CAUTION: Hot!

I worked at Starbucks from age 16 to 22. These were primary caffeine-dependency development years. These were the years that make a coffee addict. These were the years that separate the boys (8-A.M-coffee-drinkers) from the men (8-P.M.-coffee-drinkers). These were the years of all-night study sessions, all-night 24 marathons and 5 A.M. opens (which inevitably always followed all-night bar crawls). These were the years when eight hours of sleep was easily replaced with a iced quad espresso.

When you work at Starbucks during these defining years, you’re given the tools and products to coddle your relationship with coffee, and things can get out of hand really quickly. During these building years, I was given high-quality coffee, for free, on a daily basis.

Then I quit. It was a very sad day, half because I left the job that paid for everything from prom tickets to college loans and half because I now had to actually pay for coffee. This was mind-blowing to me. I quickly realized that I had an addiction that I (figuratively) couldn’t afford to quit and (literally) couldn’t afford to uphold.

I was officially a coffee snob who still needed her fix but couldn’t afford a daily triple  grande nonfat no whip mocha. So I swallowed my pride, bought a $10 coffee maker, a Black-Friday-special coffee grinder and started splitting a $13 pound of Starbucks whole bean coffee with the boyfriend every week. In the way that having to buy your own food is a shock after moving away from home, having to pay for a pound of Starbucks coffee that you got for free for 6 yeas was just as rough. It was just what I needed, though, to balance my need for good coffee with the thickness of my pocketbook.

This all leads me to the purpose of this post, which is to share something with you that I really enjoy. Today, I wanted to tell you about the best coffee tumbler that I have ever owned. In case you forgot, I worked at Starbucks for 6 years and have owned a LOT of tumblers! I am kind of an expert on the topic. I’d also like to point out that Starbucks stopped sending me paychecks eight months ago and no part of this is a paid endorsement.

This is the Starbucks double wall, stainless steal coffee tumbler in red. It keeps coffee hot like nobody’s business. I take my coffee to work in the morning, but sometimes I get caught up doing this, that and the other thing. Somedays I even forget I have coffee until after lunch, and guess what? My coffee is STILL hot! Not only does it keep coffee hot for almost ever, but it seals like a dream! I carry it to work in my lunch bag, which gets knocked all around on a crowded bus, and it never spills in transit.

Kenny has the same one silver. He’s actually the reason I picked this one in the first place. I was at a Starbucks yesterday and they still had the silver and red version of this cup. You can also order the blue version online here.

I just wanted to pass this recommendation along to anyone in the to-go coffee cup market! I just love it so much and would highly recommend it.

Cranberry Bliss Bars

It wasn’t two seconds after finishing my pumpkin pie that I was blasting Christmas music and decking the halls. It’s not that I wasn’t doing that before Thanksgiving, but it’s nice to not be the only one now. The Christmas season is finally here! That means Delilah on the radio, glitter-frosted everything, elaborate window displays along Michigan Ave and State St and Starbucks red cups. 

Since I was 16, Starbucks has been a crucial part of my holiday festivities. Whether it was a Gingerbread Latte during a shopping break at Woodfield, a delicious Snowman Cookie on my way to class or a pound of Christmas Blend for everyone in my family, it seemed like the holidays weren’t complete without a Starbucks accessory. 

Since I stopped working at Starbucks in August, those treats suddenly got really expensive. I didn’t get my discount, partner beverage or partner mark out anymore, and that was a hard reality to face. So a few days ago, when I saw a Cranberry Bliss Bar begging me to buy it for over two dollars, I instantly knew what I would be baking on Sunday. I figured if I could master a comparable Cranberry Bliss Bar, I could maintain my tradition and my wallet. So I gave it a shot!

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Cake
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks (I used 3/4 cup white chocolate chips)

Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, softened 
3 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice (I thought this was a bit much, so I’d suggest 3)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup dried cranberries (I’d suggest 1/2 – 3/4 cup)

Drizzle
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil

Beat butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla, ginger and salt. Beat well.

