Spring Break With Java Boy

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Ah, that rich, strong aroma of coffee. Its anticipation is the only thing that makes getting out of bed worthwhile most of the time. I understand the attraction to coffee and why some might call it an addiction. I really do. Not that I’m addicted. I can quit anytime I want to. I quit when I was pregnant and I could do it again anytime–if I happened to go crazy and wanted to quit.

But how do you keep coffee away from an eight-year-old boy once he’s had a taste of the good stuff?

It all started so innocently. It was Spring Break, which I suppose is a time when many a vice makes its first appearance. Ah tradition!

We were at a Starbucks somewhere near Hoover Dam when my son asked for a sip of my latte. Why not? I handed it over naively, expecting him to reject it as quickly as he did when he tried tuna casserole, peanut M & M’s or key lime pie. Anticipating that I would have my coffee back immediately, I held out my hand and was dumbfounded when he took a gigantic gulp. He finally came up for air with a huge cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face, only to chug the rest of my liter-sized latte down without even taking another breath.

The look on the boy’s face was so buzzed and stupidly proud, for a second I thought I was back at a college frat party, with drunken freshman pledges yelling at each other to “drink, drink, drink.” His telltale milk moustache even looked just like beer foam.

Uh oh. The big red mother’s warning flag went up in my head. Danger zone. This kid–who doesn’t really sleep all that much to begin with–really likes coffee.

This can’t be good.

It definitely wasn’t.

Normally a bit hyper, he spent the next 9 hours in hyper-drive mode, bouncing off the walls–of our car.

This definitely wasn’t good.

He is normally kind of a physical kid, but now he was in hyper-touch mode, constantly hugging and wrestling anyone who came near him. The frat party visions came back again.

This was not good.

Finally the caffeine wore off. We all crashed hard.

For the rest of our trip, every time we came near a java joint we were greeted by pleas of, “Please, can I have a latte?” I have a hard time passing up an opportunity for a coffee fix in the best of circumstances. It didn’t help that on this trip we were guest room hopping and staying in cheap motels, so hubby and I were even more tired and in need of caffeine than usual.

“May I please have a latte?” replaced “Are we there yet?” as the chorus for the soundtrack of our trip.

One morning when we were particularly groggy he managed to order himself a latte at breakfast before my ears perked up. “He’s just kidding,” I said to the big-eyed waitress, who couldn’t wait for a cigarette break to share the story about those crazy kooks from California.

It didn’t help that our friends in Albuquerque allow their children to imbibe in decaf. “May I please have a latte?” now had a companion statement in the reprise. “It’s okay mom. I’ll have a decaf,” The fact that their fifth grade son is the same height as our third grader didn’t seem to deter our child’s desire for the stuff.

I guess I should just be happy he didn’t ask for a sip of my beer.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 8, 2008.

Cocktail Corner: Bacon & Barrels

Seeing the World Through Bacon-Flavored Glasses, photo by Tyler Moselle

Seeing the World Through Bacon-Flavored Glasses, photo by Tyler Moselle

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

My bacon-phile colleagues and I were living high on the hog last weekend at the first annual Bacon & Barrels Festival at Saarloos + Sons‘ wine field in Los Olivos.

To label this sold-out event decadent would be an understatement. The festivities included creative bacon (and pork) dishes from top Central Coast chefs, bacon-based and bacon-inspired cocktails, wines and beers concocted by mixologists, brewers and wineries, live music and even a pig petting zoo.

Let me just say, they had me at “bacon” (which pop poet Katy Perry so brilliantly called “the meat candy of the world”) but everything at Bacon & Barrels was pretty fabulous. Our very first bite was an amazing crunchy melted cheese and pork sandwich from Ranch & Reata Roadhouse in Santa Ynez. It was exceptional, and that was before my first tipple.

Ranch & Reata's Yummy Pork Sandwich, photo by Tyler Moselle

Ranch & Reata’s Yummy Pork Sandwich, photo by Tyler Moselle

As to the barrel side of things—wine, spirits, beer—there was a lot of good stuff to choose from, including wine from Tercero, Liquid Farm, Casa Dumetz, Tessa Marie, Sunstone, Press Gang Cellars, Buttonwood, Point Concepcion, Alta Maria Vineyards, Refugio Ranch, Consilience, Tre Anelli, Riverbench (which just opened up a new tasting room in the Funk Zone at 137 Anacapa St.), Cold Heaven and of course, our hosts, Saarloos + Sons.

