About three months before we moved back to the US and ended our time living abroad in Brazil, I took a trip. My husband was headed off to Ireland on business and I just happen to find a crazy good deal on a flight to Belo Horizonte.
I’d met a couple expats there through blogs, so I hopped a plane and headed off on my own little adventure. My new friends there showed me the ins and outs of the city of Belo Horizonte as well as Ouro Preto. To this day Ouro Preto ranks as one of my favorite places visited.
At the beginning of my trip, we stopped by one of their favorite places for lunch. A per kilo buffet lunch which was the most common form of lunch I came across while living in the south and visiting the north.
The food was good and the selection was pretty typical. Fresh salads, pastas, meat and fruit. Although there was one dish that stood out and I’ve never gotten around to making it until now.
It’s one of those dishes that is so simple, but it’s the simplicity that makes it so good. It’s basically roasted pumpkin topped with crumbled gorgonzola. I’ve never been exactly sure of the herbs or flavorings used in the original dish so I made up my own with a bit of rosemary and onion.
This makes such a great side dish or top it with some roasted walnuts or black beans for protein and call it a meal.
Roasted Pumpkin with Gorgonzola
½ small pumpkin, peeled and cut into large chunks (about 2 ½ cups)
1 sprig of rosemary
¼ medium onion, sliced
¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola or Blue Cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the pumpkin in a single layer in a baking dish. De-stem the rosemary and place the leaves with the pumpkin. Add the onion. Toss to coat all ingredients with olive oil.
Roast for 10 minutes. Stir the pumpkin and bake for 10 more minutes or until the pumpkin is tender, but not mushy. Remove from the oven, salt and pepper to taste, place the pumpkin in a serving dish and top with crumbled Gorgonzola. Serve immediately. Makes 2-3 servings.
If you would have asked me in my early 20s where I would spend birthdays 29 through 32, I probably would have told you at home. As it turns out, I spent (and am spending) those birthdays in 4 different cities, in 3 different countries.
Today I can’t help, but look back and marvel at how incredible life is. Someone recently asked me how my expat experience changed my outlook on life. After a little thought, I came up with an abbreviated version of this.
Our whole lives people tell us to set goals and work toward them, to dream and achieve it. I fully agree with setting goals and dreams, but I also encourage people to be flexible. As much as you think you know exactly what you want out of life at this very moment, don’t forget to let life happen.
Don’t let your goals and dreams get in the way of where life wants to take you. Work with life and allow it happen to you while constantly re-evaluating those goals and dreams.
You just might find that it takes you someplace amazing, exactly where you were meant to be at any given time. Someplace like 4 birthdays spent in 4 different cities in 3 different countries…
Number 29 – My first sushi experience in Maringa-PR, Brasil
Number 30 – Hiking Ilha do Mel (Island of Honey) off the state of Parana, Brasil
Number 31 – A cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand followed by Happy Birthday sung to me in our room with a cake from those working at the hotel where we stayed.
Number 32 – Celebrating the fact that this is the first time in 3 years that I’ve been with my extended family around my birthday. Complete with a birthday week with my husband, one of my mom’s cakes, sweet potatoes from my dad’s garden, foodie gifts from my in-laws, and playtime with my pug.
I realize that I won’t be able to keep using the phrase, “when we were in Brazil,” forever. As days and years pass, those experiences will become less current and less relevant in my life. That saddens me a bit.
I feel I still have so much left to share of my time there. As the one year anniversary of our departure approaches next month, I’m reminded of a few things I still have yet to post about.
Not long before we moved back to the States we took one final trip to Curitiba with the intentions of heading out to Ilha do Mel again. After making the two hour drive to the coast and sitting in the car at the boat dock for about 30 minutes as it poured rain, we made the decision that while we wanted to see the island again, it wasn’t worth trekking through rain with no gear for the day.
Disappointed, we began the somber drive back to the city. As we continued we began to talk about Morretes, a place many had told us about, but that we hadn’t yet made it to. It is a historic town, nestled between the mountains on the way from Curitiba to the coast.
