Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: The Fold

As many of you probably know, I participate in a program called Blogging for Books. Basically, they send me free books in exchange for posting a review. I enjoy it a lot, its super easy to get started and there are no deadlines (you just can't request a new book until you've posted a review of the last one). So if you like books and/or blogging, you should check it out! :)

I recently finished reading the book The Fold, by Peter Clines, which is a science fiction thriller. I'll preface my review by saying that this is a genre I don't read a lot of, largely because I don't like creepy or disturbing things. (I don't watch horror movies for the same reason.) In parts, this book was a little intense for me, and its the kind of book that I didn't want to read right before I went to sleep. If you're used to the genre it would probably be pretty mild, I just wanted to give a disclaimer if you're sensitive to that sort of stuff like I am!

I really liked this book. The basic story line is about a man who has a perfect photographic memory and an extremely high IQ, but who has chosen to be a high school English teacher rather than take better advantage of his unique skills. He has a friend, however, who is involved in funding government projects, and specifically a team of scientists building a teleportation device. The English teacher is recruited to check out the project and report back about it, because the people funding it have an uneasy feeling about continuing to put money into the project.

The story was engaging and always left me eager to find out what would happen next. The further I got into the book the more difficult it became to put it down. It does start out a little slow, but even then there was enough interest to keep me engaged until the story really picked up. There were so many surprises and curve balls, I couldn't wait to find out how the story ended!

The ending of the book was also very well executed. It wasn't at all predictable. I thought that the ending did a good job of wrapping up an intense story, tying up many of the loose ends but still leaving me with many thought-provoking questions.

One of my favorite parts of the story were the descriptions of the main character's mind, about what it was like for him to have a perfect photographic memory and an amazing analytical capacity. It added a level of complexity into the storyline and the interactions between the characters. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Break and Course Registration

A few days ago, I remembered that I have a blog that I haven't updated in over a month... I guess that tells you something about the frame of mind I've been in for the past few weeks. I haven't even had the brain capacity to remember I have a blog, much less post anything!

I guess I'll just give you a general update on my life. The last few weeks have been a bit rough with exams and everything. I'm officially in relaxation mode now though (perhaps a little prematurely!) since Thanksgiving break starts on Wednesday, and I don't have anything due before then. There is definitely an atmosphere of stress on campus, many of my friends still have big assignments to finish before they can enjoy their break. I guess I just got lucky this year!

I'll be staying on campus for Thanksgiving this year. I'm very sad that I won't get to celebrate in Minnesota with my family, but this just made the most sense. There are pros and cons to going home, and the cons (namely the cost of a plane ticket and the hassle of travelling during Thanksgiving!) won out this year. I will miss my family greatly, but I am excited about the chance to just relax, and not have to worry about travelling or making plans. Last year when I stayed on campus I had a chance to breathe and actually take a break. I spent lots of time knitting Christmas presents and watching movies and cooking for myself, all things I don't generally have time for at Wellesley. I have fond memories of break last year, so I'm looking forward to this one as well. One of my friends graciously invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner so I have plans for that day, but the rest of my break I'm planning on, well, not having any plans at all. And I can't wait!

Another eventful thing that happened recently was class registration! I use "eventful" in a relative sense, it wasn't nearly as eventful as registration other years since I was able to get into all the classes I wanted (yay for being a senior!). It was eventful in the sense that now I have some idea what my spring semester will be like. There are so many classes that I would still love to take at Wellesley, so narrowing it down was tough. I wish I had more time! It was one of those moments that really reminded me I'm a senior, my last ever class registration.

So, here's what I ended up with:
Computer Science 249: Data, Analytics, and Visualization
     This course is to fulfill a requirement at Wellesley called the Quantitative Reasoning requirement. Basically it has to be some sort of real life statistics, and somehow none of my many math, computer science, or intro science courses have counted thus far... Whenever I tell professors this is my one distribution requirement left they think it's very odd. But, that's another story! Thankfully this class is available in the computer science department next semester, so I can fulfill the requirement with a class that's not completely random and unrelated to my interests.

Computer Science 349: Natural Language Processing
     I need one more 300 level course to finish my Computer Science major and my Wellesley degree. (300 level courses are the highest level at Wellesley.) There are several different courses being offered in the department, but this one sounded the most interesting to me. Being a classical civilizations major as well as a computer science I'm pretty interested in the intersection between technology and the humanities, so I'm excited to explore how computers can interact with human language.

Math 223: Number Theory
     This course doesn't count for any requirements at all... (Except to finish my math minor that I can't declare! Wellesley doesn't allow you to declare more than two things, and since I'm a double major I can't declare this minor, even though I will technically have finished all the requirements.) I like the professor and the topic sounds pretty interesting, and one of my friends is in the class. Plus I do miss taking math classes! I'm excited to take one more class in the department before I graduate. I came into Wellesley pretty confident that I wanted to be a math major, so the math department will always have a special place in my heart.

Arts 222: Introductory Print Methods - Typography/Book Arts
     I'm super excited about this one! This class is also just for fun. We have a book arts lab at Wellesley, which is basically a workspace that has equipment for printing and paper making and all sorts of book-related things. I've always wanted to take one of  Wellesley's book arts courses, and now I finally get to! I'm definitely happy that I was able to fit this in before graduation.

I can't really think of much else to share at the moment... Life has been good, if hectic. This year I made a decision not to do any homework on Sundays, which has been very good for my mental well-being. There's big difference between trying to be productive and not getting anything done (which happens quite a lot on weekends...) and intentionally taking a break from work. When I make the decision that I'm not going to do any work, I'm not guilty about relaxing. I think that has definitely contributed to my sanity, because my classes this semester have been fairly tough.

Anyway. I think I've rambled about my life for long enough! I hope you are all surviving as the weather gets colder and the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons approach (and finals, for those of us in college.) Don't forget to take a deep breath every now and then!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall Break in Pictures

Last weekend was fall break at Wellesley (our fall break is a Monday and Tuesday). I ended up just staying at Wellesley this year, which was actually very relaxing. Unfortunately I had quite a bit of work to get done, but I was also able to spend some time outside and relaxing. Wellesley is beautiful, so I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures that I took walking around campus.

This is what most of the woods around the lake look like,
even the plain yellow and green is beautiful.

The Wellesley boat house

"End of Wellesley College Property"
Don't say I never leave campus!

This time of year I use any excuse to take this path
across campus.

I spent about 3 hours one afternoon reading out by the lake.

I was reading a fascinating book about the archaeological
remains of Qumran (the community associated with the
Dead Sea Scrolls) for a class.

These last couple weren't actually taken during break, but they're too beautiful not to include!

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Packing Process

You thought I was done with posts about my time abroad, huh? Well, you were wrong! I've had this idea for quite a while, and decided it was finally time to realize it! It's kind of strange remembering all this stuff now, after having been back in the US for so long, but here goes nothing!

As I've been travelling so much in recent months and years, I've begun to pick up new travel and packing habits. It occurred to me that somebody might find these useful, so I decided to record my packing process for a specific trip and share some tips about it.

I first realized that I needed to revise my packing procedure during my first big trip outside of Ireland, to Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I brought a backpack and a very small rolling suitcase. As I packed I was really proud of how little I brought (the trip was a week long, after all) but out of the group I was travelling with I definitely had the most stuff. *sigh* So I decided to follow their example and figure out how to travel with less! Carrying even that much was frustrating for the style of travelling we were doing, walking A LOT and taking public transportation everywhere. I think the main thing you need to remember is: you never need as much as you think you will, and as long as you're travelling to a city you can buy almost anything once you get there!

I wanted this to be a really practical explanation, I've learned a lot the last few years moving back and forth from school and doing other travelling. Practicality is most important to me, as I think you'll see in these pictures. I didn't bring a lot of extra clothing, and I brought hardly anything in the way of makeup and cosmetics. Those things just aren't a priority for me, so packing lightly means leaving them behind.

These pictures are from my last trip while I was abroad (to Edinburgh, Scotland).

First, I gathered all the stuff I needed to pack, including the clothes I was planning on wearing during travelling. I like to set them aside before I pack, to make sure I have enough clean clothes and because it takes less time to get ready in the morning. This is especially helpful when you have a 6:30am flight (during my time abroad I became unfortunately familiar with how to get to the airport at 4:30am...)
I like to gather everything, then organize and pack it last

As I gather things I also write notes to myself about items that I can't pack until morning, so I don't forget them. I find this especially helpful for electronics chargers, which I usually use overnight, and my mouth-guard that I have to wear every night as well.
Yes, I even reminded myself about breakfast. Who knows
whether 4am Leah would have remembered?

Like I mentioned already, I find it helpful to set aside the clothes that I want to wear while travelling. Remember to wear layers! Especially in the UK and Ireland, the weather is unpredictable. I wore a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt just in case. Keep in mind that the weather will probably change throughout the day too, it was much colder when I left my apartment at 4:30am to catch the bus than it was at 2pm hiking up a cliff.

Obviously, remember all your important travel documents. I had this (admittedly dorky) little pouch I wore around my waist while travelling, it was essential for keeping my cash, ID and boarding passes handy and safe at the airport.

I don't regret using the fanny pack (like I said, I care more about practicality), but for the future I might try to find something that looks a little more attractive. That way it doesn't get in the way of nice pictures like the one below, and I would be more willing to wear it the whole trip rather than keeping it stuffed in my backpack like I usually did.
*sigh* I look like such a tourist with my fanny pack. This is the aforementioned cliff
that we climbed our very first day in Edinburgh.

This is all the clothing I brought with, not including the clothes I was planning to wear. Clothing isn't heavy, but it is definitely bulky. I elected to bring very practical clothing, and also as little as possible. I don't mind if I have to re-wear a few things for the convenience of having less to carry. This is before packing it.

And this is after! Vacuum bags work wonders. Everything in the previous picture is in that little bag that's now about the same size as my sandals. I have a few bags like this that don't require a vacuum to seal, you just zip the bag closed and then squeeze all the air out of it. I think this one is actually Ziploc brand. I bought mine at the AAA Travel Store and at The Container Store, although I'm sure you can probably find them other places as well. I've used mine SO much, they're definitely worth the investment if you travel a lot. You can reuse them several times, and they're not very expensive to begin with.

Here are all my toiletries and other little bits and pieces. Of course, if you're travelling with only a carry on, make sure all your liquids are small enough!
I gave up trying to rotate this picture. I think you get
the idea!

This is after I gathered them together. I love this bag that my brother gave me for holding this kind of stuff. The liquids are in a clear quart bag for airport security, and everything else I threw into the bag so it wasn't floating around in my backpack.

Finally, a few things that weren't strictly practical. I never travel without my journal and my camera, and Jet was my travel companion for my months abroad (he was also a gift from my brother!) Usually I would bring a book or something to occupy myself during the trip, but I decided against it this time to cut down on what I had to carry. Also, usually these shorter trips were so busy that in the evenings I didn't have energy to read anyway. I had my journal to write in, and I also had my phone with a few audio books and podcasts downloaded on it. I discovered that while I'm travelling I often prefer to listen to something instead of read. It's better if you tend to get motion sickness, and it also allows you to look out the window at the scenery while listening. I think sometimes I over-pack "entertainment" stuff, so I want to be more intentional in the future about what I'll actually use.

This is the final product of my efforts! Everything I pictured is inside the backpack, and the other pile is what I prepared to wear in the next morning during my travels.

Packing lightly was a necessity for me on these trips. We usually went straight from the airport to sight-seeing, and on the final day we also took our stuff with us when we checked out of the hostel in the morning. Often you can't leave your stuff at hostels before or after check in, and even if you can picking it up later takes extra time that could be spent doing something interesting instead. Obviously this isn't relevant for every trip, but packing lightly always makes things more simple, no matter the situation!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fall Semester Update

Well, yet again another school year has begun. Except this year it's the last time, maybe ever! I'm trying not to think about that too much.

Convocation is a very senior-y event where
we wear our graduation gowns and attend
a ceremony
As always, it's been an interesting blend of exhausting and exhilarating. Every year moving in and getting all my stuff to my dorm is a process. Overall move-in went well though, being a senior and having friends is great! One friend picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at my dorm, which is a big deal; in the past I've paid $20-30 for a ride or lugged all my stuff on trains and buses. Not fun. Then a few days later another friend with a car helped me retrieve some of my stuff from across campus. (Thanks Ashley and Katie!)

I still feel a little unorganized and strange about being back at Wellesley, and I'm having a bit of trouble getting back into being responsible with my homework. I had forgotten how busy my life is at Wellesley. I wasn't really involved in any extra-curriculars while I was abroad at Trinity, and my classes took up much less time. I'm hoping that soon I can have a better grasp of what's going on and start holding myself more accountable to get things done in a timely manner!

One thing that I have been doing pretty well at so far is getting up earlier. I have ALWAYS wished I were a morning person, and I've finally decided it's time to try and get into that habit. It wasn't so bad over the summer having to be at work at 8 every morning, so I don't know why its always so hard during the school year. So far I'm doing pretty well at getting up early enough to have a leisurely breakfast and time to get ready before class. Not every day, of course, but just establishing what I want to be my new normal has been helpful. I'm hoping to keep that up as I get busier, it really does make for a more pleasant start to the day.

So, an update on my majors and my classes for the fall! I don't know if anybody's necessarily interested in this, but I'm going to share anyway.

I am officially a Computer Science major, and have been since my sophomore year. I've known that I wanted to do that for a long time, and I intend to make that my career when I graduate. However, I decided last spring to declare a Classical Civilizations major also! (Classical Civilizations at Wellesley basically consists of an ancient language, in my case Latin, and Greek and Roman history courses.) It has been an interesting journey to making that decision, if you're curious feel free to ask me about it :) Hurray for Liberal Arts colleges!

And finally, my classes for this semester. As you can imagine, it's a very interesting and diverse group! For my Computer Science major I'm taking two required courses: Algorithms, and Languages and Automata (it's not really worth me explaining them any more than that...) For my Classical Civ major I am taking an advanced Latin class (it's called Roman Poems and Poetry Books) and a course on the Archaeology of the Biblical World. That one is actually a religion class, but since the Classics department is relatively small they are great at accepting credit from other departments. Both of those classes are very interesting, but also labor intensive for me. While technically I suppose I'm a humanities major now, I still don't consider myself a humanities person. I feel more at home among problem sets and lectures than papers, readings, and discussions. For I think the first time ever, all the classes I am taking this semester count towards my majors, so I feel good about that!

I guess I can't really consider it the beginning of the semester anymore after 3 weeks of classes, but I'm still getting into the swing of things and the summer weather doesn't help it feel like fall! There's a lot I'm looking forward to this year, and a lot I'm dreading, but I'm excited to see where the journey takes me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Update

As always this time of year, my time at home is dwindling much too quickly. Tomorrow is the last day of my internship, which is a little bittersweet. I would by lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to it being over, but I've also had a great experience there this summer. And plus, my internship ending means my summer is about to end. This has been a pretty great summer!

Mini golf with my mom
Our company picnic at the Saint's Game - we
broke the Guinness world record for the largest
ever pillow fight!
Book shopping with Kelly

I have about a week and a half between the end of my internship and leaving for school, and I am very grateful for that. My parents and I are going to be gone for nearly a week camping though, so I am realizing more and more that I am running out of time at home. I've already been trying to set things aside little by little to take back with me to school. Making decisions about packing for an entire year is always difficult and time consuming for me, so it helps to do it a little bit at a time. Pack jewelry one day, bedding another day, etc. I leave for school early in the morning on August 25th. (My classes don't start until August 31, but I have training for my on campus job so I get to move in a few days early.)

Another exciting update - I finally got my drivers license this week! That might not seem too exciting for somebody about to turn 21 years old, but it is what it is. The last few years I've just never gotten around to it, I didn't have plans to get a car so I didn't figure I needed my license. Also, with school expenses and studying abroad paying insurance seemed like it might be difficult. I finally decided this summer was the time, and thankfully I passed my test the first try (despite trying to drive with my parking brake on once, oops!) It's a big weight off my shoulders just to have it over with, next summer presumably I'll be getting a job and needing a car at some point (weird...)

Through my time abroad, and having this summer internship while I've been home, I have become more excited about being done with school and entering "normal" life. Getting a job, a car, eventually my own place to live. I've always been a homebody and I've always loved school, so I've never necessarily looked forward to being done with it. I'm starting to accept and even get excited about moving on to the next phase of my life. It's kind of nice for me to look towards the future and genuinely feel excited about those things, at least to some extent (job searching, on the other hand, still doesn't sound fun).

I'm just feeling pretty optimistic in general these days. I'm excited about going back to school (it's been about 9 months since I've been at Wellesley!) but also excited thinking about what might come next. My main complaint is that I wish there were more hours in a day - I've been very excited about lots of craft projects and organization lately, but I haven't had nearly as much time as I would like to work on them. Among other things, I've wanted to try braiding this t-shirt rug for a while now, and luckily I found a bunch of old shirts around my house to use! I thought it would be perfect for my dorm room, if I can ever manage to finish it...

I know my excitement will probably be dampened somewhat when I get back to school and start getting homework assignments and having to apply for jobs and everything. But for now I'll just enjoy being excited about the possibilities that the future holds, and getting to spend some more time with family and friends before I leave for school.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Day Trip: Giant's Causeway

One of these months I'll stop posting about my time in Ireland. But, that time has not yet come! You'll have to bear with me for a while yet trying to finish all the posts that I have planned :)

As I talked about in this post, in Ireland I got a lot better at doing things on my own. My final day trip in Ireland was to Giant's Causeway, and I ended up going alone because all of my friends had either been there already or weren't available. I went on a lot of bus trips similar to this one in Ireland, Scotland and England. They were always great, because they bring you to places where you wouldn't otherwise have visited (and you don't have to figure out transportation yourself). On the other hand, they can be frustrating because they are often more expensive than transporting yourself and you have no say in how long you spend at each location. On this particular trip I wished we had more time at a couple of the main sights. I am still a fan of bus tours in general, though, and Ireland is a great place to do day trips due to its relatively small size. I was able to see many parts of the country that I never would have made it to on my own, without having to spend money on hostels. I wanted to share about this particular trip as an example. (If I can remember what happened, that is! It's been awhile. Good thing I take an excessive amount of pictures.)

Giant's Causeway was one of the main sites that I wanted to visit the whole time that I was in Ireland. It's a natural volcanic rock formation in Northern Ireland where there are hundreds of hexagonal rock pillars. The bus tour that I chose went to The Dark Hedges, The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and Belfast. Here is the story of my day in pictures!

Stop 1:
The day started with a short stop at The Dark Hedges, a dramatic tree-lined road (recently famous for being a filming location for Game of Thrones, that's kind of a theme in Northern Ireland! The main studio is in Belfast). These pictures really don't do it justice, you should look up other pictures of The Dark Hedges in County Antrim, it's especially beautiful once the leaves come in. The trees were originally planted along the road leading to a big mansion to impress visitors.

One theme of travelling by myself is lots and lots of selfies! I don't always feel like asking somebody else to take a picture of me at every location.

Stop 2:
Our next stop was right on the coast to see something called the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The Irish coastline is stunning!

Here is the rope bridge itself. Unfortunately it was too windy that day, so we weren't allowed to cross the bridge (when I saw how much it was bouncing up and down, I was actually okay with that). The bridge was built to give fishermen easy access to the little island. Apparently there's good fishing over there?

Stop 3:
Finally we arrived at the main attraction of the day, Giant's Causeway. This is the start of the path that went down to the site. I could've taken a bus, but decided to walk. There were beautiful views along the way, too!

In May, Northern Ireland is covered in gorse, these yellow shrubs. They were all over the place, and I loved the contrast between the yellow flowers and the green and blue of the fields and water. This is still walking down the path to the site.

Giant's Causeway was one of my favorite places that I saw in Ireland, I'm so glad that I made time to go. It's not as big or as grand as some places, like the Cliffs of Moher, but its such an unusual formation that its even more surreal. It felt like a big playground to me.

Obviously, there were quite a few other people there!

More selfies! And yes, it was cold enough in May to require the hat and scarf. The weather was actually quite miserable that day.

It looks completely manmade! All these rocks were shaped naturally.

Especially when I'm by myself, I like to get a little more creative with my pictures. These are my trusty tennis shoes that I wore for all my travelling (and promptly had to throw away when I got home!)

And, of course, Jet. He was my companion through most of my travels.

Stop 4:
Too soon, we moved on from Giant's Causeway and continued on our journey. This isn't a great picture, but we quickly stopped by Dunluce Castle, a castle ruin right by the water. It has an interesting history. Due to its location at the edge of a cliff, one night part of the kitchen fell into the water, killing many of the servants. (Lesson: don't build your castle on the edge of a cliff that might erode.)

Stop 5:
At the end of the day we stopped in Belfast for about an hour. I wasn't really in the mood for much exploring after a long day, and it was still rainy and cold. So, I stopped by a souvenir shop and a bookshop and got some hot tea. This is the town hall that we parked next to, it was about the only site I saw there.

Another picture of town hall from inside the bus, this kind of sums up the day! Very wet.

I hope these posts aren't getting old or repetitive. I'm still enjoying reminiscing on my travels, so I'm going to continue for now! More to come soon.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: Knitting Block by Block

Occasionally you guys get random book reviews from me, and that is mostly for selfish reasons (just being honest!) I found this great website called Blogging for Books a while ago where I can request review copies of books for free in exchange for posting a review on my blog. (If you have a blog and like books, I highly recommend trying it. And if you don't have a blog and like books, make a blog!) Anyway, just a reminder about why you're getting this post from me! So I can get another free book :)

I like knitting, and lately I've been wanting to learn how to knit more complicated objects and do more patterns. When I saw this book I thought it would be perfect. The concept is that there are tons of patterns for knitting squares, and then there are instructions for items that can be made from the squares. It simplifies more complex projects because mostly you're just knitting squares, and it makes projects more customizable because the book contains TONS of different patterns for blocks.

Ultimately I was a little bit disappointed by this book. To be honest, I haven't made anything from it, so maybe my opinion isn't totally valid (I have looked through the book quite a lot, just haven't had time this summer to knit much!). I love the concept, but I thought it would be more of a book for beginners, because it talks about this simple way to make things. There are a few patterns that I definitely want to try, but I'm a pretty new knitter. Most of the patterns in this book are a bit too advanced for me, and a lot of them I just don't really like the pattern enough to devote time to trying them.

Again, its a cool and different concept, and the book is beautifully presented and illustrated. But almost all of the patterns I want to try I need to find help and basic instructions somewhere else for me to be able to do them. This is a good book for patterns, but not the  best for comprehensive instructions or reference. If you're a fairly experienced knitter interested in learning a new method though, I definitely would recommend trying this out! And there definitely is something here for beginners too, but it'll be a bit more difficult to figure everything out.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Journal Entry: Camping

Over Independence Day, my parents and I went camping. My dad grew up a couple hours north of Minneapolis, in a tiny little town called Duquette. We still own some land up there and have a trailer set up where we hunt and camp as often as we can.

We sometimes find wild raspberries or

I keep a journal, and somehow being up there in the woods always brings out my poetic side. One morning before breakfast I wrote this in my journal. I've never shared a part of my personal journal before, so this is a little scary. But I loved this when I re-read it later, so I hope you enjoy it too.

Context: campfire donuts are deep fried bread dough
covered in cinnamon sugar. One of my favorite things
we make!

I was too tired to write last night. I hardly got any reading done even, I started a new book and I just haven't gotten far enough into it for it to hold my attention while I'm tired.

I don't know what time it is. Probably earlier than I normally get up when I don't have to get up for anything. It's still cool enough that the fire is pleasant to sit by, we're trying to prepare the fire to cook oil for campfire donuts. Patience.

Pale sun is just peeking through the clouds and trees, casting the shadow of my hand on the page. It also starts to warm me, though barely. There is a constant cool breeze moving the air, although I would hardly notice it if not for the sound in the trees and the plume of smoke. Occasionally the wind strengthens, and I am warned by a roaring from afar which slowly comes near, until I am surrounded by swaying and rustling, noise and movement. It's like I'm on a ship, only the waves are above.

It smells clean. It smells of moist dirt, wood, a pure morning breeze. It smells of fire, of comforting warmth, of rich, woody smoke.

I see a ball, each tree dressed to dance to the music of the wind. The slender birch and popple in their grey and white, especially eager at any hint of a note. They join the wind, giving it the movement and sound that I love.

My stomach is growling, waiting for the oil to get hot!

The oaks and maples, and other trees I don't know, are calmer and steadier. They don't sway so much nor move their branches and leaves so much. But when the strong waves of music come, rustling in the distance warning us of their approach, they dance at their arrival.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Banoffee Pie Recipe

One food that I discovered in Ireland was Banoffee pie. It's pretty simple - a graham cracker crust (or if we were actually in Ireland, a crust made with digestive biscuits), toffee, bananas, and whipped cream. I've been wanting to make something from my time abroad and this seemed like it would be simple enough! (As it turned out I made quite a large mistake, which you'll see in a bit...)

I used this recipe, with just a couple adjustments. As I said, digestive biscuits aren't very readily available here, so I just substituted it with a graham cracker crust. The rest of the ingredients are very easy to get here, but since it's a UK recipe the measurements may look a little unfamiliar. I'll rewrite the ingredients list here:

1 graham cracker crust

100g (about 1 stick) butter
100g (about 1/2 cup) brown sugar
397g (one can) condensed milk (not sweetened!)

4 small bananas
whipped cream
grated chocolate (I didn't actually include this)

You can get more detailed instructions at the link above, so I'm just going to share my process through pictures. I might not have taken a picture of every single step, sometimes its hard to remember to do that while you're cooking and trying not to burn anything!

These are the ingredients I used for the graham cracker crust. It's much easier with a box of prepared crumbs instead of having to crush them yourself, and the box has a recipe right on it for the crust. All you need is the crumbs, sugar, and butter.

Here's the assembled crust. Since the pie isn't baked after the toffee is put in, I baked the crust a few minutes by itself (again, the crust recipe should tell you how to do this).

Next comes the toffee making process. It starts by melting butter in a pan. 

Now, here comes the big mistake that I made. The recipe calls for "Carnation condensed milk". In my mind, that translated to sweetened condensed milk, which made sense to me for making a toffee (plus most other recipes for banoffee pie do call for sweetened condensed milk). But, the recipe actually just called for condensed milk. The toffee ended up much sweeter and thicker than it was supposed to be. So, here's a warning for you: don't use sweetened condensed milk! We still ate the whole pie, but I'll definitely be trying it again and following the recipe a bit more closely.

(Note: my dad liked this really sweet version, but he was outvoted by the rest of the family!)

The toffee boils for a couple minutes on the stove to caramelize and thicken.

After the toffee is finished, it goes right into the baked crust to cool off. The pie is meant to be eaten cold. We decided not to put the bananas on right away, because they tend to get brown when they sit in the fridge like that.

Before eating, add sliced bananas and plenty of whipped cream!