misto

Have you met the Starbucks misto? Until a few years ago, I hadn’t. But now, it’s my best friend in the coffee world. I’m in love. It’s pretty much the greatest drink to grace a compostable paper cup. I’m sure many people would beg to differ. Both with the Starbucks part as well as with the misto part. But there are lots of latte lovers out there. And they’re my target audience. So let me fill you in the history of my relationship with the misto.

I’ve been a coffee lover since an inappropriately young age, which all started in Bellingham, Washington where my (usually logical) mother started treating me to iced lattes at Starbucks. We were in Bellingham for a limited period of time due to my Dad’s work.  We were new to the world of gourmet coffee. Prior to that I believe my parents were all about the ground Folger’s.  In Bellingham, in 1991, Starbucks was still a west coast phenomenon. And boy did we take advantage of it. Or so I remember. I have fond memories of those iced lattes. Maybe they were decaf? Maybe they were only on special occasions? It doesn’t really matter though, because the point is, I loved them.

Fast forward 17 years, and I found myself back in the Pacific Northwest, again faced with the wonderful omnipresence of Starbucks. The mystic had faded slightly, since Starbucks were obviously everywhere when I lived on the east coast (not to mention also in China), but one thing was still the same: my love of a Starbucks latte. I was mostly over the iced thing though, since I’d matured and all. The problem was, though, I was in grad school. Grad school = tight budget. And as any quick Google search on personal finance will tell you, you can save a bundle of money by not buying “that daily Starbucks.” But there were some complicating factors. I was working as well, and Starbucks outings are an integral part of office social life. And then there was the issue of a Starbucks on literally every corner calling my name. And then there was the weather. There’s a reason the PNW is known for coffee. It’s a necessity.

I decided to nix the daily latte, but a daily drip was okay, right? So I’d order a drip with “a couple of inches of steamed soy.” One day, a kind barista pointed out that maybe I should order a misto. What’s a misto? I asked. It’s a café au lait, we just call it a misto. SOLD. One sip, and I never looked back.

My go-to drink is a grande soy misto bold.  Prefer a vanilla latte? Add some vanilla syrup. Feel like a mocha? Add a shot of chocolate syrup.  If you’re a latte drinker, I highly recommend you make the switch. Your bank account will thank you.  And to save even more, load some money on a Starbucks card and register it online so you get free soy and free syrups. Take the high-techness to the max and pay with your iPhone.

My relationship with the Starbucks misto has become pretty serious. Good thing I’m not in grad school any more.

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june

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of full. There’s the “oh my god I feel terrible why on earth did I eat that fourth slice of mediocre pizza followed by two nondescript brownies?” full. And then there’s the “holy cow I feel pretty ill right now but it was completely and utterly worth it because the food I just consumed was out-of-this-world delicious.”

This past weekend, I experienced the latter.

We headed to Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood to try out June. It opened quietly last year, and has been on my list of places to try, but somehow Madrona rarely called for an evening out. New places in Cap Hill usually won out. But a few months back there was a Groupon for June, so that sealed the deal.

We had a reservation for 7pm but didn’t need it; we had our choice of tables. We opted for a booth in the back which was cozy and private but a bit monochromatic. We were right near the increasingly lively bar, but couldn’t see it due to the booth partition. The meal was tasty. Dessert was FANTASTIC. To start from the end, we had bioche bread-bitter chocolate bread pudding. It was, without a doubt, the best dessert I’ve had in Seattle to date. Heavenly. Just the right amount of chocolatey-ness, the perfect moistness and a generous dollop of crème fraîche on the side to compliment the caramel sauce. A few bites in I knew I was full but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop. I wouldn’t.

Clearly, the bread pudding was the most memorable, but other dishes were great as well. We started with a dish off the “bites” menu: tempura brussel sprouts and asparagus. It was a generous serving and served piping hot. We favored the appetizer part of the menu, trying lamb and chickpea chili, nettle soup with pickled mushrooms, and a beet salad with hazelnuts and blue cheese. The chili was amazing, the soup was beautiful and quite balanced, and the beet salad was enjoyable although pretty predictable.

The only let down of the night was our entrée. Goat cheese ravioli with fresh peas and spring onions. It was way too salty for my liking and I’m a chronic oversalter. (I salt pizza. Excessively. This could be what leads to the first type of fullness…) Not only were the flavors off, but there were multiple lemon seeds in the broth. Nitpicky I know, but come on. I watch Top Chef. I know those are two mistakes that will cost you a challenge.

Thankfully, dessert came and the disappointment of the entrée was forgotten entirely. It was a superb dining experience. Followed by a relaxing evening on the couch feeling wonderfully full.

