Two Sisters’ Dinner

My older sister Annabelle and I have a special loyalty to “sister” brunch, dinner, and just about any sort of weekly meal that we can fit into our busy schedules. However, I know that neither of us are worried about finding time for each other, given that we’ve always been close. Our lives are connected in so many ways, and I consider her the greatest blessing in my life — the fact that we grew up together and stayed close throughout our early years and high school, carrying us through tough times in college. Catching up with her is one of my favorite and best parts of my life, along with laughing at each other’s humor of course. 

Sister dinners often involve some type of spinach salad, tortellini pasta, and whatever dish we manage to concoct out of our Trader Joe’s ingredients. Most recently, Annabelle came over to my house and we threw together a few of our favorite ingredients: pesto salmon, roasted brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, and avocado salad with tomatoes and edamame. Great food does not have to be particularly expensive or hard to find. We look for food that has fresh ingredients, lower price tags, and easy access at any grocery store, such as Trader Joe’s or Star Market. The most important parts of my diet are fresh berries, leafy greens, and most fish such as shrimp and salmon. Growing up, our mom always made sure to buy organic ingredients, which has influenced how I buy my own food nowadays. However, studies show that only certain foods have to be “organic,” while still being considered “healthy.” I think we all want to have foods without pesticides that put our health at risk.

Studies reveal that the most beneficial foods for our health are those without pesticide residue, which can lead to many negative health impacts. “Recent research from Harvard University shows that consuming fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residues may decrease the beneficial effects of fruit and vegetable consumption, including protection against cardiovascular disease and mortality.” 

Choosing organic foods shouldn’t have to break the bank, and that is why I introduce you to the “Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen” ! An important study performed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) introduces the idea of the “Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen.” This study reveals that when shopping for groceries, instead of puzzling over which organic or non-organic foods to buy, you can rest assured that they do not have to be organic to be healthy and fulfilling. The “Clean 15” are 15 foods that are recommended due to the lowest amount of pesticide residue, and therefore you should feel comfortable purchasing the non-organic versions of these items. On the other hand, the “Dirty Dozen” are the 12 foods that you should be more careful with. Due to their high levels of pesticide, it is recommended that you eat organic versions of these foods in order to reduce the risk of damaging your overall health. The Clean 15 are as follows: 

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Mangoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Sweet Potatoes

The Dirty Dozen include:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell and hot peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

The use of synthetic pesticides in our food can lead to many negative health impacts. According to the EWG, “organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, among other things. Eating organically produced food reduces pesticide exposure and is linked to a variety of health benefits, according to multiple studies, especially findings from a large study in France.”  Therefore, the Dirty Dozen are foods that you should buy organic in order to reduce the synthetic pesticides that are damaging to your health. How would you feel if you knew that your non-organic strawberries contained significant levels of pesticides?! Lowering pesticides in the body are crucial to the health of our nervous system, limiting the risks of: cardiovascular disease, The EWG cites that type 2 diabetes, lower fertility, and a shorter life span are just some of the damages from eating food with these pesticides. It turns out that the age-old saying “You are what you eat!” really rings true. I hope that you find a balance between the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen, while resting assured that you can find good food on a college budget. My sister and my dinner are that much tastier when we are munching on organic, fresh, and delicious food.

Cover photo courtesy of TheKitchn


Pierogi Pride

As the St. Patrick’s Day weekend-long celebration comes to a close, I feel quite proud of my 25% of Irish heritage. Throughout my life, my family typically celebrates our Irish culture by cooking Irish dishes such as Irish stew, corned beef, or shepherd’s pie. Even though I love being Irish, I must confess that Irish food is not my favorite. Thankfully, I am not completely Irish, and therefore, I do not have to solely rely on Irish food to be my source of cultural pride. Surprisingly, my favorite dish from my heritage comes from the Eastern European side of my family: pierogies. I love pierogies not only for their delicious, potato-forward filling, but also for the traditions and memories I have associated with them.

