About Wine

We learn things from drinking wine. Probably, the first one is: don’t drink too much. If you cannot control the amount and frequency, you shouldn’t drink at all.

Besides, this is what I have learned:

. You have to change and try different wines.

. You have to have a memory of tastes, so that you can create a space between wines and recognize similarities and differences.

I think this is the main I learned so far.

Travelling and Cooking

One good thing about travelling is the chance to vary our food routines. We learn about different dishes, tastes and savoir faire. I found myself thinking about such things because my “chef” Tieta is trying to get a new ID card, something quite painful around here, and I was standing for her in the kitchen.

My lunch included:
. red beans soup with squash and spinach;
. tomato and lettuce salad;
. cod croquettes (pastéis de bacalhau);
. patatas bravas.

In short, it’s all about Spanish and Portuguese cuisine, places where I’ve been recently. I just wonder: if I had visited Thailand, would I be cooking tom kha instead?

Against Fake Promises and Crowded Spaces

I am against deceitful advertisement. Last Thursday, instead of coming up with some idea for Tales From the Sea, I visited a restaurant. Lately, I am into jazz. I just don’t know where the inclination came from… I suppose jazz is big right now or will be in times to come.

The restaurant in question advertised jazz and jazz we got. But such a shy presence and quantity! I was disappointed with that advertised part of the restaurant. The rest – place, food, service and atmosphere – was very okay. Company was brilliant. I don’t like when people advertise something that we don’t get. That’s all I have to say.

Actually, I have something to add. Two days after that we went to a sunset café. It used to be quiet and private. Things changed. Now it’s busy and crowded. The café is prospering. The sunset is fading away.

We Like It Hot

When one has a chef for so long as Tieta, only two things happen: 1) Food gets boring. 2) Food gets fantastic. To be honest, both boring and fantastic happen around here.

Even though I love curry, I wouldn’t have realized how good Tieta’s chicken curry had become if not for the opinion of friends and requests for the recipe. Well, I also have a role in the process, since I am the coconut blender and the curry powder mixer. I also underline the importance of the coconut and coriander. So here you have our chicken curry:

Hot Chicken Curry
1 chicken (2 to 4 people) cut into small to medium portions
2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 portion of salt
2 gloves of garlic
1 large onion
1/2 chopped green or red pepper (no skin)
1 good portion of curry powder
2 tablespoons of any good tomato (or 2 chopped tomatoes)
1 large coconut
1 generous portion of fresh coriander

Curry Powder
1 to 2 large tablespoons of a good commercial curry powder (medium or hot)
1 small portion (coffee spoon or less) of ginger powder
1 small portion of turmeric
1 small portion of allspice ground
1 small portion of cloves (powder or as they are)
1 small portion of cayenne pepper
1 small portion of paprika
1 small portion of zhoug blend
1 or 2 bay leaves
Mix together and use it over the chicken in the early stages of cooking. I vary the portion depending on the season and the curry. Just as an example, I tend to use more ginger with chicken, more cloves and bay leaves with meat or more turmeric and paprika with prawns.

Coconut milk
Cut the coconut flesh into small cubes and carefully use the blender and hot water to produce the milk. You can use the soft brown skin. Drain it, preferably with a clean cloth, and purr it into the pan.

1. Rub and marinate the chicken portions with crushed salt and garlic.
2. In a large pan, let the chopped onion gently fry in a little bit of oil.
3. Still gently, the chicken cooks for 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Add the curry powder.
5. Add the pepper and tomato.
6. Add the coconut milk and gently stir until boiling (mainly the surface). From then on, stir it from time to time. It gets clotted if unattended or covered. Actually, you cannot cover the pan until the curry is completely cold.
7. Finally, 10 minutes or so before creamy and ready, rectify the salt and add the chopped coriander. Should be ready at least half an hour before the meal and it’s even more creamy and delicious the next day. Serve with basmati rice and the usual complements and enjoy it!

I Still Remember

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It’s that time of the year when we read about exceptional restaurants. I like exceptional and expensive restaurants. I visited quite a few. The difference between a really good restaurant and an average one is like the difference between expensive clothing and the rest available out there. I bought both so I know the difference. Average clothing asks for a little of attention, like searching for imperfections or cutting all the lines hanging everywhere.

It’s difficult to find “lines hanging” in good restaurants, but let me tell you: they are not mistake proof. I will never forget that I got really sick after eating in one of the most exclusive restaurants in Europe.

In terms of European food, I bet in Italian (north). The freshness and quality is way above average. I was lucky to find a good restaurant where I had the most wonderful meals. Good food is addictive. We keep coming. I intend to return. Lucky me, it is miles and miles away or I would be incredibly fat by now.

