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South America Archives - Marcela Macias Photography

Thrive: my word for 2014

Choosing a word for the year is a powerful thing, a life altering experience that I can only recommend.

At the beginning of 2013, I wrote a blog post about how my word for 2012 (Integrate) helped me cope with the series of curve balls that the year threw at us, how it helped me become whole again after feeling that my brain, heart and soul had been shattered. You see, 2012 was the year when Luka and Zoe were assessed for Special Needs and were found to have developmental delays requiring Speech and Occupational therapy, as well as Sensory issues. 2012  was the year when and we had to learn not only how to help them but also how to deal with our own pain and confusion in the process and how to advocate effectively  for them before schools who were fearful and, thus, reluctant to  adapt as recommended by the children’s therapists. (It is both an irony and a lucky event that I have a postgraduate degree in Human Rights Law).

2012 went by and made us stronger. And even though we were still very much in survival mode when 2013 arrived, I was ready to move forward from the pain and welcome a new stage in our lives. I was tired of feeling sad and, so,  Forward was my word for last year, and forward I moved. Not because things were easier, but because when they were not, I was reminded by the mere whisper of my word that getting stuck in the bad was ultimately a choice: a choice I decided to reject. From old school, to new school, to homeschooling, from letting go of my old career to embracing a new one, from paralyzing fear to the courage to jump into the unknown with nothing but faith: every decision was marked by a deep desire to progress and let the past behind.

December came and I felt in me the need to release the old one, and chose another word. I knew I wanted to go one step further this time: I didn’t just want to move forward, I wanted the movement to be positive, I wanted to grow. This year, I wanted to go deeper, and put some thought into making my word a reality, and so I got Leonie Dawson’ s ” Create your Amazing Year” workbook and planner an,  one cold day of  January, I spent a morning at a cafe connecting to myself, dreaming and planning.

Dreaming…If you have been through a crisis of any kind you certainly know how difficult, almost impossible it seems to dream and how liberating it can be when we are finally able to do it again.  When I sat down at that cafe earlier this year and started planning 2014 and dreams and hopes started coming out of me, I felt reborn.

And in that moment I knew what my word for this year had to be:  Thrive

THRIVE

This year I want to wave a gracious goodbye to the past, without regrets or ill feelings of any kind. Forgiveness is, for that reason, a big part of my year.

This year I want to love deeply- and this includes learning to love myself, a task at which me and my inner self critic have always had a very hard time. For this reason, this year I am committing to self-care without shame or blame. I want kindness to be at the center of my relationship with me, for the first time in my life.

This year I want to prosper. For this reason, I am committed to working on my money blocks and on overcoming my scarcity mentality. I want to feel (not just know) the Universe as expansive and abundant.

This year I want to learn new things and to share what I learn.

This year, I want to flourish and help others do the same.

Why am I telling you this in May? Because I will turn 38 years old in 17 days. Because any day is a good day to start living with intention. Because it’s never too late to dream again.

What are YOUR dreams for 2014? What are you hoping to leave behind and what are you hoping to embrace in the next 7 months? 

Tell me in the comments below and let’s find a way, together, to make those wishes come true!

Something sweet for the weekend: Alfajores (semi) cordobeses

alfajores-cordobeses_15

 Good evening dear friends! I hope you are having a lovely weekend.

Days have been incredibly HOT in Nicosia this past week,  with temperatures ranging from 40 to 45.5 degrees celsius. Summer is definitely here and this means doing our best to minimize as much as possible the heat that comes into the house. This is why we clean early in the morning, and then try to keep all window shutters down, to turn the stove on as little as possible and, you guessed it, we avoid baking! We tend to opt for meals that require minimal cooking, such as fresh salads, and, for dessert, we eat fruits and simple home-made  fruit lollies.

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Sometimes, however, we do crave a little baked treat and, for those occasions, these alfajores are perfect: they are incredibly easy and they take only 5 to 7 minutes in the oven to be ready. After they have cooled down,  they are sandwiched with fruit jam or dulce de leche and covered in the simplest glaze of all: icing sugar to which we just add a few tablespoons of boiling water and a sprinkle of lemon juice. They couldn’t be easier!

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You may have noticed that I called these alfajores “semi cordobeses” ,  and there is a reason for that. I had been looking for a while for a recipe of the particular type of alfajores from my home city. I never had one because, when I lived there, I always bought them from a nearby store but, now that I live abroad and that I have children whom I would like to introduce to my culinary traditions, I wanted to be able to make them at home.

The search, however, proved to be difficult. It turns out that Argentina’s cocina criolla (créole cuisine) is famous for being “unreliable” or “moody”. Now, I honestly refuse to attribute  human characteristics to any recipe and I believe, instead, that what happens is product of the typical way recipes are transmitted back home: as part of family heritage. Recipes are learned, first, by watching our elders prepare them at home and, later,  by making them together with them when we are older. At my own home, for example, we rarely measured ingredients and recipes were rarely written down. We just knew how they were supposed to turn out and how to fix common problems, because we had been making them our whole life.

