Archive for September, 2009

Portugal’s most beloved pastry

pastel

Whenever my friends visit me in Portugal, its only a matter of hours until they request a trip to a bakery for a pastel de nata. An egg custard set in a puff pastry shell and dusted with cinnamon and confectioners sugar, these tarts combine the smooth comfort of flan with the crunch of baklava. 

Pasteis de nata are available in almost every bakery and snack bar in Portugal. But the most famous are found in Belem, an historic neighborhood in Southwestern Lisbon. According to legend, the pastries were invented before the 18th Century by Catholic monks at the Jeronimos Monastery. When the monastery was forced to close in the 1820s, the monks sold the closely guarded recipe to the nearby bakery.

Today, that bakery–Casa Pasteis de Belem–sells the tarts warm from the oven to the eager crowds who gather there each day. Their particular recipe is still a secret, but if you would like to try to make these special treats on your own, there are no shortage of recipes online, including this example from allrecipes.com.

Meet the Customer Service Department

The Papo d'Anjo Customer Service Department, from left to right:

The Papo d'Anjo Customer Service Department: (From top left) Alice, Pavlina, Tessa, Claire, Sandra, Mariana, Ana, Jacinta.

While each and every Papo d’Anjo employee is a valued member of our team, our unparalleled Customer Service Department is the crucial connection between our company and our customers. These eight women work almost around the clock (our last shift ends at 3:00 a.m. in Lisbon so customers on the East Coast can shop until 10:00 p.m. their time) to make sure clients get their questions answered and orders placed.

If you call our toll-free number, you may notice that the person you are speaking to has a distinctly non-European English accent. That’s because the Customer Service Department includes four women from South Africa who have moved to Portugal for its safety and quality of life. They bring yet another international perspective to our company.

As an American, I love hearing my employees’ observations about our customers from the United States. The Customer Service Team agrees that American mothers are less formal than their European counterparts and that our Southern customers are extremely friendly–some call to say hello every time they receive a new catalog.

In an era when most customer service is slapdash at best, I can’t tell you how proud I am that each member of the Papo d’Anjo Customer Service Department actually enjoys being able to take her time with every customer. I’ve heard many stories about long conversations with lovely grandmothers who ask questions that range from what the weather is like to the breed of the puppy found in the catalog.

Our team enjoys that American customers trust them enough to help put together outfits. Because they work in our main Lisbon office, they are able talk directly with the people who design and produce the clothing and can see and feel each item fist hand.

If you need help making an addition or substition for your order, or want to find a coordinating shirt for a skirt you bought earlier this year–or even last year–our team knows each line inside and out. Providing that kind of personalized service is what we do best.

It’s (trunk) show time

trunkshow

When I started Papo d’Anjo fifteen years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure how best to reach and serve my customers. While I was delighted that several wonderful children’s boutiques wanted to carry my designs, they were only able to order a small fraction of each collection. But opening a store of my own didn’t seem like the right option, either.

My solution was to start showing the clothes at private Trunk Shows, where customers could gather in the comfort of a hotel suite or someone’s home to see and feel the collections for themselves.  I’d gotten the idea from the in-home shows that I knew were popular with American women. No one had done it yet with children’s clothing, but I decided to give it a try.

Today, our network of 100 Trunk Shows across the United States is the heart of Papo d’Anjo and the Spring 2010 collection is our most extensive yet. With over 900 pieces, the Trunk Shows offer more than double the options available in the catalog and web site.

Whether you are looking for a unique outfit for a special occasion or play clothes, you’ll find it in one convenient stop. Best of all, orders from Trunk Shows arrive at your door, with no shipping charges.

Part of what I enjoy most about going to a trunk show is that it’s like having a personal shopper. Our hostesses are experts at helping mothers coordinate outfits for all their children and know the sizing and how each specific style fits. I love seeing an entire family’s wardrobe spread across a sofa while a mother and hostess figure out holiday outfits or choose clothes for a special family photograph.

While some friends have told me that they would feel uncomfortable going to a stranger’s home, Papo d’Anjo trunk shows are not exclusive, members-only events. If you are interested in children’s clothing, you are welcome.

The Spring 2010 trunk shows start this week and run through the first week of November. Orders will arrive in time for Spring Break.

