Saturday, August 19, 2017

Drinking Cuban coffee in the land of dinosaurs

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC is a local treasure. The kids never get tired of marveling at the huge dinosaur replicas (the original bones are stored in the museum’s archives---they are too heavy for display) or watching 3-D movies to pomder the mysteries of the universe while listening to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s soothing baritone.

Earlier this month, another mom and I took our kids to AMNH to spend the day seeing all the IMAX movies and special exhibits.  I was surprised to see a new offering---CUBA! This ambitious exhibit not only explores the astounding biodiversity of Cuba, which in reality is an archipelago comprised of more than 4,000 islands, but it also looks at Cuban society and history in a way that illuminates the beauty and brilliance of the island’s culture and people.

There are huge installations of streetscapes in Havana replete with graceful arches, Spanish charm, and splashes of color everywhere. The presentation is so big and so rich that I wanted to walk in, jump on a bike and start riding.

Beyond biodiversity
AMNH’s extensive exploration of wetlands and intact coral reefs reminds us how big the world is---so vast and dynamic, in fact, that the term “biodiversity” doesn’t really capture the majesty of Cuba.  In Cuba, you can find the smallest bird in the world (the Bee Hummingbird); one of the largest rodents in the world, the Jutia Conga, which weighs on average 15 pounds; and reptiles that are so rare it seems that they exist in a parallel universe where the dinosaurs still roam free.

At one point during the exhibit, visitors stream into a room that makes it seem as if they are on the street in Havana. There is art everywhere, including poster art advertising music festivals and baseball wins, and photographs documenting every aspect of island life, from the opera house to the domino table. But most important for me, there was a complete replica of a café with little delicate ceramic coffee cups (alas, no coffee) and a vent with the smell of coffee wafting out. (Olfactory bliss for sure.)

Coffee is a “thing” in Cuba

Coffee, it turns out, is a Cuban “thing.” Practically everyone drinks it all the time. Everyone there drinks café Cubano, which is espresso sweetened with demerara---sugar that is in the process of being brewed. Some people also like to have a cortadito, a 50-50 mix of coffee and steamed milk, or perhaps they find themselves at work in the middle of the day sharing a colada with their workmates. (A colada is a large cup of espresso---3 to 6 shots---which is intended to be shared.)
At the heart of the Cuban coffee tradition is socializing, taking in culture and lingering for long periods after meals to have lively conversations and share ideas.  It’s a beautiful tradition.  I’d love to try Cuban coffee, but I don’t see a trip to Cuba in my future any time soon. However, lots of Americans who like Cuban coffee order from Artizan. You can also buy Café Bustelo at any supermarket or bodega. And if you want to learn how to make it right, check out this tutorial


Monday, August 7, 2017

Beach-bound: Discovering Rook in Monmouth County

This weekend, we ventured down to Monmouth County with the goal of visiting friends in Middletown and venturing to the beach---weather allowing.

In fact, the weather was on the cool side---OK for the heated pool, but not so much for the gusty, cold beach, where the surf was already rough early in the day. 

So amidst all of the fun, we decided to amp up the happiness with coffee from Rook Coffee , a Monmouth County-based coffee shop founded in 2010, with a dedicated roastery that promises "great coffee and over-the-top service."

So I tried it, and guess what. They delivered. I had a hot coffee that was soothing and elevating at the same time, no bitter aftertaste and just hot enough. My friends also enjoyed their coffees. Here we are celebrating our good coffee-drinking experience.

You can see how much we like it here:

What is it about Rooks?

I was curious about the name Rook. The logo reflects the simple elegance of the rook, a crow with bare grayish white skin around the base of its bill (only in adults). Rooks like to nest high up in trees and eat everything from earth worms, to small mammals, to fruit, and even other birds. But most important, I think, is the fact that when you start to see rooks flying around towards the end of winter, it's a sure sign that spring is on the way.

But why focus on spring when there's still a bit of summer left. In fact, my goal is to venture back when the weather is warmer and drink Rook Coffee on the beach.

Over the last 7 years, Rook has grown a great deal, under the watchful eyes of the co-founders, Holly Migliaccio and Shawn Kinglsey, who left their corporate jobs to learn everything they could about coffee so that Rook could become a reality.

Well--the Rook is real and the coffee is REALLY good. There are 10 locations, which are listed here. When you're heading to the beach (or if you live in lovely Monmouth county) why not venture in for some 'great coffee and over-the-top service.' You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Why do we cherish summer so much---and new findings from the EPIC study

During college, I went through my “dystopian phase.” My book list included Orwell’s “1984,  Zamyatin’s “We,” the “Waiting Seed” by Anthony Burgess, and of course, Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Huxley’s dystopian vision was truly a watershed moment in American literature----so much so that we routinely use the phrase “brave new world” in everyday lexicon.

But Huxley was no one-book wonder, he was famous for his proto-countercultural essays, as well as his novels. When I heard about Huxley’s “After Many Summers Dies the Swan,” I wasn’t excited to read it, as much as fascinated by the poetry of the title.

The book is about a 60-something, super-wealthy Hollywood exec, who has a much younger mistress and wants to live forever. When I learned the plot, I immediately understood the title. When we think about our lives, we think about summer in meta-terms.

Summer is pure magic (except when it sucks because it’s too hot)---especially if you live in the northeastern U.S. or some other northern clime. Summer is so cherished that it could easily be compared to some ancient Bacchanalian festival, replete with sun and shade; cherries and watermelon; flip flops, bathing suits, striped umbrellas, and the endless list of summer artifacts that we cherish for at least 3 months at a time (or when we head south somewhere).

Drinking coffee in the summer
For me, the festival vibe is not complete without some type of coffee. And the truth is that as long as it’s serviceable, I’m not overly discerning. On July 4th, I went to a super-fun family barbecue in Maryland, where I drank Folger’s coffee, which was scooped into a Keurig canister---and it was delicious!  I’ve also had lots of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (hot), and a few iced lattes from Starbucks, as well as a variety of store brands, including Signature (Acme’s store brand).

I also discovered a new coffee this summer---Kauai Coffee KoloaEstate Medium Roast Hawaiian Coffee, which is grown in volcanic soil in the mountains on the island of Kauai. It is uplifting and aromatic and simply delicious. Check it out at your closest supermarket.

Now when it comes to living forever---well that’s a hard one. It’s true that after many summer dies the swan, but that’s why we should cherish every sunny day and every rainy night. Just be happy, as much as possible. Look forward, be positive, create harmony and love, love, love.

Coffee drinking data from Europe---you can decrease mortality with coffee

Speaking of longevity, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last month, looked at the impact of coffee-drinking on mortality. In this study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), researchers looked at data from 521,330 people across 10 European countries, over a 16.4-year period. Compared with non-coffee drinkers, coffee drinkers had a 12% lower rate of all-cause mortality over the study period.

Researchers also found that male coffee drinkers had a 59% lower death rate from digestive diseases, while female coffee drinkers had a 22% lower death rate from circulatory disease and a 30% lower rate of death from cerebrovascular disease.

However, I should note that female coffee drinkers had a 30% higher risk of death from ovarian cancer, compared with non-coffee drinkers. I need to do more investigation to figure out why. If you’d like to read the study yourself, you can find the abstract here