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Essays

What Hotpot has to Offer

I guess there might not be a specific rule for starting a hotpot. It seems that my family members each possess their own standpoints.

Mom always puts seafood in to boil first — the flavor of them makes the soup brothy. Vegetables come next to absorb these flavors, so the spinach, Chinese cabbage, and potato slices are penetrated with the umami taste of shrimp and clam. Grandma prefers “vegetables first, meat second”. That way, the vegetables will not take on the meat purine that dissolves into the soup along the way.

And I just put in whatever I like first.

However, when sitting together around the pot, we do not elicit a fight between these different standpoints. It has always been too hectic for that. The pot growls, someone says “add some more bamboo shoot slices in there”, we suck in air to escape the spice, my cousins laugh by the window, and there’s never-ending gossip about what’s happening in the neighborhood. The pot at the center brings us together. I always feel like I am trapped in this atmosphere—it wraps me up like a parka in summer. 

But I am the willing victim. I hope to see the full bowls of crab sticks, mushrooms, and beef gradually empty, fake a crying face, and turn to shrimp instead. I hope to have someone to sit with in the mist-like water vapor, waiting for the raw ingredients in the pot to be fully cooked.

Photo courtesy of i am a food blog

I grew up loving hotpot not just because it fills me with almost overwhelming warmth, but also because it adds a sense of freedom to eating, the basic activity of human survival. Even the most exquisite dish could probably never satisfy everyone. On a small plate, there is always the possibility that the ingredients inside are loved, but also hated by someone. The diner is caged in what is instead of what could be. It feels like there is no way back once the dish is served, no more possibility, no more discovery.

But hotpot is different. All that is fixed is the pot at the center of the table: the soup base, sauce, and dish ordered all depend on what the diners want. The massive variety of permutations these elements can form is exciting and intriguing—no one could have hotpot the exact same way twice. In the face of this sea, the diner is the master of the wheel, passing through the islands of all these elements; they, like the red push-pins on the map, connected through the strings, form hundreds of ways. 

On a Saturday night, my parents and I got in the car and went out to have hotpot. Dad always orders duck intestines, which come dangling on a bamboo stick, with flowers decorating the side. I always felt sorry for hating it despite its white and clean appearance. Mom loves Glebionis coronaria, the indulged green of this interesting vegetable bloomed in the plate it was served with. I saw the water glimmering above. And I could never give up my love for shrimp. In the spicy soup that we all love, everything disappears under the red. 

The water started to bubble again—I took out some vegetables.

They melted in my mouth, the freshness cleared the greasy feeling. And I took a shrimp out. It was sweet, along with the salty touch of the sea. 

They all taste different, although they are boiled in the same pot of soup. And we all like different things, although we’re bound by the same pot. As I looked at my dad eating his crunchy favorite ingredient, I felt really grateful.

Hotpot gave us the chance to choose, and the order to be together.

Cover photo courtesy of food network

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Essays

Meaningful Sunday Coffee Runs

Something I dearly miss about being home is my family’s weekly coffee run on Sundays. After attending mass at St. David’s Catholic Church, we make our way to Tarantella, our favorite Italian restaurant in Weston Town Center. For us, it is a tradition to eat lunch there and then walk over to Starbucks, right next door. My dad and I particularly bond over this practice, as we are coffee enthusiasts(as proven by our ability to drink it at any time of the day). This specific Starbucks is right across the street from my dad’s old work office, so he used to be a daily customer there, which explains why my family frequents this establishment in particular. As a whole family, we generally consider our Sundays incomplete if we do not fulfill this custom.

When my dad and I enter the Starbucks, we are cheerfully greeted by a barista who is ready to take our order. Although I typically ask for the same drink every time, I still glance upward and review the menu, as I am curious about the new caffeinated inventions offered throughout the year. My dad usually orders first, requesting a grande Americano. I have never seen him order coffee in any other way, since he thoroughly enjoys the rich simplicity of plain espresso. After the barista jots down his order, I habitually ask for a venti vanilla sweet cream cold brew. Preferring iced coffee over hot, unlike my dad, I find that this drink skillfully blends the pungent bitterness of cold brew and the luscious sweetness of vanilla sweet cream. Then, I remember to order a vanilla frappuccino for my youngest brother and two birthday cake pops for both of my brothers. Hence, the family order is complete and we shift leftward towards the front of the pick-up counter, where we wait for a few minutes.

