Places We Like: The Coffee and Tea Exchange

The Coffee and Tea Exchange
3311 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 528-2241

 

We love this place. It’s become Andrew and my go-to for good coffee, and every time we go we find something new to love. The staff is always friendly and helpful whenever we go and they have great suggestions when we ask them advice on what roast to get. Also, if you need a coffee fix right away, they offered brewed coffee right in the shop.

The best part is that even though it’s a small, local place, the prices are incredibly reasonable and they have a huge selection. We’re currently working our way through the various flavored coffee they offer, but so far we’ve really enjoyed the Tiramisu, with the Swiss Chocolate and Almond coming in a close second. Our favorite used to be the French Mocha, but there was a sale on the Northwest roast, so we tried it and found it that we actually liked it better. For a dark roast like the French Mocha or Northwest, it’s 11.95/lb, which is cheaper and tastes better than most chain coffees. Better yet, they have weekly sales, so if you want to try something new at a lower cost (like we did!), that’s definitely an option.

We go here about 2-3 times a month, and it is always worth it. Definitely something to check out if you’re a coffee and tea lover and in the Chicago area.

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Book Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

the woman who died a lotTitle: The Woman Who Died A Lot
Author: Jasper Fforde
Series: Thursday Next, Book 7
Publisher: Viking
Hardcover: 366 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Bookworld’s leading enforcement officer, Thursday Next, has been forced into a semiretirement following an assassination attempt, returning home to Swindon and her family to recuperate.

But Thursday’s children have problems that demand she become a mother of invention: Friday’s career struggles in the Chronoguard, where he is relegated to a might-have-been; Tuesday’s trouble perfecting the Anti-Smote shield, needed in time to thwart an angry Deity’s promise to wipe Swindon off the face of the earth; and the issue of Thursday’s third child, Jenny, who doesn’t exist except as a confusing and disturbing memory.

With Goliath attempting to replace Thursday at every opportunity with synthetic Thursdays, and a call from the Bookworld to hunt down Pagerunners who have jumped into the Realworld, Thursday’s convalescence is going to be anything but restful as the week ahead promises to be one of the Next family’s oddest.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I am a proud Fforde fanatic, and I’ve sadly been a little lax in catching up with the Thursday Next series, but I’ve finally made it to this one! It’s really exciting when I get to read a book I’ve been meaning to read forever, so I was thrilled when I was able to request this from the library. I think it took me only a few days to get through it, because I was so happy to be back in this strange universe Fforde has created.

One of the things I’m most impressed about this series is how Fforde allows it to expand and grow. Seven books is a lot for one set of characters, but their stories don’t stagnate — it’s not seven books of a young Thursday Next fighting crime in the BookWorld; instead, she’s getting older now, and while she’s still focused on fighting crime, she has injuries and children and a husband, which means that each novel evolves to become a full-fledged story in its own right. I really love that and it’s sad how many series don’t allow their characters to develop and mature to another stage of life. Of course, with this particular universe, there’s a lot of flexibility for what Fforde can do, but I appreciate that he’s using it to its fullest extent.

I enjoyed the way this book developed all of the conflicts going on. I expected a lot of different things to happen, but I was always surprised by how things were resolved. As always, I appreciate Fforde’s humor; even when very serious, dramatic things are happening in the story, there is something to laugh about — a little embarrassing when you’re reading at work, but overall a good thing for the novel in general.

The new characters that are introduced in this book are amazing. I thought I was going to hate Phoebe Smalls for taking over what should have been Thursday’s position, but like Thursday, I grew to enjoy her enthusiasm and willingness to put herself in danger for the greater good. Without spoiling too many details, I also really appreciated reading about Tuesday’s attempts to be a normal high school student and the people she meets at high school.

This is a great addition to the Thursday Next series, and I’m so excited to continue the series when a new book comes out. If you’ve read the series, know that this one won’t be a disappointment. If you haven’t — it’s 7 books in, and I’m still loving it. If it sounds like your thing, give it a try. 🙂

We Had an Engagment Party!

I’m really excited to be getting married in Rhode Island — it’s where my grandmother was born, and it’s where almost all of Andrew’s family lives. Unfortunately, getting married there means a lot of family and friends who live in California won’t be able to make it due to the flight, hotel, time it’ll take to get there and be there, etc. I knew that would happen, so I asked my parents to plan an engagement party in California so that I could celebrate with people I wish I could celebrate on the wedding day.

