Nostalgic nationalism

“I want to cook as well, one day, if you think that’s a good idea,” Tosca said as she enters the kitchen, where I am chopping and cutting, “If you have dried split peas, and celery, then I could make a nice soup. Do you like pea soup? ”

Luckily it’s not necessary to confess what I think of pea soup, because:

“Yes, I do know pea soup, but there are so many ingredients that you can’t buy here … what a pity!”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I’d like some pea soup. But then I’ll just have to wait until we get home. There it’s also colder than here …. it fits better. It’s too sunny here now! ”

Tosca is always in a good mood, it seems. With her blonde hair and her soft southern accent she seems a gentle spring breeze. Lightens up the room.

She’s going to set the table, while I stir the onions. Suddenly a kind of nostalgia comes over me – what the portuguese call saudade – a kind of homesickness, to …. well, what? To how it once was, to eat the things you are used to, habits you’d had you never think about, the fun when the kids were small, when I was in the kitchen, while they were chasing each other through the whole house.

“The RRRRR is in the month, guys!”

I used to cry, “Novemberrrrrrr, murrrrsels !!” they would cry back. “On the way back from school, we go to the market, right?” and then we ran from the schoolyard to the market straight towards “The Best Mussels from Zeeland”.

You could get a kilo of the best mussels for 5 euro there. They had jumbos, huge mussels in enormous shells, but I always preferred the normal ones. It was not so much the mussels, but it was more about the homemade garlic mayonnaise.**

We always ate them like this: the mussels cooked with onion, leek and carrot, homemade garlic mayonnaise and Turkish bread. Accompanied by a glass of dry white wine (not from the refrigerator, much too cold when the RRRRR is in the month, much more flavor).

Simple. Lovely. Tasty. Very healthy. And nice and homey

A nice chat, a good meal, an excellent glass and a some giggles. What more do you want?

This went on for a few years until the boys began to realize that mussels were living creatures, and on top of it were cooked alive. Those were the days when other conversations started, and we probably fell off our parental pedestal. I’m not going into that now, since this piece is not about animal rights ….

I had high hopes that we could continue our fine tradition here, but that hope was quickly gone. No murrrrsels in the shops.
We live not far from the sea, so the first year we went expectantly with big buckets to the shore. Murrrrsels fresh from the Atlantic, how beautiful can life be!

It was a disillusion, unfortunately

Unhindered by any form of knowledge of mussels and / or the ocean, we took our buckets for nothing. They were patheticaly small. Tiny shells, including a bug you could hardly grasp with tweezers.
Ah …

Years later I discovered that in Costa de Lavos, at restaurant “A Pérola Do Oceano” – the pearl of the ocean – they served great mussels.

Great in every sense. Mussels from Madeira, big shells, beautiful green on the outside and pearl inside. Fat orange creatures in there, very tasty.
I liked the shells even better. The first time I asked if I could take them with me.
The waiter clearly thought that was a little weird, but was too polite to say so.

“Desculpe? Quer levar as conchas?”

I explained that I wanted to use them in a mosaic, and then she figured it out: Ooo, an artista, they are always a little weird …. Oh, the dona das Termas-da-Azenha? Yeah, she knew the place.
After that, every time I was eating there, I ordered mussels and got automatically, without having to ask,received the shells in a bag at the end of the meal.

That was really sweet, they were (and are!) delicious, it’s cozy, but it’s not like the murrrrsels of the past.
That never comes back …


** recipe for mussels with homemade garlic mayonnaise for 4 p

You need: 1 big leek, 2 onions, 3 big carrots, 1 kilo mussels per person. And a big pan with a lid.

Put the mussels in a bucket of water to rinse. They will be closed. Throw the open and damaged ones away. Put a big pan on the fire with only a few inches of water. Clean and cut the leek, the onions and the carrots. Cook it. It should remain cooking.

When it cooks, put the mussels in there and close the lid. The water will rise, and the mussels will open their shells. Open the lid after a few minutes. The water will drop again. Do this 3 times, and try to do it as fast as possible.

You need: 4 egg yolks, salt, sugar, 3 cloves of garlic, mustard, vinegar, olive oil

Put the egg yolks in a bowl, add the salt, sugar, a nice spoonful of mustard and a little bit of vinegar. Press the garlic into the bowl. Take your mixer and the bottle of olive oil and let it drip slowly in the bowl while you mix. Take care: too much oil at once doesn’t mix well, it should be just a tiny jet.

You can serve this with bread or with french fries.


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