Monday, January 28, 2008

Future field trip: Toscanini's

Man, it's hard to keep up with Toscanini's. A personal, probably-not-so-accurate timeline:

Three weeks ago - passed by on my way to Royal East (review forthcoming).
Two weeks ago - planned outing for the weekend with roomie.
Ten days ago - found out from Hank that it was closed for not paying taxes.
Last week - bummed out because I had missed out on cucumber sorbet.
Now - Toscanini's is back in business; on to the cake batter ice cream!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

New York, Day 2

After a late breakfast, we headed to Times Square, followed by the Whitney Museum. By that time, it was 2:30, and we were craving a late lunch, so upon a recommendation from my brother-in-law, we tried to find Momofuku (171 1st Ave/New York, NY 10013/212.475.7899). The 1st Ave address implied that it was near the United Nations, so we spent a twenty blocks’ walk looking for this noodle house, finally calling it twice. But no one picked up to confirm, and we ended up heading to Grand Central Station as a consolation prize, disgruntled. (It looks like something’s wrong with its directory entry – it may be closed?)

Grand Central Station had a huge food court with smaller versions of “unique New York” (try saying that fast) culinary establishments. I shared and quickly gobbled down a tomato and parmesan foccacia from Zaro’s Bread Basket ($4.95), only made better by the temporary heat from the panini grill. I imagined it as an yeasty, herby upgrade of a pizza.

We then headed to Rockefeller Center and picked up pseudo-lunches from ‘wichcraft, in the basement. The gourmet fast food sandwich bar was pricey, though the sandwiches were good. Plus, points for presentation.

The slow-roasted pork sandwich ($8.50) with red cabbage and jalapeno had enough – if not too much – of a spicy kick. While the grilled fontina ($9) was fairly small, the makers had the great idea of including chewy black trumpet mushrooms (I am fairly certain these are the mushrooms labeled “black fungus” in Chinese supermarkets) and truffle oil on the moist-but-crisp white bread. A better choice was the soup ($4) – pureed cauliflower that was only apparent in the aftertaste, with colorful chive oil on top. It came with two thin, crunchy breadsticks to dip.

A quick stop for Dean and DeLuca’s coffee was next – we had been looking all afternoon for one. The coffee was hot and pungent – while the scent did indicate its bitterness, most of the aftertaste evaporated quickly.

On to Pinkberry! We searched online for the nearest location – and it happened to land smack-dab in the middle of Koreatown. Given my fondness for Berryline, I was eager to compare Pinkberry to it. Perhaps that is somewhat irreverent, however: Berryline is actually a Beantown knockoff of Pinkberry. As a result of the recent froyo craze and the fact that Starbucks is actually putting a little of their brew into Pinkberry, it seemed that Pinkberry was a little paranoid. I was yelled at for taking photos in the crowded space, which looked like an internet café meets teenage-girl Starbucks.

And what do I think about Pinkberry’s froyo? To some extent, it might have been Berryline withdrawal (I found out that they had mango – plus Oreo – while I was gone), or simply the factor of being first, but I found Pinkberry to be refreshingly good. Other customers walking out of the store called it “yogurty,” and that was indeed the case. It was also surprisingly creamy – I had expected something icier. The fruit – I ordered raspberries, blackberries and mango – was for the most part, fresh. My mango was unripe (another point for Berryline!) and green tendrils were protruding from one blackberry, but the raspberries were ideal.

During our brief stay at Pinkberry, we planned out the remainder of this non-stop noshing day. Our original plan was to eat at the Peking Duck House in Chinatown but we were sidetracked by the Korean eateries. (Incidentally, the NYT published an article about the Koreatown that same day, which we only found later that evening.) We finally settled on Hyo Dong Gak (51 W 35th Street/New York, NY 10001/212.495.7167), a few blocks' walk from the center of Koreatown and the recipient of a few favorable online reviews.

Upon walking into the restaurant, we waited for seats to open. The restaurant looked comfortable, in a good way…but so did the menu, in a bad way. I scanned up and down the pages, but all I saw was “sweet and sour pork,” “Mongolian beef,” and more of what looked like to be generic Chinese take-out dishes. Not that I’m morally against “sweet and sour pork,” I just prefer to eat it only when necessary. (And by necessary, I mean once a year.)

My sister reassured me that “really, that’s the special thing about this place – they’re a Korean/Chinese hybrid restaurant,” but really, I struggled – and still do – with this conception.

(Warning: I am a moderate version of my friend Hank, who refuses to eat the (reputedly) “awesome” steak at Waffle House because he only eats waffles at Waffle House. That said, I do agree with him on the Cheesecake Factory – if you must, only get the cheesecake there. My take, however, is that the entrees there are not only generic but laced with sodium.)

Back to Hyo Dong Gak. I looked skeptically at my sister. First of all, the menu clearly stated Chinese restaurant. Second of all, one of the posted reviews on the restaurant’s bulletin board was from a local newspaper who championed the fact that their Japanese reviewer liked some sort of seafood delight. Awkward was an understatement, but just when I was about to leave, a table opened and we obligatorily sat down.

With a little help from Yelp, we chose our order: the noodles in brown sauce (called jajang-myeon - $5.95), an bowl of seafood noodle soup (with extra seafood), and tang soo yook, described on the site as a Korean version of sesame chicken. We looked around at all the other tables, and it looked like they ordered the exact same meal as well. Good call; we patted ourselves on the back.

The first thing that arrived was the tang soo yook. It did look like generic sweet-and-sour chicken, but it was surprisingly good. It had been deep fried in the same style, but the chicken came out hot and the oil tasted clean. Granted that when you bit into it, hot oil burst out, but it was quite tasty. The sauce was somewhat flavorless and the vegetables were definitely of the sweet-and-sour chicken genre (peppers, water chestnuts, snow peas), but the dish’s freshness made up for it. It wouldn’t be a repeat though; upon picking up the check, we found out that the chicken was almost double the price of the other dishes ($12.95).

