Pisco Sours & Comfort Food on Peru’s Southern Coast


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To the beach!

After leaving Arequipa, we made a brief stop in Nazca to check out the mysterious Nazca lines, ancient geoglyphs depicting more than 70 animals and believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD. My fear of heights and tiny propeller planes prevented us from doing a flyover, but we settled for climbing a lookout tower to scope out some of the sand drawings.

Nazca Lines

Because we’re not going to make it to the Galapagos, we decided instead to tour the Islas Ballestas in Paracas, affectionately referred to as the “poor man’s Galapagos”. In addition to the ginormous candelabro sand drawing, we got to see huge colonies of sea lions, adorable Humboldt penguins, and more birds than should be able to fit on one rock.

Islas Ballestas

Then on to Pisco, the home of the Perú’s world-famous national drink, the pisco sour. Pisco is a grape brandy native to Perú and Chile, best complemented by the tartness of lime juice. To make a Peruvian Pisco Sour, mix 3 ounces of pisco, an ounce of simple syrup or a Tablespoon of sugar, the juice from 2 – 3 limes, a few cubes of ice, and an egg white in a blender. Top the frothy mixture with a few dashes of Angostura bitters and enjoy.

Pisco Sours and Cancha

As we learned when sitting down to drinks or a meal, many Peruvian restaurants serve cancha to nibble on, as bars in the USA may serve peanuts. Cancha is toasted corn kernels, served golden brown and crunchy topped with plenty of salt. I couldn’t stop marveling at the size of corn kernels in Perú, and I have yet to find a satisfactory answer for how they get so huge.

Peruvian Corn and Cancha

When we weren’t at the hostel grilling up fresh-caught bonito, a delicious firm-textured fish in the same family as tuna, we were all about the comfort food. Meal highlights from our stay in surf mecca Punta Hermosa include a delicious chaufa de pollo, one of the many delicious Peruvian takes on Chinese fried rice.

Chaufa de Pollo

One more than one occasion we also devoured bistec a lo pobre, one of our favorite South American dishes consisting of a super flavorful thin-pounded steak and a runny fried egg served over crispy fries. As a bonus, this version included some sizzling salchichas.

Bistec a lo Pobre

I think it’s safe to say my commitment to healthy eating on this trip has gone right out the window. Sorry I’m not sorry.

A Whole New World of Flavor in the Peruvian Andes


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Hola Perú!

Hola Perú! Qué linda que sos!

Holy crap, you guys. It’s a good thing I’m not actually paid to blog on a regular basis, cause I would be fired and/or broker than broke.

More than a month has passed since we crossed into Perú and it’s been sensory overload: so much to see, so much to hear, so much to taste. After a steady diet of un-spiced and under-salted foods in Argentina, it was like an explosion of flavor topped off with lots of pisco sours. In other words: me gustó. MUCHO.

The Peruvian welcoming committee: fields of alpacas.

The Peruvian welcoming committee: fields of alpacas.

After leaving Chile, we drove through the Andes to Puno, a quaint and very traditional town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. I share this little nugget of information with you not to give you an edge in your next game of Trivial Pursuit (you’re welcome), but so that you can appreciate that going from sea level to 4,000 meters meant a bad case of soroche (altitude sickness). We’re excellent planner-aheaders. It took us a few days to feel human again.

As soon as we could, we visited the famous Uros Islands, floating man-made islands constructed of reeds and inhabited by pre-Incan indigenous groups that maintain a simple, provincial lifestyle. We then began roaming the streets to join in the colorful festivities for the close of the Virgen de la Candeleria festival, watching native dance troupes in traditional garb and spectacular costumes flooding the dusty plazas accompanied by drums and pan pipes, paying homage to Puno’s patron saint.

Puno Collage

When our stomachs had forgiven us for the rapid ascent, we ventured into a small corner restaurant specializing in local delicacies with a menu that was prepared daily (on the rare days they were open) and sold til they ran out. We found that our Spanish skills did nothing for us when it came to deciphering the handful of dishes on the menu, so we asked the waitress for her recommendation and crossed our fingers. We were rewarded handsomely. We waged a silent war over the last bites of the savory adobo arequipeño, a spicy pork stew made with plenty of peppers and chicha de jora, a fermented corn beer. Sadly, the photos I took in the dim restaurant with my sub-par camera make the dish look less than appealing, so stock photo it is until I figure out how to duplicate the recipe on my own.

Photo courtesy of RecetasGratis.net

Photo of Adobo Arequipeño courtesy of RecetasGratis.net

While we’d planned to head to the Sacred Valley, Cusco, and Machu Picchu, a kidnapping warning issued by the U.S. Embassy put a damper on those plans. Driving through remote mountain roads in a foreign car with US plates and a pile of luggage and surfboards on top isn’t exactly helpful if you’d like to keep a low profile. Better safe than…kidnapped? So instead we headed to Arequipa, where we stayed at the delightfully isolated El Lago Estelar hotel and felt sorry for ourselves for a few hours for missing out on one of the wonders of the world. By the time we had dinner, we were over it. The hotel restaurant was stellar. Peruvians love to boast about the breadth of their country’s food “specialties” with good reason. There are so many! Each region has something truly special to offer, and El Lago Estelar did Arequipa proud. To give you an idea of how good, we extended our stay just to keep eating. Not ashamed.

Highlights were the Tacu Tacu, an Afro-Peruvian staple that brings together cooked beans and rice into a soft dough, fried to a crisp and in this case served with a thinly pounded milanesa-style steak, plantains and a fried egg.

Tacu Tacu

And the rocoto relleno, a spicy red rocoto pepper – not to be confused with a bell pepper lest you want to burn your face off – stuffed with savory spiced beef and served with a gratin of thinly sliced potatoes and cheese.

Rocoto Relleno

Again I promise you, with better lighting and a half-decent camera, these would look as mouth-wateringly delicious as they tasted. Trust me?

Because I’m so woefully behind and can appreciate the short attention span of the modern blog reader (with the exception of my die-hard fans, a.k.a. my family – hi y’all, love you!) I’ll be sharing highlights from our leisurely trip up the coast of Peru soon. With much improved photos! I find the strength of that coastal sun is good for more than just wrinkle enhancement.

Eating (and Drinking) Our Way Through Chile


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La Portada in Antofagasta, Chile

La Portada in Antofagasta, Chile

After arriving in Chile, we worked our way up the coast from Bahía Inglesa to Arica, on the border of Peru. Because we spent so much of our time here camping on the beach, I haven’t done a great job of chronicling our comidas. I’ve been too busy wondering if I will ever get all of the sand off of my person and possessions. (Answer: no, never).

But there have been good eats. Lots of good eats. These are the highlights.

Fried Reineta with Ensalada Chilena

In Juan Lopez, a small beach town just north of Antofagasta and its iconic Portada, we crowded into a roadside stall to devour delicious fried fish with sides of rice and ensalada chilena, a basic salad of sliced tomatoes, white onions, and chopped parsley. The fish, reineta, was a mild white variety fried in a light cumin seasoning. We thoroughly approved.

Clockwise from top left: Laguna Miscanti with Miñiques Volcano in the background; Gaspar in the crystal clear water at the Puritama Hot Springs; floating in Laguna Cejar, a lake in the Atacama salt flat with a high salt concentration; Las Tres Marias in the Valley of the Moon

Atacama highlights clockwise from top left: Laguna Miscanti with Miñiques Volcano in the background; Gaspar in the crystal clear water at the Puritama Hot Springs; me bobbing around in Laguna Cejar, a lake in the Atacama salt flat with a salt concentration that rivals the Dead Sea; and finally the eerie moonscape surrounding Las Tres Marias in the Valley of the Moon

Then we took an inland detour to hit San Pedro de Atacama, a pueblo in the Atacama desert that is surrounded by natural wonders including fields full of bubbling geysers, enormous salt flats, hot springs, and a better view of the stars than I ever imagined possible. In between bouts of grilling and sandwich-making, we hit the pedestrian street Calle Caracoles for dinner and had an excellent goat cheese and tomato appetizer served simmering in olive oil with garlic, onions and thyme from Casa de Piedra.

