Saturday, June 14, 2008

Making Date Nut Bread on a Winter Morn

I’m standing at the counter in my yellow-tiled kitchen. Thank the goddess for fruits, vegetables, and wool sweaters! I say to myself as I chop dates on a wooden plate and drop them in a glass bowl, imagining the fragrant bread I’ll have this afternoon.

Thank the goddess, because we’ll be using them a lot, I say. No one is listening, so I say it again, relishing the sound of "muchisimo."

Roberto flicks the TV on, and yep, the farmers are still striking and the truckers continue to block roads. All over Argentina, grocery shelves are increasingly bare. But even if they were full, we couldn’t drive into town since our VW Bora has run out of gasoline—and so have many local gas stations. We've got stuff in the fridge, I assure myself, and in the pantry.

Besides, and luckily for us on the outskirts of town, the verdulero (green grocer) will stop by this morning, his horse-drawn covered wagon bringing lettuces, tomatoes, oranges, onions, garlic, leeks, potatoes, and eggs, much of it locally produced, along with the good cheer he always radiates.

Roberto needs to go into town right away, though. If his ancient Ford Galaxy wasn’t gathering dust in the street waiting for repairs, we could use it, as it runs on compressed natural gas, which is easily available for now. He comes in the kitchen from outside, brandishing a Nescafe jar full of blue liquid—a bit of gas from who-knows-where that he thinks will be enough to get into town and back. He’ll be watching for a gas station with a long line of cars—that’s the clue.

As I chop the walnuts, I am planning my own day. I think I will alternate some office work with cooking breads and soups. I love cooking—and besides having something to eat, it will take the nip out of the air here. It suddenly occurs to me that the breads are going to need extra time. The small wall gas heaters that barely heat our chalet once exuding less heat than usual. (When my chocolate chip cookies needed fifteen minutes to “set” one day, Roberto explained that the gas company adds air to keep the pressure normal when supplies run low.) I run upstairs make sure the desk fan in my loft office is on and aimed at our downstairs in hopes of keeping our little brick chalet at least 55 degrees.

The wool sweater and the preheating oven seem enough for now, and if the wind doesn’t stop blowing, I’ll soon be stuffing newspapers in the cracks of windows. My wooden clogs insulate my bare feet from the frigid green ceramic tiles as I click-clack into the living room to switch the TV to a sports channel. (These floors are so amazing, like a foundation of vitrified grass! I say a prayer for the woman who had the courage to pick them instead of beige.)

Back to the kitchen. The recipe says to pour boiling water over the dates. I grab the whistling teapot and put it under the spout. No water comes out. Oh, right, the crew working in the street putting in our barrio’s first sewer system has already shut off the pipe. (Hey, at least for now I don’t have to worry about the toilet tank running constantly, sometimes onto the floor and right into the floor drain. Lately we’ve been leaving the toilet tank lid on top of the bidet to make it easier for us to insert the wayward stopper. Plumber A said he’d come last week, then this Monday, never called…Plumber B tried to come Tuesday but his car broke down en route and still isn’t fixed.)

As I fill the kettle from the hot water tap, I give silent thanks for what I used consider a nutty and ugly system here, namely having hideous roof storage tanks that get replenished at night and supply hot water pipes. In a few minutes I am steeping some tea and pouring the water, spitting and feisty, over the dried fruits, just as Joy of Cooking instructs.

The phone rings—it’s the newspaper delivery senora, who in a few minutes arrives at the gate with the bill, warning me about the long lines for gas in the city. I look down our packed-earth road and see the vegetable wagon coming, so I wait, watching the horse with its blinders going clop clop cop past the workers and stopping right at our driveway. How useful to have transport that consumes oats, not gas, for once!

With fingerless gloves, the gray but spry fellow picks out eight huge potatoes, heavy flattish ovals, rather like edible blonde versions of the speckled granite stones I used to collect on the rocky promontory near Jenness Beach (Rye, NH) each summer to line the summer house gardens. One of Nature’s most appealing shapes. Is it safe to heat a rock like that and use it as a bedwarmer? I wonder.

I put the potatoes away in the bin under the phone, which reminds me to check our long-distance service, which has been out for 10 days. I press the memory button for my son in Boston—and get that welcome ring! But no answer, so back to the kitchen.

Now I can finish. I cream the butter and sugar, blend in eggs, dump in the dates, add the flour and baking soda, and finally scrape the mixture into the heavy Calaphon bread pan my daughter sent me when I first arrived. Setting the timer, I see that another morning come and gone at my little house on the Pampa. I smile, realizing how resilient I’ve become here, and take another sip of mint tea.


bernard n. shull said...

hi mate, this is the canadin pharmacy you asked me about: the link

Jeff Bartlett said...

Your last post left a feeling of doom and now a multi week absence! What has happeneD?

PETE said...

What a great post! It put me back there. I spent a few years traveling and living in la Provincia de Cordoba. I hope that Argentina will one day make a great escape for me and my family from the craziness that will one day come to the US in full force.