Peach Treats: Mason Jar Edition

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So I’m pretty sure I’m way behind the trend on this one, so behind that Mason jar confections are probably out of the florally trendy garden party scene and have now moved into the pages of the Martha Stewart magazine and onto the tables of parties hosted by the middle-aged. Thank god children will be children and always want big cakes – making something similar to that which parents make for their kids – now that’s a generational jump I’m not ready to commit to just quite yet.

I have always wanted to make a Mason jar dessert – a dessert focused on portability and durability. For a while I entertained dreams of decorating grandeur, where I would become the master of fondants and beautiful cupcake frosting, but alas, I quickly realized that I just don’t care enough. It all looks the same in my stomach anyways, right? I have instead aimed for delicious flavors and interesting textures and subpar to decent presentation. But Mason jar desserts? They’re the perfect marriage (ew, marriage) of practicality and adorableness. Especially desserts, where each different, delectable layer is displayed enclosed in glass, the color of the fruit component elevated by the shine of the glass, like a more decadent and probably much-less-healthy parfait (at least the American version, granola and yogurt. Apparently, Europeans know how to do it right and make it a proper dessert).

It’s ironic on many levels that the person who inspired me to finally take on this project was my professor, who is in her mid-fifties and is an incredibly healthy person who teaches a class about consumption which technically touches on different aspects of consumption, from fashion to food, but really just teaches us that organic local non-GMO food is the way to go. I absolutely loved her class (I actually did all the readings!) and wished only for the billionth time that I’d gone with my gut and majored in History. Sadly, today was the last class, and as a parting gift, she brought in strawberry shortcakes in Mason jars. Even she commented on the fact that they’re no longer in style (then again, she does teach a class on consumption habits, so she’s sort of an expert in these matters). But whatever, they don’t need to be in the height of fashion to be absolutely delicious.

(Peach Treats Pt. 1 is also delicious! Check it out for another easily portable and equally delicious recipe.)

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The Battle of the Buttermilk Biscuits

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Biscuit #1: Island Creek Oyster Bar

About a month ago, I took my parents to the highly (over)rated Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston. I’ve never met anyone who loves fish as much as my mom, so the supposed best seafood restaurant in Boston was the obvious choice for dinner. But you know something’s wrong when your favorite parts of the meal involve beef and biscuits…and no seafood.

But oh my god, those biscuits. We ordered one as a side dish and it was large enough for three people to enjoy as much as they wanted (as in, my parents each had maybe two bites and I ate the rest). The layers were delicate and pull-apart buttery, and the entire biscuit had been glazed in a delicious honey-rosemary mixture. After ordering our regrettably dry and chewy strawberry shortcake doughnut dessert (sounds good in theory, but in practice involved us trying to use our spoons as knives and sending doughnut chunks flying across the table), I wished that we had just ordered another biscuit instead.

Of course I had to see if the recipe was online. Immediately. Breaking fancy restaurant/basic human decency etiquette, I whipped out my phone and found the recipe. Saveur had posted a recipe, but looking at the ratio of ingredients, I felt that the ratio of liquid to flour was off, as in, I had no idea how 1 3/4 cup of buttermilk was supposed to hydrate an entire 5 cups of flour and make a cohesive dough. So instead of sleeping like a normal person would at 2am, I decided to do a comparison – Island Creek Oyster Bar’s biscuits (according to Saveur) v.s. Smitten Kitchen’s favorite buttermilk biscuits.

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Biscuit #2: Smitten Kitchen

The verdict? Well, as predicted, more buttermilk was needed for the ICOB biscuits. I used about 2 cups of buttermilk and still, the dough was dry and did not hold together well. I also found the biscuits to be surprisingly salty. But they ended up looking pretty cool, and with the sweet honey glaze (which ended up getting soaked into the biscuits and not really glazing them), they still edible, but nowhere near amazing (UPDATE: I tinkered a little with the ingredient ratio and now they’re amazing). For the Smitten Kitchen recipe, I used the ICOB method of grating frozen butter, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. The biscuits did not brown for some reason, but the layers looked beautiful and the biscuit itself was delicately sweet, fluffy, and light. They went perfectly with a dollop of jam.

However, neither recipe came close to the near-religious experience of eating the Island Creek Oyster Bar’s real biscuits. I have a feeling that Jeremy Sewall (the chef at ICOB) probably weighs out his ingredients rather than use cup measurements, and something got lost in translation in the Saveur recipe. Next time I need a fun 4am activity, I’ll experiment again :)

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Backlog Pt. 2

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When I posted this on Instagram, here’s some of the responses I got:

“Why did you post this?”

“Out of all the things you’ve made, of course you chose to Insta this one.”

“That looks gross.”

“Ew, is that Spam?”

I present to you the sweet yet salty, kind-of-disgusting-if-you-think-about-it-too-hard, absolutely delicious delicacy known as spam musubi. This creation, deceptively minimal in design, requires its own special musubi molder. As we all know, any dish that requires special equipment must be exotic and/or gourmet.

I’ve always found it kind of funny that spam musubi originates from Hawaii. When I think of Hawaii, I imagine the beautiful beaches, the volcanos, the plantations of sugar and pineapple, the abundance of sea life. Enter spam musubi, a bastardization of sushi using canned meat. It combines two non-native, and yet pervasive aspects of Hawaiian culture: the large Japanese population, and the presence of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The first Japanese to arrive in the late 1800s were survivors of a shipwreck, and subsequent Japanese arrived as laborers on sugar cane and pineapple plantations.  Then in 1940, the U.S. Pacific Fleet moved from San Diego, CA, to Pearl Harbor, where they had an unfortunate run-in with the daring and desperate Imperial Japanese Navy. Though the day continues to “live in infamy,” the U.S. fleet remains garrisoned in Pearl Harbor.

Spam was created in 1937 and fed troops and civilians in the US and in war-ravaged Europe. And despite the war and internment and all the general animosity between Japan and US, Spam then caught on with Asian cultures, becoming popular in China, Japan, and South Korea as a cheap accompaniment to rice. And somewhere along the way, some insane, brilliant person decided to take one of the fanciest forms of Japanese cuisine and combine it with a food created expressly for people with tight budgets.

And so this unassuming, budget-friendly, exotic yet familiar snack actually represents a kind of beautiful conclusion to a story of mistrust and mistreatment, of war and reconciliation, and as an understated yet well-loved representation the alliance of security and friendship that has somehow arisen between two former adversaries. And to top it all off, it’s pretty darn tasty.

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