Shut Up and Take My Money

Coffee at Ferry Plaza//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I’m not sure how I got on Blue Bottle‘s mailing list, but does it really matter?

Or, rather, is anyone at all surprised that I’m on Blue Bottle’s mailing list, given my inclination to wax poetic about their coffee (about which they already wax well beyond poetic) every time I have the opportunity to have it – in SF, straight from the pour-over bar or in the form of a perfect cappuccino or even from a waxed carton of New Orleans-style iced coffee, or in Brooklyn on a hot day, or at lab after randomly running into the proprietor on the other side of the country while standing in line at, you guessed it, Blue Bottle.

All of this being a preamble to the “well, obviously” moment when I mentioned to N that Blue Bottle had introduced coffee subscriptions that included a free 2 oz trial by mail.

Our wee packet of Bella Donovan beans arrived earlier this week and was tucked away for this morning, the first day of vacation, as perfect a summer day as we’re likely to have in Chicago, where over the last 10 days we’ve slipped from early spring into high summer weather with no regard for the dates on the calendar. The toddler was awake at 5am, our stroller run was middling, our trip to the park culminated in tears and tantrums, and the breakfast I’d looked forward to making all week was a disaster.

But the coffee was solid. I couldn’t tell you whether it was “warm, comforting, [or] familiar” because mine was mostly lukewarm by the time I had wrangled my over-tired child into dreamland, but it did feel awfully luxurious to have really good beans (instead of the $5/pound grocery store variety) in the grinder, and an actual bloom on the grounds when I used the pour-over, and a cup of coffee to look forward to for more than just reasons of survival.

Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

A Coffee Interlude

We don’t even really try to find good coffee in my hometown.  Rockford – at least the side of town where I grew up – is made for Starbucks.  There’s no hipster scene in NE Rockford – just suburbanites with Kate Gosselin highlights and families in their SUVs flocking to the latest chain restaurant.

Which is to say that we found ourselves at Starbucks Saturday morning, in desperate need of caffeine and bearing a list of orders for the similarly addicted.  We were greeted by the overly enthusiastic barista (OEB) in tight pants.

E: Good morning.  I need three tall coffees with room, a tall iced green tea, light ice, unsweetened, and whatever he’s having (gestures to Shane).

Shane: Can you make a cappuccino that is, you know, less than 12 ounces?  Like 7 ounces?

OEB: You have no idea how long we’ve waited for someone to ask precisely that.  Didja hear that? He wants a real cappuccino!

Impressively-Bearded Barista (IBB): (excitement)

Shane: No, you know, I’ll just have a tall coffee as well.

OEB: No, no, we can do it!  We don’t have a whole lot of control over the espresso, but we can definitely make you a smaller drink.

IBB: I can make you any size you want!

Shane: Are you sure?

OEB: Yes! And you know what, we’ll give it to you for free.

E: Thanks!

OEB: (Repeats the order back, forgetting the iced tea)

Girl Barista: Did you want medium or bold?

E: Medium

OEB: Wait, was his coffee a medium?

E: No, no, we just wanted the medium roast.

OEB: Oh, right, sorry!  (Finishes transaction)

We step to the side to wait.  I add half and half to my coffee, then ask for skim milk for Mark and Jenn’s.  Shane is presented with a medium cappuccino (16 ounces).  They forget the iced tea, which I ask for again.  We leave with five drinks, wondering what exactly just happened.

So maybe there is hope for good coffee in Rockford.  There are baristas out there that want people to drink real cappuccinos.  They just aren’t sure how to make it happen.

Madison Eats, part 3

Honestly, I’m surprised I had room for breakfast after eating all the toast at Merchant on our last full day in Madison.  As we walked to breakfast, rubbing the sleep and mild hangovers out of our eyes, Shane teased me about the stack of toast which somehow grew from 3-4 slices of crusty farmhouse bread to a stack of toasts all the way up to the ceiling that I consumed Cookie Monster style.  I don’t deny that I ate all the toasts.  Just not that many.

