Sunday, October 2, 2022

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

I was at Big Morongo Preserve yesterday for an hour or so, before meeting Judy at Whitewater Rock. I stood near the bird feeders most of the time hoping to see a new bird for my bird list. Amazingly I did. 

There were some grosbeaks mostly sitting in seed feeders that I assume were black-headed grosbeaks which I have seen there before. Then a group of fairly young men arrived arrived and were watching and proclaimed that several of them were rose-breasted grosbeaks. They noted red under the wing and some red streaks on the breast. 




As I came home and looked it up I was surprised to see how far out of their normal territory they were. About the closest they normally get is New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. 
Range map for rose-breasted grosbeak (Wikipedia). 
The male does not look anything like a female. It has a black head and back and white underparts with a big red splotch in the middle. The female looks amazingly like a black-headed grosbeak female. 



As I read about them I begin to wonder if I may have seen hybrids between the rose-breasted and black-headed grosbeak.  

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Alpendre - Lisbon, Portugal

We got into Lisbon in mid-afternoon, took the subway to our hotel in the Alfama District, rested just a bit, then set out on a walk, determined to see the Castle of St. George (Castelo Sao Jorge) on a hill above our hotel. It was June 22, just one day past the longest day of the year and we knew it would be light until quite late in the evening. We walked down to the waterfront of the Tagus River near the beginning of the Tagus Estuary, then started to head uphill, first to see Lisbon Cathedral, which closed right before we got there, and ultimately to the Castle where we got some wonderful views of the city. 
Tagus River and Estuary.

St. George Castle on the hill. 

Lisbon Cathedral.

Tagus River and Estuary from the Castle. 

Part of Lisbon from the Castle. 

Castle walls.
Past the Cathedral and before the Castle we noticed kind of a non-descript restaurant on a relatively steep street that had a Trip Advisor sticker on the door. We were hungry and we figured it must have a decent rating. Fish and meat were on display in the front window (apparently refrigerated). 


We walked in and the proprietor did not speak much English, but had an English menu. Judy ordered cockles which I thought was just another word for clams. But now I find that they are different. The cockle has a rounded, heart-shaped shell and is slightly ribbed like a scallop. We've been saying they were some of the best clams we've ever eaten. We are actually finding out that we love cockles. The cockles were in a buttery sauce that was wonderful. I ate lots of bread dipped in the butter sauce. I would go there just for the cockles. 
I ordered four oysters on the half-shell. They were okay. I did not like them as much as the eastern U.S. and Canada oysters and I missed the traditional seafood sauce that goes on them at King's Fishouse (which I think has the best preparation and set-up for oysters I've ever had). 
Judy ordered melon and prosciutto which was delicious. 
I got grouper and asked them to under-cook it a bit. I like it very moist. It was cooked perfectly. I got the first of many servings of boiled potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Much of the boiled potatoes I smashed with a fork and poured the butter broth from the cockles on it - amazing. 
We kept hearing about sardines and I asked our tour guide in Sintra the next day about the best place to get them. She suggested that we go to one of the street fairs going on and get sardines from one of the vendors. We did that the next night and they were awful. They were bony and had kind of a nasty, strong, offal taste, like improperly cleaned tripe. 
The next day I suggested to Judy that the chef at Alpendre really knew how to cook fish. If anyone cook cook sardines, he could. We had other dinner plans early evening, but went back just to try a dish of sardines. I was right, the sardines were much, much better. They did not have the strong offal taste, but were still quite strong and very bony. I had no desire to try any more on the trip. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Eating Octopus

Octopus is not commonly eaten in the United States. Note the Wikipedia "Octopus as food" article which lists ten countries where it is commonly eaten, which includes the United States, but then only refers to Hawaii. When I talk to people about food and mention octopus, I find that most have never tried it and a common reaction is "eeew" or "gross." 

My first time eating octopus was also the first time I ate sushi and cooked snails, in a sushi bar in Santa Monica with my partner Stan Harter. They were tiny octopi that were whole, including all legs and the head. All I could think of as I ate it was chipping a tooth on the beak. That first taste was a test of will and not a pleasant experience. As I look back I find quite a few posts on octopus: 
          On April 4, 2009 I cooked my first and only octopus (excepting re-hydrated dried octopus) in making Peruvian purple potato causa with octopus. It was to try and copycat a similar dish we ate in Peru at Las Brujas de Cachiche. This was fun because I dealt with a relatively large, whole octopus.
          On August 26, 2009 I posted on octopus causa cooked for us specially at El Rico Pollo in San Bernardino, California.  
          On March 3, 2010 I posted on dried octopus that I re-hydrated and grilled ("I didn't love it, in fact, I probably would not cook it again...I can eat octopus, but I still have not tasted any octopus that I really liked. For me, squid is still substantially better. Still, there is something wonderful about the look of octopus.").  
          On July 23, 2010 I posted on octopus grilled in olive oil at Psaras Fish Taverna in Athens, Greece ("It was not rubbery, but it was not a flavor sparkler either. It was as good as any octopus I've ever had, but relative to other things I really like, would be way down on the list.") 
          On August 9, 2011 I posted on canned octopus we found in the Munich airport ("It was soft, not rubbery, briny and very good, perhaps on par or even better than the octopus we had in Greece.")

