Archive for November, 2008

Bags O’ Milk

“Hey, how many bags of milk do we have left?” is a question you commonly hear in our apartment.

Milk in Buenos Aires comes in two types of containers: milk in a box, or milk in a bag. Tom and I used to buy the milk in a box. It is pasteurized regularly and tastes fine.

One day, Ian did the shopping, and bought the milk in a bag because it’s a peso cheaper. The milk in a bag is ultra pasteurized, which leaves any dairy product with a slightly off taste. (Do a side-by-side taste test at home if you don’t believe me.) Ian also bought the yellow plastic milk-in-a-bag holder/pourer that you need in order to successfully wield the bagged milk.

Now, for some reason, we keep buying the milk in a bag even though we prefer the taste of the milk in a box. To make our continued patronage even more confusing, I am very challenged by the milk in a bag. I often forget to put it in the plastic container before cutting the corner of the bag, which then makes it a challenge to stuff the bag in the container without spilling.

I also am known for accidentally cutting the pouring spout hole in the bag too large, which creates a sort of milk fire-hose effect when you try to pour! Everyone lives in fear of me changing out the bag of milk — hee hee.

Amaranta — Above and Beyond

You want proof that people in Buenos Aires are insanely fabulous? Well read on…

Amaranta, the restaurant where we broke bread for “El Dia de la Accion de Gracias,” or Thanksgiving, is a weekly brunch haunt for Tom, Ian and me.

While perusing the Thanksgiving menu during one such brunch visit, we mentioned that our kids had nut allergies (always a concern with stuffings) and wanted to clear the turkey dinner for the Zs, well technically, I guess just for Zelda. Anyway, the owner of the restaurant kindly assured us that there were no nuts in any of the main courses.

We noted to ourselves that there were nuts in the pies and we just figured that we would avoid those for Zelda.

Well, we began our Thanksgiving meal at the restaurant and learned that, completely of their own volition, they had prepared one of each pie in a nut free version just for the girls. (I nearly fell out of my chair.) And, if that doesn’t make your eyes mist, they had prepared a special holiday gift bread for everyone as we left the restaurant; and because the traditional version contained nuts, they made a special chocolate bread just for the girls.

I am often surprised and warmed by the true kindness to be found in this vast metropolis.

Thanksgiving in BA…Better than Canada

Last year, we were in Victoria, BC for Thanksgiving and had a traditional meal at the Empress hotel. Sad to say, it was a subpar meal, as this homage to turkey excess goes.

This year, we were joined by Ian in Buenos Aires for Thanksgiving, and we had a great meal at a nearby local restaurant. It is owned by a Bolivian chef who went to a Quaker boarding school in Iowa (to learn English), lived for a bit in New Hampshire, and then cooked on a boat serving the South American cruise industry before opening his restaurant, Amaranta.

There were two seatings, one at 6:00 pm and one at 9:15 p.m. We, of course, chose the 6:00 pm seating, and were delighted to be in a restaurant that wasn’t empty while eating our meal at a normal hour!

Tales from the Tiki Lounge

Unfortunately, “we gotta get outta this place” has become a frequent refrain from the three adults living in this apartment. (The girls love it here — there is no accounting for taste.)


  • The refrigerator has two settings: “not cold enough” and “freeze everything in your refrigerator.” I can’t find a spot in between, though I keep trying! (We inadvertently froze a perfectly good pineapple the other day. Fruit doesn’t really respond well to being frozen.)
  • The under-the-cabinet fluorescent lights in the kitchen, which we need to be able to see in the morning, cause a rain of dead bugs to fall along the counter top every time we turn it on.
  • The dishes and utensils in the kitchen are icky, and it’s not just a girl thing. The spatula was so irretrievably gross, Tom wouldn’t use it while making hamburgers. (He used a fork instead!)
  • The toilet in our bathroom doesn’t really flush, so we can’t use it. Instead, we use the one in the girls’ bathroom that isn’t bolted to the floor, so we have to be careful that we don’t tip the whole toilet over while reaching for the toilet paper! (I never realized going to the bathroom could be such an adventure.)
  • The air conditioner in our room doesn’t work well (relevant when it’s in the 90s).
  • The water doesn’t get very hot in the kitchen, so hand washing dishes is a challenge.
  • The overhead light in the girls’ room has blown out twice with new bulbs, so the housekeeper and I agree that something is wrong with the wiring. I’ve asked that they deal with it after we leave.
  • The lights just burned out in Ian’s room, and the fixture makes a weird sparky noise when he flips the switch, just like the girls’ room.
  • The light back by the washing machine also has burned out, so we take a flashlight back to do laundry after dark. (At this point, with the faulty electrical system, we don’t want any part of these fixtures, even to change a bulb.)

Let’s just hope the place doesn’t burn down in an electrical fire before the 10th of December!

That Was Hard — No Really!

Tonight we had our entire meal delivered.

First, we called a local hole-in-the-wall takeout joint called La Rotiseria. They brought us a rotisserie chicken with lemon wedges, mashed potatoes, mashed squash, and a salad (shredded carrots, lettuce, rice, thinly sliced onion and tomatoes). We put some of our homemade salad dressing on the latter and called it a night. Dinner!

