Weird

The last paper has been written. The last exam taken. I have no reading assignment to procrastinate doing, no presentation to prepare. I am done with my undergraduate work.

Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it.

This week is just as overwhelming as I’d ever imagined it. But I’m not sure there was any way to prepare for the emotions that come with this transition. I’d be lying if I said I was doing just fine.

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Often when I see others bitching about how difficult exams or senior projects are, someone makes the comment “oh just WAIT till you get into the real world, then you’ll just be wishing an exam was your biggest problem.” I generally do not like this person. I find it hard to relate to people who refuse to relate to others.

Perhaps, yes, the “real world” is harder and will have me dreaming of running back into the reliable, predictable arms of academia – but I don’t know that yet. There is no basis of comparison. Right now, this is just as hard as a toddler trying to walk or applying for your fifth job. Everything is relative.

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I’m scared. Scared that I will never live with or see my best friends every single day, scared of taking the next step, scared of leaving this comfort zone I have cultivated for the past 4 years. I’ve always thought of college as the most unique job in the world – one of the very few in which you literally live in the office. I think that’s really easy for most people to overlook and underestimate; how would your life be different if you lived at your job, never able to go home and just get away from it? It’s a different kind of strain than any other.

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I had the absolute best experiences of my life at college. I also experienced the deepest, darkest period of my life there. There are so many feelings, memories, adventures here, and I’m absolutely petrified of walking away.

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But it’s gonna happen. In fact, it’s gonna happen in 2 days, my feelings about it be damned.

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All I have to say is, thank goodness for chocolate and wine. Here’s to the Class of 2011 – one-one-YEAH SON!!!

sr candlelight (4)

Oops.

Why, hello there. Remember me? I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.

Going into my senior year of college, I was warned about many things. How sad saying goodbye to my friends would be, how much I will miss the intellectual stimulation of classes, how absolutely painful senioritis can be.

“They” failed to mention that your life whirls into an appointment- and event-filled cloud of absolute chaos. Yeah – “oops” is right.

So, let me attempt to catch up. In April I got so sick I wanted to curl into a ball and sleep for a month, had a major presentation with family and food and the Dean, almost died driving to Charlotte for the 2nd time, baked and frosted 26 cupcakes, formed, blanched and baked 55 peace-sign-shaped pretzels, and whipped up 33 oatmeal chocolate chip cookies all in less than 24 hours, went to 2 award ceremonies and 1 honorary dinner, went to my last May Day Masquerade, collected 4 cords for graduation, continued to work my 4 different jobs and kept up with all of my classes.

I *may* also have watched/sung along to Mulan, Aladdin, and Remember the Titans.

Priorities, people.

Today was my last day of classes at Converse College. Ever. I’m FREE. And I am predicting that it will take less than one month from today for me to have a panic attack about that. But right now, I’m high on my class-free life. One more exam, three essays to edit, and BAM. We’re outta here.

shock and dismay

I’ve even officially applied to the Culinary Institute of America. Perhaps the one upside to the insanity into which my life has devolved is that I’ve barely had time to freak out about that.

Ok, ixnay on that last one – definitely just had a slight panic attack. Thanks, Mom. (When in doubt, call your mothah.)

Anyway, because of said chaos, I don’t have many pictures to share. But I will! In fact, I am on my way to the kitchen right after I hit “publish” to make some good carbo-licious use of the near-black banana laying on our kitchen counter.

I’ll be back. After I lick the bowl. Obviously.

A Backwards Christmas

Christmas is my favorite holiday ever. I even like it better than my birthday – and don’t worry, I will get to that too. 

But first – can we just talk about the blizzard that is currently covering every inch of Massachusetts?

 

 

The dog loves it…

 

…even though she comes in every time shivering.

She loves when I wrap her up in a towel almost as much as when I take her picture.
*coughNOTcoughwoofwoof*

Our perty tree. (The bottom half of the lights just fizzled out…but you don’t notice that at all. Not at all.)

 

 

 

Christmas morning was filled with presents, hiding from my dad’s video camera, and monkey bread made with extra dough my mom used to make her grandmother’s yeast rolls the night before.

 

Cinnamon-sugary, doughy goodness! The phrase “melt in your mouth” came to mind.
After presents and general Christmas lazing, my parents, brother and I set out in our three-year-old Christmas day tradition: we go to a movie and have an early dinner at Legal Seafoods.
This year, we saw The King’s Speech. MAN, it was good. It was wonderfully well acted and I fell in love with Colin Firth for the 12387654th time. Oh Mr. Dahcy!

We like going to the Park Plaza Legal’s in downtown Boston for the ambience. I pretty much just go for the rolls. They have wonderful fish, of course, and the restaurant’s been a favorite of mine for….um, pretty much as long as remember. I was the six-year-old who drooled over lobster and shrimp cocktail – clearly, I’ve always had impeccable taste 😉 Unfortunately, the menu seemed more boring than usual – they must have changed chefs recently. It really wasn’t a problem for me; I barely slept the night before and was still suffering from a food hangover, so I just got an appetizer and stole bites from my generous fam.
Continuing the holiday journey backwards, Christmas Eve is probably my favorite day of the year. Good moods are in abundance, and I get to bake my happy little hands off! My mom has always hosted a party on Christmas Eve and we have a Honey-Baked Ham, her sweet potatoes (the droolworthiness of which was previously discussed here), and the party-goers bring their favorites. This year the spread involved baked beans, hot chicken salad, scalloped potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts (one of my faves!), and green beans. Unfortunately, no pictures are to be had…because I was a little distracted.
By this:

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle.

 

And Sticky Toffee Pudding (so good, it has to be capitalized).

 

Yes, I made both. From scratch. I baked for two days. And I was happy as could be.

The trifle was something I had years ago at a friend’s Thanksgiving and became obsessed. It is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I usually make the pumpkin mousse part with sugar-free, fat-free pudding mix and cool whip, and the gingerbread out of a box mix. But this year, I made it my mission to make my dessert as real-food-full as possible. It tastes better, costs less, and really is better for you.
For the pumpkin mousse layer, I used Kath’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe, just making the filling. It was perfectly spicy and thickened up beautifully overnight in the fridge. 2 things to keep in mind – 1) it is a good idea to make this well-beforehand, and 2) the mix will seem soupy before you add in the beaten egg whites, but don’t fear! It will set!
For the gingerbread, I used a recipe out of a (gasp!) Weight Watchers cookbook! [This one.] They actually have some really good recipes, regardless of whether you are on the WW plan or not. Their turkey chili is to live for. And, the gingerbread recipe called for 6 tablespoons of real butter and all real food ingredients, so I wasn’t worried. It was delicious!
I did not, however, use real whipping cream. I really didn’t want to use Cool Whip, because it does seem like a bunch of crap I really don’t want in my body, but I still wanted to make the dish a little on the lighter side (sticky toffee pudding is, um, NOT), so I used truwhip. It actually worked really well and tasted delicious and  quite frankly, I really like how those whipped toppings taste – and I know I’m not alone!

As for the Sticky Toffee Pudding, you may remember my first encounter with this dish that redefines delectable? It was the restaurant that I am going to work at this summer just 3 minutes from my aunt & uncles’ house in Georgia. It was a gooey, caramelly, thick plate of goodness, the likes of which my tastebuds had never before experienced. I decided right then and there that it would be the perfect birthday present for my brother. His birthday is in October and I am 1) never at home for it and 2) never sure what to get him, so I always bake him something, and this was definitely a good belated birthday present. The sauce, however, calls for 2 cups of heavy cream, and that was a bit much to keep just for the 4 of us alone, so the Christmas Eve dinner was the perfect occasion. It took most of a day to prepare, but damned if it wasn’t worth it. And, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy spending most of my day toiling over a cake to be enjoyed by others. It’s kind of my favorite thing to do. Ever.
It’s basically a super-moist cake made with dates and heavy on the molasses, which is then drenched in a bath of rich toffee and served very warm.

Good as it sounds? Nope. Better.

On with the rewinding!

