Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Salt Cod and Christmas

It's quite possible that salt cod is more well known by the Italian word for it, bacala  (the Spanish and Portuguese words are similar to the Italian).  Although the most popular recipes for the salted, north Atlantic Ocean fish are from Mediterranean countries but you'll find it used in Scandinavian countries and in Ireland as well.  In fact, there's a custom of eating salt cod on Christmas Eve in most countries where Roman Catholicism  is the majority religion. Eating "lean" or non-meat dishes on Christmas Eve is a religious dictate.
 Because refrigeration  is a relatively new concept, (in the grand scheme of things) at one time fish were salted, or dried after they were caught as a way to preserve them.  Thick, white fleshed cod, preserves most successfully.

Then it's soaked to remove the salt , re-hydrated and made into delicious food.  I have Portuguese-American, and Italian-American friends who have special Christmas Eve family recipes that star salt cod. And, I'm sad to say that those family recipes are stealth.  I can only recreate the Aguiar family cod fish balls and the Finamore family cod with tomatoes and prunes by guessing the ingredients and method.
I do however, have my own special recipes, which I'm happy to share.  While you may not have enough time to make these dishes for Christmas - make them for a New Eve's party, or New Year's day brunch. 
I almost always purchase salt cod packaged in little wooden boxes.  In the USA, most of it comes from Canada and contains the prized, thick, center cuts of the fish.


These little fritters are my riff on the Portuguese codfish balls.  Just a bit lighter and crispier.
Also, save the method of  re-hydrating the salt fish for use in other recipes - it's easier and more expeditious than most instructions.

makes 50 to 60 1 1/2-inch fritters

1/2 pound salt cod fish
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced hot pepper such as Scotch bonnet, habanero, or jalapeno
1/4 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
2 cups water
corn oil for frying
1.   Place the salt cod in a bowl and add cold water to cover.  Soak for 24 hours, changing the water at least 3 times.  Then put the salt cod in a saucepan and add cold water to cover.  Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain, and let cool.  Flake the cooled cod, removing the remaining bones and any odd bits of skin.
2.   In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic, hot pepper, parsley or cilantro, and water.  Add the cod and stir with a fork to thoroughly combine.
3.   In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees F.  Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls into the oil, cooking 6 fritters at a time until pale gold, about 2 minutes.  Remove the fritters from the oil with a wire-mesh strainer, shake away excess oil, and drain on paper towels.  Keep warm in a 200 degree F. oven until all are cooked and ready to serve.  Serve hot.  I like them with a spritz of fresh lemon juice.
The fritters may be made ahead and successfully reheated.

I'm crazy about both Bacala Mantecato  and Brandade de Moure;  the Italian and French versions of  pureed salt codfish.  Mantecato means whisked or churned, brandade means pommeled or pounded.  The Italian version is made with olive oil, while the French use cream to achieve the dishes' characteristic fluffy texture.  Both versions include potatoes in some recipes and others - no way!
I offer a recipe for the classic, Venetian Bacala Mantecato.  Serve it as an appetizer with toasted bread, black olives and sliced, boiled potatoes, or alla Veneziana, with white polenta.

Makes approximately 3 cups

1 pound salt codfish
4 cups whole milk
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsely
to serve:  toasted Mediterrranean-style bread, black olives, sliced boiled potatoes, or with hot polenta

1.   Place the salt cod in a bowl and add water to cover.  Soak for 24 hours, changing the water at least 3 times. Cut the fish into large chunks and then put it  in a large saucepan and cover with the milk.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the fish with a slotted spoon.  Remove any remaining bones and skin.  Reserve the milk.
2.   Add the fish and garlic to a bowl.  Use a hand-held mixer to blend the ingredients while drizzling in the extra virgin olive oil until a creamy paste is achieved.  Add salt and peper to taste.  Continue to mix while adding as much of the reserved milk as needed make the paste smooth and fluffy - some pieces of fish will remain.
3.   Mound on platter to serve.  Sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Surround with toast, sliced potatoes, and black olives.

