The Cookbook Quarantine

Once upon a time in a kitchen far, far away there was a massive pile of cookbooks. My first cookbooks were wedding shower gifts. And then the collecting began. Birthday cakes, veggies, soups, pasta…from fundraisers and girl scouts and contests. I had everything from the Costco cookbook to ones that came with every major appliance, including the Coleman camp stove. If I needed to whip up some chicken fried venison steaks in the wilderness, I was ready.

One year, I watched an entire winter Olympics while putting my free-floating recipes into a three ring binder, gluing or stapling or enveloping them. I thought about using baseball card pocket pages but it was pricey. I just didn’t want to see them fall behind the fridge, never to be seen again.

You know…in case I wanted to make one.

I subscribed to Taste of Home Magazine. They have gorgeous color photos and easy recipes with normal ingredients. I kept them in the magazines. And then I had to keep all the magazines.

When they piled up beside the binder and the cookbooks, it dawned on me.

I was overwhelmed with recipes and good intentions.

Mine is a family that would cheerfully live on spaghetti seven nights a week. Usually introducing a new menu item was a recipe for rebellion.

I had to deal with my demons: no more incoming recipes! Take what you have and use them or lose them!

I found myself sneaking photos of recipes in magazines at the dentist office with my cell phone.

“Genius!” thought the demons.

Until you have your phone in the kitchen, trying to read it while spewing batter all over.

Not gonna happen. Not for what I just paid for my phone.

Here’s the catch: I HAVE to have a recipe in front of me when I cook. I may have made this exact same cornbread from scratch for the last 20 years. I may not even want to follow this recipe. But it’s my personal safety net, my security blanket in the kitchen.

Because when I get cocky and just start throwing things in the bowl, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’d think after a serious amount of cooking for a large family, it wouldn’t be. But just as Anne of Green Gables discovered, cooking requires that you keep your wits about you.

“There’s so little scope for the imagination, you just have to go by the rules.”

All it takes is a phone ringing or a bird flying by or maybe thinking about the color I want to paint the wall, and boom. I leave the sugar out of the pumpkin pies. Oh sure, they bake up lovely, smell divine, and the cute little pastry cut-out stars show off nicely. Take a bite. I dare you.

Squash. Pumpkin is a squash.

And now you know it.

Each cookbook only contained one to five recipes that I had actually made and only one or two that we liked enough to repeat. Some cookbooks were purely ornamental. And as most of the recipes I held onto were, let’s admit it even though it hurts, wishful thinking, I did a drastic thing.

I banished every single one to the garage in a box.

When I really needed one, I pulled it out, wrote it onto an index card, and returned the book to the box. I have a small bound set of index cards now with only the family recipes that we love and repeat. Every time hubby brings home an odd item from the grocery (“But they were on sale!”) I can go to the internet and find ten ways to cook it.

The cookbooks were sent to the resale shop. I feel about 50 pounds lighter.

Best diet ever.

Canadian Winter Wonderland, by Hannah

Winter in Canada you ask? Isn’t it winter all year, way up north past the solid line on a map?

Well let me tell you a little bit about where I live. I live close to a town called Orillia, Ontario, Canada. It is a beautiful place in the country and we love it!

Our property has about two acres of lawn, so on November 14th, 2013 I mowed the lawn for the last time (in a t-shirt cause it was so unusually warm), cleaning it up so when spring comes there isn’t a lot of long, dead grass.

The following weekend we got about four inches of snow, the beginning of our winter wonderland which didn’t leave until after Easter.

It was so cold the car wouldn’t start cause the gas was frozen and when you sat on the seat it felt like a block of concrete instead of foam and when you breath in your nostrils stick together. We had a way above average amount of snowfall, approximately 120 inches, with temperatures averaging around 5F. The kind of winter that when it actually warms up and hits the freezing mark, you go outside in just a sweater cause it’s so warm.

Everyone is saying how this is just like it was when we were growing up.

With six months of weather like that, one has to find things to do so you don’t go insane and start banging your head against the walls you’ve been staring at. There are all kinds of winter sports, skiing (downhill or cross country), sledding, snowshoeing, skating, and building snow men and snow forts.

This year we decided to take on snow shoeing!  We bought a couple of pairs and figured out how to get these huge metal and plastic frames strapped to our winter boots. You have to bend over to buckle them, which isn’t the easiest when you are wearing two pairs of pants and snow pants, two sweaters and a winter, down filled jacket, ear muffs, scarf and two pairs of gloves!  You already can’t feel your toes cause you have at least two pairs of socks on and the circulation is poor once you’ve tied your boot laces tight enough so you don’t have to bend down in half an hour to tie them up again after they’ve managed to wiggle themselves undone!

