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, March 26, 2013

Pumpkin Biscuits

For dogs. 

Lately I have been on an Asian food kick. Primarily because a week or so ago I visited Sao Paulo’s Liberdade district for the first time. Let me just say that this place has been here the entire time I’ve lived in Brazil (and apparently before that too). It’s been here and I, being but an hour and a half away, never visited. Stupid. Liberdade is market town. Consisting of ninety percent Japanese products (or perhaps just vendors, the products are from all over) with a bit of Chinese and a very scarce pinch of Vietnamese and Thai products. So sadly I really can’t call it China Town. I will let you know one fact that every Brazilian tour guide/website will point out to you – Brazil has the greatest population of Japanese (descendants) living outside of Japan, and yes it is for the exact reason you are thinking of; agricultural work boom at the turn of the (20th) century. The point I am trying to make here is that Thai curry paste, spring roll wrappers, glutinous rice flour and every possible jarred sauce condiment ever created by man is now at my disposition. Expect some spring roll photos soon. But not today.

Lately I’ve been distracted. I received a catering request for a large business breakfast last week; I collaborated with a friend in the business and we sent our proposal. Never heard from the lady again. Not even a rejection letter, nothing. Even after sending a follow up letter. First rejection and we don’t even know why. Oh well. There will be a next time.

Now to the distraction. Nearly two weeks ago my family dog [in Seattle] died unexpectedly before her time. The sadness over losing her hit me greater than I thought the passing of a non-human creature could ever throw at me. I’ve been around dogs my whole life. Since consciousness, there has always been a dog in my family. My husband, on the other hand, had never had a dog in his life, and since getting married had made it clear that he was not a dog (or any creature) person. So I never thought about dogs. I still have dogs, I would think, they just live at my parents’ house. When Olivia died I unreservedly cried for days. My tears were for the pangs of saudades, for the fear that she might have suffered, and for the pain I knew my sisters and parents were feeling. The gravity was due to the unexpectedness of it all. She was young, healthy, the apple in our eyes.

A few days later my husband suggested we adopt a dog. Say what? His change of heart, so he claims, came from pity for me. But I like to think that he subconsciously wished he could know what that feeling is…to cry out of love for a dog. Whatever the reason, we now have a dog. A dog, not a puppy. Last weekend we visited the UniãoInternacional Protetora Dos Animais (UIPA). The organization is actually extremely well run, which, if you are familiar with anything in Brazil, will surprise you. The organization is similar to American humane societies; they focus on rescuing mainly cats and dogs from the street, from abusive households and from abandonment. The UIPA in Sao Paulo city alone has over twelve hundred dogs at any given time. They survive on donations and a volunteer staff. Every dog or cat on site is vaccinated, spayed or neutered and de-wormed. They also require an on-site veterinary consultation with every adoption. The place is overrun with adult dogs. Only the puppies seem to draw attention. I find puppies too messy. We went in looking for an adult and found a quiet girl sitting in a corner pen with three one-month old puppies bouncing around. She didn’t bark. She didn’t move. She looked miserable. Yep, that’s the one. We picked her up and took her right then and there. One of the volunteer staff informed us that she was about one year old, was found pregnant on the highway about two months ago and had given birth to five puppies that were all already adopted or reserved for adoption. Only she was left. We named her Sybil.

Sybil is a true Sao Paulo street rat. But she is the sweetest thing we have ever seen. She has never barked and is afraid of everything. Doorways, staircases, pillows, blankets, ironing boards. Just being inside a building is frightening for her. But she is adjusting. Today is her fourth day and she is relaxing. Well, relaxing as much as anyone on antibiotics, flee medication, worm-pills and a new diet can.

So, being the food snob that I am, I had to make healthy dog treats for my new family member. The mini milk bone treats and what have you at the store are full of too many ingredients…primarily wheat flour. Nearly all veterinarians point out that wheat is not particularly good for dogs. While she does eat a pricy bagged dog food, I wanted to make whole food biscuits for her so I don’t feel guilty about filling her with msg. If you google “dog biscuit” recipes you will find that there seems to be a consensus that pumpkin is not only healthy but tasty for dogs. Pumpkin it is. All I did was mix two eggs with one cup cooked and smashed pumpkin, two and a half cups rice flour, a pinch of salt, a quarter cup of grated cheese and pureed meat from two chicken legs. Sybil is small (about 10 lbs) so I cut the biscuits into small half inch squares. She isn’t crazy for them, but she eats them. 

I live in a really nice neighborhood in Sao Paulo, so when we go for walks most of the dogs we meet on the street are pure breeds. “oh what is her race?” I am constantly asked. My reply – she is a dog, she used to be a street dog. Love the looks.