These few minutes mean a great deal to me because it is when we update each other on our individual lives. Attending college in Boston means that I typically do not have that much time to meaningfully converse with my dad, who lives in Florida with the rest of my family. Although we keep in touch over conversations on WhatsApp and occasional FaceTime calls, this is the time where we are truly able to reflect and share our emotions. Whether it be about school, work, family, goals, or the future, we always convey what is on our minds in a vulnerable way while the drinks and cake pops are gradually handed to us. My dad grabs an extra cup to pour some of his coffee into for my mom and I secure a few straws and napkins before we exit the Starbucks together, thanking the barista as we walk out. Approaching the parked family car with my mom and brothers inside, we continue our conversation and sip on our respective drinks, feeling immediately energized and delighted.

Our coffee choices are vastly different but we drink them with similar enthusiasm. Simple moments like ones in which my dad and I order Starbucks drinks on Sundays are important in my life because they illuminate how valuable family customs can be. Weekly-bought caffeinated drinks from Starbucks ground my dad and I to the present moment, allowing us to think about and communicate the life updates which are worth sharing with those we love and respect. On the short drive back home from Starbucks, everybody in the car is content and appreciating each other’s company. While I’m away from home, I look forward to partaking in this tradition on Sundays, as one never knows how long practices like these can last. Unfortunately, as I get older and pursue post-grad opportunities, I might not be able to visit home as often as I would like anymore; perhaps I will be occupied by a job opportunity in a different state in a few years. Whenever possible, it is crucial that I relish quality family time when I am home in Florida, just as I savor chilled, flavorful sips of Starbucks’ vanilla sweet cream cold brew.

Cover photo courtesy of batoryfoods

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Essays

Bitter and Sweet

Finally, the ceasing of motion. The car rolls to a stop in the driveway, and my dad unloads the luggage from the trunk. A cloudy sky and a sprinkle of rain are there to enhance my homecoming. I slowly make my way into the house, fatigued from two plane rides and a hike around the Logan Airport central parking lot, which entailed a winding maze of concrete before we found the car tucked away in an obscure corner. 

I step on the welcome mat for the first time in five months, and I’m home. I brace myself. Will my living room feel unfamiliar, the kitchen a foreign space? Will my bedroom feel like someone else’s? Both feet are on the threshold now. The door eases open, and… it almost feels like I never left. A whole semester spent abroad in Granada, Spain, and now I’m back to reality. 

“Are you getting hungry for dinner?” my dad asks. I eye the clock, which reads 5 p.m. I laugh a little. “That’s so early to eat! It’s practically the middle of the day!” At least one hint of reverse culture shock comes through: the Spanish eating schedule. 

It was tough to adjust to the first few days in Granada. I ate breakfast at a normal time, but would need a midday snack to hold me over. The biggest meal of the day, lunch, was not until 1:30 or 2:30 in the afternoon. Another afternoon snack served as the bridge, crossing over the large gap between lunch and dinner at 9 p.m. The combination of late mealtimes and an especially late sunset in the spring months made the days stretch out, elongating the afternoon by several hours until 5 p.m indeed felt like the middle of the day. Although the most substantial meals came at later hours, I always looked forward to breakfast.

Back in the U.S., I always gravitated toward dinner. But one food item in particular persuaded me to switch sides: the tostada con tomate. Or, simply put, toast with tomato. Good quality fresh bread, with a layer of mashed tomato spread on top. Typically served with a bottle of olive oil for the consumer to drizzle on at liberty, and a generous dash of salt. The mighty little carb and veggie combo, with the occasional addition of manchego cheese, convinced me that breakfast was the most important and delicious meal of the day. It contained the foundation of Spanish cuisine: bread and olive oil. One of the first facts that our program directors proudly boasted upon our arrival was that Spain was one of the top two producers of olive oil in the world, alongside Italy. When I first tasted it, I flinched at the bitterness. As it turned out, it was this strength of flavor that I lacked in my previous olive oil usage. And so, the olive oil flowed. It was present at every meal at the residence at which I lived, bottled up in little containers at the cafés, right there for the taking. 

Photo courtesy of Spanish Sabores

It was at these cafés that I enjoyed the tostada the most. One café stands out as my favorite, called Café Cuatro Gatos. I only went once, but it was incredible. It was the last week of my study abroad, and we were done with finals. A couple of friends and I walked up the cobblestone streets and found a table in the sunshine. The Alhambra palace, or the old Moorish fortress, loomed in the distance, glowing a rusty gold in the light. 

My friend Amanda recommended the café’s specialty: the tomato and manchego tostada with orange juice and coffee. We ordered identically, and the plates arrived minutes later. I gazed at the thick slices of soft, somewhat dense wheat bread, topped with a thin layer of mashed tomato and delicate triangles of manchego. We passed around the olive oil, each dousing the tostada with the bitter substance and a healthy sprinkle of salt. The sweetness of the tomato and the richness of the cheese melded with the salt and pungent oil for the perfect bite. 

