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Saturday, June 23, 2001


very hot and thundery this morning. much too hot to cook. . .but we still want our rich chocolate dessert. . .so here's a recipe for a low-cook, no oven, lovely chocolate pudding or pot au creme.

you could cook this on the stove, but since it's so hot, i'll make it in the microwave! it's the easiest recipe in the world:

6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons confectioner's or superfine sugar
2 cups light cream
8 oz. valrhona bittersweet chocolate, grated (try anything from the guanaja at 70%, to the caraibe, chuao or gran couva at 64%. you might even like the manjari which comes with it's own bits of orange peel. go for the 70% if you want a darker, less sweet experience.)
4 tablespoons liqueur -- brandy, rum, kaluha, etc. (optional)

pour the cream into a microwave proof bowl and heat to below boiling (about 200 degrees on your kitchen thermometer), which will probably be about 2 mins. on high. stir every 30 seconds. beware -- when heating liquid in the microwave, it can get very hot and burn you if it suddenly splashes. liquids can super-heat in the microwave and suddenly "bump" to scalding steam when you stir them. so don't let the cream overheat.

beat together the egg yolks and the sugar in another microwave bowl. stir the warm cream into the mixture. cook this custard in the microwave on medium-high for about 3 minutes. stir every 30 seconds until thick enough to coat a spoon.

while the custard is still hot, add the grated chocolate and stir until completely melted. if the mixture cools too fast, pop it back in the microwave for another 30 seconds to reheat. add the liqueur, or if not using, 1 teaspoon Neilsen-Massey vanilla.

pour the pudding through a fine strainer into 8 small cups or individual ramekins. chill for at least 6 hours. enjoy!

posted by fortune elkins | 8:58 AM | top | link to this |


Friday, June 22, 2001


yesterday i received a note asking me to write about new york. and i'm always happy to oblige, although it might be slightly off topic! or perhaps it could fall under my attempts to practice joyful appreciation!

i was born in kansas, haved lived in santa fe, baltimore, washington dc, soujourned in europe. i love california, both north and south. but i still can't imagine leaving new york. i do love it so.

this is what is great about new york. every single one of us who lives in the city dwells in a separate but interlocking set of little villages. yet we all meet together in the experience of new york. and we love new york, be it bouyantly or disappointedly.

imagine if we each could find the new york the others know. it would seem like a different city, and a different time. there is a new scene everyday, to paraphrase heraclitus.

somewhere in new york is a place for everyone, either in competitive eat-grandma day new york, or in alt-lifestyle night new york. all you have to do is come, survive the initial shock of the rent, and then glory in all this freedom.

the instant you arrive and learn how to read the subway map you're one of us and we love you -- altho' we probably don't have much time to meet you! to be a new yorker you only have step your foot over the hudson, close your eyes, and wish to be one.

what happens to you in new york depends on what you can do -- so work hard -- or who you know -- so go out and meet people. at times new york seems quiet, or seems to reject you; you think you're standing alone, going nowhere. then the magic happens for you once again.

in the end, no matter who we live with, we're all married to new york. take my advice: as soon as the recession ends, get as much money as you can and join us here!

yesterday was a hot muggy day in new york; as i walked home from the subway i saw all the people, drooping in their summer clothes, swimming in flashes of sunshine that suddenly pierced through oyster-colored clouds and then withdrew. so many different kinds of people, from literally every country in the world! all looked so beautiful to me, their flushed faces, their hair damp around the ears. who are they? where are they going?

was one of them you?

posted by fortune elkins | 11:53 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, June 21, 2001


recently i received an email from a nice person who's into iyengar yoga. i don't practice a strict iyengar style, but i think it has many benefits, and i try to incorporate insights from iyengar into my vinyasa practice.

iyengar is a style of yoga that focuses on the physical as a means into a new understanding of yourself. you must really concentrate on the poses in iyengar yoga, and this itself is a form of meditation. thus, the style strongly emphasizes correct form and alignment in the poses. this in turn leads to the use of props, such as blocks, straps and chairs to help ensure that all students achieve correct form.

some people tell me that they find iyengar restrictive and difficult to follow; sometimes people say they can't understand the precise instructions of the iyengar style, such as "rotate your bicep externally" or "embellish your kidneys." however, i think almost everyone agrees that good form helps you grow strong. this lets you progress in your yoga and move to more advanced poses, while it helps prevent injury. thus in a certain way, other types of yoga will lead you to learn more about iyengar.

