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celebrating chuseok with mooncakes and cheese

Happy belated Chuseok! For anyone who doesn’t know, yesterday (the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar) was the Mid-Autumn Festival. I guess the best way to describe it would be to say it’s an eastern Asian version of Thanksgiving. It’s a day celebrating the full moon, the bountiful harvests and family reunions, and in Korea it’s called Chuseok. I’m sure that yesterday families all over Korea (mine included) were gathering together in front of tables and tables full of delicious food, enjoying each others’ company – I only wish I was back in Seoul celebrating with them.

I obviously couldn’t fly back to Seoul, so I just gave my grandparents a call, wishing them a happy Chuseok. It made me really homesick for Korea, thinking what it’d be like if I was sitting at that dinner table with them. :(

Instead, I headed off for dinner at Commons for the Chinese Language table. Every week, my Chinese teachers organize a dinner where everyone taking Chinese at Hamilton can sit down, eat dinner, and socialize together. Not only is this a relevant to the Mid-Autumn Festival, but I also thought that this would be a good way of introducing what Commons looks like to you guys, since I never got around to doing that.

Sopers Commons Dining Hall is the bigger cafeteria on campus, and it’s located on the Light Side. I don’t eat there all that often because I prefer the food at McEwen, but on weekends and other random meal times when I really don’t have a choice, I’ll go down there to grab some food.

It’s not that the the food there is bad – it’s actually pretty good. My only problems is that Commons is always soooo busy. I actually like eating an early breakfast there when it’s pretty empty, but otherwise it’s just too hectic for me.

Here are a couple of pictures of the different type of food you can get at Commons:

sandwich line

pasta/stir-fry station

hot food that varies from meal to meal

pizzzzzzzaaaa

love the salad bar - there's just so much STUFF you can load your plate with

salad bar guy! we're bffs :D

That’s just some of the stuff; there’s also a grill, a dessert table, a fruit tower, an ice-cream station that’s ALWAYS open, a bread/bagel place, a soup area and the occasional sushi bar. Yeah, I know. It’s a lot of food. It can get a little overwhelming at times.

The Chinese department reserves an entire balcony for the Chinese table, and everyone tries to talk in Chinese over their dinners.

one of the laoshis talking about Chinese food

conversation between student and teacher

tones are the most important in Chinese!

And in honor of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the teachers also brought some Chinese mooncakes, or yue bing.

Chinese pastries filled with egg yolks or green tea/red bean/black sesame paste

Just looking at these make me crave the sweet, ricey, glutinousness of Korean dduk. :(

OK, SO I’LL ADMIT IT – I’M TERRIBLY HOMESICK FOR KOREA.

Whew. Alright, now that that’s off my chest, I want to move you onto the much more exciting and foodie-related section of this post. Because as you might’ve noticed from the post title, my Chuseok involved cheese.

That’s right.

CHEESE.

In honor of the locavore movement,  my Food for Thought class yesterday sampled different types of local NY cheese yesterday. And let me tell you, these weren’t your plastic-wrapped, orange Kraft American Cheese.

rind shot: the smaller is a hard goat's cheese and the bigger is tomme, a cow's milk cheese

chevre! a very soft, mild goat cheese

The 2 goat cheeses were my favorite. I’d say the chevre was almost a goat-milk version of ricotta: very mild and spreadable in texture (almost like cream cheese) with just the barest hint of the tangy goat milk taste. I personally thought the  hard goat cheese was the best. Turns out this nameless cheese has a unique curing process – it’s made with salt and vinegar :O. Even with the strong, gamey goat taste, it was salty and pungent and delicious; everything a good cheese should be.

I also I liked the Tomme, although not nearly as much as I liked the goat cheeses.

But the biggest offender was this guy:

the camembert, made from raw cow's milk in richfield springs, NY

the big cheese. literally.

This was the stinkiest and the strongest-tasting. A soft, creamy, surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese, the Camembert was REALLY pungent. When I ate it, the flavor kept changing inside of my mouth, and it ended with a distinctly “farm-y” aftertaste. I don’t know how else to describe it; it was almost animal-y. Yeah, I wasn’t a huge fan… The first couple of seconds were good, and then it just turned…. very, very ripe.

I think it’s partially because it was aged for so long. Because the cheese-makin’ bacteria had been left to eat at the milk solids for so long, the Camembert was really soft and gooey. In fact by the end of class, it looked like this:

ooey gooey

O_O

There were also some deeelicious local NY apples. Sooo yummy – you just can’t get apples like these in NJ (unless you go to a farmer’s market). Jeezes, I’ve been on such an apple kick lately; I eat at least 5 a day.

some of the apples were REALLY big.

Once everything had been unwrapped, cut up and described, everyone in the class was encouraged to come up and sample everything.

my professor describing the hard tomme

classmates helping themselves to some delicious apples and cheese

of course crackers were served with the cheese

my sample 'plate'

Opinions on the cheeses varied from person to person, although I think the Camembert was too strong for almost everyone. My professor’s a huge fan of it though.

We also had a guest speaker – a senior came to talk to us about her thesis on fair-trade products, and also brought us a bar of fair-trade chocolate to sample.

70% dark chocolate??? YES PLEEZ.

don't worry, i restrained myself - i only took 1 square

Mmm, it was so good. 70%+ dark chocolate is the love of my life. I would literally marry it if I could.

Ok, that’s a lie. But that doesn’t change how much I adore dark chocolate. And although I usually like my cacao products plain, the dried raspberries in this bar gave a nice, bright tartness to the dark silkiness of the chocolate.

But moving on, I learned a lot this class about fair-trade. Did you know that there’s a difference between fair-trade certified and fair-trade membership? Both dictate fair price and labor conditions for the workers, direct trade, democratic and transparent organizations, community development and environmental sustainability and in both cases there must be a mutual agreement between the buyer and the seller on a minimum fair-trade price. But with  membership, literally every step of the process has to be fair-trade and a portion of the profits go to a community fund that works to improve the process as a whole (for example, by saving money for computers so that a cacao industry can be more efficient in its bean production).

I also found out that there’s more to fair-trade then just chocolate, coffee, and tea – everything from grains to fruit, to even clothes jewelery are being manufactured fair-trade. It was an eye-opening presentation, and I’m definitely going to explore fair-trade products more in order to find out how my purchases affect the workers who are actually making what I’m using and eating.

So.

That was a humongous post, no? You bet it was. I’m actually all out of order now. In my eagerness to get the cheeses up, I skipped some stuff from a week ago and went straight to blogging about this. So yeah, looks like we might be going be back in time the next post.

There’s actually so much stuff coming up this week, and I’m looking forward to blogging and taking photos about every single one of them. This blog is heading for bigger and better things, so look forward to those future posts!

Until then, stay healthy and happy you guys!!! :)

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