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Profiles in Art: Therese Ton

in Arts by

The best pieces of art come with a story, something that can be passed on through the generations. At Swarthmore, one of the most beautiful stories comes along with Toscah, the name of Therese Ton’s ̕ 19 emerging bakery. Ton’s story is a powerful one, rooted in her family and her own determination to find her purpose.

Ton’s first time cooking was her attempt to perfect French macarons to serve to her aunt, whose love for baking was sky-high. She started baking in middle school, inspired by her aunt Anh and uncle Rick’s specialty — soft bake biscotti. The recipe came from her aunt’s Italian husband, who brought his own family recipe to the mix. Their biscotti — which were usually sent out as Christmas gifts — inspired a lot of praise and encouragement to start a business. But as they had full-time careers, her aunt and uncle were never able to start their biscotti business, which they had wanted to name “Tarabella” after the older of their two German Shepherds: Tara and Toscah.

So when Ton came to Swarthmore, she made a promise to her aunt and uncle that she would start their biscotti business before she graduated. The decision wasn’t easy to make, but it came as a result of realizing exactly what she did not want.

“What really catalyzed me to actually start it this past summer was I was working in Philadelphia at a biomedical research job at Jefferson Med school. I hated it. I really, really despised it. I dreaded going to work every day. Throughout the first few weeks where I was really miserable I had a reoccurring conversation that was going in my head.” Ton said, “Hey that conversation that you had with your aunt and uncle. I kept on remembering that conversation, and I was like, I need an outlet to keep myself sane, I already hate my job, let’s pick up another one that I somewhat like to do. So I whipped up a couple batches of biscotti.”

For Ton, baking became something of a refuge for her. After leaving an abusive home environment, Ton moved in with her aunt and uncle, shedding light on just how important the family ties are to this business.

“This business is like a big thank-you present for taking me in and for being the family that I always wanted, that was supportive and healthy and inspiring rather than feeling like something I dreaded to come home to,” Ton said.

However, Ton decided to change one thing about her business: the name. Tara has a lot of attitude and acts like one of those mean girls who knows they’re pretty. So instead, she chose the younger of the two German Shepherds, Toscah. Ton describes Toscah as herself in dog form: kind and happy-go-lucky.

Soon after, she decided to pursue her business further. She started selling her biscotti and other baked goods to Hobbs. Alongside her weekly deliveries to Hobbs, she started doing orders through her website, www.toscah.com. It began to spread around campus, and more and more people began to order desserts. This enabled Ton to realize where her passion really was and gave her the self-confidence that sometimes she didn’t always have during her time in college.

Alongside her aunt and uncle, Ton’s closest mentor at Swarthmore, Professor Sara Hiebert Burch in the biology department, gave her the emotional support and guidance she needed to make the decision to do what was best for her. For Ton, the more “secure” choice was to go into medicine, something that did not give her the same amount of joy baking did. She realized that there were three things that she wanted to do for the rest of her life: baking, teaching, and biology.

Soon she began to daydream about opening Toscah’s storefront in Philadelphia and how she could teach the biochemistry of baking to her customers in her bakery, and especially to low-income folks who don’t traditionally have access to this information. Ton realized how biochemistry is very inaccessible to many people and saw value in using baking to teach these lessons.

Ton’s dreams are quickly becoming a reality. She is now working to develop a curriculum about the biology of baking to teach to high school students for S.T.E.M. mentoring. Ton is also testing some of her ideas at Strath Haven High School, where she gets to perform demonstrations and test recipes.

What is most amazing about Ton’s story is her determination to make her dreams come true. She came from a low-income, abusive family to create her own successful bakery, and is now getting to pass on her knowledge to others. Her story is one that can remind us that when we feel lost, we can always come back to the ones we love most and what they have taught us.

Sweet eatables make the holidays go ’round

in Campus Journal/Columns by
Lauren’s recipe for chocolate-dipped almond biscotti.

Alright, so Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly a holiday. But it sure as well might be one, with all the attention it gets from the public and the media. Stores will start advertising Valentine’s Day way before the date is within sight. Chocolates (and teddy bears) will be placed on sale and displayed in extravagantly decorated boxes, just begging customers to buy them. Similarly to Thanksgiving and other holiday seasons, Valentine’s Day is a widely publicized and beloved event.

In Korea and Japan, the equivalent (or one of the equivalents) of Valentine’s Day is something called “Peppero Day” if you are in Korea, or “Pocky Day” if you are in Japan. This event is observed on November 11, which was just last Friday. Written in numbers, the date becomes 11/11, which is reminiscent of the shape of these treats: bread sticks covered in chocolate. In Japan and Korea, men and women alike purchase these chocolate-coated biscuit treats to give to their lovers or to pass out among friends.

To further increase these treats’ appeal, companies specially produce the Peppero and Pocky as bigger and more exotic versions. Instead of the usual chocolate-coated or strawberry-flavored sticks, you get nutty, green tea, azuki (sweet red) bean or vanilla flavors. There are certainly also combinations of flavors available. But that’s not all: a normal stick would be slightly smaller in size and thickness than that of an average 2B pencil. On Peppero and Pocky Day, however, one can easily find treats that are long like sausages or in a completely different shape.

Personally, I was always amazed at how successful, in terms of observance and numbers of packages sold, the event was back home. Although my high school was an international school, the fact that we were in Korea kept us in close proximity to these popular Korean customs.

Friends would distribute peppero and couples would exchange enormous, bulging baskets with each other, which I personally thought was ridiculous. Or maybe I was just bitter because I never got to do that.

Whatever the case, it seems to be the case that such holidays, or major event-days, are closely tied with eatables.

The origin, purpose and current proceedings of Peppero Day all revolve around the exchanging of the chocolate-coated stick treats. And although I couldn’t get the Pocky to distribute to all, I did want to share this biscotti recipe.

Biscotti are a wonderful thing: perfectly crunchy, flavorful and adaptable to so many different recipes and preferred styles. Dip this in chocolate, and you can create your own makeshift Peppero/Pocky.
Try experimenting around with different coatings!

Lauren is a junior. Please submit any recipes you would like Lauren to try out for her next column by e-mailing her at lkim1@swarthmore.edu.

‘Let them eat cake,’ she says…and vanilla ice cream

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Lauren’s recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream Meringue Cake

There are two common customs back home in Korea involving actions that are paradoxically related to the context in which they are made. Some people enjoy eating hot, steaming bowls of noodles (or roasting marinated bulgogi beef) during the peak of summer. And others tell me, “Ice cream tastes the best when eaten during the winter.” This second point I’ve never really agreed with, but I’m never one to turn down ice cream, so I eat it year-round.

Swatties are really creative with the way in which they eat their ice cream. From a melted ice cream combination soup (using a bowl of hot water underneath a bowl of different ice cream scoops) to ice cream floats in different fruit juices, I’ve seen quite an array of different personalities and styles. I would personally love to buy a blender to make ice cream smoothies, but if only I had the time and weren’t too lazy to get some good ingredients … (At least you’ll know what to get me for Christmas now).

And of course, there are the ice cream cakes in all their rich, cold and creamy glory. This is, of course, until they melt and become rich, cold and creamy goo. As my great friend and blockmate and I always say to each other, why can’t one enjoy ice cream in this form? The sweet taste is still there, and it’s only the shape that’s gone away.

But for those who simply cannot eat ice cream in its liquid phase, I suggest this “cake.” Melted ice cream is a must in this recipe, but the end product will (hopefully) not have any traces of the gooey form. It’s a really simple recipe, and hopefully even simple enough to be used for study breaks.

The only real trick is to really work at the sugar and egg whites until they become as light and fluffy as whipped cream. And I cannot emphasize this enough: if there’s one life skill that I really got out of baking, it’s to avoid overworking any procedures. It’s usually better to add less of an ingredient than more, mix less than to over-mix and create unnecessary “heat” in the dough and certainly add less of (or use healthier alternatives for) the sugar and oils if you feel they are unnecessary. The procedure with the egg whites and sugar, aka making a meringue, certainly involves thorough mixing, but you can’t get greedy with the process. Once the mixture starts to resemble whipped cream, you have to stop before you overwork the meringue and it sags back down into a liquid.

So, get this meringue part right, and you’ve basically finished 3/4 of the work. The rest of the recipe calls for some light mixing, and then the oven finishes off the job. If you are like me, you might have been surprised to see ice cream going into something that gets baked at high heat.

But it was not until only a few years ago that I learned that ice cream in its initial stage involves frying the raw ingredients together.

Call me ignorant, but all that matters to me is that there is a method to this madness, and the ice cream making process works. As it should for this cake as well. I mean, after all, you get to have both your cake and ice cream and eat them too.

Lauren is a junior. Please submit any recipes you would like to share with Lauren for her to try out for her next column by e-mailing her at lkim1@swarthore.edu.

Adding beans’ fiber and protein goodness to brownies

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Lauren’s recipe for Black Bean Brownies.

Hope you all had a wonderful fall break. Swarthmore was blessed with beautiful weather. Of course, my body chose this time to get sick, but I took full advantage of the warmth for a good part of the break. As my condition worsened, I lost my appetite for everything except chocolate. Good quality, savory, dark chocolate… really soothes the soul.

Speaking of which, I’d been meaning to use some of the chocolate I had to make brownies some time. Banana brownies, one of my favorites, would have been top on the list if I hadn’t remembered a recipe that a good friend of mine recommended to me for this week’s baking endeavor.

This recipe comes from a cooking blog she came across one day, called “101 Cookbooks.” The author, Heidi Swanson, seems to really enjoy making healthy recipes and emphasizes using organic or other healthy alternatives to commonly used ingredients. From herb scrambled eggs to cucumber peanut salad, she has a great variety of highly original recipes that would be fun to experiment with when you have the time. I highly recommend that you baking/cooking fans check out her blog at www.101cookbooks.com.

Our special guest for today’s treat is the black bean. So small and yet packed with nutrients, fiber and protein. I guess it’s nature’s way to provide some of the really ‘good stuff’ in small quantities, just to keep you coming back for more.

Now that I think back on the foods I’ve eaten, the black bean is a key ingredient to many dishes I am partial to. For one thing, I always get the black bean burger and bean salad at Sharples when I get the opportunity. (And if you’ve always wondered why black beans in particular are used as meat substitutes, the beans are rich in protein, iron and vitamin B.)

And it also helps that I grew up in a Korean food culture, which uses black beans in many ways: black bean paste stew, noodles made from black bean and the popular black bean soy drink. And because the black bean is so rich in fiber, even just a small portion of any of these foods will leave you reasonably satisfied.

It never occurred to me to add these to sweet foods, but the more I looked over the recipe, the more I felt that it was natural to add black beans to brownies. I anticipate that the beans will give the brownies an even softer and denser texture, so that you can really sink your teeth into them. And it just gets better. According to Swanson, the black bean taste isn’t even perceptible in these brownies, and the black bean batter “really worked.” I’m really excited to try these now.

Still not convinced? Black beans help regulate normal blood sugar levels, and they can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and digestive problems. Just think: you get to enjoy these health benefits at the same time that you satisfy your sweets cravings.

Lauren is a junior. Please submit any recipes you would like to share with Lauren for her to try out for her next column by e-mailing her at lkim1@swarthmore.edu.

The banana of my eye: vegan banana oatmeal cookies

in Campus Journal/Columns by
The banana oatmeal cookies are deliciously vegan. (Lauren Kim for The Phoenix)

Fruits add such a nice touch to basically everything. Whether they comprise a colorful centerpiece on a table, decorations on a mardi gras hat or a sweet way to end a meal, fruits come in handy in so many ways.

Speaking of which, I am personally biased in favor of fruit-related desserts. Fruit-based tarts, muffins, cakes and especially ice cream. Sharples used to serve banana ice cream once upon a time. Trust me, that was about a year and a half ago, and I still hang around the ice cream bar like a hawk to this day in the hopes of coming across it again. Oh, for the joy of eating banana ice cream again…

When I lived in Kyle last year (the eight-person women-only dorm near the Lang Center), my
blockmates and I would very often bring back fruit for the house. Living there was so convenient: we had a very nice kitchen space, which we used very often to make food when we got too lazy to go to Sharples.

I personally used the kitchen a lot for my baking exploits. And it was there that my idea for today’s recipe was born. As you can probably tell by now, bananas are my favorite fruit. I would bring back two or even three of them at a time if I was feeling ambitious, and then keep them in the house’s fruit basket. In my over-zealous love for bananas I would usually end up bringing more than necessary, resulting in my watching the poor things rot away.

Lauren’s recipe.

And this is where my fabulous idea comes in. I knew how to make oatmeal cookies, using peanut butter as the sticky base. Why couldn’t I use banana, instead, as the ‘glue’ to hold the ingredients together? And thus began my experiment: instead of peanuts I used walnuts, banana’s best friend; to add some “kick” to this recipe, I also incorporated some spices I was especially partial to. And voila, I had created my first set of these scrumptious treats.

