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Saturday, November 06, 2004

not boule, ciabatta

so i decided to make some boule, which to me is pain ordinaire (baguette) shaped in a ball. long-time readers know i love recipes, so i wandered over to, where i hadn't hung out for several years, to see if they had discovered an even better recipe than the one based in a poolish i derived from calvel.

and they were talking about a variation of reinhart's pain à l'ancienne, which seemed interesting even tho' parts of the formula didn't actually seem french. what it seemed more like was a ciabatta in a log-gy shape.

but hey, i'm open to new things, so i tried it. it had a hydration of 75%; and indeed i was correct: the stuff's ciabatta, not pain ordinaire.

the original reinhart recipe has a theoretical hydration of 67%, but as you see from the instructions, you actually end up sprinkling in so much extra flour, i bet it comes down to something like 58-60%.

so why not just mix up the dough at the end-level hydration to begin with and save yourself the "pain" of adding flour and more flour and more flour. . . .?

thus i won't bother to post a picture of my efforts, because ciabatta is very "ordinary" stuff nowadays and everyone knows what it looks like. . .

they are sweet people over there at a.b.r., so i'm not downing them. as a group, they just don't really seem to understand very concretely the difference between french and italian bread, or actually between other italian breads and ciabatta.

or maybe they're just overly infatuated with reinhart -- but mr. right loved this bread's sweet taste, so that's good. later i'll go make some pizza dough for tomorrow.

now, to fire up carlos expobar to ensure he's working properly for monday's event!

posted by fortune | 11:07 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Friday, November 05, 2004

more on coffee & anti-oxidants

"during the international congress on dermocosmesis currently held in rome and from which emerge the virtues of three typical products of the mediterranean diet: extra-virgin olive oil, chilli pepper and coffee - says the congress - are excellent anti-oxidizer, that is to say, they fight free radicals, responsible for the ageing of the body."

ok so this isn't the best translation of the report, but i think the meaning is clear. european dermatologists are arguing that the anti-oxidants in coffee and olive oil may help fight the effects of ageing.

so cook with olive oil and drink your coffee in moderation!

every year i grouse about the poor recommendations on coffee consumer reports gives. this year is no exception.

apparently they rate caribou colombian the only "excellent" coffee but also give high rating to dunkin donuts and 8 o'clock. well, long-time readers know i wish 8 o'clock well, but none of these are exactly the highest-quality specialty coffees.

i long for consumer reports to step up to the plate and look at premium coffees!

and finally, my heart overflows with gratitude to former scaa prez steve colten of atlantic. just when i thought i was going to have to go walk the streets and sell my body last night for shot glasses, he came thru!

thank you atlantic for supporting the scaa consumer member program. . .now monday morning will find me lugging carlos expobar, my mazzer grinder, and 2 gallons of volvic water to the exchange. somehow.

posted by fortune | 8:19 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Thursday, November 04, 2004

desperation is my name

i had no idea that it was apparently easier to find atomic triggers than 2 dozen shot glasses on a rainy thurs. evening in new york city.

please dear readers, don't reduce me to trotting the streets of the meatpacking district with the "ladies" from brazil.

is there anyone on the planet who can get a small pile of glass to a spinning marble table in a white room on long street that runs down this tiny island off the coast of the united states?

the rule in new york is that you can buy anything at any time at any price, a guiding precept that holds for goods as diverse as shoes and stockbroker's souls. why then are shot glasses suddenly more rare than, say, blue diamonds?

i'm beggin' ya here. . .save my life, please!

posted by fortune | 10:19 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

woman in need of shot glasses

two dozen in fact, for the upcoming cupping at the exchange on monday! aiiiieeee. . .if anyone has any spares, please email me to donate!

but in other news, the chocolate show is creeping up on us here in nyc as well. coming from paris, where the asian-flavored chocolates -- soybean, sesame, lemon grass and green tea -- made headlines, i'm sure it'll be as a huge a hit here as last year.

in fact last year as soon as i heard how crowded and crazy it was, i didn't even go. the concept of waiting 2 hours in the rain to get in and then not being able to even reach the display tables was just too depressing.

clearly the organizers need to move this to a different venue! and i still think it's too close to the holiday production schedule to be good for many artisan producers. . .

and finally, a big congrats to long-time pals, scaa pros, roasters guild members, and staunch supporters of the consumer membership program -- counterculture coffee! roast magazine has named 'em roaster of the year!

it's a bccy shout-out to cindy chang, peter g., and david haddock. . .

posted by fortune | 9:36 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

comments from one of the girls in the front. . .

today i was very interested to read this story about a promising college football player who, like many pros, has added yoga to his training routine.

what immediately caught my attention was the last line: "he'll be hiding behind 12 girls hoping they don't see him." as one of those girls, lemme jump in here to offer encouragement, because i believe attitudes like this keep too many guys out of yoga class!

apparently he believes that the girls in his yoga mock him because he's not as flexible as they, that he can't put his legs in lotus and bend over to set his head on the floor.

and my swift response is: if they were, they aren't doing yoga. if the practice was solely about flexibility in crazy positions, circus contortionists would be the true yoga students.

and yet nothing could be further from the truth. pretzel positions without ujjayi pranayama and mental focus are just cheap gymnastics.

if the football star can only touch his toes, but does so with complete focus and movement to the breath, he is a much more advanced yoga student than any of the smug little chicks who are resting their heads on the ground, relying solely on their natural hyper-flexibility.

over time, yoga will markedly increase your flexibility, joint stability, and strength, altho' you may never do those complex poses in a picture-perfect way. so what?

but yoga also offers much more than the brief satisfaction of putting your leg behind your head. . .to succeed in football he wants flexible strength, sure, but also the ability to concentrate under extreme pressure.

and this yoga will give him in spades. in yoga practice, we not only stand about in the poses breathing, but we also practice thought and behavior.

we learn to handle frustration, fear, competitive feelings, impatience, distraction, and many other personal emotional issues. clearing this stuff away helps you not only in daily life but also during that last crucial play!

so i applaud his devotion to his sadhana. showing up when it's hard is an indication of tapas; coming to yoga when it's easy and you can just flop into any pose is not necessarily indicative of anything at all. . .

and realistically, as anyone who maintains a steady yoga practice can tell you, when you are doing yoga, you are so involved you really don't pay attention to anyone else. thus i doubt the girls are really judging him.

in fact, i suggest he move from the back up to the front. there's every possibility that his effort motivates the satsang, that his work is inspiring to those girls!

finally, to follow up on a funny topic: the wacky acquarella water-based fingernail polish. the question was how does it last after 7 days of serious yoga practice as a pedicure?

and my answer: as good as regular polish! which surprised the heck outta me. since i do a lot of cooking and baking, i found the manicure to be the issue.

like regular polish, acquarella will lose shine and begin to wear on the edge in 2 or 3 days. normally, you just plop on another clear top coat when that happens and hang about 15 mins. waiting for it to dry.

with acquarella, just add another thin coat of color (since there is no top coat here) and it's dry in 90 seconds. however, since rubbing alcohol removes acquarella, if you use a lot of beauty products that contain alcohol, like some facial toners, the polish might dull or even start to come off a bit.

so watch that. i'm enjoying the ease and speed-drying of this product.

that it has no icky smell or toxic ingredients -- i repeat, i think you could probably safely drink this stuff, but again, i wouldn't recommend it -- is the key. if you or someone in your family is sensitive to the chemicals in regular polish, i find acquarella's worth the expense.

you don't need to buy their pricey polish remover either. i successfully removed it with plain old rubbing alcohol, which costs me just US$1 a pint at my local drug store.

as for their aloe vera gel and green tea hand lotion, it's good because it doesn't dull the polish. again, some regular hand lotions contain ingredients that appear to slightly dull acquarella after a day or two.

but again, you can just buy your own aloe vera gel or aloe-based products at the health food store. . .at my local neo-hippie hangout, aloe vera gel sells for US$6 for a 3-1/2 oz tube. you can mix in your own green tea to create a consistency that pleases you!

posted by fortune | 8:29 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


before i became acquainted with the scaa, i have to admit i knew little of coffee agriculture. i drank beautiful coffees for years scarce thinking about the farmer, where beans came from, how they were grown, how that affected the environment.

and in turn, how all that affected me. in my silliness, i acted as if coffee just somehow magically appeared.

thus, to my mind, "nematode" was an artsy short film from the 70s (why can't i find a link for this classic that featured a toy train going round a christmas tree?), but i've since begun to dent my ignorance.

coffee farmers are the natural friend of the coffee lover. we all need to know each other better.

and as i've had the privilege to meet coffee farmers, be it from kona (hiya cea! hiya suzanne! hiya john!), from colombia (hiya christina! hiya oswaldo!), from brazil (hiya marcelo!), or from guatemala (hiya chuck and maireya!), i've come to be aware of their problems. and how those problems are my problems.

long-time readers are aware of the world-price depression known as the coffee crisis by now, so let's take the example of the coffee borer. this is a huge problem for farmers, and thus for consumers.

because those ugly-wuggly bugsies are chewing on our nice lovely coffee!

they are lowering coffee quality, and these nasty worm-nibbled beans get shipped to us, where we often unknowningly are stuck drinking such defective beans (unless we are buying only whole-bean specialty coffee from our local roaster or coffeehouse). . .

