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.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just a Few Days in Rio

The Cidade Maravilhosa

We flew into Santos Dumont airport at about 9pm on a Thursday night, less than 1 hour after leaving Campinas, SP. There's an extreme thrill to landing on a tarmack that appears to be floating in the harbor; the vision is plane surfing at top speed. What a wonderful first impression of the cidade maravilhosa. My thoughts returned to that moment three days later as we made our way via bus to the international airport, Galeão, to catch our flight back to São Paulo. If i had flown into Galeão rather than Santos, i would not have thought of the cidade maravilhosa at first impression, but rather of the cidade de deus. Who planned that one? Scenic view for the domestic flights, but a fast-dash tour above the slums on the speed way for the international visitors? Slightly humerous. Either way, my lasting impression is that Rio is in fact, the cidade maravilhosa. While our overcast stay lasted only a few days and was limited mostly to where our feet would take us, the taste was sweet, and has made a certainty of the fact that it will definately not be our last adventure in Rio.

When we decided to take a mini-trip to Rio to visit our friend M in Copacabana, one thing i knew i would be thinking about was the bad safety reputation made all the more worse by the 2016 Olympics and accusative press. So, according to many, Rio is not a safe place for the Olympics. Slums, gangs, drug trafficers, thieves. Ah man ah man. But you know, you probably won't believe it, but there are two Rios. There is the third-world Rio rife with crime that you see in films such as City of God, in video games where you shoot drug traffickers in the run down slums, and on the news when police helicopters are shot down. This Rio of suffering is unfortunately real. But there is also the upscale Rio where one can walk the streets in a bikini on the way to the beach, drink coconut water while lying in the sun, dine at upscale restaurants, take in an opera, shop through the finery, and jog along the shore. This Rio of fancy is also real. Two extremes tucked in right next to each other. As tourists, which we were, we were well contained in the later of the two cities. Was there danger? Maybe. Was i walking in the streets afraid of being shot? Not exactly. Imagine being inside of a sims video game, in a photoshoped city on your desktop, or in a lego land pink palm tree toy set. Rio is the Rio of the glamour movie unless you leave it for a reality check. Walking on the beach is, well surreal. So are the Olympics going to be hell on earth for the visiting world population? No, it is not. Rio is only hell for those who are sadly and unjustly born into it. But how can two cities, two worlds exist in the same place? I don't know. That's Rio.

So what did we manage to do in three days. Well, as we were visiting our friend, the first night was catch up talk and dinner in her 1960's apartment two blocks up from the beach in Copacabana. When i say Copacabana, i'm talking about a district. Rio is split into many district of which famous beachs that lie within also happen to maintain the same name. The whole city is first split up into zones; the historic center (downtown), the South Zone, North Zone, and West Zone. Within the zones are districts, such as Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo, Leblon, Ipanema--yeah you've heard of all these famous beaches, but they are named after the districts they're in. There are dozens, probably even hundreds more districts in Rio that i am unaware of. But one that i did spend a great deal of time in was the Jardim Botânico, home of the--you guessed it--botanical gardens of Rio.

As i knew we would only have a few short days in Rio, my mind was made up that i didn't want to do anything except for sit on the beach and do maybe one or two of the you must do this in Rio tourist activities. But M had a few things planned for us. The Jardim Botânico was one of them, which we managed to get to on foot from Copacabana. After walking along the shore through Ipanema and Leblon, and the 7 kilometer -around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (a lake), i was just about ready to pull the why couldn't we just go to the beach line, until we rounded the corner and the massive avenue of imperial palm trees came into view. damn. The botanical garden of Rio is truly a lush oasis in the middle of the city. The gardens were established during the first years of the nineteenth century (that is, while Brazil was still under Portuguese rule) as a local for growing foreign spices and exotic plants. The garden is filled with regional, national and international flora from all over the world. In a way, it is a condensed showcase of what is natural and what has come to be natural in Brazil due to importation. The imperial palm trees are the most regal aspects of the park, yet they are not native to Brazil, they were brought straigt from Central America. The jaca tree that produces jaca fruit (also known as jack fruit) runs rampant through the gardens (and much of Brazil for that matter) but was originally brought from Asia by the Portuguese. Aside from being a tranquil rest from the city, the gardens are a living lecture on natural history.