So much bacon goodness to choose from, as Jim Gaffigan says, “Do you want to know how good bacon is? In order to improve other food, they wrap it in bacon.” Indeed! The Ballard Inn & Restaurant, The Willows, Fresco, Georgia’s Smokehouse and Full of Life Flatbread were a just a taste of the yummy bites that were on hand.

But given the heat on Saturday, beer paired especially with all of that porky goodness. The Jefe Del Porko award went to Sides Hardware and Shoes—A Brothers Restaurant, for their bacon burger and peach and bacon panzanella, which was mouth-watering indeed, especially with the pale ale from Figueroa Mountain. The Bruery, Stone Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada, Firestone Walker, Ninkasi Brewing, Central Coast Brewing, The Brewery at Abigaile, Almanac Beer Company, Mendocino Brewing Company and New Belgian Brewing Co. (with a fun “Lips of Faith” series of collaborative beers) were all on hand to wet our whistles.

Hard not to Enjoy Cupcakes when they're covered with bacon! Courtesy photo

Hard not to Enjoy Cupcakes when they’re covered with bacon! Courtesy photo

Try as I did to limit my libations to beer that day, I was unable to resist Root 246‘s amazing bacon-infused Manhattan, garnished with a drunken cherry and served in an ice cube shot glass. Try that with the Stuffed Salted Bacon Maple Cobbler Cupcake from Enjoy Cupcakes (coming soon to the Santa Barbara Public Market) and I guarantee you’ll be in hog heaven. My calendar is already marked for the next festival, July 18-20, 2014.


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Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

A Day Without Sarcasm

David Castillo Dominici photo, freedigitalphotos.net

David Castillo Dominici photo, freedigitalphotos.net

My first attempt at a sarcasm-free day lasted 15 minutes. That was in 1994.

My quest to go a day without sarcasm has continued for years, but this time I just knew it was going to be different. This time I was going to write about it. I had to make it, otherwise I’d have to make up stuff for my column, which I would never do.

I fortified myself first thing in the morning with a triple latte. The connection between lack of caffeine and sarcasm is well documented, of course, but did you know that the word “sarcasm” comes from the Greek word, “sarkasmos,” which literally means, “ripping of flesh.” Not only is that an apt description for sarcasm, it is also what I do if I don’t get my coffee.

The challenge started in that long, long early morning line at Starbucks. Did I mention the line was really, really long? Like long enough for an English Language Learner to have memorized the entire menu by the time it was their turn to order, only to later discover that “Venti” and “Frappucino” aren’t really English. You would think it wouldn’t be necessary to ask the girl in front of me to stop talking on her cell phone to look at the menu and decide what she wanted. You would think the words, “Hmm, what do I want today?” would never come out of the mouth of someone who had been waiting in line to order coffee (just make a friggin’ choice already before my head explodes) for the past 17 minutes.

I almost gave up my quest for a sarcasm-free day right then and there. But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I had already beaten my previous sarcasm-free record by two minutes just by virtue of waiting in that long line. I felt an inner glow.

Why a day without sarcasm? To prove that I can. Cold turkey. I can stop any time I want to. I’m in control. Not my mouth.

I also reminded myself that holding your tongue for a few minutes is not actually hazardous to your health.

My husband brushed his teeth while I tried to put on makeup. I smiled, and my husband asked me if I’m feeling okay. I wanted to say, “Fantastic. I love that we live in a shack with almost half a bathroom.” Instead, I bit my tongue until it bleeds. Self-sarkasmos? I’ll try a day without irony another time.

The rest of my morning went like that, with a million snippy little comments getting stuck in my throat. I felt like the Saturday Night Live actors must have felt during the writers’ strike: “Holy Bean-Powered Car, Batman! I worked two years on my Dennis Kucinich impression and now he dropped out of the race!”

I told my friend Carey what I was trying to. She didn’t understand what was so hard about refraining from sarcasm for a day.

Clearly this is a girl who has animated birds help her get dressed in the morning. Who makes it to 40 without learning some sarcasm? I’m guessing the woodland creatures that groom her each morning have also kept her from learning to read. No Venti for her. Clearly the sar-chasm between Carey and I is too deep and we can no longer be friends.

I wonder if there’s a twelve-step program for me? “My name is Leslie, and I’m a sarcastic.” Yeah right.

I know that some people think sarcasm is mean-spirited or a cheap attempt at humor at someone else’s expense. Those people are idiots.

