Saturday, December 07, 2002
had a chance this afternoon to walk down through the slushy snow and biting winter wind to jacques torres' place and have a cup of hot chocolate. all yummy.
my only fault with his magical elixir is that he heats the milk too hot, so you often get that obnoxious casein skin on the top of the liquid. jacques, watch how you treat that milk, ok?
it was also interesting to see the holiday gift rush beginning, a swarms of well-dressed ladies in their ralph lauren down parkas swept the elegant mahogany stained shelves clear of jaques' hot chocolate mix. the charming tins are an unusual orange-sienna and brown, and come in two flavors -- classic and spicy, or "wicked."
well, they do make fine giving and drinking. . .
Friday, December 06, 2002
dr. ernie speaks & yoga
once or twice a year it seems that dr. ernesto illy, the coffee genius, gives an interview in english. mostly interviewers don't know what to do with the awesome illy, so the resulting articles vary in quality. this interview's about average, but worth reading. so read it here.
i'm still surprised at how little most doctors seem to know about yoga. still, here's a decent article on the question every yoga beginner has: can i lose weight and get fit with yoga? the answer is definitely yes. it may take a tad longer than with, say, spinning, but you get a more full-body benefit. (btw, i don't know what the good doctor means when he discusses "the newer types of yoga rather than hatha." power yoga, ashtanga yoga -- these are all part of the hatha universe. oh well.)
finally, for the large number of my readers in the u.k., is a very nice article on finding a qualified yoga teacher and beginning yoga from the head of the official u.k. teacher certifying agency, the british wheel of yoga.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
as we enter into the full of the cough and cold season, dear readers, take heed. when a persistent cough bothers you, chocolate may contain your cure.
i'm not making this up: a phytochemical in chocolate, the well-known theobromine, has been proven to be a more effective cough medication than even codeine.
researchers at the imperial college of medicine in london gave participants either theobromine, codeine, or a placebo to treat their coughs. the chocolate substance proved most effective.
however, the head of the scientific team, dr. omar sharif usmani can't quite explain how theobromine works to calm a hacking cough. and while he claims a theobromine-based cough medicine wouldn't taste like chocolate, i say, why not?
who wouldn't love a chocolate cough drop?
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
big jeff puzzles the times
this tells you a lot about me -- i understand exactly where jeffrey steingarten is coming from, which is perhaps why i've always been right with him, even though i can't convert my entire house to fit it for a commercial deck oven and 8 burner restaurant stove as he famously has. and it's very interesting that the new york times as usual apparently has little clue as to what jeffrey is doing. (register for this one; it's worth it.)
i'm also deeply surprised that the times has never heard of domori. while it was hard to find a couple of years ago, heavens, now it's everywhere. i mean, they even sell it on my street corner, at my local garden of eden here in brooklyn. get with it, nyt!
of course, i will take the liberty of disagreeing with the great pastry chef pierre herme on this one; domori doesn't always do it for me.
finally, that alex witchel could leave any gianduja untouched is frankly shocking. some people don't deserve the chocolate they're served. but jeffery was bold; he suffered the foolish and patiently tried to educate. . .
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
love letter to da vinci. . .
syrups, that is. yes, i ordered 2 bottles of syrup from their website. and the customer service is great, even tho' the ups shipping is not. which is not at all da vinci's fault. (plea to the da vinci people: consider offering your loyal customers fed ex ground as an either-or alternative, please!)
so i purchased the syrup expeditiously, after considering their long and nicely detailed comparison of flavors. in the end, i went with the dulce de leche and the famed white chocolate. they have excellent customer service email -- i immediately received an order confirmation, and then the next day a shipping notice with order number and ups tracking link. excellent. a day later i received a third mail saying my payment had been processed. all good.
the problem, of course, was ups. while the shipping was supposed to be 3 days, it was not. this was totally a ups problem. when is 3 day select not 3 days? when it's ups! i've dealt with ups problems before, which always involves a long wait and indifferent phone reps. so i called da vinci itself and spoke to the wonderful jenny, who should probably be sainted.
maybe it's just a co-incidence, but the ups guy, who had come to our building at his normal time and left his little yellow note without apparently actually bothering to ring to see if either the super, the doorman or mr. right was actually around, strangely re-appeared an unheard-of second time -- totally outside his routine -- with the syrups!
all hail da vinci gourmet! why am i buying their excellent product mail order? because barnes and noble no longer carries it -- they are now devoted solely to that yucky-tasting fontana syrup made by starbucks.
other local stores sell the torani and monin syrups, but frankly, i just don't find them as tasty. (although i have to say that both of these lines offer some interesting flavors, like monin's unique roasted chestnut!) i've never tried the dulce de leche syrup before, so i'll report here shortly. but people i otherwise trust inform me it makes a very yummy latte. . .
