30 dezembro 2006

And wine... ;)

Abv.- Alcohol by Volume, the amount or percentage of alcohol by volume in wine, beer, or spirits.
Anjou- A wine region of France in the Western Loire around the town of Angers that became known in the 1500-1600's for sweet wine production. The white Cote de Layon is known as the best of these, there are also the Rosé d'Anjou and the red Cabernet d'Anjou. Sweet wine is now only a small percentage of the wine produced in this region.
Appellation- geographical areas that are certified and have regulations governing the wines made there.
Asti- a town and province in Piemonte/Piedmont, Italy known for sweet and sparkling wines.
Asti Spumante- A sweet sparkling wine made in Asti with 7-9.5% abv and high carbonation, 3.5-4 atmospheres of pressure, produced from moscato bianco grapes.
Aszú- A tokaji wine
Ausbruch- an Austrian wine style very similar to Aszú and developed at the same time. Made with a combination of botrytized and regular grapes.
Auslese- See German Labeling Laws

Banyuls- a Vin du Naturel that is dry, red, and powerful with a large portion being released at 20 and even 30 years old.
Barsac- an important sweet white wine appellation from the Bordeaux region of France, it is located just across the river Garonne from the Sauternes appellation. All Barsac wines are also allowed to use the appellation Sauternes in addition to Barsac, although they tend to be a bit lighter than Sauternes.
Beaumes de Venise- a village in Vaucluse, France in the Côtes du Rhône appellation known for producing Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and the exceptional Vin du Naturel.
Beeren Auslese- See German Labeling Laws
Black Muscat- aka Muscat Hamburg, the lowest quality of the Muscat wine grapes.
Bonnezeaux- from the Coteaux du Layon appellation in Anjou. A sweet, thick, deep green gold wine usually botrytized, an abv of 13.5% to preferably 18%, and 10-20 years old, very low yields.
Botrytis cinerea- a fungus that attacks grapes and vines. In one form it is the malevolent Grey Rot, in another the benevolent and miraculous Noble Rot. Noble rot happens when the climatic conditions are just right and the fungus grows on sweet, late harvested grapes. It breaks down the skin allowing moisture to evaporate as well as making enzyme changes in the grape that lead to marvelous flavors later in the sweet wine. Botrytized (botrytis affected) wines are the best of the sweet dessert wines.

Cabernet d'Anjou- A refined and incredibly long lasting rosé wine that can mature for decades in the bottle. It is sweet, but with very high acidity, and can be drunk with many savory dishes as well as an aperitif or dessert wine.
Cadillac- a small, less than 740 acres, wine appellation in the Bordeaux region that produces sweet and medium sweet white wines. The wines don't sell for very much, and so few are made, which is too bad because they are different enough in taste, due to the chalky and gravel ridden soil, to be worth trying.
Cérons- the least important of the sweet wine appellations in the Bordeaux region. It is located just north of Barsac and Sauternes. The best wine maker is Clos Bourgelat which can be very good; sadly others in the area don't seem to be investing in the effort to produce quality dessert wines.
Commandaria- a deep colored dessert wine which is a specialty of the island of Cyprus. It is a type of raisin wine that has a honey and raisin flavor and pretty high abv. of around 15% due to slight fortification with added spirits. It is the oldest known style of wine and has been continually in production for what may be at least three thousand of years. It is sometimes made in a small three tier version of a solera or as a vintage wine. The premium Commandaria wines can be extremely fine and complex.
Constantia- Legendary, aromatic, non-botrytized and concentrated dessert wines from South Africa that hit their peak during the 1700's. They were sought after by royalty throughout Europe, commanding very high prices and the prestige that went along with them, more so than any almost any other dessert wine. Napoleon insisted on having them available when he was in exile on St. Helena. In 1861 blight attacked the vines and the wine basically disappeared. A few exceedingly rare bottles do still exist that are still excellent even though they are several hundred years old. In the 1980's sections of the original wine estate were replanted with vines and Klein (Small) Constantia has been trying to achieve making dessert wines of the caliber of the original, under the name Vin de Constance. The wines have an excellent reputation and have been improving every year as the vines get older. The wines are naturally high alcohol, that is without any fortification, and do not have any botrytis. I was recently given a bottle of the 2000 vintage and am looking forward to trying it on a special occasion.
Cote de Layon- A sweet white dessert wine from the Anjou region.

Eiswein- see Ice Wine

Floc de Gascogne Blanc and Rosé- Vin de Liqueur style wines made in Armagnac and similar to Pineau des charentes of Cognac.
Fortified Wines- wines that have spirits added to ensure stability, high alcohol, and to stop further fermentation. Some fortified wines are: Sherry, Port, Madeira, Vermouth, Málaga, Montilla, Marsala, Liqueur Muscat, Liqueur tokay, and a few other wines including some Muscat and Tokay styles in Australia, and a few Pedro Ximénez and other similar wines in Spain and Cyprus, and the non-wine Vin de Liqueur / Vin Doux Naturel (like the Floc de Gascogne blanc and rose and the Pineau des charentes marnier)
which are made by fortifying grape must (juice) to produce a sweet aperitif.

German Labeling Laws- German wines are categorized by the degree of ripeness measured in natural grape sugar at harvest time. Riper grapes have more sugar but, more importantly, they have more flavors and thus produce superior wines. The level of residual sugar in the finished wine is up to the individual winemaker, and these categories do not reflect sweetness levels in the bottled wine.
Kabinett- Light wines made from fully ripe grapes, ideal for drinking without food as they are usually low in alcohol. Can be dry/medium-dry/sweet.
Spatlese- Literally "late harvest". More flavor concentration than a kabinett. Can be dry/medium-dry/sweet.
Auslese- Literally "select picking". Only the best bunches are picked and the resulting wines, although usually sweet, can also be dry or medium-dry.
Beerenauslese- Literally the "select picking of berries" that have noble rot, and produce remarkably rich, sweet wines.
Trockenbeerenauslese- Translates as the "select picking of dry berries" that are completely desiccated by noble rot, and produce luscious, honeyed wines.

Eiswein- Literally "ice-wine". Made from grapes that are harvested (pictured) and pressed while frozen. Very rare and very remarkable wines that have incredible concentration and exquisite balance.

Ice Wine- also known as Eiswein. Wine made by letting grapes freeze on the vine and then harvesting and squeezing them while still frozen. They can be some of the best dessert wines available. See the Ice Wines post for more information.

Layon, Coteaux du- medium sweet to sweet white wines made from Chenin Blanc grapes, in the Anjou district of the Loire. Three small areas within the district make wines of enough distinction to each have their own appellations, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, and Premier Cru Chaume. The wines are usually botrytized and/or partially raisined on the vine.
Liquoreux- A French term that means a wine is syrupy sweet, very rich, and often botrytized.
Loupiac- sweet white wines grown in the Bordeaux region that were known as far back as the thirteenth century.

Madeira- an island in the Atlantic off of North Africa that belongs to Portugal. Wines of that name are fortified and heavily oxidized so that they will remain stable and delicious during long travel, bad conditions, and extended periods of time. There are several styles which have varying levels of oxidation and acidity. Some are Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, Sercial, Rainwater, blends, and historic styles of great age that are extremely old and still available in small amounts. It also comes in several quality levels such as 3 year old, 5 year old, 10 year old special reserve, extra reserve, solera wines, colheita/harvest, and frasqueria/vintage. They may be sweet, dry, smoky, woody, etc. They were originally produced to ship by sea and it was found that the wine tasted better after sitting in casks aboard tossing ships that traveled through the tropics. So the wines would actually be sent on long sea journeys to develop their flavor and the most sought out were ones that were vinho da roda, or round trip, as in they had been to sea and back. Since the 1900's they are made on the island and age in special lodges where they are gently heated to simulate the shipboard aging process, or in shaded outdoor areas where the heat of the sun does the work over an extended period of time.
Málaga- a city on the Mediterranean in Spain known for rich and raisiny fortified wines of the same name. Traditionally it was a dried grape wine with the grapes drying for 7-20 days on mats in the sun. Now several methods are used to produce the wines, including drying them traditionally. Rarely the wines are not fortified and very dry and sweet grapes are fermented to 18% naturally, a difficult and long process.
Marsala- A town in western Sicily in Italy known for its fortified wine of the same name. The wine comes in three colors: Oro (golden), Ambra (amber), and Rubino (ruby.) As well as three levels of sweetness: Secco (slightly sweet), Semisecco (sweeter), and Sweet (the sweetest.) there are five further types depending upon the cask age: Fine (one year), Superiore (two years), Superiore reserve (four years), Vergine (five years), and Stravecchio Vergine (ten years.)
Maury- a Vins du Naturel made in the same area as Banyuls and somewhat similar but sweet instead. It is strong, red, and sometimes rancio.
Moelleux- a French term that translates into 'like bone marrow' or 'mellow' it means a wine is medium sweet.
Monbazillac- a sweet white wine appellation in the Bergerac region of south-west France that has a history of sweet wine production going back well over 500 years.
Moscato d'Asti- the finest of the sweet sparkling white wines from Asti. It is moderately sweet with low carbonation, and low alcohol with a maximum 5.5%abv.
Muscadelle- a grape variety usually used in making sweet wines
Muscat- a type of wine and also a grape variety used in making sweet wines. Depending upon the language it is also called Moscatel, Muscatel, and Moscato. It has at least four varieties and is the world's great grape for sweet wines and eating.
Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains- the oldest and noblest variety of Muscat grapes. It tends to have aromas and flavors of orange flowers and spice. In South Africa it is called Muscadel and in Alsace Muscat d'Alsace.
Must- unfermented grape juice.

