Cafe Culture


We Americans have totally lost the linger and chat vibe in our culture. 1) We have things to do, and 2) the restaurants don’t want us hanging around anyway, because they want to fill the table with new customers and make more money.

I reflected on this this morning in church, as I watched people clutch Styrofoam coffee cups in hand. We drink our coffee as we’re doing something, as a means to an end, rather than sitting. Drinking. Savoring.

Nope, we’re always in a hurry, always multi-tasking.

In Buenos Aires, there were cafes on nearly every corner, where people sat. And talked. Read newspapers. Smoked. And stared into the nothing. But mostly it was a social thing, with two or three friends discussing politics or entertainment.

And the servers are in no hurry to move anyone along.


We, on the other hand, have drive-throughs in our coffee shops.

Buenos Aires: Eating all the Foods


Let’s start with that sucker there: the all-famous alfajor. Two shortbread cookies, a smear of delicious dulce de leche, and sometimes a little coconut or something else on the edges. Ubiquitous, and available everywhere, but not without good reason.


Oh, hi, that day we ventured into the countryside and found this delightful cafe on the square. I ordered the plate of regional meats and cheeses, and let me tell you: #winning. The husband’s lunch was good, but mine was all rich cheeses, salty meats, and luscious crusty bread. Of which I ran out of far before the meat and cheese. #tragedy

Also, see above: the empanada. I grew up eating these lovely little hand pies, but every South American nation has their twist. I suppose it’s become a bit of a personal mission to try one in every country. Chile, yours are good, but I don’t know about the raisins.

(Side note: remember this sucker?)

Back to Argentina, we can’t forget the national drink, mate.


It’s basically green tea, but there’s a whole lore and method and social structure that goes along with it.

We sampled that mate at the ultimate Argentine food experience, quite aptly named: The Argentine Experience.

You guys: DO THIS.

It was so fun. Outgoing staff prepare and introduce you to all the Argentine classics (empanadas, wine, steak, alfajores and mate) in true gourmet fashion, with a side of culture thrown in. Like, I’ve had mate before, I’ve shared it with Argentinos, Uruguayanos and Lebanese people before. I know you don’t move the straw, and it’s bitter, and you add hot water over and over to the tea leaves, but at AE, they give you the whole run down of what it means socially to the culture. I also credit AE with finally teaching me how to cook a steak (even though I’ve read it a hundred times in magazines and recipe blogs, tasting the amazing result made it stick in my head. BRING ME ALL THE STEAKS.

In summary, AE is like having dinner with good friends who introduce you to everything you need to know about the culture. They said they were in talks to develop a similar venture in Barcelona, so hey, maybe that should be my next stop.


My dad and aunt grew up eating at this places when their family lives in Argentina/Uruguay for a couple of years, and with a name like “French-Fry Palace”, how can you go wrong? I was sure to track one down. And even though I knew about the late Latino hours, it was still surprising to see all the restaurants open late into the evenings, with the places packed. Also, probably the most common BA fast food is pizza. It seemed like you couldn’t walk more than 20 feet before hitting the next take-away pizza place.

And now, in our culinary tour, I’d like to pause for a moment to honor the one that will nearly always have my heart:


The factura filled with dulce de leche. Trust me: I tried all the kinds, and every morning I still returned to this dear love.


All the kinds.


Those kinds were pretty, but dry.


Mine, and his.


And excellent start to a day of exploration.

Boca: Pretty Colors and Not Much Else. Also, Hang on to Your Wallet.

Ok, let’s do this.

This is what you think of when you think of Buenos Aires, right?

I did too, sorta.


But I definitely thought Boca was bigger than it is.


It turns out to be a rough, working-class fishing industry neighborhood that happens to have a great soccer team and some colorfully-painted buildings.



(On the walk to the stadium from the touristy area, it looks more like this.)Untitled

The main drag is filled with restaurants and tango characters trying to get you to take a photo with them so they can ask for some cash.


There’s a lot of touristy shopping to be had, too. But apparently you can’t bargain, like I’m used into Ecuador. Even the lady selling laser-cut old records made into clocks wouldn’t budge. But my kid did end up with a Argentina National Team jersey that says “Messi” on the back.


So I’d definitely go, get your photo ops and do some shopping, but don’t plan on spending the day there.

Unless, of course, you’ve got your mate and thermos along for the day.


Breathing the Good Winds of Buenos Aires


We did something this summer that we’d long dreamed about.


