“Bom dia, girl…”
Saucy Summertime Stew
by Jen Zern
When Taiza DeOlivera first reported to work at 7a Foods in West Tisbury this past April, every one of her co-workers were charmed by her big personality— Taiza tells it like it is, sees the glass half full, giggles like a teenager, and calls all women “girl”—because, she says, it’s easier than learning people’s names. “Bom dia, girl,” she singsongs on summer mornings as she walks around 7a and through the kitchen—a place she feels at home no matter where she lives.
For the past 20 years, Taiza has traveled to the United States from her native Brazil to work various jobs; primarily living and working on Martha’s Vineyard thanks to a wide network of friends, and her sister, a year-round Island resident. Her stay has ranged from a few months to nearly a decade. This year, she’s here only from April through October, splitting her days between two kitchen jobs: mornings at 7a, and evenings at Lattanzi’s Pizzeria in Edgartown. She doesn’t have much time off, but that doesn’t faze her. “That’s summertime, right? You work summertime on Martha’s Vineyard and relax in wintertime. What you can do about it? Nothing!”
What motivates Taiza to work is her family. Back home in Ipatinga, a bustling city in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, she’s a stay-at-home mom. Her daughter is 15, and her son, 19. “They miss my food,” she says.
“In Brazil I cook every day. Morning and the nighttime.” She describes her specialties: beef sautéed with onions, chicken with coconut milk, and feijoada (beans with beef and pork). Her eyes light up as she says her favorite: “My moqueca de peixe and batida de maracujá …Everybody loves this. Perfect for summertime. Trust me, girl.”
Moqueca de peixe is a type of fish stew that originates from the coastal state of Bahia, just north of Minas Gerais. There are hundreds of variations of the moqueca; it seems no two chefs cook it exactly alike. Some add shrimp and shellfish, some stick to fish—some even replace its trademark Bahian ingredients dendé (palm oil) and coconut milk with lighter options. Taiza’s version is fairly traditional, but she sometimes uses olive oil, and always marinates the fish first.
Taiza’s specialty smoothie, batida de maracujá, is a crisp and refreshing blended ice drink starring one of Brazil’s most prevalent fruits, the passion fruit. Though an ounce of cachaça—a Brazilian rum—is commonly added to this concoction, Taiza’s recipe is strictly non-alcoholic. “I never put cachaça in my maracujá,” she says with an infectious giggle, “but maybe I should. It sounds good!”