The NYC Origins of My Love for Cafés & What to Do When It’s Raining (or Snowing) in Lexington, Virginia

Café Pick Me Up: My favorite 'office' in New York City, as it was back in the day (c. 2000). Since then it's suffered a fire and changed owners at least once, but it's still there. I check every time I visit. Its name is the  English translation of the Italian cake called tiramisu. A small wonder it appealed to a recently-returned-from-Italy girl such as myself.

Café Pick Me Up: My favorite ‘office’ in New York City, as it was back in the day (c. 2000). Since then it’s suffered a fire and changed owners at least once, but it’s still there. I check every time I visit. Its name is the
English translation of  tiramisu. This is where my café obsession truly began.

Perhaps it is the years I spent living in New York that taught me to treat coffee shops as though they were an extension of my home. Anyone who has lived in that city for any length of time, and especially in their young and poor years, knows that most living situations there are far from ideal. Apartments are usually small, often cramped and quite frequently dark and crowded with variety of animals (domestic and otherwise) and roommates (domestic and otherwise). That’s why New Yorkers love their cafés. Go to any coffee shop and you’ll see the locals parked at tables strewn with books, journals, computers and tablets, sandwich wrappers and coffee cups. I remember it well. The table (preferably with a nearby power outlet) becomes a desk, the café’s sitting room your office, your fellow patrons your colleagues. Since then, I have never lost my love for whiling away the hours in a coffee shop and, when I lived in Italy, it was one of the things I missed most (nota bene: the Italians may have the world’s best coffee culture, but they have no café culture to speak of, at least not in the way we envision it).

Yesterday, my personal mission to complete my mental map of the world’s coziest and most welcoming coffee shops took us to Fredericksburg, VA. Today, it takes us to Lexington, also in Virginia, which I visited last summer, not long after I’d come back to America. It is a university town, so I expected to find a café of the sort I love. I wasn’t disappointed.

When I first walked into the Lexington Coffee Shop, I couldn’t wait to choose a mug and go up to the bar to order my coffee.


The Mug Wall at the Lexington Coffee Shop

IMG_6249 Then, however, I looked a little closer. What a marvelous idea! As an out-of-towner, I felt a little left out of the fun. However, if I were a local, I can think of nothing better than to know my mug was waiting for me at my favorite coffee shop. After my New York café experiences, I like nothing so much as to be able to think of my neighborhood coffee shop as a kind of detached annex to my home, and having my own mug there all the time would certainly do the trick. Perhaps, if I go back there, I’ll bring one along just for the heck of it. When you find a good place somewhere in the world, even if chances are slim that you’ll return, it’s always nice to know you’ll be welcome. A mug on a hook with my name on it, so to speak, would sure do the trick.

Until next time, stay cozy and stay caffeinated!

If you take a stroll around town once the weather clears, you'll find that the Lexington shop owners have a talent for interesting window-dressing.

I’ve heard of a jackalope but never of a basset-houndalope. Strange critters they’ve got down south…

Oh, and by the way, if you take a stroll around town once the weather clears, you’ll find that the Lexington shop owners have a talent for… unusual window-dressing.

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The Great NYC Deli Dichotomy


In a case outside the deli, healthy vegan meals to go. Pick what you like, open the fridge (there’s no attendant and there are no locks) and then take it inside to pay at the register. It’s the healthiest “street” food I’ve ever seen

The healthiest "street" food I've ever seen

A closer look…

Once you’ve been lured inside by the prospect of an innocent, guilt-free meal, you’ll find yourself ambushed by the largest variety of chips (that’s crisps for my British friends out there) you’ve ever seen. Temptation! Get thee behind me!

From yellow to blue, from salt-'n'-vinegar to Sriracha, this aisle had more colors and flavors of chips than I'd ever dreamed could exist

From yellow to blue, from red to purple, from plain potato to sweet potato to corn and more, from salt-‘n’-vinegar to Sriracha and from mesquite to that horrible American imposter called “parmesan,” this aisle had more types, colors and flavors of chips than I’d ever dreamed could exist (not to mention pretzels, popcorn and cheese puffs galore).

Of course, New York City is full of such paradoxical delis. No East Coast city embraced organic food or the vegan movement as early or as whole-heartedly as NYC but, at the same time, ask any Midwesterner what they know about NY cuisine and the first thing that pops into their heads will be the famous New York pizza slice (which no Italian in their right mind would equate with pizza as they know it). Ask most Europeans, and pretty much all they’ll know about eating in New York will boil down to cheesecake and the dubious offerings of those iconic hot dog carts. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the Big Apple knows better. In New York you can find pretty much any kind of food imaginable: the very best… and the absolute worst.

For more on this same Lower East Side deli of infinite variety, you can check out my two previous posts about the incredible shelf of Spam and what might be Manhattan’s largest assortment of hot sauces.

More NYC images and adventures coming soon.

Thanks for stopping by!

