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A Perfect Circle

While the Coronavirus has shuttered restaurants and left many others relying on take-out as life support, there is perhaps one dining experience that is getting a boost compared to the pre-pandemic days: bar food. 

In August, Governor Baker’s statewide mandate banned the operation of bars that don’t also serve food and required any alcohol orders at restaurants to be accompanied by food orders. 

As a result, college students around Boston are becoming intimately familiar with the menus of bars they never realized served food in the first place. The Circle was previously known for its black box and BC football player bouncers, but it has now become one of the go-to spots for BC seniors to go sit at a table and drink with the same six people they already live with. 

The pandemic might have been the best thing to have happened to the Circle. Before the coronavirus shut everything down, the Circle was outshined by the grimmer, marquee-less Mary Ann’s (may she rest in peace), the bigger White Horse, the DJ booths of Tavern in the Square, and the underage-approved Wonder Bar. Now, MA’s is the future home of a dispensary, White Horse is trying to rebrand itself into suburban acceptability, Tavern in the Square’s biggest draw is the mac and cheese, and Wonder Bar is closed forever. The restaurant industry as a whole might be collapsing, but it’s collapse has directly correlated with The Circle cornering the market on the wallets of the mostly functioning, not anonymous, alcoholics of Boston College. 

Like any good hole-in-wall bar, the Circle sits inconspicuously between a Vape Shop and a convenience store. In the summer, guests might even catch views of the crashing waves of the public pool. Outdoor dining has been phased out as the temperatures dropped, but those lucky enough to have stopped by in warmer weather may have enjoyed one of Boston’s most glamorous al fresco experiences. In reclaimed parking spots cornered off by orange traffic cones and a cement fence, empty silver kegs and rustic plywood tables dotted the pavement, all of it illuminated by the headlights of cars screeching down Commonwealth Avenue. 

The Circle is most known for its pizza, but a quick glance of the menu shows that they also serve pasta, subs, burgers, chicken tenders, and also for no apparent reason, “authentic” Spanish food. I imagine that ordering Spanish food at the Circle would be like ordering lobster at a diner  – it’s an insane enough choice they might write an SNL skit about it. 

The Circle doesn’t yet have a brunch menu, but they do offer mimosas for those early afternoon football games. The orange juice isn’t hand-squeezed, but we did once spot the owner, George, walk to the 7/11 next door to buy the Minute Maid– so you can at least take comfort in the fact that management appreciates the value of local ingredients. 

As for other drinks, a favorite choice among the female clientele is the fishbowls of spiked seltzers – which were probably intended to be a group cocktail, but because sharing drinks is a bit of sin in the coronavirus age, you just might have to drink it all yourself. 

The atmosphere is an eclectic blend of McMansion style kitchen stonework, the fragrance of stale beer, overdressed college students and a few underdressed middle-aged men – all capped off by the bellow of WAP in the background. As he makes his rounds around the tables, George vacillates between lukewarm ambivalence and yelling at students to “sit the fuck down” if they pause to chat with another table in route to the bathroom. 

Even though the law mandates everyone must order food, that doesn’t always mean that the food ordered is eaten. In fact, whether or not someone eats the bar food that is brought to them is often a good indication of their intoxication. That said, the first time we tried the pizza at The Circle this semester, one of my roommates declared that it was “better than Pinos” – perhaps the highest level of praise a slice of cheesy tomatoey bread could ever receive. According to our scientific research, the individual slices of pizza taste better than slices you get from ordering a whole pizza. The best tasting pizza, however, is the kind that appears seemingly for free – the pizza that arrives at the table without anyone remembering they ordered it, but that must be devoured quickly before someone realizes it may have been delivered to the wrong table.

Despites these compliments to the pizza chef, the fact is, when it comes to bar food, flavor doesn’t even really matter. Anything would taste delicious after three shots of brown tequila served in warm fresh-out-of-the-dishwasher glasses. So the fundamental question here is, really, what is the measure of good bar food? Can you judge it purely on flavor as you would any other restaurant? Or is bar food a totally separate universe of food requiring totally separate quality metrics? I’m inclined to be on the side of the latter.

In Aristotelian ethics, the highest goods and the highest aims are those that lead to eudaimonia loosely translated as happiness, but more accurately translated by scholars as “human flourishing.” In the context of the food we eat at our favorite North End or South End restaurants, the traditional criterion by which we judge culinary experiences – taste, texture, creativity, presentation, aroma, balance, comfort, etc. – are absolutely relevant to the goodness of the experience. We feel the most happiness at the end of a meal that excels at all of these qualities. These qualities are the instruments that swell into a eudemonic glow as you sign the check at the end of the night with the soft lilt of some indistinguishable indie pop song floating your soul – and your stomach – to the heavens. 

To flourish at a bar during a global pandemic, however, is to find happiness in an entirely different manner. 

Music should be singable and loud enough that the tone deaf among us feel like we are just a recording contract away from performing a sold out shows at Madison Garden. Shots should get easier the more you take. Pizza should burn the roof of your mouth and leave a Rorschach puddle of grease on the paper plate. Fries should be yellow, glowing with steam, and so unassuming that you mindlessly eat the whole plate before the waitress comes back with the ketchup. At the stroke of midnight, when the fairy barmother’s spell runs out and the lights come on, mozzarella sticks should instantly transform from crisp, goldeny cheese pulls into bread crumb-covered rubber. The wine and salad list should be respected as merely decorative embellishments on the menu and not something to be seriously considered. By the end of the night your mask should be soaked in the river of vodka, Whiteclaw and RedBull  that flows into tributaries over the plywood table. You should pay the bill feeling simultaneously as if you spent too much, yet also as if you got an amazing bang for your buck. 

