Saturday, January 04, 2003
how nice of william grimes, food critic of the new york times, to deign to drop by jacques torres. yes, after torres has been open 2 years, grimes finally found the time to cross that darn brooklyn bridge! amazing -- did you know we have phones in brooklyn? and we don't speak dutch any more here either!
you'd think the times would treat us with a little more. . .oh, never mind, it's the times. new york for them consists of houston st. to 96th st. in mall-hattan. and since the vaunted editor howell raines has decided to turn the times into some weird branch of usa today (but with a slightly larger vocabulary), i shouldn't expect things to improve. . .
so grimes shows up and raves about the pithiviers. actually, jacques' pithiviers aren't that hot, but in all truth, i've never been a big pithiviers fan anyway. but the chocolate croissants; now those are to die for. not to mention the chocolate and fig tarts. . .
oh, and he does sell chocolates, grimes. you should try some!
Friday, January 03, 2003
more yoga wear
every time you turn around, there's more yoga wear! in general this is good news: for example danskin, mostly associated with tiny dance leotards, has now expanded its yoga clothing size selection to size 26. yoga has always been for everyone, and i'm glad to see that danskin understands that.
also hopping on the yoga wear bandwagon is sara lee, not one of my favorite companies, due to the business practices of their coffee division. sara lee owns many brands, including hanes hose and champion athletic wear, which offers clothes to size 4X. now they are opening a new line of stores, inner self, to provide lingerie and yoga clothes for those who are sick of the fake-y victoria's secret silliness. at least these inner self yoga clothes are somewhat reasonably priced.
for those that dislike a lot of lycra/spandex in their yoga clothes, there's always blue canoe, which offers clothes to a size 18. some of the blue canoe pants are only 2% lycra -- enough to give the pants shape, but not enough so they feel like a girdle at the waist. . .
you pure fabric and organic cotton people can find nice clothes at gaiam and back at blue canoe. for example, the pure silk unisex yoga pant. are you a hemp lover? check out these hemp yoga pants. . .
Thursday, January 02, 2003
the price of bread
as a long-time fan of poilane bread myself, i was interested to see that london has finally caught onto poilane's traditional french country bread.
this article makes a huge deal about the cost of this huge 4.2-lb. hand-made loaf -- US$16 -- but frankly, i was envious, since here in new york it can sell for US$25 and on the net it costs about US$35!
from poilane itself in france expect to pay about US$40, mostly for shipping. . .
since it is basically 4 loaves of regular bread in size, even at US$25 it can seem reasonable, when compared to the bread bought at say the massively overpriced dean & deluca, where you can end up paying US$7 for a 1-lb. loaf that's not nearly as good. since bread freezes well, to buy a 4-lb. loaf isn't as crazy as it may at first seem. . .
finally, here's the refreshing story of a retiree who bakes bread to raise money for her local public library. US$5 a loaf seems steep for bread machine loaves -- in light of that poilane above -- but hey more power to her! perhaps this idea could be adapted for your own community project by one of you ambitious readers.
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
happy new year!
i rang in the new year at home with jacques torres bon-bons and the usual glass of bubbly. hooray! a new year always gives us a reason to stop a moment, to appreciate our loved ones, our community, and all the pizzas and coffee to come. . .
actually, i've always preferred a relaxing new year's day to the crazy eve. and after having a nice morning cappucino, i set about planning what to make for a grand new year's day dinner. i had some lamb shanks in the freezer. after careful thought, i decided on a moroccan dinner, a sweet cinnamon-tinged tagine.
normally, tagines take hours and hours. but with the wonderfu kuhn-rikon pressure cooker, it takes all of 40 minutes. (and if you want to get fancy, like i do, build in some time to let the fat rise to the top of the broth, so you can skim it off nicely for a perfect sauce.) yet it tastes just as good as if you'd spent all day on it.
now my friends who are into slow food will protest that tagine is supposed to take all day. however, i have to say that part of being a concerned cook is thinking about the environment. this is one of the reasons we prefer organic vegetables, yes? and this is how i feel about the pressure cooker.
instead of cooking for 3 or 4 hours on a gas flame, i cook for 40 minutes. that natural gas comes from somewhere -- just not the alaskan wildlife refuge if i have anything to say about it. it's a simple case of voting with your lifestyle. i can easily conserve these precious resources, enjoy my day more, and still get the great flavor i'm seeking.
it's all win! another round of dark chocolate caramels for everybody!
