Thirsty Thursday: Pumpkin (spice) Perk Poser

Pumpkin Spice Latte…poster child for coffee posers?

Starbucks Latte

Recently I partook in an act I would consider innocuous to my “rep.” I ordered, and enjoyed I should point out, a Starbucks PSL.

Since its inception in 2003, the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte has been fodder for both adoration and abhor-ation. Many, MANY blogs and articles have been written about it, some notable ones being:

My intentions with this post are not to add  much to the debate over whether enjoying a PSL (skinny, hold the whip) is good or bad, cool or uncool, “in” or “so passe’.” Truthfully, I’m more interested in the cult hysteria and discussion surrounding one, java-based drink and how it has come to represent a line-in-the-sand between acceptance or rejection of the mainstream. It’s an quirky occurrence to recall several scraps of information just from a beverage order…

It seems this flavored brew has come to represent all that is right and wrong with, not PSLjust Starbucks, but large coffee conglomerates, or, for that matter, conglomerate society. I’m sure the coffee realists had quite a field day with comparisons and explanations of the negatives in mainstream American society when one could (finally? sadly? obviously?)  get their franchise coffee (Starbucks) inside and while shopping in a big box store (Target). Again, I’m not here to debate right or wrong, but I will admit I was jazzed to be able to pick up a chai along with my E.L.F. Cosmetics and Market Pantry items.

As a New Orleanian I was raised on coffee milk (a blend of chicory coffee and lots of milk) at my grandfather’s table and remember the distinguished feeling of finally being allowed to enjoy a cafe-au-lait with the adults after dinner at a fine restaurant.

I respect true coffee experts’ pallets and discernment between various brands, brews and beverage preparations…I’m just not that sophisticated in my coffee drinking. I tend to go more with the “drink what you like” mentality.

I support the ideas of “Shop Local” and financially contributing to mom-n-pop establishments over large corporations. There is certainly something to be said for the feeling one can only get from a steamy, neighborhood coffee joint, most likely filled with notable and interesting characters (especially the ones in the Uptown area of New Orleans). To me, there is also something to be said for the exhilaration of receiving stars, points and perks with my perk! The loyalty/reward system usually only being offered by franchised coffee locations, however.

Lest we forget the big, franchised brands started as Original Starbucksjust another neighborhood shop down the street. I’ve been to the original Starbucks in Seattle, and I enjoyed checking it off my “touristy to-do” bucket list. I didn’t feel that I was visiting coffee mecca nor did I feel I was visiting the hell where “real” coffee goes to die. I imagine lobbyists on each side of the java debate would feel one of those ways.

The price argument is an interesting one as well.

Coffee pricing can be compared to wine pricing. There is a societal equivocation with the price and quality of wine, understood that, as the price of a bottle of wine goes up, so too should the quality and taste of the wine. The counter to that is the movement that says wine should be accessible and a $10 bottle could taste as complex and palatable as a $1000 bottle. Similar school’s of thought can be correlated to coffee pricing. Upwards of $8 for a beverage is justifiable for the quality of the ingredients, time spent crafting it, taste output, etc.. But why spend that much on a beverage we make so readily at home for considerably cheaper? -or- If you’re going to spend that much, spend it at a neighborhood establishment.

So the argument goes, and goes, and goes…

For me, I will continue to get my PSL and other frothy beverages from Starbucks and continue to justify my purchases based on my points system. Points from credit card purchases get turned into a Starbucks gift card which earns me points with each now “free” beverage which, in turn, leads to more free beverages. (Nice huh?)PSL Latte I will also feel comfortable knowing that, when my purchases don’t come from a mom-n-pop owned coffee shop, I’m still supporting the job of the barista behind the bar at the Starbucks I frequent, or at the one in the airport I just found. I will enjoy their service because, frankly, they are always so nice! Seriously, 90(+)% of the time they are infectiously nice. Perhaps it’s because that’s part of the hiring process and a standard for the Starbucks brand. Another positive hashmark on the side of  the big-box-brewer.

