Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers -> Cranberry Strudel

We didn't have that many leftovers from our Thanksgiving feast, so it isn't like I'd been agonizing over what to do with all of that cranberry pear sauce. But Saturday morning, I woke up inspired. In my half-wakeful state, an image of some phyllo dough we've had sitting in the freezer came unbidden to my mind. And with it, a resolution: "Today I will make cranberry strudel."

Ingredients for a cranberry strudel.
I sweetened the cranberry sauce with a little bit of honey (I know, I'm a bad vegan), and one of the strudels got some walnuts added. That one ended up tasting better, but my daughter doesn't like nuts, so I wanted to make one without.
About an hour later
The truth is, the idea was better than the outcome. I've never made a pastry of any kind before, so I'm not being too hard on myself. But there were a few issues (aside from the fact that the strudel split its side open in the oven).

  • I'm not sure if butter would have behaved differently than the Earth Balance spread, but that's largely an academic question, since I will not eat butter.

    • There was something missing. My taste buds say that it may be salt. Whatever was lacking, it's more pronounced in the pastry without walnuts.
    • The sauce soaked into the phyllo too much, I think. The layers in the lower half of the strudel are indistinguishable - it's just cranberry-soaked dough.

    Still, they turned out edible, and it was a good idea and a good experiment. If anyone has any tips for how to do better next time, I'd be happy to hear them.

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    Argentine Adventure, Part 4: Things to Do and See

    I don't know why, but this post has been sitting in draft state for a really long time. I guess I feel like I'm leaving something out, but if I don't post it now, I probably never will.

    This is the last post in the Argentine Adventure series, and it's about having fun instead of logistics and places to sleep. Both Buenos Aires and Rosario provided plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy the culture we were there to experience.


    As previously mentioned, Rosario is a city which has played a major role in Argentine history. There is a huge monument down by the river commemorating the first raising of the Argentine flag. I passed by it a number of times, but C. and the kids got to give it a better look while I was at work.

    Monumento a la Bandera, Rosario

    M. and F. near Monumento a la Bandera

    M. and F. near Monumento a la Bandera

    Rosario also has lots of parks and plazas. The largest is the Parque de la Independencia. Though it was right across the street from where I was working, I only saw it from a distance. Again, my family explored it more thoroughly.

    Much of my sight-seeing in Rosario was done while running in the mornings, or while walking to and from the office.
    Taken while running down by the river.
    We had dinner at a restaurant by the river one night with my coworkers. We discovered that one of these old warehouses was full of ramps and so forth for BMX bicycles. We stopped and watched the guys in there jumping and doing tricks.

    My daily walking commute took me down Boulevard Nicasio Oroño.
    Buenos Aires

    Buenos Aires is a very big city with lots of cultural attractions. Just hanging out in Puerto Madero can prove to be pretty entertaining. On Sunday morning I got up to go for a run and came across an area being set up for a running event. I later discovered that one of the women at the office was there, and it was a charity run benefiting some kind of women's health cause. Later that morning, when we were heading out on the town, the Prefectura Naval were having a ceremony right in front of the hotel which included a parade of their marching band.

    Parque Mujeres Argentinas, near our hotel in Buenos Aires had the biggest aloe vera plants I've ever seen.

    M. and some really big Aloe plants.
    On Sundays there is a huge street market in the San Telmo district. There are all kinds of vendors selling souvenirs, food, clothes, and just about everything else. We saw a few classical guitarists performing, and at one of the booths selling musical instruments, a spontaneous jam session broke out with drums, flutes, and shakers. It was awesome.

    At the street market in San Telmo
    Along Av. Paseo Colón
    The day we left, I was working the first part of the day. While I was at the office, my wife and kids explored La Recoleta Cemetery - very apropos, considering it was Halloween.
    La Recoleta Cemetery

    La Recoleta Cemetery
    Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), a modern art museum, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. We met up there after I got done working. My daughter was especially taken with some of the optical art pieces.

    MALBA was our last stop before heading to the airport. I was excited to be going home, but at the same time, I was a little sad that we couldn't stay a bit longer and see more of that wonderful city.

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    A Beautiful Thanksgiving

    There are many things I am thankful for, not the least of which is that I live in a state where we can have the most beautiful weather in the middle of November. On this Thanksgiving day, when Americans take some time to spend with family and reflect on those things for which we are most fortunate, the only thing I could wish for was that more of my family could be present.

    I had looked forward to getting some extra sleep, but that was not to be. I got paged around 5:00 this morning for work, and while it wasn't anything that required immediate action, I couldn't get back to sleep. So instead I sat enjoying some quiet time before the rest of the family woke up.

