Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving in Brazil

Photo taken with a potato

The First Annual

I told my relatives for a while that I was going to cook a big dinner on November 26th for an American holiday and that I wanted them to come over and eat with us. It took a lot of reminding and explaining to get it across. Somehow they finally connected Thanksgiving to what they had seen on tv and in the movies. I told everyone to arrive at 7pm and as per classic Brazilian style, everyone showed up around 8:30 except for one couple who showed up at 10:30 as I was putting the kids to bed. (Oh Brazilians, you wonder why the government never gets anything done - I digress! It's been instilled in me as an American, and former military, that 5 minutes early is late!) I do have to give my brother and sister-in-law Douglas and Maiara credit because they came pretty close to 7 by Brazilian standards.

I was really excited for Thanksgiving because it was never a holiday that I never particularly enjoyed in the Unites States (the whole later onslaught of Native Americans thing kind of turned me off to it), but when I started a family of my own, holidays took on a new meaning. I wanted my kids to really experience and enjoy those traditional, hyper celebrated, family abundant holidays that you see on commercials. I think Farley and I have been doing a pretty good job of providing that for the kids - even if he's celebrated some of these holidays only a few times before. SO, I've spent a lot of Thanksgivings perfecting my menu and many days on Pinterest collecting recipes. I spent six hours cooking on Wednesday and all day cooking on Thursday. I even made a "Happy Thanksgiving" banner and printed out "pilgrim and Indian" hats for everyone to wear. 

I was really impressed with how much Farley's family embraced the holiday, including the silly hats. They were pretty excited to wear them actually. Everyone loved the food and everyone had a different favorite food. The cornbread I had to experiment with a little bit, but by my second batch it tasted exactly like Sam's Club's delicious sugary corn bread. Oh, and I can't forget to mention that my wonderful husband, who has spent six Thanksgivings with me prior to this one, at 6pm on Thanksgiving, one hour before we were to receive guests, said to me, "Hey don't cook too much, because I'm not sure if they're going to like all this American food." Honey, that boat sailed a long time ago. The only thing I could not find anywhere was cranberry sauce, but that's probably my least favorite part of the meal, so no big loss.

I'm going to share my menu with you guys - by the way I made everything from scratch, with a cranky 10 month old demanding to be held every five minutes, with about 4 square feet of counter space, with a stove that shocks me every time I touch it - I am so proud! I hope you guys enjoy the recipes, use them anytime, don't wait until next Thanksgiving. These are tried and true and sooooo yummy!

Deviled Eggs
Mashed Potatoes
Candied Yams
Green Bean Casserole
Oven Baked Chicken
Apple Pie

Deviled Eggs - Hard boil 12 eggs, 4 tbsp mayo, 2 tbsp mustard, top with paprika

Mashed Potatoes - You guys know this one

Candied Yams - Boil 5 large sweet potatoes, mash with 1/4 c butter, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 c brown sugar, 2 tbsp orange juice, top with marshmallows in casserole dish and bake

Green Bean Casserole - Blanch 1 1/2 lbs green beans, melt 2 tbsp butter, saute 1 small chopped onion and 2 tsp garlic, and 2 tbsp flour, add 1 c chicken stock, add 1 cup milk, salt and pepper to taste

Stuffing - (I doubled this and then added 8 more slices of toast) 8 slices of toast crumbled. On stove melt 3 tbsp butter, saute 1 small chopped onion and 2 tsp garlic, add 2 tbsp parsley, add any other spices you'd like, salt and pepper to taste, 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock, add crumbled toast and fluff

Cornbread - 1 c cornmeal, 1 c flour, 1/4 c honey, 1/2 c sugar, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/3 c oil, 1 egg, 1 c milk. Cook at 400F for 20 mins 

Gravy - Take pan drippings from chicken/turkey, warm on stove, add flour slowly until it thickens, salt and pepper to taste

