Brigadeiro

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Brigadeiro is one of the preeminent desserts in Brazil. Every party, from kids birthdays to weddings, is expected to have a large supply of brigadeiro and other docinhos (sweets). Brigadeiro is incredibly simple to make, but can then be used in many different ways. My personal favourite is to put it on top of ice cream as a topping, but, even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, it is not too sweet to even be eaten on its own. I think that the most common way of eating it, as any search online will inevitably show you, is in mouthwatering cup-cake like balls of brigadeiro wrapped in sprinkles.

When I first saw it, I was sure I had eaten it before as a child, but despite all the wonderful reactions evoked when I took my first bite, nostalgia was not one of them. I didn’t recognize the smell or taste, despite the fact that smell is strongly linked to memory.  I have thus concluded that I did not ever have brigadeiro before – given how similar it can look to other desserts, I think it is more likely just a common way of presenting desserts.

If you live in Toronto, there is actually even a brigadeiro place where you can try it out, Mary’s Brigadeiro. However, if you are feeling more adventurous and want to try your hand at making it yourself, as I mentioned, it’s very simple:

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 4-7 table Spoons of Chocolate Powder (optional – the more you add, the more chocolate flavour the Black Brigadeiro will have, White Brigadeiro has no chocolate)
  • 1-2 tea spoons of butter
  • Toppings (see below)

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Toppings

Common choices include Chocolate sprinkles, powdered milk, dehydrated cocunut, or granulated sugar.  Please note that sugar does tend to be quite sweet, and the brigadeiro will not keep as long.

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Directions

1. Combine the condensed milk, chocolate power, and butter in one pot on medium heat.

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2. Stir the ingredients constantly until the mixture stops sticking to the bottom of the pot.

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3. Pour the ingredients out onto a large plate or tray (be careful, it will be hot)
4. Wait for a little bit for it to cool to room temperature.
5. Put a bit of butter on your hands (to help you roll)
6. Using a tea spoon, scoop a small amount of the mixture, and roll into a ball.

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7. Have a small bowl (or mug) filled with sprinkles, dehydrated coconut, powdered milk, or sugar. Drop the rolled brigadeiro inside and shake the bowl to cover the brigadeiro in the topping of your choice.

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8. Plate and serve.

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Makes 30-50 brigadeiro (depending on the size you roll them).

Journal Entry Day 3

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This day I learned an important lesson about indulging myself. Treating yourself while on vacation is something we all do (a vacation is an indulgence in and of itself), and  Brazil is a great place to indulge as you get a lot more bang for your buck.

Now, you can easily find hotels in Brazil where the experience will be very similar to a Canadian Hotel. They have Holiday Inn, and other brand name hotels just like anywhere else – and if you are just looking for somewhere to rest your head at the end of the day, that’s fine.

However, if you look at little bit, you can easily find an unforgettable place where you still won’t break the bank. Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) and I found this wonderful place called the Oasis Tajaja owned by a very friendly Italian woman, where our room was in its own building, and we shared the large pool with up to eight other guests (we actually only had one other guest when we stayed in the hotel).

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Having such a wonderful place made the evenings a wonder to themselves, and the private pool allowed us to relax after our long days of exploring.

This is also important because, despite the recent droughts, João Pessoa is still a coastal city, so gets a lot of rain – sometimes the sun stays shining while it rains (a sunshower, my favourite type of weather), but it is rain. It actually rained most of the day.  Not everyone wants to go out in the rain, and sometimes you’ll want to just relax at the hotel. But, even if you are just relaxing at the hotel, you’ll want to know you are relaxing in Brazil, and not feel like you are just in some random Canadian Hotel.

That first night in the hotel, Minha Namorada and I sat in the pool looking up at the sky, and that’s one of the first times I really realized how big Earth is – the stars weren’t in the right spot. João Pessoa is just south of the equator, and while I’ve always known that there are different constellations in the Southern Hemisphere, it is different to see for the first time. While living in a big city with lots of light pollution limits the amount of stars I see, they have always been a constant in my life – but here I was, looking up at the night sky like I’ve done all my life, and yet it was like I was doing so for the first time in my life. I could see some were simply in the wrong place, and yet others were completely new to me, and it really made me realize how big the world really is. Despite how far away the stars are, and despite how many billions of people have lived underneath these exact stars, I’d have never seen this part of the sky from my little corner of Earth. That childhood exhilaration, the first time you see the stars from the countryside, where you realize just how many stars are actually in the sky, that’s what I felt.

