How to Host a Thanksgiving Abroad Without an Oven

It might be almost halfway through December, but gosh dangit, here’s my update about our Thanksgiving in Cusco! If you remember our “Gracias Dando” celebrations from the year before, you’ll know that it was an exercise in creative cooking, limited space maneuvering and extremely imbalanced plate-to-guest ratios.

Well, our Thanksgiving in Cusco was a whole new type of holiday creativity. Here are some of the biggest differences:
Instead of a big HOUSE this year, we have a smartly decorated SHOEBOX.
Instead of a “healthy amount of plates and utensils”, we have exactly 2 of EVERYTHING.
Instead of a base-line equipped kitchen with an OVEN, we have a CAMPER STOVE.
And instead of multiple casserole dishes with which to cook those ultra-important Thanksgiving dishes…..we had NONE.
So, how does one accomplish a Thanksgiving with this foundation? Let me provide a handy guide to creating an Ex-Pat Thanksgiving with the sparsest of resources.
Step One: Meet your neighbors, who are delightful ladies working at a local non-profit. Find out they have an oven during a night sharing a bottle of wine. Also find out they have no refrigerator, a resource that we do indeed have. Propose idea for a ‘little Thanksgiving celebration’ and, in effect, an exchange of necessary resources.
The lovely Lucy showing off her beautiful oven.
Step Two: Purchase all the necessary ingredients for the 7 dishes you alone want to create. Make several desperate trips to various markets. No matter what, you won’t be able to find mushrooms, sour cream, or heavy whipping cream each time you go. Begin googling for workarounds.
Step Three: Find the turkey. The main and largest supermarket doesn’t have it, so you have to turn to the black market. Send your boyfriend at 7AM one morning to the bad side of Cusco to pick up a frozen bird from a wholesale place. Let him take it to work with him all day. He’ll name it Cloticio.
Step Four: Realize that baking must begin the night before if anything is going to be consumed the next day, since the amount of baked dishes is astronomical, and the amount of oven space and dishes is next to nothing. Bake apple pie. Don’t eat it.
Pre-apple pie.
Post-apple pie.
Step Five: Thanksgiving morning. Allow boyfriend to prep the turkey however he wants, because as an ex-vegetarian you have no idea what traditions surround the readying of the turkey. Assume he’ll do fine because he’s Argentinian and, well, meat is his specialty. Take the turkey to a “24 Hour Oven” across the street, where a comically hard-to-understand old lady tends a wood oven where she gladly receives Cloticio to cook for three hours.
Jorge and the prepped Cloticio.
Step Six: Resume baking and cooking the remaining dishes: corn casserole, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, chocolate chip cookies. As friends arrive, make everyone taste the ridiculously tasty mushroom soup. Don’t share the recipe. Move scalding hot casserole from dish into skillet so that dish can be re-used for another baking purpose.
My famous green bean casserole!
Lucy and Kate’s glazed veggies
Step Seven: Remaining visitors arrive, and they help by moving dinner table to the outside patio. Wine is opened. All of the Thanksgiving guests are first-timers (i.e. non-Americans), so the pressure is on. This shit better be good. Neighbors have also contributed delicious foods, native to their own lands. Bring food to table, which completely consumes and overflows off of the picnic table.
Step Eight: GIVE THANKS AND EAT!
Happy Ex-Pat GraciasDando Friendsgiving 2014!
Hope everyone’s Thanksgivings were a rousing success, full of family, fun and love…and that you all had slightly more casserole dishes than we did.
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The Greatest Tastes from the Smallest of Spaces

Jorge and I live in a mini-apartment.

We have a camping stove — two burners. Count ’em. Two. Plus a makeshift sink/counter area, a half-fridge (like the ones people keep in their kid’s room, or rec rooms? Yeah. That’s our tiny box of heaven), and a plank of wood they attached to the wall that can serve as a dining room table/plank, or be lowered for ‘more room’.

Proof of camper burners.

Because, you know, this is a really mini apartment.

I think that this chapter is yet another test of Jorge’s and my relationship. We went from Insta-Routine (living together two weeks into the relationship) to Long-Term Living in Valparaiso to Uprooting Everything to Backpacking Together (almost 2.5 months on the road) to Settling in a New City. All the most infamous stressors to a relationship (difficulties of routine; moving to a new city; traveling together; language barriers) we have faced.

Yet somehow, we seek more stressors. In the settling process, we have approximately 5 square feet to ourselves should we choose not to live inside the butt of the other.

