International Meals – Brazil

Hold on to your eyeballs, folks, because we remembered to take LOTS of pictures this time.  This may or may not be a good thing.

Brazil is an enormous country, obviously.  Lots of people live there.  How many?  Like, a Brazillion people!

Sorry.

But the fact remains that this is one of the stops on our tour where any choice of dishes is obviously going to be absurdly reductive.  That said, there’s one dish that just about all my sources agreed would be a good choice for the national dish, and that is feijoada: a hearty stew of black beans and various forms of pig.  To accompany that, we would also make pao de queijo: a tasty cheese bread, farofa: toasted cassava flour, and sauteed collard greens.

So first, the stew.  This is for special occasions, so it uses many different kinds of pig, but it’s peasant food, so none of them are what you’d call fancy.  You would, however, call them hooves, ears, and tails.

In addition, we have some pork ribs, and two different kinds of honest-to-god Brazillian sausages.  Where the heck did we find those, you ask? At a store called “International Foods” in Sterling Heights, Michigan.  Despite sounding like a Mafia front, it is actually an amazing little grocery store, which will probably be seeing some return visits as we continue through the alphabet.

There’s also (just under the ear) a piece of what I’m fairly sure is NOT carne seca, despite what we thought when we bought it, but what the hell, into the pot it went.

I was a bit nervous when I read that the correct beans for this stew were “turtle beans”, but it turns out that just refers to the standard black beans that you can get anywhere in the US. So to start, let’s boil up some beans with an orange in the pot. Bay leaves added for some reason. (I’m not convinced they do anything in any recipe, frankly.)

Once they’ve cooked a bit, in go the pig parts:

And that is almost the entire preparation for the stew.  After 45 minutes or so, you pull out some beans, mash them up for texture, and throw them back in to cook some more. So while that cooks, let’s make some cheese bread.

The way we found International Foods in the first place was at the end of a long search for the appropriate type of cheese for the pao de queijo.  This cheese, called Queijo Minas Curado, is murderously hard to find online in English, and as was confirmed by our dinner guest, not even necessarily all that easy to find in Brazil outside of the Minas region where it is made. We had friends looking all over for this stuff, and then we found a store an hour away in Michigan that stocked it!  What are the odds?

I got about 20% of the way through grating the brick of cheese before I remembered we had a food processor:

Once you finish grating the cheese, you mix in egg, milk, some Parmesan, and two different kinds of cassava flour (thanks again, International Foods!) to make a gooey, sticky paste.

Said paste gets formed into balls and baked for a while. We’re now getting into the home stretch – just the farofa and the collards left. Both are trivially easy.  The farofa recipe is basically: cook bacon, cook flour in the bacon grease, then put scallions in the flour.

Which is Iron Chef level of complicated next to the traditional Brazilian preparation for collards: Slice into ribbons and sautee in oil for about three minutes.

With the pao out of the oven, the side dishes ready, and the stew smelling amazing, it was time to eat!

Sadly, this is where we UTTERLY FAILED in our documentation.  We had guests!  These meals are always better with guests, and our friends Alexis, Sandro, and Isla were delightful company.  They even brought dessert!  But did we take a picture with our friends?  We did not.  We didn’t even take a picture of the dessert until we had eaten half of it.

Sandro is himself Brazilian, and was able to confirm that we had gotten everything pretty close to right!  The stew was rich and porky, the toasty farofa soaked up the fattiness very well, the collards were a nice bit of actual greenery and the cheese bread… Oh man, the cheese bread.  The cassava flour gave it a much chewier texture than a standard American biscuit, and they were incredibly satisfying.

Here’s the desert they brought.  It’s called Manjar Branco, and it’s a coconut pudding made in a bundt pan, and usually accompanied by some kind of fruit.  It was so tasty we ate most of it before we even remembered to take a picture.

In summary, Brazil was definitely one of the better meals so far – all of the dishes were delicious, they worked well together, and the company was great.  You may notice that all of the recipes are from the same source on this one – I figure if this guy wants to do all my homework for me, why not let him?

