Are you sure we aren’t in Antarctica? : Brazilian Beer

Our first experience with the extreme coldness of Brazilian beers came when we were staying at the Awesome household in Goiania.    Mr. & Mrs. Awesome didn’t speak much English, and our party far less Portugeuse!   But as soon as we got settled in their lovely casa, they were getting us settled, cooking us snacks, and offering us cold cervajas (beer in Portugeuse).   With the Goania weather being in the mid 90’s, we happily accepted.

Having fun our first night in Goiania

They would bring out one-two cans and serve us all.   As soon as we got low, they’d get another cold can to split.  Not understanding the concept of polar bear beer, we thought this was quite funny their attentiveness to pouring.

Later that night, at Carne da Sol, the polar bear beer started to make more sense.   What happens when you go out with friends is that you order in total for your group.  They then bring out large frosty bottles (about the size of a forty) in mini cooling sleeves and serve them into tiny glasses.

The frosty beer and its cold sleeve.

This allows the beers never to get warm as you can replenish when you finish your glass.  Most of the time the servers poured for us.  As Daughter Awesome explained, “at a restaurant, we complain about the service if our glasses get low!”

Cheers!

B’s favorite is one called Antarctica with a penguin on it.  I can vouch that it’s the coldest beer I have ever had in my life.

B and his favorite

When Family Awesome took us to their country club, they also ordered beer.  This one came in a fancy cooler, like what we would have wine in at a restaurant.

A+ for presentation!

Cheers with Family Awesome

At the wedding, the servers were super attentive, pouring beers every time you took a sip or two.   We found it so funny how we were never empty!!   And, it is really easy to lose count this way.

Gabe’s glass was never empty

Us with Daughter & Son of Family Awesome who taught us so much about Brazilian life

Nonetheless, we are huge fans of our newly learned Brazilian tradition.  Maybe we’ll try to replicate this in the States with our wine chiller.

Gratitude Friday: A Taste of Brazil

While spending a week in Brazil, we certainly got spoiled by the food.  We aren’t used to tasty food while living in Geneva, so thus, this week’s gratitude Friday post!

Upon arrival in Rio, we took advantage of the ocean and dove into fish dishes.   We enjoyed fish stew, moqueca. We also had delicious fresh sushi.  We can’t afford sushi in Geneva (like 25 CHF a roll!) so we loved the all you could eat option at the restaurant we dined in.

Moqueca, image courtesy of simplyrecipes.com

We weren’t sure what the plans were in Goiania so we also took advantage of trying a traditional  churrascaria barbecue, Tourão grill, near Barra da Tijuca in Rio.  We have both experienced this type of service in the US, so knew to expect to eat a lot.  That was an understatement…..here in Rio, the meat flowed even more freely.  We loved the variety, especially since we aren’t used to having much meat in Switzerland because of the cost.   In Rio, it was 37 $R per person for the service, which was less than $40 USD for the both of us!

Typical Brazilian steakhouse concept. Image courtesy of open table.com

The best of the foods came in Goiania when we met up with D’s family.   We were greeted by fresh fruit, juices, breads, cheeses, and focaccia at Mama I’s apartment.  She even had sweet gelato-pudding for dessert.

Cheeses & breads at Mama I’s

Foccacia that was made fresh by Mama I

After breakfast, Gabe & I, along with Aunt French Cougar and Aunt Brazilian Bombshell, went to the Awesome Family’s house to stay.   D calls Mrs. & Mr. Awesome her aunt and uncle, but really they are just very close family friends that go back 35-40 years.

We didn’t know we were going to paradise.  They had a lovely home.  And the food at this house was off the charts.   In minutes, she had prepared us three pizzas to snack on.

Mrs. Awesome’s delicious pizza.

That night we went out with the group.   D ordered a selection of appetizers.  I adored the fried yucca.  Also, they ordered piranha for the group.  One order fed 10 of us as it came out with two types of bean sides, rice, and sauce.   Also, The Awesomes ordered chicken stuffed with cheese.  The Swiss would approve of this Brazilian dish!  Delicious!

Yucca appetizer

The delicious meat & sides

Chicken stuffed with cheese

The wedding day I also got a little treat of appetizer items that Mama I picked up for the girls at the salon to tide us over to dinner.

