Savor: Things, Ideas, and People

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Grind, dose, tap, tamp, pump, extract, knock, steam, stretch, froth, thump, swirl, pour, sip — I love a perfect espresso that makes a great latte.

For most of my life, I didn’t drink a drop of coffee, but over the past five years, quality fresh ground beans, golden-brown espresso with crema that lingers, and velvety textured milk in the correct ratio are keys to my favorite way to start the morning.

I admire a good barista’s command of the science behind espresso extraction, matched with a balance of art and precision required for a consistent quality drink.

When in San Antonio, Local Coffee is my favorite place to meet friends for a latte, but other great coffee spots are also around town — Brown, Rosella, Commonwealth, and Summer Moon to name a few.

The Alamo Heights Local Coffee is closest to my home, but when heading back to San Antonio from Comfort on an early Sunday morning, the Leon Springs location serves a consistent latte with welcoming staff.

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Recently, the barista poured my drink, and before sliding it across the counter she politely asked, “May I take a picture of your drink?” “Sure,” I replied, “if you let me take a picture of you taking a picture of my drink!”

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As I entered the shop, there was a sign on the front door advertising an upcoming “Latte Art Throwdown,” so maybe she was practicing? I didn’t ask, but she was friendly and smiled while letting me snap a couple photos. The latte was pretty and delicious!

When I travel I always seek out a highly rated coffee shop, and my all time favorite shop is Box Car Roasters in Boulder — discovered while visiting Alexandra over the four years she attended the University of Colorado.

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A second Box Car location is in Denver, so it’s my stop when visiting Alexandra in her new hometown.

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Plus, taking home a bag of their “Stella” roasted beans extends my enjoyment of their coffee to home.

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My sister recently visited Alexandra and sent me a present from Boxcar. Thanks, Janine, Ella, and Max!

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Yes, at $4 to $5 a pop for a latte or Americano, a few years ago, I invested in an espresso machine, so now both Jim and I pull our own shots to enjoy our favorite drinks at home most mornings. I’m on my third machine, stepping up with each new investment — keeping my best machine at home while the older model goes to the ranch.

What, you are asking, does all this coffee talk have to do with the topics usually recounted on Take Comfort? Listed among my blog categories of Ranch and Family is a heading for Design — and that is where this story leads.

Meandering meanings are typically threaded throughout my posts and this story takes turns across several paths. Find a comfortable seat, grab an excellent coffee — or your beverage of choice — and enjoy the read.

My first design post, Inspired by Nature, Designed with Love, explained that examining form, balance, materials, and setting — and studying how they all relate — is how I “see” at the ranch, at home, and out in my world. I love design, whether objects, architecture or landscape, and the catalog of design I find in nature inspires how I meet design challenges.

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Color (or no color) is part of the design equation.

The color green is most synonymous with nature.

My post about “Greenery,” the Pantone color of the year, included a quote from Pantone stating “Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose.” Now, that’s a powerful color comment.

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Everyone knows how to picture “earth tones” — pigments mostly of browns and tans but also warm muted colors of grays, greens and blue.

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But, brilliant color in nature is where I stand still in awe.

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The interior design and fashion worlds may overuse the cliche, “a pop of color,” but it remains a fitting phrase for me when I find an unexpected color in nature that transforms the view of everything around it.

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No need to take an exotic safari or underwater scuba dive to find nature’s pops of color — I promise if you look closer in your own environment you will be amazed by what you can discover.

A few weekends ago, a lizard caught my eye in a way I had never seen before — a surprise that sent me sprinting for my camera to capture the intensity and wonder of both the color and the moment.

Lizards are prevalent around the ranch house, scurrying across the porch or courtyard most times you step out the door, but in all the years of seeing them, I had never seen the electric blue tucked on the sides and underbelly of a male spiny lizard.

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How did I miss it? A pop of color to be sure.

How much brilliance — in things, ideas and people — lay undiscovered in the environment around us because we haven’t looked closer?

Admittedly, I am personally most comfortable surrounded by a neutral palette — my clothing is mostly solids of creams, white, black, and navy, and my home decorating stays neutral as well. When I branch out and add color, I do have favorites — blue at my home in San Antonio and orange at the ranch.

