Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brasilia! Part I

As many of my post start out it was a sunny morning with just a few white puffy marsh mellow clouds in the sky.  On several of my trips to Brazil, I have either caught a connecting flight in Brasilia or due to less expensive airfare it has been where stop I flying and find other ways to travel the remaining distance to Goiania.  The times when it has been my stopping point, we have met up with Lucia (Luiz's friend) who is from Brasilia. She has graciously given us a ride to the local bus station for the next leg of our journey.  Every time she has given us a ride,  she has asked us when we are going to return for a behind the scenes tour of the city and we have decided that today is the day.  Our friend Markos is with us and will act as our GPS, at least until we meet up with Lucia as he has spent some time in
Brasilia and knows his basic way around.  We head out of Goiania as the sun begins to shine on the vacant construction buildings this Saturday morning.  (Vacant only because no one is working Saturday morning)  It is a nice drive through the "cerrado" (a vast tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil, particularly in the states of Goiás and Minas Gerais) with not a sign of rain.  The trip goes quickly with only a couple of stops; a quick stop for coffee of course and the second at a little hammock store along the roadside.  I have decided hammocks make great gifts for family and friends and when I spot a little store selling them, I insist we stop.  How can I go wrong with a gift that encourages you to take a nap and enjoy the outdoors all at the same time.  I second guess my request as we step out of the car and the odor of fish consumes us, but soon I notice there is a bait shop in the back of the store which makes it ok and I continue  looking around.  The
price is right and I purchase a couple hammocks for my next journey stateside.  The rest of the journey through the countryside goes quickly and soon we are maneuvering the streets of Brasilia.  I notice right away that the city is not as green as my previous visit (in 2010).  Everything is brown and dusty as it is the dry season and there has been no rain for two to three months. We have chosen the international airport to meet up with Lucia as we know there is plenty of parking,  we know where it is, and the limited signs all direct us to that one location.  We locate it quite easily and soon the phone rings.  It is Lucia calling to let us know she is nearing the airport.  We jump into her car and off we head to see the city .
Brasilia, well as you may know it is Brazil's Capital and the fourth largest city in the country with over 2,500,000 people living there.  It is an example of modern urban planning and even though it is a new city (built 1956-1960),  the dreams of a centrally located capital date back to 1827 when Jose Bonifacio, an adviser to Emperior Pedro I conceived the idea of a new capital city with a more central location.  He proposed moving it away from the heavily populated eastern coast and Rio de Janiero in order to create more equally represented government.  The concept  was not actually realized until President Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction of Brasilia to fulfill an article of Brazil's first republican constitution of 1891.  President Kubitschek began the move by awarding the main urban planning contract to Lucio Costa by way of a contest with over 5550 people competing for the opportunity.  The building began in 1956 under Lucio's direction with a majority of the public building design being overseen by world renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer.  Amazingly,  the core of Brasilia was built in just 41 months and in 1960 the city was officially inaugurated as the new capital of Brazil.  Today the city is home to most of the countries governmental offices.   (thanks wikipedia)
Well -enough about Brasilia's history,  let's get back to our journey today and after a short drive around,  Lucia takes us to a famous local restaurant located in one of the cities many parks.  We fortunately find a parking spot close and soon are under the thatched roof of the little establishment enjoying the shade and cool breeze. It is not long before the waiter brings out rice, beans, yuca, beef, collard greens, and a tomato salad all served family style.  Let's not forget the Guarana - a Brazilian soda with a refreshing exotic flavor.  It is a great traditional meal and gives Lucia time to catch up with Markos and Luiz. I spend the time intensely listening for Portuguese words I  know and attempting to figure out what the are talking about.  Lucia's daughter has come along and knows a little English so I provide her with a little practice as well.
 (this will act as my Portuguese lesson for the day)

Soon lunch is over and we are back in the car heading to our first destination the "Eixo Monumental" (Monumental Axis).  A large rectangular green space in the center of the city with eight lanes of traffic moving vehicles in opposite direction on each side.  Along this parkway is where most of the government buildings, museums, monuments, and other important structures to the cities vitality are located.  This vast sea of grass is anchored on the northwest end by the countries Supreme Court building, Congressional building, and Presidential Palace (where the president and other key officials perform their daily work).  The area reminds me some of the "the mall" area in Washington DC.
 Our journey today will start at the opposite end of the "Eixo Monumental" where there is a historical area dedicated to the founder of Brasilia Juscelino Kubitschek (JK).  It is a wonderful sculpture and museum designed by his friend Oscar Niemeyer.   The museum has artifacts of Kubitschek's life and is where he and his wife's remains lay entombed. We decide to pass on visiting the museum on this visit and I add it to my must see later list.  We do take time to investigate some great sculptures laying on the lawn in front of the monument.  These great metal spheres created with human figure cut outs and painted a variety of colors are set poised on the grassy area ready to begin their roll but 
no rolling is allowed.  It is easy to see how Mr. Niemeyer could be seen as a great visionary for the country of Brazil.  After about twenty minutes it is time to see more so back in the car for a short drive in the afternoon heat.  It is quite warm outside and shortly after getting into the car we find a great parking spot in some shade close to a wonderful garden of flowers in full bloom.  A color oasis of sorts in the middle of a brown dry plain.  With cameras fully charged and ready to shoot we leave the car in the cool shade to await our return.

