Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Hairy Situation

Although we have been told repeatedly that there isn't going to be an energy crisis, reality seems not to be cooperating with government propaganda or intervention.

Friends over in Belgrano Bajo had their wattage cut on the hottest night into the season. We had a little power scare on Sunday ourselves when everything switched off all at once and no sooner we heard screaming through the lift shaft – someone was trapped in the elevator. Guillermo rushed to help – he is always the first to act in these situations.

I considered using the stairs from now until we leave for Sydney, coincidentally that was exactly what my friend who endured a night of melting heat did for a week – she has since given up. However, what do they say about Murphy's Law...

My buttercup blonde domestic goddess came to clean our apartment last night; besides feeding her my chocolate & pistachio cake covered with dark chocolate ganáche and later some zucchini & ricotta fritters, we chitchatted about the crisis. Her reaction provided a glimpse into a probable explanation as to why most Argentines are better equipped at handling incompetence.

Her view is that the lack of energy pales into absolute insignificance when someone in Lavallol was capable of raping and murdering an 8 year-old and then burying her. If we follow that same line of logic, we shouldn't sweat anything because poverty or violence is a daily experience of many Argentines. We are so fortunate that we are not eating each other alive for survival, what else could we possibly complain about?

No wonder, in countries such as Argentina, it is in the politicians' best interests to keep a large part of the population poor, uneducated and most importantly, patriotic. The similarities with another ex-Spanish colony spring to mind immediately – the Philippines. Most Philippinos still love and worship their corrupt "shoe queen" Imelda Marcos!

While taking a walk around the Congress one night, Guillermo asked me about hair extensions. Now, my husband wouldn't even recognise a mascara wand if it hit him in the face so I listened attentively. He heard this term, all the rage in Hollywood and other capital cities populated with philistines, on a radio programme which talked about women in Santiago del Estero selling their hair for food.
I was just explaining to him how fashion conscious people prefer to have fake real hair these days when we saw a sign at the door of a hairdresser's on Junin "Compro pelo" (I buy hair). The problem is so close to home, the Congress I mean.

Poverty is real, sometimes so real that people have become a little numbed by it. My then pregnant Spanish teacher once said to me, without a hint of compassion, that street kids were a menace. She was held at knife point by a 5 year-old for a couple of pesos. Indeed, some of them are as young as 4 or 5; however, it cannot be their fault that they are poor or starving and therefore controlled by their thuggish ringleader. There is a much bigger problem caused by anyone with voting rights in this country, the rest are just manifestations of how wrong many have been.

Anyway, I've digressed and risk excusing all forms of incompetence which I've encountered many here in one short year.

Our pumpkin recipe on this day of Halloween is not the Trad pumpkin pie but a roasted Japanese pumpkin salad.

1 kg Japanese pumpkin*, trimmed (but not peeled), seeded, and cut into 3-5 mm slices
1/2 onion, preferably sweet onion, very thinly sliced
A fistful of walnuts, roasted and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp grated parmigiano reggiano, plus extra for garnish
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Your choice of salad greens (I prefer to include arugula), rinsed and dried
Preheat oven to 180C.

Spread slices of pumkin in a single layer on a large plate. Steam it for about 15min, flip them over for amother 10min, if necessary (this is to reduce the oven-baking time, as pumkin takes long to cook). Transfer the pumpkin to a non-stick cookie sheet (I use non-stick aluminum foil) and bake in the preheated oven until tender and crisp, about 20min. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
To roast the walnuts, spread them on a half of a piece of aluminum foil, and fold the foil into half so that walnuts were covered. Toast the covered nuts for 5-10 minutes. Chop and let cool.In a bowl combine the onion, lemon juice, oil, walnuts, and cheese. Grind the pepper generously, and salt to taste (do not put too much salt, as the cheese is quite salty).
Mix in the pumpkin.Spread the greens on a large plate and place the rest of the ingredients on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with more grated cheese (optional). Grind the pepper. Serves 2.
*Japanese pumpkin has dark green skin and bright orangy yellow flesh.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cha Cha Cha

Tea (茶 or Cha) is an important part of some Asian cultures. To drink a cup of tea is not just to quench one's thirst but it could be a gesture of respect, gratitude or dare I say, love from one person to another. In these cultures, to know how to drink tea is considered a sign of good breeding and education.

The leaves used to make tea are therefore of utmost importance; a significant body of knowledge on the subject exists beyond our generic té comun or green tea.

My parents' everyday drink is a white tea made with Shou Mei (壽眉) leaves while my grandmother prefers the perfumy daffodil (水仙) which also means "Water Fairy". My favourite is rose (yes, dried rose buds) or a lychee tea and my cousins love a pot chrysanthemum infusion any day.

The Japanese Matcha (抹茶) is now commonly used in cooking and baking beyond Japan while the use of Chinese teas in cooking, as demonstrated most elegantly by J at Kuidaore here, is still very much a hidden secret among the connoisseurs of Chinese cuisines (the 18 provinces have their own distinctive cooking style). Among them, the most well known is a fragrant tea smoked duck from the mountainous province of Hunan.

Since I received my stash of Matcha from Bonnie who used hers in some very cute cupcakes, I have been checking out what others are doing with this versatile ingredient...
Let's set the mood with Paris Breakfasts' collection of beautiful tea related objects...then we go to Cote d' Azur for some Green & Black Tiramisu or we could travel across to Italia for some Matcha sphaghetti, followed by a scoop of Green Tea gelato and a fine alternative to the classic Italian tiramisu - courtesy of Carol, Fanny and fiordizucca (pumpkin flower) who reminds me of another pumpkin recipe by il cavoletto di bruxelles.
Pumpkin and Pine Nut Terrine:
purea di zucca 400g (pumpkin puree)
latte 10cl (100ml milk)
uova 3 (eggs)
farina 50g (plain flour)
olio d'oliva 2 cucchiai (2 tbsp olive oil)
groviera 50g (Gruyère cheese)
panna da cucina 2 cucchiai (2 tbsp single cream)
pinoli 30g (pine nuts)
Steam 600-700g of pumpkin until soft to get 400g of puree. Mix puree with milk. In another bowl, beat togeter eggs, flour, grated cheese and cream.
Add the puree mixture to the flour mixture. In a loaf tin, sprinkle some pine nuts and then pour in the pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle the remaining pine nuts on top. Bake in a 200C oven for 45 min. and leave to cool completely.
Cuocere 6-7 etti di zucca al vapore (lasciarla fino a quando sarà molto morbida), togliere la buccia e frullarla, pesare poi 400g della purea così ricavata. Mescolare la purea col latte. In un altro recipiente, sbattere le uova, la farina, il groviera grattugiato e la panna. Aggiungere la purea di zucca.Rivestire uno stampo di carta da forno, versare metà dei pinoli sul fondo, versare l'impasto e finire con l'altra metà dei pinoli. Infornare a 200°per 45 minuti e lasciar raffreddare completamente dopo cottura.
Loosely translated but still an accurate and workable recipe ;-)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fried Up

We have had a taste of the scorching summer that is to come already. Friends and family are making plans for their annual exodus from Buenos Aires.

