Why I spend $5 on Coffee

If I can't have you...I don't want nobody baby...

Okay, I’ll admit it. I spend a lot of money on coffee. An obscene amount. Almost every day. Sometimes twice a day. Sometimes twice in the same coffee place.

Financial advisors would admonish me. Self-help books write chapters about me.

But here’s the way I see it. I don’t smoke. I drink wine on occasion. Or, on a Tuesday afternoon in the presence of my children when technically it should be considered a medical coping remedy so it should be filed under my insurance. I’m working on that.

And, because I’m a freelancer, I spend a ton of time alone. So I think of coffee houses as my office and the people who work there as my extended family. And you’re supposed to spend money on family, right?  Coffee culture is also a great way to meet other people. To eavesdrop. To get fodder for articles. Or to simply feel connected.

They all have their unique vibes, too. Suburban coffee houses are filled with tennis moms, people having ‘meetings’ or businesspeople with spreadsheets. Lots of spreadsheets. Sometimes I play a game with myself and try and figure out where the people work before their meeting actually starts just by the look of their spreadsheets. You can often tell by what they’re wearing. Blue shirts with khaki pants: Home Depot or regional sales. Suits: lawyers. Chicos or Eileen Fisher ensembles: therapists. Then, there are the older guys who meet up for breakfast and talk politics. They’re usually in plaid or short sleeved button downs. Not attractive, those short sleeved button downs.

In-town coffee shops bring out the renegades. The artists. The people with nose rings. Photographers having meetings with clients. Producers making deals. Or hip urban moms who are a size 2 after giving birth yesterday. I have a hard time working at these places because even though the vibe is much more hip than in the ‘burbs and I feel cool by osmosis, it’s way too loud so I can’t concentrate. But every now and then when I need to change my office surroundings I head there.

I’m also very self-conscious about my coffee order. There’s a drink I like called the Salted Caramel Mocha at Starbucks. Have you tried it yet? It’s off the chain. But it’s way too sweet. And filled with calories. 42o to be exact. So, in my nicest voice, I ask them to cut the pumps in half and make it non-fat and leave off the whipped cream. Only thing is, I feel like a jerk when they call out my order:

“Grande, nonfat, 2.5 pump toffee, 2.5 pump mocha salted caramel latte with no-whip.”

So I hide. I actually go outside for a few minutes and return to find my lowly drink sitting on the counter where I can grab it without anyone seeing me and thinking that I’m “one of those drink orderers.” They’re so high maintenance. Right?

Anyway, I know I need to start saving money so I’ll try to start making more coffee a home. Not.

My two favorite coffee houses are The Coffee Bean in Los Angeles and The Cupping Room Cafe in New York City. Worth a try if you’re ever in one of those places. I highly recommend the ‘no sugar added vanilla latte’ from Coffee Bean and just a big phat cup ‘o joe at Cupping Room Cafe (full menu too!).

So what’s for dinner, you ask? Um, I have no clue. After all, it’s only 4 pm and we don’t start thinking about that in our family until at least 6 pm. So no menu for today. But I will leave you with something sinful that goes great with any coffee anywhere in the entire world. Hands down the best chocolate, chocolate chip cookies anywhere.

Not my recipe, so no credit for me. I’m just the messenger today. They’re from Dorie Greenspan, master baker.

DORIE GREENSPAN’S COCOA CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Dunk this in a half-caf no foam added vanilla latte and you'll have died and gone to heaven.
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (go for 1 1/4 teaspoons if you really like salt)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (I used mini semi-sweet chips)
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (I omitted)

Directions:

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  3. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda and keep close at hand.
  4. Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth.
  5. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well blended.
  6. Beat in the vanilla.
  7. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for 1 minute after each egg goes in.
  8. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated.  On low speed, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the chocolate and nuts.  (The dough can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen.  If you’d like, you can freeze rounded tablespoons of dough, ready for baking.  There’s no need to defrost before baking – just add another minute or two to the baking time.)
  9. Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.
  10. Bake the cookies – one sheet at a time and rotating the sheet at the midway point – for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are set around the edges; they may still be a little soft in the middle, and that’s just fine.  Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.
  11. Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Grow Up

 

I just read a really stupid article that touched a nerve. The topic: At what age should kids stop trick-or-treating?

The comments were actually more poignant than the article itself. Some parents recommended age twelve, the confirmation year. The year that kids are ‘supposed’ to transition into mini-adults. Others suggested the ritual cease at the same time parents disclose that there is…wait for it… no Santa Claus. What???