A pierogi is a popular dish from Poland and Ukraine, and is essentially Eastern Europe’s take on a dumpling. Though originally considered as a lower-class meal due to the access to simple ingredients, pierogies eventually became a food of all social classes in Eastern Europe. By the 17th century, pierogies were a central piece of the Eastern European diet and were commonly served on the tables at households on every holiday or event. They are made by wrapping unleavened dough around a filling, either savory or sweet, and cooking them in boiling water, or if desired, pan frying them. Savory fillings include a mixture of anything, including mashed potatoes, onions, cheese, mushrooms, meat, or sauerkraut. Sweet fillings may consist of fruit or a sweetened cheese. In my experience with pierogies, I have never had them as a dessert. 

I mostly eat pierogies as a side dish for Easter dinner with my family. The best part about these pierogies is that they are handmade by the whole family. The day before Easter, my family travels to my grandparents’ house where my grandfather, the pierogi expert, gets us started on the cooking process. As the whole family watches with our mouths watering, he prepares his own secret recipe of a filling of potatoes, onions, and cheese. Then, with a homemade dough prepared, we wrap the filling in the dough with a special folding technique. My grandfather boils them the next day, and we have them with our Easter ham. Though the pierogies are the side dish, they are always the star of the meal. The rich potato filling encased in the soft dough melts in your mouth as you eat them. The flavors blend together perfectly and create the perfect bite with a bit of tanginess from the onion and sharpness from the cheese.

My grandfather’s recipe is a unique combination of flavors and ingredients that my family has yet to perfect without him. The only evidence of the classified Beck Pierogi Formula is a video on my cousin’s video camera where my grandfather walks us through how to make them. The video is quite long, but one day, my family will gather together and decipher the video so we can finally break the code of the secret recipe. Once we do, we will be able to keep his recipe and our Eastern European culture alive by passing it down through generations, as my grandfather’s ancestors had done with him. Engaging with the foods of my cultural heritage has allowed me to feel more connected to my ancestors as I can experience foods in the same way they did. I am grateful to have that connection through my love and pride for my family’s pierogi recipe.

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Watertown: Boston’s Most Underrated Food Town

Watertown, Massachusetts is nestled just over the Charles in what is to some an unassuming residential area. Like many of the other outer ring Boston suburbs, there isn’t really a whole lot to do here—or at least that’s what I thought. From Chestnut Hill to the North End, from Cambridge to Fenway, I have done, seen, and eaten a lot of cool things in and around Boston. Yet, Watertown is one of the more fascinating places that I have visited during my time in college.

If you like food, you’ve come to the right place. But before I get to the food, let me set the stage: Watertown is a rather quiet, bedroom community home to many Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Persian immigrants. On a personal level, I find solace in Watertown. My mom’s side of the family is Persian, and I am very proud of my background. When I am out of the sanctuary of my mom’s kitchen—where I am served more Persian food than I could ever possibly eat—I am uneasy. Luckily, I found Watertown, which has quite a few Persian restaurants to speak of.

 I have an immense amount of respect for all the people who immigrated to America. In a way, I am a part of that story too. Immigrants bring a lot to our country, and they help make places like Watertown unique. So if you’re ever bored and think you’ve seen it all, stop by. Go to Shiraz Persian Cuisine. Step inside. I’d recommend the Chicken Sultanti. The koobideh is the softer chicken and the kebab is the tougher, meatier option. Both are skewered, but whereas the kebab is made up of chunks of meat (kind of like a steak), the koobideh is minced ground meat. Both go great with the rice, which by Persian tradition, is lathered in saffron. Persian cuisine, unlike American food, is not dominated by dishes high in salt. I’d recommend salting up your rice if you need an extra kick. If it’s cold or you’re a bit under the weather, maybe you should go with the Gheimeh. Gheimeh is a stew made up of diced mutton, split peas, and signature thinly cut fries. This is a thick, onion-forward stew. The lamb meat here isn’t very tough, and it is less meaty than the kebab, but that makes no difference in the quality of the dish. It’s all great. I grew up on Persian food, so I could go on and on about what more you should get from here or from any other Persian restaurant for that matter. I will say one thing though: never order Doogh. Doogh is a drink, served mainly in Iran, consisting of sour, fermented yogurt and mint. It’s frothy like a smoothie—except it doesn’t taste any good! I’d argue that Doogh is to Iran as what coleslaw is to America. Order at your own risk!