It’s so crazy that it’s already happened. When I was planning it almost a year ago, I felt like it was an eternity away — and now, there are only 80 days left until we get married. Where’s the time going?! Anyway, my parents did an amazing job setting up for it. I was able to catch up with people I haven’t seen in years and it was so much fun to see their wonderful faces and hear about how their lives are going and catch them up on how ours is going. For Andrew, it was the first time he met a lot of these people — people who’d been incredibly important in helping me get through high school and college, so it was a special event.

To make it even more special, Andrew’s family flew out to be there as well, and they were also able to meet the important people in my life, which was lovely.  I feel so grateful to our families and friends for making the effort to be with us and celebrate the next step we’re taking in our lives. I have very rarely felt so loved and supported by so many people, and it is such a gift that I have so many people in my life who are willing to pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time making sure that I’m happy and have what I need and want. More importantly, they see that Andrew is important to me and make the effort to get to know him and make sure that he is happy as well. I love how our relationship is bringing these families and people together to make new friendships create this bigger loving environment. It’s all so wonderful.

I’m tired from all the traveling and socializing, and I feel behind in my work this week, because I took Monday off for spending time with my family, but it’s all been so worth it. I hope everyone knows how grateful Andrew and I are for everything they’ve done and are doing for us just to make sure that we’re happy and have a good start on our marriage together. The world can be a lovely place sometimes, and I’m glad that the people in my lives are making it even better.

Book Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

bream gives me hiccups.jpgTitle: Bream Gives Me Hiccups
Author: Jesse Eisenberg
Publisher: Grove Press
Hardcover:  273 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dormrooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by the man’s sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (she didn’t have “one” of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – 2!).

United by Eisenberg’s gift for humor and character, and grouped into chapters that each open with an illustration by award-winning cartoonist Jean Jullien, the witty pieces collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups explore the various insanities of the modern world, and mark the arrival of a fantastically funny, self-ironic, and original voice.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Even though I try to keep myself to certain reading lists for figuring out what to read next, I sometimes like to browse the available titles on OverDrive just to see what’s out there, or to find a book I can read quickly. For some reason, this book caught my eye. I really like Eisenberg as an actor and have enjoyed the interviews he’s given, so when I saw that he wrote a book of humorous short stories — and that Sherman Alexie gave a blurb for it — I decided to try it out. I needed a new collection of short stories for work, so if anything, I figured it’d keep me entertained during the dead times in the office.

The book is divided into themes/parts, and my favorite section was the first part. A little kid basically writes reviews for everything he does, and I think it’s a hilarious and quite accurate portrayal of a kids’ experience. Andrew read this section as well and thought it was a bit sad, which I get. The kid is in a depressing situation in regards to the fact that his parents are divorced and aren’t very happy with their lives, but I didn’t focus on that too much, honestly. I just loved the idea of a kid giving a fancy restaurant a bad review because they didn’t have any “good food.” Having babysat and knowing how my niece and nephew would react to a fancy restaurant, it rings true.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn’t live up to the first part for me, but that will be different for everyone. While Andrew didn’t finish the book, he read a fair portion of it, and his favorite parts differed from mine a little bit. He really enjoyed the stories that had the main character interacting with different family members and such, while I really enjoyed the ones with crazier characters; there’s a story about a college freshmen in here who writes letters to her high school counselor, and it is gold. The stories are mostly good, but there were a few (more than I wanted, really) that didn’t hit the mark, though I can see them being enjoyable/funny for other people. I was definitely expecting a little more from the later stuff because the first section was so good, so that might have affected my opinions of the later stories. I think it’s a fun read if you like your humor on the darker side, and it doesn’t require too much investment to get through. This is very much a “check it out if you have time” book for me.

Alton Brown Adventures: Grenadine

When I first introduced this thing we’re doing with Alton Brown’s recipes, I mentioned that what got us started was his alcohol episode. That was for two reasons: Andrew and I love a good drink; making great cocktails is actually rather simple if you put in some time. So, we finally took the plunge and made ourselves homemade grenadine.

I actually don’t like store-bought grenadine very much. As long as it’s just a splash or two, it’s fine, but the stuff is way too sugary and sticky for my taste. Turns out, grenadine isn’t supposed to taste like just sugary syrup — it was originally made from pomegranates! In his “Good Eats” episode, Alton Brown goes through the origin of the name “grenadine,” and it actually comes from the French word “granade” which means pomegranate. Having taken a lot of French, I was embarrassed to have never thought of that, but in my defense, store-bought stuff tastes very little like pomegranates.

