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.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ad Interim

chapter seven place holder

It's Friday, I've been here for two weeks, why is there nothing posted yet? Well, baking in a kitchen not your own can be a bit difficult; particularly when there always seams to be a meal in the making. Who likes to feel in the way. Likewise, getting my mind wrapped around a suitable Salty Cod topic just doesn't seem to be happening right now. Porque? Too much going on. What? Well, our house is not finished yet, ergo we're not living in it yet, and are instead continually working on it. Every weekend is yet another trip to the Home Depot-esque store or marble cutter's yard, tile work or painting. To continue the whining of which i am quite eloquent at, i'm also having a bit of bureaucratic paperwork woe - that being put very nicely. Foreign marriage and immigration is not easy in any state of any country. So don't ever let the word Brazil fool you; flip flops do not mean that all things are as laid back as we are apt t believe, in fact they are yet more stringent (if possible) than anything i am used to. So another trip to the American consulate in Sao Paulo is inevitable...

Either way, i am positive that next weekend there will be something new posted on our salty white sheets here. Don't give up on us. Until then, I've backup material to splatter. An article i wrote last June about traveling through the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais was(is) recently printed in the (get ready for it) annual issue of the Spokane Sizzle (the magazine i used to work for in Spokane; a city on the border of Washington and Idaho). I was very lucky to be given two full pages for text and photos. Along with the Minas article, they ran a gluten free dining article as well as a few restaurant reviews i wrote. J & J, if you are out there reading this, thank you for your faith in me and the opportunities you presented. Good luck!

Article Published in the 2010 issue of 'The Spokane Sizzle' (

Get Outta Town
Destination: Minas Gerais, Brazil

When most Americans think about Brazil, images of white sandy beaches, Amazonian wild life, teeny-tiny bikinis and Carnival costumes most often come to mind. But just as it is impossible to define the United States solely with either the image of the Texas ranch, plastic California glamor or New York City lights; it is impossible to define Brazil with any one word other than, well, Brazilian. It would take a lifetime to discover the many gastronomic, cultural, historical and botanical travel treasures that make up the South American nation that stretches its borders across more continental landmass than the United States. So, if a lifetime is all that is given, then Spokane, we better get started.

Don't bother packing the bikini, that is unless you are planning on jumping into passion-fruit creek—today we are not going to Rio, we're going inland, and under-land. Brazil is comprised of 26 states, with our destination being the state of Minas Gerais; the fourth largest and second most populated state in the country. North of São Paulo, and west of Rio, the Portuguese minas (mines) and gerais (general) refers to the state's natural richness in minerals and gemstones. Today, the gold and silver mines have run dry, but the state is still the No. 1 producer of mined minerals and stone. The capital city, Belo Horizonte (beautiful horizon) is a fast-paced metropolis similar to any of the bigs in the US, with shop-lined avenues, manicured parks and giant white skyscrapers. A short bus or car ride from the airport at Belo Horizonte will get you to one of the many historical cities of Brazil, including Diamantina, Tiradentes, Serro and the UNESCO world heritage site of Ouro Preto—city rich in “black gold.” When gold and gemstones were discovered in the region in 1697, Portuguese colonials living in Rio de Janeiro started the construction of the estrada real, the "royal road" that began the extensive mining production that helped Ouro Preto become the state's first capital.

Today, Ouro Preto is a time capsule of Brazil's colonial past, and as a protected UNESCO site, will forever remain so. Like many European cities, the main gist of tourism in Ouro Preto and the surrounding cities lies in the many Baroque cathedrals and museums. From historical mining museums to showcases of the city's most famous artist, Aleijadinho, one could spend weeks touring the churches and museums trying to uncover the past. But what sets Ouro Preto apart form other 17th century historical towns are the myriad mines open to the public. Many of them are tight squeezes (crawls) through damp narrow passages that were once lined with the poor soles of African slaves chained together as they scraped the rock for gold. In Ouro Preto, the mina do Chico Rei was first opened to the public in the 1940s when it was discovered by a woman who purchased the land to open a restaurant. She now offers entrance to the mine (for a $R10 fee) and her restaurant is still open and thriving. Another mine in the area worth exploring is the mina do passagem, located a short drive outside of the city of Ouro Preto in the neighboring town of Mariana. The mina do passagem is the largest gold mine open to the public in the world.

Minas cuisine is the quintessential equivalent to the farm-house country-cooked meal in America. What makes mineira cuisine authentic? The variety. Traditional Minas cuisine is comprised of large pots of rice-and-bean dishes cooked over open fires, as well as a variety of chicken, pork and beef dishes accompanied by vegetables. Beans, feijoão, are a staple throughout the country, but undoubtedly were made nostalgic as the backbone of mineira cuisine. Feijoada, a stew comprised of beans, spices and a variation of meats is a classic dish that has become quintessentially Brazilian and can be found at nearly any authentic restaurant in the city. Tutu à mineira, another Minas specialty made from pureed beans and manioc flour is the taste of simplistic perfection at its finest; eaten alone or scooped over rice is enough to make a meal. When searching for a restaurant, browse the menu first, if you do not see a reference to traditional mineira cuisine, move on.

