Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rainy Day Lunch - 9/29/2011

Walking into Driscoll's underground lounge was particularly cozy today, and the spread appropriately fulfilled the lunchtime cravings imparted by the dreary rain outside. I composed a plate with the standard fresh salad, yet the unexpected cold weather called for some hearty components from the hot line.
The highlight of the meal was the portobello flatbread - a succulent, grilled mushroom atop a deliciously buttery and crispy slice of naan bread. The open faced sandwich was smothered with caramelized onions - I always forget what extraordinary flavor these silky sweet chunks bestow upon any lucky dish - and a thick blanket of delightfully greasy melted white cheese. The unit was garnished with a dollop of creamy red pepper aioli and cut parsley leaves - every bite contained rich umami flavors and a range of luscious textures. The grilled chicken breast was a little bit dry and bland for my liking, yet the coating of fresh pesto and sliced tomato added necessary juices and toothsome quality. Chopped up in small layered pieces, this component provided a nice addition to any bite of salad. Not that the salad wasn't chock full already - on this occasion the bar offered a plethora of ingredients that looked appealing to me. I began with the mixed green and feta base, shredded carrots, and kale leaves, and went from there - both the garbanzo-black bean and cucumber-tomato mini-salads included a satisfying mixture of vinegar and red onion juice, and requisite fresh vegetable chunks. I topped the final product with mushrooms and rosemary balsamic dressing, and the former absorbed the latter with vengeance. This meal left me with more than enough on my plate, so to speak - I strive for complexity in every bite, and the wealth of ingredients before me enabled forkfuls of impressive variety. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some Sweet Tooth - 9/27/2011

I can't believe I haven't written about pumpkin bread yet - it is my absolute favorite baked good, and there was a period of time freshmen year when I actually couldn't fall asleep some nights because I was so excited for my moist breakfast slice. Although lately my muffin craving has crowded out tea bread expenditure, I woke up from my afternoon nap and couldn't bike down to Tunnel City fast enough - there was nothing that could stand between my pumpkin bread and me.
Embarrassingly, I asked the barista for "the biggest center piece you can find" and although initially surprised, he compiled with my enthusiastic request. It'd been way too long, and absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder - I was in a state of utter ecstasy while dipping the moist pieces - they exude  allspice and cinnamon - into my standard cappuccino, cinnamon and cocoa powder sprinkled atop the foam. I'm very particular about how I consume tea bread - I always break off the edges first, and save the delightfully squishy top center portion for last.
Today was our annual team run up Mt. Greylock, an eight mile ascent to the top of Massachusetts' tallest mountain. Although injury prevented me from taking part in the run, a couple of us made it to the top by car and were greeted, like the runners, with apple cider donuts and apple cider. Presumably, the consumption of this treat shouldn't be nearly as satisfying if you didn't arrive at the top by means of your own will and bodypower, yet the donuts are of such delicate nature that I felt no such qualms. Indeed, they feel quite light - the interior is doughy yet airy, and the sugar dusting almost makes you forget they are fried. These donuts are quite petite, as well - a couple of blissful bites and the evidence is gone, aside from the coating of sugar on your fingertips.
The donuts themselves do have a slight apple cider taste, which dipping further enhances. The local apple cider so seasonally prevalent in this region is unrivaled in its strong, pure flavor. Nothing is more symbolic of fall than standing on top of Mt. Greylock amidst the multicolored fall foliage, drinking and eating sweet autumn treats.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Panini & Third Meatless Mondays - 9/26/2011

It has taken me three years to settle on the perfect lunch combination, yet I've finally figured out that nothing satisfies me more than a salad and a panini. Surrounded by a plethora of food options, this meal appears mundane but I find that nothing beats its simple deliciousness. The ingredients are straightforward - a generous portion of turkey coupled with swiss cheese, pesto, and tomato - and the panini machine catalyzes a magical transformation. As the grains - today I used the whole wheat flat bread - fuse with the melted cheese and fragrant pesto, a distinct sweetness arises from the interaction. The tomatoes and turkey release a little bit of juice, just enough that the panini becomes succulent rather than soggy. Thus, the panini's exterior is griddle-marked and crunchy while its inside is a warm synthesis of savory ingredients. 
Tonight marked the third installment of Meatless Mondays, and the menu featured asian-themed vegetarian dishes. The mushrooms and black beans served atop jasmine rice was an interesting dish - the distinct flavor of star anise pervaded every bite, and although the use of this Chinese spice corresponded with the meal's theme, the dish seemed somehow out of place. I especially enjoyed the spinach dumplings with vegetable filling - the green casing was delicate, not soggy, and did not rupture completely on first bite, characteristics that are of utmost importance. Topped with hot sauce and a specialty coconut dipping sauce, the dumplings proved to be an essential component of the meal. Fresh steamed okra also adorned my plate - I love the slimy, bright green rounds for the varietal texture of even the smallest pieces. The melon salad with ginger dressing provided sweetness - the dressing was unexpectedly creamy, but not cloyingly so - the freshness of fruit still shown through, and a stronger ginger taste would have enhanced the salad's refreshing quality further. 
 Okay so I lied - the melon salad certainly wasn't the only sweet component of the meal. Rice pudding is one of my favorite desserts, especially when served hot with visible cinnamon swirls that enable an explosion of flavor. Although the pudding was fairly smooth, it still had the requisite texture - noticeable rice particles that congregate together to form larger asymmetric chunks. I topped part of my gargantuan pudding portion with bananas cooked down with black sesame seeds, which was heavenly - the way bananas caramelize and become both stronger and sweeter in flavor when cooked makes make me ecstatic over any dessert that calls for such preparation. The "dividing line" where the stewed bananas merged with the pudding was delicious - I consumed small bites of this junction, but also made sure to experience both separately for a phenomenal conclusion to the meal.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hopkins Forest Fall Festival - 9/25/2011

