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Saturday, October 21, 2006

say a little prayer, or basic espresso machine repair for girls

oh my italian princess, silvia. i believe that after 6-1/2 years, she finally needs her first repair. and what a minor repair it is!

i mean long-time readers know i've never even had to replace her grouphead gasket. she is one reliable girl.

i woke up this morning, decided to make coffee in silvia (as opposed to my steamy latin guy from wholelattelove, carlos expobar), turned her on, and returned 40 mins. later to make coffee only to discover that while her lights were on, she was cold. cold.

no heat. she had power, she pumped (cold) water, but she didn't heat up.

now, when this happens with silvia, there's a well-known decision tree to follow for troubleshooting:

  1. ensure silvia has water by opening the steam wand to make sure water comes out
  2. if silvia has water, check to see if she has overheated and turned herself off: unplug the machine, remove the 4 little screws that hold on her top, and look inside for the red safety reset switch button; use the flat of a screwdriver to press it and reset silvia and see if she heats
  3. if she still doesn't heat, it may be the little US$12 brew thermostat that has failed; turn on the steam switch and see if silvia heats then
  4. if silvia heats with the steam switch, it's the brew thermostat that needs replacing, which is so simple you can do it yourself without chipping your manicure, if you have a computer screwdriver
  5. if the steam switch doesn't heat silvia, it may be that a power surge or something has blown both the brew and steam thermostats, which are easily and cheaply replaced
  6. if you replace both thermostats and silvia still doesn't heat, your heating element has failed and you probably need a new boiler (about US$250 with shipping both ways), so send it to the espresso shop nearest you

following this tree myself, i discovered that it was my brew thermostat. to replace this you just unplug siliva, take off the top, carefully pull the wire clips off the brew 'stat's funny little "wings," unscrew the 2 tiny computer screws, lift off the little bar that holds the 'stat in place, slide the bad one out, slide the good one in, and put it all back together.

this means that on monday i'll be calling long-time bccy pal terry z. at espressoparts to order this part. of course, i don't suffer because i have carlos to rescue me -- he's my knight in shining stainless steel armor.

however not everyone has another machine. if you are truly desperate to brew with silvia in this case, you can heat the machine in steam mode. once it's hot, blow off a little steam, and then press the brew switch to pump water.

the water's too hot for good espresso, so run off about 2 or 3 oz. then pull a shot.

this will get you coffee in a pinch, but it's not optimal. i don't really recommend this unless you are truly desperate (like being forced to brew a cappuccino at knifepoint).

in the meantime, i'm playing dionne warwick for my ailing beauty. . .tee-hee.

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posted by fortune | 9:28 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 1 comments | leave a voicemail

Friday, October 20, 2006

cupping with oren & genevieve

so today was rainy, basically warm, but with a huge chill wind that could sweep you into the sky if you didn't anchor yourself to the nearest lamppost at every major street corner. in fact, it completely reminded me of the last time i was in siena, standing in front of the duomo being drizzled on.

this is why i made pasta e fagioli alla contadina sienese for lunch -- with a food processor for the soffrito and the pressure cooker for the borlottis, it was all quite do-able.

then took my passport, got a visa stamped, and ran uptown to oren's office on the lex for the cupping. whenever i go to pro cuppings, i always return amazed -- you'd think i'd be used to it by now -- that while some of the personal descriptors are unique to each cupper, the broad descriptions of the coffee are usually in close harmony, and nearly everyone orders the coffee in exactly the same way.

this "there's no agreement in taste" idea seems less and less true with every pro cupping i attend. but why should i be surprised? everyone looks at a flag and agrees it's red, white and blue (unless they're colorblind, which is a recognized disability) -- why should simple tastes be any different?

we had a couple of flights on the table: 4 colombian c.o.e. coffees, and 3 indonesians. oren, genevieve and i rarely cup together -- in fact i think the last time we did was at the daterra gig in the exchange with with scaa past president linda smithers.

and yet despite the lack of much familiarity, only our training with the usual scaa tools like the flavor wheel, and certainly no taste calibration, oren and i nailed the c.o.e.'s in the exact same order.

we even labeled the la isla "typically colombian" in our tasting notes. exactly the same! we agreed on brightness levels, body levels, many descriptors -- we even both used the word "tomato" for one of the indos!

the order we both chose was:

  1. the andeano organic euro-prep la luisia
  2. the la isla from tolima
  3. also from tolima, the el placer
  4. from nariño, the el pedregal

on the indo side, we had 3 coffees from knutsen, a sulawesi (which oren still calls celebes kalossi); a sumatra mandheling from pawanee, super-grade "fancy select;" and another pawanee, an aged sumatra mandheling.

the tomato situation arose with the sulawesi. . .it definitely had a slight brightness, like a fresh red tomato, and also a little tomato-leaf herby aroma. i did manage to flip oren out with my personal descriptor for the aged sumatra.

now neither oren nor his buyer genevieve felix like aged coffees. myself, i went thru a peets period where i drank little else (i got better, as monty python fans would say!).

so oren and g. are going "why did we buy this coffee again?" and i'm rocking it out like -- potpourri/fresh cedar fragrance, mossy aroma with tumeric, frankincense nose, smoky black cardamom aftertaste, heavy body, mellow, low-toned taste.

it was the most distinctive coffee on the table -- esp. in contrast to those colombians. "frankincense?" oren said. "look oren," i replied, "if you want something different in your french press, esp. with milk, the puppy's gonna nail it. it's gonna stand right up and say 'i am not your typical noo yawk reg-u-lah.' for lovers of john zorn."

yeah, frankinscense -- i wonder if i was instinctively groping towards the diterpene (as flament says "diterpene decreases during storage," and that's aging, right?) -- so that in aged coffees, so much is lost except for that old-scented-wood and faded-diterpene thing? any coffee chemists care to comment?

(btw, you coffee-roastin' gearheads: oren's sirocco sample roaster's down right now. anyone with proven coffee-roaster mechanical skills who can fix it, email me! o needs a fix, i do believe!)

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posted by fortune | 2:47 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Thursday, October 19, 2006

jessica, life saver & the oriol balaguer

first, let's acknowledge that jessica m. of batdorf -- she rules -- saved my life today with her never-failing coffee delivery. that girl is good.

because the only thing worse than no epresso is trying to drink that "desperation illy." the look of disgust in my husband's eyes as he sets it down is painful, frankly. painful.

this gives me hope for tomorrow. . .along with the oriol balaguer bar from the day of 3 chocolates.

oriol is one of the hottest pastry chefs right now, period (that's right, his book sells for US$180 -- used!).

his 70% bar just looks beautiful -- it has the silky sheen and perfect finish we chocophiles are always looking for. the aroma is deep, with powerful vanilla, and when you break the bar, it has great snap and perfectly clean edges.

the texture of the chocolate in your mouth is nearly as smooth as valrhona -- i'm going to give the ol' v a microscopic edge here. many bars at this precentage are either too waxy or too dry and brittle as you bite, but not the oriol.

oriol's bars are buttery, buttery, buttery. unctuous is in fact the perfect word.

but what oriol knocks you out with is the intense perfectly balanced chocolate-yness of his candy. it's not noticeably bright, it's not ashy, it's not dull; it has a strong vanilla, but surprisingly in a good way, not in a way that covers up the bar.

it immediately took me back to that first-dark-chocolate feeling, the one you have when you discover you love dark chocolate, that sensation of revelation.

the peeps at fairway were all over this chocolate, saying it was the best bar they'd ever tasted. and darn it, they may just be right.

if you're into packaging, oriol's is nicely minimalist and slick, but still sturdy enough to actually protect the bar.

oriol's offering the serious goods here. and he should, because (thanks again, euro-zone -- not!) this spanish candy costs US$8 for 3.5 oz.

highly recommended; a flat-out must even -- on those days you win the lottery. otherwise, consider pawning your grandmother.

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posted by fortune | 6:18 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 1 comments | leave a voicemail

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

life without espresso

yesterday i did resort to "desperation illy," but regretted that this morning as soon as i took a look at the crema that did not appear in the shot glass. where'd it go?

i bravely made it thru my cappuccino, but my husband put his down half-way thru. it was an espresso rebellion here.

luckily i had the sicilian hand-made chocolate, the casa don puglisi from the other day. this isn't an eating chocolate, but rather a hot-chocolate chocolate.

it's very coarsely ground with chunky demarara-type sugar and a lot of vanilla. each small bar has 4 squares.

what you do is break off a square, plop it in a microwave-safe footed bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of water, and heat on medium for about 1 minute or so. just until the square softens enough that you can stir it meltingly into the liquid.

slowly mix in about 8-10 oz milk of your desired fat level (go for whole!), and heat just until drinkably warm -- don't scorch the milk. do not scorch the milk!

stir again. the result is a delicious hot chocolate, wonderful for breakfast.

and since each bar is about US$8 (thanks, euro-zone! -- not) due to the shocking exchange rate, consider it a real italian indulgence. serve it only to those who really appreciate what they're gonna get.

