A Not-So-Friendly Reminder

A message to the would-be burglars who tried to break into our garage this morning at 4:30 am:

Attempted Break-in 05.30.10 by katiealley

You forgot a couple of things, hijos de p*ta.

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Making Music with Coro Alta Mira

For many years, choral music played an important role in my life. I began singing in the children's choir at my church when I was just five years old, and I continued performing in different choruses straight through to my college graduation. Once I entered the work world, I made several guest appearances with area choirs to help boost their numbers for large works performed at Christmas and Easter, but my life as a choral singer had effectively ended – that is, until now.

The solitary life of a translator working at home doesn't exactly create many opportunities to develop friendships, a fact that prompted me to consider an extracurricular activity of some sort. I decided to turn once more to choral music as a creative and social outlet. In March, I responded to an open call for singers posted online, and thus was born my affiliation with Coro Alta Mira, a choir of 30 voices based here in Necochea.

For the past three months, we worked to prepare a repertoire for Argentina's bicentennial celebration. On the morning of Saturday, May 22, Coro Alta Mira took to the streets to entertain the citizens of Necochea with traditional Argentine songs. We also handed out escarapelas (blue and white ribbons worn on patriotic holidays) to passers-by to help get them in the spirit. The gray weather kept many people inside, but those who were out and about obviously enjoyed the music.

Masa Coral - Avenida 59, Necochea, Argentina [Singing on the streets of Necochea]

¡Viva La Patria! [Photo courtesy of María Nelly Merlo] [Marching toward the plaza in front of Necochea's town hall]

As we arrived at Plaza Dardo Rocha, the Municipal Band began playing "Marcha de San Lorenzo," a very upbeat and well-known patriotic tune. The crowd sang with gusto as sky blue and white handkerchiefs fluttered all around me, and I simultaneously felt a tinge of homesickness for the United States and pride in my new home. In my experience, the Argentines aren't a very patriotic lot, and the unpopular government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has drawn a great deal of criticism and produced dissatisfaction, particularly here in Necochea. Yet, in that moment, I saw the Argentines as a people proud of their history, their country and their identity, and I was truly moved.

After a couple more instrumental numbers from the band, we joined forces with six other choruses from Necochea to celebrate Argentina's bicentennial with voices raised in song. Meanwhile, choruses all over the country were gathering at the very same time – as a symbol of unity – to perform these three songs: "A que florezca mi pueblo," "Aurora" and the national anthem of Argentina, which I learned in a cram session two days earlier. My fellow singers chuckled when they spotted my crib sheet with the anthem's lyrics tucked inside my music folder.

Masa Coral, Plaza Dardo Rocha, Necochea, Argentina [A clipping from the daily Ecos Diarios. I'm in the crowd. Channel your Where's Waldo? mojo and find me.]

While the country was commemorating 200 years of history, the chorus also had a reason to party. This year marks Coro Alta Mira's 18th anniversary, which we celebrated with our first concert of the season at the Teatro Municipal followed by a spaghetti dinner. Our program included a number of Argentine folk songs plus two tangos by the great Ástor Piazzolla.

Concierto 18º Anniversario, Teatro Municipal, Necochea, Argentina[Before we went on stage]

[Listen to our performance of "Sobre la huella." Click here if you cannot view the embedded video.]

On May 25th, the chorus marched in Necochea's Bicentennial Parade. My fellow singers joked that I was destined to suffer some sort of identity crisis, gesturing to the Argentine escarapela pinned to my jacket and the Danish flag I'd been assigned to carry (the chorus takes its name from the Danish school Escuela Alta Mira, where we practice). I fully embraced the multicultural moment, although I think an American flag pin would have really completed the look.

Sandwiched between a reggaetón troupe and a group from Quequén dressed in traditional gaucho garb, we marched down Avenida 59 alongside an Argentine flag that stretched a mile long. The parade was rather disorganized (as is often the case with events in Argentina), but we still managed to enjoy ourselves.

