Monday, September 26, 2011

Second time around



So I decided to do it again, this whole moving-to-a-country-where-I-dont-know-anyone-and-dont-speak-the-language thing.

It's one of those weird things, where I felt like I knew what to expect because I´ve done it before, and yet in no way has it made it any easier.

It's funny, too, because the last time I was in the states, people kept asking me what my plans were, and I would explain my "plans", emphasis on the quotations marks...and that I was a bit nervous...and the response was largely, well, blase. It's not that I think anyone needs to give a crap about my half-brained plans, far from it, it's just that when I first moved to Argentina, the response, even from people I only see once every couple years, was, you WHAT? ARE YOU GOING TO BE OKAY? WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENS? YOU DONT SPEAK THE LANGUAGE! (All legitimate concerns) And all concerns that I continue to consider legitimate, and that I still occasionally have. But now, the collective reaction is along the lines of: Eva's crazy enough to have done it before, and it worked out fine, so of course it will work out fine. Shrug. What should we make for dinner?


So, yeah. I am still freaked out. It is not easier. And it will be fine. I wonder if having your second kid is like this. You know the drill, and it is still crazy hard. The first day here I literally couldn't ask where the bathroom was. (I tried, and the girl just looked at me. How do you gesture-communicate "bathroom" without getting arrested?) I couldn't figure out how to make a phone call. (You have to buy a prepaid card at a newspaper stand and then you stick it into the pay phone. Super unexpected.) I asked the guy at the supermarket what the difference was between farinha de milho (cornmeal) and fubá (cornmeal?) because both had identical ingredients (corn) but were clearly different products, and he looked at me like I was crazy, farinha é farinha e fubá é fubá! (Flour is flour and fuba is fuba!) Uhhh, thanks.


Instead of weirdo corn whatever, we've been eating granola. Like, batches and batches of it. I don't know why, other than that they serve it on top of açai, whose acquantaince I was more than happy to make after hearing about it from everyone who had ever traveled to Brazil. Yes, it is amazing, who knows if it has all the supposed health benefits but it's inexpensive, it's delicious, and it has about 1000 calories a cup (or so I'm told). I suppose that could be the argument for eating McDonald's, too, but we're living on top of a mountain, I'm pressed for calories, and I feel 1000% less sick to my stomach eating açai than I would be eating some American-style junk food (perros quenchis- hot dogs! cost about the same). It's like eating purple jamba juice with a spoon. And they will sprinkle granola on top for you if you want, 'cause, you know, it's not gut-busting enough on its own.



So, granola. I've made a lot of it over the years, going through phases where I made it ever week, never making it in Argentina because I could never find rolled oats, and I've gone through multiple versions. Somehow this one seems just right. Muscovado sugar is pleasantly common here, and it given the granola a lovely caramel-y flavor (I've had problems in the past with undone and then burnt granola, which never tastes good, and the muscovado seems be immune from this problem. Assuming that you don't, you know, leave the house while it's in the oven.) You can certainly throw in nuts or seeds here, and/or stir in dried fruit/chocolate/candied ginger afterward once it's cooled (adding dried fruit before baking will result in hard little fruit pebbles). But I do think it's a really nice base, which is always good to have, especially when you're not quite sure what's coming around the bend.


Granola

3 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. dried unsweetened coconut
5 Tbsp. muscovado sugar*
3 Tbsp. white sugar
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. water
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 300ºF. In a large bowl, mix the oats and coconut together. Add the rest of the ingredients to a small pot and heat it, stirring, just until it begins to bubble up at the edges and the sugar is completely melted. Immediately pour over the oats and stir until the oats are evenly coated. Spread the oats out on a rimmed baking sheet, but try not to let any of it wander too much into the corners or right next to the edges as it tends to want to burn in those places. Bake for 10 min., then stir well. Bake another 10 min., until golden brown. Let cool, then transfer to a storage container, breaking up any big chunks if you're not a fan (do those people exist?). Eat with milk. Try to make it last more than a day. (Granola is crazy filling in a very sneaky way. As in, I just had a big bowl of oats for breakfast, why do I feel like I just ate half a pan of lasagna? Proceed with caution.)

