Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food and the Senses

DSC01788Food and the Senses is one of the 4 required core classes for the Gastronomy program, and is the best one that I’ve taken yet.  Classes always had a small sensory experiment, which included everything from blind taste testing to dark chocolate and red wine pairings to molecular gastronomy demonstrations. The hands-on, scientific aspect of the course was a refreshing change of pace from other classes in the program, which are often very focused in anthropology.

Like most gastronomy courses, the final project was open to pretty much whatever we wanted to study. We just had to write about a food topic and how it related to the senses. I wrote about improving the sensory appeal of vegetables, while my classmates covered topics as diverse as the rise of popularity of comfort food, and the sensory aspects of Jewish culinary traditions.

nettaThe class was taught by Netta Davis, who graduated in the first class of the BU Gastronomy program when it was created. From living on a vegetarian commune to working as an assistant to Julia Child to being a food writer in Spain, Netta has an entertaining anecdote for every culinary situation, and has the perfect personality to teach such a hands-on course. Admittedly, I am a little too Type-A for her free spirited teaching style, but I can’t say that I didn’t love the class.

– Kelly

Image via BU

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Lab in the Culinary Arts

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The summer culinary arts lab is an abbreviated version (5:30-9:30pm, 2 nights a week, for 6 weeks) of the semester-long culinary certificate program. While the summer culinary lab doesn’t cover as much ground (due to time constraints), I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to participate in the culinary arts program, but doesn’t have the flexibility to give up their day job.

The BU Gastronomy Culinary Arts program is unique, because in addition to getting a hands-on culinary education from our instructor (Chef Christine Merlo), chefs from famous Boston restaurants visit as guest instructors. Over the summer, Chef Jonathon Taylor (Blue Ginger) taught us Asian cuisine, Chef Dante de Magistris (II Casale, Restaurant Dante) taught us how to make handmade pasta and pasta sauce, Chef Cara Chigazola (Oleana) taught us Mediterranean recipes, and Chef Jeremy Sewall (Lineage, Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne) taught us seafood dishes.

Below is a peek at the dishes we prepared in class:

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  1. Gazpacho & French onion soup (sanitation, knife skills & stocks)
  2. Macaroni & Cheese with Bechamel sauce, Chicken Pie with Biscuit topping and veloute sauce, & Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce (sauces & emulsions)
  3. Roast Pork with Mustard Herb Crust & Apple Cider Reduction, Sauteed Baby Vegetables, Seared Scallops with Thyme Brown Butter Sauce, & Farmers Market Cobbler (blanching, saute, and roasting)
  4. Coq Au Vin, Ratatouille with Egg and Cheese, Rice Pilaf, and Plum Granita (butchering a whole chicken, braising and stewing)
  5. Frisee Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs, Haddock in Parchment, Cheese Souffles, & Poached Pears in Wine with Whipped Cream (poaching & steaming)
  6. Grilled Steak with Chimichuri Sauce, Pommes Frites, Onion Rings, Broiled Tomato & Brownie Pudding Cake (grilling, broiling, & deep fat frying)
  7. Guest Chef (Jonathan Taylor): Pork & Ginger Pot Stickers, Thai Beef Salad, Shrimp & Mango Summer Rolls, Clams with fermented black beans and fresh udon noodle
  8. Guest Chef (Dante de Magistris): Orecchiette, Ravioli Ignudi, Basic egg pasta, Gnocchi, Traditional Tomato Sauce
  9. Guest Chef (Cara Chigazola): Hummus, Kisir, Imam Bayildi, Chicken Schwarma
  10. Partner Challenge (3 course meal using the ingredients corn, cream cheese, and pork): Corn fritters, Beer marinated Grilled Pork with Homemade Tater Tots, Carrot Fries, and Ranch Dipping Sauce, Cheesecake Brownies
  11. Guest Chef (Jeremy Sewall): Lobster Bisque, Beignets, Lobster Ravioli, Baked Oysters, Grilled Fish, Summer Produce Salad
  12. Practical Final (3 course meal using the ingredients shrimp, chicken, zucchini, & blueberry): Grilled Shrimp & Zucchini Roll Ups with Goat Cheese and Herbs, Lavender and Honey Roasted Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Crispy Mustard Brussels Sprouts, Blueberry Crostada

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^^Jacques Pepin and Julia Child co-founded the Gastronomy program, which is why Pepin’s work is largely represented in our course materials. He is still involved with the program to this day, and I even had a chance to see him speak earlier this year.