This reminds me of an anecdote from my grandmother. One day, back in 1997, I was about to leave Argentina for a few months when I realized that I had never written down some of her delicious staple recipes and that I would not necessarily remember how they were done because they were not everyday dishes. So I sat down with her, in her kitchen, armed with a notebook and a mate, and she started trying to explain to me how the recipes were done. Our dialogues went more or less like this:

Me: So, let’s see, “rosquitas“. What ingredients do they take?

Grandma Antonia: 6 eggs, 3 tablespoons of alcohol, 1/2 kilo of flour.

Me: And how do I make them?

Grandma Antonia: Just mix everything until you get a smooth dough. But if you feel that it turns out to be too dry, add another egg.

Me:  (confused) But how do I know if the dough is too dry and I should add another egg or if I should  just keep mixing??

Grandma Antonia: I don’t know! I just know!

Of course, we ended up making rosquitas together and I took many more notes than the ones initially provided by my grandmother. She knew so well how to make the recipe that it was hard for her to put herself in my shoes, or in the shoes of anyone who, well, just didn’t  know everything that she did.

Most of the recipes I have from my home are like that. They mention “a drop of milk”, “a bit of flour”, or they get started with 100 grs of chocolate but then add unmeasured extra quantities of it as the preparation progresses, according to how we know the dish is supposed to turn out because we made it countless times before. This is perfectly okay when recipes are transmitted within families but it becomes a problem when one has never seen the dish being prepared before. People tend to transmit the initial ingredients and the basic procedures but, more often than not, they simply forget to pass down vital information that one only acquires when making the food with them. Then, of course, fiascos become very common!

Let me just tell you that I had many of those fiascos before achieving this recipe (which gave me a few headaches too!) and I still haven’t found a good one for our traditional colaciones. What’s more, I don’t think my search for the real alfajor cordobés is over yet. These are delicious cookies, the texture of which does resemble that of our traditional sweets…but the taste is not quite “it”, in my opinion, and that is the reason I called them “semi-cordobeses”. That being said, do try them, because they are really, really tasty!

Here is the recipe:

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Ingredients (For 25 alfajores of 4 cms diameter/ 50 single cookies)

– 500 grs all purpose flour (0000)

– 10 grs amonium bicarbonate (or 12 grs sodium bicarbonate, which is less smelly)

-10 grs baking powder

– 120 grs soft butter or margarine

– 2 eggs (I used M)

– 200 grs sugar

– 50 grs honey

– 15 grs malt extract (I used barley malt extract, which I found in the organic food section  of my local supermarket)

– Fruit jam of your choice or dulce de leche, for sandwiching the cookies. I used quince jam, apricot jam and dulce de leche, for more variety. Traditional jams are quince, apricot, apple and pear.

– 4 cups of icing sugar

– 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

–  3/4 cup of boiling water (or 12 tablespoons)

Preparation: 

1) Mix flour, baking powder and bicabonate.

2) Pour flour mix on the kitchen counter and make a hole in the middle

3) Add butter, eggs, honey, malt extract and sugar in the hole. Start mixing the wet ingredients with your hands, and once this is done, start incorporating the flour, little by little, until you get a uniform dough.

4) Cover the dough in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

5) In the meantime, prepare your baking sheets by lining them with baking paper.

6) A few minutes before removing the dough from the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 250 degrees C (maximum)

7) Roll the dough 1/2 cm wide and cut circles using a cookie cutter. Place the circles on  baking sheets and put  them in the freezer for 5 minutes. NOTE: The cookies grow in the oven, so place them apart on the baking sheet or they will join one another. Also, do not skip the freezer part or they will lose their shape!

8) Bake in a hot oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until they barely begin to brown. Be careful, they brown easily!

9) Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely

10) Add one tablespoon of jam or dulce de leche to one cookie, and sandwich it by placing another one on top. Now you have an alfajor! Continue until all cookies have been sandwiched together.

11) Prepare the glaze by adding the boiling water and lemon juice to the icing sugar and mixing well, until no lumps remain.

12) Place the alfajores on a wire rack and pour the glaze over them. Let the glaze cool and harden, and eat.

You may store them in the freezer for up to 3 months. I hope you will like them!