Many people take the scenic train from Curitiba, a bit of a local tourist excursion. After a quick Google search and a phone call we exited off the highway and began the process of reviving this mini-vacation which we thought was a complete loss only a few minutes before.
Morretes is a tourist-filled little town that is designed for such a population. However, it is not the type of tourist destination you are likely thinking of. It is popular among Brazilians from the surrounding areas, not international visitors. So while the historic display boards in the center of town do contain an English translation, we didn’t hear a word of it during our visit. We loved it.
This small city was incredibly intriguing even during a rainy, dreary day. It holds a significant amount of history for the country in relation to the days of gold discovery and its export back to Europe. However, if you ask someone why they visited Morretes you will likely get the answer “Barreado.”
Yes, they travel there for the food. My kind of people!
Barreado (ba-he-a-doo) is a traditional food from that state of Paraná, and now, Morretes is one of the only places you can find it. It’s surprising that it hasn’t spread to other areas because it was overwhelmingly popular. It was obvious everyone was there to eat it, and every single restaurant in town served it.
We ended up at Olimpo which looked to be new in town, maybe not as historic as the others, but it had a great balcony. Honestly you can’t miss it, or the other places which serve the dish. This town is completely centered on this specific food.
The meal began with an assortment of bolos – basically fried balls, most with fish or vegetable. Then there was a salad bar filled with lentil, wheat berry and mushroom salads along with fruits and vegetables. And if you were so inclined, you could have a shot from the massive jar of cachaça which was filled with marinating fruit. This was common in many of the restaurants we visited during our time in southern Brazil, but not in a jar with this much fruit!
Barreado is a meat stew made with beef, bay leaf, cilantro and other herbs. It is sealed in a clay pot to cook for 12 to 18 hours. Once at your table you eat it with mandioca (cassava, yucca) flour, rice and fried bananas.
Now this picture, I have to admit with embarrassment, is not the appropriate way to eat barreado.
You see, the waitress brought our food and asked us if we were familiar with the dish. We said no and apparently she must have slipped another question in there that we didn’t hear because she took our no to mean we didn’t want an explanation.
Only after we were halfway finished did we see a demonstration at another table. You are supposed to mix the meat with lots (and I mean lots) of mandioca flour. Stir it up and mash the meat, add broth, stir it more and then eat it with rice.
It literally looked like a meat paste when the waiter was done and I have to admit, not appetizing at all. Therefore, we kept eating it our way even after the demonstration.
I was completely surprised how much I enjoyed this dish. Usually when it comes to beef stew it all tastes the same, but the flavor of barreado really stood out from anything I’ve had before. There was an intense, rich and smoky flavor, not to mention the slow roasting made it incredibly tender with no visible fat in sight.
Along with a meal of barreado, ginger was a highlighted ingredient in the area. The small feira taking place during our visit was offering candies made of ginger and the ice cream shop we passed had a ginger flavor as well. I really wanted to try it so I was happy to learn our dessert would be bananas with ginger ice cream.
It was unique and delicious – spicy with fresh ginger and went so well with the bananas and cinnamon.
Looking back at meals like this makes me wonder how I ever complained about the food available to me in Brazil. I’m always reminded of how much I owe to the whole expat experience and the country. It taught me that my perceptions of must-have ingredients are simply that – perceptions, not at all necessities.
Considering the laborious preparation technique and equipment needed to make barreado, I doubt it is something I will ever be able to recreate. That definitely makes for one unique foodie experience that I’ll never forget.
Living in Brazil taught me a lot about food and cooking. First I had to overcome the mini-stove and let go of my perceptions of must-have ingredients. Then the learning and appreciation began.
The lesson I’m remembering this summer is that the simpler a food, the more delicious it can be. A single, fresh ingredient, whether meat or plant, matched with one spice, an herb or an oil can bring out more natural flavor than a recipe that includes 25 exotic ingredients.
I felt like I understood the concept of simple food before our move, but being exposed to local Brazilian cuisine made me realize I had a lot left to learn.
