Friday Night Date: O Caranguejo with Babysitters Provided

There is something to be said for having a neighborhood hangout, somewhere you can go and they give you a friendly look and don’t really even need to take your order.   I have been on the lookout for one here since we arrived. Immediately, I was intrigued by a bustling little corner restaurant, O Caranguejo (The Crab), a few blocks from the house near the metro.  It isn’t a very fancy place, but isn’t as dirty as some of the other little corner establishments near us.   We could call it rustic.   The demographic isn’t quite ours either, but it seems to have regulars and I took that as a good sign.

I looked into reviews.   A few years back it won a prize for its shrimp empanadas, but more recent reviews were mediocre rather than glowing.  Guide books said its prices were reasonable, but in passing by with our friends that were visiting a few weeks ago I took one glance and thought they were way too high.  What I didn’t realize at that time was that one plate, or rather a half a plate, easily feeds two to four people.

Friday was a long day.   L and I spent a good part of our afternoon hanging out a McDonald’s play area in the burbs waiting for our car to be fixed.   We got home late and both S and I were in need of a date night.   Given that it was cool out and late, we didn’t want to venture far since we had to be back in time for L’s bedtime so we decided to give O Caranguejo a go.

We got there around 6:30 and outside seating was taken so we sat inside.   We ordered a bottle of wine, the shrimp empanadas and the HALF seafood paella.  The empanadas were small and okay.  We have had better.  L prefers her empanandas deconstructed (or rather she picks out the shrimp).  The paella did not quite fit what I consider a traditional paella but I lived with an amazing Spanish roommate in Egypt who could cook a killer paella, so perhaps I am a harsh judge.    Had this been called a seafood shrimp casserole or some other name, it would have been great.

But really, I am not about to complain about semantics here.   What really rocked the night was that S and I actually got a pretty kid-less date.  Only in Brazil would this happen and it all be okay.  Early when we got there, S took L to the bathroom.  On the way out our waiter caught them and told Lara to come with him.   The restaurant is very small and the indoor area only has about ten tables.   The waiter guided L over to a table a few tables from us and pulled out the chair, introducing her to an older couple.   He looked at us, winked, and told us that the woman is crazy about kids.   Before we knew it, L was drawing and making napkin balls, and talking their ears off, and S and I were drinking wine and discussing adultish kind of stuff.

Fifteen minutes into our dinner, S winked at me and told me that he even could get them to feed L.   I knew they were an easy target and within seconds they waiter was taking L’s plate to the other table.   A couple bites later, L sent her plate back and came to sit with us, but as soon as her dinner was finished she was off to play with her new friends.

As we paid the bill, S nonchalantly asked the waiter if the couple comes often.  He laughed and said every day.   The couple turned around and said they can’t wait to see L again am pretty sure that S and I both decided at that moment that our search for a neighborhood hangout had come to an end, especially if sitters are provided!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Wasted Days

How is it, or why is it, everything here seems to take me twice as long to do?  Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not always the most efficient person.  It isn’t necessarily the language.   We are busy trying to get thing settled for S and his mom to travel back to Egypt in December.   The other night, we spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to book tickets online only to get to the payment and have all of our cards be denied.   Three websites and four numbers later we got connected to the local Emirates Airline call center and they agreed to make a reservation, but would not lock in the price or accept payment.    I was going to go downtown earlier this week to their office to pay, but other things came up and on Wednesday, we got rained out.  I decided that traipsing around downtown with a toddler and a stroller just wasn’t worth it.
So yesterday I decided skip my volunteer gig to do it while L was at school.   I dropped her off and caught the metro.   Within an hour I was sitting in the Emirates Airlines office, drinking a cafezinho and figuring out how to strategically drag out their flights so their layover exceeded eight hours, which would entitle them to free accommodation at a hotel in Dubai (as opposed to the seven hour layover they already had, which would have left them roaming the terminal all night).  An hour later, all was settled and I went to pay, only to find out that our debit card has a limit.   Ugh.   So I pay for one ticket and get their bank information so I can go today and pay for the other one.

It would all be easier if I could just have my own bank account.   But since I don’t have a resident number, I cannot open an account.  So while, I use S’s debit card, I cannot actually call and do anything on the phone with the bank, like raise the debit limit when I find that it is capped.
After wrapping up the return leg of my MIL’s trip, I headed to Iberia, a 15 minute walk away  to figure out why her Rio-Cairo flight has been canceled.   I stop by the post office on the way to mail some official papers my MIL needs for the second time.    The post office has been on strike and my first package never arrived.  So we try again.

