Savoring St. Thomas

I constantly long for the coveted vacation trope: spending the day at the beach, returning to a clean hotel room to relax, and getting ready for the proceeding dinner with a sun kissed face. For the past two years, the outbreak of COVID shut down my hopes of vacation, alongside any gastronomic experimentation that would come with such a trip. However, I was able to travel to St. Thomas this past spring break and take advantage of the vibrant food culture the island bolsters. Throughout the course of my week on St. Thomas, I sampled a plethora of restaurants and street vendors that consistently left me in awe. Ranging from hidden beachside establishments accessible only by boat, to our final night’s “fancy dinner,” St. Thomas was a gift to my palette. Not only were the dishes delicious, but the memories associated were even greater. 

On our final night, I made the ferry trek to St. John– crossing island-hopping off my bucket list. We had spent a long day at the beach, stomachs rumbling in preparation for the supposedly delectable dinner to come. Phone service on the trip was spotty, but I managed to secure enough to send my parents a short text message: “Going to dinner on St. John at the Terrace, will DEFINITELY send a picture of my plate.” Food is an integral part of my family dynamic and my family group chat is filled with plate pictures. Whether from Mac or a dinner in the North End, my family is readily knowledgeable on my menu choices each day, though being far apart. Upon sending this text, my parents responded much more enthusiastically than I expected. They relayed to me that this was the restaurant in which they dined the night they were engaged, constituting the Terrace as the birthplace of my family itself. Of all the restaurants on the island, we had incidentally chosen one of such familial significance. A wide smile spread across my cheeks, elated to share this experience with my parents. 

Approaching the Terrace, I knew precisely which restaurant it was, before distinguishing its name. The dimly lit space, lacking a distinct change from the inside to outside, with countless plants elegantly lining its frame, was one that immediately drew in passersby. The Terrace has undoubtedly undergone renovations since my parents’ engagement, due to the relentless hurricanes that strike the island, but the atmosphere of the restaurant was one of comfort and grace that I am confident has withstood the physical modifications. Moving through the restaurant, I imagined the space as one that my parents had experienced in the past. With this being my first vacation without them, I found myself frequently doing this along each stop, but especially here at the Terrace. Though they were over one thousand miles away, I was able to feel their presence. The food at the Terrace was spectacular, reflecting the vibrance of the Virgin Islands and the local fare which constitutes much of their economy. The menu included an array of its cultural influences, allowing guests to immerse themselves in St. John’s rich diversity and history. Curious as to what my parents had ordered, I asked them, to which they replied that they had no idea: they were too overcome by emotion and care to consider the food before them. 

Though food constitutes so many of my memories, I feel that it is truly the people we spend these moments with that comprise the utmost significance. Food provides the outline for connections, opening opportunities for us to find them among one another. To visit the Terrace and experience its sentimentality is an experience I am so grateful for and one that has assuredly brought me closer to my parents’ past. 

Cover Photo Courtesy of Jane Paulson


The Search for the Perfect Fried Chicken at Buttermilk and Bourbon

5/15/2021 2:00 am

Scrolling through the feed of endless content, my finger stalls as I’m confronted with the text of “Boston’s Best Fried Chicken” over a video of white sauce being drizzled over a crispy fried chicken. My mouth salivates as I eagerly close out of Instagram and open Google Maps, searching up the name of the restaurant. “Buttermilk and Bourbon: Destination for quirky New Orleans-inspired dishes by a local star chef plus a lively lounge,” my phone reads as I flag the restaurant on my Want-to-Go list on the app. I type “Boston’s best fried chicken” in the description and type save. The folder increases from 272 to 273 locations. I swipe up, reopening Instagram and continuing my scroll online.

I’ve been assembling a list of restaurant locations and things to do in Boston since my freshman year at Boston College. I always try to explore and try new places, and I place a great importance in finding recommendations for places to eat. Often my folder grows with saved locations that look great, but I will never eat at. I have been meaning to visit Kane’s Donuts—supposedly the best donuts in Boston—ever since freshman year, but still have never managed to make it there. Regardless of my history, I had a deep desire to go to Buttermilk and Bourbon, and I knew that I would make it there. One day at least.

3/11/2022 at 2:30pm

I forgot about Buttermilk and Bourbon until spring break, when my girlfriend decided she would take matters into her own hands and finally got us there. Ari found a reservation for lunch at 3pm (dinners were booked) and surprised me with the news. An hour later we were sitting on the T, a half hour ahead of our reservation. Eagerly I looked over the menu with Ari, entranced in the options.

“We have to get the fried chicken, that’s a given” I say to Ari, “but I think we should also get their signature warm honey glazed biscuits.” 

