College: The Do Over

I’m just about rounding out my 3rd year of University. Luke’s finishing his 4th and final. And reading this article has brought to light many of the things that I think about my university experience.

I’m going to start out by saying that I lived at home during university. I lived a 30 minute bus, a 45 minute train, and a 30 minute walk from campus. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time traveling. I love a lot of things about living at home: it’s free (I’m a saver!), I don’t have to worry about bills or grocery shopping, and I can focus on my schoolwork without distractions from other people.

With that being said, I feel like I missed out on a lot. I never went to the bar, never went clubbing, I never lived downtown, and I spent like 3 hours a day traveling, meaning that I really don’t want to stick around after my class that finishes at 6.

I know that some people live at home and still do these things. I guess I just have different priorities. I work 2 jobs, meaning I work every weekend, all weekend, as well as a few evenings a week. I have 15-20 hours of class a week (and I go to every one) not to mention assignments and group projects (which, unfortunately, my program favors). And I need to make time to spend with my family and friends.

So yeah, sometimes I wish I could’ve had a College Do Over. There are definitely things I would’ve changed. I would’ve come from a wealthy family, allowing me to live downtown on campus (at $1000 a month) and not need to work. But then, I wouldn’t have saved as much as I have, allowing me to move to another country. I would’ve spent all my time with my friends, but I would’ve lost my scholarship and Deans List accreditation. So really, in the end, there’s not much I could’ve changed.

It’s one of those things that you see in the movies; “the college experience”. I would say that I had a very different experience, but I love it all the same. I value hardwork, and yeah, would I like it sometimes if I could just switch off and act like everyone else? I’ve had my moments. But at the end of the day, I like having a busy, hardworking life. Because, 10 years down the line, I can look back on my university years and see that I’ve made a few really good friends, learned a lot about responsibility, and am prepared for my life running my own business.

This post outlines a lot of really great tips that I have followed throughout my university career. But I just have to add one thing: do exactly what you want to do, and not just what everyone else is doing. Everybody’s university experience is different, but as long as you do exactly what works for you, you’ll look back and have no regrets.

My university experience may not be picture perfect, but it’s made me who I am, and I have to say, I like me.

My Traveling Style

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I’m a planner. Always have been, always will be. I make lists, plans, charts, and organize everything to an (almost) OCD level. It’s how I keep my brain sorted, and how I make sure that I get everything done.

I’m no different when I plan for traveling. I have a journal in which I write all my travel details, a ‘Travel To Do List’ on the fridge, and print all my booking confirmations, boarding passes, maps, and receipts, keeping them sorted in my ‘travel’ folder. I always highlight the important details on these (often crowded) pages, such as check-in times, confirmation numbers, and any requirements we must fulfill before checking in (ie. confirm your booking 24 hours ahead of time). Also, just because I love it, I make calendars to map out my travel months (as well as putting it in my planner), and color code everything. Everything. My highlighters and colored pens are by best friends. Yes, I am indeed a loser. But I love being organized more than I really give a shit.

I also do my best to look up the top places we’d like to go, in our various destinations. For example, we’re going to London in a few weekends, and have made a plan for our days. There are a million and a half things to do in London, so we plan out each day to make the most of our time there. In order to make our time there as simple as possible (and to leave as much time as possible for actually doing fun stuff, we book as much as humanly possible online ahead of time. Things like admission tickets, train and bus tickets, and registering for events can often be done ahead of time, at a usually discounted price. In order to decide what we want to do, we look at a ton of reviews online. But, more important than reviews (everyone has a different opinion!) is the idea that we need to do what we really want to do. We just think to ourselves, “where are the places that we would regret not going?” There are so many options we have in this world, that you need to pick what is right for you. I, personally, love museums and history, so I could spend days and days inside these amazing places, while others may love tasting as many foods as they can, or going to the major touristy attractions. But, one thing that I always try to do (which can be hard, when you’ve planned everything so meticulously) is to go off book. Did I really just say that? If your plan for the day was to go to Destination A, but on the way, you spot a lovely little farmers market, unlike anything you have at home, don’t be afraid to stop. Check it out. Sometimes off book can give you the best memories.

