The Eaters Among Us: A UVa Grad Serves Up Sweet Treats for Large and Small Crowds

Meet Natalie Oschrin, a recent University of Virginia grad who is adjusting to the Southern life in Charleston, SC. A legal assistant by day, she fills her free time in the kitchen — either her own or at the restaurant where she works. Known among friends for her decadent creations (both sweet and savory) and her mad hostessing skills, Natalie is destined to own a little bakery where she can bake endless quantities of both cakes and pies. Read more to hear about Natalie’s Dining Hall DIY tips, late night cravings, and greatest food failures and feats.

Juliana Barton: If you were a food, what would you be?

Natalie Oschrin: Flexible, resourceful, creative, happy: ice cream.

JB: What was your dining hall go-to?

NO: I lived for Chicken Nugget Thursdays. Don’t tell my mother. (Always accompanied by a salad, I promise!!) Also the vegan bean chili with cornbread was consistently delicious, filling, and a cozy-feeling food. Plus, hey, “vegan” in the title made it seem healthy too.

JB: What’s the most creative concoction you ever made in the dining hall?

NO: Step 1) Smear a small bowl with peanut butter. Step 2) Find a brownie and microwave it until warm. Step 3) Put brownie in PB bowl. Step 4) Walk to the soft-serve station, if you are lucky, the cappuccino flavor is on tap. Chocolate is no lesser substitute, however, so pile it on. Points for perfect swirl technique. Step 5) Head towards the cereals, top with the one your mom would NEVER let you have at home: Reese’s Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, etc. Step 6) Grab 2 spoons so the people watching you think that you are sharing, and then find the furthest corner booth, prop up a few table tents to guard your creation, and go to town.

JB: Okay, it’s a late night in the library. What are you craving?

NO: Ugh. Thanks for bringing up late library nights. I can still smell the stress, sweat, and ancient carpeting. But alas, I pulled all-nighters like it was my job. I usually came prepared with tea bags, and a salad with dried cherries, grilled chicken, walnuts, and blue cheese. My constant late night library companion though, is a bag of bulk candy of some sort – Sour Patch Kids, yogurt pretzels, etc (haha just when you thought this might be a healthier answer).

JB: On the other end of the spectrum: it’s late at night and you’re leaving bars. What are you craving?

NO: If the UVA gang is up for it (and really, who isn’t hungry for fourth-meal at 2AM?), we obviously head to Little John’s for sandwiches, and deviled eggs if I’m feeling daring. The corn chips that come on the side to fill in all the right nooks and crannies and I am a happy camper. If I’m headed straight home, I make a wicked grilled cheese. And unlike YouTube fave Hannah at My Drunk Kitchen, I have cheese around all the time, just in case. Late nights in Charleston, you can find my friend and me at Giovanni’s Pizza on Market Street, trying to ride our bikes home with the box of what’s left of a fabulous extra large pizza that we inexplicably ordered and may or may not have paid for.

JB: Do you prefer to cook, order in, eat out?

NO: I cook most of my meals at home, and bring my lunch to work. I do love to cook and bake, but not every meal is gourmet. I will pull out all of the stops for a brunch or dinner party however. Dinner parties with my friends are most often a multi-course, participatory affair, with everyone bringing an ingredient or a dish.I don’t really eat out that often, but whenever duck is on the menu, there is no question about what I will order.

JB: What’s the best dinner party you’ve ever hosted?

NO: I grew up in the same town where I attended college, so going home was a piece of cake (yay food metaphor!). My parents went out of town one long weekend during my third year, so I had house and cat-sitting duty. Never that much of a rebel in high school, I finally took this opportunity to throw a rager now that my parents had split town. And by rager, I mean brunch.
As innocuous as a brunch is, I still didn’t tell them about it because I wanted to bake, cook, hostess, and even clean all on my own. I went to bed late and was up early to vacuum and punch down the cinnamon roll dough. In addition to the rolls, my 15 or so guests dined on gingerbread pancakes with homemade whipped cream, a mustard and caramelized onion tart, a bacon and goat cheese tart, ratatouille, bacon, turkey sausage, make-your-own omelettes with all the fixins, and fresh grapes. To drink we had iced coffee with frozen coffee ice cubes, mimosas, and poinsettias (cranberry juice + champagne). I think everyone had a pretty delicious time! As soon as the last person left, however, I immediately had to call my mother to tell her about this super-fun party I had just thrown. So much for the big secret… Plus then my parents thought I was weird for having a covert brunch. Oh well, still a great meal.

