PaR Cooked

we need a catchy title….


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8 people, 10 days, 6 cities, 2 countries, 2451 words

Here’s the short version: Phoebe and her family came to visit. It was great. We went to the beach a lot. We traveled. We saw many sunsets. We ate. Some of the food was really good. Sometimes it was just nice to be together. Eric ate a lot of beef. We went to Buenos Aires. It was fun. They went home. That was bittersweet.

Let me back up. A lot.

On Christmas Day after months of anticipation, weeks of planning, and hours of travel (for them), Phoebe and her family arrived in Montevideo for a ten day visit. The excitement and joy of seeing dear friends after a long absence is really only surpassed by how quickly you forget how long you’ve been apart; that these people haven’t been with you all along. I don’t know exactly how to tell you about their visit. At night after the kids went to bed I jotted down notes on the day. Notes that quickly filled two pages and could have filled more if my hand hadn’t cramped and my eyes hadn’t drooped. Sometimes I want to recount every day in gratuitous detail and sometimes I can’t imagine trying to recount the experiences of eight people over ten days.

During the first few days heat followed us everywhere. My memories are of sweating. On the bus to the port where we went to find Eric’s first of many, many chivitos, I remember watching the beads of sweat form on Mette’s nose as she and all the children gradually melted into the plastic seats. When Phoebe and I finally went to get her long-promised suitcase worth of Uruguayan yarn, it seemed impossible to believe that we would ever again require woolen anything. We set up fans in our apartment and then everyone fought for space in front of them.  Everyone except Eric who was often leaning out the window admiring the heat and the view. We allotted the kids time in the air conditioned hotel room to cool off and veg out.

We rented two high-mileage, low frills,  American sedans (one with a faulty check engine light and the other with barely working air conditioning) and followed each other first east and then west down busy and empty highways.  At our destination we would trade stories of  near misses with inattentive drivers, of crossing six lane highways in the dark, of motorcycles with families of five crammed onto the seat, of roadside castles, of packed roadside restaurants, and of brush fires. We drove into the heat of the day to get places and then drove home in the cool, near black of night.

Toward the east there was a mass of other people trying to get to the beaches, to second homes, to hotels, to cabins. Out past the city in the east the there were small towns with small cement houses and dirt roads. There were grocery stores, lumber yards, and plant nurseries. Then there was nothing but scrub-filled fields, marshy patches with horses grazing, and forests of pine and eucalyptus until the next town or until a road jogged off to the right leading to the coast.

The first beach we visited was covered in rocks and deserted except for a man and woman freely exploring each other’s anatomy.  The wind here was cooler than in the city. The water crashed in foamy cold waves that the children waded into without hesitation, regardless of their ability to swim. We drove farther east to Piriápolis. Here, just a few miles down the coast, the sand was baby powder soft,  the water calm, and the beach crowded with families.

The next day a friend invited us to his beach house for an asado. He sweated over the wood-fired grill laden with various cuts of meat (and a few vegetables) while the rest of us drank and ate. We walked the red dirt roads of the town past one-story cement houses to the beach.  Following us as we walked were eerie and alarming cries that sounded like packs of kittens, or maybe feral babies. It sounded at first like the sound came from the tall roadside grasses, but we soon realized they were echoing from the storm drains. The more we listened the spookier it became. We imagined colonies of all sorts of creatures living underground and the wrath they could unleash.  Our friend told us they were toads. Not killer toads or radioactive toads. Just toads. He said this quite nonchalantly as if it would be hard to mistake the sound for anything else. I still kind of wonder, though. They sounded a lot like feral babies to me.

To get to the beach here we had to follow a path through large dunes.  Then the beach, filled with families, spread out before us.  Waves crashed huge here, though the water smelled more like the river than the ocean. Phoebe and I had somehow not connected the beach with swimming, so we stood at the water’s edge while everyone else dove through the waves.  Our friend picked up the slack for us by throwing any willing child into the waves or offering himself as a human boogie board; and when one child tired he found a better rested one.

Heading west the highway was eerily empty. It was hotter heading this way and the highway farther from the water. Phoebe has rightly pointed out that this is a serious understatement. It was hot enough that she worried that the cars would melt. Or that the faulty check engine light on their car would turn out to not be faulty and we would all melt at the side of the road.  The fields were more cultivated and dotted with cows, sheep, and, to our delight, a herd of goats. In some places cows stood under palm trees for shade; something Phoebe and I found hilariously incongruous. The towns had names like the cheeses we had sampled in the market, like Cufre and Danbo. There were honor system roadside stands, which lacked refrigeration, advertising fresh cheese and sweet cheese.  We turned off the highway around kilometer 55 driving down a sycamore lined road to a tiny town where the sand was flat and wide. People beached themselves on sand bars like seals, wallowing there in the warm water that was flat and shallow for ages. Driftwood lay on the beach and trees leaned down from jagged dunes.

