cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Feliz Natal

Merry Christmas

For a while i decided to pretend that it wasn't even Christmas time since comparing the Christmas that i know to the Christmas here is a very difficult task. I have no Christmas tree, no lights, no candles, no garlands, no fancy table settings, no fancy dinner, no Christmas music, no fireplace, no pizza on Christmas Eve, no five-star Christmas morning breakfast, no eggnog, no excited atmosphere and no family. So, if that's Christmas, then how can i compare a completely different event to it? I can't. Trying to do so is simply asking for saudades; longings.

Stepping out of your zone, moving out of your country is hard on many fronts, as we expats blog about ad nauseum. But there is something about the big holidays that are hard to handle. Particularly when you hear a Portguese "Jingle Bells" that has absolutely nothing to do with the real song. Is it wierd that it makes me angry? Aren't cultures supposed to have their own ways of celebrating? I'll admit, longing for what i know and love has made my view of the holidays here slightly bitter. Fake evergreen Christmas trees at all the stores, plastic scenes of snow critters, a Santa Clause named Papai Noel, Noel? Brazil's Santa is French? Why is there nothing Brazilian about Christmas here, what the hell is a Brazilian Christmas anyways? Grocery stores full of Italian panetonne? Brazilians eat more panetonne than Italians do. Let's breath. I wouldn't feel so bitter and mean if i didn't miss my own Christmas so much. So, i have to stop missing to see what a Brazilian Christmas is actually like. To do so i have to stop comparing, stop judging, stop scoffing and look at it as something unique. Christmas is Christmas right?

It is extremely difficult to say, "a Brazilian Christmas is like this--" It's like saying that all Americans do the same thing for Christmas, when the reality is that some Americans go to Church and have a big dinner on Christmas Eve, and some Americans go to Denny's for pancakes, some go to the movies and eat pizza, some open present on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas morning, some drink spiked eggnog and some sing Christmas carols all night at grandmas. The same thing in Brazil. I have no clue what all families do during Christmas, the reality is, however, that it depends completely on your economic class. This is what is universal around most of Brazil: panetonne. If there is one thing around Brazil that signifies "the holiday season," it's the large cardboard cubes stacked up like building bricks at every single grocery store. Mountains of panetonne, cheap panetonne. I have no idea how dry fruit-studded yeast bread became the holiday it- food, but it is as descriptive of the season as the head-size chocolate eggs are at Easter.

Aside from panetonne, other signs of Christmas include fake Christmas trees in nearly all commercial and public buildings. Christmas trees are not common in most homes due to the cost of ornaments, lights, garlands etc. And honestly, who wants a plastic smelly tree in their house? This is actually ok with me. Evergreen Chrsitmas trees don't exist because they don't grow here. Easy. So give up the fake ones, or embrace lighting a palm tree. I have not seen a single palm tree with lights, people would rather string lights from the top of a pole downward to form a light "tepee" to mimic the triangular Christmas than to put lights on a live tree. I wanted to see a damn palm tree with lights, Americans love that stuff.

My Brazilian Christmas is not the same as all Brazilian Christmases just as my American Chrsitmas is not the same as all American Christmases. There are many wealthy families in Brazil that can mimic an American Christmas quite well. The key word is wealthy. As with all things in Brazil, having access to things common to middle class America is only available to the top classes. Christmas toys, classy decorations and formal sit down with special food for the season is not really possible for the lower classes and most middle class. For our Brazilian family, Christmas Eve IS Chrsitmas. The night started with some Barbecue, yeah the every-weekend style barbecue. There was a roast chicken, and the buffet style everyday foods of rice, beans, mayonaise salad and farofa. To be honest and fair, this is how many Brazilians "celebrate," and if we are "celebrating" Christmas, why should it be much different than celebrating birthdays or other events? Another thing that effects the style of "celebrating" aside from economic status is the volume of people. No matter how much money you have there is no way you can fit 70 family members plus all of the random friends who show up to mooch around a table. Impossible. Flatware, dishes, champagne cups for all? Having an American style Christmas requirees an American-style family, meaning there has to be crowd control. My family Chrsitmas in the US is intimate, immediate family members. Only my sisters, brothers and parents. That number has grown slightly due to boyfriends and husbands, but that's it. It doesn't extend beyond that. An intimate gathering of 10-15 people allows for an American Christmas. A prom-style dance party with 70+ people to feed does not. So, who am i to compare when the logistics simply cannot compute? In the end it is cultural, and as much as i love the openness and group-style "everyone is family" aspect of the Brazilian family, i prefer the intimate closeness of the American family when it comes to gatherings. Gatherings....

One reason my Brazilian Christmas just doesn't do it for me is that i, personality wise, don't like big parties. I don't. Ask my college mates, attending beer-soaked college parties was never at the top of my fun list, and it still isn't. That is how our gatherings are here. Though obviously not a college party, a large group, lots of beer, people shouting, too many children running around and really bad music blairing as loud as the speakers can go is not my idea of a gathering. This type of party is our generic family celebration, and it works. People have a good time, everyone laughs, dances to the Macaraina (what?) and spills beer all over the floor. The problem is that it doesn't really work for me, and especially not on Christmas. The one thing that i am sublimely lucky for in this matter is that this style of celebration doesn't work for my husband either. We sit back and observe, removed from commotion sitting side by side on a rickety old bench under a knarled tree on the sidewalk thinking about a small cozy sitting room with a fireplace, classical Christmas music on the stereo, my family's annoying dogs pacing back and forth hoping for a crumb of a Christmas cookie, my dad drinking black coffee and my mom mixing together the one cocktail which will put her to sleep.