Neusiedlersee- a lake and wine area in the Burgenland region of eastern Austria known for producing some of the countries best sweet wines.

Pedro Ximénez – A type of grape, as well as a style of raisin / dried grape wine made in Spain.
Picolit- also called Piccolit and Piccolito, the name of a very small grape and a fashionable and expensive sweet white wine made in the Friuli region of north-west Italy. It is one of the most successful of the raisin / dried grape wines with the grapes being late harvested and then dried before pressing.
Pineau des charentes marnier- a Vin du Naturel from the Cognac region of France. It is a sweet, golden colored, Cognac fortified wine usually made by smaller artisinal wine makers, not the large wine businesses.
Port- Originally getting its name from the city of Oporto, it is a fortified wine originally made in Portugal, and now the style is also made by other countries. It is made by adding brandy to stop the fermentation of red and occasionally white wine. It is then aged in casks for differing periods of time, and if differing ways before bottling. It can be a blend or a single vintage with the exceptional vintages selling for large amounts. It goes back to the trade wars in the 1600's between England and France when an English merchant discovered a Portuguese abbot who was adding brandy to wine to stop the fermentation so it would retain sweetness. This was a new idea instead of the usual for the time practice of adding spirits after the fermentation, which was done so the wine would be stabilized and so, could travel and age well.

Quarts de Chaume- a very small area within the Coteaux du Layon appellation producing only the best vintages of amazing sweet wines, usually botrytized, that have high acidity and age extremely well. Total annual production may be as little as a few thousand cases, which by wine making standards is less than a drop in the bucket.

Raisin Wine- A style of wine made from grapes that have been partially dried on the vine or in mats in the sun to reduce moisture levels and so increase sugar levels. The wines are full of deep flavors like dates, raisins, figs, dried fruit, honey and molasses. They tend to be a dark brown or red-brown in color. They are one of the oldest styles of wine made.
Rancio- It is derived from the word rancid. It is used as a term referring to a wines taste, usually fortified or Vin du Naturel wines. It is achieved through purposeful oxidation and warming of the wine, either naturally or through a process. The actual smell and taste is broad and may be like over-ripe fruit, nuts, and melted, browned, or even rancid butter. You would think this was a negative term but it is not, because other flavors in rancio are dried fruit, honey, and caramelized sugar. In small amounts the presence of rancio brings a great and complex richness, depth and character to the wine.
Recioto- a category of raisined / dried grape wines made in Italy. Some types are the sweet red Recioto della Valpolicella, the rare sweet white Recioto di Soave, and the often amazing dry Recioto di Amarone table wine.
Rivesaltes- a town and area in southern France that has two appellations and produces around 70% of the countries Muscat wines. The wines are strictly controlled in many ways so as to maintain high quality levels.

Sauternes- a region in the Graves district south of Bordeaux that is dedicated to producing unfortified, usually botrytized, sweet white wines of the same name; more so than any other region in the world. It is always spelled Sauternes and if spelled Sauterne it is usually a sickly and generic sweet white wine that is in no way comparable to the real thing.
Sélection de Grains Nobles- the richest and most sumptuous ripeness category of wines from Alsace.
Sherry- a fortified wine from the area surrounding the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía, Spain. Sherry is an English corruption of the word Jerez. It is made in several styles. The pale, dry Fino and the dark, full, but dry Oloroso. There are many levels of style / body and in order from lightest to heaviest they are: Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Pale Cream, Cream, and more. Pedro Ximénez wines are grown in the same region.
Solera- The Solera (steps) and Criadera (nursery) system is where wine is put up in a series of very large casks, set up in levels/stairs. As the oldest/lowest cask matures and has part of the wine removed to bottle, then wine is added to the oldest cask from the next oldest, and so on up the levels, so that over the years new wine is added to older wine, being added to even older wine. Usually there are 12-14 steps in a criadera with the bottom one containing the oldest wine called the solera, and the one up called the first criadera, then the second criadera, and so on up the stairs.Ste-Croix-du-Mont- one of the most important of the sweet white wine appellations in the Bordeaux region, made across the river from Sauternes and Barsac. At their best they can be similar to the other two neighboring wines, but less expensive.
Stickies- Australian term for dessert wines since they are sweet and sticky.

Tokaji- also known as Tokay. Wines from the Tokaj region that are some of the greatest sweet white dessert wines in the world. The wines may be non-botrytized, partially or fully botrytized grapes. The sweet wines are rated in Puttonyos from the least sweet and rich one puttonyos, to the sweetest and richest six puttonyos. Then there is the even sweeter and richer Tokaji Eszencia. The wines can also be made in a dry and semi-dry style.
Tokaji Aszú- A type of grape used to make Tokaji wines. Aszú originally meant dry or shrunken grapes.
Trockenbeerenauslese- (TBA) See German Labeling Laws

Vendange Tardive- literally means 'Late Harvest' and in France the term is restricted to wines made in Alsace.
Vermouth- herb flavored fortified wines originally made in France and Italy, and now in other countries.
Vin de Liqueur- a sweet strong fortified drink made by adding spirits to unfermented grape must so that it has an abv. of 16%-22%. The European Union uses it to describe all fortified wines, a decision not agreed upon in other parts of the world.
Vin doux Naturel- a sweet, pale gold fortified wine that differs from Vin de Liqueur in that the spirits are added just after fermentation starts and so you have more complex flavors as well as a slightly less alcoholic nature.
Vin de Paille- French term that means 'straw wine,' also called Strohwein in German. These are rare, expensive, delicious, and very long lived, sweet white wines of the raisined / dried grape style.
Vin Santo- also called Vino Santo, means 'holy wine' in Italian. It is an amber colored dessert wine made in the raisined / dried grape style. It can be ultra sweet or bone dry depending upon the style. Depending upon the producer the wines can be amazing, or mediocre.
Vouvray Moulleux and Vouvray Liquoreux- Sweet white wines made in the Vouvray appellation of France. Vouvray is also the name for the Chenin Blanc grape.

The information in this glossary is from a variety of sources, but most especially the newly released Third Edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine edited and written by the incomparable Jancis Robinson, one of the worlds top wine experts.

Know your cheese terminology

Walk into the cheese section of any market, especially at an upscale gourmet-type store, and you are going to see a tremendous variety of cheeses available. And that selection doesn't even come close to scratching the surface of the number of cheeses that are out there. It can be difficult to figure out the differences between each product until you've tried all of them, but here is a quick guide to cheese terminology that might help you sort through the basic types of cheese.

Fresh - High moisture cheeses that have not been aged, like cottage cheese, cream cheese, feta, mascarpone and ricotta.

Soft-Ripened - These have hard rinds and soft interiors, like brie and camembert. They often have edible rinds made by "spraying the cheese with Penicillium candidum mold before a brief aging period."

Semi-Soft - Cheeses that are neither hard, nor runny, but that are high in moisture and creamy in texture, like Monterey Jack, fontina or havarti. They are often easy to grate and slice.

Firm/Hard - Less creamy than soft cheeses, but ranging in texture from slightly elastic to brittle. These are also good grating cheeses and tend to melt well. The category includes Asiago, cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss and Parmesan.

Blue - Cheeses with added mold that have strong flavors and are characterized by blue or blue-green veins, like Danish blue or gorgonzola.

Pasta Filata - Cooked and pulled cheeses like Mozzarella and provolone fall into this category and the cheeses can be hard of soft when finished.

Natural Rind - Long-aged cheeses develop a rind as they sit, like English Stilton or Lancashire.

Washed-Rind - These are washed with brines to encourage the growth of bacteria and rind-formation. These are frequently also semi-soft cheeses inside the rind and have strong flavors and smells. They include Taleggio and Muenster.

Processed - These aren't real cheeses, but are actually cheese byproducts, made with added flavoring, stabilizers and emulsifiers. American cheese and "cheese flavored" spreads fall into this category.


29 dezembro 2006

A-Z tastes of things to come

A is for Alinea
The US foodie bible, Gourmet, voted Alinea in Chicago the best restaurant in America, a remarkable achievement for its 30-year-old chef, Grant Achatz, given that it had been open for only a year. Alinea is famed not simply for the inventive dishes on its 24-course tasting menus, but also for the ways in which they are presented. Ingredients come to the table impaled on hyper-thin metal prongs, created by the restaurant's consultant sculptor, or dangling from what appear to be chrome executive toys. A piece of lamb arrives buried beneath smouldering eucalyptus leaves, and a single ravioli has a liquid centre that is the very essence of truffle.

B is for Heston Blumenthal
The Man as far as this country is concerned. Prior to opening the Fat Duck in 1995, Blumenthal had spent only a week in a professional kitchen, at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Today he has three Michelin stars. His friend and fellow chef, the great Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain, has paid him the ultimate compliment: one of his dishes often appears on the menu at El Bulli, credited to Blumenthal. He is the only chef to have been so honoured.

C is for flavour combination
One of the defining motifs of future food is unexpected flavour combinations, be it hazelnut cannelloni Pavlova with beef at l'Enclume in the Lake District, braised turbot with peanuts and vanilla at Midsummer House or caviar and white chocolate at the Fat Duck. It may sound weird, but in the right hands these dishes can make you look at ingredients anew.

D is for desiccation
The future food kitchen is a restless place, forever in search of new techniques with which to improve their dishes. Often they'll look to the chemistry lab, which is where the desiccator - generally used for dehydration - came from.

