Style File: Gearing up for a kitchen

Gemma McFarland

The semester’s end is finally on the horizon and the college workload has at last begun to dwindle. Textbooks will soon be sold back to the bookstore, as the quad fills with flip-flops and Frisbees. All the while the necessary preparations are being made by underclassmen for the next school year.

What classes should you take? Is it finally time to declare a major? Will you really be able to wake up for an 8 a.m. biology lab? Where are you going to live?

The annual completion of the housing lottery brings a sigh of relief over the entire campus. Freshmen will be able to choose their roommates for the first time, sophomores cramped in Larson, Perlroth and Troupe are able to transition to a larger living space or perhaps even a newly built home in Village. Seniors, who finally don’t have to deal with the housing lottery at all, will move into houses or apartments, enabling them to get a taste of the outside world. But that’s not all they’re going to taste.

Unless you’ve lived in the Hill, chances are you’re inexperienced in terms of what it actually means to have a kitchen and cook your own meals. It all boils down to one question.

Is it possible to transition smoothly from the cafeteria to the kitchen?

“I was definitely nervous at the thought of it,” claimed Jennifer Roy, a junior gerontology major and Hill resident. “I was concerned with making time, how to afford it and what kind of stuff I would actually make.”

It’s an overwhelming initiative and while the answer lies in the ingredients themselves, a well stocked cupboard is easier said than done. Tackling the grocery store alone can be its own recipe for disaster. Roy recommends prioritizing necessities, time and money.

“My strategy is to pick out the things that I absolutely need first and prioritize everything else,” she said.

To ensure safety at Stop & Shop, it’s important to remain on the perimeters of the store once inside, starting with the fresh fruits and vegetables and walking to the fresh breads and frozen foods by way of the fish, meat and dairy. The middle aisles are dangerous, and are best avoided. Full of preserved, pre-packaged and appealing treats made of simple carbohydrates and trans fats, these enticing aisles are a safe haven to the products that produce your muffin top.

But alas we’re only human and even harmless products like whole grain cereals and canned vegetables are strategically placed next to the Reese’s Puffs and Easy Mac.

“At first, there were so many things that I wanted to buy that I knew I couldn’t,” Roy admitted. “But it was so liberating to know that I could pick out whatever I wanted.”

There’s no doubt that even a vegan health guru could get caught up in the exquisiteness of the cookie aisle, so make it a rule that if it isn’t on your list it won’t end up in your cart. Get what you need from the aisle and get out. This will save time and money.

But unfortunately, groceries are only half the battle.

Take it one step at a time. First, it’s important to understand how demanding your schedule is. If you’re extra busy, it’s best to opt for quick, delicious and healthy lunches and dinners. On-the-go eaters should stock up on fruits, trail mix and granola bars, which are all easy to pack and eat throughout the day.

There’s more to life than Ramen and Kraft Mac-n-Cheese. Fresh broccoli that steams in the microwave, minute brown rice and pre-portioned chicken breast render the home cooked meal effortless.

“I remember some days when it seemed like the café had nothing that I wanted,” Roy explained. “It’s also easier to eat healthy if you make your own food.”

Cooking on your own requires responsibility in terms of personal health and wellness. The cafeteria workers are no longer available to dispose of expired foods and cook in a clean environment. For example, when working with meat products, it’s important to use separate cutting boards and cutlery for meat and other components of the meal. Uncooked meat leaves traces of harmful bacteria that only heat can eliminate. As for dairy, if it’s expired, just throw it out.

The small stuff matters too. Simple spices like sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano, cinnamon sugar and garlic hold the potential to convert something as simple as bread to cinnamon toast, or a meat as bland as chicken into an Italian seasoned specialty.

And remember, it’s okay to order out sometimes, just don’t make it a habit. After all, leftovers can certainly come in handy on a busy day. Roy sometimes favors ordering out, claiming that a restaurant’s large portions feed her for days after.

Whether you’re cooking up a four star meal, making a sandwich, ordering Tonino’s or heating up leftovers, the ability to take command of your own meals can be an enlightening and valuable skill.

“It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of your own schedule,” Roy said. “Plus, your own kitchen is always open.”