Coro Alta Mira, Bicentennial Parade, Necochea, Argentina [Photo courtesy of Coro Alta Mira] [Coro Alta Mira, Bicentennial Parade, Necochea]

The act of making music is like no other; using the voice as an instrument to create music that touches people makes for an incredible experience. The connection and near-instantaneous acceptance that I felt from the other members of the chorus has been amazing, and I consider myself lucky to be a part of this group. Coro Alta Mira, thanks for giving me a new lease on my musical life (and something to do on Tuesday and Thursday nights).

[Photo credits: María Nelly Merlo and Coro Alta Mira]

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Celebrating 200 Years of Argentina's History

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post authored by María Carrá, an Argentine native and author of the blog Buenos Aires Foodies. María calls the bustling Argentine capital home, where she makes her living as a food writer, uncovering the best of the city's cafés and many gastronomic offerings. Her passion for food stems from a childhood spent in the kitchen with her family and exposure to a variety of good eats after living in both Argentina and the U.S.

María's blog explores the Buenos Aires food scene, providing regular updates on gourmet finds, local food news, and much more. You can also connect with María and Buenos Aires Foodies through Facebook and Twitter. So without further ado, take it away, María!

On May 25, 2010, Argentina commemorates the bicentennial anniversary of the May Revolution that led to the nation's independence. Celebrations will include parades, special events throughout the country, and of course, delicious food. Traditional Argentine dishes will be served by local parrillas and restaurants throughout the long weekend from May 22nd through the 25th.

Bakeries are filled with the mouthwatering aroma of tortas fritas, a deep-fried pastry dough, and pastelitos, a flaky pastry filled with quince or sweet potato jam and topped with sprinkles.

One favorite that gets plenty of attention during patriotic holidays is locro, a bean and corn stew seasoned with spices and bits of chorizo. Other traditional stews such as guiso de mondongo make an appearance, a dish reserved for the brave since it's made with cow's stomach. My personal favorite, guiso de lentejas (lentil stew), is chock-full of carrots, potatoes and smoked pancetta. Recipes may vary a bit from one family to another.

The ever-present asado will crown the meal and give way to a lazy afternoon of mate accompanied by pastelitos and tortas fritas.

Below is my grandmother's recipe for guiso de lentejas. This recipe is easy to follow and doesn't take long to make. Just remember to keep adding ingredients and stir–you'll have a guiso in no time.

Lentil Stew by Megi Senmenek at Linden Tea [photo used with permission of photographer]

Grandma Elsa's Lentil Stew | Guiso de Lentejas de la Abuela Elsa
Makes 4-5 servings

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 medium onions, diced
1 carrot, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. (250 g) beef chuck, cubed [optional]
1 chorizo colorado, removed from the casing and sliced
11 oz. (300 g) smoked pancetta
1 tsp. paprika 
34 oz. (1 L) tomato purée
8 (7.05 oz./200 g) cans of lentils
2 small potatoes, cubed
beef stock [as needed]
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add peppers, onions, and carrots, and sauté until onion is translucent. Add garlic and lightly sauté; do not allow it to brown. Add beef cubes, chorizo colorado, pancetta and paprika. Brown the meats well, and then add tomato purée. Cook the stew until the carrots have softened, and then add lentils. Cook for 5 more minutes, and add potatoes.

Simmer, covered, over low heat for approximately 10 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Stir occasionally and add beef stock to the stew throughout the cooking process, as needed [the final result should be a bit soupy].

Season with salt and pepper to taste at the end of the cooking process [remember that pancetta, chorizo and beef stock are salty]. Stir in fresh parsley.

Let the stew sit for a few minutes before serving. Accompany with a fresh baguette. Enjoy!

Note: Make ahead if desired, as the recipe is always better the day after.

[Photo credit: Megi Senmenek at Linden Tea]

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Argentina's Favorite Condiments

Inspired by this article on Matador Network featuring the best condiments from around the world, I decided to highlight the five basic sauces, spreads and spices that no Argentine kitchen can be without.

