Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Zubrowka and ginger-cinnamon-infused simple syrup

June 26, 2012
A few months ago, I had a drink at the nearby Wherever Bar called a Capibrowka The name was a play on Caipirinha and Zubrowka, or bison grass vodka. The vodka has a spicy flavor, and the drink was excellent, so I bought a bottle and it became our favorite drink for a while.

In the U.S., Zubrowka was banned for many years because it contains coumarin, a natural substance (also found in cinnamon, chamomile tea, and strawberries) which can be "potentially toxic" in quantities larger than we'd ever drink at one time. In 2011, however, a coumarin-free brand called Zu was introduced into the market. (So go buy a bottle!)

In Buenos Aires, Zubrowka comes in 2 versions, a regular bottle for ~130 pesos (around US$25, pictured) and a gift version, which is the same bottle in a furry green "buffalo" holder, for ~180. I only saw the latter at first, and didn't realize how much I was paying for the stuffed animal around the bottle, but have since seen the simpler bottle available.

According to the menu, the Capibrowka at Wherever included ginger, cinnamon, sugar, grapefruit, and lime. I don't know how they made it, but I created my own way. The main ingredient other than the Zubrowka is the syrup:

Ginger-Cinnamon-Infused Simple Syrup
  1. Cut up a bunch of fresh ginger into slices.
  2. In a sauce pan, bring 1 cup of water to boil.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of sugar. (This is a basic 1:2 simple syrup, you can make it 1:1 or any other ratio that will dissolve.) It's easiest to add the sugar gradually while stirring.
  4. Add a bunch of cinnamon. (Cinnamon sticks are probably best, but I couldn't find that, so I used powder.) Note that the cinnamon will not dissolve.
  5. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved, the turn off the heat, cover, and let it sit for a while.
  6. When the ginger seems to have infused the liquid very well, pour it through a cheese cloth into a jar and refrigerate. You want to leave the ginger slices and un-dissolved cinnamon behind. (It should last several months like that.)

Now that the syrup is available on a whim, you can make the drink:

  1. 20ml Zubrowka (bison grass vodka)
  2. 20ml ginger-cinnamon simple syrup
  3. 10ml lime juice
  4. 20ml grapefruit juice
  5. Stir and pour over ice.

- Ben

Cost of living in Buenos Aires

June 24, 2012
san telmo street fair buenos aires

We used to comment a lot on the high cost of living here, and the sometimes strange discrepancies between what's expensive and what's not. Now that we've been here longer, I no longer wince at paying $3+ for a cup of coffee in a cafe, though I still refuse to pay full-price for a movie ticket (there are almost always half-price deals available).

The staff at a local hotel put together a list of "How Much do Things Cost?" for visitors. I'm including it here (translated into dollars) to demonstrate two things:

1. The cost of living
2. The huge gap between the official exchange rate and the black market rate (more on that below)

Item Official exchange rate (4.5 pesos : dollar) Black market rate (6 pesos : dollar)
Subway $0.55 $0.41
Bus $0.24 - $0.39 depending on distance $0.18 - $0.29
Taxi During the day the initial meter is $1.62 and then 16cents/200 meters, at night the initial meter is $1.93 and then 19c/200m. $1.22 then .12cents/200m / $1.45 then 15c/200m
Cafe con leche $3 - $4 depending on the café $2.33 - $3
Medialunas (pastry similar to croissants) $0.77 - $1.11, depending on the café, $7.11 the dozen in a bakery $0.58 - $0.83 in cafes, $5.33 the dozen
500ml bottle water $3.33 in a restaurant, $1.33 in a kiosk and $1 in a supermarket $2.5 / $1 / $0.75
600ml soft drink $3.33 in a restaurant, $1.77 in a kiosk and $1.44 in a supermarket $2.5 / $1.33 / $1.08
Local beer 970cc (not imported) $1.53 in a supermarket, $6 in a bar $1.15 / $4.5
Pizza Average $10-$13 for a big pizza, depending on the toppings and the place. $7.5 - $10
Ice cream $4.44 for a cone $3.33
Lunch menu including main course, beverage and dessert or coffee $11 $8.33
Dining out Starting at approximately $22 and up per person $16+
Museums $0 - $2 if the government runs them. The privately owned MALBA charges a $5.55 ticket for adults. $0-$2 / $4.16
Cinema General ticket: $8.88; 3D: $10.22 $6.66 / $7.66
Theater Starting at $30 and up $23+
Nightclubs $9 - $15 $7 - $12

(FYI, I've adapted a list that was aimed at tourists, so it hides the high cost of everyday items like cereal or milk.)

So why include the black market rate? Because it's closer to what goods should actually cost. The Argentine government tightly controls the official exchange rate, using its dollar reserves to intervene almost daily in the local foreign-exchange market. Over the last six to nine months, it has only allowed the peso to devaluate slowly, opening up a wide gap between the official exchange rate and the black market one. The Wall Street Journal explains it better than I can:
Concerns over the economic direction taken by Argentina's government has sent the gap between a tightly controlled official exchange rate and a parallel rate—largely set by businesses conducting complex transactions in stock and bond markets to secure dollars—to multiyear highs. ... 
The blue-chip swap involves the purchase of Argentine sovereign bonds or the local shares of companies with listings in the U.S., and the subsequent sale of those securities abroad for dollars. The blue-chip swap rate is the exchange rate that is implicit in these transactions. 
The lower value of the parallel rate reflects expectations that Argentina eventually could have to devalue its currency at a swifter pace to trim capital flight and appease exporters.
Now most Argentines, us included, can't access the black market rate, so the cost of goods is closer to the middle column. Recently we've found a money transfer service that provides us with pesos at better than the official rate (but not quite as good as the black market one). With inflation at about 25%, getting pesos at a better rate has helped cut into the ever-rising cost of living. But it's still an expensive place to live, and getting more expensive.

- Steph

Dancing tango

June 23, 2012
After all this time in Buenos Aires, we finally started learning tango. We have a wonderful tango teacher, with whom we've been taking private lessons twice a week. We're hoping that soon we'll graduate to dancing at a milonga (a social tango dance). Here we are practicing:

- Steph

Some favorite foods: garlic gravy spaghetti

June 16, 2012
We discovered a new scrumptious recipe the other day that we can't help but share: spaghetti in garlic gravy with herbs and lemon-marinated chicken and cherry tomatoes.

Check out how delicious the photos look and then click through for the recipe (warning: the recipe calls for butter, lots of butter).

That's one of our favorite Chardonnays in the photo. You can read more about it here.

- Steph