Spring Break in Ithaca

I stayed in Ithaca for all of Spring Break. A few other friends, who are also international students, also stayed. The primary concern for undergraduates who stay over breaks is food. All the dining halls and most BRB eateries are closed. Most students survive the breaks by stocking up on ready-to-eat/microwaveable food. Fortunately, I live in a co-op. So I always have access to a full kitchen (with all the utensils I might need) and staple food items like oil,flour,grain,pasta salt, spices, milk ,onions, potatoes.. (it’s a long list). With most basic ingredients readily available, I only had to buy some vegetables and special ingredients for particular recipes.

Since I had the time and resources to make elaborate dinners, a few friends and I made our own meals during break. Each meal took us a few hours to make, consume and clean up. But it was absolutely worth it!

Omelette and veggies

Omelette and veggies

Eggs, fruit salads and soups were as complex as our brunches were. We were too hungry to really cook in the mornings.

Mushroom Paneer Masala

Mushroom Paneer Masala

Having bought paneer from the Indian store in collegetown, we struggled to cook it. Once we simply fried and ate them, another time, we tried adding them to a rice dish (which ended in a disaster and hence no photos of it). But finally, we created this dish with tomato sauce which was meant for pasta. I tried really hard to mask the flavor of basil and other italian seasoning with garam masala and cumin!

Penne in Tomato Sauce

Penne in Tomato Sauce

A can of olives, a jar of seasoned tomato sauce, and some mushrooms found in my house’s pantry warranted this delicious, free meal.

Thai Curry

Thai Curry

We found some red thai curry paste in the pantry. So we bought some frozen vegetables, some coconut milk and paid a lot for a handful of bell peppers and baby corn at the salad bar in Atrium Cafe. The result was delicious. That evening, I also cooked the rice perfectly and was finally declared a true South Indian.

Thai Curry with Rice

Thai Curry with Rice

Other nights, we made sweet potato and spinach quesadillas and also resorted to some ready-to-eat meals a couple times. At one point, I had the surprising realization that we had cooked Thai, Italian,Mexican and Indian food over the course of a few days. I guess that’s how you know that you live in the U.S. – by the ridiculous variety of cuisines in regular meals.

I also developed a great appreciation for the people who cook my meals. At home, my mother cooked all three meals, every day, from scratch, in addition to having a full time job. I have come to the belief that she must have superpowers, because cooking two meals for myself left barely enough time for other activities (like trying to go the gym, compelling a friend to teach me to play the ukulele and sleeping 10 hours a day). So I’m glad that I can get my dinner tonight at a dining hall, although I did really enjoy cooking during the break.

 

Tales from Fall Break 2014

On Tuesday afternoon, my memory of the four days of fall break is in a haze. I had grand visions of following a healthy routine of sleep, cooking my own food, doing the tasks on my to-do list and spending some time with friends. Of course, those visions were lost right after my last class on Friday, when I spent the evening just chilling in a hammock on our porch, listening to music.

Since most students were visiting home or travelling over the break, the campus was unusually quiet and empty. The majority of those who stayed on campus were international students or west-coast residents. The dining halls were closed and there were no events happening on campus. So on Saturday night, some of my sophomore friends from India and I gathered for a small dance party at my nearly empty house. After a long time, I danced to Bollywood music with friends and played cards against humanity with them. They even had a mini foosball tournament at three in the morning.

I woke up at noon on Sunday, made pancakes for breakfast and walked around Beebe lake with a friend. The Cornell campus – especially the trails and surrounding natural areas are glorious at this time of the year. Given the good weather over the weekend, it was a pleasure to just be here.

Beebe lake in the fall

On Sunday night, my two housemates who stayed here during the break decided to watch Gone Girl at the Ithaca Mall. I had read excellent reviews for the movie, so I joined them too. Since then, I have not stopped raving about the film and it takes much self control to not spoil it for my friends who haven’t watched it yet.

