Where creativity grows

Category: Cooking & Baking

International Foodie Potluck

When we returned from Spain I was craving new food experiences and conversation with new people who shared my love of food, new recipes and travel. I have belonged to a local Facebook foodie group for a few years. So when I conjured up the idea of an international potluck, I asked them first if they would be interested. The idea was that everyone would bring a dish to pass that was representative of their heritage. 

The response to our invitation was small, but after all we were total strangers inviting other total strangers to our home. I’m not sure that I would have accepted the invite from someone else. I invited a couple of other friends and voila we had a group of seven people ready to share in some foodie funness.

We ended up with Italy, Germany, Poland and Mexico represented by our guests. One of our guests traveled all the way from Indiana and brought pierogi from a local favorite in her area called Dan’s Pierogies.  They were amazing! My husband especially liked the plum variety and I loved the sweet cheese one.  One guest made pasta carbonara, which was SO good. Then another guest made traditional enchiladas with red sauce and also a poblano cream sauce that she served with tortillas. YUMMO! 

My friend Gudrun introduced me to Obdatzda when I lived with her in Munich and I immediately fell in love with it. I found this recipe on Pinterest and it is easy to throw together. My husband doesn’t like raw onions, so I usually leave them on the side and people can add them as they like. I have made it both with camembert and brie and both are yummy. I serve it with Snyder’s Dipping Sticks, but you could serve it with any pretzel or bread.

My first choice for my entree was currywurst and German potato salad, but one of my guests was vegetarian. So I scoured the new German cookbooks I recently purchased for a good vegetarian option. I found a recipe for a mushroom goulash with dumplings and decided to try it. This was my first time ever trying to make bread dumplings (or any dumplings for that matter). I mixed up the bread and seasonings, rolled the dumplings and boiled them only to discover they were VERY moist and soggy. We decided to throw them in the oven to see if we could dry them out a bit and for the most part it worked. The mushroom goulash was very thin, so we added a bit of cornstarch to thicken it up. That was fairly tasty– much better the next day! I don’t know that I would make that particular recipe again, but I did see this recipe that sounds similar that I will add to my list to try.

My German potato salad recipe is a long time crowd favorite and can easily be adapted to be vegetarian, by skipping the bacon and using vegetable broth. I just make two batches of the “sauce” one with bacon and one without. Then I divide the potatoes up and make one for my vegetarian friends and one for everyone else. It works out nicely.  I can’t remember where I found that recipe on line, but if you would like it, send me a message and I’ll send it to you.

I decided to try a new currywurst recipe this time around and my husband agreed that it was much better than my original recipe. Currywurst is traditional German street food. It is grilled sausage (usually a bratwurst) and then a curried ketchup sprinkled with curry powder. My original recipe was a quickie version that I use when making it for my students. This recipe is more authentic and has a more robust flavor. I also grilled the sausages instead of just cooking them in the sauce in a crockpot. 

For dessert, I shared something I have been doing for my students for years– Spaghetti Eis. This link will show you the basic idea, but I make some adjustments to the recipe. I use frozen strawberries with sugar that have been thawed for the sauce. I shave white chocolate with a microplaner for the parmesan cheese. Then I add whoppers for meatballs and Pirouette wafers for breadsticks. If you want to be fancy, you could use chocolate ice cream instead and say it is whole wheat pasta. Kids LOVE this recipe, but I was tickled by how much the adult crowd got a kick out of it as well. 

real edible ice cream, no artificial ingredients used!

The evening was in general a success. We would like for it to be a wider variety of new people, so that no one feels left out of the conversation. We definitely had more food than we could possibly have consumed. We tossed around the idea of just doing appetizers next time. Or perhaps appetizers and desserts. But we gave it a try and we had a nice time and we’ll do it again– just a bit different. Isn’t that the case for everything? You try something and then make adjustments and do it again? 

What recipe would you bring to an international foodie potluck?

When in Spain…

One of the tenants of a creative mindset is learning new things. What better time to do this than while on vacation in Spain? For as many times as we have stayed in an Airbnb, we had never tried out an Airbnb experience. I think that in my heart I knew that Barcelona was not going to hold the magic charm for us that it did for many others. So I started poking around for ideas of things that we could do— experience. My eye caught on a paella cooking class. It had amazing reviews and it was ridiculously cheap given what we had paid for cooking classes here in the States. I clicked “book it” and told Tom we would end our trip with a paella class in this guy’s backyard. Cool. 

