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  • Benjamin 3:16 pm on June 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , carnivore, food, sierra de velasco, south american countries   

    Culinary observations in Argentina. 

    Argentina is often described as the most european of the South American countries. And why not? Much of the country is only removed a few times from their European ancestry. So it’s no surprise that the cuisine in Argentina is not particularly unusual to a visitor from the USA. They love grilled meat, pasta, and pizza. Even so, even the small differences are inevitably of note to a foreigner.

    First, a disclaimer

    I am staying in a small town called Anillaco at the foot of the Sierra de Velasco. My experience here may be, and probably is, different from the Argentine experience in Buenos Aires. Anillaco is primarily an agricultural town, despite this province being one of the driest in Argentina. The grape vines and olive trees benefit from a primitive but extensive irrigation system that collects water runoff from the mountains.  That said…

    Meat and not meat

    Yes, it’s true. Los argentinos eat meat. A lot of it. The fresh fruit and vegetable selection in Anillaco is definitely lacking. Most of that is probably a product of it being a tiny town far from where these things are grown, but it’s also because they simply do not prepare many dishes with them. Even Changomas, the Argentinian Wal-Mart (quite literally, Changomas is owned by Wal-Mart) in the provincial capital of La Rioja had a minuscule selection of produce. As far as fruits go, they had oranges, pomelo, and pears. And about 5 bags of grapes curiously tucked away with the vegetables. As a corollary, they don’t really have salad dressing. I found some Caesar dressing at Changomas and something that looked like french dressing but the serving suggestion was for pizza. They did have 20 ft of an aisle devoted to mayonnaise though (ugh).

    Asado, or cookouts/bbqs are common. Throw various parts of the cow onto a grill, maybe some chorizo, and bam, a delicious night is in store for you and your friends. Mmmm.



    A popular Argentinian preparation is called milanesa. It was described to me as the Argentinian hamburger. Besides both being made of meat, they really aren’t anything alike. What he was getting at, though, is milanesa is everywhere. You can find it at most restaurants and it’s prepared at home all the time. Milanesa is a thin cut of meat that has been covered in egg, seasoning, and bread crumbs, then fried. It’s pretty much Weiner Schnitzel, but it’s usually beef instead of pork. The carniceria in Anillaco has a rotating selection of 2 or 3 meats (and sometimes tuna) available, but always milanesa. The first thing I ate in Argentina was a milanesa sandwich and it did not disappoint. I have some in the fridge and I’m fighting the urge to fry it up right now.



    I don’t know if its ubiqutious, but it appears los argentinos also have a serious sweet tooth. Every kiosco (small neighborhood stores) has a pretty good candy selection.

    Dulce de leche is basically soft caramel, but you’ll likely find it as a substitute for Nutella rather than a standalone candy (side note, they have Nutella here but not peanut butter). Dulce de leche is drizzled on pastries, fruits, cakes, or really anything you want to make sweeter and delicious.

    Alfajor is a cookie sandwich type thing that often has dulce de leche inside of it. It’s pretty amazing. Even Oreo has an alfajor equivalent down here, which is pretty much two and a half oreos stacked on top of each other and covered with more chocolate. If you’re thinking that this sounds really unhealthy, you’re right. With all this red meat and alfajors, why aren’t the Argentinian people super fat?! There’s an entire website devoted to reviewing different alfajor varieties, in case you were interested (en español).

    Oreo Alfajor

    Spicy food (there is not)

    Aside the antipathy toward veggies (hate to be vegetarian here!), the biggest annoyance is the lack of spicy food. As an American, when I think of Central or South American food, I think spicy. I’m aware my perception is heavily skewed by Mexican cuisine, but still. Not in Argentina. Nuh uh. Peru, yes. Argentina, no. There might be a little kick to the chimichurri, if anything (it’s a sauce for grilled meat). I’m told the best places to get spicy food here are at Thai or Vietnamese restaurants. Well, there aren’t any in my town of 1500 people, so I guess I’ll do without. Next time I come, I’m smuggling in some cayenne pepper to add to my milanesa. Its probably sacrilege, but whatever.