An hour later, you’re going to step outside. Down the street, you will spot an Armenian church, which happens to be next door to the Greek community center. Then, start your car, skip a couple of corners, and park next door to the local Greek food market: Sophia’s Greek Pantry. Little English is spoken here, and everything from cheese to meat to nuts is marked in Greek Cyrillic. If you’re broke, imagine this as your trip to Athens or Santorini. Get some halloumi cheese, try some Greek Baklava, and go tell your friends all about it. Maybe, even give them a treat and grill some of that halloumi you just bought in the tiny confines of your apartment. Call it “Halloumi Night”. There’s never too much olive oil or balsamic, and it goes great with tomatoes too. For those uninitiated to halloumi, it is truly divine. It is salty, chewy, and meaty all at once. I know the French and the Swiss love to talk about their cheese, but Greek halloumi is just as good as any kind of French or Swiss cheese out there.

Armenian and Turkish food also use a lot of the same ingredients as Persian and Greek food. Oftentimes, there is bitter contention among people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East about whose baklava is best or whose dolma is better. I’m generally partial to Iranian food, but you can’t go wrong with Armenian dolma or Turkish kebab. 

Watertown is by no means trendy or chic, nor is it exactly enticing to college kids who want to go out on a Saturday night. The restaurant interiors are not necessarily with the times either. There aren’t any plastic stools, metal countertops, or iPads with which you pay. But that’s okay. It’s a lowkey, best-kept-secret kind of deal to people who like tasty Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. It’s different. And if you didn’t grow up eating this food, it’ll make you feel as though you’ve been missing out. But it’s not too late. In a sea of chaos on Earth, the Greek community center across the street from the quaint Armenian church in Watertown, Massachusetts gives me hope. So if you feel as though you’re running out of places to go, come here. If you want to see the best of what greater Boston has to offer, come here—because I promise you that it’s worth your time.

Cover photo courtesy of Sofia’s Greek Pantry

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Sauce is Boss

Imagine you are preparing to enjoy a 10 piece nugget meal from your local Ronald McDonald’s. You open the bag and are struck with the irresistible aroma of the crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside white meat chicken morsels that await. You fish for the cardboard treasure chest safeguarding your prize and lay it out in front of you. Next, you gingerly extract your fries, taking care to rescue the fallen soldiers sprawled at the bottom of the bag. You open the clamshell, extract a perfectly boot shaped nug, and raise it to your lips. You are about to enjoy one of the seven fast food wonders of the world, but just before you bite down, you stop. Something is not quite right. Something is missing. Panic begins to set in. Your fingers tremble; your palms moisten; your mouth that was just salivating in anticipation goes bone dry. You double check the bag in a final fruitless attempt to salvage your meal but are quickly pummeled by a wave of disappointment. They forgot the sauce. You must resign yourself to palating your dry, greasy make-up sponges and flaccid potato planks alone. No barbecue. No sweet and sour. No szechuan. 

Eating a meal without sauce is a tragedy that many people can relate to, but very few take the time to appreciate the important lesson within: when eating chicken nuggets and the array of other dippable foods, the true star of the show is the sauce. There is a tendency to overvalue the role of chicken in the equation despite its shortcomings. Sauces add so much complexity and variety to what would otherwise be a simple meal, and the omnipresence of sauce in time and space demonstrates the immense and understated value they hold across communities and cultures. 