For a lot of porteños, Punta del Este is the default answer – they prepare themselves for six months of the year to be in shape and the right shade of brown before launching themselves onto a crowd of identical looking seasonal migrants, also from Buenos Aires.

It seems the idea of summer, or all year round if one could afford it, is to get a tan worthy of much envy. Guillermo used to share a remise (rental car, similar to a pre-ordered taxi) every week to go out to Ituzango, for work, with two female university professors in their 50s. Their skin was already completely destroyed by years of over exposure to the sun and solarium rays, they faces were more wrinkled than that of my 86 year-old grandmother; yet they still wanted to be more tanned.

My eldest sister-in-law's father had skin-cancer last year. He went through more than a few operations and at one point the prognosis was very grim indeed. However, during that same summer, his daughter was sending her young kids out running around swimming pools, obviously with little clothes on, under the fierce midday sun.

To tan or not to tan; it is not a question of vanity but of long term health. It seems most people, even those staring at the serious consequences at close range, simply cannot make the connection that skin cancer doesn't happen overnight and it certainly doesn't only affect the senior population.

Guillermo's eldest brother, husband of this fearless sister-in-law commented on the sad, pale colour of my husband. Guillermo just shrugged; he was told by the same brother he was sad and lacking in passion just because he didn't like to be part of
a typical Argentine football match and all that it entails. Well, not everybody has the same desire to look like George Hamilton or swear like a gutter mouth.

If my husband had wanted to be as brown and wrinkled as a nut, I would have tried to provide him with information why tanning is bad for him and his long term health. However, if he had insisted I would have let him – at least it would have been his educated choice. The most pathetic is yielding to social pressure for no reason other than damaging oneself for some misguided sense of vanity.

On the other hand, some forms of social pressure may be quite desirable, such as people coming together to test out best pumpkin recipes...

This is a recipe from Tish Boyle's "The Cake Book". The crust is made from pastry dough as opposed to the typical biscuit crumbs. With its combination of pecans and crystallized ginger, the crust pairs exceptionally well with the slightly spicy pumpkin custard filling.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Crust
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup (40g) chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup (54g) pecans
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, cold & cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tbsp cold water
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
570g cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
4 large eggs, at room temp.

To make the crust:
Position oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 180C. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x3 inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with 2-3 layers of aluminum foil.Place the flour, sugar, salt, ginger, and pecans in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the pecans are finely ground. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the cold water slowly until the dough just comes together.

Press the dough into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust just starts to brown. Cool crust completely on a wire rack.

To make the filling:
Reduce oven temperature to 170C. In a bowl, whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugars and beat on low speed until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin mixture, then add the cornstarch and mix until just blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and do a final mix by hand to make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Pour the filling in the cooled crust. Set the still wrapped springform pan in a large roasting pan. Carefully pour enough hot water into the large pan to come 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes until the center is set but still a bit wobbly.
Remove cheesecake from water bath to a cooling rack. Carefully remove the foil and run a thin knife tip around the edge of the cake. This will loosen the cake and help prevent the top from cracking. Cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate the cooled cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Flower Power

Guillermo has resumed his therapeutic massage treatments with our mighty masseuse Diana. One treatment lasts a good two hours, sometimes three. Her techniques (穴位推拿按摩) are based on the ancient Chinese medical theory of our Qi flowing through our body's meridians (經絡) and acupuncture points (穴位). The modern name for it is Tui Na (推拿) which means "push" and "take/pull", probably referring to the hand movements of the masseuse.
Since our masseuse is also well versed in Chinese medicinal nourishments (調理) – a theory based on changing or supplementing our diet to enhance the flow of Qi, and hence, our health and well being. Diana, as usual, left us a "prescription" of herbs and seeds for our current conditions.
Depending on what is prescribed, I sometimes completely ignore it and rather suffer the consequences – no donkey hide thanks very much! However, we are in luck this week; Guillermo and I both have too much heat and dampness in our system and the herbs for them are quite mild.
Having too much heat is a symptom which may manifest through any of these recognisable signs: disturbed sleep, teeth grinding during sleep, bad breath, pimples, or ulcers - very similar to what we know as signs of stress.
Guillermo had not been sleeping well and when he did fall asleep he started grinding his teeth. Although he has trained himself not to take sugar in tea or coffee, the culprit of his heat is still most likely to be sugar – like most Argentines, he simply can't resist a factura (sweet pastry).
Dampness trapped in one's body is very difficult to get rid of, and some of us are more prone to retaining damp. We have been told by Diana and my dear friend and wonderful acupuncturist, Madeline, to ease up on an array of foods.
Damp inducing foods include: cold foods and drinks (we drink mineral water at room temperature and only have a small quantity of ice cream very occasionally), red meat (especially duck and fatty cuts of beef and pork), diary products (cheese is the worst as it is high in diary fats), tomatoes, coffee, food sweetened with sugar and alcohol, especially beer.
OK, calm down. If I have just listed all the major components of a typical Argentine diet, don't be too alarmed...it is about limiting intake rather than complete avoidance. Guillermo loves pasta with tomato sauce and I like wines, we are both mindful of them being damp inducing and try not to indulge too much or too often.
Heat can be rid of through a concoction of mild herbs; we have been told to make a rather pleasant tasting infusion in the mornings of barbary wolfberries (枸杞子), dwarf lilyturf tuber (麦冬), honeysuckle flowers (金银花), and chrysanthemum flowers (菊花). I just make a pot of this tea and we drink it throughout the day.
Ridding of damp, on the other hand, is more about nourishing one's spleen; the solution lies in our diet. We have been told to add certain common herbs and spices to our food; we should be eating more beta fruits and vegetables (pumpkin, carrot, papaya), mushrooms, seeds and pulses.
While I think our damp problem is actually caused by the sugar or wine in our diet rather than not consuming the right foods, it is a great excuse for a pumpkin recipe.
This pumpkin bread recipe from il cavoletto di bruxelles is extremely easy to follow and the sugar content is not very high as pumpkin is already full of natural sweetness.
200g pumpkin puree
175g plain flour
90g sugar
2 eggs
100ml olive oil
50g finely ground toasted hazelnuts
50g finely ground almond
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp ground cardamom
a pinch of salt

Mix eggs, olive oil and sugar in a bowl. Add the pumpkin puree, ground nuts and then the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom. Mix until combined and pour into a medium loaf tin. Bake for 45min (or until cooked) at 180C.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pumpkin Brain

I have been engrossed in following the absolute best Argentine blog while looking out for a pumpkin recipe as I'm toying with the idea of Halloween despite it really not being my party - we just love pumpkin, that's all.

