>Fo Río

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Rio de Janeiro is electric. One of the most stunning settings I’ve ever seen. Rainforested mountains jut up against white sand beaches framed by the clear, blue Atlantic ocean. The thriving, bustling city that is Rio nestles itself in between the mountains and the sea with high rise towers stretching along the coasts and densely packed favelas (or shanty towns) rising up into the hills. Rio doesn’t cease to amaze and entertain, especially during the week of Carnaval when it becomes a true playground for big kids. And play we did.

Our home base was a one-bedroom apartment on Copacabana which we rented out for ten days and cozily shared between seven of us. The saving grace was the rooftop terrace which boasted a pool, pool table, grill and full kitchen and was the site of our delicious daily feast that usually occurred at say, 11:30 pm. Our days started with the freshest of freshy fruits and juices. Every kind of tropical fruit blended up with ice. The amazing acai berry which is the most potent and powerful little berry which they blend up and serve with granola and bananas was fuel for the day. We drank the refreshing water from green coconuts and then split them open to feast on the meat.

Then to the beach. Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are one of a kind. Impressive expanses of white sand and even more impressive amounts of skin. I have never seen more beautiful people in one place than I did in Rio. Every skin tone from peach to golden to chocolate and everywhere in between. Brazilians are exotic and tan, toned and flaunting it in the ittiest bittiest baby excuses for bikinis or swimming trunks. A feast for the eyes for sure. The beaches are absolutely packed, which usually would annoy me but everyone is so much fun to look at it makes it OK. Vendors come by selling everything you might crave on a beach: shade, sunscreen, beers, shrimp, bathing suits, sodas, watermelon etc… all delivered to your own little oasis in the sand.

We filled our afternoons with outtings – or with timely naps as the case may be. We explored the huge national park that streches out behind Rio to play in a tropical rainforest paradise. The two best viewpoints of Rio – the massive Jesús Christo statue that stands watch over the city, and Sugarloaf mountain give equally stunning and completely opposite views of Rio. It is necesary to get higher to truly understand the dramatic landscape and the way the city nestles in between the mountains and the sea. Speaking of getting higher… I flew for the first time. I ran and jumped of a mountain top and soared under a hang-glider, over the tops of trees in the national park and then over that clear clear blue ocean before landing on the beach. It was one of the more incredible experiences of my life. Now I’m longing to jump of higher things and fall and fly farther…

In the evenings we usually grilled or cooked up increasingly amazing meals as the week progressed on our rooftop. Our dinners were lovingly labourous endeavours which lasting well into the night. For Valentines Day we rolled sushi and made a dessert platter of exotic fruit dipped in hazelut chocalate and almonds. Mmmmmade with Love.
However, all this is just what Rio has to offer every day of the year. Then there is Carnaval. Brazilians know how to party and the city has a massive influx of people that come to be apart of the biggest party in the world. From Friday to Fat Tuesday of Carnaval at any moment of the day or night in any corner of the city there is an array of parties you can choose to be apart of. Blocos are popular street parties where a parade, a band or a DJ entertain and people frolic in the streets where roving bars set up shop offering cold beers or caiparinhas. Costumes are the name of the game although I wasn’t very impressed with the quality of costumes… I guess I have kinda high standards. In the bohemian neighborhood of Lapa, you can find any kind of dance party you want all night long. There is a huge half dome which has large amplified bands and then the streets and bars of the neighborhood all have their own spice and feel. From a Reggae dance party in the street to a salsa club to a techno rave – you can wander and sample and stay were you’re drawn.


Carnaval was a raging party. But really it wasn’t anything very special to me – just alot of people milling and drinking and dancing. I’ve been more impressed with the quality of other parties and festivals I’ve been to – although the sheer quantity of revelers is enough to make anyones jaw drop. What really took my breath away is the sheer setting, an amazing backdrop for whatever activity you choose to endeavour. The experience of a lifetime. I would recomment it to anyone looking to feel alive. And glowing and joyful and real… I mean Rio.

>Mmm…Food

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Thinking about the notion of eating sensibly, seasonally, and close to home. Inspired by Emily’s lifestyle and ”Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” by Barbara Kingsolver, I am looking over my eating patterns and questioning what, from where, and when?

In Arroyo Morroti, the small intersection that is the town where Emily lives, there isn’t a whole lot of choice – you cook what you have around you. Obviously no Whole Foods or vegetarian restuarants have crept in to rural Paraguay but neither have such luxeries as whole coffee beans or more than one kind of cheese. While we feasted on eggplant and lettuce our first night, hauled in from the grander farmer’s market in the ”big city,” since then we have been eating ultimately from the hills around us.