    Then, I cranked up the blender and made a terrible racket, preparing the desert for what turned out to be a marvelous Thanksgiving feast.
    A feast for four

    The menu included

    The kids also had some ham, but aside from that, the whole meal was vegan. And with the exception of the pie crust, it was pretty healthy, as far as feasts go.

    We washed that down with a bottle of Malbec from Nieto Senetiner given to us by my colleagues in Argentina, and some sparkling peach juice for the kids. I know that a white wine would have been better paired with the food, but drinking a gift wine seemed appropriate for the occasion.

    Vegan Roast with pumpkin, mushroom, and zucchini

    My beautiful family

    Pumpkin Pie!
    During my quiet time this morning, I read a blog post from Seth Godin which I thought was absolutely lovely. I wish I could copy it here, but I wouldn't feel right about doing that without permission. It's worth the two minutes of time to read.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Office pudding

    For some reason I've been really lazy about finishing up the Argentina series. I guess I've been letting too many other things take up my time. There is more of that to come, I promise. But not right now.

    I want to share a pudding recipe that I've been making at the office. Well, "recipe" might be a little grandiose a term for it. But it tastes really good and is pretty healthy. Mind you, I work in an office with a well stocked micro-kitchen, and I also keep a few special ingredients in my desk drawer. And if you think I'm talking about booze, you're wrong. That stays on top of the desk. In the drawer, however, I keep a box of Roastaroma tea, bottles of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, stevia extract, blackstrap molasses, and a can of vanilla Biochem Vegan Protein powder.

    Coupling some of these things with foods that are available around the office, I'm able to make a decent "banana pudding." Here are the ingredients:

    • 1 banana, well ripened
    • 1/2 cup soy milk (at home I use almond milk), sweetened
    • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
    • 2 tablespoons of something crunchy. Usually a blend of seeds & nuts, but sometimes granola or some other kind of cereal.
    • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
    • a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon
    Only the first three ingredients are really necessary. Everything else is optional, though I really recommend not compromising on the crunchy part. Molasses can be an acquired taste, and it doesn't do much for the pudding's appearance, but I love the flavor as well as the extra minerals it provides.

    All you have to do is mix all the stuff together in a bowl and eat it, but that doesn't make for very interesting blogging. So I'll share the one small innovation I have to bring to the table, as it were.

    Our micro-kitchen has these flimsy disposable forks that aren't very good at mashing up bananas. So here's the secret that took me months to discover: you can mash the banana by hand while it's still in the peel. You'll want to do this quite gently so as not to break the skin open prematurely. Work the banana radially rather than length-wise until it's good and mushy. Then you can either peel it as usual, or just break the stem end open and squeeze it like a pastry bag.

    So there it is: office-expedient banana pudding. Simple, delicious, healthy.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Argentine Adventure, Part 3: Hotels and Language

    This post will cover a couple of different topics, since I don't have a whole lot to say about either of them.


    As mentioned in an earlier post, in Buenos Aires we stayed at the Hilton in the Puerto Madero district. This area used to be where cargo ships docked and exchanged loads. There had been cranes and warehouses along the waterfront at one time. Some of that remains - the cranes are now scenic features - but Puerto Madero is now mostly an upscale area with condos, offices, and nice restaurants (mostly catering to the carnivorous crowd).

    The Hilton is located just off the water front. The staff there were very friendly, helpful, and all spoke very good English. The lobby is lovely, and the restaurant was pretty good. I completed a survey after we got home and suggested that they could offer more vegan fare. To my surprise, I got a response from them saying that they would be looking into adding vegan items to their menu.

    There is a nice exercise room in the hotel, but when weather permits, I'm much happier running outdoors so I can explore my surroundings. While the early spring mornings were quite brisk, nothing prevented me from doing just that. So I didn't get to see more of those facilities than the view through the windows afforded.

    It costs extra to use the internet at the hotel, which I thought was a little bit chincy. We ate breakfast in the hotel each morning, and it was quite good. But after staying at Holiday Inn Express hotels so often, it didn't occur to me that it was not included in the price of the room. But these are small issues.

    The only reason we chose to stay at the Hilton was because of a special corporate rate I got through my company, but our experience there was such that I'd be happy stay there again.

