Saturday, September 28, 2002
a day with pizza . . .
with all my heart and soul i meant to get up this morning, make espresso, and then filled with inspiration from yesterday, create the ultimate chicago stuffed swiss chard pizza for mr. right.
but the weather so perfect, warm and sunny with a refreshingly light breeze from the harbor, that instead we ran down to have pizza at grimaldi's and then out to ride the 1912 carousel in prospect park.
having a saturday pizza for lunch at grimaldi's is proof that brooklyn remains a small town. we all dutifully sat in line for a table for 2 in one of the 6 cracked vinyl chairs on the sidewalk, basking our faces in the sun like turtles on a log. when those ahead get their table, everyone solemnly stands up, moves down a chair, and plops back down in perfect time. the tourists waiting for the double-decker bus stand near the curb with ice cream dripping down their wrists.
we brooklyn natives merely wait our turn for pizza delectation in the spotty shade of the sidewalk trees. although fulton there is a 4-lane semi-highway, few cars actually come down. if you crane your neck back sharply you can see the brooklyn's bridge's tracery embroider the azure backdrop above.
a guy covered in flour comes out the door past the jukebox and vaguely gestures you in. st. peter himself couldn't look so good. . .but still, the park beckoned, and after a pleasant hour at the boathouse, i was thrilled to ride hildita the wonder horse. mr. right charged ahead as his steed, rose, whirled to the tunes of the antique calliope.
that's what a day with pizza is really like. . .
Friday, September 27, 2002
dear readers, my stomach pitched and rolled in utter horror as i read the news: pizza hut is taking on the traditional chicago-style deep-dish pizza. perhaps best exemplified by the double-crusted spinach pie that has long made edwardo's famous, the chicago "stuffed pie" is a sacred regional item, deriving from the scilian sfincione. even as a new yorker i understand this.
i urge you -- don't do it! i'm begging you! please! stop this abomination in its tracks. make a solemn pledge to yourself to always eat real pizza. . .
if you don't want to make your own chicago pie (with swiss chard) or sfincione, which is simplicity itself, then at least do yourself the favor of fed-exing the real thing.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
chocolate = happiness
i certainly like the theme of the new proposed hershey chocolate ad campaign. who wouldn't? however i might disagree with the idea that a hershey bar is the platonic ideal of chocolate. . .the ad agency just isn't gonna make that one fly for me.
normally the markets aren't my idea of an interesting topic, but this year has been an extraordinary one for the cocoa market. first a british trader makes himself a gazillionaire by cornering the market in cocoa. apparently he bought himself a fancy long-term weather forecast that showed bad weather would reduce the harvest, and started buying cocoa futures like mad.
now the growing social instability in the ivory coast, which grows nearly half of the planet's chocolate, is pushing up the value of his investments even more. all this had led to worried news articles that the price we pay for chocolate candy would skyrocket.
no, no, no. i seriously doubt it! here's why: the cost of cocoa is just 10 percent of the end price of our chocolate bars. while droste and nestle have raised chocolate prices about 4 percent, it doesn't seem like that's being passed on to the consumer right now. and even if it were, say you're paying US$2 for a lindt bar or US$3 for valrhona. a 4-percent increase would only be something like 12 cents! a small price to pay for happiness. . .
long-time readers know i've spent what seems like years now nattering about the problems caused by the world-price depression in coffee. how the low prices are leading to bankruptcies, starvation, the loss of quality coffee plantations, forced migrations, an increase in the production of illegal drugs. . .all that bad stuff i've talked about here endlessly. i feared the mainstream press would never pick the problem up.
but starting this summer with an article in the wall st. journal, the story is slowly gaining ground in the major media. which appears to be par for the course this whole year, that some of the most interesting and profound stories (enron!) have started in the business pages before they broke out to the wider social and political scene. . .
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
la vera pizza
"pizza should reflect neapolitan traditions, if it wants to be called pizza," said mario folliero (on the right), a writer devoted to chronicling pizza lore. "there are canons! there are rules! everything else is a trick."
this perfectly captures the tone of a charming piece on how neapolitans view pizza as an essential and concise expression of their unique spirit. the rare food article that made me smile.
tired of my pizza crust recipe and sauce? try one from an italian pizza site. note that they expect you to use a "weak" or low-gluten flour -- the italian 00 is just about 7-8 percent gluten, whereas american all-purpose flour is usually 11-12 percent.
so you may find that you have to adjust the water a bit from their recipe. you'll definitely want to halve the recipe, if not quarter it, because as written you'll get about 6 lbs. of dough! "rising powder" is what we would call "yeast."
they also encourage you to use only a registered, authentic mozzarella (d.o.c.) from a certified producer. by this, they mean a fresh mozzarella made with buffalo milk. the fresh mozzarella we so often see here in local markets at home is made from cow's milk. italians don't call this mozzarella at all, but rather fior di latte.
buffalo milk has a higher fat content than cow, and so the cheese is creamier and melts more beautifully. . .if you find your buffala is a little damp, follow italian practice and squeeze it out a bit in a dish towel. press it lightly to make it more square for easier slicing -- grating the cheese is a huge no-no!
