Archive for March, 2009

Tom Grills, Argentina Style

asado1Grillmaster Tom brings you this recap.

Sunday is the traditional day for asado in Argentina. As parties go, this one has a pretty simple formula: start a fire, grill up a big pile of meat, hang out with family and friends for the afternoon, and eat until you are no longer able to move.

Our current apartment comes complete with a beautiful parilla, and we’ve hosted one asado already. But, on that occasion, my duties involved nothing more than making the salad, since our friend Dani expertly handled all of the grilling. For various reasons, I had not yet taken the helm of the parilla. I had not yet assumed the role of asador.

(To my mind’s ear, “asador” is always said with great drama. Think “matador” and say it with a flourish and, perhaps, a stamping of your foot.)

Why the hesitation to grill?

For one, you can’t start grilling until you’ve got some meat, and I’m intimidated by the butcher. Even in the US, I never looked forward to buying meat. I would often go marching up to the meat counter, recipe from Cook’s Illustrated in hand, and explain that I was looking for a specific cut. (Cook’s Illustrated has very strong opinions on which cuts are best for their recipes.) The butcher would then tell me they didn’t have said cut and look at me like I was crazy for asking.

And, that was in English! Here, I get to do the whole song and dance in broken Castellano and pantomime.

Furthermore, I’m totally spoiled by my gas grill in the US. Press a button and you’re ready to cook ten minutes later. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a push-button parilla. Oh no, you’ve got to go all primitive and caveman-like and get a fire started using nothing more than matches and a bag of charcoal.

Since I had no kindling, no lighter fluid, and little experience, I was concerned about my fire-starting skills. Could I really set the charcoal ablaze with some scrap paper and an empty Fruit Loops box? At first, it didn’t look too promising. Zoe offered to help by throwing dried leaves onto the top of the fire, and while that pleased the inner pyromaniac in both of us, it didn’t make the slightest difference to actually getting the charcoal lit.

In the end, Zoe saved the day. She spotted a few dead branches caught in the tree that overhangs our terrace, and using a rope she got at a knot-tying demonstration, she was able to lasso several and pull them down. We broke up the branches, created a little teepee of twigs, and pretty soon we had a roaring fire going.

With that problem solved, I started grilling. And, I didn’t really know when to stop. As the photos show, for just a family of four, I grilled a lot of meat. (We call that having an asado, Ian-style, since he started the family tradition of buying way too much meat for the occasion.)

The results from my first outing as asador:

* Chicken. Perfectly done. Mostly due to Michele’s brining and her expertly prepared wet rub of cumin, lemon, garlic, olive oil and chilies.

* Bife de Chorizo. (New York Strip Steak) Sadly, these were a little over-done. In Argentina, they would call this level of cooking a punto. They definitely were not jugoso (rare). Obviously, I was paying too much attention to chowing down on the chicken at the time, and not enough to my steaks still on the grill.

* Pork Roast. This was the wild card. I’m not even sure what cut of pork this is, and since we were all too stuffed with beef and chicken to eat any more, we just wrapped it up and put it in the fridge. Hopefully, it can form the basis of a leftover dinner later this week.

All in all, not too bad for a first attempt.


Luke, I am your Father

rogueshadowZoe’s 4th grade classmates have the most fabulous parents, who collectively save our ass on a regular basis as we muddle through the ins and outs of school: parties, musical instruments, school supplies, field day, hockey equipment, transportation problems, holidays, etc.

On the birthday party front, these amazing parents mobilize and collect $25 pesos per classmate per party, giving the total cash haul to the birthday parent to spend at their discretion for something big that the birthday child actually wants.

When the fabulous fourth-grade parents discovered that Zoe’s birthday occurred over the summer holiday in December 2008, they banded together and raised her gift money (and the kids made her a card too), which they handed off to us last week. It was such a lovely belated birthday surprise.

The result, she got a Star Wars Rogue Shadow Lego set, which she spent all weekend putting together! (The actual craft she assembled is pictured above with space background.) She adores it.

Delivery, Por Favor!

typicaldeliveryI admit that the blue-screen photo here is less than appetizing, but because the hue shows through the clear plastic containers, removing it would be too big a chore in Photoshop. (And this is the color of our dining room table!)

Laid out in all of its splendor in the pic to the left is a bife de lomo (tenderloin), grilled chicken, mashed potatoes (very buttery — not healthy but yummy) and an ensalada mixta (this is a salad with lettuce, tomato and onion). All of this was delivered to our door for approximately $16.50.

This food is the lifeline for our family while living in Buenos Aires for three reasons:

  1. We can order this meal from one of a zillion neighborhood cafes at any time of the day or night. (Bottom line, we can eat at 6:00 pm and get the Zs to bed on time — a constant struggle, as you know.)
  2. They will deliver it to our door in 20 to 30 minutes!
  3. It is tasty and we all enjoy it.

