*The first in a new serial, “How not to cook”
It’s been a rough week or so for me in the coffee department. There was a time when I could wake up and function pretty well without coffee. I was capable of making it out the door to work on time, working basic math problems, interacting with the general public, you name it. Now the best I can realistically hope for in the absence of coffee is to remember to put on pants before leaving the house. So I always have plenty of coffee in my pantry, both ground and bean-form, ready to go. And while it might seem like addictive behavior to have tons of coffee stockpiled in the cupboard, it’s actually just good sense: I can’t really hop in the car and zip to the nearest donut shop in the event of a household shortage, because I in my pre-coffee state should not, as they say in the pharmaceutical industry, be “operating heavy machinery”. And some mornings a can opener constitutes heavy machinery. On those days, a coffee maker might as well be a particle collider. If I were the representative Australopithecus afarensis and coffee wasn’t happening yet, evidence of tool use by early man would have been delayed by another million years or so.
Now, at this point, you are likely already saying, “Hey Jackie, why don’t you just get one of those Kuerig doo-hickeys? Problem solved!” Ah, if only Keurigs were that simple. I rented a room from a married couple at one point, and the husband was quite passionate about his coffee. He had several types of rather bewildering brewing apparatus, but his go-to for an average Tuesday cup-o’-joe was a Keurig. This was before I had my own coffee maker-my beautiful, perfect Mr. Coffee-and several were the times that Joseph came into the kitchen to find me staring forlornly at the Keurig having failed to get it to give me coffee. Sometimes I was holding a cup 1/8 full of strong coffee. Other times just water. There was the incident when I couldn’t get the little coffee capsule into the stupid holder correctly and was trying to just hold the lid-thing shut. One time I was repeatedly plugging and unplugging the whole machine, hoping to reset whatever I had assembled and/or programmed incorrectly. Now in my defense I would like to say that I can assemble a portable dredge pump. I rigged a pulley system to get my queen-sized mattress up through the second floor porch window the last time I moved. I can do some pretty sweet stuff with a spreadsheet. I can do all those things, after I have had a few cups of coffee.
Which is why we come back to my love affair with my little four-cup Mr Coffee. Many people consider making coffee an art form. I just want something black and bean-based in a cup, and Monsieur Café can give that to me. Very few moving parts. No decisions. The only switch is “On/Off”. If it’s on, it’s brewing. If it’s off, it’s not. And yet.
I am forever finding new and creative ways to screw it up. I fall victim to The Great Coffee Paradox: You need coffee to function, but you need to function to make coffee. Call it the Catch-22 of caffeination. The Caffeine-22 if you will. And it screws me every time. Now, you may be asking yourself why I can’t get it together to make a stupid pot of coffee in the morning. I think it’s probably because I am pretty much doing it with my eyes closed and look something like this:
My greatest hits are too numerous to list here, but some of my favorites among a strong field of competitors are:
1) The time I remembered the coffee, remembered the water, but forgot to put in a filter. Verrry grainy coffee ensued, I had to put a paper towel over my coffee cup and pour the coffee over that to filter it all out.
2) The time I remembered the filter, remembered the coffee, forgot the water. Here’s what that looks like:
3) The time I remembered the filter and the water, forgot the coffee. Here’s the result:
4) The time I forgot to turn the damned thing on. I remember getting out of the shower and heading straight into the kitchen and wondering if I had somehow just dreamed that I made coffee. I could’ve sworn I’d done something in the kitchen, but figured maybe it’s like when you park in the same parking lot every day and one day come out and remember three different spots you parked in that week, but have no idea if any of those was the one you parked in on that particular day. But no, I just fumbled on the one-yard line. Rookie mistake!
5) The time, during my flavor phase, when I came within a whisker of sprinkling chili powder into my coffee instead of cinnamon. At that point I just stepped back and stood in the middle of the kitchen for a moment to regroup. I no longer aspire to such complexities.
6) I don’t even know what happened here:
7) There have been many variations on these themes, but probably the most ridiculous was at a point when I was keeping the coffee in the freezer because the humidity swings in the pantry were so drastic that the white sugar went hard as a brick and the brown sugar stayed soft as the day I opened the bag. On this particular morning, I stumbled into the kitchen, got a filter and miraculously put it in the correct position. I say “miraculously” because my eyes weren’t really open. Anyway, I went to the freezer, got the coffee, and made it halfway back across the kitchen before I noticed that I was not actually holding the bag of coffee, but rather a tray of ice cubes. What I thought I was doing with the ice cubes is beyond me. I went back and got the coffee, and dumped the appropriate amount of grounds into my cereal bowl. At that point I just admitted defeat and went back to bed.
One thing most coffee addicts will understand is that no matter how obvious the mistake is, you are still 3/4 asleep, and so you stand staring at the coffee maker for a few seconds, recognizing that something isn’t right, but not being able to figure out exactly what it is and/or what you did wrong to make it happen. Basic reasoning skills just haven’t been activated yet.
Now, it has been suggested that I preload everything the night before, but I have a slightly neurotic feeling that everything will go stale and the water will start to grow some kind of fungus if it sits over night. The dream scenario, of course, is to set a timer the night before, and have it perking when I get up in the morning. If I am going to go that far though, I may as well set it all up in my bedroom: Can you imagine a better way to wake up than to the gentle sound of steam escaping and water percolating, as the the cozy, comforting aroma of fresh coffee fills the room? Neither can I. It might even be enough to make me consider thinking about possibly opening my eyes. For this: