When he leaves office as President of Uruguay next month, “El Pepe” Mujica will continue to live humbly on his little flower farm and continue to drive a 1987 VW Bug. For years, he has refused to take more than the average Uruguayan’s salary of $775 a month, depositing the rest of his $12,000 a month salary to charities benefiting single mothers and others.
Once a leftist Tupamaro guerrilla, Mujica spent 14 years in prison. Upon his release, he went into politics with the Broad Front Party and saw his country through a spurt of growth and prosperity.
We don’t think much about Uruguay, but one time it was a very rich country, along with Argentina. The Societe de Fray Bentos Giebert & Cie. along the Rio Uruguay was one of the main sources of canned meat that sustained troops of both sides in the trenches of World War I.
There’s something going on in South America that I like. First there was Pope Francis, who continues to astonish me, and now there is José Mujica, about whom you should read this excellent article by Natasha Hakimi on Truthdig.Com.
In response to a request from my friend Lynette, I’m going to tell you all about what makes for a great Hungarian soup—and probably most great vegetable and meat soups as well. The secret is rántás, the Magyar equivalent of roue. Let’s begin with the ingredients, with the amounts for a week’s worth of soup for two (Martine and I like home-made soups):
- 1 oz unsalted butter
- 1 oz olive oil (need not be virgin: I prefer olive oil that’s been around, if you know what I mean)
- 3 tbsps white flour
- 1/2 minced onion (minced means chopped up real tiny)
- 1/2 bunch minced parsley (again: go to town with your knife here)
- 2 tbsps real Hungarian Szegedi paprika (not Spanish paprika!)
Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan until it melts, stirring well. Give it a minute or two before adding the white flour. Stir until the flour turns brown. Add the onion and parsley and finally the paprika. When your rántás is done, scoop it into your soup toureen and start adding the other good stuff.
Note that the photo above is your rántás after the first three ingredients only. In time, you will adjust the ingredients to more accurately accord with your taste buds.
You can sometimes find good Hungarian paprika in supermarkets, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I get mine from Otto’s Hungarian Import Store in Burbank, and I prefer this variety, the Imported Szegedi Hungarian Paprika. When you get your paprika, keep it in the refrigerator: bugs love it too much.
Last Thursday I came down with a bad cold, and I am still trying to shake the effects of it. You know I’m ill when I can’t read. Instead, I sat propped up in front of the television while a series of medical hucksters such as Dr. Daniel Amen of brain health fame and Dr. William Davis of “Wheat Belly” fame tried to poison me with bad medical advice. Rather than continue listening, I stumbled into the library and napped while sitting in my uncomfy chair.
As the afternoon wore on, I decided to make a mushroom barley soup, which is now merrily bubbling in the kitchen, and I’ve had several cups of hot Darjeeling tea with a Greek honey I bought at Papa Cristo’s a few weeks ago. Drinking really good hot tea when I’m sick always seems to help. (I can always add a bit of dark rum and fresh lemon juice to make it even better.)
With luck, this sick as a dog feeling will soon pass.
This is how I find new authors: Sick with a miserable cold, I go to Yamadaya Ramen in Westwood and while snarfing down a premium shio with extra bamboo shoots, I read the November 20, 2014 edition of The New York Review of Books and find a review by David Gallagher of an Argentinean author I would very much like to read, Juan José Saer. Here he talks about La Grande, Saer’s unfinished novel that has recently been published by Open Letter:
On a long, meditative bus ride from Rosario back to Santa Fe, Tomatis concludes that even the most familiar objects in his house change all the ti9me. “When we return to the kitchen from the dining room, or to the dining room from the kitchen, in the time it takes to find a clean knife in the utensil drawer, everything has changed,” he muses, and in the manner of the Colastiné Indians, he wonders if his house or town will still be there when he gets back. Nula is fascinated with the notion that no two instances are alike, and he obsesses about it on the most unlikely occasions, as when he kisses for the first time a girl called Virginia, with whom he is about to have a one-night stand. In his car, on their way to a motel he reflects that no two kisses are the same. With Virginia by his side he somehow has the time and the inclination to tell himself that
although everything is alike, nothing is ever repeated, and that since the beginning of time, when the great delirium began its expansion, … every event is unique, flaming, unknown, and ephemeral: the individual does not incarnate the species, and the part is not a part of the whole, but only a part, and the whole in turn is always a part; there is no whole; the goldfinch that sings at dawn sings for itself; … and its previous song, which even it does not remember singing, and which seems so much like the one before, if one listened carefully, would clearly be different.
According to Luis, the boatman on my little navigation of Cabo San Lucas’s harbor, that rock on which the seal is stretching is the official border between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez (a.k.a. the Gulf of California). What I find interesting is that where the seal is pointing, toward the Pacific, is mostly too rough for swimming because of riptides and undertows. To the right, the Sea of Cortez, is much friendlier to human swimmers. As for the seal, either body of water is just fine.
