Saturday, November 27, 2004
once again this stuff is too good to make up: a small german study suggests that a coffee shampoo with intense amounts of caffeine may slow or stop hair loss in men. i know some eye creams include caffeine because it is believed to reduce the appearance of crows' feet.
but applying caffeine to your scalp? i can't find very much on this study, so put me in the strongly skeptical column on this one.
what i'm not skeptical about was andrei's noon basic vinyasa class at yoga people. it's a party.
andrei is a compact, wiry, latino with a beautiful accent like honey. even tho' english isn't his first language, he gives excellent technical alignment instruction in a gentle way, so you don't feel like you're at the mercy of the dread "yoga nazi" but actually can see improvement in your own poses.
ultra-technical instruction: "rotate the head of your femur past the freckle on your hip one-half turn while spinning your 3rd chakra to the left, feel your mulabanda strongly. . and don't forget to breathe. . ." this can be very frustrating. you're in class to improve your alignment, to add grace and lightness to your poses, but instead you're stuck wondering what the heck these instructions mean and how in the world you are supposed to do it with your own bad self!
andrei offers more practical technical instruction, which is always helpful. in yoga it's easy to "know the pose" and just do what you normally do. it's often helpful to take a basics class where you can truly mindfully spend a moment examining your body placement in a pose, but in way that's not perfectionist.
for example today andrei talked about a simple fact of life: the fulcrum. he used this to improve uttanasana, standing forward bend.
if you think of your spine as a graceful, supple willow switch, weighted equally at your head and sit bones, it's easy to see how letting your head gently come forward with a straight spine will raise your sit bones. and once bent over, you can also see how raising your sit bones higher will have to lower your head towards your feet.
you don't have to struggle to push your head to the floor -- just as if i hold the willow branch in my hand and dip one end down, the other end will naturally ripple and gently rise up. only in uttanasana, your breath does the "dipping," not the effort of your muscle.
in uttanasana so many people think it's all about the hamstrings. and they lock their knees, straining and rounding their backs to try to come forward. but this way not only fails to move you deeper forward, it also often causes injury!
what's great about andrei isn't only his images, but also his emphasis on the letting the breath perform the movement for you, thus creating a more graceful and effortless-looking flow of movement. and in every pose he stresses the weighted opposition -- what should be moving up or down to help you accomplish the major action of the posture.
this lets gravity help you in your yoga so you waste less energy fighting in the asana. it's a very calming style of vinyasa, even tho' you're still working with some rigor and moving on a 4-part breath. . .
after andrei's class i came home and made myself an americano with jessica's batdorf dancing goat blend. as i sipping and pondering hamelman's technique for pizza dough -- no i never can leave well enough alone! -- i happened to glance at the t.v. and saw that woody allen's interiors was playing.
it just so happens that i went to college with a girl whose family owned the beach house where the movie was filmed. so naturally i thought of her. . .the house is much nicer in real life than allen made it seem. i can't ever watch this movie because it's so emotionally violent -- i always felt like at the end the angry daughter, joey, basically murders her mother.
but then if we know one thing about woody allen, it's that he's an angry, angry guy! thus i immediately turned off the television and returned to hamelman. gonna try his pizza technique pronto, since his baguette method was frankly stellar.
next week i'll move on the challah, as promised!
Friday, November 26, 2004
the great chocolate chip
the day after t-day dawns clear, bright and much colder. naturally, this is the day the boiler in my building decides to flake out.
fortunately however we can generate heat by baking! when in doubt, dash down to gristedes -- where they now sell king arthur bread flour in a 5-lb. bag -- and pick up some flour and plugra.
chocolate chip cookies are an excellent excuse to turn the oven on. . .mr. right requested a somewhat chewier cookie, which is why i replaced the flour i usually use the with higher-protein bread flour.
more protein, more chew. 6 dozen cookies later, the house is passably warm, esp. if i wrap the tomcat around my neck. . .
our salvadoran cleaning lady had enough hot water to finish the laundry. when it was all over, we just sat down over a cafetiére of fresh coffee and passed the cream.
she told me it was the first time she'd ever had french press coffee. as she stood to go she said, "that instant mix coffee, it's no good. no."
sí, vilma. ¡claro!
Thursday, November 25, 2004
thanksgiving for: the best boule ever
let's see, the very first batch of bread i ever made was that batter bread recipe in the old joy of cooking. i was about 14.
and i've made a lot of bread since then, a lot of supposedly french bread. i like more crumb than crust, so i usually make boule, not baguette.
i couldn't tell you how many recipes i've been through. . .i loved julia child, but her bread recipe was a ridiculously complex, over-wordy, and still far-from-the-mark-on-technique-while-you-dirty-every-bowl-plate-and-spoon-in-the-house nightmare; elizabeth david's; beth hensperger's; r. l-b's; laurel's; the old tassajara's; even r. calvel's, which i couldn't figure out quite how to mix quite properly. oh, the list could go on and on.
so without further ado, lemme say that the best boule ever came to me today thanks to j. hamelman's recipe in his bread, baguette with poolish. this bread has a perfect crispy, thin crust; tastes sweet altho' it has no sugar; soft, open, creamy, can't-stop-eating crumb; tremendous oven spring; each 1.5 lb loaf feels feather-light.
it's rather similar to calvel's recipe, but scaled for home. it's hardly the most complicated recipe; in fact, it's pretty simple, not mindlessly so, but not advanced at all.
and i think the secret is in the mixing instructions: do the first mix at speed 2 on a kitchenaid stand mixer for 2-1/2 mins; then switch to the dough hook at speed 4(!) for 4 mins.; and fold the dough twice during the 2-hour rise.
yes, speed 4 -- your mixer will take a gentle vibratory stroll across the counter unless you're alert! so watch it lest it wander off the counter.
i used the king arthur artisan organic unbleached flour, which has just 11.3% protein. i kept saying to myself, this dough is too tacky, this is never going to work -- but work it did and wonderfully so.
if you bake bread, or wanna, you'll love hamelman's book and how!
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
with my beloved italian acqua di parma "iris nobile" running low, i stopped into bond new york to pick up some "so new york." i'd heard so much about this espresso-chocolate scent that it lured me away from my favorite aedes just this once.
and it seems completely perfect for the winter. their "new haarlem" also contains a strong coffee base, and with its bergamot and vanilla notes would be a favorite of mine, except i do dislike patchouli.
coffee perfumes are all the rage right now, of course. i'm thinking of scents like j. malone's "black vetyver cafe;" dsh "cafe noir;" dragonfly blue's "mocha;" l'artisan parfumeur's "l'eau de navigateur;" torrente's "l'or de torrente;" comme des garcons "kyoto;" etc.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
that hacking feeling
long-time readers may recall that i've written about this chocolate-cough theory before. a new study, really too small to prove anything, does however seem to offer some support.
but it is another good excuse to carry a mini-bar of your favorite dark chocolate with you at all times -- 50g (about 1.8 oz) of dark chocolate seems to be what you need.
and in other fantastic news, i may have the privilege today of having a quick coffee with fabulous bay-area altie and espresso hound richard reynolds! he owns a beautiful ecm giotto.
guess what we're going to talk about: coffee over coffee!
Monday, November 22, 2004
back to consumer reports again
last week when the new consumer reports annual coffee "review" came out, i of course congratulated our pro scaa member coffee friends at caribou (hiya chad!). and long-time readers know i have been pulling for 8-o'clock to step up and improve quality since i met them at the rainforest alliance gala last spring.
but of course i always have reservations about these things. that aside, what's interesting to note is that the results of this year seem to indicate the very dark roast craze in coffee may be ebbing.
top prize-winner caribou's colombian is a light-medium-type roast. 8-o'clock and dunkin are also lighter roasts, esp. by west coast standards.
but one thing i've learned about coffee is that regional taste differences do exist and they die hard, despite the mermaid's seeming global dominance.
