Archive | July, 2012

São Paulo: All set to samba

30 Jul

Rede Globo in São Paulo hosts many carioca employees since the official HQ and largest production center is located in Rio de Janeiro.  When in São Paulo, these employees often look for places that remind them of their usual hangout spots back home. My boss is one of them who, missing the samba bars in Rio, found her home away from home at her friend’s bar Traço de União .

I hadn’t been to a genuine samba bar in a loonggg time, let alone in São Paulo, so I was excited when my co-workers decided to go one Friday night. My boss told us it was good to get there around 9:30/10pm to avoid lines at the door, so we got a couple of drinks close to work before heading there (going home, Friday, during rush hour, no way!).

Traço de União is proud to have as its padrinhos (bar patrons) Beth Carvalho, famous Brazilian samba singer and Luiz Carlos da Vila, former samba composer/singer. Located near Largo da Batata in Pinheiros, the bar is inspired by practice spaces of samba schools with bleachers on one side, a stage on the other, and packs of beer piled behind the bar counters.

Traço de União Bar

Traço de União

When we got there, I was positively surprised to find all types of people: locals and tourists, young and old, samba experienced and not-so-much! You can make reservations for tables ahead of time if you like and if you get there early enough you can grap a bite (delicious  pastéis!)–but most people will just stand because soon they’ll be dancing anways! A DJ starts the night off, remixing traditional samba songs with pop music (I was impressed with the unique remixes!). At about 12/1am the house band comes in making even those who never attempted a samba step shake it on the dancefloor! If you are lucky enough you might see talented dancers, sometimes professionals, showing off their moves.

DJ Tadeu: unique samba remixes!

genuine samba

Presence of samba professionals. Image courtesy of Traço de União.

Be it a beer, caipirinha, or cachaça, drinks are reasonably priced! If you decide to go, put your name on the discount list, this way women pay entrance fee of R$15 and men R$30.

Since that Friday night, I’ve been back to celebrate my boss’s birthday (she wouldn’t have chosen any other place!) and took fellow Daisy Chain-er Flávia and college friend Andréia who, like me, found it extremely fun and a good alternative to the usual electro/house music clubs!

– Randa

Traço de União

Rua Cláudio Soares, 73 – Pinheiros  Sao Paulo, 05422-030, Brazil
(0xx)11 3031-8065

Opens Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays

The Castle Mountain Conundrum

27 Jul

The city of Aspen is surrounded by gorgeous mountains as far as the eye can see. The people who live here are nature lovers, explorers of the outdoors, and athletes who come here to train (Lance Armstrong has a home next to our concert hall). When mountains surround you, it only makes sense to climb them! At the Aspen Music Festival, we musicians get Mondays off specifically to go hiking. We lock ourselves in practice rooms for hours every day, but sometimes the best inspiration comes from putting your instrument down and taking in your surroundings. The Rockies have inspired so many artists and thinkers, so it’s no wonder musicians come back to Aspen year after year.

The hiking party!

This past Monday, 5 ladies and I decided to climb Mount Conundrum, which sits next to Castle Mountain and has hot springs at the summit. We knew it would be a tough hike as it was 14 miles long and 14,000 feet high, so we set off at 5:30 in the morning with the hopes that we’d be back before the afternoon rain. Hiking here is a completely different experience. Because Aspen sits at 9,000 feet, there is far less oxygen in the air, which makes everything dry. Your body has to work harder to distribute oxygen and maintain normal levels, so working out pumps your heart about twice as much.

There were waterfalls all around us as we climbed the base of the mountain

Before the trail actually started, there was a steep 2 mile rock/dirt road that only 4-wheelers could drive on. Not having the appropriate vehicle, we parked at the bottom of the road and walked up. After what felt like an hour of climbing, we reached the trail! Now begins the fun: we hiked up hill and zigzagged for about three hours, passing stunning waterfalls and smaller mountain peaks. Eventually, about halfway into the hike, the trail just stopped. We hit a valley covered with snow that sat at the bottom of a steep, rock covered mountain. Albeit far away, we could finally see the summit of Conundrum!

snow!

