Bombitas de Queso


I've seen my dad cook to curious edibility all of the following in a microwave oven: eggs, potatoes, corn on the cob, bacon, oatmeal and mushrooms. He also showed me how, carefully, to melt mozzarella cheese on bread for a quick "grilled" cheese so as to keep it *just* moist enough (but not too moist) without tragically exploding the sandwich. I internalized how important this skill was about a decade later in college around the same time I first recalled that distant afternoon my mom showed me how use a moist paper towel to scoop up the annoying line of dust that persists when you're sweeping into a dustpan.

Despite being an obvious man of the economy and efficiency of the microwave, my dad can also really whip up a real meal. Knowing full well I'm bragging, every morning for me growing up was fresh-cut fruit and sage sausage cooked very, very, very slowly on a virtually unwashed, perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet -- all washed down elegantly with a glass of water and a weird number of vitamins. Supper in the wintertime was slow-cooked green beans and freshly baked bread with whatever else. And in the summer, cucumbers and red onions in vinegar or a colorful cabbage carrot slaw. When I was in Middle School his milled flax seed pizza dough (which he dreamed up back when health foods weren't so trendy and when "omega 3" sounded more like a Motorola cellphone model than a critical health supplement) rose to critical acclaim and became the signature ingredient to some of my fondest sleepover memories between the years of 11 and 14: unsupervised pizza making.

So despite an affinity for it, my dad still likes to improvise and experiment outside of the microwave box. In his character and way of going about things, I know one thing for sure about him which is that however unpredictable the path, he will always end up doing the right thing. He always tips baristas even when he orders a drip coffee and never speeds up to the danger of other humans or small animals in parking lots no matter how late we are for the appointment. He never gives up on people or the GPS, despite many a tiresome or aggrevating diversion. In this way, he embodies, among so much else, the culinary process.

I find myself thinking about this a lot here in Argentina, sitting down to meals and meeting new people, families. There is something so pure in sitting down to a meal without any idea of what's coming, but with direction that comes with a certain faith in one other to make something delicious. Today I sat at the kitchen table and did nothing but rinse the lettuce and watch lunch happen, which was a supreme joy. It began with bombitas de queso or "cheese bombs:" dough-wrapped cheese fried in the excess grease and fat of "milanesa" or breaded meat fillets. The 30-some minutes that passed were a symphony: the cheese retrieved from across the street mere moments before the gas was lit, the thump, thump, thump of the meat pounded to equal density and the dough rolled and cut in equal lengths. And then the milanesa: done just in time for the frying of the next thing. All the while, several conversations were happening, fighting for volume with the popping oil as if the cooking was a side-job. Finally, the salad tossed with dashes of salt and lemon.

As might be obvious, I have had zero bad meals over these past two weeks, but even if they were terrible - and they weren't - I don't think I would really know. I'm so glad that cheese melts. Happy birthday, Dad!