Category: coffee

The Healing Power of Chai

It’s official: we survived Hurricane Sandy! After sitting inside a one-bedroom apartment with my cat and significant other for something like 60 hours, I needed out. Laptop packed, raincoat donned, we trekked out for lunch and work to rejoin the land of the living.

Thanks to Dominion Power for keeping the lights on so that Busboys and Poets could make me a perfectly warm, frothy, cinnamon-y chai latte. Chai is my coffee alternative; it gives a light caffeine kick that’s more mellow than coffee and certainly more comforting.

Tomorrow it’s back to work, but today, perhaps I’ll try my hand at making my own chai. I like this post by Crunchy Betty on the art of homemade chai:

Crunchy Betty’s Favorite Chai Recipe

Makes 8 cups of chai concentrate (or 16 mugs of concentrate mixed with the “milk” agent of your choice).

  • 7 cinnamon sticks, broken into smallish pieces
  • 8-10 cardamom pods (roasted and crushed/cracked)
  • 10-13 whole cloves
  • One healthy-sized piece of ginger root (approximately the length of a key or 2 to 2-1/2 inches), cut into small nickel-sized pieces
  • 3/4 to 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 vanilla beans (slice down the middle and scrape the beans into the pot before adding the outer casing) **(this ingredient is not necessary, and sometimes hard to find inexpensively, but I love it to pieces)
  • 9 cups of cold water
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons fennel seed (or anise seed) (do not add until you’ve taken the pot off the heat)
  • 3 Tablespoons black tea
  • Honey or evaporated cane juice
  • Milk product (milk, cream, soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk)

Throw all of the above into a large pot and add the water. Place your pot on the stove and crank up the heat until you get a nice, calm boil going. Pop on a lid and let it do its thing for 30 minutes (shorter for weaker tea, longer for stronger). Taste the chai a few times while you’re brewing – just remember that you’ll be adding the dark tea and fennel in a bit. But get a feel for what this particular batch of chai really needs. Feel free to add whatever you’d like as it strikes you. And feel free, when you lift off the lid, to sink to the floor in ecstasy when the delicious smell hits your nose.

After your boiling time has come to an end, take the pot off the burner and add the fennel seeds and black tea. Let this steep for 5 minutes (again, say it with me “shorter for weaker tea, longer for stronger”).

You should have a nice heavy mix of spices and tea going on by this point, so get your muscles prepared for the only hard part. Strain your mix over a wire-mesh sieve or cheese cloth and into an appropriately-sized container. Sometimes I will strain twice (wire mesh first, cheesecloth second) if my mixture seems to have more remnants than it should.

After you’ve cleared out all of the ingredients and are left with just the liquid, add your sweetener to taste. For a pot this size, I will use a quarter cup of honey and a half cup of evaporated cane juice, but I like my chai as sweet as I like it spicy. Dissolve this well.

Now fill your glass half full (or to the height of however chai-ey you want it) with the concentrate and fill the rest with your desired milk product. Stir. Inhale. Drink.

Thanks, Betty!


DIY Tin Lantern Pinterest Fail

Thanks to Etsy and Pinterest, I’m starting to worry about hoarding items previously dubbed ‘trash.’ I hear a little voice in my head cry out, “No! Don’t toss the empty coffee tin or mason jar; you could craft that into something marvelous!”  This weekend, bored by volleyball, I decided to make a gift for a friend.

Here are the inspirational photos and instructions. All it takes is hammering holes into a piece of thin metal. How hard could it be? This lovely photo is the goal for my finished product:

The site called for a thick nail or two (which I didn’t have), clamps (which I also didn’t have), a tin coffee can and hammer, plus some other stuff I dubbed extraneous.

I drew my design on paper and taped it to the can, thinking that an intricate pattern of waves and stars and vines, plus my friend’s name would be perfect. I used a screw instead of a nail, which ended up cutting my thumb and forefinger, but what’s a homemade gift without a little sweat right?

Turns out, they really do mean that clamps would be useful – you might even say clamps on a sturdy table are an imperative for this project. But who has an extra shed and workbench in these times? Not to be deterred, I improvised – using my feet as vice-like clamps while sitting on the floor:

The process of hold screw-hammer it-hit finger- suck finger-readjust feet-crack neck-decide I don’t need THAT many holes-look for a better screw-try a tiny nail-return to screw-repeat – continued for oh, two hours. I was also sipping whiskey which may have contributed to the length of effort, but mostly I think it helped numb the finger pain and body cricks.

I pulled off the paper for a peek and realized: 1) not all the holes went through; 2) I needed more holes; 3) I should have painted the can before I started punching holes; and 4) damn, I wish I’d just bought a gift card instead. By this point I’d cut my forefinger on the screw threads and depressed myself by dropping in a candle and only seeing measly dots of light. I decided to keep going. I nabbed a bottle of black acrylic paint and dabbed it on the tin to hide the über shininess.