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Buenas noches queridos amigos! Espero que esten pasando un hermoso fin de semana!La semana pasada tuvimos unos días increíblemente calurosos en Nicosia, con temperaturas que iban de los 40 and los 45.5 grados centígrados. El verano se ha instalado aquí definitivamente y eso significa, para nosotros, hacer todos los esfuerzos posibles por minimizar la entrada de calor a la casa. Por este motivo, limpiamos bien temprano a la mañana y luego intentamos mantener todas las persianas bajas, cocinar lo menos posible y, se imaginarán, evitamos prender el horno! Así que optamos por comidas livianas, que requieran mínima cocción, como ensaladas frescas, muchas frutas y helados palito de fruta, bien simples.A veces, sin embargo, nos agarren esos ataques de algo dulce-dulce y, para estos casos, estos alfajores son perfectos: son increiblemente fáciles de hacer y sólo requieren 5 a 7 minutos de horno. Una vez que estan cocidos y ya se han enfriado, se los une con mermelada de frutas o dulce de leche y se los cubre con el baño más sencillo que existe: azucar impalpable a la que se le agrega agua hirviendo y un poquito de limón. No pueden ser más sencillos!Seguramente habrán notado que llamé a estos alfajores semi cordobeses  y esto tiene una razón de ser. Hace ya bastante venía buscando una buena receta de los alfajores tradicionales de  mi terruño (de los que hablé en este post). Cuando vivía en Argentina nunca los hice porque, en caso de antojo, no tenia más que ir al kiosco a comprar uno, pero ahora que vivo en el exterior y que quiero transmitirle a mis hijos mis tradiciones culinarias, comencé a querer poder hacerlos en casa.
La búsqueda, sin embargo, no fue sencilla. Descubrí, entre otras cosas, que la cocina criolla tiene fama de “poco confiable” “traicionera” o “temperamental”. Ahora bien, honestamente me niego rotundamente a asignarle a una comida caracteristicas humanas y creo que lo que en realidad ocurre, que el motivo por el que las recetas “no siempre salen bien”es otro, y está ligado a la forma en que se transmiten las recetas: como parte del acervo familiar de cada uno. Las recetas no se escriben, se aprenden mirando a nuestros mayores, cuando somos chicos, y haciéndolas con ellos, cuando crecemos. En mi casa, por ejemplo, rara vez mediamos ingredientes meticulosamente, ni escribiamos instrucciones detalladas. Simplemente sabíamos cómo  debía quedar el plato y cómo solucionar posibles problemas, porque lo veníamos haciendo toda nuestra vida.

Escribo estas líneas y recuerdo una anecdota, muy ilustrativa, que involucra a mi abuela. Un día, allá por el año 1997, días antes de que yo fuera a partir de Argentina por unos meses, caí en la cuenta de que nunca había anotado algunas de aquellas deliciosas recetas que mi abuela no hacía tan frecuentemente y que, por lo tanto, yo no conocía de memoria. Así que me senté con ella  en la cocina de su casa, con un cuadernito que aún conservo, y una pava de mate, a intentar que ella me explicara su recetario personal. Nuestros dialogos terminaron siendo algo más o menos asi:

 

Yo: Bueno, a ver, rosquitas. ¿Qué ingredientes llevan?

Abuela Antonia: 6 huevos, 3 cucharadas de alcohol, 1/2 kilo de harina

Yo: Y como las hago?

Abuela Antonia: Mezclá todo hasta que te quede una masa suave. Pero si ves que la masa está muy seca, agregá un huevo

Yo: (confundida)…pero cómo sé si la masa está seca como para agregarle un huevo o si sólo tengo que seguir trabajandola

Abuela Antonia: ah, no sé! Yo sólo sé!

 

Obviamente terminamos haciendo las rosquitas juntas y en ese momento tomé muchisimas más notas para complementar las instrucciones iniciales dadas por mi abuela. Ella conocía tan bien cómo hacer la receta que le resultaba dificil ponerse en mi lugar, o sea, en el lugar de una persona que no supiera aquello que ella sabía tan a la perfección.

La mayoría de las recetas que traigo de casa son así. Hablan de “un chorrito de leche”, “un poquito de harina” o mencionan 100 grs de chocolate, pero no cuentan todos esos “poquitos extra” que se van agregando durante la preparación, conforme cómo el plato “debe quedar”. Esto funciona de maravillas con las recetas familiares, porque uno las conoce de memoria y no necesita una receta detallada, pero se transforma en un problema para alguien que nunca hizo el plato antes. La gente tiende a transmitir sólo los ingredientes iniciales y los procedimientos básicos, olvidando transmitir tambien,  la mayor parte de las veces, aquellos datos extra que son vitales para obtener un buen resultado. Y en esos casos, claro, los fiascos son momumentales y uno se queda mirando el horroroso resultado final y preguntándose qué habrá ocurrido.

Dejenme decirles que, en la busqueda de esta receta he tenido muchos de esos fiascos, que, aun esta receta misma me dio varios dolores de cabeza al comienzo, hasta que logré  “rellenar los espacios vacíos”, y que aún no logro dar con una buena receta de colaciones. Y más aún, todavía no considero que mi búsqueda del perfecto alfajor cordobés haya culminado. Estos alfajorcitos son deliciosos, y tienen una textura muy similar…pero el gusto no es exactamente el del alfajor cordobés tradicional, en mi opinión, y es por este preciso motivo que los llamé “semi-cordobeses”. Dicho esto tambien les digo que no dejen de probarlos porque son realmente muy, muy ricos!

