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BC Food & Culture Writing

Month

March 2017

Happy Tuesday

I have one class on Tuesdays. This week, my professor was out of town, so my roommate Mike and I had ourselves a little food adventure.

Our first stop was Union Square Donuts. I love donuts of all kinds, and after hearing rave reviews from Emily, I decided we needed to go. I needed good donuts, and I needed them ASAP. So we trekked over to Somerville, a healthy journey that we hoped would build an appetite and pre-burn some calories so that we could replace them with donut goodness.

I was surprised at how low-key it was for such being such a prominent figure in the Boston baking canon. The sign is easy to miss, all light, pastel colors. It was modest from the outside, tucked in between unassuming and forgettable stores on the same street. Walking in, though, we found ourselves in a well-composed space, small but inviting. Lots of wood grains and endearing memorabilia. You could probably call it hipster (but not in a bad way).

You could see the donut racks filled with sheet tray behind the counter. No attempt at glorifying their storage. Instead, there was a display case upfront where martyr donuts modeled themselves for close-up viewing. Everything looked like something I’d endure severe gastrointestinal pain to eat.

We got three donuts: Maple Bacon, Blackberry Basil Lime, and Orange Cardamom Poppy. Along with a small cold-brew iced coffee, it was $13. Each donut ranges from three to four dollars, but they’re easily three or four times better than a one you’d get for 99 cents.

I have to confess something now: by the time it occurred to me to take pictures for your viewing pleasure, we had devoured all the donuts. Their website (unionsquaredonuts.com) does justice to how they look, I contend. I am sorry for this.

All three donuts seemed to be of a brioche-like dough. Rather than the solid crust you might see on normal donuts, the outsides of these donuts were a deep Maillard brown, soft and flecked with buttery bubble freckles. The maple bacon (check out the website) did what you’d think it would do: a 2:1 balance of sweet to salty with what appeared to be really high quality bacon with proper saltiness and enough give not to fall off with every bite. The orange cardamom poppy was much more subtle, like a classier, gentler version of that orange frosting you’d find on Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Only the frosting was still white, and you could see the real orange zest suspended in the sugar white.

But the real surprise was the blackberry basil lime. Somehow, the donut was refreshing. A bright magenta hue, the frosting released each of the three flavors in staggering order. First, you get the blackberry, then you get strong basil, then you get the acidity of the lime. Chewing them, you get them to come together in your mouth. Try it if you’re there.

After Union Square Donuts, we walked to Dave’s Fresh Pasta. The sign for this place is a practice in irony. For such a well-established, serious place, the sign is bright red with white comic sans (!) letters.

But go inside, and every nook and cranny is filled with something neat or Italian or both. Refrigerators full of pre-made pastas and sauces, baskets full of olive oil and bread, shelves full of small-batch hot sauces. There are only two tables and a stool seating area crammed behind a few of the fridges. Mike tells me that our coming to this place is the fruit of years of his older brother’s Boston/Cambridge/Somerville exploration. It doesn’t get any better than this, he says. It’s all downhill from here.

I ordered a Beef and Boursin sandwich on Pane Rustica. I have a picture of this one, luckily.

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The Pane Rustica had a significant crunch but didn’t, importantly, cut the roof of my mouth, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. The shaved flank steak was juicy and warm. The caramelized onions were soft and gentle, the greens were tender but retained a slight crunch and contained hints of garlic. But the star was the Boursin, which doubled as cheese and sauce, oozing out with each bite. I had to wipe my face with a napkin after every one. I decided that, despite my hunger, it would be more worth it to save a half for later just so I could experience it again.

Reheated in the oven, it was just as good, giving me a taste of the adventure even after I came home.

-Nikhil

 

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Timehopping

Each morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do after shutting off my alarm is open Timehop. I spend up to five minutes scrolling through the photos just from one year ago, which detail my trip abroad to Europe. The app whisks me through thousands of memories of places, monuments, friends, and food. I always hover a little too long over the pictures I took of my food in various countries, causing my morning stomach to growl with every perusal. It’s almost time for my favorite dish that I ate outside of Italy to pop up on my app. I can’t remember for the life of me what this dish is called because I can’t speak German, but the picture I took of it stands as the most vibrant arrangement of food I have ever photographed. Not only does the dish look incredibly beautiful, but it also has a story behind it.

