Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Coffee-drinking, art-loving, word-smithing & SNOWBOUND





Have you ever been so distracted by the pursuit of coffee that you lost track of time---and then found out that all the while you were coffee-klatching, a potential disaster was unfolding? That was me on Thursday, November 15---the day of the nor’easter that we all underreacted to until we were stuck in Penn Station, and our children were stuck on buses, while thousands of people were stuck in gridlock that lasted up to 12 to 14 hours, forcing them to deal with their biologic needs the best they could.

Newsbar @ 13th & University



After a full morning of working alone, I met up with two of my colleagues (2 amazing women-editors), at News Bar Café near Union Square, to work on a project and drink endless cups of coffee, while enjoying various soups, breads and sweets. News Bar has a traditional wooden exterior, and a café-pub-like feel, with large plate glass windows at the front of the café.  
Teresa, Jess and Nicole drinnking coffee @ Newsbar

The best way to describe the feeling of being in News Bar at midday as the snow innocently swirled around outside is ‘fika’---a Scandinavian term meaning ‘cozy happiness,’ which usually includes drinking hot drinks in warm settings, against the backdrop of cold, often wintry weather, outdoors.

We accomplished what we came to accomplish, and determined that we had worked so hard and so long that it was time for a break. 

Picasso’s unintentional ode to coffee
Like almost everyone else in NYC and New Jersey, we were clueless about the magnitude of the growing storm. So we went to MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) in midtown. We ubered, and it took 45 minutes to get from 13th Street to 53rd Street---on the east side (a long time for a non-rush-hour trip, even in NYC). Still, we ambled forward like art-hungry foragers looking for soup cans, green helicopters, a starry night, and screaming aliens. Although we found out that Warhol’s soup cans were loaned out, and Munch’s Scream was no longer there (it had actually been loaned in from a private collector for years, but was now gone), each of us found something to get really excited about— works by Kandinsky (Teresa), Rousseau (Jess), and Picasso (Picasso’s Repose, from spring 1908, was my favorite that day).

Repose by Picasso (@MOMA)

When I walked into the room where Repose hangs, I saw it and immediately felt a sense of calmness and well-being. My friend/colleague, Jess, suggested that the reason I love it so much is because its palette is so coffee-esque. Looking at Repose is the visual equivalent of walking into a coffee shop where many different types of coffee are brewing at the same time. Repose is a lady-in-waiting, waiting on a cup of coffee. She sits dreaming of hazelnut-, mocha-, Sumatra-, and Kona-infused coffees.


Snow globe magic meets nor’easter reality
After seeing this painting, we decided to head to the café on the second floor to actually drink coffee---one of my favorite things to do at MOMA. The staff was characteristically polite, and the coffee and espresso drinks were hot, bold, and well-brewed. Best of all was sitting and looking down out of the café’s large window facing 53rd Street. The snow swirled around like a scene from a snow globe. It was all magical and festive---until I got the call from my oldest daughter that my youngest daughter (aged 7), had been stuck on her school bus for more than 2 hours.

Of course, I totally freaked out, and decided to go straight to Penn to try to get home and manage the situation from there. But when we walked out of MOMA, it was clear to me that this was not a ‘manageable’ situation. The snow that looked magical had suddenly become menacing (at least in terms of transportation), and the streets of NYC were absolute chaos, though of course, as I approached Times Square on foot (heading to Penn with Teresa), much gaiety ensued (e.g., fully grown adults in Santa hats scaring small children).

Watching the snow & drinking amazing cofee

After many phone calls, and trains that were stuck in tunnels or packed to the gills at Penn Station, I made it onto a train and finally home, where I discovered two daughters---one who had been stuck on a bus for 4 hours and another who had waited for her outside almost 3 hours. All told, it was challenging, but they are none the worse for the wear.
Penn Station 11-15-18


Giving thanks ahead of Thanksgiving
In the spirit of gratitude, I was blissed out that we all made it home, though I was up late (drinking home-brewed Dunkin’ Donuts hazelnut coffee) following the various pilgrimages of friends trekking home from all over the tristate area. Eventually, everyone made it home---but some people ended up not getting there until the wee hours of the next day---just in time to go to bed for a few hours, wake up, drink lots of coffee, and do it all over again. 


Frolicking in snow showers



Sunday, November 11, 2018

Raise your cup to Veterans---coffee-fueled heroism has always been a ‘thing’


In honor of Veteran’s Day, many coffee chains, including Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, have been giving free coffee and coffee drinks to Veterans. This is just one way to show respect to these hard-working individuals, who have served our country faithfully. It may seem like a small gesture, but ask any military man or woman about coffee, and they will tell you that coffee is a HUGE deal when it comes being in the service---whether you’re on the battlefield, or in a supportive role. 

Coffee is the lifeblood for most demanding professions, from doctors, to traders, teachers, and construction crews---the day cannot start properly without a strong infusion of coffee.  Add to this list, soldiers and other military professionals, who drink coffee, frequently, in large amounts.



Coffee-obsessed Soldiers

 NPR aired a segment in 2016, which revealed that coffee was an obsession during the Civil War. In fact, according to Smithsonian curator, Jim Grinspin, during the Civil War, letters from soldiers mentioned coffee more than slavery, guns, or President Lincoln.  They droned on and on about the coffee they would have for breakfast.  Union men depended on it for every aspect of combat.

Confederate soldiers weren’t as lucky. When the war started, Union soldiers closed southern ports, meaning nothing could come in---not even coffee.  Indeed, coffee was a major competitive advantage for Union soldiers.

From one century to the next, coffee is front and center

Fast forward to the major wars of the 20th century---WW1 and WW2---and reliance on coffee only increased. During WW1 each soldier got 36 pounds of coffee, which they brewed with any water they could get---fresh water ideally, as well as brackish water, rain run-off, and even water from puddles.

And how about the 21st century? Coffee has been elevated even more in military life. In June, the U.S. Army did an analysis involving soldiers and coffee-drinking (caffeinated coffee), with the goal of determining the optimal amount of caffeine for a soldier. The article was published in the Journal of Sleep Research. The upshot: Researchers found that consuming an optimal amount of coffee/caffeine can increase soldiers’ level of alertness by 64%.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no more wars, where there would be soldiers craving coffee. That vision, however, is not grounded in reality. War is a persistent part of the human experience, unfortunately.  So given that reality, let’s hope that soldiers are getting the coffee they need, and enjoying every drop of it.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mystic seaport: Exploring the coffee-drinking habits of whalers



1871 was a fortuitous year in the United States.  In 1871, John Arbuckle and his team invented a machine that led to the mass production of coffee---a machine that could fill, weigh, seal and label coffee in paper bags.  While this was happening in New York City, the Charles W. Morgan commercial whaler was being completed in New Bedford, MA. At 106-feet long, with 7,100 square feet of sail, this massive, fully rigged whaler was a workhorse on the seas.

Why we care about whalers

In the fall, there’s nothing like a weekend getaway to look at the leaves, hike a few trails, and drink a lot of coffee. A recent trip to Mystic, CT, got me thinking about what life on a whaling ship would be like. Mystic Seaport Museum, which has been the permanent home of the Morgan since the early 1940’s, does a great job of bringing a reconstructed mid-19th-century New England whaling village to life.  




The Morgan is massive and visually impressive. You can board the boat and see the cargo hold for the whale blubber, the bunks, the galley, and even the captain's relatively lavish quarters. You can grab the wheel and make at steering the boat, while observing the catboats out on the water. 

As I explain in this video, life on a whaleship was tough, really tough, and there was inequality---but because of the intensity of the experience, the multicultural crews sought refuge in camaraderie, and together, they stoked their morning energy with copious amounts of hot coffee (which was sometimes referred to as dirty water, because of its makeup---but it did the trick). 

Over time, the coffee got better, as mass-produced coffee made it to the ports of New England in the mid 1800's. The coffee-fueled productivity of these crews drove the US economy; lamp light depended on whale blubber oil, and at the time, whale meat was part of a mainstay diet. 
At Bartleby's with E. (2018)

Henry Ward Beecher on the virtue of coffee

At around the same time, the reformist congregational clergyman and renowned abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, became minister of the Plymouth Church, located in what is now known as Brooklyn Heights. During that time, Stowe enthralled his congregants with reformist activism, a spirit of temperance, hard work---and a lusty appetite for coffee.  About coffee and its essential powers, he said:

"A cup of coffee---real coffee---home-browned, home ground, home-made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the lava: such a cup of coffee is a match for twenty blue devils and will exorcise them all.




