Château de Chantilly – The Crème de la crème

I couldn’t go on about the details of a recent visit to the Château de Chantilly as I have one of the most terrible abilities to recount acts. One fact I do remember, the gardens of the castle were designed by the same André Le Nôtre who designed the gardens of Versailles. (Sadly I didn’t get to visit there yet.)  The basics you might already know, is that the town of Chantilly is a haven just
south of Paris best known for lace, whipped cream and horse racing. It’s less ‘touristy’, if that’s not your thing, and can be enjoyed leisurely at any time of the yearWe experienced the Domaine de Chantilly which included the castle, entrance to the Condé museum within the castle, the gardens and a dressage presentation at the stables.

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Amongst a few of the things I will miss when I leave France, the kindness of some people in particular has been more than I could have asked for. In particular, a teacher who retire from the school where I have been an assistant this year named Elizabeths. I did not expect such a true bond to form after 6 months but I often visited her house to chat in English over a cup of tea and I spent several evenings having dinner with her, her husband and an Argentinian assistant who worked in the same school. She continued to extend her kindness to us both by driving us to this beautiful château and treating us to everything throughout the day.

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The sun shone down on the three of us as we strolled around the castle walls looking out onto the gardens, quietly commenting on how lucky we were to have such nice weather, and I remember I fell silentVisiting monuments and reading the historical importance of such places always has the same effect on me. Often a talkative and animated character, I am hushed in my appreciation of my life in those moments where I feel small in this world and history. The castle was beautiful and one of the finer places I have had the pleasure of seeing in France, but that day stands out in my mind for other reasons. Effortlessly tranquil, my final cultural outing spent with people whose generosity with their time, patience and warmth, will remain fondly in my memories forever.

Working as an assistant in France has come with some difficult situations but I have been so lucky in other ways and I only have to think of that day to feel like the cat that got the cream.

Laura x

Mexican Quinoa Bowl

Last week I spent a few lazy days going for tea with friends in between making some seriously good food. My latest success came from a mélange of recipes from the internet, adapted to suit my budget and my patience, and resulted in a rendition of a Mexican quinoa bowl.

The star ingredient of this dish has been on everyone’s lips for a while now, but this recipe will convince you of the beauty of quinoa as a staple in your diet if you haven’t already been impressed. Cooking quinoa in the same pan as spices and other ingredients is essential as it ensures the protein powerhouse is not superficial in appearances. Plus it means you will have fewer dishes to clean up at the end!

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion

1 cup quinoa, uncooked and rinsed

2 cups of water

250g tin of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 small tin of sweet corn

1 container of grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 lime

1 avocado

Seasoning mix

2 tsps cumin

2 tsps chilli powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

Method

  1. Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion stirring frequently for about 1 minute.
  2. Add black beans, quinoa, water and seasoning mix.
  3. Bring to a boil, cover and leave to simmer for around 20 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked. Check the pot every so often to make sure it doesn’t dry out and that nothing is sticking to the bottom.
  4. Stir in sweetcorn, halved cherry tomatoes and squeeze in the juice of a lime.
  5. Serve with natural corn tortilla chips, sliced avocado, and top with a little sour cream or natural yoghurt to really show off.

I am no great cook, or photographer, but I couldn’t resist sharing this recipe in the hope of getting mouths watering on and offline. Put it to the test to find out for yourself that it tastes even better than it looks!

Bon appétit! X

International Women in Paris

Last week I was lucky enough to visit Paris with my Moma, and seen as it’s International Women’d Day today, there’s no better day to publish this post to to share how much of a great time I had travelling with the most wonderful woman I know.

Paris is one of the places that I feel everyone wants to, or has visited at one time. There is something for everyone as there are plenty of museums and tourist sites, chic shopping boulevards and some hidden gems amongst some of the quirkier quartiers. My usual disclaimer applies, so here are just some of the things we did and saw in Paris that are worth considering when planning your trip.

The Moulin Rouge – The Féerie Show

As I danced as a young girl, attending the show at The Red Windmill was a must see for us. Courtesy of Moma, we went the whole hog and booked in advance the three course meal with a bottle of champagne and transfers to take us back to our hotel. Logistically, I advise booking well in advance through a trusted travel agent or over the phone and look into how you will get there and back as it is situated in a mini red light district.

This show is definitely not for everyone as the troupe of 60 dancers, mostly topless throughout, swayed from side to side draped in beads, sequins or feathers. I’m a lover of anything that includes a shimmy and a shake but it felt as though that was the extent of a large portion of the dancing. The jury is out on raving about it to everyone, but it was a spectacle of numerous costume changes, elaborately themed backdrops and acts including a roller blading stunt duo and an acrobatic duo. Was it what we expected? No. Did we have a great entertaining night? Yes. For a world renowned show, personally I expected a little more but I’m certainly not disappointed that we went.

Arc de Triumph and the Champs-Élysées

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There are many monuments worth visiting in Paris if only to admire their splendour, and the Arc de Triumph is amongst one of the most worthy of appreciation in my opinion. It may be an image you have seen time and time again and indeed you can see it clearly from a distance along the Champs-Élysées, however for a mere 10 Euros you can enter to read the history of it’s purpose and climb the winding stairs inside to experience a 360 view of Paris. Of course the Eiffel Tower provides that too, but you will be missing a key part of the Parisian sky line and there are bigger crowds to contend with. Although a little easier to manage if you struggle with vertigo, climbing the stairs are no mean feat, I suggest going shortly after a espresso to help you along the way.

We walked away from the Arc de Triumph along the iconic Champs-Élysées. The boulevard was as grand as I expected, vast and full of super sized stores. You could take the Metro from one place to another at every chance as it is easy to navigate but, if you have the time, I suggest walking as much as you can to really notice the change in the ambiance from each part of the city.

La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre
IMG_0915      IMG_0937     IMG_0945We hopped off the Metro at Anvers stop at 10.30am and were lucky enough to be able to bask in the sunlight walking up the stairs up to the Basilica built at the highest point of Paris in Montmartre.

I assume due to the time of year, the area was not too overcrowded with tourists. We got to fully appreciate the Montmartre area including the artist square behind the Basilica and the apartment buildings with ornate wrought iron balcony railings towering over steep stairs lined with lamp posts. The Sacre Coeur itself is one of the most magnificent cathedrals I have ever seen, inside and out. Although I am not a fan of going inside religious buildings we stayed inside to witness the 11.15am Mass, when the hairs on my arms stood on end, as the intimate congregation sang and onlookers stayed respectfully quiet. It’s true that some of the best things you can experience in life are free.

Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen – Flea Market 

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Open on Saturday, Sunday and Mondays, although the area seemed a little bit sketchy at first, this was a great way to lose track of time while I awaited my mum’s arrival in Paris. There are antique items galore, vintage everything you could ever imagine, books, clothes, stamps, cameras, furniture and more. This rabbit warren was an endless maze of alleys with both jewels and junk. If you are set on seeing every part then you can take a tour of the entire area, although I wandered around on my own, I stumbled on one part and then another and another until I felt like I had seen enough.

Bateaux Mouches – Seine Boat Tour

 IMG_0974      IMG_0966     IMG_0975This tour was another great way to see many of the beautiful buildings of Paris. Leaving from the same side of The Seine as Metro stop Alma Monceau, this guided tour lasted just over an hour and provided panoramic views for the bargain price of 13.50 Euros.I didn’t take very many pictures from the water but of course I took the obligatory Eiffel Tower selfie. We saw most of the sights we had already seen including the Hotel de Ville and the beautiful Pont Alexandre III.

NoGlu 

My final point of interest to stress was a wonderful gluten free restaurant and epicerie tucked away under one of the many covered passages and galleries named Passages des Panoramas. IMG_0816Don’t make the same mistake we did and get so excited to have found it and order your lunch in the take away epicerie which has little/no seating, rather than looking across to the nice sit down restaurant which is almost adjacent. The sandwich of the day, with cake and drink of your choice, may seem unspectacular but my mum, who never strays from the coeliac diet, declared it was the best meal she had eaten on the trip!

We visited other sites including The Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle and walked through the Jardin de L’Orangerie, Place de Concorde and more but I’ve highlighted a selection of the things that we enjoyed the most and I couldn’t do every single one justice. The best parts of this trip however were the moments of laughter, deep discussions or silence that my mum and I shared over a simple wine or coffee as we recharged between each place we saw. Glasgow or Paris, it wouldn’t matter where we were time spent with this woman is always a pleasure. 

I Amsterdam

The thought of legal prostitution and recreational drug use that springs to mind when Amsterdam can be the draw for some and the ultimate deterrent for others. The glazed eyes and the leering looks test my tolerance at times but this city has so much more to offer than coffee shops and sex.  I realised this weekend just how much I love Amsterdam. Despite the saturation of traipsing tourists, the city exudes quirk and diversity while being steeped in history and charm.

Having lived in Rotterdam for six months I have visited Amsterdam a number of times but I’m not a ‘been there, done that‘ traveller so I jumped at the chance to return to The Netherlands with my roomie and her friend for a very short trip that was exactly what I needed.

Yet again I failed to go inside the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House due to bad planning. Instead, we soaked up the atmosphere of Amsterdam by eating some great food, walking around and appreciating the city in other ways. By no means a full city guide here are some of the places we visited that I recommend.

Waterlooplein Flea Market

Showcasing an abundance of authentic vintage items from books to jewellery, bike accessories and clothing, this open air market is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am. The vendors hadn’t finished opening their stalls when we arrived at 10am but there was more than enough to browse through. Amsterdam is not short on thrift stores with one of a kind bargains so you are sure to find something you just can’t say no to.

De 9 Straatjes Centrum, The 9 Streets

This is the cool persons guide to find some of the best places to grab a coffee and have lunch or to find ultra cool boutiques with bespoke items for sale. I confess that I found the website after visiting but I can testify that it seems to franchise the latest trends as we had been in search of gluten free pancakes sold at Pancakes! on the same street. Pancakes! was too busy so instead we ate tasty Thai inspired food at Wolvenstraat 23 and left with our stomach’s full without our purses being emptied.

Sandemans Free Walking Tour

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Bejignhof courtyard

Departing every day at 11.15am and 2.15pm from Dam Square. We spent three hours being entertained and informed by a great tour guide named Kor, who took us to some of the more peaceful places, including the courtyards of the Begijnhof convent and Amsterdam University. The understanding of a free tour is to tip money at the end based on your satisfaction and you have no obligation to stay for the entire tour if it’s not for you, so in my opinion you should never be disappointed!

Our guide shared some interesting facts and stories about the main sights of the city, The Netherlands and Dutch culture, which we would not have learned walking around the city on our own.

Inside the University courtyard. Real Banksy or not I'm not sure

Inside the University courtyard. Real Banksy or not I’m not sure

Failed attempt at going to a museum selfie.

Failed attempt at going to a museum selfie.

We arrived at the Rijksmuseum at 4.30pm to find out there was only 30 minutes left until the museum closed. Just a tip, maybe check closing times in advance, especially at the weekends. A silver lining however is that we stumbled upon the iconic Iamsterdam sign, currently at the back of the museum before wandering to Vondelpark.

Vondelpark

Situated a few minutes walk from walk from the museums, Vondelpark is a vast open space with greenery and a lake which offers a refreshing contrast to the narrow cobbled canal lined streets. VondelparkHere you can see ‘real Dutch’ people living their daily lives, families walking with children, others walking their dogs and runners going around the lake. There is an authentic tranquillity there that is worth appreciating.

Canal Tour

There are lots to choose from but we took Gray Line which departs every 30 IMG_2886minutes just a short walk from Central Station. This audio tour provides a cosy alternative guide around the city from the water. Although we had already been told about some of the information shared on the tour, the boat takes you behind the central station and beyond the main canals to show you the entrance to Amsterdam by water. As a lover of water and any outdoor activities it was still 15 Euros well spent.

Finally a quick mention to Shelter City Christian Hostel. Perfect for our two night stay, the hostel was centrally located and safe with simple shower and toilet facilities. The staff were friendly volunteers who made breakfast for the guests each morning and we could even leave our bags to pick up later after checking out in the morning. The only stipulations are single sex dorms and no alcohol or drugs are to be consumed inside the hostel. Fair deal for somewhere to rest your head at night at a great price.

My parting words on Amsterdam is that it is a city which feels truly different to where I currently live in France which made me appreciate my time there so much more. I really believe that there is something there for everyone so I say let your curiosity take you there if you are given the chance.

Laura x

5 Tips for anyone ‘Figuring It Out’

Some people are still revelling in new year vibes as it might bring new goals and dreams and high hopes of accomplishment as we take stock of the year which has passed and reflect on what we want to achieve in the future. For many people however this brings with it stress, anxiety and at the root of these feelings can be overwhelming pressure.

From a young age we are asked what we want to do as a career or job when we ‘grow up’. We go through our teenage years learning in school to pass exams for university to then choose a field to study which should result in a job in the career which your interests and skills are suited. Some people thrive and know what they are doing while others hope that one day they will have an epiphany and it will all become clear. The truth is, it isn’t so simple. So what happens when we ‘grow up’ and we haven’t found that niche which everyone tells you will find? Maybe you’ve finished university and you’re still trying to figure it out. Here’s five things I’ve learned to help curb (or cope with) a pre-quarter century meltdown to keep moving forward and continue trying to figure it out.

1. Don’t confuse not having ‘a passion’ with being unambitious. When you don’t have a set hobby you are passionate about, a career plan or a specific goal in mind for the future do not allow yourself to think that anyone else with a creative flare or intellectual spark has the secret to success that you don’t. If you find yourself trying to cultivate skills you simply may not have in search of inspiration for life goals then stop. The sooner you stop wasting energy on this the better and live in your own life. Be inspired by the daily activities that make you happy and fulfilling goals will come from there.

2. Learn to be consistent and reliable for yourself. Regardless of your professional career aspirations, being consistent is the key to any and all progress. Getting distracted and procrastinating are two habits which only serve to hold you back and you have ultimate control over both of these tendencies. Whether you are filling out a job application or going through a to do list, by putting all of your energy into that task you will never find yourself in the position of regretting not having tried hard enough. If there is one person that you should be able to depend on in your life, it is yourself.

3. Be OK with the unknown. Time and time again people say to me, “it’s great that you can just get up and go and work abroad I could never do that.” By this is it suggested that it is without fear that I leave my friends and family to venture into unknown territory. This I can assure you, is not the case. Uncertainty is daunting for anyone but some people are better at being OK with this uncomfortable feeling. It is a skill however which can be practised. With every achievement big or small that you gain out of an unknown situation confidence is reinforced making you put yourself out of your comfort zone again. Learn to be OK with not knowing exactly what is ahead of you and embrace each challenge and pleasure as it comes and goes.

4. Live fully and you will move forward. By this I mean try to resist becoming passive in your daily life. If you are seriously trying to figure out where to direct your energy, you must take the time to utilise your energy. Actively engage in scouting out and researching opportunities even when you feel as though you don’t stand a chance. Although input might not lead to predictable outcomes, if you do nothing, nothing will happen.

5. (Specifically for those struggling with education and careers choices)

Remember why you chose the subject or field. At one time older people in your life may have told you to choose subjects that you like or are good at so don’t crumble under the condescending tones of others when they question what you will do with your degree or diploma. Not everyone goes to university however with the sole purpose of attaining a specific job title and a degree isn’t always necessary to have a successful career. You may have chosen a field because you wanted to have a deeper understanding of the subject, the origins and try to make connections to its use within the wider world. Regardless of the field or subject, university or college offers an education in analysis and socialization. Quite simply it’s never a waste of time to learn more about anything.

Yes you need money to survive and you will have to get a job but when people are talking about the future don’t let others dent your confidence as a person and your abilities or sell yourself short in these panic stricken moments. As long as you engage in living in your life fully then you should have no regrets. Stop trying to find the forest and enjoy the trees

Anne Dillard Quote

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Crustless Cheese and Spinach Quiche

Quiche is one of my all time favourite dishes but with a thick pastry crust it’s something I stopped eating when my mum was diagnosed with coeliac disease meaning in short that means that she can’t eat anything with flour and gluten. Since then I have tried various quiche alternatives but in the past I have found that the outcome is more like a brick sized omelette or scrambled and not something you could slice and serve up to a guest. However alas, this crustless quiche that I made adapting several recipes online really held up well. Whether you are avoiding pastry due to dietary requirements or eating a cleaner non processed diet, this dish delivers. Full in flavour due to generous helpings of cheese and a great texture due to using fromage frais as well as milk so it was fairly light but utterly satisfying.

Spinach cheese and tomato crustless quiche


Ingredients:

1 tsp of olive oil

2 small garlic cloves minced

1 medium onion

1 tomato

200g of spinach

3 medium eggs

250ml of milk

5 table spoons of 0% fromage frais

75g grated parmesan

100g of grated cheese. I used a mixed bag of ‘fromage gratin’ which included mozzarella, emmental and mimolette. I would recommend any medium to strong cheese but not too overpowering so as to go well with spinach.

salt and pepper.

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The sweet potato is not supposed to be included in the recipe

Half of the mixture, the runny stuff fell to the bottom of course

Half of the mixture, the runny stuff fell to the bottom of course


Instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 220C, if using frozen spinach is not already thawed, thaw it in the microwave. Empty the box into a colander and let it drain while you begin to prepare the rest.

2. Add the tsp of oil to a pan, and gently sautee onions and garlic for 3 minutes. If using fresh spinach, add this to the pan of garlic and onions and cook until slightly wilted. If using frozen spinach squeeze as much water out as possible at this point.

3. Spray a pie dish with non-stick spray. In a jug whisk together the eggs then add the fromage frais and milk which will be quite thick until lump free and smooth.

4. Add both kinds of cheese and a small sprinkle of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.

5. Remove spinach, garlic and onion pan from the heat (or drained, thawed) spinach and combine with egg mixture stirring gently.

6. Evenly pour half of the mixture into the pie dish and add sliced tomatoes to the centre before pouring the rest of the mixture in.

7. Place the pie dish on a baking tray in the middle of the oven and bake until it is golden on top and the center is formed aka not runny. Every oven is different but this should take between 45 minutes. Slice and serve!

I ate half of it before taking a picture of course

Proof that it was in fact more than edible I ate half of the slice I cut for myself before taking a picture. The egg, milk and fromage frais mixture seemed really thick at the time and the spinach looked to stay on the top rather than be mixed through but the end result was pretty balanced. Add some extra cheese to the top before baking to give a crispy topping. I should really rename it super satisfying spinach quiche!

Bon appétit! x

Celebrating New Year in Galway Ireland

Whether or not you have your resolutions in check or you are swooning over accomplishments made in 2014, the new year is in full swing and I have returned from the holidays motivated and inspired by visiting an old friend in a new place.