E is for El Bulli
Ferran Adrià's Spanish restaurant is regarded as the place for anybody interested in the avant garde. El Bulli's team, largely staffed by devotees working for free, creates dozens of new dishes every year, all of which are now catalogued both in books and online. They are open only during the summer months and this year got 800,000 requests for tables. Don't even think of trying to book: the 2007 season is already full.

F is for foams
Once they were only on the top of your cappuccino. Now they are on everything. Try the green apple foam at Bacchus in London or the parmesan air at Anthony's in Leeds. Want to make your own? Just get a light stock, add a little cream and beat the hell out of it with a hand-held, battery-powered cappuccino beater. Et voila: foam. You too are now on the cutting edge of the culinary avant garde.

G is for Gastrovac
Already a big hit in Spain, the Gastrovac is, depending upon who you talk to, either the greatest thing to hit kitchens since fire, or just a glorified pressure cooker. It allows ingredients to be cooked at low temperature in a vacuum. In theory when the vacuum is broken, any flavours from a stock will flood into the main ingredient. There is one big difference between it and a pressure cooker, though: the Gastrovac costs £2,000.

H is for Harold McGee
Originally an English literature professor at Yale University in the US, Harold McGee became increasingly interested in the science of cookery and is the author of what is regarded as the future food movement's bible, On Food & Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, published in 1984. It was the first mainstream book to detail what happens when food is cooked, and was the one that got Heston Blumenthal interested in the subject. You can read McGee's writings at curiouscook.com.

I is for ice cream
Forget vanilla and tutti-frutti. Think Roquefort, grain mustard and even crab flavour. If it can be added to cream and churned it can be made into ice cream. And at some point it probably will be.

J is for jellies
The modern kitchen became really excited by jellies with the introduction in the 1990s of new gelling agents like agar, a seaweed extract, which stay solid at much higher temperatures and opened the way for warm jellies. Try the mouth-filling hot langoustine jelly served with chervil cream at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham.

K is for Nicholas Kurti
The late Nicholas Kurti, a Professor of physics at Oxford University who worked on the atom bomb project during World War II, was also a keen amateur cook. In 1969, Kurti gave a lecture at the Royal Institution called 'The Physicist in the Kitchen', which is regarded as the first moment when the science of cookery was investigated with any seriousness. Among Kurti's creations were a reverse baked Alaska, which was frozen on the outside and hot on the inside.

L is for low-temperature cooking
In the old days we roasted the hell out of pieces of meat to make them tender. Now we know that a long spell in the oven at low temperatures of around 50°C will produce much better results. In his TV series Perfection Blumenthal (see also B) cooked a piece of beef for 24 hours, and rested it for a further four, before sealing it in a blazing hot pan for about 90 seconds. Aga fans were right all along.

M is for molecular gastronomy
In the early 1990s a new centre for scientific and cultural studies was opened in Sicily. Hearing that workshops were being given over to all sorts of scientific research, Nicholas Kurti (see K, above) proposed conducting research into cookery. The centre's directors were unimpressed. They couldn't investigate something as banal as cookery. OK then, Kurti said. How about if we call it molecular gastronomy? Kurti was given space in which to conduct his research and a term - which means absolutely nothing - was coined.

N is for liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen is so cold it freezes almost anything instantly, which can make for some interesting restaurant theatre. At his Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo, chef Jeff Ramsey uses it to flash-freeze desserts.

O is for osmosis
As any biology student will tell you, osmosis is the process by which water passes through a membrane to dilute a solution - say, of salt - on the other side. This desire to understand the nuts and bolts of processes like osmosis distinguishes the future food chef from his classically trained colleagues.

P is for Pacojet
Until the arrival of the Pacojet if you wanted to make a sorbet you first had to create a sugar solution of a particular density, otherwise, when frozen and churned, your sorbets would be full of crunchy ice crystals. This meant sorbets had to be sweet. With a Pacojet, however, you make a purée of your chosen flavour, then freeze it. Inside the Pacojet is a blade which spins at high speeds, whizzing the block of ice into a smooth soft mush that approximates to a sorbet. Welcome, then, to basil sorbet, jasmine tea sorbet, even sardines-on-toast sorbet. From around £2,000.

Q is for quinoa
Quinoa is a grain, often associated with the Andes where it grows easily, with a fluffy light texture and a slightly nutty flavour. Although it has been cultivated for thousands of years, it's a novelty to most Western restaurant-goers, which makes it a shoo-in for inclusion on any future food chef's menu.
R is for revolution

Which is exactly what we are in the middle of right now.

S is for sous-vide
The vacuum-packing of food, as a means of preservation, has been around for years. Increasingly, though, chefs are using it to cook ingredients, vacuum-packing them first with seasonings, then heating them very gently in low-temperature water baths. The result can be cuts of fish and meat with a very even soft texture. Increasingly, sous-vide machines are turning up in kitchens that do not regard themselves as being on the future food agenda. What not to say: 'Oooh, it's just like boil-in-the-bag!'

T is for Thermomix
Your food processor at home cuts as it mixes as it dices. The Thermomix (£640) goes one better. It cooks too. That means you can knock up those all-important cappuccino-style foams on your soups. (It also happens to be bloody good for baby food.)

U is for Umami
Although known about in the East for many years, umami, best described as savouriness, is a major part of various culinary traditions. Yet only recently has it been accepted in the West as the fifth taste alongside salt, sweet, sour and bitter. Seaweeds are a great source of umami, and, with increasing interest in Japanese ingredients, are used regularly to boost the savoury flavour profile.

V is for Mark Veyrat
The French chef has two restaurants, one in the mountains at Megève during the winter, the other down by the lake at Annecy for the summer. He has a reputation for using wild herbs and flowers from the pastures around his restaurants (both of which have three Michelin stars) and also for the whizz-bangery with which his food is then served at the table. Diners are as likely to be asked to inject their dinner with a syringe of sauce as they are to use a knife and fork. Think celery ravioli with a zabaglione of lovage, crayfish sorbet with asparagus chantilly, and orange jelly or grapefruit fritters in nitrogen with tonka bean gnocchi.
La Ferme de Mon Père, route du Crêt, 74210 Megève (00 33 4 50 21 01 01);
La Maison de Marc Veyrat, 13 Vieille route des Pensières, 74290 Veyrier du Lac (00 33 4 50 60 24 00)

W is WD-50 and Wylie Dufresne
Wylie Dufresne was one of the first chefs in the US to get on to the future food agenda at his hyper-cool Manhattan restaurant WD-50. It's the place for deep-fried mayonnaise (served in cubes), for powders of peanut butter or olive oil which reconstitute in the mouth and for rack of lamb with a banana consommé.

X is for xanthan gum
Xanthan gum is a thickener and one of a number of ingredients which have found their way from industrial food production into the future food kitchen, where it can be used as an alternative to cornflower.

Y is for yuzu
...and all the other Japanese ingredients - mirin, miso, ponzu, daikon - which have found their way on to the menus of chefs trying to push the boundaries. Yuzu is basically a Japanese alternative to lemons, and a dash of yuzu on a menu makes a dish sound way sexier, and suggests that the chef is an enlightened soul.

Z is for zein
A protein found in maize, zein is made in powdered form and used as a filmy coating for encapsulated foods like nuts or fruits. At the Fat Duck they serve zein films flavoured with oak moss and leather.

Tabacaria Bureau de Tabac Estanco Tabaccheria Tobacconist's

Não sou nada.
Nunca serei nada.
Não posso querer ser nada.
À parte isso, tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mundo.

Je ne suis rien.
Jamais je ne serai rien.
Je ne puis vouloir être rien.
Cela dit, je porte en moi tous les rêves du monde.

No soy nada.
Nunca seré nada.
No puedo querer ser nada.
Además, tengo en mí todos los sueños del mundo.

Non sono niente.
Non sarò mai niente.
Non posso voler essere niente.
A parte questo, ho in me tutti i sogni del mondo.

I am nothing.
Never shall be anything.
Cannot will to be anything.
This apart, I have in me all the dreams of the world.

Traduções de: Armand Guibert, Ramiro Fonte, Neva Cerantola, Jonathan Griffin.

28 dezembro 2006

100 things we didn't know last year

1. Pele has always hated his nickname, which he says sounds like "baby-talk in Portuguese".
More details

2. There are 200 million blogs which are no longer being updated, say technology analysts.
More details

3. Urban birds have developed a short, fast "rap style" of singing, different from their rural counterparts.
More details

4. Bristol is the least anti-social place in England, says the National Audit Office.
More details

5. Standard-sized condoms are too big for most Indian men.
More details

6. The late Alan "Fluff" Freeman, famous as a DJ, had trained as an opera singer.
More details

7. The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions.
More details

8. There are 6.5 million sets of fingerprints on file in the UK.
More details

9. Fathers tend to determine the height of their child, mothers their weight.
More details

10. Panspermia is the idea that life on Earth originated on another planet.
More detail


24 dezembro 2006

Unhappy feat: biologists baffled as millions of penguins vanish

HOLLYWOOD has turned them into the cartoon stars of the film Happy Feet, but the real life story of the rockhopper penguin is not such a happy tale, scientists have discovered.

Millions of the birds are disappearing in a "sinister and astonishing" phenomenon that is baffling biologists. In just six years their numbers have fallen from 600,000 to 420,000 in the Falkland Islands - one of its few remaining strongholds - according to the latest survey by Falklands Conservation.

The decline equates to a drop of about 30 per cent, although the Falklands population is thought to have dipped by about 85 per cent since 1932, when there were more than 1.5 million birds.