The most notable assignments were the market basket challenges. For the US regional challenge, each group was assigned a different region of the United States and told to prepare a 3 course meal that represented that region, using 3 ingredients given. My partner and I got assigned the central plains, and the ingredients we had to incorporate were corn, beef, and cream cheese. We made corn fritters, beer marinated grilled steak with homemade tater tots, carrot fries, and ranch dipping sauce, and cheesecake brownies. It was only minutes after we plated and presented our beautiful entree when our instructor came rushing back into the kitchen after us exclaiming, “This is not your fault, but…”

Apparently, she accidentally pulled pork from the freezer instead of beef. And since medium rare pork is frowned upon in the culinary world, back on the grill it went. Oh, well…

For our final, we simply had to prepare a menu that showcased our new culinary skills using the ingredients corn, shrimp, zucchini, and blueberries. So for my meal, I prepared grilled shrimp & zucchini roll ups with goat cheese and herbs, lavender and honey roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes & crispy mustard brussels sprouts, and a blueberry crostada. For each of these challenges, we were given an hour for the appetizer, an hour and a half for the entree, and an hour for the dessert. Unlike on the show “Chopped”, we knew our key ingredients a few classes ahead of time. Additionally, we could only use one online and one magazine recipe. The others had to come from cookbooks.

Have you ever taken a culinary class?

– Kelly

Sustainable Aquaculture Interview with Fishmonger and Gastronomy Student Noel Bielaczyc

New Deal Fish Market

This week I met up with fishmonger and fellow Gastronomy student Noel Bielaczyc at his place of work, New Deal Fish Market (622 Cambridge St). Noel gave me the inside scoop on sustainable aquaculture, and also expanded my knowledge on the different varieties of fish available. Check out the interview below…

New Deal Fish Market

Kelly: How did you first get interested in seafood and aquaculture?

Noel: When I moved to Ann Arbor for college, I saw a fish market and I knew I wanted to work there. I love fishing and the water, so it’s a natural mix of interests.

K: Can you tell me a bit about organic seafood certification and how valuable that is?

N: I’m kind of skeptical about the organic seafood label. It only applies to farm raised fish and just means that plant portion of their feed (soybeans, corn, etc.) was organically raised. But fish like salmon are primarily carnivores, so how can you say that the fishmeal (wild anchovies, sardines, etc.) component of their diet is organic? This label only makes sense for fish that can be raised on an entirely vegetarian diet, like tilapia and catfish. Your best bet is to look for wild, domestic seafood.

K: Can fish be farmed sustainably, and if so, how would we know?

N: I have heard of a few cases of fish being farmed sustainably, but that is not the majority of the farmed fish on the market. It can be done well, but it’s not enough to feed the world.  Because salmon are carnivores, you must catch fish to grow fish, which leads to a net loss. [Salmon farms] are not really doing anything to increase supply.

K: How can consumers help support a sustainable aquaculture system?

N: If the only fish you eat are shrimp, cod, and salmon, you’re missing the point. If you want to be a responsible seafood consumer, you’ve got to branch out. Additionally, shellfish is some of the best stuff you can get. Shellfish aquaculture (like clams, mussels, or oysters) is almost like planting seeds, and it’s not nearly as intensive as salmon farming.

K: A February 2013 New York Times article reported that approximately 1/3 of the fish on the market are mislabeled. How can consumers avoid getting duped? Is there anything that should raise red flags?

N: You are most likely to run into that [deception] at a restaurant, because there’s less seafood expertise, the supply chain is longer, and there’s lots of pressure to control costs. If you are eating an $8.99 platter of scallops, snapper, and haddock, there’s a good chance it might not be what you think it is. [In order to avoid getting duped,] find a fish market you trust and fishmongers you can develop a relationship with. Over 80% of our seafood is imported, so one of the safest things you can do is buy domestic seafood whenever possible.

K: Do you know of any restaurants in Boston that source fish responsibly?

N: Bergamont gets their fish from us, and they do a really great job. East by Northeast buys from us as well. I’m sure Legal Seafoods is doing something right, but I’m not really sure what their practices are. Smaller, independent places are going to be your best bet.

K: Many home cooks are intimidated by the prospect of cooking fish. Any tips?