To the right of the rock, in the background, is Playa Médano, the primo swimming beach in the area. Martine and I were on the Pacific side, at Playa Solmar.
While I am on the subject, I would like to recommend one of John Steinbeck’s greatest and least read works, The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951), about his journey from La Paz with his oceanographic expert friend, Ed Ricketts. The current printed edition contains a eulogy to Ricketts which is worth reading. Another book about Baja, which I have not yet located, is by Max Miller (not to be confused with the British comedian), who served as the waterfront reporter for the old San Diego Union back during 1920s and 1930s and came out with a minor classic called I Cover the Waterfront (1932), which was made into a movie. In 1943, he wrote a book about Baja California enitled The Land Where Time Stands Still.
Of course, Baja is no longer the land where time stands still. That is because, as Porfirio Diaz said about a century ago, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”
While I was in Arequipa, Peru, Hurricane Odile roared into Baja California Sur on September 14, 2014, causing over a billion dollars in damage. Los Cabos was hit particularly hard, with multiple evacuations and widespread damage to the power grid. When Martine and I were there last week, we saw a lot of construction going on, such as to the Playa Grande’s Calima Restaurant (above); but we were surprised that the city was over 90% open for business. In San José del Cabo on the way to the airport, we saw a few collapsed buildings. In no way were we personally inconvenienced by the aftermath of the storm.
The resorts on the southern tip of Baja are a major moneymaker for the Mexican government. It was good to see that the resources were allocated to get tourism back on its feet in record time. When the local police were found looting damaged buildings after the storm hit, Peña Neto sent in the elite Policía Nacionál, better known as the Gendarmería, to keep order until the region was back on its feet. They were still there as of last week, and are expected to remain for several more months.
I first learned of the term from the manager of the Whalers on the Point Guesthouse in Tofino, BC Canada. A large group of young women from Vancouver had just arrived and took over the pool table with an ample supply of alcohol, most of which they had already ingested.They screamed “Whoo! Whoo!” each time someone pocketed a ball, or even if someone didn’t. At least they were getting a lot of attention. (Though I think they didn’t want my attention, as I was ready to make them swallow their cues.)
Well, Martine and I saw lots of them in Cabo. They were making as much noise as the young men playing Tequila Volleyball at the Playa Grande Hotel. I guess the theory is that, if you make a lot of noise, you will get the attention of the equally shitfaced young men and maybe hook up with them at the nearest vomitorium. They certainly seemed to deserve one another.
Fortunately, when they did re-unite with their screaming male counterparts, they tended to repair to the upper floors of the hotel, from which we no longer heard them. I think the proprietors of the hotel assign guests of a certain age to certain rooms which take the brunt of their partying and localize the disturbance level.
We were not greatly troubled by them. At one point, however, when I saw a bunch of loud partyers on a fifth floor balcony, I shouted out for them to jump. They chose not to take my advice.
It was Canadian writer Douglas Coupland who wrote that “Salad bars are like a restaurant’s lungs. They soak up the impurities and bacteria in the environment, leaving you with much cleaner air to enjoy.”
We have taken it so much for granted that salads are the perfect food that we typically ignore a few basic facts. First of all, how many of you salad-eaters actually clean the veggies you use, especially the lettuces? And then, how many of you pour sugary, fatty glop over the salad in an effort to make it palatable?
When I was growing up in Cleveland, we never ate salads, except occasionally for a warm salad made with romaine lettuce and bacon—and even then I never cared for the stuff. We had our own vegetable garden out back, so we never lacked for vegetables, which we sometimes ate raw, as tomatoes; or canned, such as Hungarian yellow banana peppers; or cooked, as cabbage.
I think that Hungarians would much rather eat their veggies in a soup than in a salad. So yesterday, I prepared a Hungarian-style pea soup with carrots and potatoes. For that extra Vitamin B touch and some delicious background flavor, I blend Swiss chard and curly parsley with some of the stock and pour it into the tureen.
So go ahead and disconsolately pick at that dubious salad. I prefer good soup just about any time. In fact, only when the temperature soars into the 90s that I will occasionally eat a chopped salad at lunchtime with a light vinaigrette dressing. Otherwise, no way!
From our hotel room at the Playa Grande we would hear raucous male chants every afternoon around 2:30. There was “GO! GO! GO! GO!” followed by animalistic grunts of the Tim Allen variety. I decided to get to the bottom of this, so I ventured forth in fearful anticipation of some giant iguana surrounded by young men armed with spears. But no, it was only Tequila Volleyball, a daily event sponsored by the Playa Grande in which two teams of men were fed with free tequila and launched into a pool with a net across the middle. A cute señorita sporting a referee shirt and whistle threw out a volleyball, and the gladiatorial combat would begin.
What did I expect? Cabo is a party town, and here I was, a dour Puritan who was only trying to read a biography of Alan Turing, progenitor of the computer, assailed by misguided darts of raw testosterone. Naturally, I retreated to the cover of my room until order was restored.