Ode to Coffee

A white Coffee LED signage

There are people who love coffee, and then there are people in love with coffee. I am in the latter group.

I started drinking coffee at 18. It’s a comfort, a hobby, integral to my wake-up routine, and a way to socialize.

How do you take your coffee?

I like dark roast coffee with cream, enough so that it’s the color of cardboard. Sugar, too, if I am being honest. I adore raw sugar in my coffee. But I gave that up a while back. I switched to vegan cream a couple of years ago. I like the sweetened kind but watching my sugar intake has led me to explore low sugar options like Trader Joe’s coconut creamer and my current favorite, Silk Half and Half, a combination of oat milk and coconut milk. A milk frother makes all creamer better–ours is a Nespresso frother.

Coffee equipment

I use a Keurig with reusable K-cups for the first cup or two. The Nespresso machine usually serves up cup number three. Depending on how the day is going, there might be a cup number four. Research of coffee seems to indicate that some coffee is good for you but too much caffeine is not (Check out this coffee research round-up in Understandably by Bill Murphy*), so there’s some half-caff in the mix and cup number four is almost always a decaf Nespresso. If I am gifted ground coffee that is too fine for the K-cups, I have a ceramic pour-over cone. The pour-over cone also comes in handy when the power goes out.

Conscious consumption

Ah, the story of coffee production isn’t always pretty. Fairtrade issues and environmental concerns loom large over every cup. So it’s fairtrade shade-grown coffee and swiss water process decaf for me whenever possible. Drinking less is probably helps me and the planet. (Would love to hear about strategies to be a more ethical coffee drinker.)

Mushroom coffee?

I haven’t gone for the mushroom coffee yet but I have tried the mushroom creamer: BetterBody Foods Vegan Organic MCT Creamer. It’s good — earthy — and especially good mixed up with a frother. It’s a little spendy but also very good for you with a healthy dose of B vitamins.

flat lay photography of eight coffee latte in mugs on round table

Zoom coffee date, anyone?

The pandemic — and my remote location — has put most in-person coffee dates on hold, but I love to share coffee via Zoom.

  • I am a long-time subscriber to Understandably and recommend it. Subscribe here.

Photo by Lexie Barnhorn on Unsplash

Parmesan in a pinch: no cow required

two brown cows

We recently tried this caramelized zucchini pasta recipe by Ali Slagle in the New York Times. It calls for parmesan, and I haven’t found a good vegan option locally, so I googled for a recipe. Cookie and Kate came to the rescue with this easy recipe! It’s just 5 ingredients mixed up in a bowl–nutritional yeast flakes, hemp seed, salt, garlic powder, and onion powder–no food processor required. I know many people put nutritional yeast on everything. I am not that vegan. For me, texture matters as much as taste, and the hemp seed gives it the right granular texture.

Two suggestions on the zucchini: a spiralizer works well in place of a grater! And it doesn’t *need* to be cooked for 20-25 minutes, but you may discover the longer cook time enhances the taste. Be forewarned that this dish does not resemble zucchini. It’s more like pesto. We layered it with our all-time favorite pasta puttanesca sauce over red lentil pasta.

(Hemp seed and nutritional yeast flakes are available at Trader Joe’s.)

It’s not working

Concentric yellow circles painted on asphalt surround the phrase “And so I chose to begin again” painted in white. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’ve temporarily lost my quilting mojo. I find myself not wanting to make any wrong moves for some reason. I know that mistakes come with the territory and that experimentation can go wrong OR right. It can all work out. But still, I sit among the carefully folded, color-coordinated stacks, not knowing where to begin—not wanting to begin. 

So if you feel stuck right now, I feel you. I’m right there with you.


concrete building with tower

Check it off the list: I finally watched Casablanca. You don’t realize how many references there are to this movie until you see the movie. Something that surprised us is that one of the movie’s most enduring lines, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” is uttered more than once in the movie. Four times! 

We checked it out of the library, and the version we watched included audio commentary from the late great Roger Ebert. I never really liked Roger Ebert’s movie reviews with Gene Siskel, but I came to know and love Mr. Ebert on Twitter a few years before he passed away. It was a nice surprise to get the full context and backstory from a friend, long gone. 

Sing it with me!

Vegan Cheese: The Final Frontier

say cheese neon signage

The difference between a vegan and a vegetarian usually comes down to cheese. It’s a hard leap to make. For the longest time, it was the only thing standing between me and being a vegan. All my comfort foods revolved around cheese: grilled cheese, mac’n’cheese, pizza. 

