The story of Portugal

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Travel is like so much else; we get what we put into it.  You’ll enjoy a trip to Portugal much more if you learn a little about the rich history of this small corner of the world.

But what should you read?  Travel guidebooks reduce centuries of history to a few lines, leaving us with little more than a boring list of names and dates. History books, on the other hand, are often so dense with scholarship that it is easy to get lost.

Luckily, John dos Passos, a great American writer whose father was from the island of Madeira, produced a highly readable account of Portugal’s age of discovery. His book introduces us to the main protagonists that shaped this golden era. Through their triumphs and defeats, their joys and tears, we learn the story of Portugal.

John Dos Passos, The Portugal Story: Three Centuries of Exploration and Discovery, Doubleday, 1995.

The art of traveling

FrancesMayes

Travel is like many other things in life–we get what we put into it. So much of the pleasure of travel is anticipation: plotting the route, learning about history and culture, imagining the sights, preparing the senses for new tastes and aromas. Travel guides help us with the planning, but they often urge us to rush from site to site, accumulating tourist points until we’re totally exhausted and eager to return home.

There’s so much we can learn about the art of travel from the writer Frances Mayes. In chapter 2 of her book “A Year in the World,”  Mayes describes how she navigated through Portugal without compass, astrolabe or GPS. She knows when to slow down to enjoy the scenery, how to spot a good restaurant that no guidebook has noticed, how to be open to happenstance. And her writing places us on location, enjoying our vacation before it even starts!

The joy of cooking

Happiness researchers find that emotional peaks, moments of great joy or sadness, have a lasting impact on our happiness. Travel vacations give us a chance to collect nuggets of joy that we can savor in the future. A great way to relive a vacation in a foreign country is to cook some of the food we tried. Tastes and smells have the power to put us in another place and time.

So, how can you cook some Portuguese dishes after vacationing in Portugal? The Portuguese cuisine is an intuitive affair and recipes are notoriously vague, with instructions like: “follow the usual procedure,” or “use sugar qb.” The ubiquitous cooking expression qb is an abbreviation of “quanto baste,” which means “just the right amount.”

We are lucky that a talented American cookbook author, Jean Anderson, wrote detailed recipes for many classic Portuguese dishes. With her book “The Food of Portugal” in hand, you can cook food that will remind you of dining in a medieval city, a Port-wine quinta or a beach-side restaurant. These memories will bring you happiness, qb.