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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fin d'Avril - Final de Abril

April is supposedly the equivalent to the northern September, it's the autumnal month that brings in the winter months of May, June and July. I suppose it has been a bit chilly, sometimes getting as low as sixty degrees. Evenings and the early morning are the only ones who suffer, or how you look at it- benefit. It's almost May, almost one year since i first set foot in Brazil. How can so many things happen in just one year. One year ago to this day, i was just ten days shy of a college graduation, working as a photographer and writer for a magazine, and planning an utterly insane voyage to a country i (bear with me) had no business being in. One year later, as i sit here typing to you, it seems like a lifetime has elapsed. One year without school, without professors, without exams, one year of paying bills and loans (merde), one year of writing (and crying) freelance, a stage in a bakery, a hundred ferry boat rides, a series of months thrown in that seemed to have no purpose whatsoever aside from their role of ticking down, a decision that did not need to be decided, a move, a wedding, a visa, a new home, a new life - and here we are. Ready to discuss dried peppers and gluten free muffins. How is this life? Who said it would be like this? Somehow Salty did.

As we live alone without any mothers to feed us, i cook. I didn't know i could cook. Well, anyone can cook, but i didn't know i would be as excited by it as with baking. Uh oh. There's something about just making flavors work, and somehow knowing that they will. As much as i am fond of Brazilian food, i can't handle eating the same thing as nauseum. I need Mexican, Asian, Indian, French and even some American. Bingo. I can't tell you how much i am intrigued by Indian foods, particularly curry. Simple food made amazing simply by the intricate combination of spice. I know i sound a bit like prosaic Tony here. My kitchen is the international kitchen, as i am a foreigner myself, i feel at home with any and all other tings that are also out of place. The only problem is finding the ingredients i was so well pampered with at my fancy-pants international has-everything market in Seattle.

Enter chilies. I am a spice wimp, but yet i love the taste of chilies. Brazilians, for the most part, do not eat spices. At the grocery store i sought out red chilies, hmm, a pack of 30. Guess not too many people are in need of a chili here or there. So with 30 scalding hot chilies to my name, i did what any good preserver would do; i dried them. Feeling like the California raisin girl (minus the bonnet) i slit them in two and lined up their plump bodies on the balcony. In two days they were shriveled snakes barely reminiscent of their former self. Now the idea of drying things out in the sun makes you wonder about those who choose not to wear sunscreen...Either way, when people hear about my chili antics, eyebrows are raised: hmmm mexican....

Moving on to yet another topic, i have been making muffins quite frequently in an attempt to make a proper pizza dough. The muffins are now a success while the pizza dough is still a large cracker. Maybe it doesn't help that i have no bowls, trays or stones....frying pans and rice pots for everything. The muffins, as light, fluffy and airy as they are, are gluten free and made without any added binding agent. No xanthan gum, no gelatin, nada. Equal parts (1/2 cup each) of 3 alternative flours, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 eggs, a dash of milk, cinnamon, ginger, sugar, butter, pureed mango (or whatever you have on hand right) and all the other yada that goes into muffin making. It's quite surprising but in Brazil rice flour costs less than wheat flour, and there are more kinds of tapioca (manioc) flour than one could ever think possible. There are many recipes that rely on tapioca and corn flour alone, and never does there seem to be any rising or binding problems, and these recipes have been used for, well, for a long time. Makes you wonder why when you see some gluten free recipes out there you see an ingredient list of a length that surpasses even the most complex of curries. I think the moral is that we always make things harder than they actually are.

Gluten Free Cinnamon Ginger Muffins
Ingredients: 1/2 cup each of any three gluten free flours, 1/4 butter or oil, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, grated ginger to your taste.

Method: mix dry ingredients together and add wets (all in the same bowl, no need to mix wets before adding). Fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full, and bake at ~350 F (my oven is in C now) for about 10-15 minutes or until they are done (dry in the middle).

