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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All in a night's work...

Pouring a Schop (draft); it's Kunstmann.
I am a sub-par bartender because I don't drink beer 
and don't understand beer terminology...
nor do I care to learn. The most you'll get out of me is, "It's an amber beer,
and no, we don't carry any cerveza negra. Get a Heineken and shut up."

Guitarist for the tango group.
The Tango is very Argentine; you could tell the Argentine 
members of the audience based on who was reacting
the loudest/most fervently in favor of every tango song. 

Lovely performance by these two;
I can't wait to visit the 'tanquerias' in Argentina!

Our team! Leo (the French DJ), me, Amanda, 
and Keko, our boss (and the bar owner).
We have a lot of fun together...
which includes the implementation of unnecessary dress codes, 
as seen above. 

The International Cookie Conundrum

I don't know if many of my readers know this about me, but I make chocolate chip cookies. Not just any chocolate chip cookies, mind you - Vaguely Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I sold these things for four years at my local farmer's market. Initially, the name drove some people off. I frequently heard "Ugh, no thanks, I prefer my cookies unhealthy." I gently reminded my customers that my cookies were not entirely healthy, thankyouverymuch - just vaguely, due to the fact that I used the best quality and minimally processed ingredients available  in the market.

While my exact recipe remains a secret that I refuse to disclose except in the event of a very large sum of money, what makes my cookies different is the fact that they are infused with a flax meal egg replacement, and feature REAL vanilla extract, alongside stone ground whole wheat flour, kosher salt, and more. It's a hefty, hearty, vaguely healthy experience. My clientele were testament to this - after four years and one 3rd place award in a general baked goods contest, I was selling out nearly every week at the market and taking large orders for those customers who just couldn't get enough of my vaguely healthy goodness.

Four years, man. Four years of baking something like once a week for 50 weeks each year. So it stands to reason that I might be going through a little withdrawal here after almost two months without a single sniff or taste of my beloved recipe.

So I broke down and hit up the local Lider store on a mission to bake MY cookies. "It's almost Christmas," I reasoned, "I need to share cookies with people." I make this sound easier than it was - I had to go almost four separate times before I recognized the baking aisle (it was that small), and then a couple more times before they had chocolate chips in stock (one brand, super expensive, one package available). Awesome.

Furthermore, it appears that Chile does not differentiate between baking powder and baking soda. Due to the specifics of my secret recipe, I won't elaborate on which one I use, nor the brand, but let's just say that it's still unclear what I was using, how it was processed, and why the other kind isn't also made available to the baking public.

i was able to find wheat flour, which was nice, but stone ground varieties were conspicuously absent. I had procured my own sea salt from the local vegan store, which I ground using mortar and pestle. Raw sugar (or what looks like raw sugar) was also available - score. (I am slowly revealing my whole recipe to the general public, and I realize this, BUT I'LL NEVER DISCLOSE MY RATIOS!)

I got a little stumped when it came to Brown Sugar Time. It was nowhere. Like, actually, physically non-existent. Como como?? Hello, I thought this place was founded by Germans. There is an explosion of pound cake around every corner, and while I don't actually know if brown sugar is a requirement in any of the pastries or baked goods produced in the area, you would think it was.

So I turned to Luz for help. I described what I was looking for, and after much explanation and lack of dictionary and/or online translator, we got to the bottom of it. She hands me a brick of something that smelled like brown sugar, tasted like brown sugar - by god, it was brown sugar in brick form. She told me to use the crazy grater instrument that I have never once in my life used. What a genius implement, I see now.

This was a therapeutic and invigorating experience.

When it was all said and done, I had a basic approximation of my recipe, minus the flax meal, which meant I baked cookies using eggs for the first time in four years. Similar to my Thanksgiving Baking Experiment of 2012, I did this all without a single measuring tool. Boy was that fun. Again.


What emerged from the oven after a very nervous and pacey 7 to 11 minutes (once again, cannot disclose the time allotted in the oven - also this number is unclear to me because I have no way of telling what temperature I set the oven to, making any attempt at my prior method a total gamble) was this:

Readily identifiable cookies! Chilean Success!

Luz's reaction after tasting my not-so-vaguely-healthy-anymore cookies?

"La encuentro bien. Muy bien." I find it to be good. Very good.

My reaction after tasting my not-so-vaguely-healthy-anymore cookies?