I love a pop of orange color in nature.

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Some discoveries of orange color are common and expected.

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Other finds of orange are unexpected and unlikely, emerging from a setting so contrasting and monotonous

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and yet sitting comfortably snuggled while surrounded by nothing similar — as if nature is teaching a lesson on diversity and tolerance.

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Then, there are flashes of orange so dazzling in intensity you are hijacked into happiness because of the surprise gift.

A few birthdays ago, I took a birthday walk at the ranch, a gift to myself, and following my walk I wrote a story about all the “presents” I experienced on my walk.

One of my gifts that day came wrapped in a flash of orange as I was trying to keep my binoculars focused on a tiny Ruby-crowned kinglet. General confirmation of this bird is easy — tiny; grayish; greenish-olive; white wing bars; a thin, stubby, black bill; a short tail; and erratic wing flicking while continuously moving. However, the male has an intense fiery-orange patch on the crown that usually stays hidden unless you catch an excited male at just the right moment in just the right light.

No matter how many times you may have seen it before, when you glimpse the vivid orange color, it is mesmerizing — not mesmerizing in the hypnotic, stuck still sort of way, because there is nothing still about trying to follow a kinglet with binoculars, but mesmerizing in the completely fascinated way.

The exaggerated flaming orange is so flamboyant against the soft, dull olive-gray that it is hard to reconcile the fire vs fragility in one tiny bird. For my birthday, I followed that little kinglet until the crown of fire flashed me a birthday present.

So fast is the flash that I don’t have a photograph of the bright orange crown, but nature provides a copy of the color in the vermillion flycatcher. Vermillion may be scarlet red by definition, but wow, what a pop of orange that little bird lends to the landscape!

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The decor of the ranch house is predominately neutral — cream walls, brown vintage wood, tan concrete floors, gray limestone counters, and galvanized metal doors — all in soft shades of their respective colors.

Except where there are nature inspired hints of orange.

Orange lollipop trees in a pastel piece of art

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enliven the wall in Alexandra’s ranch room.

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Orange woven fibers grace the floor runner in our master bathroom.

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A saddle blanket, serving as a rug under my bedside desk, sports orange stripes.

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Another saddle blanket softening the back porch flagstone teases one single sliver of orange,

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like a present from a kinglet.

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And, the orange second hand on the clock hanging over the espresso machine in the kitchen revolves from an orange centered dot

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that reminds me of the setting sun off in the distance.

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And my newest pop of orange?

A Reg Barber hand-crafted espresso tamper in Ruby-crowned kinglet and Vermillion flycatcher orange!

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Yes, I’ve returned to coffee.

A few years ago, I would have had no clue about a coffee tamper, and I would have rolled my eyes if you tried to tell me that a device that presses ground coffee into a portafilter would be a consummate example of the Frank Lloyd Wright belief that “Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

I won’t go into further design detail about my new coffee tamper — trust me, it is art with amazing functionality.

And boy, is it orange!

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Along with the tamper, I love beautifully designed vessels to hold my coffee.

My favorites include a set of handmade porcelain cups in cream and soft shades of green

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— imperfect in form, reminding me they are special.

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A set of Fellow “Joey” mugs — forget that the double wall feature makes the outside of the mug cool to the touch, a wonderful function for a coffee mug without a handle — they are just plain beautiful, with a matte cream color ceramic complemented by a copper bottom.

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Fellow is a small company of self-professed coffee nerds obsessed with the design of their coffee related products. Jim uses their Stagg kettle in matte black — described as a product to “intimidate your other kitchenware.”

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A set of scored cups from Middle Kingdom, a company focused on a “modern interpretation of traditional Chinese porcelain.”

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Examining these cups makes me imagine that the artist felt such pride of design that the base was created as a pedestal on which the cup is lofted to praise its form.

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Another favorite vessel is a Hairpin mug by Guten Co., a San Antonio company that makes their products by hand, professing on their website that they produce “simple products that work and last.”

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My hairpin mug was a Christmas present from my friend, Claire, who shares my fondness for a pop of orange!

