Food Sunday

Given a couple weeks in California, we hadn’t had a Portuguese meal in nearly a month. So, on this sunny Sunday we decided to make the short walk over to Atalaya restaurant for the prata de dia. As they usually do on Sunday, they had the roasted pork shank on the chalkboard menu. I often chose this dish on Sundays, but this time I could not resist the Goat Stew. Boy oh boy, was it good!

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Soo had turkey steaks in a mustard sauce, a dish hat we hadn’t seen there before. She happily ate about half, and took home the rest to dole out to the little dogs next door.

Since it was so nice out, I took advantage to roast some green chiles and pork butt to make a batch of chile verde. Last Friday, we did a major food shopping at Jumbo in Portimao, and they had these chiles in the produce section.

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Over the past several months, Jumbo has stocked these “Pimentos Italiano” more often than not. As you can see, they are about a foot long. Though they contribute no heat, they provide a good chile flavor, especially when roasted over wood. In addition, I now have a pretty good stash of powdered New Mexican green chile, and that contributes heat as well as that unmistakable New Mexico taste.

Bob and Soo

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Weather

For the couple weeks that we were away, I kept an eye on the local Lagos weather. From what I could tell, it seemed to be mostly cold and wet. In the week that we have been back, that pattern has been maintained.

When we landed in Faro, it had just finished raining, and for the next couple nights the temps were down to 3C/mid-upper 30sF. That gave us a good opportunity to try out our new heat/AC unit that we installed in the living room this past fall. This unit represents the third approach available to us for heating the living room. The previous owner converted the fireplace to a gas insert, and in addition installed these space-age ceramic heat plates in every room of the house. We were careful using the ceramic heaters after our neighbors told us that they got a €3000 electric bill the previous winter, from using these heaters. We found that using the living room unit alone contributed about €100 to the monthly electric bill. The next month, we spent a tidy sun to repair the insert, then learned that it burns through a €100 gas bottle in a month. Then the insert broke again, and I decided not to fix it. Rather, we invested the money in a heater/AC unit. Hence, our third layer of redundancy.

Last month, it seemed like the new heater contributed only €65 to the electric bill. We’ll see what this month brings.

This is our third winter in Lagos. (That seems unreal, but it is true.) The first winter in the apartment, it rained only sporadically, and the temps were moderate. I don’t remember a time when it dropped into to lower single digits. Last year, again the rain was moderate, and I only remember one real cold spell. Our garden society friends who live up in the foothills outside town told us that they experience a couple nights of hard freeze. Together with the reports while we were away, this winter seems like the coldest and rainiest winter of the three. Sun has only been intermittent, and we have only had one mild day this past week. The rain is very welcome, but given the construction of Portuguese villas, the cold is tough to deal with. We scurry from a nice warm room through chilly halls and rooms.

We’re ready for spring!

Bob and Soo

Holiday Travel

Happy New Year!

We just got back to Lagos after a couple weeks visiting relatives in Southern California. We booked our travel on Aer Lingus. They offer good rates, especially if you book early. We can make the trip with one connection, Faro to Dublin and Dublin to LAX. They fly A-330s on their long hauls, and that lets us sit without a third person in their 2-4-2 seating configuration. Plus, we can clear US Customs in Dublin and avoid the nightmare of LAX Customs. On the downside, the flights didn’t line up for a convenient connection and we needed to spend the night at a Travelodge near the airport to catch the LAX flight in the morning.

As we exited the Arrivals area in Dublin, we were surprised and pleased to be greeted by a choir singing Christmas Carols for the travelers. Here we were, a couple days before Christmas, and surely these people had better things to do. Yet, they gave up their evening to sing for travelers.

After baggage check, Irish security, and US Customs, we arrived at the gate to find that the flight would be delayed due to a mechanical problem. After a one-hour delay, we finally got on our way. Delay notwithstanding, it was sweet to arrive in LAX at a domestic gate.

As always, it was great to reconnect with family. We had a few meals in really nice restaurants. Soo had a fairly lengthy shopping list and accomplished most of it, though shocked at prices relative to Portugal.

