Sunday, August 30, 2009

Como Les Gusta Quejarse A Los Gringos

At the end of last weekend, I was more exhausted than I've been in a long time, and I blame it all on South Americans and their general disregard for sleep. Call me racist, or continentist, or whatever, but the memory of how tired I was makes me as I write this right now too tired to care. It all started Thursday, when I had class for 10 (!) hours in a row, and then after coming home to make peanut butter cookies to bring to someone's house the next day (American habits die hard), went to Felipe's salsa show and got home at 5 in the morning, only to repeat the 10 (!) hours of class the next day (and we didn't go to el remate, the afterparty. Did I mention this was a Thursday night, and everyone had class and/or work the next day?) This would have been quite enough for me, but my group from the master's program had wanted to have dinner together (thus the peanut butter cookies) and I didn't get home until almost 1, knowing that I had to get up at 8 the next day for class (with the same people). After another half day of class, it so happened to be the annual Colombian Independence Day celebration (celebrated one month after the fact because everything was shut down here because of swine flu in July), where I knew no less than 4 independent groups playing (cue blaming South Americans once again) and wasn't really given the option of not going (unsupportive friend, girlfriend, what have you) so I was there until 7 at night (I'm not saying this is so much to complain about as it was a music and food festival, there were arepas de choclo, and given that they gave the musicians of each group a free meal and Felipe played with two different groups, free pandebono (a typical pastry-bread from Cali, Colombia-- Facebook even has an application that allows you to send these to your friends) and tamal (the huge Colombian kind that are steamed in plantain leaves- one alone is a meal in itself). And then it was a friend's birthday party, that began, you know, around midnight, so guess who got home at 5 in the morning again?

Yeah, the tired grumpy American, that's who. And though it's still officially winter, this week was the week of the famous Santa Rosa, the storm that comes every year and drives the temperature up to the high eighties as well as the humidity, so I was strangely sticky the whole time.


I blame it all on the South Americans. And they really appreciate it, almost as much as when you ask them how's it going down there in Mexico (my sister to Felipe last night. But I'm pretty sure he was making fun of her for not having any friends on her second day of college so he deserved it.)

These lentils are for my brother, lover of Colombian rice, hater of time spent in the kitchen (how we love to complain, us gringos.) Per his request, I'm writing the recipe for the hybrid Colombian-American lentils that have evolved around here. Far soupier than this lentil salad, this lentils are best served hot or warm, with rice or some carb to mop them up with. For a complete, cheap, eminently satisfying and relatively fast meal, make the lentils, and while they're cooking make this rice. When you have both simmering on the stove, make the chard. But really do make the chard. I could eat chard, or kale when I'm on a continent where it exists, cooked this way every day, and in fact I often do. At any rate, Max, here you go- complete protein, lots of vitamins and lot of potential leftovers.

Lentils with Potatoes and Caramelized Onions

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed to remove any debris
2 bay leaves
1 med. potato (russet or baking potatoes work well here), peeled and cut in 1/4 in. cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
black pepper (optional)

Begin to saute the onion in the oil over medium heat until it caramelizes and turns dark brown. There will be some burny parts at the edges, that's just fine. Stir the onions every now and then while you prepare the lentils.
Put the lentils, in a pot with water covering them by a good 3 in. Bring them to a boil, skim off the foam that collects in the middle, and then throw in the potatoes, bay leaves, and 1 tsp. salt. Turn down the heat so that the lentils are gently simmering, and cook them for about 30 min., until the potatoes are tender and the lentils have begun to burst and turn mushy. If the lentils begin to dry out add more water, you want the final texture to be like a very thick soup. Stir in the onions while the lentils are still on the heat and check to see if it needs more salt and pepper.
Eat them hot with rice.