The seafood noodle was tasty – the broth was flavorful, but also delicate, with a hint of ginger added to the seafood brew. The noodles were chewy, and there was a good deal of seafood in the bowl, which on its own, probably could have manhandled two of us. As for the noodles with brown sauce, it was my favorite dish. This traditional Korean dish – thick soy-based paste over diced pork, onions and other vegetables – is my mom’s favorite (and even has a Chinese equivalent) but the Minnesota restaurant rendition could not compare to this. The noodles were the same as those used for the seafood soup, and they complemented the sauce nicely. And oh, the sauce. It wasn’t salty and it definitely didn’t lack ingredients – rather, it had a bacony flavor that melded to and a thickness that clung on to the noodles.

So I ended up having to walk about fifteen blocks before my stomach felt less full…and that concludes my second day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New York, Day .5: Shanghai Moon House

My intersession trip to New York began with a harried rush to the legendary Fung Wah bus. And by legendary, I mean notorious. It’s no surprise that I was a little fearful of the Fung Wah – but the only negative story I personally heard was from a philosophy student I met on the T, who pointed out that one trip, his foot, straying in the aisle, was sprayed with Febreze. And even so, that wasn’t that terrible.

And the bus ride, in reality, wasn’t that terrible either. Granted, I played the role of a “yuppie seeking validation of and legitimacy in his or her life” (aka: the plotline of Love Story) through a cheap bus ride adventure, but really. My only worry was the strict ten minute allotment for the McDonald’s stop; rumor had it that the driver would promptly pull out regardless of missing riders. Whether that happened this time…I don’t know. The bus was fairly speedy in the 4.75-hour trip, but my brother-in-law had to point out to me that the driver almost crashed into a car upon arrival.


In any case, it was around 10:30 pm when we finally sat down at Shanghai Moon House Restaurant (67 Bayard Street/New York, NY 10013/212.766.9399 or 212.766.9098 ), a repeat visit for my sister and brother-in-law. They had been raving about the pork steamed buns (8 for $2.99 – ridiculously cheap by most standards) and the aromatic beef cold noodle ($4.50). We ended up ordering a few other things as well, as the dining and packing schedule had been a little harried to say the least. (I beat my roommate’s packing record – fifteen minutes. Take that.)

The food came quickly, and we started off with appetizers. The pork steamed buns were just as I had expected, and even a little bit larger-sized. A quick note on the buns: the kind that we got weren’t dry or sandwich-y, bread-based buns. Rather, these buns were what are called tang bao, “soup” buns, meaning that they were filled with the same broth used to cook the pork filling. The overarching goal of eating tang bao is to not let the soup leak out, since it’s really the best part of the bun. The way to do this is to use chopsticks to maneuver the bao into a soup spoon, dip the spoon into the gingery vinegar sauce, and to eat the bao in one bite, letting the ingredients soak against your tongue.

We followed this up with a combination of three appetizers ($9.95): sliced aromatic beef, wine chicken (aka drunken chicken) and jelly fish. The sliced beef was thin and had a good proportion of jelly, which added to the meat’s chewy texture. And yes, it was aromatic – but the spices were subtle. The wine chicken tasted like any other drunken chicken, but the chicken meat was a little leaner and there was less fat and skin. The jelly fish, although vinegary, was a little less flavorful. However, a generous portion of it was served, and it was nice and chewy. For those of you who are a little less adventurous with regard to jellyfish: don’t worry, it’s good. And it doesn’t really look like meat; it’s just clear.

The sautéed water spinach came ($7.95), followed by the aromatic beef cold noodle ($4.50). The water spinach’s sell comes from its crunch – it also goes by the name “hollow vegetable” because its stems are indeed hollow. Typically water spinach is drenched in oil and lots of garlic, but Shanghai Moon’s rendition was a little bit more delicate. Yes, there was plenty of oil, but at least it looked like it wasn’t reused oil (a heads-up: if your egg rolls ever look dark-colored, it’s probably because it was the tenth batch to be deep fried in the oil). The fresh flavor of the spinach really stood out, but I wished there was a little more garlic flavor in the dish. The cold noodle (shown above – with close up of the meat) was topped with a creamy, light-color peanut sauce that could have been thicker. Combined with the noodles – which had a wavy, fettucini-like texture – it was really quite tasty.

Finally, the surprise hit of the meal was something I didn’t realize we’d ordered – pork and vegetable strips in garlic sauce (admittedly, I don’t have the price because it was a last-minute order). It consisted of thinly shredded pork with green peppers and water chestnuts, topped up with sliced garlic cloves under a brown gravy. Although it looked out of place in a Shanghai-style restaurant, next to the pork steamed buns, it was my favorite dish of the evening; the flavors were bold and the peppers were sharp.

Knowing the huge quantity of restaurants in Chinatown, you could easily head from one to another for a month without repeats, and during visits to New York, I’ll have more on the list to try. But this one may warrant another trip.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tropical Fruit, as covered by Newsweek

Click here. (Unfortunately, the online edition doesn't feature the cute little chart of pictures alongside each fruit.)

Helpful, but it looks like they missed the custard-apple, the dragon fruit and the Buddha's hand. And maybe even the pomelo?

Also, has anyone tried the dragon fruit Ice Breakers gum?
It be poppin'. Like my lipgloss.

...and there goes all legitimacy of this blog post.

Review: Wagamama

57 JFK St, Cambridge, MA 02138/617.499.0930

I figure I'll state it up front: I am not a fan of Wagamama.

I ordered the ginger chicken udon ($10.50) both visits. Actually, the udon was fairly flavorful - the ginger was strong. However, despite accepting the fact that udon does and always will have a pasty texture when stir-fried, but if anything, it meant that something - some sort of additional ingredient - had to supplement it. That didn't happen: the chicken was really bite-sized. My taste buds could not overcome the "overstick" of the udon noodles, conglomerated together in one mass.

The funny thing is, my dining companions and I agreed that my dish was probably the best tasting of what we had ordered - the yaki udon ($10.75), the chicken chili men (noodles in a spicy sauce, $11.75) and the aka-taka chicken salad ($9.95). To Wagamama's credit, the yaki udon was not a clone of the ginger chicken udon; the chicken in the salad was tasty, but the sparse quantity of it seemed out of place on the plain "mixed" lettuce leaves.