This is probably overkill by now, but the sight of delicate Tunnel City muffin flesh still sends me into a frenzy of excitement. A fellow enthusiast on the cross country team turned me on to something very dangerous - the coffee shop has a Facebook page on which they post their daily muffin flavors, and yes, I do peek eagerly before I even get out of bed. Sunday morning offered banana chocolate chip and peach strawberry bran, both of which I got to sample because Andrew's accompaniment enabled a splitting arrangement. Although we were both ravenous, we somehow managed to savor the experience - conversing and alternating between the two muffin varieties, we broke off tiny asymmetric pieces and dipped them in our matching 12oz double shot whole milk cappuccinos.
After the morning at Tunnel City, we headed over to Hopkins Forest for the annual Fall Festival. As the name implies, the event is comprised of various seasonal activities such as cider pressing, log sawing races, and music and milling around amidst the changing foliage. Luckily for me, much of the festival revolves around consuming the products from the year's bountiful apple harvest. There were crates upon crates of the vibrant, multicolored orbs, unrivaled in their sweet crunchiness and waiting to give their fall flavor to the pressing of fresh cider.
The station manned by the "apple butter lady" is by far my favorite at the festival. She is a staunch and unrelenting advocate of her apple butter, and rightly so - I spent the majority of the afternoon hanging around her table observing and smelling the enormous batch she was cooking up. Always a proponent of her methods, the woman eagerly informed me that her pot contained a crate of apples, a gallon of fresh cider, cinnamon, nutmeg (although she whispered that this ingredient was currently absent), cloves, and apple cider vinegar. After standing close to the steaming pot and open flame, the scent of woodsmoke and stewing spiced apples infused my skin and hair - I certainly can't complain.
Standing at the table inevitably gave way to nibbling bread slices adorned with the ultimate combination of thick, crunchy peanut butter and the jarred apple butter. I also like it after some shelf time, when it becomes a preserve - cooked down until it's as smooth as soft butter, I relish spreading it across the bread like deep red-brown blanket. I washed down the heavenly slice with a cup of fresh cider, and delicately bit into an apple slinky that the woman generously created for me with her coring device.

By the time the fresh batch was ready for consumption, I had already eaten a substantial portion of apple butter. Not to be deterred from this fruitful experience by the mere discomfort of a full stomach, I eagerly and perhaps frantically - I'm sure some poor innocent bystanders can vouch for that - prepared yet another open faced sandwich.
Needless to say, fellow gobblers and I ensured that the warm apple butter did not last long. I adore the chunkiness of the fresh batch, and the strong cinnamon flavor ambushes the taste buds with impressive force - the fleck of spice and apple skin are even visible. I couldn't ask for a better lunch than one of apple abundance shared with community amidst a colorful forest, the air fragrant with fall. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Day of Food - 9/23/2011

I'm hard pressed to spontaneously think of another day of eating that rivals what took place in the past 24 hours. It began early this morning when I crafted a variant of my usual breakfast concoction - having already eaten a banana and yogurt before my swim, I decided to add some other ingredients to the standard steel cut oats. A fresh, crunchy green apple seemed appropriate - I sliced it into tiny triangles so it could lend its flavor to each bite. Deep green pumpkin seeds enhanced the aesthetics of the dish, and added a raw chewiness - they exude a much subtler flavor than their roasted counterparts.
The highlight of the concoction, however, was the dollop of my grandma's raspberry jam. She grows the raspberries in her garden, and merely cooks the fresh harvest down with a tiny bit of sugar to create a jam of the utmost divinity. I routinely eat it by the spoonful, and relish the smooth sweetness, strong sunny flavor, and crunchy seeds that demonstrate the jam's authenticity. After vigorously mixing the four ingredients together, each bite contained a delightful blend of grainy crunch and a spectrum of sweetness.
Despite my hefty breakfast, I was more than ready for the second Log Lunch when noon rolled around. I was greeted by a steaming pot of exquisitely colored soup - the vibrancy of beets never fails to amaze me. Besides the earthy taste of the colorful root vegetable, the other predominant flavor in the soup was thyme - this produced a complex savory combination with a hint of fresh beet sweetness. The tartness of plain yogurt served as a creamy complement. The salad, as always, was characterized by its impressive crunch - "Pablo's Prize Pepper Salad," as it was dubbed, included a fresh green medley, big chunks of red pepper, large white onion slivers, and juicy cherry tomatoes. Topped with feta and homemade creamy tahini dressing, the salad offered a remarkable variety of flavors and textures. The dense, cary-away molasses bread was satisfyingly sweet and doughy on the interior, yet the crust was crispy and coated with seeds - the ultimate contrast for either tearing and dipping in the soup, or eating alone.

