Saturday, September 12, 2009

Smoothies in Portugal

Today, I purchased a fabulous cookbook: The New Portuguese Table, by David Leite. It has traditional recipes as well as updated recipes that bear the personal stamp of the author. The photographs are lovely, and I can't wait to try the recipes. But more than just whetting my appetite, this purchase brought back memories. In May of 1991, my parents and I had the good fortune to visit Portugal. This was following my college semester abroad in France, where I had stayed with an inhospitable host family and worked a job at La Defense. Study abroad is usually no holiday, despite how magnificent the surroundings and how eye-opening the experience; it's often quite difficult. I was in need of a vacation, and had a splendid one. My parents came to meet me in Paris, then we took a short hop to Lisbon and from there headed toward the resort town of Cascais. We stayed in a posh hotel by the the water—one that was at one time a private home, a royal summer retreat—the Hotel Albatroz. The hotel overlooked the harbor of Cascais and the Estoril Coast, and I remember the crisp, white-linen restaurant with its panoramic views of the water. I remember tasting a soup I loved, caldo verde, a peasant's soup made with potato and kale (a combination I love equally in the Irish dish, colcannon). I remember many sublime things about our time there, the beautiful black-and-white mosaic streets of Portugal, the church bell towers stretching into the blue sky . . . I also have an absurd family memory, one that my mom and I teased my dad about for years. My father does not talk much about his dreams; I can probably count on one hand the number of times he's told me of a dream he's had. One morning at Hotel Albatroz, we met downstairs in the restaurant for breakfast, and my father told us of the weird dream he'd had that night. He was sitting in a chair, and some man was asking him "How many smoothies do you want?" Although this was a reference to chilled fruit and yogurt drinks, in the dream my father understood that this was meant to be something sinister, as though a smoothie were some kind of bitch-slap and my dad was about to get worked over. Later that same year, around the time of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins, we were visiting my dad's mother in Florida, and my father had another dream; this time he was apparently plagued by the Twins' player Chuck Knoblauch. The Portugal dream and this one ended up combined in family lore, so that we'd tease my father with spooky voices saying, "Knob-lauch, Knob-lauch . . . How many smoothies do you want?" It's all absurd, as I said, but so often our memories are just that: an odd mish-mash of time and place, strange associations that stick, such as the mixture of a refined Portuguese accommodation, a soup of potato and kale, sinister smoothies, and an all-star second baseman.

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