A Taste of The Alentejo

Greetings to you my lovely friends and fellow wanderers. Hope you are all managing to find some positivity and light in these very dark and trying days. Just as we all thought we were getting to the finish line, the situation has taken a rather frightening U turn. Whilst you guys back home are struggling with miserably cold weather, home schooling and strict lockdown rules, it might seem like we are having the life of Riley out here in the sunshine. I won’t lie, I am very thankful to be where I am. It was all a bit of a lottery but, at the end of the day, this is us. We aren’t on holiday, we opted for a lifestyle change. Winter holds nothing for us in old Blighty, family and friends aside. Had we not taken the risk and made a run for it whilst the world was still open, we would have struggled for somewhere to park the van with everywhere closed so no, I don’t regret it. We are tucked away in a peaceful l, far westerly corner of the Algarve. It’s in the National Park so not really a touristy area. We live simply. We have our friends on site. A few of us girls do keep fit in the garden each morning and our Belgian pal, Luc, is teaching Tai Chi. Portugal is now locked down too. The rates where we are hunkered down are still, thankfully, very low. Aside from visiting the local, more remote and thus deserted, beaches daily for exercise and to walk the dog, we only venture out now to pick up groceries. We are lucky to have a small fresh food daily market in the next village and a couple of well stocked supermarkets. There’s a pizza delivery local to us. The luxury of eating out is no more and our wandering is curtailed for the foreseeable. It’s a small price to pay. Obviously like everyone else, we have our own worries. Staying healthy, keeping out of harms way, absolutely paramount of course. The constant doom and gloom in the media. Fake news and scaremongering on Facebook etc. are really not helping. Concerns for vulnerable family back home. What problems will we encounter when we start making our way back, when will lockdown end, will we still have jobs, blah blah blah. These are scary tunes indeed. We have all been fighting our own personal battles throughout this pandemic. It’s bound to be affecting our mental health no matter who we are. We must try hard to focus on the positives of which there are many. The dawn and dusk chorus have resumed here in Figueira. The birdies are trying to cheer us up! The spring flowers are starting to burst through, the fields and hills are a mass of colour. Sure the UK will be the same very soon. Look up tonight and see the first spectacular full moon of the year. If you’re in bricks and mortar, have a hot bubble bath with your favourite stuff (geranium and lavender are my go to, the Neals Yard Aromatics is fab although good old Badedas still does it for me!!). Bake something that smells good, get a warming, cheery dish in the slow cooker. Play uplifting music. Have a crazy dance around your kitchen. look at old photos. DONT READ THE CRAP ON SOCIAL MEDIA!! Do one thing that makes you happy everyday. I have a silly list (yes I’m a prolific list maker!!). We need our comforts right now. Try your best to work a bit of exercise into your daily routine even if it’s only stretching. Ladies, check out walk fit or cha cha cha 15 minute dance fit routine on you tube. So what if the neighbours think you’re bats!! Give em a wave!! If you’re not earning, best to avoid internet shopping, even I’ve had to curb that urge!! I still do a bit of painting, driftwood and stuff and lots of cooking to pass the time. I’m going to share my sunshine cake recipe with you in a bit but first, I’ll rewind to our last trip out before the lockdown was imposed. It was a cool but glorious blue sky day so we took a tootle along the west coast tree lined road, and into Alentejo. One of our favourite regions of Portugal. Sorry that we haven’t seen enough of it during the last two trips due to circumstances. It’s such a scenic drive right through the Costa Vicentina National Park. Everything is so green. We are heading towards the Algarvian Border near Aljezur. This coast sports some of the best surfing beaches in Europe. It was certainly a winner with Matt and Lucy when they visited. We stopped off at Carrapeteira first for brunch. MicroBar in the square do really gorgeous food. Don’t leave town without a quick stroll up to the pretty little church. The view from the bell tower over towards the ocean is priceless. Next stop was Aljezur for a quick coffee. The market for chillies too. The hottest we’ve found!! On then to our destination. Odeceixe. We have been there once before but only to the opposite side of the river where we wild camped for a couple of nights. You’ll find that stay under a previous heading. The town itself is a fair distance from the beach, Praia de Odeceixe. It was a no no in our big van last time because of the steep, narrow streets but much more accessible now in the hire car. It’s a sleepy little spot with a treacle slow pace and friendly folk. There’s a great bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread from the huge brick oven came wafting through the door as we parked up. Down the winding cobbled streets in the leafy square at the heart of Odeceixe there were a surprising number of inviting looking bars and eateries. The working windmill is open to visitors in Summer months, it stands at the highest point above the town like a pinnacle. It’s a really endearing place to visit. The characterful white washed houses tumble down the hillside to the valley of the Ribeira de Seixe below. The river itself forms the border between the rolling hills of the Alentejo and The Algarve. A short drive to the beach and there’s another little cluster of dwellings with a couple more restaurants, almost a village of its own. The vista from above is spectacular. From here, you are looking down on the crystal waters of the river as it winds its way through the white sands and meets the Atlantic. It really is a beautiful, sheltered beach this. Such a dramatic contrast with the calm, slow flowing river and the wild surf. Dylan absolutely loved swimming in the shallow river. It was teeming with fish. I remember experiencing an incredible westerly sunset from the opposite banks and then a magical starry night listening to the waves crashing whilst we fished in that river. Wonderful memories. Wild camping has sadly now been outlawed in Portugal so not one that will ever be repeated.

