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This week felt like the real back to school–we went from having some things to do to being buried in endless papers to read and presentations to write. But I’m actually excited about all of it (you guys, I could read about egg white foams for a really long time. I mean, I did. This week.), so it’s overwhelming but still good.

I did manage to sneak away for a few fun things this week, including making a new friend! Look at this champion! His name is Helios and he’s the mascot for a board game cafe I visited this week, where we were conveniently sitting next to a group that ordered a meat platter. But he was there to hang out with us, I’m sure of it. (Also at this board game night, I met a girl from Portland! Talk about small world.)

Maybe the best thing I got to do this week was a visit to the museum of fairground art, which had a bunch of old fairway games and an incredible collection of carousels. I rode on the bike carousel, a hilarious creation from 1897 with a bunch of bikes in place of the horses so that you’re powering the ride. We got going so fast! I’d never seen anything like it. They also had the people working on restoration open up their workshop, and it was amazing to hear them talk about the different pieces they’ve worked on and how they go about bringing these horses (and cows, and all sorts of other creatures) back to their former glory. So cool!

And we closed out the week with the most French activity I know–sitting on the banks of the Seine, drinking wine and eating kugelhopf and watching the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. Sometimes it really is magical here 🙂

Goodbye Paris!

Just like that, we’re leaving Paris and on our way to Dublin. It’s crazy how fast this semester flew by! We only had about a week and a half left after the holidays, but it was full of report writing, presentation giving, and plenty of final work to fill it quite full. Hard to believe I was in Boston only 11 days ago! It’s been a struggle but at least it was just a short time. 

We made good use of our last weekend in Paris with a climb to the towers of Notre Dame and its amazing views of the city. It was a great vantage point for scoping out our future apartments, judging entirely by rooftop gardens, of course. I spent most of Sunday just wandering around, making my way to an incredible pastry shop (of course) and stumbling on unexpected views of the Eiffel Tower, as you do. And then I spent a glorious few hours sitting in a park, eating my cake as slowly as possible, and finishing my book. Before the cold sank in, it was a pretty perfect afternoon. 

So, off to Dublin and new adventures! I’m excited to be there!

Merry Christmas!

I’m in America! Currently sitting in the San Francisco airport, slightly delirious from the first leg of the journey home (11 hour flight, oof) and SO READY to be back in Portland. I’m super excited that I get to be home for the holidays, partly for the whole seeing family bit and partly because I’ll have a real kitchen! I have big plans. Also, one of the best parts of school is this two week Christmas holiday—incredible.

The last few weeks have involved making several thousand cookies in a baking lab and writing a 20-page paper about everything we learned. It was a lot, to be sure, but I also had more fun than expected because I genuinely could talk about gluten proteins and dough hydration for a very long time. It’s interesting for me to see this process from a research angle because the work is pretty similar to what I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the approach is totally different. Rather than designing trials to get to the best product in the shortest amount of time, our focus now is more on making sure that we’re generating data that can answer the questions we want to ask. We also got to feed our cookies to a whole bunch of people for sensory testing, which was very fun. It’s not too hard to recruit people when you’re basically just giving out cookies.

Paris does its best to live up to its “City of Light” nickname in the Christmas season, and from what I saw they did a pretty good job of it. I loved getting to my destinations early this month so that I could walk around different neighborhoods and see all of the lights hung across streets, decorated shops, and elaborate window displays. Plus, knowing that I was coming home gave me an excellent excuse to explore chocolate shops and Christmas markets—my friends joked that half of my suitcase is food (not quite, but I’m not exactly coming home empty-handed).

My semester finishes up mid-January and then we’re off to Dublin! That last week and a half will be a doozy (we have a whole new class for a week plus two final projects), but the finish line is so close! I’ll miss Paris for sure—the baguettes and croissants more than all of the quality time on public transportation—but I can’t wait for Dublin.

Merry Christmas! Have a great holiday season!