“Eh I’m not too sure,” she responds back as the loudspeaker muffles out some statement. “I don’t like biscuits that much and they didn’t even look that good online. Maybe we should get the mac and cheese.” 

As we finalized our order of the house special buttermilk fried chicken—thighs of course—along with garlic herb mac and cheese and fried beignets to finish, the T came to a stop as passengers started flooding out of the doors. Confused, I asked another passenger who said “T’s down. Apparently, there’s a fire on the tracks.”

Next thing we knew, we were waiting in line for a bus to take us toward Newbury Street, with 10 minutes until our reservation. Rather than wait, we decided to walk the 30 minutes and call the restaurant to explain our situation. 

Starving and exhausted, we stumble down the stairs into the dimly lit entrance covered in scaffolding, almost looking like we weren’t meant to be there. We glance at one another and head inside, and are met with a rustic, but cozy restaurant that is surprisingly busy at 3:30pm. While being guided to our table, we pass by a group eating oysters and drinking martinis. Must be nice. 

As the waiter places down our mac and cheese, I am drawn toward the smell. Spiced garlic fills the air, and I glance at the dish. The mac and cheese is plated in a round skillet, noodles topped with a chunk of short rib and lightly garnished with scallions. Upon digging my fork into the bowl, I am met with a soup-like consistency of broth at the bottom. After indulging in a bite, I am met with a shock of pleasure. The dish tastes less of traditional mac and cheese, and almost instead tastes of a garlicky beef stroganoff with cheese. In all my dining experiences, I’ve always found mac and cheese to be subpar, with the taste never living up to the look of the dish. Yet, this mac and cheese tastes nothing like the ones I had before; it was meaty and soupy, but in a good way. It wasn’t what I expected, but that made it even better. The short rib fell apart immediately, and the crushed ritz crackers melted with the liquid of the dish. Ari and I gobbled the dish down before our next plate was delivered.

The chicken arrives at our table freshly fried, steam rising out of the crispy exterior. The plating is simple, just two fried thighs and a ramekin filled with white barbecue sauce—as recommended by our waiter. As I cut into the chicken, some juice dripped out of the meat, indicating that this thigh was cooked to perfection. I’ve tried making fried chicken at home, but the meat has never stayed this juicy before. As I bite into the chicken, I’m surprised at the flavor of the dried exterior. It tastes almost like seafood, and fairly salted. I glance at Ari, and she has the same puzzled look on her face as I do. 

“It kind of tastes like calamari,” Ari says, and I have an aha-moment where the flavors finally make sense in my head. Yes, the chicken tastes like calamari, that’s what it is! It wasn’t bad at all, in fact after the surprise of the first bite I really enjoyed the flavor. The seasonings were rich and the flavor was so unique. The cooking is New Orleans-inspired, and I figured that’s what made this chicken stand out from the other fried chickens I’ve had in the past. 

The white barbecue was the star of the show because it didn’t overpower the flavor of the chicken, but perfectly complemented it. The sauce tasted like a spiced honey mustard; it was sweet, salty, and rich. It was complicated in flavor, but the sauce matched beautifully with the fried chicken. I dipped every bite of meat in the sauce, and it made the experience even more enjoyable. After eating the chicken, I pulled out my phone and search up a recipe of the white sauce, to which I found out the staff calls it the “crack sauce.” They couldn’t be more right.

Lastly, the waiter brings out the plate of beignets, and despite how full I already am, I’m eager to dig in. I quickly grab a hot beignet and take a huge bite, and then almost immediately cough up the powder sugar that I just inhaled. Ari immediately bursts out laughing and then asks if I’m okay. I nod and catch my breath as I sip on my water. After my coughing fit, I retry the beignet, which tastes closer to a sweet biscuit than a puffy deep fried beignet. While it was not what I expected, I still happily ate the beignets while Ari was disappointed in them. Judging by the fact that I didn’t order the honey-glazed biscuits as an appetizer, these biscuits satisfied my earlier craving.

Buttermilk and Bourbon met and exceeded the expectation that I had simply because of its unique approach to classic Southern dishes. Turn a mac and cheese into a stew? Check. Make the fried chicken taste like calamari? Check. Have the beignets taste like sweet biscuits? Check. With each dish, Ari and I were pleasantly surprised by the new flavors and techniques of each plate. 

On the T ride back to Boston College, I opened up Google Maps and changed the location of Buttermilk and Bourbon from the Want-to Go-list to My Favorites.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Logan Soss


Kremšnite: A Croatian Classic

For the spring semester of my junior year at Boston College, I decided to study abroad in Zagreb, Croatia. Before arriving in late February, I knew very little about Croatian culture, including its cuisine. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and explore a country that I had never been to before, as I felt that doing so would broaden my horizons. Although I have been in Zagreb for a very short amount of time, I can already say that the city is invigatoring. As trams zoom through the central square of Zagreb, Croatia, you can see people reuniting, restaurants standing at every corner, and multicolored buildings towering over you. Complementing glorious sightseeing, the most impactful culinary moment I have had during my stay at Zagreb so far was trying kremšnite for the first time, a classic Croatian dessert.

