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Pierogi Pride

by: Maggie Beck

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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The Venezuelan Arepa Pelúa’s Flair

Weston Town Center is home to one of my favorite spots to eat Latin American food: Panna. Panna primarily serves Venezuelan staples, ranging from tequeños to cachapas to stuffed patacones. The arepa pelúa, though, is my go-to dish to order whenever I visit the restaurant. Biting into an arepa pelúa is always an enjoyable experience because it serves as yet another reminder of the unique and delicious nature of Latin cuisine. Though I am not Venezuelan myself, this dish has a comfortable familiarity because I grew up alongside many Venezuelans in Weston, Florida. An arepa pelúa from Panna has an unquestionable ability to reinforce my Latino pride.

Arepas are stuffed cornmeal cakes that can be a vehicle for a variety of flavors. They can be filled with cheese and nothing else, scrambled eggs, chicken, and even ham. But my favorite way to eat an arepa is when it is stuffed with shredded beef and gouda cheese, pelúa style. Nothing beats the juiciness of the beef mixed with the rich, melted cheese.

The cornmeal cake itself is, in my opinion, the most important component of an arepa because it should be both crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. At Panna, you have the option of ordering an arepa that is either pan fried or deep fried. To me, the deep fried preparation is ideal because it achieves a more consistent crispy texture on the outside of the cornmeal cake. Hearing the crunch of an arepa is such a pleasant sound, and the crispiness is so important because it enhances the one-note taste of cornmeal. The crunch meshes well with the fluffiness of the cake on the inside, which beautifully soaks up the flavors of the filling.

Shredded beef and gouda cheese pair deliciously in an arepa pelúa. Shredded beef can sometimes be dry and tedious to eat, but Panna completely avoids this issue, thankfully. The shredded beef from Panna tastes like it has been submerged in a savory broth and cooked to perfection with diced onions, garlic, and red peppers. Shredded gouda cheese brings a subtle note of sweetness to the dish, balancing out the beef’s salty punch. The creaminess of the cheese not only adheres to the fluffy cornmeal interior, but also engulfs the juicy shredded beef, making every bite of an arepa pelúa delectable.Arepas are one of those dishes that you can eat on-the-go or when you are sitting down with friends and family members at a holiday party. They are very versatile, making them such a hit among several Latin American communities. I am lucky to have been raised in a town where these communities were prevalent, as it allowed me to interact with both amazing people and enticing cuisines. The five-minute drive to Panna from my house is a blessing that I sometimes take for granted, but certainly not when I visit home. Shortly after ordering an arepa pelúa at the restaurant’s counter, they give me a wrapped up, stuffed cornmeal cake that steams with an aromatic scent that makes me so happy. I have found that Latin American cuisine has that effect: it embraces people through flavor, it lifts individuals up when they are down, and it invites reflection. To think that an ingredient as simple as cornmeal can act as the foundation of such a popular dish is indicative of the love and care that Latin people put into their food. An arepa pelúa from Panna reminds me of the skill and hard work it takes to execute an “everyday” dish in such a memorable way. Arepas are eaten so regularly in Latin American countries that they might seem ordinary at first, but they are so loved because they are flexible in preparation. They make a profound impact using relatively few ingredients, and they always produce a smile.

Cover photo courtesy of MyPanna

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A corny, tired, but true “we are what we eat” shtick

For better or for worse, we are shaped by the food around us. It defines who we are. It can represent key moments or periods in our lives—the good and the bad. And whether it’s that spot you used to go to with your friends in high school after class or Hillside at noon on weekdays, it’s hard not to get attached to the places we go to. Yes, we are mainly drawn to these places because of the quality of the food—or at least I would hope so, particularly in the BC case—but there’s always a more significant connection there, beyond the food itself.

“We are what we eat.” Yes, I know it’s a pretty tired saying, and I’m sure you’ve all heard it before. But I promise you that I’m usually not this sentimental—at least not for no reason.

I live off-campus by Cleveland Circle. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve had a meal on campus this year. It’s not a lot. Instead, I often find myself wandering off on Beacon Street searching for nourishment. Yet, time and time again, I keep on finding myself at Pino’s Pizza. Open since 1962, Pino’s is never closed. Whether it’s 11:10 on a Tuesday morning and I need something in my stomach before class, or it’s 9:45 on a Sunday night and I want a nice, slow Italian meal, Pino’s is always there. And you couldn’t miss the bedazzled, lit-up PIZZA sign if you tried. 