Our first afternoon in western Uruguay was one those days that felt so dry and hot that spontaneous combustion wouldn’t have been surprising. The air smelled of Eucalyptus, dust, and cooking meat. Phoebe and I let Nathan and Eric sort out finding gas for the nearly empty cars while we turned up the air conditioner in the cabins to arctic blast, let the children plug into any form of technology they wanted,  put up our feet, and gently infused the afternoon with gin. Then we talked until the light started to fade, the children needed to be aired, and our husbands returned victorious.

The eight of us watched the sunset nearly every night of the trip. We watched the sky turn orange and then fade to dark from Montevideo, from eastern and western beaches, from the terrace of a pizza place in Colonia, and from the rooftop pool of our hotel in Buenos Aires. How is it that night after night that show never gets old? For me, it was the time each day when I would think, “Here we are on the other side of the world from home. Together.”  Every night I’d be amazed. Plus, they were just crazy beautiful sunsets.

On New Year’s Eve, on an empty beach in western Uruguay while the kids finished popsicles, laughed and ran, and got wetter than we had authorized we watched the sun sink on 2013. After we had trooped home, the children had gone to sleep, and our husbands had gone on to other things, Phoebe and I slipped outside in our pajamas to wait for midnight and share a bottle of champagne she had had the foresight to buy before leaving Montevideo. Fireworks, out of sight but not out of earshot, let us know when the hour finally clicked over to a new year.  Our conversation, though, continued unchanged. Before turning in for the night we passed the half-full bottle across the fence the neighbors who showed no signs of retiring anytime soon.

With ten days of meals, some are sure to be unremarkable, but on vacation in a place entirely new sometimes even boxed macaroni and cheese eaten out of a bowl balanced on your lap can feel festive. Even when the food wasn’t great, there was almost always something to make the meal memorable. At a restaurant cheerful in decor and lacking in service where we waited over an hour for mediocre food, Otto lost his second tooth.

And sometimes the most memorable food appeared where we least expected it. After a hot walk on the beach into town we stopped at the first restaurant we found. It was unassuming, but open.  We sat on a patio

Pizza place, Colonia, Uruguay

Pizza place, Colonia, Uruguay

overlooking the beach and ate one of our best meals.  Eric talked about that chivito for the rest of the trip. It’s worth saying again that Eric ate a lot of chivitos and then Argentine lomitosHe examined menus, consulted with Nathan on translations and then ordered meat, which he never failed to enjoy. I felt like I finally got to experience the much talked about South American meat dishes, thankfully without having to eat any of it myself.

In Buenos Aires Phoebe and I went out for a late night dessert date to a famous confiteria where the decor was amazing, the waiters entirely old world gangster, and where  the pies, while delicious, were weighted like bricks.

Of course, we had to eat Uruguayan pizza at least once. We took them to our favorite pizza place in Montevideo and they all tried fainá, which Nathan had been raving about for almost five years.  Then Eric found a pizza place in Colonia that had tiered patios overlooking the water and combined Uruguayan pizza with more American ideas of toppings. I still think about that pizza.

Our family almost didn’t make it to Buenos Aires for the last leg of the trip. Uruguayans, including temporary residents, have to provide birth certificates in addition to ID cards for all children.  Of course we didn’t know this and there was no budging the woman at immigration who could hardly even be bothered to come to the window.   Nathan took a wild ride in a taxi driving twice the legal limit on the Rambla to collect the birth certificates. In the end it turns out the surly woman in immigration was fairly lenient.  One birth certificate was expired (everything here expires) and one wasn’t even the right version. Finally, with the clunk of a stamp, we were cleared to leave. We made it on board with minutes to spare.  I even got to do some movie-like fist pump while Phoebe and family cheered our arrival.

