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Mountain Day Donuts (10/7/2011)
This article was written by a wonderful anonymous foodie!
The first week of October brought much enthusiastic debate over whether or not Mountain Day would be in the imminent Friday future. Every October, Williams students eagerly anticipate the arrival of this cherished tradition, in which the president “spontaneously” declares one of the first three Fridays of the month free from classes. Mountain Day principle mandates that this Friday must illustrate the beautiful fall weather for which the Purple Valley is famous; accordingly, the majority of the student body hikes up to Stony Ledge, a neighboring mountain whose panoramic view of the autumn foliage presents a breathtaking backdrop for celebratory cider and donuts, and a cappella performances. Although necessary planning does not permit complete spontaneity, freshmen are surprised early in the morning by raucous banging of pots and pans, and upperclassmen receive a treasured email from the president that alerts the student body to the day’s festivities.
The perfect forecast rendered Mountain Day’s proclamation as no surprise, but the confirming announcement’s arrival was celebrated nonetheless. Following tradition, the exhilarated student body gathered for an all campus picnic on Chapin Lawn preceding the hikes up to Stony Ledge. Smiling faces milled around, reveling in each others’ company and the delicious, fueling spread generously compiled by dining services.
Of course, local apples are a cornerstone of any Williamstown fall picnic. Students could choose from three fresh varieties, each promising sweetness, crunch, and the taste of the season. For the liquid-oriented, cider from nearby Yonder Farm provided a cool, refreshing alternative, the pervasive taste of cinnamon fusing with the crisp apple flavor.
Lunch was of the “down and dirty” variety – after all, the primary focus of the afternoon was the ascent to Stony Ledge, visions of apple cider and donuts at the top propelling students up the steep trail. Thus, wraps and sandwiches served as the entrees – triangular PB&J halves, oozing smooth peanut butter and vibrant jelly in the sunlight, and multicolored wraps filled with meat, cheese, or hummus, and the requisite condiments. I enjoyed the savory simplicity of my turkey and american cheese wrap along with cold bowtie pasta salad and the standard fresh greens.
Carefully organized dessert bars and bags of trail mix covered long tables scattered across the lawn. Bakeshop employees Mike Menard and Ian Noyes makes the brownie and granola bars, and Mike describes the primary rationale behind their careful construction as, “Those bakery items sounded like they fit into what you might eat if you were going to climb a mountain.”
The desserts were fueling indeed. Dense brownie squares provided a decadent afterthought – they were frightfully easy to snag, yet sinfully fudgy, analogous to a chocolate brick. Although they are a dining hall constant, I will never tire of the granola bars – similarly dense, they are a tightly bound textured combination of oats, raisins, nuts, and chocolate chips. Finally, the trail mix embodies the tantalizing mix of sweet and salty – whole pretzels, asymmetric Nature Valley granola bits, raisins, mini M&Ms, and white chocolate chips ensure that each different handful provides a complex junction of flavor, which peanuts would enhance.
The feature hikes temporarily protract the eating extravaganza, but not for long – students arrive at the Stony Ledge plateau and greedily consume donuts and apple cider while gazing upon neighboring Mount Greylock. In the dining services bakeshop, Bobby Vachereau makes approximately 140 dozen donuts, and an inside source notes how remarkable it is that this renowned baker can produce such volume of delicious product in such a small space. He uses local apple cider and local maple glaze, and I can say without hesitation that these are the best donuts I have ever tasted.
Students can choose from plain and sugared ovals, and naturally, both varieties made their way into my tasting menu. Both types share the same treasured characteristics: the interior is delightfully dense and cakey, yet the exterior – or rather, the union between the exterior and the interior – is what makes these treats stand above the rest. Right under the top layer, a thin strip of gooey dough exists – it is made divinely moist by the infusion of apple cider and frying oil. When dipped in apple cider, the donut flesh absorbs the sweet liquid for an even more luscious bite. Every year, these donuts create Mountain Day madness.
I’d like to thank Mike Menard in the bakeshop for his insights into Mountain Day preparation.
The Fourth Meatless Mondays
This article was written by a wonderful anonymous foodie!
Coincidentally, I had the privilege of volunteering at Peace Valley Farm on the Monday morning of Driscoll’s weekly “meatless” initiative – how appropriate, given that the dining halls routinely prepare dishes that use produce from this local farm. In the first installment of this “farm to table” adventure, I relished the idyllic fall setting as we assisted the farm owner with preparations for winter’s imminent onset.
