Fleur-De-Half-Staff

Teasel Morning Light“Nice is nice.” Pronounced “Neese is nice,” it’s been my mantra the last few days. It is a line from Bonjour, Mr. Satie, one of our favorite books when my kids were young. It keeps reverberating in my mind. Nice is nice. Nice is nice. Nice is nice.

In Tomie dePaola’s enchanting book, worldwide traveler Uncle Satie visits his niece and nephew and tells them of a contest in Gertrude Stein’s Parisian salon to determine the better artist: Pablo (Picasso) or Henri (Matisse)?

I’m not exactly sure who says, “Nice is nice,” but I remember sitting on the kids’ beds reciting that line, in a very fake French accent, relishing the beauty and complexity of language. It is a children’s book that is a delight for parents. I can’t give any other details because the family copy is sitting on the bookshelf of a certain 2-year-old’s bedroom in Belgium.Teasel&Mt Nitt

The warm memories of reading Bonjour, Mr. Satie fill my heart, as do the recollections of walking along the palm-tree promenades and wandering through the flower market of Nice, enamored with bouquets of French blue agapanthus. Last week’s headlines, compounded by too many other devastating events, threaten my lighthearted thoughts.

How do we deal with the randomness of tragedy, the sickness of hatred, whether behind an assault weapon or a steering wheel? I can’t begin to comprehend the senseless slaughter, the loss, the utter inhumanity.Chicory&QA Lace

So I pull my bicycle out of the garage and escape. Pedaling clears the boggled brain and the heavy heart. Mother Nature never disappoints.

On my route, I appreciate the beauty of midsummer. A stand of teasel (Dipsacus) with Mount Nittany as a backdrop frames my view. The morning sun glows halos around the teasel combs. Nature’s chance planting of blue cornflowers (Cichorium intybus) and delicate umbels of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) creates a stunning border along Houserville Road.

Trumpets of lilies welcome me to a brief interlude, to rest and ponder over breakfast of homemade elderblossom water and a dripping ripe Pennsylvania peach. Life can be so simple, so delightful. Then, the flag is lowered to half-staff. Laurie LynchSelf Portrait

“Life is a tragedy full of joy.” Bernard Malamud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleur-De-BeyondPesto

Sometimes gardening in a yard—whether it is a city plot or several acres—is overwhelming.

Don’t throw in the trowel just yet. Try a grow box.

Basil Box

Basil Box

Last summer, in the Ag Progress Days high tunnel, Master Gardeners grew gardens in EarthBoxes. Our beverage box garden included lemon verbena, stevia, and chocolate and pineapple mints. Our south-of-the-border box featured chili peppers, basil and cilantro. Our Scarborough Fair box was planted with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Last summer and this, we offered classes on how to build your own self-contained growing system. Last winter, I babysat two of our EarthBoxes and was rewarded with fresh herbs all winter long.

I mentioned to Richard that I was going to be sad to see the Master Gardener EarthBoxes go. Before I knew it, a large package arrived in the driveway and I was the proud new owner of my very own EarthBox™ Gardening System. It comes ready to assemble, with container, potting mix, fertilizer, wheels, watering tube, screen, and instructions. The beauty of the box is that plants are bottom watered, and the water reservoir only needs to be refilled about once a week. Each EarthBox™, by the way, is made in the USA, and the company is headquartered in Lancaster, PA. Check it out at www.earthbox.com

As fate would have it, a mini-tornado blew the plastic off our Master Gardener high tunnel in February, so I am still babysitting the MG herb boxes. That gave me the luxury of making my EarthBoxes Basil Boxes, also known as portable pesto pocket gardens. One has a mix of Genovese and Salad Leaf basils. The other is dedicated to Salad Leaf basil, nothing else. I had the benefit of seeding the boxes long before I could plant outside and giving the basil babies a good start inside. When the weather warmed up, I moved the boxes outside. It wasn’t until yesterday that I set my horizons beyond pesto and realized I had a living, breathing, fragrant, self-contained, appetizer and cocktail oasis. Here’s the story:

We were invited to a party. The host and hostess supplied dinner and drinks. Guests were to bring appetizers or desserts. A lot of gardeners were invited to the party, so I wanted to bring something fresh, and easy. We found just the thing. We bought bamboo picks at Wegmans, as well as a container of mozzarella “pearls”. At Friday’s Farmers Market, we spotted multi-colored cherry tomatoes just harvested from a local a high tunnel. We slid a mozzarella pearl on the mini-skewer, then threaded one end of the Salad Leaf basil leaf, pierced a cherry tomato, wrapped the other end of the basil leaf up and looped it onto the pick, and then added another mozzarella pearl. They are lovely to look at—a simple salad on a stick.

Salad on a Stick

Salad on a Stick

With such easy preparation, we had time for an afternoon jaunt. We went to Tait Farm’s Summer Cocktails sampling with April Myers from Spat’s Café and Speakeasy in State College. I had never imbibed basil—until yesterday. April made MayBerry Cocktails and Sour Cherry Smash, both featuring basil as a muddling ingredient and even, as an infusion into vodka. I’m seeing my old friend basil in a whole new light. One basil box for pesto, the other for cocktails and salad sticks? Laurie Lynch

MayBerry Cocktail

½ oz. Tait Farm Strawberry Shrub

1 ½ oz. Basil-infused Vodka

Strawberries

Basil leaves

Ice

Club Soda

Muddle a strawberry and a basil leaf with the Strawberry Shrub. Add ice, vodka, and stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with a strawberry and basil leaf.

Poppy

Garden Poppy

For other recipes or to order Tait Farm Shrubs, check out www.taitfarmfoods.com

Garlic Mustard Update: I pulled as much as possible, and keep working at it. Just so you know we have a few pretty things growing, I took photo of a blooming poppy.

The Not-So Secret Garden Update: The firepit continues to be a go-to hotspot for evening conversation and contemplation.

Firepit

Richard’s Firepit

Written on Slate: “I live in the garden. I just sleep in the house.”

 

 

Fleur-de-Chainsaw

What is it about guys and chainsaws?

I can understand resurrecting your grandfather’s secret garden, increasing the size and height of the fire pit, and clearing fallen trees. I appreciate creating focal points with sculptures that Nonno chiseled many, many years ago in an art class. I respect the need for mood lighting, a nook to stack firewood, and a few gnomes.

But what about the garlic mustard?

I swear I patiently explained the need to pull the dastardly weed popping up in every flowerbed that skirts the house and the woods that surround the yard. I actually demonstrated at the pond garden, bagging the pesky plants, suffocating them in black plastic.

First year plants

First-year plants

Alliaria petiolate, aka garlic mustard, is a vigorous biennial. To a garlic lover, there is a certain attraction to garlic mustard. Crush the stems or leaves, and you smell that delicious garlic fragrance. That’s probably why it was brought from Europe to Long Island, NY, shortly after the Civil War. But the plants invaded the northeast and headed west, forming dense colonies, crowding out forest trilliums, trout lilies, wild ginger, native orchids, and even oak seedlings. Garlic mustard also inhibits beneficial soil fungi, damaging the forest ecosystem. The plants survive and thrive in wet or dry soil, shade or sun, and deer don’t like to eat them, so they run rampant.

The first year, garlic mustard looks like an innocent rosette of round-toothed leaves. That is also when it is said to be tastiest. But EARLY in the second year, March and April, it shoots up erect flowering stems with white, four-petal flowers. If garlic mustard is in or beyond the flowering stage when you first notice it, pull it out, root and all, bag, and dispose of it. If left undisturbed, each flower could produce a needle-like capsule filled with hundreds of seeds.

A dangerous tree was leaning precariously into the yard. Out came the chainsaw. So proud of the sacking of a giant locust tree, Richard found the tape measure—100 feet tall—and took a picture to post on Facebook.

So what about the garlic mustard?