It is thought that global warming may be behind its decline, as warmer seas are less productive and the penguins may not be able to find enough food to eat, but researchers admit they have not yet established the reasons. Dr Geoff Hilton, an RSPB biologist who has studied the species, said: "It's actually quite rare in conservation that we don't know why a species is declining.

"All around the world from New Zealand to the Falklands there used to be all these huge colonies. Populations separated by 1,000km of sea are all crashing.

"It's an astonishing decline, the populations have just crashed over the last few decades and we really don't know why. It's quite sinister, we have got millions of penguins just disappearing."

He analysed rockhopper feathers dating back to the 19th century from stuffed animals in museums and discovered in warm years the penguins feed "lower" on the food chain, on krill and squid rather than fish. This less nutritious food might be the reason they are suffering. In several years, rockhoppers have starved to death in their hundreds of thousands during the annual moult, when they are unable to swim and, therefore, feed because their feathers are not waterproof.

Other penguins have suffered, but have bounced back, while the rockhoppers only seem to stabilise before falling again. A red tide of toxic algae in the Falklands also killed thousands in 2002-3. Dr Hilton said: "There must be some major big thing going wrong in the eco-system. We did see some clues [in the feathers study] and the finger is tentatively pointing at global warming."

In Happy Feet, a rockhopper penguin called Lovelace, voiced by Robin Williams, is a self-proclaimed prophet who also narrates the story. The film has proved a huge hit.

The research was funded by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs Edinburgh Zoo. Roslin Talbot, the zoo's head keeper of penguins, said: "It is very serious for them. Zoos generally have found them quite difficult to breed. They are choosy when they go to pick their mates and they like very specific places to nest."

Grant Munro, the director of Falklands Conservation, said there were fears that rockhoppers might become extinct. "If the present situation were to carry on then it's not a particularly great forecast. It doesn't look like they are suddenly going to start increasing in numbers," he said.

"In the Falklands, they are part of everyday life. If you head down to the beach you are going to see penguins."

And they are amazingly tame and inquisitive.

"You are not perceived as a risk so they will come over and say hello."

22 dezembro 2006

"Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
'Wretch,' I cried, 'thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite- respite and
nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind
nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.' "

[The Raven - Edgar Allan Poe]

Nepenthe and Happy Holidays to you ;)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Christmas came early for fans of the Harry Potter series this year, with the revelation of the title of the long-awaited seventh book. The final instalment of the adventures of the boy wizard who, has captured the imagination of children (and adults) the world over, will be called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The announcement, which was made on the website of JK Rowling's UK publisher, Bloomsbury, puts an end to months of internet speculation, with guesses ranging from Harry Potter and the Pyramids of Furmat to Harry Potter and the Graveyard of Memories. The actual title, however, gives little away; doubtless the rumour mills will now go into overdrive debating what exactly "deathly hallows", which have not featured in any of the previous Potter books, may be.

Kes Nielsen, head of book-buying at Amazon.co.uk, reported a surge of activity in the site's Harry Potter store, following the announcement. "This is the first piece of the jigsaw in the final part of the Harry Potter series," he said. "The book's release will be met with an unprecedented level of excitement - but also a sense of sadness. Over the past 10 years, so many people have been enchanted by the world and characters that JK Rowling has created. It will be like saying goodbye to an old friend."

Rowling has yet to deliver the final manuscript of the climax to the Potter series; speaking on her website two days ago, she said that she had been "working very hard ... writing scenes that have been planned, in some cases, for a dozen years ... I am alternately elated and overwrought. I both want, and don't want, to finish this book (don't worry, I will.)"

The publication date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is still unknown, but is expected to be set in early 2007.

21 dezembro 2006

I Don't Know Why I Love Lisbon

The grilled sardines lying on my plate are much larger than the stunted little things packed in tins which go by the same name in the U.S., and their eye sockets stare up at the ceiling, where hanging light fixtures are shaped like gourds. The aroma of sardines led me here, the scent sharp at first as it hit the nose (perhaps too sharp), until the smoky complexities took over, akin—at least for me—to a bouquet of wine. I take another sip from my glass of vinho verde and peer up at the small square of the TV perched on a high shelf beside the restaurant's open door. The screen displays a smaller green rectangle of a soccer pitch, with the even smaller figures of the players racing back and forth.

Across the table in this typically narrow and crowded Lisbon tasca (mirroring the long and narrow streets of the Bairro Alto, an appealing neighborhood mix of funky shops and clothes drying on balconies), my 19-year-old ponytailed son, Nathaniel, sits enthralled by the beginning of this World Cup game: Portugal against the Netherlands. We've both caught some of the local futebol passion through a sneaky process of cultural osmosis, because there's been no escape from the billboards, metro announcements, and TV ads that nearly all celebrate the World Cup games. For only the second time in history, a Portuguese team has made it to the second round, and tonight they're fighting for a berth in the third round, the final eight. My normally sports-averse son is actually interested, maybe because I mentioned a few days ago that Jack Kemp had once denounced soccer, on the floor of the House of Representatives, as a "socialist sport." It's a well-worn tactic—as a kid, he finally ate his broccoli after my wife and I told him that the first President Bush hated the stuff. But Nathaniel also has a real gift for geometry, and maybe that's what secretly attracts him as he keeps his eyes on the TV—the constant reshuffling of the players' patterns on the pitch.

Already in the first minutes the Dutch team has begun some serious harsh play, enough to draw two yellow warning cards, in what seems like an attempt to intimidate Portugal from the get-go. Nathaniel shuffles nervously in his seat, glances at me. On the flight over, I'd made the mistake of reading aloud passages about fan hooliganism from Franklin Foer's marvelous How Soccer Explains the World. At the time, a description of one soccer thug's arm that "folds around in a direction that would defy a healthy network of joints and tendons" made for some good head-slapping, eye-rolling camaraderie on a long flight, but now I'm regretting it, because I've had to nag Nathaniel all day to get him to watch tonight's game in a public place. I try listening in on the conversations of the people sitting at neighboring tables in an attempt to catch their mood, but spoken Portuguese—with all its succulent oos and ooshes, oishes and aows—still glides by too quickly for me, even after years of tutoring in the language.

Still, I'm happy just to be here. I love Lisbon.

I don't know why I love Lisbon. But I jumped at the chance to participate in the international short-story conference being held here this week. What a gig—all I have to do is give a reading of one of my stories, manage as a panelist to say something remotely intelligent about literary editing, and collaborate on a video essay on the conference with my technically astute son, and then I get to wander around one of my favorite cities. When I'm walking its stone-cobbled streets, catching glimpses here and there of the bordering Tagus River, or taking in, from a vista on one of the city's seven hills, the glorious staggered topography of the white buildings and their salmon-colored tile roofs, I feel that I'm also traveling some interior landscape, that those streets are leading to a place inside myself I haven't yet located.

Our neighbors cheer and our waitress swirls an impromptu dance—Maniche, the Portuguese midfielder, has scored the first goal, one of those beautifully aimed strikes that, in replay, has an inevitability about it, as the ball slices through the shifting, open spaces of a tumble of defenders in a direct, elegant line to the corner of the net. His long dark hair plastered in sweat against the sides of his exultant face, Maniche wades through an eruption of his teammates' joy at the seemingly impossible having been so artfully accomplished.

I take another sip of the house wine, watch the continuing replays of the goal. I don't know why I feel at home here, but I have a theory. My family on my father's side is Scottish and Catholic. Not a popular mixture back in the home country, which is why my dad's parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles emigrated en masse to New York in 1927—typical bad timing, two years before the Depression, but that's another story. Why, when, and where, I've often wondered, did my family shed its Presbyterian roots?

On the banks of the Douro River in northern Portugal, there's a port-wine vineyard called the Quinta dos Malvedos. In 1820, two Graham brothers who lived in Oporto, William and John (my grandfather's first name was John, and my father's, William!), worked for a trading company based in Glasgow (where my family comes from!), and they founded that quinta. Couldn't my father's family, almost 200 years ago, have raised grapes on the banks of the Douro River and eventually converted to Catholicism? And if some returned to Scotland (black sheep, certainly—why else leave a vineyard?), then back in Glasgow they paid the piper for their unwelcome faith.

It's probably all bullshit, but I hold that shred of possibility to help explain why the full-throated, plaintive twists of a fado song can sometimes bring me close to tears, or why Portuguese saudade—a complicated feeling that combines sorrow, longing, and regret, laced perhaps with a little mournful pleasure—fits so easily in my own emotional baggage. There's something beyond romantic delusion, something deeper, that beckons me: it's a genetic thing, a need to cross the centuries and return home, if only for a little while. I'm sure any Scottish genealogy service could easily burst this fragile bubble, which is why I'll never consult one.

Cries of despair rise around us. The Dutch team has gone a little crazy in their attempt to even the score. Cristiano Ronaldo, a team star, is the victim of a vicious kick and is forced to leave the game. The baby-faced player cries as he exits, which make his features appear even younger. Those damn Dutch—they made a little kid cry! Minutes later Cristiano's teammate Costinha returns Dutch fire with a nasty foul—his second of the game—and he's ejected with a red card. Yet, for all the rough stuff on the screen, the Portuguese maintain their good spirits. Nathaniel relaxes, nods at me: we're far from English-soccer-fan hooliganism here.

During halftime, I continue to scrape the delicious sardines down to their spinal columns with great care and deliberation. I know I can't make these babies last until the end of the game, so I order more wine, and if the match goes into overtime there's always dessert to order and slowly savor.

