I can’t get over how great life is with air conditioning and home-cooked meals. I’d be baking if I were back in the AMRs during this insane heat wave. Thankfully, next year I’ll be in the air-conditioned Charles Commons, but I’ll still have to make the inevitable transition back to college food without the unlimited freshman meal plan! Although eating at the Fresh Food Café every single day last year got a little repetitive, you can’t beat the convenience of prepared food thirty seconds away from your dorm room. Next year’s meal plan is probably going to require some more cooking on my part.
A few weeks ago, while I was reading Anthony Bourdain’s new book Medium Raw, I came across this little statement:
“…the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill…”
If you know me at all, it’s a pretty solid fact that I am seriously inept at cooking anything more complex than a grilled cheese sandwich, but when I first read this statement, I tried to reassure myself. Maybe I’m not that bad of a cook. I can make spaghetti. Or I could just eat cereal for dinner. Or toast. Oh wait, there’s no toaster in the dorm room.
Reading on, Bourdain makes a list of basic cooking skills that he feels everyone should have. Not wanting to face the truth about my cooking skills, I continued with the self-reassurance as I read through each skill:
“They should know how to chop an onion. Basic knife skills are a must.”
Is there really a wrong way to chop an onion? I don’t know how to dice an onion, but what’s the difference if the pieces aren’t cubes? As long as they’re small, right? That counts .
“Everyone should be able to make an omelet.”
My suitemate can make omelets. Problem solved.
“Cooking vegetables to a desired doneness is easy enough and reasonable to expect of any citizen of voting age.”
I can totally cook veggies! Whether they’re done or not is questionable, but I don’t have high veggie standards.
“The ability to shop for fresh produce and have at least some sense of what’s in season…”
I can go to the Waverly Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings to get fresh produce! I’m sure what they have there is in season. That makes me 3 for 3 in the vegetables category. Oh wait, I forgot about the onion one at the beginning. I’m 3.5 for 4 (half credit for kind of being able to chop an onion).
“One should be able to roast and mash potatoes. And make rice – both steamed and the only slightly more difficult pilaf method.”
First of all, now I feel really stupid because I don’t know how to mash potatoes. I can peel them if that counts for anything. Secondly, I don’t even know what pilaf is, so I guess it’s safe to assume that I don’t know how to make it.
After the mashed potatoes, the point finally got across: I need to learn to cook at least a few things so that I’m not living on cereal and poorly cooked vegetables next year. So I decided that I’m going to step up my productivity this summer by trying to make new recipes until I can make at least ten decent and relatively easy dinners by next fall.
I’ve already started this process with a few attempts. Some have turned out better than others:
Attempt #1: Pasta with spinach
This sounded simple enough so I thought it would be a good first attempt dish. The only major setback was that it called for cavatappi and I couldn’t find that in the store, so I got the closest thing: another kind of pasta that started with a C. No big deal, it was still a success. I chopped spinach, rinsed beans, cooked the pasta, mixed it together, and added the cheese without any trouble. I could definitely cook this at school. One successful recipe down, nine to go.
Attempt # 2: The Strudel
Ok, this was not a good experience. Now I know that anything that involves phyllo dough is beyond my area of expertise. That stuff is so thin! Each sheet is thinner than a sheet of paper and breaks apart whenever you try to pick it up. It’s just a mess. (The strudel was bad too, if that wasn’t already implied.)
Attempt # 3: The Frittata
I didn’t know what a frittata was when I first started making this, but after following the directions (cook eggs and vegetable mixture in pan until eggs set, broil in oven until completely cooked), I made my parents try it and they defined “frittata” as “like an omelet, but worse.”
Hopefully by this time next month, my cooking will have improved and I’ll be more self-sufficient as far as meals are concerned. I’ll keep you updated!