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The Art of the Tailgate

Last night, at the last real Boston College home football game (because that Thanksgiving game doesn’t count), with a hot dog in one hand and buffalo dip in the other, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad at the fact that I would have to wait another year to do it all over again. Tailgating is nothing short of an art form. There’s the tents, the decor, the ambiance, the music, but most importantly, there’s the food. 

Something about the crisp fall air, the maroon and gold all around, the fireworks coming out of Alumni during kickoff, it’s a feeling you can’t replicate with anything else. And while football is all well and good, for me, the real event is off the field and in the parking lots. The food is what makes my game days. If you are unfamiliar with the joys of tailgating and the art of trying as many foods as possible before kickoff, consider this a guide to your perfect college tailgating experience. 

To start, the tailgate is going to differ depending on the time of day the game is. Morning and night games each come with their own different menus. During the day, when the game starts at noon and you’ve hit the lots by 9am, it can be hard to swallow a hot dog or a burger upon just waking up. But as you walk around, you’ll see parents with tables lined with mimosas, breakfast sandwiches, fruit bowls and baked goods of all kinds. Breakfast items as far as the eye can see. My personal favorites are an egg and cheese on a biscuit or a cheese danish. There’s more than enough to fill up your empty stomach before you stand out in the beating sun for the rest of the afternoon. 

Night games are a different beast entirely. With more dinner items than breakfast, you’ll find seltzers and beers in maroon coolers next to cars. Tables will be decorated with red bandana tablecloths and adorned with hot dog bars (featuring toppings like chili or mac and cheese), buffalo and french onion dip, loaded nachos and cookies and cupcakes piled high on top of one another. There are grills sending smoke wafting into the air, BC flags flying high in the sky, and everyone is ready to eat up and get to the game. 

The buffet style of a tailgate means that you can’t help but try every little thing on the tables. Filling plates and napkins with pregame snacks and treats is one of the greatest weekend traditions. In fact, last night I asked a few of my fellow tailgaters what was their favorite thing to fill up a plate with at a tailgate. One said calzones, an interesting but entirely valid choice. Another said a classic hot dog, an essential you can never go wrong with. One said pigs in a blanket, and another said a big slice of cornbread. It’s clear to see the variety that a tailgate spread can encompass, and how no matter what choice you make, there is no wrong answer. 

There’s a certain energy at a tailgate, one of excitement, positivity, and community. It’s the ability to move along from tent to tent, regardless of if you know someone or not, and have someone extend to you a red solo cup or a chocolate chip cookie. Parents all around, asking you if you’ve had enough to eat, ready to fill your plate with a burger or veggies and hummus. It’s one giant family dinner (or breakfast) and it represents one of the greatest parts of food, the ability it has to bring us together. So no matter what team you’re rooting for, you’ll always have a full plate. 

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Candy Corn Crazy

When I was little, my mom would pour candy corn into various displays around the house every October. Into candle holders, sprinkled into centerpieces, candy corn would find its way scattered across the house for my mother’s Halloween decor. But when my mom would leave the house, whether it was to walk the dog or take the trash out, I would strike. Sticking my little hands into bowls they weren’t supposed to be stuck into, I’d come out with handfuls of candy corn, acting fast enough to grab and run back to my room to eat my snack in safety all before my mom walked back in the front door. Eventually, my mother noticed that her decorations seemed to be thinning out, and she confronted me about my candy corn habits. 

I couldn’t help it, I love candy corn. I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s my favorite Halloween treat. Incredibly polarizing, I’ve found it’s one of the candies that people are pretty passionate about. Whether or not you like the candy will tell you a lot about a person. But regardless of your feelings surrounding candy corn consumption, candy corn is still one of the most popular holiday candies. In fact, it’s the second most popular Halloween candy according to the National Confectioners Association. The only thing it falls behind is chocolate. Something automatically associated with Halloween, it has its own designated day (Oct. 30th, for anyone looking to celebrate), and it comes in a variety of colors and flavors expanding the market beyond the usual spooky season. 