At all of these things, The Circle excels. 

For those who understandably might want to avoid dinning-in due to the aforementioned virus,  The Circle apparently also does takeout. But really what’s the point if you aren’t getting the full experience?

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Food Seasonality

Walking into almost any grocery store, you can find any produce that you want or need for your cooking endeavors. Watermelon can be bought in December, and butternut squash can be found in July. While consumers attribute these plants to seasons, all produce is available for purchase outside of its most popular season. This phenomenon of selling produce outside of its growing season introduces complicated problems for the environment and for consumers’ health. 

Each fruit and vegetable thrive during a specific growing season. During these, the weather and climate in a distinct region allows for produce to grow successfully. Growing seasons are at least ninety days long, but can span the entire year in certain tropical regions. Since farmers and growers cannot control the weather, the produce they are able to grow is at the mercy of the local climate and how well it aligns with the weather needed for certain crops to grow. In some tropical locations, the warm weather should allow for year-round crop growth, but excess or limited precipitation interrupts the crops’ ability to actually grow. The growing season of areas with stable precipitation are mostly dictated by the temperature; the cold winters are detrimental to plants’ ability to grow. The weather therefore dictates when certain plants are in and out of season and are able to grow. 

Despite the obvious time periods during the year when different crops can grow, consumers have access to the same produce year round, meaning that fruits and vegetables are grown outside of their natural window of ideal conditions. This is because of farmers’ manipulations of plants and the environments they are grown in. Season extension is the classification for different techniques for expanding the natural growing season of plants used by farmers.  For example, crops can be covered during the winter so that they do not frost over, allowing for them to thrive in cold temperatures. Techniques that allow for plants to sustain life during adverse climates enable farmers to sell and contribute fruits and vegetables when they are not naturally in season. 

These techniques are not utilized in countries other than the US, as climates differ and allow for year-round growing seasons. The ability of countries to grow fruits and vegetables have led to imported fruit being the majority of the fruit sold in America. Over half of all produce eaten in the US was imported, according to the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. This rapid increase in imported fruits and vegetables drastically impacted the market. As the quantity of imported produce increased, it has become more accessible and affordable for consumers to buy both in and out of season produce. Many public health experts view this shift in the market as a good thing because of the increased opportunities for the American population to eat plants in their diet. 

Americans having access to foods that are out of season, whether domestic or imported, has been associated with negative impacts on the environment. Domestic produce that was grown with many machines, tractors and pesticides, ultimately emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that has been associated with increased temperatures). Even though local produce may be grown in a state close to where the food is sold, the process of growing and harvesting both in and out of season produce strains the environment. 

Yet concern about the environmental impact of importing food also exists. Imported produce must be flown and delivered to the US, traveling via cargo plane. The many miles that these foreign grown fruits and vegetables have to travel to reach the US relies on the burning of fossil fuels. However, other sources continue to argue that fertilizer usage in local farms emits more carbon dioxide than importing food on a plane.

While it is nice to buy butternut squash during June, the lengths that some farmers had to go to cultivate that crop are immense and could negatively impact the environment. Extending growing seasons, when done incorrectly, not only goes against nature but harms it as well. It may be impossible to always buy and eat food that was grown during its specific growing season, but it is important to reflect when possible. 

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Culinary Creativity at Local Cape Cod Farms

With every item and ingredient ever-so accessible in long, overstretched grocery store aisles, sometimes I feel as if my culinary creativity is slipping from my grasp. With every option and possibility at my fingertips, I find myself falling into the same patterns, looking at the same shopping list, and never forced to think critically or creatively to innovate.

We all fall victim to shrinking to what we are comfortable with—the same meals, the same clear-cut path through Trader Joe’s including exactly 7 turns, and 11 stops. However, have you ever sighed in mourning of the creativity you may have lost over the years? Do you desire the encouragement to still be as creative as you were at a worn-out desk in an elementary school classroom? I do. 

“Adulting” in some shape or form typically means cooking for ourselves, even if it is just a box of pasta or a half-salvageable burnt piece of toast. Although, I’ve decided that to repossess all the natural and childlike creativity we have to share with this world, it can be brought to us again in the kitchen. We don’t all have time to squeeze finger painting into our busy, “matured,” schedules, but we always manage to have time to eat. 

I find that coordinating cuisine and creativity is the perfect complement—synchronously nurturing our minds and, of course, our stomachs. But, nonetheless, being creative is not an easy feat when the automatic door slides open and everything and anything can be found and rung up by a cashier. 

I often see myself in this compromising position, where the freedom to choose what I want inversely inhibits my mind’s capacity to create. However, living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I have discovered the abundance of small family-owned farms and markets to be the perfect solution. Trailing through a supermarket does not do our creative instincts any justice, yet local farmer stands, with little on display and sometimes just a basket of mix-matched produce placed in your hands, functions as the best creative exercise. 

This creativity routine seems to find me like an inkblot. If you’re familiar with the inkblot practice, it is where you are given a just splotch of ink on paper and urged to draw something from its organic and unique form. The produce at local farms display a similar test. They provide an exercise to work our creativity muscles as we encounter the unpredictable. 

