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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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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Happy 128th Birthday, Necochea!

October 12th marks not only El Día de la Raza, a day to celebrate Hispanic heritage and Columbus' discovery of the Americas, but it's also the city of Necochea's birthday! In 1881, Ángel Murga founded Necochea, a city of some 75,000 inhabitants located on the Atlantic coast in the province of Buenos Aires.

Happy Birthday, Necochea! by katiemetz, on Flickr[That guy on the horse hanging out in the back happens to be the city's namesake, General Mariano Necochea. His statue is located in the city's main square, Plaza Dardo Rocha.]

The festivities to celebrate the founding of the city stretch over three days and include musical entertainment, activities for children, food, stalls with arts and crafts by local artisans, and more food. Did I mention there's food?

Asado de Chancho by katiemetz, on Flickr[Whole pigs are being roasted as part of the asado popular, a huge community barbecue organized by the city.]

Los Asadores by katiemetz, on Flickr [The art of the asado is not to be rushed. These two asadores (barbecue pit masters) are passing the time with a cigarette and some mate while they keep a watchful eye on the piggies above.]

Come Hungry by katiemetz, on Flickr [Beef rules the day over in this corner of the celebration. The smoke and aromas that waft through the air whet the appetite (and make my eyes water).]

La Pochoclera by katiemetz, on Flickr [A pochoclera selling peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy, plus some kind of snack that bears an odd resemblance to Fruit Loops!]

Churros y Roscas | Churros and Doughnuts by katiemetz, on Flickr [Just in case you aren't gut-bustingly full after gorging on barbecued meat, here we have some churros and doughnuts. You're practically assaulted at every turn by a choripán (grilled sausage sandwich), a slice of homemade cake, or an empanada. Thank God photos are fat-free.]

Argentine Folkloric Music Performance by katiemetz, on Flickr [One of the many folkloric music performances (this is the part where you use your imagination since I didn't take any video).]

I was looking forward to watching the destreza criolla (a display of gaucho skills and horsemanship akin to a rodeo), yet somehow I managed to miss it. The paisanos in their traditional garb always make for a good photo op, don't you think? Well, there's always next year.

Dos Criollos by katiemetz, on Flickr [A photo of two criollos that I snapped at last year's celebration]

Happy birthday to my adopted home of Necochea!

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Lunfardo: Slang from the Streets of Buenos Aires

Argentine Spanish is peppered with words and phrases from Lunfardo, a vast slang vocabulary developed on the streets of Buenos Aires around the turn of the 20th century. Criminals and other shady characters looking to keep their activities under wraps developed Lunfardo by borrowing and twisting words from the melting pot of languages that surrounded them, allowing them to communicate with each other even in the presence of the police or prison guards. While initially used by the more unsavory element of Argentine society, Lunfardo was later popularized through the tango, literary art forms, and upwardly mobile immigrants and has become a part of everyday, informal speech regardless of social class. Today, the use of Lunfardo is most prevalent in Argentina (particularly in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, though some elements have been adopted by neighboring countries such as Chile and Paraguay.

Lunfardo was largely a product of the great wave of European immigration to Argentina that took place from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. The huge influx of immigrants hailing from Spain, Italy and France, many of whom spoke non-standard regional dialects or languages, greatly influenced the development of Lunfardo. Certain words also arrived via the gauchos of Argentina’s interior as well as native groups like the Guaraní, Quechua and Mapuche.

One of the features of Lunfardo is the use of vesre, a form of wordplay that involves reversing the order of syllables in a word. The term "vesre" is derived from the Spanish word "revés" (in reverse/backwards). Examples of vesre include caféfeca (coffee), pantalones lompa (a truncated form of the word for pants) and hoteltelo (a pay-by-the-hour love motel).

In addition to vesre, Lunfardo also employs words based on metaphors such as tumbero, a slang term for "convict" that originates from the Spanish word "tumba" meaning grave. Another example is the word "campana" (Spanish for "bell"), which describes the lookout man ready to sound the alarm should the police suddenly arrive on the scene.

