Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Ithaca, New York
Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Ithaca, New York
“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”
When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.
For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.
If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.
I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.
For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.
Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.
The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.
Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.
Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.
‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.
Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.
Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Finger Lakes Wineries; Ithaca, New York
How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?
The world without hearing children’s voices, laughter, and even cries can be a dark and hopeless place. That central message of the now classic movie ‘Children of Men’ (2006) has stayed with me especially in the current times of a pandemic that we are living in. How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?
When you think deeply about it, humanity is restored generation after generation thanks to our youth, their ideas, their drive, their desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to learn from history. When you take humanity’s future away, what is there left to fight and live for? It is a powerful premise and one for which I am glad Director Alfonso Cuaron decided to focus on. His movie does not pull any punches and shows humanity at its worst when women are no longer able to have children.
Without children, playgrounds and swing sets remain empty. Refugees and immigrants are persecuted and forced into detention camps, suicide pills are common place, environmental degradation is the norm rather than an obscenity, and violent factions fight it out with the government in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom where suicide bombings are an increasingly common occurrence as Theo (Clive Owen) discovers when he is almost the victim of one in one of the earliest scenes. Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole movie is that no one has figured out why women can’t have babies anymore and the novel that the film is based on is also clear when it shies away from saying why men can’t help in the reproduction process anymore.
In ‘Children of Men’, no child has been born for 18 years and it can be hard to retain hope after that long that things will change. The world is in a downward spiral and things get worse as the youngest person alive, Diego, is killed by an angry crowd. Theo takes solace in the fact that he has a good job at the government ministry and has a funny friend who goes by the name Jasper. Still, you can tell that Theo has lost faith in humanity especially after the death of his infant son due to a flu pandemic and his estranged relationship with Julian, his wife. However, when Julian tells Theo about Kee, a pregnant African woman, who may be carrying the first baby in almost two decades, everything changes, and Theo finds his purpose again to live and to fight for a tomorrow. Theo dedicates himself to protecting Kee and her future baby and wants to get her to safety, which means getting her to the Human Project, a group of the world’s best scientists discussing how best to make humans fertile again.
Theo’s journey with Kee involves getting her out of a refugee camp, escaping men who want to keep Kee’s baby for political purposes and who are also armed combatants, and avoiding fascist police forces who intend to get in their way. To escape the escalating urban violence around them as both the government and rebels fight it out in bombed out Bexhill, Theo and Kee take shelter in a refugee settlement in a former apartment building. The three of them come close to being killed and the baby’s cries echo throughout the building much to the stunned shock, joy, and awe it inspires among the refugees, the rebel forces, and the government troops.
The way the cinematographer follows Kee’s baby and Kee around in a wide tracking shot is absolutely beautiful making it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. “How is she?”, Theo asks Kee. “Annoyed.” Kee replies. A refugee woman reaches out her hand to touch the baby and another woman sings a sweet song in her native language. Prayers and aspirations are given to the baby as Theo and Kee walk through the crowd. The rebel soldiers acknowledge the baby as they get away from the advancing troops behind them. The government’s military soldiers are in absolute shock as one soldiers’ yell at his army unit: “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!” All of them stop shooting at once and look upon Kee’s baby in disbelief, many of them never having seen a human child before in person.
To see the armed men in tanks and heavy weapons and their technological mastery stop, think, and realize how humanity and its future must be preserved and let free without being in danger. Not much can stop a war from continuing but a baby’s cries can most certainly pause it for a few minutes as this brilliant scene exemplifies. An immediate symbol of hope for humanity and its possible redemption is realized in its newest addition and it is a wonderful allegory to how despite our differences, any human around the world will stop to comfort, aid, and protect for a baby as we would do for our own children or grandchildren or even nieces and nephews.