Mayonnaise

Homemade Mayonnaise by little blue hen on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] Though I'm not a huge fan of mayo, it's comforting to know that there's a bag of Hellmann's stashed in the fridge for potato salad and such. (Yes, both mayonnaise and milk come packaged in bags here.) However, unlike most Argentines, I don't feel compelled to slather mayonesa on my french fries, milanesas (breaded and fried beef cutlets) or puchero (boiled meat and vegetables). Daniel from Expat Argentina offers up some interesting insights to account for the extreme popularity of mayonnaise in Argentina.

Salsa Golf

Salsa Golf by bradlauster on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] Salsa golf, mayonnaise and ketchup's love child, turns up in the strangest of places, including on top of pizza with hearts of palm and hardboiled egg. The lovely people at Hellmann's conveniently bag up this orangey-pink concoction as well, although here it's shown in a bottle. Rebecca at From Argentina With Love explains the origins of salsa golf along with a recipe (there's a bit more to it than just ketchup and mayo, I promise).

Chimichurri

Esquina Criolla Chimichurri by scaredy_kat on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] Chimichurri, Argentina's most emblematic condiment, consists of a mixture of parsley, garlic, oil, vinegar and other seasonings. An indispensible ingredient at Argentine barbecues, chimichurri dresses up choripanes (chorizo sausage sandwiches) and grilled meats. If you're looking to make your own chimichurri, Amy and Jonny from We Are Never Full and Asado Argentina provide recipes here and here. There are countless ways to prepare chimichurri, so feel free to experiment and tweak the recipes to your liking.

Salsa Criolla

Salsa Criolla by From Argentina With Love on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] Featuring a mix of bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic, salsa criolla's bright, fresh flavors help cut through the richness of the grilled beef, chicken or other meats it usually accompanies. Salsa criolla, like chimichurri, leaves plenty of room for experimentation. To get started on your own batch, take a peek here [Asado Argentina] and here [From Argentina With Love] for recipes.

Salt

salt by jaymiek on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Finally, though hardly unique to this country, the number one Argentine condiment of all time is salt. In all honesty, salt probably deserves its own spot on the Argentine food pyramid, but good old NaCl will have to make do with an honorable mention. Asado Argentina gives the lowdown on this most basic yet beloved of condiments and the different types of salt used in Argentine grilling.

Both salsa criolla and chimichurri make my taste buds happy. What's your favorite Argentine condiment?

[Photo credits: little blue hen, bradlauster, scaredy_kat, From Argentina With Love, and jaymiek]

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Bariloche: Circuito Chico and Cerro Catedral

Tucked into the foothills of the Andes by the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, San Carlos de Bariloche welcomes visitors to Patagonia's Lake District. Dotted with glacial bodies of water in myriad shades of green and blue, here the landscape gives birth to the Andes Mountains to the west and the Patagonian steppe, an arid, scrub-filled terrain, to the east. Bariloche, largely settled by immigrants from Switzerland, Germany and Austria in the late 1800s, reflects the alpine heritage of its settlers through its architecture and landscapes.

I traveled to Bariloche last month with my stepdad Vince and sister Marianna, and we kicked off our adventures with a tour of Circuito Chico, one of the most popular excursions for visitors to the area. This tour begins in the city of Bariloche on Avenida Bustillo, a sinuous road that borders Lago Nahuel Huapi, the largest lake in this region. The excursion continues on a loop past unparalleled lake and mountain scenery, all within just a few miles of the city.

A misty rain and chilly temperatures accompanied us as we made our way to the first stop on the tour, Cerro Campanario. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, we were offered banana yellow rain slickers, which the three of us declined in an effort to avoid looking like the Gorton's Fisherman. We ascended Cerro Campanario in a chairlift, dangling high above the rocks and assorted vegetation with the expansive Lago Nahuel Huapi at our backs.