So it looks like, for now, I will remain a

Pumpkin Spice Perk Poser

…Proudly? well let’s just say Purposefully 😉 

 

What side of the coffee line do YOU sit on, dear readers? Would you proudly, or indifferently for that matter, walk around with a PSL on your green and white cup? Do you prefer your local java spot because the barista knows your order, or how to make latte foam leaves? I would LOVE to know your thoughts.

 

& for the record, while I like a PSL, my prefered Fall hot bev is:

Hot Chai

  • no water
  • skim milk
  • add Pumpkin Spice
  • hold the whip

It’s a bit sweet, but good & punchy. Try it if you like spice, you’ll thank me!

Thirsty Thursday – Bottles & Bubbles

I was inspired by an assignment in my Blogging University, Blogging 101 class to do a Gallery post and so I snapped a few pics of last night’s Kenner Food and Wine event at Chateau Country Club. I know this “Thursday” post is going out on a Friday, but since the event happened on a Thursday, I think I’m safe 🙂

Last night’s event was a mash-up of several areas of my life: held in the city I work in, attended by people I work with, hosted by the wife of the Mayor I work for, worked by friends of mine and friends I haven’t seen in years. Proceeds went to a regional foundation and  local restaurants and wine distributors offered unlimited  delectables and vino. Merriment was the order of the night and an amusing (albeit hot & muggy) time seemed to be had by all.

It’s the kind of event that’s happening all the time but can be easily missed by excuses of weeknight, other obligations, poor weather, etc. which is a shame because the excuses are never as rewarding as the attendance.

So here are a few (iPhone) pictures in hopes of inspiring you to attend a fun, neighborhood event and support local businesses, charities and people!

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Tables of wine lined the outdoor pool area. Tastings and info of all were provided by knowledgeable reps.

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Team Gleason glasses echoed the love of city & Saints in attendees’ hearts.

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The space was awash in a cool color palate of lighting.

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Friend and rep, Rene (right)

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Arguably the most popular table…the CHAMPS!

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I drank many glasses of Perrier-Jouët but when that ran out, this cuvee’ and rose’ were both excellent!

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The “almost” sister-in-law and wine rep, Celeste (right) *side note* I LOVE this girl!

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Exceptional example of smart social media branding. Clean, classy, simple! #KWFE

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The aftermath: abandoned tables and empty bottles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Make Merriment, Live-it-up with Locals, Care for Charities!

 

Readers, what’s a local or charity event you attended that you’re so glad you didn’t miss out on?!

 

 

 

B is for … Bargains: Better Buds Bash

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We’re into the second month of the blog and the second letter. For the month of September, B’s theme is going to be “Better” in a  series of posts about simple ways to do things better. Brilliant!

Today’s do-better theme, Entertaining and Dinner Parties:

 

 

Entertaining:

