Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Espresso cup where the froth looks like a skull
What is Mr Bee's espresso trying to tell me?
Sorry people, I've been busy with kids and work recently, and my Hotpoint stove died for good last week, so I have neither blog-post ideas nor Instagrammable food (unless you really want to see the calzone I ordered yesterday for delivery). So I've taken an old post from Italian Dead Chef, vintage 2006, about opening your heart to the person you love. Spoiler alert: DON'T.

I moved in with Mr Bee almost three years ago. When I first I came over, on a sweltering hot June day, I brought only one piece of luggage for three months. In that bag, I carried the minimum necessary amount of clothing for a Washington summer and a immigrant-family-size stockpile of Italian food such as Gragnano pasta, fresh ravioli, dried porcini mushroom, hunks of Parmigiano Reggiano (crustless, from the heart of the wheel), frozen home-made pesto, and coffee. In those three months, I committed to preparing daily and irresistible Italian meals, flaunting a continental nonchalance that Mr Bee could simply not resist.

But my little secrets and cute cooking tips did not last long. My American student was more curious and eager than I hoped, and within a year he had unveiled my bottomless ignorance in the kitchen. Who betrayed me? Coffee.

The Bialetti family
When I arrived in DC with a Bialetti stovetop coffee maker and four packages of Lavazza Qualità Oro ground coffee beans, it was easy to seduce Mr Bee, who had almost never had a coffee in his life. Unfortunately, the initial dose was so addictive that Mr Bee soon developed an obsession for espresso, a subject I know... well... NOTHING ABOUT. Sure, I drink espresso in Italy all the time, but ask me about how to do it, and I will deftly change subject.

Since Mr Bee was introduced to Italian coffee,  his love for the Arabica bean has exploded in the following purchases: a vintage Gaggia espresso machine, a burr coffee grinder (no blades, are you crazy?), a 4-lbs package of original whole coffee beans from the famed coffee shop Sant'Eustachio in Rome, two heavy-duty tampers, two metal pitchers for frothing milk, a knock box, set of two-ounces thick porcelain espresso cups, and a barista manual written by a visionary alchemist from Seattle who is considered the true prophet of espresso in America. Needless to say, we put my Bialetti aside and switched to fabulous morning espresso.

All this makes me really happy, of course, because the espresso I now drink at home is very high-quality and comes in a pre-heated cup. The problem arises when, in a hurry early in the morning, I dare make my own.

At whatever ungodly hour of the morning I decide to have my espresso, Mr Bee appears in the exact moment I try in vain to press the coffee into the handle, and balks in terror. The reason? I'm not pressing hard enough. Personally, at 6 in the morning (and also at 7, 8, 9, and 10), I can't even make a fist, so you can very well imagine how hard it is for me to apply 40 lbs of pressure to the portafilter. When the coffee finally drips inside my cup, too quick or too liquid, Mr Bee shakes his head with the most heartbreaking sadness: if I had to waste the good coffee imported from Italy, could I at least ask him to prepare it? He's almost about to leave me alone, when he notices that the crema on my coffee is too pale, a sure sign that the water was not hot enough, or that the coffee had not been pressed uniformly or vigorously enough. God helps us all when I add my teaspoon of sugar! Sugar in my coffee is the epitaph of my coffee disaster.

So I can't help thinking back about those days, a long time ago, when I would smile at Mr Bee and show him how much coffee you put inside you stovetop coffee pot, and how you can make a quick crema by whisking a little coffee and sugar together with a teaspoon. His eyes were wide open with wonder, and I felt like proud and generous ambassador of a wonderful heritage. Now that Mr Bee has unveiled my cheap kitchen tricks and my botched, sub-par Italian coffee, I wish I had kept a few tricks for myself. Damn Italian hospitality.

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