Category Archive: Review

Apr 07 2014

#FromLeft2Write: The Opposite of Maybe

The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie DawsonThis post was inspired by the novel  The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson. At the age of 44, Rosie finds herself suddenly single and pregnant. She tries to run away, hiding in her grandmother’s home, but instead is transformed by two men who change her life forever. Join From Left to Write on April 8 as we discuss The Opposite of Maybe. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

It wasn’t until Rosie’s hometown was revealed to be North Haven that I realized the author, Maddie Dawson, lives in my home state. Or, at least, lived there at some point. I was sitting in Starbucks, escaping from my workday for a brief moment, and I literally put the book down to absorb this information. Who writes about Connecticut, anyway? I pulled out my phone and performed a quick search, confirming–yup, only people who live here. And somehow, that made me feel a little more connected.

North Haven–the location of the home where Soapie brought Rosie to raise her–is near West Haven, where my husband’s grandparents lived. His grandfather built the house himself and lived there for more than fifty years. I can still picture the road leading to the shore, less than a mile from his house on the hill. Both his grandparents passed away before we were married–his grandmother, sadly, suffered from Alzheimer’s the entire time I knew her. His grandfather was by her side as much as he could be, even when she eventually had to be admitted to a nursing home. He cared for her til her end. And then he didn’t last much longer before he went off to join her in the afterlife.

When Rosie and Tony take Milo to Kid City in Middletown, I could imagine every step they took because I’ve brought my kids there many times before. When they were little and I was a stay-at-home mom, rainy days would be spent at Kid City (and places like it) in order to preserve some semblance of sanity. The kids could run around, burning off their abundance of energy, all while remaining dry. And I could escape the home, which could feel a bit like a cell if we were trapped there too long. The fish factory? That’s my kids’ favorite feature of this children’s hands-on museum. They would spend all day there, if I let them. The diner with the plastic food? I have “eaten” many meals there. The book nook? I can’t say I’ve never considered the room for the same purposes they used it. Or, at least had a passing thought that it would be a nice little place to get away for a smooch. With the door closed, of course.

Little things like this made me feel more a part of Rosie’s life, even if we have nothing in common. And that was kind of cool.

Have you read a book set in your home state? Did it change your experience with the book?

Feb 24 2014

Espresso at Home and a S’Mores Latte #recipe #client #coffeequest

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Capresso EC50 Espresso and Cappuccino Machine for review. No other compensation was received. All opinions and photos remain my own.

espresso brewing

I am a coffee shop addict. Not for the coffee–I have plenty of ways to make my own, thanks to my Coffee Quest last year. But I love espresso. Like big puffy heart love. Like it’s probably a bad thing I work across the street from a well-known and huge coffee chain love. (This may be why I don’t sleep much…?) In lattes and macchiatos, Americanos and cappuccinos: it really doesn’t matter because it’s all good. And now, thanks to Capresso, I can make them at home, too.

Capresso brings the high end coffee shop experience to your home with their affordable EC50 Stainless Steel Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine. Retailing just under $100, it costs less than many coffee makers you’re already buying but the results taste a lot better. Right from your own counter.

Capresso EC50

The EC50 is a petite piece of equipment, taking up less counter space than prior coffee makers I’ve had. This is great because space is at a premium in my house! It’s also extremely quick. It doesn’t take long for it to heat up and be ready for brewing. For optimum taste, it’s best to let your cup warm up, too, but it can also accommodate you if you’re in a hurry. No worries!

Capresso’s EC50 is stylish. Sleek and modern with its black and stainless combo, it’s at home in contemporary kitchens but also fits in well in older homes, too, like my 1950s kitchen. It looks like it costs a lot more than it does. Score!

espresso

I have to admit that I never made my own espresso before receiving this machine. The fact that I had it up and running, brewing that nectar of the gods, in less than 10 minutes is a testament to the ease of set-up and use. There aren’t very many parts to worry about. The 42-ounce water reservoir is removable so you can bring it right to the sink to fill up. The portafilter and sieve do need to be removed post-brewing for cleaning, but that’s little more than dumping the spent grounds and a quick run under the hot water tap.

Capresso EC50

I did have some problems with frothing/steaming the milk at first. But that’s more because I usually only keep whole milk in the house, which is too heavy to froth beautifully. When I tried with skim milk that hasn’t been ultra pasteurized, I had much better results. (I also found this guide on How to Achieve the Perfect Frothed Milk on Capresso’s website to be quite helpful in troubleshooting that problem.)

s'mores latte

So what’s the verdict? If I were in the market to purchase an espresso machine, I would definitely put the Capresso EC50 at the top of my list. You get a lot of bang for your buck, and the espresso it brews is just divine. Plus Capresso offers a lot of assistance and ideas on their Facebook page, from Twitter, on Pinterest, and right on their own blog, which is full of recipes and tips. I like that they’re there to help you get the most out of your investment.

