Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 24-30

Saturday, June 25, 2010
The Late Shift Milonga.
I got there late, so skipped the lesson. Before going in, I peeked through the window and saw that though it was only a very lightly attended milonga, the Leader quality was high and I would have enjoyed dancing with 90% of the Leaders there. As for the Followers, it was a blissfully drama-free group. So I figured it would be pretty much impossible not to have a good time. And I was right. Despite the low turnout, I had a truly excellent time. There were many visitors, so lots of fun new people to dance with. Communities represented included Turkey, New Orleans, Boston, and Los Angeles. One thing that surprised me was that the milonga ended early (1:15 a.m.; normally it's 2:00 a.m.) because of low attendance. I suppose that was OK, although I personally would have happily stayed until the end. I did hear a lot of chatter among the other attendees that they were contemplating heading over the bridge to the All-Nighter at the Beat (which goes until ~5:00 a.m.).

Sunday, June 26, 2010
Studio Gracia Milonga with lesson beforehand by Negracha y Diego Lanau. The lesson focused on enrosques and sacadas. The figure was a simple one, side step (Leaders left, Follower's right) to front cross step (Follower's left, Leader's right) into Americana. Then Leader leads Follower do to counterclockwise molinete while he does a quick left foot enrosque to a left foot lapice, to a left foot parada on the open side of the embrace. Leader should rotate his chest the entire time he takes her around. She steps over with her right foot back out to resolution. Then we changed the ending, eliminating the Leader's left foot parada, and instead doing a Leader's left foot back sacada of the Follower's trailing right foot on her left foot forward (front cross) step. It was an OK class. The milonga itself was fun. It wasn't crowded, but it wasn't sparse either. It had a nice number of people so that we had lots of room to dance and floor craft was generally not a problem. There were significantly more Followers than Leaders, but the Leaders were all of the charming, social, community-building school, and it seemed like everyone had a good time and the all the Followers got to dance with reasonable regularity. It had been a while since I had gone to this milonga, and I really appreciated how Natasha has maintained the food quality and quantity throughout this economy. One new surprising thing that happened was as I left the milonga, the security guard made sure I made it to my car by escorting me to it half a block away. I felt very touched by this very nice thing that tango organizers are doing for us (hiring a security guard). This particular guard does the security at the following milongas: CELLspace (Wed), Verdi Club (Thur), Late Shift (Sat), Studio Gracia (Sun), so for the most part we are familiar faces to him (and some of us he knows by name).

At the milonga, one visiting couple from Calgary, Canada, commented on the high level of dancers. "Where are there beginners? Everyone here looks great!" I told them our area has many excellent local teachers, and also many excellent visiting maestros. They heartily agreed that it showed. :o) They were also impressed by how many lead-follow exchange couples they've seen on the dance floor during their visit to Bay Area milongas.

It should shape up to be a fun couple of weeks dancewise since it seems there are so many visitors to the area because of Nora's Tango Week and the Queer Tango Festival.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 10-23

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Christy Cote and Adolfo Caszarry on Milonga.
I sat out the lesson since there were a few extra Followers. The lesson was based on the style of Facundo Posadas, who had spent several weeks here, and was heavy on musicality, naturally. The milonga itself was fine. Floorcraft was decent. It wasn't excessively crowded, but it wasn't empty either. I had a good time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tapas specials at Caffe D'Melanio
(1314 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco). As some of you know or may remember, this is coffee roasting place / coffee shop / restaurant near CCSF that had tango dancing on some nights years ago. Well, I spied a sign about their World Cup mania events. Since Melanio is a Porteno of Italian descent (like so many in BsAs), I was thrilled to see there was a happy hour W-F, 4-7 p.m., featuring Argentine Favorites, special from mid-June to mid-July until the end of the World Cup. Pablo and I shared the Camarones a la Plancha (grilled shrimp) $9; Carne Empanadas (beef and egg) $4.5 for two; Lamb Burger $6; Mussels $6; glasses of Malbec, Pinot, and Torrontes ($7.5-10 per glass). It was all very yummy, carefully and lovingly prepared and elegantly presented, reasonably priced and reasonably proportioned. Melanio himself came out to greet us after the super-friendly waitress told him what Buenos Airesophiles we were, and they even put on tango music for us. Check it out before the end of World Cup! I had always wondered about this place since I've passed by so often; I've seen their regular dinner menu and was a little hesitant about having milanesa for $16, so I was very glad that there was this special going on so I could try out a variety of their food offerings. Prior to the World Cup, I think the most I ever ordered there was a whole roast chicken to-go (around $10, if I recall correctly).

