The Muses on Mount Helicon

Baby Spinach, Tarragon and Walnut Borek - From My Dining Table

Inspiration. From the Latin ‘inspirare’. Literally: to breathe in. To breathe deeply of the beautiful, of the otherworldly. Many moons ago the world believed that inspiration came from Muses – sweet poetry, the most famous of myths, and masterpieces alike, all the work of slender maidens draped in silk, with gold leaf belts and tight ringlets artfully coifed atop their dainty little heads. Legend has it that they lived on top of Mt Helicon – in the very heart of the Greek peninsula. If you ask me, though, inspiration – the kind that you get really excited about, the kind that never dates – occurs when you witness worlds colliding. That moment when minds come together. The more diverse the minds, the greater the impact. Like rainbow coloured fireworks in a cold, silent winter sky.

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

I travelled to Portugal last month to take part in a workshop. There I found inspiration. My muses – minus the stylised ringlets – were Beth and Sanda (who led the group and whose work on their sites - Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - I adore), and the other ladies taking part - LeslieSifOlaiyaLisaEveAlice and Nathalie. Talent, wisdom, imagination, style, drive, energy, vision, languages, discussion, traditions – they all abounded. Rare to find so much shared and so much distinctiveness all in the one place. In the space of three days, I learnt so much. It was ostensibly a photography workshop – so I learnt how to shoot manually, all about the golden hours, how to navigate choppy post processing waters and the value of negative space.

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

But what I really took away from the workshop – a lesson for life – is how much more there is for me to learn. And how exciting that journey promises to be. There, on the Portuguese coastline, I spied my place in the world, through the dream clouds that enshroud it – metaphorically speaking, that is. And there, I gained the confidence to know that when I do get to my ‘there’ – to my magical place, my own Mt Helicon – I will stand with my feet firmly set in the ground and my head held high. Metaphors aside, Beth and Sanda’s workshop gave me the confidence to name my dreams and to enjoy chasing after them. Basically – it gave me inspiration.

We stayed at a place called Uvo do Monte – once upon a time a blueberry farm, now a converted bed and breakfast slash seaside resort slash utter rural idyll that I desperately long to return to. Think rough stone work and pine firs. Pink washed walls and wrought iron beds. And a characterful resident pussy cat. A spot so quiet and so still, that if you hold your breath, ever so tightly, you can hear the dulcet song of the sea in the background – as if suspended in the air.

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

Baby Spinach, Tarragon and Walnut Borek - From My Dining Table

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

We cooked and ate and photographed. Non stop. From the sunrise until long after the sun had set. The ingredients rough, raw and fresh. Local and exquisite. Strawberry and thyme galettes, fava bean soup, rosemary sugar biscuits, blueberry lemonade, grilled sardines and salted focaccia warm from the oven. We picnic-ed on the nearby beach, hot sand under our bare feet. A makeshift canopy to give us shade at midday, and a roaring bonfire to warm us at night. All very Robinson Crusoe – in a pleasing, leave your troubles far behind you kind of a way. 

Perhaps the biggest treat of all was cooking alongside others who relish the art of chopping and whipping and sifting, with the same nutty passion as I do. I love how every cook has a favourite trick for greasing a cake tin, or for peeling an onion - each little idiosyncrasy paints a picture in miniature of its chef’s singular style. 

I got up early one morning to bake with Beth. A fennel scented bundt cake with buttermilk and olive oil. The scientific precision with which she cooks - so technical and so very different from my own throw-everything-in-a-bowl way of doing things - opened my eyes to how pleasingly satisfying science in the kitchen can be. The moment I landed back home, I was struck by an overwhelming urge to bake these miniature olive oil cakes – with a dash of cointreau and fresh sprigs of rosemary. And to buy a set of digital scales.

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

I watched carefully as Sanda made a burek for our picnic – exquisitely fine pastry filled with melted cheese; entranced by the rhythmic way in which she brushes each sheet of paper thin pastry with oil. Hypnotic – like the pendulum in a grandfather clock. To me burek says exotic, it says leisurely holiday on a deserted Greek isle, and sand filled sandals. But for Sanda, it is a dish of home and of childhood nostalgia – she remembers her mother making it. Collision of worlds. Same dish, so many different memories. So many different meanings.

So this recipe is inspired – by Sanda and by Beth. I adapted a recipe for burek that Sanda sweetly shared with me. I tossed in a handful of tender baby leaf spinach, a bunch of fresh tarragon – sweet and liquorish-like – and a few crisp walnuts for added texture. And then a dollop of ricotta to top it off – well, just because where spinach goes ricotta follows. That’s how the world works. My world, anyhow. I have made burek quite a few times since returning from Portugal. It’s our son’s new favourite dish and when I want to treat him, that’s what I cook. It pleases me that burek will one day be a part of his childhood memories.

But for me – when I eat it – I think of my muses. And I smile.