All the while you are getting ready to go out you have to convince your brain you really don’t have to use the washroom again cause you were smart and went before you started getting dressed…but it never fails to fool you.  This is all of course, after you have spent fifteen minutes helping your child get all his stuff on, snow pants, coat, boots, hat, mitts, scarf etc. only to take it all off cause you forgot to check with him to make sure he went to the washroom before he got dressed up.

We manage to convince our son who is 3 ½ that it’ll be fun to sit in the sled and get pulled around the snow in 5 degree weather for an hour, and off we go, up the road onto our neighbors property to trudge through her ninety five acres of fields and woods. We get to the beginning of the field only five minutes into our walk and our boy says, “I’m cold, I want to go watch a movie.”

I think to myself “there is no way we put all this stuff on (sometimes twice) and got ready to go out in the cold for five minutes of snow shoeing”, so I put on my happy face and say, “But it’s going to be fun, we’ll look for animal foot prints and maybe we’ll see a deer or a bunny, we’ll find you a stick you can drag in the snow!” and we keep going.

The snow is so deep in some places we sink in up to our knees even with snow shoes on, but that’s OK cause it’s a great workout: we go through the trees and listen to the birds and look for the elusive tracks we never find, we explore logging trails in the woods and try to make it fun for our boy by stopping suddenly and then running (as fast as you can run with snow shoes on), tipping the sled back and forth, occasionally going a bit too far and having to stop and wipe the snow off his face. In one spot there are a lot of fallen logs covered in 18-24 inches of snow, so we go up and over these, down through the fields trying to stay out of the wind that has whipped up and started blowing snow around.  I think about how beautiful everything is washed in white, the dark trees are a stark contrast to the whiteness, it is so bright, beautiful and clean.

Then I hear “Mummy I’m cold can we go home now?”. I’m just getting into the excitement of it all so I look at my husband. He also has the look of “I’m done, let’s go home”. So off we go, back in the direction of home. I could keep going for another hour but I know if we don’t get home now we’ll have a full melt down.

I stop to look back over the fields.

There is something so beautiful about seeing the tracks of a snow shoeing family.

It’s breath taking and for a minute I actually feel thankful for living in such a beautiful place with the four changing seasons. I try to imagine what it’ll be like up here when it’s all brown from the winter, little flowers poking up through the earth, blades of green grass foraging their heads through the dead remnants of last years life.

Then I get the sudden freezing blast of wind and snow in my face, and I’m so thankful for my nice warm house, hot chocolate and movie time with my boy!

Contain Me!

Never never never go into a place called “The Container Store” if you’re me. Never. I am constantly teased about the state of my kitchen. Incoming items rarely stay in their original packaging. I have cupboards with matched and labeled bins for baking supplies and a tea cupboard where small matching canisters line up with my colorful selections. I removed the tea cupboard doors just so I can stare at my pretty shelf of jars. I am fairly certain “The Container Store” would be the end of me, so I’ve never been.

I’m the one who will buy containers for my containers. I will buy cute containers and then find something to fill them with. It doesn’t matter what with…the containers need a reason to stay.

I re-purposed an extra set of clear glass salt and pepper shakers. Now they hold bobby pins, safety pins, and buttons. I use mason jars for toothbrushes, cosmetics, etc. Notice my containers are all clear. I used to do baskets and boxes and tins but then promptly forgot what was in them.  Tiny little memory bank, remember?

In the long run, this method has reduced the sheer volume of “stuff” in our home. In addition to the questions “Do I use this?” and “Do I need this?” when I toss things out, I ask “Are you so cute I can’t stand it and need to see you every single day?”

You want to see the pantry? Yes, yes you do.

There is a little broom cupboard tucked into a corner of the kitchen that came lined with pegboard. Hubby cut some melamine triangles “just so” and we filled the whole closet with shelves. Now you can open the door and see rows and rows of cans and jars, all matched, labels turned forward in tidy little bundles of yummy goodness. It’s almost too pretty to eat. If there’s a gap in their ranks, I know right away to go buy more spaghetti sauce or I won’t sleep at night. But only one or it won’t all fit.

I will stand there and dither for a half hour, literally, angsting over where to put the extra jar so it won’t mess up some other row of cans. Pathetic.

