Rachel Gaffney's Letter from Texas - LongHouse Food Revivals

LongHouse - set up for mealRachel Gaffney, the famous foodie who’s flying the flag for Ireland in Texas, travels to Austin for what turns out to be a very interesting foodie weekend

LongHouse Food Revivals

The drive to Austin, Texas on February 1st, 2013 was to be my respite. The last three months had been painful and emotionally draining as my family experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of my father in law. The grief and shock took its toll as did the awful business of death. It numbs the soul. It causes deep reflection and contemplation but it does however, pass and fade with time. My road trip was one I took alone. I had no expectations and no pre-conceived ideas of what this ‘Longhouse Food Revival’ would bring. I was simply going along to feel again.

“Based on the 19th century American Chautauqua movement, LongHouse Food Revivals are a series of annual gatherings of thought leaders across the United States. The Revivals are designed to stretch the boundaries of how food stories are told, raise the bar on the nation’s food news agenda and, most of all, foster the community between generations, regions, cultures and media platforms that support innovative work of the highest quality. Produced by CookNScribble, the online educational resource and virtual editorial office for food writers, bloggers and producers, LongHouse Food Revivals are intimate gatherings that are large in vision. No two Revivals are alike. All are serious fun.” Source: www.cooknscribble.com

Austin is a mere three hour drive South of Dallas. I arrived in enough time to check in to my hotel, change into my jeans and cowboy boots and head for the Pine Street Station, where the revival was being held.

Fairy lights were strung haphazardly from tree limb to tree limb in this imperfectly shaped courtyard. People sampled and sipped ‘Twisted X’ craft beer, a Mexican style beer handcrafted in Austin, known as a ‘Tex-Mex Beer’. On a tall wooden barrel stood an army of frosted bottles, 12Nt emblazoned across the labels. It stands for ‘noon to midnight’. A non alcoholic beverage crafted by Chef David Burke, a culinary marvel. There are two flavours. Blanc, citrus-ginger and Rouge, pomegranate-blackcurrant.

I poured a little of each and immediately fell in love. I found myself standing by this barrel in the bustling courtyard eager to refill my glass. I could detect a slight hint of herbs and was it possible that I may have detected some tea? It was not until days after this event that I learned that these sophisticated beverages have over 60 ingredients in each bottle, indeed using the herbs and teas I had detected along with fruit juices and spices . It was time to follow one of my other senses, the strongest of all, my sense of smell.

Pit MasterThe smell of charred wood drifted and lingered in the air. It was that unmistakable smell of a wood fire with the heady heavy notes that are unique to burning wood. Here, Kiko Guerra tended to his fire pits roasting milk fed kid goats known as cabrito. Cabrito is indigenous to Monterrey, a city in Mexico.

The burning embers were tended with care and I stood by this pit like a moth to a flame. It offered warmth and solace in the chilly evening. Here I stood, an Irish woman in a strange land, not knowing anyone, but within minutes was deep in conversation with the pit master. People gathered around the fire much like people gather around the centre of any home, the kitchen. For it is food that unites us.

The bell tolled, inviting us all inside to this odd shaped hut, decorated in a very bohemian way. Bicycle wheels were suspended from the rafters with fairy lights binding them together and a tired red couch sat in the corner to play home to the many guest speakers. Molly O’ Neill, former New York Times food columnist, author of ‘One Big Table’ and founder of ‘Cook n Scribble’ opened with her soft and meaningful words.

We listened to a Mexican poet pay homage to her mother, now suffering from alzheimer’s, through her poem about chicken soup. Her words stirred us as she remembered the sights and smells of her mother cooking in their kitchen.

Salsa VerdeChef Iliana de la Vega , owner of ‘El Naranjo’ Mexican restaurant and bar, whipped up a quick but tasty salsa verde (green salsa) blending up fresh cilantro, chiles and tomatillos to name but a few ingredients. As she did so, she talked of her home, Oaxaca and it’s traditions. Oaxaca is located in southwest Mexico and was named as a city of world heritage by UNESCO.

Following speakers and musicians we ambled in to the adjoining room. Tables were decorated with rolls of butcher roll paper, candles and mason jars filled with fresh herbs and broccoli. It was a simple table. A welcoming table. We ate the mild and tasty cabrito, freshly made corn tortillas and salsa verde. Dessert was a freshly made parsnip and rutabaga ice cream with a blood orange sauce, served from the Whole Foods food truck.

We roamed and meandered back into the courtyard as pots of thick viscous Mexican hot chocolate awaited us along with brightly coloured trays of Mexican wedding cookies. Again we huddled in groups around the hot chocolate watching as they ladled the thick hot creamy liquid into our cups. This creamy liquid took a little longer than most to reach my throat as it idled for a while in the roof of my mouth. Neither too sweet nor too bitter, this was a chocolate I could enjoy.

And so my evening ended. I had sat with Rachel from Boston, an anthropologist studying gastronomy habits around the world and another lady from Italy, now living in Michigan also studying food culture. We were complete strangers until that moment, dining alongside each other, sharing stories of food markets in Turin, Italy and Cork, Ireland. We were inextricably connected.

Connected by food. Connected by Mexican food and her traditions. The week that followed was a productive week. My senses were reinvigorated. I could feel again.


Rachel Gaffney's Real Irelandhttp://rachelgaffneysrealireland.com

: Rachel Gaffneys Real Ireland
Twitter: @Rachelgaffney

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