Monday, December 29, 2008

Macarons investigation

I successfully ignored these cookies that I saw popping up in so many blogs for a long time because I was avoiding eggs. But I found myself with a dozen and thought I would give Tartlette's gingerbread macarons a try.

I foolishly did sooooo many things "wrong" but they came out great. Then the second time, I followed the recipe to a T and they came out a bit flat, the skin was wrinkled and they seemed too moist.

So the things I thought I did wrong the first time:
1. Left the egg whites out for 3 days! Hey it was Christmas and I was busy.
2. Beat in the powdered sugar along with the granulated for the meringue instead of folding it in with the ground almonds at the end.
3. Used less powdered sugar than called for. Probably only used 1.3 cups.

I piped one sheet of shells by piping in a circular motion. These turned out cracked on top. I piped a second sheet by holding the tip in one place and just squeezing out the batter so that it spread out into a circle on it's own. These turned out wonderfully, no cracking, smooth shell. I let them sit for an hour and a half and then baked at 280 for 20 mins. These macaron shells turned out very white with nice sturdy skins and very delineated feet. They popped off the parchment with no sticking whatsoever. The cookies were delicious the second day. The shell was airy and almost crunchy with a chewy center (of sweetened butter.... mmm.. butter).

The things I probably did wrong the second time:
1. Left the powdered sugar unsifted when I folded it in. This made lumps in the shells.
2. Maybe I didn't beat the meringue enough?

I also let these sit for 1.5 hours then baked at 280 for 20 mins. These macaron shells were brown looking instead of the nice smooth white of the last batch and they felt overly moist. They plumped nicely in the oven with a good amount of feet but then started to fall during the last two minutes resulting in a wrinkled skin. They stuck to the parchment a lot. I felt like they were too sticky - maybe too much powdered sugar and not enough sifting?

The recipe from trial 1:

3 egg whites (let sit out 3 days in fridge, back of car, cooler, then fridge)
2 T + 1 t superfine sugar
~1.5 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
1.3 cups ground almonds (sift, sift, sift)

Beat egg whites till foamy (I supposed that to mean that 75% of the egg whites were foamed but that was a completely arbitrary assumption). Add in both sugars. Here I had panicked and realized my mistake but then I just beat the hell out of it until all the sugars were incorporated and I had a pretty flowy meringue. By "flowy" I mean that it didn't really form peaks but I could drizzle ribbons of it on top that would hold its shape. Then I folded in the ground almonds until a drop of the batter from a spoon would flatten out.

The recipe from trial 2:
3 egg whites (let sit out 1 day on counter)
2 T + 1 t superfine sugar
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1.3 cups ground almonds

Beat egg whites till foamy. Gradually add in superfine sugar and beat to a meringue. I beat it to a meringue that held a pointy but droopy beak when I lifted the beaters out. Then I dumped in the powdered sugar and ground almonds without sifting (oops) and gave it a swish to incorporate (which it didn't). The I started folding. I probably did 30 turns before stopping.

I haven't really done too much research so I'll have to do more blog hunting and baking to fine tune these cookies. I really loved the first batch and will have to see how to recreate those. For now I'm going to concentrate on using up those yolks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

And it's a wrap!

I've been home from Buenos Aires for about a month now. I apologize profusely for leaving the blog just hanging after posting so diligently in the city of tango, parillas and dog poop. But I'm home safe and sound and hey, how come none of you asked if I was okay or wrote me to make sure I wasn't kidnapped?! Oh well.

The last entry was a round up of the milongas and practicas I have visited. I was busy my second week in BA going around the city and taking classes from various studios like Tango Brujo and Escuela (can't remember rest of name - it's located in the Borges Cultural Center in a fancy shopping mall). I took some great milonga classes with Eugenia at Escuela. But then I took a class at DNI and that was that. I spent the rest of the week taking classes at DNI and having a great time. DNI is like a beautiful peaceful hippie commune where everybody shares in the chores, the teachers come around during class, the teachers DANCE with you and the students are friendly and want to connect with the other students. I also found the teaching methodology quite nice and enjoyed all the teachers I took classes from. Even though I fear that DNI is too popular already, I assume that hardly anyone will read this so: If you go to BA for tango, take classes at DNI!

Jackie from Tango Pulse flew into BA early in the week and it was a blast working with her in classes, catching up over pasta and lomos and dancing with her. It made me realize that tangoing in BA is lots more fun with a group. The final night before leaving, we went to see Tanghetto again. The last day in BA was sad. I ate at an Uruguayan restaurant in Palermo Hollywood for lunch and then found myself at the airport so suddenly. A thunderstorm followed us the whole way north and lightening lit up the dark night. Then back in JFK on a cold rainy day, riding the train, feeling tired and quiet.


Chajá (amazing dessert with cake, whipped cream,
meringue and fruit all smooshed together)

Next up we'll return to our regular programming ... ice cream and soufflé.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Milonga/Practica Roundup 1

Tango Soho (Thursday night at Villa Malcolm)
- Candles and red table cloths transforms the space at Villa Malcolm into romantic milonga-land.  The stone floor is big but can get crowded.  The crowd is a good mix of ages, dancing styles and levels.  People seem to be friendly here.

Tango Cool (Friday at Villa Malcolm)
- Younger nuevo crowd at this no frills milonga.  Every once in a while, they'll throw in a tanda of alternative.

Parakultural Friday (Salon Canning)
- Old school milonga.  Beautiful space.  The dance floor is nice but small and crowded until after 2am or so.  The cabacea is definitely employed here.  Music is strictly traditional.  Pulpo showed up as I was leaving.

La Viruta (Sunday at Armenia Social Club)
- A strange mix of tango, swing and salsa with the circles not necessarily intersecting.  The DJ will play 30 mins of swing followed by 1 hour of tango followed by 30 minutes of salsa followed by 1 hour of tango and so on.  The best time to go is after 1 am, when the swing crowd thins out a bit and more tango folk show up.  This is the milonga where the up and coming dancers go to hang out and dance with their friends.