Saturday, June 19, 2010
La Otra Milonga de Nora @ Etz Chayim w/Nito & Elba Garcia. The lesson was, as usual, fantastic. Maestros are incredibly gracious teachers. The lesson began with Nito's usual floor exercises. Then we did the figure with lots of individual attention and technical commentary. The milonga itself was fun. The floor is a nice hardwood, and the room is reasonably spacious. It was a very warm night, and so the doors were open onto the courtyard. They also had the a/c going, as well as the fans. So there was good ventilation. Food was OK, lots from Costco (the veggie platter with dip, the mini brownies, strawberries and grapes, crackers, turkey coldcut). There was a hotel, conference-style coffee dispenser filled with ice water, and normal-size paper cups (not one-ounce dental cups!). Emilio did a find job spinning the tunes. There were a huge number of different tango events that night, so this one wasn't overly crowded. But it had a nice number of people. Floor craft was pretty good, with people generally respectful and no frenzied dancing. It was a very pleasant night, and it's nice that there is a Saturday night South Bay milonga option.

Monday, June 21, 2010
La Cumparsita Milonga with lesson beforehand by Alex Allende and Luz Castineiras on Creativity: Sacadas.
This was a good lesson, and began with a weight shift exercise to get the Leader to feel the feeling of being absolutely in control of the Follower's direction and weight change. He was to imagine she was a 50 kilo sack of flour. The figure began with the 8CB to 5 (cross), then a Follower right foot front cross step in a clockwise molinete, with Leader left leg sacada of her trailing left foot (cross system). Then he would try it with his right foot (parallel system). Then we added another Leader sacada on the Follower's left foot side step of her trailing right foot, using his left foot and then his right foot. We also added a Leader embellishment between his two left foot sacadas with a right foot tight back cross step with weight change, so that he can step out again to do the sacada with his left foot. It was a very good lesson with lots of technical detail, and lots of individual attention by both maestros to all the individual dancers. Maestros emphasized quality of movement, and really challenged us by changing the speed at which we did parts of the figure -- going fast from the 8CB to 5 (cross), and then really slowing it down during the sacada. It is important to be able to do this very slow in particular since balance becomes much more important, and really owning the movement becomes much more apparent when dancing slowly. It is also important to be able to go fast during some parts so that you can be on the music and have fluidity, responsiveness and elegance.

Preliminary mini-shoe review. I bought the Sansha Helium H74M dance sneaker from NY Dance Store online.
The Good: The styling itself is gorgeous. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of care in execution in the detailing, and the shoe came with its own nifty mesh bag. The shoe is very springy. It almost feels like I am dancing on bubbles.
The Not-So-Good: The Helium is kind of a clunky shoe. It's inelegant. The profile is a bit too hefty. I should have gotten something more delicate, with a leaner profile to my foot like a jazz or modern dance shoe. Also, the Helium has a lot of rubber parts where it would have been better to have suede. So when I have run my toe across the floor, it almost felt like dribbling a basketball depending on what the floor texture was.
I tried the Helium sneakers at CellSpace, where the floor texture was much too rough and so I had a hard time pivoting and gliding. My second dance floor was on the Verdi Club, where I could pivot and glide OK, but that's also where I had the dribbling sensation when running my toe tip across the floor. My third time was at La Cumparsita, where I felt the shoe performed reasonably well, but were a bit clunky.
Regarding sizing: definitely follow their sizing guidelines. I think I might have been better getting one size larger. It said to get one size larger than street shoe, and for some reason, I had it stuck in my head that I am a 6. And I AM a 6, in CiF, NeoTango, most every other tango shoe I have. BUT in sneakers and hiking boots (from Nike, Merrell, Salomon, North Face, Vasque, New Balance), etc., I am a 6.5, often a 7, and sometimes an occasional 7.5. So I should have gotten a Sansha 8. But I got a Sansha 7, and they fit like a glove without socks. However, when I wear dance sneakers, I prefer to wear them with my normal athletic socks. I ended up getting some extremely thin profile socks, and they work OK. Next time I will get an 8.
The one thing I like about Sansha shoes is that there is a variety of options with respect to style and materials (mesh, canvas, leather, suede, etc.) and different bottoms (rubber, leather, mixed).

