Thursday, October 9, 2008

Brazil nuts of Bra-fill nuts?

To keep my brain functioning, I try to make sure I get enough fat.  Therefore, mixed nuts are an important source of my adipose tissue-building nutrition.  But there is  a complaint about these Walgreens brand deluxe lightly salted mixed nuts that I have been tolerantly harboring regarding the practice in which they fill the tin cans: Brazil Nuts.

No one likes brazil nuts.  You would never see a can of straight brazil nuts, because only a taste- budless fool with an affinity for small baby gerbils would buy them.  Cashews, on the other hand, are understandably loved by many, but in my quest for variety, I buy cashews with almonds, filberts and pecans before remembering in horror that about a fourth of the container holds the brazil nuts filler.

They are at least three times as big as their delicious counterparts, and once removed and discarded significantly deplete how much I previously believed I had purchased.  According to the reliable Wikipedia, these giant nuts have other purposes such using their oil to lubricate clocks or make artists' paint, so why then can't they stick to what they are good at and stop plaguing my snack time? 

Walgreens appears to have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, but I obviously am not.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the longer you will live to be able to play a musical instrument.

Let's be honest, beans get a bad rap.  We all sang the jingle relating our fiberful legumes with the subsequent flatulence which has since made me correlate my affection for beans with something to be embarrassed about.  Traveling and understanding other cultures that embrace the bean has made me finally feel ready to affirm my love for them.

First, we must understand the bean.  This pod-like food is considered a legume.  In its family it has the alfalfa, peas, lentils and peanuts.  In American gastronomy beans often play second fiddle to their protein counterpart, meat, but they are really a perfectly delicious alternative for their high-cholesterol substitute.  In fact, America would be a lot healthier if instead of eating a hamburger with a side of baked beans they ate baked beans (Amy's organic, of course) with a side of a mini-hamburger.  This, however, would be contested by North Americans and Argentines alike.

In Spain, my inversion suggestion is realized in the form of Madrid's delectable "cocido," which is a garbanzo bean-based stew, often with little bits of meat.  In the U.S., we have split-pea soup, but it is often considered scornfully and ridiculed next to the classic favorite, starch and fat soup a.k.a. chicken noodle.  

In Middle Eastern cuisine garbanzo beans are used for myriad dishes such as hummus and falafel.  As I mentioned in a previous post, on Scalabrini Ortiz in the Palermo neighborhood, on the corner of the street El Salvador, it is possible to get an excellent example of these dishes. 

Buenos Aires does harbor a secret love for beans in the form of faina, a dough-like food made out of garbanzos and often eaten with pizza, quite literally with, as in stacked on top of the slice.  Just like vegetables, some people simply need them to not look like a healthful food in order to consume them happily.

Mexico, however, I would probably give the most credit for their use of legumes.  A friend from Monterrey, Mexico made me Pedro's breakfast specialty (without any meat), and even that included beans.  In their national dishes, they proudly use a plethora of black and pinto beans, and if the Republicans win the election, this food alone might lure me over the border.

Throughout my travels, I find this discomfort for beans a disconcerting part of American food culture, and a challenge for all vegetarians here.  And although I will always be a gal from the U.S.A., today I will yet again defy my culture and affirm my bean love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Peanut Butter Vs. Dulce de Leche

Every culture has a vat or jar of a nutrient rich spread to put on their crackers or their bread.  The U.S. has peanut butter.  Europe has Nutella.  Argentina has Dulce de Leche (or caramel).  And Australia has its inedible vegemite.  These items are so exclusive to their countries of origin that they are scarcely available anywhere else.  I am consistently warned before going to a foreign country that if I can't live without peanut butter, I should take it with me and although I hardly ever take the advice because I want to eat like a person from the country I am living in, it is not unfounded.

I want to make it clear that although I am going to argue that peanut butter is far superior than dulce de leche, that the items are in no way metaphors for the countries themselves or any attempt at a masked nationalist argument.  I am simply pitting the two foods against each other, and coming to the conclusion the P.B., nutritionally at least-- because I cannot argue personal tastes-- is a better way to butter up your toast for breakfast.

Examining the ingredients in each of the products, D.d.L. includes milk, sugar, glucose and flavoring such as vanilla, where as P.B. has peanuts, salt and sugar (depending on the brand).  Calorically, D.d.L. per 2 tbsp has 124 calories whereas the same amount of P.B. has 200.

But calories certainly are not all that matters.  If one eats a piece of bread with D.d.L. on it, their blood sugar is going to skyrocket and then by 10a.m., they are going to crash and be incredibly hungry, whereas P.B., which is more dense with fat and protein, is going to leave the person feeling fuller for longer.  The protein and the fat are worth the extra calories, because they are going to build muscle mass (as long as the person is active), whereas D.d.L. only affords an excess of carbs which in convert to fat the second they are not used.

P.B., however, does have an incredibly large amount of fat.  It would be delusional to think that the fat won't turn into fat on your body, or even the excess protein won't if you don't workout.  17g in 2 tablespoons is 26% of a daily intake, but by buying the right brands (any homestyle or trans fat free) the fat is a necessary component for your brain to function.  I am not going to say that P.B. makes you SMARTER per se, but it couldn't hurt, right?  

