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MIT student blogger Anelise N. '19

Cooking for Myself by Anelise N. '19

I haven't set off the fire alarms yet!

**Edit: tagline no longer accurate as of 11/16/2015. Whoops!

I don’t know about you, but I like to eat.

I grew up in a family where food is really important. Our gatherings revolve around meals. We pride ourselves on making yummy food, and making a lot of it. Cooking is a social event that requires consultation, commiseration, and collaboration. Barbeques are practically sporting events, with grown men jockeying for position over the grill. From weekly family dinners, to Pancake Sunday with my brothers, to just hanging out making lunch with my mom, meals have always been a mini-celebration of the good things in life.

Good food brings a little breath of sunshine to your day between cramming your 18.02 homework and running to your 8.01 lecture. The smell of something cooking in the kitchen makes people stop on the way to their room and chat about their day. The promise of free food has been known to draw together crowds of students from all corners of the MIT community.

I really cherish being able to make food. Which is why I’m really really glad that MIT doesn’t make you buy all your food from the dining hall.

Salmon with Chunky Tzatziki and Spinach Salad
Salmon with chunky tzatziki and spinach salad: one of my first attempts at “real food”!

 

Whereas most universities force you to purchase a huge, gut-stuffing, wallet-busting, totally superfluous meal plan, MIT doesn’t force you to buy a meal plan at all. There are 6 dorms on campus that don’t have a dining hall and therefore don’t require a meal plan: East Campus, Senior Haus, Random Hall, New House, Burton-Connor, and my dorm, MacGregor. (See, I’ve done my homework!) Thus, when the Residential Life Department sent out a questionnaire asking what were our biggest motivators in choosing a dorm, here’s what mine looked like:

Residential Life Housing Survey: Food first
No shame.
Note: I’ve met quite a few people who chose a non-dining dorm specifically to avoid the meal plan. There are other people who buy a meal plan even though they don’t have to. If you’re interested, Joel has a really great post on the pros and cons of a dining plan. 

 

A confession: prior to coming to MIT, I rarely made actual food. Which is kind of embarrassing considering I have a cooking blog. :) While I did most of the baking for my family, my mom actually did most of the cooking and my dad the grilling.

So these past couple months have been my first foray into buying groceries and cooking with things other than exorbitant amounts of butter.

Spicy Pork Chops with Apple Chutney and Cauliflour

 

I’ve been going to the grocery store about once a week, on the weekends. Here’s a rough sketch of how I’ve been organizing my food inventory, which seems to be working out pretty well:

  • Breakfast: mainly cereal and sometimes granola/overnight oats if I’m feeling creative. (Ok realistically, half the time I run out of my dorm in the morning with a banana and a granola bar.)
  • Lunch: mostly bread and lunch meat. I also try to make a vegetable or salad near the start of the week as a side. Trader Joe’s also has a lot of pre-packaged salads and wraps, which can make a quick, no-fuss lunch. I was buying those until I read the ingredients list on my salad and found out it contained reconstituted chicken meat. Moral of the story: packaged food is scary.
  • Dinner: I usually plan 2 dishes per week. I always make extra so that I have dinner for the next couple nights. Between leftovers and odd nights where I don’t end up eating in my dorm, this usually is enough food to last a week. I typically buy one package of meat/fish per week (because, you know, protein) and make a salad or some pan-fried vegetables to go with it. For the second meal I’ll be creative—quinoa burgers, couscous salad, whatever I feel like!
  • Snacks are a must. Fruit, veggie crackers, hummus, nuts….
Breaded Chicken with Marinara Sauce and Broccoli
Breaded pan-friend chicken with marinara sauce and broccoli

 

Aside from packing up sandwiches and snacks, I only end up cooking 2-3 nights per week for maybe an hour, which is definitely manageable so far.

Quinoa burgers with red bell pepper and red onion
Quinoa burger with red bell pepper and red onion–highly recommend

 

Here’s the kitchen in MacGregor.

MacGregor Kitchen

 

Depending on which entry you live in, many of these suite kitchens contain communal cooking supplies, which is REALLY NICE because it means you don’t have to haul all your cooking gear from home.

Cooking Supplies in MacGregor

So far, I’ve really enjoyed cooking for myself. My goal, by the end of four years, is to be able to pull together a tasty meal in a reasonable time period from the type of basic ingredients I would have sitting around my fridge.

But so far, I haven’t burnt anything, given myself food poisoning, or forced evacuation of the building, so I’m going to call my first months of feeding myself a success. :D