IMG_5677

And now… a recipe. Because you need something to make with all that lovely espresso. I was inspired by the S’Mores Hot Chocolate on Capresso’s website. I wanted to elevate it a bit with a riff off of a Mocha and voila–S’Mores Latte! Now all you need is a comfy seat in front of the fireplace and you’ll feel just like you’re in the coffee shop–at home. Cheers!

5.0 from 1 reviews
S'Mores Latte
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Beverage
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 honey graham cracker sheet, crushed
  • 1½ Tablespoons + ¼ teaspoon chocolate syrup
  • 6 ounces cold skim milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 2 shots (about 2 ounces) espresso
  • whipped cream
  • 2 Tablespoons mini marshmallows
Instructions
  1. Spread crushed graham cracker in a circle on a small plate.
  2. Apply ¼ teaspoon of the chocolate syrup to a paper towel and run it along the rim of a latte mug to coat, then dip the rim in the graham cracker crumbs.
  3. Drizzle the remaining chocolate syrup inside the mug.
  4. In a large mug steam cold milk using the steaming/frothing wand with the frothing part removed. Heat until 145-160 degrees Fahrenheit, then set aside.
  5. Brew the espresso according to manufacturer’s directions and pour over the chocolate syrup.
  6. Pour the steamed milk into the mug, then spray a little whipped cream on top of that.
  7. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of remaining graham cracker crumbs and the mini marshmallows over the whipped cream.
  8. Enjoy!

 

Nov 18 2013

#FromLeft2Write: Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man

Virtual Book Club From Left to Write discusses Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man - poet in the pantryThis post was inspired by Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Man, a memoir by Brian McGrogry. When Brian leaves behind his bachelor life to move to suburbia, joining his girlfriend and her two young daughters, he has no idea he needs to win over their pet rooster, too. Join From Left to Write on November 21 as we discuss Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Man.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Pets are a special part of our lives. More family than possession, confidante than accessory, I’ve always had some sort of spirit animal by my side throughout my life. The first I remember–Buddy, a runt of a Shetland Sheepdog, rather than a rooster–joined my family when I was little and stayed with us until my youngest brother was born–a demon child who proved to be more than Buddy could handle. Fate found him in my aunt’s and uncle’s family eventually, where he lived out the remainder of his days. He lived a long life.

My first dog that I could call my own didn’t come until 2002. It was a year after I married and we were settling in quite well to our new lives as a married couple. But I felt like something was missing–and I wasn’t ready for children yet. That’s when Becky came along.

Little Becky Boo, to be more accurate. A sable cocker spaniel who has proven my husband’s prediction that dogs are like having a perpetual 2-year-old in the house. I have broken every rule I intended to keep with her. First she was to sleep in the pantry room off of the kitchen, for her own protection. But much like Lady in Lady and the Tramp, she quickly howled her way out of that arrangement…and into our bed. It wasn’t until last year when we purchased a new, taller mattress (and she could no longer make the leap onto the bed) that she finally settled into her own bed. Not far from our own, of course, because she’s always wanted to be close to her people.

Becky - Christmastime 2011

Becky – Christmastime 2011

Becky has always been my dog. And she’s always done a great job of it. No, we never could get her to walk perfectly on the leash, despite taking her to training classes. But she was always happy to be included. And included she was. We took her on vacations with us, staying at dog-friendly places so she wouldn’t have to be left behind at home. Camping. A ski trip for my husband. There have only been a few times in her life when she couldn’t accompany us. My husband considers this a liability. I consider her part of the family. She should be with us.

Once the kids came along, it was more difficult to include Becky. She didn’t understand her place in the pack for a while, and we did consider sending her to live with a childless family so she could get the attention she deserved. Luckily, we weathered that storm and now she’s quite happy keeping her puppies–my kids–in line. And they love having her do so.

Not long after the facial nerve paralysis - she had no control of the right half of her face - 11-25-2012

Not long after the facial nerve paralysis – she had no control of the right half of her face – 11-25-2012

Things were going along swimmingly until last year. At 11 years of age, we had to leave her overnight to attend a wedding a couple states away. My brother looked in on her, caring for her in our absence. But when we returned, she wasn’t quite right. Half of her face drooped and she wasn’t acting like herself. She stopped eating. She couldn’t drink–it just poured back out of her mouth. And her face took on a zombie appearance. It turned out she suffered from facial nerve paralysis. According to her vet, cocker spaniels are susceptible to it, and it tends to come on with no warning.

The weeks that followed were heartbreaking. She became lethargic with little will to do anything. The only way we could get water into her was to squirt it into her mouth–a method she very much disliked. And her eyes drooped more than ever, one almost always open, for she could no longer blink it or shut it all the way.

