Monday, March 28, 2011

Toll Roads in Brazil

Planning a road trip in Brazil? Go to this website to determine what the tolls will be. We have yet to travel on these roads, but I've heard that the toll roads are in much better condition and make for better traveling. The website is in Portuguese, but it's pretty easy to navigate--just put in your departure location, destination and click "Traçar Rota." Then you confirm the locations (if there are more than one city with the same name), and it will give you the cost for a one way trip.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Make Rice

I've REALLY been enjoying eating rice recently. Growing up, we didn't eat much rice, and we on occasion enjoyed Minute Rice.

My dad liked to make Rice and Raisins--yum! In the states, we had a rice cooker, and I liked to make stir fry and the requisite sticky rice (Calrose), or Jasmine Rice. Pretty easy. Every so often I would make whole grain rice, but for the most part I stuck with the Asian theme. Back when I started working at the Canadian School, I remember talking to one of the coordinators about rice, and how important good rice was. And I realized I was making bad rice, using the same method I'd been using to make sticky rice. I was able to "get by" because our faixinera was making meals for us, and I was just reheating her yummy rice. After we had to let her go (another story), I had to find a way to make good rice. And here's my method! And, it's not perfect, but a big step for me :-)

1. Wash about 2 cups of rice in a colander. Rub the rice a bit, let the water flow through until clearer (not so white).

2. In a medium sized pot, heat about a tablespoon of oil. Add tempero (or "seasoning"). You can buy some at all grocery stores/markets in Brazil, or you can make your own by mashing up some peeled garlic and onion, and mixing it with salt. This is an important step. Let it cook in the oil for about 5 minutes.

3. Shake the excess water off the rice, and add it to the pot. Let it cook for about 5 minutes.

4. Add about 3 cups of water. I never measure, I just check to make sure that the water is about one knuckle over the rice. Cover the pot, and cook for about 20 minutes. I try not to open the pot, but sometimes I have to check it...

I've found that this makes fluffy, moist and flavorful rice. And right now, I am pretty much eating this daily (like most Brazilians)! And I feel pretty proud that I have finally figured out how to make decent rice. Add it to the list of things I've accomplished the past year. Tchau!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Flowers in Fall

We are about to begin Fall here (southern hemisphere). Late March is a time of heavier rain, though for the life of me I don't remember much rain a year ago. It's also time for things to be in bloom. We have these delicious trees behind our apartment that are in bloom, and I can smell them every time a breeze comes through our windows. And I think the mango trees are in bloom. I haven't taken a picture, but I see trees that look like this:

I was talking with a student this week about April mornings, and how April is her favorite month, because it starts to cool down, and the rains let up. I remember a year ago, being amazed at the blue sky and the glorious temperature. Today I drove to Alphaville, and I was amazed at how beautiful it is: green, lush, the trees with the purple flowers starting to bloom outside the city.

This is truly a beautiful place to live.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The benefits of homework: quilombos

I know I've complained in the past about the amount of time I've had to spend on homework with my kids.  It's not easy in your own language to get your kids to do homework; imagine trying to help them in a language that you don't speak very well. 

But today, I really enjoyed working with Dora.  She had to do some research on quilombos, and I couldn't find the word in dictionary, so I resorted to the internet.  Quilombos were essentially communities ("republics" by one definition) of escaped slaves around Brazil.  The largest one was Palmares, and may have had a population of over 20,000 at one time.  The quilombos elected their own leadership, (kings sometimes, in the African tradition) and had their own traditions and celebrations.  Black Awareness Day (or "Dia da Consciência Negra" in Portuguese) is recognized on November 20th, the day that 2 leaders of the Palmares quilombo died.  They had been leading a resistance to the Portuguese (I'll have to check my facts here), and were killed on November 20th.  This is what I can recall from memory.  If you are interested in reading more, go here or here.  Or you can look for the movie, "Quilombo" which is supposed to mostly historically accurate. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Weekend at a Sitio

