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Letter from Santiago

Okay, yesterday I ran a letter I received from my friend Killy Stanton who lives with her husband, Robert, and sons in Temuco, Chile, which was about 160 miles from the epicenter of the quake. As she reported, things were very, very scary for her and her elderly parents (her husband was in Santiago with their son when the quake hit). Today, I’m going to run a letter I got from another good friend, Liz Caskey. Liz lives in Santiago where she operates a food and wine tour company, Liz Caskey’s Culinary & Wine Experiences. Liz notes, as did another Santiago tour operator, Brian Pearson, whose letter we ran yesterday, that things are pretty normal in Santiago and they hope everybody doesn’t get all scared off by the media reports of damage in the south and cancel trips to Chile. Here’s her report from the capital:

The San Pedro bakery in Santiago. Photo courtesy of Liz Caskey.

The San Pedro bakery in Santiago. Photo courtesy of Liz Caskey.

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to truly thank you for your continued support during these tough times in Chile. It has been so wonderful to hear from you all through calls and e-mail as Chile deals with the aftermath of the quake. We appreciate your prayers and thoughts.

To give you an update, now 5 days from Saturday’s devastating events, things in Santiago are thankfully normal, as in much of the country. As you know, with Chile’s long geography, the majority of the country is functioning perfectly normal with the exception of the affected areas within 100 miles of the Concepción area and the coastline hit by the tsunami. While the news images continue to show looting, please know that the military, Red Cross, and many volunteers have already arrived with food, water, and aid. Electricity and communicatio(ns are being restored as we speak to these areas. Today (Friday), there is a huge drive, Teletón, raise millions of dollars to provide temporary housing for every family who lost their home. There is a sense of real solidarity here. The of light of hope has appeared for these people. The next huge step is reconstruction.

The wine industry here did suffer some serious losses of inventory and damage to facilities, mostly in the regions of the Maule, Curicó, and some areas of Colchagua. Others escaped completely unscraped. I will be posting later this week with a full update since many of you have asked. It is a complex situation since harvest is due to start any day and vintners trying to manage where they will make the 2010 vintage in some cases.

Many of you have also requested information on how you can contribute to the rebuilding efforts in Chile. Beyond the Red Cross, which is for aiding relief efforts, we suggest these three ways.

1. Travel to Chile

If you have traveled to Chile, have a trip scheduled here, or know people that do, please encourage friends, family, and colleagues to still come. Refer them to my blog, where I directly addressed this issue yesterday. The images the media is “exporting” and messages the US State Department issuing are harmful for the country in the long term and can impact its tourism. The information they are providing is simply not accurate since many people do not understand the country’s geography and where the quake is contained. They stick all of Chile in the disaster boat and this is completely false. Chile is operative and normal in ALL areas minus the above-mentioned affective area. We have had clients on wine tours this week and heading to points in Patagonia with zero problems or alterations. Don’t let TV paranoia ruin what makes Chile so wonderful. Help spread the word.

2. Support Local Business & Reconstruction

Our business has started a direct initiative to support a local non-profit foundation with a school and organic farm we visit with our tours to channel funds to families affected by the quake both locally and in the south. We are donating a significant portion of the proceeds from our Eat Wine Santiago guide, a food & drink e-guide to the capital. Please help our efforts by purchasing this e-guide. Ask your family and friends to help too. Even if you/they don’t plan on coming to Santiago, Eat Wine Santiago includes a great wine list, insight into Chile’s food/wine culture, will directly contribute to reconstruction efforts in Chile, and seriously, costs less than a dinner for one or a bottle of decent wine. We also will be offering free updates for the first two editions for friends, family, and colleagues who may have Chile on the horizon in the future. Click here for more information.

3. Buy Chilean

Now more than ever, please buy Chilean. Organize a “Support Chile” dinner party or wine tasting. Accompany with classic dishes like Cazuela, Savory Chicken stew, ceviche, or Ensalada Chilena, Chilean tomato salad. You can find recipes on my blog. Serve Chilean wines from Sauvignon Blanc to Carmenere which you can find throughout the US/Canada easily. Incorporate Chilean ingredients like fresh fruit (blueberries, peaches, and grapes at this time of year). At Wholefoods and gourmet grocers you can find Olave olive oil and the piquant smoked chili spice, Merkén.

I promise to keep you all updated and in the loop of our efforts to turn a devastating situation into a promising one. If there’s one thing I have learned in life, with the right attitude, we as human beings are capable of confronting any situation and doing anything we put our mind to. As they say here, Chile se la puede. Chile can do it. We are doing it. Chile will step forward. But in addition to your prayers, I hope you will consider supporting us the reconstruction directly here in Chile.