For those of you looking to add a splash of color to your Spanish, the following websites have compiled an extensive list of Lunfardo words and phrases: Argentine Spanish Slang Dictionary, Wally's Dictionary of Argentine Colloquialism and Culture and Diccionario de Lunfardo.

This post was originally written for Transpanish, a translation blog focusing on the Spanish language and Hispanic culture.

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Faro Recalada at Monte Hermoso

As I mentioned in a previous post discussing my South American lighthouse adventures, Daniel and I had been planning to travel to Monte Hermoso in springtime to visit the Faro Recalada a Bahía Blanca. In celebration of both my birthday and the arrival of warmer weather, we packed up the car and headed three hours south for a day trip.

Upon arrival in Monte Hermoso, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Plaza Parque General San Martín, a wooded park in the center of town. We had originally planned to have lunch at Laguna Sauce Grande, a small lake just outside of Monte Hermoso, but we had a change of heart upon seeing the choppy, gray-green water and uninteresting shoreline. After our picnic under a stand of eucalyptus trees, we set off for high adventure (excuse the pun) at the lighthouse.

Faro Recalada a Bahía Blanca, Monte Hermoso, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr [Faro Recalada a Bahía Blanca]

The Faro Recalada is a landfall light—a lighthouse that can be identified at a great distance by a vessel approaching the coast from open sea—that signals the entrance of the nearby port of Bahía Blanca in southern Buenos Aires province.

The lighthouse was prefabricated in France by the same company responsible for building the Eiffel Tower. The cast iron panels, columns and struts were then shipped to Argentina, and the lighthouse was slowly erected over a period of two years. The Faro Recalada was inaugurated in 1906.

At 67 m (220 ft.), the Faro Recalada is the tallest lighthouse in Argentina, the tallest skeletal frame lighthouse in South America, and the sixth tallest overall in the world. In other words, you will be tired after climbing to the top.

Structural Framework of the Faro Recalada, Monte Hermoso, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr [The lighthouse's skeleton]

Subiendo El Faro Recalada | Climbing the Lighthouse by katiemetz, on Flickr [View from one of the windows as we climbed to the top]

Nightlight Nightlight II Nightlife III Nightlife IV

[Giant nightlight aka the lighthouse lens]

View of Monte Hermoso from the Faro Recalada by katiemetz, on Flickr[It was difficult to get a nice photo from the gallery because it has been enclosed with Plexiglas and thin metal bars. The bars happened to be bent in this spot, so this shot turned out better than the others.]

It was a tad breezy that day (and by a "tad," I mean there were gale-force winds). The sound of the wind buffeting the lighthouse was impressive. As we climbed higher and higher, the howl of the wind increased, and we could actually feel the lighthouse swaying, which was a bit unnerving. Fortunately, the 360º views were well worth it, although the pictures I took at the top don't really do the landscape justice.

Going Down by katiemetz, on Flickr[The tube containing the lighthouse's main staircase has a diameter of just 1.5 m (5 ft.). It's safe to say that the Faro Recalada was not designed with claustrophobes in mind!]

Faro Recalada a Bahía Blanca, Monte Hermoso, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr[View of the lighthouse from the dirt access road]

After climbing the lighthouse, we decided that the best course of action would be to grab an ice cream cone. I'm pretty sure I earned it after dragging myself up and down those 300-plus steps. We perused the offerings at Monte Hermoso's pedestrian mall, a collection of shops and a few restaurants just a stone's throw from the beach. I zeroed in on an heladería that looked promising, and we sat in the shade and enjoyed our ice cream from Helados Treiso.

Katie on the Boardwalk in Monte Hermoso by katiemetz, on Flickr Daniel on the Boardwalk in Monte Hermoso by katiemetz, on Flickr

[I thought a photo might be nice just to prove that I'm still alive and that a ghostwriter is not authoring this blog. That guy on the right is Daniel (yes, I do let him out of the house on occasion). I know it's hard to recognize him unless he's wearing his work clothes and half a can of paint, but I swear it's him.]

