Monday, November 19, 2012

Process Writing (Final)

Process Writing          
Think. Think. Think. Over the course of the semester, especially after Dr. Heinritz encouraged it on my restaurant review, I realized that this mantra was my key to successful writing. On the other hand, while the phrase was helpful and encouraging, it also put me in a deep place of over-thinking perfectionism throughout the quarter. When I would sit down to write a reading response, I would be thinking of everything I wanted to put into it at once. For my restaurant review I was trying to think about how to capture the true essence of the restaurant in a thousand words, while providing an informative analysis about by experience. The phrase think think think became a huge point of contention in my mind. The more I thought the more confused I got, and therefore, the more frustrated. However, I quickly realized that I was thinking about it the wrong way (pun intended).
            The breakthrough to my frustration was that I was thinking too much too soon. I quickly realized between the drafts of my memoir that I was thinking too fast. I learned that to remedy being overwhelmed in thought, all I had to do was slow down, jot down a list of things I wanted to say and then ruminate over them for a while. After taking the time to let all of my thoughts digest, I could sit down and orchestrate the piece in a more cohesive and meaningful way.
            One of the things that pushed my revision and cohesion along was definitely our workshops. Having nine other points of view looking at my work assured me of a fresh take on my writing. Class members often picked up on some awkward phrasing, or when I put too many ideas in too little space on the page, or most importantly offered a direction to take my piece for my next revision. The time that it really got confusing for me, after workshop, was when opposing views were offered and I didn’t know which way to go. For me, deciding what to write about was easy: something that resonated with me in the reading, or for the memoir for example, a story that had emotional depth in context of food and travel. The challenge came when deciding where to take the ideas I felt so passionately about, especially in revision. When there was mixed opinions, it was also then that I remembered the importance of thinking. I would step back from the work and reflect on what I had originally felt or intended when I wrote the piece. I would conceptualize what I wanted people to learn from the piece and then go about revising to achieve that. This worked better because I was less worried about pleasing my readers, than making them understand what I, as a writer, wanted them to know.
            Writing for this course helped me to define my voice and more importantly taught me that expressing my voice is valuable. It’s so easy to lean on other peoples’ experiences, but it is incredibly more fun and informative to experience these kinds of things for yourself! By writing, workshopping and then revising my work, I was aloud the space to try it my own way, here feedback and then hone in on what was really important. I learned that I need to mull things over first, before getting overwhelmed and to write honestly, but not offensively about things that I really feel passionate about. This class taught me more than food but it taught me the joy of tourism, the excitement of new, and the wisdom that comes with experience. I feel as though my writing improved greatly throughout the class, and that the class imbued in me important life skills and lessons to carry with me from campus back home and abroad. I learned a lot about how I see emotional situations and the important relationship that food has in our everyday lives. It also made me much more conscious about what I eat and that thinking is important, but perfectionism is overwhelming. I am so appreciative of the thoughtful classmates and lessons I had, and the creation of the (not overwhelmingly) place for me to stretch my life legs and grow: as a writer, as a tourist and as a thinker of the world.  

Perfect Meal (Final)

The Perfect Meal
While I was cooking my idea of the perfect meal, I was knee deep in the responsibilities of cooking, parenting and most importantly—not killing anyone. I’m not a parent yet, thankfully, but I was busy babysitting four of my cousins as I tried to cook a meal that would please everyone. To put it into context, every Sunday I drive thirty minutes south from my school Kalamazoo College to a little farm town known as Three Rivers to attend church and to spend time with my distant cousins. The miles of farm land is a pleasant change of pace from campus life. If it wasn’t for their care and support I know there is no way I would have made it through the difficulties of college my first two years. On this particular evening I would be babysitting my third cousins’ four children: Nic, Luke, Aubrey and Shelby. Every Sunday my family treats me to some elaborately home cooked meal, or insists on paying for my lunch. So, when I called Jennifer and told her I would be cooking for her and her four children on Friday and staying the weekend to help babysit, she was thrilled.
                 It was reassuring to know that I would be cooking in an actual kitchen instead of a dorm, but the task presented was daunting to say the least. I went to the store to pick up the ingredients for the perfect meal: boneless chicken breast with Swiss cheese, cream of mushroom soup and stuffing all baked in the oven casserole style, with green beans and mac and cheese as a side. The only other time I had made the dish was with my boyfriend the previous summer and we made it for us and his mom. The meal was our first, clumsy expedition of cooking. Cooking was something we were both interested in, but certainly not skilled. Steven’s mom watched, eyes peering from over her glasses, like we were five year olds who didn’t know that the oven was hot. She offered advice, read us the recipe from our church cookbook and laughed as we fumbled over frozen chicken and chunky soup. When the three of us sat down to eat, perfection. We had taken ingredients and made something edible, and quite tasty for ourselves, spending precious happy time together. That was enough for me to want to recreate it again for my family.

Before I knew that I would be flying solo in the kitchen and with the kids, I was concerned with the amount of food I would have to cook: that’s seven people, including myself. In Harding’s grocery store I lingered over the differences between boxed and bagged stuffing, Tyson’s $10 bag of chicken, or the off-brand, three pound $12 bag. I started to feel overwhelmed. I don’t know how to cook, I thought while staring at the frozen chicken, and if you undercook chicken you could kill everyone! Okay, so my thoughts were a little over-dramatic, but I was concerned.
                After grocery shopping and a half an hour drive I arrived to find my cousins anxiously awaiting dinner. Their dad was gone at work planting legumes, and their mom was at the school for a mom-2-mom sale. I was originally under the impression that they would both be there to offer a hand, but I was unfortunately surprised. I walked into the small yellow house that is surrounded by nothing but farmland, and took a breath. You can do this I told myself, you’re nineteen now, you don’t need anyone to tell you how cook. Figure it out.
 When I was thinking about how I would frame my assignment of the perfect meal I decided on two rules: 1. I would cook the meal myself and 2. I wouldn’t ask for help. Broken and broken. Being in a new kitchen I had no clue where their cooking utensils were, not to mention my cousins love to help make mac and cheese. I also had to call my boyfriend and ask him to tell me the recipe because I was cooking from memory, and my mom to ask how to dispose of raw chicken. I put the effort in to enforcing my rules, but let’s just say they were more like guidelines.
                I started by putting all of the frozen chicken into a bowl and putting them into the microwave to defrost. In the meantime, I chatted with my cousins pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the living room so that neither of the rooms would divulge into chaos. I resolved bickering between Luke and Shelby arguing over whose turn it was to play on the Wii and rushed back of the kitchen to smell the putrid smell of sad looking chicken cooking in the microwave. It was this time that I realized that I could never kill my own meat because merely the smell emanating from the microwave was more than I could handle. The foreign, unnatural smell and touch of rubbery uncooked chicken was less than appetizing and made my stomach turn on end. I cut the thick chicken breasts in half and began placing them in a glass casserole dish, only to take them out because I forgot to grease the bottom of the pan. I then placed half a slice of baby-swiss onto each piece of chicken and then globbed over them with a little too much cream of mushroom soup. The stuffing bread crumbs were then caked on top and my casserole was complete. I slid the dish into the oven and then slapped my forehead. Oops! I forgot to put butter on top of the stuffing so it would cook! Second try is the charm, and dinner was up and running.
                I learned during this process that I pace a lot when I cook. I can’t rest knowing that there is still more to be done. After a half an hour more of pacing, it was time to move the casserole from the bottom shelf to the top and it was time to start cooking my side dishes. I remembered my mom telling me a few years back that you wanted all of your food to come out at the same time, and so with fifteen minutes on the clock, it was time to make it happen. Aubrey filled a pan with water, with the arm that wasn’t broken, and started it boiling. Luke boastingly reached for another glass bowl on the top shelf for the green beans, laughing that his lanky twelve year old body was taller than me.
My one regret of the meal was that nothing was fresh, but I did my best on my college budget. And so the canned green beans went in the microwave and the kraft was on the stove and simmering. Shelby approached the stove and pointed to the very edge of the stove remarking, “My mom lets me put my chair this close to stir the macaroni.” I was not about to burn her seven-year-old, “Well, mom’s not here” I replied and she shuffled across the ranch style house back to playing the Wii. With eight minutes left I told the children to wash their hands and get ready to eat. I forgot to tell them not to wash their hands over the noodle strainer, but you win some you lose some. I re-rinsed the strainer and combined the rest of the mac ingredients into the pan. As soon as the ingredients were stirred the oven timer went off, and the green beans were already on the table. Perfect timing. I unburied a piece of chicken and cut it open to make sure it was fully cooked, and success!  It was time to eat.
                I said grace over our meal and then proceeded scurrying around the table to get the food onto everyone’s plate. My cousins were already eating away by the time I finally served myself and sat down.  Nic, the oldest of the four turned to me and asked “Can you cook this every time you come over? It’s so good.” The food went over much better than expected.  For me there was too much soup on it, and I couldn’t get the smell of the uncooked chicken out of my nose so throughout the meal I was paranoid, but to everyone else it was great. The pungent taste of the swiss was tempered by the cream of mushroom soup, and the stuffing provided a nice crunch among all the mush. Nic let his jaw sloppily chomp up and down on the mixture, while Aubrey struggled to cut her chicken with her left, unbroken hand. Shelby, the youngest and notoriously picky eater told me before the meal “I don’t like stuffing or Swiss cheese. Yuck,” yet actually daintily finished her entire plate and then some. I was expecting to have plenty of food left over and there was hardly anything. The casserole dish was nothing but soup and bread crumbs and the mac and cheese was practically licked straight from the pan. There were green beans left, but what kid eats his veggies anyways? I was happy to give back to the family that did so much for me, and I really appreciated the opportunity to learn how to cook and balance kids, even if it is a ways of in my future. I tested the theory that I could cook with no hands there to save me, and I did. The food was well-received by my picky eaters, and even better—I didn’t kill anyone.