In terms of their versatility with desserts, D.d.L. is ubiquitous in Argentina.  Anything can be found with it, but P.B. keeps up in the U.S. from cookies, puppy chow or Reese's peanut butter cups.  

In returning from Buenos Aires, I have been looking for reasons why I am happy to be home.  Peanut butter has definitely welcomed me. . .but we'll just see how happy I am to see it once I've gained 10 pounds.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Does not eating meat make me adorable?

My final meal in Argentina was eaten at one of my favorite restaurants, Perutti, located on the corner of Avenida Santa Fe and Riobamba.  One thing that almost all Argentine restaurants have is a "cubierto" or a table charge, usually about 5 pesos that often includes the bread they will put on the table for you and the placemat and silverware.  However, at Perutti, the cubierto includes a very eclectic basket of breads and assorted sticks and little slices of a onion pizza without sauce, which is better than what you get at other places, but you make up for it with the prices at Perutti which are pretty high.  

So, as I've mentioned, my favorite dish in Buenos Aires was mashed pumpkin, so when Jose Luis told me he was lazy and that I should therefore choose where we went to eat lunch, I said I wanted to get one last fix.  

When it comes with the massive amounts of bread, Perutti is the perfect place to go because I can easily get filled up on what is actually just considered a side dish.  However, I find that when I order it the mix of my accent, my conviction that it is the only thing I want and he fact that it is considered kind of strange makes the waiter look at me with a sort of affection.  (Nada más, señorita?  Seguro?)  Also, I appreciated Jose Luis' chuckle as I excitedly ordered a plate of orange mush.  One would not think that the presentation on this pile of halloween could be beautiful, but its color is deep and its shaped into ripples.  I like to wait a minute before I interrupt its flow.  Just like with the chinese food, everyone wins.  I am seen as a kind of crazy American girl who orders something not quite considered a meal, yet considered adorable, AND I get to eat what I want.

Friday, August 1, 2008

En serio?. . .

If I would have discovered on my first day what I discovered today, I would have been a much happier, fuller and richer intern.  

A falafel sandwich here only costs $1.64.  

In the neighborhood where my boss lives, I walk weekly by the same Arab deli, peering shyly through the glass and then not going in.  Today, I had resolved to go in and eat a falafel.  When he asked me for 5 pesos, I thought my Spanish was going.  (cinco. . en serio?)  

Feeling pretty full and rich after the sandwich, I decided to treat myself to Baklava (Baclawa in Spanish).  82 cents later, I'm both satisfied and angry at myself for not going in before.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Disco GREEN card.

When you realize you are going to be living in a new strange place for a long time, or what seems like a long time, you look for ways to make your life to seem as normal as possible.  So when I got to Buenos Aires, I signed up for a gym, went to go see Indiana Jones, and got a DiscoPlus card.

So of course, especially as a vegetarian, sometimes I just want to buy Zucaritas (Frosted Flakes) and some boxed milk (leche asquerosa) that expires far later than should make you comfortable, and eat it in my room to avoid the constant meat abyss outside.  So finding a grocery store near your house is a must.  Probably the three most popular in Buenos Aires are Carrefour, I would say maybe your Sentry Foods; Disco, more like your Kopps; and Día, which is definitely on the Pick'n'Save side.  

On my keychain in Madison, I have my Kopps card, which when they swipe it usually allows me to save about $4.12, which seems muy poco in the U.S., but is 12.36 pesos here.  So when they asked me at my corner grocery store if I had a DiscoPlus card, I knew that I immediately wanted one to bring a sense of normalcy to my life.  Sort of like my Disco GREEN card.  If I flashed it, all Argentine people would immediately know that I was not a tourist, I was a spanish-speaking, law-abiding, grocery-buying foreigner.  

Now, why wouldn't I assume that it wasn't my Argentine Kopps card?  Finally after it had been swiped about 5 times, and I hadn't saved 61.80 pesos, I asked the cashier what ahm exactly did this card do? (para que sirve?)  She laughed at me and then pointed to a wall which looked like a grocery shelf with a lot of out of place items such as games, electronics, wineglasses with large numbers underneath like 1780 puntos for a razor or 410 puntos for a barbie doll.  Apparently I was accumulating points to win these fantabulous prizes.  I have about 160 puntos and I leave in about a week, with tomorrow being probably the last time I will go grocery shopping and I am quite concerned.  So many groceries and so little payoff, merely a full stomach.  But, alas, I was empty without my prizes!  

My choices right now are a 1-inch lego man that looks like a warrior or two Rayovac AA batteries.  Maybe I'll just hold onto my points and instead go for my dream prize, CRUCIGRAMA (spanish scrabble), for 680 puntos.  Only about 500 more to go; that's a lot of months of not starving. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

toFU** THAT! I'm not going in a VEGETARIAN restaurant!