Sauteed Chard

1 bunch swiss chard or kale
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium round or two plum tomatoes , sliced into thin wedges
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Rip or cut the leaves off the stalks of the chard. You can either toss the stalks or use them later-- broiled with olive oil and parmesan is a pretty great use of them if you ask me. Roll the leaves up in a bundle and chop them into pieces 1 to 2 inches wide. Stick the leaves in a colander and wash well, shaking the colander to get rid of the excess water. In a heavy skillet over med-high heat, warm 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil with the garlic until it begins to turn gold, then throw in the chard. Using tongs, or a big spoon if you don't have tongs, turn the leaves to coat them with oil. Then add in your additional tablespoon of olive oil and continue to stir the leaves until they have wilted down a bit. Add the tomatoes, a big pinch of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like (certain South Americans prefer this part left out), and continue to turn and stir the chard. After a minute or two, when the tomatoes begin to soften, taste the chard and see if it needs more salt. It should no longer taste raw, and should have what I can only describe as a sweetish taste. If the chard still tastes a bit raw, cook a bit longer, but this whole process should only take about 5 minutes.

Para una comida completa, barata y deliciosa (o ponele bueno, bonito y barato si quieres), haz las lentejas, y mientras estan cocinando, haz este arroz. Cuando tienes las dos en el fuego, haz la acelga- solo te va a demorar a lo maximo 10 minuticos. Proteina completa, muchas vitaminas, y muchas sobras potenciales.

Lentejas con Papas y Cebolla Caramelizada

una taza lentejas, lavadas para quitarles los desechos
2 hojas de laurel
una papa negra (de tamano medio), pelada y cortada en cuadritos de 0.5 centimetros
una cebolla grande, picada
2 cucharadas de aceite de oliva
pimienta negra (opcional)

Empieza salteando la cebolla en el aceite con fuego medio hasta que caramelice y tome un color cafe. Habra partes quemaditas en los bordes, eso esta bien. Revuelve las cebollas cada tanto mientras preparas las lentejas.
Coloca las lentejas en una olla con agua cubriendolas por 5 cm. Llevalas a hervir, saca el mugre que se concentra en la superficie en el centro, y echa las papas, hojas de laurel, y una cucharadita de sal. Hierve las lentejas a fuego lento (baja el fuego) y cocinalas por alrededor de 30 minutos, hasta que las lentejas esten blandas y ya empiecen a reventar. Si las lentejas empiezan a secar, echales mas agua, para que la textura final sea coma una crema muy espesa. Echa las cebollas a las lentejas mientras todavia estan en el fuego, y fijate si necesitan mas sal, y pimienta si te gusta.
Comelas calienticas con arroz.

Acelga salteada

un atado de acelga o col rizada
2 cucharadas de aceite de oliva
un tomate redondo o dos tomates peritas
un diente de ajo, picado chiquito
una pizca de aji molido o un aji fresco, picado (opcional)

Tira o quita con cuchillo las hojas de las ramas de la acelga. Bota o guarda las ramas-- asadas debajo de un fuego con aceite de oliva y queso parmesano es un uso delicioso de ellas, si me preguntas a mi. Enrolla las hojas y picalas en pedazos de 3 o 4 cm. ancho. Echa las hojas en un colador y lavalas bien, agitando el colador para escurrir el agua. En una sarten pesada con fuego medio-alto, calienta una cucharada del aceite de oliva con el ajo hasta que empiece dorar, despues echa la acelga alli. Con pinzas, o una cucharada si no tienes pinzas, voltea las hojas para untarlas con el aceite. Entonces echa la otra cucharada de aceite, y siga revolviendo las hojas hasta que se marchiten un poquito. Echa las tomates, una pizca grande de sal, y el aji (algunos suramericanos prefieren que esta parte quede afuera), y siga revolviendo la acelga. En un minuto o dos, cuando los tomates empiecen a blandar, prueba la acelga y fijate si necesite mas sal. Ya no deberia saber crudo, y deberia tener un sabor que solo puedo describir como dulcecito. Si la acelga todavia sabe crudita, cocinala por otro ratico, pero todo el proceso solo deberia tomar alrededor de 5 minutos.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

