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Coffee Club

Coffee Club

On ginger scones, super-strong coffee, and befriending teachers

For the first two years of high school, my faculty adviser was a sweet middle-aged woman who signed my forms and generally left me alone. For my junior and senior years, it was a spunky 23-year-old named CoJack.

CoJack’s real name was Courtney Jackson, but I dubbed her “CoJack” because “Ms. Jackson” was too formal, and I couldn’t quite make the leap to first name basis. Only five years my senior, she was far younger than most of the other faculty members at my school. She coached soccer, taught English, and had six advisees including myself, so she was extremely busy, but life at boarding school for a young faculty member is unavoidably lonely. The campus was isolated from any semblance of civilization—New England boarding schools pride themselves on remoteness. The longer it takes to get a pizza delivered, the better. Save for a few other teachers, CoJack didn’t have a lot of young people to hang out with. So naturally, she befriended students.

Fall semester of my junior year, CoJack started a coffee club. It was basically just me and my friends, plus a few guests each week. On Sunday mornings, we would arrive at her apartment at 9 o’clock and spend a few hours drinking coffee and chatting. She created a community around caffeine. We talked about all kinds of things—campus gossip, college applications, spring fling, and everything in between. Sometimes people brought games or treats, and sometimes CoJack baked, but there was always coffee.

Before you think, “A teacher had a group of kids over to her house every single weekend? Well, this sounds like the beginning of a creepy story,” let me stop you—it wasn’t the slightest bit creepy. That’s not to say there weren’t times when the line between adviser and friend was a bit blurrier than I would have liked. But when we strayed toward too-personal topics, I would simply steer us in a new direction. CoJack didn’t have a creepy bone in her body; she just hadn’t quite figured out whether she was a kid or an adult. But man, did she make a killer cup of joe.

If there is one thing CoJack loves, it’s coffee. To this day, the smell of fresh grounds transports me back to her cozy little apartment connected to the fourth floor of my dormitory. She still posts things on Facebook and tags me in them—the most recent said, “I like my coffee how I like my Death Stars: gigantic, on the dark side, and powerful enough to destroy a planet.” And she’s not kidding. One cup of CoJack’s coffee can spin you into an entire afternoon of jitters.

CoJack is not just a coffee connoisseur, but a food-lover in general. She taught a class about agrarian history and food politics that I took and loved, and she often brought delicious treats to our dorm meetings. Her baked goods were acclaimed campus-wide, and some special Sundays, she would wake up early and bake for coffee club. I would enter her apartment at 9 o’clock sharp and smell the sweet ginger and spicy cardamom of her famous scones, knowing I was about to gobble down way more than one. She got the recipe from her favorite coffee shop in her hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. I’ve made these scones a number of times, and they are always great—but never quite as good as they were on Sunday mornings at coffee club.

 CoJack’s Cardamom Ginger Scones

Adapted from Small World Coffee in Princeton, NJ

3 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced into quarter-inch pieces

¼ cup candied ginger, chopped

¾ cup sour cream

½ cup plus 4 tsp sugar

2 eggs

Heat oven to 350°. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and ground ginger in a large bowl. Add butter, and mash with a fork or fingers until butter bits are incorporated and no bigger than peas. Add ginger, sour cream, ½ cup sugar, and one egg. Mix until just combined, and scoop quarter-cup dollops of dough onto baking sheet.

Whisk egg and 4 teaspoons sugar, and brush each scone with the glaze. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 12 scones. Enjoy with extra-strong coffee and good company.