Café Life

The streets in the midst of town have been quiet in Praia das Maçãs. To be honest, it’s nice to enjoy the “off season” in Portugal—though to us it doesn’t really exist. Life—and specifically, café life—doesn’t stop here, even as we relax a bit into the greater solitudes of the season, the ides of winter. 

We have café-owner friends in town who squeak through this time, and we know it well, having been involved with restaurants—understanding that if they can just see themselves through January and February, the festivals and longer days of March begin, and business grows from there.

So we’ve planned out days so that we make the rounds of our favorite cafés and watering holes. We’ve had local beer at home and in Lisbon, but our weekly bites usually include a glass or a bottle of wine and a burger (or a cachorro, a hot dog), or a meia de leite and a bolo if it’s before noon.

The offerings from our local joints run the gamut from the gourmet burgers at Villa Maçã to the budget-friendly beach-shack burgers at the kiosk next to the soccer field. We’ve had our meia de leites at Café Chitas (which just underwent a bright yellow facelift) and at the newly opened Blue Caffé on the Avenida Eugene Levy that runs through the heart of town.

Turns out that Blue Caffé is dog-friendly and brought out a bowl of water for our trio of pups after their beach jaunt. The kiosk’s a good place for pooches too, with its picnic tables on the deck overlooking the tennis courts that lay mostly under the drifts of sand. There’s no better place to watch the sunset—except perhaps out of the window at Barmácia (another decent burger) though you’re elevated and sheltered there, somewhat removed from the scene.

We keep track of the folga semanal (day off) for each place—Tuesday (terça) for Clube da Praia and Wednesday (quarta) for Blue Caffé. The kiosk has been open only on weekends this winter, but the reason is clear—so vacations can be made while the days are slow.

During our stroll down to the beachfront, we feel the spring whisper on the air…and for Valentine’s Day I evoked the brighter days ahead with a variation on a cream cheese lemon cookie recipe I found. In the warmest part of the lot behind our house, a lavender bush has already blossomed. A handful of the flowers stirred into the glaze made for a floral complexity that elevated the cookies into a special dessert.

Cream Cheese Lemon Cookies with Lavender Glaze

Biscoitos de limão e lavande

270-gram (or 4-ounce) package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (regular) at room temperature

125 grams of butter (or 1/2 cup) at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

juice and zest of one large lemon—more zest (up to 1 1/2 tablespoon) if you want a more pronounced lemon flavor in the cookie

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (sem levadas)

1 1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar

zest and juice from another lemon 

1/2 teaspoon culinary-grade French lavender blossoms

  1. Ensure the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature—they will not cream together well if they are below 60F or 15C.
  2. Cream together cream cheese and butter in a standing mixer or by hand mixer until smooth.
  3. Add in the sugar, and cream together for about five minutes, waiting for them to fully incorporate and turn pale and fluffy. 
  4. Blend in the egg, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Blend for about a minute until fully combined.
  5. Fluff the flour with a fork, then add it slowly to the creamed mixture, in fourths, with the mixer at a low speed.
  6. Cover the bowl in which you’ve mixed the dough (I used a large stainless steel one) and chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours—or overnight.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
  8. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit your cookie sheet and use a bit of water to tack it down while you portion the cookies.
  9. Using a scoop or a large soup spoon, portion out about 2 tablespoons worth of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. It will be about the size of a ping-pong ball.
  10. Place well spaced on the cookie sheet, and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes—the cookies should be golden on the bottom but not browned.
  11. After you take them from the oven, drop the sheet on the counter a couple of times to flatten the cookies if you want—or leave them high for a more cake-like cookie. Let them cool.
  12. Blend the glaze (powdered sugar, lemon juice and zest, and lavender) and stir until smooth.
  13. Dip the cookie tops into the glaze and serve.