welcome to emmas housethought


Nothing says climate change more bluntly than a chat with my neighbours about the harvest. The potatoes at half a crop, rotten, the grapes at mixed maturity, acidic wine at best and no olives to speak of at all this year. Muito estranho. What exactly has been so strange about the weather? It’s just different, they say. The cold too long, the hot too hot, no rain during the summer, too much rain over the winter. “Aquecimento Global”, I offer, this larger context neither providing any comfort or perspective.


For them, the increasingly unreliable weather conditions brutally translates into harder living conditions. With already a ridiculously paltry cash income, no olives on their trees means another €15 euros a month spent at the supermarket: oil of a poorer quality, not organic and less healthy. For a community where health really is everything.


Generations of accumulated knowledge about their environment and how to prosper from it (or just simply survive), is going to ruin in this little village while bureaucrats, politicians and sceptics negotiate themselves into a bottomless intray of bullshit. And my neighbours still bring home their flour and rice in plastic bags from a supermarket which encourages them to do so, and they don’t recycle a thing. And it occurs to me that for farmers and peasants the world over it’s a similar story: the first to feel the earth’s slow but irreparable immolation, and the last to understand it or have the power to control it. Capitalist democracy, isn’t it great?


Meanwhile we of the adopted rural life can still rejoice in the treasures that the land and our hard work have brought for us this year. In my case, my fantasy of being a still sexy woman in an apron making sauce in a foreign language from my very own tomatoes has been indulged somewhat relentlessly this summer, to the extent that The One has said he doesn’t want to see another tomato on the table until Christmas. (What cold revenge! That mediocre nothing in a tomato skin impostor of mid winter – how he will mourn for the sweet fruit of my summer!). And exotic herbs we have had in wasteful quantities. There has been the odd beetroot surprise (spontaneous beetroots are a lesser known Portuguese miracle), prompting much Aussie style hamburger happiness. But everything else –  the couve, potatoes, onions, strawberries, carrots, garlic, leeks, capsicum – very little results if anything at all. The lettuce and rocket lasted about a month, a bitter disappointment to someone who must have been a rabbit in a past life.

I have brought over the mountain a few bags of grapes, (for juicing and drying rather than wine-ing this time) a box of figs and small stash of blackberries, for my favourite jam.


Over hill, over dale the results of the harvest are fortunately different, which is why our villages are joined in parishes and our parishes into councils who raise rooves over marketplaces. Other expaters to the north and south report not only splendid tomatoes but riches of onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic, marrows of all manner. While strawberries are a disaster in one corner they flourish in another. And herein lies the lesson: diversify or die. Build communities and live with them in peace. Globalisation is going too far, but the League of Nations were once on the right scale. Think Participatory Economics. Communication. Cooperation. We have the technology, but the power cable is not in the right hands.


Diversify and flourish. It bothers me how my neighbours don’t trade with their neighbours to vary their diet. Following their old school academy they grow the same things year after year while the world’s weather changes around them. Thank god as usual for the Asians and Italians who brought their weird foods to Australian plates, and now thank the Anglo-Saxon migrants here who grow pak choi, Japanese tomatoes, artichokes, dill and asparagus peas. May climate change makes us change. Adapt. Accept. Harvest and feast.





  1. Katharina October 5, 2010 8:48 am Reply

    I love your blog Ms Em…..always puts a smile on my face….very much needed these days. Thank you!

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  2. Leo October 5, 2010 9:11 am Reply

    Great piece, and it’s spot on. Unfortunately.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 6th, 2010 at 12:02 am

    nice to hear from you Leo.

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  3. Sylvain Van Damme October 5, 2010 9:22 am Reply

    Dear Emma,
    Being admirer of your blog for almost 2 years, I was afraid that after you met THE ONE, we would miss your posts. Since my wife has a quinthinho in Poiares (vila nova de poiares) it was always my idea to retire there. Therefore your expierences where very interesting. Having my Carmo, she struggled with the adminstration of Poiares to get the houses excepted for living. And of coarse I tought, being all alone (and not being Portuguese) you would not be able to handle the house (burocraty and weird conditions- nobody can just live from the sun) renovation and general survival there in Cimeira.BUT THINK YOU WOULD HAVE MADE IT ALL ALONE WITH A LITTLE PORTUGUESE HELP.
    Yes indeed the climatic conditions where catastrofic this year in Lousa, Poiares and Coimbra area. I started planting in April (retired at 30 March , but first had to leave India) a completly innondated garden, planting has we do in Belgium (or as in Holland) making small damms and channels to get rid of the excessive water. Already one month later I had to change to garden structure has I saw in India ( comparable to the gardens in Marocco or Algeria) the result was more than maigre. Obviously you are not happy with your tomatoes , well for us any garden culture was dissapointing. The only thing which cam out well where the Indian okra’s.
    If you and THE ONE have time , please come to visit us in Poiares is on the old road from Poiares to Penacova…. I am a quite good coock and vegtables are still available in Mosquetero.
    Take good care about yourself, we all need your sarcastic – humerous posts

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 6th, 2010 at 12:02 am

    praise to allah for people like you. whenever I feel like shit I will come back and read your capitals. hope you have a good curry recipe for that okra, not the kindest of vegetables 😉
    The posts will continue, never you mind… The One is an excellent proof reader and he takes some great shots with his shiny new camera phone (the corn is his).

