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Monday, November 07, 2016

Leaving home for the first time - an Erasmus diary

Leaving home is a hard thing to do, but for most University students, it is part of their course through the Erasmus programme and is unavoidable. 
Some take it on as close to home as possible and go to the UK, coming home most weekends, while others use the opportunity to go somewhere unlikely and experience a completely different culture. 
I was one of the latter and I went to Norway on Erasmus, while in the University of Limerick.

Starting this month, the Quinn's Quandries blog will play host to an Erasmus diary by Cork girl Áine Curtin. This is the first entry just before she got ready to leave. 
I have enjoyed reading her work and following her on her travels, so I hope you will too.

Áine Curtin who will be writing an Erasmus diary for Quinn's Quandries.
Leaving home for the first time
I suppose the first thing I need to do is introduce myself, my name is Áine Curtin and I am going to Ghent, Belgium on Erasmus until Christmas as part of my New Media and English course in the University of Limerick.
I am a third year student and this is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in the quest to earn my degree.
I have enjoyed a summer at home in Rockchapel, North Cork, doing next to nothing and taking things easy, watching an obscene amount of TV and YouTube.
Thankfully, I am not taking on this Belgian terrain all on my lonesome, I am being joined by three of my closest friends from college, Eilís, Maoilíosa and Roisin, so I’m hoping that the dreaded homesickness I’ve heard so much about will not strike too often.
Despite the recent terror scares in Belgium, a topic I spoke about on air on Live95FM, while doing my work experience, I am not reluctant to travel to that part of Europe.
While the attacks were unthinkable and deplorable in every way, I feel that you cannot let terror rule your world and I will not let it stop me from pursuing a dream to study abroad, see what the world has to offer and living my life to the full.

The lead up to leaving my cosy bedroom and the wonders of familiarity
I have been going crazy with worry the last few days trying to organise everything, planning what I will and won’t bring with me.
I have a serious problem with limiting myself with luggage (I have been known to bring seven bags to the Gaeltacht), so I plan on utilising whatever packing hacks I can find online and no doubt, emergency supplies will be brought over with family visitors or maybe even sent with a care package of home comforts (hint hint).
We have a lot of communication going on between the group members travelling and it can be a bit daunting, but the positives most certainly outweigh the negatives and it means that I am up-to-date with what has to be done and for when.
There is a crazy amount of paperwork to fill in and things to remember, for example, when going on Erasmus you still have to register with and pay fees to your own college.
I am a terrible person for leaving things to the last minute, I won’t be surprised if there is some emergency in the process of getting settled in my new home, so you can look forward to some stories of pure stupidity.
The one thing I am most worried about (aside from losing my passport) is the homesickness.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a serious home bird, I have spent the summer at home and have absolutely LOVED it!
I know it will be tough at times, but thankfully we live in a world of social media, where it takes minimal effort to keep in contact with home. Dad has already expressed his desire to learn how to use Skype! That learning process in itself could merit an entire entry in this blog, so we shall wait and see.
If I am honest, it has only hit me today that I am going to be in another country until Christmas, I am extremely excited for the weekend of travelling, which lies ahead. 
One of the reasons we chose Belgium was because of the opportunity to travel to the likes of France, Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands. We have plans to travel as much as our pockets and schedules allow. So more of that to follow!
Overall, I am equally excited and nervous about this, and hopefully I can keep you entertained with my many tales from Belgium.
Tot ziens!! (That means ‘see you later’ in Dutch)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

'Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted' - a tasty recipe for those pumpkins

'Pumpkin Soup' by Helen Cooper. Picture credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
This time of year, shops and supermarkets have piles and piles of pumpkins lying around, on special offer and almost everyone tempted by a bargain is looking for a way to use these wonderfully orange and tempting looking pumpkins. 

In this article, food blogger Caroline Hennessy gives us a delicious recipe for those pumpkins and also a fun story about Halloween, the joy of eating pumpkins and how there is much more to a pumpkin than a carved scary face. 

'Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted'

"Deep in the woods there's an old white cabin
with pumpkins in the garden"
There's a suitably sinister start to Helen Cooper's superb picture book 'Pumpkin Soup' that's perfect for this time of year. Even though the five-year-old Small Girl and Little Missy, now seven, have graduated onto the more sophisticated scares of Roald Dahl's 'The BFG' and 'Matilda', there's something about Halloween that has them scrabbling through the bookshelves for this old favourite.

Frights aside, the worst thing you'll be left with after reading 'Pumpkin Soup' is a rumbling tummy from Cooper's evocative descriptions of the nightly supper enjoyed by the bag-piping cat, banjo-playing squirrel and small singing duck. They are friends who live together, make music together and cook pumpkin soup together. 

Each of them has a defined job:
"Made by the cat who slices up the pumpkin.
Made by the squirrel who stirs in the water.
Made by the duck who scoops up a pipkin of salt, and tips in just enough."

But one day, duck decides he wants to stir the soup. It all goes horribly wrong and he storms off in a huff, although not forgetting to bring along a pumpkin in a wheelbarrow. 

'Pumpkin Soup' might be about sharing and squabbling and making up, but it's the descriptions of the soup that get me every time.

"Pumpkin Soup.
The best you ever tasted."

How could anyone resist a siren call like that? When we see the first pumpkin of the year, it's dragged home to be – firstly – admired by the girls, then butchered, roasted and blended to make a cauldron of a gently spiced pumpkin soup.

Irish grown Halloween pumpkins. Picture credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
We've tried this with the monster orange pumpkins that are piled high in a threatening manner this time of year, but they are bred for looks and jack o'lanterns, rather than for flavour.

If you do manage to get your hands on a handsome grey crown pumpkin – the kind of one that looks fit to bring Cinderella to a ball – it works beautifully, but otherwise go for any pumpkin marked edible. Or even – whisper it – use butternut squash (just don't tell the kids).

But don't despair; not all of that king-sized pumpkin will go to waste.

When the children disembowel their jack o'lantern pumpkin, make sure they don't throw away the guts.

The joys of scooping out the pumpkin and getting it ready for carving. Photo credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
Get them to wash the fibrous strings off the seeds, toss with olive oil and chosen seasonings – salt is obligatory and smoked paprika works well, as does cinnamon – and roast in the oven (180C, 10 minutes) while the edible pumpkin cooks. They're the kind of pre-dinner snack that you'll have to stop yourself from eating and the smallies will be charmed that their pumpkin has more to it than just a pretty scary face.  

Pumpkin Soup
Roast pumpkin gives this soup a great depth of flavour. Feel free to use leftovers or to pop the pumpkin into a hot oven when other baking is going on. Vegan? Use vegetable stock instead of chicken and abandon the finishing yoghurt. Serves 4.

What you will need
1kg pumpkin, deseeded and cut into wedges.
2 tablespoons olive oil.
1 onion, roughly chopped.
3 cloves garlic, sliced.
1 teaspoon turmeric.
2 teaspoons ground cumin.
2 teaspoons ground coriander.
2 teaspoons garam masala.
1kg roasted pumpkin.
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock.
125g red split lentils.
1 x 400g tin coconut milk.
1 lime.
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper.
Natural yoghurt to serve.

·         Preheat the oven to 180C. Brush the pumpkin wedges with 1 tablespoon of oil and spread out on a  baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper then roast for 40 minutes or until tender.
·         Heat the other tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan and, over a medium heat, fry the onion and garlic for 8-10 minutes until soft and sweet. Add the spices to the pan and stir, cooking for a minute, until the mixture smells fragrant.
·         Scoop the roasted pumpkin from its skin and tip it into the saucepan, along with the chicken stock, red lentils and coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked.
·         Purée with a hand-held blender or use a potato masher for a more textured soup.

·         Season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper. Serve with dollops of natural yoghurt and lots of hot buttered toast or naan breads for dipping.