A low-key Sunday birthday

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK, NYC

I love Sunday mornings.

But they’re even better when it’s your birthday.

irvingfarm

On Sunday I woke up on the early side and spent the morning doing one of my favorite things: relaxing at a coffee shop. I’d been meaning for awhile to check out Irving Farm Coffee Roasters in the Upper West Side, a spot my roommate had recommended but I’d been reluctant to go to since they don’t have wifi.

But today was my birthday. Who needs work? Who needs wifi?

I took the 1 train uptown and the shop was just around the corner from the 79th Street stop. I could tell immediately it was popular from the line out the door. Irving Farm bustled with Upper West Siders getting their pre and post workout coffee fixes, young families gathering for quick breakfasts before church, and older couples quietly reading The New York Times.

I waited on line for nearly 15 minutes just to order coffee, something I typically wouldn’t have patience for–but time is one of the great luxuries of Sunday mornings.

And I have to say, the quality of the coffee and the ample seating space made it worth it.

They also serve all their cold drinks in mason jars (don’t ask me why but that’s a game changer).

coffee

After getting my dark roast I grabbed a seat in the back corner, opened my notebook, and did some writing. Irving Farm’s lively atmosphere made it a great place to people watch. I’ll definitely be going back!

Then, because I love coffee so much, I met my friend Grace for more coffee at Aroma a few blocks away. Aroma is an Israeli coffee chain that I discovered a few summers back while working at the Garden State Mall. One of Aroma’s first U.S. stores had opened up next to the Lord & Taylor where I was a sales associate, so each day I got my midday caffeine fix at the trendy new spot.

But having just returned from a trip to Israel where Aroma is as ubiquitous as Starbucks is in the U.S., Aroma now has a nostalgia factor for me. I immediately noticed Israeli accents when I walked in, and I overheard two women near us discussing the conflict in Gaza. Sitting on the covered rooftop, it was easy to believe I was back in Israel.

aroma

Grace and I spent about an hour at Aroma, chatting about our vacations and summer plans. After that I walked back to my apartment from the Upper West, then went for a run.

In the evening, my family came into the city and we ate at Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center. Margaritas, fresh-made guacamole, enchiladas, and family.

Perfect way to end the day.

coffee3

Given my ultra-caffeinated day, my sister’s birthday card to me was all too appropriate.

Advertisements

10 Essential Tools for the Modern Writer

COFFEE, CREATIVE WRITING, FOOD & DRINK, QUOTES, TECHNOLOGY

Laptop. Coffee. Water. All a writer needs for a long day of creative composition, right?

Sitting in my favorite Cool Beans today, I thought about the most important things for my productivity as a writer.  I’ve been writing creatively, almost innately, since I was very young, but I realized I needed these “tools” when I began thinking of writing as a craft or a profession.

Essential tools in my writer’s toolbox (besides coffee, water and laptop) 

1. Books: It doesn’t matter whether they’re digital or print. Reading is absolutely vital for good writing. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t practice or an athlete who doesn’t train.  There is almost no chance for growth.

2. Internet: Maybe there was a day, way back in 1990, when access to the Internet wasn’t important for the modern writer. Nowadays, I get significant inspiration from flipping through random writing blogs, The New Yorker fiction archives, magazines and online newspapers. That being said, the Internet can sometimes be detrimental to the writing process.  Author Zadie Smith suggests working on a computer that’s disconnected to the Internet. I don’t totally agree, but when it’s time to get down to the really hard stuff, the Internet can be counterproductive.

3. Coffee shops: For me, coffee shops make the perfect environment for writing. I need the stimulation of conversation and buzzing espresso machines. I also need a place that’s quiet enough for me to isolate myself with headphones.

4. Notepad. Again, whether it’s an iPhone or a Moleskin, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I always something on hand to jot down ideas or paragraphs when the muse strikes.

5. Thesaurus. Let’s face it: no writer always has the perfect word to describe their perfect image. The thesaurus is a fabulous writer’s tool for constructing with words the image already constructed in your mind.

7. Music. The way runners have pump-up playlists, most writers use a playlist of songs to help them transition into a writing mood. Sometimes it’s very difficult to go from the mindset of rushed every day life to the very patient, isolated and introverted mindset of writing.  Music is also one of the best tools for climbing out of the trenches of writer’s block.

–> What are your essential writing tools?

Blue Bottle coffee: ‘so good it’s almost beer’

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK, LIFE, NYC

It’s a warm, breezy afternoon in summer and my grandpa and I are strolling along New York City’s High Line park.

We’ve walked about 15 blocks when we come across some vendors selling art and a few scattered food carts. One is Blue Bottle Coffee, a California-based organic coffee brand that also has a few shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  You probably shouldn’t judge a coffee shop by its barista, but the guy behind the cart has that scruffy, indie look that makes me think he takes his coffee seriously.

“Let’s try it out,” Papa says. “I’ve heard it’s good.”

Of course, I’m not going to object. It smells amazing. I wonder though, realistically, how anyone has time for Blue Bottle.

There is no line when Papa and I order our Three Africans Blend drip coffees, but it takes almost five minutes to make them. Not exactly conducive to New Yorkers on the move, but I guess when you’re strolling on the High Line you’re supposed to be relaxed.

With our coffee slowly dripping through the filter, it’s awkward not to make small talk. The barista starts telling us how the Blue Bottle brand has a “cult-like” following in San Francisco, but is just beginning to catch on in New York City.

“In San Francisco,” he says, “Where people only have to be at work at ten, ten-ish, they’ll wait on line forever for a cup. It’s different here.”

Honestly, I can’t imagine people having the patience for that in New York. After all, a cup of coffee is a cup of coffee, even if it’s a really really good cup of coffee.

But we have plenty of time today, and  by this point I’m pretty sold by the scent of the coffee grounds, picked up and swirled around by the High Line breeze.

We finally get our coffee and sit down at a little table in the sun near 15th street. It’s about 75 degrees — if it were any warmer drinking hot coffee might not be enjoyable, but it’s perfect in this weather.

Papa takes a sip first.

“It almost tastes like beer it’s so good,” he says says, smiling.

I start laughing. My Irish grandfather loves his beer. I actually know what he means though — the coffee is so thick and rich-tasting, it’s almost filling.

I take a sip.

“Wow, this is good.”

Now I have to rationalize the high price.

“Starbucks lattes are like $3.75,” I say. “I mean, $2.90 for a cup? It’s still not as bad as being a latte person.”

We talk and talk about how delicious this coffee is. One of the best things about loving coffee is talking about how great your cup of coffee is with another coffee-lover who is genuinely enjoying his or her cup.

“I think this is one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had,” Papa says.

“Really?! The best you’ve ever had?”

 I’m thinking this is a pretty big deal for him to say, after a lifetime of drinking the stuff.

“Well, not the best, but close.”

Papa has never been a gourmet coffee drinker, preferring a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts black or the dark roast from Wawa. His all-time favorite — a 7-Eleven blend — was tragically discontinued a few years ago, and he’s been searching for a replacement ever since. He would never willingly step foot in a Starbucks; he thinks their coffee has too much of a burnt taste, which I agree with even though I buy it all the time.

Needless to say, I’m pretty happy about his newfound love for the trendy Blue Bottle.

We continue walking along the High Line, savoring our Three Africans Blend for the next 15 minutes until the coffee’s the same temperature as the outside air. It still tastes good.

That night I arrive home to an email from Papa, informing me of Blue Bottle’s dangerous new Rockefeller Center location.

“How can any one be able to save money working near a Blue Bottle coffee kiosk?” he writes. “There ought to be a law against this type of temptation.”

Quincy’s Cafe offers ‘something for everyone’

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK

Walk into Quincy’s Café on any given afternoon and the first thing you’ll notice is the people.

