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Back Buzz - December 27, 2016

pumping heartHowSt Cafe, 46 Howard Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

For quite some time I’ve noticed a cafe I hadn’t noticed before near the entrance of Sheffield Hallam University. It was just recently that I read an online coffee recommendation for HowSt Cafe, so I decided to stop in a couple of weeks ago. I used to occasionally have lunch in this exact spot back when it was Alfie + Bella, as it was the only place I knew of in central Sheffield that served pizza by the slice. But that was quite a few years ago. Alfie + Bella eventually became Clearly Food Kitchen and then Roast, and since February of this year it has been HowSt.

I ordered a double macchiato and took a seat downstairs at a little table near the window. My drink was served in an ample-sized cappuccino cup, but fortunately it was only half full, with the proper amount of everything required for a good double macchiato. There was a nice brown ring around the pure white foam in the dark patterned cup, and it made me think of a classy Christmas tree ornament. The coffee is Union from London, which is a blend from small-hold coffee farms including San Jeronimo Costa Rica, Gajah Mountain Sumatra, Cocagi Gashonga Rwanda, and Liberacion Guatemala. Although that seems like quite a combo I found my macchiato pleasant enough but that’s really all I can think of to say.

As I sipped my coffee I noticed a cage tower in the centre of the cafe containing huge bags of Union coffee, while over in the corner there were t-shirts for sale. There is a great view out the window of the public square in front of the university’s main entrance, from which diners and sippers can view any current student demonstrations or rah-rah events. This would have been a great view of the Herd of ElephantsSteel Elephant which perched proudly on the square during the summer months.

The food menu looks inviting enough, with breakfasts (including pancakes with maple syrup), upmarket sandwiches and toasties (including a cheese and Marmite option), and fries, and there is also a selection of main dishes. The coffee menu includes an espresso fizz, and they also serve wine, bottled beers, and cocktails. From my table I could see into the front part of the kitchen where a counter was piled high with loaves of fresh bread loaves, and the bread looked quite decent. I might just have to try a toastie one of these days.

Speaking of bread reminds me of a very short e-mail exchange from a few months ago with my Bay Area friend about a baking disaster I experienced:

On Sunday morning, after years of suffering inferior quality in Sheffield, I decided to make some of my own bagels. As I was finishing up making myself some corn tortillas (which I do fairly regularly), I poured the yeast into a bowl and added the 2 cups of warm water. It looked like a lot of water to me, but I checked the recipe several times, and it was correct. I had used this same exact recipe at least a dozen times back in California with perfect results. Then it came time to add the flour. First 2 cups of white flour, stir thoroughly, then 1 and a half cup of wheat flour. What this resulted in was sort of a soup. And then I was to add 2 more cups of white flour to make “a stiff dough”. But I still had soup: flour and water soup, with very little yeast smell. So I added another cup of flour. And then another cup. Still soup, a massive bowl of gloppy and alarmingly disgusting soup.

Appalled, I decided then and there that I was never ever going to bake anything ever again and that my local supermarket's yeast was completely useless, like many of their other products have proved to be. So I disposed of the huge bowl of gelatinous floury soup in one plastic bag, which was a very difficult struggle as there was a lot of it, it was very heavy, and the soup neither flowed nor responded well to spooning. Then I put the heavy gloppy bag into a larger thicker plastic tote bag; and I lifted it very carefully and put it into the bottom of the empty kitchen trash bin. After cleaning up the mess I’d made, which took some time. I retreated upstairs with the vacuum cleaner to accomplish something actually constructive.

About an hour later it suddenly occurred to me that the yeast might still work, especially in the warm environs of the closed bin. So I ventured into the kitchen and took a peek inside the bin. The gelatinous mess had doubled in size and now filled half the bin. Had I created a monster? Was this sort of household accident the inspiration for the film The Blob?

Later still it occurred to me that for some reason I'd used a British measuring cup for the water instead of my multi-scale American one I usually use, and the British cup is probably slightly larger than the American cup, based as it is on half an Imperial pint as opposed to a US pint. So I ventured back into the kitchen and found the measuring cup. After some close investigation of the worn-down markings I realised that instead of measuring out “2 cups” I had measured out “2 pints”. So I’d added more than twice as much water as the recipe called for.

For some reason this stupid mistake on my part elated me. It was all my fault, not the recipe’s, not the supermarket’s, not the world’s. I did a stupid thing! YAY!! I shall attempt to bake bagels again!

Yesterday morning I opened the kitchen trash bin to discover the bagel-dough blob was now taking up two-thirds of the bin. And today it seems slightly bigger. I wonder if it will ever stop... I love it! I see a cartoon of a doughy blob oozing out your doors and windows with you and Andrew floating out through the roof hatch.