Portugal in Springtime

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It’s springtime and I have returned to Portugal for a few days. As always my main reason for being here is to spend time with my daughter, her boyfriend and his family, but it is always good to do a little bit of sightseeing and sample some of the local cultures.

The last time I was here the oranges were just starting to ripen, but this time I was very happy to find that not only that there was plenty of oranges still on the trees but the trees were starting to flower in preparation for the new season. It was a beautiful sight and the smell of oranges in the air was an added bonus.

Ponte de Lima

This was my first time visiting this town but it definitely will not be my last. It is a very pretty place with a lovely old world charm about it and lots of narrow side streets to explore. We had a lovely 3-course lunch of homemade vegetable soup, Pato a Gula (a duck pastry roll) with a variety of vegetables and a traditional rice dish, followed by a (rather large) serving of mango mousse. After such a large lunch we needed to walk it all off and where better to do that than along the river.

Walking along the river we could hear the very loud sound of large quantities of frogs croaking and we did manage to see a few of them hopping through the grass and into the edge of the river.

Gerês

The Gerês is full of incredible beauty and seeing it on a warm spring day is an experience not to be missed. We had lunch in Gerês at a waterfront restaurant on the edge of the River Caldo. This is where I experienced my first Francesinha, a dish that you have to try if you visit this region. However, it is not for vegetarians as it has 5 or 6 different types of meat in between 2 slices of white bread with a fried egg and a good sized helping of melted cheese on top served with a special sauce. 

Driving through the mountains there were many waterfalls and picnic sites to stop off and enjoy the views. We only stopped to get up close to the wild Garrano ponies which were taking a break at the side of the road. There was one little foal in the herd hiding behind some of the older ponies.

One pony decided to use the car as a scratching post before we left.

From here we continued on through the mountains across into Spain then back into Portugal near Soajo.

Soajo

The first time I saw this I thought this was a burial site and that these were tombs. It turns out that they are in fact used for storing grain. The idea is to keep the grain up off the ground and away from vermin.

We finished off the day with a traditional family dinner at a little restaurant but I don’t remember where. I was the only person who didn’t speak much Portuguese but that didn’t seem to make a difference. It was made very clear to me that I needed to eat lots and of course, drink lots too. I had the famous traditional Portuguese Bacalhau and it seemed like every time I looked away from my wine someone topped it up. Before dinner and again after dinner we were treated to a Rap Battle, Portuguese style. I would love to have understood the words because everyone kept bursting into fits of laughter.

This trip was short and sweet but my long term goal is to move here. In the meantime, I am working on a new career to help me achieve this. I have recently been certified as a Teacher of English as a second language. I am now teaching online via Skype. You can find me on facebook https://www.facebook.com/Learn-English-Online-LEO-424330374566284/?view_public_for=424330374566284 

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Portugal-Part Two

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Whenever I tell anyone that I have been to Portugal they immediately presume that I have been to one of the many tourist hot spots in the Southern half of the country. It seems that very few people (in Ireland anyway) know anything about what the Northern half of the country has to offer. For me beauty spots like this one near Soajo which is within the boundaries of the Peneda-Gerês National Park has a lot to offer. There is a very old world charm here with picturesque villages dotted throughout the park. Below is a photo of one of the native cows waiting for the farmer who was following a short distance behind. Something I noticed about him and most other people I met was that they all had an umbrella with them which was immediately put up the second there was even just a single drop of rain. As an Irish person living in a high rainfall area and someone who does not even own an umbrella I found this rather amusing.

The Peneda-Gerês National Park has more to offer than cows and goats. Over the last few years there has been the reintroduction of both the Iberian Wolf and the Iberian Lynx. Some of these animals may have come here from the Spanish side of the park where they also have a reintroduction program. I didn’t have the chance to see either of these wonderful species this time but I now know someone who can guide me in the right direction next time.

If you are interested in wildlife or hiking I highly recommend you use an experienced guide. I was very short on time but I did get to see some wild Garrano ponies. In this case my daughter was my guide. She knows the mountains where they were and she knows horses. Thanks to her knowledge we found them pretty quickly.

These ponies roam wild in the mountains of Northern Portugal but they are also a popular breed as both a working pony and a riding pony.

Above is a 3 year old Garrano pony which has been broken and is being trained as a riding pony. He had his first outing to a local fun jumping competition while I was there.

