We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already; we have the power to imagine better. – J.K. Rowling
When I was 21-years old I packed up and moved to Granada, Spain for a semester abroad. I had taken a few years of high school and college Spanish – my skills were decent, but I was far from fluent. The furthest I had ever lived from my parents was three hours, which was not enough distance to allow myself to fully grow into my independence. After all, how many college students truly become independent during their collegiate years? But I realized that there was something more than the restaurants and dancing at bars on Green Street. I recognized that Champaign-Urbana, IL was just another safety bubble. I longed for something that I could call my own. Something that would push me outside of my comfort zone and make me uncomfortable. I wanted time away from the University of Illinois. I wanted a time and place to experience new foods, languages, cultures and peoples.
I remember when I first arrived in Spain. I had flown from Chicago to Paris to Malaga, a city on the southern coast of Spain. It was my first major trip without family or parents. I stepped off the plane onto the gangplank, my JanSport backpack clipped tightly to my chest. The humid air engulfed me as I took in my first breath of Spanish air. As we made our way through the airport towards the baggage claim, it very much felt as though we had arrived in a Mexican airport. I do not remember there being air conditioning. The ceilings were tall with exposed rafters. All of the signs were in Spanish – an immediate culture shock. You mean I actually had to think about what I was reading now?! After finding out that the airlines had lost my luggage and making arrangements to have it sent to my home in Granada, we got on the bus and made our way to Granada.
The six months abroad were unlike anything I had ever experienced. The culture. The food. The architecture. The difficultly of being forced to learn a language other than your native tongue. Traveling around Europe on the weekends. Partying with Orlando Bloom in Madrid. I was quite honestly having the time of my life. One thing that I had learned while in Europe was to allow myself moments by myself. Moments to stop at a café and enjoy an espresso. Moments to walk to through Sempione Park in Milan, Italy. Moments to sit on a way in El Albayzín overlooking the Alhambra. It was moments like these that I was able to truly appreciate the opportunities and experiences that I was blessed with.
At the end of my stay, I decided to round out my European adventures with stops in Dublin, Ireland and Edinburgh, Scotland. To this day, Edinburgh still goes down as one of my favorite cities in the world. It was around this time that I began truly writing. I didn’t yet have a blog. The idea of writing a novel had not yet crossed my mind. But I would sit and just write. About my days. My thoughts and feelings. The experiences that I was having. My hopes and dreams. Corny journal-esque things like that. If you are as infatuated with the Harry Potter series as I am, you most likely know that J.K. Rowling wrote the first book at The Elephant House in Edinburgh. Can you imagine where I wrote when in Edinburgh? That’s right, The Elephant House. I would bundle myself up with a hat and scarves (I was visiting in December) and walk a few blocks to the coffee shops. After ordering a cappuccino and scone with fig jam, I would sit and write at a small table that looked out over Greyfriars Kirkyard and the Edinburgh Castle. As silly as it may sound, simply being in the coffee shop was inspiring. I spent many hours in this café.
From time to time I will look back at pictures from my time in Europe. I am reminded of the incredible experiences that I had. The people that I met. The struggles and challenges that I faced. But more than anything, I am inspired. I remember that I have been so lucky to have gone through so much in my life – things that make me the man I am today, things that I am able to draw on for my writing, things that I never want to forget.
So every once in a while, I will attempt to recreate those memories. This weekends recreation? I made FIG EARL GREY JAM, made a latte, and sat down at my desk and wrote. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
| Fig Earl Grey Jam |
5 cups fresh figs, sliced
2 teabags Earl Grey tea
½ cup water
3½ cups sugar
juice of 1 lemon
- Place a small plate in the fridge, you’ll see why later in the recipe.
- In a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan, cook the figs over low heat with the tea and ½ cup water until they begin to collapse.
- Add the sugar, stir until combined. Then add the lemon juice.
- Raise the heat to medium, let the mixture come to a boil and cook until it is jam-like in texture. (The old “plate in the fridge” test is good for seeing if it is done – jam has reached its setting point (or 220°F) will “gel,” or hold its shape, when dripped onto a cold place.)
- If the jam is still runny, let it boil for a few minutes more. Another trick is to add a little more lemon juice. (There is natural pectin in lemon juice that will help thicken the jam.)
- When the jam gels, place it in a container with an airtight lid. Let cool and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.