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
coffee, light and dark
let's start out with the light side of coffee today, shall we? an interesting article ponders a minor aspect of finnish coffee culture: the lack of table service in coffeehouses and cafes.
for those who aren't long-time readers, scandanavia as a whole appears to be in the middle of an amazing coffee renaissance, which may one of the reasons a dane walked off this year with the title of world barista champion.
the author finds that part of the reason is finland's traditional preference for speedy self-service, as well as the fact that taxes make hiring and training employees expensive there. cafe owners interviewed note that adding table service would increase the price of coffee by as much as 10 percent.
way cheap! i thought to myself as i read this piece. to get table service at many an italian cafe will double your bill. the italians understand that when you position yourself at an advantageous spot on the piazza you are paying for more than the coffee, the waiter, the china -- you are paying for the right to be seen luxuriating in some prime social space.
in another interesting note -- the world's second-most important commodity does illuminate the social fabric in surprising ways -- aspen colorado is pondering a ban on all caffeine and coffee in public schools. even high schools, even for teachers, even at football games! the article doesn't make clear exactly where this proposal comes from, but seems to suggest that it stems from a desire to protect youngsters from early exposure to coke and pepsi. as if they're not drinking it at home? buying it at the 7-11 as they walk to school? at least some people are protesting. . .
i sort of have to wonder what's going on in aspen, anyway -- they recently considered banning yoga as part of physical education, but fortunately decided to keep yoga in the curriculum once a week. if they were interested in banning soft drinks to promote youngsters' health, you'd think they would have been all over yoga, considering the rate of obesity among children these days. . .but no, the school district's attorney had to ensure that yoga asanas don't violate the constitution!
the recent oxfam report that blasted major multinationals for not doing more to alleviate the human suffering caused by the world-price depression in coffee and suggested the producing nations begin burning bags of excess coffee to reduce supply has generated much news. to follow up that report, oxfam held a conference with the coffee sector in ethiopia. the coffee traders gave their approval to the idea, but of course what's the point of that? all coffee-producing countries would have to agree to destroy some surplus. and how to enforce that agreement? it couldn't be done.
however, the report of the meeting is interesting in that an agent for one of those multinationals, kraft foods, the owners of brands of supermarket coffee like maxwell house and yuban, did pin the blame for the crisis on the world bank's decision to encourage vietnam to enter the coffee sector and flood the market in an effort to generate foreign exchange with which it could pay off the loans the world bank gave the country to develop its coffee industry.
that's an interesting circle of events, isn't it? of course the world bank, stocked like a squire's trout pond with economists, also knows that many of the other countries it lends to rely on coffee exports for foreign capital to pay off their own debts to the bank. so those brilliant economists are not only ruining vietnam but also all the other coffee countries, creating a deepening spiral of debt and economic instability. unlike many others, i'm not claiming some sort of imperialist evil in the world bank's actions -- why credit to malice what can be more easily explained by stupidity? lifting the poor is all good, but economics is scarcely a hard science. . .
still, even as oxfam and the coffee agents chat, hunger looms at the edges for ethiopian coffee farmers, many of whom are actually selling the tin roofs off their houses to pay for food, or just abandoning coffee altogether for the drug known as qat or khat.
Monday, September 23, 2002
coffee as candy
there's no doubt that specialty coffee drinks -- the mocha foie gras double hazelnut lattes with creme fraiche over ice -- have caught on in a big way all across the united states and canada. but there are regional differences: on the west coast, there is a strong movement afoot to return to a more "pure" form of coffee, to demand higher quality beverages that are more authentic to the italian experience. those who haven't yet chosen this "traditional" route tend to ask for soy milk in their coffees.
in the midwest, the beverages are super-super-sized with extra whipped cream and no soy in sight. here in the east my personal observation is that people are drinking the super-sweet caramel lattes, but they are asking for the smaller sizes and almost always take skim milk. soy milk is only slowly catching on here.
now i learn that there's a north-south difference as well: many of these drinks contain some chocolate or cocoa. in the north, this is always bittersweet chocolate and dutch-type cocoa. but in the south, the chocolate appears to be predominately sweetened hershey's-type chocolate, and the cocoa is also slightly sweet.
further, our friends in dixie appear to prefer complex specialty drinks with strong candy flavors based on popular treats such as the milky way and almond joy. i think this style of coffee-drink-as-liquid-candy may be unique to the south right now.
Sunday, September 22, 2002
tampers on sale!
i know that the subject of espresso tamping is controversial -- some swear by a 30-lb. tamp, others say tamp more gently, and finally, in italy, the baristas scarcely tamp at all. also, there's the question of how the tamper should be shaped: flat bottom to ensure the coffee is evenly saturated, or a curved bottom to solidly push the edges of the coffee against the side of the basket and prevent water from channeling through the side. . .
greater minds than mine have discussed these issues at length. if you wanna tamp, and look stylish doing it, get yourself a good, heavy tamper. this makes the job effortless, whether you're a sensitive soul who treats your espresso tenderly or if you think a one-handed handstand is the way to go. i have a lovely stainless steel and rosewood tamper from reg barber. i love it.
now this little luxury is available to you at a discount! that's right -- jim p. at my favorite espresso accessory supplier, 1st-line equipment, has a great tamper sale. don't miss out!