Nevertheless, when someone asks me about the best meal I ever had, I won’t answer a fancy name or even the amazing Italian restaurant I was just talking about. My best meal ever was at a humble road stop. I was with a group of male and female friends. We had stopped for a drink and one of the girls said she was hungry. The owner said his wife was at the kitchen, where she prepared meals, not at the costumer’s request but whatever she was in the mood to cook.

We entered the kitchen. I cannot remember her face. She must have been middle age or older. It was a cold winter in the hinterland. The kitchen felt warm and inviting. We sat at a wooden table. A wooden fire burned in the grate. She was frying chips with fragrant olive oil. Without any question or observation, she put a dish in front of each of us. It was pretty simple: pork roast and fries. We couldn’t stop eating. It was like a sortilege. She was a witch and we were under her spell.

Recently I talked about that experience to a friend. She told me I must have been very hungry. I don’t think so. I’ve been hungry many times and I don’t have a single idea of what I had. It could have been the warmth of the kitchen. It could have been the company. It could have been a million things. The fact remains as it is: my best meal ever was at a humble road stop in the middle of nowhere.

You Make Me Feel Hungry…

I am not a disciplined eater. I don’t opt always for healthy and I lack appetite for most of the foods. Because of that, I rely on supplements and even those are easily forgotten.

However, this is what makes me feel particularly hungry:

A good book or a good movie. Bad ones make me feel sleepy…

Family. Gatherings are food events…

The idea of death. Proving that food has a destructive side…

Sex. Before during or after…

Italy. Not the usual pizza corner, obviously…

Solitude. I worry about food when I am alone, because I am afraid I’ll forget it.

Red wine. Because I only drink when I eat, sometimes I enjoy eating only because there’s also a glass of wine.

Aromas from kitchens or bakeries on cold days. I’ve entered places and knocked at doors because of such aromas… What about you?

(The image is about a favorite: a fish soup I invented, following a basic chicken soup recipe. It requires an absurd quantity of coriander.)

Antonia and the Virtues of Baking

I am the granddaughter of someone I regard as one of the best chefs ever. Regrettably, compared to her skills, I am just an average cook. I have phases. Lately they are less and less frequent, since I work day and night.

More than a simple gesture of doing things with pots and pans, cooking is surrounded with tantalizing memories and precious stories. I still remember sinful aromas and the dark room where my grandmother Antonia kept the final product of her baking. It was a bit irritating for us, children, to see the perfection of her cakes and cookies, since we were only allowed to feast on her rare mistakes. Because she never talked with other people or visited family and friends, I believe she inherit from her mother or grandmother the recipes she knew. She lived recluse at home, with two single daughters, managing her rather successful kitchen business. Her house used to be wealthy, before her husband, my grandfather Jacques, suffered an accident and changed his activity from businessman to addicted gambler.

I’ve been remembering grandmother Antonia since Christmas, the perfect baking time of the year. I don’t own my grandmother recipes. I just try to reproduce them. I shall always remember how she cooked and what she cooked. Probably, I feel guilty because I picked other recipes for my Christmas baking. This one I found while reading a newspaper. It wasn’t ingredients or method. I felt attracted by the story surrounding it. Surprisingly, this recipe never fails. It also proves that cooking somehow is related with our grandmothers.

On one occasion, during WW II, this lady’s grandmother took shelter in the doorway of a little bakery. Another woman took shelter there and they got to talking. Her son was fighting in Egipt and she regularly sent him her quick-to-make fruit loaf, containing no eggs or butter and only a touch of sugar. It was war time, after all. She shared the recipe. It’s a sort of “stone soup”. The recipe is good as it is, but you can add a couple of eggs and a little of this and that to improve it. It’s a baking proof recipe.

The Stranger in Plein Street
Ingredients
500g self-raising flour
250g (1 cup) raisins
250g (1 cup) sultanas
250g (1 cup) currants
250g (1 cup) sugar
Pinch of salt
Milk

Method
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and add enough milk to make a slack mixture, not quite dropping but not too stiff either. Pour into a well-greased loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake at 180C for 65-75 minutes.

Optional ingredients
1 to 3 eggs; 2ml of oil or melted butter; rinse the fruit and add a good dollop of brandy; substitute part of the fruit for nuts; use any other dried cake fruit; almond flour instead of plain flour, half is really good; brandy poured over the hot cake and a teaspoon of mixed spice.

The Art of Piri-piri

About the art of piri-piri there’s one first thing I have to say: it’s quite appreciated round here. No one tastes piri-piri without stating an opinion: It’s fire, this one! Pretty delicious! Oh, my… (whatever)!

Piri-piri making is one of the jobs I inherited from Paul. I had to use my brain to discover the recipe: 1) One has to use some kind of piri-piri, obviously. 2) Since he started his piri-piri making there has been pickled veggies in our refrigerator.