He had a job at a local brewery.   He is his Nonna’s almost-constant companion. He prepares lunch and often dinner. He takes his Nonna for nightly cruises down College Avenue and back on Beaver so the 87-year-old social butterfly can “see if there is anything going on.” He goes to the post office and supermarket, making my work day shorter. The chainsaw went into the repair shop. I had hope.

Then we got the darn rain. More rain. And more rain. He had a tonsillectomy. He was out of the labor force for two weeks. The sun came out.

The garlic mustard went to seed.

Needle-Like Seedpods

Needle-like seedpods

If breaking a mirror is seven years of bad luck, garlic mustard going to seed easily matches that. Estimates are that each plant produces up to 8,000 seeds. When they ripen in mid-summer, the pods eject the seeds several feet from the stem. Those seeds can live in the soil for five to seven years.

Garlic mustard is considered an invasive plant from Maine to Washington State. At a nature preserve in Wisconsin, they hold annual Garlic Mustard Pull-A-Thons. Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia has volunteers participate in a Garlic Mustard Challenge—Eat It to Beat It—is the slogan. Their goal for 2016 is disposing of 20,000 pounds of the plants. The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council has a website which offers recipes for Garlic Mustard Ricotta Dip or Stuffed Garlic Mustard Leaves. Why, some entrepreneurs even make an Invasive Weed Pesto out of batches of garlic mustard. If only I could get Richard interested in the culinary aspects of garlic mustard.

On the way to my asparagus patch, there it was: a colony of garlic mustard surrounding a tall spruce where I rest my shiitake logs. I started yanking, piling the fallen soldiers into a bag without remorse, yanking some more. Finally, I could see the trunk of the tree. Where were my shiitake logs?

The Chainsaw-He-Man struck again. My two 4-foot tall shiitake logs were turned into four 2-foot-long campfire logs, with just the buzz of a chainsaw. Please, what about the garlic mustard?  Laurie Lynch

Chainsaw Dude

Chainsaw guy in action

Written on Slate: “The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure.” –Tibetan Proverb

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Turnover

I never noticed the backside of a pansy until the other day, sitting on the porch at Café Lemont. Green stars on a background of floral moonlight in broad daylight.

Get your politically incorrect mind out of the gutter. I’m talking horticulture, nothing else.

Pansy Stars

Pansy Stars

Now pansy stars, as I will call them in very non-horticultural terminology, don’t show up with so much contrast on the deep marine blue pansies I usually choose. I also wouldn’t have noticed them had I sat in my seat on the porch at Café Lemont. It’s the one near the front door, just above the front steps where I park my bike. If anyone dare try to steal it, flower basket and all, I’d leap down the steps and block his/her escape.

I chose a different seat. I wanted to sit shielded by the graceful dogwood branches to be able to cup my hand around the gorgeous rhododendron blossoms. (The Rhodies are exquisite this year, aren’t they?) After tenderly fondling a flower head, I turned and saw, with wonder, the pansy stars.

Why do I spend so much time sitting on Café Lemont’s front porch? In the beginning, there seemed to be a direct connection from that porch to my kids in Belgium. I’d sit there, think of them; be with them. It’s also the two-thirds mark for my home-to-Houserville-to-Lemont-and-back-home bicycle loop—a good place to stop and rest before the dreaded “Cemetery Hill.” And, there is the coffee. The food. The baristas. But truth be told, I stop there to contemplate life even when the café is closed. I just bring my own water bottle.

There are certainly more peaceful places to sit. The porch overlooks the only traffic light in Lemont, a busy intersection that takes people to Oak Hall quarry and Boalsburg, Houserville, the College Township Municipal Building (and a mile or so away, Penn State campus), Hills Plaza or the Nittany Mall. You get the idea—lots of noisy traffic. There’s Mayes Memorial, catty-corner from the café, where you can choose your tombstone, complete with a marble golfer statue if you’d like. (Cemetery Hill is just a shagged ball’s distance from Centre Hills Country Club fairways.)