A few said age fifteen. Some stopped after high school. Some weened their kids off slowly while others quit cold turkey. I kept reading. Waiting for someone to back me up on my answer. Which nobody did.

NEVER.

Yep, I believe that kids should NEVER stop trick-or-treating. Take this silly little custom away from them and you strip them of an opportunity to have (hopefully) good, clean fun for as long as humanly possible. Dressing up. Walking outside. Getting candy. Seriously? I’m almost twice the age of…well, that’s not important. But according to this article, I’m clearly someone who should have stopped trick-or-treating a few decades ago. Instead, I’m downing a mini Snickers and looking online at costumes from Party City for myself. Here’s a coupon. Go ahead, get your own. Waste time much? That’s not the point.

Here’s the point. We spend our entire lives over-programming our kids. We push them to do homework and soccer and piano and drama club and math tutoring and other stuff that’s supposed to make them well-rounded but really just makes them anxious. And then we dare take away the one night when they can toss all of that stuff aside, dress up and eat candy?

Hell’s no!

Life’s too short. We grow up too fast. And then we impose that on our kids. So what would happen if instead of stopping the fun, we actually joined in on it? Dressed up and ate candy instead of dinner? Sat in the pumpkin patch like Linus and waited for The Great Pumpkin?

I've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin. -Linus

Maybe we’d realize that being a grown up ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe we’d forget our to-do lists for one night. Maybe we’d get the full sized candy bars. Maybe we’d get a rock. Who cares? It’s Halloween! And I’m trick-or-treating ’til I’m 80. Bring on the Krackel.

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients:

  • one pumpkin
  • olive oil
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • kosher salt
  • garlic salt

Directions:

  1. Hack that pumpkin open. Carve it up like you mean it.
  2. Take out the seeds.
  3. Wash and dry seeds.
  4. Put them in a bowl.
  5. Sprinkle with olive oil, couple of pinches kosher salt, couple sprinkles garlic salt, dash or two of Worcestershire sauce.
  6. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Offer as an appetizer with mini cocktails to the adults who chaperone their ‘never too old to trick-or-treat’ kids to your house!

Halloween Costumes at Wholesale Prices 365 Days a Year

Floundering on Dinner

Lately I’ve been floundering on my meals. Just can’t seem to make the right turkey chili in the crock pot. Tossing salads (literally) because I’m not satisfied with the outcome. Botching brownies. Making mediocre meatballs. I need some fresh ideas.

And once again it’s 5:53 pm and I’m left with my daily dilemma: what to make for dinner?

Now’s about the time when the kids start inching their way to the pantry looking for treats. How bad of a mom would I be if I let them eat Candy Corn for dinner? Bad, right? Even though it’s October? Do you think the orange has any Beta-carotene in it? A little?

Okay, fine, I won’t.

I do have some flounder in my freezer. I’ll soak it for a few minutes in cold water and hope it defrosts. Ironic isn’t it?

I’ll only post photos if it comes out okay. No, this is not an official post. I’m floundering on those, too.

Panko Encrusted Flounder

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 flounder fillets
  • 2 lemons
  • Panko crumbs
  • dried parsley
  • 1/4 stick butter
  • package frozen spinach
  • fresh garlic
  • Parmesan cheese
  • white wine
  • paprika
  • S&P

Directions:

  1. Mix up some Panko crumbs with S&P and dried parsley.
  2. Melt butter.
  3. Dip fish in butter, then dip into Panko crumb mixture.
  4. Saute spinach and garlic (one clove) in a little bit of butter for a few minutes.
  5. Spread spinach mixture on bottom of baking dish.
  6. Place breaded fish filets on top of spinach.
  7. Sprinkle with some Parmesan cheese, pour on a bit of white wine and top with paprika.
  8. Squeeze lemon juice over the top.
  9. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes to one hour or until fish is white and flaky.

If all else fails just serve the candy corns.

 

Best. Marinade. Ever.

It’s Monday. Which means there’s no time to do anything. So I’ll cut right to the chase. Marinate that chicken that’s still sitting in your fridge in this stuff and make kabobs. You’ll be everybody’s best friend.

No joke.

Kick Ass Kabobs

*I approximated this at about 1/2 cup for everything liquid…give or take a little.

  • package of boneless/skinless chicken
  • vegetable oil
  • soy sauce
  • juice of 1-2 lemons
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • red wine vinegar
  • few tablespoons dry mustard
  • pinch of S&P
  • fresh parsley
Directions:
  1. Mix up all ingredients.
  2. Wash and dry chicken.
  3. Cut chicken into chunks and marinate as long as you possibly can (anywhere from 1-12 hours).
  4. Grill on skewers with red onion, peppers, zucchini, squash or other vegetables…use shoe leather if you don’t have veggies. Just kidding.
  5. Serve over rice.
  6. FREAKING DELISH. TO DIE FOR. YOU’LL LAUGH, YOU’ll CRY. TRUST ME!

