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Saturday, May 20, 2006

wacky bread stuff not only i would know

speaking of the ny times, i just hate their travel section. to my mind, too many of their travel writers are dolts who pretend to be sophisticated.

let's take today's italian example:

"Dreams are usually illogical, and so is one of the first impressive sites up the Serchio River - the Ponte del Diavolo, the Devil's Bridge, in the town of Borgo a Mozzano. The bridge dates to the 14th century and looks like it was built by two groups of people who never spoke to each other. It's too narrow for a car and too steep for a scooter or bike. It's formed by three typical-looking arches and then a fourth, larger, loopier one that rises well above the riverbank."

loopy? you idiot!

thus i screamed to myself -- how do you think people, esp. those who live in narrow river valleys cut through steep mountains, accomplished their most basic heavy-duty economic tasks in the middle ages? with steam power or diesel engines?

to my bread-baking eyes the purpose of the bridge was 100% obvious. as i'm sure it is to you, my gentle baking readers.

and as it would have been to any, oh, person who lived in europe before about 1800. look, what was the mainstay of most peasant diets until the mid-19th century?

yes dear readers, we are talking about bread -- and about the waterwheels that powered the grain mills that ground wheat into flour. that's what the bridge is for, that's what the one higher arch is for -- to house the giant wheel itself -- and that explains the narrowness of the bridge walkway!

when your state-of-the-art transport is a donkey-train to carry the sacks of grain up over the wheel to the millhouse, you don't need a wide path, do you? and the steepness of the path arching up to accomodate the height of the wheel wouldn't have been a problem for donkeys, hmm?

large waterwheels like this were common all over europe, and scholars who specialize in the history of milling -- i'm not making this up, they exist -- document that in the middle ages tuscany alone had 350 such wheels. milling was probably the dominant industry at that time.

it was such an important thing for centuries that even london bridge, which had housed waterwheels for centuries, had giant new-fangled waterwheels installed underneath it in 1582 in an effort to feed the people, increase production, and provide a supply of piped water for the city.

so while the author of the above travel piece prides himself that he's the only american there, he alas doesn't manage to be the only educated, historically aware american any place . . .how can you understand the beauty and poetry of these antique towns when you don't even begin to be aware of why they are the way they are?

how the people lived, or how their needs shaped that? for the ny times author, italy's just a theme-park of wacky stuff for his casual snarkiness, sadly.

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posted by fortune | 3:27 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 5 comments | leave a voicemail

completely ot: shout out to mei-mei b.

peeling open the early delivery of the ny times' special magazine on architecture, i saw my old, old pal mei-mei berssenbrugge's new house featured. this section won't be on the times' website 'til later this evening, i believe, that's their usual way.

i met mei-mei at the jack kerouac school of disembodied poetics -- that's a long story, dear readers, but yes, i am a product of that fine institution, by which i mean, lunatic asylum.

(point of fact, i was the first ted berrigan scholar, but let's not get into that. . .)

i have very fond memories of mei-mei from when i was young and literally hungry. she once "employed" me as a typist -- even tho' i can't type to this day -- as an excuse to pay me 30 bucks so i could buy groceries.

i will always remember her jewel-box house in fanta se on the corner of the acequia madre, how a coal-tar red amaryllis greeted visitors from a chinese bowl.

mei-mei, as i recall, always filled that house with flowers. a long time later i saw mei-mei, richard tuttle, and daughter martha again, and we had dinner in a private house in el rito that served as the local diner -- green chile stew with posole.

at that time a famous exhibition of suprematist art was showing, and tuttle went on an amazing riff on why he didn't like malevich much. and i do believe that was one of the most interesting experiences of my youth.

i visited mei-mei a few times when she was living in galisteo, too. good luck to you mei-mei; i think of you always with fondness.

