You can tear these coffee passports from my cold, dead hands.

I was repurposing a big basket tonight (as I’m apt to do in the wee hours of the morning when I’ve accidentally drank too much coffee after 6pm), and came across a stack of coffee passports and coffee master kits from my time in the trenches at Starbucks. The thought crossed my mind that it might be time to purge some of these things, but I don’t know, I just don’t want to yet.

The thing is: I have a lot of really fond memories of working at Starbucks. It’s surprising how many sentences I start with, “You know, when I worked at Starbucks…”

Starbucks was my first real job. I was set to graduate college, and, having a typical 22-year-old what-am-I-doing-with-my-life existential crisis, walked three miles from school to find a serendipitous sign on the storefront at 670 N. Michigan, Number 2548 – the busiest Starbucks in the Midwest. It went something like: “Now Hiring.”

Ok, as far as coffee art goes I get that Starbucks is the McDonald’s of premium coffee beverages (except, apparently the golden arches have their own fancy coffees now too…), but I maintain that it was, and I assume still is, a fantastic company to work for. Character building… yeah, that’s what it was.1926875_10153091662771079_3973350116197501150_n

So…. right. Purging.

In the end, I parted with the two coffee master kits, but couldn’t give up the passports even after streaming an episode of Hoarders on Netflix.

#thestruggleisreal

Paperless

There was a time when I balanced my checkbook, when I demanded paper statements, when I held 3 or 4 magazine subscriptions.

I love the feel of paper and the idea of paper. I love handwriting and stationary and print. I love reading a newspaper and getting ink on my hands.

But I think I’m over it.

I’m tiring of the stacks of mail and unread magazines on the dining room table. I’m seeking a less complicated space and a simple home that is free of the mess that paper compels me to make. About a year ago I went paperless on almost all of my bills, and many of them are enrolled in automatic deductions (something I vowed I would never do). Then, tonight, I thought I’d try and sort through the stack of magazines.

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It’s not so bad – I mean it’s only about a year’s worth. Every once in awhile I go through a purging. Carefully sifting through Food & Wine, I rip out pages of recipes I’d like to try, and they go into a slightly smaller pile tucked between cookbooks I seldom use. I put up a good front of domesticity and culinary prowess, but I’m also a workaholic who admittedly fed herself a dinner of Ritz crackers with peanut butter and beer tonight.

How’s that for full disclosure?

p.s. Want the old copies of Food & Wine? First in Chicago to say “dibs” wins.

Learning to Live With, and Eventually Love, my Tiny Kitchen

tumblr_mtwv2xKZ7W1qmywbko1_500It’s been nearly 18 months since I downsized from house to apartment. Downsizing can be difficult, and at first I felt like the biggest sacrifice was in the kitchen.  I love to cook (duh), and in the 12 years since dorm life I’ve accumulated, and accumulated, and accumulated some more. Each kitchen I’ve cooked in was bursting at the seams (literally… I’ve spilled over into dining rooms, coat closets, you name it).  So you can bet I was concerned when faced with the approximately 7 x 15 foot space that was to be my kitchen.  Where do I put the canning supplies? The stand mixer?!? The worms?!?!?

Apparently, I was being dramatic. 18 months later, what once felt crowded is now cozy, organized, and remarkably easy to keep clean.

As it turns out, I don’t need 2 blenders, 3 crockpots, a juicer, 2 coffee grinders, or 18 feet of counter space. As I moved in, settled in, and hunkered down in the apartment I realized that there were a lot of things I could part with – things that I hadn’t used in months to a year – things I sometimes didn’t want or need to begin with – things I would have rather done without anyway.

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As it turns out, all that stuff didn’t matter, and it didn’t make me a better cook. In evaluating what I wanted to keep, I discovered the things that were most precious to me, and most useful.

As it turns out, the food that comes out of my little kitchen tastes better, because this is a kitchen that only contains things that I love.

This is a kitchen that’s processed a hundred pounds of tomatoes (not all at the same time), pumpkin purees, and salsas galore. It’s frozen enough fresh vegetables to last for the winter, canned cranberry juice, and made pot after pot after pot of morning coffee. It’s churned out pies, frittatas, and an 18-pound turkey.  Everything has a place – even the worms

I can do anything in my kitchen you can do in yours – mine just takes less time to clean.

The do’s and don’ts of group travel

I learned a lot about people on my trip to Sturgis.  Traveling with a big group can present its challenges, but it can also make for a safe and enriching experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.  Though not typically one for etiquette guides, these are the lessons I’ve picked up during my years of travel.

Disclaimer: Sturgis was a lovely trip.  Big thank you’s go out to the fearless leaders who organized the trip, the gracious followers, and a big cheers that we all have come out of it with friendships in tact.

