Recipe File: Pickled Eggplant | Berenjenas en Escabeche

I have a culinary confession: I'm not normally a huge fan of pickled foods. Pickled baby corn—kind of weird. Pickled beets—yuck. Pickled eggs—not in a thousand lifetimes. But when I was offered berenjenas en escabeche on my very first trip to Argentina, I freely sampled the dish in the spirit of gastronomic and cultural open-mindedness (well, plus the fact that I didn't know what "en escabeche" meant at the time). I did, however, realize that eggplant was involved, and that alone seemed to be enough of a selling point.

Pickled Eggplant | Berenjenas en Escabeche by katiemetz, on Flickr

Pickled eggplant (also known as berenjenas en conserva or a la vinagreta) has roots in both Spanish and Italian cuisine, later making its way into the kitchens of Argentina via the massive wave of immigration from both of these countries. The dish is commonly served as an accompaniment to grilled meats at an asado (Argentine-style barbecue), as part of a picada, or all by itself on some crusty bread.

In spite of  its vinegary bite—or dare I say because of it—I discovered that I am rather fond of pickled eggplant. While I don't view this as the start of any sort of pickling addiction, I'm pleased to have this recipe in my arsenal of Argentine goodies.

Eggplants | Berenjenas by katiemetz, on Flickr

Pickled Eggplant | Berenjenas en Escabeche

Ingredients

2 pounds eggplant, peeled
¼ cup kosher salt
3 cups water
1 ½ cups white vinegar
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ají molido or crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
approx. 1 ½ cups sunflower or other vegetable oil

Directions

Slice the eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices, then cut the slices into ¼-inch-wide sticks. Toss the eggplant with the salt, and place in a colander set over a bowl [the eggplant will release a dark, bitter liquid] at room temperature for 4 hours.

Gently squeeze handfuls of eggplant to remove any remaining liquid. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil in a medium, non-reactive pot. Add the eggplant and boil, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, then set the colander over a bowl and cover the eggplant with a plate and a weight. Continue to drain, covered and chilled, for 4 more hours. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a clean, 1-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid, pack the eggplant in layers, sprinkling the garlic, oregano, peppercorns and crushed red pepper between each layer. When the jar is about half full, tuck the bay leaves in between the eggplant and the side of the jar so they're visible from the outside and continue alternating layers of eggplant and spices until the jar is full. Add enough oil to completely cover the eggplant. Gently tap the jar on the countertop a few times to release trapped air bubbles. Seal the jar and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 days prior to eating to allow the flavors to marry and the vinegar to mellow a bit.

The pickled eggplant keeps, stored in the refrigerator, for up to 1 month.

Marinated Eggplant on Baguette Slices by katiemetz, on Flickr [Resistance is futile.]

Recipe updated on June 8, 2012


Are you looking for more Argentine recipes? Click here to browse the entire Recipe File, or try out the new visual recipe index. Read More......

Mr. Sandman

A few days ago, I received an avalanche of Facebook status updates and photos in my inbox from relatives and friends up north, taunting me with messages like

"snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow"

"Up to 24" forecasted, pics taken with 10" on the ground. Merry Christmas!"

"WTF is thundersnow????"

and my personal favorite,

"Well it almost stopped snowing at 11:00PM. So far 15 inches. Your kids are supposed to shovel the snow for you. So one moves to E-town and the other to Argentina. Where is the justice?"

Ok, so maybe I have just a teensy-weensy bit of snowflake envy, though admittedly I'm not exactly envious of the copious amounts of snow that my dad anonymous Facebook contact had to shovel.

While we may be seriously lacking the white stuff, what we do have here in Necochea is massive amounts of the tan stuff: sand. Though there are no snowmen sporting jaunty little scarves and hats in my future, why not a sandman?

So, late one afternoon Daniel and I headed to the beach with our shovel, the scarf, the branches, and the all-important carrot. After arriving at our designated sandman construction site, we were assaulted by blowing sand and a chilling wind. While the seagulls seemed to be enjoying things, we decided to postpone our adventure. We headed back to the house and promptly ate the sandman's nose with dinner.

A couple days later, the conditions seemed favorable, so we packed up our accoutrements once again (including a new carrot), and headed back to the very same spot—the beach near the Puerto Quequén. Warmed by the sun's rays and the physical effort of digging, mounding and sculpting, we built our muñeco de arena in just under an hour. All in all, I think he turned out quite well. The greatest challenge was keeping his hat on for the pictures with the ever-present sea breeze.

Feelin' Artsy by katiemetz, on Flickr [I see shades of Homer Simpson in this one.]

The Sandman at Puerto Quequén by katiemetz, on Flickr [The sandman with the jetties/entrance to the port in the background]

Be Sure to Get My Best Side by katiemetz, on Flickr [That is one substantial schnoz. But, hey, it didn't hold Rudolph back, so who am I to judge?]

