Friday, December 20, 2013

Animal Kingdom III

Every morning at 5, I open the window and Kristen's kitten comes in. She loves her. Her name is Annie, after a Japanese anime's character.

This morning, she didn't come.

After the sun was up, Kristen and I went to look for her. She was quiet on top of the roof where she usually hides.

But today was different. She was hurt.

Last night, Kristen heard her kitten fighting with a dog, which is not unusual.

This time, I don't know which dog got her. Probably was not the puppy who plays with her, but a bigger dog.

A few days ago, I saw one of our labs lifting another cat by her neck and shaking her like crazy. Luckily, she was able to get rid of him and climbed up to the roof. She had already an injured leg from a previous incident that I didn't witness.

I took Annie home, laid her down on the floor. She was breathing heavily. Kristen who is usually very tough and rarely cries, started to sob.

Later, I took Annie to the vet to find out that her lungs had been pierced. She is still there and we don't know what is going to happen to her.

Kristen had many pets. All of them got killed. Either by a car or by other dogs. Including bunnies.It may total 6 pets, at least, without considering others that belong to the family and not solely to her.

When she wanted to adopt a kitten, we talked about the risks. Our dogs are very fierce. One of them is a natural hunter and won't leave anything alive. I find all kinds of small animais killed around our house, including very large lizzards, snakes, rabbits, opossums, armadillos, and of course, more visiting cats.

We have six guard dogs on our farm, some of them nearly retirement. Because of their age, one or another gets sick often, including my father's 8 year old prodigal cat that returned home after 2 years of voluntary leave. I go more often to the vet clinic than to my hair salon. That means, I am spending more on them than on me. Serious. The prodigal cat came back home with his black hair resembling a bad hair salon discoloration. I took him to the vet. He said that "it was shedding old hair and soon it would be back to black." It has been several months and he happily displays his burnt brown coat from waist bellow. Not "back to black" as Amy Whinehouse would sing.

I don't really complain. They make me feel safe on the farm. They are loyal, except during the night, that they go out hunting, to return at 8 am next morning. One has bitten me by mistake, thinking that I was another dog. One pincher likes to spend her time down the road near the restaurant where she can find attractive small males. I am well served with all these dogs (and cats).

But their are integral part of our farming lives. We have to have them for our own security, for companionship, and of course, for unconditional love on both parts.

Note: I have previously written "Animal Kingdom I" and "Animal Kingdom II.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lychee Greed

If there is one fruit that brings out that is worst in us, that´s lychee. The unattractive rough outer skin hides the succulent white pecaminous flesh that, at first bite, an explosion of fragrant clear juice overtakes our mouth. Perhaps, that´s how god´s ambrosia was like.
The fruit is deceiving. It looks like a large seed for it´s woody rind. However, the reddish pink, the color of the sexiest lipstick, tells us the opposite. It lures us into unclothing it. The skin comes off easily, as if it was eager to be bare naked. Stark white. Yet, not opaque, nor transparent, it´s semi-translucent. It resembles a newborn insect larvae. Almost alive. It could move.
The fragrance is not of a fruit. Rather, it´s a subtle aroma of tiny wildflower after the rain.
The silken pulp slips easily into our mouths, needing only light chewing, to be soon melted.
We just can´t have enough of it. That´s when we start to get into trouble.
November is the month where the first fruits start to ripen on our two trees. For no reason, people that haven´t been visiting me start to show up "just to see how you are doing," while their eyes look up the bunches on the tree top.

The first time I started to feel jealous was three years ago, when some visitors, unceremoniously, picked green-still fruit and chewed on it, while spitting the skin off to the ground.
See, I like to save all the fruits when they are at their peak stage of ripening, so I can fully enjoy it.
But not many people are like that. If the visitors come in groups, they spread around the orchard, and pick the green fruits that hang low, some others reach them with a pole, while the remaining people throw anything at arm´s reach in attempt to get the fruits. As soon as I know it, it´s a riot in my backyard.
My neighbor´s granddaughter came up to me, even before I had eaten my first fully ripe lychees, and asked for some fruits. They don´t even know its name, calling it "the little fruit", as if it was insignificant, so to make the request seem equally inoccuous.
A lady drove in alone one afternoon saying "Just thinking about lychee my mouth started to water. I couldn´t stop craving it. I came to see if they ripened..." I replied "they are still underripe. Take some though. Whenever it gets ripe, I´ll let you know. I can deliver. As the time came, I stuffed a bag with 3 lb and charged as if was half of it. She was a bit hesitant to pay, as she was expecting it for free. But for a lady that never drives for she says is so afraid, she had a herculean self-motivation to do so for such a little ugly fruit.

