Saturday, December 6, 2014

It's Christmas

With the presents brought by Baby Jesus himself on Christmas Eve, the Portuguese Christmas differs from the traditional turkey in England. 
Instead of the blow out meal on the 25th December where drinking starts at 11am with the annual sherry (boy I miss the traditional Christmas) the Portuguese share dinner on the 24th with a big dose of Bacalhau, salted cod fish, which looks nothing before it’s soaked for 48 hours.    

The Portuguese say that there’s a bacalhau recipe for every day of the week…..they love it here.

Before the soaking

One of the 365 recipes after the soaking

Another of the 365 recipes image from

 After the family meal, everyone will go to church for the 'Missa do Galo' or 'Mass of the Rooster' service. During the service an image of baby Jesus is brought out.  It is then put in the nativity scene (the presépio) which every church around the country has.   After the service people go home  and open their presents late into the night.  

Unlike England the streets are not littered with dead Christmas trees come the 6 January.  So, I can only assume it’s still not common to have a Christmas tree.   Lots of ex-pats in our area steal into the countryside at dusk to cut their own tree.   Something I want to do this year after having three years of olive branches to hang my ornaments on.

Instead of Christmas Cake we have a cake called 'Bolo Rei' ('King Cake') it’s a lovely concoction of  a stollen like cake (without the almonds) covered in candied fruit.  It’s especially good cut into slices, toasted then covered in butter…..lots of butter.

Bolo Rei
Traditionally a broad bean and a gift (a little token) are hidden in the cake. If you get the token you are allowed to keep it. But if you find the broad bean, you have to pay for next year's Bolo Rei!

A big night here in Portugal is actually Dia dos Reis or Day of the Kings.  Held on the 6 Jan, there is a celebration of the Magi.  Rather like Halloween in the UK, kids have free license to go to people’s homes and demand chocolates.    It’s usually a great celebration which put paid to the dry January idea.

The traditional food of this celebration is the Cozido.  Cozido is a mixture of pork (all bits of pork) and chicken, chorizo and black sausage.  It’s cooked for hours with potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbage.  It sounds hell, but when it’s done well there is nothing quite like the taste, but when it’s done badly then it’s a pig snout served with overcooked cabbage.

Traditional Cozido

 Peter does a great version on Cozido, it’s a mixture of style, from the traditional Portuguese cozido with Spanish Pote but with a strong choizo sausage influence. 


  • 1 xChorizo
  • 1 x Negrito (chorizo flavoured with red wine)
  • Salt beef (but this means you have to salt your own beef)
  • 3 x Potatoes
  • 3 x Little turnip
  • Half a Cabbage
  • 3 x Carrots
  • Water or Chicken Stock

Just chop it all up into chunky bits, and put it in the pressure cooker with salt, pepper and bay leaves for 40 mins.    Then serve it.   Simple, but very very tasty.   The cabbage is soft, not al-dente but there is something lovely about this.  The dog gets the left -over meat.  The next day I whiz it all up and make a fantastic broth out of it.

So the Portuguese Christmas may be different, but it’s still all about the food.   So that makes it OK by me!
Boas Festas (happy holidays) and happy new year.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Build

It all started when I mentioned that it might be nice to have a separate place where I could go and watch TV or read or play on the Wii…I said that I’d also like a second bathroom and I’d like a utility room.

I wanted to convert the animal barn on the side of our house (accessed through the kitchen) into a ‘snug’.  After a few months of persuasion Peter was in.   We looked for a builder (traumatic enough, read the blog post) we found the one we wanted and work was scheduled for January 2014.   

In December 2013 I started to take down the old bread oven in the corner of the room.   A mass of stones, red clay, and 50 year old soot.   I’d come out looking like I’d been down a mine.   Our 90 year old neighbour sat on her step and laughed at me.  She was still grinning when finally the oven was dismantled and I carried hundreds of stone down the 14 steps to the stairwell for storage.   It wouldn’t be the last time I moved those stones!!!
January came, Mark and Rupert our builders came, so did the rain.   In fact, it didn’t stop raining.
They did what they could.  Took down and rebuilt a wall.  Removed the rotten and bug infested beams in the place.  Started work on the new bathroom.  I started to clean the natural stone wall. The floor was levelled with the large stones removed and a concrete base put in.  Peter carried hundreds of buckets of concrete up 14 steps in the rain.   But soon they all had to stop, the roof needed to come off and it just would not stop raining.

February came and went in a mixture of rain, hail and thunder.  I kept cleaning the natural stone wall.   A wire brush and a heap of patience (which quickly turned into impatience),  I soon realised why restoration work is so time consuming.  ‘Render the whole lot’ became my mantra.   

March arrived and so did the builders.  Off came the roof.  On went a new roof.  Suddenly we had a dry room.   I was still cleaning the natural stone wall as my first attempt was ‘not good enough’ according to some.

 Work continued on the new bathroom, and work started on the megalith chimney Peter designed.  It was then that I was asked to bring all the stones from the bread oven stored in the stairwell back up the 14 steps and into the snug.   Following a few very choice four letter words I started to grade the stones and bring these up.   

Work continued on the chimney, it was getting bigger and bigger.  An intricate air flow system was installed, including a hole in the wall to draw in air, a hole in the top to let out air and a fan into the bedroom to pump warm air upstairs.  The chimney got bigger.

May came and the builders went off site to start another project.   We had some work that needed to be done, like cleaning the natural stone wall.  Leveling and concreted the public path behind our house and waterproofing one of the snug walls (which is below ground level).  

We had the doors and windows fitted. 

In late May the builders returned, the chimney got bigger, the new bathroom got tiled. The rendering started.  It was starting to become a real room, four walls, windows, doors and floor. Peter carried buckets of concrete up the stairs, I cleaned up after people, washing and washing the floor in the connecting kitchen (dirty work this building work).  ‘It looks like a building site’ was the mantra for a while.   

In June, disaster struck.  Our builders had to go off and finish another job.  They’d be back in July to finish up the work.  I had planned to get them to redesign our upstairs bathroom too.    But one of the builders almost cut his fingers off in a wood saw and while he was healing there was no way he’d be able to finish the rendering (he since made a full recovery).

July came, impatience set in.  ‘Find another builder, I just want it finished’ became my mantra.  ‘I’m fed up with this’ became Peter’s.

In August, Duncan came to finish the job.   Duncan finished the rendering, pointed the natural stone wall (which meant I had to clean the whole bloody thing again) and tiled the stairs and the utility room floor.

Work started on the ceiling.   If only it was that easy.   The ceiling beams were not level, we’d decided to keep some of the old wood and the whole thing just couldn’t be plaster boarded unless we wanted a ‘wave effect’ on the ceiling.

Peter put his thinking cap on and came up with a plan….’we’ll fit the plaster board between the beams’ he said.   After three weeks I bet he wished he’d come up with another idea.   Every day he was in there cutting board to the strange shape of the room.  Not a straight wall in sight.   Now I certainly understand why they knock down old walls and rebuild and don’t restore walls.

I cleaned the lime cement mix from the natural stone wall.

I got covered in plaster as I sanded the plaster board.   I broke the sander.

Duncan had done all he could do.  It was now up to us.  Paint, varnish, paint, varnish.  Peter continued with the ceiling.  Filling the gaps in between the plasterboard and the wood, he varnished the wood.  I painted the bathroom, not well.

I painted the walls a little better.  Peter delicately painted around the stones.   

In September I went away for 2 weeks and the floor elves (Peter and Simon) put in the wooden floor.

We are almost there, bear with me.

Just the snagging to do, Peter worked his socks off.  Varnishing, filling, touching up and then spent what seemed like hours trying to get the fibre optic cable working.

Finally we moved in.   We love it.  The fire heats up the room in about 10 mins, the dog sits on his bean bag in the corner and finally we can sit at a table to eat our dinner.

My Wall

It does leave the other room a little under used.  But Peter has a plan, he wants a nice kitchen-diner.  

I am open to persuasion!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

In celebration of the festa

As France empties for the month of August, Central Portugal swells with the amount of visitors coming home for a month in the ‘mother land’.   (I read that there are more Portuguese in France then there is in Portugal….is this possible?).  The squares are full of French cars, the main language heard in the cafés is French and a cheery ‘Bonjour’ instead of ‘Bon Dia’ will see you right in the morning.    

With all these extra people to entertain, we enter party season – or festa season.   Portuguese festas are a funny thing, speakers go up in the villages and the quiet is ruined with pimba music being piped through the speakers from 10am (hear the horror of this below).

The  lights go up on the church.  

 The stage goes up ready for someone to come and sing along to a backing track and the huts go up to serve the beers and pork rolls.    

It’s pretty much the same all over Central Portugal.  At 10pm the main act comes on, there seems to be a competition to be the loudest it can possibly be without ears actually bleeding.

In August there are three festas in two weekends, in villages within 1 mile of each other.    Pera (our village) mixed it up with a night of rock music, which involved some very heavy rock covers with occasional lighter moments as they belted out Lenny Kravitz and Guns and Roses then this Portuguese number…. least is was different from the normal pimba and that’s all I am saying on the subject.

The Coentral festa stuck to the plan with the Folklore Group the Neveiros do Coentral, a dance group based on the traditions of mountain life….who are brilliant until the singing begins…… 

The following week was Senhora de Guia festa, it is one of the best ones because everyone goes along.  The format is the same, lights, music, food and drink.  Pimba music, vaguely good singer singing along to a backing track. 

But truly, it is  great fun and everyone goes along and has a good time.  And at the end of the day,  that's what's important.

It’s a formula that works here, so much so that throughout the summer you can watch local festas on national TV with Total Verao…where you have the horror of watching over enthusiastic hosts interview a wide variety of local people and listen to aging performers miming along to the latest hit with the added bonus (sometimes) of scantily clad dancers faking it for the camera…..!

Well, as August comes to an end, the French cars are leaving ready to join the queue of traffic to get back into France, the ‘Bon Dia’ returns in place of the ‘Bonjour’ and things return to a normal peaceful way of life....... until there is a break from the norm….an artisan beer festival no less and a break from this formulaic approach to festas.  

In a country where SuperBoc and Sarges rule, it is great to see some artisan beers, in fact, beer is becoming quite the thing in some parts of Portugal.  Peter and his friend Ferrie took a hit for the team and went to try out this new festa in celebration of hops.   

35 beers later, I think it was a success!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The great Portuguese bake off

I've tried and tried to make bread, it always comes out wrong. It can been too wet, too dense or rock hard and impossible to eat.   I bought Paul Hollywood's Bread book, I watched the Mary Berry masterclass and bitten my lip in jealousy as friends serve up their perfectly baked bread.

My friend Jackie from Casa Azul makes a great Focaccia which she always tells me is easy to do.  So I asked for a masterclass from her when she visited me recently.   Jackie favours the ready made bread flour recipe with easy bake yeast.  I want to go 'old school' with strong white bread flour and bakers yeast.

 Using the Paul Hollywood Focaccia  recipe we started the challenge.  Now I may favour the old school method, but kneading for 20 mins is not for me.  Not when I have a fancy new machine with fully functioning dough hook.

Yeh, it's silver too!

In the bowl both the mixtures needed longer than we though.   The old school method produced more elasticity, so much so that it reminded me of our building project (when will it ever end).  Can you spot the difference?

 Leaving the mixture for the first proving they looked the same - identical.

But when it came to taking off the cling film, we had two very different results.
Old school, full of bubbles, new school, smoother finish, had risen much more than the old school version.
The real difference was in the touch, you have to poke holes in the bread surface to pour over olive oil.  New school, while sticky, created nice holes and neatly held the olive oil.
Old school, looked like a dogs dinner.  The dough was so sticky you couldn't make indentations in it, in fact if made more bubbles come to the surface.  It didn't look good for the old school version!

You know that weird thing they do in the bake off, you know, they sit infront of the over watching it cook their showstopper.  Well we did that, then we got bored.  We forgot the oven was fan assisted, yeh, we overcooked  the new school ones a bit!  (new school on the left and old school on the right).


Cutting through the old school had a firmer crust.  The old school had a more traditional texture, more holes running throughout the bread.  The new school suffered from being on the top shelf of the oven and cooking too quickly and was more cakey in texture.

Now the taste school - cakey texture, slightly sweet (on fishing the packet out the bin we read that the ready mix bread has sugar in it).  It was light, salty, sweet and tasty.
Old school - much denser, a strong bready texture and you could smell the yeast coming through.  

So which is best...?   Not sure....the old school has a better texture, the new school has a good flavour. 

Both tasty, both salty, both smothered in olive oil....need I say more!