Wednesday night, the fam and I ventured into Boston to see an improv show – anyone familiar with Sassy Gay Friend? If you’re not, you really should be. He is absolutely hilarious and I desperately want Saturday Night Live to create a sketch just for him. His YouTube videos are addicting – you just never get sick of watching them! I have them memorized and I still crack up when I watch them. Anyway, the actor is a Boston native and was doing a live show at a small improv company where he got his start (he’s actually from my hometown – one of Dedham’s finest!) The show made me cry with laughter multiple times, and I really wish he was my Sassy Gay Friend.

The theatre is right in Boston’s North End, which is our Little Italy. Italian restaurants (authentic ones – Olive Garden is a swear down there) line the streets from all sides, and you only have to choose one. That’s actually more difficult than it sounds – eenie meenie miney moe would serve you well. We chose Ristorante Fiore, mostly because we were getting cold and hungry and it was on the same side of the street as the theatre. We didn’t regret our choice.

A really tasty bottle of wine was ordered (because I can drink in public now – amen!), although the olive oil didn’t taste as “fresh off the boat” as I would have liked. I think Italy ruined olive oil here for me. Damn.

 

I ordered the bombolotti al forno, which was housemade pasta (an absolute must – any Italian restaurant that doesn’t make their own pasta should be embarassed, in my very snobby opinion) with a simple marinara sauce and housemade sausage topped with regiano and goat cheeses. Oh dear pasta gods.

 

The goat cheese just put this over the edge of delirious deliciousness. I actually asked if I could have it without the sausage, mostly because I just can’t eat much meat anymore and it doesn’t appeal to me much – but the waiter was mildly horrified and convinced me. I was happy he did; it added a ton of flavor and had the perfect sausage texture – tender and juuust crumbly enough with a slight kick of spice. I was so distracted by the wonderful homemade pasta that I didn’t think to take a picture of it, which I regretted sorely after I realized it, because it was beautiful! Bombolotti is very, very wide and thick tubes of pasta but this restaurant made several little tubes inside each piece – it kind of looks like the wheel-shaped pasta before it’s cut into individual wheels. A wheel log, if you will.
That probably makes no sense, so obviously you must go as soon as possible and try it for yourself. Hanover Street, on the left side. Trust me.
What is it about homemade pasta? I hate to say it, but I think it’s just something you have to experience. It has a different density, a different mouthfeel…it’s just so much more satisfying.
Anyway, where was I? Pasta gets me so very sidetracked. Oh yes, the Christmas break rewind. Well, I flew from Atlanta to home on Saturday, cutting my Christmas vacation at home to a mere 2 weeks instead of a blissful 3. But there is a method to my madness.
That restaurant that I mentioned I will be working at this summer? Well, it’s more of an internship than work. To attend the CIA, I have to have 6 months of hands-on food prep experience – read:I have to chop vegetables for 12-15 hours a week. Which I am totally fine with – the trick was finding a place that would have me! I found my “in” at this restaurant that is a couple miles down the road from my aunt & uncle’s house in Lilburn, Georgia called Three Blind Mice. It’s a really cool restaurant and the chef is super nice and was very accommodating for my situation – and every one on the kitchen is very supportive of my goal o be a food writer! I’m always a little apprehensive to tell chefs that I want to be a food writer; I expect the “oh, so you want to tell me what’s bad about my food for a living?” response. Thankfully, food writing is really becoming an established literary genre and the immediate thought was that I would write a book – that’s more than a career goal, that’s kind of a life dream of mine. But they made it sound a lot more possible than I believe[d] it to be, so yay!
So, last week I worked a 9-hour and 7-hour shift, two days in a row, followed by a 4-hour shift (Thursday was totally dead for the dinner hour and I was pretty much useless). I peeled and deveined shrimp for 2 hours straight. I took over the salad station. I made enough hummus to fill the biggest stainless steel bowl I have ever laid eyes on. Oh, and I learned how to use the torch that caramelizes the sugar on creme brulees. That was pretty cool. And I learned all that after just 3 days – get excited for this summer, when I will impart all my new knowledge to y’all!
[And I do expect to have enough material for a book after this summer. I’ve started taking notes. Definitely have a good cast of characters.]
Before that was finals and the presentation of my senior thesis. You know, the 20-page paper that determined whether or not I would graduate with the degree I’ve spent the past 3 years of my life working for? Yeah, that one. It owned my soul for the past 3 months. It felt like I gave birth to a child when the last copy was printed. But, it also kicked ass and I am now the proud owner of an intense amount of knowledge surrounding food writing and food in World War II America. If I ever got to write a longer thesis or a research book, I would totally devote it to examining how food in the 1940s helped shape American cuisine & food attitudes as they are today. It’s completely fascinating.
In fact, I actually enjoyed the research involved. Even though at one point I had over 30 post-it notes covering my desk and over 30 (yes, 30) library books on food covering my floor, printer top and window sill. It was so interesting, and it let me learn all there is to know about M.F.K. Fisher, the woman who basically founded American food writing as a genre. But she is more than a food writer – and you don’t have to subscribe to Bon Appetit or have an entire bookcase of cookbooks or even watch Paula Deen to fall in love with her writing. Her books apply to everyone. If you are in need of a New Year’s resolution, let me help you: read The Art of Eating. At the very least, The Gastronomical Me. If she doesn’t capture your heart, she will at least arouse your tastebuds.
And the week before that…I turned 21! I would say that all the responsibility and freedom that comes with being able to drink makes me feel different, but….um, I kind of spent the first half on my 20th year in Italy, going to wine tastings and aperitivo. But, I do not drink to get drunk, because I think that’s stupid and disrespectful to the drink – especially with wine, it’s someone’s career to craft every ounce that goes into that bottle. It’s not made to be chugged, thankyouverymuch.
Ok, off my soapbox.
Well, that’s my recap for the month. Miss me?
I know I was a bad, bad blogger during this semester. But please understand, I took 5 classes – 3 literature classes, 1 senior thesis, and chemistry – and balanced [barely] 4 jobs on the side (I blog for my school, I do some study abroad work for my awesome study abroad company, API, I work at the Writing Center on campus, and I’m the Italian tutor). It might sound like I’m blowing my own horn…and, well, I kind of am. I’m actually a little proud that I made it through in one piece, with all limbs and GPA in tact. But, I am definitely not proud of the neglect this blog felt, and hope to remedy that immediately and into the new year. I will be moving into the senior apartments for the Spring semester which means that I will actually HAVE A KITCHEN! It is very difficult to put my excitement about that into words – but I promise to try. I also don’t have classes on Monday or Friday, which is a first (and last!) for me. I really feel like I’ve lost my blogging mojo, and have every intention of getting it back.
That said, I will return tomorrow with a super easy and tasty one-pot, quick and warming dinner for all of my fellow blizzard shit-ins!
~Namaste~

