Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Los Chicos de Mi Barrio

I haven’t talked too much about my neighborhood, but I am in love with where I live. Aside from having a cool apartment owned by an amazing artist, I live in a neighborhood mixed with posh apartments, young families, singles, you name it. I love the diversity when I walk down the street… there are teenagers in their rumpled school uniforms shouting at the end of a busy day, backpack lazily slug over one shoulder. The tiny girls with their hair cascading down their backs, giggling groups of gawky, long-limbed budding teenagers, rambunctious boys yelling as they run down the broken sidewalks on a fall afternoon. Old ladies with canes, hunched over their packages and moving glacially across the street as the impatient cars wait for the light to change. Young mommies pushing strollers while lugging their groceries and talking on the phone in rapid fire Spanish, probably to their housekeepers And hunky boys in gym shorts flashing their over-muscled soccer legs, my favorite.

Another part of my neighborhood is the little shops that just become part of your life when you live somewhere. There’s a lovely verduria on the next block that I frequent. When you walk in most afternoons, beautiful melodies reminiscent of Frank Sinatra but in Italian or Spanish greet you. The owner, a shriveled and charming man with sparkling blue eyes is always there, handing out compliments as fresh as his beautiful spinach. Last week he told he how much he loved my accent in Spanish, this week he complimented my hat.

There’s also Raul, who greets everyone by name as he sells them sodas and cigarettes at the corner shop. He must work 17-hour days, but he always has a smile and a greeting for you. Last night, when I went to pay, I offered him monedas and said, when I have them, I give them. He smiled and when he gave me my change, he included a little chocolate treat with his customary smile.

It's just a reminder how attitudes about work here are different. In a country where unemployment has climbed over 20 percent, people are often grateful for work regardless of what the work actually is. While things are changing in the US because of the ever shrinking economy, when's the last time the guy at 7-11 smiled at you?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Meaty Culture

I was a vegetarian many moons ago, sometime in college when it was de riguer to do it. I eventually returned to my carnivorous ways, as my body never loved this state of being, always feeling deprived of something.

Thankfully I got over this before I came to Argentina. This is a place of meat, meat, and more meat. Ummm… Delicious meat. I have met some Argentine “vegetarians” who eat every type of flesh but actual red meat – this includes ham and chicken.

When you go to the carniceria (butcher), there must be more than two dozen cuts of beef to choose from, each with their own very Argentine names. Or when you go to a parilla for a diner with friends, there’s no less than 10 different types of meat to gobble down with your Malbec. I still don’t know what some of them are and I suspect if I knew, I still probably wouldn’t eat them.

For example, the other night I was at a small dinner party where the chef was a vegetarian and she cooked us a delicious Middle Eastern inspired dinner, with homemade hummus and falafel. While eating, we got into a discussion about meat and one of the guests (a dear friend), asked me about what cuts of meat I liked. Before too long, we had to pull out the Spanish-English dictionary to look up what we were talking about. Brains, livers, ever organ you could imagine was mentioned.

Nonetheless, the stuff I do eat is scrumptious! Some say it’s the grass feeding, others say it is the lack of hormones and medicines the cows are given here in Argentina. But it’s not important. It’s damn good, with a nice texture and gentler flavor than North American meat. But what do I know about meat anyway? I had seitan for lunch.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Funny From My Day

Yesterday I had a crazy day, running from place to place… up early, to the gym, a little work, and then had to run off to a long meaty and winey goodbye lunch for a friend. I was running a little behind, so I hopped onto my bike to ride down to the restaurant. You may recall that my bike is kind of crappy and is now steadily declining into unsafe territory. The seat now is half broken, so when I ride it I have to focus on putting most of the weight on the right side so the whole thing does not snap off the stem. Arrgh! Not as much fun to ride, but still does the job.

Anyway, it was a beautiful fall day. A bit nippy as the sun cascaded through the trees as I plodded through Palermo for a bife with the gals. My scarf was fluttering in the wind and I had Yo La Tango on my Ipod as I felt the sun warm the top of my head. I turned onto José Cabrera and rode by a group of guys in pressed khakis on their way to lunch. One stuck out his thumb, grinning at me as he begged for a ride. I looked him right in the eye and said, “ I could, ya know” and kept pedaling, cackling all the way.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

South American Seder

I have had a friend in town, thus playing tour guide and venturing around my adopted country has taken priority for the last two weeks. I inadvertently ended up missing the first days of Passover and over the last couple of days have been thinking non-stop about my mother’s rock hard matzo balls (which we loving refer to as hockey pucks), my grandmother’s salty chicken soup, and the tender pot roast of Aprils past. Not that I am such a devout Jew, but who doesn’t love cultural Judaism?

Last night I decided to bring a dash of it to friends from Honduras by preparing matzo brei. I bought matzo (over 10 bucks for a kilo, ouch!) and headed to my South American style pseudo-seder.

After announcing that Elijah was at the door when I arrived (which no one but me understood), I told the goyim the story of Passover as I scrambled the eggs and soaked the matzo. I am a pancake style matzo brei girl, served with a little sugar. I explained to them the variety of ways to prepare and serve matzo brei (scrambled, with lox, with onions, with salt, with jam) and successfully flipped the giant matzo pancake without disaster. Phew.

They loved my concoction. When sampling the final product, they decided that we must have chicken with it. Chicken? For a moment, I was incredulous, thinking how in the world could I have chicken with matzo brei? They went even further, talking about bacon and pork rinds. Treyf! Treyf in matzo brei? It’s not chametz, but equally sacrilegious.

Thankfully there were no pork products in the house so I was spared such extreme levels of lawbreaking. But I did end up enjoying my first ever matzo brei with a side of tangy Central American chicken. Zissen Pesach!