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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

La Candelaria

With the gloomy winter upon us here in Buenos Aires, we decided to take a weekend trip with some friends to an estancia outside of the city.  An estancia is essentially a ranch that has opened itself up to visitors, like a South American Bed & Breakfast, and there are many different styles to choose from.  The only other experience I have with estancias was in March of 2010 when I went to La Oriental with my mom and we had a blast, so when this opportunity came about I was more than excited.  The requirements for the estancia were; 1) Child friendly, 2) Within 2 hours of the city and 3) Nothing too rustic.  La Candelaria fit the bill. 

La Candelaria is located just outside of Lobos, a small town approximately 115 km outside the city of Buenos Aires.  As with most places we've visited outside of town, it doesn't have an address per se, just a kilometer marker where you turn right onto an unnamed road.  The GPS will help you on your way to this place, but you don't want to rely on it exclusively.  We made it there in just under 2 hours, though without traffic it is closer to an hour and 15 minutes.

Our "family" portrait
The claim to fame at La Candelaria is the castle pictured above which is a working part of the estancia where you are able to stay as long as you travel without children.  If you bring your kids, there are rooms available that are simple, but nice, with a "living" room complete with a working fireplace that is separated from the bedroom by a door (perfect for a sleeping/napping baby).  If you are interested in going inside the castle, they offer daily tours in English and Spanish, and though the tour was short, it was really great to see the antiques and incredible decorative detail.

Our rooms were all located in this separate building
They offer 4 meals a day, so there is almost always food to be had.  We arrived just in time to check in, get our rooms organized and head to the Salon Criollo for merienda (otherwise known as the meal of dessert offered between lunch and dinner).  Here are Gretchen and I enjoying our merienda. 

It was such a nice reprieve to get out of town, the air was crisp and clean and there was nothing but fields and open space to explore.  There were a ton of things to do and see on the ranch, we spent our free time sightseeing and walking the grounds. 
Gretchen and Daddy enjoying the day
The Newhook family with adorable baby Talia
We made a new friend during one of our walks, this extremely tall pup followed us for hours during the day.  Somehow, Jon seems to attract dogs wherever he goes, I'm hoping one day this will persuade him to not be angry when I come home with one.

On Saturday there was a whole dia del campo that is offered as a part of your weekend stay at the estancia or as a single day trip.  This event consisted of a full asado meal, mid-meal entertainment and a gaucho show later in the afternoon.  We enjoyed the full range of events - and it really drew a crowd of people that were just participating in the day trip. 
Here is the beef cooking at the beginning of the day.  I love the indirect heat method they use here, this photo was taken at 10:00am and the lunch wasn't served until 1:00pm.
At lunch, each table was served a little grill filled with meat.  Some of the pieces are things we eat, and some are interesting strange-parts such as intestine and sweetbreads.  The grill is a great little item, it keeps everything hot throughout the meal.
The mid-meal entertainment was a bit like Argentine River Dance.  It was a bit cheesy, but the kids were captivated throughout the show.  It was a little funny to recognize the performers as the same folks that worked on the estancia during the day. 

One of the more hilarious points in the weekend occurred during the gaucho show after lunch.  The Argentine cowboys were really incredible horsemen, doing all sorts of cool and impressive tricks.  At the end of the show they laid out two cow hides and asked for volunteers to participate in the show.  Our friend Paul promptly volunteered and was then dragged behind one of the horsed by a rope in this sort of bobsled race.  I can't imagine this happens at any resort in the US.
Paul is in the red, I think he won the race
Gretchen loved the horse show
Paul and Trey enjoying the bikes
La Candelaria offered all sorts of activities that were included in the cost of your stay.  Some of the activities included; bicycles available for use, pool and ping pong tables, a swimming pool for the summer months, a mini playground for kids, and daily horseback riding.  You can also go fishing, golfing, take a polo lesson or learn to fly a plane - but these activities cost extra.

After 2 days of watching these horses sit waiting for riders, I decided to try my hand at riding for the first time since I was 13.  My mom goes riding all the time, how hard can it be??

The answer: pretty freaking hard.  Here I am all smiles before the ride begins.  In my defense, take note of the big pad and blankets that are tied onto the horses back - there was not really a full saddle to speak of.  Also, the stirrups are just wooden rings AND I'm wearing leggins and tennis shoes (and no helmet - there wasn't even a helmet on the property).  There, those are all of my excuses. 

The guide I went out with was not content with the leisurely walking tour that I was expecting and he somehow thought that I was going to have control of my horse.  My little buddy walked right int the white plastic chair in the photo above and then continued on to, not one, but TWO clothes lines before walking into a tree.  After the tree incident, the guide tied the rope from my horses bridle to his stirrup and then cantered for 20 minutes.  For those not familiar with cantering, it is the speed between trot and gallop that makes you squeeze with your legs harder than you thought possible and hold on to your pad-saddle so tight that your arm is sore for 3 days afterward.  It's also the fastest I've ever gone on a horse - back in the day when I had been taking lessons for months and had all the right gear.  Cantering is also the speed at which I forget how to say "slower please" en español so I just hang on tight, watch my life pass before my eyes and wait until we come to a stop to catch my breath and wipe the tears from my eyes. 

The weekend was great, we had an absolute blast.  I would recommend an estancia to anyone who needs a break from the city, and La Candelaria was a great place to spend the weekend.  We had lots of fun with our friends, came away from the weekend with lots of funny stories and cannot wait until we can spend another weekend in the campo. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


This past Monday we had Gretchen's 4-month doctor's appointment (albeit a bit late considering she is a few weeks over four months) and she is progressing just fine.  She is now at 6.8 kilos (15 pounds) and 63 cm (24.8 inches) our little grower keeps packing on the pounds, which is exactly what we want her to do.

And here are a couple of the pictures I took on her actual 4-month birthday.  The first photo was taken just seconds before the entire outfit (minus the socks) was covered in spit-up.  Second photo was just too precious to leave out.  Notice the socks were spared.

Although I was excited to see how Gretchen was progressing, I was also dreading this checkup because it meant that she was due for another round of vaccines.  I am a complete pansy when it comes to shots of any sort, and although it has gotten better since I've gotten older, I still needed my college roommate to hold my hand when I got my flu shot every year at school (thanks again Jules!), and it's just as difficult to see my little baby get shots.  Jon and I are of the mindset that since we are technically living in a third-world country and taking our baby on long distance flights multiple times in her first year, we'll go ahead and trust the AAP recommended vaccine schedule.  Honestly, we would have done so anyways, but these reasons just seal the deal.

Since the last round of vaccines that Gretchen went through at 2 months, we have had a change (for the better) in our medical coverage.  We are now covered by local insurance, which makes my life overwhelmingly easier considering that I don't have to submit receipts to our insurance company back home.  But, as with any change, I was a little nervous about the new process, especially when it comes to vaccines.

The biggest difference between what I'm used to in the US and here is that vaccines are not commonly given in doctor's offices.  We actually chose our pediatrician because he administers vaccines himself in the office (and, obviously, we liked his way of practicing medicine, etc, etc).   Also, if we have the doctor administer the vaccines, we have to pay in full, in cash and then wait for an 80% reimbursement from the US insurance company.  We went through that procedure back in April and the vaccines ended up costing us close to US$75 after the reimbursement.  Compare that to this week, when the shots were free.  And no paperwork.  Sign me up.

So, after our appointment on Monday, Gretchen and I took a decently long walk to the Vacunatorio.  There are quite a few locations in the city, our doctor recommended Stamboulian (Barrio Norte, 4515-3000; Pacheco de Melo 2941) and it was as good as a place that gives shots can be.  Clean, short lines and friendly staff. And I'm no hypocrite, I got my flu shot at the same time so I can vouch firsthand for how gentle they were.  For the record, Gretchen was an absolute trooper, she barely cried and just needed some extra loving and cuddles that night.  All in all it was a fine experience and it was made even better by the $0.00 bill we received at the end of our visit.  Not only that, they gave us a voucher for free parking (if we had driven).  Instead, we dodged pile after pile of dog poop on Pacheco de Melo (seriously, it must be a common dog walker route or something, it was intense) and walked home on a beautiful 60 degree night in the dead of winter here.  See you in 2 months, Vacunatorio, for the next round of vaccines! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grand Cru

