The Land of Plenty

Our return to Massachusetts is timed with a scheduled family vacation to Cape Cod. I haven’t been in years, and Tyndall never has. We walk the dunes on the oceanside and the trails on the bayside, convincing the family daily ice cream stops are good for them. The mercury steadily rises as the week progresses, but the breeze does its job. 

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We return home through rain squalls and stormy skies, only to find it is still dry on Chestnut Hill. The leafy green things suffer, but the tomatoes ripen regardless. A week away nets us this. 

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We harvest and process and eat and repeat.

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The tomatoes are the stars of the show, but there’s peppers and squash and cabbage and kale and a hodge podge of other things too. Grapes thrive on the egdes, where field meets forest. Tyndall is determined to make use of the small, hard pears that grow. My parents have long written them off as Too Much Work for not enough reward, but some chopping, cooking and foly food milling nets him more pear sauce than he knows what to do with. My mom advocates for composting the second bucket he picked.

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A long pent up need to DO and MAKE things is fulfilled. It feels good. 

An invite to a family lake house in New Hampshire provides an excuse to explore the way there by bike. From the house, we ride empty dirt roads, quiet paved roads and abandoned railroads, converted to shady bike paths crisscrossing the state. Tyndall’s route maximizing ice cream stops and swimming holes. 

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

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The grocery store is an eye popping, mind boggling experience full of too many choices; the Trump signs surreal. This IS a great country. We have so much. I want to knock on the doors of these houses and find out who lives here.

A lady tells me her barking, growling dog is wicked friendly. I give her the eyebrow and remind myself throwing rocks at dogs is frowned upon here. A man says “wicked pissah”. It’s a verbal reminder that I am in New England again. Life is wicked good. 

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Photo by Claire Russo.

Dinner on the Road

Dinner is a slowly evolving single pot meal. It began as rice and lentils. Originally red lentils. The red lentils would cook down enough that they dissolved into a pot of rice creating a nice thick meal. This soon grew old. We started adding bouillon for a little more flavor. Beef or chicken. Whatever we had. This too, soon grew old.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

We moved on to concentrated mole flavoring and eventually found tomato sauce. The tomato really adds a lot of flavor and umami to the dish. Our “Mother” dish.

Red lentils were replaced by standard green lentils. Not by choice but because they are all we can find south of the border. They don’t cook up as well as the red, adding a little crunch to dinner. They are, however, cheap and nutritious.

Variations on the mother dish are numerous. In Mexico and Guatemala we bought tortillas, cheese, avocado, and onion.  The mother was used as a warm filling in the tortilla while the other ingredients were diced and put on top. For a special treat, one can warm the corn tortillas on top of the pot while the mother is cooking. 

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Additional variations include cracking two eggs into the mother when it is half cooked.  Oil, if you have some, adds richness to the dish. Soy sauce can create a nice contrast to the rich tomato.  Salsa can replace the tomato sauce in the Mother to make Mother Casera.

When really lucky, a nice host will provide the weary cyclist with fresh greens from the garden. Add carrots, broccoli, and onion to the Mother while cooking. Drop in two eggs half way through and stuff the pot with swiss chard. Force the lid on and let everything steam together. This is high dining.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

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Tomato sauce has all but disappeared in South America and has been replaced by Salsa de Tomate. Don’t be confused, it’s just Ketchup. It’s also terribly sweet and doesn’t work in dinner. We have tried. The Ecuadorian Mother has become pasta (cooks faster at altitude) and cream sauces. Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Corn being two staples. Toss in fresh or dried veggies when available.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

Clean the pot by adding two cups water and any available tea. Jamaica was widely available in Mexico. Horchata is the tea of choice in Ecuador. Heat to a boil, swirl to clean, and enjoy.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

La Comida de Colombia

As a cyclist, I’m always looking to pack on calories. One way to do that is to continuously search out new foods to try. Colombia sticks out for its fruit.  There are endless types here that I have never heard of. Guanábana, Tomate de Arbol, Lulo, Pitaya, Granadilla, and Maracuyá to name a few.

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Granadilla by Elizabeth Ellis

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Lulo by Elizabeth Ellis

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Maracuyá

Much more obscure are pinuele and guaba. You won’t find these at the fruit stand or on Google. I’ve tried. They are an indigenous snack foraged from the wild. Estan muy rico.

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Pinuele from the Paramo

Not only are there new types of fruit but there are odd varieties of tropical classics. Fruit vendors may have three different varieties of pineapple that range in flavor from watery and mild to sweet and tart. The same can be said about the papaya.

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Piña by Elizabeth Ellis

Many of these fruits are taken as jugo naturale con agua or leche. Restaurants come equipped with blenders ready to make your order. A granizado incorporates ice into the blended juice for a refreshingly cold treat. This is particularly wonderful in the hot climates of low elevation Colombia where one’s daily liquid intake es muy importante.

I meant to make this post just about fruit but the food of Colombia goes beyond that. Want a tinto, chocolate, or agua de panela? All are served hot and take the chill off a rainy day in the high Andes. Add some aguardiente to your aguapanela for a true South American hot toddy.

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Chocolate by Elizabeth Ellis

All good Colombian cafes serve buñuelos, empanadas, and a new favorite, papas rellenas. Not all papas rellenas are created equal. The basic version is a hard boiled egg covered with mashed potatoes and fried. My favorite papa rellena is a variation on a shepard’s pie. Spiced ground beef, hard boiled egg, all enveloped in moist mashed potatoes and fried. They go down super easy, even when cold, and are a big calorie bonus for a hungry cyclist. I can often be found stuffing my frame bag with these on big cycling days.

