"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Movable Feast

I have a soft spot for that title, above, there.  A Movable Feast.  My love for the phrase is partly due to the fact that I love Hemingway, and reading that book is like getting to tag along with a couple of highly dysfunctional, boozy maniacs, as they shift the party from city to city, around Europe.  Without the raging hangover, of course.

I also adore the phrase because, hey, let's be honest:  Feast.  Which pretty much guarantees there's going to be good food aplenty, drinks in abundance, and a whole lot of fun to be had.  We had our own movable feast yesterday evening, a tribute to our days in Portugal.  Uma sardinhada, to be precise.

When we heard that fresh sardines were in at the nearest fishmongers (read:  30-odd miles away), I hopped in the car, and headed down, excited to pay homage to not only our Festa days in Portugal, but also to that humble, homely fish, the sardine.

Now, I'm not about to romanticize the sardine.  There is nothing romantic about this guy.  In fact, the sardine and I have a rather tumultuous history.  A definite love/hate relationship.  The love comes from my tendency to wax nostalgic about our memories of certain places we've traveled and lived.  Although it is, truly, a tasty fish.  The hate?  Well, here's a little story:

Back in the day, we lived in a sweet, little cottage, with a view of the sea, Numero 4.  It was a lovely wee place, I was pregnant with Tyler, the sun shined bright and hot all summer long.  Life was good.  Mostly.  For you see, our next door neighbors were two ancient crone sisters, bruxas, we called them.  Witches.  All day long they shouted at each other, and from our limited grasp of the Portuguese language, especially the rough, speedy dialect in which they hurled insults back and forth, it sounded for all the world as if they were cursing and casting spells.  Constantly.  Morning, noon, and night.  And they were surrounded, overrun, by a pack of feral cats.  Why cats, you ask?  (Aside from the obvious witch/cat thing.)  Those cursed sardines, of course.

Every day for lunch, our bruxas, along with many Algarvian residents, would fire up the grill and throw on the sardines.  A healthy lunch, a tradition with roots that extend deep into the past.  And a very, very intense smell.  Especially if you're pregnant.  Like I was.  Thus, the hatred part of the deal.

However, I also have very fond memories of sardinhadas, like the one at our friends, Craig and Ilda's.  A post-work party, people of all ages and several nationalities digging in to solidly humble, soulful food, abundant wine, and a few good laughs at their jumping dog.  (Seriously, this dog was hilarious.  He bounced straight up and down, nearly 6 feet off the ground.  Especially funny after a few jugs of vinho verde.)

Anyway, we felt a tribute to fond memories of great friends and good food was long overdue, so re-enacted our own sardinhada, last night.

Requirements for a successful sardinhada must include:

Entrada...olives, the brinier and oilier, the better.  Preferably also a good, rustic cheese, and some bread to hold folks over while the sardines cook.

Decent sized, fresh sardines, to be grilled.  These were on the large side, about 2 to 3 fish per pound.  We decided last night that a bit smaller is preferable, because you pick the meat out of the fish with your fingers, and there are a lot of tiny bones.  In this size fish, the bones are too big to be ignored, but in smaller ones, chomping down a few here and there is no big deal.  It's a messy process, regardless.  But fun.

Crusty bread, on which to serve the sardines.  The bread acts as a sort of trencher, and soaks up all the lovely fish juices, and afterward, best part:  you get to eat it.  Yum.

To complete the prato principal, or main course, a simple salad, dressed in olive oil, vinegar, and sea salt.  Boiled potatoes, dressed in olive oil.  (I cheated though, and tossed them in butter and herbs.)

A large selection of bebidas, drinks.  We always laughed at how many drinks were on the table by the end of a meal...but let me say, the more the merrier, just like friends.  A jug of sangria, or a few cold beers to start.  A well-chilled Vinho Verde, and a bottle of still or fizzy water, to share during the meal.  And do not forget uma bica e o porto, espresso and port, to round it all off. And to settle the probably quite stuffed stomach, before dessert.

Last, but not least, of course...good friends to share it all with.  Muito bem.

We had a super fresh, simple dessert of figs, with lavendar and lemon-infused honey, and a bit of whipped cream.  I found a recipe on yummly.com, and adapted it a wee bit, hope you like it!

Caramelized Figs with Lavendar and Lemon-Infused Honey

For the honey:

1/3 cup honey
2 tsp dried lavender blossoms
1 tsp lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon

Combine all ingredients, except lemon juice, in a small saucepan, and bring to a gentle simmer, for 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat, let cool 10 minutes, and add lemon juice.

For the cream:

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbs confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Beat cream with sugar and vanilla, stopping well before peaks form, for a soft, whipped cream.

For the caramelized figs:

1 - 2 figs per serving, halved
Turbinado sugar

Sprinkle a small amount of turbinado sugar atop the halved figs, and either put them under the broiler until the top caramelizes slightly (watch constantly, it only takes a minute or so), or go crazy with the blow torch, as the Mister did.

To serve, place a few tablespoons of whipped cream in a small serving dish, top with the caramlized figs, drizzle with the honey, and garnish with a sprig or two of mint.


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