Rituals Make a Home

Part of what makes a place feel like a home is the rituals you create.  For example, when I move into a new place, it isn’t until I’ve cooked there several times that I begin to feel like I belong in the space.  Along the same lines, it takes time to create routines and rituals around other things such as your morning or preparing for bed.

Most mornings, I wake up an hour or two before Tawn, even on weekdays.  This gives me some quiet time to check personal email, update my blog and read subscriptions, and scan the news headlines from around the world.  The soi is quiet and once the mosquitos have gone away, I open  the windows, turn on a fan if necessary, and enjoy the morning.

P1130745 Something I like about this morning ritual is that it gives me a chance to notice the weather here and how it really does change from day to day and season to season.  In the middle of the day, beneath the shining sun in a hazy sky, the weather seems monotonous. 

But in the mornings, I can see the difference.  Is the breeze still or does the wind blow?  Is the sky clear or overcast?  Can I feel a hint of coolness in the air or does yesterday’s heat still remain?

This morning, for example, we had something unusual: fog.  Not the usually smoggy haze but true, San Francicso style fog.  Tall buildings a block or two away were absent from my view and the top of the adjacent condominium tower was flirting with invisibility.

The only difference was that, unlike fog in Baghdad by the Bay which can chill you to the bone, the Big Mango’s fog is warm and still, muffling the city in its heavy embrace.

Driving to the airport this morning to meet Mario and John for breakfast – they transitted overnight at the airport hotel on their way to Vietnam from Chicago – we were amazed at how thick the fog was.  The expressway seemed to float in a cloud, nothing by the immediately adjacent trees visible to us as we sped east to Suvarnabhumi.

Part of my morning ritual is coffee.  Not so much the caffeine, but the process of preparing it.  On weekdays, I’ll go in and wake Tawn up about seven-thirty, opening the curtains and putting on a jazz CD or, if the day requires, something a bit more up-tempo.  Then, while he slowly ascends to consciousness, I go to the kitchen and turn on the espresso machine.

First, I prime the pump, running water through the steam wand and then through the brew head.  Next, I warm the cappuccino cups then grind and measure out the espresso beans.  While the steam pressure builds, I start a pan of oatmeal warming on the stove, choosing different dried fruits each day to add some variety to our breakfast.

The newspaper is usually slid under our front door by this point, so I bring it in, scanning the headlines: Have we had another coup or not?

P1130525 By this point the machine is ready for me to froth the milk, a feat that requires my meditative attention each day.  Some days, despite my best effort, I end up with a messy foam with huge bubbles – too much air for my liking.  Other days, though, I find my sweet spot and am able to steam the milk into a thick, velvety, meringue-like froth.

Carefully cleaning the steamed milk from the wand – once it dries on it is difficult to remove – I proceed to draw two one-ounce shots of espresso, counting the time to make sure that it takes between eight and ten seconds to pull the shot. 

When it is too quick or too slow, I make a mental note for the next day: grind the beans more finely, tamp the grounds a litle less.  Each day, a lesson to learn to help me improve the next day.

Finally, it all comes together: espresso, a pinch or sugar, steamed milk, a cap of foam, and a dash of cinnamon.  By now Tawn is out of bed and sitting on the sofa in the office, a blanket around his legs and reading the newspaper.  I bring in his coffee; another morning’s ritual is complete.