Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Worldview 2.0

I'm not in Argentina anymore, but I got a big kick out of this (which was drawn up by an Argentinean graphic design student after seeing this map, which I would say is just as ridiculous, and just as valid). For those in need of translation:

The World According to Argentines
Alaska: U.S. Annex
Canada: the one above the U.S.
U.S.: Yankeeland (pronounced shan-kee)
Mexico: dubbed movies come from here
Colombia: coke comes from here
Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia: housecleaning ladies
Paraguay: cheap mp3s, DVDs and sneakers
Chile: jealous people (don't ever tell an Argentine Chilean wine, or Chilean anything, is better)
Falkland Islands: Malvinas (Argentinean name for the island; their loss to Britain continues to be a sore spot)
Uruguay: another one of Argentina's provinces
Brazil: partying and happy times (Argentineans adore Brazilians are quick to tell you about what a happy, sexually liberated people they are...which tells you something about Argentines...)
Africa: topless women on National Geographic
Spain: go there in times of crisis
Central Europe: Nazis
Northern Europe: lots of blond people
Russia: guards with funny hats that have to stand still
Middle East: Turkish suicide bombers
Asia: supermarket owners (other than the big chains, almost all supermarkets in Buenos Aires are owned by Asian the stores are called chinos)
Japan: identical people with cameras
Australia: boxing kangaroos

And for the record, I do think the map is missing an omnipotent god-like figure looking down on the world, because that's where you would find Maradona.

Monday, February 14, 2011


My brother Max and I were talking last week about how there´s nothing good to read online Mondays while you're procrastinating from being productive. I have no particular gripe about the beginning of the week, no angst about going back to work (especially right now given that I've no work place to go to), but still, it's slightly depressing having exhausted all the good time-wasting reading on Sunday. With this in mind, I propose a couple of distractions that may fit the bill, or at least soften the blow, if we want to overexaggerate the importance of Monday's lack of entertaining nonsense. But, as Felipe's mother said to me last night very seriously when I told her that going to malls makes me want to kill myself, "Come on, don't be overdramatic, it doesn't make you want to kill yourself." Si señora.
-Slog makes me laugh. And also kind of hate the world. See here and here. (To be clear: I don't hate gay marriage, I just think it's horrific that the circumstances under which they met exist.)
-Vampire bats are pretty awesome. As is Radiolab.
-I have no interest in getting a tattoo (and thank goodness I wasn't allowed to get one when I was 16, or I´d still have a green fairy on my back), but if I were to get one I would seriously consider this artist.
-This song is gorgeous. And makes me want to lie in a hammock facing the ocean and eat coconut rice pudding. Given my present lack of hammock, I make chocolate stovetop pudding, and you should too (assuming you are also currently hammockless.)

I don't know why Colombians love American-style puddings so much, but they are always a hit. I made this when we went to Felipe's mentor's finca up in the mountains because we wanted dessert but there was no oven, and the recipe was requested immediately. I didn't know what to call it in Spanish so we named it la cosita gringa, and last thing I heard la cosita gringa was still tacked to the fridge. This is your typical mother's/grandmother's cornstarch-thickened pudding-- though I use much more cocoa powder than the traditional recipes call for because I like a more prominent chocolate flavor. Monday morning pudding, I should call it-- not nearly as glamourous as a chocolate pot de creme, or a chocolate mousse, or any of the other heavy cream-bearing things that we eat as Friday night after-dinner dessert. This is home pudding, not too sweet, not too rich but plenty chocolatey, or as I like to tell myself, completely appropriate breakfast food.

Chocolate Stovetop Pudding

1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 c. corn starch
pinch salt
2 ½ c. whole milk
swig of rum or 1 tsp. natural vanilla extract
a couple of squares of chocolate (semisweet to unsweetened, depending on your taste and what you've got around) (opt.)

Put the sugar, cocoa powder, corn starch and salt in a medium saucepan and mix well until you have no lumps left (smooth them out with the side of a spoon). Or sift the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt directly into the pan. Add in the milk. Over low heat, whisking occasionally, warm the mixture until it starts to bubble up, at which point is should begin to thicken. Whisk constantly as the mixture continues to thicken to prevent lumps. When the mixture is no longer liquidy-- when it's pudding texture-- take it off the heat. Stir in your rum or vanilla extract, and then your chocolate squares if you're using them. I like to portion the pudding into teacups, or eggcups as it were, whatever's around. Chill in the fridge, though you can eat it warm too (I think it tastes better chilled, but I also eat it straight out of the pot because patience is not a strongsuit of mine.) If you don't want a skin to form on top, apply plastic wrap directly to the surface, though in my personal opinion the skin is the best part. Serves 4.

