Edna Fish & Chips

Who is she
that looketh forth as the morning,
fair as the moon, clear as the sun,
and terrible as an army with banners?

Edna ran a fish & chips shop on Columbus in North Beach in the 60s and early 70s. It was a work of culinary art, and she knew it. A narrow storefront, as I recall, and perhaps 2,3,4 stools. I miss it, Edna, her fish, her chips, her art. I ate there, from time to time, oblivious.

(Song of Solomon 6:10, to save you the trouble. KJV. (I’m not, particularly, a big KJV fan. But here they’ve got it right, and everyone else, not.))


Fever Tree Ginger Beer

Consider this an unsolicited endorsement: Fever Tree Ginger Beer is the best. Ya gotta like ginger, but why else would you be drinking it? It comes, somewhat idiosyncratically, in 200ml & 500ml bottles. Suits me; the 200ml is a nice hit.

Update. Fever Tree is fine, but Q is better; a little more ginger, less sugar, more aromatic. And at least based on a single sample, Sky Valley is better yet, but I haven’t found any more after that first bottle (Whole Foods, Minneapolis).

What Orwell overlooked

About making tea, that is. A year or so ago I posted George Orwell’s guide to brewing tea (by way of Hitchens, I notice; peace to his memory), and I’m compelled, on reflection and experience, to suggest that he missed perhaps the most important rule.

Make tea with good water.

Spend some time on the road, brewing tea in strange places, and you’ll find that from time to time your morning cup is nearly undrinkable, and that the only difference is the quality of the local water. What quality? I don’t really know. Search the web for tea scum and you’ll find a collection of theories, the predominant one implicating calcium carbonate, along with a suggestion to neutralize it with lemon.

So, I guess, carry a jug of good water with you, use it when the local water’s bad, and refill it when it’s good. Not, of course, if you have to get the jug past the TSA, but if you’re driving, you’ll find it makes a bigger difference than taking the teapot to the kettle.

Orwell on tea: 11 golden rules

This indirectly via Christopher Hitchens. Somewhat idiosyncratic, as any good guide to teamaking must be; you won’t go badly wrong following Orwell’s advice.

A Nice Cup of Tea

By George Orwell

Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

    Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)

Coffee reverses Alzheimer’s?

In 55 mice, anyway. Maybe.

Coffee ‘may reverse Alzheimer’s’

Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease, US scientists say.

The Florida research, carried out on mice, also suggested caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease.

Previous research has also suggested a protective effect from caffeine. …

That’s two cups of actual coffee, though:

… The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day — about 500 milligrams of caffeine.

The researchers say this is the same as is found in two cups of “specialty” coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

When the mice were tested again after two months, those who were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia.
Those drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests.

In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients. …

BBC via Brad Delong

Popovers are good to eat

Popovers are good to eat. Popovers are unpredictable. There isn’t very much to a popover. It is an ungainly-looking medium for getting butter, jams, jellies, and honey into the mouth.

The popover owes its fragile puffiness to steam levitation. It is done without yeast or chemicals of any kind. Only steam raises it high, and then drops it back down into a clumsy shape.

There should be at least one popover recipe in every home baker’s repertoire. This is a good one.

Thus Bernard Clayton in his excellent 1987 New Complete Book of Breads (and I see that there’s a 2003 edition). I’ve been using this recipe for a very long time, with never a failure. The problem, though, has been the pan. Whether I use glass or aluminum or steel, no matter what I grease or oil or butter it with, the damned popovers end up so firmly attached to their cups that I destroy them in getting them out.

No more. A while back I bought a set of silicone baking cups via Amazon. I’ve used them several times now, and the popovers are not only perfectly baked, they practically leap out of their cups onto our plates. The cups in question are by Lékué, though I rather think that the brand isn’t terribly important. I bought a set of six individual cups ($24); they’re also available in a six-cup pan ($11).


Here’s Clayton’s recipe using a blender; see the book for other versions:

1 cup bread or all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted, or salad oil
1 cup milk, room temperature
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375° or 400°.

Combine all of the ingredients in the blender and whirl at high speed for 45 seconds. Stop the blender and scrape down the sides after the first 10 seconds.

Fill the cups half full with batter.

Bake in the hot oven (400°) for a dark brown shell with a most interior, 40 minutes. Or bake at 375° for a light popover with a drier interior, 50 to 55 minutes. Be sure to keep the door of the over closed during baking to prevent a collapse under a draft of cold air. (If using a convection oven, reduce heat 50° in either case.)

I’ve never bothered to sift my flour. I always use oil (it’s easier). I’ve been giving the silicone cups a very light coat of oil as well, but today I tried one without any, with good results, so maybe it’s not necessary, making an extremely easy recipe even easier.

Go thou and do likewise.

Update 1: No yolk. I’ve been experimenting with a low-cholestrol version of this recipe, primarily by getting rid of the egg yolks. The substitution that seems to work best is to replace the two eggs with the whites of three eggs, and to add a second tablespoon of oil. I tried packaged egg whites that we had lying around, and they were a total failure, perhaps because they’re pasteurized? The yolks go out to the compost pile, where they’re immediately consumed by the birds that are hanging around.

Update 2. If you’re casting about for a use for your digital kitchen scale, this recipe is a good application for it. Tare out a 2-cup (or bigger) measuring cup and pour the finished batter into it, noting its weight. I get around 490 grams with this recipe. Divide that weight by the number of cups you want to fill. In my case, that’s 7, giving me 70g per cup.

Then tare out a cup, and pour 70g, less a little bit (I aim for 67-68g) to allow for what gets left in the measuring cup, into each cup. Solves the problem I have with eyeballing each cup to the same amount of batter.

Great chai

C7710EF9-10EF-48F9-A061-0B05728CDB3B.jpgThere’s a local (Half Moon Bay CA) joint that specializes in chai, but I found their product cloyingly sweet, with no real bite. Thankfully my brother introduced me to Sattwa Sun Chai (he serves it in his Café Zombie in Palo Alto), and now all is well.

Sattwa describes it thus.

Sun Chai

Exquisitely blended using Organic Fair Trade Certified Black Tea, and organic spices of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and cloves, Sattwa Sun is the finest, tastiest, masala chai on the market. Sattwa Sun is a cup of pure love dedicated to serious chai drinkers around the world! Fifty great servings per bag.

1F62840D-FAE2-4F59-9156-820329A8A0EC.jpgThe instructions are simple: bring water and milk to a boil, add the chai and simmer, strain and add sugar. I steep for an hour (on low heat) instead of the recommended seven minutes, and am generous with the chai, stingy with the sugar. A gold coffee filter (like this one) works fine as a strainer. It keeps well in the refrigerator; steam or microwave to heat it up.

Or stop by Café Zombie and give it a try.