Students clad in oversized headphones, hidden behind their laptops and towers of textbooks. Professors holding an orange coffee mug in one hand and a newspaper in the other. A poet scribbling down thoughts in his Moleskin.

Ismail Egilmez, owner of the café, says Quincy’s has something for everyone.

“I have 90-year-old women … playing cards games down to students studying, to locals who’ve been in town forever to artists to musicians sitting in the corner,” he said. “It’s what we are, the environment that I’ve set out … if you build it, they’ll come.”

Located on the corner of Edison Road and Route 23, Egilmez credits Quincy’s success over the last year in part to its central location.

“I’m at a good crossroads,” he said. “We’re next to the campus, obviously, which we totally love, we’re next to downtown, also next to Granger, which is very popular, and everybody moves through here.”


Egilmez opened Quincy’s Café one year ago with his father, Philip Egilmez, a Notre Dame alum. Ismail Egilmez had previously owned an art gallery in Chicago, which he was forced to close when the economy spiraled downward.

Opening his own café, he said, had always been a goal.

Now, the timing was right.

“It was harder and harder to find anything to really depend on … so the best answer to that was just to work for yourself,” he said. “So we came together, brought our heads together on it, and this is what came out of that.”

The quirky ambience of Quincy’s helps distinguish it from what Egilmez calls “sterile” coffee shops, chain stores like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best that have spread across the country since the early 1990s.

He said Quincy’s is an entirely different kind of venture.

“Just because the coffee associates us two doesn’t mean the whole idea of the business is [the same,]” he said. “This is more ‘take a break.’”

With its wooden tables, mismatched chairs and abstract artwork lining an entire wall, the atmosphere of Quincy’s is a major draw for creative types who find the South Bend area lacking in similar venues.

“It does build community really well, because people talk to each other and connections happen, it’s just great for the artists to be able to do that,” he said. “That way [I can] support doing the art, without completely depending on it, and still give back in that way.”

All of the artwork displayed is by local or regional artists. Egilmez also invites local musicians to play on a small wooden stage in the back of the café.

“There’s some weeks we have [music] Wednesday through Sunday, other weeks we have it just Thursday Friday and Saturday, but always Friday and Saturday and 90 percent of the time Thursday, Friday, Saturday, so yeah we really try to keep that going,” Egilmez said.

When it comes to food, Quincy’s also goes for local flavor.

“I think the signature thing is the ingredient,” Egilmez said. “I mean every restaurant is going to have a turkey sandwich, I mean we can’t patent that … it’s how you do it.”

All of the food is locally or regionally made, he said, and none of the ingredients are “skimped on.”

The coffee served at Quincy’s — on the pricier side at about two to five dollars a cup — is high quality and regionally sourced.



“We do Intelligentsia coffee because they’re a smaller business. I [found out] about them when I went to Chicago, basically I tasted that and I said I won’t go to any of the ‘other’ places,” he said. “It really is night and day.”

Egilmez said that despite doing very little advertising, numbers show Quincy’s has grown steadily each month since it opened last April.

But he said the timeline for possible expansion “kind of dictates itself.”

“We want to see if the cup keeps overflowing to see if that’s needed and so right now we’re at just about the right capacity with our shows and everything, so [eventually] expanding the venue so we can offer more, a little bigger of a stage,” he said.

Egilmez said he does not want to be the kind of owner that “sets and forgets,” failing to keep up with increased demand or customers’ needs.

“You have to keep moving with it a little bit, and change, but still keep the very main core,” he said. “I’m never going to lose what I’m about. Just [add] to it a little bit.”

Caffeine Culture

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK, NOTRE DAME, OPINION, PHOTOGRAPHY, PUBLISHED WORK

Published in The Observer

If you’re anything like my friends and me, Starbucks downs your flex points just about as fast as you down its tall vanilla lattes.

I don’t even drink coffee just to stay awake. There are so many other great reasons to grab a cup: to fill an awkward break between classes, to catch up with friends, to procrastinate studying and to keep warm when the temperature goes subzero.

