Friday, August 1, 2014

Peru 3: Pachamanca

One day we trekked two day's worth of distance with the purpose of having a rest day at the Alpamayo campsite. The trek is also called the Alpamayo Circuit, and this mountain is not visible from any major points in civilization. We wanted extra time here in case of bad weather obscuring photo opportunities, the natural spring in the camp ground, and more time to prepare and eat Pachamanca, a national Peruvian dish. 

Pachamanca is a Quechua word that means earth (pacha) and earthen pot/cooking vessel (manca). As you will see, it is cooked underground by hot stones. This dish has been made since the rule of the Incas and is specific to the cuisine of Peru. It is often eaten after the harvest as a thanksgiving celebration. Apparently it is also popular to make during or at the end of lengthy treks. After eating this amazing meal, I teased the mountain guide that I had found out why he leads long treks: who wouldn't want to eat the best meal in the world every two weeks? 

Early in the morning, our donkey driver prepared the earthen pit and stacked the stones for heating.

Note the pepper (barely visible) in the top left corner of the stove. When it was completely black and roasted, it was one of the signs that the stones were hot enough.

The fire was built under the stones and kept stoked for a few hours. Pepper is more visible in this picture (top right).

When the stones were hot enough, they were moved (with bits of cardboard!!)  so the fire could be removed. The stones were rearranged to create an evenly heating oven.

The cook is loading up the bottom with whole potatoes and yams, then laying the meats, and finishing with the trout, which needs the least amount of heat. The meats are marinated with herbs grown in the area, in this case huacatay leaves, which is a cousin of the marigold. Traditionally the meats are wrapped in banana leaves, but our cook used aluminum foil. 

More loading and arranging, but let's just pause and admire the donkey driver's sandals. They are made entirely of old rubber tires. The treads are underneath, and it often looked like someone had driven a vehicle on the trails, because he wore them while hiking and donkey driving!!!! I would be scared that a large animal would step on my feet and do some major damage. In addition, it was often freezing in the morning. Didn't seem to bother him at all! 

After the food was loaded, a last layer of rocks placed on top, grasses that were growing in the area in abundance were placed on top of the stone oven. The blue tarp on the left was used as a wind barrier.

The grass was covered by another cloth and then lots of dirt.

Cooking time is around an hour. Nothing to see here.

Time to unload the food!


View from the top of empty oven.

YUMMY LUNCH! Several different potatoes, yams called oca (the skinny ones), chicken and beef. As the pescatarian, I had the honor of getting the freshly caught trout. 

As if that plate of loot wasn't enough, there was a tray of sides that featured fresh cucumber, tomato, and broccoli. There was a corn and cheese salad, a red pepper salad (made with the "test" pepper up above) and a delicious dipping sauce. 
Bon Appetit! Let me know if you can and will make this for me. I will come visit immediately!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Peru 2: Lunch with a View

When I signed up for the Cordillera Blanca trek, I knew that there would be support in the form of a  mountain guide and a horse for carrying our stuff. It turns out, the complete team consisted not only the mountain guide and horse, but five additional donkeys and a mule to carry our things, a donkey driver to manage the animals, and a COOK! Those of you who know me well know that I am always excited about eating, and more so if the food is unique and tasty. Eating native Peruvian cuisine made from organic market-fresh ingredients and prepared by a professional cook... Ummm... Yes, please! Who am I to argue with that?! Of course, it gets better. Check out the million dollar views of several of these fine lunches. Pinch me please, because I think I may have been dreaming...

Lunch on one of our warm-up hikes outside Huaraz overlooked a ruin of a village. 
Menu: Chinese stir fry made with quinoa instead of rice. The fusion of Peruvian + Chinese is called Chifa.

On the road to trekking campsite #1, it was too cold to get off the bus, so we ate our veggie-stuffed yucca pocket in the bus overlooking this old construction storage site. It is over run with lupine and other wild flowers. So beautiful in spite of the blustery day.

The horse, Canelito ("Little Cinnamon"). Also affectionately called "Taxi," since he was our emergency ride out in case we needed it, he carried items needed for lunch. You will be amazed...

Commence amazement. That is our cook setting up a table WITH a tablecloth, dishes, hot tea, etc., in full cook's regalia, of course. He passed us on the trail about two hours prior. The mountain guide (who is also a trained cook) is watching!  Haha!

File this under "ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!!!" Freshly grilled trout, boiled quail eggs, and sweet yam smothered in fried onions. The first course was an amazing noodle soup with greens, carrots, herbs and an egg beaten in. (There were always two courses for lunch!) Divine!

Oh wait, there was more: a 360* panorama view which included this.

Is this losing its appeal? No, I'm still engaged in eating and panorama views.  Seconds, please!

This spot was windy (and I wasn't feeling well), and somebody HAD to hold the tablecloth down, right? Still can't beat the view. And maybe I wasn't dreaming after all!

Last lunch while trekking. We are looking into the barren hills of the Black Range on the other side of the Santa Rio valley the divides the Black and White ranges, a sad sign that we were nearing the end.

