Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spruce Street Espresso

The first stop on our 2011 Philly Coffee Tour was Spruce Street Espresso, a shop on the corner of 11th and Spruce in Philadelphia's Gayborhood. Spruce Street is a cozy little spot with a bit of indoor seating, plenty of outdoor seating and a cheerful crew of baristas serving up top notch coffee.

When Sarah, Ryan and I walked in, we were quickly greeted with a smile - a huge plus in my book. I explained to the barista my whole touring-the-Philly-coffee-shops expedition, and then asked what she would recommend from Spruce Street's menu. She said simple is better to really showcase the shop's coffee, and cappuccino was one of the few drinks she recommended. I've had some pretty rotten cappuccinos in my day, so I thought it would be an adventurous way to go - in my opinion, it's very easy to screw up a cappuccino.

Luckily, Spruce Street Espresso takes its coffee very seriously.

My cappuccino was perfect - smooth and delicious with just the right amount of foam. They made a cute little design on top, too, which was a nice bonus. Sarah went for an iced coffee (strong without being overpowering, she said) and a squash blossom muffin. I don't really know where the squash blossom came into play here (they're rather tasteless, although pretty), but the muffin was pretty delicious. I described it as "autumn in your mouth." Sarah called it warm. In any case - tasty! I got a peach bar to go with my coffee, and it was great, although I could have gone for a little more crunch in the topping.

Ryan's not a coffee drinker, but also not one to skip a fun outing. She came along for the first stop on our tour and went for a Coke (in a glass bottle!) and an organic brownie. She said the brownie was good and "tasted organic" - hopefully that's a good sign.

I'd say pricing here was pretty typical for an independent coffee shop. I shelled out $3.50 for my cappuccino. The iced coffee was $3. The desserts ranged from $2.50 to $3.50 - those I would say were the steepest considering the sizes of the desserts.

Overall, I loved Spruce Street Espresso. It's got a great feel, awesome outdoor seating and a super friendly staff to boot. We would all definitely go back. I mean, if three out of three guests were happy with their order, then Spruce Street must be doing something right.

Monday, May 23, 2011

'Friends' is my favorite

Some people quote poetry. Others like famous quotations, maybe by presidents or authors. Lots of people like to quote musical lyrics, too.

Me? I quote "Friends."

I don't actually remember when I became a "Friends" fan or how it really happened. What I do know is I own all ten seasons and managed to get all of my college roommates hooked to the show, too. (Two of them now own the entire series as well!) At my wedding last year, our wedding party walked into the reception to "I'll Be There For You" by The Rembrandts - or the "Friends" theme song, for those of you who aren't fans. I could watch the same episode over and over and I would never get tired of it. I don't know what it is about that show, but it endlessly entertains me.

Something I've been trying to do for a long, long time is rank my top five favorite "Friends" episodes - a nearly impossible task, because every time I think I've got it figured out, I run into another episode that's just got to be one of my favorites.* In any case, these are my current faves - in no particular order.

1) The One Where No One's Ready: No matter when I'm thinking about my favorite episodes, this one always makes the list. This is during the third season of "Friends," when Ross and Rachel are dating and everyone is going to an event at Ross' museum. Obviously, no one is ready to go on time, and Ross freaks out. Hilarity ensues! My favorite part is when Joey walks into the apartment wearing all of Chandler's clothes, which leads to my favorite quote of the episode: "Look at me! I'm Chandler! Could I BE wearing any more clothes?!"

2) The One Where Everybody Finds Out: The reason season five of "Friends" is my favorite season is solely because of Chandler and Monica hiding their relationship from everyone. It lends itself to a lot of funny moments, but hands down this episode is the best! It's also when Chandler says he loves Monica for the first time (or the first time that counts, I suppose, because he really said it first in the Thanksgiving episode of the same season). Favorite quote is Chandler, when Monica says Phoebe knows about their relationship - "Okay... but what about my pinchable butt and bulging biceps --- SHE KNOWS!"

3) The One with the Holiday Armadillo: It's a holiday armadillo. Do I really need to explain further? Fave quote goes to Phoebe - "I understand why Superman is here, but why is there a porcupine at the Easter Bunny's funeral?"

4) The One with the Routine: I love the sibling relationship between Ross and Monica. It's one of my favorite parts of the entire series - I just think they play brother and sister so well. They are competitive and always embarrassing each other with personal info... Ha, it's great. This episode showcases a routine they did in grade school and resurrect on a taping of "Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve." I also like the subplot in this episode with Rachel and Phoebe trying to find where Monica hid their Christmas presents. Favorite quote is really an exchange between Ross and Monica - Ross: "We got honorable mention in the brother/sister dance category. Look, it's almost fake midnight. Do we really have any other choice?" Monica: "Okay, let's do it. Mom and dad are going to be so faced!"

5) The One with Phoebe's Wedding: Let me preface this with saying I've had a crush on Paul Rudd since he was on "Clueless" in 1995. When he debuted on "Friends" as Mike in "The One with the Pediatrician" (oh my, another great episode!), I was psyched. Then he and Phoebe started dating, were moving into together and - BAM! - they broke up. I was devastated, and despite the fact that my husband wanted to see Phoebe end up with the scientist guy David, I was thrilled when Mike reappeared and proposed. So there's the back story to why I love this episode. The things that put it over the top were the snowstorm (turning the wedding into the prettiest ever), crazy Monica and the competition with the guys to be involved in the wedding party. And just because it's a wedding episode, I'll give the favorite quotes to Phoebe and Mike's vows - Phoebe: "When I was growing up, I didn't have a normal mom and dad, or a regular family like everybody else. And I always knew that something was missing. But now I'm standing here today, knowing that I have everything I'm ever going to need. You are my family." Mike: "Phoebe, you're so beautiful. You're so kind, so generous, so wonderfully weird. Everyday with you is an adventure. I can't believe how lucky I am, and I can't wait to share my life with you forever."

* This really is impossible, because in talking to Ryan about this post the other day, we brought up about a dozen more classic episodes that should be in the top five, like "The One with the Nap Partners" and "The One Where Chandler Takes a Bath." So um. Take this with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Baked by the Beach

I love to write. I love to bake. So, a baking column? It was bound to happen sometime.

My column, Baked by the Beach, debuted in this month's issue of Ocean City Magazine. Citrus Cookie Sandwiches with a Coconut Filling is the first recipe - a basic short dough formula made up a bit fancy.

I'm not going to post the recipe here because I'd really you rather pick up a copy of Ocean City Magazine. It's a great overall read, first of all, and second of all, it is the creation of one of my closest friends. Better than a single issue, get a full year subscription - all the contact info is on the website.

I've already submitted my June column (want to know what it is? get a subscription!) and have been working on my July recipe this week. Here's a hint - it will have something to do with pies. The Fourth of July is the month's biggest holiday, after all, and what's more American than pie?

I'm having a lot of fun with this column. Honestly, I was nervous to write it. After all, what makes me a pro in the kitchen? Turns out a lifetime of practice and a bit of culinary school under my belt isn't so bad. I've gotten some good feedback on the first column, and I'm hoping that will keep up. The second column is even better (in my opinion), and I think the July one is going to be the most delicious of them all!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cupcakes, Coffee & Carrots

Work has been keeping me insanely busy. Sixty-hour work weeks? Let's just say I'm glad I drink coffee.

I love my job. I get to bake cupcakes all day and deal with (almost exclusively) pleasant customers. I mean, who wouldn't be happy walking into a cupcake bakery? Our flavors change with every batch (so it keeps things interesting) and my boss encourages me to experiment, which is awesome. She has a lot of faith in me, especially considering I've only worked there for a couple of months. In all, it's a good gig. I can't wait until we start selling our vegan and sugar-free cupcakes - oh, and of course our dog cupcakes, too!

My favorite flavors so far? It's got to be the Peanut Butter Honey or Pineapple. The PBH is vanilla batter baked with honey, which soaks through the batter and makes the entire cupcake super moist. It's filled with a peanut butter filling and topped with peanut butter buttercream and oh. my. god. It's the best thing ever. (Although you've got to love peanut butter!) The Pineapple tastes almost like a pineapple upside down cake, but without the gooey crust the cake has. It's excellent. Of course, I try not to eat too many of the cupcakes because they're certainly not going to help with my lose-weight plan. But man... they're tasty.

Back to that coffee. New York Times' T Magazine did a profile of Philadelphia coffee shops. I know, I know - Philly, the cheesesteak king (or queen?), getting a write-up for coffee? But seriously, they did, and if the New York Times did it? It's warranted. I already informed Sarah (the ballooner extraordinaire, Ryan-and-Sarah Sarah) that we must get on this list pronto. I'd love to check out the different spots and pick a favorite. The only independent coffee shop I've been to near me has a really cool vibe, but I can't say much for their coffee. So this will be interesting!

Ah. And Carrots. John is insistent that I plant carrots in my garden, despite the fact that I ended up planning a much smaller plot than previously. (It was not a matter of space or commitment so much so as a matter of money.) I told him I would, however, so I think the plan is I'll do two plantings so we have two small crops of carrots. They only need two-inch spacing, I think, so I guess I can get a fair amount into the little garden. Now it's just down to deciding what other veggie I'll be sacrificing for their space, which is not a fun task. I'm definitely doing a few different types of tomatoes (tomato salad, anyone?) and at least two eggplant and zucchini plants. I really want to do peppers, too. But with the herbs I already planted, I don't think I'll have the space...

Regardless, I need to get on this carrot business stat. The first crop should have been planted last month. I was never good at the carrot gardening as a kid - I was always so anxious for the carrots to be ready that I would end up pulling a bunch of babies out of the ground too early. Ah, the patience of a child. Let's hope I'm better this time around.