After having lunch with my peers at the European Center for the Study of War and Peace, the location where I take my classes, we were offered a piece of kremšnite for dessert. This dish is best described as a slice of custard with two layers of puff pastry: one layer on top that is delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar and another layer below the custard. I eagerly took the opportunity to eat a piece of kremšnite because it simply looked delicious, with the custard in particular sporting an inviting soft yellow color.

Every aspect of the kremšnite I tasted was outstanding. The custard was simultaneously rich and light textured, melting in my mouth. It had a wonderful vanilla flavor that invoked a great amount of comfort, without being overbearing. Mimicking the vanilla custard’s light texture, the layers of puff pastry introduced a buttery element to the dessert. The subtle hints of butter from the puff pastry contrasted enough with the custard so that the pastry was skillfully balanced in flavor. Finally, the powdered sugar on top tied the whole dessert together, ensuring that every bite was graced by finely-distributed sweetness.

I appreciated how this dessert deviated from the ones I usually eat, like cake or pie. Kind of resembling a thick pudding, the custard was the dessert’s foundation and it held up quite nicely. It was sturdy enough to support the puff pastry, giving each slice a uniform cubic shape. The creaminess of the custard provided the satisfaction that dense desserts like cheesecake give me. Yet, its texture also possessed the airiness of whipped cream. I ended up finishing my piece of kremšnite within minutes, as I was so impressed by its clever use of texture and careful use of flavor.

Studying abroad was something I always wanted to do, but I never knew exactly how it would turn out for me. Since I had never traveled to the Balkans before, Croatia was a country I did not even consider going to before stumbling across the BC in Croatia: War, Peace & Reconciliation program online. Due to my lack of prior familiarity with Croatian culture, I tried to not set too many expectations for my semester abroad. Although far away from home, I have felt safe and fulfilled in Zagreb so far. While being intellectually challenged by my classes, my mind has also opened up to an entirely new set of customs and practices in this eastern European country. I am learning something new about Croatia every day, and enjoying every second of it. What better way to kick off my semester than trying a tasty dessert like kremšnite? Living in a foreign country for over three months is certainly intimidating, but being received by the splendor of your host country’s cuisine is a great feeling. I will always remember kremšnite as a staple among Croatian sweets and as a dessert that broadened my culinary horizons. I am ready to undertake the inevitable ups and downs of the remainder of my stay here in Zagreb, as I know that moments like the one in which I first tried kremšnite are forthcoming.

Cover photo courtesy of KitchenNostalgia


Back to Bananas

Story by Jane Paulson

“You have a message from the tower: Shane wishes the Paulson family a safe trip.”

As I sat with my family, the sole four occupants on the “puddle-jumper” plane, we heard the pilot nonchalantly make this remark and were taken aback. We scoured our brains for how this could be possible and who could be giving us well wishes. In this frenzy, we peered out of the plane window only to see our server, named Shane, from the night before frantically waving at the plane from the control tower. How great of a surprise this was and how sad we were to have to leave these experiences behind as mere memories. Shane was a server at our favorite restaurant on the island of Nevis, called Bananas, and now we knew this was not his only responsibility. 

To get to Bananas, you must travel a treacherous path: through winding streets, along mountain cliffs, and deep into the jungle. Upon first arrival, I felt as if we made a mistake. All that is visible at first glance is a path illuminated by tiki torches and palm trees on either side- no restaurant in sight. I remember anxiously stepping on each individual rock on this path, nervous about what was to come, but trying to relish the calm, warm environment. After the journey, you reach the house that is home to Bananas. A sprawling patio seizes your first glance, with brightly colored tables and chairs in every open space. Warm-toned lights hang from the ceiling, exuding a sense of comfort, care, and love. Laughter and conversation erupts from every party, with soft reggae music playing in the background. 

My family and I did not know the bliss we had stumbled upon. Here, deep in the jungle, was a restaurant that not only was in a home, but felt like one. We sat at our table on the patio and admired the sights and sounds around us—animals calling, people laughing, and the sun setting behind the clouds. Our server, Shane, became a new friend. He guided us on the best menu choices and local spots we had to see before leaving the island. Shane seemed like an old friend, someone we were reconnecting with and reminiscing over fond memories we had yet to make. We ate a dinner just as comforting as Bananas’ atmosphere: fresh fish, sweet plantains, and conch fritters. Bananas developed a menu to reflect the environment which they inhabited. With novelty and display of local favorites, Bananas embraced the roots of Nevis and embodied them through cuisine. At Bananas, you are welcomed home. 

