Bananas.

Earlier today I posted this on Facebook:

I’ve never considered bananas as an easy, filling, healthy hot breakfast…until now. Another gift from brazil.

The general response was oooh yum bananas yay what? Hot? Hot bananas? WTF?!

So here’s my recipe for quick, healthy, delicious, easy, HOT banana breakfast, which I learned from my host Tânia:

Brazilian Breakfast Bananas

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 bananas
1/4c shredded mozzarella
Cinnamon to taste

Directions:
Melt the coconut oil in a pan over medium high heat. Cut the bananas in half lengthwise, and put in the pan, cut side down. Cook until they get brown, then flip them over and brown the other side. At this point they should be fairly soft; using a fork mash the bananas in the pan forming a banana mash pancake. Sprinkle with the mozzarella until it melts, then sprinkle with the cinnamon and serve.

Optionally, if you want to skip the cheese, you can just brown both sides and sprinkle with the cinnamon. The mashing just creates a nice platform for the cheese.

Enjoy!

Home.

I’ve been back home almost a week now, and I have to say that the process of re-entry into my life in Portland, Oregon, US of A has been full of unexpected surprises and unlooked-for realizations.  Allow me to go off on numerous tangents for a few moments, if you will…

When I set out to embark on this trip, all of my thoughts were focused 100% on the preparation; saving the money, the vacation time, the airline miles, the coordination of keeping my bills paid and my dog happy and arriving at the same time as my brother’s family, not to mention managing the cobweb levels in my house to a sub-haunted level.  Also, there was the matter of finding the right place, the right school, the right situation, to make the experience a non-sucky one.  All in all, I have to say that I’m quite happy with all my choices and preparations; I did one bang-up job, if I do say so myself.  I am good at organizing and managing chaos, after all. 

Then, during my three months, I was focused 100% on making the most of my time there; learning as much Portuguese as my brain could handle (which was less than I hoped), and immersing myself in as much culture, activity, and life as I could handle (and afford).  I’d give myself an 84% on that one.  I think I could have done more, learned more, if I’d spent less time hanging out in my room hiding from the sun in the last few weeks, but am still rocking an amazing tan, and never turned down an opportunity to go do stuff, and have some truly amazing and treasured memories (some of which were documented in video!) as well as some great new friends.

But with the prospect of going home in front of me, I was only focused on getting in the last few times out on the beach, having that last tapioca, that last tall glass of caldo, my last classes in Capoeira and with my MMA gym, the last times with my friends, the last bit of shopping for gifts and cachaca.  I thought about how happy I was to be going home, and how I missed my house and my friends and my dog and my routines.  But I never thought about how being gone for three months in a foreign country with a foreign language would impact me when I did return.  And to my surprise, amazement and (slight) consternation, I find that the culture shock of coming home quite outstripped the culture shock of living in Brazil for three months.

The first thing I experienced was having to intentionally remove the mental blocks I had apparently placed on my ‘You are permitted to speak English all the time’ neural pathways.  Odd, since I did speak English at times, quite a bit occasionally; but I always felt guilty about it looking back, as if I was robbing myself of an opportunity to get just a little bit more fluent.  Now, that excuse was gone, but the mental block was still there.  It felt weird, allowing myself to speak English.  I miss speaking Portuguese.  I find myself wanting to go to all the Brazilian stuff I can, just for an opportunity to continue speaking it.

The next thing I noticed is how all of my prior habits, routines, and proclivities were, if not gone, then certainly greatly weakened.  It’s as if I hit a reset button on my life, and I could pick and choose which ideas, habits and propensities I wished to take up again, and which I decided to toss in the trash, with not a single emotional thread (or very few) to bias my decisions.  And while that has been a truly awesome unlooked for blessing, it also caught me off guard, because I did not see it coming AT ALL.  It’s like getting hit upside the head with a lucky stick.  It still smarts!  Kinda like this:

It’s also acted like oxygen on the fires of my love of travel.  You’d think that after three months I’d be all like “Dayum that was a long ass trip and I am stayin’ HOME for a while!!”, but I’m already looking forward to my next trip.  Most likely I’ll be returning to Amsterdam and London in May again.