La Visita

My (younger, huge, sweet, terminally cynical) brother Max has come to visit me for 12 days. He got off the plane with one of the biggest Jewfros I've ever seen, and since then we have been navigating post-high school convivencia (living together), language barriers and vegetarianism together quite ably if you ask me. We've walked a lot, ate a lot, and listened to a lot of's helped quite a bit that though his Spanish is meager his knowledge of music, particularly of Jazz, is not, so he's had plenty to talk about with almost everyone he's come across. Empanadas have solved his issues eating outside of the house, and though he hates “wasting” time in the kitchen, he has now officially requested two recipes. Last night, over fondue, dark Quilmes, and lots of exclamations of how wonderful cheese is, we discovered that while I was laughing at Max for his three desert island foods being bread, cheese, and potatoes, two of my three are goat cheese and sweet other words....cheese and potatoes. I'm pretty sure my sister would be something along the lines of bread, goat cheese and potatoes as well. I can never get myself to decide on a third, chocolate, watermelon and figs all being so equally close to my heart. And I did one time tell my old roommate and close friend that I loved Reed's ginger beer more than I loved him but that he should take it as a compliment.

In the end what I find most surprising about our conversation is that our family isn't more obese...

To the pride and joy of the resident Colombian, one of the requested recipes was the ever-present rice that comes with the territory of sharing a kitchen with a Colombian. Any Colombian household I've ever been in (outside of the U.S.) always has a pot of rice on the stove, and accompanies every meal. They even serve rice with pasta-- not pasta as in broken up pasta cooked in the rice, pilaf-style-- but pasta as in a portion of pasta, accompanied with a hefty side of rice. I might not go so much for that combination, nor am I accustomed to eat so much white rice, but I can't deny that it's delicious, especially the bottom of the rice that gets all crusty and browned, called el pegado (the stuck part) (how great is it that it has its own proper name?) On top of all that it's dead easy to make, which is great given that the recipe was requested by someone who normally lives off canned beans and grated cheese.

I will thus leave it to Max to give you the recipe, along with his account of his time here. The other requested recipe, one for lentils with potatoes and caramelized onions that happens to go fantastically with the rice, will be posted soon for our august traveller.

lucidity for me is not conducive to expression. in fact i think this

principle is true more generally for anyone reading this blog as we

are in this zeit (generation? era? i don´t know the exact meaning of

the german so i use it hoping that noone else does either) perpetually

self-conscious, and not only self-conscious, and as we know lack of

sleep relieves at least the first. it is, then, with burning eyes,

moderate zeal, and less sleep (6 AM!) that i attempt to describe my

stay in buenos aires.

i have for the most part stayed within close bounds in argentina, i

came to visit my sister rather than tour the city and i´m content

(more, happy) to spend my time with eva and her almost uniformly

colombian friends. this does however mean that i have spoken to few

argentines (in pidgin spanish, complete with exaggerated "yo"s

pronounced as "joe") and seen little of the city. however i might

venture some thoughts:

first, the city is not beautiful. coming from the airport it looks

like the prototypical third world slum, although surprisingly (for me)

the quality and upkeep of the buildings increases as we approach the

inner parts of the city. the streets are dirty, with discarded plastic

bags and food containers littering the street; more bothersome is the

quantity of dog refuse that peppers the sidewalk with breaks of less

than a block between obstacles. eva has said that the city has fine

older architecture but as i´m sure most of you know i don´t notice

these things being a cultureless nouveau-riche-grade abomination.

furthermore, argentines as a people have a reputation that might

charitably be described as undesirable. the men are supposed to be

lecherous, sexually aggressive, well dressed, and possessing few other

qualities of note. the women are (i am told) dramatic, fickle, and

beautiful and posess a well-developed defensive posture to fend off the instantaneous

(somehow all observers, however relative, agree here)

advances of the men. my interactions with women have not

exhibited this but i have only talked to eva´s argentine friends or

working people so none of this characterization applies as these are

not situations in which romantic interaction is possible. what does it

say about a city (country?) that the main descriptors of its people

are sexual?

