Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Recap Post

I can count on one hand the number of rainy days we've had since arriving in Buenos Aires, and today is one of them. Our cleaning service comes on Saturdays around 11, and this morning when they arrived I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed to join Ken at one of our favourite local bars for breakfast. After breakfast we parted ways, and as I walked to the grocery store I found myself wanting to just go home and drink mate.

In just over two months we've stopped dreading leaving the apartment for fear that someone will ask us a question. We've changed our default language settings on our computers to be in Spanish. Our personal training sessions are almost all in Castellano, and we've both read books and magazines in Spanish. (I even have a favourite Argentine mag, OHLALÁ!.) Using our mad Spanglish skillz, I've taken a cooking class and Ken has played Ultimate frisbee. We've even made enough new friends to have a party.

We've more-or-less stopped going out for dinner at 7 p.m. (when we need to eat that early, which we still mostly do, we cook at home). We figured out where to buy cheap eggs and chicken, and now have empanadas-on-demand at home. We've even deciphered the grocery store coupon system well enough that we save 15% on our grocery bill every couple of weeks. We've gone to a couple of wine-tastings that were conducted completely in Castellano, and weren't completely baffled. We're getting over our timidness about disputing erroneous charges at bars and restaurants, and yesterday after the tech came to fix our internet, we even argued in Spanish about whether we should have to pay.

I still struggle with what to do with all this free time. While I've been taking more pictures and cooking/baking more, I've also been watching a lot of old Veronica Mars episodes, then worrying about whether I'm spending my time productively enough. When I thought about that this week, I wondered if what I should really consider is letting myself be still, without trying to do and go all the time.

Luckily, I have time to try that to see how it fits.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Southern Exposure

Some of my photos have been making their way around the interwebs!

Norma, who taught me how to make grandma-worthy empanadas (are you sick of hearing about that yet? Hee) last weekend, has updated her flyer to include some pictures I took during the class:

Valeria, another of Norma's students, runs a service called Spare Rooms Buenos Aires to help n00bs to the city find a room to sublet during their stay. Great idea! She also has a blog with info for foreigners, and last week added a couple of photos from our trip with Adrián to the parrilla a few weeks ago.

More pics in our Buenos Aires Collection on Flickr.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Party Time! Excellent!

I used to gauge how "settled" I felt in a new city by how long it took me to find a reliable catsitter - not someone I was paying, but someone I considered enough of a friend to entrust with a set of keys and the feeding of my beloved furry orange beast. Since said beast is living the life in Canada these days, we had to figure out a new measure of successful integration here in Buenos Aires, so we decided to host a little fiesta for Ken's birthday (which is on Tuesday, should you want to send small-yet-expensive gifts). We've only been here for two months, so a not-insignificant portion of our guest list involved Spanish teachers.

Parties and other outings here in Bs.As. start late: Ken recently found an ad for a club that on Tuesday nights has free admission until - get ready! - 2:30 a.m. But let's face it, I'm old, and accustomed to going to sleep before the sun comes up. I still prefer to think of 4 a.m. as something that exists *in theory* and I don't feel any particular need to experience it for myself. We compromised with a 10 p.m. start time, which of course meant that at 10:05 I was convinced that nobody was going to show up. I needn't have worried: Ken is well-liked here in the Southern Hemisphere and by 11:30 we had an apartment full of people from Argentina, Mexico, Peru, the U.S. and Canada (holla!) eating empanadas as good as an Argentine grandma's and speaking Spanglish, my current favourite language.

Around 3 a.m., when there were just a handful of guests remaining, we convinced Ken to break out his guitar and play some of the Argentine folk and tango he's learned since we arrived. And I guess the traditional birthday rum cake (made with Cuban rum!) worked out just fine, because there wasn't even a slice left for breakfast this morning. I'll have to settle for an alfajor. Tough life, indeed.

Empanada Cred

Tonight we had a party for Ken's birthday. More on that later, but for now, you should know, a guy from Buenos Aires told me that my empanadas, i.e., the empanadas I made, reminded him of his grandma's.

His. Grandma's.

Really, does it get any better than that?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cooking the Argentine Way

I love food. I love reading about food (including reading cookbooks and recipes), I love watching cooking shows on TV and instructional cooking videos1 on the interwebs, I love food preparation from chopping to sautéeing, and I love baking. I am also passionate about eating. In short, food is my favourite hobby, and having a year sabbatical I have been hoping to spend more time on this hobby. So far I've mostly focused on the eating part (see: +1.5 kg). Aside from one (successful) foray into the world of empanadas a few weeks ago, I hadn't cooked any traditional Argentine fare until yesterday, when I attended the lovely and talented Norma Soued's Argentine cooking class.