These dogs are a mixed breed but are part  Cão de Castro Laboreiro which is a breed of dog which was used to protect livestock from wolves and other predators in the mountains. These two were meant to be given the job of looking after the goats but they decided that they preferred to stay home and play with the other dogs and horses.

 

This blog started out as a way of me discovering what other countries have to offer while I am not in a position to visit them. It has been fun but I feel that I have come to and end with it so this will be my last post for a while.

Thank you for joining me on this journey and hopefully I will be back again in the future.

Portugal – Part One

200Having arrived in Portugal (Porto) I was picked up at the airport by my daughter and immediately immersed into her daily life. First stop was her boyfriend’s family home in (Moure, Vila Verde) to bring some of the horses in for the night and feed all of the animals (5 horses, 7 dogs, 1 cat and 3 pigs) and of course to meet his family for the first time. They are lovely people and immediately welcomed me into their hearts and home.Very few people speak English in this region so I have been learning Portuguese online. I thought that I would be able to have a short conversation but the Portuguese that I have been learning is Brazilian Portuguese and a lot of the words are different and it seems that the pronunciation is very different. However by the end of the week I was able to have a short conversation.

This is a busy time of year here with lots of harvesting of different produce going on. Farming is very old world here in that everyone helps out with the harvest and most farming is still done by hand. When you see the landscape here it is easy to see why they still use old style methods. Fields are small and the area is all mountains so large machinery just isn’t practical.

It is so nice to be able to pick fresh fruit straight from the tree. Unfortunately I was just a little late for the figs and a little early for the oranges however I was there for the chestnut picking. It seems that dogs and horses like chestnuts too. Whenever I was picking them the dogs and one of the stallions would be there stealing all the best ones away from me. 252

Horses play a very important part of people’s lives in Portugal and especially so for my daughter. Portuguese horses are like the other animals and the people there in that they are very calm and relaxed. I never thought I would see the day where a stallion would follow me around like a puppy or that they could be taken to a show mixing with others stallions and not cause a drama.

My main reason for visiting Portugal was to spend some time with my daughter and to meet her boyfriend’s parents. Most of the food that I cooked was food that she missed but I did get to taste some traditional Portuguese dishes. Arroz de Pato is a duck rice with incredible flavour. Another dish that is extremely tasty but does not look particularly appealing is a local dish called Papas de Sarrabulho or sometimes just called Papas. Don’t confuse it with the more common Papas dish which is actually a porridge as this Papas is pork stewed with bread in pig’s blood. There was another dish that I tried with roast cubed potatoes and a variety of meats including blood sausage and tripe but I can’t remember what it is called.

Join me next time for Portuguese wildlife.

Mexico and Enchiladas

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As a dog lover Chihuahua is a place that I have to discover more about. These dogs may be small but they are strong and full of character and I want to see if this is reflected in the local people too. Chihuahua has a lot more to offer than the origin of the dog breed and Copper Canyon seems like an ideal place for me to discover the diversity of this area. It is host to a wide variety of habitats in turn supporting a wide variety of Wildlife. The fact that there are many options for rock climbing and water sport activities is a bonus for me. An experience not to be missed is a 14 hour train journey along the canyon and through the many tunnels where you can experience the amazing tunnels and view some spectacular scenery. It’s hard to believe that with our modern lifestyle some local indigenous communities still live in some of these tunnels.

I know that Tabasco Sauce has nothing to do with the area know as Tabasco in Mexico but with a name like that curiosity got the better of me and the more I read about this place the more I want to visit it. It is ideal for me. Although it welcomes tourists it is still relatively free of tourists. Like many other parts of Mexico it has a wide variety of habitats supporting a wide variety of wildlife. 80% of Mexico’s Rain forest is here. The River Grijalva which is 1000 km long runs through here and with a river that long there has got to be plenty to offer in terms of both wildlife and water based activities.

When it comes to Mexican food we immediately think Tacos, Fajitas, Chili con carne to name just a few. I usually cook something Mexican at least once a week but for some reason (not sure why really) I have never had Enchiladas so for this reason and the fact that it is such a popular dish I decided now was the time to try them. MMMMMM delicious. As with most recipes there are so many different ones to choose from. With Enchiladas the only thing I found in common throughout was the meat and tortilla wraps. It seems that apart from these two ingredients anything goes. Even the Enchilada Sauce varies greatly from one recipe to another.

Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients (makes 6)

2 chicken fillets sliced

1/2 green pepper (capsicum) chopped

1/2 red pepper (capsicum) chopped

1/2 yellow pepper (capsicum) chopped

1/2 medium onion chopped

2 garlic cloves crushed and chopped

oil for frying

Grated cheddar cheese for topping (amount depending on taste)

Enchilada Sauce

6 tortilla wraps

Method

Cook the chicken on a high heat until half cooked (roughly 5 mins depending on size). Add the vegetables and cook until just tender (roughly another 5 mins depending on size). Mix in half the Enchilada Sauce then divide the mixture between the wraps and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover with the remaining sauce and grated cheese. Place in a preheated oven at 200 C and cook until the cheese starts to brown and bubble (roughly 20 mins).

Enchilada Sauce

Ingredients

1/4 cup of oil

1/4 cup of flour

1 cup of chicken stock

1 teaspoon of oregano

1 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of garlic powder

1 teaspoon of black pepper

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

4 tablespoons of chili powder (this makes it very hot and spicy so can be greatly reduced according to taste. In fact I recommend starting with half this amount and adding more according to taste).

Method

Heat the oil in a pan and gradually add the combined dry ingredients. Cook for about 1 minute then add the chicken stock. (This makes a very thick sauce so you may prefer to add extra liquid) Cook gently for just a few minutes then use as directed above. This can also be made in larger batches and either kept in a fridge for a few days or frozen.

I’m taking a break from this regular page for the next couple of weeks as I head to Portugal to experience local life in a small mountain village in Northern Portugal where my daughter lives. I will be meeting her boyfriend’s family for the first time. I am sure that I will learn a little about local Portuguese culture here as the family play traditional Portuguese music for visitors and at the many festivals in the area. My daughter and her boyfriend also take part in the many festivals riding her horses and dressed in traditional costume to lead some of the parades.  As they don’t speak English much in the area and I only speak a little Portuguese it should certainly be interesting.

Austria and Tiroler Gröstl

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Austria is a country that has so many options for someone like me that there are far too many for me to go into here. It has a wonderful landscape that is home to a wide variety of Wildlife and many hiking routes to suit all levels. One place that struck me that I have to visit is the Kalkalpen National Park. This is the largest forest in Austria but the trees here have been left to mature, die and regenerate in a natural way. This provides a very important habitat for many creatures including insects which we often take for granted or just completely ignore but have an extremely important role in keeping the balance in nature. The park has many canyons, gorges, rivers and lakes as well as the forest providing a variety of habitats and I’m sure that you will find something to please you here.

Vienna is the city that is top of my list. When I was a kid like most young girls I wanted a pony but I was very happy when I got a book about horses from around the world instead. One of the pictures in this book was of the Lipizzaner Horses being put through their paces in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. I was completely taken with them and it would mean a lot to me to be able to visit there with my now grown up daughter. I grew out of the wanting a pony phase as I got older but she didn’t. She now has her own horses.

If you are not interested in horses there are lots of other things to do in Vienna. Anyone who has an interest in art, history or food will have plenty to keep them entertained.

For this weeks dish I chose Tiroler Gröstl. This is a dish that is very popular with hikers in the Alpine region. It is very simple to make and is tasty and filling.

Tiroler Gröstl

Ingredients

500g potatoes peeled and cut into bite sized chunks

400g bacon rashers (cut into pieces) or lardons

1 large onion chopped into bite sized chunks

2 teaspoons of paprkika

Fried egg (optional)

Chopped parsley to garnish

Method 

Boil the potatoes until cooked but still quite firm. Fry the onion and bacon until cooked through and the bacon is nice and crispy. Add the potato, mix together with the bacon and onion and also the paprika and parsley (I couldn’t get parsley) and cook until the potato is fully coated and starting to get a little crispy. Serve with a fried egg on top.

Join me next time for Mexican night

 

Japan and Teriyaki Chicken

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When I was in Australia I spent 6 months with 9 Japanese students. One thing that  struck me about them was the huge respect they have for others and especially their elders.I decided then that at some point in my life I would have to visit Japan and discover as much as I can about this country and its people. I hope that if I do manage to visit that some of these students will be able to show me the real Japan. However even if they do there are a few places of interest and things to do that I have on my list.

