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Essays

Ariana: Delightful Afghan Cuisine

It is not a frequent occurrence that I explore my culinary interests through schoolwork. Yet, one recent group assignment that I had for a class gave me just that opportunity. Before I even applied to Boston College, my parents traveled to Boston together. While in Boston, they explored different parts of the city and tried a variety of foods while doing so. During their trip, they happened to stumble upon an Afghan restaurant in Brighton, MA called Ariana. Intrigued by the novelty of Afghan cuisine in their lives, my parents returned to Florida with rave reviews of the Afghan food they had tried. Once I matriculated to BC a while later, my parents often suggested that I eat at Ariana, like they had during their trip. Since my freshman year, I have said I would go, but I’ve never carved out time to do so. However, the thought of eating there one day has never escaped my memory. I am always open to trying dishes that I am unfamiliar with, so I’ve always intended on eating at Ariana some day.

During this Fall 2022 semester, I am taking a course in the Carroll School of Management at BC called Managing Diversity. The course has provided me with a breadth of knowledge concerning the multifaceted benefits of diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace and beyond. Recently, we were assigned to have an “inclusive experience” with our group members from class. This assignment was meant to show us that being an inclusive person requires intentionality, and sometimes discomfort for the sake of learning and growing. When brainstorming what inclusive experience to have with my group, it dawned on me that trying another culture’s cuisine at a restaurant is inclusive, especially if it also involves getting to know staff members of said restaurant. My mind immediately went to Ariana, which my parents had told me about for years at that point. As a current senior, I figured it was time to give this restaurant a try! When my three fellow group members agreed to go to the restaurant for our inclusive experience, I was excited to taste the flavors so memorable to my mother and father.

When I entered the restaurant on a Wednesday evening with my classmates, I was astounded by its vibrant yellow walls, the intricate dress hung up on the wall, and the drums on display. Our waiter approached us right away, and although we felt out of place, we were still eager to try the food. First, they served us naan bread with three dipping sauces before we ordered our entrees. The naan was soft, yet slightly crispy at the same time. In comparison to the pita bread that I had tried before, the naan was thinner. A tangy yogurt sauce paired wonderfully with the bread, which pleased my palette and elevated my excitement for the entree. I ordered an entree of the name Kofta Challow. Specifically, the dish features beef meatballs with Afghan seasonings, which are then sautéed with green peas, sun dried tomatoes, and hot peppers in a tomato sauce. Two meatballs were served to me in a small bowl on a bed of sauce, alongside a full plate of challow rice, or rice seasoned with cumin seed and oil and baked. The rice and the sauced meatballs worked in perfect unison together. Sporting a rich and well-seasoned taste, the tomato sauce mixed with the cumin-flavored rice to create a delightful explosion of warmth and pronounced flavor in my taste buds. With their moist texture, the meatballs were soft and not overpowering, and the warm tomato sauce amazingly enhanced their flavor. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of spice and warmth that the naan and my chosen dish evoked.

When we conversed with the owner of the restaurant, my respect for those working in the culinary business rose to an even higher degree. The owner indicated a sense of happiness in sharing Afghan cuisine with the general public, which was heartwarming to hear as an individual who had been curious to try Afghan food for a long time. I am so thankful that this educational opportunity turned into an experience in which I could savor Afghan cuisine and celebrate the inclusion of a culture quite distinct from my own. We made sure to let the owner know that we would recommend the restaurant to others, so that is exactly what I am going to do. If they have not already done so, readers should go and try Afghan cuisine at Ariana. Greeted by friendliness the second you step into the restaurant, the rest of the dining experience at Ariana includes memorable spice, comforting warmth, and visual satisfaction at the sight of the restaurant’s neat plating.

Cover photo courtesy of Ariana

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Essays

Exams and Blueberries

Exam season is quickly approaching, and it’s officially the time of the year when I declare blueberries as my favorite food. Once again I find myself at Whole Foods, filling my cart with the last packs of organic blueberries I can find. My pre-exam ritual is one of the smartest things I’ve incorporated into my college life. How could you not want to munch on these luscious little berries as you sit in the library to write your 20-page lab report, or struggle to figure out what the deuterium isotope effect is?

