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, April 21, 2014

Carrot Cake, Presidents, Parties, Markets, the Photo Stream OH MY!

Codet(te)s, please, i beg you. Please forgive me for this absence. There is no excuse other than laziness. Laziness and perhaps an end-of-day repulsion from my computer. But, at the moment, i am 3/4 through the Easter Holiday weekend (in Brazil this holiday weekend covers Friday through Monday. lucky lucky) and i have time to do a recap of everything that has happened (professionally) over the past two months. As i uploaded the photos to Salty, i realized damn...i have been busy. But I want to share all of this movement with you, if you are still there. Movement that include birthday parties, mean-spirited models, famous ex-presidents, birthday parties with s'mores, corporate galas, beautiful babies, market adventures, start up companies and Thai luncheons. On y va.

Jesus. I don't even know where to start. Let's just begin with some food then...a few skips back we had a luncheon for a Thai-loving client. To be honest, she begged for pad Thai. I have nothing against pad Thai, it's one of my comfort dishes...honestly who (in their right mind) doesn't love pad Thai? But i had already done a pad Thai luncheon for a few months earlier and really didn't want her to get bored. So in an attempt to lure her to something new (for me as well) I suggested Malaysian cuisine. Now, I don't make Malaysian food very often, but with the resent absence (one of my best friends moved away!) of one of my dearest friends, who happened to be from Malaysia, I had recently been doing a lot of research on the region's cuisine. I settled on a basic curry (basic curry is called laksa) with a coconut milk base featuring chicken. She went with it, luckily, and i made my first laksa. Amazing flavors. Malaysian cuisine is the culmination of a partnership between so many historically rich cuisines (Chinese, Indian, Eurasian influences and others) that just the mental exercise of recognizing where your food's (recipe) came from is an existential experience. Needless to say it was a success. Chicken laksa served over rice noodles, appetizers including shrimp spring rolls, pork meatballs, strawberry shortcakes and some naughty goat cheese that weaseled its way in. It was a pretty good affair.

 A week later we had an intimate dinner party for eight celebrating a 50th birthday party. The birthday girl wanted it to be casual apartment cocktail-style with a variety of fun appetizers and self-service treats. For this event i had one of my most trusted member of my wait staff with me to serve hot items around the room and help out with assembly. Appetizers are fairly simple because you don't have to worry about platting and temperatures, however, appetizers signify many small pieces...many small pieces that must be put together one by one, garnished, sauced, plated on a tray and that takes a lot of time. Having staff in the kitchen with me is quickly starting to be a necessity, but luckily im starting to build a good team. The birthday cocktail menu included puff pastry caprese sliders, individual beef bourguignon pot pies, blue cheese and apple crostini, couscous and garlic shrimp tasting spoons, pork in fig jam tasting spoons, a variety of pates and breads and of course, a red velvet birthday cake.

Already getting tired? I'll try to speed it up. A few other notable food events this past month included our stand at the SP Night Market where we sold banh mi sandwiches, chickpea salad in a cone and a sweet box full of brownies, biscotti and other goodies. This market was particularly amusing because we held a raffle to give away a two-tiered strawberry cake. The conversation about what a family of two or three would do with a cake for 50 was quite interesting.

The final two foodie events I will bore you with are big ones. Both events were estimate at 50+ attendees; one was a birthday party for a six year old boy and the other a cocktail party book-release for a former Brazilian president. Say what? Oh, you know, just starting to build up my celebrity-client base.

The presidential party was extremely tough, mainly because i put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything absolutely perfect. The menu included ten different (and complex) appetizers, adorned shortbread cookies and miniature strawberry pavlovas. The planning and prep before the party took a full four days. Every hour or so i was sure i wouldn't make it. Luckily, the obsessive prep paid off and, come party time, everything flew out of the kitchen like clockwork. I had my new sous chef G in the kitchen with me and my wait staff Indy and Reno serving food and beverages to the party guests. It went perfectly well. A real presidential affair. I think i slept for three days straight afterward.

