Saturday, August 18, 2001
today is just one of those perfect new york days when everyone and everything is breathtakingly beautiful. this may or may not have something to do with the arrival of the coffee from mohonk roasters!
yes, yoga teacher frank jude boccio was kind enough to bring some down, with some baked goods and the sweetest note -- handwritten on cash register tape! -- from the owners, donna, david &amp; jake. they were too kind - giving so much more than asked! for example, i was hoping for a 1/4 lb. of the ethiopian harrar to test out in the bodum santos vac pot -- and yet they gave fjb an entire pound! this freshly roasted delight possesses such a strong, scrumptious aroma that it filled every room i entered this afternoon, causing formerly complete strangers (hiya kendall!) to inquire where the coffee came from. as a result, many people learned about mohonk roasters today!
such generosity had to perpetuated, so after taking yoga class with fjb, i rushed over to see john at two for the pot, new york's favorite coffee store, according to zagat's. i think everyone loves two for the pot and john as well. i knew right away that john would want to sample a 1/4 lb. so as i walked in, a very nice lady, sylvia was there -- no, not my espresso machine! -- but upon introduction, in honor of ms. silvia, it was clear sylvia needed a 1/4 lb. as well. as john was weighing out all the coffee, in walked sports fan and coffee pal andy, so he had to have a 1/4 lb. too.
everyone was frankly awed by the harrar at first sight -- gorgeous jumbo beans, glistening with oil from their perfectly even viennese roast. and that aroma! standing in a coffee store, among barrels of other coffees, this delicious smell stood out above all others. i would have stayed all day talking to john and andy, but i had to rush home and vac pot up some of this joe. and was i rewarded! such a smooth and rich cup, with a slight soft caramel aftertaste, no bitterness at all -- just a perfect medium body with a color & thickness like brown sherry. and of course that smell, the ultimate coffee perfume. . .
with this delight, my husband and i immediately broke into the baked goods, one of which was a fine soft cake brownie, delicately textured, and with a thin layer of molten chocolate fudge in the center to moisten it all. . .my husband prefers a dense, chewy, fudgy brownie, but i was instantly enamored of the treat's feathery lightness. . .
Friday, August 17, 2001
last night my husband, mr. right, read this little blog and decided to bring home some chocolate wrappers -- with the chocolate inside them. as a result, we had an impromptu chocolate-tasting! ohhh boy. . .
what he got: a bar of el rey, a bar of valrhona with hazelnuts, a bar of flyer -- mixed milk and dark --, and a bar of scharffenberger 70%. since he had carried them home in the heat on the subway, they weren't in absolute prime condition, but that didn't stop us from tearing into them.
my favorite, strangely, wasn't the valrhona, but the el rey bucare. what a delicious aroma, beautiful bar finish, nice crisp break, lovely mouthfeel. although i must confess the aftertaste was perhaps a tad grainy -- again, that could be due to the condition of the bar in the hot weather. normally i would have thought el rey not quite as good as the valrhona; but i've had a change of heart. i'm in love with el rey chocolate again today!
as for the flyer, i'd never had that mix of milk and dark with extra vanilla. since i prefer darker chocolate, i wasn't so fond of the flyer. it didn't have the same clean finish to the bar, although it did break crisply. i thought if had an aftertaste of too-hot evaporated milk - i don't know how else to say it. and it was too sweet for me. however, this is the bar my husband loved best.
as for the valrhona: in one sense, you couldn't compare it to the others, because of the hazelnuts in it. but at the same time, it's still valrhona, and boy howdy do it love it! it was superb in every way. however, i was surprised that the el rey had such an exquisite scent. it was a glorious chocolate perfume, and the valrhona just didn't have such a strong aroma. since so much of taste is actually smell, this probably weighted me in the direction of the el rey. . .
as for the scharffenberger 70%, it is an excellent cooking chocolate, but for eating, i have to say the el rey was the winner. of course, your mileage may vary! what's important is that you go get some bars and taste 'em all today!
Thursday, August 16, 2001
yesterday i recieved the most wonderful piece of snail mail by us post -- a chocolate wrapper!
the lovely owner of bridge kitchenware sent me the label of her favorite cooking chocolate. and i was surprised to discover where she buys it! the bar is the A&P grocery store house brand, "master choice." it's a private label good actually made by the schmitz-scholl family in germany. they've been making fine chocolate since 1867, but nowadays specialize in house brands.
in a little note so nicely written on the back of her business card, ms. bridge remarks, "this is excellent for baking!" and she should know!
i'm just thrilled to pieces -- i can't tell you how much i treasure this little wrapper. it inspires me to ask all of you, dear readers, to send me images of your favorite chocolate! in this digital age, gifs or jpgs would probably be best, but if you, like the adorable ms. bridge, are a devoted fan of snail mail, go to it! i'll post links, images, whatever i can. let me thank you once again for writing and by stopping by. . .
Wednesday, August 15, 2001
while it's true i promised you all a week of coffee and chocolate, yoga teacher frank jude sent me a very nice recapitulation of our little talk on the diamond sutra. he does discuss the importance and reality of chocolate chip cookies! i think you'll enjoy it, and then it's back to fudge tomorrow, ok?
If you don't mind, a brief follow-up to our Diamond Sutra exchange. A point I had wanted to make about "emptiness" and "non-existence" is that we need to ask what is really being talked about.
