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Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Hot Summer Day, Complete with Barbacoa

This weekend, we dug a hole, put stones into it, built a fire with two vents, placed a pot of food onto the fire, covered it with dirt, started another fire, and then eventually removed the pot of food to eat it. We hosted our first barbacoa, with the help of our great friend, Gaby and her family. 

Earlier this week, Andy went to the butcher to purchase a leg of lamb making several calls to find a vendor that could give him one with the bone, from a farm that matched our ideals. I learned that lamb (as that used for food) is a bit older than the little fuzzy ones I pictured in my mind when I heard the word. In fact, our leg of lamb was fourteen pounds! This purchase toyed with my super sensitivity concerning killing and eating animals (especially cute, furry baby ones), but I consoled myself, knowing (1) how much everyone involved would enjoy and learn from this experience and (2) from the fact that we knew the origins of the meat and held respect for the lamb's life.

Friday night,  the men dug a hole, three and a half feet deep, into our fire pit (while the women took pictures and chatted).

Then, they lined the hole with stones that would later act as insulators that would ensure even heat at the bottom of the pit.

We covered the pit with a tarp and tucked it in for the night.

Saturday afternoon: HOT and HUMID...did I mention no breeze and tons of mosquitoes? Perfect weather for day long fires, right? Even Skye, the dog was hot!
...but we carried on anyway!

Step one: start the fire to heat the stones and get the bottom of the pit hot.

As things were heating up, we dressed the food in preparation for the fire. It turns out that our leg of lamb wouldn't fit into the pot, so Andy had to cut it in half. Knowing that he is not a butcher and lacks the cutlery to properly dissect meat (and normally doesn't even deal with meat), you can guess how that went! He ended up using a hammer and a knife! Very barbaric.

We lined a colander with banana leaves. Then, put  a mixture of onion, potatoes, chickpeas, carrots, seasoning, garlic, bay leaves, whole grain rice, avocado leaves, and dried peppers into the colander. This was all placed into the pot. We added two cans of beer, some water, and the water which the chickpeas had soaked in the previous evening.

Then, we covered the colander with more banana leaves.

The leg of lamb went in next. Andy rubbed it with spices, salt, avocado leaves, and garlic. We also threw in extra garbanzo beans, onions, and garlic.

Next, another layer of banana went on top - essentially, the lamb was wrapped in banana leaves.

A damp cloth was needed to insulate the food. And then, fire-roasted maguey leaves were placed on top of that.

To reiterate, the layers went as follows:
1. beer/water
2. colander of veggies
3. banana leaves
4. meat
5. banana leaves
6. damp cloth
7. maguey leaves

Now, back to the fire pit!
Step two: Once the bottom of the pit had red coals, Andy added wood to create a platform onto which the pot would eventually rest. When the wood caught and sustained fire, he and Fernanda (Gaby's daughter) put the pot onto the platform.

Step three: Andy and I filled the pit and submerged the pot with earth, leaving room for vents on both sides.Once the pot was covered with about one to two inches, Andy constructed another fire on top.

The fire blazing on top was a signal for some cerveza, hibiscus tea, and some chisme. Despite the mosquitoes and heat, we all had a great time watching the fire. Every now and then, Andy used a leaf blower to ensure that the vents were getting enough oxygen to keep the fire going underneath the pot. Billowing, heavy smoke was a sure sign that things were still brewing beneath the soil.

About four to six hours (we lost track of time) later, Ishmael (Gaby's husband) and Andy pushed aside the coals on top to reveal the pot. The smell was amazing, even for me - the vegetarian.

Upon removal, to our surprise, we realized the fire was too hot and that we had melted a hole on the side of the pot, which released the consome (broth) onto the fire. The veggies and meat were still in-tact, unharmed, perfectly roasted.

Gaby and her crew, Andy, and I all hurried into the house in anticipation of the great food! Earlier in the day, Gaby and Fernanda had made salsa boracha (drunken salsa) - a delicious brew of roasted tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, garlic, dried chipotles, dried guajillos, and of course, the addition of a beer. Essentially, all veggies were roasted over a charcoal fire until browned. Then, we blended them all in the food processor. That sat until the barbacoa  was finished. We added the beer, and it was ready! It was fantastic (and it can be frozen for future use!).

Anyway, back to the story - Gaby led us through how to put this dinner together. She and  Fernanda heated up corn tortillas and cut limes. I poured the beer into the salsa and got the veggies ready. Andy got the meat ready - which was quite the easy task because it literally fell off the bone and was easily shredded with a fork.

The table was set and tacos were consumed! I ate veggie tacos, which consisted of a corn tortilla, the roasted veggies from the fire pit, cilantro, fresh onion, salsa boracha

One thing is for sure: the day was beyond wonderful. It was such a beautiful experience to have on a hot, summer day with good friends. We'll be doing this again, and hopefully next time, we'll actually get to taste the consome too!

...and, of course, thank you Baby Lamb. XOXO

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Days 2010!

