Thursday, February 22, 2007

From the Outside In

In San Francisco for two days between Buenos Aires and Southern Germany, to acclimate and fill my suitcase with sweaters instead of sarongs, I went out to dinner at The Restaurant. It was nice to be back, but it made me realize just how little you have in common with co-workers once you don't work together any more. Six weeks isn't very much time to be gone, but in the restaurant world it's an eternity. One of the waiters filled me in concisely.

"Well, you and Casey both left at the same time, so for about three weeks everyone was working six shifts and we hated you. Now, things have settled down and we have a new guy."

"How do you like him?" I asked.

The waiter rolled his eyes in disgust and said, "Girl, you know I don't like competition!" and flounced off, doing his perfect Liza Minelli impersonation with a cocktail tray.

Everyone looked thinner (I guess New Year's resolutions have gone into effect, either that or the six shifts a week took their toll) and seemed happy to see me. I know I was happy to see them, but beyond the polite, "So are you coming back to work here when you get back from Europe?" conversation was limited.

I've blogged about this before (probably because I change staff at restaurants pretty often), but it's always a little sad to feel so close with a group of people and then suddenly realize you actually have very little in common.

The food was great, as usual, and I allowed myself to eat everything I'd wanted to in South America but had been too hot to have an appetite for.

I've just arrived in Germany to spend some quality family time, and although I'm missing my Che horribly, it's nice to be in a tranquil little town with NO screaming traffic, NO loud construction, and where the busses stop quietly and orderly without trying to kill you. Buenos Aires and Southern Germany seem worlds apart right now.

Monday, February 12, 2007


The foodstuff I ate in Brazil most deserving of attention was a fruit called Açaí (pronounced, "assai"), which grows in clusters of hundreds on a palm-like tree in the Amazon. Remembering having tried it once at the Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz during my college days, I thought I would give it a try instead of the beer I was craving on the beach in Paraty. We ordered a bowl from the tall Rasta working as a waiter in the beachfront tiki shack under whose umbrellas I was hiding from the sun.

The dish arrived in a square white bowl, and Che and I had to play nice with sharing it, because it was so delicious. Passing the iced bowl back and forth from hand to hand, we dug through layers of sweet sliced banana (and let me tell you how much better bananas taste when they are picked from the tree and sliced at your table), thick honey, and toasted granola, arriving at a hard-frozen mass that was as delicious in its thick, slivered, frozen state as it was as it melted into a custardy-textured berry shake.

Açaí is wild-harvested from Amazonian Açaí palms, and then pureed, frozen, and shipped countrywide. To reconstitute the blueberry-like fruit, it is mixed with a concentrated Guarana syrup (Guarana is another Amazonian fruit, whose energy-giving properties have popularized it on the shelves of hippy food-stores in the USA) and whizzed about in an industrial blender (the fruit is so hard it will break a normal blender after a few uses). It's then either eaten plain, topped with strawberries or bananas, or mixed with granola. Sold from açaí-huts (like smoothie shacks, these little kiosks vend fresh juices, pastries, and plastic cups of açaí), bus station snack shops, or restaurants as breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

I ate it ALL THE TIME on vacation, and it's the food I'll most miss from Brazil. Like a healthy ice-cream subsitute, it's sweet, full of antioxidants and fiber, and gives you energy while filling you up for hours.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Rio, Rio, Rio!

Greetings from Rio. We are staying at a hostel in Ipanema, which is a neigborhood as well as a beach. We got a private room for the first time in a few nights, which will be nice, as staying in a dorm is not so nice as a couple, especially when, as last night (our first night in Rio) we shared a dorm with 9 other people and one small window. Needless to say, sleep did not come as it was about 100 degrees and the fan didn´t do much once the other 9 came home from the club and passed out.

The Trindade Sea and Forest hostel was the best place we´ve stayed so far, except that the first night we slept at reception, which was loud, and the second night in a dorm. It is run by two hippy yoga instructors from Montreal, a couple in their 40s. It´s all wood, and in the rainforest! I had never been in the rainforest before and there are like 7 plants all growing around one tree, everything is hot, nothing dries, and the bugs are HUGE and LOUD. Plus there are monkeys and jaguars (which we did not see) and giant flying cockroaches and big frogs and huge butterflies and hummingbirds and parrots in many colors (all of which we saw).

Trindade is such a beautiful place. Basically the rainforest comes right down to the beach (which was the perfect beach I had been looking for since arriving in Brazil. Soft, powdery sand, water that is dark green until you get in it, and then it´s so clear you can see your toes when you are chest deep, nice big waves, although it was too expensive to rent a surfboard for me) and in between there´s a tiny little town with lots of campgrounds and no amenities like telephone or internet or supermarket. It was so relaxing and we would have stayed there the whole time but we ran out of cash and the nearest ATM was a half-hour bus ride away so we left and came to Rio.

So far Rio is great. You have all the beachy stuff I wanted here in Brazil, plus city attractions like clubs and dancing and great restaurants (we had Italian last night, although still all we are eating pretty much is fruit and vegetables, the salads were great), and then the big mountains which are soft and curved.

The food here is nothing to write home about, I have basically been living off of papaya, coconuts on the beach, and fruit juice. Things like coffee and alcohol are making me feel really bad (strange, since that was basically my liquid diet as a waitress!), so I´m feeling great, very cleansed, and ready for the daring Rio bikini!!!!