When I arrived at school, I came with every intention of getting super involved. I wanted to be that person – the person who squeezes in a few too many clubs and activities, the person who comes home exhausted. I honestly love being busy, and I wanted to wholeheartedly accept new experiences.
It was a valiant effort. In the activity fair my first week, I scrawled my email address onto dozens of sign-up sheets and mailing lists – social justice, poetry, photography club, the college newspaper, book publishing, even freshman government. I walked between the elms and brick buildings back to my dorm, consumed with anticipation, wondering which clubs I’d get into and which ones I’d fall in love with.
More than anything else, though, I wanted to be accepted to my school’s radio station. It’s prestigious around here, difficult to get into and fully student-run. Even though my passion is in print, in the weight of an inked word on paper, I’m smitten with This American Life and 107.7 The End (which I stream online here across the country.) I missed listening to NPR every morning in the carpool to high school. I missed radio in general.
I’d seen the students involved with the college station, and found everything about it appealing. I wanted to carry heavy headphones in my bag and hear my voice, weirdly foreign, emerge from the radio. I picked up an application.
Four weeks later, I’m even busier than I’d hoped to be, even though I slowly withdrew from most of the clubs I’d signed up for. Instead, I got a job at a bakery, which I’m so excited to start. I clung to photography club, which is one of the highlights of my week – photos will come soon, promise. Add homework, classes, a few minutes for meals and – oh, did I mention? Lots and lots of radio.
I’m a reporter for the news department. I make contacts and conduct interviews, which I edit into sound clips and adjust until the levels are right. I research. I’m learning to project my voice and breathe properly on-air. I now search for potential stories everywhere, breathing in information and exhaling headlines. I rewrite press releases and post stories to the web. And at least several nights a week, I’m underground at the station past midnight, rerecording my script over and over and over… trying to pronounce all the words correctly.
I had no idea it would be this hard, or this demanding. I didn’t realize it would take me two hours to produce a 45 second clip, and… well… a lot longer to create an eight minute one. And I couldn’t have anticipated how much I’d adore it.
To be sure, it has its downs. We were expected to hit the ground running, and my first week was rough. I’m starting to learn the terrain, but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve had afternoons where nobody answers my calls, where I say, “Hi, I’m Elissa Bernstein and I’m a reporter with–” only to be cut off and dismissed. There have been nights where I spent more than twice as much time editing and writing than sleeping. (Which is easier than it sounds when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep.)
I remember the shift where I couldn’t figure out how to work the dashboard, with all its dials and buttons. Once, I accidentally bumped the microphone off its stand. Another afternoon, I hung up the phone after a great interview, only to realize I’d improperly recorded the conversation (in other words, hadn’t recorded the conversation) and had to start from scratch.
As a new staff member with no previous experience, everything is trial and error.
Even though I’m only seriously involved with a couple activities, they’re full of so many unfamiliar skills and unexplored subjects, my education extends far beyond the classroom itself. This radio position is more than an extracurricular, it’s a part time job and the wholehearted acceptance of new experiences that I craved. Who knows what I’ll be able to do in the future after this? Every time you acquire new knowledge, you can funnel it into the creation of something incredible.
Like smoked grape and rosemary focaccia.
My parents and I discovered smoked grapes one summer night a few months ago. We used to spend hours sitting in lawn chairs around our home-built fire pit, roasting hot dogs and watching marshmallows molt. One evening, long past sundown, when the whole world was crackling logs and faraway pinpoint stars, my mother brought out a bowl of grapes.
I think it was my dad’s idea. He skewered a grape onto a thin branch still sticky with marshmallow sugar, set it over the fire. It was smoking when he pulled it away from the flames. He popped it into his mouth, and a look of surprise took over his face. He made one for Mom, and I tried the next one. The grape was warm, but not hot, with a smokiness that caught you off guard. It was so strange, so good, so full of possibility.