We trekked through the snow until we got to the base of the rocks, which is when things really got sticky… With no trail, we literally got on all fours and scaled the rocks up the side of the mountain. This took forever, as we had no equipment and had to be weary of loose or falling rocks, and we could hear rock slides echoing through from across the valley. A million years later we finally get to another valley, this time covered in ice ponds and beautiful scenery.

Trail blazing on steep rock (we were all balancing pretty hard for this photo)

Since the mountainside was essentially vertical at this point, it took a long time to climb simply because of all the switch-backs (the zigzag trails instead of straight up ones). After another long stretch we made it to the top of the ridge. When I looked up, I saw the most stunning, jaw-dropping view. We could see the Rockies span endlessly in every direction, mountain after mountain.

A view from halfway up the mountain, you can see the rocks we scaled!

The rocks were no longer loose, just large and jagged; it was essentially like climbing a rock wall. About 10 minutes in we hit an impossible cliff, and although we could see people on the summit, we couldn’t find a way to get there! Not to mention if we slipped and fell, we would land about 100 feet down on rocks or ledges. On closer inspection, those on the summit had helmets, harnesses and hooks. Sadly, we decided to play it safe and turn back, rather than risk the climb when we were obviously unprepared. At this point, too, we were simply exhausted. The climb up had worn out our muscles, and the thought of descending was so daunting! We had to shimmy and crabwalk down at first, as it was so steep. When we reached the loose rocks, it was back on all fours, which was nothing compared to the snowy section… The combination of tired limbs plus the sun heating up the snow made for some hilarious face planting. As we were getting off of the snowy path, the guys who were on the summit passed us and said they were so happy we didn’t climb the rest, and that they were anxiously watching at our attempts to find a way without equipment.

Breathtaking views

As we approached the end of our descent, the sky went from being clear blue to Mordor in a matter of minutes. Rain on the mountains is insane. Since you’re already in the clouds, the raindrops are enormous and somewhat painful. As soon as I thought they hurt, it started to hail!! I might still have some bruises. We walked another mile in the hail storm until we reached a campsite, and one of the girls begged a camper to give us a lift in the back of his pickup. We looked like a hilarious and kind of pathetic group: 6 girls, drenched and dirty, piled into the back of a truck. We finally made it to our cars and back home around 4:30pm, where I took what felt like a 3 hour boiling hot shower – it was glorious.

The the next day, one of the girls figured out that we didn’t actually climb Conundrum, but Castle Mountain. Apparently the trails start at the same place and there’s a fork that we missed, a storm probably knocked down the sign. Conundrum was level 2 intermediate, but Castle is a black belt, equipment and experienced only hike. All in all, we were complete badasses, and while my legs are still sore days later, it was SO worth it. The views were out of this world, and the sense of achievement from climbing a mountain is unparalleled. Maybe next Monday we’ll take it down a notch… Then again I still want to find those hot springs!

Olympic Fever

26 Jul
It’s impossible to ignore the Olympic buzz in London at the moment! We are trying to prepare ourselves for the crowded and probably impossible tube journeys to work every morning, not to mention peak times are meant to be from 3pm-7pm. How the hell will I be getting home? I guess the answer is…. RELAX and enjoy the games. Instead of going home I will be heading to the pub around the corner from my office, ordering a few pints to cool down after long hours in a stuffy room and cheering for the Brazilian team of whatever sport is on. I am also desperately trying to get beach volleyball tickets and will definitely find a way (don’t ask me how because I can’t afford expensive tickets at the moment) to be there for our amazing super star Brazilian volleyball teams during the finals. My boyfriend and I are very excited about the tickets he bought for quarter finals men’s basketball! I love watching professional basketball and want to watch as many live games as possible over the next month.
Below are a few pics of what the city looks like at the moment! Regent Street is always the go-to place for celebratory ornaments. They decorated the entire street with flags from different countries.

