The day’s activities unfold in order to understand the sort of appetite I developed for dinner.
I greet the dawn on a rented cruiser with two of my work mates, pushing up into the foothills with the full moon greeting the sun. Dreamy as it sounds, the “hills” were agonizingly steep, but delivered a breath-taking 360 degree view at the top.
More presentations, discussions, debates, decisions. Inspiring and necessary, and a formidable learning ground for me.
We’re released! We take a field trip to the nearby nature reserve of Tavira, a seashore wetlands area where salt extraction takes place. Birds abound, sunshine even more, and the refreshing aroma of ocean.
A salt pan; rectangular, shallow pools that are eventually drained. The earth encrusts with salt, which then undergoes an extraction process and, likely, lands in Ithaca’s Greenstar Coop.
Romping about. Delicious!
Then, to historic Faro. A truly artistic city center, arranged in a crescent around the very same boatyard I spotted from the airplane (funny, the yachts appear smaller in real life). I would have missed these precious confections in the pastry case if my blog sidekick, Marta (above with Carlos), hadn’t reminded me to snap! The piggies. Well who doesn’t like the look of little, pink, sugary piggies? The legendary Galo de Barcelos, which I learned from a shopkeeper is a national symbol of Portugal and imparts good luck in your household. I’ll have to bring back a trinket for my kitchen to waft good energy into my culinary creations.
Finally we dine! The starters, as usual, come in quantity and quality. A hard feta-like cheese cured in herbs and olive oil. Smelts! A childhood favorite, lightly battered and fried with pickled onions on top. A south Portuguese staple: black-eyed peas with chopped onion, tuna, parsley and olive oil. Green olives and brined carrots. A creamy seafood and potato spread. Rustic, thick slices of bread to help move the various tapas from the plate to your mouth.
Linnet, a smile that says it all (and playfully emerging from the bottles of wine she personally doesn’t fancy).
Ah! The main course: Cataplana, a traditional dish on the Algarve coast. The name actually comes from thecookware in which this seafood and pork medley is prepared; a copper dish most often found with a hinged, clam-like lid. Shrimp, clams, and pork stewed in a rich infusion of herbs, peppers, garlic and tomato. Save extra bread for dipping!
Clockwise, from bottom left: Fred dons the Cataplana, ready for another plunge. The crew. Marta and yours truly. The boatyard against the historic port.
And finally, though you wouldn’t know by my own recipes (the limitations of a non-baker), my favorite: dessert. Dessert!
It means so many things here, on one plate. Every night. My stomach is imploding with glee. Flan, a chocolate cake, an almond tart, a dense and seeded crunchy fig cake, and the most bizarre of creations called Don Rodrigo. Sweet and shredded, shrouded in a mysterious wrapper upon arrival. Despite Rebecca’s deep research into the nature of this dessert (which involved conversations at length with the servers – a distraction for further nibbling straight out of the pastry case), we were unable to discover how it was made. By deduction, we understood that the basic ingredients were: eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of flour. By several vigorous swirling hand motions, we understood that the eggs underwent an unusual process that delivered them in a state much like shredded coconut or candied citrus rinds – of which the taste resembled neither. Simple marvelous.