Desiring Decaf (Or, WTF, Coffee Snobs?)

balanced breakfast
                                                                                  balanced breakfast

Today I started my morning with part of a Cupcake Royale raspberry pavlova cupcake (vanilla cake, raspberry sauce, lemon buttercream, meringue, delicious) that I’d saved from the night before, and a cup of hot black coffee. In bed. It felt so right.

The coffee, incidentally, was decaffeinated: not because I’m 36 week pregnant (it’s generally accepted that moderate caffeine consumption is just fine during pregnancy), but because I’m extremely sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Anything more than a single cup of black tea makes my heart pound unpleasantly and turns me into a jittery, anxious mess.

It’s a cliché for mainstream coffee drinkers to sniff “what’s the point?” when reminded of decaf’s existence. My partner once mistook this for acceptable banter when I ordered a decaf Americano, resulting in a fight during which I called him a dick in front of the mortified barista (we laughed about it later). Recently, I remarked to a veteran barista friend that I liked a certain coffee shop because I didn’t feel like they were judging me for ordering decaf. “Oh,” she assured me, “they’re judging you.”

But why? Caffeine is a drug, the effects of which don’t agree with some people. I’ve been a caffeine drinker in the past, but after I quit cold-turkey in an effort to address my night bruxism (aka tooth grinding/jaw clenching; it helped, somewhat), my tolerance plummeted. To this day, I reserve anything more than the relatively tiny amounts found in tea, chocolate, or decaf coffee for emergency situations (solo road trips, deadlines that require all-nighters – of which there are mercifully few these days). There are simply those of us who want to enjoy the taste of coffee without corresponding ill-effects.

I’ve heard it said on many occasions that people like me should just avoid coffee, because, you see, no one could possibly enjoy the taste of decaf. That’s news to me: I happen to like it. Admittedly, my taste in coffee is not very sophisticated. I’ve worked as a barista and received training that enabled me to understand the nuances of coffee roasted with restraint. I can appreciate the floral, citrusy, or herbaceous complexity of a single-origin shade-grown light-roast pour-over. But I still prefer the robust, earthy, pedestrian (okay, haters, burnt) flavor of a good dark roast. And, let’s face it – when you’re roasting coffee beans to a charred crisp anyway, the flavor differences between regular and decaf are negligible. There are even some roasters who do a pretty good job with their decaf beans.

Why should anyone care whether I have shit taste in coffee? Does that make me less of a person? I like what I like – why is that a problem for you? The only conclusion that makes sense is insecurity. Why else would anyone be in the business of policing someone else’s preferences?

As a server, I always liked it when someone had the chutzpah to ask for ice cubes with their wine. And if someone wants their steak cooked well-done, or wants to put ketchup on said steak, what business of it is mine?

An apparent lack of sophistication in others stirs up anxieties about the parts of ourselves that may be underdeveloped, unformed, or simply out of step with what the culture considers “cool.” A truly secure person (I’m not necessarily claiming this designation for myself!) has no need to pass judgment on the aesthetic preferences of others. A truly secure person doesn’t waste time scrutinizing someone else’s taste. A truly secure person says (and means) “right on: you do you.”

So, even when I’m no longer pregnant, I’ll still enjoy my decaf, listen to corny 90’s country music, wear brown and black together, and dip my fries in my milkshake. Snobs be damned.

Biscuit Rescue

Peanut butter banana biscuit. The only thing that would make this healthier is a big cup of coffee with booze (bourbon, Frangelico, etc.) in it.

buttermilk biscuit, banana, peanut butter
buttermilk biscuit, banana, peanut butter

In a perfect world, every biscuit would be eaten within twenty minutes of leaving the oven. In reality, biscuits often linger past their prime. There are those who would argue that a day-old biscuit doesn’t deserve the three-or-so inches of space it occupies. But I, ever loathe to waste food, find that to toast an old biscuit, and then amply spread it with something delicious, is a good compromise. It’s not a fresh biscuit, of course, but it’s still perfectly lovely if you approach it on its own terms. Plus, you get to hear it sizzling vigorously in the toaster as the butter heats up.

In addition to slathering them with peanut butter, you can top old biscuits with ice cream for a quick-and-dirty shortcake, cover them in gravy or soup, fry them into little buttery croutons. And, of course, there’s always Nutella.


Breakfast Birthday Cake

Yesterday was my birthday! In celebration of my joyous descent from the no-sugar wagon, I made cake for breakfast. Grapefruit cardamom cake.

I really liked the idea of the little rhubarb streusel cakes I made at Vif, so I based my recipe  on that one. (Although I didn’t taste them, the principal was definitely sound: moist butter cake, bright fruit, sweet crunchy topping.)

I gave the streusel some extra crunch with almonds, used fat grapefruit slices and grapefruit-vanilla syrup in place of the rhubarb compote, included whole wheat pastry flour in a nod to health and heft, and flavored the cake with cardamom and grapefruit zest. I conceived of it as a coffee cake, but it turned out to be really rich, with as much streusel as cake. SO good. Next time I make it, I’ll serve it for dessert with vanilla (or cardamom!) ice cream

i prepped it all the night before.


The best winter/spring fruit!
spring’s still citrus time.




Vanilla beans in evidence
vanilla and grapefruit, nuff said

I ate a big piece with whipped cream, lightly sweetened and flavored with vanilla and a spoonful of yogurt. And, of course, a cup of strong black coffee.

After the oven
skillet cake.


Nestled citrus
nestled slice

Here’s the recipe:

Grapefruit Cardamom Cake


¾ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup plus 2T whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ t baking powder
½ t salt
1.5 t ground cardamom
1 t grapefruit zest
½ cup yogurt
6 T melted butter
1 egg
1 t vanilla

Grapefruit topping

1 large grapefruit, peeled, pith removed
¼ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean


½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 t cardamom
pinch of salt
6 T melted butter
¼ cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped

Prepare the grapefruit: Peel it, and remove the pith with a sharp pairing knife, keeping segments as intact as possible. Put them in a bowl with the vanilla, add the sugar, and toss gently. Let sit for at least two hours, or overnight. Pour the liquid from the bottom of the bowl into a saucepan and simmer gently with the vanilla bean for a few minutes, until you have a light syrup. Squeeze out the vanilla bean and discard the husk. (A note on vanilla beans: store them in booze so they’ll stay fresh and readily yield their innards. Rum works nicely.)

Make the streusel: Combine sugar, salt, spices, butter, and almonds. Stir in ¾ of the flour, adding more as needed, until you have chunky crumbles. You can make the streusel a day ahead and refrigerate it.

Make the cake: Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter an 8×8 baking pan, a 9” cast iron skillet (if you want a nice crunchy edge), or 9 small ring molds. Whisk together flour, sugars, salt, cardamom, zest, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Whisk together yogurt, butter, egg, and vanilla in another (large) bowl. Fold dry ingredients into wet until just combined. Scrape into prepared pan (batter will be thick) and spread with a spatula to cover the bottom of the pan. Add grapefruit slices in a pleasing array, pour syrup over, and top with streusel (all of it!).

Bake for 35ish minutes, rotating halfway through, or until a knife or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean (it’ll be a little wet under the streusel on account of the fruit and syrup). Let cool to room temperature before slicing. Serve with whipped cream and strong coffee or vanilla ice cream and good bourbon.

spot the flip phone
spot the flip-phone!

All the things…

…the good things. The sweet sunshiny summery things. The things that make breakfast worth savoring and sighing and swooning over. I submit, for your consideration, The August Breakfast Taco:



Heaped on top of warmed corn tortillas: scrambled egg, grated sharp cheddar, pan-grilled onions, peppers (red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, Hatch chiles), and squash, fire-roasted corn, blistered cherry tomatoes (Sungolds), and cilantro. Also: fennel, cucumber, and radish relish, and, of course, a generous dotting of Sriracha.

Lucky me.

To make these tacos:

Take sliced onions and bell peppers. Sear them in a very hot cast-iron skillet with very little oil until they develop a nice deep char. Using the same pan, do the same to cubed summer squash. Then whole cherry tomatoes. If you have a gas stove, roast a whole ear of corn over the flame until some of the kernels blacken. If not, use the cast-iron for a similar effect. Cut the corn off the cob, mix with onions, peppers, and a healthy handful of fresh chopped cilantro. I toasted cumin and coriander and ground it up with dried oregano to make my own taco seasoning. Spice at your discretion.

For the relish:

Finely slice half a fennel bulb, and finely dice a cucumber and a bunch of radishes. Add a quarter cup of minced onion, a handful of chopped cilantro, a big pinch of salt, and squeeze half a lime over the whole thing.

Warm some torillas, scramble some eggs, and throw it all together. Add hot sauce, sour cream, and cheese if you want.

Note: this is a very loose casual recipe – these are loose casual tacos. You can use any mix of summer vegetables you want. They can be dinner tacos with beans or meat, and anytime tacos with cold beer.


On a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, these are the things the city said to me:

Passionately long for scones. Through pure serendipity, end up at a place (Zell’s) that just happens to bring two (two!) fresh scones to each diner. Rejoice in asking and receiving.

Zell's scones
Zell’s scones

Have a bloody Mary with breakfast. Go ahead. Day drinking is good for the soul–especially if there are pickled vegetables involved.

Cricket's bloody mary
Cricket‘s bloody mary

Cupcakes are canonized in a living hagiography of all that is twee. Don’t fight it.

a s.c. edit

There is tangible, vital benevolence that flows through everyday life. Case in point: “Tapioca float with elderflower ice milk and huckleberry puree, pink peppercorn cinnamon, rose cardamom.”

aspecials edit

“Air-baked not fries.” Portland Dick’s Seattle Dick’s.

ahealthy diner food

Artisan slingshots: Everything you’ve heard about this town is true.


I love breakfast

Sometimes my house turns into a greasy spoon: fried taters, spinach, egg and lots of grated cheddar

I’ve always been a breakfast eater.

When I was a little kid, my mom would sometimes sneak into my room before I woke up and leave a bowl of cereal, a pitcher of cold milk, and a glass of juice by my bedside. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

Throughout high school, when many teens traditionally eschew breakfast, I would make the same thing every morning for a month or two, before tiring of it and switching to something else: breakfast burritos with scrambled eggs, potatoes, hot sauce and ketchup; bagel sandwiches with fried eggs, grainy mustard and gruyere cheese; oatmeal with bananas and cinnamon.

Vegetable stew, scrambled eggs and feta on crushed tortilla chips (with cheese and hot sauce, naturally)

The apotheosis of the morning meal, and one of my all-time favorites, is the venerable English fry-up, complete with fried eggs, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, fried bread, sausage, bacon or ham, fried bread, and sometimes baked beans.

Although my breakfast selections tend toward the savory, I also love pancakes, fruit and yogurt, cereal or toast with lots of butter and jam. If there’s leftover cake, pie or cookies in the house, I’ll eat those too.

A hot drink, or course, is absolutely essential: coffee (black, french press) or tea (black, strong, one sugar, whole milk).

What’s your favorite breakfast?

Mmmmm pancakes