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Saturday, December 01, 2001


atlhough the death of george harrison has taken everyone's attention -- certainly mine -- we must remember that today is world aids day. i'm going to write today about a friend and co-worker of mine who died of aids nearly 10 years ago. it's a complicated story. . .it's not really so much about me as about a dog. . .

ian ken louden was born in junction city, kansas, a rough-edged mean army town, best known as the home of fort riley. i met him when we worked together at tax analysts, a non-profit tax publisher in washington dc in the late 1980s. by that time he had finished law school and had been writing for accounting and legal trade papers for some time. he was just barely 40. i was much younger -- tax analysts was my first real job after school, and at that time i was working as a proofreader, marking up stuff that would go on to the lexis-nexis online service.

ken started as a reporter but quickly rose to become a senior editor, and i eventually worked under him as a junior editor. he and i did not have much in common, except that we were both from kansas. he was a conservative republican -- albeit gay -- while i remain a life-long democrat. he wore khakis and cashmere while at that time i ran about in black leather mini-skirts. he loved jessye norman, while i listened to they might be giants. and while i must say that i do appreciate opera, he certainly disdained most popular music.

our jobs were very frantic and deadline-oriented. plus, the organization was at that time a confused mess. everyone was always angry and stressed out. still, when things got really tense on a deadline, ken could make everyone laugh. he had a terrifically quick mind, and could on the spot create satirical lyrics based on show tunes that would skewer whatever situation was driving us all mad. he would sing his ditty in a clear, pleasant voice while doing a sly and mocking soft-shoe.

ken and i never got along well. as i said, we had little in common, and our jobs put us at odds with each other. i never really liked the job, per se, or the other people there. they didn't really like me either. several times he told me i should really look for another job; but to spite him, i never really did. i wanted to make him fire me, but for some reason, he never did. thus, in some weird way, we grew to respect each other.

ken had a beautiful house in alexandria, virginia, small but perfectly decorated, filled with lovely art, thousands of discs of classical music, and his 17-year-old spoiled daschund, louie. soon ken fell so ill he could no longer care for louie, and it somehow fell to myself and my then-boyfriend to care for the dog. no one else wanted louie, who was almost as sick as ken was. louie couldn't walk well, had to be carried up stairs, demanded to sit in the best chairs -- which he had to be lifted into -- stole from the table when you didn't give into his obnoxious begging, and somehow managed to always get his way.

what was odd was that louie was still quite charming and you soon forgave him every single one of his terrible habits. over time, you found yourself acceding to his every whim. however, my then-boyfriend and i sort of fell in love with louie. we carrried him about with us everywhere: to work, the virginia countryside, just everywhere. we were actually probably more in love with louie than each other.

ken worsened progressively and died about a year and a half after his diagnosis. before he died, he and his partner converted to catholicism. my boyfriend and i took louie to the church. ken moved into a hospice, where we were able to bring to louie to see him several times a week. he adored louie and it was very clear that he missed the dog greatly. when louie was sitting on the bed with ken, gazing at him with total affection -- only then was it possible to see louie as a sweet friendly companion instead of a demanding, impatient diva. i soon understood that louie also suffered from the separation. it was then that i began to meet ken's friends and gain an appreciation for what a wide circle of people he knew, and how much they all loved him.

ken and i sort of began a rapprochement. but before we could really "make up," ken's health went down hill quickly and we could no longer visit him. one morning, before dawn, we awoke to hear louie howling. we ran downstairs, but didn't know what was wrong. we got the phone call about an hour later: ken had died at just about that time.

my then-boyfriend took louie to the wake. louie wandered around sadly, seemed strangely disoriented. he didn't want to eat anything, didn't steal any food from anyone, didn't demand to be the center of attention. clearly he was grieving.

louie himself died two days later in his sleep. we had louie cremated and the next day offered his ashes to ken's partner to bury in ken's garden. he refused -- it turned out that ken's partner was the only person who had never really like louie, had always found him too difficult. so we kept louie ourselves on the bookcase.