I missed Tofu.  I say it in the past tense because up until a couple of hours ago I had gone over two months without it.  There is often a stigma attached to going to a vegetarian restaurant and I need to thus look for ways to disguise that the place we will eat will have a lot of options for me and not make the other person feel like their choices are being limited by my pickiness (no seas tan esquisita!).  

Having plans to eat dinner (cenar) with my boyfriend (porteño mío), Dani, tonight, and sick of him saying that there will be a lot of different pasta dishes to choose from, each slathered in olive oil and suctioned together by melted cheese (pero, amor mio, hay raviolis, canelones, tallarines o capeletis!), I decided that we were going to Chinatown.  This is actually just a 3-block section of the Belgrano neighborhood, which we walked as Dani grimaced at the notion that the food would simply not fill him up, saying that Chinese people are not 6'3'' and don't weigh 190 lbs (No me llena, se queja).  Sometimes people have the same reaction to vegetarian restaurants as they do to ethnic restaurants; it's too weird, too different, too. . not what they're used to.  After some eye-batting and caresses he reluctantly followed me into a Chinese restaurant and proceeded to tell the waiter all of his prejudices about their food.  I simply told the waiter that I wanted Tofu.  Shocked, he explained to me what Tofu was, and I patiently let him tell me it was a type of cheese, before saying that I was a vegetarian and eat it all the time in my soy-abundant Madison.  Dani, dismayed, said he wanted something swiney and the waiter kind of decided for himself what he was bringing us (no sé que pedí).

Pero, qué rico!  Oh yea, you like it?  Two giant plates of food came.  Mine, tofu and veggies in a savory sauce and Dani's, pork and veggies in a sweeter, peanuty sauce.  He was full and I was happy to not be eating a pile of unrefined carbs.  In amazement, Dani profusely thanks our waiter, saying that he is definitely going to come back.  So, the lesson:  Try to disguise restaurants with a lot of vegetarian choices, like Chinese(Belgrano) or Arab (Avenida Scalabrini Ortíz, tipo Villa Crespo y Palermo) and everyone is happy.  Meat eaters and tofu eaters sharing harmonious meals.  Now that's zen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

. . soy vegetariana. . .

It is much more difficult to be a vegetarian in Latin America than in Madison, Wisconsin, the granola capital of the world.  Not getting enough protein is not the worst part, it's often that people simply don't understand the concept:

Not all vegetarians are alike.  In fact, according to a vegan, I am a cow-abusing monster for the yogurt or the SER™ Dulce de Leche pudding that I enjoy daily.  I, personally, do not eat any flesh or fish, and don't buy eggs, but will eat things with them, and I certainly savor a good harvarti dill cheese when my parents buy my groceries.

I had a conversation with an Argentine woman who I lived with surrounding this subject and she proclaimed herself a vegetarian after confessing that I was, only to take it back when she realized that it meant she couldn't eat chicken or ham.  I told my Ecuadorian abuelita daily that I didn't eat meat, to no avail, she would put a rice, bean and minced meat mezcla in front of me, much dismayed when I would stare blankly at the bowl.  She would then hand me the salt.  The first step to surviving not eating meat in Argentina is to learn how to say all the different kinds of meat. (No como pollo, ni carne, ni pescado, ni nada que antes era parte de un animal).

Luckily in Argentina, I am surviving.  Sometimes I have to be creative even when I am succumbing to lethargy from excess carbohydrates(empanadas, medialunas, pan) or fat(milanesa de soja, queso).  My most frequently ordered "meal" is pure de calabaza (mashed pumpkin), which can be found almost anywhere.  Zapallo (to my porteño boyfriend's horror, the word in english is butternut squash, "¿por qué tan largo?" se queja), is as abundant as the mora(blackberry) in Quito.  But, it isn't anything like the tofu-soy milk-spelt noodle-world I have so blissfully enjoyed since becoming a vegetarian in 2004 in my liberal bubble.

Being a health conscious vegetarian kind of makes you seem like a snob.  But when I say that I won't eat the Skippy™ Peanut Butter on the imported shelf at the Disco supermarket because it is partially hydrogenated and therefore not worthy of my digestion, it is not an affront on anyone who likes it(like my dad).  Same with meat, just because I am going to enjoy my Morningstar™ black bean burger or falafel when I get home doesn't mean that I have a problem with someone eating a juicy, greasy cheeseburger or a freshly sliced gyro.  

It certainly is not impossible to find a good organic or vegetarian restaurant, but just like when they put the menus in English for gringo tourists, sometimes I wish they would put the menu in vegetarian for me.


Traveling Vegetarianism

North American vegetarians are really spoiled.  Being one of them, when I go to any another country, vegetarianism is simply not as accepted, not as common or not as understood as it is in the Midwest.  Thus, other countries don't necessarily have the variety or accessibility non-meat eaters have come to enjoy in the United States and especially if there is a language barrier, it can be tough to get a satisfying meal.  I am living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and have lived in or traveled to both Europe and Asia and other South American countries as a vegetarian.  The experiences have been. . .Interesting. Fun. Frustrating. Delicious. Disgusting...but Noteworthy.