Customer service at NY Dance Store was not the greatest. I had originally ordered two shoes, the other in a similar style (Hibiscus), but with leather sole. It showed as available on the web site, and I had no reason to believe that I would not receive it. However, when I received my Helium shoe, the purchase order showed that they were out of the leather-soled Hibiscus. Had I known that, I would have ordered a comparable shoe with leather sole, as I really wanted to try them out and compare them side to side, and since they charged me the same price for shipping ($9) whether I ordered one or two shoes. I was never informed that they were out of the other shoe, and so had no option of placing an order for a replacement shoe. So at this point, would I buy Sansha shoes again? Yes, but I would pay much more careful consideration to the styling and what I need in terms of a tango sneaker. I would also call the 1-800 number and place my order with a real human instead of just ordering online so that I could make sure that the style and size I want are available, rather than have expectations that the company would deliver as expected, when in actuality that may not be the case.

And I admit I find it extremely irritating and unprofessional when expectations are managed poorly.

I think the Helium shoe would be an excellent shoe for Hip Hop and Zumba. For how I dance Tango, I am eyeing the Salsette-3 V933C, or the Dyna-Sty, the Dyna-Mesh, the Buzz-1, or the Blitz-3.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 3-9

Thursday, June 3, 2010
Verdi Club Milonga with lesson beforehand by Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas.
This too, as usual, was an excellent lesson. I find maestros' enthusiasm and love for tango positively infectious. The lesson began with some simple movement exercises. We were to have no tension in our shoulders, and then wiggle our hands. We stood with our feet turned out a little bit, with heels collected. We were to feel balance with our weight on one leg, and then shift it to the other leg completely. We were to try to feel like we were floating. Then we did some exercises to feel the contra motion in our bodies, along with weight changes and balance exercises. In dancing, we were to caress the floor, and work in slow motion. We were to stay on one leg, then move forward, side, and collect, change our balance, and then collect again with the other leg. We should listen to the music, turn out our feet, and move with energy.

The lesson was a simple one, and we were to play with adornos for the Leader and Follower. Maestros demo'd the figure, which was done in close embrace. It was a simple figure that began with a series of side steps, and then a Follower big back ocho to the close side of the embrace, with a calesita with adornos for the Follower while her right leg is the supporting, standing leg, as she is the center of the circle and as Leader goes counterclockwise around her. Her left leg is free to do adornos (amagues, rulos, etc.). While Follower does her adornos, she is basically at a 90 degree angle to the Leader. As he steps around her, he eventually pivots her so that she returns to be back in front of him in normal connection (not 90 degree).

Their first secret was that for the Leader's hips, he should keep his position. Keep your chest up. The chest is where the connection is with your partner. If you keep the chest connection solid, the hips of both dancers are free.

Their second secret was for the Leader to use the fingers on his right hand to lead/open the Follower up, so she can do a big back ocho. The Leader's right hand should be on the Follower's back shoulder blade underneath (not in the middle of her back). He should keep his right hand lifting her under her shoulder blades. In the figure, at the last moment, he can return her to be in front of him after she's done her big back ocho.

Leader should flex and bend the knees without abandoning himself. Then project himself.

The Follower's energy is in the solar plexis with axis forward. She should not change balance with her arms or use the Leader by hanging on to him with her arms.

Next, we changed the figure. We still began with with side steps (with rise as we arrive to our axis), with a Follower back ocho to the close side of the embrace. Leader pivots her a bit counterclockwise and then back clockwise, while he sneaks in his right leg to do a parada on the close side of the embrace as the Follower is on her right foot. This gives her left leg a chance to play with rulos, or more right leg pivots or hip pivots/swivels, to eventually pasada over with her left foot over the Leader's right leg, back to the open side of the embrace, returning to the front of the Leader in resolution.