Here's what else I like to make with salt codfish.   After it has soaked and boiled, marinate for about 30 minutes in freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped garlic, hot pepper flakes, thyme, and extra virgin olive oil , then grill.   Or, cook the softened cod fillets with peeled tomatoes, orange juice, rosemary, raisins, and walnuts.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  A little American history regarding salt codfish:  In the early 18th century, the British, worried that the American colonies would try to declare independence from the Empire, began to give them some trade freedom.  Besides England, the area with which trade was permitted was the British West Indies.  While the Virginia colony traded tobacco and Pennsylvania traded corn, the Massachusetts colony began a salt cod - molasses trade.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Squash, squash and more squash

Squash belong to the same family of plants as melons and cucumbers - curcurbitaceae.  The winter-squash group of the category is  very nearly a  perfect food.  Loaded with huge amounts of beta-carotene, vitamins A and C and plenty of fibre,  the low calorie flesh is protected by a hard, waxy rind.  If carefully stored - in a cool, dry environment - winter squash will last almost until the first zucchini - summer squash - matures.  No excuses for not having enough vegetables in the wintertime!
Elegant, pale butterscotch-colored, butternut squash - each one looking as if it were sculpted by Henry Moore - is the first of its group  to show up in the market.  Here, in the northeastern part of the USA, I see the first butternut squash around Labor Day. Acorn squash -both green and orange, and carnival, turban squash, delicata, kabocha, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins quickly follow, filling green market and supermarket bins.

I make roasted butternut squash to mix with grilled sausages and pasta like penne or rigatoni, to garnish a saffron risotto, or mix with other roasted vegetables.  I make mashed butternut squash and mix it with lime juice, hot pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and serve it at room temperature as a condiment with roast meats, baked chicken and grilled fish.  I steam cubes of butternut squash and make a Seychelloise-style chutney (see post) .  Most of all I like to make very, VERY, simple butternut squash soup - in abundance (it freezes perfectly) - then serve it at various times with a variety of "accessories".
 n.b. the squashes' fine-textured, already creamy flesh automatically purees into a smooth soup that seems to be enriched with cream.
Serves 4
2   tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1   1 3/4 - 2 pound butternut squash peeled, seeded , cut into 1-inch chunks
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1.  Add the olive oil to  heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  When the oil is warm add the onions and saute until transparent, about 3 minutes.  Lower the heat, add the squash and broth and simmer until the squash is fork tender, about 45 minutes.  Let cool and puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in an upright blender.
Serve hot with:   my latest favorite way is with shredded, sharp cheddar cheese, chopped apples, and Worcestshire sauce.
.   with a poached egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and fried sage leaves
.   with sauteed garlic, crumbled feta cheese, and roasted pistachios
.   with a swirl of plain, whole-milk yogurt, raisins and toasted pine nuts
.   with a blob of ricotta and crumbled amaretti cookies
You get the idea.

I go straight back to my childhood dinner table for an acorn squash recipe.  I fondly remember my mother's baked acorn squash.  It's a deservedly classic recipe.  Why mess with a good thing?  Well, I have, just a tiny bit.
Serves 2 - 4
2 acorn squash, cut in half, stem to stern, seeds removed
8 teaspoons unsalted butter
8 teaspoons dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons maple syrup
apple cider
flaky sea salt
freshly ground red pepper flakes
1.    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.   Score each squash half  in a criss-cross pattern. Place them in a  baking dish.  Add 2 teaspoons butter, 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1 teaspoon maple syrup into each squash cavity.  Pour about 1/2-inch apple cider (or water)into the dish to keep the skin from burning and the squash moist.  Bake for 1 to 1 and quarter hours - until the squash is nicely browned and a tester easily goes through the flesh to the skin.  The apple cider will have slightly reduced making it an additional sauce.
2.   Serve with a sprinkle of  salt, and a shower of freshly ground red pepper flakes or a whisper of ground cayenne pepper.

green and orange, and carnival acorn squash

Also known by the name, Turk's turban because that's just what it looks like.   This squash is impossible to  peel - so, it needs to be baked before you can proceed with further preparations. 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut off the top of the squash - it has a natural delineation where the smaller part meets the larger round section - scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp.  Oil -or cover with parchment paper - a baking dish.  Place the squash, cut-side down on the sheet, prick the outside of the squash (to avoid unwanted explosions in your oven) and bake for 1 hour or so - until a tester easily passes through.  Scoop out the flesh from the cavity and proceed with your recipe; soup, mash, gratin, gnocchi, etc.   
I think that turban squash is a perfect, and most interesting-looking receptacle.  It should be used as such.  Bake according to above directions.  Then add ingredients of your choice, such as chunks of toasted cornbread, onions, celery, and chopped apples sauteed in butter, to the mashed squash.  Stir until well-combined.  Add to the cavity of the turban squash.  Cover with the top.   Place extra filling into a separate dish.   Bake until heated through, 20 -30 minutes. Serve hot.
The filling could be flavored with curry powder, chopped roasted peanuts, and mango chutney, or crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh mint leaves, and chick peas.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  Winter squash is difficult to cut through.  I place a cleaver on the spot where I want to make the cut and pound it with a rubber mallet.   Butternut squash can be peeled - use a  vegetable peeler for best results - then  it easily cuts in half.   I find that a melon-baller is the best tool for removing seeds and stringy pulp from all kinds of squash.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pears and apples

