By Jessica Paholsky
Love is in the air this month. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day with your sweetie, gals, a furry friend, or if you take the day to indulge in self-care, let’s not forget that love is a journey—learning more about yourself and the other person over months, years, decades. For couples, there’s no one better to experience the world with than the one you love. From romantic getaways and a honeymoon to the tradition of family vacations, every long-term relationship seems to have elements of travel involved.
But Valentine’s Day looks a little less traditional this year. As restrictions on travel continue and the holiday falls on a Monday, how can you possibly show your other half they are the light of your world? How can you make memories from the comfort of your (or their) home and still experience the allure of travel?
Once Upon a Pesto. No, I’m not reciting a fairy tale. I want to share eight unique Valentine’s Day ideas for you and whomever you’ll be spending the holiday with. Each idea stems from my food and travel content on onceuponapesto.com.
I created Once Upon a Pesto in 2016 with the mission to teach others about the many foods and cultures around the world. To shed light on the internationality of pesto—a sauce that isn’t limited to just basil and pine nuts. Pesto comes from the Italian verb that means “to crush” or “to grind.” That means pesto is a process, not specific ingredients. You can make pesto with nearly any ingredient by simply blending it with a few other ingredients in a food processor or blender. Then, you can use each pesto in a variety of dishes, from breakfast and drinks to dinner and desserts. Once Upon a Pesto offers all of that (40 different pesto recipes, to be exact), plus ways to use each pesto, cultural stories, fascinating history, and fun food facts.
Here are eight ways you can use Once Upon a Pesto to craft your own romantic food journey this Valentine’s Day:
1. Treat yourself to breakfast in bed.
Like you, I never thought of using pesto with breakfast until I discovered that pesto isn’t married to pasta. If you’re up on the latest TikTok food trends, you know about pesto eggs. Beyond eggs, pesto goes perfectly with other breakfast or brunch dishes, too. On onceuponapesto.com, I share breakfast ideas ranging from sweet to savory, inspired by different countries around the world. You can enjoy one or all of them while lying in your own bed. Here are a few:
– Bacon Monkey Bread made with Maple Syrup Pesto, inspired by Canada
– Spanish Tortilla (similar to a frittata) made with Red Cabbage Pesto, inspired by Spain
– Oatmeal Bars made with Cherry Pesto, inspired by Russia
– Plantain Bread made with Yam Pesto, inspired by Nigeria
2. Enjoy a passport-free staycation.
Having traveled a good bit during college and as part of my early professional career, I’ve discovered both the pros and cons of exploring the world. While there is so much to take in and learn while seeing other countries, traveling can be exhausting. As technology advances and the global pandemic inspired new ways of experiencing other places (like virtual museum tours), it’s easier than ever to book a staycation. Once Upon a Pesto is just one resource. On onceuponapesto.com, I provide 40 different places from which to choose—choose one or choose many. If you and your boo have always wanted to tour Europe, head over to the Europe section of my website, and there you’ll find 10 countries to explore, taste, and learn more about.
3. Get a taste of the City of Love with a French-inspired pesto.
If you’re like me, country-hopping sounds cool, but it’s more rewarding to delve into one country and get to know it really well. That’s exactly what I did during my four-month study abroad in Italy. While my classmates traveled to Prague, Barcelona, London, you name it, I boarded trains and planes to discover all 20 regions of Italy. And if there’s one place to delve into on Valentine’s Day, it’s the City of Love—Paris. One of the 40 countries I highlight on onceuponapesto.com is France. Put your beret on and blend a batch of Broccoli Pesto to use in traditional French dishes like crêpes. Or find out if French toast is really from France. Either way, you and your date can savor all this stylish European gem has to offer in only a few steps between your kitchen and dining room.
