Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chilean Cooking

Danny's Christmas gift for our family- a trip to Valparaiso on the coast with a Chilean cooking class!

On Tuesday we took the bus from Santiago to Valparaiso.  It is an easy ride, just two hours, and we arrived in the busy port city early in the afternoon.  Lining much of the coast here are all kinds of ships- naval boats with the Navy headquarters here, cargo boats with Valparaiso being Chile's biggest port and fishing boats to bring in all the great seafood.  The docks are full of boxcars being loaded and unloaded from the cargo ships and we spent a lot of time Tuesday watching the huge cranes and semi-trucks at work.  Before kids I don't think I would have appreciated the hustle and bustle of it all but we had a great time just watching the work and imagining where all the contents of the boxcars were headed.

Valparaiso is built up into the hills and from our bed and breakfast we had a great view. It is a city much like San Francisco in that it has lots of hilly winding streets.  There are 15 different rattling ascensores (funiculars) to get from the bottoms of the hills to the tops all built between 1883 and 1916.   Cal especially enjoyed watching the huge wheel turning and pulling the cables of the shaky funicular up the side of the hill.
The town has a lot of color- literally and figuratively.  The houses are painted all kinds of shades and murals line many of the walls along the steep winding streets.  The town is home to many universities, markets, restaurants and people.  It is a loud and friendly place.  We watched two different street performer shows at plaza Concepcion, one of which had two clowns doing acrobatics and silly skits with a stray dog who kept joining the act which made it all the more funny.  Children could rent different kinds of bikes at the plaza and Cal and Harper were thrilled to be back on wheels.  A small carnival was also going on in the next square over so the kids got to take a few turns on the kiddie rides.  It was a good time strolling back and forth between all the great family-friendly activities.  (and thankfully the not so family-friendly jokes and innuendos made by the clowns seem to go over our kids' heads.)

Hurray for wheels!
We have sampled many a carnival ride in South America 
Danny's new look
We found a great restaurant for dinner just down the street from our b&b called Cuatro Ventos, (Four Winds) which we were told the next morning is the most photographed house in Valparaiso.  It is precariously perched on the hillside just enough to feel mildly nerve-wracking, but also to give an amazing view of the bay and city.  The food was outstanding and reminded us of Carbondale's Six89 in its creative presentation and varied mix of ingredients, but also because it was laid back and not fancy.  We sat at a table in a corner of the room surrounded by walls of stained and clear glass windows.  Although I started the meal nervous about Cal crashing through a window, the kids did great job and made a little nest of toys and coloring books to hang out in.  The carmenere wine didn't hurt in easing my nerves as well.
It wasn't fancy, although they served the kids juice in wine glasses

Cuatro Ventos- view from the front
View from below YIKES!
View from our corner spot, looking down on the port in action
Wednesday morning we met Andrés, our chef, and picked out our menu.  We chose to make pebre (salsa), ceviche, empanadas, pastel de choclo (Chilean corn pie), tomato salad, and Pisco Sours (the national drink of Chile.)  We walked to the market and bought fresh fish, herbs, fruits, vegetables, etc.  During the walk Andres described the area and some of its history.  He pointed out a red brick line on one street that showed where the edge where the ocean used to come up to, but throughout numerous earthquakes and renovations over the years the city dumped concrete and used building supplies there to extend the port's size.  Interesting urban planning, we thought.
Fish market
Juicing lemons for ceviche
Cal is not too sure about the chopping
Prepping fish for ceviche
Pisco sours