As a pre-med student, I have developed a strong interest in brain health. I spend a lot of my time listening to podcasts and reading about the body, and I have realized how essential blueberries are to living a healthy life. When they’re ripe, blueberries emit a sweet taste, as they contain some sugar. Surprisingly though, they do not cause blood sugar spikes, since they are full of fiber and compounds such as anthocyanins, which ultimately lead to their slowed digestion. Apart from being delicious, they provide us with a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals like vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants, making them an incredible source of brain and body fuel. Several hundred years ago, blueberries were often used to lower fevers and calm digestive issues. Today, research shows that blueberries have anti-inflammatory properties that can be linked to a decrease in chronic inflammation and diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. Accordingly, it is not surprising that they top the list of my favorite berries. And what makes them even more appealing is the fact that blueberries last for weeks in the fridge (unlike raspberries, which often have mold on them before they’re even brought home from the store). Moreover, you can incorporate blueberries into almost any meal and any time of the day, which makes them perfect for a busy college student like me.

My preferences haven’t changed much as I’ve grown up. I have loved blueberries since I was a toddler. It’s not because they taste better than any other berry or fruit on the market, but because they’ve always been present at times when I’m doing things I love. In Sweden, my family often went on excursions to a nearby forest. Swedish forests are famous for being covered with small blueberry bushes, or as Scandinavian blueberries are actually called, bilberries. My brothers and I always picked and munched on them as we ran around in the woods. 

Unlike the many types of blueberries one can find in the U.S., most European blueberries are always red or blue inside. My pre-school teachers helped us paint with the red juices from squished blueberries, so it was not rare for me to come home with my clothes stained by their juices. These rich but balanced, tiny berries provide me with a sense of nostalgia. Now every time I buy them, they take me back to when I was little and didn’t have a care in the world. 

These days, I find myself drawn to blueberries every time I have exams. It wasn’t until I was standing in the Whole Foods checkout line with six cartons of them that I began questioning why. Is it because of the unmatchable health benefits, or because of the anxiety relief that nostalgia provides me when I eat them? Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Regardless, I am forever thankful, and I will continue to buy out the blueberries at Whole Foods during every exam season until I graduate.

Cover photo courtesy of health line

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Essays Uncategorized

The Timeless Fourth of July Cake

Heaps of laughter filled the air as I licked the sugary buttercream frosting off my freshly-washed finger. 

“I think we can fit a couple of more blueberries in the corner. What do you think, Aunt Pat?”

“We have forty-eight blueberries and need fifty. How about we put one more in the upper right hand corner and one more on the edge of the red strawberry stripe?”

“It looks perfect!”

My sister and I smiled at the perfected U.S.A.-themed cake. We were able to squeeze 50fifty frozen blueberries and seven rows of sugar-dusted strawberries to accurately represent the stars and stripes on the American flag. This was a tradition we mimicked every summer to commemorate the Fourth of July and the start of a wonderful summer at the Jersey Shore. 

Annually, my extended family flocked to Avon by the Sea, a small beach town on the northern coast of the Jersey Shore, for the beginning of July. My Aunt Pat and Uncle Bernie lived in a three-story colonial house on Ocean Avenue with a beautiful view of the vibrant sea. The house was accompanied by a large wrap-around porch, which was the perfect location to band together in order to watch fireworks, and more importantly, eat the annual Fourth of July Cake. 

The Fourth of July Cake was a big deal in my family, especially to my Aunt Pat, who was a perfectionist in the kitchen. She was a master baker who always whipped up the most delectable desserts without ever following a recipe. It was almost an innate ability. The famous sweet treat has a vanilla sponge base and was topped with light buttercream frosting that perfectly complemented the berries. It was moist yet airy — you could easily have more than one slice, in fact, it was recommended that you did. 

My sister and I were fortunate enough to be the “chosen” cousins to help my aunt out with this seasonal task. We continued the tradition in unison until 2020: the year my Aunt Pat lost her battle to breast cancer. She had been fighting an aggressive form of the cancer for about four years, but never failed to fill the room with smiles and tasty concoctions. Her legacy lived on through her creations in the kitchen, especially the Fourth of July Cake.

The summer of 2022 was the first time my family came together again at the Jersey Shore. Although we were missing the glue of the Marotti Clan, we were able to come together and make the best of the situation. My sister and I thought it would be an excellent idea to try and recreate the iconic Fourth of July Cake in order to boost morale and remind everyone of the positive times associated with Aunt Pat. We had accompanied her through this baking process for about eight years, so we had a decent amount of experience between the two of us. 

7/4/22:

We stared at the cake. 

“No, it doesn’t look right.”