Breakfast, day 3: Bradbury’s

Bradbury's

Cappuccino

We’ve traveled a lot this year, and as a result, have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to interpret Yelp reviews in order to find good coffee. The problem is that definitions of ‘good coffee’ are highly subjective: for some, it’s a 32 oz sugar spectacle from Starbucks; for others, it’s Blue Bottle. The best strategies I’ve found so far involve searching for words like crema, siphon, flat white, ristretto or gibraltar – one of which led us to Bradbury’s.

And Bradbury’s was exactly what we were hoping to find: seriously good coffee made by people who care. Shane had a traditional cappuccino – no more than 8oz, perfect microfoam – and a crepe with Nutella and bananas. I had a piccolo – indistinguishable from a gibraltar or a cortado, but then what do I know – and a scone. We left caffeinated and happy, wishing we’d found Bradbury’s earlier in our stay.

After breakfast, we wandered around the Capitol Square to Fromagination, a cheeseshop on par with Cowgirl Creamery in my book. The store was in a state of minor disarray as a Food Network crew was in the process of filming a spot for a new show focused on cheese, but that didn’t deter us from sampling a number of fancy and delicious Wisconsin cheeses. I especially enjoyed the display of local beers and recommended cheese pairings, and wish we’d had the opportunity to try more of them! Regardless, we left with our dinner in hand – three different cheeses to be paired with co-op takeout – and a recommendation to check out the National Mustard Museum on our way out of town.

Fromagination

Photo by Susie Foodie

Lunch, day 3: Brasserie V

100 World Class Beers

Photo by beautifulcataya

We split a delicious lunch at Brasserie V, located near Camp Randall Stadium amongst a bunch of boutiques on Monroe St. Shane was excited about the Belgian beer list, but I was more into the cool and creamy pea soup that we shared for lunch, along with a half Croque Monsieur and a towering cone of frites. We tried to avert our eyes as a couple at the bar gratuitously made out between sips of their Kwak, served in authentic Kwak glasses. We wished we had more appetite so that we could eat and drink more delicious things.

Off to New Glarus! But first, a stop at the Mustard Museum, which was everything we hoped it would be: weird, esoteric, and full of ridiculous mustard things. What possesses one to make mustard – collecting, not making – one’s life’s work? A question for the ages.

King of Condiments!

Notes Notes Notes

Not all language SFW, but oh my god, I’m doing my best not to crack up as I rewatch this. I sincerely hope we don’t sound like this when we talk about coffee, but I’m sure that we do to some extent.

Coffees of Philadelphia

I spent three days in rainy Philadelphia last week while attending (and presenting at) the biennial ACRL national conference.  This was my second trip to Philly – the first being three years ago, when we drove up to visit Karin, ate a lot of bacon, and generally spent the weekend making mischief.  This trip was slightly more professional, but no less busy – or delicious.

last drop
Photo by taulu

After a rough flight, I paid a little extra to get on Jackie’s train, and we fancy ladies made our way up the east coast and landed at The Last Drop, a totally adequate coffeeshop around the corner from the apartment we were renting.  Now, there’s not much about The Last Drop to commend it in comparison with the lovely Spruce Street Espresso around the corner, but I wouldn’t object to having The Last Drop in my neighborhood.  Here’s why: the coffee’s cheap, they have an array of baked goods, and the The Smiths were on the stereo the whole time we were there – just the sort of thing I loved about Caffe Paradiso.

Elizabeth studying at Paradiso on a Friday night
Me at Paradiso waaaay back in the day, photo by Oldtasty

I’ve made this complaint before – that Ann Arbor’s just a little too fancy, that there’s nothing good-grungy about it.  There’s no place to settle in with a sandwich and a cup of coffee for an afternoon of grading, or for a decaf and a brownie with friends in the evening.  We tried to go out for dessert in our first month or two in town and ended up spending $35 for two drinks and a shared treat.  So it’s kind of funny to me that I was disappointed by exactly the sort of place I miss so much.  The same thing happened Friday morning, when I went to Cake and the Beanstalk for breakfast on my way to the Convention Center – totally adorable, but my toasted bagel was still cold, and there was nothing special about my bagel.