God forbid we get into a fight, because the hanging crinkle door doesn’t slam well. Plus, our neighbors will hear everything and that’s embarrassing.

All that aside, we’ve been managing well. It makes me think of those Eco-Friendly Houses, where people essentially move into a shoebox to save energy and reduce the amount of crap they own. We’re just doing it in Lima. I mean, hey, there’s energy-saving lightbulbs here. Sorta counts.

Despite the lack of space and proper kitchen, Jorge and I have been conjuring some really freaking tasty meals. I’m talking, tastier than anything we’ve ever produced before.

Our stir-frys? Legendary. His torrejas de acelga (chard patties)? Insanely good, and vaguely gourmet. All the Argentinian soups, stews and more that we’ve thrown together on a budget and with, need I remind you, only two burners? FANTASTIC.

Jorge’s basil-chard patties–a gourmet touch that 
created a flavor I literally couldn’t stop eating.

I don’t know what it is — maybe the ingredients are tastier here. Or maybe our tight quarters are squeezing something new out of our concoctions. Maybe Jorge’s been unemployed for so long that he has turned to culinary innovation as a way to pass the time. Who knows.

Jorge’s chicken-beef-black bean taco mixture was a big hit for our Taco Night.
Please take note of the Plank O’Wood Dining Room Table/Countertop.


Has anyone else noticed the common thread here? It’s mostly Jorge’s culinary prowess that’s taken a flying leap. Let’s be real, he’s been doing all the cooking! Seriously, what a great stay-at-home Dad he’d be. *strokes chin* Hmmm…

Aside from the tasty adventures we’ve had in our Two Cubic Feet of Kitchen, Jorge has spent some time innovating household items from trash. We’re big up-cyclers (well, okay, JORGE is, I lack the creativity to do this), and he’s come up with some ingenious solutions to the lack of certain items in the shoebox…I mean…mini.

This old water bottle serves as a silverware storage space after washing.

This is a dustpan made from a wine bottle and cardboard.
It works like a charm!

Sometimes, temporary living situations can bring out the best — and most creative — in a person. 
Not all people, though, because let’s be real, I’ve been mostly reveling in his great ideas, eating his awesome food, and catching up on all the work I missed from almost 3 months on the road!
Bottom line is, folks: you don’t need a lot of space to have a home. We miss our place in Valpo, deeply and severely — but we’ve settled in just fine to our new 2 Cubic Feet of Kitchen, and it’ll do until we hit the next mark on the map.

Stop One in Mendoza…and Chilean Cuisine Comments

This is my third visit to Mendoza and the third time I haven’t gone to a bodega.

This is unacceptable for a variety of reasons. First of all, Mendoza isn’t just wine country, it’s MALBEC WINE COUNTRY. For anyone with a set of tastebuds and eyeballs, you’ll know that Malbec is lovely and that I prefer drinking this over almost anything else in the world. Furthermore, I’ve had three chances to get my ass to a vineyard and spend my day lazily tasting wines and gazing out over the grapes. Have I done this? No. Why not? I have no idea. Maybe next time.

This visit to Mendoza has been very pleasing and lovely for other reasons. We’re going to be here about a week in total and in this week I have tried more typical Argentine dishes than Chilean dishes in my whole year and a half in Chile.

Seriously.

Some of you may already know my thoughts on Chilean cuisine (see tag: Hey Chile, you could use a little more salt), but this isn’t just a personal palatte issue, or even a personal vendetta. It’s a fact: Chilean Cuisine is notably sparse.

Typical Chilean dishes are as follows: Completos (Hot dogs piled with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomato in what resembles a veritable condiment boat), Curanto (a big stew of meat, chicken, and seafood), Chorillana (French Fries, fried egg, hot dog, and caramelized onions, all mixed together. Great hangover food. Also great heart attack food), Empanadas (think of an overgrown hot pocket from scratch, with a variety of vegetable/meat/seafood and cheese fillings).

This is Chorillana. No joke, it’s the bomb.

Also: seafood in general, because of the access to the sea.

That constitutes la cocina chilena.  And it took me the full year and a half and plenty of interrogation to get the real scoop on Chilean cuisine. It’s just…not their strong suit.

But here in Argentina?

I get to Argentina and take a bite of bread and there is a shuddering wave of contentment.  I think to myself, “Yes. This is what BREAD tastes like!” And the butter is tastier. And the asados….don’t get me started.

In this one week in Mendoza I’ve had two traditionally Argentinian homemade dishes.

The first one was pastel de papa (potato pie). Our friends Sergio and Sandra made this dish with Sandra’s 1st-generation Italian immigrant grandmother, and watching the process alone convinced me that this was already my favorite dish without even having tried it.