For dessert, we dialed Persicco, which has the best dark chocolate gelato I have ever eaten in my life. They are arguably the most popular, and therefore one of the most expensive, of the heladerías here in Buenos Aires. Their fleet of delivery scooters, and it is a fleet, is quite impressive.

The store was so busy when we called, they couldn’t deliver our gelato for an hour (the nerve).

Pictured above is the kilo that we ordered, still rock hard (coffee, dark chocolate, and dulce de leche), which we had open on the table waiting for it to soften. (Persicco delivers it with chips of dry ice — amazing really.)

“So what was so hard about lifting up the phone to order our dinner and dessert?”

Well, Tom went down with a 50 peso note to pay for the 46 peso gelato, expecting to get two, 2-peso notes back in return. Instead, he got four single peso coins, which are like gold doubloons around here. (You know this if you have been following my obsession with the coin shortage.) He didn’t want to tip, he wanted to hoard his coins and run back upstairs, chortling over his ill-gotten gains.

But, being the big man that he is, Tom took a deep breath and did the right thing, returning two of the peso coins to the delivery driver. “That was hard,” he said to us when he returned to the bamboo decompression chamber. We observed a moment of silence for his strength.


We rubbed elbows with the elite and attended a polo match! Okay, we bought seats in the cheap, sun beaten bleachers, so I don’t know how much elbow rubbing we did…but we had fun!

The girls enjoyed it, but in truth, it was so hot, they spent most of their time playing under the bleachers in the shade.

As you can see from the photos, the juxtaposition of a polo field smack dab in the middle of the city is pretty striking.

A few fun facts:

  • Polo is one of the oldest team sports; it was used for training cavalry.
  • Alexander III, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire in 912-913, died of exhaustion after a polo match.
  • The players are allowed to check (a la ice hockey) as long as they come in at less than a 45 degree angle. It’s something else to see this happen at top speed between two horses.
  • They can really smack that ball, often sending it quite high into the air and nearly 3/4 the length of the field…I had no idea.
  • The sport may not be gentle, but the crowd is. It is considered polite to applaud for a goal no matter which side scores. Apparently there are no polo hooligans.

It’s Time for a Knee Update!

Don’t worry, I won’t be flashing pictures of my pasty white gams!

Prior to our arrival, my knee had been improving steadily since surgery, but it hadn’t received the day in and day out punishment I was going to be dishing out in Baires. When I first got here, the huge amount of walking required, coupled with the very uneven sidewalks, presented a real challenge.

I had to walk with my head down at all times, scanning for anomalies, and my leg was usually pretty swollen by the end of the day.

Fast forward a few weeks and things are really improving. Tom and I have been at the gym doing our own CrossFit workouts. I’ve been able to execute some deadlifting, squatting, jumping pull ups, stationary biking, etc. And, my walking has made great strides (pun intended), hitting the improvement trifecta for appearance, speed, and stamina.

I want to continue to work out hard before we leave in December so that I can actually hike while in Patagonia.

February 2009 Apartment Update

Good news, we have a home when we return to Baires in February…a home for two months anyway!

There is a reason for the two month rental: furnished apartment rents are through the roof here — crazy expensive — and, I believe that travel is going to be way down next year due to a worsening worldwide recession, which means that I don’t want to lock something in right now at the sky high rents everyone is charging.

Instead, we are going to rent for a few months when we get back in February from our summer travels and see what’s going on in the world.

Our new neighborhood is going to be Palermo.

The girls are resigned to the endless moving. Tom and I figure that if we keep this up, we could live in nearly every neighborhood in the city!

Paradigm Shift — Together!

With neither of us working, our sabbatical is supposed to be an opportunity for Tom and I to do more together.

That sounds easy, right?

Well, it’s not as simple as I thought. It really requires a phase shift in thinking — surprisingly. You see, once you have kids, everything is planned for time maximization, and because someone has to be watching the kids, tasks are always divided.

We still fall into those patterns. If we have time free together during the day, our knee jerk reaction is to think, okay, how can we split up and get a bunch of stuff done? “You pick up the kids from school, while I run to the store and start dinner.” Or, “I’ll go to Spanish school this week while you use that time plan our summer travels and make reservations.”

We are slowly changing our habits. We now try to forget about being productive and instead focus on what we can do together!

So yes, we’re getting into the swing of things. What’s astonishing is that we had to work at it!!

Where Appliances Go to Die…

…and other evolutionary dead ends in the home.

This place is a wonder of old fashioned technology. Pictured to the left is the light switch/maid switch combo that is located in the bathrooms. One switch turns on the light, the other buzzes the maid in the kitchen. (I’m not sure why you would want to call the maid in the kitchen while using the bathroom?)

For the first week here, you could tell when someone was using the bathroom because it would be preceded with buzz, then, “sorry.”

Below left, you will find the hood vent over the stove. You tilt the windows out and prop them up over the stove, as shown here, and then turn on the fan that is vented out the nearby window. Now that is a big greasy area to clean up.

Below right, you will find my personal favorite, the clothes drying cabinet. This puppy is gas fired on the bottom, and then you hang your items to be dried on the bars and close the cabinet doors. It’s like a little sauna for clothes!

Honestly, it strikes us as a bit of a fire hazard, so we just use it as an air drying rack with the doors open because it scares the crap out of us!