Once the game resumes, it threatens to become a brawl. The referee is in over his head, and he starts throwing out so many yellow cards that the commentators on TV seem to have lost count. His attempts to control the roughhousing only further incite the players on both teams, and the foul fest continues. Even the Portuguese goalkeeper, Ricardo, draws a yellow card. It's become the kind of game that could set off any number of silently ticking heart attacks.

Nathaniel starts throwing those looks at me again, but now they're just a joke, because it's clear that our amiable Portuguese neighbors take it all in lightly while tucking into their sardines and grilled pork ribs, and I feel a rush of affection for these people I don't know. Yes, this is an important game, a crucial game, but I sense no barely suppressed rage beneath the surface. My neighbors seem to have their heads on straight: they're enjoying the game, win or lose. I like these people. I'm even happier that Lisbon will soon be my home for the coming year, though it still seems more an imagined future than one that's rapidly approaching. In a month I'll return with my family, and my wife, Alma, will ply her anthropological skills studying Cape Verdean children, our daughter, Hannah, will start the sixth grade at a Portuguese school that's a five-minute walk from our apartment, and I'll finish writing a few books that have been begging for extended time and attention. I'll finally learn Portuguese—because isn't it true that simply breathing Lisbon air helps in memorizing the irregular conjugations of the preterit?

Now that we've passed the midpoint of the second half, the Dutch are even more desperate to score, and maybe their chance will come—the Portuguese team has been a man down since Costinha was ejected, and fatigue is setting in. Suddenly, Figo, the team captain, is writhing on the ground, his hands covering his face, and everyone around us gasps at this possible further loss.

After the Dutch player Boulahrouz is ejected with a red card, Figo makes a remarkable recovery. On replay it's clear that Figo was only lightly brushed on the chest by Boulahrouz's elbow during a tight run for the ball and then, after a half of a 10th of a split second's hesitation, Figo reared his head back and began his face-clutching and writhing dramatics, pouring it on for the benefit of the referee. It's such flagrant fakery that we all cluck approval at the theatrics. After all, Boulahrouz was the one who injured Cristiano in the first half, and we're satisfied with this imprecisely accomplished justice.

Soon, two more red cards cast a player on each side out of the game. Both teams are now, incredibly, playing with only nine men on the field. Somehow, the Portuguese manage in the final minutes to tough out their one-goal lead, and then the tasca crowd cheers and the waiters and waitresses rush out to the street to dance on the cobbled stones and sing a souped-up version of the national anthem.

Nathaniel and I wend our way through the dancing streets to the subway, and the Portuguese seem a bit surprised to me, as if they secretly didn't believe they'd win this game, or that unrestrained expressions of joy aren't exactly local tender, especially because the heavily favored English team awaits Portugal in the next round. The subway cars themselves are packed with revelers, many sporting goofy porkpie hats in the colors of the Portuguese flag, and again I get a sense from these celebrants—a slight, barely perceptible hesitation here and there—that a happiness that leaves saudade behind may be uncharted territory.

Nathaniel and I reach our stop, and, as we begin our climb up the stairs to the street, the tiled walls echo with countless honking car horns from the street above. Outside, we watch the broad avenue packed with cars of delirious fans hanging out the windows or just managing to balance on the roofs, waving flags and shouting victory: Portugal! Portugal! Maybe it's not so hard for saudade to take a temporary back seat after all. Back in our hotel room, I lean out the window and listen to the horns and cheers echoing off the same streets I'll be wandering in the coming year while I try to discover why I love Lisbon. I give in to my own glee, and for hours into the night the whole city sings.

From Philip Graham Spends a Year in Lisbon, at:


Illustrated by Pedro Proença, he of the Oceanarium causeway ;)

Golden Gate

This four-bedroom home is located in Belvedere, California and the deck offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco. The new home has a contemporary style and is designed for indoor and outdoor living where the sliding doors disappear into wall pockets and a glass roof skylight in the dining room retracts for dining by starlight. Honduran mahogany crown and base moldings, Italian style plastered walls, limestone floors, onyx and marble in bathrooms and kitchen are part of the luxury feel this home. It is listed at $8.8 million.You can also check out the house in Zillow where their "zestimate" is a bit lower than the asking price. After the jump, fruity coffee tables are just part of the owner's unique collection of furniture.

20 dezembro 2006

We fell in love with a lighthouse

In 1996 there was a lighthouse for sale in Burnham-on-Sea, and as a reporter I was sent to cover it - it was rumoured someone famous might be buying it. When it didn't reach its reserve at auction, curiosity got the better of me. I got the keys and went with my fiancee to look at it. It was an empty shell. Just a 110ft chimney with eight floors linked by vertical steel ladders. It had no water. No toilet.

It's a very beautiful piece of architecture. It has a copper roof, huge granite floors and 6ft-thick walls, like a castle. People died building it. We bought it, but with no idea how much it would cost to turn it into a dwelling, and no planning permission. We were young and stupid and in love with each other and the building.

Initially the romantic dream was to bring up our kids and live in the lighthouse. But the bureaucracy and the difficulty took a bit of the gloss off. It took nearly 10 years to complete. Trying to make a granite tower comply with 21st-century building regulations is impossible. Building inspectors kept throwing up objections and we had to find common sense solutions. Twice we went to the secretary of state, and we succeeded. Fire was the big concern so we installed a sprinkler system that cost a fortune, fire doors, smoke detectors. We finally finished it this Easter. Now we rent it out and stay there when it's empty.

You have to be quite disciplined to live vertically. You change the way you do things. You never go up the tower empty-handed or come down empty-handed. You hang your keys in the same place all the time. You can't put your mobile phone down. The tower is designed so there is always a loo within one or two floors. There's a kitchen at the top but also a kettle and fridge at the bottom.

The trade off is fantastic. The lantern is still in the top room and, on a clear day, you can see 22 miles in every direction. It's really exciting to be up there in a storm. If it gets hit by lightning - as it always does - it's great. You can just watch the storm and the gulls, and you're insulated from it all.

I had to learn to abseil so I could paint it. The scaffolding would cost tens of thousands. It needs doing about every five years. It's fun on a calm day, hanging off the lighthouse with a paintbrush.

We were often tempted to sell it, during dark times in the refurbishment. But I think some things are once in a lifetime. It's not every day you get the chance to buy a lighthouse.

Patrick O'Hagan

Most Unusual Restaurants In The World

Homaro Cantu, executive chef of Chicago's Moto restaurant, isn't afraid to try new things -- and neither are his patrons.

From maple squash cake to a lychee rigatoni fruit plate, Cantu's concoctions are entirely inventive. Like many of his contemporaries--including Wylie Dufresne at New York's WD-50 and Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck in Bray, England--Cantu, a self-proclaimed gadgets geek who, in his spare time, reconstructs electrical equipment like combustible engines and remote-controlled cars, pays close attention to the science of cooking to create food that people have to "see to believe."

For example, one dish requires the use of liquid nitrogen to create an illusion of melting cheese out of grated mango. And many of Cantu’s courses are prepared with a Class IV Laser, which cooks the food at record speeds. Of course, Cantu's main objective is still superior taste. But why all the hullabaloo for a few savory bites? Are diners more obsessed with presentation than palettes these days?

In a way, yes. Cantu says diners are bored with run-of-the-mill meals. And according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), he's right.

"There are not only a greater number of restaurants [than previously recorded,] but a greater diversification of the kind of restaurant cuisines as well as specialized concepts,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services. Next year, the NRA is forecasting restaurant industry sales to continue their upward trend and reach $537 billion dollars nationwide, up 5% from 2006.

With increased competition, chefs are finding that "concept" dining is yet another way to spice things up (pun intended).

At Brussels-based Dinner In The Sky, tables are suspended in midair by a crane.

Forget the off-kilter entrees; Paris' Dans Le Noir leaves its patrons literally in the dark. Run by a primarily blind and visual-impaired staff, founders Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond believe that the act of consuming food becomes more satisfying when you're relying on any other sense than sight--now taste, smell and touch can have their moment in the spotlight. The concept was such a success that Broglie and Boisrond recently opened outposts in both London and Moscow.

And chef Ferran Adrià Acosta, who runs El Bulli in Roses on the Costa Brava, Spain, is so dedicated to culinary perfection that the restaurant remains open only from April to September, leaving six months for Adrià to fine tune his 30-course tasting menu in his laboratory, "El Tower." His strategy has paid off--this year, El Bulli was named the number one restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine.

Riehle says the methods of chefs like Acosta and more recently, Cantu, have been embraced because restaurant patrons, particularly in the U.S., are more educated about food and therefore less afraid to try new things. In other words, more adventurous palettes allow for more adventurous dishes.

“Basically, any good cook is part chemist, part artisan,” he remarks. “The knowledge base of both of those components is substantially higher now than any other point in time. It allows this specialization of knowledge not only to be executed but to be executed on a profitable basis.”

Of course, sometimes high-concept dining misses the mark. At the now-defunct Cafe Ke'ilu in Tel Aviv, Israel, people paid $5 to "make believe" they were eating. It, understandably, fell short when diners tired of leaving hungry.

As for Cantu, he plans to use his specialized knowledge for than just the Moto menu--expect to see many of his patent-pending products at a grocery near you in the future. “We are going to be launching products left and right that are going to hit your shelves,” he says.

Fat Duck

Bray, England

The current tasting menu at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck includes nitro-green tea and lime mousse (shown here) as well as snail porridge, salmon poached with licorice and mango and Douglas fir puree. Blumenthal’s latest book, In Search of Perfection, inspired a television series of the same name currently airing on Britain’s BBC 2.