They Might Be Giants by katiemetz, on Flickr [Don't you just love those long late-afternoon shadows?]

Click here to view photos of the sandman that we built two years ago on the beach in Necochea.

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O Christmas Tree

Though visions of sugar plums and potential blog posts have been dancing in my head for weeks, I've been busy developing carpal tunnel syndrome by logging hours on end translating and writing for other people. Consequently, I haven't had much of a chance to update the blog; however, I managed to tear myself away from my latest translation project to tell you about the tree we decorated two weeks ago.

December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception or El Día de la Virgen, is the traditional date for decking the halls and trimming the tree in these parts. So, we dutifully unpacked the Christmas ornaments and assembled our brand spanking new artificial tree for the official "opening ceremonies" of the holiday season. (For the record, virtually no one uses a live tree here.)

Ah, but this fake tree has a story behind it. You see, two years ago I spent the entire southern hemisphere summer here in Necochea with Daniel and his family, including, of course, the holiday season. As one can imagine, I posted lots of photos documenting my time here, and I made sure, in particular, to take plenty of snaps at Christmas.

Let's just say that after reviewing the evidence, my stepdad had a hard time accepting that I could spend Christmas with anything less than an 8-foot tree, trimmed to the hilt. This man is Mr. Christmas—the king, if you will, of fabulous holiday decorating both indoors and out. If he were to ever fall upon hard times, I'm confident that he could open a Christmas store and not have to purchase a single item of stock. Seriously.

The Giant Spinning Christmas Tree by katiemetz, on Flickr O Christmas Tree by katiemetz, on Flickr

[Can you guess which of these was our old tree? Hint: it's not the one on the left.]

And well, clearly our little tree did not pass muster, so Mr. Christmas took Navidad into his own hands. He sent down with my dad—cushioned in the bottom of a suitcase filled with lots of other goodies—a lovely new tree for us that's not nearly as vertically-challenged. (Did I mention that my dad, my stepmom and my stepdad spoiled me to death for Christmas?)

Where did I get the ornaments, you ask? I actually devoted an entire small suitcase to my Christmas stash when I came down to Argentina last October. (I know, it's a sickness. Look what he's done to me.) Before I moved, I gave away many of my ornaments and decorations, but my faves made the long haul to Necochea.

Ok, so we've established that the Charlie Brown tree had to go. Now, I proudly present our new Christmas tree, version 2.0. Please, hold your applause until the end.

Our Tree at Night by katiemetz, on Flickr[Apparently Daniel likes blinky, multicolored lights. Guess who won that battle.]

Chillin' (Sweatin'?) Under the Tree by katiemetz, on Flickr[The crew under the Christmas tree obviously did not get the memo re: the new dress code for Argentina.]

Feliz Navidad by katiemetz, on Flickr[Yes, the Mexican mouse is suffering a bit of culture shock after the move, but at least he's got the language down pat.]

Stockings = Cocoa Approved by katiemetz, on Flickr [And lastly, proof that the stockings were approved by Cocoa.]

¡Felices Fiestas a todos! Happy Holidays!

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Recipe File: Tarta de Zapallo | Roasted Butternut Squash Tart

Though American fast food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King have taken root in Argentina, most Argentines looking to grab a quick meal order from the neighborhood rotisería. These take-out joints specialize in simple, classic Argentine fare like empanadas, salads, milanesas, and pastas.

While you'd be hard-pressed to find a tarta on the menu at Mickey D's, just about every rotisería offers some version of these savory tarts, with the most popular choices being pascualina, made with swiss chard or spinach; round or globe zucchini; corn, sometimes with the addition of chicken; leeks; ham and cheese; and squash. Like empanadas, tartas are quite versatile, and fillings can be adapted according to what's fresh and in season or what you happen to have on hand. Because really, whenever flaky crust meets flavorful filling, there's bound to be magic.

Tarta de Zapallo | Roasted Butternut Squash Tart by katiemetz, on Flickr

The flavors of the sage and green onion in this tart complement the butternut squash beautifully, and the texture of the filling is light and creamy. Although I used butternut squash, feel free to substitute another type of winter squash (e.g. acorn squash).

Tarta de zapallo | Roasted Butternut Squash Tart

Ingredients

1 round of pie crust dough [use store-bought or your favorite recipe]
1 medium butternut squash
2 tsp. vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. butter
3 stalks green onion, chopped
1 c. coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
½ c. grated parmesan cheese
2 whole eggs plus 1 yolk
½ c. heavy cream
1 ¼ tsp. chopped fresh sage, plus a few whole leaves for decorating [optional]
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Lightly brush each cut side with oil, and roast the squash on a baking sheet with the cut sides down for 45 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife.