*Muscovado sugar seems to vary in sweetness by brand, so you might want to adjust the proportion of white sugar. If your moscovado tastes similar to brown sugar, you might want to change the ration to 6 Tbsp. moscovado to 2 Tbsp. white sugar.





Aquí hay una receta básica para granola. También se puede echar nueces o semillas a la mezcla antes de hornearla, y también cualquier frutos secos, pasas o chocolate después de hornearla (si los echas antes si vuelven duros en el calor del horno).

Granola

3 tazas de avena gruesa (flocos gruesos)
1/2 taza de coco rallado 
5 cucharadas de azúcar moscovado (buscala en tiendas dieteticas)
3 cucharadas de azúcar blanca
2 cucharadas de aceite vegetal (girasol)
2 cucharadas de agua
una pizca de sal

Precalienta el horno a 150ºC. En un bol grande, combina la avena y el coco. Echa los demás ingredientes a una olla pequeña y calentala, revolviendo, justo hasta que empiece hacer burbujas por los lados y todo el azúcar esté completamente derretida. Inmediatamente echale sobre la avena y revuelve hasta que la avena esté untada uniformamente. Distribuye la avena en una capa fina sobre una bandeja con lados bajos, pero trata de que la avena no se vaya a los rincones o demasiado cercana a los lados porque suele quemarse allí. Hornea durante 10 minutos, después revuelvela bien. Hornea otro 10 minutos, hasta que esté doradita pero que no haya empezado a ponerse cafe. Dejala enfriar, después guardala en una coquita, rompiendo los pedazos grandes si no te gustan. Come con leche. Trata de que dure más de un día. (Granola es muy llenadora pero de forma muy engañosa...como, comes un bol grande para el desayuno y cuando te paras sentis como si hubieras comido media bandeja de lasagna. Entonces sigue con cuidado.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Los gringos strike again


The other day at the supermarket, Felipe eyed me suspiciously. Did you just put zucchini in the cart? You?  Zucchini?  I think he thought someone else had commandeered our cart, or failing that, my brain. Zucchini, along with iceberg lettuce, is pretty much the only vegetable that I routinely reject. For zucchini bread. You know, like carrot cake. -What? Zucchinis in cake? Felipe shook his head and wandered off to the next aisle, muttering something along the lines of -estos gringos... under his breath.

Fair enough. It's not his fault he doesn't know that Americans use zucchini as an excuse to make (and eat) cake and at the same time use up their summer garden overflow. 

That night, we had coffee and zucchini bread. I was about to ask how the weirdo American vegetable bread was when Felipe blurted out between bites,Wow, this is so good...you could sell this...For some reason that I still don't understand, when Colombians really like some food item, they tell you you could sell it (even people like Felipe who have zero interest in selling anything). Two Brazilians and one German later, the bread was almost gone, and Felipe was eyeing it dangerously. There's a phrase that's used in Spanish in situations like this that I find hilarious: el pan me está haciendo ojitos (the bread is making (little) eyes at me). ¿Me puedo comer otra tajada? (Can I eat another slice?) This phrase, on the other hand, drives me crazy. Amor, no soy tu mama. (Sweetheart, I am not your mother.) If you want to finish off the bread, finish the damn bread. Next week it's your turn to sneak zucchini into the cart.

I should say that I'm actually not generally a big fan of zucchini bread, often finding them too dense and heavy, but this particular zucchini bread I like very much. It's nicely spiced but not overwhelming, and the tangy lime glaze is an especially nice foil to the lightly sweet bread. I highly recommend it alongside a mug of cafe con leche. We've been using one of those Italian espresso pots to make cafe con leche lately and I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to go back.

Zucchini Bread with Lime Glaze
     heavily adapted from Karen DeMasco

1/4 c. (2 oz.) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. (2 oz.) vegetable oil
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. (175 g.) sugar
2 medium eggs, room temperature (if you only have large ones, leave a bit out)
1 c. (140 g.) flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/4 c. (150 g.) zucchini, finely grated (use the smaller side on the box grater)
zest of 1/2 lime

For the glaze:
2-3 Tbsp. lime juice, freshly squeezed 
100 g. white sugar
1/4 tsp. cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter (or oil) and flour a 9 in. x 5 in. loaf pan, then tap any excess flour out. In a large bowl, beat the oils, sugar and eggs together for 3 minutes until lightened in color. Sift the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together directly into the bowl, then stir well. Stir in the zucchini and lime zest, then pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for ~ 45 min., until a knife stuck into the center comes out clean and the bread has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 min. Stir together the lime juice, sugar and cornstarch. Add a bit more lime juice if the glaze is too thick to brush on. Invert the bread out of the pan, then put it back right side up on a plate. Brush the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Let cool completely.


