Grounded is one of my new favorite spots in Willimantic, and I was lucky enough to chat with Nick Bentley, QC Manager, and Barista Trainer. Nick gave me a quick education on what's what in the coffee world.
One of his favorite things about Grounded, and probably one of mine too, is the non-judgy atmosphere. Coffee shops of this caliber are generally aggressively pretentious, but Grounded's low-key atmosphere allows for customers to feel comfortable asking about the blends, the menu, anything. I'm just getting back into coffee, and am not at all up on blending ratios or any of that, but it's not stressful asking here.
He believes in being nice to customers, which is kind of uncommon in the coffee world. He says all the menu wording is very intentional, and that he loves how clean, friendly, and inclusive Grounded is making good coffee.
I asked Nick, as an uneducated consumer, in his expert opinion, in what ways are we ruining coffee. Apparently, one of the biggest ways we're fucking up coffee is the Keurig. According to Nick, not only is the Keurig a huge source of waste, ecologically speaking, but the brewer also warps brewing ratios. Nick put it in simple terms- first, the coffee in the pods is already stale. It's ground nearly years in advance, and by the time it gets to you, it's old. That staleness makes it weak, so initially you're brewing stale weak coffee. You also know nothing about the beans they're using, and that leaves you completely uneducated about the product you're consuming.
Then, when you consider the size options most Keurigs offer, the larger sizes are just adding more water to the same amount of coffee. This twists the brewing ratio to around 1 to 16 grams, which is pretty weak. You're essentially diluting coffee that's weak as is. It's not great.
Nick was never a coffee fiend growing up, but it all started when he attended Soulfest, in NH, a multi-day music fest with jam packed days. Nick decided 'Alright, I'm gonna drink coffee..' and he was all in by the end of the week. He started drinking it black, and that's still his favorite. He progressively got more and more into it, and learned more and more on the way.
His favorite regional blends hail from Kenya and Ethiopia, and he loves the vibrant citric, fruity flavors. He likes his coffee complex, light, refreshing, and most of all fun.
Grounded, a small artisan coffee spot on Main Street (869) Willimantic, opened about a week ago, and it's been all the buzz. Multiple people suggested I stop in and give it a whirl. It's important to note that I rarely drink coffee lately, but I was happy to make an exception for Grounded.
According to their website:
We couldn't be more excited to announce the launch of a new, quality focused coffee shop in northeastern CT. We are looking forward to highlighting coffee roasters from all over the East Coast who we think do an exceptional job sourcing and roasting coffee. Keep up on our website or follow our Instagram and Facebook pages for all the exciting news leading up to our open, including our pop-up stands all over town. We can't wait to see you all soon.
At first glance, it's almost hard to identify Grounded off the street, save for a few tables outside and an open sign on the rustic door. The building is very homey, and at first glance, the interior is rustic, yet minimalist. This aesthetic works really well in 'organic Willimantic' and the raw wood and burlap touches lend well to the vibe. With this aesthetic, in most coffee shops, some air of pretentiousness is almost expected, however I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and friendly the staff was. I met Nick the barista and Victoria the owner, and both were exceptionally sweet and eager to explain the menu.
Victoria manages the Kerri Studio and Gallery on Main Street, and was inspired to open up a coffeeshop where the atmosphere lent itself to sitting and staying awhile, and that's how Grounded was born.
I tried the Quiche, with ham, asparagus, broccoli, mushroom, and onion, and Madison went full out and got a slice of blackberry pie, and we both ordered iced mocha lattes, with almond milk. Everything was delicious, reasonably priced and presented beautifully. The menu is small, but according to Victoria, it's quickly growing. Bagels are available from Bagel One, and other food is sourced from Willimantic as well. Victoria is looking to seasonally edit and switch out menu items, and keep it very fluid, including seasonal local items.
Coffee, according to Nick, is a community based cultural drink, and Grounded expands coffee culture into an incredibly accessible, welcoming atmosphere, while also providing fair wages to all involved, as well as creating a great product. The name is a nod to coffee, while also alluding to the ethical, fair trade mindset that they strive for. The non-judgey atmosphere allows patrons to learn more about what they're drinking, why ethical production is important, while also still receiving the quality drink they'd get at a snooty, high brow coffee spot.
I learned loads about coffee and how the coffee culture works from Nick, so expect another post soon, detailing the ins and outs of the coffee world, what to look for, and what to run from.
Grounded is a great shop, with a great atmosphere, and I can't wait to come back. I'm dying to try the honey latte, as well as the manually brewed blends. Hit up Grounded, you won't be disappointed.
