Search This Blog

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Pretty Faces Behind your Coffee…

Gable Coffee Co.The days are short now and darkness comes early. Wind and rain rule the day. Nighttime, too. You add extra layers of clothing before venturing outdoors. Sunshine is a rare commodity these days, but if it’s warmth you crave on these chilly mornings, a steaming cup of coffee is certain to drive away the gloom, and just as good—if not better—than sunshine is coffee served with a smile and by a pretty face.

Mid-March this year Beebes’ corner became decaffeinated. The Ripple posted about the abrupt departure of the little blue latte stand known as Tropical Blends (“Oh, Where, Oh, Where has the Little Stand Gone, 4/18): there in the morning, vanished on down the road in the afternoon, leaving  in the dust at least one disgruntled customer with a worthless fully paid up punch card. The only remnant tropical was the bewildered little palm standing abandoned, fronds still quivering in the slipstream. And so for nearly five months the Valley commuters experienced caffeine withdrawal.

One day, mid-summer, a successor moved onto the abandoned site and teetered there for a week or two. A garish yellow, as if painted by a DOT striping crew—an eyesore, at least to this observer—the little hovel made me wish the Valley had a covenant on paint schemes. For a week or so the little structure tilted there like a big pile of misplaced tenant at BB corner Then on weekends a flurry of activity surrounded the little hut and three weeks later a tasteful renovation had transformed the structure into a quaint little coffee cottage. The bilious yellow disappeared under warm cedar shingles. Miniature dormers sprouted above the serving windows and a tasteful green trim complimented the soft brown of the milled shakes.

One weekend while work was in progress, I stopped by and met Mike Kahler, handyman/co-owner of the stand. Mike laid down his nail gun and we chatted about the new business. At that time his wife Taylor, juggling an armload of child, appeared at the door of the stand. I complimented them on their fine job of renovating the tawdry little structure and candidly shared  my fear that Beebe corner might be doomed to yellow blight. Mike laughed and then shared a brief history of the building. Apparently the hut was an immigrant from up north. Rumor has it the stand may have had a “colorful” past. Mike was reluctant—adamant, in fact—to say much more about its history, didn’t want the new enterprise to be the Valley pariah. Pry as The Ripple would, no more information was forthcoming but was told that in this incarnation the stand was a “family friendly” business. Whatever its colorful past even a latte stand deserves a second chance. “We hope to be open for business August 1st,” Mike grinned.

Three weeks later, the week the Evergreen State Fair opened, the stand passed inspection and coffee was ready to be served. The Ripple, hoping to be the first customer, arrived at the stand about three hours too late (punctuality is not The Ripple’s strongpoint. Thus this belated post: here it is, late November and Gable’s Coffee Company has been in business nearly four months). To welcome the new business to the Valley, I presented a bouquet of backyard dahlias at the serving window.

An eponymous title, Gable’s Coffee Company takes its name from Kahlers’ son Gabe (the “armload” of child I mentioned earlier). Gabe’s mom Taylor is the CEO, president, CFO, manager: all of these in addition to serving her shifts as barista.Taylor and Gabe (“Taylor Kahler”: there’s a helpful mnemonic for you.) The other day, between customers, I chatted with Taylor about her business. “What’s the mission statement of Gable’s Coffee Company?” I asked her. Taylor lifted a punch card from a stack by the window, flipped it over, and handed it to me. “Enjoy Life One Cup At a Time” the back of the card stated, a slogan I appreciated for both its brevity and sincerity. Taylor, I learned, has been a barista for eight years. “Starbucks?” I asked. She shook her head. “At Starbucks, everything is programmed and pushbutton,” she complained. “I like to make my own blends and be more involved in the end result. Serving coffee at a Starbucks just isn’t as much fun.”

Not only is Gable’s Coffee Company family-friendly, it’s a family business, as well. Mike’s the handyman. Taylor manages the stand. Shifts are shared by younger sister Asia Rush. Even little Gabe is involved. One day I stopped by and discovered him on the floor of the stand unwinding a roll of paper towels; should Mom spill a beverage, Gabe had her back . And Asia? “What’s the story behind your name?” I asked her. AsiaShe said it was her dad’s choice. “Is that his favorite continent?” I wondered, thinking she should be thankful he hadn’t taken a fancy to Kazakhstan or Constantinople. Sister Taylor later explained her father chose the name because of a  beautiful little African American child who happened to be named “Asia.”

