Monday, May 30, 2011


Asado, the Art of Argentinian Barbecue

The rolling pampas of central Argentina provide cattle with first class conditions to flourish. Miles (well, kilometers to be more accurate) of lush grass, open spaces and enough rainfall create a perfect environment for raising some of the best beef in the world. It follows that the pampas' inhabitants, the gauchos, ate meat almost exclusively, and learned to cook it on open fires, hence the “asado”.
Most Argentinians think they invented the asado. History shows us that this method of cooking has been around for a lot longer than they have, and that many ancient people cooked their meat over an open fire, but they have a point when they claim to make the best barbecue ever.
You cannot have a good asado without good meat. It must be tender enough to withstand the scorching heat of an open fire and flavorful enough to need nothing but a little salt. If your cut is below par, use it to make a stew. Good cuts for asado are usually more expensive, but so worth it. Ribs, of course, steak, t-bone and porter house, filet mignon, and flank are all good choices.
To prepare your cut for asado, take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before you start to grill, so it is at room temperature. In some parts of the world you would toss the meat into a marinade at this point, but this is not standard practice in asado land. A light dusting of coarse salt, or splashing it with brine is all you need.
You will need a good fire, if possible made with hard burning wood. Never use starter fluid to start the fire, just paper and kindling. Any fossil fuel or alcohol will transfer its smell to the smoke and so to the meat, and we don't want that to happen. Make sure you have enough wood to cook all your meat, as there are few things more frustrating than running out of embers or hot coals before your cut is done. Once the fire is going nicely, let it be until you have enough white ash coated embers to go under the grill. The embers must be ash coated to prevent flare ups, because when you cook asado, it is the smoke and heat that cook, and not the flames. Grab a pair of tongs to turn the meat over, if you prick it with a fork you will leave all the juices on the grill (messy!) or your plate.
Place the embers under the grill and let it heat up for a moment. Test the grill for heat by holding your hand over it (you should be able to last five seconds or so before you have to remove it) and lay the meat on. Bone side down first for ribs, fat side down first for flank and other cuts. If your cut is very thick, regulate the heat by spreading the embers a little, if it is too hot your meat will be charred on the outside before it can cook on the inside, and you won't get the golden, crunchy skin and pink, juicy middle you are looking for. If your cut is thin, you can use a higher temperature, but keep an eye out for charring and drying up. Allow the meat to cook until it is three quarters done, and only then turn it over with the tongs to finish cooking. Avoid the temptation to flip the cut over and over again, as this will end in an overdone piece of leather.
Barbecued poultry always need less heat and longer cooking time to make sure there is no part left uncooked as there is always danger of salmonella. Pinch the thickest portion with a fork or knife to see if the juices run clear, if not cook a little longer. Just salt and plenty of basting with lemon juice are great on grilled chicken, although sprinkling with oregano and garlic can also be very good.
As you become more of an expert you can try different cuts, sausages, sweet meats, kidneys and even go for a vegetable barbecue, always remembering to respect the cooking times for the different vegetables. Potatoes and sweet potatoes will take longer than squash or zucchini, so sometimes it is best to boil them for a little then baste them with olive oil and your favourite herbs before you grill,
Asado is the epitome of casual entertaining, so have ready a fresh green salad, a loaf of crusty bread and a good bottle of red wine, choose a nice warm day when you can set the table outside and enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why do we write?

There is no one answer to the question of why do we write. Some do it to express themselves, others to make a statement, some for money, still others for fun.
I can tell you why I write, though. I want to emulate those writers who express feelings and thoughts I didn't know I had until I saw them in print. The idea that someone, upon reading something of mine, will put down the page, or raise their eyes from the screen, and think "That's so true! I hadn't realized it until now!"
Is this conceit? Maybe...
I remember when I was very young, back in the glorious seventies. We were immortal, we were destined to become great..., great what? I don´t know. But our names would be written down somewhere. We were going to do wonderful things. I was going to sing and become famous. Now that is conceit. Having a good voice was certainly not enough.
Can something written in my blog cause someone to have an epiphany? Only time and some more work on my part will tell.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Its official!

It's official! Fall has arrived. Here in Argentina, at least, in the southern hemisphere. My neighbors' Liquid Ambers are in full display, showering our sidewalks with works of art. The no less gorgeous Fresno trees, ranging from palest yellow to liquid gold, rival them in beauty. I love the smell of burning leaves, so necessary in a town where we have no public services to speak of.
My silly cat, Pudding, is having a ball chasing leaves up and down the patio, behaving as if she were a kitten instead of a staid, mature old dame.
Why, oh why can't I download the pictures taken from my Blackberry to my blog?
Hey, look at that! Not very professional, but I did it!! Pudding chasing leaves...Fall, my favourite season.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My neighbour Bobby

Today I bumped into my neighbour, Bobby. Bobby is 85, and has recently had to confine his wife, Lille,  to a nursing home. Her behavior started changing towards the middle of last year, and she started to have angry bursts and sullen moods. It got uncontrollable by the end of the year and she had to be hospitalized and then confined to a home.
The change was all the more shocking as she is an English teacher, she was actually my teacher at school many years ago, preparing students for Cambridge exams until a year ago, and completing crossword puzzles in record time to keep the Alzheimer demon at bay. Fat lot of good it did her!
All this has of course taken its toll on Bobby, a well known local writer who has published books on local history, short stories, poetry in English and Spanish, and who visits her faithfully every day in the afternoon, accompanied by their daughter. He still dresses with care and precision, but the spring has gone out of his step. He walks their little dachshund, Manola, with a heavy tread that was not visible before.

Its a sad story, but what really got me thinking was the difference between men and women in similar circumstances.
I guess I was really thinking more about being widowed than having your spouse hospitalized or confined, which must be terribly stressful,  but what really struck me was the difference between widowed or similarly affected men and women. Putting aside the "Merry Widow" act, it really looks as if women are more able to cope with change of circumstances than men. Unless the husband has been an extremely dominant character, and the wife very submissive, which can leave the widow feeling very helpless and lost, the norm seems to be a better adjustment to life after the bereavement for females.
Is it the nesting force, so strong in (most) women which makes us so adaptable? Are we really more pragmatic at heart than we seem? The ability to make a home out of whatever place we're stuck in, and to make do with the whatever we have at hand would appear to be the key to our adaptability. Multitaskers as usual.
I'd love to hear other opinions, probably more informed than mine.

To censor or not to censor.

Today I read a question posed by Suzanne McMinn in her great Chickens in the Road website. She was asking her followers whether it would be best to delete nasty and/or snide comments posted by nasty/snide people and whether she herself should censor her own posts when they referred to sad or unfortunate incidents on her farm.
I voted for her not to delete the unpleasant comments, hers or otherwise.  I think that whatever happens on her farm is interesting, not only the nice parts. I also believe that we, her followers, are all grown up enough to deal with the fact that nasty people and things happen every day, and I suddenly realized that I actually enjoy reading those comments and wondering what sort of day those people are having. Or what makes them be that way. When I was young I naively thought that everyone could get along by just talking; I know now that some people enjoy being nasty and making others feel bad.
Profound, isn't it?