Adventures in Brasil: Salvador

The weekend after out trip to Rio, we rented an AirBnB in Salvador with the other 3 Americans who are in Brazil for the same program as Derek. Salvador is known for its colored houses, which reminded me of Valparaíso. We didn’t realize that the weekend we were visiting was the holiday for São João. On Friday afternoon, we walked over to the historic district, which was decorated with colorful flags and ribbons. We visited the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo (which boasts a carving of Jesus inlaid with 2000 rubies), Largo do Pelourinho (the plaza where slaves were once whipped), and the Igreja de Sao Francisco (which is famous for its tiles imported from Portugal, the amount of gold leaf, and the paintings on the wooden ceiling). We also wanted to visit the Mueso Afro-Brasileiro, but it was closed due to the holiday. That evening, we walked back to this area in order to take part in the feira. There was live music (we wished we had baby hearing protection) and lots of street food. Michelle had a caipirinha (the national drink which is made with cachaça [fermented sugar cane juice] sugar, and lime), and we shared salgado tapioca (like a tapioca crepe with savory chicken and cheese fillings), a plate of churrascaria style meats with typical Brazilian sides like farofa and rice, and coxinhas (chicken surrounded with potato and rolled in breadcrumbs then fried).

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On Saturday we went to breakfast at a typical by the kilo restaurant (we ate for less than $10), and then we tried to visit the Feira do São Joaquin – the largest outdoor market in the state of Bahia with produce, food, jewelry, crafts, religious items, etc. – but it was closed for the holiday.

Many people questioned our decision to move to Brazil for several months, especially with the babies. In the U.S., you hear so much negativity about the violence, drug, and disease problems of Brazil. The reality is that by Brazilian standards most Americans are very well off. This allows us to stay in hotels that are in very nice and safe parts of towns. We also make a point of being well informed about which neighborhoods are safe to visit, and we try to avoid going anywhere but the safest areas after dark.  Overall it is possible to have a very positive and safe experience here. The stories far outdo the reality.

All of that said, Salvador was one of the first times where we felt we made a bad decision that could have put us in a dangerous situation. Since it was a holiday, nearly every retail business was closed. We decided to walk the 2ish miles from our AirBnB to the Feira do São Joaquin. Since everything was closed, this meant we were walking pretty much alone on streets for most of the time and eventually passed under an elevated highway that was sheltering  a small homeless population, as well as passing in front of the entrance to a favela. This was not a good decision. You should not put yourself in a position where you are alone like this. When we got to the market, it was also closed and the few adults around were throwing large fireworks into traffic, seemingly with the intention of stopping traffic. We quickly got an Uber out of there. We definitely learned some lessons about having a plan and understanding our walking routes before heading out. Fortunately all ended well.

After we arrived back to the safer tourist district, we ate a relaxed lunch of Carne del Sol (a typical northeastern dish of salted beef left to cure outside) and Guaraná (a soda popular in Brazil). That evening, Derek’s coworkers babysat while we ventured out to the historic district on our own. It was much more crowded and the food was not as good as the previous night. We tried some Afro-Brasilian food which we only ate one bite of, as well as fried cheese, more coxinha, another plate of churrascaria style meats with typical Brazilian sides, and a dolce tapioca (this time the crepe-like tapioca with dulce de leche inside). For our last day, we took the ferry to Ilha Itaparica, where we walked along the beach and ate a lovely lunch of feijoada, with Derek’s coworkers. The views sitting outside the restaurant were beautiful, but in all honesty, this day was a little more expensive than we would have liked due to the cab ride to and from the beach, and didn’t really seem worth our time there.

Overall we really enjoyed Salvador, as it had a very different feel than São Paulo or Rio. It was fun getting to try street food and experience a local holiday. However, we would have loved to visit the museum and market that were closed!

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Adventures in Brasil: Rio

We visited Rio de Janeiro over the Corpus Christi holiday. Therefore, we arrived Wednesday night and left Sunday night. On Thursday we did an all day tour – Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), Christ the Redeemer, the Selarón Steps, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and lunch at an all you can eat churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse). As it was Corpus Christi, the Metropolitan Cathedral was filled from the sidewalk to the altar with people creating religious sand art. Christ the Redeemer is quintessential Rio, but the view from the top is so close to the statue, that people lay on the ground in order to get a good picture!