There was something more that stoked the creative fires in both of us than just learning something new. Our host, Miguel, made us feel incredibly welcome in his beautiful home. The ambience was magnificent. We immediately noticed all the little extra details that made the space special. The garden was stunning— a true sanctuary from the world. Inside, he went above and beyond to set the scene. The music, appetizers and sangria made learning and conversation easy and lighthearted. Before we even started cooking, we were relaxed and felt like we were visiting an old friend instead of a total stranger. 

Everything about the experience tickled our creative juices. Music played in the house and garden. Miguel was a fellow creative. He was a police officer by day and shared his love of cooking with strangers from around the world on his days off. He has found a way to be creative, meet new people and make a bit of extra money. Almost all of the ingredients in the paella were items we had never cooked with. We prepared four different types of seafood and vegetables as well as a sauce for the paella. Left to our own devices we probably would not have cooked with all these different types of seafood, but we LOVED trying them all. We were forced to try something new and unexpected. We were absolutely in a new and stimulating environment that made us want to learn more and try more. And of course while we were engaged in all this fun and stimulating learning we were not attached to our phones and social media. 

I don’t know that we would have gotten all of this creative jolt from just any class. This was something special and we knew we were very lucky to be there experiencing it. If you find yourself in Castelldefels, Spain (or you want to get out of Barcelona), I highly recommend you check out Miguel’s class. You won’t regret it.

Magical Paella with Miguel in Castelldefels

The Invitation of a Lifetime

We knew as soon as we received the invitation to Matthew and Cassandra’s wedding we would do everything possible to attend. After all, how often do you receive an invitation to an intimate wedding in the rolling hills of Spain? Once we negotiated all the chaos of traveling internationally near the tail end of a global pandemic, we were ready to get our fiesta on.

Everything about this wedding fits the challenges I set forth in my post about a creative mindset

Listen to music. Nine different countries were represented at the wedding. The bride and groom asked everyone from outside the US to share a few songs for the DJ to play during the reception. It was so unique to hear songs from India, Sweden and Ukraine. I never would have heard these songs otherwise and I’ll always smile when I think back on the reception and dancing to them.

Keep an idea journal. The food at the reception was out of this world and it had me making notes to try and find recipes to try back at home. From the camembert bites in blueberry sauce to the vegetarian paella and quinoa salad, my creative juices were flowing! 

Talk to other creatives. This was a very small wedding- only 38 guests. When we talked to the bride and groom about the guest list they admitted that they were drawn to the same types of people— people with a sense of adventure and creativity. After all, most of the guests were traveling thousands of miles to attend the festivities. 

Embrace failure. The bride and groom were extremely thoughtful in how they arranged guests at each table. There was a mixture of people who spoke only Spanish, only English and both English & Spanish at each table. Pedro, a local farmer at our table, tried to engage the Spanish learners at our table with children’s riddles using farm animals. The three non-Spanish speakers at our table stared at him with zero comprehension of what he was trying to communicate. The bilingual guest translated, we laughed and postulated an answer. Time after time our language and creativity failed us. We laughed it off and kept trying. 

Be a lifelong learner. I knew as soon as we decided to make the trip that I was going to do everything to learn at least basic Spanish. I spent countless hours and gave up daily lunch periods to practice on Duolingo. There was no way that I would be fluent in time for the trip, but I did get a healthy dose of creative use of my limited language skills. 

Expose yourself to new environments. The entire wedding fit this challenge. When most people travel to Spain they go to the big cities— Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, etc. The ceremony was held in the middle of the Spanish countryside in Arnes on a stunningly beautiful vineyard that no one has ever heard of. It was an all vegetarian/vegan menu that tantalized our taste buds with each bite. We knew the bride and groom and none of the other guests- which forced us to meet and interact with new people. 

Have new experiences. The wedding festivities continued well into the night. We danced and laughed and celebrated the beautiful couple like it was the last thing we would ever do. The joy carried into the next day when a couple from India shared the Holi festival of color with the wedding guests. We piled into cars and headed into the mountains with huge packets of colored powder. After a short hike down to the river, the color madness started. Everyone grabbed packets of powder and smeared them all over anyone within arms reach. Joy and laughter was radiating from every single person. Before we knew it everyone had jumped into the river and the colors were just a memory. 