Spending two weeks at my home in Glasgow for the Christmas break might sound wonderful to some but I decided to use the free time to visit my friend from Ireland to bring in the new year with her. I booked the trip around two months in advance and managed to get return flights for under 100 euros from Glasgow International to Dublin via Ryanair. That time of year can be a bit more expensive than usual so you have to be prepared to pay a little extra when travelling around the winter holidays. The inexpensive and comfortable Dublin Airport to Galway city CityLink coach departs around every half an hour and you can pre book a ticket online or pay on the bus. The coach can be found at the second lot of bus stops, continue through the multi storey car park and semi open cafe eating space and you will find more buses. If you’re ever unsure ask the driver of another bus if there is one around, they will hopefully have more knowledge than most. The journey took around two and a half hours but with great wifi and sufficient space it wasn’t a bad journey at all.

Tired red faces post run

Tired red faces post run

In my short stay I was whisked from place to place and managed to pack in a few activities starting with a (gruelling but doable) 8km run around some hills of the quaint but bustling district of Connemara on New Year’s Eve. Known as the Connemara Loop-a-thon, the run was for charity and thankfully was not timed or extremely competitive as I only ran 5km before having to walk for a couple of minutes. Despite having wanted to take part in a race for some time, this was the first running event I had ever done so I was thrilled to have a medal for a keepsake. 

Bezzies

Bezzies

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in a bar called Busker Brownes in Galway city. Having not been out to a club since I moved to France I loved getting glammed up with my Irish bezzie before hitting the town. Busker’s, as its known to the locals, was packed with people but had lots of different areas to gather with your group of friend so I only had to stick my elbows out a little to be served a drink! NYE can be a hit or miss in this respect but I had no expectations in this unknown city and this place had the balance just right. The city was alive and jumping with people in good form and I felt welcomed by everyone who we spent the night with, it was great craick ;). I ended the night earning our post club meal by wrestling my way through the crowd at ‘Supermac’s’, the go-to fast food restaurant Ireland. Yes I have put a link in as this mix between a McDonald’s and a local chip shop was well worth the battle to satisfy the Drunchies (drunk munchies of course).

On New Year’s day we strolled down the charming cobbled streets of Galway city deeply disappointed that most of the shops (particularly Penny’s, known as Primark outwith Ireland) were of course closed. We wandered into Brown Thomas, a chic and luxurious department store which I had heard lots about. If like us you’re looking for no fuss but good tasting food, The Cellar had a great selection of pub grub at a great price. Thankfully for us the effects of the drinking from the night before had diminished quickly, maybe it was because of the Supermac’s! Unlike others who we witnessed grimacing as plates of big breakfasts and heavy meals came towards them in their attempts to cure their hangover, we enjoyed a tasty lunch of panini and chips followed by a large cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit on the side of course.

My last full day was spent having a lazy morning to prepare for an afternoon climbing the Diamond hill in Clifden jumping out of the car along the way to take in some of the other sites around. This included stopping in at the Kylemore Abbey to admire the beautiful castle which sat serenely nestled into the hill over-looking the lake.

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The Kylemore Abbey

View from the Diamond hill walk

View from the Diamond hill walk

 Although the weather was mostly wet or windy, I ended each day warmed by the close-knit community and friendly smiles from the people we passed whether acquaintances of my friend or not. People who have travelled around might tell you that one of the great things about the experience is meeting lots of new and inspiring people. It can be the gift of having many couches to sleep on in the future if you venture out again or having a friendly face to go for coffee with should you find yourself in the same city. For me, the the best thing is reuniting with those people who you had a connection with after many months or even years and having retained a real friendship. My ‘old friend’ is someone who I met while on Erasmus in Rotterdam in 2013 and more than being a guide to the city I got the warmest and best introduction to her home town thanks to her family and friends who welcomed me into their homes and who were keen to show off the best of their town to me!

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What I experienced was only a snapshot of the lively and beautifully scenic country that is Ireland. The place was fab as my Irish bezzie would say and I really enjoyed my trip and I’m certain that I’ll return sometime in the very near future!

Laura x