Candy corn’s history wasn’t always linked to the month of October. In fact, when it was first created, it wasn’t called candy corn at all. It was created around the 1880s, when the market for farm-themed candies was at its highest (if you can believe there ever was a time). While never officially confirmed, the inventor of candy corn was George Renninger, who was an employee at the Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia. While they were the first company to start selling the treat, Goelitx, now known as the Jelly Belly Candy Company, popularized it. Marketed as “Chicken Feed,” it was a candy sold at all times of the year, not just Halloween. As a penny candy, it could be bought for cheap, making it easily accessible to the general public. But during the 1950s, as trick or treating began to become commonplace, Halloween started to become more and more connected to candy, and Chicken Feed began to be advertised specifically during this time of the year. As the years went on, Halloween became the perfect holiday to market a product associated with sweets, good times, and children. In the 1970s, candy officially became a Halloween specialty. Over time, this mixture of sugar, fondant, corn syrup, vanilla flavor, and marshmallow creme became synonymous with an increasingly commercialized Halloween tradition. 

For every lover of candy corn, there is an equally passionate hater. Known affectionately as Satan’s earwax or the “shed baby teeth of tiny toddler demons” as one Twitter user put it, it inspires the most creative insults. Yet even among fans, there’s debate. Do you eat the whole kernel? Do you start with the yellow or the white end? Do you like the pumpkins? Every October, these questions work their way back into my mind, and I spend the rest of the month pondering and enjoying my slim amount of socially acceptable time to be eating raw sugar. 

So as the years go on, I’ll keep sticking my hands into the halloween centerpieces made by mothers everywhere, just to grab a little kernel of chicken feed, and I encourage you to do the same.

Cover photo courtesy of Food and Wine

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Caviar Fit For A Cowboy

Known as Cowboy Caviar, Texas Caviar, or Southern Caviar, it’s a dish of many names. The first time I was introduced to it was my senior year of high school. I was sitting in my best friend’s kitchen, New Year’s Eve, home late from a night out. We were four ravenous 18 year olds, craving a midnight snack as a final festivity before we officially called it a night. Her mom came out from the living room and knew exactly what we needed. She opened the fridge and pulled out a big ceramic bowl, filled with what looked to be something like a salsa. She placed the bowl in front of us on the island and went to the pantry to grab a bag of new tortilla chips. Too hungry to question what I was eating, I dug in. Catching a glimpse of the black eyed peas in the mix, I smiled, my superstitious side showing. A timeless tradition, our collective mother for the night had made sure we were starting off our new year with a little luck, courtesy of those tiny beans.

The memory sticks with me. Partially because of how good that salsa concoction was, but mainly because it was the perfect moment. The perfect people with the perfect food, and the perfect flavors. Cowboy caviar has a way of curating those moments, making sure they’re nothing short of magical. 

While I discovered it my senior year, the dish has been around long before that New Years Eve. A salsa and a salad, a dish versatile enough for any meal or occasion, cowboy caviar originated in Texas in the 1940s. There are rumors about where and when it started, some calling it a poor man’s caviar creation, others crediting it to Helen Corbitt, a chef in Austin, Texas, creating the dish when she was told to make something using only Texas ingredients. 

The dish has been a cookout staple for decades. While originating in the South, it quickly became a national sensation. It took awhile, but TikTok finally caught on, making the dish the official snack of the summer. While the base is pretty steady, creators have been finding ways to put their own spin on the meal. Tiktoker Bria Lemirande, the internet’s queen of caviar, has been posting her recipes for others to follow, often throwing in new ingredients and adding additional elements to the traditional recipe. Originally made with black eyed peas, black beans, corn, chopped bell peppers, and onions, dressed with a mixture of olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic, recipes have been popping up with their own flare, adding mango, avocado, or even feta to the mix. The prep is so easy; it’s one of my favorite things to make as a college student struggling to find her way around a kitchen. I’ll eat the mixture with chips, put it in rice or quinoa to make a salad, or simply eat it with a spoon. It’s just that good. 

