Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve - photos

We enjoyed a beautiful meal, a fun gift exchange and warm friendships Christmas Eve in Itaipú.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Niterói

Today we're off to Zozó and Tonico's house in Itaipú for the holiday weekend. We'll share the evening with long-time neighbors and friends Conceição and Sergio along with their extended family.

At midnight the children will get their wish and be able to open gifts. The adults will also be exchanging gifts with our "Secret Friend".

The feast will surely be fit for royalty.

Then next week Luiz and I leave for Boa Esperança to celebrate the New Year with our gang.

I'll take photos and come back to chronicle the highlights soon.

Happy Holidays to all and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mexican pizza?

For the first time in nearly two years Luiz and I had a Mexican dinner: Nachos with ground beef, cheese, tomatoes and peppers topped with a generous mound of guacamole. In the absence of genuine corn tortilla chips I scraped up some Doritos brand cheese flavored corn (?) chips.

What’s the big deal? Finding the right ingredients is no easy feat. First: no corn chips; second: no corn tortillas I could convert into chips; third: only mildly-related jalapeño-like hot peppers; and finally: strange looks when adding salt and tomatoes to a bowl of mashed avocado (Brazilians eat their avocado for dessert, with sugar.)

Not much Mexican food goin’ on down here. But man our dinner tasted great!

I was able to find whole wheat flour tortillas, however. But they were strangely labeled ready-to-use pizza dough! Sorry guys – these tortillas are not suitable as pizza dough.

Some things don’t translate very well.

It's BBQ season

It's always the right time for a good churrasco (BBQ). Saturday our buddy Baranda called to invite us to his place for a marathon grilled meat fest - washed down with slushy ice cold beer.

Tis the season!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Panettone success

One very widespread Brazilian Christmas tradition is the giving and eating of sweet Panettone bread. How a traditional Italian bread has come to be so ubiquitous here in Brazil remains a mystery to me. I'm sure there is some ancient Portuguese connection somewhere. (If you can school me, comments welcome.)

These days - enter a grocery store and you will have to press past the Panettone display tower to get to everything else. Every bakery worth its reputation has their own Panettone recipe. In general the fruity versions win out in popularity, but as you might imagine a newer chocolate chip version has emerged.

I'm proud to say that I have discovered (thank you Google) a perfect-every-time Panettone recipe for my bread machine. Given the tradition in place, this easy and delicious recipe has solved a lot of "what should we give them?" dilemmas.

My personal changes to the linked recipe include: use milk instead of water; use butter instead of vegetable oil; add a quarter cup of raisins. Be sure the dough is quite wet. And if you live in Brazil - search - SEARCH - for the almond extract. It makes a big difference.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Luiz as Santa's elf floral designer

It’s Chrissmisstime at Flor de Luiz. Santa’s helper has been working overtime combining permanent botanicals and cute little jingle-lingles.

Luiz has this holiday wreath motif down. He’s been kickin’ them out three and four strong in an afternoon. You know he is on a roll – lost in his own private north pole workshop – when he doesn’t come out of his workroom until his nighttime soap opera begins.

Here at Flor de Luiz central we’ve figured a few things out: wreaths sell better early in the season, centerpieces stay hot even as we approach Christmas day; apparently gold is the preferred decoration color this season – best sellers; if you make it they will come (Luiz made a fabulous towering arrangement for our living room and by the end of the day it was sold for R$250.)

The rush is dying down. Luiz is putting together the final arrangements using the remaining decorative elements in his workshop. Sales have nearly topped $R2,000! Plus, what does not get sold makes for great Christmas gifts for friends and family.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Visiting the National Library in Rio

Regular readers know that my Portuguese for Foreigners class at the local Federal University includes a number of classes out in the community. We’ve gone mostly to museums, but a couple weeks ago we got a not-so-behind-the-scenes tour of the recently restored (actually many years ago, but it still looks great) National Library in Rio.

Given the mature shade trees along the street in front of the building, I couldn’t get a full-on photo of the beautiful historic building built between 1905 – 1910. But you can piece these together in your head.

Originally conceived in 1810 by the King of Portugal, Dom José I, the collection was instantly the largest in South America. With a current collection of over 9 million items the National Library remains the largest in South America and ranks as the eighth largest library in the world.

There is an excellent article describing the history, collection and wealth of valuable rare items contained at the library here. Great summary. Check it out.

Our tour was basically the garden-variety public tour of the building. I could only take photos of the exterior and the main lobby. Large reading and research rooms, as well as the spectacular rare collections hall were off limits to cameras (why, exactly? I have no idea.)

I am forever impressed by the old-world grandeur and meticulous craftsmanship of national treasures like the National Library, the Municipal Theater (photo of restoration in progress included here) and places like the old palace in Petropolis.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Feliz Natal from Luiz and Jim

We just sent this Xmas message out to our friends and family. Enjoy!

