Just How Awful is Offal?

Offal by Charles Haynes on Flickr [licensed under Creative Commons]

Though known to strike fear in the hearts of many, organ meats never fazed my grandmom. She often sang the praises of braunschweiger on rye and calf's liver with onions, and she enthusiastically doused her turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes in giblet gravy at the holidays.

Daniel's grandmother – another organ meat aficionado – could attest to the fact that offal is no stranger to the Argentine table. In addition to the famed steaks, a typical Argentine barbecue features a number of organ meats including mollejas (sweetbreads), riñones (kidneys), chinchulines (small intestines), and morcilla (blood sausage). Hearty stews such as locro commonly contain mondongo (tripe). Lengua en escabeche (pickled tongue)  and queso de chancho (head cheese) are frequently on offer at Argentine delicatessens.

Although today most Americans wrinkle their noses at organ meats, it wasn't always the case. In the past, frugality combined with a greater understanding and appreciation of where our food came from meant that Americans ventured into offal territory more often. According to a post on food blog Offal Good, "before the Second World War, Americans consumed almost all of the offal produced"; however, in the 1950s and 1960s, consumption of offal declined significantly. [1]

I'm a fairly adventurous eater, yet I have more or less given up on offal. I have tried mollejas, chinchulines, and morcilla (twice, in fact), but I find it difficult to overcome my psychological hang-ups about these foods in order to be able to savor what I'm eating. In all honesty, the mollejas in particular weren't half bad, but I literally started to gag when I thought about what I was eating. I do, however, freely admit to enjoying scrapple fried thin and crispy, a Pennsylvania Dutch classic, and smoked ham hocks have worked their way into many a  bean soup in my kitchen. Go figure.

If we routinely stomach the "mystery meat" encased in a hot dog or a slice of scrapple, can we Americans take a cue from the Argentines and a number of other cultures to make the shift toward preparing and cooking offal on a regular basis? Chef and food activist Dan Barber would certainly like to see us try.

"…Barber writes about the 'protein paradox,' or the huge waste of edible animal parts such as liver, kidney, and tripe. Barber really wants us to like, or learn to like, organ meat — the bits and bobs typically saved for hot dogs, sausage links, and yes, dog food. He hopes that people will eat meat modestly, and when they do, consider the carcass scraps." [2]

What's your take on organ meats? Should Americans quit whining and learn to love offal?

Sources:

[1] Offal Good, The Art of Having Guts
[2] Serious Eats, Dan Barber Says We Need to Like Organ Meat

Photo credit: Charles Haynes

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There's still time to enter for a chance to win free Spanish language learning software courtesy of Bueno, Entonces… (a $147 value)! Click here and leave a comment for a shot at the prize, but hurry…there are only two days left!

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The Goatherder

A tale of two cultures, as told to me by Tomás Viñuela.

A group of American tourists arrived in Argentina, eager to explore all the wonders the country has to offer in as short a timeframe as possible. They were clad in the uniform of the stereotypical American sightseer –  jeans and white sneakers with cameras dangling about their necks – their appearance made all the more cartoonish by the gaucho hats they wore in hopes of blending in with the locals.

Among the tourists there was one fellow who preferred to go it alone instead of sticking with the tour group. He thought himself very evolved; he was a traveler, not a tourist. He wanted to get to know the authentic Argentina.

The final stop on the group's whirlwind tour brought them to an estancia for a traditional asado and show of gaucho horsemanship, but the more adventuresome traveler arranged to strike out on his own. He skipped the tour of the estancia, and instead, he took a bus destined for a small town that barely registered as a speck on his map. The bus let the traveler off at a depot on the edge of town, and after giving a cursory glance to his surroundings, the traveler set out on foot for parts unknown (at least to him).

While walking down a dusty country lane, the traveler came upon a goatherder resting in the shade of one of the few trees to be found on the expansive plain, as his flock grazed nearby. Eyeing the approach of this man who was clearly out of place, the goatherder raised the brim of his hat to get a better look. With a big grin and a silly wave the American shouted, "Well, hello there!"