A day without sarcasm is a day without sunshine, a day without hot running water, a day without laughter, a day without wine, caffeine or chocolate. A day without sarcasm is a day that I don’t want to ever experience again.

Leslie believes sarcasm is a sign of wit, intelligence, and cleverness. Tell her what you think by emailing email.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 7, 2008.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

220px-The_Boy_in_the_Plastic_BubbleI’m not one to mess around when it comes to my son’s safety, so I was a little taken aback the other day when we met some friends to go scootering at a local elementary school.

He was the only one that wasn’t wearing a helmet. A couple of the kids were in full body armor, wrapped in Charmin from head to toe, like that kid in the old commercial, who goes out to play football and practically tips over from all that cushiony padding. But even the more “normal” (meaning less smothery) parents had put their kids in helmets. Every single kid had a helmet—except mine.

It was my James Dean moment. I felt like such a rebel.

It hadn’t even occurred to me to bring Koss’s helmet.

It’s not like he scooters very fast, or goes down hills. Even if he were to fall, he hardly gets enough speed going to skin a knee, let alone hit his head.

So why did I feel like such an irresponsible parent? Being the only one who didn’t even think about protecting her poor child’s skull made me feel like beating my own head against the wall. Should I feel guilty for not being concerned enough for his safety, or proud of myself for being less of a helicopter parent than my friends?

How much hovering does it take to qualify as a helicopter parent anyway? And how much swooping and attacking do you have to do on your child’s behalf to qualify as a Black Hawk pilot? Seems to me we’ve gone a bit too far on this air strike to try to protect our kids.

When I was a kid we played on asphalt playgrounds, jumping off and on those spinning merry go-rounds with wild abandon. Who cared if people had their arms ripped off by playing that way? There weren’t even any adults within earshot, let alone telling us to be careful ‘cause we might lose a limb.

I remember an old John Travolta movie called The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, about a kid who had some kind of a disease where he might die if he were exposed to the germs from the outside world. I felt so sorry for that kid in the movies, he hardly got to do anything.

I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t free to walk to school by myself or roam my own neighborhood at will. That poor kid in the plastic bubble had it so tough.

Almost like kids do today.

More and more, the world of childhood has become helmetized. Forget going to the park by themselves, I know parents who won’t let their children go to another child’s house without doing a thorough background check on the parents. If your name is John Smith, forget about it – there’s no way to Google that.

I don’t want to be naïve about the fact that the world can be dangerous. But raising your children in a plastic bubble is also a risk. The risk is not letting them grow up into responsible people who know how to protect themselves and make intelligent decisions. Isn’t it better to let them fall or fail every once in a while? How else will they possibly learn how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and get back on the horse—or scooter—again?


When she’s not discretely hovering over her son on the playground, Leslie can reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 11, 2008.

Making friends is hard work

courtesy photostock via freedigitalimages.net

courtesy photostock via freedigitalimages.net

To attain the next level of friendship, you’ve really got to apply yourself

I appreciate alone time with my husband as much as the next gal, but as lovely as that table for two is, sometimes we need a larger audience to fully appreciate us. That’s where couple friends come in.

Finding a companionable couple can entail some pretty bizarre rituals, mostly involving awkward silences, fake laughter, holding ones tongue and expensive restaurant meals. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like dating, but without the biological incentive of mating.

And the odds of failure are even higher.

Take the fictional couple we had dinner with the other night. He told golf stories when he wasn’t on his cell phone, and she tried to get us to a Pampered Chef party she was hosting. My husband was appalled. No more.

From now on, all prospective candidates will have to undergo a rigorous prescreening process before being granted the sublime privilege of dining with my husband and I.

I really don’t understand why finding couple friends is so difficult.

Let’s start out with a few basic questions. Just fill out that top part of the application there with your name, address, phone number, etc. Under the position you’re applying for, you can put “couple friends.”

How did you find out about us? We’ve had great success with referrals from family and friends, and surprising longevity with some of those whose parents chose the same neighborhoods, school districts, and activities that our parents did.

Quite honestly, referrals from employers have been kind of disappointing. Most of the conversation tends to be dominated by talk about work, leaving the other two spouses feeling left out, bored or suicidal.

Now, let’s talk about household income. It’s not that we care what kind of place you live in or what kind of car you drive, and if you care about that kind of thing then you probably won’t want to be friends with us. But, as much as we might like to, we can’t afford to eat at Ruth Chris every Friday night so if you’re not willing to do Giovanni’s or Los Gallos every once in while, don’t even bother finishing this application.