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The Crux, or Southern Cross, is only visible from the Southern Celestial Hemisphere  – Till Credner [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

There is an important distinction to be made when staying in a hotel in Brazil. Despite the interuse of the terms in Canada, always look for a hotel, not a motel. Brazil is a very religious country, where children tend to stay at home until they are married. Accordingly, there is a thriving industry for couples that need to find alone time and so they have motels, which rent by the hour.

Carne De Sol

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Traditional Carne de Sol from Restaurante Picuí Praia. one of the two best restaurants in João Pessoa specializing in Carne de Sol

Carne De Sol is a treasure from Northeastern Brazil. Imagine if Brisket and Beef Jerky had a baby… And you’ll have a good idea of this wonderful taste. I had the delight of eating this the first night I was in Brazil, and I fell in love with it immediately.

Carne De Sol’s history comes from the sertanejos (read: Brazilian Cowboys), who dried their meat in the sun and using salt – much like other cultures around the world. However, the process developed in Brazil involved shorter days and colder nights, drying the outside, while maintaining a moist and tender center.

While it is a common food in the Northeastern Region, it is easy to make, and has become popular around Brazil, so can be found in restaurants across the nation. It is hard to follow the exact traditional (now commercialized) drying process, but here is a simple recipe that approximates it:

  1. Buy 2 kg of Rump Roast (or whatever beef you prefer)
  2. Cut the meat into pieces no thicker than 3-4 cm (or about 1.5″)
  3. Place a very thick layer of salt on the bottom of a Tupperware container. Then place the meat inside and cover in another thick layer of salt on top (Essentially make a sandwich with salt instead of bread), and put in the fridge for one to two days. Check the meat every few hours, draining what we commonly refer to as the blood (Fun Fact: its not actually blood that drains from a steak), and replacing the salt that washed away. By doing this in the fridge, you preserve the moist center, while adding wonderful crisp and salty exterior.
  4. You will know it is done, when the meat changes colour from Red to Brown.

This meat can then be used as the beef in whatever other recipes you are following, to give it a Brazilian twist. IMPORTANT NOTE: you must still cook the meat to a high temperature before it is safe to eat. Salting the meat merely preserves it, this is not a replacement for cooking.

Here are some of the most of common dishes from Brazil containing Carne De Sol: (Hint: use Google Translate for recipes)

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Purê de Macaixeria com carne de sol
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Tabua de Carne is the other main Carne de Sol restaurant in João Pessoa.

Natal

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Mário Monte [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Natal, which was founded on December 25, 1599 (and shares the Portuguese name for Christmas), is a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, and has a rich history with a large population of expats. The city was one of the first major tourist areas in the state, largely because of its strategic location during World War 2.

Natal, while not the absolute closest, it is still about as close as you can get to Africa from the Americas, while simultaneously being one of the closest points to Europe in Latin America, and so was a staging area for the North African Campaign during World War 2. As is common with places where soldiers train, many of the Allied Troops fell in love with the city and returned after the war to settle. There are clearly lots of expats and foreigners, because I was pleasantly surprised to find, at more than one bar, hockey was on TV, and English was common throughout the city.  Natal still hosts a major training centre for the Brazilian Air Force.

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Centro de Cultura Espacial e Informações Turísticas (CCEIT)

Natal, owing to its location near the equator, also has nearby the Barreira do Inferno Launch Center, which is a rocket launch base of the Brazilian Space Agency.

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Natal, which is near Praia da Pipa, also has some beautiful beaches, although that leads to one unfortunate consequence for tourists – nothing is open during holidays because everyone expects you to be at the beaches during the day. Places open for brief lunches, but when Minha Noiva (my fiancée) and I arrived after a long drive, nothing was open for supper until late. We eventually found a bar that let us have drinks, but we couldn’t find anywhere to eat before 6. while it is a bit annoying when I’m hungry, I do like the calm and laid back attitude that everyone is just expected to “go relax at the beach.”

