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Cookier-A-Go-Go: The Tale of an Itinerant Teacher (Pre-Trip and Days 1 and 2)

WARNING: What you are about to read (a daily - or thereabouts - travelogue documenting my cookie teaching trip to Spain and Portugal) may be TMI for many of you. But for those contemplating similar trips, I hope it will serve as a healthy dose of reality!  Also, advance apologies for my hazy iPhone photos. Precious cookie cargo precluded bringing my better camera.




My journey actually began back in April or May of 2013 when I was asked to teach in Barcelona and Caldas Rainha, just outside of Lisbon, by two separate hosts who had stumbled upon my work on Facebook. (I'm still pinching myself, as I can hardly believe these invitations came about. much less resulted in actual trips). Countless emails and a handful of Skype calls later, my hosts and I settled on the projects that I would teach, and they put together some sexy posters to help sell my classes.


Master Class 1 Master Class 2 cartaz2

It was 'round about this time that it dawned on me that something very remarkable was taking place in cookie space. While I had been teaching cookie decorating in the US since 2009, those classes were always fairly straightforward; in fact, my US hosts insisted that I tone them down to keep from intimidating beginners. But the classes I was slated to teach in Spain and Portugal were a far cry from the US model. What these folks wanted to see were my most elaborate cookies, all of my multi-cookie constructions cast into 3-D! Could it be that the decorated cookie had finally earned its (rightful) place in the rarefied world of sugar art? Had the decorated cookie finally become the new cupcake? I say "yes" and "yes", but enough pontificating!


By December 2013, I had turned these class wish lists into detailed (and I mean, detailed) class prep notes, so that there would be no mistaking what my hosts and I needed to purchase and bake/decorate before each class. (For a sample of those notes, click here.) And for the last month to month and a half, my hosts and I have been checking and re-checking these notes to make sure that nothing was missed, while a small army of bakers (six in Barcelona and still counting in Portugal) were donating valuable time and talent to prep the cookies for each class.


With four classes (six days) in Spain, three or four projects per class, 7 to 15 cookies per project, and about 15 students per class, you can see how the numbers quickly add up! My Barcelona host (the amazingly organized Claudia Cetro) counted 3,300 cookies baked, a good chunk of which had to be top-coated in advance to allow for stenciling and stamping in the one-day classes. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the following bakers/decorators for supporting these classes in such a tremendous way: Claudia Cetro, MercÈ Sotero, MercÈ Alvarez, Carmen Belmonte, Patricia Sabadell, and Amparo Luengo.  (I wish I had photos of all of them, but I don't - yet!)


MerceAlvarezHelper CookiePrep

  MercÈ Alvarez with a small subset of her cookie prep.


Patricia Sabadell para Julia Usher  Galletas-Julia.-Marco2

And Patricia Sabadell with a small subset of her cookie prep.


I also decorated at least one of each project from start to finish, so that I'd have real-life examples to share in class. They all fit (barely) into three cupcakes caddies that were stacked top to bottom to fit under the plane seat in front of me or in the overhead bin.



Cookies getting packed for air travel.



Here, cupcake caddies stacked three tall fit all I need.


Day 1 (February 3), 6 am wake up call kiss.


Phew, I was exhausted long before my husband kissed me good-bye on Monday. He leaves for the hospital where he works at 5:30 or 6:00 am each day, usually while I'm still fast asleep. But I had barely caught any shut-eye the night before due to sheer excitement about my upcoming journey, so I was eyes wide open for this particular "wake up call."  After hubby left, I checked my "show" cookies one last time. They looked comfy nestled on shelf liner in their caddies, except for the one casualty - a box that had popped a seam when jarred by the snapping of the caddy lid into place. No sweat - an easy fix once I get to Spain! I proceeded to pack my Euro-US electrical adapter, computer, and sundry other e-things (God forbid I go unconnected for over three weeks). I made a mental note to tease hubby about the amount of cold cereal he had stocked up on the night before (I lost count at five boxes). And before I knew it, Yellow Cab had sidled up to the driveway.


Day 1 (February 3), 10 am (central time) to Day 2 (February 4) 9:30 am (Barcelona time).


The next 24 hours could best be characterized as "hot mess". Yes, this is my typical state when traveling with cookies. I'm about as protective as a mama Grizzly guarding her cubs. Cross my path or jostle my cupcake caddies, and you are likely to lose a limb, if not your life. Fortunately, my neighbor on the plane was a small guy who slept the whole time. As for me, I dozed restlessly for only two hours. Heightened state of awareness due to vigilant cookie watch = tossing and turning.


Day 2 (February 4) 11:00 am (Barcelona time).


"Hot mess" abruptly turned into "cool but disheveled mess" as soon as I arrived at the Hotel Vilamari.


Hotel Vilamari, Barcelona


Rumpled hair and clothes aside, it was a glorious day in Barcelona. The sun was shining, the air was crisp . . . and, most important, my cookies were intact!


Cookies Arrived Intact

Cookie caddies, all safe and sound in the Barcelona airport.


