Coffee tales

Tonx is a fantastic coffee bean subscription company. They recently included my mug story in the Mug Life section of their newsletter. You can read the appropriately abridged version via that link, but here’s the unabridged one I submitted in case you like too many words. (I have no idea why you would subscribe to this blog if you didn’t, haha.)

textured yellow mug

When my husband and I were mere lovebirds, we took a trip to the nearby quaint town of Port Townsend. It was our first early-couplehood weekend away, and I was positively giddy traveling with the guy I was proudest to call my boyfriend.

We wandered into a random kitchen shop and saw these two mugs and had to have them—his was orange with raised square texture, mine was yellow with raised dots. We bought them for each other, even though they were the exact same monetary value (something like $6.95). Somehow, the gesture of separate transactions was meaningful, you know? (I’m sure the shop clerk was rolling her eyes.)

I fully expected this mug to just make its way into the rotation of awkward or lame mugs in my cupboard, as most mugs do. But instead, perhaps in our giddy starry-eyed state, we each took our fancy new mugs to our respective workplaces. They became our Desk Mugs.

A week later, I quit my job. I transitioned into a new role at my first-ever “real” job in a major tech company, and that mug came with me. Hardcore developers of fancy enterprise software suites admired my mug in the corporate kitchens. My mug garnered jealousy at meetings. If I ever accidentally left it in the kitchen, people knew to bring it back to me.

My mug became a part of my professional identity. It has come with me to every job since then, earning compliments the whole while and holding twice as much coffee as those lame paper (or worse, Styrofoam) cups. It became the personal item of flair I chose to display at every desk I’ve sat at.

Now I work at home. That textured yellow mug is still on my desk every day. I even started decorating my home office with accents of the same shade of yellow, so it would always fit in. My seven-dollar mug reminds me of the love of my life, and of my own professional success and prowess. It even reminds me of how I turned my romantic success into a business helping singles find their own mug-exchange partners. I love that the people who compliment my mug now are my clients.


Here’s another coffee tale; this one is of woe.

I swept it up by hand and brewed with it anyway. And the grinder is the Baratza Encore, which I love. I mostly followed Marco Arment’s advice about grinders, but went cheaper. However, one Tweep said in response that her grinder requires all parts to be properly assembled in order to grind; that seems like a useful feature right about now. :)

I’ll be posting a longer ditty on my ideal coffee creation flow soon, in case you’re somehow not incredibly bored by that!

Green(ish) smoothies

I’ve been working from home since January, trying to make a go of my online dating consultation business full time. (PLEASE send my info to your single friends if you think they could use a hand! Referrals are my number one source of business.) Working from home has SO many wonderful advantages, but I thought one would be that it would make me eat healthier. Boy, was I wrong!

I’m normally a very hungry person, and between boredom, stress, and I guess just timing at work, I’m always acutely aware of when it’s lunchtime at a normal office job. Sometimes I’d have a big project or be engrossed in a deadline and I wouldn’t eat until an unhealthily late hour, or I’d stay late well past a smart dinner time. But for the most part, I ate regularly at normal intervals that didn’t make my metabolism crazy.

At home, I’m a menace. Grant and I are sharing our car and attempting to stave off the purchase of a second vehicle until we have kids someday. So I’m sometimes driving him to work or to the bus stop, grabbing a latte, mocha, or chai, and then not consuming anything else for breakfast. And then I don’t realize it’s Food O’Clock until about 3 PM, when I’m DYING and my entire metabolism is screaming at me and I need to lie down and can’t imagine getting back to work because my blood sugar is crashing so hard. (I exaggerate a little, but not much; I’m an idiot who forgets to eat.) I don’t think this is one of those healthy things where I lose weight; I think my body goes into starvation mode and starts conserving anything that touches my lips as fat. So it’s not like I devised a brilliant breakfast-free stratagem here! I need to eat.

More and more, the thing I wind up eating to chill myself out is one of these:

Mmm mmm purpley goodness!

