Allan and I bought a house here in Brasilia. We thought it might be (hope to be) a good investment. It is in a gated development a 25-minute drive out of the city. It looks very modern, cubic white concrete and double story glass windows. But due to the idyllic climate, almost always somewhere in the 70s, the house has few of the systems we rely on in North America. We don’t have heat or air conditioning. We don’t have hot water on tap. There is no dishwasher and there is no oven. We have adapted to this eco-home through many small adaptations. We have a few fans throughout the house to generate cool air. We use an electric kettle to heat dishwater and an electric shower head that heats water as it runs through for showers. I also shipped in a Kamado Joe ceramic cooker for all of our baking. That might seem like an extreme commitment, and, no, I’m not coming home from work every night and starting up the coals. But every Sunday afternoon I cycle through a sequence of dishes, some that are quick grilled, some slow roasted or baked, and some that are finished with very low, dry heat. The following dish is in my regular rotation. I call it Brazilian-style because hearts of palm are plentiful here, but you could go full Mediterranean and use marinated artichoke hearts just as well.
Brazilian/Mediterranean Chicken Confit
- 10 chicken thighs (rubbed with salt, pepper, dried garlic and chili).
- 1 head of garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 hearts of palm, sliced in 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 preserved (or fresh) lemon rind, rinsed and slivered
- Rosemary sprigs
- Olive oil
Preheat an oven or ceramic cooker to 375 (F) degrees.
Place chicken thighs in a large ceramic baking dish. Distribute the garlic cloves, hearts of palm, lemon slivers, and rosemary.
Pour olive oil around and over until oil comes 1/2 way up the chicken thighs.
Bake at 375 (F) for approximately 20 minutes, than reduce heat to 300 (F) degrees for another hour.
Serve over whole-grain pasta, drizzled with the baking oil. Freezes well.
Moving to Brasilia brought more opportunity for change besides geography. I also moved from the classroom to counseling. After 31 years of teaching, I have found taking a different role in the school organization to be energizing and challenging in all new ways. Every day, I draw upon all I have learned in my life about both the nature of being human and the nature of learning. Students and adults continually surprise me with their hidden motivations and thinly veiled vulnerabilities. Just because I occupy the office with the title Counselor on the door, people reveal themselves to me in a different way than they ever would have in a classroom. Much of the time, I feel there is a lot of good I can do, and sometimes, I feel overwhelmed.
Before I entered this job, a fellow counselor gave me a two word piece of advice: Self-Care. Of course I was already aware of taking time to nurture myself, but I took this as a mandate. I can feel now, more than ever, how other people draw off of my personal balance and strength to find their own courage and equilibrium. I start every day with meditation, and my intention for that time is to center my thoughts and emotions before I go out into the public or interact with anyone. I frequently use three sites depending on my mood or time- a weekly podcast from the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, podcasts by Tara Brach, and the Insight Timer. If you want to explore meditation, these could be ways to begin.
This is our private slice of jungle in our backyard where I learned how to meditate. I have spent hours watching the changing dappled sunlight and visiting wildlife, listening to cicadas, bird calls, and rainfall on the pool. It is a sanctuary.
My friend Dan has asked me before if a new adventure in my life is a new sentence, paragraph, chapter or book. I think this reiteration has to be a new book, but likely the last of a great series. Our family has had an awesome sequence of international school posts beginning in Singapore in 2000 and moving westward every 5 or so years to Kathmandu and Tunis. We are finally back in the Americas, in Brazil, getting a grip on the antipodal way of life. I frequently say to Allan, “So this is what Brazil is like.” It’s been almost a year and a half now, but we still feel amazed most days.
We are specifically in Brasilia, the capitol. It is confusing what Brasilia is. See, in the 1950s, the Brazilian government decided to move the capitol from Rio de Janeiro along with a significant portion of the population. It was a bit like the Westward Expansion in the United States. A location was chosen on the central plateau in a biome of shrubby pines and red dirt. They dammed a river to form a giant lake and built a purpose-designed “modern” city, in the shape of an airplane, with exorbitant expanses of green space, economical and convenient housing blocks, and public buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer that would signal to the world that Brazil was progressive and optimistic. It is honestly a wonderful place to live. At 3,000 ft. elevation, it has a mild sub-tropical climate with year-around temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees. Half of the year is rainy and the rest is dry. Compared to the coastal cities, Brasilia is very safe. It is also healthy with clean air, miles of bike lanes, and water sports on the lake.