We tried to brainstorm how best to showcase this miracle. I thought they would be good with anything and everything. Baked into a tart. Tossed with mixed greens in a salad. Or maybe sliced with bright, fresh jimaca and mango, served over fish? That’s when it came to me – I knew what I wanted to make first.
“Focaccia,” I said.
Last Mother’s Day I gave my mother a gorgeous book on tomatoes. The book is filled cover to cover with some of the loveliest food photography I’ve seen, and descriptions of dozens and dozens of tomato varieties. In the back, a recipe for cherry tomato focaccia, which I had mentally bookmarked from the first time I saw it. The page swam hazily to mind as I blew smoke away from another fireside grape.
I forgot that I’m not confident with bread-making. I was too excited. Instead I found a recipe for focaccia and bought a bag of grapes. I wanted to find another smoking technique, just in case not everyone has access to a firepit, or the time to individually skewer each grape. My dad said it could be done on the grill. He snipped bundles of sturdy, fragrant rosemary and burned them under the grill’s cover with a big bowl of the grapes. Soft grey smoke streamed steadily from the grill’s sides, like bubbles rising in a fish tank.
I can’t get enough of these grapes. After smoking, their color changed from deep red-purple to burnished gold, as if you could literally see the fragrant rosemary smoke swirling under the skins. My dad had to stop me and my mother from snacking on them as the bread dough rose. I spread the focaccia into a sheet pan, brushed it with olive oil, dimpled it with my fingertips and gently pressed in halved grapes.
It was an experiment, since I wasn’t sure if the loaf would be too watery, if the grapes would keep their flavor, if it would need a touch less rosemary. We pulled the sheet out of the oven. I cut the first slice, and oh, my gosh – that crackle as I broke the crust, the lightness of the center, one or two grapes nestled in with wrinkled tops… That bread was perfection. We ate it so, so quickly we almost felt sick. And it’s one of my favorite memories from this summer, keeping me warm as the temperature drops.
I’m in love with life right now. It’s unabashed. It’s warm and fuzzy. It’s happier than I thought I could be.
I’m updating the blog with this mini-post to announce that homesickness has officially hit, even though I thought I was immune. Some of the credit goes to the Seattle Times, which published an article of mine in the Pacific NW Magazine this week. But most of it goes to a care package. Monday afternoon a box arrived in the mailroom with BERNSTEIN scrawled on the side. I carried it down the stairs, through the drizzly street, up the elevator – all the way to the common room, where I split it open with scissors. A few curious floormates between classes looked up.
It was filled with solid gold, or maybe solid sunshine. A bar of Theo chocolate. A smooth cylinder of orange vanilla green tea. Salts, salts, salts! (Gourmet salts!) A coin purse shaped like a cookie, a breathtakingly beautiful teacup, and a 108-piece, double-sized macaroni and cheese puzzle (which, yes, I finished in one night.) A finger puppet. Cookbooks, some adorable CakeSpy products, gourmet nuts and popcorn, stationary printed with pots and pans.
But best of all? A card. It has a photo of Pike Place Market on the front, and inside, signatures from Seattle foodies. Thorough honesty – standing there in the common room, surrounded by people, I managed not to cry, but barely.
It wasn’t just Seattle, even though that was a big part of it. The chocolate bar, the tea, the CakeSpy cupcake comic, all of it is so Seattle in a way that Boston can never be. I miss Pike Place Market, Molly Moon’s ice cream and Top Pot Doughnuts with serious heartache. I miss mountains. I miss the water. I miss recycling. I miss my neighborhood, the evergreens blackening as the sun drops low. All of this, all of Seattle, managed to fit into that cardboard box.
But it was more than that. With Seattle came everything else, inseparably woven with family and my old life. As I flipped through cookbooks for the first time in a month, it truly hit me how much I missed the ability to get up and bake, whenever. And as I held that letter, I was overwhelmed with humility and appreciation and unfiltered love. There are people who care about me in Seattle. And for a few seconds, I forgot that I wasn’t there, and understood the significance of what I’d left behind.