Day 2 (February 4) 2:00 pm (Barcelona time).


After waiting for my room to turn over, and then a not-so-brief email check, I decided to defy my biorhythms and skip the usual jet lag-induced midday nap. Out into the city I ventured with my tourist map discreetly concealed in the pocket of my jacket. (Who was I kidding? There's nothing that screams "turista" louder than a tall blonde prancing through the streets of Spain.)


A brisk walk past Plaҫa Espanya and through the Font Màgica de MontjuÏc (an amazing array of fountains that get illuminated at night) led me to the Museu Nacional D’Art Catalunya, where I sopped up this breathtaking city view:




Further roaming, and I learned that this is a city that loves its sweets!



Typical sweets shop window.



Spain's popular sweets blogger/cupcake book author, Alma ObregÓn, is papered on every bus stop.


Day 2 (February 4) 4:00 pm (Barcelona time).


Time for an early but light dinner! (I hadn't eaten since the soggy plane croissant at 9:00 am and all the cupcakes on the bus stops had started a minor raucous in my stomach). A little Albariño y mariscos ought to do the trick!


But something soon told me I hadn't ordered the tapas-version!




Oh, and the wine wasn't available by the glass, so I "settled" for a small carafe. I think it was somewhere between glass #2 and glass #3 that I decided to write this travelogue . . .  


Day 2 (February 4) 7:30 pm (Barcelona time).


I'm back at home (aka the Hotel Vilamari) and putting the finishing touches on my first travelogue post, thinking that this (below) is looking pretty good right now:




Stay tuned (or not) for more tales from this itinerant cookie teacher, as my trip continues through February 26 . . .


Images (16)
  • Barcelona Two-Day Class Poster: Cookies by Julia M Usher
  • Barcelona One-Day Class Poster: Cookies by Julia M Usher
  • Portugal Class Series Poster: Cookies by Julia M Usher
  • Mercè Alvarez: Photo Courtesy of Mercè Alvarez
  • Cookie Prep: By Mercè Alvarez
  • Patricia Sabadell: Photo Courtesy of Patricia Sabadell
  • More Cookie Prep: By Patricia Sabadell
  • Cookies Getting Packed in Caddies: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Cookie Caddies, All Stacked: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Hotel Vilamari, Barcelona: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Cookies Arrived Intact: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • View of Barcelona: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Typical Spanish Sweets Shop Window: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Spanish Hero/Cupcake Book Author, Alma Obregón: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Mariscos for Dinner: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher
  • Bed in Hotel: Cruddy iPhone Photo by Julia M Usher

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Comments (16)

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Originally Posted by tootimus:

I'm so excited for you!    Tell us exactly where the cookie caddy ended up on the airplane?  Kristine

On the leg from St. Louis to Miami (2 hrs only), I had both under the seat in front of me, as close to me as possible!  (I uncoupled them, so they were in two pieces to fit under the seat). But I didn't think I could sit like that all the way from Miami to Barcelona (7 1/2 hrs) so I put them overhead and buttressed them with my coat and computer bag so people would be less likely to slam roller bags into them. There was a lot of slamming of roller bags going on, but these boxes managed to make the trip unscathed.

So, I noticed a couple of cookie classes in Spain lately... Yours and Amber of SweetAmbs... How do you do it?  Do you speak spanish?? Or is everything translated.  Before I cameinto this cookie life, I was a special ed teacher... Most people have NO IDEA of what ANY teacher goes through to prep for a class... 

Thanks for the updates, this is going to be a fun read

Originally Posted by jennibakes4u:

So, I noticed a couple of cookie classes in Spain lately... Yours and Amber of SweetAmbs... How do you do it?  Do you speak spanish?? Or is everything translated.  Before I cameinto this cookie life, I was a special ed teacher... Most people have NO IDEA of what ANY teacher goes through to prep for a class... 

Thanks for the updates, this is going to be a fun read

I can read a little Spanish, but I really don't speak it at all. They supply a translator during the course of the classes.

Thanks for sharing your cookie decorating and teaching, travel experiences with us! How exciting!!! You mean to tell me, that Air Force One is not made available to you and your cookies in all your travels! No one should travel in mama grizzly mode. Happy you and your beautiful cookie art, arrived safely! 

Originally Posted by Isabel RoseKitchen:

Welcome to Spain Julia, would have loved to attend your classes but has not been. Hope you enjoy our stay very much. A hug!

Thanks! So far it's been a lot of fun!

Originally Posted by Sissygirl/Michelle west Sion:

Lovin the cookie journey. Can't wait for the next installment 

Oh, I have a lot of material from today. Was going to post tonight, but it's already morning here and way too late. Will work on it tomorrow!

Originally Posted by BlauKitchen:

Welcome to my country Julia!

Wish I was in Barcelona to see you! Have a good time with some of my friends.


Oh, so sorry not to see you on this trip! It's going to be a great time. We are well prepared with cookies, thanks to all of my amazing helpers. Just a little more set up to do today for the first classes.

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