random things from these days

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Very much in love with the croissants from the portuguese bakery further down our street. Perfect for long breakfasts at home during cold, rainy and sick days in November. They’re not just the best portuguese croissants I have tasted in Switzerland, they are better than many, many croissants I have eaten back home. They are moist and dense inside, a little crunchy on the outside and they unwrap perfectly. Because that’s what you do – unwrap croissants. You also may or may not spread some butter on the dissassembled parts. Anyway, not really bothered about socially correct when eating croissants.

8 year old Mathilde has been consolidating her reading skills by turning into a boowkorm. This makes me smile. At her age, I also devoured book after book from the library, I snuck books under my pillow and my matress, which I read with the faint light coming in from the corridor. I fell asleep countless times over with the lamp on, and wasted away many many flashlight batteries for the same reason.  I smiled even more when I found a french version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda in Mathilde’s room. I read Matilda in English, I gave it to my baby sister in Portuguese, and now I asked Mathilde to lend me the french version. It might just end up being the first french book I manage to finish.

Speaking of Roald Dahl, I have been listening to Desert Island Discs archives and I found the episode with Roald Dahl. I find his dark sense of humour amusing.

Also in the DID archives, Edmund Hillary.

Something else I’ve been reading: Thinking in Pictures, by Temple Grandin. A few years ago, I went down a curiosity rabbit hole on autism, and I read Catherine Maurice’s book about her experience with two autistic children. I saw the movie about Temple Grandin and I also borrowed this book from the library. At the time, it gave me a glimpse into the autistic mind and it was all out of sheer curiosity, but right now I am re-reading all of this because it is directly related to my work.

This week, I went to a friend’s PhD presentation about her pharmacogenetic and clinical study on the metabolic side-effects of psychotropic drugs and her presentation was as fancy and interesting as it sounds. In the apéro, I found myself stuffing my face with grandma-made bricelets, some with poppy seeds and others with cumin seeds. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love all things grandma-made, all the more so if they are local specialities. Because of things like this, there is a growing space in my belly and in my heart bearing a white cross over a red background.

I have been eating a lot of supermarket soup, which doesn’t sound very good. It actually is and this minestrone is my favourite. I have been thinking about what I can cook that will make dinner simple on Tuesday and Wednesday nights when we have sports until late, and which are precisely the eve of the working days when I need to pack a lunch for work. Last Sunday, I tried my hand at Rachel Roddy’s minestrone and it really hit the spot, reheated on Tuesday night and on Wednesday lunchtime. The recipe linked here is from Rachel’s Guardian column, but I followed the one in her book, which Jo gave me a couple of years ago.


one second every day – july 2017

When I created yet another blog for myself, I was looking forward to posting a little bit more about life other than these videos of one second of my daily life. However, this daily life of mine has been quite a handful lately, so here I am, back with at least another video to document it.

July July. What a month it was! Started off with one of the nices family moments of the year, even though half the family was missing – a sweet summery evening with grilled sardines in grandma’s backyard. While at home, I spent as much time as I could with my grandad, accompanying him in his precious daily routines.

Back to Switzerland, tying off loose work ends before going to Seville for a conference. I am really proud of the work I presented, but my shift in my work orientation was quite evident when I realized I was not that enthusiastic about most of the presentations. Either that, or the quality of science produced has suffered with massification and the pressure to publish and to produce results. I digress, but it is something that has been turning in my mind for most of the year.

Anyway, Seville was HOT. When we were planning our trip, I wasn’t really bothered about the hot weather, Portuguese as I am. In all honesty, I was not prepared and thank goodness for air conditioning (never thought I’d write this). It is a lovely city nonetheless, and a small road trip through Andaluzía has me wishing to go back in Spring to enjoy it a little bit more.

And back to Swiss life again. I went swimming a few times, got stung by a bee, enjoyed the summer evenings eating outside, actually fit in some running, tried out a new cool gym in one of my favourite neighbourhoods, went on a camping trip and generally went about trying to navigate through life’s challenges without forgetting to have some fun, and appreciating my human and feline company.

quince cheese

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Quince cheese is one of my first memories of being lost in translation.

First things first: quince cheese is a paste made of quince, which has been previously stewed with sugar on low heat for a while. It is then processed and, once cool, becomes firm. You can then slice it like a cheese and eat it on toast, in sandwiches with butter, or as tradition calls, with a slice of cheese. This last pairing is so perfect and so meant to be, that where I come from, it is called “Romeu e Julieta”.

In Portugal, my mother land, quince cheese is named with just one word – marmelada. It is something mothers and grandmothers cook to preserve quince that falls abundantly from the trees. My grandmother always got her quince from the neighbours who had much more than they could manage and left them in plastic bags at her door.

As a kid, I lived in England for a couple of years. Once, my mum made marmelada and I was eager to take it to school and share my favourite portuguese lanche with my friends. It didn’t go down quite as I expected. First, I had no idea what marmelos were called in English and found myself mumbling explanations and that it didn’t matter because it was so good. It was pointless. My friends took a look at that red paste sitting in a Tupperware and, to my dismay, very quickly declared it as “weird”.