annoyances: coin currency is the required tender for bus rides (in

operation 24 hours and the most convenient way to travel) and i'm sure

other essential services, but there is, amazingly to foreigners

including me and seemingly everyone not born in buenos aires, a

perpetual shortage of said coins. the drain on the coin supply would

not of course pose a problem in a sane country, but the government

refuses to mint more coins. this has the effect of driving the worth

of a coin beyond its face value; i am told that bus companies

illegally sell coins to local businesses at 1.5 times their value. the

reason for this clearly unnecessary arrangement is said to be

government kickbacks; so a city of bus passengers must hoard their

monedas to enrich a few (i actually have no idea how many)


the food is not great. i take eva's word that most of the vegetarian

argentine cuisine is mediocre but i do like empanadas. i can´t of

course sample the famous meat culture that buenos aires has to offer.

i am spared, luckily, the task of finding decent food myself: eva and

felipe cook and i try to help out. i have a newfound constant craving

for colombian rice; please find attached a recipe so that the reader

can make it for me.

colombian rice

1 cup plain white rice

2 cups water

3 green onions

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon oil

chop up onions, put in pot with oil; saute onions for a couple minutes,

then put in DRY rice. add more oil. saute for a couple more minutes. put in

water and salt, let sit until half the water has evaporated on VERY LOW

heat. once it has, stir a little and put on top. another 10 minutes,

stirring every couple minutes, then ready.

what else does one wish to know about a city? writing this, my

impression seems highly unfavorable, and in fact the most describable

aspects of the city find poor evaluation in my mind. but i think that

i would like to live here or perhaps felipe's alluring colombia. i`ve

had, thanks entirely to eva and felipe, a great time here. eva's group

of friends shows me that even in a city of seemingly (per my earlier

remarks) disagreeable people, colombians can be found; they are

apparently my (and eva's) people. the music scene is lively, the

weather sometimes smoggy but mostly agreeable, and the education,

health care, etc free.

o fate, how dost thou tempt me...but taking one, two years abroad and

perhaps even completing a master's degree (!) do indeed constitute and

direct a life. of course consequences are never foreseeable and living

in minneapolis i might next month be spotted in a crowd and selected

to be a japanese fashion model. so ignore what i've just written and

embrace apathy and fatalism like me. is it better to believe that we

have control over our lives or to accept the truth that every minute

action we commit has the potential to dramatically change our lives?

we of course have a small amount of ability: i can choose to pass or

fail my classes next semester. but everything we do is subject to the

principle so obnoxiously known as the butterfly effect.

digression over, i think, along with this blog post. good night

(morning) unless i still can`t manage to fall asleep. i suspect that

the tea i drank before bed had more than a little caffeine.



Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Morning After

Cultural differences come swiftly into focus when we are at our most pathetic-- when we're tired or really hungry and just want something familiar. It becomes clear very quickly is that what is comfortable and familiar for one person might possible be weird and completely inappropriate for another. Around noon after a very late night a couple of months ago, I came into the kitchen wanting pancakes, which for me are most appropriate either late at night or on weekend morning. And I thought everyone would want pancakes, what is there possibly not to like about pancakes on a Sunday morning(ish) after you went to bed at 6? But no, suggestions of pancakes were met with a "gracias pero solo quiero desayuno colombiano y despues dormir" (thanks but I just want a Colombian breakfast and to sleep) from the half-awake hoard of Colombians who had just gotten back from an asado (barbeque) that had gone so late everyone ending up falling asleep on the floor. A pot of rice was already simmering on the stove and tomatoes and onions were being chopped up to make a guiso (a tomato and onion concoction that goes into almost everything Colombian) for the eggs. I thought, these people are nuts, who makes rice from scratch under these circumstances?

At any rate I wanted pancakes (I of course find it completely reasonable to make pancakes under these circumstances), and I wanted my American pancakes, not what are called panqueques here, which are closer to what we would call crepes. I wanted fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and bananas and quite possibly chocolate chips, but unfortunately maple syrup is impossible to come by here, and there were neither bananas nor chocolate in the house. But these are seriously the tenderest, lightest pancakes ever, and even without maple syrup I will eat them happily. And they don't have that awful aftertaste of Bisquick pancakes, which I know a lot of people adore but which I can always taste when I order pancakes in the states in a cheap diner. As far as the topping goes, for those of us who currently don't have access to maple syrup, a bit of sugar and butter, caramelized together and then sauteed with any fruit, but especially bananas, is clearly not the same as maple syrup but works quite well.