Challenges

Y’ALL. This is killing me. Posting barely once a week….pathetic. And frustrating. I MISS writing whatever insanity pops into my head. Instead, I’m chained to either a two-ton anthology or writing about the underlying racism in James Fenimore Cooper (you think I’m making this up…nope.).
I am resigned to the fact that my dear beloved blog may very well turn into a weekend activity, much as it pains me to say. My job with my study abroad program is going to start getting a bit heavier AND I’m going to start blogging once a week for my school. All of which I love and am very excited about…but MAN, does it leave precious little time for, um, life. I’ll admit, it’s all my fault.
But I do have something important to say other ohmygodfourenglishclassesatoncewhatwasIthinking. 
I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t help it: I am constantly amazed at the effect Italy had on me. At this point in the semester, I would be in total freak-out mode. I would stay up til 3 because god forbid I don’t read every single page assigned and put 100% into each and every paper, be it 2 pages or 12. 
But I’m not. I have my priorities, I take it week by week – sometimes day by day – and I breathe, and laugh, and sleep, and the world (or at least, my world) doesn’t implode when I go to class a bit less than ideally prepared.
So…ready for what’s been going on down here in Sparkle City (a.k.a, Spartanburg, South Carolina…if you really want to know, google it.)?
I think you are.
Daphne (my car) is legal to park (in the yellow or green lines only, of course).
Graduation GOWN. *insert mini-spaz moment of anxiety about graduating here*