Aside from the wood-fire traditional cuisine, other savors that have made Minas cuisine famous include the pão de queijo (cheese bread) and queijo (cheese). Driving the highway, one will pass a myriad of casas de quiejo; cheese houses where—you guessed it, one will find a plethora of fresh mineira cheese for sale. Ouro Preto and Mariana are cities with high volume tourism each year, so the chances are that if you request a menu in English, you will get one. When staying, there are many high price hotels in the region, though more common are the poussadas, the Brazilian equivalent to the B&B. These homes are smaller than hotels, more private, quiet and oftentimes more nostalgic in the fairy-tale town setting. They cost much less than a traditional hotel, usually between 50 and 100 US dollars a night, and usually come with breakfast. Hope you like Fresh papaya, freshly baked breads and, of course, cheese. There are many tourism resources in the area, from tourism offices to personal tour guides for-hire.

Ouro Preto is a vacation out of the ordinary that won't put you at the mercy of being lost in translation. For history, for natural beauty, for a gastronomic retreat—Minas Gerais is the other Brazilian getaway, the one that doesn't leave sand in your shoes.

a biento

Friday, February 12, 2010

Back in Brazil

New Home, New Country, Same Life

We've moved again, the roaming cod. But this time we're here to stay, at least for now. One question that i've been asked over and again is why Brazil and not the US. Why choose a third world country over the center of the world. The answer is quite complicated, and for all the reasons we give, i am not even sure if we know completely. We just, do. For me, there is something of majesty in being in a country that had never before crossed my mind. dismissal, i'd say, once upon a time. But then, you never end up where you plan. Why not US. We are here for reasons of practicality, personality, and preference. Practicality covers all manners of finance. The Brazilian Real (currency) fluctuates between 1.8-1.9 to the American dollar. I still earn my living through US dollars, therefore for every one hundred i make, i earn it's double. Also cuddled into this practicality business is the fact that i am a mobile worker; where i go, my work goes with me. Unfortunately this cannot be said for my other half, ergo to work, we both are here. Furthermore, immigration and marriage in the US is more complicated and expensive than in Brasil. so. There.

In the personality field, i'm the type of nut (no offense to the other expatriates out there) that knows without doubt that i can be at home anywhere. I knew it before i moved to Europe, and knew it for certain after i moved back. This, however does not imply complete lack of fear. There is always fear hiding somewhere in everything we do. the only way to swim over it is to keep looking directly at what sits on the shore.

The last is preference. Now, i will never say that i do not love the U.S.. I am American, and obviously i will always be. I have a large family that i cherish very much. However, large is relative. When i say large, i mean about 15 people. In Brazil when you say large, you mean 100. Now, is it easier to put around 15 people on a plane, or 100. You do the math. Another note on preference is that i have actually started to fall in love with Brazil, and not just the Brazilian. About three years ago i was asked in Paris, what do you know about Brasil? my answer - uh, the capital is Brasilia. After that, there has yet passed a day where i have not learned something about Brazil.

What i find difficult about Brazil is a small list so far. But it is there, nowhere is a paradise. The heat is a bit much for my albino skin, blond hair and blue eyes, all the deodorant is liquid, most people don't have doorbells, nobody owns a clothes dryer, everyone (alright most everyone) drives like a psychopath, Kitchenaid mixers cost a fortune, electronics cost a fortune, there is an overall lack of order to everything-as an American i'm used to following right-hand rules, pedestrians don't have right-of way, and oh yeah; i don't speak Portuguese.

What i find enchanting in Brazil certainly surpasses the difficulties. The sky is always blue. Even in the city i can hear the birds. People seem happy, even the ones with little. I'm in the heat with few clothes and i come from the snow. I have my own house (haven't moved in yet, it's almost done). People ride motorcycles with flip flops. Fruit and vegetables are the least expensive items at the store. I can sleep with no cover with the window open The park is always full of runners. Flowers and bright green trees year round. Listening to Portuguese. Clothes lines. Rice and beans, every single day. Food that rarely comes in packages. Pao de queijo (cheese bread from tapioca flour). That though i cannot speak, i can smile and be understood. Tiles on and in everything. A large welcoming family. And obviously above all other things listed, i get to be with the most important person in my life, without having to get on a plane.

Now that the explanations are over, let's get on with our stories, cakes, Brazilian food and yadda. Check back soon, what is yet to come will make the Paris shenanigans seem like teacakes.

a bientot amigos