Thursday, June 22, 2006

Different Strokes

It doesn't matter what time of the day and where in this city, you would spot kids; many of them would be drinking a pint of coca-cola or munching a triple-deck alfajor (sweet cornflour biscuits with dulce de leche sandwiched between). The parents are indulgent and the kids are happy so what is odd?

As you get older, you may realise there are more ways than one to do things; then sometimes there may not. Well, I mean there may be a few equally logical, scientifically proven views on the same issue, and then there are views and ways that you simply say "no way!" While the debate goes on between the puritans and the laid back whether expecting mothers could have a few drops of alcohol or caffeine once every full moon, an upscale pre-natal centre in this city advises their attendees that they could substitute coffee with diet coke! That explains why I see so many women with their bumps virtuously downing litres of that brown stuff, unaware they have now added more than just liver damaging artificial sweetener to what they were originally avoiding.

It gets worse post-partum, the new mothers are now free to sip cortado (a shot of espresso with a little milk) or coca-cola while breast feeding...

It must have been boredom that drove me to flip through a local magazine named Nacer y Crecer (to born and to grow) targeting novice mothers. On the page where a licensed nutritionist recommended recipes for mothers trying solids on older babies, she listed a heaped tablespoon of sugar and butter in her ramekin of pumpkin soufflé. If you are as alarmed as I was, I can tell you this licensed professional is not alone; I have personally seen another nutritionist adding queso cremoso (a soft fatty cheese that tastes of nothing but salt and fat) and butter to the mashed sweet potato intended for her own 8 month-old.

These practitioners might have been trained at the same college as the doctor my friend went to see with her baby; the good doctor recommended that she starts feeding her 6 month-old a teaspoon of sugar a day to get the baby accustomed to sweets. In fact, adding spoonfuls of sugar to milk for babies and children is a common practice here...
I remember sugar, crates of the stuff, was what my school sent to Africa in response to Band Aid in the '80s. While Buenos Aires came close to the bottom of the league table of the World's most liveable cities, a survival diet of sugar and fats is still out of place.

So what do these kids, veins pumped with sugar, do? They have a night out in town with the parents! If they get a little cranky after mid-night, an ice-cream or some more coke would put them right. Many restaurants have a pelotero (a place for the kids to play) so mummy and daddy can have their dinner in peace, at 10:00 p.m. (the usual time for dinner here)

After a while, I began to think I am the strange one with suburban reflexes and Victorian impulse to introduce routine to kids or to help them form healthy habits. No, por favour! (please!) Healthy habits are for the sick and the elderly; while we can, we should test the limits of our kidneys and liver function.

I am sure I will relapse to my less enlightened values once I have a couple of cubs myself. However, before you draw the conclusion that I am going to be the type who gives a tofu burger to my kids as a treat, you should try my yummy pear & walnut oil cake. It is far, far better than a happy compromise.

150ml walnut oil
150g golden caster sugar,
2 extra large eggs
175g plain flour
175g wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
450g pears, peeled, cored and diced

20 cm springform cake tin or a loaf tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Beat oil and sugar together in a bowl, now add eggs one at a time, beating in between each addition. Beat until the mixture looks like a runny mayonnaise. Add dry ingredients to the mixture, folding with a metal spoon. Then stir in the pears and ginger. The batter should be pretty stiff, don’t worry, just spoon into the prepared tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for at least 1 hour and then test doneness with a toothpick.

Let the cake stand for 10 min in the tin on a wire rack, then turn out and leave to cool. This is one of those cakes which taste and texture will improve upon storing.

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