Harper was served champagne and downed it!
Back in the kitchen we went to work.  Cal and Harper got to help a lot by juicing lemons, mixing sauces and even chopping with extremely sharp knives (when in Chile...)  Andres was great with our kids and they were very proud of their work.  After the chopping was through and the salads were made, Danny mixed up the pisco sours and the drinking portion of the day began (and continued on through lunch with local champagne and after with a digestif grappa also from Chile.)  The food was all very good.  Danny and I have never seen ceviche made although we love to eat it so that was a cool new experience for us.  Without a doubt we will make these recipes at home. Back in our kitchen in Santiago we are most excited to get creative with the empanadas and make a variety of different fillings.  (especially without queso for Harper, as most of the empanadas here have cheese inside.)
Tomato onion salad
Pastel de Choclo
Bananas with Palm syrup
We arrived back in Santiago late last evening and the kids were troopers for the travel home.  We all had a lot of fun in Valparaiso and if we were living here longer I think we'd try to spend more time in the area.  As that is not the case, we'll have to take it with us in spirit each time we mix up some Chilean cuisine.  And if you are reading this, Gracias Andres for the class!
Andrés keeping us on our toes.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Christmas morning
The food:
Empanadas, Spanish tortilla, salmon with salsa rojo, Mediterranean salad with eggs, couscous, almonds & veggies, sauteed asparagus, and Chilean vino YUM!

Crepes, berry compote, honey yogurt, Nutella, bananas, coffee, y chocolate

The goods:

Special stuff:

  • Santa built a reindeer out of Legos that Harper and Cal were thrilled to find Christmas morning
  • The kids sipped fancy juice and berry drinks with Xmas Eve dinner that Cal of course ended up wearing
  • We finished our felt Christmas banner from Aunt Meghan just in time for Santa
  • Through the Santiago smog we saw the smallest glimpse of snow on the peaks while we were swimming on the rooftop before dinner
  • Our favorite wiemaraners: Fay, Chundo, Batty and Crookie finally made their appearance on the Twelve Days of Christmas DVD I've been carrying around in my backpack since September
  • The Beverly Hillbillies, I mean me and my family, went to a fancy Christmas lunch at the Grand Hyatt and grazed at the gourmet buffet until we were stuffed.  We also took a few runs on the elevator to see a spectacular city view from the top of the hotel and looked down on the huge tree in the lobby

Santa just visited #1306

Annual Christmas tree space launch at the Hyatt in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.....

Christmas sky

Friday, December 23, 2011

Feliz Navidad

We have been slowly getting into the Christmas spirit here in Santiago.  We can't complain about sunny 85 degree days, it is just weird listening to, "Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow" and then pulling on our bathing suits.
We've done some creative decorating with paper chains and homemade signage (and a big thanks to Aunt Meghan for the crafty banner we've assembled and hung!)  We got a 2 ft. fake tree with flashy blinking lights and made a bunch of ornaments.   The kids and I baked Rice Krispie treats and butter cookies and it was super exciting when we found cinnamon red hots at a specialty market for decorating.   Yesterday we even made a trip to the department store at the mall to see Santa and tell him in Spanish what gifts we were hoping to see on Christmas morning (Harper practiced una muñeca con vestido rojo for the whole taxi ride there.)
Harper gets ready to "bend down" the tree

Puffed rice is almost as good as Rice Krispie's cereal
Better Housekeeping's butter cookie recipe.  Yum.
Christmas department-store style.  Can't get that in Carbondale, Amen!

Harper wrote her and Cal's names on the map so he would know where to bring the loot!
Santa better have some serious reindeer power.  Chile is huge!
Cal is in awe of the toy-making machine.
Terrible photo but really nice "mind-reading" Santa (Harper didn't even have to say her line.)
Tonight we are staying in to eat popcorn and watch A Muppet's Christmas Carol.  On Christmas Eve we are making dinner here.  We toyed with the idea of trying to make some traditional favorites (Grandma Mary's jello and Aunt Meghan's sweet potatoes) but we think we are going to embrace where we are and attempt to make some Chilean fare.  On Christmas we'll spend the morning playing at our place and then we are headed to the Grand Hyatt for a late lunch on the patio.  It sure will feel different than years past but we know our Carbondale Christmas will be there waiting for us next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A trip to the Coast

“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who doesn't play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.” Pablo Neruda

We rented a car this week for the first time in our travels.  We haven’t had our own wheels since Denver and it felt so freeing to jump onto the highway and speed out of town.  Danny was happy to be driving manual again (memories of the old turquoise Honda) and our only hitch was it took a day to figure out how to put the car into reverse! (Danny was very creative at finding ways to pull around in a circle if we made a wrong turn.)

