Where creativity grows

Author: Jen (Page 1 of 9)

The Creativity Chat

Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extraordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts. (cite)

One of the first blog posts I wrote was about Inspiring a Creative Mindset. Most people hear the word creativity and they immediately think about art. Being creative does not necessarily mean being artistic. Everyone has creativity within them and most people use it every day without even realizing they are doing it. With practice and intention you can harness the power of it. Here are the pillars of a creative mindset:

  • Listen to music. 
  • Keep an idea journal. 
  • Talk to other creatives.  
  • Embrace failure. 
  • Show persistence/grit. 
  • Be a lifelong learner. 
  • Expose yourself to new environments. 
  • Disconnect / detox from technology.  
  • Have new experiences. 
  • Begin anywhere. 

Some of these pillars are very easy and natural for me, while others are very challenging. I always have music on. I am a do-er. I love learning new things. I have a stack of idea journals and a Pinterest account that many people might find insane. I love trying new places and having new experiences. I am fearless when it comes to trying new things in the kitchen. 

Tom and I talk frequently about the idea of being the average of the five people with whom you spend the majority of your time. If you want to be more creative, it would make sense to spend more time with other creatives, right?  If you don’t already have those people around you, it’s not. as easy as it sounds. It’s not like you just put an ad in Craig’s List!  I have wonderful people around me. They are supportive and loving and just plain freaking awesome. They are 100% my tribe and I cannot imagine my life without them. But— we don’t have deep conversations about creativity. At first the problem was COVID- no one was meeting with anyone and with all the time I was spending on video calls for school, I had absolutely zero desire to do that in my spare time. Time marched on and I wasn’t staying true to my own advice to other creatives.

Fast forward to January 2023, when I finally made the commitment in my 23 for 2023 post to connect with other creatives. I have belonged to the the 52Frames photography community for over five years now. This group is made up of thousands of people from around the world. While photography brought us all to 52Frames, many of the framers have a lot of interests outside of photography. I posted on the Facebook page asking if anyone was interested in meeting virtually to have a chat about creativity. The only caveat was that the people who responded had to be interested in a creative pursuit other than just photography. 

I was hoping perhaps 5-7 people would respond…absolute max of 10 including me. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I had 14 people sign up for our first call at the end of January. I was even more excited when we quickly found a time and day that worked for most people (yay for retirement!). 

On January 29th, we met for the first time via a Google Meet. Life, some technology issues and a few other glitches made the group a bit smaller the first time, but we kicked off this adventure with nine or ten ladies from all over the US and as far away as Berlin, Germany. It’s always a bit unnerving to randomly meet with total strangers (in person or virtually), but everyone was so excited to engage with other creatives that any nerves quickly calmed. We introduced ourselves and talked about our creative pursuits outside of photography— Alcohol inks. Visible mending. Quilting. Fabric photographs. Doodling. Travel. The list goes on and on. Before we knew it, the hour was just about up and we were eager to schedule the next chat for the end of February. 

Before we parted, one of our members offered a challenge to the group: 

The Rochester Contemporary Arts Center does a fundraiser every year, where they invite anyone to create up to four pieces of art that are 6”x6”. The pieces are then displayed in a giant mosaic and each piece is sold for $20. All proceeds benefit the arts center. While Juli made it clear that there was no need for our group to submit art, it would be a fun challenge to either create something for yourself or at least to go through the exercise of thinking about how you might approach such a challenge. 

I have been thinking about how to put my doodles into different situations. So I took the opportunity to fill a 6×6 square with my favorite doodle Duke hanging out in the leaves and grass. I’ll likely create another one before we meet again.

How will you engage with other creatives? Where will you look for people who fill you with creative energy— who inspire you to make/solve problems (whatever that means for you). Once I stopped and thought about it, I realized I DO have a list of people both near and far who help to refill my creative cup. Spending even just a few minutes on the phone with them helps me to ignite creative sparks. If you don’t feel like you have those people in your life, I recommend checking out the articles linked below about creating a creativity & camaraderie club. I also hope The Oodlearium will allow people to develop these kinds of relationships as well. 

Until next time, oodle on.

PS. Stay tuned for a separate post about embracing failure and a deep dive into an awesome video by one of my favorite YouTubers, Laura Kampf.  