As a vegetarian kid, these were my go-to entrees in a meat-oriented world. It was hard to give them up. 

Other vegan items were easier. Vegan butter: early adopter. Vegan milk: yes, I prefer it. Vegan ice cream is amazing. Vegan yogurt took a while, but I got there, too. Even vegan cream cheese: sold. 

But shredded cheese often fell short. Sliced cheese for sandwiches was meh at best. Vegan mac and cheese was hit or miss. 

I’m not sure when things shifted, but vegan cheese is now markedly better than it used to be. 

  • It melts.
  • The texture is right. 
  • The flavor is good. 
  • I have favorites, even. 
  • Cheese slices I can eat straight out of the package. 

So if you are vegan-curious and cheese is what is holding you back, it’s time to try again. You may be surprised.

Artisan vegan cheesemaking is in my future. Or artisan vegan cheese eating, at least! 

Well, this was a first

white and black dice on blue textile

Birds, mice, frogs, scorpions, slugs, all kinds of spiders, ants, moths and many unidentified insects: yes.

Snakes? No. 

We had a snake in our house. A small snake, a garter snake. Quite pretty. Nonetheless, it was where it ought not be. And then, startled by an over interested cat and dog, it made its escape down an air vent. 

This is the part of the story where I reassure my dear readers that this story has a happy ending.

Still, a vent is not a good home for a snake. So we herded all the overly interested furkids out of the room. Removed the vent cover and built a barricade around the vent, making the exit out the nearby window the very best option. I had a little conversation with the snake. I’m no parselmouth, but I did my best to gently encourage her to exit the building.

Eventually, the snake made an appearance in the opening of the vent, watching carefully for the cat, no doubt. 

I took Buddy for a walk and left Robert to help the snake to make her exit. She did and stayed on the porch for a while to get her bearings before gliding off to parts unknown. 

How did she get in? I do not know and that’s a bit of a worry. Best guess is that she was coiled in a plant that I brought in earlier in the day. I hope she let the other snakes know that outside was the better option. I’ll definitely check the plants more carefully before bringing them inside.


Fun! Jim Stafford and Dolly Parton “Spiders and Snakes”

If you know, you know. Laurie Anderson “Langue D’amour”

From the Game Room: Learning a New Board Game

swimming pool with stainless steel ladder

Learning how to play a new board game can be intimidating, but there are a variety of ways to learn: from the rulebook, from another person, or from online sources. 

Learning from the rulebook and other game materials

Learning how to play a board game via the rulebook and other materials included with the game is a straightforward way to learn. Learning by reading the rulebook can be enhanced by breaking out the game’s components and trying out the rules in simulated play while you read. 

Many games include other materials to assist in the learning of the game, including player aids, tutorials, playbooks, quick start guides, or programmed instruction. Player aids are cards or sheets which list the key rules and/or the sequence of play, designed to be a quick reference at the table during game play. Some games have information printed on the board itself as a player aid. 

Tutorials and playbooks walk you through a practice game (or part of a game) to teach you the rules as you go. Quick start guides similarly get you into the game quickly without having to read through the whole rulebook beforehand. 

Games that include programmed instruction include a sequence of scenarios or modes of play in which you play a simplified version of the game first, then add rules each time you move through the sequence, learning the full rules in several steps. That way, a complex game is learned in manageable chunks over a series of plays, rather than all at once. 

Lastly, some board games have companion apps (produced by the publisher or by third parties) to augment the game play, and these may include a tutorial or may otherwise be used to help learn the game. 

Learning from another person

Learning from the rulebook and game materials is not everyone’s idea of fun. One of the best ways to learn is to have someone who knows the game well teach you, and even better, play it with you. This could be a friend or family member, a member of your game group, or staff at a board game café or friendly local game store. 

Whoever teaches you can answer questions you may have in real time as you learn, and/or point you to where you can find the answer in the rulebook. If they play the game with you, they may also help you with some tips or strategies that are not included in the rulebook or other game materials. 

Learning from online sources

In these days of physical distancing, you may not be able to learn from another person face-to-face. Luckily, there is a wide range of board game resources to be found online, including how-to-play and playthrough videos, reference sites such as Board Game Geek, videos explaining board game terminology and principles, and blogs and videos explaining tips and strategies.

How-to-play and playthrough videos

A how-to-play video explains the rules of a game, as an audiovisual version of the rulebook. It’s the closest equivalent to having a friend teach you the game. A playthrough video depicts a person or group of people playing the game, usually explaining what they are doing as they go, but not necessarily explaining the rules in detail. 