Butternut Squash | Zapallo Anco by katiemetz, on Flickr

Remove the squash from the oven and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin. Purée the squash in a food processor for a silky texture, or mash the squash with a potato masher.

Increase the oven temperature to 400ºF. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie dish. Fold any excess dough under itself and crimp the edges decoratively. Prick the dough lightly with a fork all over. Bake the crust until the edges begin to brown, pressing the bottom and sides of the crust occasionally with the back of a fork, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and lightly sauté the green onion. Add the squash purée, and if it seems watery, continue to cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, and remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, and then add the cheeses, egg, cream, and sage. Mix thoroughly and adjust the seasoning, as needed. Pour the filling into the pre-baked shell, smoothing the top.

Bake the tart in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes or until the filling is set [it should puff slightly and brown lightly on top]. Cover the edges of the crust with foil if they are browning too quickly. Remove from the oven, and allow the tart to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Decorate with some fresh or crispy, fried sage leaves, if desired.

Tarta de Zapallo | Roasted Butternut Squash Tart by katiemetz, on Flickr

I would have liked to have shown you an individual slice, but there was no holding back the hungry hordes. Trust me, you'll know how they felt if you make this tart.

Recipe updated on November 7, 2012


Are you looking for more Argentine recipes? Click here to browse the entire Recipe File, or try out the new visual recipe index. Read More......

Free Holiday Goodies

With nary a snowflake in sight here in Argentina, I admit that it can be a challenge to get into the holiday spirit; however, I must say that nothing does it for me quite like some Christmas music.  Admittedly, I feel slightly ridiculous listening to "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and "Frosty the Snowman" when we've currently got highs in the mid-70s and I've been wandering about in short sleeves and flip flops.  But honestly, when has merely feeling ridiculous ever truly stopped me from doing something? ;)

I love the old standards ("Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," anyone?), but it's always good to refresh the line-up each year by adding some new holiday tunes, especially when they're free.  Yes, that's right – free.

Just head over to the Amazon MP3 Holiday Store, and click on the link for "25 Days of Free."  Every day, now through Christmas, Amazon is giving away a different holiday song.  So, download away – it won't cost you a single penny (or centavo for that matter).

While we're on the subject of free, I'd also like to mention a special promotion being offered by Google.  Send a free holiday postcard to friends or family in the U.S., courtesy of our friends in Mountain View, CA.  Google swears it'll be a real postcard made out of dead trees and not the electronic variety.  There are six designs to choose from.  Not bad, Google.  Not bad.

Ok, so go – get free stuff!

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Recipe File: Blackberry Empanadas | Empanadas de Zarzamora

With Roasted Chicken Day behind me and the holiday season now in full swing, I'm beginning to feel the spirit (despite the ever-increasing temperatures and lengthening days). So, in the name of goodwill, sharing, and tasty eats – three things that are synonymous with the holidays – every week in December I will post a new Argentina-inspired recipe. ¡Que disfruten! (Enjoy!)


We are lucky enough to have a sizeable vegetable patch adjacent to our flower garden, a space which is primarily tended to by Daniel's stepdad. All manner of green, leafy things grow there under Tomás' care, including a sprawling, prickly blackberry bush.

Ripe Blackberry by katiealley on Flickr [This one's ripe for the picking.]

Unripe Blackberries by katiealley on Flickr The other day I noticed that the blackberry bramble looked rather heavy with fruit, so I carefully picked my way over to the bush through rows of burgeoning tomatoes and peppers. I (mostly) managed to avoid the thorny stems as I poked around for the juiciest, ripest berries, all the while reminiscing of the many times I'd picked wild blackberries from bushes in the woods back in Pennsylvania. With my hands tinged ruby red by the blackberry juice, I returned to the house with my prize: a bowl filled to the brim with sweet-tart berries.

Back in the kitchen, I contemplated the possibilities for the plump little lovelies…what sort of treat could I cook up with them? I briefly lamented the fact that there weren't quite enough blackberries for a pie just before I was seized by a moment of culinary inspiration...

Though Argentines adore their empanadas, they rarely depart from savory recipes; however, I'd been itching to experiment with some dessert-type empanadas for a while. I decided that a sweet empanada would be a simple and tasty way to use this first bunch of blackberries. I love it when I'm right.

Bowl of Blackberries by katiealley on Flickr More Blackberries by katiealley on Flickr

Blackberry Empanadas | Empanadas de Zarzamora
Recipe adapted from Blackberry Hand Pies on Epicurious

Ingredients

2 c. blackberries (3/4 lb.)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and coarsely grated
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
8 Tbsp. sugar
1 package of pre-made empanada dough (preferably tapas de hojaldre) or your own recipe
2 Tbsp. milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400° F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cook the blackberries, apple, flour, cinnamon and 6 tablespoons of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture just boils and is thickened, about 5 minutes. Take care not to break up the berries too much while stirring. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool.

