Eggplant or Aubergine?

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Last summer I took a major plunge and embarked on a big adventure, spending ten whole weeks abroad in Canada during the summer. At only nineteen, this was like nothing I had ever done before. Sure, I would spend weeks at a time away from home whilst in college, but ten weeks was on a different scale. Working in the kitchen in a summer camp made for an exceptional experience – a summer that I know I will remember for the rest of life. My eyes were opened to a new culture, new skills, new friendships and new dynamics, and on my return home I definitely felt different. I had grown up a lot and become far more able to stand on my own two feet. I would be lying if I said the summer had been perfect – it was certainly well equipped with various trials and trying times – but when I look back retrospectively, there is very little I would change. The experience had altered me, in a way that words could not express aptly as I tried to explain to friends and family members awaiting me on my return.

Having grown up citing ‘The Parent Trap’ as one of my all-time favourite movies, I had always been desperate to attend an American summer camp – sleeping in cabin for several months, toasting s’mores on an open fire and making life-long friends in my bunkmates. Unfortunately, the $10,000 price tag that accompanies these camps proved an impedement, and so my summer camp adventures never ventured further than the boundaries of Ireland. Nevertheless, every summer camp experience I have had, I have absolutely loved, and there is nothing to say that experiencing them abroad would have made me enjoy them any more so. But receiving the opportunity to work in the camp of my dreams in Canada was an opportunity to put a dent in the bucket list, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Nothing has ever tasted as sweet as my first s’more, toasted over the open camp fire, on my first night at camp. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

In just a few weeks I will be returning to Canada. Although slightly apprehensive, words cannot describe the excitement I feel, and in preparation I have compiled a short list of movies to get myself ready:

 

Ode to a Fellow Sophie

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First and foremost, let me set this straight. I am, by no means, a cook. Baking is a science, but cooking an art, and I am certainly not an artistic person. However, one of my main goals in life, particularly at this present time, is to become an incredible cook. I aspire to be the person who friends eagerly anticipate being cooked for by, and whose dinner parties go down in history as the most scrumptious in the land. I regret to say, I have a long way to go yet.

I always imagined that going to university equated to suddenly becoming a terrific cook, when faced with the responsibility of feeding oneself. Unfortunately, such a transition has yet to transpire. First year of college was spent consuming bowls upon bowls on Bran Flakes and yoghurt with granola, interspersed with the occasional ‘salad’ comprised of a tin of tuna mixed with a tin of sweetcorn, and if lucky enough, perhaps a scattering of frozen peas. Necessity is the mother of invention, but apparently not in the kitchen, at least not for me. But I will not give up. I am determined to succeed.

Recently I have been flicking through the pages of Sophie Dahl’s cookbook ‘Ms Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights’– an aesthetically pleasing anthology of healthy and relatively simple recipes, compiled into seasons, and accompanied by beautiful pictures and eloquent, anecdotal writing. Having recently found success with her rhubarb compote, I decided to go a step further, and for dinner concocted her linguine with tomatoes, lemon, chilli and crab. I know they say self praise is no praise, but what a roaring success! The combination of ingredients was exquisite – the heat of the chilli broken through by the sharpness and cooling effect of the lemon, combined with the sweetness of both the tomatoes and crab meat, rendered a truly perfect meal. Although the crab added a costly element, in all other aspects it was an ideal student meal, one that I intend to recreate as soon as possible.

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Home Comforts

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It is ten to one in the morning, pitch black outside. A calming sense of quiet fills the air, interrupted intermittently by the humming of a car engine as it drives by outside. I, the textbook definition of ‘early-riser’, ‘morning-person’, ‘early-bird’ should be fast asleep. However, following a late night phone call to my best friend, here I am, lying wide awake in my childhood bedroom.

There is no doubt in my mind that nothing is more comforting than returning to my childhood bedroom, surrounded by the chaos and memories that have moulded me into the person I am today. As fun and exciting as growing older is, gaining independence and new experiences, home represents the ultimate comfort and security – a reminder that however rapidly everything else seems to be changing, something will always stay the same. Contentment at home embodies itself in several different forms – my favourite things that I miss when I am away, and often took for granted before I left home. As the holidays approach and I prepare to depart for my second summer abroad in Canada, I hope to take the time to appreciate the little things that make home the idyllic haven I believe it to be.

  • Early morning coffee with my mum in the kitchen, having been rudely awaken by the dog. As everybody else in the household sleeps soundly, we bask in each other’s company, discussing the important news of the day – “Sophie, did you tape Modern Family?”, “One Splenda or two?” – Oh mother, out of all your wonderful attributes, why did you have to bestow your coffee addiction upon me?
  • Sitting by the stove in my pyjamas reading cookery books. Surely not in April, you might be thinking. Irrespective of my being an unnaturally cold person, I derive no greater comfort than perching myself on a stool in my regular place in the kitchen, rain or shine, flicking through the colourful, mouth-watering pages and plotting my next endeavour, courtesy of Sophie Dahl and Nigella, to name but a few. I must admit, at times, to modernising my routine, and swapping cookery books for food blogs  – responsible for tonight’s cookie overdose.
  • Baking, baking, baking. According to my parents, from the age of three onwards, I insisted on baking every day. I vividly remember sitting perched on a stool in the kitchen, gorging on raw cake batter, too impatient to wait for it to bake. Burned, undercooked, completely raw or just right – baking has always been one of my biggest passions, and nothing represents home quite like a gooey tray of brownies or a slightly underdone plate of chocolate-chip cookies warm from the oven. My love of baking stems from my mother, and has been inherited by my younger brother also. Baking together is a wonderful expression of our closeness – we are in it together, working to create a wonderful outcome to be enjoyed by all (or in some cases, as in that of tonight’s Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies above). I find it reassuring that their inventor, Katrina, first turned to them as an escape from exam time also…makes me feel slightly less guilty for eating three…)

Of course I want to move forward, but it doesn’t all have to change too quickly. Home, after all, is where the heart is, and without me there would be no one to feed the dog in the morning. And with no dog there would only be broken hearts.

Mother Knows Best

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Mum pops her head around my bedroom door – “Sophie, would you like a cup of coffee?”. I am at that stage of study desperation where it feels like the world is imploding – feeling like I can’t seem to remember anything, that nothing makes sense, the papers are marked too hard and the questions are just too specific. As hard as I’m trying, this time of year is just unpleasant. Somehow I don’t think that yet another coffee break is going to make me retain anything that bit better.

However, over the years I have adopted a little ritual at exam time – nothing too spectacular (I haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel) but it’s a tactic I choose to adopt in order to remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel, despite how dark things may currently seem. I compile a list of all of the things that I would love to be doing right now, but am obliged to refrain from in lieu of my studies, and hang it on the wall in front of me, so intend to do post-exams instead. With only a few more weeks to go, the list is getting longer and somehow more banal…but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the simple things. It comprises places I want to go to, movies to watch, recipes to attempt and books to read – basic things that unfortunately would only accompany intense feelings of guilt and worry if I were to undertake them now. As a visual aid, and a personal promise that this list will indeed materialise, I have compiled my future reading list into a stack of books on my window sill, growing bigger and bigger by the day, masking the distracting summer sunshine.

I have always identified myself as a ‘print person’ – preferring books to movies, newspapers to online bulletins and citing reading as my favourite hobby. Therefore, as one might expect, I also regarded myself as being thoroughly anti-Kindle. Although my mother tried in vain to convince me otherwise, I remainded adamant that nothing could trump the scent of a new novel or the feel of turning a crisp page (ask any avid reader – I promise I’m not a lunatic). However, this Christmas my mother decided that enough was enough – it was time to rid me of my Kindle snobbery – and in a final attempt, she purchased me my very own. Without doubt I cite my biggest vice as stubbornness, but in this case I had no argument – I was wrong. My Kindle did not deter me from the world of books, but rather enhanced it. New books were available so easily, I found that I was reading more than ever. It was light-weight, transportable and easy to read. I suddenly found myself waking up in the middle of the night and reading for an hour before going back to sleep. “Your problem, Sophie, is you think that everyone has to be either Kindle or book” my mum informed me, a smug expression on her face, “What you didn’t realize is that you can be both”. I have to hand it to her, she was right.

So as the list on my bedroom wall grows longer, correlating to the exponential growth of stress, the light at the end of the tunnel only grows brighter. Maybe I will accept that cup of coffee. Sometimes mothers do know best.

