I don’t know about you, but these days I’m feeling a bit constricted by a myriad of circumstances.

It’s high summer in Florida, with hurricanes kicking up mischief in the Atlantic, and COVID-19 continuing to sweep through the state with frightening relentlessness.

Humidity and the heavy air of impending thunder storms don’t invite much meandering out of doors these days. Turning on the oven above a warming 125°F makes the kitchen, indeed the whole house, into a prototype for a Swedish sauna, putting a damper on a lot of cooking and baking. Which would be nice if three feet of snow and ice lay on the ground outside. And the whole fight over mask-wearing during one of the worst public health crises in our nation’s history simply flabbergasts me.

Whatever.

But I remind myself of how lucky I am despite what’s going on outside my door. An attitude of gratitude sometimes helps. I try to do this every day, but often fail.

So here goes:

  • I have shelter.
  • I have food.
  • I can cook my own food, which a lot of people can’t do or don’t enjoy doing.
  • I am not alone, as I share my house with my husband.
  • I have internet.
  • I have books, more than I probably will ever be able to read in their entirety before I go out the door on an undertaker’s gurney.
  • I can see, thanks to a very skilled eye surgeon.
  • I can read, and many people cannot, at least not well.
  • I can stay home.
  • I have a calling, as a writer, that keeps me busy pounding away at the keyboard.

I wish everybody could say the same.

What none of us have at the moment is the freedom to venture out and explore the world and move about freely, due to that previously mentioned increasing surge of COVID-19 in many parts of the United States.

If wanderlust is your middle name, as it is mine, and you like reading – or watching videos – about food, you might be interested in a few of my recent discoveries. Perfect fixes for that unrequited wanderlust.

First of all, Sandra Gutierrez‘s Latin American Street Food (UNC Press, 2013) offers 150 recipes for a wide range of street foods from various Latin American streets.

My appetite whetted by a few sample pages, I ordered the book. From the look of the index on Amazon’s LOOK INSIDE feature, I will be spending many happy hours in the kitchen. Once the weather cools off, that is.

But the real reason why I ordered the book is this: I watched Netflix’s newest episodes in their street food series: “Latin America: Street Food.”

One of the recipes I wanted to taste for myself doesn’t appear in Ms. Gutierrez’s book – fugazzeta, a type of mozzarella-stuffed pizza that’s a cousin to an onion-topped Italian focaccia. But that’s OK, as the process of making it seems fairly clear in the Buenos Aires episode.

It’s no surprise that Argentine cuisine brims over with Italian-style food: the country is one of the most European-slanted in Latin America, thanks in parts to the many European immigrants who settled there.

And the culinary reach of those immigrants extended to the cooks I knew in Paraguay when I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village near the Argentine border. Doña Olga – the pension owner of Ukranian descent – served a thick, tomato-topped bread with black olives set in neat rows, in the very center of each square cut from the rectangular-shaped pan. And Doña Flora – the wife the mechanical dentist in town and with whom I boarded – prided herself on the thin milanesa she brought out steaming from her kitchen, accompanied by a glass of thick red wine that nearly put me under the table at every almuerzo, until I asked her not to. It just didn’t do to go back to the office in the afternoon even slightly tipsy!

Both women spent several years as cooks in the households of wealthy people in Buenos Aires.

Watching “Latin America: Street Food” brought back a lot of memories for me. No wonder: I spent time in four of the six cities featured – Oaxaca, Buenos Aires, La Paz, and Lima.

Memelas

The photography, the choice of cooks featured, and the narrators/experts providing commentary, all add to this enriching and – frankly – soothing experience. Most of the people interviewed faced major upheavals in their lives and turned to cooking to solve not just financial problems, but also issues revealed in questions such as “What do I do in my life?” or “How do I find my way to equilibrium, peace of mind?”

Cooking gave them the will to go on.

What a wonderful and inspiring thing to do at this time of such terrible uncertainty.

[Another book that might interest you is Maricel Presilla‘s Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America (W.W. Norton, 2012).]

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