N: The most important thing to remember is that it’s actually quicker than cooking almost anything else. Let your fishmonger do the dirty work (scaling, gutting, filleting…)! My favorite way to eat fish in the summer is actually raw. Just throw together some dry scallops, good olive oil, onions, and grapefruit juice, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful crudo. If you are unsure about which fish can be eaten raw, you have to ask, and not all fish markets are like that.

New Deal Fish Market

Looking for the best catch in Boston? Then visit the team at New Deal Seafood! Noel helped me pick out some excellent Striped Bass from right here in Massachusetts. Do you have a favorite type of seafood to cook? Do tell!

– Kelly

FREE Outdoor Fitness Classes in Boston

That’s right, FREE! The summer is going by quickly, so don’t let these opportunities pass you by.

Yoga on the Boston Common:

yoga

Come to Frog Pond on Tuesday nights (6:00-7:15 p.m.) for a FREE expert-led yoga class (power vinyasa flow). Participants are encouraged to bring their own mats and blocks, and all ages and levels are welcome. For more information, read here. Classes run every week June 4 – August 27.

Healthy, Fit, & Fun at the Esplanade:

The Esplanade Association is hosting FREE Healthy, Fit, & Fun classes this summer (through August 30). All abilities and ages are welcome to participate. For more information, read here. See schedule below:

  • Mondays: 2.5 mile Community Power Walk (meet at the Hatch Shell at 6:00pm)
  • Tuesdays: Zumba (meet at the Hatch Shell at 6:00pm)
  • Wednesdays: Sunset Yoga (meet at Fiedler Field at 6 p.m) & Run Club (3, 5, & 8 mile options, meet in front of Marathon Sports Boston, 671 Boylston St., at 6:30 p.m. warm-up begins at 6 p.m.)
  • Thursdays: CrossFit (meet at Fiedler Field at 6 p.m)
  • Fridays: Boot Camp (meet at Fiedler Field at 7 a.m.)

Hope to see you there!

– Kelly

Gym Rat

Gym rat

Exercise has never been my strong suit. While I go through spurts of motivation every now and then, for the most part, it is difficult for me to motivate myself to work out. I am no personal trainer. And now that it’s warm outside (and inside, thanks to the lack of AC) the last thing I want to do is work up a sweat.

So I joined a gym. A temperature controlled paradise with group fitness classes, towel service, and an outdoor pool. Maybe all of the amenities will lure me into going frequently? At least it’s worked for the past week or so. When I work out alone, it is far too easy for me to call it quits early. But in a group fitness class, I can’t just quit in front of everyone. So I keep going, and end up pushing myself to have a tough yet rewarding work out. And best of all, at only a 5 minute walk from my apartment, the location of the gym is hard to beat.

I know what you’re thinking. This sounds expensive. And I’m not gonna lie, the payment stings. But physical activity is the component of my health that has always needed the most help, so it only makes sense that it’s where I choose to invest. Wish me luck!

How do you stay motivated to exercise? Do you belong to a gym?

– Kelly

SOWA Open Market

Looking for a lovely way to spend your weekend? The SOWA Open Market is running in the charming South End neighborhood of Boston on Sundays from 10am to 4pm, May through October. The SOWA (South of Washington) Open Market consists of an Art Market, a Farmers Market, and a round up of Boston’s best Food Trucks. I believe there is also an indoor antique market, but I haven’t ventured there yet.

Art Market

SOWA crafts market

Farmers Market

SOWA Farmers Market

SOWA farmers market

SOWA Farmers Market

In addition to fresh produce, the Farmers Market offered a seafood CSA through Cape Cod Fish Share, as well as a selection of pasture raised meat from Brookford Farm in New Hampshire.

Food Trucks

SOWA food trucks

SOWA

So far, some of my favorite healthy food truck bites are the Green Smoothie from Mother Juice, and the Crispy Turkey Crepe from Paris Creperie.

SOWA

SOWA

For a full listing of the food trucks at SOWA, see here. Have you been to the SOWA Open Market? Who is your favorite SOWA vendor?

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Understanding Food (Theory and Methodology)

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Understanding Food: Theory and Methodology is intended to be the introductory course to the Gastronomy program. The purpose of the course is to introduce Gastronomy students to the landmark works that have influenced food studies, as well as learn the different methods that scholars use to study food. I took it my second semester in the program, because it filled up too quickly during my first semester.

