A Taste of Brazil: Part 1

For seven years I had thrown myself wholeheartedly into an adventure in prayer. The answer flew in from far away in the form of a letter. These days God doesn’t use winged angels to deliver messages. God uses people – in this case David Trembley was God’s messenger. I couldn’t contain myself. I literally jumped up and down. After seven years of praying, God had answered me with a resounding “yes!”

I needed to share the news, but my son David was at school. My other son Donald and my sister Eunice were at work. So, bursting with excitement, I went about my household chores with great energy. The plates shone more brightly when I washed and dried them, the newly mopped tiles on the kitchen floor seemed greener than ever. I started ironing. No, that job was too monotonous, didn’t match the surge of vitality in my chest. I put the iron aside. I just couldn’t keep the news to myself any longer. I grabbed the letter, jumped in my Volkswagen Beetle, drove to where Donald worked and waited in front, inside the car. When he came out and recognized the blue Beetle, he approached, worried. “What is going on, Mom?” he asked.

“Get in and I’ll tell you.”

I handed him the letter. When he finished reading it, he asked me incredulously, “Does arranged marriage still go on?”

“Yes, sometimes. Especially with older people.”

I took the passenger’s seat and Donald drove. He didn’t say a word after that. He took the roundabout way through downtown. I guessed he needed time to think about the content of that letter and how it would change our lives forever.

I also kept quiet. I was enjoying my feelings of great anticipation. I’ve heard that when people are dying they see their whole lives passing before them in a matter of seconds. Well, I was not dying. In fact, I was just starting to live. Watching Donald drive, my mind wandered back. This day represented years of prayer and faith in God. Years ago he played a part in another story of faith and prayer.


The Avocado Tree of Faith

“I’m so tired,” I sighed while installing my audio-visual equipment for teaching English to a group of engineers’ wives in the Castelo Club created by the steel mill Usiminas. Without thinking, I complained out loud, “Yesterday, instead of resting after church, I spent hours making pão de queijo.”

“Pão de queijo, yum!” said Maria Coelho, one of my students who had arrived earlier than the others. “My mouth waters when I think of the ones that my mother used to make. I ask every woman that comes to work for me if they know how to make pão de queijo and none of them do. Isn’t that interesting? The people from this region of the state of Minas Gerais don’t know about pão de queijo. By the way, the ones you brought me the other day were delicious! Thank you very much. I didn’t give any to the children. Paulo and I ate them all.”

“If you want I’ll bring you some that I kept in the freezer.”

“Oh, that would be great! Paulo loves them. He learned to eat pão de queijo when we were dating. Once I asked my mother for the recipe. She said, ‘there is no recipe. You have to learn by observing other people making them.’ Well, I never did. Do you think you’d be able to write down a recipe for me?”

“Sure, no problem.” The other wives didn’t care for this kind of food. They didn’t grow up eating the regional delicacies of Triangulo Mineiro and Goiás. For Maria and me – these were the tastes of our childhood.

“You know, Maria, just like everybody else, I dream of owning a house and ridding myself of rent. But, my husband and I don’t have the means to buy a house.”

“Can’t you buy one through Usiminas?”

“No. Even though my husband works for the Usipa Club, he’s not considered an employee of Usiminas.”

“So why don’t you finance a house at the bank?”

“Oh, Maria, you don’t know what it is like for me. I may have a good education, but private teaching doesn’t make it possible. I’ve been married to Sebastião for five years, and we’ve never been able to save a penny. Banks only lend money to people who have property for collateral.”

“I know what you mean! I haven’t always had it easy. Now, since marrying Paulo, my economic situation has improved. With a department head income, we’ve been able to save.

“That’s the difference. With my husband’s income as a swimming coach and with what I make, no bank would lend us money to buy a house.”

“I have an idea. Why don’t you fill out an application to teach at St. Francis School? It is one of the Usiminas Foundation’s projects. Paulo is the head of that department. The school will need more teachers next year, and for the first time the teachers will have the opportunity to buy houses from Usiminas.”