New York

While patrons work their way through the tasting menu at this Japanese restaurant, servers dressed as ninjas perform magic alongside their tables. Expect to spend quite a bit on the sushi--but realize you’re really paying for the entertainment.

Dans Le Noir (In the Dark)




Dans Le Noir founders Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond believe that the act of consuming food becomes more satisfying when you're relying on senses other than sight, and they hired a primarily blind and visually-impaired staff to prove their point. Does the food at Dans Le Noir really taste all the better for it? Book a table at one of their three locations--Paris, London or Moscow--to find out.


New York

Chef Wylie Dufresne cut his teeth at Jean Georges as sous chef and then at Prime in The Bellagio, Las Vegas, as chef de cuisine before opening WD-50 in New York City’s Lower East Side. His dishes, such as butternut squash sorbet with coffee soil and basil (shown here), are adventurous. And at $105, the nine-course tasting menu is one of the most reasonably priced in the city.

El Bulli

Costa Brava, Spain

El Bulli's head chef Ferran Adrià Acosta is a scientist with the passion of an artisan. That's why Acosta closes for six months every year to dream up all sorts of new and nearly unbelievable dishes (such as the artful beet-based sorbet shown here) in his "El Tower" laboratory. El Bulli’s dynamic menu earned it the title of 2006’s Number One Restaurant in the World, according to Restaurant magazine.



From edible menus (above right) to patent-pending edible advertisements (the details of which are being kept under wraps), chef Homaro Cantu is taking the science of cooking to another level at culinary laboratory Moto. The “nachos and cheese” dish (left) is actually more sweet than savory: the “tortilla chips” are a mix of Mexican sweet corn and flan, the “ground beef” is a grainy Mexican chocolate and the “Monterey jack” is grated Mexican mango spiked with liquid nitrogen that allows it to melt when sprinkled on your plate.


India; Malaysia; Singapore; Perth, Australia

The typical Indian fare at this restaurant isn’t shocking, but your bill may come as a bit of a surprise. The Annalakshmi mission is "eat as you like and pay as you feel," which means there are no set menu prices. One dollar or $100--it’s your choice. You might be inclined to leave a hefty tip for the staff, however--they’re employed on a volunteer basis only.

Dinner In The Sky

Brussels, Belgium

Call it a floating restaurant if you will--patrons who dine at Dinner in the Sky are suspended by a crane in midair while feasting on the executive chef’s specialized gourmet menu. Based in Brussels, Dinner in the Sky now brings its table to cities throughout Europe.

Linger Lodge

Bradenton, Fla.

Chunk of Skunk? Road Toad Al A Mode? Yes, these are some of the offerings on the road grill menu at the Linger Lodge Restaurant. If you’d rather refrain from snacking on snake or sparrow, there’s a traditional menu with classic southern favorites such as Good Ol' Fashioned Catfish and Old-Florida-Style Fried Chicken.

Ice Hotel Restaurant

Sverige, Sweden

The main restaurant of the famed Ice Hotel chain is, oddly enough, not made of ice. But they do serve meals on plates made from the ice of the Torne River, which borders Sweden and Finland. Elk and reindeer appear frequently on the restaurant’s winter menu.

17 dezembro 2006

The Platypus

Translation Goggles

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing any tourist is the inability to communicate. I think we've all made fools out of ourselves trying to act out "train station," "subway," "potato" or hundreds of other things we desperately need but can't seem to find when exploring foreign lands.

If computer science professor Alex Waibel has his way, this problem will cease to exist within the next decade. The Carnegie Mellon University professor is working on a variety of gadgets which seek to automatically translate the spoken word.

The coolest of the inventions is the yet to be released, translation goggles. This nifty device translates everything strange foreign people are saying to you in strange foreign lands and prints it out on a tiny screen on the glasses for you to read.

This will be a godsend for travelers but also a curse. Now when the locals curse you under their breath for being hloupý, loco or a dummkopf, you will finally understand what they are saying.

Now, dear friends at Carnegie Mellon, how is this going?

(Gadling ;)

15 dezembro 2006

Fear of Yoga

Yoga is the Survivor of the culture wars: unbloodied, unmuddied, unbothered by the media’s slings and arrows, its leotard still as pristine as its reputation. Everybody loves yoga; sixteen and a half million Americans practice it regularly, and twenty-five million more say they will try it this year. If you’ve been awake and breathing air in the twenty-first century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Jennifer Aniston, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world.

Journalists love yoga because it fits perfectly into the narratives of everyday life. "Yoga Joins the Treatments for Kids with Disabilities," reported the Evansville Courier & Press this summer. "Yoga Helps Pregnant Women Prepare for Delivery," according to WNCN in North Carolina, an NBC affiliate, which recently broadcast a report about a prenatal yoga class offered by Healthy Moms in Raleigh. "Soldiers Shape up with Peaceful Yoga," an AP-bylined piece about how they are using yoga to both prepare for and recover from combat, ran in the Bradenton [Florida] Herald about the same time.

But wait, there’s more: Tribune Media syndicates a strip called Gangsta Yoga with DJ Dog, which appears in newspapers all over the nation from the Detroit Free Press to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Then there’s yoga to relax sex workers! from the Hindustan Times; and the revelation from Fort Worth, Texas, that yoga is replacing kickball in the city’s high school gym classes. Still not convinced? How about yoga skin care, Christian yoga, iPod yoga, golf yoga, tennis yoga . . . well, you get the picture.

Down the hall in marketing, this kind of press is the stuff of dreams. Yoga has now ascended to the category of “platform agnostic,” the highest praise marketers can conjure for any kind of content, trend, or person. Translation? Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities.

But that’s all surface noise. What’s more interesting to consider is how yoga arrived at its present bulletproof status in the media. After all, it’s foreign-born, liberal by association, and inclusive to its philosophical marrow. Yoga not only survived its 1960s revival, but has somehow managed to embed itself in the great mall of the mainstream — and not like a rusty old peace sign, either, but as a replicating strand of our national DNA. (Memo to Lou Dobbs: Relax! We’re exporting American-style Bikram yoga franchises all over the world.) And I’ll venture that it says something good about our character as a nation that we’ve managed to get over our fears of otherness to master a few words of Sanskrit, yoga’s original language. Yoga means yoke, as in union, shorthand for the theory and practice of forging a link to the divine. And hatha yoga — physical yoga, with or without a spiritual attachment — is what reporters talk about when they talk about yoga in the twenty-first century.

The scent of patchouli has left the room; yoga now smells like money. We knew it had arrived when it assembled its own constellation of superstar circuit riders like Rodney Yee and Cyndi Lee, teachers who have become as famous to the yogaratti as rap stars are to kids. And yoga classes are even provided by corporations and covered by some health plans, for good reasons: nearly every day, news of another study reaches us, confirming yoga’s benefits for arthritics, asthmatics, dyspeptics, depressives, people with HIV or cancer — literally whatever ails us. I bet that even red-meat culture warriors like Bill O’Reilly or Ann Coulter couldn’t Swift-boat yoga’s progress now. That ship has sailed.

But yoga’s American dream is of a fairly recent vintage, as I discovered during a few years of research into its media past. In a journey through two centuries of our cultural history, yoga has endured something of a bumpy ride. It has been feared, loathed, mocked, kicked to the fringes of society, associated with sexual promiscuity, criminal fraud, and runaway immigration. Really. Which make its recent media beatification all the more surprising, as we’ll learn. But first, a thumbnail history.

Yoga arrived in the United States in a cloud of ideas both sacred and profane from what was called the Orient: the vast, exotic, unknowable out there. In 1805, William Emerson, father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, published the first Sanskrit scripture translation in the U.S. His son Ralph and his Transcendentalist posse, especially Henry David Thoreau, were dazzled by Indian spiritual texts, especially the Bhagavad-Gita, which Emerson read in translation for the first time in 1843. “It was as if an empire spake to us,” he wrote in his journal, “nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence.”

Thoreau kept a well-thumbed copy of the Gita in his cabin at Walden Pond, and claimed wistfully that “at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.” The Concord intellectuals, earnest, brilliant men and women all, were destined to remain wannabees, however. Yoga is not about texts. It is experiential, its wisdom transmitted skin to skin, teacher to student, which required actual masters (gurus), all of whom happened to be Indians, who were in quite short supply for most of this nation’s history. It wasn’t until 1883 that the first Hindu cleric lectured in the parlor of Emerson’s widow in Concord and went on to complete a short speaking tour. Five years later, an itinerant Tantric yogi named Sylvais Hamati befriended a curious thirteen-year-old Iowan named Perry Baker in Lincoln, Nebraska. Baker, after more than a decade of study at Hamati’s feet — and a glamorous Francophile name change — recreated himself as the first American yogi, Pierre Arnold Bernard. Like Huck and Jim, Hamati and Bernard hit the road and remained a team for the next fifteen years.

Throughout those post-Civil War decades, the media’s take on yoga was dictated by the Theosophical Society, an influential spiritualist-reform group founded in New York City in 1875. The Theosophists embraced a combo platter of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and spiced it with a few of their own. Americans first heard such terms as karma and nirvana through the efforts of the Theosophists, who were awed by the belief that certain yogis had demonstrated occult, Faustian powers over time and space, “over men and natural phenomena,” as The New York Times put it in 1889. Astral projection, telekinesis, clairvoyance, speaking to the dead and hearing them talk back — it was heady stuff.