Shout out to Donnie and Royce!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Turkey Day in Niterói

While a bit behind schedule by American standards, I prepared a turkey dinner today. If you just monitor available ingredients at the grocery store, there was a deafening silence around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a non-event here in Brazil. Thanksgiving what? Who? When?

But now that we are into December, turkeys are filling the freezer section of the grocery store. Everybody loves a good turkey for Christmas dinner.

For me – I’m playing catch-up for Thanksgiving. Today I made a scrumptious rice, sausage, apple, raisin stuffing for a small bird. Luiz salivated from the sidelines asking for a salty greasy gravy for his mashed potatoes. Steamed vegetables and a crisp salad rounded out my post-Thanksgiving feast.

We have fixins for several lunches to come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pai e filho

Yesturday, while waiting at the bus stop on our way back from the central fish market in Niterói, a sweet older woman stood observing Luiz and I chattering away. She was all smiles.

The sun was blistering hot so I offered to step back into the bus shelter and open up some shade for her while we watched for our respective buses. "Não, obrigada," she said. No thank you.
Then she threw Luiz for a loop by asking if we were father and son. She enjoyed seeing such closeness between male family members. "Pai e filho?" she insisted.

Luiz was so taken aback he could hardly respond. I, of course, nodded my head and smiled. "Yes," I said. LOL!

This morning Luiz asked if he really looks so old as to be mistaken for my father. I assured him that he does not look old -- I look young!

We'll never see you again senhora, but thank you for really brightening my day!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Luiz in the heartland

A couple weeks ago Luiz joined a crew of researchers to interview drivers along the road between Brasília and Barra do Garças. It was a 10 day adventure with a nice salary to boot. He was invited to participate by a friend of ours who works for the Department of Transportation.

As with anything, the trip included bad moments and good moments. Chief among the bad moments were the very long drives in a crowded car to and from central Goiás state, where the research took place – more than 24 hours in each direction.

Standing on his feet under the punishing sun all day took a close second in the negative category.

On the other hand, the trip afforded some tourist time in Brasília, the nation’s capital. While being a city with a rather dreary reputation, the architecture is world famous as a central achievement in Oscar Niemeyer’s long and groundbreaking career.

Being in the middle of nowhere had the advantage of being habitat for exotic (although locally common) birds. He saw rare blue macaws, toucans, lots of parrots and the more common yellow, green and red macaws, plus eagles and an owl. They saw ant eaters, capivaras, snakes and vast expanses of cattle and horses.

Always a favorite for Luiz, their travels included some time at a spectacular multi-level waterfall.

The days were long and the sun never let up. But you know our Luiz: always staying on the brighter side of things.

Garota de Ipanema

Listening to my iPod this morning I heard Bossacucanova's version of Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema). It made me think to add it to the growing list of other versions I have at this earlier post.

This may be the beginnings of a collection of sorts... (My impulse to post various versions of this particular song is really directed at my fellow gringos. I get it that most Brasileiros have heard quite enough of this tune.)

I could not find the version on my iPod from their Brasilidade CD. That one is actually better than this one, I think. But check this out. It gets (much) better as it goes along, so stay with it. Good jazz version.

You know you are in Brazil when

You know you are in Brazil when you begin cooking dinner before 7:00 in the morning. It’s simply too hot to cook in the afternoon.

Just imagine standing over a stove with two burners lit, rice boiling and vegetables steaming, with a hot oven at your knees – all contributing to an even hotter ambient temperature. Been there. No thanks. I literally drip with sweat, soaking my shorts.

Luiz and I do not have air conditioning, except in the bedroom. When I do have to cook in the afternoon I bring an oscillating fan into the kitchen and set it up on a stool. But that just circulates the hot air. Still, it’s an improvement.

This morning I got up at my usual 6:30 am and got to work. First: a pot of coffee. Then I put in a load of laundry (which requires nearly two hours to run its course). Taking some leftover chicken and vegetable stock from a previous roasted medley I set lentils to boil. Using chopped onions and some garlic I quickly sautéed some brown rice and then set it to boil as well. Finally, I scrubbed three whole beets, cut off the greens end, wrapped each in foil and placed them in a hot oven to roast.

With that I escaped to the living room to study Portuguese under the ceiling fan.

By nine o’clock I had completed a green lentil, red onion and brown rice pilaf (my antidote to the ever-present white rice on the dinner table), skinned and sliced the roasted beets and put to refrigerate, hung the laundry, and cleaned the kitchen. All this before the sun crested the tall apartment building to our east.

Dinner has been prepped. Now I can enjoy some beach time, like any respectable Brazilian.