Little Brazilian bites

Wedding fare was a little fancier….a beef and rice with some delicious salads.   Brazilian weddings go later and this feast was served after midnight.  Boy, was I ready to devour it!!  Actually, this is Gabe’s plate.  I started eating mine too fast and forgot to take a photo.

Gabe’s wedding plate

We also got to experience country cooking when we went on our waterfall excursion near Pirenópolis.  The place where we started our hike offered a home cooked food buffet, on cauldrons over fire.  It was so awesome!

The set up. Open fire blazing under all the cauldrons.

The cauldron selection – beans & rice, zucchini, corn, pumpkin, ribs. Also eggs and steak were grilled on demand.

My plate. Mmmm.

The evening in Pirenópolis, we let Daugther and Son Awesome order as we were at a loss for the Portuguese menu and the foreign Brazilian dishes.  And it is so much easier in a big group to do family style.   Locals know what is best, and everyone gets to try something new.  I couldn’t recommend this approach more for groups in a foreign country.

We were delighted with a seafood risotto, a steak plate w/ sides, beans & rice.   The aunts ordered some white spaghetti to appease some cravings from back home.

The next day’s breakfast was a beautiful spread of Brazilian pastries & rolls with fresh juice and coffee.  By the way, their coffee comes sweet.

Coffee and juices

Speaking of juices, we tasted our fair share.  Passionfruit, Cajou, and my favorite – mango.   We were even able to see the cajou growing during our hike to the waterfalls:

Cajou fruit

Before leaving for the airport, we stopped at the family’s rental house where the group had been BBQ’ing and cooking all day.   We got to taste the delicacies out of the pots:

Yummy Brazilian soup: corn based with pork meat in it

Chicken & rice. Mmmm.

As you can see, we had quite an array.  Never have we experienced such a wide variety of foods in our travels.    A big thanks to Mama I, the Awesome Family, and to D, the bride, for giving us such a taste of their amazing country.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Eating in Istanbul

While in Istanbul, we were excited about the mezes (small plates) and eating fresh seafood.

Our first night, Gabe selected a restaurant in old town with a view of the Sea of Marmara.  We enjoyed a cold meze plate to start, and for mains, Gabe had lamb shish and me a fish shish.   The mezes were so-so but the shish was delish.  The setting was really serene.

Teras
Ahırkapı Sokak Cankurtaran
Hotel Armada

The second night, we went to a fish place.  We ordered a salted sea bass to share, and were wowed by the presentation.  The staff was exceptionally great and we really enjoyed sitting out in the street, watching a typical evening in Istanbul’s old city.

Salted sea bass

The fish coming out of its salted carcass

These little guys were wowed too.   Notice the pairs of eyes on either side of me.   I am constantly entertained by the cat beggars in Greece and Turkey’s coastal cities.

Fish House
Alemdar Mah. Prof. K. Ismail Gurkan Cad. No:14  
Sultanahmet, 34122 Istanbul, Turkey 

For lunches & snacks, we filled our tummies with street food and shish.

Fish sandwich from Eminou

Bread rings….Image courtesy of instanbuleats.com

Note to readers:   We know we didn’t venture out of Sultanahmet (old city) which we heard is crucial for seeing the true Istanbul culinary scene.  However, for our 48 hour stay, we figured it was easiest to stick within walking distance vs. figure out the tram system or take a taxi.  We loved our “first taste” and hope to come again to Turkey for a more authentic sense!

Eating our way through Belgium: Mussels

Mussels were a must do on our Belgium Foods lists.   It’s proximity to the North Sea makes them very accessible.   And, with the shellfish being the national dish of Belgium, we knew we should experience it at least once.

Delivery of mussels in Brussels

We ordered them as an appetizer at Flemish Pot to share as a group.   We had the mussels with wine, which also came steamed in onions, leeks, and basil.  They also offered beer to throw a spin on the traditional presentation, since it was Brugge.

The Flemish Pot. How cute is this restaurant?

The mussels were very fresh, but as a dish,  ranked average in my book.  It could just be that I am not a mussel-lover, nothing against Belgium.

our mussels

Does anyone else have an opinion – where are the best mussels found?  What do you look for in a good batch of mussels?