I set out for the day with my relatives who live in Shöckingen, a tiny village outside of Stuttgart where everyone knows each other and the church’s bell can be heard in every corner. My cousins planned out my entire week of spring break with fun activities and tourist sights for us to visit. Since they knew of my interest in nature, they thoughtfully took me to a forest with several parks. I remember how awed I was when they said, “Wait til you see the restaurant.” Restaurant?? What restaurant? “There’s a restaurant in the forest?” I asked quizzically. “Yeah, you have to walk through the trails to find it. It’s hidden.” The mystery of this place grabbed me and I found myself unceasingly thinking about it as we walked along fallen tree trunks and watched my cousin ride her scooter over the bumpy dirt path. (That’s my cousin with the giant stick, she’s an adventurous bilingual German four-year-old)

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After about 45 minutes of walking, I could see the trees thinning out ahead. The path widened to a lodge-like building overlooking a stream. We circled the building and entered into a door that led us down into a basement – the kitchen. I couldn’t understand the menu so I told my cousin I would order the same thing that he chose.

We squeezed up a spiral staircase where even I almost managed to bump my head. The room above us opened up into a dining hall with sturdy, thick wooden tables and mismatched chairs. Light poured in from the wide windows, dappling the floor and tables through the leaves of trees outside. My cousin brought up the food and this beautiful arrangement of colors and tastes sat before me.

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I was amazed at how all of these flavors worked together; the potato and cucumber subdued the brightness of the red peppers and cole slaw. The egg yolks drenched the potatoes and served as a dressing for the salad hidden beneath the rainbow of vegetables. The illumination of forest light brought out the colors even more. Though it was filled with ordinary ingredients like vegetables and potatoes, this plate was special. It was served in the middle of nature, which made it taste even more fresh. It was something we walked for, something we worked for to reach the secret restaurant hidden in the forest. Even though I haven’t reached the anniversary of my meeting with this dish (April 2) I can still remember it as though it is right in front of me, causing my mouth to water, without the help of Timehop.

Alyssa Marques

Why I Love Guy Fieri

Coming to college, this is my first time actually living in the US. I have cousins that live in Virginia that are half white. Throughout my childhood I have visited the US multiple times. I have a dual citizenship in South Korea and the United States. My English is way better than my Korean, I think in English, I am more accustomed to American culture. Yet, I am not American.

When I travel to Japan I want sushi, soba, tonkatsu, and ramen. When I travel to Italy I want pasta, pizza, osso buco, and a good cappuccino. When I used to travel to the US I wanted Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Popeye’s.

My favorite show of all time is Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. This is the show that got me into food. My sister and I would watch DDD after school, commenting on how ridiculously big the portions are, or how fattening some of the food would be. Guy reminds me of childhood, of simple times and simple pleasures.

I still strive to be like Guy with his frosted tips, goatee, and his Oakley sunglasses. Guy has taught me that it is okay to be yourself and be truly proud of yourself, even if yourself defies conventional norms. I want to spend time traveling the world and experiencing the best local eateries. Most of all, I hope that one day I can experience the Flavortown that Guy is always going on about.

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Thanks, Guy.

-Suzy Kim

You Got A Pizza My Heart

This part of the semester always plays the toughest tool on me emotionally. I haven’t been home since January, and so a little bit of homesickness starts churning inside me. I miss my parents, my friends, my dog, my grandma, my bed. But what I miss most, perhaps, is my family’s homemade pizza.

Five years ago, my family built a brick pizza in our backyard, to mimic the ones used by my family in Italy. We named it “Zio’s Pizzeria,” after my father’s uncle who acted as a father figure to him when he was younger and taught him everything he knows about cooking pizza. Almost every weekend in the summer, you can find my family in the backyard, covered in ash as if we just emerged from a coal mine, tossing dough in the air and putting toppings on the personal pizzas that take only three minutes to cook in the 600 degree pizza oven.

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A few of our homemade pizzas, right out of the oven

This isn’t the easiest process in the world, but for this pizza, it is so worth it. The day starts early in the afternoon, when the fire in the oven needs to be started and tended to for several hours. It’s always a good day when you finish this part of the process without any burns on your arms. After several hours, the oven is heated and ready to be used. My mother lays out a plethora of pizza toppings on the table, including various cheeses, sausage, onions, olive oil, pepperoni, tomatoes, prosciutto, homemade sauce, peppers, arugula, and even figs. The list goes on! I am always in charge of rolling the dough. Often we buy dough from a local pizzeria to save time, but on special occasions, we pull out the recipe passed down from my father’s Zio, the namesake of our pizza oven. I roll out each dough ball, tossing them in the air a few times to both thin the dough as much as possible and to just show off. Then each person in attendance gets to apply their creativity and make their own personal pizza with whatever toppings they choose. My personal favorite combination is a white pizza with prosciutto, taleggio, arugula, and fig. Finally, each pizza is sent into the oven for about three minutes until the crust is browned to perfection and its bottom side is spotted as if it were a cheetah’s fur coat. Then, you get to taste the pizza that I crave every semester when I am away at school. My favorite pizza in the world. The pizza from Zio’s Pizzeria.

