The Portuguese Years – Year Six: The Wonder Years

Birthday parties are well celebrated in Portugal. At least they were among the people we knew. Bethy, who was born in August, and other staff kids who had birthdays during camp time, always celebrated their special day at camp. Along with cake, there were other sweets and food. Along with the food there was general pandemonium during the space of a couple of hours.

Happy birthday to Bethy!
Happy birthday to Bethy!

After Susie’s birth, Bethy began to grow up quickly. She loved being Mother’s Helper. She began by learning how to stir the breakfast oatmeal and followed it up by learning to wash and dry dishes. Once she realized she had power to create peace in her room, she started putting things away. She helped me shop and clean house.

Mother's Little Helper.
Mother’s Little Helper.

Susie was very different. Her favorite place to be for quite a few years was wherever Mommy was at any given time or place. If I was there, she was fine. If I was not, she would not rest until she found me or until I cam home. Within that factor, she was an explorer of many things. If I was in the kitchen, she was in the kitchen. Eventually, I had to give her some of my plastic kitchen ward in self-defense.

Susie "helping" me in the kitchen.
Susie “helping” me in the kitchen

Susie learned to walk and then to run. She was most pleased with her self when she  could run back and forth on the varanda. Clearly, she was going places. But, she still stayed close to Mommy.

susie on varanda

In spite of  that, she did manage to get into her fair share of trouble. One day my friend was helping me clean. She called me to come to the bathroom. I often used my typewriter to write letters to supporters and to family and friends. Normally, I covered it up when I left it, but planned to return soon. Susie took advantage of my absence and decided to explore this machine in which Mommy had so much interest. I found her in the bathroom looking like this:

I can type like mommy.
I can type like mommy.

Between her and the young kitten, things were lively for quite some time. They played together, and they shared a hobby. Long before paper shredders were available, these two were paper terrorists. As soon as Susie was able to get around and grab a book to use for teething we made an executive decision to abandon the room that was our bedroom, move the bed into a different room and make the former bedroom the library.  Where we could put the considerable collection of books we had.

Can you imagine that these two could get into so much mischief?
Can you imagine how these two could get into so much mischief.

 

The Portugal Years – Year 1: Our First Christmas

Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted Chestnuts

In November, the weather was rainy and cold. Black umbrellas, black clothes and long nights were the new normal. We moved from fall into winter. Few Portuguese homes had insulation, and none that I knew of had central heating.

I started baking more often to keep the house warm. There was a portable gas heater, but I was concerned about it using up all the oxygen. We layered our clothes according to the temperature. Our tea kettle whistled often and we made tea. Being newlyweds, we didn’t need a good excuse for extra cuddling for warmth. And that was when we learned not to combine making tea with, um, cuddling.

One liter of milk
One liter of milk

By mid-December long lines of people were waiting patiently for their bacalhau (dried codfish).  Boiled dried codfish is a Portuguese Christmas tradition.  That year it was scarce.

The cows went dry in December as was their custom. Until then, we had been buying fresh milk in disposable plastic bags. Our only milk resource after that was boxes of milk with a shelf life. That was a shock to my culinary expectations.

chestnuts roasting
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

There were comforts for the season. One was roasted chestnuts. The smell of them roasting was a come hither fragrance. I’d never had them before, I but took to them like an ant does to sugar. Along the streets the vendors had their little brazier of chestnuts. They were an inexpensive treat that came wrapped in a paper cone, satisfied your hunger and warmed your hands.

About a week before Christmas, Harry borrowed a car and we went looking for a Christmas tree. We found a long-needled pine tree that we thought would look nice in our apartment. The ceiling was high, so we picked a tall tree. Too tall as it turned out. We cut it down, but it still brushed the ceiling. The next job was to decorate. All we had was a handful of ornaments that my former students had given me. What we did have were hidden in the pine needles. But, as long as Harry had his favorite cookies, he was good.

I was looking forward to the holiday break from language school. I had plans to read  books, play with my Samantha cat and just kick back. Didn’t happen. Right before Christmas day, Harry announced that he was coming home with a family of Americans who had just arrived. They would be working with a missions organization in Portugal and needed somewhere to stay until they found a place to live.

They were some of the most delightful folks I have ever met, but I was selfish. I really didn’t want to share our first Christmas together with anyone. Eventually, I got over it. Mostly. It wasn’t long until we become friends with them. But Harry and I did talk about how important it is to make sure that we communicate with each other before making major decisions. (We still haven’t agreed the definition of “major decision”.)

One other memorable thing happened that winter. In December, color television came to Portugal. And color TV created a revolution. When the favorite Brazilian dramas turned up in living color, the women’s clothing industry began to sell lighter, brighter clothing. And there I sat with all of my new dark wardrobe. 😀

Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera
Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera

What is your most memorable holiday that you’ve experienced? Why? (It can be any holiday, not just Christmas.)

pine

The Portugal Years – Year 1: Thanksgiving and My Curiosity (O dia de ação de graças)

The autumn days were pleasantly busy with language study and immersion in the Portuguese culture. We called family rarely –  it was very expensive. (And for the record, it took me a long time before I would even answer the phone  after I learned the proper way to greet someone: “Está?”(Are you there?) I was afraid they would expect me to understand them.  The temperatures crept down to “need a sweater and wool skirts.” And it rained often as is the custom of autumn weather in Portugal.

By the time November rolled around I was accustomed to purchasing meat from the butcher. In that shop where all of the bloody meat was hanging on hooks in the windows, I discovered that a pound of ground beef (ground on the spot) was a little less than a half of a Kilo. So, I asked for half a kilo to keep it simple. It took awhile to get used to it; it was very lean meat.

One of my adventures in cooking involved a cow’s tongue. (The cow was dead

Cow's Tongue
Cow’s Tongue

when I got the tongue in case you were worried). Like the elephant’s child, my curiosity had no end. I pulled out my trusty cookbook and fearlessly went where I’d never gone before. Harry got through that meal, but asked me politely to lose that recipe.

We lived near a farmer’s market that was open once or twice a week. Most of the food was produce – and it was lovely.

rabbit
Rabbits

One stall caught my eye week after week. They sold rabbits. I knew I had a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook that had a recipe for Hasenpheffer. One Saturday, my curiosity got the better of me again. I asked for 2 rabbits. The lady who owned the stall pulled two out of the cage, murdered killed them, and put them in a bag for me. I had a few queasy regrets as I carried the warm rabbits home in the bag. This experiment eventually turned out much better than the cow tongue. But I couldn’t bring myself to make it again. I did, however, start buying stewing hens when I wanted to make soup – I even put the eggs into the soup.

When Thanksgiving was just around the corner, I began looking at the turkeys in the butcher shop. They looked scrawny compared to the Butterball Turkeys I was used to eating. They were, however very good. (Long years later I learned about free range poultry – we never appreciated what we had when we had it.)  The Portugal team gathered together for the meal at our house. We were voted in because we had the most room and the biggest table. Everyone brought food that they liked when they celebrated Thanksgiving in the states. Of course we had turkey. Someone found a store that sold imported food and we had cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, vegetables, pumpkin pie – all were there in abundance. And there was one thing I’d NEVER seen at a Thanksgiving meal. Our secretary was from Miami, and she brought deviled eggs.

Turkey
Turkey

Have you ever had any extraordinary food adventures? What do you like to have on the table for it to be Thanksgiving?