After the gardens, from which you could see the Christ way up on his little hill (Corcovado is the name of the mountain) we decided to find the way up. First step naturally was finding ice cream, and the second finding a bus. We took a city bus all the way to the bottom of Corcovado from which we were herded into the Jesus van by an overenthusiastic sales man. You speaky English my amigo americano, the man said to my husband who since arriving was mistaken as an American at every chance possible. Grrr. how much is it? he asked the man in Portuguese. You speaky a Portuguese? I thoughta you were grigo! He said in astonishment. Poor H, he is no longer Brazilian because of me. The next day i forced him to wear his São Paulo jersey to look more Brasileiro, but that only brought cat calls from Flamengo and Botafogo supporters. Ah Rio. After the bumpy van ride up the mountain, we were deposited at the ticket booth where you wait in yet another line to take yet another bus up to the top where you then go up an elevator and then an escalator. Jesus Christ (literally) it takes quite an effort to get up to see Christ the Redeemer, an icon recognized the world over. The view is unpayable, no where else in Rio can you get a view of the entire city, Atlantic, and all the neighboring hills. Just remember that if you go in the evening on a smoggy day, don't expect ideal lighting for your photos.

After spending R$100 for both of us to get up to the Christ, we decided that Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açucar) could wait until our next visit to Rio. The next two days were spent being lazy, the overcast gray sky and wind helped out on that one. We made it to a music cafe with live popular Brazilian music (that's an actual genre of music) and spent a few cold windy minutes on the beach. That's what you get for going to Rio in the winter. No matter, Sunday was a bit warmer, and awarded a few hours of beach lounging followed by the World Cup final at the "Fan Fest" on Copacabana beach. As Holland was the reason Brazil was eliminated, i can tell you that there were a great many more Spain fans in the crowd. I personally was rooting for Holland, for family reasons. Either way, the Fifa Fan Fest is an enclosed event on the sand (with a lot of security officers) with stalls, vendors, live music, and of course a really big scren on which to view the game. I couldn't imagine how crazy the place would have been if it was Brazil in the final, either way, watching the game with a thousand other people sitting in the sand was definately a once in a lifetime experience, even with the unfortunate outcome.

So Rio, to be honest i was not expecting too much. Before coming to live in Brazil, i never cared for the country or anything in it, so Rio was never one of my dreams. But after a quick glimpse, i can tell that there definately is something to Rio. I never want to live there, that's for sure, but i have no qualms with visiting again, and again and again. The service at the restaurants was extremely mediocre (ok terrible, but i was warned) and the food didn't taste as good as it does in São Paulo (i'm just saying), and the air was a bit (a lot) humid, and without visiting the beach everyday (i suppose even Cariocas have to work) life might not be so great in the city, but there is something charming about Rio, and i'm excited to get back for another visit.

All in all, i'm glad we're in São Paulo state. Cariocas may have the reputation, and the men are comfortable enough to wear Haivaianas outside of the house, but for me that's what vacations are for. I prefer to have a closed-toe shoe wearing Paulista.

Hell yeah that's a monkey.

a bientôt

Thursday, July 8, 2010

For Me, A Birthday Cake

chocolate orange brick cake

Today is my birthday, not Salty's, but me, the editor in chief. 24 years old. So i'm home alone today (don't feel bad for me, we're flying to Rio de Janeiro tonight) and well, it's my birthday, so i need a cake. Chocolate and orange is my personal favorite flavor combination, you know those chocolate orange balls at Christmas time that you smash on the table and the slices fall out like a flower petal. Well, as this ws a fridge-cake (absolutely nothing in the fridge) i had to scrounge. And this is what we found.

I'm flying to Rio in a few minutes (literally) so i will leave you with these brief words and way too many shots of my little cake. Ok ok, and the recipe. When we get back from our voyage, know that there will be many stories and photos to share of the cidade maravilhosa.

Ingredients: 1 cup white rice flour, 2 tbsp oil, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1 tsp vanilla extract, pinch of salt, 1 egg, 1 tbsp tapioca flour, 1 tbsp milk, 1 tsp baking powder, zest of one orange, chopped chocolate.

Method: Mix the wet, mix the dry, and combine. Add the zest and chocolate and bake at 180C or 350F for about 20 minutes. Makes 6 cupcakes or 1 mini loaf.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Brazilian 4th

Pão de Queijo Burgers and Apple Pie Tarts

Is it odd that i got offended when my husband said that it was completely wierd that in the United States people grill hot dogs? Confused at this point how that is wierd even in the slightest, i try to forget. But then he goes on to say it in Portuguese so now the whole damn room of mothers, grandma, aunts and whoever the hell else happens to be around (a great uncle?) all scrunch their faces at the American oddity. Say what? For a country that doesn't know how to consume meat unless it is encrusted in salt and thrown over flames, they find grilling a hot dog wierd? We boil them, never grill, H explained. This coming from a man eating chicken hearts off of a skewer... Ok, well, you are Brazilian and not American, in the U.S. people grill them. Americans (except for New Yorkers who like them floating in dirty water) boil them only when mom isn't home and dad's asleep on the couch and there's nothing else in the fridge. That's when hot dogs are boiled. In my humble opinion.

Being an expatriate makes you extremely sensitive to certain things that normally would pass over your head like a wonky boomerang. Wait a minute, do i even like hot dogs? But when you're at a barbecue surrounded by a bunch of Brazilians on a Sunday that you were particularly reserving for house cleaning and godforesaken ironing, insults to one of your national foods that are connected to innumerable social and family gatherings since the early days of childhood dig deep. And with the 4th of July just around the corner...

