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Saturday, May 25, 2002

now what was i saying about brownies?

long-time readers know i've been searching for months for the ultimate brownie recipe. i've seen fancy one from expensive food magazines that call for 3 kinds of chocolate. . . reprints from old 50s homemaker books. . . complex ones from famous pastry chefs. . .

what is the killer brownie? i'm a cake brownie fan, personally, but mr. right loves the classic chewy, fudgy brownies of his retro youth. they should have a firm -- but not hard -- shiny sugar crust, be thick but soft in the center, and have an intense chocolate taste. so i thought i'd found a good candidate here. christopher kimball is a well-known food guru, although i have to say i'm not fond of his writing style. lacks humor to my mind. but i won't hold that against him, if the recipe is good.

while the recipe is dead-simple to make, alas, it suffers several faults, to my mind. first, it has only 4 oz. of chocolate. now, it's true i didn't use the best valrhona for this. perhaps that would have made a difference, and i might in fairness make this again with the noir gastronomie. this would require some alteration of the recipe, so the first time i wanted to make it as the recipe was written.

the only 99% unsweetened i had lying around was a catering brand, icra. and 4 oz. of this stuff just doesn't give you that drop-dead intense chocolate flavor hit i seek. nowadays, we want desserts that look retro, but taste full modern, knockout rich. 4 oz. made me feel like i was standing in line with ration coupons somewhere. . .it's what alex rast would call a "depression special" recipe.

further, if you actually bake the brownies 60 minutes, as kimball suggests, you're gonna burn the edges. nasty. i certainly did, and i carefully lined my light-colored pan in baking parchment. finally, after you've waited that 2 hours to let the brownies set up, the top crust is glass-hard. you could rent it out for hockey. dentists probably paid kimball for this one. . .

so kimball's recipe is a no-go in my book. i'm still looking. . . readers, send me your brownie recipes! i might give this another try with valrhona, however; or i might plunge full out into the requires-an-m.o.f.-it's-that-complicated one from alice medrich that involves a bain marie. . .or, less intimidating, these by famed pastry chef nick malgieri. . .

mr. right was kind enough to deem them edible, but i thought they were just too sad. . .i'm almost mad enough to make another batch to malgieri's recipe on monday! 8 oz. chocolate: that's more like it. however, could 1 c. flour be enough????

posted by fortune | 8:48 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, May 24, 2002

ok, the last serious topic for this week; i promise all this holiday weekend will be brownies and pizza. . .

the international coffee organization wrapped up its most recent meeting in london on what seems to me to be a down note. . .

however, the members finally seem to realize that they have to act in a serious way to encourage consumption, and improve coffee quality. i have to say that i was a tad depressed to discover that in the last 2 years, according to the organization, when coffee prices hit their lowest, that 500,000 coffee workers in mexico and central america alone have lost their jobs. and there's no doubt that these people are crossing borders, as i noted yesterday.

worldwide, 25 million families have been thrown from borderline working poverty into absolute poverty. (think of this as if the entire state of texas had been thrown out of work, and then add another 5 million.) as you can see, dear readers, i am not grousing about some small problem far away. coffee is the world's second-most traded commodity, after oil, and it has tremendous impact on the entire global economic and social situation.

the double whammy here was the fact, from colombia's finance minister juan manuel santos, that of the $3 he paid for a fancy cup of indonesian coffee in downtown london, only 1 cent of that actually was passed back to the coffee farmer. 1 cent.

finally, i've talked before about how new techniques, like promoting the winners of cupping competitions, might help boost farmers' profits and encourage quality coffee. unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be a sure-fire thing. the auction prices from the highest cupping coffees in this week's regional contest for costa rican coffees didn't seem to boost the prices as much as might be hoped. . .

dear readers, what can we do? it would be pointless to sit here and just be bummed out. you can, in your own small way, improve the lot of a few coffee farmers by buying fair-trade coffees from your favorite local roaster. fair-trade coffees are even sold at starbucks and peets, as well as other major coffee chains. while this clearly is just a small gesture, it does help a few people. which is better than doing nothing, while trade organizations and development agencies work with affected governments to create more effective programs to aid coffee farmers and workers on a more widespread basis.

posted by fortune | 6:24 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, May 23, 2002

yay! my miss rancilio espresso cups are on their way, after a small shipping bobble. . .

they should be here tuesday. . .i'll report in-depth at that time.

you know, i loathe getting overly serious, but we really have to talk once again about the social problems caused by the world-low in coffee prices, and the coffee glut. until now i'm sure the majority of my readers in the u.s.a thought of this as merely my wacky liberal concern over a small problem far far away. but we're a connected little ball now, my friends, and the coffee depression is already part of our immigration problem.

of course as a new yorker, i'm pro-immigration. to my mind, anyone who has the gumption to show up here in new york is the kind of person who deserves a chance to find a job and become an american. there's no doubt the majority of my fellow new yorkers feel this way. however, large movements of people do cause social instability; the collapse of the mexican rural economy and social structure is not a desirable thing.

to prevent a flood of coffee farmers heading north, the mexican government is offering financial incentives for the farmers to plant timber trees instead of coffee. however, let's be honest. i suspect the mexican farmers will think like some of their fellows in colombia: why waste years growing relatively low-priced timber when you can turn a nice quick profit with . . .illegal drugs. even better, take the government timber incentive, and in the middle of your timber farms, tuck in a few more interesting crops. . .

