romanlily)

They say that the most important thing about a shot of espresso, is the grind of the coffee. For a pump style espresso machine, the coffee should be very fine, with a texture somewhere between flour and table salt. In a basic home burr style coffee mill, it should take about 20-25 seconds to get the proper grind.

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(Photo credit – Angeluzzo)

The correct amount of coffee (dose) for one shot of espresso, is 1/4 to 1/2 oz of coffee per 1 to 1 1/2 oz water. I usually use my double shot portafilter and make two shots at a time.

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(Photo credit – tonx)

Measure coffee into the portafilter, and tamp.

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(Photo credit – DeaPeaJay)

Tamping is very important because if the coffee is packed too lightly then the brewed espresso will be light and watery, lacking flavor and body. If it is packed to tightly, then the brewed espresso will have a scorched or burned taste. The “perfect method” seems to be to tamp the coffee four times, and a “North, South, East and West format on the inside diameter of the portafilter.

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(Photo credit – tonx)

When your coffee is properly tamped, you will know when you dump the spent grounds. If you spot “worm holes” in the wet coffee pack, then it was tamped too lightly and the water has found weak spots in the coffee. Ideally, the spent coffee should be able to be knocked out of the portafilter while still maintaining a solid “puck”.

Assembling the Perfect Cup:
I often microwave my cup, filled with water before I brew the espresso, because I like it to be as hot as possible, for as long as possible.

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(Photo credit – CoffeeGeek)

Brew the espresso directly into your cup. Use a large spoon to block the foam at first so that the hot, steamed milk pours out of the pitcher first. Pour no more than 1/2 cup steamed milk over the espresso. Spoon the foamy, satiny milk on top of the cup.

Additions:
I mentioned the Raspberry Syrup. That’s what made mine so perfectly pink. (Can you tell how much this thrilled me?)

For a mochaccino, add about 2T chocolate syrup to the milk before frothing. The chocolate adds texture and froths beautifully.

Once the milk is added to the espresso, and it has been crowned with the creamy foam, you can garnish it with shaved chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, or a maraschino cherry.

Enjoy! There are few things in life as fine as a good cup of coffee!