Monday, February 11, 2013

(Sunflower) Milk and cookies

This past summer, I had the first really transcendant coffee experience I've had in a long time: I got to enjoy a traditional-style Ethiopian coffee ceremony while sitting on a patio in Brooklyn, eating with my hands and laughing with my husband.

Coffee roasting during the coffee ceremony.

Coffee in Ethiopia is a special, social thing. It brings family and friends together, and the methodology of the traditional preparation celebrates those relationships as well as the relationship that mankind has with earth, and that animals (such as humans are) have with plants (such as coffee is). It's a sign of respect, trust, and camaraderie, and it's unlike any coffee service I've ever enjoyed before.

In Ethiopia, coffee is drunk out of small, delicate little cups and is often heavily sugared; on its own, it is a darkly bitter-sweet brew made from freshly (as in five minutes ago) roasted coffee beans ground by hand and boiled with water in a pot called a jebena. The grounds are brewed three times, each one signifying a different part of the ceremony, and in some regional dialects the last is called bereka, or "to be blessed." Occasionally, sunflower milk is added to the beverage, which gives it a sweet nuttiness.

I felt blessed as I drank my ginger-and-coriander spiced brew that night, watching the sunset over my second-favorite borough. I remembered in that moment the things that drew me to coffee as a profession, and many of the things that draw people together over the drink I've dedicated my life to.

Now, I'm preparing to put myself on the spot by performing a presentation of my own: In a few weeks I'll be giving a 15-minute World Barista Championship–style performance for many of my colleagues and peers, in attempt to show them the value of professional certifications like the ones my employer offers.

Straining the sunflower milk.

In my service and in my coffee, I want to recapture part of that experience. The communal coffee pot, the stories and news shared among loved ones, and that sweet, nutty, spicy fresh brew. I'll be using espresso as the base in my concoction, but the spirit is similar. Here is a coffee. I've made it for you because I care about you, and I want to give you something to warm you, to lift your day. Here is some sunflower milk. I've made it for you because I want your coffee to taste delicious, and I want your day to be sweet even after we part.

Here is some sunflower milk. You can make it yourself. You don't have to use all of it in your coffee, but maybe a little bit, just once, and think of me? I'll be thinking of you.

For the milk
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
In a bowl or jar, cover sunflower seeds with water by about an inch and allow to soak for 8 hours at room temperature. Drain and rise seeds and put them in the bowl of a food processor along with fresh water to the 4 cup mark and a dash of salt. Process until mostly smooth.

Using a cheesecloth, fine-mesh sieve, or a colander, strain and separate the "milk" from the meal. Sweeten the liquid with honey, sugar, vanilla extract if you like, but it's also lovely on its own.

Milk, left. Pulp, right.

So, what do you do with all that meal, then? You've already made milk: Why not make some cookies to go with?

These little gems are perfect: Not too sweet, no artificial anything, and they use up exactly the amount of pulp you'll likely have leftover from your sunflower-milk experiment.

It's like they were made for each other. They're certainly made for you.

For the cookies
1 1/4 cup sunflower pulp
3 pitted dried dates, soaked
1/4 cup flour (almond or graham is nice)
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one grapefruit
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mixture becomes sticky and dough-like. Using clean hands, tear off portions of dough and roll into small balls, roughly 1.25" around. Arrange balls on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet and gently press down on them with your fingers or the bottom of a cup until they are slightly flattened. Bake until cooked through and just browned (about 10 minutes). Yields about 20 cookies.


  1. It is fascinating to know you.

    In our culture, coffee is much the same way. As soon as someone enters our home, we take the coats, we offer, "un cafe?"

    It's so much more than a drink offering.

  2. A beautiful post - it certainly looks like you chose the right profession. I am sure you will do a wonderful job in a few weeks! I think I will be trying this... I mean, after all you got me to make butter in a mason jar!


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