Monday, August 07, 2006

Love Misinterpreted?

I have yet to figure out the uniqueness of Argentines' love for children. They undoubtedly adore them; they have even devoted the second Sunday of August as Children's Day when the kids are indulged even more than usual by their parents and relatives. Yet, their manifestation of love still puzzles me at times.

Whenever we see our nieces and nephews, no matter whether it is at someone's home or at a restaurant, they are always running wild. The parents have either got used to it or they simply are unconcerned about such behaviour because they seem completely oblivious.

Especially in a restaurant situation, my suburban impulses usually surface after an hour. In the beginning, I asked my husband why the kids were not told to sit at the table or why they were not encouraged to eat but were completely let loose, terrorising other customers who were just trying to enjoy their meal. A year on, I don't ask anymore, I simply pretend not to see.

Our immediate family of sixteen went to a parrilla (grill restaurant) in San Isidro once. Being outside of Capital Federal, there was a sizeable pelotero (playground for kids, found in many family restaurants). It was a nice day so we were dining in the garden. Before we had settled down, the kids aged 1-5 had already rushed over to the monkey bars, climbing ropes and slides over the opposite side, unsupervised.

We proceeded to order lunch and my brother-in-law asked me if this Argentine style of dining whereby facilities for kids are provided so they won't disturb the adults can be found in other countries. I surveyed my surrounding and glanced over at the playground which was much larger than a basketball court with one disinterested teenager earning her pocket money as a child minder. The safety bars were placed quite high and the wooden obstacle course structure was clearly designed for older kids. I told him diplomatically that very few restaurants in other countries could afford such a facility because the insurance would be astronomical!

My brother-in-law laughed at my comment and proudly said that would never be a problem in Argentina. While I was listening to him, I looked across the garden and saw his 2 year old toddler almost fell from a bridge, two metres off the ground. At that point, I simply stared at him and his wife, both tucking into their bife de chorizo (sirloin steak) facing away from their son, "maybe you should care that there isn't insurance". My sister-in-law shot me a look, grumpily chucked her napkin on the table and went to look for her son.

When we were finishing our main course, the kids rushed over to grab a sip of coke. Desserts were ordered and the mothers told their bubs to return soon for a bite. When numerous plates of flan con dulce de leche (crème caramel with a big dollop of thick caramel on the side) arrived, the kids sat down at the table for the very first time.

It was too horrible to watch innocent toddlers at one and two tucking in all that sugary gunk as their midday meal, especially when one of the mothers feeding her kid was a licensed nutritionist!

When we were about to leave the restaurant at 5:00p.m that afternoon, one of our nephews who didn't turn up for his flan earlier was searching for food at the table. By then everything had been cleared except packets of sugar for the coffee. He tore open a couple of packets and poured the white crystals into his mouth! I asked him why he was eating sugar like that; his reply was "I am very hungry". His parents had walked to their car and missed this episode completely.

Another time, the same gang plus the abuelos (grandparents) were to descend to our humble abode for lunch. My sister-in-law turned up with her young baby in a carrier, she told us her older boy was travelling with his bis-abuelos (great-grandparents) and abuelos. I was surprised because my in-laws did not possess a car-seat for kids; I blurted out that it was dangerous and would have been illegal in other countries. My sister-in-law defensively told me "it is illegal in Argentina too, you know!" My thought bubble which followed hung between us and caused her quite some embarrassment.

I had prepared roast chicken, baked fish with provençal herbs, roasted pumpkin and beetroot and pasta with a walnut and rocket pesto for lunch that day. Without even offering their kids any of the food laid out in front of them, all the mothers asked me to give them plain pasta with melted butter. The children picked on a few strands and then went off to play.

I have been attending these family gatherings for a solid year; I have yet to see any of the kids eat anything proper. No one ever encourage them to sit down with the adults; and certainly no one chase after them to put food in their mouths at meal times.

It doesn't seem congruent; no, at least not to me. I am concerned but these are not my kids; so however sad it is, I'll just have to watch them go hungry or have their safety compromised.

It is hard to feed children and it is harder to get them to eat vegetables. I think hiding them in something they would otherwise eat is probably a viable tactic. The quick part of this ravioli comes from using ready made gow gee wrapper from Barrio Chino.

Quick Spinach Ravioli:

2 bunches spinach, trimmed
200g ricotta cheese
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon rind
¼ cup basil leaves
sea salt and cracked black pepper
32 gow gee wrappers
200g (7 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Blanch the spinach in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 1 minute. Refresh under cold running water and drain well.

Pat dry to remove as much water as possible. Chop the spinach and place in a bowl with the ricotta, parmesan, lemon rind, basil, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Place a gow gee wrapper on a flat surface and brush the edges with water.

Place a tablespoon of the spinach mixture in the centre of the wrapper and top with another wrapper. Press the edges to seal. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Cook the ravioli in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 3–4 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with tomato salsa and sliced mozzarella or just a drizzle of good olive oil.

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