El Motivo (Monday at Villa Malcolm)
- A fun practica.  There's room on the dance floor to try your new moves and it's the same crowd that shows up to all the other Villa Malcolm events.

Parakultural Monday (Salon Canning)
- When El Motivo ends at 1am, everyone walks over to Canning to finish the night.  It's basically a repeat of the Parakultural Friday.

Practica X (Medrano 476)
- the level of the dancing here is through the roof and leans towards nuevo style. The room is somewhat awkward - chairs lining the walls (which makes the cabaceo hard to do) and then a large area tucked waaaay back with tables that no one sits at because it would mean tango suicide.  There were twice as many followers here than leaders.  The floor was large but horrendously gravelly.  I was wincing every time I had to pivot.

Buenos Aires Club (Saturday night at Peru 571)
- I saw Tanghetto here!  It's a small space but the dance floor is nice and generally spacious.  The milonga doesn't get started until 12:30 am.  I tried to get there early to get a table and was gently turned away at the door because the club was hosting a rock concert right then and they didn't want me to have to sit through that.  How did they know I was there to tango and not rock out?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bee A

My hobbies continue here, specifically mycology and apaculture.

Some cool mushrooms in a tiny plot on the sidewalk:

Another I found in the median of 9 de Julio:

A honeybee inside a crazy bright red flower that looks like a toilet brush:

Friday at Intensivo

My brain is seriously starting to degrade, not to mention my emotional-mental state. After a quick sacadas review, we move on to shared axis turns which turn out to be a nice whooshy move for the follower. Again, the idea of the body twisting from the top to bottom or the bottom to top comes into play. We followers work hard to keep the free leg relaxed but to not fall into the next step. Luciana goes on to highlight every shared axis turn.

For sacadas, the leader is going towards the follower's free foot.  For shared axis turns, the leader is going towards the space behind the follower's standing foot and then going around her in a pivot.  The leader's body needs to go in a circle around the follower's body or else she is going to step.  That's the main point I got from the class.

That's it for the Intensivo posts.  Hopefully some of this will get integrated in my body someday.  The Intensivo was great and I really loved working with Lu and her assistants.  I do think that, for me, it is a bit of an overload.  When I have a private, I am usually able to work on one aspect of my dancing and let that settle into my body over time.  With the Intensivo, I felt like I was working on 5 different things at the same time and, since I'm only a so-so multitasker, it quickly became overload for my body.  Let's not eve talk about my brain.  However, this is one of the most concise primers of tango I've ever experienced.  Working on a theme for 5 hours a day for 6 days really let's you see all the minutiae - the overall concept, every permutation of that concept, the technique needed to execute the concept truthfully, the structure of the dance, the mechanics, the direction.   The theme we were working on was "center and circle."

Thursday at Intensivo

Thursday is a day of sacadas again. First we work review sacadas and go through all the possible sacadas.

Option A (follower's step)
- back
- forward
- open

Option B (leader's step)
- back
- forward
- open

Option C (direction)
- left
- right

We do follower's back sacadas for-EVER and I'm a complete klutz at them. I have to overpivot and then pivot some more and somehow step naturally back into the ankle, no I mean open space, of the leader. I either don't pivot enough or don't adjust my back step or fall into my back step or lean forward too much. I feel that this movement is subtle but not subtle in the way I'm doing it.

In the afternoon, I get my revenge and it's time for leader's back sacadas. Not that it fazes the assistant leaders at all. Oh well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Café culture here is about 236 times more interesting than coffee shops in the states. (Did you notice that 2x3=6?) As I mentioned in my Havanna blurb, the coffees and teas here cost about 2$ and you get a whole little microcosm including espresso of your choice, a thimble of juice or water and a small sweet biscuit brought to you by a waiter or waitress. USA coffee shops - read this and learn!

Here are a smattering of the cafe offerings I've encountered:

Bartok's in Palermo Viejo (the service here was terrible!) had three tiny shortbreads and lime wedges.
An old school cafe on Santa Fe near Rodriguez Pena (very lovely service and setting) had a tea strainer in the cup with its own holder, heated cups, a tiny pitcher of hot water (?), mini pillows of sweet crackers and a glass of aqua.
Another stop at Havanna included a fancy teapot, saucers that were convex so it was easy to pick up the cup, a tumbler of aqua con gas, and a chocolate covered biscuit. In the lower right corner is a Havannet, which is a huge mound of dulce de leche on top of a cookie wafer that is then covered in chocolate.
A swanky cafe on a corner of Plaza de Mayo comes with a mini alfajores.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Mirror World and Casa Blanca Baires

Vegetarians may be worried about eating in BA. There's the rumor that all they eat are big juicy steaks and chorizo. But really there's nothing to fear. It was quite easy for me to find a nice vegetarian fixed prix meal as seen here:
Okay, okay. It's really just a festival of meat down here. At this particularly unremarkable restaurant, the bread came with a meat spread that resemble thoroughly mashed spam. The fix prix meal included an appetizer plate of entrails, blood sausage, chorizo and another smaller saltier sausage. For a change of pace, the entree was meaty short ribs with some fries that were probably stuffed with meat. The meats here do come with a delicious thyme sauce that I love and, for some reason, reminds me of Christmas, as well as other interesting sauces such as eggplant, tomato salsa, sweet barbeque. I was relieved to find that the dessert did not contain meat but was a light refreshing flan similar to the creme caramels that I used make at home.

