Why Computers Are Bad For You

Dog outdoors, dog lying down, dog in countryside, dog with lead, black dog, labrador cross, German shepherd cross

This morning we were out of dog food.  I had the bright idea of boiling up some pasta.  I popped on the pasta, went out and checked some blogs on the computer.  Then another, then another until…came across blog about dogs,  dog = cooking pasta = burning smell = burnt pasta, burnt pan.  Aaargh!  Fortunately the dog will eat anything, hungry or not.

Cooked a late brunch, scrambled eggs and rosti.  While cooking late brunch prepared soup for actual vitamins later.  Went up and did some work on the computer.  “Something smells good”, said Jae, as he lay down on the sofa looking bored.  Feeling of guilt as I should be playing with Jae in the holidays, doing cool stuff like sailing or surfing which is one reason we moved to the Silver Coast.

I suggested a board game. Jae retreated before I could come up with the sentence “how about some maths homework?”  Went back to work on the computer.

Soup, eating al fresco

Jae returned a while later.  “What’s that weird smell?” he asked.  I leaped up from the computer to retrieve yet another blackened pan off the stove.  Picked out the bits of veg. that weren’t black to try and retrieve lunch.  Unfortunately the children won’t eat anything, even if hungry.

Meanwhile, Jae went in the pool.

child swimming, swimming in portugal, above ground pool

Looking forward to dinner tonight.  Maybe I’ll just go straight for a flambé.

 

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Thai Restaurant, Silver Coast and the Lucky Eggshell

Red heart petal

Yesterday I unexpectedly spent the evening at my favourite Thai Restaurant on the Silver Coast. Jae and I had been doing science experiments in the kitchen. Testing which ingredients dissolve in water. Soluble and insoluble. Zed appeared just as we were testing sand and put his arms around me in a romantic gesture. It was quarter to five in the afternoon. “Happy Wedding Anniversary!” Eh?
“Its 23rd July, had you forgotten?”
“Well…er….yes.”
“Oh good. I had too.”
We decided to celebrate by going to Supatra Thai restaurant near Bombarral.

Supatra Thai Restaurant, Silver Coast
We’d been there once before with the children. Lovely food with a smart yet stylishly rustic interior. Great food. What more could you want? Well…..there is something.
At one point the conversation had gone like this.
Me: “Can I have the coconut drink?”
Waiter/possibly owner: “There isn’t any left. We have some other cans, I’ll bring them out.” The waiter/possibly owner returned with cans of other interesting juices. One of them being mangosteen. Mangosteen? I examined the can. Never have I heard of mangosteen. Maybe it’s Portuguese or Thai for something else or we just don’t get it in England. I inquired about it with the waiter/possibly owner who I think that in his role as waiter/possibly owner he will enlighten me.
Me: “What is mangosteen?”
Waiter/possibly owner: “Mangosteen. It’s mangosteen.”
Me: “Yes, but what is it in English?”
Waiter/possibly owner, in tart voice: “Mangosteen. Look it up.”
Me: Oh, um thanks.

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Tonight the same waiter/possibly owner greeted us in his semi-warm style. Fortunately they had one coconut drink left so we didn’t have to go the mangosteen route, though I’ve since looked it up as advised.
We had a delicious meal. Prawns in satay sauce. Pad thai. Yum.

Chilli, Thai sauce dips
Onto pudding. Ginger ice cream for Zed. Chestnut pudding for me in a coconut sauce. Again delicious but…what’s this…this…little crunchy bit? Eggshell? I look closer into the pudding and spot flakes of eggshell. At this point I should send it back but its so delicious I can’t stop and eat on. Then I spot a bigger piece of shell, then a couple more. I pull them out and continue because it really does taste gorgeous.

Interior of Supatra Thai Restaurant, Carvalhal,  Silver Coast
The waiter/possibly owner came to collect our empty plates. I waited for him to ask if everything was okay when I could then politely mention the eggshell but the question never arose. All the same, I felt that I needed to point out that there were large lumps of eggshell in the tiny pudding. It was after all 5 euros.
Me: “Er… (pointing to side of plate)…there were these big pieces of egg shell in my pudding…”
Waiter/possibly owner, smiling: “That just proves it was made with fresh egg!”
Zed, not smiling: “I don’t think they should be in there though.”
Waiter/possibly owner whips away the dishes. Eh? Not even a ‘sorry you’ve just crunched your way through egg shell that’s been pooped through a hen’s bottom?’

Egg shell
Waiter/possibly owner appears again and explains jovially: “I used to work in a restaurant in London. A screw came out of one of the machines. It appeared later in a customer’s lasagne, so you are lucky. It’s only egg shell.”
I’m lucky? Aah. So – no need for an apology.
Perhaps the chef had been doing a scientific experiment to see if egg shell dissolves in pudding.
It doesn’t.