Canelito was always taking a nap when we arrived for lunch. He would look at us disdainfully and then slowly shut his eyes again. Near the end of lunch he livened up and started snacking on grass, only to be interrupted by the cook loading the lunch items and getting him moving again. His halter is a simple rope and he is tethered to some rock usually. Simple, cheap solutions. I'm sure the Tractor Supply Store would not approve!

Back in civilization, we stop for our final outdoor lunch a ways off the main road. The tablecloth was pretty dirty and not used here! Our view is Mt. Huascaran, one of the tallest mountains in South America, the tallest in Peru. This year's "dry season" was a little off, as noted by the layers of clouds on top. There has been a record amount of rain recorded in Ancash province, and many technical climbers were not able to summit their goal peaks. That's one reason to hike instead...

Finally, the answer to yesterday's bonus question was indeed the viscacha, a member of the chinchilla family, and neither truly rabbit nor squirrel. I also forgot to share the picture and story of my souvenir yarn. There are still many pictures and topics to cover, so hang tight. We have to finish talking about eating tomorrow, first and foremost. It concerns one of the best meals I have eaten and how it is made. In the mean time, I am ready for a snack, preferably in the middle of beautiful scenery...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Peru 1: Fiber Animals

My recent trip to Peru was a life highlight, and I plan on sharing several posts worth of pictures and experiences throughout the next few days. Since this is "usually" a knitting blog, my first post is dedicated to all the wooly creatures whose fibers I adore knitting with. Most pictures will be of the 10-day trek through the Cordillera Blanca in the Ancash province of northern Peru.

 Our first camelid sighting was on our way to the Chavin Ruins . This guy was simply tethered to a rope  wrapped around his hind leg at the edge of a beautiful glacier-fed lake. When we drove past again in the late afternoon, he had been moved to a new patch of grass. Many animals we encountered were tethered in this simple manner to keep them from running away.

Lots of sheep inhabit the valleys in the high Peruvian Andes as well. These sheep had a shepherd and a few horses to keep them company, but there were times when we saw herds without a shepherd as well.

I have done my share of spinning using a drop spindle (and made all sorts of lumpy yarns), but NEVER while hiking, or even walking. This elderly lady had some perfectly smooth yarn on that spindle and was walking very fast while spinning. Just about the most amazing thing I have seen! Check out her outfit too: the layered skirts, the carrying cloth, the hat. Most people we saw in villages and on the trail dressed like this. The men were immaculate in heavy duty dress slacks, button-down shirt, nice sweater. And these people make most of their livings farming something or other. I especially loved the variety in the hats. Each village or area had a different style, and the colored cloth or ribbon tied around it has different meanings. Very neat custom.

Here was a lone alpaca amidst a flock of sheep and some donkeys. 

Until our campground at Huilca, we just saw a smattering of alpacas. Huilca was also a micro village / farm collective that raised massive amounts of alpacas and sheep. Here are a few alpacas wandering through our camp site.

Peru is currently in the middle of its dry season, and I was amazed that this barren land could support so many animals. 

 You can see the sheep sprinkled in with the alpacas. Note that most of the alpacas are white or a very light fawn color. Let's just say that the dark ones get sold to restaurants... The white ones are prized fiber animals. (White alpacas have finer fiber, their fiber goes faster, and their hairs are usually closer together on their skin. Additionally, dying white fiber would be a lot easier than a darker color. At Shady Grove Alpacas, the Farmer and I raise mostly dark animals so that we can have a variety of natural colors that do not require dying. Do not expect an alpaca dinner at our house....)


While raising alpacas in the flat lands of the USA is a fun hobby, nothing quite beats seeing alpacas in their high-altitude home in the Andes mountains...

Near the end of our trek, we got passed (and nearly run over) by this giant herd of sheep and goats. They just careened down the hill to the stream and flatter valley area. 

Bonus question: Is this animal below a squirrel or a rabbit? Stay tuned for more adventures tomorrow!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fare Thee Well

Loki: February 1, 2001 - June 3, 2014

Loki at Age 3 1/2.

As you can see, this post is over-due by a few weeks, but I am having a hard time writing out all of my thoughts and stories. So I am just going to make a few lists and write about a few anecdotes. The Farmer and I miss Loki terribly; we constantly think that we are hearing him rummage around upstairs, think we have to take him out and feed him, look for him before we return inside.