Now that Bananas has become a mere memory, I have realized its innovative concept and success therein. They hand-delivered home, a feat countless restaurants attempt but do not reach. Shane’s service was not feigned, but of genuine pleasure from engaging with others, as evident in his bidding adieu from the tower. I continue to crave another experience at Bananas, not only for the delicious array of food, but for the nostalgia and warmth it carries. When I experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of Bananas, though no longer in Nevis, I am instantly carried back to Bananas and reminded of all the ways in which I can find home wherever I am.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Bananas Restaurant Nevis


Grandma Soss’ Applesauce

A story told by Logan Soss

A burgundy minivan pulls into the driveway as my dog barks at the intruder. As soon as the worn work boots crunch on the icy pavement, the barks turn to yips as he recognizes my grandpa and rushes to grab a toy to play. My grandparents shuffle up the icy driveway and I meet them at the door.

“Hi Logan!” they say, giving me a hug. We head inside and, as I start to take my jacket off, my grandpa calls to me, “Hey Logan, there’s one more thing. Can you help me bring in some things from the trunk?”

I open the back hatch and am met with an accoutrement of cooking equipment: an enormous stock pot, a giant ladle, and an industrial-grade Kitchenaid stand mixer. What’s all this for? I wonder, hauling the materials inside. I heave as I lift the final item: a remarkably heavy bag. I peek inside, and my eyes light up with excitement as I eye the apples. We’re making applesauce.

My grandma’s applesauce is no joke. As far back as I can remember, most of my grandparents’ dinners had a large serving bowl of homemade applesauce, with glass dishes stacked on the side. Applesauce pairs with every meal. No matter how stuffed you are, the applesauce was a nice and light complement to the dinner. You’d serve it with fish, sandwiches, or steak, and top it on your latkes, pork chops, or yogurt. It is the best applesauce I’ve ever eaten. My grandma’s recipe always seemed mystical to me, as I never knew how it was made. Today, I’d be confronting this mystery and learning firsthand from the master.

After a light lunch, we go to work making the applesauce. “It’s an incredibly easy process,” my grandma explains. “You just have to find the right apples.” She points to the peck of Ida Red apples. For the last twenty years or so, my grandma has been outsourcing her apples from a local farm, Roe’s Orchard to be exact, which grows Ida Reds perfectly. Ironically enough, the whole time my grandparents had actually been growing the exact same kind in their own backyard on what they thought were crabapple trees. The fruits never bloomed thanks to the local deers. Talk about a coincidence. Now for the last couple of years, my grandparents have always made a batch using their backyard’s apples, but the yield is much smaller than needed, so they still shop at Roe’s Orchard. 

The first step is to core the apples to make sure you don’t cook the seeds. With four chops of a knife, the apple is quartered and tossed in the 24-quart stock pot. The skins should stay on, as it helps give the sauce its signature pinkish hue. Once the final apple is cored, my grandma pours fresh apple cider into the pot, just so that it fills the bottom layer to prevent the apples from burning. Topped with a hefty dash of cinnamon, the pot is then transferred to the stove to cook.

We light the burner on medium heat and lid the pot, allowing the apples to fully cook down. My grandma only stirs the pot twice, once in the middle of cooking and once when they are finished. At this point she doesn’t add a timer, she can simply estimate the time off the top of her head. This skill comes with experience, I’ve learned, and I’m keen to learn this one day. Once the apples are of a mushy consistency, remove the pot from the heat and ready your Kitchenaid.

In order to process the apples down into applesauce, you have to use a foley food mill or some other kind of mechanical food strainer. My grandma has a Kitchenaid foley food mill attachment for her stand mixer that is one of a kind. She’s been using the same tool for decades now, and she tells me the story of how she went to a Kitchenaid store to replace her attachment with a new one and the workers at the store laughed and said they had never seen that product before. Turns out that the production of the attachment stopped shortly after it was released, and that there are roughly only a couple thousand of the Kitchenaid foley food mills in existence. 

With this antique mixer, I scoop the melted apple pieces with a slotted spoon, being sure to fully drain its liquid before placing it into the machine. The foley food mill presses all the contents out of the apples, and after spoonful after spoonful, the bowl slowly rises with newly created applesauce. Once all of the apples are gone, we stand back and view the masterpiece we just created.

