Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Break in Portugal?!

Lori & JoAnn perched above Braga
While most people choose a beach vacation or desert landscape for spring break, my friend Lori chose Portugal!  Several days after landing in Lisbon, Lori and her friend JoAnn made their way north to Braga.  We were on the go for 3 days, zipping around northern Portugal and sampling lots of local food and wine. Their spirit of adventure, thoughtful planning, and open-minded approach to travel made them ideal guests.  The fact that they brought us chocolate ginjinha and other treats didn't hurt either!!

After busy mornings, our leisurely lunches were perfect!  My favorite lunch was in Porto where Lori had a polvo epiphany.  After asking me a few questions about the flavor and texture of octopus, I told her that if she ordered it and hated it I would swap entrees with her and she could have my garlic shrimp.  After just a few bites of a sweet, tender tentacle, I could tell that she wasn't going to want to swap meals with me. She is the newest poster child for Portuguese gastronomy!

Lori's first bite of polvo!
After a full day of sightseeing and eating on Wednesday, we were joined by my friend Katie as we headed to a small bar for Fado Vadio. Fado Vadio translates as bohemian, vagabond or loafer Fado.  It is sung more to express emotions than for commercial ends and is generally performed by amateurs.  At the time, I didn't know that this is a typical form of Fado performance; we just thought of it as Karaoke Fado Night. 

Lori at the Guimarães castle

On Thursday, our trip to the sprawling weekly market in Barcelos became a mission to find pretty scarves.  We were quite successful, and our final tally was 12 scarves!  Decked out in our new scarves, we headed to Porto on Friday.  Lori and JoAnn planned our day and we had a great time tasting port and exploring sites on both sides of the river.  I left them in Porto to continue their adventure while I headed back to Braga - tired but giddy.  

Scarf shopping frenzy in Barcelos
Our Lady of the Tiles 

During the last 7 months, I've had a lot of time to think about how important my friendships are to me.  Although having heaps of time with Eric has been an invaluable gift, I would be lost and lonely without the love and support of my friends.

~ Peggy

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hoarding Celery

Those are 2 words I never thought I'd type in succession!

It's interesting to think about what we can and can't get here.  While there are mountains of dried salt cod, an entire store shelf of hotdogs standing at attention like soldiers trapped in glass jars, and precious, tiny quail eggs, there are a few things that we can't find here that I miss.  Even with trips to the HUGE supermarket in Porto, I still can't find chocolate chips, split peas, sour cream, scallions, and many herbs and spices.  Celery is rare and when I find it I buy it, whether I need it or not!

Lots of beautiful produce but no celery 

Although I've created some tasty Portuguese food, I like to make meals with different flavor profiles.  So I find myself shopping in the Foreign Foods section of the store quite often.  That's where I can find Old El Paso tortillas, peanut butter imported from the Netherlands, and low-sodium soy sauce.

For the most part, I have been okay living without some of my favorite ingredients and in some cases have found new ways to create similar flavors.  Thanks to The Google, I've learned how to make 'sour cream' using yogurt and melted butter and a pretty good facsimile of allspice using a combination of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg & black pepper.

Surprisingly, we CAN get Lay's potato chips
 in a wide variety of flavors including ketchup
and ham

Thanks to friends and family, we have supplemented our Portuguese food supply.  Dried cherries, split peas, chocolate chips, Ken's blue cheese dressing, spices from Penzey's, dried herbs from Mom's garden, good beer, twist ties(!) and my beloved Reese's peanut butter cups have all traveled over 4000 miles to end up in our hands.  We can feel the love that went into shipping them off to us and couldn't be more grateful for these thoughtful gifts from home. 

One thing I appreciate about Portuguese grocery stores is the lack of processed foods.  You won't find things like macaroni and cheese, cake mix, chip dip or canned soups.  The stores mostly offer seasonal produce, meat, fish, dairy, wine and lots of baked goods.  It's definitely a healthier way to shop and eat. 