I'm still playing in my kitchen, still playing with my life. Learning what i can do, and what i have to work harder to be able to do. Looks like i will have to grown my own herbs and wash all the dishes by hand. Hang the laundry up to dry and tweak the the original road i had planned. That seems to occur on a yearly basis. But we're still headed for the same goal, whatever that may be. Brazilian autumn is a beautiful time of year, and in the country side, one can say that it is dangerously close to perfect.

a bientot

upcoming: not sure yet

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paraty - RJ

the gold stops here

Thinking about going to Rio de Janiero? Why not try for something a little smaller, a little cozier, and a little more colonial. The coastal city of Paraty (par-ah-chee) is about a three hour drive from Rio and is thus easily accessed by bus, taxi or van from the airport. Paraty rests on a natural bay on Brazil's Costa Verde (green coast). The bay is protected from waves surrounded by coastal mountains, and spotted with so many small islands that one feels planted in the middle of a Pirates of the Caribbean scene. The waters and sands of Paraty are not the typical images of sprawling sands covered with sun bathing bodies. The beaches are shallower, dotted with shade trees, and offer more than an arm's length of personal space between you and the sun-bathing Brazilian next to you. But more than the beach, more than the private jungle swimming with pool-side monkeys, more than the five-hour boat cruise through the bay with quick blue-water dips, is the fact that Paraty is an historically preserved colonial town complete with original cobble stone streets, Portuguese tiled and painted buildings, and an overall feeling in the air whispering that you have been transported back in time, and if you just look over your shoulder, there will be a majestic caravel sailing off the port with its bounty of Brazilian gold. How romantic. Just keep the murderous pirates out of your fantasy.

Paraty was "founded" by the Portuguese in 1667. The original inhabitants were the GuaianĂ¡s Indians, but the Portuguese felt their need for a gold port was slightly more relevant than a complete way of life. However, in well-known Portuguese courtesy, the original name of the region was kept. Paraty, which in the Tupi language means "river of fish", became the destination exit port for gold mined in Minas Gerais (view story on Ouro Preto). Today, Paraty is an historically preserved heritage site with a down town reserved only for pedestrians willing to navigate the uneven hand-size cobble stone alleys puddled with sea water and the occasional crawling crab.

We arrived in Paraty at night, after a six hour drive (four hours under good conditions) from Sao Paulo through the foggy Serra do Mar, the coastal mountains that separate the sea level from the upper plains, and the never-ending stretch of coastal high way through machine-gun rain. With nerves wrecked (Brazilian rain can kill, and it often does), we entered the town through stone gates. Priceless. The rain trickled off as we made it through the city center toward "pousada avenue" as it appeared. There is no lack of lodging in this vacationer's destination. Of the some one hundred pousadas, the Brazilian equivalent to the bed & breakfast, out destination was Eliconial Pousada & Spa (website); a paradise inside of paradise already. A private pool surrounded by palm trees and tropical vegetation and visiting monkeys. Each room is fashioned as a miniature suite complete with kitchen and private bathroom. The private secluded atmosphere is undoubtedly one of the strongest features of the place, as are the welcoming staff typically Brazilian breakfast served each morning. Eliconial, and the majority of other pousadas in Paraty, are within walking distance (about 3 minutes) of the beach and of the downtown (about 20 minutes).
The best way to explore Paraty and it's breathtaking bay are to first simply stroll through the historic down town on your way to the port, and then jump on one of the many boats ready and waiting to take you on a cruise through the bay's many coves and miniature islands. A boat ride through the bay is undoubtedly the number one must-do in Paraty. The rides are extremely affordable, between 20 and 4o reais per person for a four to five hour cruise. Mine, however, was free as i was on my honeymoon. Remember that tid bit. The dock is packed with an immeasurable number of schooners (escunas) and their crew calling-out for customers. Choose whichever appeals most to you, however, i recommend "The Name of the Rose," (O Nome da Rosa) a comfortable and friendly schooner whose crew lead you on a five-hour tour to numerous islands and inlets, anchoring for blue-water swimming dips straight off the boat and a snorkeling dive to view any willing sea life. Many of the locations visited are only possible via boat, so don't miss out. My husband and i both agree that lounging on the deck of boat while sailing through the warm blue-green waters was the biggest highlight of the trip.

As far as food goes, Rio de Janeiro does not have as distinct a regional food as say Mineira cuisine (from Minas Gerais). However, when in Paraty, take advantage of the fresh seafood. If the area is crowded by pousadas, it is overrun by restaurants. Aside from tourism and art shops, the down town hosts no less than three restaurants on every street. The atmosphere is not unlike the nightlife in Paris' Latin Quarter, complete with a variety of gelato (sorveteria) shops to make the cobble stone walk after dinner a little sweeter.

Visit the churches, view some local art, read up on some of the town's history, buy a t-shirt--but when you're ready to relax, grab a towel and a coconut water, and plant yourself under a palm on the beach and just enjoy the beauty around you. I could not have wished for anywhere better for my honeymoon. History, beach, privacy- paradise on earth.

A bientot

upcoming: my new kitchen