I feel like there’s a ‘lastly’ here as well, but I’m not sure what it is.  Like I should be able to sum up my trip in a pithy sentence, like many of my coworkers and friends seem to hope I will when they ask me ‘how was your trip?’, but I’m not sure I can; nor do I think I’d want to.  There was a lot happening there.  I learned a lot.  I learned a lot about teaching, about myself, about my values and how they affect me.  I thought about language and culture and the impacts they have on each other, and how they can affect the interaction between other cultures.  I thought about how important art is to a community, and realized how proud I am of mine.

If I were to come up with a ‘lastly’, it would be this:  I now have offers of a place to hang my hat for a few days in five different countries.  That’s something special, and is always in the back of my mind.  And it means I need to find a better way to generate a metric fuck ton of airline miles.

Paint.

My last few weeks in Brazil have been gradually increasing in epicness.  There was the beginning of my teaching at a place called Lar São Domingo, a sort of school type place for kids from the local favelas.  There was the discovery of my favorite beach, which is off the beaten path and fairly sparsely populated even on beautiful weekend, complete with 4 beach bars in a row.  There was watching one of my new friends, a fantastic musician originally from Virginia named Atiba play at a fancy little beach bar named Lopana, and having him call me up to play bass with him on a little blues number.  The list goes on, and culminates in this, which happened just last weekend:

That’s my friend Suel, his wife Carol and me live painting a new mural at a beach bar called Milk Beach Bar, where I learned to pay attention to which cup holds the beer and which cup holds the paint, to my cost.  And also found out that water based paint, initially, tastes kinda watery.  Suel is an artist, and Carol teaches art history at the local university.  And all of it was fabulously documented by my other new friend Matias, all of whom will hopefully visit me in Portland someday.

There are still a few more days in Brazil, but the end is soon and I will shortly be reunited with my friends, my dog, my house and my city on Thanksgiving day.  A perfect end to an amazing experience.  And while I still have much I’d like to show you all about brazilian life (and yes, food) those posts may come after I’ve returned and have time to organize all the photos and video I’ve taken – which is a hell of a lot, have no fear!  I’d like to put together a couple of videos and will be posting those up as well.  As for my feelings, they are mixed; I look forward to going home.  I miss my home, and my life and everyone and everything in it tremendously. But I will also miss the people and things that have touched me here, and feel certain that I will have to return soon.

Popcorn.

WARNING: This is not about Brazil.

This is a short story I started writing on April 1st 2010, and never finished.  I just ran across it when I remembered I had an account at 750Words.com and was poking around in there to see what I was writing about back then.  I didn’t even remember I’d started it, but I liked it so much I decided to take a crack at finishing it.  Hope you like it.

Popcorn
“But I don’t have any cash,” the boy mumbled.
“You don’t need any cash. Just follow me, and do what I do. Ok?” said the older one.
“But,” the younger boy whispered, “isn’t it illegal?”
“You wanna see it, don’t you? You came down here with me and said you wanted to see it. You’re not chickening out now, are you? Are you some chicken little baby now? You know, I don’t like hanging around with babies. Want me to take you home, baby?” The older boy glared at the younger one, derision dripping from his words like venom from a cobra. The masterful barrage of mockery worked perfectly. Just as expected, the answer: “Fuck you, Evan. I’m not a stupid baby. Quit sayin I’m a baby!”

“Well alright then! Way to man up, Jakob!” replied Evan, smiling through slitted eyes and slapping the younger boy on the back heartily. “Let’s go. Just remember, stay quiet, look like you belong there and follow along.”