The main place that this lesson was reiterated to me was the churrascaria, those famous Brazilian barbeques (or churrasco if you are describing the cooking style or going to one at a home). I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to experience this type of dining and food from the source, and not at an overpriced Estados Unidos version, as authentic as they might be.
It starts with the meat. The meat is seasoned with salt. A lot of salt (as in bags of the stuff), but still, just salt. Now this may not be the case everywhere, but it was at the barbeques we attended at the houses of friends.
These barbeques whether at a restaurant or a residence also included what would translate in the States as a salad bar buffet. However, not the layer-your-ingredients type of salad bar, but plates of vegetables in simple oil-based marinades, vinegar and herbs. Pastas were also included at restaurants and my favorite was always the spaghetti ao alho e óleo– spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. Again, pretty simple.
Now that we are being invaded by loads of cherry tomatoes I remember a lot about how we enjoyed tomatoes in Brazil. I’ve never especially disliked tomatoes, but I was never the type of person who could sit down and eat just a tomato with salt and pepper either.
Then, in Brazil, I came across tomatoes quartered, drizzled in olive oil and fresh lime juice, topped with either parsley or cilantro and seasoned with salt and pepper. Wow, there was something about that citrus juice and those herbs that made a tomato so much better!
I am crazy about the little orange cherry tomatoes we have in our garden this year. They are so sweet you think you just popped a sugar cube in your mouth. In an effort to avoid taking away from their already delicious flavor, I’ve been including them in simple salads that mimic the flavors we had in Brazil.
This specific salad isn’t exactly the same, but I wanted to use all the ingredients from our garden with lots of color. I decided to switch out the lime juice for lemon this time, and parsley for fresh basil. Any variety of peppers will do, but I used a combination of orange, red and yellow because I am thrilled that we have a few from the garden.
If you want to go all out, I highly suggest using aged goat cheese. That is my absolute favorite, but unfortunately I just ran out of it last week, so here I’ve used feta which is good in a pinch.
Enjoy the simple flavors of summer!
Sweet and Simple Tomato Pepper Salad
4 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ candy onion, thinly sliced
1 cup bell peppers, thinly sliced (I used a combo of orange, red, and yellow)
5 to 7 fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta or aged goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
The preparation is easy on this one. Simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl, stirring gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle on more basil or cheese just before serving if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
A few months ago I participated in a game of blog tag over on The 3 Star Traveler which allowed me to share some of my best kept travel secrets. This fun project was initiated by Katie of Tripbase and after the huge response from travel bloggers it was decided that the tips would be turned into an ebook published by Tripbase and used as a way to raise money for charity.
The Travel Secrets ebooks launched today! They are full of helpful travel tips from experienced travelers and cover just about every continent around the world. My tips for the morning journey in Ubud, Bali and the Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand were included in the Travel Tips book, and my tip for Ilha do Mel in Brazil is featured in the Worldwide Beaches book. However, you all might be interested to know that there is a Foodie Travel book as well!
The ebooks are free and for each download Tripbase will donate $1 to Charity:Water, an organization that works to bring freshwater wells and clean drinking water to people in developing nations. One hundred percent of public funds donated to this organization go directly to water projects.
I’m thrilled to be a part of this exciting project! Please take a moment and click on the badge below to download a Travel Secrets eBook. It costs you nothing, but a little space on your hard drive. As a result, not only will you have an excellent travel resource at your fingertips, but you will be helping to support a great cause.
Well, it is likely the largest fruit you’ve ever seen. My first encounter with them was in Brazil, the photo at the right was taken in Ubud-Bali, Indonesia. When I say big, I mean when they are sitting on the ground they would come up to about mid-thigh, some perhaps even to your waist.
I might also mention that they are quite scary. There were many growing in the park around the zoo where we lived in Brazil. On more than one occasion I heard a ripe one fall out of a tree and hit the ground. Beneath such a tree you do not want to be. Loudest thud I’ve ever heard.