Pastel de papa…POTATO PIE. This is my personal portion, right?!

Thin layer of flimsy dough. Slather on a nice layer of mashed potatoes, add a layer of “picadillo”, which is essentially ground beef and onions and picante and tomato mixed together. Then a layer of cheese; another layer of mashed potatoes; and then final layer of thin flimsy dough. The dough is pinched shut at the perimeter, coated with a whisked egg glaze, and then it bakes for 30 minutes.

And then you put it in your mouth and the heavens open and angels shriek and things rain from the sky.

The next dish I had the extreme pleasure of trying for the first time this visit was locro de choclo. Hell if I know what this means in English, except that choclo means corn, and this was certainly a corn-based dish.

I was able to witness some of the cooking process and it seemed that corn boiled for three hours and then suddenly onions were cooking and it was ready. I think I missed part of this process.

Whatever you are, I want more of you.

At any rate, what ends up in front of your face at the lunch table is a steaming bowl of (let’s say) corn soup, with a nice variety of condiments, a dollop of homemade tomato sauce with caramelized onions, and a couple variety of squash or potatoes mixed in. Two or three cubes of a creamy cheese are added, you wait until it no longer scorches the top layer of skin from inside your mouth, and then you shovel that down your throat.

Sopped up at the end, of course, with homemade Argentinian bread.

*kicks leg in the air* YES!

The first time I came to Argentina, I was able to have a few first-timers then: if we’ll recall Jorge’s family greeting us with lamb, and then the crowd favorite milanesa, breaded meat fried to perfection. To be fair, milanesa exists in all countries to some degree (except in Chile). In Mexico, my mama used to make this for me almost on the daily, with a nice side of mashed potatoes. In the USA, it’s consumed under the name country fried steak, also with mashed potatoes.

I don’t know what it is about Chilean food. There are, of course, extremely tasty options available, but mostly in fine ass restaurants with a strong outside influence (as in, the owner studied cooking in France). Desserts in Chile were always pretty disappointing, as well. I don’t know what the problem is. Lack of sweet? Lack of salt? Or lack of full-bodied flavor in general in the ingredients?

We can probably boil the debate down to this: when I first got to Chile, it took me approximately one year to come to terms with the fact that the butter sucked.

I’m talking like, the regular supermarket nice brand. Not the cheap crappy supermarket brand.

After a year there, I found the artesenal butter, made in the countryside of Patagonia, and yeah, that butter was great, and distinct.

But there is something lacking in the majority of Chilean food. It has to go back to what the animals are eating, and any Argentinian will regale you for hours about the superior feeding process of their cows and pigs that allow that award-winning reputation to flourish. Chile doesn’t have bad meat by any means, but there is something under the surface that is missing, and I can’t put my finger on it.

Here is an Argentinian carrying a pile of Argentinian meat. The debate rages over which country does it better.

If it doesn’t come from Patagonia/the general south, if it hasn’t had exposure to outside influences, or if you don’t make it yourself…it’s probably going to be bland.

I’m sorry, Chile. I love you, we’ve had great times.

But you could use a little more damn salt.

Sharing Forks and Sitting on the Floor: Thanksgiving in A Vagabond House

I live in what I affectionately term a “Vagabond House”.

This is a house which is rented for 3 months or more (sometimes up to a year) by bonafide transients, typically (and in my case) foreigners without legal residency in the host country and with plans to move forward to some destination once said lease is up.

Due to the nature of the “vagabond house”, it doesn’t make sense to invest in too much furniture, because we’ll just have to sell it. We have a stove, a washer, a fridge, mattresses, and some left over surfaces from whoever lived here before. Also, we bought one couch and 12 plastic chairs.

Everything else we have in here was constructed by us (i.e. Jorge, or Martin and Amanda….okay, mostly just not me) from dumpster diving acquisitions: a side table which Jorge nailed together from disparate found pieces, which he and I then lovingly painted wild colors; multiple crates that now hold tomato, chard and kale plants; decorative items such as the rusty children’s bike that hangs suspended from our ceiling, etc.

While the Vagabond House doesn’t have everything in a material sense, it has everything we need. (Well, a real French Press might be nice, but…hey. Vagabonds can’t be choosers.)

But the key word there is “we”; the 5 of us that live in this house.

The Vagabond House doesn’t have everything to accommodate the oh, let’s say, 15 guests who are planning on showing up at your door for an Ex-Patriot Orphan Friendsgiving.

