Isaac and I studied abroad for a semester in Madrid Spain during my sophomore year of college. I lived with a sweet older woman named Carmen and her husband Susi. It was liberating to be in a foreign country and experience the way Spaniards live. Their daily schedule, pace of life, and food were completely different from what I was used to back in Wheaton, Illinois. I was able to travel with Isaac throughout Spain, France, and Italy and felt a sense of independence living life away from my parents. Well I should use the phrase “independently” loosely because my parents paid for the study abroad program and gave me a credit card for everyday expenses! Oh man, I didn’t realize how good I had it until now. My favorite phone call of the trip was when my dad called me and explained Chase bank called him that morning because I over drafted from my account! Whoops, I never did figure out how to calculate euros to dollars.
While spending my dad’s hard earned money in Madrid, Isaac and I stumbled upon an amazing cheese plate at a neighborhood restaurant near our apartment. It was a simple combination of Manchego cheese, honey, and Marcona almonds. To this day I use this wonderful trio of Spanish flavors to create a colorful and quick cheese plate appetizer.
During our trip to Napa this October I made this appetizer for my hungry family after a long day of wine tasting. Manchego can be found at most any grocery store. It’s a sheep’s milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain. I found a local honey in a small jar in downtown St. Helena. The third component are Marcona almonds which are a kind of sweet almond that is softer and moister than a regular almond. They are imported from Spain but are easy you find in any upscale grocery store.
To make this appetizer, start with a large shallow bowl or platter. To add color throw in your choice of apples, grapes, or clementines. Cut up crusty bread so you can make a one bite combination of cheese, honey, and bread. Set this out so your friends and family can enjoy a creative plate of flavors while you finish putting dinner together.
Isaac ands I often make a big Spanish cheese plate on Sunday nights after the kids go down. We pour some Spanish Rioja and catch up on some Modern Family episodes. Whether I am overlooking the breathtaking view of the Napa countryside or lounging on my couch, I can enjoy this simple appetizer and be reminded of the days when I independently traveled to a far away country on my parent’s dime. Maybe some day Maya or Georgia will be able to study in Europe and I will enjoy passing on the gift of adding a few hundred dollars into their bank account so they can enjoy a few more carefree months of exploration and fun before taking on the responsibility of work, a mortgage, car insurance, and starting a 401k. The alternative is maybe instead one of them will marry into a Spanish family and in that case the carefree months of living slowly may continue for a lifetime in the country where a siesta is taken daily, eating out everyday is assumed, and living well is often more important than working too hard.