Sunday, December 23, 2012

Luiz's holiday decorations for OUR house

Click to enlarge.

Luiz spends countless hours helping other people decorate their houses for the holidays.  But he never forgtes about our place. Our dining room table is beautiful!

Our trip to Gramado

Gate to the town.

Luiz and I joined in a group package tour to Gramado. A social club Luiz’ mother Zozó belongs to filled a tour bus with members for a super discounted trip. So we signed on.

Our tight group withn the larger group.

The tour idea was a good fit for us. We do not own a car and Gramado is nearly a two hour drive outside of Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul, up in the mountains. Plus, visiting nearby towns like Canela, Caxias do Sul, Nova Petropolis, etc. would be a local bus nightmare.

Gramado is famous for being the chocolate capital of Brazil. There are numerous artisan chocolate companies that operate out of this tiny town. Plus, more importantly for this tour, each year for the months of November through January the whole city rallies to celebrate Christmas with daytime parades, extensive municipal decorations and three different nighttime Christmas performances/parades that feature a gazillion lights. One thng that is pretty cool is that the city creates their lighted decorations using thousands of carefully carved recycled plastic soda bottles.

This cute little town is in the heart of the part of Brazil that was colonized by Germans and Italians after the slaves were freed. Local fazenda owners needed a new source of cheap labor, so the Brazilian government went to these countries and bamboozled people into thinking paradise awaited them in the untamed wilderness of southern Brazil (ha!). So destitute Europeans immigrated. The climate in this part of Brazil is very similar to the climate these immigrants were used to. But they had to start from scratch to buid housing and communities, living in absolute poverty for years on end.

The business and residential buildings have a distinct German look.
You can really see the European influence in the architecture. To a lesser extent, the food is influenced by home country flavors and recipes, but it is still quite Brazilian in nature.

These days Gramado’s economy is more than 90% connected to tourism. The population of Gramado is about 35,000 people. They host more than 5 million tourists each year. There are NO crappy hotels or pousadas in Gramado, although if you want a pool, you will have to look around. Note - all the electrical outlets everywhere (even the airport) are 220V. One amazing, amazing thing is that EVERY municipal avenue and most residential streets are lined with hydrangias. There are MILLIONS of blooms that line all the streets and fill the parks. It is almost unbelievable.

The whole town participates in keeping the hydrangia wonder going.
The town is absolutely pristine and peaceful.  No chain stores or eateries of any kind. Free parking everywhere. And drivers actually stop when a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk. If you like boutique shopping, this place is for you.

On the topic of shopping, this was the great disappointment of our organized bus tour of Gramado and surrounding villages. We learned from our tour guide (who was spectacular at her job) that the tour company only pays her R$150 per day. So the only way she can make a livable wage is if she can make deals with local merchants that if she brings her bus full of “shoppers” they will give her a commission on all sales. As a result, the bus took us to more shopping stops (shoes, glassware, Christmas junk, clothing, kitchen wares, etc.) than points of interest for tourists. It was – two shopping stops, one historical site – two shopping stops – one church – two shopping stops and then a winery or chocolate factory (thinly veiled shopping stops.) URGH! We complained, but to no avail. Actually, many of the older women in the group PREFERRED the shopping to the cultural stops.

The chocolate factory "tour" was a 7 minute robotic explanation of the process, then it was off to the chocolate store...

There are, in fact, cultural and natural spots worth seeking out.
The same was true for lunch stops. We ate at mediocre buffets that could accommodate busloads of people, but the food was both plain, and expensive.

The guide tried her best to provide a local context of relevance for most of the shopping stops – but if you are looking for a tourist points of interest tour – dig deeper than the big agencies.

So we spent 5 days on this adventure, bought loads of chocolate, enjoyed a spectacular parade of lights and marveled at the small town (safe) atmosphere.

Photos from the lights parade, until our camera battery went flat.
Gramado – go check it out, any time of the year.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas time at Flor de Luiz

 It's the holidays at Flor de Luiz.

Luiz is working overtime making Christmas designs to sell at the crafts fair.

It's great to see him so concentrated on his florals and even better to see his final results.

This man knows his stuff!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gay Pride in Rio - 2012

We took a pass on the Gay Pride Parade in Rio this year. (We have gone to 30+ parades over the years.)

Luiz is working the artesan booth in our local grand park on the weekends.

It was a spectacular day.

They say there were 700,000 people and 15 Trio Electricoes.

The theme this year was "The heart does not have prejudice."

The city reports that the Gay Pride Parade is the third largest celebration in Rio, after Carnaval and New Years Eve.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Luiz on the move

The floral factory is reving up.

In preparation for Luiz hosting an artisan booth in Niteróis Central Park, Luiz has been full tilt buying flowers and making arrangements.

We took a trip to Centro Rio to buy flowers and containers. (And to enjoy a fresh Mediterrainean food lunch.)

