Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

We Came, We Learned, We Ate

It all began with a lottery…

Since we first came to Reno we had been hearing about this amazing opportunity – a culinary class taught by chefs flown over from Italy. But the catch – the venue only seats 40 people and attendance is determined by a random drawing. Well, you know the old saying, “You can’t win if you don’t try.” So try I did. And we were chosen!

Part of the fascination with the class is it’s location. The kitchen/dining facilities are in a historical mansion which was designed by Fredrick deLongchamps, Reno’s premier architect. It is currently home to Arte Italia, a foundation whose goal is to commemorate and perpetuate Italian culture through the exploration and conservation of culinary and visual arts.

Built in 1914 for Joseph Giraud, a local sheep rancher, this home has been the site of a number of restaurants and was the first building on Reno’s Register of Historic Places.

Without knowing who would be teaching the class or what the menu would be we immediately sent in our reservation request. As we walked into the kitchen we saw that our teacher for the evening was already at work.

Master Chef Marcello Spadone is a contemporary Mediterranean chef who ties his Michelin-starred La Bandiera menu to the traditions of Italy’s central Abruzzo region.

While waiting for the other participants to arrive we enjoyed small bites and wine.  We also looked over the menu and the accompanying information pages that listed the various ingredients that would be used throughout the evening, many familiar but others not (eggplant powder?).

The appetizer, Eggplant Parmesan – Revisited, turned out to feature one of my favorite ways to serve dishes – deconstructed. Always a fan of eggplant, I was eager to see how this would play out. In Chef Spando’s restaurant this dish is served in a hand-blown sugar “bowl” that looks like a baby eggplant. When the ingredients are layered inside the “eggplant” falls open and reveals the luscious interior elements; grilled eggplant cubes, buratta cheese, Parmesan chips, oven dried tomatoes, fresh basil and oregano.

As the chef prepared the dish we watched the chef’s son create the eggplant-shaped sugar vessel. The dish comes to the table with the shell intact but cracks apart as the warm insides cause the shell to crack.(Note the speckled pieces to the upper right in the photo.)

Because it would be impossible to make 40 candy shells and be able to serve in a timely manner, we got our eggplant parmesan in glass globes. We were able to admire the lovely layers and we also got the addition of a light foam on top. (Foam – a topic for a complete blog post! Don’t get me started…)

On to the first course: Duck a’la Orange Tortelli with BlackTruffle.

Watching the chef make the pasta was great fun. Truthfully, the duck stuffing took longer to create, but the hand-working of individual pasta, done well, is quite a show stopper. The chef to the left is Chef Philippe Léveillé, from the El Dorado here in Reno. He choses the visiting chef and does much of the translation during the class.
This is the beautiful bowl of food that was set before me. The black truffle, which the chef brought with him from Italy, was milder than I have had before and the touch of orange in the duck filling was a perfect way to cut the richness of the dish. The sauce is a simple (though not low calorie or low fat!) combination of Parmesan cheese and whipping cream with a bit of demi-glace. The pasta was incredibly thin and seemed to practically melt in the mouth.

On to course number two: Chicken and his Grain. The chef created this dish as a whimsical tribute to chicken as a food source. The grains on the plate represent all of the things chickens would eat as they are raised. (Of course we are talking locally-raised chickens as used in Chef’s restaurant, not those from poultry facilities. If the latter we would have had some sort of manufactured kibble strewn about.)

The chicken breasts were lightly grilled and then finished off in the oven. The dark meats portions were made into croquettes. Our table participants had quite a discussion on which meat serving was their favorite. Interestingly, it split 50-50.

And on to dessert: Ginsing Creme Brule with Almond Sorbet and Dill Broth.

This is the dish that threw me a bit. Though I am more than fond of creme brule, the ginseng was too much of a flavor profile for me. The ice cream, however, was sensational. And I am still not sure where I stand on the dill broth. The fragrance was robust but, when tasted, it didn’t have much punch. It was suggested we could drizzle the broth over the dish or use it as a palate cleanser. I did a bit of each, drizzling to see how it affected the taste (minimally) and then saving some for the end of the course. I was glad I did the saving as the dill was a nice counterpoint to the lingering ginseng flavor.

