It's Saturday and the Butter Bitch and I are preparing to do something slightly out of character: Watch sports, drink Argentinean wine and eat steak from Skagit River Ranch.
I occasionally watch sports, mostly playoffs and championships, while the Butter Bitch shows little interest and routinely confuses teams. This year, she revealed a strong interest in the World Baseball Classic and recently she admitted that she enjoyed watching a World Cup game while in Arizona. Her interest in both sports stems from her studies in Latin America, where baseball and soccer are very popular.
I love soccer, but I watch it only every four years. I played soccer during grade school and grew up watching German soccer teams on P.B.S. and hoping that the N.A.S.L. would gain the same popularity in the United States as other professional sports. The N.A.S.L. folded 22 years ago, and I banked my enthusiasm, but my interest in the beautiful game flare-ups during the World Cup.
Why, you ask, are we planning to spend an entire Saturday afternoon watching 22 men run up and down a field for 90 minutes (plus, as it turns out, 30 minutes of overtime)?
Aside from the delivery of a new washing machine that I hope will not leave black marks on all of our laundry, we have no reason to be home except for the game. We want to see two great teams play and are rooting for one of them. The Butter Bitch's enthusiasm was fired during one of the earlier games when she discovered that a gathering of a few hundred Argentine fans had occupied the cafeteria at work. They sang a rousing song and terrified the lone fan cheering the opposing team. Argentina is playing a second round game and must win to continue to the quarterfinals. The Butter Bitch spent half a year in Argentina and wants to see them win. In anticipation, she found a bottle of wine from a vineyard in Argentina which she has visited.
The opposing team today is a soccer powerhouse: Mexico. If Mexico were playing someone else, chances are that the Butter Bitch would root for them. Today is Argentina's day.
Aside from the wine, most of our meal will be from local sources. We have a steak from Skagit River Ranch, home of our Chicken Man, and will grill the steak and serve it with chimichurri after the game. Steak, the Butter Bitch will explain, is very Argentinean.
At the beginning of the game, the Argentine fans sing loudly--almost drowning out the announcers. The Butter Bitch turns to me and says, "Imagine that in the cafeteria." It would be deafening.
We watch part of the game on Univision and revel in the exciting Spanish commentary. Both teams score quickly, Mexico followed by Argentina, and then there is a long period when both teams battle for an opportunity to score.
The chimichurri I make is not authentic Argentine chimichurri. An authentic chimichurri has red wine vinegar, olive oil, cayenne pepper, crushed garlic, black pepper, salt and perhaps a bit of oregano. This is refrigerated for several days, which I discover on the day of the game. The recipe that I use came from our CSA last year, and uses the above ingredients and also chopped parsley and shredded carrot. We have a dozen small heads of spring garlic drying in the refrigerator and a bunch of carrots from our latest CSA box. Because the garlic is young, I decide that I can use more than the 1 head of garlic called for in the recipe. During halftime, I peel and finely chop all of the cloves from all 12 heads of garlic and pound them with a mortar and pestle. The other ingredients are pounded into the garlic with the pestle to make a green and white mixture that is flecked with orange. I am generous with the red pepper flakes.
The steak thaws quickly in a bowl of water (it's wrapped in plastic by the way) thanks to Seattle's weekend heat wave and is returned to the refrigerator. As the game continues, I drift between the kitchen and the living room. Onions and beets, also from our CSA box, are roasted whole and set aside to cool. They will be mixed with the arugula from our CSA box and chunks of a delicious fresh goat chevre from Port Madison Farm on Bainbridge Island. The Butter Bitch inspects the cheese's wrapper and declares that it is packaged for local consumption. "This wouldn't travel far." The beet and chevre salad isn't Argentinean by any measure, but it will go well with the dusty red Malbec from Trapeche.
I uncork the wine, verify that it isn't corked, and pour the wine into a small pitcher to let the Malbec breathe. The first part of overtime begins, and we settle into our seats. Both teams are tired except for the few substitutes and the battle rages back and forth across the field. We have switched back to ESPN because we want to hear the explanations of the action, so we miss hearing the fantastically rolling "GOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL" of the Univision announcer. We make up for his absence with our shouting.
Eight minutes into overtime, Maxi Rodriguez of Argentina does something that only a soccer fan can truly appreciate. He is just outside the goal box, standing with his back to the goal, looking away from the goalkeeper. He catches the ball with his chest and, as the ball falls to waist height, he kicks it with his left foot in a beautiful curve past Mexico's goalkeeper. We shout and cheer and dip into the wine before dinner. Argentina holds off Mexico's attacks through the next 22 minutes of overtime and secures their place in the quarterfinals.
We are happy, hot, and ready to celebrate. I put the steak on a cast-iron grill on the stove and assemble the beet and chevre salad. After a few minutes, the steak is done (no grill marks though, so I'll have to get a barbecue for the next steaks). We add soda water to the wine as Mendozans do at lunchtime. The soda water makes the wine effervescent and takes away some of the harshness of the Malbec.
The beets are earthy and sweet, and I realize why I liked them as a young child and why I stopped liking them as an older child. Their sweetness appealed in my youth, but as I got older my palate was spoiled by the greasiness of fast food and the sickly sweetness of milkshakes and soft drinks, and I recoiled at their earthiness. My taste for beets was reset by a batch of homemade borscht in Russia, and I've loved them again ever since.
The salad combines the bitterness of arugula with the bold earthy sweetness of roasted beets, the mild sweetness of roasted onions, the richness of chevre, and a bit of tartness from balsamic vinegar balanced by olive oil.
The steak turns out medium instead of medium rare, partly because one end cooked slower than the rest. Looking at that end, you might think that I hadn't turned on the heat, but it was just a bit thicker. By the time we cut the steak into two pieces, the entire piece is a uniform bloodless color. A bit of red juice oozes out one end while I take a picture of the meal.
How is the steak? The chimichurri is so strong that we have to scrape it from the beef to taste the beef. (This type of chimichurri works well as a garnish but better as a salad.) The cut has a distinctive but not strong taste and is juicy and pleasant. Grassy and beefy are the best words to describe it. We quickly devour the meat and our helpings of salad. Wine, heat and full bellies erase the excitement of the day's game. I pop beet pieces into my mouth and savor the taste.
"I bet it's the earthiness that puts off most people," says the Butter Bitch. I think she means the Malbec, but she points to the beet in my hand.