Huge trees surrounding a field of red, pink and white flowers flowing endlessly as water shoots from the fountains into the blue sky.  It is a perfect place to sit and let our food digest and relax a little while.  I take in the sounds and smells of the garden and of course take a few photos.  Soon it is time to head on our way again.

Our next destination is the television tower in the center of the Eixo Monumental.  The tower is known for its observation deck with wonderful views of the city.  In 2010 we toured some of the main tourist areas of Brasilia and  this was one of our stops.  At that time there were vendor shacks lining the sidewalk between the parking area and the tower.  Today there is a newly constructed open air flee market to house these
vendors and their trinkets in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.  It is a short distance from the tower but it surely gives the tourist attraction a different feel.    We walk along the empty sidewalks and turn the corner, only to find the area fenced off.  To our slight disappointment,  they are in the middle of renovating the observation platform and it is currently closed to visitors.  I am OK with this as I was able to enjoy the views during my 2010 visit but Markos has never had that experience. The closed attraction does allow me to notice something at the foot of the tower.  I get a faint sound of music

being piped in and upon further investigation I notice the huge pond of water at the base of the small incline.  The pond has a blast of water shooting from the center some twenty plus feet into the blue
sky. Around the edges of the pond, smaller sprays and gurgles of water begin to dance in unison to the music.  What a wonderful show to watch and I soon find out this water feature is called the fonte da torre de tv (fountain of the television tower).  We stay a little while enjoying the Brazilian music and dancing waters.  I understand they have nightly shows which include light displays so I have added the fonte da torre de tv to my must return and see list.   As we begin walking away back to the car, I begin to wonder how I could have missed this on my last visit.  Maybe it wasn't on?  Maybe I just overlooked it?  Anyway,  I am kind of glad the tower is closed today so I did not miss it this time and was able to enjoy this beautiful aquatic display.
Well, this seems like a good place to pause in our adventure.  Don't worry it will be continued shortly.  Hope you have enjoyed it this far ...
JK Museum 

more of the beautiful fountains 

view from the tv towers observation platform - financial district

another view - hotel district 

yet another view - notice the newly constructed flee market below

view of construction for the new soccer stadium. 

view down the eixo monumental - see the fountain below
it was not working on my 2010 visit! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Taste of Brazil - Whether it looks good or not -- Eat it! part 2

"Whether it looks good or not --eat it" is all about showcasing all the different Brazilian food I am tasting.  It has been a while since my first post on the subject but I think I have some more great foods to share with you and tempt your taste buds with.  This time I will just list the foods as there has not been a food which would take over the first (Camarao na Moranga) or second (Feijoada) or even my third favorite (broa) spots from my previous post.

Again I will look for a recipe if I can find one and if you have a great recipe for a Brazilian food listed and want to share, leave a comment with an email address (I will not post the comment) and I will create a recipe page on my blog.  Hope you enjoy.

A) Pequi - This orange fruit has found its way into a second posting on my food about Brazil.  Since it is a regional fruit and found in the Goias region of Brazil (where I am).  I have to give it the respect and mention it deserves.  Pequi has a very strong distinct flavor that is thought by many locals and non locals to be an acquired taste.  It doesn't seem like many Brazilians from other parts of the country find the flavor favorable but to locals they crave it driving several blocks to find the local grocer who has the fresh harvest of the day.  The previous post I shared about it cooked with rice and chicken and today the recipe is just straight up boiled pequi.  I actually like the flavor even though not to the extent of craving it and pequi finds its way into this post for how it is ate more then the flavor it gives.  After the fruit is boiled,  the little round fruit is picked up with your fingers and the small layer of flesh (only about 1/8 of an inch thick) is nibbled off leaving the hard but penetrable pit.   When I ventured to eat my first pequi, I was severely warned not to nibble too deep and by all means do not bite down.  Why you ask?  Well, after eating the outer edge we proceeded to cut the pit open and the answer was easy to see.  Lots of small needle like thorns laying in wait inside the core for anyone attempting to eat a little too much of the fruit and threatening the seed. These spines would not be a pleasant experience to your gums so my advice is to follow the direction of my friends.  I have read that you can dry the pits with spines and then open them up and eat the seed or roast the seeds.  Maybe someday I will be posting about that experience as well.

