Archive for May, 2009

I Could Be the Salad Dressing King


If you love salad, this is not the country for you.

When we gather together with Porteños for the express purpose of eating, we often make a very simple mock Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and a dressing that consists of a garlic/salt paste, lemon zest and juice, Dijon mustard, and some olive oil. (In the US, we add croutons, but they’re hard to find here and I can’t be bothered to make them.)

The addition of salad to the meal is generally received with a low level of enthusiasm, at least initially, by the local set. Then, once my Argentine friends taste the green stuff, they invariably start raving…ooohs and aaahs abound. What is the recipe? What is in this salad? This salad is great!?!

Why does this simple concoction garner such attention? Because it actually has dressing on it, something that is nearly impossible to find here. Last night at an asado with friends, a wonderful older Argentinian-Italian man kept muttering to himself, mouth full of romaine, “cheese and lettuce, cheese and lettuce…I would never think to put those together and that they would taste so good! I can’t believe it…cheese and lettuce!”

What does pass for dressing in Argentina? I’m afraid it’s often a bottle of corn oil and a bottle of white or cider vinegar. If that’s not bad enough, the other dressing option is essentially a packet of mayonnaise. Good Lord, it can’t be a surprise that so few like to eat vegetables here!

Photo by Flickr user WordRidden used under a Creative Commons license.

My Latest Obsession — The White City


I have been bewitched by the Chicago World’s Fair ever since reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. (They painted nearly every building white, hence the name.)

Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance (sans mention of God) was written to celebrate the dedication day of the fair because “Francis J. Bellamy thought it would be a fine thing if on that day all of the schoolchildren of America, in unison, offered something to their nation.”

I discovered that the first Ferris Wheel was constructed for the Chicago event as an answer to the Eiffel Tower, which was the hit and lasting legacy of the previous world exposition in Paris. A call was put out to American engineers to “out Eiffel Eiffel,” only nothing was forthcoming until George Ferris conceived of his ride. The first Ferris Wheel “was a complex assemblage of 100,000 parts that ranged in size from small bolts to the giant axle, which at the time was the largest one-piece casting of steel ever made.” The ride was completed after the fair started, but was a huge success. Each car could carry about 60 people and they rode to a height nearly as tall as the highest skyscraper in Chicago at the time.

Who knew that fair administrators turned down Buffalo Bill’s act because they thought it wasn’t a good fit? Mr. Bill (really Col. William Cody) thumbed his nose at them and bought his own parcel of land adjacent to the official fairgrounds and performed his Wild West show and became a very rich man in the process.

Political machinations led to delays, which meant that construction on the 600 acre site did not commence until just sixteen months prior to Dedication Day. How they managed to pull off essentially building an entire city from scratch in less than a year-and-a-half, I have no idea. Keep in mind, there were over 200 classically designed structures, many of them among the largest buildings in the world.

Below you will find photos of the following: 1) recreations of the Pinta, Santa Maria, and Nina that were sailed from Spain to be present at the fair, which was also called the World’s Columbian Exposition in honor of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the good old US of A. 2) One of the Westinghouse alternating current generators that powered the fair. 3) The first ever Ferris Wheel!


First Offermann to Fall off a Horse

News from the equestrian front.

This week, Zelda fell off of her horse…in slow motion, twice. She’s quite good at it. She and Zoe were working on their trotting and then moved on to a little shumping. Zelda looked awesome, holding the right form, getting her horse to trot right over. When the fence was moved up just a bit, her pony would make a pretty exaggerated jump for the height, and would really slow down post jump, which caused Zelda to slide onto the horse’s neck.

Her fall would involve sliding up the neck, clinging with both arms and legs, and then slowly rotating so that she was upside down, still hanging on with her limbs. The first time it happened, Zelda managed to time it so that she dropped into her teachers arms. Later, she and Zoe worked on “how to fall off of a horse.”

Keep in mind, Zelda is riding a largish pony, so it’s not that far to the ground!

Meanwhile, Tom and I were working on what our instructor called galloping, but what the girls were quick to point out was actually cantering. We worked on it in a tight circle with the horse on a long lead with our teacher in the center. While it was nice not having to negotiate the ring and following/leading while cantering, it was quite challenging to hold our balance while traveling quickly in a tight circle

We’re just glad we didn’t fall off! Good times.