Two dessert options greeted the lucky Log Lunch diner today. The choice was indeed difficult, yet I settled on the Monster Hand granola bars - the heavy units were jam packed with nuts - most notably almonds and sunflower seeds, raisins, orange peel preserve, and coconut shavings, and the dense units were held together with a honey-like binding agent. These gluten-free treats were delicious and reminiscent of the "energy bars" sold at country stores and select cafes, yet lighter. Fortunately, I had the privilege of also trying the blueberry white chocolate chip cookies, which were also scrumptious. I am not a fan of white chocolate - the darker, the better - but the combined with chewy dried blueberries, whole oats, and tasty spices, the chips proved to be an essential cookie component.
The final eating installment of the day was Mission Park's Harvest Dinner. Using produce from local farms, this dinner provided a snapshot of the autumn bounty in the Berkshire region. The majority of the meal's vegetables came from Peace Valley farm, and I especially enjoyed the fingerling potatoes, roasted with oil and salt - they were steamy and succulent on the inside, while the skin provided a crispy encasing. Notably, these potatoes were "student harvested," and one of my freshmen excitedly informed me that we were reaping the benefits of her Ephventures efforts. The "Nitty Gritty" polenta with fresh tomatoes, carnival peppers and Peace Valley Farm herbs was also excellent - although I sometimes find polenta dry and gritty, this hunk owed its moistness to the flavorful vegetable juices and rich olive oil. Embarrassingly, I ate my entire portion of butternut squash salad before we even sat down. I couldn't wait - the bite sized pieces of delicate orange flesh, served with raisins and delicately coated with cold oil, rendered me powerless. Pickled cauliflower and dilly beans also from Peace Valley farm contributed crunch, color, and the sharp taste of vinegar to the meal, much needed after the tantalizingly sweet and mushy squash. After the usual fresh Peace Valley farms greens, maple-glazed tilapia with butternut squash and pineapple chunks completed my plate - the flesh of the white fish was impressively tender and succulent. Finally, a spread of cheese cubes and crackers adorned the end of the food line - sharp, cabot cheddar from Vermont and flecked pepperjack. The latter was exquisite - I cut my cube into even smaller pieces and layered it with potato slices for a rich treat.
Harvest Dinner would not be complete without a crisp made from local apples and served a la mode. The mushy apple pieces coated with buttery oats and cinnamon amidst melting vanilla ice cream and topped with whipped cream was a perfect conclusion to this symbolic fall meal.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Indian Food at Mission & Other Treats - 9/22/2011

Guest Chef Hari Nayak and his authentic Indian meal certainly drew a crowd - the line was out the door at Mission Park when I arrived, but I'm willing to go to great lengths for quality food and a special meal of one of my favorite cuisines certainly qualifies. I must admit, however, this was the longest food line I have waited in yet this year - although I was starving and unduly resentful of everyone ahead of me, I was also encouraged by the kindred spirits who similarly anticipated that good food and good company would be of utmost benefit.
I'll start with the sag paneer, and move clockwise - lately, I've been craving cheese even more than usual, and thus the salty paneer cubes immersed in rich spinach sauce hit the spot. I love gingerly cutting the solid units into even smaller pieces so that the spinach can freshly infuse the uncharted interior territory. The dal makhani - a vegetarian Punjab dish made with boiled lentils and legumes - was also an excellent topping for the well-prepared basmati rice. Traditional indian spices enhanced the earthy flavor of the lentils and legumes, and I drizzled tamarind sauce on top for added sweetness. The gohbi mattar and toor dal was equally phenomenal - this dish consisted of cauliflower, peas, and spices stewed together until the ingredients formed a chunky curry. Cauliflower is inherently an ideal vegetable for this method of preparation - it retains some of its shape and the other ingredients, which become more mushy, enter the crevices formed by its limp limbs. Requisite fresh naan bread accompanied the various sauces, and I, of course, tear the fluffy dough into miniscule pieces in order to maximize dipping capability. Creaminess is the principal word that characterized the chicken tikka masala - it's my favorite dish both tonight and in general, and I blissfully tore into the delicately stewed chicken, expertly simmered in creamy tomato sauce. The final hot vegetable dish was local zucchini cooked with Indian spices, and I especially enjoyed the squiggly edges - somehow, I believe such cutting enabled further flavor absorption. 
Later in the evening, we had our cross country goals meeting for which the captains and seniors traditionally bake goodies - I am always in ecstasy at such team functions because the snacks often embody fall flavors, which means pumpkin. Tonight we relished warm pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, straight out of the oven - the flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg coupled with oozing chocolate chips and the moist canned pumpkin created a unit of utmost delicacy. The cooks told me that they used half whole wheat flour and half all purpose flour, and while I am usually opposed to the former in baked goods, the whole wheat added a certain graininess that nicely offset the smooth pumpkin. The cookie also crumbled nicely - I decomposed it into tiny, asymmetric bites, paying special attention to the warm, slightly uncooked interior and melting chocolate chips. 