Cats & Castles

It’s been busy over here! Last week we had a field trip, an exam, and two presentations, so most of my past two weeks has been spent either frantically reading about hydrocolloid structure or editing powerpoint slides. The madness ended Friday, and I’ve very gratefully spent the weekend relaxing. And I’m cat- and apartment-sitting for friends for the next couple of weeks, so I have a cat to snuggle and a kitchen to spend all my time in. The goal is to use every kitchen tool they have during my time here, and I’m happy to say that I’m making good progress!

Last week we had a few days off of classes (theoretically to study for aforementioned exam, etc) and I took full advantage: one day at a chocolate expo and another at a castle. My life is hard 🙂
The expo was mostly a retail show for brands selling new products, so we got to wander around, talk about chocolate, and eat lots of samples–pretty incredible. But the BEST part was watching part of the World Chocolate Masters, a competition of international chocolatiers doing sculptures and dishes with all sorts of techniques. It was so cool! Watching the chefs create and plate their desserts was amazing, and I immediately wanted to go to learn how to do it all. Sometimes I’m bad at focusing when chocolate is involved.
The next day, a few friends and I went to the Château de Chantilly, about an hour north of Paris. It’s one of those classic European castles where we mistook the stables for the castle itself and the art collection inside casually includes 3 Raphaels. Also, there were kangaroos? That part was confusing, but it was a great day of wandering around and getting outside the city for a bit. And it was stunningly beautiful, so that helped.
It’s turned quickly to autumn weather here in the last week, getting cold and drizzly. Luckily, I’m perfectly set up in my own little apartment with couches (!), a kitchen to myself (!!), and a cat who loudly protests when you’re silly enough to stop petting him for more than a few minutes (!!!). It’s kind of the best. I spent most of my day making food for my birthday dinner tomorrow–can’t wait!

Making progress

Tuesday marks 2 months since I left the US, and it feels both like it’s been a week and a year. And we only have 12 weeks of Paris left before heading to Dublin! I am taking that as a sign to increase my pastry and cheese intake, and I feel very confident about my abilities in those areas. I’m trying to get out exploring as much as possible, at least taking my runs through new areas, but there’s still so much to do. (For example: restaurants to try, neighborhoods to wander, museums to visit. The hard work that I do.)

We had our first final this week, a presentation on sustainability strategies in our countries. This is one of the ways that the internationality of the program really strengthens it: hearing about the problems and strategies from all over the world was amazing. One down, six to go…

Thanks for the photo, Nala!
There’s an incredible show at Notre Dame right now, a light show projected on the facade of the church. Think the Disney fireworks show minus the fireworks plus 13th-century Gothic architecture. It was stunning and very well done, and also they made the king statues dance. As proof that I haven’t changed, after the show I pulled nutella out of my coat pocket and a banana cake out of my purse for a little snack to eat by the Seine. My friends were shocked, but they’ll learn.
On the schedule for this week: a cooking competition, a visit to Europe’s major food product show, and a Democrats Abroad debate before the midterms. Should be a good time!

School & cookies

I was finishing up cooking dinner last week when I looked down at my plate of mac and cheese next to the bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough and realized, huh. I think I’m a little bit homesick. I know I’m not allowed to complain about food in the land of the croissant, but I can’t remember the last time I went this long without peanut butter or Mexican food. The switch from my very own gadget-crowded kitchen to sharing a hot plate with 40 people isn’t helping much either. Today I went on a search for black beans and pumpkin puree and came up empty-handed on both counts. Luckily sugar, butter, and chocolate are staples here too and I reverted to childhood with chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven. Warm cookies make everything better.

Photo from Luana, who is now hired as my food photographer.

Even better than the cookies, I got the all-clear from my physical therapist to start running again! I’ve re-started my morning run routine and it feels so good. My roommate isn’t so thrilled about the 5:45 am alarm clock and I’m not near enough to anything interesting for good views, but I can smell all of the bakeries from a block away and it’s totally worth it.

