Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Man Who Ate Everything

I have just told fellow blogger, Alex, from Salta that my husband is indeed a rare Argentine. I had long suspected, and am now convinced that something had happened during his mother's pregnancy with him which set him apart from his siblings.

When I first met Guillermo in London, I had just moved there from Molazzana, near Lucca, in northern Italy. He was a little shocked by my "Italian" cooking. I thought it was me but now that I have lived here for more than a year, I have since realised the Argentine idea of Italian food bears little resemblance to the real deal. This bearer of an Italian cognome (apellido, last name) ate everything I cooked with much curiosity and some appreciation. After that we moved on to the more challenging...

By then we were living in his apartment; one night while I was preparing dinner with an ingredient I had never used on him, he chatted with his friend in Buenos Aires on the phone. He started coughing all of a sudden, quite uncontrollably, with tears streaming down his face. He told his friend he must be coming down with a flu...er, it turned out to be my Thai green curry chicken! He drank lots of water with his meal that evening but soon asked when we were having that tear jerker of a dish again. That was a watershed moment.

When we decided to get engaged, we flew to Sydney to meet my family. It was during the glorious summer months of beach, abundant tropical fruits, and Chinese New Year. He was amazed by the display and variety at fruit & veg shops, all those "vegetations" he had never seen before...we examined, up close and at length, zucchini flowers, fresh whitecurrants, mulberries, golden gooseberries, mangosteens, etc.

We were staying with my PoPo (maternal grandmother) so when we weren't eating out, we were drinking her Chinese soups made with all sorts of dried herbs and flowers or picking from her fruit bowl. He soon observed the daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in my family easily outstripped what a normal Argentine family would consume in a month.

My parents bonded with him over the numerous meals we shared. One morning, my father announced that he was to take us to his favourite Japanese restaurant for lunch. I was secretly worried because I knew teriyaki and soba noodles were not what he had in mind.
We arrived at this popular restaurant on a Friday when office workers were kicking back with a glass of sauvignon blanc and a bento (meal served in a lacquered wooden box with compartments) stuffed with mouth-watering sushi and sashimi. We sat down and ordered; my mother kindly suggested a chicken yakitori (grilled chicken kebab) to Guillermo but my father kept raving about the freshness of the fish. While my father didn't say, of course he meant it raw – he was in a Japanese restaurant after all!

We realised when our lunch arrived that sashimi was part of the bento anyway. Guillermo just followed what we were doing – including that killer bit of wasabi on the fish. One bite and he was hooked! After that, we ventured out to the Sydney Fish Market frequently with a bottle of wine in a freezer bag and just picnicked on smoked trout or freshly shucked rock oysters followed by sashimi and sushi. Guillermo looked like he had found heaven, well, definitely a foodie one.

Since I had left Sydney for some time and it was Chinese New Year, my extended family found every excuse to meet up often for dim sum, steam boat dinners and traditional Chinese banquets. The latter involved at least ten courses, one after the other. Guillermo ate through his fair share of sea cucumbers (dried sea slugs) with conpoy (dried scallops), braised abalone with "supreme" chicken broth, steamed grouper fish and shark's fin soup with gusto.

When he described what he ate in Sydney to his friends and family here in Buenos Aires, their eyes glazed over or they winced; one can imagine what it was like for Marco Polo when he returned to Italy from Imperial China.

My latest mission is to prep talk Guillermo into drinking Chinese herbal medicinal nourishments with me. Our godsend of a masseuse has just given me a couple of bags of dried flowers; in fact, it is called Five Flowers Tea Mix. When boiled for an hour, it turns black and bitter but has the benefits of detoxification. He seems to be warming to this concept but the moment of truth is this coming Monday when I actually make it for myself and fellow settler from Hong Kong, Zoe.

This detox and de-stress beverage may be timely since I will probably hear more of the DNI induced farce she is going through with the Argentine bureaucracy (see earlier post). If there is ever a human football be bounced between various government departments, sadly, she is one at the moment.

When I was a child, my parents bribed me to drink this horrible looking and bitter tasting Five Flowers Tea at least once a month. And the bribe? Usually a piece of Black Forest cake (ok, it was the 70s). Since then I have discovered cakes from other cultures which are different but just as good. This Japanese soufflé cheesecake is spongy and delicate; it is also a "Lean Cuisine" without intentionally being so.

200g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
50ml milk
3 eggs (separated)
100g caster sugar
30g cornflour
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (cremor tartaro)
For glazing:
2 tbsp jam
1/2 tbsp water

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 175C. Line a 18cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Soften the cream cheese with milk in a bowl. Add half of the caster sugar, egg yolks, cornflour, lemon juice and cream of tartar and combine together.

Place the egg whites in a large bowl, whisking them until they form stiff peaks and then keep whisking, adding the remaining sugar in 2 - 3 batches until the mixture stands in stiff peaks.

Fold the half of the egg white mixture into the cream cheese mixture as gently as possible, then fold in the remaining egg white mixture gently but thoroughly.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and level the surface. Put the tin into a larger roasting tin and create a bain-marie by pouring boiling water in the roasting tin. Bake on the lower shelf in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Leave in the tin until cool enough to handle.

Put the jam in a sauce pan on a low heat with the water and warm up until it's melted. If necessary, thicken this glaze by simmering a bit and then brush it on top of the cake.

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