Volunteer Project

Buenos Tardes!

After I wrote my last post, I went downtown with some fellow volunteers to participate in La Marcha, which is a march that happens on March 24 of every year, to commemorate the events that happened during the dictatorship here in Argentina in the 1970s. Many people were kidnapped and killed. In Cordoba, and I think many other cities across Argentina, thousands gather downtown with flags and costumes, and march down the streets, singing, chanting, and dancing. The grandmothers of the lost people lead the march, and not too far behind them are the children of the lost people, who march with signs of pictures of their missing loved ones. It was quite a powerful experience, and very emotional. At the end of the march there was a concert where people gave speeches, sung the national anthem, and then a band played.

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Monday I finally got to go to my placement. To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed. It turns out that what Projects Abroad advertises on their website as an Organic Farming Project, is actually quite different than what it actually says on the website. The biggest difference is that there is no expert teaching me what to do, but rather, a volunteer who has been there for three months, and leaves next week. She told me that she was disappointed with the project too, but it seems as if she has made the best of the situation. And, I am trying to stay positive, and get as much as I can from the experience.

I work at two gardens. One is behind an orphanage, and the other behind a daycare. The first one has tomato plants, potato plants, bean plants, cucumber plants, and an Argentine kind of pepper plant, but that´s it (and the tomato plant is the only one that is big enough to have fruit). I was supposed to be able to promote the garden and sell the produce to the community, but that´s definitely not what I will be doing. For this garden, I am to maintain it by watering and weeding the area, and try to grow new plants. I plan on sprouting some avocado seeds, for example, and perhaps even get a lemon tree started. But, neither of us know how to do this, so it´ll just be trial and error. We´ll see. I also suggested to my co-worker Ashley, that we write a manual about the garden, so future volunteers can learn from it (seeing that there isn´t anyone around to teach new volunteers, and Ashely had a lot of failed experiments over the past three months that others can learn from).

At the second garden, well it isn´t even a garden yet. Ashley and I are making it from scratch by digging up the grass. We started that this morning, and had to pull up many rocks, tiles, and lots of garbage, that have been sitting in the earth for many years. By the end of my time here, hopefully this plot of land will ressemble a garden.

Here is the first garden:

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And, here is the plot of land that will soon be a garden.

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I am going to Buenos Aires this weekend for 5 days with my friend Alicia. I am very excited to see the capital!

Mi Primera Fin de Semana en Argentina

Greetings from Cordoba! 

Well, it has been quite the adventure thus far. It´s only my fourth day here and already there is so much to tell. 

My flight here was pretty good. I had very good luck with seats, getting seats by myself with the other free beside me. This was especially appreciated on my ten-hour overnight leg from New York to Santiago, Chile. It was also a nice surprise to be served red wine with a complimentary meal by the very attractive Chilean flight attendants. The worst part of the trip was that my baggage did not leave New York with me, and I had to wait about 36 hours for it to show up. I can´t express the joy I felt when I was reunited with my suitcase. After wearing the same clothed for three days, and warm clothes at that, changing into shorts and flipflops was incredible. 

Here in Cordoba I live with a host family: a mother, a father, and two other tourists. One is from South Carolina, and he speaks English and Spanish, and my roommate is from France, and speaks French and Spanish. My host family only speaks Spanish, and I learned very quickly how difficult it is to communicate when I can basicially only name objects, and can´t really put a sentence together. So, I have been speaking a lot of French with my roommate, and somehow managing to have conversations with my host parents, Elena and Pepe. They are extremely kind people, which is what Argentines are known for, and have been extremely welcoming. I already feel like I have learned a lot of Spanish, so hopefully I will leave this place able to communicate better. 

Friday I had my induction with Projects Abroad, the organization I am here with. A Projects Abroad local Cordoban came to pick me up, and with two other new volunteers (one from Holland, the other from Germany) we got a tour of the Projects Abroad Office, we were shown how to take the bus, and were brought downtown to get oriented, had lunch, and bought phone cards and a bus pass. I now have a cellphone to communicate with fellow volunteers. 

The city is magnificent. There are beautiful buildings everywhere with unique architecture, which are of every colour of the rainbow. At night many of the buildings light up and change colour too. There are many beautiful churches with breath-taking art on the ceilings and walls. Yesterday I met up with the volunteer from Holland, named Alicia, and we explored the downtown simply by walking around, entering buildings as we pleased. We also went to the bus station to find out about schedules and prices to travel around. On weekends it is very common for volunteers to leave the city to explore, and next weekend just so happens to be a 6 day weekend. Alicia and I didn´t know about this until we arrived, so we are now trying to figure out where we can go. My roommate Emilie is going to Iguazu, witch is a 20 hour bus ride to one of the great wonders of the world, a giant waterfall. I really want to go, but it´s far, a bit expensive, and I need to find out if it is possible for me to entre Brazil as a Canadian without a visa. So, either I will go to Iguazu or Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and only 10 hours away. The latter would be about half the price. 

Last night I went out on the town with Emilie and two other volunteers. In Argentina, going out is literally all night. I got home at 6:30 this morning, as the bars close around 5 or 6 am. Initally, I met the girls at a restaurant and drank wine. We then joined up with a few other people (all Spanish speaking Argentines) and had more drinks at a bar until about 3:00am. Then, we went to the club until 5:00am. Argentina is famous for the tango, and the music reflected what I think of as tango music. And, everybody seemed to know how to dance well – even the men! I danced with a guy who seemed to know what he was doing.  

