(Cold) Coffee – A Love Story

I never liked anything coffee related until I was in college and my friend, Larry, introduced me to tiramisu at Olive Garden.  Who knew a coffee based dessert could be so delicious?  Tiramisu quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorite desserts.  It shares first place with banana pudding.  It would take a lot for those two to be dethroned.

Eventually I tried frappuccinos from Starbucks.  I liked them okay, but if I had any hopes of drinking an entire frappuccino, it had to be their smallest size – tall.  (This has always been weird to me.  A “tall” drink from Starbucks is no taller than 6 or 7 inches, but whatever.  It works for them!)

Then one time I got a coupon from Starbucks for a free iced mocha.  I was a little worried because it wasn’t blended with soft, smooth ice.  It was just a liquid drink that was coffee based with cubes of ice.  I’ve never liked hot drinks – the colder, the better – so it at least stood a chance, but I didn’t have high hopes of liking it.  Since it was free and I was starting a long road trip to south Louisiana to visit a friend, I went through the Starbucks drive thru and got my free drink.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  For coffee, it was quite good.  In fact, I even purchased one or two of them after that.

I probably mostly avoided coffee drinks for a couple of years after that, but then we got called to work a shelter because Hurricane Isaac was headed for south Louisiana.  My job holds us hostage, more or less, during hurricane season because if one hits, we are required to report for disaster duty if called.  And they do not hesitate to call us.  (Reason # 427 I would like to find a job elsewhere; I love fall and I’d love to take a trip to New York City in the fall, among other destinations, but I’m always so hesitant because of hurricane season.)  They always put me on the night shift for shelter duty which is 6:00 PM – 6:00 AM.  It’s hard to adjust your sleep/wake cycle on the spot, so I remember being really sleepy on my way to the shelter one evening.  It takes about an hour to get from my house to the shelter, so I figured I needed something to help me stay awake and alert.  I stopped at McDonalds and reluctantly bought an iced mocha.  I think the first few sips were a little shocking, because let’s face it, even when disguised with chocolate, coffee has a strong taste when you’re not used to it.  I adjusted and somewhat enjoyed my drink.

Days later, I got sent to Houma to work DSNAP for 9 days.  (I veer from my coffee topic to just say that was a great trip & I made some good new friends!)  I was home for two days and then got sent to Baton Rouge to work DSNAP for 8(?) more days.  Those were long days.  Goodness, September 2012 was long.  Anyway, we left our hotel every morning in Baton Rouge around 4:30 AM.  One morning, we noticed a McDonalds on our route.  Of course, they were closed that early, but I started craving an iced mocha.  Just seeing those golden arches and trying to hold my sleepy eyes open at 4:30 AM made me want one.  No luck because of the whole 4:30 AM thing.

Once I got home from that trip and returned to my regular work at the office, I still had that iced mocha craving, so I would stop at McDonalds on my way in.  After several mornings of developing this new (expensive) habit, I decided it was getting a little ridiculous.  I’m a Dave Ramsey fan.  I’m a saver.  I like budgets!  What was I thinking spending about $4 on coffee multiple times a week?!  I needed to snap out of it!  But it was so yummy!  I’m a grown up!  I finally am liking coffee like most grown ups do!  It’s a rite of passage!  It’s coffee!  But no.  Not for $4 a pop.

Enter my friend, Krissy.  Krissy to the rescue!  Krissy directed me to this website – http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/06/perfect-iced-coffee/ – where this lady told how to cold brew coffee where you could refrigerate it and whip up your own iced coffee in no time.  Interesting!  So I tried it.  Ever since, I have always had a jug of iced coffee concentrate in my fridge.  I’ve had a few days here & there when I’ve run out, but I try not to.  It’s wonderful.  Like I said before, I like my drinks cold.  Very, very cold.  I like my drinks so cold that when I was in New York last month and I’d buy my morning bottle of Ethos water from Starbucks, I’d also ask for a cup of ice to go with it.  I don’t want cool-ish water.  I need cold!  Frigid!  Bone-chilling!  Give me an icy cold drink or don’t bother.  I like my drinks so cold that when I make my iced mochas in the mornings, which are already cold, I like to stick them in the freezer for the last ten or fifteen minutes before I leave the house.  I want my ice to make new ice.  Well, most of the iced coffee tutorials I found online were made with freshly (or somewhat freshly) brewed coffee.  You just kind of let it cool some and then pour it over ice.  That just makes all your ice melt!  I like super cold plus ice.  This recipe Krissy directed me to is so perfect.  And since you make a big jug full, it lasts a long time.  You pull it right out of the (cold) fridge and it doesn’t make your ice melt.  Rather, the coffee and the ice can just celebrate being cold together.  It’s perfect.

