As Canadians, we are no strangers to winter.  Our acreage in Alberta looked like this for six months of the year:
Picture
It was a frosty -42 degrees Celsius one January morning in 2005.  The CBC radio announcer warned that exposed skin would freeze instantly at that temperature, a pleasant thought to start the day with.  Confronting severe cold meant a careful layering of thermal underwear, sweater, jeans, parka, boots, hat, scarf and gloves before stepping outside.  It was hard to hear our muffled voices under all that protective gear, but as we walked with our dog through the frigid forest, we sang Gilles Vigneaults' Canadian anthem.  
"Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver,
Mon jardin, ce n'est pas un jardin, c'est la plaine,
Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige,
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver."
Picture
Even the dog wore boots
Despite the past two weeks of unusually cold weather across South America, our winter experience here in Argentina has been a welcome change from the harsh Alberta climate.  Cold means -3 degrees C at night and 17 degrees C  at noon.  We had one snowfall this month, but the insignificant dusting of white stuff disappeared by midday.  The hardy greens that we planted in the vegetable garden late in the fall continue to thrive through the winter months and look like this:
Picture
Salad greens
We do have winter jackets, but like our electric heating units, we only need them on for part of the day.  It's not unusual to wear a heavy wool coat in the morning and a t-shirt at lunch.  Today we sat outside on the terrace and enjoyed French onion soup,  a shish kebab of grilled beef and a green salad combining arugula, spinach and lettuce from the garden.  
Picture
We paired our meal with Clos du Moulin Cabernet/Pinot Noir 2008, a fine blend elaborated by the French connection -  Bodegas Chandon - in Lujan de Cuyo.  Aromas of ripe fruit, prunes and jam are followed by a smooth, silky mouth texture that finishes with tobacco and spice flavours.  A bottle of Clos du Moulin costs 25 pesos at Vea supermarket.
Picture
"In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer." - Albert Camus
 

Signs

07/16/2010

0 Comments

 
Slick digital images are the norm in advertising today, but many San Rafael storefronts display hand-painted signs that are whimsical,  attractive and one-of-a-kind.   I toured the city with my camera to photograph some of the retro signs that liven up the streetscape.
Picture




The anthropomorphic key is featured in several of the cerrajerias in town.  This one looks like a legless distant cousin of Mr. Peanut circa 1920, with characteristic gloved hands and stick limbs. 

Picture
Another version on Rivadavia
Picture
The scale of the faucet and bathroom fixtures makes these graphics stand out, even from a drive-by perspective. The images cover the exterior walls of the store and are signed by the artist, Mauro, in the lower righthand corner.  

Picture
Picture


Mauro also created this smiling octopus whose legs surround the doorway of the pescaderia like brackets.  When the door is shut, it actually looks as if one tentacle is stuck inside!

Picture


The giant sparky battery at Mario Stilo's has genuine 50s kitsch style.  It covers the garage door while overhead the catchy slogan reads "The battery of the future."

Picture
A rather naive rendering of fruit fills in for the real thing during siesta time and after hours.  The produce has been painted directly on the surface of the security gate that covers the shop facade when the store is closed.  

Picture


Sometimes the design of the hand-lettering is enough, without additional illustration.  This hardware store has a fine logo, with a bold typeface and a powerful uppercase "M".  It's just missing an "h" after the "c".   

Picture
We went to the Tower Hotel for lunch,  ordered veal cutlet and laughed out loud when the meat arrived with a cheesy happy face on it!  

Picture


Only the wine pairing presented a serious dining decision.  We sobered up and chose Infinitus Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2008, an excellent blend from Patagonia.  This wine announces its arrival with a strong aroma of cassis, raspberries and cranberries and offers medium body and smooth tannins.    The Domaine Vista Alba, owned by Frenchman Herve Joyaux Fabre, produces grapes in Alto Valley,  Rio Negro,  a cooler zone than Mendoza province's fruit-growing region.   A bottle of Infinitus Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot costs 19.50 pesos.

