Sunday, September 13, 2009

Argentina - The Sky Ranch

When most of us hear about Argentina we think of Evita and the famous song “Don’t cry for me Argentina.”

When I was twelve and my mother and I were living in the Philippines - my parents were divorced by that time - my mother was dating a man named Mac. He was the Counsel General at the American Embassy in Manila and my mother was a junior officer. In fact, this was her first overseas assignment as a Foreign Service officer. Mac was much older than my mother, had already been divorced two or three times, palled around with Manila’s millionaires, drove around in a BMW, and he had all the latest gadgets, including a VCR. Since my mom and I only owned a tiny black-and-white television set, being able to watch movies of my choice was really cool. If my mom and Mac wanted me out of the way all they had to do was suggest I watch a movie. My favorite movie, that Mac owned, was the story of Eva Peron.

I remember thinking I wanted to be just like her. Evita had fought for the poor and for women’s right to vote in a national election. She had been poor herself who rose up out of a strong determination to be an actress and married Juan Peron who became the president of Argentina. She was a savior for Argentina’s poor, and when she died of cancer at 33, some compared her to Jesus. But the movie showed she could be cruel and ruthless. I liked that about her because it made her complex and interesting.

When I was twelve, my confidence in myself was waning with each step closer to adolescence. It was good for me to learn about women who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted, to make a mark in the world. Eva Peron’s story made me feel powerful. It made me want to tell all those, who told me what I couldn’t do, to buggar off! She gave me hope, like she gave Argentine’s poor, with a message that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you were still valued.

For our project, I had the night off from cooking. We drove 45 minutes North of Toronto to go to one of the few Argentinean restaurants in the area called The Sky Ranch. It was located in a run-down area in a little strip mall. On the outside it looked plain, and if we hadn’t been looking for it we would have missed it. In the inside it had a warm unpretentious ambience that only a local, family-owned restaurant could accomplish. The waitress looked at us curiously. I got the feeling that the place was a “regulars” joint, when someone new came in, it was noticed. It was a hard place to be inconspicuous, especially with my camera and notebook in hand.

The nice thing about eating out for our project, besides not messing up the kitchen, is we can all order something different and in that way try a greater sampling of the cuisine. Most of the food of Argentina has been adapted from other cultures – Spanish, Italian and German foods have all had an influence. But one thing is for sure, Argentineans love their meat and eat it at least once a day. They love to roast their meat on a grill and they mix their meats and cuts, sometimes including udders, intestines, and kidneys. They also love chorizos, empanadas and locro, a corn-based stew.

At The Sky Ranch, we ordered Provoleta a la Porilla (grilled provolone cheese) and several Empanada de Carnes (Argentinean meat pies) for appetizers. For our main course, I choose Cozuela de Marisco (seafood cooked in tomato sauce). They should have just called it seafood soup. It was excellent with a variety of seafood in it including squid, octopus, shrimp (with the shell on. I wasn’t sure how to eat that!), pieces of fish and mussels. Kevin ordered the Lomite Completo (steak on a bun served with ham, cheese, fried egg, lettuce and tomato). Basically, it was a steak sandwich and delish! Julia first ordered the Milanesa de carne (breaded veal cutlet) but it turned out they didn’t have it, so Julia got the Milanesa de pollo (breaded chicken cutlet), which was good, but not a far stretch from chicken strips you’d get on a children’s menu. Lastly, John ordered the Chirrasco Argentino a la Parrilla (grilled Argentean steak). It was flavorful and juicy and came with a large helping of mashed potatoes.

We didn’t get crazy and order intestine, and because of that, we all loved our meals and it was fun watching people as they poured into the restaurant. The table next to us was a large group and they had grills on their table with heaping piles of different meats. In the corner of the restaurant was an area set up for a band. The Sky Ranch has live music on Saturday nights. Kevin asked when the band would start playing. 9:00 he was told. We finished up around 8:30 so we missed the live music. It was too bad, but we promised ourselves we’d be back again – in a year. The restaurant is too far away for us to just drop in, and if we’re going to drive 45 minutes to go to a restaurant it will be for a cuisine still left on my list.

While we waited for our check, Kevin mentioned that Obama’s poll numbers were down. I didn’t like how he said it; he had a little smirk on his face.

“You sound as if you’re happy about that,” I said angrily. Every time Kevin and I talk about politics my blood boils. It’s always a big mistake for us to go there. But once we start it’s very hard to stop. It’s like watching something disgusting on T.V, you want to pull your eyes away from it, but you can’t.

I tried to take in the ambience and forget about my anger. I knew in my heart of hearts Obama would be revered in our history books, and the history books around the world. Just by being elected he has given the world something we haven't had in a long time – hope that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make your mark, achieve the impossible. He’s not perfect, but he has that ability – like Eva Peron – to touch something inside us.

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