Faculty Lunch with Bill McKibben - 9/21/2011

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to dine with renowned environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben at the Faculty Club. This special lunch ensued the afternoon following McKibben's premier lecture entitled "Global and Local: Reports from the Fight for a Working Planet," in which he detailed his community organizing efforts amidst our planet's rapid environmental degradation. The intimate lunch setting fostered stimulating conversation, and a quality lunch was prepared for the occasion. 
The meal was the perfect combination of fresh and hearty: four large spinach-ricotta raviolis perched atop a heaping salad complete with sliced, marinated portobello mushrooms, baby asparagus, and sundried tomatoes, lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar. The raviolis were more a component of the composed salad plate than a warm pasta dish - served cold, slicked with olive oil and sea salt flecks, and decorated with luscious green dressing, they had an appealing chewy texture and stiff form that begged to be cut into tiny, savored pieces - this is of course exactly what I did, my favorite combination being a small forkful complete with rich, dense ravioli, absorbent mushroom flesh, and some ingredient from the crunchy salad. A substantial hunk of blue cheese accompanied the plate as well, yet I must admit I steered clear of the fragrant triangle - it is the one cheese variety I can do without. Lunchtime discussion included tidbits about student activism at Williams and at Middlebury, where McKibben serves as a faculty advisor in his limited spare time, the current initiatives toward which McKibben is devoting his efforts, and finally, food - when talking about methods of making environmental awareness more widespread on campus, McKibben acknowledged the power of the "slow food" movement. This aspect of sustainability has vast potential for community involvement because it is accessible to everyone. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Williams Garden Project Dinner - 9/20/2011

After a hard practice, I walked into the upstairs lounge of Driscoll and was promptly greeted by candlelight, nice tablecloths, and an elegant dinner spread prepared with ingredients harvested from the Williams Student garden. I'd stumbled upon the first annual Garden Dinner, another collaborative project between the Williams Sustainable Garden Project and dining services. I am truly encouraged by the considerable effort dining services has made to support local farmers, and this dinner was the epitome of sustainable awareness. The Williams Sustainable Garden Project spearheaded this beyond-local meal by handing over a substantial portion of its harvest - predominantly squash, potatoes, and various greens - to Driscoll for generous preparation.
Although every component of the meal was truly wonderful, the squash stood out for me. I was in a state of ecstasy as I spooned the succulent flesh out of the gourd skin - the interior melts delicately in your mouth and embodies all the sweet flavors of autumn. The potato salad was similarly delicious - the potatoes were steamed to perfection, and their tender starchiness soaked up the additional flavors contributed by the cherry tomato juice and fresh parsley. Diced celery added the requisite crunch material, and I may even venture that this dish, in its style and unrivaled freshness, reminded me of home and my mom's famous mustard vinaigrette potato salad. Finally, the vegetable stew - what a phenomenal culmination of the Williams Growers cornucopia. It consisted of hefty chunks of potatoes - equal in their tenderness and absorbency properties - as well as carrots, and I believe some squash also made its way into the medley. All the root vegetables were well-cooked but not to the unfortunate point of mushiness that often plagues such dishes. The smaller ingredients brought necessary texture to the mix - the roasted corn and chewy barley were delightful in the mouth, and herbs and chopped red onion added further flavor. Many thanks to the Williams Growers and dining services for their contributions to this hyper-local meal - it truly harnessed the bounty of the season and displayed what can be created solely within our Williams community.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Breakfast Concoction - 9/20/2011

Although I still dream about moist muffin interiors dipped in cappuccino foam, visions of my dorm room breakfast concoctions have also entered my thoughts as I drift into sleep each night. I must admit, I go through considerable efforts to make this mixture using the limited supplies provided by a freshmen dorm - this must speak to either its deliciousness, my insanity, or both.
Unprocessed steel cut oats are a world apart from the typical "add water" packet oatmeal, and I relish the texture - I don't cook the oatmeal quite as long as the recipe recommends - and rich flavor, grainy flavor this hearty base contributes to the concoction. The rapid and impressive expansion of the oatmeal during the second round of heating (after the initial water boiling) requires close monitoring - I don't have a bowl big enough to fully contain the oatmeal's increased volume as it cooks, so I break the portion into various small bowls and pause the microwave until things settle whenever overflow seems imminent. Luckily, this is the most labor intensive portion of my concoction's creation - next, I add sliced bananas and thick, tart Greek yogurt, whose smooth body seamlessly enters any occupiable space within the oatmeal clumps, and coats the banana rounds. Finally, I top the heaping bowl with colorful, nutrient-rich Goji berries - the Himalayan "superfruit" - and thinly sliced raw almonds. I revel in each bite, making sure each spoonful contains every essential ingredient.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Second Meatless Mondays - 9/19/2011

