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Food Allergies at BC

I was the kid who could never eat the cake at birthday parties. I was the kid who had to always have the school nurse accompany me by my side on all the class field trips. I was the kid who was forced to sit at the “peanut-free” lunch table in elementary school. I was the kid who had mastered the “fine” art of injecting an Epipen. This was all because peanuts were and are still the enemy. Well, not just peanuts. Peanuts, tree nuts, soy, beans, seeds; the list goes on endlessly. Having dozens of severe food allergies has become second nature to me at this point, for I have grown up having them throughout my entire life. And although I am completely accustomed and in control of them right now, growing up with food allergies was not always the easiest task. I used to think of myself as “weird.” An outcast. An anomaly. It took awhile for me to understand that food allergies are more common than you may think, and while they can be life threatening and sometimes an inconvenience, I came to realize that there are far worse conditions out there in the world.

Growing up, my allergist (a man who I visited quite often) taught me about the “Big Four.” Not the group of top Allied leaders from World War I, but rather the top four most dangerous types of food places for people with severe nut allergies to go to. In no particular order, they are as follows; ice cream shops, bakeries, candy stores and dining halls. Ice cream shops because they often do not sterilize the scooper and cross-contamination between peanut butter ice cream and other flavors can easily occur. Bakeries because nut-containing desserts are often made on the same equipment as other products. Candy stores because there are usually not ingredients printed for each item. And dining halls for a combination of the three previous reasons; the risks of cross-contamination, shared equipment and/or the lack of posted ingredients. This is not to say that all ice cream shops, bakeries, candy stories and dining halls are a no-no for people with severe nut allergies. It is just to say that they are places that should be preceded with caution and careful consideration.

Upon coming to Boston College, I knew that it contained one of the “Big Four”: dining halls. Both my parents and I were apprehensive about dealing with my various food allergies here. I was aware of everything that was safe to eat at home, but going to a new place with new foods was a notion that gave us all some worry. I had never really eaten in a large dining hall before, and was anxious to know what I could eat, as well as how carefully BC Dining handles food allergies. Before moving in my parents and I joked about how I was going to have to find the “peanut-free” table at the dining hall. The “peanut-free” table is one of my childhood memories that I cringe to look back at. Back in elementary school I was forced by the school nurse to sit at this table. Although it probably was not, my haunted mind remembers it as being isolated in the deep, dark corner of the lunchroom. I was allowed to bring only one friend to sit with me, and I was even required to eat my lunch on a special placemat given to me by the school nurse that read, “NO PEANUTS” in bold, black letters and had pictures of dancing peanuts with fat red X’s over them. In short, it was humiliating.

After moving in freshman year I met with Kathryn Sweeney, one of the nutritionists here at Boston College with a speciality in food allergies. After meeting with her, I felt so much more at ease. She gave me various handouts on what foods/stations were safe given my specific allergies and even added me to a food allergy focus group. And although I was slightly humiliated at the time, I got a detailed tour of the stations at Mac dining hall as well as the kitchens in the back to show me just how careful they are with how cook their foods. Fun fact: there is a secret fridge in the back he showed me that is filled with allergen-free foods, and I was informed that I am have special permission to walk back and grab stuff from it whenever I liked.

Allergies are one of those things that most people don’t think twice about. Yet I’d like to think that having them, and many of them in my case, has made me much more careful and apt to pay attention to the details.

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In the Name of Late Night

Allie Coon

Past the hour of 9 pm on a Friday or Saturday night, hungry BC students no longer trek to Lower and Mac for sustenance. They journey, quite intentionally, to Late Night. The label shift- subtle but ubiquitous- signals that a kind of weekly transformation takes place in the hallowed halls of BC dining. And perhaps it does.

To an outsider, the dining halls themselves don’t feel much changed, though the smell of frying oil is slightly more prominent than usual. The décor is limited, and your dining options are arranged in rows of the same metal trays most of us have seen since hot lunch in elementary school. In front of these hangs a long plate of glass, a faint reminder of the ever-present threat of norovirus on the petri dish of a campus which we all call home.

This austerity is not a direct signal of quality- there are esteemed restaurants which operate out of subway stations or grocery stores or farms. But Late Night does not provide a culinary experience in the same ways that these do. Your mozzarella sticks will be called mozz sticks, and the cheese within will stretch roughly as long as their abbreviated name. You will be unsure, at times, if your chicken strips are cooked all the way through. Your French fries will be more potato than Pomme frite, and your flatbread most likely will not transport you back to your semester abroad in Parma. Neither the food, nor the location, nor the ambience seem particularly worthy of being rallied around. Yet, when BC dining attempted to change late night at the beginning of this year-replacing chicken strips with sandwiches and mozz sticks with wraps- rallying is exactly what we did.

The Late Night insider is not looking for Italy or acai bowls or the types of civilized culture that the core curriculum so eagerly attempts to impress upon us. The night has gotten too boring, too loud, too busy, or you are, quite simply, very hungry. As you ascend the steps to Addie’s or approach the counters at Mac, fluorescent lights and glowing menu boards illuminate your friends’ faces. You notice where your makeup has melted off in places, you hide behind your roommates from that guy you hate in Globalization. You can hear everything clearly, for probably the first time since you left the house that evening. The voices of your peer’s blend together into the night’s final song.

The food in front of you glows with what you crave: fat and salt and warmth. You are free to order fried carbs in all their glorious forms without the haunting specters of the salad bar and the hordes of students returning from the Plex. A server hands you a plastic boat of food, holding it high like a bowl of holy hosts. Freezers hum with Powerade (your personal cup of blessing) and containers of leftover cake. You stand in the middle of it all, uncontained. The promises of university life are delivered in flawed and fleeting glory- because this is late night, after all, and you weren’t expecting much.