At the bottom are the onions and potatoes. They are my kitchen rebels. I keep the door closed on them.

My onions have sprouted and the potatoes are threatening to explode with little green shoots coming out of each green “eye”. I have explained to them that this is not acceptable food behavior. Food should remain cleverly disguised as food and not remind us that they used to be agricultural products, ie: in the dirt. My chicken no longer has its head or feet attached; it sits prettily packaged in the freezer and it’s clearly labeled “picnic pack”. How nice. But you cannot convince my root veggies that they are not still living in a field in Idaho someplace and now it is spring, so time to grow. Naughty potato.

Which brings me to the containers I grew up with in our kitchen windowsill. We didn’t grow herbs in them; those grew in the massive garden outside. These were mason jars with yellow plastic mesh lids, tipped upside down in a wooden rack. The idea was, you put chia or alfalfa seed into them, and swirl fresh water around in the jar each day until you have sprouts.  This was before the whole green smoothie, read the labels, wheat grass shot boho movement. This is what you do when your parents are throwback original hippies.

Around day seven, the sprouts are at the peak of nutrition, and you eat them in your salad or sammie or forget about them until day nine when you are officially sprouting mold instead.

Which is fine if you’re growing your own penicillin.

Which would have pleased my maverick parents no end.

Chops a la Porcine

It’s just not possible to give you all the ways that pig parts can be delightful. Even loving the movie “Babe” and the book “Charlotte’s Web” hasn’t slowed down our familial enthusiasm for anything that tastes like piggy. I apologize to my Jewish or Muslim friends, those of you with high cholesterol or on a diet of celery stalks, to my vegetarian or vegan contacts. Anyone out there who’s on the paleo diet or gluten-free or possibly the no-carbs-all-meat sweats routine…you’re in.

Bacon. ‘Nuff said, but all the same, it can be cooked into place mats, bowls and other fun objects d’art. My kids will eat anything wrapped in it or containing it. Throw it in my cheeseburger. Smothered in dark chocolate works too.

Ham. I buy the biggest one I can find in Costco. The first meal through, I roast the whole thing smothered in honey sauce. Then I freeze leftover large pieces for emergency dinners later, slices for future breakfasts, and the bones for soup pots. When the freezer is empty, I repeat the process.

Roasts. Have been covered in the Crockpot stories. Cook ’em and shred ’em.

Chops. Yes please. Cheap, fast, easy.

  • Take a bag of any brand dry stuffing mix and put through your blender to make fine crumbs. You can add garlic powder, Cajun spices, etc at the same time. It’s cheaper and healthier than “Shake N Bake”; I’m not a fan of MSG. Put them in a bowl.
  • Rinse each chop, drip dry for a second or pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Place each chop in the bowl of crumbs and cover it all up.
  • Place each coated chop onto a foil lined baking sheet.
  • Throw away the paper towel. Throw away the leftover crumbs. Clean up everything thoroughly as you go.
  • Bake at 425* for 15 minutes. Don’t check them, don’t turn them. Wash your hands and make a salad or something while you wait.

If the chops were thin, cook a couple minutes less, if they were fatties, this is still plenty of cooking time. I use this same technique with chicken pieces (400* for an hour) because I almost never pan fry anything. Maybe I’m healthy, maybe I’m too lazy to clean the mess….maybe who has time to stand guard over a hot greasy skillet that long?

Chicharrones. Sausages. Ribs. Hocks. Shanks. Carnitas. Borsch. Chili. Burgers. Egg rolls. Stir fry. Cracklin’s. Lumpia.

But if you come at me with a head or a hoof, I’m out.

No to innards. Do not even think about it.

Pigging Out

Let me set the scene: Breakfast is served cafeteria style at our annual week long family bible camp in Idyllwild Pines CA. They used to serve it family style on platters but that was, apparently, too easy. My 12 year old is standing first in line, taking no chances on missing out on any possible tasty goodness that will be served. He isn’t interested in quality so much as quantity. A 12 year old boy is never full to the top and spends much of his day seeking, eating and thinking about food. In later years, this morphs into other subjects that cause me to lose sleep, so for now, I am encouraging him in this hobby.

He patiently thanks the servers for what is placed on his tray and the last I see him, he’s sitting with buddies loudly enjoying the start of another fun day. I of course am delighted to be enjoying my own calmer breakfast with real live adults. There’s not a toddler in a clip-on high chair, I’m not eating over the head of an infant strapped to my chest, and I don’t have a kindergartner asleep in a wagon just outside the doorway. Twenty minutes of contented breakfast later, I clear the table and head out of the dining hall.