Oven Baked Chicken - (one of my favorite things to make, it's soooo easy, and you will look like a top chef if you make one!) Wash and dry chicken - dry it really well inside and out. Coat the chicken in butter or oil, I prefer butter, coat in salt, pepper, and whatever seasonings you'd like. I just use whatever I find in my cupboard. I probably never make the same chicken twice. You can stuff the chicken with an apple, lemon, onion, stuffing, whatever you want, but I never do. I like to cook on low heat about 400F for 2-3 hours. Just watch the chicken and use your meat thermometer to make sure it's safe enough to eat. (Minimum is 165F or 73.9C) My husband and I fight about this a lot because he likes his meat super dry and cooked very thoroughly and I like my meat juicy and kind of rare, so I use my meat thermometer to prove a point.

Apple Pie - Crust: 2 1/2 c flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar add all those. Pulse in 1 cup butter, cold, cubed, add 1/4-1/2 c ice water until dough is crumbly but holds when you pinch it. Filling: Chop up a few apples, add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter. I never measure these and actually this year I couldn't find nutmeg so instead I added a little vanilla extract and the filling was still delicious. It's probably blasphemy but I like to cook the crust a little bit before I put the filling in. The lowest my oven goes is 400F, so it probably helps to cook my crust before my oven dries out the filling, but you guys probably don't need to do that.

The cornbread on the bottom was without 1/2 cups of sugar, the cornbread at the top right was so much better

The red/pink/white on the yams are marshmallows - I could only find them as a candy for kids, so heart shaped ones it was

This picture cracks me up - she actually resembles an adorable turkey with her shoulders slumped forward. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dealing with Brazilian Bureaucracy

The kids are dual US-Brazilian citizens, but I'm here in Brazil on a tourist visa. The plan was to apply for my permanent (spousal) visa before we came, but when my mother-in-law's cancer diagnosis was stage 4 only a month after discovering she had cancer, we applied for an emergency visa for myself - which is granted as a tourist visa. It allows me to stay here for 90 days before I need to re-apply for another 90 days as a tourist or to apply for my permanent visa. We arrived in Brazil two weeks after her diagnosis.

Let me back up. At some point in the summer of 2015, the Brazilian Consulate in NYC had a pop-up consulate in Philadelphia. We lived in New Jersey, right across the Delaware River from Philly, so we thought perfect, let's go get some stuff accomplished. The first step in our documentation/passport/visa journey was to get the kids' official Brazilian birth certificates and our Brazilian marriage certificate. After waiting in line all morning, a line that had no queue, no organization, and no instructions, we finally pushed our way inside the building when we heard they would be closing for lunch soon. Oh hell no, we said. We did not just stand for hours on a humid Philly summer sidewalk to be turned away. We were given a number and were able to sit down with someone right before they went to lunch. I was literally shaking when we sat down. I was so nervous that nothing would get done, the kids were going crazy, I really needed to either have Alessandra breastfeed or to pump (ladies, you feel my pain), and I was exhausted. After providing the 70 documents requested, we were able to get the kids' birth certificates started. Unfortunately, we were unable to get our marriage certificate because they needed a birth certificate from Farley that was less than three months old. This is the part in the story where I lost my shit. That doesn't make any sense! We have his birth certificate, why does it have to be less than three months old?! The young lady told us that's how they verify that he was not already married at the time of our marriage. Because somehow (and this still doesn't quite make sense to me), if Farley had ever been married in Brazil, it would have been documented on his birth certificate, so a newer copy would have that information. Yeah. Okay. To wrap this up, the only things we were able to accomplish after the entire day were the kid's birth certificates. Fast forward to the appointment for our emergency visas and we were told since the kids were technically Brazilian citizens they could only travel to Brazil on a Brazilian passport - but there were no passport appointments for over a month. After many tears and pleading and sharing the documents from my mother-in-law's doctor basically saying get down here yesterday, they gave us an emergency passport appointment for the kids that day. [Side note: I'm very, very good in stressful situations. 10 1/2 years of military training hardened me to act calmly and swiftly and freak out later. Farley loses his shit. However, in those rare situations where I lose it - e.i. at the consulate where I was convinced my husband's mother would pass away before he got to say goodbye because he was stuck waiting for my paperwork - he's amazingly supportive.] We were able to pick up the kids' passports and my emergency visa the next week. I was in the consulate shaking because I was convinced that something would happen and they would say sorry, they needed more documentation or the visa was denied or for some reason we would have to jump through more hoops. I couldn't believe how calm everyone was. When I picked up the documents I cried a little bit and almost hugged the security guard.

Let's go back (forward?) to Brazil. We attempted to obtain the kids' CPFs - something like a SSN here - but we were told they would have to be issued new birth certificates because the birth certificates from the consulate were valid only for obtaining documents from the consulate. So.. so.. Ok before I get stuck in an endless loop of "What the fuck?" I'll just say we came back with all the documentation they asked for including two witnesses who could attest that the kids were who we said they were and wasted an afternoon and some more $$ getting new birth certificates for the kids. We also inquired about our marriage certificate and were informed that it would cost R$800 to get a Brazilian issued marriage certificate - after we pay to get all of our documents translated. So the plan for now is to extend my tourist visa for 90 more days so that we have time to gather all the documents we need and apply for my permanent visa before my next visa expires. I've heard it can take years for the visa to actually be approved so I'm pretty nervous about that. (Although as long as everything is in progress you're fine).

Really, I have all the time in the world to go to a million different offices and get all this stuff done. That's not what worries me. My biggest concern is trying to get all my paperwork finished so that I can get into the Brazilian health care system. See, I suffer from migraines. Like, really badly. Like, really, really badly. I'm pretty sure I could quit working forever and collect social security if I wanted to - they're that debilitating. In high school I learned not to complain about them too much, because no one wants to hear about your "psshhh, headaches" every day. But almost every single day I have a pounding, stabbing, tense pain in my head that makes doing anything a nightmare and makes me a nightmare to be around. I take anti-seizure medication just to get through each day like a normal person. And when a migraine does hit (that pounding, stabbing, tense pain is just how I normally feel, the migraine is much worse), I take Imitrex or I have to sleep for three days straight. The migraines make me extremely nauseous, I can't look at any light, even daylight is too bright, anything above a whisper sounds like a scream, smells turn my stomach even further, I'm weak and shaky and can't deal with life. I fully depend on my medication to survive. And I only have a two month supply left. I actually have been suffering through my migraines by taking Imitrex on the first and last days and trying to push through the second day medicine-free just to save some. I'm nervous about what is going to happen if I run out of medicine. And that is why Brazilian bureaucracy terrifies me.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Small Victories


When I first moved to Brazil I thought there is no way I am ever driving in this crazy place. Most intersections don't have stop signs. You just kind of pull up and play chicken. Most streets don't have painted lines. Ten years ago everyone drove motorcycles and now the road is a mix of cars and motorcycles and the motorcycles follow their own traffic rules. Of which there are none. Also, my mother-in-law lives at the top of a very windy and narrow hill, so I was pretty nervous about trying to get our nice new car up and down without destroying everything in my path. Well.. I did it! Last week our nephew spent the night and the next morning I drove him to school one block away. It was only a block, but after not driving for a few months, it felt like pure freedom. I felt like rolling the window down and screaming, "'MURICA!" but, you know, I'm still on a tourist visa so I probably shouldn't push the whole crazy American thing. And a few days ago I felt brave enough to take over at the bottom of my mother-in-law's hill and haul our Honda CRV on up. I kept it in first gear, took it nice and slow, and made it without incident. I had observed Farley making the turns enough times that I knew where to cut the wheel and where to give it a little gas. I've yet to make a full drive from our house to my mother-in-law's, but I feel confident that I could give it a shot and everyone would survive. 