A few days later while driving to the gym, i tell H that the 4th of July is on Sunday and i want to make apple pies. To make up for the trauma he caused me last Sunday (yes, i was wounded) he overenthusiastically suggests...grilling hot dogs too! Now, to be honest i don't like hot dogs, and when i refer to "hot dog" i am actually talking about bratwurst for me, and a ballpark for the little brother. But that point aside, this conversation isn't about hot dogs, it's about why so many Brazilians can't seem to break out of their culinary box. American Barbecues are laughed at, yes laughed at, as hamburger meat is considered low quality and would only be consumed if all other meat had been used up. Well fine, but Americans like steak, they like ribs too, grilled chicken kabobs, etc. The reality is, however, that the majority of Americans like hamburgers, so what is wrong with eating what you like? I like American barbecues and i like Brazilian barbecues, why is it that i can like two versions but others cannot? I hate to say it, but many Brazilians are extreme followers of my way is the best way. It's proven in the restaurant makeup. Now, São Paulo has a lot of great international restaurants, but many smaller cities throughout the state severely lack. A few over-priced sushi bars...a dying $200 a night French bistro....a fast food Arab restaurant...and and....why the hell is Mexican food nonexistant here? You can't even buy ingredients at a store (unless you consider a cardboard box full of a few round tortilla chips for 15 reais Mexican food) then you're screwed. We've luckily found a tapas bar that serves an international menu with a small Mexican section. The only problem is that you're out 35 reais for two little tacos. But good tacos, i'll add. For some reason the demographic here isn't thirsty for more. Most Brazilians simply want Brazilian. I say most as there are some, usually in the newer generations, or what some like to refer to as the "global generation", that do in fact seek out new things. Allbeit a handfull of individuals, but they are there.

There's no point in dwelling on it. I can't change the way people eat. I can't change the fact that i can almost visibly see the arteries swelling in H's step-father as he yells at his wife to make the fried beef and rice and beans that he eats twice a day every day of his life. The only thing i have control over is what's in my fridge, and what i've learned after changing my completely Brazilian-palated-husband into a fan of Indian, Asian, French, German, Mexican, Italian and even American foods is that perhaps all that is needed is opportunity of "the outside" for Brazilians to widen their taste. Mexican chefs are you hearing this? It's time to start immigrating south for a change.

So today, a 4th of July sunday, we're not having hotdogs, but rather hamburgers and apple tarts. A party for two, woo. The term "4th of July" means nothing to Brazilians, well, fair is fair, does the date "7th of September" ring any bells for you? No i didn't think so. Brazilians are masters in the art of reciprocity, a skill that first must be preceded by pride.

I had never actually made a hamburger before, wierd. But it must be like a meatball, and i am a self-proclaimed master at meatballs. For the buns, i made the only error-proof gluten free bread i know of--pão de queijo. They turned out quite nice, and all i had to do was flatten the dough into a large patty shape before baking. Pão de queijo is a tapioca based cheese bread that is naturally gluten free without even trying (go Minas!) and well, burgers usually have cheese in them anyways, so why not just have it in the bun instead? I made the patties like i do my meatballs, mashed with garlic and my own dried chili peppers. Now, as i'm making "American" food, i only made enough for the occasion. That is, for two. After our "4th of July bananza lunch!!" H turned to me, there's no more? only one? sad. My international Brazilian. You see, i am having to learn how to be Brazilian, but he is having to learn how to live with an American. Which one is harder? Either way, at least there were American pie tartlettes for dessert.

For a recipe for pão de queijo i first have to persuade you to buy the cookbook that the recipe is in (yes my recipe). It's not my book, i'm merely a contributor, but it contains over fifty great recipes by other food bloggers so consider giving it a try (see the little 55 Knives button on the right-hand page column for details). For the rest, you can find the recipe here on the Salty Cod, however, i won't tell you where it is, so you'll have to do a treasure hunt for it. Don't be daft and use your brain, every post is categorized with key word labels.

As for the apple tarts, the crust recipe is a gluten free rice flour shortbread created by Aran of Cannelle and Vanilla, view the recipe here. The filling is merely diced apples mixed with a spoonfull of sugar and a squirt of lemon juice.

So the 4th of July came and went, aside from lunch i didn't hear much about it except from an over-boistrous golf television commentator who interupted me from my nap (no we don't watch golf, we accidently left the tv on). I've come to realize that American holidays are to be celebrated in America, and Brazilian in Brazil. This being said, i have decided not to attempt the seeming death defying challenge of a make-shift Thanksgiving. Well, maybe we'll get a pumpkin pie in somewhere. For now, it's when in Rome.

a bientot