Tucked away in isolation without a local grocery, refuse pick-up or wifi, one becomes immediately aware of consumption. This was the case when we visited the Malpai. The Malpai are the border lands between Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Translated, it is bad country named in a history before this according to the heat, the dryness, and the abundant wildlife. Here at the J& A Cattle Ranch we don’t see but know there are an abundance of mountain lion and bear, birds of prey and reptiles. This is wide open space homesteaded under Woodrow Wilson where you wake with the sun and spend time just spending time.
The J&A is along a dirt, sometimes rock, sometimes creek bed road. It speaks to another time, a simpler time but in reality, a much harder time. Today, we just appreciate that it is here thinking little of the settlers who originally came to dig a well or build a home and stake out a life in this wild setting.
I originally became familiar with this area because of the progressive nature of the ranchers here. They raise beef. Recognizing that isn’t to everyone’s liking, for those that do eat it, this is the beef that you want to eat. These cattle are grass fed from the wild grasses of the land supplemented by their own choice of mesquite. Mesquite is an extremely high protein bean, ensuring that the meat coming from here is low fat and high quality and if you must eat it, the beef that you should seek out. No hormones – just beef as it has been for nearly 200 years.
Several years ago, fearing the onset of subdivision developers, Kelly Glenn Kimbro and her family changed the nature of their business by establishing a conservancy for their land. Known as the Malpai Borderlands Group, the existing ranchers placed their ranches inside a protective easement shell ensuring that they’d be maintained as ranches into perpetuity. Working alongside environmentalists – something that is rare, this forward thinking group established best practices for the work that they do such as land rotations and purposeful burning.
The result is recognized around the world as one that has produced a setting where humans and wildlife and ranchers and those seeking to protect the environment, coexist in harmony – something that was constructed through civil discourse unlike we see today.
Beyond your clothing and post-dinnertime board games, the only thing you need to bring to this lovely place is food. With three growing boys, a full-grown husband and one girlfriend, this proved challenging. The closest store is 30 miles away on a dirt road where you’ll top out at about 15 miles per hour. Had we stayed longer than a weekend, I would have certainly have to have made that trek or else learn the finer preparation of juniper berries and wild gourds.
Shelter Island, NY is a world away from the Malpai but there, the Sylvester Manor posted this hearty, sweet potato black bean chili. I packed up a modified list of ingredients – vegan, even though we were at a cattle ranch.
Vegan Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
- 2 Tbs plus 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 large onions, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 Tbs chili powder
- 6 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed
- 28 oz of diced tomatoes
- 4 teaspoons lime juice
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
Have you had a total getaway from electronics where you could spend time just spending time?