When my friend Peter and I were talking about Thanksgiving plans back in early November, it was a natural decision – yes, the feast must be here!  We have a very large house with an established reputation for fun times and hosting. Despite the lack of accoutrements for said wildly-large-Thanksgiving-feast, I told myself, “Hey. It’ll be fine. It’ll work out somehow.”

It was around one day before Thanksgiving that I realized that it might not actually work out. My guest list was 20+ people, with an established rule that “any American who doesn’t have a place to spend the holiday is welcome to come”, which meant that the 20+ people could swell considerably, depending on how many adrift Americans were found.

Aside from the 20+ guests, I realized something else: only 5 of us live in the house. Which means we bought/inherited our dinnerware based on this number. We have 4 coffee mugs, 9 regular glasses, and 2 wine glasses. There were less than 10 each of forks, spoons and knives; two pots for boiling water; one large casserole dish type thing that wasn’t a casserole dish but could be used as one; and one large bowl for mixing and serving purposes. Furthermore, we have 8 large dinner plates, 6 bowls, and one tiny plate that isn’t good for anything except, well, a pat of butter.

The math in my head went something like this: 6 + 5 + 9! / 17 – 4(x) + 33 =…..DRASTIC SHORTAGE.

The solution? Strongly urge people to bring their own cups. And silverware. And go buy a couple more casserole dishes.

I did these things, and on the morning of our Thanksgiving, we started baking and preparing extra early in preparation for the hassles of transferring dishes into holding bays while certain things were used and then unoccupied and then eventually re-transferred and…phew.

But I didn’t mention the best part—the Chilean stoves. Instead of clearly-defined temperature marks and an ability to know the difference between broil and bake, the Chilean Gas Oven features an infuriating knob with no lines, no numbers, and no indicator as to whether or not you are scorching the crap out of your casserole or just lightly heating it for 12 hours. “Turning it on” requires a terrifying 10 seconds of sticking open flame into two inconveniently placed holes where, once it lights, sometimes you can smell your eyebrows burning.

But you know what? Despite the shortage of items, implements and objects typically associated with Thanksgiving-Without-A-Hitch, despite not having an electric stove or any idea if I was baking at 245 degrees or 750 degrees….it worked out perfectly.

I made a literal vat of homemade mashed potatoes, the Bradford-Famous Corn Crop, AND vegan stuffing. Not to mention Amanda put TWO turkeys into the Chilean Thinly-Veiled-Inferno Oven, and neither were scorched, singed, or lightly caressed by heat for half a day.

Corn Crap Close-Up

It was a wholly successful Ex-Patriot Thanksgiving: made somewhat easier by the fact that the final count came to 17.

My general premise was as follows: any attending American should bring a homemade and/or beloved home dish, and all non –Americans bring something for drinking purposes. This way, we maintain the “typical food” of the holiday while nobody breaks the bank on supplying beverages for so many people. In addition to what Amanda and I created, we also were treated to the following dishes: a basic salad, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, apple crisp, bread pudding, cheesecake, home made bread, and pumpkin pie with cream. Oh – and a crap ton of wine.

Not too shabby, right?

I don’t know if I would have ever agreed to host even 17 people in the USA prior to moving abroad, much less the original estimate of over 20. I think I might have been too overwhelmed by a perceived “lack” of things for such a big number.

But this year, as I saw the number of guests climb and the number of dinner plates remain resolutely at 8, what became very clear to me was the following idea, which has permeated my life abroad as I follow the regular rhythms of life under very different circumstances:  if I have something to share and you have something to share, we can make something work. Thanksgiving 2013 proved to me just how far you can go with far less than what you’re accustomed to.

Sure, most of my guests were sitting on the floor (re: vagabond housing), leaning against the wall, or otherwise disobeying every rule your grandmother ever set forth for proper dinner etiquette on a holiday. I mean, for god’s sake, there was no autumn leaf-themed napkins!

But we were happy as hell. Delicious food, excellent company, and just enough spoons to go around.

Digging in!

Me and Chelsea went first — no need to delay, we Americans know what to get extras on first.

Happy International Orphan Friendsgiving!

And like every Thanksgiving in the States…there’s always leftovers, no matter how much you stress about feeding everyone. We had enough turkey and potatoes left over to have a Thanksgiving on the Ocean the next day!!

Thanks for a great GraciasDando, Valpo!

Ex-Patriot Living Standards Revised (And, Shannon Admits She’s Not A Technical Vegetarian)

Hummus isn’t often used as an indicator for anything except the presence of Mediterranean cuisine or as a radar for locating nearby vegetarians. I maintain that hummus has another conceptual use beyond this, one that satisfies and delights as much as the feel of it slathered across a pita or dripping off your tiny carrot stick.

