Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Alvor Portugal, Trip Report, Day Two, Part Two (Adega d’Alvor)

February6

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Later that same day we found a bar to sit in the sun by the harbour, sip Surper Bock and wait for the sun to set.

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We invited our new Kingston friends to join us and had a lovely visit. At that time, the girls told us about another dish that they had sampled. We were intrigued by their description of cataplana and so we did some research on it. We discovered that there were a number of versions sold in restaurants including our own hotel, where clams, potatoes and beef appeared on the buffet our first night. We learned that likely the best cataplana in Alvor was served at Adega d’Alvor so from the harbour we walked uphill to dine there.

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It had been chilly by the water after the sun had set so it was lovely to warm up by their fireplace. Once again, the restaurant was virtually empty and we were invited to sit next to the fireplace. I guess visitors to Alvor must dine later in the evening. We tried to keep as close a schedule as we could, to that of home. I adapted very quickly and slept quite well. D would stay up half the night watching videos as it wasn’t his bedtime back home in the centre of Canada. Our sever explained that the area that we were seated in was entirely opened up in the summer time. We imagined it to be a lovely spot but in the mean time we were happy for the fire and the promise of cataplana.

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Our server poured us each a glass of sparkling wine while we settled in. We were asked if we would like to have bread and olives and all of this arrived at our table.

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We tucked into these beauties; removing the head and peeling away the outer shell. They were delicious. The research we did on cataplana indicated that it was both the name of the special pan that the casserole cooked in and the name of the dish itself. So you served cataplana in a cataplana pan.

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These are the pans. They look like a shallow wok but they have a hinged lid attached to them. This creates a tight seal for the food to steam in natural juices.

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Above was our dinner for two at Adega d’Alvor. I made shrimp and mussel cataplana for D’s birthday dinner when we arrived back in Winnipeg. Even though I didn’t have the same pan, I used a heavy dutch oven with a tight lid and the results were delicious. When we arrived “home” we shared some wine and watched the Youtube highlights of the Golden Globes which had occurred the night before. We were as content as two peas in a pod.

Kath’s quote:  “There has never been a shrimp that I’ve eaten that I haven’t been like, ‘I am so lucky that I get to eat this.’ I would eat a shrimp enchilada, shrimp burrito, shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp, shrimp po boy, shrimp gumbo”. –Isabel Gillies

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Love never fails.

Alvor Portugal, Trip Report, Day Two, Part One (The Town)

February5

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D was up with the sun with more energy than he had had thus far. Yes…(even though we were still grieving the absence of our travel companions), we were happy to be in this place.

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The rock formations at this end of Alvor beach are called Praia de Três Irmãos.

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D was researching something as I lingered on the beach.

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Before we walked into town we decided we needed sustenance so I made us sandwiches for our balcony lunch.

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Alvor is situated on the estuary of the river, Rio Alvor. It is well known in Algarve history because King João II died there in 1495. An earthquake in 1755 wiped out most of the traditional Moorish village.

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Alvor is a pretty Portuguese fishing town that is a relaxed and mature holiday destination. You can see the slope of the streets in the older section of town. Alvor has a distinctively Portuguese appearance with traditional white washed houses, narrow cobbled streets and small fishing boats pulled up along the banks of the river. Alvor closes down for winter in October and reopens for Easter, during the closed season the town felt very quiet as there is not a large permanent population or large ex-pat community.

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I Greja Matriz de Alvor is the name of the main church. It is the foremost example of Manueline-style architecture in the Algarve. Built in the 1520s, it has the most beautiful Manueline portico in the region, decorated with motifs alluding to flora and fauna, scenes of war and religious symbolism.

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Houses that weren’t white-washed sometimes were clad with beautiful tile.

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With some hunting we found an open shop for some souvenir purchases.

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This beautiful tree was situated in the round-about that we used daily to get in and out of town. I have seen them growing in the Quintana Roo area of Mexico as well.