We thought driving in Uruguay was pretty exciting, but the experience of riding Buenos Aires taxis made that seem tame. Taxis were inexpensive and uncrowded compared with the subway so there were many wild rides. One though, topped all others. Out of the line of waiting taxis outside a shopping mall, Phoebe, the girls and I grabbed one at random. The driver, standing outside his taxi while eating a cup of ice cream, seemed to have a bit of swagger, but it wasn’t until we were settled in the backseat that it began to dawn on us what we had gotten ourselves into.  The front of his otherwise dingy cab was decked out with faux chrome plating, a smaller sporty steering wheel, and a whole lot of nitrous gauges. He slammed the door and took off, heel-and-toe shifting his way through clogged streets.  At a traffic light he stopped short, yanked up the hand brake,  and strolled to a nearby trash can to throw away his empty ice cream cup. He slammed the door just in time to catch the changing light. This was the only traffic light he obeyed. He ran through at least eight other red lights.  He swerved sharply around cars, cutting as close to them as possible for greater dramatic effect. Just as our neighborhood drew into sight Mette fell sound asleep in what I can only assume was a slightly delayed response to terror.  While we arrived a few minutes earlier than the boys’ taxi, our wild ride, as evidenced by the higher fare, took us much farther afield.

When we weren’t being flung around inside flying taxis, we spent hours exploring the city. We spent a couple of hours in the beautifully morbid Recoleta cemetery where shiny mausoleums muscle each other for space. Evita Perón is buried here and there is always a crowd around her perfectly maintained crypt.  Phoebe and I though both found it was the crumbling tombs, where vases of fake flowers lay broken and cobwebs spread across caskets like lace doilies, that drew us in the most.

In the Japanese Gardens we  fed the giant carp that roiled in anticipation of the small food pellets. We visited the small and beautiful art museum.

We set the children loose in El Museo de los Niños where they climbed through a giant toilet, ran a bank, made a television program, and grocery shopped. None of them wanted to leave.

We visited a famous bookstore housed in a refurbished theater that Eric has been thinking about for years. The balconies, box seats, the stage, and all the period decor had been meticulously preserved.

When we needed a break from the hustle we spread out in one of our giant two bedroom apartments or lounged in the rooftop pool, which was the perfect depth for half the kids to figure out swimming, one to show off his fish-like abilities, and one to dance until exhaustion put her in danger of drowning.

Before we knew it our time was up. To spare the tears and the sadness, goodbyes are generally best kept brief.  That’s how we said goodbye at the end of ten days together and it’s how I’ll say it here.  They went home, which is a good feeling even after the best of vacations–even when it is 100 degrees colder (no, I’m not exaggerating) than where you left.  And we went back to a place that felt that much more like home for them having had been there.

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An Open Letter to Phoebe

Dear Phoebe,

I feel like I’ve been stepping out on our exercise relationship.

I remember how hard we fought against getting up so early go to the gym. We tried evening, mid-morning, and even the laughably impossible late afternoon workouts before we finally gave in and set our alarm clocks to stun. Both of us had already spent years as sleep-deprived mothers and it seemed wrong to choose to wake up during those few magical hours when everyone in the house was finally and uniformly asleep.

I never got used to setting an alarm and waking up before the sun rose. The sound of the alarm never stopped being a shock. I never relished throwing back the covers before the furnace clicked on in the winter, or during the brief time when it was finally cool enough to need a blanket in the summer. For a moment I would rest on the edge of the bed, listening to the even breath of three people sleeping. I would resist the urge to sink back down into the bed, which was still imprinted with my body. I would know you were out there doing the same and this would finally compel me to trade loose, soft pajamas for the tight snap of workout clothes. Even as I laced my shoes, grabbed my water, and picked up my keys there would be a whisper of doubt. It was never until the door clicked shut, locking me out of my home, that it felt right.  I often stood for just a moment, never longer because I was almost always running late, under the dome of stars or the early morning cloud wisps in a morning not yet marked by cars engines, or voices, or bird songs, or light. Meeting up with you always felt a little clandestine, a little like we were teenagers sneaking out. The gym at that hour always felt a little like a private club.  There was no wait for machines and only rarely a wait for mat space. The handful of us at the gym had our routines, which we all stuck to with surprising regularity. Though we rarely spoke to anyone but each other, and even then only a few snippets of conversation before and after working out, it felt like a community.

I don’t have a gym here or you, but I thought maybe I could still maintain our routine and keep it as if we were working out together, just with more space between us. I couldn’t. Working out at home may be physically the same, but it lacks the mental separation from household rhythms and tasks. I started going outside to walk and exercise along the Rambla.  There are public exercise areas with metal machines, which while less sleek and appealing than the those in a gym make my muscles quake and ache for days.  I did squats and lunges looking out over the water and felt pretty lucky.  I found benches where I could do crunches and felt pretty pleased with myself.

Public exercise machines.

Public exercise machines.