    Stayed tuned for a later post on liquid libations and such…

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  • Benjamin 6:09 pm on May 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anillaco, , geologia, geology, gringo, la rioja   

    Hola amigos, neither I nor this blog is dead. 

    You wouldn’t know it from this sadly neglected blog, but I’m still alive and things are still happening. Well, almost certainly things would still happen even if I was dead, though the world would take some imperceptibly different trajectory. But, since this blog is really just a dumping ground for the aimless thoughts in my brain, and being that my brain would likely meet its end in parallel with the rest of me, the content would undoubtedly become stale were I to cease to exist. So where I have I been?

    Following my time in Houston, I set off for my new appointment as graduate student grunt at the University of Southern California. I took a wandering route, visiting Big Bend National Park, Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Mojave before rolling into Los Angeles. Maybe someday that adventure and its triumphs will find its way to this blog. For now, I’ve busied myself with the typical graduate student life; spending long hours in my fluorescent electrical closet office followed by long hours meeting with friends, exploring my new city, or wasting time aimlessly browsing the internet. At the expense of sleep, of course. I would like to think I’ve reached a level where I can call myself a scientist with a straight face, but I’m really more of a school kid.

    Scientist!!!! F yeah!!! School kid : /
    Scientist!!!! F yeah!!! School kid : /

    Right now, I am actually more of a traveling guy. I’ve found my way to a small town in Argentina that is conveniently located near some cool geology that shares some structures with some rocks closer to home in California. While I’m down here studying the rocks (las rocas, or more commonly las piedras) I’m also doing my best to assimilate a little Argentinian culture. I’ll make a post about that soon. First let me tell you about where exactly I am and how I got here.

    Anillaco Map

    I am staying in a small town called Anillaco (pronounced something like annie-shock-oh), in La Rioja province. Anillaco is home to about 1400 people. The nearest big city is La Rioja, the capital of the province and home to one of Argentina’s universities. Even though Anillaco has an airstrip (it’s apparently neglected) and La Rioja has a commercial airport, I was not so lucky to fly into either of these places. Instead, I flew in Córdoba, the second largest city in Argentina. While La Rioja and Córdoba may look pretty close on that nice Google map above, they’re actually over 450 km apart. That translated into a 6 hour bus ride. And that’s on top of almost 24 hours of travel. Good thing I’m staying here for awhile.

    Anillaco is a pretty nice town. It’s located at the foot of the Sierra de Velasco mountain range, in a line with a handful of other small towns. La Rioja province was one of the first places in Argentina to make wine, and Anillaco is no exception. The space between the highway and the town is taken up completely by trellises and grape vines. I’m staying at a research center at the edge of town. The locals are pretty used to strange faces visiting the center, but they were not ready for a person like me, who’s español es mierda. Fortunately, my host speaks english very well and he was able to serve as a buffer during my first few days here. But now, once we split up after a long day in the field, I’m on my own to explore the town and interact with the locals. I’ve asked a couple young folks working in stores if they speak english. They look at me warily, make the international sign for “so-so” and maybe say entiendo, pero no hablo. This is going to be an enlightening stay in Argentina.

  • Benjamin 10:38 pm on June 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Houston, Texas and the unreasonably long playlist. 

    That’s where I am. But not really, because I got placed in the super-suburb of The Woodlands, located about 35 miles north of downtown. The office I’m working at is in Greenspoint, about halfway into town. My daily commute takes anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes one-way. This is quite a shock after living in downtown Columbia, MO last year, where my daily commute was a 4 minute walk. I miss that.

    I’m not sure how well I’m adjusting to my summer job.  One advantage of living so far from work is I get to listen to music everyday during the drive. The same plus applies to sitting at a desk all day. Since I uploaded my entire mp3 collection to Google Play a few months ago (a process that took a few weeks on my painfully slow connection) I have access to everything that I’ve ever bothered to buy, download, rip, or allowed a friend to forcefully thrust into my hard drive. My summer goal is to listen to every track I have at least once.