Pan de Zucchini con Cobertura de Limón

1/4 taza (2 oz.) de aceite de oliva
1/4 taza (2 oz.) de aceite vegetal
175 g. de azúcar blanca 
2 huevos medianos, temperatura ambiental
140 g. de harina de trigo (tipo 000)
1/2 cucharita de polvo de hornear 
1/4 cucharita de bicarbonato de soda
1/2 cucharita de sal
1 cucharita de canela
1/4 cucharita de nuez moscada recién rallada 
150 g. de zucchini, rallado chiquito (usa el lado con huecos más pequeños del ralladora de caja)
cascara de 1/2 limón, 

Para la cobertura:
2-3 cucharadas de jugo de limón fresco
100 g. de azúcar blanca
1/4 cucharita de maízena (almidon de maíz)

Precalienta el horno a 180ºC. Amanteca y enharina un molde de pan, después voltea el molde hacía abajo para que cualquiera harina adicional salga. En un bol grande, bate los aceites, el azúcar y los huevos juntos por 3 minutos o hasta que estén más claritos de color. Tamiza la harina, bicarbonato de soda, polvo de hornear, sal, canela y nuez moscada juntos directamente al bol, después revuelve bien. Echale el zucchini y la cascara de limón, revuelve bien, entonces echa la masa al molde. Hornea durante ~ 45 minutos, hasta que un cuchillo metido al centro salga limpio y el pan se haya empezado a separarse de los lados del molde.
Deja el pan a enfriar en el molde por 10 min. Revuelve el jugo de limón, azúcar y maízena juntos; echale un poco más jugo de limón si la mezcla está demasiado espesa para untar. Voltea el molde hacía abajo para sacar el pan, después voltea el pan otra vez para que esté sentado bien sobre un plato. Unta la parte de arriba del pan con la mezcla de limón y azúcar, dejandole caer por los lados. Deja el pan enfriarse completamente.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mexicali

If you've been at all up on Latin American news in the last couple of years, you know that Mexico is having huge drug-related violence troubles. Colombians will tell you that the situation in Mexico sounds extremely similar to what Colombia went through in the 90's. And although the situation in Colombia has improved tremendously since then, the effects are still visible in Colombian society today.


The first time I was in Cali a couple of years ago, I made an off-hand remark to Felipe that it seemed like whenever we saw a couple on a motorcycle (there are probably more motorcycles than cars on the streets in Cali), the guy was always driving. He said, well yeah, that's the law...and my knee-jerk reaction was, predictably, Are you kidding me? Women aren't allowed to drive motorcycles if a guy is with them? -It's because los sicarios (assassins) used motorcycles a ton, the guy in front would drive and the guy in back would shoot. So they made a law that men can't be on the back of a motorcycle. (This falls into the "clueless gringa needs to get off her high horse and get some perspective" category of conversations.)






This was such a common happening that at the end of the 90's, the Panamanian salsa legend (and very left-wing lawyer) Rubén Blades came out with a song sung from the perspective of a sicario hired to kill a politician. The music video shows the drug boss, replete with gold chains and bodyguards, giving the assassination order to a young kid from a poor neighborhood. There's one line that I've always found particularly rough:Yo, por él, no siento compasión. Nunca en vida él hizo algo por mí. Si es entre él y yo la selección, no me dolerá verlo morir. I don't feel compassion for him. In his life he never did anything for me. If the choice is between him and me, it won't hurt me to see him die.


It's awful to see Mexico going through a similar process. Amongst all the drug violence and corruption, poor people mostly stay poor and do the dirty work; in the end all of society loses and will be dealing with the scars long after the carteles are gone.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Before you know it

Buenos Aires is one of those places that you mention and people automatically envision an exotic, far-flung location, a Belle Epoque Paris in the southern hemisphere, but, you know, in Spanish, and with melodramatic tango music in the background, which only adds to the intrigue. Buenos Aires is many things, and it´s many things to me, positive, negative, and uncategorizable. Living for awhile in any place will always complicate it for you, I think.