I only tasted them once when we were in Brazil at the local farmer’s market. It was a sticky, gooey piece of fruity flesh that tasted somewhat like a mix between a mango, banana and pineapple. I had a difficult time with the texture, but the fruit has a delicious flavor.
Despite my easy access, I never bought one. I often regret that decision now, but there were two reasons for this. The first was their size. About 98% of the time I went to the market by myself and this required a 20 minute walk each way. Yeah, lugging a fruit the size of my lower body back to the apartment wasn’t going to happen.
Second, anytime we got into a conversation about jaca (the Portuguese word for jackfruit) we were warned of the sticky flesh. Apparently it is no less binding than a good glue and I heard horror stories from friends about how they spent days trying to get it off their hands after they would eat them outdoors as kids. I really didn’t want to tackle that either.
Before we left Brazil, Tracey at the Tangled Noodle posted a recipe for Langka Muffins. Langka is jackfruit in the Philippines. What a language lesson you are getting in this post!
After seeing the recipe, I wanted to try it, but still didn’t get up the courage to buy fresh jackfruit. Then, when we were in Thailand I tried a jackfruit shake that was incredible and my interest grew.
The next thing I knew we had moved back to the US and I found canned jackfruit at our international market. I know it is a bit backwards for a real foodie to have access to the fresh and go for the canned, but the canned I knew I could handle.
I was a bit surprised by the texture of the fruit in the can. It was much different than what we had in Brazil. This might have to do with the fact that the fruit I had in Brazil was overripe and they probably harvest the canned variety early, or it could have been the syrup, or maybe it is a different variety that grows in different regions. Who knows?
I know one thing though, Tracey wasn’t kidding! Those muffins are delicious! I modified the recipe a bit to use whole grains, coconut oil and some mascavo sugar I have left from Brazil. I also topped some of them with coconut before baking.
Modified from Langka Muffins at Tangled Noodle
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup minimally refined sugar
½ cup milk
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped jackfruit with ¼ cup syrup reserved
½ cup coconut, unsweetened, shredded (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease the bottom of each muffin tin. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, milk, oil, egg and jackfruit syrup.
Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir in the jackfruit just until everything is combined. This batter will be very thick. Divide into 12 muffins. Press coconut into the top of each muffin if using. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until muffins are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and remove from pan. Makes 12 muffins.
Pastel is two layers of a puff pastry–like crust that is filled with all kinds of goodies. Then it is deep fried until puffed, toasty brown and flaky. You have to bite off a corner to let the steam escape and wait patiently before you dig in.
I knew I didn’t want to fry it. I eat fried foods on occasion, but I’m not big on making them at home. I decided I’d bake it instead. It turned out to be like a lovely little Romeu e Julieta pie. It’s not exactly like the pastel we were used to getting in Brazil, but it definitely provides that favorite flavor of guava and cheese that I grew so fond of during our time there.
2 cups flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
Pinch of salt
Water as needed
Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and butter. Just like a pie crust, mix until the butter is pea-sized and incorporated well. Add water a teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together into a consistency that can be rolled out. It took about 1 tbsp for me.
Roll the dough to about ¼ inch thickness on a floured board and cut into 8 equal squares or rectangles. Place 4 squares on a cookie sheet and spread evenly with jam leaving a ¼ inch edge. Spread about 1 tbsp of jam thinly per square. Top the jam with thinly sliced cheese. Using water, lightly wet the edges of the squares. Place the second layer of dough on top and use a fork to seal the edges.
Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 15 minutes until just before the jam begins to bubble out and the pastel is lightly browned. Remove, let cool slightly and enjoy warm. Makes 4 baked pasteis.
More Brazilian foods and recipes:
This post has been submitted as part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday.
This time of year I find that in order to stay warm I must always have a steaming mug of something in hand. It feels as though if I’m prevented from sipping a warm drink, I risk freezing up into an ice cube entirely.
You know I’m a huge coffee fan, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-tea. In fact, I find that I must nip the coffee drinking in the bud by midmorning or I may overdo it on the caffeine. Too much of a good thing and all. So this only means that my tea drinking drastically increases in the winter to fulfill this ever present need to sip a cup o’ warmth.