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posted by fortune | 3:02 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

le deluge

just in case you wonder what a flooding rain in noo yawk is like, check out today. certainly if fao schwartz sold mini-arks the way they do tiny benzes, it'd be easy to test it out this afternoon.

and thru this downstate niagara i trudged to get my veggies from the csa. which, btw, sucks, to quote salman rushdie.

my advice is to join any csa except the one in cobble hill. don't make me tell you why; just steer clear, ok?

a result of various factors, i find myself completely outta espresso for tomorrow, which is a terrifying thought. i had expected to pick some up today fresh from oren, but no dice there; no luck getting ahold of any gillies either -- i could have desperately gone to john at 2 for the pot to get some desperation illy, but that would have required me to figure out if i could ensure he'd be open by the time i got there, since he's famous for just closing up shop and going home whenever he feels like it, even if he's only been there 30 minutes in the day.

yes, i live in a town where i can guarantee you can on a whim at any moment buy yourself a child-size but fully functioning jaguar, but it can be impossible to buy fresh high-quality espresso beans. . .clearly i'd better get myself into a yoga class pronto before i turn into a super-groucho for the rest of the day!

(and to all you nice folks at edible, thanks for the sidelink! you rule!)

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posted by fortune | 1:53 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 3 comments | leave a voicemail

Monday, October 16, 2006

day of 3 chocolates

3 chocolates this being a beautiful fall day, dear readers, i did the intelligent thing and took the day off to go have lunch with my husband on the water at fun and funky red hook. sitting there at the fairway veranda i enjoyed lamb shanks provencal, some roasted organic beets, and watched the happy red tugboats rush about the harbor. (as i was buying some coffee, the guy there told me i had missed don schoenholt of gillies by about 2 minutes!)

but of course when in fairway, what one mostly does is buy chocolate (ok, and cheese. i bought about US$50 of raw, artisanal cheese. . .) the 3 hard-to-find bars are casa don puglisi's hand-made 45% chocolate modicana with vanilla; zotter's 70% dark organic and fair-trade chocolate bar with pineapple and paprika; and finally, the big score, famed pastry chef/chocolatier oriol balaguer's 70% dark chocolate bar.

let's just say i spent more money on chocolate than cheese today! since i had finished the last of my household staple, jessica's batdorf dancing goat, i also picked up just enough beans to get me through to tomorrow.

because of course i'm cupping tomorrow in the late morning with oren -- and pick up some fine coffee there!

anyway, i will definitely be eating one of these bars tomorrow -- so stay tuned! the buzz is big big big on the balaguer bar, for sure!

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posted by fortune | 3:28 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Sunday, October 15, 2006

prayers for kona

naturally today all our thoughts and prayers go out to our coffee friends in kona: suzanne shriner; john langenstein; cea smith; and of course also everyone at kona star.

thank goodness it appears that no one has been killed.

i also wanted to share with all you hardy home bakers some of carlo's description of yesterday's pane ferrarese. . .

"The bread is easy to assemble and knead. It is very tasty, very dense, and it crumbles like a semi-soft cracker rather than resembling what we call 'bread.' People love it. The shaping is a royal pain in the butt unless you have done, as I have, several hundred or thousand of them.

I have served my breads to Bolognese and Ferrarese friends and the remarks are either 'This is better than what we can get' or 'This is not as good as what we can get' -- go figure!"

that's pretty funny! but of course the bolognese are notoriously picky about food. . .

i am determined to go on another shopping expedition for some truly excellent regional olive oil and attempt this bread. i won't expect perfection or even anything that looks less than a total rag the first, oh, 100 times!

but even if the shape isn't such a perfect starfish, it'll still taste great, right?

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posted by fortune | 8:03 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 2 comments | leave a voicemail

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