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Saturday, May 19, 2001


the most universally beloved form of chocolate has to be the chocolate chip cookie.

so without further delay, here is my recipe for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. crisp, but not too crunchy; a little thin, not puffy; delicate, not too doughy; with a full, buttery flavor. and the chips must be high quality. after i give the basic recipe, tomorrow i'll suggest modifications for those of you who like them chewier, crunchier, etc. they take only an hour to make total.

1 c. (2 sticks) (8 oz by weight on the scale) Plugra/Keller's European Style butter
1 c. (7 oz. by weight) white granulated sugar
1 c. (8 oz by weight) dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla extract
3 cups (13-1/2 oz by weight) King Arthur's Mellow Pastry Blend Flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
16-20 oz. Callebaut bittersweet chocolate chips

preheat oven to 325 degrees. use nonstick cookie sheets, or line your cookie sheets with parchment paper.

attach the paddle to your stand mixer (or use a hand mixer.) in the stand mixer bowl, cream butter and sugars together for 4 minutes (speed 5 or 6). scrape down the sides after 2 mins. mixture must be fluffy and should be an appetizing caramel color.

add eggs one at a time, beating well (speed 4) for 30 seconds after each one. add vanilla and beat (speed 4) for one minute. scrape bowl, beat (speed 4) one more minute.

combine flour, salt, and baking soda into one bowl. dump one third of this mixture into the creamed butter and eggs, mix lightly (speed 2) just to combine, about 15 sec.; add another third, repeat; add final third. beat (speed 4) for about 30-45 seconds.

set mixer on speed 1 or 2 and slowly pour in chips until combined evenly.

if you have a 3-4 oz. disher or small ice-cream scoop, use that to portion cookies onto sheets. otherwise, drop heaping tablespoons onto cookie sheets, spacing 1-1/2 inches apart. bake cookies 9-12 minutes, or until golden blonde. sides will be just dry and set; the centers risen but slightly shiny with a faintly visible crust. if edges are browned, cookies are overdone! avoid this!

remove cookies from oven and let firm on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes, until they can moved with a spatula. expect the cookies to deflate and firm up to become crispy. then move to rack and let cool completely. makes about 3 dozen.

cookies freeze well in ziplock freezer bags -- that is, if your friends and family don't filch them all first! try to freeze half, and keep the rest in an airtight container.

posted by fortune elkins | 8:23 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, May 18, 2001


for those of you considering whether the expense of private yoga lessons are worth it, let me offer an enthusiastic yes! for me, it's all about adjustment. . .

while in a group class a teacher can walk by and make a quick, helpful adjustment to a pose, it's only in a private lesson that a teacher can take the time to show you how your body, wherever it is at that moment, can compose the asana. this helps you move toward a more graceful and harmonious yoga practice.

this emphasis on adjustment means, i think, that you have to choose your private teacher with great care. i don't think it's enough to just like a teacher's personality, or to have enjoyed his or her group classes. you need to discuss their experience with adjustments. some teachers just don't do it well.

to my mind, alexander experience is a big help. while few yoga teachers are also alexander certified, many have taken a good number of alexander classes on their own and can bring some of those tenets to yoga.

so many yoga centers offer occasional alexander workshops! even if you can't afford to see a private teacher once a week, as i do, definitely consider enrolling at a weekend alexander workshop or find a continuing class to see how the alexander technique can help you become more aware of yourself. the ultimate goal is to be self-correcting in your asana, whether through the use of modifications or just gaining a better understanding of where your body is at any time.

posted by fortune elkins | 10:51 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, May 17, 2001


let me take a moment to thank all my visitors -- i appreciate the thoughtful email you send. thanks for coming by and dropping me a line.

my previous flash-based magnetic poetry site came down as part of the widespread may reboot. while most people took the opportunity to put up even more pounding-techno flash sites with xml, i decided to go the other way, even though i love flash. the result: this blog. after a lot of thought and some discussion with my friends, i decided to make a more personal site that emphasized communication, rather than toss up a bunch of fancy scripting. and i hope this current site does this.