We live in a caffeine culture, and the ridiculously long coffee lines between classes prove that. You can even tell a lot about a person based on their caffeine preference.

We have the Waddicks types, who linger at the coveted red booths, reading Chaucer or discussing philosophy, slowly sipping large pumpkin spice coffees.

You know someone’s got a long day when their tumbler is filled to the brim with Grab and Go coffee and secured in the net pocket of a protruding backpack.

And then there are those who are perpetually holding Starbucks — never straight coffee but always with an excess of adjectives like nonfat, extra whip, unsweetened, light ice and no foam.

I may be stereotyping, but at Notre Dame getting coffee is a more social thing for girls than for guys. You are much more likely to see four PW girls in LaFun gossiping over coffee, than to see four Siegfried guys crowded around a Burger King table, chatting and sipping their nonfat lattes.

On the other hand, unlike guys, girls don’t typically purchase energy drinks to have fun with their friends. Let’s take the case of Five-Hour Energy shots. Girls never brag about taking them. In fact, most girls will down them in the privacy of a Subway booth or in their own rooms. But when guys pop open that small bottle, they have to broadcast it to whoever they pass by. It’s always like, “Dude, I’m so ridiculously awake now, I just took a Five-Hour Energy. Love that stuff.”

Addiction? Possibly. Problem? Not really.

But the Five-Hour Energy shot poured into the coffee? Yes, I’ve seen it done. Now that’s a problem.

At Notre Dame, we like to think that while we “play hard” on the weekends, during the weekdays we are studious, diligent and in control. However, our coffee drinking habits are oddly reminiscent of our weekend drinking habits. Why else would we order a double shot of espresso on a Monday morning, or claim that “one more cup” of coffee won’t hurt us? Why else would we suffer through headaches at 11 a.m., just because we didn’t have that morning cup?

Whether you’re a social coffee drinker, a caffeine addict, or, gasp, you “don’t like coffee,” there’s no denying that we live in a caffeine culture.

Of course, there are those out there who claim to survive without any caffeine at all. On good, old-fashioned sleep, they say. I still think there has got to be some method to that madness, but for now, more power to them.

Europe, through coffee

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK, PHOTOGRAPHY

I don’t know what it is about coffee. I like to drink it, I like to write about it, I like to photograph it. Coffee has even found its way into my everyday attire by way of those inevitable spills when I’m walking too fast (which is usually.)

Anyway, since I arrived home from Europe a few weeks ago and am feeling particularly nostalgic for those café au laits, I thought this post would be appropriate. I present you: “Coffee Portraits.”

Cafe latte, Venice, Italy

Cafe americano, Salzburg, Austria

Latte with cinnamon and cocoa powder, outside Windsor Castle, Windsor, UK

Ok, not coffee, but the perfect complement! Salzburg, Austria

Cafe americano, Prague, Czech Republic

The ice coffees in Prague come with ice cream and whipped cream! Amazing.

Cafe au lait, Paris, France

Coffee. Ridgewood, New Jersey.

It’s a…blog!

COFFEE, CREATIVE WRITING, DESIGN, PHOTOGRAPHY

Dear friends,

As many of you know, I’ve been wanting to start a blog for some time. I love writing, photography, and aimless searching online, so a blog always seemed to be the perfect fusion of my interests.

The summer after my first year in college I interned at a New York based company called Magnet Media, writing blog posts for the photography and design channels of their website, Zoom In Online (Now The Photoletariat). Each day, I’d take my free trade coffee up to the tenth floor of the Chelsea office building, feeling as hipster as a freshman Notre Dame student from a preppy suburban town could feel. I loved my job and was fascinated by the blog world, by how entire communities existed online and artists exchanged ideas through comments and links and shoutouts.

But then summer ended and school started and I forgot about my quirky little pastime. Two years later, I’m finally giving it another try. This blog will contain my own creative writing and photography and finds from the design world.

Hope you enjoy!

Sara