Another afternoon, two enthusiastic salespersons stopped in front of my house and honked. They were selling some unregistered cosmetics, taking my hand and smearing some lotion on it, and making me smell it. I thanked and told them I already had a whole bunch of cosmetics, besides, I didn´t like the parabens in it. Feeling won by my arguments, but not wanting to leave defeated, one of them said "will you then give me some lychee?" How did she know they were lychees? I said they were for sale, R$10 per kilo. They gave up and drove away. Defeated.
The lychee fruits are so coveted, yes, coveted, that I feel like I am a jealous wife of an extremely handsome man. I become very protective of it. But not only me.
A man came to do some job for my father and by seeing the tree full of attractive reddish pink fruits asked about it. My father said:"It is just a delicious fruit, that, if I gave you one, you are not going to want to stop with just one, and you will want have them all. And I can´t give you." "Dad, did you give him some?, I asked. " He answered "No." Simple as that. My father saved the man from the heartache of lychee addiction.
Why such a heavenly fruit evokes these feelings of avarice?
When the fruits are getting riper, I try to collect most of them, hidden from any visitors or neighbors, and give away as an end of the year gift for some special people in my life. Sometimes I bundle them with the branches and leaves, where the fruits hang just like grapes. I wrap them with a clear film and tie a bow. Pretty. Everybody is so exultant to receive those. I can´t say why.
I had taken a small bag to my cousin. She said "I am going to decorate our party table with these." Thinking so, I picked a bucket full of lychees and brought them over. The fruits never appeared on the table. I wonder what my other cook cousin did with those as she put the whole bag away to "cool in the refrigerator." Maybe now they lay on the warmth of her stomach.
My housekeeper, at the end of her shift, picked up two fruits, one with each fatty hand, raised them at her eye level, and called me "hey, hey". She looked through those fruits and said "I am taking these two home." Fighting my feelings of discontentment, I told her "take the whole bag home." She did, with my nylon bag and all the fruits in it. She left me with none.
As I said, this time of the year, people are very eager to see me. Shamelessly, they either ask about the fruit or just say "look, I am going to take these home," fruits that they picked while I was not watching. Some pick the fruit during their working hours! And they don't ask for permission to collect them. If they asked, I could say "no", and they don't want to take a risk. They collect them, and hide, or and while saying "bye," they unthoughtfully drop a simple bomb "I am taking these home." So it's my turn to say "only this amount? Why didn't you get some more?"
I always wait to see if they are going to ask or not. In my experience, they never take the risk, and make sure they take some home. No pride involved as lychee is concerned.
We all know there is a word game going on. What everybody wants is the fruit, and each person has his own strategy for the battle. I lose every single one of them.
The lychees are not easy to pick as many bunches are on high top of the tree. At dusk, after everybody went home, subrepticiously, I climb on it, risk my own bone integrity, and fetch for the prettiest ones, while sweating copiously. In part, ashamed for doing so in a secret as if I were stealing it. On the other hand, I think I won the cold war. First, I eat as much as I can until I become bullimic or diarrheic. Next day, I give some lychees to the very same people that took some home illegitimately. "See, I give them to you. No need to be so anxious." It´s a power game. I am so machiavellian.
I can´t wait for the end of the season, that, fortunately, lasts only two weeks. For two weeks, my nice neighbors, friends, family members, employee, and myself, become lychee triggered monsters. But by Christmas, we are all at peace again.
Note: the second and third photos (of the trees) are from 2009. Since then, the trees have become very tall and yielding very few fruits.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Church Fair in My Neighborhood

Since my family moved to this farm in 1976, I always felt enchanted with the neighborhood. Very next to where I live, ten white houses facing each other formed a little "village", occupied by the Brazilian Italian families. The little dirt road had an one-room school and a tiny memorial chapel. But the main attraction to me was on another dirt road that took to two snack bars, a church, and a garden. It was not only very quaint to my teenage view, but the idea of having access to those bars where I could buy ice cream or candies blew my mind. So I hold this place dear to my heart. A few days ago, the community members promoted a church fair, where the main star is the chicken and not the cross. Even though the neighborhood has not longer many people living, many visitors come from the nearest towns to crowd the place.

The building on the left used to be a bar. It´s closed down. The house next to it is occupied by a lone widower. All the cars belong to the people working for the fair.

It´s a ghost square throughout the year. The great majority of helpers comes with a car, and only three people living in front of the church comes by walking. But, someone came on a horse today.

