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.

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's a Cake

Bolo de Mandioca and a Bunch of Birds

There is a root that despite looking like the illegitimate love child of a potato and a rutabaga, is a magical tuber that though nearly unheard of in North America, is responsible for being the world's third largest source of human consumed carbohydrates (let us just assume that rice is number one) The mandioca root produces flours for cakes and breads both sweet and savory, it is sprinkled over rice and beans, the main ingredient of pão de quiejo (cheese bread), is pressed fine into a powder and mixed with water to create a fluffy beiju (pancake), and undoubtedly is present in hundreds of other things that i have yet to encounter. An alternate name: tapioca. Americans only know tapioca as a boba pearl used in sweet pudding. But it is so much more. Cakes, for example--and gluten free at that. excellent. on y va.

I was sitting on my bed after my run when D (H's mom) hands me a little note (one of the dictionary based ways we communicate) that said: observe, preparo beiju--to observe. me: é claro! which means, of course! D is an amazing chef, she is extremely busy and yet prepares a lunch and a dinner every damn day--she could (can) make rice and beans with her eyes closed. Brasilians eat rice and beans with every meal, no matter what the meal is, rice and beans will go along with it. At lunch once I was asked what it is that we have to the equivalent of the rice and beans--sadly i had to say that there isn't one. After the beiju, which turns out to be a traditional Brasilian indian dish, D told me we were going to make a bolo--a bolo, a cake! A cake! Ah happy day!

Using the google sentence translator, i suggested hey let's take photos of the cake and post it on my blog! D typed back--how about we take photos of the whole process from start to finish and put it on the blog. Even better. She would do very well in the blog business. The bolo de mandioca begins as a pile of grungy tuberous roots that are soaked and then peeled. It then must be pureed and squeezed of its liquid. We don't have a food processor here, but D explained that you "work around" the problem by using what you do have (i told her the French call it le systeme D)-- so we used a juicer (the juicer's name happens to be mallory. for serious. it says it right on the side! it's actually the name of the brand).

The white pulpy paste produced out the back of the juicer will act the flour. As to the recipe, well, it was more of play as you go baking, eu experimento, she explained as she replaced the usual milk with the mandioca juice. Excellent. She poured two cups of sugar into the bowl, beat it with butter, a little bit of salt, then we added the mandioca, and a cup of finely ground oatmeal, um pouquinho mais of sugar, 6 egg yolks (from three twin-yolk eggs) the mandioca juice, and then folded in the nearly whipped whites of the eggs. She then turned to me and said (something like) what do you think, baking soda? I answered, yeah, it could never hurt. let's do it. Two perfectly round cakes came out after about thirty minutes in the box; just in time for a 17h00 tea time.

What did we spread on the cake? A fresh made pineapple jam. There are so many fruits here. Was that an unneeded statement of the obvious? Why yes, but it needed a segway into transition. We had decided to spend saturday as follows: go running, buy a lamp (yes, a lamp), and then a friend's birthday dinner party in the evening, However, plans got muddled and the lamp had to wait until sunday. Instead what happened was bit of a twilight zone. H's mom and step father invited us to come to their property where they are building a cottage which will eventually be their house. Nothing is built yet, but the property is being prepped, and we went to see if the grass had grown. The cottages are in a petit town called Elias Fausto, about thirty minutes from here in Indaiatuba. Driving to the scene, i compared out loud "i feel like i'm driving in teletubby land" D loved it--i hope she names the cottage Teletubby Cottage. hehe. The countryside is beautiful; silent but for dogs, birds, and bugs, the sun was surprisingly hot this day. The image is not what one comes to expect from Brasil, well not a North American at least. No beaches am i showing you, but rather a finite beauty that simply is too breathtaking to lexically explain. I found myself almost near a tear: how lucky, how simplistically yet complicatedly lucky am i to be here, at this moment, in this spot, allowed to see, to feel, and to smell such raw goodness. When the Teletubby cottage is finally built, it will be the finest in the neighborhood.

As we were leaving (the grass seemed to be growing over the little hills just fine) we were stopped by one of the neighbors who lived in a weekend cottage to come in and see the "estate." holy crap. anyways--to be forthcoming, they had a lot of fruit, a lot of birds. Those are coconuts? A papaya tree? Coffee bushes? There is a pineapple growing out of the ground! I'm in heaven! As i plucked a jabuticaba off the tree to eat, i found myself shaking my head: this cannot be real. We went into the bird yard. look at all the poulets. i like the little white fuzzy ones. oh a turkey--quails, peacocks and birds behind cages with names unknown! my god, what twilight zone have i fallen into. I tried to explain what that meant to H who was slightly confused by my behavior, all i could find was that it meant, or rather felt too good to be true. he agreed.

On this short little drive we stopped along the way at a little road side fruit stand to get some grapes and goiaba. In English i suppose it is called an apple guava, as it is eaten like an apple. It is very pink on the inside, with sweet crunchy seeds. Those of you who know me are savvy of my apple obsession. I would not fight it if goiabas were to replace apples. coming from me and my sacred apple? Ahhh, so now you know how good they are. Along with the green bananas, and the still green papaya tree, all fruits are green. Green appears the magical color.

On the way home we stopped at a small roadside vendor who sold fresh sugarcane juice out of his truck. huh? on the drive we had passed many sugar cane fields, and H wanted to stop so i could taste a sugarcane (yes, suck on a sugarcane stalk) but well, who knows whose fields these are, and just the previous day he had told me a story about being chased by a madman with a rifle when he was eleven for stealing grapes from a farm...hmmm that sounds like a hobbit to me. hehe. Ah well look this man has sugar cane, and he'll squeeze it for us! what a deal right?! and all legal. he cut off a small piece of the core so i could suck the juice out. wow. this is natural sugar. very good. And then he hacked a bunch of canes apart with a huge knife, put them through the press with a couple of lemons, and poured us some juice. pure sugar. drinking pure sugar. mmmm. ahh brasil. each cup was on 2 R$, which is one US$. not bad at all. But the sugar cane man did tell me that for his photo--it would be extra. Well, he may have some royalties when im famous someday. oh la la.

Find me a better saturday i dare you. This one was perfect; from dawn past the dusk. Hey but let me be fair, sunday was tudo otimo as well. Sometimes you just can't explain why something makes you so happy; a rolling teletubby hill, or a little pineapple sticking its head out of a tuft of leaves--some things we just can't explain with reason, perhaps it comes with a fanning of time, but at present, all you can do is be happy that it makes you happy. That is a logic of two happies in one--did i just rip a hole in the universe? yes i think i did. holy crap. but you know what? i bought a lamp. and what can be happier than that.

a bientot


Manuela © said...

Com que então no Brasil?
Vou aguardar que os próximos posts sejam em português hehe

Enjoy your trip.


Sierra said...

Oooook, soo first things first, a keck? there is a hole in this keck!! I like it hah. Also, umm just imagine me saying tinkie winkie right now and laughing like those evil, creepy things haha. So now on to the rest of the post, I am so jealous of your sugar cane juice and the whole experience of the massive amounts of fruit. I cannot believe that you could even think about liking something as much as apples, hah. Sounds amazing...can't wait to read more and here alllll of the other stories you've promised me. Oh and tell H I say hello...ooooh and how does K like the jersey?

Nani said...

I am sooooo excited. I just go your email but don't have time to answer now, just came to say "HAVE A GRET TIME, ENJOY EVERY MOMENT, AND BE HAPPY!!!!"

I will write you back as soon as I have more time, I have to go now!!


Nani said...

I meant GREAT time... hehe

anna said...

Ohhhh so beautiful! The closest I have been to Brazil is Costa Rica, but Central/South America is all lovely from what I've seen in pictures (and on the Travel channel). The fields are gorgeous and definitely quite different from the dense jungle of Costa Rica. Eating nothing but tropical fruit and rice & beans is the way to live!

ice tea: sugar high said...

