This weekend is the annual festival in Herradura de Rivas that celebrates the beginning of a new year.  The local areas take turns with their celebrations.  As this is a three day event, there has been two long days of food preparation in the community kitchen.  Wanting to support our friends and neighbors we did our share of peeling, chopping, and cleaning yesterday and today.

When we arrived at eight yesterday morning the men were busy butchering the cow they had purchased.  Several of them worked about seven hours from start to finish.  I was amazed at how much meat there is on one cow!  Some meat even seemed alive as a nerve was still pulsing!  They leave little behind….the skin, hooves, head.  Even the legs are stripped, hooves removed, and then added to the pot of soup for additional flavor and nutrients.  When we were served lunch I found myself eating cow liver along with the rice and spaghetti.    The tongue was lying amongst all the meat so it ended up somewhere!  

I have been volunteering to help a recent high school graduate become more fluid with English so she came and helped out as well.  The first task was to clean the second kitchen as there was a lot of dust and a filthy floor.  The whole building is open to the road through metal bars so there was a lot to get it clean, especially as the dry summer season is beginning.  My first lesson in the university of life was how to mop the floor.  There is no actual mop there so in that case they take a small towel, make a hole in the center, put the broom handle through it, and let the towel drop to the bottom.  The brooms here are not whisk type with straw but rather a rectangular prism of plastic bristles.  The wet towel then covers the bristles and is used to wipe the floor.  It is really rather a clever idea and shows their resourcefulness.  If you watched the meat video above  you saw a broom mop resting against a table.

Then it was on to peeling garlic!  With Bill joining us, it still took us over two hours!  Last time people soaked the garlic in water before peeling.  This time we were shown to smash the whole bulb with a rock to break apart the cloves, or teeth as they call them, apart.  We then experimented with various ways to get that papery covering off.  Bill liked to roll several of them between his hands.  That hurt so I preferred to smash them a bit more.  Either way, the coating often came right off.

By then it was noon so Veronica took off.  I think she stayed so long because it was better than picking coffee with her mother!  Bill and I rested a bit and then took on the task of wiping the banana leaves to be used when making tamales.  For most of the morning banana leaves were harvested by a couple of guys who then treated them.  An outdoor fire was built, a very long banana leaf is placed over the fire briefly, being sure to have all sections and both sides heated.  This is important to make the leaves malleable for wrapping.  The next guy takes the leaves and rips off sections that have been cut naturally by the wind and which are thrown in a pile.  Every once in a while a heap was placed on a table for us clean.

I rather doubt an US health official would have approved!  The tables had been covered with raw beef earlier while the guys were cutting it down.  No disinfectant was used before placing the leaves on the table!  It was just given a cursory wipe with a wet rag by Veronica before she left.  Hmmmm.  The rags we used were not new.  We were to wet the cloth and wipe all the dirt and whatever else was on each leaf piece, front and back.  From time to time we rinsed the rags and found them rather dirty which always made me wonder how clean the last leaf really was.  I guess the theory is that the boiling of the tamale kills anything wanting to get you???  The leaves are not eaten but the ingredients are placed right on the plant material.  This was rather tiring for our arms and upper back so after an hour and a half we headed home.

Today we returned for more kitchen capers.  First, Bill took care of the celery while I dealt with the onions.  Interesting was that when wanting the celery finely chopped they would smash the stalk a bit first.  They also use the funky wide ends saying that they still service!  It didn’t take long for my eyes to feel the effects of the onion gases!  Quickly my eyes started tearing. The lead cook, Tony, was standing by so I asked him what I could do about it.  He and Raquel, who was was our chief, saw my tears and turned around so they wouldn’t laugh in my face.  Then they turned around to look again and continued to be very tickled!  Again they turned their backs laughing!  Tony then placed a glass a water by me.  I asked him it was to drink or wash my eyes…uh, no, he said it was to help with the tears, not for consumption.  Ok.  Hmmm.  I kept working and surprisingly, my eyes stopped tearing!  I was amazed and told them all what a great idea that is!  Lesson two in the university of life.  The whole time I peeled and finely minced the rest of those onions I was fine, unless I held one too close to my face while removing the coating.  Apparently the water absorbs the gas.

By then it was time to eat.  Perhaps just as well we didn’t have any meat but did enjoy indigenous beans, a delicious squash, garlic rice, salad, and a hot tortilla right off the stove.  Freshly squeezed orange juice helped wash it down.  I had watched Raquel squeeze those oranges, enough to make a few gallons, all with just her hands.  She is a slight woman, but what strength in those slim digits!

Our next task was to mince the remaining garlic not needed yesterday that we had peeled.  We took turns with the two steps.  One of us trimmed the end that had been attached to the core and smashed the cloves while the other worked the knife.  I have to say, I kept thinking of chopped as I became faster and more efficient with my tool!

The final task for which we had energy was to cut the arracache, a root vegetable, into big chunks.  It took some muscle as it is a rather fibrous vegetable.  With bigger ones I was able to get the knife in and then hit the chunk against the cutting board to send the knife through to cut it. At one point, the young woman next to use who was grating vegetables for salad, told Tony that Beth has more strength.  I whipped around and Tony was standing right behind me laughing!  In fact, after that, any time I whacked the arracache chunk he giggled.  Not sure what was so funny about that…

By then our arms were rather tired so we bid our good-byes two hours earlier than yesterday.

Here is a link to 101 household hints…great ideas!