While staying for a few days in Buellton, we took a drive up to Morro Bay where we had a great lunch on the pier overlooking Morro Rock, then took a hike out to the rock to see the sea otters.

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Finally, it was time to return home to Lagos. After an overnight flight to Dublin, we stayed two night in Swords, a charming market village about ten minutes from the airport. We stayed at the Carnegie Court, a small hotel/pub/restaurant complex.  We had a super meal in the restaurant, rib-eye for me and baked cod for Soo. The next morning, we walked through the main street to explore shopping options. Right by the town center, we found the entry to the Swords Pavilion, a medium-sized shopping center. Though a modern shopping center, they managed to make the outside blend in with the older town center buildings. After a breakfast of Americano and pastries, we checked out the shops and lingered in Dunne’s. We were impressed by Dunne’s the last time we were in Dublin and were once again in the Swords store. This department store manages to combine great prices with really appealing merchandise. In fact, we are kicking around the idea of looking for a cheap fare and returning to Dublin with an empty suitcase when the weather warms up.

Back out in the town proper, we found a good Asian market. In their fresh produce section we were shocked to find a stock of perfectly fresh drumsticks, an Indian long bean that is great in sambar. After a wonderful Indian lunch, we headed back to the room for the night.

The next morning, we took a short cab ride to the airport for the three-hour flight back to Faro. An hour after landing, we pulled up in front of our villa, to be greeted excitedly by the two cute little dogs next door.

Bob and Soo

Saturday Chores

The weather warmed up the last few days. There was no chill at all as we were out and about. The better news is that a big rainstorm is forecast for Monday. We could use it!

We needed to go to Luz to pick up a wine order, and that also gave us an incentive to drop in at a small Christmas Fair benefitting Madrugada, a local organization that provides home-care services. It turns out that several years ago, AFPOP set up a tour of Fiuza wineries. The owner offered the group discounted prices on their current releases, and ever since then, Fiuza continued the same offer. After our France trip, we really didn’t need more wine, but the reviews of Fiuza’s wines were pretty good, prices were attractive, and the reviewers recommended putting the wines up for a few years before drinking. The other thing was that most of Fiuza’s line were single varietals rather than blends, and I was curious to compare them to Sonoma county varietals.

After picking up the wine, we backtracked through town where the fair was set up in a hall behind the old church. And, by the way, have you ever seen a more scenic location for a church?

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Close to a couple dozen exhibitors had tables set up in the small hall. Most of them were local craft workers, including a couple tables with home-made chili oils and relishes.

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They also had the obligatory vendor selling mulled wine, fortified with ample amounts of vodka. We bought some hand-made Christmas cards, and spiced soap.

Back in Lagos we stopped for Chinese lunch by the old city walls and got back home just in time for the Tottenham match with Stoke.

Bob and Soo

Anniversary Dinner

We celebrated our wedding anniversary with dinner out. We booked at Restaurante do Artistas, a Michelin recommended eatery located in the heart of Old Town Lagos. The walk from parking gave us a chance to see Old Town’s holiday lights.

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The restaurant was well-recommended by friends as well as TripAdvisor reviewers. We were the first patrons of the evening, still clinging to our US habits, I suppose. We are used to European restaurants filling up just as we are leaving.

We were welcomed warmly and shown to a table right by the fireplace. The ambiance is appealing without being stuffy. The dark yellow walls are covered with prints from prominent artists, and the holiday decorations were in evidence.

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From studying the menu on-line, Soo and I were both ready to order. But then the staff upset my well-laid plans by offering a three-course tasting menu with braised lamb shanks as the main. I am a sucker for braised lamb shanks. After a few moments of turmoil, evaluating and re-evaluating, I couldn’t resist and went with the lamb.

The servers started us with a cover of assorted breads, with truffle butter, a pork paté, and smoked butter. Next up was an amuse bouche grilled veggie strands on a spoon alongside a small cup of apple soup.

Soo stuck with her plan and had a starter of scallops with a cashew breading served on a lemongrass risotto with coconut chili sauce. The starter with my set meal was a vichychoisse with coconut milk over a chopped tiger prawn. The starters were both excellent.