Provided with the above certitude I prepared my first piri-piri. I bought mixed red and green piri-piri, as in the above picture (left). I asked my maid to clean it. I placed it in the basic kitchen blender and covered the hot stuff with 2 or 3 tablespoons of pickles and the same amount of olive oil. I beat the three ingredients until creamy and gave the result to taste. Andy said it was pretty good but it lacked salt. That way I discovered the fourth missing ingredient.

My first attempt was so successful (beginners luck?) that I heard people singing while dipping samosas in it, during a birthday party held at home. It disappeared in a matter of days.

My second and third attempts weren’t so great, because I am into experimenting and decided to add extra vinegar and use the genuine Nando’s sundried piri-piri grown in Mozambique and used worldwide (right). The result, in both cases, was less tasteful and very strong. People have been eating it. They all ask for piri-piri in this house. With a certain degree of amusement, I can see and hear their pain. I have to stick to my first attempt, definitively!

I haven’t been successful with all Paul’s jobs. Lamps for instance. Each lamp that burns is a personal tragedy for me. I have to check if there’s a similar one in stock or, if negative, I have to discover where to buy it. The number of table lamps waiting for skilled hands amount now to three. I am just unable to switch most of the lamps and I don’t think wise to call an electrician each time a lamp explodes. My plan to live in the dark is completely forgotten since I had to fight a ferocious battle with a bat or a couple of bats. I was so busy running scared I couldn’t count them! Is there a good lamp school?

My Liquid Life

I only drink four sorts of liquids: tea, water, beetroot juice and red wine. Except for the water, they all have a similar color. Well, from time to time I don’t mind to have a glass or two of champagne. I feel no attraction whatsoever for any other drink. Even though I like the smell of coffee, I stopped drinking it long ago. I didn’t like the rush it gives, only because after the rush we feel down again. I still like the smell, but then I like the smell of perfume and don’t drink it.

Tea is my absolute favorite. Being addictive, I try to have a strong morning coffee only. If I feel like having another cup later, I pick a milder option such as rooibos. If I could I would drink at least 3 or 4 cups of black tea per day.

I drink water because I have to. I have two glasses when I wake up. It’s the best solution to keep the doctor’s bill low. For the rest of the day I just drink water if I feel thirsty or if I exercise.

I drink beetroot juice with the same enthusiasm I drink wine. Contrary to my tea addiction, I am not at risk of addiction to any of the two.

I discovered an organic beetroot juice I learned to love, after years and years avoiding the sugary stuff sold in packs. I don’t mind carrot juice mixed with some other flavor, as long as it’s freshly squeezed. That’s my shortlist for juices.

I drink red wine in a very wise way. My doctor sticks for it. Even though I usually opt for Merlot, I also appreciate a good Shiraz. I feel very successful when I discover an exceptional Merlot. Merlot, if you don’t know it yet, is the best wine to fight the free radicals.

Even though wine is addictive, I am sure I am not at risk. As I smoked for too long, I know very well what addiction is about. Addiction works more like this: if I feel like wine, any wine will do. I am too picky to be at risk. I like the idea of tasting a new wine, enjoying it when it deserves to be enjoyed. If not enjoyable, there’s always some meat to marinate.

With wine I follow the same principle of water: no more than two glasses. My favorite wine glasses are as small as liquor glasses, meaning that my two glasses are actually one. Another important aspect regarding wine addiction is avoiding the all days or all weekends regime. There’s no way you escape developing some sort of addiction if you drink every day or even every weekend. The ideal is one bottle every fortnight or even every month. The pleasure of a glass of good wine with a parma ham sandwich is one of those things to die for!

In general I have the notion that drinks should have a more important role in my life, but that can be related with the need to cut some of the solid food. Those ham sandwiches! Summer is coming. A question of balance.

The Rooster

Even though I am Portuguese, I never understood the Portuguese rooster thing. It could be a deficiency linked to the fact that my blood is not 100% Portuguese. I like to think that I am half Portuguese, half citizen of the world, especially since I feel a bit African too. Until very recently I looked at the rooster as a colorful folkloric symbol, strange to any other possible meaning.

>Well, a new restaurant opened only 500m away from my house. It would be impossible to miss the gigantic roosters at the entrance, not to mention the exterior pavement covered with stadium green grass as a reminder of the Portuguese football tradition.

The first time we tried to go there, the place was so full we couldn’t even pass the roosters. We passed the opportunity. At least we learned that, besides the restaurant, there is a bar and a patisserie. We had a very disappointing lunch in another optional restaurant, where at least the views worth all the money we pay. To make up for two disappointments in a row, Paul suggested a stop at the new patisserie. I gladly accepted, more out of curiosity than gormandize.

