Monday, November 28, 2016

We've Moved!

We finally got legit and have our own website. Please follow this link to visit us in our new abode...

www.gourmetfam.com

All new content and past posts as well.

Cheers!
And happy living!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Sunday Market

Last weekend, I joined my sister-in-law and nephew on a trip to a local Sunday market in PeƱanolen. It was overcast and humid but not overly hot. I was thankful for this later as I discovered just how packed the market would become during the scant time we were there.

As we drove up to the market, I could see that the whole area was thronged with multitudes of shoppers, pulling their woven and canvas carts along behind them as they crossed the busy street. We circled the block, driving up onto sidewalks to let cars pass us in the other direction, before Luz settled on one side of the busy avenue and waited for one of the curb watchers to signal an opening up ahead. Luz parked expertly along the curb and tipped the man who wore a bright yellow traffic vest. He nodded and then averted his eyes to the rush of traffic once more.

Armed with my grocery bag to carry any victory spoils and my camera, I was set to explore...


The market became progressively more and more crowded. I walked a circuit following the tented stalls, beginning on the main road where we had parked and turning onto a side street that led into a maze of smaller streets packed with vendors of every type.


Oodles of fresh fruit and vegetables were in abundance. Everything astonishingly inexpensive. For some perspective, a Kilo of cherries is roughly 2 pounds, costing anywhere from $0.80 to $1.50.


Because of the constant movement and flux of the crowds, I ended up capturing lot of folks going about their business.


Cherimoyas are a pretty damn delicious fruit found in Chile and other tropical or Mediterranean climates. Originally thought to be native to central America, these fruits can now be found across the globe in Northern Africa, Hawaii, and South America, and Southern Europe. Once you peel the bumpy green skin, you'll find a tender white meat inside that is sweet and delicate. Cherimoyas are peppered with round black seeds the size of a penny. It is also known as a "custard apple." They are terrific on their own but in Chile you often find desserts and drinks made with these.


Fast food! These bags contain everything you need to get a rich vegetable broth brewing on your stove-top. As you can see, there is a variety of cut veggie combos to choose from. You can make anything from caldillo to sauerkraut or salad with these handy prepped bags.


Pretty anything you can get at a supermarket, you can find in the Sunday market...and then some. That head cheese sure looks tasty.


Manuel's stall contains almost every kitchen utensil or implement you might someday find yourself needing. He happily posed for a picture with his wares once I told him where I was from.


Because the dog had chewed up the last one, Luz was in need of a new bathtub plug.


From one of my favorite stalls. I can't get enough out of cloth goods and sewing supplies. I purchased several sheets of felt from this shop to make my daughter's doll a new dress.


Wheels! Anyone need a new wheel? This guy's got 84,000 of varying sizes and colors.


Javier sold pet supplies with his sons.


These adorable little ducks milled about in constant motion within their little cage, nipping at the bars if you got too close.


The back streets looked more like a series of garage sales with wares spread across blankets or plastic bags. Having seen pickers digging through the trash on a regular basis around the city, I wouldn't doubt if some of these vendors were selling someone else's refuse.


Imagine the oddities and treasure hidden in some of these stalls? In particular, I liked the way this vendor had displayed these creepy dolls.



These ladies were selling fresh sopapillas and empanadas. Chilean sopapillas are very unlike the Mexican variety that most Americans are familiar with. Given the choice, I'd take a Chilean one over a Mexican one, any day. Chilean sopapillas are savory yellow discs made of zapallo dough. Zapallo is the common squash used in numerous Chilean dishes. It's texture and flavor are most akin to the acorn squash.

While the dough is made at home, the tasty little rounds are deep fried right before your eyes in a bubbling cauldron of oil. A variety of condiments are available to slather on top, my preference being yellow mustard or pebre - a Chilean version of salsa. Whenever I pass a sopapilla stand, uou can pretty much count on me buying a couple to eat as I go wherever it is I'm going.


Empanadas are made at home and kept warm or warmed up for the customer in little portable ovens or braziers.


A variety of side dishes and ceviches. Personally, I love those big bowls!


Battered fish and pressed empanadas are fried in this deep pan for dripping hot eats.