Tom’s Bad Hair Day


One would think that this picture really says it all, unfortunately though, it doesn’t.

This morning, on a crisp fall day, Tom and I repaired to the balcony so that I could cut his hair. He gathered together the accoutrement and out we went. Because it was so cold, I didn’t want the house to get too chilly, so I closed the sliding glass door behind me. In the next millisecond, I realized that said door is self locking, which meant that in my fit of efficiency to keep the house warm, I had trapped us on the balcony.

After a momentary freak out, Tom hopelessly tried the other half of the sliding glass door…and it opened. (I can’t even begin to explain what a catastrophe it would have been to be trapped on a fifth-floor balcony with no phone right before it was time to pick up the girls from school.) The wrong side of the door is not self locking — who knew?

Then came the ill-fated haircut.

As Tom’s hair has started thinning, he has shifted to trimmer haircuts, which I don’t like because I’m sort of absentminded and I always worry I’m going to screw up. There aren’t many mistakes with scissors that can’t be fixed, not so with trimmers.

Anyhow, in the aftermath of almost being trapped on the balcony, I spaced and didn’t put the guard on the trimmers and instead, just plunged the straight trimmer into the back of Tom’s hair, cutting the weird swath you can see above. Immediately after plowing my row, I realized my mistake, but things were irretrievably ruined.

To try and recover, I had to mow his hair at the lowest setting so the contrast with the swath would not be as stark. Of course, as I was completing this hair-removal process, the trimmers died. We weren’t sure how to proceed next.

I decided we should move inside and we could attempt to use the trimmers while they were plugged into their recharging base, which worked about half of the time and resulted in a somewhat uneven cut for the rest of Tom’s hair.

Sadly, after giving him as much of a jarhead look as I could, the contrast with the swath was still pretty stark, so I had to use scissors to blur the edges a bit, which is why Tom’s swath looks rather mangy (we both decided that was better).

I’m sure you are trying to figure out why he remains married to me after all of these years? We can all but wonder!

Mommy, What Is a Hack?

Whenever I talk about my time in junior/senior high school, attended on the Oregon coast, my husband and I realize that we had very different experiences growing up! The rural/urban divide can be seen as follows:

The Hack. Tom is incredulous that the hack, as we called it, was commonly utilized as a behavior modification tool at Neah-Kah-Nie Jr./Sr. High School until the mid 1980s. Thankfully, I didn’t experience this discipline technique first hand, but I do remember there being two paddles, both wooden with holes, that resided in the junior high and senior high principal’s offices. At the time, none of us really thought much of it, but friends who come from urban school districts always fall out of their chair when they hear of spankings in the school.

Sitting on Ice. Some student council hero had the bright idea to make each class president sit on a block of ice during a homecoming week assembly. The president who made it the longest would garner the most points for their class. I, unfortunately, was a class president for this event and we (I and my three other colleagues) sat on the ice, in shorts, for ages. It quickly became clear that no one was going to get off in front of the whole student body and be labeled the wimp who couldn’t deal with a little cold. After half the assembly had passed, and long since having any feeling in our asses, I negotiated a solution where we all rose off the ice simultaneously and split the points evenly.

When we went down to the locker room to change and warm our bootys under the hot showers, we were all greeted by the searing pain of huge blisters and ice burns from this little competition. We crawled into the back of the principal’s truck and were taken to the emergency room. The school administrators were very worried about a lawsuit. “If she’s dumb enough to sit on a block of ice for that long…” well, you can figure out the rest of my mother’s response!

Slave Day. When I was in junior high, they had a very politically incorrect fundraiser at the school called slave day. The point was to raise money by having buyers bid on a person, securing the right to be in charge of them for the following school day. I allowed myself to be auctioned at the behest of my friends on the student council, but only after I negotiated the right to refuse to wear diapers for whomever bought me. Unfortunately, my imagination was much too limited.

You see, I was a bit of a terror in junior high (I was nice, but I was uber squirrelly) and I hadn’t really thought ahead to the fact that a teacher might seek revenge by purchasing the right to haze me for a day. In fact, three teachers pooled their funds and did buy me — the gym teacher, the Spanish teacher, and the social studies teacher. Talk about sinking feelings and pits in the middle of the stomach.