Despite the course being called “Theory and Methodology,” it was much more heavy on theory (particularly social theory) and kind of skimped out on the methods. The class has a reputation for being tedious due to the heavy emphasis on social theorists such as Karl Marx and Pierre Bourdeiu, dense reading list, and rather intense writing component. Despite the dense articles, the books assigned for class (pictured above) were rather enjoyable.

rachel blackRachel Black, the director of the Gastronomy program, taught the course. Rachel has a reputation as being a tough grader, but her stories from living in France and Italy during her twenties won over our travel minded and curious class. Rachel stressed the interdisciplinary aspect of gastronomy, and I liked that each class was based on a different branch of food studies (anthropology, nutrition, geography, etc). As an added bonus, our class went to a guest lecture by Janet Poppendieck just one week after reading her book for our class.

This class had the greatest number of assignments I have encountered in the program thus far. We were assigned two short essays, a spotlight presentation, a midterm, a literature review, an outline, a final research paper, and a couple of homework assignments. Despite the tedious reputation of the course, I was pleased with what I learned. The topics covered in this course set a good foundation for the rest of my learning experience, and the required reading was both challenging and enriching. The authors we were introduced to are referenced time and time again in the food world, so it was good to get a handle on the different theories that food scholars draw upon.

Image via Rachel E. Black

– Kelly

Real Beauty

My first year in Boston has been quite eventful so far. Thankfully, myself and my loved ones have been out of harm’s way, and I very much appreciate those that have reached out and expressed concern. The events that unfolded this week were tragic, and such circumstances are a great opportunity to reflect on real beauty. All over the city, people showed their real beauty by coming together and supporting one another. Despite all of the hardship, I am thankful to be surrounded by such loving neighbors and citizens, as well as such hard working law enforcement officers. #bostonstrong

If you haven’t seen the Dove Real Beauty Sketches that came out recently (see video below), you should definitely check it out. Thank you to Hitha, Sally & Molly for alerting me to this awesome video!

More real beauty…

Image via Body Love Wellness

Image via Pinterest (original source unknown)

For anyone looking to improve their relationship with food, mind, and body, I highly recommend Intuitive Eating. If you’re not game to go through the entire book, at least check out the 10 principles. These RDs are onto something life changing!

Image via Barnes and Noble

Up next on my reading list? A recommendation led me to Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. I’m interested to learn more!

Image via Amazon

Lastly, I couldn’t mention real beauty without recommending this documentary film. America the Beautiful is an incredible film, and I can only imagine that the sequel is just as compelling.

america the beautiful

Image via America the Beautiful

Thanks again to everyone that showed their real beauty and compassion this week in Boston! I’m lucky to have landed in such a caring community, and I’m excited to continue my New England adventures. #bostonstrong

– Kelly

Behind the Scenes: New England Maple Syrup Production

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Maple syrup is an iconic product of New England foodways, so I was especially excited to go on the BU sustainability field trip to Mass Audubon Ipswich River Nature Reserve last weekend. This FREE field trip was open to all BU students and included a guided tour of the maple sugaring process, followed by a pancake breakfast on the property. The tour was entirely outdoors, so we did some hiking through the snow as our guide showed us how to get from sap to syrup. Ever wonder how maple syrup is made? It’s a fairly straightforward process, but extremely labor intensive.

Maple Forest

How Maple Syrup is Made:

The first step is to tap the tree, which simply means drilling a hole and attaching a spout for the sap to drip and collect into a bucket. The number of taps in a tree depends upon its size, and even the oldest, largest trees at Ipswich River Reserve do not have more than 4 taps, so as not to compromise the tree or sap production. Trees have to have reached a certain size before they can be tapped (about 10 inches in diameter) and are often at least 40 years old. The metal buckets that collect the sap are emptied about every 6-8 hours, depending on weather conditions.

Maple Tree Tap

The sap itself looks and tastes like water (yes, we tasted it!), and is only about 1% sugar. It takes about 86 gallons of sap (at a 1% sugar concentration) to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. No wonder it is so expensive! But how does the sap get turned into delicious maple syrup? All you need is heat.

