GHOULASH: Ropa Vieja

It’s a well-known fact that I love cooking and eating as much as I love writing. FAMISHED: THE FARM wouldn’t be half the story it is without an understanding of scents, tastes, and textures that come through cooking. And who doesn’t like coming to a horror blog to see red meat on the table?

I used to order ropa vieja at Cafe 28 in Chicago on a regular basis, but since moving to a more rural community, my Latin American cravings have to be fed by tacos and fajitas alone. So this weekend I tried making one of my favorite Cuban dishes for the first time. Ropa vieja means “old clothes,” since the final result looks remarkably like shredded clothes straight out of the wash. This recipe was adapted from Food & Wine magazine’s “Best slow cooker recipes.”


  1. One 2-pound flank steak, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 4 pieces
  2. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  3. Two cans fire-roasted tomatoes with green chilis
  4. 1/2 cup water
  5. 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  6. 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  7. 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  8. 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  9. 1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
  10. 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  11. 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  12. 1 bay leaf
  13. 1/2 cup pitted green olives
  14. 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  15. 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Tenderize the flank steak and season with salt and pepper. Slice as instructed above.

2. In the slow cooker, arrange the next 10 ingredients, and place the flank steak on top.
Push the steak under slightly to allow full saturation of the meat.
Cover, and cook on high for at least 5 hours.

3.Transfer the meat to a cutting board, rest for 10 minutes.
Discard the bay leaf and stir in the remaining olives, capers and 1 tablespoon cilantro.

4. Shred the meat using two forks into the distinctive texture of ropa vieja.
Return to the sauce to warm through thoroughly.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.
Spoon meat and sauce into bowls over white rice or warmed tortillas.


This made enough to feed two people for about three meals each (so far). I served it alongside sauteed garlic poblanos over moros y cristianos to soak up the delicious sauce, and with a crunchy cucumber-celery salad on the side to add a vinegar tang to an otherwise rather sweet meal. I did omit the red pepper in the salad, since we had MORE than enough in the main and side dishes.




Changing the Magazine Game

Many of you know that on September 23, red dust enveloped parts of Australia in the worst dust storm that continent has seen in nearly a century. You probably saw photos on news site, Flickr or in other digital media.

However, did you know there’s a magazine already available, two days later; which has collected them in print form?

Strange Light is now available through MagCloud, a service of Hewlett-Packard. Self-described as a “virtual magazine newsstand in the cloud,” MagCloud seems geared toward niche publishers, self-aggrandizement and fringe interests – but with Strange Light, I can see something else beginning to grow under their aegis.

The return to a tangible archival system seems delicious when you see these photos fully printed, something I’m loathe to admit as an environmentalist but forced to as an artist. The tactile addition to the artwork pulls me in, makes the oranges and reds seem far more real and alive.

It’s a trick of editing, of course, that made this hit me. Someone had the bright idea to collect what they thought to be the best representations of a moment in time, not only online but into a format that could, in theory, be handed down through generations. If you lived through the dust storm, I imagine that would have some appeal – and other savvy editors could easily capture other moments in time.

For example, Teabagger: The Magazine. If anyone does it, they owe me 50% of the profits.

(Incidentally, I first found MagCloud through Constellation Magazine, which is now publishing its Libra/Scorpio issue and is still well worth checking out, if you’re at all astrologically inclined.)

The Sweets of Gondor

Why do I hang out in the places I do? Allow me to explain.

Le Petit Marche, my home away from home, makes sugar cookies bearing various flags.  Mostly American and French, given that we’re Americans and the bakery sells French goods. However, sometimes, the bakers wind up with a little extra frosting and a little extra time on their hands.

I walked in today to see the American flag, the French flag, and the White Tree of Gondor in array before me. I have some awesome geeks for friends.

Dawn, Sue, Missa, Jeanette and Kate: You have my flour. And my sugar. And my axe.

And the cookie was delicious.

Finn and I, the Tower

Finn and I, the Tower

Originally uploaded by Ivan25

I recently took a trip into the city with my old friends the Von Ragans and was able to meet their boy Finn. One of the most well-behaved babies I’ve ever met and a real sweetheart.

Weather Eye

January 6 and the thermometer marks 49 degrees – unnatural, bitterly unnatural; but undeniably pleasant. The snow which had stood shin-deep yesterday morning is all but gone, leaving behind a wet spread of grass too green for this time of year. What snow remains sends up steam-wraiths in a stiff south wind, carrying the damp further afield than ever it’s blown before.

I’ve been awake for four hours, though the sky is just now truly light enough to see through the dirt-pearl clouds above. Either that wind isn’t doing a thing so far into the heavens, or there is no end or beginning to the cloud cover, just a massive roll of singular color and no particular shape.

The wind can be heard here below, both in itself as it lows in from the south and in its effects: The rustle of bare branches, the snap of an American flag that hangs in the Cosley’s yard, the complaining cry of the chains holding a FOR SALE sign on three abandoned houses nearby. Those sounds pale to the cry of a lone crow, heralding his murder.

Crows in a neighboring treeThey’ve returned, after four long years. The West Nile that terrified humans slaughtered the crows, more than ninety percent of them vanished from the county. We once had murders thirty strong landing in our trees, calling to one another, coming to dine on the blocks of suet and scattered seeds and berries I laid out against autumn’s dearth and winter’s chill. It’s been four years since I heard the cries in greater numbers than two, but this month they came back with a vengeance.

They don’t remember the food I laid out for them, individually or through ancestral memory, and so the local squirrels run fat and sassy on the bounty I mean for the birds. It’s only a matter of time, though. Eventually one will raid a squirrel’s nest, looking for young flesh and blood; and will turn a black eye onto the picnics below. Then it’s war in my yard, a return to form between two tribes in the day and mobs of possums in the night.

That cry itself is undercut by the bells, eleven long tolls from Immanuel Lutheran. I don’t know why eleven bells at eight in the morning, but I don’t see much point in questioning it, either. Faith is faith and if that makes eleven out of eight, as long as they’re happy it’s little of my concern. The animals are fed, my coffee is strong, and I’m three hours into my writing.

The weather – the wind and the damp – were just a sabbatical. It’s time to go back to work.

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