Interior, Supatra Thai Restaurant, Bombarral, Silver Coast

 

Cost of meal: E38.00 inc. IVA
2 mains, 2 puddings with egg shell on the house
1 can of coconut juice
2 jasmine tea’s.

Wine is approximately E12.00 a bottle. Zed was driving so we didn’t partake.

Couple celebrating at restaurant

Celebrating nine years of wedded bliss.

Supatra Thai: Rua Poeta Jose Ferreira Ventura, 73, Rossio do Carvalhal, 2540-422 Bombarral, Leiria, Portugal; Tel:262 842 920; Email: supatracarvalhal@gmail.com

 

 

Beware! Wild Animals at Obidos Chocolate Festival

 

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A Chocolate Festival!  What a brilliant idea!  All my Christmases have come at once.  Off we hopped to the Obidos Chocolate Festival on the Silver Coast last week.  Just after Christmas we had visited the Vila Natal and attempted to see the fabulous light display, so we had an idea of what to expect – plenty of entertainment and attractions for all age groups.  Plus there was always the chance they’d replaced the skating rink that was there at Christmas with a big, chocolate filled swimming pool.

Part of the exhibition at the Escola de Hotelaria

Part of the exhibition at the Escola de Hotelaria

The theme this year is wild animals.  Amazing chocolate sculptures of gorillas, giraffes, snakes and other exotic creatures.  Fantastic cake displays. Once you’ve wandered up the main cobbled street, lined with artisan shops, museums, cafes and restaurants and of course stalls selling chocolate themed items, you turn left at the top of the hill where you can pay to enter the main event.  This is choc full (sorry irresistible pun) of displays and events including chocolate workshops and tastings.

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However we found enough to keep us occupied for an hour or two strolling up the main street.  We meandered along drinking ginja liqueur in a chocolate cup while the children ate strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue bought from a shop selling artisan food, organic vegetables and second hand books.  What more could a girl want?  (Okay, you can probably think of something).

chocolate fondue

Along that line, my son asked if he could go back and get ‘the reindeer lollypop’.  Now I’m not sure what he thought it was but it wasn’t a reindeer lollipop.  I headed over to where he was pointing which I thought was some sort of round edged sword. I had seen these round edged swords on quite a few stalls. Must be something to do with the Knights Templar and castle maybe.  As I stood pointing and discussing whether to spend the 2.50 euros on the lollipop my husband dragged me away saying it wasn’t appropriate for my son to have that because anyone could see it was actually a chocolate lollipop in the shape of male private parts.  Upon further scrutiny (of the lollipop) I realised he was right.  Oops.  I couldn’t see any hen parties or indeed anyone enjoying one in the spring sunshine so I’m not sure they did a roaring trade in those.  Indeed they may have sold more chocolate reindeer.  Well, they would have sold at least one.

Yep.  Its a cake!

The chocolate festival runs this year from 14th March to 6th April, so just one weekend left.  Let’s hope for more spring sunshine.  For further insight into the chocolate festival visit ‘Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal’ who did a brilliant round up of last year’s festival.

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The cake decorating exhibition was amazing!

Quick and Healthy Citrus Spring Biscuits

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This is a biscuit recipe that has evolved from making flap jacks in a hurry at seven in the  morning for the kid’s school snacks.  I like to make them fresh and I really don’t have time to make proper flap jacks, melt butter, weigh everything out, get flour everywhere, that just doesn’t work for me.  Therefore, I use tablespoons instead of weighing scales, because its quicker to grab a spoon and fill it. I thought I’d share my version which I have to say are no longer anything like flap jacks.

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None of the ingredients are set in stone and I suggest you experiment a little.  These are made with oranges because they are in season in Portugal, as are lemons, but in England I would add plum or apple in the autumn, chopped up cherries or maybe a sprinkling of elderflowers in summer, so you get the drift.  Sometimes I add a dessert spoon of desiccated coconut or dried cranberries chopped in half, or sultanas depending on what is in the store cupboard, if I have nothing fresh.

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4 tablespoons rolled oats

4 tablespoons rice flour (you can use ordinary flour, ground almond would probably work too).

1 tablespoon olive oil (of course you can use butter but olive oil is much easier and healthier).

Juice and grated rind of 1 medium orange.  If you are using a fruit that doesn’t contain much juice then you can replace this with milk or cartoned juice.

1 tablespoon honey.

1 dessert spoon sugar – optional.  I tend to add this sometimes as they then go down better with the children.  Half a teaspoon of ginger or cinnamon is a nice addition too.

1 pinch of salt.  Okay hands up, I don’t actually bother with this as I try to avoid salt, so this is optional.