while i eat only darker chocolates, my husband still retains a preference for milk. but finding a good milk chocolate is difficult. valrhona has the best in its jivara milk chocolate, i think. it's only 40% chocolate solids, but that's rather high for most milk chocolate.

since i often enjoy cluizel chocolate as well, i have also tried their milk chocolate. cluizel is a family-owned company that manufactures its own chocolate. however, i have to say both my husband and i have been disappointed in the cluizel lait pur java 50% milk chocolate, which has surprisingly little chocolate flavor to my taste. the aftertaste seems plain flat to me, and i was surprised by a weird dry fattiness in the bar. i went running for a glass of water; that's how much i disliked the aftertaste and the way it left a coating on my tongue.

while my husband liked the valrhona, in the end he was just as happy with lindt. so i'm still searching for a really lovely milk chocolate for my husband. got a recommendation? drop it my way -- i'll appreciate it.

posted by fortune elkins | 8:40 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, May 16, 2001


some server problems kept me from publishing yesterday; please accept my apologies. yesterday's post dealt obsessively with the iced coffee i made from the caffe d'arte beans. by now it's almost needless to say that the coffee was perfection, rich, light, so very not bitter, and with a creamy head of foam as the french press plunger glided through. i made this pot at my office and its intoxicating aroma drew my poor starbucks-loving colleagues to my desk.

"the coffee here never smells like that," said one. the body of the coffee in the french press' etched glass cylinder glowed, a dark, jewel-like aubergine color, similar to wine. it contrasted so beautifully with earthy reddish brown foam, so near to the color you see in the murals of pompeii.

i've been making coffee at my desk now in a french press every morning for nearly the whole year i've worked here. i used to make peet's sulawesi. and i would offer the coffee to whomever wanted any, to save having to walk all around the office to the kitchen. but rarely would anyone take a cup.

and again, even with this compelling caffe d'arte, no one would actually dare to try any. the fear of the new and unknown. . .all i can do is offer. i've learned that it's the rare person who is willing to step up and try a different thing. sometimes these people are wild-eyed experience mongers. but the quiet, open personality is hard to find, and i always try to make friends with those types.

as for today, i'm still enjoying the pitcher of iced coffee i made yesterday with milk and a touch of sugar. it's a breezy spring day, just a tad cool. the weather this spring has been so changeable -- three hot days followed by a few cool days, three hot days, etc. -- but today had an unusual freshness about it.

walking down montague street in brooklyn heights, as everyone scurried to work, you couldn't help noticing how the wind turned the new leaves over and back in the sunlight. it was one of those mornings where when you get on the subway you are struck by how beautiful everyone looks, even as they droop against the poles with a crumpled newspaper.

posted by fortune elkins | 7:01 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, May 14, 2001


my greatest discovery at the vinegar factory is actually outside the realm of this site -- cheese.

i do love cheese, but the site can't be about everything. however, i do want to tell you about the creamy, rich taste of an artisanal cheese i discovered at the vinegar factory. it's a goat cheese from provence called banon. i highly recommend it.

it matched perfectly with the pain de campagne i made this weekend and would be great with cassis, iced ratafia de champagne, brandy, or maybe even scotch! because it picks up a slight nutty/grassy flavor from the chestnut leaves and has a lovely aroma of eau-de-vie, i think it's an excellent dessert cheese to serve with very ripe pears, cherries, or apricots. order it online or look for it at a cheesemonger near you. . .

let's take a moment to get back on topic. yoga contains an emphasis not only on asana, or postures, but also on mediation. many people lately have been combining vipassana or "insight" mediation, a buddhist tradition, with yoga. while i am far from expert in this area, let me say that i have enjoyed a practice known as loving-kindness meditation.

living in new york, the need for the four qualities of this practice are obvious: friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. presently i am going to start with the appreciative joy. this ties into some "homework" recommended by erich schiffmann. recently he commented:

"Wow: The homework was/is to look at things, one specific thing at a time, like a flower, and say "Wow. That flower is the specific and unique Self-expression of the Infinite. It is the Infinite being Itself as a flower." Then change your focus and keeping your eyes on the new thing, say the sentence again. It's fun. It slows you down. It helps you see the One in the Many."

of course when i bake and eat my bread, my coffee, my chocolate and cheese, it's a fine time to cultivate appreciative joy for the artisans, including myself, that make these simple and beautiful things possible for us to enjoy. to say, these things are an expression of the people who made them, not only to support themselves, but also as an artistic craft, as a way of expressing themselves and the infinite in them to the rest of us.

a friend of mine once reminded me of the zen saying that the most difficult things to do are: to eat when you're hungry, drink when you're thirsty, and sleep when you're tired. i think a lack of appreciative joy is one of the components that make daily life seem so hard and depressing, and which is the source of so much self-hatred and anomie. at first it seems like a silly practice, and i must admit that i feel self-conscious and kinda dumb doing it. which make me ask myself: why do i resist? what is the fear of it? what could i possibly be trying to "protect" from it? so i'm trying to incorporate this meditation into my yoga practice every other day during shavasana.

posted by fortune elkins | 8:26 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, May 13, 2001


as promised, i have a report on the coffee from the vinegar factory, and it's the day to finish up the bread.

beginning with the step two starter, it's time to take it on to step three "levain" and step four, full dough. for this you'll need:

5 oz. flour ( i used clear flour for its springiness and great taste)
5 oz. water

as before dissolve the step two starter in the water, stirring gently. add the flour and stir to combine. cover with plastic wrap and return to the levain to its rising place. generally, the levain should develop for 10 hours; however, with the continuing warm weather here, i had to check after just 4. and the levain was about to overflow its bowl! i very gently folded in a teaspoon of salt so as not to deflate the levain, thinking this would be enough to slow the dough down and keep it out through the night -- but when i started out of my sleep at 4 am, i knew something was up, and rushed to the bowl. that's right -- it was about to overflow again.

i had to accept that the warm humid weather was ahead of me, so i placed the levain in the fridge and went back to bed.

i awoke the next morning ready to discover the charms of the fresh-roasted coffee at the vinegar factory.

what a treat! as you promised, they had fresh-roasted coffee in resealable clear plastic 1 lb. one-way valve bags -- almost all varieties between $6 and $9.

naturally i nabbed the coffee roaster and we had a long chat. they use a beautiful new fully electronic gas-fired roaster, made by diedrich in sandpoint, idaho. it has some fancy venting so it can sit proudly out on the main floor.

the place has a restaurant on the second floor, which dictates their roasting schedule: on friday afternoon, and on saturday and sunday, they roast coffee for the restaurant. the rest of the week they roast for the store. since they let the coffee rest 24 hours before they sell it, the roastmaster said, the turnover works out so that you pretty much *can't* buy coffee more than 36 hours old there.

it's hot in nyc today, so i wanted a variety for iced coffee. the roastmaster indicated that the tanzanian peaberry and the mexican altura were the freshest varieties, having been roasted late on thurs. evening. since i was there on saturday morning, i felt that that was pretty great -- fresh coffee! some of the coffee is sold from bins, and they do have grinders there. i asked him how often they sharpened the burrs, and he said he didn't know off-hand.

i must say that the customer service is excellent and even the regular staff who just weigh and bag the coffee seemed to me to have a fair level of coffee knowledge.

i bought a half-pound of the altura, ground it at home, made it in the vac pot, then iced it. it was delicious, bright and with a caramel aftertaste. i don't normally drink this kind of coffee, so i was pleasantly surprised.

i returned home and removed the levain from the fridge so it could return to room temperature while i enjoyed my iced coffee. then i moved on to step four, full dough:

13-1/2 oz flour (again, i used clear flour)
8 oz. water
1 teaspoon salt (because, see above, i had already added 1 teaspoon earlier)

i gently poured the step three levain in the 5qt bowl of my stand mixer. it was gassy and tenacious, with long sticky strands of gluten that required a spatula to help out of the bowl. the scent was light and yogurty, think mild ocean breeze. i attached the paddle beater to my mixer, and again gently dissolved the levain into the water, setting the mixer on speed 1. then i added the flour to the bowl, and mixed at speed 2 until a rough, wet, sticky ball had formed. i sprinkled the remainng 1 teaspoon salt over this, and swapped out the paddle beater for the dough hook, which i quickly lubed with a brief shot of cooking spray.

i kneaded the dough on speed 2 for 6 minutes. the dough is very soft, and will climb the hook, so it's necessary to stop the mixer a couple of times and push the dough back down into the bowl. as the dough kneads, it changes to a glossy pool whose long gluten strands adhere to the sides of the bowl, stretching out and the dough hook moves through. the dough will be soft and tacky after kneading. just perfect!

when the kneading's finished, i simply cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in its usual place for 2 hours or until double. due this weather, it was nearly triple at 1 hour and 45 minutes! the dough remains quite soft. to give it extra springiness, i took a spatula and folded the bottom edge of the dough up into the center. then i gave the bowl a quarter turn, and repeated the procedure. i did this about 12 times. the effect on the dough was obvious right away -- it had more bounce even though it was still very soft and wet.

since i have a 14-inch pizza peel, i cut a large piece of baking parchment to cover the blade, and set that on the peel. if you don't have a peel, you can use a cutting board or sheet pan. sprinkling the parchment liberally with flour, i poured the dough onto the parchment. the first time you make bread with this method, you might be amazed, because the dough seems to puddle out. "how," you ask yourself," will this ever turn into a loaf?" but it will -- don't be afraid!

after letting the dough rest for 5 minutes, i sprinkled it with more flour and grabbed an edge of the dough, to repeat the folding procedure above. now the dough looks more like the tight ball you might expect! then i turned the dough over, folding seam side down, and covered it with lightly oiled plastic wrap. normally i would let it rise until not quite double, about 1-1/2 hours. but of course due to the weather, the dough was ready in just 45 minutes!

30 minutes before i expected the loaf to be ready, i preheated my oven to 500 degrees. i like to use a baking stone, but a bread cloche, quarry tiles, or even a normal baking sheet will do. by the time the dough was ready, it had slumped back into puddle. but i wasn't worried -- because i know that in the oven it will spring into a gracious free-form loaf.

i quickly slashed the loaf with four cuts to form a square -- the dough was so liquid, they nearly filled in immediately. but i knew the design would remain in the final loaf as a nice decoration. then i carefully slid the loaf, still on the parchment, into the oven and immediately reduced the heat to 450 degrees. if you're not using a cloche, at this time you can quickly mist the sides of your oven with a little water. i use your average plant mister to give a few fast squirts. . .

this loaf normally take 30-40 minutes to bake, until an instant read thermometer thrust into the center shows 195 to 200 degrees. don't overbake, and don't peek! set your timer for 30 minutes and be patient! looking at your loaf you will find that it will have transformed from a lake of dough into a cookbook-picture-perfect rustic-looking loaf.

it's important to set this bread on a rack to cool for at least 2 hours before slicing. the center is still firming up, and the flavors developing. slicing too early will give disappointing results. the reward for your patience? a nice-sized peasant loaf, with a crunchy, thin crust; a moist, resilient crumb filled with large, airy holes; a tender flavor bursting with the taste of grain.

i settled down to a lunch of my new loaf with slices of an artisanal sweet sopresetta, an herbed goat cheese, and moroccan carrot salad, all washed down with the iced coffee. wait, you ask, where did the sopresetta and cheese come from? tomorrow i'll tell you about some other treasures i found at the vinegar factory. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 9:58 AM | top | link to this |

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