One night before Tango Soho, I found a charming restaurant called Casa Blanca. This is my favorite restaurant so far. The high ceilings, clean white paint and open kitchen give it an inviting French feeling. The best part is an breathtaking terrace in the back that is surrounded by high stone walls with espaliered aspens thirty feet tall and a large fireplace. The chimney of the neighboring restaurant sending magical orange sparks out into the night sky adds to the charm. The bread boule was hot and crusty, with the knife artfully stabbing it, and accompanied by a roasted green pepper olive oil spread that made me melt in my seat. I swear the spinach salad was laced with MSG because I have never ever tasted spinach so flavorful. After the Fete des Viandes, I decided to go with a shrimp, salmon and vegetables in coconut lime sauce. Fantastic! The chef was cooking with headphones on but stopped by to inquire about the meal. I waxed on about the meal and he seemed pleased and invited me to come back often. "Take it easy!" he said in surprising good colloquial english as I left.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wednesday - half day Whee! Part 1 for those who tango

Wednesday is a half day at Intensivo
Now we do forward sacadas in every possible combination. I'll list them out for my own memories.

We also learn how to figure out whether the leader is going in the same direction as the follower or opposite directions. Again, it depends on which step of the giro you are in - it's not as simple as it sounds.

I find that I have a hard time doing followers front sacadas. I freak out about walking into the leaders. The leaders all seem perplexed and insist that I should be just following their chest. Yes, I know this but who would normally walk into someone's body on purpose even if that person told you to?

I'm so glad we have the afternoon off. A quick lunch and then off I skip to Comme Il Faut. I've heard stories about the bitchy salesladies but my experience was pleasant. They asked me what kind of shoe I was looking for (open toed, size 37, 8 cm heels - umm, just in case you really wanted to know) and then brought heaps and heaps of shoes for me to try. The ones I saw were all lovely and I ended up surprising myself with one of the shoes. It was a pair of gold dalmation print. Sounds horrifying, I know. They looked so-so in the box but when I put them on everyone in the room collectively breathed in,"Ohhh!" A pretty good indicator that the shoes worked. Happy happy happiness. Shoe pictures to come soon.

Can't waste the day so I took a class with Anita and Pablo at Tango Brujo. I really like this studio. The teachers are friendly and available and funny and warm and it's just an all around nice place. I definitely recommend taking classes here. We learned more sacadas and a leaders gancho during a follower's back cross.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Intensive continues

Tuesdays on 102.1 - All boleos all the time.

My brain is going to explode, I'm thinking to much, my boleos are so forced, I can't follow planeos, blah! But by the end of the day, I've given up on boleos and suddenly they work.

Lu talks about how we, as followers, see performances where the boleos are so high and pointy and we try to copy that in our boleos. In reality, we are lying to the leaders because they haven't led that kind of boleo - we are forcing it. We practice for a long time our boleos, letting the leg go naturally, and as always, keeping our own axis.

For leaders:
- we practice "with" boleos. For these, there is a deeper twist for the pivot (that comes from the core, not the shoulders or arms) that has to be followed by a rebound. If there is no rebound, there is no boleo, just a deep ocho. The rebound is natural.
- There are also "contra" boleos. Here, the leader starts to pivot the follower and once her hips have passed the position of being perpendicular to the leader's hips, the leader changes directions and walks around her in the opposite way - almost in the same way as for a planeo but perhaps with slightly more definition and energy.
- Then the combinations are endless. You can do boleos by combining any of the following options:

Option A - direction of boleo:
- left
- right

Option B - leader's accompanying step:
- forward
- open
- back

Option C - follower's direction:
- forward
- open
- back

Option D - type of boleo:
- "with"
- "contra"

That's 36 ways to lead a boleo. How about that?
The idea of the giros is very important here. The steps that are listed are all steps of the giros, Si?

For followers:
- it's important to keep the braline facing the leader here. If you move your upper body in the direction of you leader's chest, then the momentum of the boleo is lost. This is something I'm working on a lot.
- don't force your leg to kick high. If you feel a small boleo, let your free leg to naturally where it will
- that said, don't glue your free leg to your standing leg. You will never get a boleo then.
- for front boleos, after the high point of the boleo, try to let your free leg fall to the floor immediately so that you are not unwinding directly in front of the leader. That could lead to a movement that is dangerous for the leader if you get my drift.

And then begins the INTENSIVO!


Dear readers who are still tango virgins, this section will probably bore the beegees out of you so you may want to find another blog to read for today.

It's the first day of the Intensivo with Luciana Valle. It's located at Villa Malcolm and we start at 11am. There's a large group from Austin, a few folks from Ithaca, a gentleman from Pakistan and Chris is here too. We don't get to mingle too much because Lu starts right away and we are paired up with one of the capable assitants.

Then we proceed to practice ochos for an hour. Ladies, if you can practice ochos for an hour every day, you will be in bravo shape. At the end of the hour I was thinking Do I really know how to do ochos or have I just been faking it the whole time? We went over tons of technique. I'll just make a big long list:

- Go in a circle around the center
- This means circular steps, not linear steps
- No pigeon toed walking, there is a slight out- turn of the feet
- Push off with the standing leg
- At the pivot of the ochos, have your free leg free, not glued to your other leg.
- Do not squat down during the pivot, you should bend your leg as if you were just walking backwards normally.
- Keep your axis - you should not be falling forward or backward or gripping the person who is the center to keep balance. Use your core to do this.
- Followers: Keep everything above your braline facing your partner, your hips are doing all the pivoting here
- Leaders: Keep the energy of the embrace but let your right arm slide on her back as she pivots. If you keep your hand fixed at one position on her back, it is hard to lead good pivots. Likewise for followers, let your left arm slide from his arm to his back.
- Leaders: lead this with your chest, not your shoulders, and definitely not your arms. Think of your back pivoting around your spine. A little movement can result in a big pivot in your follower's hips.
- umm more stuff that I don't remember because my brain died a little

Then for another two hours we worked on our giros. Yes, two hours - one just normale, one with a leader's lapis. Giro to the left, giro to the right. Perfect that giro. If you get bored with giros after a few minutes then I'm afraid tango might not be for you. Sorry. Really I am. But if I have to do hours of giros just to get them sort of right, you bloody should too. I have to say that towards the end of the two hours, I was starting to get the body memory of what a giro feels like. Maybe. I think. Here's the list for giros.

