The Pack

When I first looked at the house I’d move into in Portugal, the owner seemed relieved when I mentioned that I had dogs. “So many on this street. There is barking,” she said. I assured her that I was used to that, and I gladly took up residence. When you have a dog your relationship to a place goes through that lens whenever you go for a walk, or hit the beach, or talk with the neighbors. I’ve come to know the trails as well as the streets more intimately, taking them at a dog’s pace, several times every day.

The pack I now manage has also meant I’ve had to develop more fully my skills as an inter-canine negotiator than I ever would have in the U.S. More dogs run loose here, and more of the beaches are open to pups–and more people leave them tied up outside or otherwise unsupervised. Not necessarily bad–just a different approach–except when it turns so quickly to neglect.

Learning the Portuguese for “He’s calm. It’s okay,” came quickly: Ele é muito calme. Não faz mal. When you have a male pup in his prime weighing nearly 50 pounds–with the ability to pull hard and defend his “girls”–it’s critical. While I’ve lived with dogs in some capacity all of my life, and had male Vizslas of my own for nearly 20 years, nothing in our relatively strict environment in the U.S. fully prepared me for handling my boy when he faced the wild campo packs in Portugal.

My two pups (the male and an older female V I’d rescued) came over in March 2016, safely in the hold of a United 757 with my mom as their keeper. They were joined by my partner’s senior cadela (female dog) from the Spanish mountains, and, after some tense negotiations mostly played out on the sofa, our pack was born.

Not long after my pups’ arrival, some canine neighbor in the forest delivered a litter of puppies–the ochre-colored strain of mixed breed common around here and, fully grown, up to 75 pounds in weight.

At first, the pups ran wild across the dunes through town–our initial encounter happened near the market when the ten of them came bounding across the sand to confront our trio with their high-pitched yips. At puppy size, they avalanched down the dune like a band of Tribbles, and with some sharp correction from both our dogs and I, they quickly backed off, heeding the command. As they grew quickly over the next few months, I thought surely their owner would contain them–and we figured out they belonged to one of the compounds in the woods when they retreated over the summer to defend that space. They’d disappeared for a while, and I guessed that they’d either met some bad end, been farmed off, or (more happily) were simply fenced in again.

Then on a run in the forest one afternoon last fall with my male pup, I jumped when they came out of nowhere–now 18 months old, fully grown, the whole lot of them. The girls obviously had gone through their first season, and they all raged viciously around us, defending what they saw as more of their territory. In that moment, I tamped down the natural fear I felt–for myself and for Billy–and found my deepest, firmest voice: “Go home! Back! No!” Billy stood his ground admirably, as they gathered around him for a cautious sniff, and between his presence and mine, they scattered back into the woods. Whew. Death by wild pack averted!

Confrontations like that happen in smaller measures every other week. I’ve found where it’s possible for Billy to run off lead, he manages the situations well–without feeling the restraints of the lead he feels more in control, and thus calmer in general. Of course, with other people their reaction to him varies from love to fear, and we must act accordingly to keep the peace.

But the abandoned dogs abound. This week, one showed up on our cul-de-sac, looking for food, shelter, and companionship. Otherwise healthy, this compact yellow dog (about 30 pounds) clearly knows people well, and he behaves in a socialized manner. It breaks our hearts to know he was probably dumped, or ran away (less likely), and I wish we had the space to take in a lovely pup like him. We’re hoping to find someone who can.

For our own pack, we often barbecue ribs, and the pups enjoy little treats from the cartilage and bones. The warmer evenings have arrived, with the light lasting til late, perfect for a backyard grill. On the side we have melon topped with nasturtiums–and for dessert, strawberry pie. The berries just came into season here, and if there’s no time to make a pie, we do like our friends at Porreiro do and toss them into a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Strawberry Cream Tart

Torta dos Morangos e Crema

Last year I devised a strawberry cream tart to try and evoke one I’d had many summers ago that a friend’s mom had made for us. Here’s the process I followed:

1. I used the sugar tart crust (paté sucrée) recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, as a basis, and also her tarte aux fraises recipe for preparing the berries for the tart, from the same book.

2. Using the amounts in the recipe for 2 cups of flour for our 10-inch tart pan, the paté sucrée recipe made just enough. I also added another tablespoon of sugar to sweeten it a bit more, as the berries ran on the tart side, and a half teaspoon of poivre saveur we’d brought down from France (it has ground cardamom and coriander along with black pepper) worked into the crust.

3. While the tart dough chilled prior to rolling it out, I cleaned and hulled about 2 cups of strawberries and sliced them in half, adjusting them to result in a fairly even depth when laid out on the tart.

4. For the cream base, I mixed a roughly 8-ounce tub of Philadelphia cream cheese with 4 ounces of plain Greek yogurt, and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. I whipped these ingredients into a smooth blend with a hand mixer, and put it into the fridge to chill.

5. I then made a glaze from currant jelly (about 1/2 cup) and another 2 tablespoons maple syrup, and I microwaved it for a minute then let it cool slightly. It separated a bit, so it may need a whip with the whisk.

6. After the crust had chilled in the tart pan (at least 30 minutes), I prebaked it fully (15 minutes at roughly 395 degrees F/200 degrees C) until it was golden brown.

7. I then brushed the bottom of the crust with a layer of glaze, and let it sit for 5 minutes to set. I spread the chilled cream mixture on top of that, then arranged the strawberries in a circular pattern.

8. Last, a final glazing over the berries–and the tart should be enjoyed soon afterwards for best results.