We have learned that the key to a successful cafe food experience is to stick with the menu basics (those listed above) and don’t get fancy. That means we stay away from the three “p”s: pasta (often mushy and overdone with inconsistent sauces), pizza (usually an inch of cheese with no tomato sauce or veggies), or pork (can be overdone and dry).

If you stay with steak and potatoes in Argentina, it’s hard to go wrong.

“Mommy, What’s a Ringmaster?”

guinessworldrecFirst, I’d like to apologize to my parents for my Guinness Book of World Records phase. Good Lord, I must have been so irritating.

On our recent ill-fated trip to the bookstore, we purchased this edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and are already regretting it! We have had to institute a “3-record per day” sharing rule. In other words, Zoe and Zelda are only allowed to show us three items per day from this insidious book.

In the meantime, I have learned that the world’s youngest ringmaster was three years old (at least as of this 2007 edition). We have seen the world’s largest and smallest chess sets. We have had the pleasure of viewing the largest bucket of popcorn, the most accurate corner gun ever made (a gun that literally shoots around a corner), and the largest newspaper edition ever published.

“How do they find the world’s tallest person Mommy?” Sigh. “I don’t know, dear,” I reply.

Most Ridiculous Shopping Trip Ever?

bookbagkelThere is a chain of English-language bookstores that we frequent here in Buenos Aires called KEL. (We normally only buy the Z’s books there because it’s really expensive and Tom and I peruse most of our reading material on the Kindle, which we continue to love.)

Since Zoe recently ran out of books to read, it was clearly time for a run, so off to KEL we went. (Today, it was homeschool in the taxi.) Imagine our surprise when we showed up at this normally sleepy shop only to be greeted by a mob scene. All of the shelves and books were cordoned off, there was a huge line, and they had implemented a see-customer-by-number system.

It seems that in February and March, when school starts back up after summer break, the KEL locations have a higher volume of customers. In response, they have devised a novel system for dealing with this uptick — they make ALL of their clients take a number. When a customer’s number is called, they must tell an employee which tome they want, and said employee retrieves the book for the client. NO SHOPPERS CAN BROWSE ANY BOOKS ON THEIR OWN.

Needless to say, this is a ridiculous system — the store is a mess and people wait forever to buy their one English dictionary that they seem perfectly capable of choosing on their own.

I tried explaining to the store clerk, who spoke great English, that we wanted to look through chapter books for the girls and that I didn’t have any specific titles in mind. She got really shirty with me, and her “solution” was to stand behind a shelf barrier and hand us every chapter book they had in Zoe and Zelda’s age range. (Which really struck me as a great use of her time.)

Of course, she brightened up considerably when she realized that we were going to buy a boat load of books. And, even though we were a royal pain in the ass from her perspective, she did throw in this hot book bag, modeled here by Zelda.

This ranked as one of my most ridiculous shopping trips ever! If we hadn’t needed the books so badly, I would have just waited until April.

Night Guy Screws Morning Guy

In “The Glasses” episode, Jerry Seinfeld’s opening monologue is a perfect reflection of how I manage my sleeping schedule.

JERRY: I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, cause I’m Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours sleep?’, oh that’s Morning Guy’s problem. That’s not my problem, I’m Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want. So you get up in the morning, you’re ….., you’re exhausted, groggy, oooh I hate that Night Guy! See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There’s nothing Morning Guy can do. The only thing Morning Guy can do is try and oversleep often enough so that Day Guy looses his job and Night Guy has no money to go out anymore.

Since we have implemented our new homeschooling/family togetherness plan, the only time Tom and I have to hit the gym together is in the dreaded morning. I usually feel like crap as my body is still waking up and my joints ache on the 20 minute walk to the Always Club.

Add on to that the fact that a) we’re trying to push ourselves with CrossFit workouts; b) I keep screwing my morning self by staying up too late; c) homeschooling is a lot of work to get together; d) it’s the dreaded tax time; e) it seems as if every one of the Zs’ classmates was born in February or March, so we’ve had a thousand birthday parties in just the first month of school…well, all of this means that WE’RE FREAKING TIRED!

Slowly but surely though, Morning Guy is trashing Night Guy’s body at the gym, and Night Guy is finding it easier and easier to go to bed early. There may be hope yet.

Saturday with the Horsey Set

clubalemanI believe we may have been the first family to trek on foot over open parkland to the gates of Club Alemán de Equitación (a private equestrian club in the city). At least, that’s what it seemed like by virtue of the look bestowed upon us from the guard attending the gated entry to the club!

