Portugal is entirely a “wine country.”
I was devastated last December when I visited my beloved Açores. On the island where we stayed, where they have more cows than people, you can not buy fresh milk. Only shelf stable, highly processed UHT milk is allowed (allowed?!) to be sold. It’s heartbreaking and disgraceful.
How did this agricultural community lose its way, and become a hostage of agribusiness? Surely, economics had a role. It always does.
A sense of place
I have spent the last year and a half exploring the meaning of “home” and I’m starting to circle around the theme that consistently comes up for me — community.
But what does that mean? It’s tossed around, empty of meaning or gravitas. For me, community means a sense of place.
Here are the elements that make up community for me:
Hosting gatherings in comfortable, welcoming spaces, preferably amid natural surroundings. Connecting with meaningful conversation over fresh food and local wine. Nurturing the body and the soul.
What does this have to do with my dismay over agribusiness? Because when large companies take over our food and create long, complicated supply chains between the source and our table, we lose our sense of place.
Over the last 20 years, California has awakened to the importance of smaller food producers. Inspired by the Slow Food movement, discerning consumers have demanded more information about their food — the nutrition and fairness of it.
This has led to a style of cooking and eating that I want to explore in Portugal. It’s a commitment to the delicate freshness of seasonal foods, prepared with a light touch, just enough to highlight nuances but to protect texture and color.
This melding of California and Portugal is basically me — I am 100% Portuguese by birth (nature), and 100% Californian by culture (nurture).
When I mention it as my favorite style of cooking, along with Mediterranean cuisine, my European friends ask me to define “wine country cooking.” At first I would stutter something about food that goes well with wine. But that’s mostly everything, right?
I’ve heard the term from two main sources, Joanne Weir and John Ash, both well-respected California chefs and cooking teachers. And while she doesn’t speak of the specific term as much, another major influence for me is Alice Waters, arguably the “mother of California cuisine.”
For me, “wine country cooking,” “California cuisine” and “farm-to-table cooking” are nearly synonymous. They are influenced by the sun-kissed ingredients of southern Europe and the culinary traditions of the Mediterranean. They focus on pristinely fresh produce, cooked with a light touch, and served with regional wines.
The food is fresh, with a variety of textures, bright colors and flavors. It is generous with olive oil, nuts, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, grown as close as possible to where it’s prepared and eaten. It complements wine, and vice versa.
Bonus points if it’s enjoyed al fresco, with friends.
A poem by Joy Harjo, the United States’ 23rd poet laureate — and the first Native American to receive the honor.
The world begins at the kitchen table. No matter what, you must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating the last sweet bite.
In The Great Purge — the four months I spent culling my personal belongings — I sold, donated or tossed a great deal of kitchen gadgetry that I had accumulated. Among the survivors was my crepe pan.