What's in a name?
Loki is the Norse god of cunning and sneakiness, and this dog certainly lived up to the name. Commands of "Down. Stay." were dutifully followed, but in a few minutes when no one was watching, he would start a Marine crawl to the location that he desired. He also once chewed a perfectly round, but small, hole into a completely sealed moving box and skillfully removed and ate a chocolate bar. We have no idea how this happened. And when we tried to video record how he managed to eat all of the cat food that was placed way higher than he could reach, he simply wandered around the room for the camera, but as soon as the camera was off, the food was gone.
Some of Loki's nicknames:
Foul Beast
Stinky Dog

Gourmand, Foodie, Garden Pest
    Loki loved to eat. Breakfast and Dinner were always consumed with great rapidity and relish. And on occasion (when we were gone) he would manage to pry the lid off the dog food container and enjoy some "Snacken-liebe," roughly equivalent to twice the amount he would get for a regular meal. Rottweilers become overweight easily - Loki certainly had an obese phase - so we kept an eye on his diet. Especially when cat food was available in the same room...
    As a vegetarian family, Loki sampled many plant foods, and as you may guess, he enjoyed them. He especially loved to eat baby carrots (by the bag). We often joked that Loki would just as soon eat a plate of greens for dinner as he would his regular food. He would definitely "help" with dinner prep and clean-up, gobbling up any vegetable that landed on the floor.
    Several summers ago I made the error of throwing Loki a cherry tomato after he saw me pick it in the garden. He felt this was his invitation to help himself and proceeded to sneak off every time he was outside to feast. We did not eat a single cherry tomato that late summer. Last summer I almost made the same mistake with the blackberries. Fortunately, both of us are quick learners, and I saved the rotten berries for the chickens.

The Chocolate Cake Incident & A Leather Couch
    There was that snowy President's Day weekend when I decided to make an epic chocolate cake and then went outside for less than 5 minutes to clean the furnace filter. The cake was largely gone when I returned indoors, and my wrath was boundless. I ended up making another cake... for me.
    Most unfortunately, The Farmer came home from a trip one day to find that the arm of a nice leather couch was chewed up and gone. His wrath was boundless too... But we did keep the couch for a few more years. Loki would sleep on it when we weren't home. We only caught him in the act one time when we snuck up to the window. I don't blame him - it was comfy, and apparently also tasty!

Loki was always excited to take a trip - but only for a few minutes. Before the first hour of any ride was over, he would stretch out in the bottom half of his crate, groan, sigh, and take a nap which was interjected with many more groans and sighs.

Most Importantly
Loki was a terrific companion, always up for whatever adventure you wanted to include him in, a big lover and lap dog. He learned so quickly that it was scary to think of all the things he might be capable of. He loved people, loved to be petted and brushed, and was mostly content to just chill on the floor in the same room with everyone. He tolerated children - several young nephews got "rides" - and was easily trained to respect the cat and the chickens. We miss you so much. Hugs, kisses, and love to you!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Shear Joy

At which repetition does a novelty wear off? Our fourth year of shearing on May 3rd had a little feeling of "been there, done that" pervade the activity. There was no trip in a cargo van , no shear team coming to our farm with us seeing the process the first time, no first shave of a cria. And there is a growing mountain of alpaca fleece piling up... Nonetheless, the animals were happy to be a little cooler without a big winter coat on.

Dark Star and Leven look fresh and glossy, post shearing. They enjoyed prancing around the pasture eating hay (!) while the ladies were being shorn.

 Yesterday we moved the fence panels so that part of the pasture can recover. We accidentally allowed the alpacas to over-eat one section. First accomplishments: the obligatory rolling, nap time, and lazy eating while laying down.

 While watering the new grass seeds, I noticed that Greta (back) was very interested in the hose. I took it up to the fence, and she could not get enough to drink! Bella, the bossiest micro-manager of all time (front), had to investigate as well. She preferred getting her face soaked to actually drinking. She kept getting water up her nose and sneezing. She may be the ring leader, but she is not intelligent...

Here's to new joyful experiences amidst the well-worn traditions! For the sake of tradition, I shall add that this is CERTAINLY the year to process alpaca fleeces. Right?!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

So Maybe I Cheated A Little

This Spring no time materialized to throw lettuce seeds in the ground, water them consistently, and keep them covered in times of frostiness. Just taking care of me properly was a struggle due to time constraints. 

So when I saw starts of butter crunch lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and romaine at Rural King over Spring Break, I couldn't resist the purchase. 

Eating a giant home grown salad several times a week is one of life's greatest pleasures. So glad we didn't have to wait over a month for everything to grow to edible size.

 The woodland rabbits are already raising their second or third brood, so I am keeping the greens covered with an old netting screen, hoping they won't find the gaping holes... The butterflies that favor broccoli have also stayed away so far. Look at those healthy leaves!

I decided to try several varieties of potato this summer: Russet (they were from the supermarket and sprouting in my cabinet), Yukon Gold, red-skinned potatoes, and Midnight Moon which is blue. The potatoes were started properly - no cheating with pre-raised plants!

I kept the strawberries under a winter garden cloth all winter and most of spring until about a week ago. Perhaps this is one reason the berries are ready a few weeks early! 

Another screen keeps the birds off the berries. The moldy and bug-eaten berries are greedily accepted by the chickens. (Ooops, I didn't mean to talk about poultry again... Maybe I should change the blog name to reflect my obsession...)

One and one half pounds of strawberries harvested on Friday night! They did not exist for more than a few hours on the kitchen counter. Hoping for a new batch tomorrow!

Enjoy what is left of your three-day weekend! Summer has arrived, and I am ready!