The best part about these babies is that they are so easy to make, and yet just as sweet and delicious as any other cookie out there. Plus, they are gluten-free and do not require extra butter or sugar, which further expands their potential target audience. For banana lovers, these cookies are just perfect. For banana avoiders, please just take one little nibble: there’s so much more texture and flavor to a banana after it’s been incorporated with nuts, oats and spices, and then warmed up to perfection in the oven.

So I made these cookies often last year, perhaps a few more times than I should have. But by the end of the year, at least to most of my fellow Kyle residents, they had become my ‘signature dish.’ These definitely are my go-to food. When I got better and faster at making them, I would even whip up an extra-quick batch in the morning to eat for breakfast. Altogether, the whole process would take me between 30 to 35 minutes.

I’d say that baking is an art because one can get really creative with the ingredients, but I also agree with the majority who classify the process as more of a science. It is true that baking has a more rigid structure, since there is an optimal ratio, or balance of dry ingredients against wet ingredients that determines texture, flavor and color. But, as with the arts and sciences, baking is something you get better at with time and experience.

Yet with these banana cookies, it didn’t take me too long to reach that point. They are so simple and perfect for the beginner. Wash them down with a glass of milk (chocolate milk is even better) or coffee and start your day off with a big smile.

Just one word of caution: don’t go overboard with the bananas like I did my first time. That is, unless you want your cookies to mold into each other to form a pancake. (But that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, actually.)

Lauren is a junior. Please submit any recipes you would like to share with Lauren for her to try out for her next column by e-mailing her at lkim1@swarthore.edu.

Caffeine in the form of cookies — what could be better?

in Campus Journal/Columns by
Earl grey cookies. (Courtesy of sarajane.info)

It’s pleasant to eat cookies and wash them down with a nice cup of coffee. Why not have the two combined?

I received lots of comments and feedback from people who had sampled my coffee diamants last time or read my column.

They were mostly about how novel and convenient it was to have coffee (the caffeine) being incorporated into cookies. And they were pretty enthusiastic about the idea too.

So without further ado, I’ll introduce another quick caffeinated treat. And I’m hoping this will be a great crowd-pleaser with all those Earl Grey fans out there.

As a freshman I thought, “Swatties must love their tea.” Maybe it was just the people that I knew back then, but everyone around me seemed to carry steaming cups of tea with them everywhere.

The orchestra concertmistress constantly had a mug of tea with her in practice sessions; my freshman roommate was an avid tea drinker; and my friends would constantly go for tea after finishing their meals at Sharples.

Back then, I only had a vague idea of the health benefits of tea but was biased against the drink. Why did people like the plain and earthy taste?

Turns out, I had no idea about the wide world of tea. I disliked herbal teas, which are prevalent back home in Korea. They were too subtle for me. My father, who very frequently drinks tea, told me that I would soon come to really enjoy it. I never really believed him until I came to Swarthmore.

My freshman roommate was generous and always kept her tea stock open to me, so I sampled one of the fruity selections. Apple cinnamon. Fragrant, spicy and a little tangy. My taste buds approved.

Starting from the second semester of my freshman year, I had had a few cups of all of the fruity teas that Sharples had to offer. It was surprising actually, because I liked their flavors even though they had the characteristic herbal tea taste.

With fruity teas under my belt, I decided to try more black tea varieties. My first target was Earl Grey, mostly because I wanted to see why it was one of the most popular teas worldwide.

It was love at first sight. The distinctive aroma of something fragrant and deliciously smoky was extremely addictive. (I had five straight cups of it that first time, and just before going to bed too. Not the best idea if you’re sleep-deprived.)

I realized, then, that I actually did appreciate the earthy taste. I’ve had so many other kinds of tea since then, including English Breakfast, Chamomile, Ginger, Rooibos, Peppermint, Darjeeling and so much more. But I’ve remained (mostly) faithful to Mr. Earl Grey.

The secret to Earl Grey’s irresistible charm is that it is flavored with the oil of the Bergamot orange. The Bergamot is a small, acidic orange that is a close relative of the Seville orange, which is native to southern Vietnam. I imagine those Bergamots are what give the tea its powerful tang from the start of a sip.

I remember that a friend of mine told me she used to take 10 or more packs of Earl Grey tea out of Sharples. To keep her “stock’ filled up, of course. For those of you who have never tried Earl Grey before, these cookies will provide a good taste of the tea’s deep flavor. You’ll fall for these babies hook, line and sinker.

Lauren is a junior. You can reach her at lkim1@swarthmore.edu.

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