Before I continue, let me explain. At Converse, if you enter on an odd year (like 2007, when I was a fresh[wo]man), you are a red devil.
Meet Richard the Red Devil mascot:
He’s basically a hottie.
If you enter on an even year, you are a pink panther. You get picked by a junior (who is also a devil or panther) who is your Big Sister. It’s NOT a sorority thing – we are a small women’s college of about 1200. We are basically one big sorority anyway. So, for a week in September your Big Sis delivers you presents – in my case, all revolving around RED. There is SO MUCH red in my life now. And it’s awesome.
During Formal Opening Convocation – big ceremony where our lovely President officially declares this school year open – seniors wear our gowns, our horns and tails (which our Big Sisters made for us), and of course…
Red Converse sneakers. (No, our school name has nothing to do with the shoe company. But come on…how could we not?)
Ok, got all that? …yeah, it took my parents a while too. Don’t worry about it.
The night before Opening Convocation, we paint the campus red (or pink…ick). It’s pretty fabulous.
2011 – Little piece of heaven! (C’mon, say it with me: “aaaawwwwwww!”)
Before we jazz up campus, we go to “Hats On”, basically a party for the seniors where we wear crazy hats and eat cake. I’m sure there’s some symbolism in there about “hats on” and getting ready to graduate….whatever. It’s all about the cake.
Had to represent my homeland, right? [GOSOX.]
And as for eats, there’s been plenty o’ salads…
Most not as delicious as this one, which was from a deli across the street. It’s called “the hippie.” It has hummus and goat cheese. ‘Nuf said.
And some banana oat bran. Of course. 
Some things never change.
And I can’t forget about the best.frozen.yogurt.EVER.
Compliments of Blueberry Frog!
Pomegranate + plain tart with mangos + raspberries. Or, as I prefer to call it, heaven in a cardboard cup.
Good ole SC has been treating us to some gorgeous sunsets:
Find the symbolism yourself. This English major is off the clock.
Until tomorrow, of course. Chaucer, here I come.
~Namaste~

Okay.

It is SO good to be back. And by back, I mean back online. The language that I have been using in the recent past is far too adult to be published, but let’s just say…I didn’t have internet and I was NOT happy.
But absence makes the heart grow fonder, no? I have been in desperate need of an outlet to babble about food on. Don’t get me wrong, I love discussing the Gothic elements in the works of Washington Irving and the Middle English dialect of Chaucer…but I need to write about food.
Classes are back in full swing, and it is increasingly more apparent that I overbooked myself this semester. Now, pre-Florence Gillian would have multiple panic attacks and drop a class faster than a baking pan of cookies without an oven mitt, but something about me has definitely changed. I am shocked, quite frankly, at how much more relaxed I am about everything. As much as I talked about “adopting the Italian lifestyle”, there was always a little voice in my head that said, “oh please, you know you will just go back and turn into that crazy control freak perfectionist you always are.” And yes, that is still very much a part of who I am, but I feel just a little more clear-headed about all the work I have to do. I may not get everything done perfectly, but that’s okay. It’s a ridiculously liberating thing to know that not being perfect about everything all the time is okay.

So, food? I’m still going to write my senior thesis (someone please explain to me HOW I am a senior in college??) on my hero (heroine?) M. F. K. Fisher. If you haven’t read any of her works, you must! Her writing is so pleasurable to read, even after hours of poring over literature anthologies with font size 0.2, I open up one of her books and immediately feel relaxed.

In less than 24 hours, I will be in my professor’s office with 3 topic ideas for a paper and I have to “sell” them to her. Y’all, I’m shakin in my Rainbows! So I am going to enlist your fabulous opinions, if you don’t mind 😉

Why do you think food writing is important? What do you get out of reading about food – be it a blog, a cookbook, or an anthropological text (that last one applies to….um, me?)?

I will post pics of my roommate’s & my AWESOME hippetastic room soon!

Oh yes, it’s good to be back.

~Namaste~

[I apologize for the photoless post – Herman (my big laptop) was not moving all too swiftly tonight. He just got internet back, so maybe he’s feeling a little overwhelmed.]