Tuesday, December 22, 2015


A few weeks ago, I thought to myself, "Should I work on a new holiday gift guide?" My answer was resounding "Nah" (as resounding as a "nah" can be), because I thought the 2014 holiday gift guide covered pretty much everything, especially with the suggestion of a labor-free staycation for mothers that I hope Mr Bee is considering.

Then I remembered there's a product so pretty, so Italian, so dear to me, and so reasonably priced that I have to recommend it to you for this holiday season. I'm talking about the caffettiera, or moka pot, the wonderful contraption that gives you a wonderful, strong coffee in minutes right from your stovetop. Coffee made with a moka pot is similar to espresso in its dosage (roughly) and instantaneous kick, and it is served in an espresso cup, sometimes with one or two teaspoons of sugar and/or a dash of milk. I believe every Italian household owns a few moka pots in various sizes, and drinks moka coffee first thing in the morning, after lunch, and with friends when they drop in for a visit.

There are many beautiful moka designs from different brands, but my favorite is the aluminum Bialetti pot patented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti and carrying the classic logo of the "little guy with a mustache" that you can see on the right. (Now that I think about it, they could have found a more inventive name for an Italian mascot.)

Here is everything you need to know about your moka pot once you decide to gift it or in case you become a lucky giftee. Read on.


You can find Bialetti pots online and at many Italian specialty stores. For a beginner, I'd recommend to start small with a 1- or 3-cup moka pot (around $25 for the latter) and a packet of replacement gaskets ($3.80 on Amazon). I'd also recommend enriching your gift with a bag of ground coffee, ideally from Lavazza or Illy moka or espresso ground (but once you get addicted, Café Bustelo at CVS purchased at dawn will also do). If you're dealing with a coffee lover, I would visit your local coffee roaster and ask for a dark or medium roast ground a little finer than drip coffee but a little coarser than espresso. And in case you're dealing with someone very special, you could gift a set of espresso cups, too.


A moka pot needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it can produce proper coffee. Wash the three main parts (see diagram below) with warm water ONLY, then run the pot with only water for 3-4 times to remove any protective residue. I know you don't know how to use it yet, but I guess you'll have to read the entire post.


1. Fill the bottom container with filtered water up to the internal valve.

2. Insert the funnel and fill it with ground coffee. You can make a small pyramid here, but in any case, NEVER press the coffee. Remove any ground coffee on the filter rim.

3. Screw on the top container. No need to apply a ton of strength here, but do a decent job so your coffee doesn't come out from the sides.

4. Place the moka on a low heat until the coffee emerges and fills the top container. If you're in another room, you'll be alerted by your moka's happy gurgling. DO NOT leave the coffee boiling any longer: It will taste burnt and awful, and you run the risk of ruining the gasket.

5. Pour your coffee, doctor with sugar and/or milk (or sambuca, or grappa) if this is what you're into, and drink.


Maintenance for a moka pot is very easy. Wash the three main parts of the moka pot after each use with warm water, never with soap or detergent. You can use a stiff plastic brush to remove stubborn residue. Leave the parts to dry on a rack. Done!

Every six months, or whenever necessary, disassemble the moka and wash each part thoroughly making sure the filter is clean and the gasket is clean AND still soft. Run water through the moka chimney and make sure the valve is clean. If the small metal piece sticking out from the valve doesn't pop in when pressed, it means that there's coffee residue that needs to be cleaned. To remove limescale buildup, fill the bottom container with water and a little vinegar or lemon juice and let it boil for 10 minutes or more.

Replace gasket and filter as necessary, usually when they have become irreparably dirty, hard, or when coffee starts to sputter or comes out in only in part.

To read a poignant reflection on the diverging attitudes towards coffee for Italians and Americans, read Slow Food/Fast Coffee.