That´s the little chapel that holds a mass twice a month. Most of the time, it is just like this: closed.

Many men put the tents up. It is a beautiful sunny day, but sometimes it rains in this time of the year.

Women work together to chop up vegetables for 1000 kebabs (skewered beef with onion, bell pepper, and tomato).

Endless table with sliced potatoes being prepared for homemade potato chips. Wash, drain, and dry, three times.

This is where the real fun happens. I waited all year to be able to take a picture of the ovens running on high heat.

Four ovens are lit using natural wood from legally run wood farms. It´s hot all over.

500 marinated and stuffed chicken being prepared to go into the ovens.

130 chickens being loaded into each of four hot ovens.

Look at that smile! It´s for a reason.

That´s the reason for the season-ing.

Unbelievable works of art. All 500 perfectly roasted chickens.

Draining off excess fat, for a golden brown skin, tender, moist meat falling off the bones. This good!

Country people love to fry in an open air kitchen. Look at the background. That´s a real farm with plowed land.

1000 kebabs being fried in two huge metal tanks.

Deep fried skewered beef is homestyle finger food in Brazil found in many snack bars. It is rather unattractive, rustic and humble, but deadly delicious.

This roasted piglet goes into an auction. The highest bidder usually returns the item to a new auction so the fundraising goes on and on on the same goodie. (2009 photo)

Lip licking, luscious, scrumptious, crunchy, enourmous kebab.

I had gotten my stuffed roasted chicken during the day, intercepting the tray just out of the oven, left at lunch time, stopped by a nearby restaurant, bought a beer, and headed home to dive into my glutonic tantrum.

Past the binging, I got ready to go again. The event was supposed to start at 7 p.m. to go on until midnight ending with fireworks, but I, like any other good country girl, arrived at 6 p.m., just to be tuned with many of my neighbors ("we got to go early or there is no gonna be table for us. I wanna sit close to the rabbit cage", so told me my neighbor). Soon I arrived, took the remaining pictures, and quickly picked up 4 giant skewered beef (with vegetables), 4 bags of potato chips, 3 guarana sodas, sat down and ate my share, but not everything. I saved one bag of chips for rainy days (that happened to be next morning but no rain came). I got home before 7:30 p.m., planning to go back to see the people. But never did. I missed the grilled steak (churrasco), roasted pig, roasted lamb, bingo, raffle,rabbit game, and all my neighbors dressed up, women with chemically straightened hair walking awkwardly on high heels and men wearing unusual clean shirts.
Next day, my house helper told me that she arrived at 8 p.m. to find no more food to buy. Luckily, she had ordered her chicken in advance, so she saved her dinner. I felt slightly ashamed for my glutony, but nevertheless, satified with my good decision to grab the food early.

Next year, I am going to be with those smily guys to learn how to fire and control those giant wood fired ovens, besides taking the rest of the pictures I missed this year (of other roasted meats, games, and the people). And I will arrive at 6 p.m. to make sure I get my kebabs & potato chips. Of course, the roasted chicken is picked up just before lunch to get myself fueled for the evening event.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Colorau - Food Coloring from Nature

This is a red food coloring agent largely used in the Brazilian cuisine. It is known as colorau, which is extracted from urucum seeds (annatto or achiote in America).
Urucum (bixa orellana L)

Urucum tree is easy to grow. This one (and several others) is by the country road near my farm. It´s April.

It looks dangerous because of the spiky shell, but it is pretty soft as this point.

Wait until it gets to this point. You will need gloves to pick them. It´s September. It takes 5 months to mature.

Look what a jewel it hides inside.

The seeds come out easily by touch (make sure you wear gloves or you are going to have your hands like those of the Moroccan women - all tainted by handling bright colored spices).
But you don´t want to use urucum like this. The seeds are rock hard and may break your teeth. Simmer good amount of seeds in mild vegetable oil and then use a mortar and a pestle to rub the color off by adding fine cornmeal.
Sorry, no pictures of me processing the urucum. I don´t extract colorau. I get it from my neighbor.
It is said it tastes slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg, but I personally think it smells like oil and cornmeal.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Veggie Garden Doesn´t Need to be Fancy

What I am having for salad today.

Found ripe tomatoes under these wild growing vines.

We call it "espinafre" (etragonia tetragonoides), but it is not the same as American spinach (Spinacia oleracea). The Brazilian (or the New Zealand spinach) espinafre is used in a similar way as an American counterpart, but just not raw in salads, as it contains oxalic acid (just like sorrel or rhubarb). It is safe to eat, though. For salad, you may try Japanese spinach, also known as "horenso".