Given my pseudo-vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, (the technical ratio is as follows: 90% vegetarian, 80% vegan, a “strike-my-fancy” fish-and-meat-eater, a guilty consumer of beef stroganoff and/or bacon once a year), traveling through and living in as many countries as I have presents its own set of culinary experiments and experiences. We humans love to try to stuff ourselves into neat little boxes, right? “Oh, you must be a vegetarian. You look like one. So you’ve never eaten a hamburger?”

Come on. We’re far too complex, contradictory and whimsical for that sort of stuff. And in case you were wondering, reader, here’s my “neat little box”: I am a Tendency Vegetarian. I consume meat when in Mexican restaurants or when experiencing new meat-centric cultures, but when left to my own devices, when following my tendencies, I do not eat animals that much. So, really, not a vegetarian at all. But go ahead and call me one if you feel like you need to.

That said, being back in the United States has been a delightful journey through All The Vegetarian Options. There’s a billion kinds of hummus at Kroger and more meat-alternatives than you can shake a stone ground whole-wheat slice of bread at. Get to a bigger city and the options multiply uncontrollably, like roots on a spud in the windowsill– there’s things I haven’t even heard of, but I’ll try it. I swear to god I will.

Which is why I propose a new international standard, one that can be used by vegetarians, vegans, and pseudo-whatevers across the board to analyze their new international abode. One that is far more effective at analyzing general socio-economic levels, a standard that far exceeds things like “GDP”, “low crime levels” or “varied cultural opportunities” as attractive elements for a vagabond.

Hummus must be used as an indicator of ex-patriot livability.

Dat’s some sexy hummus.

As in, is it available? How many flavors are there? What packaging does it come in? Does it taste like hummus? Has it been home made? Is it available in more than one store?  Are other people eating it? Do other people know what it is? Is anyone around you aware of where it came from? Do the people in your immediate vicinity know that a chickpea is the same thing as a garbanzo bean? Will you tell them if they don’t? Will anyone else try the hummus? Here, do you want to try it?

My recent trip back to the United States has shown me that the accessibility of hummus in my day-to-day life has, indeed, heightened my overall quality of life. (Some scientists believe that readily available hummus – a variety of brands, flavors and more – actually increases life contentment by a whopping 33%***.)

It facilitates my snacking, it ensures I avoid other less savory snacks, it nourishes me, it pleases me, it understands me. So why isn’t it more available across the globe?

On a scale from one to hummus, America scores Full Throttle. Sure, there are probably super rural areas where hummus is treated like a foreign disease instead of the savory gift from heaven that it is, but I wouldn’t live in those places and therefore don’t include them. Even in my small city (30,000 people-ish) the options range from original to smoked to pine nut to burn-my-buds-off-spicy. Good god!

On a scale from one to hummus, Chile scores a Meager Climber. I found one hummus option in the small city of Puerto Varas, almost to Patagonia in southern Chile, and that was only because an ex-pat and his Chilean wife had set up the first-ever vegan store in the region. They made their own and froze it. It was good, but not mind-blowing. But yet, it was hummus.

In Valparaiso, I live around the corner from a Middle-eastern restaurant that offers hummus as a topping option. Score! However, the big box stores don’t have hummus, and most other hummus availability occurs on the streets or from the alternative places. Therefore, it is an underground condiment, and constitutes an important part in the thriving counter-culture. Hummus is not only there, but helps me feel like I’m part of the change.

I imagine future ex-pats having the following conversation:

Ex-Pat Patrick: Hey, man, so what’s up with [insert country]? Do you like it?

Ex-Pat Patricia:Yeah, it’s great! I’ve been having a blast, there’s so many beaches and the buses cost like four cents. Also, plenty of toilet paper in public restrooms.

Ex-Pat Patrick: That sounds great, but, I guess what I really need to know is….what’s the hummus level?

Ex-Pat Patty: [heavy pause] There’s a low hummus score. I haven’t even seen it in the capital.

LOOKS LIKE IT’S TIME FOR EX-PAT PATRICK TO RECONSIDER HIS TRAVEL PLANS TO [insert country here]!!

Chile is a livable country by my new standard. Ex-pats, please use this information to your advantage, and propagate the use of hummus as an indicator of ex-patriot livability. Your vegetarian ex-pat country mates will thank you.

(Please have a list of hummus pick-up locations ready for them upon their arrival.)