Wagamama takes your orders using an electronic reader, which means the food came fast. Unfortunately, we were ordered to leave fast (as in, less than 30 minutes). At one point, our server came by and pointed out: "Maybe I'm crazy, but didn't I give you the bill five minutes ago?"

And the opportunity cost of this: a (better) meal at any other Harvard Square establishment. So I offer alternatives to Wagamama within two blocks:

- Uno's, individual Farmer's Market vegetarian pizza: $8.79
- Penang, family-style: $10-12
- Felipe's, nachos: $5.35

And if you're willing to trek a little more,
- Bartley's, the Mitt Romney burger (including onion rings!): $9.15

In short, overhyped and overpriced.

Review: Penang

57 JFK Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA 02138

Every time you eat at Penang, you effectively issue a vehement "no thanks" (or something more profane, if you prefer) to Wagamama. This is because you have to go through the main lobby, which contains Wagamama and Staples, and trek up the stairs to find Penang.

This scorn is also well deserved.

[I am not a fan of Wagamama. The food came fast, but we were ordered to leave fast (as in, less than 30 minutes). The noodles were flavorful but dry, and were barely supplemented with any ingredients.

And all of this cost me $13 - in comparison, a (better) meal at any other Harvard Square establishment:
- Bartley's: a burger, with upgrade to onion rings:

Open everyday from 11:30 am to 11:30; call 617.234.3988/617.234.3989

Edit (fall 2009): Penang is now closed. Goodbye to one of the good Asian staples in the square...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Food 2.0, here we go

Instead of Web 2.0, we've got chocolate startups ahead.

Tcho's design looks particularly good. I like the check-off boxes for's like blunt wine tasting for pre-yuppies.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recipe: Rebecca and Julia's Breadsticks

And I omitted a few things from that list below:

Well, the copious amount of grilled two-slices-Swiss-with-two-pieces-salami-and-two-tomato-slices-on-Italian-bread sandwiches I had. But also the products of the following recipe. Call them breadsticks or slices or even a garlic bread impostor.

The breadsticks:
- one or two slices of bread, preferably Italian
- oregano, red pepper, and olive oil

Drizzle olive oil over the bread - if it looks like there's too much, tilt the bread back and forth to redistribute the oil evenly. Slice the bread into longer stick pieces (although if you're Julia, you'll leave it in one giant piece). Shake oregano over the bread, and stick it into the toaster. (If the bread's Italian, you'll want to take the tongs to knock the bread out - it gets stuck. Again, don't set stuff on fire.)

The sauce:
- consists of what's at the pasta bar.
- parmesan cheese, oregano and garlic powder

We personally cross our fingers for pesto sauce, but regardless of the type, take a small bowl of sauce, and add about two tablespoons of parmesan cheese. The consistency of the sauce should be thick, almost a little bit paste-like. Add oregano - four more shakes more than what you think will be enough. Garlic powder is only needed if the sauce is red pepper flavored; just a little bit will be more than enough.

Dip the breadsticks in the sauce. Happy eating.

Exams: Partially by the Numbers

The five most frequent items on the reading period menu:

10 omelettes. More ketchup than necessary. Egg whites only - Egg Beater omelettes are paper thin. Tomato-onion-green-pepper, because unshredded cheese corners barely melt and the ham is from the sandwich bar.

10 grapefruit halves. To be eaten when waiting for the omelette in the grill line.

4 muffins, one each of:
- Tripleberry. Blueberry, craisin and weirdly tart candied cherry. (Whoever invented the term craisin was clearly a genius.)
- Lemon poppyseed.
- Corn. Gritty goodness.
- Bran. Raisin for tangy flavor.

3 Caesar salads. And doubtless others (parmesan vinaigrette for the win).

2 small bowls of generic Cinnamon Toast Crunch (to clarify, that would be Toasted Cinnamon Squares, thankyouverymuch). Habit very much discontinued when they ran out.

Is this one step up, or one step behind?

Yale is switching from Aramark (huge corporation; by my count, I must have eaten in about fifteen of their organizational cafeterias. They can be bland, but if you find one with sweet potato fries, go.) to its own in-house kitchens for dining halls...of course, Harvard had that system already.

But it looks like Yale's getting Stanford's dining head to come over (and if there's one thing I really wanted from Stanford, it was the fresh, sun-kissed ingredients. Or maybe I'm romanticizing that. I just wonder if it's as good as they say).

Oh, the politic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The view from Berryline

(strawberry and kiwi on coconut froyo)

Three or four trips later, we're nearing the end of official finals week. Whew.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

You're got thirteen days...ready, set, go

Aside from dollar-scoop Tuesday, here's another of Baskin-Robbins' perks:

Click here for a buy-one-get-one sundae coupon (until January 31).


A badder better cookbook?

Via Wikipedia, the nursery rhyme:

Betty Batter bought some butter,
"But," she said, "the butter's bitter;
If I put it in my batter,
It will make my batter bitter;
But a bit of better butter,
That would make my batter better."

So she bought a bit of butter,
Better than her bitter butter,
And she put it in her batter,
And the batter was not bitter;
So 'twas better Betty Botter
Bought a bit of better butter.

If you got through that tongue twister, you're in luck. Because I strongly suggest checking out these great (and wonderfully legit!) recipes. To give you a taste, this edition includes "Yogburt, 'Appycots, and Weird Crunchy Stuff," "Om Nom Nom Spaghetti" and "Pan de la vie Boheme" (which should probably remind me of La Boheme and its modern day counterpart, Rent...but surprisingly reminds me of Orwell's Down and Out.)

And admittedly, the recipes are pretty tough competition for our Annenberg Cookbook. A quick shoutout to Phenol for writing - thanks!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Before you visit Boston

You should read this NYT article for a quick hit...

and notice that Burdick's, among other Cambridge establishments, was namedropped. (Not Finale, though - though I'll have a comparison of Finale vs. Burdick's after finals.) Oh Burdick' I'm so glad that you are so close to me on a icy winter's day.

