Monday, February 11, 2013

Baking in Buenos Aires

Last night I baked. In the world’s tiniest kitchen, on a steamy Buenos Aires night, I swapped backpacker for baker and tried my hand at these little lemon bars. Inspired by my absolute favourite blog, the always inspiring, little-bit-of-everything-you-never-knew-you-wanted A Beautiful Mess, I created my own mess, and enjoyably, some tasty treats.

Until recently, I wouldn’t have labelled myself the baking type. I made a fair few cakes and cookies as a child - or so I assume from the many photos of me in pint size apron with chocolate covered hands and face - but I seemed to have outgrown this hobby along with the filthy apron. Aside from the occasional hasty birthday cake or emergency sweet craving, my busy life had pushed baking into the archives of strange things from centuries past, somewhere in between Walkmans and Squiggle Pens. Yet send me away for a year with no access to an oven or muffin tray, and apparently baking is all I can think about.

The strange thing is, I find cooking anything other than sweet treats a rather stressful occasion. In the realm of domestic duties I always choose dishes over dinner prep. My boyfriend and old house mates can attest to the fact that in my kitchen everything burns, pots are ruined, meat is over cooked and the kitchen is generally a utensil and food strewn disaster zone. But baking is different. It’s precise, and somehow perfect. It’s losing yourself measuring, pouring and stirring. Melting, straining and whisking.  Tasting, testing and digesting. For the majority of time the food hides away in the oven where I can’t ruin it. I still make a massive mess, but the edible reward at the end – and at each step of the way - makes cleaning up less of a drag.

An unusual new hobby to develop while travelling you might say, since most hotel rooms consist of bed and no way to make breakfast, and hostel kitchens are now out of bounds for fear of a parasite reprisal. And so this becomes another blog where I sing the praises of airbnb, where rooms come equipped with kitchens and at times, whole houses. Not to say baking was suddenly simple - I still had the foreign ingredient situation to tackle, including translating common ingredients into Spanish and wondering why icing sugar is so hard to find.  But I was a woman on a mission with a craving for baking, and I would make it work, god damnit!

Hence, my first travel and bake was in a Mexican cabin with half a kitchen and no oven, producing my one and only attempt at no bake cookies. Verdict: a little soft and crumbly. In our next house, the beautiful Casa Menta in Guatemala, I was blessed with a terrifically equipped, fabulously coloured 1970's kitchen where I managed to pull off a gluten free chocolate cake for a new friend’s birthday. And last night, our apartment in Buenos Aires resulted in the above citrus efforts, which were quite delicious, even if they lacked the intrinsic beauty of Emma’s. But in my defence, I was maneuvering awkwardly in a one square metre kitchen, utilising a gas oven with no temperature gauge and cooking with a very limited oven tray selection. But it didn't seem to matter as I was proud and my cravings were satiated. 

As thoughts of home, and fantasies of orange and yellow kitchens complete with grown up aprons cloud my head, I wonder if there is something strange in choosing sweating in front of a stove over perusing the Argentinian bar scene. And then, I refer my over active mind to my last post, and say Que Sera, Sera. Just let it be.

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