- Followers: Light upper body, heavy hips. Remember to keep facing your partner above the braline. Keep you own axis (this is hard. I kept leaning forward too much which meant my leg swung out too much during the back pivot). Use all the technique you learned for ochos
- Leaders: if you are going to employ the lapis, you will pivot your hips after you pivot your follower and draw a circle on the ground with the ball of your foot that your follower will chase with her giro. Think of your foot as the rabbit at a greyhound race and the follower as the greyhound.

As we rotate, it dawns on me that there is also the issue of getting to know the 12 or so professional tango dancers that are working with me. There are 12 professional leaders and 12 professional followers, one for every person in the series. We change every two songs and have to adapt to a different style of dancing, a different personality, a different many things. It keeps you on your toes. The dancers are friendly and like to heckle Lu sometimes as she teaches. She laughs at their jokes and banter right back.

We move on to planeos. Simple right? Except there are planeos where the follower's leg is behind, side or in front. Now the leaders see if they can, during one planeo, switch the planeo from one to the other. Not so simple to lead or follow. The subtlities in the embrace are mind boggling. Sometimes it is hard just to know to stay put for the planeo instead of going ahead into the giro. Where the ochos is a spiral starting from the follower's hips, the planeo is a spiral starting from the followers bust. Got that? Good.

Because we can't get enough of tango - these are a precious two weeks after all - some of us head to the practica El Motivo at night. I like the space at Villa Malcolm and the practica is fun. We see a precise performance by Pablo Retamar and Anita Monteagedo. I'm dragging butt by now.



was spent walking along the main strip of San Telmo, Defensa, where vendors line the streets. I'm surprised at the number of hippies here. It's almost like hippie alley. They are industrious hippies though, not wasting a minutes, always knitting or tying wire for jewelry or braiding that hemp like you wouldn't believe. It took a long time to get to the Plaza where a, surprise, tango show was going on. The technique was a little loose but the crowd loved it.

At night I was lucky to get a seat at Thuy's closed door restaurant "A Little Saigon." The dinner was lovely and populated by a nice friendly crowd. We ate baked(!) dumplings for the hors d'oevres. The appetizer was scallion pancake made with rice flour. The main course was pho. I looove soup and noodles so it was heaven for me. I slurped my noodles, savored the beef and then drained my bowl of all the broth. Dessert was mochi stuffed with red bean paste, mooncakes and green tea cakes, all moistened with jasmine tea. Very yum. And it was fun to hang out with Thuy and Ben and other English speaking folk discussing the compliments that Argentine gentlemen will pay ladies (Linda, hey linda) and who we are voting for. Hey, how's that going btw?

La Viruta was the milonga for the night. I got there around 1:30 am and it was still swinging. Located in the basement of the Armenian Social Club, it has that dark club feeling. The dancing is nice and the crowd seemed energetic. An Argentine asked me to dance in the middle of a milonga. Oi, it was fun but milonga is not my forte. Actually, after all these days with Luciana, I'm starting to think nothing is really my forte. I liked La Viruta.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Just got home from a Fernandez Fierro show.  They were awesome!  One of the four bandoneon players had dread locks, wore sunglasses the whole show and rocked his bandoneon like Aerosmith with expandable file cabinets.  At one point he went a little crazy and whacked the bandoneon player on his left.  Here's a video of one of their shows.  The singer was also hilarious.  He kept giving the crowd the "rock out" hand signal and at one point was fondling a fake plastic hand while singing.  His beautiful voice was balanced out by a candy stripe tie.

Sorry I'm posting so little.  I've been in Intensivo with Luciana and 12 amazing tango leaders since Monday.  We work from 11am to 5pm and then I usually try to hit another class or practica at night.  Don't worry, I'll post all about Saturday to Wednesday very soon.

Good night.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 3 - A saturday

Not surprisingly, I woke up late today and wandered down to Malasartes for breakfast. This time I was smart and ordered the desayuno domicilio which came with tea, fresh orange juice toast, cream cheese and lots of jam. Vendors were at full steam in Plaza Serrano and it was completely transformed.

While walking back to the subte, I found this strange tree with yummy looking fruit on it. There was also a loquat tree that everyone was ignoring. I thought about climbing into it and picking some of the juicy fruit but that might alarm people which wouldn't bode well.

I caught a lesson with Chan Park of TangoZen ( Very simple and meditative. We focused on changing our weight completely and to energize our standing side when we walked (see??? you can never work too much on walking). Then some simple side steps and playing with rythm. But mostly just really FEELING your partner.  Chan is friendly and chatted with me a bit.  Hope to see more of him in the coming two weeks.

I scurried back to Palermo to have a private with Cecilia Piccini.  I worked on leading boleos and they are freakin' hard to lead.  Even the "with" boleos, I kept using my arms and shoulders to much.  Too much effort.  I was also mucho nervous leading such an accomplished follower but she is sweet and pointed out that I needed to open up my chest so she could get a clearer lead.  Whew.  I asked her to recommend a good milonga and she said that Saturdays were not good because it would be too crowded.  Fine by me.  I took a slow night and ate dinner at Minga (  I wanted to jump into my salad and revel in the fact that I was eating vegetables, beautiful vegetables!  Of course I had to follow that up with a chunk of sirloin.  Yes, it was flavorful and juicy.  My first contact with parrilla and it was good.  Dessert was queso y dulce - a gigantic slab of soft cheese layered with an equally large slab of membrillo (quince) paste.  It was good but not my favorite.  I am, however, digging jugo de pomelo con gas which is grapefruit juice with soda water.  Yumyum.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Day 2 - Florida and Tango Brujo

Woke up at a reasonable hour (perhaps due to the circular saw being employed in the renovations downstairs) and took a few minutes to figure out my antiquated keys. The apartment across the street is completely overgrown by vines and there are always pigeons roosting the flowering tree outside.

