Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lisbon Portugal

I have just had a great visit to the National Institute for Agrarian and Veterinary Research, in Oeiras, Portugal, just west of Lisbon.  This is the main national research center for agricultural and forestry research in Portugal, and forest pathologist Helena Bragança arranged for a meeting with a number of their researchers about their work on cork oak decline, pine-wilt nematode, Phytophthora ramorum, and other emergent diseases.  I also gave a seminar on phylogenetic ecology and plant diseases, and made some great possible links for future work.  A great group of scientists doing great applied ecology, especially of pathogens and pests.

In honor of all the work they are doing on cork oak pathogens and pests, I had to buy a styling cork hat.  Sometime you just have to be the tourist, but this is also a reminder of some interesting possible future collaborations. 

But I really couldn't wait to share a non-work highlight; my dinner tonight at  Restaurante O Churrasco. Yesterday, walking across the city in the afternoon, I saw handwritten signs in a couple restaurant windows that said temos lampreia.   So today I really needed to try lamprey - blood-sucking, suction-mouthed, primitive vertebrates (think, alien).  For dinner I went back to one of the restaurants, and asked for lampreia.  It was one of the best -- and most different kinds of seafood I've ever tasted.  But you have to get past what it is - a fish parasite, cooked in its own blood, with a bit of rice.  The waiter checked in repeatedly, not believing I would eat it, since, he claimed, 95% of Portuguese wouldn't eat it.  It is only available for a few months in the early part of the year. The meat is unlike anything I've tasted -- not like fish, not like seafood, but not really like shark, or snake, or frog, or anything else, really.  Flaky, rich flavor.  And the blood sauce, a wonderful, rich gravy.   Really special, not to be missed.  Definitely one to try the next time here, as well. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cooking in Sevilla

Food is big in Sevilla -- they are rightfully proud of their amazing array of tapas, and the markets are replete with fresh veggies, fruits, seafood, and just about any part of a vertebrate you could want.  Of course, there are many things missing here from our usual diet; for instance it has so far been impossible to get good Mexican flavors, because all the spices here are different.  
Mushroom caps stuffed with garlic snails

But one of my personal goals during this stay, with an abundance of cool new foods, was to be as adventurous in cooking as I could be.  Sometimes this was trying to learn to make something that we tried in a tapas bar, but most often it was finding something in the market that I couldn't identify, asking what it was and what to do with it, and searching the internet for how to prepare it.  Not everything has been a success or to our liking the first time (or in the case of pigeon, even the second), but there are some wonderful new foods that I will sorely miss back in California.

A few new things I've learned to cook:
Birds:  Quail, pigeon, pheasant, partridge
Eggs: Quail eggs, both pickled and in little baked cups, tortilla española (con cebolla)
Seafood: Hueva de merluza (hake ovary), huevos de choco (cuttlefish eggs), calamares (squid), choco (cuttlefish), caracoles (snails), percebes (goose-necked barnacles), cañaillas (Bolinus brandaris, purple-dye murex), a variety of species of clams, mussels, and shrimps, and a variety of fresh fish (hake, tuna, swordfish, bacalao, lenguado, boquerones).
Plants and fungi: Tagarninas (Scolymus hispanicus common golden thistle), canónigos (Valerianella locusta, corn salad), borraja (Borago officinalis), gurumelos (Amanita ponderosa), gazpacho and salmorejo (cold soups), cured and spiced olives, crushed tomato and olive oil on bread for breakfast

Of all these, I think what I like the most are the huevos de choco.  Kind of like scallops.