“Move the fifth strawberry to the left.”

“The buttercream isn’t sweet enough. Add another teaspoon of sugar.”

“Is the frosting leveled? I see a divot.”

My sister and I did not want to disappoint our family, or even worse, taint the legacy of Aunt Pat. Eventually, we got the large sheet cake looking up to par and stuck it in the refrigerator to bring out when the fireworks commenced. Looking in the eyes of all our family members when the dessert was unveiled was all we needed to do. We knew then about the importance of food and family traditions: even though someone is not physically not present, the spirit of them still lingers in their creations.

Cover photo courtesy of Momspark

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Essays

The Experience of Ceviche

Growing up, I was always surrounded by Latin American culture. There are a variety of restaurants in the South Florida area that serve a wide array of cuisines, from Colombian to Ecuadorian to Argentinian to Peruvian. Ceviche is a South American dish that I deeply enjoy, given how vibrant and fresh its flavors are. Even the science behind the dish is fascinating, so one can never go wrong with enjoying a mixed seafood ceviche.

Peruvian mixed seafood ceviche is my favorite. Fresh, raw fish is diced into small pieces and cooked in lemon juice, which I have always found so interesting. Paired with cut up octopus and juicy pieces of shrimp, this ceviche almost makes me feel like I am in the ocean when eating it. I immensely appreciate this, given my love for the ocean. The lemon juice not only cooks the fish in ceviche, but it also provides a pleasant acidity that fosters a refreshing culinary experience. 

Another component of ceviche that pleases the palette is sliced red onion. In general, raw red onion in any dish provides an awesome kick. In addition to offering ceviche a positively pungent flavor, the red onion slices also diversify the textures of the dish with their crunch and crisp texture. Also, it is undeniable that red onion strikingly cuts through the generally white-colored ceviche with notes of purplish-red. Furthermore, cilantro is an essential ingredient in ceviche. Grassy, bright green cilantro brings an herbaceous flair to ceviche. Essentially, cilantro accentuates the flavor of the lemon juice, the seafood, and the red onion slices.

 One should never overlook ceviche’s side dishes, as they are vital elements of the dish as a whole. Firstly, loose pieces of chewy corn called choclo are often served alongside ceviche. Bearing a light yellow color distinct from the mustard tint of corn frequently seen in the United States, pieces of choclo in ceviche absorb the citrus and cut through the dish’s acidity with starchiness. I cannot imagine eating ceviche without choclo, since it helps bring the dish together. Boiled and sliced sweet potato also brings much-needed starchiness to ceviche. Soft and orange in color, the sweet potato slices absorb acidity like choclo, yet they retain their original identity by maintaining a natural sweetness that balances the meal. I cannot emphasize enough how important each of these ingredients are to create the cohesive, unique, and delightful dish of ceviche.

Since moving to Boston, I have not had many opportunities to eat ceviche, which is upsetting to some degree. Sometimes, I am guilty of holding on to how dishes are prepared in specific places from home. For that reason, I abstain from trying them in new places for fear of being disappointed. Now, reflecting on how enjoyable it is to eat fresh ceviche, I realize that it is time for me to broaden my horizons and try places in Boston that serve ceviche.

 Whenever I eat ceviche in a Peruvian restaurant with my family, I feel so grateful that its simple ingredients come together in such a powerful way. This power is not, by any means, confined to South Florida. It is time that I recognize food’s ability to transcend certain places. As long as they retain their cultural authenticity, dishes like ceviche can be enjoyed anywhere. With its perfectly cold temperature, ceviche has a way of energizing me and making me feel like I am experiencing summer. I should give myself the chance to feel summertime anywhere I am, even if it is in Boston during the winter. Thank you, South Florida, for being a home base that exposed me to ceviche from a very young age. And thank you, ceviche, for showing me that simplicity in a dish is key and balancing acidity with sweetness is unforgettable when done correctly.

Cover photo courtesy of Cuisine With Me

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Essays

Our PopCorners

What is your favorite snack in your college dorm? In ours, it’s definitely Sea Salt PopCorners. 

It exists in so many different forms in the common room. After grocery shopping, you will see a bunch of them leaning against each other on the top of the refrigerator. Sometimes, when four of us sit around the table and our computers form a perfect square, the green plastic wrapping will sit straight at the center of it. Hands reach for it occasionally for help against midnight hunger, and the green little thing eventually becomes too weak, failing to stay straight on the table.