 

On Friday, we did a 3 hour free walking tour of the Centro district. We were the only ones who wanted an English tour, so it was a private tour! This was an awesome experience, and we learned a ton about the history of Brazil and Rio. We walked by the Teatro Municipal, old aqueducts, Selarón Steps, original cathedral, and other historic statues and buildings. If you want our recommendation – skip the city tour and just hit those main attractions on your own, but definitely do the free walking tour! After the tour, we went to the Teatro Municipal for their tour. They do offer one in English, but we did not want to wait. While we didn’t understand the history of the building (and wouldn’t have been able to hear if we had understood the Portuguese as the babies were very tired and we often had to walk away from the tour group to keep their crying from interrupting), we were awestruck by its stained glass, marble, wood floors, etc. Next, we walked to the commercial district. There were so many street vendors! This area was fun to walk around and had a great vibe. Friday evening we took the babies for their first swim. Norah seemed at ease in the water, wanting to lay on her tummy and kick her legs. Naomi enjoyed the water but wanted her legs pointing toward the bottom of the pool.

 

After our long days on Thursday and Friday, on Saturday we decided to allow the babies to take their first nap at the hotel before we walked along Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. It was fun people watching, as different parts of the beach draw different crowds. We held the babies in the ocean, but they were not thrilled with the cold water, waves, and sand. We went back to the hotel and took them in the pool again. Derek then met up for a jog with some runners who were in town for the Rio Marathon. That evening we walked to Galeto Sal’s, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The restaurant seemed local and not touristy, the galeto (young chicken and a Rio staple) was delicious!

 

On our last day, we again let the babies take their first nap at the hotel, while Derek went out to cheer for his marathon running friends. We then visited the Museu da Chácara do Céu and Parque das Ruinas in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. The museu was in a cool old house with indoor/outdoor living and awesome views of the city. While in Santa Teresa, we tried some German feijoada (as the southern part of Brazil is very German). It was light and tasty – carrots, potatoes, white beans, German sausage – served over rice. Finally, we visited the Palacio de Cachete to see where presidents lived when Rio was the capital. Overall, we loved Rio. It had so much culture, so many things to do, and the babies enjoyed eating lots of rice and beans!

10 Months Old and Adventures in Brasil!

In the past month, we have visited Avenida Paulista, Liberdade, and Casa de Francisca in São Paulo and have taken weekend trips to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

After both weekend trips, I found myself thinking that it was nice to “go home.” We have definitely come to think of our hotel in Sao Paulo as “home,” and we have gotten used to our routines here. With my Spanish, I am able to understand some Portuguese, but I sometimes get frustrated that I cannot speak and understand more Portuguese. Derek is able to communicate fairly well, but he definitely understands different words and phrases than I do. There are some cultural norms that we have become accustomed to and some which I don’t know that we would ever really accept. For example, Derek is regularly frustrated by how slow everyone walks.

Parents with small babies seem to be treated with more respect in Brazil than in the U.S. At the airport there is a separate check in and baggage check line for pregnant women, parents traveling with infants under 2, the elderly, and people with disabilities. There is also a separate line for this group of people at security. In the U.S., I feel like this group of people is allowed to pre-board, but that is the only accommodation parents with small children get. As well, if I walk into a restroom with a baby strapped to me, all of the women allow me to cut the line.

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Headed to the pharmacy to get Naomi (on front) some medicine
However, the obsession with babies is also frustrating at times. People are constantly stopping, pointing, staring, and wanting to talk to us. Any time we leave our apartment, we hear “São gêmeos? Que linda!” They then want to ask lots of questions about the girls’ names and ages, where we are from, etc. Sometimes we just pretend we don’t understand any Portuguese, so we can get where we are going! In Rio, we noticed that people were also especially touchy. When eating breakfast at our hotel, people would constantly touch the girls’ hands and heads and talk to them. This made it a little difficult to get Norah and Naomi to eat. When we were out and about, we were always trying to be aware of potential pickpockets, so it was disconcerting that people were constantly coming up to talk to us and touch the girls. Most people seemed to have good intentions, and many wanted to “help.” For instance, when we were at Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), we fed the girls and changed their diapers. A woman came up to us and without asking began adjusting one of the girl’s hats, holding her head, etc. We repeatedly told her that we did not need help (in Portuguese), but she continued to “help.” We love that people are friendly, but sometimes we just want some space!