Kath’s quote: “But Portugal has a peaceful feel about it. I sit on the terrace overlooking the vineyard there and I feel cut off from the world. You need that sort of thing”.- Cliff Richard

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Love never fails.

 

 

Daily Breakfast at Pestana Dom João II Beach Resort, Alvor Portugal

February2

We have been on many holiday trip packages that included a hotel breakfast and the range of the offerings have been varied to say the least. The breakfast buffet at our Alvor hotel was one of the best we have experienced.

All you had to do as you walked down the stairs to the expansive dining room, was leave your room number with the host at the door. From there you picked up your plate and strolled through the variety of food stations.

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First up was fresh fruit and yoghurt. There were always oranges and melon and then on a rotating basis would be apples, bananas, kiwi and pineapple. If you wanted fat or sugar free yoghurt that was in a different spot with Becel margarine and a couple of other items. You may also notice bottles of champagne in the foreground. This too was absolutely free but we actually never indulged. One of our hotel friends did and had to go back to bed for the morning. You could mix the champagne with orange juice if you desired. The juice as well as the coffee came out of machines. This struck us as odd because whenever we drove through the country side the orange groves were everywhere and absolutely laden with fruit.

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Next were a couple of fresh vegetable items, meat and cheese. I fell in love with the cheese with the red rind and then didn’t sample any further. There was an entire section devoted to cold cereals , breads, buns and croissants. I sampled each one of the breads and then keep going back to a dark bread that looked like pumpernickel but had a very subtle taste. It toasted up beautifully.

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From there you could enter another room with hot items: boiled eggs, potatoes, baked tomatoes (foreign to me as a breakfast offering), sausages and bacon-stacks of both.

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At this station the staff would make you crepes, custom made omelettes or this case, freshly made scrambled eggs as I am not fond of eggs that have been sitting.

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With all this selection it may seem strange to you that I had this simple breakfast almost every morning-toast, cheese and peach jam! I couldn’t get enough of it.

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Although I did sample the scrambled eggs once and I attempted to make patatas bravas on another occasion.

Coffee as I said came out of a machine and I didn’t notice until later in the week that when you pushed the cappuccino button you actually received 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk and 1/3 hot chocolate. No wonder I liked the cappuccinos so much.

If we had eyes bigger than our tummies, we might take an apple or other item with us when we left. The hotel was full of golfers and at one breakfast I saw a gentleman sneaking boiled eggs into his pocket! The breakfast was more than enough to hold you over to a late lunch.

Kath’s quote: “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.” ― A.A. Milne

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Love never fails.

Algarve Portugal, Trip Report, End of Arrival Day and Full Day One

February1

When we arrived in Faro in the Algarve the sun was low and by the time we pulled up to our hotel an hour latter, the sun had set. As a result, it was tricky at first to get our bearings. We would have explored the community by car but our rental agreement didn’t commence until the following day. So we decided to walk into town to find a place that we could purchase some essentials in case our luggage never arrived.  We followed one couple who veered west and we didn’t come upon anything, so we retraced our steps and went east. Since we had been travelling for hours and were getting hungry, I was concerned about getting really grumpy when we gave up the search and headed back to our hotel. Of course the next morning when we did have the rental car, we saw that we had not been too far off the mark. The walk invigorated us and we headed downstairs to the dining room.

An extensive buffet was set up but because my camera was in my luggage and my cell phone required charging and I didn’t have the correct adapter, I missed out on the pictures. Suffice it to say I remember chorizo sausage, salads, veggies, bread (lots of bread) and a dish that we later came to learn was called cataplana. It was a casserole of potatoes, clams and beef-an unusual concoction I thought.

The best thing about the $20 euro dinner was that it came with unlimited beer! Very good beer in fact. We very quickly became enamoured with Super Bock. Our poor server didn’t know who he was dealing with! I guzzled 3 small glasses and D 3 large ones. They really took the edge off and when we went up to our room, I had the brainy idea of ordering a bottle of vino tinto. It made the world seem like a less chaotic place and we settled in for our first night’s sleep. You will be happy to know that we didn’t finish the bottle.

