PaR Cooked

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168 Hours in Santiago de Chile (When You’re Lazy Tourists and Have Kids)

We are terrible tourists. That’s probably an exaggeration, but I do find those “36 hours in…” articles in The New York Times more exhausting than inspiring.  So maybe not terrible tourists, but probably lazy ones. We try to find a few things that appeal to all of us, see them and then spend time napping, hanging out, wandering around, and eating.

The kids and I spent a morning hiking up the Cerro de Sta. Lucia, a large hill and park in the city with green spaces, fountains, ornate building facades, and a whole lot of stone steps. We climbed halfway up on a sidewalk that skirted a steep drop before the kids thought they might be done. Admittedly, the views were pretty nice even from there and the climb was steep for short legs, but they were also particularly whiny that day. Promises of castles and towers were enough to convince them to keep walking. Stone steps, worn completely smooth in some places, led off to the right and we followed them up and around as they stopped or turned or forked. We didn’t pay much too much attention to where we were going as long as we were headed up. At the very top there was a clear and breathtaking view of the entire city and the mountains beyond. I don’t have many pictures from this trip since making sure the girl didn’t fall off the edge or into the fountains or moat took all of my concentration.  She only fell halfway down one flight of fairly gentle stone steps. A victory!

What you couldn’t see from so high up were the narrow side streets lined with cafes, trees, and stores. Some were pedestrian streets and others just lightly trafficked by cars. Places like this always make me a bit melancholy for times when traveling meant plopping down at one of these cafes for a coffee and a rest without answering 5,326 questions about the waiter’s every word or without treating the other patrons to a full-length dance performance by our children.

On our way to the Plaza de Armas, which was largely under construction but still beautiful, we passed through a restaurant gallery. It was a long passageway lined with hot dog stands on one side and sit down restaurants (still serving a lot of hot dogs) on the other side. Even at the 10 in the morning people were leaning against the stands’ counters eating hotdogs mostly hidden under the layers of toppings; a thick layer of avocado and a quarter inch deep squiggle of mayonnaise being the two most visible.

We also passed through here on our way to the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, a place that is totally worth the effort of visiting, even for very lazy tourists. The museum has recently changed locations to a refurbished building housing new exhibits of ancient artifacts. Inside, the walls and floors are a mixture of white and warm, deep grey, which creates a calming background to the three floors of pre-Columbian art that is organized by cultural areas.  Through a revolving door in a corner of the second floor is the textile room. Think about the awesomeness of that. I mean, I have sweatpants from five years ago that are disintegrating. These textiles were found well-preserved in very dry and dark caves and are now preserved in a dark, climate-controlled room behind plates of glass. Motion sensor lights turn on to spotlight a shirt made of feathers or a fragment of intricately woven fabric. There are drawers that slide out with the push of a button to give a closer look at things like dying techniques.

The Parque Forestal, a long, largely unbroken span of green space in the city, was the perfect place for some touristing with minimal effort.  The Museo de Bellas Artes  is located there. We never made it inside, but even from the outside the building was beautiful. We couldn’t argue with missing the art museum when there were two full-equipped playgrounds to explore. Montevideo’s playgrounds–with their wooden and metal slides and flagstone paving stones under the swings–are entirely charming, but a little variety in the way of soft landings and complex climbing structures was exciting.

On the other side of the Parque Forestal is the Cerro de San Cristobal, which has an incline railway you can ride to the top. After seeing the line that snaked on for what must have been over an hour wait we decided to go on foot as high as we could. That turned out to be zoo level. I won’t bore you with my navel gazing about the pros and cons of zoos, though the the animals in this one appeared to be extremely well cared for and the zoo has a mission of protection and education. The kids had a great time running up and down the terraced paths, which made it possible to be almost eye level with a giraffe, and looking at every animal they could fit into the hour before the zoo closed.

Animals also showed up in unexpected places, like the Centro Artesanal los Domínicos, a sprawling market of wooden stalls at the foot of the Andes selling a wide variety of handmade goods.  The crafts ranged from nice to kistch and we ended up buying nothing, but the space itself was nice with a couple of cafes, a stream, wandering cats, a large cage of birds, and two pet stores. While there we tried sopaipillas dulces, a fried flour dough served with a sweet syrup of chancaca. It’s a Chilean version of the various fried doughs that exist in many, many parts of the world.

