Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Fine Bar of Chocolate

I've been studying chocolate this last year. That's not (merely) a euphemism for gobbling it down, I assure you; I've also been studying the history, process, economics, and sustainability. I've been doing a lot of critical tasting and last year I even judged the dessert contest at the NW Chocolate Festival (see my review here and other reviews here).

Lately I've been consulting to an exciting soon-to-launch business that will offer locally some of the best artisan chocolate in the country. (I can't tell you more than that yet, but stay tuned and I assure you I'll spill the beans the moment I can.) That'll be a blast when it hits the ground but in the meantime good or even great chocolate is only a click away. if you can get something in Seattle, you can get it in New York or LA or Union City.

People have started to ask me, as though I'm an expert or something,  "what's the best chocolate?" In some ways my answer hasn't changed over the last year, and it's "it depends".

It depends on what I'm in the mood for. Do I want subtle? A chocolate that challenges me? Something uncomplicated and sustaining?  High cocoa content? Milk chocolate?  (And yes, a "serious" milk chocolate is worth it.)

And how much do I want to spend? Fact is, top-notch chocolate costs more, but something costing more doesn't make it top-notch.

Where do I get it? How patient am I feeling? Am i willing to wait to have it shipped or take a trip to a specialty shop, or do I want it quick from my local market?

So it all depends.  I have my special chocolates and I have my "day" chocolate.  I consume a range of chocolates that includes bars you can find at the market and bars you can't find at all.

In the last year I've learned to say things about fine (and not so fine) chocolate, such as "creamy mouth-feel" or "complex taste" or "nice finish." Last week a chocolate bar hit my tongue that rode right over all my other considerations and all I could manage was "oh, wow."

This particular chocolate maker currently stocks only four bars, one of which is a limited edition and one of which isn't even in stock. They're all good, but I have two favorites of the four and I'm going to tell you what they are and how to get them.

As with all chocolate, your mileage may vary. Taste is individual and depends on all kinds of things, including your mood and what else you've been eating. Add in that the chocolate itself changes as beans and manufacturing practices change. It's a snapshot, and a very personal one at that.

But caveats aside, this chocolate is complicated but intriguing, deep and smooth. The texture and mouth-feel are lovely. It's taste does not compromise a whit when it goes adventuring across my tongue. It challenges me but it's the sort of challenge that makes me want more.

And so I recommend to you my current favorite bars, from Rogue Chocolates: the Hispaniola and Rio Caribe at 70%. Check your local chocolate specialty shop, too, in case they have some.  And if you get some, be sure to let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is "axis" in dance?

dancer with axis?
Check out my axis
When I teach dance, my goals range from being as specific as possible for that particular person to being as general as possible, that is, what would apply to everyone equally?

Is tricky.

This one day I'm working with a woman on tango moves and I encourage her to do thus-and-such to have a better axis. She has a ballet background and she's pretty sophisticated for a beginner so when she asks me, "what exactly do you mean by 'axis'?" I realize that in all my years of struggling to gain better axis myself I have yet to define it to my own satisfaction.

Dancers describe axis in any number of ways. They say it's about balance, good posture, stance and motion, smooth and controlled movements, core strength, spiral paths, head position, and on. And on. But for every one of those descriptions, there's a movement that defies it and works nonetheless.

I want to give this woman an explanation that will apply not only to her, but to everyone, no matter what their body type, skill level, or dance experience. I want a definition that allows all the secondary attributes to be derivable by the person who actually needs them, when they need them.

Do I set myself hard challenges? Very well then! I set myself hard challenges!

I'm deep in thought for long enough that she starts to do the "no, no, it's okay" thing and I hold up a hand to buy myself another moment. Because I'm thinking hard and I think I'm coming up with an answer.

"Axis", I say, "is what you have when you recruit all your physical  abilities so that you can, at that moment, move in any direction you choose, easily and efficiently."

She has the "aha!" face so I think maybe I've nailed it. But I decide to check with a few dancers I respect. They each mull it over for a moment and agree that it's a good and, yes, useful definition.

If you're slumped or in a physically awkward position, you can't easily move in any direction you want. To take it to an extreme, if you are about to fall over, you can certainly and easily move in one direction, but that's about it.

In general, being able to move easily and efficiently in any direction at any moment produces grace. As I see it, the "organic" movements dancers work for are all about physical efficiency. A professional ballet dancer of my acquaintance says that once you get the movements right, they feel good too. He adds it may take a lot of years and work to get to the point where these motions feel natural, but that's the end goal: to make the movement feel right, which is the body's way of saying, yes, this is efficient, this works. So feeling good and looking good are, ultimately, one and the same.

Axis is what you get when you can, physically -- and I would also add internally and emotionally -- move in any direction you want with similar ease. That definition draws along with it all the other attributes usually associated with axis, but it lets people derive them directly for themselves.

So, dancers: what do you think?