Friday, May 25, 2007

Greener Pastures

I thought long and hard before attempting this post as it is very likely my last for quite some time. There are two reasons for my temporary departure from the blogsphere; firstly, I am going to Sydney to give birth to our first child Luca Alessandro (not surprisingly I rooted for Italian names to match Guillermo's Italian last name) and secondly, my new job which I love is taking all the spare time I used to have. I haven't had the time to read blogs, let alone writing one.

Rather than a sentimental farewell to all the wonderful people I have encountered through this blog, I would like use this post to talk about the serious issue of bullying

As the fabric of society disintegrates, bullying has become a problem common to many societies around the world. In some countries, it has become a social issue that is discussed at government level and visibly tackled at school and workplace where bullying most commonly occur. However, it seems this behaviour which denotes poor mental health and discontentment of the aggressor is spreading in cyberspace too.

It is often difficult to explain to children who are victims of bullying that it is actually the bullies, through their aggressiveness, who are expressing their disillusionment, anguish and bitterness due to their own failures because children do not have the benefit of hindsight and life experience we adults have.

Following this logic, it is therefore also difficult to fathom that adults who should have the maturity and sophistication to conduct themselves appropriately would choose to act as hysterical bullies which effectively render them as mature-aged adolescents.

Personally, I feel there is no need to engage with such people. Some may feel by choosing complete disengagement, I have lost the battle. To them, I say this: what is one battle when I've already won the war? It is a well known fact that overwhelming majority of bullies are underachievers at school, at work and in life.

Anyone who is educated and cultured would see for themselves how these over-aged schoolyard thugs disgrace themselves through their own low-minded words and underhanded actions (I have heard much whispers that there are quite a few Miss Cupcake wannabes trolling the blogsphere these days).

Hence, my parting words are simple..just stay true to yourself and conduct yourself with integrity and those who can see will see; those who can't will never be able to anyway and they are definitely not worth your time - good blogs deserve an audience but the audience has to be a deserving one too.
All the best to everyone!!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I had spent much time away from my blog in the past week due to employment of a very different nature – it has nothing to do with cooking or food in general. While it is only 4 hours a day, it requires much concentration and intensity so I'm taking baby steps in my adjustment. On the whole, I'm relishing this opportunity in which I use my grey matters a lot more and that I get to work with a bunch of capable, yet very nice people.

Of course, my tiredness is compounded by my growing belly. Almost 6 months into this pregnancy, I'm finally feeling the load I carry everyday. Since I'm determined to stay active, I compensate my deskbound hours with a walk from Alto Palermo, along Santa Fe, to as far as I can walk towards home every afternoon.

I enjoy this time of day very much as I get to explore what are on offer in yet another part of the city. On the other hand, as a mother-to-be, my concern about the outrageous level of pollution in Buenos Aires is escalating every time I set foot outdoors. I have seen other mothers pushing their strollers among the hustle and bustle of the city; but just because others do something does it mean I really want to do the same? And to my baby?

The answer right now is I don't know – it hurts me to think that my fragile baby will have to inhale this smog instead of the fresh scent of pine and eucalyptus in our North shore neighbourhood in Sydney. However, our lives are still tied to this city until we are ready to make a permanent move.

Sometimes, I wonder if all parents-to-be feel torn this way or am I just being over protective? As my mother-in-law admits she doesn't worry about the future of her grandchildren growing up in Buenos Aires at all because she doesn't know how; she said that she has't seen the world and doesn't know better. In her case, ignorance is definitely blissful.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Slave Masters in Buenos Aires

Most middle class porteños and expats in BA take advantage of the availability of domestic helpers. Our domestic goddess is truly a Godsend; Guillermo and I treat her as our family and she is avuncular towards us.

While our Graciela has passed child-bearing age, we feel we are responsible for her welfare and are ready to step-up. (In fact, we paid her in full during the 10 weeks we were away in Sydney). Hence, I was really disturbed to read the following email circulating among a group of expat women.

The email is written by a U.S. trained lawyer who is married to an Argentine lawyer, in response to a question posted to her about whether maids are entitled to maternity leave.

"...D (the husband) and I (the U.S. trained lawyer) looked over the law. It is true that maids are not entitled to maternity leave. I don't know if you do or don't want to give it to her.

1. If you don't want to, when she asks for one you can say she is not entitled and that she has to quit if she wants to leave. You wouldn't owe her anything in that case. Although our experience is they don't quit and instead start doing things to piss you off so you are forced to fire them and pay them a severance payment.

2. If you want to, you can always pay her for a month or whatever you feel is a reasonable leave and then take her back afterwards. Of course you run the risk of her keeping the money and not coming back..."