So – what will I take away from this class?  Appetizer round: I learned a new method for oven roasting eggplant and I am still not a fan of foam. First course: I will definitely make the simple pasta sauce but it will be quite a while before I make my own pasta. Second course: Our Thanksgiving plates may have a new look this year. Bring on the popcorn! Dessert course: Old bread, crumbled and combined with a bit of brown sugar and butter, makes a scrumptious topping using things I typically have on hand. I also want a browning torch.

So – with apologies to those who are tired of seeing food photos, this ends the tale our adventure. Except to say that, as a dietary correction, it’s green salad for dinner tonight!

Burning Man 2017

It was on our bucket list. We entered the lottery for tickets three years running. We bought and totally refurbished a motor home just for the event – and finally…finally… we were on our way!

Down the road we go in Homer, our beloved Odyssey motorhome. Our trip takes about 2 hours and we get to see lots of scenery that looks pretty much like this.
Getting close to Black Rock playa, the dried lake bed of ancient Lake Lahontan. More than 100,000 years of lake sediments form the white playa and surrounding basin. It only takes a 5mph wind to raise dust clouds/devils that skip across the surface of the dried bed.
Traffic lanes, eight wide, are set up from the main road into Black Rock City. At times those pesky dust devils rise up and it is like driving in a white-out. You cannot see the front of your vehicle, much less the cones marking the lanes – which have already turned from orange to dusty white.
In line to go through the checkpoints: tickets and car tags, vehicle inspection (no forbidden items or stowaways in Homer!), and the information post where we get updated maps and a book listing the hundreds of offerings we can participate in during our stay.
Map of Black Rock City (BRC from now on). Blue areas are theme camps. The brown area in the center and ranging outward is the space for art installations. The circles are blow-ups/insets explaining what you will find in the plazas within the grid. It took us a while to figure all of this out…as you can imagine.
After a drive to check out the neighborhoods we decide on a spot for our campsite: just down from the intersection of 6:30 and Kundalini. It is almost straight out from Center Camp, which makes getting around very convenient – especially since we will be doing it on foot of by bike.
View from our “front yard” down 6:30 street and onto the open playa where the art is aglow for the night. The white-lighted center structure is the Burning Man installation.
It’s Tutu Tuesday! I am off to a meditation class followed by some biking around the central playa which is home to most of the 270 pieces of art. Yes, I have on my sunscreen. And I have my camera, and a bandana in case of dust; my water bottle was still chilling when the photo was taken but was definitely on board when I headed out. In addition to what I brought with me there were plenty of offers of food and drink along my route. One of the principles of Burning Man is gifting and generosity is abundant throughout the community.
The vastness of the art and the range of patterns coming from above were amazing. I struggled with finding a way to photograph the overwhelmingness of it all.
Another perspective on playa art; dust devils add to the moment. The Temple is in the center of the photo. Off to the right is the Tree of Tenere. It is such a monumental piece – 90 people can sit in the limbs of the tree.  I was thinking this would help give a sense of the scope – but I am still not sure that is doable.
More dust is being stirred up…but that does not stop anyone from being out experiencing the sculptures – most of which are interactive: climbing, swinging, playing music, moving parts, writing messages, dancing, etc. Photo was taken from the base of The Man, looking back into the community space.
Dust storm getting serious…
The neighborhood watches as the storm approaches.
Within minutes of arriving home the dust arrives at our “front door”.
And after the whirlwind we head out for the evening.
The reward for a blustery day.
The figure to the left is a mobile art piece. She roamed the playa, dressed differently each day. She also attracted an entourage of bike riders.
Another afternoon of appreciating the art: The Temple. The figure to the left is a mobile art piece. She roamed the playa, dressed differently each day. She also attracted an entourage of bike riders.
A close up of The Temple.
People gather at The Man.
The Man – close up. Each of the art pieces are also feats of engineering. To realize that they are brought in and erected no more than 30 days prior to Burning Man is mind-boggling to me. I have been telling people that I was gobsmacked – but I think I need a new and bigger word for it all.
One of the camps that struck our fancy.
Humor on our walk back from Center Camp to Homer.
A collection of our fellow Burners.There is an international flavor to the community.
The the sun sets on another day of BRC experiences.
Once more – out to see art.
Who doesn’t love a good flamingo piece?
Art cars are a great way to get around the playa. And they are a delight to behold. These vehicles and their faithful drivers are on the move pretty much 24/7 providing both visual interest and access. They are critical modes of transport for some of BRC’s citizens but sometimes they just traverse the streets to spread good will and cheer.
The “eggs” inside the hen are beanbags for those who want to lounge and enjoy the view.
It is a good thing that lighting plays a big part in the art displays as this sculpture’s beauty is masked by dust. If you look closely you will see the blue stained glass panel on the trunk of the tree. At night the lights shine through and it is stunning. In the day the wind chimes compensate for the loss of color – what a brilliant balance.
Couldn’t resist capturing this lovely moment between Burners…
And as the dust settles – literally – we reflect on the experience.

