Secret Potions

Are there any secret potions in the world that are truly magic? I wondered about this as I made my coffee this morning. Coffee is neither secret, nor a potion, but I do wonder if perhaps it might not be magic. The entire concept of creating something as fine as coffee tends to boggle the mind. For example, in order for coffee to be any good you have to roast the beans, grind them up, percolate hot water through them, and then, depending on your preference, add cream and or sugar, or just drink it black.

How does one go through all those steps just to create a food? And how many times do you have to develop something truly awful before you get to the really good thing?

Coffee doesn’t happen by accident, it just can’t. Not anymore than cheese, bread or wine. You have to work at those things. You have to time stuff. You have to have the right conditions (not too moist, not too dry). How does that work?

I imagine the first time someone made coffee. They probably just tried chewing on the raw beans. Yuck. That clearly isn’t going to be something yummy.

Maybe the second time someone tried, they had tipped a bunch of the coffee beans into the fire, and someone said “Hey, wait, that smells good.” So then they sat around and chewed the roasted beans. Some of them were not quite roasted enough, and others were probably burned. But then, like with Goldilocks, some were just right.

But wait, there are still so many steps to go through.

Probably someone realized that there was too much work involved in chewing the beans. What happens if you chop ’em, mash ’em, grind ’em? Well, OK, now it’s less work, but it’s kinda gritty. I’m imagining someone with a mouthful of coffee grinds, half of them smeared all over their face. The expression would be priceless. They’re saying to themselves “Really? Someone thought I’d actually like this? Maybe this person secretly hates me.”

Again, a serendipitous accident. Someone knocks over a bowl of coffee grinds. They fall into a bowl of water. Presumably, no one notices for a while. Someone comes home to a dark, mahogany colored bowl of water, with the grinds resting at the bottom. It looks lovely. It has a faint aroma that promises something deep, rich and sensual. Mmm.

Except room temperature.

Do we see the problem here? Each permutation until the last, final, perfected one is most likely quite disgusting. Or at least, nowhere near edible. So how do these kinds of accidents happen? How does one manage to get from nasty, bitter, raw coffee beans to … well, heaven?

Photo: Getty Images

It’s Groundhog Day!

Happy February 2nd! I will admit to having a fair number of flagrantly dorky hobbies (chamber music, playing video games, Star Trek), but I may have hit the tops with the affection that I feel for Groundhog day. There is just something irresistibly adorable about the idea of an entire town stopping to celebrate a small furry creature. The “prognosticator of prognosticators” has been making predictions since at least 1887, according to this site.   The town elite get dressed up in top hats and get up at the crack of dawn just to see whether or not the little guy sees his shadow or not. Apparently, he’s seen his shadow far more frequently than not.

There was a fair amount of trash talk about his ability to actually predict with any degree of accuracy in the past few days, which you can see here and here. Heck, Punxsutawney Phil even has his own Twitter account. Did you know that you can have breakfast with Phil?

I don’t have a bucket list of my own (yet…?), but if I did, I think that being in Punxsutawney, PA on February 2 would definitely be on that list. The whole notion is utterly charming, and I get a thrill out of it every year. Even though I know that regardless of whether Phil sees his shadow or not, spring will come about March 20 or 21, which is…just about six weeks from now.







Besides, look at this face. What a cutie-pie.

Yowza! the to-read list is super long this year

I just added 20 books to my to-read list on Goodreads. And that doesn’t include the forty or so that were carry-overs from last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Ahem. I tend to get into reading jags where I read a particular genre of book, or a particular author. And I also have buying jags, which don’t always match up with the reading jags. It’s actually a family habit. I come by it honestly through genetics. Dark hair, dark eyes, bad vision and buying and reading books. Yep, that’s the Hodgson family trait. There was a point at which I figured out our family motto: Habemus libris. “We have books.” I tried to figure out how to say “We buy books” in Latin, but google translator wasn’t cooperating. It kept giving me “buy books” in English again. Silly translator. (Let’s take a moment to marvel at the fact that I can sit in my home at my desk and find a way to immediately translate something from English into a dead language using only my computer and the interwebs, shall we? Stunning.)

