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Monday, January 28, 2013

The First Full Moon!

Wally and I were feeling a little bummed out because of some recent events that I will probably blog about soon in an another upcoming post. So we really needed something to come along and take our minds off of things. We needed a mini vacation and we feel we got one in a surprising way. We learned that a vacation is really a "state of mind" and a slightly different venue is all it takes to effect this.

There are some newly imported expats who have a killer view of the water and sky at their place.  Yes, I must admit, even better than our view of the water. They only live 10 minutes away from us but we really felt we had stepped into a different world. They invited us to watch the "rising of the moon". Not just any moon but The First Full Moon of this year, 2013.

Sunday, January 27, 2013. The First Full Moon of the year!
We feasted on some salmon, Philadelphia cream cheese, red onions, capers and homemade bread. I was offered a Margarita drink which I accepted (it's been years since I had one) and then we had a mixed salad, a main entrée consisting of pork chops in a sauce with mushrooms and a helping of quinoa which was the first time we had ever tried that side dish (I think it's a rice-like grain). For dessert we had a custard, plum tart concoction. Yum, Yum! "Thank you guys" for your hospitality and "Thanks", for being such good cooks! That dinner was a great start to our vacation like evening.

The weather was deliciously warm and mosquito free. The pictures don't do the moon justice as it was a bright orange color, what I normally would have called a harvest moon but that's in a different season. It was just a spectacular color.

As we watched the moon rise we heard the sounds of drums beating in the distance and quite literarily the natives were getting restless. Okay, the native Uruguayos were about to start a concert and were warming up! Drums play an important part in the Uruguayan music culture and on most weekends you can hear groups of people playing the drums together in some park. Others, will actually parade up and down the streets playing together as a group. How much better for youths to do that as an activity than just pitifully hanging out in front of some local 7-eleven store like the youths often do back home in the States in most small towns across the USA.

This was the 6th year of a free to the public concert. The festival of the first full moon of the year held at  the Santa Rosa Fort or in Spanish, Fiesta de la luna llena del Fortín de Santa Rosa. There were no religious ceremonies involved. It was simply "a community event" enjoying music under the bright moon light. I had forgotten how much light a full moon can cast. Even though the concert started at 9 o'clock on a Sunday night everyone was out for the evening. Grandparents, parents, kids and even some dogs were playing and enjoying the music. It was a real family/community event. The event was started by Marcelo Rivero Stefanovich as a way for the community to come together and meet the year together. So Sunday/domingo January the 27th was an evening enjoyed under the stars and under the pine trees.

An open air amphitheater near El Fortín de Santa Rosa. Concert in the moonlight.
El Fortín de Santa Rosa is a hotel that was an old Fort. It has an old defunct cannon out front of it.. The neighborhood is named after this fort. There is also a park here above and next to the beach that has a natural amphitheater/anfiteatro natural.

Several bands played in this area that night. The first band up was the Silvina Gomez Gamarcia group. It was a mix of drummers, a guitar player, someone even played an accordion during 1 song and the lead was the keyboard player and singer, Silvina Gomez Gamarci. It was a cool jazzy/ brazilian sound. Very easy to listen to and I even understood some of what she sang in Spanish. She was very clear in her tone and singing. A big thumbs up from me.

The Silvina Gomez Gamarcia Band ,with Javier Sopra Viera Olivera (in hat)
The Diego Lacuesta trio played a few songs. They were worthwhile hearing while waiting for a  popular Brazilian group The Brasilereses. A singer named Rossana Taddei 3rd (Wally's now favorite)  and Gustavo Etchenique.

Rossana Taddei 3rd (Photo from Facebook site)
The woman Rossana was a chatty story teller singer that got the audience to chime into various songs with group hoots  and  during one song about estancia/farm life a few moos and goat sounds. Spanish cows go "Muu", English go, "Moo" .Wally compared her singing story telling to Joni Mitchell, although at the end she sang a Janis Joplin song in English called "Mercedes Benz' (Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz). Wally wished he/we spoke better Spanish so we could have enjoyed her obvious many tales during her performance. We were up on a bluff looking down at the stage and amphitheater. Wally says we will try and go closer to the stage next time when we can't understand what's being said clearly. There were no assigned seats, just the stairs, the ground and whatever chairs you brought in yourself.