Jakob watched as Evan peered around the corner of the brick wall. They’d been hanging out at the soda shop down the street for a few hours, staring at girls and imagining what it would be like to kiss them, when Evan had cracked this plan. Jakob had just mentioned that he wanted to see one, and wouldn’t it be great if they could, not really thinking that it would ever happen. His family didn’t have the money for that kind of thing. They weren’t that poor, but his parents sure had to cut out all but the strictest of necessities. They said it was for the war effort, but Jakob didn’t know anything about that.  And extravagances like these, he’d dreamed of it, lying in his room late at night, gazing out his bedroom window and pretending he was there. He would lie in his bed and watch the hazy dream images of his young imagination dance before him, but he’d never had the guts to try and go by himself. And he certainly couldn’t come up with the money to pay for it; his parents didn’t allow him to work because of the asthma. So when he mentioned it, when Evan had gotten the look in his eye, and was so sure of the plan and its success, he’d gotten carried away in the hope that this would work. And he had Evan to give him the courage to try.

He followed Evan around the corner and down the alley. There was a single green dumpster, and a metal door hiding next to it with a sign that said “Employees Only”. The dumpster smelled of rancid butter, and there was an odd colored liquid dripping from one corner. It ribboned down the alley a few feet, shiny and multicolored, before disappearing into a drain in the center of the way. It smelled like caramel, sugary sweet, but mixed with the cloying stench of rot and piss.  Real life stink, thought Jakob. He tried breathing through his mouth, but the smell still crept into his unguarded nostrils. Evan was frantically whispering at him and waving him over. “Come here you little pipsqueak, you’ll get us caught!” he whispered loudly in Jakob’s direction.  Jakob crept up to him, and Evan grabbed his shoulders.  His grip was tight. “I told you to follow me and do as I say, or I’m leavin!”  He thought he could feel the sweat from Evan’s hands seeping into his shirt, the tension and fear transmitting like an electrical current from the older boy. He was shaking Jakob by the shoulders and glaring at him, waiting for a sign that Jakob was back on the payroll and ready to follow wherever Evan lead.  Jakob nodded, his own fear starting to crawl up his insides and claw at his heart, his intestines.

Evan whispered again, quieter. “Ok. I’m gonna open the door and poke my head in first. If the coast is clear, I’ll wave you in behind me. When we go in you gotta act like you belong there, ok? Anyone thinks we look suspicious, they’ll start askin questions and we’ll be hauled out on our asses for sure. Got it?” Jakob nodded again. Evan stared into his face hard for another second, and then nodded back. “Alright. Let’s do this.”

And it all happened just like that.  Well, at first.  Evan slowly cracked open the door just enough to get an eyeball into the interior, then slowly opened it up a little more.  Jakob was holding his breath, trying to ignore the boiling fear that was cooking his bowels into a frothing stew. He could feel his lungs starting to revolt.  No, no nonononono not now! he thought in desperation, but the tightening in his chest could only mean that his lungs were staging a mutiny on this adventure, his medicine left on his bureau at home.  He’d thought he would only be gone for a few minutes.  He closed his eyes and forced himself to breath slowly, evenly, despite the increasing tension in his chest and the rising panic in his throat. Slowly, the tension eased, and he sighed with relief.  He opened his eyes, and saw Evan just turning to wave him in, the door ajar a scant few inches.

Evan whispered harshly “Get in get in quick! I’m right behind you!” and shoved Jakob through the open door.