As a relaxing end to the day, we strolled along the boardwalk for a bit, soaked up some rays and took a few more shots of the town and the lighthouse in the distance.

On the Boardwalk by katiemetz, on Flickr [The sound of my footsteps on the wooden planks of the boardwalk brought back memories of summers at the beach in Ocean City and Wildwood in New Jersey.]

If you'd like to view additional photos of Monte Hermoso and the lighthouse, explore my set on Flickr.

Faro Recalada a Bahía Blanca
Monte Hermoso, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Open Monday through Friday, 9am-2pm and 3:30pm-6:30pm
Saturday and Sunday, 9am-7pm
Admission: $3 pesos

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Recipe File: Medialunas de Manteca

Post-modern postcard by nathansnider on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Happiness is a few lazy hours at a café in Buenos Aires; a seat at a corner table, a cup of coffee, a tiny glass of seltzer water, and a plate with two or three medialunas. Your spot at that table is your very own piece of porteño real estate for as long as you like. Feel free to while away the hours in conversation, reflection or hunkered down with a good book – rest assured that no one will bother you.

It comes as no surprise that after a recent three-month stint in the "Paris of the South" that reader Betty, an American living in Munich with her German husband, was longing for a taste of Buenos Aires, to recapture, perhaps, those simple yet pleasurable moments that we associate with food. Betty bought some croissants from a bakery in Germany and tried to gussy them up with a sugar glaze, but they just weren't the same as the rich, pillowy, sweet medialunas that she and her hubby enjoyed here in Argentina. 

Though medialunas have quite a bit in common with the world-famous croissant, they tend to be sweeter and a tad smaller than their French counterparts. They're a staple at breakfast with a café con leche or in the afternoon as a snack with mate

There are actually two types of medialunas that are popular with Argentines: medialunas de manteca, which are made with butter and feature a sweet glaze, and medialunas de grasa, which are made with (brace yourselves) lard and tend to be flakier and more on the savory side. The basic dough for medialunas can also be used to make any number of Argentine pastries (facturas) including molinos, libritos, moños, etc. 

When Betty wrote me to ask if I had a good medialuna recipe, I replied that I did not but that I would be happy to research one for her. After reading through a number of recipes, I had all the ingredients to prepare the medialunas save one: courage! Ladies and gentlemen, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. It requires a great deal of time and patience. There's a reason people buy these at the bakery. I must admit, however, that when I finally sucked it up and took the plunge, I was richly rewarded. These medialunas did not disappoint! 

Medialunas de Manteca | Argentine Croissants
Recipe adapted from myvirtualcook and Ciberchef


4 c. (500 g)  all-purpose flour
2/3 c. (150 mL) whole milk 
2 large eggs
2 tsp. (10 g) salt
1/3 c. (65 g) sugar
0.9 oz (25 g) fresh yeast [also called compressed or cake yeast]
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp. lemon or orange zest
2 sticks plus 2 Tbsp. (250 g) unsalted butter
egg wash [1 egg yolk plus 1 Tbsp. milk]
sugar glaze [see directions below]


Making the dough:
Combine the first seven ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix with a dough hook at low speed to achieve a dough that is soft and slightly sticky, about 15 minutes. If kneading by hand, continue for an additional 15 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes.

Medialuna Dough by katiemetz, on Flickr

Preparing the butter:
While the dough is resting, place the butter between two large sheets of plastic wrap. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it slightly (you want the butter to be malleable but still cold). Roll out the butter until it forms a uniform rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and sprinkle the lemon/orange zest evenly over the butter. Chill the butter while rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough:
Turn out the dough and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface, lifting and stretching the dough and dusting with flour as necessary, into a large rectangle. Arrange the dough with the long side nearest you. Place the butter in the center of the dough so that the short sides of the butter are parallel to the long sides of the dough. Fold the dough like a brochure: the left third of dough over the butter, then the right third over the dough. Brush off the excess flour with a pastry brush. Roll out the top and bottom edges of the dough a bit, and then fold them over as well, completely encasing the butter. 