Though I can't really handle 5 ounces of your thick hot chocolate (literally chocolate) and might have to settle for the mini two ounce instead. And as we learned in our mandatory drug seminar in our dorm, two ounces is a larger size than 1.7 ounce. Actually, that's fairly obvious - rather, two ounces is slightly more than a shot glass.

So that would be a shot of chocolate.


Fortune Cookies and Good Reads

I recently found Jennifer 8. Lee's blog, the Fortune Cookie Chronicles, and am loving it. She happens to be releasing her book (of the same name) in March, and it's about the history and role of Chinese food in America. Obviously, it's about food, but it's also about culture (example from the summary: "unique bond between Chinese food and American Jewry" - yes).

In any case, she recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about the fortune cookie's backstory, which my sister forwarded to me. Check it out - surprisingly, a historian argues the fortune cookie could have stemmed from Japan. And if I've told you about my return to Boston last week (where the annoying know-it-all across from me claimed fortune cookies were from China - more on him later) then this article seems to be in good timing.

For me and for him.

For Valentine's Day...

...this is all you need.

Because the one you love deserves double American on their grilled cheese.

Um, maybe some jewelry too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

If only for Chuck Norris

"And because of this imagined world, America became an edible Emerald City, a culinary Kubla Khan where hot dogs paved the streets and Kool-Aid flowed from taps. A place where Chuck Norris took it in turns with Arnie to keep the peace, while Corey Haim kept the well-coiffed vampires at bay." (Tom Parker Bowles, The Year of Eating Dangerously)

Most food writing starts off with a bang, making you think that it'll be a must-add to your list on Facebook (the sole arbiter of your identity). Then it kind of ends with a few too many snapshots of the journey (especially if it's a book where the author travels), and not enough food. Which makes sense, because it's the end, you should have some reflections, et cetera. Same thing happened with this book: the intro was hilarious; the last part, a not entirely satisfying conclusion. But this might have been easily the best sentence I've read in a food book in '08: 90s pop culture mixed with a cultural vision (and obviously, the requisite food name-dropping).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why we hate Adams House

(our schedule yesterday)
10:30-12:30 pm: pwnage on finals (hopefully)
9:00 - 10:00 pm: waiting outside
Adams House after rejection :(

One thing about Harvard is that we are over-fed
during reading period and finals. For instance, "Sweet and Savory" marked the beginning of reading period, and tonight will mark chocolate fountain night. Meanwhile, dinner was "Southern night," consisting of your typical standards: beef brisket, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cornbread, pecan pie...everything except the collard greens (which for me, make the meal). When I mentioned this to someone, they asked if they were trying to kill us - whether calorically or by making better food, I don't know. In any case, I thought of it more as one (nay, the) last meal before finals.

Back to Adams: traditionally known as the artsy house (it has a theater converted from a pool, and underground tunnel murals), it also happens to be closer to the Yard, making it a convenient location. And as I've briefly mentioned before, it is notoriously strict about keeping doors shut to outsiders during peak dining times. Upperclassmen from other houses can usually get away with eating there - Pfoho residents have access anytime - but freshmen are a little bit more recognizable (though it's never impossible).

In any case, an email with Adams House's special Brain Breaks (basically, free food at night, aka sandwiches, leftover desserts and cereal) for finals week came over several email lists:

Mon - 50s Diner night with an open grill
Tues - Smoothies
Wed - Chocolate in all its forms
Thurs - Baked Potato bar
Fri - Ice cream bash
Mon - Nacho bar

My dormmates and I decided to crash Tuesday night's break; it had been a while since we had had smoothies. I ended up going a few minutes later, but on the way to Adams, I got a call where Kat promptly informed me that they had been...rejected. Their outsider status had been signaled by the fact that they wore coats.

As such, I decided to pretend I was a resident; after all, everyone had done it before. But upon entering Adams, I was greeted by another dormmate at the door.
"Take off your coat, walk in - get those mittens off! - and go meet everyone else at the door. Bring them in as your guests. Get an extra smoothie for me. Walk fast, act cool."
I thought I was being briefed on a CIA mission, so I followed her instructions exactly. But I was carded (by hand - not swiped) and promptly rejected as a freshman...and we grumbled (though we made a trip to Berryline) on our return, hopes smashed to the ground.

In short, grr.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yale: A Dining Hall Primer

In light of the fact that it is finals week at Harvard (but in two years, it won't be!), I asked my friend Erin, a freshman at Yale, to guest-post about the dining hall system there. As follows, her response:

After coming back from break where I heard horror stories about other colleges mealtime fare, I can say without a doubt that I hit the gastronomic jackpot in attending Yale. Our dining halls are second to none, and the options for places to eat are endless. In addition to the 12 (or rather 11, since one college is always undergoing renovations) residential colleges, which each offer their own atmosphere, there is also Commons, which has the longest hours, and the widest variety of food. For lunch, the choices are even more varied, as students can use their lunch swipe to eat in the Law School, Kline Biology Tower or School of Management.

Before I start on the residential colleges, where I eat almost all of my meals, I’ll give a brief statement about Commons. It is huge, and similar to Annenberg at “the other school.” It is the only place that serves hot breakfast during the week, with daily menus of pancakes, sausage/bacon/ham, eggs, and potatoes. I’m not much of a breakfast eater, but when I do manage to crawl out of bed before 11, it’s a good place to go. All the other residential colleges have a cold breakfast of cereal, bread, bagels, waffles, etc. One thing that is unique to Commons is the Y waffle-maker, which I have yet to try, but have heard good things. Commons also has longer hours than any other dining hall, staying open past 7. It has a pizza bar, a main line, a pasta bar, a salad bar, a sandwich bar, a dessert bar, a cereal bar, and a wide variety of drinks. There has never been a time where I haven’t been able to find something good to eat at commons. Also, Commons is a great place to see people, as it is centrally located to most classroom buildings, and many people eat lunch there.

