Where creativity grows

Category: Foodie Map

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

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. 

Banitsa

The Foodie Map had been hanging for a few weeks and we still had not tried a new recipe when Tom mentioned that we should have some friends over for breakfast. That was just the inspiration I needed to try and find a breakfast recipe that would be perfect for our first pin. Off to Pinterest I went. I looked at recipes for everything from shakshuka to baked Swedish pancakes with blueberries, but eventually selected a recipe for Banitsa, a Bulgarian breakfast cheese pie. I liked that it had a very simple ingredient list that I could find in a regular American grocery store. I picked up the feta, Greek yogurt and phyllo dough and I was ready to “hit the culinary road!”

This was my first time working with phyllo dough and I thought it was more similar to puff pastry, but I was wrong. It is not nearly as sturdy and well, you need to defrost it ahead of time. Oops! I mixed up the filling and after a quick defrost of the pastry sheets I was ready to assemble the pie. The recipe details three different ways to assemble it and I opted for the traditional spiral. This recipe is unbelievably easy— it took longer for me to defrost the pastry sheets than to do anything else. Once everything was assembled, I poured a bit of melted butter over the concoction and popped it in the pre-heated oven. 

25 minutes later, Tom and I were SO excited to try our first entry onto the foodie map. I cut two slices and we dove in. You might expect that the filling would be more like a dense cheesecake, but while it was rich, it was also light. It had a great balance between the filling and flakiness of the pastry. 

We talked about how this recipe would pair well with either a meat or even a fruit, but we opted to keep it traditional. Overall, we really enjoyed this recipe and highly recommend it. 

Until next time.

Making the map

Earlier this year, Tom and I were sitting on the “raft” in the family room when he tossed out the idea for a Food Map. His idea was similar to the map we have upstairs where we track our travels around the world, but this one would track our foodie adventures. If I could find a map, he wanted to take on creating a custom frame for it—his first fine woodworking project. It was the perfect collaboration. When complete, it would hang in our dining room as a conversation piece. 

I set off on an internet adventure to locate the perfect map. My search brought me to Conquest Maps and this is the map we selected. We opted for a simple customization and a week later we had our map. In order to protect the map, I had it laminated with a mat finish at a local Kinkos. Our next step was to design a frame. I found one I liked online (if I can find the link, I”ll share it here) and Tom set off to figure out how to build it. Once he had a plan, we made a trip to a Great Spirit Hardwoods in Dundee to find wood for the project. After looking at their beautiful stock, we selected pieces of walnut and sapele. This was tricky for both of us since we didn’t have a lot of experience with raw wood and what it looks like after it’s finished. Tom researched and purchased a planer (he has talked about one for years!) and he was ready to start building the frame. A few weeks later, our frame was finished and ready to hang. 

Once the frame was finished, we decided that we would not retroactively add pins to the map, but rather start fresh. The map has three sets of pins to document our adventures: 1) Gold- in country 2) Silver- at home 3) Bronze – in a restaurant. Whenever we are in the mood to try something new, now we can look at the map and see what region we haven’t explored.  Each time we try a new recipe, I’ll include a link to the blog post here with photos and links to the recipes. We are incredibly excited to see where this idea takes us. Stay tuned!

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