I’m not a tea expert by any means, but I have had the opportunity to try several varieties. A few years ago my when my husband went to Beijing for work, he brought back flower tea and green tea which resulted in my first Chinese tea experience. While visiting Hong Kong in October we drank Jasmine tea with every meal and brought some back with us to enjoy as well.
My most interesting tea experience, however, came about last September, just before we left Brazil. The last few months of my time there I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with a fellow expat. Miranda is from London and married a Brazilian (Paulo) who happens to be from the same area we were living. They had settled there for a year or two while deciding their future plans.
Last summer, instead of a big wedding they set out on a round-the- world trip, and one of their stops was China and a tea tasting house. When we were able to meet after their trip Miranda presented me with this.
A pretty canister of Pu-erh tea. At that point I had never heard of it or seen it before. She let me know about its growing popularity and my excitement about having the opportunity to try it began to grow.
Pu-erh tea (also spelled as puerh, puer, pu-er and pu’er,) comes from the Yunnan Province of China from a town of the same name. It has over 1700 years of history and I’ve learned that it is quite the prized possession especially if it has been aged well which in some cases can be up to 65 years!
It comes in two varieties, sheng which is green and known as raw and shu which is black or sometimes referred to as cooked. Both start out the same way as maocha and then are preserved/processed differently.
For sheng, the maocha is lightly steamed and pressed into tea cakes. The microbes that remain in the tea result in the product undergoing a natural fermentation process as it is aged. Often left to age for at least 8 to 10 years the pu-erh turns from raw to cooked during this time. It is known for becoming smoother and less bitter as it ages.
For shu, the maocha is put into piles, spread out and wetted. Then it is covered to create something similar to a compost pile. From what I’ve read the technique for making the tea in this way is very detail oriented. It must be turned at the appropriate time and frequency to achieve the correct flavor and fragrance. Once the tea is ready, it is lightly steeped and pressed into cakes like the sheng. This method was developed to speed up the process of making pu-erh tea, but the sources I found didn’t indicate just how much more quickly the final product results.
I think it is well established that tea in almost any form is good for us. Well, okay, perhaps not the sugar-laden sweet tea (pronounced swate-teh) that we have in the south. But you know what I mean – oolong, green, black, jasmine, chai – they all have their individual health benefits to offer. Pu-erh is no exception.
Of course, as we often do with most ancient products consumed by other cultures, pu-erh tea has become a bit of a fad weight loss aid. I’m not commenting on that simply because I get tired of how my society must grasp perfectly good, real foods and turn them into money-hungry weight loss campaigns.
I did learn, however, that pu-erh tea has been found to be successful at lowering LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol (1). In addition, one study found that the tea has antioxidant and lipid-lowering effects and could potentially be used to reduce cardiovascular disorders (2).
However, do keep in mind the studies were done with rats consuming the leaves and extracts of the tea. I always pay attention to this because in grad school I did a research review of green tea. Of course there are health benefits, but most studies used extracts that would be equivalent to drinking 10 to 12 cups a day! Kudos to all the researchers out there who strive to evaluate foods as we would actually consume them.
The good part though is that drinking teas can be good for you overall. That is why I’m such an advocate for eating real, natural food and not worrying about the specific amounts, percentages and benefits. Healthy foods are going to work together to make you healthy overall. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.
So what type of pu-erh tea did I get?
I actually don’t know. Perhaps there is a way to tell by the label, but not speaking any form of Chinese, I’m clueless. Although I would suspect it is shu, as I’m sure the varieties aged the traditional way are likely untouchable regarding price.
I can tell you about the flavor though. The tea has a very rich, dark flavor, almost woodsy and the dark leaf that results as it steeps remind me of coffee grains. The overall flavor is incredibly complex as the production of the tea would indicate.
So if you come across real pu-erh tea, do try it. Not only does it warm me up, but it is very different from any tea variety I’ve experienced before.
Have you ever tried pu-erh tea, or do you have more details about it you can share?