Coffee Breaks & Other Food Thoughts

coffee breaks and confections

Days and events over the past month have me thinking. About food. About family. About friendship. About time. About what is normal life. About coffee breaks and cafes.

Is this now normal life? COVID numbers remain high and the pandemic continues. But government policies and the actions of most people indicate that society has moved on. I still have not worked in an office building in more than two years. Working from home is easier in many ways and cheaper. Impromptu coffee breaks with colleagues are what I miss the most. I also miss randomly stopping by coffee shops alone.

A few weeks ago, I had a chai date with a friend from law school that I hadn’t seen in about twenty years. She returned to India within a few years after we graduated, so there weren’t that many opportunities to connect in person. One of the last times that I saw her, she made me chai from scratch at her house. Of course it was delicious. One of my favorite memories of her is how we would share snacks in class too. Bonding over food and the law.

This time, we were only able to meet for a short period of time, so we had chai at a Starbucks near me. She looked the same, but had cut her hair and I remembered how she has the best laugh. It was also my first time taking my mask off in a Starbucks since before the pandemic.

A few weeks before, I attended a rehearsal dinner and then a wedding the next day. It was the first time in more than two years that I had eaten in a restaurant and attended a truly large gathering — mostly unmasked. The dinner was delicious. The wedding was amazing. I saw family that I hadn’t seen in years. We talked and danced and laughed. My cousin was the groom and he and his wife are perfect together. I’m so happy they found each other. Our family adored her from the first time we met.

I’m fully vaccinated and double boosted. I timed my second booster with the week of the wedding, so I’d have the highest immunity for this very large gathering. It seems to have worked. Now I’m inching toward whatever this new life is. Will we ever be post-pandemic? Maybe not. So this is it. I’m still uneasy about it all. But I guess I’m starting to move on too.

Since cafe visits are no longer tied with where I’m working, I’m attaching my errands with coffee breaks. I had wanted to visit French Press Bakery & Cafe in Needham since 2019. I’m not usually in that area, but suddenly I needed to be and had a little time to relax. So I enjoyed a cold brew and an almond croissant sitting outside in the sun. I love this place! The area is adorable and full of other restaurants and shops. It’s not too far from Quincy, so I’ll definitely return.

A few days later, I needed to be in Hopkinton, so I paired the errand with a visit to Muffin House Cafe. They also had outdoor seating where I enjoyed my iced coffee and blueberry muffin. This place was jumping! At a certain point, there was a line of people waiting to get in. It’s definitely a favorite local spot!

What’s next on my food journey? Well, it’s not a cafe, but I learned recently that H Mart will soon be arriving in Quincy. I’m so excited! It’s a Korean grocery store and I’m looking forward to trying some different foods. During the pandemic, I started watching a ton of Korean dramas and following several Korean YouTubers. I’ve learned about many Korean dishes and ways of cooking, so there have been foods and ingredients that I’ve been looking for. Now I should have an easier time finding them.

Have you noticed shifts in your daily life to bring back what you’ve missed from before the pandemic or new things you’re bringing in?

Winter Weekend Baking Recipe: Apple Cranberry Fig Crisp

fruit crisp

We’re deep in the heart of winter — the end of January heading into February. As part of my practice of leaning into each season, I’m contemplating the feeling of winter. This past weekend brought bursts of big puffy snowflakes, rising and falling with the wind. It was very enjoyable watching from the inside, wrapped in a blanket on my couch, cozy sipping a hot drink with thoughts of a fruit crisp.

For me, wanting to bake is a natural result of this cozy winter feeling. Baking for just myself, instead of others, always feels a bit decadent. Over the years, the fruit crisp has started to grow on me. Before, I barely considered it a dessert, but things have changed. This recipe is adapted from the “Cran-Apple Crisps” in Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, “Baking: From My home to Yours.”

The exact circumstances of my particular take on this recipe are mostly on purpose and partly a series of happy accidents. I only had two (way past their prime) apples, so I made half the amount called for in the original recipe. The measurements are estimates. I kept the skin on since it’s quicker and healthier.