My Identity Stack

When I found out in October that I was going to lose my job at the end of the school year, my life went into a complete tail spin. I had been a teacher for almost 20 years and this news was such a complete gut punch that I knew it was time for me to leave traditional teaching in the public school system forever. In the weeks and months that followed, I did a lot of soul searching, writing, crying and talking with friends, family and daily with my husband. One suggestion he gave me was to create an identity stack to figure out what was core to my being. The idea is to brainstorm all the words that you identify with you. Step number two is to put them in order of importance. I grabbed a stack of notecards and just started writing down anything I could think of. I have no idea if my list is longer or shorter than normal or if having 60+ items is totally normal. My original list was in absolutely no order whatsoever. When I tried to put items in a priority order, it became overwhelming and I quickly abandoned that idea. Here is my list:

  1. Host
  2. People storyteller
  3. Blogger
  4. Teacher
  5. Writer
  6. Networker
  7. Creative
  8. Artist
  9. Photographer
  10. 52 Framer
  11. Wife
  12. Friend
  13. People lover/ people hater
  14. Runner
  15. Nature lover
  16. Culture lover
  17. German speaking
  18. Traveler
  19. Language learner
  20. Self-published author
  21. Ed Techie
  22. TV Watcher
  23. Trekkie
  24. Whovian
  25. Pour Painter
  26. Crafter
  27. Card Maker
  28. The World Needs More Love Letters Letter Writer
  29. PADS volunteer
  30. LEGO builder
  31. Crocheter
  32. Doodler
  33. Wax sealer
  34. Colored hair
  35. Loyal friend
  36. American
  37. Caucasian
  38. Female
  39. Yogi
  40. Italian
  41. German
  42. Dick Pond Wednesday Night Warrior Captain
  43. Solution Seeker
  44. Do-er (get shit done)
  45. Love working with kids
  46. Volunteer
  47. Dog lover / serious dog want-er
  48. Foodie
  49. International recipe lover
  50. New recipe enthusiastic tryer
  51. Care-r
  52. Helper
  53. Entertainer
  54. Fearless in the kitchen
  55. Cook-er
  56. Baker
  57. Homemade ice cream maker
  58. Homemade sausage maker
  59. Homemade pasta maker
  60. Homemade is better person
  61. Coffee drinker
  62. Sweets lover
  63. Coffee shop lover

Instead of trying to prioritize the cards,  I started putting the cards into categories that were similar and held the items that were most important to me. There were definitely items on my list that were less essential to the soul searching for Jen 2.0. I just put those into a miscellaneous category and eventually discarded them. 

My Power Categories are:

Key characteristics. These items are part of my core being. If you were to ask anyone close to me, they would use these words to describe me.  As the items started falling into natural categories, I learned a lot about myself and the different paths I could take. – 

  • Get sh*t done
  • Helper
  • Creative
  • Love students / underdog
  • Runner / lover of nature

Wellness. While these items would not factor into my next career per se, they would be instrumental in making sure I come out of the other end of this process with as few scars as possible. 

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Running
  • Nature

Culture. This was the core of my career as a language teacher, but it is also part of my being. I love learning new languages and learning about new cultures. We have had so much fun with our International Foodie Map. These items made me look hard at the idea of starting an experiential travel company that does not just check bucket list monuments off a list, but rather organizes experiences travelers will remember for a lifetime.

  • Travel
  • Foodie
  • Baking
  • Cooking

Creativity. Expressing myself through various mediums has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It will serve as an outlet for the remainder of my days. While I know that there are a myriad of artists and writers who make a living with their craft, I don’t want my love for these activities to be ruined by putting my feeling of worth in whether or not people buy what I produce.

  • Writer
  • Blogger
  • Artist
  • Storyteller

Entertainer. I can lose myself for hours in the kitchen baking or preparing a special meal. I love traveling and exploring new cultures. I love meeting people. These ideas have culminated in the idea of opening a bed and breakfast at some point down the road or hosting guests from around the world in an AirBnB. It is not the right time to explore that idea, but down the road, I hope so. 

  • Foodie
  • Hosting
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Travel

So where has all of this soul searching led me? As of today, I have decided to focus my efforts on the not-for-profit sector. I am volunteering for a local homeless shelter and I am loving the work we are doing there. I have signed up for a grant writing course through our local community college, so that I can learn this important skill. Most importantly, I have my eyes on the end goal, which is to run my own NPO. More on that later. 

Where does creating an identity stack fit into creativity? I can see using it for so many different activities other than just figuring out a new career (although that was really helpful!). You could create stacks for characters in a story or novel you are writing. You could use it to better understand people in your life. You could create it just to figure out what your priorities are and to potentially help you work through a block. 

Beautiful Moments

So often we forget to stop and notice those special little moments of joy in our lives. Do we need fancy cards with custom designs or even specially made cards with a hundred different photographs? Of course not! Create your own beautiful moments cards with a stack of notecards or even scraps of paper from around the house. Are you a card maker or scrapbooker? You undoubtedly have a container or two full of paper scraps. These would be perfect to jot down a beautiful moment. Be sure to include the date so you can look back at the end of the year and see what brought you joy and when.