We had a super day out. If you are inclined, call at one of the few good surf beaches along the coast on the way back. We wanted to beat the temperature drop which happens around 4pm in the Winter months. It had forecast a cold night and we both needed a shower!! We took a slight detour through the hills to see the mountain village of Pedralva. Another tiny whitewashed. cobbled village to tick off the list. Very pretty. Not much happening. We had picked up bags of oranges and lemons from a side of the road seller en route so cue the sunshine cake recipe!! You can make this with oranges or lemons or a mix of both if you fancy!! OK then, here goes. You will need a largish oblong tin. Mine is an enamel type pie tin and measures approx 12” by 10”. Grease and line it. Oranges or lemons. Depends on size but I used about 4. 200g golden caster sugar, 4 tbs Demerara sugar, 6 heaped tbs of marmalade, orange or the lemon and lime flavour or even lemon curd will do depending on which fruit you are using. 200g unsalted butter at room temp, 4 eggs, 200g SR flour, 50g ground almonds, a tsp of vanilla essence, grated zest of one large orange or lemon along with the juice. First of all, sprinkle the lined base of your tin evenly with the Demerara sugar. Cover with thin slices of your chosen fruit, overlapping them a little. My lemons had really thick skin so I removed it to avoid a bitter taste. Whisk the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and 5 tbsps of the marmalade. Fold in the sieved flour gently, along with the ground almonds and a pinch of sea salt. Add the zest, juice and vanilla essence. Pour the mixture carefully over the fruit layer. Bake for around 50 mins. I can’t give you an oven temp unfortunately as my Motorhome oven is either nil or nuke. Whatever temperature you normal house dwellers usually bake a cake on!! Leave to cool but while still fairly warm, put a large plate over the top of the tin and flip it over, turning out the cake with the fruit layer on top. Warm up the remaining marmalade or curd with a little sugar and a squeeze of juice, stirring until syrupy. Prick holes in the top of the cake and pour over as a glaze. Serve warm or cold. Delicious with ice cream or custard. Cheers up a chilly day!! Instant sunshine on a plate!! Hope you enjoy that one.

Once we got back to the van and scrubbed up, we couldn’t be bothered to cook. Instead we jumped back in the motor and headed over to Vila do Bispo just a 5 minutes drive away, and a nice looking restaurant we had passed many times. A Eira do Mel. What a great choice. The log burner was roaring inside and jazz was playing softly in the background. It had a lovely, homely atmosphere and quirky decor. Lots go catch your eye! They had me at the disco ball in the ladies loo! You couldn’t have wished for nicer people or better service. The food was interesting, well cooked and nicely presented. Fantastic choice of wines too. Winner winner!! I had Crunchy Moray Eel to start and wild boar for mains. Mark stuck with the traditional Bacalhau dish. It was all delicious. Another great find and the last ‘date night’ for a while 🙁. So our wings have now been clipped and we, along with the rest of the planet, are in Covid prison. Things are looking bleaker by the day. Hopefully now the vaccine is underway we should start to see some positive progress ??🙏 Did we ever dream that a year down the line things would have gone backwards? Cheers China.

Anyway chaps, stiff upper lip and all that. Shame all this virus bollocks had to have a head on collision with the dreaded Brexit. It just seems like one bad news story to the next at the moment. It’s like being in a scary movie. Go put your fluffy socks on and do your dance. Bake your cakes, cuddle your kids, drink the wine. Zoom your mates, have a ‘virtual’ pub quiz, whatever brings a smile to your face. Every time you break through the gloom you are winning! This sh*t storm has to come to an end soon. Sending all our love to you guys out there in the meantime. This will be my last post for a while (thank the Lord I’m sure some of you will say!!). We will be moving on when safe to do so but for now we’ll be keeping our heads down. Do take care my lovelies. Cheerio for now xxx

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