Soo had the turbot as her main, which included two fillets served over an olive crumble, with aubergine mousse, tomato marmalade, grilled courgette and a paprika foam. (You know you are in a classy place when you get a side of foam. 😊) Soo also had a choice of a side, and selected steamed veggies.

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My lamb came separated from the bone over a savory gravy with roasted carrots over a carrot-orange puree, smoky apple with celery fronds, and of course with foam, mine being a juniper foam. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Both the mains were plated on enormous dishes which masked the fact that we were getting plenty of food.

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Soo passed on dessert, and we split the one that came with my set, which was a lemon yogurt served over a chocolate brownie, topped with strawberry ice cream. After we asked for the bill, the servers brought us each a refreshing dollop of tangerine sorbet.

The prices were reasonable considering the artistry of the food, the warm ambiance, and the quality of the staff. This was our first time here, and we will certainly return.

Bob and Soo

Christmas WAGS

We attended the December meeting of the Western Algarve Gardening Society yesterday. It was a holiday luncheon held at Tasca do Kiko, a tapas restaurant located on the marina behind the dry dock area.

The restaurant had set us up in one long table, set for twenty-four. The staff started us with cold tapas of pickled beets, a fish salad (similar to tuna salad, but with a firm whitefish), olives and crostini. After allowing a suitable time to polish off the first round of starters, the staff followed with a round of hot tapas. These included chorizo, seared tuna over sweet potatoes, and assorted sautéed mushrooms. During this time, the servers kept our wine glasses topped up as well.

Conversation flowed as freely as the wine. One intense topic was the Blue Planet series airing Sundays on BBC. Everyone seemed to have their favorite segment, from the octopus who covers himself with seashells to hide from sharks, to the sea lions who work as a team to herd tuna into dead-end coves and to drive them up onto the beach.

For mains, we pre-ordered from a choice of chicken kabobs, grilled fish over fennel and creamed potatoes, and a grilled, stuffed aubergine. Soo had the aubergine and I had the fish so that we could swap tastes.

Dessert was a chocolate cake infused with ginja liqueur, served with a scoop of home-made ice cream. In all, it was a leisurely three-hour meal, and everyone left with a smile.

Bob and Soo

At the Mall

When IKEA opened in the Algarve last spring, the eventual plan was for it to anchor two additional shopping malls. The indoor mall, the Mar Centre finally opened at the end of September, and the outdoor Fashion Outlet opened last week, just in time for Black Friday.

With these two additional openings, we thought It was high time to head down the road to Loulé. We parked right by the Fashion Center and made a slow circuit. It is supposed to represent a typical Algarvian plaza, and you can kind of see that, but an American would feel right at home there.

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In terms of shops, you see a very familiar collection, as you would in any mall in the world. Prices were very attractive. Several shops were claiming 70% discounts off list, and that was believable.

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About half the shops were still not ready to open. That was a surprise, considering the importance of the holiday shopping season. In one shop, we ran into friends from the garden society, and stopped for a nice chat.

The Mar Centre is right next to the Fashion Outlets. We entered through the doors next to Starbucks, the first in the Algarve. Mar is a pretty, modern mall, brightly decorated for the holidays.

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All the shops are operating, on both levels. Our first stop here was Primark, a department store. We have seen Primark in other malls in Portugal and Spain, but till this visit, hadn’t set foot in one. This is a really impressive store, with attractive merchandise at very competitive prices. After doing some clothing shopping in Primark, we made a circuit of a few other shops before breaking for lunch.

The Mar has a food court on the second level, and we decided on Pan, a sandwich chain similar to Subway. We both selected a tuna sub, fries and drink for €4.95 apiece. The sub was loaded with tuna salad, with lettuce tomatoes and sliced egg on a crusty ten-inch baguette. I couldn’t help thinking that this same meal would be $20 at Jimmy Johns, except you would get a bag of chips instead of fries.

IKEA adjoins Mar, without needing to exit the building. Soo had a few things that she thought she could find at IKEA, so we grabbed a trolley and followed the arrows on the floor. We managed to find almost everything on Soo’s list, and successfully found our way to the checkout. From there, we backtracked through the two malls to find our car and to head home.

Bob and Soo