When you enter the restaurant, you are introduced to a romantic mural of the Italian countryside, which stretches the entire left wall. On the right wall, there is a mural of a woman preparing pizza pies in an oven. As you walk through the double doors, you’re greeted by a shiny wooden bench to your left. Tucked above the register and to the left is the TV. If there’s a game on, you better bet there are people—happily eating or happily fed—with their eyes glued to the screen. Every now and then, you’ll even catch the people in the back peek over the counter to catch the last score or the big play. You should have seen this place during the World Cup. 

Perhaps it’s a bit dated on the inside, but more than any of the other restaurants on the block, there’s something very homely about this spot. Maybe, it’s because Pino’s attracts everyone from the neighborhood. From T operators to nurses and from families to high school kids, I’ve spotted everyone at Pino’s. 

Earlier this year, there was a kid who worked the register. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen years old—and I never got his name—but I always enjoyed having him take my order. He wore a Celtics cap and we’d talk basketball and the C’s. He called me “sir,” which always got me because a) I’m 21—it’s not like I’m that much older than him and b) I’ve never taken myself to be a “sir.” Still, the kid always made me feel welcome, and I’ll always appreciate that. I hope to have him take my order again. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food itself. This is a proper pizza place but you’ve got your pasta courses, salad options, and sub-varieties too. I’ll focus on the pizza though. The other day, I overheard a customer tell the owner’s son that he’s kept on coming back (for over thirty years!) because of the quality and the prices—and I can attest to both. The slices are large, like any good East Coast pizza, and it’s your call whether to fold it in half. Personally, I am team no fold. I came for a pizza, not a calzone. But the thing that stands out the most about the pizza is the cheese. It’s gooey—but not too gooey, which in my eyes is what makes a good pizza a good pizza. Maybe that’s a truism when it comes to pizza, but still. It more than gets the job done is what I’m trying to say. Be warned though, these pizzas are a bit greasy. I don’t mind and it doesn’t take away from the pizza itself, but you should probably grab a couple of napkins or so before you sit down. I almost ruined a pair of jeans the other day.

Is Pino’s the best pizza place in Boston? Probably not. It’s up there, though, but that’s not the point. Although Portnoy gave it an 8.8/10 for what that’s worth. Ultimately, Pino’s is great because of the atmosphere and the reliability. Mixed with the pizza itself, this spot is tough to beat. For me, Pino’s is even more valuable because of the connection I have with the place. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped inside Pino’s. It was the dead of winter last year and I was more precoucciped with finding somewhere warm than I was with finding food. I ordered two slices of cheese and a Pepsi—not really concerned with the order itself. I was in and out in about 15 minutes. Yet, it was one of the best meals of my life (no exaggeration). And afterward, I raved on and on about it to my friends and my family. 

I want to keep on coming back to Pino’s again and again. And it’s going to be a very sad day when I move out of my apartment next September. While I will certainly come back to Pino’s, I’m afraid it won’t ever be the same. But if there’s anything I’ve figured out over the last few months, it’s that if there are places like Pino’s scattered around in unpredictable places, then there have to be other spots—similarly cozy and reliable and good. And I hope to find them all.

Cover photo courtesy of Pino’s Pizza

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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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A Jar of Possibilities

My dad only ate one thing for breakfast when I was growing up. This meal was what got him up in the morning, what fueled him for long days in the office, and what gave him the mix of nutrients he needed to stay energized. It was derived from the humblest and simplest ingredients. It was at once appealing to adults and a childhood classic. It “stuck to the ribs,” as he would say. It was… peanut butter on toast. 

This minimalist breakfast was part of a long line of items and preferences that solidified my dad’s status as a creature of habit when it came to food. He liked his specific brand of Arnold whole wheat bread and his Teddie Unsalted Super Chunky peanut butter, the former toasted until crispy and the latter slathered on to perfection. No frills, just carbs and protein. My impressionable young mind thought that this was what the perfect meal should always be: centered around ingredients you could rely on, day after day, year after year. 

And rely on peanut butter, I did. While two of my cousins had nut allergies from a young age, I balked at the idea of replacing peanut butter with sunflower butter. I teased them for sitting at the allergen-free table at lunchtime during the school year. I shuddered at the thought of what a hollow existence it would be without the magic of pumpkin-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups at Halloween or the delight of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Uncrustables, frozen in the summer and microwaved in the winter, formed the cornerstone of my diet. I still remember the power I felt when my friends looked enviously on as I pulled not one, but two of the circular sandwiches from my lunchbox. 

