Many (not just two) Drinks Away

Many (not just two) Drinks Away

Over the fourth of July weekend, Donna and family came up, as well as my brother-in-law and his wife. The in-laws arrived Thursday and left Monday morning after I went to work. There were a lot of wine drinkers in the room… for days. Some champagne, too.

When I went to work Monday morning, I can’t say that I was hungover, as I didn’t have a headache nor was I dehydrated. But I think along with the anemia problems I have, I had a very difficult time focusing all day. I was very tired and my head was foggy like I get sometimes with the low iron. In the past I worked at home at my own business, so if I wasn’t feeling well, since I worked for myself I figured I was just hurting myself. Working for someone else was different.

I really struggled through the day and was almost embarrassed. I tried to put off answering emails that needed any critical thinking. Everything for me felt “off”.

I felt better by Wednesday, but on Friday my sister-in-law and her husband came for a visit. They stayed at a hotel and had other things to do during the day on Saturday, so the visit wasn’t quite as intense. But they, too, enjoy the red wine.

My husband was quite surprised when I said I was going to buy some wine before the second-weekend visitors arrived. “We have so much wine!” he said. I tried to withhold my shock  and control my mouth regarding his lack of awareness. Did he not see the trash being hauled out to the cans?

I did much better that second Monday morning, both because I think I my iron was slightly better and also because I had stopped drinking wine after Saturday (well, except for the mimosa while watching the World Cup on Sunday. Does a mimosa count?).

I haven’t had much to drink the last during the weeks because I find that my body tells me enough is enough when I’ve really had too much. I just haven’t felt like it. I’m very grateful for that.

This coming Thursday, however, I will be going to Blogher with Donna. We’ve had good times in the past and I figure the will alcohol will be flowing and I’ll quickly get in the mood. And while it will be fun, it won’t be the same as when I’m with our family. I guess that’s why we enjoy being around each other so much.

P.S. The Sodaro Felicity Cabernet picture with this article is that of a very nice wine. Try it if you get the chance to go to their tasting room. Yum.

 

In Quest Of: A Perfect Cup of Coffee

In Quest Of: A Perfect Cup of Coffee

Have you ever noticed how many blogs by women feature the word “coffee” or mention coffee in their tagline? A quick search on “mom blog coffee” pulled up Mommy Needs CoffeeThe Coffee Shop BlogBusy Mom (Better Parenting Through Coffee), Coffee Lovin’ MomCafe Mom, and Mommy Loves Coffee.

And that was just on the first page of results.

I could do another search for titles that include the words “Java,”  “Cappuccino,” “Latte” and “Caffeine.” The point is, there are a lot of women who cannot get through the day without their hot, caffeinated beverages, and I am one of them. I have a Pavlovian response at the site of a Starbucks logo, and an uncanny ability to remember the exact locations of coffeehouses I’ve visited — even in cities I rarely frequent.

I admit it: I am an addict. I go through periods where I try to cut down on my consumption (such as the nine months of pregnancy, when I switched to decaf) — but I always come back. I just have a hard time waking up in the morning, and need a little liquid kickstart. And I need it even more on days when I’m trying to write: Caffeine has been shown in studies to help increase women’s focus and concentration, and I have found that an extra cup has the power to jolt me out of my spacey stupors and back on track.

But I won’t drink just any cup of Joe. My favorite coffee beverages are the sweetened lattes, which have way too many calories to consume in mass quantities. I hate a brew that’s overly bitter or weak, and while I enjoy a good espresso, I don’t often make one for myself, even though I have a pretty good espresso machine. I’m lazy. I don’t want to take the time to heat the machine, measure and tamp the grounds — and then clean it — just for a single tiny cup. (We won’t even talk about the effort it takes to froth milk and clean the nozzle for a cappuccino or latte.)

So given these proclivities, it’s not surprising that I took some time out of a busy day earlier this month to attend an event showcasing the latest single-cup machine from Nespresso. The festivities were held in a pop-up cafe at LA’s famed Grove shopping center, and for most of those attending, the big attraction was celebrity spokesperson Padma Lakshmi. But for me, it was the coffee.

The Nespresso “U

Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi is the type of woman I like hanging out with. She loves good food and good drink and I could put up with her being so gorgeous long enough to enjoy a Girls Night Out in a trendy restaurant. She said that she had stopped drinking coffee in the United States because too often, it tasted like a hot, bitter liquid with grounds.  And then a friend suggested she try one of Nespresso’s machines. She bought one for herself and loved it — so her endorsement actually means something, as it comes from someone who uses the product herself.

