A little late, but . . .

Happy New Year!

I hope your 2011 is going wonderfully so far. We’ve been busy bees, as you may suspect from our lack of posts! But it’s important for me to recap our last month, especially to tell you that a New Year’s Eve celebration in Brazil should be on your “to do before I die” list.

New Years in Brazil – Reveillon – is a special event. It’s beautiful and meaningful. We were lucky to have some visitors joining us, which made for an even better night. Lone, Rance and their son and his friend, Johannes and Gabriel, came from Fazenda Alfheim. Emmanuel Cabale’s family was in from Spain. And Michelle and Nigel, our new American friends, came for a few days from São Paulo. It was a full house for dinner with delicious food (including organic piglet from Fazenda Alfheim). After dinner we headed to the beach to celebrate with the village and the many holiday visitors.

Brazilians celebrate by wearing white, to symbolize peace; jump over seven waves, for good luck in the New Year; meaningfully tell you “Feliz ano novo! – Amor, paz, dinheiro, saudade para você”; offer something (usually flowers) to the Sea Goddess, Yemanjá; and then, in true Brazilian style, dance the night away until the morning hours.

Here are a few pictures (the bottom two courtesy of Nigel and Michelle):

Merry (day after) Christmas to you all!

Well, December has flown by and now Christmas has passed. And though we’re very sad to be so far from our families on Christmas this year, we’re thankful for the beautiful day we awoke to in Picinguaba – sunny, blue skies with a wonderful breeze.

We had a successful celebration and Ceia de Natal (Christmas dinner) for the guests at the Pousada on the 24th. Generally, Brazilians celebrate with a big dinner on Christmas Eve, party late into the night and have a family lunch on the 25th. Jeff and I worked hard all day Christmas Eve to help the staff at the Pousada prepare everything – Jeff spent a lot of time on arts and crafts, which is maybe only going to be a once a year thing for him. But I think it paid off as we decorated simply and elegantly and treated the guests to cachaça from the fazenda accompanied by the Pousada’s caipirinha recipe. On Christmas day, I successfully made delicious cookies (thank you Martha Stewart and Foodgawker) that we served to the guests for dessert with ice cream – the cookies were a hit! I learned that our American tradition of cookie-mania during the holidays is possibly unique to the United States, so I was happy to share that with others. At the end of this post you’ll find the menu for Christmas Eve dinner at the hotel, the Pousada’s Caipirinha recipe and the cookie recipes – just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean you can’t make cookies!

Jeff and I had a nice holiday on our own. It was certainly a very different Christmas than any others in our lives, but we embraced the beautiful weather and setting and enjoyed time with friends and other expats. On Christmas Eve, after working all day until around 11 pm, we went to a gracious couple’s house in the village to hang out with some friends. Rose served a delicious meal (around 1 am!) and we all sat around drinking beers and champagne until around 3. On Christmas Day, Jeff and I enjoyed some time on the beach and had a wonderful Christmas lunch at a friend’s house with some other English speakers. The day was low key, not incredibly festive, but lovely. We were also able to skype with our families, which was great.

I have no pictures to share with you – so I apologize. You’ll have to use your imagination to picture us in this beautiful setting with lots of delicious brazilian food and a few excellent America cookies mixed in! I’ve been wary about using my camera these days as we were robbed twice the week before Christmas. Among other things, my amazing Canon SLR camera was taken, so that’s been devastating and put us on alert. We’re working through the emotional ups and downs of it all – being robbed, knowing someone is watching us come and go and everything else that comes along with it. Luckily the town has been supportive, which makes a huge difference, and we were able to put it behind us and hang out with some lovely people for the holiday.

New Year’s should be a site to see here in Picinguaba, so I’ll be sure to snap a few photos to share. Traditionally everyone wears white for peace, offers something to Yemanjá (goddess of the Sea), and jumps over seven waves for good luck. We’ll have a few guests in town, so we’re looking forward to the good company. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Ceia de Natal

Pernil assado | Baked ham
Tender | Pork roast
Perú | Turkey
Arroz branco | White rice
Arroz colorido | Colorful rice
Legumes da fazenda | Vegetables from the farm
Salada verde | Salad
Tomate cereja c/ queijo minas | Cherry tomatoes with fresh cheese
Tomate seco | Sundried tomatoes

Sobremesa | Desserts
Mesa de frutas | Table of fruits
Torta de maracuja | Passionfruit tart
Manjar de coco | Coconut custard
Panetone c/ sorvete | Panetone bread filled with ice cream

Pousada Picinguaba Caipirinha:

1 limão em cubos | 1 lime in cubes
1 colher de açúcar | 1 tablespoon of sugar
50 ml de cachaça | 50 ml of cachaça
1/2 copo de gelo | 1/2 cup of ice

Cortar de forma que o miolo branco seja excluído | Cut lime into 8 pieces, removing ends and white pith

Macerar o limão e a açúcar extraindo todo o suco | Crush the lime and sugar, extracting all the juice

Chacoalhar bem com cachaça e gelo e servir | Mix with cachaça and ice, shake well and serve


Ginger snaps

Basic Vanilla Dough


Last week my parents came to visit and brought us Christmas in Brazil. Their visit was more than enough, but they also showered us with gifts including a nice wood-carving set for Jeff (so stay tuned for some stellar carvings), much appreciated head lamps, some cute Rio fashion and lots of Christmas themed accessories for our house. Though we were missing lots of other family members, sipping caipirinhas and overlooking the Bay of Picinguaba proved to be a lovely way to celebrate Christmas.