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posted by fortune | 10:20 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 1 comments | leave a voicemail

the best chocolate dessert in new york

My BBCY Podcast trust me, i mean what i say! you can subscribe to my podcast, which i do hope will improve quickly over time, at itunes with url

or of course you can just listen here. . .

also, i'd like to remind you all of the upcoming nyc coffee meetup at the nybot grading room this coming wed.

really i would -- except i think i already have 70 people, which means as it is the event will be standing-room-only and also b.y.o.e. (bring your own espresso), i'm afraid. needless to say, however, if you don't mind conditions similar to, oh, the lex during rush hour, then come on down to hear jim p. of 1st line chat about home espresso machines.

he will be giving a demonstration. i will be raffling off a set of segafredo demitasse for you cup collectors. . .thinking that you've gotta be there?

i knew it! hopefully we won't be a victim of our own success much longer and i'll manage to find a place with water, electricity, and brewing in manhattan capable of holding between 50-100 people on a regular basis.

see ya there. thanks for your support!

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posted by fortune | 7:08 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Friday, May 19, 2006

the batdorf sun-dried la minita

let me start by saying -- it's fabulous. a more romantic la minita.

ok, now what do i mean by that term, romantic, in this context? give me a moment to explain. . .

long-time readers will recall that following ken davids, i do see a certain spectrum in the specialty coffee industry -- romantic cuppers to clean cuppers.

for example, james freeman goes so far as to describe his unique yemen as "uncomfortably similar to being picked up by the lapels, shaken, then tossed into a grimy manhattan snow bank." the clean cuppers wouldn't like this coffee, precisely due to its extremely earthy, sandalwood-y character.

james himself is admitting it's a wild, near-dirty cup; he goes so far as to call it "grimy!" that yemen's flirting with the edge, there.

james might be an example of an ultra-romantic -- what's unique and interesting about a coffee, as long as it's still within the expected profile, even if pushed an extreme -- is all good. another example of this might be barry jarrett's famous sentiment that the worms in the sumatra do make it taste better!

at the other extreme is super-clean george howell, who finds fruity flavors in coffee an unhappy event. he would probably not be thrilled with say, the finch wa.

i've discussed this at length before (see the last of the 6 comments on this post here). la minita is an easy way to find out where a person lands in the range.

everyone agrees that la minita is fine coffee. but is it exciting, soul-stirring coffee, worth a prose poem?

some of the ultra-romantic cuppers might find the squeaky perfectionism of la minita dull after a few cups, while the ultra-clean cuppers might view it as the pinnacle to which most coffee should aspire.

scott's batdorf sun-dried la minita has more fruit and more body, i find, than regular la minita. that's why i say, it's a more romantic la minita in the cup -- it's a tad more unleashed.

that elegant businesswoman in the chanel suit is taking off her glasses and casting a sultry, sideways glance at you. . .

the so-called regular la minita has a famous taste everyone knows: mild, lightly bright (i'd call it "sunny"), with a light-medium body, and aromas of green apple, roasted almond, and vanilla.

sun-drying la minita gives the fruit flavor and body more time to develop as the coffee workers rake it around the patio with a zen-garden precision.

i've always appreciated the symmetry, refinement, and delicacy of la minita. but brewing scott's 3-day-old, city roast, sun-dried la minita in the chemex made me love it even more.

highly recommended! can't wait to try this in the vac pot to see if i can get more of that green apple outta the fragrance and into the cup.

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posted by fortune | 8:48 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Thursday, May 18, 2006

back to bolivia

am i under seige by ups today or what? but seriously, scaa board member peter g. of counterculture did surprise me this morning with some of his bolivia c.o.e. carrasco, from anacleto uluri's pico del tucan (toucan's beak) estate.

if "estate" is the right word to use for a farm of 11.5 hectacres/about 28 acres. how big is that, we city-dwellers may ask?

