Inventive Ideas and Potters for Peace

I take so much for granted. My family and friends are a given. My health and the well-being of those closest to me too. Being a good steward to the earth, well, I know I could do much better as well. I find myself lecturing to my kids about conserving energy and water more than other teenage situations, and for that I do not take for granted. My son loves to discuss ideas and inventions that could change the world. He’s probably thought up a hundred ideas and I love how it keeps him preoccupied and his mind active. I have no doubt that one day he’ll actually create something of importance, but at sixteen, he’s still got some time.

Some of the most inventive ideas are actually quite simple in materials and construction. Often they have the most impact on lives. Maybe not for you or me, but for those who don’t take anything for granted. One such item that I discovered today in my inbox comes from Rainwater Hog. I wrote about them last year when I did an article on collecting rainwater. Located in Marin County, their company manufactures a rainwater catchment system unlike any other. Their containers are flat, making them easy to discreetly place around your home. They are becoming a popular storage container option for emergency water supply situations as well. In today’s newsletter they wrote about a simple water filtration system that uses a terracotta-type pot that filters water, making it safe for drinking and cooking. It’s from Potters for Peace, a non-profit US-based company that travels around the globe teaching people how to make these ingenious terracotta pots. Because it’s a non-profit, there’s no patent. This way anyone can make the pot without worrying about the legal ramifications of duplicating someone else’s idea without permission. Most that require this life-saving filtration system would consider a legal battle the least of their troubles.

I take for granted the clean, pathogen-free water that flows through my taps and I commend those associated with the development and distribution of this life saving idea. One day maybe I’ll be writing and sharing my son’s ideas, but in the meantime, please check out this worthwhile project.

Coffee-Chocolate-Ginger Loaf Cake

Titling recipes is tricky. One would think that dominate ingredients should be included in a recipe title, but what if those ingredients don’t sound as appealing as a minor player in a recipe? Take the cake title above. The recipe’s got loads of coffee, enough molasses to attract or deter molasses lovers or haters, some chocolate, and a little bit of ginger. You might even call it a gingerbread cake, except that gingerbread doesn’t normally have coffee or chocolate. And let’s not forget that this is the age of the internet, when titles (and title tags) draw readers to your site. Even though the finished cake has a pronounced molasses flavor, rarely do you see the word molasses in a recipe title. Instead, it’s up to readers to assume that if the words ginger and cake are in the same title, molasses will be included in the recipe deck. If the recipe is accompanied by an image, the dark color of the food will also be a giveaway as well.

According to fellow SFPFS member, Dianne Jacob and her book, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction, and More… (Avalon. 2005) a recipe title should be descriptive, informative, and inviting. She advises that vague titles that could possibly include multiple ingredients, like the phrase “stone fruit”, distracting and misleading. Titles that read like a menu item can be too long. Considering your audience is also important, especially when using descriptors such as “quick” and “easy”.

Consumers don’t like to be deceived, but in the world of marketing and advertising, it’s done all the time. Whether it’s a recipe title that results in a recipe that has little to do with the title or a cookbook title that doesn’t quite deliver what it promises, we consumers are often tricked into investing our time and money on things that disappoint.

My good friend Anne recently let me borrow a cookbook she got as a gift. Goat Cheese by Maggie Foard (Gibbs-Smith. 2008) is a lovely book, filled with tempting recipes. Notice how I didn’t say recipes using goat cheese? The title would make you assume otherwise, but several recipes don’t use goat cheese and only suggest various goat cheeses served alongside. Not to discredit this seemingly well-thought-out book, but the title is a bit misleading. From a publishers perspective, I can see how a very broad title like “Goat Cheese” would appeal to a wide audience, or at least anyone who enjoys goat cheese, but I believe that there should have been a sub-title assigned, disclosing that the book also contains recipes that don’t use goat cheese and merely suggest it as a side.

This recipe for Coffee-Chocolate-Ginger Loaf Cake comes from Foard’s Goat Cheese cookbook. I’ve altered it slightly, using a loaf pan instead of muffin tin, removing the crystallized ginger and replacing it with ground ginger. I also added chocolate because it’s the only way I can entice my kids to give it a try. Foard recommends serving her version, Espresso Ginger Cakes with Chevre and Bodega Dairy Caramel, with a fresh chevre and bottled specialty caramel sauce. I suppose you could do the same with mine.

Next time I’m going to make something from the book and not alter it, making sure that it has goat cheese in the recipe deck.

Coffee-Chocolate-Ginger Loaf Cake

3/4 cup very strong coffee or espresso

1/3 cup dark unsulfered molasses

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease a loaf pan; set aside. Warm coffee and add molasses; stir to dissolve. Add baking soda, and stir while it bubbles up, continuing until it bubbles down; set aside to cool.

2. In a mixing bowl, add sugar, egg, and oil and beat well to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Add flour and coffee mixture to sugar and eggs, beating until well combined. Fold in chocolate chips and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool and serve with goat cheese, if desired.