Please feel free to e-mail me directly at liz@lizcaskey.com with any questions you may have.

Un abrazo cariñoso,

Liz & Team

p.s. This photo is taken at San Pedro bakery in Barrio Brasil, a family-run bakery and one of my favorites in Santiago for delicious marraqueta bread. One of the many faces of small business in Chile.

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Letter from Temuco, Chile

I have a lot of friends in Chile and have been getting reports from Santiago to Patagonia regarding damage from the massive 8.8 earthquake that hit central Chile last Saturday. Two good friends, Robert and Killy Stanton, live within the shadow of three volcanos in Temuco which is 433 miles south of Santiago. It’s a gorgeous area, known as the gateway to Chile’s Lake District with its forests of alerce, a sequoia-like giant that can live for 3,000 years. But Temuco was also only 160 miles from the quake’s epicenter—way too close for comfort as Killy reported to me in this e-mail sent shortly after the quake:

The Stanton family in Temuco, Chile.

The Stanton family in Temuco, Chile.

I must say it was one of the most frightening nights of my life as I was alone here on the farm taking care of my parents (as Robert was in Santiago meeting Matthew, who had just returned from Kenya), when the earthquake struck at 0345H.  The house shook so violently and great chunks of masonry came falling down, glass was flying everywhere and everything was shattering all around me and I could hardly stand up, as I ran out of the house round to the guest wing where my parents live, and when I got to my mother she was so terrified she could hardly breathe, she had actually been thrown out of her bed!  Of course just being the two of us we couldn’t move my father who is an invalid, and was in the room next to hers, but amazingly enough he didn’t even wake up!!

Once the quaking stopped, all I could hope was that we had been in the epicentre and that Robert and the boys in Santiago were all right.  As we all know now, it was in fact Concepcion and Santiago felt it as strongly as we in Temuco did.  Robert and Matthew were in an apartment on the 19th floor which swayed like a willow tree and creaked and groaned, but they managed to get out down the stairs, rescuing a little girl on the way whose parents had left her alone that night to go to a party!  William was at work in his office finishing up a project (at 345am!!!!!) and all alone on the 16th floor with furniture and water cannisters flying around, but he found his way in the dark down 16 flights of stairs as there were no emergency lights!!

We were without water and electricity until just a few hours ago, and some of our “aftershocks” have measured 7 on the richter scale, so those are pretty scary too, but we have to get used to it, as they say that we might have tremors for up to a year.  Meanwhile chaos is reigning everywhere.  The airport is closed, Robert and Matthew can’t get back to Temuco as the roads are chaotic and dangerous and Lawrence is stuck in Lima.  In Temuco there is no petrol at the service centres, the shopping mall has been closed for 3 weeks for repairs and all the other supermarkets are running out of supplies, with people getting aggressive and threatening violence towards the staff.  I have stayed away as we have farm produce, potatoes, apples and I have stuff in the freezer for a couple of weeks,and I only have myself and my parents to feed, but it is not much fun!  I would love to have Robert and Matthew home and Lawrence back in Santiago with William, but I will have to be calm and patient!!

Take care and all the best,

Killy Stanton

And from Brian Pearson, an American ex-pat who has lived in Chile for some 7 years now and runs a tourism company out of Santiago called Santiago Adventures:

We hope for better reporting  in the presentation of Chile’s current situation. As expected, the international media has focused only on the most severely damaged areas. They have done this without clear indications of the geography of a country that is 2,800 miles long. This has led to confusion and much unnecessary worry regarding the 6 million people in Santiago where very few people were injured. The major damages are 3 to 5 hours south of Santiago where, sadly, there were many deaths and there are many people still missing or trapped in buildings.

It is also unfortunate that the US government has recommended not traveling to Chile for tourism. Approximately 5% of the Chilean economy is based on tourism. The best way to help the people of Chile is to make sure that the world is correctly informed that Chile is open for business despite the country’s current effort to restore the areas affected by the earthquake. The main tourist destinations San Pedro de Atacama in the north, Patagonia in the south and Easter Island were unaffected by the earthquake. People should consider Chile very safe to visit once the Santiago airport is fully operational in the coming days. With a few minor inconveniences, we are very confident in our ability to deliver the same level of service we have always provided to our customers.

How you can help? If you would like to offer your assistance to Chile earthquake relief, please donate to the Red Cross which has committed to assisting Chile with their relief efforts www.redcross.org.

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My last afternoon in Santiago. I’ve left my luggage at the hotel while I have one final meal at Akarana, a place Liz recommended for their oysters. Plus I thought I might finally be able to get a terremoto cocktail.