You can grow mediterranean herbs in Brazil too: oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, sage, peppers. Besides this little plot, I have scattered around parsley, green onions, Japanese chives, rosemary, mint, wormwood, and many other wild medicinal plants, some edible.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What´s in my Backyard

Chia plants bloomming. At R$100/kg, I better get my own supply.

Alfavaca, a basil-like rougher leaves that can be used to season meat just like it would bay leaves. Easy to grow, I brought some seeds from Campos, State of Rio. I had never heard of before.

I paid R$6.90 for a single long loofah with a hope of getting the seeds. They came all mashed, except for 3. I first sowed on a plastic cup and later transplanted them by the fence. This is the only survivor, but the loofahs are curving themselves, so I can tell they are not going to be the same as the one I bought.
Tangelo of some kind. Half an orange makes a meal.
Japanese Nira (Allium tuberosum) grows vigorously. It is good in omelets or in pork dishes. Not used in Brazilian cuisine.

What Happened on a Farm in August

What Happened on a Farm in August:

Failed Ciabatta: I blame it on Brazilian flour, which is poor in gluten. The best flour contains 9% protein. And there is no gluten available for purchase.

Puppies born on our farm on the coldest day of the year. Just about 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

In old farm days, we used to buy wheat, corn, oyster shells, salt all aconditioned in large cotton sacks. My father kept many of them so we could wash them (for several days, scrub, soak, wash, scrub, rinse, wash, bleach)for later use as a rug or rag.

Another bread making failed attempt. I believe that the day was too cold for the dough to rise properly.

At least the pizza was good. But don´t be fooled by this photo. The use of banana leaf on the bottom didn´t work. I went back to placing the aluminum pizza tray on top of the charcoal.

These semolina bread loaves turned out great!

But not so for Jim Lahey´s No-Knead bread recipe. The terrible Brazilian flour again! None of my high hydration dough recipes work.

My Father´s Cat

My father was a cat lover. In his rare recounts about his childhood, once he told me that he went to someone´s house and saw so many cats that he had never seen before. "Wherever my eyes rested, there was a cat". He lived on a farm his whole life, so I questioned about him not having cats. "Yes, we had one or another, but when we had kittens, my parents would get rid of them. After he became owner of his own farm, he raised as many cats as they would be born or would show up here. My sister and I thought him to be abused by the cats as they would crawl all over him even when standing up chopping onions for dinner.
The one on the photo is a male cat, about 6 years old, that used to jump into my father´s office seat. They used to share the same small cushioned chair. He said "Look at this cat: he is pushing me out from the seat. I have only the tip of it to sit on." And my father didn´t shoo him. He would let him sit there as if he was the master.
About 10 days after my father passed away, Meow Cat ChooChoo (name given my his grandchildren)disappeared. He made one or another brief appearance once or twice, but was away for whole 2 years. Last June, about 10 days after my father´s death anniversary, ChooChoo sneaked into the house and would ran away at our presence. Even though he was a bit scared, he would come to eat the best leftover food we reserved for him. I caught and took him to a vet to be treated for some respiratory problem. After he took all the antibiotic pills, he disappeared again for weeks.
ChooChoo showed up again a few days ago all beaten up with his black hair all redish. I said to my daughter that he may have gone to my neighbor´s hairstylist, as the girl got few strands in a weird burned red color, indicating a bad job.
So hard to pick him up, to give him medicine, to keep out of the house that this time I am not taking him to the vet unless his coat gets worse.

I am starting a new blog under a different host. It is directed more towards the expats new to Brazil.I am having difficulties to post a picture and a text in the same page as I do here. It´s a whole new learning.
I will keep this old blog telling my rural living tales, and will work on giving useful information for people who want to live in Brazil at low cost (as I do).
So, see you there or here.
Note: If it didn´t work out on another host, I will switch it to this one.
See you soon!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Am I a Real Expat?

What if you were born to a family who didn´t speak much the country´s language and ate different foods? How about the books being flipped backwards? And how about bearing a weird last name that nobody new how to spell? Not to talk about being bullied at school for looking different?
If all these were not enough, how about moving to a different country in early adulthood and struggling to learn a new language? Making irreversible mistakes for not knowing the culture? For many years, walking around deaf, blind, and specially, mute. And too, becoming invisible.
How about, after several years of living abroad, coming back to the birth country half-illiterate, unemployed, penniless, and without the knowledge of how the country has changed, and I no longer fit? How my american M.A. worth nothing?
After I came back, I saw the life fleeing in such a speed that I became old just by crossing the border. I no longer belong to the nest I once left. This took me to a second trip back to the US (this time now in Florida) for three more years, when I finally was forced to come back to Brazil for losing almost everything due to divorce.
I am an eternal expat, regardless of where I live. I am preparing myself for my next move (I got the expat bug) - somewhere in the planet - preference for a country that I already speak the language. It´s so hard to become fluent, to be able to express my inner feelings and looking authentic.
About being an expat is that, for most of us, we don´t become fluent enough and never get a firm grip of the culture. We can never be a local, an insider, even though we try so hard to be embraced by the host country. On their eyes too, we are an expat, with a luggage ready to depart at any time, for any reason, as our roots are not there.
The tragic side of being an expat, is that we breed more expats. I have a girl born in the US who can´t really speak the English language but doesn´t want to leave here for she is used to this place.
It doesn´t matter what the passport says about your nationality, what really counts is how your heart feels your home is.
The expats, though, have only one country: the planet Earth!

Note about my blog: I write this blog not limited to, but specially for Americans familiar with lifestyle in California, as I try to re-live or to preserve things that I learned to love while living in the Bay Area (baking, cooking, Asian food, nature, farming, lifestyle, values, and so on). I don´t know much about the rest of the country - pardon my ignorance (just not much travelling within the US as I was not a tourist, but a resident and behaved pretty much like a local. How pretentious was I...)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ramen Noodle Frenzy

This is how turned out my own recipe developed for homemade ramen noodle, adapted from several other recipes.

And this is my bowl of hot ramen, with egg(s) straight from the farm, spinach (which grew spontaneouly outside of my veggie garden fence) sauteed in garlic and sesame oil, green onions from the backyard, and pickled bamboo shoots again from the farm havested last February. I forgot to garnish it with purple basil leaves, but what the heck! - Japanese dishes don´t use any basil.

RECIPE for Noodles:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Dissolve baking soda in water and add to the rest of the ingredients. The dough must be very stiff, almost dry, but without any loose flour. Semolina flour takes a while to absorb water, so go easy on water. Let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding. Meanwhile, I worked on broth (recipe below). After making sure that the dough is not too dry or too wet, I rolled out and cut it on a humble Atlas pasta machine. The recipe somewhere said it would yield 4 portions, but really, it was good for 2 people only, as we went back for some more.

RECIPE for Broth:
Chicken breast with bones and skin on
Carrots, chayotte, onion, fresh ginger, dried shiitake mushroom.
Boil chicken breast, remove scum. When half way done, add other ingredients until soft.
Strain. Shred chicken breast into bite size. Discart the rest. Return it to boil, season with sprinkle of fish powder (Hondashi brand), wakame sea weed, soy sauce, mirim, pinch of sugar.

For toppings:
Spinach leaves sauteed in garlic and sesame oil (de-li-sh!)
Half boiled egg
Green onions
Shredded chicken breast
Bamboo shoots pickle (some use fermented one - I don´t have it, but will find a recipe to make it next year).

Now the kitchen is a total disaster! I can´t even think about cleaning it up. It´s cold today, and all I want is to go to bed for a well deserved Brazilian Father´s Day after lunch nap...bzzzzz

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Macheesmo is a phrase that Nick (the site owner) "came up with that simply means having confidence in the kitchen". I think it is so funny as "machismo" in Portuguese means "men being superior to women", but I am sure he didn´t mean that. Anyway, I follow some of his recipes and have great success with semolina bread and English muffins, the pictures can tell everything.
The semolina bread recipe I just doubled, but everything else I followed as directed. It turn out fabulous, slightly dense in the middle, not so crunchy shell - the taste and texture were superior to any other home baked bread I´ve done so far. The semolina flour really makes a difference. Note: semolina flour in Brazil resembles that of regular flour, but not so fine, with white opaque color, much drier. My next adventure will be semolina pasta. Has Nick any recipe?
The English muffin recipe I did not let it rise a second time as I also watched Culinary Institute of America video. But what I thought to be wise is to stick the muffins into the oven to finish up cooking. I have had many underbaked goods in the past, and that is an experience I don´t want to repeat. So the tip was very good. I actually opened one of them without baking, and indeed, it was slightly raw.
While the English muffins were in the oven, I fixed the Hollandese sauce and boiled fresh eggs I got that morning directly from under the chickens. It was the first time I used a splash of white vinegar to boil eggs and the whites didn´t spread in the pan. Another success! I am so glad. Happier yet when I dug my fork into the Eggs Benedict. I was able to replicate the ones I used to eat at Royal Cafe, in Albany, California.