Jakob stumbled into the hallway.  He fell to his hands and knees for a moment, the feel of thick carpet cushioning the fall.  For a split moment, his hands gloried in the luxurious feel of the floor, before he rose to his feet again.  He glanced behind him and saw Evan slipping through the doorway like a shadow, the dim light barely glinting in his eyes, which were all upon him.  He turned and faced the hallway.  It was full of people, adults and children, their hands gripped tightly in those of their parents; yet it was strangely muted, the low voices of people speaking in murmurs, the soft carpeting and thick walls soaking up the sounds.  It’s like being underwater, Jakob thought.  As he gazed at the scene, Evan came up behind and shoved him forward again.  ”Quit gawking, dammit!” he whispered harshly in his ear.  Evan stumbled again, and the motion caught the eye of a man in a strange sort of uniform, red with gold trimming.  Jakob thought he was a soldier, but he’d never seen any of the other soldiers wearing a uniform like that.  The man walked over to them, a dark look in his eye.  Evan was whispering “fuck fuck fuck!” and glancing to left and right in panic.  Jakob felt the fear and panic rise from his belly again, gripping his throat and squeezing his chest.  Like he really was underwater, and the water was rushing into his lungs with the force of a tidal wave, forcing out his air with a rush.  He grasped at his throat and fell to his knees, gasping for breath.  Help, he whispered…or maybe he only thought it?  Help me…  He thought he heard the sounds of a woman’s voice nearby.

“My goodness what’s wrong with this boy! Mr. Chichester, did you see what happened?”

“I’m sure I didn’t, Mrs. Katz.  I thought they may have been sneaking in to watch one of the films, and I…”

“And you scared the poor boy to death!  Does he look like a hoodlum from the streets?  I’m sure his parents are here somewhere.  Please, do go look for them.”

“Eh, certainly, madam.  Come, boy.  Let’s see if your parents are here as well, shall we?” Jakob heard the sounds of Evan protesting. “I shall return shortly.”

Lying on that soft plush carpeting, he heard the woman’s now soothing voice saying “Just lie and rest for a moment, my dear.  There, look, your color’s coming back now, isn’t it?  There’s a good boy.”  Jakob felt the tightness gradually leave his chest once more.  Why did he ever leave the house without his medicine?  He gasped out “Th-thank you miss.  I’ve got the asthma, see, and I left home without…” She tutted at him.  ”Shhh, the attack has passed now, hasn’t it?  Just lie here a few moments more.  This theatre belongs to my husband, you see, although he’s off helping with the war effort, of course.”  Her eyes grew far off, for a moment.  ”He’s in Africa, last I heard.  The stories he tells! But then, he always did love a good story.”  She smiled down at him.  ”I, uh, think I can stand now, miss.”  He slowly rose to his feet.  Her smile grew wider.  ”Lovely!  Now, tell me the truth dear.  Did you sneak into the theatre without paying, or are you parents here with you?”  Jakob took in a deep breath.  She was so kind.  Would she call the police, have him arrested if he told the truth?  His whisper was barely audible.  ”I snuck in, miss.”  He looked up at her again. “But…I’ve never seen a movie, not ever.  I dream of going to the theatre every night!  I mean…everything always turns out right in the end, in the movies.  Don’t they?”  He paused, feeling ashamed, feeling desperate to have come so close, to end up here.  ”I just wanted to see if my dreams are real.  Are you….are you going to arrest me?”  He dropped his gaze to the floor, afraid of the answer.

The woman was silent for a few moments.  Jakob closed his eyes, and sighed, his head dropping even lower.  ”My husband always loved a good story, did I mention?”, the woman said finally.  ”When he was a boy, he used to sneak in to the theatre to watch the westerns.  That’s how we met, you know.”  Jakob gaze rose to meet hers, her eyes twinkling with laughter.

Memory.

Remember this?

(Apparently the video was taken down, so I must describe: Remember that Married…with Children episode where Al tries to get Kelly to enter a sports trivia game show and crams her head full of sports trivia until stuff she already knew started leaking out? Yeah. That.)

Yes.  Well.

Last week in class, I was showing my instructor some of my pictures and we were talking about them as a discussion exercise, and I happened across some pictures I took in Seattle this summer.  I pointed to the tall pointy thing in the Seattle city skyline, and said “…and this is the…the….um…”

“……”

Um.

I forgot the name.

I FORGOT THE NAME.

OF THE FREAKING SPACE NEEDLE.

