Sea, salt, and grassy olive oil. Brilliant, abiding sun reflected in marble, whitewash, and sand. Lulas, polvo & chocos. And such mollusks. My fill of sea creatures; never wanting for garlic. Back roads & ocean bonfires. Antique brass & porcelain. Soft, pungent cheese & fatty chouriço (don’t call it sausage). That’s the seduction of Portugal. And I’m not easy to seduce.
I only wish I could have stayed and stayed. And not left ever. But lived on instead as an aunt (rumored to be mad as a March hare) to Sanda’s children, one that came around every now & again, and, forever forgetting to take her shoes off in the foyer, would proffer animal teeth & crystals to the children and help out with supper, talking a little too much & reminiscing about “real” buttermilk. That last night in Lisboa, walking through a web of streets eating pistachio gelato with Sanda, her husband Marcos, and their two happy children, I felt pained. Those narrow—always narrow—streets and their attendant tables convivial with Portuguese wine, the iconic tiles, the pastel facades strung with colored flags in May, streets so rambling you’ll turn your ankle if you’re not careful—it was a rare moment. Leaving Lisboa when we’d only just been acquainted was done with a heavy heart. But I was able to spend a more ample amount of time with the country & sea side, and for that I’m grateful.
Most of my time in Portugal was spent working & teaching south of Lisbon at Uva do Monte, a spectacular & entirely unique renovated blueberry farm come inn. I couldn’t have dreamt up a more perfect backdrop for my partner Sanda (of one of my all time favorite blogs Little Upside Down Cake) & I’s workshop if I’d tried. In the days leading up we shopped for ingredients in town and cooked & planned away at Sanda’s flat, and then come the workshop we spent our days at the farm cooking together and teaching the ins & outs of visual story telling, prop & food styling, composition, and post-processing. The first afternoon, as everyone arrived, was spent enjoying tapas & ginger sage lemonade and getting to know one another. That night Sanda and I prepared a feast with squid we purchased (happily cleaned & sliced for us) at Peixaria Centenária, a fantastic fish monger in Lisbon (highly recommended if you’re visiting even if just to have a look!). We braised the squid in tomato & white wine and finished it with a pinch of cinnamon and served it tossed with bucatini, anchovy butter, and spicy parsley bread crumbs. Alongside it was a simple fennel & citrus salad with fresh cheese and for dessert we served a lavender panna cotta with red fruits & thyme cookies.
photo by Skye McAlpine
photo by Eve Hilaire
The following day was spent cooking & styling everything from fava soup to spring risotto to beautiful strawberry thyme galettes. The next morning we baked cakes, foccaccia, burek, and assembled all manner of picnic fare and, stalwart in the face of an arguably oppressive sun, set up a make shift canopy and styled, shot, and subsequently ate a picnic on the expansive Praia de Aberta Nova as waves crashed and were blue in the way one hopes the sea to be. At least as I do. The final day we took the principles of visual story telling on the road and visited a few local spots, starting with a traditional Portuguese village, all white and blue, Santa Susana. After that we had lunch at an old primary school that had been turned into a restaurant—a feast of seafood and rabbit and all manner of victuals soaked in oil & garlic. We moved on to an abandoned fishing village whose docks, while death traps, were also highly photogenic. The last night we celebrated with another picnic, this time at sunset with a bonfire. But most of all, each day, we enjoyed the company of our students: strong, bright women from all corners—France, New York, Amsterdam, Denmark, London, and Seattle. Teaching inevitably, and perhaps unfairly, results in learning as much from your students as they can learn from you.
I received a package of tea & books from one of them, Skye (who’s work on her blog From My Dining Table is so beautiful these days I can hardly stop exclaiming to anyone who happens to be near when I look at it), that moved me to the verge of tears (she knew I’d wanted to grab a special tin of tea in London but that due to cancelled flights I couldn’t). And I often think of Leslie’s sound & pragmatic business advice. She (unbeknownst to her) exists as a coach in my head. I’m convinced Sif (a prolific cookbook author), in flowing skirts with long, blond locks, is a natural white sorceress (that is to say, a kindred spirit), and to hear her recount her life of dreams around the breakfast table was one of the many joys she brought. Nathalie reminded me daily and through just being that it was all terribly beautiful and not so serious; her good nature (which is a quiet, wordless wisdom) brought balance and reminded me daily that the point of it all is to enjoy it all. I’m ridiculously adept at forgetting that at times and instead become fixated on perfection, excellence. But there is nothing excellent about a dry, pursed life. No matter how lovely, how well composed & curated. Alice & Eve, both accomplished photographers, made me think about all aspects of what I do with their pointed, intelligent questions, and they brought a brand of humor and class that French women inevitably do. Their friendship and collaborative work with each other is also so inspiring. Olaiya, a chef from Seattle, had a bright, vibrant style that reminded me that technique is a means to your vision, and no one can teach you that last part. That’s yours to find, and you have to have the courage to find it, lest you fall victim to the sad farce of trying to be someone else. Confident in her style & taste, Olaiya would never fall victim to that. And Lisa. Lisa, a Dutch woman and mother of three, had such a quiet determination. And it shows in her work. Thoughtful shots that capture still moments. And done with a finesse I would have hardly believed the equipment she was working with was capable. She is a prime example of the fact that a good photographer can make beautiful photos on absolutely anything. This is and always has been true; her work exemplifies it. Her photos, like her, are quiet and beautiful, devoid of ostentation. They are honest. I cannot thank each of them enough for attending, putting up with my eccentricities, and allowing me to teach them. The honor was mine.
Many many thanks to our partners, who provided our students with beautiful gifts of sea salt from Old Salt Merchants, herbal teas from Marble & Milkweed, and gorgeous aprons from Knock Knock Linen. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t end by thanking my friend & colleague Sanda for her hospitality, her hard work, and her sheer talent. I cried when saying good by to her. But only after she admitted that she was a bit teary behind her sunglasses. I’d meant to stuff it, and right after laughing in front of the airport If I was younger, I would cry, I did. Her photos have inspired me for a long time, and to have the chance to see her work, learn her process, and get to know her & her family was worth every bit of work involved. She’s everything I’m not and then some, and I couldn’t have done it without her. I miss you, Sanda! And I cannot thank you enough.
I leave you with our menu to perhaps inspire some ideas of you own, and one of the simple recipe we created for the workshop, a homely but delicious soup of fat, smooth fava beans, courgette (zucchini! but doesn’t courgette just roll off your tongue?), leeks, and mint. It was inspired by nothing more than what was beautiful when I was there. It was cooking in the moment.
Local cheese & charcuterie
Ginger Sage Lemonade
White Bean & Rosemary dip
Fennel + olive + orange + buffalo mozzarella
Tomato White Wine Cinnamon Braised Squid Bucatini + Anchovy Butter+ Spicy Parsley Bread Crumbs
Lavender Buttermilk Panna Cotta + Sauce of Red Fruits + Thyme Olive Oil Dromkakor Cookies
Bread & Garlic Herb Butter
Savory Workshop Lunch
Fava Leek Courgette soup + Feta & Mint
Spring Risotto with Peas and Greens
Strawberry & Lemon Thyme Galettes with a Spelt Crust + Whipped Cream
Spinach & Cheese Burek
Fresh fruit & Local Cheese
Tomato Basil Foccaccia
Smoked Salmon & Rocket Baguettes with Homemade Aioli, Pickled Shallots, and Capers
Grapefruit, Fennel, & Olive Oil Cakes
Lavender Lemon Rosemary Soda