Wednesday, February 29, 2012

International Dinner at Mission Park - 2/28/2012

In celebration of the rich diversity present on campus, Mission hosted an International Dinner last night that showcased various toothsome cuisines. The interior of the dining hall was decorated with colorful tablecloths and candles, and vibrant flags hung from the ceiling to honor the meal's cultural significance. I left this dinner with the signature waddle - you know, the one where a protruding stomach obstructs the standard walking motion. Getting this full - and having the satiation last the entire night - before 6pm is quite a feat. In an attempt to beat the imminent line, I ventured down to Mission at about 5:15. However, I was greeted by the longest line yet - the sea of people was visible from the top of the hill, snaking its way out the lobby door. Lucky for me, my committed freshmen were poised in prime location with their swipe cards, and I must admit I joined them - one of the many perks of being a JA, perhaps?
Fried plantains, as I have mentioned before, will always be a delicacy to me. As I've come to expect, the starchy pieces were luscious and sweet, caramelized on the outside and delightfully soft and warm beneath the sweet, slightly crunchy coating. These units are an integral component of any bite. I greatly enjoyed the rice baked with milk - this addition made it more dense and satisfyingly clumpy - topped with thai spinach cooked with peanut sauce. The rich, creamy texture and flavor of crushed peanuts coupled with thick, wilted spinach, and onion and tomato pieces provided a decadent topping for the small, white kernels. The savory Korean pancake was dense, and contained scallions and shrimp - the small unit was surprisingly substantial, and the light, salty brown topping sauce complemented its doughiness. Although it's mostly obscured by the other elements of my plate, I sampled the Vietnamese rolls and enjoyed the deep-fried umami taste of the interior meat and spiced vegetables. A Peruvian steak mixture topped the neighboring rice mound - the slender meat pieces were stewed to tenderness with tomatoes, onions, and Latin American spices. I relished the heartiness of this dish in particular -toothsome nourishment defined its contribution to the meal. I'll always be fond of the "edible dish and utensil" concept, and thus the halved, hollowed zucchini filled with rice cooked to ideal firmness with tomatoes, pine nuts, and spices (from the Eastern or Northern European region, I believe) targeted this fancy. I also sampled the thai coconut soup with mushrooms, and found that the flavorful broth went particularly well with a couple of spoonfuls of rice so that the mixture is still liquid, yet overwhelmingly heterogeneous - something I learned from my grandma, of course. I'm always encouraged by the turnout to these culinary and cultural explorations, and I, along a large portion of the student body, greatly anticipate the next installment of ethnic cuisine at Mission.

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Luscious Log Lunch - 2/24/2012

The first cold day in awhile - we've been getting spoiled with all this unseasonably warm weather - and a morning spent dutifully sequestered in the campus "Quiet Room" made me extra grateful for Log Lunch's noontime approach. I brought a couple of my freshmen along for a first-time experience, and displaying this most enjoyable Friday routine to others inserted an additional air of excitement. Per usual, lunch was exceptional - by the time our little group arrived, the line extended out the door, enticing aromas confirming the presence of delectable eats ahead.
The soup of the day was carrot tahini - the thick liquid provided a subtle palette of flavors, a distinct hint of sesame and olive oil coupled with the earthiness of vibrant carrots. I found the texture particularly satisfying - the orange mixture wasn't chunky per se, yet possessed a complex substantial component that can only be characterized by the presence of root vegetables. Accompanying the Middle Eastern theme of tahini, the Armenian flatbread also capitalized on the toothsome flavor and texture of sesame seeds. The bread was not quite as moist and elastic as previous variants, yet it wasn't meant to be - it had a delightfully tough, chewy texture without being dry, and scored highly in the 'edible spoon' category. The 'double rainbow' slaw was aesthetically pleasing and overwhelmingly tasty - julienned beets, tart granny smith apples, carrots, and other root vegetables from Mighty Food Farm provided the salad base, and Gammelgarden skyr (Icelandic yogurt from a nearby creamery, the staple of my breakfast concoctions) coupled with apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and beet juice provided an ideal dressing, rich and complementarily flavorful without being cloying. The dessert's most prominent quality was its decadence - crunchy coconut shavings and whole peanuts with crystallized ginger pieces, bound together by a rich butterscotch. I selected the most tantalizing - read: dripping with sugary and buttery goodness - unit on the tray, and it lived up to my visual assessment - I tried to pry it apart, yet each attempt left my fingers covered in the sheer ecstasy of oozing butterscotch, rich peanuts, and toasted coconut. With time flying as quickly as it has been, I am happy to know that the next Log Lunch will be here before I know it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Russian Dinner - 2/21/2012