I was disturbed by the reference to the law. All employees working en blanco are entitled to maternity leave. Should a person be employed en negro, like many in this city are, the employers have already broken the law so it is ironic that they look to the law to protect themselves from coughing up maternity leave payment for their employee. I have been told that a separate, Dickensian law exists and applies to maids, working en blanco, which still strips them of the benefit of maternity leave.

My personal opinion is that the law should, by all means, be respected. I am also of the humble opinion that, as human beings, we can sometimes do more and above what the law (the lowest common denominator) expects of us; I'd like to call that a moral obligation.

The writer of this email referred to her personal experience of refusing her maid maternity leave, thus resulting in the maid pissing her off to get severance. Well, all I can say is if one cannot treat one's maid with the common decency one should show towards another human being, despite the protection given by a defect in the law, one has got one's just dessert.

Lastly, the writer warned the employer asking this question that if the employer decides to pay the maid, she risks the maid running off with the money and not coming back after giving birth.

I was stunned by the mean-mindedness of this last bit of advice; this woman maybe a damn fine lawyer but what a human being! Most of these domestic helpers are working as such because they desperately need money and they have no other skill; it is not like the maid has plenty of job offers to choose from and the world is her oyster.

When I examine my lifestyle in BA carefully, I am truly thankful to those who have made it comfortable for me. I have also come to appreciate that I am in a fortunate position and should never take it for granted. Today, I feel disgusted as I have witnessed those around me who are choosing to use their relatively advantageous financial position in exploitation of others...and the worst is that they feel no shame or guilt since "the law" is on their side! What has this world come to?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Flower Power

Since blogging about osmanthus last year, my mother had taken my not so subtle hint and procured a jar of these fragrant flowers (preserved in syrup) for me.

The jar has been sitting in the fridge like a wall flower since we got back from Sydney. While rummaging through my conserves and preserves at lunch, I made a mental note to come back to the gems inside...

It takes a lot of willpower these days for me venture from my tried and tested yogurt cake recipe. It works beautifully every time; it is relatively low in fat and is versatile as I turn out chocolate marble, Matcha marble, citrus and other versions of this fail-safe blueprint.

2 eggs
1 cup of whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tbsp preserved osmanthus

Preheat the oven to 180C, line the bottom of a round ten-inch cake tin/ a large loaf tin with parchment paper and grease the sides.

In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil and rum.

In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture, and blend together -- don't overwork the dough. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

No Barney for Us

I have often been puzzled by the Argentine schooling system. It doesn't help my confusion by being aware of stories about the lack of consistency in standards among schools; yes, even private ones.

First of all, if you ever express the slightest interest on the subject, most Argentines are eager to assure you that standard of education in this country is "very high", nothing short of "excellent". On what basis do they reach these conclusions, I have no idea because Argentina is nowhere in any kind of international benchmarking of education such as TIMSS or PISA (the USA ranks very poorly so comparsion there is futile).

I have slowly come to the conclusion that many of them are nostalgic about the golden era of Argentine intelligentsia. Argentine standard nowadays is probably still quite high within the Latin American context, quite possibly better than the USA even; however, that is no basis to determine its excellence (superlatives are not relatives). Also, I suspect that many parents judge the quality of education by whether they pay for it – the logic being if it costs money, it must be good and if it costs loads, it must be fantastic.

Of course, the fundamental question which needs to be asked is what constitutes good education. Each parent has different idea and it also depends on the general standard within the society we live in.

Two of our nieces and nephews in BA are both aged 5, neither of them read nor write without assistance. They are happy kids who do not seem to be behind their peers at their private pre-schools (primary schooling starts at 6 in Argentina instead of 5 as in many countries and it lasts for 7 years instead of 6 as in others). On the other hand, our niece in Australia who is barely 4 is reading unassisted story books which average at least 60-70 words per page.

More relevantly, this inconsistency exists within BA; an acquaintance's son sat for an entrance test to St Andrew Scots School in Olivos, just outside of Capital Federal. The boy who was the same age as our porteño niece and nephew at the time he sat for this test, was asked to spell and write down a range of words in English. Among them, "rocket" which spelling may not be all that obvious for a junior with English as his second language; I doubt very much if our niece and nephew could spell that even in Spanish.

Of course, some parents feel that if their children are a little older when they start knowledge-based learning, they will feel more confident as they should be more emotionally and socially mature by then to handle the rigour of focus and concentration. To these parents, teaching their 4/5 year-old "babies" is certain to cause irreversible psychological damage.

Fair enough, if the world functions on the same set of lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, that's not the case; that's not the case even within any individual barrio in our city. A porteño friend's niece is 2 and has just started at the fairly costly Washington School in Belgrano. She is an engaging child who can already count and say a few words in English. It is obvious to the mother that sending her daughter to school everyday is dumbing her down rapidly. In addition, their modern-minded family doctor feels that 2 is probably too early an age to be attending school everyday anyway. However, competition for a place at that school is so stiff that she cannot afford to lose it now.