Full stop.

Let me re-set the scene: a 12 year old boy eats like the wind (in case other competing 12 year old boys are looking sideways at his meal). And then he looks around for more. The cafeteria is happy to hand out seconds, even thirds, until the food runs out. So why am I looking at my son, sitting outside at a picnic table, up to his ecstatic elbows in a massive platter of bacon? His eyes are a little glazed over, a look of bliss on his face. I know I speak for everyone here when I said, “Eeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwww.”

Actually, you and I know that’s not what I said. I said, “How did you get that?” followed by a moment of being impressed with the child’s opportunistic skills, followed by a vague jealousy, followed quickly with my mom instincts: “You are going to be SO SICK.”

“But mom,” says the cherub, grease dripping from his chin, “they were just gonna throw it all away!”

Here is where I need to take a moment. Just last week, I was cleaning the morning kitchen mess and on a large tray was one last chocolate brownie. You know what happened, right? We’re not going to let a brownie come between finishing the kitchen and moving on with the day. Brownies for breakfast without even skipping a beat. Can’t waste it just because it has nowhere to go.

Boom! Kitchen clean. No survivors.

Pork products are near and dear to my family’s heart, and I’m going to assume, yours. We will do the happy dance if ham or sausage or bacon or BBQ pulled pork sliders are on the menu, and we keep it fairly rare for health reasons as it does, literally, get near to our hearts. So I couldn’t really do anything about the bacon bliss breakfast except laugh and hope for the cast iron stomach of a 12 year old to take the punishment that his mouth was sending down.

We should all be so punished.

 

BBQ in a Pot

When I say I use my Crockpot all the time, it’s true. I absolutely love knowing that no matter how crazy our day gets or when in the world we all come staggering home at night, dinner is hot, ready, and delicious. It only takes a few minutes in the morning or maybe the night before and is almost goof-proof once you know the basics.

Buy a slow cooker with a removable pot. If you don’t want to clean it ever, use disposable plastic liners. This is key if you make nacho cheese sauce in it. All the snack bar moms out there are nodding along with me.

Always put a couple inches of fluids (wine, sauce, water, etc) in the pot, whatever you’re cooking. Fat from the meat itself will melt and create more fluids, so use your own judgement. Soup is a natural for Crockpots. Never fill it to the brim. It will bubble over the edges while it cooks. You shouldn’t need to check or stir your meal either.

Always put potato chunks on the bottom layer, followed by baby carrots, then set your roast on top.

Don’t bother thawing a roast first (unless it’s bigger than your pot and needs to be whacked!), but a whole chicken will need it’s innards removed first so…thaw it and get ’em out. Remove the skin if you can; it will not be crunchy or brown in a pot.

Things will cook on “Low” all day but I like to cook my beans on “High” just to make them as tender as possible. Yes, sort and rinse them the night before and soak overnight. Be sure you rinse them again before cooking them.

I’m sure you have your own favorite BBQ, but here is what I mix up and dump on top of any meat in the pot.

And then I walk away.

  • 1 and 1/2 C ketchup
  • 1/4 C balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 C BBQ sauce
  • 1/8 C honey
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic

 

Crackpot News

I just crammed an eight pound pork roast into a three pound Crockpot. I’m guessing here because the darn pig piece wouldn’t quite fit. I was putting a square pig into an oval hole. Why do the butchers do this?  Does anyone make a square Crockpot? Would it still be a “pot” if it had corners?

My mom used to bake bread in large coffee cans. The loaves were round. It’s still “bread”.

Don’t they know we’ll be getting the kids out the door to school in the morning and then remember we were going to toss something into old faithful because it’s going to be “one of those days”? So we yank open the freezer door, rip open the rock hard meat chunk and go to plop it in, and….it comes screeching to a halt because the thing won’t fit. Just a corner is still sticking out. The clock is ticking.

“Get in the car!” you shout to the kids, “I’ll be right there!”

Now it’s down to you, the pig, the pot, and a kitchen variety of options. I did the only logical thing that didn’t involve a hammer or a blowtorch. (You have those too, right? Mallets are for beating a chicken breast into chicken fried submission, and the torch is for lighting the birthday candles or caramelizing Barbie’s feet when she needs to be tortured when Mom’s not looking.)

Turning the pot to “High”, I gently balanced the lid on top of the roast in the pot and put the heaviest thing handy on top of the lid. Then I ran out the door.

