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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Carmen Miranda: a fashion prophet

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Carmen Miranda sang, danced and acted her way up to a lucrative entertainment carrier in Broadway and Hollywood. She turned into a Latin American icon and kind of a stereotype when she sported her Tutti Frutti hat for the first time. The Portuguese-born, Brazilian bombshell inspired everyone who wanted to portray anything Latin American, from fashion to advertisement, from cartoons to drag shows, her produce headpieces made a mark.
And after my recent visit to the fruit market in Rio, I now understand and admire Miranda's genius.
The colors, shapes, sizes and aromas of the local fruits are incredible. Everything we consider "specialty" in the US, here is "local."

Fresh cacao
Fresh cacao (I'd never seen the real thing, and I come from the land where chocolate originated with the Mayas and Aztecs),

5 different kinds of mangoes that ranged in hues of bright green to purple, fresh young and dry coconuts,
Gold bananas

4 varieties of banana: gold, silver, soil and baby.
Thin, long, pale and amazingly sweet pineapples,
Passion fruit

huge (and inexpensive) passion fruits, 
Star fruit

the most delicious star fruit (which I had tried before in the US - no comparison). Pink guavas, 

Fruta do Conde

artichoke-looking "frutas do conde," super fragrant herbs and the quite peculiar caju, a super fruit that I hope becomes more widly available soon.

Caju is actually a pseudofruit, as the fruit-looking piece (red-orange section), is the peduncle--a part that precedes the real fruit. The true fruit is the one that looks like the stem (the hook-looking one) and is what we know as cashew nut (in order to extract the nut, the peel has to go through a special process of crushing and roasting). But the caju part can be eaten as is--well, more like sucked, as its pulp is not really chewable; but if you suck it, a fabulously sweet juice, extra rich in vitamin C and iron comes out. But if my explanation confused you even more about caju than when you didn't even know it existed, please comment at the end of the post and I'll try to make myself clear next time!

I couldn't find any information related to nut allergies in relation to caju, as nut allergies don't seem to be an issue here, although apparently gluten is, as every single ingredient label states whether the product contains gluten or not.
Fresh strawberries, lable indicates "no gluten"

I would recommend caution if a person eating caju suffers from nut reactions; other than that, I'm hoping caju becomes the new acai (which is also Brazilian, from the Amazonian region).

Sliced guavas, star fruit, espada mango and passion fruit (back)

My fruit salad in a passion fruit "cup"
I was excited to make a fruit salad with the kids once we got to my in-laws' house. My kids, who were perfectly excited as we discovered the new fruits, got bored once we started cutting the goodies and went to play with the real attraction of their visit to Brazil: the staircase.
I ended up eating most of the fruit myself, and it was quite a treat. I loved the fruit so much, that I'm hoping to incorporate it into new headpieces for myself! So when you see me wearing a turban with pineapples, hearts of palm, coconuts, guavas and 4 types of bananas, you know where it all came from. In the meanwhile, the Spring 2011 fashion collections might be in my mood board too! Why can Miuccia Prada wear banana earings and I can't wear a caju on my head???

Meanwhile, as I keep playing milliner, here's a delicious recipe I tried at my husband's cousin's apartment. It was amazing. Delicious, refreshing and easy to make, and one of the few fresh fruit recipes that I thought could be reproduced at everyone's home. Just please pardon the props, as this is what I have access to (plus they make homage to Carmen Miranda)!
Pineapple-mint smoothie
Super ingredients: Pineapple (rich in manganese and vitamin C) and Mint (rich in antioxidant, anti-microbial and soothing essential oils) 
  • Vegan (if honey isn't used)
  • Dairy, nut, soy, gluten, wheat, egg free
1 fresh pineapple
1 small handful fresh mint (preferably spearmint), plus more for garnish
1/2 cup ice cubes
water, if needed
3 tablespoons raw honey (optional)

Peel and core pineapple. Cube pineapple flesh and place in a blender, add mint and ice. Blend until completely smooth. Taste, and add honey if pineapple isn't sweet enough, and add water if smoothie is too stiff.  Garnish with mint leaves and serve.

Variation: add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger while blending.

NOTE: When I asked the cousin (who by the way, is awesome!) for the smoothie recipe, she also mentioned that sometimes she makes tea out of the pineapple peel (yes, the spiny part), by boiling it in water, straining the liquid and refrigerating it. She drinks it chilled, and I think it's great to be able to use a part of the fruit that is seldom taken advantage of.

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