I’ve done roughly 16 months of troubleshooting to try to make the perfect iced mocha.  I’ve tried a few drops of peppermint extract to make peppermint iced mochas.  It’s yummy, but wasn’t my favorite.  I’ve tried flavored creamer and it was too sweet for me.  I only tried that once though, and I could definitely try again with less chocolate syrup.  I’m not ruling creamer out for the future.  I’ve used different kinds of ice.  (Our water is horrible here.  So horrible, in fact, that we get letters from our water company periodically letting us know that if we consume too much of their water, we could get cancer or our central nervous system could shut down.  They aren’t doing anything to improve the water quality, but they did just jack up their prices!  Yay!)  I’ve made my own ice cubes in an ice cube tray with water from the grocery store, but they’re just too bulky where they get in the way of my straw and don’t seem to evenly distribute the cold throughout my glass.  (I know.  I’m weird.)  I’ve used half & half.  I’ve skipped half & half.  It’s all trial and error.

It had gotten to the point that my mochas were always decent, but sometimes they’d be especially good.  Sometimes it just tasted a little like it was lacking something.  Sometimes it would be spot on and I would smile really big on my way to work after taking the first sip and give myself a silent (or sometimes audible) compliment and an imaginary pat on the back.  (I’m weird and humble!)  But, it hadn’t been perfected.  It was always touch & go.

Then last month I took a trip to New York City.  On our ride from the airport to the hotel, I noticed a Dunkin Donuts with a big sign outside – Any Size Iced Coffee: 99 cents.  I was immediately filled with excitement.  I could try Dunkin Donuts iced coffee!  For 99 cents!  Any size!  This made my inner Dave-Ramsey-nerd so happy!  I was on vacation, which meant I had spending money (budgeted) to play with and I could try Dunkin Donuts iced coffee for 99 cents.  America runs on Dunkin!  Dunkin Donuts hazelnut coffee is one of my two favorites for my own iced mochas.  Yes!  I couldn’t wait.

So on our first full day in the city, before we headed to the Statue of Liberty, Valerie and I decided to find a Dunkin Donuts – they’re everywhere in NYC, for crying out loud – and have breakfast there.  I wasn’t sure if this location near our hotel had the “any size for 99 cents” deal because I didn’t see a sign, so I went with a small.  I asked if I could get hazelnut.  Yep!  They asked if I wanted milk in it, so I said yes.  (Milk is one of my ingredients at home, too.)  It was so pretty and in such a cute little cup with a fun orange straw!  And it was 99 cents!  An honest to goodness hazelnut iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts!  I was more excited about it than I was my donuts.  I took a big sip and immediately regretted it.  WOW.  It was so stinking bitter.  I guess it didn’t occur to me that not everyone puts chocolate syrup in their drinks.  Iced coffee.  Iced coffee.  This wasn’t an iced mocha that was chocolaty.  It was simply an iced coffee.  Man, it was gross.  I wanted it to be good, but it was gross.  I grabbed a pack of Splenda to try to sweeten it up.  (You learn pretty early on in the Deep South, while making sweet tea, that sugar doesn’t dissolve unless your beverage is hot.  If it’s cold, it’ll just sit in a little pile at the bottom of your glass.)  Nope.  Still bitter!  Still painful to drink!  Still making me make ugly, unattractive faces!  And I was on vacation for Pete’s sake, so that horrible iced coffee went in the garbage.  I learned that chocolate syrup is absolutely necessary in iced coffee.  It can not be negotiated or ignored.  It is necessary.  Otherwise, I make ugly faces in public places.

Starbucks became our go-to place for breakfast the rest of the week.  Partially that was because my sister had kindly given me a Starbucks gift card for Christmas, but also it was because there was a Starbucks right across from our hotel.  So one morning, along with my Ethos water, crucial cup of ice, and breakfast scone, I also bought a tall (short) iced mocha.  Where Dunkin Donuts had lacked chocolaty goodness, Starbucks went overboard.  It was like drinking a bottle of Hershey’s syrup.  Yikes.  It was too sweet.  It was diabetes in a cup.  I tried again in the Houston airport on our way home only to find the same problem – thick, syrupy, chocolaty diabetes in a cup.  It was overkill.  There needed to be a happy medium.