Expect the Unexpected

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College end-of-year exams are right around the corner and in a flurry of panic I have escaped to my small hometown for a few days of potential cramming (interposed with home-cooked meals and Zumba classes). As much as I love the hustle and bustle of life in Dublin, sometimes the incessant vibrancy can feel too much and at this time of year as few distractions as possible are necessary. Nevertheless, studying at home poses its own challenges. I always seem to be willing to do absolutely anything other than the workload before me – the sunshine pouring into the kitchen seems to be calling my name, inviting me to whip up a batch of my signature brownies, as the view from my bedroom window simultaneously taunts me, begging me to lie in the garden or play table-tennis, all the while knowing I shouldn’t. But despite the hard work that I know I must put in, every once in a while I believe it is important to escape from reality, and for me no escapism will ever trump that of a good book.

I am writing this shortly before half past six in the morning, having just risen early to finish my latest indulgence – Pioneer Woman, by Ree Drummond. I cannot remember exactly how I first stumbled across Ree, herself renowned as ‘The Pioneer Woman’ – more than likely through the innumerable food blogs I indulge in daily. Ree is a mother of four children, married and living on a working ranch in Oklahoma. She cooks recipes with copious amounts of butter and red meat and full fat cream. She appears to have it all together. I, a university student in the busy and bustling city of Dublin, only too familiar with the wonderful lengths a tin of tuna can be stretched to on a student budget, am trying to figure it all out. Our lives probably couldn’t be less parallel. But that’s what I love about Ree. Her life seems magical – so far removed from that which she had expected, or from anything that I can relate to. For me there is no better form of escapism from the menacing tower of anatomy books piled high on my desk, than to envelop myself in a life so alien in Oklahoma. In her book Ree recounts meeting her husband and rethinking an upcoming move to Chicago in order to create a life with him on a ranch, completely with early mornings, new traditions and the arrival of four children. I am an adventurous person – I love to travel and explore new things – and such a deviation from the norm excites me. I truly believe that sometimes life throws things at us that we never would have expected, but that undoubtedly prove bigger and better than anything we could have imagined ourselves. Most of us, to some degree, have some sort of a plan, even if just the mere outline. We all have assumptions about how our lives will turn out, based on our upbringing, where we’re from and the people we surround ourselves with. But life often throws a curveball, some more challenging than others, and it is our responses to these that determine the kind of people we are, or are going to be. The world is a big place, and I am determined to experience as much of it as possible. Even if right now that means studying.

I’m not saying that I expect to find myself in five years time in the Mid-West, lassoing cattle – but if I do, I hope to make it work.

Chapter 1

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To be brutally honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever have the courage to write a genuine blog and bear all to the world – I mean, what if nobody wanted to read it? But I know that if I don’t start writing again now, then I never will. If I am as much of an innate writer as I like to convince myself time and time again that I am (deep down of course) then I really do need to get on with it. But it’s just so hard sometimes knowing what to write – what do I want to say today? Would anyone care? When I started university last year, a new friend told me bluntly that I should write a blog. She, who had only known me for approximately eight weeks, was convinced that I have something to say that is worth listening to, and that others might benefit from hearing of my experiences. She claims that many school students, unsure of where they want their lives to go, would truly reap the rewards of following the life of a college student, embarking on a new exciting era. So this is what I’m going to do, even if it is for my eyes only – I am going to keep track of my tale, my very own life story. In this new modern world of social networking and online obsessions, I myself am becoming increasingly addicted to blogs. As glamorous and decadent as the lifestyle blogs that I peruse are, I do however feel that the idyllic halcyon lifestyle that are portrayed are somewhat irrelevant to anybody under the age of possibly twenty-five – those of us still studying or not yet familiar with the experiences of marriage and house-buying and Elizabeth and James purchases. So for those of us who would cite Zara jeans as a sporadic luxury, and who are better acquainted with the Dublin bus routes than the London Underground, I want to shed light on our lives. Having nearly finished my second year of university, I truly feel blessed. I know I am extremely lucky to be where I want to be, studying what I want to, and I hope to use this time to the best of my ability. We only get given one life, and this is my time. So while others are busy making the world beautiful, I want to become more informed. I want to bring something to the world with my writing – it’s time to start now.