Saturday, August 17, 2002
supreme bean price list now online
the day before yesterday i mentioned that i had gotten an incredible recommendation for a hollywood roaster, the supreme bean, run by one phil hand. (for more about phil, read here.)
i'm now glad to say that i have their price and product list available here online for you to download (adobe acrobat reader required). to make the download smaller, i took the liberty of deleting the page of flavored coffees. i don't think those of you reading this are going to be flavored-coffee types. however, if you're interested, please note that he does sell many flavored coffees.
the best way to order is through his e-commerce site, joetogo. the shipping costs are about average; not the cheapest, but he's not ripping you off for a profit on it, either.
Friday, August 16, 2002
new yoga studio coming soon!
popular yoga zone and yoga people teacher jodie rufty (yoga union certified) will be opening her own studio this september. it's a surprising turn of events, and is happening very quickly, based on a sudden and unexpected availability of a great space.
seems like it's going to be called amrita yoga, and will be located in mall-hattan on 4th ave. around 13th st. if i can find out who else will be teaching there, i'll let you know!
for those who don't know jodie, you should. she teaches a spiritual yoga informed by iyengar but based on a fun, challenging, and inspiring vinyasa style.
Thursday, August 15, 2002
stop the presses & the secrets of metabolism. . .
alert: just received an incredible review of a california coffee, supreme bean. someone i respect intensely has just told me this is the best coffee he's ever, ever had. call or email for the catalog. try this one pronto; i intend to.
i've always wondered about the different effects coffee has on different people. obviously, everyone has a unique metabolism.
however, i've pondered whether those who can drink 6 or even 10 cups of coffee a day with nary a twitch or toss in their sleep were born that way, or developed a tolerance. like many people, i've personally experienced that when i was in college, i could drink pots and pots of coffee with little effect, whereas when i turned 30, that 4th cup would keep me up a little later. meanwhile, mr. right has had great trouble with even small amounts of caffeine for most of his life.
now i'm down to 1 or 2 cups a day, and i demand a higher-quality, more rewarding cup. i'm drinking less coffee not because it bothers me, as much as health studies suggest that women shouldn't drink more than 3 cups a day anyway. i also tend to drink it in the morning, because i find that if i have any an hour or so before yoga, my balance poses aren't quite as nice.
so i was pleased today to read that science has discovered the reason coffee effects us all differently: it all depends on how the caffeine binds with a brain chemical, a protein called darpp-32. the combination of darpp-32 and caffeine inhibits another brain substance, kinase a. what surprised me about the article however was the speculation that the amount and effect of these chemicals seemed to vary by genetics: mice bred to lack the darpp-32 were totally immune to coffee!
clearly other mechanisms must also be involved; this would explain why so many of us have the experience of our caffeine tolerance decreasing as we age. . .
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
i've written here a lot about how colombian coffee farmers are struggling, about social unrest in the coffee sector in latin america, etc. so today i wanted to give you a good-news story about a colombian coffee farmer who's going to make it through these tough times with a high-quality, organic coffee. inspiring.
back on the subject of bread -- when i went to rome myself last year, i clearly remember walking across the street from my little hotel into the nearest nabe espresso bar and chowing down a couple of the ubiquitous roman tramezzino, or white-bread tea-sandwiches. these common roman snacks are surprisingly delicious, even tho' frankly i would prefer them on ciabatta.
this article has a nice discussion of them. you could reproduce them at home if you had a pullman bread pan, and made a high-quality white sandwich bread (in french, pan de mie). luckily, pullman pans aren't hard to find. . .