Gradually mix in flour until smooth. 

Mix cranberries and white chocolate into the batter by hand.

Pour batter into a well-greased 9”x13” pan and spread evenly.

Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes or until cake is light brown on the edges. Let cool.

To make the frosting, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla until smooth.

When cake has cooled, spread frosting over the top and sprinkle with cranberries.

To make the drizzle,  mix oil and white chocolate chips in a bowl. Microwave for one minute and then stir until melted completely. Drizzle over bars.

Let cake sit for several hours, then cut into triangles. 

Starbucks and Me

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a snowflake-adorned, bright red Starbucks cup filled to the brim with whipped cream and chocolate curls. It looks, smells and tastes like Christmas in a cup. It’s perfect. 

Maybe it was my years as a barista or maybe it was just watching the “grown-ups” sip from their red cups when I was a little kid, but something at some point triggered my connection of coffee drinks with the holiday season. 

So it happened to work out that on November 1, the official start of the holiday, hustle-and-bustle season, one of my recruiters got myself and the rest of the wolfpack (my fellow recruiting coordinators and I) a present: a darling monogrammed mug and a Starbucks card.

You can’t really see the Starbucks cards in this picture, but I promised they’re tucked neatly behind each of our mugs. This is actually the first time I’ve gotten to enjoy the thrill of receiving a Starbucks card, because it’s the first Christmas I have needed to actually leave work to get coffee.

When you work at Starbucks for six years, everything you drink on the clock (or 30 minutes before or after) is free, and even when you’re not working, you usually know someone who is and is willing to hook you up. And thus, for six years I didn’t really pay for Starbucks anyway, so receiving a giftcard for something I got for free, wasn’t particularly exciting. Instead of looking forward to getting a Starbucks card, I’d just collect other people’s empty cards. I might be the only one on the planet who thinks this is pretty sweet, but that’s okay, I’m proud of it.

I digress. So whether it’s a crappy (well, actually pretty awesome comparatively speaking) collection of empty Starbucks cards or one delivered at the perfect moment, Starbucks is notorious for making days. Starbucks raised me to value people just as much as I value good coffee. The company taught me to give back to others and my community just as much as it taught me how to pour the perfect cappuccino.

Working at Starbucks taught me just how much a cup of coffee can do. It can wake you up for work, cure a hangover and introduce you to the love of your life. Coffee can connect you with a Pulitzer Prize winner, Bob Dylan’s roadie and Harrison Ford — and it has done all of those things for me!

So be sure to stop by Starbucks this season and enjoy a steamy hot cup coffee goodness with someone you love. And while you’re there, take a few extra minutes to think of what inspires you … and then live it!

[My personal FAVORITE Starbucks cards 😉 ]

Holiday Sneak Peak

I recently discovered a disgustingly addicting website (that apparently everyone on the planet knew about except me until three days ago) called Pinterest. I’m a crafty girl, but I’ve surprisingly never been big on crafty blogs. Most of the crafts I’ve stumbled upon either don’t have enough pictures (and we all know that I love pictures with my blog posts), the supplies are too expensive or there are just a few too many steps for me to follow without losing interest. 

Pinterest doesn’t have any of those problems. First off, Pinterest is almost exclusively pictures. Not just that, but it’s chock-full of photos of all different shapes and sizes with a bottomless scroll — hence the addictiveness. Some of the supplies might be expensive, but there are so many ideas to choose from that there are usually five more cheaper ideas to follow the first. And lastly, the steps usually fit in the photo’s caption which means they’re usually not that hard to follow. My hours spent on Pinterest in recent evenings have reminded me about a very important changing of the seasons.

Now that Halloween is over, Christmas trees are filling the department stores, lights are twinkling on all the trees once dusk hits downtown and the glorious Red Cups are back at Starbucks. 

Christmas is officially on its way. I know that it’s only November, but that doesn’t stop the aura of the holiday from taking to the streets and the stores covered in glitter.

