February 10th, 2012
Killing the Cow

Mario-peace-corps-blog-80by Mario Machado
I awoke at the earliest of dawn, the hours of the morning that are still indistinguishable from the night except for the flickering of sunlight over a very distant horizon. I left my house and mounted my bike, clipping along the dirt road with my stiff, unwashed hair folding and flipping in the surprisingly cool morning air. As I reached the home of Don Ramón, the town butcher or carnicero, he appeared at the front his wooden hovel. [Editor’s note: “Don” is a title of respect used with a man’s first name; the equivalent for women is “Doña.”] His feet bare on the dirt floor, he smiled and remarked how happy he was that I decided to come.

This Paraguayan milk cow is about the same age (2 to 3 years) and breed as the one killed.

This Paraguayan milk cow is about the same age (2 to 3 years) and breed as the one killed.

The act of butchering a cow is a process not to be taken lightly or quickly. We began the morning by sipping maté and observing our quarry tied to a tree off in the shadows. He told me about this particular cow and why he decided to purchase it for slaughter. It was a smaller milk cow, about 3 years old, that had not shown any signs of producing milk or young. It had had a nice life wandering the Paraguayan campo, grazing on the thick and abundant vegetation. Now, that which had been fed will feed, and the Don placed his empty cup of maté on the table and disappeared into the house.

Two other men arrived to help us with the process. We approached our prey, Don Ramón standing in the background silently sharpening his knife. One man lassoed a leg, while the other grabbed for the tail. He jerked the tail and spun around the cow’s side, catching the animal off balance and pulling it to the ground. With the cow now on its side, the other man continued to tie up all four legs to the effect that the animal was quickly unable to move. We held the ropes to steady the struggling cow as Don Ramón moved in quickly with a bucket in hand to catch the blood. He was going to cut its throat.

Using a small machete and infinite poise, he leveled the blade to the cow’s neck, located the jugular vein, and plunged through the skin. The cow gave an initial cry of pain and surprise and began to breathe heavily, blowing dust from the front of its nose. It was a lost cause, however, as the blood from the wound flowed freely with a color that I cannot forget in its brilliance of red.

The animal gave one, maybe two other strong efforts of escape before surrendering to the inevitability. Its breathing became more steady as the loss of blood, I am sure, inhibited any more mental function. Its head moved around a bit on the dirt ground, almost as if finding a more comfortable spot upon which to lie. The animal, which moments before was living and breathing, was dead within 3 minutes. The Don made one final cut to the spinal column to rid the animal of any more pain and to ensure its death. The butchering could then begin.

The rest of this process took only an hour or so. As the neighbors began to arrive, the meat was sold as it was cut from the bone. The entire animal was almost gone by 9 a.m. Each and every part of the animal was used (except for the contents of its stomach). The meat was most expensive and sold in small quantities. The intestines and blood were saved for making blood sausage, while the stomach (being the cheapest part of the animal) was used to make mondongo. The head was bought by a family in order to make akágue yvygu’û, a popular Paraguayan dish prepared by wrapping the head in foil and cooking it on coals under a thin layer of dirt. On this day, the entire community, the dogs included (which rarely get a decent meal), got a much-needed dose of protein.

—Mario Machado


Mario Machado is a Peace Corps volunteer serving as an agricultural educator in the rural Paraguayan community of Guido Almada. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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January 27th, 2012
Warm up from the big chill

mgtaylor60by Marygrace Taylor—

I always say that once the holidays end, I’d be more than happy to fast forward through the rest of winter and move straight on to spring. Cold weather and short days aside, for local-minded eaters, January through March offers little culinary variety. Even down here in Austin, the farmers markets are still open, but all that’s really available are leafy greens and root vegetables. Oh, and cauliflower. If there’s one good thing about the dead of winter, roasted cauliflower is probably it. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that’s often more appealing to kids (and many adults) than the raw stuff. And when seasoned with a zesty, curry-based dressing, the white winter veggie will warm your family up without weighing them down.