Cake and the Beanstalk

Spruce Street Espresso, on the other hand, met my requirements for good coffee and a cute neighborhood vibe. Alas, I didn’t have time to stick around and enjoy my excellent cappuccino, as I had a presentation to give. I’d love to have Spruce Street in our neighborhood as well, though Comet fills the niche quite nicely.

toscano'd
Photo by confusedbee


If you go:
The Last Drop
1300 Pine St (corner of 13th and Pine)

Cake and the Beanstalk
1112 Locust St (near the corner of Locust and Quince)

Spruce Street Espresso
1101 Spruce St (corner of 11th and Spruce)

1009 Grand Rapids

We missed out on ArtPrize last year – a big city-wide art competition in Grand Rapids – and I was pretty sure that we’d miss it again this year, what with Shane’s trip to Vienna and mine to Atlanta and the exhaustion between trips and being sick. After last night, though, we really needed to do something to make us feel more positive about the state of things – so we hopped in the car and headed out to Grand Rapids for the day.

The day got off to a bad start, though, when I popped a big ol’ filling out of one of my front teeth while getting out what I thought was a bit of crusty bread. No, it was a filling pebble, leaving a tooth hole that didn’t hurt, but that did mean my eating options were somewhat limited. Undeterred by this traumatic incident, we made our first stop Founders Brewery, where despite lousy service and the tooth hole, we enjoyed a couple of sandwiches and beers.

We set off in search of art, and while we found a lot of “art” along the way, we also found a number of pieces that we really liked. They seemed to fall into three categories:

  1. Horses made of unusual materials
  2. Fantastic creatures
  3. Installations that involved both static and dynamic elements connected by string

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were spending perhaps the last perfect weekend of the fall on art, rather than on cider mills or raking the leaves. We didn’t end up seeing as much as I think we would’ve liked, in part because we wandered a bit far afield in search of a couple of cute shops I’d spotted online. I’m glad we did, too, because otherwise we wouldn’t have stumbled upon Rowster New American Coffee.

Rowster

Who would’ve thought that we would’ve found a coffee operation to rival those we visited in San Francisco – in the middle of a neighborhood in the middle of Grand Rapids! But there we were, and there were the gorgeous lever espresso machines, and there were the really perfect espressos in front of us. Rowster has only been open about two months, but the state of the shop – clean, simple, efficient – and the quality of the product have us sold completely. We had an espresso and a cappuccino – and several cups of sparkling water – while talking to the barista/owner (?), who then made macchiatos for us so that we could try a new espresso blend. When he had extra coffee left from a cup of pour-over, he offered that to us as well. $6 for three great drinks and a fair amount of coffee nerdery each equals a really nice way to pass an afternoon.

By this point in the day, though, we were both getting really tired and I wasn’t feeling so great, so after a bit more meandering, we headed back in the direction of the car. The last stop for the day was dinner at Restaurant Bloom – we were a little too hungry to just hit the road, realizing that it would only result in a stop for fast food. Bloom is the sort of place where you find yourself really struggling with the menu – not because there’s nothing you want to eat but because you want to eat absolutely everything. We split an order of fingerling “fries” – half of which will be tomorrow’s breakfast – and had a fancy sandwich each. My croque madame was impossibly rich, and I almost immediately regretted eating the whole thing. I’d love to go back for a meal at Bloom when a huge city-wide event is NOT taking place, as I expect the service would be a whole lot better.

All told, though – a nice day out of town, nice to see a smallish city investing in the arts, and a nice range of eats to share with my sweetheart.