On Tuesday night, Driscoll hosted Professor Darra Goldstein's annual Russian dinner. Renowned gastronomist, Goldstein teaches a popular Russian course that focuses primarily on the nation's food and food culture. Although I haven't taken this class, I view the dinner as an extension available to all curious students such as myself.
The foreground of the picture presents an enticing, savory pancake - after receiving the luscious yet light bready base, diners encountered an expansive bar with toothsome toppings. I garnished the essentials - salmon and sour cream - with two types of caviar, salty capers, spicy red onion chunks, and a lemon wedge. Rolled like a taco, the unit presented complementary flavors - the elastic dough was slightly sweet, and went excellently with the distinctive salty fish taste and fresh lemon juice. Adjacent to the pancake lies the potato salad, firm cubes of the hearty root vegetable coupled with pea, ham chunks, egg, and a decadently creamy dressing. Indeed, all these dishes possessed the a distinguishable richness that the body craves in bitterly cold temperatures. I also compared the herring marinated in vinegar, and coated in cream. Both  were delicious when consumed in tandem with buttery crackers, and blissfully reminiscent of hors d'oeuvres. I opted for another fish dish, as well - another mild white variant, cooked in a delectable cream sauce and served with caramelized onions. The flesh was tender, and the coating was delightfully thick but not cloying. The sweet and sour beet salad was simple, yet elegant - again, the sauce was wonderfully mild, which highlighted the earthy flavor of the vibrant vegetables. Of course, I tried a slab of the pork and fennel pate - I can only characterize each bite but its heavy yet toothsome meatiness, and fennel's frequent presence in sausage and other meat dishes only enhanced this effect. Although not pictured here, the Russian apple cake with chocolate glaze was moist and flavorful, rich cinnamon and dark chocolate present in each bite. Thankfully, I have one more year here - I wouldn't want to miss the exotic Russian spread that's sure to reappear next February.

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pirates of the "Cow-ibbean" Carnival Dinner - 2/17/2012

Every year, Williams holds a Winter Carnival in the middle of February. Much like a winter rendition of Mountain Day, Winter Carnival presents a variety of fun, outdoor activities for eager students, and an opportunity to watch our nordic and alpine ski teams compete at nearby Jiminy Peak. Like Winter Study, this weekend enables a temporary escape from the brutish monotony of cold weather and endless piles of schoolwork - however, on this particular Carnival, beautiful clear skies and a campus virtually devoid of snow characterized the weather. The premier Carnival dinner occurs on Friday night, after a day off from classes, and our Dining Services created an elaborate ambience for the occasion. The interior of Paresky was transformed into a pirate-themed wonderland: plaid tablecloths adorned the tables, and diners were presented with an eyepatch upon entering Whitmans, which was similarly outfitted with crates, masts, and other ship-like paraphernalia. Keeping with the "cow-ibbean" theme, the fresh dinner spread was exotic and delectable.
Fried plantains never fail to amaze me with their crisp, caramelized exterior, and delightfully mushy interior. The preparation process renders the plantain body soft and delicate, and brings out the sweetness of the starchy fruit. Similarly toothsome was the curry over brown rice - a light sauce with the rich spices of the caribbean, coupled with a variety of tender cooked vegetables. Although not visible behind the colossal pile, the "cool cod cakes" were mouthwatering, crunchy bread crumbs mixed with subtly flavorful fish flesh and seasonings. I also relished the coconut shrimp and accompanying coconut cocktail sauce, served with roasted vegetables and large, smooth avocado slices. Indeed, creamy avocado was an integral component of the salad as well. The cool, crisp greens were complemented by julienned jicama and decadent chunks of avocado, coated in a light, refreshing dressing. Finally, the cajun catfish was seasoned and cooked to perfection, the moderate spice offset by the garnishing mango, cilantro, and coconut shaving slaw. The beautiful sunniness and warm temperatures made the transformation from winter to tropical wonderland smaller in magnitude than conventional weather would indicate, yet this meal would have raised morale in the middle of a snow storm. 