    Unfortunately, this is actually a completely unrealistic goal. I have over 9000 songs uploaded that would play for over 25 days straight. If I eat lunch in my office I will be at my desk for 10 hours a day. Adding up all the workdays I have left, I conceivably have 40 days*10 hours=400 hours of total listening time. That’s under 17 days total, and I’ve only made it to the letter C. Granted, Google Play took an unexplained detour to the letter S, but the goal isn’t to go alphabetically, it was just the obvious way.

    Listening to my music alphabetically by song title has some quirks. The most ridiculous sequence I’ve experienced to far was Boom by Flight of The Conchords, followed by Boom!, the classic rap jam by Shaquille O’Neal, followed by Boombox, the Lonely Island/Julian Casablancas collaboration. More recently, I listened to very appropriate collection of tracks starting with “Summer” (12 tracks) and “Sun” (25 tracks). While listening to all my songs starting with the word Black I wondered if my collection of music was racist. I’m not sure what to make of the results [White (25 tracks) vs. Black (50 tracks).] Some of my friends might be aware that one of my recent favorite songs is That Old Black Hole by Dr. Dog. But did you know Ella Fitzgerald has a song called That Old Black Magic?

    I’ve listened to almost all of my music at least once in the past, but I tend to gravitate toward a few albums and artists that I keep returning to. I think it’s a fruitful exercise forcing myself to listen to all these other tunes I’ve accumulated over the past 10 years. I have to exercise all of my will power to stop myself from skipping past some tracks, though. Commoners: Canada Goose, American Crow, Blue Jay, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Song Sparrow, a 10 minutes track that’s supposed to train you to recognize the named bird calls, comes to mind.

    In other music-related news, I caught the always great Bad Veins, Portugal, The Man, and Flaming Lips at a music festival in Houston a couple weekends ago. In just a few days I’m going with some other interns to see Coldplay. Well, they will be there to see Coldplay. I’ll mostly be there to see the opener Robyn, then marvel at all the pretty lights Coldplay brought.

    • Katie 2:36 am on July 25, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I really enjoyed the metal image of you listening to bird calls in the office. I like your idea though. Since taking my office position I’ve accomplished 104 hour long episodes of This American Life. That’s sort of like an accomplishment, right?

  • Benjamin 10:45 pm on March 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Final Royal Gardens home destroyed in Hawaii 

    This photo might as well be the surface of Venus… if it weren’t for the parallel lines cutting across, anyway (it would be quite a discovery if it was). No, this is an aerial photo of the Royal Gardens subdivision on the big island of Hawaii. The photo was taken in 1990. The story of Royal Gardens is both fascinating and tragic. Construction began at Royal Gardens in the late 1970s. 1500 lots were supposedly sold. Just a few years later, however, the eruption at the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent began. That eruption has continued almost non-stop for 29 years now.

    During that time, almost all of the 75 houses actually built in Royal Gardens have been overrun by lava. This figure from the USGS shows the extent of various lava flow events, as well as the outline of the Royal Gardens subdivision.

    Miraculously, year after year, one house was spared from the incessant flows. The distinctive red-roofed house belonging to Jack Thompson evaded destruction. The view from the house was surreal. Forested land surrounded by kilometers of stark black lava, all with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. Lava came within just 300 feet of the house last December. Well, the house’s luck finally ran out this weekend. It was destroyed by a characteristically slow moving basaltic lava flow.

    I went on a helicopter ride with my family back in 2005 to get a look at the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent and surrounding area. This was a few years before I started taking geology classes, but the entire experience still fascinated me. The vent was of course shrouded in dense clouds (not surprising), but we got an excellent look at the lava entering the sea.

    I remember being surprised at two things. First, I was amazed that lava could flow the 4 or 5 miles from Puʻu ʻŌʻō without solidifying. It was impossible to follow a line of lava all the way back to the vent, so as far as I could tell it might as well had been erupting just meters from the sea (lava can flow underground inside lava tubes). The other thing that struck me was the lush green island of what remained of Royal Gardens. It seemed against all odds that anything should survive the constant eruptions. Even more incredible was seeing this one red house among the green trees… Jack Thompson’s house. All the other remaining buildings I remember looking a lot like this one I managed to snap a picture of:

    Photographer Leigh Hilbert was with Jack Thompson this weekend and posted some amazing footage.

