My Year in Food + College

My first year at Amherst College is over. The way how time passes by so fast leaves me feeling a bit dazed. My year has been a mixture of doubt, disappointment, stress, wistfulness, confusion, clarity, learning, growth, gratitude and happiness. I spent my time exploring what’s meaningful to me and finding my academic and career path. I am glad for all of the opportunities and support that I got at Amherst. It’s not always apparent to me, but I’m slowly changing by the decisions that I make and by the environment and people I’m with. Personal growth is a huge part of the college experience, since that’s where many changes are happening.

(Winter at Amherst)

(Decorated my dorm with pictures of food)

One aspect of my Amherst that I wish were better is the food culture. In terms of food, Amherst cannot compare to NYC. I knew that from the start, but it has somewhat put my food blogging to a slow halt. Nevertheless, I did what I could. While I wasn’t blogging, I designed a course on Molecular Gastronomy, about the scientific processes behind cooking. In the course of a few months, I read through about 95% of the entire Modernist Cuisine! There were some times when I thought I would go insane if I had to read another hundred pages, but the experience was worth it and I’d do the course again in a heartbeat. I’ll tell you more about the Molecular Gastronomy course in the near future, stay tuned.

(International Olive Oil Competition Dinner in International Culinary Center for Molecular Gastronomy trip)

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Coffee and Tea Festival 2013

College is cool, but one of the things that I miss is New York’s food culture. Every vacation back home is eat-as-much-good-food-as-you-can-week. (I’ve been feeling out of touch with the joys of food and cooking, and it’s something that I intend to remedy during my time at Amherst.)

Well, during my spring break, I got to satisfy my tea obsession at the Coffee and Tea Festival in NYC on March 23rd. I already have so much tea in my dorm room that it’d last me a couple of years, but there was no way that I would miss this event. I got my butt out of bed and stood on the line that wrapped around the 69th Regiment Armory, on my way to tea nirvana.

There was a sizable crowd during the first two hours, to the point that it was difficult to access the tea samples, but the crowd did thin out towards the late afternoon. The first table that I visited was Pairteas, a company that uses research on flavor chemicals to pair teas with food. I tried their taste test, where I tasted the cinnamon candy, spit it back out (I forgot this step but it still sort of worked), popped in a mint lifesaver and then spit that back out as well. The key is that you first taste the cinnamon, then the mint candy overpowers the taste and then the cinnamon taste comes back again after you spit out the mint candy. Here’s a tidbit from their site which reflects on the purpose of this taste test, “Binding of a food chemical to one receptor can actually inhibit the function of another receptor: you will sense one array of tastes if you drink a tea without food, but a very different array when you pair the same tea with specific foods: many tastes of the tea disappear while others stand out!”

Next, Runa Tea. It is not made from real tea leaves (Camellia sinensis), but from guayusa, an Amazonian tree leaf. With as much caffeine as coffee and twice as much antioxidants as tea, it makes a good alternative to both coffee and tea.

Press Tea uses a special method of brewing tea– pressing them. Quite a novel approach and I’m surprised that no one had thought of that before. (Actually, I did brew tea in a French press before, but does that count?) I’m not quite sure how the taste differs from normally brewed tea, since the tea sample I tried was masked by the added sugar.

The Four Season Spring Oolong (right) from Fang Gourmet Tea was delicious, and better than the Golden Lily (left).

Soursop (flavored green tea) from Kanlo Tea, which was slightly sweet and tart.

Jasmine green tea, my favorite kind of tea, from Lotus Tea.

Bingley’s Tea Limited, Jane Austen-themed.

T, which unfortunately only gave sample sessions for a fee.

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Tofu Misozuke

Tofu cured in miso? That sounds like a snack worth trying. According to Rau Om, the company who makes this product in California, tofu misozuke is a traditional product from the Fukuoka district and it’s a rare find in Japan. It is not your normal tofu. Its texture is creamy and spreadable and it makes an excellent alternative to cheese. There’s no dairy involved– the tofu is wrapped in miso and then unwrapped after a certain amount of time.

Rau Om’s tofu misozuke is the next best thing to going to Japan myself and ordering it. I trekked to a Fairway Market in Manhattan and bought one. It tasted slightly astringent and aromatic when paired with sesame-studded crackers. The sake flavor was noticeable, or it may have been the strong miso flavor.

If I had not known what tofu misozuke was, I would have thought that I had just eaten cheese. Is the next step to make it at home?

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Sprinkles Cupcakes

It turns out that I didn’t have to travel to California to try some Sprinkles. The red velvet cupcake had the bakery’s distinctive circle-within-a-circle logo in the middle. I tried to eat the circle, but I don’t think it was meant to be eaten since it was hard like candy and tasted like food coloring. The frosting was stiff and a tad too sweet, but the cake was fluffy.

I tried the S’mores Cupcake– how could I not? The cupcake did not travel well since I walked all over the Upper East Side with it, but it was just the toasted marshmallow frosting that got a bit smushed. The two cupcakes are stored in a paper box, each separated by waxed paper.

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Making Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen

Last Sunday, Dean O’Hara held her Liquid Nitrogen Workshop at our dorm and showed us how to make ice cream with it. Liquid nitrogen exists at a very low temperature and has to be stored in a vacuum flask. Once liquid nitrogen is exposed to the air, it boils away. (Dean O’Hara poured the liquid nitrogen from the bowl onto the floor to demonstrate how fast it evaporates.) The vapor that you see is actually water vapor. The liquid nitrogen is useful for cooling things, especially ice cream mixtures. It’s also useful for freezing fruit and then smashing it onto the ground.

I am interested in molecular gastronomy, so I was excited to see a liquid nitrogen ice cream demonstration in real life… finally! I then found out that Amherst’s science library has the whole collection of Modernist Cuisine– pinch me now.

One volunteer pours the liquid nitrogen and the other stirs the ice cream mixture. No one got any cold burns from accidentally touching the liquid nitrogen. The photo below is the result of the first batch.

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