I don't know about you - but I look forward to the first apples and pears of the season with the same kind of excited anticipation usually reserved for the first June strawberries.  Pears and apples are extraordinarily diverse fruits that can be used in both sweet and savory recipes.

PEARS -  when slowly roasted with olive oil and flaky sea salt, sweet, fragrant pears, with their tiny pebble texture become the perfect accompaniment to soft cheese, rough pates, on sandwiches and as a Parmesan risotto topping. 
Use 4 - 6 pears, or more - as long as you've got the oven on make enough to last awhile. But then again - they're such good little snacks that they disappear at alarming speed.
Preheat an oven  to 325 degrees F. Don't peel the pears - do quarter and core them, slice each quarter vertically into as many  1/4-inch slices as  possible.  Place them on a cookie sheet with sides or jelly roll pan and rub them with a fruity olive olive.   Roast, turning occasionally until they're crispy on the outside and still a bit soft on the inside - about 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Some slices will be completely crispy and therefore delicious!
I usually use Bosc pars for roasting.  They're hard and stand up to slow roasting.  However, use Bartlett, Comice or d'Anjou if you wish - just make sure they're still quite hard - not completely ripe. 

APPLES -  The first thing I make with the new of crop of apples is Caramelized Applesauce.  I continue to make it all winter.  I usually use  tart apples such as greenings or  Granny Smiths - but this fall I'm quite taken with Northern Spys.
In a large heavy-bottomed sauce melt 4 tablespoons butter with 1/2 cup sugar.  Stir continuously until the mixture turns medium amber, then immediately add  4 pounds of peeled, cored and thinly sliced or cut into chunks apples.   The caramel will initially hardened; lower the heat and keep stirring, and it will dissolve into the apples.  Cook the apples for 15 minutes or so.  Much depends on how you like your applesauce, chunky or smooth.  Remove from heat and reserve.  I like this applesauce served in a puddle of heavy cream or, with plain yogurt and granola or, on brioche or challah French toast or, as a layer in bread pudding, and on and on.

PEARS and APPLES -  here's a recipe from my book. "Contorni: Authentic Italian Side Dishes for All Seasons" (Chronicle Books, 2003).  In Italian it's called  un contorno suo malgrado - a side dish in spite of itself.  I usually bring it out, in its baking dish, with a selection of cheese either with the main course or for dessert. 
4 apples, your choice
4 pears, your choice
4 sugar cubes, preferably pure cane sugar
2 cups full-bodied red wine
1.  Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.  Dig out a little hole int he blossom end of 2 apples and 2 pears.  Put a sugar cube in each opening.  Place all the apple and pears in an attractive terra-cotta or ceramic baking dish.  Pour the wine over the fruit.
2.  Bake, spooning the wine over the fruits every 30 minutes, until the fruits appear soft, but not mushy, and are slightly charred, about 2 hours.   Serve warm - not hot - or at room temperature.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: My new favorite use of apples  is in a savory, sweet and spicy dish  called  "Hot Lightening" served  at the  New York City restaurant, Van DaagThe starring ingredient in this dish are roasted-to-a-crisp fingerling potatoes garnished with bits of crunchy bacon, chopped apples, stroop syrup and a shower of cayenne pepper.

easy, and rosy last minute cocktail party

A friend brought me a bottle of  Dubonnet red a few months ago.  I stuck it in the fridge and forgot about it until a week or so ago when, without much notice, some some friends stopped by for a seasonal toast.  I remembered the Dubonnet,  chilled just right, on the side of the refrigerator door.  Aha!  I took out my best Baccarat rocks glasses filled them ice and poured the aromatic Dubonnet- it's made with fortified wine, herbs, spices and quinine - on top.  I garnished it with a big, fat wedge of orange. I forgot how easily Dubonnet slides down until the three of us finished off the bottle - and how well it accompanies both savory and sweet food.   Dubonnet is a favorite ingredient in many cocktails.  Queen Elizabeth II has it mixed with gin every day at lunchtime.