 

Yeah, that’s a “green” smoothie. Only yesterday’s is more like brownish-purple because I included lots of blueberries. In fact, all this contains is filtered water, ice cubes, two lemons, half a bunch of Italian (flat) parsley, and about half a cup of blueberries.

Here’s today’s, which was a third a bunch of Italian parsley, a few (five?) big leaves of green kale, a large Braeburn apple, and two small lemons, plus ice cubes and filtered water:

Frothy goodness!

One of my tips for making more nutritional smoothes is that you should generally blend up as much of the fibrous parts of veggies as you can, in addition to the part you’d normally eat. So for kale and parlsey, this means you don’t discard the stems (though you can trim the very end bits off if they’re scuzzy). And for lemons, you cut them like this:

IMG_3940

Actually, you can be even less aggressive than I was. I just accidentally cut through to the pulpy part, but an ideally butchered lemon would be opaque pale white with all zest removed but no juicy bits poking through if you know what I mean. I first learned of green smoothies from Green for Life by my mom’s pal Victoria Boutenko. Victoria posited that you could even eat leafy parts like carrot tops and other veggie greens that usually get discarded in our country. I’ve tried it but never with a proper blender, which makes a HUGE difference; so I can’t attest to the carrot top thing (nor the Carrot Top thing, if we’re honest) but I bet it’d be lovely.

Here are my prep tips for an awesome green smoothie that won’t gross you out:

  • Include ice cubes. Both in the blend and in the glass you drink from. I find that green smoothies are WAY less ick-inducing when they’re really cold! I also often use some frozen berries both for fiber and flavor, and they have the side benefit of chilling things down a bit.
  • Use a Vitamix. You just have to. You’ll never get truly smooth-ish smoothies with a regular blender. See if you can find a used one on Craigslist or at a yard sale; my mom did this for me and saved hundreds!
  • Add more water than you think you need. You may want to make your smoothie more concentrated, but more water makes it blend more easily and heck, it keeps you hydrated!
  • Don’t use powders/boosts/etc. Just don’t. There’s a place for that crap, but in my opinion it’s not in a smoothie like this. The ingredients in what I’m describing are so pure and healthy that they shouldn’t need a helping hand from some chalky powder that’s just going to diminish your final product.
  • Start on Low, wait until all the bulky bits have been grabbed and are starting to spin in the slushy form, and then kick it up to high. If you need to, use the blending stick to poke your produce through the hole in the lid (I KNOW; that’s what she said). Poke as much as necessary, but be careful because liquid can spew out around the poking stick once everything is blending properly. I don’t even want to hear the jokes that might come from this.
  • Consume rapidly, ideally within a couple hours. They get gross if you leave them, even refrigerated. And they start to taste really different and not in a good way.
  • Stir before you sip! I like to use these metal spoon straws, which are also excellent for many a melty dessert. (I definitely don’t just eat kale, after all!)
  • Rinse your equipment right after. Even our badass dishwasher can have trouble getting dried smoothie-blend-bits from the inside of our glasses, blender carafe, and reusable straws if I don’t stay on top of the rinsing. Which just looks super gross to the next person who uses that item. So be diligent!

I’ve been doing much better home-food-wise ever since I got back on the green smoothie train. I know they look scary, but I urge you to give them a try! Heck, come over and I’ll make you one. :)

Tweaked rich banana bread

I made this banana bread, also to rave reviews from Cassie and Brigittie in particular. I admit it turned out very nicely and super moist. No pics fanciness, but here were my deviations from the recipe, for posterity:

  • I doubled it, so quantities adjusted accordingly.
  • I added enough molasses so that it was like using dark brown sugar.
  • I used two big bananas and two tiny ones which I think are a sweeter species.
  • No walnuts, a tad more vanilla than called for, and my usual pinch of xanthan gum with the dry ingredients.
  • Added about 1.5 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.
  • Didn’t quite have enough sour cream, so I supplemented with about 1/3 cup leftover cognac-spiked vanilla-bean-infused sugar-sweetened whipped cream from Thanksgiving. Shut up; it worked great.
  • I wound up needing to bake mine for at least 10 min. longer than she called for.
  • If I did it over I might experiment with cutting back on the sugar. Didn’t seem like it truly needed it all, esp. with the richness of flavor that my other additions contributed. (No offense, dear anonymous Internet Janet! Your recipe was a badass base for my compulsive experimentation.)