Spring 2010

I am particularly excited about this collection as I’ve incorporated several new fabrics into the line, including a lovely organza for dresses and pants, a Liberty print Lycra for girls’ swimsuits, and the coral pattern shown in this photograph.  It’s also the first time that our next generation of pajamas–made from incredibly soft flame-retardant cotton–will be available.

Trunk Shows are held across the country in major cities, including Boston, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. To find the trunk show nearest you, please email Sybil Heine at sheine@comcast.net or call Customer Service at 888-660-6111.

Lisbon Neighborhood Tour: Madragoa

 

A varina, or fishmonger, traditionally carries her wares in a basket on her head.

A varina, or fishmonger, traditionally carried her wares in a basket on her head.

When I decided to start this blog, one of the ideas that most excited me was the ability to be able to introduce Papo d’Anjo customers to all the wonderful aspects of Lisbon. This week I’d like to talk about Madragoa, an extremely traditional and quiet neighborhood known for its steep narrow streets and parks filled with older men playing chess.

Madragoa is one of the “Bairros Populares,” or neighborhoods that compete for the honor of best “march” during the Festival of Saint Anthony (Lisbon’s patron saint) every June.  Each neighborhood produces a march with a theme, music, and costumes. They’re much like the samba schools in Rio, although tamer.

During the festival, the streets are decorated with garlands and on almost every corner you can spot a restaurant owner grilling sardines–the traditional food of the festival–outdoors. It’s the warmest time of the year–perfect for staying up all night eating, drinking, and enjoying the long summer days. 

One of the primary landmarks of Madragoa is the Santos Palace, which is now the French Embassy. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, with exquisite hanging gardens that overlook the Tagus River. My husband, Pascal, thinks it’s the most beautiful French Embassy after the Farnese Palace in Rome. 

Madragoa is also home to A Travessa, one of my favorite Lisbon restaurants. Located in a former convent, the restaurant shares the same building with public housing units. The result is a lively mix of formal dining and locals who hang their laundry above the restaurant’s entrance and stroll around the cloister, loudly voicing their opinions.

IMG_6748

Inside, diners are treated to cod carpaccio, grilled goat cheese with pumpkin marmalade, and scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms. And those are just the appetizers. A Travessa is known for “secretos,” which are thin slices of pork from free-range Iberian pigs that graze on acorns. Other favorites include partridge in a puff pastry and grilled octopus, tentacles and all. 

 

A Travessa is a warm and inviting restaurant with world class cuisine.

A Travessa is a warm and inviting restaurant with world-class cuisine.

Another local restaurant, just four blocks away, is Varina da Madragoa–named for the traditional female fishmongers who strolled the neighborhood selling their wares from baskets on their heads. In fact, the neighborhood’s earliest residents were said to be fishermen, who walked down the hill to the Tagus, where their boats where moored on the beach.

Back to School in Portugal

Kids_School50's

I know that most of you are busy buying last-minute supplies and helping your children get over their nervous jitters about the upcoming school year.  In Portugal, school doesn’t get underway until mid-September, so families across the country are soaking up the last beach days.

Unlike in America, there are very few public kindergartens. Instead, most children go to private pre-schools that include a kindergarten year. One of my favorite traditions is that both the boys and girls in these schools wear smocks, called bibes, throughout the school day. These bibes allow the children to paint and color and play without worrying about damaging their clothing.

Throughout Portugal you can see children walking to school–either with their parents or grandmothers–in their smocks. When the weather is nice, entire classes of identically-clothed children head to the park. They navigate the streets in long lines and each child holds onto the smock of the child in front of him.

The tradition has stayed the same for decades, although the smocks have become more colorful. I especially love this photo of Isabel, the daughter of Filipa Tavora from our logistics and buying department, in her bibe.

Filipa's daughter

Another Portuguese school tradition that I value is that each school has a huge kitchen and staff who prepare home cooked lunches for all the students. Each meal starts with a soup and includes a main course of meat or fish or pasta and then ends with fruit. 

From the moment you drop off your child, you can smell  the aroma of these delicious home-cooked meals. For me, it’s a wonderful reminder of the importance of slowing down to enjoy sharing a meal together–a value that can be hard to come by in our time-pressed lives.

What are your favorite traditions at your children’s school?



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