Pumpkin Soup

In my pathetic attempt of eating healthier I decided to make myself a pumpkin soup.

Disclaimer moment: I’ve never made anything-pumpkin before!

Easy enough? NOT.

About an hour and a half later my kitchen looked like a pumpkin tornado went through it (or just like after an explosion of unattended blender). The following half an hour of cleaning made me give up any future attempt at such and quickly remember the many benefits of take-out that surpass by far the sole benefit of healthy eating.

The good news: the soup turned out delicious!
Ingredients: pumpkin, potatoes, cherry tomato, cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper, chili sauce and some cream (all in random quantities). Yummmmm..

Career switch number 4: being a chef ( right after career switch number 3: being a writer).

Evidence attached.

The boss’ birthday party

One of the things I found most different about the work life in Brazil, was the nature of the relationship between co-workers. At least in my office, it’s somewhat expected that one has to share his/her life with co-workers. When you move to a new apartment, get married, have a baby, etc., it’s expected that you invite at least your immediate team to celebrate the event with you. I think this is very nice but sometimes can be somewhat awkward because despite the implied close-relationship, they are still your co-workers and these acts bring the office conversation into your private life.

Close relationships also come at conflict with manager-subordinate relationships, and I don’t mean in the romantic way. Rather, sometimes it’s very difficult to have serious conversations with your employee since you’re friends and you feel like you don’t want to hurt their feelings by criticizing their work or demanding more of them. On the upside, a close relationship with one’s boss can help a person a lot in moving ahead in the company. So this is something additional that I have to manage around here.

So back to my original point. This week, my boss, a.k.a papabear, was having a house party for his 40th birthday. I was among the privileged few from work to be invited to share this happy moment with him and his close friends. The party was quite swanky with nice wine and french catering, and the guests were dressed elegantly which is very un-Rio-like. Thankfully, my wonderful former co-worker from NYC was in town, so I escaped the horrible fate of being the only single person in a party full of married couples. This is what I call “bring a gringo to an office party”.

Bringing a gringo is great because of three main reasons:

1) you have someone else to speak English to while the others are blubbering away in Portuguese,

2) you can do a show-and-tell with the gringo, because people want to know everything about him and his impressions of Brazil

3)(related to 2) people ask the gringo questions about his impression of Brazil instead of bothering YOU with those questions (i.e. distraction)

Anyways, this operation was great success and the party went very well. UNTIL(!!!!!!) we were cornered by a VERY drunk couple from Niteroi (a suburb of Rio). They were in their 40’s. The husband: pudgy, potato nose, big round head. Generous beer belly. The wife: blond with also equally round face, framed by red-rimmed glasses. She was round all about with a big big carioca butt. Lets call them “pudgy” and “donut”. They decided to be best friends with me and my buddy and acquaint us with Brazilian culture.

They would just not let us go. I kept exchanging looks with my friend, trying to figure out how to get out of this situation. It was then when pudgy pulled his donut away from my friend and pointed to me: “look, she is jealous”. We should have seized the moment, put on a jealousy scene and escaped.But noooo. He just switched places with donut and sent her to speak just to me. There’s nothing I hate more than when a person speaks with their face close to mine. Donut was doing just that, and also swinging from side to side as she was too drunk to balance herself. I was starting to think that she is either going to fall on me or try to make out with me. Very creepy. Donut’s English wasn’t very good which didn’t stop her from emitting  a verbal diarrhea, which forced me to try to understand every word she said and seem interested in the nonsense she was talking about. Pudgy, in the meantime, kept petting my friend on the shoulder and bragging about his BBQ skills and telling us how Brazil and Rio are much better than NYC. They had no intentions of letting us go.

This went on for about an hour until I couldn’t take it anymore and said we had to go talk to someone at the other end of the large living room. This somehow worked and we were back to freedom.

This brings me to another point about Brazilians. They love explaining super-basic points to foreigners about their country and treating them like cultural retards (e.g.  in Brazil, we speak Portuguese and we have very beautiful beaches — <followed by a long list of every beach they’ve been to>…) This is tiring.

Anyways, I look forward to the office gossip next week, discussing the above event.

Rainy Sunday in Rio

It is in my point of inspiration, Cafecito cafe in Santa Teresa, that I am writing these words.

On a rainy day in Rio (and those days have been plenty), it is very hard to find inspiration. The natives (cariocas) are hiding in their houses or crowding the shopping malls or cinemas and all I want to do is stay at home under the covers and sleep sleep and sleep until the rain will stop. But it doesn’t so I force myself to brush my teeth, get dressed, put on my scarf and closed-toe shoes (remember, this is supposed to be the middle of the summer), grab the damn umbrella, and eject myself into the wet and gloomy street.