Katie and Marianna on the Chairlift, Cerro Campanario, Bariloche by Vince Risi [Vince snapped this shot of Marianna and me as we floated up Cerro Campanario]

At the summit, the clouds and fog obscured the view to a fair extent, although it was still possible to appreciate the majestic Andes and the lakes stretching in all directions. Even when cloaked in mist and rain, it was impossible to deny the splendor visible from atop Cerro Campanario. And while I lamented the less-than-ideal conditions, we were rewarded with numerous rainbows that morning.

Rainbow Seen from Cerro Campanario by katiealley on Flickr [Rainbow seen from Cerro Campanario]

Vince and I fought what seemed to be a losing battle to remove the fine droplets of water that collected on our camera lenses every few seconds, and I shoved my hands inside my pockets between shots in a futile attempt to warm them. There were a few moments when the climatic conditions were quite dodgy, and I was concerned that our spirits (and our cameras) would be dampened by the weather, but luckily, Mother Nature did cooperate to some extent. As we descended Cerro Campanario and continued along the tour, I contemplated the wisdom of my decision to leave my gloves at home in Necochea.

Llao Llao Penninsula and Lago Moreno from Punto Panorámico by katiealley on Flickr[Punto Panorámico with views of Lago Moreno, the Llao Llao Peninsula and the exclusive, world-class Hotel Llao Llao]

Winding along a narrow, paved road, we paused for a few minutes at Punto Panorámico for some shots of Lago Moreno and the Llao Llao Peninsula. A woman selling hot chocolate, medialunas, and other goodies attracted the interest of both tourists and locals alike. And by locals I mean the winged variety [photo].

Next we arrived at Capilla San Eduardo, a rustic chapel constructed in 1938 with funds donated by wealthy socialite Juana González de Devoto. From our privileged vantage point, we looked down upon Puerto Pañuelo, where we would later return for our boat ride to Bosque de Arrayanes and Isla Victoria. The Hotel Llao Llao [photo] – framed by the mountains, their peaks shrouded by a low-hanging cloud – sat perched atop a hill to the right of the chapel.

Capilla San Eduardo, Bariloche, Argentina by katiealley on Flickr [Capilla San Eduardo, Bariloche, Argentina]

After visiting the church, we stopped in a small shop selling numerous products made from rosa mosqueta (rose hips). Packed with vitamin C and claiming a number of health benefits, products made with rosa mosqueta – cosmetics and various foods like tea and jam – are one of the regional specialties of Patagonia. At the shop, we sampled some tea brewed from rose hips. I believe the only "praise" that Vince could muster for the beverage amounted to, "Well, it's…hot." Needless to say, neither of us found the acidic taste imparted by the rose  hips to our liking.

We then headed back to Bariloche to drop off some members of the tour group, and after a brief walk around the Centro Cívico, in the heart of the city, we continued on to Cerro Catedral.

Statue of Julio Argentino Roca, Centro Cívico, Bariloche, Argentina by katiealley on Flickr [Statue of General Julio Argentino Roca in the Centro Cívico]

Cerro Catedral, so named for its jutting granite spires resembling church steeples [photo], lies about 12 miles (19 km) from Bariloche. In winter the mountain plays host to one of South America's premiere ski resorts with 39 lifts and 53 trails.

We took a five-minute cable car ride to Punta Nevada, a small restaurant and viewing area on Cerro Catedral. Due to high winds, we were unable to take the chairlift [pictured below] to Refugio Lynch at the very top of the mountain, but, nonetheless, we were treated to spectacular vistas, as the skies had cleared considerably since earlier that morning.

Chairlift on Cerro Catedral by katiealley on Flickr [Up, up and away…]

View from Cerro Catedral, Bariloche by katialley on Flickr[I love the shadows formed on the mountains by the clouds.]

They've Got Their Heads in the Clouds by katiealley on Flickr [Viewing area atop Cerro Catedral]

After much guzzling of hot beverages, oohing and aahing at awe-inspiring landscapes, and clicking of shutters, we headed down to the base of Cerro Catedral and piled into the van for the trip back to Bariloche.

