“Last Season on the Metro North” and “Cadbury Eggs are my Train Beer”

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Everything and everybody in New York City needs a good power-wash. I imagine one, big, beautiful musical montage of spraying the town back to its original colors (whatever those might be) as grey sludge drips down the buildings and into the sewage grates where it belongs. There’s nothing that can’t be accomplished with a good musical montage – Ashley Judd running around the jail yard track in Double Jeopardy, Mulan readying to face the Huns to Donny Osmond’s motivating anthem, and Daniel LaRusso’s fight to the top in the Karate Kid.

Each week when I go to class, I imagine a version of my musical number power-washing the city clean. The mental imagery is as satisfying as a full bottle of Softscrub and pack of new sponges from Costco. This is my last semester at NYU’s Food Studies Master’s program and my third year of taking the two-hour trek on the Metro North. If it weren’t for the grind of traveling with disgruntled, pushy commuters, rather than happy-go-lucky weekenders, I might still find romance in the city’s gruff charm. But for me, New York City more closely resembles that hot rebellious crush from high school whom you recently ran into while he was working at the Sunglass Hut and whose glory years were smoked away in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen – once attractive and exciting, but no longer easy to talk to, practical or your vision of success.

Lot’s of people disagree with me on this. But then again, lots of people think that Cadbury Eggs aren’t delicious. And they are wrong. Cadbury Egg season is upon us and I’ve been eating my fill. A milky chocolate shell filled with pure fondant is right up my alley. It’s like a cherry cordial with no cherry and completely skewed proportions of chocolate to fondant. Is it excessively sweet? Maybe. Is the yellow tinted yolk disturbing to some? Perhaps. Are they made of pure Easter Bunny magic? Absolutely. Queue the Cadbury Egg eating montage…Hey, if I can’t have a train beer to get me through the commute, a shot of pure sugar will do.

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Dessert Potato

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While contemplating the baked potato, I concluded that it was, in essence, a blank canvas. With a relatively neutral flavor, the bare and naked potato is no more than unrealized au gratin, or a French fry that has yet to reach its fullest potential. But, served with melted cheese, broccoli, butter, sour cream and bacon, the baked potato becomes the ideal vehicle for delicious flavor. This was the thought that entered my twelve year-old mind. And naturally, I extrapolated on this idea with the following logic – If a baked potato is only as good as its toppings, then it has the potential to be a vehicle for sugar. I was on the brink of inventing the dessert potato.

My logic was reinforced by my recent discovery of breakfast pizza. It follows the similar formula of a Neutral base + Flavorful Toppings = Culinary Success. And who wouldn’t want the excuse to eat pizza for breakfast? And if it was socially acceptable to eat pizza for breakfast, why couldn’t I eat a dessert potato for dinner? I was already getting away with eating frozen yogurt on my waffles in the morning and I had great ambitions of transforming every meal into some sweet reincarnation of its former, nutritious self.

I approached my dad and explained my theory. Remarkably, he was open to conducting some research. We cooked a baked potato in the microwave and got the chocolate sauce ready (and by that, I mean that I retrieved a bottle of Hershey’s syrup from the fridge). After eight long minutes of anticipation, the microwave beeped. We split the potato down the middle and I squirted syrup all over it. As far as condiments go, maybe, Hershey’s syrup wasn’t the best selection. Rather than coating the potato, it soaked right in, resulting in a mealy and wet, dark brown potato blunder. As it turns out, the potato was not as neutral and accepting of toppings as I’d hoped. Imagine letting an Oreo get soggy in a bowl of potato soup, or stirring mashed potatoes into a mug of hot chocolate, and you’ve got the basic idea of our dessert potato results.

I know, I know. You’re surprised that the dessert potato failed. I was too.

I was thinking about the potato experiment because I was thinking about my baby. Let me explain. For the love of all things delicious, I am going to do my very best not to turn this website into what is known as, “the Mommy Blog.” My focus and dedication here is, and will always be, the sweet, occasionally excessive, and sometimes disastrous discoveries of my eating, baking and traveling adventures. This being said, my brain is consumed with all things baby and my personal experiences are a big part of what I like to share here. So, how do I maintain my own voice and sense of self with the new role I’m about to play? How do I write about food and not complain about the current absence of blue cheese and beer in my life? Or how do I not bore you by rambling on about pineapple cravings? (we’re talking entire pineapples in a single sitting).

While the focus of the story might be the potato, I guess it had me thinking more about my dad and the weird things you do with your kids. It’s my hope that I do lots of weird things involving food with my kid when she’s old enough. Whether it’s eating chocolate on potatoes, deep-frying pancake batter and dipping it in ketchup, or trying to bake and consume homemade Playdoh (yup, I did all of those things), kids approach food from a strange and wonderful angle. While I won’t gripe about diapers or report on natural, baby-friendly meal plans on the blog, I can’t wait to have a co-conspirator in cookie-making, beater-licking and culinary creation and tell you all about it.