Getting worse - we were afraid we had to make some hard decisions - 12-13-2012

Getting worse – we were afraid we had to make some hard decisions – 12-13-2012

Blood tests were inconclusive. Medication came next. A last resort. We were already considering how long we would let her continue on like this, as we didn’t want her to suffer. The little glimmer of hope that she could recover–that her body would bounce back–led us on. We took it all one day at a time.

After roughly 3 weeks, her sagging lip and eye contracted–not healed, but no longer in the way or threatening her health as much. Thyroid medication and a series of glaucoma drops in her food ensured her eye wouldn’t dry out and that the secretions from her nose balanced–somewhat. She could drink water again and she started to eat, cautiously at first. Chomping down isn’t so easy when your face doesn’t work quite right.

Medication saved her life. Today, she still has facial nerve paralysis. She will never be the same again. And she will always have to take these drugs–we’ve tried weaning her off with no success. When we first started this regimen, the glaucoma drops were $8 for 3 months’ supply. Now? It was $95 last time I filled the script. I’m hoping the shortage will have passed the next time we fill it. But we really have no choice. She needs it, so we will continue buying it.

Becky 10-12-2013

Looking much better – 10-12-2013

Becky is still my constant companion. Always at my feet when I’m baking, washing dishes, or relaxing on the couch. Always looking on with understanding eyes and a joyful spirit. Always my first child, albeit a furry one. I know my time with her is precious–that it could end at any time–and I am thankful that she recovered last year; that we were able to get more time with her. It hasn’t been easy–and boy, has it been messy–but saying goodbye wouldn’t have been any easier. I can’t imagine my life without her, even though I know deep down that day will come. Just not today, please.

Apr 26 2013

Coffee Quest, Day 5: MistoBox Coffee & a Giveaway #client #coffeequest

Disclosure: MistoBox provided me with one April 2013 subscription box for review. All opinions and photos remain my own.

Now that we have your brewing options covered, how about some coffee? What good is a brewer without the brew? If you expect to drink a decent cup of coffee, you need to start with a decent bean. But where to begin in a world full of options? It can all seem so daunting.

MistoBox

That’s where MistoBox comes in. For $15 a month they will send you four 1.7-2-ounce whole bean samples to trywith the option to purchase your favorite in a full size version with free shipping, if purchased during the same month. Four cups of coffee at a boutique shop would cost you about the same as a MistoBox, but you’ll be able to get about twelve 8-ounce cups out of this bounty and embark upon a journey in the process–one of the best adventures you can take from your very own kitchen.

MistoBox Coffee

If you don’t have a coffee bean grinder already, this will become your new best friend. Freshly ground coffee tastes better anyway, so why not make the investment? I was able to pick up a name brand model for about $25, or MistoBox gives you the option to buy one with your first subscription box. Right before brewing, grind only as much coffee as you’ll need, for best results.

This month’s box included samples from: Verve Coffee Roasters of Santa Cruz, California; Klatch Coffee of Ontario, California; Augie’s Coffee Roasters of Redlands, California; and Ceremony Coffee Roasters of Annapolis, Maryland. These were a mixture of South American and African beans. To demystify the process, MistoBox included a guide, helping me learn more about what I was about to taste and offering some tasting notes.

I am no coffee tasting expert, but this is what I noted from these brews. All coffees were tasted black, with no sugar or cream added to them:

  • Klatch Coffee: citrus, smooth, mellow. No lingering aftertaste.
  • Verve Coffee Roasters: bold, take notice. A little sour on the tongue to start, but smooth finish. Kind of a chocolatey aftertaste.
  • Augie’s Coffee Roasters: fruity, assertive. As it cools, there’s something akin to a sparkling-wine finish to it (bizarre, but quite pleasing).
  • Ceremony Coffee Roasters: a little acid, closer to coffee shop coffee; not one-dimensional, but so balanced that nothing really asserts itself in tasting and demands recognition.

Verdict: I really like surprises in the mail, and MistoBox fulfilled that sense of Christmas morning joy with this random box of coffee goodies. I feel like I learned a little something, paid a little closer attention to what I was drinking, and have grown a bit for it. I would get a MistoBox again.

And now, to thank you for following me on this 5-day quest, I am sponsoring a giveaway. That’s right, I’m reaching into my own pockets here to pay for this one. Because you’ve been pretty wonderful reading along with me and I think you should be rewarded for that. The prize is one NEW item of your choice of the products I’ve reviewed this week: a Primula Products 8-cup coffee press, 3-cup stovetop espresso coffee maker, Flavor-It Beverage System, or one month of MistoBox Coffee delivery, so you can start along your own coffee quest. This is open to residents of the United States only. I will make arrangements for shipment directly to you. Winner will have 24 hours to respond before I pick another winner. Winner will be selected on April 30, 2013.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you for following me on step one of the coffee quest! There will be much more to try out, plenty more to learn, but I feel like I’m well on my way now. Did you learn anything in the process?

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