The keys to our (coffee) hearts.

You know, we live in Northeast Minneapolis: land of Greenies, <a title="Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge. Tiki drinks, Nye’s jumbo cocktails… are you noticing a theme here?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m the #1 fan of our uniquely NE bar scene, but what about when you get up in the morning and are nursing that dull ache that comes after one too many ______ (fill in your favorite Northeast adult beverage here)?

I mean, if the ibuprofen and Gatorade aren’t cutting it for you, you need a cuppa.

Java, Joe, coffee, kids.

When I lived in Linden Hills, I could wander over to Rustica/Java Jacks. If I happened to land in Uptown, Muddy Waters was right there (OK, it’s not in the same place anymore, but it still EXISTS).

Here? Eh, not so much.  We’ve taken to making coffee at home anyhow, being grown up, frugal, and whatnot… so my search has turned from, “Where can I get a double to-go?” to, “Where can I get beans that blow my mind at 7am when I hop in the car for my commute?”

Let me tell you: we lack serious beans in this corner of town.

I’m a big fan of Bull Run. And by big fan, I mean I’ve considered setting up a restaraunt LLC just to be able to buy their beans wholesale. I beg my uptown-dwelling friends to bring me coffee when they come up my way. It’s the Official Bean of Girls Weekend. God, I love that stuff.

Also: I will beg, borrow, and steal for Dogwood beans. Perhaps I’m driven to Dogwood because they are embedded within Rustica (and honestly, the chocolate/pistachio pastry and a latte? This is clearly what God will put on my breakfast table daily when I get to heaven). They also have their roots deeply embedded with Bull Run. Anyway, I love how seriously their baristas take their coffee. If you are going to drink something, you may as well be an expert about it, and these guys are the experts.

Both of these options, however, are inconvenient. My convenient options include picking up beans at the grocery store (ick), chain coffee shops (double ick), or a couple of indie coffee shops that don’t do their own roasting (mostly, meh).

So, imagine my delight when our lovely local corner restaurant, Hazel’s, offered to sell us a bag of True Stone roasted Costa Rican beans.

I brewed up a pot this morning, with a sweet tension headache brewing, and to my surprise, I actually had to pull the package out of the cupboard to ensure Dave hadn’t, in fact, purchased Bull Run beans. Yum! And walkable! Be still my Northeast heart, there is caffeinated salvation to be had in my neighborhood.

If you haven’t yet visited Hazel’s, especially for brunch, get it on your docket. It’s so good: warm, friendly, casual, delicious food served simply and without pretense. Have a couple of cups of coffee when you’re there, and take home a bag of beans to try for yourself.

I raise my travel mug to better-tasting caffeination. Cheers!

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My cheatin’ heart.

For years now, Rustica has been my go-to bakery. It’s also been the gold standard I strive to meet in my own journey toward mastering the art of baking.

Until today.

As we drove to work this morning, Dining with Dara highlighted Sunstreet Breads, on 46th and Nicollet. Now, Dara knows a thing or two about good eats here in the metro, AND 46th and Nic is conveniently a quick stop on my morning commute, so I convinced the carpool to stop in.

I bought three baguettes and a blueberry cream cheese kolache. This cream cheese kolache:

Yes, I got halfway through this pastry before I thought to take a picture of it. It was THAT good.

And while the pillowy donut-meets-sweet roll texture of the kolache is really nothing like the buttery, flaky, crumbly base of most Rustica pastries, I have to say that it perhaps tasted even better with my coffee. Maybe. However, the baguette! Oh, the baguette. Dara, you have never steered me wrong before, and I daresay Sunstreets’s baguette outshines Rustica. Gasp. There, it’s out there and I’m not ashamed. The crumb: amazing. The flavor: clean and elegant, yet complex, with notes of milkiness, a little salt, and the perfect bite. I want to bottle the aroma and sell it as perfume. Lawd.

So now, I have a cheating problem. I’ve been in  a relatively monogamous bakery relationship with Rustica for years… and I’m not ready to leave her. But Sunstreet, you are oh-so good at what you do, too. I’m a two-timing, bakery loving fool, and I just can’t help myself.

The Green Toews kitchen manifesto

“How do you guys eat so well, all the time?”

I often find myself equal parts perplexed and flattered when a friend or family member comments on how our household runs what I consider to be the epicenter of life — our kitchen. I’ve fielded questions about why we grow our own food AND participate in a CSA — why we shop at 3 or 4 local food providers, including stops at the butcher, bakery, coffee shop, and fishmonger, pretty much weekly, in addition to the grocery store — how we manage to turn out 5 or 6 home-made meals a week — and do it all within a family of four, average-joe budget.