kiwi-Curried-Cauliflower

Warm Curried Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Cashews
This recipe only calls for a tablespoon of curry powder, which will help introduce kids to the flavor without overwhelming them. If you regularly cook with the spice mixture, feel free to add up to 2 tablespoons.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

1 medium head cauliflower, chopped into florets
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons safflower oil
¼ cup coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder (or more, if desired)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned are fine)
1/3 cup cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
2. On a baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and onion with the safflower oil and a big pinch of salt. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, tossing once or twice, until the edges of the cauliflower are golden brown.
3. In a small skillet, warm the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, curry powder, sugar, turmeric, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is fragrant and the garlic begins to brown, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Place the roasted cauliflower and onion in a large bowl and add the chickpeas and cashews. Drizzle the spiced coconut oil over top and toss until well mixed. Taste for seasoning and serve warm.

Serves 4
Per serving: calories 326, fat 22 g, protein 8 g, carbohydrates 30 g, dietary fiber 7 g


Marygrace Taylor is the staff writer and recipe developer for KIWI Magazine. She lives and cooks in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog, Charlie.

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January 27th, 2012
Fruit for thought: Some Sapote Anyone?

by Alex Norelli—

Mamey Sapote

Mamey Sapote

Sapote are an exceptionally imaginative group of fruit, especially since their complex sweet and colorful interiors are often hidden behind a deceptive epidermis. Like weather-beaten treasure chests holding pirate’s booty, sapote promise a treat for those who dig inside. While all sapote are not directly related, they do share the overarching characteristic of having delicious flesh hidden beneath a callous exterior, and have their origins in Central America. When I first encountered them at a farmer’s market in southern Florida they were seriously upstaged by bundles of fiery orange carrots, heady plumes of crisp emerald lettuces, and celestial mounds of golden star fruit. But next to such visible palates of color, they came to stand out for not immediately catching my eye.

When it comes to an apple, peach, or pear I feel like they look as good as they taste—though sometimes they do taste better, i.e. Bosc pears. However, it is only once sapote are halved to expose a ripe custardy flesh that they exemplify the saying: “Its what’s inside that counts.” Their flavors are evocative and expansive, to the point where each new tasting evokes new descriptors for the flavor. And while the fruit of this group are most often eaten as desserts, they are not merely chosen as a healthy alternative to ice cream or flan—They are good enough on their own, with just the right level of sweetness that serving them for dessert will not be met with a shrug of lost indulgence.

What follows are four sapote that happen to be available now in Southern Florida, Central America, though rarely, if ever, in a store near you.

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Black Sapote, the dark delicacy

the chocolate-pudding fruit

the chocolate-pudding fruit

The Black Sapote is an intriguing fruit, on the tree it looks like a very under-ripe persimmon, green and hard as a melon to touch. That is, before it has been picked green and allowed to cure, ripening until it looks a couple days from outright rotten. It’s then that it’s at its edible zenith: before then, just as with the related persimmons, the flavor is a tongue-puckering astringent.

Maybe it’s this over-ripened appearance that keeps it from being more well known outside of Florida and Central America. Once you do eventually try one, tasting the  dark buttery flesh—a malty sweetness not far from molasses, not far from chocolate—will expand into an ethereal realm where you try and grasp for other ways to explain this bewitching fruit (note: to me all fruits are bewitching, but this one especially). Coincidentally it is also know as ‘the chocolate pudding fruit’ and from the first bite you will taste the reasoning. The pulp of this fruit, if blended and presented as chocolate pudding, would fool more than a handful of people.

Additionally, for locavores this fruit may satisfy your urge for chocolate without coming from another continent. Vegans should take note of black sapote because it is a chocolate pudding alternative with very little processing needed. While most of the recipes I’ve uncovered for it have revolved around milkshakes and desserts, I have begun thinking of other applications. It could be spread on toast, like an apple butter, or made into muffins or bread. Now that I think of it, this fruit tastes a lot like Shoe-Fly Pie, and I’m tempted to make a black sapote pie using my pumpkin pie recipe and see how the maltiness interacts with the nutmeg, clove and ginger. And I bet with the addition of certain spices you could have a delicious molé of sorts.

