Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Making Coffee: Which Kind of Coffee Maker is the Best?

Of course, this is a very personal question; it depends entirely upon your preferences. I have used five totally different coffee makers extensively over the past half dozen or so years, and here are my thoughts. I'm not going to go into detail about taste, because that will vary depending on how fresh your coffee is (and how recently roasted, and ground), how you proportion your coffee and water, the quality of your water, the quality of your COFFEE, etc. etc. My focus will be on ease of use. I don't know about you, but the first thing in the morning, an elaborate ritual is the last thing I want (however, some people crave this, and if that's the case for you, then you'll want the exact opposite of my recommendations.) I'll review them in order from least to most expensive, though of course there are many variations of each type and prices will vary widely. I'm really focussing on the type of coffee maker, not the exact brand and models. There are many more types of machines out there, but I can only comment on the five I own personally.
Plastic Filter Cone #4 Large Coffee Maker
That's a coffee maker? Indeed it is. I have this no-name plastic filter cone, which cost me about $5, but you can certainly spend more money for brand names and even more upscale materials, like ceramic. It's basically nothing more than an object that holds a paper (or reusable) coffee filter. I won't go into the method; there are plenty of instructional articles and videos out there (from simple to very complicated) on the pour-over method, but the basic idea is that you pour hot water over the coffee and filter placed in this cone. This one isn't my favorite, just because it requires some precision. You have to use water heated to just the right temperature, and if it's too hot or too cold, the coffee just doesn't quite taste right. I found that on some days my coffee tasted great; other days, less so. And it does take some doing. You have to stand there with the hot water kettle and wait for some coffee to drip through so that you can add more. Clean up is easy enough, just toss the filter and coffee grounds and rinse out the cone. It can go in the dishwasher, too. I don't find myself using this much, however, I do travel with it if I'm going to be staying someplace without a coffee maker.
Black & Decker DCM600W 5-cup Drip Coffeemaker
This simple drip coffee maker from Black & Decker is under $20. I chose this one because it's small and doesn't take up too much room in my kitchen. Since I'm the only coffee drinker, five cups is plenty, but obviously a standard drip machine is bigger. I do like this machine - it's easy enough and certainly makes decent coffee. I think everyone knows the basic idea on how to use this one. For fresher taste, you can grind your own beans, preferably purchased in small batches from a local roaster. That's a bit much for me, but I do use filtered water at least. The coffee tastes good, it's ready in less than 10 minutes, and it's not a huge amount of work. There are more expensive drip machines that grind the beans for you, and that you can set up the night before and wake up to your coffee ready and waiting. But my simple machine lacks those bells and whistles. The Black & Decker 5-cup is a perfectly fine machine. Clean up is just tossing the filter and grounds and rinsing or washing the filter and pot. However, I don't find myself using it much lately. I may, however, go back to it at some point. I'd call it my second favorite. I don't have any complaints about it except for that fact that I am the lazy girl mentioned in the title.
Bodum Brazil French Press
This 8-cup French Press coffee maker from Bodum is not my favorite. Bodum is one of the better brands, and the taste of the coffee is perfectly fine. The prices vary depending on size; this one was about $24. I have no complaints about this specific model as French presses go. However, the French press style of making coffee is not for me. First of all, it requires precision. The temperature of the water and timing (between adding water and plunging) is paramount. There is no sleepy half-focussed operation here. Second, there are always going to be grounds in the coffee. French press aficionados (and there are plenty) don't seem to mind that, but I do. Third, clean up is kind of a pain. Grounds get stuck in the mesh screen of the plunger. I still have this in my pantry though I should probably just get rid of it; I haven't used it in years and doubt I ever will.
Bialetti Moka Expresso Maker
The Bialetti Moka pot is a classic espresso "machine." It's been around for ages and with good reason. It makes perfectly good espresso at a fraction of the cost (about $30) of the fancy machines that go for thousands of dollars. This is THE coffee maker that most Italians have. However, I haven't used mine in a while. Though it's not hard to use, it does take some concentration and requires you to stand over the stove to watch it. The basic idea is that you pour water into the bottom section, finely ground (not regular ground) coffee in the center portion, and then heat it carefully on your stove top until the water percolates from bottom, through the coffee, into the top section. It takes about five minutes once you have it all set up. Clean up is tossing the grounds and rinsing all of the parts carefully. It's definitely more work than an automatic machine, and it can yield you some bad-tasting coffee if you don't brew it properly, but when it's right, it's great. Yet it's not the ideal machine for the lazy girl. And for Americans accustomed to a jumbo mug of coffee, this is not going to yield that. However, if you want espresso (or espresso drinks like cappuccino) and you're willing to put the work in, I can definitely recommend this.
Keurig K45 Elite Brewing System
At about $120, the Keurig is the most expensive of my collection. Plus, the K-cups you use in it cost anywhere from $.50-$1 per cup. But I have to admit, it IS the ultimate lazy girl coffee maker. I really hate to admit that this trendy machine is the one I keep coming back to, but it is. It is the easiest machine to use - no measuring, no heating, no "doing." Just pop a K-cup into the machine, pull down the handle, and press the start button. Thirty seconds later, you have just-right coffee (the BEST tasting? Not really. But good enough for me and my simple tastes.) There are hundreds of different varieties and flavors to choose from. Clean up is easy - you don't even have to see the grounds. Just pop the K-cup out and toss it. Ugh, I know, it is so wasteful. There are ways around that; Keurig's newer Vue machine has its own special K-cups that are recyclable, though that system is even more pricey than the regular one. Or, you can use an older machine like mine and just use a reusable filter like this one, saving both money and garbage creation. Of course, if you're going to use a reusable filter, then you're not saving any effort over using a cheaper drip machine. When I first got the Keurig many years ago, coffee was a lot cheaper. When prices went up, I branched out and tried all of these other machines. And yet - with my mornings starting early and busy, I found myself wanting to streamline my coffee routine. So I'm using the Keurig once again, with the K-cups. I do shop carefully so I rarely ever pay more than about 50 cents per cup. I figure, it's still cheaper than buying even plain coffee at a coffee shop, which is something I hardly ever do. So there you have it. The Keurig wins for me. How about you? What is your favorite way to make coffee?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nail Polish Review: China Glaze - No Plain Jane