In our game room, one of our favorite games is Splendor. Even before buying the game, we watched short videos on Splendor from The Rules Girl and 3 Minute Board Games to get a quick overview of what the game is about and the gist of the rules. Then, we watched Rodney Smith of Watch It Played explain in depth how to play the game. In my opinion, Rodney’s the best in the business in explaining how to play a game: he’s very thorough and speaks clearly. Jon Gets Games also posts board game tutorials, typically also with a playthrough, so you get to learn the rules as he plays through a game. Our Family Plays Games also posts playthroughs of games in a fun and friendly way that can help you learn how to play. 

Board Game Geek is a great resource

Another key resource for learning about games and how to play them is Board Game Geek, which is the IMDb of board games: a database of board games, with game specifications such as the number of players, the playing time, and the recommended age for players. It includes written reviews, photos of the game components, links to videos, lists of favorite games, forums, rules clarifications, and more to be explored. This is a great place to go if you are curious about a game and want to find out more about it. The BGG page for Splendor, for example, lists several written reviews, links to review and how-to-play videos, other games that fans of Splendor may also like, and much more. 

Learning board game terminology from Kidsplaining

Many of the reviews and how-to videos you will find on the Internet use jargon that may be unfamiliar for people new to board gaming. If you are new to modern board games, I highly recommend the Kidsplaining YouTube channel for their series on board game basics, walking you through board game terminology and principles. 

Tips and strategies

Once you have learned the basics of how to play a game, you may want to up your game from videos with tips and strategies. For most modern board games, you can find written posts or video tips to playing well or specific strategies to aid in your success. My Board Game Guides posted a blog and video covering strategy for Splendor. Another example comes from the Board Game Strategy blog. 

Happy gaming! 

What I’ve Been Reading: Making Change

"Every Day is a Fresh Start" Hand lettered on a spiral notebook in black ink sitting on a wood table

I am fascinated by the optimal conditions for personal change. What helps us change? How do we stick to our resolutions? How do we turn intentions into habits? Is it possible to help other people change?

You’ve probably heard the adage you can’t change anyone other than yourself. But I recently heard a presentation that challenged that assumption. The presenter said we wouldn’t have coaches if we couldn’t effect change in other people. (Don’t try this with the unwilling or everyone will be unhappy.)

This realization led to a new stack of books:

What have you been reading?

Photo by Alysha Rosly on Unsplash

Looking for a sign

A woman and a man having coffee at a wooden table

We recently watched the Oscar-winning short film, The Silent Child, written by Rachel Shenton. I learned that 70% of deaf children worldwide are not taught sign language. They are cut off from communicating with others often by the people closest to them, family and teachers. It’s amazing to me the percentage of parents who won’t learn sign language to communicate with their child. 

The Silent Child illustrates what happens when a deaf child is left alone to make sense of what’s going on around them. Imagine everyone misunderstanding what you want and need.

The deaf community is often put in the position of accommodating a hearing world. Families with deaf children don’t–and often won’t–learn sign language. But these language skills are critical not just for later learning but also for human connection.

We need language to thrive.

“If children are deprived of language, they will not thrive.”

Bruce Bucci, deaf studies instructor, Boston University

Four to follow on Instagram:

Start learning American Sign Language for free online with Galludet University:

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I don’t know who needs this: Editing Zoom recordings

A green ceramic coffee mug sits next to a silver laptop with a video call on the screen featuring multiple participants.

I recently edited a lot of Zoom recordings stored in the cloud. It’s very easy to share recordings directly from Zoom if you have that capability on your account.

The editing options are limited but worked for all but one of my recordings. Basically, you can trim the beginning and end of the recordings. This worked well for most of the videos. One challenging thing was editing down to the second but through trial and error, I figured it out.

The editing is done by opening the recording, selecting the video, and then clicking on the scissors icon.

This will add a slider to the beginning and end of the recording. You can adjust the start and end time of the recording by moving the slider to your preferred start and end time. If you need more precision, click on the arrows in the sliders to move the slider back or forward by one second. The Playback Range in the lower left will help you know that you’ve hit your target.

More help from Zoom: https://blog.zoom.us/so-youve-made-a-zoom-recordingnow-what/

P.S. I also learned that to remove the chat from the cloud recording, I had to delete the file. I downloaded the file before deleting it so I would have a backup if I needed it. 

Feature photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash