Algarve Orange Grove Visit

Visiting an Algarve orange grove has been on my mind for a couple of years now. The winter of 2012 has been a particularly cold, clear and dry one in the Algarve and orange growers are very nervous.  After a few days of rain in early November the weather cleared and there’s been barely a drop since January. Indeed, there have hardly been any clouds in the sky most days. Days have required a jacket and sometimes a pair of gloves. Nights have been definitely nippy and frost has shown up on a couple of especially clear, still ones.

When I recently visited the citrus grove of Manuel and Joaquim Medeira Rodrigues near Silves they were assessing the damage of recent -0C nights on their crops.  As we walked their 3 different properties it was evident that Mother Nature hadn’t been in a good mood of late. The ground was littered with prematurely fallen oranges and clementines in a number of places. “Cold weather causes

Manuel Inspects His Crops for Frost Damage

the fruit to drop” Manuel reported. In other spots the frost burn to leaves and fruit was very clear.

Manuel, Joaquim and João are proud of their citrus operation which produces very high quality oranges, grapefruits, lemons and clementines for hotels, restaurants and fruit markets as far away as Lisbon. While it is extremely difficult to product totally organic citrus fruit, this father and son team do their best to use green farming techniques so that their customers get a high quality, pesticide free product. They leave grass and non-invasive weeds to grow between the rows of citrus trees. This not only conserves precious water but gives them an indication when a pest is invading. They keep their orchards well trimmed to allow as much air to pass through the trees as possible, keeping mildew and fungus to a minimum. When it does have to be addressed, they prefer to spray lightly with copper, a natural mineral. Mediterranean fruit flies are another pest that all citrus orchards need to deal with. These folks hang bottles of a sweet liquid that contains a pheromone or hormone that the flies are naturally attracted to. They fly into the bottle and then can’t escape to lay their eggs and do damage to the skins of the fruit.

Joaquim & Manuel Are Proud of Their High Quality Fruit ProductsJoaquim explained that many of the orange producers in the Algarve sell their crop to multi-national food producers before it is even harvested. Once ripe, the crop is harvested and shipped off to factories to make preserves and other citrus products. But for Mr. Frutas it is a very different strategy. Serving the hospitality and consumer markets means that they have to have product available year round. So they have many varieties of oranges, each that ripen at different times of the year so that the fruit is always fresh and newly ripened when it leaves their small production warehouse.

José Luis Hand Picks Oranges

Freshly picked fruit are taken in small batches for processing

I met José Luis Guerreiro as he was hand picking crates of oranges.

 

They are then taken to a surprisingly small shed where they are stored briefly and then gently dumped onto a conveyor belt which moves them into a unit that brushes off the field dirt and puts a nice soft shine onto the fruit. No waxes or artificial polishes are applied to the Mr. Frutas product so that it can be as natural as their customers wish it to be. The conveyor then moves the fruit along to a circulating table with a series of diameter regulated exits on it. The fruit is assessed on its size and slides down a short trough and into a waiting wooden crate. The crates are then labeled as to size, variety and company information and stacked until the delivery truck arrives to take them to market.

Not only did I get to sample many oranges, tangerines and clementines as we wandered the orchards, but I had the chance to pick the fruit as we went along. That may seem like a small thing to many, but when you grow up in Canada like I did, citrus fruit seems slightly magical.

Me happily picking oranges!

So getting to pick right off the tree made me feel like a kid on a school outing again!

I came back to my apartment ladened with fruit and have been cooking up a storm ever since. I’m experimenting with mixing local products to create some new savoury taste sensations.

So far I’ve made a spicy chutney with oranges, onions, lemons, honey, port, piri-piri and spices. I’ve also made a very different chutney of oranges, onions, dried figs, ginger, port, piri-piri and spices. So similar and yet so different. Each lovely to accompany a cheese tray to brush on pork or chicken before grilling or to serve along side sausages. I made up a batch of dry-rub, a spice mixture of sea salt, pepper, piri-piri, dried orange peel and herbs. I rubbed that on a chicken breast and let it sit in the fridge overnight and then quickly pan-fried it in olive oil. It was heavenly! Grilling would have been preferable but my little kitchen doesn’t have an oven. I’ve also made up a batch of pink grapefruit jam, even though I’m not a fan of grapefruit. And today I bought some sweet pumpkin at the market and made a pumpkin, orange & ginger soup for lunch. Yummy.