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mission's Muslim Heritage Dinner - 2/15/2012

Amidst rhythmic, pleasantly deafening drumming, my entry and I enjoyed a delectable dinner of traditional Islamic dishes. The dining hall was "dressed" for the occasion, the standard long tables covered with an assortment of cheery pastel colored tablecloths, which enhanced the festive ambience. I spotted this dinner during my customary Sunday night menu browsing and meal planning, and marked my mental calendar. Of course, other students did the same thing - ethnic cuisine always draws a big crowd, and tonight's Muslim Heritage dinner was no exception.
First in line was the toor dahl, the vibrant golden lentil dish - I relished the strong flavor of Middle Eastern spices, and the hearty curry coated the accompanying quinoa, creating tantalizing clumps. I topped the mound with tzatziki sauce, and the tart, creamy, cucumber-infused sauce complemented the dense earthiness of the lentils and quinoa. Vastly different from naan, the Syrian flatbread was delicate rather than doughy, and its thin sheets reminded me of cloth. It was surprisingly substantial, however, and possessed a satisfying starchy flavor, perfect when coupled with the garlicky eggplant taste of baba ganoush. I revel in the texture of this signature dipping sauce - it's always cool and thick, virtually smooth save for a couple chunks of tender eggplant flesh. The tabouleh and cous cous pilaf were both refreshing - wholesome ancient grains served cold and paired with the fresh flavors of cucumber, tomato, and parsley, and golden raisins, carrot shavings, and crunchy onions, respectively. I garnished these two salads with sweet dates - I'd pry out the gargantuan pit, and break the firm, sticky body into bite size pieces, an essential component of any complete forkful. The kofka kabob was a dense mass of umami flavor and hearty meat texture - I cut the sphere into smaller pieces, which released its toothsome taste further. Finally, the halal chicken tikka misala is undoubtedly my favorite dining hall dish - the chicken pieces are always tender and perfectly infused with the tomato and cream mixture, and the jasmine rice enthusiastically adopts the rich flavors and spices - and deep color - of the popular curry. It's Muslim Heritage Month, and Mission celebrates via cuisine. What better way to celebrate culture than to immerse oneself in cultural conversation and consumption?

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Second Semester's First Log Lunch - 2/10/12

This unseasonably warm February afternoon stood in stark contrast with today's Log Lunch theme, winter vegetables. On this particular day, I arrived with an unparalleled - probably frightening - hunger and although I always leave Log Lunch satiated, the hearty delectability of the meal components utterly satisfied my ravenous need for wholesome eats. I'd like to say that food has never tasted so good, but that's a lofty claim - undoubtedly, however, a feeling of utmost happiness defined this eating experience.
The soup today was a heterogeneous mixture of lentils and root vegetables. I relish the delightfully coarse texture and earthy flavor of lentils - the nutrition content of the small, hunter-green units is tangible, satisfying both the body and the mind. The legumes were accompanied by large, soft chunks of parsnips and sweet potatoes, which added a distinctive earthy sweetness to the foray. This soup was barely liquid, more like a thick, clumpy paste, and I found that this substantiality corresponded perfectly with my want for dense nourishment. The winter medley salad consisted of fresh spinach leaves, white beans, celery chunks, parsnip chunks, and spicy red onion, dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette. I reveled in the contrast between the parsnips in the soup - sweet and tender - and the raw parsnips in the salad, which provided strong flavor and crunch. The addition of potatoes to the delicate dough gave the bread extra elasticity and I tore enthusiastically at the starchy slices.
Buttery and dense, the pistachio, cranberry, and white chocolate bars similarly "hit the spot." They reminded me a bit of the decedent energy bars sold at a "General Store," which bikers devour mid-ride for both the taste and energy value. The bar body was a perfect combination of various textures and tastes, and the finishing smear of hardened white chocolate on top provided requisite sweetness. These rich units embodied the characteristics shared by each meal component - toothsome, substantial, and unrivaled in deliciousness.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Semester, New Schedule - 2/9/2012