For Follower's technique, it is important that she keep the bunion side of the foot to the floor at the point of her calesita adornos (not the tip of the toe).

The milonga itself was good. It wasn't excessively crowded, so floor craft on this particular night was pretty good overall. There were a few light bumps here and there, but most dancers behaved respectfully. It was one of the better nights with respect to floor crafting that I've experienced here.

Maestros did a wonderful performance as usual.

I tried to dance the whole night using a technical nugget Maestra gave to me, in sky-high heels. (Actually, she gave this nugget to me the last two times I had lessons with it's taken me a while to roll it around my brain, consider it, and come around to implementing it...which is silly why it took so long since it makes perfect sense with respect to how I could improve my dancing.) So afterwards, my body just ached. It's shocking how much physical and mental effort it takes to make changes to the body's natural, already ingrained muscle memory inclinations.

Friday, June 4, 2010
Palo Alto Milonga at All Saints Episcopal Church with lesson beforehand by Pulpo on Trap Sacadas.
As usual, it was a great lesson, though there were about twice as many followers as leaders. So I sat out a lot of the time, but I was OK with that because then I could concentrate on my notes. The Leaders I rotated through were the fabulous Cristy and maestro himself, being the good sport the he is in making sure his students have a good experience in class. The figure began in close embrace, and was an 8CB to 3 for the Leader, and to 4 for the Follower. Then the Leader pivots a little counterclockwise and does a left foot back cross step to catch her left forward foot. The Follower should have normal steps during the 8CB, not too big or too small. Then the Leader's right leg back ganchos/catches the Follower's left leg. Here, the Leader has to turn/pivot the Follower counterclockwise so that her knee can bend in the correct angle to exit so that her left leg wraps around and out away from the Leader's right leg. The Follower's right leg is the supporting, standing leg, and it's important that she not step too far away from the Leader or sink back all the way from him. They can exit this in three ways:
(1) out to normal walk out with the Leader stepping to the close side of the embrace to continually link these.
(2) with the Leader's right foot meeting the Follower's right foot, and as she collects with her left foot, it sandwiches the Leader's right foot, and he sweeps her right foot back.
(3) or he can bring her back into him (she goes forward into him), and then he switches her weight to be on her left foot, so that she can be free to sweep his right foot back with her right foot.

For the Follower, it is important that she not block the Leader with her left arm. She also needs to keep her heel lifted, and not sink back on her right foot.

Other options: At the point of the wrap, the Leader can do an air wrap with with his right leg of her left leg.

Again, he can link the figure endlessly be stepping forward on the outside (closed side of the embrace) with his left foot, which he can achieve comfortably and easily by moving the Follower slightly to the other side of him, more toward the open side, by adjusting her and pivoting her a little. The continuous link is basically the counterclockwise molinete footwork for the Leader: Forward left foot, side right foot, snug back cross with his left foot, forward right foot, left foot back cross sacada, etc.

The final option we did was that the Leader, after the initial sacada/wrap of his right foot and her left leg, he can transfer the weight to his right leg/foot, pivot her so that her right leg ganchos/wraps his right leg. To lead this properly, he needs to have clockwise torsion in his upper body and he needs to open up his right arm.

The milonga started off kind of slow for me, and I was contemplating leaving at around 10:00 p.m. But I am glad I stuck it out, because several people I had never danced with showed up, and I got to take a whirl with them. They were all great. So overall, I had a very nice time at the milonga, one of the best experiences I've ever had. I had an amazing milonga tanda with a young tanguero, who is home from school for the summer. His improvisational creativity and musicality are superb, and he has extraordinary sensitivity and patience (even during fast milongas). I felt when I danced with him that I was channeling Luna. So it was an amazing, incredible milonga tanda. It was one of those magical "Tango Moments." I also met Chris, the bass player for the new Seth Asarnow y su sexteto tipico, who is an excellent, inspired dancer, trained in BsAs. Sunday's performance at Alberto's should be a good one. It was a very happy night.