And the cruel people would make it sit up again, putting their hands in for more and more.

It is so addictive—the tastelessness at the beginning gradually turns to the aroma of corn, diffusing in the mouth. It is crunchy but not delicate, tasty but not greasy, salty but not pungent. It never feels abrupt, like a beautiful box of macarons sitting gently, which somehow keeps people from touching it. With its plainness like water, it flows in our life naturally. Facing those bumpy and dry little triangles, we never hesitate. We love it so much that it feels valuable, but there is never a sense of loss when a pack is finished.

We even have a photo album to collect pictures of every empty bag. We proudly show it to everyone who comes over, and open a new package for our guests. We pass that around until a new record has been broken—the total empty package number reaches 19 instead of 18. It makes relationships so approachable. We take one PopCorner from this bag and pass it around, creating a simple ritual that breeds the urge to connect. 

Maybe it started with only one of us, or it could be some of us, but in the end we all love it. I do not even remember how this started—maybe it was one of those nights when we cuddled on the chairs around the kitchen table, one person asking for some snacks, and it was excitingly introduced. 

But I could never forget the Saturday night when a group of friends sat around the small end table in the living room, the string light gently omitting orange light on the wall, Taylor Swift’s country music videos projecting on the walls under the dim light. We were playing card games—some leaned back on the sofa, some comfortably sat cross-legged, some leaned forward, concentrating, and some laughed and clapped their hands. 

One round came to an end, and we opened a package of PopCorners and passed it around. One of us took one piece of the chip out and said, 

“You know what, appreciate its name. It tastes like popcorn and it has corners. PopCorners! So cute.”

He stared at it, “It has 4 corners.”

“Nah…It has 3 corners—this is a broken one.”

But it does not actually matter how many corners it has, honestly, with all the warmth flowing in the air at 2:00 am. 

Because when you bite one corner, two new ones would emerge. 

The more the better.

Cover Photo Courtesy of: https://snackswithkat.com/pop-corners-chips-review/

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Essays

A Taste of Taste’s

Nearly every time I get back from BC, I am stopped in my tracks: the familiar smell of chocolate chip cookies encapsulating my senses. It certifies that I am home again. My hometown is the home of the factory for Tate’s Cookies (the quintessential green bag housing thin, crispy treats), and I have grown up surrounded by the smell. Whether leaving for school in the morning or returning home after a long ferry commute, Tate’s Cookies has always been in the background. 

            Tate’s Cookies started out as a bakery both by and for locals of Long Island’s East End. The founder, Kathleen King, started off baking the signature cookies at home at 11 years old. She had an immense passion for baking that she hoped to share with her community. King started Kathleen’s Bake Shop a few decades ago, but was unfortunately cast with a poor business deal that led to its eventual demise. Nevertheless, she rallied the community around her and found strength in their support. She went on to found Tate’s in her father’s name. She put her soul into her bakery, maintaining a storefront in Southampton to ensure community connection while growing her retail presence nationwide. Despite negotiating with private equity firms and high-caliber consumer packaged goods companies, King sustained her values and commitment to Tate’s until she knew her employees could adequately further her mission themselves. King has redirected her earnings from the Tate’s sale into charitable funds, such as Peconic Land Trust. This choice has secured her commitment to sustainable choices, specifically to the wellbeing of the local land. She recognizes the significance Long Island has had on her bakery’s prosperity and hopes to give back to her home, which has given her so much. 

She was able to reap this success for Tate’s by launching a product not seen among any other brand: a cookie that is crunchy, buttery, and thin. Tate’s cookies are the “weakness” of so many, King included, and they possess an addicting quality. There is an instantaneous crunch and a hidden addition of salt, allowing for the perfect balance of sweet and savory. As a result, King was able to grow her business from the single Southampton bakery to an internationally recognized company. She has provided a crucial business opportunity for eastern Long Island, which is more known for its agriculture and environment than commercial spaces. Moreover, locals have continued to rally around Tate’s. We feel pride when we spot the signature packaging in a new state, as I know I experienced when first seeing Tate’s in CoRo Café. I was transported home, which helped me recognize how far I have come. With Long Island as my foundation, I utilized this support system to continue finding success at BC, just as King did in growing Tate’s. 

Through its unique niche among cookie competitors, Tate’s has solidified its claim in the industry and brought significant attention to its small hometown. Its legacy is about so much more than a cookie. Tate’s is about community, perseverance, and support. I am reminded of this heartening notion each time I spot Tate’s in a new state or notice the distinct aroma when I am home.