Before we moved to Buenos Aires I searched2 for cooking classes, but only found classes taught in English and geared to tourists (read: expensive). A few weeks ago when I was perusing Craigslist3 I came across Norma's ad. I wrote to her to ask for more information about the class, and to confirm that she would, in fact, teach in Castellano4. Yesterday I went to her sunny apartment in Belgrano to learn how to make empanadas, guiso de lentejas (lentil stew), and alfajores.

I was very excited about the alfajores, as the only recipe I have seen for these delicious treats was in a Martha Stewart magazine, and it was insanely complicated (surprise surprise). I'm pretty sure it involved milking your own cow to make the dulce de leche.

Norma's class was great. She and the other student, Valeria, both speak English fluently, but since I really wanted to practice my Spanish they graciously (and patiently) agreed to speak Castellano. (Patience, for real: My brain on Spanish is Windows 98 on a 386.) We prepared all three dishes together, and everything was very well explained and hands-on. When we finished cooking, we enjoyed the delicious delicious fruits of our labour with a glass of red wine in Norma's beautiful dining room.

Taking a cooking class was a great way to further my burgeoning Spanish skillz, and happily I am now all set to make empanadas and alfajores5 for Ken's birthday shenanigans next weekend!

P.S. Norma also offers a Middle-Eastern cooking class that you can read all about over on her blog. I haven't taken it yet but if I do, you'll be the first to know.

1 Before I made empanadas the first time, I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube to figure out the technique of sealing the empanada called La Repulgue. In my searches I came across this empanada video that is totally worth 6 1/2 minutes of your time if you like things that are awesome.

2 I have since searched en español and found many more schools and classes that I'm interested in. Hooray!

3 Craigslist isn't so huge here. Most of the postings are for bars showing NBA games.

4 Latin American Spanish. Castellano:Español = English:British

5 Some alfajores will be filled with jam, because Ken doesn't like dulce de leche. I KNOW. [Candace: This is what is wrong with him.]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cost of Living

30 Pesos
Originally uploaded by Kitty LaRoux.

In an effort to lose the 1.5 kg I've gained since we moved to this fair city, I now stop regularly at the verduleria (veggie stand) after I go to the gym. This morning's haul included 2 avocados, 2 grapefruits, 2 red peppers, a shredded salad (I like to mix that with balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, and a little chimichurri powder, and throw a boiled egg on top for lunch), 1/2 kilo of cherry tomatoes, 1/4 kilo of green olives, 6 bananas, and the hugest bunch of broccoli I've ever seen. The grand total was 30 pesos, or around $8US.

While beef is super cheap here (we can get 2 T-Bone steaks for around 12 pesos, or $3.50), chicken and eggs at the grocery store are pricey (we've seen eggs at upwards of 20 pesos, or $6, per dozen). On Saturday we passed through a very small farmer's market in Plaza Armenia with a booth selling various meats. They had boneless skinless chicken breasts for 16 pesos/kilo ($2/lb) and 30 eggs at the bargain-basement price of 10 pesos (less than $3).

We have instituted a Sunday brunch tradition of steak-and-eggs, which means our cholesterol levels are rising proportionally to the happiness of our taste buds.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Cinco de Mayo

For The Soul
Originally uploaded by Kitty LaRoux.

We spent the weekend in Mar del Plata, and on the 5 1/2 hour bus ride there we both caught colds. I spent most of Friday tilting my head awkwardly in an attempt to clear out at least part of one nostril through which to breathe. Saturday we located some psuedoephedrine, which helped matters greatly.

In other news, we left our Spanish school that was in the Centro (a neighbourhood that's more or less Manhattan's midtown--read: crowded, unfun). We now have a private tutor (Sofía) with whom we are both slightly enamoured. The lessons are fun: Yesterday we made up a whole story about a lawyer named "Mauricio" who used to be a hippie, and today we played the Spanish version of "Clue"!

And tonight, in honour of Cinco de Mayo and our waning illnesses, I cooked us up some Chicken Soup with Lime and Avocado.

Finally, I've started running again. Hooray for me! I ran an 8k race two weeks ago and finished in around 47 minutes. I have a few more 10k races lined up, and I've started training regularly with two lovely American expats who will be here to keep me going for at least another month or two.