Reminiscing

With all the craziness of COVID-19, I am writing to get some feelings off my chest. Not entirely related to the virus, but what isn’t these days.

It’s been exactly a year since I left for my research exchange in Germany last summer and the memories are flooding back. My heart is heavy when I hear that about the current situation in every country around the world; in every city where I had spent some of the best months of my life just a year ago.

This post is a post of appreciation of the world when everything was normal. When businesses, schools and universities weren’t closed. When the streets were full of life and energy. When people stopped to chat upon running into a friend on the street, and when the news reported on seal pups singing the Star War’s theme song.

Instead of focusing on the pain, the struggles, the stress and the tension in the world, let’s focus on the positive. Let’s focus on celebrating the incredible work being done by our doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers. Let’s celebrate coming together (virtually) and reconnecting with friends that we might not have talked to in months. Let’s celebrate the environment being given a chance to show that it can recover from industrialization.

I am grateful to have the company of my housemates whom help the days to pass. In the early days of quarantine, we spent the days doing coursework and the evenings relaxing and playing board games. With exams over and courses completed, the days are filled with baking, reading, future-planning, and ballet (random I know, but honestly, Tiler Peck’s daily Instagram ballet classes have become an essential part of my afternoons). It hasn’t been so bad and I have slowly developed a routine and acclimated to this new normal. But, as an extrovert who is terrible with virtual interaction-ing, it has without a doubt been hard. I almost feel as though I am losing bits of my identity.

I know that we will get through this. It isn’t easy finding routine and normalcy in what feels like an apocalypse but let’s just treat this as a time to reconnect. To slow down and appreciate the simple things and what we are lucky to have. Hold onto your loved ones (not physically) and hold onto the things and activities you love.

We will get through this. ❤ Love you all.

Side note to all my friends from my 3.5 months in Europe: I miss you all so much. Going through all my photos for this post filled me with such nostalgia. I hope you are all taking care and I hope that one day we will meet again.

The Best Double Chocolate Banana Muffins

Hope you are all doing well and staying healthy in this weird and stressful time. It’s been challenging finding my footing and a new routine and as an extrovert who is the worst at being a virtual friend, I’ve been struggling. I’ve been spending my days doing course work for university, calling friends, going for runs, avoiding people outside of my house, and in particular, baking.

Baking and cooking have been my escape from these uncertain times. I’ve been trying not to look at the news too much but it’s impossible to escape the talk of the virus since it impacts every aspect of all of our lives.

The only problem with baking when social distancing is that there’s no one to help eat all the baked goodies. All I want to do is bake, but I can’t eat all of the cookies, muffins and pastries that would be pumping out of the oven (rather, I shouldn’t eat it all but who has that much self control…).

So to lighten up these somber times, here’s a treat for you to make and share with those you are stuck at home with.

These double chocolate banana muffins are so moist and tender and not too sweet. They pair beautifully with a homemade latte or dunked into cold milk. Perfect for using up any bananas that are too far gone. Super easy to make and according to my housemate, “the best banana double chocolate muffins ever”.

Banana Double Chocolate Muffins

Makes 32 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 3 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup + 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 large very ripe banana (just under 1/2 cup when mashed)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup browned butter or other oil.
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (a mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or spray with non-stick spray. Or, if you have silicone muffin molds, feel free to use those too!
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl (flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, chocolate chips). Whisk together.
  3. Whisk together all the wet ingredients (milk, banana, egg, oil, vanilla) in a medium sized bowl.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix to combine. Be sure not to over mix! The batter will be very thick. Let batter rest for 20-30 min.
  5. Scoop batter into prepared muffin pans/silicone molds to almost full. I like my muffins to have large tops so I tend to break the 3/4 full rule.
  6. Bake for 12-15 min until a tooth pick inserted into the tallest part of the muffin comes out clean.

Ludwigsburg Palace

Big update on week three in Stuttgart: I had made a friend! She is another OBW exchange student from McMaster who turned out to be living in the same dormitory as me. It had been too long since I had a full, fluent conversation with anyone in person and I was so grateful to finally be able to communicate fully and expressively.

We met up to go do some exploring and found our way to a small city just north of Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg. Ludwigsburg is known for being home to the “Versailles” of Swabia, the largest baroque style palace in all of Germany.

Though not quite as large as Versailles in France, it is nonetheless impressively grand. The palace overlooks the stunning sprawling gardens which included a French garden, an English garden and a Baroque garden. We wandered the grounds and gardens, admiring the artfully designed mazes of hedges leading past sparkling fountains and rows of blooming flowers, and into sprawling meadows.

We stumbled upon a fairy tale land. Through giant toad stools and over a small winding stream, we passed by Rapunzel’s tower and called for her to let down her hair. We made new friends with the gnomes and trolls as they followed us along and we were drawn into a gingerbread house, but ran away at the eerie chants from Hansel and Gretal.

Finally, we emerged from the enchanted forest and meandered over to the bird sanctuary. With both of us being bird nerds, we stayed a while to watch and admire the many colorful parrots flitting about, the cranes stretching their arching necks and the ducks sunbathing under the warm sun.

Our trip in Ludwigsburg came to a close as we headed back into the city centre of Ludwigsburg, grabbing a delicious Eis along the way and sitting ourselves in the Marktplatz to people watch. It was a beautiful day and I was so glad to have someone to share it with.