Pretty Faces

Smiling Pansy Faces

The back deck at my mom’s home is filled with nothing but birdsong, blue sky and greenery.

I sit on the porch of Café Lemont and think: They should install a bicycle pump station for those of us who take off on a ride without checking our tire pressure. They should paint the “ceiling” of the porch sky blue to brighten all of the cloudy days in Happy Valley. They should serve bite-sized goodies with every cup of coffee as they do in Belgium. They should make a huge pot of old-fashioned oatmeal and microwave individual servings rather than serve pasty “quick” oats. (I do love the steamed milk in a teapot that accompanies the oatmeal, though.)

Then, it occurred to me. I can detail all of the small changes I’d make to Café Lemont because I don’t have to follow through with any of them. My to-do list from that porch is a blank sheet of paper.

On my mom’s deck, the coffee is made by me, there are bills to pay, laundry to wash, weeds to pull, seedlings to water, grass to mow, branches to prune, herbs to harvest, patio to weed-whack, a fallen tree to move…you get the picture. Happy Memorial Day. Laurie Lynch

Caffeinated Flashback: The other day, while standing in line at Café Lemont, a young woman at the head of the line turned to me and said, “Laurie?” Right person, wrong setting. It took me a while to register who she was—a former customer, Destiny, who wrote an article about Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market as part of her KU Master’s Degree class. Years ago I gave her a pre-wedding pesto-making lesson. On this day, she introduced me to her husband, and he said, “Oh, the slate lady.” (I gave them a Written on Slate slate as a wedding gift.) They were getting to-go cups of coffee for their trip back to the Lehigh Valley. I quickly introduced them to my mom and son.

Life with Richard: Richard has been visiting for a couple months and will return to Belgium for his daughter Lais’ 2nd birthday and to start his Master’s degree in International Business at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in the fall. He worked at a local craft brewery in State College long enough to decide it wasn’t his true passion, helped me take care of his Nonna, and had his tonsils removed.

The other week, as I was setting up for our Master Gardener Plant Sale, he texted: Can you make apricot turnovers to take to dinner tonight? We were going to a party and he offered to bring dessert.

They take two days to make. I’ll bake cranberry upside-down cake. It’s easy and I have all ingredients, I texted back, with more than a few texting errors, I’m sure—I blame my lack of texting skills on my big farming fingers. Anyway…

Richard really has had apricot turnovers on the brain. This weekend, while he was recovering from his tonsillectomy, how could I refuse? We chopped and soaked the apricots, then made the pastry to refrigerate over night.

The next morning, Richard asked, “When was the last time you made apricot turnovers?”

“I was about to say, ‘I can’t remember the last time I made apricot turnovers,’” I replied. I make them so seldom that I have to relearn the tricks my grandmother Nene taught me. I forget them until I’m elbow deep in flour and pastry. Then the secrets return, often in Nene’s whisper.

Chop the apricots, the recipe card reads. To Nene, ”chop” meant “mince.” To me, it means, “chop,” which is never fine enough. Next time, we will use the food processor, I told Richard. That way the filling will be smoother and thicker.

The chopped and soaked apricots were boiled with flour and sugar and stirred until they became a thick, jam-like consistency. Then, the filling needed to be cooled. Oh, I forgot about the cooling stage. An hour’s wait before we could start preparing the turnovers for the oven.

“This is why, after making a big holiday dinner and washing all of the dishes, I’d groan when cousin Wille suggested, ‘Let’s make apricot turnovers.’”

“And I’d chime in, ‘Yeah, good idea.’” Richard said, with a heaping helping of irony.

An hour later, I rolled out the first handful of pastry dough on a floured board.

“I never would have thought of baking cottage cheese,” Richard said. (The pastry for the turnovers is made of flour, shortening, egg yolks and cottage cheese.)

“Me neither.”

The squares we cut stuck to the board.

“I guess we need more flour,” I said, scraping off the pastry and getting ready to add more flour to the surface before trying again.

Finally, success. For the next batch, I had Richard try. He rolled the pin cautiously, with little jerking motions.