As time went on I could see that I was rapidly running out of these sweet little cards to leave myself love letters from the past. I had always wanted to check out the cards from a company called Moo. The cool thing about Moo is that you can make these mini cards. They are half the size of a traditional business card AND they give you the option to have up to 100 different designs. How cool is that! Now the actual process for creating the files is more than a bit tedious, so I ended up only creating ten different designs. However, I did make myself a pack of 100 cards for about $30– not exactly cheap, but not insane either. I have gifted sets of 10 cards to different friends and they have LOVED them. 

Until next time, keep Oodling.

52 Frames 5X Warrior

In December of 2017 I randomly heard about this group called 52 Frames. The concept sounded pretty simple– each week they post a photo challenge and you have from 12:00 AM Sunday to 11:59 PM the following Sunday to submit your image. The only rules are that it must be taken during that said time period and you must take the image. I was coming out of a HUGE book project that had sucked the creative juices out of me. 52 Frames was exactly what I needed at that moment in time. I signed the manifesto and started my journey. Looking back, that first year and perhaps even the second year were a blur. I got my camera out every single week and I put a piece of myself out into the universe. I connected with other photogs around the world and started to find a home within this beautiful group. No matter what was going on in the world or in my life, I knew that 52F would be there– a constant companion.

(Read my previous posts about 52F 2.5x Warrior and 4X Warrior)

And just like that, I just submitted my 261st photo and became a 5X Weekly Warrior (I submitted an image every single week for FIVE years!).  When I look back at my 52 images for 2022, I have many mixed emotions. I submitted a photo every single week. I showed up for each challenge and gave of myself what I could each week. Many weeks I didn’t have much left of myself to give. I squeezed in a submission on the weekend and I tried my hardest to get some commenting done during the week. Some weeks were better than others. I am proud of my two 52 Picks I received, but most of all, I am proud that I showed up and put myself out there— even the week I found out I was losing my job and that my mom was in the hospital with a gigantic cancerous tumor. Nothing from this year’s challenges is something I would hang in our house, but I got SO much out of each challenge.  I really liked my self-portrait and the message it conveyed. I am sure there are things I could have done to make it a better technical image, but it worked for me. The wine guys were featured a few times (ok they were featured FOUR times)  and now I keep them permanently in my camera bag (thanks Karen Smith for that idea!). I met a guy who paid $400,000 for a car. I let my husband convince me to go to a DeadMau5 concert and I actually loved it. I got out into nature quite a bit. We had an epic trip to Spain for our friend’s wedding. I continued to build with Lego. I spent a lot of time in my kitchen. I explored new techniques with my camera. I ventured into new areas and I met new people. I even faced my fear of giant reptiles. I had one of my images made into fabric that is now part of a line of clothing. 52F is about so much more than just the image.

I hope to have more intention in my submissions for 2023. It’s a new year and I am entering a new phase in my life. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I am grateful that 52F will be a part of it. 

23 for 2023

I have been listening to Happier with Gretchin Rubin for years and I love her weekly newsletter 5 Things Making me Happier. Both are lighthearted and focus on something everyone can use a bit of help with— finding happiness. Every year Gretchin encourages her audience to make a list that identifies their ambitions for the year. I don’t view this as a list of resolutions, but more as I am going to get these things done this year. The goals can be fun, easy, challenging or whatever you want to take on for the year. My friends always remind me that I am the “get crap done” person. Between that and my obsessive love for lists, this is one of my favorite things to do!

As I was working on my list, my husband suggested that I brainstorm a few action items for each activity on my list. This way when I selected one, I would know exactly what steps to start with. I tried to categorize the items and prioritize them, but this was an exercise in futility. I have enough items to keep me busy all year long. When something strikes my fancy, I’ll tackle one of them. I know which ones are a priority to me and which ones are somewhat of a filler. 

Here’s my 23 for 2023…

#1 Lose 10 pounds

Tom and I each lost 30 pounds in 2022. It’s astounding to look at pictures of us especially during COVID. I took a self portrait today for 52 Frames and it still surprises me to see the difference. I’m still 20 pounds from the weight I was when Tom and I met in 2000, but I would be happy with losing another ten pounds for now. After a bout of gluttony during the holidays, we are back on track with our healthy eating habits and regular exercise.

#2 Incorporate a regular yoga practice into my daily routine.

After losing my job, it became abundantly clear that I need to add self-care into my daily life to avoid a total mental collapse. Ever since I started running, I have loved doing Yin Yoga. I have not been good about staying on top of it. Now that I have an abundance of time, I have started doing a great Travis Elliot video every morning in The Oodlearium. It’s an awesome way to kick start my day. 

#3 Start a side hustle

Anyone who knows me well or follows this blog knows that I have A LOT of interests and A LOT of different talents. While a lot of those are not things that could fully replace my teaching income, I can earn some cash from them. A little bit here and a little bit there will add up. I will start a side hustle this year. Just not sure which ones I’ll dive into and which ones will eventually bring in a bit of cash. Stay tuned! I am working on a book called Beautiful Moments– a journal for capturing the beautiful moments in life, a clothing line based on a piece of my photography, adding my paintings to my website, teaching a class on making photobooks and a cookbook and much more.

#4 Write 23 blog posts

Tom teases me so much about my lists, but they are my love language. I have a long backlog list of blog posts to write and I hope with the extra time to be more consistent with posting and sharing my adventures in creativity and life.

#5 Host Mobile Oodlearium Events

I am working on some graphics for Mobile Oodlearium events. I am hosting my first-ever kids birthday party tomorrow for a close friend’s daughter. If that goes well, I will open that up to the public along with my regular girlfriend night out painting parties. 

#6 Stay connected with friends from Harlem

After almost 19 years teaching German at my school, I left E120 for the last time on December 16ht. I left behind some incredibly dear friends and I have committed to staying in contact with them. For now, my hair lady is still in that area, so once a month I have an excuse to catch up with someone.

#7 Start doing portrait sessions again

In my pursuit of starting a side hustle, I am looking at doing portrait sessions again. It is disheartening to do the math and see how many I would have to do to earn a relatively insignificant amount of money. When push comes to shove, I don’t know if this will end up happening, but I am considering it.

#8 Add more pins to the foodie map

The Foodie Map is one of my true joys and if that is the case we should be adding to it more often than we do. I have a solid backlog of recipes to try, but given that we are trying to be healthier, I have a bit of a mental block that I need to work through. I just need to focus on finding healthier recipes or enjoying those recipes on date night when we are a little less focussed on healthy eating.

#9 Make cutting board from scrap wood

I am absolutely obsessed with cutting boards like this one after I bought one for a friend. Tom promises me that he will teach me how to make one with a bunch of our scrap wood from various projects. I have a design picked out. We just need to find a time when he can teach me to use some tools. 

#10 Have conversations with other artists/creatives

I so badly want to start a podcast, but I dread the idea of recording myself talking. I keep telling myself that I can just get together with other creatives and chat with them– and not record anything. I have a video chat scheduled for next week with a fellow creative from Israel. I’m hoping that will spur me to schedule some more. If you are reading this and you want to chat– please reach out!

#11 Finish scanning photos

Sometime last year I grabbed all my containers of albums from the crawl space and I started going through the prints. What a waste to have them sitting in bins in the basement. There were so many HORRIBLE images that were just wasting space. I did a massive purge and got the images down to a couple of shoe boxes with the promise to myself that I would scan them all and make a few photo books that I could store upstairs. I am more than halfway through the boxes and just need to stick to doing a few stacks each week.

#12 Host Oodle in the Park 

Last year I put my heart and soul into developing an awesome event that brought together a bunch of creatives for an entire day of art in the park. I was so disappointed that the event didn’t pan out, but I am committed to doing a version 2.0 this year and making a solo go of it. Stay tuned for details! I have a voucher for the park until the end of May.

#13 Find a new job/career

The irony of the fact that this is #13 on the list is not lost on me. It’s a priority, but all these other things are helping me in pursuit of finding out what will be my next chapter.

#14 Visit family in Arizona

I haven’t been to Arizona to see family since the summer of 2021. With every day my sweet little niece grows a bit more. I can’t believe she is going to be four this coming August. I must get out there to see them!

#15 Visit Taos, New Mexico

Our original retirement plan involved us finding a piece of property with a small house for us, a cottage that we could AirBnB and a space for a workshop where we could hold classes and maker type events. A friend told me to look at Taos because it is an artist community and would welcome this type of venture. We need to check it out.

#16 Explore new art forms

The fact that I have paintings stacked three deep in The Oodlearium is a constant reminder that I both need to and want to explore other mediums. I just haven’t had the time to do so until now. Just a few days ago, a dear friend gifted me a huge box of beautiful beads. I am so excited to dive into them and make something special with them. I also discovered this awesome fabric art video on Instagram. If I can figure out how to do it, I think it will be a beautiful canvas for pouring. Once Tom gets the downstairs shop set up, I’ll be able to dive into wood burning as well.

#17 Random acts of kindness

I am trying to find ways to give back to my community more regularly. Random acts of kindness are an easy way to do that. Tons of ideas out there and I want what I do to be spontaneous.

#18 Take the Domestika Cookbook Writing Class

I am obsessed with the idea of writing a cookbook based on the Foodie Map idea. However after signing up for this Domestika cookbook writing class I am not sure that this is something I am going to do right now. Even if I don’t write a book now, the teacher introduced me to some amazing cookbooks that I have already gotten from the library and sampled recipes from. Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean is stunning and the recipes are amazing– especially the Sicilian Lemon Pasta.