The line out the door at Driscoll indicated that the initial Meatless Mondays was a success, or perhaps the crowd was comprised of other students who had, like me, checked the night's menu and learned that dinner featured roasted butternut squash lasagna and gourmet pizzas made with local produce and cheeses. Anticipation and hunger built further during the wait, and when I obtained a coveted spot in the food line I was again impressed by the colorful, fresh, meat-free spread.
There are no better greens than hearty chard to usher in fall's crisp weather, and this signal of changing seasons was accompanied by soft, warm sweet potatoes. Although they were advertised to be maple glazed and in actuality only possessed a crispy, unseasoned exterior, I can't complain - I love root vegetable skin and the chewy, tough contrast it provides to the mushy interior. The cabbage salad enhanced the aesthetics of this already vibrant meal, and it crisp cuts mixed with diced local peppers added a complementary crunch to the sweet potatoes' smooth orange flesh. I especially like the quinoa salad - jam packed with roasted corn, chopped peppers, and raisins, this component was both refreshing in its fresh simplicity yet contributed both savory and sweet flavors to the meal - I must say, I'm a sucker for salads that contain raisins. The roasted butternut squash lasagna boasted textured ricotta and creamy squash amidst al dente noodle sheets, and a thick layer of mozzarella on top - my hefty slab was certainly the most substantial portion of the meal, and left no room for pizza slices. Once again, Meatless Mondays effectively portrayed the bounty of the season and surrounding area, and I look forward to the release of next week's menu as well as the local, grass-fed beef that this vegetarian meal helped procure.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Experiencing Montreal Cuisine - 9/17/2011

My favorite coffee related treat besides a morning muffin with cappuccino foam is an afternoon iced latte around, say, 4pm – it’s the perfect pre-dinner pick-me-up, and coupled with a nap an entirely new day is born. Yesterday, however, there was no time or desire for sleep: I could not wait to explore Montreal for the first time with my team after competing in the McGill Invitational.

Despite its proximity to the United States, Montreal has a distinct French-European feel, and I reveled in the expanse of outdoor cafes and “restos” along Rue St. Denis bustling with activity in the late Saturday afternoon hours. Thus, we enjoyed an iced cafĂ© au lait amidst tourists and locals similarly relishing each others’ company and a requisite caffeine fix. The coffee was great – cold espresso not yet fully mixed with rich milk – I assume it’s whole, and I love how the wait staff does not ask your preference and just serves what tastes best and is ultimately the healthiest. A topping of delicate fresh foam completed this afternoon delight. 
After further walking around, a happy hour – another of my favorite interactions between social and consumable pleasures – and mandatory restaurant scoping, we settled on a restaurant called Faste Fou Bar in the Old Montreal waterfront district. The menu consisted of truly overwhelming varieties of pizzas, paninis, and burgers, and after much debate I settled on the Spanish burger – the usual ground beef burger patty and condiments with the addition of Swiss cheese, red and green peppers, and Spanish spices. Beyond the Spanish influence, however, the burger was certainly not standard – I was shocked by its gargantuan yet skinny horizontal composition. I’m used to the typical American burger stuffed so chalk full with extra ingredients that one can barely get a mouth around the vertical unit, yet this burger took up virtually the entire surface area of the plate while maintaining an unexpected lightness. The combination of the thin, buttery yet airy bun and skinny patty enabled me to enjoy the unconventional flavors and the burger in its entirety while still leaving more than enough room for dessert. 
A visit to Montreal wouldn’t be complete without getting crepes at least once. We wandered into the neighboring sweet shop and were instantly engulfed in the warm, thick, buttery aroma of cooking crepes. Without any hesitation, I selected chocolate and strawberries as my two allotted filler ingredients. I couldn’t have made a better decision – although this last stop almost caused us to miss the bus back to the hostel, the intense satisfaction I felt while eating my warm, chewy crepe with oozing chocolate, fresh cut strawberries, powdered sugar dustings, and rich whipped cream while rushing through the crowded Montreal streets on this crisp fall night was worth the stress. I must return because Montreal Poutine - French fries with gravy or curry and cheese curds - is next on my must-try list. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