Upon our return, we decided to cap off the day with a stroll down one of the main streets in Bariloche, Calle Mitre, past innumerable chocolate shops and stores selling outdoor gear and clothing. Of course there were also the inevitable souvenir shops as well, filled to the brim with stuffed animals in the shape of a St. Bernard (complete with brandy barrel 'round its neck) and mates with "Bariloche" scrawled on them. I swear I even saw a t-shirt that said "My Parents Went to Bariloche and All I Got Was This Lousy Remera."

Several blocks later we veered toward the lake, ending up at the beautiful neo-Gothic cathedral Nuestra Señora de Nahuel Huapi. We entered the church for a few minutes, admiring the stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling.

Nuestra Señora de Nahuel Huapi by katiealley on Flickr[Nuestra Señora de Nahuel Huapi]

As we exited the church, we marveled at just how powerful the winds were that afternoon. As I stood on a bench carved from a tree trunk to capture the white caps and waves crashing against the shore of the lake, the gale-force winds coming off the water threatened to knock me clear off my feet. At this point, we decided it was time to give our cameras and our feet a rest back at the cabin after a full day of sightseeing and picture taking.

Next up: Bosque de Arrayanes and Isla Victoria

[Patagonia Series: Intro 1]
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Recipe File: Niños Envueltos | Stuffed Beef Rolls

Niños Envueltos | Stuffed Beef Rolls by katiealley on Flickr

I do a lot of talking about how beef is the star of the show here in Argentina, yet when I peruse the Recipe File, there's just one dish for you carnivorous types. So, what gives? Well, asado is king in Argentina, and frankly, I don't dare dispense barbecue advice. I prefer to leave that task to the experts, like my friend over at Asado Argentina. Now that guy knows his way around a parrilla.

Though I have qualms about dishing out BBQ guidance, I was eager to get in on the meat fest that is Argentine cuisine; thus, I decided to tell you all about one of my favorite non-grill-oriented beef dishes: niños envueltos. Read all about Daniel's great-aunt Rosa's niños envueltos – flavorful, stuffed beef rolls – in my guest post over at Asado Argentina.

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Seal the Deal: Repulgues for Empanadas

Anyone can seal an empanada with the tines of a fork, but if you're interested in a more authentic look for this classic South American turnover, try your hand at a fancy repulgue. The repulgue refers to a special method for crimping or folding the edges of the dough in order to close the empanada. Apart from its obvious aesthetic value, the repulgue does a bang-up job of sealing in the filling, which is crucial since empanada leakage is just, well, embarrassing.

The repulgue fulfills one other important function: a means to ID your empanada. A case in point: when your box of piping hot empanadas arrives from your neighborhood empanada joint, how do you tell your queso y cebolla (cheese and onion) from your friend's verdura (veggie)? Well, to eliminate the guesswork, most shops will provide a diagram showing the various repulgues and their corresponding fillings. Please turn your attention to Exhibit A:

Argentine Empanadas with Various Repulgues [Here we have the selection at Campo Alto, my favorite spot in Necochea for empanadas.]

Since, to date, the Argentine Congress has failed to pass the measure *Ley de Estandarización del Repulgue  de las Empanadas Argentinas (legislation to standardize repulgues throughout the country), every empanada shop is at complete liberty to choose which repulgue to assign to each type of empanada. As such, from place to place, little to no relationship exists between the style of repulgue and the filling, with the exception of fatay – an Arabian beef empanada – which is almost universally triangular.

I currently have about six different repulgues in my repertoire, although my favorite is the classic braided pattern that Rebecca at From Argentina With Love demonstrates so capably in this video [click here if you can't view the embedded video].

Now that you've been schooled on the repulgue, go forth and make empanadas! If you're in need of some inspiration, try my recipe for empanadas de humita (with creamy corn) or Rebecca's empanadas mendocinas (with ground beef). Lastly, don't get too worked up if your repulgue doesn't turn out just so; like most things in life, la práctica hace al maestro (practice makes perfect).

[*Don't hold your breath for this one, folks.]


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

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