Experimentations with iced coffee

I’d been hearing about “toddies” and “cold-brewed coffee” for some time, so I figured I’d give it a whirl. Word had it that cold-brewing produced a more flavorful blend with less acid, which would be perfect for me since coffee acid definitely upsets my stomach. (Also helpful that our hot-brewing coffee maker died a week after we received it as a wedding gift, so we exchanged it for a Bodum pitcher that better lends itself to cold.) I Googled around and settled on a 24-hour room-temp brew choice, thanks to smitten kitchen and America’s Test Kitchen.

Well, this morning I got to crack into my new brew, and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. It’s definitely true that you taste the beans more than the roasting process, which is nice I guess (roasting flavor = yum!), but there’s still a pungently acidic note to my coffee. I actually think it’s a symptom of the beans — my beans are a weird blend of Victor’s and Zoka house decafs, and I’ve noticed an overly acidic note to them when brewed via heat methods, too. Perhaps I’ll give this iced coffee thing another whirl with a different decaf someday. (WHY can’t they make decafs as snobbishly well-curated as regular beans?)

For now, it’s a reasonably nice pick-me-up, especially if you add cream and maple syrup like I do! Using cream instead of milk means the maple doesn’t curdle the dairy, and maple syrup adds a lovely depth of flavor that’s yummier than agave or other low-cal sweeteners, but lower on the glycemic index than sugar. Try maple syrup in a plan latte sometime, too — it’s amazing!

Brunch for TEN!?

My lovely friend Jen emailed me the following question today:

If Ginnie was serving brunch for 10 this Sunday, what would she make? :)

And being me, I over-replied. But I realized this might be a heck of a useful post!

For TEN!? What have you gotten yourself roped into?

1) Meat: I’d do ham steak/s instead of bacon or sausage because it’s easier to cook (just sear in pan & voilà) and doesn’t make the house stink like meat for vegetarians. Make ’em look fancy by doing grill marks if you have the requisite apparatus and time and sanity. I don’t like putting much of any kind of sauce or glaze on ham, but something orangey would be nice if you felt like dressing them up. Another plus is that since ham is pre-cooked/cured, you’re not likely to accidentally undercook meat or give anybody a food-borne illness.

2) Sweet: I’d make the Blueberry Pecan French toast recipe from Epicurious since you can prep most of it the night before. Throw in a bit of cinnamon too and use real vanilla bean if you can. Also make sure you use full fat milk or even half and half — nobody eats French toast to be healthy & it’ll taste better. :) I like making it with strawberries instead of blueberries too, but definitely shell out for fresh fruit, not frozen. You could probably sauté apple or banana if berries are too scarce. Use Grade B maple syrup for maple-ier flavor — Trader Joe’s has good prices. You could whip up some cream for a festive addition to this.

3) Egg: Then you can do a big easy vegetable omelet (arugula & fancy mushrooms like oyster or chanterelle?) or scramble, and fancy it up with drizzlings of truffle oil — but keep that part optional on the side if you have kids or other picky eaters to feed. Maybe truffle half of it and stick a little shroom on top to distinguish the truffled half. Go very easy w/ that stuff!

4) Drink: Do a big pitcher of mimosa on ice; more people like those than Bloody Marys or other AM cocktails, and people can always wander into your kitchen to tweak the ratio. (Maybe leave out some decent brandy on the counter if they feel like spiking their version.) Cristalino cava is usually $7-9 per bottle and works great; the normal kind is best but Extra Brut works too. Don’t get the pink. Fresh squeeze the oranges and have extra pre-squeezed from the night before so the fun keeps flowing. I like to use blood oranges if available for a fun look — but don’t fret over orange selection because the reddish peel coloration rarely corresponds to the color of the flesh. Just grab & go and know that any oranges will be delish. :) If you have an opaque pitcher use that instead of clear, because the pulp residue makes clear pitchers look unnecessarily dirty/icky after just one pour.