We’ll share photos once she is more relaxed. Tomorrow is my three year wedding anniversary, and spring rolls on Friday. See you then.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Extreme Recap

We’re so far behind, where do we start?

view from my living room window

Since the last post we’ve: moved into our new apartment in Sao Paulo, started part time (really part time) work with an English school, collected a few new private students, started figuring out how to navigate through one of the biggest cities in the world, started trying to work as a private chef, sold my food for the first time at a market, AND my very first niece was born last weekend. Life is wonderfully full at the moment.  I hope I will be that cool aunt in the foreign country who sends sweets and toys in the mail. I represent a beach vacation, I should be the cool aunt! 

So backup. Working with food? Since when did I become a chef right? I don’t have a job in a restaurant, I don’t hold a culinary degree, but I’m trying to get into working with something I actually like and am actually good at. Not that I don’t enjoy English teaching, I do. But im not proud of it, i teach simply because I'm an American living in Brazil. Anyone can do that. But I am a good cook, I am not modest about that. I can cook. Well, anyone can cook, but I actually cook really well, and people like what i make. For now let’s call it an experiment, shall we?

Two weeks ago I was invited to cook a four course sit down dinner for nine. Literally it was three day after moving into my new place, didn’t even have a fridge yet. The party was co-hosted by the owner of a Sao Paulo City travel website (My Destination Sao Paulo) and the owner of a wine and imports shop (Sonoma - they import gourmet items such as olive oils, cheeses, salts and spices). The amazing part of the event was that I sent my menu to the host early so that he could pair the right wine with each course. Let me just say the guests were quite spoiled. The event took place on the rooftop terrace of a penthouse in the south of Sao Paulo. The view was incredible. The dinner was started with one of my favorite entrances, potted crab, which is an original dish created by my Brazilian culinary double, Rafael. If I can remember correctly the crab was paired with Chablis. The entrance was followed by a raw salad of green (not actually green, just unripe and hard) papaya, carrot and cucumbers with a spicy Thai dressing (I actually julienned it all by hand, and it looked pretty uniform!) The main course was a spicy coconut curry with chicken thighs and was paired with Pinot Noir. For dessert I went with my safety net—the chocolate truffle tart that has NEVER disappointed. I finished it with freshly whipped cream and blueberries which, yes, you can find here. It was an amazing experience. My last thrilling experience on this level was when i successfully "catered" my sister's wedding in December.

Following said dinner (described above) I was invited by one of the dinner guests to sell food at a night market that she helps to organize. The event is mostly attended by gringos and hosts a variety of vendors selling everything from cupcakes to paper lamps. I was a little too nervous to accept right away. Who would pay actual money for my food? A week later I received a final call email about the event and impulsively decided to go for it without having any idea of what I would sell. I originally thought to do a cold bruschetta or tapas because it would be simple to assemble and wouldn’t require the grill and hotplate that I don’t possess. Unfortunately one of the other vendors wrote in that they were selling something called “toastex” so we decided I should go with something else. So I decided to do the same thing but inside of individual tart shells. Big mistake. It’s hard enough to make a few tart shells much less fifty of them. And to top it off, I made them gluten free.

I filled the shells with two different mixtures: the first was a blackberry (amora) red onion sauce topped with watercress and salmon grilled in wasabi and sesame seeds (the wasabi wasn’t strong) and the second was filled with herbed goat cheese ricotta (homemade), apple, crispy bacon and sprouts. I planned on selling crème brulle in edible shells but after making fifty tart shells I gave up. The public was a little hesitant to try them, but those who actually did gave great feedback on the flavors. One woman actually bought six to take home. I didn’t make any actual money (just slightly over three hundred reais, which was my break even mark) but the experience was incredible. Not only did I actually get to talk to strangers enjoying my food, but I received a few contacts requesting my service as a caterer. What I really got out of the market was confidence. 

That was two days ago.

Sao Paulo is a crazy city. For one, it’s the largest city in all of the Americas. Living among eleven million people seems like it could be a bit overwhelming…but luckily Sao Paulo, like most large cities, is divided into neighborhoods that honestly form their own cities. You feel as if you are in a small community with your own groceries, banks, butchers, street markets, schools, sports centers, and restaurants—technically you never actually need to leave your own neighborhood in this city.  We all do of course. I am very lucky to be in a very quiet, relatively safe and clean neighborhood known as Perdizes/Pompeia. I’d always been nervous about moving to Sao Paulo, but I’m actually in love with the area. I get to see my friends more often and I’ve even made a few new friends already. If the metro covered more areas I would be in heaven.  But one of the greatest assets of the city is the diversity of the population here. There is a demand for everything. My style of cooking actually has a chance here whereas in the countryside it had little to none.

Now we are caught up. There is a carrot cake cooling in the kitchen for a birthday party tomorrow and im planning the menu for a luncheon on Sunday.  The ninety degree weather was just interrupted by a hail storm. Such is life in Sao Paulo where you can experience every season in one day. We’ll talk about this carrot cake next time.