The Good

The machine has a small footprint, so it does not take up a lot of counterspace. The water tank swivels so you can configure it to fit exactly how you want it.

It is extremely simple to operate: turn it on, drop in the capsule and let it go. You can modify the size of the pour: Ristretto is the smallest, at 0.85 oz, Espresso is 1.35 oz and Lungo is almost the size of an old-fashioned coffee cup, at 3.75 oz.  These are NOT Ventis — but the resulting brews are not weak and nicely balanced.

When you turn the machine on, it takes just 45 seconds to heat enough to brew a cup of coffee with 16 bars of pressure, which create a gorgeous crema float at the top.

The colorful, aluminum coffee capsules are also small and Nespresso sells a variety of attractive containers for storage and display. However, they’re really expensive (scroll on down to the section titled “Bad.”) The capsules are airtight, which ensures that your espresso or coffee will always come out fresh.

The U automatically pushes the empty capsule into a container for emptying and recycling later. There is also virtually no excess dripping, which is super nice.

Nespresso has targeted foodies and coffee snobs with this machine. It’s only available at Nespresso boutiques and high end department stores and cookware chains like Bloomingdale’s and Williams-Sonoma, which — whether you like it or not — gives the machine some cachet. But that means if you don’t have a retailer near you, you must order the coffee capsules online or by phone. It’s easy to do with membership in the Nespresso Club, where you can get personalized advice on which of the 16 “Grand Cru” coffee blends you like best. (The U came with a sample of each; I have been busy jotting down my tasting notes on each one so I can figure out what to re-order).

I love the ease of making myself an afternoon espresso pick-me-up or an evening decaf. It is no exaggeration when I say that owning this machine has changed my life (in a good way).

The Bad

As mentioned above, you can’t just run out to the supermarket to buy more capsules. And if you don’t have a Nespresso boutique near you, you will have to order by phone or online.

The capsules will run you about sixty cents a piece. This is expensive when you compare it to the cost of coffee by the pound, but it’s within range of the price of other single cup coffeemakers’ modules. It’s also way less than you would pay for a shot of espresso at Starbucks, and the flavor is better.

You cannot make cappuccinos or lattes with the U. Nespresso makes other models that include a frother. They also make an Aeroccino (seen in the video), which heats and froths milk.

Of course, as with any single cup coffeemaker, there is a lot of waste inherent in all those little coffee capsules. The good news is that Nespresso’s all-aluminum capsules are 100% recyclable. Nespresso will even pick your used ones up for you — if you live in Manhattan.

The rest of us have to do the recycling ourselves. That means taking them to your local recycling center, after you have washed out all the coffee grounds. You will also need to pack and bundle the used capsules tightly (because their small size can jam the machines that process the aluminum).

Another issue is Fair Trade – ensuring that the farmers use best practices and earn a fair return. For the last couple of years, I’ve only purchased Fair Trade certified coffee for my home. Nespresso’s coffee has been certified by another organization, the Rainforest Alliance, which aims to accomplish the same goals of sustainable farming with living wages. And here is where it gets dicey: The Rainforest Alliance has been accused of being a greenwashing program, because they will certify a product with as little as 30% sustainable content. (Nespresso says their goal is to source 80% of their coffee from the 40,000 farmers who are participating in their own proprietary sustainable coffee program.)

So that could be an issue. However, all is not rosy with the Fair Trade organization, either. There has been a rift between Fair Trade USA and Fair Trade International,  the organizations that issue the coveted certification. The bottom line is that it’s increasingly tough to tell what you’re getting, even when you make the effort to pay a premium so that the people who grow your coffee benefit.

This is one I’ll be chewing on for a long time — while sipping an espresso.

This article was previously posted at In Quest Of. We were given the Nespresso U machine reviewed in this post. Review our Disclosure policy here.

Travel Isn’t Fun

Travel Isn’t Fun

A funny thing happened to me on Tuesday afternoon, when I tried to check in for my 8:00 Wednesday flight home from Chicago: The United Airlines app I was using returned an error message informing me that I was unable to complete the transaction because I was too early.

That’s when I looked more carefully at my travel itinerary and discovered that my flight was scheduled for 8:00 PM, not AM.

“Did you mess up?” my husband asked.

No. Now I remembered how difficult it was to find a round trip from LAX to O’Hare that was convenient AND affordable, and I concluded I couldn’t have both. Choosing an earlier flight out of the city would cost me a couple of hundred dollars per ticket. I booked it such a long time ago that I forgot that inconvenient little detail.