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Papa Rellena by Elizabeth Ellis

Arepas? Those happened too. Do you smell butter? Butter? Butter was all but non existent in Mexico and Guatemala. Not the case in Colombia. Arepas can be sweet or savory but all come dripping in butter. The best arepas aren’t found by looking. They are found with the nose. Smell browning butter? Go check it out! My favorite arepas are filled with queso and golden brown. The best street vendors add a dollop of butter to the arepa and then wrap it in a silver space blanket to keep warm.

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Arepas de Choclo by Elizabeth Ellis

Lastly, I’ll touch on almuerzo. Or lunch. It’s big and cheap. Almuerzo comes standard with soup, rice, beans, salad, meat, and an unlimited supply of juice. Other ingredients often making an appearance are potatoes, yuca, and plantains. I’ve also eaten chicken feet, stomach, and tongue. I hate to draw this comparison but it’s very close to cafeteria food in the states. It’s the closest thing we have found to a well balanced meal and it’s offered at a great price. It’s not fancy. It’s plain, simple home cooking.  It’s the food of Colombia and I’m a fan.

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Almuerzo by Elizabeth Ellis

La Tortilleria

I’m addicted. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the tacos. I started by eating a few each day. That was a month ago. I think about how many I had yesterday. Was it 15? Or more likely a 1/2 kilogram? Supposedly the “healthier choice” over flour tortillas, I’m told it’s OK by a friend who lives in Mexico.

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Maíz tortillas aren’t for everyone. They dry out quickly and break easily, dumping their contents on the floor. Their mouth feel is granular. However, they are slightly sweet, cheap, and when prepared properly have a particular bounce that makes me return for more.

Fresh is best. Each town in Mexico tends to have their own Tortilleria and it’s busy before meal time. Everyone wants a steaming stack of fresh tortillas to share with the family. As they come skidding off of the machine, workers weigh them out in stacks. 

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

They come in half or whole kilogram increments wrapped in paper. The fancier stores use bleached paper that have logos printed on them while smaller local stores use non bleached paper similar to a newspaper without any ink.

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At home, the hot stack of tortillas is kept in its paper cover and further wrapped in a towel to preserve moisture and heat.  When dinner is ready (or rather any meal because they are eaten all the time) the tortillas are placed on the table and eaten as an American would eat fresh bread.

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They are rolled up and used to push food on the plate. They are dipped in soups. They are made into food vehicles conveying tasty tidbits into your mouth. They go with everything. It’s OK to have a couple kilograms of maíz tortillas at home. They will get eaten.

Of particular note is that the warmest tortillas are the best. While eating dinner with a friend I noticed that she didn’t take from the top of the tortilla stack. Rather, it is important with a fresh stack to find a tortilla in the middle and pull it out. It’s like getting the center roll out of a fresh baked pan of rolls.

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After dinner the tortillas are wrapped up in the towel and left to cool. They will last another few days but they won’t be as good as they were when fresh. Slowly, the moisture escapes and the maíz tortillas become brittle and dry. They are rejuvenated for each successive meal by heating in a hot skillet or over an open flame. Their flexibility and bounce returns.

Eventually, the heat treatment will not rejuvenate the days old tortillas.  They are destined for a new life as Chilaquiles.

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Refreshments

Keeping the engine fueled and lubricated is important when it comes to long term bike travel. Food and water is stocked on our handlebars to see us through the day. I recently discovered that a peanut butter jar (item of many uses) fits perfectly in my feed bag. I’m sure Revelate Designs meant for this to happen. 

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I’ve always been frustrated by the hard to reach peanuts in the bottom of the feed bag. Teasing me by their presence. The peanut butter jar solves this problem. Now I just dump the food in my mouth as we ride. It’s a faster more efficient way to fuel the engine.

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Love the Combos.

Breakfast

A lot of time is spent thinking about food on the road. Afraid of becoming a scare crow, I tend to buy way more than necessary when making a grocery run, letting my stomach get ahead of me. Over the first month we have made a few changes to the breakfast menu. We are getting close to something really good. No cooking is required, saving fuel and time in the mornings.  The jar size is chosen for a single portion. Liz and I both carry our own jar. This allows us to get up at our own pace in the AM. The mornings are a good personal time for me. Maybe you will want to have this at home while you follow along with us.

Required Items
Empty 18 oz Plastic Peanut Butter Jar and Top
Steel Cut Oats
Dry Milk
Assorted Dry Fruit
Assorted Nuts
Peanut Butter
Favorite Sweetener
Water

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Directions
Prepare in the evening before going to bed for the following morning. Fill empty peanut butter jar 1/4 full of oats. Add healthy portion of dry milk, dry fruit (raisins, craisins, banana chips, etc…), nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc…), spoonful of peanut butter, and dash of your favorite sweetener. Add water to cover. Screw lid on peanut butter jar and shake so that everything is mixed well. Set aside in a dirty shoe to keep up right til morning. Check oats before going to bed and add more water if all the water has been absorbed.

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Liz likes to add her fruit and nuts in the morning. I like to do it all in the evening. It’s a personal preference but I think soaking the fruit and nuts over night leaches some of the sugars and salt out into the oats adding to the flavor. Also, don’t use minute oats or rolled oats. These turn to mash which is not a pleasure to eat. The steel cut oats create a great texture and seem to stay with us longer into the morning while pedaling.

Another item that can lead to a huge variety in this breakfast is the type of sweetener used. We started out using a strawberry-kiwi powdered drink mix. It created the best strawberry dry milk you can imagine. The hot pink color was a bit off putting though. Other sweeteners could be honey, malt, hot cocoa mix. I’m excited to try some malt next time I can find some to make this an even heartier breakfast. So far I’ve struck out.

Bon Appétit