Taking the Extra Step in Life and Coffee

This post is brought to you by waking up early to write, running one minute longer and Tinker Coffee, who provided the coffee, mug and inspiration for this post.

Taking the Extra Step in Life and Coffee | Jaybird Blog

If you’ve ever spoken to me before noon, you know that I love coffee. My roommates share that sentiment, and there’s a corner of our kitchen devoted to our various coffee-storing, -grinding and -brewing devices. The noises you’re most likely to hear in the morning are the sounds of a moka pot sputtering on the stove and a kettle shrilling that it’s ready to make pour-over or French press.

Despite all of our coffee love and all of the experimentation that goes with it, I tend to stick to one quick way of brewing, and I make myself a cup of pour-over in the morning (French press on the weekends). I buy good coffee, and I take my time making it, and it always tastes good. But when I was talking to Steve from Tinker Coffee about the coffee brewing guides they just released, I started to get the inkling that it could be better.

I decided to give the fancy method a go with my French press, so I unearthed our dusty kitchen scale and got hands-on with Tinker’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe blend. I took my time smelling the beans (you really can detect the melon note–it’s weird and delicious), precisely measuring the right amount to grind and even keeping my French press on the scale as I added the right amount of water. I timed everything as instructed, and then I sat down to enjoy my coffee in a cute little mug.

Tinker Coffee Company Review - French Press Brewing Guide

And lo, it was much, much better than my usual cup of coffee. 

Full-bodied, smooth and complex in a way that made me slow down and form an opinion about all the notes coming together in one mug. I savored every single sip, and when my French press was empty, I was tempted to make another one right away.

We can credit some of this to the quality of the beans, of course: they had been roasted two days before and shipped immediately my way, so they were still bursting with flavor. But after making more and more cups of this blend in different ways, it’s obvious to me that the care and attention that went into brewing it made a huge difference. A few extra minutes produced something worth savoring slowly and took an everyday routine–waking up and enjoying a cup of coffee–to the next level of my perfect morning.

Tinker Coffee Company Review - French Press Brewing Guide

Spending a little extra time to get an exponentially better result: how many other parts of our lives would this benefit?

  • Going for a run and pushing yourself to keep moving for just one extra minute–and suddenly, you can run a 10k.
  • Writing and mailing a birthday card instead of sending a text, to make someone’s day really special.
  • Giving that report an extra once-over to make sure everything, from content to formatting, will wow the reader.
  • Using your digital camera instead of your phone to practice that photography hobby you keep saying you want to improve.
  • Waking up early to write your novel, work on your portfolio, reflect in a journal or cultivate a new hobby.

Hurrying to get things done is an easy default setting, but done fast and done right aren’t always the same thing. So my challenge to myself, and to you, before this three-day weekend is to slow down. To take the extra step in parts of life where you don’t receive a performance evaluation: your hobbies, your pleasures, and your relationships with others and yourself. Spend an extra few minutes on the phone with your mom, or go buy stamps to send a handwritten thank you note. Break out the kitchen scale and brew yourself some incredible coffee. Make homemade bread. Spend a few extra minutes, and see where they lead you.

What’s one part of your life where a few extra minutes would make a big difference? And just for fun, what’s your favorite way to brew coffee?

To brew your own better coffee at home, don’t forget to check out Tinker Coffee’s brewing guides and the beans they offer from around the world, all roasted here in the Midwest. I’m already thinking about what to try next…and for now, I’m off to the kitchen to make another French press.

P.S. If the warm weather has you craving iced coffee, check out my recipe for a small batch of cold-brewed coffee.

One Small Way to Clean Up the Kitchen: Fold & Store Reusable Bags

I wavered about even posting this tip, because I feel like the internet is going to laugh at me–am I the only one who didn’t know how to do this? How to organize reusable bags might not be the most thrilling topic, but I guess that’s the point of the One Small Thing Series: to share tips that are simple, straightforward improvements on the everyday. Bonus points for things you might not seek out on your own. And given that I’ve thought, “GAMECHANGER!” approximately a dozen times since adopting this practice, I figured it was time to cowboy up and share it with you all.

How to Fold Reusable Bags | One Small Thing Series

Over the years, our apartment has collected a ton of reusable grocery bags. At first I thought this was wonderful: how eco-friendly we are! But we stored them in two giant “bags of bags,” one of which hung on the kitchen door and another that slumped on the ground next to the radiator, slowly collecting dust. The bags started to multiply, and they started to wear, and they honestly looked a little messy and sad.

I looked around the kitchen for places we could move our stash, but our cabinets were pretty full or didn’t provide the ease-of-access you’d want when quickly grabbing a bag to take to the store. So I turned to my dear friend, ye olde Google, and I found one small idea that changed my kitchen for the better: a quick tutorial for how to fold reusable bags.

One they were all neatly folded into tiny squares, they fit perfectly in a drawer with our plastic wrap, aluminum foil, etc. Now I can open the drawer, grab a few, and pop them in my purse when headed out to the store, then replace them after I unpack my groceries. Now my only problem is remembering to bring them with me!