There is nothing wrong with chicken. It is a delicious protein option that is more environmentally sustainable and affordable than a lot of other meats, but the chicken nugget is far from living up to the full potential of the beautiful birds that are sacrificed for its creation. The majority of commercial purveyors of chicken nuggets pride themselves on using ‘100% white meat chicken’ or ‘only the breast.’ These big numbers and promises of quality seem awesome at first glance, but in reality, consumers are missing out on the full spectrum of poultry flavor. Pre 2003 McDonald’s used a blend of white and dark meats. It made for a flavor and juiciness that many people still deem superior to this day. Additionally, as anyone who has bird baking (or BC Dining) experience knows, there is an incredibly small margin of error for cooking white meat. An extra 30 seconds in the fryer or oven is the difference between OK and chewing on a wad of dental floss. The 21st century obsession with breasts and tenders has practically necessitated the use of sauce to reintroduce moisture and flavor. 

Finally, the nigh inexhaustible variety of sauces available and their immense significance to nearly all cultures demonstrates the infinite value of sauce as not just a food but as a concept. The versatility of the French mother sauces is unmatched. The breadth and zest of Mexican and Mexican-American salsas is overwhelming. Some nonnas would give up their firstborn before they give up their Sunday sauce recipes. My Haitian stepfather will refuse to take a single bite of his meal until it is drowned in sòs. If all varieties of soy sauce were blipped from existence a’la “Avengers: Endgame” a large portion of the world’s dishes would go alongside it. It is mind-blowing what sauces do for society and the power they hold. It can be difficult to put it all into perspective, but Gucci Mane offered a sentiment on the subject that elucidates it all. He proclaimed, “If a man does not have sauce, then he is lost. But the same man can get lost in the sauce.” 

Next time you enjoy a meal, make sure to express gratitude for the sauce you choose. It is wind in the sails of the culinary world’s ships, the backbone of otherwise dry-ass meals, and, of course, what makes a chicken nugget worth eating.

Cover photo courtesy of CKPublicHealth

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The Appetite of Gentrification

We often hear the “Whole Foods effect” of gentrification. A new farmers market, a Starbucks, or a hip fusion restaurant are all indicators of gentrification in our cultural lexicon. Yet when we talk about gentrifying neighborhoods, the conversation is focused on property values and cost of living, both of which are incredibly important to the topic of housing accessibility. On the other hand, gentrification strips away culture and community of the original residents, often communities of color. Food isn’t just sustenance, but a medium for socialization, for creating and building identity and culture. When neighborhood demographics change, so does our palette.

So how central is food in the process of gentrification?

The Process of Gentrification

Firstly, what is gentrification? Speaking to Lizzy Barrett, a Boston College 2019 graduate and the director and producer of an upcoming documentary called “Divisible” about redlining in North Omaha, Nebraska, she sees gentrification as a two step process: firstly, the targeting of often formerly redlined areas of low-income and minority neighborhoods by property developers; and secondly, the rising property value and cost of living that displaces the original residents of that neighborhood.

“Because of [redlining], today these [neighborhoods] are normally looked at as low income or low resource areas. They tend to have higher vacant lots, higher abandoned buildings, [and] bigger food deserts,” Barrett said. “This sets the stage for cheaper land. Developments are starting to look where to expand after the more desirable neighborhoods have increased prices or there is nowhere near to build, so they start to look at these inner cities because it’s cheaper to build.”

When real estate developers start to propose large scale luxury apartment buildings, commercial mixed-use buildings, co-working spaces, and higher cost food and dining, the original residents are left out of the equation.

“The main problem is when you’re putting housing developments and businesses that are not aimed at providing housing, resources, or rental properties that businesses already in that community need for development or help to get started,” Barret said. “Instead you’re offering new developments to people outside that community coming in.”

From 2000 to 2013, 135,000 residents have been displaced from their homes in gentrifying areas, most of whom are Black and Hispanic populations.

“There are less restaurants in formerly redlined areas and in areas that haven’t been gentrified yet,” said Barrett, “because there isn’t this tax base that can support them to the same level when you are in a more densely populated, higher income area.”

If there is a lack of interested food businesses in low-income areas, what does access to food look like?

Food Deserts: A National Problem

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Source: McKinsey & Company

“Redlined areas tend to be food deserts where there is limited access to nutritional foods that one can afford,” Barrett said. “It’s not just how far away it is to a grocery store or where to go eat at a restaurant, it’s also how nutritious is the food available at those locations, and is it within one’s buying power.”

Food deserts are areas in disproportionately high poverty areas where residents have a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly fruit and vegetables. According to the USDA’s most recent food access research report in 2017, 12.8 percent of the US population were living in low-income and low-access areas. Within this group, 19 million people, or 6.2% of the country’s population, are in food deserts with limited access to supermarkets and grocery stores. Food deserts correlate with higher health risks such as coronary heart disease. But it also can be traced back to the historical neglect and racism of housing policy. 

Barrett’s documentary, “Divisible,” focuses on the long term impacts of redlining specifically in North Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha remains to be one of the country’s worst examples of wealth and income inequality among racial groups, and is still highly segregated by racial lines. In the city alone, the average income for the bottom 99 percent is $64,051, whereas the top 1 percent has an average income of $997,691. North Omaha has historically been and still is predominantly Black, whereas West Omaha remains predominantly white. Downtown Omaha, on the other hand, sits between these divisions. 

“As you go North from the downtown area, you start to see less and less restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops; and there’s entire neighborhoods where you can’t walk to a grocery store. You can’t walk to a coffee shop or to a restaurant,” Barrett explained from spending months in North Omaha to shoot for her documentary. “The only restaurants within the area are drive-through fast food restaurants that don’t have the same nutritional value as other establishments. This is what we call a food desert.”

“Just North of the downtown area – reclassified as the North downtown area – used to have more industrial areas and a lot more vacant lots and empty properties. Old industrial warehouses are being renovated into apartments, business spaces, and into restaurants and into coworking spaces that are generally geared towards higher income, young professionals, and transplants from outside the city,” said Barrett. 

This isn’t to say low-income neighborhoods are completely devoid of a thriving food culture; in fact, the opposite is true. Food remains to be a cultural and societal connector. Long-time residents, mainly people of color, have established convenience stores, ethnic restaurants, and gardens to feed themselves. Think immigrant hubs like Chinatown. These establishments met the needs of the people that were ignored by mainstream retailers. 

But food deserts remain a pressing issue forgotten in legislation to improve inequality in the US. Despite needed access to nutritional food options, as more restaurant and grocery store businesses enter a gentrifying neighborhood, these establishments that are desperately needed in the area become inaccessible to original residents. 

In this sense, food becomes both the solution and the gentrifier.

Solutions for a Different Future 

At the core, gentrification reduces neighborhoods to a selling point. In doing so, erasing the history of neglect, divestment, and violent discrimination. The appetite of gentrification is profit (and hip $9 coffee). 

The solution is then to radically rethink urban planning and development. To truly uplift low-income communities and close the racial and income gaps in this country, legislators and city officials need to create and facilitate accessible opportunities prioritizing the residents themselves beyond a need for profit. 

“So it could look like subsidies to grocery stores that decide to be located in a lower tax bracket or an area of a city that is less densely populated,” Barrett suggested, “It’s also really important to support small businesses.”

Other possible solutions could be funding a city-wide health promotion program, establishing rent control to help mitigate rising cost of living, and supporting the growth of small businesses. Solutions should always have the intention to keep the current residents from getting displaced. 

“Lastly, one alternative that has been really popular in Omaha is creating community gardens, and helping people become self-sufficient and to provide food for themselves and their families,” Barret said. “But it’s important we don’t put the onus on individuals who have been stuck in it for the longest period of time.”

