Friday, August 04, 2006

A Glimpse into the Future

Yesterday, at a typical porteño restaurant in a traditional barrio (district), two men in their thirties were having lunch. These good friends meet for lunch every week to talk; this week the topic of conversation turned to their aging fathers.

Both fathers are in their mid-sixties. One runs his own small business and the other is an IT consultant who was one of the pioneers of IT industry in Argentina. Unlike many in the Silicon Valley who retired young and rich, this old man is still working for his daily crust.

Both of these older gentlemen are descendants of Italian grandfathers; they are hard workers and honest folks who pay their taxes and love their country. However, they are also very different in character, representing two opposites in porteño mentality.

The IT consultant decided to pursue his Italian citizenship and a European passport, not so much for himself; but for his children and grandchildren. Indeed, while he is never going to leave Argentina, he encourages his children to move out of the country when they can. He speaks with regrets that he didn't to do so himself when he was younger and had plenty of opportunities.

The other one thought the application for citizenship an unnecessary hassle; he fears travelling, loathes to be away from Buenos Aires and suffers when his grown and married children are not by his side. Indeed, he and his wife ring their children everyday and three out of four of them live in within very easy distance from his home.

These men are still working at their age not out of choice but necessity. Neither of them were ever frivolous spenders, however, due to what they have suffered in their beloved country every ten years or so, after a lifetime of hard work, they have little savings and a joke of a pension.

The younger men surmised yesterday that their fathers will have to work until the day they physically can no longer, maybe even the day they die. They also pondered if they are going to repeat their footsteps because the country has a record of repeating hers.

Situations like these are common across social spectrum here. Another older gentleman who was the CEO of a North American company in this city up to the financial crisis in 2001 lost his job at the age of sixty. Instead of drawing a close to his career, he went out to look for work.

He looked into advertisements and sent his resume to over a hundred companies like some college graduate looking for a start. After almost a year, he found a position in a small art gallery. Like the other two gentlemen, this one probably is also going to hang on to the job with his dear life until his last breath.

Argentina is a beautiful country with stunningly varied landscapes. Buenos Aires is a city steeped in history and faded elegance, like an aging femme fatale. It is all too understandable that many young people travel to Buenos Aires, fall in love with it and decide to stay. They profess their love for this country and immerse themselves in the culture. I sometimes wonder if it has anything to do with the sense of immortality which comes with youth.
Real love is sprung not only out of enjoyment of great weather, interesting culture, better standard of living, or even a fast buck to be made before getting out. Most of these travellers are not at the stage in their lives when they plan a family of their own or think of what needs to be done to ensure a comfortable pension in their old age. I question how many would still be vouching their undying love if they would even contemplate for one brief moment of suffering the same fate as these older gentlemen.

I appreciate the wonderful people and experiences I have encountered in this city, however, I am too much of a realist to join the excited masses in professing my great love for this country – it is too much of a tough love for my liking especially when I can see it from the inside.

Since living here, I have grown to like crème caramel or what porteños refer to as flan. I have tasted many versions, some at restaurants and others at friends'. Unlike some of our Argentine friends who prefer their flan packed with cooked bubbles, I prefer ones with less which also give a less tough and chewy texture.
The bubbles are caused by too much heat during the cooking process too quickly. To avoid bubbles, make sure the pudding is cooked in a bain-marie.

I have recently come across a crème caramel scented with Earl Grey. Since I love the scent of bergamot, this is going to be my twist on the Argentina classic.

La crème:
2 cups single cream
3 tbsp earl grey tea
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar

4 eggs
4 egg yolks

Earl Grey caramel:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup earl grey tea*

*Make a cup of Earl Grey tea using tea leaves and hot water. Half of the tea is going into the crème and the other half is reserved for the caramel.

For the caramel, heat sugar and the tea in a heavy pan over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring constantly until it thickens and turns a rich golden brown. Separate into 6 warmed ramekins, each a size of 2/3 cup.

For the crème, heat the single cream until almost boiling, then add the half cup of brewed tea. Separately, cream the sugar, eggs, and yolks until light. Add the cream slowly to the sugar, whisking. Pour into the ramekins and place the ramekins into a Pyrex dish or pan, deep enough to add hot water up 2/3 the sides of the ramekins.Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes at 160C.

They're ready when they're firm, but wobbly like jelly.Remove from oven and the pan, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, to make it easier to remove them from the ramekins.

To serve, insert a knife at the edge and run along the side to loosen. Then invert onto a serving dish. Enjoy!

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