The local, in-season, and fresh produce change rapidly. Every trip to the farm stand feels like a brand-new canvas that invites me to use different colors and techniques. This is why spotting a farm stand lays witness to a beautiful sort of spontaneity. I typically have no idea that it is just down the street, and then one day, I stare at the sign a short second longer, pull into the drive, and here I meet my creative match in a basket of watercress greens. 

I take what is given, yet limited, and create a meal. There’s no overthinking, just the transformation of produce to product. It is nearly an unconscious exercise to measure my creative potential. In this process, I feel more attachment to my food, as I can personally testify to its transition from farm to table. In this repeated experience, I have found that it is ever-so important to re-attach ourselves to the process. Yes, a meal can be bought and prepared with ease and efficiency today. Yet, there is a symbiotic relationship between investing in local farms and investing in ourselves. When we leave the grocery list and meal-prep ideas behind, we can allow ourselves to discover new greens, fruits, and more. We can present ourselves simultaneously with a challenge and magnificent experience to reignite our inventive side. 

I urge everyone to forget the overpriced tabs and many mediocre meals gone bye. Rather, take on the distinctive creativity-inducing experience that is delivered through local farms and home cooking this summer season.

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The Home Test Kitchen

Balancing Creativity and Calculation in Cooking

Teaspoons. Tablespoons. An assortment of measuring cups including ¼, ½, and ¾. A timer on standby. A printed out recipe or well-loved cookbook lying on the counter with hand-written annotations in the margins. All set to cook.

In the midst of the pandemic, about 54% of American adults report cooking more, with 75% saying they have become more confident in the kitchen, according to 2020 research by HUNTER. Naturally, with this rise in cooking, a rise in searching up relevant recipes is sure to follow. In fact, 34% of adults surveyed shared that they are looking for more recipes. This can range from healthy recipes, recipes for how to use existing ingredients in one’s pantry, or just searching for simple, practical recipes. Recipes give solutions, guidance, and instruction. How might one’s relationship with recipes affect their approach in the kitchen? There is certainly a practical element of cooking (sustenance for survival), though individuals decide the extent to which they choose to be explorative when cooking. Stick to the recipe? Veer off? Try something different? This differs on a person-to-person basis.

Personally, I have always approached cooking in terms of measurements, precision, and planning. Following a recipe to its definite measurements offers a sense of security and repeatability. If I repeat the same sequence of steps in the same manner, a good product is guaranteed every single time. After spending hours in the kitchen, working with all sorts of ingredients, who would not want a palate-pleasing outcome? 

There is no harm in following recipes down to the footnotes. However, in my effort to shoot for only positive outcomes, I realized something deeper at stake: my fear of failure. My pursuit of perfection suppresses my creativity, innovation, and freedom to experiment in the kitchen. I soon discovered there comes a point when depending on solely measurements becomes limiting instead of liberating. My grandmother’s style of cooking helped shift my perspective to welcome more experimentation.  

My grandmother, who I affectionately refer to as “Nanidear,” keeps the precise measurements mostly for baking. Everything else she measures her own way. Eye-balling it, a handful of this, a pinch of that but it really isn’t a “measurement” as I previously understood it. It is cooking by taking context into account, changing up ingredients based on what we already have, trying something new by modifying a base recipe, adjusting accordingly, or having fun with it. “Made with love,” as Nanidear says. And boy, is her food heavenly. Cooking with her allows me to contemplate the role of calculation and creativity in preparing food.

On a chilly mid-May day (New England weather is like this), Nanidear brought me into the kitchen to show me how to make Hyderabadi chicken korma. “I want you to make it,” she told me with a smile. Ah, the classic “learning by doing.” No printed out recipe here. 

Bewildered since I didn’t know the exact specifics of the recipe, I hesitantly took out ingredients I thought would go in the trusty pressure cooker. Chicken (obviously), Desi yogurt, ginger garlic paste, fresh mint leaves, almonds, assorted spices, oil, fried onions… I’ve watched my mother make the dish hundreds of times, but somehow I felt unsure without a recipe to cling to for safety. 

Image address from Tea for Tumeric

My grandmother then directed me to put all the ingredients in the pressure cooker. “Uh… how much of each ingredient do we need?” I asked. Nanidear knew I was a stickler for measurements, so with a twinkle in her eye she urged me to try my best without measuring tools. I had to figure it out myself using only a wooden spoon and my hands. I carefully placed each ingredient in the pressure cooker with how much I thought would be needed. All Nanidear would say was “a little bit more” or “that’s enough.” I was challenged to really scrutinize what I was putting into the pot, and “feel” how much was best in order to understand how the proportions of ingredients work together. So if I was changing the serving size from small to large, I would know how to adjust accordingly. 

Since this version of cooking chicken korma is done using a pressure cooker, it is simple in that all ingredients go into a single pot. Once all the ingredients were in and well-mixed, we turned on the stove and let it cook. “That’s it?” I asked. “That’s it,” she nodded, then added “So easy, right?” She was right. It was easier than I imagined. Not to mention, I didn’t have to wash a pile of different measuring cups I would have otherwise used. Yay.

After a couple of steams, we opened the lid to check on the chicken. This is where the variable nature of the pressure cooker comes into play. It is imperative to monitor the meat to ensure it is cooked all the way through. A recipe gives guidelines, but everything between each step is up to the cook. Not everything is written out, so developing a “sense” is critical. 

Nanidear shared with me that depending on the chicken, heat, cooker, and other factors, cooking time may be longer or shorter. She decided to increase the cooking time to allow the flavors to meld together and chicken to become tender. No korma dish will finish cooking at the same exact time. Therefore, it is important to adjust as needed depending on the context. 