Our four days in Picinguaba with Mom and Dad included kayaking up the river, walking on the beach and a boat trip with some time on a secluded beach and a fun lunch on another. Jeff and Dad went fishing one morning and on our way out of Picinguaba we discovered a spectacular waterfall with delicious sausage sandwiches. These sandwiches were a treat – Zé makes his own linguiça (sausage) and serves them grilled on his fogo de lenha (wood burning stove) at the border of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro States.

After a stop in Ubatuba for some crafts and açai na tigela we headed up to the Fazenda. That night we had fresh fish (caught by Jeff and Dad) along with fazenda fresh veggies.  Friday we hopped on four horses for a ride up the mountain, explaining the future villa locations along the way, taking in the spectacular views and watching Dad explore where all of the natural springs are. We had a relaxing afternoon and a fun outdoor churrasco dinner. Saturday we walked through a unique and spectacular valley (mostly on the property) then hung around São Luis do Paraitinga for a bit. Every time I’m in SLP, I love the town more and more – the buildings and streets are all full of color and incredibly well maintained and the people are so nice. It’s towards the top of our list for a potential future residence location.

My parent’s trip was short, unfortunately, and we dropped them off at the airport on our way into São Paulo Saturday evening. It’s not easy to express how lovely it was to have them here with us. With Mom and Dad and previously Maggie and Seth here I’ve had a sense of calm that has already escaped me.

On the work front . . .

Believe it our not, we have managed to sneak in lots of work in the last few weeks despite our visitors.  The obras (works) are forging ahead at the Fazenda where we’re getting close completing all the floors and ceilings for the hotel rooms, building a new fireplace in the main house (from my sketch), installing a new septic system, and planting fruit trees to filter the grey water from the hotel buildings. At Picinguaba we’ve now officially been exposed to the difficulties of Brazilian employees due to history and arguably bad-for-business laws geared unreasonably in favor of the employee (more on that later). The ramifications of one employee’s poor work and limited knowledge of how a business runs has resulted in some eye-opening realizations about the operations of a small hotel in a 400 person village. That’s passed us now though, and the next few weeks should be fun prepping for and living through Christmas and New Years at the Pousada. I’ve had fun helping to select and buy appropriate Christmas decorations, set the menu, and organize the holiday season.

As I’m writing this post, I’m eating leftover stuffing with Maggie and Seth’s mango-cranberry sauce and a farm fresh egg. Mmm. Last night, though it was the day after thanksgiving, we celebrated Thanksgiving by cooking up a delicious meal; this was our menu:

Small, but local, fresh and delicious turkey

Stuffing with walnuts, pancetta and whole grain bread from the local bakery in Ubatuba

Mashed potatoes

Our farm’s green beans with hazelnuts, basil and garlic

Mango-cranberry sauce (idea from Seth, executed by Mags)

Gravy (of course)

Roasted veggies from the farm

Salad with lettuce, cheese and roasted red peppers from the farm

Jeff’s spectacular apple pie

I’d say that counts for a full-fledge Thanksgiving meal, wouldn’t you? The only thing missing was pumpkin – though we have a pumpkin from the garden sitting on the counter there was just too much food already (and besides, we’ll will use it this week for something to allow the thanksgiving spirit to linger along with turkey soup). The meal was excellent, and sitting next to the bonfire eating apple pie was exceptional, but the best part was having Maggie (my sister) and Seth (her fiancé) with us. We also shared the event with the artist-in-residence, Pasha. It was incredibly special and has turned out to be one of the best Thanksgiving holidays ever, especially since we were able to skype with our families on Thursday. THANKS MAGS AND SETH!!!

And now for a quick recap of our wonderful week with Mags and Seth. They arrived Monday into Paraty on a bus from Rio. We had a fun walk around town, a snack of tapioca and headed to Picinguaba. That night we grilled some sausages and Jeff made us our first of many caipirinhas together.

Tuesday we walked to and along Praia Fazenda and made it back just in time for the rain to start. More caipirinhas and a great meal at the hotel of shark moqueca. Wednesday we braved the seas for a two-hour kayak to Ilha dos Coves where we lounged on a small, secluded beach for a few hours. Well, Seth and Jeff found some rocks to jump off and bamboo stalks to throw and Mags and I did the lounging. Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, we hiked to a waterfall in the rainforest, talked to family and then headed out to the Fazenda. Along the way we stopped for some açai na tigela in Ubatuba.