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On weekends where we have stayed in São Paulo, we have tried to make the most of our time here, by visiting various places of interest. Avenida Paulista is popular place to visit for many of the same reasons that people visit Michigan Ave. in Chicago. We visited the Museo de Arte (MASP), then walked along the avenue. We browsed street crafts, window shopped at knock off Polo stores, and saw mansions from the early 1900s mixed in with many financial and cultural buildings. It was the first time that I really felt like I was in a big city!

We have also been to Liberdade twice, which is the Japantown of São Paulo. There are Asian grocery stores (where we picked up some teriyaki sauce), stalls selling various Asian and Brazilian inspired crafts, and a diverse range of street food. We bought a carnival mask and ate some delicious kabobs, spring roll, dumpling, and washed it down with caldo de cana com limão (sugar cane juice with lemon). The food market is always super crowded but very affordable, so we think it is worth it to brave the crowds to get some yummy and cheap eats (USD$2-5 per item).

Finally, Norah and Naomi slept through their third Brazilian babysitting experience, while Derek and I went to Casa de Francisca. Casa de Francisca is a theater/bar in an old building in the Centro district which offers live music and food. I was thinking it would be like a dinner theatre, but it was set up more like a restaurant with tables, a dance floor, and a small stage. Interestingly enough, they also stop taking food orders when the show starts. The  music wasn’t really our style (think lots of triangle with some drums, accordion, singing, and guitar thrown in), but it was definitely a fun and unique experience.

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Naomi weighs 17.19 pounds (13th%), and Norah weighs 15.87 pounds (3%). Naomi was sick the week before their 10 month birthday, so she had not been eating well. However, when she is feeling well, she likes picking up and eating food on her own and tends to be very independent at eating. Norah really improved her pincher grasp this month and can now pick up food with ease, as well. Their favorite meal is pasta with pieces of cheese. In terms of motor skills, Norah clapped for a few days but then started flapping her arms like a bird instead. She also went through a period where she enjoyed wrinkling her nose and sniffing! She can now go from sitting to standing to sitting with ease, and everything has become a jungle gym. Naomi likes clapping, especially when we clap back at her. They both shake their heads back and forth, but Norah has been doing it longer and more consistently.  Both have 3 top teeth and 2 bottom teeth now, but Norah only has one of the two top central teeth and Naomi only has one of the two top lateral teeth! Norah likes turning pages of magazines, so we are excited to go back to the U.S. and read children’s books with her. Naomi has shown some stranger danger and is unsure when rotating maids (not our usual maid) pick her up.

 

 

Cooking Pho

A much delayed cooking story due to life getting in the way. This is a recipe we made back in March.

Since moving to the West Coast, one of my favorite foods has become pho. It combines some of the things I loves about other styles of food: it has a good broth, usually has copious amounts of tender meat, and often is quite spicy.

When we went to Vietnam for our honeymoon, one of the first things we did was take a food tour of Hanoi (the northern capital of the country). The tour gave us some insight into the making of a traditional pho, as well as a chance to taste the numerous different varieties offered by different street vendors.  I enjoyed it so much I almost exclusively ate pho from street stalls during our trip.

There are some decent pho places near where we live (outside of Seattle), and occasionally Michelle grudgingly agrees to relive the honeymoon glory days.  I really enjoy cooking, even though I am pretty sub-par at it.  I like finding new recipes and at least giving them a shot.  Well one of my friends sent me a link discussing how to prepare a good pho, and I was intrigued.  It looked fun! And intense.

The intimidating thing about pho is preparing a decent broth. Each street vendor in Vietnam has a secret family recipe/technique (well maybe not, but that’s how they sell it) passed down from generation to generation. It involves simmering a unique combination of spices, vegetables, and meats for hours. It also involves painstakingly skimming the broth from time to time to keep it free of any impurities.