Aquí está la receta:

 

Ingredientes

– 500 grs de harina cuatro ceros
– 10 grs de bicarbonato de amonio o 12 grs de bicarbonato sódico ( que es menos oloroso)
– 10 grs de polvo de hornear
– 120 grs de margarina o manteca
– 2 huevos
– 200 grs de azucar
– 50 grs de miel
– 15 grs de extracto de malta
– mermelada de frutas o dulce de leche para unir las tapitas. Yo usé mermelada de membrillo, de damascos y dulce de leche. Las mermeladas tradicionales son membrillo, damascos, pera y manzana.
– 4 tazas de azucar impalplable
– 3/4 taza de agua hirviendo
– 1 cucharada de jugo de limón

Preparación:

1) Mezcle la harina con el polvo de hornear y el bicarbonato

2) Coloque la harina sobre la mesada en forma de corona (haciendo un huevo en el medio)

3) Agregue, en el hueco mencionado, la manteca o margarina, los huevos, el azucar, la miel, y el extracto de malta. Mezcle los ingredientes húmedos con las manos y, una vez incorporados, comience a agregar de a poco el harina, moviendola hacia el centro en pequeñas cantidades, hasta formar una masa uniforme.

4) Cubra el bollo de masa con papel film y lleve a la heladera por 20 minutos.

5) Mientras tanto, prepare las placas para horno recubriendolas con papel de hornear (antiadherente).

6)Unos minutos antes de sacar la masa de la heladera, precaliente el horno a maximo/250C

7) Saque la masa de la heladera y estirela con palote de amasar hasta que tenga un ancho de 1/2 cm. Corte circulos de aproximadamente 4 cms de diametro, coloquelos sobre la placa y lleve la placa al freezer por 5 minutos. NOTA: las tapitas crecen en el horno, asi que coloquelas suficientemente separadas la una de la otra o se unirán al cocerlas. Asimismo, no omita ponerlas en el freezer o perderan la forma!

8) Cocine las tapitas en horno fuerte por 5 a 7 minutos, hasta que esten apenas doradas. Tenga cuidado, se doran muy rápido, vigílelas!

9)Retire del horno, transfiera a una rejilla, y deje enfriar totalmente.

10) Una vez que las tapitas estén frias, unte la mitad con una cucharada de la mermelada/dulce de su elección, y cierrelas con las tapitas restantes, haciendo un sandwich. Una vez haga esto, usted tendrá en sus manos alfajores!

11) Prepare el baño de azucar agregando el agua hirviendo y el limon al azucar impalpable y revolviendo bien hasta que no queden grumos.

12) Coloque los alfajores sobre una rejilla y cubralos con el baño de azucar. Deje que el baño se seque y endurezca y disfrute!

 

Pueden guardarlos en el freezer por 3 meses. Espero que les gusten!

 

Have a wonderful weekend and a great start of the new week!

 

An introduction to Argentina’s sweets, part III: churros, milhojas, pastelitos.

milhojas-y-churros

Good morning friends! I hope you are having a wonderful week!

This is the last post on Argentinian sweets…well, not the very last one I will write, because I plan to bring you some recipes, but the last one of this introductory series. Starting from the next post, I will resume my regular posting of recipes, crafts and party ideas.

This post does not have many pictures and the ones it has were taken on the streets of Buenos Aires, whenever I could find local vendors selling the things I wanted to talk to you about ( this is just to show you how popular they are). Two extremely popular cakes are missing from the pictures, but I will provide you with links that have beautiful pictures, so that you can have an idea of what it is I am describing.

Let’s begin with a Latin American classic: churros! We used to eat them to accompany hot chocolate on winter days, home-made by my mother or my grandmother (who even had a “churrera”, which is the cylinder shaped machine to make churros with the traditional scalloped border). When I visited Punta del Este, in Uruguay, I tasted them filled with dulce de leche or chocolate for the first time. Later, chocolate, dulce de leche or cream filled churros became very common in Argentina as well, and now we can say they have become a popular favourite.

Milhojas de dulce de leche (pictured next to the churros, above, and here) is none other than a  “dulce de leche thousand layer cake”: a cake made with layers of “hojaldre” (which is similar to puff pastry) stuck together with lots and lots of dulce de leche repostero and covered in either dark chocolate or poured fondant (more commonly, the former). It is a traditional cake for birthdays and small versions can be bought at almost any bakery.

pastelitos

Pastelitos (pictured above) are the sweets that are traditionally eaten during national holidays (25th of May, Argentina’s first national government day, and 9th of July, Argentina’s Independence day). They are made with a variation of puff pastry and traditionally filled with quince spread or sweet potato marmalade, though it is also possible to find them filled with (you guessed it!) dulce de leche or dulce de leche and walnuts. Once they are assembled, they are deep fried in either oil or grease, until golden.