GOOD LUCK!!! Oh, and this may also be of service.

Banana nut bread

I made my first-ever banana bread this weekend, since we had two squishy-soft fruits that my terrible no good very bad husband failed to eat in their prime. I loosely based it off this recipe, which had completely insane faults like directions that didn’t match the ingredients (with a note that said so) but I managed to improvise and it came out just fine. It also helped use up the sour cream from Thanksgiving — more leftover success!

I also divided up the batter so it wound up approximately 2/3 muffins and 1/3 loaf, because the only loaf pan I had was a teeny tiny toy-ish one from three toaster ovens ago. (Aluminum, too, but oh well.) They worked out quite nicely in both formats, but it was a useful reminder to me to always check the oven before the professed cook time is up — the muffins took less than half the time of the loaf.

I’m trying to learn a bit more about the chemistry of baking, so that my substitution guesses will produce better results. I *think* I’ve figured out that this recipe called for only baking soda but still rose because the sour cream was an acidic agent. We’ll go with that for now, anyway!

The Georgian for brunch — perfect eggs

Grant and I recently subscribed to Seattle Metropolitan, just in time for the “Hot Breakfast Spots” issue. While I was frustrated that a bunch of things were reported wrong (like hours of operation and menu items), we were still thrilled to have a good breakfast/brunch guide, since it’s our favorite going-out meal.

We decided to give The Georgian at The Fairmont Olympic Hotel a whirl, since it was caucus day and it was right around the corner. Figuring it’d be swamped with other people who had the same idea, we called ahead to make a reservation. There were all of three tables in the giant English tearoom-styled dining hall, so I guess everyone else caucused hungry? Their loss!

I expected the Georgian to be a bit stuffy and awkward, given that it’s a snooty hotel whose restaurant is usually frequented by top-dollar execs on business travel. But while the atmosphere was a bit stiff, the food more than made up for it — they had a very natural and local menu with lots of organic items, and there were several interesting combos like a lobster chipotle Benedict and some killer omelet additions.

Over Medium, as it should be.But what really wooed me were the eggs. I ordered them “over medium”, which usually means “still totally runny yolks” at most joints. But the Georgian hit the PERFECT balance of egg yolks that are neither runny nor hard and opaque. Plus, I ordered the breakfast flat-iron steak medium rare, and it wasn’t totally cooked to a brown unrecognizable jerky like most breakfast steaks tend to be.

And lastly, the treat. I usually have to avoid sweeter breakfast delights like French toast and waffles, because the carb-tastic options do a number on my blood sugar. Opting for protein-rich selections is the only way I can guarantee the meal will last me more than an hour, sustenance-wise. So I was thrilled, after ordering my steak-eggs-and-hash-browns combo, to spot a little white pot of something baked. It turned out to be a tiny spiced pumpkin bread type coffee cake — just enough sweet treat to let me know I didn’t have to miss out on the fun, without screwing up my protein-heavy intentions.

All in all, this was one of the best brunches I’ve had in a long time. And we go out to brunch a LOT, and we’ve been checking out more and more spots since Seattle Met tipped us off to our options. Best of all, there didn’t seem to be a single error in the magazine’s reporting on this spot — there was a fresh-made juice of the day, there was a great selection, and there were no major surprises or disappointments when it came to hours of operation or menu offerings. And the eggs “over medium” really were over medium. I couldn’t ask for more!

Sam I am

I actually had Green Eggs and Ham for breakfast today.  It was delicious (they were delicious?).  Good stuff.  And the eggs had cilantro and poblano chiles and tomatos, and it was a flavor combo that reminded me of Mexico, in a good way – which was wonderful, because I feel sort of oddly guilty that I don’t have more positive memories of Mexico; like perhaps I owed the country more than I gave it or something – anyway, things that give me happy Mexico memories make me particularly pleased, because I guess the good stood out that much more profoundly because it was against such a bleary backdrop for me.  In summary: yum.