How to Organize Reusable Bags | One Small Thing Series

Annie explains and illustrates how to fold reusable bags in this super helpful post, including an easy-to-follow diagram and a few ideas for where to keep them in your own kitchen. So go forth, friends, and get organized!

The One Small Thing Series is full of simple actions, ideas, and gadgets that can improve your life–in one really specific way. Have an idea you want to share? Drop me a note at alicia (at) jaybirdblog (dot) com.

P.S. A recent post you might have missed: Small Changes for a Fresh Start.

My Go-To Weeknight Meal (or, Fancy Toast 3 Ways)

As the air warms up and we head towards summer, spending hours in a hot kitchen is the last thing I want to do. Pair that with a desire to be out and about, enjoying all the opportunities for after-work events, and it means that nothing incredibly exciting has been happening in my kitchen lately. When I do cook, I make big, easy meals that double as an activity with friends, or I make something simple and flavorful that takes a few minutes from fridge to plate.

Sardine Toast Recipe

Case in point: my new go-to meal is toast. It sounds kind of sad, but I’m not talking about the humble bread and butter of breakfasts past. This fancy toast is supercharged: thick slices of crusty bread, grilled and loaded up with piles of flavor and protein. New combinations emerge every night, inspired by whatever’s in the pantry, a restaurant meal I had last week, or something I saw on Instagram.

While I could happily eat toast every night of the week, I thought I’d share my three favorite combinations today. Most of these could also be made into a salad if you’re skipping the bread, so see notes for how I’ve tried it. From one busy weeknight cook to another–bon appetit!

1. Lemon Chicken Toast with Red Pepper Hummus

Cool, tangy, and bursting with flavor: I am all over this toast combination for summer meals and backyard picnics. It would be fine as a regular sandwich, too, but where’s the fun in that? Here’s what I use to make it:

  • Thin slices of sourdough or other chewy white bread
  • Red bell pepper hummus
  • Chilled baked chicken breast (chicken breast + olive oil + Garlic Gusto spice blend; 400 degrees, 25 minutes, let cool and refrigerate)
  • Fajita veggies: sauteed red onions and green peppers
  • Kalamata olives

Toast the bread and spread it generously with hummus. Slice chicken into 1/4″ pieces and layer on top of the bread. Add vegetables and top with a few kalamata olives. Go to town!

Salad style: This combination makes a perfect greens mixture, too. Substitute a hearty bowl of spring mix for the bread and top with a basic balsamic vinaigrette. You can keep the hummus on the side as a dipper with other fresh veggies, or just skip it.

Beet Bruschetta Toast

2. Sweet Marinated Beets, Two Ways (inspired by Lula Cafe’s Beet Bruschetta)

I’ve raved about Lula Cafe before, and one of my favorite dishes there is the beet bruschetta. I’m sure my version doesn’t come close to the original, but I love being able to have something similar at home (and for cheap!). This recipe makes enough topping for 2-4 servings, depending on whether you’re treating this as a meal or a quick appetizer. Here’s what I gather for two versions of the dish:

  • 4 small to medium cooked beets, chopped into 1/3″ cubes
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 t. honey
  • 12 basil leaves, julienned
  • 1/4 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1-2 leaves curly green kale, cut into thin ribbons
  • 8 oz. goat cheese OR two large avocados mashed with juice of 1/2 small lemon
  • Thick slices of a multigrain loaf or baguette

Combine all ingredients except cheese (or avocado + lemon) and bread. Toast bread, or if you want to get fancy, lightly brush it with olive oil and broil it until golden brown on both sides. Spread generously with warmed goat cheese or avocado, then top with a big scoop of beet mixture.

Salad style: chop up additional kale ribbons and gently massage. Top with beet mixture, making sure to get dressing from the beets and toss it with the salad. Add pieces of goat cheese or chopped avocado. Cooked and chilled salmon would be a good addition for the salad version, too.

3. Sardine Toast (Don’t you “blech!” me, it’s delicious!)

If you think you don’t, or won’t, like sardines, slow your roll. Spanish sardines in particular are mild, with a buttery taste and a hint of iron. I first had sardine toast at Webster’s, a wine bar in Logan Square, with my friend Danielle. I’m often the one pushing weird food combinations on other people and that evening was no different–and turns out, she loved it!

When I make sardine toast at home, I use:

  • Thicker slices (1/2-3/4″) of crusty multigrain bread or baguette
  • Coarse ground mustard
  • Spanish sardines packed in olive oil, or some cheap ones from the grocery store
  • Spicy pickles, thinly sliced (try Suckerpunch Gourmet’s Spicy Garlic Pickles if you’re in Chicago)
  • A slice of lemon

Toast a couple slices of bread or, if you want to get real fancy, spread a little of the sardine oil on it and broil it in the oven until golden. Spread a thin layer of mustard on each piece, then gently layer sardines on top. You can mash them a bit if you aren’t keen on the shape. Cover each slice with a few slices of pickle and serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over top.

Salad style: I probably would not recommend it. Just try the toast. 😉

What’s your go-to weeknight meal? Any fancy toast combos I should try?