Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fazendas - Rural Vacation Hotels

A fazenda in Brasil is a large piece of rural property used either as a farm, a farm/ranch combined, or a farm/ranch combined with a hotel for visitors. For purposes of this blog, we are interested in the latter. There are some beautiful fazendas in Santa Catarina to spend a weekend or a week, just getting back to nature. Accommodations at fazendas vary widely, from the primitive—a room with a bed and a shared bathroom down the hall, to a beautiful suite with full bath, hydro-massage, and garden views.

Fazendas offer their guests many activities which allow them to fully enjoy the outdoors, such as horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and swimming. Guests are surrounded by farm animals, and have the feeling of being at home on a farm. It is all very relaxing and a great way to make everyday stresses disappear.
Many businesses use fazendas to host corporate retreats. It is a very popular thing to do in Brasil.

The food at a fazenda tastes especially good when you’re dining in the open country air. Home-cooked meals are the mainstay of fazendas, stews, meats, cheeses, homemade breads and desserts, are all beautifully displayed for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In all, staying at a fazenda is one of the nicest things anyone could do for themselves.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Public Phones in Brasil


Today’s blog entry is going to be a little different. I’m just going to throw a bunch of pictures on here and let you see for yourself what a charming country Brasil is. I mean, seriously, any group of folks who take that much time to design and create such whimsical phone booths have to be the most fun group of all to hang with. Each region seems to have its own idea of what animal or thing they think someone would like to make a call from, be it coconuts, parrots, or fish. And the ordinary phone booths serve two purposes in Brasil, public communication and shelter from the rain. Next time you use an ordinary public phone, think about writing to your local phone service provider and telling them that from now on, you want to make all your public calls from a parrot. And don't forget to click on the title for today's video. Everyone needs a laugh!

Til then, Tchau!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Police in Brasil


When it comes to matters dealing with the police in Brasil, there are a few differences from their American counterparts. Let me say, up front, that all of the officers with whom I've come in contact in Santa Catarina with are really nice guys. They appear to be caring professionals who try to maintain peace within the communities they serve with kindness and understanding, albeit also with a firm hand.

With that said, I would suggest that you always treat an officer of the law in Brasil with the utmost respect. They demand it. Their very presence commands it. There are usually three levels of police protection in most cities--city police, state police, and military police (policia militar). Do Not Mess With Policia Militar! They are hard core devotees to the letter of the law in Brasil.

I remember my first trip to Brasil--we were staying at a hotel in Jaragua do Sul--and we went out after breakfast to go see family. There were policia militar stationed at the front of the hotel, swat vehicle in plain view and M-16 rifles drawn. My husband told me not to look at the officers and so I kept my head down. We got in our car and drove off. My husband explained that there was probably a tip that drug runners were on their way in or out of town and the military police were looking for them. You see police officers with guns drawn everywhere in Brasil. They are always ready for action. It's a little unnerving at first, but you eventually get used to this regular sight.

While traveling by car, truck or motorcycle in Brasil, you better be sure to have your license, registration, title and insurance information handy at all times. There is no such thing as "Oh, officer, I forgot it at home." Believe me, they will confiscate your car on the spot, no questions asked. Police in Brasil regularly conduct what is commonly referred to as "blitzes" and they are just as you think the word implies. They will set up alongside the road and flag down cars at random, and if you don't have your paperwork, you are in for a rude awakening. Many blitzes target motorcycle drivers as there is not only alot of corruption in buying and selling stolen motorcycles (same for autos), but many drug dealers hire motos to deliver the goods. Sometimes you'll see blitzes set up alongside the road and right before they get there, motorcycle drivers will turn around and take another route. Once caught, motorcycles are confiscated and if the drivers are caught with illegal substances, they are arrested. You'll see sometimes ten or more motorcycles by the side of the road waiting to be taking to the impounding lot located next to the policia militar station.

So beware!

Til then, tchau!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Treats in Brasil

Check out the cute video today! www.southernbrasil.blogspot.com

Oh my gosh, I’ve been remiss! Desculpe (I’m sorry). I’m sure you’ve all had your eyes glued to the computer screen waiting for my next great blog, huh? Keeping with the theme of ways to think cool in the summertime, I thought I’d talk about a couple of food items Brasilians adore during their summer months of November through March.

First of all, they can’t get enough coco gelado (cold coconut water). They take it either from a straw that is placed in a hole drilled in the coconut, or by drilling the hole in the top of the coconut and pouring the coconut “milk” into a glass. Most Brasilians, though, choose the first option, as it is a novelty to drink the juice right from the coconut. There are special machines you can buy to drill the hole either automatically or manually, or as in the video, hand tools you can use. Some Brasilians still just use a machete to get to the juice. And most Brasilians will open the coconut after draining the juice to get at the coconut meat.

The other summertime favorite is sorvete (ice cream). Some things are the same around the world. In Brasil, you can get a soft-serve cone from just about any vendor outside a supermercado (grocery store) or panificadora (bakery), or you can go to a sorveteria (ice cream parlor) and serve yourself. You are charged por kilo (by the kilo). You can choose from small cones, waffle cones, or dishes from which to enjoy your favorite flavors. The only thing that is different about ice cream in Brasil is the toppings Brasilians use. Oh sure, they like the usual nuts and sprinkles and chocolate candies; however, the most sought after item in the toppings department has to be gummy anything. The funniest thing I’ve seen them put on top of their ice cream is gummy dentures. They actually are quite yummy.

Oh, word about the pictures this time…can you spot the one that best describes a Brasilian woman’s favorite desert in the summertime?

Til later, Tchau!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Brasil in the Winter (Inverno)

Since today is the first day of summer for us, here in the Northern Hemisphere, I thought I'd just show you what you are missing in some parts of Southern Brasil. Yes, it can get very cold there and some cities in the Southern States of Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul have frost and even occasional snow. So click on the title, relax, and enjoy some refreshing photos from Brasil in the Winter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Frutas do Brasil (Fruits of Brazil)

Most people, when asked what kinds of fruits you might find in Brasil, will tell you bananas, passionfruit, papaya, oranges, anything tropical. But did you know that in the interior part of the state of Santa Catarina you'll find some of the best varieties of apples, pears, and grapes?

The town of Fraiburgo http://www.fraiburgo.com.br/english/index.asp is famous for it's apples. We drove through there once on our way to a beekeeper meeting in Videira (which we'll discuss later). It is beautiful country and we were lucky enough to have traveled to these cities right in the middle of harvest season. We stopped at the portal to Fraiburgo and bought some pears, big giant juicy pears, that were some of the best I've ever tasted. The pears we bought were not like D'anjou pears, but rounder and had brown skin. If you've ever tasted a small honey pear, that's what the taste of these reminded me of, only about 5 times the size of a honey pear. There were many varieties of applies, including large red delicious ones. We bought some locally made apple soap and jelly for small gifts to our family.

It was then on to Videira. Charles was asked to give a powerpoint presentation to a group of local beekeepers regarding how beekeeping is done in the United States. At the site where he gave the talk, there was a small winery operation adjacent. When we were finished, we walked over to the winery and sampled some of their wines. We ended up buying a couple of bottles. The quality of the merlot was comparable to any California wine and quite reasonably priced. I think we bought two bottles for the total amount of $R25, or about $12 U.S. Videira is known for its vineyards. The weather in the south central region of Brasil gets very cold in the winter months between June and September. Quite often, snow occurs in the town of San Joaquim, Santa Catarina. Therefore, fruits associated with colder climates thrive in this area. So next time you think of Brasil, remember, there's more than meets the eye.

Til Then, Tchau!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Desserts (Sobremesas)

Here is your link:

I'm never sure how these pictures are going to stack up, so here goes: The chocolate dessert is called Bolo de Bolacha, or biscuit cake, quite similar to what we know as tiramisu. It is one of the top favorite desserts for Brasilians. The dessert in the bowl is called Sagu de Vinho, which is tapioca pearls in a sea of wine, finished with a dollop of cream. This is probably the most popular dessert in Brasil behind anything chocolate, of course. And the final dessert is Torta de Maracuja, or passionfruit cake. From my experience, these are the three most served desserts on any respectable dessert table in Brasil.

If asked to choose between the desserts here in America and the desserts in Brasil, I'd have to choose Brasil. I am not sure why, honestly, because bakeries in both countries serve up the finest in sweets, but there is something about eating a cake or a cookie made from scratch the old-fashioned way, that beats the quick fixes. The creams used are heavier and reminds one of the old days. Since Southern Brasil is known for its rich European influences, many of the bakeries (confeitarias) offer up some of the finest strudels and tortes I've ever tasted. The only thing that is rare in Brasil are donuts. The closest thing you'll find to donuts is a little fried dough concoction called orelha de porco (oh-rel-ya gee poor-so), or pig ears. They are akin to our fried cake donuts only denser and shaped in a ring resembling an ear. They are good, but have a tendency to be dryer than our American donuts.

There are some differences between American and Brasilian cakes as well. Again, Brasilian cakes tend to be denser and dryer than American cakes. As Americans like their cakes as moist as they can be, Brasilians go the other way. They do not mind if their cakes are left to dry out a little and prefer them as such to take with coffee in the afternoon. It is not such a big deal for Brasilians to carefully wrap their leftovers to keep them moist. It just doesn't matter. What a refreshing attitude.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shopping Malls

By now, I think you know the drill. If not, please see previous posts.

Shopping in the shopping centers of the larger cities in Southern Brasil is the same as shopping in any mall in America, except of course, your American dollars go farther. There are a few differences, though, that I’ll talk about. Most stores in Brasil have a limited selection of stock on hand. Some of the larger chains will have everything you need, but the smaller, boutique stores carry limited size choices, so if you are looking for a particularly difficult size to find, chances are, you won’t find it in these shops. Many Brasilian women, for instance, are very petite and slim, especially up top. If you go to a clothing store in the mall, you’re going to find only items that fit that particular body type. You’ll find sizes 0 to 10, but not much above that. If you’re like me, what they call a grande grande or x-grande, forget about it (actually, I am down to a grande, thank you very much). You’ll have to shop somewhere else, the mall isn’t where you’ll find many options. Speaking of grande grande, let’s go to the food court.

