C-O-F-F-E-E

C is for Coffee

Gimme some sugar

  As part of L’Aussie Writer’s APPRECIATING THE ZEALOTRY Challenge, I am re-posting one of my favorites from the April A-Z Challenge.

Pour yourself a cup, sit back and enjoy!

38 seconds.

That’s the time it takes from pushing the button on my Keurig to taking my first morning sip. I know this because I timed it. Yep – 38 seconds. That’s about as close to instant gratification (instant caffeinification?) as one can get. Unless someone invents an IV-drip.

I’ve actually perfected a method of sloshing in a dollop of milk from the jug while my cup is still brewing so as not to waste an additional precious 2 seconds. Full-on fast-fix coffee junkie.

The Keurig is a cool little vampire of a machine. It neatly and efficiently impales the K-cup and sucks the lifebrew out of it. Sweet black ichor drains into my cup in 38 seconds!

cup o' caffeine

cup o’ caffeine

Lately there’s been a lot of brew-ha-ha (LOL) in the New York Times and other media regarding the actual price of coffee per pound for single-serve machines. “You’re paying $50 a pound using that thing,” according to my mother-in-law.

Did I mention…I get my coffee in 38 SECONDS?

I am the only coffee drinker in the household. This is my luxury. Still under a dollar a cup. Show me the person who can walk into Starbucks and spend less than a dollar. I’ll admit, I did buy the little fill-your-own filter thingy because I am feeling slightly guilty about all my empty K-cups piling in the landfill. I haven’t used it yet, but I plan on trying it soon…as soon as I wake up one morning and find I am out of K-cups!

Yes, I have allowed convenience to compromise my coffee-consuming rituals. I used to grind (burr mill is better than the blade types) and scoop and measure cold filtered water and blah blah 38 SECONDS blah. And most likely I will do so again, once summer comes and I can make and store iced coffee to drink whenever. But for now…it’s K all the way, baby.

Please don’t tell my dad. He is a freshaholic coffee freak. He not only grinds each cup as he goes, but he also roasts his own beans. In a popcorn popper. True story. He orders the raw beans online (they are green, for the record)  and researched this home roasting method. It takes a very specific kind of popper that isn’t as easy to find on the market anymore. He’s burned through a couple of them already. The coffee tastes great, but let me tell you, the smell while it’s roasting is foul. Like burning tires. It’s got to be carcinogenic. (Now there’s a C word!) Once he grinds it, it releases the wonderful “coffee” smell that even non-coffee drinkers admit smells pretty darn good. And there’s no denying it is the freshest cup around.

But it ain’t no 38 seconds.

Enjoy this catchy coffee-sipping song…I’m off to brew!

Around the Web in 26 Days

Congrats to all my fellow Blogging from A to Z Challenge comrades – we Arrived, we Blogged, we Commented. And we conquered – 26 alphabetical posts in 26 days! We are a crazy and creative bunch.

A to Z Survivor

When I created this site last October, I chose the tongue-in-cheek title “I’ll Blog When I’m Dead” as a play on the phrase “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”. I had a mountainous to-do list prioritized, and blogging seemed like a frivolous afterthought. The sold-my-soul-for-rock-and-roll day job often seeps into my off-hours, the 10-year old has a social schedule to rival Zani Gugelmann’s and the book, as they say, ain’t gonna write itself.

I also thought – who wants to read my ramblings? As I wrote in my very first blog post: My pearls of wisdom are costume jewelry at best and I’m like a little kid playing dress-up. I write FICTION, not State of the Union. How could my site possibly contribute to the blogging pool at large? It will be just a drop in the bucket.

After completing A to Z, and discovering so many amazing and entertaining blogs, my reflection has changed. I still see a drop in the bucket…but I also see the ripples, widening in the blogging pool with each click, post and comment. Very cool.

The A to Z Challenge reminded me a bit of an Around The World party in the college dorm – but with less vomit in the stairwells and no one’s dorm furniture on fire outside in the middle of the quad by night’s end. But seriously, it was like a big party where you move from room to room, sampling different party foods and drinks and meeting all sorts of people as you traveled through.

One of my favorite parts of the month was landing in a “room with no guests”: arriving on a fresh blog post with zero comments. You know the host behind the post is a lot like a host at a party – nervously hoping people show up and have a good time. No one wants their visitors just standing around, not talking or sampling the spinach dip. So it was always fun to make the first comment on someone’s post, and come back later in the day to see how the party had grown.

