July 30, 2011

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Crepes from the stovetop of my wife. No wonder I have trouble with my weight.

July 24, 2011

Blog Header - July 24, 2011

I took this picture at Camden Yards stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, when our family spent the day at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and cheered on the Baltimore Orioles. Camden Yards is a gorgeous stadium and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is unique and wonderful.

This was about five years ago, but our family remembers this day well. We hope we can do it again soon.

July 23, 2011



love espresso, but espresso is not all that easy to brew. The regular coffee machine/espresso makers do a terrible job of brewing espresso. The super expensive espresso makers require a specific grind in order to perfectly match the water pressure and temperature for the extraction of the coffee bean’s oils. Even my Bialetti Moka Pot (stovetop espresso maker) requires an exact grind and brew rate.

So... to help those who would like to brew good espresso at home, with thanks to Coffee Research, here is a guide to brewing espresso:


The best espresso should be extraordinarily sweet, have a potent aroma, and flavor similar to freshly ground coffee. The crema should be dark reddish-brown and smooth, yet thick. A perfect espresso should be enjoyable straight with no additives, yet bold enough to not disappear in milk. A pleasant and aromatic aftertaste should linger on the palate for several minutes after consumption.

The following steps describe in detail how to make espresso. You will also learn about the various factors and problems with espresso that limit its perfection. If any of these factors are off, you will not achieve a high quality espresso.

Making Perfect Espresso

Blending Espresso

Without a good espresso coffee blend you cannot have a good espresso. The best espresso coffee beans are blended to achieve the sweetness, aromatics, and smoothness desired in espresso. The espresso blend must also be fresh. We recommend using espresso within four days of roasting. Please see the espresso blending section for help on creating your own blends or order some excellent espresso blends from roasted coffee suppliers, such as Caffe D'arte or Espresso Vivace.

Roasting Espresso

Too often you will find espresso roasted very dark. This results in a bitter, charcoal tasting brew. People that know how to make an espresso will roast light to preserve the aroma and sugars. For more information, read the section about espresso roasting.

Grinding Espresso

The grind must be continuously monitored throughout the day to achieve an extraction time of 25-30 seconds. Do not change the pressure you tamp with to compensate for a grind that has become too large or small. For more information, read the section about espresso grinding.

Espresso Grinder

A high quality burr grinder is essential for espresso. A conical burr grinder is preferred to flat burrs since the particle size is more even, they last longer, and the coffee is not heated during the grinding process. If the burrs become hot the coffee aroma will be diminished. A conical/parallel hybrid blade is considered the best design by many coffee professionals.

Dosing Espresso

Coffee must be freshly ground to achieve peak flavors. Grind and dose on demand. When someone orders an espresso grind only what is necessary for one shot, dose properly, tamp, and brew. Discard any espresso grounds that are not used within 30 seconds. For more information, read the section about espresso grinding and dosing.

Distribution in Portafilter

Distribute the coffee evenly after dosing in the porta-filter before tamping.

Tamping Espresso

Tamp the coffee once very evenly with 5 lbs of pressure, then once with 30 lbs of pressure, and polish 720° with 20 lbs of pressure. For more information, read the section about espresso tamping.

Water mineral content

The water used for espresso must be filtered. Some cities must even compensate for the mineral content of their water. Over time oxygen will be forced out of the water in the espresso machine leading to off tasting water. Try filling a small glass with water, letting it cool, and tasting it for off flavors. If the water tastes strange you may want to dump the tanks daily and begin with fresh water.

Water temperature

The water temperature should be stable and somewhere between 92-96°C. Choosing the best espresso machine is very important to both water temperature and temperature stability.

Temperature stabilizing

A stable temperature helps ensure that you prepare excellent espresso. For more information about stabilizing the temperature of your espresso machine, read about espresso temperature stabilizing.

Water pressure for Espresso

The pressure of the water forced through the espresso should be between 9 and 10 atm. This pressure is responsible for the development of the crema.

Boiler pressure

The boiler pressure determines the amount of water to be incorporated in the steam. If your milk is not foaming correctly as described in the section on latte art, you may want to experiment with different boiler pressures. Boiler pressure, however, should only be altered by professionals. You can check your boiler pressure by looking at the boiler pressure gauge on the front of most espresso machines.

Extraction time

Extraction time to fill two 1-oz cups should be between 25-30 seconds. Despite the time the pump should be turned off if the espresso becomes slightly lighter in color. The goal is to have a dark red espresso take approximately 25-30 seconds to brew with no change in color. Fore more information, read the section on extracting espresso.

Porta-filter and basket

The porta-filter should always remain the same temperature as the water used to brew the espresso. Therefore it should always remain in the group head. The basket should hold 16-18 grams of coffee and must be straight walled. Curvatures in the basket will lead to uneven extraction.