Glad we did it? Absolutely! Do it again? Maybe. As in most things in life, it’s relative…doing Burning Man in our 60s has to be different than doing it in earlier decades of life. We also know we have been blessed with an wealth of experiences – coming of age in the 60s/70s, protests, rock’n’roll, SF with Bill Graham and Grateful Dead crowd, MN wilderness camping, overseas travel, diverse and talented friends.

For those of you who are intrigued – hop on the Burning Man train at least once. I believe there is always something to be learned through novelty.  But be warned: they are looking to raise the population of BRC to 100,000. (Nerd that I am, I went to the Earth Guardians Camp for a lecture by a National Park Ranger. The topic was the ecology of the playa and the impacts of Burning Man. I learned that Desert Research Institute is doing an impact study to figure out how to increase numbers.)

Stay hydrated. Keep an open mind. Reserve judgement.

Guardarropa: Parte Tres (Wardrobe: Part Three)

 Don’t you love it when things you enjoy doing cycle back unexpectedly into your life? That is what happened to me yesterday. I was asked to work the wardrobe call for Che Malambo, an all-male Argentinian dance company which was performing during Artown. (Check out their video: Che Malambo)

Background: My first wardrobe duty came in 1974 with Disney on Parade, originally when they were touring in the states and had a week-long stop in Ames, Iowa where I was finishing undergrad work and working at the arena they appeared in, and then later in Mexico. Such fun times! It was during the Mexico leg of the tour that my Bob (who had also worked with the company in Iowa and subsequently taken a job as the unit’s Technical Director) and I become friends and, in a parking lot in Mexico City, decided we would marry. (There is still some discussion about who proposed to whom.) We have a special place in our hearts for all things Disney and can still sing parts of “It’s A Small World After all” in Spanish.

Second wardrobe stint was in 1982 (married, two children; back in Iowa) and a Broadway touring company of “Annie” was playing in Des Moines. It was as much fun being backstage as I had remembered. In an interesting twist, they had just had one of their wardrobe crew leave and they asked if I would like to join them for the rest of the run. (Who knew those Home Economics classes would pay off in such an interesting way???) Flattered as I was, it was a offer I could easily refuse and happily head home to my guys.

So yesterday brought back sweet memories. The steaming and ironing and mending and button sewing amidst the activity of rehearsal, stage set-up, and sound check was still as much fun. In the evening I sat in the audience and watched Che Malambo perform their amazing dances and routines.  It was a fabulous show that included effects from Mother Nature as storms rolled through behind our venue. With all of that going on I still could not resist thinking to myself, “And I pressed Pancho’s pants.” 

Burning Man Preparations

Majesty. Name inspired by the purple of our mountains. And, yes, that is a cup holder. Hooray!

It was a fun weekend at our house. In between Artown activities we got serious about our lists for Burning Man: food, clothing, shelter, transportation, what to bring to share, etc. The food list was not too perplexing as we have done quite a bit of wilderness camping, spending anywhere from a week to 10 days in the Boundary Waters Area in Minnesota. Shelter was straightforward as we will be lodging in Homer, our Odyssey motorhome. (Though we did put exterior painters tape on our purchase list because there will be spaces to seal up against the inevitable playa dust.) Additionally, I ordered a new sleeping bag as our last ones were donated when we moved from Virginia. And Bob did his Amazon thing and ordered firefly lights for the canopy.

Transportation was next, and we both agreed that taking our around town bikes out into the desert was not a good idea so Bob jumped on Craig’s list and found us some wheels. Ironically, these bikes have already been to Burning Man (contrary to us newbies) and even came with lights.

