Space vs. Taste – What Makes a Coffee Shop?

Starbucks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The best cup of coffee I ever had was in a coffee shop on Lygon Street, in Melbourne, Australia. That cappuccino, rich, strong, and smooth, convinced me that Lygon, where the Italian cafés and restaurants were located, would become the perfect place to find a coffee shop in which I could both work and happily feed my caffeine addiction. So I started looking for the perfect place – somewhere with good coffee, tables big enough to hold my laptop and books, outlets, and maybe even an upstairs or back room where people sat and worked in silent solidarity. I wanted a blend of socializing and working, but in Australia, the cafés I found were not work-friendly. Most of the customers were engaged in conversation at the rickety, round tables with the capacity for a coffee cup or two, no one had a laptop (not to mention that there were absolutely no outlets), and the lighting inside was dim.

As the search for the perfect coffee shop on Lygon Street became an increasingly frantic journey, I found myself frequently ending a futile morning of searching at Starbucks. This was particularly frustrating, because not only was the coffee worse than at the cafés along Lygon – where every cappuccino I ordered had a heart drawn into the foam and the espresso was strong but not bitter–but the coffee was exponentially more expensive. Whereas I could get a delicious cup for around $2 anywhere else, at Starbucks I paid close to $6 for the exact same burnt and bitter coffee I could buy back in the States. But Starbucks had what I needed, an expansive upstairs area where students sat and studied, outlets for my laptop, and good lighting.

Oh! the irony of having found the most delicious coffee in the world but not served in the space that I needed. » Continue reading this post…

The Word Buffet Doesn’t Translate (a post by Josh)

What they don’t tell you – when you are boarding the plane to Italy – is that your kitchen may be smaller than your bathroom.

But they do tell you a whole bunch of things that sound amazing, almost too amazing to be real. Like markets every day. No pesticides on the produce. Simple but delicious food. Beautiful people. Ground-breaking art. Breath-taking cities. Cheap travel.

By this point in the schpeal, I started to not believe a word they were saying.

But let me tell you that it’s about 90% true. That other 10% is just for wiggle room. Italy became my haven. Before I left, I tried to prepare myself for some culture shock, writing a mini-recipe for an ideal day in my life:

1. Run
2. Cook something
3. Go to a market
4. Have a good conversation
5. Devour

If I followed these steps, I would have a great day, I thought. And, well, Italy was the perfect “baking dish,” if I’m trying to extend this metaphor. My day in Italy typically consisted of a run, a cappuccino, a walk to the market for fruit, veggies, and cheese, studio time, a nap, a walk to the grocery store in historic Florence, cooking in my makeshift kitchen for two hours and eating for three.

Or we’d go out to eat two times in one night – at 7:30 and 11pm.

The 7:30 meal was my favorite, called the apperitivo. It’s not a meal by most Italian’s standards, rather an entire two hours dedicated to whetting your appetite with drinks and a buffet. This meal is also not your typical tourist meal – no pictures on the menu or English options – but more of a time for locals to hang out. And they happened all over. I found my favorite two cafes that served apperitivos by the end of my time in Florence. » Continue reading this post…

Drink Me, Mr. Morning (a post by Josh)

Why do I think so much about the morning and breakfast? Maybe because it’s a fresh start to a day, a clean slate, or maybe it’s just because. Who knows.

Speaking about Breakfast, oh blog partner, I don’t think I could go a morning without at least thinking about coffee. That doesn’t mean I have to have coffee, I just think about it. If I’m at home, my morning routine almost always consists of washing my face, brushing my teeth, contemplating what I’m going to have or make for breakfast, emptying yesterday’s filter full of coffee grounds and either setting up for a new pot of coffee, thinking about setting up a new pot of coffee, or going to the local coffee shop. No matter what, I have two or three cups of coffee in the morning. If I’m in the backcountry, hiking around in the woods, when 8am rolls around I will always be hankering for some deep roasted, milky coffee.