Socio-cultural-economic discussions aside (like how on earth Argentines can afford to frequent them as much as they do), Buenos Aires has unequivocally beautiful cafes, remnants from another century, all mirrors and polished wood and formal service. My favorite was Las Violetas, which was only a couple of blocks away from our apartment, though it was definitely an only-on-special-occasions place for us. Though pricey, Las Violetas invariably had a long line of elegantly-dressed people waiting for a table come merienda (tea time). The best thing to order at Las Violetas is the Maria Callas, a silver platter filled to an inch of its life with house-made cakes and tea sandwiches. It will be the undoing 4 people, and it will drive 2 into a sugar coma (don´t ask me why I know this). Then, assuming you don´t live within walking distance, you can go back home on the A line of the subway, the only line that still uses the old wooden trolleys, complete with doors that you yank open while the train is still pulling into the station so you can hop out while it´s still moving.

On a more daily basis, there are cafes on almost every corner, complete with waiters and wooden tables and people drinking demitasses of coffee, gesticulating wildly with their hands while bitching about the government or the last soccer match. Buenos Aires is a place where people take time to have coffee with their friends or children or just with the newspaper. You can stay at your table as long as you like, just don´t expect the waiter to be on call for your every need-- you´re going to have to flag him over, something I hate, hate doing, but it´s often the only way to get their attention away from the newspaper they´re reading at the cafe bar.




When you order your coffee, you´ll be brought your demitasse along with a small tumbler of sparkling water and a few tiny cookies. If you´re lucky, they´ll have brought you alfajores de maizena, or cornstarch alfajores. Alfajores de maizena are the most common kind of alfajores, sold in all bakeries in both jumbo size and bite-size versions. Though I was initially more drawn to the buttery chocolate-dipped manifestation, the alfajores de maizena drew me in slowly, subtely. Crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth delicate, they sneak up on you and are consequently gone before you know it-- and if you´re not careful, so is your afternoon, although sometimes that is exactly the point. 


Alfajores de Maizena

2 1/3 c. (10.5 oz. or 300 g.) cornstarch
scant 1 2/3 c. (7 oz. or 200 g.) all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 sticks + 2 Tbsp. (9 oz. or 250 g.) butter, room temperature
2/3 c. (5.3 oz. or 150 g.) white sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 Tbsp. cognac or rum
zest of a small lemon
dulce de leche*, homemade or store-bought

Beat the butter with the sugar until smooth. Add the yolks one at a time, beating well in between each addition, then add in the cognac and lemon zest, beating to incorporate them in. 
Sift the cornstarch and flour together, then add the mix to the butter-sugar mixture, stirring just until you can push together a crumbly ball with your hands. Don´t over mix and don´t knead. Wrap with plastic and let rest for 30 min. in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Flour the counter, then roll out the dough to 1/4 in. Cut 1-in. circles out of the dough, then place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner. Pull the scraps together into a ball and refrigerate them while you make off the first round of cookies. Bake for around 10 min. or less, depending on your oven. Do NOT let them brown on the bottom, don´t even let them turn golden. You want pale, pale cookies. You do need them to be cooked through though, so as soon as they set up in the oven, get them out of there. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
When the cookies have cooled, use a pastry bag or a knife to add dulce de leche to the flat undersides of half of the cookies, then make sandwiches by placing a plain cookie on top, flat underside touching the dulce de leche. These cookies are delicate so store them in neat rows, oreo-style. They will last several days and may get even better after the first day, once the cookies and dulce de leche have had a bit more time to get to know each other. Serve with good, strong coffee.

*In Argentina they sell dulce de leche repostero, meaning dulce de leche for pastries, which is thicker and made either by cooking down the dulce de leche or by adding thickening ingredients such as pureed white beans (!). Dulce de leche repostero allows you to fill pastries/cookies/cakes with an ungodly amount of dulce de leche without it seeping out; I used regular dulce de leche here and was perfectly happy with the amount of dulce de leche in the alfajores.