While my boyfriend considers listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving sacrilege, I’ve been including it on my Pandora shuffle since October 1. There are very few things I love more than Christmas — in fact, I’m pretty sure that list is limited to my birthday, my boyfriend and my family — and if you ask me, nothing shows love more than a little arts and crafts time. 

So while I’ve been exploring Pinterest, I’ve been strategically selecting a series of crafts that will take this blog by storm in the coming months. And since Thursdays only come along once a week, there are only seven craft posts left until Christmas, and that means I’ve gotta get on it! So starting next week, my holiday posts will begin! I hope you’re even remotely as excited as I am! 

So this is me, going Pinterest on you. Check out some of the craft ideas and delicious sounding recipes that I will be featuring right here in the coming weeks. I will not only be making the crafts and snacks below, but I’ll be teaching you how do it too, along with the lessons I learned along the way. And as always, more stories than you can handle. 

Who’s ready?!

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I have one allotted space for a Thanksgiving craft, and I’ll give you one hint: it’s a sweet, vegetarian version of this little guy! Even cuter, actually!

I’ve got the inside scoop on some of the simplest, sparkly decorations in the book. I’ll show you how to make them, where to put them and how to make it look even better without trying any harder.

Make your own mittens in under 10 minutes?! YES, PLEASE! 

As if these delightful Kissed peanut butter cookies weren’t good enough, you will flip over the holiday version. 

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Alright, team. I hope that was enough to get your crafty holiday juices flowing. There’s plenty more where that came from, too! I tried to leave enough up to the imagination, because what fun would it be if I spilled the jingle bells all at once?! Cheers to the holidays! I can’t wait to share them with you!

Madeleines & Casi Cielo

The only thing I love more than coffee is coffee perfectly paired with a delectable dessert. Working at Starbucks for six years taught me a lot of things and how to create a perfect pairing was definitely one of the most important. Since I no longer rock my green apron on a daily basis, I decided that I had to uphold this practice in my own home. 

Today I decided to go with my favorite coffee, Starbucks Casi Cielo and pair it with my favorite French cake/cookie, Madeleines. Casi Cielo was specially designed by Starbucks as a dessert coffee. It’s a smooth and balanced Guatemalan coffee with hints of lemon and cocoa flavors. When paired with the subtle sweetness of the Madeleines, you really notice the citrus in the coffee and the vanilla in the Madeleines. 

I found this recipe on Joy of Baking, and it has never failed me. Enjoy!!

Madeleines

 

1/2 cup unsalted butter 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs (room temperature)

2/3 cup granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

First, melt the butter and allow it to cool while you make the batter.

In a small bowl place the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until well blended.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted (about 5 minutes). Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.

Sift a small amount of flour over the egg mixture and, using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the beaten eggs to lighten it. Sift the rest of the flour over the egg mixture and fold in being sure not to over mix or the batter will deflate.

Whisk a small amount of the egg mixture into the melted butter to lighten it. Then fold in the cooled melted butter in three additions. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or several hours, until slightly firm.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Generously butter two 12-mold madeleine pans. Dust the molds with flour and tap out the excess. (Could spray pans with Bakers Joy instead.) (Make sure the pans are well greased or the madeleines will stick and be hard to remove.)

Drop a generous tablespoonful of the batter into the center of each prepared mold, leaving the batter mounded in the center. (This will result in the classic “humped” appearance of the madeleines.)

Bake the madeleines for 11 to13 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched. Do not over bake these cookies or they will be dry.

Remove the pans from the oven and rap each pan sharply against a countertop to release the madeleines. Transfer the madeleines, smooth sides down, to wire racks to cool. The madeleines are best served the same day but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or frozen, well wrapped, for up to 1 month.

Makes about 24 – 3 inch madeleines.

Read more:http://www.joyofbaking.com/madeleines.html#ixzz1Z0gsLdXs