La Cosita Gringa (Pudín de Chocolate)

1/2 de taza de azúcar
1/3 de taza de cacao amargo (sin azúcar)
1/4 de taza de maizena (almidón de maíz)
pizquita de sal
2 ½ taza de leche
chorrito de ron o una cucharita de esencia de vainilla natural
una chocolatina (opcional)

Coloca el azúcar, el cacao, la maizena y la sal en una olla mediana y combinalos bien hasta que no haya grumos. O tamiza tales ingredientes sobre la olla. Echale la leche y caliente la olla sobre fuego bajo, batiendo de vez en cuando. Cuando la mezcla empiece a espesar y hervir, batela constantemente hasta que se haya espesado (1-2 minutos). Apaga el fuego y echale el ron o la vainilla, mezclalo bien, y echale la chocolatina si quieres. Me gusta dividir el pudín inmediatamente en porciones, lo meto en tazas de té o lo que haya (esta vez, en copas para huevos). Guardalas en la nevera para enfriar. Si quieres, tapalas con plástico colocado directamente a la superficie del pudín para que no se forme una piel- a mi me gusta esta piel, como quieras.) Rinde 4 porciones.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

La Matraca

I´m not generally a nervous traveller-- I´m not a big planner, and I tend to like to wander off and see where things go without knowing what´s ahead. The one thing that I do worry about, however, is not knowing the cues that tell you that things are getting sketchy. I´ve been in lots of neighborhoods that were perfectly safe although they looked really grungy, and I´ve also accidentally wandered into dangerous slums without realizing it (asking what street I was on and being told, "oh, the streets don't have names inside the slum" was a definite cue, albeit a belated one).

Last month while my sister was still here in Cali, one day we went downtown to find her some cheap flip-flops. While she was looking in the stands, I wandered off towards the vegetable stalls, where they were selling all kinds of stuff you only see in Colombia as well as full (read: enormous) delicious-looking lunches because it was already almost noon. I got about half way down the block when Felipe came running. Eva, you're walking into a slum-- the next block is full of people smoking  basuco (residue from the cocaine-making process). I took that as a compelling-enough reason to turn around-- but I had no clue that that´s what I was wandering into, nor was there any reason that I would have. 

But then, the other day a friend was talking about going out to El Obrero (obrero means worker), a neighborhood with a not-so-safe reputation but great places to dance. We decided to go one Sunday afternoon; surprisingly enough she had heard that it was a good time to go because that's when the old couples come out to dance. We drove through the downtown to get there, and just as we passed where we had gone to find my sister flip-flops Felipe pointed out the window, "look, over there is Sucre, what you were walking into the other day." And wouldn't you know, a scene out of The Wire, minus the Baltimore row homes, with all the junkies leaned up against the walls, smoking, or passed out on dirty mattresses. So I mean, yeah, I would have realized...once I was already in there. 

And then we got to El Obrero, more specifically a place called La Matraca. I love watching old people dance. This was an club of regulars-- they all clearly knew each other-- but there were extremely friendly to us, sharing shots of rum, shouting out rhythmically with the music (old people can get away with things that young people can't), and one woman in particular kept coming over to tell us dirty jokes: 
-Es que ahora ustedes bailan tipo Carulla-- siempre un mercado cerca a usted.
-These days you guys dance Carulla-style-- always a market close by you-- meaning-- Carulla is a supermarket chain, whose slogan is "always a market close by you". But "mercado" is also slang for penis-- thus the joke. 

La Matraca has been around for years, and it plays a mix of salsa, cumbia and tango, though it's primarily known for being a tango bar, not a common thing here. What's interesting is that most of its clientele isn't from the neighborhood-- they are lawyers, doctors, not really what would be considered "working class". When things get interesting, people from the neighborhood look in from outside, a crowd forming around the barred windows.

All in all, a strange but enjoyable mix, and if all the dancing makes you hungry you can go outside to eat fritanga (fried street food), fried up in the dirtiest oil I've ever seen. Even if it hadn't been delicious, which it was, it would have been necessary; drinking with old Colombians is no joke. (When my sister was here in December and we were helping to cook the night before the wedding, Felipe's uncle's contribution to all the work going on was to feed us shot after shot of aguardiente. No one other than las gringitas found this strange.) 

But I'm not used to Sunday afternoon dance parties either, and I definitely didn't leave La Matraca thinking it was a bad idea. More like, !Feliz domingo, que lo pases bien! And I hope we all do, in whatever way we choose (Modern Love column, anyone?) Thank goodness for New York Times online, although it's not the same as being able to spread the newspaper over the sunroom floor at my parents' house. That'll come soon enough though; meanwhile I got some old people to dance with.