– Jennifer

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Not a Parisian Thrift Shop

How to make your thrift shop window display as attractive as possible for all those ugly-sweater-party aficionados:

First: hang up your ugliest, most improbable sweater at the very center of your display (and, since we’re going for that run-down, super-cheap, down-on-its-luck-second-hand-store look, be sure not to wash your window first).


Ee-ai-ee-ai… oooohhhh noooooo

Second: Take a display dummy, your second-ugliest sweater and… need I say more?


Not even in his worst nightmares did Bart dream of such an ignominious fate…

One thing’s for sure, no one will ever be able to accuse this shop keeper of pretentious window design. Indeed, I doff my hat to him, so to speak. When the warehouse gives you lemons…

Hope that cheered up your day without offending you taste sensibilities tooooo much…

See you next time,

– Jennifer

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Some Like It Hot

I think the contents of these two shelves are not so much inventory as they are arsenal. There’s enough hot sauce here to burn the last taste buds off of a vindaloo addict, to break the fifth alarm on the five-alarm-chili machine, to permanently disable the noses of an entire K9 unit. Looking more closely, I think we could probably find the proper hot sauce to fit any recipe in any ethnic cookbook you could buy in New York City, which is where I found this shelf. Indeed, it is right next door to the shocking-variety-of-Spam shelf you might have seen featured here a couple of days ago.

Not enough spice in your life?

Not enough spice in your life? Sriracha, Tabasco, Red Devil, Cholula, Chili Sauce… this deli has got it all

Making a quick calculation and figuring that the bottles go back about 3 deep, I estimate there are a minimum of 18 varieties of hot sauce on these two shelves, for a total of approximately 54 bottles. I do believe that such a stock would keep my family happy for at least, say, 3 or 4 generations. That is, if no one accidentally knocked down the shelving in the interim. That might result in the destruction of the world as we know it – which, come to think of it, we might survive. After all, we would have the Spam shelf.

  • Here’s the hard science behind why people like hot sauce… and why, once they start, they want it hotter and hotter (and no, it’s not because they burn off all their tastebuds, although there must be some truth to that, too: The Science of Sriracha’s Good Burn (
  • Did this post make you hungry? Are you in need of a handy recipe? Then try this one out: How to cook the ultimate vindaloo (
  • And now for something completely different:” 12 Gifts For The Sriracha Addict (

And if you survive all that, we’ll see you next time.

Thanks for dropping by!


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Not Your Usual Park Bench

Many of the benches in New York’s Central Park bear small metal plaques. Most are dedications to departed loved ones for whom the park was a special place. They are places to sit and remember those who have left us and recall the times spent there in their company. They are places of thoughtfulness and reminiscence.

Not so this bench:

Not your usual sentimental park-bench dedication

Not your usual sentimental park-bench dedication. If you feel like taking the plaque writers up on their advice, you’ll find this bench on the path leading to the entrance of the Central Park Zoo. 

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On a related note:

The lack of gravitas evident in this particular bench plaque put me in mind of a place I know from my travels, Romania’s famous Merry Cemetery, where the colorful grave markers bear epitaphs that are generally humorous. Some incorporate witty poems that poke not unkindly fun at those they commemorate, while others are a little less forgiving. The inhabitants of the little town of Săpânța take it all in good faith. This New York Times article, You’ll Die Laughing, if You’re Not Already Dead, tells its story quite nicely.

That’s all for today! Thanks for bringing your tush over to my blog and see you again soon!

– Jennifer

Spam, Glorious Spam!

Most people on the Continent have never heard of it. Still, every culture, even the most fine, produces some version of it: pressed meat in a can. Even the Italians have their own version: Simmenthal (which is shredded and encased in aspic rather than pressed, and tastes much better than it sounds). The British, of course, have their famous corned beef, which can be purchased in a can in a tin. Perhaps the French are above such things, but somehow I’m sure they have their own version as well (well, of course they have their tins of fine pâté that go for €50 a pop, but I’m talking about the kind of  tinned (or canned if you’re American) meat that makes the gourmands out there turn up their noses, so we can’t really include pâté in our list). No, I’m talking about the stuff we Americans know as SPAM. It’s the stuff that was used as rations during WWII (and, to this day, remains a kind of regional delicacy in Hawaii as a result… yes, there is such a thing as Spam salad, Spam pizza…). All these years I’ve been under the impression that Spam was, simply, Spam. Au contraire! However, I had to go to an NYC deli on the Lower East Side to discover that this historically  (and often affectionately) maligned American delicacy food item has branched out quite a bit since the 1940s. Who would have guessed? If you’ve been worrying that food might get boring after a hypothetical ice-age/nuclear/zombie/asteroid-provoked apocalypse, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The good old Spam company has ensured that we will not lack for variety for quite a few decades after the end of the world as we know it.

Can man live on Spam alone?

Can man live on Spam alone? Perhaps it’s not so far-fetched of an idea after all (well, provided the man in question isn’t a vegetarian).

Thanks for coming along to NYC! I saw a whole lot more than Spam on a shelf, but let’s take things one at a time. There will be more NY adventures coming soon.

Until next time, bon appétit!

– Jennifer

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