Since I learned what a "sitio" was, I've wanted an invitation. And 2 days before the Carnaval holiday, we got an invitation to go to someone's country home--hooray! I'd been feeling a little down about Carnaval because we didn't really make plans, but this was exactly what I'd hoped for. We didn't really finalize things until the day before, but thankfully we had enough snacks and food, so it wasn't such a big deal. On Friday night, Matt asked, "what about traffic?" I called our hosts, and they said that they were going to leave at 7 am the next day, and they thought it would take 90 minutes, rather than the normal 60 minutes. Oh boy, were we wrong.

Once we got to the edge of Belo Horizonte, it was stop and go. For 3 hours. Thankfully our kids didn't complain at all (miracle of miracle!), but let's just say it was not a fun drive. I found out today that this route (the 381, going to Vitoria) is the worst.

But we made it.

We drove up a big hill, through many trees, with our host's son running to show us the way. The house was so cute and cozy, and the whole weekend we got to smell the smoke from the wood fires (for heat in the house, and behind the kitchen for cooking. Cooking on wood stoves is very common in rural Minas Gerais, and many say that it makes the food taste better. Well, the woman who cleans our apartment building says that...). It rained a lot while we were there, but we had fun watching movies, roasting marshmallows (we brought a little taste of American culture with us), playing games, and talking with our hosts. They were so generous, so gracious, and so patient with our attempts to communicate in Portuguese. Sebastian and his friend Lucas played lots on the tractor.

And apparently, he fell off it! He said that he was trying to get down, slipped, and landed on his head. He "woke up" with his friend shaking him. Ay! Boys!

On Sunday afternoon, it stopped raining for a while, so we went out to explore a bit. We found:

Bunnies! Pigs! Chickens! And a stick bug that Sebastian wanted to take home! We also saw lots of butterflies, a caterpillar, some cool birds, coffee plants, a nice garden, banana trees, a cinnamon plant, and an area that is being developed to harvest fish. We got TOTALLY muddy (as in, I'm still doing laundry), and had lots of fun. Bea played on the tractor (and didn't fall off), Dora chased a cat, Sebastian found a malagueta pepper plant. He started pulling of the peppers, and decided it would be fun to smash one. Two minutes later, he put his finger in his mouth. Boy oh boy! Did he scream bloody murder! We learned that eating avocado helps alleviate the burn.

It was fun to get out of the city, nice to get to know some people better, and fun to spend time together as a family doing something different. We hope we can go back again!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Graffiti Artist from BH

I've seen this artist's work in several places around town, and I finally caught his name on a building the other day. It's Rogerio Fernandes. Enjoy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

todo tranquilo?

I have to say, that there have been no major problems here recently.

Knock on wood.

I think we've settled into a bit of a routine, and figuring out how to get out of urgent mode. I hope I'm not speaking too soon!

I did have a few silly things happen:
1. I accidentally made 25 calls to the police ("190"). My old cell phone doesn't have a SIM card, so it can only make emergency calls. I thought I'd turned it off before putting it in my purse, but I guess I didn't. Oops.

2. I locked the keys in the Fusca after dropping the kids off at school. Thankfully I didn't have to be somewhere right away, and Matt was available to give me his keys before I had to pick the kids up.

But aside from that I did:
-get the oil topped off in the car (gosh, I wondered why the "oil" light was on...)
-find a new and better place to get copies
-got myself set up to accompany Sebastian to soccer practice at the club (ID, finger prints, first born child... you know the routine)
-make it through an hour of the 3 hour long parent meeting at the kids school

The kids have a "Grito do Carnaval" tomorrow at school, or from what I can gather, a Caranaval Party. I've got a Carnaval Party for my work tomorrow, and I will be playing/singing this song. We've got several invitations for fun things over Carnaval, and I'm looking forward to some time together as a family, and celebrating our Braziliversary (one year!)