Sunday, December 12, 2010

November 29, 2010 – November Notes


November 29, 2010 – November Notes
After so many years living in America, I still haven’t learn when Thanksgiving Day is celebrated. It’s doesn’t matter, we don’t celebrate it anyway here in Brazil. The weather in nothing reminds of the day. It’s springtime, but the temperature ranges 30⁰C even inside the house. With raising temperature and humidity, I start fighting badly slept nights with insects hovering over me day and night, not to say about fleas that moved inside the house. It’s maddening to touch the floor and be greeted by these critters early in the morning. My legs are scratched like of a small child (in the developing countries). I wonder how plants can survive in this heat. At midday, many plants just wilt. I have lost seedlings. No wonder that my lettuces, which are grown under sun (without the screen, much used by growers, commercial or not), become thick and tough. Some others seed early, such as cilantro or arugula. Nevertheless, they are still very tasty. Collard greens start to suffering from insects and diseases. The leaves are becoming smaller and deformed. The store owner told me that one can plant many vegetables, but he will need to spray (with commercial toxic products). Of course, I rather pluck them out of soil at once.
Leafy greens are becoming harder to grow, but I still have eggplants, cherry tomatoes, chayotte, squash, pole beans, sweet peppers. All ingredients for that famous ratatouille. But we rather eat it cooked separately, instead of in a big stewing dish. Last night, for supper, we had plain steamed Japanese rice, braised pole beans and sweet peppers in soy sauce, stewed chayotte, sauteed squash with tomatoes, salt wilted mustard greens (Japanese style pickles), tomato, arugula, lettuce salad, and leftover vegetable mix fritters (tempura.) It was a simple dinner without meat (very expensive lately), but very tasty and light. (No wonder we get insomnia. Pretty soon, my father should be up hungry – it’s not 3:30 a.m. yet.)
[Pause] I need to pick up a fan. I am sweating and being visited by domestic flies.
My vegetable garden is organic, but the control of insects at home is not. I haven’t found any natural way of eliminating fleas, flies, and mosquitoes once they take over. Sorry for not being politically correct. I must confess that I only control what I can. What I can’t, I resort to easy solutions. I am going to the store first thing tomorrow morning to buy some chemical to spray my home.
Most of the time, we get common flies, those black ones. But this time, we got bowfly outside around our organic garbage. A little chemical sprinkled over mango peel attracts thousands of them making a fluorescent green pile on the ground. Still, they don’t all go away.
Country living is not all poetic. As read above, we fight against domestic insects, not to say mice. We, country people, store things. Many things. Objects, food, supplies, recyclable things, memorabilia. We don’t throw away anything that could have a slight chance of being useful again. This way, in and around the house become cluttered or simply full of stuff. I have told you that our living room has three sets of sofa from different ages, my father’s bedroom has furniture from his early married days and other a little over twenty years, which we consider “new”. We have such a hard time of getting rid of furniture and appliances, even when they are broken. Old refrigerator could be used a storage for other things, as it is mouseproof. A cupboard can be transferred to a toolhouse to hold other supplies. An old TV set can be kept until the new ones breaks and we replace it in a rush. Not always we can buy new things.
In the midst of so many objects, appliances, furniture, things, and more things, and unidentified articles, papers, books, and organic matters, supplies, how to make our lives simple?
See, I am crowded not only by immoveable things, but by alive ones.
I have researched about “simple life”, my endless quest. I always read about “unclutering”, “eliminating” (to say “clutter somebody else”), “not buying”, “recycling”, some even say “become vegetarian”, “go live in the country”, so and so on.
My life has not become simpler just because I moved to the country. It’s not a matter of a mind set. I have tried to adapt myself to a new reality. I guess my main complain lyes on not having enough time to finish my tasks (chores), not to say about developing hobbies (yeah, this a city concept), have a leisure time (this might be a capitalist duality of work/leisure), and quality time with my daughter (modern Psychology term that means “do what your kid wants with you” – besides just telling him/her to do things they have to. ) All my chores are unfinished or badly done. I wanted to be like a regular Brazilian housewife that “springcleans” their homes every Saturday. (Of course, when I first heard of spring cleaning, I became amazed. In Brazil, most homes are cleaned that way once a week. That’s why so many illegal housecleaners in America are Brazilians. They know how to do it.)