After eating we had a Secret Santa gift exchange between about 50 people. To be honest, it was slightly frightening. The whole lot were jammed into one rectangular room. The noise was indescribable. Children screaming just to make noise, jumping up and down; chaos spiked with fun. For most of the children, this is the only Christmas present this year. The only ones aside from myself who were frightened by the comotion were the younger children crying on their parents' shoulders. The excahnge took over an hour, with each person standing on a rickety wooden chair that only held-tight by the grace of god and yelling out the name of their Santa. My favorite exchanges were those with beer-in-hand. A few children lucked out with hot wheels, remote control cars and soccer balls, but a few recieved the dreaded clothing. The highlight of it all was seeing how happy the kids were; for people who don't know anything different, their tradition is everything to them.

So what's with all the cookies? There are no Christmas cookies in Brazil. I mean, there really aren't any cookies in Brazil any time of the year. So as an American, I thought it would be novel to introduce the children to the Christmas cookie. I spread it out over three days; hand cutting gingerbread men, baking the most American treats possible--brownies, chocolate chip cookies, ginger snaps, snowcaps, chocolate covered shortbread, peppermint pinwheels and jam thumbprints. Making Christmas cookies was, without a doubt, the most Christmassy event this year. H even helped out on the last day, he stirred the brownies and balled the cookie dough. The cookies were received with awe. That is, the gingerbread men were referred to as biscoitos de Shrek; Shrek biscuits. Aiai, Christmas. I have never made so many cookies at the same time before, 300+ was quite a cookie triumph. Particularly in 90 degrees. My cookie buffet has already been requested for a Christmas party next year. Go me.

So this is my Brazilian Christmas. Nothing like a Christmas i know. Today is actually the 25th, the actual day of Christmas. H and I are eating pizza, watching some old 1960's film and drinking caipirinhas. So i was right all along to not try and recreate Christmas. It's just a day after all. No decorations, no presents, the most non-commercial holiday season i have ever had. Yeah it makes me homesick for the US and my family, but i still wouldn't change my choice to live in Brazil. Brazilian Christmas sucks. But, i get a three day weekend with my husband, sun and a trip to the beach in a few days. This "holiday" season did not consist of shopping trips to the mall or decorating the house, but i finally learned how to drive and finalized my green card status. Life is different, but that's ok. I can still make cookies.

a bientot

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grape Schiacciata. Well, Sorta.

Expat Down Days

Before any Italians or Italian food lovers scream hey, that's not grape schiacciata! let me assure you that i know. It's a first cousin of the bread and is gluten free, made with a hell of a lot less dough, is actually a "flat" bread, and has a bit of parmesan cheese sprinkled on. It's my interpretation of the classic baked good that i had never even heard of until last night while sitting in my bed reading my Mario Batali Italian Grill book, one of the few cookbooks that made it to Brazil with me, while annoyingly having to listen to Bon Jovi from the other room. Yeash do i live with a 45 year old woman? Our editor has strange taste (ainda te amo). This recipe came to me in a frightening dream that consisted of Jon Bon Jovi dancing through a vineyard with lambs singing it's my life and i did it my way! and so i woke up and made grape flatbread my way. So if you want a classic recipe for grape schiacciata, hit up Mr. Batali for the recipe.

The schiacciata came with a purpose, and thankfully was not accompanied by sleaveless leather.
shiver. The purpose was to aleviate an expat down day. So what's an expat down day? All of the expats that i know, or at least know through their writing, have these days and there is no real equation for predicting when they will happen or for what reason. They simply do. An expat down day is when suddenly out of the blue you feel completely lost, moronic, slow, cowardly, without a plan, without hope, and all you really want to do is sleep or take the cachaça bottle out of the freezer. I've read accounts of other expats in Brazil suggesting how they cope with the sudden burst of melancholy that can last anywhere from one to three days, and many suggest sleeping until 1pm, drinking a bottle of wine, baking cookies, watching seven straight hours of your favorite tv show (anything from Gray's Anatomy to Sex and the City or Doctor Who, yes expats are wierd) but my favorite was the "take yourself out on a date" suggestion by Lindsay of Adventures of a Gringa in Brazil. If going to the cinema didn't cost so damn much here i would probably do that, you know, Harry Potter is coming soon and a certain somebody has only seen the first or third. Tsk tsk. Might have to go alone... Redirecting, for me the only thing that gets me out of the Down Day is to go for a run until i pass out, which worked yesterday, but today we needed something stronger, and that's when i heard Bon Jovi whispering in my head, make the flat bread, post a blog! You can do it! No i can't i replied to him. I want to sit on the couch and pout while watching Jamie Oliver and Oprah interviewing the cast of the Sound of Music. But then he threatened to sing, so i gave up and went into the kitchen.

For me, the Down Days usually don't last more than one to two days. The vast majority of time i am upbeat about life in Brazil, excited about the struggles i have to go through as a foreigner knowing that they are challenges that make life more rewarding. I am finally at a mediocre Portuguese level, i finally have-quite a few actually-friends here in Brazil, and i'm reminded everyday about how lucky i am compared to the majority of people living around me. So what do i have to complain about? That's the hard part, even if things look up, these days still come nonetheless. Luckily they have started to come less frequently. I belive it is because Americans are impatient. Nine months seems like an eon to me; i should be fluent, have the job i want, drive the car that i am still afraid to drive, do errands by myself, etc. But here, nine months are not an eon, and i have to remind myself that it takes us, expatriates, years to reach the life that we imagine ourselves from the moment the plane lands. Americans have this fear of failure issue; i must be great and i must be great exactly right now.

While i'm running or while i'm photographing, i remind myself that fast food is evil, and speading up a life is just the same. Things take time, everyone tells me that and i mean everyone, particularly the ones who have been living in Brazil for many years. Yet these down days drive what they say from my head with an anvil. I remind myself that for every one bad day there are always ninety-nine good days and that tomorrow will be one of them. I'm the lucky one to be living here, to have decided my own life rather than to have kept it in the box. I guess the best lesson to remind yourself of on the down days is the one from Tom Jobim; Brazil is not for beginners. This is the lesson that our editor reminds us of every time we have a tantrum over driver's license psychology exams and school busses. What it means is, take a breath, and drink a caipirinha.