After a long, refreshing night of sleep that night, I had a sumptuous brunch at the Mehak buffet, where for once, they actually had paneer in the paneer dishes. Then I spent most of my day at the library. I read for fun, something I don’t get to do often as a Cornell student. That evening, a friend and I decided to go to Moosewood Restaurant for dinner. This restaurant is among the first few things I tell people when I describe Ithaca. I am a big fan. We decided to go at 8pm, but we missed our bus and ended up walking to the Commons from West campus (not such a long walk, surprisingly). When we arrived at 8:32pm, the host politely told us that they closed at 8:30pm. We browsed restaurant row in the Commons and finally ate at Taste of Thai.

On Tuesday morning, most of my friends who had left Ithaca for the break were back. So I met some of them at CTB; we chatted about our respective breaks and made plans for future breaks. As we walked back to campus, I saw someone riding a Big Red Bike. For a long time, I had wanted to ride a bike on campus. The weather was warm and we all had some time on our hands, so we decided to borrow a bike from Uris Library.

We got a bike and as I tried it out on the Arts Quad, I realized that these bikes were quite different from what I was used to at home. My bike at home was heavy and required a lot of effort on my side to move. This bike accelerated at the least pedaling, within a second of my riding it. I panicked and searched for brake, which is horizontally parallel to the right handle in all the bikes I have ever ridden. Before I could find the brake, which was below the right handle, I saw some children playing on the path ahead. In an effort to stop the speeding bike, I ended up falling and scraping my knee. (Yes, the kids were safe. Is this how heroes feel?.)

It had been years since I had last scraped my knees. I regretted my decision to ride that bike on the Arts quad without even knowing where the brake was. But I guess we don’t take risks or learn many new things as adults because we are so afraid of failing or getting hurt. I convinced myself that I had learnt something new today: Learn how to stop something before starting it. I felt like a child all over again as I cleaned my wound and went back home.

And there end the tales of Fall Break 2014. I spent the rest of the evening doing some last minute homework and writing this blog post. It’s time to get back to the busy rest of the semester ahead.

Explorations of Food in Ithaca

I was talking to a friend from Zimbabwe about food. We both agreed that exploring new places, meeting people who come from different backgrounds and trying foreign food are all essential aspects of studying abroad. She recalled a story which gets the point across effectively.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, so seafood is very rare in the country. When some students from Zimbabwe were going to a coastal region in Mozambique, an advisor said to them, “The last time we organized this trip, one student went to Mozambique and ordered beef dishes at every meal there. Don’t be that student. You can find as much beef as you want in Zimbabwe, so try something different there.”

How does this relate to my spring break food experience? I have pretty much been ordering food on the basis of how the name sounds, at restaurants with unfamiliar cuisines. So here are my top three non-Indian food experiences in Ithaca (not in order):

Sahara
I went to Sahara for early dinner and I was the only customer there. The restaurant was warm in its design, decor and ambiance. Reading the quote –  “The best memories are made when gathered around the table” above the door in Sahara made me happy  because I really value great food and company.

IMG_20140401_191755

Spanakopita and Salad

I ordered a Spanakopita plate although I had never heard of it before. I received a huge plate with a fresh looking salad, lots of hummus and pita bread and of course, spanakopita! The girl who served at my table didn’t think I could finish the entire plate. And then she was impressed by the time I was done. All credits go to the amazing food.

Pizza Aroma
I must confess that I am not a fan of pizza. Atleast not Domino’s or Papa John’s or the dining hall kind of pizza. So when I first had pizza at Pizza Aroma, I was pleasantly surprised. Although it is more expensive than the first category of pizza, the price is worth the taste.

This place also serves El Salvadorean food, which is much cheaper than its pizza. Having tried a couple of dishes from their El Salvadorean menu, I don’t think it’s as good as their pizza. But I guess you only what you pay for.

Moosewood

I was raving about this place even before going there. They’re vegetarian and source their products locally. How could that not be great? When I finally went for lunch there one Saturday afternoon, my fondness for Moosewood was enhanced.

IMG_20140405_130856

The entree whose name I don’t remember

House salad and veggie juice.

House salad and veggie juice.