***this figure is entirely fabricated for purposes of this article.

The Art of the Asado

Asados (BBQ’s) are a big deal in Chile. On any given day there is sure to be at least one asado going on somewhere, within some circle of friends. I resisted them at first – being a definitive “not meat eater”, I felt the asado to be useful only as far as a social gathering tactic. When I first got here I shirked the call to the asado – I was busy establishing my routine here, testing the waters as a bonafide self-employed entrepreneur of sorts, but furthermore, I couldn’t stand the thought of standing around with a bunch of people celebrating and reveling in the slow-cooked flesh of animals.

But as time wore on, and countless invites to asados had come and gone, I decided to go to one. It’s a cultural thing, I told myself. If you don’t go to one, it’s as bad as not trying the coshari in Egypt, or the pupusas in El Salvador. I just needed to go to one to try it, to say I did it, and to participate in one of the few scraps of “true Chilean culture” in these parts. As I look back on it, I was probably more afraid of the potential of the asado ending up an addiction as both coshari and pupusas have since become, but the moral conundrum still weighed heavily on me. I just don’t like to eat a lot of meat (excluding seafood), and I certainly never purchase or prepare it myself. However, when I’m around it, I’ll try it. And if it’s good, I’ll eat a lot of it.

And here we see the inherent Conflict of the Asado: these Chileans really, really, really know how to cook meat. I am by no means a well-educated consumer of meat products, but holy crap hell god pants, this meat is GOOD. I am a believer of the idea that Chilean food is mostly tasteless, bland, and otherwise uninspired – but this belief does not extend to the food at an asado. Chileans cook exclusively with carbon – charcoal – and the art of the asado is as much a social gathering as  a richly delicious food journey.

Asado in the sun.

It took us awhile to acclimate to the pace and procedure of the asado. There were several important cultural differences, which I will explain below:

1. The Asado Never Starts On Time. If the asado is pegged to begin at 8pm, plan to eat around 11pm. Chilean time is much the same as time anywhere else in Latin America: severely lax, and more of a suggestion than any sort of binding commitment.

2. The Food Preparation is as Important as the Consumption. I got in trouble once with one of my Chilean friends when he told me to be at the asado by 7:30pm and I asked, “Well, is that when we’re eating?” The process of preparing the grill, cutting the meat, arranging the kebabs (if there are any) and engaging in all of the social activities around this process is as important as eventually eating the food. My American friends and I all shared this same outlook: in America, you show up when the food is ready, not hours before you eat. I suppose the act of cooking and preparing the meal is regarded far differently down here, and I can’t say I haven’t come to appreciate and perhaps prefer this approach. Preparing a meal to be enjoyed by your family tends to be a solitary and laborious process in the States – why is that? Think of Thanksgiving, or July 4th, or any birthday gathering you’ve had recently, and how was it prepared? Most likely by one or two people laboring quietly for hours before the event begins, where the start time of the party signals the beginning of the eating. We’ve since learned down here that you never go to an asado hungry, because you will be starving for hours sometimes, waiting for the first slab of meat to be ready.

3. Plates are Not Necessary. One of the other big differences between Chilean and American BBQ’s is the fact that the meat is consumed literally fresh off the grill, piece by piece. Once one steak or lomo is ready, it gets sliced up and everyone grabs a piece with their fingers. No utensils necessary. And then when the next piece is ready, the same thing happens. The eating takes place around the parilla, or grill; in fact, this was another hard lesson we had to learn. Luckily, one of our culturally-aware Chilean friends Ignacio was sensitive to this difference of eating behavior and brought pieces of meat to us when it became apparent that we Americans were waiting for some sort of procession to a dinner table or clearly-defined “Eating Time” during our first asado.

Because we are now medio-chileno (half-Chilean), we held an asado for Amanda’s 24th birthday this weekend. By this point, we’re all pretty skilled in the preparation for and execution of a Chilean asado, so it went off without a hitch. There was plenty of filete, lomo, salmon and papas (potatoes – not fathers) to go around.

Some friends on the terraza,
while we prepared the parilla and food.

It was a beautiful day for a birthday asado.
Happy birthday, Amanda!

And then afterward, per the tradition 
of all males in every part of the world,
we watched sports. Soccer, in this case.
The viewership was just as raucous and noisy
as if we were watching a Browns game back home.

