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Penance?

06/14/2010

Today, for no clear reason, I decided to put sweetener in my coffee. This is something I do with iced coffee, but never a hot cuppa joe. I was at Peet’s, grabbed a packet of Splenda, dumped it in, and sipped. Good lord, it was awful.

So, what to do? Throw the coffee away and buy a new one? Throw it away and simply suffer without? It was afternoon by the time I bought it, so it’s not as though I really needed any more caffeine.

Another taste. Yuk. Yet, I drank the whole thing. And with every sip, I kept asking myself Why?

My aunt would blame what she calls our family “cheap gene,” the frugal inner-critic who warns against unnecessary spending. She liked to call my grandfather out on this habit. He was notorious for not wanting to spend any money. Whenever my husband and I went down the coast to see them, Grandpa would argue against going out for lunch, even when it was a special occasion. “There’s good food right here in the kitchen” was his general argument. Still, when we did manage to cajole him into going out, he always picked up the bill. It took a sneaky person to make arrangements with the waitress for getting the check before Grandpa nabbed it. And he’d never take your money or split the bill.

The Peet’s coffee was almost $2.00. I certainly wasn’t going to buy another cup. That decision was definitely part of the family genetics. No argument there. But still, I didn’t have to drink it.

My mother was big on Depression-era thinking. Inexpensive foods. Not letting things go to waste. She isn’t even old enough to have been alive during the Depression; it’s just something she inherited from her parents and apparently passed along.

When I was growing up, we lived on my dad’s teaching salary. He got paid once a month, so we’d get steak, hamburger, and “fancy” food at the start of the month and be down to beans and spaghetti at the end. During the leaner weeks, my mom would pull out all of these great, dirt-cheap foods like creamed tuna on toast, bean tacos, and tomato sandwiches. I loved the tomato sandwiches in the summer: white bread, mayo, and fresh-from-the-garden beefsteak slices. Oh, and salt. Can’t forget the salt.

Month-end bean tacos were another one of my favorites. This was back in the 1970s in upstate New York, long before Taco Bell arrived, or Chili’s and the nationwide Tex-Mex craze. All you’d see where I grew up were Old El Paso boxed taco shells in the store. No one else I knew ate tacos. My parents had moved back east from the Imperial Valley here in CA, so we always had tacos on the menu. It was just a matter of what went inside them: meat at the start of the month or beans at the end.

My mother had this cute little trick for her tacos. She’d fill them up with meat or beans and clip them closed with a paper clip so the filling would stay in place. Then she’d toast them in the oven and serve with lettuce, ketchup, chopped tomatoes, and mayo. It wasn’t until I moved out west that I realized mayo doesn’t go on tacos.

I never did get the “children starving in Africa” speech about why I should clean my plate. My mom was a genius at recycling leftovers, so there was never any pressing need to finish that specific meal that specific day. Whatever was leftover inevitably made it into some other dish (like tacos) or became a midday snack.

So why the need to finish my coffee? I wasn’t raised Catholic, so I can’t blame the guilt. Maybe my mother’s recycling of foods stamped me with a drive not to throw anything out. Maybe the crying Indian I watched as a child reinforced a hatred of waste. Maybe my grandfather’s penny-pinching makes me question each nickel I spend. One cup of Peet’s = 35 nickels. Thirty-five reasons to drink that cup.

Or maybe it’s not about money at all. It could be about responsibility, about accepting the consequence of one’s actions. I put that damned sweetener in my beverage and, by gum, now I gotta drink it. Live with your choices. Learn from them. Do not repeat past mistakes.

That’s a lot of weight to put on one lousy cup of coffee.

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From → Food, Ponderings

4 Comments
  1. Brian O'Keeffe permalink

    Sweetening coffee is heresy in my book. :) I just read a thread a friend had on facebook about having your sugar ‘melted’ in your iced coffee and was appalled to learn that Dunkin Dounuts pours hot coffee over ice when you order an iced coffee! Ick!

    For my money Philz is tops for coffee in San Francisco. Have they expanded beyond Berkeley in the east bay?

  2. mkcbunny permalink

    North Berkeley is the only Philz EB location I know of.

    I’m surprised DD doesn’t have a big vat of the cold stuff. They certainly go through enough in summer. I haven’t been to Dunkin since I moved to CA.

  3. Michelle Black permalink

    You are better than I; I would have never punished myself and drank it – $2 for a new coffee is one of the small things in life that makes me a happy girl.

    I am very careful when it comes to my coffee. As I approach the drive thru window every morning I pray that the color of my iced coffee will be just right and that I wont need to send it back because it is too light or too dark. I am a Dunkin’ Donuts ‘large iced with skim’ girl – there is a particular color that screams yummy. It needs to be perfect – if they sneak in a little sugar or cream, it’s all wrong. I have no qualms about sending it back – my coffee sets the tone for the day and damn it, I will make it as perfect as I can.

    Be good to yourself. A perfect coffee provides a big smile. Say no to sweetener!

  4. mkcbunny permalink

    I went to Peet’s again today, got a coffee, added my cream and didn’t even glance at the sweetener. I don’t know what I was thinking. …

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