Saturday, June 5, 2010
Late Shift Milonga with lesson beforehand by Fabian Salas and Lola Diaz on Boleo Technique.
I missed the lesson, but it went overtime, so I got a chance to see what they worked on. It looked similar to the Rachel Greenberg CELLspace lesson of the back boleo to forward boleo on one side, and then the other side. And they also added the Leader clockwise walk-around to it. It seemed like the subject matter went over reasonably well, as it looked like all the students got it, more or less. I skipped the lesson because I thought it would have too many Followers versus Leaders. I was wrong. The class was quite crowded, and I should have taken it. Oh well. Next time.

The milonga was crowded, but not excessively so. It was a warmish night in San Francisco, and a warmish night at the Late Shift. Because of the temperature, lots of folks voluntarily sat out to cool off/dry off. Maybe the weather made us all slow down a little because there was no frenzied dancing. So floor craft was pretty good, especially considering boleos were taught at the lesson. After the first three tandas, folks settled down a bit so there weren't as many flying stilettos. The two-song performance (first to Pugliese's A Mis Companeros, and the second to Piazzolla's Ave Maria) was nice, with some new material.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
CELLspace Alt Milonga with lesson beforehand by Homer and Cristina Ladas on The Follower's Syncopated Baby Ochos.

Our music for the class was D'Arienzo.

For syncopated steps, the Leader and Follower both have to hear the music. The Follower needs to respond immediately to the Leader and to the music, so she needs to hear and pay attention to the music. She can also help the Leader with his double time step by being on the beat even if he is a little ahead or a little behind the beat.

Syncopated Baby Back Ochos

We began with the Leader leading slow vanilla bean ochos. Vanilla bean ochos are ochos with no Follower hip pivot, and no Leader shoulder rotation, and Leader legwork as if he is roller blading. No Leader shoulder rotation = No Follower hip rotation. In the slow Vanilla Bean ochos, both Leader and Follower collect in between their steps.

Next, we added the double time, or quick quick to the vanilla bean ocho, with the Leader going forward with his left leg on the QQ. Though he collects his feet in between during the slow vanilla bean ochos, he should not worry about collecting when doing double time QQ in his steps, and he might look/feel like he is waddling; that is OK. The Follower, however, should still try to collect during her QQ steps. Since the Follower does vanilla bean ochos, there should be no hip pivot during the QQ.

It is most logical to try to catch the vanilla bean ocho on the QQ when we are on the straight side of the line of dance (not on the corners or rounded points).

We could also do Mocha Java ochos with the QQ syncopation. The Mocha Java ochos are the ones with Follower hip pivot. Since the ochos would be done on the QQ, they become smaller, and are syncopated ochitos.

Syncopated Baby Forward Ochos

Walking in promenade, the Leader can lead small, syncopated forward ochos. He does this by first leading her into promenade with a side step to his left (her right), and then opening up his left shoulder. When he steps with his inside leg (his right leg), he starts to lead the syncopated ocho. The two dancers open up like two gears meshing with each other.

Here, communication between the Leader and Follower is key. To communicate the double time QQ ocho lead to the Follower, the Leader needs to compress the embrace a little. To improve our communication / sensitivity toward each other, we played a game, Tai Chi tango, for a little while. Here, the dancers stand face to face, and have hand-to-hand contact. The Leader moves his hands and arms in a patternless movement, and Follower should match the Leader's movement and energy. At a random point, the Leader compresses his hands in the Follower. The Follower's job is to mirror and match the Leader's energy so she neither gets pushed back by him or push him away from her when he compresses.

Next, we worked on the body mechanics / physiokinetics for both the Leader and the Follower. Individually, we all stepped forward with either our left foot or right foot, then we pivoted forward, and then pivoted back, and then stepped back, so that we started and finished in the same spot. It was emphasized that we should do this homework at home often so that we can be able to communicate this through the embrace, and so that the Leader can gain control over other types of movement if he can master this one.

Next, we tried this in partnership so that we could feel the Leader and Follower rebound off each other with our hip pivots. The Leader was to build up the compression, and then release out of the compression. It is very important to keep our chest up and have good communication in the Leader's left hand and the Follower's right hand. The Leader's left hand and Follower's right hand should be flat like a wall so that each can rebound off of each other with their respective compression energy. This flatness of the wall also helps the Leader pivot back to his original position.