I write this in the mere minutes before late night snack bar opens - for the first time in my three years at Williams, I missed dinner. My recent gargantuan lunch portions coupled with a marvelously monstrous muffin rightly render me full beyond the standard Williams dinner hour (which parallels that of a nursing home). Although injury presents a multitude of downsides - namely, solitary swimming rather than the camaraderie of practice and euphoria of running outdoors in the uncannily warm and snowless February - I must admit I relish how my schedule has conformed to the rigid pool hours. Inconveniently located during meal times, the pool hours are 7-9am, 12-2pm, and 7-9pm. However, I have always reveled in the pre-lunch workout, and my new routine consists of a swim before the midday meal, which I always arrive to late and ravenous. Driscoll lunches are prime dining, and I always regret the decision to not document my heaping plate.
Yesterday provided a particularly delectable spread - soft ciabatta bread cut on a bias sandwiched a tender turkey slab of turkey burger with creamy melted brie, caramelized onion jam, and wilted spinach. Accompanied by a patty-like unit of spiced lentils garnished with a delicate cream, and a fresh salad, this balanced meal provided me with much savory satisfaction. 
Not so much satisfaction, however, that I could resist a muffin when I frequented Tunnel City for my customary afternoon coffee. I love post-lunch work sessions at the cozy coffee shop, save for one thing - the muffins are usually gone at this hour. However, a couple daily specials remained on this particular visit, and I spotted a variant that I had yet to try - strawberry pecan. I'm glad that the raspberry and blueberry classic were gone, for I would have succumbed to "old faithful," and the strawberry-pecan was divine. Sizable chunks of luscious pink strawberries speckled the top and the interior body, and rich pecan pieces provided complementary crunch. The muffin body itself was perfectly moist, and my ecstatic eating experience lasted several hours - I'd coax myself along with my essay with intermittent nibbles.

Anyway, a similar sequence of events occurred today, yet with a larger, later lunch- the standard panini, some tomato blue cheese soup, a slice of sweet potato pie - and an even more oversized and gooey blueberry muffin. I've just regained my appetite, and the promise of snack bar's Moroccan chicken wrap has me salivating in these last few minutes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Op-Ed for "The Williams Record" - 2/8/2012

I recently wrote an op-ed for our school newspaper about constructing a healthy mentality and wholesome eating patterns in college. 

         Ignorance is bliss. In high school, caloric awareness was not something that characterized my eating habits. Quite the contrary, I had no qualms about routinely participating in eating competitions with my hulking guy friends and prided myself on having the biggest appetite on my team. Although I still relish food, my perspective has changed over the past three years and I must admit that the oblivion has disappeared. Luckily, my upbringing ensures that I will always maintain a celebratory relationship with food culture: I grew up in food-centric Northern California, and time spent with my family revolves around the preparation and consumption of quality eats.
         The removal of the familial meal structure influenced how I, and I imagine how others, developed different eating habits in college. At home, my mother and father would prepare a wholesome meal that I would devour upon returning home from school and practice. And it was just that – I’d eat to satiation exactly what they’d put before me without question or concern. At the College, the dining hall presents overwhelming variety. At first, I reveled in the glories of buffet-style dining, but I quickly learned that multiple plates make it difficult to discern what and how much you’ve eaten, and somehow the all-you-can-eat options can render you overly satiated and yet unsatisfied at the meal’s conclusion. After this “food initiation,” I tried to define more reasonable food habits, and I thought my counterparts did the same – that is until I realized that my peers ate with the utmost “health awareness.” In the face of abundance and cautious eating, one can browse the expansive salad bar and select predominantly vegetables, consume rice cakes at every meal or eat cereal at dinnertime.
         After the blissful ignorance of freshman fall, I gained an unwanted awareness of what “everyone else” was doing. This notion of self-judgment and decision-making based on standards set by others plagues the eating and exercise culture of the College. Witnessing platefuls of salad and vegetables makes you question if such a diet is advantageous, and the frantic energy of the “estrogym” makes you wonder if you too should undertake a massive elliptical session for the coveted calorie-burning effect. Strong surrounding influences coupled with hesitant navigation – who knows what and how much to eat or how to choose the ideal amount of exercise – breeds an atmosphere of constant scrutiny and comparison, a lethal combination in such a competitive environment.
         This mentality nagged me throughout my sophomore year, and although I never had an active problem, I grew tired of the unnecessary stress and wasted thought. Being home for the following summer changed these learned thinking patterns. Once I arrived back in an environment with an alternate perspective on food, I gained both a newfound appreciation and desire to learn about truly wholesome eating. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food have been invaluable tools in helping me construct a healthy diet and mentality.
         Michael Pollan claims that a “national eating disorder” plagues the United States, and In Defense of Food in particular decries America’s lack of food culture, which leads to fad diets and processed food deconstructed and rebuilt in the name of “nutrition.” Yet for all the fixation on well-being, Americans continue to become more unhealthy and confused. Pollan’s words of wisdom are simple and have stuck with me: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I hesitate to include the last two tidbits, because they can easily be misconstrued and are not particularly relevant to the situation before us; indeed, it is ironic that disorders of self-deprivation coexist with rampant overeating of bad food and the ensuing obesity-related diseases in our society.
         Pollan’s initial piece of advice, however, embodies an invaluable simplicity. It is junior spring, and I’ve finally figured out how I need to eat. I strive for balance and moderation and know that at every meal I must eat a substantial portion of something with substance – fat and protein – so that a mere plate of salad does not leave me unhappy, unsatisfied and ravenous in my room shortly after leaving the dining hall. By no means do I tout this model as the “correct” one – it is purely the method that makes me feel wholesomely satisfied and at ease.
         February is National Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and if we truly aim to “claim Williams” via individual, institutional and cultural change, we must address the difficult topics that afflict the psyche of college students, athletes and females in general – the dual, unhealthy mentalities of comparison and disordered eating. The insular environment and competitive, high-achieving mentality of the College makes this issue especially prevalent on our campus. The outpouring of community support on Claiming Williams Day reminded me of our campus’ receptiveness to uncomfortable discussion, and I hope that this anecdote contributes to positive change.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Claiming Williams Lunch - 2/2/2012

