I used to say there were three things that shouldn’t be bought too inexpensively: shoes, cheese, and coffee. (Later, I added sushi, as you really don’t want to economize when you’re eating raw fish.) My thinking was that people could always tell if your shoes looked cheap—that man-made plastic leather, aka “pleather” is a dead giveaway; low-rent cheese isn’t worth the calories; and bad coffee is a rotten way to start the day.


Along comes the Recession, and suddenly health insurance seems like a decadent splurge. Perspective check: In my Nana’s time, people were lucky if they had one decent pair of shoes, never mind expensive ones. (Remember those old photos of the women in your family tromping around in the snow while wearing high heels?) In Nana’s day, not too many people were moaning about not being able to afford a nice Gruyere because they were very happy to have plain old American cheese, which probably tasted far better than it does now. And teeth in their heads to chew it with.

Coffee came in one flavor: Coffee. You took it black, or with milk, or with milk and sugar. I remember Chock Full O’Nuts being a staple around my grandparents’ house, and I wrote in Cherries in Winter about how we used the cans as banks. (Oh, that satisfying clunk! when you threw in a quarter.)

I got spoiled during trips to Paris, where I drank the best coffee I’ve ever had—dark, silky, rich. I don’t even drink caffeinated coffee, but I did there, every day. I also drank it in Costa Rica because it was so good. I was on a yoga retreat, and the retreat house was right next to a finca (coffee plantation). The beans were picked, walked a hundred yards over to the kitchen, and roasted fresh every afternoon. You want to talk about a fresh cuppa Joe…

But that was then, and this is the Recession, and my thinking has changed. For one thing, Payless Shoes has some way adorable designs, thanks to one of my friends, Ricky, who’s a designer there.

And when my husband and I visited our friends Chris and Charles at their sweet little cottage at the Jersey shore, they served us a lovely brunch in their sunny Florida room and put out this amazing coffee. “This is great,” I said between happy sips. “What kind of coffee is this?”

“Chock Full O’Nuts,” Chris said. It really is the heavenly coffee.

Or maybe it’s the heavenly company we were in. Because really, who cares about the shoes or the coffee as long as you’re wearing them and drinking it with people you love? The cheese, though…that’s still worth a few extra dollars. Or, in this era of do-it-yourself, you could make your own cheese! Here’s a recipe: http://www.oprah.com/article/omagazine/200903_omag_mozzarella

If you try it, let me know how it turns out.