And now we can talk about the bread...i never seem to be able to talk about simply one thing at a time. Last weekend i held Portuguese conversation two days straight, and even when i'm speaking in Portguese my mind wanders to a new subject abstractly. Out at dinner a friend asks, why are you all of a sudden talking about shoes? i blink, oh, i have no idea. I am no longer afraid to make mistakes, i actually like the mistakes. Calling a lawyer a pineapple to his face is one that will go in my book of oh look, remember when... The schiacciata, undoubtedly one of the most difficult things to pronounce, is made from my basic pizza dough that consisits of yeast, water, tapioca flour, rice flour, baking powder, olive oil, egg and salt. Traditional schiacciata consists of one layer of pizza dough covered in grapes and oil followed by another layer of pizza dough covered in grapes. So a pizza dough grape sandwich. My pizza dough is not chewy like wheat dough, it's not too crisp, but not bready. It's hard to describe, but either way it is much too dense to layer on top of itself. That would be quite a mouth full. So the first alteration is to use a single flat layer of pizza dough. On top of the dough goes a layer of olive oil followed by anise seeds followed by a small sprinkling of parmesan cheese to contrast the sweetness. I read many reports on traditional schiacciata being a very sweet bread, and not everyone's cup of tea. Salty sweet is in this season anyways. Bake 20 minutes on the pizza stone and delissimo!

my pizza dough (i used half this recipe for the schiacciata pictured here)
1.25 cups white rice flour
0.25 cups casava flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
0.5 cups warm water
1 packet yeast
1 large egg
1/8 cup olive oil.

1 - 2 tsp anise seeds
seedless grapes, halved
olive oil
parmesan cheese

method: dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the
yeast water, oil and egg. Combine well. Work the dough for about 5 minutes. Let rise for 20 minutes. Place on a pizza stone and sprinkle the top with rice flour. Using your hands or a roller, flatten the dough to your desired thickness.

Rub with olive oil. Sprinkle with anise seeds and seedless grape halves. Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.

I think expat down days are part of the package. Even though i hate them and they render me useless for a while, they have a certain quality for showing you the good things, especially when your soggy mood is put up with by your loved ones. I am complimented here in Brazil all the time for being upbeat, for being shiny and "simple," a word Brazilians love and Americans get offended by, but apparently simple a compliment as it means to be content and happy with the small things-that's a big step for an American! but in reality i have the days just as any other expat does, and i know i will continue to have them here and there. Luckily it passes and my teeth come back into view and the simpleness shines through. Can't help it. The truth is, i love Brazil.

a bientôt

Friday, November 5, 2010

Baby Cookies - Biscoitos de Bebê

oi bebê

I know it's been a while. Is there anybody still out there? The truth is, we just haven't been inspired to post anything, and who wants to read words and see photos that are uninspiring? That's what i thought. October came and went. Brazil elected a new president; a woman. How about that. Brazil is moving forward, the U.S. seems to be moving backward. I timed my exit fairly well eh? It is now officially hot, officially spring weather. Warm rain and lightning are guaranteed nearly every day. Months don't mean anything to me anymore, i look outside and the word November is the last thing that comes to mind. I am finally after nine months at an intermediate level of Portuguese, as in i can actually hold a conversation without staring at a wall. This is attribute to surprising rise of dinner parties. Yes. Now i am no master cook, and i know we always talk about baked sweet goods, but i am probably a more creative chef than i am baker. While in the US i may simply be an average cook, here i am a chef. I never make rice and beans since i am certain that my husband eats them everyday at lunch and i know that any family meal i attend on the weekend there will be plenty. So we stick to a more international menu. As such i have gotten myself into trouble since every time we invite people over or we are invited over, i am asked to make risotto. Yes, in someone's kitchen. I am the take home chef without the accent. Well, i suppose i do have an accent don't i. Either way, i have become an entertainer and i love the control. wait, what?

On most weekends we visit family members, which is particularly easy since they all live within five minutes walking distance. Either way, this is a big family. My mother in law has nine siblings, and five of them live in the same house that their father built each with their wives and children. In the same house. Crowded and uncomfortable? The truth is they are happy though, it's like have a bunch of live-in moms and dads and about twenty siblings rather than one or two. The amount of people ensures that there is a party even without inviting guests, all you need is meet on the grill and motorcycle-delivered beer. Despite their poverty, this family contains some of the most genuine people i know. They are happy with what they have, and they've accepted me since the first day i showed up with my blond hair and oh-look-at-me-im-american-isn't-that- great? Some of my favorite peeps to talk to are the children. They seem to understand my Portuguese better than the adults. I'm a favorite among the five to seven year old girls, why i am not sure, as well as all of the thirteen and fourteen year olds who take a few days of English in public school. Unfortunately the only lessons they want from me are swear words. please don't say these things in class, ok? The sad part is that their teacher probably wouldn't even understand if they did cus in class. Public schools have the worst of everything, primarily because the individuals who actually are qualified to give lessons in English or any other subject aren't up to the idea of living in abject poverty, which is what one earns on a public school teacher's salary. Think teachers in America have it bad? As seen in the last election, public education is one of the main things that keeps Brazil in the third world. I mean, there aren't even school buses for christ's sake. Who wants to put their six year old all alone on a public city bus to school? Brazil is coming far, but it still has a lot of work ahead of it.

Moving on to these cookies. Surprise! A baby! Not my baby, but yet another cousin who is most likely going to be the last cousin born because the oldest of the cousins are already starting to have their own babies. He is the sixth child of one of the uncle families and is joining three brothers and two sisters. Being the sixth child born generally isn't anything special in a family that has so many kids and babies that there still are a few who's names i don't know. But regardless of number, a sixth baby is as fun as a first baby. I have five siblings as well, and when the sixth baby was born in my family, it was just as exciting as the fifth and fourth. Can't really remember the others...So to welcome the new baby we made teeny tiny baby blue cookies as well as green turtles. Why? Mainly because royal icing sugar cookies don't exist in Brazil so they are "new" and "exciting," i prefer homemade gifts, and i am certain that when the baby comes the "party" will be the usual meat and beer. So cookies are absolutely necessary.