Now either this is the early onset of senility (which is actually no laughing matter, as my brilliant and determined uncle who may have engineered a cure for certain types of cancer is now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease) or, like Kelly in the Married…with Children episode, my brain is full and has started dumping out unnecessary information in an attempt to continue learning portuguese.  Now that the mental version of faceplanting into an invisible wall when running which happened a couple weeks ago appears to have calmed down, I’m once again trying to cram as much information as I can in the last few weeks of class before I begin my volunteer period.

Before I left, I called my mom and she cautioned me to ‘not forget how to speak English’.  At the time I thought it was a silly thing to worry about.  The joke will be on me when I go to greet my friends when I return and it comes out as “Bom dia meus amigos! Estou muito feliz por estar de volta, eu faltei de vocês muito!!” and my friends stand there and blink at me in surprise.  Maybe I’ll just have to teach them all portuguese?

Cheesebread.

I help out in some classes at an English school across the street from my Portuguese school. (There are, in fact, approximately 5 English schools in walking distance around here.  I’m surprised more people can’t speak it!)  It’s one of the highlights of my week, not just because I have a chance to speak English for a while and give my mushy brain a break, but the students and teachers are all super awesome people and I have a lot of fun with them both in and out of the school.

During one of the classes, we came up with the fabulous idea to have a cooking-themed class, and one of the students, Marcos, offered to teach us how to make the original Minas Gerais pão de queijo - one of the iconic Brazilian foods.  And luckily for you all (sort of, because you might find yourself addicted), I managed to get a copy of the recipe in English!

Minas Gerais Pão de Queijo (Cheese bread)

Ingredients:
3 cups sour mandioca flour (polvilho azedo)
2 cups of grated semi-aged cheese (If you can get it, get the cheese from Minas Gerais; otherwise, a semi aged cheddar should suffice)
1 cup of milk
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of salt
2 eggs

Directions:
Preheat the oven to about 350 degrees.
Put the flour in a bowl. Heat the milk, oil and salt until it just starts to boil. Pour the heated milk mixture over the flour to scald it and then mix them to start forming a dough. Mix in the eggs until combined, followed by the cheese and mix thoroughly. The dough should not be too sticky; add more flour if necessary.
Roll the dough into small 1 inch balls and place in a baking pan or cookie sheet. Heat until they start to turn brown on the bottom and are the consistency of bread on the top. Remove from oven, let cool a few moments and eat! For a truly cheesy experience, add some of any leftover grated cheese inside one of the rolls.

The trick to this recipe I think is getting the right flour. It is a very fine sour flour called ‘polvilho azedo’ (Hikari makes a decent one, and you can find it on Amazon). I’m not sure exactly what it’s made from. The cheese is cheddar-like but white; a white cheddar or similar aged cheese should work if you can’t find ‘Minas cheese’ from Minas Gerais (although Marcos insisted that it was the key ingredient!)

Here’s a couple pictures of the cheese bread making:

Language.

original_headache-cat

I have apparently broken my brain.

No really, it’s broken.  I imagine it was all resilient and springy a month ago, soaking up new information happily and processing it with alacrity.  But it got fuller, and fuller, and more and more new information – absolutely necessary information for continued and improved human interaction – kept being added.  Kind of like when you put more and more and more sugar in your tea until the tea just won’t get any sweeter and really tastes like liquid teeth rot by this time and you still have clumps of sugar floating around in your tea laughing at you.  My brain has developed soft spots that refuse to learn anything more.  I can sort of feel them, one in front of my right ear, and another one all the way in the back on the left.  These spots flop down on the ground and hold their breath until they turn purple and when that doesn’t work they just turn their back on me and stick fingers in their ears and cry “LALALALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING LALALALALAAAAA”.

Broken.

Most of this past week has been like this.  I think my teachers are starting to worry about me, but they keep saying it’s normal and this sort of thing happens and it’ll pass.

But until then I could really use some aspirin.

Caldo.

