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.

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