The Art at Which is Coffee

An interesting announcement was made earlier this week about the benefits of coffee on one’s long-term health. For the coffee lovers of the world, myself included, this was a flag in our pocket of defenses for all of those nay-sayers. Yet, we don’t allow them to really bother us anyway. Right?

IMO there are two types of people, those that appreciate art and those that don’t. Those that value the impact it has on our individual and cultural being, and those who don’t. Those that drink coffee and those that do not. There is rarely (but not ever) any middle ground. However, what many of those on the “dark side” come to realize is that much like art, many learn to have an appreciation or sometimes even a preference once they find their own style.

Coffee, like art, is personal. It cannot be flawed. I may have standards for my own preferred cup of java but for coffee lovers everywhere it is not a ruin. Before one begins to argue this point, one must consider the process of coffee. It isn’t just a beverage to be consumed, at least not for me. For many, it is a ritual. An experience. Just like creating an artistic masterpiece.

The the aroma of the fresh brew, the sound of the pour, the warmth of the taste. It’s a sensual experience and a very personal one.

Like great artists I learned from the masterful. My grandfather made my first cup of coffee and instilled in me the style and love that goes into not only my personal cup but also that in which I make for others. A cup of coffee can say much more than “wake up and go” it can say “I love you” it can say “come in, and stay a while” it is an invitation for conversation; a compromise; a connection. It can mend hearts and warm souls. It is not about whether you take cream or sugar, although this is important in one’s own preference, it isn’t about whether you like it or not, it is about an appreciation.  One that most coffee-lovers do not take for granted.

So if you haven’t yet developed an appreciation, not to worry there is still time. For many, this beloved beverage is an acquired taste. Although others may never truly value the art that which is coffee, and thus an acceptance I make. Your conversation still welcome but only after I’ve had mine; and much like many great artists our works will go unappreciated. Though we may never fully understand the art that which is you- before 9AM, or in the middle of the night with a roaring infant,  alas, we shall agree to disagree and move onward.

#coffeeislove

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A REAL American Girl

Holiday marketing on point, an American Girl catalog showed up in our mailbox the other day. I’m not quite sure how we got on their distribution list but I can only imagine. I should lead by saying, we do not have these dolls. They are beautiful, well-kept and very expensive. My girls, whom I love with all my heart, are four and six years old and very, very good at it. I’ve said when they get older we can talk about it but not until then.

Well, Madilyn lit up like a Christmas Tree upon receiving this piece of mail. She thumbed through the catalog like it was the Toys R Us Big Book of Toys. The difference, she didn’t tear it apart like she does most. She didn’t write in it, she didn’t ask for each and everything she saw. Instead she read it closely, studying all of the different dolls and accessories. She even slept with it. That’s not the best part though.

The best part came when she, in her most grown up manner, asked me- completely unprompted- if she could do chores to earn the money to buy herself an American Girl doll. Pleasantly surprised by how grown up my little girl was/is, slightly taken aback but not stunned, I asked her what she thought that would look like? She had to do the math. How many chores a week? How many weeks? Which doll? etc. After figuring it all out, her response was epic, “mom, I’ve been doing chores for over 20 weeks, I can do at least 52. No problem.” I cannot argue with that. So I agreed. Before she went to bed she came in with a piece of paper, a written contract she’d drawn up.

It read,

“I, Madilyn Fowler, promise to do eight chores a week for one year to save up enough money for an American Girl Doll.” Signed and dated. lol

This little lady never ceases to amaze me. I’m so proud of the little girl she is, even in her “Madz” moments she is the first to be a helper. She is the best big sister and continues to prove each day how fast she is growing up. Admittedly, just her thinking of this little agreement is enough to make me want to use every last bit of my savings to buy her the doll she desires. However, as her mama, I know she will treasure it so much more when she accomplishes this self-challenge, which I know she will. Brent and I could not be more proud our very own American girl.

ox

Learn from my mistake(s).