This all seems to have cured my iced mocha problems.  I was Goldilocks, trying to find the perfect solution.  Dunkin Donuts was too bitter.  Starbucks was too sweet.  Mine is now just right.  Perfect.  I found that I needed to tweak my habits – a little less milk, a little more chocolate, and a little more coffee, so I’ve made some adjustments.  Ever since I returned from New York, I have almost always taken a sip of my iced mocha in the mornings and given myself an imaginary high five.  Good job, me.  Good job.  Thank you, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, for helping me find the perfect balance to my iced mochas.  And Krissy.  And Hurricane Isaac (sort of).  And the smart lady who posted this method on her blog.  (I literally just realized as I am typing this that the smart lady who posted this method is The Pioneer Woman.  Hey, I’ve heard of her!)

In case you’re wondering, the perfect iced mocha is made with the perfect measurements – um, estimations – of 1% milk, Hershey’s syrup, half & half, either Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut or World Market Creme Caramel cold brewed coffee, and crushed ice – either from Sonic or from my parents freezer.  Needless to say, they are on a different water system that is of better quality and will not cause their central nervous system to shut down.

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The Vortex

One thing I love about my parents is how welcoming they are.  They’re the most hospitable people I know.  They are welcoming people and their home is welcoming.  I guess it’s easy for me to say their home is welcoming, because I’ve lived in their home.  But I think it’s just simply a welcoming place.  Their mean cat, Rascal, isn’t so welcoming, but everything else about that house just draws you in.  If you can overlook the growling, hissing cat, you just want to sit down and stay a while.

When I was growing up, we hosted two foreign exchange students whom we still keep in touch with.  Also some friends lived with us for short periods of time – Janis when she was taking a night class in Monroe, but lived in Shreveport, and Amanda when her mom moved to Arkansas, but she wanted to finish out the school year before joining them in a new state.  Another friend of mine briefly lived with my parents when she moved to West Monroe after finding a job here.  They are just welcoming folks.

They have been the hosts of many Super Bowl parties and family nights, several Disciple Now weekends for the church youth groups and birthday parties.  My friend, Johnathan, once said years ago that my parents’ house is a vortex.  You get sucked in there and you can’t leave.  It probably has something to do with how chatty we Leporatis can be, but like I said – I just think it’s a welcoming place.

The evening after Christmas, my sister, Ashley, and her family were still in town.  Melissa and I had both headed over to Mama’s & Daddy’s at some point during the day.  Melissa’s friend, Stacy, had come over.  Several of us were cooking – either deer pie outside in a dutch oven or shrimp soup, guacamole, and fresh salsa in the kitchen (we were going for a Mexican redneck theme) – and we had sent a text to our friend, Joe, to see if he wanted to drop by and eat supper at Mama’s & Daddy’s house.  Once Joe got off work, he called Melissa and told her he would come by, but he could only stay for thirty minutes, because he was currently working a lot of mandatory overtime and needed to get enough sleep.  Mama’s response was, “We’ll see about that!”  She owns that vortex!  Joe ended up staying a little over an hour and we were all happy he did.  He said he knew he would stay longer, but he felt like if he gave himself a time frame of thirty minutes, he hopefully wouldn’t stay too late.

Our area is under a winter weather warning for tonight.  I rolled our trashcan to the end of the driveway a couple of hours ago and had to pry the lid open due to a thin layer of ice.  I noticed my side view mirror on my car had ice on it as well.  The roads are predicted to be bad by the time tomorrow morning rolls around, so both my employer & Melissa’s employer have closed our offices for tomorrow.  Mama called to invite us over to eat supper at their house, but we had already eaten.  When she found out my sister and I are both off tomorrow and I told her I’m thinking the roads might be bad until late Wednesday morning (meaning we may end up with two days off work), she suggested we pack up our stuff and Sayid and come to her house “so we can have a party.”  We would rather stay here and sleep in our own beds, so we declined Mama’s invitation.  We suggested they pack up their stuff and come party at our house!  Mama then told me she had to grade papers anyway.  That doesn’t sound like a party I want to attend!  But what a kind offer.

That Bo & Ginger.  They’re good, hospitable people.  I’m glad I get to claim them.