1 acre is about 43,560 sq. feet; that is, imagine a piece of land about 209 ft by 209 ft.

here in nyc, a "short block" (scroll down) is about 1/20th of a mile or roughly 262 feet. this means toucan's beak would stretch about 22 short blocks, or from near union sq. park on 14th st. to the pierpont morgan library on 36th st.

check my math, ok, dear readers -- this is a lot for me to do on one cappuccino. still, that's a fair distance in my mind's taxi. . .

at any rate, it will be extremely interesting to compare this coffee to peter's caranavi!

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posted by fortune | 8:52 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 2 comments | leave a voicemail

breaking coffee news: sun-dried la minita

and what comes to me this morning from the wondrous scott & jessica of batdorf? an amazing thing, a rare thing -- sun-dried, patio-dried, la minita.

for those of you who don't understand why this is so amazing, let's step back a moment and talk about the famous la minita. this costa rican tarrazu estate is widely considered one of the stand-out coffees on the planet (ken davids calls it "the splendid").

the farm is a model for the globe, not only for being an early-adopter of environmentally friendly agricultural practices, but also for strict quality standards. and part of these strict standards called for indoor, machine drying of the green coffee to insure consistency and protect against any mold attacking the coffee.

however, the our friends at batdorf somehow persuaded bill mcalpin, the force behind la minita, to deviate from his long-established procedure and completely sun-dry a lot of coffee just for them. what difference would this make?

after the all the little beanies themselves don't recognize any difference between one kind of heat and another, do they?

oh yes they do, says scaa co-founder, global coffee guru, and gillies president, don schoenholt. don points out several factors that make completely sun-dried coffee different -- and better in the cup.

not only does sun-drying take place more slowly, if the patio is carefully tended, it can take place more evenly than in the barrel-type machines commonly used. there's no risk of overheating or overdrying the beans as a machine might.

further, don notes that the sun's heat also has an ultraviolet component that bleaches the beans slightly, and this probably also affects the flavor.

finally, don considers the wind. the natural, pure air of the beautiful tarrazu environment not only gently bathes the coffee, but may impart its own unique characteristics to the beans.

don also stresses the idea of craft and artisanship in coffee processing, just as in roasting and agriculture. it takes supreme skill to properly dry coffee in the sun -- 4 days of obsessive care by skilled coffee workers who love their product.

"sun drying allows the coffee to be the way divine providence intended it," he says. ok don; you would know!

this coffee meets the chemex tomorrow.

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posted by fortune | 8:38 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

the everyday yrg

leapt outta bed today in full anticipation of making sara's everyday yrg -- as roasted by colin -- as a half-pot chemex in the so-called "oren proportion." that is, 2 oz. fresh ground coffee to 26-28 oz water, depending on how much water the coffee grounds absorb (which i find is generally, but not always, an amount about equal to its dry weight).

i usually find that it actually takes 28 oz. water to get to the half-way "dot" on the chemex. if you don't wet the chemex filter before brewing, you may find it takes another oz.

as noted previously, this now 6-day-old yrg is a dark roast; i call it vienna. i don't normally drink yrg this dark, so sara's coffee is rather an adventure for me.

lemme take this opportunity to note that i personally find -- to massively oversimplify -- that yrg generally comes in 2 main types: the washed, winey, lemon-scented caramel yrg with a light-medium body (don schoenholt's gillies yrg, which ken davids once called the best yrg ever, is of this type); and the winey, dry-processed yrgs that are like harrars, such as the kello, hama, and finchwa.

i don't know any of the details of sara's yrg, so lemme just describe it as it came to me this morning in its dark roastiness: the roast had turned the floral fragrance of the dry grounds to a green spice; the aromas were dark molasses and sweet pipe tobacco; the taste slightly phenolic; and the body was light-medium.

if you are an espressohound who normally doesn't like yrg, this is definitely a coffee for you! will try it as a single-origin shot tomorrow. . .