Grateful for a respite from the unrelenting sun, the traveler plopped down beside the goatherder. With the traveler's decent grasp of Spanish and the aid of gestures, the two were able to communicate fairly well. Encouraged by his success, the traveler proceeded to bombard the goatherder with questions about his livelihood, the goats, and the land. The traveler fell silent for a moment, and then he asked, "Have you ever considered raising cattle?"

"Well, no. I'm a goatherder. I've raised my goats on this land for thirty years. This is what I know. I'm not interested in cows."

"But cows yield more profit! You could start off with a few cows, and with the extra money that you'll earn from them, you could buy a few more head of cattle. As your herd continues to grow, eventually you'll have enough money to buy a pick-up truck and a bit more land. With a larger parcel of land you could raise even more cows!" the traveler exclaimed.

"But why, señor?"

"Because then you would make even more money, and with your truck you could be more efficient and deliver the cows directly to the slaughterhouse. Then eventually you'll have enough money to buy your own slaughterhouse and maybe even a bit more land!"

"But I don't understand...why, señor?"

"Ah, well, that way you could keep expanding your business! Eventually you'd have so much land and so many cows that you could buy your own export company and ship Argentine beef around the world. Everyone knows how good Argentine beef is."

"Sí, sí…but what's the point of doing all of that?"

"Well, because some day, when you've built up your business, once you've created your cattle empire, you can finally sit back and relax," declared the traveler in a triumphant manner.

The goatherder chuckled softly as he tugged the brim of his hat over his eyes and leaned back against the tree with his fingers interlaced behind his head. "But señor," he responded, "that's what I'm doing right now."

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Recipe File: Torta de Ochenta Golpes

Torta de Ochenta Golpes by katiealley on Flickr

Part of the joy of cooking and baking comes from sharing a favorite recipe. That’s why this month I’m pleased and honored to share my recipe for Torta de Ochenta Golpes in a guest post over at From Argentina With Love, a tasty food blog written by Denverite Rebecca Caro.

So, click on over to From Argentina With Love, and prepare to salivate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Giveaway: Bueno, entonces… Spanish Language Learning Program

Bueno, entonces... Have you considered buying a program like Rosetta Stone® to learn Spanish, but you stopped in your tracks when you saw the price? Well, here's your chance to win a Spanish language learning program for FREE!

I've teamed up with the fine folks at General Linguistics to give away a free download of their flagship product Bueno, entonces..., a fast-paced, irreverent and engaging way to learn Spanish. Described as "Rosetta Stone® meets South Park," the program is "edgy, funny, and completely inappropriate." Thirty classes containing over 18 hours of instruction will help you learn Spanish quickly. It's also worthwhile to note that the program is geared toward expats and travelers in South America, with pronunciation by native speakers from three different countries plus slang words, phrases, and customs from multiple Latin American countries.

Although Bueno, entonces... was just released last year, the program has already been  featured in the Apple iTunes App Store and on the website Daily Candy. You can also read what people are saying about the product on Amazon.

So, here's your big chance to win a free instant download of Bueno, entonces... (a $147 value). Each visitor to my blog who comments on this post before 11:59pm (ART) on February 28th will be entered into the giveaway. I'll select the winner using a random number generator, and I'll post the result on March 1st. I'll then pass along the winner's name and email address to General Linguistics so they can set up the free download. Yippee!

As if free software weren't enough, for those of you on Facebook, Bueno, entonces… is also running a contest for a trip to Argentina!

If Bueno, entonces… reaches 10,000 fans on Facebook by March, one lucky fan and a friend will win a trip to Buenos Aires for a 10-day intensive Spanish course plus sightseeing. From now through March 12th, Bueno, entonces… will be offering a series of contests on its Facebook fan page; 100 participants will be chosen as finalists and entered to win the Grand Prize Trip. [For additional contest details, click here.]