Once the dish finished cooking, Nanidear opened the lid. The comforting, delicious smell of korma instantly greeted me. After Nanidear tasted the gravy, she pulled out our metal spice box to add a little more red chili powder. I tasted it. It was absolutely divine. Prepping the fresh naan and basmati rice is all that was left. 

My grandmother inspired me to view step-by-step recipes as tools to help with the direction of a dish. Not getting so caught up in the measurements as before, I welcome experimentation, and thus, the possibility of failure. However, it really isn’t a failure but an experience to reference in the future. Knowing how to adapt in different situations, like Nanidear changing the cooking time of the korma or adding more spices to taste, is a skill in itself. 

In my experience, destroying self-imposed pressures of perfection invited a sense of playfulness and creativity. Not only did I discover newfound freedom, but also strengthened confidence and trust in my abilities. Perhaps with more Americans embracing cooking as a result of the pandemic, attitudes towards recipes can welcome adventurousness and experimentation, like I am warming up to.

Of course, every person and circumstance is different. Calculations are necessary in many dishes, and straying too far from a standard can transform a dish into something completely different—for better or for worse. Recipes and instructions have merit. However, in dishes where there is some leniency, perhaps seeing a recipe as malleable instead of fixed could invite new creations. 

Experimenting outside a recipe can have its perks. For example, chocolate chip cookies were invented in the 1930s by Ruth Graves’ hard work testing, developing, and perfecting the cookie we all know and love today. A home test kitchen is born when calculation and creativity can intermingle. Both elements can exist and open the door to new possibilities. What is your next concoction?

Featured Cover Image by Williams Sonoma

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Soft-Boiled Patience and the Kingdom of God

This is a story of abject failure.

My forever-lack of a cardinal virtue, a lack I’ve contended with all my life. I’ve been in the ring with it and knocked it out even after it’s had me on the ropes. But every now and then I find myself face to face with the architect of my frustrations, the shadow that follows me on my brightest days.

I lack, and have always lacked, patience.

And so, when I decided to make some egg salad—egg salad! Of all things!—and found myself unable to sit idly by for ten excruciating minutes without prodding, poking, peeling, pretty much playing the perpetual pugilist to patience, I realized that I had been trying to stifle it. For the last two months I’ve tried to conquer patience—and eggs, for that matter—with brute force. 

And all I got was a disappointingly undercooked egg, lethargically spilling out of its membrane and onto my cutting board, destined for the trash can.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. If I had to pinpoint a place where it started I’d say it was the labor and delivery floor of the children’s hospital where I was born. That room was so stuffy and mechanical, I had to get out stat. I wept and screamed indefatigably to make sure my parents knew I needed to escape. And when I did, I became impatient to walk, stumbling over and over until I finally put one foot in front of another—and promptly fell to my knees. And then did whatever toddlers do. Toddle, I guess.

There were cuter moments of impatience, I suppose. I stayed up past the babysitter’s jurisdiction to make sure I got the glimpse of my parents I was owed after their return from some dinner. I pestered my mother with questions—specifically, when could I eat miso soup again (my favorite dish from fourth grade to this day)—and scavenged the house for flashlights so that I could read a chapter of a book that simply couldn’t wait until dawn. 

But these innocuous manifestations of my impatience don’t hold a candle to the mundanity that I find myself rushing for now. I find myself yearning for a faster-melting snow. I want the trees to blossom sooner. On rainy days I want the sun and when it shines I want the sound of rain so much I find a multi-hour loop of it to lull me to sleep. 

But when I cook, I become a demon of impatience. Baking was never for me, and I think this is why. When I see something in a pan, I hear it demand to be messed with. I can only let something sit and simmer or sear when I have another task to immediately attend to. As water boils, I chop my veg. When the pasta cooks, I heat up my sauce. Sounds okay, right? That is until my restlessness inspires me to zhuzh up a sauce with all-too much cayenne pepper, to the point where any sane person would call it inedible, but my pride says otherwise. 

This isn’t to diminish the fact that sometimes this works in my favor. Boredom is the root of all creative endeavors, after all. And sometimes the secret ingredient finds its way into my dinner in those moments where I lean against the kitchen counter.

…But not enough to justify the truly egregious mistakes I’ve made due to a simple lack of patience. Here’s the play-by-play:

I wait for the egg to boil. I set a timer for 8 minutes—knowing I’ll take it out at 7, obviously, and eventually taking it out at 6. Erstwhile I prepare a few wholly unnecessary additions to egg salad. Finely chopped celery and carrots? Fine. Rice vinegar to the mayo? More questionable, but we can let it slide. …Tabasco? I had to draw the line. There comes a point in life where you can’t, in good ethic and faith, add more ingredients to egg salad and still call it egg salad.  

image courtesy of whattocooktoday.com

I realized this and forced myself to stop. I lasted 30 seconds before I took the egg out prematurely. 

This is where I’m contractually obligated to say that I didn’t technically boil the egg. Rather, I boiled the water, turned off the burner and then let the egg sit there for about 6 minutes, all told. I did this because I read somewhere that it led to a “better boiled egg.” But that relates to a different sin of mine, overcomplication, one rife with anecdotes that might merit its own story.

Regardless, when it came time to evict the boiled egg from its shell, it wasn’t even close to cooked. It was a half-poached egg, guts spilling all over my cutting board. Certainly not something you could make egg salad out of. 

I felt rage towards this avian product of hate. Betrayal by egg. But in that swelling of frustration in my gut, I came to accept the hardest truth of cooking and perhaps that of the human condition. 

