Monday, May 17, 2010

A Weekend in the Country

When the tropical heat of Fortaleza becomes too much to bear, local residents often head for the hills. Nestled in the mountains at an altitude of 2850 feet (865 meters) yet only 60 miles (100 km.) from Fortaleza is the small alpine resort town of Guaramiranga. The weather there is significantly cooler than on the coast, usually in the upper 70s (25C) during the day, and down to the low 60s (15-16C) at night. For residents of Fortaleza, these temperatures are a thrillingly chilly experience, and one to be savored. In and around Guaramiranga there are a number of inns, chalets and small hotels, and in the city itself a variety of restaurants. But many residents of Fortaleza have weekend homes there, or visit the homes of friends while in the mountains.

I spent the past weekend in Guaramiranga at the home of a good friend, taking advantage of the cool weather, in bright sunshine during the day, and under clear, crisp skies at night. On Saturday, we spent the day at the home of another friend, where we were treated to the Brazilian holiday ritual called churrasco. (Click here to read a bit more about churrascos in an earlier post on Flavors of Brazil.) There was a group of a dozen or so people, including three generations of the host family and friends from each of those generations. As is typical, the party started about noon, on a large open deck which has a full barbeque-kitchen at the back and a view over the forest and a small pool at the front. The kitchen includes a full barbeque pit, a traditional Brazilian wood-stove (very different from the North American model), an oven, a brick pizza-oven, two sinks, and a wet bar.

Wood Stove

Wood-burning oven

Coffee-making utensils

While the fires were lit and stoked, drinks were served around the large antique dining table on the shaded and covered deck, and much talk moved between the table and the cooks (who were also guests) at the grills. Courses were cooked separately, mostly one at a time, and each was served when it came off the grill. Sometimes there might be as long as an hour between courses, an hour filled with chatter, laughter and toasts.

The first course to come to the table was prepared on the wood stove. Chicken drumsticks and small, pudgy pork sausages were cooked over the fire in an enamelled cast-iron pan, then sauced with a sweet and sour sauce using local honey and citrus juices, flavored with home-grown rosemary.

Drumsticks and sausages on the wood stove

Drumsticks and sausages served

While the guests were nibbling (actually more like gobbling) the chicken and sausages, spatchocked quails were grilling in the barbeque pit. Raised just down the road, these little birds were grilled very simply, with just olive oil and salt. They came to the table crunchy and crispy, and most people had more than one.

Quails on the grill

Quails served at table

There was a longish break after the quails, fortunately. While the cooks were preparing the steaks (picanha) and pork loin on the grill, I was given a tour of the garden by the hostess. There were hundreds of bromeliads and orchids, ferns of every type, heliconia and strelitzia, and some beautiful food-bearing trees including avocado, lime, tangerine and palmitos.

Tangerines ripening

I returned to the deck just in time for the main course to be served. Up to this point, the food had consisted entirely of meat, which is typical of a churrasco. For the main course, the meats were accompanied by rice (with carne do sol and fresh bananas from the garden), manioc flour, and home-made hot pepper sauce.

Main course meats being cooked on the grill

Beef steaks - picanha cut

Rice with carne do sol and bananas

By the time the last of the main course was cleared away, it was approaching 5 pm, and since we'd begun at noon, it had already been a five-hour meal. Things slowed down a bit, coffee was made, and about an half an hour later, coffee and aged cachaça were placed on the table, and the meal ended with drinks and a coconut-cashew nut cake. Shortly thereafter, as the sun set, people began making their thank-yous, and all had left by abou 6:30 pm. A churrasco is a daytime event, and rarely goes past sunset.

Although the meal was very meat-heavy, because it was served at such a slow pace, no one became over-full. Just as the appetite reawakened, another grilled meat seemed to appear as if by magic on the table. A beautiful way to spend a beautiful day - lovely surroundings, good friends, and good food and drink.

Enough to make one want to go away every weekend!


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