Place a heaping tablespoon of fruit filling in the center of the empanada disc. Moisten the edges of the dough with milk and fold in half, pressing the edges to seal. Transfer to a lined baking sheet and press the tines of a fork around the edges or make a decorative repulgue [video]. Arrange the empanadas 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining discs and filling.

Brush the empanadas with milk and sprinkle them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake until empanadas are golden, approximately 15 minutes. Remove them from the baking sheets to cool.

[If you're feeling really hopeless about your empanada-making abilities, give this empanada press a go. It will help keep your filling in place and create a nice crimped edge. This gadget really shines in circumstances where you need to make a lot of empanadas quickly or if you have pint-sized kitchen helpers who want to get involved in the process.]

Blackberry Empanadas (Turnovers) by katiealley on Flickr

Empanadas de Zarzamora by katiealley on Flickr What's a Leaky Empanada Between Friends? by katiealley on Flickr

Are you looking for more Argentine recipes? Click here to browse the entire Recipe File. Read More......

Let's Talk Turkey (or Lack Thereof)

Gobble gobble!

As it turns out, Argentina is a good place to be on Thanksgiving—if you're a turkey. You see, popular wisdom in this country dictates that one should only eat turkeys in months without the letter "r" (May, June, July, and August). Unfortunately, this rule doesn't exactly jive with the timing of Thanksgiving, which presents a bit of an inconvenience for the holiday table. In fact, it's nigh on impossible to find a fresh turkey at this time of year, and frankly, the frozen ones just aren't very tasty here. So, I did the next best thing—I roasted a chicken. After all, they're relatives, and it is a family holiday.

Despite the fact that some of the most traditional foods aren't available here in Argentina, I still put together a feast worthy of the occasion. Here's what we enjoyed (along with the recipes) on El Día de Acción de Gracias:

Herb-roasted Chicken [About.com] with pan gravy [Me]
Holiday Stuffing [Mom's recipe]
Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin [Smitten Kitchen]
Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan [The New York Times]
Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Whipped Cream [Epicurious]

Everything was delicious (if I do say so myself), but the real stand-outs for me were the gratin and the pie. I particularly impressed myself with the pie. Since the familiar orange pie pumpkin doesn't exist here (and forget about buying canned pumpkin!), I baked and puréed a butternut squash instead, with very tasty results.

Unfortunately, after stuffing myself silly, the reality of my work as an international freelancer hit me like a ton of bricks. Since my clients in Spain, Venezuela and Argentina couldn't care less about Turkey Roasted Chicken Day, I still had to "check in at the office," so to speak. With my inbox filled to the brim and a translation waiting to be finished, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to sit in front of the laptop after dinner instead of relaxing on the sofa in a food-induced coma.

While I pined a bit for turkey and cranberries, more than anything, I felt the absence of those of you up north. However, at this time of gratitude and reflection, I find that I'm not truly wanting for anything; I have loving friends and family (on both sides of the equator), my work is going well, and I'm happy and healthy.

The beauty of Thanksgiving is that the spirit of the holiday can be shared with anyone, anywhere, regardless of religion, race, or nationality. Daniel and his family embraced the new tradition with gusto, and so we gave thanks together for the blessings that life has given us. I hope the same can be said for all of you, no matter what you ate or where you spent the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Another Funny Argentine Brand Name

prod19aLadies, do you often find yourselves the targets of unwanted attention from sleazy members of the opposite sex? Well, look no further – the solution has arrived (well, at least in Argentina)! I present to you PERVINOX.  Banish obnoxious perverts with just one spritz. ;)

Although the name Pervinox is probably more fitting for a brand of pepper spray, the product is actually an antiseptic spray similar to Bactine. In fact, there's a whole family of "Pervi" products guaranteed to keep you germ-free including hand sanitizer, mouthwash, and liquid soap.

Click here for a previous post on some of the other strange brand names I've come across in Argentina.

[Photo credit: Laboratorios Phoenix]

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A Girl, Her Bike and a Quest for Candy

Malena and Her Bike by katiemetz, on FlickrMalena arrived at our home on a Thursday afternoon, after a long pedal from the city of Lobería, her cheeks flushed from exertion or the wind (or perhaps both). At just 5 ft. tall, I towered over her by several inches. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a loose pony tail that poked out from beneath her bike helmet, while her skin, bronzed by many hours of cycling under the intense Argentine sun, stood in strong contrast to my milky pallor. I momentarily marveled at the gumption, courage and strength contained within her rather diminutive frame before inviting her into the house. 

*          *          *          *          *

The stories on Malena's blog Candy from Strangers first captured my imagination about six months ago. As she puts it in the "About Me" section of her blog, "Malena loves candy. And travel. And both together. And thus, this site was born." I, too, love candy. And travel. And both together. However, since the mere thought of pedaling from Necochea to the next town over gives me heart palpitations, I figured I would leave the cycling to Malena while I sit back and enjoy the ride from the comfort of my home. 

Malena's sugar-fueled adventures have taken her through Mexico, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and now South America. When I found out that Malena's first stop on her South American bike tour would be Argentina, I contacted her and invited her to swing by Necochea. 

She stayed with us for two nights, during which time we gave her a tour of our illustrious city and did our best to feed her need for sweets and ice cream – lots of ice cream. 

Katie and Malena at El Artesano by malena616 on Flickr Ice Cream Cones from Tirol by malena616 on Flickr

Katie and Daniel at El Artesano by malena616

We also introduced her to other Argentine classics such as milanesas, dulce de membrillo and steak. Can you believe she'd made it all the way from Buenos Aires to Necochea without trying some of the famous Argentine beef? Don't worry, we fixed that in a jiffy.

Malena at Ámpola by katiealley on Flickr

Of course, no journey would be complete without sampling some of the local candy. We took our honored guest to Ámpola, an artisanal chocolate shop here in Necochea, where she loaded up on various goodies like chocolate en rama, fruit gels, and chocolate-covered orange peel. We also went to the bakery around the corner from our home for some specialties like pasta frola, conitos and alfajores de maizena. Fortunately for Malena, her adventures pretty much give her carte blanche to eat whatever she pleases since she burns off all those calories on the road. I wish that merely reading her blog had the same effect on me.

During her visit, she regaled us with stories of luscious one-of-a-kind candies in Mexico, her hardships while traveling through India, and the warm welcome she received in countries like Cambodia where she was humbled by the generosity of those who lived with next to nothing but were willing to share all they had with a stranger. Malena says that her travels have reaffirmed her faith in humanity and proven to her that people are essentially good.

Malena Comes to Visit by katiealley on Flickr [Malena on the Escollera Sur in Necochea after visiting the sea lions]

Disenchanted with the backpacker scene and longing for an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the locals, Malena – a native of my home state of Pennsylvania – bought herself a bike in Thailand and set off for parts unknown.  She explored Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia all while in the saddle of her trusty two-wheeled transport. 

In contrast to Asia, Malena noted that biking in Argentina has presented more challenges, most notably the strong winds that she has encountered as well as the significant distance between towns here. Malena travels with a tent, a small stove, and a sleeping bag on the back of her bike for those times when she can't make it to a town by sunset and has to camp on the side of the road. In certain instances she will have to carry two days' worth of water when there are no places to stop along the road in desolate, sparsely populated areas like the Patagonian steppe. Her solo biking journey requires not only a great deal of physical stamina but mental fortitude as well.

Malena's Bike by katiealley on Flickr [Malena's bike plus an impressive amount of gear]

Whether you think Malena's adventurous, brave or just plain crazy, I guarantee that you'll find her stories entertaining. In addition to Candy from Strangers, Malena also chronicles her travels on Crazy Guy on a Bike, a journaling site for cyclists. Add a little sweetness to your day by visiting her blogs and seeing what she's up to. ¡Suerte, Malena!

[Photo credit: malena616]

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Colonia del Sacramento Revisited

A few months back, I wrote a post about my visit to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, a trip that offers a lovely change of pace from the chaos of Buenos Aires.  I had the opportunity to revisit the city a couple of weeks ago with my special out-of-town guests, and of course, another outing presented a new set of photographic opportunities.  Here are some of my favorites from our late October jaunt to Colonia.

Colonia Courtyard | Patio de un Hotel de Colonia by katiealley on Flickr [While walking along one of the side streets of Colonia, I peered through an open door to discover this light-filled, hotel courtyard and its entrance with the black-and-white checkered floor.]

La Braina by katiealley on Flickr [An example of one of the charming, well-maintained buildings in Colonia's historic district]

Mid-Afternoon in Colonia by katiealley on Flickr[A quiet pathway bathed in mid-afternoon sunlight]

View from Atop the Colonia Lighthouse by katiealley on Flickr[Daniel and I climbed to the top of the Colonia Lighthouse, where we were treated to an excellent view of the city and the Río de la Plata.  While we were taking in the scenery, we met a young, friendly Brazilian couple on vacation from Rio de Janeiro.  The mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese that ensued was comical, to say the least.]

Leaving Port by katiealley on Flickr [The ferry back to Buenos Aires set sail in the early evening.  I caught the last bit of light and the clouds over the lighthouse as we all headed back to Argentina.]

Click here to view additional photos from my Colonia del Sacramento set on Flickr.

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Natural Beauty at Paraje Las Cascadas

Paraje Las Cascadas (also known as Parque "Cura Meucó") is a recreational area set on the banks of the Río Quequén, about 15 km (9 mi) outside of Necochea. The river, one of Necochea and Quequén's most precious natural resources, provides a habitat for many species of birds and fish. It also offers a variety of recreational opportunities such as swimming, fishing, boating, bird watching, canoeing and picnicking for both residents and visitors alike.

