Friday, February 15, 2008

What I Eat Creates Me

Food—la comida—is a very big deal in Teote, now above the no-survival level, but still beneath the shady leaves of Jack’s giant beanstalk, where little sun shines. The corn god’s kitchen is part of global economics, es cierto, but, as well, apart, below its diligent radar, though such transparency’s hard to imagine for a viejito from Glenwood, a town so totally connected to the world’s banking stream. At the end of the road in Nicaragua, surrounded by undeveloped Honduras, Teote’s not exactly a New-Venture-City, except for growing marijuana—Not an option!—or, perhaps, building a fat farm and spa for overweight boomers, since a very hot spring, currently infested with coral snakes and stinging fire ants, gushes from the banks of the Limon, upriver. Maybe I need St. Patrick, who expelled culebras from Ireland.

Ridding self of weight here, however, doesn’t take a blesséd saint: the campesino diet empowers that, thank God, mostly local rice, red beans and corn tortillas, handmade from maís every morning, pure energy food. With chicken soup, fresh veggies and fruit, crisp plantains, plus boiled milk from mi padre’s cow, I find the food full of savor and texture, constantly surprising, and, with an hour’s saunter daily ‘round the campo, guaranteed to drop ten pounds a month from my sagging frame. Que milagro! Yet, truly, for me, this diet’s not sacrificial. Of course, I’m not a drinker, here, except for an occasional local cerveza, but, then, I’m cosmically-high already on my writing, at least eight hours a day.

Here, the chicken soup (sopa de pollo) beats anything my grandma used to make. Its base, a fresh-killed, quick-browned, unskinned hen in pieces, stews in salted agua at a slow boil, at least three hours, with onion, tomato, minced garlic to taste, and a pinch or two of cumin. Later, we add chunks of challa—a vine-borne squash that grows up trees—of yuca (peeled cassava root), and sometimes a handful of Spanish parsley (aka perejil) or manzanilla (camomile) leaves, to break a fever, or noni, extra good for the kidneys. Lip-smacking heartiness, it’s served at least thrice a week for lunch or dinner, especially in the rainy season, June to January, sometimes chilly from the damp. Though it rarely goes below 60F, everyone wears a second-hand parka if it gets that “cold.”

The speciality of the house, nacatamale, is an amazing enfolding of rich corn masa--Si, with lard!—‘round bits of pork in cumin-garlic juices, with delicate pinches of rice, onion, tomato, potato, and petit pois from Jolly Green Giant. La mama wraps it in 4x6 envelopes of green banana leaves, tied with string, and steams these for hours in an iron kettle with the lid on. We do about 30 at a time. One, served warm, stays with me for a day of fullness, but it’s best to be wary of too many in a week, if I want my stomach to shrink.

Other treats, dipped in unsweetened coffee to jumpstart the morning, golden roquillas, chewy-crunchy in turn, are rings of corn masa and egg, rolled by hand and baked in an adobe orno. It takes two hours to burn enough wood to heat it, but, then, they’re quickly in-and-out with a long-handled, wooden spatula. A variant, roquettas, are pressed cookies of slightly sweetened masa with a dab of honeyed goat cheese on top, bubbled ‘til caramelized. Yum. We use up the heat baking gingered corn bread or wheat cake tortas, glazed with sugar and egg. This seems a ton of baked goods for a diet, but, all’s in moderation, and working: at weigh-in, this morning, I broke 190, for the first time in 7 years. I almost cried. If my VVH-HMR diet coaches read this, they’ll jump for joy. That’s 8 pounds lost, in less than two weeks. I’m totally back in weight loss, ladies, straight arrow for my target. Hoo-hah!

There’s plenty of fresca, to flush out my remaining flab, with pulp and juice from fruits in season in the yard, usually limes, oranges, coconut, or uba, grapes, bought in Jalapa, from Chile. In addition, pinol and cacoa seed, picked in my family’s orchard, sundried and roasted to peel, then ground and boiled in leche, makes a before-bed tonic improving the circulation, so says the local curandera. As well, a few spoons of oatmeal (avena) with a little sugar, bought in packets and added to hot milk, thickens a breakfast shake to die for. It sticks to my ribs all morning, while I’m sipping my home-grown coffee, burnt black in my sister’s cocina. That’s when I’m fed by my writing.

H-m-m-m! Perhaps a writers’ workshop for sedentary scribes from los Estados? Guaranteed weight loss, stewed in fertile, transcendently creative juices!

No comments: