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, November 11, 2010

Grape Schiacciata. Well, Sorta.

Expat Down Days

Before any Italians or Italian food lovers scream hey, that's not grape schiacciata! let me assure you that i know. It's a first cousin of the bread and is gluten free, made with a hell of a lot less dough, is actually a "flat" bread, and has a bit of parmesan cheese sprinkled on. It's my interpretation of the classic baked good that i had never even heard of until last night while sitting in my bed reading my Mario Batali Italian Grill book, one of the few cookbooks that made it to Brazil with me, while annoyingly having to listen to Bon Jovi from the other room. Yeash do i live with a 45 year old woman? Our editor has strange taste (ainda te amo). This recipe came to me in a frightening dream that consisted of Jon Bon Jovi dancing through a vineyard with lambs singing it's my life and i did it my way! and so i woke up and made grape flatbread my way. So if you want a classic recipe for grape schiacciata, hit up Mr. Batali for the recipe.

The schiacciata came with a purpose, and thankfully was not accompanied by sleaveless leather.
shiver. The purpose was to aleviate an expat down day. So what's an expat down day? All of the expats that i know, or at least know through their writing, have these days and there is no real equation for predicting when they will happen or for what reason. They simply do. An expat down day is when suddenly out of the blue you feel completely lost, moronic, slow, cowardly, without a plan, without hope, and all you really want to do is sleep or take the cachaça bottle out of the freezer. I've read accounts of other expats in Brazil suggesting how they cope with the sudden burst of melancholy that can last anywhere from one to three days, and many suggest sleeping until 1pm, drinking a bottle of wine, baking cookies, watching seven straight hours of your favorite tv show (anything from Gray's Anatomy to Sex and the City or Doctor Who, yes expats are wierd) but my favorite was the "take yourself out on a date" suggestion by Lindsay of Adventures of a Gringa in Brazil. If going to the cinema didn't cost so damn much here i would probably do that, you know, Harry Potter is coming soon and a certain somebody has only seen the first or third. Tsk tsk. Might have to go alone... Redirecting, for me the only thing that gets me out of the Down Day is to go for a run until i pass out, which worked yesterday, but today we needed something stronger, and that's when i heard Bon Jovi whispering in my head, make the flat bread, post a blog! You can do it! No i can't i replied to him. I want to sit on the couch and pout while watching Jamie Oliver and Oprah interviewing the cast of the Sound of Music. But then he threatened to sing, so i gave up and went into the kitchen.

For me, the Down Days usually don't last more than one to two days. The vast majority of time i am upbeat about life in Brazil, excited about the struggles i have to go through as a foreigner knowing that they are challenges that make life more rewarding. I am finally at a mediocre Portuguese level, i finally have-quite a few actually-friends here in Brazil, and i'm reminded everyday about how lucky i am compared to the majority of people living around me. So what do i have to complain about? That's the hard part, even if things look up, these days still come nonetheless. Luckily they have started to come less frequently. I belive it is because Americans are impatient. Nine months seems like an eon to me; i should be fluent, have the job i want, drive the car that i am still afraid to drive, do errands by myself, etc. But here, nine months are not an eon, and i have to remind myself that it takes us, expatriates, years to reach the life that we imagine ourselves from the moment the plane lands. Americans have this fear of failure issue; i must be great and i must be great exactly right now.

While i'm running or while i'm photographing, i remind myself that fast food is evil, and speading up a life is just the same. Things take time, everyone tells me that and i mean everyone, particularly the ones who have been living in Brazil for many years. Yet these down days drive what they say from my head with an anvil. I remind myself that for every one bad day there are always ninety-nine good days and that tomorrow will be one of them. I'm the lucky one to be living here, to have decided my own life rather than to have kept it in the box. I guess the best lesson to remind yourself of on the down days is the one from Tom Jobim; Brazil is not for beginners. This is the lesson that our editor reminds us of every time we have a tantrum over driver's license psychology exams and school busses. What it means is, take a breath, and drink a caipirinha.

And now we can talk about the bread...i never seem to be able to talk about simply one thing at a time. Last weekend i held Portuguese conversation two days straight, and even when i'm speaking in Portguese my mind wanders to a new subject abstractly. Out at dinner a friend asks, why are you all of a sudden talking about shoes? i blink, oh, i have no idea. I am no longer afraid to make mistakes, i actually like the mistakes. Calling a lawyer a pineapple to his face is one that will go in my book of oh look, remember when... The schiacciata, undoubtedly one of the most difficult things to pronounce, is made from my basic pizza dough that consisits of yeast, water, tapioca flour, rice flour, baking powder, olive oil, egg and salt. Traditional schiacciata consists of one layer of pizza dough covered in grapes and oil followed by another layer of pizza dough covered in grapes. So a pizza dough grape sandwich. My pizza dough is not chewy like wheat dough, it's not too crisp, but not bready. It's hard to describe, but either way it is much too dense to layer on top of itself. That would be quite a mouth full. So the first alteration is to use a single flat layer of pizza dough. On top of the dough goes a layer of olive oil followed by anise seeds followed by a small sprinkling of parmesan cheese to contrast the sweetness. I read many reports on traditional schiacciata being a very sweet bread, and not everyone's cup of tea. Salty sweet is in this season anyways. Bake 20 minutes on the pizza stone and delissimo!

my pizza dough (i used half this recipe for the schiacciata pictured here)
1.25 cups white rice flour
0.25 cups casava flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
0.5 cups warm water
1 packet yeast
1 large egg
1/8 cup olive oil.

1 - 2 tsp anise seeds
seedless grapes, halved
olive oil
parmesan cheese

method: dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the
yeast water, oil and egg. Combine well. Work the dough for about 5 minutes. Let rise for 20 minutes. Place on a pizza stone and sprinkle the top with rice flour. Using your hands or a roller, flatten the dough to your desired thickness.

Rub with olive oil. Sprinkle with anise seeds and seedless grape halves. Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.

I think expat down days are part of the package. Even though i hate them and they render me useless for a while, they have a certain quality for showing you the good things, especially when your soggy mood is put up with by your loved ones. I am complimented here in Brazil all the time for being upbeat, for being shiny and "simple," a word Brazilians love and Americans get offended by, but apparently simple a compliment as it means to be content and happy with the small things-that's a big step for an American! but in reality i have the days just as any other expat does, and i know i will continue to have them here and there. Luckily it passes and my teeth come back into view and the simpleness shines through. Can't help it. The truth is, i love Brazil.

a bientôt

Friday, November 5, 2010

Baby Cookies - Biscoitos de Bebê

oi bebê

I know it's been a while. Is there anybody still out there? The truth is, we just haven't been inspired to post anything, and who wants to read words and see photos that are uninspiring? That's what i thought. October came and went. Brazil elected a new president; a woman. How about that. Brazil is moving forward, the U.S. seems to be moving backward. I timed my exit fairly well eh? It is now officially hot, officially spring weather. Warm rain and lightning are guaranteed nearly every day. Months don't mean anything to me anymore, i look outside and the word November is the last thing that comes to mind. I am finally after nine months at an intermediate level of Portuguese, as in i can actually hold a conversation without staring at a wall. This is attribute to surprising rise of dinner parties. Yes. Now i am no master cook, and i know we always talk about baked sweet goods, but i am probably a more creative chef than i am baker. While in the US i may simply be an average cook, here i am a chef. I never make rice and beans since i am certain that my husband eats them everyday at lunch and i know that any family meal i attend on the weekend there will be plenty. So we stick to a more international menu. As such i have gotten myself into trouble since every time we invite people over or we are invited over, i am asked to make risotto. Yes, in someone's kitchen. I am the take home chef without the accent. Well, i suppose i do have an accent don't i. Either way, i have become an entertainer and i love the control. wait, what?

On most weekends we visit family members, which is particularly easy since they all live within five minutes walking distance. Either way, this is a big family. My mother in law has nine siblings, and five of them live in the same house that their father built each with their wives and children. In the same house. Crowded and uncomfortable? The truth is they are happy though, it's like have a bunch of live-in moms and dads and about twenty siblings rather than one or two. The amount of people ensures that there is a party even without inviting guests, all you need is meet on the grill and motorcycle-delivered beer. Despite their poverty, this family contains some of the most genuine people i know. They are happy with what they have, and they've accepted me since the first day i showed up with my blond hair and oh-look-at-me-im-american-isn't-that- great? Some of my favorite peeps to talk to are the children. They seem to understand my Portuguese better than the adults. I'm a favorite among the five to seven year old girls, why i am not sure, as well as all of the thirteen and fourteen year olds who take a few days of English in public school. Unfortunately the only lessons they want from me are swear words. please don't say these things in class, ok? The sad part is that their teacher probably wouldn't even understand if they did cus in class. Public schools have the worst of everything, primarily because the individuals who actually are qualified to give lessons in English or any other subject aren't up to the idea of living in abject poverty, which is what one earns on a public school teacher's salary. Think teachers in America have it bad? As seen in the last election, public education is one of the main things that keeps Brazil in the third world. I mean, there aren't even school buses for christ's sake. Who wants to put their six year old all alone on a public city bus to school? Brazil is coming far, but it still has a lot of work ahead of it.

Moving on to these cookies. Surprise! A baby! Not my baby, but yet another cousin who is most likely going to be the last cousin born because the oldest of the cousins are already starting to have their own babies. He is the sixth child of one of the uncle families and is joining three brothers and two sisters. Being the sixth child born generally isn't anything special in a family that has so many kids and babies that there still are a few who's names i don't know. But regardless of number, a sixth baby is as fun as a first baby. I have five siblings as well, and when the sixth baby was born in my family, it was just as exciting as the fifth and fourth. Can't really remember the others...So to welcome the new baby we made teeny tiny baby blue cookies as well as green turtles. Why? Mainly because royal icing sugar cookies don't exist in Brazil so they are "new" and "exciting," i prefer homemade gifts, and i am certain that when the baby comes the "party" will be the usual meat and beer. So cookies are absolutely necessary.

I am not a big cookie decorator, i never have been. As i piped each one of these i realized that the reason was most likely because you have to be an artist to decorate cookies. If you can't paint, if you can't draw, then you can't decorate cookies to look anything better than a gingerbread man. It is difficult, it's painting with a piping bag. So my advice to new cookie decorators is to start out very simple and use a #2 tip. My sister is an artist, and after making these i realized that she needs to make more decorated cookies. Hear that R? Cookie decorating isn't really baking, it's painting. One last tip; only use egg white royal icing otherwise you are wasting your time. I will not post a recipe as the web is exploding with far too many sugar cookie recipes, tutorials and royal icing recipes. So google away.

Life is starting to become more normal in Brazil, at most times i forget that i am even "somewhere else," this normaling out, we hope, is exactly what we need in order to rehydrate Salty. Until then,

a bientôt