Huge fresh figs from the municipal market last fall
Whenever possible, I like to buy produce and meat from the big municipal farmer's market or small shops in our neighborhood.  When we leave, I know that I will miss my favorite fruit lady, the eager veggie guy and my smiley butchers.  They are a part of my weekly routine. 

~ Peggy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Braga 1 - 0 Liverpool

I expected great things in Braga, but I did not expect to see the local soccer team beat both Arsenal and Liverpool in European competition!  It was great to see Braga win over Arsenal - a team they modeled themselves after when they remade the club in 1921.  And now they claim a second win over an English Premiership side.  They completely controlled the game and Liverpool looked ragged and limp.  We can now look forward to even more European cup football in Braga!

The setting sun from inside Braga AXA stadium.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More to love about Morocco

Life is not easy when you're a donkey

Although we enjoyed the pulsing energy and colorful atmosphere in Marrakech, our 2 days spent traveling though the Atlas mountains were a welcome contrast.  Before we left home, we had arranged to have a guide (thanks, Julie!) and driver take us to see some of the Berber villages in the High Atlas and Anti Atlas mountains south of Marrakech.  

Rachid and Hassan picked us up at our hotel and drove us out of the city.  The landscape changed dramatically as we climbed into the High Atlas mountains.  The mountainsides were dotted with small villages whose homes and other buildings were constructed with bricks made from local mud.  The colors of the structures varied depending on the minerals found in the surrounding rock and soil which ranged from light beige to shades of chocolate brown, green (copper), yellow, purple and red (iron).  The homes in one village might be pale yellow and the next one might be a deep red color.  The contrast was strikingly beautiful.

While Marrakech is bustling and crazy, the villages are small and peaceful.   Some towns are just now receiving electricity, laundry is washed in streams and the market is still the main event of the week.   At the centrally located weekly markets, Berber villagers barter using animals as currency, and pass along mail from one village representative to another. 

Laundry day

View of Telouet from the kasbah

Our first day's highlights included a drive along the Tizi'n'tichka pass; the highest road in Morocco, a visit to the Kasbah (fortress) at Telouet, a delicious lunch in a small village, a visit to a argan oil cooperative, and a hike to the top of the amazing village of Ait Ben Haddou.

We stayed overnight in Ait Ben Haddou and enjoyed a fantastic dinner of kefta tagine with egg, chewy bread and refreshing orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon at our hotel La Fibule d'Or.  In the morning, breakfast was served on the hotel rooftop with stunning views of Ait Ben Haddou reflecting the early morning sun.

The view from the rooftop of our hotel in Ait Ben Haddou

Day two's adventures included a visit to the Kasbah in Ouarzazate and the Atlas Studios.  We were surprised to learn that the Atlas Studios are responsible for such films as 'Jewel of the Nile', 'The Passion of Christ' and  'Gladiator.'  We were expecting a cheesy tour, but really enjoyed seeing sets and props and hearing stories about movies made there. Okay, it was still kind of cheesy, but it was fun!

A bit of movie magic at Atlas Studios

After one last tasty tagine in a little village with Rachid and Hassan, we returned to Marrakech.  We know that without Hassan's steady hands and quick reflexes behind the wheel, and Rachid's wealth of knowledge and appreciation for his country, we would not have had such an enjoyable experience.  In fact, we'd probably still be driving in circles trying to get out of Marrakech!!

Rachid and Eric discuss world affairs and soccer

Although we feel like we saw just a tiny slice of Morocco, we felt energized and satisfied.  We know that we will return to Morocco some day and see much more of this amazing country. 

Click HERE to see more photos of Morocco.

~ Peggy

Saturday, March 12, 2011

For every season ...

... there is a lamprey?  No, of course not.  Lamprey is only in season in the spring.

Uh, you're kidding, right?

We were vaguely aware of lamprey as food but it became more clear on a visit to the big Pingo Doce grocery store in February when they had a big tank full of them with a banner declaring "Surprise!"  I'm pretty sure they meant that in a good way and I could not resist taking a picture.