La Matraca, Centro Cultural
Carrera 11 #22-80
Barrio Obrero
Santiago de Cali, Colombia

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Los 20

My sister Elena's visit to Colombia coincided not only with the end of the year festivities but also with her birthday. Because my sister is my sister, when I asked her what kind of cake she wanted, her response was, hey, how come I have to pick just one?  Given that she did fly a couple of thousand miles to come see me, this seemed like a reasonable question. I had also already picked out the perfect gift for her, until I realized the shipping was just fatal

I also thought the tentacles might not quite fit in her dorm room. And that there was the vaguest possibility that people entering her room might find the Doctor Evil-meets-Salvador Dali on a Jules Verne kick vibe just a wee bit creepy? Oh, and also that she might never trust me with anything again, like making her birthday cake(s) for example. 

She requested a flourless chocolate cake and, to take advantage of the abundance of tropical fruit around here, a passion fruit meringue tart. Because I find typical dense flourless chocolate cakes a little boring unless they involve large quantities of bourbon (the incredible Boca Negra cake from Baking with Julia, for example), I made this layered flourless chocolate cake, which while being perhaps a little bit too bitter for most of the Colombians present for Elena´s birthday lunch (South Americans seem to tend to prefer sweeter milk and white chocolates), was perfect for us. The passion fruit tart went down easier for them, sweet-tart curd topped with drifts of golden meringue. That is to say, it went down as well as could be expected after beans, rice, sweet plantains, avocado, ribs, beef and sausage for the meat eaters, corn fritters and fried plantain chips. We all cleaned our plates anyway. Nothing like a birthday coma to start your twenties out right.

Passion Fruit Meringue Tart

This recipe looks more complex than it actually is-- the only thing that can be a little tricky is making sure the curd doesn't, uh, curdle, but as long as you go slow over low heat you should be fine, and you can strain out any lumps afterwards. Afterwards it´s just a matter of assemblying the components and sticking the thing under the broiler, and you´ve got a beautiful thing on your hands.

1 tart shell, par-baked: I always use this recipe for tarts because it´s ridiculously easy and delicious.

For the passion fruit curd:

¾ c. passion fruit puree (Cut 4-5 passion fruit in half and scrape out the pulp including the seeds into a blender. Blend well and then strain the seeds out; measure out ¾ c. and use any remaining puree for juice-- just blend with some additional water and sugar to taste)
¼ c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 c. sugar
4 oz. butter
pinch salt (if using unsalted butter)
3 eggs
3 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)

Combine all ingredients but the eggs and egg yolks together in a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and well mixed. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together. Add the passion fruit mixture bit by bit into the eggs, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly over low heat until it coats the back of a spoon. If you end up with lumps you can pass the curd through a sieve.

Fill the cooled tart shell with the curd, leaving at least a ¼ in. to the top of the sides. Return the tart to the oven for around 10 min. or just until it sets on top. While the curd cools down, make the meringue.

For the meringue topping:

3 egg whites
pinch salt
3/4 c. sugar

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add in the sugar little by little while you continue beating the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Spoon your meringue over the cooled passion fruit tart, spreading it around to make as many peaks as you like (don't overwork it). Stick the tart under the broiler just until the meringue browns (don't go far, it shouldn't take long). If you're not going to serve it immediately, you can store it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Toto, We´re Not in Argentina Anymore

Instead, this would be Colombia, land of gorgeous vegetation, great dancers and an seemingly unendless supply of breast and butt implants. Anecdotal proof of the ubiquitousness of said surgeries: last weekend I was at a bar talking to two friends of friends, and one of them asked the other where his girlfriend was. He replied that she had just had liposuction and was recovering at home. Dude, nothing worse than a girlfriend who's recently had surgery, the other guy replied sympathetically (sympathetic I guess to the plight of the dude, not the girlfriend?)

I´ve been here since the middle of December, arriving just in time for the famous Fería de Cali, Felipe´s brother´s wedding, and to eat the copious amounts of buñuelos and natilla that are de rigueur in Colombia in December (I´m guessing lipo surgeries are popular in January?)

My sister even came for the festivities. We ate lots of unrecognizable fruits, danced in the street, and did all the things gringas love to do when they travel to foreign countries (except for maybe the drugs). She even got to help Felipe's mother grate coconut to make coconut rice for 50 people while I stood by and laughed while making the desserts (hand-grating coconut may have replaced blanching almonds at the top of her whythehellwouldyoudothiswhenyoucanbuyitalreadydone list). She was, however, duly impressed when Felipe's aunt pulled over to the side of the road in order to talk a dude into cutting plantains from his tree so we could eat them fried for dinner. So so not in Argentina anymore...