The magic of this applesauce is the simplicity of its ingredients. My grandma takes a spoon and tastes it, and adds some more dashes of cinnamon to bolster the flavor. After mixing the bowl and trying again, she is content with how it turned out. I give the applesauce a taste and I am transported back to old times. Even though it is only flavored by the puree of the apples and cinnamon, it tastes appropriately sweet, almost as if it was made of nectar infused with honey. The texture is perfect, light and soft. It is practically liquid gold, only with a rose gold tone. This batch of the apple sauce was not as pink as usual because the apples we used were not as fresh and in season. The best time to get Ida Red apples is November, where the flavor is naturally sweeter and the skins are reddest. Regardless of that fact, the applesauce was delicious and tasted exactly how I remembered.

Crafting applesauce is an artform in itself. Despite how easy it was to make it, I know I would mess it up if I didn’t have my grandmother’s guidance. After learning about the laborious process that goes into production, I have grown a deeper appreciation for my grandmother and her stamina and ability of mass-producing this applesauce, planning a weekend to turn enough apples into a year’s supply of applesauce. This batch of roughly 23 apples only yielded roughly four quarts of applesauce, and it took about 2 hours in total time to make. I estimate that they must produce about 10 gallons of applesauce a year, stored in individual vacuum sealed bags and placed in the freezer until needed. 

This applesauce takes me back to my childhood and I always think about the dish when I’m away at school. After making this batch, I took two quarts of the applesauce back to school with me to share with my friends, and I’ve prolonged its presence as long as possible. 

Cover photo courtesy of Logan Soss


Tattoos & Taboos

The white screen of the TV washes my grandmother’s front half in a cool, technological glow. The lights in the living room are all off, the curtains pulled shut. I went simple for this presentation—black typing over the default Google Slides theme.

Marie Clapp is the most risqué relative I have, and she also happens to be my favorite. She has a few powerful principles, as all strong people do. One of them is to never, ever, get a tattoo. My younger sister stick-and-poked her way through this rule eight months into her first year away from home. Then again, two months later. And again (permanently) in another six. Lindsey has the impossible combination of a youngest sibling’s flippant confidence plus the aged wisdom of the oldest. 

The screen. My clicker. Our gurgling stomachs, and the scent of dinner wrapping the room. “Grandma…” I begin, “I have some exciting news. I don’t know whether you’ll find it exciting, but it’s important to me that you at least know.”

Artwork is my first line of logic. Er, string of logic—line of attack. My attempt at an appeal to logos. I am a student. I’m fortunate enough to be immersed in the world of higher education. I am cultivating an appreciation for the arts as I’ve never before. Tattooing a piece of art onto my body is a tribute to the great realm. One wonders whether it’s not a pathetic tribute at that. My half-an-inch by two inch design is not particularly pronounced. 

Grandma’s smile has pinched itself into a grimace. Next slide! 

More logos. The screen darkens a bit as a collage transitions onto it. Last night, I painstakingly copy-and-pasted 37 photos of every family friend and celebrity who have tattoos. I couldn’t find photos of the tattoos themselves, so instead I just used the faces of their owners. 

“Emma Stone, Orlando Bloom, Emma Watson…” I can’t bring myself to look at her face, so instead I rattle off the names of my role models in body art.

The following slide is a clipart photo of rum and another of coke, lined up side-by-side. Grandma’s second principle is to avoid drinking. In typical “do as I say, not as I do” fashion, she has plenty of first-hand experience(s) with alcohol. One story I’ve only grown to love more with each passing year of college. While my mom and uncle were young, she went dancing with some friends and confronted the unruly power of the Mixed Drink. Diet Coke shrouded the flavor of the rum until it was too late. She spent the entirety of the next day in bed, and Grandpa had to tell my uncle that she was under the weather. 

I turn back to face her. “Everybody makes mistakes,” I say, and despite my nerves a grin unexpectedly crawls onto my face. We banter like this. She can handle it. 

The next slide is a photo of the two of us on Halloween. She’s dressed as Little Bo Peep and I’m a tiny witch. The point is this—she knows me. So well. I think it’s working, a bit. The gears are turning. Time for a wrap-up hit of pathos

“Johnny Depp once said,” I read off a piece of printer paper, now wrinkled from the sweat of my hands, “‘My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.’” 

The final slide is a checklist. It reads “My tattoo is…” in bold Playfair Display font. Underneath are four boxes, all checked off. A symbol I will never tire of seeing. A subject that has transformed my life, forever. An image I find beautiful. Located somewhere discreet (that word is for her benefit specifically). 

All that’s left to do is one thing. I lift up my shirt. On the top right of my ribcage, to the side of my chest, sits a teeny, shaded croissant.

Cover photo courtesy of ful-filled


Two Sisters and the Soul

Meg Loughman

Gravy, transcendence, and Sunday afternoons in Mississippi

I remember my first truly transcendent culinary experience like it was only weeks ago. Of course, it wasn’t any Michelin star-studded dining establishment —probably not even a place that high-brow critics would look twice at (though a decent chunk of lucky locals and tourists know the truth and often take to Yelp to sing its praises). But, on that warm and sunny afternoon in Jackson, I thought the heavens had cracked open and poured into this one rickety Victorian home-turned-buffet restaurant right off Congress Street by the State Capitol. Two Sisters Kitchen was the place where I first felt that food could be not just blissful, but wholly transformative, and that its powers of unification were not to be understated.

Growing up in the Bible belt, nestled deep in the southern crooks of Mississippi’s bayou-speckled coastline, being Christian was an unspoken assumption. For years, I didn’t even realize there were people who weren’t Christian; some of my most formative years were spent in this world of perpetually being late to church on Sundays, where “Jesus camp” was a summertime staple and ‘atheist’ may have just as well been a curse word. But in such parts of the Deep South, this common belief in an all-powerful, all-loving God is a thread that strings everyone together—a thread strong enough to keep some semblance of hope in the most impoverished areas of the country, to breach the sting of racism past and present. And I say this even now, after my own break-up with Christianity and falling-out with the conservative Catholic teachings of my youth. In fact, I believe there are very few things that can transcend the gaping wounds in the sticky hot Mississippi South—God is one of them, but I’ll be damned if a good meal isn’t the other.

In fact, I believe there are very few things that can transcend the gaping wounds in the sticky hot Mississippi South—God is one of them, but I’ll be damned if a good meal isn’t the other.

It was the middle of March. Or maybe the end. I was in high school, brought three hours north to Jackson by a less-than-successful scholarship interview and leaving it even more riddled with nervousness about my impending college decisions. But, as my father and I stepped onto the former home’s front steps, the air swelling with the aroma of yeast rolls and okra and fried chicken, we stepped out of any temporal confinements and entered into a strange, glowing vignette of the present moment. We had just barely beat the inevitable post-Church throngs, settling into a sun- warmed spot on the patio before ordering our sweet iced teas and beelining for the buffet.

There’s something about Southern food that truly does heal and nourish the soul. I piled my robin egg-blue plate sky high with fried okra, sweet cornbread, rice and gravy, green beans, and buttermilk biscuits. The list goes on: chunky mashed potatoes, bread pudding, award-winning fried chicken, and some mysterious casserole that I could have eaten every day for a month. And then there was the creamed corn—my dad and I couldn’t shut up about it the whole drive home (I specifically remember him saying “I think God reached down and scooped this creamed corn onto my plate. Seriously.”). One man sat perched in a shady corner of the back patio, his saxophone oozing with velvety afternoon jazz, and everybody—me, my dad, the Churchgoers in their Sunday best, the woman who nearly passed out from her meal and was fanning herself on the front steps—we all sat together, sharing in that warm, woozy fullness that is at once uncomfortable and purely blissful, soaking in every second.

A couple of months ago, I had the misfortune of stumbling upon a Facebook article shared onto my timeline bearing the bad news that Two Sisters Kitchen was closing down for good. My heart broke a little for that sacred place—a rare corner of the world where time slows to a lazy crawl, where all kinds of folks come together in a sort of fellowship over the near-transcendent beauty that is a warm patio and a heaping, steaming plate of real Mississippi soul food. I could hardly believe that I’d never again dip my fork into a bowl of that doughy peach cobbler, that I’d never again taste the sweet and savory nectar of that miraculous, mysterious chicken casserole.

The truth is, though, that there will always be another diamond-in-the-rough Southern food joint that goes heavy-handed on the salt and sugar in all the right places. Two Sisters Kitchen is not an anomaly, by any means, but its closure still compelled me to look back on what made it so damn special in the first place. Suddenly I found myself confronted with these nostalgic intricacies of home, and how they had become so dreamy and distant to me as I dwelled in my very different present-day Boston reality.

When I first arrived at Boston College, I found myself as the spokesperson for what life in Mississippi is really like. Sentences like “Wow, I’ve never met anyone from Mississippi before!” became commonplace in small talk and introductions—I was fascinated by the sheer volume of my peers who really knew nothing about the present-day realities of my home state. For the past three-going-on-four years, I’ve become something of an expert at conveying my experiences in the Mississippi public education system, in one of the most religious parts of the country, and, perhaps most notoriously, in a state still bogged down by its problematic history and racist realities (for Christ’s sake, there’s still a Confederate flag in our state flag).