MARIA BATTAGLIA

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My dad and I in our customized Zio’s Pizzeria aprons. His reads, “Executive Chef” and mine reads, “Sous Chef” 

 

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My dad making bread in the pizza oven for Thanksgiving

Luck of the Irish

Lucky for us Eoin brought in some delicious brown bread for us last week, which triggered a whole new set of memories in my mind. My freshman year in high school I was fortunate enough to travel to Ireland with my school wind ensemble. The first morning we were there we were served the traditional Irish breakfast complete with brown bread. It was love at first bite. For WEEKS I tried to bake, buy and find the same taste in brown breads, but was never satisfied. I gave up my search almost immediately because I was disheartened by my attempts and lack of cloning abilities. This was the first time I felt like I was transported back in time to that first breakfast in Europe. Proof food is a source of great memories!

What I did over Spring Break

So whether you were tanning your hide in Punta  Cana or putting a new roof on an orphanage in Rwanda, rest assured that BC Dining services were hard at work at an intensive two-day boot camp up at Mac working on some new and innovative menu items to temp the tired taste buds of all you weary travellers. With the help of the New England Humane Society a group of cooks from all units came together under the guidance of Chef Wanda White and produced some interesting and tasty meat free dishes.

Eóin Finn.

Doughnuts in the Spring

I like being different. But in this case, after finding the highway to the national park blocked by ten feet of snow, I wished I had gone to Cancun for spring break like the rest of the senior class. Oh well. At least it made for a good picture.

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“We have a four-wheel drive, don’t we?”

Instead of traipsing across the national parks of Oregon, we settled for the pot-happy hipster city of Portland. Our Land Cruiser threaded through multicolored mazes of pastel-painted Volkswagen buses, stained lean-tos and homemade kiosks. The majority seemed to sell some variant of ganja, weed, or happy plant. We observed two sedans at a four-way intersection cede the right of way to each other for a full minute before one wandered through, leaving a lazy trail of dank haze. Welcome to Portland.

Don’t get me wrong. We found that in addition to “Over 100 Varieties of Smooth Elevation Sold Here,” Portland offers a veritable cornucopia of excellent foods, utilizing fresh seafood from the Pacific Northwest in combination with the loads of crisp vegetables from California. But in a hipster city, one eats hipster foods, like organic custom-roast bark coffee, or sesame sauerkraut or doughnuts. But not just any doughnuts. Voodoo doughnuts. The darlings of social media, snapchat filters and Instagram galleries, Voodoo doughnuts are the current “it” thing for cool travelers and hip locals to acquire as a guest star on their Facebook walls. We joined a winding queue of smartly-dressed young professionals, glittery divas, and grizzled loggers outside the doughnut shop. The bearded Portland native in front of us, who’d clearly seen too many doughnuts in his day, introduced us to the best locations for beer and bar food. He told us about how the recent legalization of weed in Oregon resulted in a boost in tax revenue fourteen times the size promised by the pro-marijuana lobby during the push for legalization. The longhaired duo behind us in the line told us stories of their experiences smuggling, “exquisite Oregon product,” through the TSA to their friends in Florida. At the end of a very educational and entertaining half-hour, we finally penetrated the doughnut mecca of Voodoo and received our just rewards. A chocolate doughnut fashioned into a witch doll and decorated like a gingerbread man. Turns out, taking the requisite picture of the doughnut was more enjoyable than eating it. The plain doughnut bread sucked the saliva from my tongue and caught in my throat as I struggled to swallow. The Star Market quality chocolate syrup was polluted with grits of plain sugar which numbed my taste buds and made my teeth ache. The swirl made of icing sugar drew a penalty for unnecessary roughness.

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Not fit for human consumption

To be fair, the monumental task of living up to such inflated expectations is practically insurmountable for a place like Voodoo Doughnuts. I just wish a single dessert didn’t make me feel more disgusting than a game of whiskey pong. Despite our experience with Voodoo, we found ourselves walking into the glass-fronted Blue Star Doughnuts. Glossy white walls rose twenty feet into the reflective ceiling. The spartan plastic counter was colored sterile white, topped with smoothly rotating Ipads and a glass display case. Trays of doughnuts rested behind the stone-faced cashier on smooth white carts rolling on silent tracks. There was not a single customer in this pale vision of a mental asylum in the future. My roommate was too put off to eat, opting to scrunch up in the perfect, ninety-degree corner and retreat into his phone as I ordered. The sad-faced cashier was a warden presenting a convict his last meal: a raspberry-buttermilk doughnut on a featherweight white disc. The dessert itself was a plain round doughnut, topped with a slathering of regular red frosting. However, the first bite proved this was no 99-cent Dunkin product. The dough was a dense, moist mass of warm, fragrant sourdough with a crispy toasted skin. The raspberry topping was lighter than spring mint, with a lemony undercurrent and a slightly spicy bite. I even smiled at the cashier. He gave me a mournful look. Maybe it’s him who’s on death row.