Heating up the maple sap in the sugar shack

After the buckets of sap are collected, they are brought to the “sugar shack” to be heated up. As you can probably tell, the sugar shack is a steamy little cabin that houses the machinery. The sap is simply poured into a tank where it is heated up to just above boiling, so that the water evaporates out. Nothing is added to the sap. It is simply a matter of evaporation. Once the liquid reaches the desired temperature, you have maple syrup! No additives needed.

Maple Syrup: How its made!

After leaving the sugar shack, we were greeted with a sample cup of freshly made maple syrup. Things got even sweeter as we went into the barn for all you care to eat pancake breakfast. It was the perfect way to warm up and refuel after a chilly hike through the maple forest on a cold February day. Before leaving, I was sure to purchase my own bottle of locally produced maple syrup from the gift shop. After learning about how much work it is to produce, I have a much greater appreciation for it!

Flapjack Fling

Different Grades of Maple Syrup:

You may be wondering what the difference is between the different grades of maple syrup. The lighter syrups (Grade A: light and medium amber) are made earlier in the season, and the darker syrups (dark amber and Grade B) are made later in the season. The difference is simply due to the temperature outside. Before my field trip, I always assumed that Grade A was superior. After all, that is how it works at school, as well as in the grading of other food products, such as eggs. But in the world of maple syrup, that is not always the case. Grade B maple syrup has a more distinctively “maple” flavor, and is often called cooking syrup for this reason. So the grading scale is purely a matter of taste preference.

Maple Grading Regulations

For those of you that would like to learn more:

– Kelly

Winter Exercise on a Budget + Tips for Morning Workouts

I have never really been one to look forward to exercise. I’ve never been good at competitive sports, and sweating just isn’t my thing. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of exercise. By my senior year of college, I was a regular at group fitness classes (dubbed “Texercise”), I went on semi-regular jogs, and I even took a cardiovascular and weight training PE class for credit.

Flash forward one year later…

Boston weather

Not exactly fitness inducing weather. While I have been able to go for some scenic jogs around my new city, and even participate in a 5K, winter in Boston isn’t calling me outdoors. So what’s a girl to do? The group fitness classes that I grew to love (okay, like) in Austin are an option, albeit, a pricey one. And on top of working 4 days a week and taking graduate courses, I don’t have the luxury to pick from a variety of classes like I did in college. My only workout options are before work, after work (only on non class days), and weekends.

Enter these guys…

Winter Exercise on a budget

I decided to give work out DVDs a try before work. The workouts I choose last between 35-45 minutes. It’s enough time to work up a sweat  and lift my mood, without wearing me out so much that I am tired throughout the day. The purpose is to energize me at work and to start my morning in a healthy frame of mind. The yoga DVD (Jillian Michaels, 2nd from top) is great for small spaces (see below), and doesn’t require any additional weights. The top DVD has a kickboxing segment that I really enjoy, even though it is a bit of a tight squeeze in my small room. I like workout DVDs because they are an inexpensive way to get guided fitness training, without the hassle of transportation to and from classes, or having to work around a busy schedule.

Winter Exercise on a budget

This is my setup. I usually work out barefoot, as a small gesture of kindness towards whoever lives below me.  Morning exercise is new to me, so here are my tips to make it work:

  1. Go to bed on time. If I am ever tempted to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, it is not because I am bored by my workout, it is because I am tired. Aim for 7-8 hours each night for optimal performance.
  2. Don’t make it optional. Decide that you are going to workout, and then follow through. Don’t leave it up to the condition of whether or not you will feel like it. Don’t give yourself a choice to stay in bed. Turning on my bedside lamp when my alarm goes off is a signal to myself to get moving.
  3. Prepare the night before. Before you go to bed, clear out your workout space and set out your DVD and a water bottle. It also helps to sleep in your workout clothes. I sleep in a sports bra, T shirt, and Nike shorts each night, so that I am ready to get moving in the morning.

How to exercise in the winter, on a budget AND tips for morning workouts

Also, just in case you were wondering, I eat breakfast AFTER my workout because 1) multiple studies (here and here) have shown that exercising on an empty stomach burns more fat, and 2) I’m not doing anything that requires an intense amount of fuel or endurance. I will say that this approach is not for everyone, particularly not endurance athletes. For more on sports nutrition, I highly recommend Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

What are your secrets to a successful fitness routine? Are you a morning warrior, or do you prefer a different time of day? Also, if you know of any good YouTube workout routines, or other fitness DVDs suitable for small spaces, do tell!

-Kelly