Again, I went to my refrigerator to find the ingredients for a little snack to serve with the Dubonnet.  I found a smidgen of gorgonzola dolce and about a quarter container of mascarpone.  I smashed them together then plopped the mixture into halved, semi-dried figs. Each fig was garnished with as many pomegranate seeds that could fit on top. 

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  Pomegranates are in season right now.  They're juicy, sweet, tart, filled with anti-oxidents, and have the most appealing texture.  The Italians eat the seeds for dessert served doused with red wine, Marsala or orange juice.  Removing the  ruby-red seeds  from their leathery skin is a messy job.  My tried and true method is to roll the fruit on a hard surface in order to begin loosen the seeds.  Cut the fruit in half, place the halves in a baking dish or another container with sides.  Press on each side as if you were squeezing juice from a lemon.  Some seeds will automatically fall out.  The skin will break allowing you to reach all the seeds. Gently pull them away from the pith.   The seeds keep, refrigerated for up to a week  They can be frozen as well - then pulled out next summer for a surprising treat.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beginning of Susan Simon Says blog

The peach entry should have been the beginning of my blog - it still is- but there are over 3 months worth of photos, drawings, recipes and travelogues missing. My aunt died just as I was about to press "publish" for that entry. Instead I got completely distracted with taking care of her estate - then my old friend, procrastination came for a visit. I went to Nantucket for a week, then way, way upstate New York (Schoharie County) for almost 2 weeks, back to Nantucket, almost sold my New York City apartment and moved to Hudson, New York. I didn't sell my apartment, the buyers backed out so I went to Argentina. Now I'm back to my blog. I'm leaving the peach entry on it - save the recipe for next June. My first NEW entry is about one of my favorite place on earth, the Seychelles Islands. I haven't been there in more than 30 years - but I did live on La Digue, the smallest of the 3 public islands (there are 88 islands in the Seychelles archipelago - almost all privately owned) for a year. Most of the time I was stuck in the trance  that sets in when you live smack on the equator with temperature and humidity both hovering at 88 degrees F. 24/7. I ate the most delicious, inventive, highly-flavored, and bright food - made with the few scarce ingredients found in around(spices and onions dropped off by ships plying the Indian Ocean between Karachi and Mombasa)the islands - that I've ever consumed. The recipes  continue to inform the food that I make to this day.

Here's a memory of my first sight of Grand Anse beach on La Digue. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to walk there from La Passe- the business and residential center of the island - on a beaten, palm frond path that twists and turns through a kind of jungle. The path comes to an abrupt stop when you are almost blinded by a combination of the breathtaking turquoise-pale lavender Indian Ocean, super-fine sugar sand and a carpet of green vines dotted with shocking pink flowers.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: make fresh fruit chutneys all year 'round a la Seychelloise. In the summertime toss chopped, fresh peaches or cantaloupe; apples or pears in the fall; pineapple in the wintertime; and mangoes in the springtime with sliced onions, soaked in salt water then squeezed dry. Add a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes, a pinch of sea salt and a drop or two of a neutral oil. The chutney is the perfect accompaniment for roasted or grilled meat, poultry or fish.

October trip to Buenos Aires

I went to Argentina in the middle of October. Even although the trip took a few hours longer than a trip to Europe it seemed more comfortable, if that's possible - in coach, with a child screaming all night. It had do with the fact that there's no real jet lag. Argentina is just one hour ahead of New York. Here's the view outside of my hotel - the conveniently and centrally located - Panamericano Buenos Aires, window looking south. The Obelisco is one of the iconic sights of Buenos Aires. It actually commorates four different things: the first and second founding of the city, the first raising of the national flag in 1812 which took place on the spot, and the naming of Buenos Aires as Capital Federal in 1880. If you were to look directly across the street you would see the fabulous Teatro Colon - one of the great music halls of the world. I was lucky to hear the Buenos Aires Symphony, under the outstanding direction of the passionate, and animated Enrique Arturo Diemecke, play pieces by Bax, Paganini and Respighi.