I piled my robin egg-blue plate sky high with fried okra, sweet cornbread, rice and gravy, green beans, and buttermilk biscuits. The list goes on: chunky mashed potatoes, bread pudding, award-winning fried chicken, and some mysterious casserole that I could have eaten every day for a month

What surprised me most of all, however, was not some kind of stark departure in my upbringing from that of my friends’—instead, I found that many people warped the South (and Mississippi, especially) into some faraway land untouched by modernity and riddled with deep- seated hatred and racial tensions. A declaration of my hometown was often met with a response of shock tinged with pity. Now, I won’t go so far as to say that Mississippi doesn’t have more than its own fair share of problems—as I grew older, I became disillusioned by the hyper- religious, ultra-conservative norm, and I couldn’t wait to run off to some ivy-covered northeastern college and get away from it all. But as I settled into life in Chestnut Hill, surrounded by bleeding-heart liberals in their comfortably pristine all-white neighborhoods, I began to realize that Mississippi’s demons aren’t all too different from anyone else’s.

Of course, the two don’t always go hand in hand; not all Mississippians are Christians. I’d argue, though, that most of us know a thing or two about a real comfort food buffet. The cuisine of our home state—food born out of the struggles of slavery, from the impoverished lowlands of the Mississippi Delta—is one thing that repeatedly proves to have the power to unite us all together. At a place like Two Sisters Kitchen, Sunday mornings and soul food could bring about a harmony in diversity that many people would never associate with a place like Mississippi.

There’s a phrase that Southern folks use when someone has opened up to let the love of the Lord enter into their life, when they’re ready to drop everything and give themselves to God: it’s called getting “saved.” One reason I fell out of the religion that once steeped every facet of my life was a slow- but-steady realization that I’d never had a moment where I felt “saved,” that I found my prayers and rituals were empty and felt like there was nobody listening on the other end of the line (cue a well-placed Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret reference). Maybe I have yet to experience some higher reality through faith, and maybe I never will. But if I know one thing for certain, it’s that we were all transcended from the present earthly moment and held there, suspended in some transient space, on one sun-washed afternoon on the back patio of the formerly known Two Sisters Kitchen —“saved” at once by our common humanity and by the smoothness of live jazz and sweet tea—bellies full, but souls even fuller.


On Food Shopping

Claire Madden

I have loved many grocery stores in my life. They have been tucked into a street corner and have taken up an entire parcel of land, are painted cobalt or eggshell, are sterile or a bit grimy. They always hunker, loud or unassuming, in the center of a town or city, people always streaming in and out to nourish themselves and their families. They whisper or shout at us about their world-class produce or freshly warmed breads, their community connections, everything. We are asked to come in and provide for ourselves and for the people around us, if only by buying some semi-sweet chocolate chips or clementines.

I do not think I have ever seen food shopping as a chore. When I was younger, maybe eight or nine years old, our most coveted nighttime activity was going to the grocery store. One or two evenings a month, when the moonlight had begun to curl around the trees and our dinner plates had long been cast into the sink, my parents decided that our ingredients had dwindled too fast, and my father was to go to Stop and Shop that night. One of my sisters and I would be chosen to go with him—whomever was chosen would slip on shoes and bound into the car, rocketing over the hills along the river to the store to get cereal or cheddar cheese or cocoa powder.

There was something inherently magical and irresistible about the grocery store at night—something tangibly different. It was not the same space as in the daytime, with the sunlight filtering in through hulking window panes onto dull oranges and fluorescent-yellow cake mixes, not clogged with people wandering up and down the aisles to decide between two types of olive oil. During the daytime, the Stop and Shop was a stretching and teeming place, crowded with voices and elbows and overpriced almonds. At night it was quiet and glittering, the floor just waxed and the overhead music turned moody and slow. My father and I would move through the aisles leisurely, tiptoeing along to inspect the ripeness of stacked bananas, or determining whether the package of Dutch chocolate cookies we were cradling had any broken pieces. No one tried to rattle past us with a wobbly cart and a whispered caution, or brazenly reach in front of us to grab the last good block of parmesan. I was always in the way during the daytime. At night we chose our foods with ease and care, gingerly deciding which would have a home in our cabinet, which foods my baby sister would spread across the floor. The deli counter never had a line in the evening, so our samples of Swiss cheese and turkey were immediate and cherished.  

There was something inherently magical and irresistible about the grocery store at night—something tangibly different. It was not the same space as in the daytime, with the sunlight filtering in through hulking window panes onto dull oranges and fluorescent-yellow cake mixes, not clogged with people wandering up and down the aisles to decide between two types of olive oil.

During these nighttime trips, I was allowed to choose one sweet from the international food section. Stop and Shop had carved out a quarter of an aisle as a lackluster grouping of various ethnic products, and my favorite Irish chocolates were given just a sliver of this area. I was given the choice between a saccharine Dairy Milk bar, buttery Digestive biscuits, or a chocolate Aero bar pockmarked with bubbles. I nearly always chose the Aero bar, neatly snapping off one section to share on the winding way back home.

