March 27, 2008
Dusk falls in Bowen and the window is open, letting in the occasional cool breeze from outside and letting the heat out of the kitchen. Out in the yard, Indio, my in-laws’ crop-tailed brown mutt, runs along the fence, barking furiously. People call greetings to each other in the dusty road, I can hear the buzz of a scooter as it zips by. Sometimes gypsies come along, selling pillows door-to-door. Maybe they are drawn to my in-laws’ door by the delicious smell drifting out the open window-the smell of pollo con papas.
Evenings in Bowen we meet around the table, a much more relaxed and quiet affair than lunch. At lunch, when my brother and sister in-law and their son are over, it’s noisy with the ladies bustling around the kitchen, chatting and setting the table, and the men watching their futball, complaining about the scores.
But at dinner, it’s just the 3 of us: my in-laws and I; the baby has gone to sleep and I’m visiting alone. When pollo con papas is served, we are all quiet, except for the sound of cutlery on the plates, eating and savoring every bite because it’s just so good, there’s no space in our mouths for conversation. (Argentinians eat with such pleasure, such gusto-they savor and enjoy and exclaim. Whereas many of us in the US eat and eat, and never feel full-because we don’t enjoy it enough!)
We end up stabbing the last few potatoes with our forks right out of the pan they were cooked in. "Asi-Rebe! Like this, Rebe!" My father-in-law, Carlos, tells me, demonstrating how he takes a potato with his fork and pushes it all over the bottom of the pan, getting all the salt and juice on the potato before popping it in his mouth. His hands are huge around the fork, hard-working farming hands, all thick fingers and rough skin. They’re hands that have created-coaxed life out of the earth and harvested it.
Evenings in Bowen are quiet, because there isn’t a movie theater (the next town over used to have one, but it closed last year, because not enough people went, preferring to watch cable TV). There isn’t a bookstore, a library, or even a restaurant-the first supermarket just opened last year. (Before it was the local grocer or your own farm or a drive to the next town.)
So evenings are for family. After dinner, we sit around nursing glasses of Quilmes beer, watching old movies. Rita Hayworth, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly-my in-laws know them all. We watch-Gary Cooper, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe-it’s non-stop TCM. Only all the movies are dubbed in Spanish (no subtitles) so half the time it’s all I can do to follow the plot line. But our bellies are full of delicious food, relaxed and full, we watch romances, dramas, and comedies from times past-a simpler time, perhaps; and enjoy the company of family. As they say in Argentina-Panza llena, corazon contento-Full belly, happy heart.
Receta por Pollo con Papas a la Florencia
Florencia’s Chicken and Potatoes
Florencia made this for me as one of my first meals the first time I met her, and I had never tasted anything like it! Since then, it’s one she knows will be a hit, and she makes it anytime we visit. It’s one of the most satisfying meals I can think of-and the simplest to prepare! The secret is the white wine-it goes the potatoes an extra tang.
one whole chicken, cleaned
1 cup dry white wine
5 cloves garlic, peeled but still whole
5 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into ‘fries’
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the chicken and remove the packet inside. Put the chicken in a baking pan, and drizzle olive oil over the chicken, rubbing it into the skin. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the chicken, and stuff the lemon halves into the cavity. Salt and pepper the chicken to taste.
Meanwhile, put the cut potatoes in a bowl and drizzle in olive oil, using your hands to mix them around so that they are lightly coated in oil. Salt liberally.
Put the potatoes around the chicken in the casserole dish. Place the garlic cloves around in the potatoes. Bake for about 40 minutes. After this time, pull the chicken out, and pour the wine over the potatoes. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Return the chicken to the oven, rotating the pan, for about 30 minutes more, testing for doneness using a meat thermometer, 170 degrees.