Howdy stranger! Has anyone else noticed that my “3 posts a week” blog has turned into a “one post per month, if you are lucky” blog? Yeah, me too. Sorry about that. There are so many reasons and excuses, but should we just decide together to move on? Yup. (Phew!)
Where: Mendoza, Argentina
We just got back from a 10 day love-fest with Argentina, so rather than delve into my traveling past, let’s do Mendoza which is so fresh and recent that my suitcases are still waiting to be put away in the spare room and my waist line is still waiting to get back to its former self (let’s be honest, it will have to be patient).
Plate of food: We ate so well on this trip that I feel compelled to do a Top 3.
- Starter: (eaten at Belasco De Baquedano winery) Delicate rolls of zucchini filled with sun dried tomato cream with tiny jewels of sliced radish, green peas, beetroot cubes and carrot crisps. This was springtime on a plate: fresh, colourful, and light. A nice balance to the alarming amount of Argentine beef I was consuming (I am from Alberta, after all). When I wasn’t distracted by the views of the snowy peaks of the Andes out the window, I had an equally appealing sight on my plate.
- Main dish: (eaten at Familia Zuccardi winery) Grilled meats with roasted vegetables and fresh salad. Simple. The best ones always are, aren’t they? The meat was brought to our table straight from the grill; first the sausage and black pudding, then pork and goat, then chicken, and finally beef. All of it tender and succulent. Don’t worry – you don’t have to select all of it, if you don’t want to. I, for one, chose to hold back and declined the offer of…sausage. So there. I loved the black pudding with its deep, rich flavour; and the chicken with its salty, crispy skin; and, of course, the beef which was perfectly cooked and smoky from the outdoor grill. And don’t think that the accompaniments paled in comparison. No, those slightly charred onions, slices of eggplant and zucchini; the marinated fresh tomatoes; and the crunchy ribbons of carrot all came together on our plates in one happy marriage of opposites. Hot, cold, rich, fresh, smooth, crisp, yum, yummier.
- Dessert: (eaten at Azafran restaurant) You know about my menu-stopper: Creme Brûlée. Well, meet her brazen cousin: The Dulce de Leche Creme Brûlée. This little vixen is a deep caramel colour with more toasted sugar flavour than the regular. Still silky smooth, still with that satisfying brittle top. Argentines are crazy about Dulce de Leche. They put it between biscuits, roll it into crepes, slather it between cake layers, make it into ice cream, and create a Creme Brûlée with it that made me grateful for every single one of my taste buds.
The best: After visiting the Mendoza region, I am convinced that if Heaven exists it is full of grape vines and views of the mountains, where you bask in the sunshine among huge trees while Saint Peter hands you a glass of Malbec.
We spent such a heavenly afternoon at one winery, Familia Zuccardi. Driving along the highway looking at dry, dusty earth and ramshackle car repair yards, it was hard to believe that just beyond was a lush, green, peaceful oasis. We were ushered into the winery and met by Pedro who showed us around and was so passionate about wine that I felt myself wanting to pump my fist into the air. (I did not. My dignity remains intact.)
We tasted 3 wines: a fruity rose that you would want to drink in the sunshine at the seaside, a deep malbec that you would want to drink while curled up next to the fireplace, and a surprisingly zingy dessert wine that you would want to drink at 4 p.m on a Wednesday. No? Just me then.
We walked along the rows of vines until we reached the winery’s restaurant that was set among big shady trees. There were picnic tables and barrels arranged in the garden, but we ate in the glass covered conservatory . And we ate and ate and ate. And drank some great wine. Then we had the kids roll us back home.
After lunch we wandered through the garden under huge oak trees and past silvery-leaved olive trees. We drank in the dappled shade just as we had the wine. And it was just as intoxicating: the stillness, the views of the mountains, the maple seeds whirling down like miniature helicopters from the trees.
I will use that afternoon as my measure for contentedness for many years to come.
Story that needs to be told: We hired a car while in Mendoza. (Stay with me here, it gets slightly more interesting.) We used a reputable company and we requested a car with space for children, suitcases, and many bottles of wine. (I surprised myself by listing the kids first. Huh.)
When we arrived at Mendoza’s small airport we noticed with interest that the company did not occupy one of the 6 car rental desks. We had someone call; they explained that our man was downtown and on his way. He’ll be 15 minutes, they said.
We had a coffee. 15 minutes passed. We had them call again.
He’s 15 minutes away, they said.
We sat. We stood. We paced. We wondered why no one was worried about this poor man who was obviously stuck in some time vortex where he remains 15 minutes away from his destination forever.
One hour later our man arrived, apologetic, but mostly jovial (must be all the Malbec in the region). He led us to our car.
Our car was small. Not in a zippy, easy-to-park way, but in a we-ain’t-gonna-fit way.
As we loaded the car using Tetris skills from the 90s, the man kept smiling and nodding. We eventually managed to get everything and everyone in the car and prepared to depart. It became clear to us that this car was made using paper mache/recycled soda bottles/cast-offs from cheap plastic toys because it looked as though if you changed gears with any gusto the gear stick would end up in the backseat.
I took one for the team by being pinned in my seat with the folded-up buggy pressed against my chest. AND I navigated. Sheesh.
The car also had a retro vibe going with no automatic windows or locks. Our kids had never seen a wind-down/up window and they did not know how to open them. Ha, confounded again! I also left my door unlocked more often than not because, WHAT, I have to depress the lock MYSELF?! Ha, confound…never mind.
Our car was a VW Gol. No, I didn’t spell Golf incorrectly. It was a G-O-L. Like the F was supposed to join on, but it took one look at the car and said “There’s no F’ing way I am getting stuck on that car”.
I blame you not, letter F.
But having said all that, our car did get us from Point A to Point B (with a few wineries in between). Seeing as our man dropped it off to us with a quarter tank of gas in it (thanks?), we needed to fill up fairly quickly. The first petrol station turned us away and we thought it was because it exclusively sold diesel. The next station said maybe they would have petrol in an hour. With rising panic we realized that all the stations had enormous queues of cars. There was a petrol shortage. Stations were dry.
We didn’t want to drive too far in our search for petrol, but we decided to try one more station. All they had was Premium Petrol. We’ll take it! Never have those fancy additives been so wasted on a car.
We waited in the queue and finally started filling up. Just as our tank was full the attendant announced that the petrol had run out. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were….then we peeled out of there (as quick as the Gol can) because I had visions of people getting desperate enough for gas that they would suck it from our tank with a straw.
“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
~ Andre Simon