Our next challenge was to change the Leader's footwork, so that instead of stepping forward with his right foot with her left foot, he steps forward with his left foot with her left foot. With this foot position, the Leader does not do a forward ocho with the Follower's forward ocho. Instead, he still leads it with his embrace/upper body. The goal of this footwork change for the Leader was so that he get used to leading it on either foot, with or without doing Leader ochos. It's tricky, but it's a road map.

To build on these syncopated baby forward ochos from the promenade, we linked a series of them linearly. The thing that changed is that for the Leader, there is a weight change to his left foot after his pivot. So, he first steps right foot front cross step, and does a weight change to his left as he pivots to face the Follower. The weight change to his left foot is a sensation of dropping into his left foot, and then the rebound, and then his forward cross step with his right foot.

Floor Craft Comments

Maestros commented about floor crafting, since our class was so crowded and a bit unruly floor-craftwise during class. Touch The Corners is one of the rules of floor crafting whereby we try to touch the outside corners of the line of dance, and not cut across the corners. For our class, we were to imagine that there were two tracks/lanes. There should be no zig zagging, no changing of lanes from one to the other to get ahead of the couple in front of you. We were to stay in our own lanes.

End of Class Lesson Highlight Summary:

Vanilla Bean Ocho: Leader does roller blade footwork with no shoulder rotation = no Follower hip rotation. Follower still tries to collect in single time and double time. In double time, Leader compresses the embrace a little, and Follower matches the energy by compressing back.

We can add a little pivot and get mocha java ochos. Doing them on the double time QQ, we get Follower pivoted ochitos.

From promenade, the Leader's left hand and the Follower's right hand should be still, the same, like a wall.

From here, the Leader can do ochos with the Follower's ochos, inside foot to inside foot, or he can step with his outside foot while she steps with her inside foot.

For the linear series of syncopated baby ochos, the Leader has a weight change to his left foot, and this can be done on single or double time.

The Leader and Follower need to hear the music to know when to do the double time.

Maestros concluded with a demo to D'Arienzo's Mandria. The demo will be up at some point on

The milonga itself was just OK for me-- not magic, not tragic. I left early since it was very crowded and warm, floor craft was a bit unruly, my allergies were bothering me, and I wanted to get cracking on the notes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

UN-Scouting Tour May 27 - June 2

Why Un-Scouting???

Because there IS life beyond Tango...

Warning: The following is mostly about food, so feel free to skip it if it doesn't interest you. Or eat before you read it, because it might make you hungry.

Thursday, May 27, 2010 - Monday, May 31, 2010

I drove up the coast several hours away to take part in a group vacation in a house on a cliff that overlooked the Pacific with its own private beach down below. My fellow vacationers were a part of a supper group that I belong to, made up of many members of the SF Bay Area fooderati. These people are really IN to food (myself included), some professionally in the industry or who went to the CCA and the like, but most of them not. On this particular weekend, I was blessed to be among the "dream team" of home cooks. Our host is quite well known for his food and wine knowledge and his by-invitation-only-with-pre-
screened-guests suppers, where people have to ask/beg, sometimes several times, over the course of several years (like I did), their friends to invite them. To say it is a closed circle would not be an overstatement. The "dream team" was because one of the strongest home dessert chefs would also be in attendance (to say he is merely a baker or pastry chef would be an insult since he can make any manner of dessert flaming/searing hot or frozen and everything in between, and has some mighty wicked-cool kitchen toys...ooops I mean tools...that are way better than mine...and mine are pretty sweet). Here's what we ate and drank:

May 27, 2010
Cocktail hour on arrival.
I provided for myself since the host had gotten there an hour before and had lunch already and the other guests had not yet arrived.
Sliced red bell pepper (of course!)
Adro Riga Gold Smoked Sprats
Trader Joe's multi-grain and flax-seed water crackers
Auchentoshan single malt scotch whiskey

