Sunday, 25 August 2013

For Stephen King (1947 - ),

“Reading in bed can be heaven, assuming you can get just the right amount of light on the page and aren't prone to spilling your coffee or cognac on the sheets. ”
     -- On Writing

Most writers I know are either tea drinkers or coffee drinkers, and there's no space in between. They seem to either be the serene type, composing poetry under elm trees with a thermos of hibiscus tea next to their vintage messenger bag, or they're the wired type, punching out short stories on a well-beaten keyboard in the manner of an insomniac 1940s newspaper reporter. 

I'm definitely in the wired camp. That's not to say that I don't appreciate the calming effects of a nice milky cup of chamomile - I would just prefer to be jazzed than mellow. When I'm blissed out on fruity teas, nothing gets done. But when I'm caffeinated, stories get written, student work gets marked, the house gets cleaned, and I dance in stores like a white guy at a wedding to whatever is on the PA system. It's a whole lot of fun.

Also, you get to drink this. Image from the fabulous blog Espresso Porn.
Sidenote: I usually like to evaluate the level of fun to be found in a food or beverage by asking: how much would you NOT want to eat/drink this while pregnant? It's not a foolproof evaluative device, since most foods would be less safe to eat while pregnant (and also less fun) if you blended a cigarette into them for instance, or a pane of glass. But when it comes to caffeine and soft cheeses, the formula holds.

It seems that Stephen King agrees with me. Coffee strikes me as perfect vicey treat to enjoy in bed over a book, and a perfect way to get your own book written.* In his craft manual On Writing, King talks a lot about how writers should fuel themselves: his argument is, with a lot of reading, and without resorting to drugs and alcohol as proxies for inspiration. But coffee isn't a proxy, right? It might not be inspiration, but at least it helps with the perspiration part.

If I'm tapped of energy and can't think what to write next, a well-timed coffee break, perhaps aided by a small burst of something sugary, knocks me back into life. It's not the healthiest literary crutch, perhaps, but it does the trick. So today, I decided to wrap all my kickstarters into one delicious, crumbly package: espresso chocolate shortbread. And then once I'd blended some delicious ground coffee beans, chocolate and cocoa nibs for the shortbread, I thought: these would work brilliantly to flavour a coffee-based mocktail. And then I ate/drank those things. And then I came to my computer. And then I knocked out this whole blog post in about twenty jazzy, finger-flying minutes.

See? It works.

Well... I say that now. Talk to me in a few hours, and I'll probably be a blithering mess of exhaustion and regret. But caffeine is for writing, and the post-caffeine crash is for guilty pleasure TV watching.

With that in mind, I'm off to write the great Kiwi novel. See you in the Wipeout zone.

*Though presumably King, a recovering alcoholic, skips the cognac.

Espresso Chocolate Shortbread

200g butter, cold
1/2C sugar
1/2tsp salt
2C flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g dark chocolate
1 1/2 tbsp coffee beans
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa nibs


Cut the butter into small cubes and load into a giant bowl. (If you have a stand mixer, use that. If, like me, you only have a weakling hand beater, use it but guard yourself from the evil buttery spatter.) Add the sugar and salt and beat until combined - this may take a wee while to break down the cold cubes.

In a small food processor, blitz the chocolate, coffee beans, and cocoa nibs.* Add the fine powder to the the beaten butter, along with the vanilla and flour. Beat again until the mixture comes together in a rough ball.

Roll the dough out to approx 1/2cm thick. Cut out circles and place onto trays lined with baking paper. Refrigerate the loaded trays for at least 40 minutes to allow the mixture to get really cold, and prevent it from spreading in the oven. Preheat the oven to 160C towards the end of the chilling time.

Bake the shortbreads for 25 minutes or until they dry out and brown a little.

You could dip them in dark chocolate once they cool down, but I prefer to dunk mine hardcore-style into yet more coffee.

*If you want to make the accompanying mocktail, add a third over again to each amount, then reserve 1/4 of the resulting powder for the drinks.

Writer's Juice

Serves 2

20g dark chocolate
1/2 tbsp coffee beans
1/2 tbsp cocoa nibs
1 tbsp drinking chocolate
50ml cold coffee
30ml cream
50ml milk

4 ice cubes


Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with chocolate shavings and/or coffee beans. Serve immediately.


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