    We stayed at Hotel Rosario when we were in that city. I chose it because it within reasonable walking distance from the office. It is close enough the Río Paraná to go there for a run. It is also conveniently located near the Cordoba pedestrian mall. From what I've been told, Argentina isn't well served by online retailers, and I saw no evidence of the kinds of major discount stores that we have in the US. So the shops and streets along Cordoba were always bustling.
    M. playing with the curtains at Hotel Rosario
    This hotel and its accommodations were much humbler than the Hilton's. But it does have free internet access and a complimentary breakfast buffet. The latter is a simple affair, with breads, meat and cheese, and your choice of tea or coffee. But we were pretty content with the food, nonetheless.
    F. having breakfast at Hotel Rosario
    Rosario is a city of historical importance to Argentina, most famously because it witnessed the first raising of the Argentine flag. But it is visited by fewer tourists than Bs As, though that number is growing in recent years. As such, there are fewer English speakers in Rosario. That includes the hotel staff, waitresses, and cab drivers. But even my meager Spanish skills were enough to get by without too much trouble.


    What knowledge I have of the Spanish language I owe to two years of studying Castelian Spanish in high school (Hi, Ms. M!). And that remained largely unused until we went on this trip. The strain of Spanish spoken in Argentina is heavily influenced by the large population of Italians. I don't know the language well enough to make many intelligent contrasts, but there were a few things that struck me as interesting.

    When saying "good morning," I always heard the singular "buen día" rather than the plural "buenos días" which I was used to hearing. Now that I think about it, the singular makes much more sense. I am told, however, that both forms are used. To say "goodbye," the Argentines say "chau."

    The pronunciation of 'll' and 'y' are different in Argentina (and other parts of South America). Except at the end of a word, they make a 'zh' or 'j' kind of sound. When a coworker was teaching me how to drink from a maté, what he said sounded like "zherba maté" rather than "yerba maté."

    The consensus there seems to be that Castelian Spanish, as it is now spoken, is a bit silly. I was told that they attempt to keep the language too pure - for example, calling a computer mouse a ratón, which made no sense to my Argentinian colleagues. "It's not a ratón, it's a mouse," they said.

    Mexican Spanish, they said, was the most universal. They said that all of the movies with a dubbed Spanish audio track used Mexican accents and dialect.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Argentine Adventure, Part 2: Eating

    Bodegon Criollo, Bs.As. (non-vegan)
    I was a little worried about how well I would be able to deal with the food in Argentina. It is a nation known for its love of meat, and what I'd read about vegetarianism and veganism there did not make me feel very optimistic. It turned out much better than I had expected. With some planning and searching, I was able to make out alright. And we had a few very good vegan dining experiences.

    One thing that's worth knowing is that restaurants in Argentina keep different hours than what I'm accustom to in the US. Most restaurants open for lunch, but then close for the afternoon and reopen around 7 or 8 p.m. for supper. That's a later meal-time than we usually have with the kids, but then, we were also three hours ahead of Colorado time, so our schedules were kind of out of whack anyway.

    Food is less expensive in Argentina than it is here in the States. Entrees at good restaurants were typically in the neighborhood of $50 or $60 AR, which at current exchange rates is under $15 USD. Some of the main dishes were a little more expensive, but at non-vegan restaurants, I wasn't looking at those very much. Though tap water was generally potable, we didn't eat anywhere that served it. If you ask for water, you buy a bottle or two for the table.

    On nights where we couldn't make the restaurant hours work, we stopped by supermarkets and had improvised picnics in the hotel room. Without a means of heating food, these meals were a little tricky and less than stellar. But it worked out pretty well.

    On the recommendation from my coworkers, I picked up some crackers and cookies made by Granix, an Argentine company that makes healthy grain-based products. They feature ingredients like chia and flax (lino in Spanish). The crackers, paired with a soy cheese spread that I found at the supermarket, were very good.

    These are some of the vegan or vegetarian restaurants that we visited:

    BIO - a small, all-organic bistro in Buenos Aires. We ate here on our first night in town. It was pretty far from our hotel, but we loved it. The food was great, and the staff were very friendly. Either we arrived a bit early, or the neighborhood is a bit sketchy. They kept the door locked while we were there.
    BIO, Buenos Aires
    Sana Sana - my coworkers in Rosario took me here for lunch one day. It's another small venue with nice patio seating in a residential area. I had a really good stir-fry, or wok, as you'll see it listed on the menu.

    Rotiseria Vegetariana - an Asian vegetarian take-out buffet in Rosario. (I don't remember exactly where this was, and the name is fairly generic.) This provided one of our hotel room picnics, though the food would have been much better if we'd been able to heat it up.
    Rotiseria Vegetariana, Rosario
    Verde Te Que Quiero Verde - on the upper level of the Palace Garden shopping center on Rosario's Cordoba pedestrian mall.