The lookout point for Devil’s Tower, WY. These happy, smiley faces are having a winner vacation because we all followed the do’s and don’ts of group travel

Lauren’s guide to safe and happy travels in groups:

DO pick your battles.  Traveling in large groups is a lesson in diplomacy.  DON’T be that one chick who argues about everything. But, this is your vacation too.  So if you’re not happy with a group decision to the point that it affects your good times, speak up.  Otherwise, learn to let it go.

DO pick a leader, and

DON’T be a jerk if the leader is you.  Check with the group and, if it comes down to it, take a vote, draw straws, play rock-paper-scissors.  Again, group travel is a lesson in diplomacy.  And democracy.  Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean that it’s your job to make all the decisions.

DO have an itinerary, and

DO share it with the ENTIRE group, but

DO let people stray from it.  We’re all adults here.  Establish meeting places and times, put them on printed out itineraries, and then divide and conquer.  A group can get real hostile real fast if you spend too much time together, and many friendships have been broken up over a vacation.  That’s lame.

DON’T forget to pitch in.  Even if you’re not a leader or a naturally assertive person, don’t be afraid to put your hand in and help.  Vacation is work, especially in a big group, and no one appreciates you coasting while we’re busy taking out the trash and washing dishes.  If you can’t get anywhere verbally (e.g. “Can I help?  Anything I can do?” doesn’t always get a task assigned to you… the leader will say, “No I got it”) just dive in and do something.

DO embrace the group experience.  Be a joiner and recognize that your great lodging and awesome excursions might not have been possible without the support (financial, that is) of the group.  It’s also way safer, especially when you’re traveling in places that are out of cell phone range.

That said, DON’T forget to create your own experience.  This is your vacation too.  If there’s something you want to see or do, do it.

A quick plug showing some lovin’ for Bloglovin

Much like Mailchimp is the sarcastic, hipster version of Constant Contact, I recently came across Bloglovin as an alternative reader that’s equally witty and totally user-friendly.  I won’t faun over it like I did Workflowy, but if you’re looking to coral all your favorite blogs in one place, this might be the reader for you!

 Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Cheers!

Downsizing is hard.

Don’t mess with a woman’s counter space….

The past couple of weeks I’ve been going through a series of life changes.  Sometimes you have to give up a few things in order to grow, and part of my last few weeks has included a serious downsize back to apartment living.

While I can say for certain that I’m in a good place personally, perhaps the hardest part has been giving up my enormous chef’s kitchen for a 2′ x 4′ slab of Formica in my current abode.  While I have every confidence in my ability to cook in a small kitchen (proved, in part, by the mean apple cobbler you see here), I’ll admit that I got pretty accustomed to spreading out.

As Alton Brown has drilled into me, muti-taskers are key, and in a small kitchen this is all the more true.  So the things that I’ve chosen to take with me to the apartment are going to have maximum impact with a minimum footprint.  If ever faced with nuclear holocaust, or a downsize of major proportions, these are the things I would (and did) take with me.

Lauren’s must-haves for a happy kitchen of any size:

  1. An awesome wooden spoon, spatula, and scraper.  Don’t skimp on quality here; break the bank and get the best.
  2. Corning ware.  My set was a wedding gift to my parents in 1975.  Oven, microwave and dishwasher safe (not that I have one of those anymore).  Plus they have lids, so you don’t need extra tupperware.  You can use them for baking, too!

  3. A fantastic mixing bowl.  Do I really have to justify this?
  4. Chef’s knife.  No meal is made without it.  Again, don’t skimp here; get the best and keep it sharp.
  5. A soup pot, a skillet, and a sauce pan.  If they are good ones, you only need one of each.  Will Calphalon pay me if I plug them as my brand of choice?
  6. A french press. The coffee tastes better, and it’s small enough to store in the cupboard.
  7. My vintage, 1st edition Betty Crocker Cookbook.  When times get tough, my mantra is always that Betty knows best.

Stocking up and making ready

Since December 2, I’ve been living the fantastic life of a housewife.  Working occasionally, blogging frequently, and cooking constantly.  Today, that all changes as I go back to my typical 60-hour work week.

I’m nervous.

When I get nervous, I prepare by cooking lots of food.  That way, even if nothing goes according to plan, at least I’ve got dinner.  It’s winter, so, naturally that means lots of soup.  Lots and lots of soup.  My hope is that these two beauties will last all week and next for dinners.

 

That’s Hearty Black Bean Slow-Cooker soup on the left, and Winter Ham and Beans on the right.  I’ll get you those recipes later in the week.

I was hoping to get a third pot going too, but it wasn’t in the cards today.

That’s right; I said it: we have three crock pots.  When it comes to crock pots, you can’t just have one.  Plus, we have a chili cookout every Halloween and so all those slow cookers come in quite handy.