Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Eggs, Salted Cod and Fried Watermelon

Special display of cod, sardines, and olive oil
The 2012 Carnaval festivities officially ended on February 21st. Since then Brazilians have been plodding their way through the forty days of Lent. There are some folks that with genuine sincerity abstain from something that they enjoy and attend special masses in hopes of atoning for their carnality, but there are many others who give up some item for Lent simply because it has become a tradition. Red meat is by far the most popular item to be given up for Lent. So many people give it up in fact that the beef prices in the supermarkets actually come down a little. We have also heard of people staying away from alcoholic beverages, desserts, and even chocolate in particular during Lent. Here at home, we jokingly say that we have given up fried watermelon or tuna icecream for the next forty days; there is even a chance that we will go a year or two perhaps even three without it. :)

Salted Cod

As the demand for beef all over Brazil drops, the market for fish increases. Grocery stores put out special displays of various types of fish, including shark, fresh sardines, and primarily bacalhau, which is salted cod. Brazilians love to fix bacalhau anytime during Lent but especially on Good Friday. The traditional way that Brazilian women prepare salted cod is to desalt it, and then bake it with whole black olives, small potatoes, and generous trickles of olive oil. This dish of bacalhoada is often decorated with hard boiled eggs before it is served. 

Easter Eggs Overhead and Everywhere!
Just as soon as Carnaval and Ash Wednesday were over, the invasion of the Easter eggs began. These chocolate eggs have practically taken over every grocery store in town. Prudente's six largest supermarkets have each put up metal frames in order to be able hang the brightly wrapped eggs all along the ceiling and sides of two or three of their aisles. Easter eggs have also inched their way into gift stores, English schools, and even the newspaper. We subscribe to the O Estado de São Paulo, an old, well-trusted newspaper. This year O Estadão, as it is fondly called, purchased close to thirty different chocolate eggs and then chose eleven of their subscribers to come to the office, taste each of the eggs and give their opinion. A few days later four pages in the newspaper were dedicated to Easter eggs. There were pictures of each egg, their brand names and prices, and the comments given by the readers. 

If you do decide to invest in a chocolate Easter egg, I would say there are three ways by which you can choose your egg. They are:

Medium Sized São Paulo Soccer Team Eggs
1. By Size. All the Easter eggs are actually categorized by numbers. Each company makes a selection of number four eggs, number twelves, fifteens and so on all the way up into the thirties. However,we don't have the habit of buying eggs, so I have never figured out the number system. To me, they are either small, medium or large. The small eggs weigh about fifty grams and cost between two and three dollars apiece. These are usually aimed at children and inside the chocolate egg there is often a toy. The widest selection of Easter eggs is without a doubt in the medium size. These weigh a little less than a pound and cost anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five dollars. The large Easter eggs which weigh a little over a pound are often made with special (read that "expensive") chocolate, so there are fewer of these eggs produced and fewer of them are sold due to their price tags which range from thirty to fifty dollars each.

Smilinguido Eggs
2. By Wrapping. The packaging of the Easter eggs is definitely a good thing to consider because without a doubt the wrapping is going to last longer then the egg itself. Joy and I were out getting groceries recently and we took a few minutes to browse the hanging Easter eggs. What a variety of wrappings there were!! We found several rows of eggs wrapped in pastel colors. Others were in metallic gold and silver. A number of companies bought the rights to print much loved cartoon characters and movie stars on their packaging. We even found chocolate eggs specially wrapped for soccer fans. These eggs carry the colors and emblems of each of the top soccer teams in Brazil. Lastly, we discovered some Smilinguido Easter eggs. Smilinguido is a black cartoon ant that is quite popular in Christian circles. He and all his fellow ants show up on bookmarkers, cards, in coloring books, and even on some clothing items, and they are usually quoting the NIV or teaching some watered down truth.

Prestigio Eggs
3. By Flavor. Of course, there are the common milk chocolate, white chocolate and extra dark chocolate eggs for all those that, like myself, prefer their chocolate simple, unmarred by other flavors or the crunch of nuts. But there are also some creative flavors for those who are adventurous. The Prestigio is a Brazilian candy bar that has been around for years. It is a chocolate bar with a creamy coconut filling.  At Easter Prestigio's makers make an egg with the same filling and the same name. Another filled egg is the Sensação. Its filling is strawberry cream.  The Sonho de Valsa egg is also worth mentioning.  It is a chocolate egg that comes with several chocolate bonbons inside of it. Each of the bonbons is filled with a cream made from cashew nuts. This paragraph could go on a good while yet describing several more Easter eggs, which contain different nuts and fillings, but I would imagine that your mouths are already watering enough. :)

Preparing for an outdoor Passion play

The grand finale of all of this - Carnaval, Lent, and Easter eggs-  is Semana Santa, or in English, Holy Week. This series of celebrated days begins on Palm Sunday. On this particular Sunday every year, we see people carrying palm fronds arriving at Catholic churches for a special morning mass.  Palm Sunday is a bad day for any bush or tree that has palm-like fronds. There used to be a short palm tree here in our neighborhood, and every year without fail people cut off all but its very highest fronds on Palm Sunday.  The poor tree fell over and died several months ago, so this year it is resting undisturbed.

Cement Figure at Morada de Deus
 The Catholic churches around town joined together and planned special masses, processions, Passion plays and other events for each of the weekdays that come between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. One of the largest events this year was a procession followed by a special mass at “The Dwelling Place of God”.  Presidente Prudente used to have a staunch Catholic mayor named Agripino. As the story goes, one day seven or eight years ago Agripino was very depressed and on his way to a neighboring city to commit suicide. However, before he reached that city, he had a divine revelation. As a result of this revelation, he set aside a large piece of his property for religious purposes. He built an ornate church with lots of stained glass windows on the highest point of this land and put in a winding road that leads up to the church. All along this road, Agripino put in cement figures which portray events in Christ’s life, with special attention given to His crucifixion. This place is called Morada de Deus or “The Dwelling Place of God”. This last Monday Agripino  invited anyone from Prudente and surrounding cities to join a procession that would walk up the winding road and then stay for a special mass at the church. Approximately two thousand people were expected to participate. 
St. Judas Catholic Church

Today, Easter Sunday and the last day of Semana Santa, literally started off with a bang. Right around 6 a.m. Catholic churches all over town set off firecrackers in anticipation of the early morning masses that were to come. We live two blocks away from the St. Judas Catholic church, and noticed that by 7:30 a.m. cars were arriving and people were walking from nearby streets for the last special mass of this Easter season.  If our calculations are correct, the next big religious holiday in Brazil will be Corpus Christi here in sixty-one days.