Shit, these are buttery. And sorta gummy. And maybe I didn't use enough sugar. Maybe it was the brown sugar, since I did get lazy and not add the whole [amount has been censored] cup. Is it possible to have a buttery cookie? What purpose does the brown sugar serve, anyway? Why does it not come pre-grated here? Do these chocolate chips actually taste like anything? I better eat another one and find out. 

Next up: making these again, but this time WITH the flax meal, which I was able to find. Now I just have to wait for those chocolate chips to be in stock again...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Navigating the Cosmos (in Puerto Varas)

There is a conference of astronomers visiting Puerto Varas right now, and they have been visiting the Garage each night they've been in town. I never imagined scientists and astrophysicists could consume so many mojitos and draft beers. Furthermore, I never imagined they would be at a bar at all, much less MY bar. But alas, these scientists were rocking out, dancing, having fun, involved in conversations of most likely epic proportions (I imagine their jokes must be infinitely more intelligent than mine).

One of them was a Chilean man, a Santiago native, who lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for seven years before coming back to Chile to continue working with the telescope in the Atacama Desert. He spoke English very well, and we chatted for awhile about the work they're doing up there, what type of telescopes they use, the dimensions of the antennae, nerdy things like that. I showed him my space shuttle necklace as proof of my dedication to all things outer space.

We had a live tango band last night. At one point, this Chilean astronomer came up to me and asked why there was no one on the dance floor, dancing the Tango. I felt a particular lightning bolt of wit come scorching through the cosmos and land somewhere in my chest cavity, so I thought I'd follow this inclination. I told him, "What do you mean? There are tons of people out there dancing; you just can't see them." 

He looked at the dance floor, then back at me, confused.

"They're in a different dimension," I clarified. "You just can't see them, but they're there."

He watched me a moment, still somewhere between amused, confused and horrified.

"Like in the tenth dimension, you know? String Theory and all that."

Another pause, and then he says slowly, "What are you talking about?"

I felt my joke shrivel and crumble and return to the interstellar dust bits from whence it came. I was a little surprised; I mean, I dropped the term 'String Theory'. Isn't it obvious that I'm being witty in front of an astronomer?

"I was trying to make a scientific joke," I said. "I thought it would be funny...People dancing in the tenth dimension."

"Oh, you mean the eleventh dimension?"

This time, I paused. Sure, maybe I'd gotten the specifics of String Theory wrong. But was my joke so unintelligible with that slight, barely noticeable, quark-of-a-gaffe? Come on, Astrophysicist; cut me some slack!

He threw me a pity laugh and we went on our separate interstellar paths. I thanked the astronomers later for sharing their presence with me and the bar and Puero Varas in general. I was strangely honored and thrilled to be in the same breathing space as the people responsible for some of the most cutting edge scientific research in today's world. 

Oh, and by the way, these guys found water in distant galaxies!! Look for the articles coming out soon...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bad News Bears: Chile Edition

I would like to relate a small tale in narrative form.

Once upon a time, a wide-eyed vagabond moved to a foreign country to begin pursuing writing full-time. She brought along a laptop with her, one that boasted the style inclinations of a Mac with the functionality of a PC. This laptop was handy, dear to heart, and quite durable. At one point it had even been knocked off a table by said vagabond´s dog, and it survived with flying colors, minus a new rattle which the vagabond thought was just a loose screw somewhere inside.

The laptop made the move to the new country and hemisphere with no complaints. The vagabond, about a month into her life in the new land, realized that she might want to purchase a new latptop some time soon. Afterall, the laptop was nigh on three years old and had been dropped off a table once.

The vagabond searched high and low on American internet sites, comparing reviews, GB space, dimensions and aesthetics until she arrived at the perfect new Sony Vaio. She became so excited by this new computer that she wanted to buy it instantly, but felt guilty because her old laptop was still functioning very well (even though it had been dropped off a table once). 

Approximately six hours after her purchase decision and general enthusiasm, the old laptop exacted its revenge. It began shutting off with no warning; despite the vagabond´s pleas, it refused to launch itself normally, instead choosing to wring her through a complex series of false System Restores and half-hearted System Repairs.

The vagabond repented, pleaded for mercy, bargaining with the laptop that if it would just let her get off the most updated version of the freaking novels she'd been toiling on mercilessly, that it could take its operating system and do whatever it wanted. The laptop regarded her in icy silence.

Some friends calmly asked the vagabond why she hadn't backed everything up, to which the vagabond responded, 'I did. But just not very recently.' 

