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Un cafe, s’il vous plait! (that’s French for “I love my French Press!”) (Sort of)

I think I’ve mentioned before that I love coffee.  A few dozen times I might have mentioned this.  When I was a kid my mom let me drink coffee, heavily sugared and diluted in milk.  (I’m 5’10”.  If the tales of coffee stunting one’s growth are true, my mother may have utterly ruined my chances of a future with the WNBA. On the other hand, I’m a klutz whose finger jams whenever it even looks at a basketball, so probably not.) I don’t drink it for the caffiene, I drink it because I think it tastes really nice and it’s a socially acceptable morning ritual.  I have to curtail myself on it because if I have caffiene after 1pm I don’t sleep at night, which stinks, but that’s life…

(And before you even say it, decaf is the pits. I can smell decaf coffee about as easily as I can detect “seriously you won’t be able to tell it’s low fat” “chocolate” cookies. If it’s not the good stuff, what’s the point? I’d rather have what I like in small quantities than a bad imitation in plenitude. Accept no substitutes.)

I, like much of America, have “run on Dunkin” for the past few years–mostly because they make better coffee than I do, it’s fairly inexpensive, and if I order a small it comes in a cardboard cup instead of the styrofoam the medium and large come in.  And I’ve felt a little guilty about it, because I’m still spending discretionary income on COFFEE, for God’s sake, and still generating more garbage.

A couple of months ago I dug out my old Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker, determined to make it work. (This is after two or three failed attempts to just stop drinking the stuff.)  I tried, but the coffee the thing made was desperately unfulfilling, even when flavored with eggnog instead of cream.  At some point I sent out plaintive and wistful wishes for my own French Press, even while admitting I really didn’t need one, and Santa Claus (alias my mom) obliged me with my very own single-use French Press coffee maker. It says it makes “three cups,” but it means three cups of 4 oz. each, which by American standards is more like one cup.  Or to say in another way, “one person’s total coffee intake for the morning.”  (Even in France, people order more than one, right?)

As I’ve said in the past, I am not generally a “product placement” kind of person.  But MAN, this thing makes good coffee.  Heat the water in the microwave, pour it into the beaker, let it sit for a few minutes, press down the grounds, and there’s this delicious lovely coffee–good enough that I could drink it black and still love the flavor. (I don’t, though. I still do milk and sugar.)

Because the thing is, what I never quite thought of from the name of the “French Press” is that with it I’m making coffee pretty close to what I used to order every day during that lovely week I spent in France 10 years ago, in another life.  What I used to get in a lovely small heavy white ceramic cup at the corner cafe when I’d go in in the morning and say, “Bonjour, Madame! Un cafe, s’il vous plait. Et un pain au chocolat aussi, si’l vous plait.” (I spent that week walking about 6 hours a day. I lost not a pound.  It was the pain au chocolat, I’m sure, though the crepes au miel didn’t help.)  This French Press makes the kind of coffee you make real cafe au lait out of–half coffee, half milk, and it’s still plenty strong. So, yeah, three cups from that coffee maker is pretty much right, assuming you’re doing 4 oz. each of milk and coffee.  And it tastes an awful lot like my memories of those cafes, where I was always served by staff that gave the lie to all those rumors about how “rude” the French allegedly are. I found everyone I met, except the folks at the airport, to be absolutely lovely.

Heating water by microwave is a fairly efficient way to heat water (an electric kettle is even more so), and the Press uses no additional power, and with the small coffee maker you have very little waste. And it takes up almost no space on the counter and is easy to clean.  What’s not to love?


Fridge Pretty

We just replaced our 25-year-old, previous owners bought with the house, mildewy side by side horrible energy use refrigerator with a brand spankin’ new one. Freezer on the bottom (more energy efficient because the colder air is on the bottom where it wants to be anyway), 22 cubic feet of space, energy star compliant.

Interesting Article

This is from the Washington Post; the article is linked here:

Regular Sugar vs. High-Fructose Corn Syrup

By Nina Shen Rastogi

Thursday, May 21, 2009


A colleague of yours recently debunked the idea that regular sugar is necessarily healthier than high-fructose corn syrup. But what about the health of the planet? Corn needs a lot of processing before it can sweeten my soda, but sugar doesn’t sprinkle from the skies. So which one is more environmentally friendly?

It’s true: King Corn is as much a bogeyman for the eco-conscious as the health-conscious. The crop gets a bad rap because it’s so ubiquitous. Thanks to aggressive farm subsidies, 27 percent of America’s farm acres are devoted to corn. According to anti-corn crusader Michael Pollan, modern corn hybrids require more pesticides and more fertilizers than any other food crop; this not only requires major inputs of fossil fuels but also causes significant groundwater pollution.

But it’s not entirely fair to lay all of that at the sticky feet of high-fructose corn syrup, as the maligned sweetener accounts for only about 5 percent of America’s total grain corn production.

Of course, even at just 5 percent of the overall crop, we’re still talking about a lot of farmland: Nearly 4 million acres’ worth of grain corn became high-fructose corn syrup in 2008. Compare that with the 1 million acres planted with sugar beets and 872,000 with sugar cane, the two crops that produce the sucrose we generically refer to as “sugar.”

In 2007, an Australian sugar cane industry group compared the environmental impacts of growing Australian cane, United Kingdom beets and American corn. The products analyzed were 1 kilogram of sugar in clarified juice form from both cane and beets, and 1 kilogram of simple sugar syrup from cornstarch. The researchers found that, on average, fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and the release of acidifying substances seemed highest with corn sugar, while water usage was highest for cane sugar. A big wild card here is that making sweetener from any of those crops returns some useful byproducts that can offset some of the environmental burdens. Sugar cane probably gets the biggest plus in this category, as its waste fiber, known as bagasse, makes an efficient fuel source: Many sugar mills — where cane stalks from the field are converted into raw sugar — run entirely on bagasse, cutting out the need for additional fossil fuels.

So sugar cane seems to be the most efficient producer of sugar and potentially the lightest user of fossil fuels, even though its significant water requirements can’t be ignored.

But to truly compare table sugar with high-fructose corn syrup, we need to look at the latter stages of processing. We know that evaporating cane and beet juice into dry, raw sugar requires significant amounts of energy. Producing the finer stuff not only involves several more steps — evaporating, spinning, melting, chemical decolorizing treatments — it also means more food miles, because these steps occur in a separate facility.

Meanwhile, to turn simple corn syrup into high-fructose corn syrup, enzymes are used to convert 90 percent of the glucose molecules into super-sweet fructose before the resulting solution gets blended back with simple glucose syrup. It’s unclear just what kind of additional burden these final steps account for, but we do know that the entire corn wet-milling process takes a whole lot of energy. According to the consulting firm FTI, it’s the most energy-intensive food-manufacturing industry in America.

As your mom and your dentist have told you, take all things in moderation and you’ll probably be fine; that goes for sugar and high-fructose corn syrup as well. Cutting down on our overall sweetener intake makes a lot more sense than simply switching one for the other. After all, if we boycotted high-fructose corn syrup and instead ramped up our consumption of cane sugar, where would we find enough hot, humid land to put all those additional cane fields? Are you willing to gobble up the rest of Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas just to avoid corn in your Coke?