There is a wonderful restaurant in the Panamericano, Tomo 1  The restaurant is owned and operated by the septuagenarian sisters, Ada and Ebe Concaro, and Ada's son, Federico Fialayre. The sisters are considered to be the founders of portena-style cooking - the food of "the people of the port". When you want a break from all the delicious grilled and barbecued meat found at every corner of the city, and you long for a slice of homemade pate flavored with fennel seeds and cognac,  jumbo Patagonian shrimp sauteed with carrots, lime and ginger then flambeed and served with basmati rice, roast quail served with fresh mango, kiwi and pear chutney, or a plate of assorted Argentine cheeses; Goya from
Corrientes, Brie from Cordoba served with candied hazel nuts make your way to
Tomo 1 on the entrepiso -  mezzanine level of the hotel.

Buenos Aires is a sprawling, sophisticated city divided into many barrios - neighborhoods.  The Panamericano is located in the downtown area - a bit like Times Square in New York City - but not so crowded, not so noisy - and dare I say - not so dirty.  I like that within minutes I could walk into another neighborhood.

My favorite food market in Buenos Aires is the covered, Mercado Municipal in the San Telmo neighborhood. There are fruit and vegetable vendors displaying stacks of fresh products from all over South America, butchers, and fishmongers as well as antiques and flea market-type dealers.   Stop for a cortado - an espresso with a dollop of steamed milk at the Cafe de Mercado, located smack dab in the center of the market - it's a great spot for people watching.

One of my favorite areas to shop for fashion and decoration is Palermo Soho. I was bowled over by the handmade furniture, and Argentine arts and crafts at Arte Etnico Argentino, El Salvador 4656.

Further on El Salvador at number 4786 find Casa-Chic a kind of  South American Anthropologie.  Casa-Chic is chock-a-block filled with decorating accents; vases, baskets, tablecloths, napkins, candles and on and on - it's a seductive shop.

The Recoleta Cemetery, located in the Recoleta neighborhood (the upper East Side of  Buenos Aires) is a must stop on your tour of the city.  Aside from the de rigueur visit to the Duarte family mausoleum in order to pay homage to the legendary Evita- there are other strikingly beautiful crypts to see.  The sculptural, black, wrought iron wreaths that serve as grave markers are particularly notable.

While I'm on the subject of  Eva Peron - an enduring, beloved figure in Argentina, don't overlook a visit to the beautifully designed, and curated museum devoted to her - Museo Evita.  Find the museum in the Italianate townhouse that once housed her Social Aid Foundation.  The house is on Avenida Lafinur 2988, bordered by the  Botanical Gardens and the Zoo.   Plan on visiting the museum around lunchtime - it's restaurant/bar is charming, very tasty and not to be missed.

SUSANSIMONSAYS There are two more things that you absolutely, positively can not miss while in Buenos Aires - one is hot chocolate and crunchy, sweet churros, served with a schmear of the ubiquitous dulce de leche, at the country's oldest (and most fabulous) cafe - Cafe Tortoni, Avenida de Mayo 829.

The other is to shop for real Argentine products at Arandu (there are a few locations - but my favorite is in the Recoleta area at Avenida Ayachucho 1920).  Arandu is a talabarteria , a saddlery.  The shop is filled with all the equipment that you and your horse need to go out for a ride, a race or a show; bits, spurs, buckles, cinches, girths, harnesses, boots, ponchos, and saddles.  I zeroed in the shop's fancied up version of gaucho-style espadrilles made with striped, gingham, and polka-dotted canvas with rubber, instead of hemp soles, in order to grip the stirrups. They are reasonably priced, light-weight - the perfect gift for everyone.  Just remember to bring every one's shoe size - then get one size smaller - with you.

 photo courtesy of Amy and Jacqui

And then I went to Patagonia

I boarded a plane in bustling, vibrant, slightly humid, blossoming springtime Buenos Aires, flew south for 3 hours, and debarked at the El Calafate airport in the steppes of Patagonia.  The air was clean, crisp, and the stiff breeze practically swept me off my feet.  Even although the white, rick-rack  Andes Mountains seemed close enough to touch – I was only about 200 hundred feet above sea level – so, I could breathe – breathe deep breaths of the gorgeous, not thin air. I was in heaven – no, on the other side of the moon.  I had arrived.   I checked into the cozy, super-luxe
 Los Sauces Casas PatagonicaFirst thing, I pulled up the shades on the huge picture window in my bedroom which faced west towards those fabled Andes, but quickly lowered my gaze to focus in on the birds – vandurias - the pair in foreground - munching on the bristly grass, definitely united, forever-in-love - who were became part of my every-day view. They reminded me who this quiet, calm land belonged to. 