Those men who don’t see the baby continue to fire at each other in the distance but any soldier, man, or woman who hears the baby crying lowers their weapon, pays their respect, and let Theo and Kee have safe passage as they represent a glimpse of hope finally for humanity’s future rather than its eventual extinction. Some of the soldiers pray to their God and others peer in to get a look at the baby with their own eyes but all are silent and in disbelief thinking that finally there might be hope again.
After a minute or two of calm and as Kee and Theo are about to get away, a rocket RPG hits the government soldiers and the men ignore the baby again and get back to fighting the rebel forces in the building that Kee and Theo just left. To me, that is a tragic symbol of how once we have something out of sight and out of mind, we go back to fighting each other instead of uniting around a common cause. As that RPG fires, I think to myself watching this scene how somebody always has to ruin it for everybody else. Unfortunately, Kee’s baby does not lead right away to world peace and a cessation of arms. However, it is enough time for the two of them to escape and have a fighting chance of reaching the Human Project.
A baby’s cries are more powerful and everlasting than any weapon, any political cause, and any division between humanity. While human nature cannot be totally pacified by children and babies being born, it allows us to fight for better days and for a future freer of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.
I hope that when you watch this scene, you’ll realize that even in our current age when fertility is not extinct and is not a present issue that we are still fighting to preserve hope for the next generation and generations to come. Whether it is preventing pandemics, stemming the worst effects of climate change, or preventing nuclear war between nations, we all have a responsibility to be stewards like Theo in protecting the babies of the future against any manmade harm that could befall them due to our own neglect and ignorance.
Please do watch this ‘Miracle Ceasefire’ scene and the rest of ‘Children of Men’ when you have the chance. It is an excellent film to see and this scene may be the best one of the entire film. Hope and redemption are only as strong as our ability to have a better future.
Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Cayuga Lake; Finger Lakes; Ithaca, New York
“However, while staying outdoors will become less and less pleasurable, this is definitely the time of the year to dive into your reading and to get back into the swing of things when it comes to reading good books.”
The end of the Summer is always a bittersweet one. With mixed feelings, August turns to September, fall season will soon be upon us and the daylight will become shorter while the cold weather is drawing near. However, while staying outdoors will become less and less pleasurable, this is definitely the time of the year to dive into your reading and to get back into the swing of things when it comes to reading good books. Colder weather, shorter days, and back to work / school will cause our minds to re-focus our attentions on the tasks at hand in our lives but we should not forget at night or on the weekends to kick back, relax, and enjoy a good book.
These four books that I’ve chosen are all non-fiction, but they tackle different subjects and are relevant to different academic or personal interests such as history, sociology, travel, or entrepreneurship. Each author brings something different to the table as well and the writing style is different along with the kind of narration you can expect. I can definitively say that each of these books is educational and you would not go wrong with reading any of the following books in the upcoming Fall season.
New York Times op-ed writer and author Ross Douthat is not optimistic about the future. Given that the present involves polarization, stalemates, and a lack of technological innovation, what does humanity have to look forward to? That is the main argument of Douthat’s book ‘The Decadent Society’ on how we may have reached the limits of our own ‘progress’ and that modernity is less fulfilling than we thought it would be. Douthat’s view is that our current culture, innovations, and motivations like originality and that we have become too complacent as a society.
Douthat cites falling birth rates, more reliance on video games / virtual reality, lack of new businesses being started along with increasing government dysfunction leading us all to be ‘comfortably numb’ as the famous Pink Floyd song goes. Douthat’s diagnosis of our current cultural and political malaise is quite convincing from citing Star Wars remakes to the fact that the Trump and Clinton families have stayed relevant for decades in politics with a lack of a fresh face to get us out of our national ennui.
While our ‘modernity’ has left us more comfortable than satisfied, Douthat struggles to mention ways that we can get out of the malaise or the needed policy or cultural changes that should take place to push our horizons more and our boundaries as a society. This was my one main gripe with the book as in the 2nd half or towards the end, a little optimism or forward-thinking would have gone over well but perhaps that was done on purpose. Douthat is not optimistic that much will change in the future and that perhaps it is best to accept our current ‘decadence’ as being set in stone or perhaps to prepare for a fall from grace that would shake more of us out of our slumber. I hope either scenario is not the case. ‘Decadence’ in my perspective gets boring after a while and human beings are creative and innovative at our core so hopefully our current malaise is not permanent as Douthat argues but rather a temporary blip on human history.
2. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
Perhaps the great ‘irony’ of our age will be that a President or a Senator won’t be the one to lead us out of our current decadence. Perhaps it will instead be a foreign-born entrepreneur who rose from nothing to build multiple successful ventures that could transform the way we transport ourselves and how we interact with the cosmos. Entrepreneur Elon Musk may be the one to help lead us out of decadence and he seems to be on the way to making a dent in the wall that prevents us from creating the future. As many people don’t realize, Mr. Musk did not have an easy childhood, moved around multiple times, and even was a mediocre student at times but what he has that all entrepreneurs need is grit, resolve, and determination. To create something out of nothing and build your vision to make it a reality is where Elon has succeeded where many others have failed.
Musk clearly did not do it on his own whether it was Zip2, PayPal, or SolarCity but he was able to create a team and even companies to carry out his lofty vision. His tolerance for risk as an entrepreneur both financially and personally is simply beyond most people’s comprehension. Elon Musk is an entrepreneur so dedicated to making his companies a success that he will pour millions of dollars from a previous venture into his next one to ensure its longevity. Elon is currently the third richest person in the world and this autobiography gives rare insight into what it took for Musk to get to this point today with more than two decades of setbacks, failures, and even a few lawsuits here and there to overcome.
Ashlee Vance does an excellent job highlighting who Musk is as a person, what drives him, how his childhood and family affected him, who were the people around him, how could Tesla and SpaceX change life in the future and how big of an impact could they really have. Vance is illustrative in showing the whole of Elon Musk, both the good and bad, of the visionary entrepreneur. While he disdains any notion of socialism in government policy, he has received millions in government subsidies to help his businesses; His commitment to succeed can sometimes cause him to fall out with others who feel they were not treated well or were not given the recognition that they thought they deserved. A good biography shows both the triumphs and the warts of a man and this one is no different. Overall, this biography is an excellent look into the man behind both Tesla and SpaceX who continues on his quest to change the world by molding its future.
3. The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass
This book is a love letter to International Relations in 2020 (pre-COVID) by the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass. For those new to this field, it is a very enlightening and comprehensive book to ground someone especially in high school or their 1st year in college to know about the basics of the world in terms of foreign affairs and what are some of the main challenges of the 21st century for nation-states. While primarily a guide to the world for those new to international relations, I found that it is a good refresher for more advanced or experienced students of international affairs.
I enjoyed the historical overview, the breakdown of the regions in a succinct manner, and the number of economic, security, and development challenges that the world is grappling with at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. Richard Haass would definitely be an excellent professor to have in your Introduction to International Relations / International Relations Theories and this book would be a good starter text to have.
Clocking in at around 400 pages total, no major detail is spared, and no region of the world is left uncovered. If you are not familiar with an issue in IR or a region where you don’t know the culture or the language, Haass’s book is a good way to familiarize yourself and to stay up to date with what is going on regionally or thematically. For those of you in high school interested in the world and geopolitics, this book is a good place to start. For those of you starting college and planning to major in international relations, it is likely you will be reading this book not before too long.
4. Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home by Matthew Kepnes
Home is whatever place you can find yourself comfortable in over a long enough period of time. I remember reading this piece of wisdom in Matthew Kepnes’s book and finding it to be quite the piece of truth. As a fellow traveler and shorter-term ‘nomad’ myself, Matthew’s travel memoir appealed to me because of its raw honesty and vulnerability. Life at home is comfortable but it can get dull and repetitive. Life on the road is new and exhilarating but can also lead to a sense of fatigue moving from place to place without settling down roots or losing friends and relationships as you feel the call to move somewhere else.
