Taking a beer detour. I think this may have to do with just turning in a pile of beer writings, my brain and palate needs a reprieve from the topic - if only for a moment.
I like to make things in the kitchen and believe I'm a pretty good cook, with an ability to roast, grill, bake and generally make food that tastes good. About four years ago I began making my own beer at home, starting with the extract method (which I still do today when time's an issue) and then moving into all grain - then onto my own recipe development. Experimenting, after all, is more than half the fun in my kitchen. I have a lot of cookbooks, but I see them as more as a guide and an inspiration more than a directive (unless baking).
A few weeks back my wife and I started a new kitchen hobby: Roasting Coffee. The coffee roaster was a mutual gift to ourselves and we were amazed at how easy it was to roast really good coffee beans. We're still learning and when we get comfortable with the process we'll begin tinkering with different roasts (from light to dark). For now, however, let me just say that this is a hobby worth picking up if you like good coffee. We used to drink mochas, with some chocolate and milk added, but with our home roasted beans we've been thoroughly enjoying our coffee straight up.
Right now we're working through a Sumatran bean, Classic Mandheling. We roast this pretty dark, but not burnt like a Vienna or French roast, and the flavors are intense: earthy, nutty, floral, chocolate and even a bit fruity! And the body, wow! I never knew coffee could be so deep and complex - and no, my favorite coffee shop was not a Starbucks before we started this.
If you're looking at perhaps doing something different in 2008, this may be a good hobby to pick up (assuming, of course, that you're already making your own beer). The roaster isn't cheap, but there are options to make it affordable if you're handy (I am decidedly footy when it comes to mechanics - can barely replace batteries in my remote), the green beans are affordable and the time it takes to make a few days worth of great coffee is under 20 minutes, including clean up! With the advice of a friend, Dr. Death, we checked out Sweet Maria's for all our supplies and they've been more than helpful along the way. I think you'll agree the hobby is easy and highly rewarding.
As an aside, perhaps a post script, I have noticed that there are a whole slew of beer enthusiasts that seem OK with mainstream food and drink. I find that a bit odd, the notion that one is passionate and interested in the quality of their beer, but seemingly fine with industrial foods (American cheese, white bread, McDonalds and BK come to mind). With this in mind, I often wonder why. Why is it that the same person that argues the brewing capacity of a 'real' craft brewery doesn't seem all that interested in the other, admittedly larger parts of daily consumption? With my mind a bit on coffee now, I can recall a whole lot of friends that only buy better beer, wake up and brew Folders to go with their pop-tart or Eggo waffle. This thought is clearly incomplete, but is mine - figured I'd share.