Each memory of tostada connects to a different moment. All the time spent at cafés between classes, talking and laughing with my friends, or sitting alone, absorbed in a book, each leading to a different conversation, a different state of mind, a different day gone by that I’ll never be able to replicate. There’s something unique about each day that I went to a café in Granada and ordered a tostada, but they’re all tied together by the fact that they were times spent immersed in a new culture and environment that I knew I would have to hold onto and look back on fondly. Standing in my home kitchen, staring at the clock, I smile when I think of that last tostada at Café Cuatro Gatos. The combination of flavors, the hearty talk with friends. I’ll remember all five of those months overseas with each attempt to recreate my favorite dish—although the olive oil will never taste the same.

Cover photo courtesy of freepik

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Essays

One Piece of Misandao

by: Shelly

In primary school, I usually had lunch at my grandparents’ home during the noon break.  Knowing that I grew up with a sweet tooth, grandpa always prepared me Misandao, a traditional fried cake glazed with malt sugar, with white sesame seeds dotting the top. 

Grandpa is also a sweet tooth. After lunch, he would take out the five-year-old cookie jar, lean in to catch a glimpse of what he knew to be inside, and squeeze his calloused hand in to grab out the box of Misandao. And I just sit quietly beside him, blinking my eyes at the blurred golden shape through the plastics. He placed the box of eight Misandao on the table and took out one piece, pushing the rest toward me. 

Misandao is sweet, but its barley aroma mediates the feeling of greasiness and indulgence. He used to bite half of it and seemed to be observing and examining the other half, chewing slowly. I always asked him to have more, and he always replied by asking me to have more. Admiring my grandpa a lot as a little kid, I followed him, having only one piece at a time.

I used to look at the white sesame on the surface glazed with sugar, glistening under the sunlight like delicate china—gentle, mild, and soothing. It came into my mouth like a sailing boat driven by a young sailor, melting into my ocean with peace and embracement. The sweet softness extended as I chewed, like the water sleeves of classical Chinese dancers flying in the air. The movement played in slow motion—the silk flows in the air like the stream of honey that flows in me, and I dive into it. I’d take a sip of green tea—as the water vapor rose, the slightest remnant of greasiness was blown away, the bitterness of tea with the extreme mellowness of barley and sesame reaching a harmony that soothed every single nerve of me. 

I could not help smiling and swaying my feet under the table. And I imagined what grandpa was thinking about, peeking over at him while he stared at the Misandao. He seemed so satisfied and peaceful with the one little piece on his hand—not even bothering to grab another one.

After all these years, I still remember the times when me and grandpa sat at the same table, each holding one small piece of Misandao and chewing silently. The rest of the golden Misandao lying on the table, the laughter of children playing at the field coming through the window, and the somewhat annoying buzzing sound of the air conditioning machine. Nothing seemed to matter or exist anymore. The joy of focusing on one piece of Misandao filled me with happiness and pacified all the dissatisfactions. 

I go to my grandparents’ house for lunch less and less often since middle school, but I still had Misandao at home. A whole box to myself. And then I went abroad for college, unable to squeeze even a single box of Misandao into my suitcase.

But every time I eat alone at the dining hall in college, I go back to the little table. So my blueberry muffin is my Misandao. I carefully take off the plastic bag, peel back a small corner of the paper cup, and take a bite. I feel the crispy lid that collides with my teeth, and the refreshing blueberry that lights the cloying sweetness. 

I go back all the time. When I go to class wearing the jacket with the aroma of the detergent in the morning and see the sunlight going through the leaves, when I sit on the bus listening to my favorite music that beats along with the speed of passing the flowers planted by the street, and when I walk alone on the way to the supermarket at night, seeing people playing guitar on the street, I’d secretly smile under my mask, add a few jumps to my footsteps, close my eyes, and shake my head slightly. 

Just like back then when I swayed my feet under the table, for the one piece of Misandao. 

With my grandpa.

Cover photo courtesy of INF News

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Essays

Stella’s Stuffed Grape Leaves

Out of all of my mother’s wonderful dishes, the one I long for most in this present moment is stuffed grape leaves. While living in Europe, I have had more time to reflect on my family history. My great-grandmother Stella was a caring Romanian woman with Northern Greek ancestry who taught my mother how to make stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, and for that I am very thankful. Every time my mother cooked this dish for my family growing up, she would recall her grandmother’s detailed instructions and serve it to us with love. Having learned this recipe from my mother, I hope to pass this culinary treasure on to my own family in the future. Stuffed grape leaves cannot be forgotten; they must be enjoyed by future generations.