In terms of our own personal lives, always be cognizant of what’s behind our own consumer decision and its domino effect in displacing low-income communities of color. Find and explore neighborhoods on the cusp of gentrification and support their long-time small businesses and restaurants, rather than the newer establishments geared toward white, young professional palettes. 

Food will always be a signifier of wealth. An excess, a lack of accessibility, a revamping of a cuisine, or a concentration of fast food – each have their connotations to the wealth landscape. In many ways, a growth in “foodie” culture in these newly developed areas “is like a foot in the door for gentrification.” As a food magazine, we have to be conscious of what we’re reporting about, the stories we’re telling and the stories we’re leaving out. Gentrification isn’t just the displacement of people, but an eroding force against minority cultures, and that includes their culinary histories. 

Follow “Divisible” on Social Media, @divisiblefilm

“Divisible” is a documentary film focusing on the history and current impacts of redlining in the United States. This film highlights the specific case of Omaha, Nebraska to illustrate the overarching issue of redlining and show how this practice continually affects and harms people in cities across the nation. The interwoven narrative of “Divisible” is told through a collection of interviews with individuals who are experts, either through their profession, their lived experiences, or both.

Lizzy Barrett, the director and producer of this documentary, graduated from Boston College in 2019. She began working on “Divisible” in 2020. The film is in its production phase and is slated to come out July, 2023. Help spread the word out about “Divisible” by following and sharing their social media pages. Learn more about “Divisible” here.

Cover photo courtesy of Medium

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FoodTok: A Generation of Food Critics

I spent my nights scrolling through TikTok, in the weeks leading up to my semester abroad, determined to alter my algorithm to show me all the cool places to eat, drink, and dance in London. I’d search things like “food in London”, “drinks in London”, “best restaurant London” and I’d be met with hundreds of videos, all showcasing various food hotspots around the city I was going to call home for the next few months. There I was, in my bed in DC carefully curating a list of all the spots I wanted to try without even touching down in the country yet.

TikTok has become the go-to for food reviews, drink recommendations, recipes, and all things food related. It’s a platform that has become a one stop shop for foodies to share their experiences. My parents rely on things like Yelp or TripAdvisor, platforms made specifically for rating and reviewing businesses. I used to use these as well, spending time looking for the best reviewed restaurants in my area But, I found the majority of people leaving reviews were not in my age group, they were people like my parents. While I love them, we don’t always have the same taste in what’s fun or good. TikTok became my sole destination for restaurant recommendations and reviews. I can’t really remember the last time I used something like Yelp to help me with planning my nights. 

When talking with Olivia Strong, 20, she echoed similar  sentiments. 

“I definitely would say that I use Tiktok instead of Yelp or even just a google search. It’s way easier, and the video layout gives you a much better feel for a place as well as a review. ”

 With videos made by people I can relate to in terms of age and taste, you’re given an inside look into a restaurant before you make a reservation. TikTok is easily accessible as well; so while it may not be coming from expert or professional food critics, it’s people like me, going out and exploring a city, and appreciating good food. That’s really all anyone needs. TikTok provides a refreshing and youthful approach to food reviews. It’s entertaining as well, making it not only informational but enjoyable to search through. In my first month abroad, I’ve already found some of my favorite places through simply scrolling. 

Photo courtesy of secretglasglow

While for the most part accurate, there are definitely places that blow up on TikTok that aren’t worth the hype. Being wary of paid promotions or partnerships when looking at recommendations can be a good way to weed through some of the duds. My favorite videos are the ones interviewing locals on what their favorite spots are. It was how I found the delicious little Italian restaurant Briciole that I took my parents to when they came to visit me. TikTok showed me the fruity sweet treat from Humble Crumble that my friends and I tried for the first time the other day and now have dreams about. My favorite bakeries, Jolene, and Buns From Home, were both TikTok finds. It’s made my food experience in London easier, exciting, and more enjoyable than relying on platforms of the past. 