School has really gotten serious in the last few weeks, which is very inconvenient for my plans to explore Paris. We have a group project working with an industrial partner to solve a current research problem, which is super cool, and mine involves reading everything I can find about the protein and starch structure of wheat. (I’m a little bit too excited about it.) We met with our clients last week and have our first final presentation for a different class this week, so needless to say I’ve been just a little bit busy. I’m not used to having homework again! Most of the time, though, it’s kind of surreal to be able to study and understand products I’ve used for years. I’m weirdly excited about starch functionality and designing milk heating systems. Doesn’t it sound so fun?!?
Luckily we still manage to get out sometimes and when all else fails, my study breaks consist of an eclair and a walk in the Paris sunshine. Theme of this post: baked goods solve all of my problems. Unsurprising.

All moved in

In the last two weeks, I’ve officially moved into the city of Paris, started classes for my master’s degree, and met all of the people I’ll be spending the next two years with. So just a couple of small things.

The dorm makes me miss my tiny little studio like crazy, where at least I had an oven that worked and control over when the lights went out, but it’s honestly better than I expected. My roommate Elif is great (we’re in the same program). The miniscule shared kitchen embodies everything I remember disliking about dorm kitchens the first time around, but it also means that we sit around together eating green beans in bathrobes at 10 pm—things could be worse! I forgot how much fun it can be to run into friends in the hallway, pop over to someone’s room for tea, or summon everyone in the middle of the night for urgent birthday planning shenanigans. And I did manage to make a birthday cake, so I guess it’s functional enough.

The students in my program are amazing and from all over—23 people from 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We all have really different backgrounds, and it’s so much fun to meet a super diverse group of people all crazy passionate about the same field. I’m organizing weekly dinners with the not-very-secret hidden agenda of getting to taste everyone’s different food, and I’m very excited about it.

Photo credit: Roxanne

So far, classes have been mostly just introductions to the program, the professors, and the various life-defining choices we’re going to have to make in the next two years, followed by people telling us not to stress about said choices. We did also get to see all of the master’s thesis posters and presentations by this year’s graduating class, which was a really cool way to see where we’ll be at the end of this and get a sense for the options available to us. Some of the research was super interesting and also right up my alley (my favorite posters were about cookies and pizza, shocking). To show off the perks of being part of this program, we also got to tour a Danone research center and make blue ice cream with Hervé This, creator of molecular gastronomy. Tomorrow marks the real start of classes with homework and exams and all of those unfortunate things, so I’m enjoying the end of the easy part while I can.

Photo credit: Roxanne

Oh, and I joined a dragon boat team! We’re called the Dragon Ladies of Paris and I think I agreed to a race of unknown distance in two weeks. Should be fun!

Photo from the Dragon Ladies de Paris Facebook page.

First week in Paris

I made it to Paris!

The first days of this sort of move are always rough, between the delirium of jet lag and the overwhelming realization that you actually did just change everything about your life without really knowing what comes next. Luckily, France has an excellent antidote to that sort of spiraling in the form of baked goods: on my first afternoon here, I walked to a bakery and immediately felt better about the world with a pain au chocolat and a baguette in my hands. Any place that considers still-warm bread for the dinner table a necessity has some values I can get behind.

It’s been a quiet week of spending time with friends from the US (who live here now!), meeting some of the other students from my program, and dealing with the headaches of any move–train pass, bank account, phone setup. Every (mostly) successful conversation in French boosts my confidence for the next one, but I have to say that I’ve been a little disappointed not to need my meticulously organized folders of documents. I suppose I shouldn’t wish unnecessary bureaucracy on myself, but I do have 2 copies of my immunization records if anyone asks.

Tomorrow is move-in day! I’m looking forward to unpacking after more than a month of living out of suitcases and to being a more-legit resident of Paris!