I am not a big cookie decorator, i never have been. As i piped each one of these i realized that the reason was most likely because you have to be an artist to decorate cookies. If you can't paint, if you can't draw, then you can't decorate cookies to look anything better than a gingerbread man. It is difficult, it's painting with a piping bag. So my advice to new cookie decorators is to start out very simple and use a #2 tip. My sister is an artist, and after making these i realized that she needs to make more decorated cookies. Hear that R? Cookie decorating isn't really baking, it's painting. One last tip; only use egg white royal icing otherwise you are wasting your time. I will not post a recipe as the web is exploding with far too many sugar cookie recipes, tutorials and royal icing recipes. So google away.

Life is starting to become more normal in Brazil, at most times i forget that i am even "somewhere else," this normaling out, we hope, is exactly what we need in order to rehydrate Salty. Until then,

a bientôt

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grape Juice and Wine

what and where to buy in Brazil

Brazil is not generally considered a country with a deep viticulture, at least not with all the sexy caipirinhas and golden sweet-water beers the land is so famous for. At least famous within the country for. But as for the continent, the wines of Argentina, Chile and even Uruguay have grown over the years in popularity among the world wine conoseurs, finding their place among those from France, Italy ann Nappa Valley. Living in South America, i have a much greater access to the wines of South America as 1) i am not distracted by the local Washington, Californian, Australian and French wines that were actually affordable to me while in the States and in France and 2) there is a much greater variety of them here to choose from. We are neighbors after all, and the import duty on South American wine appears to be lower than those from Europe and North America. So after eight months of having only (like it's a bad thing) wines from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, i don't find myself missing French wine, Washington wine, or Australian wine at all, and i've managed a list of quite a few goodies, and baddies, for wine lovers on a middle class budget, because that's what we drink on. As for Brazil itself, drinking wine in Brazil takes skill, stealth, lots of plugged noses and a plea to Bachus for your sanity. There are two things to remember when ordering drinks in Brazil: never order a single glass of wine anywhere, and never order a latte with a flavoring. Just don't do it.

In Brazil, there is a small pea shoot of a selection that can be considered wine, the rest is suco de uva, or grape juice. In much of Brazil, wine means juice that gives you a buzz. You go to the store and you have three options: vinho seco, vinho meio-seco, or vinho sauve. Alright so you got that seco means dry and meio-seco demi-sec, but the literal Greek translation of suave is possum vomit. It's true. It's actully a bottle of Welche's mixed with a cup of sugar, a bit of acid and some type of rubbing alcohol. To top it off, it's kept in the fridge. I'm not exactly sure how it's made. The suave wine is so sickly sweet it has to have been fortified with sugar. Good heavens, you're asking yourself, when did she become such a snob?

The truth is, we're not snobs, we just like wine. The Editor makes reference often to the fact that until i showed up on the doorstep, he didn't give a care for wine. It's considered a pretentious, snobby upperclass beverage. Out of my league, he explained to me. Good thing i changed the errors of his ways. We usually spend between 10 and 15 reais per bottle of wine. Before he was born again, he too was victim to the sticky sweet grape juice that averages between 3 and 10 reais a bottle and is available at most bars, gas stations and grocery stores. Not that great of a difference in price. That is because the problem is not due to the price, the problem is in the taste. For some reason the majority of Brazilians appear to prefer sweet wine. Even the more expensive varieties of suave are displayed first among the wine setups at grocery stores, and when ordering the driest wine you have while grabbing the waiters shirt in an iron fist at a restaurant, suave is likely to be the only choice available. They actually like it. For a case study example, say i purchase a merlot from Argentina and give my mother in law a taste. To me, merlot is already one of the sweetest or rather fruity red wines in reasonble meaning of the word "sweet", yet when she tastes it her face scrunches up and she wants to add sugar. All of this goes to say that the real wine market, meaning wine for the sake of wine and not for a cool sweet grape cocktail, has a relatively small public in Brazil. However, as more and more Brazilian vineyards put out quality affordable wines, the more the Brazilian taste buds change (hopefully).

The majority of Brazilian vineyards are located in the south of the country in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The Serra Gaucha, Campanha, Sao Joaquim, Serra do Sudeste and Vale do Rio do Peixe regions predomenantly grow Bordeaux varieties of grapes and produce a huge spectrum of wines both in quality and price. Ironically, the majority of the wine we buy casually due to both price and taste, come from northern Brazil in the wine region Vale do Sao Francisco. Controlled wine production is still young in Brazil compared to many of the big contenders in the wine industry who have been regulated for centuries, but like the rest of Brazil, it's getting there and at quite a remarkable speed. It may be difficult, and expensive, to find Brazilian wines outside of Brazil now, but in a few years take another look. Or, get a visa and buy a plane ticket.

While dining at a nice restaurant or at a steak house in Brazil, you can order good wines from Argentina and Chile by the bottle for extremely steep prices. Luckily, many quality grocery stores such as Pao de Acucar stock affordable wines, affordable meaning between ten and twenty five reais. If you find yourself lost in the wine aisle of a Brazilian supermarket, look for Argentina and Chile tags. Now, Salty Cod recommendations will not match those found at the fancy pants websites of true wine experts as there is no way i can afford to feed the habit in such a way. As such, our wine list is for the common man who doesn't mind completing a bottle in one night with a pizza and a movie. There are affordable good wines. When buying in Brazil, we recomend Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the labels Benjamin and Finca Flichman from Argentina, and Sunrise and Reservado from the Concha Y Toro valley in Chile. Brazilian labels worth looking into include Terranova and Adega do Vale from the northern Vale do Sao Fransisco wine region. If in the mood for celebrating and have a few extra bucks to throw in the bottle, look for Salton or Miolo.