Yesterday we had our annual family pictures and so goes, with any “family picture day” we weren’t exactly having the best of days all around. From start to finish things were a little hairy. We made it through church and that’s pretty much all I could’ve asked for. We should’ve stopped there but instead…we pushed. We took the girls from store to store on the hunt for a new couch, mistake number 1. We didn’t consider meals so healthy energy was out, mistake number 2. Then we rushed home to get ourselves ready for pics. oi. Needless to say, you know where this is going. The girls were absolutely crazy! Thankfully, we did them outside, but still… One would’ve thought I stuffed them with Oreos and Coca-Cola beforehand. The poor photographer. I’m not sure if its better or worse that I consider her a personal friend but it is good she has kids, and working with them is certainly her forte. Frustrated by all, we went home and had a quiet night and early to bed. I know she got some good shots and thankfully, she’s still speaking to me.

Why is it that family pictures or “family” anything adds an additional layer of stress? Shouldn’t it be the opposite? I couldn’t sleep all night after that. I kept tossing and turning, not because the girls were being unruly but because we didn’t seize the moment. #regret Brent and I are both guilty, like most parents, of being overtly-aware of how our children behave in public and that’s exactly where we were. The fact that they were too stimulated to follow direction, from anyone, was patience-pushing. I had the tricks, the snacks, the music, the toys, even some bribery if needed, but they were too lost in being kids. In hindsight, what’s wrong with that? We didn’t have any meltdowns, no one was being rude or disrespectful, they were just wound for sound. Then it hit me, at 3:00AM what a MISSED OPPORTUNITY! We could’ve gotten so many MORE awesome silly and fun family photos and had fun memories of this time together, if we had just embraced the girls crazy antics in that small time-frame. I feel my RBF wasn’t even resting in most and Brent’s stoic “what has my life coming to” stare is probably what was captured in the background but let me take this opportunity to share this…

If you are planning on taking those special family photos in the coming weeks, embrace it, all of it, no matter what it is. What a cool photo opp that I wish we had seized. Maybe I’m hormonal, maybe I’m emotional but thinking about it I just felt compelled to remind parents to get in there with your kiddos. Be silly. Kiss when they are making funny faces instead of smiling; throw leaves with them when they won’t sit still. Twirl instead of walk and chase them around if they won’t stand in their spot; because these are some of the best moments, unstaged and unfiltered. Yes, I’m sure we have more than a few great pics (the woman is a photog-genius) but we could’ve gotten so many more. Yes, it’s frustrating when you are making requests that are being completely ignored, but even I know when in doubt, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. When we are having silly days, we dance it out, we shake it off, we blast music and laugh. Maybe not all the time, but we try.

Why is it that as soon as you label something, pressure follows? Holiday dinners, family portraits, special family dates, they never live up to the expectation that is attributed by being labeled. Instead, learn from my mistake, ditch the labels, cherish the moments, join in on the chaos, and make the most of the moments, even the crazy ones, this holiday season. You won’t regret it.

ox

The most magical place on earth.

Typically Sunday is my day to sleep in, and by sleep, let me say I am a mom of two in a home <1200 sq ft with an 80lb dog and a wonderful husband trying desperately to control the chaos to give me an extra hour of R&R. Let’s be real I’m huddled in the comfort of my bed watching early morning Food Network in peace. All that aside, that was not today. This morning I was awake before the sun with my mind going crazy over a million different things. Narrowing it down to just one is hard but I thought I’d take to my blog to think one out and get it out of my mind, so here goes.