Madison Langton (“Madi,” she likes to be called) fills in part time, usually taking the afternoon shift. Madi’s is a familiar face you may have recognized from Mike Bennett’s fruit and vegetable stand next door where she has worked the past two years.   Madison

I admire entrepreneurship, especially on the part of the young and ambitious. Small business, whether it be a corner lemonade stand or hotdog cart, is part of the fabric of America. Having one’s own business and running it successfully is an accomplishment to be proud of. On my trips to town and back I make a point to check out the little stand on the corner. Almost always I see cars lined up for coffee and perhaps a pastry side dish (the pastries come from Sky Valley Bakery in town. By the way, the stand also sells local honey). “So how’s business?” I asked Taylor recently as she prepared my wife’s favorite latte. “I’m able to pay all my bills”she smiled,  “and put some money in the bank.” You couldn’t ask more from a business than that, could you?latte ad

My very first experience with a latte stand was years ago. Imagine my surprise when I discovered you could no longer walk up to the counter and order a cup of coffee. No such thing anymore. Caffeinated beverages now had exotic names and you had to use a  whole new language when you ordered a drink. I discovered the closest thing to my “cup of coffee” was called an “Americano.” So an Americano (just a “tall,” please) is now my drink of choice.  And, no, I don’t want double or triple shots, sugar, whip, or anything else. Just serve up my coffee with a smile and a pretty face…that’s all the sweetener I need. And at Gable’s Coffee Company, in addition to beverages at a reasonable price, you’ll get plenty of that.Coffee and more...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mindless Work…

Tony in the Fallit is, raking leaves. Like riding a bicycle: once you learn, you never forget. You select a certain area of lawn and move in a circular pattern, clockwise, surround the leaves, sweep them inward. With each revolution the circle shrinks, the leaves pile up. The rake performs a rhythmic scratching. Your body dips and sways, a clumsy ballet among the leaves. The work involves only shoulders, arms, extending and pulling incessantly; while your body is thus occupied, your thoughts, however, are free to wander.

What do I think about while the rake scratches up the fallen leaves? The rhythmic swing of the rake, its repetition. The simplicity of the routine brings to mind the character Konstantin Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the image of the serf-sympathetic Levin waist deep in his own hayfield, swinging a scythe and leaving in its wake swath after swath of new mown hay.

And then there are the leaf thoughts:

I think of the young girl Margaret in the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall,” who grieves the loss of the summer leaves from Goldengrove. The poet tells her it’s not so much the dying leaves she mourns as “the blight man was born for,” her own mortality.

That brilliant fall of my first year of teaching in Winthrop: I think of cottonwood yellow lining the Chewuck River, their reflections like roiling gold in the cobalt waves. And how, too, like gold flecks the fallen leaves rode the currents and eddies until the banks were rimmed in yellow. I look to the looming mountain slopes where groves of quivering poplar are brilliant yellow swatches among the dark firs.

asparagus mulchI think about the heaps of leaves I’ll fork on the dahlia bed, a leafy comforter against the frost, nourishment for the soil, a cover of mulch for the dormant asparagus…winter forage for hungry earthworms.

I think how the next six months the walnut tree and the backyard maple will be bare against the sky, and how much improved my view of the Valley will be once the nursery stock to the west has shed its leaves, how once again I’ll be able to see Tony’s house, Ed’s barn and soon his Christmas lights.

And I wonder what’s on my grandson’s mind as he happens upon the heap of leaves I’ve carefully raked into a pile. Rakin' buddy

Just as I thought…a puddle to splash in, a pile of leaves to pounce on…ah, the sweet life of a child.had to do it

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ridin’ the Kale Trail…

field of kale“Pick me a couple nice kale leaves while you’re over there,” my mom called as I went out the door. My brother Keith was out of town and he assigned me the task of securing his greenhouse for the evening, closing the windows, checking the temperature, making sure the peppers, tomatoes and greens were preparing for bed. The kale leaves? My mom wanted them for next morning’s green smoothie. Keith has made “green smoothie” converts of the rest of the family…except for one, that is: at this posting I remain a staunch holdout.

“My husband and I are planting kale next year,” Melissa at Albertson’s meat counter informs me as she wraps up a pound of bacon. While Melissa was fussing around in the cold case, I was talking up this year’s bumper tomato crop. “Kale,” I asked,”why kale?” “Oh, it’s very healthy for you, you know,” she smiled.

Recently I had the good fortune to spend a few hours in the hospital for some minor surgery. Among the topics my two attendant nurses bantered back and forth was the subject of lunch at the hospital cafeteria. Both, it so happened, had chosen kale side dishes. Kale? In a hospital cafeteria?

A goliath among health foods is kale these days. In the past, kale’s public appearances were mainly occasioned as garnishment for restaurant fare, a crinkly sliver of green tucked conveniently to the side of the plate as if guarding the meal; the leaf was usually all that remained on the plate after the meal was finished. But currently kale has made the big time, its popularity spotlighted even in literature. In a recent issue The New Yorker magazine published a poem about kale. “Kale,” was its title…pretty straightforward, but then what subtleties are possible for a leafy vegetable? Poetry, of course, embraces a multitude of  topics, but “kale” as a subject poetic? The poet and friend James visit a kale patch in winter, shake the snow off the stumps of kale (“the flat variety” and the “low, curly variety”), heap a popcorn bowl full of leaves and quit the field en route, most likely, to the nearest blender. I’m not much of a poetry critic, but a little rhyme might have made the topic more palatable. And munching leaves of kale while watching a sporting event? Seems downright Un-American.