As my abroad adventure continues, I’m excited to keep up my TikTok deep dives for the best food in the city, and who knows, maybe start making some reviews myself.

Cover photo courtesy of LondonxLondon

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The Timeless Fourth of July Cake

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

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

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

“It looks perfect!”

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

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

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

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

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


We stared at the cake. 

“No, it doesn’t look right.”

“Move the fifth strawberry to the left.”

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

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

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

Cover photo courtesy of Momspark

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The Long and Winding Road to Tacos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo courtesy of Gillian Mahoney

Features Uncategorized

Erewhon: A Wellness Trap

There’s a certain pretentiousness that clings in the air when you walk into the oh-so-luxurious and exclusive Erewhon. Shelves explode with a muted color palette that only millennial and Gen-z graphic designers can achieve, a mix of warm-toned mauves and oranges with art deco influences, and a retro font to go with it. Tiny boxes of neatly packed and well-massaged kale along with pre-cut cups of fruit are begging to be picked up for an on-the-go snack of at least $15. Beside the to-go-bar, what seems like hundreds of kombucha bottles line the fridge in those same muted colors, a dizzying array of choice in a single drink form. Looking closer, each label has some kind of combination of vegan, gluten-free, immunity-boosting, non-GMO, or soy-free, as if the majority of its customers are allergic to at least one food group. This is Erewhon, the rich-people simulation of grocery shopping – but how did Erewhon make its rise to fame, and why are people like us – “the normal, everyday citizens” – so entranced by it? 

If you don’t know already, this celebrity-raved grocery store has gained much attraction over the last couple of years, particularly Los Angeles, where it now boasts six locations in the county area. As stated on their website, “Through our markets, we endeavor to provide exceptional organic products that inspire good decision-making and healthier communities.” And when they mean “exceptional”, they mean exorbitantly overpriced groceries. Yet despite the price tag, Erewhon is every clean-girl’s aesthetic dream, and has culminated in an almost-cult following on social media. 

The Making of Erewhon

Although this chain grocery store took off during the pandemic, its origins humbly began in 1966 as a natural foods store. And, surprise, it was founded in Boston by Michio and Aveline Kushi. The Japanese couple pioneered the macrobiotic diet, with Michio busy fermenting foods right in his basement. Erewhon provided exclusive organic produce and stock from Japan imported by the Kushis, focused mainly on organic and fermented foods. 

Erewhon then made its move to the West Coast, where it first opened in the early 70s. In 1975, the Kushis sold the business. Since then, the Boston location has closed, but the business kept its goal of exclusivity and niche throughout the generations of ownership. 

The celebrity magnet store we know today has blossomed under its current owners, Tony and Josephine Antoci, who oversaw the store’s California takeover since rapid expansion in 2011. Down to its business model, Erewhon strives to stock entirely organic and non-GMO products, even partnering with local businesses, such as biodynamic farms to small-shop vendors in what Tony describes as “craftsmen.” 

But more than just a grocery store, Erewhon is an experience, a community devoted to kombucha, among other things. Even the name itself is an anagram of “nowhere” from Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel of a utopian society. That elusive and otherworldly community only adds to the illusion of a high-class community, one that came together in the face of a pandemic. 

During Covid-19, Erewhon adapted quickly: opening early for senior citizens, offering a dedicated tonic bar that offers immunity-boosting shots, and even giving out chlorophyll water for free. Among other safety measures, Erewhon became a paparazzi hotspot to sneak a snapshot of A-list celebrities on their weekly grocery runs during the pandemic. 

Marketing Wellness 

Although the branding of natural foods has been at its genesis core, Erewhon’s rise into the limelight follows a growing trend, and now an entire industry, of wellness that seeps into every marketing strategy in the lifestyle realm. No longer are buzzwords like “diet” and “bikini-body” used in health marketing, as the rise in body positivity subserves the highly toxic diet culture of the early 2000s. At the same time, has wellness co-opted diet culture, remarketing it into something more sophisticated? 