So which vineyard did i go to for these shots? None. These vineyards are about fifteen minutes from my house. The Sao Paulo countryside is full of farms specializing in anything from sugar cane to potatoes to lettuce to mangoes, corn, and of course, grapes. Now to be honest, i would probably never buy a bottle of Indaiatuba wine, but i might buy a box of grape juice. It's amazing how less than two minutes outside of a small yet bustling city are sprawling rows of grapes. It's only the start of spring here so the grapes are only baby greens, but delicious looking none the less. Walking through the grape field reminded me of cutting grapes in the Loire Valley with that little terrier, those are the best kinds of deja vu.

Excuse our month long absense please, we're in the process of searching for a new direction here hopefully for the better. There's too much Brazil to report on to not.

a bientot

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ice Cream Sequilhos

and a word on the São Paulo Countryside

The first time i tried to make corn tortillas here i went to the grocery market and stood in the "flour" aisle staring at the mountain of packaged powders. Wheat flour sits on the bottom shelfs packaged in its dusty little paper sack. As your eyes move up the shelf the packaging becomes a little fancier. There are tapioca and corn flours in every form imaginable. Why are there so many names for the same thing? Literally dozens of different "types" based on the size of the grind and what it is generally used for. Ok, i thought, i need corn flour, so something with milho (corn). I see flakes, nope, polenta, nope, hey this has milho in the title--amido de milho, perfect! When i got home and added the hot water to the amido de milho, to make tortillas, to my horror the whole thing turned into a pot of sticky liquid. What? I looked at the bag, i rubbed the remaining powder in the bag between my fingers, well it feels like tapioca, and tapioca usually feels like--crap. corn starch. Reminds me of when i washed my clothes in fabric softener during my whole first week in France.

At least i know what corn starch is now. I have since learned that the corn flour closest to what i need for tortillas is called fuba. Why the hell is corn flour called fuba? I never thought about corn as a top Brasilian food, I always left that one to Mexico and the rest of Latin America. But the truth is, corn has a large spot in the Brasilian diet; it's everywhere! This week i made corn tortillas with salsa, then some roasted tomato polenta, corn on the cob and now of course our feature presentation: corn starch cookies known as sequilhos made into ice cream sandwiches with corn ice cream. I hope to round the corn week off with fried polenta at Grandpa's bar (actually the name of the bar) this friday with a few caipirinhas. hint...hint....

Sequilhos are one of my favorite cookies in Brasil, probably because they are one of the only commercially made gluten free cookies, but that's beside the point. These crunchy, powdery fall-apart cookies are a Brasilian tradition, every body knows em' and you can find them in just about any confectionery or bakery shop. Usually they are quite small, the size and shape of a quarter dollar, a small square, or bent horse shoe. They cost pennies and usually make the front of whatever you happen to be wearing snow white. This is why i love to eat them in the car. Though they are a litle more genuine when coming from a bakery, you can also find them commercially made in the candy/cookie aisle of any grocery store in a large biscuit bag. As they are made of corn starch, they fall apart the second they hit liquid. Particularly fun to dip in hot tea and have it fall all over your lap.

I meant to post about these a few weeks ago when i made them for the first time, but a few things got in the way. What i mean is, my motivation was stolen by Power Ranger Azul, and i also viewed them a bit dull to post about all on their own. Last sunday was my ticket to ride, but then the floors needed to be cleaned. Then Tuesday for Independence day, but it rained. Then i talked to my mom last night about being woe-full and ready to give up photography for something practical, but then she quickly snapped me from it. Then finally today ice cream came to mind. But, then where's the story?

(the cowboy boots above are a product of my bad neighbor-stalking habit. so no we are not hicks.)

A few weeks ago when our friends C & L came to stay the weekend, we went out for quite a few ice creams. En route our guests were fascinated and enchanted by the layout of the town. I've never heard so much praise about our little city before, and from an American at that! The primary astonishment was the fact that this was Brasil. Brasil is a gigantor of a country, and probably the most diverse in every aspect of life from state to state. C had never visited the São Paulo countryside before. She'd been to most of the capitals; Rio, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte as well as the extreme no-wheres in the interior of Mato Grosso state. Ergo the most and least metoropolitan in Brasil, but never the middle. This could almost be somewhere in the US she observed quite a few times. Cute streets, neighborhoods, planned city development, parks, public recreation areas, green spaces, first Brasilian city to be one hundred percent on treated sewers, clean and kept sidewalks, small businesses, beautiful residential areas, a relatively unfrightened and trusting public accompanied by large commercial and work centers in cities but a few minutes away. Their astonishment reminded me that most people, one year ago me included, haven't a clue that places like the São Paulo countryside cities exist. Well, they do. And though they have no beach, they are rated for having the highest quality of life standard of any region in Brazil. Go us.

We live in the city of Indaiatuba (meaning land of palm trees, or something like that). If there was no such thing as traffic, we can technically consider ourselves about 45 minutes north west of São Paulo city. To the north of Indaiatuba is a series of other small cities of the same caliber leading up to São Paulo's second largest city, Campinas. One thing about the countryside cities is that you can breath. The other thing is that there can be a Toyota factory next door to miles and miles of grazing cattle and farmland. The city is quiet, i hear my birds and neighbors talking in the streets all day with kids running around with kites and calling out games to each other. Though the city is bigger than the Seattle burb of Poulsbo where i grew up, it still manages to be a community where you run into people you know all the time. At the park, the grocery store, post office--yes Mr. Rogers was here too.

