Giving Thanks Feast

When Americans celebrate the most American Holiday, Thanksgiving, my mind honestly doesn’t rest on turkey or pumpkin pie or pilgrims or Native Americans or large family gatherings with the awkward what-are-you-thankful-for go around the table {What?  It isn’t awkward for your family?…Please tell me the secret}.  I instead go back to my two International Experiences.  I look at these experiences as the two times in my life when I felt supremely grateful for all that was being given me, and the two times in my life that were the most educating, refining, clarifying, and soul-searching-humbling.

First was Italy.  I knew I wasn’t ready for college right out of high school, and long story short, I ended up in Italy.  I nannied for an Italian family; traveled; taught English; learned Italian.  I turned 18 while I was in Italy, and acutely felt all those growing pains that accompany coming of age.  It was an odd sort of existence because I felt so isolated and alone but at the same time had a tight group of American, Canadian, and Italian families that reached out to this lost girl who was trying to find herself.  I cannot express how deeply indebted I feel to the families that housed me, fed me, gave me their children to tend, their houses to sit, used their time, energy, and fuel to pick me up from a remote area where I was nannying to bring me to church and spend the rest of Sunday with their families.  I was there for only six or seven months, but how deeply those months shaped me.

Second was Brazil.  A few years later when I turned in my papers to serve a mission for the LDS Church, I was convinced I would be returning to Italy.  They ask if you speak any other languages, and places you’ve lived.  I very excitedly filled in those blanks: “I lived in Italy; I speak Italian; I teach Italian at a Community College.”  Imagine my surprise when I got my papers back, being called to serve in São Paulo, Brazil.  And so I spent 18 months speaking, living, breathing, loving Brazil.  Brazilians are so inherently and deeply loving.  Brazil, and the people of Brazil, swept me up in their arms and taught me how to love, and with that love I was finally equipped to start my journey of healing my broken parts.  I will always be thankful.

And, ironically, I was more culinarily influenced in Brazil than Italy.  Missionaries live on a strict monthly budget, and to help compensate, members of the congregation of the area volunteer to feed the missionaries.  I was so touched, moved, and humbled each lunchtime spent with these families.  There were a number of families that signed up to feed the missionaries on a weekly basis, despite the burden that placed on their budgets or food stores.  I’m sure they rationed their rice and beans all week so they could make extra portions for four or more guests {mostly tall, hungry American young men who ate way more than a Brazilian}.

Rice and beans are the staple.  Food is regional, so where I was, onions and garlic were used to flavor the rice and beans.  Every house used the same ingredients, but every bowl of rice and beans we sat down to tasted different!  I asked every mom of the house their recipe, and they all–every single time–threw back their heads and laughed at this silly blond American, “Recipe?!”

One mom made us a delicious “Tomate com quiabo e frango” {Tomato with okra and chicken}, and when I asked her for the recipe, she laughed and looked at me like I’d just asked her to lick my foot.  “There is no recipe!”  She said.  “Well, how about the ingredients?”  She shrugged, slightly bewildered by my request.  What she finally wrote for me consisted of one line: “Tomato.  Okra.  Onion.  Garlic.  Chicken.”  I have tried a number of times in the almost 14 years since being home, but I have not been able to replicate that delicious dish.  Despite having the recipe.

So.  After my very roundabout introduction to this Giving Thanks Feast, if it were up to me, every fourth Thursday of November, I would make a feast using Brazilian-inspired ingredients.  This feast represents abundance, love, richness of life, simplicity, humility–everything a Giving Thanks Feast should represent.  I ❤ this feast.

brazilian feast ingredients

A few hours later…

brazilian feast 2

brazilian feast 1

There are a lot of things going on here, so we’re going to take a few recipes at a time.  The feast consists of: Rice and Beans, Fried Mandioca, Collards, Pão de Queijo, Mandioca Stew, Simple Salad.  We’ll start with the Rice and Beans and the Pão de Queijo.

For the Rice and Beans, I am a bit old-fashioned and soak the beans for 24 hours, and use 8-10 hours to cook the beans in a Big Pot.  If you use dry beans, soaking for at least 8 hours is recommended, but I prefer a full 24 hours; I think it makes the beans have a creamier texture.  Ok, the truth:  I am mostly a ninny when it comes to trying new things, and a pressure cooker quite frankly scares me.  A pressure cooker would obviously cut down on your cook time, but I’ve never tried one, so I can’t even begin to advise your pressure cooker bean cookery.  So the recipe reflects the time and effort into cooking beans the old-fashioned way.  Let me know if your pressure cooker speaks to you, and what it says on my behalf.

brazilian rice and beans 1brazilian rice and beans 2brazilian rice and beans 3And the Pão de Queijo {AKA:  light and fluffy bits of airiness that fell from the heavens} is so simple to pull together with this recipe.  You just blend everything together in the blender, bake, and eat straight from the oven.  A family in the first city I served in whipped these up for us every time we visited them.  The mom did not give me an odd look when I asked for the recipe, but said, “Look, Sister, it’s so easy!  Just this and that, see?”  It took a little while for me to get this recipe down with American-ingredient equivalents, but I finally got it as close as possible to how I remember them tasting.  You will love these scrumptiously edible, delectable, addict-able popover-like-roll-breads.

brazilian pao de queijo ingredients

brazilian pao de queijo 1brazilian pao de queijo 2brazilian feast 2


  • Servings: serves a party (although I have frozen the beans for two different meals, and they defrost really well)
  • Difficulty: difficult-ish, just because of the time required
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  • 2 cups beans, soaked in 8 cups water at least 8 hours, overnight/24 hours preferred (pinto are traditional, but you could also use black beans…but then it would have to turn into a feijoada…)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • Loads of water, at least 15-20 cups


  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced


  1. Coat a large pot with olive oil and heat over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and salt and pepper to taste and saute until the onion is translucent.  Drain your soaking beans and add them to the pot to saute for another 5-10 minutes.  Add enough water until the beans are covered by 1-2 inches.  Let come to a boil and lower heat to medium.
  2. Let the beans cook, uncovered, and the liquid reduce until you can see the beans, then add water to cover the beans by 1-2 inches, and continue the process, cooking, reducing, adding water, etc., stirring and talking to your beans lovingly.  This whole process will take a good 8-10 hours.  After about 6-7 hours, you will notice the liquid has magically turned from watery beans into a sort of thick almost-stew-like consistency.  This is when you’ll add your last amount of water, and let it cook down just enough until you have beans and bean “gravy” to serve with your rice.
  3. To prepare the rice, first saute the onions, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste over medium heat until the onion is translucent.  Then add rice and water and cook the rice according to package directions.

PÃO DE QUEIJO DE LIQUIDIFICADOR {Pão de Queijo in the Blender}

  • Servings: makes 24 in a mini muffin tin
  • Difficulty: super easy and super addict-able
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  • 1 cup half-and-half (makes them fluffier than just milk)
  • 3/4 cup oil (olive, vegetable, canola all work equally well)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups tapioca flour/starch (find down the gluten-free aisle in any grocery store)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup powdered parmesan cheese


  1. Mix all the ingredients in a blender in the order listed.  Blend until fully mixed.  The batter should look like thin pancake batter or crepe batter.
  2. Generously grease mini muffin tins and pour the batter until just to the top of the muffin tins.
  3. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes until just golden brown around the edges.  Don’t overtake or they will be crunchy and tough instead of soft.  Best served hot from the oven.


2 thoughts on “Giving Thanks Feast

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