My first impressions of the new patisserie was positive. The décor was of a functional simplicity and the cakes… oh the cakes! Visually, they were very appealing. A nice Brazilian assistant helped me. Besides two different types of mille-feuilles, I picked a traditional cheese tartlet from my birth region. If you want to rate pastry, nothing like starting with those you know by heart. That first visit I noticed a couple of Mozambican attendants and a Portuguese man who seemed to be in charge.

I returned to the same patisserie because I was still curious about a few other baked treats. The same Brazilian assistant rushed to take my order. While I picked the new pastries, I involuntarily passed the cheese tartlets commenting that they were not up to my taste. “Even mine taste better,” I said. In fact, the Brazilian attendant was clear from the start that they mainly sell frozen stuff coming from a catering factory/distributor in Portugal. It’s not a surprise that at least half the pastries I picked were disappointingly tasteless.

The third time I went there for bread. I got the bread and a couple of unplanned pastries. I was ready to leave when the Portuguese man approached and to my surprise said:

“I’ve been trying to ask you to bake something for me.”

I believed he was referring to the tartlets I had mentioned before.

“Well, I don’t cook professionally. It’s home baking. But the next time I bake my tartlets I’ll bring a couple for you.”

I confess I was a little perplex. It feels a bit strange when someone we don’t have any familiarity asks us to bake something for him. After all, I had been forced to take a good look at the man’s face. He was a perfect replica of someone I met not long ago, someone who likes to sing about sitting in other people’s walls. The pâtissier was a rather attractive man, with honey-like eyes. Personally, what I liked in him was the fact that he didn’t hide his grey hair. On the contrary, somehow he used it to add to his attractiveness. I left a little puzzled. Imagine how disastrous would be to fall for a pâtissier! Worse than that, imagine how catastrophic would be a pâtissier fancying me!

I confess that the fourth time I returned to the place I had more than pastry in my mind. This turn I was helped by the very own attractive pâtissier, only to confirm his flirting mood and a slight unnecessary touch of skin while he was giving me the change back.

Curiously, I returned to the same patisserie for pure and simple need. That Friday night, Paul wanted to cook something requiring a specific bread. I asked him to park the car and fetch the bread himself, but he refused to go. At 10am I was forced to pick the bread he needed for his cooking that Friday night. I found the place quieter than all my previous visits around 5pm. Only half personnel were visible, probably because they had just opened. At some stage of the process of buying the required bread, the already mentioned pâtissier moved from the opposite corner to where I was standing, near the bread counter, and, with a charming smile, pronounced the following words:

“I was already missing you…”

I paid for the bread and left. It’s days since I don’t go there. After all, it was only five visits to a patisserie near my house and only one of them was of a doubtful nature. If that man missed my presence at 10am, when previously I only visited in the afternoons, the case was getting pretty serious… for him, I suppose.

The next Sunday Paul insisted on returning to the restaurant. We left home early to avoid the crowds, even so it took them five minutes to find a free table for us. New restaurants always attract the curiousity of a volatile clientele. The restaurant is independent from the patisserie and my back was turned, so I am not sure if my presence was detected by the main pâtissier. At the table we had at least 3 roosters: one decorative, one holding the napkins and a third whose function I cannot remember.

When I was editing a weekly newspaper, I enjoyed the restaurant reviews but I got fatter and fatter because of them. There’s nothing more dangerous than eating for free. Rating a restaurant must take lots of aspects into consideration. This one failed too many. It’s not that the food is definitively bad. It’s this and that. For instance, the prices correspond more to what the restaurant pretends to be than what the restaurant truly is. I asked for the restaurant book to leave my impressions and, believing in the face of the waiter, they don’t have one. He ended up calling the owner, who listened to my observations with a retaliating attitude. According to him, someone had rated his Brazilian feijoada (been stew) as the best in Maputo. I had said enough, so I didn’t advise him to visit Hotel Polana, just 200m away, where a real Brazilian feijoada is served. He should.

When ladies are not sure of a meal, they always order a dessert. A wonderful dessert can make up for a lot of bad things. Not this one, unfortunately. It was a gluey, frozen slice, with no taste at all.

When we left, 4 or 5 families were standing in line waiting for our table, an evident signal that the bar is not working as it should. It is not nice to see people waiting inside the restaurant, when there’s a place where they can sit and wait comfortably.

I left thinking that sometimes I feel like having a restaurant of my own. It’s only a thought, I know. Restaurants are the hardest business to run. Having this in mind, being critical is not being destructive. It’s a shame to see people who work so hard losing the perception of their own mistakes.

When I was crossing the entrance, I looked at the two gigantic colorful rooters and knew that I won’t return so soon. And finally the meaning of the Portuguese rooster clicked into place: he only talks!