Regent Street

Olympic Fever also hit High Street shops like H&M and Topshop. Check out their shop windows below…feeling very welcome at Topshop 😉

H&M window

Topshop window

Inside Topshop

Now let’s talk about the double-decker buses, London’s trade mark! These buses are obviously all over the city and it’s impossible not to notice advertisements in other languages… so funny! This morning I also saw a bus with a Smirnoff ad about Brazilian Caipiroskas, a great nod to the huge Brazilian community in London!

Bus

Bus

So if you are around during the games and want to have fun on a budget without missing the best views in London you MUST:
– Explore Hyde Park on a bike! The park is beautiful and huuuuge, so bikes are the best way to get around. Rent a Barclays Bike for 1 pound/ hour and enjoy the beautiful views. Feeling good about cycling for an hour, return the bike (might be challenging, make sure you have a map with you) and head towards the fountains for a picnic. Hyde park is also a great place to people watch; there is so much going on you wouldn’t believe it.

Cycling in Hyde Park

Fountains/ Hyde Park

– Check out Frank’s Cafe in Peckham. A perfect hang out place away from the crowds, Frank’s Cafe is located on top of a car park (level 10) and boasts an incredible view of the city. Have a few drinks, eat their amazing food and chill with your friends for hours until the sun sets at around 9:30pm. You can see the London Eye and the newest coolest building in town: The Shard.

Frank’s Cafe

Frank’s Cafe

Frank’s Cafe

View: London Eye

View: The Shard

Let the games begin!
xo from London

Secret Recipe Revealed: My Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

25 Jul

If there’s one treat that has defined my childhood, there’s no question that it’s my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. They’re chewy, they’re rich, and most importantly, they are chocolatey. When we lived in Brazil, my mom started making chocolate chip cookies as her “American” addition to our International Day at school. For as long as I can remember, all of my friends have been totally hooked — in fact, several of my elementary school friends (including many writers of this blog) still salivate whenever these cookies are mentioned. The cookies moved to the United States with us in 1999, and their fame took off. Seriously, at my high school they started calling them “Panookies” (my last name is Panico!). To be honest, I’m pretty sure these tasty little suckers were responsible for the start of many college friendships as well — thanks for mailing them so many times, Mom!

Luckily for all of you, my sweet mama is not one of those bakers who won’t share her secrets. What’s funny is that her recipe is really just the Nestle Tollhouse recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag, with a few very important alterations. For instance, three times the recommended amount of chocolate chips. YUM.

Here it is, folks:

3/4 cup tightly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

1 tsp real vanilla extract (no fake stuff!)

1 cup margarine (best is Land O’ Lakes)

2 eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Nestle!)

*** Note – Cookies are best when dough is made the day before and refrigerated overnight ***

*** Other note – My mom mixes the dough by hand, using a large spoon or spatula. Follow her lead and end up with some mad arm muscles like hers! ***

1) Combine light brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla extract and margarine in a large bowl.  Mix well, and when smooth, add eggs. Mix well again.

2) In another bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly mix the flour mixture into the sugar mixture until it is smooth. Add chocolate chips, and mix until they are all blended in.

Here’s my friend Jackie enjoying some raw dough! My mom would say not to eat it (salmonella and all that), but hey, if you can’t resist, then you can’t resist!

3) Once the batter is mixed thoroughly, cover and refrigerate over night.

Perfect consistency!

4) Next day, preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).

5) Using a cookie-scoop (my mom uses one from Williams Sonoma that is 1 1/2 ” diameter), scoop dough into balls by filling scoop with dough and pressing firmly on the side of bowl to compact the batter. Place cookie balls on a cookie sheet and put in oven for approx. 10 minutes.  Rotate the pan about halfway through. Check frequently near the end to make sure they don’t burn!