Now Luiz's workshop is well stocked and waiting for his next inspired moment. He already has more than 30 arrangements ready to go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Luiz at the art fair

We live one block from the main park in Niterói. Every weekend the park fills with families taking their kids to the carni-rides (merry-go-round, bumper cars, swirling tea cups, etc.), regular child play structures and balloon and ice cream vendors.

There is usually musical entertainment in the central elevated gazebo. Plus folks stroll through the park enjoying the dozens of stands selling hand crafted items, or food.

We often buy fresh gnochi from the lady who does it so well.

Luiz has just been awarded a space at the fair to sell his flowers - "permanent botanicals" to be specific (plastic/silk flowers). He competed with more than 200 artisans for a spot.

He has been pumping out designs and is ready for his debut. Luiz is in the zone!

The launch is in late October -- just in time for Xmas designs.

Pictures to come...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Voting in the USA election from Brazil

Last time around, in 2008, we spent US$80 to have our absentee ballots from Polk County, Florida sent by DHL. OUCH! I then took them to the USA Consulate General in Rio to have them returned - not wanting to go anywhere near the DHL office!

We´re getting a little wiser as time goes by.

This time around I requested email ballots from the Polk County election board, which were dispatched within a couple of days. And again I will take them to the USA Consulate General in Rio where they will be returned via their daily mail pouch to the States -- free of charge (via the Citizen Services office).

The ballot comes with an envelope cover page that provides free postage. So once the mail pouch makes it back to Wash. DC, they just drop it into the regular postal service and it makes its way back to the Polk County election office.

This time around it will only cost me bus fare to submit both mine and Luiz´s ballots.

Since we are registered voters in Florida - our votes to re-elect President Obama are crucial.

Expats can get more information about voting from abroad at

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Perfect enchilada sauce

Do you have a deep clay pot - or a dutch oven? You will need one or the other to make the best enchilada sauce ever.

As usual, my experience comes from referencing the Moosewood Cookbook.

Here we go -

Chop one cup of onion and two cloves (or more) of garlic.

Prepare three cups of chopped, peeled tomatoes. Blanch the tomatoes to get the skins to peel off, then chop them up.

Have ready 1 cup of water, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. ground coriander, 2 tsp. dry red wine, 1/2 tsp cayanne, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 2 Tablespoons tomato paste, and two Tablespoons olive oil.

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil with 1/2 tsp salt until the onions are clear. Add spices. Transfer to your heavy pan and add the peeled tomatoes, water, tomato paste and wine.  Add remaining salt. Cover and simmer 1/2 hour -- longer is better.

Hot spices tend to get hotter as they cook - so pay attention. You might want to add some minced jalapenios (minus the seeds) - just to scare the horses.

This is a very versatile sauce. Take it where you will.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A cruise on the bay

One of the advantages of your husband being a registered tour guide in Rio state is that you get to go on free trips sponsored by tour groups that want you to bring tourists to their business.

This time around we took a bay cruise.

I can see why it would be fun for tourists - lots of fantastical sights and lots of time on the bay. But I was a bit underwhelmed. Call be cynical...

But naturally - we had fun with our friends.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Seasoning our clay pot

I´m getting ready to make a seafood moqueca in our new clay pot. [First I´m gonna make a big Mexican feast for some local friends - this Friday - who do not have a lot of experience with Mexican food - but love it all the same.]

In preparation for the moqueca I needed to season our new clay pot.

Soaking in water.

So first I soaked the clay pot in water for a while. Then I put big chunks of fatty bacon into the pot and slowly simmered the meat to share its fatty deliciousnous with the clay pot - the pot drinking up all the fat.

Bacon chunks in a water bath.

Then I fed the edible bits of the bacon to my husband.

Cooked down bacon - ready to eat.

Finally I wiped out the pot and now consider it ready to cook a nice meal.  Stay tuned.

Seasoned pot - with the decorated lid on the stove just above it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The joy of Arraial do Cabo

Last weekend we had another fun time with R.J. Adventuras tour group. They are friends of Luiz. (And now me, too.)

Great group!

Best husband in the world!

We went to Arraial do Cabo, stayed in a small house (16 people in a two bedroom house) and did some hiking as well as a skooner trip.

Great time. Tasty breakfasts, lunch on the street, then jantar (dinner) back at the house (and then maybe a late night snack on the street).

They say this tree is 500 years old.

We spent one day on a pristine beach - where I got a frieghteningly red gringo sun burn under a windy, cloudy sky.

We had to hike to this beach.

The next day we spent four hours on a skooner (all to ourselves) - lots of caipirinhas. Swimming and beaches. Fantastic.

Can you see the profile of the man's face?

Gotta love having the whole boat to ourselves.

Sugar fine sand.

What do you think?

Thank you to our guides who organized everything (very cheap!) And thank you to our best grrl friend for giving us a ride to and from.

Our adorable autistic little friend. So sweet. He relates to adults, but not to other children. Such a nice boy...