Monday, December 14, 2015





You know you want them.
As Christmas approaches, I find myself spending all of my evenings at home compulsively folding origami Santas. (Do you remember them? I wrote about there in last year's holiday gift guide.) This is the only craft I have spontaneously and joyfully taken on in my entire life, and if anybody has any insight on the possible significance of this strange proclivity, please let me know.

As I was losing myself in the folds of my red origami paper once again last night, it hit me: Why don't I share the joy of origami Santas with you, my dear readers? It's not like I'm the only one who likes Xmas decorations, right?

Without further ado, welcome to Dead Chef's first holiday giveaway! 

From tonight until Saturday, December 19, 2015, 10:00pm EST, you will have a chance to score a baker's dozen origami Santa clumsily folded by me, Dead Chef.

In order to participate, just leave a comment here or on my FB page (be nice), and I will commence a true vintage drawing: I will transcribe your name on a piece of paper, fold it shut, throw into a bowl with the others, and then draw a random winner in the presence of another human being that might very well end up being my husband, Mr Bee.

The winner will be announced on Sunday on this blog and on my FB page.

So, what do you say?


*Sorry, Italy. Next year I'll think about a giveaway before mid-December, and you'll be included.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


As I've previously admitted here, I am obsessed with the new science of gut bacteria. In the past 5+ years, scientists have begun to suggest that our intestinal bacterial flora might have a far more significant influence on our health that anyone could have previously imagined, and its unbalances might contribute to a variety of ailments such as asthmaobesity, and diabetes. Many even argue that gut bacteria may strongly influence the brain in how we think and feel, playing "a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders", according to this article published in the Atlantic a few months ago.

The idea that gut bacteria might dictate brain function is simply astonishing to me. Microscopic organisms in our bellies telling us how to feel and think? Isn't that amazing? Why have we never thought about this before? After all, it makes perfect sense. There is an average of 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut (yeah, trillions), and it's perfectly reasonable that they would contribute to a lot more than the occasional bout of diarrhea due to shitty takeout food.

Think it about this way: Imagine an alien race decided to solve climate change on Earth while ignoring the role of the humans living on it. I can see them trying to refreeze the Earth's ice caps with their alien technology, while us humans keep driving SUVs all over the place with the AC blasting and melting everything all over again. The lesson is, don't ignore the parasites.

Gut bacteria
Think about it: You can't spell "colonize" without "colon".

What truly excites me about all this, however, are the sci-fi implications. I see gut bacteria as alien colonists, acting as a shadow government for the brain. It reminds me of The Matrix. We were all fascinated by that movie because it spoke to us about a life under totalitarianism with a collective loss of consciousness, but what if the true puppeteers in our lives were not corporations and secret evil interests, but these microscopic prehistoric beings traveling inside food and hiding in plain sight along the creases and folds of our bowels?

And the situation gets even more complicated, because gut bacteria varies wildly and can be altered by diet, illnesses, and medication. So we could see bacteria as transient populations with their own history and culture and whose fortune is determined by the capricious lifestyle of their hosts. At times they might be blessed by a glass of kefir. Another time they are attacked by a foreign bacterial army living in a poorly-reheated clam chowder. And finally they are get exterminated by an apocalyptic run of antibiotics.

The possibilities are endless, and I could even go for a psychological angle. Because if gut bacteria can really influence our actions and tell our brain to make us depressed or happy, then I'll even argue that gut bacteria might even end up being our collective unconscious, the Jungian idea of a primordial wisdom nested just below our consciousness (How far below? Right under our belly button but above our sphincter, apparently.)

So, that unique, beautiful mark of humanity and its deepest moral compass which many religions call the Soul? Scientists may still be silent about this, but I'm betting it's made of yogurt.

Carl Gustav Jung
So Dead Chef has a post with a picture of Jung.
This blog can't be that stupid, then, can it?

Netflix suggestion: This whole thing reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of Futurama, titled Parasites Lost, in which Fry eats an egg salad sandwich from a vending machine and gets a worm infestation that makes his body indestructible and his brain super intelligent (please, please, please watch it on Netflix, series 3, episode 2).