Goat Cheese & Tomato

Because I’m a big fat fan of big fat sandwiches, I had to try one of the most common sammies being hawked by the corner shops and street vendors: the churrasco completo, loaded with thinly sliced beef, cheese, tomato, mayo, avocado, and chucrut (basically sauerkraut). It’s greasy, it’s messy, it’s everything I demand from a big fat sandwich. Well done, Chilenos!

Chilean Churrasco Sandwich

I definitely embrace the Chilean love of avocado. In addition to being eaten by the slice, puré de palta (pureed avocado) is a go-to condiment that lines the sandwich counters in pump canisters alongside ketchup and mayo, gracing hot dogs, hamburgers and fries alike. I’m pretty sure that when I reflect on Chilean cuisine in the future, the two foodstuffs that will forever come to mind are avocado and mayonnaise. On everything.

And of course, no meal would be complete without trying some new vinos. We discovered carménère, a member of the cabernet family that used to be produced exclusively in Bordeaux, France but now Chile boasts the world’s largest area planted with the variety. It’s a medium-bodied, deep crimson wine often used for blending, but in its pure form has a cherry-like, fruity flavor with spicy undertones that we found really appealing. Salud!

Image from Ciudad Restaurant

Casillero del Diablo carménere image from Ciudad Restaurant

Today we’re heading into Peru, where I’m looking forward to drowning in pisco and ceviche and hopefully avoiding any more bouts of altitude sickness. As I learned in San Pedro de Atacama, 4,500 meters above sea level can make a tummy feel no bueno. Wish me luck!

Campfire Cooking: Hobo Pies


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Why is this road so empty?

The wide open road heading into Paso San Francisco.

We made our way through northern Argentina more quickly than expected. Since we’ve had the opportunity to explore Salta, Tucumán, and Mendoza on previous trips, we basically made a beeline from Brazil to the Chilean coast. We crossed into Chile via the little used Paso de San Francisco, which included more than 100 kilometers of unpaved, extremely bumpy and winding roads through the Andes…an adventure that explains why we had the road virtually to ourselves.

Emerging from Paso San Francisco into the Atacama Desert in Chile

Emerging from Paso San Francisco into the Atacama Desert in Chile

Now we’re slowly working our way up the coast of Chile, where many of the beaches are wide open for public use, fishing, and camping. Having the opportunity to pitch a tent on a peaceful beach with the waves breaking and the sky overflowing with brilliant stars is extra special. And after subsisting on a diet of yogurt, crackers, canned tuna and mouthfuls of desert dust for a few days on the road, we were ready for some tasty camp food.

Playa Cifuncho Camping

I was first introduced to hobo pies by my high school BFF during a camping trip in Assateague Island, Maryland – another spot I highly recommend for some quality beach camping. When she whipped out her hobo pie maker, I admit that I did not believe the hype. It’s basically a square, sandwich-sized pie iron and I prepared myself for the equivalent of grilled cheese. But after devouring deliciously crispy mini pepperoni pizzas pockets and polishing off a S’mores sammie oozing melted chocolate and marshmallows, I was thoroughly convinced that I needed a hobo pie maker, stat. (Thanks Suzie! I should have never doubted you).

Hobo Pies

There’s really no recipe needed for a delicious hobo pie and experimenting is half the fun. The basic requirements are the pie iron (which you can purchase at camping/outdoor stores or online), some non-stick cooking spray, sliced bread, and of course, a campfire. Just grease the pie iron with the cooking spray, make your sandwich with your ingredients of choice, lock it up and stick it in the fire. Cooking time varies depending on the strength of your fire, but I generally check within a minute or so in case I want to adjust the positioning to reduce the potential for burnt toast. Simple, right? And something about cooking on a campfire just makes everything taste better.

With the limited ingredient options that come with traveling through South America, we’ve played it somewhat safe thus far. Toasted ham and cheese with a slice of tomato is a good bet for a quick and easy breakfast or lunch. For dinner, turkey, cheese and tomato sauce with some freshly ground black pepper hits the spot.  But I dream of making delicious Reuben Hobo Pies, or pies stuffed with brie and strawberries, or maybe some peanut butter banana chocolate goodness….but that will have to wait til we’re back in the homeland.