Had breakfast at Malasartes ( at Plaza Serrano. I had the "Americano" and was treated to a ginormous (wow! that word is in spell check!) breakfast of two thick slices of multigrain with melted gruyere, three scrambled eggs, something like a quarter pound of bacon, fresh orange juice, tea and the usual tiny glass of aqua con gas. So in the span of 24 hours, I have eaten half a dozen eggs. Sorry stomach, I apologize profusely, I will treat you better in two weeks.

I managed not to throw up after stuffing down my breakfast and wandered around Palermo for a bit. There are cute shops and cute clothes everywhere. The vendors were starting to set up their stalls for the market on Saturday in Plaza Serrano and the sun was ever so warm and nice.

Walked down to the subte and made my way over to Tango Brujo, stopping along the way to marvel at these oversized macaroons stuffed with dulce de leche. The Tango Brujo staff is uber nice. I chatted with the sales senorita about the US:

Senorita (with concern in her face): So, how is the situation in the US?
Susan: Well, it kind of seems like the US is collapsing. It's a little scary.
Senorita: Haha. Don't worry. It's like that here all the time. It's just a new experience. Just enjoy it.
Susan: Yes, you're right. I'll try to enjoy the experience of economic collapse in the US.
Together: Hahaha!

I finally got a pair of those sexy harem pants with slits on the side and enjoyed a class with Martín Gutiérrez ( where we learned a nifty barrida, volcada, gancho, lean sequence. You can get a glimpse of the gancho and lean from 3:49 to 3:55 on this video:

except, instead of ending in a sentada, we kind of just leaned and then walked out. There were way more followers than leaders and after a great inner debate, I tried my hand at leading. It was great fun! I met Caroline, a great follower from Belgium, who was so kind and encouraging about my leading and who helped me figure out how to make the sequence work.

After class, I walked along Florida and experienced the craziness and the shoppiness. I showed great restraint by buying only one cute shirt along the whole pedestrian mall. Let me go on a little tangent here about cafes here. I stopped at Cafe Habana on Florida and ordered te con limon and an alfajores and got this:

Let's see what we have here. So, first of all, everything is served in nice ceramic mugs and carafes. None of the paper cup crap here. The limon is peeled (weird since the zest is the good part, maybe because they're concerned with hygiene?). There is a tiny glass of aqua con gas (trying to figure out what for). And at the bottom there is my alfajore, two slices of cake sandwiching thick dulce de leche and nuts, then dipped in white chocolate. Immediately after I ate this confection, my heart rate and blood pressure seem to double and my whole body was shaking from the sugar. Thank goodness I'm not a speed freak or else that rush could be addictive!

Okay, let's get back to the main program:

I stopped to take in the (ever so macho) obelisk before tunneling into the subte and back to Palermo.

At night I went to Practica TangoCool and Milonga Parakultural.

TangoCool was just as the name described: very cool. Populated by young hip folk (some with mullet mohawks!) doing all sorts kerazy moves. Also located in Villa Malcolm. I got no dances with the Argentines but I'm thinking that this will be the case until I meet some more people through classes. Ladies with experience, feel free to chime in with advice. Since this is a practica, there are no cortinas even thought the music is structured in tandas. The atmosphere here is welcoming, lights are low, big stone dance floor and there are plenty of tables to sit at. I even saw people actually stop and work on their technique/steps/moves/whatever - just like one should at a practica .

Parakultural was described in my Rough Guide as "young, bohemian". Well, the Friday night at Salon Canning was pretty traditional if you ask me. The room is large, ornate, shiny but most of the space is given to tables. The dance floor is in the middle, pretty small and completely packed. Sridhar would be in heaven. Or not. I don't presume to know. All the tables were full when I got there so I stood awkwardly for a while while a live orqestra played and then was able to nab a seat from a couple that left. People were much more dressed up here. Men in shiny suits, women in their shimmery shimmies. The music was good and there was a nice performance. I was getting tired and thought that I'd turn in early.

I got back to the apartment and checked the clock: 3AM already. Yes, it's time for bed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Day Uno = looong day

After a long journey to JFK, I was treated to a long flight. It was amazing to fly down the East Coast and see cities lit up at night. I was able to make out Long Beach Island, Rehobeth, Washington DC, Norfolk and then we veered away from the coast while Charleston was in the distance. Woke up again flying over Northern Argentina. Saw a beautiful swamp and rivers. The farms are just starting to sprout now.

In Buenos Aires, it's springtime. I didn't think it would affect how I felt as much as it did. Spring feels very different from fall, it feels like things are waking up again (but I never went into hibernation). The leaves on the trees are a bright tender green. There are many lime trees and trees in purple flower. They give off a heady scent. Walked around Palermo, had tea at Plaza Serrano and had an omlette for lunch at a little stand. Then a well needed nap. Had a nice but non-memorable dinner at Kendra. I ate at 8pm and was the only customer there. As I was leaving people were starting to populate the restaurants. What do these people do after work??? When I get home at night, all I can think about is dinner.

Stopped by Tango Soho for a class (in Spanish) and practica. The practica was populated by young cute talented leaders and that made me happy. Mmmm. But then there are more talented, beautiful and sultry followers. Hmmm. Didn't get too many dances but got to dance with Tim, who happens to be from DC. This struck me as hilarious since DC folks don't dance with me in DC. He asked me how long I had been in BA and I had to stop and think hard.