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When I awoke the next morning and looked up and past my toes, this was the glorious sight.

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The sun was shining and our first views from our balcony were stunning!

We enjoyed the first of many breakfasts in the hotel (more about that later) and then walked into town to find a local market set up by the docks. We bought pasteis nata, figs, almonds, peach jam and cheese to keep for snacks in our room as it came complete with a little refrigerator. I spent the rest of the morning walking the beach while D put the finishing touches on acquiring a car.

We made the hour trip to Faro in enough time to do a bit more shopping. We bought electrical adapters, water, chips AND the best purchase of all…5 litres of Algarvian Red Wine for 5 euros. The wine was exceptional and try as I might I couldn’t finish it during the week we were in Portugal, so we ended up bringing it home with us!

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Grocery shopping made us remember that we hadn’t eaten lunch so we wandered through the Faro mall trying to find a café as we had already planned to go out for dinner that evening. We nipped into this beautiful “fast food” place explaining that we wanted coffee and a pastry.

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This is what arrived. We think that the meat was pork. The greens may have been kale and the starch….fried bread? Hunger overcame our hesitations and we shared the plate which came with a glass of red wine!

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We went back to the café in the grocery store to enjoy a chocolate croissant and latte. Next stop was the airport where we retrieved our luggage.

By the time we got back to Alvor the sun had set again so we got the contents of our luggage all unpacked and went out for a late supper. We met two girls at our hotel from Kingston, Ontario, the province next to us in Canada. We hit it off and shared tips and stories about our discoveries. They had eaten the previous evening at a place called A Tascado Taberna and Restaurante. That was where we were headed when a local stopped us to encourage us to go to the restaurant that she was hired by. It too was A Tascado so we absolutely knew that would be our destination.

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From the inauspicious looking façade we had no idea it would be so lovely a spot. When we dined that first evening (yes it was so good we went back!) there was only one table besides us. This was a Sunday evening. No wonder they are only open from Thursday to Sunday. Alvor is very sleepy if you go in January.

The brochure that we had been handed said that the restaurant would provide real Algarve cuisine like hake, black pig and Atascado steak and we did not know what any of these items would taste like. We could choose between canapés, tapas or full meals and they also served a traditional meal every day.

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We started by sharing a fish soup which encouraged us  for the rest of our choices.

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We shared two small plates, one being these amazing garlic prawns

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and the other baby squid fried in olive oil. Both dishes were simply prepared and stellar. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.

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Our shared entrée of Moules et Frites were the best Mussels I have ever had including a dinner in Paris! Butter, cream, garlic and flat leaf parsley-once again simple but superb! And by the way, the hand cut fries dragged through the cream sauce were pretty darn good too.

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Upon mopping up our plates with the basket of delicious Portuguese water bread, this friendly sight arrived at our table- a treat from our server. This scene was repeated in many of the restaurants we visited. They would ask if we would care for bread and olives and we would find the cost of such, unexpectantly on our bill but they would give away free booze at the conclusion of the meal! We asked and were told that we were tasting Jin Jin (or so we thought). Upon researching the liquer so D could buy some for our stay, we discovered it was actually Ginjinha or simply Ginja. The drink is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries, (sour cherry) in alcohol and adding sugar together with other ingredients. Ginjinha is always served in shot form. We walked back to our hotel and finished the bottle of wine we had started the night before and dug into a couple of our treats that we had purchased in Faro. When we finally turned out the light is was very, very late.

When I wrote all this in my travel journal, I could not believe that it had happened all in one day. But such is the case with time spent in a country new to you. New sights, new tastes, new sounds, new aromas.

Kath’s quote: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home”.-Unknown

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Love never fails.

 

The Algarve, Portugal Trip Report, Arrival Day

January31

I am in the midst of making our Portuguese hotel room our home for a week. It is compact but there are convenient cupboards to hide everything away. Not that we have anything to hide since we gambled and left our baggage in Toronto. More about that later. The room was dark when we arrived but the front desk host who also arranged for our room upgrade has already been here to tighten one light bulb and show us where the switch for bedside reading is.