And all this was fine. None of this felt like was being untrue, but this week something unexpected happened that brought me to this letter. I ran. Not from something or to anything just, you know, for exercise. Oh, how hard it was to write those words. How many times have we talked about how running is fine exercise for other people, but not for us because we’re just not runners? And I’m not a runner. When I ran I did not at all resemble those herds of human gazelles we see galloping across campus.  I was more like a giant tortoise, which has a maximum speed of .17 miles per hour. I only just managed to keep ahead of the older man speed walking and talking on the phone behind me. Though he was wearing some very fancy looking sneakers, which may have given him an assist. I also had to stop to walk a lot.  It was really more like I jogged and walked. I guess if I’m being brutally honest I wogged.  But this is all beside the point, which is that there was running involved.  And I wish I could say that it was just one time.  That I tried to avoid some dog poop, tripped, and accidentally ran a bit. That it will never happen again, but I can’t. I hope you can forgive me. I went for a run and I think I may do it again.

Your friend,

Rachel


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For the Record

So rachel is off in the summer hemisphere and I am left with her empty house that still smells like their family to check on and maintain.

It is nice still being able to go over to her house, even if she isn’t there.  I have met with the tenant and tried my hardest not to overwhelm him with details.  I think I talked to him for an hour at break neck speed about all things house and town.  Pretty sure he won’t be contacting me anytime soon!    I explained the dehumidifier, the fancy furnace, street cleaning, recycling, best grocery stores, markets quirks, neighbors, you name it.
He seems quite nice and is off on a trip for a month so we both have a chance to settle into our new rolls of tenant/landlord.
Him being gone for a month is giving me a bit more time to let go of her house.  A luxury i didn’t think I needed until he left.
That brings me to this week’s confession.

For the record I would like to state that never once while checking on your house did I wonder why the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom was so dirty.  What was the tenant doing in there?  I tried standing on the seat to see if some amazing view could be had thus explaining what looked like footprints.  After determining I was clueless to the reasons, i just went ahead and cleaned it.
For the record i did not question the tenants need to haphazardly pull down the black out curtains on the third floor and leave them in a heap on the floor.  Instead I simply went about rehanging them.
For the record, I never heard movement on the third floor and left screaming.
For the record, i did not call Tasha to come over and help me be brave and see what was in there.
Nathan, for the record, I did not use a squash racket as a possible self defense weapon, nope, not once.
For the record there has never been a squirrel in your house.
For the record we did not trap one on the third floor with an open window in the hopes s/he would see him/herself out.
I am the bravest and most capable of all landlords you could have.


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Sour Milk

Hi, come on in.

Don’t mind the banging coming from upstairs, Mette is working on making me something.  Leave your boots by the door, hang jackets and hats anywhere you can find a spot.  It’s cold outside, warm up in the kitchen.

I have everything all ready to make a batch of yogurt.  Warm, tangy, delicious yogurt.  The same yogurt that when the professor saw how I made it was shocked.  “Really, that’s all you do?!”  Surely there should be something more to it than that.  And, there isn’t.  When making yogurt I think you need to remember this.  People first started making yogurt by mistake, in hot climates.  Less is more.  If you research recipes for how to make yogurt you will find countless methods, numerous temperatures and times to adhere to.  They are all right.   The process I am sharing here is my method.  I have found that it produces predictable results which, most importantly, my small folk devour.  That being said, feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

The steps are basic.  Basic enough that you can have time to work on your curlers.

Mette trying out her new curlers.

Mette trying out her new curlers.

There is also plenty of down time, so feel free to organize a few cabinets while you are at it.

sometimes you just have to start a new project.

sometimes you just have to start a new project.

When making anything, clean equipment is a really good idea.  I make our yogurt in large Ball wide mouth canning jars.  I have tons of them, they are easy to clean and they store well.  Use what you like best.  Because today I was showing friends my “sour milk secrets” I used a whole gallon of milk, but usually I make one half gallon every week or so.  I use local raw whole milk that I get delivered to my house by the farmer.  It is lovely and grassy, but you can use any whole milk.  Pasteurized is even fine.  I am a big believer in the good fat in milk, especially local and grass fed milk, and I prefer raw or low temp pasteurized, but that is a whole other can of worms for another post.  The other key ingredient you need besides milk to make yogurt, is yogurt.  You need a small amount of yogurt to get you going.  Once you have made your first batch you can reserve a small portion of that to make you next batch.  It’s kind of like a sour dough starter.  The golden ratio to remember is 1/4 cup yogurt for every 4 cups of milk.  So to make a gallon of milk into  yogurt I needed one cup of yogurt from my last batch.  Amazingly enough I managed not to scrape the jar empty the night before and saved enough!  whew!  Can’t begin to tell you how many times I have done that.  In a pinch you can use store bought yogurt to get you going.  Or, if you are lucky and happen to have a Rachel down the street, you can call her and see if she has any homemade yogurt you can have.  But, not everyone is lucky enough to have a Rachel down the street.  Though wouldn’t it be great if we did.

