31 March 2011

A Bica in the Sun

Portugal is a warm country, y'all.

I grew up in a not-so-warm place, so it always amazes me when spring comes in reality at about the same time the calendar says it should. Today was that day for Lisbon, and it was glorious.

I should point out here that this is one of the only ways in which Portugal is prone to running perfectly on schedule.  If you are meeting a Portuguese colleague or friend, by all means show up on time, but bring a book to read while you wait for them to arrive.

Which reminds me:

Meeting friends for afternoon coffee is a wonderful, ubiquitous tradition here.  I knew when I was out walking today, I would see plenty of happy folk enjoying their "bica" with a side of sunshine.

Errr... wait a minute...

Ahhhh, of course!  The traditional first outdoor café of the spring, at GREATOPUS Digital Printing Express.

I did mention that the afternoon coffee was ubiquitous, didn't I?

30 March 2011

Bacalhau Souffle

The saying goes that in Portugal, there are as many ways to prepare bacalhau as there are days in the year.  While this is a bit of an exaggeration, it nonetheless reflects the Portuguese love for their dried, salted codfish.

Like most New Englanders, I grew up on fresh codfish.  (OK, so I actually grew up on fish sticks and tater tots for Lenten Friday dinners.  But on the off-chance someone convinced me to eat a piece of fresh fish, it was most likely cod.)  Dried fish was only associated with the olden days.  My elementary school brought in experts from the Mystic Seaport to teach us about maritime history, with scrimshaw and rope bracelets being among the best things I ever learned in 19 years of schooling.  But we also learned about the hardships suffered at sea and the salted, dried fish that could go with sailors for long journeys.

And now, in the journey of my life, I have arrived in 2011 married to a wonderful Portuguese guy and living the good life in Lisbon-- and eating dried saltcod on romantic date nights.

In the interest of being an open-minded and good wife (and because I am not one to run from either curiosity or a challenge), I am making good use of a cooking magazine my mother-in-law gave me called simply "Bacalhau."  Right there on page 32 was a recipe I simply couldn't resist: Bacalhau Souffle.

As you can see from the picture above, the results were pretty impressive for a first try.  I have to admit that the light, eggy texture really worked with the flakes of cod inside.  Not to mention, it was an absolute breeze to make, which probably surprised me most of all.  If you are novice to the world of bacalhau and would like a soft, fluffy landing on your first trip, I highly suggest trying this one.

So, here is entry #1 in my journey with bacalhau.  If I get to #365, I guess we will know the old saying is true.  And if you find yourself adventurous enough to try this recipe (with fresh cod or salted), please tell me how it turns out for you!

Sûfle de Bacalhau
Bacalhau Souffle
serves 6

1 pound of bacalhau, or 3/4 pound of fresh codfish
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups warmed milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Butter and flour the inside of a souffle pan, or any deep, round 8- or 9- inch casserole dish.

If you are using saltcod, be sure to soak for at least 2 days in the refrigerator, changing the water several times.  With either salt or fresh cod, flake the fish into small pieces and sauté briefly in 1 tsp of butter, until the fish is just done, about 2-3 minutes.  Set aside until ready to use.

Sauté the onion in the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan until the butter has stopped bubbling.  Add the flour, stirring the mixture together until it is a smooth consistency and just begins to change color.  Add the warm milk slowly, whisking more or less constantly, and cook until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken.  Remove from the heat.  Add salt (if using salt cod, add carefully: you may not need more), pepper, and nutmeg. Let cool for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the egg whites.  Beat the cold egg whites with an electric mixer until medium firm peaks form. Take the egg yolks, separately, and beat roughly with a fork.

Add the yolks and the cod to the flour-milk mixture, stirring them in to blend.  Fold in the egg whites gently, allowing the air to remain in the whites.  Turn the mixture into the souffle pan and bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top is fluffy and lightly browned.

Serve immediately.

Gulliver in Lilliput

I have never liked being 5'10".  As a girl I had visions of growing up to be a wee woman with red curly hair and green eyes.  But, alas-- brown hair, blue eyes, and a decidedly un-dainty 5'10" was what my genes had in store for me.

From the time I was in 4th grade, I got used to being in the back of the line on the way to class picture day.  It would always be my head peeking out from behind the daintier masses, you see. And, of course, as my body lengthened, so did my feet.  When I was in middle school I secretly shopped for shoes from a catalogue of "big sizes" for size 10 hooves like mine.  On the plus side, I never needed to have my skirts or pants hemmed, but on the other hand I did look ready to go wading in a shallow pond at any moment.

When I left Pawcatuck for Columbia University, I thought for sure I would feel more at ease with my surroundings, more able to be myself in this anonymity of New York City, in a tower filled with ivy and ambition and actual skyscrapers.  In many ways I did feel more at home there-- but the dating scene reminded me once again of just how far my head was above sea level.  I would go out in 3 inch heels, look around me at the tops of the as-yet-unbalding heads of the world's next crop of investment bankers and lawyers, and sigh with resignation. And then go back to the dorm to dye my hair red.  (At least ONE of my fantasies was going to come true, dadnabit!)

In the years that followed, I discovered that nature was kind in the long run.  As I grew older, people got taller around me.  That is, 5'10" wasn't as tall in 2005 as it was in 1990... and I could buy shoes in regular stores, too!  Skirts actually came down to my knee.  I met women taller than I was.  I won't say that I ever felt dainty, per se, but I certainly felt like one of the girls again.

Cut to: Portugal, 2011.

Average height of a fully grown female: 5'2".

Biggest size available in any shoe store: 9.

Number of times I have elbowed an old lady in the face while waiting for the bus, because her face was at waist level and I just didn't see her: 2.

Chance of finding a pair of pants that is cut to fit my legs: 1.2%


Do you suppose that by 2020 I will feel like a girl again?  By 2030, I may even be dainty?