The next day Los Sauces’ adorable, and talented young chef, Marcelo Raitelli treated the guests to a roast lamb lunch. He cooked the chimichurri-rubbed (massaged, he would say)lamb asador-style; butterflied, and trussed with metal hooks and wires on a metal cross then cooked in front of an pile of flaming wood. He turned it and basted it with more chimichurri until only he knew it was cooked to perfection.

I asked Marcelo for his recipe for chimchurri – Argentina’s emblematic all-purpose sauce. It’s mostly used on meat – but Marcelo used it as a marinade for the vegetables that he grilled to accompany to lamb.

His response to my request was a list of ingredients. I’ve added approximate measurements. Marcelo’s ingredients are in BOLD.

GARLIC              3 or 4 cloves (or more, if you like)

PARSLEY             1 cup fresh, flat leaves, chopped

RED PEPPER          2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

OREGANO             1 cup fresh leaves, chopped or 1 heaping
                    tablespoon dried leaves

ALCOHOL VINEGAR     3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

OLIVE OIL           ½ cup extra virgin

SALT                1 tablespoon

PEPPER              I assume he means black pepper – I suggest 1
                    tablespoon freshly ground – except that I don’t
                    use it in my sauce

Mix all the ingredients together and let rest for at least a day before using. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

The next morning I awoke at the ungodly hour of 6:45 to get ready for the day's activity - a mini-trek across one of Patagonia's famous glaciers. I was met by my guide , blue-eyed, ever-smiling Pablo - Hielo y Aventura. It seemed that Pablo’s sole job was to keep me entertained – and company, while we drove for one and half hours to  reach the entrance to Los Glaciares National Park. Pablo stayed with me while I took the short ferry ride across the stunning, Lago Argentina (the largest lake in the country) to the Glaciar Perito Moreno. I was left in capable hands of about half a dozen almost distractingly, handsome- mountain guides. We split into groups – I with the English-speakers, the rest were Spanish speakers. I was at least twice the age of everyone else – did I worry that I wouldn’t be able to make it? Only for a half a second. We walked for 15 – 20 minutes across the glacial moraine before we reached the base of glacier. With crampons strapped onto our boots, we set out and walked straight up, in the rain. It was exhilarating – exciting and wondrous. Here I was, clamped onto to 15,000 year old ice.

Every now and then our vista of pearl white – by now the rain had turned to snow – was interrupted by startlingly cerulean, border-line turquoise pools, puddles, and indentations in the pleats of the glacier. It was unreal – where was I? I moved, numbed not by the weather, although it was atrocious, but by what I was seeing and experiencing. If I couldn’t make it across a crevasse, there was always a guide nearby to give me that extra push or give me a hand to pull me across. I couldn’t quit – I wouldn’t stop. I knew what lay ahead at the finish line. When we climbed behind a tall spire of ice we noticed a rustic wooden table sunk into the ice. The table held equally rustic wooden trays- one holding glasses the other a basket of alfajores – Argentina’s emblematic cookie made by sandwiching butter cookies between a layer of dulce de leche. One of the guides took a bowl and an ice pick to the side of a glacier and proceeded fill the bowl with 15,000 year old ice chips, return to the table, put the ice into the empty glasses – and then, BIG SMILE – fill the glasses with Scotch! How civilized! How perfect! I stumbled back down the remaining piece of glacier, removed the crampons and walked back across the moraine to the lodge. I ate a lunch of smoked salmon sandwiches prepared by Marcelo, and waited for the ferry that brought me back to Pablo. Further adventures included walking along the paserela – catwalks where we were able to have front row seats to the glaciers. The lower down on the winding catwalks that we walked the closer we got to ice. We were actually  privileged - and I, overwhelmed, to see a glacier calve – big chunks of the ice broke away from the main body in a loud roar. What a day!

Pisco sours - the reward at the end of the day - oh, sometimes the middle too.  Made with the Peruvian spirit, Pisco, a distillation of grapes -2 ounces, the drink gets its kick with the addition of fresh lemon juice - 1 ounce, simple syrup - 1 ounce,  and 1 egg white(to give it its signature foam)The ingredients are well-shaken with lots of ice then strained into a glass and garnished with a few drops of Angostura bitters. Traditionally, an old-fashion glass is used for the drink - however, the brilliant bartender at Los Sauces, poured his Pisco sours into champagne flutes whose rims had been coated with confectioner's sugar.  We all developed "Pisco noses" from drinking them!

