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

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