Monday, December 28, 2009

One person´s weed is another person´s lechuga minera!

The Hudson Institute´s school year ended a little over a week ago and I said an almost-tearful goodbye to my students. Funny how attached you get after nine months of twice-a-week hour-and-a-half lessons. As much as I hope to have taught them, they have taught me an inexplicable amount. About patience, planning, learning, teaching, classroom management, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants games, motivation, and Spanish :)

But now, with so much free time on my hands, I turn my attention to summer activities. Summer in December. I´m still getting used to the idea.

But how can I not with these bluest of blue skies and all-encompassing sun? So I´ve turned my eyes toward my three c´s: cultivating, cooking, and consumption.

My minigarden is picking up momentum. My hot chili plant, Ludro, has turned out 5 huge mouth-scalding specimens. My tomato plant is showing a lot of progress as new leaves appear on the three stems everyday. My basil is sturdy and showing remarkable growth. My spinach is kind of a mess of leaves going every direction, so I´m letting natural selection take its course and knock off a few of the plants, so that the few that will remain with be the best adapted for this forever changeable Patagonian weather.

It is impossible for me to explain the joy I get from gardening. The peace that a plant gives off as it slips into bloom leaves me speechless and I can spend several hours tending carefully to each of my few plants. It´s the same sensation I get walking through the mountains here. Life breathing on every side of me in the form of colorful retamas, bulbous llao llaos, ever-present coihues, lush lupinos, those funny little gummy fungi that grow on fallen tree trunks next to the gurgling see-straight-to-the-bottom river and countless other species of countless other plants and animals. It´s a peace that I have learned to listen to and thoroughly enjoy here in Bariloche.

While peace came to me from the great outdoors, my joy comes from the kitchen. There are few things that give me the happiness that cooking does.

I show up to Sarah´s house after my daily bike ride to Villa de los Coihues with a plastic bag of veggies I found in my fridge. After a quick inventory of her kitchen, I announce the options based on my findings. Soup? Rice with lentils and a salad? Noodles with sautéed veggies? And after coming to a consensus, I get straight to work chopping or boiling. Many people would be peeved at such a complete invasion of cooking space, but Sarah claims not to mind and many of our culinary endeavors are joint projects. It´s not everyday you find someone who is also willing to spend so much time into the preparation of food. And not just any food, but slow food. I have no problem spending many hours waiting for the food to come out perfect. Small price to pay for palate satisfaction in my opinion. Whether it´s waiting for bread to rise, soup to boil, meticulously washing off each spinach or lechuga minera leaf, or cookies in the oven to reach the golden brown, the mouth-watering results always make it well worth it. Perhaps I have an obsession with food as best explained by a recent conversation with a friend:
“I love to watch you eat, Alisa”
“Why´s that?”
“Because you look so happy. You are really enjoying it.”

And I do. I love eating. And when a perfect meal comes from hours of enjoyable hard work, it´s bliss to taste all of its flavors working together to create a symphony of taste.

Speaking of slow food, on seemingly every other day I am invited to another asado.

For someone who has never been to Argentina, it is hard to grasp the concept of an asado. Think meat. Lots of meat. Think 6 hours of meat.

The asado is one of the defining activities of Argentinean culture and I hope my description does it some justice. One family or person invites a group of friends and family over to their house usually around 8 or 9pm. No one shows up until close to 10pm. Depending on the asado, guests bring a cut of meat and a bottle of red wine or the host may choose to provide all the meat and then ask for everyone to hacer una vaquita (make a monetary offering). Soon after the guests start arriving, the fire is started either in a parrilla (grill) or a fire pit. Guests will begin on the drinks until the coals are reduced to bright red shimmery embers, which usually takes a few more hours. The meat is salted and added to the grill, the embers are carefully arranged under the grill in a circular fashion ensuring that the meat is cooked painfully slowly. A few more hours and bottles go by, conversation is unleashed. The asador (one the in charge of the parrilla) rotates the embers and tests the meat. Chorizos (sausages) and morcillas (blood sausages) are almost always the first to emerge onto the cutting board. These cutting boards are passed around with bread and everything is eaten with fingers. Then the other cuts start coming off the grill: matambre, vacio, nalga, colita de cuadril… and are passed around. At some point someone announces an applause for the asador and applause erupts from everyone present. This 6 hour feast dwindles down like the fire in the wee hours of the morning and people start to disperse.

Asado is about community. It´s about relaxing, socializing, and sharing. It´s about waiting, savoring, and laughing. It has tradition and a warmth that radiates. It makes smiles linger. Most of my clothing has that smoky meat smell which fills my head with memories and brings me back to the star-filled sky and the crackling of the branches succumbing to the hungry flames.

I´m sad to be leaving Bariloche. One year can really change a person. I am forever in dept to the people and culture that I have encountered here. I truly live in one of the most beautiful inhabitable places on Earth. I am very tempted to stay another year, but life is about exploring and learning and growing. And there are many more adventures.

1 comment:

N8 said...

Nice post, babe! Your writing really captures the events and brings me back to rooting for my poor espinaca plant while changing out of meat-smelling jackets.

Love you and miss you and glad to hear the year's done well by you!