Recipes: Cooked Earth – Federative Republic of Brazil.

Next up is Brunei, and I am vaguely terrified of this one…

International Meals – Botswana

We had been putting off Botswana, because everything I had read indicated that the national dish was extremely simple. Beef, water, salt.  Concerned that it might be a bit boring, I just hadn’t gotten around to making it.

And I was totally wrong.  This was definitely one of the simplest meals we’ve made, but was very tasty.  Complete ingredient list for all three dishes:

  • Beef
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Corn Meal
  • Spinach
  • Broth

And that’s it. You buy cheap beef, boil it for a few hours, then pound it down into individual muscle fibers. Throw it back in the drained pot to brown a bit, and you’re done.

It’s served with boiled cornmeal, which is basically grits. Fully traditional would have been amaranth greens as an accompaniment, but spinach was simple and tasty.

And there you are – simple, tasty, and filling. Nice job, Botswana!  Next up, Brazil!

Recipes:
Beef: Cooked Earth
Pap (Corn Meal Mush): Global Table Adventure
Spinach: OK seriously, you boil it in salted water for two minutes, then eat it.

International Meals – Bosnia and Herzegovina

I’ve been posting about our international food adventures on Facebook, but I’m going to start moving them here, because it’s easier to integrate pictures into the story, and we don’t actually go on vacation that much.  I’ll probably also start retroactively moving the prior meals on here too, which means this explanation will be in the middle of the narrative, and that will be confusing too.

But without further ado – Bosnia and Herzegovina!  I have an old friend who is a professional eastern European musician, so I contacted him for suggestions. Being that sort of person, he opened another chat window to the mayor of Hamtramck, just to make sure he had the right places to send me. (Follow that link, by the way. They’re really good.)

He nailed it, too – I walked into a nondescript grocery store and asked for Kajmak and the dude behind the counter enthusiastically told me “You can have this kind, which comes right from Bosnia, or THIS kind, which my grandmother made this morning.”

Naturally, I went with the grandma Kajmak.

But what IS Kajmak, you ask?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The centerpiece of this meal was going to be cevapi, which should have a bunch more diacriticals on it, and comes from the same root word as “kebab.”  It’s an uncased beef and lamb sausage that has a very distinctive “springy” texture that you get from grinding the meat several times, and mixing in baking soda.

I had never used a meat grinder before, but fortunately our friends who were coming for dinner were able to loan us one. Meat ground, we tossed in parsley, garlic, and a packet of cevapi seasoning mix that was also provided by the Balkan grocery store. Into the fridge with the meat.

Cevapi is traditionally eaten on a fluffy flatbread called Lepinja – like pita but softer and airier. I came home early from work on the day we were having dinner so I could get the dough started.  The other accompaniments are ajvar, a roasted red pepper spread with eggplant, and kajmak.

Oh right, kajmak.  So kajmak is essentially clotted cream.  You can make it yourself, but it takes a while, so I went with the grandma version. It’s made by simmering milk and heavy cream forever and then skimming off the heart attack that forms on top.  It’s incredibly sweet and rich.

Our friends arrived, so we put on some Bosnian music, and put them to work making sausages, which we tossed onto the oven plate at the same time as we put the bread in the oven.

The bread really did turn out amazingly well for a first attempt.

Once the sausages were done (and the one smoke alarm I missed hurriedly disabled), it was time to feast! To cut the richness of the kajmak, ajvar, and cevapi, we added some raw onion, and served it all up with some Croatian beer brought by our friends.

For dessert, we made what my friend Walt described as “the only Bosnian dessert that isn’t  a variation of Baklava”, namely Tufahije – apples stuffed with honey and walnuts.  Apparently grandmas will actually come to blows over whether they should be made with sweet or sour apples.  We went with sour, and they were fantastic, especially because everything is better eaten with friends.

Next up, Botswana!