Begone daily demons

Are we not exorcising demons when we will ourselves to productivity with the help of a cup of coffee? Yes, we are. There are many ways to be productive, including pursuing adventures during a weekend getaway---and then there's relaxing with a cup of coffee. During my weekend in Mystic, I carved out time to go to my favorite local coffee shop---Bartleby's Cafe. Bartleby's has been prominent in the Mystic coffeehouse scene since it opened almost 20 years ago. It's my local favorite for the last 10 years. It's all good---the people, the vibe, the setting and the art, and of course...the coffee. I also really like the peanut cookies and the BLTs.

So much of life is about finding balance, riding the waves and getting it done---but there's so much more to life than that. For me, drinking coffee while traveling is about making memories, feeling healthy and cherishing life. I can't wait for the next adventure! #drinkmorecoffee, #begrateful


Bartleby's (2010) with A. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A coffee-drinking workers’ paradise


Happy Labor Day!  The joy of Labor Day is its focus on pursuing leisure, enjoying the outdoors, and hanging out with friends and family---but Labor Day, like most things of value, was hard-won. It started as a municipal ordinance in the mid-1880’s, and slowly took hold as individual states passed laws celebrating Labor Day. Finally, in June 1884, the United States Congress passed a federal law making the first Monday of September an official holiday celebrating working people.

So what does Labor Day have to do with coffee? A lot it turns out.  Starting in the early 20th century, drinking coffee in the middle of the day became a major cause celebre for working people and the unions that represented them.

1900 was a very auspicious year for American workers. That was the year that the Hills Brothers Company introduced vacuum-packed coffee, making it possible for people to brew coffee at home, and even at work. However, even before coffee was mass-produced, it was consumed regularly, in coffee shops and homes, and used to stoke productivity and improve overall morale---so the coffee break has actually been around for as long as coffee has been around---but for a long time it wasn’t a legal right.   

The movement towards formalizing coffee breaks accelerated in 1952, when the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, a trade group, launched a campaign designed to popularize the coffee break, and create a new norm. The campaign pivoted on to-the-point advertising: “Give yourself a Coffee-Break---and Get What Coffee Gives You.” Apparently the campaign worked, or at least tapped into the national zeitgeist in which all types of workers---blue collar, white collar, domestic, and agricultural---looked forward to those moments in the day when they could have a nice, hot, healthy cup of coffee. Employers were into it too, because they noticed that productivity actually increased when they provided coffee onsite for their workers.
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A big moment for coffee-break champions occurred in the mid-1960’s, when the large Detroit-based automakers negotiated 12-minute breaks with trade unions, whose workers were determined to not only have a coffee break, but to have time to sit down for a few minutes, drink their coffee, have a bite to eat---and maybe chat with a co-worker.

So it’s been a lovely Labor Day here in New Jersey. There’s been a lot of coffee, a lot of food, and no shortage of laughter.  The day was hot, the pool was cool, and the kids were happy---what more could you want.  Well, one thing I know I will want tomorrow morning when it’s time to go back to work is a huge cup of coffee---at home when I wake up, at work when I arrive, and throughout the day.  Coffee-drinkers of the world unite! Happy Labor Day.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Drinking coffee in the land of fika and geothermal geysers



When it comes to drinking coffee, Icelanders are over-achievers.  They rank #3 in the world in terms of per capita consumption, with Finland and Norway taking the top 2 spots.  And although this small Nordic island country only has 350,000 people, there are cafes everywhere.  In fact, Iceland’s home-grown café scene is so robust that there is no need for Starbucks in Iceland.

Coffee permeates Iceland’s culture, affecting every aspect of life, from work, to play, to love. Although coffee didn’t come to Iceland until 1703 (very recently given the long, long history of Europe), by the mid-1700’s, virtually every household in Iceland had a coffee grinder and roaster. 



Coffee plays an important part in love rituals in Iceland. In a famous Icelandic novel, published in 1935 by Halldor Laxness, coffee-drinking took center stage.  This novel depicted the hard-scrabble life of Icelandic peasants, oppressed by debt-bondage and an inhospitable landscape. There were moments of sweetness, however, including a wedding scene in which everyone in attendance drank 5 cups of coffee each---what a celebration!

On the rugged shore near the Intercontinential Divide in Iceland.


Traditionally, women were judged by their ability to brew good coffee for their families---and even now, it is expected that if a visitor drops by, a cup of coffee will be forthcoming.  As a visitor to Iceland earlier this month, I experienced that wonderful ‘coffee hospitality.’ Icelandair serves amazing coffee. In our hotel in Keflavik, breakfast (which started at 4 am) was accompanied by unlimited coffee, and beautiful white ceramic cups---which were also highly functional and sufficiently large to limit the number of trips back and forth to the coffee counter.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the term ‘hygge,’ a Danish word that means ‘cozy, charming, and special.’ Well there is another Scandinavian term widely used in Iceland---Fika (fee-ka). Fika means ‘stop whatever you are doing and enjoy your coffee.’  It’s basically the northern European ‘coffee and cake’ tradition on steroids.