Every summer, we attend Harmony Valley Farm's (HVF) Strawberry Days. As always, this year Strawberry Days fell on Father's Day, June 20.  HVF is right outside of Viroqua, a small Midwest city with a personality that coincides well with my and Andy's interests. So, we usually spend a night or two in Viroqua leading up to the festivities. This year was no different. We dined at two favorite Viroqua locations on Saturday: the Driftless Cafe for lunch and Chilito Lindo for dinner.

On Sunday, we made our way out to Harmony Valley Farm. As we pulled in, we heard Richard (our farmer) over the loudspeaker introducing the field workers. Simultaneously, people listened to the introductions and went through the potluck line. It is always a delight to contribute to and partake in the potlucks at our CSA parties. Like-minded people bring all sorts of local, organic, and in-season food. Plus, there are always vegetarian options. At this year's party, there was a magnificent veggie "meatloaf" for which I am desperately seeking the recipe.

After brunching, members and guests loaded onto three wagons to see our farm's progress this year. We stopped in the zucchini fields first.

Next were the pea fields. The kids were really excited for this stop! We drove around the tomato fields and pepper fields. We were happy to see that our home garden's vegetables were at about the same height as HVF's. That's always a good sign!

Finally, we made it to the strawberry fields.

Understandably, because of the early spring, strawberries were not as plentiful for picking as they were last year.

So, while we didn't pick enough for Strawberry-Ginger Jam, we did scrounge up four pounds, which we juiced once we got home. We used part of the juice for a tasty Strawberry Vinaigrette (recipe courtesy of Harmony Valley Farm). Excellent over a leafy green salad!

Strawberry Vinaigrette
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 Tbs of balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup strawberries (we've done this..which makes for a thicker, creamier dressing. Today, we're using strawberry juice because that's what we have!)
1 Tbs minced onion

Mix all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Refrigerate.

We will probably use the rest of the juice for Strawberry-Ade! In Andy's words, "Wow! This tastes like Strawberry Kool-aid!" He's right ~ the cool part of that statement/thought is that while it tastes like a childhood favorite, Strawberry-Ade contains absolutely zero artificial sweeteners and all of the ingredients we used are traceable.

2 cups of strawberry juice
6 cups of water
1/2 cup of sugar or other sweetener

Juice strawberries using a juicer. Or, if you don't have a juicer, blend strawberries in a food processor and then strain out the seeds using a colander or cheese cloth. Add sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add water. Serve cold.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Healthy Food for Everyone!

Recently, I discovered a new term, which resonated deeply: food insecurity. This is defined as, "a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally acceptable or safe foods, (Obesity, Poverty, & the Case for CSA in NY). There are  multiple ways to read that quote. To many, everything at the grocery store is acceptable and safe.  To others, acceptable and safe is not food that is laden with preservatives, chock full of sodium, spiked with MSG, or addictive. What the FDA deems as safe, is not, in many opinions, including ours, always risk-free. Therein  lies the varied interpretations of food insecurity's definition.

It does not take the knowledge of a rocket scientist or of a team of professors to articulate that there is a link between poverty and health. Specifically, there is a link between obesity and its risk factors and poverty.
It seems counter intuitive to suggest that those in poverty are also those more likely to suffer from diseases associated with obesity, but think about your local grocery store or those local Shopper Stoppers that come in the mail each week. What's cheaper: fresh, local, safe produce, or a box of Mac and Cheese?

Have you seen Food, Inc.? If not, we think you should! That documentary is one of the most important documentaries of this decade (again, in our humble opinions). One piece of that documentary demonstrates quite well the point that we're attempting to make.  A Latino-American family eats at McDonald's nearly every day because a Big Mac is cheaper than a head of broccoli. It's important to note that the father in this situation is diabetic. This is not an anomaly. In fact, research in first world countries around the world show that there are connections between income and quality of diet. If ten dollars can feed a family of four at McDonald's, it's hard to argue with that family in poverty that they should go purchase two pounds of broccoli for the same price. In essence, it's much easier to eat healthy food if you're NOT poor.
What is exciting is that headway is being made in states across the country. Right here, in Dane County, a local organization called the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC), has a wonderful program named The Partner Shares Program. In their own words, the program is, "aimed at improving nutrition by increasing access to fresh, local vegetables and supporting local farmers in southern Wisconsin. Partner Shares provides financial assistance for fresh, sustainably grown produce from local CSA farms."  Partner Shares raises money that subsidizes CSA programs for people who couldn't ordinarily afford a CSA. Donations are accepted, so if you're in a position to give some money, please think about putting your charitable donation this year towards this fantastic initiative.
If you're reading this and you need better access to healthy, local food, don't wait another second to do your research!  Click here for the form (usually one needs to sign up in the spring, so you may need to wait until next year to begin receiving boxes). My parents qualified to receive this assistance this year. They pay $41.00 per month for weekly boxes! That is $10.25 per week for a box of beautifully fresh and  local produce. Many farms are associated with MACSAC; my parents opted to go with West Star Farm, both based on vicinity and recommendations. Here's a glimpse of their first box, which we picked up last night:
Yay for healthy food! $10.25!!
Programs like MACSAC's Partner Shares are going to make a real difference in both supporting local farmers AND improving the health of all of the people among us. My colleague and good friend recently helped to sign up a student's family for the same program. Little by little, by word of mouth, by blogging, by discussing, a real difference can be made!