Grocery shopping was a source of anxiety and depression for me for a while here. That was unexpected and a little difficult to deal with because I love to grocery shop. I love to cook and bake and getting fresh supplies and thinking about what I'm going to make was always exciting. I thought it would be pretty easy to find what I need, since I shopped at a little Brazilian store in the States all the time and was pretty familiar with the Brazilian staples (rice, beans, Sazon, garlic, etc.). Wrong. All of a sudden I realized I have no idea how to buy heavy cream, sour cream, cheddar cheese, baking soda, creme of tartar (I'm still looking for that one, but I have good word that I can find it at a bakery supply store), etc. Thanks to family, friends, and the internet I've been able to decipher what some things are and find other items that are close enough to what I need. In the words of the Mighty Tim Gunn I'm making it work! Most things have a taste that's slightly off from what I'm used to. I guess that was to be expected, since that happens just travelling across the States. I made chocolate chip cookies from scratch, but the flour tasted very strange. I don't think it's made from wheat. They tasted alright when they were finished baking, but still, not as I remember. I also had to cut up a candy bar since I have been unable to find chocolate chips. Make it work.

If this post is rambling a bit, it's because I caught a cold from the youngest expat. My head is groggy and my throat is raw, booooo.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Where Do I Start?

I wrote a first post a few days ago, but I decided to delete it because it was very negative and I wrote it after the husband and I were fighting (what a great idea). Anyway, I don't want to digress into all of that, so I'm going to start over. I'm going to try to make this blog as authentic as possible, because I don't want to sugar coat our experience for anyone that may undertake this adventure in the future and I also want to preserve all of our memories of living in Brazil - the good and the bad.

Since I've re-written this post a million times and couldn't quite figure out where to start, I think I'll start off from a logical place. Things I'm glad we brought, things we didn't need to bring, things I wish we brought.

Things I'm glad we brought:

  • Shark Rocket Vacuum - Holy moly, bugs are everywhere in Brazil. I have a very strict no-food-in-the-house policy due to all the bugs. Most people here clean their floors with a broom and then mop with a squeegee/towel set up. I don't feel like sweeping with a boom gets all the dust and particles off the tile floors the way I neurotically need it to and it's also very time consuming to sweep the whole house and patio. The Rocket vacuum is small and light and has a "hardwood" setting and attachment that I use to vacuum our whole house in less than five minutes. Then I mop. But if I don't have time to mop or if the kids are still running around (wet floor + running kids = broken noses), I whip out the vacuum and feel good knowing the floor is super clean. 
  • Cloth Diapers - The cost of things here is either very cheap or very expensive depending on whether you a purchasing with dollars or reals. The dollar to real exchange is very good, so you can get a lot for your money or for similar to US costs (considering the exchange). If you're purchasing Brazilian goods with Brazilian earned reals, things get very expensive, very quickly. For example: A meal for two at Subway costs R$40, more or less $10 at the time of this post. Pretty comparable to US prices. However, the average Brazilian only earns R$50 per day. So that R$40 is worth a lot more than that $10. Does that make sense? That's why I'm so glad we have cloth diapers. We use disposables as well, especially if we're out and about and we use them overnight. But they are very expensive now that we're no longer earning US dollars to spend. (Again, the dollar to real cost for diapers is comparable, but the value of that money is different). With cloth diapers I can boil them on the stove real quick, hang them out to dry, and we get to use them again! Unfortunately we're without water for the next 30+ days so the water part is a little tricky, but in a normal situation it's very cost effective. We only have about 10 of them, but since I'm home all day I have the time to wash them really quickly and let them dry overnight to use the next day.
  • Tools - Everything in Brazil is "China cheapie" quality and tools are no exception. Unless you want to spend a LOT of money, bring tools from the US. My husband was in construction in the US, so thankfully we had a nice supply of tools already. For Father's Day one year I had purchased for him a 3-in-1 Dremel tool that we've used numerous times already. It cuts, it sands, it's compact, it's amazing. We also have a buzzsaw, an impact drill, a regular drill, and a drill bits/heads/misc pieces set that we brought. 