In one of my favorite teachings by Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) from his commentary on The Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra (The Heart Sutra), he writes:
"If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; without trees, we cannot make paper."
He goes on to say that if we really look deeply we will also see the sunshine, the earth, the loggers, the paper mill, the food that the logger and paper processors have eaten, their ancestors, etc. etc. They all "inter-are." ("To be or not to be, that is not the question. To be is to inter-be. You cannot be by yourself.")
He says, looking still more deeply, we see that we are in the paper too. "When we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception." Our mind (as reader) and Thay's mind (as writer) are also in the paper.
"Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible?.... The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of "non-paper elements." And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all."
This is the non-existence that is meant in The Diamond Sutra: that no separtely existing entiy exists.
To be expicit, Thay says, "According to Avalokitesvara, this sheet of paper is empty; but according to our analysis, it is full of everything. There seems to be a contradiction. We must ask Mr Avalokita, 'empty of what?'"
And of course, the answer is, "When Avalokita says that our sheet of paper is empty, he means it is empty of a separate, independent existence."
Empty of a separate self means full of everything. And so we can enjoy our chocolate, the sunsets, the moonlight on the water, and we can respond with compassion to the pain of a cat or any other (unique, but non-existent as a separate entity) being, or the caress of a lover, and still not get lost or imprisioned in a false sense of separateness. In the paradoxical dialectics of the Diamond Sutra, when we see that the chocolate cookie is empty, then we can truly eat (and enjoy) the cookie; because we know that it is empty it is real for us. When we do not see this, we cannot truly eat the cookie because fundamentally we are eating a misperception!
Tuesday, August 14, 2001
although right now it's pouring -- total cats & dogs -- in general, it's still waaay too hot to bake. this means most of our chocolate desserts come in frozen forms. gelato, granita, sorbet, ice cream. . .
while i've given a recipe for a chocolate frozen dessert, what i haven't given, and which helps make these cold things special, is a nice fudge sauce. (note to my ayurvedic doctor -- look away! look away! i know you don't approve of eating too many cold foods! )
you can go to the grocery store, or worse, to some horrible overpriced place where they sell stale "gourmet chocolate" made with plenty of lecithin, and pick up some fancy ice cream toppings. don't! much better and so simple to make it yourself!
herewith, chocolate fudge sauce:
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. (2 oz.) plugra/keller's european butter
1/4 c. superfine sugar
6 oz. high-quality chocolate of your choice (you know i'm going to say valrhona here, don't you? choose the percentage of chocolate that meet your sweet tooth; i'd use something in the 70% range myself), chopped
1 teaspoon neilsen-massey vanilla
2 tablespoons brandy or liqueur
because we have to melt the sugar in the cream, our usual microwave trick might not work so well. so place the cream and sugar into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the while until smooth, about 3 minutes. remove from heat. add the vanilla and stir. stirring off the heat, add the chocolate, and melt until smooth and completely combined. gradually stir in the brandy or liqueur of your choice. cool to room temperature; this keeps in the fridge for a nice amount of time, at least a week. drizzle over the frozen dessert of your choice!
Monday, August 13, 2001
let's chat about coffee today, hmm?
the mohonk roasters at the clove cafe have been very kindly brought to my attention. i hope next week to have tried some of their coffee; naturally you'll all be the first to hear.
i think i'll request a quarter pound of the espresso ground at 3, since my saeco 2002 really doesn't grind properly for my silvia. the coffee's coming to me the same day (i hope!) so that it will still be fresh enough for testing. i'd also like to take a quarter pound of the ethiopian, whole bean. i'll grind this myself for the vac pot. i'm also tempted to try the shawangunk morning blend, except that i have no idea what the shawangunk is. a mountain maybe?
it's so fashionable now to live upstate part time, that i know; but i must confess that anything north of the cloisters might as well be canada to me. well, where ever it is, let's hope they can use what looks like a diedrich roaster to good effect!
Sunday, August 12, 2001
rainy but humid day today -- perfect for a yoga class with the noted frank jude boccio (FJB to his devoted fan base, which i am now joining with total abandon). after class we had a chat about old times -- it turns out we know many of the same people, such as rabbi burt a. siegel, yoga teacher jessa zinn nee bertsche. . .amazing how small this world is.
but more importantly we discussed some of the diamond sutra, reputed to be the world's first printed book, famously found in the caves of dunhuang among a treasure trove of precious ancient books.
i told fjb quite frankly how the teaching of non-existence worried me; how i just didn't understand it. and we had a pleasant chat about, naturally, what that tricky conception of "emptiness" is. of course he used one of my all-time favorite examples, the nature of the wooden table between us.
in this day of modern physics we all understand that solid things are actually most empty space in which tightly packed atoms whirl about. if i fall and hit my head on the table, though, it's solid enough. but under the electron microscope, we see something more of the table's true nature. and this, to vastly oversimplify fjb's discussion, is the point of the sutra -- to alert us to the "emptiness" of things, to remind us that their true nature is much different than first appears to us. he chatted a little about his interest in thich nhat hahn and the tiep hien school.
those of you in new york, who can reach the energy center, must rush to take a class with fjb instantly. if you'd like to experience his extremely charming buddhist teaching, claim a zafu in his weekly sunday night sangha, also at the energy center. you might see me there yet. . .
that is, if the heat holds up, and i can't bake! for those of you pizza, chocolate, and coffee troopers, don't despair. . .you'll see more on your favorites next week! thanks for hanging in!