Sometimes all you can do is sit, and wait.

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Beyond the Dining Experience: Restaurant Advocacy

For centuries, food has been an intermediate for gathering with friends and family, for sharing new ideas, and for celebrations. Now more than ever, food is also being used as a platform for social justice, initiating debates and discussions about the world around us. 

Restaurants around the world are veterans in serving their communities. More recently, however, there has been an increase in the number of restaurants involved in nationwide advocacy efforts and social justice initiatives. Following the outrage that ensued from a variety of racial crimes last year, many restaurants rallied their voices to host productive conversations, gather support, and extend their services beyond the dining experience. 

Boston-area restaurants have been leading efforts for increased social activism. Last summer, many restaurants stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by fundraising. At the same time, restaurants worked hand-in-hand to offer details on black-owned restaurants in the area through a rapidly expanding spreadsheet. Donating to organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and many others, these Boston restaurants have been catalysts for change. Mei Mei, a Fenway restaurant, stands out in its efforts to address just causes. In the past year, it has donated to a multitude of organizations including National Bail Out, The Loveland Foundation, and Black and Pink. It echoes the importance of having an equitable world to expand the business into; restaurants are no longer staying silent.

Image courtesy of Tommy’s SuperFoods

People are noticing. The efforts taken by chefs and restaurateurs to be leaders in the food industry have disseminated into day-to-day conversations, onto the news, and onto social media. Ben & Jerry’s, a fan favorite everywhere, is recognized as one of the most active food companies in this sense. It not only offers a wide array of ice cream flavors but also supports various social justice causes. From advocating for LGBTQ+  rights, to climate justice, to campaign finance reforms, Ben & Jerry’s truly believes that silence is not an option. 

Olivia Stump, MCAS ‘23, took notice of Ben & Jerry’s active social media presence throughout the most recent wave of the BLM movement. She took notice for a couple of reasons, beyond the carefully designed graphics and witty puns. Scrolling through Instagram, she started seeing video shorts on the criminal justice system, “how-to” on voting, and a much more active Ben & Jerry’s presence in general, especially this past year. She appreciated how as a prominent food company, it “used its platform to inform others on where to find resources and how to be active citizens.” She doesn’t stand alone in her recognition, nor in using Ben & Jerry’s resources to inform those around her. Social media has become an instrument through which restaurants can use their voice.

Image courtesy of Fortune

The food and restaurant scene is not limited to exploring different recipes or seeking sustainable and local sources. It has mobilized, blazing a path in social justice, using its platform and the power of food to bring people together and promote change. 

For more information or resources on how to amplify your voice through food and restaurants, see the links below:

Cover image courtesy of Well+Good

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The Perfect Roll

Sushi: the meal you always want when your 8-man decides to go out to dinner but the meal you never end up enjoying because you simply don’t have that extra cash. After all, you need it to pay for that $1.75 laundry machine that may or may not work. Perhaps you’ve wondered, just as I have, what makes sushi so expensive. Theoretically, it seems pretty simple to make. You just place rice on top of seaweed, add some fillings, roll it, and there you have it. Contrary to what it may seem, the process of becoming a sushi chef involves years of dedication and training. Traditionally, it takes at least ten years to become a head sushi chef. Thus those who have gained that title are revered in Japanese culture. Sushi prices reflect the difficulty of mastering the art of making sushi. However, as a love for sushi has spread beyond Japan, sushi schools have sprung up around the world offering shorter certification programs.  

image courtesy of Taste of Home

It can take over a decade to become a sushi chef. Every little detail, down to the rice, must be perfected. In Japan, those who have achieved this status are honored with the title of itamae. This translates to “in front of the board,” signifying the chef’s physical position in the kitchen. A sushi chef candidate must start at the bottom of the ladder, as a cleaner. This beginning job provides an opportunity for the candidate to prove their dedication. After the master decides they have displayed sufficient work ethic and commitment, they may move on to become a rice maker. Each itamae prefers their own balance of rice, sushi vinegar, and sometimes salt in their sushi rice and tends to keep his or her ratio a secret. Once a candidate has demonstrated the ability to make perfect sushi rice unsupervised, he or she may move on to become a wakiita. This translates to “near the cutting board,” indicative of their progress toward an itamae. The candidate may spend years as a wakiita, or apprentice. This position includes various responsibilities such as preparing the fish and other ingredients. During this time, the apprentice learns the art of combining flavors. An itamae may also allow a wakiita to prepare to-go orders if they show talent. A wakiita knows he or she will succeed in their goal of becoming an itamae if he or she is rewarded with the ability to use his or her own sushi knives, called hocho. Finally, after years of hard work, the apprentice may become an itamae if deemed worthy by the master.