B) German Food - OK this is not necessarily something I would traditionally put on the Taste of Brazil post but I have to recognize a little known fact about Brazil.  Just like the United States,  many Europeans migrated here to escape persecution and the influence of those settlers is still seen today in corners of its cities and towns.  In Goiania we have found a wonderful German Restaurant "Natur Bier Haus Restaurant" that does an excellent job of mixing the flavors of Brazil with those of Germany.  Most of the ethnic food I have had in
Brazil,  seems to have lost the flavors that I would associate with its ethnicity for more flavors along the lines of Brazilian beans and rice.  This restaurant serves the most ethnically true food I have tasted here except of course for the Brazilian food. Cabbage, sauerkraut,  smoked pork loin, German potatoes and of course many different styles of sausage. Oh, and one cannot forget the good beer if you are talking German food can you.  The service is good and the buffet is all you can eat - not by weight like most places in Brazil.  I am not saying I eat a lot when it is our choice for food,  I just seem a little more adventurous when the food is not paid for by weight.  If you find yourself hungry and in Goiania,  you should check it out.

C ) Kibe - Kibej - Kebbeh - or Quibe - This confused dish, well only confused by the different variations of its name and then by the different ways it can be cooked is another dish fixed for me by Chef Ana Maria and it sure made a great impression.  That girl has got skills!  Traditionally it is balls of spiced ground meat either lamb or beef mixed with bulgar wheat (cracked, parboiled and dried  wheat / very Middle Eastern) and then the balls are stuffed with a little cheese and some more ground meat.
The meat can then be fried, baked, or served raw.  I have tried it all three ways and to my surprise I like the baked (which is the best for you calorie wise) version the best or maybe it is just Ana Maria's tender loving care.  If you ever have the chance this Arab-Brazilian creation is definitely one that will tease your taste buds.
(click here to try recipe - for the fried kind)

D) Peixe a Cubana - This delicious dish made for me by my sweet dear Ana Maria was simply wonderful and could definitely make a run for one of my top three favorite dishes here in Brazil.  This dish is traditionally a Cuban recipe and Brazilians have added their own flavors.   Made with bananas, cod, cheese and lots of cream.  When she advised me there were bananas in the fish dish,  I have to admit I was skeptical and not sure about this one.  But as the title of this blog states - "whether it looks good or not - eat it" - and this actually looked good, it just did not sound appealing.  I tell you,  once those flavors hit my taste buds it was a home run of home cooked flavors.  May I say it again? DELICIOUS!   I searched the internet but could not find a recipe anywhere - I guess I will have to ask Ana Maria for it and post it later.  I think it is a dish that everyone should try at least once in their lives since I would never put banana and fish together, but then again Brazilians love banana on pizza.

E) Spaghetti Bar - This entry makes it in because of its originality and not for anything else.  At several of the local malls there are fast food restaurants that specialize in pasta.  Not like the pasta buffets found in the United States,  these are attended by a cook who loads your pasta choice into a small kettle of boiling water as she begins to add ingredients of your choice into a sauce pan to create the sauce.  The ingredients seem endless with cheeses, onion, ham, peppers, egg, heart of palm, tomatoes, spices, all possibilities just to name a few.  After you have breezed through all the possible options,  she strains the noodles and stirs the sauce and pasta together over a low flame.  Pouring it onto a plate it become a simple but wonderful meal which is quick and always fresh. I will have to think and watch when I am back stateside if I have ever had an experience like this. 

A) QG Meal - OK - how can I talk about food in Brazil without talking about at least one of the fast food franchises that call this country home.  Yes,  QG is a fast food restaurant that from what I can tell dreams of being McDonald's someday with burgers and fries being the main attraction.  I do find it refreshing that on all the local chain restaurant's menus,  there seems to be a traditional meal with beans, rice and meat. In this case it was chicken and although the wait was a little longer then I would expect at a "fast" food restaurant, it was fresh and the flavors were spot on.  There were actually spice on the meet and so it exceeded my expectations. 

Read Part 1 - click here!