Little did I know my two seemingly unrelated activities shall coincide and yield something quite amusing – at least to my twisted sense of humour...

You know I've been harping on the adage "You Are What You Eat"; it had never been truer until I discovered today, thanks to Accidental Hedonist, that our Selfless Protector of the World with God on His Side or as PDF has eloquently named him the Dangerously Dumb Lord of the Benevolent Empire fuels his body and soul with imitation cheese otherwise known as Kraft Singles and fiberless white bread. Now, that has explained a lot and cleared my previous puzzlements about the man and his logic.
I shall post the results of my fruitful search in having my ways with a pumpkin from tomorrow to 31st October.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Retail Therapy

In the crazy world that I lived in, shoes were my Prozac. I depended on Jimmy, Manolo and Sergio; shamelessly I also had a fling with young Marc while flirting with Monsieur Louboutin. Since moving to Buenos Aires, I have stacked away all the testimonials of my passion for these men. These days, I only have skin to skin contact with them on very special occasions. I have transferred my energy to making friends with Nigella, Donna and Bill.

However, these long distance relationships had not been easy since I now live in a far corner of the world. In order to keep them going visiting friends had to bring me tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup and Black Treacle, packets of gelatine leaves, bags of pine nuts, etc. Meanwhile, I shop with much opportunism for rose water, dried rose buds, orange blossom water, fresh pomegranates (granadas) and various Asian greens.

With such hardships to be endured for these relationships, you can imagine my ecstasy when I found today, all in one brief hour, bunches of fresh Thai basil (has more fire than the sweet Italian varietals), crates of green mangoes (usually coarsely grated for salads), custard apples (annona), fresh blueberries and loquats (nísperos). I also managed to grab bags of edible lavender flowers, hazelnuts and pistachios.

Most of these treasures, I found in Casa China, 2173 Arribeños (They have finally put up a sign in Spanish!) while the custard apples and loquats were spotted at Asia Oriental, 1677 Mendoza. This supermarket has the best variety of Chinese herbs and seeds for medicinal nourishments; beside lotus seeds, wolfberries and honeysuckles, one can find agar-agar (natural vegetarian gelatine) there. They also stock those Japanese pancake sandwiches filled with aduki bean paste, Dorayaki, in their fresh bread and pastry section.

Overloaded with bags of shopping, I returned home triumphant and on a natural high. I am planning to bake the besugo(鯛魚) with lemon and Provençal herbs for dinner tonight. I would probably pair the hazelnuts with chocolate in some Northern Italian dolce. Oh, those vibrant green pistachios? I've already got plans for them...

When I first read about Clotilde's Gâteau Surprise Chocolat Pistache, I vowed that I would find an occasion to make it. This Sunday, we are having our dear friends Madeline and Julio over for tea and I really can't find a better or more appreciative audience for my cooking.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quick Bites

I routinely start my day with a cup of tea in front of the computer getting through emails and my daily dose of news from various newspapers. Then I visit an ever increasing list of blogs I have bookmarked; they started out being solely food blogs but I now read, with relish, an equally long list of others, among them The Sartorialist, Design*Sponge and the musings of Chauli at 瑮律無窮. Thanks to Chauli, a cosomopolitan newspaper editor, I now know who is Blythe Kenner (see photo), her history, and that she is desired by some who would be willing fork out over US$1,000 for her on ebay!

Of all my recent discoveries within the blog world, I prize the one which an Argentine blogs in English. PDF is based in Rosario; through his blog D for Disorientation, he takes an honest and critical look at his country, the people and the politics. His insights on all the craziness happening around him make compelling reading and, I believe, him a kindred spirit of Guillermo's.

Work is going well leaving me less time to deal with my other obligations so I am turning to quick recipes to put appetising and nutritious food on the table. This is one of them; it is wonderful with a side salad for lunch or as the appetiser course for dinner.

Chickpea Fritters:
cooked chickpeas (about 2 cups)
1 zucchini, finely grated
1 carrot, finely grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 chilli (optional), finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup ricotta
3 slices of bread or fresh breadcrumbs

Place all the ingredients into a food processor and process for a couple of minutes until combined. (If you don't have a food processor, simply mash the chickpeas and mix together with the rest of the ingredients).

Divide the mixture into 8 and shape into patties and if you have time, put them in the fridge for 15 minutes. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the patties and cook for about 3 minutes on each side or until crispy. Be careful when you turn them over, as they are quite delicate.
Remove and drain excess oil on paper towel. Serve warm.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Forgotten Corner

My work engagement has taken me across town to the tranquil Belgrano R (R stands for residencial) where I discovered a charming bookstore named KEL. It sits quietly in a leafy corner of Conde y Echeverría facing a small park.

The store is located in a traditional house painted a handsome French blue. When I first set foot in the store, I was instantly reminded of Rizzoli in Mid-town New York. Of course, the almost too glamorous Rizzoli is the Bergdorf Goodman of book stores but both places exude the same feeling of being an oasis of calm, a sanctuary, in the midst of a teeming city.

Kel is an "English Bookstore for Everyone" as its sign reads. I observed that they stock a lot more English classics than other English bookstores, probably because of the number of prestigious bilingual schools in the neighbourhood. Its children section is particularly impressive; not one Barney picture book in sight, just children's modern classics such as Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Eric Hill's Fun with Spot series. They also have a good selection of hardbacks for adults.

There is a Maru Botana cafe a few steps across the street, it is quite a cute space but I'm not a great fan of her baking and since it was another scorcher of a summer's day, I'd rather had an ice cream.

Thanks to Saltshaker's tireless effort in sampling ice creams across the city, I now have it on good authority that Persicco is not all jazz and I can attest that Scannapieco at Córdoba 4826 (entre Armenia y Gurruchaga) is a real gem. So between now and when Guillermo and I could lick Pompei's sublime fresh white nectarine gelato again, we are very happy with this new find.