By 5:00am I was ready for bed, but my amigos wanted to socialize outside of the bar. Not wanting to cab alone, I waited for my roommate, and eventually we decided to take a taxi. But, of course, there are thousands of others doing the same thing, so we didn´t get a taxi until past 6:00am. I finally got to bed at 6:30 this morning, only to be woken up at 8:30 by hammering noises. My host family is getting a bathroom installed beside their bedroom, and somehow it is totally acceptable for construction workers to start early on Sundays. I managed to get back to sleep with the help of ear plugs, thankfully. 

In all, it has been quite the adventure. I definitely feel a huge cultural difference in some aspects, but I also feel welcome and content being here.  I am still adapting to the culture – for example, I am still not used to eating dinner at 10:00 at night – but, overall I have not felt culture shock the way I thought I would. This month is going to fly by, and I think it´s important just to throw myself in the culture and enjoy it as much as possible. 

Tomorrow I finally get to work at the garden! I´m very excited to see it and learn about my responsibilities as a volunteer. 

Hasta Luego!

Madeleines

At Cordon Bleu I learned how to make these lemon cookie-cake things in the shape of a shell, also known as Madeleines. They were originally made in Commercy, France, and were inspired by sponge cake (aka Genoise). For Christmas this past year, I asked for a Madeleine pan, and at long last I found a chance to use it! At LCBO (Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa), the French chefs insist that Madeleines are presented with the shell side facing down. This just doesn’t make sense to me, as the nice pattern just goes to waste. As such, any French pastry chef out there might think the Madeleines below are upside down.  

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Ingredients
130g sugar
2 eggs
35ml milk
170g flour
8g baking powder
85g butter
zest of one lemon or one orange (I used lemon)

I sifted together the flour and baking powder, then in a separate bowl whisked the sugar, lemon zest, and eggs together vigorously until they turned a light colour. 

Meanwhile, in a small pot, I made beurre au noisette. This involves boiling the butter until brown specks appear in it. I removed the pot from the heat as soon as I saw this happen. 

With a whisk, I mixed the flour mixture with the egg mixture, then added the milk, then the butter. I covered the bowl in plastic wrap, and refrigerated the batter for an hour. This allows the flour time to absorb the liquid. 

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I buttered the Madeleine pan well, and spooned the batter into each shell, about half-full (I think I over-filled mine just a tad). They baked at 370 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown (about 15 minutes, turning the tray half-way through). 

ImageThis is a very simple recipe to make, and there is a lot of potential for experimenting with the ingredients. You can dip them in chocolate, use any kind of zest you want, add cinnamon, or replace 10% of the flour with cocoa powder, for example. Now I want to make more and try this! Too bad I’m out of eggs. 

Oh, and happy pi day! I would have made pie today if I hadn’t spent 8 hours yesterday making pie at work, in preparation for today. For those of you who don’t know, today is March 14th, or 3/14, which is sort of like 3.14, which is pi (the amount of times the diametre of a circle fits around its circumference). For math geeks and pie lovers, this is a special day. I am more of the latter, but I did like math in school, so maybe I’m a bit of both!

Vanilla Whoopie Pies

Here is a pastry you do not come across home-made very often: whoopie pies. They are similar to cupcakes, but rather than the frosting on top, it is sandwiched between two pieces of cake, and the cake has the consistency of a soft cookie and a cake combined. In my opinion, they are heavenly. While at work yesterday, there was an opportunity to experiment with a recipe, so I chose to make Vanilla Dream whoopie pies from the cookbook Whoopie Pies by Hannah Miles. 

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Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour (I used regular flour, plus 1 tbsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup hot water (not boiling)

I greased two whoopie pie pans (it should be 24 cavities in total, making 12 pies. I originally thought that each cake would get cut in half, so I ended up filling 18 cavities), and set them aside. Using an electric mixer, I creamed the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then added the egg and vanilla and beat the mixture some more. Then, I added the dry ingredients with the buttermilk and sour cream and blended until just combined. I finished by adding the hot water. Next, I scooped the batter into the prepared pans, and left them to stand for 10 minutes. Then, I baked the cakes for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the vanilla butter cream, I used a batch of vanilla frosting that was already made, but here is the recipe from the book.

Ingredients

1/2 cup softened butter
3 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp milk
(optional 4 tbsp raspberry preserve)

Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then add icing sugar little by little. Add the milk and vanilla and whip until smooth.

Once the cakes were removed from the oven, I let them sit for about ten minutes, then carefully unmolded them. I let them cool completely, then piped the frosting on top of half of them, and lidded them with another cake. I finished them off by sifting some icing sugar on top. The recipe also directed to put some raspberry preserve on top of the frosting, but we did not have any at work.

What I loved about the whoopie pies was that with each bite there was a perfect balance of cake and frosting, unlike cupcakes, in which you can get a mouthful of just icing, or a mouthful of just cake. I also found the cake to be lighter than a cupcake, but maybe this would be different if I had actually used self-rising flour. Overall, it was fun to make, and it was even more exciting when all but one sold within an hour and a half!

As the days get closer and closer to my departure to Argentina, I am unsure about how much more I will get to post about recipes I make until after I get back. I plan on posting about my trip, so this could temporarily turn into a travel blog about growing vegetables. I will also most certainly post about the food I am eating.