100 Brazilian Dishes: Vaca Atolada



My husband and his construction crew are proving themselves to be excellent cooks.  Although most of their recipes seem to demand large amounts of meat and the world’s largest pressure cooker.  This week’s menu selection was vaca atolada.  I did a little, hidden dance of joy over behind the sacks of plaster because it was on my 100 Brazilian Dishes to-do list.

Initially the name was confusing to me. “There’s a food named “stuck cow”?” Many images came to mind, none of them remotely related to food.  I couldn’t imagine what this dish would look like.

With time and experience on the farm the name is starting to make sense. You see, every so often a cow stupidly wanders into a swampy part of the farm, and she gets stuck. It takes multiple men to pull her out and even if you can round-up the necessary number of strong bodies to get her out oftentimes the cow dies of shock a few days later anyhow (they always seem to choose to get stuck over the weekend once the vet supply stores have closed and emergency meds become unavailable…argh). So Vaca Atolada is the recipe for what you do with all that wasted meat.

Main ingredients: meat on the bone, pequi fruit, and yucca. It’s all stewed together until the meat and yucca are tender. The pequi fruit gives the sauce a light, floral flavor reminiscent of jasmine in Indian cuisine. Delicious.

Apparently you can use any meat on the bone, not just cow meat.  I found this funny, and told my husband so:

Me: “Uai, what do you mean that can you use any meat?”

He: “Sure, you can use chicken, beef, whatever.”

Me: “But the name of the dish is vaca atolada.  Stuck Cow.  You can’t use anything else.”

He: “But then it becomes Stuck Chicken.”

You can’t argue with a logic like that.


Our latest addition

Our latest addition – Veadinha (“Little Deer”)

She came to us because her mother died in a tragic accident.   Our relatives couldn’t raise her, so they brought this little orphan to us. How could you say “no” to those big brown eyes?

Veadiniha (“Little Deer”) is too young to put straight out into the pasture to feed.  She’s been living within the fenced house part of our farm and getting daily milk bottle feedings. Cute as heck. Also ravenous. She’s moving to solid food and has discovered a sweet tooth for my portulaca and purslane plants (judging from the unexpected, strong lemon scent that wafted in our windows one afternoon I suspect she also sampled the lemon verbena, but thankfully it wasn’t to her liking). She has munched every last one down to a nubbin. Which is a real shame, because they’re one of the few flowers that thrive and bloom during our dry summers.

I pulled out the roots of the devastated plants and babied 90% of them back to life (a few casualties, but in general thank god it’s a hardy plant!). I’ll resettle them once Veadinha is grown and moved back to the larger herd.

A refugee camp has been established on the countertop of our outdoor kitchen to preserve the survivors. They share space with my precious strawberry plant that the chickens would love to peck, the cutter ants would love to trim, and the farmcat would love to use as a litter box.

Let’s hope she doesn’t take a liking to anything else–it’s getting crowded around here!

The Refugees

Anniversary: Year Two


I’m a little late on this post. We arrived in Brazil on September 9, 2011. Somehow I blinked and this year’s September anniversary rolled by. I’ll blame it on the pregnancy, my scapegoat for all things memory-related in 2013.

Last year on my one-year anniversary here I wrote about how life will slip by unless you plan to take advantage of it. Funny how sometimes we don’t always listen to our own advice. Or maybe I was so busy living that blogging got forgotten. I like to think it’ s the latter excuse.

Anniversaries are still a good time to reflect. Here’s a few reflections from this past year:

It’s still the little things. I can’t say that life has been easy. It’s been a lot of hard work and more than a few angstful struggles. What has gotten me through? Life is made of little moments. Some fabulous. Savor them. I mean, really stop and engrave it in your memory. Because some moments are hard. Those, just power through them. And every once in a while be sure to do a headcount just to make sure (and/or remind yourself) that the good ones outnumber the bad! Also, it should give you some extra energy to keep powering through. When I do my personal tally, I can say that in Year 2 our Good:Rough ratio is increasing. Are where we wanted to be when we dreamed of moving back here? Nope. Maybe we’re getting there, though.

Life is rarely what you expect it. Seriously my friends, as we start a new family on the other side of the world, the thought occurs: how the hell did I end up here? And then I trace the steps back and realize that there is very little there that I would have predicted. Would I have imagined as a child that someday I would become fluent in two, now three languages? Nope. That I would come to master one of those languages so much that I would make a career of being an interpreter and translator? Nope, didn’t see that coming (as a kid I dreamed of being a psychiatrist!). That I would marry someone from a different country–incidentally NOT a country that speaks one of the languages that I speak–and move home with him? DEFINITELY didn’t see that one coming. That I would need to find a new career, and would now make a living giving massages to rich ladies and counseling them about weight loss? Not on your life.  But here I am.

So when said rich ladies ask me how did I end up here in Brazil, I always wonder how to translate, “I punted.”

