Monday, August 30

On Family, Sisters, and Growing Up

We don't talk about family much on the blog - Shawn comes from a relatively small family and most of my extended family still resides over seas in France, so neither one of us has much family to speak of. Both of our immediate families live just one state over and we make a point to visit on a fairly regular basis, but otherwise, it's just the two of us. So I'm going to dedicate this post to my lovely younger sister who left home on Friday for her first year of college!


sisters being crazy, circa 2005


I am the oldest of three children - five years older than my sister, six years older than my brother. Growing up, I definitely felt the differences in age; the two of them were always very close, but I was always slightly too old to relate to them. They grew up and into their personalities while I was away at college, so I feel like I missed out on that transition from child to mini-adult, the crucial time to be an older sister. When I moved back home after college, they were no longer the childish minds from four years prior - they were developing their own philosophies on life and I could actually talk to them as peers - something I'd waited years for! And now, my little sister is starting a new journey on her own, and I'm sitting in the sidelines again, waiting for the moment to be a big sister if she needs me to be.


for reference, a more recent picture of my sister


She was kind enough to come visit last week so that we could hang out one more time before she left on Friday. We had planned on driving into center city and going thrifting, and then bringing home our finds and altering them on my sewing machine - I had looked into it and written down a few thrift stores to check out, and that's exactly what we set out to do. We parked near the first store (Circle of Hope Thrift), only to find an empty shell of a building where it was supposed to be. So we got back in the car and drove up towards the next store (Philly Vintage), parked in (what we later realized was a really pricey) lot, and walked over to the store's location... only to find yet another empty building! Slightly disheartened and running short on time by this point, we decided to abandon our plans and just walk around the city to kill some time and hopefully stumble upon something interesting. And stumble we did!


Second Time Around thrift store; picture borrowed from yelp.com


With fifteen minutes left before needing to be back at the parking lot, we finally found a thrift store. Second Time Around, to be exact (the irony is just too much). We just browsed, since we had to keep it quick, but this is definitely a find! The selection is beyond amazing and the prices are decent (I hate consignment shops that take themselves too seriously and charge nothing less than $30 for crappy old clothes...) If we had no time limit, we definitely would have been there a while and gone home with a few pieces. There's always next time!


yummy gelato from Capogiro!


Another great find - Capogiro Gelato. One of my co-workers used to work there and always praises them, so when we happened to stumble upon it, there was no way I could just walk past without stopping in for a taste! And taste we did! Like any good gelato place, they let you sample as many flavors as you want, and they let you pick two different flavors for the small cups - I settled on Nutella and Banana Rhum, and my sister got Dark Chocolate and Lime Sorbetto. Both were delicious, and gelato was definitely a good choice over the coffeeshop we were originally going to seek out.

Even though the day did not go as planned (when do plans ever go right?), it was still a whole lot of fun and I got to spend it all with my sister. I appreciate times spent with my siblings more now than I ever did - funny how that works. And now we have a few ideas on where to go next time she visits!

Do you have any siblings? How close are you in age, and do you feel age makes a difference in your relationship with them? Tell us a story about growing up in your family! Or a story about a day that didn't go as planned.

Tuesday, August 24

The only cookie recipe you need!



Today I'm going to share one of the best recipes in the world with you! Ok, perhaps that's a bit of a stretch, but chocolate chip cookies are pretty damn appreciated in this world and I cherish this recipe greatly. It took years of recipe tweaking but I finally found THE chocolate chip cookie recipe. This dough makes a fantastic base for other types of cookies too - it's easily tweak-able! I've made coconut cookies, peanut butter cookies, and oatmeal cookies from this same base. But the chocolate chip cookie is still my favorite.

But before I show you how to make cookies - I'm going to talk up some chocolate!



When it comes to chocolate, Trader Joe's Pound Plus bars are my favorite! They're only $4.99 for 17.6 oz of Belgian chocolate goodness! The semi-sweet bars are perfect for brownies or recipes where chocolate is the prominent ingredient, and the dark chocolate bars are what I chop up for cookies. Personally, I prefer fresh chocolate chunks over bagged waxy chocolate chips any day! If you're lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's near you, go buy some chocolate now!!!

Ok, time for some cookies. How do you get this....



... from stuff like this?



I'll show you!






Mix mix mix. If you're lucky enough to have a mixer in your kitchen, then use the paddle attachment on that. Otherwise, make sure to build up some strong muscles! Working in a pastry kitchen for almost two years helped me become a strong whisker - but if you don't have that luxury either, then just do what I do and let your butter soften up a bit before attacking it with your spatula.




Before and after baking shots! If you make cookies fairly often, I recommend getting yourself a cookie scoop, it makes the bowl-to-sheet pan process a little easier, and you get uniform cookies every time! You can usually find them for a decent price at places like Home Goods; that's where I got mine. I usually bake off about a dozen cookies at a time and scoop up the rest into an airtight container that can sit in the fridge until the next time you want cookies. Which, in our house, is almost a daily practice...