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The view from a hill overlooking some of the beautiful beaches of Natal
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Praia do Cotovelo, from the patio of Falésia Restaurant

This is not for a lack of customers though, Minha Noiva and I went to a tourist favourite shrimp and risotto restaurant, Camarões, and it was busy minutes after it opened. Brazilians don’t gorge themselves like some Canadians do though, and when I ate far too much risotto (with desert on top!) I did get some long glances from the wait staff. They even tried to suggest it was too much food I was ordering. (Note: I do not recommend eating as much food as I did, but the cheese and shrimp was just too good to stop)

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The Serving size was for four… I may have eaten the entire thing (Minha Noiva helped)

João Pessoa – Points of Interest

As I have written about before, I have a special place in my heart for João Pessoa. It may not have the fame of Rio De Janeiro, or the size of São Paulo, but it is the first city I explored in Brazil, and it is where Minha Noiva (My Fiancée) calls home.

João Pessoa is not without its own landmarks or attractions that make it unique, and a wonderful place to visit, and if you are looking for great photograph opportunities, here are three great locations:

1. The Easternmost Point in all of Mainland America, Ponto de Seixas.

Even to people who have no familiarity about Brazilian geography, I can always easily describe the location João Pessoa. South America comes roughly to a point (or a horn) on the Eastern side, and João Pessoa is located exactly at the end of that point. This is as close as you can get to Africa without leaving travelling to an island.

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Ponta do Seixas                                                                  irene nobrega [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Atop a nearby cliff, called Capo Branco, there is a lighthouse, which most people confuse with the actual Easternmost point, Ponto Do Seixas (always go to the Wikipedia article in the local language, using Google Translate, rather than assuming the English article has the full story, especially if the English article is a stub). Capo Branco does give a much better view (and is better for the lighthouse’s functionality), but the location of a large landmark so close to the actual location, causes much confusion.

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Cabo Branco Lighthouse  Pbendito assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
If you are looking to visit though, always ask for directions to Ponto De Seixas, not Capo Branco. Since there is a neighborhood named after the Cliff, which will just add to your confusion.

2. Saint Francisco Cultural Centre, Centro Cultural São Francisco

While most people would either know, or could guess, that Brazil was formerly part of the Kingdom of Portugal, far less would know that parts of Brazil were one time conquered by the Dutch. Saint Anthony’s Convent (a part of the Cultural Centre), while initially built by Friars in 1589, was used as a fortress by the Dutch during their occupation from 1630 to 1654.

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Centro Cultural São Francisco

The Friars then returned for three centuries, but shared their space in 1885 to 1892 with a School of Marines Apprentices, and the Military Hospital, before eventually becoming a Seminary (until 1964) and Diocesan College (until 1906). Eventually, the site became a Cultural Centre, but remains one of the most beautiful churches in the area, having been renovated over centuries, in baroque style, with extremely ornate details and adorned in gold.

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It also houses some of the most important artwork a for the Brazilian Baroque style.

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Glorification of the Franciscan Saints by José Joaquim da Rocha, Manuel de Jesus Pinto, José Soares de Araújo, or José Teófilo de Jesus  – there is some controversy over the true artist.
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Another view of the Glorification of the Franciscan Saints, from where the choir sits during Mass

3. Global Hotel, Hotel Globo

This is a beautiful hotel built in 1928 that used to host presidents of the country. It was located here for the beautiful view over the Sanhauá River, over the same river as the Praia de Jacaré sunset, and in the heart of downtown, but recently it has become a heritage museum noted for its unique neoclassical influenced architecture. The sunset remains just as beautiful, but the area was abandoned in the mid-1930s, due to construction of a new port, which caused a mass exodus of the elite to the newly developed beachfront area. The area has become a time capsule of that period of time in Brazil, but being in an abandoned area, I wouldn’t visit it on foot, or stay well after dark. I highly recommend you go to see the sunset from the gardens, just don’t stay too long afterwards.

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Sunset at Hotel Globo

The Importance of Sunblock

Sunblock is extremely necessary in Brazil.  While Brazil is the fifth-largest country (by area) in the world, the Equator goes right through the country.   Thus, is it possible to talk in general terms about the issues of sun-care in Brazil.