It took some creative scheduling, some pooling of similes and hotel points, and one mom/grandma who was willing to donate a week of her life to hang out in Hot-lahoma with the grandkids.


I don’t know about her, but it was SO WORTH IT.


We spent five nights and six days in and around Buenos Aires, with a side trip to Montevideo, Uruguay. Argentina was appealing because it’s so different from the rest of South America (I’ve spent time in Ecuador, where I grew up, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Guyana; so those were my experiences). I also had two other pulls to the nation of cowboys and tango: my dad lived in the area for a while as a kid, and my brother-in-law grew up there. And of course, when I suggest a new adventure, my husband is always up for it.


When I found out that Montevideo was just a two hour boat trip away, I knew we had to hop over there, too. My brother-in-law’s brother lives there. I went to high school with both him and his wife, so we took the opportunity to see them and visit Uruguay.

June isn’t the ideal time to visit; it’s starting into winter for them, so the weather can be cool and rainy. But for us, a few days in 50 and 60 degree weather was a refreshing change from Oklahoma summer.


We walked a ton, and nearly everywhere in the downtown area offers gorgeous architecture.


We also took the subway a bunch, which made me feel like such a local. It costs 4 pesos a trip, much less than 50 cents (using the unofficial – but widely used – exchange rate.)


The first day we got on right at rush hour, which was a fun adventure, during which I tried to teach FP my Latin American street smarts for not getting pick pocketed in a crowd.


So our itinerary went like this:
Arrive Friday morning, 9 a.m., commence city tour with private taxi
Three nights in Constitucion neighborhood (right by San Telmo)
Travel to Montevideo with a half a day stop in Colonial (Uruguay World Heritage site)
Stay one night Montevideo, return to Buenos Aires
Stay one last night in el Centro, right on the Obelisco
Spend the next day touring it up, and head to the airport for our night flight home!


At that point, we were more than ready to see the tiny cuties who direct every moment of our lives.

More to come later!

Harissa and Its Lady


During my first visit to Lebanon in 2012, I stayed in Beirut.


This time, I stayed in Harissa, another town about 30 minutes north.


You simply follow the highway along the coast and turn east in Jounieh to wind up the mountain.


The city is important to the region’s historic Christian population and hosts a shrine to Our Lady of Lebanon.


My hotel was right next to the lady, and I couldn’t help but think of this lady from my childhood:

Virgen de Quito Panecillo 03.jpg
Virgen de Quito Panecillo 03” by CayambeOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It was pretty crazy how much traffic there was up to the shine, especially on the weekend. Cars literally wound around the mountain at a full stop as people filed in to the shrine area.


Curiously, the shrine was connected to a gondola area and children’s play park. The gondola takes tourists down to another recreation area in Jounieh.


On a free afternoon, I wandered down to check out the gondola. I tried to hop on, but lacked a ticket and could never find where to buy one. I found myself crammed in a lift with about 15 Arabic-speaking teenage boys. (Awkward!)

The lift operator spent his free moments in between gondola arrivals praying through his prayer beads.

On the way out, I made my way through the crowd and headed to the shrine’s entrance/exit. I heard someone calling out behind me, but as it was in Arabic, I ignored it, and continued on my way. I was suddenly yanked to a stop by a Lebanese solider, who wanted to search my backpack. Apparently, I looked like a potential terrorist. Backpack reviewed, I was free to take in the views from the top.


Making Arabic Bread


As you know, food is a highly critical element of any successful adventure. And after a day hiking in the cedars, lunch is essential. So when one finds to urge, one asks the taxi driver to pull over in front of someone’s house, where the lady of the house and her mother are making Arabic bread-khebez aarabeh-on the side of the road over a curious type of griddle.

Which, of course, I had to document. For the sake of science. And food, and stuff.



The sandwiches created with this bread were amazing. She had a bunch of different kinds of fillings with mostly all included labneh, the thick yogurt-like spread so common in Lebanese cooking. I wish I would have taken pictures of the finished sandwich, but nope. Was too busy eating.


I inquired about the dough used for the bread, and the lady told me it was just regular dough like you would use for pizza. so there’s that. It shouldn’t be too hard to replicate, save for the ocular griddle, right?

I took video of the process, and I’m so sorry for the screeching of the woman in the background. (But they paid for lunch! No complaining here.) I had a hard enough time just getting the video to upload, let alone any editing.

There you go: knead, pat, stretch, rest, cook, fill and serve. How to make a sandwich with Arabic bread in Lebanon.