All the News That's Fit to Print

The Paper Boy by Mike Bailey-Gates on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Argentina is abuzz today. Former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner, husband of the nation's current leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, died suddenly this morning of a heart attack at the age of 60. While I don't support the politics of the Kirchners, my heart goes out to the president and her family at this difficult time.

The political landscape of Argentina will surely be altered by this event. As Taos Turner of The Argentine Post noted on Twitter, "This feels like the death of a head of state, not that of a former president. It changes everything." For more on the details and political implications of Néstor Kirchner's death, click here.

On a lighter note, the Argentine government declared today Census Day, and businesses and schools have been ordered to remain closed until 8pm so that every citizen may be counted. Rather than mailing out forms to households, which would surely either a) never be returned or b) get lost/intercepted/ stained beyond legibility by a postal worker's mate at Correo Argentino, census takers have been hired to visit each and every home.

While I didn't venture out to the grocery store yesterday, Dan Perlman of SaltShaker tweeted that in Buenos Aires, "supermarkets look like war zones as people are buying everything they can lay their hands on. Come on, it's only a 12 hour closure tomorrow!" His observation reminded me of how people generally react to the forecast of a winter storm back in the Philly area. The major difference in this case seemed to lie in the fact that no one was clamoring to stock up on rock salt, though I imagine that supplies of toilet paper were similarly hard hit.

Lastly, I leave you all with a piece of news that's not likely to change the course of human events, but it's exciting to me nonetheless. Seashells and Sunflowers now boasts its very own .com domain! The blog can now be accessed at www.seashellsandsunflowers.com. Visitors to the old Blogspot domain will be automatically directed to the new address; however, I'd appreciate it if you'd take the time to update your bookmarks, links, blogrolls, etc. ¡Gracias!

[Photo credit: Mike Bailey-Gates]

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The Sounds of My Neighborhood

With the windows open to take advantage of the pleasant temperatures, it's impossible to ignore all the sounds of my neighborhood.

» The cries of the egg seller roaming the street in search of customers. "¡Hay huevos!" he proclaims loudly.

» The sound of the towels and sheets on the clothesline billowing in the breeze.

» The enthusiastic calls [listen] of the bichofeo as he sits perched high up in the weeping willow visible from my bedroom window.

» The low rumble of cars and motorcycles punctuated with a random, impatient honk.

» The intermittent barking of the neighborhood dogs.

» The drone of the natural gas compressor at the gas station around the corner.

» The rustling of the leaves of our cherry tree in the wind.

» The tap-tap-tap, thunk, thwack! of the mechanics across the street as they work to patch up a tired jalopy.

» The occasional hum of a power saw emanating from the house behind us.

» A visitor clapping to announce his presence to a neighbor. [This is common here, as many houses don't have doorbells.]

What are some of the sounds of your neighborhood?

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¡Feliz Día de la Madre!

Today is Mother's Day in Argentina. To all the moms out there in my adopted country, ¡Feliz día!

No relationship can ever hope to replace the one that I had with my mother, but I do feel extremely fortunate to have Daniel's mom Hilda in my life. She's one of those people who would do virtually anything for her loved ones, and she treats me like one of her own. And did I mention that she makes really good panqueques con dulce de leche?

Here's a letter that I wrote to my mother last year on the anniversary of her passing. The words are truer today than ever.

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Recipe File: Pancetta and Plum Empanadas | Empanadas de Panceta y Ciruela

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I recently played teacher for the afternoon, with my great-aunt as the star pupil in my empanada cooking class [though admittedly she didn't have much competition for the title]. Aunt Phyl is decidedly a foodie; she's no stranger to the pleasures of a good meal and a glass of wine. She also holds a well-deserved reputation in the family as an accomplished cook.

We decided to make two types of empanadas: the classic beef and the more avant-garde combination of pancetta and plum. Truth be told, I had never actually made pancetta and plum empanadas up 'til that point, but I had enjoyed them many times from my favorite empanada joint here in Necochea, Campo Alto. Since Aunt Phyl subscribes to an easy-going cooking style with room for experimentation, I figured we'd just play it by ear. While both types of empanadas turned out well, we agreed that the pancetta and plum were the winners, hands down!