Cover photo courtesy of Bon Appétit

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Essays

Where Love and Lemons Grow

Right beneath the cliffs on Italy’s southwest coastline rests the small but charming town of Amalfi. As we hopped off the ferry near its port this past summer, my family was met by the picture-perfect landscape and ancient, rural architecture. My mom, brother, and I were on a mission to find and enjoy lunch at an agriturismo, a farm which also has room to host guests. We followed the small signs along a main road that led us to a narrow path up the hill before we arrived at the agriturismo called Agricola Fore Porta. Although it is just a 30-minute hike from the town center, Agricola Fore Porta can only be reached by foot. It is located at the beginning of the quiet Valle delle Ferriere, a deep valley filled with incredible crystal-clear waterfalls, tropical greens, remnants of ancient buildings, and farms. Even though the temperature was well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the hike up to the farm was staggering.

On our way up, we crossed paths with a few other tourists who all had the same look of astonishment on their faces. Everywhere one turned, lemon groves and terraced gardens flourished along the valley. Not far from us, a farmer led two donkeys who carried what looked like wine glasses on their backs. We later learned that animals are commonly used instead of cars, as the uphill footpaths are too impractical for any sort of motor vehicle to navigate.

Since my family is the complete opposite of time-optimists, we were not surprised to arrive an entire hour before the restaurant at Agricola Fore Porta opened. Nonetheless, we met Silvia, one of the owners of the farm. She kindly offered to bring out some homemade lemon drinks for us. Drenched in sweat from the hike, my brother finished his glass in what seemed like a few seconds, and my mom and I were not too far behind. Since the restaurant is a true “farm-to-table experience,” almost every ingredient could be found growing in close proximity to where we sat. The mom of the family, who also made most of the dishes, had many of the vegetables she used on display next to the kitchen. The gardens of Agricola Fore Porta were full of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, all of which changed with the seasons. Thus, the kitchen worked with different menus based on the time of year. Each item on the menu was crafted with the most tenderhearted care – it was almost as if love grew shoulder-to-shoulder with the fruits and vegetables at their farm.

As we sat down, we noticed how few tables there were, which was probably because they only took about five or six reservations per day. Needless to say, we took note of what the other guests ordered, and decided to order a few dishes from each part of their summer menu. After Silvia brought out the food, she carefully explained what they consisted of. For our primi piatti my mom ordered a zesty lemon pasta, while I decided on the zucchini flower pasta. While my mom’s dish was vibrant and tangy, my pasta was mild and sweet. We could easily decipher every ingredient that was used. This is something I greatly appreciate about authentic Italian food: it is so simple, yet so flavorful and heartwarming. My mom also ordered “long green beans” as a side, and we had to stop ourselves from laughing too hard as we measured each and every bean to be well over two feet long. Everything was perfectly seasoned with herbs such as basil. The exceptional craftsmanship of the food and phenomenal quality of the ingredients shone through in every dish and truly served as the cherry on top of the meal. It is common knowledge that love tends to be the secret ingredient for many noteworthy meals. However, when one can look over their shoulder and see all the ingredients grow next to where the dishes are being meticulously crafted, that is when true love shines through. Of course, the table setting was nothing less than immaculate too, and the outdoor dining area was also simple yet beautiful. With the view of the valley, it felt like we were in paradise. It was easy to see how much thought they put into every aspect of the dining experience.

Each dish was brought out one at a time, so our 12pm lunch quickly turned into a three-and-a-half-hour event. Nevertheless, it felt as though only an hour had passed at the charming farm. After talking with our waitress, who had become like a new friend to us, we ended lunch with espresso, lemon ice cream, and almond cake. Although it might seem apparent in hindsight, I was amazed at how the same few ingredients could make such a plethora of dishes that all tasted different. It shows how Italian cuisine puts focus on the quality of food rather on how elaborate it is. Moreover, the food serves as a source that connects families and ties people closer together. The family-run Agricola Fore Porta exemplified each and every part of Italian culture. As we walked out of the restaurant, I saw a sign that had been translated into English. It read: “My grandfather used to say that once in your life, you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher, but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” The tasteful dishes revealed the family’s dedication to growing good produce and illustrated their immense passion for what they do. This place really exemplified the importance of a strong family connection in a family-owned business. The love they had for one another, for the guests, and for what they did could be tasted in everything they brought out. The outstanding customer service and inviting atmosphere tied the knot on our lunch in Amalfi. The scenic landscapes, incredible food, and even more incredible people all made this country feel like a second home to me, and I never fail to fall in love with it a bit more each time I visit.