At any rate, the fact that I have 62 books on my to-read list, not to mention the 23 that are on my currently reading list means that I should have no trouble whatsoever with the goal of reading 80 books this year, right? Well, let’s let the year get to be more than just a day and a half old before we start celebrating the completion of a goal, right? I thought this post was an interesting take – I took at look at my numbers of pages read (thanks to Goodreads for having this particular function) and noticed that while I read more books last year (61) than in 2010 (51), I also read fewer pages last year (17,996) than in 2010 (18,975). And that doesn’t even include the number of student essays I read!!! Goodness, I read about 800 essays at the AP Reading in June, and in the 2010-2011 school year … ooh. Do I really want to do that math? Oh, yes, lets. Just for fun, shall we? I had 90 students last year. I think I assigned them 9 or 10 essays over the year. Let’s go with the smaller number. So that’s 810 essays. But then I let them rewrite their essays. Let’s assume that only 2/3 of the students rewrote their essays (because I know it wasn’t all of them, that’s for sure). So if that’s the case, than I read…1,350 essays last year? On top of the 800 I read at the reading? Eep. No wonder it always takes me so long to grade essays.

Speaking of grading essays…I do have a pile waiting for me next to me on my desk. They are staring at me accusingly. “You have neglected us all break long! How dare you!”

What, you don’t anthropomorphize your grading?

To finish or not to finish, that is the question…

You are reading a book and you are not enjoying it.  The book is not homework; it has not been assigned by a parent, teacher, boss or your book club.  You don’t have to read it.  The main character is a nitwit and the writing is terrible.  You squirm in pain as the characters get themselves into one convoluted situation after another.  The editing is bad.  You just don’t care.  You are bored.

What do you do?  Do you continue to read the book?  Do you grit your teeth, strap yourself in and read every last page?

Or do you decide that life is too short to torture yourself with a book that is less interesting than watching paint dry?

Of course, I have several thoughts on this.  One is that life is too short to spend on a bad book.  There are so many other books out there that are just wonderful.  Why would you waste your time on something that clearly is making you want to stab yourself with a fork?  On the other hand, I just hate not finishing books.  I feel as if I owe it to the book to finish it.  Sometimes I just want to finish it out of sheer cussedness (“I’m gonna finish this thing if it kills me…”), which is pretty stupid, if you ask me.

So, what do you think?  Do you throw in the towel or see it through until the bitter end?

This is not the time period you are looking for…

I’ve often wondered if perhaps I had been born in the wrong time – the wrong century.  This begs the question, of course, when do I think I should have been born?  That, my friend, is a sticky wicket, for there are several choices.

The Middle Ages, England

Well, sure.  It’s just like a Renaissance festival, only with a bit more plague, right?  Alas, no.  Much worse, and given my distaste for camping, I’m willing to go out on a limb that I would find most accommodations incommodious, if you will.  Not to mention the fact that given the odds (and total lack of royalty in my background), I would most likely be a peasant.  The life of a peasant is not for me.  Plus there’s all the persecution and witch-hunting.  I probably wouldn’t know how to read and my future prospects would mostly depend on who the blacksmith’s son was.

Perhaps not.

How about…

Mid to late 19th century, London

Healthcare was a bit better – Louis Pasteur had developed the germ theory of disease, so less chance of dying there.  Serfdom had been abolished almost everywhere (even in Russia by 1861!), so I wouldn’t live that wretched life.  In fact, I might even be lucky enough to be born into a middle class family, so I might not have to work in a factory.  Victorians prided themselves on their rational thinking, so I probably wouldn’t have to worry about accusations of witchcraft.  Phew!

Except no suffrage.  And, frankly, I enjoy having the right to vote.  I like being able to have some (some!) say in who makes decisions about my life.  And there’s that pesky education thing again.  It would be unlikely that I’d have a higher education.  And middle class women were expected to remain in the home.  In London?!  How boring – what with all that London had (and has) to offer, shouldn’t I have the chance to explore?  What do you mean it’s not safe?  Jack the Ripper, Shmack the ripper.  What, no? Stay in the house, huh?


Ok, so how about the 20th century?  Well, if we’re making our way closer to the present, then why wouldn’t I want to live in a time period where I have access to technology, education, the right to vote, freedom of choice…

I kind of feel a bit like Donald Duck at the end of “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” (starting at about 7.16)

Oh, it’s good to be in the good old 21st century…

So, how about a time machine, then?  I could certainly visit.