This last weekend we were in Austin for my cousin’s wedding. Being from Texas, I was excited to eat a lot of familiar foods that I haven’t had in a while. There were some great hits (deep-fried avocado from Trudy’s) and some really bad misses (sorry, Frank Restaurant). We ate a lot and traveled far so when it was time to return home and resume our normal schedules, exhaustion was the only thing on my mind. I happen to work for a global coffee shop chain. I’m up before dawn and at work before most people’s alarms go off. We got home from the airport on Monday night and I was back to work Tuesday morning. The only thing I was looking forward to yesterday was a latte. Ironically, I don’t like regular brewed coffee but I’ve been known to drink a cup in desperate times. Sitting in the emergency room with my grandma at 3am comes to mind. While the much needed kick of caffeine does the job, I don’t enjoy the taste. Since consuming anything should been enjoyable I tend to stay away from regular coffee when I want a caffeinated beverage. My drink of choice is a hot latte made with 2% milk (whole milk if I’m feeling naughty) with lots of yummy foam.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that my place of employment doesn’t always produce the best espresso shots. Even when the machine is calibrating the shots correctly and the beans are fresh, more often than not, the shots taste bitter. Bitter shots of espresso make for a very unpleasant latte. So yesterday, after setting up the cafe and making sure everybody else’s coffee was brewed I made myself a latte. Listening to the gentle hum of the milk being steamed and watching the golden stream of espresso fall into my mug made my toes curl in anticipation. I see people come in and out of the cafe everyday and I don’t think the majority of them see coffee as more than anything but fuel. They don’t take the time to savor their beverage like they should. Our quick coffee culture has prevented us from enjoying something that was once considered a social and relaxing ritual. But I digress…back to my latte.
I held my foamy concoction in my hands and went in for that first sip. It’s always the best. But wouldn’t you know it, the dang shots were bitter! Ugh. So disappointing. It really is a heartbreaking experience. The only establishment that has never broken my heart when it comes to lattes is Swork in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. I have never tasted a better latte in my life. I don’t know what kind of beans they use, what machine they use, or what voodoo magic the baristas use, but their lattes are what I compare all lattes to. The first time I sipped on that addictive beverage I was confused. It tasted like there was caramel swirling around in there but I was assured I hadn’t accidentally picked up someone’s caramel latte. In a perfect latte, the espresso shots should taste almost caramelly sweet and smooth and the milk should be steamed so that it produces a sacchariferous velvety foam. The people at Swork do this. God bless them.
Until I make a trip out west and, once again, hit up the good folks at Swork I’m trying to find the perfect latte here in Chicago. A few have come close but none have hit the mark. In fact, I had a really great latte in Austin this weekend…but their beans were from Handsome Roasters…in Los Angeles.
Tis the season for pumpkins. A few days ago my favorite columnist Mary Schimch wrote that pumpkins are taking over October. The link to her column is below. Mary points out that there are too many pumpkin-flavored treats inundating the market from lattes to donuts. That might be true but I don’t think it’s a big deal. I like pumpkin. Reading her column made me crave some pumpkin bread and fortunately, I had a can of pumpkin puree in the pantry. I didn’t get around to baking it until yesterday, however. Add a little flour, some sugar and eggs and before you know it the house is filled with the mouthwatering scent of cinnamon infused pumpkin goodness.
I make a pretty mean pumpkin bread, if I may say so. Is it the best I’ve ever had? No. Not even close. Where did I have the best pumpkin bread in the world, you ask? Surprisingly, it was at the restaurant that was once ranked as #7 in the world. For my 30th birthday my best friends took me to dinner at Alinea. ALINEA! I had been dreaming of eating at the groundbreaking restaurant since moving to Chicago and they generously granted me that opportunity as a surprise birthday present. Upon entering the dining room it was hard to ignore the giant pumpkins (my birthday is in October) which sat in the middle of each, otherwise, empty table. We were each given a glass of champagne and then the server swiftly lifted the pumpkin from the table to reveal two tiny cubes of pumpkin bread sitting on spoons. Not only did this amuse bouche set the stage for the theatricality of the three hour meal but also for the insane flavors which would dance merrily on our tastebuds. The damn thing melted in my mouth and hit me with the flavors of coconut, curry and everything good in the world. But more than anything, is was pumpkin bread. Plain and simple. With all of the unbelievably unique and innovative dishes I had that night the one that stuck with me the most was that tiny spoon of pumpkin bread. Sometimes things that remind us of home makes it taste that much better. As I sit here with my slice of homemade bread and cup of tea I am so thankful that I even have the chance to compare my lowly baked good with the delicacies of Alinea.
Last night I made a quesadilla. Due to leaving town at the end of the week, and some laziness, we haven’t gone grocery shopping. I was home alone for dinner and decided to use the few master ingredients left in the fridge to make myself a little treat. Containing absolutely no nutritional value and stuffing myself with sodium before bed, it probably wasn’t the best idea from a healthy diet perspective. But boy, oh boy, was it tasty. There is nothing quite so devilishly delicious as adding butter and cheese to a tortilla. I curled my legs up on the couch, covered them up with a blanket, grabbed the remote and ate my quesadilla in bliss. Crispy, golden tortilla glistening with melted butter and the warm, gooey, pillowy soft cheese (Monterrey Jack, thank you) joining forces to give you the most comforting of Mexican treats…what’s not to love?!
I do not like to order quesadillas at restaurants, however. Is it ever really as good as you can make it at home? Sure, they add fancy things like chicken or grilled steak. They might even throw in some roasted chiles or perhaps an onion. But A) I don’t think it’s worth it to spend money on a quesadilla at a dining establishment. With all of the other amazing dishes to be had (hello, queso fundido!) why waste your hard earned cash on a quesadilla? and B) these things really do taste better when made at home. You can add any amount of butter you want to the pan, you’re not limited to the few ingredients a restaurant is willing to add (although I am a cheese only purist) and you can even make that second or third one if you want because there are lots of tortillas in a package and nobody will judge you. I promise.
I used to make a lot of quesadillas when I lived in L.A. They’re cheap, yummy and make you bloated enough to feel like your stomach is actually full. But rather than getting giddy over a weekday night alone eating junk on the couch, it was too much of the norm back then to make me happy. I worked a lot of part-time jobs and I was up at 3:30am to get my days started which left me continually exhausted and, oddly enough, broke. I didn’t have much of a rockin’ social life in L.A. So I stayed in most nights and ate things like quesadillas …alone…on the couch…maybe with a bottle of 2 Buck Chuck (it was still $1.99 then). But now I find myself surrounded by loved ones and I’m almost always doing something worthwhile for others or myself. So when I get a lazy night alone now, I relish in it. That means stuffing my face with a quesadilla and smiling as I lick the dripping grease off my fingers.
Hello friends and family (since I’m sure you are the only people reading these first posts)! As most of you know, I love food. I love to cook it, eat it, talk about it, and think about it. I’m always excited to try a new restaurant or attempt a new recipe but sometimes it’s the simple things about food that I love the most. How the steam from a bowl of hot soup not only warms your face but somehow seeps into your soul and warms your heart, as well. That a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is so much more awesome after sitting in a lunch bag hours after it was made. Don’t even get me started on the chocolate infused milk leftover from a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
In this blog, I will take a single food moment from my day and let my mind run with it. What about this particular food or drink made me take pause and think on it? What does the taste remind me of? Is there a memory associated with this flavor? How has my life changed since then? I have so many of these moments throughout the day but I rarely take the time to stop and appreciate it. I hope that this blog will encourage you to have your own food moments each day and that you’ll appreciate your morning bagel in a whole new way.