Well, that’s a mistake. When I order a terremoto from my waiter, Emiliano, he goes off and gets the owner of the restaurant. Who turns out to be a spunky little gal from New Zealand named Dell Taylor.

“We don’t make drinks like that here,” she says rather severely.

“No?”

“Definitely not.”

What is it about this terremoto cocktail that so disgusts everyone? Is it the rot-gut wine, pipeño, that they use? Or the pineapple ice cream? I’ll tell you, I’ve been in at least twenty different restaurants and bars in Santiago and not a single place would make me a terremoto cocktail. So now I’m practically desperate for one. Just to see if it’s possibly as bad as you would think.

Although Dell won’t make me a terremoto, she offers to personally make me a pisco sour which she says is the best in all of Santiago. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not saying much. I’ve yet to have one that comes even close to a poorly made margarita. But what the hell. It’s my last day here. Might as well have a pisco sour.

A few minutes later she’s back with my drink. And then she stands there, at my table, watching me take a sip.

“Well?” she says.

You know what? She’s right. This is the best damn pisco sour I’ve had. And I tell her so.

She looks smug. “What’d I tell you?” she says.

Then she sits down at my table and tells me how all the pisco sours in Santiago are crap because everyone uses some god awful mix at the bar. “Got to make it with fresh lemon juice. And a decent pisco. Doesn’t have to be the best pisco but it’s got to be fairly good, doesn’t it?”

I’m impressed enough with Dell’s pisco sour that I order a second, to go with my oysters on the half-shell and a dish of chargrilled marinated octopus, and then ask her for her recipe. For the drink. And here it is: The best damn pisco sour in Santiago.

Akarana Pisco Sour

In a cocktail shaker with four ice cubes, add:

–1 1/2 ounces of good pisco (she likes Aba)

–3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

–spoon full of sugar (taste drink for sweetness)

–“a knob of egg white” (about 1/3 of an egg white)

Shake it up good in the cocktail shaker, pour into a tall flute, and add a drop of Angostura bitters on the top. “Just a dot—no more.”

Enjoy!

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If you missed yesterday’s installment, I was talking about this restaurant in Santiago, Doña Tina, that had recently been written up by Ms. Florence Fabricant (that name can’t be real) of the NY Times who wrote that if you want to sample “the hearty, rustic specialties that are considered true Chilean cooking, this sprawling place on the outskirts of the city is surely the best choice.”

So I decide to make a reservation and check it out and when I get there, I’m the lone diner. And they won’t serve me a terremoto so I order a bottle of wine, which is corked, at which point my waiter huffily disappears into the kitchen.

The empty dining room at Dona Tina.

The empty dining room at Dona Tina.

Well, a few minutes later a charming young woman comes out from the back and introduces herself as Karla. She tells me that her uncle, my waiter, had sent her out from the back where she had been doing her homework because she speaks English and he can’t figure out what my problem is.

“He says your wine tastes of dog?” she says.

“It’s corked,” I tell her. “You understand corked?”

She shakes her head. Rather than trying to explain the concept, I say, “It’s just no good.”

“No good?”

“No good,” I tell her. “Taste it.”

She takes a sip, shrugs. “Tastes like wine,” she says. Then adds, “I don’t like wine.”

But Karla goes off and gets me another bottle of wine and while she’s struggling to open it, she tells me that she is one of the “many, many grandchildren” of the owner, Doña Tina. The waiter is her uncle, the bartender is a cousin, her father is a cook. “It cuts down on the stealing,” she says, making a little joke.

When I ask Karla just how many grandchildren Doña Tina has, she shrugs and says, “Maybe 25, maybe 30—it’s hard to keep track.” Then she goes to the bar and comes back with a copy of her grandmother’s cookbook and on the back is a photo of Doña Tina surrounded by her many grandkids. I count 26 but Karla says, “At least five or six are missing.”

When I joke about her following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she says definitely not. “I want to be a civil engineer,” she says. Well, I say, with 25 or 30 cousins, surely the family business will continue.

“Yes, but without me, I hope,” says Karla.

I tell Karla I’m going to have that Chilean classic, pastel de choclo, an oven-baked stew made of diced meat, onion, and chili pepper covered by a sweet corn paste topped with sugar.

“No,” Karla says. “No pastel de choclo. Only in summer.” (Remember that it is mid-winter down here right now.)

“The humitas?” I say.

“No humitas.”

I give up. I tell Karla to just pick something for me. With her pen, she points at the sugerencia especial, the Doña Tina. “This is very good,” she says. “Costillar and arrollado. Have you had arrollado?”

I tell her I have not. She says, “Well, if you have been to Santiago and have not had the arrollado, you have not been to Santiago.”

That’s good enough for me.