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  • Presentation is key – When setting out food for entertaining, remember the old adage – We eat with our eyes first. I know that a good part of my presentation OCD comes from my event planning days, but those were valuable lessons learned. No-one sees the container the food comes out off, just the plate they take the food from – The lesson here is to go with the store brand or an alternative, cheaper option when possible with the food and serve it up in an eye-appealing way.
    • I love me some Water Crackers but at upwards of $4 a box, they’re a bit more than I want to pay for a snack “accessory”! There are many tasty alternatives like rice-crackers that come in several yummy flavors (Whole Foods 365 are delicious) and usually retail closer to $1 a box. Less expensive, crusty bread sliced in a basket looks rustic and inviting next to a cheese plate & a loaf can go for $1 from the grocery.
    • Wine in a box has come a long way in taste and quality over the last decade, offering award-winning wine at “bulk” prices, which is what you’re looking for when serveral bottles are likely to be poured. Black Box is a personal favorite of mine and several of my girlfriends. Just because the wine comes in a box doesn’t mean it has to be placed out for spigot use. Decanting that box wine makes for a lovely presentation and can enhance the taste through aeration and temperature; red wine will be kept at room temperature and white wine decanters are designed to keep the wine chilled.
  • Sharing is caring – As much as I love a visually appealing spread, having not yet become the recipient of a bridal registry, I’m lacking when it comes to presentation dishware. Buying them would throw my entire budget, however I know friends who do very well with thrifting for them. My suggestion, borrow from relatives, other friends, or even the friends you are hosting. Make the effort to collect from them in advance of the party and return the dishware washed and with a short “Thank You” note soon after. The small effort to collect and return equals huge payoff for a fabulous table setting.
    • Or skip the fancy dishes all together and place plain dishware on a clever table topper! Pinterest in full of “chalkboard table” ideas!
  • A little bit $$$ a lot of $ – When planning entertainment dishes like snacks, apps, small bites,  remember a rule of thirds. For every one pricier item, have two lower priced items, and make your pricier items only up to a third of the entire spread.
    • I love cheese and love, love, love a cheeseboard. Probably because I could sit and eat the whole thing! (Don’t judge) As much as I would like a cheeseboard full of Humboldt Fog and Roquetfort, I’m balling on a budget. Following the thirds-rule, I make sure my board has plenty of less expensive items on the spread: grapes, carrots, olives, nuts (drizzle with oil and cajun spices, toast in oven for a few mins for extra pizzazz), slices of delicious and inexpensive sharp cheddar, and let’s not underestimate the wonders of a block of store-brand cream-cheese with a pepper jelly on top.
    • Whole Foods has a basket of cheeses in the cheese department that’s filled with the odds-and-ends of the cheeses; the “last piece” basket. The pieces are usually no more than $5. Rummage through and pick out a few pieces. Spot these around your cheese board for variety and interest.

 

Dinner Parties:

 

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  • What’s growing = what’s cheapest – Though we live in a magical world of year round produce where you can get strawberries in the dead of winter, the most economical selections are those that traveled the least distance and are in season. Make sure to plan your meal around what’s growing to cut costs and ensure a superior product.
  • Shop with your eyes, then with your wallet – Grab the grocery publications or check online for the sales they are running. Plan a menu around that. This rule also applies for drinks and snacks for a dinner party.
    • If hummus is on sale, for instance, I will usually reduce or forgo the cheese plate for hummus and veggies. Delicious and easy frozen meatballs on special? You bet they’re going in a small bite dish for a party or as an app for a dinner!
    • This is also a great way to get pricier items on the plate. If it’s a rare occasion when crab claws are on sale, just one or two on each plate can really fancy-up the meal of a small gathering. Asparagus can be pricey but I love to scoop it up when it’s on special.
  • Good food is good food, period – Many people assume, because they are having company over, they should serve “only the best” to their guests. While I agree your guests should get the best you have to offer, what you have to offer should fit your budget.
    • Can’t afford to serve everyone steak? Go for a more economical cut of meat, like flank steak and serve it in a creative way (try it atop the Triple Threat Salad) or make beef stroganoff with inexpensive stew meat (Bonus: it can be made in the slow-cooker before the party).
  • No leftovers zone – Be reasonable with yourself about how much to serve your guests. Remember that restaurant sizes are not a good guide for serving sizes and that you will not be providing guests with to-go boxes. While second helpings are nice to offer, how many of your  guests do you anticipate having them? If you have served snacks before a dinner party meal, your portion sizes at dinner can be smaller; same if there is a starter, salad, dessert, etc.

 

In Sum: Plan for the sale and the season. Follow the thirds rule and aim for the inexpensive. Presentation over brand-name and  delicious over expensive.

And the most important thing to remember is the reason you are feeding…to gather everyone together for good food and a good time! It’s about company and memories, so concern yourself more with being a gracious host/hostess than a well-to-do one!

Bidding you Blissful Bashes! 

Fun Facts Friday – B is for Baking

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Last Saturday morning I decided to combat the bleakness of the rains pummeling against my windows with the warms smells of baking and coffee.SAS.M3

 

 

Wild-berry "protein" muffins

Wild-berry “protein” muffins fresh out the oven!