I realize that our obsession over food isn’t everyone’s passion. And I remember a time when cooking for one (or two) seemed like more of a hassle than what it was worth.  And other times, I stop and think: have we as a culture gone soft? Do we, as a race, know how to feed ourselves, without the packaged food aisles in the supermarket and processed meat squares that come from a fast-food window? Don’t get me wrong — we feed the kids mac and cheese; our car can and will be found at a drive-through window on a roadtrip. But that’s not our day in/day out. So how do we make our kitchen happen? We follow these simple rules. And no, it doesn’t take all my time. And no, it’s not my only hobby. But my kids did eat ratatouille from scratch last night (and watched me cook as they watched the movie) — and at ages 2 and 7, sang the praises of couscous and goat cheese. So maybe we’re on to at least a little something…?

Take or leave these tips as they serve your life; they have, and will continue, to serve our family well.

  1. Get a solid handle on the basics of good cooking and baking. Make time to learn a few crucial things like knife techniques, ratios, herbs and spices, and flavor profiles. If you have ever felt anxious walking into the kitchen because “you don’t know how to cook”… this is where you start. Get a book; take a class; ask a friend who knows this stuff to mentor you (trust me, we love to pass down the knowledge). We won’t all turn out to be epic chefs. But we all have the ingrained ability to feed ourselves well. It is how our species has survived for so long. Don’t let Betty Crocker and Hamburger Helper fool you; we ALL are smart enough to put together delicious meals, all by ourselves.
  2. Buy a few really great cookbooks you like and know you’ll use; find websites with trusted recipes and make them your go-tos. Try new things from them, and make peace with the occasional failure (there’s a restaurant open somewhere that will feed you if you burn the biscuits or ruin the roast). Donate or sell the cookbooks you don’t use; they’ll only frustrate and discourage you, but they may inspire someone else.
  3. Invest a little bit of money in quality kitchen tools that make your job a million times easier. A good knife and sharpener, a solid cutting board, high-quality food processor, and top-notch mixer can make what seems daunting pretty easy.
  4. Plan your meals weekly. Balance the menu (rotate meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes as well as flavor profiles) and plan for specific recipes. You won’t overspend at the grocery store, you are less likely to give up and go out to eat.  Incredibly important key to success: plan in one or two days per week where you do nothing — eat a bowl of cereal,  reheat leftovers, or grab take-out. Don’t kill yourself in the kitchen every day.
  5. Keep track of what you have available. We use a simple spreadsheet on Google docs that inventories our freezers, and add or delete as items are purchased or used. We throw away less freezer-burned fruits and unintelligible leftovers.
  6. Shop around and find the least expensive way you can buy local. This is a big fad right now — and a good one, in my opinion, but this is America, after all, and even the best fads allow an opportunity for someone to rip you off. Be smart. My neighborhood gas station sells the same eggs and milk I’d buy at the co-op for well less than half the cost. Same brands. So yep, I do make the trip into the gas station to save myself 5 bucks on eggs and milk every week. And you know what, everyone wins… I support my neighbors and local economy,  I pay less because I don’t have to pay someone to ship it.  Also, local food is delicious food. I think of it this way: imagine how you feel after walking to the corner store. Then, imagine how you feel after being on a 8 or 12-hour plane ride. That bag of spinach from Argentina tastes the same way you feel after that plane ride, compared to the bag of spinach from the farmer’s market, picked yesterday and driven 40 miles to get in your belly.
  7. Buy in-season. Lots of  cash (and pollution, and unnecessary plant stress, and chemical fertilizers, and so on) goes into things that are force-grown/mass produced. Besides, in-season food tastes better (when it’s allowed to do what nature programmed it to do). No one wants to eat that mealy peach from Chile in  February. Especially not at 3 or 4 bucks a pound.
  8. Avoid anything that has extra packaging. You pay a (relative) fortune for the packaging – and, when things are packaged, they often need preservatives, which is another thing you don’t need, but still pay for – and, ultimately, you just throw it all away.
  9. Learn how to grow the things you use most. You’ll save time and money if you’ve frozen a giant green bean harvest for the lean winter months, instead of buying a bag at the grocer’s every week. And again, have I mentioned how much better it tastes?
  10. Make it yourself (even if you have to freeze, can, or otherwise preserve it for later) whenever you can.