Cooling Off with Caldo de Cana


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Caldo de Cana

“Cane broth”.

Certainly not the most tempting of monikers, but after seeing carts hawking caldo de cana all over southern Brazil from the highways of Paraná to the beaches of Santa Catarina, I had to give it a try.

Caldo de cana is essentially raw sugar cane juice, made by peeling the canes and running them through a pressing machine. Many of the street carts use a hand-cranked press, and you can watch as your drink is squeezed from what looks to me like a couple of dry sticks. The result is a yellowish, milky liquid that is served super cold, with a splash of lime. Sounds gross, looks gross, tastes great.

Caldo de Cana Cart

I was sure it would be too sweet for me, but I actually found the unique flavor really appealing and super refreshing. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so popular in the sweltering heat of Brazil. Of course, given the high sugar content, it’s certainly not going to help you get into bikini-wearing shape. But if you’re on vacation here, you’re probably already indulging in caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail made with the sugar cane rum cachaça) soooo let’s just look at it as the lesser of two evils.

I leave you with this gratuitous picture I snapped of a portion of Iguazu Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and our last stop in Brazil. The falls stretch for a whopping 1.7 miles and include anywhere from 150 to 300 individual waterfalls, depending on the water level. Absolutely stunning.


Now, on to northern Argentina and Chile. Nos vemos!

Filling Up on Seafood in Florianópolis, Brazil


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Last week, we arrived in Florianópolis — Floripa, as it’s referred to locally. Located in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, Floripa includes one main island with a group of smaller islands, a continental portion, and a whopping 42 beaches. Helloooo paradise.

Florianópolis, Brazil

In between work calls and emails (a.k.a. reality) we spent seven glorious days exploring the picturesque coastline and sampling the local cuisine. Some of the beaches, like Lagoinha do Leste, are completely isolated and tucked away and suit our tastes perfectly. Others, particularly in the northern part of the island, are teeming with locals and tourists and plenty of eateries to ensure there’s no reason to leave the beach. We like that, too.

I was excited to finally try Brazilian feijão, a black bean stew and common side dish usually eaten over rice. It’s the basis of what many recognize as the country’s national dish, feijoada, which also includes salted pork and beef. And every meal (seriously….EVERY meal) was served with pirão, a traditional gruel made with fish stock and manioc flour. It was not a hit. The texture was odd for me, something like a congealed, tepid stew, and flavor-wise it was pretty bland. An acquired taste, perhaps?

Feijão (thumbs up!) and pirão (thumbs down)

feijão at the top (thumbs up) and pirão below (thumbs down)

But seafood is definitely the foodie focus in Floripa, with pages of every menu dedicated to various preparations of fish, oysters and shrimp. Lagoons all over the island are dotted with colorful fishing boats, and full of people tossing their fishing nets in the water.

Aside from a ton of fruit (side note: I swear the bananas are sweeter) we averaged a meal a day, which may not sound like much until you lay eyes on the meals. We tried a few different versions of almoço platters, which included fried fish, feijão, pirão, fries, and a “salad” that was always some combination of beets, carrots and tomatoes. I really liked the anchova grelhada version. I had feared it was going to be a bunch of tiny salty anchovies of the packed-in-oil variety, but it was actually a gigantic, mild white fillet.

Anchova Grelhada

By far our most ambitious meal was the sequência de camarão, or “sequence of shrimp”. The name strikes me as both accurate and misleading at the same time. It is, indeed, a sequence; every time we thought the final dish had arrived, another one showed up. But it’s so much more than shrimp. There was crab, calamari, buñuelos de algas (fried balls of seaweed), a ton of different fish preparations, and of course, more  feijãopirão, fries and salad. We were actually slightly horrified because it was so clearly more than two people could possible ingest, but we put a good hurtin’ on it.  The highlight for me was the peixe mole: chunks of fried fish topped with tiny shrimp in a savory red mole sauce.

Sequencia de Camarão

Thus far, our mission to detox from the Argentine diet of meat, empanadas and pizza has been a success! Albeit short-lived, as we’re crossing back into northern Argentina this week. It was fun while it lasted, Floripa.

