Wednesday, March 5, 2008

When Mojo Needs Mo' Joe

The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., "Over the Teacups," 1891

I have never been quite clear on the term “mojo.”
My kids would have me think that it’s a concept beyond my comprehension simply because I am a product of a generation
still struggling with the idea that a flip-flop is no longer referred to
as a thong.
I would argue however, that any term that predates both their generation and mine is fair game. And so, like any self-respecting mother of teenagers, I called upon that omniscient eSage of
word-regurgitation, Google. I was surprised to find that mojo has several definitions (some of which exceed my PG rating and therefore will not be listed here). I decided I would subscribe to the one about “soul or life force,” but still had no idea how to define
my own mojo.
I would suspect however, that it has something to do with food.

When I pause to consider what drives me or makes me tick, two things come to mind; gastronomy and coffee. In fact, both of these things are what I think about before I fall asleep, and both are what I look forward to at the first chime of my alarm clock.

I have often referred to myself as a “foodie” but lately it seems that this term has been manipulated to include only those who are afficionados of gastronomy (not me), while excluding those who share a passion for the preparation and consumption of
good food (me). In my opinion, the most valuable food education comes from research and development driven by the enthusiasm and appreciation for the final goal—the feast.

Some would argue that coffee has its rightful place within gastronomy. But I would urge them to consider its timeless contribution to la dolce vita and the simple joy-factor its consumption offers. My experience as an Italian American forces me to provide well-deserved exclusivity to such a titillating tonic
and so for me, it remains in a class by itself.

My love affair with all things culinary began some time in my adolesence when I found myself with some free time in an empty kitchen full of possibilities. The unexpected success of my first concoction, a humble bagel-burger, gave me the confidence to eventually face the challenges of tempering chocolate and proofing bread dough. I am still intrigued by the processes of cooking and baking, but neither would fulfill me without my passion for
eating and sharing good food.
I would imagine that my need to research, dissect, rewrite and develop recipes for one particular food for months at a time, has its share of OCD tendencies. At the risk of misappropriating diagnostic terminology, I would suggest that the “C” is interchangeable and on any given day could apply to Cake, Cookie, Cheese, Chocolate, or Coffee.
My Obsessive Coffee Disorder is a story that began many years ago…

It began well before my adolesence and will likely continue until my mug and I are planted where the coffee grinds meet the compost.
Coffee and I share a tumultuous love affair plagued by treason and infidelity. Our tale is one of unrequited love and misunderstanding.
I love coffee. It doesn’t always love me back. I have tried to understand its complexities but they elude me.
Yet I am a willing victim nonetheless.

My earliest memory of coffee is one I have tried to recreate, to no avail. It involves one beat-up aluminum espresso pot (the flip-and-drip kind), a can of ground espresso and a small congregation of early risers. For as long as I lived in my childhood home, “black coffee” was a daily morning ritual for my mother and grandmother. As a young child, I acquired a taste for that smoky bitterness only espresso can offer. Years before that (likely even before I had teeth), my great-grandmother would temper it with warm milk and any available (edible) object of dunkability. Once the pot was empty and housed only the compressed cake of exhausted granules, we moved on to “brown coffee,” which was the chaser of choice for a domicile dictated by caffeine and a love-hate relationship with its inevitable effects as a drug and a diuretic.

By the time I moved out and had my own collection of coffee pots,
I was already dependent on the grab-n-go variety of coffee to supplement my own brew. I even developed an affinity for the cardboard cup, much to my mother's shagrin.
None however, could mimic the flavors of my caffeinated youth.
That is not to suggest however, that I am partial to one particular type or brand of coffee. Years ago, I adopted my mother's policy for determining a coffee's drinkability; any brew that tastes too weak is "pish-water" and anything too strong should be avoided for fear it would "grow hair on your chest," but everything in between is fair game.
From my description, one might think I drink an excessive
amount of coffee. I don’t.
Typically, I hover somewhere between two and four cups per day.
On a good day, one of those is a cappuccino. And this is where I break from tradition because I come from a froth-free family. They only drink their espresso straight-up with a bit of sugar. Coffee purists might argue that froth or cream is merely a distraction from the quality, flavor and temperature of the brew, but I want
clouds in my coffee because they taste good, period.
And where taste is concerned, I continue to disgrace coffee connoisseurs worldwide. I have never had a firm grasp on the
whole bean to brew process anyway, and so I make most of my coffee purchases based on what I like and what will fit into my
Keurig brewer. My one experience with an imported, overpriced espresso machine left me pining for a simpler, more flavorful cup from my mother’s dented aluminum pot. So, I sold the monstrosity on eBay and now I depend on Bialetti’s version of the stovetop
moka pot and a three-dollar, battery-operated mini-frother
from Ikea. Together they make a mean cappuccino and
no one had to sell a kidney to support the purchase.