Dolmades embody a pop of multiple flavors that fuse together to make a wonderfully hearty dish. Lying within the grape leaves is a ground beef, onion, and rice mixture that is seasoned with dill and parsley, sporting an herbaceous kick and soft texture. The meat flavor does not stand alone, though, as the tender grape leaves provide a sharp note of acidity. Sold in a vinegar brine, the tangy grape leaves are complemented well by the citrusy and grassy dill in the filling. Tying the dish together is a smooth lemon yogurt sauce that enhances the acidity of the grape leaves, making every bite fresh and captivating. Wrapped individually with much patience, stuffed grape leaves are a savory and zesty delicacy that I never fail to enjoy.

Gazing into a pot of steaming, dark green stuffed grape leaves makes me feel connected to my great-grandmother Stella. Although I met her when I was a baby, she unfortunately passed away when I was very young, so I do not hold vivid memories of spending time with her. This saddens me, but the phenomena of legacy brings me comfort. My mother deeply resembles Stella in both appearance and generosity. My great-grandmother expressed love and affection through cooking for her family, just like my mother does. From what I have been told, it was always a priority of hers to ensure that her husband, children, and grandchildren were well fed and genuinely enjoying whatever they were eating. Holidays and celebrations were opportunities for her to prepare a variety of dishes and express her talents in the kitchen. I often see my mother reflect this behavior, since she herself views food as a creative outlet.

As I think about my Greek roots, I look forward to spending my Easter Break in Athens. I have never traveled to Greece before, and I cannot wait to immerse myself into its historical beauty. Walking through ruins of Ancient Greece will be surreal, but it will not be the first time I connect with part of my heritage. Eating stuffed grape leaves with my family reminds me of Stella’s ethnic background, and how she channeled it into her home cooking that touched the lives of so many. I wish my great grandmother were in my life right now, and I still get upset by the impossibility of this wish. But family traditions are more alive than one might think. They travel from one family to another, from one time period to the next, from one’s heart to another’s stomach in this case. Through my mother, I see Stella’s wisdom and generosity. The combination of tender rice, savory meat, acidic grape leaves, and vibrant lemon sauce transports me to a place I cannot easily define—or even see—but can certainly feel. Here, I am engulfed by the aromatic scent of stuffed grape leaves alongside my mother and my great-grandmother Stella, feeling safe and appreciated. This is a timeless memory.

Cover Photo Courtesy of deposit photos

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Essays

Savoring St. Thomas

I constantly long for the coveted vacation trope: spending the day at the beach, returning to a clean hotel room to relax, and getting ready for the proceeding dinner with a sun kissed face. For the past two years, the outbreak of COVID shut down my hopes of vacation, alongside any gastronomic experimentation that would come with such a trip. However, I was able to travel to St. Thomas this past spring break and take advantage of the vibrant food culture the island bolsters. Throughout the course of my week on St. Thomas, I sampled a plethora of restaurants and street vendors that consistently left me in awe. Ranging from hidden beachside establishments accessible only by boat, to our final night’s “fancy dinner,” St. Thomas was a gift to my palette. Not only were the dishes delicious, but the memories associated were even greater. 

On our final night, I made the ferry trek to St. John– crossing island-hopping off my bucket list. We had spent a long day at the beach, stomachs rumbling in preparation for the supposedly delectable dinner to come. Phone service on the trip was spotty, but I managed to secure enough to send my parents a short text message: “Going to dinner on St. John at the Terrace, will DEFINITELY send a picture of my plate.” Food is an integral part of my family dynamic and my family group chat is filled with plate pictures. Whether from Mac or a dinner in the North End, my family is readily knowledgeable on my menu choices each day, though being far apart. Upon sending this text, my parents responded much more enthusiastically than I expected. They relayed to me that this was the restaurant in which they dined the night they were engaged, constituting the Terrace as the birthplace of my family itself. Of all the restaurants on the island, we had incidentally chosen one of such familial significance. A wide smile spread across my cheeks, elated to share this experience with my parents. 