The food courts in the malls in Brasil may not be as large as those in America, but they are comparable to some extent. You will almost always find a McDonald’s, sometimes right next to its Brasilian counterpart, Bob’s, serving up hamburgers and french fries in a jiffy. You’ll also find one or two places that serve the original Brasilian fast food, pastels, in many flavors, including beef, chicken, and heart of palm. Then there are the buffets that serve up a complete array of foods by the kilo (1 kilo = 2 lbs. roughly). You’ll find stroganoff, fried fish, chicken, and a whole assortment of rice and potato dishes, along with plenty of vegetables. At these restaurants, you will be served on china, instead of paper plates. No kidding. Most mall restaurants have china plates and they are distinguished by the pattern on the plate, so that, if a person forgets to bring the plate back when they are finished, the workers at the restaurant know exactly whose plates they are. And real silverware or flatware, no plastic. It’s quite unique.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about dessert, finally! We’ll see what our options are in and outside of the mall.

Till then, Tchau!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Frutos do Mar (Fruits of the Sea)

Fish Stew, Fish Market, and Fishing Boats

Remember to click on the link below and
then the title for the video du jour

One of the most obvious advantages of living a block from the ocean, was the abundance of fresh fish and seafood. It was a treat to drive down to the place where the fishing boats came ashore early in the morning. As they offered up their bounty to whomever got there first, we’d walk from boat to boat, hoping to get the best of the catch. And near each boat were woman, skilled in the art of filleting those fish, offering up their services for less than it takes to do it yourself almost. You just gave them the fish you wanted them to skin, or scale, and gave them their instructions—keep the head, no, give me the heads too, I’ll make soup, most people told them. Brasilians don’t waste any part of anything they eat, especially fish. The only thing they throw away are the bones. Everything else is edible, including the tail sometimes. Makes a great soup starter. The most famous fish stew served in restaurants in Brasil is called Moqueca. Most restaurants in the tourist towns along the Southern coast will serve moqueca on the weekends and Brasilians will save their appetites just for that stew.

The waters off the coast in many of the southern towns are treacherous and fishermen literally take their lives into their hands when going on their daily fishing runs. You’ll see them battling and cursing the very same waves that the surfers in the area worship. When they get through the surf on their way back into shore, locals on the beach are ready with large tree trunks to position under the hulls of the boats, and a rope is attached to the bow. Then the boats are pulled in by pulley or by hand, depending on the equipment handy, and beached on the shore with their bellies sometimes full of the catch of the day. Restaurant owners are always there first. They can buy a fish for a real or two, and sell it in their restaurant for ten or fifteen reais.

At any rate, fish is the big draw when you live on the beach. You get frequent visits from friends and families, not so much because they want to see you, but because you are closest to the food they love.

(By the way, my husband has brought to my attention a glaring mistake in my previous blogs. I was spelling goodbye the Italian or European way, not the Brasilian way. This has been corrected and no long will I type Ciao in my blogs—thank you Charles for actually reading them!)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

American Brands in Brasil

Remember to click on the link below, access the blog page, and then click on the day's title to see a relevant video.

If you look hard enough, even in the smaller cities situated in the State of Santa Catarina, you will find products from America. Most Brasilians refer to anything American as being from America, rather than from the United States (Estados Unidos). Many famous brands have found their way in the homes and hearts of Brasilians. I would venture to guess that the most famous of these brands is Coca-Cola. Everywhere you eat, you will see children and adults consuming their favorite beverage, Coke. I think I know why too. The Brasilian version of Coke is a bit sweeter (if you can imagine that) than its American counterpart. Pepsi is sold alongside Coke, but doesn’t have the same following. Still, when you want a taste of home, no matter what flavor cola you prefer, you can find it in the smallest towns of Santa Catarina.

And of course, what would life be without an occasional trip to your favorite fast food restaurant? McDonald’s restaurants exist in the larger cities of Santa Catarina, such as Joinville, Blumenau, Balneario Camboriu, and south in Itapema. During my first visit to Brasil, we were in a modern mall in Curitiba, and ready to have lunch. I decided to try the Brasilian version of the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I guess I was expecting a different taste, having been exposed already to the Brasilian way of making a hamburger (see previous posts regarding food). Well, I needn’t have worried. The hamburger was a perfect clone of its American counterpart, right down to the skinny fries that accompanied it and the cardboard box and paper bag it came in. In addition to McDonald’s, they also now have Pizza Hut, Subway, and KFC, although the latter hasn’t made it’s way much further south than Rio de Janeiro yet.

Finally, a word about American products in the grocery stores. Nothing from America comes cheap in Brasil. If you want to make a favorite recipe that calls for Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, for instance, prepare to spend upwards of ten reais (equivalent of around $5) for one 10 oz. can of soup. Budweiser beer is available, but it will cost you about double that of a Brasilian brand. Beer in Brasil is pretty good, so that wasn’t as hard a pill to swallow as say, my craving for brownies made with walnuts. Walnuts and other nuts, such as pecans, almonds and filberts, will cost you almost $10 a pound. So what do you do? You adjust. You learn to make your own soup out of fresh or canned mushrooms, and you wait until the holidays, when nuts are cheaper and buy them and freeze them for future use. In fact, you learn a lot about yourself when you realize that a bottle of American barbeque sauce will cost you the equivalent of a week’s salary. Drink enough Brasilian beer, and those little packets of ketchup never tasted so good.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Food Shopping in Brasil

Padaria; Supermercado; Small Mercado

Don't forget to click on the title for a relevant video clip.