We have passed by the Grand Cru wine shop almost every day since we've moved to Buenos Aires, and though we've talked about going in to see if they offer tastings, we've never actually gone inside.  I am pretty sure the doorman actually recognizes Jon and I due to the number of times that we've walked by, so when we finally went to a tasting this past weekend we both felt that it was past due.  The tasting was the most well rounded we've attended in Buenos Aires, more professional that the Anuva tasting and less expensive than the Park Hyatt.

Grand Cru (Rodriguez Peña 1886: 4816-3975)We booked the tasting for Saturday afternoon from 4:00 - 6:00pm and were told to be prompt.  The tasting room was quite nice and deceivingly large considering the storefront view from the street. The atmosphere was nice, the chairs were comfortable, the table was made of wine delivery crates, it was a really cool spot.  We chose the Malbec tasting where they served four bottles of wine, each from a different Argentine winery and from different price points.  Here are the varieties we tried:
  • Pulenta - 2009 Gran Malbec
  • Doña Paula - 2007 Selection de Bodega
  • Catena Zapata - 2005 Malbec Argentino
  • Don Miguel Gascon - 2006 Don
We started by tasting each wine and discussing it with the sommelier, Ezekial.  After we tasted the four, we each discussed our favorites and Ezekial divulged the cost of each bottle.  We were then able to sit and leisurely finish the bottles of wine while they brought out a plate of cheeses and raisins.  You may notice the Nespresso machine in the background of the photo to the left, none of us requested coffee, but I'm assuming they would have been happy to serve us coffee after the tasting.

It wasn't an inexpensive evening, the tasting was $1800 pesos total, regardless of the number of people in the tasting.  In addition to the tasting room, Grand Cru has a fantastic selection of wines in their store.  There were a few very specific requests that our group had for certain bottles of wine (not necessarily all Argentine wines) and the shop had all of them.

It was a really fun, nice evening and we had a great time.  I would recommend the Grand Cru tasting as a nice thing to do with guests or a great evening with friends. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Oreo Cheesecake

This month the temperature is about as cold as it gets here in Buenos Aires so 'tis the season for expats to flee the "cold" and spend a generally long period of time back in the US. Although we are not planning on spending prolonged periods of time in the US, we can certainly relate to the desire for products from home. In the time that we've lived here we've discovered that there are things that we cannot find here and request that people bring us when they visit, but there are other things, specifically, food related items, that we are able to adapt to local ingredients. Here is one of those recipes.

As far as I know, there are no graham crackers in Argentina. There are crackers you can use that are similar, but no actual graham crackers. For me, this means no s'mores and (more importantly) no cheesecake crust. Behold! There is an alternative! Oreo cookies for the crust! And Oreo cookies are an internationally enjoyed dessert. So are two of my mom's recipes mashed into one, Buenos Aires friendly, delicious cheesecake.

Oreo Cookie Cheesecake
1/4 cup (60 g) melted margarine or butter
2, 8 oz (225 g) packages cream cheese softened
14 oz (400 g) can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups crushed Oreos (about 18), plus 3-5 more for topping

Preheat oven to 300. Combine crumbs and butter pat firmly on bottom of 9" spring form pan.

In a large mixer beat cheese until fluffy. Add condensed milk beat until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 1 hour or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining 3-5 crushed Oreos on top. Cool to room temperature. Chill and remove side of spring form pan.

I like to serve this dessert with strawberries and whipped cream. If I were Martha Stewart I would make my own whipped cream, but instead I buy whipped cream from a can (Chantilly brand here) and serve it that way. Also, as with most fruits here, strawberries are only in season when they are actually in season so I substitute blueberries or mangos or peaches for the fruit as well. Disfruten!