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Saturday, June 15, 2002


Capital Letters Are Important. . .

making my usual saturday night pizza on auto-pilot, when for some reason, i glanced over at my grungy, dog-eared recipe and saw the salt. . .not thinking, i added 1-1/2 T. (tablespoon) instead of 1-1/2 t. (teaspoon). oooops! the pizza was edible, but barely. . .

proof once again that no matter how experienced you are with a recipe, you should pay attention and have your mise en place. if i had pre-measured everything, and laid it all out nicely, then this would have been much less likely to occur. as opposed to tossing everything together in a rush. mise en place! mise en place! my lesson for the day.

funny talking about salt. as you know i have been reading dr. raymond clavel's book on bread. he discusses the role of salt in yeast doughs at some length. not only does salt retard the rising of yeast, which i knew, it also plays a small role in helping achieve a brown crust. he also says that the amount of salt in yeast doughs should generally be 1.8 percent of the weight of the flour. period!

considering that my pizza recipe used 15 oz. flour (about 425 grams), you can see readily that this "capital error" was waaay too much! (figure 1 teaspoon salt equals 6 grams or .2 oz!) i wanted about 8 grams of salt, or 1-1/3 teaspoons. yikes -- i'll leave it to you, gentle readers, to figure out how much salt that 1-1/2 tablespoons actually was (at 3 teaspoons to the tablespoon) percentage-wise. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 5:14 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, June 14, 2002


and the secret site is. . .

chocophile, run by an expert on chocolate varietals. don't tell anyone about robert linxe's personal method for making his world-class ganache. ok?

and on a fun note, richard donnelly has been so kind to me, i just had to do something in return. since everyone loves brownies, i decided to send him some made by dave at the clove cafe. and richard was happy. . .

those of you who haven't had dave's brownies must simply order some today. all you have to do is call the clove up, ask for dave, and he'll stir up a batch just for you! stop making do and start living: these brownies are delicious enough to make me ask myself why i bother to even try making my own. . .unlike good chocolate, you don't have to wish for cool weather to get your hands on these!

posted by fortune elkins | 7:00 PM | top | link to this |


Thursday, June 13, 2002


i just hate to make it seem like this is the no fun site, but with stories this heart-rending, you can't help but pay attention. . .

i know, i know: i swore i'd never mention this again. but today the bbc goes to interview the child slaves on an african cocoa plantation. it's a sad story. but in all honesty, the chocolate manufacturers at least are working to end the practice. not as quickly as we would like, certainly, but they are no longer ignoring the situation.

at the same time, i personally find the bbc somewhat naive. this horrible practice couldn't continue without the tacit consent of corrupt officials in both mali and the ivory coast. i mean, who pays off the low-level border guards and agricultural inspectors to keep them from noticing the huge numbers of foreign children crossing the borders and working in the fields? and who do these guards have to kick back to in return?

these officials can't just shovel all the blame elsewhere, although they certainly try. also, the united nations could certainly do more than issue reports. the cause of this situation isn't the chocolate companies per se. . .it's the incredible poverty in mali, where parents with too many children and not enough income feel as if they have no choice but to sell their children. however, this doesn't mean the chocolate companies have no responsibility, either. still, no one can deny that large-scale government reforms and regional anti-poverty programs will be necessary to truly eliminate this problem.

it will surely require a co-ordinated effort among government, industry, and a social awareness campaign to create a culture of children's rights. this won't happen overnight. considering the dire economic situation in this region, perhaps we have to -- reluctantly -- accept some forms of teenage labor. but there should be regulations, inspections, and stiff fines for enforcement.

the children should be no younger than 13; they not be enslaved but be paid a set wage and given guaranteed housing conditions and medical care; they should be in school for at least a few hours a day. this is where the united nations could play a useful role, in helping draft these regulations, inspect the cocoa plantations, and levy the fines to ensure enforcement.

readers, tell me what you think -- please use the link below to go the forum and post a topic on this subject under coffee.

posted by fortune elkins | 7:18 PM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, June 12, 2002


every time i think i don't have to mention this ever again. . .

i just do. it seems to be going from bad to worse.

long-time readers know that the current world-low in coffee prices is causing havoc throughout our neighbors in the americas. some colombian coffee farmers have switched to growing drugs; the impoverished rural population of mexico's coffee regions is forced to cross the border north illegally; workers in guatemala seized coffee plantations briefly; and now in nicaragua, unpaid coffee workers are staging sit-down strikes to block major highways, where they alternately protest and beg for food.

all together, the situation could soon cause major unrest and instability in our hemisphere. this is in absolutely no one's interest, no matter what your personal political preferences may be. when will our leaders become aware of the situation?

earlier this spring various development agencies held a conference and issued a report. coffee trade groups have sounded their alarm. but in the meantime, while the governments and international n.g.o.s quaffle, the social situation in these countries steadily erodes. the plight of the coffee workers and their families appears dire.

in light of this, readers, i suppose i can only recommend that you consider donating to an organization oriented towards helping coffee workers in the americas and their families: coffee kids (also info here).

posted by fortune elkins | 7:26 PM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, June 11, 2002


it has arrived!