As lovely and thrilling as these night food shopping trips were, more frequently we went food shopping during the day, with each of my sisters and I given two or three items to track down in the cramped and towering aisles. When my father moved to the city, we took the subway to Grace’s Marketplace and Food Emporium along the churning East River. These stores, packed so tightly into the building that I thought the ceiling might buckle, always hummed with shoppers. There was no leisure or deliberate inspection—you were to move swiftly in and out. In Grace’s, the lines for the butcher or the bread and cheese counter had no clear beginning or end, so it was best just to squeeze yourself into a corner by the cheese twists and handmade pastas and crane your neck to look at the towering shelves while the crowd thinned. The air was always slightly frenetic, with business people and parents and students trying to make just the tiniest dent in the city and then feed themselves and their families.

These kinds of shops were where you could see the ways in which people nourished themselves—in Food Emporium and in the Gristedes near my father’s apartment, people’s hunger was on full display. You could tell when someone was throwing a dinner party—a gleaming jar of olives, a pound of briny shrimp, pâté and water crackers—or needed a moment to themselves—luxurious chocolate ice cream, a single serving of tomato soup, a bottle of white wine. When my father moved to New York, we used to buy pizza dough and Hunt’s tomato sauce, potatoes, and Nestle hot chocolate mix for my younger sister. The checkout clerks rarely commented on anyone’s purchases, just nodded at the many tubs of hummus or bottles of diet soda.

I don’t know why I am so taken with the way people grocery shop—I think I like the observation and possibility that comes with seeing people carefully or haphazardly take food off the shelf. You can see what someone is buying and you can imagine what their life must be like, at least a little bit. You can look at the ingredients and meals they haul up to the cash register and see who they are through the food they eat—what it is, how much, if they seem resigned or frantic or excited about what they are buying. It extends to where people shop, too—if someone is shopping religiously at Whole Foods or Star Market, you can imagine their tranquil morning of green smoothies and collagen or hurried scrambled eggs before class.

You can see what someone is buying and you can imagine what their life must be like, at least a little bit. You can look at the ingredients and meals they haul up to the cash register and see who they are through the food they eat

I think if one were to examine my life through my grocery shopping, they would not look at the sugary squares of Cadbury chocolate or my swift dodging of city shoppers, but my almost ceaseless failings at shopping for myself alone. One might look at the half-full boxes of crackers that I meant to decorate lavishly with a swipe of brie, or the unopened bag of frozen vegetables leaning against the freezer wall.

I have tried to carve out a place for myself at the closest Trader Joe’s, enticed by their vibrant packaging and impeccably written chalkboard signs. Here, I have tried to be conscientious and scrutinizing about my food shopping, to be an adult. I do my best to blend into the colorful and vibrant store in Coolidge Corner, less claustrophobic but still teeming with people. I am nearly always in the way. I am in the way of the cruciferous veggies, blocking the peanut butter, almost shoved out of the way of the brie and Romano cheese, too close to the dark chocolates. People always seem to know exactly what to buy here—they comb deliberately or aggressively through the aisles, with chicken breasts and sweet potatoes ready to meal-prep and thick strands of farfalle paired with a jar of pesto.

These shoppers have figured out what it is to nourish themselves, to first choose how and where to buy food for themselves, and then to discern from the soaring and overwhelming shelves and stacks what you can feed yourself. It is something wholly astonishing and breathtaking. It is suddenly an enormous responsibility, essentially carrying your own nutrition along with you to the grocery store. It has taken me weeks and probably hundreds of dollars to figure out what I should and should not buy—I have spent far too much money on a chicken tikka masala microwave dinner and a box of raspberry lemonade, and then forgotten to buy eggs or frozen fruit that will not go bad when I do not eat it within the week. I have learned that you must buy a dark bottle of olive oil, salt and pepper to sprinkle over almost everything you cook for dinner, and at least two bags of spinach or kale to have some semblance of health in a half-hearted pasta dish. I gravitate toward the peanut butter every time I go to the grocery store, chunky with the crimson lid—it can be spread sparsely or luxuriously across a piece of toast or spooned into yogurt, or eaten late at night with a cluster of dark chocolate chips. I have gathered just enough eggs and sweet potatoes and ice cream to keep myself content, to make my kitchen feel like mine. I still cannot really cook, but I can grocery shop for myself, during the day and after dark. There is one grocery store in the smattering of towns I grew up in that says come home to its customers, and I think when we grocery shop we are coming home, we are creating ourselves.