Once again, roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Do your best to avoid tearing or puncturing the dough to prevent the butter from escaping. Fold the dough again in thirds, taking care to remove excess flour with the pastry brush. You have just completed your first "turn." Place the dough on a cutting board or sheet pan lined with parchment and sprinkled with a bit of flour, and allow the dough to rest for about an hour in the refrigerator.

Make two more turns in the same manner, chilling the dough about an hour after each turn, for a total of three turns. If any butter oozes out while rolling, sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour to prevent the dough from sticking. If the dough develops small cracks or tears (and it will, trust me), try to fold strategically so that the offending portion gets covered up by the top flap of dough. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill it overnight.

Medialuna Dough - The Morning After by katiemetz, on Flickr

In the morning, roll out the dough into a large rectangle.  Inspect the dough for any large clumps of butter. If you see that some of the butter has still not completely incorporated into the dough, do one more turn before proceeding with the next step. [Note: I wound up having to do an extra turn.] 

Assuming that the dough is ready for the next step, using a chef’s knife, divide the dough down the center into two large pieces. Place one piece to the side (or chill it in the refrigerator) and cut the other in half horizontally. Then cut the dough into long triangles.

Shaping the medialunas:
To shape each medialuna, gently tug and stretch the dough to elongate the base of the triangle and then pull slightly to lengthen the triangle. Carefully begin rolling the base of the triangle toward the point. Continue rolling up the medialuna with one hand as you stretch the point lightly with the other hand. 

Place the medialuna on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, making sure to keep the point tucked underneath. Bring the two ends together and press lightly to join them. As you form the medialunas, arrange them fairly close together on the pan (they should be touching). Repeat the cutting and shaping procedures with the remaining piece of dough.

Medialunas and Vigilantes Rising by katiemetz, on Flickr Medialunas Waiting for the Oven by katiemetz, on Flickr

Proofing and baking the medialunas:
When all the medialunas are on the pan, place them in a fairly warm, draft-free area. Allow the medialunas to rise slightly (you don't want them to double in size) and then brush them lightly with egg wash.

[For a version called a vigilante, roll up the dough but do not curve the ends inward. Place the vigilantes very close together on the pan (they will be touching). Brush lightly with water and sprinkle with sugar prior to baking.]

Bake at 400º F (200º C) for approximately 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. You may need to rotate the pan halfway through to ensure even browning.

Once the medialunas have cooled, brush them with sugar glaze for sweetness and an appealing shine.

Sugar Glaze | Almíbar

The ratio for the sugar glaze is two parts sugar to one part water. Feel free to adjust the following amounts, taking care to respect the ratio.

2 c. (400 g) sugar
1 c. water (200 mL)
a few drops of vanilla extract (Note: do not add vanilla to the sugar glaze if you opted to add it to the dough)


Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar completely dissolves. Bring the sugar syrup to a boil and continue cooking for about 3 minutes (do not stir the syrup after it comes to a boil and while it's cooking), until you reach the thread stage (230-233º F or 110-111º C).

[Note: Even if you don't understand Spanish, I highly encourage you to watch the following videos from myvirtualcook on YouTube: Medialunas de Manteca y Facturas Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I cannot stress enough how helpful it was to actually watch someone prepare the medialunas step by step.]

Trio of Medialunas by katiemetz, on Flickr

After all that work, sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Medialunas and Vigilantes by katiemetz, on Flickr

Tip: Whatever you do, don't think about how many calories you're consuming.

Café con Leche and a Vigilante by katiemetz, on Flickr

Invite your friends and family over so you can bask in their unending praise for your baking skills. Well, that and the fact that you'll need some help eating since medialunas are best enjoyed the very same day they are baked. 

[Opening photo credit: nathansnider]

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