Aunt Phyl and the Empanadas by katiemetz on Flickr[Aunt Phyl getting ready to sample the finished product with a glass of wine]

Delicious in their simplicity, these empanadas give testament to the pairing of sweet and savory. The pleasingly sweet plums and the salty, flavorful pancetta bound together with stringy mozzarella cheese created a mouthwatering filling for our empanada dough. We discussed what additional flavors might work to give the relleno some zing, but when we taste tested the filling, we thought it stood on its own, without so much as a pinch of salt.

Pancetta and Plum Empanadas | Empanadas de Panceta y Ciruela
Makes 10 empanadas

Ingredients

For the filling:

4 oz. thin-sliced pancetta, chopped
2 large plums, pitted, thinly sliced and chopped
8 oz. whole milk mozzarella, shredded
1 10-count package of empanada discs*

For assembly:

1 beaten egg yolk
A glass of water

Directions

Preparing the filling:

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat, and add the chopped pancetta. Sauté the pancetta, stirring frequently, until cooked through, about five minutes. Add the plums to the skillet and sauté lightly. Remove from the heat and allow the pancetta and plum mixture to cool.

Assembling the empanadas:

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Place a heaping tablespoonful of the pancetta and plum mixture and a generous pinch of shredded mozzarella in the center of the empanada dough. Resist the urge to overfill the empanadas, as they will be difficult to work with and will likely explode in the oven if you do so. Dip your finger in the glass of water and lightly wet the edge of the dough. Bring the edges of the dough together and press firmly.

There are several methods used to seal the empanadas [the repulgue]. The most simple way involves pressing the tines of a fork around the edge of the empanada, but if you're interested in trying your hand at a fancier repulgue, here's a video that demonstrates a traditional twisted edge. 

Place the empanadas on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and brush them with egg yolk. Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Katie and the Empanada II by P. Grillet [Prepping the beef empanadas]

Deep in Concentration by katiemetz on Flickr [Aunt Phyl lost in deep concentration]

I thought Aunt Phyl did very well considering it was her first attempt at making empanadas! Thankfully, there's no photographic evidence of my very first empanadas...

Katie and the Empanada by P. Grillet [Showing off a different repulgue for the pancetta and plum empanadas]

A note on the empanada discs:

We used Goya brand empanada discs with annatto [achiote], hence their sassy orange color. The empanada dough in Argentina does not usually sport this vibrant hue, but hey, it's what we had to work with. My great-aunt found them in the frozen section of Pathmark (for those of you in Pennsylvania/New Jersey/New York).


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

Home Sweet Home

I'm now back in Necochea after a month-long visit to the States, and I've been up to my eyeballs in translation projects and choral music ever since I returned. Now that I've gotten caught up on my work, lived the excitement of the Coraliada, our multi-day choral festival, and officially tacked on another year to my age, I've finally had a chance to sit down and reflect on my trip.

I lived some wonderful experiences during my time back in the Philadelphia area, and I had the good fortune of visiting a number of delightful places such as Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Zoo, Tyler Arboretum and the Jersey shore. I also spent many an evening sipping coffee at Starbucks with my best friend, talking makeup and girly stuff with my little sister, and just catching up in general with family members and friends (and getting to know some new ones, too!). No matter how many emails you send or phone calls you make, nothing beats some good old-fashioned face time.

I took great pleasure in the little moments – small reminders of home that hit me out of the blue and made me grin. I had missed these things, and I hadn't even realized it: watching a flock of Canada geese honking and passing by overhead at sunset; knowing the words to just about every song that came on the radio and singing along as I sped down the highway; savoring some water ice from Rita's on a hot summer's day and having my mouth stained red as a result.

I also brought along some elements of my new life to share: I drank mate with my stepdad, I taught my great-aunt how to make empanadas, and I spoke Spanish at dinner one night with an Argentine and his wife who live just a hop, skip and a jump from my old home.

In some ways it felt so effortless to be back in my former life, but still there were moments that pinched me and reminded me that I've changed since moving to Argentina. This place has left an indelible mark on me.

Home is where the heart is, or so they say. But what happens when your heart is torn between two different countries? I've resigned myself to the fact that there's always bound to be a bit of heartache for me, because no matter where I am in this world, I'm always missing someone who's important to me. Straddling two cultures, two lands – it's not easy. What do you say we just squeeze the continents back together, Pangaea-style?


If you'd like to check out some of the photos from my trip, take a look here.

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