New Year

Happy New Year! Exciting new things are on tap for this space in 2015, and I can't wait to share. See you soon!

Chateaus and Chapels and Parks and More

I mentioned quite some time ago that I was heading off to France on a research trip. Well, I did go about a month and a half ago already, and I must report that spring is officially my favourite time to visit France. When I lived in Paris a few summers ago, the heat, the dirt, and the endless crowds of tourists put me off the city, although now I look back on that summer very nostalgically. This trip, though, it was relatively quiet, and especially once I was out in the Loire Valley, where I spent the bulk of my week, it was heavenly. The regional trains are so nice, the people are much friendlier than your average Parisian, and the chateaus were out of this world. There were some amenities that were closed in the Loire Valley because it was out of season but still, if you ever want to go see some stunning architecture and feel truly enveloped in some ancient history, the Loire Valley in the spring, when it's quiet, is the place to go. I simply didn't have time to see everything I would have wanted to see, and I'm already hankering for a return trip. 

I started off in Paris ... 

to see my favourite work in the Louvre 

and the most exquisite stained glass (Sainte-Chapelle).

In the Loire Valley, I stayed in Tours and took day trips out to Azay-le-Rideau,


(the home not only of medieval kings but also the last home of da Vinci)


and Chambord.

Chambord was definitely my favourite.

If you're thinking of going, I'd recommend staying in Tours, because it's right in the centre of the region and easy to navigate from. The trains were easy enough, but renting a car would be very easy too. Most of the chateaus had free parking. In Tours, take a wander up the Rue de Bordeaux by the train station or the Rue Colbert by the chateau when you're hungry; there were lots of great options. I'd also recommend the Patisserie Bigot (a restaurant and bakery) in Amboise and Eric Saguez, an amazing chocolatier and bakery in Blois.
And next time, Chenonceau, Villandry, and Chinon will be at the top of my list of places to see!
Have you ever been to the Loire Valley? Any recommendations for the day I make it back?

Step Back, Reset

The final months of my master's degree are quickly approaching, and to say the past month in particular has been difficult would be something of an understatement. I've enjoyed my time in Cambridge and the challenges of my program immensely, but it also hasn't quite been what I was expecting, and as someone who doesn't like surprises, that has thrown me for a loop. Studying here has in no way lessened my passion for history (it's probably only grown, in fact!), but it has made me reevaluate what I'd ultimately like to do with it, and perhaps that does not involve the career path I laid out for myself my freshman year of university. It's always been both scary and exciting to me to not have a strictly delineated plan, and so I've been grappling with that lately. I've been looking for jobs while working on my dissertation, which hasn't been the easiest balancing act.
And my dissertation. I have a love-hate relationship with that project. The ideas I had about my topic at the beginning of the year didn't pan out when I actually went and did my research, and I've been having trouble reformulating my argument in a way that satisfies my own goals and those of my supervisor. It all rather came to a head last week - I was sick, barely sleeping, and just trying to pound out sections without thinking too critically about them, which was of course a mistake. I'm just grateful to my friends for keeping me sane and for being a welcome distraction from work. After a hard meeting with my supervisor at the end of the week, I was completely drained, but I know what I have to do going forward, and I think I've managed to renew some passion for my topic with my newfound clarity. 
I had a much-needed lie in on Saturday and took a day to work on personal projects while catching up on TV shows from home, which was exactly what I needed. The next few months aren't going to be easy, and I know that, but I feel refreshed and recharged and I'm confident that everything is going to come together. My time in Cambridge has gone by much too quickly, and I want to make the most of the little time I have left.
My goal is to make sure that I make time for myself in spite of my heavy workload. I always find that when I don't, I only make things worse for myself in the long run, and so I'm going to try my best to blog more regularly, just so I have a forum to talk about the things I'm interested in that don't involve British Empire diplomacy and royal state visits.
Things that have been keeping me sane lately:
WQXR. Their playlists honouring Shakespeare's 450th birthday last week were spot on.
Yoga. My desk chair is unfortunately rather uncomfortable, and combined with the fact that I get pretty tense when I'm stressed, a few minutes on the yoga mat every day have been necessary.
Online window shopping. I'm a stress shopper (weird, I know), but I literally won't have space in my luggage when I move home if I buy anything else, and so I've been looking online to my heart's content. I'm in love with this, this, and these.
Spring. This would be the first spring I've properly experienced, and when the sun is out and shining on the flowers that are blooming absolutely everywhere, it's magical. You can see a bit on my Instagram.
What do you do to keep stress under control?

Spring Sweaters

Being from Texas, there was definitely never a need for spring sweaters. Summer came in February, almost without fail, bringing temperatures in the 80s that would steadily climb to the 100s by May and stay until October. Now that I'm living in England, though, I get it. Although the weather has been improving, and occasionally climbing to the low 60s, it's still been cold enough for me to bring out my winter coat on several occasions. On the other hand, the dark colours of my winter wardrobe are starting to feel quite tired, and all I want to do is stock up on fun knits in pastel colours to wear until summer sets in (probably months from now). These lovely jumpers from Zara would do me very well, I think.
Where do you get your favourite spring sweaters?

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Creamy Cauliflower and Spinach Risotto

It's been a (long!) while since I posted a recipe. In large part, that's because I'm living in college during my masters, and so my friends and I often just go to the hall to eat dinner at the end of the day. It's kind of nice when someone else does all of the prep work, cooking, and cleaning for you, and all you have to do is sit down and eat. On the other hand, I'm unfortunately rather picky, and so I get tired of institutional food fairly quickly. Sometimes I just need to throw something together for myself, and this week was one of those times, especially after having been away for a few days, which meant that I had to eat out no matter what.
Of course, studying and researching all day doesn't leave me with too much time to put together a leisurely dinner, and I suspect that no matter what you do, you're probably in the same boat. This recipe involves minimal clean-up and doesn't take too long to put together, plus it's delicious, which is exactly what I needed. Add a salad and some bread, and this dish is the perfect weeknight meal.

Creamy Cauliflower and Spinach Risotto
serves 5-7

1 package risotto
1 head cauliflower
Olive oil
1 shallot (or small yellow onion is a fine substitute)
3 cloves garlic
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 cup cream
1 package spinach leaves
Grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese, to taste

Heat the oven to 375 deg. F. Cut the cauliflower into small florets, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and lay on a lined baking sheet. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until browning. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan on medium-high heat, warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Chop the shallot and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then dice the garlic and add to the pan. After an additional 2 or 3 minutes, add the risotto and additional olive oil if required. After two minutes, add water or broth to the pot according to package directions. Once the liquid has evaporated, reduce the heat under the saucepan to low and add the cream, plus a pinch of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Give the mixture a turn, then add the spinach, and let the mixture cook until the spinach has wilted. Incorporate the roasted cauliflower, and top with grated hard cheese, to taste.
If you'd like, I think that sautéed chicken would be a good addition to the risotto. Simply add cooked chicken when incorporating the cauliflower.
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