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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Coffee Roasting and Cupping with Highwire

We’re such fans of coffee in our house that when the opportunity came to attend a Coffee Roasting and Cupping at Highwire Coffee Roasters in Emeryville, CA, hosted by Slow Food East Bay, caffeinated or not, we jumped at it.

About a dozen people gathered over coffee and pastries at metal tables in a small industrial warehouse to learn a bit about the artisan company, which was started in 2011 by three friends with a shared passion for good coffee and talents ranging from evaluating, roasting, cupping and blending beans and coffees to retail and marketing, business and education. (Eric, Robert and Rich, below).

Highwire receives coffee beans from all over the world, based on a constantly shifting equation of availability, price and taste.

Eric is the master roaster, and he demonstrated his expertise and quality control, through a number of steps in the 15-minute roasting process — removing small amounts of beans from the oven during roasting to look, smell, feel, and ultimately decide when to release the beans from the oven to let them cool down. This is a process that he usually does alone and quietly, as it takes a great deal of  concentration.

This mesmerizing machine moves and fans the beans to help them cool after roasting.

Once the coffee was roasted, we went into the cupping room, where the Highwire folks routinely evaluate the various coffees.

We learned what a coffee taster looks for in a good cup, such as aroma, acidity, body, balance and flavor, all of which serve to bring out the subtle flavors and profiles that bespeak the region where the coffee was grown and harvested. Highwire favors a fairly light roast because, as they explained, once coffee is dark-roasted, one begins to taste the roast taste (which can have caramel or other notes), as opposed to the subtle taste of the various beans.

We each tasted three types of coffee – Sigri Estate from Papua New Guinea, Tano Batak from Sumatra, and Santa Isabel from Guatemala — using the cupping method of letting boiled water settle over the fine grounds and then tasting a small amount with a spoon. The fresh-ground coffee, drank this way, was quite mellow in flavor, even as its caffeine packed a punch (both are characteristic of lighter roasts.)

After smelling and tasting each, my favorite coffee kept changing. The Sigri Estate was slightly spicy, the Tano Batak and the Santa Isabel slightly fruity and sweet. The Tano Batak had some earth notes that we were told are characteristic of coffee from Sumatra. If I had to pick, that one would have been my favorite. Michael seemed to prefer the Santa Isabel.

It was an educational and fulfilling morning. We even left with 2 pounds each of Santa Isabel coffee and San Rafael coffee from Guatemala. And the coffee that Eric roasted in demonstration that morning? Because he had been talking through the roast, he deemed it not good enough for resale.

Photos: Highwire Coffee, Susan Sachs Lipman, Michael Lipman

Preschool and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?

Frederick Froebel‘s invention of kindergarten, in early 1800s Germany, heralded the idea of early childhood education — of reaching children during a period of dramatic brain development and introducing a holistic style of learning through play, music, movement, paperfolding and games. Froebel recognized that children learn differently from one another (the precursor to Multiple Intelligence theory), and that one child may learn best by sorting objects, another by talking with peers, and another through sensory experiences like physical movement and touch. He influenced many schools of early childhood education that are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and social skills, as well as the preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward a century and a half since Froebel’s time to find online parent message boards crammed with questions from anxious parents: “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” There are scores of kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits, which denote and teach precise skills one should know before starting kindergarten, such as the ability to count from 1-10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip. (The last includes the especially ridiculous coda that  preschool children around the country are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.)

Of course, if a child is not ready for today’s kindergarten, by all means, have the child wait a year. My issue is with the sped-up nature of education. The rush toward school and academic curriculum robs many children of the age-appropriate experience of learning through play, discovery and activity. Given the fact that early childhood has accelerated to the degree that my kindergarten has become my daughter’s pre-K, is it any wonder that the ritual of graduation has also trickled down, from high school and college to pre-school?

I don’t believe I had a pre-school or kindergarten graduation. I remember a ritual of autograph books when moving from elementary school to middle. I’m pretty sure there was no middle school graduation either. High school graduation was exceedingly special. I wore a mortarboard cap and gown and screamed with excitement in the school quad, and actually got to attend a Grad Night at Disneyland that ended at dawn.

Perhaps, then, a blend of personal history and a feeling that childhood has dramatically accelerated leads me to think that elaborate preschool graduations that imitate high school and college graduations are silly (not to mention possibly expensive). Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful, and even helpful, to have an age-appropriate ritual for young children to help them note the fact of their moving on and perhaps address some conscious or subconscious grief and fear. The trappings of diplomas and caps and gowns do none of those things, however, and are another example of a culture that views children as miniature adults (when convenient). Fortunately, there are some simple rituals that might have more meaning for a child and help them ease and celebrate their transition.

This is a ritual that Anna did at her preschool to mark summer and winter solstices. It can be altered to mark a graduation. Have children stand in a circle and hold hands. An adult leader can then lead children to walk around the circle, or can break free and lead them in a spiral to form smaller circles. The children chant:

We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

I find this a gentle ritual that is symbolic of the movement of time and of change. Because small children make the circle with their bodies, I believe that act has more meaning for them than receiving a piece of paper (that many can’t even read).

Another ritual can be taken from Girl Scouts: The bridging ceremony is typically done when scouts “bridge” from one age-group level to another. They symbolize their passage by walking over a bridge (footbridges work well), under an archway, through a path or over stepping stones. Symbolic bridges can also be created with rows of ribbons, chalk or flowerpots on a lawn or in a driveway. Archways can be created with people’s arms. Sometimes older children greet the ones who bridge over. Bridging is a simple, lovely and meaningful ceremony.

What do you think of formal graduations from preschool? Do you have a favorite alternative?

Photos: Let the Children Play, Quiqle. Cartoon: Fault Lines, by Lippy, Creative Child, Academic Advancement.

 

Spring at the Bird Café and Bird Feeder Activity

We’ve had some lovely birds greet us this spring, more than in recent memory. They feast on our seed — bars of Birdola songbird and gold finch feed that fit in a wire-cage bird feeder (though you can make your own feed, too. A recipe follows.)

Our visitors this year include the blue Western Scrub-Jay, the very cheery House Finch, and a young Titmouse. Which creatures are visiting you?

This is a really easy bird feeder to make:

Pinecone Bird Feeder

You’ll need:
• Pinecone (you can substitute a toilet-paper tube)
• 2′–3′ of string
• 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, peanut or other nut butter, suet, or lard
• 1/4 cup cornmeal or oatmeal
• 2 1/2 cups mixture of birdseed (e.g., sunflower and millet; check your local  nursery for suggestions), chopped nuts, and dried fruit
• Mixing bowl
• Plate, shallow dish, or pie tin
• Spoon or butter knife

Tie the string around one end of the pinecone.
In mixing bowl, combine peanut butter or other spread with meal.
Spread that mixture over the pinecone with the knife or spoon.
Pour the birdseed and feed ingredients onto the plate. Roll the pinecone in the seeds.
Hang from a tree branch or window eave.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

 

 

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