I know that traveling to exotic destinations is not an everyday (or in our case even an every year) occurrence. We did embrace every chance we could to make the most of this special opportunity and to recharge our creative batteries as much as we could.

Travel- steroids for creativity

We recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to Spain. We spent eleven magical days enjoying the Spanish countryside and soaking up every last drop of life spice. It seems hypocritical to talk about feeling inspired after taking a dream vacation, because who wouldn’t? It makes me think of the time I had the chance to ask world-famous photographer Art Wolfe to tell me his favorite place to photograph. He responded with Myanmar. Only someone who is able to travel internationally regularly would give such a response. Because it will be a long time before we are able to take such a trip again, I did reflect on the aspects of our trip that inspired a creative mindset so that we can try to recreate those types of experiences here at home. Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of blogs about our experiences in Spain. Here is a sneak peak…

Our food experiences were by far the most amazing. For years we have been asking for recommendations in restaurants. Check out my post Why I’ll never order off a menu again. We continued to do so while in Spain. We tried so many foods that we never would have ordered on our own—duck, partridge, clams, mussels, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and much more. I now know that my day is always better if it starts with a café con leche. As soon as we got home, I decided to host an international potluck. Everyone is bringing a dish from their heritage to pass. Foodie potluck

New experiences are obviously easier when you are in a new place where everything is new. Our adventures started with the invitation of a lifetime— one we could not turn down. Some of our explorations were simple (Spanish doors) while others were much more elaborate. One of our most memorable days was when our friends took a day to share their “favorites” with us. What would be on my favorites list if someone were visiting us? We did something similar when my bestie and her husband were in town for the day from Connecticut. Could I ask others to suggest an itinerary for a day in their area? Staycations

Music makes my heart skip a beat. Matt and Cassandra asked their guests from 9 different countries to share 3-4 songs for the DJ to play during the reception. I don’t have any of the names of the songs that were played, but I remember how much I smiled when I heard music from Ukraine, India, Mexico and even Sweden. My Pandora stations are so perfectly curated that they play only songs that I know and love. This, of course, is a double edged sword. I need to explore some new music avenues. Music

Learn something new. We ended our trip with an Airbnb Experience to learn how to make paella, which combined our love of food, culture and learning. Paella. While we cannot take a cooking class every week, I do have a stack of recipes from a great book I checked out from our library called The Kitchen Without Borders.  It features stories and recipes from immigrant and refugee chefs from around the world. Our Foodie Map is eagerly awaiting more pins. 

The best thing about vacations is how they make you appreciate home. This trip was no different. While we would love to figure out a way to have our “olive farm” right now, we have ways to inject joy and creativity into our lives every single day. 

An Artist’s Date with Claire Saffitz

Last summer I finally ordered and started reading Julia Cameron’s iconic book Artist’s Way. While much of the book did not resonate with me (I am 100% in the minority here and totally ok with that), one aspect that did stick with me was her emphasis on the importance of artist dates. I have a long list of ideas in my inspiration journal and one area that I had not yet explored was diving into cooking as a creative exercise. 

Like so many others, Tom and I became master binge watchers during COVID 2020. Tom is the YouTube Maestro and he discovered the one and only Claire Saffitz. On her Bon Appetit show, she tried to recreate favorite snack items like everything from Gourmet Cheetos to Pop Tarts. While we did not necessarily have any desire to make any of these tasty treats, her show was witty and entertaining. She had a way of making everything lighthearted and look easy. Fast forward to December 2021 when I fell in love with the Netflix show School of Chocolate. It got me thinking about the conversation Tom and I had earlier in the year about wanting to try our hand at some fancy desserts. Afterall, I had pinned gobs of recipes, but I had yet to try any of them. Fast forward again to our stocking stuffer exchange on Christmas Eve. Tom bought me a beautiful copy of Claire Saffitz’s book Dessert Person. Let me start by saying I am a cookbook fanatic. I love reading them almost as much as I do making recipes from them. However, never have I devoured a cookbook the way I did this one. I was so inspired by the beautiful images, detailed directions and the incredible variety of recipes that I could not wait to dive in and try something. These recipes were different from anything I had ever tried before. Sure I had made cinnamon rolls before, but these were some serious next level stuff. Yes, I had made sous vide lemon curd, but I had never made a tart. Of course, I had made chocolate cakes, but nothing like Claire’s wave cake. Every night I would thumb through the pages and read another recipe. I would ooh and ahh about whatever recipe I was reading.