#19 Spend more time in nature

It’s January in Illinois, so this one is going to be tricky. As a year round outdoor runner, I will do my best to get outside 3-4 times a week– especially as I start training for my next half-marathon. Now that I am not getting all my steps walking around school, I have started walking as many errands as I can. It’s not quite getting out into nature, but it is getting me outside and into the fresh air. 

#20 Sell five paintings

My pour painting is one of my mental health go-tos. That means I have A LOT of paintings stacked up. While people graciously receive them, you can’t assume that every person is going to want one of your paintings. So I am looking to get them out into the community. Today I started a list of local spots that let artists hang art. I’ll start contacting them next week. Even if they don’t sell, they will hopefully bring joy to people in the community. And perhaps they will help draw some attention to my pour painting Mobile Oodlearium classes.

#21 Look into etsy or something similar for selling some art

I have had so many people over the past few months tell me that I could totally open an Etsy shop. After dismissing these compliments for ages, I am going to at least sit down and see what is involved in doing it and what I might actually be able to sell. I would love to sell some paintings just to get them out of the house and then I am thinking of trying out stickers with my Oodle Doodles. I have a whole mess of stuff pinned on Pinterest to read and see how it all works. 

#22 Birthday running goal

Every year since 2020, I have set a running goal for my birthday. In 2022, I ran 100 miles during the month of October. As I head towards my 50th birthday in a few years, I am thinking of edging closer to the idea of running a crazy amount of miles in one long weekend. I have a bit of time before I need to decide on it, but I’m sure it will be something that pushes me and also allows me to spend time with friends doing something we love during the whole month– a beautiful gift indeed!

#23 Run a 10:30 mile

Aside from completing the Great Western Half-Marathon in 2:30 (15 or so minutes faster than the Ooh Lala in 2021), I want to break my mile record and hit 10:30. My PR thus far is 11:04. I’ve got time to work on this goal and my coach knows I am pushing for it, so he’ll keep me accountable.

The 12 Cheeses of Christmas

In 2021, Tom and I decided to do a “12 Hot Chocolates of Christmas” to uncover the best hot chocolate recipe. We had so much fun trying the different recipes, rating them and finally settling on our favorite. This year, I happened to be in a Mariano’s when I saw a cheese advent calendar. What a brilliant idea! But the price was exorbitant for what you got. If I curated our own tasting, we could skip blue cheese, which is gross, and I could control the size of bricks. 

I started by crowdsourcing opinions from my socials. My friends who had lived abroad had strong opinions about a wide variety of French cheeses. Others were on a different part of their cheese journey and suggested more everyday cheeses that we had already tried. After a bit of effort trying to track down all the special cheeses people recommended, I headed to our local Caputo’s, which has a lovely cheese selection. I picked up a handful there and we started our tasting. From there, I found a flight selection at Costco, which had all cheeses we had never tasted. Before I knew it, we had a bonafide cheese drawer in our fridge and there was a cheese adventure afoot.

When all was said and done, we had actually tried fourteen different cheeses. We liked most of them. We loved a few and really disliked only two of them. 

Just want the straight list of what we tried without the notes and funny business? Here you go:

  1. Wooly Wooly Mitica (Spreadable Sheep’s Milk Cheese) 
  2. Honey Bee Goat Cheese 
  3. Artikaas hey There Gouda with Truffle
  4. Truffle Trove by Snowdonia Cheese Company 
  5. Fair Oaks Farms Smoked Sweet Swiss
  6. Juusto with Garlic Baked Cheese (AKA bread cheese)
  7. Kindred Creamery Sweet Fire Mango Jack Cheese (purchased at Caputo’s)
  8. Ivy’s Reserve English Cheddar  
  9. Brugge Comtesse 
  10. Cello Sweet Tomato Fontal 
  11. Bustil Il Tartufo Pecorina Toscano
  12. El Pastor Honey Chevre
  13. Kourellas Kasserl Cheese 
  14. Spanish Cheese Plate (Tapas de Queso) (Iberico, Manchego, Queso de Cabra).

Peasant bread recipe

A more detailed description from the producers as well as our 2 cents on each cheese.

Wooly Wooly Mitica (Spreadable Sheep’s Milk Cheese) 

Wooly Wooly is a soft and spreadable sheep’s milk cheese log from Jumilla, Spain. The texture is similar to cream cheese, but even fluffier. Mitica recommends crumbling it over salads, stuffing it into pasta, mixing it into eggs or just having it on toast.