Until recently, Brasilians did their weekly food shopping at various specialty stores. For meat, they would go to the local Açouger (a-soo-gay), butcher, for meats, the fruteria (froo-ta-ree-ah) for fresh produce, the Padaria (pa-dah-ree-ah) for fresh baked goods, and to the local mercado (mer-cah-doh) for everything else. Some Brasilians still do this. Now, in most cities, though, there are supermarkets or hipermercados, as they are called, which have everything you need in one location.

The hipermercados are as modern and up-to-date as our supermarkets and are mainly fashioned after Wal-Mart Supercenters. In fact, Wal-Mart is busy buying up smaller chains in all parts of Brasil and turning them into either Wal-Mart Supercenters or stores with the B-I-G Brand. Brasilians now have the opportunity to buy their appliances, clothes, housewares, and other dry goods right alongside their groceries.

I found myself going to these hipermercados often, as they helped me adjust to life in Brasil by giving me a feeling of home. However, I also enjoyed visiting the small local stores, such as the padarias (also known as panificadora (pan-ee-fee-ka-door-ah)), for fresh baked pastries and breads, or a quick snack on the run.

At the açouger, we could get fresh meat for our meals, and we had one, in particular, who had very good prices and very good quality meat. In Brasil, especially in the small towns we inhabited, the locals know the best places to buy bread and meat and vegetables. All you need to do is ask, and you’ll tap into the best that that area has to offer.

One other difference in shopping between America and Brasil is that no supermarket has a pharmacy inside. In Brasil, all farmacias (far-mah-cee-ahs) are either free-standing buildings, or they are shops adjacent to the markets in large shopping centers. So when you go to buy a bottle of aspirin, or alcohol, or bandaids, etc., you won’t find those items in the market.

Shopping in Brasil was a lot of fun for me, whether it was in the small individual stores, or big supermarkets. Next, I’ll share some information about products and compare prices between America and Brasil.

Until Then, Ciao!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Singing Birds of Brasil

1st photo: at competition
2nd photo: trinca ferro
As always, click on the link above to take you to the blog page and then click on the title of the today's blog to view a short video.

My first encounter with the custom of raising singing birds in Brasil came as my husband and I were on our way out from the home we were renting at Enseada Beach. I saw the most curious thing (the word curious is most appropriate to this story). There was an elderly man walking down the street with a bird cage in his hand, and in that cage was a small bird. Of course, I asked Charles if the man was coo-coo (no pun intended), and he told me about the people who catch birds from the wild and/or raise them from birth for purposes of competing against other bird owners. The birds that sing the longest and the sweetest songs are the champs, and they can fetch a pretty penny for their owners. If the bird is exceptional, it is worth its weight in gold. The most highly prized bird for singing is the curio, a small bird akin to the canary. It has a very sweet song and can fetch upwards of $R30,000! For as long as we lived at the beach house, I would see that man, every day walk his bird. What he was doing was allowing the bird to hear other birds in order to make him sing more. Owners believe giving their birds the opportunity to socialize with other birds will make them the best singers. It’s important to note that most birds are bought for much less money, but it is the daily care and training that turns an ordinary curio or trinca ferro into a champion.

When we moved up on the hill in Jaragua do Sul, we had a builder come and do some work on the house and property we purchased. The first day he was there, he pointed up into the trees and said something to Charles in Portuguese. Charles later told me that the man had heard a black robin in the tree and if he could catch it, it would make him rich. For the duration of his building project, he would do everything in his power to coax that bird out of the tree. He brought special food, whistled, and darn near tried to climb the tree trying to catch the bird with the beautiful voice. It was an obsession for the builder.

It was no surprise to me that the painters we hired to paint the interior of the home we bought in Itajuba brought with them each day their birds in cages. Before setting up to do the painting, their first order of business was to find a lofty spot above the second-story balcony, or in the carport from which to hang their cages. There were two birds, each in its own cage, and we would hear their sweet songs all day long. The owners of those birds would often look up and tweet at them to get them to start singing. It was a real sight to see grown men behave so affectionately toward their feathered friends. But, of course, how could they not? Those birds might some day be their ticket out of poverty.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Day the Ciganos Came To Town - Part II


Disclaimer: the video I've attached today is only meant to be lighthearted.
No disrespect whatsoever to the Ciganos.

The Ciganos frequented my café several times a day, mostly for drinks, rarely for food, save for maybe a pao de queijo (cheese bread) or one of my infamous (at least in that little corner of the world) American chocolate cupcakes or brownies. The little girl who had come on that first night, I came to know as Darla. Dark curly hair, dark eyes, and smart. Not book smart, entirely street smart. She and I developed a relationship based on this: she would try every trick in the book to cheat me, and I would let her cheat me once in awhile. And because of that, her family came to respect me. While others in the town, who distrusted the Ciganos and talked behind their backs, were getting cheated on a daily basis, I was upfront, curious, and trusting. That must have been my saving grace. In Brasil, most people will run a tab at your shop and you are almost obligated to allow it --that is, until they burn you, and if they do, you don’t extend any more credit. I ran a tab for the Ciganos, and they paid me every time, except once, but I’ll save that for the ending.