Me and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Not to be shadowed by the president, a week later i had a fun birthday party for a little boy with an airplane theme. Children's birthday parties in Brazil can be a bit complicated. Most people expect you to go all out on EVERY single birthday party. These parties usually have guest lists of a minimum of fifty people including kids and adults, boast table shrines to the birthday kid, and offer way more in the realm of sugar than good old cake and ice cream. Most people expect to be fully fed as well. Pretty intense you say? I agree. I think i prefer the invite a few kids over from school, at your house and not a rented venue, parents drop off and pick up, play a few games, cake ice cream and pizza, boom. Done. But Brazil is not like that. Fortunately, there is something i can do to help out. Most buffet services that cater children's party offer monotone items including bread rolls, fried bread items, fried rolled bread items, and hot dogs. Lovely. Kids like to eat color, and luckily color is usually better for you. Our kiddo (and parents) menu included fresh Vietnamese spring rolls (yes, kids ate them), cucumber sandwiches, chicken curry sandwiches, fruit in whipped yogurt, ham and spinach pesto wraps, and a scone and muffin station with whipped butter, jams and creams. Yes, I'm a Jaime Oliver fan, don't feed your kids crap! Well, s'mores are alright (note: graham crackers aren't available in Brazil, my client happened to be in the US during the menu planning and was able to bring back a few boxes so we could make s'mores party favors.)

Have you noticed that i make Vietnamese spring rolls at almost every single event i have? Out of the four I have just mentioned, three featured these rolls. I love that people want to eat fresh healthy food, but i kinda screwed myself over with this one because spring rolls take absolutely forever to make. At least by now i've got them down to almost production line status. Spring rolls for life.

Ok, enough of that. Let's talk about photography now. I have three businesses here in Brazil you know and yes sometimes things get a little jumbled up in my mind. Alright, so lately i have been working a lot more with portrait and event photography, mainly because there is more of a demand for portraiture than there is for food, and i do enjoy it. Believe it or not, photography is a bit more stressful than the food side of my business. Why? Because there are humans involved, not just carrots. Clients are hit or miss. Most people are genuinely amazing and fun to be around, but then every once in a while you get those people out of left field who just completely boggle your mind. I'm still young in portrait and event photography, so i try to take the advice of my photo mentor J, and not let it get to me. But even with the bad egg, we've had some great photo sessions this past month. A graffiti tour in Vila Madalena, an office and park shoot on Faria Lima, frolicking with chickens at Parque Agua Branca, a corporate event at Tofiq House in Jardins, and (my personal favorite) a four-month baby session with sous-chef G's beautiful boy.

On the food side of the photo aisle we are still working every month with our favorite cupcake client, Sophie & Theo, and have luckily added on a new start up company; Pop Art Gourmet Popcorn. I love working on website photos for food business because it is the perfect chance to fuse both food photography and portrait photography. Humans and food, together at last!

Well, how was that for a recap? Tired now? I'll leave with my Easter cake. I hadn't made anything for Easter in years, but i was finally bit hard by the crafty bug. I make so many cakes for clients that i don't remember the last time i actually ate a piece of cake. So this speckled cake went with me to an Easter-eve dinner party at the home of some dear friends. It is a gluten free carrot and coconut cake with lemony cream cheese buttercream. The speckling is made from dark vanilla and cocoa powder. You splatter it on with a paint brush, but i used a frayed pineapple leaf. The nest is purely coconut and corn syrup, the eggs are hollowed out quail eggs filled with chocolate. Probably the most fun i've had with making a cake in a while.

Gluten free Coconut Carrot Cake:
1 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup ground flax
1 tsp baking powder
3 grated carrots
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup shredded coconut
dash of vanilla
lemon zest

Mix together the flours and baking powder. Whip the butter, sugar and eggs together. Combine with the flour and add the remaining ingredients. Makes 4 cake layers for a small 14cm cake tin.

So, happy spring holidays, happy spring! We are entering winter in the Southern hemisphere though...either way. Hope to see you again sooner than later this time.