APPLES

Linda Tam: ‘I used to have Quicken 98 on the PC and it was everything I wanted it to be. When I got a PowerMac G5 last July I bought the current Mac Quicken and it’s true, it’s not as nice. Quicken 98 on the PC would make educated guesses about data entry (which were usually correct). For example, when reconciling a bank statement, it would automatically fill in the statement date (guessing based on the last statement date and how long this account usually goes between statements, I guess) – but the version on the Mac makes me fill it in myself. Blah! The point of a Mac (to quote my other favorite Andy blogger, Andy Ihnatko) is to be so awesome that the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. Quicken fails that, and how! I use it anyway, though. Whatcha gonna do?’

SPROUTS

Ray Harney: ‘In the Two Thousand Year Old Man routine with Carl Reiner, the following occurs: Q. You’re two thousand years old; how do you look so good? A. Brussels Sprouts. Q. [astonished guffaw] Brussels sprouts? A. That’s right; I never ate them.’

COFFEE

This saga comes by way of a retired financier who insists he be identified only as ‘Hal, the Croquet King of Canada.’ I like it because, in the end, it says we Americans sometimes do things right.

Grab a mallet or, more appropriately, your morning brew, and off you go. Herewith, writing from Miami, Hal, the Croquet King of Canada:

So I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago, marched to my Krups $99 espresso maker which I’ve had for eons and went to have my morning crack. Sorry, espresso. Flipped it on, it burped, then died. Kaput.

I had been expecting its death for weeks, given the random steam shooting out of it at odd times, but I was sad nonetheless. Great opportunity I thought to finally get one of those super-cool-Jetson-looking machines in a fabulous designer color. Orange would be really hot. Or lime green. Or maybe stainless steel.

Marched to my IMAC, sitting next to my IPOD, and started to surf the net looking for consumer reviews of the latest and greatest espresso machines. I knew I had found the right spot when I got to coffeegeek.com and saw an online chat taking place regarding ‘Priming Your Pump.’ Scanned the reviews and noted to great dismay that 1) I would have to fork out at least $400 for something half decent and 2) Starbucks ‘Barrista’ kept getting rave reviews.

Starbucks? Forget it. They are the enemy. I hate the fact that they have made a mockery of the simple ritual of great espresso (cappuccino for breakfast, espresso any other time) and turned it into a half-decaf/half-soy/low-foam-vanilla-moccacino experience. Not to mention that I would have to chisel off the Starbucks label emblazoned across the front of the machine and even worse, a 1-800 number on the water tank. Never.

So I decided to go for the #2-rated machine – some super-duper Italian number with levers, spouts, and knobs that would clearly look to my friends as though I had hauled it back from my last trip to Positano.

And it was orange. Hot.

It arrived a week later. I opened the box and it looked as if it had been dropped off the back of a pickup and driven over. Twice.

There was a sliver of bubble wrap and two foam chips. And it had been shipped like this from Italy. Please. It went back.

Back to coffeegeek.com. This time the chat was about ‘Crema and Water Hardness.’ Hot. Picked the 3rd rated machine – again from Italy with lots of bells and whistles, but in stainless steel. Not so hot, but at this point I really needed my damn coffee.

It arrived a week later. Foam chips were peeking out of the corners of the box so I felt confident. It was perfect. Set it up and then attempted to interpret the half Italian/half Spanish/half French manual. I gave up and just fired it up. All I could get was steam. And occasionally some light brown fluid. It went back.

Now I was desperate. I needed my espresso. I was going through withdrawal and it wasn’t pretty. My housekeeper insisted she could put masking tape over the Starbucks label if I got that machine. Esthetics are not her forte. I relented and trudged down to the local Starbucks, wearing my designer shades in case any of my friends saw me. Walked up to the counter and asked to buy a ‘Barrista’ – how faux-Italian is that! Ughh! The young lass behind the counter said, ‘Just a moment, Sir; I’ll get the manager.’ Two seconds later, a perky young thing bounds out the swinging door and says, ‘Sir, I’m the manager and I hear you want to buy a Barrista – do you have five minutes by any chance?’ What the heck, I thought, just give me the damn machine before the meter runs out. But I smiled and said, ‘Of course’. So she hauls me behind the swinging door and takes me back to where she’s got one of the machines all set up, unpacked, plugged in with a pitcher of frosty fresh milk sitting next to it. She then proceeds to teach me step by step how to use the damn thing, steam the milk, clean it, descale it in case my water was hard (aha!) and prime the pump (aha!!). Then she asked me how I like my espresso and made me a cup. One of the best I’ve ever had. Then she tells me about the two-year return policy, about how she’s giving me $150 off because they’re about to have a sale, and then insists on carrying it to my car for me in the hot Miami sun. I love her. I want her to bear my children.

The thing makes the best espresso I’ve ever had (other than that little café in Positano). I am willing to put Starbucks bumper stickers on my car. I am a convert. And I didn’t put masking tape over the name.

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