I bought almond paste a while ago and had never used it. For some reason, something said just squeeze a whole bunch onto the filling. I didn’t have enough cranberries, so I needed to add another fruit. Raisins were suggested, but something said to use figlets, which are sweeter than raisins. They had been around for a while as well without being used. I added salt and vanilla extract to the filling, because why not? They make everything taste better. I served this crisp warm with whipped cream and it is over the top delicious!

I’m always shocked when people say that they have fruit for dessert – like an orange or strawberries. My mom is one of them. Fruit is not dessert! We will never agree on this. However, this fruit crisp is one mighty fine dessert and maybe breakfast too.

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Apple Cranberry Fig Crisp

(3-4 servings)

INGREDIENTS

Topping:

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 stick butter (cold, cut into pieces)

Filling:

2 apples (cut into pieces)
1/2 cup frozen cranberries
1/4 cup figlets
1/3 cup sugar
2 T almond paste
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T flour

INSTRUCTIONS

Butter a medium sized baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Put all the topping ingredients in a food processor and pulse for about a minute until the texture is big formed pieces.

Spread the filling in the prepared baking dish. Place the the topping pieces onto the filling. Bake for about 45 minutes. After baking, let sit for about 15 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream and enjoy!

Into 2022 & Plant Medicine

Hoya Lisa my plant medicine

Three months ago was the last time that I wrote on this blog!

Between regular life, work, continuing to settle in my new place, the holidays and then getting COVID, I didn’t prioritize my writing. Which is wrong, because I always start feeling off when I don’t write. I’ve had this nagging feeling for a while that I should write something here. Anything, no matter how short.

Recently, a friend and my mom both separately mentioned to me that I should start writing again. So I’m here. Getting back to my practice. Like I do when I return to yoga or meditation when I’ve been away for awhile. Which had been the case for a few weeks when I stopped those as well.

I like to think that I’m good at taking care of myself. But we all slip up every once in a while. Things get overwhelming and we lose track of time and don’t center our wellness. When we don’t center our wellness, we get sick.

In 2020, I didn’t gather with anyone during the holidays. It was awful. So it was wonderful to spend time with loved ones this past Thanksgiving. It was a small gathering. We were all vaccinated and things felt mostly safe.

A COVID CHRISTMAS

In December, when I heard that Omicron was quickly spreading everywhere, I knew that gathering for Christmas was going to be a risk. My mom, brother and I spent three days together over Christmas.

My brother had sniffles by the time he went home. Pre-COVID, we would have thought nothing of it. Luckily he gets tested regularly and soon tested positive. Most of his housemate were sick as well.

My mom and I started to have similar symptoms. I tested positive soon after, but we were never able to get my mom tested. Thankfully we’re all fully vaccinated and boosted, so our symptoms never got worse than that of a bad cold. We assumed my mom had COVID as well, so we all isolated for ten days. The new five day CDC guidance seems questionable at best.

Anyway, now I don’t even know what to think. I took extreme measures not to get COVID. My activities have been extremely limited. I haven’t eaten in a restaurant in almost two years. I never stopped wearing a mask indoors when out in public. I’m barely out in public and work from home.

Even though my case was very mild, we don’t know the long-term effects of COVID. Until the past few years, I had never known that there were long-term effects from getting chickenpox until I learned about shingles. This summer I also got the two doses of the shingles vaccine. 2021 was about getting all the vaccinations! Got the flu shot too!

Although I might have a somewhat heightened immunity to COVID right now, I know that it won’t last. Especially with all the variants popping up. I don’t want to get it again. I’ve heard of people getting it two and three times! So I’m still being very careful. But I do want to find a way to be out in the world a bit more, because I’m missing out on a lot and it’s getting to me.

PLANT MEDICINE

Taking care of my plants, learning about plants and even talking about plants makes me happy. It’s bringing that peaceful feeling from being out in nature to the indoors. From being more immersed in the wellness community, I’ve learned the new (to me) way that many refer to things that help you feel better as medicine. If there’s a certain song that you play that makes you feel better, that song might be your medicine.