German Restaurant 

German Restaurant

Friday, February 17, 2012

Everyday life in Brazil I -Study / Groceries

I have had some friends ask me what I am doing in Brazil, so I thought it may be interesting to share what my day is like.  It may not be as interesting compared to the travel entries, but here goes it.  I wake up on average at 7:30 A.M. Brazil time.  I always thought Brazil was further west then the USA, but since living here I have figured out it is actually further east so they greet the sun earlier then we do.  When I wake up in Brazil it is 6:30 A.M. EST during daylight savings time and 4:30 A.M. EST during standard time.    Yes -- I bet you did not know that when we fall back in the fall they jump forward because it is spring in Brazil and when we spring forward in the spring they fall back because it is fall in Brazil.  So, during standard time Brazil is 3 hours ahead of the east coast and 1 hour ahead during daylight savings time.  This makes it a little difficult to communicate with my family and friend back home but its manageable.  As I began thinking about what to write I realized that it would not be a play by play of my day because each one is different.  I have decided to highlight some everyday activities of life that I participate in and compare.


 Before leaving for Brazil I knew that learning Portuguese would be very important and difficult, thus I purchase a couple of books (Brazilian dictionary and Portuguese for Dummies). My brother Dan gave me a copy of the famous Rosetta Stone to use as well.  When I first arrived in Brazil it was easy to stay devoted to two hours of study daily and Rosetta seemed to be my method of choice.  What is Rosetta Stone?  Well, it is a computer course which teaches you conversational language through the use of images and repetition.  I found that if I boot up the computer and put in the cd as soon as I wake in the morning, there is a better chance I will get my dose in.  If I put it off until later it often gets bumped from the day’s itinerary by some other activities which there are plenty.   The lesson began with identifying how to say girl, boy, man, woman (menino, menina, homem, mulher) and has progressed to the boy is on the table  ( o menino em cima da mesa) and the women is throwing the ball (a mulher esta jogando bola).  I have found this method to be quite effective and have enjoyed it . 

OK – so I am studying the language – how is it going you may ask? Well, like learning any language there are a lot and I mean a lot of things to be identified.  Every time I turn around there is another word with a tricky pronunciation to learn and I have not  even studied much with sentence structure.  As I have stated in other blog entries, I spend most of my time listening for identifiable words when I am around groups of Brazilians talking and have notice my vocabulary increasing.  That is if they are speaking at a pace where I can understand anything.  I often get frustrated that I am not learning faster as I really want to spend time speaking to new friends who don’t know English but I am still hopeful that day will come.  So.., I worked daily on the Rosetta Stone lessons until we headed off to Rio for a 10 day experience (my blog link) and while we were there the cd got left in the carry on bag.  I also have to admit that once we left Rio, I did not pick up my Rosetta assisted habit and that trip is almost a year ago already.

I cannot be too disappointed with myself for the lapse while in Rio as I did pick up a book my cousin Lisa gave me about Brazil and found time to read about the culture, history, and some of its cities. I think part of the excitement of living here is learning about the lifestyle and country dynamics so I guess a little lapse from formal language study is OK. Along with this book I have begun reading the Portuguese for Dummies book, but do not have any conclusions about the effectiveness of it’s method. I will keep you posted. 

Over the past month I have begun a memorization app on my ipad that gives me a daily word to study and memorize.  I have some new found vigor to learn since discovering this and a new website that has helped me learn more which is a Brazilian Podcast.  These two new sources are surely assisting with increasing my vocabulary but there sure are a lot of words to learn.  Every once and a while I get the Rosetta stone out and work on that some.  I hope to be the "think I can train" until I actually can and then I will be able to explore so much more of this wonderful country.  My friends here are also a great help as some of them can translate for me and others have just enough English to mix with Portuguese which seems to make learning happen naturally.  I keep plugging along and learning new words as I get prepare to someday work on sentence structure. However, my grades in school were just average in English so we will have to see when I start Portuguese.  

OK, enough talk about learning the language -- lets get on with the other daily activities.  I think I should share about.....

Groceries – Groceries!

The experience of getting food in Brazil is a little different then in the United States but then again it is quite similar.  The average day we find ourselves at some point heading somewhere to obtain groceries whether that is meat, produce or just general needs of the household.  On certain days of the week there are fairs held in the squares throughout different  communities of the city.  Similar to a farmers market back in the United States but I have to say on a grander scale.  You can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, clothing, honey, grains, cereals, flowers, peppers, meats, fried foods, and spices of all kinds and in Goiania these fairs occur often so you only need to get enough produce for the next couple of days.   Each fair seems to have its specialty which I am attempting to learn so I can get to the appropriate fair in order to find the best produce I want.   I know when I am back in Atlanta I am disappointed in the limited selection in the local supermarkets as they are shipped from so far away.  Even the Decatur Farmers Market does not compare to the freshness found here.   Papaya, bananas, mango, lettuce, peaches, pineapple, oranges, carrots, cucumbers, etc ... grown locally and grown fresh can all be found at many of them.  The markets have sprung up in neighborhood where they block off a street – invade a city square or inhabit the open air structure that has been built to house it.  These fairs are a great place to people watch as well and the produce is very inexpensive.

