by Caroline

Our stay in Portugal was planned as a respite, a no-agenda, unscheduled interlude without a lot of sight-seeing. It’s not that Lisbon and Sintra don’t offer a lot to see, but we know that with kids you can only be a tourist for so long before rebellion sets in and you risk finding yourselves stuck in a relatively expensive vacation rental with children who refuse to do anything but lie on the floor and color (or worse). We’ve learned to pace ourselves so that everyone gets to see and do interesting things, everyone gets some down time, and no one gets (too) cranky. It’s not an exact science (nothing in parenting is) but we’re getting better at it every year.

So, we puttered around the house and garden. The kids drew and played with stomp rockets and practiced their headstands. I picked ruffly leaves of kale from under the laundry line and admired the amazing harvest of red peppers:

We didn’t hurry (well, except for the trip to the ER).

And that gave us all the more time to make baccala, which is pretty much the national dish of Portugal. Or I should say, it would have given us more time to make baccala, but in fact the meal arrived on the table without my input or participation at all. So while I would love to be able to share the recipe here, as well as pictures of how it all came together, would have loved to be part of the process, asking questions about how long to soak the dried cod, who taught her the recipe, how many variations she’s made or eaten, Ursula’s mother-in-law soaked the cod, and rinsed it and soaked it again until it was tender, starting a couple days before our dinner. Then she and Ursula pulled it all together, chopping onions, potatoes, parsley and olives.

It all happened in the background while the kids played and we relaxed. It gave me a wonderful sense of being cared for, which of course made the meal especially delicious. So while I can’t tell you how to make baccala, I can tell you that the soft and salty layers of salt cod and potatoes and onions, eaten at a table with family and friends, make for a most unexpected and wonderful comfort food. And I can tell you that it is the perfect meal after an afternoon scrambling over walls of a ruined 9th century Moorish castle — but you shouldn’t wait for an outing like that to eat it.