Restaurant Assignment Part 3 (Final)

Restaurant Assignment Part Three:
After revisiting my written expectations for my culinary tourism experience at Fandango, I was pleasantly surprised that they were, on an overall level, happily met. In my expectations I wrote, “I’ve never eaten seafood, or tried anything other ethnic food than Chinese and taco bell, I hope to push my boundaries, perhaps break them” and push my boundaries I did (for the most part). I happily tried things such as smoked salmon, and empanadas and even though I didn’t care for the salmon, I was glad for the experience of trying it. I did stick with some more familiar foods such as Mac & Cheese, and Steak, however I got to investigate the Spanish take on these dishes. I was happy with the tapas dining experience, with all its difficulties like finding room on the table, and was glad to partake in it.
A dissonance between my expectations and the reality was most definitely the service. The happy bubbly man I mentioned in my expectations was not present, nor did I encounter anyone like him, during my visit at Fandango. My waitress was impatient to put it lightly, however the service of food was right on par. Because the ambience and the food was so enjoyable, I didn’t pay as much attention to the poor social skills on that evening of our waitress, and passed it off as her having a long night.
After our long discussion about what “authenticity” really is, I became very suspicious of the word before my trip to the restaurant. While I was eating I started thinking: Can this be considered an authentic Spanish restaurant if they serve Mac & Cheese, or Shrimp? Part of my confusion, I believe comes from the fact that I know little to nothing about what people from Spain actually eat. Some of the dishes, such as paella, seemed more authentic merely because the name of the food was in Spanish, but does that make it legitimate?
After it’s all said and done I am really glad that I chose a restaurant that served Spanish cuisine (authentic or not). I hope I can take the tastes I encountered with the foods more foreign to me, and translate them, along with my English, over to Spanish when I hopefully study abroad in Spain in the future. More than just the food, I will take the whole concept of tourism with better understanding. Tourism is a willingness to try the new, accept the different and challenge my previous conceptions of normal. By stepping out of my comfort zone, even if it wasn’t by much, will help me to do the same in a foreign country.
I am so appreciative of the opportunity to practice culinary tourism. The whole experience made me more willing to try, see and do new things. Tapas dining is something great I got to experience, and I am so happy I did! Fandango will now become part of my more regular dining outings. That’s another thing too: getting to know the restaurants in an area that I will be spending a good portion of my time in is invaluable. The food was great to taste, and even though the service wasn’t quite up to what I had hoped it would be, the experience overall was one that I wouldn’t change for the world.  