    In the video, you can see how reluctant Jack is to evacuate his house. After all, the house has survived dozens of scares. He holds out hope until the lava starts creeping into his backyard (literally). You can see more photos from Leigh at his website here. This one photo in particular helped me understand why Jack was so adamant about staying in his isolated paradise… what a view!

    This is another reminder of how, despite how resilient or stubborn humans can be, nature is a relentless force. Unfortunately nature doesn’t always creep along as lazily as on Hawaii. Take this or this for example. Hopefully not this, but only a fool would deny the eventuality of a disaster given enough time.

    • mrscongeniality 3:17 pm on December 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      That is neat that you got to see the area before the last house was destroyed. What a compelling story! You can just imagine how excited the people must have been when they moved there in the late 70s and early 80s. It is impressive that Jack was able to hold out for so long.

  • Benjamin 11:27 am on February 14, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Experts baffled by strange events on campus 

    Columbia, MO – A series of bizarre events has left campus experts scratching their heads. “This really defies explanation,” said Kurtis Wellington, emeritus professor of applied mythology at the University of Missouri. “It’s unlike anything I’ve seen outside of my dreams.”

    Early yesterday morning, an unidentified substance began falling from the sky. MU chemists have identified the material as having the exact same molecular composition as water. Professor of Chemistry Wu Liu was reluctant to provide details, however. “There’s no question that this material seems to be very similar or identical to H2O, but it is obviously not water. The results are only preliminary and I’d rather not discuss the ongoing research.”

    Wellington was more than happy to discuss his theories, however. He recognizes parallels with regularly reported irregularities in rural communities in the western USA. “It reminds me of ball lightning. What we have is something common, rearranged into something uncommon. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this white material was water. Ultraterrestrials prefer to work with what’s already on our planet when they attempt to communicate.”

    “I’m positive we will be able to explain yesterday’s events in a purely scientific fashion,” said Liu, “but I can’t completely rule out ultraterrestials at this point.”

    Even more disturbing was the large anthropomorphic icon that suddenly appeared overnight. The segmented appearance of the icon created a buzz among gawking students.

    “It’s not human. I’m actually a little afraid of it,” said MU freshman Shirley Cunnings.

    “I would postulate that the icon in the quad is a mixture of the ultraterrestrial and human forms. The segmented appearance indicates to me that the closest morphological analog would be an insect, such as an ant or other arthropod,” said Wellington.

    “The face is the worst part. It’s like it’s smiling, but it’s not quite right. It looks totally sinister,” said Cunnings.

    The events of the past two days have left the city of Columbia both excited and nervous. Some, like Wellington, are bracing for more, “I imagine this is only the beginning. This is truly a watershed moment in our lifetime.”

  • Benjamin 2:13 am on February 1, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Don’t look, stop, sloth time! 

    Apparently Kristen Bell loves sloths. And is sort of emotionally unstable, but mostly in an endearing way. These are the questions I ask myself at this point:

    1. Who is Kristen Bell? (oooh yeah, Sarah Marshall. She’s a cutie)

    2. Why am I making a blog post about Kristen Bell at 1:48 am? (because I’m not too bright)

    3. If I’m amazed Kristen Bell can have a breakdown about a sloth and charm the world, am I the strange one? (I think were both weird, so we would have been a good couple. And count me among the idolators, so a better question would ask why is our society so strange)

    4. Kristen Bell says she is a serial monogamist (feels the need to always have a mate). If I’m the opposite, what does that make me? (Apathetic? Awkward? Lazy? Foreveralone? Maybe all the above).

    I’ve known girls that I would describe as serial monogamists. As soon as their previous relationship ends, they start a new one almost instantaneously. I tend to go months or even years before starting anything new. I think my situation stems from what I’ll call an expectation of emotional privacy. I carefully guard my emotions and assume others would prefer the same.

    I think the end result is I come off as a prick, or at best, uninterested. All ye lovely bitches know, should know I’m tryin to correct this.

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