“Put some muscle into it,” I said. “Long strokes, stretch the pastry out,” I heard Nene say.

We spaced the triangles onto baking sheets, 15 minutes in the oven, and then onto a cooling rack. Into the oven went another set of baking sheets.

Nonna danced into the kitchen, sampling a turnover as it cooled on the rack. “Mmmmm, very good.”

“They’re not done yet. We have to put the powdered sugar on them,” Richard scolded.

We placed a layer of cooled turnovers on a platter and Richard shook a canister filled with confectioner’s sugar over them. Then, another layer of turnovers, and another dusting of powdered sugar.

When we finally finished, we had several plates of apricot turnovers to eat and share. “Maybe you should take a picture and send it to Marina.”

“I already told her we were making them. I think she’s getting homesick. A photo would be too cruel.” Well, on second thought…

Apricot Turnovers

Apricot Turnovers

 

Fleur-de-Mom’sDay

It isn’t often I turn down an invitation for a restaurant meal. This year, Mother’s Day weekend was one of those times.

Hallmark, the florist industry and academia collided when Mother’s Day coincided with Penn State graduation—10,000 celebrating graduates, their parents, and their siblings converged on State College, snarling traffic, swarming sidewalks, swamping take-out delivery orders, and stuffing restaurants. What’s a mother to do?

Usually, it’s not an issue.

Marina and Richard have both chosen Belgium as their home base, so Mother’s Day consists of blown bisous via Skype. But this spring, Richard came back to Pennsylvania for a visit.

So we had a Sunday afternoon conference.

My mom was unusually pessimistic. “Are we going to have to knock on doors to find something to eat?”

“Nonna, when have you ever gone hungry? It’s Mother’s Day, Grandmother’s Day and Great Grandmother’s Day. We want to do something special.” Richard replied.

We scanned the CDTs listing of Bites & Beverages, thinking we could avoid the crowds at a restaurant on the outskirts of town. Heck, Friday night Nonna wanted to go “out and about” so we drove to Altoona for a case of Saucony Creek Belgian-Style Tripel. Extravagant, yes, but closer than driving to the craft brewery in Kutztown. On a lazy Sunday, nothing appealed. All we did was find typos in the restaurant listings—Snow Show, PA for Snow Shoe, PA, and Carnegre Crabcakes at the Carnegie House.

So, we decided to eat at home. Richard had a package of frilly fettuccine squid ink pasta from Fasta and Ravioli Co. that he wanted to try. We figured we’d buy some seafood, but what sauce? Tomato would mask the squid ink and Richard wanted something jazzier than olive oil, garlic and cilantro. He started checking out recipes. Anything with “clam juice” grossed him out. The thought of tartar sauce on pasta did the same for me. What about Lobster Bisque as a sauce? Richard asked. It just might work.

So, we headed to Wegmans in search of the bisque and gifts from the sea.

Mother’s Day Dinner a la Richard

2 lbs. mussels (steamed in 2” salted water for about 3 minutes, until they pop open). Remove from shells

1 lb. scallops, sautéed in olive oil & garlic powder

32 oz. (2 lb.) Wegmans’ Lobster Bisque

12 oz. Squid Ink Pasta, boiled 3-5 minutes

Asiago cheese, grated

Parsley, chopped the Belgian way (leaves stuffed in a coffee mug and snipped with scissors) by Nonna

Add cooked mussels and scallops to heated lobster bisque. Boil pasta until al dente, drain, and toss with olive oil. Place pasta in bowl and ladle seafood sauce on top. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley, and serve with a nice glass of La Marca Prosecco. Laurie Lynch

Luffa Discs

Luffa Discs

Keeps on Giving: Leftovers are often my favorite meals, and this dinner was no exception. We had enough sauce for Monday’s meal. We added lightly steamed asparagus to the re-heated sauce and poured it over rice. Mmmmm.

Special Delivery: Last September I wrote about a pizza party at McBurney Manor in McAlevy’s Fort. Nancy Yoder has expanded her bake house offerings and now delivers artisan breads and pre-baked pizza crusts to several locations in Central PA including a natural food market on the way home from my office.