Bob’s wheels: the Playa Flyer (or so he hopes!)

As many of you many know, there are 10 Principles of Burning Man. Burning Man Principles

One of them is Gifting:Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.” I am collecting a satchel of goodies to bring along. I also have an art project (of sorts) planned and there may be some gifting related to this as well. More on all of that later in another post.

 

What Happened Last Night

20150724_123424July means Reno is celebrating Artown, and of all the amazing cultural offerings (500+!), the Midtown Art Walk is one of the best. Last night the streets were crowded with people out to enjoy the music, food, beverages (adult and otherwise), and exhibits. This year more than 90 merchants and close to 100 artists contributed to the event. One of the best features on the walk this year was the People Project. Over 50 life-size statures were placed throughout Midtown.  Local artists “dressed” them to reflect the various businesses that they adorned.

Here are a few that caught my eye:

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Overall, a lovely evening...
Overall, a lovely evening…

Sculpture Fest

A beautiful day in Reno! Took a walk to view the installations at the first annual Sculpture Fest. Here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!

People posted messages on all sides of this piece.
People posted messages on all sides of this piece.

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We watched them removing the “BELIEVE” sculpture. What a job…
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Love that the boat’s license plate says “classic vehicle”. Guess that is a bit of a stretch on the definition of classic.

Visiting a Shrine of the Muses

Museum: Shrine of the Muses; a place for inspiration and education; holds and preserves items of value; encourages the study of objects of scientific, artistic or historical interest.

Saturday started off in a spectacular fashion.  As a volunteer for Historical Reno Preservation Society (HRPS) I was invited to join a small group of fellow history lovers for a private tour of University of Nevada Reno’s Mackay School of Mines, and more especially the Keck Museum. By the end of the morning my head was bursting with new information and admiration. Our guide, Garrett Barmor; museum administrator, started us off outdoors at the foot of the statue of John Mackay, one of the big four magnates of the Comstock Lode.

Mackay's statue was created by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who also gave us Mt. Rushmore.
Mackay’s statue was created by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who also gave us Mt. Rushmore.  The building design was done by a New York City firm (one of its partners was Stanford  White – more about this connection coming in the next photo) and intentionally reflected East Coast campuses as the desire was to make UNR an institution of similar standing and reputation. Later work to expand the size of the building was done by Fredrick Delongchamps, a well-known Reno architect, and the upper floor reading room (window on upper right of picture, below Mackay’s elbow) has furniture made by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The building is an excellent example of adaptive reuse and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It anyone notices a resemblance to the University of Virginia, you would be correct.  White designed the quad at UNR to replicate "The Lawn", UVA's beloved campus centerpiece.
If anyone notices a resemblance to the University of Virginia, you would be correct. The quad was designed by Stanford White, the architect responsible for Madison Square Garden, the Washington Square Arch, and Boston Public Library – to name a few. White’s plan for the area was based on “The Lawn”, UVA’s much-admired campus centerpiece. White also designed Cocke, Rouse, and Old Cabel on the UVA campus.  The Mackay building matches those in style.
A map of early North America show that Reno once boasted ocean-front property. Our state fossil is the Ichthyosaur, a predatory marine mammal.  NOTE: the Ichthyosaur is NOT a dinosaur.  It does not have the correct hip structure to be classified as such; it was a swimmer and did not "walk like a chicken". Further trivia: G
A map of early North America shows that Reno once boasted ocean-front property. That makes it easier to understand how the Ichthyosaur, a predatory marine mammal, was named our state fossil. NOTE: the Ichthyosaur is NOT a dinosaur. It does not have the correct hip structure to be classified as such; it was a swimmer and did not “walk like a chicken”. Further trivia: Great Basin Brewing Company and Nevada’s oldest craft brewer named it’s inaugural brew Ichthyosaur.  It is known around town as an “Ichy”.
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This photo and the one below show displays on the upper level of the museum. The cases are original as is the wood floor.  Along with fossil specimens, the museum features mining and ore exhibits plus mining related relics and old Nevada photographs.  The Keck is the second oldest museum in Nevada.  (Though some would argue that it is the oldest.  The Nevada Historical Society was founded first, but the Keck was the first to actually serve as a working museum.)

