A World of Pure Culination


I refuse to be a starving college student. College gets played up as being the place where penniless kids escape from home with only drier lint and gum wrappers to line their pockets. Ramen is a food group, sleep is non-existent, and food sent from home and Chinese take-out leftovers stolen from friends are the only reasons half the campus is still alive and semi-conscious. The college diet should properly consist of coffee, toast, noodles, cookies and canned soup. If an entire daily serving of vegetables is not cut into perfect cubes and soaked in watery chicken stock, life as we know it has jerked to a halt.

Those aren’t vegetables – they’re tiny little salty cubic lies.
 Bruised café apples are a luxury. Daily vitamins are a must.

Call me crazy, but I like making waves. I have never wanted to be that college kid.

I was spoiled rotten growing up with a mother who was such a fine chef. “Cook” seems to imply occupation and mediocre skill, but “chef” has an air of authority and respect. My sister and I occasionally wanted to go to McDonald’s or eat Lucky Charms, but it was never a first choice or a last resort. Mom always had food (and good food, mind you) on the table, hot and flavorful and ready to eat right when Dad got home. With a mom who can cook, really cook, you stop believing that fast food is actually edible. Sure, I sometimes enjoy going out to eat cheap grease-trap fare, but with a mother like my mother… let’s just say any other culinary offering is a step down from the best.

If we're going to be honest, Mom and I do enjoy the rare lunch of sweaty, overweight champions (aka White Castle). Shame.

Despite my well-fed upbringing, I had the impression that college was all learning and friends and had nothing to do with food. Living in the dorms, as I did my first three years, I did some dabbling in cookery in my spare time – the occasional ramen stir fry with my roommate or dressing up cafeteria leftovers (they looked great in little ties and hats). This was a step ahead of most of my friends.

Is it roast beef or shoe leather? Dressed up with mushrooms, onions and some soggy broccoli, it's edible. That's all that matters.

However, with work and a meal plan and itty-bitty kitchens with smoky electric stoves, as well as a lack of proper cookware, I refrained from doing much culinary exploration through junior year. The most adventurous I got was hand-kneaded homemade bread, and that was on Tuesdays when the only class I had was Philharmonia. Overall, I was content to eat bland cafeteria dinners and occasionally go out on the town to China Star or Subway. This pattern broke a little during summers at home when I would offer to help with dinner.

Form follows function follows an empty plate.

I also love to bake. The problem at Houghton is that, just like all the guys seem to play guitar masterfully, all the women bake. The ones who bake the most are praised and adored, and I just got tired of trying to fight them for attention even though I was confident that we were matched in skill. Baking was mostly set aside. I suppose I was a “typical” college student, but something inside me sang like Belle and plucked dandelions on hillsides and yearned for something more than this non-glamorous diet of carbs and processed cheese-flavored substances. Then, one day, it walked into my life. Rather, I walked through the front door.

My apartment was waiting.

In the frantic rush to escape from screaming girls and bipolar plumbing, I applied and was accepted for a Campus Living Option apartment (CLO) for the 2011-2012 school year. I had no roommate and was thrilled to be situated in a third-floor house apartment overlooking the woods behind campus. I have my own deck and back entrance, a spacious bedroom and bathroom, comfortable living and entertaining space. And then, there’s the piece de resistance; a medium-sized kitchen with wrap-around counter, cupboards, walk-in pantry, full-sized fridge, oven, 4-burner stovetop and sink. It also has a table for four. Compared to the card table and mini-fridge that had once been my entire cooking space, this kitchen is like a Grecian temple. On a college budget with a college mindset, this is a place of extreme luxury and ridiculous amounts of space. In reality, it’s a modified kitchen with the exact model stove from the dorms. But it’s my kitchen, full of my dishes and spices and ambition. This is my five-star experience.

Best seat in the house - having only seen a little of the house below me, I shouldn't judge. But I will anyway.

I have made more full meals in this kitchen that in my own kitchen at home. I have hosted many different guests for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I’ve baked and sautéed and fried and boiled and chopped and mixed and folded and kneaded in this kitchen. I’ve made soup and stews and bread and casseroles and salads and desserts and three-course meals. Out of all of my cooking adventures, I’ve only ever had one clear failure of method – Brethren Cider Pie. The flavor was outstanding, but it’s just too hard to fold egg whites into cider that has not yet been reduced to syrup. Despite this one occasion, I have carried on with determination and, according to my enthusiastic fiancé, resounding success.

Beef "Stewp" - I wanted to call it "Stoop" but it looks too close to "oops", which this meal certainly was not. Don't forget the homemade rosemary garlic bread.

One of the greatest successes that I have had while living here was not solely being able to cook “real” food. It’s the fact that I’ve been able to cook and eat healthy, balanced meals. I started Weight Watchers in May of 2011. In three months, I lost approximately thirty pounds, shedding all of the weight I had gained in the previous school year and more. It’s possible to be living as a full-time college student and still eat well. One of the beautiful things about WW is the ability to eat what you want, but in balanced moderation. I have loved trying new recipes, tweaking old ones and continuing to cook my little heart out.

Like this, for example... From a WW recipe, it's Brazilian Chicken with Lime-Cilantro Black Beans and Rice. Ole!

Especially in this place, full of “typical college students”, I have had plenty of feedback and opportunities to share what I love doing with people I love. I’m prepared to start a home with my better half in less than six months, and ready to test my skills to the max when I have a constant food critic in my house. The beauty of this whole experience is that it’s not just about the cooking – it’s about learning, growing and bringing myself and others joy and a delicious outlook on life.

Honey Wheat Quick Bread. Who knew "sandwich" and "quick bread" could be in the same sentence? I do now.

And everyone keeps asking themselves over for dinner.

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About SisyphusFalls

I have been writing ever since I could read, and before that simply using my imagination. I write, think and love deeply.

Posted on March 17, 2012, in Cooking, Reflection and Observation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think you ought to have said: “I’m preparing to start a home with my better half….” By my own experience, one is not prepared until a few weeks after marriage even to live day to day with one person’s constant presence—and then that’s if you’re lucky. Rachael and I are still preparing to have a home, and still figuring out how to do life together, after seven months.

    Other than that, this post was delightful. It made me hungry for some of your devilishly good white chicken chili.

  2. Linda Prahst Yanega

    Wow. What a great post. I am humbled!! Thanks for sharing you heart regarding home and food and love and all!!

  3. Carolyn Prahst

    Hi Hannah…this is a fun read and, by the way,…I’m hungry… 😀 love you…Grits

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