Two weeks and counting…

I can’t believe that in two weeks I will boarding an airplane to go home. Somehow I feel like this semester flew by while at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for years. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, trying to understand this wonderful, unique, bizarre experience so I can try to explain it. Why don’t you step into my kitchen, we can talk it over while I make some sopaipillas.

First we need our ingredients. We need a squash, Oil for frying (vegetable or canola), butter, flour, salt, baking soda, chancaca, cinnamon, and orange peels.

Zapallo

Because it needs to boil for a while, let’s start by preparing the chancaca. In a little saucepan I’ve added the block of chancaca, a cinnamon stick, and some orange peels with a few inches of water and set uncovered over medium low heat. The block of chancaca will melt over time and as the water evaporates it will thicken, just be sure to stir it every five minutes or so to keep it from sticking.

Chancaca, Orange Peels, Canela

Now, to prepare the sopaipillas first you need to cut up and seed the squash. Usually one good karate chop is enough.

Karate Chop!

So while I skin and cut up the squash, I am thinking about all the things I have learned from this trip that I would never had learned otherwise. Obviously my Spanish is much much stronger and so is my understanding of Chilean and Latin American culture. But more than that, I think I’ve developed a skill set I never had before. For example, using public transportation was completely new to me when I arrived, but now I have no problem hopping on and off the micro and metro like a boss. I’ve also improved my “street smarts” and lost much of my small-town naivety.
A very important skill that I learned is the ability to accept the things that I don’t know and ask for help when I need it. Before I was afraid of people finding out that I didn’t know how to do something, so I would refuse offers of help even though I had no idea what I was doing. Here I quickly learned to swallow my pride and ask for help and clarification when I need it, and to persist until I fully understand. I could have saved myself a great deal of time and frustration if I had just done that from the beginning!
So I’ve cut up about two cups of squash into a pot, covered it with a few inches of water, and set it to boil. We’ve got about twenty minutes until the squash is soft enough to squish with a fork.

Cooking Sopaipillas

Some of the skills I already had got fine tuned and sharpened during this experience. For example, I have always been a very motivated and engaged student but I often lacked self-discipline when it came to my procrastination problem. Since I need much more time to complete an assignment than my classmates here, I start projects much earlier now to make sure I have the time I need to be successful. I’ve also become more attentive in class because if I miss a few key sentences or words during a professor’s lecture I can be lost for the rest of the class. Lastly, in terms of academics I learned the value of making friends, even if it takes an extra effort. The inside advise and explanations from my Chilean friends were more valuable then I ever could have imagined.
As the squash finishes up cooking, I’m going to melt 10 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and set it aside. Then in a large mixing bowl I will mix the four cups of flour, two tablespoons of salt, and three tablespoons of baking soda. When the squash is nice and soft, I drain it, let it cool until I can touch it, and mix it with the butter before adding the butter and squash mix to the flour mix. The next part is fun because you get to knead the mixture for around 10 minutes until you get a nice, smooth dough.

Dough no you didn't!

My tastes have also broadened during my stay here. I set the president for myself during orientation of tasting everything that was offered to me, as well as being open to alternative ways of doing things. I learned to like tea, mushrooms, squash, and a wide variety of Chilean foods such as cazuela, empanadas, sopaipillas, flan, manjar, and of course choclo. I’ve learned to use graph paper notebooks instead of college ruled, to smother almost everything in mayonnaise, to wear a million layers in the summer, and to use a calefont. I’m more conscious of my use of utilities like electricity and water, and more aware of how I spend my money.

Mmm! Melty yummy chancaca! Let it simmer gently over the heat to let it thicken some more while we form our dough.
Chancaca ready

Now put a few inches of oil in a pot on to heat up while we make the circles of dough. I roll it out on a floured surface just like for sugar cookies. The thinner they are the better, I used a flour-rimmed glass to cut the little circles and then I pierce each one a few times with a fork to let them cook all the way through. Now all you have to do is drop them a few at a time into the hot oil and let them fry, a minute or so per side until they are a nice rich gold.

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Looking back on the entire semester, I think it will be a while until I can fully wrap my mind around all of the effects it has had on me. I can certainly say I’ve changed in my tastes, worldviews, my perspectives, and my individual culture. I’ve learned that I love to blog, for example, and I hope to continue blogging after I get back. Sadly I don’t think my day to day life is interesting enough for this style of blog, but maybe I will be able to branch out and find another engaged and interested audience like the one you are a part of right now.
Now that your sopaipillas are all cooked and warm, you can prepare them a variety of ways. Some people like to eat them plain. My host brother Seba likes his with ketchup on top. Try them with salsa, condensed cream, powdered sugar, tomato sauce, anything you want.
A tisket, a tasket, a sopaipilla basket
But since we have a nice hot batch of chancaca ready, let’s make these sopaipillas pesadas (soaked in chancaca). Chancaca has a maple syrupy taste, in fact it is a form of unrefined sugar. All you have to do is soak the sopaipillas for about five minutes each in the hot chancaca and they are ready to eat!
Soaked in Chancaca, yum!
Like sopaipillas I cannot physically bring Chile home with me, but I can experience it, describe it, try to understand it and then bring it home in my memory and in my skills. In two weeks I’ll be back on U.S. soil, but the knowledge of sopaipillas will come with me and I can’t wait to share them with you all!