By the time I booked my airport shuttle for our return trip, the flight had been re-scheduled to 8:42 PM. This guaranteed that we would not walk in through our front door until after midnight (Pacific time).

And so last night, as my daughter and I stood outside our hotel awaiting the shuttle, I realized:

I don’t want to do this any more.

Don’t get me wrong: I still get a kick out of exploring a new city and revisiting the places I’ve enjoyed in the past. But actual travel — the act of booking a flight and hotel room and packing a bag and figuring out the logistics of getting from A to B, and keeping my cool through the airport and security checks and trying to stay comfortable in cramped economy seating, and trying to do it all without spending a fortune…

… The thrill is gone.

Especially this year, which included an epic road trip from Washington, DC to upstate New York to Boston — and back again — so we could scope out the colleges that had accepted my daughter… followed with another whirlwind trip to Chicago and back for the same purpose. It took me DAYS to put each of those itineraries together: comparing flights and hotels, balancing cost with location and convenience, and scheduling tour dates.

At least, I already had the date for this trip – but I still had to find a flight and hotel that made sense, and it wasn’t without some difficulty: As I was gathering all the confirmations the week before we embarked, I discovered that I never received one from Expedia, which charged me $350 for two nights in a hotel.

I’m just grateful that our destination was a city with over 100,000 hotel rooms – we found one at the four-star Rafaello boutique hotel for a little less than what we were paying through Expedia. And when we arrived, we were greeted with the sweetest words a traveler can hear: “You’ve been upgraded to a suite.”

We had a comfortable stay, but now it was over. And I realized I have to start the process all over again for my daughter’s August move-in (just as soon as my husband figures out the dates he can take off from work). And I found myself wondering if there wasn’t an easier way.

And I realized that there is: It’s called hiring a travel agent. It’s how I used to plan my trips in prehistoric times before the Internet made it possible to see flights and hotel deals on my own. Doing it myself worked for me for a long time, but changes in the travel industry have made it a really grueling task. These include carrier consolidation, hotel mergers and so many different websites to check that it’s no wonder I think of booking a trip as a job.

And since it’s a job, maybe it’s time I allowed a professional to do it.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has come to that conclusion. While corporations continued to employ travel agencies and specialists, the agency bookings for the leisure market are starting to trend up. And you know something? I find that comforting. I am not the only one who started taking travel booking into my own hands when the Internet gave us the tools to make that possible, and so the travel agency business was hit hard. That’s sad, because that’s one of the professions that traditionally accepted women who needed part time hours so they could raise families. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it once again becomes a popular choice again? (It just won’t include ME.)

The Sun and the Moon

The Sun and the Moon

When we were in our 20s and still both lived in Los Angeles, some of our mutual friends dubbed my sister and me “the Sun and the Moon.” I’m still not sure which of us was which, but the point is — we have very different personalities.

My sister is a very social animal: She loves surrounding herself with friends and family and makes entertaining look easy.

Me? Not so much.

I’m not exactly anti-social. But I’m lazy. I hate housework to the point that I rarely do any unless I know someone is coming over. That someone is usually my sister — and she doesn’t make the 400-mile trip to see me all that often, so you can imagine the state my house is in most of the time.

The thought of allowing a friend to come to the house and follow me around while I clean gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I have friends, and I enjoy socializing with them – but it’s usually at a neutral place, like a restaurant. Or their place.

Unless they want me to help them with their cleaning… That’s when I’ll say adios.

Goofy Friends

Goofy Friends

I often (every week or so) meet a couple of close friends for happy hour. Donna, you know who they are. We like to find the nice deals at the good restaurants. Sometimes, the nicer the restaurant the better the deal! We are all very different, but we know that and have a good time.

I’m winding down a bit between work, grocery shopping at two places, and getting ready to start changing sheets and getting bedrooms ready for the family to start coming up tomorrow for the 4th of July. I had to say “no” to said friends because, well, I had “stuff” to do.

One of them is always gracious and accepts things. The other one is a little too much like me and will not take no for an answer. Bottom line is I did not go and now I’m being quizzed via texting whether I am really cleaning. “Are you drinking and cleaning or just cleaning?” on one text. “I have my wine” was my accurate, if not complete answer.

Tonight is like her Friday as she doesn’t have to go in tomorrow, so when I invited her to come over and have some wine with the agreement that she will be following me around while I get bedrooms ready, she agreed.

So, I’m off to pour some wine. Only problem is I have to clean before she comes over! My bedroom is a disaster!

The picture in this post was taken by my friend on her way over. She said she’s bringing a guest.