Then, there are times when I yearn for flavours a little more exotic, like a green tea ice cream which I'd search, in vain, in Japanese restaurants in this city. The answer which I go back to time and again seems to be DIY.

Green Tea Ice Cream:
100ml milk
2 egg yolks + 4 eggs (beaten)
175g castor sugar
400ml heavy cream
2 tbsp Matcha green tea powder
100ml hot milk
Lightly whisk egg yolks and eggs in a pan. Add 100ml milk and sugar in the pan and mix well. Strain the mixture through a fine strainer and return to a fresh pan. Put the pan on low heat and heat the mixture, stirring constantly.When the mixture has thickened, remove from the heat. Soak the bottom of the pan in ice water and cool the mixture.Mix the 100ml hot milk and green tea powder together. Strain for milk solids.

Add the green tea in the egg mixture and mix well, cooling in ice water. Add whipped heavy cream in the mixture and mix well.Pour into a container. Freeze till side harden, take it out and whisk to break up ice particles. Refreeze again. If you have an ice-cream maker, skip this and just follow manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, October 23, 2006

If I had the time...

It seems there are a couple of visitors to this blog who are blessed with quite a bit of spare time on their hands; how I envy them because if I had the time I'd really like to indulge in making this amazing cake which Keiko of Nordljus featured sometime ago. She didn't post an English recipe so I had to back it out with some guesswork involved.

Well, I've been swamped with work lately so I'll just share the recipe. The cake is quite elaborate therefore perfect for those with the luxury of time, I hope they can use their time constructively to create something as rewarding and beautiful as this piece of edible art.

The bergamot (see photo) in Earl Grey tea goes very well with the citrus flavour of kumquat(kinotto). It is an elegant dessert, perfect for the summer. It is made up of three parts: an almond sponge base, then the tea mousse and finally a wafer thin layer of caramelised kumquat flavoured meringue.

Kumquat and Earl Grey Tea Mousse Cake

Almond Sponge:
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, for tins
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt

Reduce oven temperature to 190º. Place the almonds and the cornstarch in bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

Butter and line Swiss roll tin with parchment and butter again, then dust with flour, and set aside to cool, to room temperature. This won't take that long because the chocolate took a lot of the heat out when it melted.

Beat egg whites till they begin to stiffen, then add sugar and beat till they hold soft peaks.
Fold 1/3 the egg whites into the chocolate custard, then fold in the rest. Fold in the whipped cream (the mixture will be quite liquid at this point). Pour into molds or cups, and chill.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together egg yolks and vanilla. With mixer on high speed, gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until pale, thick, and light, about 5 minutes. Transfer egg-yolk mixture to a large bowl; set aside. Wash and dry mixer bowl and attachment.

Place egg whites and salt in the clean mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to high, and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until stiff and glossy, about 4 minutes.

Fold the egg-white mixture into the egg-yolk mixture. In three additions, fold the reserved ground-almond mixture into this new mixture. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans, and smooth the tops with an offset spatula.

Bake cakes until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool, about 25 minutes. Turn out cakes, and cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Earl Grey Tea Mousse:
1 tbsp candied kumquats, finely chopped
370ml milk
3 egg yolks
90g caster sugar
10ml corn flour
120ml double cream
4 tsp Earl Grey tea

Place tea leaves in a saucepan, add the milk and bring to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour. Remove the leaves.
Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the sugar and corn flour until pale. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly.
Return to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat, strain into a clean bowl and leave to cool.
Whisk cream and fold in the custard. Chill.

2 egg whites
50g sugar
1 tsp kumquat zest
icing sugar for caramelisation
Whisk egg white until foamy, add sugar and continue whisking until soft peak stage. Fold in zest. Set aside.

To Assemble:
Lay out the sponge in a round or square cake ring (bottomless) on top of a board or platter. Pile the chilled mousse on top of the sponge and then smooth the top of the mousse. Return to fridge to chill. When you are ready to serve, spread a thin layer of meringue on top of the mousse and caramelise with a chef's blowtorch. Take off the ring and serve. If the ring is stuck, lightly torch around the ring once.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Just Another Manic Sunday

After a very pleasant and relaxing brunch, with our friend Miguel and his adorable family, in which his girls tasted and loved their first nísperos (loquats), we had to go and fulfil our family obligations. Our eldest niece was having her birthday party, she turned 6 today.

It was yet another salon de fiesta (usually a house converted into a party room) painted in the winning combination of lime green, bright orange and purple. Baby girls with shaved head and pierced ears were drinking coke from their sippy cups.

(The local custom is to shave babies' hair all off when they are born and girls get the added service of having their ears pierced. It is quite a frightful sight for the uninitiated.)

Our niece, as usual, was in a highly flammable poly-satin princess costume with matching sparkly choker, tiara and a wand. Just like at her brother's birthday, there was a kiddy discotheque with strobe lights and the works. Girls no more than 6 were flicking their hair and shaking their bottom while dancing to Latino pop. The only thing missing was a dodgy looking pusher waiting in the wings...

Nah, didn't even bat an eyelid this time; just all the usual stuff.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rose By Another Name

Our avuncular masseuses Diana has bestowed upon us some wonderful little edible gems which Guillermo had never tasted before while I had not seen for a very long time. She brought us a basket of Pi Pa (枇杷) or loquats.

The loquat, Eriobotrya japonica, is one of the few important fruit trees of the tropics belonging to the Rosaceae (Rose) family. The fruit is indigenous to China and often mentioned in ancient Chinese literature, the most famous being poems of Li Bi(李白).

Sometimes the loquat is called Japanese medlar probably because it somewhat resembles the medlar of Asia. It has been grown from antiquity in Japan and India and is cultivated also in Indochina, the Mediterranean region, and to some extent in the New World subtropics. Chinese immigrants are presumed to have carried the loquat to Hawaii, and now I guess, Argentina.

The small ornamental evergreen trees yield yellowish, oval fruits which are borne in clusters and taste somewhat like apples or pears. They are commonly eaten fresh but are used also for making jam, jelly, pie, and sauces. The Chinese use loquat leaves to make medicinal syrup, like a cough drop, for soothing the throat.

The Japanese are now the major producer of loquats which they call Biwa. Chika at she who eats paired the fruit beautifully with her delicate Jasmine Tea Bavarois. Obachan at her Kitchen & Balcony Garden used Biwa to top her Ume jam tarts.

Guillermo's dear friend, Miguel, has often tasted weird and wonderful things provided by me; if we could stop ourselves from picking at the clusters of fruits, maybe we could leave some for him to sample on Sunday.