Other two VERY popular cakes are Rogel Cake and Chocotorta. Rogel cake is made layering sheets of cake of a texture similar to the one of alfajor santafesino with dulce de leche repostero, and topped with Italian Meringue. It is extremely sweet, but delicious!

Chocotorta is a childhood classic which dates from the 1970’s, when a popular plain chocolate cookie brand (chocolinas) boosted its sales by advertising a simple cake that kids could do themselves using said cookies, because no baking was involved. The cake is made by layering chocolinas with dulce de leche (of course) mixed with cream cheese (queso blanco/fromage blanc), and it tastes delicious after 24 hours in the fridge, because the cookies fully absorb the filling and they become unrecognizable. Some people dip the cookies to moisten them more, either in coffee, syrup or dessert wines such as marsala or oporto. The cake is commonly covered with the same dulce de leche and cream cheese mix, and topped with chocolate swirls or simply cocoa. The cake is so popular that restaurants started serving it (see this article on the best chocotortas in Buenos Aires restaurants, for example) and couples started requesting it as wedding cake.

I hope that you enjoyed this series of posts on Argentina’s food culture. In the next post we will go back to our regular themes: recipes, parties and crafts.

Have a wonderful day!

An introduction to Argentina’s sweets, part II: Pinitos, nueces confitadas, bocaditos maroc, bocaditos cabsha, chocolate en rama

Good evening dear friends! I hope you had a lovely week.

This week, we continue with our introduction to typical Argentinian sweets, the ones we, Argentinians, love and miss when we are abroad. Today, I bring you some of my favourite bite-sized sweets. All of them, except branch chocolate and nuts confit, can be found in any kiosk, so they are great for an almost guilt-free sugar rush moment. Also, all of them, except for “bocadito maroc” include dulce de leche, because most of my fellow country-men would agree that “a desert without dulce de leche is not desert”. I have changed quite a bit in this regard since living abroad, but try baking a birthday cake with buttercream, jam or lemon curd for an Argentinian child (or adult!) and you will be met with a face of sheer disappointment!

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 Let’s begin with Bocaditos Maroc, which are the bi-colour squares portrayed in the pictures above. They are made with a combination of peanut cream, milk and white chocolate. They are soft and truly melt in your mouth and, best of all, they are really easy to make at home so, if you want to give them a try, here’s how: Cover a square pan with foil. Process 100 grs of peeled roasted peanuts with 1 tablespoons of corn or canola oil until it reaches a pancake batter consistency. Melt 100 grs of milk chocolate and add 1/3 of the peanut cream to it. Mix well and place it in the pan, making sure it covers the pan evenly and smoothly. Bring to the fridge for about 15 minutes, so that the chocolate hardens. Melt 80 grs white chocolate and add another 1/3 of the peanut cream, mix well and pour it on top of the milk chocolate and peanut mixture. Put it in the fridge for another 15 minutes and, in the meantime, melt the remaining 100 grs of milk chocolate. Mix with the last 1/3 of peanut cream, and add it to the pan. Smooth the top with a spatula and place it in the fridge until hard. Once ready, remove from the pan, peel off the foil and cut into squares with a sharp knife (If you wet the knife in hot water, it will be easier to get a nice, clean-cut). And that’s all it takes!

The following treat is perhaps the most common of them all: Dulce de leche cones, or “Pinitos de dulce de leche”. They are simply, as you can see from the picture below, a truly decadent treat made of cookie, lots of dulce de leche disposed in a cone shape and covered in either dark or white chocolate.

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If you live outside of Argentina and you are familiar with regular dulce de leche, you may be wondering how  it is possible for the cones to keep their shape. The answer is this: the cones are not made with regular dulce de leche, but with dulce de leche repostero, or “baking dulce de leche”, which is firmer and thicker than the regular one (which has a jam-like consistency).

Dulce de leche repostero, unlike regular dulce de leche, is not made solely of milk, sugar and vanilla. Now, be warned, here comes a big surprise: Dulce de leche repostero has bean pulp (pulpa de frijoles) and cornstarch to give it its consistency. Argentinian friends, if you don’t believe me, go check the ingredients listed in a can…I did it back in November and couldn’t believe my eyes!

If you want to make it at home, you should know that the proportions are different from the ones for regular dulce de leche: apart from adding the above ingredients, it takes three times more sugar. So, for every 5 litres of milk (as I did in the original recipe), you will need 3 kg of sugar, 2 1/2 cups of bean pulp (made soaking the beans overnight, then boiling them until very soft and finally passing them through a sieve), 10 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 vanilla bean  and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. The procedure is pretty much the same as for regular dulce de leche, except for the addition of the beans which has to be done after the milk and sugar mixture starts to thicken (see the first stage of browning of my earlier post on dulce de leche). Right after adding the bean pulp and mixing everything very well with a wooden spoon, you should also add the cornstarch previously diluted in half a cup of cold milk. Then let time run its course and after a few hours you should be able to enjoy wonderful baking dulce de leche!