I re-wrapped and taped the paper around the dry tin, aligning it JUST SO. I punched old holes, added a few new ones, and realized that spelling out her name was pointless as it was illegible. About this time I realized that the can was getting bent out of shape so I tried to bang out some bumps from the inside of the can. Highly ineffectual. Whatever. I popped a candle inside to see the beauty revealed. I proudly present my coffee can lantern:

To the untrained eye, this appears to be a beat up, slightly rusted tin can pulled from a dumpster. Not so! It’s a labor of love! A gift from the heart! An upcycled, Eco-friendly home decoration!

Riiiight. Pinterest fail. Apparently those who have gone before recommend using a power drill, and/or freezing water in the cans so they don’t bend when hammered. Ah.

I’ve decided to give my friend the lantern…but I’ll also toss in a gift card and a bottle of wine. Sorry, Kelly! It’s the thought that counts sometimes.

5 Foods That Are Better in Arkansas

In keeping with tradition, I spent the 4th of July in Arkansas. It’s my favorite holiday, for reasons my sister articulates better than me: “My favorite holiday used to be Easter or Halloween based purely on accumulated sugar. Now-a-days I love that the 4th of July is a low stress holiday – people rarely freak out, just about chilling with friends and family, making some good food & drinks, and appreciating that while we may not have everything figured out as a country it sure averages out to better than most.

I’m not really a Southern southerner – which I define as knowing how to successfully make and enjoy fried chicken, okra, grits and gravy – but I’ve learned there are a few items that taste better in the south. In no particular order, and without judgment, I present my top 5 best Arkansas flavors:

1. Bud Light. I usually steer clear of this beer because come on, it doesn’t taste like anything and makes you pee like a racehorse. But I swear, it tastes like a cold slice of heaven when we’re out on the boat, in the yard, after running through the sprinkler, and sitting on the porch under the fan. The garage fridge is always packed with these aluminum cans. Even when we buy assorted (expensive) micro brews to sample, I still default to the easy drinking of Bud Light.

2. Egg Foo Yong. In all honesty, yesterday was the first time I’d tried this dish. And it ROCKED. Therefore, according to logic, egg foo yong tastes best in Arkansas. The brown sauce, the combination of crunchy scallions with chewy pieces of pork and chicken and shrimp, all enveloped in a fluffy egg fritta thingy. Mmmm.

3. Mashed Potatoes. Much like Red Lobster’s cheddar biscuits, mashed potatoes are better when you don’t know what goes into them. When I make ’em, I undersalt, skimp on sour cream, and leave out the cream cheese – all in the name of health.  You read that right: our ‘family recipe’ involves butter, milk, sour cream and cream cheese all blended in before serving, followed by extra butter on the plate. Glorious velvety mouthfeel of fluffy, moist, a little tang and a whooooole lotta good.

4. Cucumber Vinegar Salad. My mouth is literally watering as I type, just thinking about this dish. It’s fast, easy, cold and gets better with each day in the fridge. If you’re a salt ‘n vinegar chip lover, or prefer savory to sweet, this will blow your socks off. 5 of us ate an entire container in one sitting, and I may have poured some of the vinegar dressing over mashed potatoes too.

5. Coffee. Each morning, 4 adults went through about 12 cups of coffee – with maybe another 6 cups in the afternoon.  Will I get the “Great Dad” or Tinkerbell mug? Girl Scout cookie or unidentifiable creature mug? I’m sure the leisurely pace and sitting around the table yakking feeds into my fondness for Arkansas coffee, but there are two other secrets: cinnamon and Orange Seville. Every pot of coffee gets a dash of cinnamon, which makes it smell warm and spicy, and increases the bitterness. Also, they usually have Orange Seville flavored coffee. And sometimes we throw in a little Bailey’s Irish Cream. Did I mention we also had Mickey Mouse waffles and crispy bacon for breakfast yesterday?

Top 5 Coffee Flavors

You might be thinking this post is about my favorite beans, or style of roasting, or preferred manufacturers of organic and fair trade and shade-grown beans. Nope. This is my post about flavored coffee. I take my coffee black, but I’m not a coffee purist.  I like the taste of coffee, and there’s just sumpin’ about flavored beans that perks me up.

There is a deli near my office called Cafe Phillips. It’s overpriced, only accepts cash, and they hoard ketchup packets like it’s the dawn of the apocalypse. Nevertheless, their coffee rocks my socks. At $3.15 (bumped up from $2.85!) for a large, it’s an indulgence that I allow once a week or so. Today, in honor of trying a new flavored coffee and finding it pleasing, here is my top 5 list of Cafe Phillips flavored coffees:

1. German Chocolate Cake. For real. Coconut hints, chocolate scented, all warm and delicious. This specialty flavor only emerges on Thursdays.

2. Hazelnut. My preferred standby. They even make ice cubes out of hazelnut coffee so you can have an iced hazelnut coffee with hazelnut ice!