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This map was created for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition. (BTW: Stanford White was a major figure in the architectural undertakings at that extravaganza.) Data for the map was collected with transits, levels and compasses – no modern equipment for those folks. The map was formed and painted by hand. Contrary to the feel as we drive those long expanses between Las Vegas and Reno (going North-South) or between Wendover and Reno (going East-West) I learned that Nevada is the most mountainous state in the US. (That pairs up with another jaw-dropping fact I recently learned: Nevada is the 3rd most urban state, behind California and New York. Wonders never cease…)

A few photos of the beautiful lines and shadows within the building:

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As you look up the wall you can tell by the color change in the bricks where additions were made to the height of the room.

One of the most voluptuous displays is in the lower level of the museum: the Mackay silver.  John Mackay had this made as a gift for his wife.  The work was done by Tiffany’s, and they also designed a custom monogram.  Interestingly enough, the monogram is the same font Tiffany’s used for the New York Yankees logo.

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And how many melon knives are in your silver service???
And how many melon eaters are in your silver service??? In addition to this gold vermeiled set there was another one in “just” silver. Vermeiled means that 24K gold was poured over the silver.  No plain old gold plate for the Mackays.
And what evening is complete without cigars?
And what evening is complete without cigars?

On the the lowest level, which is actually housed within the foundation, we were fortunate to get to tour an area that is closed to the general public.  There we got to see the seismic isolators that were installed to insure the preservation of the original building in the event of an earthquake.  At one time the building was shut down because it did not pass earthquake standards.  It was slated to be razed, but locals (largely HRPS) rallied to encourage the Nevada Board of Regents to find a way to retrofit the structure and make it usable once again. They did!

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Between the red disks are balls that allow the building to move up to one foot in any direction. More precisely, they allow the building to “float” while the earth moves.
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These devices allow the building to accommodate wave motions.

For those of you in Reno, UNR is holding “Day at the Museums” on May 2, 2015. All eleven of the school’s museums will be open. Most are free admission and there will be hands on activities, scavenger hunts, food trucks, and special offerings for kids. For those of you outside of the area here is a link with more information: http://www.unr.edu/keck.  Enjoy!

Reno Reads

Reno Reading listThis morning I happily participated in Historic Reno Preservation Society’s walking tour, Literary Reno.  We spent a delightful 2 hours learning about authors and their portrayal of life in The Biggest Little City. Many of the stories focus on the darker side, which makes sense because good stories need that sort of compelling drama. In many of the stories the setting is such a big part of the narrative that it becomes almost a character unto itself. Our tour guides handed out a reading list at the end of the walk. I am looking forward to reading some of the titles I have not delved into yet as I always enjoy recognizing familiar territory. I have scanned the bibliography and would be happy to send it along to anyone who is interested.

A Saturday evening to look forward to

My Bob and I are big fans of Tournant Pop-Up Restaurant opportunities.  We have been on board with this adventure since it’s inaugural offering on New Year’s Eve 2013. Some of the best food I have ever eaten has come from them.  Each dinner has its own theme and highlights: 1920’s speakeasy with craft cocktails to match each course, Quentin Tarentino movies in a seafood warehouse, Wizard of Oz and a spring menu at an environmental school site; but one of the very best had to be the “blind tasting” (yes, we wore blindfolds as we ate) that offered three courses for each of six flavor sensations.  For those of you who don’t want to do the math, that was 18 small plates in all.  And don’t get me started on the best course of that evening – Smoke in the Hole. I tease the chef, Ben Deinken, that he raised the bar really high on that one, and that I now measure everything else I taste on the yardstick of that amazing dish.  Which is not to say that pretty much everything we eat at one of the pop-ups isn’t really, really good.  So while it is all uniquely delicious, sometimes there is a standout.  (BTW: Smoke in the Hole rivals my all time fav – mussels and frites at a pub in Maastricht, Netherlands. And I have to admit, the mussels had the locale going for them, so maybe it’s not even a fair ranking.)

So, I am looking forward with great excitement to the upcoming dinner: Science of Beer; a Tournant dinner paired with Sons of Fermentation, a homebrewer’s group http://drinkablereno.com  Check out their Facebook page for more info.