Approaching the Terrace, I knew precisely which restaurant it was, before distinguishing its name. The dimly lit space, lacking a distinct change from the inside to outside, with countless plants elegantly lining its frame, was one that immediately drew in passersby. The Terrace has undoubtedly undergone renovations since my parents’ engagement, due to the relentless hurricanes that strike the island, but the atmosphere of the restaurant was one of comfort and grace that I am confident has withstood the physical modifications. Moving through the restaurant, I imagined the space as one that my parents had experienced in the past. With this being my first vacation without them, I found myself frequently doing this along each stop, but especially here at the Terrace. Though they were over one thousand miles away, I was able to feel their presence. The food at the Terrace was spectacular, reflecting the vibrance of the Virgin Islands and the local fare which constitutes much of their economy. The menu included an array of its cultural influences, allowing guests to immerse themselves in St. John’s rich diversity and history. Curious as to what my parents had ordered, I asked them, to which they replied that they had no idea: they were too overcome by emotion and care to consider the food before them. 

Though food constitutes so many of my memories, I feel that it is truly the people we spend these moments with that comprise the utmost significance. Food provides the outline for connections, opening opportunities for us to find them among one another. To visit the Terrace and experience its sentimentality is an experience I am so grateful for and one that has assuredly brought me closer to my parents’ past. 

Cover Photo Courtesy of Jane Paulson

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Essays

The Search for the Perfect Fried Chicken at Buttermilk and Bourbon

5/15/2021 2:00 am

Scrolling through the feed of endless content, my finger stalls as I’m confronted with the text of “Boston’s Best Fried Chicken” over a video of white sauce being drizzled over a crispy fried chicken. My mouth salivates as I eagerly close out of Instagram and open Google Maps, searching up the name of the restaurant. “Buttermilk and Bourbon: Destination for quirky New Orleans-inspired dishes by a local star chef plus a lively lounge,” my phone reads as I flag the restaurant on my Want-to-Go list on the app. I type “Boston’s best fried chicken” in the description and type save. The folder increases from 272 to 273 locations. I swipe up, reopening Instagram and continuing my scroll online.

I’ve been assembling a list of restaurant locations and things to do in Boston since my freshman year at Boston College. I always try to explore and try new places, and I place a great importance in finding recommendations for places to eat. Often my folder grows with saved locations that look great, but I will never eat at. I have been meaning to visit Kane’s Donuts—supposedly the best donuts in Boston—ever since freshman year, but still have never managed to make it there. Regardless of my history, I had a deep desire to go to Buttermilk and Bourbon, and I knew that I would make it there. One day at least.

3/11/2022 at 2:30pm

I forgot about Buttermilk and Bourbon until spring break, when my girlfriend decided she would take matters into her own hands and finally got us there. Ari found a reservation for lunch at 3pm (dinners were booked) and surprised me with the news. An hour later we were sitting on the T, a half hour ahead of our reservation. Eagerly I looked over the menu with Ari, entranced in the options.

“We have to get the fried chicken, that’s a given” I say to Ari, “but I think we should also get their signature warm honey glazed biscuits.” 

“Eh I’m not too sure,” she responds back as the loudspeaker muffles out some statement. “I don’t like biscuits that much and they didn’t even look that good online. Maybe we should get the mac and cheese.” 

As we finalized our order of the house special buttermilk fried chicken—thighs of course—along with garlic herb mac and cheese and fried beignets to finish, the T came to a stop as passengers started flooding out of the doors. Confused, I asked another passenger who said “T’s down. Apparently, there’s a fire on the tracks.”

Next thing we knew, we were waiting in line for a bus to take us toward Newbury Street, with 10 minutes until our reservation. Rather than wait, we decided to walk the 30 minutes and call the restaurant to explain our situation. 

Starving and exhausted, we stumble down the stairs into the dimly lit entrance covered in scaffolding, almost looking like we weren’t meant to be there. We glance at one another and head inside, and are met with a rustic, but cozy restaurant that is surprisingly busy at 3:30pm. While being guided to our table, we pass by a group eating oysters and drinking martinis. Must be nice. 

As the waiter places down our mac and cheese, I am drawn toward the smell. Spiced garlic fills the air, and I glance at the dish. The mac and cheese is plated in a round skillet, noodles topped with a chunk of short rib and lightly garnished with scallions. Upon digging my fork into the bowl, I am met with a soup-like consistency of broth at the bottom. After indulging in a bite, I am met with a shock of pleasure. The dish tastes less of traditional mac and cheese, and almost instead tastes of a garlicky beef stroganoff with cheese. In all my dining experiences, I’ve always found mac and cheese to be subpar, with the taste never living up to the look of the dish. Yet, this mac and cheese tastes nothing like the ones I had before; it was meaty and soupy, but in a good way. It wasn’t what I expected, but that made it even better. The short rib fell apart immediately, and the crushed ritz crackers melted with the liquid of the dish. Ari and I gobbled the dish down before our next plate was delivered.