Paraje Las Cascadas features a number of small waterfalls and rapids, which are not only picturesque but also present a unique opportunity in the area for those who enjoy kayaking. A small slalom course has been set up for kayakers and is easily viewed from the Quequén side of the river. Cross the two-lane bridge to get a bird's-eye view of the waterfalls and rapids and to access a footpath on the opposite shore. 

The Estación de Piscicultura—an on-site fish hatchery that occasionally opens for tours—plays a vital role in sustaining stocks of rainbow trout and silverside (pejerrey) in the Río Quequén. Fishermen are welcome to try their luck at points up and down the river. 

Down by the River by katiemetz, on Flickr [Looking upriver at Paraje Las Cascadas from a small bridge that spans the Río Quequén]

Paraje Las Cascadas by katiemetz, on Flickr [Rapids at Paraje Las Cascadas from the Quequén side—the fish hatchery is visible in the background]

The Asociación Amigos del Paraje Las Cascadas, a local group of concerned citizens, recently spearheaded a project to improve the facilities available at the recreation area. In addition to the installation of new lighting and a general sprucing up of the place, a small kiosk is now open on weekends, plus there are barbecue pits for those who enjoy an asado with family and friends. The group also dedicated a new prayer sanctuary to San Ceferino Namuncurá.

Scenes along the River by katiemetz, on Flickr[Reflections on the river as the clouds drift past overhead]

While Paraje Las Cascadas is easily accessible from the city of Necochea by a paved highway, a more leisurely and scenic route can be taken along a sinuous back country road that winds along the riverbank past stands of eucalyptus trees and farmland. You'll have numerous opportunities to observe birds, wildflowers (in late spring and summer) and perhaps a nutria as you roll past the Río Quequén with its tiny waterfalls and rock outcroppings. Bring your camera!

The Road to Paraje Las Cascadas by katiemetz, on Flickr[The scenic route hugs the Río Quequén—click to enlarge the photo]

Coming in for a Landing by katiemetz, on Flickr [A honeybee coming in for a landing on a blooming thistle (cardo)]

Click here to view my entire collection of images of the Río Quequén and Paraje Las Cascadas.


How to get there:

For the scenic route, turn right off Ruta 86 where it intersects with Calle 66 and access the unpaved river road through Club del Valle. At the river, turn left on the dirt road to head north toward Paraje Las Cascadas

A faster route is to take Ruta 86 out of Necochea and then turn right at the large sign indicating Paraje Las Cascadas. Follow the dirt road for approximately ten minutes until you reach the bridge and the recreation area.

[View Paraje Las Cascadas in a larger map] Read More......

Visitors from Gringolandia

My dad and his wife Deb made it down here to Necochea for a brief but action-packed visit at the end of October. They had originally planned to travel in July, but the swine flu epidemic and resulting hysteria here in Argentina threw a monkey wrench in their plans, and in the end they decided that springtime might be a more apropos time for a visit. Unfortunately, rescheduling the trip meant they would only have six and a half days with us!

Given the short duration of Dad and Deb's visit, we spent most of our time in Necochea so we could show them around the city and the countryside, as well as enjoy time together with Daniel's family. Our itinerary closely resembled that of last October's visit, when my dad, stepdad and I came down prior to the big move. We took Dad and Deb on the tourist circuit—the river, the port, the beach, the park. One day when the weather wasn't quite conducive to sightseeing, we took them shopping in the city center; let's just say they did their part to contribute to the local economy.

Late Wednesday evening after a filling picada, we said our goodbyes to Daniel's family and boarded the overnight bus to Buenos Aires. We managed to squeeze in a half day in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay and a walking tour in Buenos Aires before we returned to the airport on Friday evening to see them off. 

Despite the whirlwind nature of the trip that left us all dragging a bit by the end, we still managed to have an unforgettable visit with Dad and Deb. Besides, you know any trip that involved a photo like this one had to be a good time:

Cows in the Desert by katiemetz, on Flickr[We encountered a cattle caravan near the beach as we drove along the coastal road to Punta Negra.]

Click here to view some of the other zany and wonderful snapshots from my dad and Deb's visit.

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Bizarre Foods – Argentina Style

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern [photo courtesy of Travel Channel] Calling all foodies! Here's your chance to help get Argentina featured on the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I was contacted by one of the show's researchers for help in compiling a list of some of the strangest, most unique foods that Argentina has to offer. Here are some examples of the people, places and grub that the production team is looking for:

  1. Markets that have unusual foods
  2. Restaurants that serve unusual foods
  3. Chefs that specialize in something bizarre
  4. Interesting street food
  5. Traditional foods that have survived generations
  6. Foods that are common for "family meals" at home
  7. New food trends that are popular
  8. Activities that are popular or representative of the culture that have some sort of food element to them
  9. A food that is made in a very interesting way that we could show the process of
  10. Interesting people who do something with unusual food

Or any other bizarre foods that might not fit any of these categories but are interesting and can fit in the show somehow!