Much to my dad’s dismay, my tastes veered toward sugar-centric items. But my palate matured over time. The Teddie peanut butter that seemed devoid of flavor compared to the sweeter Jif or Smucker’s now appealed to me for its natural, more subdued taste. I loved the combination of peanuts with a pinch of salt. As I began to prepare my own meals at school and at home, the blank canvas of peanut butter opened the door to a wide range of possibilities. This basic ingredient became the foundation of anything sweet or savory. I could put it on trusty toast or oatmeal, blend it into smoothies or sauces, spread it on apples or bananas, or mix it into quick breads, muffins, or cookies. It added the perfect touch of warmth, savoriness, and nuttiness to any dish. Peanut butter could be bold and overpowering, or smooth and subtle. 

Without at least two jars of this beloved spread in my pantry, I felt lost. Something was missing if the Teddie bear logo wasn’t peeking out at me from behind the brown rice. When my dad visited me during my semester abroad in Spain, I requested that our beloved Teddie be brought from the U.S. Spanish peanut butter just wasn’t the same. In an amusing repetition of history, the Spanish girls from my residence hall stared with wide eyes as I twisted open a fresh jar of good old Made-in-the-USA Teddie Super Chunky spread. The container even had a tiny image of the American flag on it. It tasted like home.

This special ingredient drew a line from my past to the present, from elementary school lunches to a simple snack in college. It didn’t always have to be the star of the plate for me to appreciate its flavor. I could always rely on it. Memories of it filled me with a sense of nostalgia and reminded me of how I had grown. Although I would never outgrow Reese’s, a jar or three of Teddie’s peanut butter would always be right there for the taking. Because without fail, it kept me going and stuck to my ribs.   

Cover photo courtesy of Eat This Not That

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Kailchella

“When are the Kails coming?” is a seemingly inevitable question in my household as the summer months roll around. 

My family friends from Pittsburgh, the Kails, have come to visit on Long Island, a trip dubbed “Kailchella,” for my entire childhood and to this day. Fortunately, my mom has maintained the same precious friend group since elementary school, although some members have moved away. Kim Kail is one of those friends, but her family’s summer visit to reunite the group is always sure to spark a week of nostalgia, long beach days, and wholesome excitement. Though our herd of New York friends does make the trek out to the Kails in Pennsylvania every few years, their trips to Long Island are always the most special. 

Their early stints consisted of revealing local spots to the PA-natives and rehashing long-time favorites with Kim; we always toured our favorite bagel stores, delis, ice cream joints, and pizza places. Our moms still relish in boundless recap conversations and morning coffees on the sprawling Nettie’s Bakery patio, while we were sure to inhale our Pete’s egg-everything bagels or Hurricane Deli BECs on a hasty drive to catch the prime tide at Jetty 4 beach. We hoped every night would end with heaping scoops of “Black Magic Woman” ice cream– a rich, chocolatey masterpiece– from Snowflake. I lived for the excitement of sharing my home with friends as close as family. I wanted them to love my home as much as I do and, in order to feel this love, sharing our food traditions was a key component. I yearned for the Kails’ annual trip to evolve into a deposit on their own Long Island home, but, in the meantime, I was satisfied with ushering them into my life for this crucial summer week. I crammed as much as I could into one week, compensating for the rest of the year without them. Rather than glamorizing their trip into an extravagant vacation, we ensure that it is teeming with the staples and small-town community love. To share your home is an intimate act, giving clues into our reason for being and the place we hold closest. Thus, as they have been visiting for nearly two decades straight, the Kails have come to find a second home in our tiny corner of New York. 

More recent trips have evolved into hitting the list of requests the Kails have for their visit: the new favorite spots they have amassed on their volition alongside the old ones that became tradition. They’ve bypassed our favorite Francesca’s pizza for their beloved Michaelangelo’s slice, but always love the famed dinner-and-sunset at John Scott’s post-beach. Watching “Kailchella” shift from a hometown tour to a week of their own favorites has been beyond heartening. By the end of their week, it seems as if the Kails are more closely identifiable with Long Island than Pittsburgh.

Through food, we can share our home with others. They glimpse into the place that has shaped us and the traditions we long for when separated from our hometowns. We can open the entrance into our menial days and share the smallest of moments with the most important people.  I hope to one day experience my future homes in this way, as I have begun to with Boston through BC’s gateway. Kailchella is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year, the setting of my most formative memories, and a set of bonds I will never outgrow. 

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Ariana: Delightful Afghan Cuisine

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

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

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

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

Cover photo courtesy of Ariana

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Exams and Blueberries

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo courtesy of health line

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Essays Uncategorized

The Timeless Fourth of July Cake

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

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

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

“It looks perfect!”

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

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

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

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

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

7/4/22:

We stared at the cake. 

“No, it doesn’t look right.”

“Move the fifth strawberry to the left.”

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

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

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

Cover photo courtesy of Momspark