Last on our lists of sites was the Museo Interactive Mirador, an interactive educational museum with a large outdoor playground and cafe. There are museums like this around the world and our kids would happily visit them all.  This one was done well with activities suited to lots of ages. The girl enjoyed making things move and light up while the boy was more curious about the why and the how (though he was too overwhelmed with excitement to really absorb the information).

And that, my friends, is just about it.  We ate some delicious Indian food and some mediocre Indian food (but still Indian food!). We had some sushi. We ate ice cream. We shopped at a grocery store that had so many things we’ve been missing (like better yogurt). We never got around to trying mote con huesillo, a traditional drink made of peach nectar mixed with cooked husked wheat.

Valparaiso burned while we were there and signs went up everywhere encouraging people to donate goods or money. A Chilean woman I met in Montevideo explained that all Chileans felt impacted by the fires. It overshadowed the also recent earthquake in northern Chile.

We came home via the SeaCat, but in first class this time because that’s all that was available. Lest you be concerned this made us full of ourselves, you should know that we boarded the boat via the port’s storage shed by way of a parking lot and that SeaCat first class is higher in altitude, but not actual class (not even the plastic glass filled with something like champagne they served will sway me on this point).

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Exhaustion in the Yogurt Aisle

Exhaustion is the foreign transaction fee levied on our lives right now. I understand my daughter’s habit of sliding slowly down to the floor during the upward elevator ride to home.  By the end she lays sprawled flat, arms and legs flung out, insisting she will only exit by scooching her body out the door.  “No, no, no,” she screams in a voice that must bounce and ping its way down the elevator shaft and into the homes of each of the other 19 apartments. I understand it because right now otherwise routine tasks, like grocery shopping, require extra thought and energy, which leaves us at a slight deficit by the end of the week.

The grocery store, with its bright lights, amply stocked shelves of everything from toilet paper to specialty cheeses, and background soundtrack of eighties pop music felt deceptively familiar at first, but only at first. Here there are people constantly cleaning, restocking, and offering assistance.  There are half aisles devoted to yerba, mayonnaise, and alfajores. Yerba is better known in North America as Mate.  Here it is a staple of many Uruguayans lives; not even a recent 18% price increase is likely to slow consumption.  Alfajores consist of dulce de leche sandwiched between two cookies, which are sometimes coated in chocolate. While they can be and are eaten at any time of the day or night, alfajores are found in the breakfast aisle next to a very small selection of cereals.

Things like spices, condiments, milk, and cleaning supplies are, whenever possible, packaged in bags instead of bottles or cartons.  At our local grocery store baking soda is not available in any kind of container.  It requires a separate trip to the pharmacy and has to be requested from the pharmacist.

After once coming home with fruit scented sponges, we learned to check everything non-edible for added scent.  I spent a sneeze-filled half hour in the detergent aisle before finally finding one very dusty bottle of imported perfume- and dye-free detergent.  If I wanted to I could always add some smell post-wash with clothing perfume.  I laughed at the idea, but since Sunday washing often ends up smelling like it was dried over a meat-laden parilla, I’m reconsidering my rush to judgement.

I have also spent the equivalent of several hours staring at the wall of yogurts that, while not perfumed, are almost universally sweetened and then stabilized with a mixture of gelatin, pectin, agar, and starch. Even the white yogurt called Natural is sweetened with heaps of natural sugar; juice is also mostly only available in sweetened or really sweetened. Yogurt can come in a carton or a yogurt container or a bag or a bottle. The resulting confections, while questionable in their cultures, are often delicious.

I stand in slack-jawed wonder in the dairy aisle while other shoppers push past me to grab a bag of milk and deposit it expertly into a plastic produce bag to prevent leaks.  I aspire to their fluid ease and their confidence in their selections.  They sail in and out of aisles grabbing packages of this and that while I am still hunched over trying to read ingredients listed in Spanish, or just as often Portuguese, in a font so minuscule it makes my eyes cross. By the end, I am frazzled, often damp with sweat, completely exhausted, and slightly exhilarated.  I leave victorious in the moment, clutching my purchases like hard won prizes, and hopeful that next time it will only take me ten minutes to find the right floor cleaner.

Just a slice of the detergent aisle.

Just a slice of the detergent aisle.

Clothing perfume

Clothing perfume

Yogurt in bags

Yogurt in bags

A little segment of the yogurt section.

A little segment of the yogurt section.

Baking soda from the pharmacy.

Baking soda from the pharmacy.


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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