whether you practice this style of yoga or not, i think it's very interesting to read bks iyengar's famous book, light on yoga. it's been very influential and is one of the reasons iyengar yoga is said to be the most popular style of hatha yoga around the world.

posted by fortune elkins | 8:41 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, June 20, 2001


today i was talking to another web designer/information architect about yoga. he was looking for some kind of exercise that would overcome the problems unique to people who work on computers all day for long periods of time in a high-stress client-service environment. here's what i told him. . .

i know it sounds wacky and a little "sissy," but yoga's really great for people in our line of work. why? because our type of work is strangely stressful, and yoga has some components that really conquer stress, more than any other exercise.

further, if you do "vinyasa" or flow-based yoga, where you move through the poses with the breath, it's a killer workout. but one without any stress on the joints or knees, since there's no "bouncing." also, many of the poses are very good for the kinds of aches & pains that come from long typing at the computer -- tight wrists, hunched shoulders, back aches.

did you know the giants football team recently added yoga to the required fitness regime? see: NY Times article on NFL & yoga

yoga builds tremendous upper & lower body strength and improves flexibility. when i started yoga i could touch my toes and that was about it, frankly. even tho' i had been going to step aerobics for years. but within a few months i found myself in all those funny-looking pretzel poses, which are actually strengthening. yoga is largely an isometric exercise, and it has an aerobic component. so it's effective.

finally, it's cheap. all you need are a pair of sweatpants, a $15 sticky mat so you don't slip, and a small patch of living room floor. no fancy shoes, equipment or whatever. you don't even need to spend $15 on a video, tho i recommend it -- yoga videos are available for free all over the web. for example: webmd yoga videos

but if you wanted to drop $15 on a video, you might want to start with rodney yee's am/pm yoga for beginners videos. use them just to learn the basic poses. see amazon link to am/pm yoga videos

and they take only 20 mins. after about four to six weeks of that, move up to his power yoga for beginners, about 35 mins. amazon link to power yoga video


posted by fortune elkins | 10:22 AM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, June 19, 2001


it's interesting isn't it that when you talk about yoga with people, many still associate it with some kind of religious situation. which is funny to me because it seems to me that yoga shares something with zen buddhism in this regard -- at its core it is empty of faith-based content.

it is entirely experiential. . .you don't believe anything. you just do the poses, just do the meditation, and see what, if anything, happens. this is not to say that yoga is not without a philosophy. this is recorded in the terse yoga sutras by patanjali. patanjali rejects a purely materialistic view of the universe; he believes that natural reason and personal experience will reveal to all that humans are spiritual beings, part of the infinite mind that is the foundation of the material universe.

whether you agree or disagree with this proposition of course is up to you and your personal beliefs, or based on your advanced degree in philosophy. but you don't have to agree or disagree with patanjali to do yoga. it's almost not even necessary to know about patanjali in some sense.

i guess what i find most interesting about the sutras is its concept of human consciousness -- patanjali makes some interesting separations between states of consciousness. for example, he appears not to believe that what we call "human consciousness" is a real thing unto itself. thoughts, feelings, emotions, knowing, ignorance, etc. are all just "vritti" -- waves of energy across a more basic surface. it seems that he understands sleep as simply a state when the thought-waves wash over you without you being interested in their content. that is, you are "caught up in their movement." like many other philosophers, he takes care to distinguish between reason and imagination, right knowledge and wrong knowledge, truth and untruth; where he differs from many philosophers, is that these categories are not of themselves of much interest to him.

he passes quickly over them and moves on. he also notes a quick list of ethical behavior, and then glides over that as well. the sutras mention what you might call god or the demi-urge (ishwara) once or twice, but patanjali is not much interested in deities, either. not once in the sutras does patanjali seem to use the word "faith" or "belief," as far as i can tell.

this is why it seems to me that patanjali, and yoga, are without religious content. you can pour whatever you want into your yoga. or better yet, take it as comes to you in your downward dog. . .so if you are interested in yoga, but worried about the tshirts of
ganesh's happy elephant head or the "eastern philosophy," don't be. just try it out. see if it makes you feel a little better. there's nothing more to it.