I however am a much bigger fan of the residential college dining halls. They are much smaller, more intimate, and normally have very good food. Last night for example, at Branford, dinner was southern fried or grilled chicken, some stuffed squash thing that I’m sure vegetarians would have loved, glazed ham, garlic flavored green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. Yale’s mashed potatoes are some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I would like to think myself somewhat of a mashed potato aficionado. They are creamy with little bits of potato skins to give them texture, and chicken gravy is great. In addition, my friends also had spinach soup, colorful and delicious salads, various cookies, and ice cream.

Every dining hall has unique specialties that you discover as you sample different ones: Pierson has a soft-serve ice cream machine that sometimes works, Davenport has their precious gnome in the middle of their dining hall, Calhoun, much to the delight of one of my friends, has fresh pineapple, and Berkeley, the famous dining hall that is always PACKED with freshmen because the foods so good, has different tossed salads every day.

Although I’ve been in many of the dining halls, this is most likely only because my own beloved college, Jonathan Edwards, is under construction this year. Many of my other freshmen friends eat most of their meals in their own college. This is because each dining hall acts as a meeting place. By eating in your college, you are guaranteed to see people you know, and also, to meet some new people you may not have seen before. The table set-up creates a great environment for discussion, assuming there aren’t too many people, and you will often see people stop at tables talking to different friends as they walk to their seat. The dining hall workers often become close with the students, and the card swipers memorize new freshman names in their respective college, so they can greet them by name. Being in JE, this has not yet happened to me, but I hold out hope.

In addition, colleges have family meals every week in which only people in the college can use the dining hall, so as to increase the solidarity and camaraderie amongst students. Do not fear if you are sans dining hall, as JE students this year are welcome in any college, although, the food tends to be absolutely amazing on family nights (i.e. sundae bars or high class meats), thus you will be accused of stealing other college’s food.

I cannot think of one meal where I have been able to find nothing to eat. My biggest problem is that I often find one thing I like, only to realize that there’s something else that I want even more, and I end up with too much food on my tray. This is the main hazard of Yale’s all-you-can-eat policy. Many ingredients in our food come from the Yale farm, which I am told is on the edge of campus, and one of their most prolific crops is a green herb which is liberally sprinkled over many foods, including my mashed potatoes, and whose name utterly escapes me at this moment. Every meal has at least one organic entrée, which I suppose is a good thing, but I’ve never noticed a difference in the taste of food. There are always various vegetarian options, and desserts are normally amazing.

Basically, I can’t say enough good things about Yale’s dining options. Everyone comes to have their own favorite dining halls. I personally really like Trumbull for lunches and sometimes dinner, and TD for brunch on the weekends. Also, Silliman, the newest renovated college, has an amazing dining hall that I bring my pre-frosh to, to show off Yale dining. Berkeley’s a good option, but always packed, although this is due to its great food, and perhaps to its animal head décor. You will never feel entirely let down by Yale food, even in Morse & Stiles, which are so far away (relatively speaking) and appear to me to be caves. Regardless, you can’t go wrong at Yale, in eating or anything else imaginable.

Now that the advertisement's over (kidding - thanks, Erin), I'll point out that Yale is a well-publicized leader in the locavore college scene - a trend that Harvard seems to be following up on. (My opinions on that later.)

Especially as a freshman at Harvard, I'm intrigued by upperclass dining (and indeed, I get emailed commentary on it by my classmates), so it's fairly interesting to see a different version of a house system. And of course, eating options, like different (read: copycat) Veritaffles.

Dining-wise, the main difference is really that Harvard offers the same daily menu across all dining halls. Which can be great if you're in the Quad and still want the same herbed orzo offered at Adams...or bad if it's turkey night. And we also all have soft-serve machines.

If you're an inquisitive Yale prefrosh, Erin can be reached for questions (dining or otherwise) through the comment boxes (below) or by email (

Want to complain about your d-hall system? Comment or drop me a line (

Monday, January 14, 2008

Recipe: Nancy and Kat's Guacamole

Brief notes from the past two d-hall dins before I begin:

  • After its lull in the two-week menu rotation, sweet potato souffle appeared Sunday night. Delicious and so ridiculously unhealthy that my roommate barely convinced me that sweet potato was a vegetable.
  • Meanwhile, tonight featured 8-spice jerk chicken, which my dormmates proclaimed as good. They're right, it wasn't that bad. But it was misleading - the jerk chicken was basically a saltier version of the "Mollie Katzen Moroccan chicken" that we're served every two weeks. (Yes, The Moosewood Cookbook author consults for Harvard. Wait, I thought she was vegetarian...guess not.)
  • Last Friday in the 'Berg was a hodgepodge of leftovers gathered from the previous few days. This upcoming Friday proves to be the same, as jerk chicken reappears on the menu.
  • Finally, due to reading period...upperclassmen are allowed to eat inside Annenberg during reading period. Coupled with the nearby presence of the Science Center, this means it's getting pretty crowded, especially when people are nearly camping out in the Cabot Library inside.
And now...the featured recipe. We actually thought this deal - with ingredients entirely from the salad bar - would taste kind of gross (especially given the fact that the avocados are partially frozen and generally damp at the bar). The guac was a stale split-pea-soup color, but turned out to be the sleeper hit of dinner. Initially, Nancy and Kat had made a small bowl, but the whole table ended up having a taste and Nancy ended up making more. Since there weren't tortilla chips leftover from Sweet and Savory, we used potato chips from the sandwich bar as scoops. This was actually a tasty substitution - the sodium-laced chip compensated for us not adding salt to the guac.
  • 1.5 cups avocados
  • 5 rings of red onion, sliced into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons of diced tomatoes (preferably fresh...but ours was canned)
Mash the avocados with a fork until they retain a paste-like consistency. Add the red onion and tomatoes gradually and mix. Add lemon juice and pepper to taste.