First Fall Log Lunch - 9/16/2011

Something fairly shameful happened today. I’d been looking forward to my post-workout Tunnel City muffin so much that mid-run I became anxious over the possibility that all or some of the varieties might be gone by the time I arrived for my late breakfast. This unnecessary stress coupled with my curiosity of what specialty muffin was in stock led me to end my run at Tunnel City – I wandered up to the counter sans money and in sweaty running clothes and proceeded to ask the bewildered barista if she would reserve a muffin for me. Needless to say, a snigger greeted my request, but the pumpkin raisin bran muffin waiting with my name on it when I got back more than made up for the awkward encounter. The muffin today was excellent – despite my oath to stay away from the dryness of bran, I couldn’t turn down a pumpkin treat. Luckily, the interior was sufficiently moist and the pumpkin spices exacerbated the seasonal ambience of our first crisp fall day. Plump brown and golden raisins distributed evenly throughout added complementary flavor and texture.
The first Log Lunch of the year also coincided with my epic food morning. Of course, I’d been looking forward to it for the whole week, and this first meal fulfilled my anticipatory expectations. The first stop in the food line was roasted red pepper soup pureed with other vegetables such as onions and potatoes, and as I spooned myself a serving I admired the vibrant color and larger flecks of solid pepper flesh amidst the silky smooth liquid. The Williams Growers supplied tasty herbs, and both the onions and the peppers came from Peace Valley Farm - these local vegetables were most notable for their fresh summer sweetness. 

The salad similarly took advantage of summer’s bounty – the crisp greens from Peace Valley Farm and the Williams Growers garden coupled with the season’s final peaches and watermelon, chopped red onion, and crumbly feta produced a dish of remarkably different flavors and textures – these all converged to create a singular representation of the season’s fresh offerings. The accompanying starch was sunflower seed tear-away bread, whose rich doughy contours and spiky sunflower seed protrusions made it perfect for dipping in the soup – the thick red liquid clung unevenly to the hearty ridges, creating an edible spoon. 
An aesthetically pleasing and sinfully delicious peach raspberry upside down cake concluded the meal. I was lucky enough to sneak into the kitchen and see this wonderful dessert in the making – when eaten, the peach slices are actually on the bottom and the gooey topping, separated from the main fruit slab with raspberries, forms an upper crust. Crust, however, is not an appropriate word – the topping was soft and delightfully undercooked, and spiced with traditional fall flavors that I usually associate with pumpkin desserts. Thus, all the ingredients combine enthusiastically to form a warm, mushy fusion of sweet fruit and delicate topping. What a perfect fall beginning! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blueberry Festival - 9/14/2011

Despite my obsessive menu checking, I failed to notice Whitmans' "Blueberry Festival" dinner, and thus I encountered a pleasant surprise while waiting in line. Since nearby Maine produces 99% of all the blueberries in the country, the cornerstone of the meal was this local, seasonal fruit (www.50states.com). Sure enough, all components of the feast included blueberries in some form - there was a chilled blueberry soup, both a green salad and orzo pasta salad flecked with berries, and numerous fruit desserts that capitalized on summer's natural sweetness.
 I always get excited whenever the dining hall serves salmon, and this slab was particularly well-dressed. The main course was the hearty baked fish topped with mango, cilantro, and local blueberry chutney - an excellent entree further complemented by its placement upon a bed of tender cooked spinach. A rice pilaf with crunchy celery pieces and al dente, multicolored grains accompanied the salmon - this addition was the sole blueberry-lacking component of the meal. The green salad was simple yet delicious - the lettuce leaves were cool and crisp, and scattered throughout were firm garbanzo beans, delicately chopped nuts, and of course, fresh, juicy blueberries. Dressed minimally, the salad owed much of its flavor to the pureness of summer ingredients. The orzo salad was most unique in its pale purple color - inevitably, some of the blueberries burst upon mixing, thus surrendering their hue to the cool pasta particles and pork pieces that comprised the salad.
Vibrant smoothies were another component of the blueberry celebration. I must admit that I did not try one, yet I had a hefty bowl of the cool blueberry soup - certainly, some similarities must exist between the two. After the spicy fruit gazpacho at Caseus, I was eager to give a berry soup a try - the smooth sweetness with the occasional chunk was simultaneously refreshing and filling, with some distinctive flavor beyond basic blueberry. Dipping a fluffy roll in the soup reminded me of the comforts of bread and jam, yet the method of consumption created an entirely different experience.
A wealth of desserts greeted the eager student diners. In this realm, blueberries possess endless potential, and the options deliciously exploited by dining services included fresh blueberry pie and gelato, both blueberry and vanilla, topped with bursting berries. Again, dessert's theme mirrored that of the meal - simplicity in both ingredients and preparation enabled the fresh sweetness of local Maine blueberries to be the main dialogue between the food and our taste buds.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Meatless Mondays - 9/12/2011