I tried to avoid my tormentors by hiding out in the girls locker room when I arrived at school for my day of servitude. Unfortunately, they were ready for me, stationed at the exits to greet me when I ducked out after the bell rang. They dressed me in Coach’s shorts, an “I’m with stupid” t-shirt that had been in the boy’s locker room forever, a pair of Coach’s huge cowboy boots, and if memory serves, a set of rainbow suspenders. I had to wear a pacifier around my neck and whenever they asked me what flavor it was, I had to suck on it and tell them. I also wore this big decorative sombrero, around which they made me do a hat dance in the cafeteria at lunch time. They made me scrub some of the locker room floor with a toothbrush, I had to act out a donkey for a vocabulary word in social studies, complete with braying…the list goes on and on.

Please keep in mind that this rollicking good day of fun also happened to coincide with picture day for teams and clubs. During photos, I would hunch down in the back, trying to hide my t-shirt and hat head.

Needless to say, Tom doesn’t have any such stories from his suburban upbringing in New Jersey…he doesn’t know what he was missing!

More Adventures in Baking



I must be hungry, I’ve been posting about food a lot lately!

Last week, when Tom and I were looking for an easy meal to make out of a rotisserie chicken, we decided to attempt a chicken and dumplings type of dish using buttermilk biscuit dough.

What ensued was chaos.

We didn’t have buttermilk, so we had to obtain some lemons to sour our own milk. We had a hard time finding edible frozen peas. We had to substitute massive amounts of baking powder for baking soda, which affects the flavor. We only have a tiny food processor, so I had to cut the butter into the dough in batches. I made half of a batch in the food processor and combined it with the buttermilk only to find we were severely short on baking powder, so Tom and the girls had to dash out and buy more while the first half of the dough was soaking up the moist ingredients.

After scouring the store’s three different sections that contained baking ingredients, the Offermann shopping team finally found the polvo de hornear and raced home. We didn’t have cake flour. We didn’t have a rolling pin, so I used the rectangular olive oil bottle to roll out the biscuit dough (pictured above). As mentioned previously, we had no measuring implements — we just eyeballed everything! We made a huge mess.

Unfortunately, our “easy” meal proved to be anything but; however, we did end up with a lovely looking chicken and dumplings that actually tasted good to boot!

(And, we felt righteous after cooking because we made our own chicken stock out of the rotisserie carcass.)

Mysterious Mercado Central


It was fruit and vegetable Friday yesterday, as you can see pictured here. (What is not shown in this mother lode of produce is the full-size paper bag of potatoes and the garbage bag filled with lettuce that now resides in our fridge.) Where did it all come from? Strangely enough, we’re not really sure.

Karen and Pablo are the parents of one of Zoe’s classmates. They cook three meals a day for their three kids (they set a high bar), and therefore go through a ton of food. Someone suggested to them that they were spending way too much money at the local verdulería, and recommended they try a place that I believe is called Mercado Central that is located somewhere on the way to the airport. It’s all very vague… .

Anyhow, Karen and Pablo attend the market on Fridays (which seems to be the best day to go) a couple of times a month and literally load their car to the gills with meat, produce, eggs…pretty much everything you can imagine from the category of “real food,” also known as the stuff you buy around the perimeter of a grocery store. We, on the other hand, just get a phone call saying, “come get some produce” and over to their house we race!

Happily, we can report that not only is the produce pretty tasty, but the prices are insanely cheap because they buy in such bulk. (Their kitchen often looks as if they plan to open their own fruit and vegetable stand.)

Total price for our haul (don’t forget the items not pictured above): $73 pesos, which is about $20 US. Thank you Karen and Pablo!

Tyranesaurus Rex and a Flower


Today, I turned 43, can you believe it? Since I have absolutely nothing profound to say, I thought I would share my birthday gifts from the girls that they worked on after they got home from school.

Zoe made the T. Rex origami head that she taped into a card so it popped up with a piece of candy in its mouth! (She wanted to make me the entire dinosaur out of paper, but it was just too advanced — Tom said the video to make the beast was crazy difficult.) Zelda made me a flower. Her card too had a candy offering (and they didn’t even try to pass off the candy they don’t like).

Rapacious dinosaur and a flower…Zoe and Zelda in a nutshell.

In an attempt to make Tom feel better about the fact that he didn’t make any of my gifts, Zelda noted, in his favor, that he did wrap his purchased presents with care, which she felt had to count for something! (By the way, Tom’s largesse was as thoughtful as usual — he’s so great at the gift thaang.)

