Yesterday I arrived home, after a couple very long days at work, to a large brown amazon package on my doorstep. My kitten, Zéb, was thrilled about the three layers of boxes now available to him as playspace. I was overwhelmed by a very generous gift from my Aunt and Uncle for my recent graduation and housewarming: a KitchenAid mixer! I told my mom, I thought I would have to wait until marriage before I ever had one of these.
This evening I used the new gift for the first time. Like a true millennial, I googled “things to make with my new KitchenAid” and found a very helpful listicle on Buzzfeed. The list included an assortment of fancy breads, homemade butter, and sweets, but the first thing to catch my eye was Pão De Queijo. If you’ve never had it before, this is an incredible Brazilian cheesy bread roll made with tapioca flour and farmer’s cheese. They came out great and the stand mixer was a huge help. It will be a challenge not to eat the whole batch myself.
As I taste-tested the first (three) rolls, I remembered when I was first introduced to them in Argentina five years ago.
Towards the end of our two week trip to the country, we visited Remo and Irmina’s farm, Naturaleza Viva, in Sante Fe province in the northeast of the country. They showed us all of the food they were able to grow and produce locally from vegetables and grains to cheese and manioc root to make flour. When it came time for dinner, I thought I would politely eat the side dishes as I had all week–whatever vegetables or meats were independent of a flour empanada casing. I had a hard time in Buenos Aires finding dishes without wheat flour. But Irmina had prepared pão de queijo that night (which, I learned, is also commonly eaten in the north of Argentina). Since it’s made with tapioca flour I could eat it along with everyone else.
I remember eating my fill of pão, as Remo and Irmina told us how they came to be where they were on the farm. They were members of the Agrarian League as young people, organizing small farmers in retaliation against growing agribusinesses. During the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, their group (among others) was targeted and they had to flee into the woods to avoid being tortured, killed, or disappeared. Irmina gave birth to her child in the woods on her own. And together, they waited out the regime.
I was moved by their story and remember being satiated not only by the delicious food, but by their perspective and wisdom on life. Since the time of the dictatorship, they had created a farm where over a dozen families lived, grew diverse foods without harsh chemicals, composted nearly everything, and sent what they produced throughout the country. To them, there was no better way to spend their lives in communion with the environment and other people.
I am at a very different time in my life now than I was when I first tasted pão in Argentina after graduating from undergrad and with a new home and more independence I look forward to spending time and energy on some of the things the Remo and Irmina told us were most important: growing and eating local food, taking care of mother earth, spending time with family, and being in community with other people. It can be challenging to spend time on those things when there is always something more to be done at work, but that’s not reason enough to let go what’s most worth hanging onto.