So, without further delay, leave me a comment and then head over to Facebook and make friends with the Bueno, entonces… crew. And maybe, just maybe, I'll see you here in Argentina (speaking perfect Spanish, of course). ¡Suerte!

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Argentines on Vacation

Argentines love the beach. Each year, come January 1st, vacation madness sets in as a multitude of Argentines descend upon the Atlantic coast beach towns for a week or two of sun and sand. The frenzy continues straight through until the beginning of March, when the chicos finally go back to school.

As evidenced by the following vintage photos, though beach fashions may have evolved over the years, the Argentines' enthusiasm for the playa hasn't changed one bit.

Mujer en Necochea [1937] | Woman on the Beach in Necochea [1937] by doctortoncich on Flickr[A young woman named María Teresa on the beach in Necochea – 1937]

En playa desconocida [1922] | On an Unknown Beach [1922] by doctortoncich on Flickr[A well-dressed youngster at the beach (exact location unknown) – 1922]

Vacaciones en Mar del Plata - Verano de 1934 | Vacation in Mar del Plata - Summer of 1934 by doctortoncich on Flickr[The seaside resort of Mar del Plata, pictured here, was once the vacation spot of choice for the well-heeled Buenos Aires elite to see and be seen. (These days I'd say that title has been transferred to Punta del Este, Uruguay.)]

Click here and here for two other photos of dapper ladies and gentlemen going for a stroll while on holiday.

En traje de baño | In Their Bathing Suits by doctortoncich on Flickr[Four teenage boys posing for the camera in their 1930s-era bathing suits. The boy on the right is using a tire's inner tube as a life ring.]

Vacaciones Argentinas 1 | Argentines on Vacation 1 by doctortoncich on Flickr[Hand-colored beach photo from 1950] 

A hearty thanks to doctortoncich, a Flickr member from Buenos Aires, who kindly gave me permission to display these photographs from his personal collection on my blog.

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Tooting My Own Horn

My photos are like children in the sense that I can't help bragging about them from time to time; when they've done me proud, I just want to tell the whole world about it. Two of my photographic progeny have found interesting homes on the Internets over the past couple of weeks, and I'm just tickled pink.

First, I urge you to go clickety-click over to the piping-hot "Local Flavor" showcase on Pictory that highlights a tantalizing array of food photos from around the world, including my snap of a community asado held here in Necochea (photo #29).

"Local Flavor" showcase on Pictory

I'd also like to recommend the "Overseas and Overwhelmed" showcase, which features an excellent photo essay pertaining to culture shock.

I guarantee you'll lose yourself in the rich photographs and storytelling over at Pictory. If you've got a photo and a story to tell, consider making a submission to the site for an upcoming showcase!

Another one of my photos recently took up residence on the blog of my favorite photo sharing site Flickr. An interior shot of El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires was featured on the Flickr blog entry "Lost in the Shelves." Scroll down a bit when you visit the page, and you'll see my photo on the left in the grouping of three.

Flickr Blog

Do you have a photographic triumph you'd like to brag about? Tell me about it in the comments. I like to dote on other people's children too.

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A Tale of Red Tape

With my visa set to expire in just a few days, Daniel and I drove 1 1/2 hours to the immigration office in Mar del Plata last Monday to obtain an extension. Let the games begin.

Dirección Nacional de Migraciones, Mar del Plata, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr [Welcome to your friendly neighborhood maximum security detention center immigration office.]

We arrive at Migraciones at 8:30am and find that virtually no one is in the office. We're called upon immediately, and I explain the purpose of my visit. The immigration employee tells me I must make photocopies of each and every page of my passport and then return to the office with the copies. Thankfully there's a kiosk on the corner, and we file down the stairs and out the building to complete our first task. We're back in 15 minutes or less, and we hand over the photocopies and take a seat.

The immigration office is bleaker than bleak. My eyes wander over the flimsy, black, molded plastic chairs and dingy white walls, while the fluorescent fixtures overhead cast a cold, harsh light over everyone and everything. In the middle of the wall hangs a faded portrait of Mother Theresa, since no Argentine public office can be without a figure of the Virgin or a saint of some sort.