Even though the internet seems to just now be catching on to cowboy caviar, when asking my mom about it, she mentioned how it was often a signature dish of military spouses, a community I grew up in. Ask my best friend and she’ll say her mom has been making it since she was a little girl deep in the heart of Georgia. Ask my cousin and she’ll tell you her dad makes it for every summer cookout they have in their hometown of New Braunfels, Texas. Now, I bring it to every event and dinner party I have in Boston.

This summer, you’ll find me perfecting my own cowboy caviar recipe. Experimenting with flavors, attempting to add my own flare as wild as the west, and as tasty as the Texas original.

Cover photo courtesy of Craving Home Cooked

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Blue Crabs for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner: A Mid-Atlantic Summer Essential

An Arlington,Virginia staple, the Quarterdeck Restaurant has been in the community since 1979. Known for their Maryland blue crab, it’s the best place in town for seafood. I first tried the restaurant when I moved to Arlington my sophomore year of high school. Situated right in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood, it was right behind the military base I called home for my last three years of high school. I would walk my dog and see the bustling tables and smell the fresh crab whenever they got a new shipment in. Now, five years after my first visit, I’m an employee, working during the summertime rush, the best time to grab a table outside on the patio and eat some crab. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a crab girl. The idea of breaking it apart, dealing with the meat and everything that spilled out of the crustacean, was off-putting. One time during a trip to Cape Cod, I ate a lobster and felt the same queasiness as goop fell onto the plate below me. But there’s something about Quarterdeck that makes the messiness bearable. In fact, it’s part of the charm.

A typical meal at Quarterdeck looks like this: you’ll take a seat at the paper covered tables, and you’ll order your crab by the dozen. The sizes range from regular to jumbo, each one just as tasty as the next. Once you pick your size, in about 45 minutes a server will bring out a steaming hot plate of fresh blue crab, dump it directly on the center of the table, and the rest of the meal is in your hands. With mallets and crackers, you’ll get to snapping and crunching on the creatures in front of you. New to crab? One of the servers will happily give you a tutorial so you’ll be an expert in no time. Summer in Arlington can be just as steamy as the crabs, but taking a break under the shade with a cold specialty drink (the “Miami Vice” is a fan favorite) is the perfect refresher on a hot day. 

If you look around the restaurant, you’ll see the same smile on the face of every customer. People come to Quarterdeck to connect. To laugh, to reminisce, to catch up, to relax. There’s something strangely intimate about tearing apart a meal together, greasy and grimy, slick with butter and glistening with the glow of working hard for your food. If you ask families how long they’ve been coming to Quarterdeck, they’ll tell you “forever”. It’s a neighborhood safe space, a community common ground. In an historic building, there’s years and years of smiles and satisfaction seeping out of the floorboards. 

And after experiencing the restaurant for myself as a patron, coming to work was just as rewarding an experience. The staff describes each other as family. In fact, I decided to work there this summer because I had heard from friends that it was the best job they have ever had. There’s a positivity and a light that shines in the little restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood. It can be felt the moment you step on the property. So even if you aren’t a crab person, if you ever find yourself in Virginia on a steamy summer day, make an effort to stop into Quarterdeck, and join the family for an afternoon.

Cover photo courtesy of Rasa Malaysia

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A Military Family’s Guide to Throwing a Dinner Party

Growing up as an Army brat, change has been a constant in my life. Whether I was changing schools, houses, states, or even countries, my life was always in motion. This can be challenging, having to move into a new neighborhood, into a community full of new people. The thought of meeting and greeting is daunting. But in the Army world, everyone’s life is as transient as ours. We find ways to connect with others, and one of the best ways to do that is over a meal. 

I’ve watched my parents throw dinner parties ever since I can remember. It was a staple of my childhood. I would look forward to it, the smells wafting from the kitchen to my bedroom, the soft hum of music and finally, when the guests came over, the laughs and shouts from the first floor of my house, the sound of people happy and full, enjoying each other’s company. My mother is a master of the craft, a dinner party expert, so I decided to call her up and get some insights. This is a military family’s guide to throwing a dinner party. 