And while we’re on the subject of dining, unless you’re ordering and eating for a family of six to our three, can we just split the check? I don’t really care if your burrito was 75 cents more than my taquito, and if you do care then you’re already getting on my nerves and I’m afraid it’s just not going to work out.

Do you cook? Well? Will you cook for us? If so, skip to the end of the questionnaire and we’ll see you on Friday at 7.

What about movies? We’re willing fork over eight bucks each to see just about anything (and get ourselves out of the house) but if you talk incessantly through a film, we’ll never go with you again (unless of course you’re my mother).

While I’m having nightmare double date flashbacks, let me ask you about the division of responsibilities in your household. If you’re a man who “baby-sits” his own children, you and I will probably have a few choice words, and if you give your wife an “allowance” we may come to blows.

As far as politics and religion go, I’d like to think I’m open-minded, but I’m not. Any kind of racist, homophobic or extreme right wing comments will probably put you out of the running to be my friend, unless they’re funny, meant to be ironic, or made while you’re cooking for us.

And if you’re under 30, we probably don’t want to be friends with you either. Okay, we do want to be friends with you, but quite frankly we’re just not that cool anymore. Can you believe I’ve never been to Couchez? Plus, my body has about a 1 a.m. curfew and starts rebelling against me if I break it too often.

What about kids? It’s not that you have to have an eight-year-old boy in order to be our friend, but it sure would be nice. Almost as nice as if you had a responsible 14-year-old daughter who’d love to baby-sit our eight-year-old boy while the rest of us go out for dinner, a movie and some semblance of adult conversation, maybe even a few laughs.

How’s your sense of humor, anyway? I know everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor, but have you ever had that verified by an outside source? We like to laugh a lot at our house, and if that’s not your cup of tea, well then, what are you doing here anyway?

Oh. You want to buy a classified ad?

Sorry. That’s the desk over there.

See, I told you it’s hard to make couple friends.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 25, 2008.

Cocktail Corner: BarNotes Creative Cocktail App

BarNotes AppA spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

Cocktail conversations (i.e. conversations about cocktails and conversations over cocktails) are all the rage around here, so we were excited to find BarNotes, a fun and informative tool available for free in the app store.

While there are plenty of cocktail recipe apps out there, what makes BarNotes a lot more fun are its curated cocktail lists—catering to the holiday, game day or even the time of day; creative takes on old classics—many from well-regarded barkeeps from around the world; and its social sharing element, which brings us back to those cocktail conversations again.

Blood Orange You Glad I Didn't Say Tomato, from Annalisa Rox

Blood Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Tomato, from Annalisa Rox

Here’s a BarNotes staff favorite cocktail recipe for the sweet and spicy (and sensational) Blood Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Tomato, from Annalisa Rox.


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Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.

Cocktail Corner: Simmering Sangria

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

Sandra Lee's Hot Spiced Sangria (from Foodnetwork.com)

Sandra Lee’s Hot Spiced Sangria (from Foodnetwork.com)

Sangria is one of my favorite warm weather libations, but until our recent uber cold front (quite unusual for Santa Barbara) I had never thought about serving it warm.

But I was recently gifted with a bottle of the new Eppa SuperFruit Sangria (available at Whole Foods) on the same day a recipe for Sandra Lee’s homemade simmered sangria landed on my desk from the Food Network and I thought, why not try it the super easy way? So I threw a few cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and warmed that puppy up. Not only did it make my whole house smell delicious, a few sips of that sweet spicy taste had visions of sugarplums dancing in my head! (An exceptionally welcome treat around during this busy holiday season.)

Here are links to a few more warm sangria recipes—in case you actually want to make it yourself.

This just might become a new holiday favorite:

The Wine Fugitive’s Warm Sangria

Southern Living’s Warm Spiced Sangria

Hot Sangria from Epicurious

Spiced Apple Sangria from My Life as a Mrs.

Leslie Dinaberg, photo by Derek Johnson

Leslie Dinaberg, photo by Derek Johnson

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on December 20, 2012.

Cocktail Corner: Joe’s Cafe

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

Joe's Cafe, Courtesy Photo

Joe’s Cafe, Courtesy Photo

I had my first legal drink at Joe’s.