Thursday night we managed to pull off a great churrasco (brazilian bbq) even though it was raining. Friday we woke up to start our Thanksgiving celebration day – we had some breakfast and hopped on the horses for a 2.5 hour ride up and around the property. Since we were unexpectedly not able to get into the kitchen until 4pm as the girls were cooking lunch for 40 bombeiros (firefighters) doing a course for our farmers on wildfire prevention, we took our time picking vegetables from the garden and mentally prepping for the meal.

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to Maggie and Seth this morning as they were off with a ride to the airport (mashed potato sandwiches in hand). Jeff and I will hunker down for the week with lots of work to do both at the Fazenda and the Pousada!

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Last Friday, we made a last-minute decision to take advantage of Saturday’s forecasted sun with a hike up Corcovado, a 1,165 meter peak above Ubatuba in the state of São Paulo. Jeff, Manu, Esben and I joined João (our guide) and 5 other Brazilians for the 18 kilometer trek into the Serra do Mar – Santa Virginia (a state park). It was spectacular – mostly through the rainforest, with a steep climb towards the end into the sunshine with stunning 360 degree views.

The end of the hike was not fit for those afraid of heights – though it’s hard to see this from the pictures, at the top of the mountain we were standing only centimeters aways from sheer 300+ meter drop-offs.

Enjoy the pictures of our hike and we’ll be sure to tell you some stories about our time with my sister soon!

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Today I am guest-appearing on a friend’s blog. Kate started What Up Wanderers this year in an effort to provide advice to youth travelers as she’ll soon be launching a “gap year” company. She appreciates any advice, links, articles and stories from travelers, so get involved!

What Up Wanderers

And my guest post,

Exploring a New Business Culture.

After a very busy and fully focused work effort for over two weeks now, we declared a break for 24 hours. Last Saturday afternoon we finally returned to our “home” in Picinguaba after 11 days away. We promptly had some coffee and then Jeff made us delicious caipirinhas (it was 5:00 by then if you’re wondering). Sunday we took a trip about 20 km up the coast to Trindade – a small, fun little village with a spectacular beach. We enjoyed our peaceful time in the sun as the pictures below show . . .

I also managed to get a little cooking in on our day off – homemade crackers! (I call these Lone’s crackers as we first had them at Fazenda Alfheim.) We tested them with guava jam, homemade pineapple jam (my first attempt was good, but I need a little practice to get the consistency down), and salami; all were delicious accoutrements and I’m thrilled to have a simple recipe for what is surely a healthier option than the store-bought choices.

The past few weeks have been busy and hectic, but fun and interesting nonetheless. Since Manu, the on-the-ground lead at the Fazenda, has been in Europe for a few weeks, we’ve been stepping in to manage the construction of the hotel rooms and renovations on the 1850s main house. Walls are being torn down, steps built, bathrooms added, new kitchen space created, and more! It’s quite comical as we’re doing our best to speak and understand Portuguese while incorporating a lot of hand gestures to instruct the construction guys. We’re getting by and the team does their best to work with us. The work on the hotel rooms is another story – it’s going slow, slow, slow – this is Brazil after all, but we’re getting nervous for the anticipated January opening. My biggest concern over the delays in finishing the construction is the inability to fully dive into landscaping until they’re finished with their machines and heavy materials surrounding the houses. We need trees and grass – SOON!

In the midst of all that is happening at the Fazenda we also spent a few heavy work days in São Paulo to forge ahead on some financial and marketing work. We’re hoping to have a high profile architect step in to design the future villas at the Fazenda, so my big effort for the week was to put together an inspiring, seductive presentation for Emmanuel to use as the basis of his talk with this architect. We’re hoping to engage the architect primarily on a profit sharing basis. So, for those in the professional services industry, you know how tricky this can be – but with a big upside it works. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Jeff continues his work to keep the businesses afloat with good looks, good sense and incredible excel skills.

This week we were back at the Fazenda, holding down the fort. It was another busy week and we look forward to getting back to Picinguaba for a more stable existence with Manu’s return from Spain on Friday. General life goals such as painting and exercise have been somewhat on hold lately, so I’m hoping to fix that soon. I have, however, been enjoying life on the farm – the vegetable gardens are in full swing with fresh cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, peppers, herbs, zucchini, squash and beautiful beets all coming in by the baskets. These vegetables are gorgeous and taste spectacular. I’m especially appreciative since I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have now started Nina Planck’s Real Food (fresh milk, cheese, meet and lots of veggies does a body good). With the lack of kitchen in the main house due to construction, we’ve started taking advantage of the “churrasco” (bbq), which you can imagine has made Jeff quite happy as well.

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