My house is large for Brazilian standards, and also for some American. I have lived in much smaller homes than this one in California and in Florida. Organizing and cleaning it is a major task. I pressure wash the kitchen and the varanda, and often, the living room. Yeah, we love to wash floors with laundry soap. We don’t consider mopping. Actually, we don’t even such a non-hygienic tool. That hairy brush is an offense for us (and even for me). It makes the floor dirtier than it was. We can’t conceive of spreading the filfy water all over. We wipe the floor with a giant wiper wrapped in wet cloth every day. Not “we”, but “they” – the Brazilian housewives.
Some bad habits I have imported from America still remains. There is not a such a thing like “American Bad Habits Anonymous”. For example, even country people iron all their clothes. I don’t. I iron only what city people can see, that means, our city outfit. Everyone hand wash their tennis shoes and shine their shoes. I don’t. Brazilians suffer from wash fever. They love to wash everything in plenty of soapy water. A friend of mine washed their kids (stored) stuffed animals every week. It’s part of their routine to wash bags and backpacks. Our bathrooms have drain on the floor, so we also wash it from the top down. We throw buckets (literally) of water on the walls, doors, windows, on lavable things (sink, toilette bowl), and even on appliances such as refrigerators and stoves. The government has asked us to refrain from washing the sidewalk (!). Yeah, housewives wash varanda, paved areas around the house, and also the sidewalk in front of their houses. For not having sidewalk, country people love to sweep the ground around the house, leaving it bare. My parents never did that, they said that we would remove organic matters good for the plants and trees we have around the house.
If I ever confessed my American habits – sorry, these habits come way before I went to America, they are my personal habits. American way of living just reforced my habits. I don’t mean to offend Americans. They are clean and neat, at least, most of them. But the cleaning routine is slightly different for many people that I have met. America has great, concentrated, inexpensive cleaning products. A wipe just does it. The air conditioning, the type of soil (and therefore, the dust), the air quality produce a lot less dirt inside the houses.
[Pause for a luscious mango that still laid on the kitchen floor since my father brought home from the field]. I could say that the mango was delicious. It was tree ripened. But it was warm…At this time of the year, we have a commercial type of mango, large and eventually fiberless, and also a rustic, native small mangoes, which as more aromatic, sweet, but full of long fibers that get caught in between the teeths. It is so common even along the road that not many people eat it anymore since the fiberless kind came to the market.
Well, what cleaning homes has to do with simple life?
It may be my own concept of simple life. I think that simple life must include clean and organized homes. Time left for leisure and quality time.
Someone said the becoming vegetarian is to simplify life. A lie. Since my father asked me to reduce beef for its prohibiting price, my cooking has become more complicated. I have to find tastes, texture, density, consistency, nutrition that make a good substitute for meat.
What I don’t like in vegetarian recipes is that it wants to straight replace soy foods or any other vegetable for meat. Texturized soy with whipped silken tofu is vegetarian strogonoff. Strogonoffs can’t be made of anything else but good tender beef. At most, replace other cheaper cuts for filet mignon. It can’t called bbq a grilled marinated tofu topped with bbq sauce. The most outrageous thing that I have seen is the soy hot dog. Regular hot dog is already a second class food, so trying to reconstitute it in soy products seems so lame. That’s why I love my Japanese heritage along with Brazilian mixed culture and the California experience. I can fix ethnic foods without missing meat. Instead of making soy hamburger, why not to make cooked tofu in soy sauce with ginger and scallions?