On Wednesday I was ready to embrace the cold, at least from my couch.  But when the weather changed all of a sudden and there I was stuck without an umbrella in a t-shirt, downtown in the rain, I started to have second thoughts.  I got to Iberia’s address only to find out that they moved THREE years ago and only have an office in Sao Paulo.   Fail Google Maps and

Walk to the metro.   Walk to pick up L.  Walk home.

We tried to spend the afternoon exploring Bairro Peixoto in Copacabana.  They actually have a fenced in park.   But by the time we got there the weather had made a turn for the worse and L and I were freezing.    L made a halfhearted effort of enjoying the swings and then asked if we could go home and have a girls’ night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rainy Days

When we found L’s daycare the 15 minute walk didn’t sound too bad.  That is what happens when you search for apartments and schools in Rio’s winter, which isn’t only the coolest season, but also the driest.  Needless to say, when we woke up to pouring rain and heavy winds on Wednesday, I was less enthused about walking or biking around the Lagoa.

I got lucky.  S was headed to work so he offered to drop her with the car on his way.   That not only meant I got a drier morning, but also an extra 45 minutes to myself.

Four hours later, the rain was still pouring down, but this time I didn’t have the option of hiding out.   I decide stroller-less was the way to go.  I packed up L’s rain gear and hiked over the hill.   L was thrilled to see that our afternoon was going to include puddle jumping and umbrella carrying.

While all the Cariocas were busy trying to get out of the rain, we made an adventure of it.   We stopped for hot chocolate and coffee and then had to do bureaucratic errands before catching the metro home.   I had high hopes of using a cool day to bake but by the time we got home we settled in front of the TV and cuddled through some dinosaur movie before swimming class.

I have to admit, that I was probably one of the few people in the city to be thrilled by the weather.   I miss fall and it felt good to slip into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and even break out a scarf.  I know what is around the corner: Heat.  Heat.   Heat.  We had a taste of it last week and I decided that until I have to face it, I will take every cool day I can get.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In Search of the Perfect Brunch: Cafe 18 do Forte

I’ve said that Chicago is a hard brunch act to follow, but that doesn’t keep us from trying. Last weekend when our friend was here we headed back out to Fort Copacabana. The view alone makes brunch worth it. However, last time we went to Confeitaria Colombo I tried without success to order an unsweetened cappuccino. When I complained, the waiter explained that they did not add any sugar, that is just how the mix comes. The mix?!?!

Needless to say I was curious about the other restaurant toward the end of the Fort, Cafe 18 do Forte. The tables always seem to be open when Colombo is full, but I suspected that this was because most people don’t realize there is another restaurant.  More importantly, they have Segafredo cups, which means they must have an espresso machine.

We arrived around 10 a.m. and were seated.  We ordered an omelet, quiche and the breakfast for two (we were three adults and a toddler). The breakfast here includes bolinhas de chuva, Brazil’s version of doughnut holes, and are the best I have had yet.  Our cappaccinos were still sweet, but not as sweet as at Colombo.   I think there might still be hope for these.

While we were waiting for the food to arrive, we actually ventured into the Fort.   L was entertained by the tunnels and the secret rooms.  There wasn’t much in terms of historical overviews but it was an interesting detour.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


With clouds still lingering and rain threatening to ruin our day, M and I debated exploring museums when I remembered that this weekend is ArtRio, an international contemporary art fair.

We picked up L from school and took the metro to the Uruguaiana station and walked up Rio Branco to Mauá Pier where four warehouses were packed full of artwork from some of the top galleries around the world.   Picasso, Dalí, Miró, Warhol, and Di Cavalcanti were featured along with a number of other international and Brazilian artists.

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to go dragging a stroller and toddler in tow.  I was unsure what to expect from the space and organization.  I get claustrophobic just thinking about a space featuring work from 1,000 artists and expecting 60,000 visitors.

We were pleasantly surprised.   The warehouses were transformed into mini galleries that were easy to divide and conquer.  At no point did it feel crowded.  Cafes, bars, and restaurants were interspersed and walking between warehouses on the waterfront provided a cloudy view of the Rio-Niteroi Bridge that made being in side all the better.

