WWOOF Argentina: 40 days of Food, Farming and Fiesta

11 Feb

Below is an excerpt of a recent blog by Sustainable Food Concentrator Julia Jones ’14, who, together with her friend Annie, is WWOOFing in Mendoza, Argentina this spring.

Staff dinners have been a favorite part of WWOOFing here at the estancia. Last night we celebrated with lentil burgers topped with kale, scallions, tomatoes and Annie’s ginger lemon beet salad. For Annie’s 21st birthday, the crew cooked up a mountain of empanadas, super Argentinian foods made with pastry crust stuffed with beef, onions, carrots and corn. Last week we whipped up a batch of serious business burritos for Mexican Night, accompanied by a never ending play list of mariachi music that just begged goofing around. Regardless of what’s to eat, there’s nothing like walking back to our little staff house, worn out after a day spent weeding and waiting tables, hands prunie from washing a landslide of delicate, gnome patterned Bavarian china, all to open the door to a table full of people waiting for your to whip of your apron, sit down and eat din din. Staff nights have taken many culinary forms. Unlike the meticulously arranged tables we set day in and day out for our guests, complete with ironed linens, polished silverware and skirted chairs, the staff dinner table is a downright frenzy of food and drink. Humans, plates and silverware take a backseat to the mountain range of food, fernet and garden gleanings that run the full length of the weathered kitchen table with its alarmingly bright oilcloth.JJ_wwoof

Squeezed onto a circuit of benches that frame the weekly feast sit the estancia’s best and brightest, calling out in a lively brujaja of spanglish as the last person finally makes it back to the ranch. Sliding onto the bench with a cup of black tea just waiting for my arrival I am always impressed by the truly improbable, motley crew of estancia folk we share the table with. Next to overall-clad Annie sits the estancia’s masseur, skipper, maintenance guru and spiritual aficionado. Just a few seats down is the estancia’s youngest chef, a gregarious, hard working Argentinian powerhouse of a lady who can produce a plate of trout you’d swear required alchemy. Next up is our lead server, who orchestrates cena with all the heart, style and finesse of Paul Pierce weaving through the court for a game changing layup (minus the white sweatbands and dramatic displays of bball swagg). We clink glasses with a young man from Germany who weeds the kale patch with a level of precision and dedication worthy of a New London Garden Club Award. Pushed up against the cabin’s tiny little oven, serving up din din is our fellow Garrison Keillor enthusiast and Minnesota native who came to the estancia after a semester studying in Buenos Aires.

All afternoon these people buzz in and out of the kitchen, occupying every available counter top as they chop veggies, mix up the salsa or stir the comically ramshackle pots and pans that steam with beans and rice at the stove. The whole pre-dinner fiesta is usually set to a winding track list of Argentinian rock, Annie’s favorite Joni Mitchell tunes, Prairie Home Companion, and the occasional obscure American tune that has made its way south through so many borders only to become wildly popular here in the Argentinian south. Once we all sit down to eat, it never ceases to amaze me that here in the middle of the woods in Argentina, a stellar group of people like this set out mugs of tea and hold din din for Annie and I every Saturday night. Pulled up to a meal with all these wonderful people, I begin to feel that the guests who sip fine wine, cut into expensive cuts of meat and chatter lightly about Argentina’s inflation problems are missing out on our wonderful weekly festivus. Here in our little staff house, long tables, late meals and shared food represent forces that are powerful enough to bring one serious party mix of people together to celebrate something truly universal: a meal with good people at the end of a long workday. So bumpin.

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