When an artist friend mentioned a few years ago that he regularly got up at 4:00 am to watch European soccer on television, I was more than a little surprised.  I just didn't think of David - a serious painter and professor of fine art - as an avid sports fan.   Soccer?  What would he find so fascinating about soccer?  The answer came with a little probing.  "I like to watch soccer because each field is a different shade of green, depending on the location, the time of day, and the weather.  I make notes on colour," he explained.  Proof positive that there's something for everyone in the beautiful game!
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As  the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament takes place  in South Africa, passion for soccer seems to have taken over Argentina.  National pride,  Latino machismo and a genuine appreciation for the speed and accuracy required in the game, are factors that heighten the excitement for Argentine fans.   The colourful personalities and star status of forward Lionel Messi and coach Diego Maradona are an added draw for many viewers.  Television sets have been mounted at the end of each aisle in Vea supermarket, so customers can stay tuned even while grocery shopping.   San Rafael has become a city of spectators, all keeping their eyes on the ball while eagerly awaiting Argentina's next  important match.

Robert, who played soccer as a schoolboy in Holland,  gets excited over the fast-paced technical aspects of the game and delights in moments when precise placement of the ball resembles clockwork.    The geometry of passing and the split-second timing of shots on goal appeal to him.   His perception of the game fits the rhythm of this video:

At the opposite end of the couch, I enjoy  slow motion re-plays, where camera work and tight editing make the  players' movements sustained and graceful.  Colliding bodies appear to hover in mid-air, the ball floats like a helium balloon off the top of a players' head, and each miniscule expression of frustration, anger, joy or triumph becomes a monumental close-up.   In these elongated frames, soccer becomes a sport as visually engaging as a ballet performance.   I am reminded of the video work of U.S. artist Bill Viola, whose slow motion interpretation of a painting by Pontormo entitled "The Greeting" employs the same effect.  I saw the full-length version several years ago  in a gallery in Cologne, and it left an indelible impression on me.   Here's a short clip.
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The perfect meal to pair with soccer viewing is osso buco (veal shank), which takes 90 minutes in the oven, the same amount of time as the game itself.  During the pre-game warm-up, I sear the meat in a frying pan with pancetta, which adds a rich bacon flavour to the shanks.  Onions, carrots and celery are combined with a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, a cup of white wine and some chicken stock to simmer in the pan for a few minutes.  As the opening kick-off begins, the shanks, vegetables and sauce are placed in a covered casserole dish and put into a low oven to braise for the remainder of the match.  At halftime, I make gremolata, the traditional herb topping for osso buco, which consists of chopped Italian parsley, garlic and grated lemon rind mixed with a tablespoon of lemon juice.  I cook some large potatoes in the microwave, peel and mash them.  By the time the match has been decided and  the final whistle blows, the tender veal is falling off the bone and a delicious dinner is ready to be served.  

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We pair the soccer feast with Novecento Syrah 2009 from Bodega Dante Robino in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza.  This wine needs to be opened early in the game to breathe and unfold its unique coffee and spice flavours.   A bottle of Novecento costs 17.09 pesos at Vea.  


Here's another good  reason for  viewing the World Cup games.  The grass planted on the South African soccer fields was supplied by Pickseed, a Canadian seed company and is a hardy combination of perennial rye grasses, Zoom (an appropriate name) and SR4600.
Manitoba farmer Brad Rasmussen was never a soccer fan until the seed grown on his farm was sent to the stadiums in South Africa.  He's watching the tournament to see how that bright green turf holds up!

 
 
With an abundance of tomatoes, zucchini and peppers ripening in the garden and temperatures soaring above 35 degrees Celsius,  the season for gazpacho has definitely arrived.  The Spanish version of this cold vegetable soup  has a rich history that can be traced back to the Moors who occupied Andalusia from the 8th to the 12th century.  
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The original ancient recipe for ajo blanco - gazpacho's pale cousin - included garlic, olive oil, vinegar and bread.  Centuries later, the  Spaniards amplified the piquant flavour with peppers, onions and parsley, and changed the colour of the dish from white to red by adding tomatoes. (Tomatoes did not arrive in Europe until the early 16th century when the Spanish brought seeds back from their conquest of the Aztecs.) Sometimes avocados and cucumbers were added too, with each vegetable chopped finely and soaked for several hours in the thick tomato broth.  The chilled soup has evolved into a liquid salad; a  nutritious  and  refreshing dish, especially on a scorching hot day.  The word "gazpacho" is derived from the Mozarab word "caspa" which means fragments.  

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Inca stone wall
Fragments can indeed make a solid and complete statement when skilfully combined.  A visit to the architecturally stunning  Bodega Septima in Lujan de Cuyo reinforced this idea for me.  The team of Eliana Bormida and Mario Yanzon (specialists in bodega projects) designed the Septima building using clean minimalist lines and an Inca  stonemasonry technique called pirca.  The early inhabitants of  Mendoza constructed their buildings using fragments of Andes  stone stacked one on top of another.  Their method required a true sensitivity for the found material they were working with, as they did not have metal carving tools.  Walls were tapered slightly with thicker stones at the bottom, and doorways were trapezoidal in shape, adding stability.   Even major earthquakes could not destroy the pirca walls built by the Incas, although many Spanish-built edifices collapsed.  

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Of course a trip to the bodega was not just an architectural tour, but included wine-tasting.  We selected Septima Syrah Tempranillo 2007 to pair with gazpacho.   The alcohol content of 14% is a good modifying influence for the spicy ingredients that bind together the fragments of our soup.   The syrah adds tannins to the blend, while the tempranillo balances with red fruit and coffee flavours.    A bottle of this wine costs 14 pesos.  

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Gazpacho
 
 
Empanadas are a standard appetizer in Argentina, with fillings varying from beef to chicken to tuna.  We like to make them for the main course of our meal, and add spices to liven things up.   The great thing about empanadas is that they can be cooked quickly outdoors on the grill.  
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The secret to making a good filling for empanadas is to cut the meat into very fine pieces with a sharp knife, rather than using ground beef.   We fry the meat, add chopped onions, olives and raisins to the mixture, and season with  several heaping spoonfuls of Madras curry powder.   The flavour of the filling is savoury and sweet.

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The fun part of making empanadas is the folding of the filled dough circles, and the final sealing and crimping of the edges.  The dough circles (tapas) are purchased at the supermarket and come in a package of 12.  It's important to use the kind marked "horno" for cooking in  the oven or on the barbecue.  The empanadas are basted on both sides with vegetable oil in preparation  for the asado.  

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When the wood fire has burned down to a nice bed of coals, the grill is ready for the empanadas.  They take about 3 minutes of cooking on each side to brown and crisp the dough.   We served these with chimi churri sauce,  braised spinach and homemade pickled beets.  

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Our wine selection for pairing with the spicy empanadas is Finca Flichman Syrah Roble 2008. This full-bodied red has been aged in oak for 3 months and has a strong tannic flavour.  The syrah needs air, so let it sit open for a while before tasting.   A great wine to accompany any asado, priced at  only 16.49 pesos at Vea Supermarket.

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