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Just Keeping it Down

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Don’t worry. I’m not going to suddenly turn my blog into a dissertation about pregnancy, or mommies, or suddenly take a great interest in mundane household things like finally learning how to fold a fitted bed sheet (I feel at peace with the fact that that’s just never going to happen). Nor will I chronicle the progress of my “bump” on Facebook. I don’t want to see pictures of other people’s stomachs and I certainly don’t want to parade mine around the internet. No one needs to see that – just put it away. These days, my newsfeed is inundated with tiny, fresh humans and contains no more “news” than an aisle of Gerber diapers. Although it’s undeniably wonderful and cute, I nostalgically scroll back to the days when status updates contained more beer than babies.

So I’m not here to share anything gushy, chubby or small. I just want to talk about the food aversions. If you don’t already know me, here are a few facts about me: I love eating. I love cooking. I’m an unapologetic carnivore. The drumstick is my favorite part of the chicken, a full rack of ribs stands no chance of survival in my presence, and I believe that most meals are made better with a pile of pulled pork. Well, at least that’s the champion eater I once knew. Today, I’ve been reduced to a corn puff eating shell of my former self.
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The unexpected detail that growing a small creature inside of me would completely alter my previously palate is something I hadn’t fully expected. Chicken nor beef has passed through my lips for the past three months. The smell of beer offends my senses and once beloved barbecue has become the enemy with which one sniff sends me off to the bathroom to cradle the toilet bowl.

It is embarrassing what I willingly drop into a grocery cart. The ungodly amount of popsicles I go through is the least of it. At least those sometimes contain real fruit. It’s the frozen waffles, Super Pretzels, and dare I say, PopTarts, that lead me to believe that I’m no longer in control. Basically, my new self hates flavor. I’m supposed to be growing a human inside of me – not a carnival clown. Luckily for my body (and the little creature in there), I can keep down apples with peanut butter and the occasional yogurt.
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The upsetting bit of this whole thing is that food preferences are so embedded into my sense of being that their sudden disappearance and dreading each meal feels like I’ve lost a friend – A beautiful, deep-fried, spicy and dynamic friend. Also, my social life has gone out the window. Let’s just say that when you’re nibbling on the bread basket and sipping seltzer, while your friends want to indulge in poutine and beer, you kind of suck the life out of the party. It’s a bummer. So, I’ll just sit here alone with my crackers and PopTarts trying not to throw up.

I know, I’m getting a little melodramatic. I also know that this is temporary. Or so they say, whoever “they” might be. I love this little alien inside of me more than all the foie gras in France, more than all the bubbles in champagne and more than Keebler elves love E.L.Fudge, but I can’t wait to be reunited with real food. In the meantime, I ask that you take a moment and thank your functioning taste buds, stomach and bowels. Drink a glass of wine for me and always eat with lots of great flavor.

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Just an Afternoon Poem

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I eat cheese popcorn with a spoon

when I come home in the afternoon.

First I pour it in a cup

and with my spoon, I scoop it up.

 

The neon powder I love so much

is something I don’t like to touch.

After years of non-strategic snacking

I grew tired of the cheese attacking.

 

Cheese popcorn is something I love

But it leaves you with with an orange glove.

So rather than fight a sticky war

I reached into the utensil drawer.

 

I eat cheese popcorn with a spoon

When I come home in the afternoon.

Go ahead, laugh at my technique

because I see you there, you orange freak.

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“While I’ve Been Away” OR “The Food Sightings Edition”

Well, hey there! Marissa here, in case you’ve forgotten. It’s been a bear of a semester, but in-between classes, the bakery, the internship and learning the reins of homeownership here are some things I’ve seen, cringed at, and enjoyed.

  • A man stacking one slice of pizza on top of another and eating them double-decker
  • All of the macarons coming out approximately the same size and each bottom finding a corresponding, perfectly matched, top.

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  • Photographs of deep-fried pimento cheese sandwiches
  • A man resembling the stay-puff marshmallow man wearing sweater-vest contently snacks upon small, unidentified fried bits with a fork while commuting on the train.
  • A sleeping Muppet Banana on the ground

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  • A dream about sour cream ice cream served with chocolate, ancho chile filo shards and sweet corn puree.
  • A man, who doesn’t appear to know how to breathe through his nose, pants loudly and chews with his mouth open while shoving a sandwich down his throat.
  • Writing stories about narwhals eating grilled cheese sandwiches.
  • The man in the sweater vest pulls out a giant train beer. He continues to smile.
  • An ice cream cone tragedy on the NYC subway.

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  • A big pot of split pea soup cooking on the stove at home, which is our very own house.
  • A first dinner party at our very own house in our very own fabulous, blue chairs…so what we still need to order a few more chairs and half of us had to sit on an assortment of stools and desk chairs?