Eating our way through Belgium: Chocolate

I feel like I am cheating on Switzerland with my next comment.    Here goes…..

I think Belgian chocolate is better than Swiss chocolate.  

Now that I have said it, let me explain my reasons why.

#1 – I am not a fan of milk chocolate, which Switzerland admits is its best strength due to its amazing dairy cows.  Belgian dark is just….divine.

#2 – Belgian chocolate is more approachable.   I am nervous to go in Swiss chocolate shops in Geneva.  I have heard stories of them yelling at customers.  I am afraid my French won’t be right or I’ll “mess up”, all while shelling out 10 CHF for 2-3 pieces.   In Belgium, they couldn’t be happier to have our business.

At Dumon, they had over 100 chocolates under their counter, without names.   She happily walked us through every single one, while we indicated which ones we wanted to put in our box.    They also gave free samples of basic milk, white and dark, so you could set your preferences or decide if you liked all three.

One on one customer service

At Neuhaus, we explained our friend had recommended the “Caprice” wholeheartedly as her favorite chocolate in the world and that is why we made a pilgrimage to her store.  She talked us through all the options and even let us sample one of the fancy ones to see what we thought.  We ended up buying a few and Ferdinand got a Smurf box set for his sister’s birthday.

Neuhaus’ chocolates

#3 – They have fun with Belgian chocolate – from store layout to displays, its just more fun to shop.   There were storefront that made me blush with some of the displays they had.  At first we thought it was just one racy store.  But about 50% of them had a display which I cannot feature on this blog (we are PG-13 here).

Chocolate Duvel bottles

Milk chocolate mice.

Isabella exploring one of Brugge’s chocolate shops

#4 – They are everywhere.   Literally every third shop is a chocolate shop.  In Switzerland, there are many, but not as many as Belgium.

Chocolate windows are a dime a dozen in Belgium

#5 – More selection – tons more!

This guy is overwhelmed!

Candy-type chocolate

Great selection of pralines

Which truffle will I choose?

So those our my five reasons why I would rather have a box of Belgian chocolate anyday.

And…..If you’ll excuse me, I must run.   I’ll have to dodge the Swiss authorities who are now trying to usher me out of Switzerland…..

Eating our way through Belgium: Frites

I mentioned Gabe had to work in Belgium a lot.   And I didn’t understand some of his comments about it.   He would literally tire of fries (called frites in Europe).   “They come with EVERYTHING,” he would emphatically say after his weeks there, “sandwiches, main dishes, even omelets!!”   How could someone get tired of fries?

Well, I made it my mission in Belgium.

It wasn’t 5 minutes into our arrival that we were at a fry stand, ready to try.

Cones of fries. Ketchup is not common but whatevs.

Fries at the train station.

Fries at the little sandwich joint.  They most typically come with mayo here. Nasty. I went back and got Andalouse sauce which was recommended. Just okay in my book.  I like my ketchup.

During our dinner at Flemish pot, the waiter came by with an enormous bowl and flung the onto our plates.  They were apparently unlimited.

Why so many fries, you ask??

Well, fries or frites were actually invented in Belgium.    Not France.  So not sure why Americans call them French fries?     For a more entertaining recap of this delicacy, check out this Rick Steve’s videos with a Belgian friteur:

And yes, all of us did get sick of fries during our three days in Belgium!

Gratitude Friday: Belgian Beer

Waffles aren’t the only thing Belgium does well.
It is also known for its beer. There are approximately 178 breweries in Belgium and several of those breweries make beers that have been awarded the title of “Best Beer in the World “.  I am not a beer expert so I can’t provide support for any claim as to which is the best.  I do believe that I have consumed more than my fair share of beer in life though.  So take that into consideration when I tell you that I still look forward to traveling to Belgium (which I do for work often) for a good beer.

Belgium’s beer is so good they treat it like wine – special glasses and a table chiller

So while in Brugge, with Ferdinand and Isabella, we completed a taste test of what the country had to offer.  We sampled many delicious beers during our three days in Belgium but I wanted to share two of the highlights.

We were up for the challenge of taste-testing Belgium’s finest.