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Publick House: A Traditional Temptation

María Clara Cobo

Before house-made infusions of muddled herbs and huge plates scattered with colorful, high-fiber ingredients became trendy, The Publick House welcomed Bostonians to experience the art of the golden Belgian craft-beer and crispy, greasy, carb-loaded dishes.

In the mid 1800s, Irish pubs started to become popular in the United States, with around 46 percent of all immigrants coming from Ireland. Newcomers, fleeing from the potato famine that took over their country, often visited pubs, which served as places for entertainment in order to cope with their struggles as they settled in a new country. Irish pubs then became centers of community and entertainment, a tradition that has long lived to this day.

When looking for an Irish pub in Boston, the problem is not so much finding one as it is deciding on which one to visit. Our small corner of the country has over one hundred medieval-looking pubs scattered amidst the modern buildings of the city. This precisely why it is extremely important to know how to choose your bar. It might be tempting to step inside the overcrowded pubs that line the streets of Faneuil Hall and the Financial Center. But if you venture on the T through the green line, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find The Publick House.

The dark oak-bar and the arched windows, make this temple of beer seem like a treasured antiquity, but the Brookline pub has skillfully created an authentic culinary scene, drawing a stream of hungry customers through its black-bordered doors for the past fifteen years.

At the Publick House, beer geeks and football fans alike hustle to find a spot. A wall, stacked with bottles full of different tones of amber liquid, looms over the tightly spaced tables, dimly lit by a faint candle. Laughter and conversations overpower the music. Loud voices swirl to the beat of the waiters’ rushed steps, moving from table to table, making sure to keep the plates and glasses full.  

No matter the time, the Publick House seems to encapsulate the entire city of Boston in one place. I looked around the busy tables. A family wearing BC sports gear passing around a hot skillet whose barbeque infused scent roamed its way around an old couple eating side by side, hunched over their meals as they studied the piles of ingredients stacked inside their burgers. A group of young men collapsing with helpless laughter as they sipped on their heavy glasses of beer, next to a couple who seemed to be struggling to hear what they had to say. Yes, the noise level can be high, but it’s an essential part of the ambience.

Although the restaurant is renown for its craft-beers, you won’t see shots or pitchers here, just as the the vigilant sign perched above the back bar says. Awarded 2010 Best Beer List by Boston Magazine, the Publick House offers nearly 200 different types of beers and ale, the vast majority of them from Belgium and Germany, and as tasty as the food they are served with.

As iron skillets, loaded with a mysterious mixture of food, dripping hot cheese off of their sides, make their way out of the kitchen, it was impossible to choose what to order. The menu is divided by sections, including an entire section dedicated to add-ons. However, the appetizer section is the best reflection of the Publick House’s cuisine. Most dishes are an ode to potatoes and cheese, making everyone surrender to the temptation of breaking the streak with their healthy-eating habits.

The monks frites had my name written all over them, and it was definitely one of our favorites. Hand-cut Yukon potatoes are double-fried until golden brown, served in a traditional Belgian paper cone, dusted with sea salt and come with a choice of two dressings. We ordered the truffle ketchup and the blue cheese dip. Steam rose from the velvet-red ketchup container and cheese oozed from the inside of the blue cheese. I couldn’t resist to combine both flavors, saturating the potatoes in the rich and gooey sauces. The warm mixture was pure ambrosia in my mouth, so delicious that I even dared to double dip the chip.

We followed our server’s recommendation for our next selection from the appetizer section: a short-rib stew on an iron skillet. I was pretty skeptical of this particular dish because by the description, it seemed as if the chef had tossed every single ingredient in the kitchen: oven roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables blended with slow-cooked short rib immersed in sweet barbeque sauce and topped with a fried egg. I was disappointed when I cut through the yolk and the drool worthy goodness of a perfect fried egg didn’t appear. But even though the egg was a bit overcooked, the thin slices of meat were fabulously succulent and tender, melting in my mouth with the crunchy crust of the potatoes.

The harvest salad was the ideal half-time star of the show. A pile of greens laying next to a steaming short-rib skillet and golden fried potatoes, this salad still managed to appeal to our tastes. The combination of the dark and leafy arugula, tossed with fresh apples, dried cranberries, blue cheese and roasted walnuts was a refreshing break from the overwhelmingly heavy start. Still, we could not leave without having a bite of the famous Publick House Burger. Unlike the other dishes, this one allows customers to create their own burger, stacking it up with all of their favorite ingredients. In fact, there is an entire section in the menu devoted to list all the different ingredients you can add to it. There is an ample selection of dressings, including bacon horseradish aioli, and a Wostyntje beer mustard to bring you back to the award-winning beverage that has earned the restaurant its fame. A few extras, such as caramelized onions, grilled Portobello and avocado are also available to decorate your beef patty. Despite all the possible add-ons, I think the burger itself was neglected in the process; the beef didn’t have a lot of personality, as it was missing a touch of seasoning. Nevertheless, when I took my first bite, it exploded with a chin-dripping juice that marked my satisfaction.

Few Irish pubs are packed on a late Saturday afternoon. The Publick House is definitely one of them. It normally comes alive every day from the moment the clock strikes 5 p.m., offering their never-ending selection of craft-beers and their potato-loaded dinner menu. However, weekends are special at the Publick House, since they are open for brunch until 4 p.m. before the dazzling Boston nightlife takes over the casual lunch scene.

The Publick House, 1648 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02445