Loire Valley and a race!

I can’t believe it’s already halfway through October! We’ve already finished off two classes and are deep in the thick of it with the others. This semester has more projects and less classes than last year, which is great and also means that there are always more things that could be done… It made me really happy to look at egg white foam under the microscope!

Outside of school things, my sister and her husband came to visit me! In classic fashion, I have lots of pictures of the excellent buildings we saw and zero of the three of us. Luckily my brother-in-law is much better about photos than the rest of the family and took some essential vacation selfies. We went to the Loire valley, known for castles and wine–what more do you need? It was such a great weekend! We rented bikes (including a fun stint where I got to stand in as translator for another American family and got offered a job in the small-town bike shop- tempting!), spent a day riding through idyllic French wine country to one of the most amazing castles I’ve ever seen, and then finished the day with wine and the sun setting on a different castle.

The next day we decided that all of these 16th-century buildings were a bit too modern, so we went to the medieval city of Loches and climbed a 5-story keep built in the 11th century. Of course, all of the wooden floors have disappeared, and let me tell you, 5 stories feels like a lot when you’re looking straight down!

In other very exciting news, I ran a race yesterday! It was the 20 km de Paris (about a half marathon), and it was incredible. It started and finished at the Eiffel Tower and was a gorgeous day, so it was amazing to run along the Seine and see all the sights along the way. I wouldn’t say I was exactly adequately trained for the distance, but I finished and am even pretty happy with my time– 1:48! I’m walking like a champ today and not too sore, but I’m pretty excited for some time off from those early-morning runs.

Hopefully things will quiet down a bit over here for the next few weeks– finishing up modules was pretty intense! We have a bit of reprieve now and then everything is due at once on November 15 for some reason. We’ve been lucky with the weather for the last few days and it’s been glorious to go back to one of my favorite activities: eating pastries in Parisian parks!

New favorites

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 🙂

Settling into Dublin

The problem with writing these updates is that I periodically have big news (I live in a different country now!) but mostly I spend a lot of time doing a whole lot of normal things (going to school, baking, running–okay, my normal is still weird). But I love it like that! And I promise more pictures of castles soon, maybe when the sun comes back.

In my very normal news, my roommates and I had people over for dinner last weekend, which is one of my very favorite things to do. I know you won’t enjoy reading this from across the ocean (Boston people, you know who you are), but I come home from our pastry classes with breads, scones, cakes, eclairs, you name it and I need to find hungry people to feed. Luckily I’ve found some very accommodating taste-testers over here as well! This dinner was basically a ploy to get friends to eat all of our class projects, but no one seemed to mind 🙂

The bakery classroom has one of those angled mirrors above the demo station so everyone can watch the teacher work. So cool!

My roommates and I have also started an Irish breakfast habit–on Sundays, they go to church and I do my long run and we meet up for coffee, eggs, and as many kinds of pork as they can fit on a plate. It’s so good! I still can’t get behind the black pudding, but other than that it’s pretty much the best recovery meal I’ve come up with. Everything is delicious after 12 miles, but somehow this is particularly delicious.

School is doing that annoying thing it does where they actually make you work and do assignments and stuff, which really limits the amount of gallivanting around the country that we get to do. So inconvenient! Luckily we’ve managed to get our act together and plan a few trips coming up, so I promise I won’t always be so boring.

School in Dublin

First week of classes in Dublin done! It seems like it will be very different from Paris–much less time in classes and more work at home, like I’m used to. It’s also very different subjects. The big project this semester is prototype development, and then we have more business-focused classes–regulatory affairs, new food business creation, marketing and consumer behavior, and innovation management. Should be interesting!

I’m also taking a couple of extra culinary classes to get some formal training on that side of things, and the first ones were so fun! The other students were super confused about who I was (which is fair, when you have to take a class and someone else is literally just taking it for kicks) but also very nice when I had no idea how culinary classes were supposed to go. We made meringues and breads and apple crumbles, and I think it will be a funny mix of things I’ve made a lot of times already and very new things that I’m excited about. So far, they’re some of each and I’m having a blast.

Between school, extra classes, baking at home, and marathon training, it was a busy week and it’s shaping up to be a busy semester. But I’m having way too much fun to mind, and I’m excited for the time we get to spend here!

New year, new city

It may be because we don’t have classes or any real responsibilities, but so far I am LOVING Dublin. Between good beer, imposing stone buildings around every corner, and locals who call all sorts of things “grand,” it feels like a good place to be. Plus people are super friendly! Maybe I just got used to the, ahem, reserved nature of Parisians, but I went to a local running group and was pleasantly surprised to find everyone super chatty and welcoming.

Because I’m me and I can’t help myself, I decided to start training for the Limerick Marathon in May. I forgot how much work marathon training is–in addition to the actual running, there’s the planning and stretching and showers and feeding myself (I’m even more hungry all the time than usual). It’s a lot, but I’m also loving the motivation to get out there and explore the city on foot.

Classes start tomorrow! This semester is more business and regulatory focused, and we have a big development project. But because we’re technically in the school of culinary arts, I’m also taking an extra class–on cake baking! I’m stoked.

All about school

3 weeks until Christmas! Not that I’m counting or anything. The last few weeks have been crazy busy and we’re in the final stretch of experimental work for our big project before the holidays. I’m loving all of the Christmas decorations and activities (ALL of the Christmas markets, please!), but I’m also super ready for a bit of a rest at home. So excited!

Since my life has been all about school lately, I figured I would finally fulfill Alice’s request for more about this program I’m doing and our classes. Our schedule is unusual–it changes every week, and sometimes we have a class full-time for just a few weeks while others we have a few times a week for the whole semester. Here’s a bit about each of our classes.
Food science and analysis: this class covered chemical reactivity (like browning reactions), microbial activity (good and bad), sensory analysis, and hydrocolloids (gums and thickeners). It was a LOT of information but it turns out that milk proteins are really fascinating.
Food process engineering: heating things up. Cooling them down. Doing both at the same time. Lots of math in this one (it has been a very long time since I thought about integration) and lots of milk again. It reminded me how great it is to solve problems with known answers and put tidy boxes around them.
Sustainability: mostly guest lectures from people doing work in the food sustainability realm. The best part of it was putting real numbers behind the talk about a product or a diet being “sustainable” and making us really define what we mean by the term.
Statistics: how to process your data and make graphs. It’s looking more and more useful as we get into our experimental work…
French: we’re split up into a few groups based on our level of language, and my class is mostly grammar and speaking. It’s a great excuse to watch TV and movies as long as they’re in French 🙂
Food structure: this was one of those short-but-intense classes, where we tried to apply materials science thinking to various food systems and understand the molecular components. I researched ice cream (I was serious about the milk proteins thing) and it made me wonder how I ever managed to turn out a decent batch of it because it’s so complicated.
Junior project: this is our big research project for the semester, where we work with companies to solve active R&D challenges. The partnership aspect is a very cool opportunity, and I’m stoked because I get to work on cookies (the best project, duh). Parts of it are similar to work I’ve done in the past, but it’s amazing to get this totally new perspective on it–lots of research and reading, much less just getting things done in the lab.
We also do a short stint of food formulation in January, and then the semester wraps up! It’s crazy to go over this list again because I really have learned so much in the past few months. It’s certainly overwhelming at times, but then I get way too excited about some subject and realize again that I’m definitely in the right field for me and it’s such an incredible opportunity.
Oh also, the program just got a success story video made about us–pretty cool! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIxE9Kj9Id0

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.