Imagine our delight when João invited us to lunch in Porto for his brother-in-law Paulo's annual lamprey lunch.  Paulo had reserved most of the tables at Caracas, one of our favorite restaurants in Porto, and we were eager to see how lamprey is served and how it tastes.  (I should note that I'm using the royal "we".  When I say "we", I mean "I".  Peggy's delight was clouded by an initial queasiness.)

João serving up the lamprey.

The best lamprey in Portugal come from the Minho river, which forms the northern Portuguese border with Spain.  They are big, up to 40 inches long.  They are chopped into sections and cooked in a broth that contains, like quite a few other dishes here, the blood of the main course.  This is then served over rice.  It has mild flavor that is a bit like tuna but a bit earthy.  If you'd like to try this one at home here is a link to a recipe in English.  It may not be the best thing we've had in Portugal but I liked it and Peggy warmed up to it as well.


March 5 was not only the day of the lamprey lunch but also one of the days in which Essência do Vinho was held in Porto at the Palácio da Bolsa, the beautiful 19th century stock exchange building.  The main floor and many rooms overlooking it were filled with wine producers from all parts of the county.

Overlooking the jam-packed main floor.

This is, apparently, the premier wine event in Portugal.  The booths were staffed not just by sales-rep types but also the winemakers themselves and it was a nice treat to hear what they were trying to do with their wines.

In the thick of it at Essência do Vinho.

It made for quite a day of consumption.  But for one of us the lamprey and wine combination may not be one we (and I'm no longer using the royal "we") anticipate repeating too soon.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sugar Sugar!!

The original name for this blog was Pork, Port & Pastries.  That didn't exactly roll off the tongue, so we ditched the Pastries part.  Well, that certainly doesn't mean we haven't been enjoying them though.  Most Sunday mornings, Eric and I head to our favorite cafe, São João, to enjoy a treat from their huge selection of homemade pastries.

A "body of Christ" pastry minus one bite

I love how the Portuguese name their sugary treats!! A few weeks ago, we split a tambor, which means drum. It looks just like a drum, with lots of layers of flaky pastry, cream filling and a dusting of powdered sugar. One of my favorites is guardanapo, which means napkin and looks just like a square napkin folded in half along the diagonal (cream filling w/ sugar & cinnamon on top!!) and tibia which, well, looks like a leg bone (slightly bulbous at the ends and straight in the middle, usually filled like an eclair w/ powdered sugar on top). Sometimes tibia are slit open and topped with whipped cream and shreds of cooked egg yolk - they look just like loaded baked potatoes.

A "napkin" at São João

There are also caracóis (snails), toucinho do ceu (pig heaven), almofadas and travesseiros (2 different words for pillows), a runny pudding called baba de camelo (camel slobber) and many, many more. Travesseiros are rolled pastries with candied spaghetti squash inside (better than it sounds!) and sprinkled with toasted coconut. They're so sweet they make my teeth tingle!!  Toucinho do ceu does actually translate to 'pig heaven' or 'bacon from heaven' - a sweet almond pastry that traditionally was made with bacon or lard. 

This bundle of pumpkiny goodness is
dedicated to St. Lucy

We've been eating our way through the Portuguese specialties, but there are so many. Every little town and convent has their own special sweets. It's truly mind-boggling!!

Tuesday was a national holiday for Carnaval. The university was closed, so Eric worked at home while I ventured to Caminha, a small town on the Minho river at the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Towards the end of the 2 hour train ride I had great views of the ocean, and when I arrived in Caminha I could see Spain across the river!!

Caminha was hosting a 5 day traditional and convent sweets festival called Caminha Doce. There were big tents set up to house the various bakeries and vendors - one for traditional regional sweets and the other for convent sweets.