All in all, I’m happy to report that the start of my forty-third year was lovely, quiet, and fulfilling.

Soaring Glycemic Index, AKA Brunch


This is actually a review of the restaurant Olsen, a Scandinavian joint located in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Our massive purchase of American carbs this last weekend further fueled a desire for more comfort food, so we went to the Western-style brunch at Olsen (this was our second trip) on Sunday.

It goes without saying that the environs are fabulous — a wonderful courtyard (smoking seating) and tall tall ceilings that enclose a chic, spare space filled with light. (Note, even in the cold, they had nice outdoor heaters for their nicotine-addicted clientele.)

Onto the food. Tom and I both had eggs. My scrambled eggs were super runny, so if you don’t like them that way, be sure to tell the waitstaff. The omelet, on the other hand, was quite dry and very bland. We also both had the homemade yogurt that is served with cereales. They aren’t kidding…it wasn’t really a granola on the top, but rather a bad corn flake. Under that layer, was a sickly-sweet fruit-based syrup. By the time we tunneled through the top two layers, we had no idea what the homemade yogurt tasted like since it had become defiled by the super sweet and the blandly crunchy!

The girls ordered the waffles, which were a bit cakey, but were produced with a pleasantly sweetened batter. A flaw though — these corrugated carbs do not come with butter, jam, or syrup, so if you want something with which to garnish your gridded grains, you will need to ask. Their fruit salad was nice as well, the produce all tasted good and was appropriately ripe. Which brings me to the deep fried potatoes — those were universally popular at the table. 4, or I guess that’s 8, thumbs up.

Croissants, good. Orange juice, good. Cafe con leche, good. Hot chocolate, okay. (We didn’t realize that the latter was made with a powder which really needed to be vigorously stirred — the girls and I ended up with copious amounts of gloppy chocolate goop at the bottom of our cups.)

In short, the experience and ambience are great, but we felt the execution on the food fell short.

Putting Your Kids to Work Day


When you rent a temporary apartment in Buenos Aires, the apartment often comes with once-a-week housekeeping service. The mucama arrives, changes the ropa blanca (linens), cleans, and eyeballs the apartment for the owner to ensure that you aren’t going all rock star on the dwelling.

Before I launch into our current housekeeping debacle, let me say that Tom and I are always rather sheepish about having cleaning help, and when we do have it, we are methodical about preparing the apartment for said person (Ian always laughs at us for cleaning before the arrival of the maid). We figure that we just want assistance with cleaning the major stuff (mopping floor/cleaning bathrooms), so we make sure that everything is picked up, the dishes are done, etc.

When we moved into our new casa in Las Cañitas, it was clear that Liliana, the housekeeper, really had no interest in the work. When she did show up (and often she would pull a no-call, no-show), she never actually cleaned anything. And whatever she did do, we usually had to spend time undoing. For instance, she once “mopped” the wood floor by spraying furniture polish on it, leaving a thick greasy residue we had to remove. Or, she would dump dirty bucket water from bathroom cleaning directly into the kitchen sink, and then leave it like that…*sigh*.

After a month-and-a-half of this, we arranged with the owners to obtain a refund in exchange for handling the maid services ourselves.

Our first thought was to hire someone, but then, we realized that the little towheads that live with us are practically a built-in labor source, besides, it would be character building, right?

So yesterday, the girls and I went to the grocery store and bought nothing but cleaning supplies (pictured above). The clerk commented that we appeared to have a fun Saturday planned! The girls were mortified that we were carrying around mop handles on the walk home. (Yet Zoe and Zelda didn’t find anything embarrassing about building a paper airplane out of a label they found in the grocery cart and flying it around the crowded cleaning aisle while I hissed at them…)

Funnily enough, Zelda was beside herself with excitement at the prospect of learning how to clean a bathroom, so we’ve been giving her a hard time about that all weekend (poor girl).

I’m happy to report that their first lesson was successful — they were digging on the shining porcelain after it was properly cleaned (further proof that the bathrooms were hardly touched by Liliana). The new plan: Zoe and Zelda are in charge of changing their sheets (we had a hospital corner lesson last week) and cleaning the bathrooms every Sunday. Tom and I are in charge of mopping, dusting, and other general cleaning and changing our own sheets.

The family that cleans together…gets exposed to noxious chemicals together?!?