Rain On The Calçadas

“Time to stockpile wood, for when the rains come.”

I have this note to myself from last year, when January turned into a season of water. What is winter without snow? I found that, after living some time Portugal, it involves a lot of slipping on rain-soaked calçadas, the tiles paving the streets, suddenly made hazardous by even the smallest shudder of mist. I’d never known a winter without snow, living out my life before in Iowa, Colorado, Maryland, and Kansas. But those calçadas become as slick as black ice on short winter days.

Because a winter without snow is rain. It turns everything green early, especially after a dry autumn and a hot, sunny summer. The birds sing between the drops. The thistles and plantain leaves start to grow. The calla lily spikes up and waits for the right moment to unfurl. There’s a brush of yellow all over the hillsides from the flowers that spring up from flushes of electric green shamrocks. Blooms briefly come back to the hibiscus and bougainvillea. The loveliness belies the truth.

In winter, it is wet. When I first noticed the haze on the ceiling, I thought we had a leak. It never occurred to me that mold would bloom all over the inside walls and cornices. We called our friend Ana; she had a dehumidifier we could borrow. We got up on ladders, craned our necks, and wiped it all down with a solution made to kill that creeping flora.

We look at the forecast to determine when to do laundry. Like most folks in Portugal, we have no dryer, only the lines in the back yard. We strung more clotheslines on the sunset-facing side of the house, up on the top floor, hoping to capture a few more hours of afternoon sun. Otherwise, no dry clothes…or ones that smell like a campfire from smoking in front of the fireplace. When it rains for days you run out of things to wear if you don’t strategize., because they often take 36 hours to dry outside–longer if it isn’t warm enough. That’s normal here, and hey! Drying them this way is eco-friendly. I used to dry my clothes in the sun all the time in Colorado–but I didn’t have to. Here, there’s no choice to it. The electricity to run a dryer costs more than we’re willing to spend.

So, back to the wood–another crucial item dependent on the rain. We get half-tons of hardwood and soft pine delivered, but we need kindling–you can’t just put a punt to a log. When it’s been dry for a couple of days, we collect cones, sticks, and the discarded wooden fruit bins from the markets. They break into great strips for fire-lighting. We use the intact ones for bookshelves and shoe caddies. Our recycling goes a step further here.

And, when it rains, we make soup. We take the week’s chicken, its leftover scraps and bones, and cover them with water to reduce into a stock on the stove. We add cups of veggies and herbs, and bits of the local choriço, some potatoes, and a handful of fideo noodles. The result? A warm, filling brew to simmer for our dinner. To warm us from within.

Because few things can be more chilling than winter in Portugal, in a house that’s colder inside than out, when it rains.

A warm and nurturing sopa do campo for a rainy winter day

Sopa do Campo

Country Soup

4 cups stock from one chicken & vegetables, prepared ahead

Peppercorns, bay leaf, sprig of rosemary (if not already used in stock)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups (or more) assorted vegetables: onions, leeks, broccoli, mushrooms, fennel, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes; all chopped into a medium dice/size (1/2 inch)

1-3 cloves minced fresh garlic, to taste

1 cup fideos noodles or other pasta

1 cup choriço (hard) chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves, roughly chopped

  1. Place the stock in a large stockpot and bring it to a simmer. Add whole peppercorns, bay leaf, and spring of rosemary as desired.
  2. Meanwhile, sweat any onions, leeks, fennel, carrots, and the choriço in olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan until the onions and leeks are translucent, and the fennel and carrots are beginning to grow tender, about 20 minutes on low heat. Add these vegetables to the stockpot, and return to simmer.
  3. Add mushrooms and potatoes; simmer all for 10 minutes, until potatoes begin to become tender.
  4. Add fideos or other pasta, plus minced garlic and thyme. Simmer for 10 minutes or until pasta is tender. Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
  5. Add cilantro right before serving. Accompany with country bread or rolls.