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Raspberry Buttermilk; Orange Creme Brulee 

Two stores, two doughnuts, two different experiences. Voodoo gave me a toothache while Blue Star made me remember why doughnuts are so good. However, I was able to talk to some interesting people on the line at Voodoo. Really, not the worst deal in weed-town.

 

 

Dream Cycles

Do you ever find yourself trying to accomplish a simple task, or even a more difficult one that requires concentration, but you just can’t get it done because all you can think about are French fries? The wave of desire hits me and keeps washing over me and suddenly I’m spiraling and salivating as a mirage of a bountiful plate of golden-brown, crispy, salted fries materializes in the center of my vision. I’m lost and dreaming.

This inconvenience happens to me at least once a week. For three and a half years, I had easy access to a cure. Within the distance of delivery (on lazy Sunday mornings) or the school shuttle (when I didn’t want to pay for delivery) was the palace that fulfilled my dreams: The Real Deal. Its outer red crown moldings around its wide-open front windows framed this sturdy, reliable sandwich and burger joint and silently promised to me that it would be there for me to lean on. It was my companion when friends from home visited me at school, when I was in dire need of greasy, carb-heavy hangover food, or when my concentration was stolen away by illusions of my favorite order of fries with three different sauces called The Big Dipper. Ordered alongside the seasonal Grown-Up Grilled cheese, a dripping BBQ brisket flanked by smoked gouda, onions, and melt-in-your-mouth Italian bread, The Big Dipper satisfied my cravings and lasted for three consecutive meals.

In January I returned to Chestnut Hill for my final months of college. Upon my first trip of the semester to Cleveland Circle, my heart dropped. The Real Deal’s unyielding red crown moldings framed an empty shell. “They closed it, you didn’t know?” my roommate told me. I didn’t know what to say. The cold January breeze reddened my cheeks and whipped at my hair as I gazed up at the towering hollow front windows. Closed. With the gray cloudy sky looming above me, it felt like a funeral scene from a movie.

I thought about finding another place to dream about. The closest place that I could fathom was an hour’s drive away – Newport Creamery in my hometown of Cranston, RI, with its crisp seasoned fries that I marry to my whipped cream as I dunk them one by one into my ice cream sundae. I can no longer stargaze at The Big Dipper, but when I depart Chestnut Hill for Cranston after graduation, I’ll find myself envisioning ivory green-striped plates crowded with scalding honey-gold fries and ice cream bared in cups like worn silver tulips.

There I go, dreaming again.

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What the Pho

The past few days I have completely lost my appetite. It’s been quite awful. I have been subsisting on Canada Dry and Powerade for longer than is probably healthy. I don’t know why, but every time I think about food I get more nauseous than I already am. Honest to God there is only one thing I could even fathom keeping down right now: chicken pho.

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, onions, herbs and some sort of meat, typically beef or chicken. It’s a popular street food in Vietnam, and was taken international and popularized throughout the world by refugees after the Vietnam War. Pho has definitely become a trendy dish over the last two decades in the United States. At home in LA, I can easily find tons of different Vietnamese restaurants serving pho – each one with its own unique pun serving as its name. There’s “9021Pho” (in Beverly Hills of course), “Pho Show,” “Phorage,” “Good Pho You”…the list goes on. The difference in restaurants does mean a difference in taste – each prepares its pho differently, and you can tell. Somewhere the broth is sweeter, somewhere else the noodles are softer.

Pho has become a staple in my diet, and if I go too long without having it I start craving it like nothing else. It’s so seemingly simple but so delicious. I love the way it’s customizable too – I like to douse mine in Sriracha, hoisin sauce and lime, eating the fresh bean sprouts on the side instead of mixing them in. I have been to one place in Allston that serves good pho: it’s called Lê’s (located directly across the street from White Horse). There’s nothing better than popping over there with a few friends for a quick, hot bowl of soup and Vietnamese iced coffee. Here’s hoping I quell my flu-like symptoms with some pho soon!

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