4. Go classic with dinner and a movie.
Once Upon a Pesto is something I do on the side. I’m a full-time communications professional.. And although my education and professional career has been video-focused, watching movies is something I’ve only more recently gotten into. If I had to choose one genre as my go-to, it would probably be romance or rom-coms. This Valentine’s Day, you and your date can pair a pesto featured on onceuponapesto.com with a romance movie set in the same location as from which the pesto was inspired. Here are a handful of options for you:
– Green Bean Pesto, inspired by New York with “When Harry Met Sally,” which is set in Brooklyn and Manhattan
– Zucchini Pesto, inspired by Italy with “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “Romeo and Juliet”
– Any Asian-inspired pesto recipe, with “Crazy Rich Asians”
– Pickle Pesto, inspired by Fiji with “A Summer to Remember,” which is set in Fiji
5. Learn more about each other’s heritage and cook a cultural dish together.
I’m not a love expert, but one of the keys to a successful relationship is getting to truly know the other person. This can involve learning more about your significant other’s culture. Thanks to DNA testing products like 23andMe, many people are uncovering more information about their family history and heritage. This means you can take those findings and get to know more about the countries linked in your ancestry. So, let’s say your Valentine’s Day date is part Puerto Rican. You can make this holiday memorable by using the recipe for Passion Fruit Pesto on the Puerto Rico page of onceuponapesto.com to make something delicious for the two of you to enjoy. This sets the stage for a conversation about each other’s cultural traditions and values.
6. Create a couples bucket list, and then launch it with a meal.
Everyone has their own approach when it comes to making a bucket list. Life circumstances and personal goals influence when and how it comes together. If you’re in a serious relationship, why not create a bucket list together? It’s probably less daunting than going in on a joint bank account, right? Once Upon a Pesto is the perfect low-risk, low-cost way to craft and execute a bucket list together. You’re not committing to paying hundreds of dollars for international flights or pricey hotels. The adventure is yours to make and among the six continents to explore on onceuponapesto.com, your couples bucket list can take you far and wide. If snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia makes it to the top of your bucket list, my Australian-inspired Macadamia Pesto would be the most natural way to celebrate turning dreams into reality.
7. Savor four courses (and pestos) inspired by four different countries.
While I was developing and testing the recipes for Once Upon a Pesto, my goal was to make a collection of dishes that could satisfy all palettes and preferences. Some pesto recipes are dairy-free, some nut-free. Some dishes are easy as “one, two, three,” while others take a bit more culinary prowess. There are breakfast dishes, snacks, salads, entrees, side dishes, gluten-free options, vegan ideas, drinks, and desserts. Every individual’s onceuponapesto.com experience is personal, customizable, and always rewarding. If you and your Valentine’s Day date want to get fancy with a four-course meal, each made using a different pesto, Once Upon a Pesto is there to help. Here’s a sample menu I put together:
– First course: Feta Dip made with Caper Pesto, inspired by Cyprus
– Second course: Kale Salad made with Pecan Pesto, inspired by the Midwest United States
– Third course: Mac ‘N Cheese made with Olive Pesto, inspired by Egypt
– Fourth course: Tapioca Pudding made with Lemon Pesto, inspired by Myanmar
8. Host a food and culture trivia night.
Whether you watch Jeopardy or peruse trivia quizzes on Buzzfeed, we all love the challenge of trivia. Throughout every page on onceuponapesto.com, I’ve sourced the most fascinating food and culture tidbits that apply to each of the 40 countries or cultures highlighted on the website. For instance, when you go to the Brazil page, you’ll learn how pineapple plays a significant role in this South American nation, what traditional Brazilian steakhouses are really like, and how to make the dessert called pudim. When you look at the sum of these global tidbits, you have one adventurous night of trivia at your fingertips. The best part is that you can pair the fun with the food and recipes you’ll also find throughout the Once Upon a Pesto experience.
There you have it—a food-and-travel-based list of ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year while staying safe at home. But don’t limit these ideas to one day when there are 364 other days to explore the food and culture around the globe. Once Upon a Pesto can take you, your significant other, your friends, and your family on international experiences any time of the year—whenever someone catches the “travel bug.”
Jessica Paholsky is the creator of Once Upon a Pesto. As a full-time communications professional and having traveled to more than a dozen different countries, she is a storyteller and visual creative who is passionate about having a global perspective.