"I think I got here today?" I said uncertainly and he laughed. I left the practica at 12:30 and flopped into bed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Packing for BA

Yes, it's only a day away. I started packing and someone decided he wants to come with:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Financial Crisis Report

Best investigation I've heard/seen so far:

seitan pork belly

I'm on a mission to veganize Chinese pork belly. They're already doing this in China. I can make pretty good seitan and I think the slow cooker seitan tied in a cloth cooking method would be good for the "meat" part but what about the fat part? From the picture in the blog, it looks like maybe some rice flour/fat mixture was used. I tried once by making a super soft layer of seitan around the "meat" layer by adding more oatmeal and more water. It was okay but not great. There was not enough delineation of texture. Perhaps a layer of frozen tofu mixed with a binder might be good.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

my my mycology!

Another mushroom walk today along the creek near my house.

Found a bunch of yellow mushrooms growing on a dead tree trunk. The average size was 5 cm in diameter, the cap was convex with brown scales and sticky, adnate gills, yellow-olive spore prints. Black termite-y looking bugs chewing holes in them. I think they are Pholiota alnicola.

Another bunch of polypores growing on dead wood. White with a yellow-creamy edge, cap has bumps on it (like it has rhino whatever), convex shape, seemed delicate like a succulent, creamy pink-orangle pores, no stem (it was growing on the wood along the edge of the cap). I wasn't able to get spore print on white or black paper. Maybe a Tyromyces chioneus?

Finally a puffball in the neighbor's yard. I should probably let them know what I'm up to on their lawn so they don't call the coppers on me. It had scales and what looks like an annulus. Do puffballs have annuli?

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Oh boy. This may become a new obsession (to die off in a couple of months). I want bento boxes! But since I'm trying to be frugal, I just used our normal stacking tupperware (they might be from ikea) to pack my lunch. Here are crappy phone pics. My officemates were trying to ignore the fact that I was at my desk taking pictures of my lunch with my antiquated phone.
Lunch: brown rice, homegrown sugar pumpkin green curry (totally rocks the next day) with cilantro garnish, pumpkin coconut panna cotta.

Update: This obsession lasted roughly a day. I think it's pretty much done. I'm nuts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


After reading Omnivore's Dilemma, I was inspired to go mushrooming hunting. I got a mushroom identification book out of the Ag school's library and starting looking around. So far all the mushrooms I've found have been non-edible or poisonous. But here are some samples:

Inocybe fastigiata var. umbrinella (
This was growing in the mulch of the garden outside my office

Also nearby was a small brown mushroom with a semi-sphere hat and a long white stem. Very cute. I think it is either a Mycena or a Psilocybe.

Turkey Tail on a stump near my house

I found a whole bunch of mushrooms growing near the pines in my front yard. They are all boletes. There is probably a Suillus luteus and a Suillus americanus. The other two I'm not sure of. One has a fuzzy beige cap with a grey underside and the other looks like Suillus americanus but brown instead of weird icky yellow. They were sticky and made my fingertips itchy. Apparently they are edible but may cause dermatitis.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vegan Dumplings (Jiao Zi)

Dumplings popped into my mind last week. I don't know why since the next Chinese holiday is pretty far away. Plus it's the hot hot middle of the summer when few people want to eat boiling hot pasta encased meat. But I'm surrounded by Chinese lab mates who miss real Chinese food and usually will go to far extremes to get their food fix. I've even heard of some driving two hours away to check out a new restaurant. Well, I called some of them up and got enthusiastic responses so Dumpling Fest was born.

The first thing to do was have a pow wow with my mom about the recipe. I've only rolled out the dumpling skins but never made the dough or the filling. After an hour long very intense discussion, I have my game plan and shopping list. There were going to be two fillings - one pork and one vegan.

The morning of dumpling fest, I mixed up the dough and let it sit all day to develop the smoothiness (I'm guessing it's the gluten). I made most of the filling before folks arrived. Then we had a rocking kitchen of dumpling skin rollers and dumpling fillers. Once the dumplings were ready to go in the pot, someone was designated dumpling maker and the rest of us chowed down on the dumplings with much satisfaction. For some reason, my dumpling filling tasted a lot more "healthy" and less fatty than my parents. Maybe it was the cut of meat I used or because I added water chestnuts which made the filling lighter and slightly crunchy. I don't know. I just know they were delicious. We didn't get around to making the vegan dumplings so I'll have to do that tomorrow.

Dumplings (enough to feed 5 people)

2 lbs all purp flour (I used Eagle Mills Brand that is a blend of whole wheat and white and it turned out beautifully)
2 cups water

The night before or the morning of the day you want to make dumplings, prepare the dough. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of water. Mix the water in with a spoon or chopsticks. Then continue to add water 1 T at a time until there is no more loose flour in the bowl. You do not want it too wet or it will be difficult to roll out. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead for 5-8 minutes. The dough should feel slightly stiff. Place dough back in bowl and cover well with saran wrap or a towel and a plate. Let the dough rest for at least a couple of hours up to overnight. Alternatively, buy dumpling wrappers. Okay, next

Part 1
1.5 lb ground cooked seitan or smoked tofu (I used my meat grinder for this. Stop making that face! I have a meat grinder for my cat! Hmm, I guess that sounded just as crazy. TVP may also work for this)
1/2" ginger minced
2 stalks scallion minced
2 T soy sauce

Part 2
1 head napa cabbage using green/leafy parts only, chopped very fine (the white stems can be reserved for broths or sauteed on their own)
1/3 cup water chestnuts chopped fine (food processor would be great for this and the next two ingredients)
1 cup shiitake mushrooms chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped fine
1 T sesame oil
1 T salt
2 t sugar
black pepper

Mix all ingredients in part 1 together in a large bowl and let marinate for 30 minutes. Add all ingredients of part 2 in and mix well. Test a spoonful (30 seconds in the microwave) and adjust seasonings. Cover and set aside.