I made myself some wild-berry “protein” muffins.  Now before you go giving me any undue credit, I used a mix…but, as I often do when making food, I did change up the recipe and add a few of my own ingredients. That’s usually easier to do with cooking than baking, given the exactness required more often  in baking recipes but I find muffins to be pretty forgiving.

 

Fun story: In high school Home Economics class my group put all the melted butter listed for the recipe in our orange muffin batter. While the muffins were baking we went to prepare the topping and realized the butter was meant to top the muffins with. There was a slight panic in the eyes of four plaid-clad young ladies! What happened to the muffins, you ask? They came out looking perfect! We melted more butter, topped them with zest and sugar and got rave reviews for our super moist creations! HIGH-FIVE!

For Saturday’s muffins I just substituted vanilla protein powder for the milk and added more spice with cinnamon and nutmeg.  I added some flax too, just for a bit more nutritional value.

Making Muffins

I love my well worn muffin tin. It reminds me of fond times chatting over morning muffins with roommates and my sister.

September is a new month and so it’s time for a new letter: B! Inspired by our new letter and morning muffins, our first FFF is all about baking.

 

Encyclopedia.com defines baking as:

 two culinary processes: cooking by dry heat in an enclosed oven and making up flour-based goods (breads, cakes, pastries) that are cooked by baking. By extension a baking day is devoted to making breads and cakes and includes the idea of a batch bake or tray bake made up in quantity for cutting into smaller pieces.

and lists the occupations of the trade as the baker and the pastry chef:

the baker using yeast to make breads and the pastry cook producing delicate pastries and cakes.

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Bakers and Pastry Chefs have a patron saint all their own; Saint Honore. Honore was a Bishop and, fittingly, French. When Honore became Bishop, a woman baking didn’t believe it and to prove he was indeed Bishop, a piece of her bread was placed in the ground and grew into a tree. Celebrate on May 16th by baking with fruit from trees, like a lemon pound cake!

Saw this helpful hint on Today I Found Out:

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And an found article from Wise Bread to help crack the code! Buy Better Bread!

Color Coding Bread

One of the first things I helped my mother bake, cake. My mom was incredible and made all the cakes for my siblings and cousins. She was a master of themes and icing, creating everything from an army battle field to a Care Bear.

Cakes come in all shapes and sizes now but were traditionally round and here’s why:

Cake Cake Cake

Find out about the history of cakes from Weekend Notes!

This symbolizes the cyclical nature of life, the sun and the moon, which is probably the reason why we have cakes during important events; highlighting that we are embarking on a new journey in our life-span.

Ancient breads were also round, typically fashioned into round balls and baked in shallow pans. In the 17th century, cake hoops made from metal or wood were increasingly used.

Now everyone together, you know the song…“Cake-Cake-Cake-Cake-Cake”

Know who the Guiness World Record holder for the world’s largest brownie is? All American Cooking does!brownies

It’s Something Sweet BakeShop in Daphne, Alabama who used  432 eggs, 216 pounds of sugar, 108 cups of flour, and 27 pounds of chocolate, 54 pounds of butter, to make the 234.2 pound confection! Sounds like just enough chocolaty deliciousness to satisfy my sweet tooth!

I hope these fun facts have preheated your desire-to-bake-oven! Click around on the links for more fun baking facts and tips and check back on SAS for upcoming baking ideas. Remeber, baking should be like these facts, fun! It doesn’t have to be from-scratch to count either. Slice-and-bake cookie? Yummy! Box cornbread? Yes, please! Cake from a mix? Make mine fun-fetti!

So my dear readers, whether you’re an oven  novice or a pro,

Blissfully Bust-out some Baking! 

What’s your favorite thing to bake or favorite baking tip? Let us hear it below!

Thirsty Thursday – A is for Aperitif

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For SAS‘s first Thirsty Thursday I wanted to stick with the letter of the month, A, and focus on a little known, often misunderstood realm of the alcohol world, the Apéritif.