Ambience: 

In the words of my mother, the goal of dinner parties was always to curate a comfortable and cozy energy throughout the house. “I always tried to go for warm and welcoming, lots of candles, some scented ones away from the food so the house would smell good. Lots of seating is important, it gives people space to gather and get off their feet for a while. I want it to feel informal and casual, someplace people could relax and feel at home.” I remember walking around my parents’ parties, people’s faces glowing in the light. Ambience is crucial, and the warmth I felt in my house is a feeling that stuck with me, as I’m sure it stuck with everyone who entered as well. 

Music is also an important aspect of the ambience. My mother laughed as she said, “you don’t want people to walk into a silent house and feel awkward!” Whether it be something you curate yourself or a premade playlist you find on Spotify or Apple Music (two of my go-to’s: Dinner Party & Dinner w/ Friends) pick something smooth and easy, with a mix of things people know and new finds (because throwing a dinner party is really an excuse to show off your music taste). You want something you can just hit shuffle on and not think about, allowing you to enjoy the night. 

Guests:

In the military, dinner parties were a way to get to know people outside of the office. This line of work forces the personal and professional lives to be more intertwined than in most occupations. Soldiers, spouses, and families all play a role. That’s what makes the dinner party the perfect opportunity to make connections, feel comfortable with each other, and foster “esprit de corps” a French term used by the military to describe, “a spirit of solidarity; a sense of pride, and honor among the members of a group”. When you’re in the military, you’re a part of a team. And what’s better for team bonding than a dinner party? 

But this concept transcends military life. As a college student, I view my friends and I as a team, my roommates and I as a team, and my peers as a team, all working together towards a common goal: an amazing four years. The relationships you have with the people you care about are important, the people you have on your team are everything. A dinner party celebrates that and gives people opportunities to get closer and connect with those around them. 

As a host, you see the behind-the-scenes science that goes into throwing a party. “These are a chance to bring people together,” my mom says, “they provide opportunities to make new friends, build your team, and really get to know each other. Being the host means you’re helping curate that. Always greet everyone, make them feel welcome. Get them a drink and try to connect them with someone else.” Mixing and mingling is the best part about attending a dinner party, and it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of throwing them. Bringing people together is what this is all about. 

Food: 

Finally, the most important part of any dinner party is the food. My mom’s advice was simple: “good food and good drink.” I remember my mom making one of two dishes: stuffed shells or marinated steak. “Keep it easy! Try and make most of it things you can cook ahead of time so you can be present during the party and not stuck in the kitchen.”

Photo Courtesy of Fork Knife Swoon

She would float around the house, occasionally disappearing into the kitchen, but you’d blink and she was right back, getting someone another drink or introducing two people who had been making their way around the house. Scattered around were little bowls of snacks, picking items like almonds or dried fruit. A charcuterie board with crackers, cheeses and meats is always a good idea. My parents were used to hosting larger parties, so buffet style was always the way to go. Lining up a salad (Ina Garten’s Cape Cod salad was a staple in our house), the main dish, and a few loaves of a warmed baguette along an old maple table we had, guests could come up and help themselves. I found myself going up for that salad numerous times, and then making my way back to the table or the chair in the living room I had made mine for the night. 

“I always liked to have an open bar area too, something where people could go and refresh their drink, grab a water, or try something new.” My mom would line up decorative tubs filled with ice, home to seltzers, beers, sodas and waters. A little something for everyone. 

The dessert would come when everyone had seemed to slow down and the trips to the buffet were becoming few and far between. It was then my mom would bring out something like a platter of chocolate-covered profiteroles or an assortment of cookies she picked up from a bakery early that morning. She never felt a pressure to cook everything. Cook what you can, cook what you want, and cook it well. Then fill in the gaps with your favorite treat from the bakery or grocery store. 

At the end of the day, dinner parties are fun. In the words of my mom, “they’re a great way to show the people you love that you care.” They provide us with an opportunity to break bread with others, build bridges and form connections that you wouldn’t be able to make in other settings or circumstances. With a few pro tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can make throwing an amazing dinner party easy and stress-free. Whether you’re in a house, apartment, or dorm room (I promise it can be done), the energy is the same. It’s a night to connect with others, celebrate the people around you and tell your team thank you for sticking by your side.

