More Stuff Worth Sharing

I’m a level four contributor on TripAdvisor. I’ve collected 25 badges and when I get an email saying, “Just one more review and you get to the next level!” I fall for it every time. I click the link and I find a restaurant I’ve been too and haven’t written about yet and I give it a glowing review (usually). I get a certain level of personal satisfaction from their points system even though they don’t matter.

I like telling people about what I like.

I check reviews before I book a hotel or buy a new dress or order a book.

Word of mouth goes a long way, so I’m going to share a few more things I find worth sharing!

BeautyMNL

I made my first order at BeautyMNL 10:30pm. I received my package at my front door the following morning at 10:15am.There are no drones involved here, friends. There was a friendly man standing at my door holding this package with a smile:

beautymnl

I found this site through an ad on my Instagram feed (they’re annoying little buggers, but they’re effective!). After some careful research and comparing some prices from the site to my grocery store, I felt comfortable to give them a shot. The prices were either the same as or slightly lower than what I was seeing at the store. Plus, I can get some products on this site that I don’t see every day – Bath & Body Works lotion, essential oils, and coconut oil shampoo… which leads me to my next item:

Coconut Oil

Your dog has skin problems? Coconut oil. Dry nose? Coconut oil. Make up remover? Coconut oil. Foot soak? Add coconut oil. Substitute for butter? Coconut oil. Ideal for smoothing frizzy hair? You get the idea.

Every time I google something, the result is coconut oil. (Well, either that or vinegar and baking soda.) I was a skeptic at first, I admit. Clearly, everyone was over exaggerating the plethora of uses for this simple product. But alas, in a country abounding in coconuts, it seemed like the perfect time to jump into the growing trend of this multi-purposed gift from God. Gordon’s fur, my hair, and the occasional loaf of banana bread have not been disappointed.

theSkimm

I signed up for theSkimm’s emails last year just before we left the States and when I receive their daily updates, I get excited as if am hearing from a friend. Written by a team of twenty-somethings in New York City, these emails give daily “cliff notes” of the news – there are bite sized paragraphs with witty (and sarcastic) commentary that makes me think, laugh, and click their links to dig deeper and learn more. They’ve created their own government lingo, reporting recent decisions from “the Supremes” and when the Dems vote against Hillz, she gets Berned.
It’s one of those “by millennials, for millennials” kind of things – West Wing politics meets Gilmore Girls humor. It’s my daily dose of U.S. news that brings information in a casual and entertaining way.

Enchiladas 

I’ve had a recent craving for all things Mexican. Or, you know, the version of Mexican that I grew up with in Connecticut. Rather than In addition to the new taco restaurant that opened up near our place, I found a recipe online for enchiladas that is worth sharing. Preferably, it’s worth sharing around the dinner table with some tortilla chips and some affogatos for dessert (using salted caramel ice cream, of course), but I’ll have to settle for passing along the recipe. I give you: Chicken Enchilada Rice Casserole. Shauna Niequist suggests in her book Bread and Wine to make a dish first according to the recipe and then deviate the next time. I’ve gotten into the habit of adding my own flair from the beginning, given what I can find at the store and what I have in my kitchen when I don’t feel like running to the store. For this one, my alterations are as follows:

  • I used regular white rice because I couldn’t find basmati (or don’t know the Tagalog word…?).
  • I had the ingredients to make the enchilada sauce in my cabinet already!
  • All cheddar cheese because it was cheaper to just buy one kind of cheese. And I really like cheddar cheese.
  • Cilantro didn’t end up garnishing this dish but not for lack of buying. It sat in the ref and was forgotten. But the dish still tasted great!

Served with chips and salsa and a smile. Follow up with some homemade doughnuts and you have yourself a meal.


My recommendations here are simply products and services I like. I receive no compensation for any of it; just like TripAdvisor, the points don’t matter.

Learning to Taste

We were at Stumptown’s headquarters for their weekly cupping. We’d only been to a few cuppings before, at Phil & Sebastian in Calgary, and were geeking out, you can say, to be cupping in the Stumptown Coffee. Intimidated as we started out, we quickly relaxed as the man guiding us through the activity was calm and chill and just – normal. There was no pretentious hipsterness happening here. It wasn’t a show or performance. We were just people who love coffee gathering around a bunch of coffee.
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 11.25.52 PM
Last week’s cupping at EDSA Beverage Design Studio (photo by @trentrollings).

“Just say what you taste and what you smell – there’s no wrong answer! If you taste tomato, say tomato and if you taste grass, say grass. If you taste rainbows, unicorns, or sunshine, that’s totally legit too!”

Weird as it may be, he’s kind of right. Our sense of smell and taste is linked to memories, to emotions, to other senses. When I taste certain roasts of Brazil, I’m camping in the woods. When my husband tastes the coveted Panama Geisha, he sees fireworks.

I asked our Stumptown guide, “How do you refine your pallet? How to you get better at tasting?” How can you tell me that this tastes like a red delicious apple when I just taste fruit, or even more basic – coffee?