It was something called a Brain Tumor, and while I can still appreciate the architecture of this layered, brain-like concoction, it’s definitely a cocktail that only a 21-year-old could love. Made of Bailey’s Irish Cream, Peach Schnapps and Grenadine, it’s disgusting looking, as I would imagine a brain tumor would be.

Needless to say, that night was my first and last adventure with that particular fusion of heavy, sweet and heavy and super sweet and heavy alcohol—but the first of many, many, many fun nights spent at Joe’s.

With the well-earned tagline of “Joe’s Cafe—Stiffest Cocktails—Greatest Atmosphere,” this is definitely a favorite downtown spot. They pour a good, stiff drink, at a price that’s not too steep. Plus, you’re just about guaranteed to run into someone you know. This place is a frequent hangout for just about everyone who grew up here (and their grandfather). It’s not unusual to find multiple generations of Santa Barbarians celebrating at Joe’s.

I’ve started—and ended—many a memorable night there, including my wedding night. When the reception closed down at midnight we took the party downtown to Joe’s, where the first round was on the house.

My niece recently turned 21 and celebrated at Joe’s too. But I’m pretty sure she had the good sense to order a Margarita.

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Photo by Derek Johnson.

Photo by Derek Johnson.

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on January 4, 2013.

Cocktail Corner: The Heat of Passion at Alcazar

Alcazar's Heat of Passion cocktail. Courtesy Photo.

Alcazar’s Heat of Passion cocktail. Courtesy Photo.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  

By Leslie Dinaberg

The sultry Heat of Passion is sweet, hot and spicy and certainly my favorite cocktail at the moment. Alcazar (a great little hole-in-the-wall tapas place on the Mesa) makes this Habanero Chile-infused Tequila concoction with fresh passion fruit puree, lime, sweet & sour and a rim of sugar in a martini glass. It’s truly one of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever had.

My sister—who lives just a short walk away from Alcazar, which is convenient if you want to drink more than one Heat of Passion (and it’s hard to resist)—turned me on to this drink and now, well, I’ve got the hots for it too.

Just spicy enough for cold winter nights and sweet enough for hot summer days, this cocktail is a perfect treat any night of the year, especially when paired with food that packs some heat. Try the Gambas Chipotle or Aaron’s Salad if you really want to get carried away!

Psst. The Heat of Passion is also served downtown at Milk & Honey, Alcazar’s downtown sister restaurant.

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Leslie Dinaberg, hard at work. Photo by Derek Johnson.

Leslie Dinaberg, hard at work. Photo by Derek Johnson.

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on December 26, 2012.


Cocktail Corner: National Hot Toddy Day

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

Jack Daniel Hot Tennessee Toddy (courtesy photo)

Jack Daniel Hot Tennessee Toddy (courtesy photo)

Today (January 11) is National Hot Toddy Day. How cool is that? FYI, a “hot toddy” is a warmth-inducing yummy drink made with honey, lemon, hot water, and the spirit of your choice (usually whiskey, brandy, or rum). Hot Toddies are a perfect way to warm up on a cold winter day (particularly when catching up on the latest episode of Downton Abbey). Rumor has it that a nice stiff Hot Toddy can also relieve cold or flu symptoms.

According to Wikipedia, “Traditional Northern British preparation of a hot toddy involves the mixture of whisky, boiling water or warm milk, and sugar or honey. Additional ingredients such as cloves, a lemon slice or cinnamon (in stick or ground form) may be added.”

Wikipedia also says “A common version in the Midwestern United States uses Vernors Ginger Ale, lemon, honey and Bourbon whiskey. In Wisconsin, brandy is often used instead of bourbon. In Southern California the version includes tequila.”

Personally I prefer Jack Daniels, although I have to admit I haven’t tried tequila. Good old Jose Cuervo definitely has some belly-warming possibilities.

There doesn’t seem to be much agreement on the origin of the term. Some suggest that “Hot Toddy” comes from the Toddy drink in India, which is produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees. Others say that Hot toddies originated in Scotland sometime during the 18th century. Some historians believe that the recipe was developed to make the taste of Scotch whiskey more palatable to women, while still others posit that the word “Toddy” evolved from “Tod’s well” (also known as Todian Spring), which is the water supply for Edinburgh.

Whatever the origin, it’s supposed to be cold one, which is a good reason to warm up a Toddy tonight! Cheers

P.S: January 11, 2013 is also Milk Day. Go figure!

Photo by Derek Johnson.

Photo by Derek Johnson.

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on January 11, 2013.