Make sure all the cookies are the same size!

6) Once they are brown on the sides and golden on the top, remove them from the oven, loosen them with a spatula but leave them in the pan to settle (they actually cook a tiny bit more right on the pan). Once they look done, remove them and put them on a rack to cool.

Loosen them, but let them sit on the hot pan a little longer.

7) Eat them up!

THE MOST IMPORTANT SECRETS OF THESE COOKIES:

-All cookies should be exactly the same size so they cook evenly. That’s why it’s important to use a scoop.

-Ingredients: Use the right margarine, and use REAL vanilla extract.

-Refrigerate the dough so that it’s firm when it gets rolled into balls.

-And, finally, what my mom considers the MOST important: BAKE THEM RIGHT BEFORE YOU WANT TO EAT THEM. The fresher, the better!

YUM.

Some tips from my mom on making these cookies in Brazil:

-The best brown sugar to use is lighter brown, and not the darker one. Try to find one that sort of sticks together in the package. Might be found in two sections of the grocery store: near the sugar, or also in the health foods section.

-Use the brand Doriana as your margarine.

-Real vanilla extract is expensive in Brazil, but worth it because it is so much better than the fake stuff!

-You will have to cut the chocolate chips yourself. Use large bars of Nestle Meio-Amargo and cut them up into small bits.

-If you can’t find a cookie-scoop, use a 1/8 cup measuring cup (or 1/4 cup and then cut it in half)

I hope you all enjoy. Good luck baking!

Cheers,

Nicole

ArtBeat, Boston- recap of a great weekend

24 Jul

Boston is the land of the Red Socks, the Tea Party that sparked the American Revolution, and my sister, Eve. I arrived Friday night after a long 7 hour bus ride from NYC (it’s only supposed to take 4). Saturday we woke up leisurely but excited for the migration-themed arts festival in Somerville we planned to attend, ArtBeat! At my job, I organize similar community events, although not to this scale, so I was curious about what’s happening in other cities and communities.

The smell of barbeque and brick oven pizza hit us almost immediately after we got off the train. ArtBeat runs along several streets and converges on Davis Square- where all the scrumptious foodstuffs were. Starving, Eve and I grabbed some gourmet hot dogs and brown sugar limeade (amazing!), and managed to find a seat in the shade. We sat next to some very nice ladies and chatted for a while about their upcoming travels and Somerville. One of the ladies gave us an excellent dessert recommendation, but more on that further down…

Hot dog- YUM!

After satiating our hunger a little, we took a lap around the festival. There were loads of artists selling their work, performances scattered throughout the day, and Somerville community organizations giving out information and talking about their work.  It was a beautiful day and the vibe was relaxing. Photographer Mike Ritter was taking free portraits, so Eve and I posed for a couple of shots.

Having some fun during our photo shoot….

Time for dessert (when is it not?!), we directed ourselves to Kick Ass Cupcakes, the dessert place our lunch buddy had recommended. The store name articulates exactly what I felt towards these cupcakes- they kicked ass! We bought three flavors, but the best by far was the “Green Monster.” Named after the famed Boston Red Sox, this cupcake featured a chocolate cupcake, with a chocolate beer ganache center, and green Sam Adams cream stout frosting garnished with cocoa nibs. Eve and I were sharing and we almost had an altercation over who would finish this delicious cupcake.

Kick Ass Cupcakes- note the Green Monster on the right…

Because I can never pass up a chance to samba and dance in unison with a large group of people, we hung around ArtBeat until SambaViva, a samba ensemble, performed. It was awesome! They had a bateria, a percussion band/drumline, carnaval dancers, and even taught the crowd some choreography. We worked up a sweat the best way possible: dancing!

SambaViva’s awesome bateria!

Sadly, ArtBeat only happens one weekend a year, but Somerville is a vibrant and diverse community that is definitely worth the visit, if for the cupcakes alone!

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