We loved every single bite of it and would definitely have it again. The texture was indeed like cream cheese, but the herbs set it apart. 

(Purchased at Caputo’s)

Honey Bee Goat Cheese
Made with a drizzle of honey added to pure goat milk for a cashew-like nutty sweetness. Slightly sweet, full of flavor, yet not strong or salty. 

Honey Bee was epic awesome— a must have on hand FOUR COWS kinda awesome. We loved it plain. We loved it on a cracker. We loved it with a slice of salami. YUM. Thank you to whoever recommended it (Camille Hill I believe!)

(Purchased at Caputo’s)

Artikaas hey There Gouda with Truffle
According to Artikaas, trained dogs are used to find the naturally grown Italian black summer truffles that give this Gouda its distinctive woodsy aroma and deep notes of earthy wild mushrooms. The precious truffles are generously sprinkled in to infuse the Gouda with umami goodness

This one was really good. We ended up with two truffled cheeses in this sitting and this was by far the better one. The gouda was soft and mild and the truffles were not overwhelming. We would definitely have it again, but probably only for a special occasion as part of a charcuterie board (Purchased at Jewel)

Truffle Trove by Snowdonia Cheese Company
Taste-tested and graded by the Snowdonia Cheese experts and enrobed in pure white wax, this extra aged Cheddar has a distinctive, earthy aroma and perfectly balanced flavor. Milder than the winter variety, the Italian Black Summer truffle presents undertones of wild mushroom and hazelnut, leading to notes of garlic.

This cheese was crazy strong. The extra mature cheddar alone was strong and harsh, but the truffle was overwhelming and very pungent. I gave the brick to a friend. (Purchased at Costco).

Fair Oaks Farms Smoked Sweet Swiss

Fair Oaks Farms Hickory-Smoked Sweet Swiss is their Master Cheesemaker’s own variety. This cheese is hardwood smoked to give this swiss its unique, rich flavor. Great with nearly anything you can think of, but it is certainly a great companion to barbecue and makes a great cheeseburger.

This smoked Swiss was really good, but not as strong a smokey flavor as smoked Gouda usually is. If we saw it in the store we would pick it up. Yum! Really kinda wished we had tried it on a burger as the tasting notes recommended.

Juusto with Garlic Baked Cheese (AKA bread cheese)

Juusto is a buttery-flavored, flat and squeaky cheese made in Scandinavia for over 200 years, called “Juustoleipa” or “Ostbrod”, meaning “bread cheese”. Pasture Pride Cheese from Cashton, Wisconsin bakes each piece to create a sweet caramelized, toasted crust similar to brown bread.

We gave this one three cows! Who knew that you could buy a brick of cheese and melt it in the oven and scoop it up with a cracker. We would definitely have this one again, but it is VERY salty and best in small quantities. 

Kindred Creamery Sweet Fire Mango Jack Cheese (purchased at Caputo’s)

Sweet Fire Mango Jack is a slightly sweet and fruity cheese, spiced with ghost peppers.

Note to self— read the package where it says ghost pepper…This is the only cheese that we flat out rejected. It was way too spicy for us to enjoy. We gave the remainder of the brick to a friend. (Purchased at Caputo’s)

Ivy’s Reserve English Cheddar 

Their Cheddar is the best of the best, the cheese that their grandmother Ivy kept back for her own table. Still made to the recipe she perfected almost a century ago, it’s specially selected and aged for up to 18 months under wood until it takes on a very particular creaminess, complexity of flavor and nutty, rounded finish.

This was a nice classic cheddar. While I feel like I am insulting this family’s grandmother, it was tasty, but nothing extraordinary…sorry Grandma Ivy! (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)

Brugge Comtesse 

Brugge Comtesse is the Grande Dame in the range of Brugge Cheeses. With its creamy texture, ivory coloured center and fruity aroma it keeps on surprising. Comtesse has a generous, multi-faceted flavor with notes of roasted hazelnut, vanilla and summer fruit. It goes extremely well with an aperitif, but also in a sandwich or fresh salad. It also combines particularly well with sun-ripened figs, slightly sweet chutneys and earthy root vegetables. The possibilities are endless.

I had no notes written about this one, so I decided to check the tasting notes from the producer to see if it spurred any memories. It did not, which makes me want to go back and try it again. (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)

Cello Sweet Tomato Fontal 

Cello Fontal Cheese features a smooth, creamy texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor. This wonderfully buttery table cheese melts flawlessly, making it the best cheesy companion for sandwiches, pasta fillings, and sauces. This soft and mild cheese makes it the best choice for spice rubs that are sure to give cheese lovers an entirely new and exciting flavor experience.

A creamy cow’s milk cheese hand-rubbed with sweet vine-ripened tomato and savory herbs, that add bright flavors to this mild, creamy cheese. Cello fontal cheese rubs are added during the 60-day aging process to develop the signature flavor and texture characteristics.  