**
Canistel, or Eggfruit.
Alex-Eggfruit-on-tree

Of the four sapote here described, this one is by far the most outwardly appealing. Its yellow is as familiar as that of a New York City Taxi cab, however its texture is far more foreign—when it comes to fruit anyway. The first bite is floral, almost like a zucchini flower while the texture is like that of a hardboiled egg yolk.

alex-egg-fruit-sliced

But where as you might ditch a yolk to avoid the cholesterol, this yellow you savor. Its dry sweetness spirals through the senses, and of all the sapote here described, this is by far the most indescribable in flavor. Reminiscent of acorn squash or pumpkin pie, similarly loaded with vitamin A, this fruit is as much a dessert for its flavor as its color. This would be a great substitute for pumpkin in a pie recipe and because of its natural sweetness you could cut back on any added sugar.

**
Sapodilla

alex-Chicle
Originally this little fruit, similar looking, though less fuzzy than a kiwi, was harvested for a different thing, its sap. If you scratch the unripened fruit it will ooze driblets of gummy white that becomes increasingly tacky when exposed to air. The name of this is chiclé and it was used in the first chewing gums, like Chiclets. Even now some chewing gums still use this natural latex, as opposed to the vinyl of manufactured gum.

alex-sapodilla-sliced

The fruit itself is the smallest of this sapote quartet, looking something like a russeted goose egg. Its flavor is of a pear steeped in the maltiness of sugar-cane, with a roasted nut aftertaste.

**
Mamey Sapote

Alex-Mamey-on-tree

This one is quite something, and if you are a fan of sweet potato, pumpkin or papaya you will find this insatiable. Though if it were a beauty contest, mamey would certainly have only its hidden talents going for it. About as rough looking as elephant skin, anywhere from oval to oblong, this fruit is about as visually unfruitlike as they come. It looks more like a stone pestle or muddy potato.

Alex-sliced-Mamey

Yet if you cut it longwise and carefully ply the two halves, you will see a large glossy almond-shaped seed of sculptural elegance surrounded by blushing glossy flesh the color of clouds burnt orange by the setting sun. This color tells you it is rich in vitamins and flavor, and its flavor tells you you’ve made the right choice. This fruit has enough firmness that it can be cubed and add it to a fruit salad, and similar to papaya, it tastes awesome when doused in lime.

**

These fruit truly are reminders to not judge a fruit by its cover. Similarly, how many fruit—from cantaloupes to figs, avocados to squashes in general—prove that digging deeper is sweeter than mulling about the outside?

Feel free to post sapote recipes for this quartet of curious fruit.


ARtist, poet, Gardener www.AlexNorelliARt.com

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January 18th, 2012
Morning in the Cemetery

The farmer who lost his wife just 2 months earlier stood before me in his tan slacks and open blue shirt. His disheveled cowboy hat was cocked back on his brow. He squinted in the sunlight as he explained that here in this quiet, windswept cemetery lay his wife, her name carved into a small cross at the head of her tomb.

He hadn’t shaved in a few days and I thought could sense sadness in his words although, if this was true, he did little else to betray his feelings. Paraguayan men don’t really cry, or at least that’s what they say. Maybe it’s the machismo—or maybe it has more to do with the nature of death as it manifests itself among Paraguayan people. In this culture, dying is a process that continues long after one’s heart stops beating.

The tombs of well-off rural families in Paraguay are constructed of concrete with a casita for floral tributes at the head.

The tombs of well-off rural families in Paraguay are constructed of concrete with a casita for floral tributes at the head.

