By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Have you ever traveled to a faraway land where you ran from place to place, seeing as many sites, churches, ruins, museums, vistas, jammed into as many vacation days as possible? “I came all this way and don’t want to miss anything!” you said to yourself and even to your friends. Upon your return from your trip, it was a blur.
I’ve done many trips like that. And don’t get me wrong; I’ve had some amazing adventures of that sort that were both fun and enriching. But what would it be like if you went somewhere new and you just did nothing, even for just 24 hours? Really did nothing, just sat, visited, sat some more. I was fortunate to have this almost existential experience in November, 2016. Granted, I flew 5,600 miles to get there. I was tagging along with my sister, Marcia, on her annual fall trip with her two traveling doctor friends, Donna and Becky. They have been globetrotting together for years, going to some less traveled places such as Malta, Romania, Poland, Albania, and Iceland (in 1997, 20 years before it was fashionable). As a matter of fact, Marcia has been to 35 countries--many of them twice!
This particular trip was to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay. My knowledge of this region wasn’t up to snuff. I didn’t know these two capital cities shared the same river, Rio de la Plata, a not-so-attractive, densely brown-colored body of water that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It is not so much pollution as it is 90% clay particles and silt. Our destination, El Galope Horse Farm and Hostel in Uruguay was not an easy place to get to. After we had flown 13 or so hours into Buenos Aires, taken a taxi to the ferry terminal, taken a ferry to Uruguay, a bus ride and another taxi, we arrived at the farm near Nueva Helvecia, Departmento de Colonia. Let’s call it what it was: the middle of nowhere. Considering we had been traveling for a day and a half to get there, we were well positioned to do nothing. Good thing. There was nothing to do! Perfect.
Miguel and Monica, the married couple who owned the farm, were the most welcoming hosts to their gorgeous property. The farm is a cluster of rustic buildings on open grassy plains, and horses and dogs abound. Being November, it was their spring, and the weather was quite warm with loads of sunshine.
After dumping our stuff and changing into swimsuits, we began doing our nothing.
We literally sat in their dipping pool for hours, chatting, relaxing, watching butterflies and parrots in nearby trees. No timetable, no play or concert to attend, no dinner reservation, no people to meet. Just quiet. No place to be except here.
The beauty of being in this hostel is that Miguel cooks for you. Yes. You don’t have to lift a finger! Not my normal style but, hey, I “suffered” through it. He put out a snack from the Provolonera, a uniquely Uruguayan cooking vessel, invented in 2000, to cook and serve a hot cheese appetizer. This region of Uruguay was settled by the Swiss in the mid-1800s, hence the focus on cheese. Think fondue except this is almost all crust, like the sides of lasagna that everyone fights over. You use fondue forks to pick up the crusty, cheesy balls to pop in your mouth. Some are just cheese, others have savory tidbits in the bottom, such as mushrooms, olives, onions. After the starter, we tore into the most delicious steaks grilled over an open fire. South America is known for its beef and this did not disappoint.
That evening, a perfect temperature of 75°, no mosquitos, no noise but critters chirping, I let go. It was an ethereal experience that I will always treasure. I bathed in the darkness and solitude, staring at the starry sky, albeit backwards. Yes, in the Southern Hemisphere, all of the constellations are in the “wrong” place and the moon waxes and wanes from the “wrong” side. It was like looking in a mirror! We laid out on chaises for some time, doing our nothing. I highly recommend it.
The next day, after Becky and Marcia had taken brief horseback rides, we boarded a bus and headed for Montevideo, to enter the ratrace of traveling once again. So much for the ever-so-brief tranquility. Of course, we packed in as much as we could each of the two days that we were there, which left us with little desire to go out in the evening. Sprawled out on our beds in our charming waterfront hotel after an intense day of sightseeing, shopping for amethysts (Uruguay is the amethyst capital of the world), walking, not to mention dining on steaks and wine al fresco for lunch, who had the energy to even think about going out to dinner?
My comment to my sister: “What I wouldn’t do for someone to deliver me a snack of say, empañadas, right about now.” Voilà! Sitting on the desk was an empañada delivery menu. Not pizza but those flaky pockets of dough filled with a delightful selection of cheese, vegetables, meats, and even chocolate ones for dessert. Delivered to your door. They were so delicious that we ordered them two nights in a row!
Empañadas are traditionally from Spain, Latin American countries and the Philippines. Most recipes use lard as the fat in the dough but I have chosen to do a lighter, version. Chicken is a commonly used filling but you can make up any combination of cheese, vegetables, or other meat. If you want to freeze them, I recommend freezing them raw and baking from the freezer.
Let us know here at The Insider what concoctions you come up with. Buen provecho!
Yield: 16 5-inch empañadas (turnovers)
8 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. plain Greek yogurt
2 1/2 c. flour
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into 1/4” dice
1/2 c. diced onion
1/2 c. diced red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 c. chopped fresh tomato
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 c. dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 well scrambled egg or egg white for the top
Make the dough: Using a stationary mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add yogurt and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour. Blend to combine. Form into a disc, cover, refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Work with half the dough at a time.
Make the filling: Sauté the chicken, onions, red pepper, garlic, and cumin in the oil in a skillet over moderately high heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the chicken has turned white. Add remaining ingredients except for the breadcrumbs. Turn down to moderate; cook for 15 minutes. Blend in the breadcrumbs, salt, and ground black pepper. Cool filling to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into 1/16” thickness. Cut into 5” diameter rounds. Brush the edges with water. Place about 3 Tbs. of filling on half of each circle. Fold over the tops. Crimp with a fork. Place the turnovers on the cookie sheets spaced about 1 inch apart. Brush tops with scrambled egg. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.