Halve Maan Brewery (Half Moon)

Halve Maan Brewery

The four of us visited the Brugge brewery and took the tour. Half moon is the only brewery stilling making beer inside of the city limits. The tour was interesting but our guide was hilarious and really made it special.

Rooftop of  Halve Maan

Round of Zots. Because Isabella was pregnant, we all had to drink her free beer too.

We tried two beers from Half Moon…Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik.  Straffe Hendrik was the crowd favorite and my personal favorite also.
Unfortunately, at 9% alcohol I had to limit my intake a bit.  Please don’t worry about my happiness though….I plan on having a few the next time I am in Belgium!
Cambrinus
 
This bar is located in central Brugge and has one of the most impressive beer menus I have ever seen.

Behind the bar at Cambrinus

Both the variety and quality of the beer served at Cambrinus was impressive.  Their menu actually intimidated me but luckily Ferdinand didn’t miss a beat.  He immediately asked the bartender for a suggestion.  That question lead us to Westvleteren 12.

Isabella with the menu. This is ALL beer.

A happy man

Westvleteren 12 is international renowned and is brewed by Trappist monks in a Belgian monastery.  Westvleteren has been awarded the title of “Best Beer in the World” on multiple occasions.  And let me say….the beer is delicious!  But don’t take my word for it.  Here are some other expert opinions….
“In my opinion, things are overhyped these days, everything is the best this or the best that.  When I tried Westvleteren 12, which is often regarded as the best beer in the world by beer nerds everywhere, it was everything it was said to be.  Perfect beer is what I would call it.”– JC –  
 
“I don’t have a distinguished palate.  I am not a beer connoisseur.  But even I could tell that Westvleteren was unlike any beer I had ever tasted.  It was such a diamond in the rough that I even went back the next day to have it again.  For the price of a 30 pack at Harris Teeter, the two bottles of Westvleteren I drank were worth every penny.” – Ferdinand –  
The production and availability of Westvleteren beer is very limited so we felt lucky to have the option to throw a few back.  I would highly suggest trying it if you have an opportunity.
Gezondheid  (cheers/health in Flemish)!

Related links:

http://www.ratebeer.com/RateBeerBest/bestbeers_012012.asp

Schwingen in Switzerland – Beer in Belgium,

Schwingen in Switzerland –  Kinds of Belgian Beers

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Belgian Trappist Beers

Eating our way through Belgium: Waffles

Everyone has heard of Belgian waffles.   Growing up, we had a special “Belgian waffle” mix instead of “regular waffle” mix.    I thought they were just slightly sweeter.

However, my husband has to travel to Belgium quite frequently for work.   Before our official move to Geneva, he lived in a hotel room in Ghent for about a month.   And he was able to taste some of Belgium’s best waffles.   He bragged about how delicious they were, a special formation of crunchy and light.  And best drowning in chocolate.

How much is that wafffffle in the window? The one with the chocolately trail?

He made me jealous enough that I added Belgium to my “must visit” list so I could try these waffles.   And, we finally made it, alongside Ferdinand & Isabella.

Isabella & I had one within our first 30 minutes of being in Brugge.   While the boys had beers, we preferred our calories covered in fruit.

Isabella’s waffle – chocolate & banana.

My waffle. Cherries & whipped cream.

And it continued the next morning.  You aren’t really supposed to order waffles for breakfast, but we wanted waffles no matter what time was ‘typical’.   For goodness sake, we were only staying in Brugge 36 hours.  There wasn’t any time to spare!

My breakfast waffle. Strawberries & cream.

Even with two under our belt, Gabe still protested we hadn’t had a real one yet.  We needed one off the street.   Studying the street vendors, I saw what he meant.   And doing so, I think I learned Belgium’s secret.   The batter is more like a hunk of dough than a liquified batter like we use back in the USA.

There is one of these on every corner.

Waffle batter is more like dough.

Waffle cone for her. A whole waffle with ice cream for him.

Isabella and I split one when we returned back to Brussels, from a little stand near Grand Place.   And we agree….street ones are the BEST!

In addition to fresh waffles, Belgium offered many beautiful packaged versions.  I am glad because when I start going through waffle withdrawal, I know it might be possible to order them online.