On weekends and holidays, you can find similar, if smaller, markets in many parks. My favorite type of vendors are those that sell artesanials - or handmade products like gredas (clay pots and dishes), sweaters and ponchos, tooled leather accessories, twine-knotted jewelry, or wooden carvings. On this trip, I did not spot any of these.

I met my sister-in-law and nephew back at the car roughly a half hour later with my sheets of felt and a heavy bag of ripe strawberries for munching and many colorful photos.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fortunately, Unfortunately

Every place has its upside and downside. Now that I've been here for almost two months, I can reflect on some of the things I love and some of the things I don't much care for here in Chile.

I'm going to use a little improv game to help me along.

FORTUNATELY,
The vegetation is so lush here in the city that at times you don't feel like you're in a city at all. In fact, now that we're into late spring, you can practically walk down the street, plucking a variety of fruit from the trees you pass in a single block. I am not exaggerating.

 These are Nisperos, a sweet plum-sized fruit with multiple stones. A nispero tree can produce thousands of these fruits. (source; pinterest)

UNFORTUNATELY,
With abundant flowers and fruits, comes abundant allergies.

FORTUNATELY,
Pharmacies are also abundant and you can also likely find them on every block as well.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Pharmacies usually have long lines. The medicine counter is the same as the check-out counter and you need to take a number and wait your turn to either pick up some drugs (both prescribed and over-the-counter are kept behind the counter) or just buy a bottle of water and a hairbrush.

FORTUNATELY,
Medicine is pretty inexpensive when you need it.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Pretty much everything else is expensive, including jeans, shoes, and especially books. Malls are usually grand multi-story affairs that are exhausting to peruse, especially with a 5-year-old.

FORTUNATELY,
There are street markets everywhere and these are pretty inexpensive and quite colorful.

Penanolen Sunday market

UNFORTUNATELY,
These are pure chaos with a 5-year-old and it's far too easy to loose track of little hands.

FORTUNATELY,
There are parks everywhere and playgrounds in Chile are the coolest I've ever seen. They include lots of interesting climbing equipment and rope structures.

UNFORTUNATELY,
There is also trash everywhere. And young couples making out on every available plot of lawn.

FORTUNATELY,
My daughter isn't old enough to make out with boys yet. She's more interested in all the wild cats and dogs everywhere. Chileans, it turns out are softies for animals and almost everyone we know has a dog.

UNFORTUNATELY,
There are lots of wild cats and dogs everywhere. Although they are generally friendly, they run rampant in the streets, tearing into trash cans and occasionally getting hit by cars. I guess there is no group of charitable vets here to do stray spay/neuter.

FORTUNATELY,
They aren't starving. Many people give strays left-over food.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Neither are the spiders and in Chile, there are lots of spiders. No poisonous snakes or large predators, only quarter-sized venomous spiders that evidently live in every house in Chile.

These are colloquially called "Arana de rincon," which translates to spider of the corner. (source: a public service article on how to identify these nasty critters)

FORTUNATELY,
There is an anti-venom for these suckers.

UNFORTUNATELY,
There may be a chance that when you actually need it, the agency dispensing it may well be on strike. Government offices often go on strike. When I asked a Chilean what that accomplishes, he replied "Nothing."

FORTUNATELY,
Jobs don't seem to be a problem for the Chilean people. Every store seems to employ 5 times the amount a U.S. store would.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Chilean businesses generally suck at customer service. From what I hear, job descriptions and behavioral expectations are not the norm.

FORTUNATELY,
If you know someone, you get excellent customer service.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Regardless of customer service skill level, most businesses and houses aren't kept up very well. Keeping a business's exterior clean with legible signage is unheard of here. It can be difficult to tell which place is in business or which is abandoned.

FORTUNATELY,
This makes the job for household Nannies that much easier. Employing a Nanny to help with the household chores and children is a common practice here. Nannies generally work with a particular family until the children are grown up.

UNFORTUNATELY,
This means that Nannies can become territorial and not be particular fond of long-term guests.