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Combine all the ingredients together.  If the mixture is too sticky add a little more flour.  You shouldn’t need to get out the mixer as it only takes about a minute to combine with a spoon until it has melded into a ball.

Roll out on a floured board (or a large flat plate which is quicker to wash) to about half a centimetre thick and cut with a 2″ biscuit cutter or into whatever size you fancy.  Pop them onto a greased baking tray.  I sometimes don’t even roll them out but pop them into shallow, greased pattie tins.

This should make about eight biscuits but if you want more just adjust the ingredients.

Bake in a pre-heated oven or a halogen oven at 200°C, 400°F or gas mark 6 for approximately ten minutes or until just slightly going golden brown.

Now then, when I came to bake these this morning my halogen oven wasn’t working so I ended up baking them in a grilling machine for 15 minutes.  It seemed to work although not quite as tasty and good looking as usual.  The pictures are therefore of the pre-baked biscuits.

Can’t wait to finally get a proper kitchen and oven.  Sooner rather than later now I think!

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The Firefly Sessions, Good Food, Awesome Music!

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

Can’t wait for St Patrick’s Day in Central Portugal when our neighbours Sandie and Gee will be launching the Firefly Sessions at Casal Garcia, near Cadaval, an hour’s drive from Lisbon.

It’s going to be an unforgettable experience, an opportunity to hear a range of fabulous live Irish music from several musicians throughout the evening, eat gorgeous food, make new friends and honour the  memory of Taidgh Burke, with whom these sessions were conceived, from the awesome Irish band ‘The Calvinists’.

The Calvinists

The Calvinists

You don’t have to be Irish (I’m not) to appreciate this evening, just have a love of good music, good food and unique surroundings set in the gorgeous countryside close by the Serra de Montejunto, a protected landscape with glorious views.

Hosts Sandi and Gee always create a lovely, warm atmosphere and it’s no surprise that Casal Garcia itself is already booked out with guests flying over from Ireland for the event.  Aer Lingus probably can’t believe their luck!

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

So who’s kicking off the evening’s entertainment at the first Firefly session?  That’ll be Cork’s much loved singer/songwriter Nicole Maguire.  Taken under the wing of Grammy Award Texan singer Nancy Griffiths and Ireland’s preeminent live performer Damien Dampsey early in her career, this is the buzz:

“Her voice is serenely beautiful and carries her intricate flowing sublime melodies effortlessly. She has an eagle’s eye for detail and her lyrics transport you to places, with great stories. She is a great communicator and can always win over a tough crowd that isn’t her own and all her hard work is now paying off. Definitely a star in the ascendency.” Damien Dempsey.

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

“Nicole’s singing and playing convey a real purity of sound and emotion. There’s no artifice with her – Nicole’s absolutely the real thing.” Mitchell Froom, music producer.

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Come and join us in the beautiful Montejunto countryside.

The Firefly sessions will continue throughout the summer with The Deans dropping by for the April Firefly Session, so if you can’t make this Monday, 17 March 2014, I’ll keep you posted about further events or you can check yourself for information through the Facebook page of Casal Garcia.  Tickets are £25.00 and include a meal by resident chef Gee.  For bookings contact Sandie at lightrailproductions@gmail.com.

The Album 'What You Really Mean'.

The Album ‘What You Really Mean’.

Chicken Surprise

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The rain lashed against glass and wind scurried round the olive trees trying to blow them down.  Now I don’t like to complain because I know it’s been tougher in England, I’m aware that people round the world have spent the year running away from hurricanes and tornadoes, but as the rain came pouring in under the windows I wished we’d got a move on with the double glazing.

Shouldn't complain, it could be worse.  UK Dec 2013

Shouldn’t complain, it could be worse. UK Dec 2013

We were supposed to be wrapping presents and making a jolly scene for Christmas morning not mopping the floor.  I grabbed a cloth and shrieked.  There was a spider on the window pain.  I knocked it off and the window pane fell out too.  A strong wind blew straight in to the bedroom. Zed discovered his emergency DIY skills and managed to nail the wood back into the soft wet frame while Dean Martin sang his heart out and wished us a ‘merry little Christmas’ in the background.

Dean martin

Christmas morning was fortunately the jolly scene we’d planned.  I wore bIue velvet wellies.  We were having chicken instead of traditional turkey.  The chicken looked slightly thin though and….sort of huddled up like a new born baby on its back. A wave of emotion swept over me for the poor thing.  Also, there really was something strange and skinny about it.  Still I thought, it was a Portuguese chicken and maybe it wasn’t pumped up with chemicals like the regular British ones.  Jae clattered around the kitchen behind me in his new roller blades as I arranged it in the dish.