The chicken arrives at our table freshly fried, steam rising out of the crispy exterior. The plating is simple, just two fried thighs and a ramekin filled with white barbecue sauce—as recommended by our waiter. As I cut into the chicken, some juice dripped out of the meat, indicating that this thigh was cooked to perfection. I’ve tried making fried chicken at home, but the meat has never stayed this juicy before. As I bite into the chicken, I’m surprised at the flavor of the dried exterior. It tastes almost like seafood, and fairly salted. I glance at Ari, and she has the same puzzled look on her face as I do. 

“It kind of tastes like calamari,” Ari says, and I have an aha-moment where the flavors finally make sense in my head. Yes, the chicken tastes like calamari, that’s what it is! It wasn’t bad at all, in fact after the surprise of the first bite I really enjoyed the flavor. The seasonings were rich and the flavor was so unique. The cooking is New Orleans-inspired, and I figured that’s what made this chicken stand out from the other fried chickens I’ve had in the past. 

The white barbecue was the star of the show because it didn’t overpower the flavor of the chicken, but perfectly complemented it. The sauce tasted like a spiced honey mustard; it was sweet, salty, and rich. It was complicated in flavor, but the sauce matched beautifully with the fried chicken. I dipped every bite of meat in the sauce, and it made the experience even more enjoyable. After eating the chicken, I pulled out my phone and search up a recipe of the white sauce, to which I found out the staff calls it the “crack sauce.” They couldn’t be more right.

Lastly, the waiter brings out the plate of beignets, and despite how full I already am, I’m eager to dig in. I quickly grab a hot beignet and take a huge bite, and then almost immediately cough up the powder sugar that I just inhaled. Ari immediately bursts out laughing and then asks if I’m okay. I nod and catch my breath as I sip on my water. After my coughing fit, I retry the beignet, which tastes closer to a sweet biscuit than a puffy deep fried beignet. While it was not what I expected, I still happily ate the beignets while Ari was disappointed in them. Judging by the fact that I didn’t order the honey-glazed biscuits as an appetizer, these biscuits satisfied my earlier craving.

Buttermilk and Bourbon met and exceeded the expectation that I had simply because of its unique approach to classic Southern dishes. Turn a mac and cheese into a stew? Check. Make the fried chicken taste like calamari? Check. Have the beignets taste like sweet biscuits? Check. With each dish, Ari and I were pleasantly surprised by the new flavors and techniques of each plate. 

On the T ride back to Boston College, I opened up Google Maps and changed the location of Buttermilk and Bourbon from the Want-to Go-list to My Favorites.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Logan Soss

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Essays

Kremšnite: A Croatian Classic

For the spring semester of my junior year at Boston College, I decided to study abroad in Zagreb, Croatia. Before arriving in late February, I knew very little about Croatian culture, including its cuisine. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and explore a country that I had never been to before, as I felt that doing so would broaden my horizons. Although I have been in Zagreb for a very short amount of time, I can already say that the city is invigatoring. As trams zoom through the central square of Zagreb, Croatia, you can see people reuniting, restaurants standing at every corner, and multicolored buildings towering over you. Complementing glorious sightseeing, the most impactful culinary moment I have had during my stay at Zagreb so far was trying kremšnite for the first time, a classic Croatian dessert.

After having lunch with my peers at the European Center for the Study of War and Peace, the location where I take my classes, we were offered a piece of kremšnite for dessert. This dish is best described as a slice of custard with two layers of puff pastry: one layer on top that is delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar and another layer below the custard. I eagerly took the opportunity to eat a piece of kremšnite because it simply looked delicious, with the custard in particular sporting an inviting soft yellow color.

Every aspect of the kremšnite I tasted was outstanding. The custard was simultaneously rich and light textured, melting in my mouth. It had a wonderful vanilla flavor that invoked a great amount of comfort, without being overbearing. Mimicking the vanilla custard’s light texture, the layers of puff pastry introduced a buttery element to the dessert. The subtle hints of butter from the puff pastry contrasted enough with the custard so that the pastry was skillfully balanced in flavor. Finally, the powdered sugar on top tied the whole dessert together, ensuring that every bite was graced by finely-distributed sweetness.

I appreciated how this dessert deviated from the ones I usually eat, like cake or pie. Kind of resembling a thick pudding, the custard was the dessert’s foundation and it held up quite nicely. It was sturdy enough to support the puff pastry, giving each slice a uniform cubic shape. The creaminess of the custard provided the satisfaction that dense desserts like cheesecake give me. Yet, its texture also possessed the airiness of whipped cream. I ended up finishing my piece of kremšnite within minutes, as I was so impressed by its clever use of texture and careful use of flavor.