posted by fortune elkins | 10:17 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, June 18, 2001


a work emergency -- i had to go into the office this weekend -- kept me from posting. forgive me. but here now is the chocolate banana cream pie recipe as promised. . .

the pie is very little work -- probably 30 mins. in all. however, it need a couple of hours to chill between stages. and in fact it's better the next day. my advice: make the pie a day ahead so the flavors have a chance to meld. the pie is built in three layers: chocolate graham cracker crust, pastry cream filling, meringue topping. start with the pastry cream filling:

3 yolks from large or jumbo eggs (save the whites for the meringue!)
1-1/2 c. (12 oz by weight) milk or half-and-half
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon Plugra butter
3/4 c. (3 oz. by weight) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey vanilla

in a heavy saucepan, add the yolks, sugar and cornstarch. whisk with a wire whip until smooth and thick. turn heat to medium, and gradually add the milk or half-and-half, whisking continuously. add the salt. cook, whisking tirelessly, until the pastry cream is very thick and bubbling, like a volcano. you should just about be able to stand a spoon in it. expect to whisk for 10-12 mins. the pastry cream must be quite thick or else the pie filling will run when you cut the first slice. remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla, whisk again, and pour into a glass bowl. let cool for half an hour and then chill in the fridge for 4 hours.

while the filling sets up in the fridge, make the pie crust. preheat the oven to 375 degrees. butter a 9-inch pie tin, flan ring, or spring form pan, and line the bottom with baking parchment.

12 "sheets" of chocolate graham crackers
6 tablespoons Plugra
1/4 c. (1 oz.) light brown sugar

graham crackers come 4 to a "sheet;" generally each box has 30 sheets, wrapped in three plastic packages of 10 each. so you'll have plenty of graham crackers left over for snacking! break up the graham crackers and put into a food processor. add the butter and sugar. pulse with the metal blade until the mixture holds together. that is, when you stop the processor and reach in, you can see the mixture beginning to hold together into clumps.
carefully press this mixture into the lined pan evenly. this is actually the hardest part of the whole recipe! coat the bottom with the graham cracker mixture, leaving enough to have a nice even coating that comes up all the way to the sides of the pan. bake in the middle of your oven for 7 minutes. don't let the crust burn! check it once or twice. it will shrink a little bit. cool the pan on a rack.

about 10 mins. before the pastry cream has finished chilling, get out your stand mixer! place the bowl and the wire whip into the freezer to chill. we're going to whip some cream and we don't want it to turn to butter! let the bowl & whip chill for 10 mins.

1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

attach the splash guard to the chilled bowl, add the cream, and gradually increase the mixer speed to 10. whip the cream until very stiff, about 3 mins. stir a dollop of whipped cream into the pastry cream to lighten it, and then fold the lightened pastry cream with a spatula into the whipped cream with care not to deflate it.

at this time, it might be lovely to fold in 1/2 c. of your favorite valrhona, chopped into small pieces. or you could use mini-chips. instead of chocolate, of course, you could add chopped nuts. . .or you can be a purist, and leave it be. . .

finely dice 1 or 2 ripe bananas and arrange them in the bottom of the crust. gently pour the filling over the bananas. dice another banana and arrange nicely over the top. cover the pie carefully with plastic wrap and let chill at least another 4 hours, if not overnight.

now for the meringue. attach the wire whip to your stand mixer again. preheat your oven to 325 degrees or your broiler, depending on your oven. if you broil the meringue, you must watch it very carefully lest it burn. in the broiler, it will take only about 45 seconds to acquire the golden color we want; but it will also blacken and burn the second after that. if you fear burning the meringue, then bake it at 325 for 10-15 mins. until slightly golden on top.

3 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup (1 oz.) confectioner's sugar

add the splash guard to your bowl. add the egg whites and cream of tartar. gradually increase the mixer speed to 10. when the whites are frothy, gradually add the sugar. beat the whites until very stiff, but not dry. spoon the meringue nicely over the pie. bake or broil until a nice golden color appears on the very top of the meringue. it will look like something on a diner counter from the 50s. very nice!

carefully cover the pie with a bowl or cake cover and refrigerate for another 2 to 4 hours. then serve. this is the kind of dessert that brings back childhood memories for those, like my husband, who can remember where they were when JFK was shot. . .memories of a simpler time, before you realized how boring eisenhower really was. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 8:08 AM | top | link to this |

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