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posted by fortune | 8:11 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

the everyday espresso

woke up this morning and it was frankly autumnal -- gray, chilly, rainy. lower manhattan had vanished in a cloud of oyster-colored fog.

it was beautiful actually. and it inspired me to fire up my italian princess, silvia, to make some of the everyday espresso from yesterday.

got your scaa flavor wheel handy? whaddya mean, you don't have it as a mousepad?

as mentioned yesterday, i'm calling this roast level vienna. i believe the coffee is now 5 days old.

the first thing i'd like to say here is that this espresso is crema central -- it truly does create the espresso porn seen in colin's pic. i pulled the shot as a 30-second triple in a single-spout portafilter, which caused the crema to glob up and actually overflow the sides of spout channel!

putting my demitasse spoon into the cup, the crema and coffee clung tenaciously to the back. i'd call this body buttery, for sure; other people might mistake it for heavy-weight motor oil.

the fragrance of the dry grounds had a heavy roast note, due to the dark color of the coffee, which as long-time readers know is darker that what i usually drink.

the taste of the brew was bitter and pungent (i felt in the center-rear of the tongue), while the aromas in the coffee were decidedly turpeny, warming, and smoky. i think this is great coffee for cappuccino, and i drank it as such without sugar.

the warm and smoke cut nicely through the milk. i also tried a second pull of this as an americano, which didn't work for me.

i think cappuccino is definitely the way to go with sara's coffee! thanks again, sara.

it will be very interesting to see how this coffee develops in a couple of days. . .

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posted by fortune | 7:33 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Monday, May 15, 2006

neon cappuccino

the beautiful and iconic red script neon cappuccino sign from the old ferrara's in nyc's little italy is for sale. dirt cheap for those who love both neon art and coffee. . .

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posted by fortune | 8:59 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

canadian surprise!

and what came in the mail today but coffee from canada! whoo-hoo!

big bccy thanks to scaa pro member sara of everyday gourmet and bccy pal colin n. of coffee crew. colin roasted this coffee himself for everyday in sara's toper.

devoted readers will recall this coffee is the one featured in my recent espresso porn pic. sara kindly sent some espresso, yrg, peru, and sumatra.

popping open the yrg quickly reveals what i'd call a vienna roast -- the beans are dark and gleam with an overall light sheen of oil. i think this was all roasted on friday, making the coffee 4 days old.

you sure bet: first thing tomorrow sara's yrg is hitting the chemex. . .or maybe i should check out the espresso to see how porn-worthy it will prove in my own silvia.

thanks muchly, sara and colin!

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posted by fortune | 8:56 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Sunday, May 14, 2006

the ny times discovers yoga nidra, basically

"increase your pain, the screen commanded, as the first run began. i tried to recall the mental strategies in which i had been prepped for increasing pain: dwell on how hopeless, depressed or lonely you felt when your pain was most severe. . . .then, decrease pain, the screen commanded."

this nytimes article on how a chronic pain sufferer learns new techniques to help her manage just rang 100 bells with me today. the fierce and detailed visualization of opposites -- feeling heavy, then feeling light; feeling pain, then feeling pleasure -- is a common part of the yoga nidra technique.

long-time readers know i'm a big yoga nidra fan. the author of the above article goes off to a research lab and gets herself hooked up to fancy brain scan machine that shows the effects her visualizations have on her brain's pain circuitry.

again, this is no news to us yoga students: swami saraswati showed such brain images in his book on yoga nidra.

the nytimes author finds that in just two sessions with this visualization technique she is already progressing in her skill at controlling her brain. again, those of us yoga students who have practiced the so-called "long" yoga nidra on swami janakananda's cd in the link above have had this experience for ourselves.

in short, i encourage everyone with even a brief interest in the topic to read the times article and then try yoga nidra for yourself, even if you don't otherwise practice yoga. i think you will discover that it's a surprisingly beneficial exercise.

i personally found that the results became quite apparent in just 4 weeks of practicing the long yoga nidra 3 times a week. . .even to do it once or twice a week would be useful.

i really need to get back to three however; that was of the most aid, i thought!

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posted by fortune | 2:00 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

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