I’m okay now. I unpacked the box, passed around the salts to be sniffed, broke off a piece of chocolate and felt better. I called Jenny of Purple House Dirt, who organized the mass care package. I left her a scattered, distracted voicemail about how happy I felt, sniffling all the while.
And right now, I’m filled with joy and gratitude.
The package included Gray Salt Caramels from Seattle-based Fran’s Chocolates
I know I do this all too often, but I’m compelled to thank each one of you for your support, kind words, and readership. And tonight, an extra special thank you for these incredible people: Jackie Baisa, Felice Lam, Keren Brown, Linda M Nicholson, Lorna Yee, Frank Guanco, Shirley K, Melissa Peterman, Valentina Vitols, Alice Currah, Kelly Cline, Myra Kohn, Andrea Duchon, Jeanne Sauvage, Jessie Oleson, Jenny Miller, and Janna Wemmer/Secret Stash Salts. Some of you have never even met me in person, and yet, you went out of your way to make my week beautiful.
One final heartfelt thank you to Jenny Richards. I just don’t have any more words to express how much this package meant to me.
[The no-recipe, all-Boston post is in the works. Just getting enough photos to put it together!]
Last night, someone put up a video of my high school’s 2010-2011 homecoming assembly. For a moment I was brought back to senior year – I knew exactly how the new seniors felt sitting in those bleachers. It was so surreal to suddenly realize that high school was continuing without me. All the sophomores and juniors I knew are upperclassmen now, my old friends are scattered across the country, yet life goes on like normal back home.
Then I realized that Boston is home.
I still haven’t felt homesick yet. I just don’t have the time. My journalism homework is very hands-on, sending me into the city for interviews and investigations. I’m submitting short stories and articles to the literary magazines. I joined the photography club in a heartbeat, and I’m smitten. Every week we get a new assignment and arrive with a new photo to critique. It’s inspiring me to look at the world from new angles and keep a camera with me at all times.
And for 15 hours a week, I’m a reporter and writer in the news department of my school’s radio station. I’m learning so much (mostly from my mistakes) and absorbing as much as I can from the experienced vets. I’ve never read the paper as often, stayed so up-to-date with the news, or known so much about Massachusetts politics. I’ve also never heard my voice coming out the radio until now, but there’s a first for everything.
After a long day, when I get off the T and see my dorm in the distance – I get the same feeling I used to get when I pulled into the driveway of my house. The comfort of knowing you’re safe and just seconds away from where you belong.
Every day, I have to remind myself that I’ve only been here a month. I feel like I’ve known my new friends for years – we have classes together, late night talks, we support each other without judgment and love each other like family. The city of Boston, too, already feels familiar. I’m spending enough time off campus that I can navigate parts of Boston based on street names and landmarks, without a map. In four weeks, I’ve fallen into a steady rhythm.
I didn’t know I could be so busy. Every Monday morning I drag myself to my 8 am class, clinging to sleep until I sit down in the cold classroom. I’ve written pages and pages of notes for my literature of the Americas class, the most difficult course I’m taking. And I adore my photography class, even though it’s in the furthest building from my dorm, even though I have to cross rainy streets and climb the stairs up because the elevators are full.
In the evenings my floor hangs out in the common room, passing around a bag of honey pretzels and a tub of Nutella. I stop at the cafe to wolf down a panini between classes. But best of all, every weekend I visit the nearest Trader Joe’s for soy milk, yogurt, crackers and veggie chips. Then there are the farmers markets – Copley on Tuesdays, Haymarket on Fridays – and it almost feels like Seattle again.
[In an effort to make my front page load faster, I'm putting more of each post after the jump. Click through to read the rest of the post, and the recipe!]
I’ve never gone this long without baking.