Picture
 
 
Last week I found a source for fresh rabbit meat in San Rafael, a small gem of a store called Legitimo that sells artisanal regional products.  It's been a while since we enjoyed a rabbit meal in Maastricht, Holland where it is a traditional fall/winter item on restaurant menus.  My anticipation of the cooked dish outweighed squeamishness as I faced the grim task of chopping the carcass into manageable pieces with a cleaver.  It's hard not to think of Bugs Bunny, the Easter rabbit and Watership Down when the small head with its milky pink eyes and long white teeth lies lifeless on the cutting board.   The leftover animal parts provide a special treat for our dog Frida, who, despite boundless enthusiasm for the chase,  is just not fast enough to catch a hare.  She is quick to take the rabbit head off my hands and withdraw to a remote corner of the yard to savour a delicacy that must taste to her like a canine dream come true.  
Picture
Rabbit is one of the healthiest meats available, with fat and cholesterol counts lower than chicken, turkey, beef or pork.  It's also a sustainable farm product, as one doe rabbit weighing 10 pounds can produce 320 pounds of meat per year - more than a cow!  When one considers that it takes two acres of prime land to maintain one cow, rabbit farming seems like a  more sensible, eco-friendly alternative.

Picture
The rabbit dish that I remember from a brisk fall evening in Maastricht was "Limburgse Knien," served at the Wiekse Witte restaurant, cooked in a sweet and sour sauce based on prunes.  This is slow food, as the meat is marinated overnight in vinegar with chopped onion, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, while the prunes soak in apple juice.  The next day,  the rabbit pieces are removed from the liquid, dredged  in flour and fried in butter until golden.  The marinade is heated separately in the frying pan until boiling, then with the seared rabbit added, allowed to simmer on low for about an hour until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.   The sauce is thickened with a few tablespoons of flour stirred into a half cup of beer.   I add the softened prunes along with  some brown sugar and cook the dish for another 15 minutes before serving. 

Picture
The conejo is paired with a red wine purchased from the same store,  Legitimo, a Cab recommended by the shopkeeper who proudly tells us that this is his son's vino tinto, produced right here in San Rafael.  Famiglia Mortarotti Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is a full-bodied, aged in oak red with a nose of mocha cream and cherries, mouth of plum, ginger, black pepper, followed by a firm astringent finish.   This wine is not found in any of the large  supermarkets, but is well worth seeking out at Legitimo, where it sells for 19.64 pesos.   The fresh rabbit costs 30 pesos and must be ordered at the beginning of the week for Friday pick-up.  

Picture
Legitimo means authentic, and that quality of genuineness is a key element in the non-fiction book "The Rabbit House" by Laura Alcoba.  A personal account of life in Argentina during the "Dirty War" years of dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, this book is narrated from the perspective of a seven-year-old girl whose parents are members of the Montoneros, a left-wing Peronist militant group opposed to the repressive regime. They live in a house full of hidden weapons and banned books, using rabbit-raising as a screen for their illicit activities.    The childhood recorded in this book is one of imposed secrecy, vigilance and restraint, a constant duty that requires all of the youngster's willpower and stamina.  In a 2008 interview with writer Angelique Chrisafis from the Guardian newspaper, the writer described her experience.     "It might seem strange, but for a little girl in that situation being in hiding just becomes part of everyday life, " says Alcoba. "She learns very quickly that in winter it's cold, fire burns and we could be killed at any moment. But it's overwhelming for a little girl because of the seriousness of any little gaffe she might make that could put the group in danger.  She doesn't always manage what she is supposed to say and not say.  It's as if she's in a costume that's too difficult to wear." 
This is the first published memoir from a child survivor of Argentina's "Dirty War" era, and the book resonates with a courage that recalls Anne Frank's diary written during World War II in The Netherlands.  Alcoba did survive her ordeal, managed to escape to Paris and now teaches Spanish literature at a French university.    Read an excerpt from this remarkable book. 

 
 
There's a very fine restaurant near our farm that offers the best cuisine and the most serene, scenic environment to be found anywhere in the province of Mendoza.  Located in the midst of Algodon Wine Estates,  an 825 hectare land development  with a golf course, vineyard, bodega, championship tennis courts,  and lodge, the restaurant is one of the area's gems.  
Picture
During the winter, there's a cozy spot by the fire indoors, and in the summer, a terrace with cushioned couches overlooking the olive grove and manicured golf greens.  The staff at Algodon is always welcoming and eager to make our dining experience  a pleasure.  