All-American Fluffy Pancakes

1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour 
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 c. buttermilk, or 2 scant cups milk (2% or whole) mixed with 2 Tbsp. white or apple cider vinegar and left to sour while you gather all the rest of your ingredients together
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated (if your eggs are from the fridge, place them in a bowl with hot water for a couple of minutes to warm them up. Hot, not boiling, unless you want egg salad pancakes.)
optional but wonderful: chopped dark chocolate and grated coconut or bananas and pecans

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a cast iron skillet, heat the butter until it´s melted, then pour almost all of it into a bowl with the buttermilk and egg yolks and stir well. Return the skillet to the burner and leave it on medium-low heat. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt all together into the buttermilk mixture and stir until just combined. If the batter seems very thin, fold in a bit more flour-- I sometimes need more due to the humidity and variations in flour. Fold in the egg whites.
Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet, and when bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges begin to look dry, flip the pancake with a spatula. If you want to throw in chopped chocolate or anything else, sprinkle it on top as soon as you pour in the batter, and if it's chocolate make sure the pieces aren't protruding too much or they will burn when you flip the pancake over (if you have banana slices this is a good thing- you want the surfaces exposed so that they will caramelize.) Cook another minute or so until light brown, then remove to a plate and move on to your next pancake. You might have to experiment with the heat to get it just right-- you want the bottom to be golden brown when it's time to flip the pancake over. Stack the pancakes so they keep each other warm.
Eat them with maple syrup, coffee, orange juice and bacon if you're feeling really American.

Los panqueques (pancakes) gringos son esponjosos y tiernos, y se comen normalmente con miel de maple. Aca no se consigue facilmente la miel de maple, que me hace mucha falta, pero en vez de eso uno puede comerlos con miel o con una salsa hecha de fruta caramelizada con mantequilla, azucar y una pizca de sal (eso funciona muy bien con los bananos.)

Panqueques a la Gringa

1 1/2 -2 tazas de harina de trigo blanco (tipo 000)
2 cucharaditas de bicarbonato de soda
3/4 de una cucharadita de sal
2 tazas de suero de leche, o leche cortada, o 2 tazas de leche mezcladas con 2 cucharadas de vinagre de vino blanco o de manzana, y las dejas cuajar por 10 minutos
6 cucharadas de mantequilla
2 huevos, a la temperatura ambiente, separando las yemas de las claras (golpea el huevo en el borde de un bol y pasa la yema entre las dos mitades de la cascara, dejando la clara caer en el bol)
opcional pero muy rico: chocolate picado y coco rallado o banano con nueces

Bate las claras hasta el punto de nieve. En una sarten de hierro fundido o de otro tipo con fondo grueso calienta la mantequilla hasta que se derrita, despues echala casi toda en un bol con el suero de leche y las yemas y mezclalo todo. Devuelve el sarten al fuego y dejalo calentar sobre un fuego medio-bajo. Coloca la harina, el bicarbonato y la sal juntos y tamizalos sobre la mezcla del suero de leche y revuelvelos suavemente pero no demasiado. Si la masa te parece muy liquida, incorpora un poco mas harina. Incorpora las claras con delicadeza.
Echa 1/4 de taza de masa en la sarten, y cuando salgan burbujas y los bordes empiecen a secar, voltea el panqueque con una pala. Si quieres echar chocolate picado o cualquier otra cosa salpicala encima apenas que eches la masa, y si es chocolate fijate que los pedazos no esten saliendo tanto porque cuando voltees el panqueque se van a quemar, por el contrario si estas echando tajadas de banano es bueno que salgan de la masa, para que las superficies expuestas se caramelicen. Cocinalo otro minuto o hasta que el otro lado este dorado, ponlo en un plato, y sigue haciendo el mismo proceso con los demas. De pronto vas a tener que experimentar con el fuego-- el fondo debe ser dorado cuando el panqueque esta listo para voltear. Apila los panqueques para que se queden calienticos.
Comelos con miel de maple, jugo de naranja, cafe y tocineta si te sientes muy gringo.