I don’t understand the world in which we live. My heart breaks for Paris, but it also breaks for Beirut, Japan and Baghdad, all of which experienced horrific attacks on Friday. As an American I find myself instantly transported back to Sept. 11 in the light of such events. Yet the worse (and more honest) part, I think our world has come to expect such attacks. You never know when they are going to happen but the frequency they have gained since 9/11 is beyond imaginable and humans are becoming more and more immune to them. We’ve lost the humanity in our society as a world. The controversy of controversy is more stimulating to many and that disgusts me. An American was killed in Paris and the news outlets have jumped on that story to claim our stake in the attack, but so were another 128 people. Thus being the point, they are PEOPLE. Horrific attacks and militant groups aside, the problem (IMO) is that we don’t care about people. We care about status. We care about arguing who is right rather than coming together for the better of the whole. The timing of such attacks is interesting in the state of the US with the 2016 presidential campaigns well underway, but politicians are the best example of precisely my point. I don’t mean to get on a tangent. I will not spark a political debate, in fact I’m the least political person out there, by choice; but what I am is human. A human trying to raise little humans to have the compassion and understanding they need to thrive and hopefully change their little piece of our big world. I could get lost in the fear of having kids in this world. I’ve had this conversation with many actually, but the fear of not having hope in future generations is far bigger. At least I can try, right?

I close with this, in 2006 I traveled to Paris. I stood beneath the Eiffel Tower as it sparkled and twinkled against the backdrop of the moon. I remember calling Brent from a payphone at the base, just to say I love you, because it truly embodied the love that the city is known for. Forget, Disney World, this was truly the most magical place on earth. I pray that they don’t lose that love, same with Beirut, Japan, and Baghdad; and just like America, that they all come together, united as one, supported by the world. Let us remember in our anger, in our hurt, and in the wake of the unimaginable that love is the heartbeat of humanity.

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Day 4: Fall Renovations

Cleaning with the seasons is for the birds. That’s what I decided today. Spring cleaning is one thing, bust open the windows and doors, play in the garden, bathe in the smell of fresh cut grass and sunshine; but fall and winter prep bleh!

We spent the better part of today, cleaning out closets, organizing winter wear, checking and replacing smoke alarms, and draft-blocking the windows and doors. It legit feels like we are boarding up for a rough winter ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I love organization. It feels good to purge out the excess, get rid of the dust and dander, but it is exhausting. Thankfully, I didn’t go at it alone. Brent took on the shed and outdoor gear, Madz willfully helped me with the closets (she’s on a focused path to earning extra allowance, more about that tomorrow) and Charlotte, well Charlotte and Brody had an exciting afternoon together.

Overall it was a productive day at the Fowler Farm.

ox

Day 3: College Reflection

If you could go back to college you would _____________.

Easy, if I could go back to college I would have 1. lived on campus with Ashley longer 2. worked less and played more and 3. I would have applied for scholarships (this one is the game-changer). Other than that my college experience rocked! Even in my missteps, and some of my cringe-worthy memories, I learned something. Playing softball longer would’ve been great but I wouldn’t have been able to get a life changing work-experience. Not getting fired as an RA would have been preferable, but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pledge Kappa Xi and meet the ladies I will retire in Florida with in 40 years. I wouldn’t have had the best roommate experience EVER with someone I still feel connected to today, or an awesome spring in the 1867 house. I wouldn’t have been forced to rent a cheap apartment and take a “summer gig” with a job (that became more like a family) where I met people who either are or led me to people who really are some of who I am closest to today, including my husband. In hindsight, that one bad choice was one of the best one’s I ever made.

Ultimately, there isn’t much I would change, probably anything really. If I have learned any single life lesson at my young age of thirty, it is that hindsight is 20/20 and all the pieces fall in-line. It is a strange path while you walk it, but the experiences and people make you who you are, good and bad.

ox

Day 2: Tacos

An obscure topic but an interesting one, at least if you like them. In fact when I challenged my Alton Brown alter-ego in researching the taco, I learned fast that the true origin is very much a mystery. One with many versions and preferences.

Some myths date the taco back to the Aztec era, others talk of mineworkers and grand journeys that the taco took to get to America. While knowing the origin and its journey may be an interesting fact to bring up (i.e. that awkward moment with your CEO over the holiday buffet table) I would suggest against it. No matter where they came from, for me, I’m just glad they are here. Instead what I am going to share are the taco tips I think you might find valuable.

For example, did you know that National Taco Day is October 4, yes this is real. Or that Takeru Kobayashi holds the record for eating 106 tacos in 10 minutes. According to correlated.com 63% of people prefer soft tacos over hard shell. I do not pick sides on this issue. And my favorite, the best tacos in America ranked, see all 50!