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  • A man next to me on the train demonstrates skilled pop-corn eating. Rather than dipping his hand into a near empty bag, he rips the top portion of his bag off to create a small, more user friendly vessel.
  • Emergency taco snacks (because sometimes you just need a taco)
  • Easter is over, candy goes on sale, and so begins the Annual Cadbury Egg Harvest.
  • A rabbit disguised as a mixer.

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  • The man in the sweater vest still smiles, despite his disappeared fried bits and empty train beer.

 

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Sugar Bitches and Dough Hoes

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As I look out the window from my computer, all I can hear are plows beeping and shovels scraping pavement.  This season’s feeling particularly long and blustery in a way that causes me ask questions like, “What would happen today if didn’t get out of the shower?” or, “If I decided not to leave the house until April, could the cats and I survive on rice and beer alone?” But I turn off the faucet and drag my feet along the cold tile and show up to class.

 

This semester, I’m taking a class called “Approaches to the History of Women and Gender.” I decided that it would be fantastically awkward to show up to a class like that enormously pregnant, but I came up with the idea too late and didn’t plan accordingly. The chapter called “Reproduction and Refusal,” would have been so much more fun. I did, however, try on some things at Victoria’s Secret yesterday before class and stopped at a restaurant to eat some steak tartar and drink a crisp glass of wine. I’m not sure what the steak has to do with it, but it feels relevant.

 

I haven’t a clue where my antagonistic relationship to the course and my student-peers comes from. It probably has to do with the weather, but I’m not sure. I don’t disagree with anything we’re learning. It’s great and all. I just feel like throwing elbows.

 

I know it has less to do with the subject matter and more to do with the fact that I miss the productivity of the kitchen, and the antagonism that pushes everyone forward. In a room full of academics (especially Grad students) circular conversation is a popular theme, where nothing actually happens and nothing is accomplished. I asked why defining “Theory” and debating the categories of history was important. People either smiled amusingly, or wrinkled their faces up like poorly made pate-a-choux.

 

At culinary school they called the pastry students “Sugar Bitches,” and “Dough Hoes.” I didn’t think about it then, as we almost embraced and adopted the nicknames.  After school, I know I was called worse in Spanish. Maybe my antagonism is misdirected at my fellow students, and maybe I underestimate their encounters with real-life situations involving aggressive gender dichotomies. And maybe for the first time, I’m being a Sugar Bitch. 

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The Baker’s Rack Strikes Again

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The moment we arrived to Boston, I started feeling foolish. My ears flushed and my temples started to thump as I anticipated intruding on someone else’s kitchen.  Sierra and I were traveling to our best friend’s wedding and I was bringing the cake.  Armed with extra buttercream, a bouquet of offset spatulas, and even extra cake batter, I had thought of every disaster scenario – except one. I had overlooked an important detail – what I would look like when I arrived to set-up the cake at the reception site. I had brought neither whites nor slip-resistant clogs.  I’d even forgotten a bandana or hat to cover my hair. Instead, I sported a scoop-neck blouse, in which any dishwasher, chef, line cook or server could ogle my cleavage.  I felt the shamed presence of every female chef who had cooked, sweat and fought for an iota of respect.

I called the chef’s cell to alert him of our arrival and tugged upward on my poor choice of travel-wear. Feeling like a second rate Giada, it is no surprise that the chef was dark and handsome. After finding parking, I picked up the largest tier of the wedding cake.  Resting on my tense, 90-degree forearms, the cake’s placement perfectly framed my bosom.

Of course it did.

Breast next to cake and cake next to breast, I took a reluctantly, voluptuous, breath and stepped carefully and confidently into the underbelly of this Bostonian Brasserie. While I may not have looked like a qualified pastry chef, it would take more than tall, high-heeled boots and puddle of melted ice to take this professional down.

The kitchen was a truly fantastic, city kitchen. Intensely focused cooks cut French-fries in time to the saucepans that sizzled like the percussion section of an orchestra. The precision of this kitchen only highlighted my wardrobe folly. Alas, there was no going back now. I clopped though the kitchen in my heels and began to set-up the cake. One tier after the next, I hoped that the quality of my work proved that I was more than just a nice pair of cupcakes.  I shoved a side-towel into the belt-loop of my skinny jeans and ignored the judgmental stares of other two women in the kitchen.  Didn’t they understand that they were witnessing an act of unyielding female sprit?

When the cake was complete, I was relatively pleased with it.  Methodically, I cleaned up.  I returned dirtied bowls to the dishwashers and thanked them, saluted the cooks and shook hands with the chef.  He looked shorter than when I first met him, or maybe the weight of the cake had been lifted from my own shoulders. I was a true pastry professional — my baker’s rack and all.

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