What’s your favorite food? Mine is ice cream. I’m quite a cold-stuff connoisseur. I know my Blue Bell from my Blue Bunny, I can tell how much overrun the maker mixed into the base just by looking at it, and (unlike my friend Mae) I love some crunchy treats mixed in. Many of us who live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage have been known to walk down to the local Mennonite grocery store for a swirl of soft serve. Unfortunately, not everything we eat around here is so lovely. Vick here to tell you some of my most memorable food-related experiences in our village, and why you should always look before you drink.
My first Thanksgiving Day in community was with a motley crew of folks to whom I was totally unrelated. (It was also my first holiday without any passive aggressive remarks being passed around at the table, no religious brow-beating, and no fighting over the drumsticks.) Everyone brought their A-game specialities, and mine was a pot of Texas-style pinto beans.
At that time, I was eating with a dining co-op at Thistledown, one of the houses near the heart of the community. (A dining co-op is a group of people who volunteer to share infrastructure, costs, and chores related to preparing food and cleaning up after meals, as well as storing ingredients and leftovers. The concept has its pros and cons; more about this in a minute.) That afternoon, we decided to play a round of Carcassonne; it’s an excellent board game, you should check it out. After taking her turn, my friend Stephanie decided to get a mug of the delicious mulled apple cider that Cob, owner of the house, had made, rich with citrus and spices. She sat back down and took a sip, played for a while, took another sip, and carried on that way for a while, until suddenly she burst out: “agh, this is bean juice!” She admitted that she was wondering why it tasted so strange, but didn’t want to hurt Cob’s feelings by mentioning it.
The spread that evening was something to remember. The Critter collective brought some of their pastured poultry, Nik made his famous curried goat, Sara brought her handmade peanut butter-and-chocolate buckeye balls, and Tereza relished her obligatory canned cranberry sauce. (I had the rare pleasure of liberating the cylindrical, gelatinous blob and slicing it.) There were homegrown vegetables of every kind, homemade pickles of every kind, and homemade pies of every kind. We all left as stuffed as ticks, and there were still plenty of remnants for the following day, when we celebrated the fabled Feast of Gloria Tubman, Harriet Tubman’s long lost fictional sister. (Alas, I don’t recall the backstory.)
Eating with a dining co-op has two sides: one that is sublime and luxurious, and the other, which is about as ugly as a three-headed toad cursed with an ugly-stick. When things go well, being part of a dining co-op means that you get to simply saunter your way to the table and enjoy two or more tantalizing meals a day, lovingly prepared by someone else using only the freshest and tastiest ingredients. When you’re finished, all you have to do is wash your plate and skedaddle, leaving the real clean-up for someone else. Ahh, what a life. The company is great too, assuming you actually like the people you’re eating with.
The problem comes when the one doing the cooking doesn’t know their nose from their elbow. I have lived through some true culinary nightmares in my time at Dancing Rabbit. One of the many pies present at that first Thanksgiving was the unholy abomination that Eric made: a sweet mashed potato pie, topped with a smiley face made of raisins and sultanas. (Notice that I didn’t say sweet potato. I said sweet MASHED potato. As in Idaho potato. Sweetened with sorghum syrup. And put in a pie. As my grandmother would say: yuck-all-mighty!)
Toon was known for some wackadoodle food experiments, as well. One of the worst was an attempt to preserve some of the three-foot long Asian carp that had perished in the especially hard winter of 2013. I don’t know what he did with it exactly, but it wound up looking like a gallon jar of pink-tinted milk. He decided to open it one day after our weekly group meeting, and the emerging miasma cleared the common house in a matter of seconds. Undaunted, he tried a piece, and promptly vomited.
Being someone else’s guinea pig has made me sick more times than I can count, but Coz took the cake with his homemade dandelion wine. It tasted wonderful, like orange soda with a sweet, floral quality. I gratefully imbibed two tall glasses of it, which I paid for with three days of miserable penance, chained to my toilet. These days, I mostly eat the stuff I make myself.
You could enjoy some of the best food that Dancing Rabbit has to offer by coming to our ecovillage weekend in just a few short weeks. Fare will all be made by the completely competent cooks at the Milkweed Mercantile. You’ll also get a chance to meet us, learn some new ways you can enhance your eco repertoire, and spend some time relaxing in nature, perhaps at our swimming pond or out on our acreage of northeast Missouri prairie. This will be your last chance to enjoy a condensed, immersive, four-day experience here for 2019, so don’t miss out.
This week, we’re offering a bonus: a recipe for hummus, one of the food staples around here. (It’s more fun to eat if you pronounce it chkxqooomooos.)
The World’s Most Perfect Hummus Recipe
(from Abu Said’s restaurant in Acre, Israel)
1 + 1/4 cup of dried chickpeas, soaked in lots of water
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
2 lemons worth of juice
1 head of garlic
1 can of tahini (400g, or 14 oz)
1 pinch of ground cumin
1/3 cup of olive oil + more for serving
Kosher salt to taste (I like to start with 1 tbsp)
Soak your garbanzos overnight in lots of water. (Maybe you can make your own pita, while you wait.) Then drain them, sprinkle them with the baking soda, and place them, dry, in a skillet over medium heat. Stir them around constantly for about three minutes. Transfer the beans to a pot, cover them with water, and simmer until they’re tender. (Depending on the age of the beans and lots of other factors, it might take anywhere from thirty to sixty minutes.) Every once in a while, check back in and skim off the foam that forms.
This process will break down the chickpea skins and make them easy to remove; just submerge the beans in cool water, rub them vigorously with your hands, and the skins will float to the top. You can skip this if you’re strapped for time, or just plain lazy, but come on, it only takes a few minutes, and your reward will be the smoothest hummus you’ve ever tasted. Reserve some of the cooked beans to sprinkle on top of your finished hummus, if you’re into that sort of thing.
While those are cooking, you’ll have time to whip up some of the other ingredients. Place the lemon juice and the garlic (you don’t have to bother peeling it, trust me on this one) in a blender or food processor, with enough water to cover the garlic. Blend it until the mixture liquifies, and then run it through a mesh strainer. Press out as much of the tasty ilixir as you can with a spoon.
Now it’s time to work a little magic, using food chemistry. Combine the tahini with the garlic-flavored lemon juice and stir it up. It will turn from a runny mess with the consistency of molasses to a firm, silky paste. Add water a little at a time until it takes on the texture of canned pasta sauce. Now is the time to add some freshly ground cumin, and a smidgen of salt.
Finally, you’re going to blend the chickpeas with the tahini mixture, along with the best quality olive oil you can afford. Puree the whole shabang for about two minutes. Don’t be afraid to add a few drops and water to facilitate blending if you need to, but only if you need to.
If you’re in the mood for simplicity, try it with some freshly baked pita, some sliced homegrown tomatoes and onions, olives, and fermented cucumber and/or jalapeno pickles. If you want to make it a little more festive and extravagant, have it with some oven roasted cauliflower, hard boiled eggs, or some of my personal favorite vegetable: fresh fennel. Bon appetit.