I really don't know what we would do as parents if we ever need to face schooling choices in this city. I just have a gut instinct (while Guillermo is sure from his work and research) that learning to read or count is not necessarily demanding on young minds, it is only the adults who are constantly underestimating the capacity of their children. As long as the parents make learning fun and enjoyable, well-paced and not based on parental ambitions, there is no reason why children should be steered only towards a silly purple beast or a piece of talking sponge.

Check out Giro Didactico for educational toys; Av. Callao entre Santa Fe y Arenales (for other locations see their website)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Poor Little Thing

Even after 2 years in BA, there are still cultural expressions I find jarring. In cultures which I am more accustomed to, doting adults call their young bubs by all sorts of endearing names which are actually terms of endearment. In Buenos Aires, however, the most popular is pobrecito (poor little thing); I am still trying to get my head around this one.

A dear friend in London rang to chat and check on my WIP (work in progress/ my bump); we talked about funky kids' clothes, state-of-the-art European strollers, etc. I also vowed to her that I will nurture my child to be environmentally friendly and unspoilt by the materialistic culture we live which point my buddy pointed out, not without a touch of irony and a grain of truth, that putting my newborn into a Bugaboo stroller is not actually an auspicious start to a simple life! OK, I think what I meant was that I shall try to find a balance between the impulse of giving my child the best and being mindful of not spoiling him.

In any case, I suspect Guillermo and I would most probably end up playing the baddies as the current parenting trend seems to be that of yielding to your kids' every wish – saying no to children doesn't seem to be an option for parents anymore. This trend is one we are definitely not going to follow. Anyway, our child will not be short of relatives spoiling him; my mother is already shopped out with baby's clothes for 3 seasons following the birth in August.

Speaking of clothes, there are wonderful choices available these days; unfortunately, the styles Guillermo and I favour are not available in Argentina. For now, I can only drool in front of my computer most days and occasionally make an internet purchase or two.

You see, surprisingly my easy-going husband has turned out to be quite the fussy shopper for baby's clothes. His rules are simple but difficult (at least if to be carried out in BA): no infantile patterns such as little sheep or bear, no ball of any sport or automobiles, no letters, no numbers, no logo/ brandname on prominent display...and preferably not in gender conditioning blue. And, certainly not in traditional tailoring and styles which make kids look like they belong to the Victorian era, with a butler and a governess trailing behind.

Judging by the popularity of Mimo & Co which is almost all pastels and the primness of high-end children's wear such as those offered by Paula Cahen d'Anvers and in shops along Arenales, casual, unisex and unadorned baby clothes will have a long tough road into the Argentine market.

We did a mini-scale market research into this by surveying La Familia. When Guillermo told his grandparents and parents that we bought an onesie (all-in-one) in black and grey stripes, their faces dropped - the unison of that expression was absolutely priceless! Abuela sighed with "pobrecito" and his parents didn't quite comprehend what he meant exactly by "black and grey". Yes, it is a very smart looking black and grey onesie...if only so after the quick surgery I performed on it; it had a logo of a baseball with "minimimo" (Mimo & Co's baby line) on the chest which I carefully unpicked from the inside so it is now unadorned and looks much hipper.

I think I'd better be prepared that my baby would be referred to as a poor little thing maltreated by his weirdo parents who are to put him in strange clothes and deny him of sugar, salt and dulce de La Familia, Guillermo and I are definitely beyond reproach. Pobrecito indeed!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cupcake Imposter Caught!

I have just recieved some bemusing news from a fellow baker, blogger and BA resident. Apparently, someone was posting anonymous comment on his blog and then signing himself/ herself off as Miss Cupcake.
This fellow blogger suspected something was up because we have been communicating privately and he knows my writing style rather well. He simply confirmed with me via email and the imposter was exposed immediately. As of now, we do not know if this imposter is trying this cheap trick on other Argentine blogs.
It amazes me the dizzying new lows some people are prepared to stoop. I cannot pretend to understand their motives and have no wish to do so; it'd just be a waste of my precious time. However, it is unfortunate and inconvenient that readers of various blogs have to endure this sort of immature behaviour.

Who is Gina Ford?

Like a lot of good things in life, I discovered Gina Ford and her childcare method through a negative write-up on her based on partiality and misunderstanding.

Ms Ford is one of the most prominent childcare experts in the UK; she trained and worked as a maternity nurse for over a decade before turning childcare expert and writer of popular childcare books. While her books have been translated into four languages and she has personally chalked up considerable wealth through book sales, her recommendations to new parents on how to establish a successful sleeping and feeding routine is none short of controversial.

The screening of Gina Ford: Who Are You To Tell Us? on television in the UK has caused the BBC a lot of flack from parents who have used their common sense in following the recommendations outlined in Ms Ford’s books to raise happy, contented babies and toddlers who feed and sleep well routinely.

Having observed closely how various parents raise their children at a range of ages in different cultures and most importantly how these children are developing into pre-schoolers and beyond, I am firmly rooting for a sensible yet loving routine.

The greatest barrier I've come across so far, especially when talking to Argentines, is that whenever the word routine and children are mentioned in the same breath, the quick "shoot-down" response is almost always that children are to be enjoyed; and that's the end of the importance of a healthy routine for growing children.

I wholeheartedly agree that children are indeed enjoyable and I cannot foresee any reason why I wouldn't enjoy my child as I already enjoy others'. However, it is important to remind ourselves as parents that we are guardians of a human being, not an entertainment system. I am also positive that if children have a routine which leads them to sleep and feed well, they are even more enjoyable in their waking hours. That's just good commonsense - we, adults learn, work and play better when we are healthy and have had a good night's sleep why should children be any different?

What is different, however, is that children need more hours of sleep and it takes them longer to wind down enough to fall asleep. Hence, taking children out to dinners and parties until way beyond mid-night may not take a toll on the adults but certainly does more harm than good to the children in the long run.

I'm sure I'll look up Ms. Ford's books when I get back to Sydney for my 3rd trimester but her official website Contented Baby provides a very helpful start on her philosophy and methodology.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Soy Wearable!

While Guillermo and I were enjoying afternoon tea at a cute but obscure little place along Pasaje del Correo, he asked me if I knew of soya oil. Apparently it is a significant Argentine export to its major buyer - China. I've a vague idea that it is for industrial use and commercial-scale food production; I could be completely off the mark but it prompted me to think more about what this amazing little bean could do...

That was how I stumbled upon soy fibre. According to the website of a clothing line named Baby Soy, Henry Ford of Ford Motor first talked of soy fibre in the 1940s and was photographed wearing the first known soy suit and tie. Technological breakthrough in 1999 made mass production of soy fibre realistic and economically sound. The invention of soy textile was awarded the gold prize by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2003.

Soy fibre is manufactured from extracting the proteins from leftover dregs from soya oil/ tofu/ soy milk production, turning waste into useful products. The resulting textile is sustainable, utilising renewable natural resources.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, soy textile has the same warmth retention as wool and better moisture transmission than cotton, making it very comfortable to wear. Thus, ideal for baby clothing as it keeps babies warm and dry. It is also soft, smooth, and light; with silky lustre and a cashmere cotton prices!

While Argentina is a major producer and exporter of soya, most are sold in the form of primary products. This soy clothing retailer I have found is a company based in California.
If there is an entrepreneur out there who would import the cutting-edge manufacturing technology to Argentina, who knows, maybe a new page in our economy could be written...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nature's Multi-vitamins

As a routine question, my doctor asked me at our monthly check-up yesterday if I was taking multi-vitamins. My answer was a slightly intimidated "no".

It is increasingly becoming common knowledge that if one's diet is balanced and sufficient of micronutrients, excess water soluble vitamins are passed from the body through urination. Excess non water soluble vitamins find it harder to exit which may actually cause the body more harm than good – one such example is vitamin A.

I was probably too self-conscious to go into detail with him just exactly how much thought has gone into my daily meals these days; lest he found me a little too obsessed.

At the moment, besides my daily glass of fortified orange juice (vitamin A, C, E); yoghurt with sesame and linseed (also known as flaxseed); and Vegemite (vitamin B complex) on wholewheat toasts, my meals most often consist of either spinach, acelga (Swiss chard), or fennel. Otherwise, I have a big serve of the fabled grass-fed Argentine beef for a dose of iron from an animal source; sardine or salmon for an omega-3 boost; or ricotta for extra protein and calcium.

The George Mateljan Foundation is a non-profit organization free of commercial influence, which provides a website named World's Healthiest Foods. Their mission is to provide unbiased scientific information on nutrient-rich foods. You can go to the website directly or click on each food item mentioned above to read more on their nutritional values.

My prescription for multi-vitamins is still sitting in my purse; I probably would get round to buying them at some point just so I can utter an appeasing "yes" in 4 weeks' time.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Licensed to Parent?

When one of my cousins was of age to obtain her driver's licence at 17, she sagely observed that people are required to do much more in preparation for managing an object than parenting a human being. I have been thinking about that lately, especially after witnessing an incident on Sunday evening.

Our family gathering last Sunday took place in yet another restaurant with a pelotero (a large playroom commonly found in family restaurants in Buenos Aires). I have often wondered if these restaurants get away with serving indifferent food because the customers are only too grateful they have a place to dump their kids.

Upon entering this heaving restaurant, bursting at the seams from a busy Sunday trade, our nieces and nephews promptly took off their shoes and socks to run uninhibited among the seated patrons while we were waiting at the entrance to be seated. After a 30 minute wait, we finally settled at our table; the kids went into the pilotero and that was where they stayed most of the evening except when they came out for a bite of food or a sip of water.