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
ancient bakery found
archaeologists in egypt report that they have found the oldest bakery to date, complete with intact utensils and equipment. it appears the ancient egyptians made three kinds of bread: a yeast-raised flatbread for daily eating; a kind similar to pita bread for divine offerings; and a ceremonial barley bread that was buried in tombs to feed the dead as their souls journeyed on ra's solar barque.
the pita-style bread seems to have been used for temple offerings, and was decorated with an ear-shaped design to help the ancient gods hear the supplicant's prayers, according to this interesting article. a recipe for an ancient egyptian-style barley-and-whole-wheat flatbread accompanies this fascinating piece.
as for the pita, you can make it! long-time readers know i always encourage people to make their own real bread. here's a helpful how-to. note that the pocket doesn't always form correctly; this bread takes some practice and a little luck. but if you can't make your own pita, the best store-bought is widely said to be attila's perfect pita, available from whole foods or -- i hate to say it -- dean & deluca.
Monday, August 12, 2002
not a red herring
recently i had the privilege of talking about the coffee price depression and its resulting horrible effects with one of the nation's premier independent roasters. among the problems we discussed was the fact that in latin america, many former coffee farmers are now growing illegal drugs, like coca, to avoid hunger, bankruptcy and loss of their family lands.
the roaster replied that this issue is a "red herring." with all due respect, i have to disagree. nearly every 2 weeks i see another news article discussing the rise of coca production; the reason given is nearly always the low price of coffee.
let's work this out. at what appear to be current market prices, a farmer can get about US$1.82 per pound (half a kilo) for coca from narco-traffickers. meanwhile, most quality arabica coffee is worth less than US$0.50 cents a pound. fair-trade coffee programs pay the farmer about US$1.26 a pound. the cost of producing coffee is between US$0.80 and US$0.90 a pound.
these facts seem pretty clear; if a farmer wants to stay legal and keep his land, then fair-trade programs will allow him to do this. the fair-trade price is 30% less than the coca price, true, but still close enough to encourage farmers to stay legit.
since much of the cocaine that will be manufactured from the increased coca crop will end up on streets in the u.s.a., i'd have to say that those concerned with containing our country's drug problem need to focus in on the coffee situation, by expanding fair-trade programs to places that are not currently eligible, or helping farmers change production and organization to make them eligible for fair-trade programs. for example, the u.s.a. has given troubled colombia US$1.3 billion over the last two years for coca elimination programs in the "war on drugs." maybe more of this money should go to a market-oriented coffee program.
in this light, the berkeley initiative to force retailers in that city to sell only fair-trade coffee appears less silly. not that i support the plan, since it seems unenforceable. but when you're in your local roasters, considering what coffee to buy this week, i'd encourage you to remember this issue, and consider buying fair-trade. . .
Sunday, August 11, 2002
everything i knew was wrong. . .
flexion, extension, rotation, stability. these were the four foci of senior iyengar teacher francois raoult's hip workshop this morning at yoga people in brooklyn.
francois approached a number of poses to show how they are affected by and in turn affect the hip area. these included poses not normally associated with the hip, such as headstand and side plank, which he briefly discussed as hip stabilizing postures.
the core message of the workshop: sinking the head of femurs back into the hip. when done correctly, francois demonstrated, this takes all the strain out of the upper and lower back. for example, he had us all begin in a simple half-dog at the wall. that is, with our ankles below our hips, our hips level and square, he had us bend forward and place our arms on the wall as in downward facing dog.
then placing a block between our very upper thighs, he instructed us to move the block backwards through our legs by sinking our femurs back and engaging our inner thigh muscles. francois showed how most people -- even fairly accomplished practitioners -- often do this very basic movement incorrectly, so that they lose the "downward arch" or transect in the lower back, from the sacrum to the 5th vertebrae. this section of the back should hang like a hammock, with the lowest point being at the 3rd vertebrae.
looking at various students as each tried the pose, it was easy to see that instead of moving the femurs back, most attempted to sink down in their mid or upper back, even though they believed they were doing the action correctly. this meant not only were they straining that "hammock" but also, more subtly, the ligaments around the shoulders and shoulder blades. over time -- say 3 or 5 years -- this strain would lead to a serious ligament injury. all bad! it was an excellent illustration of the power of unconscious habit.