Cover photo courtesy of Instagram

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Essays

The Egg

She loves ramen.

The noodles are slim and smooth, but chewy at the core. Shreds of bamboo shoot and the char siu pork belly add richness and depth to the texture of the dish. A thin layer of oil residue glitters on the top, embracing the noodles like a transparent wax cover. The clear brown soup underneath saturates the whole bowl, hot and straight-to-heart refreshing. The scallion adds on a bit of greenness and liveliness, scattering all over the noodle soup.

But none of them compares to the egg in it, she asserts. The golden sun.

“All the other ingredients are just the leaves and the egg is the true flower.” Cut in half and unfolded so the whole picture of the egg can be exposed. The distantly amber color of the egg white looks as soft as tender tofu and you can even see the trace left by the knife, reflecting slightly uneven light on the surface in organized lines. The rounded side is as glossy as a pudding.

And here comes the important part—the egg yolk. It has a graduated color—the outer edge is fully boiled and light yellow. The golden inner is the congealed magma, glinting as it freezes power and light into a concrete existence. Softly poking the yolk with the tip of the chopsticks raises one’s passion to preserve its tenderness—pure and warm, perfectly delicate and beautiful like a newborn one touches with a sincere and cautious heart.

With its innocent and tender face, the little piece of gold starts seducing the eater to swallow it all together immediately the moment it is served. How could one manage to resist its bright and passionate eye waves and turn to the still and watery bearings, the plain-colored noodle soup instead? 

She always eats the boring part, the noodles first, though. The scallion caper on the plain-colored background falls into the broth as her chopsticks start mixing everything up. Half a spoon of soup with a few noodles dipped in and a strip of bamboo shoot above make up the first gulp. And a bite of char siu. Then a sip of the soup. She plans out everything in the bowl to make sure that the amount of all the ingredients left is proportionate, so that she is not left with just noodles or just chai siu—each and every spoonful is well organized into a combination of ingredients. 

And the egg lies intact until the end. With the last spoon of soup and the last piece of chai siu, she devoutly sends it into her mouth. She chews this bite gently, slowly, staring at the corner of the table. 

The way she does math with food is fascinating to me in a way that it creates a certain balance in a meal; a harmony that makes the meal a complete story with a start and an ending—even an educational story, the way she does it. The girl with “delayed gratification,” they say. 

But I still remember the day when we went to a ramen place together after a final exam, and ordered the same ramen. After we were served, I picked some noodles up with chopsticks and lowered my head to start eating. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her pick up the egg, and take a huge bite of it before touching anything else.

And then she smiled at me, with those peach-pink bulging cheeks. Her eyes were like crescent moons.

Cover photo curtesy of Yest to Yolks

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Essays Uncategorized

The Long and Winding Road to Tacos

The car moved slowly down the road. My mom pressed lightly on the brakes, carefully turning the wheel and navigating the sharp turns. We were returning from a hair-raising climb to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, CO. It was a 19-mile drive to the top, and once at the summit, we were almost above the clouds. The air was thin and the sun nearly blinding, but the view was incredible. Mountains and lakes stretched out before us in a beautiful tapestry. 

One thing was for sure: after the descent down the mountain and the two-hour drive to Denver, we needed some food. Denver was the final destination of our four-day trip around Colorado. I had never been to the state before, and it was amazing to see all the natural wonders it had to offer. Red rocks, stunning mountains, and majestic pine forests aside, one aspect of vacation never changes: the task of finding a restaurant for dinner. 

I knew from research that Denver was growing in popularity, and so was its restaurant scene. When we got to the hotel and settled in, my first task was to find somewhere to eat. I dove into the depths of Google reviews and Apple Maps, comparing cuisines, ratings, prices, and locations, hoping to cook up the perfect recipe for a perfect last night of traveling. I spent hours scrolling through “best of Denver” articles, scanning the pages for anything that jumped out at me. Yet, I couldn’t seem to find the best fit. On a hectic night in a city, everywhere seemed to be booked.

But buried in the search results was a restaurant that I kept overlooking. It was called Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey. It wasn’t at the top of my list earlier in the evening, but as the rain and dark clouds picked up outside, and the clock ticked closer to 7 p.m., the better some good old Mexican comfort food sounded. After all, we wanted to see the downtown area, and going out to dinner was our excuse to do so. 

