Sunday, September 26, 2010

Passion in the Air

In July, Chris and I went to Brazil together for the first time. My job entails a lot of international travel, and Brazil is a country I go to quite often. But this was the first time Chris was joining me, and I was looking forward to the vacation time in Rio that we had carved out.

There was a problem, though. In the best of all possible worlds, I have a direct flight from Dulles to Sao Paulo, an overnight flight lasting 10 hours. This allows me to have dinner, wash down my Ambien with the last sip of my red wine (I know you are not supposed to mix alcohol and sleeping pills, but it really takes a lot to put me down), go the bathroom, and then get a solid six hours sleep before the harsh lights blink on again and breakfast is served.

This time, because we were flying into Rio rather than Sao Paulo, we had to catch a connecting flight in Miami. Therein lay the problem. The flying time from Miami to Rio was only 8 hours. This meant that, by the time dinner was done, only 4 hours of sleeping time remained. Which meant, in turn, that we would arrive grumpy and disoriented in Rio, and our first day there would be shot. I worry a lot about these sorts of things.

So I developed a plan. Our departure time from Miami was 11:15 pm. Since we would be hungry for dinner way before then, it would make more sense to eat at the airport, and then skip the airplane meal – which would be awful anyway – and instead grab those crucial extra hours of sleep.

At first, all seemed to go well. Our terminal in MIA sported a real restaurant in addition to the food court options, and we had ample time to enjoy a solid meal. A couple of hours later, we went through the usual hassle of boarding the plane – the shuffling line to enter the aircraft, the congestion in the aisles as people search for a place to stow their overhead luggage, the bright nervousness with which people take their seats…Finally we were settled in our two-seat row, me in the window seat and Chris on the aisle. In my plan, we would have a drink and then, having already eaten dinner, we would don our face masks, insert our earplugs, and sink into oblivion until morning.

That is when the trouble began. Chris was earnestly studying the menu that the flight attendant had handed out. I think I’ll have the pasta, she announced.

But…didn’t we already have dinner? Yes, she said, but I am hungry again. I took a deep breath as my heart contracted. Roll with it, I commanded myself. For the next 55 minutes, I gave Chris bright smiles as my insides tensed into a mass of coiled springs. Bright smiles because I did not want to quash her unjaded delight at eating in the air. Bright smiles because I love the way she is so in the moment. But I kept looking anxiously her way, wondering how long this was going to take. As a byproduct of these glances, I noticed that the food actually did not look that bad. So how’s the pasta? Mmm…good! The tubes of ziti looked firm liked they were cooked al dente. The flecks of tomato sauce delicately enhanced rather than smothered the ziti…pasta with sauce, not the other way round. Looking at it I could almost taste the perfect ratio of white wine to olive oil, of garlic to salt. Want a bite, she asked? Oh no. I have already had dinner. I am satisfied.

From there, Chris moved on to the dessert. It looked yellowish and unknowable in its plastic container. Watching every move now, I followed her fork as it plunged into the nameless mass, scooped up a mouthful and made its way orad. Oh-my-god, she said. You must taste this. I was starting to get exasperated. This was airplane food, after all! No thank you. I really am quite satisfied. But it’s your favorite: passion fruit cheesecake! No thank you. There will be plenty of that, and much better, once we get to Brazil. Oooh, this is so amazing. The essence…….her voice trailed off at a loss for words beyond “the essence”. She repeated it, shaking her head in disbelief. I clenched the armrests.

After what seemed like a very long time, dinner was finally over and the carts were trundled down the aisles to collect the empty trays. Now I could get on with my routine. I swallowed my pill, and made my way to the bathroom. Waiting my turn, I found myself wedged between the bathroom wall and a parked food cart, still laden with the dinner dishes. There on the top shelf sat an uneaten serving of dessert. I stared at it, and it stared back. It’s your favorite….Chris’ words reverberated ….the essence….passion fruit, your favorite…Resolve gave way with a thud. I stuck my finger in, and sent it towards my mouth. Oh-my-god. It really was the essence….the essence of passion fruit, given flight in the most aerated cheesecake I have ever tasted. Almost a mousse, it nevertheless retained its cakey identity, then exploded in full fruitiness in your mouth. How was this possible?

In Rio, we searched to duplicate this delight, but without success. There were passionfruit cheesecakes everywhere you looked, but none like that one. Not in the Ipanema hippy market,

Ipanema Hippy Market

not in the neighborhood churrascaria, not even, once Chris had flown home and I had gone on to Sao Paulo, in the Pousada Dona Zilah where I had first discovered it. Tam Airlines takes the cake award, for the best passion in the air.

Update: Later I was to find out that Tam's international menus are devised by the highly acclaimed Brazilian chef, Helena Rizzo. Rizzo is responsible for the São Paulo restaurant and city hot spot, Mani, at the top of chef Paulo Barroso de Barros' Top 10 list of restaurants in the city.

1 comment:

SvoMama said...

Passionfruit ROCKS!!!