i'm frankly glad the consumer reports survey echoes the call of scaa chief ted lingle to buy only whole beans and grind them yourself at home. not only does this ensure the better tasting brew from freshly-ground coffee, but also that you the consumer are getting beans of some quality and not the junk "coffee-by-products" so often found in the ground supermarket coffees in the cans and jars.
however, my greatest reservation is in the recommended coffeemaker, the braun. many inexpensive coffeemakers brew too cold, probably in an effort to avoid ridiculous lawsuits.
this braun model doesn't appear to suffer from this problem; it and other braun models are said to have a more proper temperature, delivering hot water in the correct 195 to 205 range.
however, i do strongly suggest coffee lovers avoid all coffeemakers with bottom warming plates. it's better to buy a slightly more expensive machine that brews into a thermal carafe.
this holds the coffee at a proper temperature without the dread tar-tasting effects so often caused by heating coffee at the bottom.
when buying an auto drip coffeemaker, i always recommend that consumers look for:
- proper brewing temperature;
- a thermal carafe;
- correct water usage (some kinds of coffeemakers "hold back" a few ounces of the water you add for brewing, thus making coffee in improper proportions);
- a nice wide dispersion pattern in the top where the water comes out (the "showerhead") to ensure even wetting of the coffee;
- easy access to the water compartment;
- easy cleaning (this includes being able to run cleancaf (hiya josh!) or some kind of solution through it to prevent coffee oil & limescale buildup, etc.);
- and a strong history of reliability.
further, since i hate paper filters, i also personally recommend coffeemakers that let you use gold-mesh ones, but not everyone agrees with me on this. finally, i think most autodrips are really ugly -- i'd be willing to pay more for something that doesn't make mr. right cry every time he sees it on the counter. . .
p.s. thanks for all the kind email about the letter.
p.p.s. and thanks too for all the kind email about owen egan's terrfic pix from the espresso workshop at scaa 2004.
that was such a privilege; and it really reminds me how great it is to be an scaa consumer member.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
various small tasks and brian eno
today was a chilly day that constantly threatened to drizzle, leaving me with some time to catch up on various tasks -- calibrate the instant-read thermometer, polish the ice, make james' blue bottle 13-days-old-and-so-rather-elderly giant steps blend in the vac pot -- stuff like that.
calibrating the instant-read thermometer was kind of a hoot. even the little US$10 ones have a small nut under the dialface that allows you to adjust them. i'd noticed lately mine seemed off by a lot, maybe more than 10 degreees.
so i summoned mr. right who produced this strange assortment of wacky mini hex wrenchies, i mean tiny, like for some kind of doll mechanic's shop -- where do guys get this stuff? and further, where had he been hiding it in our bklyn apartment? -- and we began attempting to calibrate the thermometer by holding it in a large copper mauviel pot of roiling, boiling water.
yup, the thing was off by 15 degrees. so i'm holding the gizmo in the water with my hand in an oven mitt and mr. right is frantically attempting to make these little turns with his baby wrench as super-hot steam rises everywhere and keeps fogging the dial of the thermometer -- it was almost enough to make me demand a professional thermapen on the spot.
but at last mr. right was successful. and i dashed off to yoga, where we were having a brand-new substitute teacher, one julie, an om-style teacher.
at first i was dubious, but the music for the entire class could have come from my own collection: it was a blissful afternoon of all the brian eno/harold budd/john cale you would want to listen to while standing on your head. way good.
now as for the giant steps -- blue bottle barista steve in the comments of a couple of days ago noted that his bay area customers loved this as drip, which mystifies me. the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press) does a lot for this coffee by intensifying the body.
obviously, working from a cart at a farmer's market means james et. al. probably has to serve this from an airpot, so individual presses for customers are right out. i also personally found the vac pot overemphasized that black-pepper thing, which i'm not sure a lot of customers would find appealing. . .
but it's hard to say, since, as noted above, this coffee is on its last legs, age-wise. it's really not fair to judge its taste when it basically needs an aluminum walker.