finally received my copy of dr. raymond calvel's the taste of bread. it's a technical, professional bread manual, with intense chapters on dough maturation, the chemistry of bread, lots of charts, all that.

most of all, however, it has professional recipes -- given by weight and percentage -- for all manner of traditional french breads, common and obscure alike. everything from pain de campagne and meteil to many forms of brioche, and even some curiosities like seaweed bread!

must start reading now. ok, maybe as soon as the charlie brown movie is over. . .long-time readers may remember that until i met mr. right, linus van pelt alone ruled my heart. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 5:39 PM | top | link to this |


Monday, June 10, 2002


celebrate 150 years of chocolate. . .

with ghirardelli. i would love to see them expand and improve their chocolate line.

and in a strange moment of great-minds-think-alike, mr. right himself has commented recently on the stunning fact that pizza hut is now advertising an entire pound of cheese in its pie, most of it stuffed inside the crust. incredible. not to mention that it isn't even what we would call real cheese. if i'm feeling lavish i'll top a 10-inch personal pie with 4 oz. of fresh mozzarella; but most often i use 2 or 3 oz. we're all agreeing with alice waters here:

when will they learn that in pizza less is more?

posted by fortune elkins | 7:07 PM | top | link to this |


Sunday, June 09, 2002


i know that ashtanga yoga is a somewhat controversial subject. those who love it, adore it; those who dislike it, loathe it. it seems to attract a lot of intense feeling either way. . .

i myself struggle just to understand it, so i really can't say i had too much feeling about it. i was pretty neutral on it. still, many of its admirers urge me to try it. they say that it is the most complete and freeing yoga system, one that brings great strength, grace and peace of mind to the regular practitioner.

i have taken two or three classes, that kind of lead you through the first part of the beginning ashtanga sequence, or "primary series." i never found a good presentation of this yoga system there, though.

but when the famous teacher christopher hildebrandt, formerly of jivamukti, offered an ashtanga workshop at yoga people, i thought i would take it. he can do all the fancy yoga tricks and is also said to have a beautiful presentation of the ashtanga philosophy. so i took this workshop this morning.

ashtanga detractors -- and they are many and vociferous -- will tell you that the system is no more than a way for young, lithe, former modern dancers to destroy their knees and develop a dubious worship of an aged guru. i have heard all these pat criticisms before, but went with an open mind.

christopher hildebrandt is himself an attractive person, with a great smile, and a soft voice. his calmness and physique certainly are noteworthy. his sanskrit appears to be excellent. there's no doubt he is in complete command of the ashtanga system and an expert teacher of the style. however, he did not at any time explain the system, discuss p. jois, or outline any method overall.

he asked the class at the beginning what we wanted from the workshop. one of the answers was "grace, gracefulness, not only in the physicality, but outside class as well." i thought this was a beautiful intention. and one, that i must sadly say, went without being met.

with all due respect, i have to say that i left his workshop today more convinced that ashtanga's detractors have a serious point. while hildebrandt did ask at the beginning if anyone had any injuries, he showed no modifications for those afflicted. when he discussed those injuries he did actually say that if you felt "just muscle pain" you should breathe through it and continue with the pose. while he asked if people had questions after every two or three asanas, he took a tone that i could only call patronizing, if not outright mocking, to those who dared ask any. and rather than truly explain, his first response, after wryly smiling at the questioner, raising his eyebrows, and offering a loud "hmmmm. . ." would be to say, "guruji [p. jois] gives us the sequence this way."

for example, before doing seated forward fold (paschimottanasana), it's common for people in several yoga systems to adjust their seats, by literally rearranging their hips on the floor so they sit a little more flat and even. hildebrandt didn't mention this; when one woman asked about doing it, he shot her a narrowed look and somewhat icily offered that in ashtanga there is no movement without breath, and that in the seqence there was no breath for that movement. further, that this wasn't part of guruji's sequence and that extraneous movements were to be avoided.

then he discussed the horrors of breathing. as hildebrandt coldly explained, according to patanjali, breathing is a hindrance. one of the goals of yoga was to breathe less, to place more movement into longer breaths. he gave the example of famous yogis who are buried alive and don't need to breathe for long periods of time. "the goal of yoga, patanjali tells us, is samadhi, in which we don't need to breathe." i have to say hildebrandt lost me for good right there. i felt so sorry for the poor woman who had dared to inquire about such a simple matter. all he had to say to her here was a gentle, "in ashtanga we generally don't feel it's necessary."

look, i'm not going to go on and on with this. maybe hildebrandt wasn't in the greatest mood. maybe i wasn't in a receptive moment. maybe hildebrandt's personal style just clashes violently with mine; i'm not going to down his yoga. but this class was unfriendly, unexplanatory, and taught ashtanga as if it were nothing but a fancy system of calisthenics. i left that class having done some scary poses without much guidance, and in a truly terrible mood. in short, i was one grumpy ashtangi!

i'm not convinced that ashtanga is without worth; i will just continue to say that i have yet to meet a teacher who can communicate its stated promise. and to be fair to hildebrandt, he gives an excellent shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) adjustment, perhaps the best i've ever had. but i doubt you'll see me in his 6 a.m. mysore classes any time soon. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 1:37 PM | top | link to this |

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