In the neighborhoods there are what I call individual specialty stores.  They are focused on one or two products and selling them to their customers.  For example the bolo's store (cake store) which sells 15 different kinds of cakes.  If you have spent any time reading my blog or following me on facebook,  you would know that Brazilians love their cakes and baked goods.  Just like at my grandma's house growing up,  there was always time in the afternoon when the table was cleared for a coffee pot and an array of sweets.  For me that used to be cookies and cakes,  for Brazilians it is often cake and different kinds of bread, but I guarantee you will find people flocking to the table mid afternoon for a small bite to eat and java to drink.
Another example of these specialty stores are the butcher shops that sell a variety of meats.  Cut to order,  meat doesn't get any fresher then this and what a great place to find something to prepare for dinner. 
 If you miss one of the fairs or these specialty stores don't have what you need,  there is probably a small local grocery store close as they are on almost every other block.  They have a variety of foods and complimentary items depending on which one you go to.   Since it is not always possible to get your fresh produce at the street fairs,  you soon learn which day of the week these local stores get their produce delivered.  They are good for the little things you forgot or have now decided you need.  A bakery is often a part of the mix, tempting you with smells of cheese bread and other delicious salty and sweet treats.  There are a couple in our neighborhood where we shop on a regular basis and seem to be many more that we have not. 

fruits and veggies
The final option for groceries is the supermarkado or supermarket.  These large groceries stores are set up like any supermarket in the United States with it’s produce and meat departments,  soda and cereal isles, bakery and frozen food freezers.  They have a large variety of items to choose from just like their counterparts in the good old USA.   Venturing from strictly groceries to household cleaning products, clothing,  personal products, and even an occasional nick nack.   There are a few differences I have noticed as I wander down the isles exploring.   The eggs and milk are found on a shelf and not in a refrigerated unit.  Milk in Brazil is found in 1 liter cartons and you can choose from skim, semi skim or whole just like the USA.  Prior to the milk being poured into the cartons, it is put through a process called ultra-pasteurization or ultra high temperature treatment (UHT).  This process heats the milk to 135°C (275°F) for around 1–2 seconds, compared the 15 seconds at 72°C (161°F) for  "high temperature, short term pasteurization (HTST) which is used in the US.  This UHT processing of milk extends the shelf life to 6 to 9 months and makes refrigeration unnecessary until the milk is opened.  (thank wiki...)  Personally I miss the creaminess of the milk pasteurized the traditional way but have learned to use the milk here for my cereal and occasional glass of milk.
cereal Ilse
 A little known fact is that eggs can actually last several months without refrigeration.  My grandparents  always had hens laying fresh eggs on the farm and they ate them quickly with nine hungry mouths to feed.  However, I am sure from time to time the eggs sat in a basket for a day or two.  Althought this is a difference, after a little research I was quickly reassured it was OK to use them.  Without refrigeration, it is important to crack the egg in a bowl before adding it to whatever you are cooking to make sure it's good.   Another difference I have noticed is the cereal isle is only about 15 feet long.  There are not 100 plus choices, instead you basically have 10 or less cereal brands to choose from and that cuts down on the amount of shelf space needed to provide your options.  Most Brazilians do not eat cereal for breakfast as they prefer their breads, but I
eggs on the selves
do hear the younger generation likes it. The rest of the store is pretty similar to those back stateside with promotions displaying items and sale prices.  Different techniques to get you to choose one brand over
another or even to spend money on something you really do not need.  Glad I cannot read all the Portuguese so  I don't get sucked in.  Upon leaving the store I observe the final difference.  All the cashiers are sitting on stools to assist you at the check out.  I am not sure why this difference stands out to me but I find it interesting and I am not sure why cashiers in the United States are not allowed to
Milk on the selves.
pull up a stool to perform their job.  It just seems to make sense.  To finish my supermarkardo obsevations, there are express lanes and regular lanes for checking out and there is always a line of people waiting to pay and be on their way homes.

Well - I hope you have enjoyed this first "Everyday life in Brazil" post -- I have begun working on a few more and will post those as I get them finished.  Feel free to leave a comment if this has been an interesting post or not and if you have noticed any difference yourself - please feel free to share as I do know I have some Brazilian readers who have spent time in the United States.

Have a good rest of your day and happy grocery shopping.

A local Butcher shop