Friday, February 26, 2010

Tears in my Beer

What can I say? I've got restaurants to talk about and recipes to post, but it's hard for me to continue my ex-pat blog when I really just want to re-pat myself. It's not like Argentina lost it's charm - there continue to be many facets of life that I love here - but the gritty bits seem to be taking over the good. I feel like everything and everyone is corrupt. It's second nature to constantly watch your back because you're likely to be taken advantage of at every turn. And I'm glad that I'm not the only one that realizes what a sham it is to live like this. The Argentine Post recently discussed the lack of trust in this country. But when everyone - from the guy who insists that you pay him for 'watching' your car to the president - will jump at the chance to screw you over, it's hard to deal.

Why am I so down? Last week Guille was attacked on the street while out for a run. (He's okay now - I'm so glad) But the police wouldn't come and the hospital didn't have any ice to stop the swelling. We've had to get a lawyer in order to get the situation in front of the justice department. You'd think that we're doing the right thing. Trying to have a criminal prosecuted. But people have warned us against doing so. Argentineans are so reluctant to stir the pot that they ignore their best interests and turn a blind eye to the worst injustices. The police will warn you against pressing charges. They'll tell you that the criminal will come after you as soon as they're released from their 2 hour stint in jail. And it's a real travesty of Argentine society that this is allowed to happen.

And so, what can I do but go out in search of some sense of normalcy. An Antares brew pub opened in Rosario recently, with good food and tasty beer - though, of course, it isn't without it's hiccups. (I imagine that it's tough to develop continuity in an Argentine restaurant chain.) The 18 peso sampler is a fun way to try all 8 brews - you get a shot of each.

The food is reasonably priced and the sandwiches are huge. Gui and I ordered a spinach, mushroom, blue cheese pizza. Once we bit into it we realized that it had no mushrooms. We debated whether or not it mattered enough to cause a scene, but I couldn't be screwed over again. We asked the waitress who took the uneaten portion of our pizza back to the kitchen for mushrooms. 10 minutes later she admitted that there were no mushrooms but that someone had gone out in search of such. Right. At 11pm on a Saturday. But she gave us a free cheese plate. Another 10 or 15 minutes later we learned that the search was unsuccessful - would we like to choose something else from the menu for free? No, we just wanted to finish what we'd started. And so we got our re-heated pizza back.

Our waitress insisted that we order something else so we ordered a brownie for dessert - which came with a shot glass of complimenting beer. Nice. Although not quite enough to make up for the sting of reality. I'm exhausted. I hate that everything is a fight, a constant struggle. But I'm glad that someone finally solved the "beer or ice cream? dilemma." One thing at a time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Box of Chocolates

For Valentine's day, I got to pick out all of the gorgeous chocolates that I wanted - thus eliminating my usual need to bite into every chocolate and abandon half of the box. I still forgot what was inside some of them, but I knew it would be delicious.

While February isn't exactly the best time (weather) for chocolate, I managed to eat these before they melted. Absolute deliciousness.

Find them at Cacao del Sol (Italia 557) - prices are reasonable for fancy pants chocolates. Happy hearts day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Domestic Sell-Out (aka Pudding Cookies)

I feel like an American housewife from the 1950's who has just discovered how to cut corners with a secret little box. Of course, coming out of an era in which everything was made painstakingly from scratch without due credit, it's easy to imagine how ready-made little secrets began to penetrate traditional baking. Adding Jell-O pudding mix to cakes and cookies made them moist and fluffy, who cares what those funny sounding ingredients are! Preservatives? Bring 'em on! Of course housewives embraced a faster, easier way to cook. They were expected to slave away in the kitchen all day without recognition. Today, a cake made from scratch gets a round of applause...who even knew they still made those?!

But can you imagine the revolution of food that took place? It ruined wholesome consumption and created the unfortunate system of eating today, but it must have been so liberating for women. Here's how it plays out in my mind:

1950's dude - "What's for dinner tonight honey?"
His cool wife - "Your salisbury steak dinner is in the oven and there's a cake on the table - I'm going out for drinks with the girls!"

So, I realize that processed food was once considered a good thing. But I had mixed feelings about using a boxed pudding mix in my own homemade cooking (you have no idea how much I loathe 'semi-homemade' - like it's okay to lie to your friends so that they think you're some kind of Donna Reed. Who pretends to cook something from scratch?? Perhaps someone who wants other women to feel envious of her homemaking skills, or rather her ability to find a chemically-engineered secret). But aside from this rant, I had a box of chocolate pudding that my mom brought down so I thought I'd put it to the test. And it worked. Those housewives found moist fluffy goodness in a tiny box. I'm not sure how it works and I'm not sure what all of those ingredients are but it made a lovely cookie (aside from the distinctive alkaline flavor).

(photo from my new iPhone I can work from anywhere...eeeee...mixed feelings)

Still, I felt guilty so I looked up the ingredients on FoodFacts, which gives you the pros and cons of food. How funny is it that it says 'This product contains controversial ingredients"??? That's exactly how I feel about all processed foods. Controversial. Is BHA a bad thing because it's potentially cancerous or a good thing because it's an antioxidant and it keeps food from spoiling? Honestly, science hasn't been able to answer these types of questions about our food. So should we stop eating it? Maybe. But here's the recipe in case you feel like throwing caution to the wind!

Chocolate Pudding Chip Cookies
adapted from Nestle Toll House
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 package (4 servings) instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 113 g. (1/2 c.) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 3/4 c. chocolate chips or chunks (original recipe calls for 2 cups, which just seemed ridiculous)
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (my addition)
Combine flour and pudding mix in a small bowl. Beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Beat in brown sugar and baking soda until well combined. Beat in egg and egg white. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chips. Drop dough by rounded teaspoon 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 180C, 350F for 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool on baking sheets 2 to 3 minutes, remove to wire racks to cool completely.