Act quickly, but carefully. You should spend no longer than 30 seconds for the time it takes to dose, distribute, tamp, pre-heat, and brew the espresso.

Espresso machine cleanliness

Coffee machine cleaning is probably the biggest problem with espresso today. If the machine, basket, and porta-filter are not cleaned regularly, the espresso will always taste rancid.

Espresso grinder maintenance

Everyday the burr blades should be swept clean. Between shots you may want to brush out the excess espresso that gets stuck between the burrs and the dosing chamber. The burrs must be replaced at least yearly so that they continue to produce coffee granules with a maximal surface area.

Environmental Factors

The humidity and temperature will change throughout the day. Since coffee is hydroscopic (absorbs moisture), the grind size must be changed throughout the day to achieve a brew time of 25-30 seconds. The temperature will not affect the espresso like the humidity, but it is important to avoid exposing the coffee to any high temperatures until brewing.

Espresso cup

The espresso cup should be pre-heated from a source other than the espresso machine. Filling a cup with water from the espresso machine prior to brewing the espresso will lower the temperature of the water in the boiler and the espresso extraction will be uneven. The espresso cup should have thick walls and a narrow mouth to retain heat and aroma, respectively.

Practice makes perfect

If you want to learn to make espresso, it is essential to practice and experiment. The key to making espresso is to realize that it always has further potential. By changing any one of these factors you can improve or diminish its potential. Espresso preparation is an art that demands the precision and dedication of science. I have never achieved, nor have ever seen anyone make a perfect espresso. A perfect espresso is more of a concept than an actuality. The beauty is that espresso is volatile and difficult. If it were easy, we would develop a machine that knows how to make a perfect espresso every time. There are so many factors involved in espresso preparation that only a human mind and a passionate heart can begin to understand and control its complexity.

A Dream

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed–
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?

That holy dream- that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.

What though that light, thro' storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?

Edgar Allan Poe

July 19, 2011

When you own an old car

Our car has almost 200,000 miles on it. It’s almost as old as our son, and he will be graduating from high school next year. But it still runs relatively well, even though people laugh at us as we pass by. (At least I think they do.)

We’ll quite likely drive it until this happens to it:

July 08, 2011

Cross processed color


love Photoshop! This week is a vacation week for me and although I have spent quite a bit of time trying to keep work things under control, I’ve also been playing with some new Photoshop techniques and thought I’d post a few pictures.

The first technique I worked on this week is a digital version of cross processing. Cross processing was used extensively in advertisement photography during the film days. Negative film required processing in a specific set of chemicals to create the negative that would then be printed. Slide film required a different set of chemicals for processing. Processing slide film in negative film chemicals or processing negative film in slide film chemicals was known as “cross processing.” The technique produces images with intense and vivid colors and extreme contrast. Color labs providing this service had to be very careful with skin tones to keep them from turning green or blue when using this technique. The resultant pictures are amazing.

I took this photo at work during a planning session for a community involvement event.

This was the original photo (taken at the 2011 Front Royal Celtic Festival)
The cross processed version is below:

This next photo is from the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Front Royal, Virginia. I loved the picture prior to cross processing, but the cross processed version (below the original) is wonderful.

Prospect Hill Cemetery – taken this past November

Here’s the cross processed version

These next two photos involve a new technique I just tried today—adding lightning to a stormy scene. I don’t quite have the technique down just yet, but it’s still fun to look at the results.

Both of these photos were taken on legitimately stormy days, but there was no lightning and the clouds were not nearly as dark as they seem in these examples

July 04, 2011

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I took this photo of my son’s girlfriend a couple weekends ago. She’s wearing my Harley Davidson Motorcycles cowboy hat and looks far better in it than I do.

July 02, 2011

David Potter

My son loves Harry Potter. And he loves carving things out of sticks and tree limbs. So yesterday he found a relatively straight stick and as he waited to be picked up to go to the pool with some friends, he used my pocket knife to remove the bark. Instant wizard’s wand. Well, almost instant.

After he left for the pool, I smoothed the knots and sharp edges with sand paper. He couldn’t seem to put it down. Eventually he said he wanted to update his Facebook profile picture with a photo of him holding his new wand. So I pulled out my camera and took a picture of him holding the wand. I focused on the tip of the wand so he would be out of focus in the background. The picture looked kind of cool, but wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be.

So I opened it in Photoshop and applied the lumos spell to it. Now it’s quite cool!

July 01, 2011

Blog Header - July 2, 2011

This is our good friend, Stephanie as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She was absolutely amazing!

And the guy she’s talking to is our son.