FORTUNATELY,
Sometimes they cook dinner for the whole family. One of my favorite stews was made by our household Nanny. Pancuetras is a dumpling soup with beef and vegetables.

Pancuetras or pantreucas

UNFORTUNATELY,
With six people, we run out of food fast around the house.

FORTUNATELY,
There is an awesome bakery down the street. Bread is plentiful and inexpensive in Chile. Plus, there are many many more kinds of artisan bread to choose from than in the U.S.; here it's the norm.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Although lunch and dinner restaurants are plentiful, there are practically ZERO places to eat breakfast out of the house. Most Chileans only have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast for breakfast.

FORTUNATELY,
Lunches and dinners are much more substantial. And there's a great abundance and variety of seafood available.

UNFORTUNATELY,
Sushi here is terrible. Not only do you often find cream cheese on every roll but you can purchase sushi practically everywhere, especially places you probably shouldn't. We see signs everywhere: "Pizza & Sushi," "Comida Arabe & Sushi," "Aspiradores & Sushi." Those are real signs I've seen. Okay, I admit it, the last one - Vacuums & Sushi - I made up, but I certainly would not be surprised if I saw the real deal.

FORTUNATELY,
The wine is amazing and easy to find. If all else fails, I can grab myself a cup of wine and call it a day.

(source: pinterest)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Halloween

As most of my readers probably expect, holidays are celebrated differently in other countries. In Chile, October 31st is more about religion than it is about spooky stuff. Interestingly, folks are given a two-day holiday for Oct.31st and Nov.1st where big businesses close up shop and people gather with family. While kids and their families do trick or treat in the evening in the city, in the small towns across Chile, people observe the day with more solemnity.

Our morning was spent lazily enough. Both families slept in - Tia Luz, Tio Cristian, and Julian - and Mark, Oli, and myself. We get rolling around midday when we received an invitation to visit Tia Carmen and her family out in the countryside. Tia Carmen, you see, is one of Mark's mom's best long-time friends. Carmen and Maria raised their kids alongside each other and Mark has many fond memories of visiting his Tia Carmen and Tio Guillermo out in "el campo." In fact, when Mark and I were first dating, he would regal me with stories of his youth in Chile and Tia Carmen's farm figured predominantly.

Getting outside the busy metropolis of Santiago is refreshing. Although the drive was just over an hour, the mountainous scenery- with lush orchards and vineyards - was invigorating. Tia Carmen's farm is located just outside Rancagua, which is south of Santiago. The sky was a bright blue and the sun blazed down but as we left the wide highway for the smaller roads, the air became cooler.

Tia's house is old, although how old exactly I'm not sure. It is built in the traditional style of Chilean country houses, being a single story with thick stone walls and tile floors. Outside, the back patio is the center of the home with a mud oven, benches, and grill. A yard stretches back a distance where it meets up with a communal football field (we're talking soccer here, folks). The yard used to be home to chickens and cows but now is home to a sweet German Sheppard and her two pups and a farmhand who lives in a shed.

Tia Carmen's roses

The yard

Animal sheds
 
Puppy!

As soon as we arrive, we are showered with kisses and hugs. Carmen is delighted to see us as are her daughter, Lilian, Lilian's husband, Renato, and Renato's brother. Chileans are a very affectionate people which is one of the reasons I like them so much. This was my third time visiting Tia Carmen's farm, and each time she has made me feel right at home. Mark and I both agree, a visit to her farm is restorative for the soul.

Not a moment to spare after the warm greeting, we were firing up the grill for some grub. This is another reason I like visiting here so much - the food is pretty much non-stop. While waiting for the grill to reach the right temperature, Tia Carmen passed around mugs full of a warm eggy broth. This was perfect as the sky was starting to cloud over at this point and it was becoming chilly. Before I knew it, between squishing on the puppies and playing with the kids, we are sharing pork ribs with a roasted salt flour. Baked potatoes appear from somewhere as does a spicy pebre (think of it as Chilean salsa) And then, of course, the prerequisite drinks as passed around - Pisco Sour, beer, and a new one for me called Borgonia, made with smashed up berries and red wine.

From left, Mark, Tia Carmen, and Luz

 Lilian and Renato

These were sooooooo delicious. I ate way more than I needed to.