"Claiming Williams invites the community to acknowledge and understand the uncomfortable reality that not all students, staff, and faculty can equally “claim” Williams. By challenging the effects of the College’s history of inequality that are based on privileges of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion, we will provoke individual, institutional, and cultural change." - Mission Statement, Claiming Williams

I arrived a couple of minutes late to Brooks-Rogers this morning, and there was no way I was finding a seat or comfortably viewing any of the speakers at EphVoices: Perspectives on Playing in Purple—the auditorium was filled far beyond capacity, students covering the aisle floors and squished along the back and long side walls leading up to the stage. I listened to the speakers from the far back corner, unable to see their faces but heartened both by their words and the receptiveness of the audience. I had a similar experience at Goodrich this afternoon—I have squeezed into this versatile space on many crowded occasion, yet I have never seen such a turnout. Both the upstairs and downstairs doors were propped open, and despite the fact that there was nowhere to stand, enthusiastic students spilled out of the interior space and remained, listening for audible tidbits. On a day that celebrates the closeness of our campus while also challenging us to make necessary individual, institutional, and cultural change, it seems appropriate that discussion follow presentation—what better venue for continued interaction than lunch?
Students gather at Inner Life, Outer Life
I relish Dodd’s “special occasion” openings, and the homey ambience of this safe space was well suited for a meal that encourages students to further press themselves and their peers to address potentially uncomfortable issues. Three discussions occurred in this venue during lunchtime, scattered throughout the expansive ground floor: a continued discussion about EphVoices: Perspectives on Playing in Purple, an Ephventures-oriented talk about how to best welcome students to a safe and healthy Williams, and an open forum about spirituality entitled Inner Life, Outer Life. 
The lunchtime menu suited the occasion, as well: although it was simple, the food was subtly toothsome and hence allowed conversation to be the defining feature of the meal. Moreover, the selection offered something for everyone: standard turkey wraps and turkey sandwiches, and a vegetarian wrap, which I opted for. I revel in the rich flavors and textures of hummus and tabolleh, and the wrap was moist and flavorful, infused with the taste of cumin and other spices, and fresh parsley. The other meal components were also delectably understated, a crisp green salad with a garnish of pickled vegetables, and a fresh fruit platter that was comprised of juicy pineapple and watermelon, and sweet chunks of cantaloupe and honeydew melon. A multi-colored fusili pasta salad with bright pepper chunks, spicy red onion, and sizable broccoli heads coated with a light Italian-style dressing served as a satisfying side dish. Sitting at a round table with my entry, we conversed a bit more about Perspectives on Playing in Purple, analyzing the complementary angles of the different speakers and adding our own personal anecdotes. Walking around campus and attending events on this mild winter day, I am continually struck by waves of emotion, inspired by the commitment of my peers—this tangible environment of support and exchange is truly the heart of Claiming Williams. 

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services.