If you now find yourself craving bread pudding, I’d highly recommend my friend Rachel’s recipe for Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding which was a winning dish over at food52. Another option, is my fall favorite pumpkin bread pudding (inspired by another restaurant dessert, this time from 1844 House).

salads

I’ve always loved salads. But never in that dainty “I’ll just have a side salad” kind of way. I like big salads. Huge salads actually. Main dish salads. Hearty, filling, salads. Many people love their sandwiches, and I do like them too, but they just don’t excite me like salads do. Salads can be so much bigger. A whole meal in a bowl. So many ingredients. Such options!

I think, perhaps, the seed for salads-as-a-meal was planted when I was rather young. When my mom was out and my dad was left to fend for himself, he’d often make what he called “Boring Bob Salad.” It was always more or less the same thing – romaine or leaf lettuce, deli ham, tomatoes, and olives, topped with Italian dressing. I didn’t partake too often (I hated olives and ham wasn’t my favorite) but once in awhile he’d make me my own, slightly altered, salad.

As a college student, I had to learn to feed myself using the available items in the dining halls. My favorite dining hall, Proctor, had tons of ingredients to work with – I always felt like it was the best dining hall for “cooking.” I began making what I called “hot salads.” My general approcah was to select one or two hearty items from hot food line, mix in an array of vegetables from the salad bar, and top the whole thing with seasonings and oil from the spice rack. I remember eating hot salads almost every night, but no two salads were ever the same.

After undergrad, I worked at a boarding school with a less elaborate but still solid dining hall. Many more salads were eaten. But now, I no longer have a dining hall to lean on, and instead fend for myself in the salad-making department. The cooking style I’ve devloped has been profoundly influence by the cooking blog, 101 Cookbooks. Learning from Heidi Swanson, I’ve refined my salad-making skills. Her approach to cooking coincides almost exactly with the food I like to eat. All her recipes are great, but I favorite are obviously her inspiring and delicious salad creations.

Most recently, I’ve gained a reputation at work for being a consistent salad eater. Making a salad again today, Melissa? What’s in your salad today? My daily salads don’t really count as those Middlebury hot salads, and they’re not usually as fancy as the ones from 101 Cookbooks, but I do try to make them delicious and satisfying. My colleagues often comment that it’s a lot of work for the lunch hour, but I would beg to differ. Salads are super easy to make. I bring in plastic tubs of greens, whole cucumbers, and any other ingredient that strikes my fancy. I keep seasonings and oil in my desk drawer, right alongside the pens and paper clips, and stash some nuts in there as well. I think you get the point. I like salads. And I think you should too. 

STRATEGY
I always pick a genre for my salads. I think to myself, “Italian,” “Sweet,” “Mexican,” “Asian,” etc. It keeps the ingredients cohesive so things taste good. (For example, don’t eat arugula in a Mexican salad. It’s not good.)

COMPONENTS
Greens.
My greens of choice are arugula. It’s delicious, and also keeps in the fridge much longer than other lettuce greens. Spinach is a good second choice. Sliced napa cabbage is good for an Asian salad.

Veggies or fruit.
I like cucumber in almost all my salads. It goes with everything. I buy English cukes, and a big one will last me almost a week. I also often add tomatoes. But sometimes slicing them is more trouble than it’s worth since our office doesn’t specialize in top of the line knives. I often include avocado in my salad because it’s a great, somewhat filling, addition. Adds a nice creamy texture too. Once in awhile I’ll make sweet salad, and add apple or pear.  

Nuts.
Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts…

Cheese.
I usually buy a tub of crumbled feta and sprinkle it on top. Shaved manchego and parmesan are also delicious. Mozzarella too. I like the little pearled mozzarella balls you can buy in the deli department .

Tofu or legumes.
Black beans are good with avocado and tomato, while white beans and chickpeas are delicious with tuna and arugula. I like adding puy lentils cooked in red wine too.

Grains.
Farro, pasta, and bread crumbs are delicious additions to Italian salads, while tortillas are great with a more Mexican themed one, and soba noodles are delicious in an Asian salad.

Tuna.
This is my back up when I’m out of other hearty options. If I only have arugula and cucumber, I’ll add tuna for some substance. It’s easy since I usually have cans hiding in my cupboard. The best kind is olive oil packed tuna (cheap at Whole Foods) because then you get your dressing as well!

MY FAVORITE FANCIER SALAD RECIPES
Ottolenghi Red Rice and Quinoa Salad
Orzo Super Salad
Cucumber, Buffalo Mozzarella, and Farro Salad
Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese
Grilled Tuna Niçoise Salad