I haven’t decided if this is what addiction is, but I still like to think of it as a choice. Coffee doesn’t quite control me yet, I still control my urges. I think.

In terms of coffee tasting, I guess I’m not quite all that grown up yet. I don’t think I could tell you if the taste starts out with a floral aroma followed by a tractor trailer smokiness and followed by honey roasted peanuts. I can tell you that I like dark roasts more than light. I like coffee houses more than Starbucks. I can also say that I always amble on over to the shade-grown organic coffee section of my grocery store. All of these things are important to me in a coffee. If it’s Magnolia Blend, Mocha-Java or Deep Disco, I’m usually into the taste of coffee. » Continue reading this post…

A(nother) Moveable Feast

Tacos with lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have been to the taco truck four times in the last seven days, and I just can’t seem to get enough. Set squat in the middle of the Citgo parking lot, the taco truck doesn’t look like much. Its whitewashed walls are stained with cooking smoke and the menu scrawled in magic marker is just barely legible. But out of that trailer, hitched to the back of a pickup truck, drift the most magical smells of lime, sizzling meat, and roasting jalapeños. One woman is responsible for all of this, simultaneously taking orders, assembling tacos, and pressing fresh corn tortillas as she whisks her way around the small insides of the truck.

Let me preface my enthusiastic endorsement of the taco truck by saying this. I do not like Mexican food. I will almost always pick somewhere else over the kind of Mexican restaurant where one dish is indistinguishable from another, where every plate is a variation on the theme of refried beans, rice, meat wrapped in tortilla and smothered in iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. If this what you like, don’t expect it from the taco truck.

There aren’t many options – eight types of tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and hamburgers – but even still, I’ve never known anyone to eat anything but the tacos. These are served simply, in a Styrofoam box lined with aluminum foil, garnished with queso and crema, and served with a roasted jalapeño, lime wedge, and salsa verde.

The menu (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m not sure if I can do justice to the fiery, flavorful taste of a taco truck taco. Although they’re so small you can finish one in three bites, those pungent bundles pack a big punch. The basis for each of the tacos is meat; there’s beef, chicken, chorizo, tongue, and barbeque, among a few other options that my extremely limited Spanish cannot decipher–pastor, campechanos, chicharron–and this is really the heart of the tacos. » Continue reading this post…

Remember the Radish

A bunch of radishes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have just one question. What happened to radishes?

You haven’t thought about radishes for years. They belong to the arsenal of easy vegetables to grow when you’re in fourth grade and learning about gardens and seeds and sex life of plants. After your science class munches those crunchy, rosy bundles, you forget about them completely until one day, you’re walking through the grocery store on a produce kick and wonder what a radish actually tastes like. You remember not being particularly fond of them back in fourth grade, but you have no idea why. Out of curiosity, you buy a bunch. And bam! They’re delicious! You can’t stop eating them! They’re crisp, with the consistency of a water chestnut, but a cleaner taste, and an almost peppery bite.

Ok, so maybe that’s very specifically my relationship to radishes, but I’m willing to guess it’s similar to other people’s as well. If radishes are so good, why are they so easily overlooked? The reason, sadly, could lie with their lack of versatility. Radishes are much better cold than cooked, and are quick to disregard since a bunch bought to chuck in a salad can’t later be made into a sauce or soup. They’re a pretty useless vegetable. They’re hard to cut, hard to use, and hard to remember.

And while radishes make great snacks on their own and are good for you to boot, with lots of folic acid, potassium, ascorbic acid, and vitamin B6, when it comes to recipes, options are limited. It looks like salad, salad, and more salad is the fate for almost all radishes. If the radish is lucky, it may end up in a relish or salsa, but mostly – it’s salad.

Sigh, said the radish.

Lovely radishes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The conclusion is sad – but not hopeless. Radishes are, after all, good as snacks and good in salads. » Continue reading this post…

Easy as Dressing Yourself. Or a Salad. Whichever. (a post by Josh): Salad Dressing

There are a few things that I think people need to make at home. Salad dressing is one of many. No more buying them at some store for too much money. It just seems like a waste to have the ingredients in your kitchen, and also a big jar of Ranch dressing (made of who knows what).