I've got good news for my fellow tea lovers- I found a gem. Simpson & Vail has been around since 1929, and hails from Brookfield CT, but I'd never gotten a chance to try their tea until recently. They send over a few teas to sample, and I can say with complete confidence that they know exactly what they're doing. I tried Louisa May Alcott's Green Tea Blend first, and it was incredible, and a clear favorite. The fruit and nut pairings worked really well with the green tea, and not only was it super aromatic, but it tasted as lovely as it smelled.
The second tea I tried was Jane Austen's Black Tea Blend, and I loved it. The mint really added depth to the flavor, and the inclusion of vanilla made it a lot more unique.
I also tried the Almond Sugar Cookie Tea, and the almond was strong, but not aggressive. I've found this to be a great breakfast tea. It plays really nicely with early morning vibes.
Finally, I tried the Caramel Walnut Shortbread Tea, and this was another favorite. The caramel and walnut blended together, creating an aromatic masterpiece. I no longer drink coffee, and this tea almost reminded me of my caramel latte days, and I loved it.
In honor of August 10th, I would like to wish everyone Happy National S’mores Day! As I was making s’mores dip with my siblings, my mum—a born and bred Brit—told us she had never had a s’more until she married my American dad. Safe to say we were mortified. It’s not just my mum though. S’mores are a classic American dessert. While on my study abroad, very few non-Americans knew what I was talking about when I described this treat. This brought me to wondering how s’mores began and why Americans are so enthralled by them.
The delight one gets from eating a perfectly fire roasted marshmallow between two graham crackers and chocolate is no secret, but s’mores have quite an ambiguous history. Though the origin of s’mores is unknown, the Girl Scouts of America are often credited for the first official publication of the recipe. In 1927, troop leader Loretta Scott Crew wrote the recipe for “Some more” in Trailing with the Girl Scouts. Crew cautioned those who wished to indulge in the graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate, and marshmallows combo—“Though it tastes like ‘some more’ one is really enough.”
Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of America
To understand s’mores, one has to know the origins of marshmallows. Marsh mallow was originally made from a swamp plant similar to hollyhock native to Europe and Western Asia. In the Middle Ages, the sticky white sap from the roots was used to cure sore throats. Chunks of marsh mallow roots were candied and made into “suckets”—like vintage cough drops. In the mid-1800s, the French transformed the acidic sap into something enjoyable to eat. By mixing the sap with meringue—frothy egg whites combined with sugar—and pouring it into molds, a delicious chewy candy was made. As this process was time consuming and labor intensive, marshmallows were expensive and, therefore, a delicacy of the upper class. By the late 1800s, the mallow extract was replaced with gelatin to provide structure to the marshmallow. With cheaper ingredients and faster production processes, marshmallows became affordable and, therefore, common amongst all economic classes.
Marshmallow roasts became a quintessential part of summer in the nineteenth century. In 1892, a publication stated, “The simplicity of this form of amusement is particularly charming. One buys two or three pounds of marshmallows, invite half a dozen friends, and that is all the preparation required.” According the same publication, the best way to eat a roasted marshmallow was straight off the stick—or your neighbor’s. Apparently, this was “an excellent medium for flirtation.” Maybe I’ll test it out!
Now, I know almost everyone has perfected their own roasting method, but for those of us who may want a few tips and tricks of the trade look no further than the National Marshmallow Roasters Institution. It has branches in Sacramento, Columbus, and Paris!
Even the recipes have seen their changes over the years. Hersey’s is replaced with Reese’s or Almond Joys. The graham crackers are replaced with cookies or pretzel chips. Though a little adventure never hurt anyone, sometimes nothing can beat the classic. Check out the original 1927 recipe below!
Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of America
I was planning on doing a 'Battle of the Gelato' post, but I have yet to meet a gelato that I didn’t love, so I wouldn’t be a very good critic. But I did eat a ton of foods with truffle in them, seeing that it is a classic Tuscan staple. Anyone who has ever tried a truffle either fell in love or absolutely hated it, there is no in between. These glorified mushrooms are hunted by dogs and boars, are very rare and there are both black and white truffles, but white truffles are rarer and therefore more valuable. I have had truffle oil or salt before, but I am now the proud owner of a spray truffle balsamic salad dressing, and truffle infused honey.
Over the past five weeks I have had about six truffle pasta dishes, and the best by far was the Tagliolino al Tartufo Nero from the upstairs food court at the Central market in Florence. And yes it is technically a food court, but nothing like any in America. At the Central Market they use the fresh ingredients that are sold below in the actual market and there are different sections selling fresh pasta, baked goods, brick oven pizza, meat dishes, vegetarian foods, wine and appetizers, and of course truffle dishes. I have tried three of the truffle pasta dishes from the Market, and all of them are fantastic, but the Tagliolino al Tartufo Nero is a perfect mix of truffle flavor, black truffle shavings on top, and buttery sauce. This area of the Market also has a great breakfast sandwich with a truffle frittata, lettuce, and light balsamic vinegar dressing. A lighter pasta option that still has truffle is the spaghetti with zucchini flower, prawn and tomatoes from Za Za’s just outside the Central Market. It only has truffles shaved on top, so it is not as rich as a full on truffle dish. In Siena I tried a salad with Truffle and Balsamic, and it was very flavorful and rich, but still technically a salad, so it’s a win win.