We took the recipe from the Serious Eats, and hit up our local Asian market.  Even if the pho wasn’t the best we ever had, the excuse to go to the Asian market was definitely worth it. It’s a whole other world culturally, and it’s just right down the street.  So this recipe was a fun adventure in both shopping and cooking.  Without further ado, a Drayer take on pho:

Ingredients:

  • Two yellow onions
  • One clove of garlic
  • One large chunk of ginger
  • Whole star anise (I used 5)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce – I would add more. (This is especially important as all of Vietnam smells like fish sauce. Which in my opinion is one of the most disgusting smells in the world. But also indicative of authentic Vietnamese food. I knew I was on the right track when the whole house smelled bad.)
  • One teaspoon fennel seeds
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • Two tablespoons of white rock sugar – I would add more. (We had to go to the Asian market for this one.)
  • One serrano pepper
  • One jalapeño
  • I would add one habanero (I think a perfect pho is spicy enough to clear your sinuses, but I also love Michelle – it’s a hard life full of tough decisions. Michelle won out on this one.)
  • One stick cinnamon
  • Three cloves
  • Salt to taste (I hate recipes that call for salt to taste.  At least give me a reference point!  I would recommend starting with one tablespoon and go from there.)
  • One pound beef brisket – this is a debatable addition. It is expensive and doesn’t really add a ton in my opinion. Get more flavorful and cheaper meat cuts instead.
  • One pound beef chuck
  • Three pounds beef shin (Need to get that marrow!  Yum yum. This was easier to find at the Asian market.)
  • Two pounds oxtail (This is the best part in my opinion. Frozen oxtail was available at our regular grocery store, but the Asian market had some great looking fresh oxtail that I think would have been better)
  • Any other meat you think would be fun and/or would contribute to a rich flavor to your broth. The fun thing about pho is you can make it up as you go and it will probably still turn out alright. The “cheap” cuts actually are pretty great for the broth as they often have a lot of flavor and you cook them for so long it doesn’t matter if they’re usually a tough cut.
  • Pho noodles (We had to go the Asian market for this. Also note that pho noodles need to be soaked for quite a while before a quick cook. Don’t leave this until you’re ready to eat or you will be disappointed…like us.)
  • Garnishes as desired
    • Hoisin sauce
    • Sriracha
    • Cilantro (This is required in my book. If you don’t like cilantro I’m not sure I can trust you.)
    • Mint
    • Bean sprouts (The sprouts we got were bitter and not good at all, border line ruining our pho. I strongly recommend tasting the sprouts before adding them willy nilly to your broth! Also we couldn’t find this at our local grocery.)

Actual preparation:

  1. Char the onions, ginger and garlic. I did this on a gas grill and it worked great. Basically just throw this stuff on the grill on high, turning occasionally for about 25 min. Everything should be blackened for best results. For the real deal you should char your add ins over an open flame but who has time for that.
  2. Clean the meat.  You can do this by putting the meat into a big pot of water and bring it to a boil for a few minutes (you don’t want to cook the meat just break up cartilage). After the meat cools you can rinse and scrub off any debris.
  3. Start your broth! You do this by throwing in your meat and other add ins like the onion, salt, fish sauce, cloves, cinnamon, etc. into a big pot of clean water. Simmer for about an hour and a half. Exact time isn’t super important. After an hour and half you can pull out any nicer cuts of meat such as brisket and chuck. You can cool those and save for later.
  4. Continue making that broth. I would simmer for another 4-5 hours. During this time use a strainer or something similar to take off the top layer of gunk and cartilage that will form. After 4-5 hours you can take the broth off the heat, remove all the aromatics, and strain till broth is clean.
  5. Add any last minute seasoning: fish sauce, salt, pepper, etc.
  6. Prepare pho noodles. PLEASE NOTE: these can take upward of an hour to re-hydrate!img_5925.jpg
  7. Serve your pho over noodles. Include any fun add ins you want like cilantro, jalapenos, the nice cuts of meat you set aside, sriracha, bean sprouts (though I don’t recommend these), etc.
  8. Be both disappointed that it doesn’t live up to restaurant standards and also impressed that you pulled it off, and it tastes pretty good.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Navigating The Brazilian Medical System

As some of you may know, I have started getting serious about running again. After a really poor marathon in 2015, I decided it was time to get back out there and have a good marathon experience.  I have been training hard through the first half of 2017 and had some good success in shorter races at the beginning of the year.