I’m a stats junkie, so it was also fun to watch my April stats skyrocket in views – over 2,500 views for the month! That kind of high puts you on a high.

Some of my favorite discoveries and personal highlights: Bibsey, a UK new mum living in Spain – her blog posts were so clever and once, when she was at a loss for an “R” topic, she took inspiration from my blog. What a compliment!

I also became totally enamored with The Death Writer. She’s a non-fiction writer who truly has a gift for writing clearly and elegantly on all different aspects of a topic many may consider morbid or uncomfortable.

Another blog I found myself landing on almost daily was the whimsical Clay Baboons. I have a droll love for clay people making weird facial expressions that dates back to old SNL Mr. Bill skits. Oh no….! Clay Baboons’ ABCs in clay were killer!

Finally, I was totally blown away by the sheer number and quality of the “writer’s tips” blogs out there. Some were informational, others merely inspirational. But they all reminded me that I was never alone in my quest. Moody Writing was always very thought-provoking. And Steven Chapman‘s blog always gave me a kick in the writing pantaloons when I needed one. Plus, he’s a good one to have your back during the zombie apocalypse. Through comments, we agreed: he’s bringing the crossbow, I’m bringing the sandwiches.

If I am up for the Challenge next year, I think I will develop a theme. It was certainly a good exercise to pull a random topic out of the air each day, but after seeing so many cohesive themes this year, I feel inspired to come up with one and stick to it!

Out of my random ramblings, I had a few personal favorites, if you care to peek:

C – Coffee

G – Got Gray?

H – Helium

L – Library Lions

R – Rock and Roll Riders

X – Xigua

A final thanks to all the folks behind Blogging From A-Z, and to Stephanie Haefner over at The Writer’s Cocoon for bringing the Blog Hop to my attention in the first place!

Zoas…?

I had the best intentions to write my Z post on William Blake’s The Four Zoas.

If I had had a brain in my head, I would have written that “Z” post during that first, fresh week and squirreled it away. But I didn’t. And I didn’t.

And now I have zero idea of where I wanted to go with that post. Zip.

So here – I will at least show you a pretty picture of his Zoas – Tharmas (sense), Luvah (love), Urthona (imagination), and Urizen (reason).

The Four Zoas

Literary scholars have spent their lives’ work studying this unparalleled yet uncompleted prophetic vision of Blake’s. So I’m not sure what I thought I was going to accomplish with one small blog post, coming on the heels of 25 other blog posts about random crapola:

A – Author

B – Butterfly Kisses

C – Coffee

D – Details

E – England

F – Fact or Fiction

G – Got Gray?

H – Helium

I – Idiopathic

J – Jesters

K – What Writers KNOW

L – Library Lions

M – Meat

N – Ni! and Neee-wom and Noodles 

O – Operation Organize Office

P – Playing the Part

Q – Quixotic

R – Rock and Roll Riders

S – Sun Kink

T- Training to be a Dirty Girl

U – Review of Amanda USEN’s ‘Scrumptious’

V – whose post has VANISHED into thin air – creepy!

W – Writers’ Retreat

X – Xigua

Y – Yodelittle

Z – wasn’t really about the Zoas at all. MAYBE NEXT YEAR!

I hope everyone had fun blogging and reading from A to Z! And I hope to see you on the blog hop next year. Until then, feel free to stop by this little corner of the web to say hi.

Zee ya latah!

Yodelittle

I almost got tripped up on letter Y. One day away from the finale – I can’t be fresh out of ideas! All I kept thinking was yogurt. But I didn’t want to write about yogurt. I do eat it every morning (greek non-fat vanilla mixed with non-fat plain to cut the sweetness) but that is WAY more info than you need to know about me and yogurt!

Then I thought – Yodelittle. It’s like a yodel, in that it’s a song that easily gets stuck in your head. (I’m sure most of us are all guilty of crooning  “Ricola!” at odd times in our lives, am I right?)

Yodelittle is a ditty about a little lady, written by Al Schnier and performed by his band moe. It’s a charming folky-funky earworm, with a chorus that warbles:

Yodelittle lady who

Yodelittle lady that I love

Yodelittle was one of the first songs I ever heard moe. play live, and I thought it was so catchy and clever. It made me fall in love with them. As I started researching it today, I was astonished to realize 2 things:

  1. 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of this song – if first appeared on their debut album, Fatboy
  2. I was in the audience at the first known gig where it was performed

According to Phantasy Tour, an impressive website that tracks a crazy amount of stats on jambands, Yodelittle has been played live 303 times to date. It debuted on 2/15/92 at the Scrapyard in Buffalo, NY. And was played most recently at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore on 3/10/12. It is still a crowd favorite, and I love hearing the fans roar in approval when they recognize those opening notes being picked out.