Another special treat that I look forward to eating when I go home are nueces confitadas, or “nuts confit”:

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There are many recipes and ways to make them, but most of them involve three ingredients: dulce de leche repostero (see why you should know how to make it? 😉 , walnuts and poured fondant. The most traditional way consists of surrounding a full walnut in a spoon of dulce de leche and covering it all with poured fondant.  Some, however, do it in a different way (as the ones that you can see in the picture above), which consists in making a paste with dulce de leche repostero and processed walnuts, giving it a ball shape and covering each ball in either poured fondant or dark chocolate.

The following picture shows another personal favourite, called Bocadito cabsha:

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They are made with host capsules (yes, like the host of catholic mass. In Argentina they can be bought at baking supplies stores), dulce de leche, glucose, rum, and chocolate. The procedure is very simple: you need to heat the glucose in a pan, together with the dulce de leche, remove the pan from heat and add the rum, and fill the capsules with this preparation  being careful not to overflow them. Finally, cover the capsules in chocolate, let them cool down for it to harden and enjoy!

Finally, chocolate en rama, or branch chocolate:

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If you are curious about how it is made, check this video where  you can see a real  maitre chocolatier at work.

 

See you next week, with the last post on Argentinian sweets and a few recipes!

Have a wonderful weekend!

An introduction to Argentina’s sweets, Part I: Alfajores

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Good morning  friends! Let’s finish the week on a sweet note, shall we?

Last year, during our stay in Córdoba, I started preparing a few posts about Argentina’s sweet food culture. I could not finish writing these posts at the time, but I did take the pictures with the aim of showing you what we,  Argentinians,  think about when we think about sweets, what we love, what we miss when we are abroad. So here is the first of these posts, three in total, showcasing a small selection of my favourite treats. I need to give you one warning, though: there are many more sweets that I could not find in Córdoba (because they are typical of other provinces) or didn’t have the time to photograph. I also owe you a post on the candies and cookies from my childhood, which I meant to prepare, but my children kept eating the items to be photographed 😉

So, let’s begin! Today’s post is about the most popular of Argentina’s sweet treats: alfajores. But what are alfajores? And why are they called this way?

Alfajores are basically two cookies sandwiched together by some kind of sweet filling, be it fruit jam, dulce de leche, mousse or even ice cream. Their name comes from the arabic word “alajú”, and it is, in fact, an arabic confection that entered Spain during the Moorish era (during the period of Al-Andalus) and was then adopted -and modified- by the Spanish colonies. The shape and the recipes for the cookie itself and its fillings vary greatly from one country to the other, and even from one region to the other. According to wikipedia, the original confection (which can still be found in Spain) contained flour honey, spices and nuts and had a cilinder form (like a crêpe),  while in Latinamerica alfajores are round and are normally filled with jams and mousses.Also, while in Spain they constitute a treat to be enjoyed mainly on special occasions (such as Christmas), except in the Medina Sidonia (where one can buy them all year long), in countries such as Argentina they are an everyday snack and can be bought in any kiosk.

Alfajores are different from a regular sandwich cookie, such as an oreo. The texture of the cookie itself is different: alfajores are moist and soft, and lack the crispiness of a traditional sandwich cookie. The filling is different as well, and more abundant. Whoopie pies, on the other side,  look like an alfajor, and that is probably what we would call them back home in Argentina.

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Argentina has different kinds of traditional alfajores, which differ from province to province. There are, of course, those that are available in kiosks nation-wide, produced by big candy companies, such as Arcor, Bagley or Terrabusi (owned by Kraft foods), but what is really interesting, and what I recommend you to do if you travel to Argentina one day, is to taste the regional versions, and compare them. In the following pictures I will show you some of these alfajores for you to get a glimpse at the variety you can find, and once I have tested and tweaked the recipes I brought from home, I will share them with you here as well.

The first type of alfajores I am showing you is perhaps the most famous one: Alfajor “Marplatense”, the alfajor from Mar del Plata, a seaside city in Buenos Aires province, which is also a traditional vacation spot.

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Mar del Plata has many alfajor factories and, one of them, Havanna, has opened cafés and stores in several other countries, such as Israel, Spain, Mexico and the US. Havanna alfajores can also normally be found in shops that sell Latin-american products, as well as in Argentinian restaurants.

There are several types of alfajores from Mar del Plata: vanilla cookie with dulce de leche filling, covered in chocolate, vanilla cookie with dulce de leche filling covered in sugar glaze, vanilla and coffee cookie with dulce de leche filling and dark chocolate glaze, and vanilla and walnut cookie, with dulce de leche filling and covered in white chocolate glaze. They are all delicious, and their dulce de leche filling has the characteristic subtly smoky flavour that just burst in your mouth with the first bite and leaves you wanting more.