alas, i was one of the all bad supermodels in this. francois is a tall frenchman with a forward gaze, a greying ponytail, and a lilting, lulling accent. he addresses each student directly, almost brusquely, but with such a sense of humor you find yourself not minding one bit. you end up laughing with him at your own mistakes.
a good example of this was in supta virasana. because of my recent injury, francois told me to sit this pose out and to avoid it until i had healed. he suggested i take princess pose, with my legs up the wall, close my eyes and practice my breathing. "when i tell people to do this, they never do," he said with a comic sigh. "they always peek, these competitive people. they should relax at this moment and get a life, you know?"
so as i'm lying there, naturally i peek as he gives instructions for supta virasana. "you," he said in mock horror, "you're peeking! you can relax in the now, in the yoga too you know. this is the point of my story!"
francois had in fact never met me just 45 minutes before, but in that short time, he saw right to the heart of my practice -- too competitive, goal-oriented, fixed on other than the present moment.
another example -- i was doing the half-dog all wrong. francois pounced. "move the block back," he said. "do it." "francois, i don't know how to move my femur." he smiled at me, crinkling up his eyes and with a little conspiratorial laugh, he said, "you have a brain, don't you? when you tell your arm to move, it moves immediately. use your brain to move the block. concentrate."
then francois promptly put the edge of his hand in my hip crease and gave a push up as well as back. for the first time in my 2-1/2 years of doing yoga i felt my the top of thigh slide. suddenly i felt free. always in yoga i had felt my hips knotted up and jammed in forward bends. for the very first time i understood what yoga teachers meant by "space in the joint." and instantly my lower back sank into the correct "hammock."
many people are turned off by iyengar yoga because they find this approach -- "move your femur" or "rotate this freckle past this hair" confusing and inflexible. sometimes yogis will diss iyengar teachers with the term "yoga nazis." and while francois did insist on these niceties of alignment, he did so always with humor and a clear explanation of the anatomical reasons for the nitpicking. this made for a much different experience then i had the one time i took a class at the iygenar institute.
as he went through all the common mistakes in various asanas, how the poor alignment of a foot put too much stress on the front of the ankle and how that moved up the muscles to pull the inside ligaments of the knee, i suddenly understood how i had come to twist my meniscus last summer.
as he explained the proper way to lift your leg in put it across the other thigh for poses like ardha matseyasana and lotus, i also instantly saw how i had pulled my piriformis last fall.
(for the record, francois has you take the leg you're going to move by the inside of the ankle, and then lift if high up, with your knee square, towards the top of your shoulder, almost as if you were going to move to compass pose. bring the ankle to your temple, or to the center of your forehead. very slowly bring the heel down to where it wants to rest on the other leg.
let your knee bend slowly, softly. if your foot has landed on or toward the top of the opposite thigh, press that thigh outward with your hand, and nestle your foot into the hip crease if you can. look at your knee. is it off the ground? put a block under it and stop. do you feel anything at all in your knee? then stop, and reverse the movements to leave the pose. only when you are at this stage with ease should you rotate your hip in, to bring the bent knee toward the midline of the body.)
long time readers may recall i pulled by piriformis in ardha matseyasana. and i did it by letting my knee hang unsupported and then twisting forward to touch my toes. in short, as he explained all the poses, for the first time i saw exacty how and why each of my injuries had happened!
i highly recommend francois raoult's workshops, even for people who think they dislike iyengar yoga. his explanations are far from dogmatic and while his humor can seem sharp, it's infectious. we laughed a lot.
this fall he's going to chicago and san francisco. check out his schedule at open sky yoga. if you can't make a public workshop when he's in your area, try to set up a private lesson with him. his list price for a private hour is only $80; in my brief but powerful experience his expert eye will diagnose and deconstruct the errors in your practice in just a few minutes. . .