For a group founded on brotherhood and spiritual unity, the Theosophists were a cranky bunch, regularly bickering and splintering into factions. They also split the public’s perception of yoga into two parts: raja good, hatha bad and even immoral. Half of those hatha holy men in India sitting like catatonics on beds of nails were fakers, they said, and even Mark Twain dissed these ascetics as “performers” who took money from the poorest of families. The Theosophical Society made plenty of headlines in its time and was in fact a darling of the press. Its stormy meetings were covered like sporting events, like this one from September 1909, which the Chicago Tribune reported on for three days straight:

Efforts were made to hush up the Yoga rumors and these were successful until the announcement that a new series of lectures was to be delivered here next week. Then the smoldering Yoga scandal broke into a blaze again, various women of considerable social rank were accused by others with being “Yogaists,” and the report became current that the cult was to be taken up here again.

Partly through the influence of the Theosophists, a growing number of Indian holy men and yogis were here, plying the byways of turn-of-the-century America. The trend started at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, when the World Parliament of Religions brought together representatives from all the major faiths, including several Hindu sects, and launched America’s first superstar swami: the charismatic Vivekananda (which roughly translates to Blissmaster). The American press dubbed him the Cyclonic Monk for his energetic speaking style, and a lecture bureau took note and signed him up.

More swamis followed in Vivekananda’s path, more Americans saw the light, and that was more or less when yoga’s trouble really started. After decades of sketchy, slightly mocking coverage by newspapers and magazines, yoga came under increasingly vicious attacks. What changed, you might wonder? The immigrants arrived — nearly twelve million of them between 1870 and 1900, piling up in the port cities of both coasts until the surge peaked in the decade between 1900 and 1910, when some one million immigrants entered the U.S. each year and ran into an angry, Nativist backlash.

On the West Coast a growing xenophobia, first aimed at Chinese and Japanese laborers, slowly turned toward “East Indians.” Starting in the 1880s, a series of laws, the Oriental Exclusion Acts, was passed to control immigration. In San Francisco, the proudly racist Asiatic Exclusion League, which in the past had campaigned against the “yellow peril” from China, Japan, and Korea, now turned its attention to immigrants from India. By 1906 all Asian Indians were denied U.S. citizenship; in 1917 the Asiatic Barred Zone Act excluded all immigration from South or Southeast Asia, including India. It wasn’t repealed until 1965.

At the same time, a spiritual American reform movement was nearing the height of its success in a campaign to “purify” the nation’s morals through legislation. You can read the tea leaves here, I think: fear of foreigners plus a purity panic (brought to a boil by the sensational “yellow press”) set loose the idea that these dark-skinned foreigners and the morals-loosening effects of their “yogi philosophy” were a menace to society. Groups of followers were from then on routinely described as “cults.” In the spring of 1911, newspaper readers from coast to coast read about the humiliation of Mr. Winthrop Ellsworth Stone, the president of Purdue University, whose wife fell under the yoga spell and left him and her children. It was noted that a few years before, Mrs. Stone took yoga classes, which were seen as a “a fad with several highly educated persons” in the community.

What was shaping up to be the American media’s war on yoga now picked up momentum, fueled by the growing “white slave” hysteria (They are stealing our daughters!). In June 1910, the same month Congress unanimously passed the Mann Act, known as the White Slavery Act, the American yogi Pierre Bernard was jailed for abducting two young women in New York City; a week of sensational press coverage ensued in which he was forever branded as the Omnipotent Oom, the Guru of the Loving Tantriks. Here’s one of fifty headlines from that week, from William Randolph Hearst’s New York American: "Police Break in on Weird Hindu Rites Girls and Men Mystics Cease Strange Dance as “Priest” is Arrested."

To the American consumer of news, yoga was no longer just a queer pastime; it was evil, a con, a cult — uncivilized, heathen, and anti-American. Even the word became a metonym for secret doorways and sex worship; yogis were nothing more than swindlers and seducers. From 1911 to 1915, a grifter known to headline writers as “Yogi Bill Ellis” plied his trade in New York and New Jersey. He was arrested in 1915 carrying an array of knock-out drops hidden in false-bottom trunks and a black book containing personal dirt on society dames — to be used for guaranteed results during Yogi Bill’s palm-reading sessions.

In the autumn of 1911, the slimiest — but in retrospect the most entertaining — of these attacks was published by the Los Angeles Times. "A Hindu Apple for Modern Eve: The Cult of the Yogis Lures Women to Destruction," the headline read. “The incense of sandalwood burned in their honor all the way from the Lake Shore Drive to Fifth Avenue and the Back Bay,” the article said. “These dusky-hued Orientals sat on drawing-room sofas, the center of admiring attention, while fair hands passed them cakes and served them tea in Sèvres china.” Toward the end of the year, Current Literature published a version of a recent piece titled “The Heathen Invasion of America,” which concluded: “Literally, yoga means the ‘path’ that leads to wisdom. Actually ‘it is proving the way that leads to domestic infelicity, and insanity and death.’”

The federal government was apparently prodded into action by such press reports. “Agents are now quietly at work, investigating the strange spread of these Oriental religions throughout this country,” The Washington Post reported in early 1912. The article listed a roster of female converts and their tragic ends: Miss Sarah Farnum “gave her entire fortune” for a Hindu summer school. Miss Aloise Reuss, of Chicago, now lives in the Illinois Insane Asylum; Miss Ellis Shaw of Lowell, Massachusetts, had to be legally restrained from giving her fortune to a holy man; Mrs. May Wright Sewell, of Indianapolis, Indiana, was made “dangerously ill” by the teachings of her yogi.

During the years of the immigration backlash and the morality panic, even into World War I, government agencies enlisted private individuals to go undercover, and journalists did their part. Hearst’s New York American, which had been tyrannizing Bernard (a.k.a. the Great Oom) and his yoga followers since 1910, began a new campaign in 1918 to dig up actionable dirt. After a few months, the paper turned over its findings to the New York district attorney’s office in return for exclusive access to the bust. “Means were obtained for detectives to obtain evidence, and secure entrée to the initiates,” the paper bragged. The American ran a page-one story that rambled on for 130 column inches, proudly proclaiming its role in hunting down Bernard’s yoga cult: “District Attorney Edward A. Swann, acting upon information supplied by the New York American, started a new drive to purify New York,” the story began. “The disciples of the cult, whose practices continue all night, include both men and women.” The headline was a classic:

"Twelve Cult Worshippers Taken in a Raid Upon Home of the Great Oom"

In the 1920s, when tabloids became part of the journalistic landscape, yoga became part of the tabs’ new “love cult” obsession. Reporters found love cults in Mexico and France ("Rich Worship Love Goddess Along Riviera"); in Queens, New York ("High School Girls on Grill"); San Francisco ("Orgies of Super-Love Cult Send Five to Jail"). Hearst’s New York Journal gave the tabs a run for their money with double-truck takeouts like this: "Latest Black Magic Revelations About Nefarious American Love Cults," which included Bernard, who had combined yoga with baseball, vaudeville, and circuses in Nyack, in the process convincing members of the Vanderbilt family to bankroll his efforts.

By then, America’s second most famous swami, a young Calcutta mystic who went by the name Yogananda, had arrived in the U.S. (His Autobiography of a Yogi, published in 1946, is still in print.) Yogananda quickly built an American following for his “Yogoda” brand of meditation-based yoga through relentless touring and speaking. “You Americans exercise your bodies and brains too much and your will power too little,” he admonished, throwing himself from lotus position to a handstand in one motion. His followers purchased a hilltop retreat for his ashram outside Los Angeles that later became the Self-Realization Fellowship. Yogananda bought himself a new Packard to tool around in and posed proudly next to it for a photo the Los Angeles Times captioned with a wink: "Swami Buys Swanky Automobile."

But even this holy man came in for his fair share of abuse. He was hauled into court on charges of property fraud in Los Angeles and vaguely threatened with immigration proceedings. He was run out of Miami by two hundred angry husbands, as one newspaper reported in 1928. “His life threatened by a delegation of indignant citizens, Swami Yogananda, East Indian love cult leader, was at a hotel tonight determined to stay in Miami ‘and fight it out,’ despite Police Chief N. Leslie Quiggs’s order that he leave town immediately.”

In the thirties and forties, a truce settled on the land. The cult connection still hung on for headline writers, and crimes were still attributed to immoral yogis, but a softening could be felt in the media’s stance. With Bernard and his yoga-and-baseball ashram prospering on the East Coast and Yogananda’s yoga-of-the-will thriving on the West (and the Vedanta Centers preaching a polite theology of Hinduism in between), a kind of amused toleration began to invade newsrooms. Yoga no longer qualified as a novelty; it wasn’t going away, but it wasn’t stealing our women, either, and it appealed mostly to rubber-legged, brown-rice-and-green-tea types. Joseph Mitchell of the New York World-Telegram went to Nyack to see for himself in 1931 and judged Bernard to be all right. “There’s nothing high-brow about me, my boy,” Bernard told the young reporter. “I’m a curious combination of the business man and the religious scholar. . . a man of common sense in love with beauty.”

The thirties saw the rise of the influence of gossip columnists, many of whom had started their careers just a few years earlier with the tabloids. Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper were two of the best known of the pack. Gossips wrote six days a week in many cases, so they relied to an inordinate degree on movie stars’ predilections, which began to involve yoga. In 1938, Cole Porter was back in the hospital, a year after his legs were crushed in a riding accident. He was studying yoga, reported Leonard Lyons in The Washington Post, “to attain complete control of his system.” Lyons had previously outed Greta Garbo as a lonely yogini; Maureen O’Sullivan was mentioned by the beauty columnist Ida Jean Kain in one of her “Your Figure, Madame,” columns titled "Yoga Exercises Finding Favor With Women in America." And guess what? Mae West was one of those women, according to Sheilah Graham in her “Hollywood Today” column of January 30, 1940.