When I was a young child I saw a poster of Mount Fuji in Japan and I was instantly captivated by it. Some people might say it is just a mountain with snow on top but to me there was something very magical about it. If I ever manage to visit Japan I will definitely have to visit Mount Fuji. Japan is full of hiking trails for all levels so I am pretty sure there will be one to suit me near Mount Fuji.

Kyoto is a city that I want to visit. It is famous for its Cherry Blossoms but also for its Temples and Shrines. Not far from  here is the rural city of Koka which is the homeland of the original Ninja warriors. This is well worth a visit for anyone who has even the slightest interest in martial arts.

I’m not a fan of snow but I a must for anyone interested in Wildlife is a visit to the onsen (hot springs) on Mount Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto. Here you can see Japanese Macaque bathing in the hot springs during the snows of winter. Another magical winter wildlife experience is to see the endangered Red Crowned Cranes gathering on the lakes at dawn.

Tokyo is a huge city but despite its size it has many green spaces well worth a visit. You can view the city by helicopter ride or from one of the many viewing points around the city such as the Tokyo Skytree. Another way of seeing a different side to the city is to take a water bus. One experience I cannot miss is Sumo wrestling in Ryogku. Of course in a city of this size there are many places to find great food to suit any taste.

When I was in Australia I was spoiled for choice when it came to international cuisine and Japanese food was easy for me to get. Here in Ireland not so much especially where I live. As a result I chose Chicken Teriyaki. Normally I like to try to make as much as possible from scratch but in this case the Teriyaki came out of a bottle. While it was nice it was not as good as the Japanese food I used to get in Australia and no doubt very different to the food I would get in Japan.

Chicken Teriyaki

Ingredients

Chicken fillets sliced (pieces boned but with skin still on are better)

1 jar/bottle of Teriyaki Sauce

Sesame seeds for garnish

Spring onions sliced for garnish

Rice (I used brown)

Method

Place the sliced raw chicken in the Teriyaki overnight or a minimum of 4 hours. Cook the chicken until cooked through (time depends on thickness) and sauce is thick and sticky. Serve on a bed of rice, garnish with the sesame seeds and spring onions and enjoy.

Join me next time for Austrian night.

Malaysia and Beef Rendang

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Technically I have been to Malaysia. I had a 2 hour stop over on my way to Australia so I can’t really count that. However I would like to go there some day as I have a very good friend there. As she was born in and has lived in Kuala Lumpar for most of her life she will definitely have to be my guide. There is nothing like local knowledge when it comes to experiencing local culture and activities that you may not know about otherwise. There are 2 things that I would like to do in Kuala Lumpar and they are to visit the local markets (something I like to do no matter where I go) and the other is to pay a visit to the KL Bird Park.

Away from KL there is the Mount Kinabalu Via Ferrata. Rock climbing is one of the things on my bucket list and the Mount Kinabalu Via Ferrata is a great way for a beginner to have that experience.

The Cameron Highlands is another must for me. Here I can go kayaking and Wildlife watching while enjoying a variety of habitats.

Malaysian food has been influenced by a number of different cultures so it should be easy to find food to suit every taste. Rendang is one of the most popular dishes and so I have chosen Beef Rendang. I like to cook everything from scratch as much as possible but in this case I cheated and used a paste from a jar. It was very easy to make this way but I am sure that it would have tasted much better from scratch.

Beef Rendang (Serves 4)

Ingredients

400g beef cubed

1 jar of rendang paste

1 can of coconut milk

50g of desiccated coconut

oil for frying (I used coconut oil but any oil will do)

onion sliced and fried for garnish

coriander for garnish

Coriander Rice

Basmati rice (60g – 80g per serving)

3 tablespoons of fresh coriander finely chopped

3-4 cardamon pods

salt and pepper to taste

Method

First heat the desiccated coconut on a medium heat until browned. You will not need oil for it as it produces its own oil as it starts to heat up but do keep it stirred otherwise it could burn easily.

Next heat some oil and brown the meat all over. Add the paste and cook for 5 minutes (or according to recipe on jar). Add the coconut milk and the toasted coconut keeping some of the toasted coconut back as garnish. Cook on a low heat for 2-3 hours until the sauce has reduced. (This recipe is meant to be quite dry but mine didn’t reduce enough so still had quite a lot of sauce)

 

For the rice cook according to instructions on packet adding the coriander and cardamon pods.

Serve the Rendang on a bed of rice and garnish with the fried onion and toasted coconut (kerisik)

Join me next time for Japanese night.