These late fall days when Gladys and I are out and about in the Valley, we see kale up and personal, fields of it, long rows of stumps topped by an umbrella of leaves like so many bonzaied palm trees. road kaleThe fields can’t contain the kale; we find kale leaves in the middle of the road, on the shoulder, dangling from a strand of fence wire. The leaves are deserters from the big plastic tubs brimful of the stuff. As the tubs are carted from the fields, the leaves swirl out in the slipstream like so much green exhaust. Even kale will do anything to avoid being smoothied. Gladys and I steer clear of these slippery road hazards. Wouldn’t want to have a kalamity, now would we?

He raises three varieties of kale, my brother Keith tells me: dinosaur (dino), curly (each leaf a badlands for bands of outlaw aphids), and red Russian. His garden and greenhouse feature all three varieties. My brother has been known to browse his lawn and garden for green breakfast fare: weeds (dandelion smoothies), grass clippings, milfoil from the river. But his go-to smoothie leaf is kale (with chard a close second). He gathers a fistful of variety from his plantings and heads for the kitchen sink to give the leaves a vigorous washing.dino kale  After most of the aphids, earwigs, and other crawlies have been spritzed away, he stuffs the leaves in the blender, pulverizes the kale into a green ooze, pours the mess into a tall glass, and downs his breakfast. My mom, on the other hand, pours her smoothie into an opaque container. “So I don’t have to look at it while I drink it,” she laughs. rebor kale

On one of my daughter’s visits, she introduced us to kale chips, kale leaves brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with garlic salt, and then baked on a cookie sheet. There was not much substance to the chips; a handful, perhaps, equaled a fair sized kettle-cooked potato chip in volume, more like garlic-flavored dust. The kale crinkles tasted nothing like potato chips, however, but garlic flavored olive oil with a hint of alfalfa hay. Further investigation of kale chips led me to purchase a bag of them at Freddie’s. Like most of the products one finds at a health food store, I found these chips unpalatable…there’s just something not right about a food that tastes like it came from a haystack.

Let’s just say, by some remote chance, you’d like to go green, hitch a ride on the kale express, sport a green moostache, are looking for some variety at breakfast time. If this kale craze (“cult” seems a bit over the top) has drawn you in, I’ve provided a link to my brother’s blog where he’s shared some of his favorite smoothie recipes. At this posting, as I mentioned earlier, I remain the sole smoothie holdout in our family.

The first time Keith showed me his tall glass of green breakfast,  my immediate response was: “The only way I’d drink that was if I had four stomachs.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Ripple Airs a Gripe…

fogboundFog. This time of the year the Valley is socked in. Valley fog does not pussyfoot around like Carl Sandburg’s “little cat’s feet” fog. Ours is hardcore fog, fog that could strangle a foghorn. Just a bit of heat during the day followed by a crisp, clear night and next morning the Valley is slammed shut in a gray box…and a while back the Valley was one long fogbank for an entire two weeks.

Our routine is such these days that we have to make a trip to Everett five days a week. We leave at 8:00 a.m., must be in Everett by 9:00. The most stressful part of the drive, if you can believe it, is just pulling out of our driveway onto the state highway. On these foggy days it takes a leap of faith to enter a 55 mph thoroughfare, especially when the visibility is oblivion beyond three car lengths. My gripe? Drivers who rush headlong through the fog with their headlights off, and as always seems to be the case, their cars are white, silver… or fog-colored. They come in darkness, looming out of the fog like ghosts, ghosts that move at a spectral speed of fifty-five miles an hour as if it were July, midday. They are a road liability, those drivers. You know they are out there somewhere and so before you roll onto the highway, you crank down your windows, peer into the wall of gray, listen, say a brief prayer, and timidly venture forth, stressed out before you’ve left your own driveway.

You know, when you think about it, they’re downright disrespectful—rude, even—these drivers, who oblivious to the safety of others--and themselves--hurtle down the highway as nonchalantly as if they were piloting a stealth bomber. Flash your lights at them. Go ahead. Do it. Glance in the rearview mirror. Have they illuminated themselves? No. No one is going to tell THEM how to drive; “I don’t care if I kill you, kill myself, drive willy-nilly into a ten car pileup down the road…nobody’s going to tell ME how to drive. Mind your own business, won’tcha ?” That’s their mindset. An oncoming car flashes its lights at me and I’m grateful; not only does the act warn me of a potential hazard ahead, but also tells me the driver isn’t just thinking of his own safety but the other guy’s, as well.

Years back we hired a zany lady to paint the inside of the house. Just a wisp of a thing, all bone and gristle, she looked like she walked right off the front of a Leaning Tree greeting card, replete with cigarette dangling from her mouth, downwind eye asquint dodging the smoke. She had a bumper sticker on her car with the words: “Visualize World Peace…Hell! Visualize your Turn Signal!” To you witless drivers who rush about in the fog I say, “Visualize your headlight switch so I can visualize you.” Let’s visualize each other, shall we?foggy morning

So if I happened to win the Washington State Lottery, how would I use my winnings? Not purchase my own diesel locomotive, nor a life size slot car complete with track. Nothing that extreme. No, I would have a stoplight installed on the state highway where our driveway intersects. I’d use it only on foggy mornings. I promise….