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I’m a food blogger now by Shuli J. '22

enjoy reading through 700 words of personal digression to get to the recipes

alternate subtitle: how I learned to stop worrying and throw some food in a pan

Almost exactly twelve months ago, I had never cooked a full meal in my life, if you don’t count boiling a hot dog, pouring myself a glass of water, and taking ready-to-eat baby carrots out of the fridge. Learning to cook was the one thing I hadn’t crossed off all of those “get your child ready for college!” lists; when I read those lists out loud to my parents, they’d say “I think we’ve done a pretty good job! Well, except for…” Except for the cooking. Cue shrug from me.

At just about same time, June/July 2018, I and the rest of the Class of 2022 were submitting our dorm ranking choices, agonizing over the wait for results, and frantically refreshing the myhousing.mit.edu page to find out where we had been assigned.

My parents (who met at a university with a mandatory 20-meal/wk. dining plan) thought it was crazy that I was considering living in a dorm with kitchens instead of a dining hall, and a 10+ minute walk from any other dining hall to boot. “This is OUR Shuli? The one who doesn’t even eat fruit if we don’t cut it up first?” 01 This is a true story about senior-year me. Of now-me, I will say only that necessity (read not getting scurvy) is the mother of invention (read getting off my ass).

My line at the time was, I don’t mind a walk to the dining hall! It might be nice to be able to cook myself dinner sometimes! I can just get on a medium-sized meal plan and see what works best for me!

Flash forward like two months. It’s October of freshman year, I have already downgraded from medium-medium meal plan to small-medium meal plan, going to the dining hall is starting to seem like an increasingly unnecessary chore, and you know what? It turns out I like cooking my own food, and I’m pretty good at it, actually.

Hey, what’s that noise? It’s so quiet, I can barely hear it… Oh, I know! It’s my entire family dying of shock.

To be honest, I was pretty surprised, too, but when I look back it totally makes sense. I’m not the worst picky eater, but I have a few favourite dishes I really like, and I’d happily eat those all the time. When I eat with my family, of course, the meal depends on all of our wants and needs. But when I’m on my own, why would I go to the dining hall and have to make my choice out of those options, usually only ending up with something I like okay,02 or a few sad times, something I don't even like at all when I could cook exactly what I wanted to eat? Dudes: it’s revelatory. I cook when I’m hungry, and I cook whatever it is I want to eat at that exact moment. And I love it.

In preparation for another wonderful year of cooking and eating delightful hit-the-spot dishes, I wanted to shore up my skills a bit this summer. During the year, it’s hard to try new things, because it’s such an investment: it takes me much longer to make something I’ve never tried before, I make more of a mess and then have to clean it up, and even just buying all the ingredients can require an extra grocery store trip,03 there is nothing I hate more than standing in the store and realizing I'm not quite sure if I need /this/ spice or /that/ spice, and I have no clue where to find the cans of whatever, all while my basket grows heavy in my hands and my psets await me at home... no mean feat in MIT’s food-deserty location.

But during the summer, I have access to a car, and a well-stocked kitchen,04 no offense to putz kitchen. it contains many wonderful things, but absolutely zero lids that actually match a pot. and two people I can coerce into helping me! It’s the perfect time to perfect some recipes, so that when fall comes, I can shop and cook with skill and ease.

Here are some delicious things my parents and I have cooked this summer! I have linked a recipe for each one.

 

Overnight Oats

These seem to be getting really popular lately? I feel like you’ve either heard wayyyy too much about these already, or you’ve never heard of them at all. In any case, overnight oats are (IMHO) a better and easier version of oatmeal. You take some dry oats, dump a bunch of milk on them, and maybe put some honey or vanilla in the milk. Then you refrigerate overnight, microwave in the morning, and presto! A filling05 like, rEALLY filling, if your previous breakfast experience includes things like an applesauce cup or two small slices of bread breakfast with approximately 3 minutes of total effort. If you’re real bougie, try adding some coconut milk,06 we bought a big can and froze ice cubes of it to use one by one toasted almonds, blueberries, or maple syrup.07 only REAL CANADIAN MAPLE SYRUP THOUGH, none of you Americans' terrible fake corn syrup. that stuff is a pale comparison at best, like a human next to a greek god in their true form. if you have only had fake maple syrup then you know nothing, less than nothing, you know NEGATIVE about maple syrup. sorry ! At risk of sounding like an infomercial, every time I eat it, I’m surprised that something so easy could taste so good!!

 

Spinach-and-tomato dal

A pot of spinach-and-tomato dal.When I had a ton of classes in Stata spring semester, I got really into the Stata cafeteria’s dal (the only good dairy-free food they have, tbh, and it’s such a good source of protein!). But it was ridiculous to be paying $10 a day for a bunch of lentils, and ridiculous how sad I felt whenever I showed up and it wasn’t on the menu. So, this summer I’ve been trying out some dal recipes so that I know what spices I want to buy when I get back. I’m hoping to cook and freeze some huge batches, and then always have super-fast, vegetarian08 I'm not a vegan, but it seems like becoming more of one can only be a good thing for me, other creatures, and the earth. lunch that makes me happy!