Well, the other week we bought Nancy’s pizza crusts and went wild in the kitchen. On the first, we loaded up with Ricotta and Romano cheeses, asparagus shavings, halved cherry tomatoes, and chunks of sardines. We topped the second with tomato sauce, roasted eggplant, pepperoni, and Mozzarella. I’m still trying to figure out which was my favorite.

Gardening Road Trip: The Centre County Master Gardeners’ 2016 Garden Fair and Plant Sale will be Saturday, May 21, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Rock Springs, Penn State’s Ag Progress Days site, southwest of State College. Author George Weigel is the celebrity speaker at 10 a.m. with Smart Gardening: When To Do What To Keep Your Yard Looking Great (or at Least Passable) and at 12:30 p.m., Amazing Space: Great Home Gardens and What Makes Them Special.   At 11 a.m., Carla Hass, senior lecturer with the PSU Eberly College of Science and Master Gardener, will present Good Bugs/Bad Bugs.

We will have more than 5,000 plants for sale, a Silent Auction and Garage Sale, and more than 25 garden and food vendors. Yours truly will be selling luffas and seedlings from our 2015 High Tunnel project to benefit the Ag Progress Days Demonstration Garden. Hope to see you there.

Fleur-de-Fork

Language barriers melt away when it comes to good food.

Cataplana

Cataplana

I did my research. Before arriving in Southern Portugal I knew Cataplana on the menu equates to a luscious stew. Also, thanks to our Brazilian Rotary Exchange student from years ago, Celso Santin, I knew another important Portuguese word: Obrigada, (thank you). If you are a male, you say Obrigado.

A cataplana is a copper steamer shaped like a clamshell with a hinge on the back and clamps on either side. A bunch of tasty ingredients, such as garlic, onion, olive oil, wine, and vegetables are steamed and simmered in the cataplana on a stove. If you are making the traditional Algarve specialty, you would add ameijoas (clams) and pork. But that’s just the beginning. Cataplana can be made with bacalhau (salted cod), camaraoes (prawns), mexilhoes (mussels), espadarte (swordfish), any fresh catch of the day.

Some restaurants offer simpler fare. For shellfish pulled from the sea that morning, lots and lots of garlic and cilantro were the two magic ingredients in many of the dishes we tried. Spending much of my life in land-locked Pennsylvania, I had a lot of seafood “firsts” in Portugal. Langueirao (razor clams) were on the menu and I just had to try them. On childhood beach walks in Avalon, NJ, razor clam shells were so ordinary that we didn’t collect them. In Portugal I was chewing on razor clam meat in a broth of garlic and cilantro, and loving it.

Lemon

Fresh lemons everywhere

I had never eaten polvo (octopus) before. In Portugal, octopus salad, with garlic, green peppers, and light vinaigrette, was served before several meals. Mmmm.

Bacalhau and borrego (lamb) are always on the menus (if Portuguese cook lamb a dozen ways, they prepare cod a hundred ways), as were grilled sardinhas. Grilled sardines are always on the menu but only in restaurant kitchens between May and October. One patient waiter explained that fresh sardinhas are not “fat enough” until May, at which time they are grilled over coals and eaten like corn on the cob (the spine being the cob). We settled for tinned sardinhas—in oil, tomato sauce or piri-piri (olive oil with hot red chili peppers), or as a pate—as a staple for our picnics along with bread and cheese, all from our neighborhood Intermarche, Pingo Doce, or Supermarcados. And, yes, I pull out the spines.

Sardines

Only in Portugal, sardine postcard

One menu entry that always gave me trouble was Cacao. My eyes were always drawn to it because I saw chocolate…but it was actually translated as “dogfish.” I had heard of Delaware’s Dogfish Head craft-brewed beers, but never the dogfish fish. And I still haven’t tasted it, unless it was one of the mystery fish in the half-dozen cataplana meals I devoured.