Half an hour short of midnight, our nephew who is 5 came out for a sip of water. He passed by a neighbouring table where a notebook computer was switched on but left unattended; the lady owner of the computer had left it, flipped open, temporarily while she checked on her son inside the playroom. Without any hesitation, the child went up to the computer and started mucking around on the type pad. When the owner returned and witnessed what was happening, she told our nephew off and complained to the waiter serving our section.

Let's not go into whether it was smart to leave one's valuable unattended, even if it was only for a second; and let's not even question why these parents and their kids were still out at that hour of the evening. It was the lady's prerogative.

After being told off by a stranger, our nephew came up to our table and sulked while the father put his protective arms around his son's slender shoulders. Our nephew did something he shouldn't have done but all children make mistakes and misbehave at times so that's not the real problem. What was disturbing, however, was that the adults (including his aunt and uncle who are also parents) huddled around the boy blaming the lady for having her computer there in the first place.

Guillermo and I were stunned by the adults' collective reaction to the incident and the way they had chosen to handle the situation. We would have thought that explaining gently the need to ask for permission before touching someone else's property would figure somewhere or are we just another two of those lesser people, deemed by self-righteous parents, whose opinion on child rearing they love to brush-off with their favourite line "you don't understand because you are not a parent"?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cocoa Nibs Mark II

Since Guillermo is working throughout Semana Santa (Holy Week), I am staying home to play in my domain – the kitchen.

As the common perception of a pregnant woman is still of that she should be eating day and night to feed the growing critter inside, I have been questioned frequently by family members whether I'm eating enough. Except my mother, nobody in Guillermo's family is interested to know that a woman of normal weight only requires an additional 250-300 calories a day during her pregnancy.

At our family gathering last night, Guillermo finally felt the need to step in. He explained to his puzzled grandparents and parents my pregnancy diet. It really is no mystery; my diet leans towards plenty of plant and animal proteins; and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) through vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains and seaweed. I have cut out almost all "white" or junk carbohydrates except an occasional plate of egg pasta or noodles served with vegetables or meat. My salt and sugar intakes are also very low.

When Guillermo fancies a pizza, I use wholemeal pizza base from HausBrot and pile on top natural tomato sauce, sautéed zucchini and a little mozzarella.

I have three main meals a day plus two small snacks, either mid-morning and late afternoon or bizarrely late at night. If I feel hungry late at night, my snack is usually a serving of natural unsweetened yoghurt with a teaspoon of ground black sesame and linseed stirred in.

I know I'm very lucky with this pregnancy that I'm not craving greasy burgers or some such: I felt sick just watching our nieces and nephews tucked into greasy fries and deep fried and bread-crumbed junk, more commonly known as Milanesa last night.

So to feel like a normal being with vices, I tweaked the oatmeal cookie recipe from a couple of weeks' ago...the result is very much loved by "the pregnant husband".

3/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
60ml Wholefood Planet Organic Peanut Butter (chunky)
60ml tahini (runny consistency)
1/2 cup raw sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large eggs
1 cup oats
1/2 cup cocoa nibs
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (70% cocoa solids at least)

1. Preheat oven to 180C, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sieve flour, salt and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together peanut butter, tahini, egg and sugars.

4. Stir dry ingredients into the wet mixture with a large spatula. Stir in oats, cocoa nibs, and chocolate chips.

5. Place dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets in generous spoonfuls, leaving at least 3cm in between. Should the dough be a little dry, add more runny tahini.

6. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 20 min. Slide cookies (on parchment) onto cooling rack. When cooled, store in airtight container.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Heart Breaks a Little...

...each time I see a loving parent or grandparent add sugar to an older baby's formula milk, give it sweetened fruit juice or Cindor (a chocolate flavoured & sweetened milk drink with no less than 200mg of sodium per portion) marketed by La Serenissima as a good source of nutrients.

I blame this misguided Argentine phenomenon on the professionals who fail to educate themselves and the public at large. Unfortunately for all of us, the country still lives in an era which people believe sugar is good because it gives energy. Glycemic Index and how it affects our health, our moods and learning ability in the young still hold little meaning to the common folks here; and very few of them associate what they put in their children's mouths with the detrimental effects on their children's long term health.

I came across a short but excellent post by Kathryn Elliot of Lime & Lypcopene - Kathryn is a qualified clinical nutritionist and naturopath in Sydney. The post disputes the claim that fruit juice is good for babies. Actually, I would argue that fruit juice is of no particular benefit to anyone; the best way to obtain all the micro-nutrients and fibre in a piece of fruit is to eat it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

We are having a Boy!

In the past 4 months, I have gathered a collection of old-wives' tales. Here are a few popular ones...

Tale 1:
I must be having a girl because I started showing very early and I looked rather radiant. Really, who wouldn't be glowing after a 10-week vacation in Sydney?!