In my experience, Travel memoirs can be rather hit or miss but this one by Mr. Kepnes is on the mark in terms of the ups and downs of long-term travel and also about staying in a country for a year or more. I was personally away from home in my 20s for over three years and I can only imagine how ten years on the road would fundamentally change who I am, what I value, and how I want to live my life.
I really admire Matthew’s deep understanding on the joys of travel and how lucky we are to be on the road when we can. Travel is a privilege that especially now, we tend to have taken for granted. Once you get started on the path outside your town or country, it can be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. That nomadic yearning to live life on your own terms, on your own pace is a flickering light that can burnish again with renewed intensity often times when we least expect it. This memoir highlights how rewarding travel can be, how much it can develop your personality and your worldview, and why it is so important to listen to your gut at times to know what you want in life.
Some of us travelers are meant to have one foot out of the door at all times and when we stay in one place too long, we tend to get stir crazy. I think what Matthew learned is how important it is to find that balance of being a nomad at heart but finding roots somewhere while keeping the freedom he gained over many years of hard work of being an independent writer, a recognized travel expert, and an overall creator with an ability to work remotely, which may becoming more and more common into the future.
You may think starting the journey is the hardest step to take when you’re going out on the road, but I find it’s true instead how coming home is often the hardest thing you’ll do when the journey comes to an inevitable end at some point. The good thing that Matthew notes in his memoir is that the nomad or the traveler is always within us even after the journey ends and that eternal flame can be rekindled making it easier and easier to get out on the road in the future to have more journeys without feeling that fear of the first step as happens on the first journey out of our comfort zone.
Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Taughannock Falls State Park; Ithaca, New York
“Before you can set an example to others in your house, or others in your community, or others in an overall society, you first need to show that you can ‘get your own house in order.’ You need to be able to handle yourself and your own day-to-day problems first before you can lead others to do the same in their own lives.”
There’s an old adage I have been thinking about lately about how it is primarily important to take care of oneself first and not just in one way but in every part of your life. Before you can set an example to others in your house, or others in your community, or others in an overall society, you first need to show that you can ‘get your own house in order.’ You need to be able to handle yourself and your own day-to-day problems first before you can lead others to do the same in their own lives.
It can be hard for other people to take you seriously when you don’t take yourself seriously in the first place. How will you be able to lead a team or an organization or a company if you are not able to master your own tasks and your own desires? Self-development isn’t just about making sure you are able to create a good life for yourself but it’s also about setting a positive example for others who would look up to you as a result. You cannot be a mentor or a role model for others without first putting yourself out there and doing what needs to be done to make yourself successful.
When you have not struggled, when have not persevered, when you have not done what it takes to reach your goals, how can you give advice to other people on what they should do to have the same kind of success? “Getting your own house in order” means taking care of yourself first and doing so consistently before you can use those same pieces of advice and examples for others to follow. Firstly, your own house in order starts with your mental and physical health.
Your body is your own house so it must be taken care of first and foremost in terms of getting good sleep, eating properly, not indulging in vices like alcohol or tobacco to excess, and knowing how to exercise as well to keep yourself in shape. It also extends to being able to relax, de-stress, handle anxiety, and be mentally sharp by challenging yourself but also relaxing your mind so as to not exhaust it entirely. Your body and your mind are their own little houses and they must be maintained thoroughly so that other people will know that you are capable enough to handle other demands in life.
Another house we don’t think of is appearance and grooming. Your own house in this case means maintaining a good appearance and practicing good hygiene. These practices are necessary also on a daily basis and to show to the world that you care about yourself and want to be taken seriously. For a job, an internship, a presentation, a seminar, a lecture, etc., your personal dress should indicate that you are a serious person for the role or for the opportunity and that others will know that they can respect your house because you respect it yourself. They will not respect your house when you show up to an interview in shorts or when you wear Yoga pants to a college lecture. Physical appearance and grooming are another ‘house’ that we all must take seriously and to do so primarily before we can give advice to others on how to maintain their own ‘houses’ in good order.