Recipes:
Cevapi, Ajvar, and Lepinja
Tufahije
Kajmak – ask grandma

UK / Iceland – Sunday: Reykjavik and Reykjanes

It’s taken me over three months to write this final post, so the memories are at this point a touch fuzzier.  (Don’t let the posted date fool you – that’s set to match the actual date of the trip.)

Sunday was our final day in Iceland, and we hadn’t yet spent all that much time in Reykjavik itself.  We spent the morning generally bonking around the city, looking at tourist sites and visiting the art museum. We also mocked statues, because that’s a thing you do:

The Reykjavik art museum had an exhibition about the less visited interior portions of the country, which was good, because we visited those parts less.

To finish our stay, we hopped back in our car and drove around the Reykjanes peninsula.  This is where the airport is, and therefore where Dan spent Thursday morning, but Leigh hadn’t seen any of it, and there’s a lot to see.  Driving around randomly looking for lunch brought us to a delightful little oceanside cafe in Grindavik that mainly just had lobster bisque, but that’s OK, because it was *good* lobster bisque.

We took a picture, but I’m not going to bother adding it, because it is seriously just a picture of a bowl of soup.

What IS worth staring at pictures of, however, is this:

The little boards sticking up are where the previous walkway was, before the vent moved and melted it.  Kind of made us feel safe standing on the CURRENT walkway.  Also, Iceland continues to look like another planet.  From this geothermal field, it was a quick drive over to the coast. And another stunning view.  Iceland is terrifyingly pretty.

Nearby was a statue dedicated to the last surviving pair of Great Auks, who were summarily murdered on a nearby island so a collector could have them stuffed.  People are awful.


And on that cheerful note, we headed back to the bridge between continents that I had visited on the first day, so we could wave at each other from North America to Europe:

And with that, it was time to fly home.  Iceland is pretty.  You should go.

UK / Iceland – Saturday: Snæfellsnes

Having spent Friday on the primary tourist loop, we wanted to take a different excursion on Saturday.  We had dinner reservations (more on that later), so our range was not unlimited. We decided that a drive up to the Snæfellsnes peninsula would be a good day trip.

A word on pronouncing “Snæfellsnes”: We have no idea how to pronounce “Snæfellsnes”.  We kept saying “Snuffalupagus”, which is probably insensitive.  We apologize.

The drive up the coast was, unsurprisingly, stunning.

Lots of volcanic mountains.  Also sheep.  Lots of sheep.  Those were less stunning, however.

We made a stop at a cafe for baked goods, and then another at a volcano that you can, in theory, hike to.  However, the hike turned out to be a bit longer than we had budgeted, so we stopped to look at some goats and then moved on.  I am not a good judge of goats – these may be stunning, I’m not sure.

Our next stop, however, certainly was: The Gerðuberg Cliffs, (seriously, we have no idea how to pronounce this stuff, please stop asking) an ancient wall of basalt columns.

And legally mandated panorama.  Seriously – it’s worth clicking on.

Continuing up the peninsula, we reached the farthest north point of our trip, the fishing village of Stykkishólmur, which we also have no idea how to pronounce correctly.  This is also the farthest north we have ever been, full stop, surpassing Jyväskylä, Finland, which we also also have no idea how to pronounce correctly.

We had a delightful lunch of local seafood in an appallingly quaint little restaurant, and then hiked up to the top of the overlook point on the north side of town.  Once again, pictures say it better than words.

After our hike, it was time to return to Reykjavik for dinner. Where Thursday’s meal represented a cutting edge culinary experience, Saturday’s was fine dining that focused on traditional Icelandic culture and ingreedients.  We did NOT choose to experience rotted shark, but instead feasted on lamb and an entire cod head glazed in blueberries and honey:

The fried bit on the upper left is the cod’s tonsils.  Did you know cod have tonsils?  Me neither.  Tasty, tasty tonsils. (Lower left is nothing more unsettling than potatoes.)

Saturday was probably our least touristy day in Iceland, and we really enjoyed just driving and walking ourselves around looking at stuff.