The weather was cool when they first came to town, so I would find them in my shop several times a day wanting cappuccinos with chocolate. I even made homemade whipped cream to put on Darla’s. Then when the weather warmed into summer, it was sucos naturais (natural fruit drinks). I made special smoothies for Darla. Darla was my most favorite and colorful customer. She was rude to me, not in a knowing way, just in the way she was raised. There was never a please or thank you, in the beginning. But with time, I found that Darla was just as curious about me as I was about her, and with that revelation, she did begin to soften. And when I least expected it one day, she just started saying “thank you very much” in perfect English, as if she had been practicing it all her life.

When we put self-serve ice cream in the shop, Darla was our first customer. I scooped it for her at first, but she picked up on it quickly and got to the point where she’d know how to turn on the scale, scoop her own ice cream and then know just the right moment when the scale would say R$2,00. She’d pay, or sometimes not, and be on her way. Always seeming to laugh at my trusting nature. She had been taught just the opposite.

Then there was the oldest member of the family, around 70 or 80 years old, mysterious and mean. She’d come in the café rarely, but when she did, she would order something to eat, say it didn’t taste right, eat it and not pay. I never cared. It wasn’t much for me. She would hit my customers up for a palm reading and they would buy her a bottle of water or a soda or an espresso. But like I said, she was rarely there and after a couple of visits, I knew what to expect. The rest of the Ciganos were mostly young boys and girls, aging from 12 to 25, and they all treated me with respect, except for one, Darla’s cousin. He was always begging for something free, and I couldn’t turn my back on him. He was trouble. But even he and I saw eye to eye and he knew not to push me very far.

The Ciganos stayed in our little town for perhaps two months or three, infiltrating every nook and cranny. And then one day, they were gone. Word spread quickly that the Ciganos were moving to a larger city and just like that, they were packed and ready to go. I didn’t know this fact until after Darla came into my café to pay her tab of $R11 reais. She handed me a twenty her brother had given her to pay, and asked for a sucos naturais which cost $R2,00 and a cupcake, which cost R$1,50, and I gave her change for the twenty minus her tab and those items. She threw one of her fake tantrums, and, as usual, I acquiesced and ended up giving her back a ten, thinking I’d catch her next time and thinking smugly to myself that I had at least gotten half the money she owed me. Her broad smile said it all. Gotcha! That one last time, she had finally won our little cat and mouse game. They were gone for good.

And so am I, until tomorrow…

Till then, ciao!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Test, Test Test

Let's see if I embed the link in this post, you can click, and it will take you to the actual blog site. Here goes...

If it works, I'll include this in every post.

Thanks for your help in figuring this out.


The Day the Ciganos Came to Town (click title for video)

Today, I’m going to take you off the beaten path and talk about an interesting encounter I had while living in Itajuba, Santa Catarina, while running my espresso café. The seeming poverty depicted in the video attached to the title may sadden some who read this blog, so let me just say from the beginning that the Ciganos I encountered choose to live this way, are happy living this way, and I would guess, have no intention of living any other way. The song behind the video is apropos. So, if you can, please try and look past the surroundings and see the character in their faces. You may gain a new perspective.

The first encounter was so swift, I didn’t know what hit me. The fact that I wasn’t robbed blind is a miracle, because: (1) I am so naïve; and (2) I didn’t know about the Ciganos until the next day, when my neighbor shopkeeper, a realtor by the name of Carvalho, told me in very broken English, that I had encountered gypsies. They came to the store almost at closing and within a flash, had taken what they wanted from the cooler, threw a twenty at me, demanded change immediately, and whoosh, they were gone into a waiting truck. A woman around the age of 20 and a little girl with unbrushed hair, wearing filthy clothing. They took a container of chocolate milk only. But they paid for it, and as the locals recanted stories of their unfavorable encounters with the Ciganos, I realized that I had come up quite lucky. From that day on, we knew “the Ciganos were in town.”

They lived in a large encampment set up on an empty lot a few blocks south of the café. They had all the modern conveniences, just without concrete confinements. They had t.v.’s, refrigerators, generators, late model cars and trucks. They were pretty wealthy by the town’s standards. I was told that they lived that way by choice. By living on vacant property, they paid no taxes. And since they were nomadic, this was really their best option. They spoke a different language, which we later ascertained was Romanian, and they were a handsome bunch in their own right.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story in tomorrow’s post.

Till then, ciao!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Beaches of Bombinhas (Bom-bean-yas)--click this title for video

A little over an hour’s drive from where we lived in Brasil, is an area of beaches that is absolutely stunning. I have collectively called this Bombinhas, but each little stretch of beach carved out of the ocean has its own name. We spent an entire day in this area a couple of times and it is well worth it. There is so much beauty, from the top of the hills looking down into protected coves, to the palm tree infested beaches, to the sparkling aquamarine waters, nothing is more relaxing and refreshing than this area of Santa Catarina.

This area also boasts some of the best deep sea diving in the area. Although I do not dive, I was assured by friends who do that it is a must for divers. If you do not dive, there are lots of other things to do, such as boat excursions, taking a drive along the winding road, up and down the hills, through the various villages to check out the numerous beaches, each one unique. One of our favorite villages is Porto Belo, which is a bit on the touristy side, but not in an obnoxious way. When you drive the winding road up to the top of the hill, you can find a little lanchonete to sit, relax, and grab a snack, all the while looking down on the picturesque cove dotted with small fishing boats and the occasional cruise ship from Argentina.

Every one of us has a list of favorite things to do in life. The drive to Porto Belo is at the top of my list--not to be marked off, but simply to dream that again, one day, I’ll be able to return to this beautiful place.

Till then, ciao!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fashion in Brasil

Click title above for fun video...

This lady is 60 years young!

First let me say, that this particular Blog entry is aimed at women. Men can read, of course, but mostly women will get what I'm saying. (Honestly, I don't think the men will get much past the pictures.)

Women in Brasil, no matter what age, are comfortable in their bodies, and love to show them off. And I have first-hand knowledge that indeed, Brasil has some of the most beautiful women in the world. So what do you do when you are average looking, overweight, and self-conscious? Laugh it off. Seriously, there is not anything else you can do. In Brasil, these things are nothing to get upset over. Men in Brasil are quite forgiving I've found. They love women of all shapes and sizes. And would much rather have a fat, happy wife, instead of a grumpy wife with a flawless body. At least that's my rationalization.

Ok, now, show of hands, after looking at the pictures shown on this post, how many of you, are headed straight to the gym, or for a walk around the block? How many of you ditched the bowl of bon-bons you had sitting next to the computer ? Don't bother, cause let me tell you, it's just not in our DNA to look that way. Brasilian women are born with an extra beauty gene.

So what does any of this have to do with fashion in Brasil you ask? Pu-lenty. I noticed something when I returned to America after two years in Brasil--American women don't like to show their assets. Better yet, if American women do show their assets, they are written up on the internet like tramps. If you haven't noticed it, take a look next time at some of the news items coming out about what actresses wear on the red carpet and the comments...too much cleavage, skirt too short, slit too high on her thigh, cut all the way down her back, etc. In Brasil, these are normal modes of dress in everyday life, including in the workplace. I have honestly wondered how Brasilian men get anything done when they work closely with women. Rarely will you see a Brasilian woman dressed in anything dressier than a low-cut top and a pair of jeans in an office, unless she, herself, decides not to dress that way. The country has absolutely no dress code, whatsoever. Oh, and shoes-- Brasilian women LOVE high heels. They wear them with just about anything. And in the winter, high-heeled boots. Pointy-toed high heels are the footwear staple everywhere you go.

I guess all this points to just one thing. Brasilian women know sexy. They get it from an early age and they hone the skill of sexy all their lives. We have no choice but to admire them because quite frankly, we cannot ever begin to compete with something that beautiful that comes that naturally. But hey, there are plenty of other things that make a woman attractive to a man. I, personally, have really been working on my cooking skills.

I may just come up with a few cooking tips for my readers as well.

Till then, Ciao!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Curitiba (Coo-reh-tee-bah) - A Model City (click on title to see video about Curitiba)

Curitiba, in the State of Parana, is definitely a must-see when traveling to Southern Brasil. It is the city we fly into when traveling from the US, as it's airport is easy to navigate, and it is only a little over an hour's drive away from our family in Santa Catarina, the next state south of Parana. On my very first trip to Brasil, in 2003, we stayed in Curitiba for a couple of days to sightsee. It was fabulous. The city is very clean, especially the Batel district (financial district). Huge skyscrapers are abundant, and the architecture in this city is not to be believed. I'll just touch on a couple of my most memorable experiences, as there is not enough room on this page to tell you everything I love about this city.

Serra Verde Express - This is a train ride that begins in Curitiba, goes up into the mountains, stops in the picturesque city of Morretes for lunch, and ends at the seaside town of Antonina. At this point, you can either return to Curitiba via train, or for added pleasure, you can get off the train in Antonina, and take a bus ride back through the protected mountain range to Curitiba on the Graciosa Road. We did the latter. Good choice. The views are absolutely breathtaking, the small towns are inviting, and the whole experience is not to be missed. If you'd like to check it out further, you can either google Serra Verde Express, or go to You Tube and type in Serra Verde Express (highlights) and watch the video. At today's exchange rate, the entire trip, which takes most of the day, costs around $120 US.

Oscar Niemeyer Art Museum - Spectacular building and grounds. The main building is built as a giant eye. Once in the main room, you can look out from the eye over the surrounding area. The exhibits are fantastic, especially the modern art and sculptures. There is a tunnel that leads from the outside into the belly of the main gallery that is fun to walk through...it is all white with skylights along the edges. Niemeyer was famous for his use of concrete in creating his buildings. You don't want to miss this Museum.

The shopping is fabulous, the food--goes without saying, and although I've never gone to Curitiba in the warmer months, I understand the beaches are gorgeous, especially Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). Hotel accommodations range from ordinary to spectacular. We were fortunate enough on our first trip to stay in a 4 star hotel for less than $40 a night, due to the fact that the exchange rate was above 3 to 1. We felt like royalty. Although the exchange rate today is less than 2 to 1, I don't know where else you could stay in a large city in a 4 or 5 star hotel for less than $150, and in most cases, closer to $100 a night.

So that is Curitiba. Don't know what I'll write about next--possibly fashion. Women in Brasil--women of any age--dress very sexy, and are so much less self-conscious of themselves than in the US, at least from my perspective. Stay tuned.

Till then, Tchau!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Brasilian Eating Habits

This is a loaded hamburger
consisting of: beef patty, slice
of ham, slice of cheese, bacon,
fried egg, lettuce, tomato,
potato salad (not kidding),
shoestring potatoes (not kidding),
and corn (again, not kidding). Oh, heck, I'm not kidding about any of it.

Brasilians eat a little differently from Americans. This hamburger is a good example. I did choose an all-the-way burger to prove a point. Usually, a regular x-salada (cheeseburger) has only a hamburger patty, slice of ham, slice of cheese, tomato, lettuce, and shoestring potatoes. But basically, the more stuff you can load onto a hamburger bun, the happier the Brasilian. Also, they like their sandwich bun to be finished on a hot press or grill, so every eatery will have one. Another famous sandwich is the Misto Quente (mee-stow ken-tay), which is basically a grilled ham and cheese. A misto is served without any extras, just plain. Don't try and figure it out, you won't be able to.

Brasilians love fried potatoes--batata fritas--and potato sticks--batata palha. I don't recall ever having a meal anywhere where one or both of these aren't served. It is rare to see mashed potatoes or hash browns, but french fries rule in Brasil.

Another interesting eating habit of Brasilians is that they take their drinks in small portions. Usually, a group of people will order a 2-litre bottle of Coke or Guarana (a soda with the herb guarana mixed in) and small glasses. They will take only enough of the drink to take a few sips at a time. They never fill their glasses to the top. Many drink beer the same way. The beer bottles in Brasil are much larger than in the US, so it is typical to order one beer at a time and the table shares that bottle. When it is empty, they order another. Always sharing.

Speaking of sharing, Brasilians share plates of meat at most get-togethers. At a barbeque, for instance, the cook will start grilling sausage, and then progresses to chicken and steak. During the whole cooking process, whatever meat is ready at the time, is placed on a wooden cutting board or platter and bite-size portions are served with toothpicks. The yucca powder I mentioned in an earlier post is served on the platter for dipping. When the chicken and/or steak is ready, it is cut in bite-size pieces and served the same way. Once the initial ritual of eating the meat from the tray is finished, accompanied by much beer and conversation, then the group will sit down to a table filled with side dishes and more meat. It is a wonderful, long process that can take the better part of an afternoon. Come with an appetite though, because about an hour or two after the main meal, dessert dishes come out with coffee and more little finger foods. These folks really know how to eat.

Hygiene is very important to Brasilians as well. When entering a restaurant after a long trip in a car, they will immediately go to the restroom and wash their hands. Some older Brasilian ladies carry washcloths in their purses to wash up before a meal. And after a meal, it is not uncommon to see women in the restroom brushing their teeth. I remember my first trip to Brasil on the airplane. Upon waking up after the overnight flight, breakfast was about to be served. When we first boarded the plane, we were given a pack of goodies, including an eye mask, slippers, and toothbrush with small tube of toothpaste. I thought it odd. Well, imagine my surprise when after breakfast, there was actually a line to all the restrooms on the plane. Every one of those waiting had that little travel toothbrush and toothpaste in hand, awaiting their turn to "freshen up."

These are things I remember about Brasil that endear me to the people. I hope you enjoy these stories, because I will continue remembering through this blog.

Till then, ciao!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brasilian Food - Dinner

As mentioned in my last entry, lunch is the main meal for Brasilians. In the evening, dinner (jantar—zhan-tar) is a less celebrated event for most. Ordinarily, Brasilians will eat a very light meal, consisting of bread and cheese, maybe some smoked meat, and a coffee for dinner. Now, understand, I am speaking from the perspective of having lived in small cities in Southern Brasil. In the larger cities, dinner is as large a meal as lunch for some. The main restaurants open for dinner traffic can be divided into about three categories: Churrascaria (shur-ask-car-rhea), which is a sort of Brasilian barbeque; Pizzaria; and Lanchonete. Let’s talk about the Churrascaria first…

A Churrascaria is a divine experience for meat lovers. The larger Churrascarias will charge you one price, not more than the equivalent of $10 US in most cases, to sit and eat as much as you like. The buffet at these meat houses is as famous as the grilled meats. The salads are beautifully decorated and delicious. You’ll find delicacies such as quail eggs, and there are several pasta and rice dishes to accompany your meal. Male servers will then come out and circle the restaurant, stopping by your table and offering you whatever it is on their long spear or platter. The choices seem to be endless. Most people have their favorites and can request that it be brought to them. By no means is this an exhaustive list of meats served; however, here are some of the choices: pork tenderloin, roast ham with pineapple, chicken hearts, chicken thighs, three or four different cuts of beef, including sirloin, rib, and filet mignon, pork sausages, even quail. The list goes on and on. Dessert is usually billed separately, but I have rarely seen anyone who, after eating all this food, has room for a dessert dish. A small table, usually at the entrance of the restaurant, contains complimentary liquors for your tasting pleasure. All in all, it is a unique and wonderful dining experience, but definitely not a place for vegetarians.