 Dictionary.com defines an apéritif as:

noun, plural apéritifs

 

[ah-per-i-teefs; Frencha-pey-ree-teef] (Show IPA)

1.

a small drink of alcoholic liquor taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal.
2.
Also called apéritif wine. a wine served as an appetizer or cocktail.

The drink is meant to stimulate your appetite not kill it with booze or get you so drunk that you can’t experience the meal. Like the difference between a true appetizer and the American small-plate, one is meant to precede the meal and one is meant to be a part of the meal. In this way an apéritif should be simplistic in its construction and presentation. While it’s taste can be complex to awaken the palate, an apéritif should be clean not cloying and light not rich.

Apéritifs are not defined by only liquor or only one type of liquor and include some wines. They are, however, designated by  general guidelines that include having a lower alcohol content than some hard liquors and erring on the side of dry rather than sweet. Common choices for an apéritif include vermouth, brut champagnes, bitters & soda, anise flavored liquors, dry sherry, and varieties of dry white wine.

I found a very informative and interesting post from thekitchn entitled All About Aperitifs (shout out to the letter of the month & alliteration *whoop-whoop*). The article breaks down various popular apéritifs and lists other options for pre-dinner drinks, including a personal favorite of mine, Pimm’s! The liquor, Pimms No. 1 Cup, is the  main ingredient of an English and New Orleans classic, the Pimm’s Cup, a crisp and refreshing drink that tastes (in certain variations) like an iced tea that knows a sexy secret.

Celebrate the waning Summer by making one today!

Pimm’s Cuppimms-cup

makes one drink

1 1/2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
lemonade (or ginger ale or lemon-lime soda)
lemon slices
cucumber slices
(optional: orange slice, fresh borage and/or mint leaves, apple slices, strawberry)

Half-fill a Collins glass with ice and a few slices of cucumber, borage leaves, or other garnishes. Add measure of Pimm’s, then top up glass with lemonade or soda. Stir gently and add additional ice if necessary. Garnish with slices of lemon and cucumber. (recipe thekitchn)

Or visit two New Orleans establishments known for their Pimm’s Cups: Down a Pimm’s in the presence of portraits  of the late french monarch, dust from as far back as 1797, and perhaps a ghost or two at Napoleon House . Leisurely sip a Pimm’s Cup shaded from the afternoon sun on the porch of The Columns Hotel surrounded by hundred year old oak trees, crunching on the fat cumber garnish while streetcars roll by.

So whether you venture out to eat in New Orleans during COOLinary month or make a special meal at home, this August,

Appreciate An Apéritif! 

 

A is for…Avocado, Arugula, Asaragus

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Avocado, Arugula, Asparagus – three of my favorite, green veggies begin with my favorite letter, A. Coincidence? Not sure. Good eats? Most assuredly!

Asparagus has always been an enjoyable go-to green thanks in large part to how simple it is to cook but mostly for its crave-able crunch & bright taste. I imagine if Spring had a flavor it would taste like the sweet freshness of asparagus. Apparently my love for asparagus is nothing new for the stalky plant which has been considered a delicacy since ancient times. Asparagus boasts  anit-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits along with digestive support and even anti-cancer benefits! (More about these benefits  on World’s Healthiest Foods)

Arugula is a green I’ve been in love with since first bite. We’ve had one of those magical relationships you are promised to have with a prince when you’re a little girl playing princess: reliable, exciting and always evolving. Hot or cold, no matter how I’ve experimented with Arugula, it has always understood what I’m trying to accomplished and lent its peppery complexity to the dish. Nutrition and You lists excellent sources of Vitamins A (yay for the letter of the month), C and K in the green and, since K helps in limiting neurological damage, eating Arugula isn’t only enjoyable, it’s smart!

