Person: Betty Hoops
Location: Aspen, Colorado
Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
“She set the 2008 world record for hoop running in distance and speed! That means she ran a 10K race while hula hooping, without stopping, dropping, or touching the hoop. She even hula-hoops while snowboarding! How cool is that?”
Betty is from New York, Westchester to be exact.
For years though, she’s lived in Aspen, Colorado.
“I need the mountains,” she says, when I ask her why she lives there, after explaining how hard it is to get attention for what she does, living so far from New York and L.A.
“I feel a connection there that I don’t get anywhere else.”
Betty never imagined she’d be a hula hooper though. Originally, she studied cooking at the C.I.A., The Culinary Institute of America. Then, after 9/11, she left her job at a high-end restaurant in Aspen to come to New York to heal people through hooping.
“I’d be walking near Wall Street carrying my hoops, and these construction workers would yell down from the top of a building, ‘Hey, is that a hula hoop? Let me try it!’ And sure enough, they’d come down, and these big guys, I’d teach them to do it right there on the spot. That’s what’s so great about the hoop. Everyone responds to it.”
She taught anyone who would ask. Policemen. Firefighters. Kids traumatized by what had happened that day.
I get off the R train near Washington Square Park.
I’m supposed to meet Betty here so she can teach me to hoop.
Even though I live in New York City, Washington Square Park is a place I don’t hang out at and rarely visit. But when I first moved to the city in the ’80s, as a wide-eyed kid from the Chicago suburbs, to study theater at NYU, Washington Square Park was my backyard.
My roommate, Susan, grew up in the city and attended Stuyvesant High School.
Her friends practically lived in Washington Square Park and, like Betty, they were street performers: jugglers, musicians, magicians, and fire-eaters. They smoked clove cigarettes, drank beer from paper bags, and got stoned while playing Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan on cheap guitars. They took me to parties in lofts and on roofs, and taught me how to be cool, long before I knew what I was doing.
And now, here it was twenty-something years later, a long time since I’d done anything like hula hoop on a Saturday afternoon in Washington Square Park. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve ever had a hoop around my waist; maybe as a little kid.
Yet the second I arrive at the park, I feel something change inside. Is it Betty, with her mystical, whirling dervish spirit? Hooping like it’s a religion? Like it’s a prayer? Like the gods are smiling when she spins?
She turns on a boom box. “Turn it up!” I say, as music fills a park already bursting with people. And, right there, I’m 20 years old again, without a care in the world. The boom box is blaring Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper, and all the songs I remember from those first years at NYU, when MTV was new and music was what you lived for.
At first, my hips move in awkward middle-aged lady circles. Not like the bone-thin, grade-school girls who pick up a hoop and start moving their tiny waists in circles too small to detect. “How come it keeps going around them, even though they’re barely moving?” I cry to Betty. “It’s so unfair!”
But she’s an amazing teacher and, within moments, the hoop is spinning round. I’m light and free, and whatever reticence I had before to leave my warm, cozy apartment to be outdoors on a cold, Spring afternoon has vanished, disappearing in the pure, unadulterated joy of a hoop.
To see how well I did under Betty’s brief, expert tutelage, check out this funny video she and I got roped into performing in that day – a goofy send up of Cee Lo Green’s song, “F-k You!” made by Columbia Business School students. To see us hooping, go to 4:15 in the 4:33 video. Or, for a bigger laugh, watch the whole thing!
Betty makes her own hoops – a softer form that’s easier for beginners and more fun in the long-term. For a 10% discount on your own hoop, email Betty at firstname.lastname@example.org and put Couchsurfing Cook in the subject line.
Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
Betty started making this cheesecake for friends when she’d go to festivals or snowboarding, and it was always a big hit. Not surprisingly, it’s round, like a hoop.
4 ounces soy cream cheese . 236 millilitres
8 ounces soy sour cream . 113 grams
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract . 2.5 millilitres
1/2 cup maple syrup . 125 millilitres
4 1/2 ounces grain-sweetened chocolate chips . 177 grams
4 ounces graham crackers . 113 grams
5 tablespoons melted Earth Balance buttery spread or similar butter substitute . 75 milliliters
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit . 180 Celsius.
2. Blend cream cheese and sour cream in a mixing bowl with the blade set at low speed.
2. Add vanilla extract and maple syrup.
3. Melt chocolate chips in small pan set in larger pan of water or a double boiler. Melt chips over low-medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat as soon as chips are fully melted.
4. Allow chips to cool slightly, then add to cream cheese-sour cream. Blend again to combine.
5. Place graham crackers in a bowl and, using a heavy object (I used the bottom of a glass measuring cup), crush until they form a soft crumb. You could do this in a Cuisinart as well.
6. Melt butter in small saucepan. Add to graham crackers and stir to combine, making sure crumb is sufficiently moist.
7. With your fingers, press graham cracker crumbs into pie tin, covering bottom and sides to equal thickness. You should have enough crumbs to cover nearly the entire tin sides.
8. Fill tin with chocolate cream cheese-sour cream mixture.
9. Place in center rack of oven and bake for 45 minutes or until chocolate mixture rises to top and is firm to the touch.
10. Allow to cool on countertop and serve.