Which brings me to my next point: the long view is the best (and hardest) view. It’s easy to sprint to a short-term goal. At least it is for me. But keeping your eyes fixed on the prize for years? That’s tough. So sometimes you gotta just punt that ball as hard as you can towards the goalposts and hope it gets close. If it doesn’t, well, keep playing and pushing forward. The progress is painfully slow at times, and sometimes its the only way to get there.

Home is where the heart is.  I realize these days that home is in this strange place where I feel like an outsider more days than not.  Home is also in the sea salt spray and rocky shores of my childhood.  So what happens when your heart lives in two places?  You become this strange hybrid.  I want to be here and I want to be there.  I go there and I want to be here.  The other thing that happens?  Your heart grows.





Foods to Welcome Baby

My little girl on Day#1.

Our little girl on Day#1.

Ok, so we had a baby over here!  That’s my rock-solid excuse for not blogging for most of December and January: lost in baby-land.

(For those that are curious, it’s a girl, 3,78 kilos/8 lbs. 5 oz., healthy, and adorable–see right)

Relatives and friends have arrived in droves to coo over the new little one. Babies are popular excuses for a visit in Brazil. It’s been great fun to hang out with everyone and talk baby, even more fun to eat all the traditional foods that come with births. I was looking forward to it since 8 months!

In the USA fathers hand out cigars (or the candy version–does anyone still hand out the real thing?).  In Brazil dads offer you a celebratory shot of infused cachaça rum infused with losna (absinthe?herb



A few foods are made to help strengthen the newly breastfeeding mother and help her to produce more milk. They’re delicious, though, so everyone else gets in on the action–lactating and non-lactating alike. Vats of canjica and pirão sit on the stove at the ready to serve mama and the arriving hoards of visitors.

Pirão.  I might have eaten most of this (immense) bowl.

Pirão. I might have eaten most of this (immense) bowl.

And then I have heard the rumor that drinking dark beer also aids milk production–good grains and extra iron, they say…They strongly refuted it in my prenatal classes. though. Something about alcohol not being good for baby? Just a nitpicky trivial detail, that.

Darnitall, because I was looking forward to that one!

Fotocrônica: Wheelbarrow boys




My favorite commercial these days is this one by Englishtown.com for English classes.  It is titled “Overcome your Gringophobia” and begins with: “GUYS–THE GRINGO IS COMING!!!” The rest explains itself.

Sometimes the line between satire and reality is very blurry.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this exact expression on the face of more than one shop clerk.  If I looked behind the counter would I have found four more in hiding?

Musicrônica: Som e Alegria


It was a hot bus ride home at the end of a day of touristing in Salvador, Bahia. We were taking advantage of my pregnant belly to sit up front in the preferential service seats, so I could see them hop onto the bus out of the corner of my eye. They started to introduce themselves “Ladies and Gentlemen, if we could just have your attention, a few minutes of your time…”

“Oh crap–not again!” I groaned silently. Salvador’s panhandlers are notably persistent; we had fended them off all day.  I didn’t think I could take one more round.  “Don’t make eye contact. Don’t get sucked into their spiel.  Just look out the window. Ignore it if you can.”  I focused all my attention on the window next to me, furiously studying the passing buildings.

Brazil has this trend where alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery programs are sent out into the community by the program to sell hand-made products to generate revenue. Their presentations are especially common on the beaches and on bus rides.  You can call me jaded if you want. I’m sure the revenue helps; there isn’t a lot of money for social programs here. I’m sure that the making and selling of the products help fill empty hours once passed by getting high. I get it. At the same time, it always feels exploitative to me. This program can’t get a better job for this person than what essentially distills down to panhandling? Declaring to the world that they were once an addict? Over and over again? How do I know this money is actually going to help this person and not to line the program director’s pockets?

They got around to their names: “My name is Som (Sound),” he said in Portuguese with a slight Argentinian accent, “This here is my friend Alegria (Joy).”  My eyes jumped from the window to their faces in surprise.  This wasn’t your usual bus-ride-beg-and-sell.  I looked them over; these were two clean-cut young men in their 20s with a few hippy-esque accessories and guitar and mandolin.  They slung their instruments into place and they started to play.  Not only were they not going to preach religion or try to sell me a rehab-program trinket, they were really good. Their messages were positive and joyous.

They did ask for donations at the end, but in their words the donation could be “as simple as a smile or a thank you if we improved your day.” I passed them some cash, a R$2,00 bill (USD$1.00).  Alegria’s eyebrows raised; I think it was more than they usually get.  No worries–they had just restored my faith in people for that afternoon.  Money well spent.

They played a short set of three bus stops, jumped off the bus with a wave and a reminder to “Throw Trash in the Trash and Not on the Ground!” and they were gone.

Thanks to them for brightening our afternoon ride home.  Here’s a sample of their Sound and Joy, straight from Salvador to you.