August 30, 2010
We asked you for stories about college food in this month’s Inviting Writing, and it’s been fun to read the responses so far. If you haven’t submitted yours yet, there’s still time—please send it to FoodandThink@gmail.com by September 3rd.
Let’s start off with this one from Eve Bohakel Lee, a Louisville, Kentucky-based writer and editor who apparently shared my fondness for marshmallow goo as a college freshman…
Alchemy in a Bowl
By Eve Bohakel Lee
In my freshman year at Indiana University, I became acquainted with two things I’d had scant experience with previously: Rice Krispy Treats and chemistry. Both took place in the cafeteria of my dorm, and were interdependent.
As a kid, Rice Krispy Treats were something that you had at someone else’s house. I had the impression that they must have been very difficult to make, because my mother, possessing merely rudimentary cooking skills, never made them. And I’d barely survived chemistry class in high school, so would not have consciously sought it out if not for the promise of something closer to alchemy.
It was fall—a magical time of year in Bloomington—so I should have expected something wondrous, but I was unprepared to find it in the cafeteria at eight o’clock on a Friday morning. A girl at my table had a sweet-smelling concoction in front of her, which she was eating from a ceramic bowl with a spoon. The mysterious compound looked delicious and irresistibly messy.
As I silently speculated about the identity of her decadent dish, staring at its lumps and goo, she took one more heaping teaspoonful, looked up at me, and said, “Rice Krispy Treats.”
How? How had I missed that going through line?
“Come here,” she said, rising and licking her spoon one last time. “I’ll show you.”
I followed her to the cereal station. She scooped a bit of Rice Krispies into a new bowl, topped it with four or five butter pats and scattered a layer of tiny marshmallows from the hot cocoa dispenser on top of it. She tossed another butter pat on top before putting the bowl into the microwave.
“How long do you cook it for?” I asked.
“Until the door blows off,” she joked, then glanced through the door and stopped the oven after about 20 seconds. She pulled her sleeves over her hands and removed a bubbling mini-cauldron of melted goo.
“Stir this up,” she said, as she produced a spoon and stuck it into the bowl. I obeyed.
“And voila! Rice Krispy Treats,” my new friend said, proud as a mad scientist announcing her latest invention.
She carried the bowl back to our table and I gingerly dug in and raised the spoon to my mouth.
I wasn’t thinking that the treat wasn’t perfectly square, or that the bowl would require an hourlong soaking to restore it to its original shine, or even that the confection had the ability to pull out multiple fillings in one mouthful.
I tasted it, and the feeling of power to do what I wanted shot through me. I was a grown-up. I could make Rice Krispy Treats whenever I wanted—even at breakfast. Magic.
August 23, 2010
As I was reminded on a trip to a packed Target the other day, the back-to-school season is upon us. Seeing carts filled with things like electric hot pots, microwave popcorn and instant soup got me thinking about dorm life…which brings me to our latest Inviting Writing theme: College food.
As always, the rules are simple: Tell us a story! We’re looking for true, original, personal essays inspired in some way by our theme. Please keep it under 1,000 words, and send it to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing: College Food” in the subject line. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included).
Fluff and Nonsense
By Amanda Bensen
I accidentally became a vegetarian a few weeks before my freshman year of college began, and I decided to stick with it. But while young adulthood may be idiomatically called one’s “salad days,” I didn’t eat much in the way of leafy greenery that year. “Carbs and sugar days” would be more accurate. In my dorm-room hot pot, I cooked up vast quantities of macaroni and cheese, minute rice and ramen noodles. I ate any kind of snack that could be bought in bulk and stowed in a plastic storage bin for weeks at a time: Goldfish crackers, chips, pretzels, Twizzlers, Skittles, M&Ms, Swedish Fish, matzo bread, animal crackers. I experimented with dipping all of those things—and even, occasionally, sheets of raw ramen noodles—in Marshmallow Fluff. (Yes. I know. I should have warned you not to read this while eating.)
In the cafeteria, I gravitated toward cereal and dessert, sometimes combining the two (frozen yogurt mixed with Corn Pops! giant rice crispy treats!), and felt justified in this because, hey, it wasn’t meat, after all. As long as I wasn’t eating that, my diet must be “healthy,” I figured. I mean, who ever heard of a fat vegetarian? (Ah, the wisdom of a 17-year-old brain.)
Then, one day, a friend casually mentioned a fact that rocked my world.
“Did you know gelatin isn’t vegetarian?” she said, gesturing at my bag of Skittles. “It’s made from animal bones. So real vegetarians don’t eat it.”
That stung. Given the sketchy circumstances of my conversion, I was eager to prove to the world that I was a “real” vegetarian. I’d read the brochures about animal rights, and I’d heard the statistic about how dozens of hungry people could potentially be fed with crops grown on an acre of land that, used for cattle grazing, would yield only a handful of hamburgers. A copy of “Diet for a Small Planet” was prominently displayed on my bookshelf (though I hadn’t actually read more than a few pages at that point). I was serious about this, gosh darn it!
So I gave up gelatin. Since this suddenly ruled out things like rice crispy treats, Fluff, and many types of candy, I was forced to adapt my diet. I finally read that book, and a few others, and learned about the importance of balancing one’s carbohydrate, protein and fat intakes. I started eating more salad, and less sugar, from the cafeteria. I discovered chickpeas and hummus. The “freshman 15″ disappeared rapidly.
College, I realized, is all about learning to balance—time, workload, opinions, allegiances and so on. Food is only the beginning, but it’s a good first step when still recovering from the wobble of leaving the nest.
By the start of my sophomore year, my roommate Jenna and I formed a pact, scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper and officiously signed by each of us and a bemused “witness” (the girl who lived across the hall). I still have a copy. It’s about boys, because we’d just had a shared epiphany that they could be a terrible distraction from more important matters such as studying, exercising, and staring dreamily at world atlases.
We promised, in writing, never to let ourselves become inordinately obsessed with a boy. And if I did?
“My roommate, Jenna, has permission to force-feed me gelatin.”