Some of these oranges are huge!

Next up is a wet rub that will have orange rind, garlic, piri-piri, herbs, olive oil and who knows what else that I plan to plaster on a nice chunk of pork. I fear that I have turned into a mad woman as far as savoury citrus is concerned. Thank goodness I don’t have an oven or I’d be making all kinds of savoury biscuits and breads too.

I can hardly wait until Mr. Frutas completes his plans to offer small group tours through his citrus grove. It’ll be a delight for me to send people in his direction, knowing that he and his Dad will be as gracious and informative with others as they were with me. And who knows how many more Canucks will get the pleasure of picking their first citrus fruit right off the tree.

Why Women Need Retreats

Wild Calla Lily

I was talking with some friends this morning. They have both given themselves the luxury of experiencing one of my retreats. And they are very clear that a retreat and a vacation are not synonymous, even though many women think they are. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in taking vacations as often as possible. I also believe that one 3-week vacation a year does much more for our sanity than 3 one-week vacations possibly can. So what’s the big deal about a retreat then?

Basically it all comes down to the power of intention. Vacations, by definition, are periods of rest, relaxation,  and travel. They are opportunities to step outside our normal day-to-day activities, especially work and to rediscover how to relax, to play, to see new places and people. We return to our normal life refreshed, invigorated, ready again for the challenges of our life.

Retreats, on the other hand, are get-aways with an entirely different purpose or intention. They are opportunities to step outside our normal existence, to reflect upon who we are, to explore life’s challenges, to discover new things about ourselves and our relationship to our existing life, to consider changes we want to implement and then to move back into our life with a new perspective. Sure, a new perspective might happen by taking a vacation. But when we choose to invest ourselves in a retreat, we are committing ourselves to a process designed to up the ante on the likelihood that we will return changed.

Women, in particular, seem to be drawn to retreats that are designed to nurture and support them through periods of questioning their lives and purpose. Some women like retreats with a strong physical component: hiking, yoga, wilderness adventures designed to challenge our physical limitations. Others are drawn to religious retreats where the nature of God and their relationship with a creator is explored and deepened. Still others seek explorations of secular spirituality, of the meaning & purpose of their lives, of exploring and discovering their innate creativity and of letting go of lifelong habits that no longer serve them or bring the outcomes they desire. In my experience, women over the age of 40 are especially attracted to retreat experiences because they are examining their lives and wondering what they want from life after children, after work or after a significant relationship ends. Many have tried taking extensive vacations to exotic destinations, only to discover that while they had a good time and returned relaxed, the essence of their life hadn’t changed.

Our modern world is especially challenging for women. Not only are we expected to ‘be it all’, but we demand it of ourselves. Professionally successful, wise, sexy, always available to our friends, families and life partners. Oh yes, and young looking to boot! But for many of us, there comes a time when we begin to question our lives. We wonder

. . .what if

. . .what else

. . .what’s possible

. . .who might I become if

.  .  .

There's glory at the heart of everyone

These are not only the only reasons why women need retreats, but I find that when these thoughts start to surface is the sign that we need to step off the exotic vacation treadmill and give ourselves the gift of a couple of weeks to ourselves, for ourselves, guided by someone experienced in creating a framework that breaks through our existing worldview and invites us to consider possibilities and potential we’ve never contemplated before. In short, we need to start to invest in ourselves and our future.

So when you notice yourself wondering . . .what else? . . .what if? find a retreat for yourself. Take the plunge. I’d certainly welcome you to any of my offerings in lovely Algarve, Portugal (shameless plug: A Taste of Life, Oct 9-24 and Feeding the Muse Oct 23-Nov 9, 2011). And you may need something different than I offer. So I encourage you to resist the urge to book yourself on yet another cruise or all-inclusive beach vacation believing that will make the difference you seek. Go online instead and discover one of the many wonderful self reflection and self discovery retreats that are available. Begin to invest in yourself, begin to prepare yourself to step into a future that you create and that you deserve!

Algarve’s Gentle Eastern Shores

I recently spent two more glorious weeks in the Algarve.  Only this time, I moved east, staying in the delightful town of Tavira.  My days were spent exploring the town, the back country, the waterfront and, of course, the many fine dining opportunities that abound in the Algarve.  Off-the-beaten track Algarve continues to be what calls to me.  This recent trip helped confirm, yet again, just how much diversity is packed into this tiny region of wonderful vistas, friendly, gentle people, great food and culture, fabulous beaches and good shopping.

