Day 16 (February 18), 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.
I haven't planned much for today other than transit to Portugal. Though I am sad to leave Spain, I'm pretty darn excited to meet more cookiers in another part of the globe! I prep for a long day of sitting on the plane with a quick P90X routine (I play the DVD on my computer in the hotel's workout room), and then finish packing. Check-out time is noon, so I field email in the lobby until my cab arrives at 2:30 pm to take me to the airport. So far the day has been uneventful, in a good way.
Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when my box of cookies is knocked over on the TSA conveyor belt. I knew this was bound to happen one day, but I am nonetheless freaked out and especially peeved by the laugh that this accident elicits from the TSA agent. Before I blow a gasket, I manage to gain control of myself and hasten to a quiet area to assess the damage.
Wow! I'm astonished. The box had fallen completely on its side, yet only the tip of one pink flower is broken (center right, below) . . .
Surveying the cookie damage in Box #1.
. . . and a few dots and part of the pink border have been knocked off the bottom of my heart box. The recently repaired heart box lid is unscathed!
Surveying the cookie damage in Box #2.
The plane ride to Lisbon follows per usual, except that I keep my eyes glued to my cookies almost continually.
Exiting the plane goes without a hitch. Phew, I'm in the home stretch! I claim my luggage, and emerge into the "reception" area in the Lisbon airport. Whilst surveying the crowd for my Portugal hosts, my cookie box is knocked hard from behind by another traveler's carry-on. Thud. My heart sinks. @#*$, how much more cookie trauma must I endure today?!
I'm itching to satisfy my compulsion to immediately check the damage, but I can't. No sooner than I regain my composure, I'm greeted by the smiling faces of my Portugal host Teresa Henriques, her husband-business partner Francisco, and Susana, Teresa's friend and temporary translator. (I am told I will have a different translator during class.) Everyone is kind and gracious and apparently happy to see me! The cookies can wait.
Francisco (thankfully) schleps my two heavy suitcases (one for clothes and one dedicated completely to cookie decorating tools) to the car, and we travel about one hour to the small town of Caldas da Rainha where I'll be teaching.
Before hitting my hotel, we stop for a typical Portuguese dinner. By "typical", I mean "late" by US standards (it's now 8:30 pm), but, more importantly, resplendent with baccalà, wine, and good cheer! One bite of this delectable fish, and happiness is restored! We spend time drinking and chatting, and chatting and drinking, and I can see clearly that Portugal is going to be a good time!
That's me with host and cake decorator extraordinaire Teresa Henriques.
Francisco and Susana smiling at us from across the table.
Day 17 (February 19), 10:00 am to ongoing.
I get to sleep in, though I don't really need the extra ZZZs for a change. I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by the time Teresa and team swing by the hotel to pick me up at 10 am. I've been told that all of the cookies for my three days of classes have been prepped except for the contoured sides of the 3-D heart boxes. My dough misbehaved for Teresa last week, and she wanted me to help troubleshoot why the sides had cracked so badly. Off we go to her shop for a day of recipe-MacGyvering and class prep.
A few blocks later, we arrive, and - wow - what a shop! Did I mention that Teresa is a renowned cake designer who travels the world teaching figure modeling, cake sculpting, and countless other cake things? Well, if not, SHE IS - and her shop sings with her splendid work.
A closer view of the storefront logo.
One of Teresa's magical cakes, recently published in her second cake decorating book.
A fun figurine by Teresa.
After ogling Teresa's display cakes for several minutes, I enter the kitchen. Cookies fill Teresa's speed racks, and they look great. Another impressive cookie prep job done in Portugal - I applaud the advance cookie baking team! After some discussion, I deduce that the substitution of honey for molasses in my cookie dough is making it spread more than usual, which is not a great thing when baking contoured cookie pieces. (Molasses is hard to get in Portugal.) We add more flour to Teresa's spiced cookie dough recipe, and while the cracking isn't completely resolved, it's better. We run with it - 24 box sides get re-baked.
It's SUPER humid and cool in Portugal this time of year. Susana points out that some of the iced heart box lids are therefore not drying well - the icing is tacky and bubbly after one full day of drying. We resolve to set the cookies in a low oven since there are no Nesco or Excalibur dehydrators here!
As the girls set up the work stations for the first class, I open my cookie boxes for the first time since the last airport calamity of yesterday. Alas, several things are broken - icing has popped off cookie leaves and flowers. Even my heart box lid got hit. Edges of its bow will need to be re-outlined and then the pieces will need to be "glued" back on the lid.
We work steadily until lunch - a delightful grilled squid with garlic sauce - and then return to ice some extra hearts in white. This time, we'll use pure egg whites in lieu of meringue powder and set dehumidifiers in the building with the hope that the topcoats will dry smoother and harder.
Work stations getting set up. Also checking that we have all the cookies we need.
"My" demo table in the center of the room, currently serving as a cookie "hospital" (the place for cookie repairs).
Susana, Susana, and Teresa baking box sides and small hearts.
The small hearts are almost iced. I take a break from icing to take this shot.
By 5 pm, we call it a wrap. It's been a productive day, and all is nicely in order for later this week.
Since tomorrow's plan is a full day of sightseeing, I return to the hotel, settle into a comfy chair in the lobby (the only place to get an Internet connection), and steel myself for a long night of work catch-up. (Currently ongoing . . .)