Studying abroad was something I always wanted to do, but I never knew exactly how it would turn out for me. Since I had never traveled to the Balkans before, Croatia was a country I did not even consider going to before stumbling across the BC in Croatia: War, Peace & Reconciliation program online. Due to my lack of prior familiarity with Croatian culture, I tried to not set too many expectations for my semester abroad. Although far away from home, I have felt safe and fulfilled in Zagreb so far. While being intellectually challenged by my classes, my mind has also opened up to an entirely new set of customs and practices in this eastern European country. I am learning something new about Croatia every day, and enjoying every second of it. What better way to kick off my semester than trying a tasty dessert like kremšnite? Living in a foreign country for over three months is certainly intimidating, but being received by the splendor of your host country’s cuisine is a great feeling. I will always remember kremšnite as a staple among Croatian sweets and as a dessert that broadened my culinary horizons. I am ready to undertake the inevitable ups and downs of the remainder of my stay here in Zagreb, as I know that moments like the one in which I first tried kremšnite are forthcoming.

Cover photo courtesy of KitchenNostalgia

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Back to Bananas

Story by Jane Paulson

“You have a message from the tower: Shane wishes the Paulson family a safe trip.”

As I sat with my family, the sole four occupants on the “puddle-jumper” plane, we heard the pilot nonchalantly make this remark and were taken aback. We scoured our brains for how this could be possible and who could be giving us well wishes. In this frenzy, we peered out of the plane window only to see our server, named Shane, from the night before frantically waving at the plane from the control tower. How great of a surprise this was and how sad we were to have to leave these experiences behind as mere memories. Shane was a server at our favorite restaurant on the island of Nevis, called Bananas, and now we knew this was not his only responsibility. 

To get to Bananas, you must travel a treacherous path: through winding streets, along mountain cliffs, and deep into the jungle. Upon first arrival, I felt as if we made a mistake. All that is visible at first glance is a path illuminated by tiki torches and palm trees on either side- no restaurant in sight. I remember anxiously stepping on each individual rock on this path, nervous about what was to come, but trying to relish the calm, warm environment. After the journey, you reach the house that is home to Bananas. A sprawling patio seizes your first glance, with brightly colored tables and chairs in every open space. Warm-toned lights hang from the ceiling, exuding a sense of comfort, care, and love. Laughter and conversation erupts from every party, with soft reggae music playing in the background. 

My family and I did not know the bliss we had stumbled upon. Here, deep in the jungle, was a restaurant that not only was in a home, but felt like one. We sat at our table on the patio and admired the sights and sounds around us—animals calling, people laughing, and the sun setting behind the clouds. Our server, Shane, became a new friend. He guided us on the best menu choices and local spots we had to see before leaving the island. Shane seemed like an old friend, someone we were reconnecting with and reminiscing over fond memories we had yet to make. We ate a dinner just as comforting as Bananas’ atmosphere: fresh fish, sweet plantains, and conch fritters. Bananas developed a menu to reflect the environment which they inhabited. With novelty and display of local favorites, Bananas embraced the roots of Nevis and embodied them through cuisine. At Bananas, you are welcomed home. 

Now that Bananas has become a mere memory, I have realized its innovative concept and success therein. They hand-delivered home, a feat countless restaurants attempt but do not reach. Shane’s service was not feigned, but of genuine pleasure from engaging with others, as evident in his bidding adieu from the tower. I continue to crave another experience at Bananas, not only for the delicious array of food, but for the nostalgia and warmth it carries. When I experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of Bananas, though no longer in Nevis, I am instantly carried back to Bananas and reminded of all the ways in which I can find home wherever I am.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Bananas Restaurant Nevis

Categories
Essays

Grandma Soss’ Applesauce

A story told by Logan Soss

A burgundy minivan pulls into the driveway as my dog barks at the intruder. As soon as the worn work boots crunch on the icy pavement, the barks turn to yips as he recognizes my grandpa and rushes to grab a toy to play. My grandparents shuffle up the icy driveway and I meet them at the door.

“Hi Logan!” they say, giving me a hug. We head inside and, as I start to take my jacket off, my grandpa calls to me, “Hey Logan, there’s one more thing. Can you help me bring in some things from the trunk?”

I open the back hatch and am met with an accoutrement of cooking equipment: an enormous stock pot, a giant ladle, and an industrial-grade Kitchenaid stand mixer. What’s all this for? I wonder, hauling the materials inside. I heave as I lift the final item: a remarkably heavy bag. I peek inside, and my eyes light up with excitement as I eye the apples. We’re making applesauce.

