College cooking lessons

Barnard College graduation at Low Library, 1913, courtesy of the Library of Congress used under a Creative Commons license

I am an admissions volunteer for my alma mater, Barnard College, and on Saturday, I interviewed a student who is a food enthusiast–she has a food blog and writes restaurant reviews for her school newspaper. Barnard is a great place to be a food lover. It’s in New York, most students aren’t on a meal plan, and a lot of the dorms are apartment buildings with full kitchens in each suite. I got to thinking about some of the food and cooking lessons I learned at Barnard, when I was young and not yet wise to the ways of the stove or the grocery store.

In no particular order:

1. Don’t cook tomato sauce repeatedly in a cast-iron pan. You will de-season the pan, and the sauce will start to taste metallic.

2. If you’re going grocery shopping on foot, don’t buy orange juice, laundry detergent, and canned tomatoes all at once. HEAVY.
2a. Learn how to bag your groceries properly: distribute the items so that each bag is about the same weight. If someone else bags your groceries, check the bags before you leave the store and redistribute as necessary.

3. If you feel the need to kosher the kitchen in your dorm, don’t have your friend or cousin or brother or whoever who’s a rabbi come over with a blowtorch at midnight to do the job. It will set off the fire alarm, and all your neighbors will hate you.
3a. If you have a kosher kitchen in your dorm, don’t assume the suitemate randomly assigned by the housing office isn’t eating trayf in there late at night when you’re asleep. That suitemate was my friend, and yes, she is Jewish.

4. Don’t cook the noodles for chicken soup in the broth along with the rest of the soup ingredients. The starch from the noodles will make the broth cloudy, and it will look really weird and unappetizing when the leftovers have been sitting in the fridge for a day or two. Cook the noodles separately and add them to the soup right before you eat it.

5. That awful smell in your kitchen? It could be the potatoes you bought a few weeks ago and left in a cabinet. Potatoes smell like rotting flesh when they’re, well, rotting.

6. The best time to go grocery shopping in New York is late at night. It’s less crowded, but be forewarned–the crazy-people quotient is higher than it is during the day. Fairway at 74th and Broadway is a good late-night shopping destination, and it’s right on the 1 train!

7. Beware the college obsession with free food. Just because there’s food around doesn’t mean you have to eat it. It’s tempting to eat anything and everything that’s free because you think you’re saving money. If you make this a habit, you’ll pay for it later in life, trust me.

8. Don’t buy food in the large packages your parents bought to feed a family of five. You’ll never finish all those Cheez-Its. And don’t do this thinking you’ll share with your roommates under some system you guys devised for communal purchases. It’s not going to work. Buy a smaller package, and buy your own food.

9. Why did the wooden spoon turn yellow?! Your roommate used it to make some concoction involving lentils and curry powder (the leftovers are now in the fridge in an assortment of repurposed cottage cheese containers you guys are using as “Tupperware”). The turmeric in the curry powder turns everything yellow, and it will take a long time to come off, if it ever does.

10. Clean it up. Whatever the mess is, clean it up. If it was something smelly–fish is automatically “something smelly”–take out the trash NOW.

11. Learn to make do. With inadequate kitchens, a shortage of cooking implements, not enough money to buy the high-quality ingredients your parents would buy, not enough time to prepare a full meal every night, and not as much knowledge as you’d like to have about any of the above problems. There’s almost always a workaround, so put on your thinking cap and find it.

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Comments
7 Responses to “College cooking lessons”
  1. Dave says:

    Oh my god that rotting potato thing happened to me last year. They had liquefied in the cupboard above the fridge. I still have nightmares…

    • Katy says:

      It’s the worst, right? I thought something had died in the kitchen.

      • Jay says:

        Geez, how long does it take for potatoes to rot? I’ve had potatoes for a couple of months that never got that bad……..

        Yeah, so they were growing new roots and stuff, cut the roots off or take the damned things in the back yard and plant them. Problem solved.

        Heck, we’ve got potatoes in the pantry downstairs that have been there since early December.

      • Katy says:

        How long it takes them to rot depends on how you’re storing them. If you’re keeping them in a warm environment, they’ll rot sooner. And when they go, they GO.

        Next time we have potatoes with eyes and roots, you’re taking them out back with the entrenching tool, mister. 😉

  2. Ruthie says:

    ohmygosh, I almost spit out my water at work just now. the SAME potato thing happened to us senior year. Bonnie and I still talk about it. the smell — i can conjure it up in my nostrils to this day — oy! for about a week we were like, “why does the kitchen smell?” and we super-duper cleaned everything in sight. we thought. until we realized that the smell was coming from a little-used bottom cabinet. eek!

  3. Quinn says:

    One of the first things my sophomore roommate and i did to make our house a home was to leave a trash bag full of potatoes on the floor so long they rotted and stained the floor.

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