Weird as it may have been to my childhood friends, still oblivious to the deliciousness of intercultural discoveries, I was faithful to marmelada and might have even promised said marmelada that I wouldn’t ever stop liking it or eating it, with bread and butter, cheese or by the slice.

The thing is, marmelada is not just a very delicious, familiar, comforting thing you put in your mouth.

It is the smell of lanche in the playground and in the lunchroom at school.

It is feeling that you are becoming independent when someone gives you your very own quince, instead of giving them to your grandma or to your mum, because you now live alone and have your own kitchen to play in.

It is not really knowing what to do with abovementioned quince and calling grandma for guidance on a recipe with only two ingredients and water, gradually interweaving the steps of making marmelada with catching up with her. This week we went to a yoga class and your grandfather didn’t really like it,… now you put a layer of sugar, a layer of quince, a layer of sugar,… you know, I tried a new bread recipe, it works very well in the bread machine! Now you put the lid on the pan and let it simmer very gently.

It is never being able to nail quince jelly, even with grandma’s guidance, and knowing that hers was the best forever and ever, amen.

It is making marmelada and realizing that now I am on my own and I can’t call her just to check if the quantity of sugar is right.

It is also making marmelada and giving away bowls full of it to my friends, sometimes getting theirs in return and exchanging ideas, and finding generosity and sharing and a sense of community while living in a new place, where neighbours are new, good friends hard to find, everything is apparenty unfamiliar and sometimes you miss home. When you give away a bowl of marmelada and and get cabbage, cherries, sprigs of mint from the garden or thankful smiles in return, you get the feeling that something is falling into place and everything will be just fine.

Marmelada é uma das minhas primeiras memórias de me ver perdida na tradução e nas diferenças culturais.

É difícil encontrar alguém de língua materna Portuguesa que não saiba o que é marmelada. Mas, frequentemente, a marmelada exige uma explicação para pessoas de outras línguas e de outras culturas. A tradução quince cheese, mostra o quanto a marmelada não é algo inerente à cultura inglesa. Na verdade, a palavra Inglesa marmelade tem origem na palavra Portuguesa (marmelada), originalmente feita com marmelos, mas é mais frequentemente utilizada na língua inglesa para designar uma compota de citrinos, ficando os marmelos relegados para segundo plano.

No entanto, para nós, marmelada é no pão com manteiga do recreio, é com queijo, é às fatias, é como calhar. É a fruta abundante que vem dos vizinhos, das tias e das amigas, que a mãe e a avó cozinham em grandes quantidades para guardar para o resto do ano.

Quando era criança, vivi em Inglaterra durante um par de anos. Uma vez, a minha mãe fez marmelada e eu estava em pulgas para levá-la para a escola para partilhar com os meus amigos durante o lanche. O meu orgulho inchado levou, num instante, com um balde de água fria. Para começar, não fazia ideia de como se dizia marmelos em inglês. Comecei a contornar a situação com demasiadas explicações sobre o quanto isso era irrelevante porque era mesmo muito boa. Não me serviu de muito. Os meus amigos olharam para o Tupperware onde estava alojada aquela massa cor de rubi e decidiram, muito rapidamente, que era “esquisita”. Eu fiquei triste e envergonhada.

Mas: por muito esquisita que possa ter parecido para os meus amigos de infância, ainda desconhecedores das experiências deliciosas que a interculturalidade pode proporcionar, eu era fiel à minha marmelada. Posso até ter prometido à dita marmelada que iria sempre gostar dela, quer fosse com pão e manteiga, queijo ou sozinha.

É que a marmelada não é apenas aquela coisa deliciosa, familiar e reconfortante que comes.

É o sentimento de ser independente quando alguém te oferece marmelos pela primeira vez, e não à mãe ou à avó, porque agora tens a tua casa e uma cozinha em que és tu que mandas.

É não ter bem a certeza do que fazer com os marmelos e ligar à avó para ela te orientar numa receita que só tem dois ingredientes e água, pondo a conversa e fazendo as coisas à medida que ela te vai dando as dicas. Esta semana fomos ao yoga, mas o teu avô não gostou lá muito… agora deitas ora uma camada de açúcar, ora uma camada de água… olha! Experimentei uma nova receita na máquina do pão e ficou deliciosa! Agora pões o testo e deixas cozinhar em lume brando…

É nunca conseguir fazer geleia como deve ser, mesmo com a orientação da avó, sabendo que, de toda a maneira, a dela é a melhor para todo o sempre.

É cair na realidade de que agora, quando fizeres marmelada, já não lhe podes ligar só para ter a certeza de que a quantidade do açúcar está bem.

Mas também é fazer taças e taças de marmelada, e distribuí-la aos amigos, por vezes recebendo a deles de volta, trocando ideias sobre o processo. É encontrar a generosidade, a partilha e um sentimento de comunidade numa vida nova, onde os vizinhos são novos, os bons amigos são difíceis de encontrar, e onde às vezes tens saudades de casa. Quando ofereces uma taça de marmelada e recebes couves, cerejas, raminhos de menta do jardim ou um sorriso de volta, ficas com a sensação de que as coisas estão a cair no seu lugar e de que tudo vai correr bem.