Aside from Indaiatuba, my favorite cities include the neighboring Valinhos and Vinhedo with their beautiful residential areas, and to my Editor's great surprise, Itupeva, an upstart city that still seems to be covered by quite a bit of vegetation (ok this is really countryside) yet is as beautiful as any fairytale story book with a dumpy little downtown. Valinhos also happens to be the nation's fig capital, and apparently there is a fig festival every year. We will definitely be dragging the fig-hating Editor to that one. When we took C & L to the airport (to São Paulo city), we drove through the Itupeva country side. Vineyards, grazing sheep, rock valleys, orange tree groves, old men on bicycles, chickens running about, large mansions, small huts, winding roadways flanked by bright colorful vegetation--all this with the setting sun. If she wasn't on her way to Canada i'm sure she would have moved in right then. Seeing other people's reactions to this place makes me extremely grateful to live here, the unknown part of Brasil, one of the many many other unknown parts of Brasil. When you get here, Brasil will surprise you. I promise.

And so the ice cream. There are a lot of great ice cream shops here in Brasil with classic flavors you may like and a few more that you may be afraid of. One of my favorite flavors in Brasil is corn. There's that corn again. Corn is treated as a sweet quite frequently in Brasil; corn juice, corn cakes and cookies- and of course ice cream. Though odd to American taste buds (yeah i tried making it for my family, was not a very big hit) it is a popular flavor in most of South America, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands. You can find it anywhere; in the super market, ice cream shops, corn shops (for serious) and it is very rewarding to make on your own. However, i still prefer my very first taste of corn ice cream in Brasil: at the highway-side stop off known as the Corn Castle. Soft-serve in a cup prepared for you by under enthusiastic teenage women who can't believe they work in a place called the Corn Castle. It is the only road-side stop worth getting off the highway for. There is even a corn playground for the kids! The flavor grows on you, and after a while it seems more refreshing than most flavors.

This recipe for sequilhos is slightly different than traditional recipes--i needed them to be a little softer and cake-like so that they can be bit into double layered and not squeeze ice cream everywhere. So this recipe has an added 1/4 cup of medium grind corn meal to soften the cake. Leave out the corn meal if you want it crisper. These are also about 5X the size of usual sequilhos, a cookie is a cookie right? Roll them into small balls about the size of a grape for traditional sequilhos.

Ingredients: 400 g corn starch, 1/4 cup corn meal (fuba), 1/2 can of condensed milk, 1 tbsp melted butter, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 beaten eggs, 2 tbsp sugar.

Method: 1) mix together the starch, corn meal, sugar and baking powder. 2) Add the condensed milk, eggs and butter. 3) Mix until combined. You will have to use your hands as it is thick. If you want to flavor the sequilhos, add extracts, shredded coconut or even fruit puree. 4) roll small ball and press flat with a fork. 5) bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you want to make corn ice cream, i have posted the recipe already here at Salty, please go here for it.

So a sunny day in the almost-summer of the São Paulo countryside; on tuesday it rained for the first time in three months and washed the sky clear. Never before had i ever wanted it to rain so badly. Today is quite warm, making shooting ice cream extremely difficult as i enjoy using my new 8gb memory card to its fullest, however, melted puddles are not attractive. September is so different on the bottom half of the globe. But i miss the leaves and the Fall. But summer time birds and pink flowered trees, well it's a good substitute. Until then,

a bientôt

oh and ps. hi Sierra and yes i will make you these cookies next year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pumpkin Cakes for Robin Hood

house guests and apparently quite a few photos of eggs

It's been a while that we've been away (from Salty), and trust me we apologize. No excuse making today though because quite honestly i'm not sure where the inspiration or drive went these past three weeks; out the window, down the hill and into the river. There were a few things planned, and a few kitchen failures that weren't planned. Lots of undesirable work to do, and a cold to get over. I didn't even know you could get a cold in Brazil. Lucky for us, however, the winter season is just about up, a few more weeks and it's officially spring. September bringing spring; for me September always brought fall, brought school, brought leaves and cooling weather. Now September is time for the beach! The sun is out and the trees at the park are starting to sport some beautiful but albeit bizarre fruits. This change in temperature is bringing with it a change in my mood, now i feel like i'm in Brazil again.

Exciting news folks; we've been living in our house for five whole months and we are officially having our first houseguests; refugees! No not really, but they very well soon could be. The internet, blog, social networks and all that yada have brought me more friends and people i care about than i can count. Our guests this weekend we haven't actually ever met, though maybe we have depending on the definition of "meeting someone". I met Corin (i use her name because it's plastered all over her blog) by stumbling across her Brazil blog in the city of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais--about an 8 hour drive from where i am. I love coming across other expats in Brazil, and the majority of men and women i find usually are here for the same reason as i am--married a Brazilian. However, Corin's story is quite a bit different from mine, she and her Brazilian husband are here in Brazil as exiles from the United States. Exiles? Corin is an American, Smith graduate, has lived in France, is a Fulbright Scholar with acceptance into UBC's PhD program, and she is exiled. Like Robin Hood? Sounds romantic and exciting. She technically is not the one who is exiled, her Brazilian husband who entered the United States without proper papers and remained for a significant period of time is the one exiled...for ten years. Just short of being arrested, Corin and her husband luckily escaped to Brazil where she has been building their escape pod--to Canada!

Immigration is an extremely ill-understood topic in the United States; most people know that it is an issue and that the Mexicans must be stopped before they take over the country with Latin music, Spanish speaking little girl explorers with pet monkeys, and force everyone to start eating tacos (woops, too late), but very few (very few) know anything about what immigrants have to go through to get into the land of liberty and what consequences are placed upon those that toy with the rules. Marriage to an U.S. citizen has always been the classic "Get Out of Jail" card in the immigration game, marry and get a green card, easy. Unfortunately it's not so easy. Being married to an American is only a means to getting a green card and not a green card in itself. Many immigrants who entered the country unofficially live normal lives, and from that make normal relationships. When you marry you except that to help legal status, sadly wrong again. Illegal immigrants have no rights. If caught, an illegal immigrant is deported regardless of who they are married to, whether or not they have a home, children, a yard with a white fence and a golden retriever. So what do the families of those forced to leave do? Well, they either follow or face the impossible life of staying in the U.S. alone. For this reason there are hundreds of American citizens living abroad in the world with their outlawed family members, and Corin is one of them.

