Espresso at Home

One of the things I’ve missed most about the world during the pandemic has been hanging out in coffee shops, so I’ve spent the past year turning our apartment into one.  It’s partly why I bought those nice speakers (mentioned in the last issue). I started to think about how I could bring more coffee shop vibes into our apartment, and it’s turned into a full-blown hobby.  With so little else going on, the little ritual of making a great coffee in the morning became the highlight of my day. I’ve been sampling different roasts from around Pittsburgh and beyond, measuring every detail about my espresso to get the perfect shot, and failing at latté art.

The Brew StationBreville Bambino Plus

When I traveled to France during college, I fell in love with espresso.  Since then, I’ve always wanted to have it at home.  When I realized we’d be working from home indefinitely, I invested in a basic espresso machine.  I bought a Breville Bambino, which I liked because it was small and beginner-friendly.  

I didn’t expect to get so invested in the science of brewing a consistent, perfect shot.  While the Bambino does make great espresso, there isn’t a lot that can be controlled about the other little details that go into each cup (like water temperature, pressure, extraction time, etc). Even when I control for as many variables as possible, I still get different results.  This is me being really, really picky.  Overall, it still makes great espresso and I’ve found that the most important thing is starting with great beans. 

With the Bambino, I also got a grinder and kettle (for pour overs, French press, Americanos, or tea).  The grinder is the Baratza Encore, which is considered a great all-purpose Burr grinder.  It’s better suited for pour-over and French press than espresso, but it does the job.  I also decided on the Fellow kettle because it is so well designed, but I also like that you can set the exact temperature.

Practice makes… progress 

I’ve learned how to pull shots from my espresso machine.  Measuring progress making espresso shots is easy because everything is measured in seconds and grams.  Latté art is different and most of the time, I get blobs and swishes of milk instead of precise leafs, hearts, or flowers.  There are a lot of things that factor into latté art: the freshness, temperature, and texture of the milk, the angle which the pitcher is held as it froths, the angle the pitcher is held as it is poured, etc.  It is not as easy as it looks.  I also don’t drink lattés every day, so it I don’t get as much practice as I’d like.

Practice makes… progress 

Supporting Independent Coffee Shops

Beans 

This may sound obvious, but the most important component to a great shot of espresso is freshly roasted beans.  While I love the selection from Commonplace, our favorite coffee shop in Squirrel Hill, I’m having fun sampling different roasts.  I’m keeping a little log of every type I’ve tried this year.  So far, our favorite is shop out of Wisconsin called Ruby Roasters.  Because of the shipping costs, it’s pricier than buying from a coffee shop in the neighborhood, but it’s definitely the best.  If you have any favorite roasters, please let me know! 

Merch

In addition to shopping small for all of my coffee beans, I’ve been slowly collecting merch from my favorites.  I’m currently living in this shirt from Commonplace, which is incomprehensibly soft.  Rob and I also have matching sweatshirts from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine.  I think it’s a great way to give coffee shops a little extra support now.

Subscribe 

At the beginning of the lock down, I joined Tandem’s “The Good Thing” coffee and vinyl subscription.  There is a waitlist to join!  Each month, Tandem ships out a bag of beans and a record.  I love that they include a flyer talking about why they chose the record.  Subscriptions like this are great because they give business a guaranteed stream of revenue.  I’m also considering subscribing to coffee from Ruby Roasters

Commonplace TCommonplace CoffeeTandem’s Coffee & Vinyl SubscriptionCommonplace MugBaratza Encore GrinderThe Boy with the Arab Strap on VinylBreville Bambino PlusFellow KettleKLVN T

For a nice treat to go with that coffee… see my posts about scones and cardamom swirl bread

The Edit – December 2020

The Edit 

Zella Top, Pants, Aesop Soap, Six Seasons, Speakers, Turn Table, Journal

All the best things I bought in 2020 were things that brought me comfort.  These Zella pants and top have basically been my uniform.  Because the top is so perfectly soft and flowy,  I ended up buying two colors: pink and black.  The pants are basically leggings with pockets large enough to accommodate my phone.  

Since everyone’s favorite activity this year is hand washing, I upgraded my hand soap to Aesop’s Reverence.  Yes, that name is a little grandiose and the $39 price tag is definitely a little unreasonable for hand soap… but the soap has a lovely woodsy scent and there are tiny little granules that buff away dead skin, so it leaves hands incredibly soft.  

A new coffee shop,  KLVN, with a killer hi-fi system, opened right before the pandemic set in.  I remember the first time I walked in, “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” by Belle and Sebastian was playing over the Dynaco A25 speakers. In the dozens of times I’ve heard the song, it never sounded so good. I would love to invest in a fancy hi-fi set up, but because we live in a small apartment, it seemed unnecessary for now.  These speakers from Edifier are only $99 and sound amazing… honestly, much better than all portable bluetooth speakers I’ve tried. 

Because we’ve been doing so much cooking at home, we are a little sick of our classic rotation of dinners.  I’ve loved trying recipes out of “Six Seasons” because the book offers interesting takes on a big variety of vegetables.  It is organized by season, so I can easily navigate by the time of year. 

The last thing: a nice journal.  It’s a little corny, but it feels important to write about this wild time in our lives.  Journaling also helps me process things.  If a problem is a tangled knot, writing about it helps me think clearly and unravel it. 

My Favorite Travel Items

Some unglamorous (but practical) travel must-haves:

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Field Notes Notebook, Sony Alpha A6000, S’well Bottle, Anker Portable Battery, Shampoo Packets, Travel Pouches, Muji Garment organizer, Turkish towel, Small Suitcase 

Most of the time, my monthly shopping list features a lot of thoughtfully-designed, bespoke pieces.  This month it is a little more basic, just a few practical items for travel.

I always travel as light, because it is so much easier.  I’d rather repeat outfits than check a bag.  I like to be prepared (I always travel with a towel, you might need an extra one!  Plus, Turkish Towels can serve other purposes, are easy to pack, and dry quickly).  I never assume anything will be provided. I try to bring just the basics and plan ahead to do without.

I started packing sample packets of shampoo and conditioner instead of little plastic bottles.  I usually have some on hand from my Sephora free sample stash, they are available on Amazon.  This is great because as you use them, they take up less room.  Also, a little sachet of shampoo takes up a lot less room than a mini bottle.

I stay organized while packing by partitioning everything into little baggies.  I bought this set off Amazon and use it to sort my cables, beauty products, and other miscellaneous small items.  I even used the largest bag to separate dirty clothes.  These packing cubes from Muji also help keep my suitcase organized.  I only ever travel with a very small, hard-sided, four-wheel spinner.

A few nice-t0-haves: I like carrying this S’well water bottle with me on trips because it is my only bottle that reliably fits in all sorts of pockets and cup holders.  It also keeps things hot or cold very well.  I pack it empty and fill it up with water at the airport.  Even though I have an iPhone with a very nice camera, I still pack a “real” camera.  I recently (after a lot of research) picked up a Sony Alpha A6000.  This model is a few years old, but takes great pictures and is very comfortable to hold and shoot with.  I like that it charges in a standard USB port, so I don’t have to bring another charger.  While traveling, I charge almost exclusively off of an external battery.  This one from Anker can last me for several days and charge two things at a time.  And finally, I always travel with a little notebook and pens because I really like to put pen to paper when jotting down any thoughts or notes.

April Shopping List

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This Saint James striped t shirt is absolutely my favorite piece of clothing.  It’s the quintessential Breton stripe shirt.  I love how soft it is.  I’m also looking for a new jean jacket and I like this one from Madewell, because they make amazing denim.  I think these abstract Keds would bring an interesting pop of color to a classic outfit.

Weleda Skin Food has intrigued me for years, but I just bought a tube a few days ago.  I’ve heard that a lot of celebrities swear by it (Victoria Beckham! Rihanna! Julia Roberts!) and sometimes that’s enough to get me to try something.  It was also on sale at Whole Foods.  Anyway, I love this moisturizer.  It smells citrusy and fresh. I actually bought a second tube to keep in my purse at all times.  I use it on my face at night and on my hands all day.