Making the wrapper
Take the dumpling dough and knead it a few times. It should become very smooth. Tear off a piece about the size of tennis ball and knead it into a smooth ball. Make a hole in the center and squeeze into a donut shape. Keep squeezing the hoop until the hole in the center is very large. Find a thin spot on the donut and tear the dough there to make one long log. Roll and squeeze the log until it is about the diamater of a quarter. Take one end in your fist and start tearing off bits of dough about 1/2" to 3/4" long. Try to tear the dough off quickly to make a clean tear and to avoid stretching the log. When the entire log is in pieces, roll the pieces in flour and start flattening them.

Once they are all flattened, take a dumpling rolling pin (resembles a french pastry rolling pin but much smaller) and roll into dumpling wrappers in the following manner:

1. Hold the edge of a flattened piece between thumb and index finger (let's call this hand A). Hold rolling pin against the opposite edge of the dough with only the palm of your other hand (hand B). All your fingers should be on top of the pin. Ie. your thumb should not be wrapped around the pin but resting on top.

2. Apply pressure to the rolling pin and roll it up to the center of the piece of dough. You should now have a piece of dough that is really flat on one half.

3. Using hand A, rotate the dough a quarter turn.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the dumpling wrapper is roughly 2.5" - 3" in diameter. Ideally, you want the middle to be thicker than the edges so the filling doesn't fall out.

Finish rolling the rest of the pieces before moving on to shaping --->

Shaping dumplings

Now take a wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Add about 1T of filling to the center. Fold the wrapper in half. Now you can either

1. Pinch the wrapper in 3 places along the edge and then squeeze the wrapper fully shut using the long part of your thumb and the side of your knuckle next to your thumb.


2. Pinch the wrapper slightly shut and then proceed to make pleats. Finally squeeze the edge with the pleats to make sure it's sealed.

Put the dumplings on a floured plate or styrofoam tray. Boil up some water with ginger and left over napa stems. When the water is at full boil, drop in the dumplings. They are done when the float again (5 mins???).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wild Berry Tarts and Peach Tarts

Delaware is a pretty lush state and a large variety of plants thrive here including rambling blackberry and raspberry bushes. This is the peak time for these delicate berries so I spend time on Wednesday picking berries with D. We got some thorns and prickers in our fingers but were rewarded with a large bag of sweet berries at the end. I decided to make some berry tarts but wasn't quite sure what to use a vegan pastry cream. I finally settled on one that used flour and soymilk and seemed to work for several people but once I made it, I was disappointed. It seemed too much like sweet paper mache gloop even after I cooled it. But I didn't have time to make another cream since I was planning on bringing these to a group meeting and the meeting was starting in 30 minutes! So I just slathered in into the tart shells I baked earlier and spread a thin layer of blood orange sauce that I found in the freezer on top before arranging the berries over the whole thing.

The blood orange sauce really saved the tarts. The sweet and slightly bitter orange flavor punched up the gloopy pastry cream and made a decadent tart. Still I think next time I would use a cashew cream or a vanilla pudding instead of the faux pastry cream.

One thing that finally struck me after making lots of tarts is that the water:butter:flour ratio for pie crusts is as such 1:2:6. So for example 3/4 cup flour: 1/4 cup butter: 2 T water. It's nice to be able to bake sans recipe.

Tart crust (fits about five 4" tart pans)
3/4 cup flour
1 t sugar
pinch salt
1/4 cup Earth Balance
2 T water

Mix flour, sugar and salt together. Cut in butter until pea sized balls form. I do this by hand since I'm missing a food processor. Sigh. Add in water and gather into a large ball. Wrap in wax paper and chill for 30 mins. After chilling divide dough into five parts and pat quickly into balls. In between two pieces of wax paper, roll out each ball until it is slightly bigger than your tart pans. It should be quite thin maybe 1/8". Gently peel off wax paper and drape dough into pans, pressing into the flutes. Cover with wax paper and fill with dry beans. Blind bake at 350 C for 15 minutes. I do this in the toaster oven since it's so bloody hot now.

Tart pastry cream filling is from Vegan Chef.
1/2 cup unbleached flour
2 cups soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice, divided
1/3 cup unbleached cane sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 t. grated lemon zest
1/2 t. vanilla

In a small bowl, place the flour and whisk in 1/2 cups soy milk, and set aside. In a small saucepan, place the remaining soy milk, sugar, and salt, and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients and whisk well to combine. Cook the mixture over medium heat, while whisking constantly, for 5-6 minutes or until thickened. Add the remaining ingredients, whisk well to combine, and cook the mixture an additional 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a glass bowl. Place a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator for several hours to cool completely. Use as a filling for pies, tarts, pastries, or phyllo dough, or as a topping for desserts.

Yield: 2 Cups

Blood Orange Syrup (from Epicurious)
3 cups fresh blood orange juice or regular orange juice
9 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons grated blood orange peel or regular orange peel

Stir all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until syrup is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Refrigerate until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated up to 2 days. I put mine in the freezer and can pull it out to use directly. It doesn't need to defrost since it won't freeze solid or loose any flavor.

Spoon pastry cream into each tart shell and smooth.
Spoon a thin layer of blood orange syrup on top.
Top with fruit.

The tarts got a bit soggy after a while. I should have probably painted the insides of the tart shells with some jam to prevent that from happening.
The peach tart flower idea is originally from Tartlette who mentions that this can be done with thinly sliced fruit. Yeah right, I thought, probably only by a professional pastry chef. But I was so wrong! The flower was delightfully easy to make and even more fun to eat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Avocado Pie

It's bad when I visit Trader Joe's. I inevitably spend too much money and buy too much food that I can't use up quickly enough. Case in point: avocados. Four to a bag for a dollar each is so cheap, how can I pass up the deal. Only when I forget to use them for a week do I start to regret purchasing such beautiful fruits just to let them go to waste. Fortunately for me, Vegan Explosion posted about an avocado pie. Perfect! I could use these ripe avocados for baking. What more could I ask for?