Happy eating.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recipe: Laura's Brown Sugar Toast

The first time I tried this was last Wednesday, when Laura made a few slices for our dormmate dinner table in the 'Berg. Incidentally, that day was also 65 degrees outside - ridiculously warm for a January day in Boston. But one bite made me warm and fuzzy inside; I almost felt obligated to not enjoy the spring breeze and to eat oatmeal for dinner. But since the January thaw is now ending (major snow tomorrow!), I'm legitimately obligated to enjoy this.

Brown sugar and toast initally seems like a logical combination in retrospect - especially since both have gritty textures - but the more I think about it, I've only really done honey and toast, and for elevenses at that.

  • 1 slice of bread
  • brown sugar and butter
Take one slice of bread and toast it. During this time, take a small bowl and mix 1 teaspoon of brown sugar with one or two teaspoons (or "knife-fuls") of butter. Immediately after removing the bread from the toaster, slather the mixture onto the hot toast. There shouldn't be any visible white chunks of butter on the toast, and the brown sugar should be clumping.

Note: Our dining hall toaster (and I believe others' colleges) works like an assembly line machine. I suppose you should imagine its movement like the doughnut machinery at a Krispy Kreme shoppe. That is, you put the toast onto a moving platform where it moves toward the heat in the back of the toaster, and it suddenly falls down onto a crumb tray below the toaster. The reasoning behind this is for strangers to toast with you at the same time without waiting...but not that sketchy-sounding.

So given that platform, you could hypothetically put the brown sugar/butter mixture onto the bread, and then into the toaster...but I probably wouldn't do that. Some reasons:
  1. Dude, it's against the rules? (Technically, the toaster could get set on fire, and dining services wouldn't be happy.)
  2. If that doesn't happen though, don't expect your brown sugar toast to be melty good - I mean, I know that brown sugar and heat pretty much make up caramel. We used to do that in chem. But chances are that your toast is also going to get burned and turned black; word on the street is that eating that crusty black stuff causes cancer (fancy word: carcinogen.) And you really can't control the timing on your toast (unless you stick your hand in the back of the toaster to reach for your bread - um, bad idea), to boot.
  3. In the final step, the newly-born toast falls off the platform into the crumb tray, possibly doing a little aerial trick in the process. That means if you put brown sugar and butter on your bread, it could possibly flip face down and collect those bagel crumbs from someone's random breakfast for you to eat. That's kind of weird.
Um...yeah. Happy eating.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Would you like some cheese with that whine?"

I just got back from breakfast (late enough for you to say, "brunch?") and wanted to report on the ham and artichoke pizza.

Because I'm just that tireless.

But really, I was pleasantly surprised to find hot food in Annenberg past ten, when it starts getting shuffled away. That said, it looked they had a sufficient amount of leftovers to keep it going.

That's a surprise, because there were three pans of pizza left (one entirely full; two halfway-taken - one for each line), and the pizza definitely beat the greasy mushroom-and-cheese frittata that we have every two weeks. Or the vegetable omelette, made with dehydrated broccoli that necesitates the Heimlich. Or even today's meal, which seemed to be an open-faced egg sandwich (though it looked like another sleeper hit that I didn't try - there were only two left).

And that's where the pro of Annenberg is: the square pizzas. By consensus, this might be the epitome of an Annenberg meal...especially when served with tatortots. The flavor is great - the Margherita adaptation features fairly tender tomatoes, although I wish there were more of a basil presence. The vegetable pizza features seemingly-roasted peppers, tomato and squash, while the ham-and-artichoke is flavorful without being too salty. All three pizzas share a good balance of herbage (not to be confused with pwnage) as well as bite-sized, diced toppings (so I don't have to try to take down that two-foot-long green pepper ring in one bite). The whole wheat crust (like an upgraded pita - at times the crust of the pizza can be too hard, even though the center is undercooked) allows for the rationalization that the pizza is healthy.

But don't get me talking about the round pizzas, actually - well, too late now.

Although bacon-and-spinach or pepper-and-onion are actually great topping combinations, it's the cheese that's the problem on these round pizzas. So...let's reminisce about junior high, when the pizza came fast and greasy and everyone would take a one-inch stack of cheap, tiny-sized napkins to wipe (or dab, in a few cases) it off. The girls would scream in a coo about how gross it was, and the guys would probably have thrown the desecrated napkins at each other by the end of lunch. I don't really do that anymore - and really, the Annenberg pizzas are so healthy that you don't need to.

But the cheese on the round pizzas is white-colored, not because mozzarella is naturally white, but because it's been undercooked. It's clammy-textured and yet barely warm; in fact, the cheese hasn't really interacted with the actual pizza part and so it's like eating crust with good toppings and this random chunk of cheese hanging on top. Dannng.

I didn't really have to deal with that today (or yesterday), but I certainly thought about it a lot. My tip is that you cover up the cheese (or actually remove it if you weren't a fan to begin with) with more red pepper and oregano (that's grilled cheese spiking, by the way). Or just get the square pizza in the first place.

[P.S. My roommate reminds me to say that "the bananas today were beautiful."]

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Recipe: Rebecca's Grilled Cheese Sandwich

This is the dish that prefaced the Annenberg Cookbook - my dormmate Rebecca's grilled cheese.

A few facts about Rebecca: She is one of the most flexible cooks I know, adding a pinch of this or that to her tray for another go. A fellow Minnesotan, Rebecca brought back German recipes - including a sweet almond bread - to try the first month of school. Every Sunday, she insists on a Veritaffle, actually mixes the Belgian waffle and plain mix in the iron for a swirled pattern, and brings her own legit maple syrup, to boot.

And about the grilled cheese - my roommate came back earlier this week to tell me about this "must-have." The next night, I snagged a third of Rebecca's sandwich, and since then, all of us have been making sandwiches on our own. It's fairly simple, as it should be:

  • 2 pieces bread
  • 1 slice cheese
Put in panini grill until ready.

But here's the kicker:

Add oregano, dill and red pepper as needed on top of the sandwich.