I need to scavanger my mind to make vegetarian dishes at home. In these meatless days, I have made much eggplants. I am always learning new recipes as I talk to people. A friend taught me to make an eggplant salad by cooking it with oil, vinegar, salt and spices/herb and a little bit of water. I like to cook with garlic and add scallions and parsley after I turn off the fire. Refrigerate and eat with toasted bread! Another recipe I love that I even have it for breakfast (for its sweet aroma) is to dip slices of eggplant in flour-cornmeal mix (cold water and salt added for the batter) and deep fry. It smells like donuts.
Maybe I have a simple life, but a busy one. I got an adult dog (Border Collie mix) which may be a little neurotic. I can’t walk him without being dragged on the ground. He also wants to fight to our old black male dog, which I always thought little of him. He was not the dominant male of the pack, and need to be fed inside the house, as he also lost his food for other dogs. I despised him. He circled our new dog, sit close to him, and pretended that nothing was happening, while Tobby was barking and jumping like crazy. Once Tobby got free and went to fight with Totty. To this day, I have respected our old dog – he is a peace lover. As much as he could avoid, he didn’t fight. But when the time came, he won the fight! Tobby left with the tails in between his legs, with a few bites, and a crocked walk. Nothing happened to Totty.
I hope never to need the dogs to attack a stranger on the farm. But I felt more confident that if the dogs behaved the same way, we can have a badly hurt invader. My dogs were really mean to Tobby, by barking, biting, and attacking him.
Yesterday I collected coriander seeds. Not for the spice, but for the seeds to sow sometime later. They are still on the branches, on top of a sieve, on top of a box that I use for garbage bin, right besides the mangoes that are still in a bag. At least, I got to roast all the coffee beans that were parcially roasted. I also ironed my daughter’s clothes she is going to take on a trip to California the end of the year.
But I have so much to do! The vegetable garden is crowded with weeds after rain, heat, and shiny days. Oh, not to say that I had sowed something else thinking that they were marigolds. A whole plot planted with cosmos flower. (At least they are good for the bees. But I can’t let it seed – it’s a prolific one.)
I watered my garden all day yesterday. Several trips to the garden, up and down, and…it rained overnight!
My november adventures had more of a realizing of things than new experiences. Besides having driven to two different towns to get a passport and also to take my mom to a special dentist, everything else is old.
When I took my daughter to a middle size town, the largest one around here, I was a little bit aprehensive. I haven’t taken the road in Brazil in a few years, and I didn’t feel like facing the dangerous road. But everything else went well, besides getting lost (no, I don’t have a GPS). We also went to a shopping mall. My daughter wanted to eat at MacDonnald’s. “Mom, it has been a year since I eat at MacDonnald’s in Goiania.” Alright. So we went. I regret so much for having eaten there. The food didn’t get any better because it’s in Brazil. On the contrary, the bread tasted stale. She was happy… On my second trip to the same town (and same mall), I had Argentine beef empanada with cold ice tea with condensed milk and passionfruit pulp. What a discovery! I have made several times with other fruits such as acerola, and also alternating with green tea, instead of black tea, until all the condensed milk was gone. Of course, it is in my grocery list. Ice tea with fruit juice and condensed milk is a great afternoon pick-me-up instead of a sugary strong coffee.
A word on a special dentist I took my mother. As you may know, my mother had suffered from a stroke and leads a very constricted life style. Besides other things, she won’t open her mouth to the dentist. Her dentist referred her to a multi-professional clinic that attends special needs population, a public health system which has partnership with public university. She went through a cardiologist, neurologist, physical therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and finally, the dentist. She should go through an internist and nutritionist still. My mother will get a dental treatment for free. It’s only over an hour drive from home.
I am so glad that I can get medical treatment without any cost. I have being going to a public clinic since I moved to my town. My daughter has also been seen by a pediatrician at local clinic. Thank God we don’t have any major medical concerns, as many exams take a long time to be schedule, and the surgery as well. But, if I ever needed, I may get it.
5:43 a.m. – Almost time to wake up. I got to take a nap right now. Good morning!

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