3. Chocolate Chip Cookie. I tried this for the first time today and it was pretty good. It wasn’t too much fake chocolate flavor, though I don’t know why they added “cookie” to the title.

4. Cinnamon. I was a doubter, but a colleague changed my mind on this one. It would rank higher on the list but is only seasonally available.

5. French Vanilla. This is the special Monday flavor. It’s fine, and better than plain, but it was a bit weak, not a complaint I normally have, nor an experience I’d like to repeat. 

Perhaps I’ll have to make my own flavored coffee. Oh the possibilities!

36 hours in Philly

I had the pleasure of spending last weekend with a dear friend in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. What did we do? Quite simply – we ate and talked. Talked and ate. Walked around, got pedicures, talked some more. A few dining recommendations next time you’re in that neck of the woods looking for some casual, friendly dining:

Dock Street Pub in West Philly

Dock Street Brewery & Pub: Fabulous pizza with just the right amount of squish to the crust that’s thin but not too crackery. We tried their vegetarian pizza with red sauce. I’m a bit of a marinara critic, but this one passed with flying colors. Turns out their pizzas are Zagat rated, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. I also tried a sampler of their brews, and my favorite ale was by far their Prisoner of Hell at 8.8% ABV. I had 2, or was it 3?

La Columbe Torrefaction: I love coffee. I need coffee. My friend prefers to start her day with water and tea, and holds the caffeine gods at bay. Fortunately we have the kind of relationship where I can say, “Kate, I will need to find coffee by 1pm. If not, things will get cranky – no good.” She suggested that en route to brunch I pick up a cup of joe at La Columbe. Not gonna lie, when I asked what my options were for a black coffee, they blinked and said, “For here or to go?” A bit disappointing with only one kind of coffee bean. But they’re in cahoots with Leonardo diCaprio, so they can’t be all bad.

Marathon mural

Marathon: Ha ha, no we didn’t run a marathon, the restaurant is named Marathon. The food politics of the place are all about buying local, building relationships with local farmers, and serving what’s in season. We enjoyed a late lunch/early supper of fresh salads with an amazing lemon dressing while looking at the (local) art. The food tasted like spring. This was a chalk wall mural in the restaurant.

Barbuzzo Mediterranean Kitchen & Bar. Of

barbuzzo’s ravioli

all the places we ate, this was the most luscious & decadent, mouth happiness-inducing spot. Do not be fooled into thinking this is low country cooking by the simple style and font of the menu. We feasted on sheep’s milk ricotta over grilled country bread, casarecce pasta with smoky mushrooms, a side of pan-seared brussel sprouts with pancetta and some other handmade pasta dish whose name escapes memory. Despite it being Saturday night, we were immediately seated at the kitchen counter to watch the staff in action. I admit that our pasta dishes were ordered based on watching them being cooked and served to others. Drool-inducing. Another reason to love this place? It’s one of 6 retail spots on 13th Street owned by Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran – two women committed to revitalizing the area.The only downside, as Kate phrased it the next morning, “I feel like a piece of salted pork. I’m parched!” The food was fantastic, but they were heavy on the butter and salt.

Morning Glory Diner.Despite the general rule about a bad website = a bad experience, diners should be exempted. I don’t need Flash player; I want want S’More waffles, frittatas

recipe for your own goat cheese-beet salad

the size of my head, banana-caramel stuffed French toast, 5 kinds of pork products and bottomless coffee. Ta da! I understand they regularly deviate from their menu, and we benefited, indulging in goat cheese & roasted beet salad; a creamy spinach-artichoke-asparagus-goat cheese egg scramble; and mint iced tea. They bake giant ‘muffins’ on a cookie sheet and slice them up into crumbly goodness. I appreciate that the clients were diverse too: a group of nuns, two older ladies with curlers in their hair and bright red lipstick, a pack of frat boys, several hipsters with more tattoos than clothes, a mom and son. It was casual, friendly, filling and the food was packed with flavor.

Vacation Free Time Spent

Pet pictures trump people pictures

As my holiday time off wraps up, I’m wondering…what did I do with myself for the past 10 days? Out of all of vacation time, my retrospective memory suggests the following time consumers:

  • 28% Sleep with intense dreams and much waking
  • 20% Talk with close friends and family into the wee hours
  • 19% Cook new, old, favorite and mostly successful recipes
  • 15% Eat absurd amounts of tasty, savory, artery-clogging, happiness inducing food
  • 12% Drink coffee, alcohol, water. Repeat. All day.
  • 10% Workout a few times, break a sweat
  • 8% Tweet and Text like a fiend
  • 7% Write like a junior high girl with a diary
  • 4% Play Words with Friends
  • 5% Exchange presents and watch people open and (at least pretend to) love them
  • 3% Watch 4 Harry Potter movies
  • 2% Take pictures of pets. Ignore people.
  • 2% Sleep on planes
  • .5% Work on improving my puns
  • .01 % Clean up cat vomit

One day left!