Flash forward to Monday evening, Driscoll dining hall. The aroma of autumn vegetables wafts tantalizingly up the stairs as I eagerly await a coveted position at the food line’s crest. The first dish to greet me was the roasted corn and sweet potato hash – made with vegetables from local Pioneer Valley Farm, the sweet squash flesh coupled with slightly crunchy corn kernels provided the earthy taste of fall, satisfying textural contrast, and an exuberant color combination. The presence of butternut squash pizza sent me into a spiral of ecstasy – the crust was doughy yet delicate, and the vibrant orange topping can only be characterized by its impressive sweetness, further complemented by the garnishing touch of rosemary dust. As I approached the tomato and cheese salad, the day’s events came full circle – indeed, the juicy heirloom tomatoes came from none other than Peace Valley Farm, and nearby Maple Brook Farm contributed fresh mozzarella, hulking cubes of robust cheese flavor. Some of the dinner’s ingredients can be characterized as beyond-local: the Williams Student Garden provided collards, which were tossed with garlic sauce and sweet caramelized onions to create toothsome greens dish of strong, savory flavor. Also notable was the hot artichoke and spinach dip, accompanied by baked pita triangles – the dip was deliciously creamy, with generous particles and deposits of hearty green matter, and the wheat pita served as an “edible spoon,” crunchy around the edges yet warm and squishy towards the unit’s interior. Per usual, the salad bar provided an expansive fresh selection – standouts included the curried cauliflower and the bean-and-pasta mixture. The pervasive flavor of cumin coupled with the cauliflower’s unique tree-like composition creates an interesting fusion of texture and flavor. The cold combination of grainy whole-wheat pasta, hearty black beans, red pepper and cucumber chunks, and diced parsley is distinctly refreshing, a mixture that embodies the last of summer’s side salads. A month of Meatless Mondays has displayed the Williams student body is receptive to the message and goals of this initiative—or, we are comprised of appreciative eaters who take pleasure in a quality vegetarian meal.
A Taste Of India Dinner with Special Guest Chef Hari Nayak
Last week, Mission Park hosted “A Taste of India”, a special Indian dinner with guest chef Hari Nayak. The first thing I noticed upon entering the dining hall was that the room was beautiful. Mission Dining hall benefits from its huge windows, but sometimes the space can seem sparse and sterile in its openness. The warmth of the meal was reflected in the atmosphere, however, with sparkling tealights, Bollywood music, and pink and green tablecloths that made the whole room festive. Unit Manager Gayle Donohue, who helped organize the meal, also oversaw the decorations. Chrysanthemums, roses, and nasturtiums, illuminated by the glow from small candles, adorned serving counters and dining tables.
Beauty isn’t everything, however—a meal needs substance and flavors, and as the aroma of curry and chicken filled the room, I started with a freshly fried samosa. You can put almost anything in a fried exterior, and college students will eat it. But the true test of a samosa is the filling. Those made for the mission dinner were filled with potatoes and peas. They had a wonderful mix of spices, and a texture creamy enough to offset the crispy exterior without destroying the flavor and structure of each pea. With a touch of tamarind chutney (and Indian hot sauce for those braver than I), the samosas were a wonderful start to the meal.
The pappadums, too, were absolutely beautiful. As I watched them emerge from the fryer, still glistening with bits of oil, drying and crisping, I wondered if they could taste as good as they looked. The first one I tried was a bit bland, but perfect dipped in tangy tomato chutney. Others, however, were studded with spices, making them salty, flavorful, and addictive.
Lentils and rice served as the base for heaping spoonfuls of chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and other sauce-based dishes. Guest Chef Hari Naya explained that rice and lentils are traditional anchors of Indian meals. Relatively flavorless but filling on their own, they provide the perfect backbone for flavorful and creamy sauces. Mission has really been improving their rice, and their long grained basmati rice was a wonderful addition. The naan bread, cooked in Mission’s tandoori oven, was also a perfect vehicle for the sauces.
Mission’s tandoor, a traditional oven, is one of the best additions to the kitchen. Tandoori ovens are extremely hot, sometimes reaching temperatures of 900°F. Thus, the meat only has to be cooked for a few minutes, and a combination of the short cooking time and yogurt marinade keeps it incredibly tender. The tandoori chicken can be served on its own, or covered in wonderful sauces, like the chicken tikka masala. Heavily spiced and aromatic, the creamy tomato sauce could have been a meal in itself.
The chefs at Mission are experienced at including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Sometimes meat-eaters steer clear of these dishes, assuming they are too healthy to be tasty. With the Gobhi Mattar, Toor Dal, Saag Paneer, and Dal Makhani, however, there was no such hesitation; vegans and meat-lovers alike piled their plates high, everyone wanting to try a bit of everything.
Dal Makhani, lentils cooked with butter, was better than it had any right to be given its simplicity. Lentils and butter don’t seem like they’d inspire paroxysms of foodie passion, but something about the nuttiness of the lentils and their satisfying texture—they maintained their shape but crushed smoothly on the tongue—made the dish much more than the sum of its parts.
The Gobhi Mattar (cauliflower and peas) wasn’t my favorite dish, because I like my cauliflower a little undercooked, but the flavors were spot-on despite the slightly mushy texture. Saag paneer, a dish of spinach and cheese, was perhaps the best way I have ever eaten spinach. Creamed with spices and combined with soft blocks of paneer, the spinach takes on a far more exciting persona than we typically allow it to have. Paneer is not like any cheese that I had encountered in my Italian upbringing. Almost reminiscent of soft tofu, it is made by adding a bit of lime juice or other acid to milk, which makes it curdle, and then compressing the resulting mixture with cheesecloth. Once solid, it is diced into cubed, and can be added to many dishes including Saag paneer.
The wonderful thing about Indian food is the way it melds together, the sauces mixing at their edges on your plate, creating a mosaic of dishes that overlap and complement each other. Each spoonful reduced the organization of my plate, such that by the end, the piece of naan bread swirling through the remaining sauces caught up a bit of everything, the sauces mingling on the bread and tongue. Of course, this also makes it difficult to assess individual dishes; anything lacking on one is easily made up for by others. The locally grown zucchini, for example, steamed and served simply, was a bit bland for my tastes. It was quickly enveloped by the nearby tomato cream sauce from the tandoori chicken, however, and any concern I had went out the window—the perfectly-cooked texture got the kick it needed from the slightly spicy, incredibly flavorful sauce.
No dish was particularly fiery, but Indian food has an odd habit of building up spice, such that you don’t realize anything is spicy until you slow down and recognize that your mouth is on fire. The menu anticipated this need: cool, silky mint and yogurt chutney calmed the spice, and sips of mango lassi replaced the savory heat with sweet, creamy fruit. The mango lassi was my personal favorite of the meal. Almost too thick to drink, I found myself spooning the last sips from the edges of the cup. Someone pointed out that it would make incredible popsicles, a suggestion that I heartily support.
Dessert was kheer pudding. I am typically wary of desserts with raisins in them, but the kheer won me over. The cardamom gave the rice a warm, homey note, and the toasted almonds added perfect crunch and flavor. Precious threads of saffron tinged the dish gold and infused the rice with a slight smokiness. Warm, milky chai was also served, a wonderful sweet note to end the meal on.
Chef Hari Nayak, the guest chef who led the feast production, was available to discuss the meal with students. He gave me a tour around the kitchen, walking me through the production of different dishes, showing me the deep fryer where pappadums appeared out like crispy balloons and the tandoori oven where chicken and naan bread spent just minutes before emerging perfectly cooked and tender. As we navigated through the busy kitchen, trying to stay out of the way of the other chefs and staff, I was struck with how well-rehearsed and calm the kitchen seemed. Everyone moved as if they knew exactly what they were doing, unfazed by the long line of hungry students and the complex new menu. The dining hall chefs and staff rarely get the accolades they deserve, but watching them work is truly impressive.
Most of the dishes came from Chef Nayak’s new cookbook, Modern Indian Cooking. I am usually too intimidated to try cooking Indian dishes; the spices all seem so exotic, the flavors too complex to be easily captured in my kitchen. Nayak, however, is adamant that these are dishes that can be mastered by relatively inexperienced home cooks, and his recipes provide a way to do that. In order to serve such a large crown, Nayak had to adapt some of the recipes. He explained that one of the hardest things to make in bulk is the sauces, and there is always concern that the chafing dishes will affect the consistency. In order to meet the high demand, Nayak and the Mission chefs prepared the sauces ahead of time, then cooked the meat separately and mixed them soon before serving. The samosas were also made by hand ahead of time and frozen, which helped them maintain their cute triangular shape while frying. The expertise of Guest Chef Nayak, Executive Chef Mark Thompson, and First Cook David Berger, along with the talents and dedication of all the Mission dining hall staff, resulted in a meal worth savoring.
When the food is good, there’s a different energy to a place. The people standing in line chat excitedly, craning their necks to see the food, hoping it was worth the wait. When groups of students first sit down, there is a burst of conversation—did you get that? Did you try this? –but quickly conversation dies down. Everyone is trying everything, too caught up in the assessment of flavors to carry on small talk. As food piled on plates disappears, people slow down and conversation slowly resumes. And then, the best part of a good meal—the lingering. Once you’re full, but not too full to continue nibbling; that’s when the best conversation happens, as everyone leans back a bit, continuing to sop up sauces with naan bread and sip chai tea, powered not by the rush of hunger but content with their full bellies and last bites. Perhaps not everyone eats this way, but as I looked around the dining hall, it seemed that others felt similarly. One of the things that Dining Services does best is the special dinners, and “A Taste of India” was no exception. The meal was planned and organized by Director Bob Volpi, Assistant Director Chris Abayasinghe, Chef Mark Thompson,Unit Manager Gayle Donohue and First Cook David Berger. Thank you to everyone who made this meal possible— and hopefully there will be more in the future!
MLK Dinner at Driscoll- January 17th
Students celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year with a meal of traditional southern food. Moist, flaky catfish covered in a crispy fried cornmeal batter was complemented nicely by a tangy lemon cream sauce. Two types of collard greens (one with ham and one meat-free) added color and flavor to plates. There was slow-smoked beef, eaten with Driscoll’s “ Hellfire and Brimestone” sauce by the brave, and with crunchy red cabbage and apple slaw by the spice-aversive (me, for example). Jalapeno corn bread was perfect for soaking up the sauces or slathering with butter. The red bean jambalaya and dirty cajun rice were smoky and delicious. The unexpected star of the meal, however, was the sweet potato soup. Creamy and warm with a hint of ginger, it was the ideal comfort food to banish thoughts of the snowstorm outside.
Before bundling up and heading back through the cold, students ended the meal with a warm peach cobbler. Topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, it was the perfect end to a delicious meal.
A Meal to be Thankful For- November 21, 2010
Students and staff gathered together this Thanksgiving at Driscoll Dining Hall to share a delicious meal and good company. The feast started off with a cheese and fruit board and shrimp cocktail. Of course, there was turkey—a whole roasted tom turkey. Everyone knows the real stars of thanksgiving are the side dishes, though, and there were plenty. For the traditionalists, creamy mashed potatoes, apple stuffing, creamed pearl onions, and giblet gravy made an appearance. Other dishes offered a slightly more exotic taste– herb-stuffed portobello mushroom caps with a roasted tomato vinaigrette and corn fritters with South Williamstown maple syrup provided a welcome twist on traditional thanksgiving foods. As always, there was a focus on fresh, local foods, with sweet turnips from Florida Mountain Farm and a butternut squash salad featured squash from Peace Valley Farm. And for those uninterested in turkey, there was fresh-baked scrod with Ritz cracker crumb stuffing, as well as split pea and pumpkin soup.
The hardest part of Thanksgiving is saving room for dessert. With an assortment of warm pies serves with vanilla icecream, homemade fudge, and hot cider, Driscoll didn’t disappoint.
To add to the festive atmosphere, the hall was decorated with indians, pilgrims, turkeys, corn stalks, and candles. Arlo Guthrie’s famous song, Alice’s Restaurant, provided musical accompaniment to the meal.
All told, the feast was enjoyed by 135 Students along with numerous staff members, security guards, the Director of Dining Services and The Vice President of the College.
Much thanks to the wonderful team of cooks who prepared the meal, including Chris Moresi, Tha Pouek, Frenchie Freddette, Bob Fachini, John Zustra, Melissa Roy, Leticia Guzman, Jimmy Guiden, Bridget Lewis and John Moresi.
Global Feast at Mission Park- November 2nd, 2010
Global Feast A Smashing Success
The aroma of lamb curry, tandoori chicken, naan bread, and a variety of other international dishes drifted up the stairs last Thursday along with the joyful noises of the Zambezi Marimba band, welcoming students to the Global Feast at Mission Park. The event was a collaboration between Dining Services and the International Club, headed by Felipe Colina. Decorated with festive international flags and Halloween adornments, Mission Park dining hall became a buffet of exotic foods. The tandoori chicken, as always, was excellent, and was complemented nicely by homemade naaan bread and aromatic long-grained rice. The rice also made a perfect base for lamb curry, smooth and creamy and rich, with large chunks of lamb that fell apart under gentle pressure from a fork, yielding soft strings of flavorful meat. The sizzling sound of grilled beef drew me further down the line, where sweet Korean Beef was being cooked. The sharp spicy flavor of kimchi contrasted nicely with the well-seasoned, thin-cut beef. For the veggie-lovers, stuffed peppers topped with warm bubbling cheese beckoned. Fresh, seasonal kale added color and crunch to the meal. As the pictures below showed, full plates quickly led to full bellies, as the food rapidly disappeared.
Those who saved room for dessert, however (or those, like me, who ate dessert first) were amply rewarded with delicious baklava from the Williams bakeshop. Thin, delicate layers of pastry gleaming with honey syrup and layered with chopped roasted nuts made a perfect sweet ending to a wonderful meal.
Above the usual lively chatter of Mission rang out the cheerful melodies of the talented Zambezi Marimba band. When struck by a mallet, the large wooden keys of a marimba let out a rich, round sound. Accompanied by maracas and other percussion instruments, the enthusiastic band created a jubilant atmosphere.
Tasty, exciting food, wonderful live music, and good friends—what more could anyone ask for in a meal? Much thanks to the dining service employees, directors, and chefs, along with the International Club and the Zambezi Marimba Band for creating such a lovely evening.