in this light, it might begin to make some sense when i confess to perusing this article about, yes, nematodes. . .

posted by fortune | 10:49 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Monday, November 01, 2004

woman in need of a mixogram

and why do i need a mixogram? to perfect my pizza recipes, of course!

steady readers know i am never satisfied with my pizza dough -- i always strive to make it more and more like that in naples. this often means i'm experimenting with different amounts of water, different flours, all that.

those who are familiar with my standard pizza crust recipe know that i use a very wet or "slack" dough. in baker's formula terms, my recipe is 76% hydration: quite high, practically ciabatta, considering most pizza recipes are only about 60-63%.

i keep this dough from being a complete mess resembling nothing so much as a pile of library paste by using a very high protein (14.5%) flour to soak up all that water and by letting blanche, my beloved kitchen aid stand mixer, just knead the heck out of it for 30 mins, as well as giving it a very long slow rise.

but in my endless search for a better result, i recently switched to a much lower protein all-purpose organic flour (11.3%), since the pizzaioli in naples seem to use italian 00 flour, which is well below 11% protein.

what's interesting about this at first you might think, oh, well the flour switch wouldn't affect the recipe that much, maybe make it a little easier to roll out, or a little more crispy. . but it does so much more than that, yes it does!

why? because lower-protein flours don't absorb nearly as much water as higher-protein ones do.

for example, in general, a 14% protein bread flour will absorb up to 64% of the water. it's basically bounty. in contrast, the 11.3% all-purpose flour might take up just 60% of the water.

this means by changing the flour in my recipe, my dough suddenly feels functionally much wetter in the handling. and the result is an amazingly different bake. . .

as posted previously, i made some adjustments to my recipe -- while sticking with the basic technique -- based on some suggestions from suzanne dunaway's famous book, no need to knead. she uses a medium-protein all-purpose flour for her pizza and also a huge amount of oil: 15%!

the result last night was unusual: a sort-of-flaky, almost biscuit-like pizza dough that rose incredibly in the oven and baked exceptionally light and crispy. with so little protein, the dough just stretched from here to kansas; the pizzas were so huge i could barely fit them on my baking stone.

the crust had a fantastic flavor (extra-virgin olive oil tastes good!) but the flakiness was too odd. all that oil rather made the dough into some kind of savory southern-type pie crust.

peculiar. with this experience behind me, i'm going try a twist on an older flour mix: half durum (usually 13% protein), half first clear (usually 14.8%). however, i'm going to substitute this new 11.3% flour for the durum -- maybe change the ratio from half/half to one-third/two-thirds.

this should give me about a 13% flour, which might be a tad easier to roll out and still have a nice chew. and i'm going to lower my hydration to just 61%.

and for next week's experiment, i'll also try keeping that absurd percentage of oil, because the taste was good. but i'm hoping that with the higher-protein flour that strange "aunt emily's beaten biscuit" texture can be avoided.

also, of course, first-clear flour has a high ash (mineral) content; this adds extra yummy flavor too. . .plus its darker beige when mixed with the yellow of the durum gives the baked pizza a slightly more appetizing color, i think.

i know a lot of people raise their eyebrows when i say i use first clear, because it's usually a cheaper flour, used by commercial bakers to save money, or to lighten jewish-style rye breads and bagels.

but with its protein percentage for great chewiness, its color, and its tasty mineral content, i think it's a winner for neapolitan-type pizza, if unconventional!

posted by fortune | 7:04 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Sunday, October 31, 2004

good news

"starbucks has launched an aggressive plan to ensure coffee sold in its stores comes from environmentally friendly farms paying workers a fair wage. . ."

well, it's an excellent start! congrats go to people like kimberly easson and isaac grody-patinkin, as well as oxfam, who i know have long been on the mermaid's back about this.

long-time readers know i'm always going on about how being a barista is a real profession, and also how teens love specialty coffee. here's a story where the twain meet.

in a spot of synchronicity, i dreamt last night about mark inman of taylormaid. in my dream, he was delivering bread and coffee on his bike to the four-story victorian farmhouse i lived in as a child in kansas (which alas was demolished by a tornado).

we used to have a swedish neighbor who would bake limpa every week for everyone and leave the loaves on the kitchen table -- in our tiny town we never locked the doors, our neighbors were always welcome to come in the kitchen, even make themselves a fresh pot of coffee, and wait until you got home to chat -- i think we paid her in brown eggs. . .

and so today of course in a real woo-woo moment mark emails me about how he's holding the western regional barista competition in feb. 2005 with a local winery. . . i hope he considers inviting the students from the program above to compete. . .vacaville isn't that far from sonoma, is it?

in light of last week's pizza debacle, i'm experimenting today with more oil and a different technique. will post all if it's successful. . .

posted by fortune | 11:34 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

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