“I’ll do that then, Maria. Thank you very much! I am praying night and day for God to resolve this situation and I trust that He will. Meanwhile, I’ll do what I can.”

“I’ve never prayed for anything. What do you do?”

“Oh, Maria I’ve had wonderful experiences with prayer. When we have time, I’ll tell you some of my stories. You just talk to God about your desires and trust that He hears you. Then you wait. Right now I’m praying constantly for this house. I pray when I am working, when I am resting, when I am driving and sometimes I think I even pray when I am sleeping. To make this dream house even more touchable, I draw it. During any free moment on any piece of paper that happens to be in front of me, I draw it. The division of the rooms varies, but the floor covering is always the same – vinyl.”

“Why vinyl? I’ve never seen a house with vinyl. Have you? Mostly they use ceramic or wood tiles.”

“No. I’ve seen it only in Hospitals, doctor’s and dentist’s offices. But it doesn’t matter. Even though nobody else has a house with that kind of floor, mine is going to have it. I want it for three reasons. It keeps a house cool, it is easy to clean, and cheap.

“Interesting! You’re praying for a house”- Maria paused and with a quick movement of her head she flipped her long blonde hair over her shoulder – “with a vinyl covered floor!”

I followed Maria’s advice and took all the necessary steps. My effort was rewarded. I was hired to teach English to the high school evening classes in St. Francis. It was September, and I’d start working in February when a new school year would begin.

It was a long wait. I kept praying and waiting. Donald my four year old son, would also pray. One day at dinner it was his turn to say grace. He bowed his head and just said, “Oh God, make that Usiminas sell us a house.”

For dessert I gave each one a slice of a huge avocado with some sugar on top and some drops of lime juice. With a spoon we carved the soft pulp and ate the delicious mixture.

When Donald was done he excused himself from the table, took one of the big, round, avocado seeds lying on the counter top and said, “I’m going to plant it to take to our new house.” He put some dirt in a can, buried the seed and poured some water on top. He left it outside the kitchen door to sprout.

To be continued:

Cheese Biscuits – Pão de Queijo.


3 cups sweet tapioca (yucca or manioc) starch
¾ cup water
¾ cup oil
11/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
6 medium eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 C of extra oil – to grease your hands
Preheat the oven to 350º

Measure the tapioca and salt into a Kitchen Aid mixer bowl or any other large mixer bowl. Heat the water and oil in a pan, stirring constantly otherwise it will explode. When it boils remove the pan from the stove immediately, pour this hot mix on the starch and stir well with a wooden spoon. It becomes lumpy, similar to pizza dough. Let it cool. Attach the bowl to the mixer base. Use a flat beater and start kneading the dough. Set the mixer on medium.

Add one egg at a time and wait for it to be mixed before adding the next. Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the edges, the bottom and the beater blade. Add the cheese during one of those stops. Continue kneading until the dough is soft and smooth without any lumps.

To prepare the individual biscuits, wash and dry your hands. Pour a small amount of oil in a bowl and use some of it to coat your hands. Put a tablespoonful of dough on your hands and roll it delicately to form a ball. Set the balls on a baking sheet ¾ inches apart. Keep greasing your hands as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers. This is important as otherwise you will make a mess. Scrape your hands and grease them again as necessary.

Once you have filled a standard sized baking sheet, bake them on the center rack with the oven set at 350 degrees. Let them bake for 33 minutes or until they start to get golden yellow. Usually they become hollow inside. While the first sheet bakes, prepare the next set of biscuits.

The recipe will make about 55 biscuits. They are good with hot sweet coffee. “Bom apetite!”

Tips: These biscuits are better if eaten the day they are baked. Still good on the second day, but on the third, they become too hard unless you keep them frozen in a ziplock bag. To thaw, just leave them outside for a few minutes or heat them in the conventional oven for 3 minutes. If you heat them in a microwave, they become mushy.

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