What do you think of when you hear the words "college food"? Instant mac n' cheese? Ramen noodles? Hot Pockets? Burgers? Pizza? Chances are, it's some combination of cheap white bread, dairy, and low-quality meat, decorated with regular pints of ice cream, half-racks of piss-cheap beer, and lots of chips and candy for "study snacks". At least, this seems to be the dietary schedule of the kids here at Oregon State, and I have a feeling it's not too different from that of other universities around the country. This was emphasized for me the other day when I was in Albertsons (for I believe the first time ever) with a friend and they did their "shopping for the week": a package of bagels, a block of cream cheese, a bag of hot dog buns, and a pack of 8 hot dogs. What more could anyone need?
I meanwhile walked around the endless aisles of pre-packaged food reading one label after another, getting more and more appalled at the things that are allowed to be in our food. The Albertsons employees were giving me very nasty looks indeed by the time I made my way out of there with a single apple in my hand, grumbling about the amount of shit food in their store. Sorry, guys. I get emotional over food.
Actually, I get really emotional over food. I might even say I get obsessive over food (good food of course) and often wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning with an idea for a meal in my head, and I'll scramble to write it down before I lose it. Mostly the things I crave are simple: white bean and kale soup, roasted chicken with corn muffins and broiled asparagus, crustless smoked salmon quiche, pupusas, pumpkin teff pancakes with walnuts, roasted chestnuts.
The last one struck me particularly hard the other day, and I decided that if I couldn't get roasted chestnuts in a little newspaper baggie from the streets of Paris like I did last year (the first time I had ever had them, mind you), I would have to make my own. So I did, and in the process of doing so learned that they are so painfully easy to make (and so effing good) that I might have to be making them all winter! I was very pleased with how they turned out, even in my little dorm kitchen on my electric stove, but peeling them was still a bitch - I hear you have to do it when they're still hot, but I pretty much failed at that part.
Another one of my recent massive cravings has been purple kale. At the co-op they have GIANT bunches of it for $1.99, so each week I end up with a massive amount of kale that I don't know what to do with. Last week I had a kale, roasted chicken, pumpkin seed, oil and vinegar salad with buttercup squash for lunch. That was delicious. This week I decided to do a little experiment with what I'm calling my "college soup" where I took all the bits of leftovers from my week (a cup or two of jasmine rice, some leftover cooked beans, a handful of baby carrots, green beans, pickled ginger) and threw it all into a pot with large amounts of kale, water and whatever spices I had. I tried to think like Louise when she cooks, and follow the culinary doctrine of "It's done when it's done." Does it taste done? Then it is done. If not, keep cooking. Simple for her at least. If you've ever tasted Louise's cooking, you know that she gets it right every time. I may not have the Louise Touch (a very rare one indeed), but my first souping experiment last night went pretty damn well if I do say so myself.
While most of the kids in my dorm have stopped asking me "What are you making?" every time they pass me with my complex cooking accoutrement, I still get the occasional curious person. Usually as soon as I say "kale" or "squash" or "quinoa" (that one really gets a lot of good looks) their face turns kind of pale-ish and they nod and walk away. It's really too bad. They're missing out on a lot of good food we have available so close to campus. I find it amazing that in such a developed and rich farming community like Corvallis the dining services import the majority of their food from other places around the US and abroad. It's too bad, cause I can only eat so much purple kale - just imagine if we got the whole campus to eat it! My my, that will be the day. As for now I'll stick with my roasted chestnuts and College kale soup...