During the first month in Brazil, I’ve been merrily writing away about whatever suited my fancy – everything from cute monkeys and crazy keys and phone booths to sad and happy dogs and lovely beaches and everything in between.  Last week, however, it dawned on me as I was pondering my next subjects that I ought to ask The Peoples (done in my best Zorro accent) what they’re interested in hearing about.  So I asked on the Facebooks what they’d like to hear.  And while there were some requests for more information about the apparent attempt to overthrow the government by the street dogs or whether or not they have probably one of the oldest female DJs in the world in Rio (They do!), the near-deafening roar was for more information about: Food.

(Incidentally, if you’re curious about other stuff, like local sports or beer or poverty, please let me know in the comments!)

Today I had this for lunch:

That is caldo de cana (sugar cane juice) and a coxinha, a pastry made out of wheat flour filled with shredded chicken. Caldo de cana is one of my favorite things I’ve consumed here. It’s basically the juice squeezed out of a sugar cane and ice. Or as I like to call it, what sugar water would taste like if sugar water tasted like it was good for you. The coxinha is tasty too, if a little dry on the inside. There’s no sauce or anything, it’s just plain chicken as far as I can tell, but the outside it a tasty bread pastry that reminds me a little of stuffing, and is quite moist.

Here’s a video of the vendor making my caldo:

Homesick.

I am, surprisingly, not.  Or it’s not as strong as I expected it would be.

Now before all my friends think that I don’t miss them, I do.  I miss you all tons and tons.  And more tons. In fact, without all the people in my life, I  *would* be quite homesick. I miss hanging out and eating and drinking and training and laughing with all of you.  I miss a good cheeseburger with a glass of cheap-yet-delicious red wine from Trader Joe’s, or a glass of Bulleit on the rocks.  I miss my dog quite a bit too.  I miss training in my school, and my favorite bubble tea spot, and my favorite bar (I’m looking at you Bar Dobre!)  I miss hiking trails in cool evergreen forests.

There’s things I don’t miss, but that’s not the point.

The point is that even though I truly do miss all those people and places and things, I don’t feel homesick, like I’ve felt it in the past.  My prior experience with homesickness was when I was in Japan for 2.5 weeks or when I was in Spain for a mere 10 days. It’s important to note that those two trips occurred in 1999 and 2001, respectively, and in both cases I did not travel alone.  About a week into those trips, both of which I have far surpassed in length at this point, I felt quite homesick; longing for foods and comforts and people who were completely and absolutely unreachable, at least without extreme cost or effort.  You start wishing that the trip would end sooner so you can go home and eat a nice reliable slice of pizza instead of trying to decipher what kind of meat you’re about to consume, and that everything around you just made sense and you could understand what everyone is saying all the time.

But that is not how I feel here, in Brazil, surrounded by a language that is VERY, VERY slowly becoming …um… intelligible? (Is that even a word?  I think it should be, if it isn’t.  But I think it is.  Anyway.)  While I miss all that stuff, there isn’t that ache that I felt before. And I think that it is because of one, single thing that I have now that I did not have then.

Social media.

And even though I am a huge proponent of the fact that Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other forms of social media have created a large and somewhat disturbing illusion of intimacy which I fear might change human connections in ways that are not totally for the best, it sure does for in a pinch when you’re roughly 6500 miles away from home and want to feel like your friends haven’t forgotten you.  And I also get to share my thoughts and experiences back, and know that there are people out there in the world who are reading. It is these digital social interactions, via email, Facebook, Twitter, and text messages that are keeping what could be a pretty intense bout of homesickness well and truly at bay.

 

Quirks.

I’ve come across some coisas muito interessantes as I’ve been wandering around Brazil. Here’s an image gallery of those which definitely made an impression on me.  Use the left and right arrow keys to navigate:

 

And I’ll finish off with a video of a Caicó vendor walking the praia.  Kind of like the Maceió version of ‘The Entertainer’ played from the ice cream truck, the sound of ‘Picolé e Sorvete Caicó’ really gets under your skin.  Especially when you hear it a lot.  Every.  Single.  Day.

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Picolé e Sorvete Caicó