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And moving to another material I love — enamel — my Boxcar mugs remind me of camping in the outdoors.

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A vessel of a different sort, a Reg Barber knock box, a gift from Jim, replaced our Grindenstein knock box. The Grindenstein is small, sleek, and functional to be sure, but one cannot argue that the handcrafted sapele wood knock box with a stainless steel insert far surpasses the Grindenstein in counter worthy design and capacity.

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Again, if you told me a few years ago that any of that former paragraph mattered at all, I would have again rolled my eyes and not believed a word of the claim.

Again, trust me, there is a certain satisfying feeling in starting the day with a solid whack to expel a puck of espresso grounds. Sounds crazy, I know, but there is a lift in your spirit from the thunk.

My espresso machine at the ranch sits in a bare corner of the kitchen, with no room for my coffee products without stretching across the counter.

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I needed a place to stash my coffee stuff.

I designed the kitchen with no upper cabinets — a look I love that fits my simple style,

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a look that highlights the limestone wall with German smear mortar — a method used throughout the ranch house complex and inspired by the historic German structures found in Comfort and across the Texas hill country,

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and a look that complements the other side of the single room floor plan of the main ranch house.

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Fewer cabinets mean storage is limited, which drives paring down kitchen gadgets to essentials only (my kids don’t understand not having a microwave at the ranch)… except when it comes to my coffee stuff.

An open shelf would be my design solution.

The thinking began.

I won’t recount all the options considered before my inclination to use natural materials sent me to the shed to sift through the woodpile of boards we milled from trees on the property.

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Among the pile was a short piece of wood with a natural live edge that if turned horizontal as a shelf the edge would slope downward, showcasing the outer shell of the once standing tree.

How perfect a find?

The board was the exact size needed for my space over the espresso machine.

In fact, it was so small I wondered why the mill didn’t discard it as scrap, and now it was about to be given a purpose.

Yes, I am thinking deeper about that sentence — celebrate the purpose among the scrap, again, in things, ideas, and people.

Having a fondness for floating shelves and not wanting to clutter the space between the espresso machine and the interest of the future shelf edge, I headed to a local metal shop to have a bracket made, the only expense of my little design project.

Three metal rods were welded to a length of steel flat bar, drilled with three screw holes, measured to hit at least one wall stud.

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Holes were drilled in the back of the wood corresponding to the metal rod locations.

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I’ll spare the details of the not-as-easy-as-planned hanging of the bracket,

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but once secured, the board was slipped onto the rods and the shelf was installed.

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With the clock rehung higher on the wall, my bare corner of the kitchen has a new look!

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William Morris, born in 1834, was an English textile designer, architect, novelist, poet, political thinker, and socialist activist, whose furniture, wallpaper and fabrics made him a celebrated contributor to the arts and crafts movement in early England.

Quotes from Morris speak to the beauty and purpose of objects.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”

“I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few…”

“Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”

Not knowing the dates of each quote, I put them in my own convenient order for making my point.

Transitioning from one quote to the next, my mind moves from valuing the beauty of things, to valuing the relationship with things, to realizing the purposes for which things can facilitate finding purpose.

In Comfort, TX, the Eighth Street Market is a new collection of vendors selling architectural and vintage antiques. Filled with finds and set in an old industrial building with a ceiling of repeated barrel vaults of riveted metal, design and detail is everywhere you turn.

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Among this community of dealers is a coffee shop, the Wander ’n’ Calf Espresso Bar and Bakery. The owners believe in “truly great coffee.”

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Our ranch house espresso machine has been used less often since the Wander ’n’ Calf opened, not just because they make excellent coffee, but because they offer a friendly welcome with a heartwarming story — if you look closer to discover their purpose.

Peel your eyes away from the shiny, sleek, sculptural espresso machine and the scrumptious baked goods,

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and find the simple piece of paper posted near the checkout to read their story.

A family on a journey with a special needs child, they opened a business where their child can have a sense of purpose while serving the community with exceptional coffee.

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Grind, dose, tap, tamp, pump, extract, knock, steam, stretch, froth, thump, swirl, pour, sip

—  savor,

things, ideas, and people.

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5 thoughts on “Savor: Things, Ideas, and People

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