For my last two birthdays, I have found myself celebrating at Cabeça da Cabra Casa de Campo near Porto Covo in Alentejo. My friend, Maria Costa Santos, has set up the cosiest, most unpretentious, uber-calming getaway in the countryside outside of Lisbon. And I dream about spending many more birthdays in that special corner of Alentejo.
Several years ago, propelled by what seems like fate, Maria won an abandoned rural primary school building in a government auction. After an immaculate restoration, Cabeça da Cabra opened as a small guesthouse where one can learn how to surf, cycle around the neighbouring farms, recover from urban life, and if you’re me, go to the farmer’s market with Maria’s boyfriend Duarte who is the resident foodie expert so you can buy out all the fava beans. (Literally all of them. I cleaned out the farmer, and a local shopper was left fava-less because she was two minutes behind me, sorry not sorry.)
See, this year I was there “working”. I was the resident cook for a retreat held by two Finnish friends of mine, Sini and Jonna, which meant daily trips to the farmer’s market and the local butcher, cooking for the lovely retreat guests assembled there from all over the world, and baking cardamom buns with Sini in Maria’s sun-filled kitchen . The three of us met last year at Cabeça da Cabra and we got on immediately. Jonna is perhaps the funniest person I’ve ever met, with her uniquely Nordic wry observational skills, and I laughed so hard I cried countless times. Sini is so composed and accomplished, with an award-winning food blog under her belt (My Blue and White Kitchen) that I always forget that she’s a bazillion years younger than I am.
After I met Sini and Jonna, I quit my job to focus on cooking full-time. And they started the most beautiful magazine, Laine, that emanates hygge from every page. Now, they have just recently quit their jobs to focus on Laine full-time. Laine is a Nordic knitting and lifestyle magazine, filled with recipes, travel guides, stories on makers and handcrafted goods, with gorgeous pictures shot by the two of them. When we met last year, the magazine was their dream project, and cooking was mine, and now here we all are finding our way as entrepreneurs. I think that’s hardly a coincidence.
There is something in that Alentejano air that inspires people to do crazy and wonderful things. Whether it’s buy an abandoned schoolhouse, start a magazine or leave their corporate law job to buy fava beans. I have no doubt I will be back at Maria’s and wonder what totally irrational but unstoppable things will follow then…