The show list was fun to peruse. I had forgotten about that little gig at the long-gone Scrapyard. I love that it was played at 14 of their 24 shows at the legendary Wetlands Preserve in NYC (if I’m counting correctly.) In the early days, it was played at Frat house parties, like Pi Kappa Alpha at RPI in Troy, NY. But it’s also been played at venues as large as the Molson Amphitheater in Toronto, Canada.

How cool that it was played in the middle of the ocean twice – once in 2004 aboard the Norwegian Sun, and again in 2007 on board the Norwegian Jewel; two fan cruises that moe. orchestrated.  Fans in Yokohama and in London have heard it live in their cities.

It was also played on 4/23/01 at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ. This holds a special memory for me, as it was the night I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. (No wonder my legs felt so tired while I was dancing up a storm to Yodelittle!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little stroll down Yodelittle memory lane and the song’s ongoing legacy. Do you have a “Y” song, or any song, that you love and would like to share?

X is for…Xigua (and what did we do before the Internet?)

A few months ago, two other mothers and I took our daughters to the bowling alley. The girls have been friends since preschool, the Moms enjoy spending time together, and we often go out as a group on weekends.

Although all three are in fourth grade, they now attend different schools. One girl brought her homework assignment along, thinking it would be fun to complete together. “I have to write down a healthy food for each letter of the alphabet,” she explained. The other two quickly jumped in. Apples! Bananas! Cereal! (That one is debatable.) Just as the Blogging from A to Z Challenge has sparked our creativity beyond the average ABCs, this list became the highlight of their day…over the crash of bowling pins and greasy pizza.

I can’t remember their choices for every letter, but I do recall being astonished at how varied their vocab was, and their favoring the exotic over the everyday (tilapia over tater tots). And did I even know what kale was at ten years old? Had kale even been discovered yet?

Then we got to Q. The girls made a real effort. (No, Kumquat starts with K. But has a Q in it. Nice try!) So we moms gave them some gentle hints (Quince won out over Quinoa, as it was easier to pronounce and spell) and we rested back on our laurels.

Until… X. Between the three of us moms, we had 6 college degrees combined and a collective 130 years’ life experience. But could any of us think of a freakin’ food that began with X?

I think one of us may have come up with xanthan gum. Not exactly a food.

The girls were determined. They needed to complete this quest. Bowling was abandoned. The pizza grew cold on its plate. X! We need an X!

Being the only female present in possession of a smartphone, I pushed a few buttons and announced to the group, “Xigua. It’s a Chinese type of watermelon.” Relief, elation! Everyone could sleep that night.

Funny that this post comes on the heels of my singing the praises of a digital sabbatical. But seriously, what did we do before the Internet? I received my Masters in Library Science right before the 90s ‘Net boom, so I know how to research old-school with the best of them. It would have taken me a bit longer than three seconds, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to do it in the middle of a bowling alley!

I tried to impress upon the girls how much more difficult and time-consuming research was before we had the internet at our fingertips, but they were, in the end, unimpressed.

I’m pretty sure this is the equivalent of our parents telling us they had to walk barefoot to school, ten miles in the snow, uphill both ways…

Writers’ Retreat!

(This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Wellins. He’s not a writer and he’s not retreating, but everyone should have a Wellins in their lives!)

W is for…wow. Almost there! Like scheduling a spa day after a grueling workout, I’ve got something to look forward to after a long month of blogging (and other) deadlines: a writers’ retreat. My first!

This weekend, eight members of the Western New York Romance Writers will converge to brainstorm, to laugh, to eat and drink but mostly, to write. We come from all backgrounds – working women, stay-at-home-moms, even Grandmoms – and we all write different genres: from chic lit to erotica to category to women’s fiction. But one thing I think we all have in common: we are very dedicated to our writing, and we never have enough time in our “regular” lives to pursue it.

I relish the prospect of writing on my own schedule for two straight days; it’s a rare luxury. No playdates to supervise, no carpooling to undertake, no laundry. No alarms in the morning, no…wi-fi!