Some Follow-Up

As much as I’d like to say the birthday party went off without a hitch, well, there were a few snafus. Let’s just say that having your eight-year-old in charge of the main activity for 15 little girls was about as frustrating as putting together an IKEA Bjorkin desk with sixteen drawers and extra parts.

What was I thinking?

Here’s what I was thinking. My eight-year-old is organized. More so than me. She tells me when homework is due. She reminds me when I’m supposed to come in for mystery reader. So when she volunteered to put together the entire birthday party, I was ecstatic! She had a clipboard with the names of each little girl for check-in. She mocked up a sample craft board showing the various designs and choices of tape colors. And she even had bathroom breaks written into the schedule (I didn’t ask questions).

The only problem was that she was about ten steps ahead of everyone else in her execution of said duct tape project, myself included. And her directions were extremely confusing. While I was still pulling duct tape off of my jeans and trying to get it from sticking to the tablecloth and various party guests, she was already putting on the finishing pieces and cheering for ‘her table’ that they were already done, while my remedial table still had no idea what was going on.

Competitive little one, isn’t she?

Cut to two hours later and we were still working on the projects but now the parents were showing up, which didn’t exactly comply with the schedule. We hadn’t even eaten the pizza yet! The cake was sitting there! What about limbo? Dance party? Scavenger hunt?

All that extra time I thought I’d have didn’t exactly happen.

But I will say that despite my her competitive nature, the girls had a great time. And, despite the ridiculous cost of duct tape which put my party right on target with the average over the top keeping up with the Joneses venture, it was still more fun than a jumpy place.

So if in the future you ever need a PhD level duct tape project, give us a call. I have your girl.

What you need to know to follow Taila's instructions.

On a side but still related note, duct tape is also highly useful for cleaning up crumbs to zucchini bread, a recipe for which I got from another food blogger, The Witch’s Kitchen. I like it because it’s simple. And because it’s baked and involves measurements, I cannot and will not take any credit for it!

Who needs Bounty?

There’s nothing like waking up on a Sunday morning to the smell of freshly baked zucchini bread! Enjoy.

Zucchini Bread (courtesy of the Witch’s Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • sprinkle cinnamon
  • chocolate chips (optional)
Best part about this recipe:
Directions:
  1. Mix ingredients (in order). Bake at 350 for 50 minutes in greased loaf pans.

 

Birthday Party Jitters

One of these things is doing their own thing...

 

When your baby turns six you feel old. When your baby turns six and starts asking to wear deodorant you feel a little older. But when your baby tells you she doesn’t like frosting on her cupcakes, you wonder if she’s really yours.

This Sunday is my daughter’s birthday party. At her request, we’ll be having it at our house, old-school style, featuring duct tape as the main attraction. I’m thrilled to be avoiding the overpriced jumpy place and to resort to good old-fashioned fun in the backyard, pin the tail on the donkey, pinata, homemade cupcakes (one without frosting) and juice boxes. It better not rain.

When it’s all over, it’ll probably wind up being more expensive than the jumpy place.

I’m not exactly sure how the whole thing will be pulled off, but I’m leaving that up to my eight-year-old daughter who claims to be running the show.

It’s funny, when you plan activities for little kids you anticipate they’ll take a lot longer than they really do. What I’m projecting to be a half-hour craft project will likely last about four minutes long. I’ve got twenty minutes down for a scavenger hunt which will probably last about two. Seriously, how do teachers do this? I have such respect.

*A minor digression* You know those people who talk waaayyyy too loud in public places so you’ll purposely overhear them and think they’re smart? This is happening right at this very moment at the table next to me at my office Starbucks. No, I don’t care about why Mary Francis decided to speak up at yesterday’s staff meeting. I am not really interested in what Rachel said to her to make her so upset. I wasn’t there, I’m not on your ‘team,’ and the entire line at Starbucks wasn’t either. They don’t care about your “model,” your “protocol” nor your “account maintenance expertise.” Can’t you see I’m trying to work plan a birthday party here? Starbucks should really consider renting out closed-door offices for people like her. Man, that voice is shrill.

But back to the cupcakes. My daughter’s the only one who doesn’t like icing. So she’ll be having the boring one. I also worry she’ll be so overwhelmed by the gaggle of girls at my house and will wind up putting herself to sleep upstairs in her room mid-party, PJs and all. She’s been known to do this.