After waiting for about 45 minutes or so, the immigration employee calls us up to the desk. He says there's a problem. With a great flourish, he produces a printout that lists my exits from and entries into the country. Although I have a stamp in my passport that clearly shows my last entry into Argentina, there is no record of it in the computer. The employee explains that he'll have to call Buenos Aires to get this sorted out, and he recommends that we take a walk for an hour or so in the meantime.

Fortunately, we do have an errand to run, so we head out and take a long walk down Avenida Independencia to our destination. With time to spare before the magic hour when my problem will be fixed, we stop at a sidewalk café for coffee and a medialuna, knowing full well that there's no real hurry to return.

We head back to Migraciones at 10:30am, and I'm trying to be optimistic. The office is bustling now, with a new face turning up every few minutes. We wade through the sea of people, and we manage to nab a place to sit. A few minutes later, the employee informs us that he's still waiting on an answer from Buenos Aires.

Over the course of the next two hours, we manage to make occasional eye contact with the employee, but he does nothing more than mumble for us to hang tight un segundito (a quick second) before turning away. Finally, after quite a few segunditos, he calls us up to the counter to tell us, with the gravest of expressions, that my situation is "very complicated," and he urges us to wait while he gathers reinforcements. He returns with another employee who informs me that I have unwittingly become a participant in what amounts to "an absolutely unheard-of situation." I assure you that these are the last words you want to hear while standing in a government office – anywhere.

Apparently, back in October when I visited Uruguay with Daniel and my parents, we returned to Argentina on some sort of ghost ship, or perhaps it was the Good Ship Lollipop. Either way, the boat I took from Colonia to Buenos Aires is nowhere to be found in the computer system. There is no record of that boat, and according to the system, none of the passengers that left Buenos Aires that morning returned to Argentina. As it turns out, not only is the Buquebus record MIA, but it seems that Migraciones has also misplaced my tarjeta de ingreso, a little piece of paper that serves as physical proof of one's entry into the country.

The second employee states that he is waiting for approval from Buenos Aires to manually enter my arrival data into the computer. He tells me not to worry; he assures me that everything will get straightened out – that it has to get straightened out. Just sit tight. I make an about-face and trudge to the back row of seats with Daniel.

A steady stream of Bolivians, a pack of Senegalese, a Russian couple, a young German woman, a pair of Asians, a smattering of Argentines and goodness knows how many other nationalities file past us as we await word from some pencil pusher in Capital Federal.

Migraciones, Mar del Plata by katiemetz, on Flickr

Bonus: there are no Colombian ex-convicts chatting me up this time 'round.

A family of Bolivians entertains a baby with spiky, jet-black hair using a toy in the shape of a silver banana, while a porteño tries to keep his rambunctious little girl occupied by pointing to a political poster plastered to the wall. The father tells us he took advantage of the fact that he was in Mar del Plata on vacation to come to Migraciones here instead of back home in the capital. He describes the immigration office in Buenos Aires as a "nightmare" with people "pissing themselves" as they wait in line. Fortunately, no one here is suffering from incontinence, and it it's all very orderly and civil, just slow as molasses (in January? No, make that July).

At one point I glance up at the portrait of Mother Theresa hanging to my right – even she looks bored. I ask her to help me; I'm not Catholic, but I figure it can't hurt. I then have a sudden revelation about the rationale for religious iconography in Argentine government offices.

With the office virtually empty, the doors about to close at 3pm and nothing yet resolved, the second employee beckons us over to deliver the news: my problem will have to be revisited tomorrow. He jots down our phone number and promises to call when he gets word from the powers that be.

Three days and 12 phone calls later (every single one initiated by us), the data finally shows up in the computer. We pop across the bridge to Quequén, and with the assistance of the immigration officer at the Prefectura Naval, I have everything taken care of in just 45 minutes. Well, four days and 45 minutes.

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