All that I previously thought about octopus as food has changed dramatically as a result of our trip to Portugal. For me, octopus has transformed from a curiosity, something to try because of its uniqueness and weirdness, to something to eat because it really tastes good. For the most part, the octopus we had was large, a whole arm, not just bits and pieces. 
          On September 18, 2022 I posted on Tulhas Restaurante in Sintra, Portugal where we had our first octopus in Portugal, boiled then grilled.
          On September 21, 2022, I posted on Time-Out Market in Lisbon where we had octopus in sweet potato stew.
          On September 22, 2022 I posted on Sr. Lisboa in Lisbon where we had octopus with chimichurri sauce, maybe the best octopus I've had. 
          On September 12, 2022 I posted on  the Parador in Santiago de Compostela, Spain where we had stewed broad beans with octopus and cockles.
          On September 20, 2022 I posted on Republica de Polvo in Guimares, Portugal where we had both octopus roasted in olive oil and stewed with rice. 
 
I spent some time asking a chef how he prepared octopus and why octopus tasted so much better in Portugal than in the U.S. He said that the octopus is boiled first to soften it up, then he grilled it (where others later roasted it or perhaps fried it). But, he said the main reason it is better in Portugal is because they are so close to the ocean and they get it fresh.
         
Octopus with chimichurri at Sr. Lisboa in Portugal. 


Octopus stewed with rice at Republica de Polvo in Guimares, Portugal. 

Octopus roasted in olive oil at Republica de Polvo in Guimares, Portugal. 

        
Octopus in sweet potatos stew at Time-Out in Lisbon, Portugal. 

 
Grilled octopus at Tulhas Restaurante in Sintra, Portugal. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Sr. Lisboa - Lisbon, Portugal

Judy found a restaurant a short walk from our hotel in Lisbon with great reviews. Fortunately we were early, because it filled up fast and people just a little later than us were turned away if they did not have reservations. 

Sr. Lisboa was all about sharing small plates. First they brought us out some wonderful bread with dipping oil, green pepper butter, red pepper butter and sheep cottage cheese. All of it was terrific. 

Next was polvo (octopus) with chimichurri sauce and some potatoes. Our waiter said it was their most popular dish and I was on an octopus push, so it was a no brainer. My notes say, "Amazing." I love chimichurri sauce and these guys know how to cook octopus. Loved, loved, loved it. 
Our next plate was a nod toward something healthy, a salad with warm cherry tomatoes and oil dressing. Warm cherry tomatoes were a revelation. It completely transformed them into something else, a good something. 
Next was volcano bacalhau, complete with very garlicky mashed potatoes that were slathered with buttery lava. The Portuguese national cod on top was a side dish to the potatoes and butter that rivaled the octopus for goodness. 
Finally, crispy pig with cheese sauce. I love crispy pig and this was good, but the mashed potatoes and octopus were better. This was a delicious, incredible meal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Time-Out Market - Lisbon, Portugal

Time-Out Market in Lisbon is located in the Mercado de Ribeira (the "Marketplace on the stream"). It proclaims itself the "first market in the world where everything has been chosen, tasted and tested (with four or five stars...) by an independent panel of city experts: Time-Out's own journalists and critics. More than 40 spaces with the leading representatives in all the food categories that help make Lisbon what it is - and tastes - altogether under one roof." The mini restaurants are located in a cavernous room, stationed in stalls around the four sides. In the middle are tables and chairs for hundreds, if not more than 1,000 people. You order and pay at the restaurant, then pick up the food when finished and find a spot at a table. That can be the hard part, finding a spot to eat. It is popular and crowded. 

We went one late afternoon and probably would have come back again, another day, but the crowds are annoying. Best to come off-hours. But the variety is amazing and the food we had was great. 

Manteigaria Silva had a sandwich on a great roll with prosciutto, mozzarella and lettuce. A great choice. We saw others order at the same restaurant and get large platters of different kinds of cured pork. 

Next we went to Cozinha da Felicidade and got sweet potato stew with octopus. The octopus was very mild and moist. It did not have the great flavor that some other octopus we had in Portugal, but it was still very nice and went well in the stew. 

From Miguel Casto E Silva we got black pork cheeks. Black pork is a name for pork from porto preto pigs, that are never cross-bred, which roam freely and eat the acorns of holms oaks and the seeds of  cork oaks to fatten up in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The pig cheeks were very nice. 

Henrique sa Pessoa was the source of an artichoke and sheep cheese salad which was a nice change from all of the meat we were eating. 
Finally, on the way out, we stopped at Gelato Davvero and I got a strawberry and hazelnut gelato mix. 
This is a great place to find many of the Portuguese delicacies all under one rood. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Republica de Polvo - Guimares, Portugal

Guimares, Portugal is northeast of Porto and southeast of Braga in northern Portugal. Guimares is home to Guimares Castle, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, near the birthplace of the first monarch of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, in about 1110.  

After our castle visit we went to Republica de Polvo for lunch, rated the no. 3 restaurant out of 281 on Trip Advisor in Guimares. 


Polvo means octopus in Portuguese. Octopus is not a popular dish in the U.S., but it is very popular and common in Portugal. It is usually served one of two ways: (1) a lagareiro or miller style, roasted with potatoes, herbs, onions, garlic and olive oil; and (2) arroz de polvo, stewed with rice.  
I got it miller style, cooked in olive oil. By this time I'd had it twice and both previous times I'd had it I liked it better, although this was good. 



Judy got it with rice and I think hers was a little better. 




I don't recall what these were, perhaps scones with honey. 

Guava cheesecake, very light, Portuguese style.