I realize now that I took everything back home for granted – ingredients, books, supplies. Here, I don’t even own a fork. I miss my glossy black oven and my vials of vanilla beans, but I’m making the best of things. On Sunday I visited a friend who lives in Boston. Her kitchen is all blue, yellow, and white, flooded with light and breathtakingly lovely. I baked a triple lemon yogurt loaf (no photos, but heartfelt thanks to D- and her beautiful family) and brought some home to share with my floor.
The dorm food here is, well, my least favorite aspect of the school. It’s all wilted spinach, dried-out pizza and artificial-cherry Jello. Disappointing, if unsurprising. It’s even more frustrating than the screechy subway or our tiny elevators, which are always hot with the breath of people past. When the longing for good food overwhelms, I look through my collection of photos.
I had sixty recipes to choose from for this post, and I am so excited to share this particular one with you. Sixty recipes baked, fried, and frozen over the course of a few weeks, and this is possibly the stand out. Maple Pot de Crème. Would you believe that something so innocent could be so dangerous?
Back in July, I baked four or five desserts every day. The first thing I did when I woke up was preheat the oven, and the last thing I did before bed was wrap up any dessert left to cool on the counter. Every Sunday I gave my dad a bite out of everything, so he could taste test it all. On that particular morning, there were a lot of things to try.
He’d sampled everything by the time I drew the pot de crème from the fridge, the last thing to try in this buffet of sugar. This pot de crème was the creamiest, smoothest, silkiest custard I’ve ever made. I don’t know whether it’s the recipe, since I haven’t made it again, or if I just got lucky, but this particular batch of pot de crème was extraordinary. You could tell, even as the spoon sunk in. I watched him frown, speechless, and reach for another bite.
He scraped the ramekin clean.
We waited half an hour, and then I couldn’t help it. I reached for another. We knew it was a bad idea – my dad’s stomach has been in poor health recently – and I even joked about the amount of cream and yolk in every spoonful. It was a mistake, but a delicious one. All we could think was how close to perfection this pot de crème was, and how lucky we were to have it.
Not an hour later, my dad was balled up on the couch, and I was running down the street with my shoes half on. A neighbor drove us to the emergency room. It was rush hour, the car was barely advancing, the slightest bump made my father groan and why were we moving so slowly? Numbly, all I could think from somewhere in the back of my head was, “I shouldn’t have given him all that dessert.”
By the time we got to the hospital, thankfully, his pain was starting to lessen. By the time my mother ran in, he reassured her that he was fine. After a few hours, the pain had subsided, and we knew he was going to be okay.
This is the kind of man my dad is: after the attack was over and he was discharged, my mother left to bring the car around. As my father and I stood in front of the hospital, he leaned against a post, exhausted and still weak. Another car pulled up, and a middle-aged lady struggled to open a wheelchair and help her frail mother into it. Despite everything, my father had jogged over before I’d even straightened up, holding the mother’s arm and guiding her into the seat.
Before they walked away, the woman said to him, “The world would be such a beautiful place if there were more people in it like you.”
And when our Toyota pulled up to the curb and we piled in to go back home, he said, “I kind of want another maple pot de crème.” They’re just that good.
My dad finally had the surgery he needed, and while multiple pots de crème still might not be advisable, he’s going to be great. Last week was his birthday, and while I wasn’t there to make something special, I hope this post makes him smile. Happy birthday Dad, I love and miss you. You’re the best father anyone could ask for, even from across the country.
[PS: Many readers have asked where I got the ramekins. They were a gift from my grandma to my dad, who later regifted them to me. After a lot of googling, I managed to find them - they're part of the Andrea by Sadek collection and can be bought at this link.]
There are so many changes, so many new things to absorb. I’m sleeping in a new bed, shaking hands with new people, going to new (and incredible) classes – but little things keep reminding me of home. Texts from my mom, Skype with my friends, and emails from bakers participating in August’s Sugar High Fridays. The theme was brown butter – here’s the round up.
Allison of Zucchero Dolce made this beautiful Almond Cake with Raspberry Filling & Brown Butter Frosting.
Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen made Rava Kesari (Indian Semolina and Saffron Halwa or Pudding). She’s also the lovely host of Sugar High Friday #69, bite-sized desserts, so head over to her blog for the September announcement!
Thanks to everyone who participated!
It’s hard to believe that only one week ago, I was between homes.
My parents and I flew red eye. As we made our way to the airport, I kept my face turned towards the car window. In the struggle to pack every suitcase into the trunk and leave nothing behind, I’d forgotten to take one final glimpse of my house, the garden, or my room. I felt uprooted and uneasy. I spent my last hour in Seattle trying to drink in the mountains, the water, the evergreens made silhouette-black by the twilight.
By the time we boarded the airplane, the sun had set completely. I spent the flight between sips of ginger ale and bouts of restless sleep. But when I awoke five hours later to the pilot’s voice, crackly as crepe paper over the speaker, the aisle was flooded with light. Boston woke up that morning to a lavender sky and a molten orange sun, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen.
I can’t pretend that my first days in Boston were without fault. It was uncomfortably hot and humid upon our arrival. On our first day we walked and walked and walked, until finally I nearly threw up in the sweltering subway station. And I was terrified. One of the first to move into the dorms, as soon as my parents left me alone to run some errands, I sat on my new bed and cried. It was just an accumulation of all the stresses, and you know I’ve never been good with change.
But I unpacked, and everything found its place. I fitted the bed with my old sheets and blankets, so it felt familiar. By the time my roommate E- arrived, I was ready to meet her, and that night I slept easily in my new room.
My parents left a couple days later. I met them at Neptune Oyster on their last night, where we had some really excellent calamari, smoked tuna, and raw oysters. I went through the motions of dinner like some weird dream, and fought tears when I hugged my mother and walked out. I slipped onto the T, rode home, and smiled at E- when I got back to my room.
I’m sure that my school is the best school in Boston, maybe even the best school in America. (Half kidding.) The energy and passion here is honestly infectious. The people here are spirited, talented, and friendly to a fault. I’ve been to so many orientation events and activities that I can’t keep them all straight. I’ve met so many people that when I recognize a face, I don’t know whether it’s from an icebreaker game or the dining hall. And I love it.
Even though it’s only been a few days, I’m already in love with this dorm building. I love the creaky elevators and the beautifully detailed ceilings. I love my roommate, who is funny and outgoing and open as a book. I love my 7th floor – where to even start? On the first night, when we played a 30 person game of musical mafia? Two nights ago, when we sat beneath the purple sky in the Boston Common? Maybe yesterday, when we went to the Quincy Market together and sang “Stand by Me” with one of the street performers.
There’s P-, who is all too humble about his guitar and singing talents and wears funny shoes. There’s J-, who sounds EXACTLY like Michael Cera if you close your eyes. H-, who I shared an impromptu hug with in the elevator, S-, who looks like Mark Ruffalo, and C-, who has posters of Elvis around her bed. Is it possible that they already feel like family?
I love the city of Boston. The way the squirrels in the Boston Common come right up to your feet. I love that everything is within walking distance, from the seedy grocery store in Chinatown to the fresh produce in Haymarket Square. My favorite place so far is the North End, where I like to walk alone through the winding cobblestone streets and carry a twine-wrapped box of cannoli.
Although I’ve tried plenty of good food here, the one thing I haven’t done yet is bake. This dorm building doesn’t have a real kitchen, and anyway, I don’t have any ingredients or supplies at this moment. My schedule’s been so hectic that I haven’t craved it yet, but I will. I can’t picture my life without mornings at the kitchen counter. I don’t know yet what will happen, but I know I can make it work.
These pretzels were the last thing I baked. It was the weekend before Boston, and my mother and I kneaded and twisted in the soft Seattle light I already miss. Neither of us had ever made pretzels before, and it was a bit of an experiment. We fumbled with the boiling water and had no idea how to form the shapes. But when the pretzels finally came out of the oven, soft and golden-brown, we couldn’t wait to take the first bite.