The heritage of loquat has inspired me to make scones (real scones, not like those in panaderías here which have egg and lots of sugar in the dough). Why? For no reason other than being able to put a dollop of that fragrant but very sweet rose jelly (Jalea de Rosa) from Alimentos Natali in my mouth!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Domestic Goddesses of Buenos Aires

When an Argentine earning over 2,500 pesos (just over US$800) a month is classified as part of the top 10% earners in their national economy, any double-income family with that level of earnings are considered clase media. Indeed, as long as they limit their consumptions to local goods and services and never set foot in a stronger economy, they can sustain this very comfortable middle class bubble.

Official figure of unemployment is still in the double digits so you can imagine affordable labour is abundant. For this and other deeply- seated cultural reasons, most of these "middle class" families engage domestic help at least a few hours a week if not full time.

These mucamas, domestic helpers, are mostly ladies from surrounding countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay. Due to their ethnicity, they are also often referred to as morenas (fem. brown) by the porteños – I've been reassured repeatedly by many of them, the porteños I mean, there is nothing wrong with such tag. However, Guillermo, his close Argentine friends and I have never used it and definitely never will.

When we first moved into our apartment, my mother-in-law proclaimed that I was desperately in need of a mucama to keep the place clean and tidy. I explained that both Guillermo and I do not have the same exigent standards as hers and we'd manage on our own. The truth is, I grew up with live-in maids and I didn't want to give up our privacy so easily.

However, to avoid having my in-laws' maid, in her white frilly apron and collar get up, coming over to help and snoop around twice a week, I reluctantly looked for a part-time cleaner. An acquaintance told me to ring a domestic helper she had come to know very well through her expat friends who were leaving the country. I did and our lives changed for the better...

Our maid Graciela, with her buttercup blonde (to the secret envy of many porteñas, that's her natural hair colour) and bright blue eyes, reminds me of Sister Maria in The Sound of Music. She is Argentine but had lived in California too long, she epitomises great service with a big smile; she sees what needs to be done, makes a rotation plan of various chores and off she goes - missions are always accomplished with great efficiency, to the highest standard and she is not even in an uniform! She is chatty and always cheerful, we simply love her.

Graciela is extremely hard working and has a few jobs on the go so we told her we would be flexible with the time she comes. One day a week she comes at six in the evening and doesn't leave until ten thirty or later. I would be cooking while she cleans and when the food is ready I'd set her a place and leave her a share of our dinner.

Same deal on the other day of the week she comes, I would tell her to help herself to coffee, cookies or cake whenever she likes and lay out lunch for her when it is ready. She often jokes "I come here to eat".

Some of Guillermo's relatives are uncomfortable about our casual familiarity with a maid, I don't see anything wrong with it; we are happy with Graciela and just want to show our gratitude. We cannot change the reality of life or the inequity of the society but we can be nice to the person who helps to make our lives easier. To us, she is not a servant but our domestic fairy godmother.

Graciela loves a roast dinner. The first time I made roast chicken on the night she came to work, she cupped my face in both hands and kissed me, "you're spoiling me" she exclaimed. It really was no effort; I mean both spoiling her and making the chicken.

Slow Roast Garlic & Lemon Chicken
(from the Va Va Voom Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson)

1 chicken cut into 10 pieces
1 head of garlic
2 lemons, unwaxed
fresh thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
150ml white wine

Preheat oven to 160C.

Put everything in a roasting tin. Mix well. Cover with foil and bake for 2hr.

Thereafter remove foil and turn up the oven to 200C. Cook uncovered for 30-45min. until skin is golden brown and lemons begin to scorch.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Let's Blog On

When I shared my beetroot cake recipe with sweet Bonnie at Daydream Delicious I didn't imagine the recipes I blog about would appeal to other food bloggers. However, an unintentional hit on Technorati has revealed a couple of pleasant surprises!

Las chicas (the girls) at Filosofía de Sabor have adapted "my" carrot cake to suit their tastes. They enjoyed the cake; moist and light were their words and the accompanying photo did them (and me) proud.

Alex at Eating Leeds tried out the original version of the beetroot cake with success. This moist and fluffier version, archived in The National Trust, is the one which Guillermo prefers and I have now reverted to making. The trick is not to overcook it; for some reason this cake cooks out really fast so you may want to watch it closely the last 5 minutes - remember cakes continue to cook in its own residual heat after you take it out of the oven.

Foodie friends who visited from London last May, on the other hand, have adopted my accidental rendition as their family recipe. If you prefer a more solid fudge cake, give my version a go but remember to use a loaf tin so the cake has less exposed surface area to get dried out. Again, you have to watch it in the last 5 minutes – I am beginning to suspect my Delonghi electric/ microwave bench top oven which I use, specifically, for cake making (dry heat from an electric oven is best for baking) is cooler than full size ones so you may want to start checking the cake earlier than I have noted.

All this talk of cake making has inspired me to start planning for Sunday's morning coffee with our dear friends, Miguel and Paula, not to mention their angelic daughters, Gabriela and Carolina. This is my first step in returning to full scale social circulation since our loss.

Miguel has already requested my wholemeal banana and white chocolate loaf. I am tempted to tweak it with the dulce de leche (para repostería) that is still sitting in our fridge – it ain't gonna to move if I don't think of ways to use it up.

In addition to the homey taste of banana loaf, I would like to make them something else which they won't easily find in Argentina...Guillermo loves flapjacks but I'm not so keen on the amount of butter involve so maybe I could make oatmeal slices filled with prunes; I guarantee that it tastes a lot better than it sounds.

It is an adaptation of a Delia Smith recipe using blueberries. For those lucky ones who have easy access to fresh berries, you can stick to the original recipe as below. However, if you are like me, you can substitute berries with dried dates or prunes cooked in a little water.

Blueberry Oat Slices

450g blueberries
1 tsp lemon zest
275g wholemeal flour
150g porridge oats
1 tsp salt
225g butter
110g soft brown sugar

Preheat oven to 200C. Line a rectangular brownie tin with parchment.

Make crumbs by combining all ingredients except the blueberries. Divide the mixture in halves. Press half into the tin then scatter the blueberries on top. Pour the remaining mixture on top, press down firmly.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30min. Cool for 10min then cut into squares with a sharp knife. Leave them to cool in the tin until ready to eat.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Tale of Two Cities

Saltshaker, a fellow food blogger residing in Buenos Aires, has led me to reacquaint with Accidental Hedonist. It is an informative food blog for those who are not only interested in cooking but food related issues. It makes fascinating and educational reading.