 

A couple days before I leave, I check that I didn’t miss any confirmations or check-ins, then I make my packing lists. I make one to check off when leaving, and one to bring with me to make sure I haven’t left anything behind. There’s one of my secrets, by the way, lists. I have about 200 lists. Lists for stuff to pack, places to go, expenses paid and outstanding, and things to bring back.

So that’s my pre-travel planning routine. When I travel, I bring my handy dandy ‘travel’ folder (this year it’s hot pink!) whenever we go on our way. There is absolutely nothing worse than showing up somewhere and realizing you left your confirmation at home. Then, while we’re away (having an awesome time) I take as many pictures as possible. I take pictures of signs, of people, of places, of things I’ve never seen before. I take pictures of our food, of our favourite restaurants and cafés, and of our daily adventures. Along with my pictures, I collect things. Business cards, menus, tickets, booking slips, and anything else that was important to our time away. Then, when we get back home, I make pages in our travel journal and paste all these things in. There’s nothing nicer than looking back, years down the line, and seeing the original plane tickets you used for your adventures, and knowing how to find that one cafe that you both loved in Paris.

Planning for travel can be daunting. You have to book accommodation (and read a million reviews to find the perfect place), book flights, book transfers from airports into city centers, figure out how you’re going to get around once you get there, and plan your attractions. I conquer this daunting task by being as organized as possible and having it all planned out. So when there’s a bump in your travels, you see it as an adventure.

RECIPE: Macaroni and Cheese

I love ketchup on my macaroni and cheese. Who doesn't!?

I love ketchup on my macaroni and cheese. Who doesn’t!?

This recipe for macaroni and cheese is unlike any other I’ve ever tried. It is delicious, and it just the right amount of cheesy. We found this delicious aged Welsh cheddar on sale at Marks & Spencer, but unfortunately it was only a promotional product, so we’ve had to go back to regular cheddar. If you can use an aged cheese, you will not be disappointed. But have no fear, it is still absolutely delectable with regular cheddar.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz macaroni
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Method:

Cook and drain your macaroni as per package directions, then set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt your butter. In a separate bowl, combine the salt and pepper with the flour. Slowly add dry mixture into butter and whisk constantly (making a rue) until blended.

Pour milk in gradually, stirring constantly. Stir until well incorporated.

Bring to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Reduce heat and cook for an additional 10 minutes. The sauce should thicken, but you need to keep stirring! Switch hands if you want to avoid the Popeye look.

Add shredded cheese little by little and simmer until the cheese melts.

Pour sauce over macaroni and stir together until coated.

Optional: Bake your macaroni and cheese in a 400°F oven, for about 20 to 30 minutes to crispen up the top layer of cheese. You can also grate additional cheese on top to make a crust of cheesy goodness.

Source: We found this recipe on Food.com a few weeks ago and have never looked back. I opt not to bake it, as I am usually too impatient.

RECIPE: Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd's pie - baked

This is the best shepherd’s pie. Yeah, yeah, everyone’s is the ‘best’, but just give it a try, all right? Good.

Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:

  • Mashed potatoes (however you do them best!)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground beef (or lamb)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • beef stock pot
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas and corn (each)
  • Oregano
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup

Method:

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and simmer just until it takes on colour (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add garlic and stir to combine.

Add meat and seasonings, and cook until cooked through (no longer pink).

Sprinkle meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.

Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and beef stock pot. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for about 10 to 12 minutes (until sauce thickens slightly).

Add corn and peas, then spread into baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes (and a little bit of paprika, if that’s your thing) and bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the potatoes begin to brown.

Source: We took Alton Brown’s recipe and adapted it to include the flavours we enjoy (ketchup and oregano were not in the original recipe).