Tale 2:
I craved spicy food so I must be having a girl because women carrying a boy crave for sourness. Come on! I live in Buenos Aires, the land of Bland; I was craving spicy food even before I fell pregnant.

Tale 3:
There are more boys in Guillermo's clan so I have a higher probability of having a girl. I love it when an old-wives' tale gets a dose of pseudoscience.

Don't get me wrong, I personally would have loved having a girl. I was even day-dreaming about the bright pink and black Bugaboo combo for my would-be fashionable bundle of joy. I gladly accepted the above tales but my intuition, also based on nothing but old-wives' tales, was telling me otherwise.

Of course, Guillermo has been a firm believer of us having a boy since the week 12 NT-Scan because, according to my husband, the profile of our baby looked very boyish. Sadly, that's no more scientific than all the tales out there.

So let's move on to the set of tales I based my intuition on...

Tale 4:
Women having girls crave for sweets; I absolutely couldn't stand sweetness until my 2nd trimester. Even now, I would still prefer a savoury snack to a sweet one. Equally, I've known of friends who craved greasy and meaty "boys' food" while carrying a girl.

Tale 5:
Women carrying boys have a slimmer profile; I have only gained 3 kg and the gestational age of the baby is 19 week (it is at a healthy and average weight). While I started showing very early, my growing bump is centrally located and most people would not be able to tell I'm pregnant from my back. However, Guillermo's cousin who is also carrying a boy would so not agree with this particular tale!

To sum it all up, we are very happy that we are expecting a boy. The scan reports that our boy is healthy with spontaneous and vigorous movements; maybe Guillermo should be brushing up on his sporting skills...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Almost Midway

As I was watching Sala de Maternidad (Maternity Ward) on the Home & Health Channel last night, I felt our baby's first kick. Much of what I had read described it as a butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling but for me it was more like a "knock, knock, who's there" kind of sensation.

At 18 week, as my bump is more noticeable, the pregnancy has finally sunk in. In addition, I am due to take my mid-term ultrasound this afternoon, and hopefully we would find out whether it is a boy or girl, among other more important things.

While everything is ticking along very nicely, I still don't own any maternity wear; just lots of wrap dresses, black T-shirts and trousers. I was secretly (not so secret now!) hoping that I could live out these 9 months with my existing wardrobe; I'm not sure if this idea originates from my new-found frugality on myself (note: I do not suffer the same when it comes to splashing out on cute but expensive baby items) or the illusion many 1st time mothers have – that my figure and my life would go back to normal once the baby is born.

One often hears that life would never be the same, not necessarily in a negative way, after one has children. Guillermo and I are looking forward to embracing all the challenges and joys that lie ahead of us.

Despite the gloomy weather outside, we have been enjoying the last of summer in a peach and yoghurt cake which is a doodle to make:

2 eggs
1 cup of whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon light rum (I used Marsala)
2 ripe medium size peaches, cubed

Preheat the oven to 180C, line the bottom of a round ten-inch cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.

In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil, and rum. Fold in fruit cubes.

In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture, and blend together -- don't overwork the dough.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Some Like It HOT

I tried out a slap-dash recipe for spicy stir-fry chicken noodles earlier last week. Guillermo liked the simple combination of oyster mushrooms, chicken fillet (cut into strips), oyster sauce and egg noodles – spiked by the addition of 3 very potent chillies. I got my much needed spice fix; my first since being back in Buenos Aires.

Later on in the week, quick re-org of the fridge yielded half a packet of curry powder so I made beef curry with rice as our Sunday lunch. The spice factor was much higher and Guillermo literally sweated through his meal; he hasty finished the pile on his plate and reached for yoghurt to calm his palate down. Anyhow, he was proud of his "achievement" and claimed that no average Argentine would be able to withstand that level of heat.

When I cooked another spicy lunch today, he felt compelled to ask if my cravings were back. I wasn't aware of it but I must say an article on the medicinal benefits of herbs and spices, archived in the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biochemical Library was probably working my sub-conscience…

Here is the extract on some commonly used spices:

Cinnamon, Cassia: antiseptic, anti-diarrhea
Coriander: anti-spasmodic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory
Cumin: anti-microbial, diuretic
Curry leaves: anti-emetic
Galangal (Thai, similar to ginger): expectorant, anti-bacterial
Ginger: for colds, anti-emetic, anti-rheumatic
Saffron: anti-rheumatic, for neuralgia
Wasabi (a type of Japanese radish): expectorant, for sinusitis
For the full article, please see here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Poles Apart

I have come to the resignation that there is probably never going to be "World Peace" when we, human beings, seem to be living on different planets.

Recent search on funny anecdotes on parenthood have yielded two articles published by The Guardian (UK newspaper). One was written a few years back but remains as fresh and relevant today – in the better parts of London, and other capital cities – as when the once new phenomenon was first observed and documented.

In an article titled "J'adore le Baby Dior" (I adore Baby Dior - Dior's junior clothing line), the author and mother of a 2 year-old lamented that "...I don't get to spend nearly enough time playing the glossy, airbrushed parenting role I had in mind for myself...sitting at a pavement cafe while my delightful little one tucks heartily into an organic meal and amuses himself artistically with crayons, with me...maintaining a steady, watchful eye over my progeny and shyly acknowledging the admiring smiles of passers by..."

Organic meal and crayons?? I only recall seeing porteño mother & kid teams tucking into ham and cheese toasties on nutritionally deficient white bread while sipping coca-cola, with Power Ranger or Barbie toys lying close by.

Across the Ocean, the same author and mother went on "...In my local playground on a Saturday morning, around the sandpit, mothers brandish healthy snacks and educational toys like Mulberry handbags. The children are roundly drowned out by their parents. "Come and have one of these nourishing but delicious muesli cookies that mummy made this morning, Lola darling," they shout across the climbing frame, "and then it's time we went to your drama workshop/Sudoku group/thank-you-letter-writing master-class."..."

The author and I agree on one point at least and that is it has always been thus, of course. However, favoured methods of showing off one's brilliant child - and, more importantly, one's A-starred parenting skills – are primarily the reflection of the time we live in.

For instance, when I first recounted with horror to my mother that Argentine children are routinely fed milk with added sugar and all other forms of terrible junk, my mother calmly told me that it too was the custom to "treat" children this sort of food when she was a young girl living in the more austere post-war era; back then common folks were not educated on nutrition. Clearly, A-starred parenting skills in the affluent and more nutrition savvy cultures of today have move on and beyond refined sugar and "white" carbohydrates.

"In these Jamie Oliver obsessed times, it's all about breeding a child who wrinkles their snub nose in the face of chocolate and pines for soya milk and papaya." says the satirical author who has "...a friend who still talks in hushed, shocked tones about the infamous occasion last year when one mother gave the children - wait for it - sandwiches, as if such a wheat-laden, non-gourmet GI snack was akin to offering a tray of stiff gin and tonics."

I chuckled as I imagine how this friend of the author would feel if she ever saw what I see frequently at my local supermarket where parents wait in line with their toddlers to pay for their trolley filled with dulce de leche, crisps and frizzy drinks.

Of course, food is only a little patch within the minefield that's modern parenthood. In a more recent Guardian article, another author talks about the wanton excess that is a child's birthday party fuelled by competitive parents. "...Children have no innate sense of one-up-manship; they invariably want their birthday party to be exactly like the most recent birthday party they attended. Parents, however, do not like slavish imitation; they constantly feel the need to produce something more imaginative, impressive and fashionable than the other parents, to the extent that British families now spend an average of £82 per birthday party, although £500 is more like the norm in certain parts of north London."

At current exchange rate and where we draw the poverty line, £500 is more than a large number of middle class Argentine families earn in a month; and I don't know which one of these societies is screwed up.

The choice of presents may be very different but London or Buenos Aires, the current party scenes are similarly characterised by an orgy of ungrateful excess. One gift after another being ripped open at alarming speed by a child who never even pauses to see who it is from seems the norm.

I am sure when we become parents, Guillermo and I may run the risk of being accused of child abuse just because we do not believe or condone this sort of parenting style which encourages immediate gratification and feeds more materialistic desires and demands. However, I do like the idea of instilling healthy wholesome eating habits in our children even if it means they would only accept Green & Black's organic dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids; as long as I don't flaunt it and that it is how we eat anyway, I reason that it isn't all that pretentious ;-)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Play Time

More on the subject of expat parents who would like know where their children could participate in activities conducted in English...I am copying a mail forwarded to me by an American expat who is married to an Argentine:

"A local nursery school teacher that I have known for years is helping a friend of hers promote a rotating "jardin" in English. My youngest son participated in a rotating jardin with her from age 1 1/2 to 2 1/2. In his case the classes were in Spanish and they were just three kids in the class... They met twice a week, taking turns having the classes at each child's home. It was a wonderful opportunity for him to play with other children and they did such creative fun projects together.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the "jardin" you can contact Adriana Cuadrado (known as Arri), who was my son´s teacher, at"

The following is the original email from the nursery teacher:

"Queridas mamás: hoy les escribo, como verán, para recomendarles los grupitos rodantes en inglés que hace una amiga mía, Maru Cosin.

Todas saben de qué se tratan los grupitos pues la mayoría de uds han tenido a alguno (o a todos!!!) sus hijos en grupitos conmigo.

Tal vez algunas recuerden a Maru del jardín Infanzia, hemos trabajado juntas ahí y puedo recomendarla como persona y como maestra con los ojos cerrados.