Next up: Lava and Lobster!

UK / Iceland – Friday: The Golden Circle (Part 3)

Having successfully acquired fish, it was now time to get something to put under the fish.  Even though we had decided not to actually pay the fee to sit in the hot spring, we nonetheless drove back to the one we had previously considered to acquire another Icelandic traditional food item: fermented shark.

No, just kidding. We wanted to get some geothermal rye bread, baked right in the hot springs.  Purchasing a loaf was straightforward, but locating knives proved trickier.  We checked at a nearby restaurant, and while they didn’t have any plastic silverware, the proprietor noticed our loaf and was at pains to warn us not to eat more than a slice or two, lest we suffer acute gastric fluidity.

So now we had lots of fish, suddenly suspicious bread, butter, and no way to combine same.  There was obviously no alternative – we went to a gas station, which meant driving even further back the way we had come.  At said gas station we acquired a loaf of presumably safer paprika bread and a box of plastic knives.

From there it was time to visit one of the most important national parks in Iceland, Þingvellir. Since I’ve now gone four paragraphs without a picture, let’s make up for that right now:

And, how about another panorama? (It’s the law.)

And in case the scale of that big pile of geology isn’t quite coming across:

Þingvellir literally means “Assembly Field”, and it’s where the ancient parliaments of Iceland met.  We found a picnic table surrounded by ducks and ate our bread and fish, and it was delicious.  The ducks weren’t allowed to have any.

By this point, it was after 9 PM, but there was absolutely no way to determine that from the ambient lighting, which was pretty much the same as it had been all day long.

Did we mention that Iceland is spectacularly pretty? I think we mentioned that.  At any rate, after a hike around this corner of the park, we were about out of gas, so we returned to our AirBnB in Reyjavik where, at 11:30, it was STILL just as bright as it had been all day.

Next up  – Snuffleupagus, volcanoes, and goats!

UK / Iceland – Friday: The Golden Circle (Part 2)

After our tomato lunch, it was time for lots more geology.  Iceland is basically covered in geology, and our next stop was Gullfoss waterfall.  It sort of speaks for itself:

After Gullfoss, we headed to Geysir hot springs area.  Geysir is both the name of the park, and the name of one specific geyser in the park.  This is the ur-geyser, the Platonic Ideal of geysers, the one true geyser for which all other geysers are named.

Sadly, it almost never erupts any more.  Fortunately, there’s another one about 50 meters away that erupts every five minutes. It erupted several times while we were there, and we somehow still failed to take a decent picture of it.  The whole area was very reminiscent of Yellowstone – lots of random very hot things in unnatural colors that smell like sulfur. 

We climbed up the hill at the back of the area and took another stunning panorama.  Honestly, Iceland almost demands that you leave your camera in panorama mode the whole time:

Continuing around the circle, we decided it was time for ice cream.  The ice cream place had a good view of the suppliers:

From there, our plan was to visit a geothermal bath, but when we got there it just didn’t speak to us.  We decided it would be more fun to keep seeing the Iceland than sit still in a tub.  But first – fish!

I had printed out directions to a place that sells smoked fish.  The place had been highly recommended by one of the online blogs I had read while researching the trip ahead of time, and it was only a short distance from the spa.  Or at least, that was my recollection, since the directions were sitting on my desk in Michigan. But we decided to try to find it, because adventure!

First we turned down a medium-sized road which was being resurfaced.  So it was dirt.  Then we turned down a small gravel road, which matched my vague mental recollection. Then we turned down what were essentially ruts between houses in a tiny little village.  Then we pulled into a driveway in front of a private home with a detached garage, that had a sign on it in Icelandic that we couldn’t read and a picture of a fish.

We got out of the car, and wandered into what appeared to be a private garage with no one around.  And there was fish: 

We were trying to decide if we should just put money in the cashbox when two adorable preteen girls came out and started putting out samples and chatting with us in perfect English.  A further difficulty arose when we realized that a) we had no Icelandic cash and b) neither of their credit card readers was working.  Eventually their grandmother came out and was kind enough to accept $10 US for some smoked trout. She even tried to offer us change!

Coming up in part 3: Bread! Birbs! More Geology!

UK / Iceland – Friday: The Golden Circle (Part 1)

The top of every guide to what to see in Iceland starts with a day trip from Reykjavik called “The Golden Circle.”  It’s a round trip that takes about 3 hours or so of driving, but much more time out of the car looking at stuff.   There’s a lot of stuff.  It’s pretty good stuff, too.

So after starting the day with some excellent pastries and coffee, we hopped in our rental car and set off.  There’s two options for the first leg of the drive, and we took the gravel road for more scenic views and less traffic.  It seemed to work.  There was quite a bit of scenery:

Scenic scenery, even:

Also an angry squid:

But it was a scenic squid.

We got out of the car a few times and just marveled at the landscape, occasionally hiking up into the rocks to fail to find a geocache or two.  But who cares when you have these views?

Eventually, we rejoined the main road and made our first official Golden Circle stop – the volcanic crater at Kerið. (In case you’re wondering, ‘ð’ is a “voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative.” So there you are.) It took about 20 minutes to walk around the whole perimeter. Not for the only time this trip, Leigh took the appearance of this striking piece of geology as proof that the Earth is trying to kill us.

We still had a little time before our lunch reservations, so we visited the church at Skálholt. Skálholt was the center of power for the Bishops of Iceland for rather a long time, until the Reformation. The bishop and his sons, were understandably, not really interested in being reformed, so they were put to death. There’s a memorial stone here, as well as a set of excavations of one of the many prior churches on the site.

One o’clock, and it was time for lunch! We had made reservations at a tomato greenhouse. I’m not quite sure how they managed it, but the owners of this greenhouse have parlayed themselves into a tourist attraction. You sit among rows of tomato plants, and eat all you can snarf tomato soup and bread. There’s also a pot of basil on your table with a pair of scissors for dismantling said basil into your soup.

Next time: Dan and Leigh continue the golden circle! Geysir fails to erupt! Fish! Stay tuned…

UK / Iceland – Thursday

We started Thursday separately – I took a red-eye flight from Detroit and landed at about 11 AM in Iceland, and Leigh was to join me a few hours later.  Given a rental car and a bit of time to explore, I took off to see the Reyjanes peninsula, which is the part of Iceland closest to the airport.  But first, I found out what airplanes hatch from:

The weather was grey and rainy, and that wouldn’t change for the duration of the trip, but the scenery was unreal.  The southwest corner of Iceland is basically one big lava flow, and every time I got out of the car it felt like I had another planet to myself.

One of the sights you can see in this part of the world is the place where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes ashore.  The Ridge is the place where two tectonic plates are separating, and most of the time it has the common decency to stay underwater where you can’t see it.  But not in Iceland.  Oh no.  Not only is their plate separation flagrantly above ground where everyone can see it, they’ve even built a bridge over it.

That’s Europe on your left and North America on your right, for those keeping score at home.

Once again, Leigh and I had decided that it would be a great idea for the pair of us to arrive at a location in a foreign country where our phones didn’t work by separate routes.  After all, it wasn’t at all terrifying the last time. However, in this case, the location in question was an airport, my rental car did not get stuck behind a flock of goats, and we reunited without a hitch.

From the airport, it’s about a 40 minute drive into Reykjavik proper, where Leigh had found us an adorable little AirBnB right next to the most famous building in the city, the Hallgrímskirkja. (And if you think I’m not cutting and pasting all of these Iceland words into the blog, you’re nuts.) Since we each took a picture of it, I’ll let you, the reader, decide which one you liked better.

I’m not, of course, going to tell you who took which one, because then I’d have to admit that I took the one with the trash can in it.

To finish our first day in the land of Ice, we took a restaurant recommendation from a good friend of ours who knows from food.  We did an 8 course tasting menu at Nostra, which is a restaurant much too hip to have allowed us in.  There must have been a mistake somewhere.

Still, the food was amazing.  I don’t recall everything, but we had pressed lamb with tomatoes four ways and salmon roe, celeriac combined with celeriac puree and beef, arctic char with parsnip two ways, and a bunch of other things that were all too amazing to mention.  Leigh and I don’t go to fine dining restaurants that often, because we live in a mitten, but if we could go places like this more often, we’d have no money left at all.

One more peculiarity of this trip – since we were there right around the solstice, it never got dark.  Reyjavik is below the arctic circle, so the middle of the sun went below the horizon, but the whole thing never entirely set.  Walking home at 10 at night looked just like noon the same day.

Bonus Iceland Picture:

Prague/Dresden Day 10: Vyšehrad

It was the last day of our trip, and we had a carefully selected agenda of “Places That are Open on Mondays.” To be fair, these were places we actually wanted to go, we just timed them so we could visit the not-open-on-Mondays places on other days.

First up, Vyšehrad, the OTHER major castle in Prague, and home to a number of famous Czechs’ burial sites, as well as another random diacritical mark. Sadly, we don’t appear to have taken any good pictures of the OUTSIDE of the castle, since it’s rather far from downtown, so here’s the Wikipedia link for reference.

Vyšehrad has a long and complex history that we’re not going to into here, because you can just read the link, and that’s where I’d be cribbing it from anyway. But here’s a picture of a building with a cannonball stuck in the side, just to pique your interest. (Cannonball is just to the right of the top of the window.)

It’s quite a large area, and we decided to violate our usual habit of wandering around going “What the hell is that?” by buying a guidebook, and taking turns reading to each other out of it.  This allowed us to replace the “What the hell is that?” habit with a new policy of reading a section of the guidebook and then wandering around going, “Where the hell IS that?”  Also, here’s another “Leigh and Dan take a selfie with a statue that looks like it’s taking a selfie” (this TOTALLY needs to become a Tumblr):

In addition to the impressive cathedral, the most interesting part of visiting Vyšehrad is the cemetery, where a number of famous Czechs are buried.  There’s Dvořák:

Smetana:

And lots of other presumably famous people, none of whom we’d ever heard of. On our way out of the fortress, we discovered that we were just in time to take a scheduled tour of the casements.  “That sounds like fun”, we thought. “By the way, what are casements?”

Oh.  How’s that fear of dark enclosed spaces working out for you there?  [Note from Leigh: This was the lit portion of the walk. The rest was pretty much pitch dark.] Seriously, you couldn’t see the floor, and the walk was about a quarter of the mile from the gate to the gallery and back.  It was at least nice and cool.  The walk did turn out to be worth it, however – the gallery at the end of the walk contains the originals of some of the sculptures from the Charles Bridge. (Did we mention that the ones out there now are almost entirely copies?)  This was a quite impressive and imposing way to view them.

Just try not to think about “Blink” while you’re in here. These casements apparently used to hold ammunition and supplies for whoever was currently in control of the castle complex.

The rest of the day was fun, but not terribly photogenic.  We did visit a building which was deliberately designed to look like Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire dancing: (You can decide for yourself how successful you think the architects were.)

After this, we went to a modern art museum on the north of town, where they didn’t allow photography, so no pictures.  It wasn’t really all that exciting a collection anyway, although there was a David Czerny on the roof.  We decided to finish the day by using our transit pass to find a few more far-flung geocaches, and then headed back to Wenceslas square for a final walk though Old Town.

Since we had a very early flight the next morning, we had decided to eschew a hotel room, and just spend the night in the airport.  We’ve done this before, in Helsinki, and it wasn’t much fun then either.  We discovered that if you attempt to lie down in the Prague airport, the cleaning lady will start screaming at you in Czech.  At least, we assume it was Czech. But it was definitely screaming.

Total Statistics for the Trip:
Czerny Statues Seen: 7
Geocaches Found: 31
Posters Presented: 2
Fireworks Displays: 1
Diacritical Marks: Many