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
long-time readers may recall that due to my particular circumstances, i don't have the liberty to roast at home. and i'm fortunate to be able to source good, fresh-roasted specialty coffee nearby or by mail order.
but i'm aware that not everyone lives in an area where specialty roasters are easily available, and many sensibly balk at the cost of mail ordering coffee every week or two. for these people, home roasting may be appropriate. you can easily roast your coffee at home. in fact, until the depression, home roasting was the norm in the u.s.a.
there are several devices available for home roasting. some people do it just a plain-old hot air popcorn popper. but there is a little smoke, a little paper-y dust (called "chaff") that comes from the beans, and an intense scent of toasting. other appliances -- like the fresh roast, alp, the rosto, and hearthware roaster -- are well-known but they don't always deal effectively with the smoke, chaff or strong toasting odor. further, some of these devices have a history of breaking down.
thus, i was intrigued to hear about the new zach & dani's home roaster. it has an attached catalytic converter and chaff collector. early adopters on alt.coffee report that it emits very little smoke, almost no odor, and is in fact chaff-free. the zach & dani roaster is being sold via infomercials on foodtv, which immediately aroused all my suspicions. however, the early adopters report that the company seems trustworthy, and quickly responds to comments and problems.
since the early adopters are very positive, so i watched a bit of the infomercial this morning. hmm. interesting. if i ever were in a position to roast at home, i would consider the zach & dani roaster -- but i would call to ask for the roaster alone.
you don't need the cheap little grinder they give you (you long-time readers already have a good grinder at home, yes?) or to buy green beans from them. there are many fine purveyors of green coffee beans on the net, particularly sweet marias.
Monday, December 30, 2002
a reader, noting my ode to da vinci syrups, wanted to point out a new syrup line recently available in the u.s.a. most of us will probably have to buy it over the internet, as it doesn't seem to be widely sold yet: routin 1883 (flash required).
routin has a somewhat limited list of flavors for coffee, and they don't seem to have any sugar-free syrups. their coffee flavors include the expected cinnamon, almond, hazelnut, pistachio, amaretto, macademia nut, chocolate, vanilla, caramel, etc.
the unexpected flavor is rose, which i might prefer a to use in a chocolate truffle or poaching dried apricots to serve with marscapone as a winter dessert. but that's me; i imagine the middle eastern market would love a good rose syrup to pour over sweetmeats like baklava.
anyway, i'll put the vanilla on my list of syrups to try. while i don't often take syrup myself, it's often useful to have around for guests, or to help introduce people to espresso and espresso-based drinks.
after all, part of the espresso concept is that you can have it expressly made for you to your taste. thus part of the skill of being a barista is being able to make custom drinks for people that they will enjoy. to have people over to your house, make them some coffee, and then force a pure espresso on them without any option for milk or sugar seems extreme to me. and a good way to lose friends!
especially since in italy nearly everyone takes some form of sugar in their coffee -- often quite a bit. in sicily you will commonly see people put 3 or 4 big cubes of sugar in a 1 oz. coffee! and while cappucinos are generally not taken after breakfast in italy, i've seen many people in naples respectably ask for a caffe macchiato, with just a "stain" of milk, throughout the day. . .
finally, we have to be honest: few people have really ever had a decent espresso and so many are afraid to try one when offered. for more adventurous people a dash of a syrup that compliments the flavors inherent in the coffee blend and topped with a little decorative cap of whipped cream can be a toe over the threshold to greater things. . .
for others, a caramel latte may be a better start. either way, the point is to make your guests happy while subtly underscoring the point that coffee can be good!
Sunday, December 29, 2002
"it's a very romantic product to handle," sez the coffee trader. it's true: coffee can be as romantic as wine -- nothing is as cozy and domestic, as close and loving, as having that delicious morning cup on a comfy couch in your jammies while you read the paper with your loved one.
however, the reality of the coffee crisis as documented in the article this quote comes from is far from sweet. and the article closes on what for me is a sour note: "the beautiful thing about the commodities market is that these things sort themselves out," sez another trader nonchalantly. "it's the purest form of supply and demand."
ah! but it might not sort itself out -- when the farmers have gone bankrupt and pulled up their carefully tended, shade-growing, 50-year-old arabica trees, when the coffee pickers have migrated illegally to chicago, what will be left? who will grow the quality specialty coffee?
won't nestle or another member of the "big four" just buy the land cheap and plant sun-grown robusta under contract with an agribusiness? isn't coffee overall diminished by this prospect? this problem merits more consideration than the article gives. . .