I really don’t have a use for these little rope baskets but I think they are so cute.  Target sells them in multiple sizes.  They could be good for organizing in a bathroom or bedroom.  I love the nautical look of the ropes and the leather detail.

The next cookbook I want to pick up is Where Cooking Begins by Carla Lalli Music.  Carla is an editor at Bon Appétit and I love her on the Bon Appétit Podcast.  The book focuses on ingredients – what to buy and how to substitute.

THE MARCH EDIT

Right now, everything I’m buying is to make life easier and add pops of color.  As always, I’m trying to find new ways to stay organized and keep things simple.  I want to pick up this bronzerfrom Milk because I don’t need a brush to apply it.  I’m hoping this AirPod case will make them easier to find in my backpack.

As a devoted Ikea patron, I can’t believe it took me so long to get a Poäng chair.  I didn’t think it would be as comfortable as it is, but I’m basically falling asleep in it right now.  The cantilevered chair has been in production for over 40 years, and now I see why.  I also love this set of drawersI am using to organize my art supplies.

Terracotta has been catching my eye lately, like this Baggu tote, which can fold up and be easily packed.  This Margaret Howell scarf is also a good touch of color.  I want a pair of these blue light filtering glasses.  I realize I spend a lot of time looking at screens and should probably try and do something to keep my eyes safer.

 

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AirPods Case, Scarf, Baggu Tote, Nail Polish, Bronzer, The Nordic Baking Book,  Blue Light Glasses, Poäng Chair, Drawer Unit

December Shopping List

December Shopping List.jpg

What I’m buying this month reflects how inspired I am to get organized.  Label makers, bins and bags, two planners!  I am working on organize my coat closet (and I plan to post about it on my blog once it’s done, stay tuned).  I replaced all my mismatched plastic and wire hangers with these nice wooden ones from IKEA.  They cost $4.50 for a set of 8.  I bought two sets to have enough for our coats and extras for guests.  For less than $10, my coat closet already looks so much more put together.  Next, I want to buy three metal locker bins to hold winter accessories, shoe care items, and reusable grocery bags.  I like these ones from Schoolhouse, but this one from H&M is cheaper and comes in black.

On a recent trip to Chicago I picked up this jacket and a flannel shirt from Uniqlo that I absolutely love.  I ordered a second flannel shirts because they are so comfortable and flattering.  The jacket comes in twelve colors, but I just got basic black.  I order this zip pouch from Everlane on Black Friday, but I’m still waiting for it to get here.  I love organizing my bag or backpack with pouches.  This bag from Muji is great because it opens flat.  I think this would be useful for travel toiletries or electronics.

My new favorite personal care product this month is Cetaphil’s Cleansing Cloths.  They are the first make up remover wipe that does not leave my skin feeling irritated and itchy.  The wipes are also reasonably priced and widely available.  I like keeping a travel sized packet in my purse to touch up any smudged eye make up.  I ordered, but did not love, Glossier’s Milk Jelly Cleanser.  I think it smells unpleasant, like plastic.  I think I’ll stick to Philosophy Purity for face wash, my favorite for the last eight years.  So far the only product from Glossier I really love is boy brow, which I use almost every day.

With a new year around the corner I had to buy a new planner.  Through and since college I’ve been using Moleskine’s Weekly Horizontal Planner, but this year I opted for the pocket-sized with a different lay out, which I like because one side is for appointments and the other is for notes or to-do lists.  The other planner I’me excited to try is this task planner which helps organize goals and projects.