During the war years, Southern California became the undisputed locus of alternative culture, and Hollywood its epicenter. Yoga was by this time, if not totally American, then a harmless pastime for the citizens of Cali. During World War II, it was reported that “nerves are unpatriotic,” according to the author and actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, who told a health columnist that she had tried yoga and calisthenics to cure her wartime nervousness.

In 1943, it was revealed that Margaret Woodrow Wilson, the former president’s daughter, had spent the previous four years studying yoga at an ashram in Pondicherry, India, and had no interest in returning to the U.S. In India, Gandhi received yoga treatments that involved kelp.

In the 1940s, the first homegrown celebrity yogi since Pierre Bernard turned out to be his nephew Theos Bernard, a lawyer and graduate student who completed his master’s thesis, “Introduction to Tantrik Ritual,” at Columbia University in 1936. Theos traveled to India to study yoga and made his way to Tibet; he arrived at Lhasa on an auspicious day, and so was welcomed and venerated as the first White Lama. His account of his initiation into secret Buddhist rites, Penthouse of the Gods, was published by Scribner’s in 1939. Theos, with his matinee-idol looks and eager-to-please disposition, was an instant success on the lecture circuit. Meanwhile, his uncle was making headlines again in Nyack by running a training camp for the heavyweight boxer Lou Nova using yoga, equipping him with what sports writers called the “Cosmic Punch.” (Nova beat Max Baer but lost to Joe Louis.) By 1944, Theos Bernard had married a wealthy opera star and settled in his own mountaintop ashram in California, built with his wife’s money. With her money, too, he published Hatha Yoga: the Report of a Personal Experience, including pictures of himself demonstrating a dozen or so asanas wearing only a loincloth. In 1947, on a return trip to Tibet, he was apparently caught up in sectarian crossfire and killed, his body never found.

For yoga, the fifties, as you might expect, were a decade of denial and paranoia. "It Wasn’t Yoga, Mrs. FDR Says," announced the headline in the Chicago Defender. Eleanor Roosevelt, responding to a written report that she practiced yoga in the White House, admitted that although she liked to do headstands, “I did not know they were called yoga exercises.” Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, obviously prompted by cold-war worries, denied reports that his nation would supply the Soviet Union with yogis to help cosmonauts breathe easier in outer space.

But in the fifties, in Hartford, Connecticut, of all places (on the wrong coast), there arose the unsung hero of the yoga revolution, a political correspondent and columnist for the Hartford Courant named Jack Zaiman. Nobody has yet given JZ the credit he deserves. Zaiman, a gym rat by his own lights, looked from his photograph to be as profound a square as can be imagined (he did write the intro for Joe Lieberman’s history of Connecticut politics in 1981). But as early as 1953, Zaiman put his credibility on the line by proclaiming: “I Am a Yoga.” Never mind the weird syntax, let us here and now give props to Jack, who went on to write a goodly number of columns extolling the virtues of yoga for the next ten years. “Now don’t laugh,” he began in 1955, “it may sound like a gag but it’s not. I think the most important book in my library is a small volume on Yoga written by a woman named Indra Devi.”

It was no gag. Jack Zaiman took his book to the Y to practice headstands, and conscious of it or not, started the next great leap forward in the advance of yoga in America. In the mid-fifties, everyday people spontaneously assembled in meeting rooms and gyms at the YWCAs and YMCAs to give yoga a try. Why not? We already tried Latin Dancing. The classes spread in “inkblot” fashion (to steal a metaphor from the Iraq war) from neighborhood to neighborhood, from Inglewood to Westwood in L.A., and from Oak Park to LaGrange in Chicago. “Marilyn Monroe’s latest kick is yogi [sic],” wrote Walter Winchell in 1956; not the philosophy, just the exercises. “To improve her legs, she says.” Holy cow! Marilyn, too? There was still a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” approach to yoga among journalists, not just in the celeb stuff but in reporting, like the tale about a visiting yogi who drank acid, chewed on broken glass, and told reporters that if practiced long enough, yoga could protect humanity from a nuclear attack. "Yoga Best A-Bomb Control After 12 Years," says yogi, was the headline in the Hartford Courant. There was the “Fasting Fakir” in the Chicago Tribune, the Buried Swami, the indignant parade of the Nude Hindus, and remnants of the crime connection ("Self-Styled Yogi Bound Over on 10 Theft Charges" — Los Angeles Times), but by the decade’s end, the tide had turned; only loonies now considered yoga to be dangerous anymore. Heck, even Gary Cooper practiced yoga to relax.

Let the sun shine in! The 1960s began with Frances P. Bolton, a seventy-four-year-old congresswoman from Ohio, telling a radio interviewer that she loved yoga and that she learned it back in the 1920s. United Press International picked up the story and put it out on the wires. Bolton was unafraid to be seen as weird, and she was a Republican, too. Take that, Eleanor. In 1961, the Los Angeles Times began a landmark multipart series called “What’s Yoga,” and Richard Hittleman’s Yoga For Health TV show replaced Jack LaLanne in some markets. In Los Angeles it aired every morning, though it took until 1966 to get to New York. Hittleman wrote a series of books that sold eight million copies, and he hung with such credentialed hipsters as Alan Watts and Jack Kerouac.

By mid-decade, The New York Times estimated that yoga practitioners numbered between 20,000 and 100,000. Then in 1967, The Beatles crossed paths with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was preaching a brand of meditation-based yoga that he trademarked as Transcendental Meditation. "Beatle Says They’ve given up Drugs" was the headline in The Washington Post coverage that summer (that was Paul talking, though their sobriety was extremely temporary, as it turned out). The Beatles made plans to go to India, and the American counterculture lit some incense and followed in spirit. We went mad for yoga — well, for all things Eastern. Mia Farrow, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Donovan, and others trailed The Beatles to India to spend a few months deepening their study.

It’s ironic then to realize just how brief The Beatles’ interaction with their guru was. They met in the late summer of 1967 and by April 1968, the boys were given failing grades by the Maharishi, though “they had done extremely well in meditation,” he said. He wouldn’t allow them to represent TM or him. They were through with him, too, pissed off at his pushy organization, and used their failed affair with him as material for several great songs: “Dear Prudence,” written for Mia Farrow’s sister during the ashram stay, and “Sexy Sadie,” about the guru himself.

Much has been assumed about The Beatles’ influence on the growth of yoga, but I think in the end, it may be a bit overblown. Yoga was firmly rooted not only in the United States but around the world years before The Beatles went to India. In 1966, Rudolf Hess, the lone surviving Nazi in Spandau Prison, who was serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity, told a reporter that “his chief occupation now is practicing yoga on his cell floor.” As the decade closed, India was looking into the Maharishi’s finances, and he had declared his mission to the West a failure.

In the 1970s and ’80s, yoga experienced slower growth, part of a natural backlash against all things hippie and a concomitant leveling off of media interest. In fact, it kind of disappeared during the Jane Fonda years, the Time of the Burn, for those who remember. Fitness freaks wanted heart-thumping aerobics, marathons, Iron Man decathlons; anything but downward dog.

Fast-forward to 1993. Open your morning New York Times to page C-1. Sure enough, there is Sarah Kass introducing you, dear reader, to yoga as if it’s a brand new health fad. "Yoga, a Sixties Survivor, is Luring New Converts" read the commanding headline of the paper of record. Kass found a raft of new converts, many of them young. “It’s not that yoga hasn’t been there all this time,” declared Mata Ezraty, director of Yoga Works in Santa Monica, California, “but it’s like it’s just been discovered.” An editor at Yoga Journal, the Berkeley, California, bible of the yoga industry, noted that there had been a surge in attendance in classes and that the magazine’s circulation had “more than doubled in six years, to 70,000.”

Today, Yoga Journal is still the leading publication for yoga professionals, and it has branched off into the lucrative area of conferences and retreats. Its editorial director, Kathryn Arnold, has presided over a tripling of the magazine’s circulation while its advertising revenues have quadrupled since her watch started in 1998. YJ, as it calls itself, is now up to 300,000 subscribers, and Arnold attributes the rise to a singular event. “The defining moment when the medical community started taking notice of yoga occurred in 1990,” Arnold told the Los Angeles Times; that year The Lancet published the results of the California physician Dean Ornish’s research indicating that lifestyle changes — including yoga-based stress management — could reverse heart disease. From then on it was onward and upward.

It’s also probably not an accident that the front-runners of the baby-boom generation were lurching through their fifties at the time. Last year, with this group poised to turn sixty, Yoga Journal underwrote an expensive study that found — to the relief of YJ’s marketing team — that about sixteen million Americans were practicing yoga regularly. It makes perfect sense. What better exercise to facilitate a low-impact glide to the golden years . . . with or without spiritual attachments? There are some seventy-eight million baby boomers living and breathing and getting older. In fact, every day, another 7,920 of them turn sixty. If I were a betting man, I would lay odds that yoga is not about to disappear again for a long time to come.

In fact, the only question worth a wager now is when publishing’s big dogs — Condé Nast, Hearst, and Rodale, perhaps the New York Times Company — jump in and launch competitive ventures to get on the mat with this free-spending cohort. It’s 2006, after all, and there’s no longer any fear of yoga, only a lingering suspicion that a competitor somewhere may be getting a leg up.