we see this same result in ethiopia. there, in the historic homeland of coffee, farmers are pulling up their coffee trees and growing chat, (aka "qat," "khat," or "miraa") according to the addis ababa tribune. it's a drug, with effects that mix some of those of cocaine and marijuana. chat growing has been a problem in ethiopia for some time.

why should we care about a drug that's legal in several african and middle-eastern countries, and is in fact a social ritual in yemen? because of course, it's going to come here. it has already begun to arrive in britain. here in the u.s.a, chat is listed with heroin and cocaine as a "schedule one" drug.

look, no matter how one feels about the present war on drugs, one has to admit that turning over a significant portion of the world's agricultural capacity to them as coffee farmers struggle to make a living cannot be a good thing. clearly, the united nations and other development bodies -- such as usaid -- must do more to combat the coffee decline and/or provide farmers with desirable and relatively profitable alternatives. and leaders here in the u.s.a should get this on our priority list as well.

posted by fortune | 6:47 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

"As Kittles progressed in the yoga class, he began to see basketball and life in a different perspective..."

yup, another inspiring story: how popular professional basketball player kerry kittles of the new jersey nets developed a serious yoga practice to help heal his career-threatening knee injuries and return his game to the pro level.

football, basketball, rugby (the new zealand all-blacks are said to never travel without their yoga instructor), or snooker: pros keep turning to yoga to help themselves get a winning edge. . .

posted by fortune | 7:49 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

one of my favorite sites for a long time has been the xocolatl pages by mrk, a seattle-based database guy and chocolate fanatic. . .

it's an interesting list -- altho' of course i don't agree with it all -- of his rankings of 100 brands of chocolate. perhaps what's interesting is his selection. he has some obscure brands (where is the marquise de sevigne? hmm?), but ignores some relatively common ones, such as schokinag, leonidas (i mean, he has neuhaus!) , and guittard.

and while he chooses a true artisinal italian chocolate, slitti, as his favorite, he ignores other famous chocolatiers, such as burdick, donnelly, linxe, and of course torres. and he has the truly surprising rating on hevin, widely considered one of the greatest chocolatiers now working.

i also think many would raise their eyebrows at his relatively low rating of valrhona, and his total lack of mention for their famous manjari. also, he seems to like scharffen-berger as an eating chocolate!

well, at least we agree on bonnat. . . but we are going to disagree seriously on castelain. . .and while he mentions common organic chocolates like green & blacks or denman island, he doesn't yet seem to know about boulder's hilarious "alchemist" dagoba. . .

posted by fortune | 5:30 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, May 20, 2002

long-time readers know i've been searching for a set of 4 espresso cups recently. . .

normally that means checking out the arty cups from illy. however, none of them ever suited my fancy; they were all too busy or seemed more like gestures than actually something you could drink from. not to mention that mr. right hated the illy "ears."

"cups should have handles," he noted sensibly. "these ears make me feel like i'm being eavesdropped on." but i have to say that illy has now unveiled their first set i've ever liked. alas, they still have those dorky ears and naturally cost your great-aunt's kidney. but they are handsome. and they are designed by m. pistoletto, which should might assuage mr. right -- in his wild youth he was fond of arte povera. . .

in a more real world, however, i'm waiting for these more practical miss rancilio cups (see small pic here), which should soon be available on the whole latte love website.

posted by fortune | 5:59 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, May 19, 2002

all this year's been strange weather -- hot when it should be cold, cold when it should be warm, autumn instead of spring, summer instead of april showers. . .

and after a while it gets you in a kerfuffle, if you know what i mean. for example, today it was brilliantly sunny, and yet completely october. i was so cold in the house i had to take a hot shower to warm up and mr. right actually turned on the oven! walking through this weirdness made my whole body contract with chill on the way to my usual evening yoga class. needless to say, i could scarcely move once i got there. i felt like the tin man, in serious need of oil! perhaps it's just my pitta constitution, but give me heat, lots of heat. . .

accepting the minor inconsistencies in your yoga practice is the hardest thing to do. i could hardly keep my mind on my breathing. i kept saying to myself, "why can't i do this easy posture the way i usually do? damn this weather! why is my head so far from my feet in tarasana, when usually i can just melt my forehead into my soles?" this is exactly the mental challenge yoga presents, and the only way to solve it is to accept that every day, every asana is new. only your breath is thread that leads you through. . .

yesterday the weather was even colder and grayer. i couldn't even bear to go outside at first; i got up, made coffee, made some pizza dough -- long-time readers know that saturday is pizza day around here -- and then had to dash to the lower east side to have my hair done. where i learned that my long-time coiffeuse is returning to california, to buy a house in santa cruz. of course i was happy for her; she's been homesick for more than a year.

but at the same time, after i left, i suddenly felt so sad, so teary. and suddenly i realized: this is the after-effect of 9-11. i had walked around the corner past vlada and into mary adams, where i saw a beautiful basil green dress printed in the subtle tones of italian handmade paper. suddenly i remembered i needed basil for my pizza, and so i ran down the street to the essex market, a funky public market with lots of little stalls for fishmongers, butchers, greengrocers, botanica, a tiny spanish grocey selling goya everything. . .

and there i found the most beautiful bunch of basil. . . the smell just made me smile and turned my day around. . .basil, fresh, lively, vigorous, full of spring's hope.

posted by fortune | 7:30 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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