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Saturday, January 11, 2003

not-so-quality coffee

"in an admission likely to have coffee lovers gagging on their macchiato or spluttering on their cappuccino, the international body responsible for coffee quality has admitted that ground and instant varieties often contain unexpected ingredients."

read this and you'll understand why i'm always going on about the need to buy high-quality, premium specialty coffee from a local roaster you can know and trust.

but on a happier note, mr. right sidled up to me today and announced how he would really fancy some fresh-made cannelloni. maybe it's a symptom of sopranos withdrawal? simple longing for italy?

it's at that moment i realized i don't really have a way to make fresh pasta. sure, i could do it like nonna; get out the rolling pin, take it to my huge marble dining room table and exercise those triceps. alas, unless done daily for several years under the careful tutelage of said nonna, you're more likely to get egg paste than egg pasta.

thus i caved in and bought the pasta roller for my beloved kitchen aid stand mixer. hey, molto mario has one!

but seriously, as soon as it arrives, i'll make a couple of practice batches and then go to town on the cannelloni alla partenopea. only then will i continue to the pappardelle with boar ragu.

posted by fortune | 7:00 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, January 10, 2003

thinking about starbucks

of course several people have emailed me about the recent talk-of-the-town article in the new yorker on starbucks.

i've read it several times now and have really been thinking about what i wanted to say. first, it's important to remember that starbucks isn't actually in the coffee business. if you think about it carefully, you have to be struck by the fact that they're really selling milk, flavored with different agents. syrups, sugar, cinnamon -- coffee is just another flavoring, in the structure of their current drink menu. most of their drinks have at least 2 or 3 times as much milk as coffee. . .

i'm surprised the new yorker didn't see this important fact. but putting this aside, in one respect, naturally, i'm all for starbucks. they have often improved the quality of public coffee -- restaurant, diner, fast-food coffee -- in the towns to which they come. also, they have extended the reach of coffee into several countries normally associated with tea.

finally, starbucks does buy a good amount of fair-trade and so-called "relationship" coffee, at prices that allow coffee farmers to survive. (long-time readers know all about fair-trade coffee; as for relationship coffee, here's a great example.)

those people i know who actually run small, independent, local coffeehouses, report that starbucks both helps them and hurts them. some have found success by placing their coffeehouses across the street and a block away from starbucks. since starbucks has spent the millions of dollars to research the best locations, they figure that they can pick up on that and benefit from those people who won't want to wait to cross the street on a rainy or busy day when they see another coffeehouse just down the block.

also, as the local starbucks gets busier, the lines get longer, and then people will come to the independent coffeehouse to avoid the wait. the problem for independent coffeehouse owners is that of course everyone wants to try the new starbucks. this can cut into business for a few months.

thus, you have to work very hard to distinguish your coffee and atmosphere from theirs, to tailor your products and ambiance more closely to what you know the community prefers from your longer experience living there.

if i were running a coffeehouse in new orleans, for example, to beat starbucks you'd better i'd offer specialty drinks tailored to local tastes -- maybe a very sweet "praline latte" made with a high-quality chicory coffee and a nutty syrup. or a "red velvet" latte, made with chocolate and french vanilla syrups. you get the idea.

and while starbucks generally plays that weird, lite-jazz, i'd of course play music more attuned to my demographic, as well as zydeco. i guess i might have to invent a new genre, zy-hop, for the younger crowd! a recent article on how starbucks has affected the coffee culture in lexington, ky. demonstrates all these issues.

in other respects, i don't think starbucks is a good thing for the long-term because they can't help but spread a dull sameness with their psychologically engineered corporate fake-o environments. as their roasting infrastructure gets larger and larger, they will have problems maintaining quality. and of course their famed style of roasting already turns off many -- losing quality control in this area will worsen the effect.

also, since the teens behind the starbucks counter generally don't give a hoot about quality coffee, the beverages are often poorly prepared. in time, these factors could lead to their decline and fall.

finally, i wished starbucks had maintained a vision truer to the actual italian coffee experience. but every place should create it's own coffee culture, and if starbucks establishes a baseline where none existed before -- that could be useful.

so i hope that local coffee lovers learn from strabucks, plan carefully, and then launch themselves into an effort to bring high-quality coffee to their community in a way that really touches the heart.

posted by fortune | 4:58 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, January 09, 2003

national pizza week

what an appropriate time for them to ensure their right to eat pizza . . .on other people's money, of course.

but since this isn't a boring, humorless political blog -- someone lock me in a closet the day it so degenerates, please! -- i wanted to suggest that those with the discovery channels on their cable tv look out for the pizzamania! series. it's to celebrate the current national pizza week, a very fine week indeed.

i enjoyed watching biba make a mostly real neapolitan pie. (well, her recipe won't get a d.o.c.g. -- yes, they use this grading for wines and pizza both! -- from the v.p.n., but it probably tastes great!)

don't miss it -- it continues today. check your local listings!

posted by fortune | 3:03 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

what's not to like?

it's got chocolate, a yeast dough, and is meant to be served with coffee. i think this is a recipe for us!

haven't made it yet, but it looks like it has promise. be sure to replace those "chocolate morsels" with real semi-sweet chocolate, hmm?

a light-as-air chocolate & cinnamon-filled coffee cake, dotted with a chocolate crumb topping. . .

if you bake it first, as always, please comment below and tell me how it came out!

posted by fortune | 4:30 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

another pro sport adopts yoga

first, the football players. then basketball, hockey, tennis, ice skaters. next, soccer, golf, and even snooker. now: poker.

as usual, this stuff is better than i can make up. "mental conditioning for poker" counsels the pro poker player to take up yoga to improve concentration and combat fatigue during marathon bouts at the table.

"a giant edge you can have on your competition is mental. the main thing that separates the great players from the merely good is mental preparedness." the yoga concept at work here is dharana, or single-pointed concentration.

this can be developed by focusing on the breath, either in the poses or through meditation in savasana. other meditative practices, such as the simple and pleasant trataka (candle-gazing) are also effective.

many yoginis i know who find normal seated meditation confusing or boring swear by a soft cushion and a lovely scented candle. . .they report even 2-5 minutes a day before bedtime not only improves sleep but noticeably improves daily concentration in just 8 weeks.

the problem is that large, beautiful candles are currently outrageously expensive. did you have any idea how easy it is to make your own attractive beeswax candles?

you don't even have to melt or mold the wax -- you can literally wrap the sheet beeswax around the wick! this and this (acrobat reader required) tells you how.

you can quickly scent these by soaking the wick in the scent oil of your choice before wrapping it in the wax. to buy the material for a nice 8-in. tall, thick, scented "pillar"-type candle can cost as little as US$7.

the scent oil price, enough for many candles, is also quite reasonable, and naturally varies by quality and rarity of scent. but considering that fancy tall scented candles can sell for as much as US$40, it's a bargain to make your own.

finally, we all know there's a lot of very bad yoga around. but that doesn't mean you should toss your down dog out with the mat!

avoid poor teachers and find good ones; that's all. yoga isn't about pain; it's about freedom. which means that sometimes you have to do a little work. . .be critical, self-critical, and take responsibility for your own actions! that means you have to go out and find a good teacher; to ask yourself why you are putting up with a yoga you know is wrong for you. . .

posted by fortune | 4:55 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, January 06, 2003

maybe fair trade is taking off after all. . .

i mean, if you see an article in the manhattan, kansas aggie paper about the benefits of fair-trade coffee, ya can't be blamed for thinking that maybe this movement has legs? i wonder if the coffee at the named hangout, radina's, is any good?

i too would like to believe that people respond to quality coffee, as the article quotes radina's owner: "i'm a coffee freak, and i think the market always supports quality."

he certainly seems to serve the community by holding meeting for various groups from local bird watchers to online gamers, wiccans, harley lovers, and even teen-age vampires. . .you go, wade radina!

posted by fortune | 4:34 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, January 05, 2003

burnt cookies are a crime

dropped in on the foodtv cookie-thon this evening just long enough to see martha stewart commit a felony. that's right -- she doled out her chocolate chip cookies onto an overly greasy, nearly black steel sheet.

this is all bad. and naturally, as anyone could predict, she got out burnt cookies, singed at the edges; they left distinct rings of grease behind when lifted from the sheet.

long-time readers know i'm no martha fan. but shouldn't one expect her to be at least competent in the cookie biz?

dear readers, when baking cookies, you can prevent such disasters by simply using insulated, light colored cookie sheets and baking parchment! this is simplicity itself, and makes it way difficult to destroy that most blessed of all homey delights, the chocolate chip cookie.

posted by fortune | 7:25 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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