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    Sylvain Van Damme   Reply: October 6th, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Dear Emma,
    As you may know ocra is called quiabo in Port. I make it simply as I mostly prepare it as green beans: remove the upper part, fry onions till they are getting transperant in olive oil than add the prepared okra and fry for approx 5 min, than add just a spoon of water or white wine and let it go for another 5 min ( I like legumes with a little bite) Indian style of Bindhi (Hindi for okra, in the arabian world is called bamy)is quite the same as above with the diffence that they simmer it a long time to have a puree ( they have to eat it with flat bread as chipatti or naan) and add coriander green, some green sharp peppers to make it very hot and spicy.
    Better let me do the cooking and visit us in Poiares but wait a couple of days actual I am in Germany to take care of my house in Karlsruhe

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    Emma   Reply: October 8th, 2010 at 3:53 am

    √ like 🙂

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  4. Richard October 5, 2010 10:04 am Reply

    Another fantastic article Emma.
    Unfortunately this is the side-effect of Western Globalization.
    There is a dire lack of arable land world wide and with the population continuing to grow – quality food with be a major problem in the future. One investment tip – Buy agriculture stocks! Corn, Wheat, Sugar, Rye, Soy, Water utilities etc…..just my 2 escudos worth!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 5th, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    I like your thinking…

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  5. fernando g.s. October 5, 2010 2:13 pm Reply

    Two things, one good one bad. I love your blog, my best new habit. That was the good thing. However, and so sadly, we don’t have much time left, instalou-se o desíquilibrio. I need a drink.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 5th, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I know the feeling… graças-a-deus tea is good for you or I would have serious problems.

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  6. Memphis October 5, 2010 6:53 pm Reply

    Nicely spoken Emma. We are thinking the same and have already begun brining in some more diversity of crops, old strains of spuds, corn, courgettes, apples, cherries, pears we found from a lovely little family firm in the states called Baker’s Creek – http://rareseeds.com/ – Worth a look. Took a little while to get through Portuguese customs but we’re hoping we’ll find a few varieties that will prosper in conditions that the traditional Portuguese varieties have trouble. And raising fruit tree saplings from seed rather than stock to let the fruits themselves bring back the genetic diversity they carry within each one of their seeds. Check out the PBS documentary The Botany of Desire for great summary of all this. Memphis.

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    Emma   Reply: October 5th, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    thanks, that’s great stuff memphis, and I love your blog!

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  7. David Grove October 6, 2010 5:19 am Reply

    I reckon that climate change is happening for a reason. It’s a wake up call, or a sign from God, if you like. Our current lifestyle has become so unhealthy that nature is forcing us to rethink how we live. So bring it on, we need change.

    People who are awake will see where nature is leading us and adapt accordingly. Emma, I like your “diversify and flourish” angle, there is no need for doom and gloom, the climate meets our present needs perfectly.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 8th, 2010 at 3:54 am

    good one, david, thanks.

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  8. Isabel October 7, 2010 6:55 am Reply

    In the meantime, good news coming from Mordor:


    “Weeds are growing resistant to Roundup, dimming the future of the entire Roundup Ready crop franchise.”


    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 8th, 2010 at 3:52 am

    monsanto: such a bad name for such a nice place!

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  9. Ana October 9, 2010 7:54 pm Reply

    Hi, Emma
    First of all, I absolutely love your blog!! Me being an expatriated Portuguese, I really enjoy following your experiences and seeing Portugal from a “foreigner’s” perspective. And I praise the fact that you’re not afraid to point the good (Portuguese pastries being one of them!!) but also the bad (narrow mindedness of some of your neighbours, for instance).
    I’ve decided to leave a comment to this post because even though I agree with many if the things you said, it raised a question in my mind: doesn’t the introduction of exotic plants (either fruit trees or vegetables) pose a risk to the autochthonous species? Won’t that lead to a “Australia’s rabbit plague” situation in the vegetable world? After all, like Mr. Darwin has so well explained, nature is ruthless…Those not adapted will disappear in favor of those who are. Wouldn’t it be wiser to rethink and rebuild the agriculture practices as to adapt them to the new environmental conditions, instead of just importing new kinds of vegetables?

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  10. Aiko October 13, 2010 12:46 am Reply

    Dear Emma,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences here in Portugal. I have been here for about 8 years..and have only recently (last year) woken up to this idea of self sufficiency and building a permaculture food forest for my 2 boys..but we can only do this after selling our ”cement box” in Cascais!) 😛

    Reading ”The Ringing Cedars ”have cleared my head..a must read if you haven’t already…I think it will help you to create your garden using permaculture principles..I myself have been learning about it for a year so I am ready to go when I finally move to my plot of land..hopefully in Argela – Caminha..or Sintra. I found Doug & Gautier doing fantastic work here in Sintra..they are also for hire/consultancy

    Please check them out because I’m sure they can give you the assistance that you need..

    I have 2 little boys who keep me on the go constantly but I look forward to meeting you one day..I go to Braga or Caminha about once a month (inlaws) so perhaps on one of those trips we can meet up for pastries & café since you seem to be crazy about sweets? I LOVE the cream puffs at Café Venezia there..it’s not too sweet & light enough that you can easily breathe in 3! 🙂

    Ciao for now..and many blessings your way!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 13th, 2010 at 1:56 am

    thanks Aiko, yes I am a fan of permaculture – it´s the only way to go really. Thanks for your input!

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  11. Sindy Lopes October 28, 2010 4:41 am Reply

    Was on my lunch and happened to come across your blog. I am portuguese. My parents are from Sequeira, Braga and Santa Ana, Vimieiro Braga. It was such a delight reading your blog especially about Braga. It makes me miss it so much.
    Thank you.

    [Reply to comment]

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