A linked article provided by Accidental Hedonist on the success of a trans fats ban in Denmark has caused me to think more deeply about human behaviour and how it varies from country to country. There are places where inhabitants are thankful for government intervention on behalf of their well being; they actually appreciate living in a cleaner, safer or healthier society albeit having to follow rules. Of course, these are also places where the governments follow through with their regulations.

In any case, everyone gains from banning trans fats except soulless food corporations which look after their EBITDA (Earnings before Interests, Taxes, Depreciation & Amortisation) rather than the long-term health of their consumers.

The libertine in me and you may say we are free to do harm or good to ourselves as we choose to. Indeed, many in this city use this very same argument as their justification for not wearing a seat-belt or driving recklessly. These individuals may not care if they live or die. Unfortunately, when these single minded daredevils do get their death wish, they may not only hurt others who are actually involved in their car wreck but tens of thousands of completely innocent people who have normal lives.

They may say if they don't care to live, let them but think about the strain their injuries, out of their own choice, would put on resources of our public health system which is already in a pitiful state. How about those innocent ones who need public medical care to live because they want to?

How about a higher rate of injury and mortality in motor accidents jacking up the insurance premium for the vehicle owners who choose to live? Let's not forget we are talking about one's ability to control a piece of machinery capable of harming others which is why we have driver's test, eye sight test, third party insurance cover, etc.
Driving is a right that should not be taken lightly by anyone; it comes with a set of responsibilities so please do not glamourise selfishness and irresponsible attutide as liberty. If we choose not to take on the responsibilities, we are all at liberty to walk.
Anyway, this is another story with a very different set of implications than trans fats in our cookies and margarine. Nonetheless, it is thought provoking...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In Other Words...

"For words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the Soul within." – A.T. Tennyson

The old adage "Speak and thou shalt reveal thyself" in our media age is never truer when preconceived ideas about public figures are somewhat modified or completely shattered when they speak their mind.

I was flipping channels Sunday night while waiting for Guillermo to come home from chess; BBC World was airing an interview of Martina Navratilova. I was never a big fan of hers but everyone of my generation knew who she was and had some idea what she stood for.

Ms. Navratilova was asked, in this interview, about the various projects she is now involved in to help underprivileged children in gaining self-confidence, a sense of self-worth through sports, or young girls in rough neighbourhoods to learn self-defence skills to protect themselves from attackers, etc. She came across as someone passionate about her causes and spoke with intelligence and integrity.

She said she was thankful that her success in tennis has given her a platform to contribute to society. One day, she may even consider participating in politics. From her comments on the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the devastation it has caused and left behind, she was certainly not afraid to air her views, take a stance, despite the possibility of alienating some of the U.S. population.

The interviewer then asked Ms. Navratilova to comment on the modern phenomenon of sport stars that are ambivalent about what they stand for as individuals. Ms. Navratilova responded by saying these stars are empowered, outside of the sport arena, by numerous sponsorship deals and they would rather be everyone's man/ woman than voice their thoughts and risk offending anyone and harm their bank balance. I must say hats off to her frankness!

I have recently come across articles in which two very different women spoke through print media; the pieces have changed how I perceive them completely.

The first one is about Ms. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, a publication in the Condé Nast stable; more importantly, she is the rain-maker in the fashion industry and the publishing world. Her nick-name is "Nuclear" Wintour; a book written by an ex-summer intern at Vogue and a recent movie "The Devil Wears Prada" are purportedly about her.

Meryl Streep who plays the high-power and immaculately groomed editor in the movie did not hesitate in voicing her low regard for the book deeming it one bitter account of a disgruntled and uninterested employee who couldn't understand the big machinery, of which she was part of, at work.

Ms. Wintour is often written about in the most unflattering light; however, less sensationalised articles reveal someone who is a consummate professional who just wants to get the job done with no fuss or whinging from her staff.

This interview with The Wall Street Journal some years ago certainly fits into the latter group of reporting. She came across as a pro-active professional who has a broader vision of the industry with which hers is intrinsically linked. It is not her fault if she doesn't suffer fools gladly. Besides, this woman has a sense of humour – she wore Prada* to the New York Premiere of the movie.

The second article is about a much younger woman, Reese Witherspoon. I never had much time for Hollywood actresses and Ms. Witherspoon was one of my least favourite. However, her lesser known work perked my interest – Election, a dark comedy about an American high school which is a clever parody of the country at large was respectable work.

Ms. Witherspoon is an intelligent actress who is juggling many roles in real life while staying down to earth. She may not be very interesting but she is a clearly solid being. I like that; however, what made a lasting impression on me was her explanation of why she hasn't used her celebrity status to voice her political beliefs – a popular pursuit of Hollywood inhabitants. She said "Truthfully, my opinion is not more important than anyone else's. I'm just an actor, and if I had some really strong political conviction I'd run for office. We all have the right to have a voice, but it's mixed messages when you're selling movies and politics." Bravo! Humility is a rare commodity; and her clarity of self is admirable.

*The photo today captures the modern architecture of Prada's flagship store on Omotesando in Tokyo. The store is designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss firm behind the transformation of a London power station into the Tate Modern.

Speaking of revealing oneself, this chocolate cake speaks for itself; when you get sick of the budines in this city which tend to resemble tightly packed sawdust, give this recipe a try. It tastes densely of chocolate and is very moist. I leave it plain most of the time, but you can add another dimension with spices or orange zest mixed in the batter.

Very Dense & Moist Chocolate Pound Cake
145g soft butter
145g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids minimum)
145g dark muscovado sugar
100ml boiling water
2 large eggs
30g cocoa powder
145g SR flour

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a medium size loaf tin or a 20cm cake tin.

Melt butter and chocolate. Stir in sugar and water. Sift flour and cocoa together and then stir them into the wet mixture. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix well.

Pour into cake tin and bake for 35min. Cool in the tin for 10min before turning out onto a wire rack.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mum's The Word

Guillermo and I (yes, he was my Juanita on this occasion) made a strawberry cheesecake and a coffee ice cream cake on Saturday. While I thought both were for our Mother's Day lunch at the abuelos, Guillermo couldn't resist the beckoning of the intense aroma of our homemade coffee ice cream so he declared that was my birthday cake, and promptly attacked it with a knife.

I woke up Sunday morning to make an acelga (Swiss Chard) and goat's cheese tart. I deliberately left out salt so Abuela could eat it (no salt for her – doctor's order). At twelve, Guillermo and I with cake carriers in our arms, set out towards Belgrano.