On my last day in El Calafate, Lucho Diaz of 4x4:Miloutdoor took me and another guest for the ride of our lives.  Lucho's fearless way of steering his Land Rover through the estancias - the ranches outside of Calafate - then up the balcones - the plateaus that surround the small town - was take-your-breath-away  exciting, and only slightly scary. On the day of our trip it was mild and muddy as we began our climb and covered with snow we when arrived at the second balcon.  It was as far as we could go.  Even the rugged Land Rover couldn't move further.  At every turn,  and at every stop there were views of the valleys, the plateaus, and the  turquoise lake below that made me blink tears from my eyes - it was just that beautiful.   We were, however able to  make it to Lucho's chuck wagon -made from an old cargo container - where we were treated to some of those famous alfajores cookies and a cup of steamy hot chocolate.

Sadly, I left El Calafate that evening.  I would go back to Patagonia in a heartbeat.  In over four decades of travel I can't remember when I've been so taken with  a place.  It was all about  nature - not necessarily the cuisine - although it was delicious, not necessarily the people, although they were kind, generous, serene and noble - not necessarily the history although there is a rather rogue history attached to that part of Argentina - read, or reread as I did, Bruce Chatwin's "In Patagonia" .  It was the landscape, the tenacious stiff grass that grows in spite of the wind and birds that do their best to keep it buzz-cut - the pleated glaciers surrounded by moss-green moraine and Paul-Newman-blue-eyed lakes (after all Patagonia was where Butch Cassidy spent his final days) the eagles, the condors, the guanacos (little llamas), the hares, the vandurias, the flamingos and so on.

SUSANSIMONSAYSa calafate is a kind of berry.  It looks exactly like a wild blueberry and tastes something  like one too.  Be sure to check out El Tranquilo on El Calafate's main drag Avenida del Libertador, number 935, for their exceptionally good calafate jam and liqueur.  Their rose hip, rosa moqueta,  jam is velvety smooth and irresistible.

Pink and green

Pink and green are going to be BIG themes in this blog - in case you hadn't noticed. No, I'm not a big Lily Pulitzer fan. But yes, I've spent decades, maybe even a half a century going to and living on Nantucket Island. I'm in love with the pink and green rugosa roses that border the beaches and, in general, punctuate the island landscape. I look for pink and green combinations wherever I travel. These photos were taken in the La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires. La Boca is part of the port area on the Rio de la Plata. It was originally populated with immigrants from Genoa, Italy. The dock workers and sailors painted their homes, patchwork-style, with leftover boat and ship paint.  Mark the the colorful neighborhood with its many little shops and open markets as a destination.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: Don't miss the opportunity to dine at Francis Mallmann's restaurant, Patagonia Sur, located near the river in La Boca. Mallmann, a native of Patagonia, is perhaps the most famous chef in South America. He's known for cooking on fire. In fact his cookbook, "Seven Fires" (Artisan, 2009) will astound you with the many ways you can cook on open flames. It's not just barbecue!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

False start, summertime peaches

Today I cooked up some peaches that I bought from Merry, of South Jersey's Kernan Farms located at Tuesday's St. Mark's greenmarket in New York City. I peeled and and sliced them - added them to a non-reactive saucepan with fresh lemon juice and brown sugar. They cooked at medium heat for about 6 or 7 minutes - just until the brown sugar melted and the peaches released a bit of their juice -enough time to make a light syrup. The cooled fruit is now in my refrigerator ready to take out to eat with yogurt, and granola - see recipe from my friend Amy Chaplin's blog coconutandquinoa as an ice cream or French toast topping, or with grilled pork chops. You get the idea. The peaches can be refrigerated for up to a week (they may get a bit brown - but still tasty).

The above dessert includes not only the peaches but also fresh, market bluberries, cooked with honey and lemon juice, until they pop. They too, can be refrigerated and eaten when the mood is right. This time the mood seemed to dictate frozen vanilla yogurt, Ciao Bella's sorbet of the summer, Wild Blueberry, with the cooked peaches and blueberries - garnished with crumbled Amaretti cookies. Oh man!

SUSANSIMONSAYS: always cook fruit in a non-reactive saucepan to avoid imparting metallic flavor to the fruit and staining the pan.