Journal Day 7

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My final day of my first trip to Brazil landed on Good Friday, and so it was a family-oriented day. One important lesson I learned that day was just how important family is to Brazilians. There is a stereotype of latinos having large families, and while Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) doesn’t have the largest immediate family, the closeness that she has with her extended family more than makes up for this. Her cousins act more like siblings, with her Tia (aunt) and Tio (uncle) were just as welcoming to me as her parents had been.

I remember when I was young sitting around the table with my extended family, my grandfather and uncle laughing, while everyone talked with everyone at once – participating in five or six conversations at once, always eager to jump into another. It is one of my most cherished memories of my family’s farm. As much as my portuguese didn’t allow me to participate in the conversations as much as I would have liked, that was the feeling I got as I sat around the table. The love of a family that are just happy to be in each other’s company. And I was not excluded for even a second, from the very beginning, I was family.

I did come to learn why Brazilians tend to drink more espressos, as I’ve never been one to turn down coffee (especially wonderful Brazilian Coffee), but it was not a good idea to have a mug in a hot apartment. I thought I was sweating before I had my coffee… A second cup was a close-fought battle between my taste buds and my sweat glands. But, I can say that I don’t know how anyone ever cooks a big meal in Brazil, because I would immediately grow to hate the excess heat from a stove or oven – I bet toaster ovens are big there.

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How was I supposed to resist?
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This is a picture of my sweat glands after the coffee

In the evening, we went to get ice cream, which brings me to another point. Brazil is not good for diets, as Canadians tend to think of cold treats as good for cooling oneself down in the heat, and Canada doesn’t tend to get so many extremely hot days.  The cold protects us from indulging too often, because its not healthy to eat those every day, but in Brazil we lose that natural protection.  This is not to mention that Nordestino (Northeastern) Brazilian fare is heavy in cheeses and breads.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was that I concluded my first (but certainly not last) trip to Brazil.

Cassava aka, Macaxeira, Manioc, or Yuca

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Amada44 [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
Cassava, also known as Macaxeira or Yuca, is a staple crop in Brazil, and is a very healthy alternative to add to the North American diet. While it is often made into flour, I find it is more like potatoes than wheat (although it can substitute for both). One of my favourite meals when out with Minha Noiva (my fiancee) is to have Carne De Sole with fried Macaxeira (known as Macaxeira Frita). Cassava flour is also a great alternative for those in need of Gluten-Free products.

However, you have to know how to pick one, and how to prepare it properly. Generally speaking only “sweet” Cassava is available in Canada, which is better, but it is still not safe to consume raw as it contains some cyanide (as do almonds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, and bamboo shoots). Processed Cassava (such as Cassava flour, or chips) will have already been safe to use as-is.

Picking the right Cassava is important – the correct way is to snap off the end and it should only be white (as pictured above). If brown specks appear, then the Cassava should be avoided. I do find it weird to go to the local supermarket and break the products in half before deciding if I’m going to purchase it, but its the only way to check a Cassava, and any store that sells them should know this – so, as awkward as it feels, it’s perfectly normal!

In preparing Cassava, I find it is best to follow the Australian Government’s recommendations, which state that:

  • To make cassava safe to eat, first peel and slice the cassava and then cook it thoroughly either by baking, frying, boiling or roasting. This process reduces the cyanogenic glycosides to safe levels. Frozen cassava and frozen peeled cassava should also be cooked in this way. Discard any cooking water after use.

Cassava can then be used in any way that you use potatoes!

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Macaxeira Frita, essentially, Cassava French Fries – Bdieu [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
If you want to use it as a substitute for flour, buy the premade flour (which is widely available, and can also be found on Amazon), and then replace it 1:1 for regular flour. However, Cassava Flour is lighter, and more water absorbent than regular flour, so here are some baking tips:

1. Since it absorbs more water, it can end up being more dense, so you might want to add slightly less than normal and check consistencies before adding the rest.

2. It may tend to bake faster on the outside, even while the inside remains a bit doughy, so its better on lower temperatures for a bit longer time.

3. It sometimes gives a bit of a nut-flavour to your food.

4. It is very dusty, so be prepared for a slightly bigger mess.

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Pão de Queijo

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In my opinion, Pão de Queijo is one of the best foods Brazil has to offer.

Pão de Queijo translates simply as “bread of cheese”, but it is so much more.  Imagine the rolls from Red Lobster (TM), but more moist, and with a soft exterior.

Pão de Queijo is very common in the region of Minas Gerais in Brazil, but can be found anywhere. It is not made with wheat, as its history comes from a time and place where wheat was in short supply. Instead, it is made with a base mostly of Cassava and Tapioca – both staple crops in Brazil. The actual cheese used varies from place to place, but brand name stores, such as the Casa de Pão de Queijo (TM) will be the same across locations.

Pão de Queijo used to be more difficult to make in Canada due to the difficulty in finding Tapioca or Cassava Flour, but the increasing number of individuals with gluten sensitivity (celiac disease or otherwise) has created more of a market for wheat flour alternatives, so tapioca flour can now be found at places like Walmart.

Ingredients:

500 g of Tapioca Flour or Sour Cassava Flour
250 ml of water
250 ml of milk
125 ml of oil
2 eggs
100 g grated Parmesan cheese
salt (as desired)

Instructions:

1. In a pan, boil the water and add the milk, oil and salt.

2. Add the flour, mix well and remove from the heat. This is also a good time to begin to preheat the oven to 350 F.

3. Begin to knead the dough.

4. While the dough is warm, add the parmesan cheese, the eggs and mix well.

5. Using your hands, create small balls of approximately 2 cm in diameter.

6. Place the balls on a non-stick baking dish, leaving a small amount of space between them.

7. Bake in the oven (at 350 F) for about 40 minutes.

 

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).

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)