Chocolate Chip Cookies


ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

- Start by preheating your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and getting your dry ingredients ready: whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set it aside.
- In another bowl, beat the butter and both sugars together until mixture is pale and fluffy.
- Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
- Add your dry ingredients now and mix everything together until all the flour is incorporated.
- Now you have a delicious cookie dough base! At this point, you can add in whatever mix-ins you please. I went with the traditional chocolate chips (ahem, chunks), but you can really veer off and add whatever you're craving - nuts, candy, coconut, dried fruit, cereal, anything!
- Once you've mixed in everything you want to mix in, scoop little balls of dough out onto your sheet pan- leave about an inch of space between each- they will spread a bit! I usually fit about sixteen on my sheet pan.
- Bake them for 16 minutes, give or take a few depending on how your oven runs and how crispy you like your cookies.
- Let them cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.



Bake, and enjoy!





A happy baker!

Thursday, August 19

Around the globe at dinner time

Yet another "dinners you've missed" post; we should just start a tag for that already...



Quesadillas for dinner! Red and green pepper and onion triple cheese quesadillas, to be exact. So tasty, and so simple!




Chips and salsa and homemade guacamole. Making your own guacamole is so easy! All you do is mash up three ripe avocados, add a little salt and a good amount of lime juice, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, and a little fresh cilantro. Let it sit in your fridge for a bit too, it helps all the flavors meld together. There you have it!




Chinese takeout from Auspicious on an earlier evening when we didn't feel up for cooking. Shawn got some General Tso's and I got Pad Thai - overall, pretty tasty (but it's no Thai Kitchen :( !) and for the quantity of food they gave us, definitely worth the price. This is the first time we've gotten a 'microwave safe' rice container though! Very sturdy and a great idea, if only we had a microwave!




Our fortunes from said meal, taped to our blank and lonely fridge. How are they are always so on point!?




And a shot of Shawn looking cute, for good measure. It's not food, but it's candy for your eyes :)


Mmm mm.

Friday, August 13

Chocolate, it's what's for Breakfast

I took our usual pancake recipe and added some cocoa powder to it; BAM! New and improved pancakesters.


Chocolate pancakes, with chocolate chips, topped with more chocolate chips. Oh. My. Chocolate.


A little pancake mushroom!



To add glory to glory, maple syrup tops off these little beauties; because what are pancakes without maple syrup?



Shawn seems to think pancakes are finger food. I disagree, but making messes is his specialty.


And now you can go enjoy your chocolate-less morning while being jealous of ours.

Tuesday, August 10

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I have been working in the service industry for as long as I can remember. I've served people coffee, waited on tables, made food behind the scenes, and I've even worked a little retail. I've seen the better ends of customer service, and some of the worse ends too. What I've learned over the years is that it's easy to teach an employee how to deal with customers in an appropriate matter, but some customers still need a little refresher course on how to handle themselves in public too. What I'd like to share with you today is my take on customer etiquette.

What customer etiquette boils down to is respect. As a customer, when you walk into an establishment you expect decent customer service. What is considered decent customer service? Attention to detail, knowledge of product, eagerness, and above all, respect. We strive to give you these things and all we ask of you, the customer, is a little respect in return. So today, I strive to teach all of us (because we're all customers somewhere) four places where we could all use a little improvement, or re-education, in customer etiquette. (These do refer more specifically to a coffeehouse or small food retail type of interaction, although I believe most of these points could be applied just about anywhere.)


1. Say hello. It's not difficult and it barely takes a second, but for some reason, plenty of people still forget this. I can't tell you how often a customer walks into the cafe and I greet them with a cheerful "Hello! How are you doing today?", expecting at least a smile in return, only to be run down with a hasty "I'll have _____, and I want it to go". On one occasion I even had a new customer question one of our regular customer as to why he greeted me with 'hello' - he asked him, "What, do you know her or something?" - of course the regular customer was puzzled and said "only by association", because he understands that when you walk into an establishment it is customary to greet the person(s) inside, regardless of whether or not you 'know' them.


2. Keep your cellphone conversation out of our interaction. Everyone has a cell phone these days, whether it be the newest iPhone or something much less fancy, there is no denying that we are all living in a wireless word. And yes, it's great that you can call your friends up while you're walking down the street and tell them all about the new coffee shop that just opened up, but please, don't have that conversation while I'm trying to interact with you. It's rude to me, and it's rude to the person you're on the phone with, and that's just too much disrespect all around, so while you're at the counter, please put your phone away.


3. Clean up after yourself. We try our hardest to make you feel at home while you're in the store, but please don't make yourself too comfortable. Remember to keep your feet off the seats, put your dirty dishes in the bus tub and your used napkins in the trashcan, and if you make a spill - let us know so we can clean it up immediately! We know you wouldn't appreciate walking into a dirty store, so we invite you to lend us a hand in keeping it clean so that we can focus on the rest. It only takes an extra few seconds of your time, and it really does make a difference.


4. For the love of man, leave a tip. While this does fall under etiquette, everyone knows it's also pending on the situation. I'm not saying you should tip the guy at Wawa who hands you a cup of pre-brewed coffee and doesn't say anything more than the price, but I do believe you should always leave a tip if there is a tip jar and a moderate amount of interaction occurs. You don't even need to leave much - just dropping your change in there makes a difference too! Who really wants 48 cents jiggling around in their pocket anyway? A tip is just rewarding someone for a good service rendered - so tell me, is 48 cents really too much to give someone for a smile, a hand-poured cup of coffee, and a little conversation? Hell, I'll even throw a little love in there for free.


We are all in this world together, so lets lend each other a hand. Thank you!

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