Canadians do not really know the sun, not the same way as Brazilians.   Canada has a very low UV index by comparison, as it does not get the intense solar rays that Brazil does.   Canadians go outside and “don’t want to waste the sunshine”.   As long as you are in Brazil, you will get plenty of sunshine; however, I do understand that Canadians aren’t going to travel all that distance to Brazil, just to sit in the shade.   It may technically be a good idea considering the UV index, it may even be what the World Health Organization suggests, but I understand it won’t get followed.   So, at least do yourself a favour and use Sunblock properly.

There are some very important things you need to know about sunblock.


     1. SPF 30 is likely sufficient

With the exception of some extremely pale-skinned individuals, sunblock with an SPF factor of 30 is probably sufficient.    It is much cheaper than higher SPFs, and there are diminishing returns.   Generally speaking, you divide the time you spend in the sun with the SPF factor, to get the equivalent:

  • 30 minutes with SPF 30 is the equivalent of one unprotected minute in the Sun.
  • 30 minutes with SPF 60 is the equivalent of 30 unprotected seconds in the Sun.

Barring extreme paleness, the difference of 30 seconds isn’t extreme, but your pocket book will thank you.

Another major issue is that higher SPFs may create behavioural disincentives to use sunblock correctly.    Looking at the above comparison, you may look at the numbers and think you could wear SPF 60 for two hours, and its the equivalent of wearing SPF 30 for only one.  While it is technically accurate, the problem with looking at the comparison that way is that you might fail to then remember that the both sunblocks needs to be reapplied after 2 hours.   The SPF 30 after one hour is still good for another hour, whereas the SPF 60 after two hours is not.   So, if you accidentally make them equivalent in your head, it would be easy to accidentally go long overdue before reapplying the SPF 60.   The slight lower feeling of security with the SPF 30 will remind you to use it properly.

Further, higher SPFs, depending on the country it is sold, are not always associated with higher protection of the damaging UVA rays, but only UVB.  While UVB are the more likely to cause painful sunburns, UVA is associated with faster aging of your skin, and more importantly, UVA is associated with increased cancer risk.  Unless there are strong statements of broad spectrum protection, you may actually be better protected by SPF 30.

     2. Use Sunscreen properly.

Sunscreen needs to be applied 30 minutes before you go outside to be effective.   You want it to have some time to soak into your skin and actually begin protecting you.  

As I said above, sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, don’t forget this.  Sunscreen doesn’t always disappear everywhere at the same rate, so you may not notice parts where you are beginning to burn until it is too late.   Your body will absorb the sunscreen, and it won’t be effective all day.  Sunburns will ruin your trip, it is incredibly hard to sleep on a sunburned back, and you won’t want to move, walk anywhere, or even enjoy the sun.   If you were going to just stay in the hotel, why would you have even gone to Brazil?

You also need to reapply when you sweat or when you get wet.   Water is a natural solvent, and is really good at its job.  If you look at the supposedly “water resistant”, or “sweat proof” sunblocks, they all still recommend you reapply after any situation in which the sunblock may have washed off.  While I do think they are a good idea, they can only do their job so well, so you have to do your part and reapply.

Remember to use enough sunblock – you want to use about a shot glass full every time you apply it.   

     3. Spray sunscreens

Personally, I like spray sunscreens.   A big drawback is that it is hard to know if i have used enough, but that is why I apply twice as much as I think I need.  However, the main benefit for me, is that I am not a flexible man.   I can’t touch everywhere on my back, and the spray sunscreen at least allows me to know some sunscreen is applied everywhere.   Partial protection is better than none.

Simple tips to remember:

  • Put Sunblock on when you wake up
    • make it part of your morning routine, after you’ve dried from your shower, and gotten dressed. Sunblock is supposed to go on well before you go outside anyways.  
  • Put sunblock on whenever you eat a meal, or start a new event
    • it is easy when you are on vacation to forget the time, so take a few minutes and reapply whenever you do something new.   If you apply it first thing in the morning, after breakfast and lunch, you’ll have captured most of the day.  Assuming you don’t stay in one place the entire time if you apply it whenever you get to a new location, you’ll have covered most of the day.   
  • Put sunscreen on whenever you dry out after feeling wet.   
    • You’re going to a hot and humid climate, you’ll probably go for a swim, or even if you just sit there and soak in the sun, you’ll get sweaty.