The next most popular evening spot to dine is the local Pizza House, serving pizza rodezio (rho-dee-zee-oh) style. Meaning, they come around to your table as they do in the churrascaria, only they serve up different flavors of pizza. They also bring around pasta dishes, french fries, and sometimes grilled chicken and steak. The Brasilians have some very different tastes when it comes to pizza, but once you get used to their style, it is one of the most enjoyable dining experiences you’ll ever have. Oh, did I mention that they also usually have a small buffet table with salads and pasta dishes to accompany your pizza all for one price, usually around $7 US. Almost sounds like I’m bragging, doesn’t it? Anyway, flavors, get ready: corn, shrimp, tuna, heart of palm (palmito), portugese (sausage, onions, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg), just to name a few. Of course, there are more recognizable flavors such as pepperoni, cheese and tomato, basil, spinich and ricotta, ham and pineapple. The most striking difference is probably the fact that they use very little tomato sauce on their pizzas. Oh, and included in the price are their dessert pizzas, my personal favorite. They have banana and cinnamon with a crumb topping, banana and cinnamon with a meringue topping, strawberry and chocolate, kiwi and chocolate, banana and chocolate, I think you see where this is going. Anyway, the most bizarre thing I have ever seen on pizza is ice cream. Yes, they take a slice of chocolate covered pizza and put a scoop of your favorite ice cream on top and serve it that way. I’ve never personally had room for that particular slice of pizza after sampling dozens of other sabors (flavors).

And finally, Lanchonetes. These range from regular small restaurants to free-standing trailers by the side of the road. What you can usually find here are porçoes (pore-so-enz) or portions such as a plate of French fries, fried yucca, calabreza sausage (akin to kolbasi) and onions with a ground yucca powder for dipping in, chicken hearts, or just a plate of green olives. All porçoes are eaten with a toothpick. Brasilians do NOT like to touch their food with their fingers. It is considered impolite. They either use a toothpick or fork for the porçoes, and hold sandwiches with a napkin wrapped around them. And be prepared, no restaurant that I have ever gone into, save for the ones using cloth napkins, have adequate napkins for cleaning up after eating…what they have are those little rectangle tissue napkins where you have to use a half container before your hands and mouth are properly wiped. This is merely an observation, not a complaint.

Other foods found at the lanchonete are typically x-saladas (which I discussed in the last blog about lunch), x-frango (chicken sandwich), and my favorite x-calabrezza (sliced sausage sandwich). When ordering most sandwiches, they automatically come with a slice of ham on top and the vegetables, so if you prefer it not to come out that way, be prepared to get odd looks when you ask for just a hamburger, cheese and bun. Takes them longer actually to make it that way because of the confusion, honestly. You’ll be asked over and over again, are you sure? Oh, and for those who really just crave a good old-fashioned American hamburger, there are McDonald’s restaurants in all the larger cities, but be prepared to pay a much higher price than for the traditional Brasilian fare.

Anyway, that gives you a good look at dinner options at least in the Southern part of Brasil on most any night. Next, I think I’ll finally tempt you with a little discussion about my favorite subject…dessert.

Till then, ciao!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Foods of Brasil--Breakfast

Photo 1: Cafe da manha (Breakfast)
Photo 2: Pao de Queijo
Photo 3: Pastels

I know I’m supposed to keep my blog entries to a couple of paragraphs, to maintain interest, so I’ll write three blogs today at different times of the day.

Today’s subject will be Foods of Brasil, and I’m starting with breakfast.

When I was planning my first trip to Brasil, what I remember being the most worried about was not crime, or disease, or language barriers. I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to eat Brasilian food. I’m not one who easily adapts to new foods, and I find it hard to conceal my disgust when an unappetizing dish is set before me. I’ve been known to actually cry because I was “obligated” to eat something a friend made or a dish served to me in a restaurant that my “friend” told me was “out of this world.” Yes, out of Venus maybe. But I digress…

I could not have been more wrong. The food in Brasil, whether in a restaurant or at a friend’s table or at a roadside luncheonette, is fabulous…always…no exceptions…I’m not joking!

Breakfast always consists of four main things…crusty French rolls, several types of sausages, lunchmeats and cheeses, various baked goods, and fruit. Brasilians make a sandwich with the rolls and usually have coffee and juice with it. Without exception, there always seems to be fresh sliced papaya at the table. It is good for digestion. And never seems to be out of season, even in winter. The juices they serve are a bit different from America’s standard of orange juice. They do serve orange juice, but it usually is mixed with some exotic fruit, and then there is passion fruit juice, star fruit juice (I forget what they call that), grape juice, and even watermelon juice. I guess any fruit that they can squeeze liquid out of, they serve as juice. In addition to that, they have regular yogurt and a couple of flavors of yogurt drinks. Suffice it to say, breakfast in Brasil starts the day off beautifully.

For Brasilians on the go, breakfast is usually more meager, consisting of strong black coffee and a little pastry called pao de queijo (pone deh kayjo), which is a salty cheese bread made from yucca flour instead of wheat, with strong flavored cheese mixed in.

Another food eaten on the run is a pastel, which is a meat or fruit filled fried pie…the dough is a bit different from our pie crust, and it is deep fried, not baked. You can find pastels at any street vendor or corner lanchonete (lunch-o-net-tee), even in grocery stores.

One interesting thing about Brasilians that I noticed is that they rarely mix what they call “sweet” and “salty” foods together at a meal. For instance, fruit sauce with meat is a big no-no. If a Brasilian is eating a pastel filled with ground beef, they would not follow it with a pastel made with banana and cinnamon filling. They separate their foods. They will eat the salty foods first, wait a little while and then maybe have some fruit, if at breakfast, and dessert, if at lunch or dinner, but always with a pause between and never on the same plate. Speaking of dessert, I’m gonna devote a whole page to dessert today or tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Till then, ciao!