image courtesy of Foodhall Cookery Sudio

While the process of becoming an itamae is quite lengthy, crafting a roll of sushi at home is not as challenging as you may think. Although it may not look as beautiful without the years of practice, I have found it to be just as satiating. All you need to begin your quest to perfect sushi is a bamboo sushi mat, a sharp knife, whole sheets of nori (seaweed), sushi rice, and the desired ingredients. Some of my favorite ingredients include salmon, tuna, avocado, egg, and Japanese pickled cucumbers. You can buy a sushi mat at many japanese grocery stores for a low price. Sushi rice consists of Japanese short-grain rice and sushi vinegar. In place of sushi vinegar you can use rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The blog Just One Cookbook has an excellently detailed recipe for at-home sushi making, but here is a brief overview: begin by cooking your rice and then combining it with the sushi vinegar. Ensure that the rice is cool before placing it on the nori so the seaweed does not become soggy. While your rice is cooling, cut and prepare your ingredients. Lay out your bamboo mat and place half a sheet of nori on top. A full sheet of nori will create a chunkier roll but the end result is neater if you use a sheet that has been cut in half. Cover the nori with a thin layer of rice, leaving around an inch uncovered at the end. Place your ingredients in the middle of the rice. Try to ensure that the ingredients are evenly dispersed to allow for a uniform roll. Lightly wet the uncovered portion of the nori so that it will stick to itself. Using the sushi mat, roll the seaweed over the ingredients and tighten the mat around them. Finally, release the sushi and roll it completely, sealing it with the damp portion of nori. Then cut and serve with ginger and wasabi. 

image courtesy of Wonder How To: Food Hacks

So, when picking your fish to make sushi at home, how do you know what is safe to eat? What makes certain fish “sushi grade?” The label “sushi grade” refers to fish that is bled, gutted, and placed on ice immediately after capture. Sushi-grade fish should be kept frozen for a week or flash-frozen at -35oF to ensure the fish is parasite-free. However, there is no government regulation determining the qualifications of the sushi-grade label, so it’s up to the seller to determine the fish’s quality. Thus, be sure you trust your seller. For reasonably priced sushi grade fish near Boston College, try Maruichi Japanese Food & Deli in Coolidge Corner.

While buying sushi at a restaurant can seem expensive on a college budget, making it at home provides a cheaper and more enjoyable experience. The next time your friend suggests going out for sushi, propose a trip to a Japanese grocery store instead. You’ll have the fun of perusing the aisles and finding other fun snacks along with your sushi ingredients. You’ll create memories with your friends and get that meal you wanted without losing the money you need to finally wash your sheets in the overpriced laundromat that is the Walsh laundry room.

Cover image courtesy of bankadviser.com

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Chicago-Style Hot Dog

When people find out I’m from Chicago—particularly sports fans—they’ll almost always bring up the Cubs. I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard baseball fan, but my allegiance will always belong to the White Sox. My memories of summers from my childhood include night games with fireworks, soft-serve ice cream served in a mini helmet, going to get the parking permit for game days in the neighborhood, and drives out of the city on game days that had to factor in Sox traffic. My cousins would always go to the opening day game at Sox Park (currently Guaranteed Rate Field, formerly U.S. Cellular Field, formerly Comiskey Park). I was always too young to go with them for the actual game, but that didn’t really matter all that much to me. My favorite part about opening day was that the hot dog stands would finally open.

A Chicago-style hot dog is a beast of a thing. Some say that the Chicago dog emerged as a product of the Great Depression for being almost nutritious and definitely cheap. Abe Drexler, the self-proclaimed inventor of the Chicago-style hot dog, called it a “Depression Sandwich” at his renowned stand, Fluky’s. Others claim it emerged from a more organic process due to the diverse ethnic population and ingredients that were mass-produced in the first half of the 20th century. Its anatomy is complex, precise, and haphazard. The core ingredients are yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a pickle spear, tomato, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt. If you ask any Chicagoan, the dog actively denies ketchup. It already has a mix of flavors that are sweet, salty, and spicy, which don’t need to be smothered by the overwhelming condiment. Beyond the toppings, there’s a lot more nuance to the construction of a Chicago-style hot dog.

Image courtesy of Food & Wine

The dog should be boiled. Some places char it. Many will dispute the authenticity of this method, but it can’t be denied that charring adds a crispier texture and smoky flavor to the experience. One should always use an all-beef dog, and many swear by the authenticity of Vienna Beef. The company has an entire page on their website dedicated to the explanation of their role as “Chicago’s Hot Dog.” Austrian-Hungarian immigrants Emil Reichel and Samuel Ladany created the all-beef sausage for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Not only did their Germanic gastronomic traditions need to accommodate a Jewish population and a kosher diet, but the Union Stockyards and its mass production of beef products made Chicago a fantastic spot for the company to begin.

This all-beef dog needs to be nestled in a beautifully fluffy, steamed poppy seed bun. It’s not a real Chicago dog if you’re not wiping those little black seeds off the sides of your pants after you finish it. Bread as a side to sausage came from the German sausage tradition, but Eastern European Jewish immigrants popularized the poppy seed addition in the 1940s.  

The rest of the toppings have a history of their own. As European immigrants populated the city in the early 1900s, most of the ingredients that top the hot dog resonated with European palates. Onions—a favorite ingredient across European culinary traditions— were necessarily added to this Frankensteinian sausage in order to appeal to the growing population of the city. Mustard comes with sausages in the German tradition. When yellow mustard started being mass-produced as a condiment in the US, it easily and quickly attached itself to the hot dog, and the sheer cheapness of it encouraged the diversity of Chicagoans to maintain that detail. The sweet pickle relish is British; piccalilli in Britain is a Western interpretation of a South Asian pickled vegetable mix. In the ‘20s—probably in the context of a Cubs/Sox baseball game—hot dog expert Bruce Kraig said it became a vibrant, green condiment that added a sweet flavor and uncanny neon color to the mosaic of the Chicago dog. 

Sport peppers and celery salt are products of North America. Sport peppers or small and spicy pickled peppers probably came from Mexico and were popularized in Chicago during the Columbian Exposition as a condiment for tamales. Celery was a superfood of the ‘20s: many claimed there were extreme health benefits associated with the fibrous vegetable, so one could say it was thrown on the hot dog for some extra beneficial sustenance. Realistically, celery was grown on the north side of Chicago, so it was a pretty accessible ingredient and probably cheap to add.  