Fair warning: this first paragraph is going to be philosophical, or perhaps a bit navel-gazing, so feel free to skip it and go straight to the nail polish review if so inclined. I haven't written a post in a while because I couldn't think of what to write about. Not that there was nothing to write about, but nothing that seemed "important" enough for a "whole post." And I couldn't decide what direction I wanted to take this blog. I feel like I've covered the "going gray" topic (though I'm certainly happy to write more about it if anyone comments and tells me what angle you'd like to see me cover.) I like to share recipes on occasion but I don't want to do a cooking blog. They (expert beauty bloggers) say that you need a niche, and I just haven't found mine yet. I want to stay general enough that any woman (particularly but not exclusively women over 40) can benefit from reading it. And yet, I don't have the expertise or resources (or frankly the time or inclination) to cover every new important makeup release. So while I still haven't chosen a solid or exclusive direction, since I have been draped a Soft Summer, I am going to write about SSu-friendly colors. That doesn't mean that no one else can wear the colors I'll be reviewing! But the bottom line is that I've decided to stop dithering and just write. Because that is why I started blogging to begin with.

I'd like to get ahold of newly released polishes for future reviews, but I'm starting with what I already have in my collection.

No Plain Jane by China Glaze is an older polish, but it's still available, at least on Amazon. It's a beautiful, sparkly, metallic purple. It's a true purple, not a lavender or lilac, not a plum or aubergine.
No Plain Jane in direct sunlight

Bottom of the bottle
No Plain Jane indoors
The texture of this China Glaze polish is nice, and it applies quite easily. I started with a base coat. After one coat of No Plain Jane, the polish was sheer and streaky - no good. A second coat did the trick; I got full opacity. The color is just as beautiful on as it is in the bottle. In the photos, I'm also wearing Seche Vite top coat. Which, incidentally, is fantastic stuff. I can't recommend it highly enough. Seche Vite is a quick dry top coat that actually deeply dries your polish in minutes.

I wouldn't call this an exact match for Soft Summer, but it's pretty close to ss7.8 on the fan:
No Plain Jane by China Glaze with SSu Fan
It's probably just a smidgeon too pink; Soft Summer's purples tend to be bluer or grayer. For me, it's close enough - it's just my nails! Why bother matching nails to your seasonal fan, anyway, when your fingers (not to mention your toes) are usually pretty far from your face? Because, for me at least, the seasons are all about coordination. If everything I'm wearing is truly Soft Summer in color, everything just sort of hangs together and looks right. Dressing in my season from head to toe helps me look more pulled together.

Bottom line: I love it! This is definitely a polish I'll be using in my regular rotation.