My life right now is anticipation. I can’t wait to bake again, and to start classes this week. I can’t wait for the leaves to turn crimson and gold in the October breeze. I can’t wait for snow in December, by which time I’ll probably be missing the August heat, and planning my first flight back to Seattle – a trip from one home to another.
[PS: If you're interested in hearing more about my day-to-day college experiences in Boston, follow me on Twitter!]
[PPS: Would anyone be interested in a no-recipe, no-food post with just photos of Boston? Remember, though, I have enough food photos and recipes stocked up to last the year!]
Maybe you’re sick of hearing me saying it, but it’s the only thing on my mind right now – I’m so excited for college.
It’s been coming for months. I felt it in my bones as I reread my acceptance letter, checking and double checking every sentence. It crept up my spine as I leaned over a map of Massachusetts, marveling at the thrill of my school printed there on the paper. Most surreal of all, I might never forget the day I noticed our plane ticket confirmation on the table… two tickets for each of my parents, and a one way ticket for me. There’s no turning back.
And even though my friends have slowly left one by one, the change hasn’t felt real until the past week, when I myself began packing. My whole life fits into four suitcases. Now I look at my room and realize next week I won’t fall asleep beneath these glow in the dark stars, or wake up to these familiar blue walls. I know that each day is one of my last here, and I want to make the most of every one.
One of the best parts? I hosted the Daring Bakers this August. I’ve been a member for over a year, and it’s one of the most dedicated, inspired, supportive communities I’ve ever been a part of. I was beyond thrilled and grateful for the chance! The month they had in mind for me to host was a joint challenge with Sugar High Friday. The creator of SHF, Jen, picked the theme ingredient brown butter, so I needed to incorporate that into the Daring Bakers recipe.
In all honesty, it was difficult. Not only did the month’s challenge need to use brown butter, it also needed to be versatile, accessible, and summery enough for the end of August. Finally, it came to me – brown butter in the form of a toasty, nutty pound cake, with homemade ice cream as ice cream petit fours or a baked alaska.
Individually, I’d made the ice cream, meringue, and glaze recipes before. I knew they’d be successful. But I couldn’t ignore a hesitant uncertainty. I’d never browned butter before, and kept pulling the pan off the heat too soon, mistaking the chocolate brown milk solids for burnt scraps. I didn’t know if the cake would freeze well, or if I could properly glaze petit fours. Worst of all, I wasn’t sure if I could be a good host.
But I shouldn’t have been afraid. Sure, the recipe didn’t work out for some, and I spent plenty of time researching foreign ingredients to answer every person’s question. But I should have known that even if I’d been a complete flop, I’d be greeted with nothing but cheeriness and charm. For most people, the brown butter pound cake was a wild success, and even though last month’s challenge also included ice cream and cake, just about everyone tackled August with an open mind and stomach.
The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.
How cool is that? (That’s me, in the blog checking lines!)
Since my access to a kitchen will be limited the next ten months, this was my last Daring Bakers challenge, and admittedly my favorite one. Every day I opened the Daring Kitchen website to more and more photos of finished Baked Alaskas and ice cream petit fours, and every adaptation, failure, or success made me smile. I loved scrolling through photos and thinking, “At this very second – someone somewhere might be churning a batch of this ice cream, or snacking on brown butter cake scraps.” It’s like we’re all in this together.
And as you’re reading this right now, what am I doing? I might be in our living room, trying to force a stuffed suitcase shut, wondering if I can fit a few more socks in the gap. I might be on my one-way plane, peering out the window, trying to catch one last glimpse of the Puget Sound glittering in the darkness. More than likely, I’ll be in Boston when you read this. I might even be meeting my roommate for the first time, hugging my parents for the last.
Wherever I am, wherever you are, I’m glad we’re in it together – thanks for reading, baking, supporting and inspiring. See you on the other side.