Picked Veggies (Cauliflower, peppers, cornichons, capers) in tomato and tuna sauce. The tuna was in the sauce to add umami as a counterpoint to (to spank down) the acidity of the pickling and tomato sauce.
Prosciutto and sliced Spanish chorizo
Fancy green and tiny black olives
Australian aged cheddar cheese
Wine: 2008 Ambath Estate Validus Biodynamic Wine (Paso Robles)

Main: Pasta with caramelized lamb sauce (from lamb shanks).
Wine: 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Baricci (Montalcino, Italy)

Dessert: Cherry clafoutis
Wine: 2007 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Baumes de Venise

After dinner drink (for the boys, smoking cigars): Grappa

May 28, 2010

Omelets with green onion (I know this sounds really simple, but the eggs were perfect, and perfectly cooked)
La Tur Cheese (a soft cow, sheep and goat cheese)
Wine: 2009 Domaine de Beaupre Coteaux d'Aix-En-Provence

Cocktail hour:
Pastis or scotch

Dinner - Middle Eastern Night
Baba Ganoush
Olives (green and tiny black)
Picked peppers and radish
diced heirloom tomatoes, lightly salted
Labne with olive oil and pimenta
A relish dish with Persian cucumbers, radish, jalapeno, mint, and sliced red onion
pita bread (white and wheat)
Wine: 2007 Domaine de Fontsainte Corbieres

Lamb Kebabs (leg of lamb small chunks marinated in olive oil, garlic, and lots of fresh basil)
Roasted peppers and onions
Wine: 2005 Chateau la Roque Pic Saint Loup

Home-made fresh lemon-rose ice cream
Wine: 2006 Dr. Losen Urzigler Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese

After dinner drink: Grappa

May 29, 2010

Fool (Egyptian fava bean stew)
Topped with:
diced heirloom tomatoes
then chopped parsley
then El-Koura Extra Virgin Olive Oil (5 swirls)
Garnished with: radishes, onions, mint, peppers
Picked up in bite-size mouthfuls with pieces of whole wheat pita bread
Wine: 2009 Domaine de Beaupre Coteaux d'Aix-En-Provence

Paella with pork spare ribs, chicken thighs, and Spanish chorizo
Wine: 2006 David Coffaro Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley)

Jumble berry pie a la mode with fresh vanilla ice cream. This pie and ice cream combination was so ethereal that it brought tears to some diners' eyes. I kid you not.
Wine: for some strange reason (maybe because I could not see through my tears), I did not write down the name of the dessert wine pairing.

May 30, 2010
I drove in to town, about 10 miles away, to stock up on tupperware for everyone to take leftovers home, when lo and behold, my eyes spied a sign: BBQ Oysters. YESSSS!! Score!!! I LOVE those things. So I had three. For breakfast. And I wasn't the first customer of the day, though it was barely 9:30 a.m. The gal manning the grill was Hispanic, and so they had Hispanic accoutrements for the oysters, which made for a lot of interesting options beyond the usual lemon and BBQ sauce. The green pico de gallo was her recommendation, which was good. But the BBQ sauce and lemon made me the happiest, so I skipped the rest (hot sauce, tomatoes, peppers, etc.).


Leftovers: paella, prosciutto and Spanish chorizo
Watercress salad with Persian cucumber, peppers, heirloom tomatoes.
Australian aged cheddar cheese
Boucheron cheese (a goat cheese)
Wine: 2008 Domaine de la petite cassagne Vignoble de la vallee du rhone

Cocktail hour: Pastis or scotch

Lamb Kebabs (we decided that these were so good two nights before, that we should have them again on this night. We ran out of basil though, so had it marinated with the chef's go-to spices instead.)
Roasted peppers and onions
Canellini bean salad (not unlike Texas caviar, only with canellini beans)
Wine: 1998 Ravenswood Pentimento Vineyard red table wine
Wine: 2008 Ermitage de Pic Saint Loup Tour de Pierres

After dinner drink:

May 31, 2010
Lunch for our drive back home:

Pan Bagnat. This is basically a very wet tuna nicoise salad stuffed/layered inside a round bread so that the bread gets soaked with all the juices. I contributed a can of my Smoked Sprats, which I feel elevated the sandwich to an even higher level (though not a traditional Nicoise ingredient).
In the bread that was scooped out, the following were spread/layered inside:
Black olive tapanade
Canellini beans with garlic
Riga Gold Smoked Sprats
Raw purple onion
Persian cucumbers
Fresh marjoram
Lemon Juice
Hard boiled eggs
salt & pepper
muscatel vinegar
heirloom tomatoes
fresh home-made garlic aoili
top of bread
Wrap all in foil and let rest, turning every 10-20 minutes or so to get all sides drenched with the juices.