The recipe was pretty simple but I made some changes. The pie was rich and tasty although I wanted it to be a little more tart and a little more sweet so I'm guessing that means more sugar and more lime. Maybe adding some zest would be good. The 1 T of agar agar powder seems like a bit much to me so I would probably reduce it to 1 or 2 t to have a creamier pie. That said, my pie was probably not so creamy because I replaced the soy cream cheese with silken tofu.
I also did not have soy milk powder so I used 1 cup soymilk and 1/3 cup sugar, simmered it on medium heat until it was reduced to 1/3 cup. But it was still delicious.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Raspberry Lime Tarts and Snowballs

Trader Joe's had stacks of 2 pint boxes of organic raspberries. They were strategically placed at the register so that they gave off a sweet fruity perfume that made your tummy rumble. This coupled with the dozen or so limes that are sitting in the fridge left over from our last theme party makes raspberry lime tarts. Most of this recipe came from Eat Air who apparently got the key lime filling from PETA. I just made it in mini tart form and stuck raspberries on top.

We were on a mini weekend trip to Rehobeth when we passed by a cafe that served Belgium waffles. There's no way we could pass up waffles so in we went. Rehobeth is teeming with international teenagers working minimum wage jobs for the summer. In this particular cafe, it was a Bulgarian girl and a guy named Marcello, who could be from France. They were very cute and friendly but neither knew an iota about making good waffles. Our waffles turned out undercooked, soft on the outside and gummy on the inside. But I didn't know this when I looked in the pastry display case and saw something labeled "Summer Snowball" which looked like this:

This thing was huge and it looked so deliciously light and coconutty. It was about half the size of my head.
Unfortunately, like the Belgian waffles, it was a good idea executed poorly. This summer snowball was nothing more than a custard puff wrapped in an inch thick layer of what tasted like canned icing. So sugary that I had to scrape of most of the icing before I found it slighly edible. Although this particular snowball was a dunce, it gave me ideas on a tastier homemade version, perhaps with coconut whipped cream, choux pastry and coconut custard.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Raw Cheezecake

I tried my hand at some raw desserts - a raw cheezecake and a raw strawberry peach mint cobbler. They were both very good! The cheezecake recipe can be found here
Raw Fruit Cobbler (for 2)

1/2 cup pecans (or walnuts or a combination)
3 prunes
a peach
a handful of mint

Cut up the strawberries and peaches. Take a third of the cut up fruit and blend it until it is liquid. Pour this over the rest of the fruit and mix in the mint. Set aside in the fridge.

Put the pecans in a blender and chop until it resembles coarse sand. Blend in one prune at a time until the mixture starts to come together.

Spoon the fruit mix into small custard bowls and sprinkle the crumble on top.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pioneer Time: Soy Yogurt

Probably pioneers didn't make soy yogurt but I feel like I'm in Little House on the Prairie when I make my own yogurt. This yogurt is thanks to Bryanna's amazing recipe and is creamily perfect. It's only me that eats it in my house so I make one mason jar at a time and it'll last me about a week. You can adjust the amount of agar depending on whether you want the yogurt to be more creamy and soft or firmer and custardier.

Soy yogurt

1 mason jar of unsweetened soy milk (this is roughly 3 cups for me)
1/2 t sugar
1/2 t agar
2 1/2 T tapioca starch
1/3 c soy yogurt with active culture (I used Wildwood for the first batch)

1. Put 1/3 c soy yogurt out to bring to room temperature. Put a large kettle of water on to boil.

2. Take clean mason jars (I only had three), fill with boiling water and cap them. Then put them inside a cooler. Make sure there's space left for one more mason jar. Put another kettle of water on to boil.

3. Gather the following:
- clean mason jar
- big glass bowl
- spatula
- wire whisk or egg beaters
- measuring cups and spoons
- regular old spoon
- large dinner plate

Put plate and bowl in clean sink. Place cups, spoons, spatula, whisk, mason jar and mason jar lid on the dinner plate. Scald everything with the boiling water.

4. Pour 1/2 cup soymilk into the glass bowl. Sprinkle with agar powder and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk in tapioca starch and sugar. Add another cup of soymilk.
5. Heat for 30 seconds in microwave and then stir well. Repeat until the mixture is thick and gooey. Roughly 2 minutes total.

6. Pour in the rest of the soymilk and let temperature cool to 115 F. I test by pouring a drop on my wrist and call it good if it's a couple of notches below ouch and not yet comfortable bath temp. That's probably not so helpful. At this point, whisk in yogurt culture until it's well incorporated.

7. Pour the mixture into the mason jar, cap and place in the warmed cooler. Wrap the cooler in a blanket and let it incubate for 6-10 hours. The first time I incubated for 12 and it was waaaay too long. The second time, 8 hours was perfect. The third time, 8 hours made very tangy yogurt so be adaptable.

8. After the yogurt is incubated, let it sit in the fridge for 12 hours or so before eating.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vegan Waffles

Blueberry Pecan Waffles
(Makes 3 or 4 waffles)

1 1/2 T flax seeds
1/4 cup water (or soy milk)
1 cup flour (I used 1/2 wheat and 1/2 all purpose)
3/4 cup soy milk
1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 T sugar

Plug in iron to heat. In a blender, grind seeds into a flour (about 1 min). Add in milk and blend until thick (about 1-2 mins).
Mix dry ingredients together.

Mix in milk and oil, one at a time, until batter is smooth.
Add in flax egg.
Add in berries and nuts.
Grease the iron well. Pour 1/2 cup of batter into center and spread the batter around with the back of a spoon.

Cook until steam is no longer coming from the sides of the waffle iron. I'm usually impatient and worried that the waffles are going to burn but I have yet to burn a waffle so really do wait for the steaming to stop. These waffles are perfectly crispy on the outside while maintaining a creamy inside. So yummy with a dollop of soy yogurt and maple syrup.