    Granix - an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet by the company that made the afore-mentioned crackers. In Buenos Aires, it's in a shopping center off of Florida street. I had lunch here with coworkers on our last day in town.

    Picnic - vegan fast food. We didn't actually get to eat here. It's in a banking district where everything is closed on Sundays, which is when we tried to go. It's essentially across the street from Granix.

    I actually saw a few signs that there is a healthy population of Vegan militants in the area. On the bus ride to Rosario, I saw a building on the road-side with "Meat is Murder" spray-painted on the wall. And I saw two different "Go Vegan" graffiti in Rosario.

    Go Vegan!
    So while I expect that Argentina will continue to be famous for its beef and barbecue traditions, it's definitely a place where a determined vegan can have a good time and enjoy some wonderful meals.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Argentine Adventure, Part 1: Logistics

    When I was given the opportunity to travel to Argentina for work, my first thought was that there was no way I could go without taking my family with me. None of us had been to South America, or for that matter, the Southern Hemisphere. So in the last week of October we set off for a very different kind of adventure than those we usually enjoy.
    The family near the Presidential residence, Buenos Aires
    Rather than give a chronology of the trip, I thought it might be more helpful to just write about a few aspects of our experiences there. And then I figured out that there was too much that I wanted to write to put it all in one blog post. So I'm breaking it up into a number of posts in hopes that it will be easier to get them finished and published; and easier for you, Gentle Reader, to wade through the whole thing.


    The flight to Argentina is long. There's no way around it. It helped a little bit that the flights in both directions were at night, so the kids spent a good bit of the time sleeping. The rest of the time they read books, drew, colored, and did other activities we had brought with us. My wife and I spent a good bit of the time reading and failing to sleep.

    When we booked our flight, there was no way to specify meal choices or dietary restrictions. I was unaware of the fact until supper was being served. So on the way to Argentina, there was very little in the way of vegan fare available. I had some of the meager salad they offered, though I had to go without dressing. The rest of my meal consisted of granola bars and rice cakes.

    I had intended to contact the airline to make better arrangements for the return flight, but I didn't get around to talking to anyone until we were checking in at the airport. The woman at the counter said that they required at least twenty-four hours notice for that kind of thing. But I was better prepared this time around with some fresh fruit, a large salad bought at a restaurant in the airport, and some other snacks.

    Leaving the country with fruits and vegetables was not a problem. Had I failed to eat them all during the flight, U.S. customs would have confiscated them after we landed. But of course, that never became an issue.

    Most of my work was in the city of Rosario, a little north of Buenos Aires. At the Terminal de Omnibus de Retiro, buses leave about every thirty minutes, so we had no trouble making the trip on Tuesday morning without making prior arrangements.
    The kids at the Retiro Bus Terminal, Buenos Aires
    Returning to Bs As from Rosario on Saturday was almost as easy, though we had to wait a little longer, since the next bus to depart was already sold out. While we waited, we ate the food we bought for lunch at the supermarket and hung out at the playground behind the terminal.
    Near the Rosario Bus Terminal
    Taking the bus was a good opportunity to see some of the Argentine countryside. The span between cities is very flat and agricultural. In truth, the landscape itself isn't very interesting. But it was nice to be able to see what the terrain is really like, and we passed several small villages along the way which I thought were worth seeing. And we saw many of the horses which are a national symbol of Argentina.

    One of the few communication problems we experienced occurred upon arriving in Buenos Aires. After picking up our luggage, a driver for a non-taxi car service offered to give us a ride. We were tired and disoriented, so I figured it was as good as anything, though it turned out to be quite a bit more expensive. We were headed to the Hilton hotel in Puerto Madero, and of course we pronounced "Hilton" like Americans. He acted like he understood, but it turns out that he didn't. We should have said "Heel-tone." It took some doing to get things straightened out, but we made it to the hotel just fine.
    M. playing near the Hilton at Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.
    When it came time to leave, we found out that there is a flat taxi rate of $140 Argentine Pesos to get to the airport. Considering the distance, this was a very good price. The concierge made sure everything was understood with the driver - I didn't want to get ripped off by paying a metered fare if the driver didn't think we knew any better.

    It is probably no surprise that taking taxis in Argentina is a cash-only affair. There are none of the on-board credit card machines which are becoming ubiquitous here in the US. Most of the time, no tip is expected unless the driver helps with luggage or otherwise goes above and beyond getting you from point A to B.

    So the logistical aspects of our trip went as smoothly as could be expected. The kids did great with the long flights and bus rides, all things considered.