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D is currently reading & soaking in the tub. I have pulled down the shade that separates the tub and bathroom from the rest of the suite. But let me start back at the beginning of this adventure some 22 hours ago.

D and J, our friends who we were to travel with, were sitting in the Air Canada lounge in Winnipeg when their flight had been cancelled with no explanation. D & J were wait listed for the next flight AC to Toronto which they did not get on. BTW, there were seats on our flight available, but the West Jet agent told Doug that she was too busy to try to make it happen. (We knew it would have been a stretch because it had been a canceled AC flight, but we thought that WJ had an opportunity to really shine and failed miserably). I will get back to this in a moment.

In the mean time, we leave on our WJ flight. Upon arrival in TO though we are informed of a plane collision and could indeed see the chaos outside the plane windows.

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http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/planes-collide-pearson-1.4475958

We waited for at least 2 hours on the tarmac for a gate. The captain updated us occasionally, the attendants gave us a drink of water. By this time the generous window of time that we had to make our connection to Lisbon was beginning to dwindle. When we finally got a gate, there was no one to taxi us in; when we finally got assistance, there was no one to move the gate hatch over to the plane. By the time we got off the plane, we knew it would be tight but with luck we could still make the connection.

We waited for our luggage; we waited and waited and waited. The baggage area was a mess with people sleeping on the floors, abandoned luggage everywhere, no conveyor belts moving and no updates about the situation. Finally the time got so close that we made a big decision, we would desert our luggage and make do with what was in our carry-on! We still had to get through security. I pestered Doug to let me beg to the people in front of us to let us go through. Doug wouldn’t hear of it…in fact he let people catching a London flight with the same amount of time as us, go ahead of us (that’s my guy for you). Eventually we made it through security just as our flight was to take off. We were still  miles away from the gate and although I tried to keep pace with Doug, I had my knee brace on because of my chronic knee issues. Anyways, in dramatic style we run to the desk asking “Did we make it? Did the plane leave? Why is everyone still standing here?” only to find that hey had not even commenced boarding! They never did change the gate sign indicating the true departure time.

When we were on board, we were tracking our friends’ plane who by then had received boarding passes in Winnipeg. As a result, the next delay turned out to be a welcomed one. The sensors on the plane doors were frozen and they had to find a way to defrost them. This slowed us down for another 2+ hours. We were thinking we could have waited for our luggage after all but mostly were tracking D and J’s plane….they might just make it! As we were finally pulling back from the gate, an Air Canada flight from Winnipeg was pulling into the next bay. Close, but no cigar!

Our friends booked a nice hotel at the TO airport and decide to make other holiday plans. They ended up heading for New York when the Portuguese airline that we were travelling on indicated that it would cost $4,000 for the two of them to join us in Alvor, Portugal. The original package was only $899 including the flight and hotel! They said “We love you but we wouldn’t expect you to fork out $4,000 to holiday with us and we know you will understand that we cannot join you.” But in the mean time, they also went and retrieved our luggage. We had no idea how they managed it, but TAP the Portuguese airline not only accepted the bags (even though they were unaccompanied) and checked them through Lisbon to a regional airport in the Algarve. Doug and I drove to Faro (an hour away) a day later, in time to meet the plane that should hold our luggage. We went through all the red tape and were told that it was absolutely impossible that the bags would show up any time soon. The agent actually told Doug that it was a lost cause but Doug decided to wait by the luggage ramp, outside of her gaze (behind a pole).

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When the luggage started arriving, sure enough, our friends orchestrated  a miracle!  (Now why couldn’t there have also been a miracle for them).

Kath’s quote: “The strong bond of friendship is not always a balanced equation; friendship is not always about giving and taking in equal shares. Instead, friendship is grounded in a feeling that you know exactly who will be there for you when you need something, no matter what or when”. –Simon Sinek

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Love never fails.

 

 

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