Why am I nervous? It’s a birthday party for crying out loud. But it’s stressing me out. Maybe it’s because the onus is on me to make it fun. And I’m competing with every else’s jumpy place party and over the top gymnastics blitz and relying heavily on my eight-year-old to organize the activities and make kitschy duct tape crafts that double as goody bags. Yeah, that’s probably why. Maybe I’ll serve some Bloody Marys to go with the cupcakes. That’ll help.

I’ll let you know how it goes. For now, I’m going to lick the beaters.

Buttercream Frosting (*Warning, this has measurements!)

  • 1 cup softened butter (do not use margarine)
  • 8 cups powdered sugar (if making chocolate frosting, use 4 cups powdered baking chocolate and 4 cups powdered sugar)
  • 1-2 splashes vanilla extract (or mint extract, or orange extract depending on desired flavor)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • food coloring
Directions:
  1. Mix all ingredients with a mixer, adding milk last.
  2. Divide into smaller bowls if using food coloring.
  3. Refrigerate after using.

 

PlatesAndNapkins.com Designer Party Supplies

Random Thoughts…

Some questions I’ve already been asked this week:

  1. “Mom, how come birds don’t get electrocuted when they sit on power lines?”
  2. “Mom, when can I use Teen Spirit so my underarms won’t smell?”
  3. “Mom, why does your car sometimes look like a homeless person’s?”
  4. “Mom, how come Quincy licks his privates?”
  5. “Mom, when can I shave?”

I’m slightly caught off guard by these questions, especially at 6 am. So I try to muster up some answers.

  1. Birds have special material on their feet like rubber. Yours don’t. So please don’t ever try to sit on a power line.
  2. When you’re 15.
  3. Homeless people don’t have cars. Can you try to be more sensitive? And btw, it’s your car, too.
  4. Because he can.
  5. See answer #2.

In my house, there’s no need for an alarm clock. Since having kids I’ve never had to use one! Each morning I’m greeted with my own personal morning show that’s so much more entertaining than any cheesy duo on the FM dial. If only I could prevent the morning show from showing up on the weekends, we’d be in business. But, once an early riser, always an early riser. So I’ll just keep my running list of questions by my bed and post the ones that are noteworthy, such as the ones you see above.The randomness of kids is what decorates our lives. So please post any doozies of your own on our FB Page. Oh, and thanks for all of the likes btw!

But on another random note, has anyone found really good rice ‘n beans lately? I’m having a hard time. Nothing seems authentic at the ‘oh so authentic’ Tex Mex chain restaurants ’round here. And being a huge fan of rice ‘n beans, it’s high time we get some good ones. So until then, I’ll just make my own.

Here’s a recipe that’s been tweaked and came out really good. So, tonight, it’s rice ‘n beans to go with our chicken burritos and random questions.

Random Rice ‘n Beans
Ingredients
  • 1 can black beans (not drained)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 package Goya Sazon
  • sprinkle Adobo seasoning
  • sprinkle Oregano
  • olive oil
  • yellow rice
  • guacamole (for topping)
Mommy, why does everything fall out of my burrito when I pick it up?

Directions:

  1. Saute onion, garlic, and pepper in some olive oil until soft.
  2. Add can of beans and seasoning.
  3. Bring to a boil and then saute for a few minutes.
  4. Serve over yellow rice with tacos or flour tortillas (see recipe link for chicken tacos above)
  5. Let grubby hands make their own burritos!

 

 

 

Two Alarm Chicken

Tornado siren or universal 'get me another beer' call?

Nothing will put a damper on your Labor Day BBQ more than a tornado siren. I’ve actually never heard one before yesterday. But there we were, double fisting tongs and drinks and minding our own business getting ready for our barbecue when it went off. Being the paranoid well-prepared person that I am, I immediately looked for the nearest spot to take shelter in my friends’ home. Always on guard…making sure the guests are safe. It’s always good to have me at a party for this reason alone. They didn’t have a basement so I assumed all 14 of us would head into the garage immediately.

Except there was one problem.

Nobody moved.

Not one person. The guys didn’t even come in from the grill, despite the fact that the TV was blinking RED, RED, RED meaning a tornado was CLOSE, CLOSE, CLOSE! My brother took the opportunity to grab some more dip. My husband asked me to bring him another beer and to try to find a TV station that didn’t have a split screen with weather eclipsing the US Open.