After we had packed and straightened the house, we cut the sandwich and each person got their own individual piece, wrapped in foil, and more than a few sheets of paper towels to clean up our chins while we ate (which would be on the road or at home).

Even though some of the above might sound mundane (eggs, pasta, cucumbers, radishes, proscuitto, chorizo, tomatoes, etc., etc.), my efforts to convey in words how utterly delicious everything was in real life fall far short. The ingredients were all of the highest quality, at the apex of flavor and freshness (or agedness, as the case may be), and the combinations/pairings sublimely synergistic.

* * *

We were a very well-rounded, compatible group, with no high-maintenance drama queens in attendance, no needy "got to be the center of attention" attention whores/hogs, and no one who subscribed to the marching-band style of conversation (we were all of the "conversations are like jazz" school) or people who have the perverse need to fill the air with inane, droning babble, when appreciating moments of silence can be so hauntingly beautiful.

We all got along quite well, and our days were unscheduled and unstructured (except for meals, obviously). Often times we spent the hours just reading our books silently together or apart (whether they were, unsurprisingly, by Michael Pollan, or other food books, or bodice-ripping romances, or autobiographies by titans of sports/politics/business, or the latest Nolo book on trust and estate management, or something from the New York Times best-seller list, or a compilation of essays on __fill in the blank__). We all took our turns at gazing at the ocean for hours, hypnotized by nature's majestic beauty, and admiring the cloud formations, the flocks of pelicans flying north in formation, or the occasional turkey vulture, schools of fish, or whales in the long distance away near the horizon.

When we did speak, which was often, everyone was intelligent, up on current world events, and -- what else -- very passionate about food. So the chatter was always lively, interesting, and colorful (and occasionally gossipy/snarky about local chow happenings/dissings). I also took my hand at doing a Thomas Kinkade jigsaw puzzle, which turned out to kick my butt since I had to leave it unfinished, darn it. I guess that will teach me for choosing the most difficult puzzle, labeled for those "12 and up." Some went wine tasting, which was about an hour's drive away, or hiking at the two parks nearby. It crossed my mind to drive an hour or so to the nearest milonga, but that would have meant I would have missed a dinner. So it goes unsaid which of the two I chose.

It was a wonderful, very relaxing weekend. I could not have asked for better company, or a more peaceful, delicious time.

I learned a lot by rubbing elbows with all these master home chefs, the secrets of which I am not allowed to disclose. ;o)

Some things I did learn about cooking, which can relate to tango (since tango is never too far away from my mind, being the intoxicating, all-consuming mistress that she is), is that the dishes turn out better when you go all out. Cook like you mean it. Make each dish the best that you possibly can, using the best ingredients you have access to. Season like you mean it. (I've always been guilty of not seasoning my food enough. It's silly of me to do this, since I know what the correct amount is. And yet I often hold back. Probably for health reasons. Though I sweat so much, I probably don't need to worry about salt retention.) Don't be afraid to pour on the sauce (oil, vinegar, whatever) even if you think it might be over the top. Cook passionately, not tentatively. Eat with no regrets. Don't eat, but dump out rotten food / ingredients so they don't contaminate all else that is good. I think tango is that way, too.

And now...back to our regular scheduled programming...

So what am I excited about these days?
It's amazing how the SF Bay Area is so blessed with visiting maestros, and of course our fantastic local teachers who live here most or part of the time. This summer should shape up to be outstanding tangowise.

Coming this week:
Fabian Salas y Lola Diaz
Oscar y Georgina

Coming in the next 2-3 weeks:
Susana Miller
Nito y Elba
Rachel Greenberg
Mariam Larici

Local Festivals:
Nora's Tango Week/Weekend
Queer Tango