later we found that ken had left us some things in thanks for taking care of louie. he kindly gave me five or six boxes of poetry books; he left my then-boyfriend some beautiful pictures from his large collection of local dc artists. losing ken was hard -- and strange. were we friends or not? i can't say clearly; i don't think we ever liked each other. but there i was weeping for him and his dog. . .at that time, grief for louie was what was keeping my relationship with my then-boyfriend together. i was a living mourner in a dog mausoleum.

my then-boyfriend was inconsolable; he grew very depressed and despondent. i decided that i would get him another daschund to console him. in the end, we had two daschunds. but a shared love for a dead dog can't keep you together, and eventually i came to move to new york. . .

today is world aids day. at a time when it still sometimes seems that aids has become a manageable illness, when we see that powerful treatments have enabled many people with aids and hiv to live among us in an almost-normal fashion, it's easy to forget that aids is still a scourge. and it's easy to forget about the suffering that happened before.

here in new york, the rate of new aids cases is not declining, but only levelling off. and in other cities they are rising. the majority of new cases are minorities, particularly women. in other countries we have to remember that aids can still be an instant death sentence, leading to shame and ostracism. again, it is a burden that falls heavily upon women. some countries are just now admitting they have an aids crisis; others are just learning its dimensions.

this autumn has been a difficult time for us all. one tragedy after another; there doesn't seem to be any abating of this sorrow. september 11, anthrax, the plane crash in queens, george harrison. . .but despite these events we should stop to remember that the old problems of the twin-towers world have not gone away. everyone has given some money to charity this year; at the new year, i urge everyone to give something to the aids-related charity of your choice.



posted by fortune elkins | 4:41 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, November 30, 2001


let me give you all a heads up about tomorrow. . .

tomorrow's post will be about former washington-dc journalist, ian ken louden. he died of aids not quite 10 years ago. i will be writing about him to mark december 1, world aids day, and as a participant in link and think.

on the yoga front: as for our little corporate yoga program, we are moving it to a dance space in downtown new york called squid. we loved the church street boxing gym, but just couldn't afford to rent the space any longer. you'll be hearing more about squid as time goes on.

finally, on the bread front: due to the unseasonable temperatures -- it's nearly 70 degrees here in new york city today -- i haven't really started baking this season. but i think sunday may be the day, depending on how i feel. . . .i'd like to start with a simple ciabatta loaf, i think. unless mr. right lobbies hard for cookies!

posted by fortune elkins | 9:59 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, November 29, 2001


the votes are in on the office coffee front: illy's medium-roast medium-grind is the clear winner.

given the choice between a kenya, a brazilian santos, the caffe d'arte alderwood-roasted velletri, and illy, dr. ernesto's product has won by a mile. if i make a pot of caffe d'arte, it's now openly ignored by my colleagues. (do they somehow know that the illy is twice as expensive as the others??? is it that style-ly stainless steel can?)

posted by fortune elkins | 10:21 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, November 28, 2001


it just so happened last night that while wandering through the east village, i finally stumbled into eden. . .

el eden chocolates, that is. this store has been around since may, and i finally got a chance to dash in. they do truffles and nothing but. last night they were sampling their tiramisu flavored wares, but not only was i in an extreme hurry -- another 30 seconds without sitting down and this cough would surely have killed me -- but i've been ruined by the knipschildt miracle.

el eden's truffles are the usual hard little balls coated in a chocolate shell. they do offer some unusual flavors. the rosewater and red zinfandel truffle isn't going to catch mr. right's interest, that i can tell you! he might prefer the peanut crunch. the spicy rum pumpkin praline truffle with walnuts could be good or it might remind why you no longer go to new orleans. as a coffee purist, you might think i'd be offended by the summer chai truffle, combining flavors such as spiced tea, kahlua coffee liqueur, and a touch of mexican ibarra chocolate, which itself contains almonds, cinnamon, and other spices. . .

