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!

Noodles (inspired by Nate)

I’m thinking my earlier N post was a bit of a cop-out. It was a loong weekend, folks. Preceded by an even looonger week of “spring vacation” with various children not belonging to me running through my house.

Easing back into work mode this morning, I got an email from one of the road crew which got me thinking. He (jokingly) mentioned living on Ramen Noodles. I’m not talking about the Japanese dish known generically as ramen – I’m talking about the instant kind with Ramen in the brand name. ‘Member those? A brick of noodles and a packet of sodium-laced spice, needing hot water to meld them into one?

I’m wondering if one can measure success by the last time they HAD to eat Ramen Noodles?

They were a staple in the dorm rooms, a hot pot favorite. 10 for $10 at the supermarket. Superior to Cup O’ Noodles on the basis of quantity alone, but lacking the one thing Cup O’ Noodles had the upper hand on: a cup.

This colleague of mine is young and hard-working, he’s lean and hungry…maybe due to being fueled by Ramen (which is such a great band name, btw. Wish I had thought of it first). His palate probably still able to tolerate such heat and salt those noodles bring in their stringy mess.

I don’t think I’ve eaten a brick o’ noodles or a cup o’ noodles since 1995. Could my palate, almost 20 years deprived, still handle either? How about my blood pressure and my ego? How about yours?

(Noodles, brought to you by the letter N. Suggested by Tim, and inspired by Nate. And fueled by…?)

Ni! And Neee-wom (and other sacred words)

Wow. N had me flummoxed. Not sure why. I reached out to my friends on Facebook for some prompts, and received many varied and certainly very worthy N words. Here are just a few (read: numerous) suggestions:

natural, nagging, nimbus clouds, Noticias! naughty, night time, noogie, Nick Tahou, Nickelback (worst band ever), novels, NY, numbers, nanotechnology, Niagara Falls, napkins, nitrous oxide, nutrition, Narnia, Nostradamus, Nirvana, naivete, New Orleans, Nor’Easter, necessantarism, natural selection, nares aka nostrils, National Geographic, nakedness, nada, nom de plume, narwhal, needlenose, Neanderthal, nap, Noxema, nixies, ne’er do well, need to know, nephritic, narcoleptic, neonatal, nevermore, nevermore, nevermore. narcolepsy, nautical, Nintendo, now & laters, Nerf, noodles, Nutella! Nicko, Nuefchatel cheese, nymphs, night lights, Northern lights, nexus, nimble, nickelodeon, neighbor, Nestle’s, notary, notoriety, neigh, nay, Nye, nigh, nothing!

But all that keeps coming to mind is…the Knights Who Say “Ni”. Which is silly, because Knights starts with K and Ni isn’t even a real word.

Or is it?

Ni! It strikes fear in the hearts of many! And terror and pain! Those who hear it, seldom live to tell the tale. Keep shrubbery handy, as those who are the keepers of the sacred words Ni, Peng and Neee-wom demand it.

Words are wonderful. We use them every day, in every way. We think them, but often we spew them out without a thought. And some people can mold words (and nonsensical non-words) in such a way to make us laugh our heads off. I dare you to try and say “Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptangya Ziiinnggggggg Ni” with a straight face.

Needless to say, N still has me somewhat flummoxed.

MEAT

Yeah, feel free to click on the link and listen to 1/3 of moe.’s 40+ minute monster instrumental ode to MEAT as you read my M post. (Their guitarist was a vegan for many years at the point when they recorded this song, btw.)

This is a born-again meat-eater’s story. Or a recovering vegetarian’s story. Not advocating one way or the other, and I hope to offend no one!

I meandered down the path to vegetarianism in my early 20s. It wasn’t a stretch – I had grown up in a Kosher household (no pork products) and it was a fairly health-conscious household to boot. My parents were reading labels, avoiding BHT and eating tofu way before it was fashionable to do so.

I moved to New York City at age 23, and it was the perfect storm of a) living alone and cooking for myself for the first time b) not really knowing how to cook meat and c) NYC – a bazillion restaurants featuring every cuisine you could dream up. I slowly ate less and less meat, until I wasn’t eating it at all. And that was OK – I hadn’t been enjoying the feeling of über-fullness after ingesting red meat anyway. I knew it was a healthier way to go.

(Oh, here is part 2 of 3 – if you are hungry for more)

So vegetarianism began as a social thing – I was young and busy and wasn’t going to mess around cooking elaborate meat dishes for myself.  No, grab a bean burrito and head out the door to party! Then it evolved into a health thing. And as I began reading more about it, it came full circle as I became aware of the environmental and ethical implications. I found my nutrition niche, I guess you could say, a few years into it: I became a lacto-ovo pescatarian. Meaning I would eat milk, eggs and fish – but nothing else with a face or parents.

My husband – omnivore – is an amazing cook. He probably cooks vegetarian food better than I do – but he also enjoys a big ol’ steak on the grill, so at times, we are often running a restaurant here in our house: 3 different menus between him, myself and our daughter. We rarely eat packaged or processed foods, but we all have our hang-ups, allergies, and things we will and will not touch.

On our 10th anniversary, we went back to the Inn where we were married, and the chefs there wanted to create a menu for us. I knew whatever they made would be amazing, so I told them I wouldn’t be opposed to eating items with meat stock in them.