If one visits a Paraguayan cemetery, several features stand out immediately. The rows of tombs are wide and long, more like streets than aisles. And, seemingly as a way to solidify this similarity, Paraguayans will sometimes label the rows with street names written on street signs—at least in the larger cemeteries. The tombs (called pantheones by Paraguayans) are much more than just carved headstones laid in the ground. Each tomb resembles an aboveground altar. For the poorer families, this is often little more than a small brick or wooden structure, possibly even a dirt mound, adorned with a casita (“little house” in English) at its head. In the months following a death—usually on the one-month, two-month, or three-month anniversary—the family will revisit the pantheon to decorate with colored tiles, flowers (in the case of this farmer, small flowers placed in makeshift pots made from recycled soda bottles), trinkets, or other small items.

Families of low to moderate income often commemorate their dead with wooden tombs.

Families of low to moderate income often commemorate their dead with wooden tombs.

For the wealthier families, or at least those with more to invest (financially or emotionally) in such an endeavor, the pantheon can assume great prominence. Socioeconomics, it seems, plays out even in the afterlife. Some pantheones resemble mausoleums, rivaling both in size and structural integrity the very houses in which many Paraguayans live. While most rural homes are made of mud bricks or wood slats, the cemeteries are often mistakable for communities themselves with towering concrete rooms dedicated to dead family members. The priorities between the living and the dead are skewed in a way that differs largely from other cultures I have experienced and particularly from U.S. culture. This may relate to the religious tendencies of these people, as this country is predominantly Catholic. It may also have something to do with the connections of many Paraguayan people to indigenous practices or histories.

A dirt mound, a cross, and a candle mark the grave of a child from a poor rural family.

A dirt mound, a cross, and a candle mark the grave of a child from a poor rural family.

Regardless, it reflects an amazing reverence that people in this culture hold for death—the allocation of resources (especially in a country with a large portion of the population living in poverty), the regard in which people dedicate time and energy toward post-death rituals (for months and years, even decades following), and the way that all of this falls in stride with the daily lives of most Paraguayans. The anniversary of one’s death and birth are observed during weeklong events for the first few years following his or her passing. Then, for the next several decades, smaller but still significant observances are continually held to commemorate these important dates. The dead do not die—at least not until their living memory is lost with the passing of the next few generations.

Mario helped this local farmer apply blue tiles to his wife’s pantheon, or aboveground tomb.

Mario helped this local farmer apply blue tiles to his wife’s pantheon, or aboveground tomb.

The north wind is blowing hard through the palm trees when we finish working. It is late morning and the sun is now playing kaleidoscope between the branches and through the grasses of this tropical landscape. It is going to rain tomorrow, the farmer tells me. His wife’s tomb looks only slightly better than it did an hour before—the weeds have been cleared, a fresh layer of concrete added to the exterior. He wants to add tiles to the outside; he thinks that blue would look nice. We leave the cemetery and the mood is not solemn or melancholy. There is more work to be done. The fields must be hoed, the crops harvested, the beans dried, and the garden tended. And so our day continues, only an hour later than it would have otherwise, and with my head pondering the matter-of-fact nature in which we visited death for the morning.

—Mario Machado


Mario Machado is a Peace Corps volunteer serving as an agricultural educator in the rural Paraguayan community of Guido Almada. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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January 3rd, 2012
Life in the Paraguayan Campo

Guido Almada is a small community just inside the border of the department of Cordillera in central Paraguay. The nearest town of Cleto Romero, about 5 kilometers away, is accessible only by a twisting dirt road, as is the nearest city of Carayao, about 25 kilometers farther. Like much of the rest of Paraguay, Guido Almada is a farming town with almost all of its roughly 500 inhabitants practicing agriculture on a subsistence, if not commercial, scale. The main cash crops upon which most people derive their modest and often tenuous salaries are tobacco (petỹ in Guraraní, an indigenous language) and orange essence (esencia de naranja in Spanish), which must be processed in homemade distilleries. Large tracts of land are also devoted to growing sugarcane, which many farmers choose to sell to the local cane-ethanol production plant that operates out of Carayao.