This last thing will be a good thing. I have my Smartphone for email, and for “quick” reference checks if I must. Rest assured my blog posts will be finished and scheduled! Other than that, and my writing medium of choice (laptop, Word doc), I am officially taking a “digital sabbatical”. I first heard the term a few days ago, when blogger Katie Testa of Watch This Space used it in her U is for Unplug post. Imagine – time away from almost everything electronic to study and rest. I don’t know about your world, but my world has been taken over by what I call digitalia. Digital everything! Its fed by everything, and it feeds upon everything. Daily. Hourly. By the minute.

Time to take back my world.

So I have high hopes for these two days at the writers’ retreat, with my fellow authors. I hope we all meet whatever writing goals we set, as well as reap the benefits of sharing space and breaking bread together. Quality time with good people, and limited time sucked away by faceless technology. I am ready. Write on!

U…review and recipe!

Hey, U! We’ve hit the 21st letter in the alphabet! Is everyone still hanging in there? It’s been a uniquely fun, unusually time-consuming blogging month…but I am so glad I signed up for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Now, onto the letter of the day, brought to you by this tall, dark and delicious guy:

Scrumptious by Amanda Usen

Um...yum!
(And the cupcakes look pretty good, too.)

Gimme a U! Gimme an S! Gimme an E! Gimme an N! Usen, Usen, Usen! Today I’m shaking my pompoms and grinding my pepper mill in celebration of Amanda Usen‘s debut culinary romance, Scrumptious! Amanda is the brains behind the dreamy hero who inspired the cover, as well as the signature tall, dark and delicious chocolate cheesecake her heroine creates in the book.

Grab a fork and let’s dig in, shall we?

While I am not your typical romance reader, I do appreciate a good love story and I adore books with a culinary slant. Paired together like a fine wine with cheese and written as solidly as a 3-star Michelin review, Scrumptious is the perfect combination of heart and heat.

When I think about the words “food” and “cooking”, certain descriptors come to mind: home, comfort, warmth, luxurious, transporting, decadent. Now who wouldn’t want to apply each of these when thinking about their attraction, both mentally and physically, to their ideal mate? Great chefs will tell you that cooking is chemistry, but it’s also an art. And the same could be said for love…do you sense a pattern in my thinking?

Usen plays up the pattern delightfully, pairing up a “love ‘em and leave ‘em pastry chef” with a “cocky superstar” chef-for-hire. Marly and Joe vie for bragging rights in the kitchen of Chameleon, a restaurant owned by their mutual dear friend, Olivia. A kitchen, I might add, that has been turned upside down and run into the ground by Olivia’s philandering husband, Keith. Joe was only passing through town on his way to fulfill his mother’s two deathbed requests: to dry his father out, and to find a “nice” girl to settle down with once he took his dream job out West. He stays on temporarily as a favor to Olivia, which sets Marly’s temper (and her desire) higher than a torch caramelizing a crème brûlée. Not only has Joe taken over her rightful place back on the hot line, but he puts her in her place by turning her advances down cold.

Marly is just Joe’s type – feisty, fun and ready to roll. She’s not shy with her passion for food, or her passion, period. But she’s appears to be exactly what his mother had begged him to give up. He abstains…but only for so long. It was fun to watch Marly and Joe succumb to each other’s culinary delights, as well as to their prowess in other skills outside the kitchen.

But strange things are afoot at Chameleon. The subplot involving sabotage within the ranks at the restaurant had me totally immersed. I don’t want to give away the farm, but there is high stakes poker, mob men and an Italian grandma with a secret of her own before Usen wraps up this clever tale. And let’s not forget the pig roast!

I think what I savored most of all was the behind-the-scenes kitchen action and the ease with which Marly and Joe handle it. There is a sexiness and a confidence in the way they man (and woman) their stations, along with a genuine love for the food, and for the restaurant they fight to keep afloat.

Usen readily admits she enjoys chocolate cheesecake for breakfast, and she had a hot chef steal her own heart: the day her husband walked into class on their first day of school at the Culinary Institute of America. By day, Amanda teaches pastry arts classes and by night, she’s writing romance and cooking up lots of laughs with her husband and kids.

As pleased as I am to dish about her debut novel with you here, I am utterly thrilled to tell you THERE’S MORE! Luscious, the second sizzling book in Amanda Usen’s series, is due out in July!

Luscious by Amanda Usen

Ultra-yummy bonus: Amanda shares her recipe for the Mocha Rum Cheesecake that knocked Joe’s socks off in the book!