There’s a good 2-3” of water in the pot. The hot steamy water should melt the pig just enough to bend that corner into the pot. Or at least enough so that when I return I can whack that non-conforming pig bit off and commence the cooking. It feels good to have a plan.

Later, upon kitchen re-entry, I discovered that the pig had melted just enough to leak juice over the edge of the pot as it plopped into submission. Naturally. After cleaning it all up and claiming victory for dinners everywhere, it occurs to me: I legally had this raw meat sitting “out” for three hours. Sort of frozen, sort of steamed. This is where my mom’s voice runs across my inner forehead like a ticker-tape, all in capital letters.

STOP! FOOD POISONING ALERT! WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT! ALWAYS KEEP COLD FOODS COLD! KEEP HOT FOODS HOT FOR ONLY TWO HOURS! C.A.Y.G.! REFRIGERATE PROMPTLY! WARNING! SALMONELLA! IMMINENT DOOM!

If you think for one minute I’ll be starting over here, you’ve got another think coming.

I could season it with a couple dashes of Lysol and essence of bleach, but instead we’ll go with the original plan and cook the phooey out of it all day.

I’ll call it a luau. If I were to be authentic, we’d be pulling this bad boy out of a pit dug in the ground where it was surrounded with rocks and dirt and the bare feet of natives. You’re lucky we’re not pulling bits of gravel out of our sliders tonight, so there.

Tea Scones

Are you a Brit? Are you Irish? Perhaps an Aussie? Every home will have it’s own favorite variety on the tea table. I prefer drinking Yorkshire Gold and most black teas; there’s a special place in my heart for vanilla chai, it’s like Christmas in a cup! For scones as well, family recipes are a staple and you’ll find them sweet or savory or plain, like a blank canvas for you to decorate.

I’m going to give you two that fit my own personal criteria: fast, easy, and all five of my kids will eat them.

Fast Scones

Combine:
2 & 1/2 C Bisquick baking mix
scant 1/4 C sugar
With:
2/3 C milk
1/4 C melted butter

Divide into 12 very sticky lumps of dough onto a greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 450* for around 10 minutes.

Want to be fancy? Open a “nest” with two forks in the center of each sticky lump and plop some jam, jelly or preserves in there before baking. 

Extremely Fast Scones

Combine:
2 C flour
1/3 C sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Then stir in:
1 C cold milk or cream

Knead briefly then cut or drop into 8 pieces on a greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375* for 12-15 minutes

Still want to be fancy? You can mix in candied ginger or strawberry bits or even some savory bits (chives, cooked bacon). Then, paint them with melted butter and/or sprinkle on some coarse sugar before you bake them.

Scones are delicious served warm, straight from the oven. Store them airtight for up to 24 hours or freeze up to 12 weeks. Reheat them for 5 minutes at 350* when your guests pop in unexpectedly.

I have actually purchased crumpets at the grocery store. They are like english muffins. But they rhyme with “strumpets”. So they’re more fun.

For a party, place lemon curd, clotted cream, whipped cream, jams, preserves and butter curls in small dishes on the table.

Add plates of crust-less sandwiches, biscuits (cookies), tea cakes, scones, fresh bite sized fruit and berries.

Bon apetit!

 

Tea Time Part 2

One lovely Mother’s Day the girls and I treated our mums to afternoon tea at a beautiful Victorian tea house.  The atmosphere was gracious, the manners dainty, and all I could think was that it seemed an awful lot of money for weak hot water and tiny little bits of food.  I went along, hoping I could sip, smile, and fake my way through it.  I had a large meal before-hand; I wasn’t taking any chances on losing my cool and devouring an entire gilt plate full of watercress sandwiches.

Watercress….I ask you.  (Insert eye roll here.)

What I did not realize was that back in the tea house kitchen, an art was being performed.  Fresh water was being brought to a perfect boil and poured into a warmed teapot with choice loose tea leaves to brew exactly three and one half minutes.  The tea had been chosen for its quality, flavor, and freshness and was handled with skill.  With pomp and circumstance, high tea was served in the dining room.

I took a cautious sip.

OH my.  What is this amazing tastiness?  It was truly an eye opening event for me, and I couldn’t blame it on the jam scones.

There is most certainly a difference in a cup of tea that is made properly and with a great deal of respect.  It must be made slowly and sipped slowly to appreciate the true flavor of it.  Unlike coffee or cocoa, which can be gulped by people at random temperatures at any level of strength, tea is delicate and capricious.  You can’t rush tea.