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The new roller blades

In England we’re used to having a choice of the cheap and sad chickens that have been stuffed together in a barn with barely room to move and costing a couple of quid, organic ones or the organic and ‘happy lifers who get to roam all over the place’ chickens.  On top of this is the locally reared option plus a few choices in between.  In Portugal, in my experience, you just go and get a chicken. No history attached. No back story.  Still, the one in front of me looked strange in its little dish.  I shut the lid on the oven.  At least it didn’t still have its head on, a mistake I made only once.  I’m not good at decapitation.

The roast came out cooked to perfection and Christmas dinner was well appreciated even without Christmas crackers.  Everyone wanted seconds.  Zed commented on the lack of meat as he tried to carve more for the eager faces round the table.  Finally he shuffled the chicken round and muttered  “did you mean to cook it upside down?”

“Upside down, but….”  Ah, so that’s why it looked so strange.

Dean M.

Dean M.

Maybe this could be a whole new dish for thrifty meals.  Cook the chicken upside down and the next day you can use it for another roast with the breast still intact.  Chicken surprise!

Blackberry and W…. Crumble

Mellow fruitfulness

Mellow fruitfulness

“I’ve a surprise for you mummy.  Close your eyes”.

“Oh I love surprises.”

“Now open them”.

My son, dishevelled and shoeless, handed me a bowl of juicy looking, dark red blackberries.  The first of the season.  “Aah, thank you, that’s a lovely surprise”, I said, pleased at his thoughtfulness.

“Can we have a goat?”  he said, having bribed me with the blackberries.  “Do goats eat brambles?”

Do goats eat brambles?

Do goats eat brambles?

The following day, having already eaten yesterday’s offerings, I suggested he pick some more so I could make a crumble.  “No.  It won’t be a surprise”, he said.  “You’re missing the point, mummy.  It’s the surprise that’s the thing, not the blackberries”.

“Right”.

It's all in the surprise

It’s all in the surprise

We all love blackberries.  They’re healthy. Packed choc full of goodness.  They make great pies, smoothies, a substitute for sweeties.  They grow around our house in abundance.

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I love the way you pop a blackberry in your mouth, crunch the pips and get a shedload of vitamins.  When I washed them in the UK worms would float out of them. Blackberry worm and apple crumble. I wonder, sometimes, how many worms I have eaten in my life, eating the fruit straight from the bush.  In Portugal, surprisingly, I haven’t yet seen a worm wriggle out.

I expected to miss blackberries when we moved to Portugal. We used to have them the size of a small walnut snaking their way up the side of our garage and into the yard. I was struck with sheer delight when I spotted them in the hedgerows at Castelo Branco last year.  They are the epitome of food for free.  They are also spawned from one of the nastiest blighters known to man.  For this reason I will be the happiest gardener/home maker alive if I never see a blackberry in or around my garden EVER again.

Banish the blackberry?

Banish the blackberry?

When we bought the Lisbon house, which currently remains nameless and so for the purposes of the blog I shall now rename Quinta Blackberry, we couldn’t get to the bottom of the garden for the brambles.  We tried to hack a path through.  We didn’t get far.  Somewhere in there were olive trees.  I could see the tops poking through. Who knew what was also there?  A vineyard maybe.  An apple orchard.  Plums.  All we could see were brambles which tore at our clothes and summer sandels.

When we were house hunting every uninhabited house had its share of these thorn bushes.  I ruined a new pair of beautiful black French boots viewing the gardens.  I will never forgive them.

The brambles had to go.  It was the first job we gave to our Portuguese builder, Diggory.  The yard was still full of rubbish after our estate agent, Era, had promised to clear it for us after we’d made a deal with them.  After constant chasing it became apparent they were never going to organise this.  Diggory, our builder, got the job.  His brother and another three guys worked from nine till nine, collecting and loading rubbish, hacking away and chopping.  I was exhausted just watching.

Clearing the garden - exhausting just to watch

Clearing the garden – exhausting just to watch

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But lo!  The following day a miracle had occurred!  The brambles ten feet tall at the side of the house had gone.  We could see the end of the garden.  We had…..I went and counted….37 olive trees.  Yay!  Even a plum tree.

37 olive trees, a plum tree ... and the washing

37 olive trees, a plum tree … and the washing

A few weeks later I’m hanging out the washing with a makeshift line strung between the olives.  The odd thorny plant still twists its way round the trees with fruit hanging temptingly. The brambles are flourishing once more, growing between the cracks in the paving as though going for gold at the Olympics.  I wear wellies down by the olives even though it’s dry, sometimes 25 degrees and rising, to keep thorns from scratching my skin.  Time to do battle with weed killer.  Then the plough.  Maybe a goat.  Do goats eat brambles?

Brambles being sneaky

Brambles being sneaky – do goats eat them?