Truffles are amazing in pasta, salad, sandwiches, cheese, and the jury is still out on the honey, but regardless truffles are heavenly.
Ok, so I'll be the first to admit, I'm a girl of guilty pleasures. I thoroughly Keep up with the Kardashians, fries are probably my favorite food, and I'm still completely obsessed with the aggressively rainbow-ey Lisa Frank aesthetic. I may or may not still have Lisa Frank pencils and gel pens and stickers with unicorns and rainbow dalmatians. It is what it is. But I saw this slideshow on Lisa Frank inspired rainbow food for a 90's party and loved it. Watch it here, and some of my favorites are below.
Gusta's Pizza is my absolute favorite pizza place on the planet. It is located across the Ponte Santa Trinita when traveling from the Duomo or Santa Maria Novella train station side of the Arno. The line is almost always out the door and around the corner, it is a deli style service where you order and pay at the entrance and stand inside just feet away from your pizza being assembled and cooked in the brick oven. I definitely recommend getting the classic margarita the first time. There are only about six tables inside so I recommend getting your pizza and taking it either back to the Ponte Santa Trinita to have a great view of the Ponte Vecchio or to the piazza just around the corner. The employees are kind to those who do not speak Italian, and the pizza is just amazing. The sauce is just sweet enough, the mozzarella is better than any I have ever had and is all drizzled with olive oil. I highly recommend Gusta Pizza to anyone looking for a pizza in Florence.
Summer calls for lots of fruit and vegetables, earthy foods, citrus, and lighter meals. I’ve compiled some recipes below that are perfect for summer, whether you’re looking for the perfect salad or the best seasonal drink. Many of them are vegetarian-friendly, but can be adjusted to accommodate any diet. Check them out and comment below with your favorite!
Basic Salsa Fresca
Grilled Mushroom Flatbread with Truffled Pecorino
Lemony Green Bean Pasta Salad
Black Bean Quinoa Burger (with Spicy Mayo, Avocado, and Mango)
Blue Cheese, Lettuce and Tomato Pizza
Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk-Feta Dressing
Linguini with Buttery Corn, Scallions, and Goat Cheese
Penne with Roasted Summer Vegetables and Ricotta Salad
Summer Vegetable Crepes
Drinks (Alcoholic and Non-alcoholic)
50 Summer Drinks
Fresh Melon Quenchers
Honeydew, Cucumber, and Mint Cooler
Layered Lemonade Drops
Slushy Margarita Shots
Fresh Fruit and Yogurt Ice Pops
Frozen Yogurt Coconut Pops
Grilled Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon Cream
Mint Chip Ice Cream Pie
Peach and Raspberry Parfait
The Candle Cafe is a vegetarian restaurant with locations on the Upper East Side (1307 Third Avenue) and Upper West Side (2427 Broadway) in New York City. According to the East side location’s website;
“Candle Cafe is dedicated to bettering the health of the individual and the planet by serving food fresh from farm to table. Our organic vegan cuisine is rooted in sustainability, eco-friendly practices, local farming, and compassion for animals.”
I stumbled upon the East side location while looking for a place to eat lunch with my friends, and we were all instantly attracted to its vegetarian-friendly menu (as all three of us were vegetarians). Although the food was somewhat pricey (likely because it’s NYC and everything is expensive), it was worth the cost.
I ordered the avocado BLT (with tempeh bacon), and I would definitely recommend it. My friends ordered the portabello burger (which she loved) and the flatbread pizza (technically an appetizer, but she said it filled her up quickly and was delicious). You can look at the East side menu here and the West side one here.
Tonic is a restaurant located in Washington D.C. near George Washington University. I went to Tonic for dinner, and would highly recommend making a reservation beforehand if you want to eat here. The restaurant gets crowded quickly, and for good reason. The food is delicious!
Tonic has a very intensive lunch and dinner menu, with pizzas, burgers, salmon, and more. As an avid fan of mac n’ cheese, I had to try Tonic’s version (which I would definitely order again if I went back). Some of the other people I went with tried the Toffle; a burger with an egg, bacon, cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and a tator tot waffle (they loved it!).
I also want to take a moment to write about how brilliant the drink names are. Some highlights include; There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand, Rum Dog Millionaire, and Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the Candle Stick. One of my friends ordered the Dancing Queen (Swedish fish Vodka and pink lemonade), and it tasted like sour patch kids in a drinkable form.