Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Travel to Learn

Friends who have been living in Buenos Aires for over 2 years recently returned from a long road trip to Chile via the southern provinces of Argentina. As we had predicted, they found the country outside Capital Federal breathtakingly beautiful.

On their southbound journey, not only did they admire stunning landscapes and nature, they stayed at grandiose estancias (ranches) which are private properties of landowners who hold, literally, significant parts of this country. Without going into the bloody and brutal history of native Argentines and land-grabbing European settlers, we moved swiftly onto their journey over the border to Chile where they found the Singapore of Latin America.

As tourists hankering for a "Latin Experience", they found Chile a little too squeaky clean and modern to their tastes but they did remark the neighbouring capital city is noticeably cleaner and much more orderly than Buenos Aires.

The comparison of Chile to the garden city of Singapore doesn't end at cleanliness of the streets but the conduct of government, their police and business efficacy.

According to the Berlin-based organisation
Transparency International and their latest 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index which ranks countries the least corrupt down, Chile ranks 20th and equal with Belgium among First World nations, far above any fellow Latin American government. On the other hand, Argentina ranks 93rd, equal with Syria.

This finding fills me with urge to quote the teachings of a philosopher who made his mark in history half a millennium before baby Jesus was reportedly born in a manger,
Confucius or 孔子 (September 28, 551 to 479 BC).

The famous thinker's philosophy, known primarily through a compilation named
Analects of Confucius, emphasises personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. One of his most famous teachings is as follows:

'If the personal conduct of people is correct, their government will be upright. If the personal conduct of people is incorrect, orders maybe issued but they will not be followed.' or "其身正,不令而行;其身不正,雖令不行。"

The message behind that succinct phrase of his and brilliantly captured by Cha Xiu Bao in English is "what government, what people" Interestingly, this bedrock of Confucianism coincides rather neatly with
Guillermo's own theory of intelligent collaboration with society.

Speaking of learning through travel, it has taken me more than twelve months to like the taste of
Mate Cocido. Neither Guillermo nor any of his family drink Mate Yerba and they rarely have Mate Cocido so I first bought a box of those tea bags out of curiosity. I drank it as recommended, with milk and sugar, but didn't like it very much as a beverage but then, I do not normally take sweet beverages.

I now drink it plain everyday, like a green tea. However, I have not forgotten the traditional version – with milk and sugar; the slightly tannic but herbaceous taste, not dissimilar to that of Matcha, has inspired me to make Panna Cotta di Mate Cocido.

2 tbsp cold water
1 3/4 tsp gelatin powder
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup full-fat milk
4 tbsp sugar
2 Mate Cocido tea bags

Pour 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water to let it sponge until softened, about 5 minutes.

Combine heavy cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan, and place over medium heat. Add the tea bags as well. Bring the mixture to a boil and then take it off the heat. Let the tea infuse in the cream for at least 15 minutes.

Add the softened gelatin to the warm liquid and mix until the gelatin has dissolved. Strain through a fine strainer into a clean bowl and discard the tea bags. Chill over an ice bath just until cool.

Pour into 8 small moulds, glasses or ramekins and chill for at least 3 hours. It is probably a good idea to make this a day ahead as gelatin may take time to set.

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