Williams' Driscoll Dining Hall kicked off its "Meatless Mondays" initiative last night with a vegetarian meal prepared using produce grown by local farmers and the student garden. The program, which is student organized and supported by dining services, aims to "raise awareness of the environmental, health, and economic implications of a meat based diet" (explanatory printout). Furthermore, the savings from this dinner will be used to purchase local grass-fed beef rather than meat that comes from animals raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) - by sacrificing meat a few times a week, we can prioritize quality over quantity. Moreover, Driscoll prepared a delicious vegetarian meal which was well received by the fellow students I have spoken with.
Especially notable were the collard greens grown by the student garden - they had the distinct taste of freshness, and were cooked with a little bit of garlic, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and white beans, all of which provided hearty flavors and textures - the cooked garlic and earthy greens stood up well to the tangy acidity of sundried tomatoes . My sweet potato/pumpkin/butternut squash obsession generated much excitement over the vegetarian hash - it could have used some binding agent, yet the small bits of roasted corn and sweet potato from local Pioneer Valley farm provided chewy, flavorful bites - I love the texture corn kernels obtain when they are roasted. A simple caprese salad with Maple Brook Farm sliced mozzarella and Peace Valley Farm heirloom tomatoes exemplified the minimal preparation good quality ingredients require to make a tasty contribution to any meal. Although not an entirely new addition to the dining services menu, the red pepper halves stuffed with quinoa served as a component of more substance in this meatless dinner. While the interior grains stay more tender, I love how the exposed quinoa on top becomes slightly crispy and chewy during the baking process. Corn and other vegetable particles did their part to combat blandness, yet I believe more spices or perhaps lemon peel or pine nuts would further complement the quinoa.
Every time I walked by the "apple crisp bar," the tin was completely empty and similar minded people were using their fingers to scrape out the excess apple-brown sugar-oats goo from the bottom. One had to wait for a fresh tin and immediately dive on the crumbly brown top because the serving spoon was never set down until it had changed hands many times and the crisp was gone. Waiting (im)patiently was certainly worth it, however - apparently, the crisp was made with local apples, which always seem to have the right balance between sweet and tart - an essential quality for baking. The topping had no shortage of cinnamon and buttery clumps of sweet oats that stuck gingerly to individual apple slices, and the dining hall prepared specialty vanilla gelato for the occasion. Perhaps this meatless dinner will be unequivocally well received - I'd be hard pressed to find a student who does not relish the accompanying apple crisp. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chapin Lawn Lunch - 9/10/2011

The morning of convocation provided a prime example of why fall in Williamstown simply cannot be beat. Williams held the traditional pre-graduation ceremony and fortunately, the entire student body converged with the seniors for a college sponsored lunch on Chapin lawn. Williams makes an impressive effort to serve meals made from seasonal and local ingredients, and this all campus cookout showcased farmers in the Berkshire region. 
Traditional cookout staples included coleslaw and a pasta salad, bowties with caesar dressing. Although I often find coleslaw gummy, this particular one avoided such classification because the dressing was relatively light, with crisp cabbage cut in large pieces - this countered any wilting potential. The combination of both dressing and grated parmesan made the pasta salad a rich addition, yet halved cherry tomatoes and basil leaves added a necessary punch of freshness. The "Zilkha" (Williams College Environmental Center) lentil salad provided the requisite healthful alternative - finely chopped red onions and carrots, parsley, and spices contributed flavor and texture to the well cooked lentils - dining services artfully avoided any dreaded mushiness. The "Fire and Ice" salad, however, stood above and beyond the others. Peace Valley Farm, a Williamstown farm where our cross country team volunteers on occasion, provided heirloom tomatoes notable for their vibrant color and sweetness - I believe this component represents "fire." Coarsely chopped red onions bring the "ice," and a light vinegar dressing that gingerly cooks the fresh basil provides the binding factor. Fresh greens also from Peace Valley completed the salad train.
I must admit that this is not actually my plate - I captured the careful construction of one of my freshmen. However, my meal contained all the same salad samplings, yet I opted for the chicken sausage rather than the "all-beef hamburgers, certified humane." The chicken sausage came from Mazzeo's, a farm in neighboring Pittsfield, and the meat's properties made this entree remarkable. The sausages did not contain any extra flavorful ingredients, yet nothing was missing - the chicken meat toed the line between tender and hearty, and had the distinct flavor of farm-raised, quality poultry. I ate my sausage in a thick bulky roll, with a large slice cabot cheddar cheese from Vermont - sharp, but not overpowering. Also notable were the marinated mushrooms - portobellos cut in large, asymmetric pieces, succulent and exploding with marinade and their own juices upon each bite. Thus, the Williams community reveled in beautiful weather and an impressive dining hall feat on this first Saturday of fall semester.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tunnel City Muffins - 9/2/2011