So here is all my gear ready to go:

Yogurt making equipment all neatly gathered, ready to go.

Yogurt making equipment all neatly gathered, ready to go.

There are four large wide mouth jars with plastic tops, two pint glass canning jars I fill with boiling water (more on that later), a large iSi flexible measuring cup, measuring spoon, cast iron pot, polder thermometer, rice pack, milk and a cooler.

 

Homemade Yogurt

4 cups whole milk

1/4 yogurt

Heat milk to 185F.  Let cool to 115F.  Stir in starter yogurt.  Let yogurt sit undisturbed for 6 hours in a nice warm spot.  Enjoy.

 

Basically, when making yogurt you heat the milk, really you are pasteurizing it, let it cool, add the yogurt starter and then let it sit in warm snuggly place for 6 or so hours.  The times and temperatures in other recipes may vary, but they are all doing about the same thing.  It takes about 30 minutes to and hour to heat and cool the milk depending on how much milk you are using and how fast your stove is.  Then it needs to sit for about 6 hours.  Because of this timing, I find it best to make the yogurt just before lunch, let it sit until dinner and then when I am cleaning up after dinner I take it out and put it in the fridge.  If I do it any later in the day I am too tired to remember to go down and put it in the fridge.  I know from experience.  I can also say, that even if you do happen to forget about it until the next morning, you will still have yogurt.  But it might be a bit (a lot bit) tangy and you will need to add more honey to appease the small folk.  Best to stick to the earlier time!

I heat the milk to 185F first.  Normally I use a cast iron pot so it heats as evenly as possible, but one gallon of milk was more than my pot could handle so here you see an big ole stock pot doing the hard work.

milk heating to 185F

milk heating to 185F

At the same time I am heating the milk I put the tea kettle on to boil.  Not because I want tea, though I do, because as soon as I finish my coffee in the morning I start thinking about when I can have tea, but because I use canning jars filled with boiling water to make a funky old cooler my “warm snuggly spot” for the yogurt to relax in.  Some people set their oven on low, some put it near a wood stove, these are all good options but they don’t work for me.  I don’t have a wood stove and my oven is from 1912 and while awesome, it doesn’t do LOW, well.  Or at all.  So, I make a cooler all warm and toasty with two jars filled with boiling water and for some extra ambiance I have an old rice pack for sore necks that I microwave and wrap around the bottles.  My kitchen can be drafty and this way everything stays nice and warm.  I do have a radiant heat floor and I put the cooler on a warm spot, but I don’t know how much that really helps.  The water for the jars boils before the milk is up to temp so I fill the jars and put them in the cooler ahead of time. That way when the yogurt goes in the cooler it is already nice and warm.

watching the milk's temp

watching the milk’s temp

I have this awesome polder thermometer that I use for everything.  It has a prong on a long flexible cord so you can stick it in something and have a digital read out of the internal temp..  I would have to pare down my kitchen gadgets REALLY far before this was cut from the group.  You can see here the milk it at 55F, once it gets to 185F I take it off the stove and put it in the sink to cool.  Using the thermometer again you want to cool it to around 115F.  At that point you add in your starter.  I often use a whisk for that to make sure there aren’t any big clumps of yogurt.

milk cooling in the sink

milk cooling in the sink

Once you mix the starter in try to get it the jars quickly.  You don’t want it to cool off too much more.  When the jars are filled put them in your warm snuggly spot.  With any luck, in six hours you will have your first batch of homemade yogurt.

stick a spoon in it, it's done!

stick a spoon in it, it’s done!

From here you can do so many things.  Eat it with honey, which is Mette’s favorite.  Add granola for my favorite.  Make a smoothie, everyone’s favorite….  the possibilites are endless.

Aside from knowing that you aren’t feeding your family tons of sugar and things you can’t pronounce there is a certain magical quality to making yogurt.  You fill jars with what looks like regular milk and a few hours later they are filled with thick creamy yogurt.  Anytime you can do something that feels like magic, I am all for it.

 

After all, it’s the little things in life that mean so much.  This is one little thing that makes me happy every time I do it.

 

Try it.  Let me know how it turns out.

-(p)hoebe