The best cup of coffee in my opinion however, is a free one.
I hold no prejudice when someone else is buying. And quite honestly, the promise of coffee is often the single motivating factor behind many a daunting task. My favorite caffeinated concoction has supported me through countless written reports, early exams,
diner-therapy with friends, self-inflicted yard sales, dialogue with teenagers, taxes, and most recently, part-time employment. In fact, on most days it is exclusively what sees me through a five-hour shift of selling and accommodating big-brand beaurocracy. Some would suggest I quit the job and switch to decaf, but it pays for bills, bad spending habits and (most importantly) baking.
So, I surrender to my own hypocrisy for the sake of survival
here in suburbia.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the unwavering support from one sympathetic co-worker who consistently offers me a piping hot cup of perseverance when I need it most. Unfortunately, I can’t return the favor because he happens to be the only Italian-American I know who doesn’t drink coffee (go figure) and so, I barter baked goods.
And what about decaf? Quite honestly, on the rare occasion that I drink it, I do so primarily for the sake of others. While I consider it the anti-coffee, it has saved many a social evening from my
rapid-fire ranting and excruciating enthusiasm.
Not so much fun, if you ask me.

Perhaps it is foolish for me to place such high expectations on a beverage. But, love is blind and my passion for the percolated is supported by a lifetime of significant events when my cup was literally and figuratively full.

And whether or not I figure out how to define my own life force,
I am certain that my journey will reveal that both gastronomy and coffee are staunch supporters of my own mojo.

At this point in time, I can say with complete surety that
my mojo needs some mo' joe and so, while I go fire up the Bialetti
I will leave you with a recipe for a favorite (easy) coffee dessert
and some of my favorite quotes about coffee.
I have also listed a few definitions for mojo, but this term is one
I strongly encourage you to define for yourself.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


From Everyday Italian by Giada DeLaurentiis


This dessert is the Italian version of a hot fudge sundae. Traditionally it's made with vanilla ice cream but you can substitute your favorite flavor.
It will come as no surprise to you that I prefer coffee ice cream for this dessert.

1/3 Cup cold whipping cream
1/2 Cup boiling water
1 TBS instant espresso powder
*(You may substitute hot, freshly brewed espresso for the boiling water and espresso powder)
1 Pint of your favorite gelato or ice cream
(Giada strongly recommends chocolate ice cream)

In a medium bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (can be made up to four hours ahead).
In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, whisk the boiling water with espresso powder until powder is dissolved. Scoop gelato or ice cream into 4 dessert bowls or glasses. Pour 2 tablespoons of hot espresso over each, top with whipped cream and serve immediately.


Coffee Quotes:
(A good read, if you ask me)

No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee's frothy goodness. ~Sheik Abd-al-Kadir

Coffee is the best thing to douse the sunrise with. ~Drew Sirtors

Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. [Coffee] is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit, a foiler of sleep if you want it so. From roadside mugs to the classic demi-tasse, it is the perfect democrat. ~Author Unknown

No coffee can be good in the mouth that does not first send a sweet offering of odor to the nostrils. ~Henry Ward Beecher

A morning without coffee is like sleep. ~Author Unknown

Conscience keeps more people awake than coffee. ~Author Unknown

I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee. ~Flash Rosenberg

Mothers are those wonderful people who can get up in the morning before the smell of coffee. ~Author Unknown

Way too much coffee. But if it weren't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever. ~David Letterman

He was my cream, and I was his coffee -
And when you poured us together, it was something
~Josephine Baker

In Seattle you haven't had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it's running. ~Jeff Bezos

The voodoo priest and all his powders were as nothing compared to espresso, cappuccino, and mocha, which are stronger than all the religions of the world combined, and perhaps stronger than the human soul itself. ~Mark Helprin, Memoir from Antproof Case, 1995

Don't laugh at the coffee. Some day you, too, may be old and weak. ~Author Unknown

It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity. I bet this kind of thing does not happen to heroin addicts. I bet that when serious heroin addicts go to purchase their heroin, they do not tolerate waiting in line while some dilettante in front of them orders a hazelnut smack-a-cino with cinnamon sprinkles. ~Dave Barry

Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis - a good hot cup of coffee. ~Alexander King

Coffee gives people energy, and cafes bring them together--a potent combination. Voltaire downed as many as 50 cups a day. Beethoven would count 60 beans into a single cup. Balzac walked across Paris to get three kinds of coffee from different shops to make a blend that kept him awake to write from midnight until midday. He explained that when he drank coffee, "...ideas begin to move...the paper is covered in ink."-- From A Passion for Coffee by Hattie Ellis

And my personal favorite…

I bought a decaffeinated coffee table, you can't even see a difference. ~Author Unknown


Mojo is a term commonly encountered in the African-American folk belief called hoodoo. A mojo is a type of magic charm, often of red flannel cloth and tied with a drawstring, containing botanical, zoological, and/or mineral curios, petition papers, and the like. It is typically worn under clothing.

The word mojo traces its origins to Congo, Africa (from moyo, meaning "soul" or "life-force") and entered the English language during the era of slavery in the USA. It has been widely known from the 19th century and early 20th century to the present.

Jim Morrison of The Doors named himself "Mr. Mojo Risin" — an anagram of "Jim Morrison" — in the song "L.A. Woman." This usage of the word was spoofed by Mike Myers in the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, in which the title character has his mojo stolen, and loses his sexual confidence and prowess.

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