Image courtesy of Mashed

Everyone’s got their hot dog stand. Chicagoland born writer and editor Jason Diamond lists a handful of them located mostly on the North Side. My go-to stands will typically stay somewhere within the two-mile radius of my neighborhood. This may be controversial but my favorite hot dog stand puts a cucumber spear instead of a pickle spear on the hot dog. The cucumber offers a nice bit of watery freshness that isn’t nearly as harsh and vinegary as a kosher pickle. Now, I don’t really have to wait for baseball season to get a good Chicago hot dog. Portillo’s, a local chain, will never let me down. The Weiner’s Circle has gone viral for its rude staff and classic char dog. Gene and Jude’s doesn’t offer ketchup. Taking it even further, 35th Street Red Hots (sorry folks, no website here) has a bell of shame for those who have the courage to ask for ketchup (or lack the tact to just add it on their own if they really need to). It doesn’t really matter where you go, as long as you remember to get all the good stuff. 

And please, just forget about the ketchup.

Cover image courtesy of Mashed

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Features

Foods From Fiction

For food lovers, there’s nothing more fascinating than seeing scrumptious dishes in films and television shows. Or reading about meticulously baked treats or lavish spreads of food in books. Immersive cinematic experiences in film or encapsulating writing styles in literature can make it feel like the audience is right there with the characters and food. But why stop there, as a mere viewer? What could be more satisfying than actually creating and tasting the dishes yourselves? To not consume media solely by flipping pages or staring at a screen, but instead leveraging your tastebuds (and culinary skills!) to transport yourself to a given fictional universe? Yes, that’s right. Recreating food from popular media can help bring us closer to our favorite media pastimes in a captivating way. 

The idea of creating food inspired by movies and television shows is not new. Binging with Babish (Babish Culinary Universe), a YouTube cooking channel created by Andrew Rea, seeks to “recreate the iconic and obscure foods from your favorite movies and TV shows.” With quality film production, culinary creativity, attention to technique, and a side dish of humor, Rea’s channel has amassed over eight million subscribers. Step-by-step, viewers can learn how to recreate dishes from all sorts of shows and movies, from the “Krabby Patty” from SpongeBob to “The Sloppy Jessica” from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. With the help of recipes from Binging with Babish and other chefs and creators, here are five different recipes inspired by television shows, movies, or books. Which fictional world will you dive into today?

1. Kevin’s Famous Chilli inspired by The Office

image courtesy of usmagazine.com

Kevin: “At least once a year I like to bring in some of my Kevin’s Famous Chili. The trick is to undercook the onions. Everybody is going to get to know each other in the pot. I’m serious about this stuff. I’m up the night before, pressing garlic, and dicing whole tomatoes. I toast my own ancho chiles. It’s a recipe passed down from Malones for generations. It’s probably the thing I do best.”

We’re starting this list strong with an iconic scene from The Office. Kevin Malone cooks up his famous chili and brings it to the office to share, an annual tradition. In a tragic turn of events, Kevin spills the huge pot of chili on the floor. But just because the office couldn’t enjoy his dish doesn’t mean you can’t.

Recipe: Binging with Babish recipe with video

2. Ladoo inspired by Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

image courtesy of bollywoodbubble.com

Avid Bollywood movie watchers are no stranger to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, one of the most popular films in Indian cinema. “Ladoo” is the childhood nickname for Rohan, one of the characters in the film that helps unite his divided family. This name comes from ladoo (also written as laddu), a sphere-shaped Indian sweet that comes in all sorts varieties. Try your hand at making ladoo, a delectable accompaniment when watching Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, especially during festive scenes when the dessert appears.

Recipe: Dassana’s Veg Recipes’ Motichoor Ladoo recipe

3. Kronk’s Spinach Puffs inspired by The Emperor’s New Groove 

image courtesy of finction-food on Pinterest

One of my all-time favorite Disney movies, The Emperor’s New Groove, is incomplete without Kronk’s passion for cooking. Kronk is the loyal yet oblivious henchman for Yyzma, the royal advisor to Emperor Kuzco in the movie. During a memorable scene, Kronk frantically cries “My spinach puffs!” when he realizes he forgot to check on his puffs cooking. You too can experience the happiness Kronk felt with perfectly crisp, delightful spinach puffs.  

Recipe: Binging with Babish recipe with video

4. Jjapaguri inspired by Parasite

image courtesy of nbcnews.com

Parasite is a South Korean comedy thriller film that won numerous awards, including four at the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. The film features a dish many foreign viewers were curious about upon seeing: Jjapaguri (Ram-Don). Jjapaguri is created by combining two instant noodle brands together (Chapagetti and Neoguri) and sometimes adding steak (as featured in the film). However, the dish’s placement in the film is more than a tasty and creative noodle concoction. Instead, it poses as a metaphor for class inequalities with the depiction of expensive steak resting on top of cheap noodles. Celebrate the remarkably layered and well-produced film with a bowl of jjapaguri.

Recipe: Korean Bapsang’s recipe with video

5. Butterbeer inspired by Harry Potter 

image courtesy of buzzfeed.com on Pinterest

“Harry and Hermione made their way to the back of the room, where there was a small, vacant table between the window and a handsome Christmas tree which stood next to the fireplace. Ron came back five minutes later, carrying three foaming tankards of hot Butterbeer. ‘Happy Christmas!’ he said happily, raising his tankard. Harry drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, quoted in article)

Harry Potter fans know Butterbeer is a classic beverage popular among Hogwarts students. While you’re mostly likely a Muggle reading this, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a magical pint of Butterbeer like a true student in the world of wizardry. 