OMG! how I missed fresh sugarcane juice. yuuuummm. Great photos Mallory!

Moira - Tertúlia de Sabores said...

Hi mallory,
That place is full of magic and incredbly beautiful.
Bolo de mandioca is delicious for sure, I hope you enjoy your stay there and i'm waiting for more news.
Big kiss from the other side of the Atlantic :)

Zoe said...

This sounds like the most amazing day. I am very jealous!

Teanna said...

Your photos have me dying to go to Brazil! Absolutely gorgeous!

matt wright said...

yes, the perfect Saturday!

Mallory Elise said...

muito obrigada everyone!

lisa (dandysugar) said...

I just came across your photo on tastespotting. reading through your post brought me back to my travels through Brasil. I love that cake and the sugarcane die for. Great photos!

Sylvia said...

What a wonderful post, you amazed me.You really learn the lessons :) You make me miss my beloved arroz com feijao (rice and beans)And you ate Jabuticaba!! I love jabuticaba jam and you drank garapa !!!(sugar cane juice)for me is to sweet,amazing.
I love bolo de mandioca.Yours looks delicious

Taste Buddies said...

Thank you for introducing me to something completely new and fascinating. Your blog, food and photos are gorgeous.

Erik said...


Lori said...

So glad you have been able to experience Brazil outside the beaches! My friends and family think my expat experience consists of me on a beach with a drink. Ha! It is much closer to what you have described here, although even I don't experience that much country on a daily basis. Your photos are beautiful!

Mallory Elise said...

well you better erik!!! we only spent 2 hours of our precious short lives on it!!!!! hehe. that and Rhinos...

Juliana said...

Hi Mallory,
I loved this post. "Eu sou Brasileira", but right now I'm in Canada (5 months)... And I miss SOOOOOOOOOO MUCH brazilian food... I couldn't imagine how rich we are about foods and fruit in Brazil, and just now I realized it! I'll go back to Brazil at the end of this month and my first dish will be "arroz e feijão"! Pão de queijo, bolo de mandioca...I miss so much!! =)
I hope you enjoy Brazil. Have fun!

Christy said...

I finally got here...geez what a full-on week!! So the marshmallows and the teas are packed up ready to go to Brazil, I just have to walk over to the post office tomorrow to send it off.

So, I see you are emjoying yourself immensely there! And those guavas, they are very rich in vitamin c, even more so than citrus fruits (I'm from the tropics; I know these things), so keep eating them.

When I was looking through your photos, I suddenly remembered that a long time ago, my mom used to come home from the market with cups of sugarcane juice. There's something about the taste that makes it such a joy to drink on a hot, humid weather, no? I can taste it at the back of my mouth, the sweet, refreshing, and slightly vegetal taste. I think that memory must have been buried underneath all the more recent ones I've accumulated, so thank you for that reminder.

Btw, you and D seems to get along very well. I mean, suggestions on step-by-step photos AND an experiment? Whoa I would've loved to spend a day in her kitchen. Partly explains why you don't want to come back.

Marta said...

It pains me that I can't look at your photos at work and that I ahve to wait until I get home to appreciate their bueaty! Good thing is, though, nothing distracts me from your witty text :)
Sounds like you're havign a blast and really enjoying the diverse experience that Brazil has to offer, stepping out into the local life and discovering its uniqueness. If every "tourist" was as aware, sensitive and appreaciative as you are, thw world wouldn't be the tacky, ignorant place it sometimes is :)
I concur, some things just make you happy without explanation (bird's chirp waking you up at 4am - what is wrong with me?!) and we're blessed that we appreciate it, most people are too busy or too crusty to stop and let the joy in.
Mandioca/Tapioca is great. I'm glad it's slowly creeping into the markets here!

Marta said...

OK, I'm home: I LOVE these photos! Are those albino peacocks?!
The canesugar juice is also quite common in Venezuela, where they serve it with plenty of lemon juice... but the machine there are quite more rudimentary!

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