That is when I decided that I was going to take myself on a date with Claire and dedicate a whole weekend to diving into her book. Wednesday night, Tom and I mixed up the Meyer Lemon Curd for the Lemon Tart. I was apprehensive because I have heard so many nightmares about how hard it is to make homemade lemon curd. I had always let the sous vide do the hard work. Here I was signing up to stand and whisk the eggs and lemon juice and butter for ten straight minutes. The curd it yielded was OUT OF THIS WORLD! And it was no problem whatsoever to make. Tom whisked for me, but it really was easy to make. Friday night I mixed up the sweet yeast dough for the Walnut Maple Sticky Buns. Saturday morning, the buns went in the oven as soon as I got home from running. I commented on Claire’s youtube page that these sticky buns changed our lives forever. They are not the type you get at the mall covered in ooey gooey sugary sauce. These are sophisticated and brilliant sticky buns that will make you rethink everything you thought to be true in the world. And then Sunday morning, I made the Chocolate Wave Cake and finished the Lemon Tart. The chocolate cake and lemon tart were on the docket for a girls’ afternoon I was hosting. While my running tribe had had loads of my Christmas cookies, I had never baked anything like this for them (or anyone else for that matter). I was more than a little nervous. Tom reminded me that if anything went wrong, we could run to the store and pick something up. This was NOT an option in my head.

The awesome thing about Claire’s book is that she is in the process of making YouTube videos to accompany all the recipes. So I was able to see her talk her way through all the recipes I was making. These are not “throw together quickly” recipes. They all involved multiple steps and multiple recipes to make one final product. Claire’s videos humanized the recipes. They were no longer these elite fancy must graduate from pastry school to make recipes, but rather something even I could accomplish. Spoiler alert! Everything turned out marvelous. The girls loved all the desserts and we enjoyed the leftovers for the better part of a week.

Diving into this book was certainly an interesting creative endeavor for me. I love cooking and baking and trying new recipes. But this was all on a new level and it opened up creative circuits in my brain that had been dormant for a bit. I’m glad that I remembered that not all creative adventures have to happen in the Oodlearium. 

Side note- no idea how I did not get a picture of the lemon tart…it was heavenly!

Until next time,

Oodle On

This Week in The Oodlearium

I am so grateful to be on Spring Break this week and to have dedicated time to spend in The Oodlearium. 

The Gazing Ball

I got back from running on Saturday and my husband asked me if I wanted to finish up the gazing ball. A quick trip to Home Depot to find something to use as a stake and we were ready to assemble everything. A few years ago our neighbor’s huge pine tree was struck by lightning. When they finally had the tree cut down, they offered us the trunk to use in our fire pit. One night during a late night fire, we threw one of the chunks in the fire— which of course was not a good idea! However, the charring on the trunk is gorgeous. It was the perfect compliment for the metal of the washers. I am SO excited how it turned out!

A lot of people have asked me how I did this. I bought about $10 worth of washers from Blaine’s Farm & Fleet along with a tube of E6000 from Home Depot. It took me a few days, but it was super easy and very meditative. 

Pour Painting on Acrylic

A few days ago my husband mentioned that he was curious what it would look like if I did a pour painting on a piece of acrylic. He thought it might be cool to see what the back of the painting looked like under the acrylic. Over the weekend he cut me an 8×10 piece of acrylic and I had to give it a try. He had never seen me go through the process of pouring— layering the paints in a recycled yogurt container. For a few months I have only been doing pours with strainers. However, this coming week I am going to teach a friend how to pour, so I have been working on basic techniques like circles and flips. On this particular pour, I did circles and I 100% love how it turned out. In reality, I ended up with two different paintings— the front that looks much more vibrant than on a traditional canvas and then the underside, which shows more of how I actually poured. He has a bunch of acrylic scrap, so I know I will be doing much more of these pours in the future.

Front side

Underside

Teaching pour painting

I am so excited to have the opportunity to teach pour painting to a good friend this week. I mentioned the idea the last time we had a virtual chat and I was over the moon when they said they would love to learn. It will be an awesome opportunity to practice for my pop-up art classes that I want to host this summer. 