This banter is mainly from my countless dinner parties where someone would ask “is there dressing on the salad yet?” “yeah” “oh, what kind?” “I don’t know, I just made it” “OH! How! I don’t think I could do that.”

Yes, yes you can. And yes, those exclamation points are in there for a reason. It’s real simple, though, to make a salad dressing. I’m going off of a vinegrette (and not anything heavy), but here are the basic ingredients: » Continue reading this post…

Egg-in-Toast Grows Up: Egg-in-Toast

Egg-in-toast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Breakfast has never been a big ritual in my family. Cereal and milk, Pop Tarts, granola, leftovers from dinner the night before – anything went as long as it was fast and could be gobbled up before the bus drove by. Besides Christmas morning, the only time that breakfast was anything special was when my grandparents came to visit. Oatmeal is forever associated with my grandpa, though I know now that the creamy butter and brown sugar confection he served me was far from the ascetic, heart-healthy version he ate. When my grandma came, she’d almost always buy a pack of bacon and I’d eat far more than any child should eat in one sitting. But my favorite grandma specialty was one that goes by different names for different people, but which we always quite unassumingly called egg-in-toast.

Egg-in-toast is simple. It’s a piece of buttered bread with a hole ripped out of the center that gets browned in a skillet and serves as a holding pen for an over-easy egg cracked right in the middle. So simple, but so good.

I remember egg-in-toast being a given on weekends, when there was also time for bacon and sometimes oatmeal as well, but there’d be at least one school night where my grandma would say, “Don’t forget to wake up early tomorrow so I have time to make you an egg-in-toast.” And though I hated waking up early, egg-in-toast was always a good reason to get up.

Today, through a series of budding coincidences – some leftover freshly-made, organic bread, one lone egg in the carton dying to be eaten, cilantro on the brink of ruin – I realized I had everything I needed to make my own egg-in-toast for breakfast.

It felt strange to stand at the stove, ripping holes out of bread and cracking eggs into a hot skillet, because I’d only ever watched it happen. » Continue reading this post…

I’ll Take the Hamburger, Hold the Burger (a post by Lyz and Josh): Balsamic Portobello Mushrooms & Olive Tapenade Toasts

Olive tapenade (Eat me. Drink Me.)

Request! Request! We have a Request for a “vegetarian section with yummy recipes that don’t require a 100 different ingredients.” I think we can do that. Maybe 99 ingredients, but who’s counting?

For me, vegetarianism always seemed like something I should try out. I couldn’t tell you what it was that specifically tipped me over to the other side, but I can say that whenever anyone asked the “why?” question, my response followed:

“I don’t like the taste of meat. And I feel really lethargic after I eat any meat, and that’s not really what I want to feel after eating, you know?”

Both of which are still true today, but I’ve relaxed a bit as to my meat restrictions. Basically, now I don’t cook meat for myself but I’ll have it if someone offers me a meal with meat (see: first day on a farm in New Zealand, and the owner tells me that we’re having lamb that he just killed yesterday).

Partly I don’t cook meat for myself because I don’t enjoy it all that much, but mostly because I can’t cook it. See, I started cooking during my vegetarianism stint in roughly 11th grade. So, most of my repertoire is vegetarian based. Because of that, I used to focus mostly on side dishes, appetizers and some baked goods. I thought entrees consisting of only vegetables would be boring and not satisfying at all. But I had to branch out somehow – I would come home from waiting on tables at 11pm and have to cook myself something to eat. A bunch of side dishes only cut it for so long. So I would scrounge my fridge, throw some oil, garlic and salt in a pan and hop to. A few of these recipes stay as appetizers or side dishes, trying not to call too much attention to themselves, but some of them really started to shine. » Continue reading this post…

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