The vagabond has plans to purchase her new Sony Vaio immediately, which will probably enrage her old laptop even more. She will soon attempt to take her flailing computer to a local electronics store, where she will search out someone who can read error messages in English. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Snapshots in December

A little friend I like to call 'caracol' (snail).
These lil' guys are everywhere.
Be careful not to smoosh them on the sidewalk!

Us girls with Francisca, a friend who was giving 
Amanda and Leslie Spanish lessons.
It was always a treat to sit in on the classes...
(more for entertainment purposes!)

Robert and I posing in downtown Puerto Varas.
I look inexcusably 90's and I'm not sure how it happened.
But there it is. 

This is the Garage, where Amanda and I work
as two overly-enthusiastic and color-coordinated bartenders.
We frequently dance in sync and are rarely seen not having a good ass time. 

Important Update

"Oh Shit" Moment for the week: Mexicano comes into my bar last night, we get to talking, I'm extremely excited to be using my Mexican Spanish and share that mode of connection and communication, and then in response to our comments on accents and language acquisition, he says, "But you have the Chilean accent now".

Oh shit.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Grateful Check-In

Here are some of the things that I am grateful for on a daily basis. We Americans love to count our blessings on Thanksgiving, but I am guilty just as much as anyone of not reflecting frequently enough upon the delightful and lovely and delicious aspects of my life. Let me begin:

1. I am grateful for the fact that Leslie convinced me to bring my winter jacket to Chile. Back in mid-October, I was stressing over the amount of luggage I'd amassed prior to our departure. I knew I had to leave something, but what? I begged her to agree with my rationalization for leaving the enormous green parka. "It's going to be summer," I reasoned, "I mean, one or two cold nights is fine, but then it'll be SUMMER." I don't remember what the persuasive argument was that changed my mind, but I brought it along (I ended up leaving a fair amount of beads and bead containers behind - good choice) and I thank the heavens above for this everyday, because I literally wear that jacket EVERY DAY. Yeah, it's spring here, but it's certainly not like Spring in Ohio. The nights are still cold (though not as cold as when we first arrived), and the daytime temp swings from annoyingly sweltering in the sunlight to annoyingly cold in the shade. There was a hot spell only once, and it lasted three days. I was able to wear my shorts in the daytime on those days, but I'm not sure what happened because that weather has not returned (maybe the hole in the o-zone layer? Seems like a good excuse for any strange behavior in these parts).

2. I am grateful for Chilean Spanish. I never thought I'd say this, but I am indeed very grateful for the fact that Chileans speak too fast, use too many incomprehensible slang words, and barely enunciate anything. Why? My Spanish is getting better at an unprecedented rate, and I can only thank the mumbling locals for this. Once I can understand Chilean Spanish, I can understand anything. But I'm still working on understanding the Chilean is by no means at a "mission accomplished" status yet!

3. I am grateful for the basic goodwill of people everywhere.Without all the kindness and generosity of countless strangers, acquaintances and more, I would not be where I am today in this country. People are always willing to help, whether it be with directions to a city, how to find a taxi,  assistance in looking for jobs/office space/apartments, and more. Once you put the word out here, it starts to circulate, and fast. This is exactly how the three of us have come to find our various employment and office space opportunities. There's always a hand to be lent, no matter how long you've known someone. And that's another aspect of it too - once you greet someone for the first time, there is a familiarity and a general sense of loyalty that extends far beyond the concept of "acquaintances" in the US. That's not to say that every person you meet is your instant best friend, but acquaintances here tend to be more personal and more giving right off the bat, no matter who you are or where you come from.

4. I am grateful for the lax standards of business. I have never held a job in which so little was expected of me. My job duties at the Garage, the bar I started working at a couple days ago, include the following: show up at 10pm, serve drinks when asked, occasionally empty an ash tray or wash a glass, and have fun. In fact, our boss Keko tends to prefer doing most of the work; he has stopped us on countless occasions from washing dishes or tending to customers. We might just be eye candy there, but that's okay. There's good music and I get paid essentially to bump to the music and pour beer.

Amanda and me with Leo, the French DJ.

