Truffle has been very patiently waiting for me to post for the past couple of weeks. The first week we were away on Spring break in Portugal. Last week, Chocolate was very ill - high fever, vomiting etc, the in-laws landed, work has been hectic, the pond needed cleaning, the butterfly bushes needed pruning (timing is of the essence) and we still haven't unpacked. Oh, and I went in search of a Havanese puppy and think I found him! More on him later. At this point, I want to put down some of the notes I put together in my head during our trip to Portugal. The following is the first in a series.
Did you know I lived in Portugal many years ago? It was the Fall of 1999. I went to Portugal to study Portuguese in the Universidade de Lisboa for a year. I finished the first semester but not the second as I ended up marrying Prince Charming in the Spring of 2000 in San Francisco. The five months I spent in Lisbon were wonderful, yet bittersweet, and I will always have fond memories of that city.
One of the things I loved about Lisbon was its Pastel de Nata - a flaky tart filled with egg custard and baked until the top burns unevenly. I suppose it is my Creme Brulee II (see post on Creme Brulee). Cafe life is very much part of one's day in Lisbon and we would stop to have a coffee and pastry twice a day at a minimum. Pastries are varied in Portugal, though usually with the following ingredients: milk, eggs, sugar and canela (cinnamon!). Oh my goodness, maybe that's why I called myself Cinnamon! No, it is because cinnamon is Prince Charming's favorite flavoring and it's a cross-cultural ingredient. In addition to its Western use in desserts, it is used in meat curries in the East. Anyway, I digress.
I would usually have a Galao (tall coffee with milk) or a Meia-Leite (espresso with milk) to go with my Pastel de Nata or two Pasteis de Nata... The best place for this Pastel was, probably still is, Belem. A historical place in Lisbon by the ocean front. If you couldn't go all the way there, the second place was the Lisbon airport. I would always stop at the cafe on the way in or out. It was a little tradition of mine.
We went to Portugal for Spring break, to visit my older sister, Chili Padi, in Sagres and we had to fly via Lisbon. We had, oh 3-4 hours at the Lisbon airport (which I couldn't recognize - it was far bigger and was much flashier with shiny Lacoste stores) and I very excitedly dragged my family to a cafe to order some breakfast. I haven't spoken Portuguese in 12 years and gathered up some rusting words from a web-covered part of my brain, "Um Bolo de Arroz, dos cafes e dos Pasteis de Nata, por favor." Wait, coffee is masculine and Pastel is feminine, so it should have been duas Pasteis! Or is it the other way around? Is it dos or is it dois? Man, I didn't think my Portuguese was this bad! My daughter, Chocolate, turned to me and said, "Don't forget my orange juice!" The poker-faced woman behind the counter broke out in fluent English to say, "we don't have juice, we only have nectar (European pulp-juice)." "Er, that's fine. I'll have a donut too. Thanks."
Things do change. 12 years ago, no one sellling Pasteis spoke English. The pastel was much better then, too.