State College is no hotbed of seafood, so I doubt I’ll be trying many Portuguese recipes, but I sure brought back some cooking methods.

Cilantro and garlic is going to be my go-to summer duo. I’ve already tried a new way of preparing batatas doces (sweet potatoes). Sauté, ever so lightly, chunks of garlic in olive oil while the potatoes bake to an incredibly soft stage. Pour the sweet garlic and olive oil over the sweet potatoes. Heaven. (Before Portugal, I never thought of putting garlic on sweet potatoes.)

One night in Faro, when I needed a break from hearty seafood stew, I tried a salad of black-eyed peas with tuna, simply prepared with cilantro, garlic, and lemon juice. It is so refreshing and such an easy meal to re-create.

In honor of above-mentioned Celso, we selected a restaurant in Vila Nova de Milfontes called Tasco do Celso (Celso’s Tavern). The tavern had dark paneling, a slowly burning fire in the fireplace, a delicious dinner, dessert, and coffee. When we thought we had maxed out, our waiter brought a bottle of Licor de Bolota and poured each of us a cordial. Another first—acorn liqueur—and on the house. Obrigada times two.

Belem

Koen & Marina

Drinking in Portugal is incredibly inexpensive. On our picnic supply forays to the local supermarkets we always stocked up on a few bottles of vinho or porto. We spent about 2 Euros per bottle of vinho, a little more for porto, and never had a bad bottle or a hangover. The Romans gave the Alentejo region the tradition of fermenting and storing wine in clay jars called talhas. March was off-season for touring vineyards. We saw miles of wire trellis with stubs of pruned-back grapevines, piles of prunings ready to be burned, and a few decorative talhas marking gated entries.

As for liqueurs…I love the Portuguese spelling of the word—l-i-c-o-r—the way it should be spelled, not all of those damned Qs and Us and Es. When one shopkeeper gave us a taste of Licor de Poejo, he explained it was an herb that grew wild in the fields of the Algarve. Marina and I both got a bottle; mine made it onto Ryanair—hers is somewhere in the postal system between Portugal and Belgium…good luck! When we got home, we found out Licor de Poejo is made of organic pennyroyal (mint) with fig brandy and sugar.

In Lisbon, they have bars where they only sell one licorGinjinha or simply Ginga. Made of wild, sweet cherries, Ginga is offered in plastic shot glasses, so you can sip as you walk along the Tagus River at sunset.

We went to Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most southwestern point of Portugal, a place the Romans considered the edge of their world, a mystical place where the sun sank, sizzling into the endless ocean. At a gift shop with shelves of licor, I decided to look for some acorn liqueur, but I didn’t know how to say “acorn” in Portuguese. I began to mime with loud, slow English. “Oak tree,” “Very big,” I continued, spreading my arms out, with “nuts with a cap,” I said, patting my head with my hand. The shop clerk got a pad of paper and a pencil. She sketched an acorn. “Yes!” She turned around and took a flask of Licor de Bolota off the shelf. Sold.

Licor de Bolota tastes like hazelnut liqueur. It is made from the fruit of the Holm or Stone Oak, Quercus rotundifolia. The acorns are also said to be a favorite of foraging pigs, imparting a delicious flavor to Portuguese pork.

A few words on coffee: Guidebooks say the Portuguese word for espresso is bica, but I prefer regular coffee with cream, so I winged it. I’d say café or latte or cappuccino and get the point across. One old curmudgeon looked at me and said, “black or white?” That distilled things pretty quickly. Regardless, coffee in Portugal is always served with packets of sugar —they must like it sweet—and occasionally, coffee was served with a plastic wrapped Pau de Canela/Canela en Rama/Baton de Cannelle/Cinnamon Stick.

breakfast

Pasteis de Nata for breakfast

My favorite accompaniment to coffee, by far, is a custard tart, Pasteis de Nata, from Pasteis de Belem.