The last group to play to a thinning crowd at 2 O'clock in the morning was "Charlie y La banda del Perro" ( perro, means dog in Spanish) His group was fun and more "rockish" than the earlier Brazilian jazz sounding groups. Our dinner hosts had actually met the young man Charlie earlier that same night while he was playing away on his guitar practicing for the concert.

Wally and I slipped away from the concert for a few moments to walk along the beach, which is much wider than ours is. We saw that this neighborhood has a new metal lifeguard lookout station compared to the wooden one located at our beach. This community also has a new wooden boardwalk leading down to the sand. Our beach has some concrete steps that end halfway down, enough to get you to sand though.

We couldn't help feeling that we were on vacation,  It was a different vibe. It's funny what a great dinner, enjoyable hosts, a moonlight concert and a 10 minute distance can do to revive the spirit.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Membrillo, A Sweet Treat!

Truck at the Feria selling fruit dulces.
Slowly, little by little/poco a poco, I am trying to discover and taste, foods that typify the "comfort foods" that Uruguayans like to eat. By comfort foods, I mean the type of foods that one would fondly mention in conversation as a childhood favorite or that they would miss if they ever left Uruguay. For instance, I think someone from North America might speak fondly of "Mac and Cheese" (Mac = Macaroni) or PB and J (Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches). By the way, when "I" was growing up, we just said, Peanut Butter and Jelly, this need for abbreviations is the result of the newer, younger Micky D's (McDonald's) computer/twitter generation. Yeah, I'm turning into "an old fogey" but I'm trying to keep up!

Of course, the obvious symbol of Uruguay would be Mate, the herbal tea-like drink that uses Yerba/herb leaves and twigs from the Mate shrub/tree. You steep the dried leaves and twigs in hot water like you would a tea. People here put it into a traditional hollowed out gourd and drink it through a metal straw called a bombilla. It is a community drink, as the same cup is shared and passed among many people (your friends and family) at one occasion. This drink is carried along literarily wherever one goes, that together with a thermos of hot water held snuggly under the arm or in a leather holder thrown over the shoulder by the majority of the population.

Stand selling Mate accessories (gourds, etc.) and leather goods
The second favorite can't get enough of it, comfort food is Dulce de Leche. That is a sweet caramel-like, tan colored substance. At first, upon arriving here in Uruguay, Dulce de Leche inundated my taste buds,  I felt every dessert contained it as an ingredient and I couldn't avoid it. I used to make it "my aim", to find desserts without it, like lemon bars and chocolate cake.

Of course, I had to be prepared for it to be drizzled or layered into those dessert flavors as well. The good news is that I finally got hooked on Dulce de Leche, as much as the rest of the country, so now I'm fine with it. I too, have even been known to sneak a teaspoonful of it, straight out of the container from time to time for a quick taste. I'm still biased against the mate, sad to say. It tastes like drinking straw water, to me at least.

Okay, enough ranting and on to the good stuff. Besides Dulce de Leche, in another post I have already mentioned the tasty treat of Garrapiñassweet covered toasted peanuts and have given the recipe on how to make them.

I'm now adding to the list of fondly talked about foods something called, Dulce de Membrillo.

I must admit that, when I first saw a block/slice of it (pictured above) in the area of our supermarket near the cheese section, my stomach turned queasy. The absurd reasoning for that reaction was that I didn't know what it was and it looked like some jellied meat fat to me, like the jelly from a canned ham but firmer and colored. I think the reddish color made me think it was meat related.  Other expats, have also said in horror, "What is that?" Of course, that's because we were all idiots and couldn't speak Spanish. If we could speak better, we would have seen the word "Dulce" attached to the name which means "Sweet" in Spanish, better still we should have asked! 