It was there that I was introduced to applewood-smoked bacon. Or as I like to call it, my gateway meat.  After 16 years of “no thanks, I don’t eat meat”, I was ravenous for…bacon. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat a mainly plant-based diet, but I realized I had been missing certain flavors that just cannot be recreated by meat-substitutes. I am still trying to be responsible and sensible about it – grass-fed and organic when possible, still in moderation.

How about you? Have you fallen off any wagons? Here’s just a little more MEAT (part 3 of 3)

Library Lions

It’s National Library Week, April 8th – April 14th!

NYPL lions

Patience and Fortitude on 42nd Street

So perfectly fitting to give my “L” love to those lovable literary lions that flank the regal steps of the New York Public Library.

Have you ever seen one of these signs on the Thruway?

Highway sign

Ever wonder what spot in New York City determines this mileage? Supposedly, it’s measured from 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. That’s considered the heart of the city: the home of the New York Public Library (now called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) and the foundation for our felines, Patience and Fortitude.

These noble creatures celebrated their 100th birthday last year. Here are some fun facts:

  • The pair were originally called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after the NYPL founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. They were also called Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they are both male lions). They were re-named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor LaGuardia during the Depression – qualities he said would get New Yorkers through the bad times. The names have stood the test of time.
  • They’ve worn holly wreaths at holiday time, floral wreaths in spring, top hats, graduation mortarboards and even Mets and Yankees caps. In 2001 they were adorned with red, white and blue ribbons.
  • They are sculpted from pink Tennessee marble.
  • Their commission cost the Library $13,000 – about $300,000 in today’s market.
  • The cats finally got a bath in 1975 to wash away pollution, then major restoration in 2004. It was then determined that due to their fragile condition, no more decorations should be placed on them.
  • They are modeled after African, not Indian, lions. Although they are still taller and longer than average African lions.
  • After people complained early on about the lions appearing “too hairy”, their sculptor, Edward Clark Potter, came and trimmed their manes.
  • The lions have received their own fan mail over the years, dating back to the time when stamps cost 3 cents.
  • Fortitude

    Fortitude

    When I was a young librarian, I *may* have posed for on top of Patience for a photo op. Sorry, dude. Shh, don’t tell the library police.

Patience

Patience

What Writers KNOW

Kitty writer

In writing, there is that oft-uttered phrase “Write what you know”.  Many fiction writers start out in the cozy comfort zone of doing just that; looking within themselves and their body of experience to create compelling, realistic material.

I think back to my teen years, banging out stories on my parents’ old Underwood typewriter. I can still feel the eager breath on my neck from friends, dying to read the next chapter in whatever saga I was concocting (and killing trees for) that week. “Write me,” they’d say. “Can I be dating so-and-so?” And “Put me in Jordache jeans and give me really good hair!” Or “I hate that teacher. Can we have him kidnapped?” And tap-tap-tap, magically I would fulfill their wishes, only too happy to craft their desires into something tangible on the page. It was the world we knew, only we made it better. Our rules.

Fast forward to finishing my first novel and readying it for reading consumption. “Is this character based on you?” people asked, when they heard the protagonist shared the same profession as me (Librarian). Other than embodying some basic stereotypical traits that many librarians have – a love for order, for example – not even close. Katrina Lewis is much cooler and wittier than me. She’s been through an ordeal that reshapes her world, and is much more afraid of the known than the unknown. Me, I’m a wimp!

“Is this us?” My husband inquired, as he began to read the courtship between two characters set in a part of Manhattan familiar to him.

“Do you want to die by chapter three?” I asked him. He didn’t. “Then no, it’s not about you, me, or the concept of us.”

As the writer grows, the “known” can become a noose around the neck. Unless you are living like Hemingway, writing what you know begins to feel restrictive. And so we naturally progress into “writing what we research really well”. It is not uncommon for writers to immerse themselves completely into unfamiliar territory in the name of “research”. Recently, an author friend was crafting a major portion of her novel, set at a winery. She contacted a local vineyard with questions about wine-making, and found herself helping harvest grapes for that season’s vintage! Using the knowledge she learned as a base, she was able to craft a well-rounded, succinct and rich tale. Accurate, yet containing her unique stamp as a storyteller. Because as writers, we learn to “launch off” from what we know, learn and do.

At the heart of what we “know, learn and do” is emotion. Authors of historical fiction may never have lived through a specific battle, but if they have felt fear, rage, etc. in their lifetime, they will know how to craft fear, rage, etc. in relation to what they have researched and learned about that particular time period.

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced the loss of a loved one like my heroine tragically did. But loss on any level, I believe, can translate. I had been working on a different scene in the book when a loved and respected member of our community was lost. While I did not know her well, I knew she was an amazing person who had touched the lives of many. Trying to make sense of such a loss was surreal, sad and scary. It made an impression on me and the emotions shadowed me as I worked. Around that same time, I realized the Dewey Decimal System placed ‘Marriage and Family’ at 306.8 and ‘Death and Dying’ at 306.9 – grief and love, hand-in-hand. And I started to think about how a Librarian – someone who loves order – would try to make sense out of such a thing. And thus a major premise of my book developed.

Fellow writers – what say you? Have readers ever pegged your work for “disguised autobiography”? Do you tend to stay within your comfort zone, no matter how hard you’ve tried to break out? Or maybe you’ve found your niche and voice there, and it’s spelled success for you?

How have you taken what you “know, learn and do” to the next level? I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing what you KNOW!