That’s about all I’m going to explain for now. I hope to start showing this experience as one eats an elephant: one bite at a time. Just in closing, the header photo was last weekend at the Pantanal, a delta of the Amazon and the world’s largest wetland. My clever get-up was chosen to stay cool and dry while trying to keep chiggers from invading my skin. We spent hours each morning and evening on a boat taking in an incredible number of birds and constantly scouting for a jaguar- no show. Behind me is actually an inlet of the river completely covered by flowering lilly pads. So this is a little of what Brazil is like. More to come.
Porto is a city of serious historical depth with a pleasant industrial edge. Our apartment, Oh, Porto, is perched on the rocky hillside directly under this Eiffel era bridge. It might sound uncomfortable, but all of the architectural drama surrounding us is quite thrilling.
At the same time, Porto is incredibly friendly, just downright loving, and homey. We discovered this restaurant on our first night and will be having our third meal there tonight. The food is brilliant, but completely welcoming. This is the couvert or snacks they bring to your table. Various house-baked breads and crackers, olives, truffle butter, and fresh tomato creme fraiche. Everything is served in bakeware or tiny enamelware dishes. It is sweet and sophisticated at the same time.
Lunch was corn porridge with fried chunks of spicy sausage, a sous vide egg, topped with peppery greens, parmigiana, and fresh tomatoes. I can’t wait for dinner.
We drove up and up and up. The roads became a succession of hairpin turns so close together that they filled the GPS screen with the traversing green lines. Spring rain turned to hard balls of hail. The medieval town of Sortelha, stone buildings low to the ground, blended in with the giant landscaping boulders.
All the while, we are listening to The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel. Tomas, the protagonist, is struggling to coax one of the first cars in Portugal up these mountains to recover a unique religious relic he needs to find. But Tomas is really working through his thoughts of the three people he loved most in the world: his son, the mother of his son, and his father, all lost in one week to diphtheria. He thinks that “love is a house with many rooms, this room to feed the love, this one to entertain it, this one to clean it, this one to dress it, this one to allow it to rest, and each of these rooms can also just as well be the room for laughing or the room for listening or the room for telling one’s secrets or the room for sulking or the room for apologizing or the room for intimate togetherness, and, of course, there are the rooms for new members of the household. Love is a house in which the plumbing brings bubbly new emotions every morning, and sewers flush out disputes, and bright windows open up to admit the fresh air of renewed goodwill. Love is a house with an unshakable foundation and an indestructible roof.” (Martel, 2015)
This metaphor is meaningful for all of the love relationships I have in my life, but none more than my 33 year long marriage. Every day, we explore the rooms of this big, old house, shifting spaces as our moods or necessity urges us. I never get tired of it, honestly never. Every day has a fresh energy that intrigues me.
After exploring the icy cobble-stoned alleys of Sortelha, we found a local country restaurant and warmed up with a dish of fluffy potatoes and bacalhou with a side dish of braised lamb. The potato dish incorporated turmeric and cardamom, reminiscent of Indian spices, but then that makes sense given the fierce way in which the Portuguese engaged in the spice trade. All of these factors are part of figuring out what Portuguese cuisine means.
Happy first day of spring from the hill country of Eastern Portugal. We took a big walk around this estate, Torre de Palma, after a Sunday afternoon rainstorm. I was singing Joni Mitchell about going to a party down a red dirt road. The clay soil clung so heavily to our boots that they created ankle weights for an additional workout.
Today is also Palm Sunday. In the village where we had lunch, mass was just letting out. The church bells were ringing at noon, and people were walking home with giant stalks of rosemary in their hands. I think it was their local version of the palm fronds.
We had a light lunch of local sheep cheese, Iberico ham, and thick slices of mushrooms only half cooked in olive oil and garlic. This was a little revelation to me. I always slice mushrooms too thinly and cook them too completely. They should still be raw and springy in the center, more like a slice of artichoke heart. Keeping things simple and a little raw seems like a good way to head into a fresh season.
Spring break road trips can be so thrilling. After months of nose-to-the-grindstone work following Christmas, it feels exhuberently freeing to not only have a week of unscheduled time, but also an open road promising new views and experiences. The Garmin is charged, and the audio book is downloaded, Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal just to keep up the atmosphere. We couldn’t have greater expectations.
But before we leave Lisbon, I must say a little something about dried cod or bacalhau. Like other items from Portuguese cuisine, port wine, for example, it was developed to keep on long ship journeys. It is shocking how far around the world this tiny country got during the age of exploration. Bacalhau is undeniably Portugal’s national dish and no one seems to be a bit tired of it. If you ask a nice Portuguese wine merchant where he would recommend you have lunch, he will tell you, his eyes taking a far-away gaze, to have the bacalhau at the place around the corner. And this would be an excellent recommendation, the cod coming to your table breaded, then oven baked on a mound of savory onions, in a pool of olive oil. Now I am getting that far-away look in my own eyes. This is a good comfort food.