This one was completely new to us and we had no idea what to expect. It was sweet and smooth and so good. Would definitely have it again. (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)

Bustil Il Tartufo Pecorina Toscano

Pecorino al Tartufo is an Italian, raw sheep’s milk cheese encrusted with small specks of white and black truffles from the area between Volterra and San Miniato. It is aged for thirty days and pairs well with salami and a good red wine.

Again, I didn’t intend to have three different cheeses with truffles on our list. I wasn’t paying close attention to what I had already bought. Of the three, this was the BEST. When I saw pecorino, I was expecting something similar to a Parmesan, but this was delightful. It was soft and the truffle was incredibly mild— just enough to add a hint of flavor, but not overwhelming like the first one we tried. We definitely recommend this one! (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)

El Pastor Honey Chevre

El Pastor Honey Goat Cheese is made from the highest quality goat’s milk in the Zamora region of Spain. Drizzled with sweet honey, this firm, yet wonderfully smooth cheese makes a flavorful appetizer or a show-stopping addition to your cheese board.

We thought this was just going to be just another soft cheese similar to Wooley Wooley. We could not have been more wrong. It was incredible—one of our absolute favorites. Soft, smooth and subtle honey flavor. It was heavenly! (Purchased as part of a flight of cheese at Costco)

A week or so ago, Tom introduced me to a YouTuber he follows called The Wheezy Waiter. In one of the videos he talked about a bread recipe that he said would change our lives forever. He was not wrong…here is the recipe. I made it in the Dutch oven and used the Kitchenaide to knead the dough. It was the easiest bread I have ever made.

What does bread have to do with a post about cheese? Last night, Tom whipped up a small appetizer for us. 

  • Four slices of the peasant bread (2 large pieces cut in half)
  • A bit of olive oil to coat both sides of the bread
  • A bit of tomato sauce of your choice
  • A bit of the honey chevre

Once assembled, toast them in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes.

The next morning, I made us open-faced breakfast sandwiches with the bread, some eggs, a bit of tomato sauce and sausage. Sprinkle a bit of the honey chevre and take a trip to HEAVEN!

Kourellas Kasserl Cheese 

Kasseri is a traditional Greek-Turkish cheese made from unpasteurised sheep milk with no more than 20% goat milk mixed in. It is a springy-textured, stringy cheese belonging to the pasta filata family like Provolone or Muenster. The cheese needs to be matured for a minimum of four months to obtain the correct texture and flavor. 

This white-crust cheese also competes against another famous Greek cheese, Feta. Kasseri is used as a substitute for mozzarella by many Americans and is preferred by connoisseurs who like full-flavored cheeses. A bite of Kasseri will enrich your palate with exciting salty flavors and a pungent odor. But interestingly, it soon leaves behind a sweet aftertaste because of the usage of sheep milk.

This is a harder cheese that is similar to the taste of a Paramesan, but not as strong. We had it twice— once on crackers and then once mixed into a Greek breakfast shakshuka. It is delicious both ways and does melt really well. 

A quick look on Kouruella’s website uncovered some amazing looking cheeses. After loving this one so much, we will definitely keep an eye out for this brand.

(Purchased at Jewel…I think!)

Spanish Cheese Plate (Tapas de Queso) (Iberico, Manchego, Queso de Cabra).

Queso Iberico is a Spanish cheese made from a mixture of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk. The ratio of blend used in making this hard cheese is constantly altered according to seasonal availability.

The distinctive piquant taste of this white cheese ranges from nutty to fruity. This Manchego like cheese has a rich, buttery texture that goes well when served as a snack cheese, a grating cheese or a grilling cheese. The ageing time for this cheese varies from a couple of months to a year.

The Manchego cheese is produced in the La Mancha region of Spain, which is also home to Don Quixote. It is made from pasteurized sheep’s milk. It is one of the popular cheeses from Spain. Authentic Manchego is only made from the Manchego sheep’s milk.  

We have been gigantic fans of Manchego since well before we went to Spain. Going to Spain just affirmed our love for it. I was curious about the other two cheeses in this tasting sampler. To our very inexperienced palates, they did not taste drastically different. But, like I said, we LOVE manchego, so they were good— just not earth shattering. (Purchased at Jewel.)

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?

Vampires and such…

Yesterday I had coffee with a terrific friend at a new-to-me cafe called Kava Diem. Jen and I met during a Dick Pond Saturday morning run almost five years ago. We are affectionately called the Wonder Twins. We have the same name. We run at the same pace. We are goal driven doers. We love helping people. We have big hearts. We are both writers. We are just about the same age and you can’t deny that we have the same stinking name. The universe threw us together at a time when I didn’t even know how badly I was craving a friend like Jen. From that day on we would have deep meaningful conversations about everything under the sun. The miles we shared together are some of my most cherished memories. As has been the case with many people, COVID interrupted our lives and our ability to run together. It has not stopped us from getting together for coffee and more of those deep conversations. 