Membrillo means "Quince" in Spanish and Quince is a fruit, NOT a meat product, not some weird membrane like the word looks like to an English speaker trying to make sense of foreign looking words. So this strange looking block of stuff, is a sweet, soft, fruit jellied substance and I love it! Click on the above link for a Google translated recipe on how to make your own. Beware that sometimes the blogger or Google (?) mistyped the word liquid as squid. No fish or actual squid is used in this home made brew, just fruit, sugar and liquid (water). I liked her post because the steps are shown in photos.

left: Zapallo/squash and right: Batata/sweet potato Dulce
The reason this Dulce was near the cheese section of the store is that these flavors compliment each other. Of course, we all know that wine and cheese go together as well. We once had a German friend that told us a saying, "Don't tell the farmer about pears and cheese". This was because the taste of the pear fruit with a cheese slice would be so delicious that the farmer after tasting this combination would then hoard these two products from his farm and orchard, never selling them to anyone again so he could eat them all day by himself!

Apparently, here in South America (also in Spain) the favored combination is not pear and cheese but quince and cheese. This cheese and Membrillo (quince flavor) combination is so well known in Uruguay and Argentina that they have a special name for this appetizer. It's known as a "Martín Fierro". Martín Fierro was a fictional character in an epic poem called "The Gaucho"' written by an Argentine named José Hernández. The cheese of choice recommended is called Manchego. I have no idea what that cheese is or tastes like. Really just about any sharp cheddar cheese (or any cheese you like) goes with this quince/membrillo. Don't forget the crackers!

Besides, being made with quince fruit/ membrillo, there are other flavors of this Dulce available. Such exotic names as Batata meaning sweet potato and Zapallo which means squash in Spanish.

Cheese, crackers, and wine along with Batata and Zapallo dulce,
a great appetizer combo.
Wally doesn't really like squash or sweet potatoes even as vegetables so he buys them only because of me. I love the Dulce de Zapallo and the Dulce de Batata but Wally wasn't won over, he didn't like those flavors in the dulce/jelly form either. Then he gave it one more try, and bought the Quince/Membrillo Dulce and pronounced it good! Quince has a slightly bitter sweet quality, a little like Cranberry and he liked the tone-downed flavor. 

I have seen a new stand at the feria selling many other flavors as well. The title photo shows that family stand. I talked to the woman in the photo. She is named Flavia (a common name here). She showed me their blueberry block and her strawberry slab and said that they were the most expensive speciality flavors that they sell. They sell  the standard flavors including the Batata and a Batata with some chocolate swirled in. There is a peach favored dulce that sounds yummy. I have yet to try that one. They also sell a green apple dulce which Wally was the most excited to try. So I came back the next week to buy and try the "Green Apple" dulce. Wally liked it as well. It was a little less sweet, like the quince flavor. That's why I think he likes the green apple flavor dulce as well.

The Apple and Quince flavors that Wally likes!
They are easy to make without using too many ingredients but they take hours in cooking them down to this solid state. Just google them and you'll get several recipes, like the link I included. As frugal as we are, even we, can afford to buy the package outright. Unless, we get a quince bush/tree in the future, Wally says, he doesn't want the bother of making it since we can buy a long lasting slice for a buck or two (20-50 pesos) depending on the flavor and amount you buy. We now often buy this delicious treat.

So except, for the mate drinking, we are enjoying and trying, these yummy tastes of Uruguay.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


December 31st, 2012
Well the Mayan Indians weren't such forward thinkers after all, their calendar ended last month but we didn't! Yeah! That's the good news. The bad is that I'm afraid 2013 won't be that great of a year for me.

John Lennon (of the Beatles fame) was once asked why he was attracted to Yoko Ono who became his wife. He said it was because when he met her at a gallery opening her exhibit spoke to his soul. Her art installation consisted of a long wooden stair case with a telescope like piece mounted at the top of the stairs. When he climbed the stairs and looked through the eye piece what he saw made him know she was a woman he wanted to be with. What he saw was the word YES. It was a positive message and very powerful, just one simple word but with great possibilities.