These are best eaten immediately, while the obvious flavor of Jell-O pudding mix is less noticeable than when completely cooled. Also, if you put these in an airtight container they'll lose their outer layer of crunchiness so it's best to leave them out.

I feel that many women today are trying to find something that was perhaps lost in American cooking over the past 50 years. Something that our grandmothers replaced with quick fixes in order to take back their own lives. Before the world changed, cooking was mandatory for many housewives, whether they enjoyed it or not, at the expense of a woman's precious time. We can't blame Betty Crocker for making 'homemade' a thing of the past because it set a lot of people free. Rachel Ray probably doesn't want to admit this, but it's nearly a full-time job to feed your family 3 home cooked, unprocessed meals every day. Not just to prepare and cook it, but to schlep to the store often enough to have fresh produce on hand.

As American women re-enter the kitchen by choice we can't blame our mothers for a lack of organic recipes and neither should we be pretentious about our choice to be more in tune with nature. Instead we should understand why this gap exists and seek to fill it ourselves. Our mothers and grandmothers made it possible for us to have fulfilling and successful careers. What we can craft for our children is a balanced method for incorporating food into life.

Will I make these again? Sure, with organic pudding mix. We'll see if the proof is really in the pudding or in the chemical additives. (PS - yeah, I can't actually buy organic pudding here so someone else will have to try it and tell me how it goes!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Marriage and the Road to Permanent Residency in Argentina

I had coffee with a group of expats recently, all married to Argentines, and I realized that there are a bunch of us...and perhaps there will be more. So I thought that I'd go ahead and post my Argentine marriage experience for anyone who's interested.

To get married in Rosario, I (as a foreigner) had to provide the following to the Registro Civil:
  • Neighborhood police certificate (Certificado de Vecindario) - This is basically to prove that you live in Rosario (you must have an address - I showed my 'certificate of cohabitation' which I got from Tribunales a while back in order to be on Guille's insurance. The certificate is easy to get - you need 2 witnesses with DNIs and have to pay a fee).
  • Copy of passport - If you find that you've stayed beyond the legal 3 months and didn't renew your entry into Argentina, then you'll need permission from immigration (expensive - I think the price just went up but it was 100 dollars) issued before the wedding (and it only lasts for 10 days so you have to hurry up and get hitched!) This basically provides permission to marry, but the form is for permission to leave 'Habilitacion de Salida.' You have to request this from immigration, take their form to the bank and pay the fee there, then return to immigration on the same day and finish the process.
  • Copy of spouse's DNI
  • Fees
  • Blood test results
You can only be married by a judge in Argentina. You either have to go to the courthouse (bring your whole family!) or pay the judge 500 pesos to go to your wedding site, if her schedule allows. Of course, you have to make an appointment for this civil wedding - but not more than 30 days out (this is for the reg. civil on Wheelwright). Some provincias require more information, like medical history and such. Of course, if this isn't your first marriage then you have to provide additional documentation.

Here's the list of information that I had to provide to immigration in order to apply for permanent residency:
  • Valid passport (and a photocopy of the entire passport)
  • Birth Certificate (not a copy) with Apostille
  • Good Conduct Certificate from country of citizenship (issued by the FBI)
  • Good Conduct Certificate from Rosario
  • 4 passport photos
  • DNI of spouse (and a photocopy of the entire DNI)
  • Marriage certificate AND a copy of the signed page in the marriage book from Registro Civil - another fee that you'll have to stand in line at the bank to pay
  • Fee - AR$600 at the time
Seems like a simple enough list, right? HA! Well, the Argentine Consulate that I consulted before leaving the US didn't mention the apostille and they also said that the good conduct certificate needed to be issued by your city of residence in the US - so I schlepped to the downtown NYC precinct for no reason. Fun times.

The US does not issue apostilles outside of the country so I had to request it from my state of birth. The requirements and fees are different for each state but you need to send at least the birth certificate and a letter of request, and probably a self-addressed stamped envelope (which may prove tricky if you need to buy US stamps outside of the US!). This US Embassy link provides the links for each state's apostille office.

The FBI wouldn't accept the digital printout of my fingerprints taken in NYC so I had to be fingerprinted (with sticky ink) at a police station here using the FBI's fingerprint card and then I sent that to the FBI with additional info. It's a good idea to send two or more sets of fingerprints to ensure that they're all readable. Another small fee - $18. This FBI link shows how to request it.

To get a good conduct certificate in Rosario, you need to go to the police station at Catamarca and Entre Rios to be fingerprinted, then wait 15 days to pick them up. And then you take these to the Tribunales to the department of Registros Universales. They give you a form to take to the bank to pay a fee, then you go back and give it to them. Then you wait a week or 2 to pick it up.

All English documents have to be translated and stamped by the Translators' College.

Once the immigration office had everything they needed, they issued me temporary permanent residence (a paper with my picture stapled to it). That was 2 months ago. Now I have to keep checking with the office to see if they've received something (not sure exactly what) that will allow me to proceed with permanent permanent residence and my DNI (which is another enduring process, I'm told).

Really, I can't complain though. It's nothing compared to the US immigration process. The annoying part is having to wait in line after line in order to answer a question or pay a 2 peso fee. The running around is also exhausting and confusing. Though, in the end, it seems that I'll never be more than a permanent resident. I'm not sure if this is officially true, but the immigration office told me that I can't become a citizen without giving up my US citizenship. So...yeah. Resident alien sounds nice.