Yes'm, the red pepper dust basically makes the sandwich magical. In the few days since, a few variations have come up. For example:
  • putting red pepper, oregano and dill inside the sandwich instead of the outside of the bread,
  • inserting ham/cheese/sliced tomato
  • using healthier whole-wheat bread
  • putting salsa inside the sandwich (but between two slices of cheese, so that the bread doesn't get soaked)
Thanks to Rebecca, today was the first day that I used the panini grill for something other than toasting my bagel. Although my grilled cheese came out undercooked (apparently I should watch the cheese melt), yours probably won't.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Updates on the site

As a few of you might have noticed, I've been tweaking some odds 'n ends on Foodivia. Some highlights:

- Foodivia is now available in RSS subscription, so you'll be able to read posts as soon as they're up.

- More posts, more often.

Specifically, in addition to "Did you know?" you'll be seeing a new feature: The Annenberg Cookbook. The dormmates and I have been experimenting with the dining hall food - we're figuring out how to add a little punch to the entree and to make do with what we have. Stuff that college students in d-halls (or people overwhelmed by their refrigerator contents - both descriptions fit me well) are still learning.

I've been impressed with the number of recipes we've made in this week alone (one a meal!). If we're especially ambitious, I daresay that we might be able to beat Rachael Ray's proliferation of recipes in Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats. While we're at it, I'll point out that unless there's a line for trays and silverware, we also go faster than 30-Minute Meals and eat for less than $40 a Day. Bring it, Ms. Ray.

That said, do bring your comments - active readership encouraged, too.

Happy reading!

"My Courses," indeed

Maybe it's Food 2.0 (...think Web 2.0).

Instead of another rehash of the "My Courses" third-party application on Facebook, a Harvard freshman has created another Facebook profile add-on. Instead of stalking people by figuring out what classes they're in, now you can instead stalk Harvard University Dining Services (henceforth referred to as HUDS). And thankfully, you don't have to send another fake "pastry" using the "Bakery Shop" application. "MyPlate" features the next two days' dining hall menu on your profile and includes stats on which foods pop up in Annenberg most often. More intriguingly, the application allows users to rate menu items (leading to a collaborative, Amazon-style review).

I also know of one other menu-related program in development out there. It looks very promising, so I'll be sure to let you guys know when that comes out.

Where gluttony might be tolerated: Sweet and Savory

"Dear Members of the Class of 2011:

You are warmly invited to attend...
A Study Break hosted by President Drew Faust
"Sweet and Savory"

This is an opportunity you do not want to miss!
Come enjoy the amazing food, the company of your fellow freshmen, music, dancing, and a chance to mix and mingle with President Faust!

For those who like SWEET - it's a dessert lover's dream!
Including chocolate covered strawberries, fresh fruit, cheesecake with strawberry sauce, fudge layer cake, chocolate raspberry cake, and more!

For those who prefer SAVORY - it's munchies madness!
Including a potato skins bar, a nacho bar, and all the fixings you could imagine!

Music provided by DJ BC."

My friends had been buzzing about the study break a few days ago, and even ate less for dinner in hopes of indulging themselves on nachos. Needless to say, the hype extended to the freshman class, and by 9:15, there were crowds filling their plates with cake. A quick summary:

The amount of available sugar was astounding. While the advertised chocolate raspberry cake was a no-show, petits fours did take its place. Out of boxes, the cake was somewhat dry; in particular, the frosting was slightly hardened. The sweets weren't the high point - but the fruit was.
Thankfully, my dorm entryway came early to grab chocolate-covered strawberries before they ran out. Actually, my roommate enjoyed getting fruit besides typical mealy apples and gladly went for blueberries.

he potato skins were my favorite, admittedly because I hadn't had any since I had left for college. I was impressed by the fact that dining services did carve out the potato flesh, resulting a nice hollow for my mushrooms-and-cheese-sauce filling. The consensus among my table was that this was the best pseudo-meal since Drew Faust's inauguration dinner (which involved sparkling cider, Grape-Nuts ice cream, and butternut squash tortellini, all made within 100 miles of Cambridge. Fortunately, the latter has made several appearances since October).

And yes, some people did dance...though the mood in the 'Berg was like orientation all over again.

A fitting attempt to compensate for the finals week looming in the background?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Upon return, false expectations

Where dinner and theatre meet...a video from 2006. that's why they call it dinner theatre. (Again, the Annenberg in question is the freshman dining hall.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ice Cream: the Gateway Drug to...Froyo?

Once upon a time, it was a balmy September week in Boston: orientation time. As the freshmen scurried along from one social event to another, one thing stayed constant: Herrell's. Though distinguished with its rows of "Best of Boston" plaques, the Boston institution was omnipresent:

Back tables of Annenberg? Check.
Dorm social? Check.
Club raffle? Check.
The pile of $1 coupons I got off the street? Check.

As a young, eager freshman, I remember the feeling. It was only a few months ago that my September consisted of Herrell's, Herrell's and more Herrell's (and thankfully not the effects of the freshman fifteen). I must have had Herrell's ice cream an average of six times per week. After the first day of orientation, I knew that in Herrell's flavor-speak, malted chocolate really meant "haute Ovaltine" and oh! that chocolate pudding flavor was to swoon for. Not to mention the thick, almost chewy-caramel texture of the ice cream...and the fact that their peppermint flavor looked natural (that is, it sure wasn't green like what I had been used to). I unabashedly pronounced Herrell's the best ice cream in Boston - nay, the world.

Well, that opinion hasn't flip-flopped yet...but my consumption has.


In mid-September, I received an invite (through Facebook) to try out Berryline. A new frozen yogurt store that had recently opened, it looked like a Pinkberry knockoff to me.

I wasn't impressed. After all, my first time trying "legit" froyo was at Yo!Berry. Which was refreshing, but sour and "healthy-tasting" enough for me to imagine that active cultures were gnawing my way through my intestine. And this place had even incorporated the "berry" into their name, again. In any case, I halfheartedly emailed my sister (a Yo!Berry fanatic), and she decided to try it.

She ended up hooked.