Also, since Argentina is such a large country, the show will need to focus on just one or two areas. Which areas do you think would have the best unusual foods?

If we round up enough funky foods for Andrew to sample, the Travel Channel will send him to Argentina to film an episode! So, let's hear it in the comments: what are some of Argentina's most unusual eats?

[Photo credit: Travel Channel]

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Province of Buenos Aires Says "Chau" to Plastic Bags

Eco-Friendly Shopping Bag by ThreadBeaur on Flickr [photo used with permission of photographer] In an attempt to cut down on the environmental blight of plastic bags, the provincial legislature of Buenos Aires passed a measure banning the use of environmentally-unfriendly bags in supermarkets. As of October 15, 2009, supermarkets and hypermarkets in the Province of Buenos Aires must use degradable or biodegradable bags. Smaller markets were given an additional year to come into compliance with the law.

A few months back, in preparation for the new law, displays of reusable cloth "Eco-bolsas" sprang up at our local supermarkets with a bit of signage explaining the benefits of using reusable shopping bags. The plastic bag legislation represents an important step forward, and I applaud the modest efforts at raising environmental awareness and promoting green alternatives (even if they are partially [or completely] financially motivated).  

Daniel and I usually bring our reusable cloth shopping bag with us when we run errands around town, and we frequently get funny looks for refusing a plastic bag. It seems that some cashiers have an instinctive reflex to bag even the smallest item, and sometimes they just won't take "no" for answer. At least now when customers are bullied into accepting a grocery bag, they'll receive a more environmentally-sound option at the supermarket checkout thanks to the new law.

Unfortunately, litter and waste management are real problems here in Argentina. While the issue of plastic bags may seem like a drop in the bucket in comparison to the country's larger problem of trash and what to do with it, it's promising to see that the province is taking a step toward a greener Argentina.

[Photo credit: ThreadBeaur]

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A Letter to My Mother

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die." – Thomas Campbell from Hallowed Ground

Dear Mommy,

The weekend following my 28th birthday was the last evening I spent with you before you slipped away. You had invited me over for a home-cooked dinner and the requisite birthday cake, although we didn't bother with candles that year. Admittedly, I don't recall what we ate, but I do remember sitting around the table together, enjoying the meal. After we finished eating, Sarah, Marianna and I giggled as we took silly photos of ourselves making poses like the girls in "Charlie's Angels."Remembrance by katiemetz, on Flickr

We laughed and smiled and had fun together as a family; that is the vision of you that I hold in my mind, not the shell of a person that lingered here on Earth just a little longer thereafter.

After you were gone I cried but not much. I looked for answers but found painfully few. I silently drowned in the darkness that flooded over me. Grief made me feel hollow and numb, and for a time I shuttered my heart, keeping out even those closest to me. Losing you was the most difficult thing ever, and there were times that it was hard to see through to when there would be good times, happy times again, though I knew they were there waiting, shrouded in the mist of an uncertain future.

While you taught me countless lessons while you were here with me, the biggest lesson was one that I learned through your death. The clichéd yet sobering truth hit me that life is too short, too unpredictable to not take a few chances, to change even when it means changing everything. The some-day-I-might-get-to-it mentality no longer seemed like a viable option. 

Losing you gave me the insight to recognize my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of my life and the courage to do something about it. After all, was I going to let inertia decide the course of my life, or was I going to take charge of my own destiny?

*          *          *          *          *

When I was applying to colleges, I recall that you didn't want me to go to a school out of state because you feared I would settle down somewhere far away after I graduated. When I wound up going to Drexel – just 40 minutes from home – you still had the occasional grumble. Admittedly, sometimes I do wonder, She didn't want me to leave Pennsylvania…what would she think of me living in a different hemisphere?!

In general, you weren't a terribly adventurous person. You once told me that you admired the fact that I am so outgoing and willing to take a bit of a risk. Although we were quite alike in many ways, you recognized that trait in me as one of the great differences that set us apart. Starting over in a new place has been a challenge, but I feel confident that you would be proud of the way I am handling all of these changes, even if it's something you wouldn't have chosen for me or couldn't have envisioned doing yourself.

I wish you could have met Daniel, to see how much he loves me, the way he smiles when he looks at me and I at him. You would have loved Daniel's family, and you would instantly recognize them for the good people that they are. Knowing that I am in good hands, you would feel at ease with me living so far from everyone else that matters in my life.

Three years later I can say that the darkness has been cast out and the shutters opened wide. There are smiles and love and laughter here, just like that last night. Just like you would have wanted.