As summer wanes and fall approaches, I am prepping for a long season of hygge and fika with friends and family, and although I am not Icelandic, I am a coffee over-achiever and I know how to fika like a pro!

Learn more about the hygge and fika traditions here. https://wowair.us/magazine/hygge-and-fika/



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Drinking coffee at a British pub


According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), there are 10,500 pubs in the U.K.  Pubs are an important part of British culture. They are known for their warmth, coziness, and camaraderie, as well as their drink and menu of savory foods, including ‘pies,’ chips, burgers, salads, and rich, deeply satisfying desserts.

 I don’t really go to pubs very often (though I remember going to some nice ones several times when I was a student at Middlebury). However, during a recent trip, I decided that when in London, one must experience British pub life. I simply concluded that while I could happily spend all my time at cafés, I didn’t want to miss out on such an iconic experience. 

I chose Warwick Arms, located at 160 Warwick St. in Kensington, because it was close to my hotel and had an interesting twist (which I will get to later).  It did not disappoint. The interior was welcoming and warm, outfitted with leather tufted chairs, wooden tables, and a fireplace.

Warwick Arms has a menu full of options---traditional British pub food, drink, North Indian curry (who knew?), and COFFEE. That’s right---coffee! I was so excited, and boy was I hungry after a hard day’s work of being a tourist---walking, visiting the British museum, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and contemplating the fact that Stephen Hawking was recently buried at Westminster Abbey between Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Pubs are not for dieters, and when you go, you must be prepared to be tempted by all of the appetizing options. I had a chicken saag dish, a few sips of my friend’s rosé, a heaping portion of naan, and  A LOT of coffee. The entire meal was super-delish and surprisingly affordable. 

I ended up paying roughly $40 for 2 large entrees, a starter dish, and a lot of coffee---an amazing deal found right in the heart of London(!) Pubs are not only a great value, but they are a perfect setting for a nice night out. Wouldn’t have missed this for anything!

Check out my vlog review here:






Sunday, August 5, 2018

Summer Nights at MOMA



In the summer, Thursday nights at MOMA are dedicated to listening to music in the Sculpture Garden. Last Thursday the featured group was OSHUN, two young women, who create Afro-futuristic music that combines hip hop, R&B, acoustic harmonizing, heavy drum and bass, and EDM. (If you listen carefully, you might just hear woven-in samples from 90’s conscious hip hop groups, like Tribe Called Quest).


The garden was abuzz with Afropunk aficionados, the after-work crowd, beautiful people with big afros, MOMA members---and random people like us, who love MOMA and enjoy drinking coffee when we’re there. 


Thandiwe and Niambi Sala are recent NYU graduates, who chose the name OSHUN for its multifaceted meaning. Oshun is a West African deity---a goddess, also known as an orisha, who is the deity of fresh water, luxury, love, destiny, divination, pleasure, and sexuality. She is revered as the goddess of the Osun River in Nigeria. Their goal is to channel “the spirit of their ancestors in order to manifest a sweeter tomorrow for us all.”

Check out “Parts” released earlier this year. 



I don't often come just for music. In fact, when I come to MOMA, I come mainly for art. For me, the Sculpture Garden, with its sculptures and landscaping, is magical. One of my favorites is Picasso’s “She-Goat.” Picasso created She-goat (she may be pregnant) from discarded materials---scraps of metal, palm fronds, ceramic shards, and more. The goat's belly and rib cage were created from a wicker basket, while her udders were fashioned from two ceramic jugs.

There are several compelling exhibits at MOMA now, including one focused on Yugoslavian architecture from 1948 to 1980---a period in which brutalism in architecture was all the rage. Brutalism is derived from the word “raw” which in French translates as “brute.” 




If you’ve ever seen large concrete, multi-storied buildings that at first glance seem artless and oversized, you’ve seen brutalist architecture. Contrary to this reaction, brutalism was used by architects to create transformative housing, with gardens in the back, and functional space for lots of people---a democratizing force.

If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

In the meantime, I’ll be traveling and trying to get in a few more beach days. Keep drinking coffee...and make sure to check out that exhibit you've been wanting to see--summer is almost over.