RECIPE: Sweet BBQ Pork Chops

We had ours with broccoli, cooked carrots, and sweet potato fries. Yum!

We had ours with broccoli, cooked carrots, and sweet potato fries. Yum!

I love pork. Apparently it isn’t usually people’s favourite meat, but I have to say, I could eat it everyday. Pork and chicken. Mmmmm…with mashed potatoes…with any potatoes…with anything… Sorry. Sweet BBQ Pork Chops. Right. I love this sauce recipe. It’s really easy to whip up, and it’s really impressive. You could really use it for other meats as well, or for other cuts of pork. It’s just that good.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 – 8 boneless pork chops
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce (pick your favourite!)
  • 1/4 cup French salad dressing
  • A couple Tbsp honey

Method:

In a large skillet, heat your oil. Brown the pork chops for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. You will probably need to do this in batches, unless you have some astronomical skillet.

Mix remaining ingredients and pour over chops. Bring to a light boil. Reduce heat, then simmer, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes.

Let stand for about 5 minutes before serving (to let the sauce get all up in the pork).

RECIPE: Mashed Potatoes with Leeks

We love Niagara-on-the-Lake (in Ontario). It’s the place that we choose to go to spend a weekend away. It’s close enough to where we live that it’s only a few hours’ drive, and is like another world. Our favourite place to eat is most definitely the Irish Harp Pub. It has the most amazing food, it has a great atmosphere (especially if you score the seat next to the wood-burning fireplace in the wintertime), and the specials they offer are nothing short of amazing. We’ve grabbed some amazing dishes for prices you wouldn’t get anywhere else…but the kicker is…IT’S SO GOOD.

Last Christmas, we made the trip down on our school holidays. We went to the pub for dinner, and had Bangers & Champ. Have you ever had champ? If not, you’re missing out, and if so, you know what I’m talking about. It is an absolutely spot-on variation on my life-long favourite, the mashed potato. We looked to see if we could find a similar thing to have at our flat, and here it is (Luke’s own concoction!). We usually pair it with bangers (pork sausages) and sautéed onions, or Luke’s roast chicken with the veg of your choice (we love our garlic Brussels sprouts).

Mashed Potatoes with Leeks

Bangers, sautéed onions, baked beans and these delicious potatoes.

Bangers, sautéed onions, baked beans and these delicious potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • Mashed potatoes (however you like ’em)
  • leek, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • About 1 Tbsp herb & garlic cream cheese

Method:

Essentially, all you need to do is to add leeks to your favourite mashed potato recipe, to get something entirely different!

In order to get the perfect results, cook your potatoes, but don’t add any of your mixins (butter, milk, salt, etc.), and don’t mash them quite yet.

Cook your leeks (just the middle bit, not the white stump or the dark green leaves) in a frying pan with a little olive oil until translucent and soft.

Mash together cooked potatoes, butter, salt and milk (and whatever else you usually add to your mashed potatoes), with the cream cheese and leeks.

Enjoy!

Our trip to North Berwick

North Berwick!

North Berwick!

North Berwick is a cute little coastal town about 45 minutes out of Edinburgh. We came here to do a Treasure Trail and had a lovely day. The one for North Berwick is a Murder Mystery Trail with a very confusing first couple of clues. The weather held out for us, though we had difficulty following directions. I am famous in Scotland for not being the best (a.k.a. being the worst) person to have the directions. A few summers ago, driving around Bergerac in France, we made a 2 hour trip out of a 30 minute drive…oops! So, needless to say, I couldn’t keep it together. You know when you print off a couple pages, but select the ‘booklet’ option to save paper? And then, you know how you lose track of which pages are in which order? And then proceed to skip whole pages of clues on the trail, leaving us unable to decipher the next clue? Well…I do. Even so, it was a day to remember. We stopped in the Sea Bird Sanctuary Cafe and got cups of tea and coffee. Lovely little town!