Recipe: Favorite Family Recipes’ recipe 

Next time you watch a movie or television show, or indulge yourself in literature, remember that you too can help yourself to mouth-watering meals along with your favorite characters. Bring food to life in your kitchen with your own adaptations, or through inspired recipes from creators like Binging with Babish. Blur the lines between fiction and reality as you travel universes. After all, you are the main character of your own life. Seize your story.

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Features

Search for the Perfect Coffee on Newbury Street

I work 5 days a week as a Shift Manager at Starbucks. Over the past three years, I’ve tried almost every type of coffee Starbucks offers, invented recipes using anything and everything behind the bar, and have hosted coffee tastings for district managers and customers alike. It’s safe to say coffee is a passion of mine, so one January morning I went to every coffee shop on Newbury Street on a search to find the best, most affordable cup of Joe. 

My plan was unstructured at best: while Newbury Street has a good variety of coffee shops, things like caramel swirls or cinnamon powder can get in the way of natural flavor. I decided to ask each shop only for a black cup of coffee, but by the time I got to the register of shop number one, The Thinking Cup, I diverged from that idea. Instead, I asked the incredibly sweet barista what she thought their best coffee without added flavor was. She recommended their cappuccino and said it was the “perfect blend of milk, foam, and coffee.” As I sat outside in the crisp thirty degree air, the warmth of the drink worked miracles. At $4 for a 8-12 oz cup, I was expecting an incredible cappuccino. While the espresso was delicious (nothing burned, too bitter or too acidic), the drink itself seemed more like a latte than a cappuccino. There wasn’t a lot of foam; instead, I got a velvety smooth milk with that strong espresso flavor coming through. 

image courtesy of rellenah on Pinterest

Now a man on a mission, I hopped back in my car and drove slowly up the street until I spotted the next coffee shop up the road: Blue Bottle Coffee.Walking up the steps to the shop, I thought they might just sell coffee products. Their windows were lined with boxes of pour-overs, coffee kits, and teas. It wasn’t until I got inside that I noticed the coffee bar toward the back of the shop. The man on register said his favorite coffee was a single-origin Ethiopian roast that they prepared using a pour-over. This specific roast highlighted fruity undertones—an especially exciting flavor for coffee, since most blends highlight some form of cocoa, nuts, or spices. This 12 oz. cup of coffee set me back $5.35, although I think for a coffee connoisseur it was well worth trying. Most coffee houses prepare larger batches of hot coffee, so it’s a unique approach to rely on a single serve pour-over for every non-espresso transaction. 

Only a block or two down the street, DeLuca’s Market caught my eye. However, after discovering that they no longer had fresh coffee that day,  I instead stopped in Amorino: a gelato shop just next door. Just past the long glass counter of gold-brushed macaroons and seemingly plastic gelato, I spotted a shiny Italian espresso machine by the checkout counter. Again, I asked for whatever the cashier’s favorite coffee beverage was. Amorino did not offer brewed coffee, so she made me a latte. I spent $3.69 for a single shot latte with perfectly frothed milk and creamy espresso. The latte also came with a chocolate filled Italian wafer that perfectly highlighted the semi-sweet undertones of the espresso.

My last two stops were practically next door to one another, and they were both places I was familiar with. Trident Booksellers & Cafe is one of my favorite places in Boston. Pre-pandemic, I would get brunch there with my roommates, friends from Emerson and Tufts, and literally anyone that came into town to visit. It occurred to me that while I could swim in their French Onion Soup, I had never tried coffee there (and any good cafe should sell at least a decent cup of coffee). Although their cafe was only open for pickup, the cashier rang me up for a small black cup of coffee that came out to only $2.50. It was everything you would hope a cafe coffee would be: decently priced, piping hot, and delicious. I would have been content just sipping that cup for the rest of the night, but my journey would not be complete without hitting the Starbucks two doors over. 

Though I walked in with confidence, it was almost 5 p.m., and I knew they would only be serving the medium Pikes’ Place roast- my least favorite Starbucks blend. I leveled with them and told them this was my sixth coffee shop of the day. I didn’t like Pike’s Place, but since I couldn’t add flavor, I asked the barista to get as creative as he could with a regular latte. He gave me a tall latte with blonde espresso and ristretto shots instead of regular; switching to blonde or ristretto shots does not change the price of a latte, so this drink’s total was $3.45. The blonde espresso resulted in a much lighter flavor than I’d had in my other lattes, and since ristretto shots are pulled using less water, they’re more concentrated, resulting in a slightly sweeter flavor. 

image courtesy of Anthropologie Europe on Pinterest

By the end of the day, my choice was clear. Although slightly more expensive than a Starbucks latte, I was blown away by the quality of the latte at Amorino. The espresso was the perfect balance of sweet and tart, and only a truly skilled barista with great equipment could produce the creamy foam that spilled over the top of my cup. If you’re looking for an experience, this is it. However if you’re out and about shopping on Newbury and really just need a cup of coffee, the cup I got at Trident was amazing and is my top choice for a house brew. I am partially biased because Trident has never let me down when looking for good books or good food, but the flavor profile of  Trident’s coffee far surpassed that of its competitor up the street that charges over $5 for a cup of equal size.