Once again, is it just me or aren’t people supposed to heed warnings? There were kids there for crying out loud — MINE — but they didn’t seem to be bothered either.

Instead, our gracious host was outside with his inverted umbrella making this:

Heck yeah, I'm making my beer can chicken in a tornado!

…as the siren was wailing.

Welcome to the South. A place where beer trumps weather. And a place where beer plus barbecue trumps pretty much anything, including (but not necessarily in this order) the elderly: young children: pets: scared moms.

Well the chicken was darn good, I’ll give them that. But the evacuation plan…not so much. Once again, we dodged a bullet. But you have to wonder, if the tornado really did hit, who would have been saved first…the women and children or the beer can chicken?

Beer Can Chicken Southern Style

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
  • 1 can beer
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • few sprinkles dried herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano)
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • kosher salt
  • paprika
Directions:
  1. Clean chicken and empty out cavity.
  2. Rub skin (inside and out) with salt, paprika, herbs and olive oil.
  3. Drink half of your beer if you’re a real Southerner. Or pour half of it out if you live somewhere else.
  4. Throw the rest of the stuff into the beer (squeezing lemon juice inside).
  5. Insert open beer can into the cavity of the chicken.
  6. Stand chicken up on the beer can on the grill.
  7. Cook for appx. 1 – 1.5 hours on medium or until juices run clear.
  8. Stand there in the pouring rain watching your beer can chicken cook while your guests get sucked into a twister.
  9. Enjoy your chicken because now there’s more for you.

Impressions of Irene

You call that rain?

You gotta love New Yorkers. They spend days preparing for the ‘storm of the century’ and emptying the shelves of Zabar’s in a matter of minutes only to be “disappointed” (and I quote) by Hurricane Irene.

Impress us. Show us the power. If you can’t make it make it there, you won’t make it anywhere.

God I miss New York City.

Like so many others fresh off the bus who attempt to defy the odds, even Hurricane Irene couldn’t make it in New York. All of the Monday morning quarterbacks are still out trying to figure out “what went wrong with the predictions.” But they’re just wasting their time. Because it just didn’t happen. Broadway isn’t calling. They weren’t impressed. Period. So move on to regional hurricanes, kay?

Despite this ‘catastrophic failure’ I was probably the only dummy person this side of the Mississippi who knowingly took my kid into harm’s way instead of fleeing it like the rest of the world. Because even though my mother my grandmother every single person related to me tried to stop me from traveling, I had a wedding in New York last weekend and gosh darnit, I wasn’t going to miss it! After pondering the notion of canceling our trip, I decided to employ George Bush’s strategy and ‘stay the course.’ Five hours later, my daughter and I reached our destination. We loaded up on waters, Milanos (what better way to weather a storm?) and went to our outdoor (yes, outdoor) wedding in the middle of the woods.

The winds started picking up right about the time we arrived. It was a little scary when it started to rain. It was a lot scary when the Wizard of Oz-like trees started to howl. Didn’t like it too much when the lights flickered either. Or when we ran out of Milanos. The wedding was great, by the way. Shoes, not so much.

But I had to laugh when I read the paper this morning on our 6 am flight. “New Yorkers Disappointed by Irene.” So typical.

So today’s blog is an apology to Irene herself. Even though I consider myself a full-fledged New Yorker (at heart), I’m here to say that I’m not jaded like the rest of them! Irene, I was very, very scared! I was impressed! I was hiding! I was glued to the television watching reporters yell (why do they do this when they have microphones – is it just for effect?) while standing in eight feet of water. I believed in you! And even though you didn’t destroy me, I absolutely, 100 percent thought you would.

On a serious note, I do feel lucky and am relieved that New York dodged a bullet (that seemingly Vermont did not). Yes, there is a tremendous amount of damage. Power remains out and people are stranded. And I hope those in need get help as quickly as possible.

But for the rest of the New Yorkers out there who remain ‘disappointed’ in another fledgling starlet trying to ‘make it,’ try not to be so judgmental next time.

Happy to be home. And happy to list some great places (all from New York, of course) where you can stock up on really good food for the next storm. Why step out in the rain when you can get it delivered?

Zabars – Chocolate Babka is the best.

Tavern on the Green  – Delicacies from the iconic Central Park restaurant are now available online!

Barney Greengrass – Fresh fish and best appetizing on the planet.

H & H Bagels – Piping hot bagels delivered anywhere in the country overnight. Seriously?

Magnolia Bakery and Cafe – Cupcakes to die for (not to be taken literally). But delivery only currently available in New York, Los Angeles, and…wait, wait, don’t tell me…Dubai. Okay.