Lastly, the last ‘house’ on a personal level that I would like to focus on is where you live regardless if it is a small studio apartment or a huge mansion. Maintaining your own physical shape in the world is crucial if you want to tackle bigger and better problems. If you can’t make your bed, clean your bathroom, or keep your kitchen clean, how can you tackle any major issue in your community or in your society? At the end of the day, this kind of ‘house’ maintenance comes down to self-respect and putting your own ego aside to do the work that we all must do.
The chances are good that at the end of the work to maintain this ‘house’ that you will feel a lot better for having done the work needed to keep up a clean and orderly home. It is not easy to do this consistently but it is necessary and if you plan on having guests over, having friends over for a get-together, or want to be romantically involved with someone, a clean ‘house’ will go a long way to making you respectable and responsible in the eyes of others. Being able to maintain care not just of yourself but your own physical space means that people will know that they can trust you with other tasks and matters of importance that extend beyond your ‘house’ and to the ‘houses’ of others in the community and in the society.
Thinking about a community as a whole, their ‘houses’ include making sure that the schools are meeting the needs of the students, that the community is safe and protected for all of its residents, that the roads and bridges are maintained and do not have potholes or faulty beams, and to make sure that each and every person has access to utilities including water, electricity, and yes, an Internet connection too. If a community does not have those necessities for a high quality of life, then that ‘house’ is not in order and those people who have their own ‘houses’ in order need to step up to do their part to help others get the community in good shape.
If you have your own ‘house’ in order, you can set the standard for the rest of the community and be able to use your ideas to help others especially if you gain their respect and their trust. With how you act and how you behave in addition to your own appearance, ideas, and personal goals, you can make the community better and it’s important for you to get in there and show that you can make a difference there.
When a community can all of its necessities in order, that one community can definitely have an impact on the larger society within a country and even the world. A community where everyone has equal access to a good education, where health care is not a privilege but a right to all in that society, and when kindness, honesty, and virtue are rewarded rather than chastised. That is an overall society that is getting its own house in order and can serve as an example to other societies in other parts of the world.
Being able to provide a high quality of life and a chance to succeed to all of the people in a society should be the goal of society with its own ‘home’ in order. I am not talking about a social utopia per say but rather an ideal place where people know that they can succeed if given a fair shot in life. It’s also about providing the basic tools of any society to all of its people without discrimination and without corruption. Whether that is no homelessness, enough healthy food for everyone, and an economy where inequality is minimalized, that is what a society should be focusing on and using as an example to other societies.
When a society prioritizes the needs of the few over the many based on wealth or another privilege, that society does not have its own house in order. If there are people out there hungry, homeless, or without health care, then that society is not in order. A society cannot be an example for other societies when it lacks the courage to invest in its most vulnerable populations or to provide a higher quality of life for all people.
Without that kind of an example, a society will lose its influence or example setting and will turn inward and often tear itself apart without good leadership or good values. A society that gets its own house in order prioritizes the right social needs and finds the investments, funding necessary to maintain these necessities of its people will automatically become an example to other societies whether they are near or far. A society that doesn’t does not have a moral ground to stand on and will lose the example it could set by practicing bad ‘house’ manners in different ways.
“Getting Your Own House in Order” does not just apply to one individual but it also applies to a community and a society as a whole. We all are human and fallible and sometimes, we will fall short but if we strive to do better in our homes, in our lives, and in our examples we set for others, that kind of ‘Ripple Effect’ of positive values will improve the larger community and society as a result. How we treat ourselves (mind and body), our homes, our way of life has a direct effect on the community we share, and, on the society, we find ourselves a part of. This kind of example setting starts at home, but it can ripple throughout to the rest of the world and it all begins with ourselves and our own actions.
Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Cornell University; Ithaca, New York
“Brazilian cheese bread or ‘Pao de queijo’ is a delicious snack that is truly delightful to have whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or even at night.”
Brazilian cheese bread or ‘Pao de queijo’ is a delicious snack that is truly delightful to have whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or even at night. While often served as part of a traditional Brazilian breakfast (café da manha), you can have it as an appetizer, a snack, or even as a side dish with some meals depending on your preference. I do believe it is best served with come coffee or tea to wash down the bread. It really is a traditional Brazilian staple with interesting ingredients as well as a deep and culturally rich history to go with this practical dish. You should be aware though that it is hard to have just one of the cheese bread pieces and it is likely you will eat six or seven in one try.
While there are various forms of cheese bread, the Brazilian ‘pao de queijo’ is perhaps the most famous in the world and for which has the longest history. Originally from the state of Minas Gerais, ‘pao de queijo originates back to the early 18th century when many enslaved African people who worked in the local mines would make the bread as a staple food while migrating from the Northeast of Brazil to the Southeast such as the historical city of Ouro Preto in the modern-day state of Minas Gerais.
The mining cycle and lifestyle caused staple food production to increase such as for rice, beans, cornmeal, pork, but also cheese. In Minas Gerais, farmers and cooks would use starch or cassava as a substitute for wheat to bake as a wheat substitute for form the bread for the cheese. With cheese chips or pieces mixed into the cassava or starch, the cheese bread would be made for the farmers by the slaves or for themselves as miners as they mined for gold in the colonial era.
Wheat never took hold in terms of forming the bread needed especially since the climate was not suitable for Northeast Brazil, which was instead imported from Europe later on for the King and his royal adherents. Instead, cassava tuber was used as a substitute in making ‘pao de queijo’ as a staple food. The cheese would be grated and hardened inside the cassava flour and rise after being baked in the oven to become the popular cheese bread food it is today across Brazil.
Today, there are many different variations on ‘pao de queijo’ making it a fun dish to make depending upon your preference of starch, of cheese, and of temperature to bake it at. You can use both sweet or sour starch or cassava as is traditionally done. You also can choose from different types of cheeses as well from mozzarella to parmesan to cheese which is native to the state of Minas Gerais and has its own unique flavor. Adding egg to the recipe also adds flavor and needed color to the final product as well. Also, as an option, you can smear a bit of fat whether it is butter, margarine, lard, or vegetable oil on the cheese bread to make it more elastic and stretchable to eat pieces of at a time.
Some recipes can add meat inside with the cheese or potato as well although I confess that this kind of ‘pao de queijo’ is not that popular. I think it is important to keep in mind that the cheese can also be pre-boiled to add to its overall flour before baking too although it is not necessary. As for the cheese, it is good to use the traditional ‘Minas’ cheese if you’re in Brazil but if you don’t have it available, mozzarella or parmesan are good substitute options to have.
You cannot have ‘pao de queijo’ without having the texture down, so you need to have the cassava starch as part of the main ingredients. The balls need to be an inch or two (3-5 cm in diameter) and need to be in that form before you bake them. Unlike other cheese breads, you are using unleavened bread for this snack dish so the dough will expand due to small pockets of air that are left to grow during the baking process. Tapioca starch is also used for the ‘pao de queijo’ as well and it is quite common to add dipping sauces or additions like catupiry (Brazilian cream cheese), Guava sauce, dulce de leche (caramel sauce) as well to have as a dessert.
When you come to Brazil, you will find this popular snack almost everywhere including convenience stores, delicatessens, restaurants, snack bars, etc. The locals will encourage to at least have a few of them and sometimes up to eight or ten. It is the perfect snack to have with friends, with family, or over a coffee with a new acquaintance. A simple yet delicious staple food of Brazilian cuisine: You haven’t experienced all of Brazil until you have had a bite of ‘pao de queijo.’
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