I can say without hesitation that I am now a firm and perhaps lifelong fan of the asado. This is something of an embarrassing confession, especially given the fact that I’ve spent so many years eating little to zero meat. But at the end of it all, I regard my participation in the asado de carne (meat BBQ) as a cultural journey – I will enjoy it while I’m around it, though I do not plan to continue the frequent and all-too-delicious meat consumption permanently. The art of the asado, however, will stay with me. Friends and family back home: get the charcoal ready, because when I get back you can bet on frequent vegetarian asados, complete with group preparation, unclear start times and a whole lot of fun in the sun. 

The Universe Provides

Things have been unfolding in a strangely poetic and very satisfying way.

As I’ve said before, we’ve all been on various job hunts. Last week, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed, in a positive way, because I was actually experiencing an overabundance of opportunities. I don’t need the money necessarily, but I had felt the urge to find *something*, just for the added stability. It was a source of conflict for me as I was presented with opportunity after opportunity and forced to really assess what my priorities are here and what, exactly, I want to do with my life and time and energy.

First, a Chinese restaurant here wanted me 6 days a week, 8 hours per day. Minimum wage, splitting the tips between all the servers and the kitchen. I said no; no question. I actually didn’t even interview with them, I went with Amanda, who was looking into the job, and interpreted for her since the manager spoke no English. Taking a job like that would deplete both my time and my energy.

Then came another restaurant gig, someone looking for bilingual servers. Again, no thank you.

Next, I found an opportunity for “sporadic office work”; I met the owner, he wanted someone 2 or 3 days per week, 8 hours each day, to help run his kayak business. This one I really had to think about. It seemed like a good idea – “just what I was looking for”, as I’d said. I thought of how it might fit into my life, my schedule, my priorities, and I eventually turned that down as well. I tend to give 110% of my time and energy to a given project, and he wanted someone for the entire season. As I thought more about it, I realized that that type of commitment, even though it was just part-time, was too much. Between my existing jobs, and my existing dedication to writing in every moment available, I don’t have the time or energy to learn the world of kayaking, rafting and mountain climbing. Plus, all of those things scare me. (Running a yoga studio? Part-time receptionist for an organic farm? Maybe those things. But not activities that actively involve facing death in the wild yond. I still don’t know how to light a fire by myself. This girl scout would be the first to die.)

After that decision, I realized that I needed to find an office space. Less than 24 hours after sending a message to the community about my search for borrowed office space so that I could focus on writing, an opportunity arrived. A young guy with a family-owned rental car business has a small office that he only uses part-time. I met with him and said, Hey. I want to use your space, I don’t want to pay anything, how about I give you my sporadic services however you need me so that I can use your office the rest of the time to be an ex-pat writer? He said yes. It’s a small affair, operated entirely by him and his wife, and he essentially wants me to just be there, in the office, to receive people that stop by, maybe answer the phone, and interpret for the English-speaking clients. SCORE.

So my new colleague/barter buddy has also passed my name along to other people in his area of work. Yesterday I received a call from a man named Marcelo who operates private tours in conjunction with the hotels around here. He had two Americans arriving today who wanted an English-speaking guide to accompany them on their three-day stay. He asked if I would be interested in going along with them on their various tours throughout their stay – full compensation of course, not to mention the free entrance, free meals and swanky private ride to all these destinations. I said, Hell yes, Marcelo!

Today began that adventure. I went to the airport with Marcelo, I held up a sign with a last name written in bold ink, loving the the fact that this was something my family and I do for shits and giggles when we greet each other places, and waited for the Americans to arrive. They showed up, an older ex-pat couple who has been living in Chile for a couple years, doing big farm business up north, but only know basic conversational Spanish after all this time. I got paid to hang with them all day and just look at stuff. And eat clams at the seafood restaurant. And interpret occasionally when Marcelo spoke too fast for the American guy to understand. What I’ll make from these three days will pay a month’s rent. And they might add a fourth day of touring that I’ll be compensated for as well.

Overlooking Puerto Montt, the big city nearby.

Not too shabby.

Leslie has helped me realize that what I am looking for in this phase is projects. I don’t want a long-term commitment, I don’t want to sign a contract, I don’t want to be expected someplace each day at a certain hour. I want a project – a three day companion tour, a random encounter with some English-speaking clients at the airport, last-minute assistance with a catering event, things like that. Just call me Project-Based Bradford. She who drifts between opportunities and one-time events.

Around the time that all these opportunities have been arising for me, the girls have also snagged their own gigs. Amanda is now working part-time at a cool bar downtown that often has live music and is part of the circuit here in town. Leslie took a job as the live-in manager of a bed and breakfast in Puerto Varas. We said goodbye to her at the house with the abuelita, but Amanda and I have “moved in with her” in a sense; the owner knows that we will be in and out constantly and we are, in essence, “lightly co-habitating”. (Blogger says co-habitating isn’t a word but I beg to differ.)

