Sunday, April 27, 2014

La Dulce Vida: Piglets and Alfajores



I recently found myself at the house across the street from La Posada del Jamon, my temporary home. Until now, this little white house was simply the owner of the beautiful pasture lined with a wobbly wooden fence, and grazed by giant hogs, skittish sheep, and the occasional horse.  I have been watching these animals over breakfast for the past month and a half. As the weather grows colder, the trees behind the pasture turned from green to yellow, and now into a fiery haze. Back home goslings are hatching, and spring is in full swing, but I feel like I am preparing for Halloween.

The farm belongs to the cousin of the wonderful girl, Anabel, who has been taking care of me in the laboratory at the Bodega.  Although, after learning the dogs who wait with me at the corner bus stop every morning belong to one of the winemaker's brothers, I shouldn't be surprised by the connection. Everyone here in Vista Flores seems to be connected in one way or another, and thus, they are always stopping to kiss each other on the cheek as they walk through town.



After visiting Anabel's home, her and her father brought me to their cousins farm on the way back to La Posada del Jamon. We arrived just after sunset so I could see the person next to me, but not the layout of the farm. Anabel took me around with a flashlight, and we peeked inside the different pens. Due to the dark, I had no idea what to expect, and each beam of light was a new surprise. There were little piglets of varying sizes piled on top of each other, dreaming. Their mothers all passed out adjacent. In one pen the piglets were still awake, unlike their mother, and desperately trying to find milk, suckling on anything they could find, even the occasional siblings nose. Despite the bubbles of warmth inside my chest from ogling the piglets, I became distracted by what sounded like the most horrendous snoring. The next beam of light brought forth the culprit, giant male hogs (300 kg). If you placed horns on these things, they could easily be found in my nightmares, and they were indeed violently snoring.

When we turned around, we were confronted by a heard of goats. The light brushed their foreheads, and they all stared blindly, chewing. Their beady eyes never wondered, they never stopped chewing (I don't know how they still had food in their mouths), and one of them was always relieving their bladder. To the left of the goats was a house of white rabbits with red eyes. To the right there was an open pen full of sheep, that bolted as soon as our flashlight crossed their path. However, each sheep seemed to think the other was leading, and they merely moved in circles.

Of course I had to come back the next day, and hold a piglet and maybe a bunny or two. The piglet squirmed the whole time he was on my shoulder, testing his new oinking abilities. The rabbit, on the other hand, practically fell asleep in my hands when I rubbed the top of its head. The baby animals were only half the magic of the farm. The owner, Anabel's cousin, made it undeniably clear that I am living in Argentina. He was dirty, and it seemed that he only bothered to halfway button his shirt because his cousin was coming over. His skin was well weathered, and I was surprised to find his eyes were a light shade of olive. This man was incredibly calm for the amount of work he faced everyday, and full of love for the animals. When we revisited the male hogs, he leaned over and started roughly rubbing the side of its head. Clouds of dust began to fill the stall, and the hog, like a dog, began kicking its back leg out of enjoyment.  He had reduced this nightmarish, albeit tasty, animal from last night into a giant puppy.




This time the goats were too focused on the prospect of hay to be bothered to go to the bathroom. They clumped together, climbing their pen walls, screaming. Like their toes, their screams were incredibly unattractive, but I loved them all the same. The all white goat, in a pen all by its lonesome, had the awkward habit of sticking out its tongue while yelling. Whenever any of them made a noise, they would lift up their gums, showing off their not so pearly whites. I had no desire to touch these goats, and decided to instead recall the first time I tried goat, a couple weeks ago. I was eating asado with the winemakers, and one of them ordered goat to share. Almost every time I eat meat with them they either joke that it was slaughtered as a baby just for me, or that it is actually the dead dog from across the street. Either way, it tasted great, and I was surprised by how juicy and smooth the meat was, the opposite of all the Argentinian steaks I have been eating.

As for the sheep, they were curious about the prospect of food, but couldn't be bothered with actually acknowledging our existence. The whole place was mesmerizing in a run down sort of way. The house was minimal, and yet had an old terrace covered in Malbec vines due to be picked. It had the uncanny ability to make you feel at home and well loved.


Alfajores

30 servings

I was given my first alfajore in El Chalten by an American climber who was incredibly excited to be the first person to introduce me to this amazing local dessert. They look like they might have once been French Macarons, but nowhere near as delicate. They can range in sizes from the quarter sized bites given to you with coffee at the end of a meal, or giant cookie sized portions at the bakery that are a meal by themselves. 

While at Anabel's house she pulled out a well stained, well used recipe handout that looked like it could have been a relic from the 50's in my grandmothers house in Mt. Shasta, California. The main differences being the recipes were in Spanish, and did not involve any Crisco. The following recipe is from this tattered pamphlet.

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 level teaspoons baking powder
  • 200g butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon cognac 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large teaspoon lemon zest
  • dulce de leche to fill
  • grated coconut for dusting

Sift together the cornstarch, flour, baking soda, and baking powder. In a bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks one by one, mixing well after each addition. Then at the brandy, mix. Slowly sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients while mixing. Next add the vanilla extract and the lemon zest, mix well.

Form a mass without kneading or overly stretching the dough. On a lightly floured cutting board roll the mass out to about 1/2 cm thickness, and cut out circles. Anywhere between 1-2 inches in diameter is common. Place on parchment paper and bake in a 'moderate' oven for 15 minutes.  I am not completely sure how to translate 'a moderate oven', but this makes sense since most of the rural Argentine ovens I have encountered do not have a reliable thermostat. Back home in the States, I would probably start with 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until they are firm but not overly browned.

Once cool, fill the middle of two cookies with a generous amount of dulce de leche. Roll the cookies in grated coconut. Enjoy, but beware of crumbs!

3 comments:

  1. wow, so many lovely animals! I loved reading about them and your descriptions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. this is such an interesting peak are farm-life - thanks for sharing, dear! glad to see that things are going well for you over there!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love alfajores! I had the best cookies in Peru and I love it with some coca tea! Thanks for the recipe!
    http://liveitinerantly.com/

    ReplyDelete