Basically, to make a homemade grenadine, you take some pomegranate juice, add some sugar, and then reduce it into a syrup. So simple! Alton Brown recommends that you get juice not made from concentrate, but we found that too difficult to accomplish and couldn’t find any anywhere, so we just bought some Pom and went with it.

20151218_195208
Mmmm Reduction.

Overall, it was a success. I don’t think it reduced as much as it should have, and that could have been a cooking error or due to the fact that we used stuff made from concentrate. I hope to repeat the experiment once we’ve used up all the grenadine (which might take a while, honestly). But, overall, a success! We made ourselves some mimosa sunrises (I know it’s not a thing, but we didn’t have tequila), which were surprisingly good. Highly recommend trying it out for yourself.

We Played Whirleyball!

Andrew had a surprise a couple of weekends ago — his friends flew down to see him so that we could have a bachelor-ish party/birthday party weekend for him. He’s been trying for years to get a group together to go play Whirlyball — which, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a game that’s a mix of bumper cars, lacrosse, hockey, and basketball. Super fun. So, when his friends and I were on working ideas for what to do, I threw this out there, and people were into it.

Unfortunately, I was way too tired to take pictures of the event, but we had a lot of fun and I recommend anyone who isn’t afraid of getting a little bruised to get a group together to play it. I think it’s only offered in Illinois areas which is crazy to me, because this is such an amazing idea. Besides Whirlyball courts, the building also offers laser tag, bowling ball, and a full bar. If we lived a little closer to its Chicago location, we’d probably be visiting at least once a month.

Because the bumper cars are controlled by levers, it’s a little hard to get used to at first, it was easy to figure out after a few minutes of playing and it wasn’t that much of a problem. (I, actually never got used to it, but I have issues with space perception/depth perception, so fully functional people can figure it out easily.) Overall, it’s a lot of fun, even though gameplay takes some getting used to. Frankly, it is easier to just hold the ball yourself and try to score, but playing with the team aspect is what makes it fun. It’s a lot of goofiness and physicality, so I don’t think either of us would have been comfortable playing with strangers — but with friends, it was perfect. We would happily go back again if we could find people to go with.

Live in the area? Interested? Check out Whirlyball’s home page.

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon CameronTitle: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: The Dark Unwinding, Book 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Hardcover: 318 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I found out about this series when browsing through books from BEA 2013 — where the sequel was being offered as an ARC. For the most part, I just can’t read series out of order (knowingly, at least), so I left it alone and put this book on the to-read list. And yes, 3 years later, I’m just now reading it. Us bibliophiles have a problem with overly long to-read lists, yes?

I have to say that this one gets off to an incredibly slow start. It tries to be too creepy too fast, to the point where I really just didn’t understand what was going on in the first few chapters. Is it trying to be paranormal? Is it trying to be just average-run-of-the-mill creepy? No idea. I think that was the point, but I personally wasn’t into it. By the first 30 pages, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get through it, but I powered on, and it turned out to get better. Yay! It also doesn’t help that there seems to be a wide variety of genres used for this book, but by my judgment, it’s more alternate history/gothic than anything. (Especially steampunk — um, what?!) There are so many creep factors to it that it just feels dark the way only gothic books do. Anyway, once the book figures out what its story is supposed to be, it gets pretty good.

One of my favorite things is how the main character, Katharine grows. It happens a little too suddenly, I think, but it is nice to see. Her uncle seems to be on the spectrum of autism in a time when that wasn’t something that was diagnosed, and she recognizes that while he has some difficulties, he’s a really nice person who cares a lot about his friends and family. I think this is a good thing for a middle grade book to bring up, and it’s done beautifully — incredibly subtle, which I appreciated.

The book skims over some of the issues of factories and poverty during the era it’s supposed to take place — I don’t think it goes in depth enough to be used as a companion to any of those topics in the classroom, but it certainly can’t hurt as an outside reading-for-fun suggestion if students seem interested in the ideas.

Overall, this was a fine read. It interested me enough that I want to see if the sequel gets any better, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend people to read. If you happen by it and have some free time, it’s not terrible and it’s kind of quick. I think middle grade readers would kind of enjoy it, but it’s not super amazing. The sequel is now on my to-read list, so I’ll get back to you on how it develops! (Hopefully sooner than 3 years.)