And...well, me too. The colorful paintings lining the walls made the place feel like the hip Harvard version of the Digital Bean, in which I once envisioned spending my peppy, Disney-saturated adolescence. (The Digital Bean is to Lizzie McGuire as Central Perk was to Friends.) Thanks to the 125-calorie-for-five-ounces small serving and the "buy ten, get one free deal, " I reasoned that I was probably losing calories and getting a free froyo on the ten-minute walk over.

Let's not forget the yogurt, too: the crust was icy, but the interior was so creamy that it almost felt like ice cream. But not typical ice cream goodness: flavors I sampled over the semester included mango (my personal favorite), green tea, acai (the new, trendy berry), blueberry and pomegranate. Sweet and healthy.

Later towards the holiday season, they handed out their first non-fruit flavor besides original vanilla: peppermint. (In fact, upon discovering this, I jumped up and down and screamed "peppermint!" My roommate hasn't stopped telling this little anecdote.) And yet the draw for many of my friends was the fresh fruit: after fighting each other for the remaining grapes at Annenberg, they suddenly found that they could get mango, raspberries or even blackberries on top of their froyo - in December.

So it's suddenly easy to understand the addiction: all the 10 pm rendezvouses, study breaks and roomie trips you can imagine (that's right, at one point pulling in at five times a week). And with their promise of free Wi-fi access, I suddenly had an excuse to go by myself. (Even if I didn't bring anything except my wallet, which at this point was being used exclusively for Berryline expenses. By the way, thanks to Peer Advising Fellow - PAF - John, who funded one random trip when he saw my roommate and I there on a Thursday night.)

In essence, I started - to put it bluntly - stalking Berryline, finding out what their flavors were and memorizing store hours. I wasn't the only one: the owners (post-docs at Harvard and MIT) and the store got press, press, press. (The story of how Berryline happened to be is feel-good. I daresay the froyo's better.) When I headed to Berryline at night, there'd be a line stretching outside the door. In one case, a 10:30 pm Friday craving with my roommate put me behind a inebriated girl who needed two extra larges to satisfy her and a couple friends' own cravings.

And now I have a purpose for my Secret Santa gift certificates, because of this week's specialty flavors. Despite being at home, I immediately sent out an email to a few dormmates:

"Um, could we schedule a Berryline run sometime this weekend? Current flavors are original, raspberry and choco cookies 'n cream..."

The result: immediate responses within an hour.

"How do you know that?? Is there a website or something? and YES i NEED
raspberry!!!! HURRY AND COME HOME!!!!!!!!!!!"


"I would really, really, like to experience the RASPBERRY flavor..."

You said it.


I don't mean to say that Berryline has converted me into anti-ice cream...or anti-Herrell's. But in Ec10, we learned that frozen yogurt and ice cream are essentially substitutes for one another. It's hard for me to say goodbye to Herrell's, so I won't. (In a case of dairy polygamy, I might get some pumpkin cheesecake ice cream when I return. It's hard to say though; I didn't check their flavors like I did with Berryline.) But the raspberry froyo beckons me: hello, hello again, Berryline!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Schnoz and the Madeleine

Two things about me, if you care to know:

1. My New Year's resolution is to read Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. If I manage to make it through the colossus, then it's time for A la recherche du temps perdu (the original French; given this title, In Search of Lost Time is a better English title in light of the literal translation).


2. My current status is as follows: sick.

That is, stuffy nose, sneezing, excess Kleenex consumption, sore throat that borders on a lost voice, etc.: stuff that should have been solved by a few Sudafeds, but wasn't.

So how do these two things relate?

Well, I decided to start on the Proust because two of my Christmas presents this year were books with Proust in the title - Proust was a Neuroscientist and Proust and the Squid. The latter discusses the process of reading and the development of language while in the former, author Jonah Lehrer details eight scenarios in which artists seemingly anticipated what neuroscientists would later observe in the brain - sense of self, innate grammar...and most relevant to this blog, taste.

(My sister accused me of wanting Proust was a Neuroscientist because it had a picture of a madeleine in the center of the cover. I can't deny that, but I should point out that the madeleine in the book - as in so many other literary commentaries - is only referred to in the context of memory, not buttery goodness.)

In any case, the case study is Auguste Escoffier, a 19th century French chef well-known not only for serving meals in hot, fresh courses (a not-so-luxurious practice at the time) but for his flavorful sauces - specifically veal stock. What made Escoffier's sauces - the creations which he considered "scientifically constructed" - so delicious to any and all eaters?

The answer: L-glutamate, which Japanese scientist Kikunae Ineda discovers, and whose taste he calls "unami." And later on, studies find that our tongues have buds for this flavor, along with the four other tastes (sweet, sour, bitter and salty). Unami (occasionally called the savory flavor) now has its own receptor; Lehrer adds that it's the reason why adding parmesan cheese to tomato sauce makes it even better. In Emeril-lingo, it kicks the unami up a notch. (Notably, Ineda eventually developed this into the form of MSG. That's right, guys - the "Mmm, So Good!" ingredient in my rice cracker addiction.)

The similarities that Lehrer plays up in comparing the frames of "then/humanities" and "now/neuroscience" are pretty clear in this scenario, though I do think Lehrer stretches the selected artists' perspectives and the metaphors of their work to "prove" recent developments in neuroscience. (For those of you who end up reading it, I thought Stavinsky's projected attitude of "if we build it, they will come" modern music was a bit out of context with the idea of brain plasticity with regard to sound; that is, our perspective of how music is supposed to be can change as we listen to different kinds of music). That said, it's a good effort in straddling disciplines.

Especially this week, it also reinforced the idea that 90% of your eating experience - not accounting for the dining environment - centers around the scent. With my stuffy nose, I can barely taste anything. I can "feel" if something tastes sweet (like hot cocoa) or hot (curry chicken - if I tried hard enough, I could hear my taste buds sizzle), or sense the texture of my meal, but I don't actually get to taste the milky goodness or the spicy complex. Sigh.

I did, however, consume a ridiculous amount of wasabi today (at least for me; it was probably a little more than a portion for an average sushi eater. Wasabi, after all, is an acquired taste). I only felt a tiny burn in the back of my throat, though. How disappointing: I thought it would clear my sinuses.