Different from traditional regional sweets, convent sweets are a distinct category of sugary treats.  Here's the scoop from Rick Steves:  Portugal once had access to more sugar than any other European country. Even so, sugar was so expensive that only the aristocracy could afford to enjoy it routinely. Historically, daughters of aristocrats who were unable to marry into noble families ended up in high-class convents. Life there was comfortable, yet carefully controlled. Rather than romance, they could covet and treat themselves with sweets. Over time, the convents became famous as keepers of secret recipes for exquisite pastries generally made from sugar and egg yolks (which were leftovers from egg whites used to starch their habits).   ** Thank you Rick! **

Irreverent yet delicious Sacristans' Balls
Convent sweets have funny names like Nuns' Tummies, Sacristans' Balls (sold in pairs, of course), Slap the Convent, and Angels' Breasts. There were dozens to choose from in Caminha, representing convents from all across Portugal. I had some free samples, enjoyed a few full-sized treats and brought some things back for Eric to try. Pre-Lenten sugar shock anyone??!!

Future visitors to Portugal may want to study this link or this one  and be ready to try some Abbots' Ears, Novices' Boobs and Nuns' Necks!!

~ Peggy

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Donkey, Taxi, Scooter, Monkey on a Bike

Koutoubia Mosque at sunset

It's hard to find the words to describe Morocco.  It's magical, exciting, beautiful, slightly scary (in a good way) and in many ways frozen in time.  We just returned from 6 days in Marrakech and villages in the Atlas mountains.  Our flight was only an hour and a half, but suddenly we were in another world.

Never a dull moment in the Djema'a al-Fna!

At the heart of Marrakech is the Djema'a al-Fna.  The translation is 'Assembly of the Dead' and it is anything but dead.  It is amazing to watch this square transform as the day unfolds.  In the early morning hours the juice vendors dominate the scene.  By early afternoon the snake charmers, fortune tellers and henna tattooists arrive on the square.  Around 4pm, nearly 100 portable restaurant owners wheel in to set up their stalls and fire up their grills while musicians and dancers perform.  It's a spectacular scene that is buzzing with wild traffic at all hours.  As we became punchy and overstimulated, we'd shout out warnings about the vehicles approaching from behind, "Donkey. Taxi. Scooter. Monkey on a bike!"

The portable restaurants offer a wide range of food items cooked on the spot.  We chose a stall with  kebabs and delicious merguez sausages.
Just beyond the square, a meandering jumble of streets are lined with souqs or small shops that sell spices, slippers, woven goods, metal work, live chickens, olives, and, and, and...  Many of the items are hand crafted by artisans on site.  We got sucked into the dyer's souq and emerged with some new information and a few new scarves.

We were dazzled by the gorgeous architecture and mosaics, woodwork, stucco work and calligraphy that adorn buildings.  The intricate geometric designs are stunning and definitely appeal to the math teacher in me.

Islamic school Médersa Ben Youssef
Stucco work detail - Saadian tombs

We had FANTASTIC food on this trip, some of which we prepared ourselves at a cooking class at La Maison Arabe.  Our class included a visit to a communal bread oven and spice market.  Each neighborhood has its own oven where local women bring in bread dough loaves on trays then return later to pick up the finished product.  Somehow the baker keeps everyone's bread straight, even as he shuffles up to 100 loaves around in the woodfire oven.   The rest of our class time was dedicated to hands-on preparation of the classic tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives, bread, eggplant and tomato salad and grilled pepper salad.  So delicious!!

The master baker in action 
Eric in action

Other amazing meals included kefta tagine with tiny lamb meatballs and eggs, couscous with caramelized onions and raisins, and bastilla - a pastry-wrapped bundle containing shredded chicken, eggs and almond paste then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  The sweet/savory combination was divine!!

Beautiful bastilla served on the patio of our riad, Maison Mnabha
Our incredible starter of 14 salads at
Al Fassia Guéliz

Moroccans love their mint tea and so do we!  Green or black tea leaves are steeped along with a handful of fresh mint leaves and a bit of sugar.  It's refreshing and perfect any time of day.  By the end of the trip we'd both mastered the art of pouring from a nice height.  This helps cool the tea and creates a foamy head that the Moroccans insist upon.

Our days in Marrakech were exciting and exhausting.  Our heads are ready to explode with memories of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes we experienced there.

~ Peggy