Restaurant Review Revised (Final)

Fandango: Not Only a Dance, but Some Food You Should Know

Fandango, tucked into Kalamazoo’s downtown district is one of few tapas restaurants in the city and yet is a world all its own. With broad windows and intimate booths it takes strides to serve a social and sophisticated Spanish cuisine. The place is bustling with the seventy-five or so people that are seated at the closely placed square tables. Rock jazz, with the bass level too high, lightly booms from the kitchen. The waitresses scurry about in their black attire from candlelit table to candlelit table refilling waters and bringing out the next dish that is finished from the kitchen, just  past the semi-circle barely lit bar that serves out Guinness from a can and flirty seven dollar martinis of nearly every flavor.
Little red and green plates dot each table in polite stacks and similar plates of varying sizes carry various food. On any given table there are foods such as paella: a common Spanish rice dish complimented with sea food, chicken or beef, as well as other dishes such as lobster, scallops or steaks. The mood lighting with deep maroon walls makes any college kid feel like a sophisticated and established “grown-up,” with real fabric napkins and no children’s menu. If someone were to drop into this place through the ceiling, they might imagine themselves to be in Chicago or some hopping city of socialites, a pleasant variation from buffet-style cafeteria food. It also looks like the places e-harmony sends people to hang out, but that is beside the point.
The point is, from smoked salmon to rabbit and rattlesnake sausage, this tapas restaurant has enough variety in their plates to please ­­­­any sampler’s palate while at the same time providing an exquisite atmosphere: a change of pace for those used to the fluorescent glare of college dining lights, and a family component for those students who may be longing for home.
Tapas cuisine gives each person involved the chance to bring something to the table. Each dish is brought out as it is finished and then passed amongst the diners “family style” for each person to try.
The Fandango Empanada, for instance, doused in soy sauce and sesame seeds allow the tangy of the sauce to provide a pleasant contrast to the crumble of the croissant: the spice of the peppers and onions with the chicken. If more than a few bites are taken at one time, though, the soy would seem to win out.
One of the larger plates is the artichoke and spinach dip served with pita chips. The hot plate is unapologetically left on the table for the people to find space for, attempting to pass it along without burning anyone on the heated dip. The taste is exquisite, however. The pita chips provide the perfect crunch without being too salty and thick chunks of artichoke comprise much of the dip; while hard to get on the chip, the dip has the golden ratio of spinach, to cheese, to chunk.
Another dish worth tasting is the chorizo and squash crepe. The thin sheet of crepe is topped with various Spanish cheeses, and underneath is a puree of squash and chorizo with a texture similar to baby food: if baby food was fiery and delicious. For something more substantial the flank steak, is a unique take on the traditional manly punch of seasoned beef. Finished in balsamic vinegar, the steak has a more subdued but equally satisfying in taste.
If looking for something even more familiar, the Spanish twist on the “All American” dish of mac and cheese is the way to go. Baked with melted cheese on the top, the thick shell noodles are plump enough to burst in the mouth. The Spanish cheeses lack the familiarity of cheddar, but this by no means detracts from the taste. The white cheeses are not weighty but instead hang perfectly on the noodles. A much better upgrade from the sticky cemented mac in a cafeteria. The sauce is the perfect casually, yet dressy attire for the Spanish Mac—dressed like most of the people in the restaurant.
Fandango is definitely not a place to go alone. Dining alone could leave a wallet empty, a stomach too full, and a tongue overwhelmed from tasting. Each dish is reasonably priced, ranging from seven to fifteen dollars, so with a large group of people it is a lot of food for the price. If each person orders two dishes from the menu, customers will find themselves drowning in the beautiful variety. The only downside is having to barter with fellow diners to see who orders what because no one wants to order the same thing at the table as someone else. It brings to mind the “family style” like a parent asking their child “so what do you want for dinner tonight?” and the kid always answers “I don’t know, what do you want?”    
Leftovers are out of the question as well, if a group is hungry. Not a single take-out box appears on an evening. Not that anyone would need one. Serving plates are taken back to the kitchen virtually empty and at that point everyone should be the best kind of full: content but not stuffed.
Tapas dining is a great experience to share with close friends and family, and Fandango is a nice place to do it.  It is the kind of place where each person could try something different each time, rather than ordering a favorite off of the menu. Varying greatly from college food that some may be acquainted with, it is a great place to experiment, but still feel grounded in familiar tastes, much like the atmosphere amid the Kalamazoo aesthetic: familiar yet distant. Fandango is a great time and taste to be had.