Portugal Workshop with Local Milk and Little Upside Down Cake - From My Dining Table

Baby Spinach, Tarragon & Walnut Burek

Serves: 8
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins

Ingredients

600g baby leaf spinach
200g feta cheese
250g ricotta cheese
200ml crème fraiche
100g walnuts
small bunch of tarragon
2 eggs
2 x 270g packets of ready made filo pastry
Sunflower oil for brushing

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Lightly steam the spinach leaves for 15 minutes until wilted, then press the spinach in your hands to squeeze all the water out and throw it into a large mixing bowl. Crumble the feta into the bowl, spoon in the ricotta and the crème fraiche. Mix well. Roughly chop the walnuts and the tarragon and add them to the mix. Then lightly beat the eggs and pour them in too. Stir until well combined. That’s your filling.
Grease the baking dish – in this case a paella pan – with oil. Take a sheet of filo pastry and brush it with oil, place a few spoons of filling on the top of the sheet of pastry (on the longer side), leaving roughly 2cm empty. Roll the pastry into a parcel, gently lift it up and curl it around the centre of the baking tin. Continue until you finish filling all the pastry, creating a snail shape in the dish. Brush lightly with oil and bake in the oven for 40 mins or until golden brown on top. Serve hot or cold – perfect picnic food.

Baby Spinach, Tarragon and Walnut Borek - From My Dining Table  

 

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Comments

    • Skye says

      Thanks, Sini! You’re so sweet – and thank you so much for including me in your beautiful inspiration round-up Xx

  1. says

    Everything about this post is beautiful, Skye. I wonder who first thought to curl filo pastry rolls around like that to make a swirly pie. This kind of cheese and spinach pie is very popular in Greece and I would consider it a fantastic accomplishment to make my own! I love the flavours you’ve chosen – the walnuts and ricotta especially. What a great opportunity you had to go to this workshop. Now your photos are going to be even more beautiful!

  2. says

    I’ve been so looking forward to hearing about your trip to Portugal; it sounds magical and life-affirming and inspiring. Your images are just beautiful too.

  3. says

    So much love for this incredible post, Skye. There is so much beauty (and, yes, inspiration) in your words, photos, and food — it really fills my heart. I’m glad to be able to witness your journey to your Mt. Helicon :) Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

    • Skye says

      Thank you, Cynthia – that is such a lovely thing to say – I can’t tell you how happy I am that you found it inspiring too Xx

  4. says

    Your photos and words are just lovely. I love using fresh tarragon, it is one of my favourite herbs to cook with. Portugal feels like a magical place and I hope to visit soon…

    • Skye says

      Thanks, Krys. I am a big tarragon fan – I just love that almost liquorice-like scent that it has. Yes, Portugal is definitely a magical place… I long to go back with my husband and little one sometime very soon…

  5. says

    This photographs are absolutely stunning! I can’t wait to try the Burek. I’ll let you know when I do. In the meantime, I MUST do that photography course one year.

    • Skye says

      Thanks, Jessica. Definitely sign up for one of Beth and Sanda’s workshops – they’re both such wonderfully patient and inspiring teachers! Oooh – and make sure to let me know how the burek goes – hope that you like it. Xx

    • Skye says

      Aww, thank you Sanda – means so much coming from you. And thank you again for an amazing few days – I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. Xx

  6. says

    Hi dear Skye.
    What a well written, evocative and sense-awakening post! Love it :-) You are truly a fantastic storyteller, and your photos are beautiful. Enjoyed your reflections on the muses.
    It was such a pleasure to get to know you on the workshop in Portugal. I admire you for your deep passion to inspire and tell the beautiful stories from your dining table.
    All the best – and hopefully we’ll meet again soon, perhaps on another wonderful workshops with new talented muses to inspire us ;-)
    xoxo
    ♡ Sif

    • Skye says

      Thank you, lovely Sif, for your incredibly kind words. It was such a privilege to get to know you and to see your beautiful work – I feel very lucky. Very much hope to meet again very soon – let’s keep in touch and hopefully we can find another inspiring workshop to go to! Xxx

  7. says

    I found your blog through your instagram account, having gotten to it through some other account I follow and I immediately fell in love with your writing. It’s like painting a picture to complement your wonderful photography, and I just cannot get enough of either your instagram or this blog. This is what I call the muses – to me, seeing your instagram pics on my feed, as well as some others is quite inspirational, and sets my creative juices going, and makes me want to experiment: be it with my writing, my cooking or my photography. I’m portuguese, so you can only imagine my surprise and chagrin at reading this post, and thinking that such a workshop had been held here, so close to me, and yet so far away. I wish you all the best, and that you continue being one of my muses.

    • Skye says

      Miranda, I can’t tell you how happy your lovely comment made me. I feel so honoured that you take the time to read my ramblings and enjoy my photos. Thank you so much for being such a lovely reader! Xx

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