I grab a taxi and give directions to the surprisingly young and handsome driver who says he knows the place. A ride that normally takes 10 minutes, ends up taking forever and as I lookup my location on google maps I discover he is taking me on a gringo tour and I want to kill him. But I can’t, nor can’t I leave the taxi since we’re in the middle of a mountain road. So I politely tell him to follow my GPS and once we arrive, I give him a lecture in my broken Portuguese. He blames his GPS and I say “I don’t care, you’re the taxi driver and not me”, “me neither”, he says, but then realizing how it sounds he adds:” I mean I haven’t been one forever”. I want to kill him once again but I politely wish him a good afternoon and step out again into a rainy day, but this time in my happy place, Santa Teresa.

I am eating Feijoada and drinking my freshly squeezed juice, when a samba band in a bar across the street starts playing. Getting out of the house was totally worth it.

Next time: Boss’ 40th birthday party or why one shouldn’t invite hicks to his or her posh birthday party.

On mining and dining

My earlier incident had set the trend for the rest of my 3-day trip to Belo Horizonte, a city in the state of Minas Gerais (kind of the Wisconsin of Brazil with its reputation for cheese). I couldn’t stop laughing at my clumsiness and enjoyed every moment there.

I spent two days on business, visiting the office there and building relationships with the local staff, which wasn’t too hard since they were super cool and  friendly. It’s always amazing how many interesting things you find out about people, if you just ask. For example, found out that one of the colleagues is learning Chinese in her free time, and another has his little baby’s cry as his morning alarm sounds. I like.

The following day I went to visit mines, as I mentioned in the previous post, and was enjoying it so much that I was scolded by my colleague for having too much fun “you remember you’re here on business, right? this is not vacation…” I say, “life is too short!”

In the evening, I met up with a friend who happened to be in town, and he took me around to do some site-seeing. BH is a very green city, located in the mountains, and exhibits this landscape throughout. I got to visit some very good places for food, such as the famous Tosco Burguer, that serves sandwiches bigger than my head, for something silly like R$12. Another amazing place for Minas food was Xapuri, which was located near the lake, and organized as a country tavern with wooden tables, basking in greenery. The place is huge, serving probably at least 500 people, has various open kitchen areas, where you can see the way the food is made in traditional style. They make their own sweets, mostly jams and have a horse stable and a training area. I ate a stew served inside a pumpkin that was to die for, but then could barely walk with my newly acquired food baby.

Thankfully, afterwards, we went to the local art museum, which had a very nice dark room displaying a very strange movie about some ceramic tub. Best part: the room had mattresses on the floor. Nothing like a great nap in the museum after a delicious meal.  Highly recommended!

I almost forgot to mention one of the best spots,  Marcado Central of Belo Horizonte, where we looked at various traditional foods and dishes. Loved it.  Kind of reminded me of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. I picked up some traditional Goiabada, a Brazilian desert made of guava, which resembles condensed jam, and goes really well with soft white cheese (Minas cheese)  as an after-lunch snack.

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Break a leg explained

The night before my planned business trip to Belo Horizonte, I was talking to my colleagues about various cultures’ ways of wishing luck to each other. We mentioned “break a leg” at the end of the conversation and parted with those words.

The following day, I supposed I got off on the wrong foot (pun intended) and as I was hurrying outside my building to catch the cab to the airport, I lost my balance and fell forward on the marble steps in the front, hitting my shins on the edge of a step and luckily enough breaking with my forehead hitting the metal gate whose bars I caught with my hands in front of me instead of falling face forward on the cemented street.
I was pretty shocked from the fall but managed to focus and catch the cab to my destination. Then in the cab I stopped to look at my legs and discovered some of the ugliest bruises ever having the pleasure of residing on my body with a swelling the size of a tennis ball. After messaging some knowledgeable experts (friends who respond to msgs at 7am), we diagnosed this as a non-issue and I proceeded business as usual.

Upon arriving to the BH office, I am sure I made quite an impression when the first thing I asked for was to be taken to the medical office. The whole experience was quite entertaining as I negatively impacted the company’s health & safety stats and kept receiving calls from colleagues in Rio asking me what happened and thinking I fell from the stairs in the mine site.

I also enjoyed the different office experience as the place is located in the middle of a forest-like landscape on an old mine site. There were horses in the parking lot and possums taking over the trash cans. Dr. Souss, anyone?

My bruises were then bandaged like two tree trunks and I decided to tell everyone from now on that I suffered a sports injury ( I think that this sounds more glamorous than admitting my endless clumsiness).

The rest of my trip was very interesting as I got to visit some active mines (which reminded me of Machu Picchu with their carved out stairs) and meet colleagues from different paths (accountant/aspiring musician who had to work as a truck driver to earn money but was later was discovered by the site manager due to his fluency in English and promoted to visitors guide and general assistant). I also got free work boots after touring the operations. If I ever decide to go hiking in mud, I am all set.

In next part I will write about the actual city of Belo Horizonte, where I also had a great experience. Now I’ve got to fly back to Rio!