I chose to move to Brazil. I keep that little cookie in my head at all times when i am flustered, screaming about injustices, angry at grocery markets, postal workers, the weather, the family everything. When youre an immigrant even the smallest things that shouldn't bother do; and my best way out of a tear-filled rant is to remember that i made this my reality because i want it. I am very much a we-make o-our-own-choice Sartre kind a person, so it's difficult to think about American exiles having to go through the same things that i am only they don't have that nugget of comfort knowing that they made the choice and planned their fate.
Many people call me brave for moving to Brazil, but exiles are yet braver. I don't now how they do it, and there are many of them. Mostly in Central and South America; Brazil, Peru, Mexico--their stories are generally unheard, however, i believe that if more Americans knew what was going on with the state of their immigration problems, they would call a little more adamantly for reform. The U.S. has that edge that many countries don't, when the people are all behind it and call for change, usually change comes. This is pretty much absent in Brazil where silence and acceptance is the cultural norm, but we'll save that for another day.

The Reason Robin Hood and Little John are visiting us for the weekend is that they are technically homeless at the moment waiting on visas (one student and one dependent of a student) from the Canadian consulate for their Sunday flight (three days from the time that i am writing this) to Vancouver. That's 1.5 days to try and get visas that have been pending for three months to issue. They bought their plane tickets and applied for visas three months ago upon recieving word that Corin was accepted into the University of British Columbia's PhD program. They packed up their appartment, sold their appliances and are flying to São Paulo three days before their flight in hope that they can secure a visa from the Canucks with pouty eyes and pretty pleases. Ballsy? Sounds like Robin Hood to me. If there is no visa, there is no flight.

When i asked her about a week ago where she would be staying in São Paulo, the answer was "I dunno yet." Again with the rogue adventurer bit. So obviously the only place then for them to stay was with us, in the country side with a full size oven. With a plan so far down to the wire it's almost underground; we have no idea how it is going to play out. Realistically all H and I can do to help is act as taxi, hotel and make as many wonderful gluten free foods and sweets (she's gluten free, imagine that, finally someone to enjoy my pizza dough of perfection) as possible. If the plan doesn't work and the Sherriff of Nottingham denies--then we'll be housing refugees. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.

So, i made cakes for car snacks. Pumpkin cakes to celebrate the last week of winter. Technically i suppose these are buttercup squash muffins, however, Brazilians simply call them pumpkins. Very sweet, tiny seeds, and gluten free.

Ingrdients: 1/2 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour (not starch), 1 tsp baking powder, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup oil, 1/2 sugar, 1/4 cup honey, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 cups mashed pumpkin or squash.

Method:Boil pumpkin chunks in water until soft. Drain and mash. Cream together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add flours, baking powder, and stir. Mix in the mashed pumpkin. Divide into 12 cupcake tins and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. (you can roast the seeds inside the pumpkin and sprinkle them on top before baking).

Dealing with visas, consulates, paperwork and anything that has to do with immigration is frustrating, frightening and nerve wracking even for those who follow the book and have nothing to worry about. For those who very likely could face rejection or added complications, the stress is worsened ten fold. What is most frustrating about it all is that we did this to ourselves as humans. Immigration doesn't have to be like this. This planet is so very small, how can we expect everyone to be satisfied within borders and lines? Should humans be treated as criminals along the same lines as murders, rapists, thieves and abusers simply for moving their geographical coordinant from one spot on this planet to another?

The main argument against illegal immigration is "why can't they just do it legally and get a visa?" the reason is that they can't do it legally. U.S. imigration is a severely costly endeavor designed that way so as to keep as many as possible out. Legal immigration visas, green card and the works averages from almost $2,000-$3,000 US. Apparently i can't even afford to immigrate to my own country! Those who enter illegally risk a lot, however, for many there is no other choice. For now, all i can do is write about it right? Education is the first step, as always. But i want America to get angry, or better yet the world. The world is getting smaller and smaller yet every nation is trying harder and harder to keep people out.

In spite of it all, we are determined to have a great weekend with pizzas, quiche, wine and happy hours. After all, if everything goes as planned, this is their last weekend in Brazil!

If you are interested in reading and following up on Corin's full story, visit her blog, Corin in Exile.

a bientôt

Monday, August 2, 2010

A São Paulo Dinner Party

rice flour chocolate cheese tarts with gooseberreis

So like most normal people, i try to have a social life here in Brazil aside from the daily conversation i have with my three sunflowers that have managed to grow, my facebook and the tweeter. I'm sure a psychologist would try to tell me that electronic friends are not real eh? Well, in self-placed solitude they are. The social life; so in six months i have actually managed to make my own friends here, all of whom i came in contact with through this blog. Cod fish really are social buterflies. Salty is how R, my wonderful Brasilian friend, found me by reading through my earlier posts on gringo "transition". It's interesting to hear how people stumble upon Salty, whether looking for recipes, travel descriptions, recipes for salt cod (there aren't any), or in R's case, the expat thing as she is married to an Irish gringo. After a bit of chat, we realized that we all had a lot in common aside from the fact that they live in São Paulo city (one hour away); we've been through all of the same garbage concerning the immigration (ok, marriage) trauma in Brazil, we despise the Brazilian style of "wine" that the masses prefer (cold sweet grape juice crap), we're travelers, love dessert, and can all speak English. Wow, best friends right! Though i know i need "social portuguese", my language level is not yet at that of a cocktail party, so it is a gift above any to feel normal for even just one evening every now and then. I'm determined to make it so that eventually we all drop the English during a gathering, just not yet. Friends through the blog; score one more point for Salty.