When I started looking at marathons, I thought it might be fun to do one while we were in Sao Paulo. After much struggling with the requirements for foreigners I registered for the Sao Paulo City Marathon on July 30 (the weekend after my work assignment in Brazil ends).  I was doing a great job of training while in Brazil, relying on a combination of our hotel’s gym and the wonderful park a mile from our place.  I was able to go on some really nice runs in Rio de Janeiro as well.

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Run along Copacabana and Ipanema

Unfortunately, while running two weeks ago I experienced some very bad pain in my hamstring. Bad enough I had to bail on my run and couldn’t get back to it for several days.  After giving the hamstring a break with no improvement, I decided it was time to explore the Brazilian medical system. Fortunately, EY provided international insurance (ISOS) for the duration of the trip. ISOS has a team of specialists on-call 24/7 with a range of language specialists to help book appointments and navigate local health care issues.  While the team at ISOS has been great, it is challenging at times to get a hold of them, as it can only be through calls to U.S. numbers (extremely difficult in Brazil) or email (slow response time when I am standing at a hospital trying to make a future appointment).

So I called ISOS to book an appointment. Despite assuring the team at ISOS that I needed an orthopedist, I was told that I had to go to a generalist first. I was impressed they were able to set up an appointment the same day. I headed to meet my new doctor at the lovely Centro Medico Sergipe building. Centro

There are very few people in Brazil that speak English, even in comparison to places I would not expect large English speaking populations like Peru, Vietnam, or Cambodia. I try to speak Portuguese with everyone I meet, but sometimes that proves to be a losing proposition as well. I have found that if I admit I don’t speak great Portuguese early in a conversation, most people won’t even try to understand what I am saying. However, if I never admit that I don’t speak Portuguese, people will generally work harder to understand me.  It’s weird. Regardless, through my broken Portuguese I was able to get in to see the doctor.

The one criteria ISOS used in booking my appointment seemed to be finding an English speaking doctor – so once I got into his office things went pretty well. But, for medical purposes the doctor’s English as a second language combined with my bad Portuguese still left something to be desired.  After an hour of conversation and mild poking and prodding, it was decided that I did have a hamstring injury (who would have thought). This meant a further referral to the orthopedic specialist as I requested in the first place. To add to the fun, my insurance would not cover the orthopedic specialist the general practitioner (chosen by my insurance) referred me to.

Which is how I found myself at Albert Einstein Hospital on a Monday night.

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One thing about Brazil: everything requires an extra degree of security. Whether that be to get off on a specific floor in your hotel, to visit the ID processing building, or in this case to visit the hospital. I had to have a photo taken, share my Brazilian and U.S. documentation, and have a finger print taken just to get in the door. I find this level of security adds a sense of stress and…heaviness to every day activities. Sort of highlights that you’re not in the U.S. anymore and things are maybe not quite as safe as you’re used to.

The nice things about Albert Einstein Hospital: it’s a gorgeous new facility and they maintain English speaking hospitality staff to escort dumb Americans.  So I was given a personal interpreter for much of the evening.

Eventually I was able to see the orthopedic specialist (after my helpful English speaking guide ditched me). The doctor spoke some English, but things were a little muddy in our communication. The ultimate result of our conversation was a “prescription” for an ultrasound and 10 physical therapy sessions.  I thought it was odd to get assigned physical therapy before seeing the results of the ultrasound, but I guess I am not the doctor here. The ISOS folks don’t have a local number to call, so I could not immediately schedule the ultrasound (I wasn’t going to pay BRL$700 on the hope I could get reimbursed). However, ISOS took care of it quickly the next morning when I was able to call and scheduled my follow up doctors appointment and physical therapy too!

So now I am now at my third Brazilian medical facility awaiting my ultrasound. I am honestly quite impressed with how fast and helpful the ISOS team has been (minus not having local numbers to call). The other remarkable thing is that I have not had to wait for medical personnel to see me. Appointments have started on time, every time.  Which is a nice change of pace!

Hopefully, the ultrasound shows no major issues and I am able to get back to running soon!