A quick stint in Oberstdorf

My role in the research project quickly took off. By week two, my supervisor and I headed to Oberstdorf to test out the system at one of the few ice rinks open in Germany during the summer.

As we rode the train through rolling green hills, I saw pockets of towns nestled at their bases and castle ruins perched on their peaks. I wondered what stories those villages and castles held. Who lived there and what was their day-to-day life like? It was beautiful.

After three hours of watching hills roll by, we arrived in Oberstdorf. The small ski resort town is located in the Allgäu Alps, with towering snowy peaks and beautiful hikes weaving through the lush forest. Although we spent most of our time in the rink, I did get the chance to explore the town a little bit.

I felt as though I had stumbled into an old fairy tale story.

The sky, a bright, morning blue with thin wisps of white cotton gently floating by. A bright turquoise river cutting through town, dancing between the ski houses and the gondola station. Clusters of wood beam houses tucked at base of a snowy mountain. Hikers, young and old, wandering down the lanes, through the winding alleys and into one outdoors shop to another. Eis cafes dot each street corner and a Backerei und Konditorei at every other.

I found myself inside one of these bakeries ordering an Eierschecke cake and bringing it up a twisting path to a gazebo on a hill over looking the quaint village. I sat there with the wind tickling my neck, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and ate my delicious cake.

Every city in the world has it’s own color and Oberstdorf’s, reminded me of home.

Schloss Solitude

Aller Angfanger ist schwer”. Every beginning is hard.

As I struggled about securing a phone plan, opening a bank account, enrolling at the university, accessing internet, buying bed sheets and being confused about shampoo and conditioner, I began to realize the truth behind this German saying. I truly didn’t enjoy my first two weeks in Stuttgart since I was so stressed about the administrative things I had to do.

By the second weekend, the number of things to do were mostly checked off my list. So, I made my first small sightseeing trip. I jumped on bus 92 and rode it to it’s end stop and stepped out on to the courtyard of a small palace. Schloss Solitude, a small yet beautiful palace situated at the top of a hill overlooking Stuttgart in the valley below. The place wasn’t busy at all, just a few hikers and bikers and one or two other tourists milling about, admiring the views.

The palace was commissioned in 1763 by Duke Carl Eugen von Württemberg and was set out to be his summer home and hunting lodge. It was easy to see why he chose to perch his home here. Acres of garden space and forest made for a beautiful place to spend the warm summers.

Instead of taking the bus back to the city, I walked down the hill through the Rotwildpark, a lush forest with an infinite number of trail paths. The sunlight sparkled through the leaves and the air was filled with the muskiness of dirt. I passed a beautiful giant snail the size of my palm and many lizards sunbathing on the stone steps.

I was not quite ready to go home (where I knew I would just be sad and alone) so I hopped on another bus which took me to the base of Karlshohe, a hill in the middle of the city. The walk up was unexpectedly steep but the views from the top were worth the short hike. It wasn’t as tall of a hill as the one upon which Schloss Solitude sits but it is located closer to the city centre, giving one of my favourite views of the city. I sat up there admiring the view until my stomach starting grumbling.

I headed down the hill and dropped into Cafe Moulu for a late lunch. It was my first time going to a restaurant in Germany and I didn’t have an inkling as to the etiquette of dining out. Did I have to wait to be seated? Did I have to order at the counter? It was an awkward fiasco but in the end, I learned that I should’ve seated myself and a waitress or waiter would have come to find me to take my order. My cheeks burned with embarrassment but the food and the kind service made up for it. I ordered a “Rührei mit maultaschen” which was scrambled eggs with maultaschen, a specialty resembling ravioli originating from the Swabian region. It came served with a fresh house salad. Everything was delicious and I was stuffed full, like the maultaschen, when I finished.

Although it was a rough start to my three months in Stuttgart, the storm was over and I began to see the beauty of my new living environment. The next three months were looking bright.

A transition through pastels

Post 1 of my European summer.

I hugged my mom, dad and sister goodbye to board my flight to depart for Europe. Through security, to my gate, down the aisle and into my seat, my European summer was officially about to start.

I arrived at the London Gatwick airport at around 8:00am. With my flight to Stuttgart not set to leave for another 7 hours, I decided to make a day trip to Brighton. I gathered my things and hopped on a train to the cute seaside town. Within 30 minutes, I had arrived.

I exited the train station, and the first thing I noticed was the gentle haze rendering everything into a soft pastel. I followed the small crowd of people, hoping that they would lead me towards the ocean. Sure enough, I was soon facing a vast expanse of blue. I breathed in deep, taking in the salty air and listened to the seagulls cry and children play. The sky met the ocean in a perfect hazy brush of pastel blue.

I wandered past the beautiful, quirky Royal Pavilion and into the Lanes, a shopping area with winding narrow alleys. The colorful shop display windows gleamed with golds and silvers, antiques and postcards. I found myself window shopping until I realized how hungry I was.

It was 3pm and I hadn’t eaten since my last plane meal that morning. I hopped into Trading Post Coffee Rosters, trusting that the bustle of people in and outside the place was a good sign. I ordered a butternut squash goat cheese sausage role plus a cappuccino and I couldn’t have been more content.

Finishing up the last crumb of my sausage role, I headed back out into the streets and started on my way back to the train station.

Short but sweet, my trip into Brighton was satisfying and relaxing. I was ready to see where my next steps would take me.