As I mentioned briefly before, my absolute favorite breakfast is a cappuccino and a muffin. Since I've been back at Williams, however, this preference has become an obsession - I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I go to sleep every night with the same feeling a child has on Christmas eve. Tunnel City Coffee always has the staple blueberry and raspberry muffins, but my morbid anticipation of the "Specialty Muffin(s) of the Day" literally pulls me out of bed and down Spring Street in the morning. It's more than a craving - the moments that I am dipping the crumbly, crusty muffin top edges into the fluffy cappuccino foam are the best in my day. Sad, perhaps, that the highlight comes so early, yet I experience such intense pleasure from this treat that I start my day already fulfilled.
On this particular morning a chocolate chip coconut muffin greeted me. I love coconut not only for the flavor but also for the texture - the thick, oily shavings add a generous moistness, as do the densely packed chocolate chips. As the silky foam coats the crumbly outside, the milky espresso simultaneously saturates the muffin body and melts the chocolate chips slightly. After reading In Defense of Food, I only order whole milk (double shot, of course) cappuccinos - the richer flavor and minimal processing is better for both the mind and the body. I'm on a mission to try all of Tunnel City's muffins, and since I've been back the chocolate chip coconut stands above the rest - the cherry almond bran was a bit dry for my liking, and the raspberry presented a satisfying yet ordinary morning treat. Regardless of the day's selection, I eat my muffin and cappuccino in the same fashion - gently breaking and dipping little pieces - with the same slow enjoyment. Every bite is a little piece of heaven.

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Haven Heaven - 8/25/2011

I stayed with Andrew for a day in New Haven before he took me up to Williams, and preceding my arrival he planned out an impressive meal schedule. For lunch, we went to Thali Too, an entirely vegetarian Indian cuisine that specializes in small plates - essentially, dishes for sharing. We began the meal with ragda patties, a staple of 'chaat' - savory snacks. Delicate potatoes and soaked peas are mashed together to form patties, which are then fried with onions to create the intermediary product. Hence, the patties are garnished with chutney, a sweet Indian sauce, and other ingredients characteristic of the cuisine. Flavorful and of varied soft textures, radga served as an excellent appetizer.
"Pagoda" is the word used to describe the tiered towers of religious worship that are common in Asian countries, and the layering of the "main" dish I ordered indicated how it acquired its name. A rich slab of paneer cheese nestled between tenderly fried eggplant slices offered a combination of subtle yet distinctive flavors. A spicy and creamy tomato-potato puree provided an unabashed kick, and I dipped my carefully constructed bites in the sauce as needed. A topping of crispy fried peppers added further flavor and texture. Andrew ordered the sag paneer - the spinach was smooth and the most vibrant green color. Meat was certainly not missed from this meal.
The general consensus of Andrew's questioning of veteran New Haven restauranteers held that Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro is the best around. Our experience did not disappoint - the small interior joined with an extensive cheese shop immediately alerts the diners that they have embarked on a casual meal will be unforgettable. We started by splitting the HOUSE SPECIAL!!!!!!!! (real menu appearance) beer - served in a champagne bottle, I can't describe it better than the brewery's website - "It is an ‘Indian Pale ale’ type of beer, with a harmonious balance between a marked bitterness (three types of hops are used to make it) and a pleasant fruitiness" (www.achouffe.be). The best beer I have had to date. 
The specialty cheese board was of course a must order - a chef's selection of four cheeses with cured almonds, homemade mixed berry jam, and an assortment of bread and crackers was an appropriate way to begin our feast - the two hours we spent at the restaurant and our intense enjoyment of the food presented truly embodied the principles of Slow Food. 
The cheeses, moving forward from the back of the board, are as follows: a dangerously creamy yet subtly flavored robiola made with sheep and cow's milk, a "Womanchego" that craftily varies from the traditional Spanish Manchego not only in name but also in staple ingredient - the cheese was crafted by women using cow's milk rather than sheep's milk. The spread also included a goat's milk Gouda, exotic because the Dutch conventionally use cow's milk, and finally, a spicy, relatively unabrasive blue cheese made in Vermont. The cheeses were not only individually superb, but complemented each other well. 
Similarly served on a board, the beet salad offered a welcome breath of freshness amidst the cheese orgy. Bright beets steamed to perfection were joined by delicate greens, crushed cashews, sliced grapefruit, and smooth chevre (yes, more cheese..), all dressed with a light fruit vinaigrette. Beautifully presented and exploding with simple flavors, this salad negated my claim that restaurant salads cannot hold up to those constructed in our kitchen. Moreover, one of the most interesting items we enjoyed was a fresh fruit gazpacho - while it was both gently sweet and refreshingly cooling, the soup's spicy aftertaste created a necessary complexity. Quite the palette cleanser. 
The night's special sausage consisted of pork and rabbit meat mixed with brandy and fruit, and was served atop rainbow chard. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the brandy taste was very distinct, while the fruit contributed a subtle sweetness that was instantly matched by the hearty chard - mixing savory and sweet is only good when done correctly, but the fruit gazpacho and special sausage demonstrated Caseus' expertise in this domain. Finally, our meal culminated with chocolate pot de creme topped topped with coffee whipped cream and the house red wine. 
In this case, the wine provided a much needed break from the overwhelming sweetness of dessert; deep fruit flavors - cherry being the most distinctive - and spicy undertones stood up well to the rich chocolate. The pot de creme was amazing - Andrew and I are both coffee addicts and the thick whipped creme coupled with the buttery smooth chocolate created a mocha dream of flavor and texture. We could barely finish the dish between the two of us, yet our waiter admitted that our shared dessert was his daily breakfast. I salute him.