When Karla brings the dish from the kitchen, it’s as meat-and-potatoes as you can get. The arrollado is pork that’s been marinated in red wine vinegar and a little garlic, rolled up and covered in a layer of fatty skin and poached. It looks about as appetizing as it sounds. Karla tells me that if you eat the white fat covering it’s called eating the panty. “But not everyone likes to eat the panty.” Including me.

The costillar, pork ribs roasted with cumin and oregano, is a little bit better, but anyone who has ever had some good Kansas City barbecue would immediately tell you that the Chileans need to learn about spice rubs.

The best thing on the plate, as far as I’m concerned, are the corn-colored pureed potatoes flavored with merken, the Mapuche spice of smoked chile peppers and coriander seeds. Frankly, I would have been perfectly happy to skip the costillar and arrollado, along with the panty, and just sup on a big bowl of the mashed potatoes with merken. If only I could have gotten a decent wine to go with it. Or a good terremoto.

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There was this article last month in the New York Times about a restaurant here in Santiago called Hosteria Doña Tina that said if you want to sample “the hearty, rustic specialties that are considered true Chilean cooking, this sprawling place on the outskirts of the city is surely the best choice.”

Well, here I am in Santiago searching for “true Chilean cooking” (as well as a good terremoto, which I still haven’t found) so of course I had to make my way out to Doña Tina for dinner. I mean, if Florence Fabricant of the NY Times says this is the place to sample Chilean cuisine, it must be good, right?

Photo by David Lansing

Photo by David Lansing

But before we head out to Doña Tina, I have to tell you how much I love the Ritz-Carlton (and, no, I don’t get anything for plugging them). They just always do things right. I just moved over there yesterday from the San Cristobal Tower and while that hotel was nice, the Ritz-Carlton is on a completely different level. I mean minutes after I’d checked in, Branko Karlezi, their director of public relations, calls me in my room to make sure everything is okay and see if I need anything.

“I just have a quick question for you,” I say. “Do I need to make a reservation for Doña Tina? And how long of a cab ride is it?”

Branko says, “What time would you like to dine?”

“About nine?” I venture.

“I will take care of it,” says Branko. “A house car will be ready for you at 8:30.”

I told him there was no need for that, that I’d be happy to grab a taxi. I was just wondering how long it would take me to get out there.

Well, that’s the problem, said Branko. “The restaurant is really out in the countryside and it can be difficult to find a taxi to take you that far out and even more difficult to find one to bring you back. So, please. We would be happy to provide you with a car and driver.”

Now that’s a hotel.

So anyway, my driver, Juan Carlos, picks me up at 8:30 and we drive and drive and drive until I’m sure I’m being kidnapped and taken to Peru. We go up windy hills and through heavy woods with nary a sign of any civilization until suddenly here we are: at Hosteria Doña Tina. As Ms. Florence Fabricant of the NY Times says, it’s a sprawling place. There are cavernous rooms to the left and a big open room with a fireplace in the middle to my right and more rooms beyond that.

However, there are no diners. Zero. Zilch. Just three guys sitting on stools behind the bar watching a soccer game. When I walk in they barely take their eyes off the TV. Finally, one guy comes over and asks what he can do for me. I tell him I’m Mr. Lansing and I have a reservation for nine.

He shrugs at this news and swings an arm over the dining room, telling me to sit wherever I want. So I take a seat near the fireplace just so, you know, it won’t feel so lonely.

A few minutes later the guy comes back with a menu and asks me if I’d like something to drink.

“A terremoto,” I tell him.

He shakes a finger at me. “No terremoto,” he says. “Pisco sour.” And without waiting for my response, he heads back to the bar and the soccer game.

The pisco sour he brings back is, quite simply, horrendous. Like a margarita made with really bad sweet and sour mix and cheap tequila. I take one sip, push it away, and ask him to bring me a glass of red wine instead.

“No,” he says. “No glass of wine.” They only sell bottles. So I order a bottle of carmenère, the signature Chilean wine that, until the late 1990s, was thought by the Chileans to be merlot. The guy opens the bottle of wine while looking over his shoulder at the TV in the bar and hurriedly fills my glass so high that it is impossible for me to pick it up without spilling all over the white tablecloth, so I lean over and take a sip from the glass while it’s still on the table.

It is—how do you say?—corked.

Huele como perro mojado,” I tell him. It smells like wet dog.

My Spanish, I admit, is horrible and my Chilean Spanish even worse so perhaps I did not say exactly what I meant to say. Always a dangerous thing when speaking in a foreign language about dogs and bad things. Which probably explains why the waiter turned his back on me and immediately disappeared into the kitchen.

To be continued…

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