Happy Holiday's everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to the end of the year festivities. I know I am especially looking forward to the most wonderful holiday of the year - December 26th, my birthday. Just kidding...kind of.
Anyway, Ricky and I just recently returned from our unbelievable two week trip to Argentina. It's been great to be home and back in the "cold" California fall for the holidays, but I would be lying if I told you I didn't already miss Patagonia. As mentioned in my last post, I had been dying to visit for years now, and the experience did not disappoint.
We spent 2 nights in Buenos Aires upon our arrival, about 3.5 days in El Calafate, 4 days in El Chalten, and another 2 nights in Buenos Aires on the tail end. Buenos Aires, at least to me, was very reminiscent of New York City. There was the same hustle and energy that I hadn't experienced since we moved from NYC in 2014 and it was amazing to feel that again. Buenos Aires' culture and architecture is strongly influenced by it's historical European immigration and is chock-full of outdoor Parisian style cafes and plenty of green space. It is a beautiful city void of many "must see" cultural landmarks, so we spent the majority of our time (on both ends) strolling through the neighborhoods and sipping on a lot of café con leche and wine.
Buenos Aires was a wonderful city to experience, but the real treasure was waiting for us roughly 1,800 miles south. Patagonia is notoriously difficult to get to - it took 2 flights from LA to Buenos Aires, another 3 hour flight to El Calafate plus a 40 minute bus ride to the center of town. A pain, but all 100% worth it.
Our first full day in El Calafate was exactly as I had always pictured experiencing Patagonia - by horse. Our gaucho, Luciano, picked us up at our hosteria and drove us about 45 minutes to the beginning of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (where all of the Argentinian Patagonia glaciers are found). We rode through the valleys of the park, past free roaming cows, and eventually to a small shack in the middle of a ravine. Here, Luciano opened up a massive bottle of wine and grilled up some steak for our lunch.
The following two days were spent on Lago Argentino, which is the largest lake in Argentina and receives it's gorgeous blue color by the glaciers that feed it. Our 2nd day in El Calafate we visited a lagoon across from the Upsala Glaciar, where we kayaked among thousands of smaller glacier fragments. We almost decided against kayaking (it's pretty pricey) but fortunately we were able to make it work and it was hands down the best experience of the trip. If you ever find yourself in Patagonia, please seek out the Upsala Kayak Experience.
The following day was spent at the most famous Patagonian glacier, Perito Moreno. It isn't famous for being the largest, but famous for it's accessibility and it's sheer beauty. Standing in front of the glacier wall was awe-inspiring, and then getting the chance to walk across the glacier was unlike anything I have ever done before. We hiked alongside the glacier for about an hour and eventually made our way to the entrance point where we strapped on a pair of crampons and set out. Being on the glacier id definitely cold and takes a lot of energy and physical fitness, but absolutely worth being slightly uncomfortable to get the chance to stand in the middle of a massive glacier.
El Calafate was full of first time experiences for both of us, but after 4 days we were ready to get to our favorite activity - hiking.Only a two hour bus ride stood between us and El Chalten, the hiking capital of Patagonia and all of Argentina. It's famous for two main peaks - Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, and we had 3 long hikes planned to see them. Our first day there we arrived around 12pm, and due to the fact that it stayed light until 10pm every night, we figured we may as well get a head start on the shortest hike. Considering the weather in Patagonia can change in a millisecond, we didn't want to waste a beautiful day. The first hike was to Laguna Torre, the glacial lake below Cerro Torre, which took around 6 hours to complete. A gorgeous hike for the most part, but unfortunately Cerro Torre was hidden under cloud cover.
The 2nd day we set out on our longest hike of the trip to Laguna de los Tres and Fitz Roy. This was probably the most difficult, but most rewarding, hike I have ever done. The first couple kilometers were strenuous, followed by several "easy" kilometers through the valley, and then the final kilometer was straight up the face of a mountain. This kilometer was the most difficult of our entire trip and I almost felt like I couldn't complete it. But I'm glad I did. We spent about an hour and half at the top, eating lunch, catching our breath, and taking pictures of the most amazing view thus far.
Fitz Roy was the final excursion we had set out to do so the next couple days were spent doing shorter hikes, eating, finding a runaway puppy, and finishing the trip with a quiet but difficult hike to Lomo del Pleigue. This hike is relatively unknown because it's long, uphill the majority of the way, and it's view (while stunning) is of both Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. This was my least favorite hike, but my favorite view point. Photos truly don't do it justice.
Over the course of 4 days we hiked a total of 42 miles, so by the time we were heading back to Buenos Aires we were beat. I was looking forward to eating and drinking my way through our last 36 hours in Argentina. In fact, despite having a packed schedule, we still managed to eat pretty well during our time in Patagonia. We enjoyed all the foods Argentina is known for, such as (tons of) steak with chimicurri, Patagonian lamb, Patagonian trout, Choripan, blood sausage, dulce de leche, and pumpkin. Yes, you heard me...pumpkin.
Argentinians are obsessed (or at least I assume) with savory pumpkin; we had it with 5 different meals. It was often served as a spread for crackers or bread or in stew, but most commonly it was served on the side of meat similar to serving mashed potatoes. The sweetness of the mashed pumpkin worked so well with the saltiness and fattiness of the steak and I couldn't wait to get home and incorporate it into some recipes.
Because I don't eat a lot of red meat normally, I decided chicken was the way to go. I made chimichurri for the first time at the beginning of this year and have used it mostly as a dressing to meat and seafood, but I was convinced it would work well as marinade. And boy was I correct. The flavors are subtle, but when marinated long enough, they really pop. You can even reserve some of the marinade and drizzle some on top before serving!
4 chicken thighs
1/2 medium pumpkin (or 1 can pumpkin puree - not pumpkin pie mix!)
2 tbsp greek yogurt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon
1/3 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1. Begin by making the chimichurri sauce. Finely chop the herbs and combine with the oil, vinegar, and spices. If you want a smoother consistency, you can blend in a food processor or blender.
2. Place the chicken thighs in a deep baking dish, coat in the chimichurri, and marinade for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours in the refrigerator.
3. If making fresh pumpkin puree, begin by chopping your half fresh pumpkin into 1 inch cubes. Chopping a pumpkin is hellish, but here is a good tutorial.
4. Bring a pot of water to a boil and boil the chopped pumpkin for about 25 minutes on medium, or until pumpkin is super tender.
5. Preheat oven to 375° and bake chicken for 30-40 minutes, or until cooked through.
5. Mash the pumpkin and greek yogurt or heavy cream with a fork, add the spices and mix to combine.
6. Spread mash in a shallow bowl or plate and top with chicken and extra chimichurri.