I’m intrigued by this class

A quick Google Search for pop-up art classes yielded this class. It sounds super interesting and gets amazing reviews. Check it out!

Index Card Art

A week or so I finally started with my index card art and I cannot overstate how much I love this project. I have a stack of notecards and a drawing pen in a ziplock bag. Each morning I sit down at my desk at school and I take ten minutes to fill a notecard. It is so incredibly calming and centering. On Friday we had a super stressful meeting and I was extremely anxious about the meeting. I sat down and created a card with the word calm on it. I incorporated everyone’s initials into it as well and then I kept it in front of me during the entire meeting. 

Cricut

Earlier this week I was ready to return the Cricut Maker we bought a few weeks ago. I was so frustrated and confused by what to do with this incredibly powerful and useful tool. I decided to dedicate some time over my spring break to learn some of the features. I found a super cute Easter SVG file on Pinterest and was so excited to create some bling bunnies for my Easter cards.

52 Frames

I had so many different ideas for this week’s slow shutter speed challenge, but I opted to revisit a technique I learned a few years ago. I wanted to play around with one of my blinky lights from my running shoes. I try really hard not to repeat subjects from previous challenges,  but I had a specific goal with this image. I wanted to create a unique pattern with the swinging of the light. One of the comments I received said the final product looks like a sci-fi slinky— mission accomplished! 

Breakfast sausage

One of the best purchases we made during the COVID19 Shelter in Place was the meat grinder attachment for our Kitchenaide. I initially started with just grinding beef to make patties for burgers. Then I started making bulk Italian sausage. I haven’t branched out from those two items since we started last summer…until this weekend! I was so excited to try out a recipe for breakfast sausage. I can’t wait to see what we try next. This pin from Pinterest has a great starter’s guide for making sausage. 

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Creativity in the kitchen

My husband calls me fearless when I am in the kitchen. A few days ago we were talking about a recipe I made over the summer. Despite not having a good half the ingredients, I decided to make the recipe anyhow. I swapped out a lot of the ingredients.  And it turned out good…whatever it was. 

That story is not an intention to brag about my savvy in the kitchen. I love cooking and I love baking. I love trying new recipes— even more so when we are having friends over for a dinner party. Really early on when my husband and I started cooking together we had the agreement that if something didn’t turn out we would simply order a pizza. There was NO pressure for something to be amazing, but there WAS space to experiment and practice. Over the years that has developed into a true passion for cooking and baking. While I love cooking for Tom and me, I truly love sharing our kitchen with friends and family. 

I have always told people that I am just following the directions when I make something. Someone else did all the hard work of figuring out what to put together in what order and for how long. But lately I have started experimenting and it has been a whole new layer of fun for me in the kitchen. Does it always work out? Of course not, but we haven’t ordered pizza yet either! 

This past weekend I decided to do something I have never done before with baking— make up my own recipe. Chocolate cherry cookies are a family favorite during the holidays. I am pretty anti-cooked fruit, so I have never really been a fan of them (and until Tom started helping me with the ganache they were a pain to make, too!). In a moment of weakness, I decided to try one again and I was shocked that I really liked the flavor. My husband commented that they reminded him of his mom’s chocolate cherry cheesecake. YES! And with that I was inspired to to create a cookie that was truly a cookie version of her famous cheesecake.

I started with the chocolate cherry cookie recipe and combined it with the filling that my husband puts in his magic cupcakes (1 package of softened cream cheese, ¼ c sugar, 1 egg and ¼-½ c dark chocolate chips). I decided to use a mini-muffin pan with liners just in case the batter melted all over the place. I rolled the dough into a small ball and pressed it into the bottom of the liner and pressed my thumb into it to make an indent. Then I scooped a small bit of (maybe a tbsp) of the cream cheese filling. Top it with a cherry and then pipe the ganache over it. These were baked for 10-12 minutes at 350. When they came out, I was sure they were a failure. There was no structure to them. They were tasty, but they just fell apart. I left them on the counter and went about my day. Later in the day, I tried one again and was shocked that they had solidified into a delicious bit of joy that tasted just like mom’s cheesecake! 

I am not so naive to believe that all my experimentation will result in beautiful success stories like this one, but I am emboldened to continue with my experimenting. No idea what form that will take, but I am sure it will be fun and if it fails…well there is always pizza! 

In the meantime, oodle on! 

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