Best Advent Calendars of 2018

Over the weekend we ran into Target for a few basics and were shocked to be greeted with an overwhelming amount Christmas. Peppermint everything!  Artificial Trees!  Stocking-stuffer end caps!  Honestly, it was all too much for me.  I’m not, strictly speaking, much of a holidays person.  I think most holiday decor is clutter.  I don’t feel bad about not being ready for the holidays, it’s only the second week in November.  That being said, I’ve noticed an interesting trend online lately:  Advent calendars for literally everything.  Growing up, we never had an advent calendar, so it isn’t a tradition I feel really strongly about.  Typically I think these calendars have chocolate candies inside, but I found calendars for basically everything but.  I do think that it’s a neat way to try out a new brand because you are essentially paying for 25 samples of their products.  Here’s a round up of some of coolest ones I found: 

Food: 

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Bonne Maman 

Calendrier-avent-adulte-2018-Ginvent

Ginvent Calendar 

specialty-coffee-advent-calendar-2018

Coffee

Beauty: 

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Net-A-Porter 25 Days of Beauty 

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Jo Malone 

advent-calendar

Kiehl’s 

Miscellaneous: 

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Lego 

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Diptyque 

hmgoepprod

H&M Jewelry 

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Socks

November Shopping List

November Shopping List

Cardamom & Black Tea Soap, Wash Cloth, A313, Canon Camera, Make Lip And Cheek Stick, Cashmere Crewneck, Everlane Bag, Trench Coat, Earl Grey Tea

My picks for this month are a little scattered.  I know that phones have really great cameras built in, but I still love using a real camera.  Most of the photos I take for my blog are done with a Canon G16 or Rebel DSLR.  I also like to take a camera with me when I travel.  Anyway, rather than upgrade my phone this year, I’d rather upgrade my camera.  They last longer than a phone and take better pictures.  I love the classic look of the Canon G9X Mark II.  I’m also considering a Fujifilm X100F.

I recently ordered A313, a French retinol product.  I’m still trying it out and plan to write a review soon.  My beauty regime has grown simpler over time.  I like products like this lip and cheek stick by Make.  Anymore, I only wear a little boy brow from Glossier, mascara, a cream blush, and Smith’s Rosebud Salve.  I like products that can be applied without a brush because it makes for easy touch-ups on the go.

This month I’m only looking to add a few things to my closet.  I want to pick up a basic cashmere crew neck in charcoal and upgrade my old trench coat.  I’m curious about this new bag from Everlane.  I like that it holds as much as a tote but is worn as a crossbody.

October Shopping List

Some of my finds for this month:

October Shopping List

Public Goods Gift Set, Emerald Top, Black Booties, Cognac Mules, Black Turtleneck, Essie Nail Polish, Amber Glass Bottles, Black Serving Utensils, Bird Tray, Hello Notecards, Cognac Leather Wallet, Black Lantern, Wooden Cutting Board, Candle, Graphic Pillow Cover, Natural Blanket, Notebook, Reusable Bag

In my closet, I’ve added a few rich seasonal colors in classic pieces.  My clothing is heavily informed by timeless classics.  I usually dress in neutrals, but buy a piece or two for the season, like this emerald top from H&M.  For fall, I think a classic black ankle boot works with everything.  I am living in these mules from Madewell, because they are easy to kick on and dress up or down.  I’m obsessed with the leather wallet from Sézane, I love the color and simple design.
Our apartment is pretty minimal and modern, but I like warming it up for the season with natural elements like the wooden cutting board and the natural throw blanket.  I also like black accents to catch the eye, like these black serving utensils and the black lantern.  The lantern reminds me of the ones I saw outside restaurants in Stockholm at night.  I think simple things like changing out toss pillows and small accents make the apartment feel seasonal, but don’t hit you over the head with it.

I decant our soap into these amber glass bottles, I love eliminating branded packaging whenever possible. I am curious to try Public Goods, an online company that offers personal care and home products in minimalist packaging.  The products are clean (environmentally friendly and non-toxic).  With a subscription to Public Goods the products are very affordable.  It’s a brand I’m curious to try.

Week in Review

This Week

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This week I thought a lot about working on building my capsule wardrobe with quality basics. I’m also looking to upgrade certain pieces with a more polished-looking grown up version. I’m trading in my well-worn Minnetonka moccasins for these beautiful loafers from Everyone.  While I have never bought anything from Everlane I have heard glowing reviews from friends and I admire their business ethics.

Continue reading “Week in Review”

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