Things we didn't need to bring:

  • Computer Printer - I wish I brought ink and left the printer at home. I found the exact same one here for the exact same exchange rate price.
  • iMac - I go back and forth about whether I really need a full iMac or whether I could have gotten by with another Macbook. I purchased my first Macbook in 2008 and I had it up until the month before we moved. The motherboard-ish failed on it because a certain toddler decided it was a step one too many times. I mean the thing is like a inch thick, how much of a height advantage did he get out of it? Sheesh. Anyway, that thing was a beast. I purchased it in college because I was taking a journalism minor and had a lot of design and layout classes the required a Mac and I fell in love. I opted for the iMac as a replacement because it was on clearance for $989, which meant it was actually cheaper than the Macbook and had more storage. I ended up buying a 1T external hard drive for my Macbook because when Maicon came along I went a little overboard with the photos and videos. (I was not given the nickname "the Chinese tourist" for nothing). Anyway, the iMac is large and space here is limited. I don't have a desk yet, so I have it set up on our dresser and have to stand while using it. But it was the iMac or the Macbook, one had to come - I'm just not sure this was the smarter choice. Time will tell.
  • Ninja Chopper - This one is my fault. I really wanted to bring it because it chops ice like a mofo and I figured I'd be making a lot of smoothies. Well I forgot the motor part in the states so now I have a pitcher and some useless blades. Also, blenders are easily purchasable here and the exchange rate price is fair. 

Things I wish we brought:

  • Singer Sewing Machine - This one is totally Farley's fault, although his mom saved the day. Farley convinced me not to bring my sewing machine because his mom had one here for me. Waiting for me here was a 50 year old metal Singer sewing machine completely in Portuguese. Let me stop you right there. I fucking love it. Have you ever used a sewing machine from the 50s? Before they were made of plastic crap? They are durable, strong, and I don't break needles every five stitches. However. However. However. My exact sewing machine is in the stores here for over R$500. I sold mine at our yard sale for US$10. Queue super sad music about how I could have sold that bad boy for good money. And it totally could have occupied the computer printer space in our luggage. Well... hindsight.
  • Coat Hangers - That may sound like a weird one, but since we hung all of our clothes in the states, we had amassed a nice collection of child sized hangers and those super thin hangers that used to be on infomercials. Everyone here uses "guarda-ropas" aka wardrobes, so obviously there is a high need for these bad boys. I'm not sure why they are so expensive or only seem to be sold in packs of three. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places? Anyway, we already put in a request with my aunt and uncle to mail down a box of hangers to us. Sometimes the cost of shipping is less than the cost of purchasing new and I think this is a case for that. Update: we were able to find coat hangers at a reasonable price, pretty cheap actually. I guess I was looking in the wrong places. We found them at a store that sells store furnishings.
  • Tampons - Ladies of Brazil, please break something down for me. Or don't actually. Maybe I should have researched this before we moved, but it was a complete non-thought for me. No one here uses tampons! Everyone uses pads! It is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on most days and ladies are using pads. It just feels so unsanitary to me. I'm running through them like crazy because I need to change them the moment they become -eck- soiled. Like, I'm sweaty already and now I have to deal with this too? No. No. So I purchased 500 tampons in bulk and my brother will be shipping them down to me. Disclaimer: I did find tampons at the pharmacy, but they are pretty expensive and only come in small packs of eight or ten. I put my foot down slightly on the need to spend money on these guys and my husband was kind of like, "Okay, take this wad of cash and do what you need. I just don't want to talk about it!" Whatever, as long as I get them I'm happy.

So, since this is the first post in what I hope becomes an active and informative blog - let me know what you liked, didn't like, and what you'd like more of or what you'd like to hear about. Tchau! Jeanie