Last but not least because this is a personal blog, let me share my personal favorite, tacos de pescado (fish tacos). They have become my go-to dish when we go out to mexican restaurants and according to my family I make a mean fish taco. Even Charli will eat it! I’ve listed the recipe below but it’s super easy and can be thrown together in a pinch.

Blackened Fish Tacos

  • Tilapia Filets (I use the frozen ones that come in the bag in the frozen foods section)
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tbsp Citrus Juice
  • 0.5 tsp Crushed Red Pepper (to taste)
  • 2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • Corn (steamable freezer bag)
  • 2 cups Rice
  • 1- 16 oz can black beans
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Salsa of Choice
  • Optional items if on hand: Cilantro, lemon, mango, tomatoes, cheese, onion, jalapeno peppers

The longest item is the rice, so get that going right away. Once you have covered it and have it simmering on low, rinse your black beans and dry with a paper towel, then season to taste (optional) and set aside. Pop your frozen corn in the microwave and begin your fish. Turn the skillet on high. While the skillet is heating mix all dry spices. Spray the fish with nonstick spray on one side, then generously sprinkle the dry mixture on all fish filets and squeeze citrus juice over the top. When the pan is hot enough (go here to for directions on how to tell if your pan is hot enough) use oil or non-stick spray to coat your pan. Then add your fish spice-side down and coat the second side with the remaining spice mix and citrus juice. Do not mess with the fish. Cook it for 4-5 minutes, when you try to flip it if you waited it shouldn’t stick, then turn over and do the same on the flip side. Your fish will be opaque all the way through. Remove from heat and sprinkle with red pepper flakes to taste. With your pan still hot, throw your corn tortillas in the skillet to warm for 30-45 seconds on each side. Once they are complete,  toss your corn and rice with some citrus juice, cilantro, s/p, and butter then gather the remaining ingredients, assemble as desired and enjoy!

Tip: Be sure not to cook your fish with red pepper flakes on the heat. The heat will cook the crushed red pepper and if there isn’t enough liquid it will create a smoke effect that makes for coughing and gagging. Learn from me on this one. Not fun!

Well that’s our favorite taco, at least from my kitchen. Sorry if I left out anything, I’m usually not a recipe-follower. I’m always looking for new ideas and innovations to conjure up in the kitchen. Maybe we will have to venture out and about for a new taco tasting soon, until then… it was nice “taco-ing” to you. 🙂

ox

Day 1: Honoring My Hero

One of the greatest stories I have ever had the opportunity to share was that of my hero, Staff Sgt. Salvatore J. DeFrancesco, recipient of not one but two purple hearts.

An italian immigrant his parents and family moved to the states when he was a small boy. Jump ahead to the war and not only did he dedicate himself to the United States Army but his siblings did as well, one of which did not return home. Then becoming injured himself, he was awarded two purple hearts for his service and went on to meet the love of his life, Martha and have three beautiful children and two (IMO) pretty awesome grandchildren. The injuries sustained were in not one, but both legs and still after many surgeries and therapies he continued to stand in the kitchen for decades as one of the most well-known chefs in the greater Boston area. This is the short version of my hero. To some he was a notable WWII Veteran, to others a renowned chef of his time and location, but to me he was Grandpa.

His commitment and dedication will forever be the portrait in my mind of all veterans serving today and everyday, past and present. I was fortunate enough to hear his story and just like that of every veteran, the story is not mine, it is his. Every experience is different. He spoke of his time in the war candidly but yet with many moments of pause. I remember the interview like it was yesterday and really, it was almost 20 years ago.

Of course, memories of your hero never fade; and neither does the heart and soul of a soldier. The commitment and sacrifice that he, my great-uncles, and all other soldiers have made and continue to make, is astounding. Past, present and future service-men and women continue to echo this strength every.single.day. Whether it is on the battlefield, in a kitchen, from a hospital bed or in the hearts of spirited little girls everywhere, the weight of love and humility in a soldier is the true peace of war.

Thank you to all of our veterans.