Monday, December 02, 2002
chocolate -- music of the tongue?
i've been meaning to mention this study for a few days now: mri scans have revealed that chocolate and music affect the same brain areas. researchers at mcgill university in canada have identified the neural cluster reponsible for processing the sensual pleasures of sex, drugs, chocolate and music.
interesting, no? dr. robert zatorre (and here) published this recent study.
could this mean that chocolate might be used to help treat drug addictions? i wonder. . .could chocolate's delicious power work its magic to soothe the craving for illegal drugs by stimulating this brain area?
and for my readers in the u.k., specifically scotland, rush to edinburgh's famed plaisirs du chocolat. the highly-regarded chocolatier bernard espouy is closing his doors; the long hard work of chocolate-making has taken a toll on his health. get his delights while you still can!
finally, senator pat leahy is still pushing congress to encourage the bush administration to do more about the coffee crisis. at long last it seems that this problem is being considered at the higher levels of our government. but will they do more than pass feel-good "sense-of-the-senate" resolutions? is part of the solution for the u.s.a. to rejoin the "coffee cartel," along the lines of the i.c.o.?
this is a controversial question, dear readers -- to massively over-simplify, ronald reagan withdrew the u.s.a. from the cartel agreement, arguing that we were in effect subsidizing bad coffee with higher prices, and that this amounted to an unfair tax on the american consumer. many coffee experts agree this was what was happening. . .and they argue that a new "opec for coffee" won't serve consumers' interests.
but with new quality standards in place, would the u.s.a. be justified in re-joining the international coffee agreement? with nestle encouraging mexican farmers to pull up high-quality arabica beans to plant low-quality, bad-tasting robusta for contract, is it in the interests of consumers now to do everything to protect and nourish the sources of high-quality, specialty, arabica coffee?
otherwise, the robusta growers with their mega-corporate contracts will scrape by, while quality arabica producers go bankrupt. this leaves us consumers with no choice, no avenue for quality coffee. . .the i.c.o. at least is attempting to raise quality standards, to enforce them on a larger scale. . .a difficult question indeed. . .for the i.c.o.'s take on the crisis, read here.
Sunday, December 01, 2002
regional coffee styles
although the mall culture and tv here in the u.s.a. has commoditizied and blandified everything, to the point that often you can't tell whether you're in south jersey, south texas, or south alaska, regional coffee styles still exist.
in some cases this is in spite of starbucks, and in other cases, becasue of it. for example, the new southern culture of ultra-sweet candy-flavored dessert coffee drinks. clearly this shows some influence from the starbucks specialty drinks, like the caramel macchiato, etc. but southerners have taken this idea and modified to meet their own traditions, adding specifically southern flavors (praline) and making drinks ever sweeter to meet the intense sweet tooth long associated with the south.
obviously when we think u.s.a. coffee culture, we think of starbucks in seattle, and perhaps of the bay area beatniks and hippies that created the peet's culture. in the mid-west, however, there remains a strong dunkin donuts drip coffee culture; their super-super-sized espresso drinks may come from the gloria jean's at the mall, which seems to sell mostly seasonally themed flavored beans, like pumpkin spice.
while here in new york, of course, there's diner coffee, and the coffee you buy from metal carts on the street corner, traditionally served in the little blue cups with the greek key design. i've written about these regional cultures before, especially in the use of soy milk and kinds of chocolate.
but perhaps right now the most interesting coffee culture is in miami -- where the cuban coffee experience meets starbucks. thus the ancient latin tradition is galvanized into a higher quality, while offering an alternative to the bland starbucks atmosphere. this interesting fusion is happening before our eyes. it's exciting, which is clearly one reason the colombian coffee federation has decided to open its first juan-valdez-themed coffee shop there. (again, i've mentioned this before.)
i'm deeply interested in regional coffee cultures, especially the new ones that are forming in india, russia, china, japan, and korea, as these formerly tea-drinking nations meet coffee for the first time. currently this is in the form of the global starbucks expansion, although in india it seems due to the barista chain. readers, please write and tell me about your local coffee culture!
we here in new amsterdam, of course, unlike the rest of america, have been avid coffee drinkers since the 17th century, a time when most of the colonies were drinking english tea. our dutch influence made us new yorkers early coffee lovers; most of america did not switch from tea until the famed boston tea party. thus it pains and puzzles me that we currently do not have a brilliant coffee culture to equal those of seattle and the bay area. . .