Furthermore, the other night I responded to a call for help from a friend here, Robert, whose sister owns a local eatery. They were hosting a late-night party for a group of businessmen from Santiago and needed help, stat. Robert and I ended up being the servers for this event, which consisted of Kareoke and an open bar. The owner was very impressed by me, but all I was doing was being a server according to American standards. American standards are intense and over-attentive; think about any time in a restaurant when you've had to call the server over to you and the irritation that results from not being well looked-after. Well, that lax standard of service is the norm here. I was going about my business like a typical American server and the Chilean guys seemed confused, even a bit put off. I was being pushy, in their eyes. I had to reel it back, big time. Which means more standing around, enjoying the environment, and being sung to by tipsy salesmen (one of which actually came over and sang to me, causing me to turn 200 shades of red as the spotlight focused in on just us in front of the room of raucous and hooting businessmen). Very good times, indeed! I have found that my American breeding in the job market leads to anxiety about my job performance (Am I doing a good job? Will  I get fired? Does the boss think I'm being lazy?) and a sense of obligation to consistently "prove" my worth in the workplace. These things are useless here, and just don't exist. It was interesting to realize this difference in work standards. In adapting to the Chilean norm, I am probably unraveling any chance for success in an American workplace in the future. Oops.

5. I am grateful for the internet. Without Al Gore's classic invention (that's for you, Dad), I would feel inconsolably disconnected and lost down here. I am able to keep in touch with so many people in almost every hemisphere of the world, and it is this connection that keeps me invigorated and refreshed and in-touch with my home and roots. Being with Leslie and Amanda down here has been a blessing, as the first thing to bother me while being abroad tends to be the lack of someone who "gets me"; but furthermore, having such constant contact with my family and friends back home has proven to be a necessary fountain of rejuvenation for me.

6. I am grateful for Now. Enough said!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Jobs and Reflections

Once upon a time, Kelli and I were spending Spring Break 2007 in Guanajuato, Mexico exploring the little nooks and callejones of that delightful colonial city.

We went to a bar (we were freshly 21) and had a couple drinks. As time wore on in the bar that night, I became ever-more intrigued by the bartender who'd served us. Bartenders don't normally intrigue me unless they're male, tall and handsome, but this one was different: she was very blonde, very short, very American, and very clearly living in Mexico.

Before we left, I made the decision to approach the very-blonde and very-American bartender to pester her with questions about how, exactly, she'd managed to find herself living and breathing in Guanajuato on a daily basis. It boggled me then; the whole notion of ex-patriot lives in foreign countries was so foreign and strange and alluring. Sure, I had lived in Mexico once, but as a student. There was a start date and an end date and a legitimate visa to go along with it. This girl was clearly making a living there, renting an apartment, slangin' with a group of Mexican friends, just existing in her own Mexican life. I wondered, How does someone just pack up and move to a foreign country and become a part-time bartender and English teacher?

The notion isn't so strange to me anymore. In my trips and journeys since that Spring Break trip, it has become apparent to me just how easily, and oftentimes unexpectedly, one can find themselves rooted in a city or country different than the familiar hometown. It's oftentimes unplanned - you go somewhere, fall in love, make a decision to go back, and then see what you find. Look at us for examples: none of us knew any of the people or opportunities that would find before we got here. There's no craiglist ads or facebook groups to join for this type of thing. It comes from daily life in a place.

In fact, perhaps as an homage to the Great Irony of the Universe, it seems that I as well will become a very-blonde and very-American bartender here. The bar where Amanda works, the Garage, wants me to join the staff. I agreed to one or two nights per week (making it my fifth job), but it excites me for a number of reasons: the money, the side-stepping of full-time commitment, the access to playing MY music with LARGE speakers, a great boss, working with a friend, and, of course, the delightful nod to that moment in my life where I so desperately wanted to be that girl living abroad, picking up opportunities like change on the street, making it work even though so far from home and my culture.

I think it is a healthy and essential practice to think back on our pasts and find those memories from youth when we were looking ahead with dreamy eyes and hopeful sighs, and remember those small things we hoped for, grasped at, and find the ways in which we have manifested them or accomplished them throughout our lives. This of course doesn't apply to some of the more grandiose dreams - obviously I'm not an astronaut OR a mermaid now, even though I always wished to be both of those things.

But when I think back to the things that I most wished for or aspired towards, here is what I see: I see a young Shannon hearing Spanish on some early-afternoon court TV show and becoming totally captivated, wishing so badly to be able to speak the language like the woman on the TV. I see a young Shannon enchanted by history from a young age and wanting so desperately to see pyramids and mummies in real life. I see a coming-of-age Shannon being affected by an experience abroad and vowing to move back abroad someday, somehow.

Those are just some of the things that I remember from my childhood/young adult life that I can trace like lines on map from my formative experiences to where I am today. These things are easy to forget, but realizing that maybe we are exactly where we always wished to be makes for a much more meaning-full and profound journey on this planet.