Spiky cacti and new foods

Andrew has become the defacto morning parent (thanks hun!), and on this particular day, it was Emerson who woke up first. The two boys changed into their bathing suits and hit the pool to play pretend cooking class with fallen leaves and a plastic bowl. Emerson’s teeth were chattering and his lips purple, but it was too fun to get out. Unfortunately for Andrew, Shiloh slept in, giving him no excuse to towel off.

In the late afternoon, we wandered through galleries and shops, then stepped into a Spanish language tour of the botanical gardens. (The tour in English happens only once daily and can’t be booked in advance.) Shiloh was naturally captivated, but Emerson took a bit more convincing. He’d been scared to go to the garden after we’d playfully told him there’d be spiky cacti. He didn’t want Shiloh to get hurt, he explained. But Coco had assured us he’d been and it was safe, so I entertained him with pretend stories about each plant: name, origins, uses, size… We debated about which plants were edible and what animals may have lived in each.

As Shiloh napped that afternoon, Emerson and I went out to find him a purse, but alas, yet another truck (this one a logging truck) was calling his name. After his treat had been secured, Shiloh and Andrew joined us at a chocolate shop for a quick sampling. It was a good foray into our final hoorah of the trip: a street food tour.

I could have just about cried when I saw Emerson carefully trying new foods (two bites of a fried quesadilla) while Shiloh reached for spicy moles and salsas. We strolled from food stand to food stand, some with crowds that rivaled those of Emerson’s hot cocoa stand during the after school rush.

The chaos is part of it, we were assured. But even our foodie child stopped enjoying himself by 7pm, so we hustled through the flavors until Shiloh dove into his bathroom crib for the night.

Portugal history lesson

The first two mornings in Portugal include walking tours of the city full of history and local bites.  Although Portugal’s history could go back as far as prehistoric times, followed by the Carthaginians and Romans, we’ll being in 1143 with their independence.

They hit a true high in the 15th and 16th centuries as one of the world’s economic, political, and military powers.  During this Age of Discovery, Prince Henry the Navigator and Vasco de Gama were some of the more popular explorers with spice trade being a very lucrative career option.

All good things don’t last forever, however, and in 1755 (on my birthday), an earthquake, followed by tsunami, followed by massive fires destroyed Lisbon.  I guess candle lit wooden structures that survive earthquakes aren’t also fireproof despite the huge wave of water.

Skipping ahead to the 1900s, the Portuguese tried to establish a democratic, even if unstable, republic; however, this soon became an authoritarian regime.  Eventually, democracy returned in 1974 with the Carnation Revolution.  The 2013 movie Night Train to Lisbon, which we watch on the plane over, painted a pretty grim picture of this pre-revolution time.

After a rough financial crisis in 2008, Portugal has begun to rebound.  The almost $100B bailout in 2011 from the IMF didn’t hurt, several economic and fiscal reforms seem to be working, and a new influx of tourism might be the icing on the cake.  Portugal is among the top 20 most-visited countries in the world – 20M tourists each year!

The taste of a grasshopper

Grasshoppers, or chapulines in Spanish, are more of a texture than a taste.  Crispy like a corn nut balanced by a bit of chewiness with pieces that stick between teeth like Milk Duds.  For the rest of the day, I’m picking out imaginary or not so imaginary grasshopper legs from between my teeth.  The taste of this insect is up to the chef’s discretion.  We try one cooked with salt and citrus, and another with garlic and spice.

Along with my parents, we try these little treats in Mexico City at the Mercado de San Juan as part of a historical/food tour.  I’m not sure I’ll be buying a bag of these creatures anytime soon, but maybe I’ll try the salt made from their remains.