Picture
The menu features regional foods, cooked on the grill and in a traditional clay oven.  The ingredients such as olives and tomatoes are grown right on the estate, and we notice the chef slipping out from the kitchen to pick herbs fresh from the garden.  We choose "Puro Campo" which is a beef filet grilled to perfection, roasted vegetables, fried potatoes and green salad.  

Picture
Dessert is nothing less than "Todo Chocolate," a sublime combination of white chocolate sauce, fudge brownie, a dark chocolate cylinder filled with creamy mousse, and a scoop of orange sorbet.  The presentation suggests architecture, or perhaps a sculpture installation.  

Picture
The wine is, of course, Algodon's own label - a Cabernet Sauvignon 2006.   The grassy herbal notes of this fruity wine are a pleasant surprise, along with the finishing hints of toast and t0bacco.  The estate bodega offers wine-tasting events and tours of their facilities. The American consortium that owns Algodon development has just opened a luxury hotel in a restored mansion in Buenos Aires.  The complete story of their land development project  in San Rafael is given on their website


The bill for lunch for two at Algodon was 146 pesos.

 
 
The eggplant has a history of being a culinary ambassador, having travelled from its native India to almost every country around the world.   It arrived in South America in 1650 with the Spanish explorers and ever since,  the "apple of love" has been a mainstay in Argentine cuisine.  
Picture
This adaptable fruit (which we tend to think of as a vegetable) is now being offered back to India with genetic modifications designed to make it more pest-resistant.  Monsanto, in collaboration with Cornell University, has created the Bt eggplant with the idea of improving crop yields in Asia and other countries (such as Argentina) where the plant is grown.  Recent news articles  show that there is opposition to the introduction of the genetically modified eggplant, as little is known about its long-term safety for humans, animals and the environment.   The lovely glossy-skinned aubergine that left India on an extended global journey has come full circle, and  arrived back home in a sadly altered state.   It has become a test case for other genetically engineered foods that are being proposed for human consumption.  

Picture
I know  that the eggplant used for last night's dinner was not the product of a genetically modified seed, (Bt seed is just being introduced this season by Monsanto)  but in future, how will I know for sure?   The eggplant was sliced in half and baked for 30 minutes in the oven before removing the flesh.  Ground beef, saffron rice, oregano, chili pepper and onions went into the filling, along with the diced eggplant.  Served in its boat-shaped skin, this dish makes an impressive presentation at the table.  

Picture
We paired the stuffed eggplant with Colon Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from Valle de Tulum in San Juan province. This wine has an agreeable cherry and black pepper flavour, with just a hint of coffee and toast in the finish.    It sells for 12.50 pesos at the local autoservicio Casa Martin.  

 
 
When we lived in Alberta, Canada, we raised Nubian goats on our hobby farm.  This breed of dairy goat produces the richest milk for cheese-making.  Our  goat girls  -  Paisley, Heather, Liberty and Magnolia -  were intelligent and affectionate pets,  and as a result, we find it impossible to  eat chivito (goat meat) here in Argentina.  
Picture
We do still enjoy eating goat cheese, however, and Argentina offers some interesting varieties.  For lunch today we sampled Gouda de Cabra and Queso Fresco made by Cabras del Plata from Lavalle, Mendoza, and a semi-hard Queso con Pimienta Verde made by Cabramarca in Santa Maria, Catamarca.    A spicy dried country-style salami sausage with the brand name Campo Austral,  walnuts in honey and prunes  added savoury and sweet flavours to the cheese platter.    We served the cheese and meat on unsalted sesame crackers.  

Picture
A strong, assertive wine is needed to match the tang of goat cheese and the garlic overtones of dried sausage.   We paired La Chimiza Amateur Polo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 , another notable Mendoza wine, with the food.  This red comes on strong with black cherry, pepper, coffee and herbal notes.  There's a touch of nutmeg in there, too.  

Picture
La Chamiza is named after a breed of polo pony, and the vineyard, located near Tupungato, was established on an estate  that was formerly used for the "sport of kings."  The long history of polo in Argentina has spawned many top-notch riding schools.  Have a look at an estancia that offers  polo instruction for novices and more experienced players who want an active, adventurous vacation.  
 This bottle was purchased at Vea supermarket for 20.85 pesos.