I’ve always loved exploring new cities through checking out the restaurant scene, and Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey proved to be a great choice. Although it was dark and gloomy outside, the atmosphere inside was vibrant. The restaurant only served single tacos, and the waitress handed us menus on which we could mark the quantity of each taco we wanted. I was delighted to see not one, but three different vegetarian options. 

My mom and I sipped margaritas and enjoyed an appetizer of coconut shrimp, and before long, the tacos arrived. I had spicy ahi tuna, vegan walnut chorizo, and the special of the day, beer-battered cod. I’d never tried walnut chorizo before, and the meaty texture of the walnuts blended perfectly with the warm spices. The spicy tuna, however, tested my tolerance for heat. The protein itself was flavorful, but the chili flakes were even more powerful. I certainly warmed up from the chilly rain. My mom enjoyed her carne asada and pork belly tacos, and we clinked our glasses in celebration of our time together exploring the mountains and the food scene of Colorado. 

With the weather worsening outside, we saw the city of Denver through its restaurants. Just as we navigated the long and winding road to Pikes Peak, climbed through the red rocks of the Garden of the Gods, and reflected by the still waters of Emerald Lake in the Rockies, the delicious tacos marked another adventure completed. After a delightful dessert of churros with chocolate and tres leches cake, we drove back to the hotel in anticipation of our next great culinary outing.

Cover photo courtesy of Gillian Mahoney

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Essays

An Ingrained Memory of Culinary Education

It goes without saying that certain experiences from one’s childhood can become so mentally ingrained that they directly influence one’s behavior later on in life. Food writing is a relatively new hobby for me. It was not until just a couple of years ago that I decided to start writing for Gusto as a form of creative expression. The hobby itself is somewhat fresh in my personal history, but the idea bloomed from a core childhood memory. When I was five years old, my mother enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miramar, Florida. She chased after her passion in an educational capacity, which is something I have always admired. My mother studied at Le Cordon Bleu for two years, earning an Associate in Science degree by the conclusion of her culinary education. A significant memory that I have is attending my mother’s graduation ceremony at the age of seven, with my younger brother Daniel and two of my mother’s close friends.

Although distant from the stage, we held a clear view of the graduates as they received their diplomas. Families in the audience erupted with screams and cheers as they heard their loved ones’ names being called, one by one. Even though I was very young at the time, I understood the magnitude of my mother’s accomplishment. 

After coming home from school at around 2:45 p.m. every day for two years, I would watch my mother return from Le Cordon Bleu in an exhausted state. Sometimes she would even bring samples of what she learned how to cook during a specific lesson—I vividly remember her bringing home a container of freshly-made sushi one day. This exhaustion, however, never hindered her from devoting all that she had to being an incredible mother. I will never forget how proud I was of my mother as I waited for her to walk across the stage at a dimly-lit auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s Nova Southeastern University.

When the name Denice Recupero was called, my mother’s two close friends, Daniel, and I shouted with excitement at the top of our lungs. We wanted our voices to be heard; we wanted fellow audience members to know that my mother had our utmost support. I recall making sure that I cheered for her as loudly as I could, since we were standing at such a far distance from her. When one meets a goal, it is understandable to desire support and admiration from people you love. Reflecting on the ceremony as a college student, I have further recognized the persistence and bravery it took for my mother to undertake culinary school while being an attentive mother. Throughout the years after she received her degree, I have asked my mother many questions about her culinary school experience. I’ve learned that the food industry is tough, to say the least. From critics, to stressful cooking environments, to time constraints, to long and strenuous hours in the kitchen, to extensive recipe memorization, being a culinary student is draining. I have watched shows on the Food Network for the majority of my life, and I thoroughly enjoy them, but they reveal that the life of a chef is far more complex than television glamor. Beneath the surface, the life of a chef is grueling, detail-oriented, and mentally taxing.

Seeing the smile on my mother’s face as she received her diploma was nothing short of heartwarming. That image has been fixed in my memory since then, and it always brings up happiness and pride for my mother. This moment motivated me to start writing essays for Gusto, as it made me recognize the nuances of culinary arts that are often overlooked and underappreciated. I have no one else to thank but my mother for inspiring me to utilize stories as a medium to communicate my fascination with flavor and technique in the kitchen.

Cover photo courtesy of LeCordonBleu