 Drinks and finger foods

 Borgonia - sweet, syrupy and strong

There is much to catch up on since it has been roughly three years since the last time we visited. We talk and eat for a couple of hours and just when I think we are about to return to the city, I discover that we are off to the graveyard. So, we bank the coals in the outside oven and the ten of us pile into two cars. We head toward the small pueblo and park a few blocks from the township cemetery.

The place is buzzing with activity. The street in front of the cemetery has been closed to cars and vendors have set up shop selling flowers and snacks. The entrance to the cemetery is swarming with people from nearby towns. And everyone seems to know everyone else.

The cemetery gates

Luz and Oli buying flowers

 Bouquets in every color
 
The bustling entrance
 
Inside the gates

On October 31st, it appears, families gather to remember and honor the dead, much like the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Widowers are bent over scrubbing the tombs of their loved ones, and children are removing dead flowers, to be replaced with fresh cuttings. A funeral is also occurring along a back wall, the death of someone young and beloved, and an entire town is gathered to sing and mourn their loss.

We visit the grave of Tio Guillermo who passed away two years ago after a long illness. Mark remembers him fondly, almost as a father figure. We all help to clean up the grave and place fresh flowers. This act is very humbling and heart-warming. Alongside the music of the funeral, I feel tears coming to my eyes - for Tio Guillermo, the people he left behind, and those morning the newly deceased several graves away. Olivia asks lots of questions and gravely points out all the graves that have seemingly "been forgotten." We return to Tia Carmen's some time later, not in mourning, but in gratitude for what we have.

A man cleaning a family tomb

Family and friends greeting one another
 
Following Renato to the grave, funeral in background
 
 Oli and Luz talking about Tio Guillermo

Cleaning Tio Guillermo's grave

Of course, as soon as we get back, we prepare for more eating. It is late in the day now and the sun is quickly setting. The clouds loom darker and heavier than before and a wind is picking up. Tia Carmen grabs a large bowl and heads outside to the patio to begin making pan amasado - or bread made by hand. She mixes the ingredients in the big bowl and kneads them together. When the dough is formed enough, she dumps the contents of the bowl onto a large flat table and begins to knead vigorously. She partitions the dough into small clumps and flattens them. Each flat round is poked with a fork five times before being placed into the mud oven. The kids get to help which they love.

Soup is reheated for the kids who slurp it down happily. At this point, it is decided that we will stay the night. There are enough beds in this rambling farmhouse and everyone will be cozy with piles of blankets during the chill night. We are given a guest room built outside the house proper; the door opens onto the patio with the mud oven and Oli and I listen to the murmur of the adults as I prep her for bed. Luckily, I brought a change of clothes for her so I roll her out of her soiled play clothes and slip her into a clean shirt for bed. I rub her back and hum to her while she drifts off, exhausted after a day of fresh air and cuddly puppies and lots of food.

The adults retire to the dining room inside the house and cup our hands around warm tea and steaming hot bread. Bread and butter and black tea. Conversation goes late into the night and I retire early. I quickly fall asleep but am awakened twice before I can fully sink into dreamland. The first time, Mark brought me a pair of fleece pajamas lent by Tia Carmen. The second, by Tia Carmen herself, as she brings me a chamber pot and a roll of toilet paper. (There is only one bathroom in the house proper, and as I've said before, we are located out of the house.)

The fleece pajamas are the warmest coziest things I've ever worn and tucked under a mountain of blankets, I am in Heaven. My daughter snoozes beside me and her breathing is soft and quiet. At one point in the night, I rise to use the bathroom and discover that is it raining heavily. Curtains of rain pound down from a sky blacker than any I've seen in recent memory. After taking care of business, I stand for awhile under the patio roof and watch the rain and listen to it trampling the grass and weighing down the branches of the trees.

In the morning, the sun greets us and sets to work quickly drying and warming the air. The mountains in the distance show a layer of snow that wasn't there the night before. I sit with Mark on the front porch nursing a piping hot cup of tea and smile to him. We both agree that this was one of the best Halloweens yet.

A glorious morning after the rains