It makes sense when you think about the definition of medicine – a treatment for or prevention of disease. Usually we think of it as a pharmaceutical made by a company to fight disease. But what is disease? Dis-ease. When we are not feeling at ease – feeling unwell. Many things can make us feel at ease and they don’t have to be pharmaceuticals.

I’ve realized that plants are a medicine for me and plant therapy is good for my soul. The plant pictured above is called Hoya Australis Lisa. Yes, I have a namesake plant! She is the latest addition to my plant family and a Christmas gift to me from my mom. I usually get plant cuttings from friends and family, so I don’t buy many plants.

I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a plant online, but this was a plant that I really wanted. I’m not going to many stores nowadays and the stores that I do visit, I haven’t seen one. I don’t know anyone with this plant, so I couldn’t get a cutting. I ordered her from Horti and the delivery was very fast, so I was happy with the experience and finding this plant medicine. This is my first Hoya, so I’m looking forward to learning more about this plant as I move into 2022.

When Life Gives You Lemons

I’m about to go off on the lemons to lemonade metaphor, so buckle up.

This is my first post in almost a month and a half. My last post was about the passing of my cousin and trying to come to grips with his being gone. What that meant to me and my family.

Then two weeks later my mother had a stroke. Luckily she survived and is recovering. But talk about shaking up my world. And we’re still in a pandemic! Freaking sour lemons!

When things are bad, they can get worse. Then sink to the depths of what seems to be the absolute worst, then plunge off a bridge. Then plummet straight down to….  Okay. You get it.

I believe that energetically things must balance out eventually. So I’m looking forward to the joyous and carefree times that absolutely positively must be ahead.

Which brings me back to lemons. You know? Lemons get a bad rap. Sure, they’re sour. But they also bring out the taste in so many foods. They aren’t just for lemonade. And it’s not only the juice that we use. Lemon zest adds a different type of flavor than the juice. You can candy the peels. The juice and zest can be used in sweet and savory recipes.

What would food be without lemons? Bland. Because we need the sour to notice the sweet. Without one, we can’t truly appreciate the other.

When I started reaching out to family and friends telling them about my mom, so many have stepped up to help. It feels good knowing people are truly here for me. I actually feel more supported than I have in a long time. Maybe they were always ready to help, but I just didn’t notice.

While scrolling on Instagram a few weeks ago, I noticed that someone had an orange plant grown from seeds. I didn’t have oranges, but I had lemons.

Since they’re both citrus and have seeds, I figured maybe I could grow a lemon plant. I’m plant obsessed and growing from seeds is the cheapest way to get new ones. Plus you get the joy of nurturing the plant from day one. Like a true plant parent!

So I squeezed some lemons. But this time I kept the seeds and planted them. Not all of them sprouted, but I have two very strong looking seedlings.

I kid you not. The day the first one sprouted I had asked the universe to show me some joy. It wasn’t big huge joy. But it was still joy. And showed proof of life. I’ll take it.

The Chowdah Project: McMenamy Seafood

McMenamy Seafood clam chowder

The wind was whipping hard today in Massachusetts! Those warmer days we had in December have slipped away for the moment and it feels as it should on a January day in New England.

When it’s biting cold out, my mind finds its way to clam chowder. Today, so did the rest of me!

We don’t have Sunday dinners anymore because of the pandemic, but every other week or so, I get take-out from McMenamy Seafood in Brockton and bring it to my brother and my mom. Usually they both want a clam strip plate.

Most of the time I don’t get anything for myself, but today I decided on clam chowder. They also have fish chowder and seafood chowder. All chowders are available in a small size (Dory) and a larger size (Schooner)

Since the chowder was my lunch and dinner, I got the Schooner. It was really good! I wish the portion was bigger though, because I downed the whole thing pretty quickly. I was hoping for some leftovers. Next time maybe I’ll order two types of chowders.

The clam chowder was on point. While a tad bit salty, I still enjoyed it. It was the right consistency too. Just creamy enough, without being too thin or thick, with nice chunks of potatoes and clams.

The restaurant has a drive-up window, so you don’t have to get out of your car to get your food. Which is alright with me during this cold snap.

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McMenamy Seafood ~ Fresh Homemade Chowders
Location: 810 Belmont Street (Route 123), Brockton, MA