The Portugal Adventure – Into the Wild Blue Yonder

I looked at the thin envelope. Good news or bad? Was he going to dump me? Then I tore it open.

That undersized missive felt ominous as I opened the letter. Then I saw the rest of the story. The Portugal team was taking a group of teens to Germany for camp. Adult would driving the teens in vans and all of us would do some sightseeing along the way. Then he asked me the life changing question: would I come along on the road trip? Harry  would pay for my food and lodging.  If I could buy my airline tickets. It was my turn to have no words. I had a feeling, though, that we might be getting closer to the answers to my questions.

But now I had another question. Could I pay for the flight? Christian schools do not, on the whole, have money to throw about and I was certain that the airline would not take my word that I would pay when I had the money.  Reluctantly, I prepared to write a letter to tell Harry the sad news.

Then, my dad with puppy eyes in place, offered to buy my ticket. I was to pay him back when school started back up in the fall. So, I was left without excuse.

A travel agency in town took care of my passport photo and my travel arrangements. I had never flown anywhere on my own, and was all in a dither getting things together. No one wanted to drive me  to New York City, so I reserved an airport limo. Suitcases were procured and a good friend helped me shop for the gaps in my wardrobe.

Somehow I managed to keep both feet on the ground. At least until the day of departure. When the airport limo arrived it looked suspiciously like a van. But, we arrived at Kennedy Airport with time to spare. The direct flight to Portugal left in the early evening and I had adequate time to ponder Harry’s last letter.

The detailed information he had painstakingly written was astonishing. Customs had been carefully detailed. He could not come in to the airport and help me get through, but his directions lacked nothing. He added that I should try to sleep on the plane, because it would be a long day after I landed. Right. He signed the note simply, “I love you.” Given our history, I wasn’t sure what that meant.

The flight was about seven hours, and we were circling over Lisbon by 7 a.m. I peered out the window. The sun slipped over the horizon and bathed the city in red-gold beams.

Harry’s instructions were perfect. I passed through customs like a seasoned traveler. Before I could panic, he walked in the door. He beamed as he walked over to me, reached out his arm, and shook my hand.

Lisbon sunrise

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The Portugal Adventure – I Love Coffee, I Love Tea

It may have been the seven-hour flight over the Atlantic. Perhaps the loss of seven hours of my life added to it. I was in a place where my ability to speak English fluently was of minimal benefit. Or it could have been the shock of a handshake instead of the expected kiss factored into it.

My senses went on overdrive. It went beyond the whiff of diesel fumes. It was just something for which I had no olfactory memories. To this day, if you were to blindfold me, and open a jar full of Portuguese air under my nose, I would immediately iria começar a falar Português. The language reverberated in my ears. Sounding like a merging of Spanish and French. I kept trying to hear the conversation. Unsuccessfully! The golden orb in the azure sky gently warmed the morning without the harsh summer blast to which I was accustomed in the states.

Harry interrupted my reverie to ask if those two suitcases were all there was of my luggage. When I admitted that they were, he grinned and said, “I’ve never known a woman to travel with so little luggage.” Score? I thought I had brought a lot. It had seemed more than enough as I had dragged it through the airport. Was it meant as a compliment?

We stopped in front of a white car where Harry deposited my bags in the trunk.  As he put the key in the ignition, I noticed the flow of the traffic. The cars were small, and zipping around like they were practicing for Grand Prix of Monaco.  Suddenly, we were in the flow. Harry took me on a roundabout but short sightseeing excursion of which I remember little apart from my white knuckles. Then he announced that we needed to get moving. He was taking me to eat breakfast with some of the Portugal team.

We arrived in good time. As we stepped out of car, the door opened to a warm welcome. The field director’s wife had prepared an attractive continental breakfast which was reposing on the table.

I was the novelty of the month. Harry had a woman in tow, a wonder that no one had ever expected of Harry. And they expected me to talk. Now, nothing renders an introvert more incapable of conversation than a room full of new acquaintances whose curiosity is killing them. But Harry came to my rescue with a diversionary tactic. He asked for a teabag, then picked up the coffee pot and poured coffee it over his teabag.

 

Sopa da Galinha (Canja) Re-posted especially for Lucy who has a thing for soup.

Have you ever said, “It’s easy as pie.”? If you’ve ever made a pie from scratch, you know it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Portuguese saying is, “É canja!” It’s as easy as making chicken soup. I think making chicken soup is  than making a pie from scratch (let alone one made from flour, shortening, and all the rest). It does, however, take time to do it right. This is not a microwave recipe. But it is good. Additionally, a popular proverb states: “Cautela e caldos de galinha nunca fizeram mal a ninguem.” (“Caution and chicken broth never did anyone harm.”) This is a basic recipe. Most cooks have their own signature touches they put in their Canja.

Ingredients:
1 large stewing hen (You can make chicken soup with a fryer, but it does not come close to the rich flavor of a stewing hen.)

2 quarts of water
1/2 cup of rice
Salt and pepper to taste
My special touches: Italian parsley, garlic to your taste, one whole onion stuck with four or five cloves, a whole turnip or yellow turnip (also goes by rutabaga or swede) (not sliced or diced), a handful of fresh herbs tied in a bunch and dropped into the broth.

Wash the hen in cold running water. Remove the eggs (found inside the hen), liver, gizzard, feet and heart, and reserve them on the side. Put the hen in a large pot, and add the chicken’s feet, the water and salt or other seasoning you may like. Bring it to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the chicken is tender. This may take several hours. Skim off any foam that forms.

When the broth has reduced to   1/2 quarts, put the gizzard, liver, feet and heart into the broth. After 10 minutes, slowly add the rice. Cover the pot, and let it simmer for approximately 20 minutes, then add the chicken’s eggs and cook ten more minutes.

Take out the gizzard, heart, feet and liver. Put the feet to the side, and mince the rest with a knife. Put some in each soup plate along with some of the hen’s egg(s)  and some minced parsley before you add the broth and rice. Serve with fresh bread.

The Portuguese often use a soup as the first course of a meal, so there is no need to have the meat in your soup, though if you want it for a main dish, you may certainly add more meat. Or, you can use it to make something else.

For many of the older Portuguese women that I knew in Portugal, having a chicken was a rare Sunday treat under Salazar’s rule. That being the case, one would wish to make it stretch as far as possible. I never actually ate any chicken feet, but I was given to understand that it was an honor to be offered one of the feet.

Do you have a special recipe for chicken soup? Is this recipe easy?

Canja de Galinha

The Portugal Years: Year Five – Part 3, The Aftermath

It wasn’t just the television that we missed. My washing machine would not work without “light.” Not a happy thought with a toddler in terry cloth diapers being potty trained. Night came early in November and even earlier when there was “no light.” And there were the clothes and other items that we had stored in the garage under our flat, plus the stench from the mud and drowned livestock. Some of the baby clothes were irredeemable.

No refrigerator meant “to market to market” every day. Milk was the ultra-pasteurized in a box kind, which was better than nothing but did not taste like fresh milk. We were thankful for our propane gas cooker as we tried to create some  kind of “new normal.”  At least I could cook.  I read books to Bethy, and she played with her dolls and dressed up in my cast-off clothes to entertain herself.

The back garden was one deep puddle of river mud. The grasshoppers were not impressed. One sunny day my friend Ana Maria and I opened the windows on the varandas to help dry out the humidity. When we opened the windows, a five-inch-long grasshoppers hopped in. It was some time before I stopped freaking out. The back varanda was, for a time, abandoned.

One morning I decided that while the refrigerator was empty, I could easily clean the inside of it. It was large  for a the Portuguese appliance, but it was short enough that, at 5-feet 8-inches of height,  I could look over the top of it. I got a sponge and a bowl of soapy water and opened the refrigerator. Then I stepped back. The air carried the reek of death. I had missed one small package of chicken livers, and they announced their presence rather strongly.

I always started dinner early so I could have enough natural light to cook. When Harry arrived at home after the sun set – around 7 p.m. –  we ate. Since it was fully dark by that time, we rinsed the dishes and left them in the heavy-duty marble kitchen sink to wash in the morning. The ants, whose homes the flood disrupted, took a little longer to surface than the grasshoppers. I woke up four days into our adventure to a kitchen overrun by the displaced ants. Cleaning up the kitchen by candle light became our romantic evening activity.

We didn’t have to wait as long as Noah did for the flood to end; we had no electricity for only 12 days. I can sympathize with Mrs. Noah in the cleanup afterward though. Some of the things in the garage were salvageable. Thanks to the neighbor, we had our car. And we were not harmed (though we harmed a few ants and grasshoppers). Bethy’s last Christmas as an only child lay ahead, and 1984 would arrive just before her baby sister would arrive.

Mud
Mud

The Portugal Years – Year Three: The Lady Waits Again

Of course, in the general way of things, no one can really know when a baby will be born.  “Baby come when baby ready” they told me. Babies laugh at due dates, and this one was no exception. The due date was August 17. No one really explained that it was a guesstamate. What I really wanted was a firm promise that baby would move out on time. By the 17th, I had one dress into which I could fit – two if I didn’t breathe. And I waited.

The room and crib were ready for the baby. I made a blanket and curtains. The cat had inspected the facility and called it good. And I waited.

The days dragged by. I had my suitcase packed and repacked along with a bag for the baby. We had to tote our own baby clothes and diapers to the hospital. We bought a few dozen of soft, white terry cloth diapers which were fashioned in an almost square. Almost square is not the same as actually square, and they gave me fits trying to make them to have even sides. This was a world where Onesies had not yet invaded. And my parents were coming to visit at the end of August. Surely the baby would have exited by then? And I waited.

On the evening of August 26, the baby was creating a ruckus. Harry called the doctor in the morning and she told us to come in. The baby wasn’t quite as ready to meet us face to face as we had hoped, but given that I was already exhausted, the doctor opted to induce. It was a long, uncomfortable day. Harry was convinced that all babies were ugly, and I insisted that all babies are beautiful. It gave us a nice distraction during the ensuing hours. And I waited.

Then, things began to move. The nurse told me I was walking to the delivery room and assisted me over. At that point Harry decided that he needed a break from rubbing my back and giving me ice chips. He left to go find something to eat and almost missed the main event. He was there, though,  when, after the doctor delivered the  baby’s head, and I asked if it was a boy or a girl. When Harry finally saw her, he was smitten and said she was beautiful. Reliable witnesses stated that when they allowed him to wheel our little Elisabeth Louise to the nursery, his feet never once touched the ground. The waiting was over.

Bethy
Our Newborn Bethy – see that stubborn chin? Yeah. She takes after her mother.

Later they brought her to me and put her in my arms. I sat there fascinated by each perfect little fingernail. I was afraid to move, terrified of doing the wrong thing and thereby ruining her entire life. I loved her and was scared she would not like me. Harry said, “She’ll love you. Don’t worry.” I wasn’t convinced, but it turned out he was right. What I didn’t know was just how much my life would change.

New baby, new parents. Won't we have fun?
New baby, new parents. Won’t we have fun? Good times.

What are some of the big changes you’ve experienced in your life?

The Portugal Years: Rock-a-Bye-Baby, the Waiting Time

The private hospital in Lisbon.
The private hospital in Lisbon

Within two weeks I was certain that the baby was rockin’ and rollin’. Especially right around the time I should have been getting up every morning. It seemed like everyone had a cure for those queasy moments. I settled for a tin of crackers by my side of the bed where I could nibble a few before I had to stand up. By and by it passed and I had more energy. Meanwhile, I started reading all of the books I could find about the upcoming event!

We were amazed and dazed during this prenatal time. We could hardly believe it. We talked about baby names among other things. Harry magnanimously said I could name the baby if it was a girl, and he would name the baby if it was a boy. I let him think that.

Other times we discussed where we would go for prenatal care and the birth. Some of the Americans flew back to the states to have their babies. Some preferred the Red Cross Hospital where the personnel spoke English. Harry felt we would be well taken care of in the Hospital Particular de Lisboa (a privately run hospital as opposed to the national health care clinics). He had me call the hospital and make an appointment.

Doutor Purificação saw us the next week. She scheduled  an ultra sound and determined that the baby would be born around mid-August. We could see the heartbeat clearly, but not much else. Ultra sound was a relatively new diagnostic tool, and fairly primitive at the time.

Portuguese friends and Americans were excited with us. The field director’s wife made a beautifully embroidered maternity dress that was perfect for the summer weather. My parents began to make plans to fly to Portugal after the baby arrived. My Angolan neighbor was concerned that I was too thin and several times brought meals to me. I was still queasy when she brought a squid stew. The tentacles waved at me from the bowl, but I thought I needed to at least try it, and it was fabulous.

squid

Meanwhile, António Figueira was marrying his sweetheart, Ana Maria. So, on April 18th, 1981 so  we rode down to Beja to his the church there. The families had been cooking and baking for days getting read for the festivities. It was an amazing, but tiring day. The weather was warm, and we stopped at a café on the way home. It was the only coffee I drank during the waiting time.

casamento

What is the best wedding food you’ve ever eaten?