Last week I found a source for fresh rabbit meat in San Rafael, a small gem of a store called Legitimo that sells artisanal regional products.  It's been a while since we enjoyed a rabbit meal in Maastricht, Holland where it is a traditional fall/winter item on restaurant menus.  My anticipation of the cooked dish outweighed squeamishness as I faced the grim task of chopping the carcass into manageable pieces with a cleaver.  It's hard not to think of Bugs Bunny, the Easter rabbit and Watership Down when the small head with its milky pink eyes and long white teeth lies lifeless on the cutting board.   The leftover animal parts provide a special treat for our dog Frida, who, despite boundless enthusiasm for the chase,  is just not fast enough to catch a hare.  She is quick to take the rabbit head off my hands and withdraw to a remote corner of the yard to savour a delicacy that must taste to her like a canine dream come true.  
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Rabbit is one of the healthiest meats available, with fat and cholesterol counts lower than chicken, turkey, beef or pork.  It's also a sustainable farm product, as one doe rabbit weighing 10 pounds can produce 320 pounds of meat per year - more than a cow!  When one considers that it takes two acres of prime land to maintain one cow, rabbit farming seems like a  more sensible, eco-friendly alternative.

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The rabbit dish that I remember from a brisk fall evening in Maastricht was "Limburgse Knien," served at the Wiekse Witte restaurant, cooked in a sweet and sour sauce based on prunes.  This is slow food, as the meat is marinated overnight in vinegar with chopped onion, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, while the prunes soak in apple juice.  The next day,  the rabbit pieces are removed from the liquid, dredged  in flour and fried in butter until golden.  The marinade is heated separately in the frying pan until boiling, then with the seared rabbit added, allowed to simmer on low for about an hour until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.   The sauce is thickened with a few tablespoons of flour stirred into a half cup of beer.   I add the softened prunes along with  some brown sugar and cook the dish for another 15 minutes before serving. 

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The conejo is paired with a red wine purchased from the same store,  Legitimo, a Cab recommended by the shopkeeper who proudly tells us that this is his son's vino tinto, produced right here in San Rafael.  Famiglia Mortarotti Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is a full-bodied, aged in oak red with a nose of mocha cream and cherries, mouth of plum, ginger, black pepper, followed by a firm astringent finish.   This wine is not found in any of the large  supermarkets, but is well worth seeking out at Legitimo, where it sells for 19.64 pesos.   The fresh rabbit costs 30 pesos and must be ordered at the beginning of the week for Friday pick-up.  

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Legitimo means authentic, and that quality of genuineness is a key element in the non-fiction book "The Rabbit House" by Laura Alcoba.  A personal account of life in Argentina during the "Dirty War" years of dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, this book is narrated from the perspective of a seven-year-old girl whose parents are members of the Montoneros, a left-wing Peronist militant group opposed to the repressive regime. They live in a house full of hidden weapons and banned books, using rabbit-raising as a screen for their illicit activities.    The childhood recorded in this book is one of imposed secrecy, vigilance and restraint, a constant duty that requires all of the youngster's willpower and stamina.  In a 2008 interview with writer Angelique Chrisafis from the Guardian newspaper, the writer described her experience.     "It might seem strange, but for a little girl in that situation being in hiding just becomes part of everyday life, " says Alcoba. "She learns very quickly that in winter it's cold, fire burns and we could be killed at any moment. But it's overwhelming for a little girl because of the seriousness of any little gaffe she might make that could put the group in danger.  She doesn't always manage what she is supposed to say and not say.  It's as if she's in a costume that's too difficult to wear." 
This is the first published memoir from a child survivor of Argentina's "Dirty War" era, and the book resonates with a courage that recalls Anne Frank's diary written during World War II in The Netherlands.  Alcoba did survive her ordeal, managed to escape to Paris and now teaches Spanish literature at a French university.    Read an excerpt from this remarkable book. 

 
 
A tree full of ripe figs is a testament to the success of mutualism.  Without the wasp, the fig tree would not be pollinated, and without the fig tree, the wasp would have no breeding ground.   Like the popular song linking  love and marriage  - you can't have one without the other.
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The fig, unlike the apricot and plum trees on our property,  does not burst into bloom in the spring, but forms its green globes directly on the ends of the branches.   The flower is actually internal, and requires an insect to enter the fruit cavity to pollinate it.  There are specific fig wasps that nature has designed to do this task, but they only work as active pollinators for the fig in exchange  for a place to lay their eggs.  The biological barter  system works for the benefit of both parties.  The eggs of the wasp hatch as larvae inside the flower,  eat one seed from the fruit, emerge as adults and fly off to pollinate other fig trees.  

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A recent study conducted at Cornell University revealed that if the friendly exchange of services breaks down, there are consequences.   When the wasp lay its eggs inside the flower without bothering to collect pollen, the fig tree drops the fruit to the ground and the insect's offspring do not survive. Charlotte Jander, the lead author of the research paper explains the phenomenon as a kind of natural policing.  "Sanctions seem to be a necessary force in keeping this and other mutually beneficial relationships on track when being part of a mutualism is costly.  In our study we saw less cheating when sanctions were stronger."

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Fig compote and cheese
Reading the latest news reports of British indignation as Argentina imposes sanctions on the movement of ships between the mainland and Las Malvinas, I think government leaders should take time to contemplate the fig tree, the wasp and the wisdom of mutual co-operation.  Britain has forged ahead with oil drilling off the coast of the islands, while refusing to attend UN meetings aimed at settling the crucial  issue of sovereignty.  Rights to oil are dependent on a bilateral agreement that benefits both Argentina and Britain.   Clearly, you can't have one without the other.  

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While pondering the world's political problems,  I chopped a big bowl of  figs and poured in a bottle of Balbo Tempranillo 2008  as a marinade.   A diced onion, a bit of sugar and some grated orange peel were added to the figs the next day and the mixture was boiled until thick and jammy.  Cristina and Gordon, please take note:   Argentine fig compote is best served with a slice of old English Stilton.    A bottle of Balbo costs 8.75 pesos at Vea supermarket.