As humble youngsters living in an expensive country (you didn't think Brazil was expensive?) we decided that the last get together we had at a charming, yet overpriced French restaurant need not be repeated yet. Brazilian restaurants are very expensive, however, as is the case in most areas, cooking at home is not. Now, R doesn't cook (J is the chef of the casa), therefore to remedy the apprehensive situation, we did an in-kitchen cooking lesson on the easiest dish of them all--risotto. Brazilians love risotto, it's on the menu at nearly every medium to upscale restaurant for murderous prices. People are willing to pay top dollar for it because they have it in their brain that they can't make the same thing. eeeeh wrong. Yes i cook, and quite often, surprised? Will Salty turn into a cookery as well? who knows. But risotto is something i do extremely well. Not to be conceited, but i will say it is a Salty specialty. Digressing, whether the lesson stuck (next lesson will be about simple red sauce) or not, that was the largest pot of risotto i have ever made. I'm starting to think that i really love to "teach" or rather go in somewhere and cook for someone, whether it's for my own ego or not (no i don't want to be the next Curtis Stone) but i'm really starting to feel that Brazil needs me, whether they know it yet or not. Now to the point of this post here, chocolate cheese tarts with gooseberries.

All food bloggers out there know that when there is an event there is a post. For the non-professionals who don't have unlimited budjets and time to spend on making posts (idea, baking, photographing, editing, writing, and more editing) blogging becomes somewhat of a rare treat that neads an excuse in order to occur. I have no less passion that i did before, the only thing that is less is time and money. So when there is a reason to make something special, bingo.

I was at the grocery market purchasing a few packaged things to send in the mail to a gal in Minnesota for the Transplanted Baker's farmers market exchange (note: if you live in a country that is not the United States, don't sign up for events that require shipping food out of the country because the majority of participants will be in the U.S. and not need 3 weeks to a month for ground shipping. The customs officials already hate me, and now i'm trying to weezle them again. verse.) and i spotted, tucked off in the corner, some little golden leaves. Wait a minute, i thought, i ripped the plastic cover off of a carton, gooseberries (note: these are a different variety than their darker north american cousin). Now wait, in a country without a single raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, or blueberry (actually just spotted a few from Argentina, YES blueberries grow in Argentina), there are imported (cape) gooseberries for sale? Touché Brazil. The carton noted that they were grown in Colombia, so there we go. Colombian fuzzy gooseberries. So start importing raspberries from the north why don't you, please! A week later when thinking about desserts i could only think about the gooseberries; finally someting other than banana and guava! Who ever thought i would complain about tropical fruit. (note: the only reason i pine after berries is because i love and miss them, there are thousands of wonderful fruits in Brazil, but when you're away from everything you know, well, you want berries! Particularly the berries that used to grow in your backyard.) The plan was New York style cheese cake with the berries, the problem was lack of sour cream in this country, and to be honest, no real equivalent (it's just how it is, same thing in France and many many other places). So as to Brazilianize it, we replaced the sugar and sour cream with condensed milk, which happens to be what Martha Stewart also does in her no-bake cheesecake recipe. But that's the rule; all you have to do is put condensed milk in it and you've made it Brazilianized.

Let's see if you're like me; when i hear the word gooseberry i think of Snow White making gooseberry pies for Grumpy. You follow? They are very tart, but very distinct looking. Distinct looking is all we care about right? Right. Leaving the leaves on serves absolutely no purpose other than presentation, in my opinion, their little chapeau is quite cute. The tart crusts are made of rice flour and polvilho, which is a soft tapioca flour. The cheesecake is simply cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice. That's it; a simple, refreshing winter dessert made in miniatures and one large tart (6 small and 1 8-inch round). The thin tart layer of cheesecake was much more palatable than the thick 2-3 inch layers of traditional cheesecake, especially as it was more creamy and less stiff due to the condensed milk. All consumed by five people: yes.

Tart Shells (gluten free)
Ingredients: 1 cup rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/4 cup cooking oil or 1 stick butter (i actually used olive oil), 3 egg yolks, pinch of salt.

Method: beat powdered sugar and the butter or oil, add the yolk. Add the flours, cocoa powder and salt. Stir until combined (if not using kitchenaide mixer you will need to use your hands). Roll the dough tightly into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour before pressing into your tart shells. Base at about 350F for 15-20 minutes.

Ingredients: 8oz sour cream, 1/2 can of condensed milk, 2 tbsp lemon juice, jelly or mashed gooseberries.

Method: beath the cream cheese until fluffy, add the lemon juice and condensed milk. Set aside. Spread the mashed gooseberries intot he bottom of each tart shell and pour the cheesecake mixutre over the top. Refrigerate for about two hours before serving.

When i get to this part i feel like it's the recap closing sequence; i can see Tony Bourdain ending an episode of No Reservations; looking off into the distance, saying how while the food was great, it as the people who made the experience for him, a few more sentimental life shattering comments, and then the camera bleeds out of focus and we're left to ponder the heartfelt comments. Erm, well maybe he is right. Do not undervalue your friends, because when you start again from zero, you'll remember how important they really are in a human life.

Moving on from sentimental, i really do love simply going to São Paulo. Every time we go, it's a new route and a new city. As one of the largest and most complicated city in the world, strangely enough we don't even have a road map for it. H has never printed out a map for any location, as he was born in the city he believes there to be a São Paulo gps planted in his brain at the hospital. No matter where, the weather, how late or what part of the city, we always eventually get to where we are going, somehow. Some people have it, some people don't; i still get lost in the town i grew up in. Depressing. But despite the reputation, São Paulo really isn't a terrible place for those who are lucky enough to enjoy it for what it is. While it has unending problems, areas of squalor, a smelly river, crime and misery, like Rio it has its character, and is fastly improving. Just in these past few weeks motorcycles are now prohibeted on the express lanes! One small step for man...

Obrigada R&J pela sua hospitalidade!

a bientôt