We wandered through the first warehouse and stopped for a coffee as we worked our way to the second.   M noticed a kid art sign and we made our way to a space set up by the Office of Daniel Azulay in Ipanema.   A long decorated tabled was set up with paints, markers, colored pencils, blue, sequins, paper, and small canvases.

After seeing Art (or “Awt” as L still calls it), L was excited to actually make some.   She decided grandma needed a birthday present and set to work.   It was a nice break for her and for us as we sat and drank our coffee and the staff doted over L.

After L finished her masterpiece, we made our way rather quickly through the remaining three warehouses, ending at the bookstore where L got a book on two dogs that go to a museum.

As a parent with a child in tow, ArtRio was actually a great activity for us all.  L loved it.   She completely engaged in the contemporary art, with all the vibrant colors, the diverse textures, the mixture of media.  That mixed with the opportunity to actually make it, made it even better.  As a parent without a child in tow, I could have easily spent more time there going through the different galleries into the evening.

Apparently there is a bunch of other events going throughout the city, so I may just get the chance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“I like it at Brazil”: An Adventure Day at Parque Lage

Yesterday L and I were out the door early on the way to the airport to pick up my friend M.  As we rounded the Lagoa, L told me, “I like it at Brazil.”

I like it too.   But, it is so good to have our friends come, to have the chance to share with them what our life is like here, to make our house feel more like home.  It isn’t just because they shower us with housewarming gifts and things we can’t get here like garam masala, tinker bell fruit snacks, Altoids, and tortillas.   It is because they bring the comfort of old friendship.

M arrived on an unimpressive day in Rio. The kind of gray days that don’t turn to rain and make you want to wear jeans and a sweater, though it is too hot to do so.    As we drove back to the city, I found it hard to convince her there were mountains jutting up here and there.   She managed to get a glimpse of rising above the clouds and a faint outline of the Sugar Loaf.   It was immediately clear that we wouldn’t be hitting the beach or the lookout points.

So after getting settled and showered we headed off to my new favorite place in the city, Parque Lage.  Situated under the Corcovado, Parque Lage was designed in the 1840’s. For years it was under private ownership and well-maintained, preserving a remaining section of Mata Atlantica.  Dirt paths weave through gardens and open up to a palatial house in the center that now hosts Café Du Lage and the School of Visual Arts (Escola de Artes Visuais).  There is a also a two to three hour trail that leads up the steep mountain slope to the Christ statue that I have not yet explored.

Café Du Lage serves coffee, pastries, and a simple menu of sandwiches, salads, and pizza.   They recently started offering lunch specials with a main dish, salad, rice and beans (R$19).  Our cappuccinos were perfect.  They also offer brunch with fruit, coffee, assorted breads, cheese and meat on the weekends, but it gets full fast.

I first found Parque Lage when our friends were visiting a couple of weeks ago and we had lunch.   It was nice. It was nearly empty and we felt like we had discovered a hidden gem in the middle of the city.  I took S back the following weekend and it was packed with families and couples walking the paths and picnicking in open spaces.

L fell asleep on our way to the park and napped on the bench at the cafe for 45 minutes, allowing M and I just the time we needed to catch up without a toddler interrupting us every few minutes.

When she woke up we started our “adventure.”  We climbed on the fallen tree trunks, played in the artificial caves and watched the fish, and then found a castle on the side of the mountain.  We looked for monkeys and bugs and on our way at we swung by the playground. I was excited to see that it looked like they were cleaning up the water areas that have been more filled with mud and leaves than actual water.

On the weekdays in particular, this is the perfect get away.  Parking is easy (during the week) and free.  When we went with S last weekend, we rode our bikes around the Lagoa and parked them in the bike racks just inside the main entry.   I would still go on the weekends, but if you are going for brunch and want a seat, I would get there right at 9 a.m. when the cafe opens.  Otherwise, be prepared for a wait.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Brazilian Birthday Success!

We survived our first Brazilian birthday.  We met all of L’s classmates. They understood my Portuguese.  It was everything she wanted:  blue, cupcakes that she got to decorate, chocolate covered almonds, coconut brigadeiro (with real chocolate sprinkles that might have taken a tumble in route to the party), and pão de queijo.   L was so excited she didn’t even eat her cupcake, but she talked a lot about it.

I did learn that apparently few kids here drink “leito puro” (pure milk).  I thought their teacher was referring to them drinking powdered milk.  Nope. None of the kids, other than L, wanted to touch the milk since it wasn’t mixed with chocolate.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now to prep for our next visitor. Let the planning begin!