Sunset near Tavira

The coastline feels more gentle because you are pretty much behind the barrier islands of the Rio Formosa in this part of the world.  Beaches are broader and backed by sand dunes rather than cliffs. The food feels more traditional, but perhaps given that it was the dead of winter many restaurants were offering all kinds of stews. There are several very small fishing communities that are still highly traditional and are delightful to spend time in. Boardwalks along the waterfront are much more popular in this part of the region.

And the countryside, oh my! The almond blossoms were just coming out when I arrived and were at the peak of perfection during my visit. And there are sooo many of them. In some places, there were white and pink blossoms as far as they eye can see.

Unfortunately, there are also some depressingly overbuilt and congested tourist traps in this area too.  And it was scary to be driving the back hill country only to encounter the massive up-scale golf courses and gated housing communities that have sprung up as ugly blots on the rural landscape.  But I suppose that tourists must be attracted in whatever way possible.  Sad to see, though.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks, folks as I document my most recent discoveries.  Great art galleries, public art displays in unusual places, villages, restaurants, country drives will all be featured to help make your visit to the Algarve an amazing and rich one.  Or perhaps even to tempt you to visit this wonderful gem of a destination tucked away in the southern-most reaches of an equally delightful country.

Spring is a Time for Renewal

Not only does Nature renew, refresh and enliven herself each Spring, but it is a great opportunity for women who want more out of life to do the same.  Join me for two great renewal opportunities this Spring. These women’s retreats are not to be missed.

Choose from A Taste of Life – March 29 – April 13th or Awakening Spirit – April 12 – 27th if you seek renewal, adventure, freedom and luxury.  Don’t miss out on these great opportunities to create the best life possible for yourself.

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What Women Want

Almond Blossoms

A woman’s needs and wants varies throughout her life.  Nowhere is this more evident and important as in her travel preferences.  What women want out of travel often changes dramatically as her life changes.

Many of us start out life either being interested in backpacking around the world, staying in hostels, finding inexpensive, culturally rich places to visit and eat.  Or perhaps we begin our travel lives with a preference for top-drawer, 5-star, luxe vacation oases, replete with massages, mojitos and perhaps even hot and cold running beach boys!  And some even choose to forego exotic travel, preferring instead to head to the cottage or campsite with kids and family.

But over time our lives change and our travel interests change as well.  As we move into our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s many of us find that whatever our travel history has been, we are craving different things.  For a surprising number of us, we begin to prefer to travel alone or in small groups.  For others, either through bereavement or divorce, solo travel is foisted on us.

It is not unusual for ‘women of a certain age’ to begin to seek out travel experiences that offer a combination of experiential learning along with opportunities to meet new friends and discover new cultures.  Our bodies may be telling us that while we still feel vital and interested in adventure, we are no longer drawn to sleeping rough or sharing with relative strangers.  Standard tours and cruises often don’t meet our needs:  too many people, too little time to really explore a place, too few opportunities to create our own discoveries.  Take my client Ida.  Recently widowed, she’d always traveled with her husband, taking cruises around the world and spending happy summers at the cottage.  As part of her re-discovery process she took an adventure trip to Turkey and reports a new sense of self worth.  Then there’s Vicki, a single woman who had become tired of vacationing with her girlfriends.  She came along to one of my retreats because she felt it was time for a process of reclaiming herself and discovering what she wanted for the future.  Her two weeks of reflection, exploration and introspection are still with her two years later.  Katy just wanted a couple of weeks away that had more focus than a beach vacation has but was free from the daily moving on that her typical tours entailed.  She selected a creativity retreat with me and discovered a renewed interest in painting, but also realized just how big an issue safety is in her life.  She realized that she’s missed out on a lot because she chose cruises, tours and all-inclusive packages in her earlier years.

I get numerous calls from women who are retiring or who are thinking about what kind of life they want for themselves now that their kids have left home.  What seems to be a common theme amongst them all is that they are seeking something new and fresh in their travel lives.

It never fails to amaze me how my personal experience parallels that of other women.  And what I discovered from the many women who’ve participated in my retreats and culinary experiences further supports this.  But what about you?

What are you craving in a travel experience these days?  What would the perfect get away look like for you?  I’d love to compile a list of what women want out of travel these days.  Please be certain to leave a comment and I’ll happily post a summary in a few weeks time.