 

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Alfajores from Córdoba are quite different, in two main aspects: the cookie is quite simple and light, the traditional filling is fruit jam instead of dulce de leche (normally, apple, pear or quince jam) and they are covered with a very simple sugar glaze made with only icing sugar and water that does not cover the cookie completely. Due to the popular love for dulce de leche, however, alfajores cordobeses with dulce de leche also exist, but they are not the traditional ones.

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The cordobese confection that traditionally carries dulce de leche are colaciones, which are characterized by the crispy, curved nature of the cookie (that contains many egg yolks and a little bit of alcohol in the dough).

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Alfajores from Santa Fé are also very popular. They are made of three layers of crispy, rather dry cookie (characterized because the dough has to be rolled and turned on itself 20 times, such as in the procedure for making puff pastry) , filled with dulce de leche (lots of dulce de leche, since the cookie itself is not overly sweet!) and covered with a sugar glaze made with icing sugar, water, lemon and egg whites.

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Another very famous alfajor, which I couldn’t find in Córdoba to photograph, is the Alfajor Norteño (from Argentina’s North-West region), which is filled either with layers of dulce de leche and turrón, or only with turrón paste made with honey, egg-whites, sugar and walnuts.

I hope you liked this small introduction to our sweets and, worry not!, recipes will come soon!

And in case you are wondering who ate all those sweets that were photographed, it was a little blonde elf that helps me style food whenever he can…

Have a wonderful weekend!

Our family trip part III: Buenos Aires

 

I love Buenos Aires.

I thought I should let you know how partial I am about the city before even beginning to write about it, so that you would be warned. Because I am (impartial) and because I do love it very much. True, I have never lived there and I have only visited it as a tourist, but I have always had such a great time and I find it so incredibly beautiful, stimulating and full of life that I can’t imagine NOT liking it for any reason.

The first time I visited I was 7 years old and, when I went back to Córdoba, I asked my mum on the plane back home, full of guilt,  why Córdoba was not as beautiful. Since then, I have gone back several times, mostly on  short trips, and every time I go I am amazed at how beautiful the city is-at least, for me.

As I mentioned before, I have been to Buenos Aires mostly on short trips, so I explored the city little by little. Back in  2002 to 2004, I used to travel every 15 to 30 days, for 24 hs. I would take the bus at night, and arrive to Buenos Aires at dawn, when shops were opening, cafés were getting their delivery orders of medialunas from bakeries, apartment concierges were washing the sidewalks and streets were beginning to get crowded with cars full of people going to work or taking their children to school.  I like watching cities wake up, I find the early hours of the morning very magical so it was a special treat to see a city I love get ready for the day.

In those trips, I would generally have a meeting in the morning and then I would take the rest of the day to explore the city by foot, before taking the bus back to Córdoba. My meetings would generally take place downtown, and from there I would walk  wherever I wanted to go that day. This is how I visited  museums such as the wonderful Museum of Latinamerican Art-MALBA, or the National Fine Arts Museum , as well as landmarks such as the Recoleta Cementery, the Botanical Garden, the Japanese Garden,and the Floralis Generica.Sometimes I attended free lectures at Universities, or literary gatherings at local cafés, but most of the time, I just took pleasure in strolling the city streets.  I never bought anything because I didn’t have any money, nor did I take pictures, because I didn’t have a digital camera (and buying and developing films was expensive) but, to be honest, I didn’t miss either. Being there, surrounded by all that beauty was enough to feed my soul.

Buenos Aires is big, huge even, but I find it very walkable and it is easy to move around using buses or the subway, for longer distances. It is a very green city, with plenty of trees lining its streets, and big parks where people sunbathe in the summer (yes, they do!), run in the afternoons, grab a bite at lunch time or have a picnic during weekends. The city’s rhythm is hectic and everyone seems to be always in a hurry, yet I have always been greeted with a smile (some say I was lucky, but  I can only speak from my own experience, which was always positive). Taxi drivers love to discuss politics, to talk and to make recommendations, to ask where one is from and to give their opinion. I find this very funny and always enjoy my taxi rides because of this reason- but I must confess my husband doesn’t find it that amusing (insert smile)

Buenos Aires has plenty of cafés, some of which are important landmarks and are not to be missed, such as Café Tortoni (which is 150 years old) Café de los Angelitos or La Biela (which was my father’s favourite)- so please, avoid the local Starbucks if you are ever there, and get a real “café con medialunas” in a place that feels like Buenos Aires and not like any other café from the same chain in any other city of the World. The local magazine Planeta Joy made  a selection of the 10 best traditional cafés of Buenos Aires, if you are ever in the city, which you can find here.