We had come to inquire about family horseback riding lessons, but we learned from the guard that even though the club was open, administration went home at noon, so there was no one to talk to. Happily, one of the instructors happened to be driving through the gate as we turned to go, so she stopped and took our information and is going to call us early next week about costs and possible openings.

I suppose if we do sign up for lessons there, we shall have to get used to being “the family that arrives on foot or by cab” instead of the family that shows up in their own car.

Anyhow, since we were close to the hippodrome (horse racing track), and they were running races that day, we decided to pop in and see what was happening at the track after our visit to Club Alemán. Several torrential downpours and soaked Offermann/Reeves later, we managed to:

  1. Determine that you can’t obtain coins from the slot machines at the casino located at the track. (Someone suggested we try it as a comment on the blog and you know us, we’ll check out anything that might prove an easy source of monedas.)
  2. Be pleasantly surprised by the track and environs. A mix of beautiful old and new buildings that are well maintained and frequented by a wide variety of perfectly normal fans. (This would be a far cry from attending the races at… say…Portland Meadows, for instance, which is just sad and depressing, and a little creepy.)
  3. Enjoy the banter between the jockeys and the crowd as they rode their horses out on the track during their warm up.
  4. View a race while standing right on the rail at the finish line, which the girls loved.

The Life of a Tomboy in Buenos Aires

La vida Argentina isn’t always easy for my oldest daughter, who loves sports and hates short shorts. Examples of the challenges she faces include the following:

  1. At school, when she befriended her only American classmate, who happened to be a boy, everyone relentlessly teased them about being in love (this is in 3rd grade last year). In Zoe’s class, at least, the girls and boys do not intermix AT ALL socially — even at recess.
  2. Common recess games for girls include one girl pretending to be a boy and the rest trying to catch her and kiss her. Another is to practice their “model walk.” Not surprisingly, Zoe does not find these sorts of activities very engaging.
  3. In computer lab, the girls all try to play an online game where you have to kiss your boyfriend as many times as possible while your father’s head is turned, without getting caught. (Again, 3rd grade last year…my God it starts early.)
  4. We visited the pediatrician (male) last Friday for the girls to complete their physicals so they may participate in PE at school. Zoe did a typical kid slouch at one point during the exam, which led the pediatrician to explain that the only way to cure her poor posture was to enroll Zoe in some sort of modeling class because “when women are around other women, their competitive instincts will kick in and they will throw their shoulders back and stand up straight.” (Yes, I found this solution rather offensive.) I decided to translate this little gem of advice for Zoe after our visit so that she wouldn’t freak out on the spot. (Of course, now I love to tell her that if she doesn’t stand up straight, I will have to enroll her in modeling class, post haste!)
  5. Girls DO NOT play soccer here. It’s a bummer, because Zoe loves soccer. This holds true even at recess, where she can’t play fútbol because a) girls don’t do that; and, b) she would be relentlessly teased about being in love with all of the boys
  6. There is little time for after school sports due to the school schedule, nor are sporting programs horribly common for girls.
  7. She has to wear a pleated skirt to school and for sports. She has adapted, but boy she hated them at first! (She does look adorable though.)

I’m Going to Buy a Metal Detector

pesocoinsI recently gave Zoe a whack on the head for suggesting that I offer up some of my precious coins to a cab driver. (The very idea.) Yes, that means that unfortunately, we continue to hoard monedas like crazy people with an obsession for shiny metal objects.

You’ll be happy to know that about a month ago, the government declared the coin crisis solved when the President mandated that an electronic card payment system be installed within 3 months for all Buenos Aires buses. Of course, in true bureaucratic style, the second she announced this initiative, the agencies in charge of implementation turned around and said it would take at least six months to complete!

Needless to say, we’re not holding our breath.

Photo by J. Used under a Creative Commons license.
(Some great high dynamic range photos of Argentina you should check out!)

Ode to Ian

kidsnianOur Ian has just left the building on his way to the airport to undertake the long journey back to the Pacific Northwest. We will miss him terribly!

He has watched the girls (notice how that’s always first on any of my lists), helped us translate, introduced us to fabulous friends, taken us to La Bomba de Tiempo, taught us Spanish, ordered us tons of yummy home-delivered helado, driven me crazy (he is my younger brother, after all), hosted our only asado (with enough meat for a soccer team), made us laugh, washed dishes, introduced the girls to cool music, taught Zelda to jump Ian-style, taught Zoe how to surf, given us the skinny on good restaurants, and perhaps most importantly to our survival in Buenos Aires, introduced us to the Guia T.

As we were putting the girls to bed and they were sobbing over Ian’s departure, they said, “now we don’t have anyone to wrestle with.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.