So, I too usually try in my posts to be positive and upbeat when I can. I hope this new year's post doesn't turn any of you permanently away but I'm just hoping that this new year doesn't suck too bad.

December 31st. ended with the usual neighborhood fireworks show. We have at least 3 competing neighbors who go all out in their displays so we stayed home to watch. Earlier in the day it had rained so we nixed the roof and I just ran out at midnight and peeked from my own backyard to watch.

My neighbors' fireworks display, as seen from my backyard.
January 2013.
We found my favorite street dog dead this morning. Whenever, I would see him, I would give him some food. He would wander up our stairs and I'd give him something to eat. I always keep water in front of our stoop/stair case for the street dogs. I have called around for homes whenever I've seen abandoned puppies but the grown dogs live in packs and are usually caring for themselves, being feed by various people in the neighborhood. This dog was probably some summer pet abandoned by vacationers after their vacation ended a few summers ago. He was sweet but way too large to take in. I have 2 of my own (dogs and 1 cat) and a husband who won't allow anymore pets than what we already have, given our limited budget.

Wally pulled the poor thing out of the road. He died, I believe from parasites. Wally next, went to the Intendencia (city hall) to see if they pick up large dead animals.  The guy in the office said yes they do. He took Wally outside to see the 4 pickup guys standing around who have motorcycles and bags, then he left Wally with them. We have a little map showing how to get to our house along with instructions on what streets to take pre-copied up. This usually makes finding and getting to our house a snap. We even have a picture of our house on it. Wally handed them the map. The four guys then debated for a full 10 minutes on where our house was. They related how at one time, on the old city map our street was named after a sea creature  or mussels/ Los Moluscos. Then it was called, Calle Uno (# 1) but how now it was back to being named like the old map said but it could also be something else. Then they discussed how sometimes the coastal road is called the Rambla but others call it the Costanero and a third word was also used. Although city hall is only 10 minutes away, I'm hoping the dog is removed some time in the next 8 hours.

This 2013, I am reminded that I no longer have my neighbors' photogenic pine tree to admire anymore against the waves, so I am angling my photos now slightly to the left. The pine trunk is still there, the tree is just decapitated, sigh.

As a reminder to whom it may concern, January is usually when you are supposed to pay your Contribución Immobilieria (property taxes). If you pay early and in a one lump sum payment verses splitting the payments and paying every 6 months instead, you get a hefty rebate! We bought booze with the change back. Vermouth which is called a Martini here because of the company brand name and some Vodka which helps in making Long Island Ice Teas (if we ever find Triple Sec, Where, where??) at least made our tax payment with it's cash back more palatable.

January is the 2nd month of full on summer, down here in South America but this January is surprisingly cool. I'm sort of glad, because among some very strong winds that blew, December had mosquitos and a day that went from 92 degrees F. to 102! So cool and Mosquito free is good.

January 2013
Because of the wind and rain, the water outside at the beach is very brown and choppy.

Wally and I had a fight. That's very rare for us. Still, it left this transition between saying good bye to the old year and welcoming in the new one quite sour for me, but he says he's sorry and will try and do better. One thing I got out of his repentance is that he says he will help me a little bit with my struggling Spanish. I've been very depressed about my lack of progress. Can you tell? Conversing, actually speaking full sentences in Spanish, comes much easier to Wally than it does to me. I know more rules and grammar than he does but that hinders me, more than it helps. Wally knows a few phrases and is able to turn them in a variety of ways so that it sounds like he is speaking full on Spanish. He is now trying practice conversations with me. We started to watch some old Spanish movies and then review them in a mock conversation. So while I am still pissed at him, I also am kind of glad, he's finally helping me with one of my valid complaints! Viva Luchas!

Well, no matter what the coming year brings, I promise that the next post will be more upbeat and positive. May your year bring you, more Yes than no's!