A typical kitchen in Guido Alamada features a fire pit in the floor, walls blackened from years of smoke, and gaps in the plank siding for ventilation.

A typical kitchen in Guido Alamada features a fire pit in the floor, walls blackened from years of smoke, and gaps in the plank siding for ventilation.

For subsistence, there is nothing out of the ordinary about Guido Almada. Mandioc, the starchy root that is a Paraguayan staple, is often intercropped with field corn and sometimes beans (referred to by any one of five different names in both Guaraní and Spanish). This starchy trifecta forms a slight variation on the classic “three sisters” cropping system (beans, maize, and squash) used for centuries by indigenous tribes of North America. Regardless, the principle is more or less the same: The leguminous beans provide a valuable nitrogen source to both other crops while the heavy-feeding corn and the light-feeding squash (or mandioc in the Paraguayan case) are complementary. The soil-shading and weed-suppressing capacity of the broad squash leaves is also mimicked by the mandioc. Some families use small-scale home gardens to help supplement their diet with additional vegetables, but still, the diet is primarily and at times almost entirely carbohydrates.

Tomatoes are crated carefully for the trip to market on bumpy, treacherous dirt roads. Although this delicate crop can be damaged during transportation, it commands a higher price than other crops in the markets of Asunción.

Tomatoes are crated carefully for the trip to market on bumpy, treacherous dirt roads. Although this delicate crop can be damaged during transportation, it commands a higher price than other crops in the markets of Asunción.

Most residents of Guido Almada live at what would likely be considered a normal Paraguayan socioeconomic state. Typically, the houses are made of wood slats or mud bricks and bamboo with dirt floors. A few houses whose owners are slightly better off are made of cement brick with concrete floors. Food is cooked over open fires or, in the case of wealthier families, propane-fueled stoves. Electricity and water services are accessible to most Paraguayans at relatively inexpensive rates, however, with unreliable infrastructure, one is lucky if they are actually available half the time. Cars are almost nonexistent in Guido Almada, but most families own a motorcycle for when quick transport is needed, or an oxcart if large loads need to be moved.

Sugarcane is a common cash crop in Paraguay. This young field is about three months old. Eventually the cane—actually a perennial grass—will rise to 10 feet or more.

Sugarcane is a common cash crop in Paraguay. This young field is about three months old. Eventually the cane—actually a perennial grass—will rise to 10 feet or more.

The soccer field is groomed daily by herds of cattle, bringing about the great query of rural soccer games: Which is better, long grass or piles of cow droppings? Kids in Guido Almada hedge their bets on their fast feet and take the latter. I must say from experience that I would choose longer grass, but that’s just me.

PC290095

The local church and school are simple structures that seem to be visited only when deemed necessary—the church only on Sundays and religious holidays (in this predominantly Catholic country) and the school only during the academic year (from mid-February through the end of November). Otherwise, people pass hot summer afternoons drinking tereré, a cold tea, and sharing town gossip. In such a small and isolated town where a majority of people are either from the same family or have lived under the same roof their entire lives, one can only imagine the thickness of the drama that plays out here under the sweltering Paraguayan sun. As for me, being the first Americano to live in Guido Almada has been all sorts of interesting. Yes, interesting; I think that’s the best word for it. More on this in my next blog.

From Guido,

Mario

Mario dons work clothing in the style of Paraguayan farmers: long sleeves and a straw sombrero for sun protection, rolled-up jeans, and flip-flops. The machete is the all-purpose tool of choice for farming.

Mario dons work clothing in the style of Paraguayan farmers: long sleeves and a straw sombrero for sun protection, rolled-up jeans, and flip-flops. The machete is the all-purpose tool of choice for farming.


Mario Machado is a Peace Corps volunteer serving as an agricultural educator in the rural Paraguayan community of Guido Almada. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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