i guess this is why they call it confusion cooking. honestly, i haven't tried all these flavors, but just reading the list reminds me that there's a lot to be said for classic elegance: quality chocolate, fresh double-cream butter, pure whipping cream, and a little cocoa to roll it all about it in.

have i said knipschildt yet? but, gentle reader, perhaps eden's flavors call your name. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 7:28 PM | top | link to this |


Monday, November 26, 2001


time to get off my high horse don't you think?

but before i do so, i thought i'd pass along a link sent to me by faithful reader eliahu. he is a supporter of the so-called fair trade program, and suggested i take a look at cafe direct, a purveyor of organic and fair trade coffees in the uk market. eliahu suggests that fair trade may be the solution to both the current coffee and cocoa crises i've mentioned previously.

fair trade does have its critics -- some small producers say that participating requires too much expensive paperwork, a few contend that the quality of fair trade products is lower, and others argue that the fair trade movement is so small a player in the vast commodities market that it is doomed to fail. i certainly am not capable of judging the merits of any of these arguments in general. but for those of you who are interested, you may want to search locally for fair trade products. even starbucks sells fair trade beans nowadays, as does peets.

so if you are interested in the fair trade idea, it's easy for you as a consumer to find a fair trade coffee near you.

posted by fortune elkins | 10:15 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, November 25, 2001


the other day when i was a-typin' away here, mr. right asked me what i was doing, and i said, just writing about food. . .

this got me to thinking today about how just writing about food was different than being a food writer. because i read a lot of food writing, most of which i just can't stand. odd, isn't it?

food journalism seems boring. objective descriptions -- well, as objective as talking about taste could be -- don't charm me. this is why i hardly ever read the food reviews in newspapers. food journalistm on tv just seems gushy and weirdly bulimic: the talking heads on food tv eat everything, pronounce it uniformly great, and vomit the binge on out to us with little thought. yikes!

food personalities frankly seem unbearably pretentious for the most part. celebrity chefs make me swear to never eat again. i think this unhappiness is widespread, which may be why the new york times, for example, seems to be experimenting with different forms of food writing.

in the sunday magazine section, the times has amanda hesser write a sort of food diary, heavy on emotion and significant relationships, esp. the one with her boyfriend, "mr. latte." alas, i must say that i hate these articles more than a series of rabies vaccinations. amanda & mr. latte never appear to have sex; instead they appear to have meaningful food moments.

in fact, she doesn't seem to allow herself to have genuine feelings about anything, even september 11; it's all displaced onto food. that's really scary to me! in this, hesser reminds me of the food-writing deity, m.f.k. fisher, who also supplanted eroticism and all that other messy human stuff with food. while it made for some vivid, purple prose, i never felt a desire to actually eat the wolf.

in the end, this emotional attitude to food is probably the cause of more eating disorders than all the models in vogue put together. or perhaps i'm just searching for another elizabeth david and all hesser gives me is bridget jones' diary.

david wrote in an honest, practical and common sense way. her recipes are often so sketchy as to be useless: half a wine glass of this, a french pinch of that, cooked in a good-sized dish at lively heat until it bubbles or is as brown as a nut. perhaps her vague instructions were an attempt to get you to really participate in what you were doing and experiment instead of mindlessly following directions, trusting others' wisdom and never your own experience. somehow, you learn so much from her.

she was not without opinions, but certainly lacked snobbery. she wrote about food helpfully and as it was in itself, not as a metaphor or a lens into a deeper personal or social meaning. this may be why i admire the writing of deborah madison so much. madison writes in the same style, but with more realistic recipes.

also, her former colleague, edward espe brown, is the utmost master of talking about food. while he started off perhaps as a wacky hippie/zen cook, he's nowadays grown into a person with something to say about the stuff we all think about. because he talks about food just as food, seeing it for what it is -- then i find the point on my own, without confession or obsession. finally, i also deeply enjoy alton brown, one of the few people who understand that most food talk is too serious and requires the ultimate seasoning: humor.

posted by fortune elkins | 3:50 PM | top | link to this |

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