Este año a Maru también le toca ser mamá (en mayo!) así que está coordinando los grupitos y lo llevan a cabo otras maestras a su cargo.

Y para terminar la "promo", les cuento que mi hija más grande, Casandra, ya tiene 3 años y 4 meses . Les pido por favor que si "algún interesado" en los grupitos de Maru, de aprox esa edad, tiene ganas de avisarme para poder incluirla, bienvenido sea, ya que también como mamá quiero participar en ellos, ahora sí, del otro lado.

Y a las que hace taaaaanto que no veo, como verán que mencioné al pasar, contarles que en junio pasado tuve a mi segunda niñita, Dafne Violeta, otro solcito en este hogar.

Les mando besos grandes a todas

I cannot vouch for the quality of the teacher; I am merely providing this information so parents who are interested could find out more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Forsaking Cleanliness and...Godliness

Most Argentine households I've come across are spic'n'span for two reasons: firstly, these households all have at least a part-time domestic helper if not a live-in maid; and secondly, people seem to favour using a large amount of cleaning products. In addition, many apartment buildings have a live-in caretaker to maintain the sheen on marble hallways and wood-panelled elevators. Cleanliness seems to be truly next to Godliness in the minds of many here.

I am not sure if the ghastly level of pollution and the dirty streets fuel porteños' desire to keep every surface in their homes flawlessly bleached and polished. However, few are aware that cleaning products are producing a very different kind of pollution to our homes.

When our domestic goddess first came to work in our household, she asked me to stock up on an array of cleaning products; most of them bleaching agents, Blem, and various strong smelling sprays. Every time she left, she was proud of the "clean smelling" apartment she was handing back to us. We didn't have the heart to tell her that we were choking in the "clean" fumes; our eyes were itchy and red, I was sneezing until the "cleanliness" wore off.

It took me months to work up the courage to tell her to tone down on the products. Since she comes twice a week and we have no kids or pets, I have asked her to mop the floor with just hot water and only add a smaller amount of cleaning agent to the water every two weeks.

Now that we are expecting a baby, it is even more crucial that we limit the amount of chemicals in our home. I am glad that I plugged up the courage to talk to her about our concerns. We are fortunate that our goddess is the open-minded kind; after we explained to her our rationale she gladly took to the task... we now live "happily everafter".

The following are some examples of cleaning products commonly found in domestic environments which are damaging to health...

Aerosol Products:
Aerosolized chemicals are absorbed through lungs and quickly pass into bloodstream. Damage brain, lungs, kidneys, heart, nervous system. Put solution in hand sprays.

Air Freshener:
Most contain carcinogenic ingredients, which can be stored in body fat. May cause birth defects, liver, kidney and brain damage. Plants, essential oils and potpourri are effective and less harmful options.

All-Purpose Cleaner/Degreaser:
Damaging to eyes, skin and lungs. Toxic to nervous system. May contain ingredients that are linked to cancer, reproductive disorders.

Antibacterial Cleaner:
Some may be immunotoxicants- associated with liver damage. Low-dose of antibiotics pose long-term danger- weaken immune system and breed "super-germs". Try using essential oils with anti-bacterial properties such as tea tree oil, lavender oil, etc.

Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner:
Carcinogenic; causes liver, kidney, and nervous-system damage. Corrosive; extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages.

Corrosive; damaging to eyes, skin and lungs. Dioxins do not break down. Contaminate water and devastate ecosystem and wildlife.

May the Lesser God bless our lesser household. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Thank you for all the kind and concerned comments regarding our birth plan. Now that everything is sorted and air-tickets bought, I am feeling very relaxed and enjoying my 2nd Trimester tremendously.

Guillermo and friends who have seen my burgeoning bump have all commented that I am "wearing" my pregnancy very well – weight gain seems to have gone strictly to the appropriate places and have diligently stayed there. 2 kilos after 16 weeks may seem modest but my Argentine doctor is very happy and declared a "perfecto" at my weight-in.

Since I can deal with the smell of baking ingredients again, we have asked our friends over for tea this Sunday. It gives me the opportunity to use those cocoa nibs I ordered online just before Christmas. I am not a big fan of traditional American cookies only because I know what goes into the dough. My version, adpated from an American cookery magazine, is BIG on crunch and chocolate flavour without too much sugar and fat; plus all that oatmeal is bound to us some good.

Oatmeal Choc-chip and Cocoa nibs Cookies

3/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
120g butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large eggs
1 1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup combination of dark chocolate chips (70% cocoa solids at least) and cocoa nibs

1. Preheat oven to 180C, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk flour, salt and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, by hand or by mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat the mixture until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.

4. Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture with a large spatula. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

5. Place dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets in generous spoonfuls, leaving at least 3cm in between.

6. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 20 min. Slide cookies (on parchment) onto cooling rack. When cooled, store in airtight container.