Food for Thought, by Karenne Koessler

Being born in a third world country opens your eyes in ways the first world doesn’t. I believe in the value food. A meal may seem like a common part of your day here in the states, but in the Dominican Republic, every piece of food is a reason to be thankful.

My mother worked as an adoption lawyer during my early childhood. She always took my sister and I along on trips to meet with parents looking to offer their kids a better life. I was about six years old when I met Patricia, a girl my age, who was getting ready to move across the ocean to meet her new mother. I walked up to her while she played in the dirt. Keeping herself entertained with sticks and rocks. She smiled at me and invited me to join her. Her clothes may have been ripped, and she may not have remembered when her last meal was, but still, she smiled.

After a few hours of conversation and review, my mom finalized the adoption and Patricia, with nothing but the clothes on her back, hopped in the car, waved goodbye to her father, and drove back to the capital with us. That afternoon she feasted, after filling her plate with my family’s home cooking, she cleared every bit of mofongo, rice, beans, chicken, carne de res, and yucca off of it. Patricia thanked my mother and grandparents, for allowing her the blessing of her first healthy meal and for welcoming her into their home, she also made sure to ask for seconds.

I never leave food on my plate. I rarely toss out portions of a meal, and I never take my health for granted. We didn’t always have a full fridge, and the food wasn’t always rich in flavor, but a meal was better than none, and my sister and parents and I, all learned that lesson at a very young age.

I cringe at the sight of food in the garbage.

I always try to encourage my friends to serve themselves a realistic portion and empty their plates. My leftovers will never reach someone impoverished across the ocean, but it might make the homeless man down the street smile. I understand the pain of hunger and I, more than anything, respect those who are not as fortunate as I. I strongly believe no one has the right to dispose of a meal. I’m not sure if I’ve grown stubborn because of my family’s constant reminders to always clear my plate, but I know that there is someone out there who would do anything to eat the food I carelessly tossed out.

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koessler-photoKarenne was born in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, and almost immediately migrated across the globe.  In 2005, she and her family moved from their hometown i Nancy, France, to Miami, Florida. She is currently a double major at TCU studying mechanical engineering and writing.

More than Meatballs, by Kait Sennott

A familiar smell that I have known since I was little diffuses through the house, seeping into every room. This warm, familiar smell signals it’s time to eat. My grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings are rushing around in the kitchen as they put the final touches on the Swedish meatball dinner we have once a year.

I believe in food. Which may sound weird, but I believe that food brings families together, especially mine.

I first learned to cook and prepare the rigorous Swedish meal after my grandpa died when I was 10. My grandpa was the one who made the gravy to pour over the meatballs, and now it was my turn to carry on the “gravy legacy”. Let me tell you, carrying on this legacy was nothing easy, but with the help of my family, I perfected it. Over the years, my responsibilities grew in the kitchen during meatball night. Once my gravy was perfected, I became in charge of mixing the pork, beef, egg, nutmeg, onion, and allspice. Now that I am 19, I am in charge of most kitchen duties during this time of year because of my dedication to cooking this meal for my family

Swedish meatballs are a lot harder to cook than Italian meatballs because there is no bread holding the meat together thus making it a difficult process. When mixing the meat together, it is crucial that you do not use too much beef because this will make it harder to hold the pork. The egg must be a certain temperature in order to hold the meat and spices together; otherwise the egg will turn into unwanted scrambles.

The gravy, which I eventually perfected, is the hardest because this involves determining the gravy’s thickness. If the gravy is too thick it will become oily and gross, but if it is too thin the gravy will drown into the meatballs, making them slimy. The final step of the meatballs is mixing the sauce and meatballs, and putting them in a large bowl topped with a particular parsley flavor.

I feel that all families would agree that food brings families together. Of course each family member is very different, but in between the dishes, laughter, and lack of leftovers, the food acts as a distraction from all these differences that would usually set people apart. One of the reasons I love meatball night so much is because it is one of the only nights, besides Christmas, that I see my family. My family, unfortunately, has grown apart due to distance and death. Meatballs are what bring us together.

My favorite meatball night so far is the one we had before I left for school because the new baby cousins ate with us for their first meatball night ever. Watching a new generation grow up with the meatball tradition gives me hope that this valuable tradition will continue for many years after I am gone.

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Kait is a sophomore at TCU majoring in business and fashion merchandising. Both of her parents were journalists, so writing has become one of her favorite hobbies throughout the years. She hopes to continue her love for writing and bring it into a career.

I believe in dive restaurants

Author: Charlotte Hogg, PHD, Professor, TCU English Department, Published Fall 2012

In a culture where being a food lover means being able to separate the quinoa from the spelt, I find myself gravitating to places tucked away or popular with the locals but eschewed by foodies. This might be because I’m an academic where potlucks don’t mean casseroles but endive or soft cheeses I can’t name. But when I got my first job as an assistant professor, I was thrilled when two of the snobbiest in my department invited me to dinner, then took me not to a ritzy place but a cheap pizza buffet–that served tater tots as a side!–on the west edge of town. “We come here when we want to gossip and want to make sure we won’t see anyone we know,” they confided before biting into their greasy pizza slices. I liked them right away.

I once took my now-husband to that same pizza buffet, a small space brimming with decorations for an upcoming holiday, and he loved it. As he went to order his specialty toppings and load his cheap, metal plate with more tots and ketchup, I thought: he’s a keeper. The pizza buffet is filled with regulars and waiters who are quick on the draw with refills and smiles. Some of our best conversations have happened there after a long work day as we hunker over our thin crusts and settle in, TVs, chatter, and dingy holiday décor as the backdrop. Other patrons say hello as we graciously step aside to share the pizza line for plate number two.

A year or so ago, we befriended a new couple, and I realized that I had made a litmus test of our compatibility by where we decided to eat dinner. Rather than suggesting restaurants in the burgeoning hip part of town, I sheepishly suggested we head to the Mexican restaurant in the suburb not far in miles but far in lifestyle from the private university where I work. They instantly agreed, and it became a regular place for us to talk about our toddlers’ milestones as we shared chips and salsa and our boys smashed and chewed their cheese quesadillas.

Dive restaurants are almost always local and almost always familiar, where one can feel like they are Norm on the sitcom Cheers when walking through the door. When I first moved to Fort Worth, feeling unmoored by its huge population and ropes of interstates, these restaurants warmly took in a stranger and a new friend, inviting us to get past the small talk and get to the nitty gritty. While sitting at a wobbly table, shaking malt vinegar on fish and chips as a chatty waitress refilled our drinks, creating companionship suddenly seemed not only possible but easy, and this is why I believe in dive restaurants.