You must be very careful about what you want to add to it.  Tea does not like to compete in the cup, and heaven forbid anything wooden, paper or plastic gets involved.  I know that lemon or honey can be played about with, but never cream or creamers.  I myself am a “one lump” of sugar and skim milk kind of gal.  I know that every bona fide tea drinker has his or her own version of the perfect cup of tea, and without fail they have respect for others of their ilk.

It really must be “just so”.

When you have your tea just exactly the way you love it, there may as well not be anything else in the world for the next fifteen minutes of the day.  It can completely reboot your system.  With this kind of contentment, the day’s irritations are covered with a layer of grace.

And so I have learned my lesson from those more gracious and patient than myself.  As a student of the “ways of tea” as my joking hubby calls it, I find a world of intrigue, a history that precedes all other hot drinks, and respite for my frazzled nerves.  I actually think tea accessories are as fun as any jewelry: infusers, containers, whisks, drip catchers and “flowering” tea which is amazing to watch “bloom” in a glass pot.

Like the heroes of legend, at the right time the knowledge was revealed to me (ie: before my guests returned). This time I will be their hero!  Dare I say it?  The course of the hostessing world as we know it has tipped for the better – simply because I have discovered the delight of a cup of tea.

Tea Time Part 1

There are many things you learn as you go along in life.  Some the hard way, some the easy way, and others you had no idea you wanted to learn in the first place.  Loving tea is one of those last ones.

Tea is to me what spinach is to Popeye, what beer is to the McKenzie brothers, what Bella is to Edward.  I can face almost any disaster and climb almost any mountain when preceded by a cup of properly prepared tea.

Ah yes, I saw you shake your head just then.  “Another tea snob” is what you thought. I was also one of you back in the day.

What in the world possessed my travelling guests from across the pond that they would go into a state of depression when parted from their dearly missed cuppa?  Why did they stand there, staring at the Lipton tea bags and the Styrofoam cups; sugar packets and wooden stir sticks at the ready?  It was no use encouraging them along with other flavors of prepackaged blandness or perhaps offers of a plastic spoon for the job at hand.  No.

Better to do without than make a cup of gutter water.

Tea withdrawal does not a pleasant guest make.

The gracious hostess within me should have addressed this conundrum with the proper level of respect, yet I am sorry to say that I simply couldn’t grasp the gravity of the situation.  There’s some tea.  There’s a cup.  What’s the hold-up?  Just don’t offer me any.

I went along with similar views of coffee I’m sorry to say, and here is where you have relegated me to the weirdy heap, I know.  If coffee only tasted the way it smelled, we would be getting somewhere.  It is an entirely bitter and awkward brew, and flavored creamers cannot possibly be the answer.  If I have to flavor my coffee with Almond Joy candy bar creamer to get it down, I’d just as soon eat the candy bar. I suppose my dignity would be only a little crushed by sitting at the coffee house chowing down a candy bar instead of sipping coffee.

With Starbucks popping up on every corner and everyone suddenly “meeting for coffee”, I was faced with the choice of zero social life or finding a way to blend in at the coffee house.  I was pleasantly surprised, after having all of those exciting Italian words explained in English, to discover that a frappuccino is basically ice cream with a coffee flavor.  A latte is basically flavored milk.  Add enough sugar and milk to a coffee and it is no longer coffee.  Voila!

You can top it with whipped cream and pretend you are having hot cocoa, which used to be my only palatable hot drink of choice.  Unless you are ordering in a restaurant and everyone orders coffee but you order cocoa and get thinly disguised looks of pity.  And the waitress without fail puts too much cocoa into the cup, making a layer of chocolate sludge at the bottom, rendering the watery drink a horrifying substitute for a sophisticated adult drink.

I’m afraid my experiences with tea were no better.  Many well meaning friends had tried to introduce me to the joys of tea in the past.  I tried, I really did! Green and herbal teas taste exactly as advertised.  At least the tea was honest, unlike traitorous coffee.  I was still not excited about drinking a cup of hot orange flavored water.  Or flower flavored.  They are nice fragrances though, perhaps a little behind the ears?  Black teas might as well be coffee.  Perhaps my palate was simply not ready to be trained.   Perhaps not enough sugar and milk had been applied.  Or perhaps tea is the weakest flavor of hot water ever, and you could not convince me to give it the effort required to acquire the taste when there was still coffee yet to conquer.

But I digress.  While having a basic understanding of a disappointing hot cup before you, it didn’t seem life altering.  And then the inevitable happened.

As it does.