My grandma’s applesauce is no joke. As far back as I can remember, most of my grandparents’ dinners had a large serving bowl of homemade applesauce, with glass dishes stacked on the side. Applesauce pairs with every meal. No matter how stuffed you are, the applesauce was a nice and light complement to the dinner. You’d serve it with fish, sandwiches, or steak, and top it on your latkes, pork chops, or yogurt. It is the best applesauce I’ve ever eaten. My grandma’s recipe always seemed mystical to me, as I never knew how it was made. Today, I’d be confronting this mystery and learning firsthand from the master.

After a light lunch, we go to work making the applesauce. “It’s an incredibly easy process,” my grandma explains. “You just have to find the right apples.” She points to the peck of Ida Red apples. For the last twenty years or so, my grandma has been outsourcing her apples from a local farm, Roe’s Orchard to be exact, which grows Ida Reds perfectly. Ironically enough, the whole time my grandparents had actually been growing the exact same kind in their own backyard on what they thought were crabapple trees. The fruits never bloomed thanks to the local deers. Talk about a coincidence. Now for the last couple of years, my grandparents have always made a batch using their backyard’s apples, but the yield is much smaller than needed, so they still shop at Roe’s Orchard. 

The first step is to core the apples to make sure you don’t cook the seeds. With four chops of a knife, the apple is quartered and tossed in the 24-quart stock pot. The skins should stay on, as it helps give the sauce its signature pinkish hue. Once the final apple is cored, my grandma pours fresh apple cider into the pot, just so that it fills the bottom layer to prevent the apples from burning. Topped with a hefty dash of cinnamon, the pot is then transferred to the stove to cook.

We light the burner on medium heat and lid the pot, allowing the apples to fully cook down. My grandma only stirs the pot twice, once in the middle of cooking and once when they are finished. At this point she doesn’t add a timer, she can simply estimate the time off the top of her head. This skill comes with experience, I’ve learned, and I’m keen to learn this one day. Once the apples are of a mushy consistency, remove the pot from the heat and ready your Kitchenaid.

In order to process the apples down into applesauce, you have to use a foley food mill or some other kind of mechanical food strainer. My grandma has a Kitchenaid foley food mill attachment for her stand mixer that is one of a kind. She’s been using the same tool for decades now, and she tells me the story of how she went to a Kitchenaid store to replace her attachment with a new one and the workers at the store laughed and said they had never seen that product before. Turns out that the production of the attachment stopped shortly after it was released, and that there are roughly only a couple thousand of the Kitchenaid foley food mills in existence. 

With this antique mixer, I scoop the melted apple pieces with a slotted spoon, being sure to fully drain its liquid before placing it into the machine. The foley food mill presses all the contents out of the apples, and after spoonful after spoonful, the bowl slowly rises with newly created applesauce. Once all of the apples are gone, we stand back and view the masterpiece we just created.

The magic of this applesauce is the simplicity of its ingredients. My grandma takes a spoon and tastes it, and adds some more dashes of cinnamon to bolster the flavor. After mixing the bowl and trying again, she is content with how it turned out. I give the applesauce a taste and I am transported back to old times. Even though it is only flavored by the puree of the apples and cinnamon, it tastes appropriately sweet, almost as if it was made of nectar infused with honey. The texture is perfect, light and soft. It is practically liquid gold, only with a rose gold tone. This batch of the apple sauce was not as pink as usual because the apples we used were not as fresh and in season. The best time to get Ida Red apples is November, where the flavor is naturally sweeter and the skins are reddest. Regardless of that fact, the applesauce was delicious and tasted exactly how I remembered.

Crafting applesauce is an artform in itself. Despite how easy it was to make it, I know I would mess it up if I didn’t have my grandmother’s guidance. After learning about the laborious process that goes into production, I have grown a deeper appreciation for my grandmother and her stamina and ability of mass-producing this applesauce, planning a weekend to turn enough apples into a year’s supply of applesauce. This batch of roughly 23 apples only yielded roughly four quarts of applesauce, and it took about 2 hours in total time to make. I estimate that they must produce about 10 gallons of applesauce a year, stored in individual vacuum sealed bags and placed in the freezer until needed. 

This applesauce takes me back to my childhood and I always think about the dish when I’m away at school. After making this batch, I took two quarts of the applesauce back to school with me to share with my friends, and I’ve prolonged its presence as long as possible. 

Cover photo courtesy of Logan Soss