Cover Photo courtesy of Vox

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Kansas City Barbeque: The Sweet Life

My grandparents are from two neighboring farm towns deep in the heart of Missouri. I once visited Hardin with a population of around 500, walking the same streets my dad’s family once did, surrounded by fields and wide-open spaces. After moving from their small towns, Kansas City and the surrounding suburbs became home to my extended family. KC always felt like home to me, and every time I would come for a visit, it was as if I never left. There were rituals that took place every vacation back to the heartland. My dad and his cousins would go to a baseball game, hit the casinos, and stop to get some of the best barbecue in the country. I would give my dad a hug as he headed out the door in his jersey, waiting for the days where I was finally old enough to take part in this rite of passage, and have a real and authentic Kansas City night. Now at 20, I’ve sat through the steaming hot baseball games at Kauffman stadium, I’ve seen the casinos from the car window as we speed past on the highway, but the best part about our family tradition has got to be the barbecue.

To me, BBQ is the month of July, fresh cut grass, the first sip of a cherry coke on a scorching summer day. Whether it’s North Carolina or Texas, California or Tennessee, each region of the United States adds their own flare and style to their BBQ. While I may be a little biased, Kansas City barbecue reigns supreme over all. Differentiated by its tomato or molasses-based sweeter and thicker sauce, and its variety of meats (In Kansas City, ANYTHING is fair game to be grilled and smoked) KC BBQ is one of the most famous styles of barbecue. If you were to ask a local where the best spots in the city are, you are most likely to get one of four answers: Arthur Bryant’s, Gates Bar-B-Q, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Q, and Jack Stack. Each person seems to have loyalties to one, and my family’s ties will always be with Arthur Bryant’s. So, when I went to Kansas City for Easter break this semester, it was only right that one of our afternoons was spent there. 

Bryant’s opened in 1908, and not much has changed since then. When I walked in with my cousins and my mom just a few weeks ago, it looked exactly how I had left it years before. But this is just the thing that makes Byrant’s so special. My cousin Jason said, “the atmosphere makes it different. It’s one of the oldest in the city. It’s not as fancy as some. It’s kind of gritty. It hasn’t changed since I’ve been going there.” In the prime 18th and Brooklyn location, it was once just blocks away from the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. The old brick building with the red and white awning stands alone as the main attraction on the street. 

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Walking in, you’re instantly greeted by the smell of meat cooking in the back, coated in sauce and spices that will make anyone drool the second they step inside. The walls are lined with photos of all the famous faces who have made an appearance at the restaurant. You’ll see presidents like Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, as well as Hollywood stars like Steven Spielberg. The old, almost diner-style interior makes it feel cozy and comfortable, turning it into a place you could spend hours sitting down and catching up over a meal of burnt ends (a KC specialty), coleslaw and fries. When in line to order, it’s crucial to be prepared. Lines that go out the door can move in just minutes, and before you know it, someone from the kitchen will be asking what you want. 

This time around, I went for my usual rack of baby back ribs, knowing they were going to be covered in the classic Kansas City sweet sauce. However, when it came down to the sides, I just wasn’t sure. The smiling man in the kitchen saw my hesitation. He laughed, “don’t worry young lady, I got you” and disappeared to the back to fix up my special meal. When he returned, he had a heaping pile of their potato casserole sitting next to my ribs. Needless to say, it was the perfect side. 

I topped my meal off with a large Diet Coke and made my way back to sit at the table with my mom and cousins. I joined the ranks of the clean plate club that afternoon, and left feeling full and satisfied. Bryant’s, and KC BBQ in general, is more than food. When talking to Jason, he’ll tell you Bryant’s is about family. In his words, it’s “baseball, Bryant’s and family”. For me, it’s about love. Love, culture, flavor and looking at the people you come across in life and saying, “I got you.”

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Cover photo and article photos courtesy of Maddie Simms and Arthur Bryant