Que descanses en paz, Mami.

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Intermission

Back at The Vista by 7-how-7, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring you…well, another blog. You see, I am now writing a guest post every week for Transpanish, a translation blog focusing on the Spanish language and Hispanic culture.

Since this week has been insanely busy with translation projects and preparations for a visit from my dad and his wife (yippee!), I haven't quite had a chance to put the finishing touches on the posts I have waiting in the wings.

So, dear readers, I submit for your approval these two fine articles crafted exclusively for the lovely people at Transpanish: The Use of Neutral Spanish for the U.S. Hispanic Market and English Words with a Spanish Pedigree.

Of course, both posts are riveting, but I particularly recommend the second one where I explain a bit about the origins of everyday words like chocolate, hurricane and rodeo.

By the way, if you’re a word nerd like me, I recommend the book Spanish Word Histories and Mysteries: English Words That Come From Spanish. This book provides a detailed explanation of the etymology of 150 Spanish loan words found in the English language, and it manages to blend geekiness and entertainment in just the right proportions (and trust me, that's no small feat).

I promise to post something hot off the presses pronto!

[Photo credit: 7-how-7]

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No Switch to Daylight Saving Time for Argentina

Eternal clock by Robbert van der Steeg on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] After reviewing reports indicating that the switch to Daylight Saving Time did little to save energy, Argentina's government scrapped plans to spring forward one hour on Sunday, October 18th.

Argentina reintroduced Daylight Saving Time back in December 2007 after a long absence, but the measure proved unpopular in many of the provinces. Several provinces opted not to observe Daylight Saving Time in 2008-2009.

Argentina Standard Time is UTC/GMT –3, which places Buenos Aires one hour ahead of New York City while the U.S. is on Daylight Saving Time. When Americans set their clocks back to Standard Time on November 1st, Argentina will have a two-hour time difference with the East Coast.

Go here or here for more information about the Argentine government's decision to forgo Daylight Saving Time.

[Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg]

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My Traveling Michis

The airport: scene of thousands of travelers scurrying about, the squawk of the PA system, harsh fluorescent lighting, and confusion – bucketloads of confusion. It's a lot for a human to bear let alone a cat. I remember standing in line with my stepdad at the American Airlines check-in counter at JFK with my two cats in tow, their carriers perched atop the mountain of luggage piled onto our cart. Nothing seemed to faze them.  Cocoa and Ziggy attracted attention from everyone around us, and I fielded questions from other passengers in both Spanish and English about the cats' travel plans, as if they were some sort of visiting foreign dignitaries. 

After passing through security, the cats were whisked away by an airline employee and sent to the belly of the plane, re-emerging some 12 hours later on the conveyor belt at Ezeiza, none the worse for the wear. In fact, I'd venture to say that they probably slept better than I did on the flight. The cats were fantastic travelers, and I was shocked at how quickly they adjusted to their new surroundings once they arrived in Argentina. [If you're interested in detailed information about traveling with pets to Argentina, see this post I wrote last year about the process.]

At the end of my visit last October, I left my michis in the capable hands of Daniel and his family, and I returned to the U.S. to make the preparations for my monumental move. When I finally arrived back in Argentina five months later, I was told that Cocoa and Ziggy had made little progress in their Spanish studies. Supposedly, immersion is one of the best methods for picking up a new language, but the cats failed to learn simple phrases such as "¡Bajate!" (Get down!) and "Vení (acá)" (Come [here]). Apparently, they also didn't pick up on the fact that michi is another word for cat, one that's commonly used to get a feline's attention, especially if you don't know its name.

As one would expect, the word "siesta" posed virtually no obstacle.

Dreamland by katiealley on Flickr

Most people here are amazed that Cocoa and Ziggy are declawed (it's simply not done here), and they accuse me of being an evil cat mommy for not letting them out of the house to enjoy the great outdoors (i.e. fleas, stray animals with claws, etc.). In addition, I'm quite sure others think it was crazy to haul two cats 5,500 miles when there are a million and one cats in Argentina, but I couldn't imagine not having them here with me.

Lap Cat by katiealley on Flickr

Cocoa belonged to my mom and stepdad before he came to live with me a few years ago. Every member of my immediate family has loved, doted over, and showered affection upon Cocoa, so when I pet him, it's like I'm connected to them in some way. He's a constant companion and the consummate lap cat.

Ziggy by katiealley on Flickr

Ziggy tends to be more independent than Cocoa, but she still loves attention. She has grown particularly fond of Daniel and his mom over the last year. The most blissful look comes over her face when Daniel picks her up and cradles her in his arms.

Mod Ziggy by katiealley on Flickr

On October 3rd, the cats reached their one year anniversary here in Argentina! They still don't know how to speak castellano, but at least they figured out "miau."

Tail End by katiealley on Flickr [The end – literally!]

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