Avocado and I have had a rocky relationship. I live by the Andrew Zimmern adage to take more than one bite of something, you might like it more the second time. So I would try, try again with avocado, but each time my gag reflex was stronger than my pleasure receptors. I never gave up though and one evening after many New Orleans’ daytime libations I  stumbled walked into El Gato Negro with my sister-in-law and her family. When guacamole (yucky-mole is what I used to call it) was ordered instead of queso, I almost cried. I sadly nibbled on a chip till my hunger overcame me and I dove in. Light bulbs of realization flashed in my head as I finally experienced the rich, fatty unctuousness that drives people to put avocado on every thing! The good fats finally tasted good to me and now I top my lunches with it and mix it in my soups. I will put this heart healthy, cholesterol lowering, Vitamin E powerhouse on almost anything.

One night I found myself with no plan for dinner and all three of these veggies in my fridge. Dinner salad became an excellent idea and the Triple Threat Green Salad was born. I have since made this salad with many variations. Here is my way of putting it all together:

Triple Threat Green Salad:

  • 1 bunch of green asparagus (they come in white and purple varieties too)
  • 1 container of arugula (I prefer organic) large enough for the number and size of salads you want to make
  • 1-4 ripe avocados depending on size of the avocado and number of salads you are making
  • 1 bag of microwave steam-able corn
  • 1 container of miniature Portobello or button mushrooms
  • All purpose or Cajun spice mix
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/4 cup non-fat half & half *optional*
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil and light margarine as needed
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Follow instructions on microwave steam-able corn to heat (I prefer to cook it about a minute shy of the recommended cooking time because I will be heating the corn more after).
  3. Prep Asparagus – rinse and chop. *A trick to chopping asparagus:  Choose a stalk of an average size for the bunch and grasp with fingers on each end. Gently bend the stalk till it snaps. The “top” half of the asparagus is the tender part. Use this piece to measure how much to trim off the bottom of the remainder of the bunch. Discard the bottoms and cut the stalks into 1″ pieces.
  4. Prep mushrooms – Since mushrooms grow in dirt, there is typically some left on them and in the packaging. Dampen a paper towel and gently wipe down each mushroom to remove dirt. Slice or quarter mushrooms (I prefer them quartered because I like a meaty bite of ‘shroom). 😉
  5. Place chopped asparagus and mushrooms onto a baking sheet.
  6. Drizzle EVOO liberally onto the vegetables, tossing to coat evenly.
  7. Salt & pepper to taste. (I find fresh, cracked black pepper to be best).
  8. Place tray of veggies in oven to bake for 10 minutes, flipping veggies halfway through for even cooking.
  9. Melt a teaspoon of light margarine in a saute pan on medium high and add corn, sauteing for 3 minutes. Add all-purpose or Cajun seasoning to taste.
  10. If you choose to cream the corn slightly, add the half-and-half and cook for 5 more mins to reduce.
  11. Cube or slice the avocado. Don’t know how? Learn how to slice from Epicurious! For cubed, just cut the slices.
  12. Rinse & dry arugula and place in on serving dish. Top with roasted asparagus, mushrooms, corn and avocado.
  13. Drizzle with EVOO. Salt & pepper to taste.
  14. ENJOY!

The very best part of this salad, besides it’s taste and textures, is its versatility. TTGS makes a great base for leftover meat or seafood. You can easily fancy up the dish by using shiitake mushrooms. If company is coming, make the salad as a starter or stretch your entertaining budget by making it the main dish. Top with inexpensive Flank Steak and fan the avocado slices on top of each salad for a lovely presentation.


GSS

 

 

Here’s my “fancy” shiitake and left-over steak variation. I made this for myself, but if I was serving it at a dinner party I would fan the steak and avocado as suggested. Sauteing the mushrooms in truffle oil is another way to up the gourmet factor!

 

 

 

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My recipe calls for roasting the asparagus and mushrooms in the oven for easy cooking.  If you don’t have an oven available or prefer to do your cooking on the stove top, remember you can always saute the asparagus and mushrooms til tender, rather than roasting!

So give this nutritious, versatile and tasty salad a whirl and be sure to comment your thoughts and variations. Or email me a picture of your creation for use in a future post!

Euphorically Enjoy Eating!