Amanda at work with her new boss, Keko!

It is strange and surprising and exciting to reflect upon the ways in which we have manifested, or discovered, these opportunities that fit us all so well. But at the same time, it is not strange or surprising at all – this is how life tends to unfold. I am so grateful for these new opportunities, for these new ways of flexing creative muscles and using skills and exploring facets of life that were previously unknowable to me. I gave thanks for this yesterday, as well as for all of the people in my life who support me.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it sure was a micro-American Feast up in Puerto Varas yesterday! I started cooking around noon and by 4pm we had a Starch Explosion – I made the Bradford-famous corn crap (corn casserole), Vegan Stuffing and Shannon’s Mashed Taters. All from scratch, without ANY measuring instruments, AND with only a general idea of what ingredients I was using really were (man, the language barrier sucks when it comes to specific baking ingredients). I sauteed some asparagus to add a little greenery to the landscape, and we topped it off with some German desserts purchased from a bakery downtown.

Despite my concerns and general dismay regarding the consistency of the corn casserole prior to putting it in the oven, everything came out BANGIN’ and FRICKIN AMAZING. It smelled like Thanksgiving in that house all day, and that was maybe the best part of the experience. Also, being able to share this holiday with these girls, in a foreign country, giving thanks and celebrating a facet of our culture that nobody knew was occurring that day (we shouted “HAPPY THANKSGIVING” to every Chilean we could find and the amount of blank stares was, well, comical at best) was pretty fun as well.

I think Chileans have their own version of Thanksgiving, obviously with different historical details (unless, I don’t know, maybe John Smith made his way down here too? Maybe for a winter vacation once?), but it definitely wasn’t yesterday. We left the house later in the day, once our bellies and intestines had been thoroughly assaulted per American Tradition, and were surprised to find everything open and bustling with people. Oh yeah, it’s only Thanksgiving in America.

Also, I didn’t have to suffer through/be tempted with Black Friday Bullcrap, so that was another really nice part of this year’s Thanksgiving.

Vegan Stuffing!! 
Featuring freshly picked herbs from Luz’s garden.

Thank you again to Life, family & friends: for the bountiful amount of love, sharing, reciprocity, mutual understanding, support, creativity, fun, laughter, words, closeness, positive energy, wholehearted Being and more. La vida es buena!

The Food is Bland

The title says it all, folks.

The food here is bland.

Maybe it’s the city I’m in. Maybe it’s a “Chilean thing”. Or maybe I’m just an over-salted, over-spiced American used to an assortment of cuisine from all corners of the globe, whether it’s in the aisles of the grocery store or from a variety of worldly restaurants.

But I have purchased far too many sandwiches and soups that left me thinking, “Wow, I could have done that better.”

Sandwiches are big here. Every restaurant, every menu features a variety of sandwiches. But they are mostly beef hamburgers or chicken, and not actually a variety at all. The differences tend to range from “Chicken on bread” to “Chicken on bread with avocado” to “Chicken on bread with avocado and tomato”.

I’m not kidding.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t had tasty things here; it’s just that it’s all dessert items. The brownies are to die for; tres leches cake is plentiful.

But that asparagus soup I had the other night? Yeah, mine is like two thousand times better. I salted the shit out of it, just for a semblance of flavor, and I never “salt things”.

I’m not sure what the local cuisine is yet. People eat a lot of meat, and maybe that’s just it. Grilling meat is the thing, and I’m not a meat eater. I eat it occasionally, whether out of pursuit of “trying new menu items” or because there’s no vegetarian-friendly option.

I was also shocked to learn that tortillas are not common here. The only ones I can find are in the “Mexico” section at the local Wal-Mart-esque store “Lider”, and they are flour tortillas and so crappy and not-food-like that I refuse to buy them ever again.

I guess the moral of the story is, I’m not in Mexico or Guatemala, and Central America is Central America and Chile is Chile. There are no corn tortillas here, no gordita stands lining the streets, and try as I might, I just cannot find a spice similar to the picante that I so love in Mexico.

I miss Mexican food. Even Luz commented the other day that what I cook tends to be very “mexicano”. Yeah, seriously. I’m going to buy corn flour soon so I can make my own corn tortillas. It’s come to that.

Luckily, I cook the majority of what goes in my mouth so I’m not suffering a lack of food or flavor. The local regular menus just leave a little to be desired…

Except the brownies. Those are perfectly fine.