This spinach dal is my favourite because it only has a couple spices (perfect for someone who only has one cabinet, such as myself) and it comes built-in with vegetables. Add rice and it’s literally a whole meal, which is ideal. I definitely add more spinach, and a LOT more tomato, than the recipe — the burst of flavour from the tomatoes is the best part 😍

 

Marinara sauce

I saw this NYT recipe for making marinara sauce from scratch and after I read the comments (a thousand variations on “this recipe is perfect just the way it is and you should not change a single thing or ever make anything else”), I realllllllly wanted to try it. The main ingredient is “San Marzano tomatoes, certified D.O.P if possible,” and the crowd in the comments section was adamant that nothing but San Marzano would do.

I emailed the link to my mom and said, hey, do you think Loblaws09 local generic grocery store chain; think star market would carry these specific fancy tomatoes? She said, let’s go to Pusateri’s. Pusateri’s, you ask? Think Whole Foods, but even more so. How much more so? When we walked in the door and looked into the store, the San Marzano certified D.O.P. tomatoes were the first thing we saw. Like magic. ✨

I squished these whole, canned tomatoes into oblivion (and had tomatoes under my nails for days), and then we threw them in a pan. And that was pretty much it! This sauce was easy and delicious — and yes, I could tell the difference from store-bought. (I’m sure the fresh basil from my mom’s tiny pot in front of the garage didn’t hurt, either.) I will definitely make it again, although I wouuuuld recommend maybe a tiny pinch of sugar or baking soda to cut the acidity just a bit. Don’t tell the commenters I said so 🤫

 

Blueberry basil ginger lemonade

A large glass pitcher full of dark purple blueberry lemonade.So, I guess I can stop right here, because I’ve literally just told you every ingredient in this drink. But I won’t, because if I did you would miss out on hearing about the amazing second food contained within this food!! The instructions say: simmer blueberries in sugar water; blend with basil and ginger; strain and discard solids. But this is a dirty trick! The so-called solids are in reality… jam. Sugary, well-pureed blueberries with a hint of ginger and basil? Why throw it away? Honestly, the lemonade is great (especially with a bit of seltzer/club soda), but the jam is the bigger win, as long as you’ve got good bread to put it on. The way the strong, familiar blueberry taste is balanced out by the other flavours (which are a bit lost in the drink version) is something that I don’t think you can find in many commercial products.

 

Dessert Summer Rolls

Sorry, no recipe here! These came out of my own head. For several years, I’ve loved traditional “summer” rolls (a.k.a. cold rolls), which are like spring rolls, but wrapped in translucent rice paper rather than fried dough. The versatility of the dish (I mean, you can wrap anything you want in rice paper as long as it fits…) made me wonder about what a dessert version of it would be like. Instead of noodles, maybe the base could be sweet coconut sticky rice (my family uses this recipe, approximately). The proteins and veggies could be swapped out for fruit: mango as a base, since that fits with the rice, and then…?

I wasn’t sure what the last ingredient should be for a long time. When we finally bought materials last weekend, we picked up nectarines and apples (and were also considering cucumbers). But I can report quite surely that the apples were the way to go: the crunch they bring is honestly the most important part of all. We saved extra sweetened coconut milk and used it for a dipping sauce. It was amazing!!

The ingredients for the summer rolls: chopped nectarine and apple, mint, and mango (rice not pictured).
An unfinished summer roll. The mango and apple are laid on top of rice, all on top of an unrolled rice paper circle.
A finished summer roll on a small plate. The mango, apple, and rice are visible through the clear rice paper.

 

It’s often said that nothing tastes better than food you cooked yourself. But I want to add something to that: nothing tastes better than food you designed, shopped for, tinkered with, and cooked yourself.

Cooking is a magic on par with engineering, for me. It’s a place where you can begin by setting aside any need for rules and logic, and instead thinking, what would happen if I added this? Or just threw in some of that? If I put a giant wheel on the top? And once your idea has come to beautiful fruition, you can perfect it; bring back the math and the numbers, tweak things this way and that way, until it all comes out just right. And not anyone’s just right, but yours: the just right you envisioned from the start. And when it hits your tongue, it tastes soooooo good.

✨✨✨

An aesthetically framed bowl of poke (rice, tuna, scallion, cucumber, sesame seeds).
An aesthetically-framed photo of a bowl of cherries on a dining room table.
A pot full of boiling kompot (many different types of fruit in reddish, clear syrup).

some food pics I have that I like, but that didn’t make the cut (mostly because I didn’t make them): poke, cherries, kompot 

  1. This is a true story about senior-year me. Of now-me, I will say only that necessity (read not getting scurvy) is the mother of invention (read getting off my ass). back to text
  2. or a few sad times, something I don't even like at all back to text
  3. there is nothing I hate more than standing in the store and realizing I'm not quite sure if I need /this/ spice or /that/ spice, and I have no clue where to find the cans of whatever, all while my basket grows heavy in my hands and my psets await me at home... back to text
  4. no offense to putz kitchen. it contains many wonderful things, but absolutely zero lids that actually match a pot. back to text
  5. like, rEALLY filling, if your previous breakfast experience includes things like an applesauce cup or two small slices of bread back to text
  6. we bought a big can and froze ice cubes of it to use one by one back to text
  7. only REAL CANADIAN MAPLE SYRUP THOUGH, none of you Americans' terrible fake corn syrup. that stuff is a pale comparison at best, like a human next to a greek god in their true form. if you have only had fake maple syrup then you know nothing, less than nothing, you know NEGATIVE about maple syrup. sorry ! back to text
  8. I'm not a vegan, but it seems like becoming more of one can only be a good thing for me, other creatures, and the earth. back to text
  9. local generic grocery store chain; think star market back to text