 

 

 

A Perfect Swiss Day

Hooray!   Isabella and Ferdinand have been here!    They had a wedding to attend in England and we were lucky that they came to Geneva to visit us beforehand.

Ferdinand had to work at the beginning, organizing a golf event.  Once work was done, on the weekend, the four of us set off on a Swiss adventure.

Our first stop was the Lavaux wine region.  Isabella can’t drink currently (she is expecting), but we wanted to show them this UNESCO gem nonetheless.  So, we took the Chexbres exit off of the A1 and descended down the village towns into Rivaz.   They were breathtaken with the gorgeous terraced vineyards as we are every time we visit.

Next stop…..Gruyères.

Ramparts of Gruyères

Walking around the château

Lovely little village

We skipped the cheese tour (we knew we were having raclette for dinner), but all did order Gruyère-cheese based dishes for lunch.

After Gruyères, we drove to Broc, home of Cailler chocolate factory.

Smelling the cocoa beans.

Branche candy bar machine

Ta da! The tasting room!

I just go straight to the good stuff at the end now. I am trained.

Discussing the merits of milk & white chocolate

Weeeeee!

 

 

After playing on the playground a bit, we headed back to Geneva.  We had a big night in store.

The Schwingen & Switzerland crew was hosting a raclette party before the big Fête de Genève fireworks.   Ferdinand and Isabella had raclette their last time in Switzerland, in Zurich, but they were impressed by S’s monstrous spread.

The spread at the S’s

Raclette in action

 

For dessert, S had “Creme de Gruyère” and “Creme Brulée” Movenpick ice cream.  She surprised her dad and me with a candle in each carton for a birthday surprise.  It was the loveliest ‘cake’ I have ever had.  If you have an opportunity, I urge you to try Movenpick ice cream.  Full of Swiss whole cream, its the real deal.

We left their house and were immersed in the madness that is Fête de Genève.  We say it is the absolute busiest, craziest time of year in Geneva.

We luckily found a spot for 12 of us, near the rides, and watched the magnificent hour long fireworks:

The beginning of the fireworks

 

Love this type!

Jet d’eau, in harmony with the show

What a perfect Swiss day!

 

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Cheese Wars

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate

The Swiss Watch Blog: The land of chocolate and cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog: Thanks for a Joyeux Anniversaire, everyone

The Swiss Watch Blog:   The fête commences

 

 

 

Gratitude Friday: Fresh Food Sources

I think that it is very important to have a very true glimpse into where our food comes from.  Especially in the US, so much of our food is packaged and doesn’t resemble it’s source.

Seeing it as an animal helps you remember that it in fact, came from an animal.  I think it helps promote our gratitude for the food, that a living being is contributing to our well being.  Also, I think it helps in respecting to eat in small quantity and not wasting.

We had a very real experience of this in Tuscany when we visited the pig farm.  Prusciutto is shaved off the leg of the pig in the butcher.  You can easily recognize the body part.

Yup. That’s a leg.

When we were recently in Venice, two of our seafood meals were presented to us whole before cooking, after whole and de-boned at our table.

A delicious fresh flounder for four.

In Crete, we also had this experience in the fishing village of Plaka, which was nearby our hotel.   Our first night, we ordered a sampling of the local seafood.  When it comes out staring you in the face, you really get a connection.

Our dinner. A few whole fish.  A few whole shrimp – heads and tails.  I especially liked the “flying fish” they had.

This guy wanted a part of the whole fish action as well.

Our second night, we returned to Plaka, but a different restaurant.   We had the same experience of fresh catch of the day, yet with the pleasantry of them de-boning it for us and removing the head and fins.  I am sort of a wimp and while I appreciate seeing it whole before and afterwards in the presentation, I don’t like the eyes looking at me while I eat.

Our grouper the first night, split open, and drizzled with Createan olive oil. Perfection!

This grouper was the BEST fish I have ever had in my life, caught that day, in that very bay.

The fishing village of Plaka, the home of our grouper

We loved it so much we returned to the same restaurant the next night.   This is a first for Gabe & I.

Second night in Plaka

So, this gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thanks for fresh food and the appreciation of its source.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Where to find the best fish of our lives:

Ostria fish tavern

plaka elounda

720 53 crete