It is always a great joy to me to see the abuelos. Abuelo is a worldly gentleman with lovely manners (sadly, they make too few of them nowadays). I won't be egotistic in saying I am his favourite granddaughter-in-law; his face lights up each time he sees me and of course, he uses the few words of English which at 86, he brushed up by spending a small fortune at Berlitz. Bless this dear man.

My mother-in-law and Abuela were especially appreciative of my vegetable tart because it took the burden off the daughter to prepare special unsalted food for the mother. Not that food wasn't plentiful at lunch anyway; our tio who has been on a 600 calorie diet for the past 4 months, made up in quality what he wasn't allowed in quantity.

The platters of picadas were the most artistic and decadent display of food I have seen in Buenos Aires, outside of a 5-star hotel. Instead of the usual plastic cheeses, there were rounds of French camembert, brie and various goat's cheeses. Italian prosciutto crudo and cotto studded a crown of fresh salad leaves. Even the bread was good. I almost wanted to plant a big kiss on our tio for organising the food; I secretly hope he would take over food duty from now on.

Both Guillermo and I worry about how our tio looks; 600 calorie is basically starving the body and now his eldest son, a wine merchant, is following the same diet. I asked this gentle giant who is on the look out for the latest issue of Club del Vino on my behalf what he planned to do at tastings, he hasn't figured that one out yet.

It was a really lovely get-together, and I don't mean just because of the good food and wine. Guillermo agreed that the group dynamics were better than usual – his tio and his sons were on particularly good form, Guillermo's middle brother and his family are always lovely while the eldest brother, his mouthy competitive wife and their pícaro son and daughter were absent. Of course, none of us wish a family gathering to work out like this but such is life.

After lunch, Guillermo went for the second last round of his chess tournament and I came home for a comfortable afternoon nap. Life is good right now; hopefully it would continue in this direction.
Extremely Easy Coffee Icecream Cake
Cake base:
150g of crushed biscotti
4tbsp melted butter
Ice cream:
500 ml double cream
2.5 tbsp Nescafé Espresso
6 tbsp icing sugar
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp Khalua

Mix biscuit crumbs and melted butter, then press into a cake tin lined with cling film or parchment (easier to lift the cake out out). Set aside.

Whip the cream really thick. Add the coffee powder and the icing sugar. Add egg yolks and the liqueur. Pour the filling over the cake bottom. Cover with plastic film and put the cake in the freezer.

Take out the cake from the freezer 20 minutes before serving and decorate with grated chocolate or fruits.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Baby Possums

In Australia, childcare facilities or, more precisely, the lack of them have caused much rift between working mothers and those ladies who just need some "me" time to catch their breath from motherhood.

In Buenos Aires, a large proportion of porteñas remain in the workforce after childbirth. For these ladies, sending their young children to a childcare centre or guardería is a necessity not a choice. However, in certain sector of this society, there are many young mothers who do not work yet pack their young bubs off to el jardin at 1 year; yup, babies only 12 months old.

When I first arrived, I was surprised by this custom. Our young nephew of 18 months was already a veteran at his jardin, and our young niece who was yet to turn one was going to join her cousin after her first birthday. Neither mother works. My mother-in-law explained that it was for the good of their children's "social life".

Meanwhile, Guillermo's expert knowledge in early intelligence and my mother's professional expertise and experience in early childhood education converge that benefits of group care in children younger than 3 years of age is, at best, uncertain.

Both Guillermo and I have effortlessly reached a consensus that our children, when we have them, will only go to half day kindergarten on a weekly basis after 3 years of age, if I am not working at the time.

We feel that nurturing a sense of security in children and stimulating their cognitive development and intelligence are best handled by parents; of course, provided the parents are willing to learn how, have the luxury of time off work, and are actually interested in doing so.

I worried our belief and approach would be too strange for and different from La Familia when the time comes. However, to my relief, an article in this Saturday's La Nación essentially reported the same findings, supported by psychologists. Heading of the piece was along the lines of "they (the psychologists) advise no kindergarten for kids before age 2".

The experts say that ratio for group care should not exceed 3:1 to ensure each child is adequately taken care of. The experience of children, in the first three years of life, impacts their behaviour at school age (Age 5). Poor quality care in the early stages may cause concentration and learning difficulties, low self-esteem, insecurities, etc. when they reach school age.

The 3:1 ratio is close to impossible for any commercially run childcare business. What it points to is that a child needs a lot of attention in their first developmental years and that intense level of care is generally not for sale.

One may think a full-time nanny is the solution. Well, the psychologists quoted in this report also mentioned that children tend to form their closest bond with the person(s) they spend the most time with. If the principal carer is not a parent, children may develop a less than healthy relationship with their parents when they are older.

It has also been confirmed in this report that full time care, even after age 3, is not the best for children. Children over 3 years benefit from some group activities but prolong period away from their principal carer (ideally parents or grandparents) have not yielded positive results in their studies.

Take from this what you will; there are situations which the parents have no choice because they have to work to put food on the table. However, when a non-working but socially busy mum told me how wonderful that her 2 yr old girl baked cookies at school with her teacher, I thought wouldn't that be a really nice bonding experience between mother and daughter? I suppose she would never find out.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sunrise Surprise

I'm exhausted! Tired to the point that we couldn't attend our friends' housewarming party last night and I have also declined a birthday party invitation for tonight which I had rsvp earlier. At this rate, Guillermo and I would soon be in the depth of social Siberia.

I've not been able to sleep all week; then just when extreme fatigue took over on Friday 13th sending me to slumber, the honking and screaming of los muchachos (the young people) in fast cars speeding along Callao killed all chances of a good snooze for me. God, I sound like an old grandma!

However, any sleep deprived crankiness has been cured by the birthday surprise Guillermo prepared for me. He enlisted the help of his enthusiastic Mandarin teacher; practised all week, with Real Player, a romantic Mandarin pop song which he serenaded me first thing this morning. I never knew my often serious looking husband could be so imaginative. In case you are wondering, I know very well I'm one lucky woman ;-)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Divine Intervention

The idea behind the title of my blog is sharing my observations on my adopted country for the time being, Argentina, while I reign in my kitchen. It is essentially a food blog with another dimension. It is not meant to be a tourist guide; hence, I don't feel obliged to be romantic about this country or sweeping the negatives under the carpet about my experience here. Caveat Emptor. OK, enough ranting, let's move on to what matters...

As food bloggers do, I love to talk "food". I have recently come across a brilliant article on DivineOnline, a food and wine website, written by a well respect food journalist in Australia, John Newton. Mr. Newton succinctly captured the spirit of good food.