JB: Do you use recipes when you cook?

NO: For sure. Once I make something though I’ll tweak tweak tweak it.

JB: Favorite cookbook?

NO: My tried and true, tested and loved, all-sorts-of-stuff-stuck-in-between-the-pages cookbook is the Fannie Farmer set that my family has. We have the Cookbook and the Baking Book, and most of my classic basics have come from that collection. I believe I challenged quite a few people on the elementary school playground with something to the effect of, “my dad can make better pancakes than your dad,” all thanks to Fannie. Pancakes, pickles, breads, snickerdoodles, meats, and sauces. All proven to be finger-lickin’ good.

JB: You’ve worked in restaurants and catered — how do you incorporate your food jobs into your home cooking? What skills have you picked up that you bring right back to the kitchen?

NO: The skills and ideas that are most applicable back home are plating and flavor combinations. Arranging food is an art, and some of the places I’ve worked have helped me learn what works and what doesn’t. Same goes with flavors, I’ve learned that barbecue ice cream is actually kind of delicious.

JB: What’s your biggest cooking disaster?

NO: One notable cringe-inducing incident happened in high school. When my brother had friends over, I being the lovely-and-not-at-all-annoying little sister got to hang out downstairs with them if I baked something. One day I tried to whip up my famous (around these parts) signature pumpkin muffins. Totally forgot to add the either baking powder or soda (perhaps both), and they came out as little carroty rocks. Fail. Quickly thinking, I grabbed a box mix of brownies from the pantry and in no time, the house smelled like the Keebler Elf tree. I pulled the pan out of the oven to discover that I had made – cake. Oops! But not a total failure, people like cake. So I set the pan on the counter and began to gather ingredients for an icing to complete my never-ending baking project. Opening the spice cabinet proved to be the final nail in the coffin of my day by the oven. Out tumbled the bottles of oregano, turmeric, ginger, and five-spice power, falling into the cooling cake, riddling it with sizable pockmarks. No amount of kitchen triage could rescue the brutalized chocolate delight, so I threw in the dishtowel and slunk upstairs in shame.

JB: Toughie: cake or pie?

NO: Original answer: THIS QUESTION CAN DIE. Later answer: Okay I refuse to choose. See I like making cakes, but LOVE making pies. But I LOVE decorating cakes. All in all pies are easy to make, but cakes are easy to eat a lot of…

JB: Do you have a signature dish?

NO: There are definitely a few recipes that I have memorized and whose ingredients I always have on hand. BGSK’s Moroccan stew (great to make a big batch and freeze, great for potlucks) and pumpkin muffins (endlessly adjustable – raisins, walnuts, fresh cranberries, cream cheese frosting) are both easy, delicious, and crowd-pleasers. But the most praised, coveted, requested, and devoured must be chocolate dipped coconut macaroons [recipe to come!]. My mom’s coworkers pretend to ask her how I am doing, and then somehow manage to sneak “has she made macaroons lately?” into the conversation. They are NOT just for Passover, I make them year-round, and even dye the regularly white cookies pink, green, and blue for Easter. But they are so simple that they don’t really need a holiday as an excuse to bust out the baking sheets. Including the “optional” (yeah, right) chocolate dipping, there are SIX ingredients. Seriously. I got an “A” in high school geometry because I brought these into the teacher. (And yes, I adapted the recipe from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book).

Juliana Barton is a recent of the University of Virginia, who avoided the dining hall by playing lunch lady in her own kitchen, complete with fajita night and the occasional Sunday sundae.

Originally posted on Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Leave a Reply