The wellness industry is now worth $1.5 trillion dollars. It encompasses physical health, fitness, mental health, and even spiritual health. The wellness industry expands the old fitness world, where abs and low-carb diets were all the rage. Wellness is, supposedly, better than that. 

This switch in consumer interest from physical to holistic wellness profoundly changed the way we look at food. Clean-eating is simply the second wave of an adaptable diet culture that continuously markets off of people’s desire to lose weight. But instead of in-your-face calorie restriction, like the famed and failed Atkins diet, food now revolves around the obsession over “clean” labels like gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO – sounds familiar? 

Food is reduced to its nutritional value and gain, with little emphasis on the community food brings, or even acknowledging complex and often joyful experiences with food as human beings. Juice detoxes are to clear the mind, fermented foods alleviates gut issues linked with anxiety, organic and non-processed food helps with depression – these are the practices of marketing wellness, and it’s working. In the words of Naomi Wolf from her book The Beauty Myth, “health makes good propaganda.” 

The Wellness Trap

Erewhon is simply the pinnacle of this wellness trap. On top of following clean-eating trends, Erewhon takes it a step further by selling astronomical prices to an exclusive clientele, making wellness a brand of wealth. Other stores like WholeFoods and Trader Joe’s sell the appearance of wellness just as strategically with a broader audience. 

As much as wellness has reversed the more severe damages of diet culture, with its emphasis over holistic health rather than physical appearance, wellness remains a marketing strategy to sell to us: the consumers. Yet still, in a world where food remains restrained with restrictive labels disguised as health, we are still miles away from approaching food with sheer joy without the whispers of punishment.

Ask yourself these questions: Am I guided by health regulations that aren’t related to my own physical needs? Is my relationship with food transactional? Do I think eating a certain dish makes or breaks my wellbeing? Am I listening to myself or the industry? 

Taking a deeper look at Erewhon’s massive following provides a lens to understand the inner workings of the consumerist mind toward wellness. After all, health is priceless, or rather you can’t put a price tag on health – so why not pay for a $17 blue smoothie  in exchange for glowing skin?

Cover photo courtesy of Erewhon

Quick Bites Uncategorized

Summer Greek Salad

Summer means Salad. Cold, hot, spicy, filling, and light. You name it; I will be making that type of salad this summer. The possibilities are endless and, as I have grown up, my love for salad has grown with me. 

I once used to despise lettuce, and if I was forced to try three bites as a child, I would refuse to use any type of dressing or toppings. Now, salads are what I look forward to eating and creating while in the kitchen. For me, salad does not just mean lettuce, some toppings, and a dressing. A salad can have a grain base, be hot, and even have no lettuce at all. 

One salad that holds a special place in my heart is my greek salad. It is simple, vibrant, fresh, and bursting with flavor. Despite its name, this salad contains no lettuce, just perfectly cut vegetables, a light vinaigrette, crunchy chickpeas, and of course, heaps of fresh feta. 


2 bell peppers, diced

1 large cucumber, diced

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

¼ cup red onion, diced 

½ cup feta cheese 

Roasted chickpeas 

1 cup chickpeas

2 tbsp olive oil

½ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon paprika 

¼ teaspoon pepper


½ cup olive oil 

3 tablespoons vinegar

½ juice of a lemon 

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley 

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste 


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the chickpeas, and coat them in olive oil and spices in a medium bowl. Transfer to a baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until completely crunchy. While the chickpeas are baking in a large bowl, combine the peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Then, pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss them together. Top with feta and the roasted chickpeas and enjoy. In order to keep leftover chickpeas crunchy, store salad leftovers separately.

Cover photo courtesy of Fork in the Kitchen