I don’t even remember the name of the entree I ordered, but it was like a filo pastry with spinach, mushroom and fancy cheese in it. I also ordered a vegetable juice, which was flavoured with spices. Entrees come with a house salad and I choose a ‘creamy spinach basil’ dressing for mine. All of it tasted wonderful. Being a vegetarian and loving my veggies has never been more rewarding.On my way out, I flipped through one of Moosewood’s popular cookbooks. It felt more like a story book than a cookbook, in the best way possible. I’m getting a copy sometime soon!

In terms of price, a fulfilling lunch for one is possible under $15 here. Dinner is slightly more expensive, but I believe the portions are also likely to be larger.

As much as I love trying new food, nothing makes me happier than a full Indian meal. Here are my insights on the three Indian restaurants in Ithaca, each of which I’ve visited quite a few times now. Fun fact: they all offer a $10 (including taxes) all you can eat lunch buffet, every day of the week. That actually works out to be cheaper than a Cornell dining meal plan!

New Delhi Diamonds

This restaurant is in the commons and is my personal favourites. The restaurant itself is minimalistic in design and the food is delicious. The flavor is as authentic as I could have expected and the price is very reasonable. On my list, this is the best of the three Indian restaurants in Ithaca.

Dinner at Diamonds. I always over eat there.

Mehak and Sangam

Both of these restaurants are located in collegetown, very close to each other. Although the food at Sangam is priced slightly lower than that at Mehak, I think they are more or less similar in quality. Their lunch buffets are also very similar.

Ithaca is Gorges… Sustainable, Quirky and ‘Local’

Ithaca is not your average, commercialized town. The people here love and care for the nature, which makes Ithaca as beautiful as it is. There is also a great emphasis on independent stores, co-operatives and just “thinking locally”.  These two ideas of thinking locally and environmental sustainability complement each other in Ithaca and come across in quaint aspects of the town.

1) Second Hand Clothing Stores

The Ithaca Mall is not the best place for shopping. I did not find much variety in clothes and all the options are in the same price range. But the popularity of second hand clothing stores in the area is surprising. They have unique pieces, designs of all kinds and something to fit every budget. “So the next time you find yourself wanting a new outfit that half of your lecture class isn’t already wearing, think eco-friendly and head downtown instead of hitting the mall,” said a wise Cornell student.

2) Natural/Organic food.

Search Ithaca on trip advisor and Moosewood Restaurant is going to be somewhere near the top of the “Things to do in Ithaca” list. It is a vegetarian, natural foods restaurant. The menu changes everyday according to the seasonal ingredients. They use fresh, locally sourced produce in the kitchen and that is the kind of thing we in Ithaca get excited about. There are a number of natural, organic food restaurants here and even a popular natural foods co-op market called GreenStar.

3) Ithaca Hours

Ithaca is determined to foster self reliance in the community that it actually created its own currency. “In 1991, Ithaca Hours began developing a legal currency for our town. Today, there are over $100,000 worth of Hours in circulation.” Supposedly, some businesses and employers accept and pay in Ithaca Hours, but I have yet to come across an Ithaca Hour.

4) Local Banks

It surprised me that most people and businesses in Ithaca bank with local banks such as Tompkins Trust Company and CFCU Community Credit Union. My parents have accounts only with large national/multinational banks and so did everyone else I ever knew, until I came to Ithaca. Now I use Tompkins Trust Company and my paychecks from on campus jobs get processed very quickly because the university seems to bank with Tompkins too.

5) Quirky Stores

Just yesterday, I spoke to the owner of a new business to open in Ithaca: An art studio where people can pay for painting sessions under the guidance of a local artist. It sounded strange to me and I wondered if that can be successful business model. But, the store is thriving in another town in New York State and the owner hopes for the same here.
Then I came across “The Enchanted Badger” which is described as “Ithaca’s friendly local game shop.” Yes, a shop just for board games. You can even throw your friends a board game party there.

This is just a small sample from many, many quirky aspects of Ithaca all of which reflect the town’s emphasis on being local, sustainable and a close knit community. Ithaca isn’t just gorges, it’s bohemian and responsible. And the stores and restaurants I just mentioned in this blogpost? That’s what I’m going to be exploring this Spring Break.