The above are all about making sunscreen part of your routine, so you don’t even have to think about it.   You won’t want to worry about the time of day (other than to make sure you reach your reservation), and you won’t want to have your cellphone on you.   Enjoy yourself, and just have this routine.

If you do think about the time, unless you are absolutely sure of the time of your application, round down and reapply 90 minutes after the last time.   Being extra protected is not a problem, and using SPF 30 you won’t break the bank.

     4. Finally, if despite all of the above, you still get a sunburn…

Apply sunblock immediately, and at night apply a sunburn cream.   Sunburns are not like a light switch, there are degrees, and just because you are “already burned” doesn’t mean it can’t get much, much worse.  A minor sunburn is an annoyance, a bad sunburn means you probably won’t sleep well, but a really bad sunburn can lead to hospitalization.

Sorry for the delay in posting this week’s article, WordPress was down over the weekend, and the holidays delayed me a bit further.

Misconceptions about Brazil

Growing up in Canada, people often get an unwarranted poor view of other countries. Please don’t think I am suggesting Canadians are racist, or anything like that. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, Canadians simply don’t get educated about many countries around the world. By the time we learn about British History, French History, American History, and how they all integrate into Canadian History, there is not a lot of time to learn about other countries. In addition, as large as we are, Canada is fairly isolated on the map. We have one land border with another country (possibly two), and we live in one of the top ranked countries according to many different indices.

Accordingly, we can easily have rumours, singular items, or misleading headlines shape ours views of other countries. I’ve put together a list of Misconceptions about Brazil, misconceptions that I once believed, or that I’ve head from others:

     1. Brazil is dangerous

Brazil is not dangerous. Canadians have an extremely low crime rate compared to the rest of the world, and we also tend to visit only countries very similar to our own, like the USA or Britain. However, all countries have places that are not safe. Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and Newark all have high crime rates, and higher murder rates than Brazil. Yet, people don’t have the same irrational fears of those cities.

There are places in Brazil that are not safe. You simply have to stay out of the crime ridden areas though, and you will be fine. If you stay away from the Favelas, including the controversial Favela Tours, then you need not worry. This doesn’t mean don’t take precautions, but you don’t have to do anything different than you should do when visiting any foreign country, and especially when you don’t know the city.

     2. Brazilians dress provocatively

I think this comes solely because of Brazilian Carnival. I haven’t been to Carnival, but the traditional Samba Dancers there dress in fairly provocative clothing. And when marketing Carnival and other Brazilian things to tourists, its not surprising that dress like this is used – sex sells, as the saying goes.

Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

No one could rightly think this is how everyone dresses all the time. It is clearly the type of outfit worn for a special performance in one specific time and place, yet many people think about it when they think of Brazil. But, a quick thought experiment will quickly dispel these thoughts. Imagine for a second you live right on the equator, where the sun’s UV index ranges from a low of 5 to a high of 12.

Just to give those numbers some context, Vancouver ranges from 1-7, and the World Health Organization suggests that when the UV reaches just 8, that people avoid the outside during midday hours, seek shade, and that a shirt, sunscreen and hat are a must.

Would it make sense to show a lot of skin in those areas? Certainly not. In fact, when I have visited Brazil, it is almost always the tourists who are the ones provacatively dressed, and who ultimately looking like a tomato at the end of the day. While the Brazilians are the ones seeking shade, wearing hats, wearing UV-protective shirts, and actually getting through life without contracting Melenoma.

     3. Brazilian animals are a constant threat.

Canadians don’t view Brazil quite as badly as we view Australia, but we aren’t used to dealing with poisonous animals. Accordingly, when visiting Brazil, we think about the horror stories of animals from the Amazon – anacondas, poison dart frogs, Brazilian Wandering Spiders, just to name a few. However, Brazil and the Amazon are not the same thing. And, this largely stems from a familiarity problem. People from countries outside of North America think of Canada and worry about bears or wolves. I’ve only ever seen a bear in the wild once or twice in my life, and that was when I was visiting small out of the way towns, and I was in a car. The same is true for Brazilian animals. You won’t see anything more dangerous than a hornet (which, don’t get me wrong, do suck – I have an irrational hatred of bees, wasps, and hornets). But, you don’t need to worry about snakes, or poisonous animals anymore than someone living in Toronto has to worry about bears.

I’ll add to this list as I encounter more misconceptions.