We were catching up on life and the universe when she said something that stopped me in my tracks. She said people are either givers or takers and the extreme takers are energy vampires. She went on to say that she gravitates towards givers, but every once in a while she gets tangled with an energy vampire that sucks her soul dry. I almost fell out of my chair. In the split second after she had shared this idea, my brain had done a quick assessment of everyone in my life. It was perfectly clear who the givers were. I craved spending time with them and felt refreshed and renewed, invigorated and inspired by them. It was equally clear who the takers were— the people with whom it was SO hard to be in a relationship. They expected the world from you and gave nothing in return. Time spent with them frequently ended in an argument, judgment or a migraine. Alarms and bells and whistles and sirens went off in my head after her description of the energy vampire. 

At first my brain went straight for all the “Karens” in my life— the people who are so toxic that you can’t understand why you ever want to spend time with them, but at the same time you are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. But once my brain was able to reconcile that yes I do have some toxic relationships, it really hit me that the true energy vampire in my life is social media. Ugh! I hate wasting my time scrolling long after I have caught up on the lives of my friends and family scattered all over the world. I hate how divisive and full of hate my timeline is. I hate that we live in a world of highlight reels and not reality. Yet, day after day I am drawn to it. 

Looks like it is time for a detox…also a pillar of the creative mindset. Time for me to decide NOT to spend time with the toxic people in my world and time to step back from the social media cesspool. 

Are there energy vampires in your life? 

This is how I roll

A few weeks ago, the 52Frames challenge was “Break the rules.” I think the overall spirit of the theme was to break a compositional rule. However, I felt that I was not master enough in the different rules to intentionally break one, so I took a different spin. I broke a rule that all people who live in the Chicago-land area know— I ate a hot dog with ketchup only. The comments on my photo have been amusing. A fellow Framer from Norway responded that ketchup sounded good, but in Norway it is common to have a prawn salad on their hot dog (I’m trying to be open minded, but that sounds awful!). Most of the others were adamant in their thought that I should eat my hot dog any damned way I want to. 

Have you ever seen the movie Office Space? At the beginning, the character Michael Bolton is sitting in traffic listening to gangster rap with his windows rolled down. As soon as he thinks someone might hear his music, he scrambles to roll up his windows—secret saved. That’s how I feel any time I order a hot dog. I know it’s totally ridiculous, but there is so much smack talk about how heinous it is to sully a hot dog with such a vile condiment that I am embarrassed to admit it’s the only way I will ever eat one.

My husband and I have been talking a lot about the idea of “this is how we roll”—the creative ways that we live our life. We grind our own meat *thank you COVID). When I make lasagna, it’s a multi-day event. Our two cars are a combined 31 years old. We don’t pay for things that are commonplace for many people (cleaning service, streaming services, home repairs, car repairs and so many more). We hardly ever order out from restaurants any more (thanks COVID). We try more new recipes than I could possibly list off. We never check luggage when we travel. We only travel for experiences not to see things. The list goes on and on. While we have friends who live a much more creative and off the beaten path life than we do, we have chosen to live as creatively as we can within the constructs of our jobs/careers, Jumbo hot dogs ketchup only are a part of how we roll for sure. This 52 Frames challenge was definitely a good reminder to live the life we want to live. 

Check out my 52 Frames profile here,

Spanish doors

I wanted to immerse myself in every chance I could to explore creativity on our once in a lifetime trip to Spain. On our first walk through the quaint town of Bot, I immediately noticed the beautiful doors and windows. I made a mental note to take advantage of some free time to explore the area with my camera. The opportunity came one morning when I woke up early to go for a run on the via Verde near our hotel. Tom was still sleeping and we didn’t have plans until the afternoon. 

I grabbed my gear and headed out to explore. I roamed the city streets listening only to the sounds of the town coming to life— roosters from a local farm crowing in the distance, vans and trucks making their morning deliveries and the occasional Buen dia  as someone strolled past me. I could truly get used to this way of life! 

The variety of doors was staggering. Every single door was different. Most of them were wood, but they were in no way cookie cutter. Some were arched. Some were wider. Many were very colorful. A lot had ornate metal details or unique handles/knockers. Each entrance had its own unique personality. 

I know it is easy to say that something is better because you are in a far-away location. Coming from suburban Chicago where everything looks exactly the same, the variety was truly refreshing. 

This was an excellent exercise to find the beauty in the everyday. 

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