What he told me surprised me. While I thought the answer might have something to do with just keep drinking coffee, you’ll get it eventually, it had very little to do with coffee itself.

Keep tasting food.

Notice the flavor of the food, pay attention to how it feels in your mouth and what parts of the tongue notice it. Name the flavors. Expand your vocabulary. Train your mind.

Go to the grocery story and buy as many types of apples as you can find (or any other produce, for that matter), and give yourself (and your friends) a tasting test. Learn to tell the difference between a granny smith and a red delicious.

In our coffee journey this past year, I’ve learned a lot about coffee. But I’ve also gained some new insights into the world of food too. I grew up with the basic spices of salt and pepper. After college I “discovered” basil and knew that it went well with parmesan cheese. When we got married, I realized that we’d keep eating out a lot of the time if I didn’t get learning.

As I stood over the stove yesterday, cooking an intensely aromatic Thai chicken curry (loosely based off of Gordon Ramsey’s recipe here), I realized that a lot of what I’ve learned has been a result of being in the coffee community, of being a barista. Here are a few of those thoughts:

1. Notice every flavor.

I’ll taste a coffee and the quickly pass it off to someone else asking, “What do you taste?” I’ve learned to taste many new flavors through other people. As I inhaled my simmering curry, I noticed the different flavor notes. In one breath I got the spicy of the pepper, the sweet of the vanilla, and the savory of the chicken stock. I realized that I have different categories now. I don’t just smell the dish as a hole but I’ve learned to notice and appreciate the individual parts.

2.  Practice, not perfection.

It’s a mantra for Latte Art Philippines and I’ve taken it to apply to cooking too. I learn more each time I stand in front of the stove. I learn more each time I mess up, too, whether it be while steaming milk (I’d been positioning the steam wand all wrong!) or making curry (I used too much salt). Working with coffee has taught me not to cry over spilt (or burnt) milk; it’s a life-long pursuit of learning and experimenting.

3. The possibilities are endless.

There are 54 people competing in this year’s National Aeropress Competition. Fifty-four different tasking cups of the same coffee will result. Everyone’s coffee will be the same but their factors different – water, grind size, filters. It all affects the taste.

During a slow shift, I opened a copy of The Flavor Bible that floats around the shop. It lists what flavors go with which flavors and it tells me foods I would have never dreamed of combining. I went home that day and combine some coconut with chocolate and chicken and create something delicious.

4. It’s better with friends.

Not only is it better to eat with friends or drink coffee with friends, but it’s better to be inspired by friends. This week we discovered that you can re-carbonate flat Coke. We experimented with homemade Sprite and came out better for it. Kevin handed us a container of kaffir leaves and I love tasting whatever creation Yassie comes up with. Surrounding myself with people who also love to create and grow in their skill and tastes makes me better too.

Orange Crap

Orange Crap
Orange Crap. Made of orange jello, carrots, and pineapple, this holds the reigning title as my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes. Dessert disguised as something healthy (after all, there are carrots), cuddling between the stuffing and the turkey. My taste buds sing on contact.

The carrots are shredded, a task I rarely remember my mom doing each year as the dish magically appeared chilling in the refrigerator the night before the grand meal. But I do remember one year, a very long time ago, sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, holding the grater with my very small hands.

It’s a distant dream, one that isn’t quite mine. It only comes back as my now-larger hands grasp the grater and the carrot. I am now the creator of the magic. I pause over the ceremonial vegetable massacre and I smell her cigarettes. I feel loved. I feel connected.

It was later in life that Mom revealed the secret – this was the recipe of her own grandmother: a woman called Julie who I barely even met in stories. Julie, called Duddie by her friends and Mom by her kids, was my grandfather’s mother. She lived just the next town over from my mom growing up and hosted marvelous Thanksgivings (at least that’s how they are remembered in my imagination) until her husband died when my mom was nine. Mom says that on her table, every Thanksgiving, was this jello dish. Around my childhood table it’s called “orange crap,” but it also now goes by the name “Julie’s Jello” whenever we bring the dish to a church potluck.

This year was my first Thanksgiving away from home. I went about my morning as usual, Skyping my brother as he prepared his first turkey in his first home. My sister-in-law decorated beautifully and apparently made more vegetables than was possible to eat. My mom brought the orange crap, out of tradition more than anything. After all, we agreed together, it’s not Thanksgiving without the orange crap. I went to language school and even learned the word for turkey (“pabo”). Later that night, I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on my sister’s television, thanks to Skype. It’s another tradition that is more personal than familial. It’s one I hope to pass down to my children, thanks to technology, no matter where we are in the world.

Tomorrow, on Saturday, my husband and I will join with team members for a Thanksgiving potluck celebration. The orange crap is chilling in the refrigerator, preparing to make the taxi ride. As a part of my now global family, I’ll let them in on the real name, a sheepish look on my face as I do so. It may not an enticing name, but it’s our tradition as much as the dish itself. And it’s one that I can carry on wherever I can find boxes of jello and carrots to shred.