Last word on the language: I quickly picked up on bom dia, good day, and said it to everyone. Words like mercado (market), centro (center of town), parque (that’s easy), and pastelaria (bakery where they sell pasteis de nata) were quickly absorbed into my vocabulary. The only time my lack of Portuguese language skills really had me concerned was the morning we were leaving Campinho.

A white van cruised through town, its loudspeaker blaring what seemed like an important message. I don’t know if it was warning of an alien invasion, telling us not to vote for Donald Trump, announcing an upcoming bullfight, or simply telling us to put recyclables on the curb. We loaded up Tinto and skedaddled. Laurie Lynch

May is for Sardines: When I got back home, I scanned for Portuguese recipes written in English. I found the website: http://saomarcosdaserra.com The title of this recipe made me smile. Of course I won’t be planting beans until June, but by mid-summer Peixinhos da Horta should tide me over until my next visit to Portugal.

Peixinhos da Horta

Little Fishes from the Vegetable Garden

1 kg green beans

2 cloves garlic

6 eggs

70 g onions

200 g flour

Salt and olive oil to taste

Cut beans into thin strips, about 15 cm long. Boil in salted water until half-cooked. Make batter with flour, a little water, eggs (beaten well), chopped onion and chopped garlic. When batter ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together, add beans and stir until completely covered with batter.

Fry beans in olive oil. Serve with a fresh lettuce and tomato salad.

Fleur-de-Calcada

You can’t help but look down when you walk in Portugal—it is like strolling on the walls of a museum. Sidewalks are not merely utilitarian; they are decorative works of art. As for the plazas and squares, we’re talking mosaic masterpieces.

Faro Fleur-de-Lys

Faro Fleur-de-Lys

Calcada Portuguesa is what they call it, Portuguese Pavement. The cultural art form enlivens block after block in the capital city of Lisbon and transforms movement in tiny villages from mundane trips to the banco or farmacia into scenic, hand-cobbled passages.

Calcada Portuguesa is a walk made with white/light gray stones only. Craftsmen use 5-inch cubes of limestone pavers, not tiles. The more decorative walkways add contrasting black basalt cubes and intricate patterns, and are called Calcada Portuguesa Artistica.

Evora

Evora Plaza

The story goes that Portugal’s first decorative stonework of came about as a result of an order given to prison inmates at Lisbon’s Castelo de Sao Jorge in 1842. The general wanted to keep the men busy, so he had them pave the courtyard in a zigzag pattern. Soon after that, Lisbon’s Rossio Square was paved in a wave pattern. Within 50 years, Lisbon’s town council made Calcada Portuguesa mandatory. From there, the cobblestone art spread throughout country and even to Portuguese colonies, from Rio de Janeiro to Macau.

The cobble design is practical—rainwater percolates into the ground rather than flooding city drains. It also allows for thermal expansion, and is easy to repair and excavate to access buried services. But Calcada Portuguesa has its downside.   As the surface of the stones are worn down by pedestrians, they get slippery. Walking around Lisbon, especially on hills, I’d hold Marina’s arm and say, “I’d hate to walk on this when it is icy” and catch my lack of logic…Lisbon doesn’t have icy winters. Wearing high heels would be treacherous; I’m thinking Yaktrax might be a good strategy for a long-term stay.

Shopping Promanade Faro

Shopping Promenade

Visually, the Calcada Portuguesa is captivating. As the daughter of a building contractor, I thought to myself, “I’d love to know how they make these sidewalks.”

In Odemira, I bumped into a wish come true.

We were looking for a Wi-Fi spot to make hotel arrangements and were pointed in the direction of the Biblioteca Municipal (town library) set high on a hill. At the base of the hill, there were men working on a walkway. They used pointed hammers to chip corners of the cobbles as they laid them by hand on a compacted bed of sand. Each stone was hammered into place. Another fellow would use a stiff push broom to spread damp sand over the top, filling in any spaces. I felt honored to photograph the calceteiros hard at work. Laurie Lynch

Placing

Hammering into place.

Adding Sand

Finishing touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfama

The Portuguese Pavement that became a mural, Alfama, Lisbon.