Escaping to Casa Los Jazmines in Colonia, Uruguay


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Casa Los Jazmines

Gaspar es un genio.

The man’s got a knack for finding amazing, tucked away places for us to stay. This is one of them. We’d spent a night at Casa Los Jazmines in the past and adored it. In his infinite wisdom, G made us a reservation to stay here our first night after leaving Buenos Aires, to help soothe my sorrow. It worked.

Casa Los Jazmines is in Colonia del Sacramento, a town in southwestern Uruguay on the Río de la Plata. It’s the oldest town in Uruguay, and I’ve always loved its quaint, historic charm. Some find it a bit too sleepy for their tastes, and as a destination it’s certainly no Miami Beach. But if enjoying nature and relaxation in a historic setting is your cup of tea, you’ll love it as much as we do.

Casa Los Jazmines Collage

The bed & breakfast is nestled in the rolling countryside about 9km outside of the city proper. Marcial, the owner, is living my dream. He has opened up his home to guests, cooks all the meals, and is an excellent and attentive host. The property is sprawling, with a pool, a garden, and acres of land dotted with horses and lemon trees. There are currently five rooms available to guests, each one in its own wing of the house, which gives you the illusion that this could practically be your own personal manse.


My favorite part of the property is the main terrace, where we like to eat breakfast and dinner. Marcial will prepare your meal at a time of your choosing, and serve it wherever on the property you’d like. There’s a communal table in the dining area, where you can watch dinner come together in the large open kitchen. Or you also have the option of enjoying your meals on your room’s private terrace.


Dinner is good, nothing too fancy. We started with wonderfully garlicky tomato bruschetta and a bottle of tannat, a Uruguayan red wine varietal. Two options are typically offered for dinner, so we ordered one of each: chicken breast fillets in a mustard sauce with sweet potatoes, and cuadril (rump steak) served with mashed BBQ sweet potatoes.

Casa Los Jazmines Food

Collapsing into the luxuriously soft bed is such a treat. And in the morning, just the sight of the breakfast setup makes me sigh with satisfaction. Moist homemade banana bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit, and toast begging to be smothered in creamy dulce de leche.

Casa Los Jazmines Breakfast

Our two stays here have been short-lived, as a brief overnight treat to recover from/prepare for long road trips. For a longer stay there would be no shortage of options to keep you busy. Bicycles are available to guests looking to explore the countryside, check out a local winery, ride into town, or take a tour of Colonia. If relaxation’s more your style, massages and beauty treatments can be arranged poolside or in your room. True to their mantra, “Todo es posible.”

I need to take lessons from these guys.

CASA LOS JAZMINES – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Check them out on TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice 2013 list, where they were just selected as one of the Top 25 B&Bs and Inns in South America. And they’re pet-friendly!

REAL Sushi in San Telmo


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“Cream cheese.” “Queso crema.” “Philadelphia.” Whatever you call it, I’m baffled as to why it seems to be the key ingredient in Argentine sushi. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some cream cheese, and I can enjoy the occasional salmon and cream cheese stuffed sushi roll. But in most sushi restaurants here, globs of it appear everywhere, and it’s just…no.

Thank goodness for Shokudo and Comedor Nikkai, two restaurants owned by Argentina’s Japanese Association that just so happen to be within blocks of our apartment. This sushi’s the real deal. The thick slices of rich, butter-smooth salmon sashimi practically melt in your mouth. And while a dab of cream cheese can be spotted from time to time, they actually complement the salmon rather than overpower it. I can honestly say the sashimi and nigiri are the best I’ve ever had, and considering this town’s reputation for awful sushi, that was an unexpected revelation.

Shokudo Sushi

Both restaurants have basically the same menu. Our go-to order is the Osaka de Salmón, a mix of 30 pieces of salmon sashimi, nigiri, and rolls that are left up to the sushi chefs imagination. It comes with a small entrada, a bowl of miso soup, and a cup of green tea at the end of the meal. The restaurants are both dim and not photo-friendly, so unfortunately the pics don’t do the food justice.