Buenos Aires is also a very cultural city, full of libraries (like the incredibly beautiful El Ateneo Grand Splendid) where it is a pleasure to browse for new and old books alike. The city also has one of LatinAmerica’s most important Opera Houses, the Teatro Colón (which was recently refurbished and restored) and there is always a large offer of theatre plays, concerts, talks, seminars, art expositions and other interesting activities such as philosophical cafés (or café-filo). Musicians and artisans populate the streets and the city is famous for its interesting finds in design and vintage objects.

When we started planning this trip, we had originally envisioned spending a week in Buenos Aires. I had already been there with my husband after we got married, and we were looking forward to showing it to our children. We wanted to rent an apartment, to be able to move freely and to explore the city by bits, so as not to end up with cranky toddlers. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible. Finding a rental apartment was so hard, and prices so exorbitant that, 3 months before the trip, we gave in and decided to change our tickets to spend a mere weekend there, and we booked a hotel.

In the end, this was the best decision because, 5 weeks already into our trip, Luka and Zoe had become exhausted, wanted to come back home and were in an almost permanent state of crankiness. So we kept our outings really simple, leaving all the explorations for another time and focusing on keeping them happy and meeting a handful of friends only.

We stayed in Recoleta, because of easy access, safety, close friends who live in the area and proximity to parks and museums, and we limited our outings to it (on Saturday) and Palermo (on Sunday). There are many other neighbourhoods we could have visited, and I do know the ones we chose are the two most touristy there are but, when travelling with small children, options are not as large as when one travels alone.

It was early December when we were there and the Spring weather was absolutely delicious, which was great for walking. Luka and Zoe travelled in the double stroller while we walked around, sleeping on occasions, lullabied by the breeze.

One of the places we visited was the Recoleta Cemetery which dates from 1822 and where all Presidents and other important persons such as writers, artists and sportsmen are buried. It was the first and, for many decades, the only cemetery the city had (until the creation of the Chacarita). Its most visited tomb is probably the one of Eva Perón but, to be honest we didn’t visit for the famous names. We visited, instead, because the whole place is a work of art and I find it particularly fascinating to see how a person’s character and taste has been portrayed by its survivors. There are heroes carried by crying angels, militars handing over their swords,  journalists being shown their way to heaven by angels, and even couples giving their back to each other because the wife had stopped talking to her husband after a discussion and had requested to be portrayed in this way since “she would still be angry at him after death” (It’s true! Look for the tombs of Salvador Maria del Carril and Tiburcia Dominguez!). In order not to miss the funny anecdotes, it is better to take the official guided tours, but if you don’t have time or money to do so, a simple walk around the place will prove interesting nonetheless.

In the Cemetery’s surrounding area there is also the famous Iglesia del Pilar ( del Pilar Church), the Recoleta Cultural Center, the National Library, several museums   (such as the Palais de Glace, the Museum of Fine Arts or the Xul Solar Museum) as well as plenty of restaurants, cafés, shopping malls (such as Patio Bullrich and Buenos Aires Design) and open fairs (during weekends). And if you like (and can afford) high-end shopping, this is your area as well.

On our second day in Buenos Aires, we chose to visit Palermo, mainly because my husband had never been there, and I had been so long ago that I could hardly remember anything.

Palermo is a neighbourhood that has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Different parts of it have been popularly renamed according to their new vibe, and we can now find places known as “Villa Freud” (where there’s the highest number of psychologists and psychiatrists)”Palermo Soho” (the more bohemian side of the city) or “Palermo Hollywood” (where local TV stars live), for example. Unlike Recoleta (which is more conservative), Palermo has an artsy, laid-back feeling. There are artists selling their handicrafts on the streets, independent designer shops, as well as vintage and antique products, some cobblestone streets, and a myriad of cafés with tables on the sidewalks. Palermo is also the neighbourhood where the Japanese Gardens (which has a restaurant where you can order Tea served with the traditional Tea Ceremony), the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens are, as well as the Planetarium and the MALBA.

 

We kept our day very simple: we strolled around Recoleta in the early morning and then joined a dear friend for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant in Palermo, followed by a quiet walk, and some mandatory ice cream in Un’Altra Volta (seriously, ice cream in Argentina is so delicious it’s a crime not to have as much as one can. I’m not kidding!). By middle afternoon, we joined  a big group of friends who had organized a meet up in the Japanese Gardens  (travelling even from other provinces). We were around 10 families, with our children, talking,laughing and hugging each other in what was a real goodbye treat and a perfect way to bring our trip to a close.

 The following day, we took the plane back to Paris-Belgrade, and two days after that, we arrived back home, to Cyprus. Exhausted but happy for what we lived and happy to be back home as well. Our time in Buenos Aires was short and quiet, but we left knowing that there will be future trips where we will be able to explore other places (like La Boca, San Telmo, Tigre) and to do other fun activities.  This trip to Argentina was not about exploring, it was about family and friends and, like that, it was perfect.

Have a beautiful weekend and get ready for some serious sugar rush, because in my next post I will start showing you Argentina’s traditional sweets!

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