Walking through the palm forest
About 110 kilometers outside of Santiago we stopped at Parque Nacional La Campana and hiked out into a palm forest.  We brought our lunch from home and picnicked under a huge 800 year-old palm tree.  The views of the valley (many of the farms were vineyards) and surrounding mountains stretched out below us from our lunch spot and we all felt grateful to be away from the tight streets and tall buildings of Santiago.  Harper and Cal happily ran the trail collecting their treasures and keeping their eyes peeled for flowering cacti.

Palm trees and cacti!

We spent three days in a sleepy town on the coast of Chile called Maitencillo.  It was a wonderful getaway from Santiago and Danny and I definitely noticed how happy our kids were to be out of the city.  We rented a cabana on the beach with a kitchen and pretty much stayed put building sandcastles, running our feet through the chilly water and watching the huge waves crash at the shore.  The water was cold but clear and the surf was enormous.  Although the beach was practically empty, the lifeguards kept a close watch on us- not even letting our kids fill up their buckets at the shore without Danny or myself there to guard against the undertow.  It was much different beach time than in Ecuador, where the water was so refreshing and warm, but we loved it all the same.
I think that is a cherry in Harper's mouth
Playing on the beach with our little cabana in the background
One afternoon we took a drive to the towns of Cachagua and Zapallar, the area we now refer to as Lifestyles of the Chilean Rich and Famous.  We accessed the public beach and walked the shoreline for a couple hours, walking down a picturesque rock path along the ocean.  The surf pounded the rocks along the side and ocean spray created a mist in the air.  It was paradise.
On the other side of the path were maybe the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen up close- not the monstrosities you see along California’s southern ocean side, but conservative mansions built in classic styles of natural materials etched into the cliffs with winding gardens and rocky paths wrapped around them.  I could have stayed all afternoon peering into these places and checking out their decor!

If I had to pick one...
The best oceanside public walking trail ever!
Harper, Cal and Danny however were far more interested in the view out into the ocean where a rocky island sat across from the shore.  Covering the banks and rocks were tons of seabirds and most exciting for us was our first spotting of PENGUINS!  There was a docile little group of penguins on a triangular rock and we first weren’t sure what kind of seabirds they were.  Thankfully a nice British couple strolled up that same time and shared their binoculars with Harper.  We think they were Humboldt penguins but we haven’t done any further research online to confirm.  They weren’t moving around much besides preening and sunning themselves, so hopefully our next batch of penguins will be a little more active.  Also out on the rocks was a great tide pool filled with urchins and wavy green algae.  We all loved jumping from rock to rock inspecting each new crevice we found.

Penguin and pelican spotting

Tide pools

On the way home from Maintencillo we took a different route and drove down the shore along the coast.  The views were spectacular and we wanted to stop at every turn off.  Our goal was to arrive in time in a town called Isla Negra to visit the former home, now museum, of the poet Pablo Neruda.  He built his home on a rocky cliff above the ocean and filled it all kinds of art, collections and trinkets from his travels.  It was funky and artistic.  I was especially taken with the rock murals on the walls, one in particular above a fireplace, and all the antique furniture.  Harper liked the butterfly and seashell collections and Danny's favorite was the way the whole house was designed to feel like a boat, one of Neruda's passions.  One hallway was filled with ships in glass bottles on shelves set in front of a ocean-facing window- making you feel like they were all out at sea.  Really cool.
I scream, you scream, CAL SCREAMS for ice cream!