The equatorial sun plays a fierce role in determining what survives in the garden, sending many plants to their death with its powerful rays before they get a chance to fruit. The same rays that keep us slathering on sun screen and hiding in the shade mid-day allows only the hardiest of crops to survive. Yerba máte, stevia, clocho (a thick kerneled corn), mandi-o (the potato-like tubor that paraguayans use as the starch for most meals) dominate the fields that stretch over red-dirt hills. Some exceptions exist, Emily’s bamboo-fenced garden behind her simple one-room home has lima beans, sweet potatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash, peanuts and two basil plants hiding under shade structures. In the harvest heavy months of summer and fall, one can eat well from the product of your effort, sweat and the answering bounty of your garden, or from that of your neighbours.

Mostly the locals eat simply, from I’ve seen from the meals I’ve been honored to share. Meat such as pork or chicken, mandi-o, eggs, and variations on cornbread: chipa, which is made from corn meal and shaped like a donut, and chipa guazu which is made from whole clocho kernels, cheese, onions and oil, baked in a brick oven and enjoyed hot.

In addition to these staples we dine on home-made bread slathered in butter and honey, which Emily harvested from the bees herself. We make soup from beans, clocho and an unreasonably long phallic squash from the garden, seasoned with basil, freshly ground pepper and the other Paraguayan staple – salt. Chicken noodle soup with home-made egg noddles, squash, onions and garlic. Ravioli ala Paraguaya served with tomato sauce – all made from scratch. We drink juice made from cantalope, asian pear, or the mouth-gasm that is passion fruit. Snack on gauvas and grapes from the yard or freshly roasted and salted peanuts with honey. Yes, one can eat well here, even when limited to the local cornucopia.

But that’s not to say that eating well doesn’t require ALOT of work. A gift of a bag of dried beans isn’t taken so lightly when you know the work that went into it – from saving the seed, to planting, weeding, watering, protecting it from the sun, harvesting, drying, shelling…
To my delight, when I arrived to Arroyo Morroti, Emily already had peanuts drying she had recently dug up from her garden. Peanuts grow like little clusters of potatoes on vines underneath the earth. Who knew? With visions of salty roasted peanuts in my head, I labored for an hour shelling little purple peanuts – enough to fill a small dish. In a moment of relapse from my newly acquired ”working with the land, in its own time” mentality, I remarked to her, ”I don’t think this is very efficient.” To which she replied, ” Maybe you’re not efficient.”

Ooo-kay. Maybe this lifestyle of eating locally and seasonally takes a little practice and effort. It’s hard to maintain that ideal when you, say, live in a city, work a full-time job, or maybe most difficult to overcome, have the freakish ability to consume whatever you wish, whenever you like, for a price. But what is that price? Aside from the high price of peaches in winter, what about the fossil fuels used to ship it from Chile? Or the disconnection that humans have from the land that feeds them, or the lost art of family meal times?

In Barbara Kingsolver’s book, ”Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” her family vows to eat solely locally-produced food for a year, and in the process, gets back to the land, becomes closer with their neighbours and with each other. I can attest for these results as well – in three weeks of eating from the land, I have witnessed how it it brings communities and families together. Emily and her neighbours are in a constant flux of passing around dishes laden with freshly baked bread, chipa guazu, just-shelled beans or whole milk straight from the udder. Each time a plate passes hands it seems to strengthen the bond between them. Sitting around a big pot with a few other women, gossiping and sharing the task of peeling and removing worms from guava to be turned into dulce de guayaba, it seems a deeper connection is being shared, one that has linked women throughout history. And I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than involved in the process of creating, cooking and delighting in freshly made ravioli with my sister.

Eating locally and savoring the process of preparing food as well as eating it is easy in the summertime. Farmers markets bring the bounty of the countryside to the city, and even a small garden patch can enliven any dinner table with sun warmed tomatoes and basil. But what about those cold winter months where no tomato in its right mind would be seen in Portland? For some unnatural reason, we have become accustomed to eating fresh produce even in winter, shipped in from faraway places, to satiate our need to be pleased, RIGHT NOW. Instant gratification is so good but so… ultimately unsatisfying.

Ms. Kingsolver describes the two qualities lacking in an American local-food culture as patience and restraint. ”Waiting for the quality experience seems to be the constitutional article that has slipped from the American Food custom. That is the sublime paradox of a food culture: restraint equals indulgence.”

But, here in Paraguay it is summer, and in summer we indulge.

RAVIOLI A LA PARAGUAYA

Combine two cups of flour with salt, two generous tablespoons of oil and then add water until it forms a dough. Roll out until it makes a thin sheet and then cut it into two inch squares.

For the filling sautee squash, greens onions (diced finely), parsley and basil in butter. Remove it from heat and mix with a soft cheese.

Place the filling on the ravioli square with a tabkespoon, and cover with another square, wetting the edges of the dough so the two sides adhere to one another.

For fresh and simple tomatoe sauce sautee onions, garlic, peppers and finally, tomatoes. Cook the mixture down until it is less watery, add basil and salt.

Boil the ravioli and top with tomato sauce. Enjoy in the shade.