Many Argentine readers of this blog have written to me and all of them sing more or less the same tune "people in the 1st World eat worse than the Argentines, we do not have a problem, they do". Having come from and lived in the 1st World most of my life, I am well aware of the good and the bad. However, I wouldn't make the differentiation between 1st and 3rd World in the case of Argentina, at least not when it comes to food. Everyone who is above eating for survival is confronted with choices, good food or bad food; this is why Mr. Newton's article is brilliant...

First of all, he says "There is no such thing as food that's good for you or food that's bad for you. There is good food and there is bad food." How can we tell good food from bad, why do we know a well cooked meal is better than a commercial burger or empanada?

Good food is fresh, untouched by technology or additives; it is familiar, even traditional to some culture somewhere. It should be nutritious and enjoyable. I would add that food that is seasoned just right is good food; spices are individual's preferences but over salted or sweetened food is simply not enjoyable.

Bad food on the other hand, is often fake food manufactured by corporations. Natural ingredients going into their factories coming out hydrogenated, bleached, coloured and flavoured just doesn't feel right. Anything cooked and baked with a "shelf-life" should not be considered as food. Avoid any food with a list of ingredients as long as a short story.

Mr. Newton has hit a modern problem on its head "too many bad fats can make you very sick". Think of oil-sodden chips, empanadas, milanesas fried with darkened oil that has been used over and over again, margarine, vegetable shortening, commercial baked goods made with hydrogenated fats; these are all bad fats. You may not feel sick right away but your body will tell you it is sick with signals such as cellulite, bad breath, excess weight, high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol reading, etc.

Paradoxically, those of us who are fortunate to live in excesses have abused our good fortune, and our bodies suffer from it. Anglo Saxon cultures such as U.S., U.K. and Australia have the highest percentage of obesity and a large slimming industry. Argentina has an increasing rate of obesity but more importantly vanity and body image issues are the motor behind their huge and thriving slimming and plastic surgery sector. Mr. Newton echoes what many of us have already realized, diets make you fat. Research has shown serial yo-yo dieters live a shorter life.

Mr. Newton suggests that one shouldn't worry about being fat unless one is really fat. Being healthly is more important than being considered fat or thin by society. This goes back to the body image problems many of us suffer from constant bombardments of the media promoting a certain ideal image .
There is also the concept of good fat vs bad fat; some people are predisposed to carrying more weight than the modern day ideal, as long as they follow a healthy diet and lead a healthy lifestyle they are more likely to live a long healthy life than someone who is obese on junk food or thin as a rake from deliberate starvation.

Contrary to common misconception, being thin is not necessary a benchmark of good health. Many Argentine women, and others, stay slim by not eating, feast or famine style of eating, using slimming drugs, eating chemical ridden "lite" food such as Ser and Coke Light; some even resort to plastic surgery.

Our skin can't lie, the sallow, lack lustre skin is a telltale sign of bad health. Of course, most skinny porteñas hide that under a deep tan which causes them to resemble very expensive crocodile skin handbags but that's another story...

Mr. Newton's suggestion of a "lifetime diet" is coincidentally what I have been blogging all this time, enjoy eating reasonable portions of good food prepared by human beings with love and skill. Avoid mass produced, commercially made food; when you feel the urge for a burger, an empanada or a pizza, just remember this: corporations make profits, individuals make food.

A home made burger using a good cut of meat with handmade bread is going to be much healthier, not to mention tastier, than ones bought at a kiosk or at McDonald's. Guillermo and I have pizzas at home once in a while; home made dough with a thin layer of pure tomato sauce topped with sliced zucchini or aubergine. We don't go without, we just try to eat well.

Cooking from scratch is probably the surest bet that you are eating real food and the first baby steps towards cooking and eating good food. Bon Appétit!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Same Story, Two Sides

We have a long weekend coming up; Saturday is my birthday, Sunday is Mother's Day and Monday is, in Guillermo's words, "Invasion of the Americas Day", more commonly known as the day of the Discovery of America.

However you would like to consider this public holiday, it means four days packed with social engagements and I just wish I didn't feel so damn tired all the time. Zoe, my friend a.k.a the Feng Shui Master, has not only altered the Feng Shui of our apartment but nourished me with soups and ginger in vinegar. However, I have not been able to sleep much at all and subsequently am walking around like a zombie by day.

Apparently, this is the sign of a weak spleen. Oh, just to complicate matters further, "spleen" in the context of Chinese medicine is not just spleen but also the digestive system; the powerhouse of one's "Chi". To strengthen this group of organs, I'll have to drink various kinds of Chinese soup, eating more pumpkin helps and proper meals is also mentioned on this "to-do" list for the sake of my spleen.

Hence, I've already offered to bring food to the family lunch on Sunday. There are many ways to skin a cat; instead of saying "I don't want to eat picadas (cured meat and cheese) and empanadas for lunch because they are junk food", I have simply offered to bring something to lighten the workload of the organisers – the abuelos.

A Swiss chard and goat's cheese pie with wholemeal crust would do nicely; most of the family wouldn't touch it even if their lives depend on it so there should be ample for the abuelos, to sample, and for me as lunch.

Trickier is the cake I "should" be bringing. My birthday has been recorded by the headquarters since I joined La Familia. On the day, I would receive phone calls all day long from the abuelos, my in-laws and each of Guillermo's siblings. This is because my mother-in-law would ring each of her children to remind them to ring me. The concept is really lovely except in any numeroso (large) family, there are ones who don't get on, therefore, making one-on-one conversations quite unnatural...and this brings me back to my dilemma over my birthday cake.

I get on with most of Guillermo's siblings and their spouses – four out of six is a pretty high rate, I would say. The one pair in question, unfortunately, I simply haven't been able to find anything on which we could build rapport. This sister-in-law is also particularly competitive and herein lies my dilemma.

I've lived through enough birthdays to be blasé about female competitiveness; it is a pointless and futile exercise. We attended this sister-in-law's birthday party last week in which she proudly presented a typical Argentine concoction made by her own fair hands – overcooked, dried–out brownie topped with dulce de leche and shaving foam-like Italian meringue. Knowing her competitive nature, I need to think of a birthday cake which wouldn't put hers to shame.

For this reason plus I really haven't the energy, the labour intensive cakes involving multi-stage preparation, are out of the question. On the other hand, I need to take into account the local taste because I am still vain enough not to want my cake to be an undesirable left-over; so it has to be chocolate something.

I'm tossing between following Pierre Hermé's recipe for a chocolate fudge cake which he named Suzy's Cake or adapting it to form the base and then combine with a semi-freddo or a parfait to go on top to make sort of an ice cream cake. Well...and there is always the third option – Como en Casa.