Both locations are a bit tucked away. Shokudo is on a second floor, overlooking Defensa, while Comedor Nikkai is inside the Japanese Association building on Independencia and doesn’t even have a sign. But if you hear the loud (and kinda scary) sounds of people practicing martial arts, you’re in the right place.

SAN TELMO SHOKUDO – Defensa 910 in San Telmo

COMEDOR NIKKAI – Independencia 732 in San Telmo

My Favorite Argentine Wine: Pulenta Estate Gran Cabernet Franc


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With our precious case of vino at Pulenta Estate winery in Mendoza.

With our precious case of vino at Pulenta Estate winery in Mendoza.

Malbec is typically Argentine wine’s claim to fame. But my favorite is a varietal I’d never even heard of before: Cabernet Franc. Although I’ve “tasted” (drank) a lot of wine over the years, I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a wine connoisseur or snob; I’m way too cheap for that. But I know enough that when I feel the need to remark on the deliciousness of every sip, it’s something special.

We discovered this red gem on a wine tasting tour in Mendoza last year, where one of the stops was Pulenta Estate. From the moment we were introduced to the Gran Cabernet Franc, both Gaspar and I were obsessed. So much so that we stopped by the winery on our way from Buenos Aires to the Chilean coast, just to pick up a case. What strikes you from the start is the fragrance of red pepper, which seems so odd but is actually really subtle and delicious. The taste is smooth, spicy and buttery. It’s a wine that demands to be savored.

Pulenta Estate Collage

According to the tasting notes on Pulenta Estate’s website, “This wine offers a deep red-purple colour, with an intense aroma of red pepper, eucalyptus and spices. Once in the mouth, it is sweet and pleasant due to the presence of round, ripe and soft tannins. Its 12 month aging in new French oak barrels grants it an elegant and long finish.”

You know, if that means anything to you. My tasting notes simply read: delicious!

If you’re in Buenos Aires, you can order Pulenta Estate Gran Cabernet Franc 2009 from Grand Cru. In other cities/countries, check their website for locations/distributors. I’ve already emailed the USA distributors to determine how I can get my hands on some once we’re back! If you’re lucky enough to be traveling to Mendoza, definitely check it out in person, plunk down the cash for a case…and give it to me.

PULENTA ESTATE WINERY – Ruta Provincial 86. Km 6,5. Alto Agrelo. Luján de Cuyo. Mendoza. Argentina.

Recipe: Polenta & Spinach Soup


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Spinach & Polenta Soup

I admit, it may be a bit odd to make thick, hot soup when it’s pushing 90 degrees outside. But I’m on a mission to use up all of our food stuffs in the next week, including a half kilo of polenta. So, sorry husband! Sit in front of the fan and eat it.

Polenta is a ground cornmeal that has a smooth, creamy texture when cooked. It originated in Italy, so I suppose it’s no surprise that it’s so popular in Buenos Aires. According to Wikipedia it’s known as a “peasant food”, which seems kind of rude, right? But considering I’ve made at least five meals out of this one-kilo bag with no end in sight, I suppose I can see the correlation.

I actually purchased the polenta just to try this recipe out in the first place. It was so good that rather than expanding my polenta-cooking repertoire I just made it again…and again, and again. It’s cheap, super flavorful, and takes about 30 minutes to whip together. Well, 45 if you have to carefully clean each leaf of spinach, like I do.

The original recipe was from Bon Appétit. I’ve altered it to suit my preferences.


  • 6 cups (or more) of chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup polenta
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 8 ounces baby spinach leaves
  • Fresh shredded parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese

Bring 6 cups of broth to a simmer in a sauce pan; cover to keep warm. Whisk polenta and flour in heavy large pot. Add 1 cup hot broth; whisk over medium-high heat until smooth. Stir in butter and garlic; sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Gradually add 5 cups hot broth by cupfuls. Boil gently over medium heat until polenta is tender and soup is creamy and thickened, whisking frequently and adding more broth to thin, if desired, about 15 to 25 minutes depending on the strength of your stovetop. Stir in spinach by handfuls; simmer until wilted, stirring often, 5 minutes longer. Season with more coarse salt and black pepper. Spoon into bowls and top with shredded cheese.